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a novel

by S. G. Scott
Regent Press, Berkeley, CA
Some readers’ comments * (Amazon review)

Renee Batti, News Editor, The Almanac – Menlo Park, CA

“S G Scott tells an entertaining and compelling story without obscuring an urgent message: The nuclear weapons
industry has set us on a reckless and profoundly dangerous course that must somehow be reversed. A natural storyteller
with a sly sense of humor, Scott deftly tempers that weighty message with breezy characters you can care about,
romantic entanglements and an unsolved murder. It's an amazing accomplishment and a great read.”

Lawrence Korb, Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration.

"Fascinating. Anyone trying to understand the real impact of the Cold War on
California and the nation's psyche should read this novel." (promotional blurb by Mr. Korb
for the novel’s back cover.)

*Mike Moore, Former editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists - Author of “Twilight War:
the Folly of U.S. Space Dominance.”
“The Winged and Garlanded Nike? Mysterious title. A paean to athletic shoes? Not likely. An
update of Greek mythology? Probably not. Ah, the typographically modest subtitle, which is easily
overlooked, offers a clue: a “novel about the atomic age.” But this is 2008! Who wants to read a
novel about the “atomic age”? How do you spell a-na-chro-nism? We’re in the iPod, instant-
messaging, wind-power age – aren’t we?
But when I got to Nike– Wow! I had not expected an epic, but that’s what I got. The sweep of
Nike is staggering – intrigue, cupidity, and murder spanning the decades, from gold-rush California
to the modern high-tech, tract-houses, freeway-lovin’ Golden State. (And did I forget to mention
serial adultery? What self-respecting epic would lack that?)
But intrigue, quirky characters, greed, murder and even adultery are really just bits of spice in
Nike. The novel is about how we humans came close to ending life on Earth as we know it, leaving
the planet to beetles and corpses. And even worse, the 70,000 or so nuclear weapons that the United
States and the Soviet Union were ready to throw at one another on, say, 10 or 12 minutes or so of
sober reflection, went virtually unnoticed by most of us. As one of Nike’s characters puts it, when
finally exposed to the arcana of America’s nuclear priesthood during a professional meeting: “From
what I see and hear, the building is on fire and the goddamn ship is sinkin”!)
The good ship Global Civilization didn’t sink, but it came close to it many times during the Cold
War. The survival of civilization was for decades largely a matter of chance … figuratively, a roll of
the dice. The readers of Nike will gain a keen appreciation of that.
In regard to nuclear war, things are better today – aren’t they? No argument. And yet Russia and
the United States still have many thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at one another, ready to go
at any moment. They are “de-targeted,” to be sure, but that’s more PR than reality. In a time of high
tension, they can be re-targeted with a few mouse clicks. Will there be more times of “high tension.”
That’s anyone’s guess. But consider this: the United States seems intent on starting up a new global
arms race by building space-related weapons, even though virtually all of the world’s nations say
that would be dangerously provocative. Déjà vu all over again.
In Ancient Greece, Nike was the winged goddess of victory. In Scott’s book, the Nike is the
nuclear-tipped defensive missile system that ringed most of America’s cities in the early days of the
Cold War. But it was widely understood at the time in the “expert community” as a Potemkin
Village which make-us-all-feel-better sort of thing. In a shooting war, it would have been useless. In
his novel, Scott makes it plain that the men and women who design and control America’s military
policy are often wrong. Their policies must be continually cross-examined by real-world no-BS
commonsense. And we, the people, are the ones who must exercise that commonsense.
The Winged and Garlanded Nike is no anachronism. It challenges the reader. By better
understanding the dynamics of the first Cold War, perhaps we can head off Cold War II.”

Frida Berrigan, Arms and Security Initiative, New America Foundation

“With humor and precision, Scott draws us into an engaging and entertaining epic across the
nuclear age” (Promotional blurb by Ms. Berrigan for the novel’s back cover)

Lawrence Colin, retired physicist and NASA executive – Palo Alto, CA

“Well, I finally read The Winged and Garlanded Nike and I think it is fantastic!!!!!!! The story is
great, character development terrific, and I couldn't put it down. I loved the structure: 1955,
Intermezzo, 1986, and Epilogue. The use of the Intermezzo with its yearly snippets was inspired. I
am amazed at your breadth of knowledge concerning geography, biology, nuclear matters, etc. etc.
Have you thought to try to sell it as a movie? I can easily imagine a very good one.”

Barbara Marinacci, author and editor/co-editor of seven books

“Quirky and given to sharp dialogue and impassioned thinking, Scott vividly delineates a host of
characters who make wonderful company as they find themselves immersed in nuclear and
environmental issues of the millenium. Read this timely novel!” (Promotional blurb by Ms.
Marinacci for the novel’s back cover.)

*Irv Brenner – Palo Alto, CA

“This novel could stand alone as a compelling story of life in a small town in the California
Sierra foothills during the Fifties and eighties and the town's transition from small hamlet to thriving
community, often with troubling consequences. But the novel does much more. The overriding
theme deals with how nuclear missile technology affects both the local residents and the entire
country. When the story moves from 1955 to 1986, the common wisdom begins to change. What
was initially perceived as benign and beneficial research has evolved into a fire-breathing and
unstoppable monster. The author brilliantly and convincingly captures this transition which can
move readers to reevaluate what we accept as a reasonable defense policy. The characters and their
relationships, for better or worse, are well-drawn. Unexpected twists and turns add to the reader's

Barbara Marinacci (additional comment from her)

“This is a remarkable novel with lots of dramatic and fun things going on, apart from The
Messages. I couldn't believe how GOOD it was, even when I first saw it. For someone who wasn't a
Lit major in college and pursued a writing career, you really did a bang-up job. Far better than most
people, even professional writers, could have done. And you really kept after it over the years, didn't

*Midwest Book Review

“California’s Gold Rush began in the late 1840s. Through the 1950s, the lesser known defense
industry rush went into full force. The Winged and Garlanded Nike is a novel linking the two rushes
in their financial impacts from the money flowing out and into California. Scott takes a hard critical
look at the defense era in its heydays of 1955 and its aftermath thirty years later in 1986, with
thought-provoking narratives and parody on the eras. Deftly written, the novel is highly
recommened for community library collections dedicated to literary fiction.”

Alan and Becky Nichols – Belvedere, CA

“If we had to characterize The Winged and Garlanded Nike in one word – it’s ‘brilliant.’ Like
any great novel on this subject, you teach us so much about the atomic era we all, luckily, lived
through. Characterizations are believable and extraordinary. I was amazed at your excellent and
interesting choice of words and dialogue. A little slow starting for me, but it soon, by page 28,
became a page turner. Becky had no trouble following all the characters. She reads more novels than
I do and she was enthralled. Congratulations.”

*Robert L. Nelson, retired scientist – Foster City, CA

“Having worked in the high-pressure aerospace/defense industry through the Cold War years,
with neither the time nor resources to fully comprehend "the big picture," I was eager to read Scott's
novel. Woven into the multi-threaded plot are believable characters whose lives are forever changed
(as mine was) when a defense plant comes to their bucolic California town. Scott skillfully works
in the politics and economics that prompted the greatest mobilization of advanced weaponry since
World War 2. These were hellish systems that could have precipitated a nuclear war that no one
could win and which could end all life on earth. Bravo, Scott, for portraying so accurately the life
that so many of us lived. “Nike" flawlessly recaptures the era when we all ran like lemmings to the
nuclear brink. A native Californian, with a fine sense of history, Scott draws allusions between the
greed of the Gold Rush, which decimated the countryside, and the motives of profit-driven defense
industries, where many of us worked, heedless of the consequences of our actions at many levels.”

Alexander kugushev, retired editor and author
“I have read Nike and liked it. I found it entertaining with well-etched characters and some
memorable scenes. Many good images and rich use of words. Congratulations on a work well

Bill and Sue Whelan, former bookstore owners – Petaluma, CA

“For several days we’ve have been trying to create the perfect review for this wonderful book (which, by the way,
scared the daylights out of me) and have decided that no eloquence here is going to create what you need. Instead, we
would like to offer some suggestions that reflect some of the things we observed in 11 years in the book business. The
key of course is publicity and a favorable review is an absolute must and we think the Chronicle is the perfect starting
place. I have no doubt that the quality of your story and its relevance today will easily get your foot in the door. When
you think of the tens of thousands of people from SF to ‘Fernville’ who prospered from the DOD gold rush, the book
should have wide appeal.”

Kent Schwartzman, Retired company president – Menlo Park, CA

“Having worked for an aerospace company during the early time period of NIKE, I can say
that Scott hits the mark in his description of that environment and the people involved,
and he does it with wit, humor and a great command of the language. The book is a
Cleverly entwined tale of the cold war, the reverse California gold rush, murder and just
the right amount of requited and unrequited love (or lust). It slyly mesmerizes the reader,
holding his attention, and while thought provoking about the cold war, often evokes chuckles as
well as outright laughter.”

*Neil Farlow, Lincoln, CA

“I got THE BOOK, I read THE BOOK, I loved THE BOOK! The development of the characters
was excellent, the prose superb, the story line outstanding and coherent, and I thoroughly enjoyed
my nostalgic trip back in time to those heady days of do-or-die in the aerospace and science
rackets. I was especially enthralled with Professor Dick Hervey, feeling a kinship with him as my
career also kind of stumbled along in the shadows, one jump ahead of being fired. I too stood in the
desert at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site and watched man's folly devastate the cactus and crawly
creatures as the bombs burst from atop towers or dropped from the skies. You did a great job with
this novel. I await your second novel with great anticipation, if we survive the Nuclear age with the
bomb's proliferation all over the world! Perhaps we should check with Austin Cooper to see if he
has any of those "tanks" still for sale. Congratulations on a great book!”

Guy Ferry – Sunnyvale, CA

“I finished The Winged and Garlanded Nike a few weeks ago. You did a great job. Congratulations”

Diana Menkes, editor – Pasadena, CA

“Once I began reading your novel, I'm afraid I got hooked. I'm not a fast reader, a result of being
a hawk-eyed editor for so many years, but I enjoyed it immensely. You included a number of real
characters (Ted Taylor, e.g.) which appealed to me. But it was the ones you invented that I
really enjoyed. You did a superb job of keeping track of their individual characteristics and
their narratives. And you are a master at dialogue. Even with very literary authors I admire there is a
tendency to get lazy and have everyone talking alike after a while. You were always attentive.

Almost all the characters were fully developed, so important when the novel is a long saga. I
identified the most with Hervey, though empathized with Wickware. I got attached to the Vista
restaurant and was sorry when it disappeared. I was also sorry that Alice lost interest in sex and
romance with Hervey, for they were a promising couple. Lots of amusing dialogue. I didn't find the
book quirky, as one blurbist did, but often very funny.
You obviously did an enormous amount of research to get the facts, the details, and the
ambiance of the times just right. While not intrusive, this was reassuring. Occasionally an historical
novel will hit a wrong note and trust is violated. Your political and technological history sounded
right on track, and even the invented history of Fernville held up to scrutiny.”

*Harold J. Hamilton – Theoretical Physicist, San Jose, CA

“This is a compelling story of human folly, of a small California town made over by the 49'ers
and again, a century later, by the nuclear weapons industry, as the Cold War evolved from one
technological advance to another. It is compelling because we share the little and very big
frustrations, hopes and worries of the novel’s characters. They are very real people.”

R.C. Allen – Aerospace Consultant, Los Angeles

“In his novel, S G Scott skillfully integrates the technical aspects of the associated technologies and the human
experiences from a pallet of personal associations, as he presents an intriguing journey which provided the fuel for a
controversial ‘post-cold war’ resolution.”
Pat Drake – Sun Valley, ID
“Marty, John and I enjoyed the book very much! But the caste of characters paled alongside some
of the Marquardt ones back in the fifties, namely Roy Marquardt and his wife who passed out and
was finally discovered at 4:AM in the morning (after one of those big parties) in our bathtub! We
were so impressed with your writing talent. I totally agree with those comments that you "wrote
with humor and precision." We also agree with Berrigan's quote in the Epilogue that "nuclear
weapons are the scourge of the earth." It sure makes you wonder about the future of our
grandchildren and our two Great Grandchildren. Thanks for that very interesting read!!!”

Richard Hippard, Realtor - San Francisco, CA

“Very enjoyable read. Fernville, a small town out of the way with its own history, mysteries and
cast of characters meets the driving forces of a Defense Department contractor. I found the Fernville
stories most engaging. The town’s characters were all caught up in the drama of their own personal
lives and were little affected by the larger story of a possible nuclear holocaust. Dick Hervey and
Alice added more real heat in Fernville than all the nuclear testing in the remoteness of the distant
desert! For some, the struggle to survive ones own life problems (gambling) was more
overwhelming than the threat of the bomb. But in the end the nuclear issues were the important

*Robert Saldich, An official of the Commonwealth Club of California

“An amazing book by an unknown author. S. G. Scott has written a compelling novel with
great, great characters (I fell in love with Alice)----love, greed, crime, and most important a
gradual unveiling of the atrocity of today's nuclear threats to the world. The book was a
great surprise and well worth reading.”

Bob Rouse, computer science professor – Washington University, St. Louis, MO
“I have read ‘Nike’ and found it to be a reality trip through the past. I enjoyed the story
and the multiple plots nicely woven together. The memories it recalled were fascinating. It
also made me think about the roll nuclear armaments have played in the presidential
election. There is some talk about nuclear proliferation, but none that I have seen about the
huge arsenals and delivery vehicle capacity around the world. It is like we have gotten used
to it. Pretty dangerous. Thanks for writing the book.”

*Ladywriter,” California – Editor/Tutor

“S.G. Scott's “The Winged and Garlanded Nike” is a remarkable debut novel that
skillfully explores the Cold War military expansion and its effects on California from the
1950s to the 70s. Scott interweaves California's Gold Rush history with the rise of missile-
building projects and massive Defense Dept. spending, showing how these forces shaped
California economically and demographically, while simultaneously despoiling the
environment. This is a sensitively written book that affords many delights. The characters
are deftly sketched, each speaking in his own well-differentiated manner. Scott uses frequent
touches of wit and dry humor. His protagonist is college professor Richard Hervey, who
serves as a vantage point from which the reader clearly sees the pitfalls of the bomb-
building era. Nike is an engrossing and engaging novel complete with romance, mystery,
seduction, betrayal, corruption and the growth and transformation of several characters.
But it is more than this - it is a rare glimpse into a hugely important era in American life,
and as such, doubly rewards the reader.”

Jeff Traum, Morgan Stanley Broker

“A few weeks ago I began reading “The Winged and Garlanded Nike” over
Thanksgiving weekend and I couldn’t put it down. You wrote a great novel and I enjoyed the
entire story and every story within the story. The characters were fun and interesting.
You’ve motivated me to revisit the White Mountains and the Bristlecone Pines. Great Job!”

Mary Ann Dawson, Grandmother–WA

“I bought two copies of “The Winged and Garlanded Nike” (one for Margi’s husband) and
I wondered if the subject matter scared the author as he wrote it, as much as it did me as I read it.”

*Richard Knapp, Colonel, U S Army, Retired, Washington, DC

The Nike - garlanded indeed!!
“A stunning portrayal of what it was like in the 50's as the world tried to grasp the meaning of
this new global threat and the dire consequences of its use. Scott has vividly described the
interworkings of the Military-Industrial Complex. His characters are real human being working on
the real challenges of life at a time when there was real (to some perceived) danger to the world they
knew. He takes the town of Fernville from its inception as a "gold rush" town to its state as a
"uranium rush" town. Interweaving plot and subplot concerning the history of the community, he
introduces the typical range of characters who we would expect to find in such a setting. But the
underlying pulse is the metaphysical throbbing of what is the correct thing to do in this lifetime with
the talents I have and the threat to the life I think I should be living? What is my purpose here and
what is the legacy I want to leave for my descendants? Scott does not answer these questions. He
leaves it up to each of us. We finish the novel as we lead our lives. No solutions just more
challenges. It is so real. It is so good!!! A must read for those who want to understand how we find
ourselves faced on a daily basis with the mantra of "doing the correct thing - making the correct

decisions." As a military officer involved in the affairs of a nuclear military world, "Nike" takes me
back to many scenes of my own life. It portrays the real people. After the "Intermezzo," Scott puts
us face-to-face with the challenges of the SDI program and all of its uncertainties. Many of us know
SDI was the correct approach but many others found it alarming. As we leave Fernville, we are
mentally perplexed with the uncertainty of the future. Read the "Nike"! You will be much better for

Rainbo electronic reviews, Minneapolis, MN

The small fictitious California town of Fernville in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains was the beneficiary of the Defense Department's spending sprees over the thirty years
that span this novel. We see the emergence of the nuclear deterrent in the mid-1950s and its
evolution into the Mutually Assured Destruction theory. The novel shows how the passage of time
has compressed those historic events into a vision of the past that obscures their significance. The
beauty of this novel is the interweaving of the characters as we observe them first in 1955 and then
in 1986. It’s an insightful tale of how the two Superpowers engaged in the build-up of nuclear
weapons and kept us at the brink of annihilation for more than 3 decades. A great summer read.

Sumner Walters,“Reverend” (Episcopalian)

“I enjoyed reading and re-reading your Gold Rush to the Atom novel. It takes awhile to
get to know the varied cast of characters, but it’s worth it in the end. Your knowledge of
working conditions, sex, politics, California history and geography is impressive. - - You
wound up on the side of the angels, but for awhile, it was touch and go!”

Mike Moore (A later note from the former editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
“Your note in which you described yourself as having been a ‘mid-level engineer’ amazes
me. Astonishes me. Awes me. Maybe I’m loading it on a bit thick, but Nike suggests that it was
written by someone with tons of varied high-level experience. That you could invent those story
lines and details that ring so true is quite a feat. If I wore a hat, I would tip it to you.”

*Kenneth E. Rutherford, Retired Executive, Portola Valley, CA

“What you never knew about the cold war and beyond! An eye-opening glimpse into the
heretofore murky world of the atomic age. Should be read, not only as an historic novel, but as a
viewpoint of the current world-wide precipice. The thought of 25,000 armed and aimed nuclear
warheads should scare the hell out of all of us!”

*Roberta G. Thompson, Housewife, CA

“This book warrants careful attention. The development of the tale is based on existing facts,
both in the near present and in the recent history of the State of the Union and the State of
California. Engrossing plot and character development reveal a thoughtful and caring author who
knows intimately both the foothills of the Gold Rush activities and the Atomic Era coming of age.
The meaning of the symbols of the Winged and Garlanded Nike become apparent as the reader is
more and more involved in the intricacies of the plot.”

Bill Burke, Retired Real Estate Executive, Corona Del Mar, CA

“I bought the book, flew to Maui, read the novel – voraciously. I appreciate the Green and
Nuclear Messages, loved the characters and plots, and could hardly wait to find "the murderer." I

relate to the travails, trysts and ageing of the characters. Good old Hervey and his love buddy, Alice.
Howie, the bastard, Wickware, the salamander hugger. I hope Arthur Sonett and Clarissa finally get
together. Maxtar's economic impact on Fernville is a model for Obama's Stimulus Package for our
national economy. I hope it works as well as Maxtar's did. Good to see "The Bastard King of
England" perpetuated. A re-read would reveal nuances and insights I have missed. Good Job, S.G.
Scott, from a legitimate and talented author. And I'll drink to that too.”

Cindy S, Teacher, Watsonville, CA

“- - - As for the novel, I feel bad that I didn't just pick up the phone to tell you how
impressed I was. I mean it that I think it is a very important book. The history was very meaningful
for me. You did a great job of bringing together the two time frames and making it all work. The
characters were real and memorable. I wondered how many of them (save the bird keeper!!) were
based on folks that you knew. I will absolutely check out the novel’s website again. I hope you are
proud of your perseverance, your contribution to history, and your time and effort in taking on the
biggest, badest, beasts of our time in a way that will enlighten more people that the quiet WMD still
lie sleeping in such unspeakable numbers - everywhere! Hats off to you.”

Loren Hov, scientist and inventor – Sacramento

“- - - Now about your novel, I was extremely interested and enjoyed it very much. You have a
gift for writing and the professionalism showed through. My only serious comment would be that
because I had to read it in spurts, it was hard to keep track of the many sub-plots. For those who
could read it in 3 or 5 days, it would be super!”

Milt and Carol Goodhart – Hemet, California

“We’ve been forever finishing your novel and here’s what we think: Your language flows easily
from chatty dialogue to exposition and commentary with a sophisticated linguistic style that is
impressive, as is your knowledge of the related science, told from an obvious experiential point of
view. The expanse of your narrative and your talent for keeping all of the characters consistent and
accounted for is impressive and your transitioning is interesting as well.”

Kathy Costa and Mary Grathwol, librarians – Santa Fe, NM

“We both loved “The Winged and Garlanded Nike.” Kudos to Scott. He writes brilliantly and
included something for everyone. We certainly learned a lot and truly savored all of it – even
managed to keep track of the characters. We’ve told friends about it as well and I sent a request to
purchase to the library, but they haven’t added it yet. Not a quick read, but a great one.”

Kathleen Laurie, potter and housewife — Evergreen, CO

“I'm on page 280! It's really good! Your writing is spectacular. Stay tuned!”

“Well, I finished Nike. It is not a book I would have pursued if left to my own devices at the
library or bookstore, but I'm so glad I read it. Not only is your writing wonderful, but I felt like I
knew the characters. I could see the town in my mind's eye, and was drawn along as the plot
thickened. Your novel helped me understand the early beginnings of the cold war and nuclear age.
The ending was quite good as it showed how a job can take over the real reason for doing something
and how the scientists and engineers were only concerned with their part of the job and not the

horrible consequences of what they were manufacturing. The early chapter about the Bristlecone
forest struck a chord with me, as Mark and I admire the tenacity of those trees. It has to be the only
novel of its kind out there in bookland. And of course I loved the cat moments. I truly enjoyed the
‘Nike.’ Bravo!!!!!

Comments from the Authonomy.com website where authors upload their books for mutual pats-on-
the-back. Although very amateur, unpublished genre writers swamp the site, the following
comments about Nike were presented without strings and appear to be genuine reactions.

“This is some of the most intelligent writing on the site. Your prose is pitch perfect with
a beautiful array of imagery on display. You are a true wordsmith.”
“This has an exciting premise and lots of promise. It's well written and seems well

“Wow, you have such an amazing imagination and a real gift for harnessing it into words!
The characterizations are smart and spot on! My kind of read!”

“This is a fine story, an interesting contrast between the gold rush and the cold war. You
have good characters and an engaging writing style.”

“A stunning imagination and an amazing way with words make this a terrific read. You
definitely appear to have researched your subject matter well. A cleverly crafted novel.”

“Beautifully written with an obvious passion for intrigue. Well done.”

“A masterful beginning to this multi-faceted story. I love the first chapter, where you give
us an expert introduction to Alice and Ryland Smith in a few paragraphs. Through their
interactions we ascertain everything we need to know to be interested--the remains of their
marriage, her drinking, their antagonisms but steadfastness to each other. And the fact that
they are on their way to something is intriguing and makes us feel pulled right into the story.
Great finish too, with Ryland looking down over his building. Then, Chapter 2, which was
even better. I love the way you began this, with a list of interlocking characters and their
reactions to the same event. Your prose is impeccable; your dialogue engaging, witty and
realistic. I like the backdrop of historical events and the way you approach it from several
angles through your characters--political, educational, business. Excellent work, really well done.”
hology? Probably not. Ah, the typographically modest subtitle, which is easily
overlooked, offers a clue: a “novel about the atomic age.” But this is 2008! Who
wants to read a novel about the “atomic age”? How do you spell a-na-chro-nism?
We’re in the iPod, instant-messaging, wind-power age – aren’t we?
But when I got to Nike– Wow! I had not expected an epic, but that’s what I got. The sweep of Nike is staggering –
intrigue, cupidity, and murder spanning the decades, from gold-rush California to the modern high-tech, tract-houses,
freeway-lovin’ Golden State. (And did I forget to mention serial adultery? What self-respecting epic would lack that?)
But intrigue, quirky characters, greed, murder and even adultery are really just bits of spice in Nike. The novel is
about how we humans came close to ending life on Earth as we know it, leaving the planet to beetles and corpses. And
even worse, the 70,000 or so nuclear weapons that the United States and the Soviet Union were ready to throw at
one another on, say, 10 or 12 minutes or so of sober reflection, went virtually unnoticed by most of us. As one of Nike’s

characters puts it, when finally exposed to the arcana of America’s nuclear priesthood during a professional meeting:
“From what I see and hear, the building is on fire and the goddamn ship is sinkin”!)
The good ship Global Civilization didn’t sink, but it came close to it many times during the Cold War. The
survival of civilization was for decades largely a matter of chance … figuratively, a roll of the dice. The readers of Nike
will gain a keen appreciation of that.
In regard to nuclear war, things are better today – aren’t they? No argument. And yet Russia and the United States
still have many thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at one another, ready to go at any moment. They are “de-
targeted,” to be sure, but that’s more PR than reality. In a time of high tension, they can be re-targeted with a few mouse
clicks. Will there be more times of “high tension.” That’s anyone’s guess. But consider this: the United States seems
intent on starting up a new global arms race by building space-related weapons, even though virtually all of the world’s
nations say that would be dangerously provocative. Déjà vu all over again.
In Ancient Greece, Nike was the winged goddess of victory. In Scott’s book, the Nike is the nuclear-tipped
defensive missile system that ringed most of America’s cities in the early days of the Cold War. But it was widely
understood at the time in the “expert community” as a Potemkin Village which make-us-all-feel-better sort of thing. In a
shooting war, it would have been useless. In his novel, Scott makes it plain that the men and women who design and
control America’s military policy are often wrong. Their policies must be continually cross-examined by real-world no-
BS commonsense. And we, the people, are the ones who must exercise that commonsense.
The Winged and Garlanded Nike is no anachronism. It challenges the reader. By better understanding the dynamics
of the first Cold War, perhaps we can head off Cold War II.”

Frida Berrigan, Arms and Security Initiative, New America Foundation

“With humor and precision, Scott draws us into an engaging and entertaining epic across the
nuclear age” (Promotional blurb by Ms. Berrigan for the novel’s back cover)

Lawrence Colin, retired physicist and NASA executive – Palo Alto, CA

“Well, I finally read The Winged and Garlanded Nike and I think it is fantastic!!!!!!! The story is
great, character development terrific, and I couldn't put it down. I loved the structure: 1955,
Intermezzo, 1986, and Epilogue. The use of the Intermezzo with its yearly snippets was inspired. I
am amazed at your breadth of knowledge concerning geography, biology, nuclear matters, etc. etc.
Have you thought to try to sell it as a movie? I can easily imagine a very good one.”

Barbara Marinacci, author and editor/co-editor of seven books

“Quirky and given to sharp dialogue and impassioned thinking, Scott vividly delineates a host of
characters who make wonderful company as they find themselves immersed in nuclear and
environmental issues of the millenium. Read this timely novel!” (Promotional blurb by Ms.
Marinacci for the novel’s back cover.)

*Irv Brenner – Palo Alto, CA

“This novel could stand alone as a compelling story of life in a small town in the California
Sierra foothills during the Fifties and eighties and the town's transition from small hamlet to thriving
community, often with troubling consequences. But the novel does much more. The overriding
theme deals with how nuclear missile technology affects both the local residents and the entire
country. When the story moves from 1955 to 1986, the common wisdom begins to change. What
was initially perceived as benign and beneficial research has evolved into a fire-breathing and
unstoppable monster. The author brilliantly and convincingly captures this transition which can
move readers to reevaluate what we accept as a reasonable defense policy. The characters and their

relationships, for better or worse, are well-drawn. Unexpected twists and turns add to the reader's

Barbara Marinacci (additional comment from her)

“This is a remarkable novel with lots of dramatic and fun things going on, apart from The
Messages. I couldn't believe how GOOD it was, even when I first saw it. For someone who wasn't a
Lit major in college and pursued a writing career, you really did a bang-up job. Far better than most
people, even professional writers, could have done. And you really kept after it over the years, didn't

*Midwest Book Review

“California’s Gold Rush began in the late 1840s. Through the 1950s, the lesser known defense
industry rush went into full force. The Winged and Garlanded Nike is a novel linking the two rushes
in their financial impacts from the money flowing out and into California. Scott takes a hard critical
look at the defense era in its heydays of 1955 and its aftermath thirty years later in 1986, with
thought-provoking narratives and parody on the eras. Deftly written, the novel is highly
recommened for community library collections dedicated to literary fiction.”

Alan and Becky Nichols – Belvedere, CA

“If we had to characterize The Winged and Garlanded Nike in one word – it’s ‘brilliant.’ Like
any great novel on this subject, you teach us so much about the atomic era we all, luckily, lived
through. Characterizations are believable and extraordinary. I was amazed at your excellent and
interesting choice of words and dialogue. A little slow starting for me, but it soon, by page 28,
became a page turner. Becky had no trouble following all the characters. She reads more novels than
I do and she was enthralled. Congratulations.”

*Robert L. Nelson, retired scientist – Foster City, CA

“Having worked in the high-pressure aerospace/defense industry through the Cold War years,
with neither the time nor resources to fully comprehend "the big picture," I was eager to read Scott's
novel. Woven into the multi-threaded plot are believable characters whose lives are forever changed
(as mine was) when a defense plant comes to their bucolic California town. Scott skillfully works
in the politics and economics that prompted the greatest mobilization of advanced weaponry since
World War 2. These were hellish systems that could have precipitated a nuclear war that no one
could win and which could end all life on earth. Bravo, Scott, for portraying so accurately the life
that so many of us lived. “Nike" flawlessly recaptures the era when we all ran like lemmings to the
nuclear brink. A native Californian, with a fine sense of history, Scott draws allusions between the
greed of the Gold Rush, which decimated the countryside, and the motives of profit-driven defense
industries, where many of us worked, heedless of the consequences of our actions at many levels.”

Alexander kugushev, retired editor and author

“I have read Nike and liked it. I found it entertaining with well-etched characters and some
memorable scenes. Many good images and rich use of words. Congratulations on a work well

Bill and Sue Whelan, former bookstore owners – Petaluma, CA

“For several days we’ve have been trying to create the perfect review for this wonderful book (which, by the way,
scared the daylights out of me) and have decided that no eloquence here is going to create what you need. Instead, we
would like to offer some suggestions that reflect some of the things we observed in 11 years in the book business. The
key of course is publicity and a favorable review is an absolute must and we think the Chronicle is the perfect starting
place. I have no doubt that the quality of your story and its relevance today will easily get your foot in the door. When
you think of the tens of thousands of people from SF to ‘Fernville’ who prospered from the DOD gold rush, the book
should have wide appeal.”

Kent Schwartzman, Retired company president – Menlo Park, CA

“Having worked for an aerospace company during the early time period of NIKE, I can say
that Scott hits the mark in his description of that environment and the people involved,
and he does it with wit, humor and a great command of the language. The book is a
Cleverly entwined tale of the cold war, the reverse California gold rush, murder and just
the right amount of requited and unrequited love (or lust). It slyly mesmerizes the reader,
holding his attention, and while thought provoking about the cold war, often evokes chuckles as
well as outright laughter.”

*Neil Farlow, Lincoln, CA

“I got THE BOOK, I read THE BOOK, I loved THE BOOK! The development of the characters
was excellent, the prose superb, the story line outstanding and coherent, and I thoroughly enjoyed
my nostalgic trip back in time to those heady days of do-or-die in the aerospace and science
rackets. I was especially enthralled with Professor Dick Hervey, feeling a kinship with him as my
career also kind of stumbled along in the shadows, one jump ahead of being fired. I too stood in the
desert at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site and watched man's folly devastate the cactus and crawly
creatures as the bombs burst from atop towers or dropped from the skies. You did a great job with
this novel. I await your second novel with great anticipation, if we survive the Nuclear age with the
bomb's proliferation all over the world! Perhaps we should check with Austin Cooper to see if he
has any of those "tanks" still for sale. Congratulations on a great book!”

Guy Ferry – Sunnyvale, CA

“I finished The Winged and Garlanded Nike a few weeks ago. You did a great job. Congratulations”

Diana Menkes, editor – Pasadena, CA

“Once I began reading your novel, I'm afraid I got hooked. I'm not a fast reader, a result of being
a hawk-eyed editor for so many years, but I enjoyed it immensely. You included a number of real
characters (Ted Taylor, e.g.) which appealed to me. But it was the ones you invented that I
really enjoyed. You did a superb job of keeping track of their individual characteristics and
their narratives. And you are a master at dialogue. Even with very literary authors I admire there is a
tendency to get lazy and have everyone talking alike after a while. You were always attentive.
Almost all the characters were fully developed, so important when the novel is a long saga. I
identified the most with Hervey, though empathized with Wickware. I got attached to the Vista
restaurant and was sorry when it disappeared. I was also sorry that Alice lost interest in sex and
romance with Hervey, for they were a promising couple. Lots of amusing dialogue. I didn't find the
book quirky, as one blurbist did, but often very funny.
You obviously did an enormous amount of research to get the facts, the details, and the
ambiance of the times just right. While not intrusive, this was reassuring. Occasionally an historical

novel will hit a wrong note and trust is violated. Your political and technological history sounded
right on track, and even the invented history of Fernville held up to scrutiny.”

*Harold J. Hamilton – Theoretical Physicist, San Jose, CA

“This is a compelling story of human folly, of a small California town made over by the 49'ers
and again, a century later, by the nuclear weapons industry, as the Cold War evolved from one
technological advance to another. It is compelling because we share the little and very big
frustrations, hopes and worries of the novel’s characters. They are very real people.”

R.C. Allen – Aerospace Consultant, Los Angeles

“In his novel, S G Scott skillfully integrates the technical aspects of the associated technologies and the human
experiences from a pallet of personal associations, as he presents an intriguing journey which provided the fuel for a
controversial ‘post-cold war’ resolution.”
Pat Drake – Sun Valley, ID
“Marty, John and I enjoyed the book very much! But the caste of characters paled alongside some
of the Marquardt ones back in the fifties, namely Roy Marquardt and his wife who passed out and
was finally discovered at 4:AM in the morning (after one of those big parties) in our bathtub! We
were so impressed with your writing talent. I totally agree with those comments that you "wrote
with humor and precision." We also agree with Berrigan's quote in the Epilogue that "nuclear
weapons are the scourge of the earth." It sure makes you wonder about the future of our
grandchildren and our two Great Grandchildren. Thanks for that very interesting read!!!”

Richard Hippard, Realtor - San Francisco, CA

“Very enjoyable read. Fernville, a small town out of the way with its own history, mysteries and
cast of characters meets the driving forces of a Defense Department contractor. I found the Fernville
stories most engaging. The town’s characters were all caught up in the drama of their own personal
lives and were little affected by the larger story of a possible nuclear holocaust. Dick Hervey and
Alice added more real heat in Fernville than all the nuclear testing in the remoteness of the distant
desert! For some, the struggle to survive ones own life problems (gambling) was more
overwhelming than the threat of the bomb. But in the end the nuclear issues were the important

*Robert Saldich, An official of the Commonwealth Club of California

“An amazing book by an unknown author. S. G. Scott has written a compelling novel with
great, great characters (I fell in love with Alice)----love, greed, crime, and most important a
gradual unveiling of the atrocity of today's nuclear threats to the world. The book was a
great surprise and well worth reading.”

Bob Rouse, computer science professor – Washington University, St. Louis, MO

“I have read ‘Nike’ and found it to be a reality trip through the past. I enjoyed the story
and the multiple plots nicely woven together. The memories it recalled were fascinating. It
also made me think about the roll nuclear armaments have played in the presidential
election. There is some talk about nuclear proliferation, but none that I have seen about the
huge arsenals and delivery vehicle capacity around the world. It is like we have gotten used
to it. Pretty dangerous. Thanks for writing the book.”

*Ladywriter,” California – Editor/Tutor

“S.G. Scott's “The Winged and Garlanded Nike” is a remarkable debut novel that
skillfully explores the Cold War military expansion and its effects on California from the
1950s to the 70s. Scott interweaves California's Gold Rush history with the rise of missile-
building projects and massive Defense Dept. spending, showing how these forces shaped
California economically and demographically, while simultaneously despoiling the
environment. This is a sensitively written book that affords many delights. The characters
are deftly sketched, each speaking in his own well-differentiated manner. Scott uses frequent
touches of wit and dry humor. His protagonist is college professor Richard Hervey, who
serves as a vantage point from which the reader clearly sees the pitfalls of the bomb-
building era. Nike is an engrossing and engaging novel complete with romance, mystery,
seduction, betrayal, corruption and the growth and transformation of several characters.
But it is more than this - it is a rare glimpse into a hugely important era in American life,
and as such, doubly rewards the reader.”

Jeff Traum, Morgan Stanley Broker

“A few weeks ago I began reading “The Winged and Garlanded Nike” over
Thanksgiving weekend and I couldn’t put it down. You wrote a great novel and I enjoyed the
entire story and every story within the story. The characters were fun and interesting.
You’ve motivated me to revisit the White Mountains and the Bristlecone Pines. Great Job!”

Mary Ann Dawson, Grandmother–WA

“I bought two copies of “The Winged and Garlanded Nike” (one for Margi’s husband) and
I wondered if the subject matter scared the author as he wrote it, as much as it did me as I read it.”

*Richard Knapp, Colonel, U S Army, Retired, Washington, DC

The Nike - garlanded indeed!!
“A stunning portrayal of what it was like in the 50's as the world tried to grasp the meaning of
this new global threat and the dire consequences of its use. Scott has vividly described the
interworkings of the Military-Industrial Complex. His characters are real human being working on
the real challenges of life at a time when there was real (to some perceived) danger to the world they
knew. He takes the town of Fernville from its inception as a "gold rush" town to its state as a
"uranium rush" town. Interweaving plot and subplot concerning the history of the community, he
introduces the typical range of characters who we would expect to find in such a setting. But the
underlying pulse is the metaphysical throbbing of what is the correct thing to do in this lifetime with
the talents I have and the threat to the life I think I should be living? What is my purpose here and
what is the legacy I want to leave for my descendants? Scott does not answer these questions. He
leaves it up to each of us. We finish the novel as we lead our lives. No solutions just more
challenges. It is so real. It is so good!!! A must read for those who want to understand how we find
ourselves faced on a daily basis with the mantra of "doing the correct thing - making the correct
decisions." As a military officer involved in the affairs of a nuclear military world, "Nike" takes me
back to many scenes of my own life. It portrays the real people. After the "Intermezzo," Scott puts
us face-to-face with the challenges of the SDI program and all of its uncertainties. Many of us know
SDI was the correct approach but many others found it alarming. As we leave Fernville, we are
mentally perplexed with the uncertainty of the future. Read the "Nike"! You will be much better for

Rainbo electronic reviews, Minneapolis, MN

The small fictitious California town of Fernville in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains was the beneficiary of the Defense Department's spending sprees over the thirty years
that span this novel. We see the emergence of the nuclear deterrent in the mid-1950s and its
evolution into the Mutually Assured Destruction theory. The novel shows how the passage of time
has compressed those historic events into a vision of the past that obscures their significance. The
beauty of this novel is the interweaving of the characters as we observe them first in 1955 and then
in 1986. It’s an insightful tale of how the two Superpowers engaged in the build-up of nuclear
weapons and kept us at the brink of annihilation for more than 3 decades. A great summer read.

Sumner Walters,“Reverend” (Episcopalian)

“I enjoyed reading and re-reading your Gold Rush to the Atom novel. It takes awhile to
get to know the varied cast of characters, but it’s worth it in the end. Your knowledge of
working conditions, sex, politics, California history and geography is impressive. - - You
wound up on the side of the angels, but for awhile, it was touch and go!”

Mike Moore (A later note from the former editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
“Your note in which you described yourself as having been a ‘mid-level engineer’ amazes
me. Astonishes me. Awes me. Maybe I’m loading it on a bit thick, but Nike suggests that it was
written by someone with tons of varied high-level experience. That you could invent those story
lines and details that ring so true is quite a feat. If I wore a hat, I would tip it to you.”

*Kenneth E. Rutherford, Retired Executive, Portola Valley, CA

“What you never knew about the cold war and beyond! An eye-opening glimpse into the
heretofore murky world of the atomic age. Should be read, not only as an historic novel, but as a
viewpoint of the current world-wide precipice. The thought of 25,000 armed and aimed nuclear
warheads should scare the hell out of all of us!”

*Roberta G. Thompson, Housewife, CA

“This book warrants careful attention. The development of the tale is based on existing facts,
both in the near present and in the recent history of the State of the Union and the State of
California. Engrossing plot and character development reveal a thoughtful and caring author who
knows intimately both the foothills of the Gold Rush activities and the Atomic Era coming of age.
The meaning of the symbols of the Winged and Garlanded Nike become apparent as the reader is
more and more involved in the intricacies of the plot.”

Bill Burke, Retired Real Estate Executive, Corona Del Mar, CA

“I bought the book, flew to Maui, read the novel – voraciously. I appreciate the Green and
Nuclear Messages, loved the characters and plots, and could hardly wait to find "the murderer." I
relate to the travails, trysts and ageing of the characters. Good old Hervey and his love buddy, Alice.
Howie, the bastard, Wickware, the salamander hugger. I hope Arthur Sonett and Clarissa finally get
together. Maxtar's economic impact on Fernville is a model for Obama's Stimulus Package for our
national economy. I hope it works as well as Maxtar's did. Good to see "The Bastard King of
England" perpetuated. A re-read would reveal nuances and insights I have missed. Good Job, S.G.
Scott, from a legitimate and talented author. And I'll drink to that too.”

Cindy S, Teacher, Watsonville, CA
“- - - As for the novel, I feel bad that I didn't just pick up the phone to tell you how
impressed I was. I mean it that I think it is a very important book. The history was very meaningful
for me. You did a great job of bringing together the two time frames and making it all work. The
characters were real and memorable. I wondered how many of them (save the bird keeper!!) were
based on folks that you knew. I will absolutely check out the novel’s website again. I hope you are
proud of your perseverance, your contribution to history, and your time and effort in taking on the
biggest, badest, beasts of our time in a way that will enlighten more people that the quiet WMD still
lie sleeping in such unspeakable numbers - everywhere! Hats off to you.”

Loren Hov, scientist and inventor – Sacramento

“- - - Now about your novel, I was extremely interested and enjoyed it very much. You have a
gift for writing and the professionalism showed through. My only serious comment would be that
because I had to read it in spurts, it was hard to keep track of the many sub-plots. For those who
could read it in 3 or 5 days, it would be super!”

Milt and Carol Goodhart – Hemet, California

“We’ve been forever finishing your novel and here’s what we think: Your language flows easily
from chatty dialogue to exposition and commentary with a sophisticated linguistic style that is
impressive, as is your knowledge of the related science, told from an obvious experiential point of
view. The expanse of your narrative and your talent for keeping all of the characters consistent and
accounted for is impressive and your transitioning is interesting as well.”

Kathy Costa and Mary Grathwol, librarians – Santa Fe, NM

“We both loved “The Winged and Garlanded Nike.” Kudos to Scott. He writes brilliantly and
included something for everyone. We certainly learned a lot and truly savored all of it – even
managed to keep track of the characters. We’ve told friends about it as well and I sent a request to
purchase to the library, but they haven’t added it yet. Not a quick read, but a great one.”

Kathleen Laurie, potter and housewife — Evergreen, CO

“I'm on page 280! It's really good! Your writing is spectacular. Stay tuned!”

“Well, I finished Nike. It is not a book I would have pursued if left to my own devices at the
library or bookstore, but I'm so glad I read it. Not only is your writing wonderful, but I felt like I
knew the characters. I could see the town in my mind's eye, and was drawn along as the plot
thickened. Your novel helped me understand the early beginnings of the cold war and nuclear age.
The ending was quite good as it showed how a job can take over the real reason for doing something
and how the scientists and engineers were only concerned with their part of the job and not the
horrible consequences of what they were manufacturing. The early chapter about the Bristlecone
forest struck a chord with me, as Mark and I admire the tenacity of those trees. It has to be the only
novel of its kind out there in bookland. And of course I loved the cat moments. I truly enjoyed the
‘Nike.’ Bravo!!!!!

Comments from the Authonomy.com website where authors upload their books for mutual pats-on-
the-back. Although very amateur, unpublished genre writers swamp the site, the following
comments about Nike were presented without strings and appear to be genuine reactions.

“This is some of the most intelligent writing on the site. Your prose is pitch perfect with a
beautiful array of imagery on display. You are a true wordsmith.”
“This has an exciting premise and lots of promise. It's well written and seems well

“Wow, you have such an amazing imagination and a real gift for harnessing it into words! The
characterizations are smart and spot on! My kind of read!”

“This is a fine story, an interesting contrast between the gold rush and the cold war. You
have good characters and an engaging writing style.”

“A stunning imagination and an amazing way with words make this a terrific read. You
definitely appear to have researched your subject matter well. A cleverly crafted novel.”

“Beautifully written with an obvious passion for intrigue. Well done.”

“A masterful beginning to this multi-faceted story. I love the first chapter, where you give us an
expert introduction to Alice and Ryland Smith in a few paragraphs. Through their interactions we
ascertain everything we need to know to be interested--the remains of their marriage, her drinking,
their antagonisms but steadfastness to each other. And the fact that they are on their way to
something is intriguing and makes us feel pulled right into the story. Great finish too, with Ryland
looking down over his building. Then, Chapter 2, which was even better. I love the way you began
this, with a list of interlocking characters and their reactions to the same event. Your prose is
impeccable; your dialogue engaging, witty and realistic. I like the backdrop of historical events and
the way you approach it from several angles through your characters--political, educational,
business. Excellent work, really well done.”



Fernville, California – 1955



Fernville, California – 1986


Author’s Note

Citing the possibility of a Soviet nuclear attack, the Department of

Defense (DoD) in 1955 issued Instruction 5220.5, a new procurement
policy that was to favor those competing defense companies which
dispersed from areas of concentrated industry. Beneficiaries of this
policy turned out to be cities such as Wichita, Sunnyvale, Columbus,
Ogden, Tulsa – and this novel’s fictional city of Fernville, California.

Characters herein are fictional with the exception of the several political, scientific and
military figures referenced, personages who have long been in the public domain. They play no part
in the novel’s narratives

Prologue – May 20, 1986

Before Alice quit drinking in 1970 she endured airline travel by following a strict protocol:
bourbon before – gin during – and celebration after with a little brandy in the airport lounge. Ryland
Smith was indulgent about this, acknowledging her still-vivid memory of that terrifying dive in the
Martin 404 out of Chicago in 1957 during a violent thunderstorm. But he also welcomed a comatose
Alice to a talkative one while he worked through his large pile of paperwork. She would sit quietly,
her right hand squeezing the armrest at the slightest bump, and with eyes closed pretend to read,
occasionally turning a page of the book in her lap.
After surviving years of such travel, Alice regained enough confidence in planes and pilots
that a new and alcohol-free regimen gave her a satisfactory peace of mind. Once airborne, Alice
Smith transfigured into the book-jacket-glamorous Alice Devereau, writer of murder mysteries.
There she researched, plotted and wrote her novels in deadly earnest, and this creative routine
became as calming as her alcoholic one had once been. She was successful in this competitive genre
with six published books as well as several yet unpublished ones.
As if she stepped into another skin, Alice regularly drifted off to become Alice Devereau, not
simply the writing name, but a woman larger in personality and more romantic than the two-
dimensional one she believed she was constrained to practice as a “Smith.” When younger, she
wondered if truly named Alice Devereau she might have become a different person altogether.
“Smith” was a storm anchor, and most of her crimes of commission and omission, in and out of
marriage, were committed by Alice Devereau.

“Ryland!” Alice turned and touched her husband’s arm. “Do you realize the thirty years
we’ve been away from Fernville are almost a third of its entire lifetime?” She frowned, finding this

a revelation of sorts. “If anybody’s left we know, I guess we’ll see them at its centennial celebration
all this week.”
As the Boeing 737 began its descent to the Fernville, California, Airport, she switched from
her nom de plume persona to become again Alice Smith, the veteran congressman's wife. Mental
telepathy, which Alice occasionally believed in, suggested her husband was then reminded of
Richard Hervey, hoping he was dead, while she knew he wasn't because of the note she’d received a
few weeks before.
“Of course there’ll be many missing, Alice. You expect that after thirty years, don’t you?”
Ryland Smith replied in a flat voice, only slightly turning his head from the text in his lap. His
response carried a slight didactic and hectoring overtone which Alice was accustomed to, believing
it derived from his being in charge of almost everybody in the many years prior to his political
career. “The Milanos and a few of the Kloitses are still big Republican donors, but I’d bet Austin
Cooper and some of those other Fernville characters drank themselves to death.” It was not
surprising their first words after forty minutes of flight from Los Angeles hinted around death.
Ryland was 76, Alice ten years younger, and their grim musings over newspaper obituary pages,
and death in general, had become more frequent now.
This indifferent exchange was routine, for their worlds were largely separate with but few
stubborn lines of communication. After nearly forty-seven tumultuous years, their relationship was
battered and scarred, but weathering this storm of a marriage was now no longer in question. Forty-
seven years with occasional compatibility had finally added to a positive. They needed each other
over their remaining years.

The airliner’s northerly flight path had paralleled the long and narrow Sierra Nevada
mountain range, following the juncture of its foothills and the edge of the great, flat San Joaquin
Valley of California. The snow remaining on the high granite peaks told Ryland Smith that winter
had been fruitful, and streams and rivers he remembered from thirty years before would flow full
into the valley until early summer.
As the plane began its approach to the Fernville airport he became aware of pangs from a
sentiment he could only label as nostalgia. But as a hard-headed executive and a long-time
congressman he believed he hadn’t the internal climate for such frivolous feelings. He had made

many short stops throughout his long careers with but little sentimental attachment to any of them.
And yet, the approaching city had indeed aroused long-suppressed emotions, as if it were a catalyst
for that melancholy summing up, that harsh and secret life-review which the long-of-life people get
around to eventually.
“This looks good now, Charlie.” Smith passed the papers to his aide across the aisle. “It’ll be
my last speech supporting this Pentagon program and I promised to hit it hard for the President.”
“If you weren’t retiring, Ryland,” his aide quipped, “everyone would think from this speech
you were running for senator.”
There. That was it, of course. His long political career was ending. Fernville was one of his
last political junkets and it was here where inspiration to enter politics germinated thirty years
before and led to his distinguished congressional service. Had he instead continued on the
conventional corporate track, he would have been long-retired to those indolent pastures in Florida
or Arizona, golfing away with the others, zealously monitoring his stocks and bonds – waiting out
his last years. Instead, he remained vital as one of the nation’s key decision-makers, a tough and
unsentimental man certainly, yet recognition of a beginning and an ending had now triggered an
unfamiliar melancholy.
And yes, he should have aimed for the Senate. There he’d be more effective in promoting
President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, the crucial ballistic missile defense issue he would
address here in Fernville.
“You should have run for senator, Ryland,” Alice said. “You could easily have beaten
Hayakawa or George Murphy or Tunney, those unqualified, upstart California senators. On your
looks alone. You do look like a senator among senators.”
Ryland Smith was positively senatorial and knew it, but he recognized the hint of mockery
in her tone. “Not so loud, Alice. This is a dead issue,” he said gruffly.
Alice distracted herself from the bouncing of the descending airplane by concentrating on
the implications of Richard Hervey’s note and the news clipping she’d just received from him.
“Human Remains Turn Up in Old Mineshaft” was the headline of a short article from the
Fernville Tribune, dated a few weeks before. It said the new mine owner, Beebe Enterprises, had
been assessing the old Kloits hardrock gold mine, closed since 1921. Hervey’s note was terse like
the others he’d sent her over those thirty years:

Alice Devereau knows who that is. And so do I.
I see a demand for a new edition of your novel:
‘Auriferous Grounds – for Murder’
Helen Needham’s private papers to be opened, so
Milano and Kloits clans sweat. Me – feeling rather poorly.
If I’d known I’d live this long …

“Notice I’ve added something on that mobile Soviet strategic missile with the polar
trajectory and ten mirved warheads,” Smith was saying to his aide. “That news release in the New
York Times today might wake up even some liberal Democrats.” He tipped his head toward Alice.
An odd fact crossed his mind then – obvious, yet it had never occurred before. His careers
had spanned and been driven by the Cold War. For over thirty-five years, with nuclear forces on
knife-edge alert, his executive and political skills were expended in that confrontation which now
was more ominous than ever. He must work something of this into his speech – a Churchillian
effort, he mused, and the last major speech of a retiring elder statesman.
Alice looked up from her work, wide-eyed again. “Ryland … the dogs and cats in Fernville.
They’ll all be new!”
“New?” He frowned, his thoughts broken up. “Well, it’s only been thirty years, Alice,” the
slight sarcasm not lost on her.
“Sorry. It just seemed like an interesting observation.”
He turned away, yet he had been touched by her remark, a poignant reminder that almost
everyone he knew when he was Fernville’s most powerful and visible corporate executive would be
gone, many of them dead.
Alice’s thoughts had already moved beyond cats and dogs and back to Hervey’s note. She
sighed and muttered under her breath: “…I would’ve switched to soda, and stayed clear of you.”

Fernville sprawled from the foothills into the flatland with long thrusts of disorderly growth.
To the east it lapped up into the Sierra foothills where its housing tracts choked shallow canyons and
covered hillsides and ridge tops – all this so changed from Ryland Smith’s remembered images
where the city’s modest growth then occurred only on its western fringe in the valley.
Quickly the plane came in over a corner of the city. He looked past Alice, hunched over in

the window seat though she had never looked out from one. He took in the half-remembered
landmarks from the panorama of the modern Fernville with its sprouting office towers and large
apartment buildings. And then he looked for their hillside home, once high up on a clean, delineated
edge of the town, but it was now lost in a jumble of housing that sought the more prestigious ground
farther up in the rising eastern hills.
Just before the plane touched down, Alice placed the small book she had started to read in
her bag. It was Fernville: Improbable Town – A Brief History of the Region - 1851 to 1953, by
Helen Crossman. Alice hadn’t looked at it in years, but it had been the inspiration for Auriferous
Grounds – for Murder, her first novel, published in 1956, which had received critical accolades
never repeated for her later ones. Dick Hervey once wrote to her that some locals were angry and
even litigious over what they perceived were slanderous insinuations about them and to certain
events. But surely all that must be forgotten by now. Helen Crossman Needham’s self-published,
unread and out-of-print local history was amateurish, but Alice had once found several tantalizing
puzzles in it. Helen’s private papers, scheduled to be made public on the day of Fernville’s
centennial, might reveal clues to her death in 1955 which was then accepted as from a heart attack.
But Alice Devereau the novelist thought she saw murder there, and that was one of the reasons she
was on that airplane.
She might even try to revive her unpublished second novel, The Cyanide Process, an
intended sequel to Auriferous. One editor’s note accompanying the rejection still angered her. The
locale was “unrealistic,” though it was a look-alike of Fernville. Her voice lacked a “hard and
explicit edge,” but Alice, bred in the ’30s, chose to hide sex and mayhem behind closed doors,
trusting them to the readers’ fertile imagination over the writer’s graphic effusions. And the
character of the small-college professor was a “boring stereotype,” though he was the incarnation of
Richard Hervey. A stereotype? – Well that he couldn’t help. Boring? – Then her rendering had
failed him.
Alice gripped both armrests and closed her eyes. She repeated a short prayer, always the
same, her token acceptance of a guardian angel.
The slightest frown crossed Ryland Smith’s reserved brow during this recitation. “Come on,
Alice. Keep it down.” As the plane touched the runway, he saw the airport familiars: Hertz, Avis,
National and Budget. This landing, once snug and countrified between the walnut groves, could now

be anywhere in the nation.
And there, close by, was the great building – his building – once beyond the town but now
surrounded by the city. Except for its gray color it struck him as unchanged. The bold lettering
across the front said:
- Missile Systems Division -

He saw his hands now, the skin a discolored parchment. He had grown old – the town
middle-aged. The 1955 cats and dogs were all dead. But his building, still dominant over even the
modern structures, was as vital and imposing as before.


Fernville, California
October 1955

“For those mired in thinking about it all day, every day, in the corridors of officialdom, nuclear
strategy had become the stuff of a living dreamworld.”

Fred Kaplan The Wizards Of Armageddon, 1983

(October 12, 1955)

You look up and see the fireball as it rises into the sky. It has all the rich colors of the
rainbow. It turns to a beautiful pale yellow and shapes itself into a cosmic mushroom.
Then the fire ends, quiet descends – and life continues. (Anonymous observer,

At dawn in the fall of 1955 an “Event,” as it was then called, occurred in a

remote part of Nevada at exactly five o’clock. There were witnesses: the official
ones, of course; some chance travelers in the region; and a diverse few who
would remain connected by – and to the “Event” over the next thirty years.

DICK HERVEY stood at the bedroom window, naked in the cool air, sloshing
around a glass of ice water and then raising it in mock ceremony and in perfect
synchrony with the distant flash and its sustained afterglow of yellowish,
flickering light on the horizon. How did we blunder into this uranium nightmare?
he wondered.

ALICE DEVEREAU cracked open her eyelids and began to recognize her
bedroom just as Dick Hervey called out: “Now! Look, Alice.” She saw it, she
later declared. But she was shivering and dizzy, and Alice Smith was already
coming to life saying angrily: “For God's sake, Dick, get the hell out of here and
take what's left of that rabble with you!”

ALEX MANNOY witnessed it back in the foothills, standing near the

abandoned ruins of the Trinity gold mine. He looked at his watch and waited,

then acknowledged the Event with a burst of sentiment – for it augured a
glorious future for him.

PATTI STADLER heard its delayed signature when the deep, growling rumble
vibrated the plate glass of the Las Vegas casino. She recognized its hellish
presence only as a charm which would work to reverse the descent of her
husband, Howie, into his own private hell. It would change his luck: And this
time he promised “red” would be his play.

ARTHUR SONETT, chilled and dazed, pulled himself up against the rough
trunk of an apricot tree in Ryland Smith’s small orchard. He raised his head and
saw it happen over the eastern foothills, but it made little impression as he
began to retch again.

RYLAND SMITH, an official witness of the Event and just a few miles away,
saw it indirectly on television screens. Distinguished-looking, even in casual
clothes, his first thought during the hand-shaking and shoulder-slapping among
the uniformed officers and excited civilians was that this success might help
shorten his exile in Fernville.

DAVE CORNWELL claimed he had stumbled out to pee off the Smith deck
about then. The damn Russians. There goes Los Angeles. Said he tried to kiss
his ass goodbye.

JOHN WICKWARE left the snoring Bernadette and ventured outside to

identify the trilling warbler greeting the new day. As the distant pocket of sky
suddenly lit up, his first thought was that a lot of biology out there was getting
wiped out.

None of them believed the Event had influenced their lives. It seemed to be
merely one of those myriads of noisy and unconnected happenings that might
linger long in the mind. Dick Hervey, though, would later see the Event as a
kind of nodal point where their lives’ orbits crossed, as they did again at a
second node thirty years later. And to him, the history teacher, it remained a
focal point of that year and that decade which he saw as pivotal in modern
times – The Uranium Decade – he would always prefer to call it.

Uranium and Gold

Equal in weight – and maybe in consequence


As our collective memory looks back into the decades and centuries, it sees their historic signposts
squeezed closer and closer together, an illusion that seems to warp and concentrate the past.
Professor John Wickware likened it to a line of telephone poles seen obliquely – their equal
separations appearing to grow shorter and shorter in the distance.
Richard Hervey was now reminded of Wickware’s alcoholic ramblings by just such a long
line of telephone poles in his view from Ryland Smith’s spacious patio high up in the hills above
Fernville. Like an alluvial fan, the small city spilled from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains into the San Joaquin Valley in central California. Thanks to the recent presence of
Maxtar, a large defense industry company, Fernville was enjoying its second childhood of growth.
Hervey thought it analogous to its first one, a hundred years before, during its frenetic Gold Rush

Richard Hervey’s reflections on the town’s past years raised troubling ones about his own.
He searched them, trying to discover when his career momentum faltered from early promise and
drifted toward stasis and probable future failure. Circumstances and lack of scholarly focus had left
him a middle-aged associate professor in a small state college with a younger staff of PhD
specialists beginning to pass him by.
Hervey was yanked out of this abstruse mental territory when he spotted the lithe figure of
Alice Smith, girlish yet full breasted, gracefully dodging through the crowd near the pool to deliver
a cocktail to old Helen Crossman Needham. And his evening with Alice, just five days before and
right over there on this very patio, refused to board the memory train – replaying itself in graphic
and sensual detail, over and over in Hervey’s mind.
The thirty people milling about on the Smith patio were potential recruits for the Bristlecone
Alliance, an organization the Fernville Tribune weakly characterized as “a local watchdog bunch
out to fight various perceived environmental abuses.” Hervey’s daughter Clarissa and her latest
boyfriend Don Flatley had rounded up the group from the Maxtar company, but the lure to them,
Dick Hervey realized, was not concern over the threatened habitat of the little burrowing owl, but
was the free liquor and curiosity about their CEO’s house and his wife.
Alice had brought out Ryland Smith’s stock of expensive liquors, and the recruiting event
had quickly turned into a noisy party. Hervey helped himself to more of the rare English gin he
could never afford, and as he watched Alice he guessed she was already treading on her slippery
ground between the second and third cocktail.
“You’d better give the talk before it’s too late,” said John Wickware, the scientific and
idealistic spirit behind the Bristlecone Alliance. He was a small, plump man with a pencil-thin
mustache and slicked-down hair. His fixed expression, a shy and tight little grimace easily fooling
as a real smile, showed his protruding front teeth, and it was again clear to Hervey why he was the
“Gopher” to the students at Fernville State College. Hervey saw a chasm, like a species-difference,
separating Ryland Smith and John Wickware. Smith’s forceful and confident personality was
necessary to his competitive world. In contrast, Professor Wickware’s diffident manner and his
painfully shy and gloomy disposition seemed to be a fitting match to the retiring creatures – the
lizards, frogs and salamanders – in his academic field of herpetology.

“Telephone is ringing, Alice!” someone called from down the hallway.
Hervey prodded and coaxed the crowd into the spacious living room and presented them
with his stern and practiced classroom demeanor.
“Please! This is not a party in the ordinary sense. Would you pipe down over there until Mrs.
Smith gets off the phone.”
“Don’t nag me about it, Ryland,” Hervey heard her voice rising. “It’s a small meeting.
College people … No, we’re not drinking … well … OK, a little beer maybe.”
“Hey, Alice. Pass that single malt scotch!” Dave Cornwell shouted, standing close to her.
Alice glared at the wild-eyed and heavy-set young man and mouthed an emphatic “Shut up!”
The big guy they called Alex Plutonium said the same thing out loud. That was Ryland Smith
himself on the horn, for Chrissakes. Their CEO!
“No, I don’t know his name … Yes, I’ll find out. Just calm down, Ryland … Paul’s on a
Scout overnight … Yes … of course I will.”
Ryland Smith told Alice he would call back at ten and wanted the house cleared by then. He
hung up in frustration and turned to the Air Force colonel in his Las Vegas hotel room.
“Damnit! Alice let some nutty little ecology group meet at our house. Her judgment … well,
you know her well enough by now, Jim.”
Ryland Smith regarded this trespassing into his private sanctum by a milieu of low level
employees from Maxtar as a violation of his very person. His priceless collection of 19th-Century
lead soldiers could even be robbed and Alice would be blithely unaware, and she probably wouldn’t
care anyway.
As a vice president of the giant Maxtar corporation and CEO of its Missile Systems Division
in Fernville, Ryland Smith met that high standard for executive presence with his tall, spare frame,
long, even-featured face, sandy gray hair, and clothes from shops in Beverly Hills. He had power at
Maxtar and prestige in Fernville, but he restricted his social activities there since he and Alice spent
most of their free time in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Smith handed a cocktail to Colonel James Lapides and they looked out at the garish neons
and the bustle of Las Vegas.
“Little sleep tonight, I guess.”

“Yep. The event’s at five sharp. We’ll be on the road by three. Figure an hour to the Nevada
Test Site and some time getting through Security.” Colonel Lapides lowered his voice, ever
conscious these days of security breaches, even discussing the weather in a sensitive context.
“This test will be pretty routine, won’t it, Jim?”
“Oh, no. Ted Taylor, the lead warhead designer from Los Alamos, and scientists from
Sandia National Lab, give it only a fifty-fifty chance … maybe even less.”
“That surprises me. I’ve assumed our SPICA warhead was a proven design.”
“Well, Ryland, nuclear warhead information is restricted to Top Secret, Need-To-Know
clearance, but I can tell you this … dimensional constraints in your SPICA nose cone forced Taylor
to shrink this basic fission-primary configuration a little … that’s the plutonium kicker for the
hydrogen weapon.” Lapides looked uneasy just saying that and added in almost a whisper: “A plain
dud … or worse, a fizzle … could set back the SPICA program schedule at least nine months.”
Ryland Smith would welcome such a delay. It would ease Air Force pressure on Maxtar
which had its own design problems with the SPICA strategic missile.
Lapides seemed to read Smith’s thoughts and fixed him with his deep-set, blue eyes, silent
long enough to cause Smith to look uneasily away. “But it’s Maxtar’s problems with SPICA we’re
most concerned about, Ryland.”
Smith felt again that authoritative overtone in Lapides’ voice, a design-review tenor leaking
through the colonel’s congenial surface demeanor. And Ryland Smith, near the top of the corporate
world, was used to dispensing authority and discomfort – not receiving it.
“Taylor and his people are the best weapon designers in the world. But you’d better get us a
reliable vehicle, Ryland. And soon. Critics in the Pentagon and congress are all over us.”

In the same hotel that evening, Howie Stadler told his wife to leave him alone. He needed to
relax before the crucial play at the roulette table. Patti Stadler, exhausted and tense, angrily shot
back, “For God’s sake, let’s go downstairs right now and get it over with!”
Howie Stadler had just finished ten hours of stressful work in the sweaty heat at the Nevada
Nuclear Test Site, completing the final setup of the atomic device. Now they were on their second
glasses of bourbon and their third cigarettes. Stadler’s face, lined and pale, his eyes a faded blue
surrounded by dark and puffy skin, previewed a man beaten up by reckless dissipation and years of

torment from the reds and blacks of the roulette tables.
What a coincidence, he thought. Fifty-fifty out at the test site, according to the casual betting
among the science guys, and about the same for him down there on that bright green table in the
casino. He knew the simple probabilities of the roulette wheel, but ten years of failure made him
believe an intangible agent had been skewing the odds against him.
“No. I’ve got a better idea,” said Stadler. “We’ll do the play in the morning just when the
blast wave hits the casino. Maybe a luck charm for us, Patti!” He saw her immediate frown. “Well
anyway, Dick Hervey’ll love that dramatic bit.”
“We could use a little help, but Red’s our play this time … like you promised,” said Patti
Stadler. After her earlier outburst, her face softened and she spoke with a kindlier tone, confident
their driven, decade-long ordeal was about to end.
She went for a walk. The stress was unbearable on these infrequent occasions. Uncle Dick
would indeed be intrigued by the drama, and he’d come up with some metaphoric nonsense to fit it.
Typical of him, he once said their mania was like the “Fixed Idea” in literature. “Well, may God
deliver us from it tomorrow,” she murmured – invoking the Highest Power to meddle in the
immutable laws of probability.

Arthur Sonett tentatively picked up a bottle of scotch. He’d brought Nancy Needham, the
clerk at the Maxtar blueprint counter, to the Smith house. This was his third date with her, but he
wasn’t getting anywhere despite the rumors floating about the company and Dave Cornwell’s
promoting her as close to a sure thing. Rumors permeated Maxtar – about their defense contracts,
about management, and about women.
“Go ahead and pour, old buddy,” said Dave Cornwell loudly. “That’s executive booze.
You’ll never make enough at Maxtar to feel comfortable around that label.”
“Hold it down, Dave. You saw that look on Mrs. Smith’s face. And Alex told her Maxtar
hired you right off the street in Sacramento.”
“Alex Plutonium said that?!” Cornwell assumed a dignified pose, his glass held high.
“Special skill, Arthur. Recreation Management. A nationwide search. I’m not one of you dime-a-
dozen missile engineers from L.A. with those big slide rules … and those little peckers.”
Heads turned. Sonett grimaced. Cornwell could drive you nuts with his loud, obscene patter.

“Well … OK. Maxtar didn’t exactly find me. I found them in the want ads after my baseball
career ended with the Class A Stockton ‘Ports.’ Like the manager said: ‘Cornwell, you may be slow,
but you sure can’t hit.’ Anyways, Maxtar needed warm bodies … Air Force cost-plus contracts, you
know. And Personnel found my pulse and claimed they needed a recreation manager.”
Short of walking away, you couldn’t turn Dave Cornwell off. Arthur Sonett poured a large
measure of the scotch, a liquor unfamiliar in his Kansas upbringing. He picked up a lemonade.
“Gotta take this out to Nancy, Dave. And you’d better quit playing catch with that toy soldier.”
“French foot soldier, 1811, it said there. But your date … that Nancy Needham … doesn’t
need ’em … she’s got ’em!”
“Come on, Dave.”
“But look out for Breeder Mannoy. You’ll get hustled if you’re not watchful.”

“How exciting! I didn’t know you were an author, Helen,” Alice said sweetly. “Sit here in
this comfortable chair. Professor Hervey said you’re our special guest tonight.” Helen Needham
leaned on her cane and slowly eased herself into a straight chair.
“This is fine. If I sat there, I couldn’t get up. Hell, my little history of this region is history
itself. A thousand copies, but you can’t find Improbable Town now. People have thrown them away.
Stolen them from the library.”
“Thrown away? Stolen?!”
“Yeh, and I had to cut out a lot of scandalous stuff before that Stockton outfit would even
publish it. But Fernville’s history was pretty boring except for some weird characters in its gold
mining days … and the murder.”
“Murder? I’ve always wanted to write, and murder mysteries are the easiest way to start, they
say. I wouldn’t be ‘Alice Smith’ though. I’d use a romantic name … like ‘Devereau.’”
“You can have one of my copies, but don’t read between the lines. … no … please do!”
“I could write every day out by our pool. I get so bored around this provincial …”
“My poor Bud left us over thirty years ago, so I wrote under ‘Crossman.’ Maiden name and a
better name than ‘Needham.’ My granddaughter Nancy over there loves the big company. All those
high-paid missile engineers from Los Angeles. Like that big man she’s talking to.”
“He’s Alex Plutonium. That’s what that loud, obnoxious guy in the dining room called him.”

Dick Hervey realized the young people were restless, their curiosity satisfied about the
CEO’s house and his wife. The house matched Ryland Smith – big, bland and formal. But Alice,
boisterous and overly gregarious now from the alcohol, wouldn’t fit their image of a wife of an
executive of Smith’s stature.
“If you don’t mind over there, Mrs. Smith.” Richard Hervey sternly looked the crowd into
silence. “I want to thank Mrs. Smith for sharing her lovely home with us.” Having surveyed the
display racks of toy lead soldiers and the meager and humdrum collection of paintings, records and
books about the big house, and urged on by the gin, Hervey was tempted to sarcastically comment
on Ryland Smith’s cultural tastes and draw some laughs at his expense. But it would be at Alice’s
expense, too, and that could ruin his night. Flushed and smiling, she seemed to be telling him to
quickly conclude this meeting and clear them all out. And come to bed.

The Bristlecone Alliance signed up five new members, and Helen Needham surprised the
crowd by announcing a donation of two thousand dollars. Hervey concluded the meeting in his
dramatic, professorial style:
“The atomic test scheduled for tomorrow morning at the Nevada Test Site will produce a
brilliant flash that will be seen even from here over those mountains. I earlier thought we might see
that light as a talisman for the Bristlecone Alliance … that is, an agent which produces extraordinary
effects, works wonders, as Bristlecone promises to do. But instead, my young friends, I now urge
you to see it, not as a flash, but rather as a shadow … cast over all your futures.”

Nancy Needham left with Alex Mannoy. Arthur Sonett had stepped out to the backyard to
clear his head and hadn’t returned. Dave Cornwell was loudly telling everyone who remained that as
the Maxtar recreation club director, he had been authorized to set up a low-keyed football pool.
“And I get to figure the point spreads too. What a company!”
“But why the strange title Improbable Town?” Alice asked as she helped Helen Needham
into her white Cadillac.
“Many towns, or their growth, were improbable. Fernville more than most. There’s often a
hereditary line of ‘ifs.’ If Mr. Farmer Y had garnered all the water rights. If the vein pinched off and

then turned right and the miners guessed left. If X hadn’t been murdered. If the Defense Department
hadn’t mandated moving defense plants away from the coasts. Contingency, Alice.”
“Well, all towns have their murders, dear. … You seem to be attracted to murders.” Helen
Needham hesitated and stared at Alice for a long moment. “Yes, you should write about them. Read
Improbable Town and let’s talk about it soon.”

“Yes, Ryland, it’s quiet now … No! Of course I haven’t.” Alice tried to steady her balance,
and Dick Hervey tightened his arm around her waist and cupped her left breast with his other hand.
“OK, I’ll pick you up at the airport at noon.”
“Shall I get rid of those two?” Hervey asked. Dave Cornwell was sprawled in a deck chair on
the patio, eyes glazed and one fat leg hung over the arm. Another person was asleep on a sofa.
Alice poured more gin. “Oh, let ’em sleep it off. It’s a big house.”
Hervey remembered to call Howie Stadler in Las Vegas. “Yeh, I get the symbolism, Howie,
if you want to call it that … yes, I see you sharing the fear of uncertainty over your own little game
with the terror of uncertainty that uranium brings … OK. You didn’t mean that.”
“Professor, what in hell are you talking about?”
“An incredible story, Alice.”
“Incredible story? Maybe it could be the basis of the first novel by the new, sensational
author, Alice De ver eau … that’s ‘De ver eau’ … and starring the perfect stereotype of the
backwater-college professor … you, Associate Professor Dick. Is there a murder in it?”
“Not yet, anyway … yes, Howie … do it at the atomic flash … OK, the blast wave then …
the device doesn’t work? Well, I guess if it fails, then so must you … no! I’m not being sarcastic.”
Hervey’s patience was exhausted from Howie Stadler’s alcohol-fueled ramblings. “Goodbye and
good luck, Howie. And be sure to call tomorrow.”
“Let’s us do it at the atomic flash, Professor.”
“I can’t wait six more hours, Alice Devereau.”

Alex Mannoy and Don Flatley stood near the ruins of the old Trinity gold mine in the early
dawn looking at the southeastern horizon.

“It’s ours, you know,” said Mannoy. “A re-design of a basic fission primary configuration for
our SPICA missile warhead.”
“How can you know that, Alex? There’s a real tight security lid on that atomic stuff.”
“Sources. I worked at Los Alamos for a year in ’48.” He studied his watch. “Get ready now.
It’s almost five … a few more seconds …” They watched the second hand tick down. “Now …
There! Exactly on time. It worked!” A bright flash appeared over the line of high hills, and then an
eerie glow with tentacles of pulsating, yellowish light persisted like a pasted overlay on the dark,
mountain-edged horizon. Mannoy raised both hands in celebration.
“You took the Bosom Nancy home early to get up for this?” Flatley, not impressed by the
extended aura, left Mannoy who stared at the horizon. He picked up some rock samples. “There’s a
lot of quartz with the granite gneiss. Modern methods could make this old gold mine pay.”
“The vein probably petered out. Those old miners were plenty smart.”
Mannoy looked back at the lightening dawn sky for a long moment.
“Let’s go, Alex. It’s all done.”
“Flatley, you’ve got no sense of history. What we just witnessed could change the course of
the Cold War. You’re thinking gold but I’m seeing plutonium. You could get rich finding rocks
holding its mother… uranium.”

“All right! Watch the windows, Patti,” Howie Stadler said, his voice quick and tense. Exactly
at five o’clock came the attenuated flash and glow in the dark sky behind the buildings. And now
they were coming, he knew – those outsized blast waves coursing across the cold and desolate
desert like invisible tsunami waves, bringing the Event’s belated but potent message. But it was a
message lost on Howie and Patti Stadler whose thoughts were only on the red and the black. Now
they had nearly five long minutes to wait – five silent, agonizing minutes.
He stared at his watch and she stared down at the green table – both frozen in place.
“OK. Spin it up!” he finally said.
The two, sharp-eyed casino officials watched the operator spin the roulette wheel for the lone
player, a special situation they called it. Patti Stadler leaned on the edge of the big table, its
greenness under the fluorescent lights setting off her drawn and pallid face. Her bloodshot eyes
focused on the hopping white ball and the spinning wheel of red- and black-numbered pockets.

A faint thunderclap followed by a low rumble filled the casino floor, vibrating the large
windows, but ignored by early morning gamblers intent at slot machines and crap tables.
“Place your chip, sir.”
Stadler put his gold chip down on “red” – hesitated – then grabbed it and slammed it on
“Howie! For God’s sake! …”
The little ball bounced – bounced – and plopped into the red 30 slot in the slowing wheel.
“I changed the sonofabitch!” he moaned in disbelief.
“You changed it, you bastard!” Patti Stadler screamed. “We were red all the way. You just
lost us over sixteen-thousand dollars! … Here we go again.”
After Dick Hervey, still a little drunk, made his gesture at the window that morning, he
whispered: “Good luck, Howie. For your sake and for Patti’s and mine.” But his thoughts were more
dramatic: As for you, uranium, we blundered and released your ingratiating genie onto this little
place with our characteristic lack of due diligence. And we’ll need more than luck to survive what
you and your ilk have in mind for us.


Richard Hervey’s wife, Vera, left him and their daughter, Clarissa, nine years before, running off
with the young teaching assistant in Hervey’s very own department on the Greyhound bus to
Later, John Wickware argued that Hervey’s independent and querulous nature had
contributed a good part of the overall blame, roughly a third of the whole, to which Hervey
reluctantly agreed.
“You can be a rather cantankerous fellow,” Wickware ventured one evening on Hervey’s
back porch. He further quantified the matter by allotting another third of the blame to Fernville itself
because Vera, raised in San Francisco, hated its provincial nature and the summer’s heat, and had
made few friends there.
“In your equation, Wick, I suppose that leaves a third for dear Vera herself,” said Hervey.

“But in my equation, where you factor in that petulant disposition, those public alcoholic rages and
the matter of the goddamned checking account, they add up to the biggest third by far.”
Hervey was adamant that his short-lived affair with the secretary in Facilities was
inconsequential in either equation, serving only as a lightning rod for their many other
incompatibilities. After Vera’s emasculating tenure, his life settled into a scholarly routine with a
record of near celibacy, where lapses from that were superficial but disentanglements awkward.
Vera eventually settled down in Sacramento, married with two more children. She and
Clarissa communicated with some regularity, but it had been long established that Hervey would be
Clarissa’s nurturing parent.
Hervey could see something of the erratic Vera in Alice Smith. Generally cheerful and
responsive, she could abruptly lapse into a pensive state, not temperamental like Vera’s, just simply
elsewhere – her absence expressed by her bright, hazel eyes focused at infinity. Enthusiasms would
come and go and she might suddenly take up or abandon an earnest and expensive hobby. Hervey
was not surprised Alice fancied astrology when it addressed a compelling need.

He had first noticed her at a September city council meeting with a women’s group involved
in yet another intractable traffic squabble. Slim, but with a fine bosom and good legs, she would
draw attention simply by her superb posture and girlish walk. Her eyes were set wide over an
aquiline nose, and with her full lips on a good face Hervey saw her at 35 as that rare woman with in-
person attraction stronger than that conveyed by flattering photograph or embellished description. If
she were perceived to be an improper fit to her station as the wife of her older and staid executive
husband, it had to do with her lively, outspoken and mercurial nature.
Hervey was distracted by her then, almost unconsciously so. Up on the grammar school
stage with the other council members he would be little noticed. Slouched in his chair, impatiently
removing and replacing his outdated, steel-rimmed spectacles, and careless about the fit or condition
of his clothes, Richard Hervey, spare and balding at 45, could pass for the typical small-town
businessman – perhaps the pharmacist – doing, but not enjoying, his civic duty.
Soon afterward, he met Alice briefly at Myron Haddad’s hilltop restaurant, the Vista, and
this was the beginning of the chain reaction of their relationship. As Hervey’s scholarly research
was now atomic politics – his long paper, Politics Around the Atom (Failure by Personality), was

half finished and a book, Hiroshima (Revising History), well underway – he would later characterize
their relationship as resembling the random turmoil in an atomic reactor – fiercely energetic with
neutron-like desires and frustrations striking responsive targets, but always on the verge of a

On that September night at the Vista, Richard Hervey looked around the big and busy
restaurant feeling out of place. It wasn’t that the crowd intimidated him, given his years, station and
experience. The place simply didn’t suit his sensibilities. As the unchallenged social center of the
Fernville region, the Vista Restaurant attracted the sort of people his solitary lifestyle sought to
avoid. From the long bar came noisy chatter of the sporting world, centered on the season’s promise
of their own Fernville State Tigers football team. Business cronies flocked together slamming dice
cups on the bar. At the piano bar in the lounge, Bernie the house pianist rippled through the
keyboard for a large group of admirers – “sing-along people,” Hervey called them. And his college-
age waiter insisted on introducing himself and making conversation.
These annoyances went further, to the over-priced dinner and the eighty-cent martini served
at near-room temperature. A couple of small places down in the town made better ones for fifty.
Uranium. He wanted to be back on his screened back porch on that warm September evening
working on his scholarly paper. He would introduce the clever notion of a rogue atom that had just
popped into his mind at dinner when Clarissa wasn’t being very conversational. It could be a poetic
but telling emphasis: Uranium, harboring bits of its flawed and dangerously-weak sister isotope,
U235 – planted atop the element ladder. Nature’s grand, unforgiving and unforgivable mistake.
Clarissa emerged from the restroom labeled “Setters,” adjacent to “Pointers,” and joined him
by a large picture window which overlooked Fernville. Lately, he sensed an uneasiness about her
when they were together in public, and he speculated it had to do with father’s clothes, car and
Just then the proprietor himself came up. “A rare treat! It’s Dick Hervey, genial member of
our city council. The lone voice for higher taxes on places like mine.”
“A treat for you, Myron. For me it’s inflated prices for food, booze and a view over a burg
like Fernville.”
The proprietor looked pained. “Listen, Hervey, you can hear pins fall and shoes squeak at

the place in the Fernville Lanes. And that’s the second-best restaurant in town.”
“Those background noises are music to Dad’s ears when the food’s cheap.”
“You remember my daughter, Clarissa, Myron? We just celebrated her nineteenth.”
Haddad smiled. “Congrats. Yeh, I see her here celebratin’ with the Maxtar bowling teams.”
“She can afford it, being overpaid by that missile company.”
“Dad likes to brag he’s a starving professor,” Clarissa said with a laugh. “Oh, there’s Don.
He’ll give me a ride home. Thanks for dinner, Dad.” They watched her walk with an easy and
confident stride to a far table.
“She’s quick and she’s on to you, Dick. And she’s really matured.”
Hervey shrugged. She was certainly becoming womanly anyway. “A few years ago she
nearly flunked Fernville High. Thank God for the Department of Defense. Otherwise it looked to be
employment at the Giant Orange on Kloits Road. Now she’s cleared for ‘Secret’ … makes almost as
much as I do.” He hesitated and despite his glib tone looked genuinely perplexed. “That’s her latest
boyfriend, Don Flatley, a hotshot missile engineer at Maxtar, she tells me, but a weird duck.”
“Is it serious?”
“I’d be the last. It’s been a revolving door the last few years. Can’t discourage legitimate
suitors though … especially those wearing ties and holding masters’ degrees in engineering.”
“With those looks and that figure she must be real popular.”
“She is … and worry over it keeps me awake at night. By the way, Myron, can I drop a few
of these subversive circulars by the door there?” He handed Haddad one of the Bristlecone Alliance
flyers as they strolled by the lounge.
“Say, who’s the lady in there in that tight white dress singing away at the piano?”
Haddad squinted into the smoky lounge. “Oh, that’s Alice Smith … showing off her tits
again. Ryland Smith’s wife. You know, the executive guy that runs Maxtar. He oughtta cut off her
booze. She can get a little sloppy.”
“She’s very attractive. And her singing …”
“She’s a regular here. Smith and Joe Milano are sitting over there. Milano, you know, owns
a third of my place and half the rest of the town.”
Hervey walked into the lounge, bought a beer at the bar and joined the group as Alice
finished “Night and Day” in a throaty voice which Hervey thought would exceed the norm at any

piano-bar singing venue. After a bit of polite clapping, Bernie the piano player started right in on a
jazzed-up and unsingable “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
Hervey stood near the piano player, pretending to admire his finger work but secretly
admiring Alice’s breasts. He was surprised to find himself there. Ryland Smith and Joe Milano had
the physical characteristics, the clothes and the manner that counted in a piano lounge. He didn’t.
Hervey recalled the rancorous arguments the council had with Ryland Smith and his people over
utilities, access roads and zoning changes. Hervey’s objections were labeled as “obstructionist” and
“anti-growth” by company officials and local land owners and were usually voted down.
He eased his way toward Alice and joined the dozen others in “The Dirty Golden Bear,”
started down the line by a jolly salesman and reluctantly picked up by the piano player. Claps and
whistles and then Bernie said he’d take a minute and finish his drink.
“You have a lovely voice and should be on the stage,” Hervey ventured.
“I know it. My husband’s promised to buy me one.”
Alice smiled slightly and after a quick, dismissive glance at Hervey, took a long suck on her
cigarette. She was no stranger to piano-bar routines.
“Just kidding. The applause was for your seamstress … not the songstress.”
Alice reached for her drink without looking up. “You’re being quite frank … Frank. Isn’t
that your name … Frank, the druggist? Stolid member of our brilliant city council.”
“All right,” Hervey said, relieved he had not been hit. “Now how did you know I was a
Alice turned slightly to look up at him. She’d drunk too much, but her wit and curiosity were
still engaged. “I watched you birds in action and passed the boring time imagining biographies of
you all. If I didn’t already know Ed Kloits was an undertaker … next to him, you were the easiest.”
“Well, I appreciate your implied compliment,” Hervey said with a theatrical flourish. “But in
truth I am a mere associate professor of political science at our small Fernville State College. If I
were indeed your presumed pharmacist, this jacket here would be free of elbow patches, this beer
Eastern, and curly hair might be sprouting from up here.”
Alice laughed and turned to face him. He felt a tiny thrill from leftover memories of
romantic tilts of past years. “I’m Richard Hervey.”
“‘Alice Devereau’ … well … Smith, really. I’m a bird in a cage, but still singing.”

“Fernville’s the cage?”
“What do you think, Frank?! I mean … Associate Professor … Dick. We’ve lived in Atlanta,
Chicago, Philly and Los Angeles … correction … Beverly Hills, L.A. My husband rises and rises in
the Maxtar Corporation. It was supposed to be a year here in Fernburg but we’re on the third!” Alice
was growing angry as she reminded herself of her plight, and Hervey realized how nearly drunk she
was. Ryland Smith was not in for a good night. He swept a quick glance over her body, sheathed in
that white dress, and somehow felt good about Smith’s coming dilemma.
“Fernville offers the small-college atmosphere, excellent golf courses, bustling shopping
centers … ”
She started to rise from her stool, eyes blazing. “Do you realize this piano bar is it. It! You
sound just like my …”
“A small joke, my dear. Just a quote from the chamber of commerce brochure. Yes, a well-
traveled woman like you must find it painful to be constrained by our small and provincial city.”
Alice seemed mollified and a little baffled. Hervey’s years of dealing with the peccadilloes
of the unpredictable Vera had inured him to intimidation from intoxicated women and sharpened his
wits in verbal jousts with them.
“Do you always talk that baloney talk, Professor?”
“Well, I must admit to putting on a manner to perplex my students … and my daughter …
and the city council. But here, let me give you this information on an environmental watchdog
group being formed by Professor Wickware at Fernville State.” He handed her a Bristlecone
Alliance paper. “It might keep you out of trouble.”
“I could use a bit of that.”
“I see your husband’s moving this way. And I’ve sung my last song.” Alice was beginning
to drift off, nodding her head with closed eyes to the music. Bernie had begun to play his concert-
like rendition of “Stella by Starlight.”
“I love it. It’s my favorite song, the way Bernie plays it. Bye bye, Professor.”
“Goodnight, Alice Devereau … Smith.” As he walked away, he murmured, “And mine too,

He drove his dented and faded gray ’39 Buick down the hill and through the streets of the

older part of residential Fernville with its small houses built at the turn of the century. His
clapboard-sided, three-bedroom cottage was on two isolated acres of brushy, rocky land next to the
creek. Don Flatley’s car was parked behind the lone oak tree, its radio playing. That big valley oak
had hidden many cars after dark over the last five years.
He poured a little gin over ice, an indulgence he tried to avoid when he had several hours of
writing and research ahead, and relaxed on the back porch, the temperature still over 80 degrees. He
looked out over the Cedar River, now low and wadeable, and beyond to the highest of the local hills,
Roble Mountain, which sat directly under the North Star. The warm, dry San Joaquin Valley air was
redolent with agriculture scents wafted in from the west. Noise from the town was muted, so he
heard only buzzing insects, croaks of bullfrogs, the occasional dog bark – and just now the rare,
yipping cry of a coyote echoing from distant ravines to the east. With the deep quiet – that lone
coyote – the clarity of the sky – the teasing murmur of the creek – and the dark hillsides with their
even darker splotches of oak and buckeye – Dick Hervey could imagine this scene as unchanged
from the time Frederic Kloits first panned for gold nearby in 1850 and his son Peter founded what
would become the town of Fernville. Time – he was that close.
As Hervey ruminated, the gin lubricating the rate and endurance of a serial chain of random
and gloomy reflections, he became aware of an accompanying background note. It was of Alice
Smith. He quit fooling himself and asked point-blank why a dour, middle-aged and small-time
teacher could imagine any kind of intercourse with the likes of a wealthy and well-traveled Alice
Smith, especially that of a sexual nature – which was just what that persistent leitmotif had been
hinting at for the past hour.
Hervey decided on a small refill even though he knew alcohol could no longer prop him up
from his late-night affliction – “that vile melancholy,” Dr. Johnson had called it. Alcohol only drove
it deeper and truer. Wandering about the old house, itself a stage of present and future degradation,
his personal failures were magnified through his now clear-eyed but depressive outlook. He was an
aging curmudgeon, seeing the early promise of his ideals, his career and even the high expectations
for his child inexorably fade away. The intrusion of the impossible image of Alice Smith cruelly
added a sharp twist to that knife of melancholy.
He stopped by the hall mirror and continued this discouraging assessment. There were the
reading glasses, the growing bald pate, and, hiding back inside, the gold and silver crowns. He stood

there at 45 on long, thin legs, a little stooped, and carrying that small cantaloupe of a pot belly. He
was verging on the plunge into the evening years, toward old-age’s self-absorbed and periscopic
outlook – toward its remorseless genetic resolution.
The clipped mustache tinged with gray made his heavy face and slightly beaked, capillary-
mapped nose appear ruddier. He straightened himself to an inch over six feet – head up, shoulders
back – and turned slightly to view himself at his own optimum angle. He removed the round, steel-
rimmed glasses, mentally draped himself in his best, tweed sport jacket, and saw himself as Alice
would. And surprisingly, almost joyfully, he saw his professorial look to be really quite impressive.
And yes, he thought, with a little hop in the air, that illusive sex-appeal thing – yes, there was
something there! Didn’t he now and then get those quick, second glances from women in the
grocery store and even from a few female students as he strode across the campus with that put-on,
distracted air? The hall mirror did for Richard Hervey what gin could no longer do.
He opened the city council information packet with its tentative agenda and background
material for the council meeting in two weeks. Would Alice be there? No. Few citizens came twice,
not even to observe the handsome pharmacist. It looked like a snoozer this time: no stop sign
controversy; not one traffic speed petition; and fortunately no kid’s sticky tree-house dilemma.
There was a barking-dog problem on Willow Road and a building-height controversy with
yet another partnership of dentists from Los Angeles involved in a real-estate development.
Hervey scanned the last item, then took a large swallow from his glass and settled back to
read it again. His practiced council expression when he disagreed with an issue, a wide-eyed
mixture of scorn, disbelief and pain, began to evolve on his face.
“For Chrissakes … what!” He read again agenda item six and its accompanying information:
Presentation by U. S. Army Captain Wayne Crowley for a proposed NIKE AJAX
guided missile training base to be located adjacent to the city of Fernville, California.
The NIKE AJAX ground-to-air missile, a joint project of Bell Laboratories, Western
Electric and Douglas Aircraft, is a mature and fully tested NATO weapon that plays a key
role in the air defense of strategic centers in the United States. Congress plans to release
$160 million soon to enable widespread deployment in the U. S. protecting cities including
Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The proposed installation at Fernville will serve as a training base for Nike battery

personnel. Fernville has been the beneficiary of the Department of Defense concept of
Industrial Dispersal, soon to become official DoD policy. This Nike base will be a
complement to the defense industries in the Fernville region.
Our formal presentation will cover details and we will answer questions on
unclassified matters only.
A 40-acre remote site has been selected, subject to your approval. This site is north
of town and encompasses the hilltop known locally as Roble Mountain.
“Goddamn it! That’s my view!” Hervey yelled. But then the real issue engaged him. Wasn’t
it fantasy to believe it possible to defend to a survivable degree against planes and missiles carrying
fission and soon hydrogen bombs? Atomic weapons changed everything. Hadn’t the Army heard?!
Those prescient words of Henry Stimpson, President Truman’s Secretary of War, came to mind:
“Deal with the bomb … as a revolutionary change in the relations of man to the universe.” Wasn’t
20th-Century history Dick Hervey’s field and atomic issues his specialty? His paper, Politics
Around the Atom (Failure by Personality), was about this very subject – about delusion in high
The future would be a crapshoot, a prolonged game of chance – like Howie Stadler’s – but
with real stakes. Ultimate stakes. It must become obvious that such weapons are self-defeating in
military arsenals. My God! Didn’t everybody learn from those pictures of the H-bomb explosions?
Now his mind became flooded with images of his Signal Corps days in 1945, and to the one
on that cool, wet dawn in the high New Mexico desert. He remembered it as a revelation and
something like a three-second persuasion. No. It was not three seconds. It was an increment of time
in his brain not longer than the instantaneous flash of that first atomic fire lighting up the Trinity
Site mountains. Then – in that instant – in that ungodly flash – he learned everything there was to
know of the nuclear stranger. His convictions solidified in that instant, never to change. Hiroshima,
Nagasaki, Bikini, and Eniwetok could teach him nothing more.
Howie Stadler, next to him in the bunkered trench, seeing the same brightness through
heavy, darkened goggles, feeling the same blast of sun-like heat on his face coming from nine miles
away, also had a revelation – but the opposite one. The fire went to his intellectual heart, as it did
with so many others, seeing not terror and annihilation, but a new and exciting future romancing the
atom. Brilliant and ambitious, he followed the beckoning nuclear genie. Tragically for him and

Patti, he was snared by obsession with the red and the black, and the Main Chance passed him by.
Hervey smoked one cigarette after another. Roble Mountain, for Chrissakes! His backyard.
His oak-topped hill, a mile away and four-hundred feet above the creek, would be sullied by white
radar domes, launchers, buildings and vehicles. And no, he thought then, the Army evidently hadn’t
learned yet – labeling atomic bombs in their Field Service Regulations as merely “Additional
firepower of large magnitude.”

Clarissa came in a little later, disheveled and not in a good mood.

“And how’s Dr. Flatley tonight, our L.A. denizen?”
“It’s ‘Mister.’ And if ‘denizen’ means ‘jerk,’ then you got it right.”
“Remember, Sweetheart, Fernville’s swarming with ties and sport coats, and more arrive
every day. The missile industry’s bringing a munificence to our city. Maybe some will rub off on
me, too.”
“Well, there is a guy, Arthur Sonett, in the bowling league. He’s got a great job. A little on
the quiet side, but he might be around. Depending.”
Hervey retired to his cluttered den to put in another hour of work. He would soon submit a
paper to the journal The Economist on the proliferation of nuclear material. Publishing was essential
to his standing in his department at Fernville State. But the atomic culture and its politics were
increasingly hiding behind veils of secrecy. Sources were drying up. His departmental chairman was
lukewarm, even a little nervous, over Hervey’s research. Hervey could find himself back teaching
English literature, his undergraduate major.
Clarissa was banging around in the bathroom. Strange how the cabinet-door slammings and
articles pounded on the counter sounded exactly like Vera in there. Things did not bode well for
engineer Flatley, but Hervey welcomed that. There were plenty of others, and more were arriving
every month as Fernville’s industrial base expanded, stimulated mainly from the wellspring of the
Department of Defense. In a vision he saw his worries and problems with Clarissa vanish as a
congenial young missile engineer making nine grand a year appeared. Clarissa married at 20. The
sprawling new house on two hillside acres. The grandchild.
The sobering reality of daylight, a slight hangover and later the hassles in getting fall classes
underway quickly restored Richard Hervey’s cool reason. He laughed over the Vista restaurant

episode, a short and patently ridiculous infatuation, if that. And Clarissa was a long way from that
three-bedroom house. A long way.
Three days later Hervey picked a letter in feminine handwriting out of his pile of mail.
Dear Associate Professor Dick,
My husband, the Reverend Ryland Smith, admonished me for sluming about in the
Vista lounge, and especially for consorting with a known left-wing employee from the
college who vehemently opposed his company’s expansion to Fernville. Your proposed
“Bristlecone Alliance” itself sounds subversive and how the hell does “Bristlecone” fit in?
Nevertheless all of the above, there is sufficiently little going on in Fernburg that a little
subversion would be welcome. Next Friday at four you may tell our small literary group of
ladies more about the Alliance goals and, who knows, you may pick up a member or two,
figuratively speaking. If you wish, you may pass yourself off as the local druggist. We meet
at above address. Alice Smith
Dear Mrs. Smith,
Confirming your kind invitation for which I will bring extra literature. “Bristlecone” refers
to a pine tree of like name, specimens among them being the oldest living things on the
planet and therefore symbolic in a way I can later explain. As a sometime English teacher, I
must point out that your “sluming” is spelled incorrectly. Hervey
Dick Hervey received two other significant letters that day. One from the Atomic Energy
Commission denied his request for data about the rate of plutonium generation possible in
commercial reactors. “Sensitive,” “need to know,” and “security clearance” were the answers he
expected. The other was from Patti Stadler, his favorite niece: “It’s killing him, and me – it’s ruined
his career – you were there at the beginning of it all – pray for us” – was also what he expected. It
was three years since Howie Stadler’s last gamble at the roulette table. Evidently they had saved
enough for another one in two weeks in Las Vegas.
Hervey felt powerless against the secrecy monolith. And he’d failed over the years trying to
separate Howie from his red and black obsession. He whimsically compared Howie’s character to
uranium U238, a normal enough chemical element except for the bad seed, the less-than-one-
percent of that isotope U235 mixed in with the U238. The bad stuff. The stuff of atomic bombs and
breeder of that truly nasty character, plutonium. Something unstable like that rattled around in his

otherwise normal in-law. Hervey had sensed it in 1944 when they met, when they got drunk in
Juarez, Mexico, and had seen it blossom over that Fixed Idea of Howie’s which, like mankind’s
enrichment of uranium, was concentrating Howie’s latent flaw to where it looked to be dangerous.
Hervey was pleased with this metaphoric flight of fancy. Yet, it fit too well, knowing that
Howie Stadler was a prized assembler of atomic bombs over the years at Pantex and at the Los
Alamos and Livermore weapon labs. Hervey guessed that the demon of probability was a growing
cancer in Howie, and that win or lose he could never stop avenging himself against it.
Patti’s and the AEC letters were nagging concerns, and more so was the proposed Nike
installation spoiling his personal hilltop. But Alice’s note was the one he thought about all week. He
worried about what he should wear, then laughed at himself. It was like the first-ever date in high
school. But why should he expect it to be other than the friendly pharmacist rounding up supporters
for a worthy but unpopular cause? He had nothing to go on but that intuitive tug. And it made the
adrenalin flow.


“ The Bristlecone Alliance’s got over fifteen members, John,” said Dick Hervey. “Not bad. And
money in the bank if Helen Needham comes through with two grand she’s promised.” Earlier,
Clarissa had said the fifteen comprised cranky loners, weird idealists and a few disturbed ones, with
her father and John Wickware fitting all three categories. A trenchant if exaggerated observation,
Hervey admitted, but perhaps sign of a latent talent coming to life.
John Wickware responded with a slight jerk of his head. Hervey was accustomed to
Wickware’s diffident manner and averted eyes, but was well aware of Wick’s reputation as
Fernville State’s premier scientist, based on his prodigious output of papers in scientific journals.
Hervey poured him a bit more bourbon. They had their parallels all right, he thought. For
sure they were two of Clarissa’s cranky loners, maybe even two of her idealists, but more on the

arrogant than the weird side. Both drank too much and suffered melancholy and depression, but
there Wickware was in a class by himself.
“Kloits Valley is my big worry. The dam.”
“Just a rumor,” said Hervey.
“Water rumors come true … as water runs downhill.”
Clarissa leaned through the doorway. “Hey, Dad. I’m off to a show. Hi, Professor.”
Hervey followed her inside. “Anybody I know?”
“Well, it’s Don, trying to be nice.”
“What about our new prospect? Dr. Sonett, or was it merely Master’s-degree Sonett?”
“You should be so lucky. It’s Bachelor’s-degree Sonett. And don’t call them prospects.
What’s the Gopher doing here again?” she whispered. “He’s a bad influence on you. I’ll never
forget that awful trip in his stinkin’ car to the bristlecone place. What a weirdo.”
“Be charitable, dear.”
“Well, misery loves company.”

“I’m worried about a rogue element Nature saddled us with, and you’re losing sleep over the
Kloits Valley newt.”
“It’s very local. Breeds only in Kloits Valley. Once did in Cedar Valley.”
“Well, you’re a world authority on such animals. So Kloits Valley gets dammed and we lose
a newt sub-specie. That’s too bad, Wick, but in the context …” Hervey paused.
“You were going to say, Herv, … ‘in the context of my concern about the flawed element.’”
“Well … yes. Uranium, the rogue element. Nature’s Grand Mistake, I call it.”
“Your concern would seem to be of greater import than mine.”
“Maybe, but people pay too little attention to it and none to me. You, Wick, on the other
hand, are renowned among your peers for those little, slimy devils. Ironic.”
“Specifically homing and mating behaviors.”
“Not exactly mainstream biology, I guess.”
“No, Richard. Exactly. Exactly. The salamander is an ancient creature with an incredible
sensory apparatus.”
This was Wickware’s didactic home ground, Hervey knew, but he could then take you to a

poetical high ground to make the general point, enrich perspective and squelch argument. Wick had
done so impressively years before among those ancient and remote bristlecone pine trees.
They sat in the warm September night for another hour, their long, comfortable silences part
of an unusual compatibility. Alcohol loosened their minds in a similar way, allowing intervals of
independent mental flight before they returned in due time to the porch for a cogent and compatible
interchange. But that night the most persistent images in Hervey’s mind were the face and figure of
Alice Smith.
Wickware chuckled and said, “‘HOME OF THE SPICA MISSILE’ … My goodness! An
advertisement for a weapon of mayhem.”
“Yeh, I just saw it, too, under ‘Fernville City Limits – Pop. 11,519.’ Now down the road on
the Tulare town sign we have ‘HOME OF BOB MATHIAS, Olympic Decathlon Champion – 1948,
1952.’ Maybe we should put a nice addendum on ours: ‘IT’LL DELIVER A MEGATON.’”
“My. Sounds big.”
“It is. Well beyond your worst nightmare. Or anyone’s. Our ancient languages have no
words to convey its effect. Death – destruction – hardly do it justice. Annihilation is maybe a hint at
the real thing.”
Wickware grunted. Hervey’s strong words, conversation-stoppers in normal company, didn’t
provoke the next long silence. Wickware would be mulling them over, sloshing his glass in little
circles, his habit when flirting with a turgid thought, and would finally come back with a nice twist,
if not an entirely different observation.
Hervey thought then of that first ungodly atomic blast in July of 1945 and tried to imagine it
increased a hundredfold. How did we blunder into this? His train of thought hop-scotched around
the subject, finally settling on those days in the high New Mexico desert before the Trinity atomic
test – a time vividly etched on his brain.
Howie Stadler had rushed into his barracks room at Holloman Air Force Base where Signal
Corps and instrumentation personnel were quartered.
“Dick. Listen! I talked with Enrico Fermi today!”
“Really. And who’s that?”
“The world-famous physicist! Somebody pointed him out when he walked by with a bunch

of important-looking guys. Later, I saw him at the tower, and I mentioned I wanted to be a nuclear
physicist, too. It’s got to be an atomic thing going on here with guys like that and all the security.”
In the days before the big test, unnamed people of all ranks and pedigrees informally mixed
together at the Trinity Site, sixty remote miles away from a settlement. Howie later told Hervey they
had rubbed elbows with Oppenheimer, Teller, Bethe and Kistiakowsky.
Howie Stadler had been a straight-A student in high school. In his one year at Ohio State he
was seen as a math prodigy with a brilliant future. Sergeant Hervey, fifteen years his senior, took a
liking to the bright Pfc and introduced him to his favorite niece, Patti.
Along with other technicians they wired up equipment in the hundred-foot-high steel tower
at Ground Zero and laid cable and checked communication equipment in the control and
observation bunkers situated nine desolate miles away to the west. They watched the bomb
assembly slowly winched up inside, all of them struck by the surreal remoteness, the secrecy, and
the tension in the air. Hervey was very curious. Stadler, he remembered, was transfixed.
At 5:29:45 A.M. on July 16, 1945, that first atomic fire instantly defined for Howie Stadler
his career, indeed his life’s mission. Hervey was also imprinted, his mind seared, but in an opposite
way. It was a guiding light to both their futures.
That much remained in Hervey’s memory, but the rest of that day’s events were jumbled
together and vague, some forgotten altogether, as lack of sleep and alcohol took their toll. They
were on leave that afternoon, free spirits after weeks of enduring the broiling desert sun and the
sudden winds that brought choking dust storms. They rolled out of Holloman Air Force Base in
Howie’s ’38 Pontiac, windows down in the heat, drinking beer and heading south at eighty miles an
hour for the only entertainment within a hundred miles – Juarez, Mexico.
They roamed the rutted and pot-holed main street of the city, its bars crowded with soldiers
from Fort Bliss, near El Paso. They went from club to club, watching their sleazy floor shows,
refusing the poor and assertive señoritas who clustered around their table. Stadler became louder
and more aggressive, and Hervey had his initial second-thought about that introduction to his
favorite niece.
Wasn’t there an incident at the Cucaracha Club which had the best show in town? – seeing
things on the stage that would be illegal north of the border. Howie, drunk and obnoxious, trying to
dance with the beauteous Yvonne after her spell-binding performance. Later they pushed into

another club, “Los Perros y Gatos,” crowded with soldiers.
“We know who the ‘Gatos’ are. ‘Perros’ must be those tough-looking characters behind the
gamblin’ tables,” Howie slurred.
“No,” said Hervey, now rotten from alcohol and no sleep for almost twenty-four hours. “The
‘Gatos’ are just ‘Gatos.’ The ‘Perros’ are the ladies of the house, I’m afraid.”
He bought a soft drink and leaned against the wall, his head pounding, and watched the
small-time gamblers – fending off: “Gracias. No. No. I just got loved next door. No. No drinks.”
Stadler drifted around, seeking another Yvonne. He settled on a blonde and bought her something
from the bar.
Stadler and the girl climbed up the stairs. Through the railings Hervey could see them stop at
a small table where Stadler gave an old woman some money.
Hervey thoughts kept returning to the momentous event he’d been privy to. Security and
secrecy had been so hammered into the select few that he felt guilty just having it on his mind,
trying to understand it. The bomb contraption wasn’t large, but the blast and light and heat it
produced were uncanny.
He passed the time at the roulette table, putting quarters on the red or black. Howie came
down the stairs holding tightly to the railing. His face was ashen and eyes bloodshot.
“You look like you had a wonderful time up there, Howie.”
“Jesus, Dick. I threw-up there. That fuckin’ Mexican booze.”
“Before or after? You’ve been drinking for ten hours straight, Howie.”
Stadler looked sheepish. “I dunno … maybe during.” He leaned on Hervey’s shoulder,
smelling putrid, and put a dollar on black. “Heh, maybe I can win a buck.”
“You should’ve played red.”
“The wheel’s got a naught and a double naught. A sucker wheel,” said Howie, putting two
dollars on black. The white ball plopped into the red 18 slot.
“We’ll shove off after I win my buck.”
Four dollars on the black – Ball in the 7 slot. Red.
“What’s going on here?!” Eight dollars on black. The 32 pocket – red again.
“Let’s go, Howie.”
Stadler searched through his pockets and wallet. “Heh, stake me five bucks, Dick. I’ve only

got eleven left.” Howie looked ill, and Hervey now saw a stubbornness and maybe a meanness in
that face. He sighed and handed over the five.
“Try red this time.”
“Doesn’t matter. Any idiot knows that.”
Howie’s sixteen dollars went on black. Hervey watched the ball bounce into the 3 slot.
“Heh! Red again! That can’t happen. The odds are like about 32 to 1 against it.”

“I’ll drive,” said Hervey. It was well past midnight. Howie Stadler fell into a drunken sleep.
He had lost his supper, his virginity and three dollars upstairs – thirty-one dollars downstairs. Then,
Stadler’s misadventure and the birthing of the nuclear genie became momentarily intertwined,
fused, in Hervey’s thoughts. Odds – Probabilities. He stuck his head out the window into the cool
air to stay awake. The stars were sharp above that guilty New Mexico desert, and then for him the
import of the day’s events became anesthetized by the sheltering blackness of the night.
John Wickware tossed down the last of his bourbon in a big gulp and got unsteadily to his
feet. With his stoop he was a good eight inches shorter than Hervey. “THE Bernadette will not be
happy tonight,” he announced.
“Is she ever? By the way, John. I forgot to tell you about the Nike training battery proposed
for my private hill right over there.”
“Really.” Wickware shook his head in disbelief. “And I didn’t tell you my department seems
to want to ease me into early retirement.”
“What! Why?”
“Maybe it’s my recondite scholarship. Newts, frogs … amphibians in general. Doesn’t have
the visibility or prestige, I guess. Maybe it’s my controversial writings on anthropocentricity.”
“The jealous frog … the salamanders’ sense of humor,” Hervey quipped. Wickware ignored
him, staring into his empty glass. Hervey knew Wick’s real problem was alcohol. Stories and jokes
abounded about his frequent problems in coherently getting through a lecture.
“Well, maybe you should consider changing your specialty,” he said, avoiding the issue.
Wickware looked up at Hervey, his tight semi-smile telling little of his thoughts.
“Our knowledge of salamanders is very limited. The Kloits Valley newt is able to crawl

great distances over impossible terrain to return to breed at a specific location in the creek. We don’t
know how or why … but they know because they’ve been around for a hundred-million years.”
Wickware hesitated and then continued in a boozy, stage-like voice: “‘The newt shall not be
measured by man. In a world older than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with
extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained … living by voices we shall never hear.’”
“Thank you, John. Lovely. As usual.”
“Not mine. Picked it up somewhere. Used, with little result, to inspire the students.”
Wickware hesitated, then said almost in a whisper: “And you should remember, Herv, that the little
Kloits Valley creature, a sub-species of the California newt, is ‘Taricha torosa wickwaria.’ It’s
named after me.”


It had the look of an instrument of destruction and death even from a mile away across the sandy
wastes. Then, as the rising sun began to illuminate and reveal its black, grotesque body protrusions,
he saw it as a monstrous and menacing insect.
Austin Cooper had turned toward it from his view down the isolated coastline where the low
surf of the Atlantic rolled onto a strip of white beach at Florida’s Cape Canaveral. Death and
destruction came with the nature and mission of that huge, poised thing, but he wasn’t paid to worry
over moral justifications for these god-awful weapons of terror. Sure, he wanted peace as much as
anyone, but the way to secure it, he and the rest were told, was with the likes of SPICA strategic
missiles carrying bigger nuclear warheads.
Cooper felt both pride and apprehension as he looked across at the missile resting at the

lower end of long, inclined launch rails. From concepts to specific hardware designs he had guided
the integration of the marvelous technologies in this strategic weapon, turning it into the major
project of the Missile Systems Division of the Maxtar Corporation. He himself had come up with
the “SPICA” acronym: Supersonic-Penetrating-InterContinental-Assault missile, which he named
after the bright star on the southern horizon, the best remaining celestial name not already
appropriated by the Department of Defense. Tight secrecy had shrouded the enterprise, but after the
November, 1954 issue of Aviation News speculated that Maxtar was developing a missile of
intercontinental range and gave a fair description of it, the public became aware that SPICA was an
advanced, air-breathing missile, the first with supersonic capability to deliver a thermonuclear
warhead from American soil to interior targets of the Soviet Union.
SPICA was two years ahead of the competition, and Cooper was certain that when it became
operational, the missile would give America an insurmountable lead in the strategic arms race with
the Soviets. But Austin Cooper also knew they needed a spectacular success this time. Official flight
test summaries called the first four test flights partial successes, but in reality he and Maxtar and the
Air Force all knew they were failures. Worrisome, too, was that competition in such weapons and
for Department of Defense funding had become fierce in this year of 1955.

“Mr. Cooper. You’ve got a call here from Launch Control.”

He groaned. He’d come out to the photography bunker to escape stresses in the control
blockhouse during the launching procedures.
“So what’s up, Mears?”
“Austin, we’re holding at eight minutes to watch the number two telemetry channel signal.
Oscillator problem maybe.”
Cooper felt the blood pound in his temples. “That’s got all the powerplant data. We don’t go
without it, Mears! You know that. Why call me?”
“Well … we just thought you’d want to know, Austin.”
“Goddamn it, Mears, I don’t want to know! You guys are responsible here at the Cape.
Fernville sent me down to baby-sit Air Force brass. I’m not taking on launch responsibilities too.”
He hopped up on the edge of the remote bunker where high-speed photography was made of
missile launches. He and the three Air Force men had no protection from above, but they seemed to

be well out of harm’s way, over a mile from where the missiles blasted off. Sergeant Fricks, though,
had just delivered a frightening account of a Northrop Snark test missile that last week had gone out
of control within seconds of launch, rolled toward this very bunker, and was terminated overhead.
“The main body went in the ocean but a part of a wing just fluttered on down. It looked like a
fuckin’ barn door comin’ down on us. It hit twenty yards out there with a big ‘whomp.’”
Cooper nodded at Fricks. He was distressed by yet another Snark failure even though it was
a competitor to SPICA. Cooper felt a kinship to other missile programs and a sense of fraternity
with their top engineers because of widespread concern over the Soviet weapon buildup. And he had
no reason to doubt the recent Killian Committee report which speculated that the Soviets were
winning the atomic weapon race and could be well in front before 1960.
Sweat rolled down the big man’s body in the hot, early morning Florida sun. A skeptical
scowl was superimposed over the permanent furrows on his fleshy face, reflecting the inner man
whose day-to-day reality was confronting one crisis after another in SPICA’s development. That
recurring anger slammed him again: The technical lifetime of a chief engineer in the fast-moving
missile business, and very probably life itself, would be short. He had to orchestrate the momentum
on a complex project as well as survive the nasty politics in a big company. He enjoyed industry-
wide prestige and knew powerful Air Force generals, but ulcers and high-blood-pressure came with
that territory.
He looked out over the ocean, worried that the goddamned shrimp boat fleet might be
moving into the test range again, which would abort the launch as it had the day before. In this 1955
time of national emergency it was simply unbelievable that a crucial missile test could get cancelled
by a bunch of independent fishermen out of Fort Pierce.
“Mr. Cooper, the countdown’s resumed!”
Here we go! His stomach churned. At minus four minutes the remote tracking station on
Ascension Island in the South Atlantic checked in through the communication network. God! If
SPICA made it that far, nearly five-thousand miles, with a decent termination trajectory, he’d buy
the whole crew dinner. But none of the earlier flight tests had come close to reaching that
spectacular third phase of the mission when the ramjets ignited, thrusting SPICA to an incredible
altitude of seventy-thousand feet and to more than twice the speed of sound. But God willing,
Cooper dreamed, this launching drama would become routine, and SPICA, with its atomic warhead,

would be on station as the most effective deterrent in the nation’s arsenal.
At minus thirty seconds, pressurization of the red-fuming nitric acid oxidizer and the aniline
fuel tanks was complete, and the big Aerojet liquid-propellant booster rockets were poised to blast
SPICA off the launch rails.
Austin Cooper’s heart raced. Suddenly, the launch area was engulfed in flames while
turbulent, white-gray smoke boiled into the air. Then the missile was out there before him, driven at
a shallow angle by the two red-flaming rockets. For six interminable seconds the boost phase tore at
Cooper’s guts, just as it did the missile’s guts – its vacuum tubes, relays, pumps and actuators – all
of its thousands of parts and connections – in giving birth to the five-thousand-mile flight. Together,
the boosters snuffed out and dropped off toward the ocean. Then, the roar of the rockets, the
whining screech of the main turbojet engine and the belated thunder from the blastoff all arrived at
the bunker in a loud symphony of low-frequency chaos.
“Go! Go!” Sergeant Fricks was yelling as the SPICA climbed smoothly out over the blue
Atlantic. Then Cooper’s tension eased, and in those next seconds his mind’s eye traces the entire
planned flight excursion: The Wright J-57 turbojet engine drives the missile into a long climb; at
thirty-three-thousand feet it throttles back to conserve fuel; the inertial and celestial guidance
systems lead the sleek, black body with its stubby wings down the missile range toward the vast and
empty Atlantic south of the equator, as ship-stations along the track monitor its progress.
Cooper’s reverie jumps hours ahead to envision SPICA’s chameleon change to a radically
different configuration for its deadly terminal-phase attack on the simulated Russian target. The
slow and ponderous guided missile, a sitting duck for MiG 15 fighters – just like the Northrop Snark
– accelerates as the afterburner fires. As it approaches the speed of sound, the short wings slowly
pivot back for supersonic flight. And just before the ramjets ignite and the turbojet engine is
jettisoned, electro-mechanical sequences begin to arm for detonation what will be the future four-
megaton thermonuclear warhead …
Excited but indistinct voices from the loudspeaker jolted Austin Cooper out of his reverie.
He kept his eyes on the missile which was becoming smaller on the horizon.
“We got problems!” Sergeant Fricks cried, as he peered through the gun sights on the
camera mount. “Right wing down it looks like. They’re trying to override the autopilot.”
“Shit!” Cooper kicked in anger and frustration at a sandy hummock and slammed down his

clipboard. Sick missiles were like sick birds – they never recovered. And then, ten seconds later,
black smoke burst out of the body of the missile and pieces began falling out of the sky.
“They terminated it!” Fricks yelled out. “I’m sorry, Mr. Cooper. It looked like we had a
good one going.”
The burning missile body, dropping like a rock, was followed by other parts fluttering like
pieces of paper in the smoky sky. Cooper watched the main structure plunge into the ocean.
His engineer brain absent-mindedly began to estimate the height of the splash of white water
far in the distance.
In late September, northeasterly offshore breezes sucked hot air off the western deserts and
central California began to suffer under a siege of oven-like temperatures. The rich-green brilliance
of the flatland’s irrigated orchards and croplands was in high contrast to the foothills of the Sierra
Nevada Mountains, dry and clay-brown now since May.
The enormous building stood out starkly in this landscape and dominated the industrial
complex on the edge of Fernville. Vast parking lots around this windowless warehouse hinted at a
great bustle and purpose within. Over twelve-hundred workers entered inside those slab-sided, light-
green concrete walls, some commuting from the towns of Merced, Stockton and Fresno. They called
it the “Beehive.” Large, white letters across the front said:
-Missile Systems Division-

Each time Arthur Sonett walked past the armed guards and through those double doors, he
felt an apprehension like that before a high dive into frigid water. The enormous central arena was
filled with desks, drafting boards and milling people. He had experienced that work environment
before while employed at Boeing and Northrop Aircraft, and he knew it was then common
throughout the burgeoning defense industry in 1955. But even after two years he still was uneasy
with the surreal life there – that surging milieu with its surf-like roar. He guessed a visitor would
find it hard to believe that such a chaotic setting could produce advanced and deadly hardware in the
shape of the SPICA intercontinental strategic missile.
Those far on the other side of the open bay were hard to identify, but Arthur Sonett could

recognize special women by their shapes or the way they moved. And there, just now at seventy-
five yards, went shy “Extra-Virgin” Virginia – Dave Cornwell’s appelation – slumped, shoulders
squeezed in, trying to diminish, in that fishbowl, the fact of her large breasts.
Along the sides were conference rooms and the small offices of middle managers. The faint
rata-tat-tat of rivet guns and other shop noises filtered through the far wall, reminding everyone of
the deadly end-product of their design work.
With long strides Arthur Sonett moved his very thin and stooped body cross the open area,
dodging people in the aisles and nodding at those who caught his eye. He and the approaching Bob
Nelson moved in a sinusoidal synchrony that left them face to face. Both mumbled a “Sorry” as they
stepped aside – but again in the same direction. Another “Sorry” and finally free, Sonett then
encountered Jim Wilton in the aisle, slide rule in hand. He must have acknowledged Wilton at least
six times that day.
“Hi, Jim. How’s it goin’?”
Arthur Sonett’s work station in the Proposal and Preliminary Design Section was located at
the juncture of two low partitions, an elite corner befitting his position as a Group Leader. From
there he could observe his five people manipulating white, bamboo-wood slide rules, punching
away at clattering Monroe electro-mechanical calculators, plotting data points, adjusting a T-square
over a drafting board, or otherwise employed in creative missile design activity.
He removed his jacket, loosened his tie and hunkered down for the duration, another four
hours which would seem like six. He was already sweating despite the rudimentary air-conditioning,
and by late afternoon the temperature would be close to that outdoors. Working conditions were
unpleasant, yes, but the job paid well, you got used to it, and the cause was national security.
The thirty scientists and engineers in that section designed and proposed advanced missile
configurations that were to feed Maxtar in the future. Sonett knew many were like him, young
nomads in the growing defense industry, beguiled by huge DoD contracts but always worried over
their volatile nature.
Alex Mannoy’s people next to Sonett’s group prepared the preliminary design for a radar-
controlled, ground-to-air missile. Mannoy monitored his group, frowning at the occasional
transgressor who daydreamed or was distracted by a young secretary fifty yards away.
Donald Flatley carried a fixed half-smile as he guided the efforts of his group in the

preliminary design for a supersonic drone for the Air Force.
Ingram’s people were involved in the general design of a recoverable film package for a Top
Secret reconnaissance satellite, still years away.
Arthur Sonett’s proposal began as a low-cost, subsonic, ground-to-air missile for European
deployment against old and slow Russian Tupolev-4 bombers. Now, though, he was excited over a
radical idea he’d come up with for an entirely different mission. And a week before he’d finally
received key approvals from the Air Force for a redesign of the missile’s nose cone.

Fred Jennings, the manager of Proposals and Preliminary Design, occupied a small but real
office where scale models of bombers and fighters filled one wall. A little older than the others at
35, his straight, blond hair was thinning so rapidly that Arthur Sonett already saw him as a bald
man. He weighed 230 pounds, up from the 200 when he played halfback for the University of
Michigan. Despite his size he moved energetically, quick feet on a big man. If his bulk and manner
did not intimidate Sonett and the others, his credentials would. Jennings held a master’s degree from
Cornell in aerodynamics and had twelve years of impressive missile design. He was one of the key
originators of the SPICA missile concept that Maxtar had sold to the Air Force three years before.
Arthur Sonett was uncomfortable in Jennings’ presence, even when confident about the
subject at hand. And now, not so confident and his armpits beginning to drip, he stood at Jennings’
doorway, momentarily a hostage, as the big man gave him the eight-second silent treatment while he
finished writing a sentence. He looked up with penetrating blue eyes and a frowning, impatient
“Yeh, Arthur?”
“Uh … we’re gonna need about another three extra weeks, Fred, on our proposal … with all
the nose cone changes and …”
“Three weeks! What’s the big deal, Arthur? Just re-locate a couple of electronic boxes. A
few wiring and connector changes. A little documentation.”
“Well, we got a weight problem with the new package, and that’ll affect our performance
estimates. Then there’s the ocean base studies …”
“This is a proposal, Arthur, for Christ’s sake … preliminary design! Minimize the goddamn
details. Anyway, it’ll be a long shot with the Customer. I want you to get going on that Navy

proposal. Ryland Smith’s pushing my shop to land their drone job … get a pipeline into Navy
Arthur Sonett believed Jennings consciously practiced keeping those employees under him
in a state of uneasiness, even fear, by his unexpected questions and overbearing manner. Sonett
heard his own voice grow thin and strained, and he looked away from Jenning’s steady gaze.
“Also, Bill Fogal’s got a ways to go on the drawings and …”
“Fogal’s too slow on the board. I never should have hired him. He’s got a review coming up.
You’d better kick him in the ass before I do.”
Jennings began writing again and Sonett was unsure if the interview was over. Then
Jennings looked back up at him.
“Lockheed and Hughes want this Navy job real bad so we’ll need a slick proposal and low
prototype costs. Right up your alley. … Listen … all right, Arthur, I’ll give you three weeks. But
that’s it. OK, fella?”

“My rec club keeps you engineer types from havin’ nervous breakdowns,” Dave Cornwell
was saying to Arthur Sonett. The afternoon break had ended some time before but Dave Cornwell
still hung around. Sonett glanced uneasily at the window in Jennings’ office.
“You better take off, Dave. Jennings is startin’ to get restless in there.”
“Relax, Snakehips. Jennings puts on that phony imperial look around here, but outside the
beehive he’s kind of a silly ass. Anyways, I’m drummin’ up interest for my official Maxtar football
pool. Clark Beebe’s gettin’ nervous about it, but I guaranteed my operation will be entirely
transparent to Air Force plant monitors and management. Company morale and efficiency rise. My
shop becomes a division!”
“I’ve got stuff to do here, Dave.”
“Old Breeder Mannoy over there thinks he’s a football genius. He’s braggin’ he’ll beat my
point spreads on the games.”
Alex Mannoy’s master’s degree in nuclear physics made him a little arrogant, Arthur Sonett
and the others there felt, but they figured he’d soon be moving on to bigger challenges and more
money. He was an apostle of the proposed nuclear breeder reactor – the energy future for the world.
Don Flatley called him “Alex Plutonium”; Cornwell, “Breeder Mannoy”; and Arthur Sonett,

“Blacksuit Mannoy” for his dark-colored clothes and somber manner.
“Blacksuit secretly loves that ‘Breeder Mannoy’ name you pinned on him,” said Sonett.
“I know. But he’s fakin’ it. He hasn’t had a piece of ass since he’s been in Fernville.
Probably never.”
“See you later, Dave.”
“By the way, Arthur. We in management are alarmed over the way you zero-in on Heat
Wave, the mail girl.”
“Just one of many, Dave.” Sonett began to plot turbojet thrust data. “I even caught Jennings
checkin’ her out.”
“Flatley’s the exception. He’s day-dreamin’ over there about his dumb little MG-TF sports
car or else that new Scientology magic out of L.A. he preaches. Anyways, old buddy, I notice
you’re a little awkward around the ladies. Come on out to my bowling league tomorrow night and
after a little instruction maybe I can fix you up with Clarissa Hervey, the clerk in Design Review.
Flatley’s not getting anywhere. Nice legs … tits … not bad in the face.”
“Goodbye, Dave.”
Sonett removed several classified documents from his file cabinet. He watched Cornwell
wander off down the aisle, joking and laughing, his short, heavy legs moving quickly in small steps.
Arthur Sonett had become used to the variety of characters attracted to the defense industry. It
wasn’t like an insurance business or other commercial enterprise. And Dave Cornwell was certainly
one of the most colorful ones there.
Arthur Sonett settled into a work routine. Similar environments over the years had
conditioned him to blank out noise and the movements of many people. He checked the progress of
engineers in his group, studied a secret report on performance estimates for the Soviet Tupolev-4
bomber, and made slide-rule calculations of range and altitude as a function of fuel capacity for his
ground-to-air missile … Clarissa Hervey … he’d smiled at her a couple of times, but hadn’t pursued
the matter. She was popular, more attractive than most of the other single girls in the company.
Well, maybe Cornwell could grease the skids there …
Later he sensed the faint and familiar overtone in the building’s normal white noise. It was
an amalgamation of conversation, rustling papers and slight adjustments of many people at their
work stations. He himself turned slightly and felt a short break from the day’s rigors. Beverly Kloits,

the interplant mail girl, was coming through with an afternoon delivery.
He had worked enough years in these crowded barns that he could sense changes in the
building’s mood. He looked forward to the slight volume and pitch changes in the late afternoon
background noise that foretold the ending of their day in the building. Now he cautiously squinted
over the top of the secret report he was reading – about damage to transistors from neutron radiation
– to watch the striking girl swiftly weave in and out of the aisles. Dave Cornwell claimed Heat
Wave’s appearance was simply another company benefit, fully equivalent to an extra coffee break.
Arthur Sonett discreetly watched her as she worked far back into the main SPICA design areas. And
there, for just a few seconds, momentum on the design of the most advanced strategic missile in the
free world came to an effective standstill. Dave Cornwell, as usual, was right.


Alice Smith found Helen Needham’s little-read local history, Fernville: Improbable Town (A Brief
History of the Region - 1850 to 1953), chatty and sentimental early on, with the move of Movery’s
Feed and Fuel store out of downtown in 1934 typical of her highlighted events. But when
Improbable reached 1953, it featured caustic descriptions of the arrival of the Maxtar Corporation
and other defense-related companies with such expressions as “Maxtar’s immense, secret and ugly
warehouse,” “the invasion of Fernville by Los Angeles,” and “these foreigners.”
Helen Needham summarized this history in a handout for the historical society and chamber
of commerce. Alice Smith first read a copy when she arrived in Fernville in 1953.
Our Fernville in central California lies at the edge of a fertile flatland where it meets

the abrupt foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s on level ground except for the older
business area and a few new residences in the hilly areas on the east side. A small river, the
Cedar, flows by the town, carrying a little water even through the dry season.
In 1850 a trapper, Frederic Kloits, panned for gold in Cedar Valley, a couple of
miles upstream of the present town, and where in 1855 his son, Peter, began a more
ambitious enterprise in its auriferous gravels. Agricultural and cattle people followed and
the town of Kloitsville was officially founded in 1886 (and not incidentally, the very place
and day of this writer’s own birth!). The settlement grew to several thousand when a bitterly
divided town council – and bitterly divided ever since – adopted the name “Fernville,” an
uninspired compromise between the ugly “Kloitsville” and the lovely “Robles Grande,”
(Great Oaks) a sonorous Spanish name with which California is blessed with a multitude.
By the 1920s Fernville became the regional farming center; gold mining and cattle
ranching flourished, and a few small industries prospered. In 1932 the junior college was
established. After World War II its growth spurted, for Fernville had water, rich soil,
California weather and empty land before it. And now it has Fernville State College, a four-
year liberal arts institution.
Peter Kloits’ placer claims in Cedar Valley paid off handsomely, as did a hard-rock
mine, the“Trinity,” three miles farther up the canyon, until its rich quartz vein petered out
in 1920. The legacy of Frederic Kloits’ discovery of Cedar Valley’s gold-bearing gravels
has passed down through five generations of the Kloits family, still numerous in the area.
Peter’s son, Henry, became prosperous through his mining operations. The region was
shocked in 1921 by his murder – which still raises questions to this day.
In 1950 the chamber of commerce embarked on a modest campaign to increase the
town’s tax base, an endeavor enthusiastically embraced by all communities. They “sold”
Fernville to corporate giant Maxtar. Its Missile Systems Division, encouraged by the
Defense Department to disperse such industries, moved to Fernville in 1952 and is now the
region’s largest employer. A number of smaller companies followed them here.
Fernville, still with the feel of a small city, is on the verge of rapid growth. Planning
is beginning in Sacramento for a modern airport and regional freeway.
What would we see if we could look ahead to the town’s and to my centennial in

1986? Our little valley town (and me!) might then be unrecognizable!
Alice looked up “auriferous,” a most mellifluous word, and a delightful match to its “gold-
bearing” meaning. She noted then the suggestive reference to the Henry Kloits murder – strange in a
chamber of commerce blurb.
While volunteering later at the historical society, she read and was puzzled by a small
change in an updated version. The region was shocked at his murder in 1921 by a mine worker,
Martin Bussio.
Helen Needham concluded her brief description with a bird’s-eye panorama of the region:
The daily flight from Burbank parallels the magnificent, snow-capped Sierra Nevada
range to the east and comes in over the low, oak-covered foothills, passing directly over the
vintage structures in the business area, tucked up against the hillsides.
During the postwar boom Fernville expanded westward toward the San Joaquin
Valley. At the farthest edge of town, Maxtar’s group of buildings will catch the eye of the
passenger, for the size of one of the buildings and the sprawl of the complex are greatly out
of proportion to everything else in the region.
A nice description, Alice thought. And she remained curious about the Henry Kloits murder.
On a late afternoon in September, with the fall air mild and still, Richard Hervey stood knee
deep in the small rapid, whipping his bass lure into the shaded, deeper stretches of water. Wearing
trunks and an old shirt, his wiry body was supported on long, thin legs, white and hairless. After a
cheerless day at Fernville State, he was enjoying the quiet beauty of Kloits Valley, even though the
bass were not biting. (He would later tell a puzzled Alice that at his age the fishing experience could
be as thrilling and unpredictable as the sexual one, its success material, and often more satisfying.)
Kloits Valley was thinly covered by a mix of oak, pine, madrone and buckeye. In the spring
college kids romped in the creek and held barbecues and beer parties. From evidence left on the
ground and hanging from bushes, Hervey guessed serious lovers in some numbers made it their
rendezvous. Helen Crossman Needham’s Improbable Town had faithfully depicted that country.
Two miles back in the foothills east of Fernville, the Kloits Fork joins Cedar River in
a small valley. By October, Kloits Fork maintains a small but reliable flow while the Cedar,
like many California creeks, is often reduced to stagnant ponds. To the north and south are

Sierran rivers with lovely names: Mokelumne, Cosumnes, Merced, Tuolumne, Feather. But
here, sadly, we have “Kloits.”
Never harboring a cedar tree, the valley was named Cedar Valley, and mining of
placer gold continued for almost ninety years. From 1917 to 1939 the Kloits Mining
Company employed a mammoth floating dredger whose operation literally raped a once
lovely valley of its grasses, oaks and pines. It turned the earth inside out, and winter rains
washed away the exposed soil leaving ugly and sterile piles of rock tailings. All in the name
of gold – a metal of limited utility but of an irrational emotional value.
A dirt road branches north, crosses the Cedar River on a wooden bridge and follows
the Kloits Fork up through a wide canyon for two miles to Kloits Valley, narrower and
prettier than the lower one. Meager gold pickings spared it from heartless men and their
churning dredgers.
Hervey knew the water people in Sacramento had their eye on this valley for part of a huge
water project. That’s where the dam would go, he guessed, as he drove out the narrow end of the
valley – another lost cause for The Bristlecone Alliance to tackle. In the lower valley his car bucked
and rolled over rocky little gullies and by old dredger ponds. Bridge boards clattered as his car
crawled over the Cedar River, nearly dry below. And the desolation of Cedar Valley was there
before him.
“Gold is such a goddamned, insidious, ingratiating metal,” John Wickware had exclaimed
one night, “considering the wanton and uncompensated wreckage that accompanies its extraction.”
Like this valley, Hervey now saw, wrought into a lunar landscape.
We watch as Nature gradually repairs it, Helen Needham had written, but hundreds of years
will pass before trees and the tall grass prosper again.
As he neared town, Dick Hervey passed by the long driveways to newly-built hillside
residences that looked west out over Fernville. Sugar Pine Lane curved around to his left, and he
spotted Ryland Smith’s spacious new house high at the end of the cut. Smith must have sunk forty
grand into it. His heart beat a little faster as he thought of his Friday appointment there with Alice
Smith and her book group.
The defense industries have saturated our little city with inflated paychecks. The foreigners,
mostly from Southern California, have triggered a willy-nilly building boom of pretentious

dwellings, creating a spirit of envy in old-time residents.
Helen Needham’s choleric passage reminded Hervey again of his meager thirty-nine
hundred a year from Fernville State.

“Hey, Dad, I already grabbed some dinner. I’m headin’ out with Don.”
“I wanted to talk over this apartment matter tonight.”
“It’s settled. Everybody’s movin’ into those new apartments. Beverly Kloits is already there
and Teresa will be if her mom gives in.”
“You should save your money,” he muttered. “And besides, Beverly lived in a funeral parlor
and Ed Kloits is her father. Ample reasons to fly the coop.”
“Coop! Yeh, just what I feel like here.”
She was irritable until Don Flatley zoomed up in his flashy MG-TF, one of the first sports
cars in town. Well-dressed, poised and articulate, he had impressed Dick Hervey as being a big step
up for Clarissa. In the interest – well, in his interest – of a stable future for Clarissa with a husband
holding a real professional job, he would withhold comment on Flatley’s strident disdain for the
liberal arts in the coming technocracy he foresaw. But that restraint might be unnecessary now, for
Clarissa’s not-so-secret signals said Donald Flatley and his master’s degree were on the verge of
“Don’s in audit,” said Clarissa as they sat for a few minutes.
“Tax problem?”
“No no, Professor,” said Flatley. “Ron Hubbard’s ‘Scientology.’ It’s big in L.A. and starting
to sweep the country. I’m working to become a ‘Clear’ through his Dianetics.”
“That rings a bell. Pseudo-scientific gibberish, I once read. But I could be wrong.”
“Dead wrong, Professor. You must read Ron’s book. Everybody is. I’ve organized a branch
here in Fernville. We’ll get involved in a lot of issues to spread the word.”
“Let’s go, Don.”
“Like that traffic bottleneck mess at the six-way intersection on Kloits Road at the funeral
parlor,” Flatley persisted. “Bulldoze the funeral parlor, realign a couple streets and the problem’s
“Better not mess with the Kloits ancestral home.”

“In L.A. they don’t screw around. Tear down the old house and get on with it.”
Hervey felt a sense of relief as they said goodbye. He knew and now welcomed that facial
expression and her cold silence as they walked away along the gravel path.
Howie Stadler called at nine as Hervey was cleaning a couple of spots off the sport shirt he
would wear to Alice Smith’s place. He had business soon near Las Vegas … “Real business … you
know, the stuff I can’t talk about … oh, Patti wrote you, so you know about the other, the roulette
business ... of course I’m going through with it … yes, Patti’s a little nervous …”
“Well, good luck then.”
“Listen, Dick. It’s simple probability. This is the fifteenth time and it’s way overdue to come
up right.” His voice took on that thin, stressful tone Hervey was hearing more often. After a short
silence Stadler continued, sounding contrite. “I’m going to the Livermore nuclear weapon lab in a
couple of weeks. We’d like to drop by.”
“Sure. If the weather stays warm, you can sleep on the porch.”
Hervey thought it ironic that Stadler, himself plagued by odds, was on the inside of that
hermetically-sealed atomic-weapon world, working on the guts of those accumulating horrors,
where probability itself was playing an increasingly deadly game with the rest of us.

Still alert at midnight, Hervey got out his childhood oboe and placed on the vintage
phonograph a scratchy recording of the Albinoni Oboe Concerto, Opus seven, Number four, minus
the soloist – marketed for would-be virtuosos. He had resurrected the instrument from the attic,
where it had remained unplayed for twenty-five years, to serenade Vera with its late-night wail. It
had exceeded his expectations, provoking but surviving several long, brutal throws against the far
wall. He often resorted to it now, as the forced concentration helped to ease his dark moods. (Alice
would later say it was the “ideal musical fit to the depressed small-college professor on the skids.”)
Clarissa came in as he wearily finished the third movement for the fourth time. The drone of
Flatley’s MG faded away in the still night. When she came out of the bathroom, Hervey inquired
about her night out, expecting a curt reply and getting one.
Flatley was a real jerk! All he ever talked about was his stupid political ideas and that darn
sports-car club at the company. “When he calls me … I’m not home! And would you mind cutting
off that weird noise-maker? I gotta get some sleep.”

Clarissa, of medium height, with bright blue eyes from her mother, was comely enough that
since junior high school, males were often hanging around the house. She held herself well, had a
pleasing smile from heavy lips over good teeth, and her nutty brown hair fell to her shoulders. Her
physical changing was gently guided now by tugs and pushes of hierarchical genes. Hervey could
detect trends leading to good legs, hips a little wide but within normal limits, and a long trunk
carrying the ample bosom between a narrow waist and small shoulders.
She came back into the tiny kitchen in her robe for a snack, showing a trace of a shy smile.
“Sorry about the yelling, Dad. Don just makes me real mad.”
“It was worth it, sweetheart. I had a feeling he would commit suicide tonight. Maybe it’s
time to settle for Bachelor’s-degree Arthur Sonett.”
Clarissa smirked, used to her father’s theatrical manner. “You’re a little more sarcastic than
usual. What’s bothering you, anyway?”
“That allegretto.”
“You’ve been at it for two years. What else?”
“Well, I’m having an uncharacteristic emotional disturbance I can’t tell you about. And …
oh yes. Our peace and quiet and view of Roble Mountain are about to be wrecked by some dinosaur
military erections with half-lives of forty years. They’ll outlive me. And maybe you too, Clarissa.”
Myron Haddad’s Vista Restaurant was new and modern with large plate-glass windows for
viewing around the compass. Today it was nearly full and the bar was doing well, but Haddad
looked unhappy as he stood next to the stepladder with Joe Milano, Junior.
“Darn those big planes! Not ten feet right over us. The ceiling panels, the windows, the walls
… the whole goddamn restaurant shakes. That Martin 404 is worse than the DC-3.”
The airplane engine noise was remarkably transduced to sympathetic vibrations throughout
the restaurant, producing a loud and discordant hum. Patrons bore the four-second aural intrusion
with good humor, pleased that Fernville was linked by commercial airline to Burbank and
Sacramento in the outside world.
Starting with a highway diner at age 20, Myron Haddad was on his fifth place. The Vista
was the top restaurant and bar in the region, but was maybe a little too classy, Haddad argued, and
more suited to a Los Angeles setting and clientele. It pained him when those unruly Maxtar

engineers called it “The Resonator,” the “Vista Vibrator,” and that puzzling “High-Q Lounge.”
Joe Milano Junior in an expensive dark suit also bore the stamp of local success. He was
proud of the big sign, MILANO FORD, centered in a large window. That one was his father’s, but
the smaller one beyond, MILANO USED CARS AND TRUCKS, was his.
“Now about that white Jag, Myron?” Milano said.
“You want to deal on the ’53 Jag, eh?”
“Well, customers come to me for Chevys and Fords, but I go to them with a Porsche or
Jaguar. I know the money in this town, and I only get a couple of cars a year like this from L.A.”
“Hi, Helen … Dick.” Haddad waved at the couple. He turned away. “What a pair! Hervey,
the fucking left-winger and that old rich bitch, Helen Needham. I knew Bud Needham since 1910.
He was a little slow. Never did anything. Had his problems, God knows, but she was his worst one.
Shot himself in ’21. And her so-called local history book was a piece of crap.”
“Yeh, and she gets a new Caddy in Sacramento every couple of years. Won’t have anything
to do with Dad’s Continentals.”
They looked out at the noontime traffic crowding the narrow streets of the old town. Beyond,
streams of cars moved back into the industrial area on the edge of town.
“It’s like another Gold Rush around here with all these defense companies and big
executives. We really sold this region to those L.A. types. Probably oversold it. We expected to
attract, you know, dentists and the like in real estate deals. But Maxtar and all the rest … boy!”
Haddad raised his glass to the spreading town. “Remember, Joe, their big payrolls trickle
down to the rest of us. Loaded Fords and overpriced desserts.”
He cocked an ear. “Heh, lets check out the heating ducts. Here comes that 404 plane now.”
“Sure, Dick, I’m happy to help stake Bristlecone with a couple of thousand … if only to rile
up the locals. My time’s runnin’ out faster than my money.”
“Well, thanks to you, Helen, Wickware and his people can then work on junk from the
concrete-pipe-factory and protection for our lovable burrowing owl and what remains of the spring
run of Coho salmon. Your book was full of degradations to this region. Wickware refers to it a lot.
“Really! In ’99, when I was 13, my dad, Sidney Crossman, took me to Yosemite up the old
wagon road by the Merced River. You should have seen the Valley then. The highway ruined it, of

course, bringing in swarms of people. We took nature for granted then, were so ignorant and foolish.
Like everybody else my dad and I shot anything that moved, including the little owls standing like
sentinels next to their burrows. I could shoot better than the boys and most of the men. It was still
wild-west mentality around here in 1900. … Here, you have my dessert.”
Dick Hervey and Helen Needham finished their weekly lunch.
“No! I pay,” Helen insisted. “You listen and I pay. That’s our deal. And speaking of owls,
there’s old Joe and Shirley Milano over there at their special table glaring at us … Well, have it in
yours, too, Shirley! … Excuse that, Dick, but they’d like to murder me. Just to get at my private
papers.” She gave Hervey a knowing squint. “By the way. Can you tell me if that predatory bastard
is right- or left-handed?”
“What? … Well, he eats right. Your Improbable Town took some nasty potshots at Milano
and other locals.”
“You should have seen the first go-around they wouldn’t publish. I’d have been targeted for
the Cyanide Process.”
“‘Cyanide Process’ means what, Helen?” Hervey sipped his coffee, awaiting her dialogue.
“Well, the early miners amalgamated mercury with the gold in the ore from the stamping
machines, then boiled the mercury off. Not very efficient. Peter Kloits first worked in the big
quicksilver mines at New Almaden near San Jose before coming here. Around 1875, miners began
using a solution of potassium or sodium cyanide. It combined with the gold, and then zinc recovered
the gold from solution, nearly pure. The Cyanide Process. Of course cyanide’s a deadly poison.
Henry Kloits, Peter’s son, was careless with the stuff. Sterilized the river pretty often. What a
bastard! He started the ruin of Cedar Valley. And ‘Cyanide Process’ is also the old miners’ slang for
murder.” She paused. “And even suicide, if you’re desperate enough.”
Helen Needham was quiet and seemed to drift off to other times more frequently these days,
Hervey saw.
“I wouldn’t tell anybody else, Dick, but in 1902 I got laid the first time at 16 in Kloits
Valley, Bud and me. Under a big valley oak.”
Hervey put down his coffee cup, overdoing a look of shock.
“Henry Kloits kept trying to put the make on me … well, about every other skirt, too. He
was a sonofabitch. I’m surprised somebody didn’t kill him years before.”

“His worker, Bussio, shot him, I remember reading.”
“Well, as the story goes, Bussio shot-gunned him in his mining office in Cedar Valley. Blew
his face to shreds. He stole the raw gold on hand, the week’s dredger output, about 150 troy ounces,
and took off in Henry’s truck. He was seen. Drove to Merced and hopped the train … was ticketed
to Mohave. Disappeared. That’s how the story goes anyway.”
“I recall an old chamber of commerce blurb about questions raised to this day.”
“Ha. I wrote that! Then they fixed it. Questions? Well, maybe those volumes of stuff in the
museum hold answers. We won’t go into that. I just told you how the story went. And how it goes.”
Dick Hervey was ready to leave, not much interested in her cryptic response.
“Do you know Alice Smith, Helen? I ran into her in the lounge here a few days ago.”
“Hell, most Maxtar people will have nothin’ to do with me.” She laughed, jowls shaking.
“Sure. Alice Smith’s been helping out at the museum. Married to the captain of industry, you know.
Kind of flighty … spirited, some might say … sexy, you might say … dangerous, I might say.”
Helen Needham peered at Hervey over the rim of her coffee cup, looking as if she had more
to say on the subject. Instead, she drifted off to the past again. “To think I knew Peter Kloits. He
died in 1905. He was in the Gold Rush! He hunted bear and fox in 1860 by what was then Tulare
Lake out in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, a huge, rich lake and swamp. But when they
dammed and diverted the Kings and Tule Rivers, it became desert and cotton. Some exchange!”
The realities in that span of a hundred years seemed to remind Helen of the limit of her own
mortality. She became silent, almost hypnotic. And Dick Hervey, too, was caught up then, seeing
time’s stealth: A huge defense company there, building an intercontinental missile whose nose cone
could destroy Moscow, but where the breadth of just two long generations could take you back to
the relative safety of Peter Kloits, to horses, and to wilderness.
“Your Bristlecone Alliance is about fifty years too late, I’m afraid,” she said sadly.
“California was a paradise. Even Fernville’s turnin’ into a little L.A. … pell-mell, like another Gold
Rush, isn’t it? Probably like gold. More useless products.”
Then, Helen Needham reached across and put her hand over Hervey’s, squeezing it.
“You know, Dick, I was born here in ’86, on the very day of Fernville’s founding. I always
dreamed … silly of course … of reaching the centennial. I would open up my private papers on that
day, secrets I’ve always kept about me and about others in this town … and then die on it!”

She reached for her cane. “Well, help me up, Dick. I’m off to the ‘Setters.’ Myron Haddad
always did have the worst taste.” She struggled to her feet. “My poor Bud opted for the Cyanide
Process, you know. My sweetheart always used to kid: ‘Honey, you don’t need ’em; you got ’em.’
Top heavy. But that’s not the only reason I need this cane. I’m 70 but I feel my body degrade as
much in a month as it used to in a year. Sure, I knew I’d eventually die, but I never thought I’d grow
old like this. I won’t be around to open my private papers in 1986.”


Devastated, Austin Cooper left the photography bunker in Sergeant Fricks’ Air Force truck and
began a two-mile trip through the open land of Patrick Air Force Base at Cape Canaveral. The
rocket and missile era was burgeoning, and surrounding him there was the most advanced missile
hardware in the free world. A mile away stood the giant vertical launching tower holding the Boeing
Bomarc mach 2.2 interceptor missile. They passed the Atlas missile site where crews were
surveying for the launch complex. Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson announced that it would be
three years before that first intercontinental ballistic missile was flight tested and five years until its
deployment. Until then the Red Threat must be countered by the bombers of General Curtis
LeMay’s Strategic Air Command and by the three long-range cruise missiles under development:
the North American Aviation “Navaho,” the Northrop “Snark,” and the Maxtar SPICA.

Austin Cooper, a self-described technological romantic, saw himself as one of the
visionaries leading the way to the fantastic world just ahead. He believed this 1955 era was gestating
the most significant and exciting weapon breakthroughs in military history: jet bombers; ballistic
missiles; atomic explosives from kilotons to megatons; earth satellites before 1960; the transistor,
beginning to transform the electronics world; and within a few years, the Air Force claimed, the
atomic-powered bomber with its nearly unlimited range.
When Cooper ran his own company before he became chief engineer at Maxtar Missile
Systems, he mastered and controlled all aspects of its products and embraced technical challenges
without time, energy or intellectual limitation. Those employees who thought the work day ended
after eight hours or believed there was another way to do the job did not last long with Austin
Cooper. He experienced no tedium until his wife ordered him to find something relaxing to do
around the house. His most frustrating two weeks were spent on a vacation cruise to Alaska. He’d
forgotten his briefcase, packed with technical papers and journals.
At Maxtar, though, his frustrations over managing the complex SPICA project within the
bureaucracy of the big company made him yearn to escape that incompetent milieu of his daytime
world who diverted him from his real and pure mission. After the difficult day, a little scotch
brought forth unadulterated visions of innovations and advanced weapon configurations to hold the
Communist “bloc” in check.

They arrived at the Operations building, where his anguish turned to anger over the
upcoming formal reviews with the questioning, carping, and second guessing. Cooper had
demanded more exhaustive ground tests, but Ryland Smith, back at Fernville, was technically
ignorant and had stubbornly refused to press the Air Force for relief from the flight-test schedule –
just what you’d expect from an elitist Eastern lawyer trying to run a missile business.
Now he had to call Ryland Smith and listen to executives Norris Deepak’s and Clark
Beebe’s asinine comments in the background. And loudmouth Fred Jennings, of course, would
arrogantly reflect with perfect hindsight on where the SPICA program had gone wrong.
“When’s the next shot, Mr. Cooper?” Fricks asked.
“Three weeks or so.”
His flight-test people were trying to make sense from the preliminary data, but the IBM 702

digital computer for data analysis was down with some kind of magnetic drum problem.
“That goddamned thing is always broken,” said Cooper who, like most engineers, still relied
on the hand-held slide rule for computational work.
“It could be the electronics in the autopilot,” Mears said.
Cooper turned away, jolted by that possibility. Fred Jennings in last month’s staff meeting
had questioned again why Cooper hadn’t yet installed the new transistorized Bendix unit, a first step
to eliminate the fragile vacuum tubes in SPICA’s electronic systems.
“I hope to God it isn’t,” he grumbled.
Cooper was apprehensive as he entered the Air Force office. Colonel James Lapides was the
Program Manager from R and D headquarters at Wright Field. With a master’s degree in
aeronautics and as a practicing engineer, Lapides had earned Cooper’s respect.
Lapides rose from his desk, tall, youthfully good looking and with a full head of sandy hair.
He spoke softly and politely with a trace of a southern accent, his slight smile hardly changing with
the circumstances of the conversation. Cooper knew Lapides was an ex-fighter pilot who’d flown
many combat missions, but Lapides never spoke about those experiences.
“Jim, that was a disaster. I was so damn confident today.”
“Yeh. Not even to the cruise phase. ... Austin, we’ve got to nail down this failure as soon as
possible.” His little smile faded a bit and he said emphatically, “The Pentagon and some congress
people are looking at us and Snark and Navaho real hard. Look out for possible big cuts.”
“Senator Symington just lobbied for a big increase in Air Force funds. I thought strategic
missile programs were in good shape.”
“The money’s going to B-52 production. The first one just rolled out at Wichita. Symington
and Senator Scoop Jackson are pushing hard to catch up to the Russians in long-range bombers.”
“SPICA is invulnerable. It’s way ahead of its time.” Cooper’s voice came out both plaintive
and argumentative.
“Yes, but everything’s state-of-the-art … boosters, swing-wings, big ramjet, avionics,
inertial nav, and that’s to say nothing of aero, control, thermo and structures problems.”
Cooper looked at the floor as Lapides talked, shaking his head vigorously, not denying these
truths, but seemingly trying to repel the problems themselves.
“To be realistic we need that three-month stretch-out in the launch schedule.”

The corners of the colonel’s mouth curled back up and his eyes widened. His soft delivery
made his words seem more ominous.
“The three strategic cruise programs are in trouble. They’re in between the bombers … the
36s, 47s and now the B-52s… and ballistic missiles under development. You get H-devices in a few
hundred ballistics aimed at key Soviet targets and very quickly congress … maybe even the
Pentagon, and maybe even me realize we’re wasting our money on this technology.”
“But there’s a lot of other factors that … ”
“Look, Austin. A reliable, strategic cruise missile would give the Reds fits for years. Snark is
close, despite dropping fourteen of them into the Atlantic. OK, so you and I know it’s a subsonic
turkey, but the Pentagon thinks it makes some strategic sense. And it also makes great economic
sense to powerful Southern California politicians.” Lapides’ eyes narrowed. “SPICA is a beautiful
concept but a developmental nightmare. But if we get a five-thousand-mile shot and a supersonic
ramjet trajectory … if we can demonstrate it, Austin, you’ve got a ten-year program and maybe a
hundred-million contract.” The faint smile left his face. “If a couple more go in the Atlantic … ”
“A three-month schedule stretch-out?”
“Not a chance.” They were quiet for a moment. “I’m going out of Orlando tomorrow to
White Sands,” said Lapides. “I’m on the review committee for those Army Nike Ajax tests where it
tries to shoot down some drones. General Brucker and Defense Secretary Charlie Wilson are going
to be there plus a senator or two.”
“Speaking of turkeys.”
“I agree. But political clout pressured NATO into ringing a couple of German cities with
them. And we’ll soon see more operational Nike Ajax batteries in America.”
“Jennings, you’d be irate, too, at losing a couple days’ shrimp haul because some Air Force
general closed down your ocean.”
“This is a national emergency, Deepak. Dollar signs are all you ever think about.”
It was six-thirty in the morning and a small group of executives sat around Ryland Smith’s
big conference table with coffee and doughnuts awaiting results of the SPICA flight test in Florida.
Initial excitement had dissipated after cancellations the previous three mornings, the last one caused
by the intrusion of the shrimp boat fleet into the restricted Atlantic Test Range.

“This is just like one long, goddamn wait in the dentist office,” said Fred Jennings.
Smith was surprised at the youth of some of his top managers. The head of Administration,
Dr. Clark Beebe, only 35 and responsible for the care and feeding of over twelve hundred people,
stared into his coffee cup pondering, Smith guessed, a theoretical question in personnel
The Fiscal head, the money man, Dr. Norris Deepak, fidgeted with his cup as he read a
document. His nervous, jumpy manner was like that of a high-strung poodle dog, distracted by
every movement or comment. At 32 he had the cast of a much older man with flat, thinning hair and
a small, mobile face already lined and furrowed. Ryland Smith imagined him then as a young-
looking 60.
Fred Jennings slouched in his chair gazing sleepily out the window. He didn’t look
particularly bright, Smith thought, and his once athletic build was melting down. But Jennings, he
knew, was recognized as one of the top engineers in the missile industry. Smith glanced at the rest,
appreciating their reputations for technical or managerial competence, but knowing this group
would never be mistaken for lawyers or bankers.
“Northrop dropped another Snark in the Atlantic last week,” Smith said.
“That makes fourteen,” said Jennings. “I’ve been saying since ’52 that Snark’s a subsonic
pigeon against Russian air defense … even if it works, which is doubtful.”
“Yeh, but if they get off a couple of good flight tests and Air Force labels it ‘operational,’
it’ll short-circuit all that carping by Democrats that the Russians are ahead in missiles.”
“That’s right, Ryland,” said Jennings. “Big publicity about the first five-thousand-mile
strategic missile with a hydrogen weapon, and the heat goes off Ike’s administration.”
“Especially with B-52s rolling off the line.”
“You guys don’t appreciate the new and complex economic underpinnings of our business,”
said Norris Deepak. “It’s more than military success or failure, and it won’t come and go with the
political tides.”
“Deepak, your PhD from those left-wing Keynsians at Chicago screwed up your common
sense,” Jennings said. “OK, there’s a big defense buildup now, but it’s just a matter of catching up
to and getting ahead of Soviet developments.”
Norris Deepak turned to Jennings. “Fred, you should’ve worn a helmet back there with the

Michigan Wolverines. Technicians like you are pointed in the desired direction, get your springs
wound, contracts signed, asses kicked, and off you go. Visionaries, you’re not.”
Clark Beebe looked up from his coffee cup. “Norris, your inflated paycheck depends on
these technicians, as you call them. If SPICA fails a few more times, you’ll find yourself tracking
the walnut harvest for the county.”
“I’m an economist, Beebe, not an accountant.”
“Everybody knows,” Jennings sneered, “an economist is a failed accountant.”
Ryland Smith recalled Beebe’s comment that Deepak sought attention by raising
controversial issues to compensate for inadequacies in size, voice, and face, and for being cloistered
with a horde of scientists and engineers involved in technical matters beyond his comprehension.
Smith showed his displeasure at the unprofessional turn of the conversation by walking over
to the window. He could just spot his big house high on the distant hillside. Alice would still be in
bed nursing a hangover. Her extrovertish capers were diluted in a large venue like Chicago. In a
burg like Fernville they stood out – like that humiliating episode in the Vista restaurant lounge the
other night.
He paced nervously around the conference room, trying to ignore the trivial banter of his top
executives. Now they were complaining about the division name again.
“It reminds everyone of Maxtar’s historical commercial operations.”
“That’s right, Beebe,” said Jennings. “We’re developing the most sophisticated weapon on
the planet, but many people still associate ‘Maxtar’ with truck bodies and railroad tank cars.”
Norris Deepak looked scornfully at Beebe and Jennings. “OK, so you’re sensitive about our
name, but look at the good company we’re in. Look at the nation’s top one-hundred defense
contractors in 1954, listed in Aviation Week, and see how silly your concern is.
“There’s National Cash Register. Mack Trucks. Procter and Gamble. What comes to mind,
Beebe, when you hear American Safety Razor, National Gypsum, American Woolens or Fruehauf
Ryland Smith began to chuckle as Deepak continued. “Ball Brothers, Jennings? Fruit jars
and canning lids? FMC … Food Machinery and Chemicals. Did tomato-handling equipment get
them on the list, Beebe? Cities Service, Armour, Burlington Mills, Norris-Thermidor … You know,

“Don’t forget A C Sparkplug,” Ryland Smith said.
“That’s right, Ryland,” Deepak exclaimed. “Our name fits right in with these corporate
giants. Selling to the Department of Defense is now a legitimate, even crucial, fact of commercial
life, as the sheer size and permanence of the market becomes evident.
“Remember the big flap over Defense Secretary Charlie Wilson’s remark that ‘What’s good
for General Motors is good for the country?’ Well, DoD’s been very good for General Motors.
They’re top-ranked.”
“Get to your point, Deepak?” said Jennings.
“Maxtar is ranked 27th in the nation in defense contracting. This market, the defense market,
is embraced by mainstream corporate America. It’s as stable as automobile or machine tool markets
… probably more so because this customer can’t ever be satisfied.” Deepak hesitated and then
laughed. “And with prosperity like this, who’d want him to be?!”
“What?! … OK, Deepak, defense is strong,” said Smith, frowning at the small man, “but it
has to be. This is not some domestic market like, uh …”
“Like cosmetics,” Clark Beebe broke in.
Dr. Deepak rolled his eyes at Beebe. “Well, the cosmetic market does indeed have a
common element with the more complex one of defense. Fulfillment in either is elusive.”

The telephone rang and Smith nervously picked it up.

“Austin, hold on a second while I put you on this loudspeaker box.” Smith adjusted the
controls until the hum and squeaks were reduced. “OK now, Austin. How ya doin’ down there?”
From his first word the men at the table knew the outcome and turned to each other, shaking
their heads. Cooper explained that at an altitude of about four-thousand feet SPICA rolled 70
degrees and and that put it off course by over 30 degrees. It headed for the Bahamas and had to be
terminated. The cause of failure had not yet been determined.
“I think you’ve got a problem in that old autopilot package, Austin,” Fred Jennings boomed
out. “That new transistorized Bendix unit can be plugged right in, you know.”
“… Still there, Austin?”
“Jennings, you’re not close to the hardware. Send me a memo if you feel like contributing.”
“Austin, you sound a little strung out,” said Beebe. “Take a few days off in Nassau.”

“… Still there, Austin?”
“Ryland, I’ll be in my office Friday afternoon. Set up a meeting with the technical managers.
Lapides said Air Force won’t buy a schedule stretch-out.”
“Remember, Austin, the customer is always right,” Deepak piped in. “Especially this
Customer, the Department of Defense.”
“Ryland, about that meeting Friday. It’s going to be all technical, you understand.” Austin
Cooper sounded so exhausted that the men at the table turned to the speaker box as if trying to see if
he were physically ill. “I don’t want any of the soft-science types there … and I think you know
what I mean.”


When Vera left nine years before, Dick Hervey experienced a period of disorientation upon
finding himself single and responsible for a ten-year-old girl. This period was mercifully short,
however – perhaps only weeks – perhaps days. One warm, fall night, while correcting freshman
English essays, he looked out over a moonlit Roble Mountain and a sudden idealistic renaissance
came over him. Clarissa, no longer subject to the destructive behavior of her mother, was now his
alone to inspire, instill, guide, push and otherwise influence so that she might reach her potential as
a talented and many-faceted woman – where he would be proud and she ever grateful.
With Vera gone, his financial future appeared brighter. Chances were good for his moving
from the junior college to the planned four-year state college in Fernville. And from there his
academic career would soar to renown as the scholar of the dawning atomic age – a PhD full-

professor at Stanford or UC Berkeley.
Richard Hervey would grant that money and recognition were drives behind this self-
aggrandizement. But more fundamental, he kept telling himself, was that he wanted a role, a voice,
in a nuclear enlightenment because release of the atomic genie would prove to be of greater import
than the Second Coming, and its politics crucial to survival.
Not too long after that late-night epiphany, Hervey began to recognize clues to his real
future. Clarissa began private lessons on the clarinet, tooted and squeaked away indifferently in her
room for six months, until all three of them gave up. She skipped classes in junior high school and
brought home poor grades. Blame it on Vera. And worse, when viewed sober, the prospect of
attaining a PhD at his age while stuck and nearly broke in Fernville was slight.
Bristlecone. He had enough on his mind without getting involved in another enterprise,
however noble. But being sympathetic to John Wickware’s social limitations, Hervey agreed to help
him organize the Bristlecone Alliance. Now he found himself editing the literature, describing to a
puzzled group at the Rotary Club why the local burrowing owls should be protected, and trying to
interest the city council in other Bristlecone issues.
“Mr. Councilman,” Mayor Kloits said in public. “Please refrain from messing with the
agenda over matters like this. We’ve got real problems here with traffic and all.” In private Mayor
Kloits berated him: “I don’t give a shit about non-native bullfrogs, Hervey. And neither does anyone
Now he would soon go to Alice Smith’s house where, along with that heart-pounding
uncertainty, his Bristlecone presentation would likely generate little if any monetary support or
interest from that group of Fernville’s highest-society women.

Bristlecone. When Clarissa was 13, Wickware invited them to join him on a field trip
through the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the end of summer. Hervey could fish, they could drink a
little by the campfires, and Clarissa would be removed for a week from that interminable and
indolent summer vacation. Wickware sweetened the offer: “I’ll be doing science stuff. Collecting.
Note-taking. Commenting. Maybe it’ll provide an intellectual spark that teenagers these days, God
knows, sorely need.”
They packed up Wickware’s 1935 Oldsmobile with camping gear and worked their way up

the canyons of the Sierra Nevada, finally passing over the crest at Sonora Pass and dropping four-
thousand feet to the deep rift between the Sierra and the Nevada mountains to the east. Hervey
remembered it as a lot of stopping and the turning over of rocks and logs and the collecting of small,
slimy creatures from springs and seeps. Clarissa said they all looked as though they needed another
couple of months inside their mother or in their eggs – or somewhere. Wickware said he was
looking for variations and population distributions, particularly for Taricha tarosa.
“The who?” – “Well, that’s the California newt, Clarissa, one of my specialties.”
“Now here, Clarissa! Look at this lovely little guy. Thamnophis Elegans. Garter snake. If
you were one, wouldn’t you rather go as ‘Thamnophis Elegans’ than ‘Garter?’” – “Huh?”
“This guy here is a Yosemite toad. Quite rare.” – “Ugh.”
“Can’t find any Long-Toed Salamander, Ambyst …” – “Tears in my eyes.” – “Be pleasant,
“Ah! Look here. Aneides lugubris. Arboreal salamander. Big head. Yellowish spots.
Prehensile tail. Tree climber. What a beauty. Squeaks like a mouse. Here, touch it, Clarissa. Watch
out. It can bite.” – “Can’t we stay in a motel tonight, Dad?”

They were driving south on Highway 395. To the west the mighty, sculpted granitic scarf of
the Sierra rose to over fourteen-thousand feet. And paralleling those mountains to the east were the
desolate White Mountains, nearly as high. Even in late summer both ranges were snow-capped.
Certainly the most spectacular region in California, Hervey thought. Or anywhere.
“I’ll get at least two papers out of this,” said Wickware.
“Yeh, and I’ll get sarcastic complaints for the next year.”
“You said it. Next five years.” Clarissa was slouched down in the back seat next to a pile of
magazines. “Hey, look at that great one!” she suddenly cried, pointing at the little road signs,
reading them off one by one:
“‘The midnight ride – of Paul for beer – led to a warmer – hemisphere. Burma Shave.’”
“They’re just advertising signs, honey.”
“The best one was yesterday’s: ‘Passing cars – when you can’t see – may get you a glimpse
– of eternity.’ I memorized three others, too.”
“Oh, Clarissa.” Hervey shook his head. “Well, John, so much for a career in science.”

“Maybe we can interest her in a theory of relativity.”
“What? No, I’m afraid not.”
“Not Einstein’s … A more ponderable one for us regular folks … mine. We’ll go up into the
White Mountains there. No salamanders, no trout and it’s cold and arid.” Wickware’s voice became
dramatic then, one of his lecture techniques. “But the bristlecone pines are there! The oldest living
things on the planet. And Dick, those ancient trees might provide the intellectual and creative spark
we were talking about.”
A groan from the back seat.
It was a long, difficult drive up the steep, rough dirt road along the open spine of the range.
At the 11,000 foot level they parked and began to climb up a long slope toward the largest trees.
Wickware hung back, letting father and daughter go ahead. The strong, chill wind, coming from an
unobstructed distance, penetrated their windbreakers and flapped their trousers. Their breaths were
rapid and deep at that high altitude. Clarissa, head down and her arms folded across her chest,
followed her father. A few more steps in the loose, gravelly soil and they reached the first tree.
It was a magnificent specimen, Hervey thought, a huge, gnarled stump of a thing, a
predominance of ancient dead wood, its trunk split and splayed across rocky outcroppings. Sparse
patches of green needles seemed to cry out that the grotesque thing still lived. He was awed, as
Wick said he would be, by this remote and symbolic place of the bristlecone pines.
“We’re looking at time here, Clarissa,” he called out, and then repeated Wickware’s
wonderfully apt words: “‘This tree has seen the planet.’” Short of an essay he couldn’t explain the
nuances of that, but it might be inspiring to her.
“What do you mean, ‘seen the planet’? I don’t get it.”
“Time. One of the oldest living thing on Earth. Right in front of you. Touch it. Over four-
thousand years. This old beauty has watched a hundred generations like us come and go … like
brief flashes of light.”
“The altitude’s gettin’ to you, Dad.”
The tree wasn’t so much a tree as a monument – a huge, gnarled porcelain of ancient,
whitish dead wood where a bit of life struggled. Prevailing. Prevailing, Wickware had said. And
shivering up there among those remaining tree relics, Hervey was struck how this latest flash of
humanity could, and probably would, alter the fragile and vulnerable Earth – as on a Bristlecone

Then Wickware joined them, panting for air. “‘Bristlecone.’ A marvelous name. A fabled
setting. This tree elicits a grand sense of time. It could represent all the creatures and other biology
that have suffered in California since the Gold Rush from people who didn’t know or didn’t care.”
Inspired by Wickware’s dramatics, Hervey said, “And I see a kinship of uranium and gold.
Both brought great unintended consequences … both stimulated by those catalytic brothers, Greed
and Ignorance.”
“But don’t my concerns pale in comparison with yours, Dick?”
“I’m not so sure now, John. Ask me that again in a hundred years.”
Wickware pulled a small flask from his pocket. “Here, Herv. We must celebrate this
bristlecone’s marvelous tenacity. Its evocative power.”
“Yes,” said Hervey, taking the flask. “And especially to its not outliving the human race.”
Next to the Bristlecone detritus, Clarissa kicked at some pebbles in the sand. “Come on, you
two. This is startin’ to sound like the back porch. There's no forest here. Just some old white stumps.
It’s like a … like a ghost forest. I’m goin’ back to the car. I’m freezin’.”
A light haze hung in the still air over the valley, and a dry heat lingered in the foothills. Faint
odors of both alfalfa and pine trees wafted over Fernville. The languorous late afternoon seemed to
cry out for winter and rain – or at least for the cooler days that fall had promised.
The meandering stone path and custom brick work around the entryway to the Smith house
showed great attention to detail in design and crafting. Dick Hervey thought it must give Ryland
Smith pleasure each time he ventured up that walkway – seeing professionalism in concept and its
physical result carried to the highest level – and knowing that only a few like him could afford to
pay for it.
It gave Dick Hervey a deeper sense of inferiority as he walked up to the front door. He stood
there in newly pressed slacks and a white sport shirt, fresh from the shower but already sweating. He
punched the doorbell and waited for the peephole to peek. It did, with slow and instructed caution,
and then a latch rattled and the big, oak front door opened.
Hervey faced a stern-looking boy of 15 or so, trained not to suffer doorbells casually. After
announcing he was Richard Hervey from the college, he was told to proceed straight across the big

room to the patio. That’s where the ladies were.
“Associate Professor Dick,” Alice said with a bright smile. “Welcome to our little literary
club.” She guided him over to the six others: Shirley Milano, Enid Haddad, Sharon Kloits, Betty
Beebe, Barbara Jennings, Debbie Deepak – several of whom Hervey knew casually.
As a literary club it didn’t look very serious to Hervey. Some of them had been swimming
and he spotted a couple of empty wine bottles. Their selected novel was the new one of Kathleen
Norris, Mrs. Harriet Townshend. “Vintage Norris,” Hervey had read in a review: “inoffensive,
sweet and forgettable.” Alice said the session had not been as productive as usual because some had
not done their homework. And besides – this damn valley heat. They had got to laughing a lot.
Would he like some wine?
Hervey, well known by reputation, realized before the first sip that he was in enemy
territory, confronted by a strident group who saw him cornered and unprepared. Alice, in a loose T-
shirt and brief shorts, smiled innocently as the savagery began.
Why did he fight expansion of the industrial park?
“… zoning, traffic, orchards…”
Your stubborn railing against the Kloits housing projects on Quicksilver Road.
“… L.A. boxes, pink gravel roofs, utilities, traffic…”
Often, the lone obstructionist on the city council.
“… some there beholden to special interests. Others, not too brilliant. … Oh. Sorry there.
Nothing personal, really.”
Negative comments on our defense industry.
“… oversight of that impenetrable monolith has to start somewhere.”
Left-wing professors at Fernville State. Berkeley. Communist sympathizers even. So my
husband says.
“… the McCarthy era is over, isn’t it? Yes, we all signed that loyalty oath. Ridiculous …”
“Sorry. I mean we should be beyond that paranoia.”
Poor Vera. We talked so much. The suffering. How is she?
A conservation group? Environmental watchdog? Sounds crazy. Sounds unnecessary.

Sounds Berkeley and Sierra Club.
Stop laughing at me over there, Alice. Long legs, all right, and very nice around the thighs.
“… great symbolism around this ancient tree …”
Tree! Contribution? Talk to my husband? – Forget it!
“Oh, yes, I’ll run for council again. May I count on your vote?… Opposition? Never in my
district. The college people, you know.”
Naturally. Naturally. But plenty this time, Professor. Maxtar’s own candidate.
“Thanks, I’ll have a little more, Mrs. Smith.” There’s a little Vera there, all right. Over-
center, ready to flop in different directions. But the sense of humor behind those wide-set, bright,
hazel eyes. That’s not Vera, and neither is the straight-back, head-erect posture. Poor Vera. Slopey
shoulders. Rounded back. Coiled – ready to strike out at the expected slight. And Vera always wore
a bra.
“You could lose a lot of votes lunching with Helen Needham,” said Shirley Milano, a fine-
featured tall woman with coal-black hair. “What do you two talk about?”
“Some old mining tales. Startling stuff. Charming woman, full of colorful stories of
Fernville’s past.”
“That’s not what she’s full of,” said Shirley Milano.
“She’s also full of hate and herself,” said Sharon Kloits.
The women gathered their things.
“Some Bristlecone information to look over in the privacy of your homes? To share with
your husbands?” That broad sarcasm brought only averted eyes.
He followed them to the door.
“Professor, you forgot some of your literature.” Alice hurried back to the patio. When she
returned, the women were down the walkway. “Well, here’s the brochures they didn’t read.”
Hervey was irritated. “You threw me to the lions, Mrs. Smith. That was not the right group
at all for our cause.”
“It was so funny. They really went after you. Your reputation has got around. The left-wing
associate professor with a subversive cause in a right-wing town.” She giggled. “See. You shouldn’t
have said I was a lousy singer. Retribution.”
“Retribution can also mean a rewarding.”

“Really. Well, then I meant revenge, I guess. I forgot you were a wordsmith.”
“From the looks of those ladies, I’m ripe for the Cyanide Process.”
“What’s that?”
“Old mining slang for murder, according to Helen Needham.”
“What a great title for a murder mystery.” Alice and Hervey stood by the open door. He
sensed a kind of give-and-take beginning, a spontaneity that his sardonic manner often squelched in
others. The cars began to drive away.
He moved to the door. Alice touched his arm. “Thanks for coming. I must get Paul off on his
scouting overnight.” She seemed tentative, but then said quickly, “There’s lots to talk about. Those
women talk all afternoon, but don’t say much. And I’m the worst … listen … come back at six.
Drive right down the driveway and park in the back.” Alice looked surprised by her own words and
stared at him, braced, as if expecting a harsh response.
Hervey, though nonplussed, had a visage that could mask emotion. But he could not
suppress the throbbing pulse and the reddening of his face. “I just took a verbal thrashing. I don’t
relish a physical one.”
“Goodbye, Associate Professor Dick,” she said, easing him out and waving at the last cars
driving away. “Mr. Smith is at a board meeting in Smogsville tonight.”

Dick Hervey drove home and took another shower. The gin beckoned, but he needed to be
fast on his feet for any contingency.
Clarissa clamored in the doorway. “Jeez, it was hot in there today.”
“You’d think the DoD could at least keep its employees comfortable. Millions for defense,
but only ten cents for air-conditioning.”
“Very funny. It’s Maxtar, not DoD. We’re a company.”
“Honey, I’ll be out this evening. Can you fix something?”
“Don and I are going to have a bite at Fernville Lanes. Then we’re meeting a group at the
“I was under the impression lovable engineer Flatley was history?”
“Well, he soon will be. I just learned the jerk’s filed papers to run for city council … in your
district, Dad!”

“Really! Well, I’m not concerned. I’ve got a good base. College people.”
“Anyway, Dave’s gonna set up a date with that Arthur Sonett.”
“Good. But remember, Sweetheart, a young woman like you … especially you … is in a
buyer’s market around here. Keep your options open and your powder dry.”
“Come on, Dad, cut the baloney! That Dave Cornwell’s a real character. He’s sort of chasin’
after Teresa Bondi … you know her, the skinny girl. Opposites. It can’t work. Could I have just a
little wine after a hard day at work?”
“I’m afraid not. You’re under age.” Vera had that big problem. It would start with a small
glass and by 10 P.M. she could be a raving maniac. He hoped Clarissa’s constitution would mimic
his, where alcohol, kindly and unkindly, adjusted his mood, but didn’t turn over any big rocks in his

Hervey stopped at Fernville Liquors to buy a nice bottle of wine. It would be red – robust
and extrovertish. He followed directions and drove to the end of the driveway next to the patio and
parked behind the Continental and next to Alice’s convertible. She stood near the pool and motioned
him over. She wore a white skirt and gold-colored blouse.
“Here, he said. We could open this.” Behind his impassive mask Hervey’s insides were
boiling with an emotional stew of curiosity, fear, lust, inferiority, insecurity and adventure. He felt
like a sixteen-year-old again.
The sunset over the far western range was a brilliant orange and red, and the great valley of
agricultural wealth spread out from Fernville as far as he could see. Hervey pretended to be awed,
and would have been contemplative if not for the foreign woman’s body close by. He sipped the
wine, looking out at the landscape, seeing little.
“Well, Associate Professor Dick, not bad, huh, for a brief stopover on the way up the
corporate ladder? Next stop, the Container Division, the biggest and original Maxtar enterprise.”
“Alice Devereau, the singer, won’t have a captive audience of provincials in Cleveland.”
“Am I really that bad?”
“Oh, no. You sing OK, but your presence is … well … commanding.”
“Commanding! Hah. You wordsmith devil. I guess I drank too much that night. Ryland was
angry with me. An embarrassing argument in the lounge.”

Hervey felt a little sympathy for Smith, knowing the difficulty of handling a headstrong
woman in her cups and in public.
“That telescope there. You can see the whole town. I can spot Ryland’s office window in
that administration building,” she said, pointing.
“Maybe they have one there looking up here.”
“Whoops. I’d better not swim naked anymore.”
Dick Hervey, his face blank, kept his eyes over the town, its lights now blinking on. Was
Alice a loose and artless spirit, or was she shrewdly manipulating the puppet strings? To calm the
electricity the word “naked” aroused, he poured them more wine.
Alice brought out another bottle and some snacks. “I really do want to talk. I feel so isolated.
Ryland’s life is the corporate world. I don’t exactly fit. He’s terribly successful and there’s no
stopping him. He’s got all the credentials. My God. Just look at him. He could even pass for a young
U.S. senator.”
Their talk came easily. She had married too young at 19 after only two years in college,
dazzled by the handsome and ambitious Ryland Smith. “But who wouldn’t have been! Anyway, I
got a slow start. Now I’m restless. Need to do something. Get involved. Get a cause. Write novels.”
“You could become the burrowing-owl specialist in the Bristlecone Alliance.”
Alice stuck out her tongue. “The ladies were quite vehement, weren’t they? But it was really
funny. You lost a few votes, I’m sure.”
Alice was a good listener, curious and responsive, as if hoping to find direction to her own
aimless path from what she felt was the structured one of another. Hervey told of his education, how
the war had interrupted his work toward a PhD in 20th-Century history, his need to support the
family and the difficulty of finding a suitable teaching job. Fernville was the best of the lot. He told
of Vera, the single-handed wrecking crew, and Clarissa, a good girl whom he dearly loved, but
whose potential he had probably over-estimated.
“Clarissa. A lovely name.”
“My undergraduate specialty was 18th-Century English literature. A charming coincidence.”
“Really. Here, let me pour. What a spectacular night!”
Alice and Ryland had the boy, Paul. One child was all Ryland wanted. Fernville High was
hardly college preparatory. He’d be sent to a boarding school in the East if they got stuck here.

Hervey became eloquent as if he had a fantasy class of rapt students before him. In the
darkness he sensed that the wine had dulled Alice’s own talkative inclination. She became still,
except for a probing question now and then. And dulled, too, was that state of his mind which often
tormented him – that his career momentum, indeed his life’s momentum, had eased some years
before, and all that youthful idealism and energy were now turning into an inert cynicism. Looking
past her wide-set, alert eyes, out to the sunset’s remaining tinge of color, he painfully compared his
own inexorable downward spiral to Ryland Smith’s ascending one. A little more wine pushed that
thought, too, into the background.
The Trinity experience led to his later academic specialty, atomic politics and control of the
atomic genie. He’d had a religious experience on the spot there. He positively knew in that instant
that something had got loose that Nature intended to keep secret. Most of the others, including his
nephew, had an opposite revelation. That was leading to great trouble.
“Very poetic, Professor Dick,” Alice said quietly in the darkness. Her voice – Yes, he
realized, that was the lynchpin in her attraction. When calm, it had a low, dulcet tone he would
remember, hackneyed as it was, as “honey-like.”
He went on. The Bristlecone Alliance was dreamed up by Wickware and several colleagues.
Conservation was a new trend. Theirs was to be the focus of a regional organization. Uranium and
Bristlecone and gold. There was a kind of metaphysical tie there. It could be an idea for an
allegorical essay in a literary magazine.
Hervey had gone too far and at once knew it. His egotistical bent for lecturing everyone had
nearly quashed a lush compatibility they’d felt under the darkening, warm sky. Was it by her slight
shifting of feet, head turning toward the valley, or by a subtle change in her breathing that suddenly
told him Alice’s fluctuating attention, now amplified by too much of the good cabernet, was leaning
towards some outside concern – perhaps about what she should wear the next day to lunch? Any
moment now it would be coming: ‘It’s been a delightful evening, Professor. Most interesting.
Thanks so much for the visit and we must talk again.’
“Next tutorial tomorrow in Room 16B, Alice. Now we will finish the remains of this bottle
on this memorable evening above Fernville. And let us guess where that line of lights there on the
outer edge of town will be in thirty years, Fernville’s centennial time, and what Alice Devereau, still
beautiful in her fading years, will be up to.”

“You wordsmith devil, Dick. Well, I could be … well, dead, or maybe the glamorous but
unhappy wife of a U.S. senator. Or … maybe … Alice Devereau, the acclaimed novelist!”
“Acclaimed for her fictional probing into the hidden lives of the pedestrians of little
backwater Fernville.”
“No. In the adjective sense. Common folks.”
“The mystery in the murder of the dull associate professor. His yearnings, hidden idealism
and his frustration over the blonde student in the second row revealed.”
“Ha. Yes, yearnings … and failures.”
Alice was not beautiful. But that hyperbole, now full in his mind, was not meant to falsely
flatter. For wasn’t she a near-beauty, and didn’t the warmth and mystery of that glorious evening,
the seductive ruby-red wine, the dim starlit reflections off the gold of her blouse and those long-
buried stirrings now stretch the definition?
It happened then with no more thought. Dick Hervey stood and took the step to where she
sat and then leaned down and gripped her shoulders and kissed her hard on the lips. She moved as if
struggling, but she was only trying to stand because of the awkwardness of their position. He
relaxed and helped her. His hands roamed her delicate upper arms and shoulders and then to her
neck and into her hair. He kissed her now gently, tentatively – like that first uncertain time in high
school all over again. Her arms tightened against his back, and the air went out of her as her mouth
opened, and finally she was breathing again, deeper and deeper.
But this was different from the high school time. No doubts about the territory directly
ahead. This script was written and they simply followed it. They moved slowly to the oversized
chaise near the pool. Perhaps it had been noticed and was in their thoughts all evening. And already
his hands were on the golden blouse, caressing her full breasts, as they together unbuttoned it. He
found no bra there as he knew he wouldn’t.
Her white skirt stayed on in their reckless haste. They slipped off her shoes. He slowly eased
off her panties, knowing he would long remember the feel of the soft cotton fabric.
He found the absence of a moon fortuitous, for moonlight on Alice before him, the glow on
her breasts, belly and on her thighs, would have sensualized him beyond control.
As it was, when he finally entered her, it became furious and brief for them both. Soon they

lay there, slowly calming. He was tongued-tied, not with Alice, but with himself. There was an easy
“wonderful” and even a “beautiful,” but he had no grip on the real situation. An “I love you” would
strike them both as a ghastly, high-schoolish cadence to that serendipitous night.
Instead, he stroked her hair and rubbed her back, hoping she would take it as the response of
a sated and mature lover.
He felt the air cooling and shivered slightly. That and the excess wine he’d drunk told him
he’d be sorry if she became aroused again. It had been perfect.
And too much wine was also awakening Alice Smith as Alice Devereau took her leave. She
raised her head in a nervous look-around and seemed a bit irritable as she buttoned up.
“Wow. I’m getting a headache. You’d better go, Dick.” She had become tense and spoke
awkwardly. “I think we should consider this as a kind of aberration. I … I just don’t know.”
“Shall I help you pick up?”
“No, no. Could you be as quiet as you can and keep your lights off until you’re down the
street a ways. Neighbors, you know.” She wiggled her nose. Then Alice must have realized how
brusque she sounded. She kissed him. “I’m sorry, Dick. It’s really been a … a … you’re a dear.”


Several days after the wild and drunken Bristlecone Alliance meeting at the Smith house, Dick
Hervey received a note from Alice.
I will be examining archives at the Historical Society Thursday at 11:30. We might discuss
the owl habitat matter then. Aware of demands on an associate professor's time, I will bring
lunch to permit more efficient use of it.
Alice Smith
Ever since that memorable adventure by her pool, ten days before, Hervey had agonized
over the next move, if indeed there were to be one by either. That Bristlecone membership party just
the other night was innocently intended. “Have the meeting at my house,” Alice had said to Helen

Needham, knowing that Ryland and her son would be away. Unintended things had happened,
Hervey realized, fueled by liquor, the party atmosphere, and lingering and probably still potent
emotions from that earlier exotic night on her patio.
The aftermath of the party was awkward and unpleasant. Soon after the atomic fire on the
horizon, Dick Hervey and Alice dressed in moody silence, both feeliing nasty hangovers.
“Go downstairs and say you passed out somewhere,” she ordered.
There, Dave Cornwell was easing Arthur Sonett through the patio door. “Shit … Oh, dear.
Old Buddy, I warned you about that scotch and Breeder Mannoy.”
Hervey eyed the pale and forlorn Sonett, unimpressed with Clarissa's possible next suitor.
Alice entered and surveyed the derelicts. “Look at this house! Ryland will be here at noon.
Get out of here at once! All of you. Including that one on the couch.”
Dick Hervey leaned his bicycle against an ancient cottonwood tree in front of the small
downtown building where “1908” was carved into its buff sandstone facade. The Fernville
Historical Society received a pittance of city funding and some public donations. Helen Needham
made up the budget shortfall every year, so by default it was her fiefdom and where she devoted her
time and energy. When she published Fernville: Improbable Town in 1953, offended citizens
demanded that the Society be disbanded or Helen ousted. But cooler heads prevailed, led by
Hervey’s on the city council.
He passed her small office, crammed with file cabinets and overflowing shelves. The several
rooms displayed the typical paraphernalia of small, struggling museums. As citizens died and attics
and garages emptied, a flow of new material found its way there. Excepting the rare discovery, most
items were stacked in the basement awaiting larger quarters or, more likely, a final trip to the city
Hervey still had no clue to their field of play, but he leaned to the probability that the pesky
associate professor was an embarrassing encumbrance needing immediate excision.
Alice entered the building with her customary burst of energy, dressed simply in a skirt and
white blouse and wearing tennis shoes. She looked almost like a college girl going to the library –
an image, he guessed, she projected while she still could.
She led him to a far room where they sat down at a table. “I'm so glad you came. Cut any

“Professors don’t cut. They’re detained.”
“Oh. I volunteer here, you know. Helen’s encouraging me to start writing. I’m so excited.
Now I’ve got a mission. A goal. It’ll be a murder mystery in a small town involving gold, lust …
lust for riches … Helen suggests I use the Fernville region and the 1921 Kloits murder for my
imagined background. Everything’s here … gold fever, history, characters like you, Wickware and
Helen. And I’ll know a lot more after I’m finished researching.”
“Other murders?”
“Well, how about you, the typical small-college professor caught up in a nefarious scheme to
steal a gold mine … or something like that.”
“So, I’m only worthy to be a minor and murdered character. Could you at least indulge him
with a doomed affair with the mine owner’s wife?”
That brought a trace of a smile. Alice opened up the paper bag and took out sandwiches and
two apples. She poured coffee from a thermos.
“You look very nice today,” Hervey said, playing his first card, an exploratory one not likely
to elicit a defensive over-reaction.
“Thanks. And why shouldn’t I?” she said with a pleasant but enigmatic smile. “Helen’s
given me lots of tips including a title: Auriferous Grounds – for Murder. How do you like it?”
“Very clever. ‘Grounds’ for murder, or just ‘Auriferous Grounds.’ Either way.”
“She hinted at questions about the Henry Kloits’ murder. I’ll find out what I can, then
fictionalize around that event and make it more than it was.”
“What’s known about the murder? It’s been thirty-five years, in a small place with limited
newspaper coverage. How do we find out?”
“What’s this ‘We’ stuff, Hervey?”
Hervey smiled. “All right. ‘You’.”
“No. I’m sorry. I need ideas and you’ve known Helen a long time. Any little tips you might
have picked up?”
“Well, a few odd things, but I never thought much about them.” Alice listened intently,
frowning and taking notes. Hervey relished this easy closeness to her as he related item after item:
Helen’s hint about her first manuscript, the “first go-around” they wouldn’t publish; Helen had

money but nobody knew from where; Joe Milano, a common laborer at the dredger, acquiring
unusual wealth; the animosity between the Milanos and Helen; Bud Needham’s suicide; Henry
Kloits, a nasty guy with many enemies; Helen’s alleged explosive private papers; Martin Bussio, the
killer, about whom little was known; and Helen’s strange question about Milano’s handedness.
“Interesting. And I can invent Martin Bussio any way I like.”
“Yes. Then your professor may be enhanced … famous, well-to-do and about 35.”
“We’ll see.”
“Also unusual,” Hervey continued, “was her remark to look over the old mining material,
finding answers to yet unasked questions. I had merely asked about the animosity between her and
Joe Milano.”
“Hmm. Really. My novel’s already finding murder, conspiracy and blackmail. How about
illicit affairs? … In 1921.”
“You got ’em. According to Helen, Henry was a ladies’ man. Even tried to seduce her. And
she delighted in relating that she and Bud, uh … well, made love the first time when she was 16 in
Kloits Valley.”
“Sixteen?” Alice scribbled on a piece of paper. Hervey looked at her slim, tan arms – how
sensual they seemed. He had the opportunity for a quick, sweeping glance down her neck, over her
blouse to her slender waist.
“Bud Needham and Helen couldn’t have met until 1905. That’s when he arrived from Iowa
to work for an uncle in Stockton. She was 19 then. They married in 1906. Papers and letters in the
“Positive. Helen wasn’t truthful.”
“Let’s suppose that scoundrel Henry Kloits had affairs with both Helen and Shirley who was
about 20 in 1921.”
“That could explain the animosity,” said Alice. “And by the way, Helen was very attractive
in 1905. Voluptuous. Striking.”
“And a tender morsel in 1902 for Henry Kloits. OK, what’s your next step?”
“I’ll talk with the printer in Stockton about Helen’s first manuscript. Then, get the details of
Henry’s murder. Check property records to trace Milano’s rise to riches.”

“Helen must know all this.”
“Yeh, but Helen just hints and teases. She’s almost telling me to dig out everything myself. I
suspect there’s nothing there at all. She’s probably suggesting evil because of a trivial social slight
years before.”
Hervey strolled over and looked at a long wall of photographs featuring gold mining in the
region. There was the Henry Kloits reign. Several photos had Joe Milano identified, mustached and
handsome at around 25. Bussio himself showed up, mustached and handsome. They could almost be
taken for Italian brothers.
Alice was looking them over, too. They met near the middle of the display.
“Associate Professor Dick, we need to …”
“Yeh, Alice. I know.” Their unfinished business. The real business of that noon hour.
Alice was calm – Mrs. Executive Smith handling a sticky personnel issue.
“Listen, Dick. We were very foolish the other night at the Bristlecone meeting … the
uranium meeting, as you called it. But that first night … well, I’m not sorry about that first night. I
admit to equal responsibility and have no recriminations whatsoever,” she said, sounding rehearsed.
“Let’s then incriminate that soft and hypnotic night air, the grand view, the beguiling wine
and the starlight reflecting from your gold-colored blouse.”
Alice lost a little of her austere composure. “Well, all right. Extenuating influences, then.
But what I’m getting at is we won’t let that happen again … for obvious reasons.”
“You needn’t elaborate, Alice.”
“Thanks. It’s not just Ryland. He’s not been perfect, you know. I haven’t. Our marriage
hasn’t, but …”
Hervey put his hand on her shoulder, surprised to feel it relax and her body slump slightly.
He kissed her gently on the forehead. “Just keep my character in your novel, Alice. I’ll settle for
that,” he lied.
“Well, he’ll be a devil, just like you!” she said, losing the rest of her sternness. “But I don’t
want to give up your good company, Dick. I need somebody like you here.”
“Thanks … and ditto. By the way, would it help to know that Martin Bussio was left-eyed

“Listen to these great titles we’ve come up with! They’ll keep me, the writer, going the rest
of my literary life.”
Dick Hervey and John Wickware joined Helen and Alice at the far corner table in the Vista
Restaurant for what they called a “burrowing-owl strategy meeting.”
Alice greeted Hervey warmly, evidently pleased with their agreed-upon status. He, though,
could not suppress the so-called “chemistry” he felt on seeing her, nor could he control an
ingratiating manner in trying to impress her.
“How about: Auriferous Grounds – for Murder. The Cyanide Process. Those are Helen’s.
Lust – For Gold Dust. Centennial – The Hundred-Year Murder. Death Comes for the Associate
Professor.” Alice giggled. “The Salamander Murders. For you, John. It just rolls off the tongue.”
“Yes,” Wickware said solemnly, “their whole body can be very poisonous. Potential
predators know this.”
“I’ve got another,” said Helen Needham. “The Miners’ Inch. It’s an old-timey measurement
of a flow of water.”
“The Ghost Forest,” John Wickware volunteered. “That’s how the estimable Clarissa once
saw our ancient bristlecone pines.”
“The Acid Test,” said Helen. “A way to test for gold in ores.”
“Gold – Out One Hole – into Another,” said Hervey. “Dig gold out of one hole and then
bury it again in Fort Knox.”
“How true,” said Helen Needham. “Man’s greed and stupidity exemplified.”
“We’re getting away from murders,” said Alice. “My forte.”
“Speaking of that,” Helen said quietly, “Joe and Shirley Milano over there … don’t look …
are wishing one on me. Funny, I always see Joe with a mustache. And he hasn’t had one in years.”
“Tell us about the animosity, Helen,” said Dick Hervey.
“Goes way back.”
“Tell us,” pleaded Alice.
“No. You figure it out. Dig for clues. It’ll sharpen your talent.”
Wickware ordered another bourbon.
“Well, I guess I’ll have a martini,” said Hervey. “No classes this afternoon.”
“Me too, then,” said Alice. “This is so much fun. Dick, you mentioned a fantastic story about

your nephew, Howie Stadler. I need material.”
Hervey jumped at the chance to perform for Alice. “Well, all right.” He paused for effect.
“You could call it The Red and the Black but …”
“Another great title!”
“… already taken, my dear. Stendahl. Yours could be The Black and the Red.”
“No. That’s got no ring to it.”
“But this story is a tragedy, Alice. No murder yet, but I see possibilities.”
“Tell us.”
“Well, it began on the day of Oppenheimer’s Trinity, like an omen. My nephew-in-law got
caught up in his unlikely destiny on the same day mankind began rolling the atomic dice.”
“It’s beginning to sound too damn philosophical for me,” said Alice.
Hervey summarized Patti and Howie’s story. Howie was brilliant but impulsive. After the
Army, he got a technician job for six months at the Nevada Test Site, then entered Cal Tech as a
sophomore in 1946 in nuclear physics. Tops in his class. Summer jobs at Los Alamos with all those
smart guys. Married Patti in the summer of ’47. But three months from his BS in the spring of ’49
he dropped out of college.
“What! … Why?”
Hervey related events on July 16, 1945, minimizing the whorehouse part. A week later
Howie returned alone, played black twice, losing both times. That put him 127 dollars in the hole. A
lot of money then.
“My God!” Helen exclaimed. “I see it all. He’s doubling up, trying to win that one dollar.
My Bud and I used to spend weeks in Reno gambling.”
“Yes. All he wants, he keeps saying, is to win that illusive one dollar. Two months later he
bet 128 dollars in Reno while visiting Patti. Five months later it was 256 in Reno. At Vegas in
December of ’46 it was 512.”
“Always on black?”
“Yes. But it doesn’t matter, of course. The wheel has no memory. Patti, though, became a bit
hysterical about Mr. Black and now rails at Howie to play Mrs. Red, which of course causes Howie
to dig his heels in. Anyway, he’s then down 1,023 dollars and becoming rather single-minded. His
eleventh try was the tragic one, on their honeymoon in Las Vegas … 1,024 dollars. Then Patti

learned of his affliction the hard way.”
Helen burst into laughter. “No. No. … The soft way!”
“Helen! For heaven’s sake,” said Alice, herself shaking with laughter.
“I don’t understand all this,” said John Wickware, hunched down in his chair, cupping the
glass of bourbon in both hands.
“You’re on the mark, Helen. It ruined their honeymoon. And Howie was broke.”
Hervey continued his story despite occasional fits of laughter from Alice and Helen. “Howie
went to work at Los Alamos as an over-qualified technician. He promised to behave and go back to
college and the eventual PhD. But he squirreled away 2,048 dollars and lost it in 1949 … then 4,096
bucks in late 1950. I held Patti’s hand at the big moment in 1952 when that nasty red, pocket 27, lost
them 8,192 dollars. He couldn’t stop and she worked two jobs and hung her hopes on the eventual
win when it would end.”
“Black Obsession. The Double or Nothing Murders.”
“Great!” said Helen.
Hervey loved watching Alice at her best stage of drinking, somewhere just short of two
drinks. She was funny, responsive, sure of herself, and her face flushed beautifully.
Hervey told of Patti’s tearful phone call a few days before. Between sobs she related how
Howie had switched from red to black just as the blast wave from the atomic event hit the casino.
“Switched? They must be crazy,” said Alice.
“Yeh, but a lot of us could become irrational after losing another life’s savings… 16,384
smackeroos. Grand total now 32,767. The odds on that string of unfortunate luck are something like
one in 22,000, my mathematician friends tell me.”
“My God! And next time?”
“Well, God forbid, but it would be 32,768 dollars.”
“A Remote Probability – of Murder,” Alice said.
“Contingency! My premise exactly in Improbable Town. See, their life’s path is determined
by what that stupid little white ball happened to do.”
“Look, it’s getting crowded in here,” said Alice. “Come up to my place. We can have a bite
and discuss the owl problem by the pool.”

The four of them finished sandwiches while enjoying the warm October afternoon on the
Smith’s spacious patio. Wickware wandered over to the telescope.
“You shouldn’t have brought out the bourbon, Alice.”
“Well, Wick asked for it. Poor John. He’s so inward.”
“I’m worried,” said Hervey. “He’s on a downward spiral. Steeper than mine.”
After plotting owl strategy, they helped Helen Needham to her car.
“She seems to be getting a bit slower every day,” said Alice. “Are you interested in details of
Henry’s murder?”
“Sure.” Anything, to stay around her.
“Bussio blasted Henry with a shotgun. His prints were on the gun. He stole a week’s output
of raw gold. A number of witnesses, among them Helen and Myron Haddad, saw him drive through
town in Henry’s truck. Never seen again. Open and shut. No mystery. No questions.”
“Looks like you’ll have to make up a better scenario for your novel. Still some puzzles
“I know, but I’m afraid … I’m getting the county sheriff’s old files tomorrow.”
“Check out the time-line. Then there are those mustaches.”
“Oh, that’s just Helen’s way of teasing the fledging novelist’s imagination.”
“Well, we must go, John.”
“I’ll just finish this off in a bit.”
“Here, Hervey. Let’s kill this,” said Alice, pouring the rest of the wine.
“There’s an entropy in human nature that rarely exists in animal ones,” Wickware
murmured, as if the bourbon had released a hidden truth.
“Meaning that it’s getting hotter out here, John?”
“Meaning the consumption of potential. Decrease in options. Look out there at those
spreading housing tracts paving over that million-year-old valley dirt. The potential, the life of that
soil, is finished. Man may prevail, as Faulkner says, but it will be over a diminished earth … the
narrowing of mankind’s metaphysical world … Mrs. Smith … The bathroom?”
They watched the small figure move slowly into the house.
“Look. A salamander crawl even,” said Hervey.
“What did he mean by all that?”

“John manufactures pessimism out of thin air and a glass of bourbon. He’s one of a kind.”
“But as one of my characters, the critics would fault him as a stereotype … the introverted,
small-college biology teacher who looks like a gopher. And you, Hervey … the disgruntled,
sardonic, balding, aging associate professor with a Salvation Army wardrobe. You’re all
stereotypes. So is Fernville. That’s what I’ve got to overcome.”
Alice went over to the telescope. “I haven’t yet, but I could spot Ryland sneaking off with a
secretary. There’s his Continental right in its very private parking place. … Ryland, the mighty
corporate executive, is at his duty station.”
“At the telescope you reminded me about Bussio’s dominant eye,” said Hervey.
“Yes. The photo of the survey party. Do you know the Milanos and Kloitses very well?”
“Well, I know Joe Milano only through council business. Quiet. Plodding. Very private.
Ed, the mayor, and your local undertaker, is Henry’s son. Clarissa and his daughter, Beverly, went
through school together. Beverly’s at Maxtar, too. Rather striking in a voluptuous sense. Bob Kloits
is a builder, responsible for most of that tacky housing out there.”
“The Stadler story is amazing.”
“They’re coming by next week.”
Alice put her hand on Hervey’s arm. “Can I meet them? I’ve got to meet them! I see a whole
novel there.”
“We’ll see, Alice Devereau.”
“I’m already way ahead of myself. The Miners’ Inch will be about a murder over water
rights. Bodies floating down the flume … Flume to Tomb! Families forced from their holdings.”
“How about The Professor’s Foot?”
“What?… Oh you devil, Hervey!” They laughed together easily. “Where’s John?”
Hervey found him asleep on a big sofa.
“He’s passed out in the living room.”
“Really.” Alice, frowning slightly, seemed to be in deep thought. She glanced at her watch,
turned and took the few steps to the pool side.
“I’m going to cool off.” She unbuttoned her blouse and unsnapped her skirt. Sandals slipped
off. “You too?”
Only one Vera and one Alice were going to come along in this lifetime, Hervey was

thinking. Two extremes. Why the luck? Vera wrecked a marriage, but Alice could sponsor real
emotional and physical injury.
“My, such a pensive associate professor.” She stood before him. “Like this, or …”
“No … like this,” he said, and reached down and clumsily unhooked her bra.
“Hurry. You’ll find me in the four-foot section.” She turned and dived into the pool.


Ryland Smith’s Lincoln Continental moved fitfully up the narrow Kloits Road and then stalled for
three minutes at the six-way intersection by the Kloits Funeral Home – Since 1908. Fernville’s
premier executive, an icon for the economic cornucopia the region was enjoying, found himself and
his car subjected to the overlong stares of the curious.
Department of Defense Instruction 5220.5 was most persuasive in Maxtar’s decision to
move the division from the rich, technical pollination afforded by the large industrial area of Los
Angeles. It affirmed that in 1956 DoD would favor those competing defense companies which
dispersed from areas of concentrated industry. Traffic congestion and smog in Los Angeles were
issues, too, in Maxtar’s decision. But here, Smith saw, cars now choked Fernville’s intersections,

and days of smoggy air were becoming more frequent.
At the Maxtar complex Smith parked in his private space and entered the executive building.
With briefcase under his arm, his jaunty, high-stepping gait was practiced and distinctive,
projecting, he believed, the bearing of the distinguished attorney he was prior to joining the
corporate world.
Although inexperienced in military hardware matters, he operated at the higher level where
manner, executive networks and public relations were the real engines of company prosperity. The
day-to-day business of designing and building missiles was relatively straightforward – if you had
the best technical people and also cost-plus contracts. He had the people and knew where to get
more of them. And Maxtar quoted only on cost-plus offerings from DoD.
If this were a normal business, he’d have fired Austin Cooper long before. But Cooper, he
learned, had a near-mythical reputation that carried great technical and political clout in winning and
sustaining Air Force missile contracts. Cooper, though, had that dismissive manner when dealing
with administrative aspects of the company. Smith could not forget the disdain in the voice of his
chief engineer when he’d called from Florida on the eve of the last SPICA flight test:
“I got your message to call, Ryland. What did you want?”
What did he want? Next morning was a critically important launch of the SPICA and Cooper
wanted to know, for Chrissakes, what the CEO had in mind!
“Austin, I just want your assurance that everything’s OK. Hell, this is so important I ought to
be down there myself.”
“There’s nothing much you could really contribute here.”
Nothing that he, Ryland Smith, could contribute? There goes that bastard again!

Smith paced his paneled and carpeted office, dwelling on the problems with his chief
engineer. Cooper’s professional resumé was well known in the defense industry and to Smith.
Cooper had forged a solid reputation during World War II in the military aviation field. He had
published numerous papers and held eighteen patents covering a wide range of technical
innovations. The companies that employed him regarded him as a creative engineer and a “problem
solver” – that, the most respected accolade in the industry.
After the war Cooper pursued his technical hobbies in his two-car garage in Santa Monica.

This humble beginning was favorably compared to that of the famous earlier one of Hewlett and
Packard in Palo Alto. Soon his operations expanded to several garages and then to commercial
quarters. In a few years Consolidated Design Company sold a number of electro-mechanical gadgets
and auxiliary air turbines to the growing aircraft and guided-missile industry.
The reputation of his company got around. If you needed something special in a hurry, then
see Austin Cooper at CDC. His high-pressure fuel pumps for the new jet engines went into
production in 1950, but he ran his company as if it still had only six employees, and chaos grew as
fast as his reputation. By 1952 CDC was near financial collapse.
Ryland Smith imagined the thirty-year growth of the Maxtar Corporation as analogous to the
slow augmentation of a small, mountain creek making its way toward the ocean, gaining fresh water
from its tributaries until the final river bore no likeness to its trickle at the start.
Beginning modestly in the twenties as Maximum Paper, Inc., it found a growing market and
within five years produced a wide variety of corrugated and related items. Joined with plastics and
fabrication firms, the growing company soon manufactured a wide array of products.
Aggressive management during the war procured large government orders for shell and
bomb casings and tank turrets. Afterwards, the corporate watercourse meandered, but fortuitously
came the influx of the Blair Aircraft Company stream, a wartime producer of aircraft trainers and
target drones that was a pioneer in the guided-missile field. Company visionaries saw the potential
and established the Missile Systems Division. The hereditary line from waxed paper to the SPICA
strategic missile was tenuous but traceable.
Austin Cooper’s CDC company and Maxtar flowed together with little turbulence. CDC
promised engineering sophistication, and Maxtar offered a strong corporate structure and relief from
banks holding CDC debt. Dr. Norris Deepak, Maxtar’s chief financial officer, just three years out of
graduate school, hammered out an agreement seen as highly favorable to Maxtar.
“We got them real cheap,” he said then.
Now sprawling and diverse from the confluence of many such tributaries, the Maxtar
Corporation was one of the country’s largest firms, and Ryland Smith himself was rising towards its
loftiest levels of management. The annual stockholders’ report treated Maxtar’s sundry parts
without bias. Building railroad tank cars was described as enthusiastically as research in heat-
seeking guided missiles.

Later that day Clark Beebe and Norris Deepak stood with Ryland Smith next to the big
window in the executive office. Beebe’s eyes, through heavy, horned-rimmed glasses, looked down
six inches to Smith’s and twelve to Deepak’s.
“I’ve got to do something about Cooper,” Smith was saying. He saw his technical people as
precocious and their jobs demanding, but greatly in need of direction and oversight. That was his
responsibility and that of others in the so-called soft sciences.
“He’s a folk hero in the defense industry,” said Norris Deepak.
“Yeh, the Los Angeles Times called him and Werner Von Braun and these other aerospace
hotshots ‘the Edisons’ of the defense industry,” said Clark Beebe.
“And thanks to Cooper we’ve had some DoD momentum.”
“What’s that, Deepak?”
“Well, for the last six months SPICA’s been riding the momentum of the Cooper myth.”
“Elaborate, please.” Smith studied Deepak, unable to tell whether his fluid face was smiling
or scowling.
“Once a project gets rolling in defense it’s hard to stop it, and especially if names like Von
Braun or Ramo or Dornberger or Cooper are attached to it. And the whole industry gets a rocket-
boost every time a general or senator plays the ‘what if?’ game.”
Smith sighed. “What’s the ‘what if’ game, Norris?”
“‘What if’ the Reds might have more long-range bombers than us? ‘What if’ they’re ahead
with a ballistic missile, have more H-bombs, defensive missiles that work, or have more engineers
and scientists? Even a relatively bigger defense budget?
“Why, within weeks after Aviation Week showed the May Day photographs of the new
Russian long-range Bison jet bomber and editorialized that ‘what if’ they were in large-scale
production, there became an instantaneous ‘bomber gap.’ Democrats got so agitated the Pentagon
increased production rates of B-52s at Wichita. The plane might have been made of paper máché.”
“But that’s the nature of the world now, Norris. We can’t sit on our hands.”
“Listen, Ryland. I don’t make value judgements about defense spending. My charter here is
to figure how Maxtar can make money in this market. Period. So when Chief of Naval Operations
Arleigh Burke says the Russians ‘seek to control the seas,’ I assume that’ll pump up Navy

contracting. But fiscal conservatives in Eisenhower’s administration, like Humphrey at Treasury,
want a balanced budget. I watch all that stuff.”
Norris Deepak paced back and forth, as if conducting a seminar.
“Our competitor, the Northrop Snark, is a perfect example of project momentum. Another is
the Nike Ajax air-defense missile, the Army’s big effort to grab part of the guided-missile business
before Air Force claims it all. Army says it’s really artillery. Ha, ha. Even if Nike Ajax is already
obsolete, the Army people will push it as far and as long as they can.”
“I hear Fernville’s getting a Nike training base.”
“Yeh, and Fernville will find it hard to ever part with its payroll.”
Ryland Smith continued to stare with an expressionless face at Deepak. Beebe had begun
writing a memorandum. He looked up to murmur: “Listen, Deepak, history shows impending
obsolescence is the nature of military hardware.”
“Yeh, but momentum trumps obsolescence, Beebe. Take the atomic-powered bomber of
Convair. That dream of a plane powered by an atomic reactor was conceived back in ’46 …
probably by a couple of persuasive technical hotshots and an Air Force general … maybe over a
couple of martinis … and it’ll probably take five more years to die.”
“But Air Force Secretary Trevor Gardner, who I know personally, says they’re making good
progress,” Smith said defensively.
“A plane flying around carrying an atomic reactor and twelve tons of lead shielding! Are
they nuts?! Every thinking person-on-the-street knows it’ll die, yet the project goes on and on.
Billions flow. Economies boom. That’s project momentum for you!”
“Get to the goddamn point, Deepak,” Beebe said.
Dr. Deepak’s mobile face became animated. “SPICA is a complex beast in a competitive
market. It’s at the cutting-edge of our defense policy, atomic deterrence or retaliation, and … don’t
quote me … a few in the Pentagon and congress even whisper it could have a role in a pre-emptive
atomic strike. There’s leverage both ways … to be wildly successful as the Air Force strategic
missile for a decade, or it could be terminated suddenly, just like the Northrop Flying Wing in ’49.”
“And Cooper?”
“His myth’s deflating fast, Ryland. Remove him. He’s becoming a liability.”
Ryland Smith sighed. “OK, then tell me this, Clark. Of our technical managers, who could

handle that job? Would we need to go outside?”
Beebe’s pondered the question. “Jennings is our only manager with the technical strengths
needed there. But his manner … well …”
Ryland Smith disagreed with Deepak’s view of the defense industry as a sterile economic
model. Most criticisms had some justification. Money was wasted, yes. Weapons often did not reach
expectations for them and competition between the services resulted in duplicate hardware and
missions. But because a national urgency existed, the goal justified the inefficiency in reaching it.
Disturbing intelligence reports of Red gains in bombers and atomic weapons were the reality that
spawned great companies like Maxtar. That was the bottom line, Smith was certain.
A cover illustration on an aviation magazine caught his eye. It showed a milkman making
dawn deliveries on a tree-lined street. Screaming overhead, just above the treetops, came two
Convair F-102s, the new supersonic jet fighter. The text said: America’s new sound of Freedom.
Deepak would see only dollar signs there while Beebe would speculate on the organizational
structure it took to produce such a marvelous airplane. Smith, though, saw its real symbolism and at
once envisioned Maxtar’s own inspirational magazine cover: Illuminated by a full moon, ramjets
blazing – the invulnerable SPICA speeds on its assigned mission, delivering its four-megaton
atomic device to a Soviet target across the globe.

It was now close to six o’clock, and Smith wearily came to the last two “action items” on his
long list. He looked forward to the cold martini with Alice on the patio. He hoped she hadn’t already
begun the cocktail hour, for she was at her best during and soon after the first martini. Sometimes
things went rapidly downhill after the second when she voiced frustrations in general and then
griped about their overlong banishment to Fernville.
He quickly approved the first item – a permission form for employee Donald Flatley to run
for Fernville city council in the Fourth District, Richard Hervey’s district. Smith recalled his run-in
with Hervey four years before when he’d argued the case for Maxtar’s move with a group of
reluctant citizens. Experienced in dealing with senators and Air Force generals, he easily sold them
Maxtar’s vision of a coming prosperity. Only Hervey’s derisive and capricious remark about one of
Maxtar’s tiny 1925 progenitors, a trickle of a company making picnic supplies, marred the evening.
The last item was another of Dr. Clark Beebe’s odd administrative proposals. What! A

company-sponsored football pool? Smith read over Beebe’s short proposal again:
It is important that we aggressively deal with the problem of informal football pools where
an unknown amount of company time is lost by employees haggling and exchanging money.
Since the nature of our work makes frequent personal contact necessary,we can’t tell if two
engineers are discussing a problem in heat transfer or the point spread on Fernville State …
Ryland Smith had heard that a number of employees pandered to this silly, societal football
craze. If government auditors got onto it, the publicity could be damaging.
Beebe’s approach would channel discussion and betting away from working hours into a
low-keyed, company-sponsored, mutual wagering system. It would be tightly run by Maxtar’s
recreation club, with operations conducted only during breaks and non-working hours.
What next?! He could hardly wait to be promoted to head the huge Container Division in
Cleveland where executives were cut from a familiar cloth and where products were ones he
understood. But now he was tired, Alice would be impatient, and this matter was indeed a trivial
one. He signed his approval and slipped both items into the “out” box.


“ And here we have a likely place for the crime.” Alice and Dick Hervey stood next to the creek in
Kloits Valley.
“What? No. The murder took place down below in Cedar Valley,” said Alice.
“Not that one. The one committed on Helen in 1902 … when she was 16.”
“I told you Helen must have made up that story about her and Bud.”
“So she didn’t get, uh …”
“My guess is that yes, a romantic thing did happen to her. She loves to talk of her colorful
life and she inserted Bud into the story to make it kind of legit. Morality of her times.”
“If a romantic thing happened to me … ”

“You’re hopeless. And don’t think I’m going to drink any of that wine you brought either.”

Earlier he’d shown her Cedar Valley where the dredgers had wreaked their damage. They’d
poked around the remains of Henry Kloits’ mine office, a pile of old timbers and sheet metal. As she
took notes, she surveyed the barren rock piles, the treeless valley, and the murky dredger ponds. She
frowned and said how terribly greedy those people were.
Hervey pointed to a denuded slab of hillside he said was cut away in the seventies by a
stream of high-pressure water piped down from a small dam farther up the canyon. He said up north
in the Mother Lode hydraulic miners washed away entire hills, polluting rivers, decimating wildlife,
and causing havoc for downstream ranchers and farmers. Here the cyanide process had regularly
sterilized the Cedar River. And a lot of mercury from the process of amalgamation was lying at the
bottom of those dredger ponds.
“Well, for a minor-league teacher you’re well-informed in these matters.”
“It’s all Wickware. A decade of drinking on my back porch. He doesn’t pay much attention
to my concern, and I used to needle him it was in another league from his. Now I’m not so sure.”
“Your concern? Raising the daughter? Getting re-elected? Getting shot by Senator Smith?”
“Well, I was referring to the flawed element. But getting shot now runs a close second.”

Now they drove to the end of Kloits Valley where a gate blocked a rutted path up the
canyon. He told her of the old Kloits hard-rock mine, a little farther up and closed in 1920.
“As the third Kloits mining operation, they named it ‘Trinity’ … a much-too- symbolic
name, it seems to me, to be wasted on a hole in the ground.”
Alice said this valley seemed so peaceful and untouched that you could imagine the beauty
of Cedar Valley, down below, before it was ravaged by the mad rush for gold.
“Yeh, just a few Indians living lightly on the land, Wick would say. But take a good look at
this valley, Alice. You could be under eighty feet of water in your next visit. Just a water tank.
That’s how John Muir saw the spectacular and spectacularly-ruined Hetch-Hetchy Valley in
Yosemite, according to our Helen.”
She drove back and parked beneath an immense valley oak. They got out the lunch and
spread a blanket under the tree.

“Only a very small glass of that wine, please. I’m sure Ryland wouldn’t actually shoot you,
Dick. He’s got too many other worries. Real worries, he’d think … and probably say.”
“Problems at the plant?”
“With the equipment, I gather. It’s so secretive.”
“Equipment! That word utterly fails the context of your Supersonic – Penetrating – Inter-
Continental – megaton-tipped attack missile.”
“Well, I stay clear of that stuff. My burden is to entertain. Ryland complains about this
company bunch … Beebe, his top administrator … Norris Deepak, a weird little fellow, the PhD
money man … Fred Jennings, a brusque technical guy with his shiny-bottom brown pants. Not the
smooth, sociable executives I’m used to. And Austin Cooper, the chief engineer … his table
Hervey loved listening to Alice. She talked too much, almost in a patter, but one laced with
wit and clever insights. He sensed, and felt that she did, too, that their glib give-and-take would have
little staying power if not for that persistent overtone of carnality in the background.
“Last night in bed Ryland went on a rant about some kind of company football pool that
Clark Beebe has set up. His last words were, ‘Jesus, get me back to the Container Division in
Cleveland.’ That was the climax of a typical evening for the most fashionable couple in Fernville.
CEO home late. Wife, hungry and two martinis under. Chat on the patio with a preoccupied chief
executive. Three telephone calls … one long-distance corporate. ‘Goddamnit!’ he yells. ‘Somebody
stole one of my French soldiers.’ ‘You’ve hundreds more,’ I say. ‘Each one’s unique. Expensive.’
Another ‘Goddamnit!’
“Ryland skewers me about some discipline problem with Paul. I counterattack that he never
participates in Paul’s scout troop. Imagine Ryland in scoutmaster’s short pants! I say I need a trip to
San Francisco. He says I don’t. Silent dinner. Boring television. Ryland groggy at nine. Me, I’m
ready to sing and dance. Local pharmacist begins to look interesting.”
“I didn’t get the call, though. If this were Cleveland, I wouldn’t even get the time of day
from you, would I?”
Alice pretended to become thoughtful. “No. You wouldn’t stand a chance in Cleveland. Or
Philly. Or Beverly Hills, L.A. Fernville, because it’s Fernville, imbues you with attractions
enhanced through my jaundiced and bored eyeballs.”

Hervey was laughing, but her words were hitting a sensitive mark.
“And you, with your middle-aged frustrations …”
“I’ve got a million.”
“… see Alice Smith through rose-colored glasses.”
“I see Alice Devereau.”
“… who, of course, is a fantasy, occasionally fronting for the rather bitchy and superficial
Alice Smith.”
“Well, let’s suppose I were the famous authority of the atomic age, the renowned professor
from Stanford. Would you have another slant on me?”
“You’d have a different slant on me! But if you were … then, yes, we might have a little in
common. Socially anyway.” Alice started to giggle. “But, Mr. Professor, then you might have to
worry about that handsome pharmacist downtown.”
Hervey poured more wine. “I can see how you might drive the senator nuts, Alice.”
She ordered them to get to the serious matter of her novel. She had done a lot of reading,
including pertinent historical issues of the Fernville Tribune. Did he ever notice the unfortunate
genetic aberration in the Kloits line – that the men had long and slimmer upper torsos, but were
cursed, so to speak, with quite large bottoms and rather heavy legs? Look at the mayor. Look at
Bob. Look at Henry’s pictures. At Earl’s. Even the few pictures of Peter Kloits showed this pattern.
Helen’s husband, Bud, shot himself nine months after the murder. He’d been very ill for
many months. “Helen told you of the cyanide process, Dick. Said it was also old-timey slang for
murder and suicide. Listen, nobody would take that way out, a most horrible way. And I can’t find
any reference, or by talking with old timers, that ‘cyanide process’ ever meant murder.”
“Cyanide and Old Lace?”
“Arsenic, dummy.”
“Bitter almonds. It’s been used.”
“Maybe so. But my point is that nobody banters around ‘cyanide process’ as a popular term
for murder or suicide.”
Leaning against the big oak, Dick Hervey could see down the mile length of Kloits Valley to
where the hillsides narrowed for the ideal dam site. Valley and live oaks, bay laurel, buckeye and
big, bushy digger pines were sprinkled about the valley and hillsides. A pair of red-shouldered

hawks soared in the distance. Closer, a white-tailed kite hovered, glued against the blue sky,
searching the ground around the granite boulders for a lizard or perhaps a newt, a careless
wickwaria, Hervey imagined, inching its clumsy, obsessive way after a month’s crawl toward a
slimy mate on the muddy shore of the Kloits Fork. Now wouldn’t Wickware be proud of him?
Wickware said the trapped water would be used to irrigate cotton and exotic nut orchards in
vast land-holdings out in the central valley – a pretty bad trade-off, it seemed to him. In a
generation, he said, given our short-lived collective memory, few would recall or miss Kloits Valley
as it now was. Another generation and the valley would become a wet footnote only, devoid of those
deep sentiments once experienced but now blocked – not transportable down the human chain.
They finished the sandwiches and snuggled up against the big oak. Alice elbowed Hervey in
the ribs when he said this must have been the scene, the very spot of the crime – the crime against
Helen. This secluded site with its great tree afforded a view over the entire valley. They guessed
about the perpetrator. Alice leaned towards Henry Kloits, and Hervey to multiple culprits from
Fernville High School.
Then, after a first kiss, Alice suddenly sat upright.
“Helen spends a lot of time writing in her office. A diary, she says, but you don’t spend
hours a day on a diary. Always locks it up. Do you suppose …?”
“You just changed the subject, Alice.”
“The subject was and is murder, my friend.”
“Hmm. Well, maybe she’s writing a novel, too, an activity that attracts those with more time
than talent.”
“Well, Mr. Sardonic, I have time and inspiration, and I’ll do anything to be a published
murder-mystery novelist … short of murder itself.”
“Dedicated to years of toil, for an hour of celebrity.”
“Yeh. That’s us authors in a nutshell.”
“‘We’ … Anyway, you’re now trying to solve what you believe is an unsolved murder,
when you started out just to gather background material in a rather superficial genre.”
“It’s that Helen. I feel we’re only seeing one side of her.”
“Yes. I’ve known that side for a long time: Fat, jovial, wisecracking Helen.”
Alice became quiet, with a tight frown and slightly open mouth, an expression Dick Hervey

was becoming used to. He relaxed, hoping her pendulum of interest would soon swing back to the
present, to the oak tree, to the wine and to him.
Momentarily, Hervey’s thoughts also wandered, as he gazed out on the valley before them,
not yet water-logged. Its hidden, colorful little newts were experiencing their immediate
surroundings with a sophisticated intensity from senses evolved over eons of slow change – senses,
in their complexity, incomprehensible to humans.
Those eon time spans were of a grander order than the time of the bristlecone pine.
Bristlecone-time, in its comparatively short span of four-thousand years, was the biggest time-reach
humankind’s mind seemed capable of grasping.
Wickware, and the evocative lubricant of Hervey’s bourbon.
All right, that’s all Wickware – but “Trinity” and its culture was his – and the Trinity gold
mine right up there was, by its very name, stealing from and adulterating the light and thunder and
blinding terror of Oppenheimer’s “Trinity,” – the “three-personed god” he invoked from Donne’s
sonnet to cloak that first atomic test in the New Mexico desert with symbol and metaphor – and
those words from the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita that Oppenheimer is said to have uttered after that dawn
blast: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” – if so, were his words just a planted,
historical ego-footnote for the occasion? – at least Oppie backed off from that fusion horror in ’51,
but to the ruin of his career – the Japanese went to the simple truth of the uranium adventure, no
fancy rhetoric or symbolical nonsense, calling it, in essence, “The flash-bang thing” – that’s all it
was, and is, but able to level a city, and a few of them a country – the nuclear scientists egotistically
saw themselves as probing the deepest and most hidden secrets of Nature – maybe Nature’s real and
deeper mysteries dwelled right down there under those rocks in the wickwaria –
The rise of a bass in the deep pool interrupted Hervey’s dreamy ruminations. He should have
brought his fly rod. But he quickly dismissed that thought on glimpsing the slight rise at the top of
Alice’s blouse as she reached for her glass.
“I’ve been too flippant, too sarcastic with you, Dick. It’s my way of shielding. Protecting.”
“Protecting Ryland, too?”
“Yeh. Even a difficult marriage. But a marriage. Oh, I can’t explain it.”
“May I flatter you, Alice Devereau, about how spectacular are your hazel, wide-set eyes
under this soft, autumn and declining western sunlight?”

She gave him a kiss on the cheek. “‘Of all the sad words of …’”
“could never … ”
“should never …”
“You can see all over the valley, Alice. Not a soul.”
“‘Gather ye …’ or something.”
“We may. Until my three o’clock lecture.”
Dick Hervey had not planned this gathering. Patti and Howie Stadler arrived from Las Vegas
in the afternoon. Alice insisted on meeting Howie, and brought Helen along as cover. John
Wickware dropped by with something interesting on his mind. Hervey cornered the three. “For
God’s sake, nothing about the red and black matter. Nothing! This is a family affair.”
“I’ll do my best,” said Alice. “Your place here …” She looked over the small living room
and kitchen, frowning. “It seems associate professors are more destitute than commonly thought.”
The six of them sat on Dick Hervey’s back porch quietly talking. Alice suddenly exclaimed:
“I’ve got another one! Maybe the best yet. A good title can practically sell the book.”
Hervey gave Alice a stern look, responding as if to a classroom interruption. He and Howie
Stadler were on a serious subject. “So, we are privileged to witness the author at her creative
wellspring. Please tell us.” Alice sat back, as if stung by a small reprimand.
“Sorry I interrupted. It’s not important.”
Hervey’s severe tone sent the first destructive neutrons headed toward an Alice sensitized by
years of rebuke from her husband. He at once realized that, and with a wink and a little smile eased
her rising pique. If that had been Vera, she might have thrown something and been silent for a week.
“Tell us,” said Helen.
“Well … It’s The Golden Quill of the Condor.”
“Wonderful,” said Helen. “I was describing how the early miners used the hollow quill of
the California condor to store gold dust. It was clear and nearly a half-inch in diameter and up to
fifteen inches long.”
“Where’s the murder?” John Wickware asked.
“Well, condors are scavengers … of dead things. I’ll have to work something in.”
“Condors are magnificent birds,” said Helen. “Imagine … a ten-foot wing span. Only a few

left. Miners and other idiots shot ’em out of the sky.”
“Only about forty-five left,” said John Wickware, staring into his glass.
A glorious Indian Summer had settled on inland California. At twilight now a half moon
hung over the southeastern Sierran piedmont, and the North Star brightened over Roble Mountain,
fading to a darkened silhouette. They quieted under the tenuous spell cast by their first drinks under
the warm silence of the surrounding hills. Evenings like this eased Hervey’s frustration over his
likely permanence in Fernville.
As if Helen Needham had read his thoughts, she said softly, “Fernville is really quite special.
Its best times have past, of course, but we’re close to its best. Towns like this have a symmetry of
growth and decay. Somewhere in middle time there’s a balance between townness and space and
nature, a proper balance of people and no people. The best time.”
“When was its apogee, Helen?”
“Guessing your ‘apogee,’ Dick, I’ll say the late thirties. Look ahead to the 1986 centennial,
just over thirty years from now, and you’ll find the living here diminished in many ways. Sure, we’ll
be able to get to Sacramento and Los Angeles faster. But no coyotes yipping back in the hills. No
town edge. No meaningful, comfortable Main Street. No Kloits Valley.”
“Please don’t say ‘No Kloits Valley,’” Wickware murmured.
Hervey saw that Howie and Patti Stadler were distracted, weighed down by their Las Vegas
gambling disaster. He had teased his conversation with Howie around to the nuclear matter. Howie
cautiously revealed that his involvement in a project had recently been successful in Nevada.
“Yeh, we witnessed your success from here, Howie.”
“From here? A couple of hundred miles? But I mustn’t admit to any connection to it. Since
the Reds stole the secrets of the hydrogen bomb, there’s a tight security lid on everything.”
“‘There are no secrets. There is no defense,’” said Hervey.
Helen was telling Patti about the historical society. Wickware was telling Alice that one of
his graduate students was sampling dredger ponds for mercury contamination.
Clarissa poked her head through the doorway and shyly waved at the group.
“You’re dressed up and going somewhere.”
“Date, Dad. Dancing. At the Merced Club.”
Hervey frowned. “That’s a rough place. Anybody we know?”

Clarissa gave her father a cautionary look. “Well, it’s my friend from work, Arthur Sonett,
and a couple of others. See you later. Bye, everybody.”
Howie Stadler, chain-smoking and on his third bourbon, looked cadaverous to Hervey, who
hadn’t seen him in nearly a year. His hand trembled slightly as he carefully set his glass down and
looked quizzically at Hervey, who was wishing Howie’s free fall had been caused by nuclear
nightmares, a Faustian bargain with the genie, rather than from a foolish obsession over an
elementary game of chance.
“No secrets? No defense? What are you talking about, Dick?”
“Einstein’s words. The atomic age in his, mine and many others’ enlightened views allows
for neither. Teller and Ulam and the rest of the geniuses may take credit for the H-bomb, but it’s
naïve to think secrets of the atom can be exclusively anybody’s for very long. Secrets give
themselves away. Sooner or later, probably sooner, the Russians would have figured it out.”
“Secrets?” Alice interrupted. “Helen, you must tell me more about the murderer, Martin
Bussio. You knew him.”
“A little. Hard worker. Pleasant,” said Helen.
“A murderer?”
“That’s what they say.” Helen shrugged.
“What was Joe Milano like? Is?”
“Joe? … Born a bastard. Literally. Was one … Is one … Private … Predaceous … Rich …
Will die a bastard.”
“Oh my! … He worked for Henry Kloits. What was his job at the dredger?”
“A laborer. Oh, and he worked the third stage, the cyanide process. That was his specialty, I
guess. He and Henry didn’t get along. Both bastards. I did the books part time for the company, so I
saw a lot.”
“You did the books for the company!?”
“Sure. Like Dick said. There are no secrets.”
Hervey saw that the red and black demon had affected Patti and her husband in opposite
ways. Howie was thin, dissipated and voluble in rambling conversation. Patti had gained a lot of
weight, and her earlier sunny disposition had become withdrawn and tentative.
Hervey passed the wine bottle around and went in to fix Wickware another drink. When he

returned, Howie and Alice were talking about flying saucers. Howie said there were many reliable
UFO observations. He’d seen weird stuff himself out in the desert and had even visited the famous
Roswell alien site in New Mexico.
“We’ve tagged salamanders that have homed over mountain ridges. Relentless,” Wickware
was saying, as Patti Sadler struggled to show interest.
Hervey watched an animated Alice and a rejuvenated Howie Stadler cover other phenomena
both seemed taken by. He could forgive the curious but gullible Alice, perhaps a candidate for
seminars in the paranormal. And that would be yet another sticking point to add to the list in his
sometime alcohol-induced, fantasized future for he and Alice. But serious consideration of the
predictions of Nostradamus looked incongruous, even dangerous, in a man who dealt in the
clandestine and utterly factual existence of atomic bombs.
“I’m looking into the Scientology movement” said Stadler. Their personal auditing process
will clear you of compulsions … repressions. That sort of thing.”
“What would the novelist do without compulsion and repression?” said Helen.
“The novelist’s or those of the characters she’s writing about?” Alice wondered.
“Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics couldn’t clear my compulsion,” Hervey murmured with a sly
look toward Alice, who tossed her head.
As they talked, Hervey watched Howie’s nervous hands, how he put his cigarette up and
down to his lips, hardly drawing on it. Those hands a few days before might have hefted that heavy,
perfect sphere of plutonium, grapefruit-sized, sheathed in a layer of exotic, high explosives – a
forty-pound kernel of terror and annihilation; they might have wired up the implosion circuits and
the neutron-trigger source. The gin and the moonlight opened Hervey’s mind and he imagined the
chain of characters – the theorists, experimentalists, engineers, designers, executives, technicians
and politicians – their thoughts and energy focused on that small, heavy core and the appurtenances
of the rest of the assembly – finally coming to Stadler’s hands at the end of the line. This simple
man, at the end of the chain, himself bewitched by a lesser pied piper, bringing to completion a
technological wonder initiated by those of narrow vision whose energies and brilliance have
embedded a demented and unfettered genie in our cultural fabric that can never be excised –
“You look as if you’re in a trance, Herv,” said Alice.
“Oh, sorry.” Hervey sat up straight. “Nephew Howie caused me to think about that flash we

saw the other morning over those hills. The flash of uranium.”
“‘Plutonium’ would be more correct.”
“I know, Howie, but I prefer the generic ‘uranium,’ the mother of it all.”
“Uranium and gold. Two rare metals … and inspirations for our aspiring writers.” John
Wickware spoke softly at the dark sky. “And it’s quite curious that these metals weigh almost
exactly the same.”
“Really! Strange, indeed,” said Hervey. “A ball of greed and one of annihilation. Gold and
uranium … equal in weight and maybe in consequence.”
“I’m getting out of here,” said Alice. “You and Wickware!”
“So am I,” said Helen, struggling from her chair.
It had been a memorable night, Hervey thought, an unlikely mix of characters – an operatic
sextet of sorts with several on the verge of madness.
After Alice helped Helen to her car, Hervey met her in the front yard. She was at the apogee
of her alcoholic trajectory.
“It’s a beautiful night, Alice Devereau. Too bad we have these hangers-on.”
“Yes,” she said, pushing him gently away, “a beautiful night … but your place here. I’ll take
Kloits Valley, acorns and all.”
Hervey cleaned up while the Stadlers set up the porch for sleeping. His thoughts jumped
from Alice to that lingering one of the ball of plutonium. He found Howie standing outside,
smoking, and looking towards the southeast foothills.
“From here. You could see it from here, Dick?”
“No, from higher up on that side hill. Less than forty pounds. Grapefruit-sized … Smaller
than that? You could cup it in your hands, couldn’t you?”
“How do you know that?”
“Been leaked. Core. Kernel. Pit. Wonderful, innocuous words you guys come up with.”
“It’s not so much. Think of it as sort of a trigger for the real thing.”
“The real thing was at Eniwetok.”
“Yeh. Fission … fusion … fission. The hydrogen one.”
Hervey dragged himself from this subject. “I forgot to tell you about the Nike battery on top
of my private hill there. It’ll compromise my view. In fact, ruin it.”

“The Nike Ajax air defense missile. Here?”
“A training base.”
“Nike’s being deployed in a lot of places.”
“There is no defense. And this Nike’s an obsolete concept from the military-mind of the
“You can’t know that stuff, Dick, it’s …”
“Time for bed, Howie. We’ve had a hard week.” Patti had come outside, sensing an
argument, Hervey thought.
Hervey retired to his den and opened his worn copy of the 1950 DoD/AEC report: The
Effects of Atomic Weapons. He’d once written under the title – “Required reading for everyone over
the age of fourteen.” Now he read: “4.4 square miles of Hiroshima devastated by thermal radiation.”
So, he thought, that little bomb’s been downgraded in the minds of some to a trigger, a dynamite
cap, for the hundred-times-bigger real thing! He picked up the paperweight, a greenish, glass-like
rock he’d taken from ground-zero at the Trinity site in late 1945. He routinely hefted it for
inspiration before beginning the evening’s work.
Patti knocked on the door and poked her head in. “Thanks for the evening, Dick. We enjoyed
your friends.” She hesitated. “That Alice is a free spirit. And quite, you know, striking. I noticed
some looks. Would the curmudgeon professor be … uh …”
“Well, Patti, Alice and I live in different dream worlds. She’s solidly attached to hers,
whether she realizes it or not.”
“Too bad. But there’s another thing, Dick. Howie’s going off the deep end. You heard him.
He’s gettin’ involved in all sorts of weird stuff. Worse, though, is his damn obsession for playing
black. It’s ruined us. Fifteen times it’s come up red! … and he just ignores me. Can’t you …”
“But, Patti …”
“I’m sorry, Dick. I didn’t mean to burden you with all this. What I came to ask … could you
lend us a hundred dollars until we get back home to Alamos?”


“ My God, Snakehips. Sideways, you’re damn near invisible.” The rec club director emerged from
a storage closet.
“Just checkin’ out the volleyball league, Doctor.” Arthur Sonett observed the hand-drawn
sign on the desk: “Dr.” David Cornwell, Supervisor. Cornwell once told Sonett the only so-called
“doctors” he recognized were the ones who could physically hurt him. “When he’s got you by the
gonads and says ‘Cough,’ I say, ‘Yes, sir, Doctor! How loud and how many times?’ And with the
dentist … and that’s ‘Doctor’ dentist, don’t forget … you better keep sayin’ ‘Doctor’ while he’s got
that quarter-inch drill motor poised there by your mouth. The rest of these PhD clowns are ‘Mister,’
just like you and me.”

“So where’s your organization, Doctor?”
“Teresa’s runnin’ an errand. But next week I’m getting two more girls to help run my
official Maxtar football pool which is going crazy. See the new ticket kiosk there? I’ll soon be a
division.” He eyed Sonett sternly. “Listen, old buddy, volleyball’s competitive here. We’re
overstocked with you engineer-types jumpin’ around like frogs out there.” He playfully punched
Sonett on the shoulder. “Stick with the bowling. It’s your sport, believe me.”
About the same age as Sonett, Dave Cornwell was heavy-set on short legs – a catcher’s
body, he claimed. Sonett and others welcomed him in that high-pressure and somber environment
for his stream of irreverent patter. A true original, Jim Wilton said.
Cornwell continued in a conspiratorial manner: “Jeez, Snakehips, I consider myself lucky
not to be stationed out in the middle of that big barn with all that good-lookin’, tight-sweatered
snatch wanderin’ around. I see you guys peeking around your bamboo slide rules and pretendin’ to
read reports. Frankly, Arthur, if it was me out there, I’d be stuck in my chair with a semi most of the
day. How you genius-type guys can design advanced missiles under these trying conditions is
beyond me.”
“Jennings’ red, sweating face in his window cools down our area.”
“Ha, ha. Anyways, I’ve my own situation right here with Teresa, my employee. But look
what I’m up against … a strict Catholic upbringing in that old miners’ whorehouse-town of Jackson,
up the way. Raised like that, a girl’s bound to be on the narrow-minded side. How do you see her?”
Sonett rolled his eyes as Cornwell talked. “Well, skinny but real cute. I think she kinda likes
you, Dave. In spite of yourself.”
“Really!” Cornwell seemed genuinely heartened. “I’m your basic T and A man and Teresa’s
flatter’n a pancake. It must be her aura or somethin’. Now if I was true to form, I’d be chasing after
Beverly Bazoom. The mail girl.”
Arthur Sonett said yes, he’d had a couple of dates with Clarissa, but he wasn’t talking about
it – Yes, she was pretty nice – No, he hadn’t been out to Kloits Valley yet – No! Stop asking that
question! And he wasn’t going to admit to anyone that he thought about Clarissa throughout the day,
even during sweaty and intense technical reviews in Jennings’ office.
“It’s not in the job description, but my organization fixes up a lot of guys like I did you. My
horseshoe pit delivered up a couple of marriages. But I made the mistake of tryin’ to help out

Breeder Mannoy, Mr. Hot-Dog guy.”
“Blacksuit’s pretty ambitious,” Sonett said. “He’s talking about movin’ on to bigger things
in the nuke business with that master’s degree of his.”
“Yeh, he probably gets a hard-on lookin’ at those pictures in Time magazine of H-bombs
goin’ off.”
Sonett laughed. “Well, he worked at Los Alamos on bomb-test instrumentation before he
went back to Berkeley.”
“Listen. I was at Bikini in ’46,” said Cornwell, now serious. “Navy. Front-row ship. The
nuke blasts we saw scared the shit out of most of us. And they were just baby nukes compared to the
ones now. That underwater one … blew a column of water a mile high. Hundred-foot waves. But
those Mannoy types there thought it was all just wonderful. Listen, I’m just an ignorant bastard,
Arthur, but I saw what I saw. And with creeps like Mannoy playing around with that stuff along
with those idiots in Russia, I’m ready to start kissin’ my ass goodbye … and Teresa’s too.”
Sonett felt a contradictory presence in Dave Cornwell and thought his stream of irreverent
blather could be taken as cover for a lack of self-esteem. Yet, he radiated a strong and genuine air of
self-assuredness that made him immune to intimidation by both management and the surrounding
Cornwell picked up his clipboard to leave. “By the way. How about a little favor, Arthur?
Teresa won’t go anywhere without a docent. You’d be a good one. The four of us could hit the
Merced Club on Saturday.”
“Well, maybe. I’ll ask Clarissa. But you gotta watch your language, Dave.”
“No problem, old buddy. One ‘asshole’ and Teresa’s out the door fingerin’ the rosary
Cornwell sized up Arthur Sonett as if inspecting a prize cocker spaniel. “A couple of free
and friendly suggestions, Arthur. Dump that moth-eaten, brown-plaid sport coat for starters. Tie the
tie square, and for Chrissakes stand up straight … no … don’t overdo it … there … that’s more like
it. Now, are you still drivin’ that little, blue shitbox of a car … the Nash Rambler?”
“Well, yeh … but I’m starting to look around at …”
“Listen. With the dough you’re makin’ here you can afford some decent wheels. Go
downtown tonight and see my buddy, Joe Milano the younger. Tell him Dr. Cornwell says to treat

you right.”
He studied Arthur Sonett carefully for a long moment. “Now, Snakehips, weren’t you gonna
ask me the big question?”
“You know … the big question. What the chances of our gettin’ laid are.”
“What? No. No, I wasn’t, Dave.”
“Don’t look so worried. I’ll tell ya. They’re zero. In fact, between you and Teresa, it’ll be
zero times zero … which is infinity … like the genius types say around this place.”

Arthur Sonett visited the busy personnel offices to see if any “live ones,” as Jennings put it,
were available to their section. A personnel specialist looked up with a business-like expression, but
then brightened and smiled warmly on seeing Sonett’s photo badge.
Arthur Sonett could sense his nascent reputation beginning to seep about the company, but it
was still far from the full-flowering of those whose reputations went before them like wedges,
opening accommodating doors normally closed to others.
He found only one resumé that looked promising, where a previous manager had written
across the bottom:
Valuable as backup slugger in proposal presentation to the Customer. Can make
impromptu blackboard rebuttal in mathematical notation. Not personally warm.
He made a note to follow up on that one.
The personnel man said defense companies got new contracts based on their staff of experts.
Your people had to be good, yes, but it was more important that they looked especially good on
paper. Without those thick pages of pedigrees at the back of proposals you wouldn’t stand a chance
with DoD against the Lockheeds or Boeings.
“But we’re getting our share of engineers and techs up here, though,” he said. “Where else
can you get a nice half-acre home-site with walnut trees for fifteen-hundred dollars? The college-
town environment. Three golf courses. California climate. The mountains. Bass fishing. Winter
skiing not too far. Christ, Arthur, we’ve got it all here!”
Sonett passed by the large room with the new IBM 702 digital computer. The punched-card
readers, printers, plotters, lights and buttons presented another new and intimidating technology for

him. Then the doubts surfaced again, and he questioned his suitability to this fast-moving career in
the business of defense.
The bright and ambitious gravitated by the thousands to this great industry, attracted like
moths to its light, which emanated from a milieu of glamour, challenge and money. On the day of
his college graduation Arthur Sonett chose between a comfortable job in his uncle’s contracting
company in Kansas and the recruiter’s pitch for the exotic aircraft and missile industry in Southern
California – where the pay was high and the girls beautiful. Sonett chose the sophisticated and busy
West, guessing correctly it would be the only chance to escape his small-town past and future. His
escape, though, was to a complex and difficult world where he still felt rootless and vulnerable.
He took the long way across the cavernous building, detouring by the Design Review
Section where he spotted Clarissa Hervey. With a subtle but daring gesture he tossed her a kiss and
then felt a wave of exhilaration when she returned it along with a quick smile.
While waiting for her the other night, he had nervously endured Professor Hervey’s puzzling
monologue on supposed similarities between the lure of California’s Gold Rush and the lure of the
defense-industry rush. His own analogy was more specific. Like a few of the miners a hundred years
before, he too had struck it rich in Fernville – but with a different and a much brighter gold.
He moved up the aisles with a confident half-smile.
“Hey there. How’s it goin’, Jim?”
Dick Hervey was sitting on the ridge of his roof in the late afternoon when Alice surprised
him by driving up in her convertible.
“What in the world are you doing up there?”
Hervey was confronting the pressing issue of his roof – whether the old shingles might make
it through yet another winter. Not that rain was threatening, for the clear but sultry days of
September had given way to clear and sparkling ones of fall. The hell with it. He would chance it, as
he had last year and the one before that. He had more pressing mechanical problems to worry about
– the car’s clutch and the leak in the washing machine. A city of termites chewed away throughout
the cottage. All the fixit people made more money than he did. Shit.
“Why don’t you just call somebody to do that?” she said, standing next to the ladder.
That, right there, thought Dick Hervey, was another example of the insurmountable gulf, the

practical, real-life gulf separating him and Alice. He also thought how fresh and lovely she looked
down there in a sleeveless dress of Mexican print.
“Come on in for a cup of coffee.”
“No, I won’t have any wine. And you stay right where you are. I’ve only got a few minutes.
We’re flying to L.A. for the weekend. A corporate bigwig party in Beverly Hills. Listen, I’ve got
some interesting news.”
He felt a pang of emotion. Must be jealousy. Completely illogical. But there it was.
“Go ahead. But a frustrated associate professor might slip off from here,” said Hervey.
“‘Fernville State associate professor, spurned by rich, happily married beauty, attempted
suicide. Off his roof.’”
“Yes … beauty … You’ve been reading too many newspaper headlines.”
“I have. And here’s what I got.” She opened a notebook. “From the Fernville Tribune files
of 1921 and the Stockton paper. Bussio was not some common laborer. He was Henry’s lead man
and well-thought-of in the mining business. Another thing. There was no earlier version or
submission of Improbable Town. I weaseled that out of the publisher in Stockton.”
“You’ve been busy.”
“Yes. And Maxtar’s figurehead is so pleased I’m using my time productively.”
“Anything else?”
“Yeh. Bud Needham shot himself in late 1921 after months of health problems. And the
witnesses who identified Bussio driving away were Helen, her husband Bud, Myron Haddad and
several others. Joe Milano, the laborer, was supposedly prospecting up the Mokelumne river. And
Bussio’s prints on the gunstock? All they got was a crude hand print. Assumed it was Bussio’s.”
“We sleuths need a closed-door meeting about the mounting evidence.”
“Make that an open-door meeting in the museum.” She blew him a kiss and turned back to
her car. “Do be careful up there. Oh, and that print on the gun stock. It was a right-hand one.”

He eased himself off the roof with care. A broken hip would solve the Alice dilemma. He
had other, more urgent concerns and retired to his den for a couple hours of hard work. He was
stuck dead-center on his long paper on atomic politics, now becoming book-length. He was stymied
about its basic philosophic thrust. Two years before, his premise was optimism. But now his

research had turned him cynical. He’d have to rewrite much of it.
He had assumed that early ignorance about the freed but other-worldly energy from the atom
would yield to a universal enlightenment and then to political controls over its future. But the Cold
War stances, the enthusiastic reception of the hydrogen bomb, developments of fancy “delivery”
systems and the continued naiveté of those in power and the general public about the ultimate lethal
nature of the genie spoke otherwise. But now he worried whether his own natural background, his
day-to-day skepticism, was biasing his scholarly viewpoint.
And yet, did not plain, cold logic lead inexorably from the discovery of fission in 1939 to
what appeared to be present-day nuclear lunacy? Physicists all saw “bomb” in those first laboratory
results of uranium fission. We had to build it before Hitler did. – Argue with that, Uncle Dick! Then
those Soviet monsters, Stalin and Beria and the rest, had the uranium bomb and we were compelled
to leapfrog to the hydrogen fusion one before they got it. – Argue with that, Uncle Dick, Howie
Stadler had said, drunk but secure in his logic. Once they stole the secrets of the H-bomb, you
needed more bombs with bigger yields and better delivery systems, and yes, Dick, fancy ways of
defending yourself. How could you not?
John Wickware had long before withdrawn from their argument saying, “I’ve enough
survival problems with newts and the like. Yours looks to be hopeless.”

Clarissa opened the bathroom door and stuck her head out. “Dad, I’m skipping dinner here.
Arthur and I got an early bowling match, and then we’re having dinner at the Vista.”
“Well then, maybe I’ll change my luck and personality down at the ‘Lanes’ bar with Wick.
Two-for-one Friday specials.”
“Just what you, and especially the Gopher, don’t need. Besides, I don’t want you staring at
me and Arthur down there.”
“Let’s talk over this apartment thing tomorrow, Clarissa.”
“Can’t. Arthur and I might drive to Yosemite in his new car.”
Hervey read the newspaper while she stormed back and forth between her bedroom and the
bathroom. He had calibrated this workup with its accompanying irritability, and it told him that this
Arthur Sonett must be a serious suitor indeed. She wore her elegant white cashmere sweater saved
for special occasions – a little too tight-fitting, but maybe he was old-fashioned in such matters.

“What about him? The bird. Mr. Kloits.” He pointed at the bird cage by the window.
“I fed him. And don’t call him that. His name’s Meriweather.”
“I assume he’ll be joining you in your fancied new apartment.” Clarissa looked out the
window. “Here comes Arthur. Now don’t give him that ‘piercing’ look of yours. No, Meriweather
will have to stay here until I get better acquainted with the apartment manager. Now it’s no pets.”
Hervey scowled at the young cockatiel which ignored his baleful look. It had arrived a few
days before, an exotic and imaginative gift from Arthur Sonett, Hervey conceded, but one poorly
thought out. He argued with Clarissa that he should have been consulted since the creature was loud,
bad-tempered, had dirty habits and was not very bright – matching his appraisal of Mayor Kloits. If
the bird were to stay, it would be “Mr. Kloits” to him.
“Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll come back every day and clean the cage.”
They stood on the front porch admiring the sporty, white Ford Thunderbird parked next to
his old Buick. Arthur Sonett explained in his quiet voice that it was a late ’54 with low mileage. Joe
Milano Junior was really nice and gave him a generous trade-in allowance on the Rambler which he
said was a used car in high demand.
Hervey managed a smile at the thin and stooped young man. The fellow was polite but shy
and uncomfortable, so Hervey made an effort to soften that “piercing” look from his eyes. Sonett’s
eyes, curious and quick, rarely made contact as they took in the cottage, Hervey, Clarissa and her
tight-sweatered bosom. Hervey thought Arthur Sonett was one of the more likeable suitors to come
along in a while.
Hervey poured a little water into a glass of gin and ice. He stuck his finger in the cage. The
cockatiel sidled along its wooden perch and bit hard. “Ouch!” Young male birds bit, Clarissa had
warned him, but Hervey believed his aversion to household pets was sensed and returned in kind by
the hamsters, white rat, goldfish, cats, dog and now bird.
Piles of unread research documents, government publications and press articles on atomic
issues grew higher despite his strict regimen of nightly study. Later in the evening he tried to read
about radiation effects in the Journal of Physics, ancillary but necessary information to support his
own work. But it was the wrong subject matter for his mood and that late hour. He thought of Alice
instead. And had she had been thinking of him during the elegant dinner on Sunset Boulevard or at
the lavish corporate party, mingling with the wealthy and powerful and well dressed? Was Hervey

now on her mind as she and Vice President Ryland Smith retired to the elegant Beverly Hills Hotel?
Such foolish questions – and none worthy of an answer. Still, he did answer and the
resulting frustration caused him to resort to the solace of the old black oboe. He fought again with
the Albinoni. When Hervey swore and stamped his foot on the floor, Mr. Kloits sleepily cocked an
eye, and sometimes two.
Clarissa came in at midnight. She sat on the couch and was a little more talkative than usual
about her date. At the Vista restaurant practically the whole place emptied out to look over Arthur’s
Thunderbird. He was well known anyway, but that car gave him a kind of flair he needed.
“He can’t get in the Maxtar Sports Car Club, though. Alex Mannoy’s the president, and a
neat guy, too. But he said Thunderbirds were a boulevard car, not a true sports car. That was the
ruling. Arthur was real disappointed.”
“This Sonett. I rather like him, but he’s a bit difficult to talk with.”
“Yeh, Arthur’s kind of quiet. But you scare these guys, too, Dad.”
“I’ve been making a special effort with Sonett. Master’s-degree Flatley was, as you said, a
real jerk.”
“Yeh, and now he’s runnin’ for council against you.”
“It’s been three solid weeks with engineer Sonett, Clarissa. You’re going to set a new record
if this keeps up.”
She smiled. “Arthur’s a real nice guy, and he’s highly thought of at the company.” She
hesitated, frowning slightly, as if a tiny revelation had come to her. “He is kind of hard to talk with
about stuff. And he can barely dance, but …”
“You don’t exactly get that ‘chemical’ feeling yet, eh?” Hervey now felt himself to be an
authority on “that chemical feeling.”
She laughed. “Yeh, that’s not a bad way to put it, Dad. Ask me again in a month when I
know him better.”
The message left in his mailbox said:
I’m in San Francisco for a few days charging my cultural batteries (opera, De Young,
Palace of Fine Arts, Ernie’s – do you want more?) My CEO, with his equipment problems,
declined, and you, although with no equipment problems, could not cut classes nor pass the

clothes muster. Debbie Deepak (tolerable) and I drove. Will try to stay out of trouble. Ten
bucks says Milano did it. Thursday – museum – 11:30 – you bring lunch – no wine. A. D.

Oh, that Alice!

Hervey found himself caught up in Fernville’s old murder case. It was the presence and high
spirits of Alice, of course, that supplied the spark. That night he took time from his research,
superficially scanned his students’ homework, and reviewed parts of Improbable Town again. He
could see why the Milano and Kloits families took umbrage, as Helen had painted them as
politically and economically overbearing, along with scandalous sexual innuendos. Henry Kloits
came across as an absolute scoundrel. There was no mention of Helen’s working for Kloits. Four
workers in the dredger crew were off that Sunday with alibis. Joe Milano, an itinerant laborer and
suspect, claimed he’d been prospecting although nobody could verify it – And, investigators
concentrated on worker Martin Bussio, since several witnesses said it might have been him fleeing
in Kloits’ truck.
Hervey then read Alice’s material on how the case was reported in the local papers. Helen
and five others positively identified Bussio, who was labeled as the “mine engineer.” Milano was
never said to be a suspect. Helen had been a part-time clerk and bookkeeper for the Kloits mines for
over three years. A brutal murder: Kloits shot at close range with his twelve-gauge shotgun –
bright-red blood over everything. Yes, Helen’s Improbable Town had subtly and maliciously
diverged from the published accounts of the murder.
Hervey thought of the unstable elements he was dealing with. Uranium was like an
intractable and fast-dividing bacterium already beyond human ability or will to control. Red and
black guaranteed Howie Stadler’s breakup – his fission – no matter into which colored slot the white
balls in the future might drop. And Alice, disguised as a lucky but ephemeral October surprise, was
teasing Hervey himself into that same company.
Clarissa came in early that night and was more talkative than usual. Arthur was now so busy
on his project he had to go back to work that night. The apartment move was postponed. Wasn’t
Meriweather a talkative little guy? Cousins Howie and Patti looked just awful. Are they sick or
something? Did Mrs. Smith see the insides of our house? God, the bathroom with the tile coming
off! Do you have to do that oboe thing tonight?

The museum on Thursday. He would be looking for something.


“ We need another fourteen inches of room in the nose cone, Leonard. The new payload package
oughta fit if you can move those two electronic boxes and that transponder aft out of the nose.”
Arthur Sonett and one of his design men looked over a drawing of the nose structure of their missile.
“But the warhead’s sized already, Arthur, and there’s plenty of room for it.”
“This is a different payload and here’s its outline drawing. Everything else is classified.”
“I’m cleared for Secret.”
“I mean it’s ‘Top Secret’ and ‘Need-to-Know,’ Leonard. We’ve got the size outline, attach
points, and the integration data and that’s it.” Sonett knew much more about the insides of the
package – astounding information. They mentally juggled equipment around until they found a way

that looked feasible.
Sonett’s ground-to-air guided missile had a new mission, and he had decided to make the
study and design much more comprehensive than the one suggested in the work statement. It
included detailed drawings, thorough systems analyses, and operational and ocean-base studies.
In a span of just three weeks Arthur Sonett’s life had dramatically changed. He sat behind
the wheel of a sleek and sporty car. His trip to Los Alamos, finally approved by the Air Force,
provided the key ingredient for his proposal. Even Fred Jennings began to warm to it. And every
thought of Clarissa released a flood of emotion, new to him, a blood-pounding bonus lighting up the
other drab corners of his life. Proof that real changes had taken place came when he rendered with
unusual ease his three-minute speech to the Toastmasters Club at the Vista Restaurant.
The missile came to life in a volume of study and on the drafting boards. Sonett’s practical
bent was evident in his selection of the old Blair-Aircraft drone, a production-line vehicle easily
modified. The jet engine, a Fairchild J-44, was in mass production.
Sonett and his engineers rooted through proven subsystems, and even ventured into the
bloated graveyard of obsolete military hardware, where they found designs for the radar homing
system, simple and low in performance but good enough for the mission in mind.
They stretched the body to twenty-four feet and mated it to a low performance but reliable
Bell Aircraft solid-booster rocket. Ignoring recent developments in electronics, they selected
outdated equipment based on the proven vacuum tube, playfully boasting there was not a single
transistor in the entire missile. It was a collage of “off-the-shelf” parts and low-performance
subsytems with one exception – what went inside the nose cone.
The vehicle was now officially named the “Moray” surface-to-air missile. In a National
Geographic magazine Sonett had seen a picture of the frightening, long-toothed Moray eel fiercely
defending its rocky territory. “Moray” sounded sure and deadly, and surprisingly the name had not
yet been adopted by the Department of Defense into the lexicon of advanced missiles.

“Hey, Arthur. How’s it goin’? Seems like we’re operatin’ off the same kidney.” It was Jim
Wilton again, the third time that day they had met in the men’s restroom. Standing shoulder to
shoulder for forty-five seconds, they commented on the current span of dry weather and the status of
national politics.

“I’d go with Ike and Nixon,” said Sonett as they rinsed their hands. “It looks like Stevenson
again for the Democrats and he’s kind of wishy-washy.”
“Well, screw a balanced budget when we’re behind the Russians. The DoD wants two-
billion more for planes and missiles and Ike’s draggin’ his feet.”
“Dr. Deepak said in his public lecture at Fernville State that it won’t make any difference
how the election turns out. Defense will be up anyway into the foreseeable future.”
“Could be. By the way, Arthur, are you doin’ any good in Cornwell’s football pool? He’s
super at the point spreads.”
“Haven’t played yet. But I hear Blacksuit Mannoy’s been winnin’ every week. Football’s his
big hobby.”
“Yeh. Football and girls.”

Late that afternoon the Moray project group revised its final schedule and task assignments.
Sonett was concerned about lack of detail in the basing scheme using old Liberty ships picketed
well offshore in the Atlantic. The plan would never stand up to rigorous Air Force review. With a
growing self-confidence Arthur Sonett criticized the analysis of ocean-surge on launching.
Sonett had floundered with his ideas until he thought of the DEW line in northern Canada,
the huge network of radars which would warn of surprise Soviet bomber attacks over the North
Pole. He realized the Moray concept, slow and low compared to the fast and high standards of the
age, could still fill a military niche. The new Soviet bombers, the long-range turboprop “Bear” and
the giant all-jet “Bison,” would make America easily vulnerable to A-bomb attacks. But Sonett
reasoned that a Soviet first-strike within the next three years, a “viable scenario,” the Pentagon and
many policy experts worried about, must rely on the Tupolev-4 bomber, a copy of the American B-
29, that was still the bulk of their strategic air-power. They were indeed low and slow, but with re-
fueling they had one-way range to reach America from the east with hydrogen bombs.
The Moray proposal was shaped by Arthur Sonett into a weapon with a real mission. He saw
the whole of his group’s creation as greatly superior to the simple sum of its out-of-date parts. They
had conceived a missile, cheap and easy to produce, which could target the obsolete but still-deadly
remnants of Soviet airpower.
It was the new warhead that placed the Moray in the missile big leagues. Sonett had read of

the severe blast and radiation damage suffered by a B-36 bomber over twenty miles from a bomb
blast in the Eniwetok atomic tests. A Soviet bomber fleet could be decimated by even a small fission
bomb. He had wondered if one might be accommodated in the Moray’s nose cone, and could they
sell this scheme to the Air Force? Sonett needed data and contacts, and the one person there who
could help him was Alex Mannoy.

It was nearing the afternoon coffee break. Sonett passed through the hangar-like building on
his way to meet Clarissa by the vending machines for their stroll outside along the security fence.
As he moved up a long, straight stretch in the Guidance and Control Section, he found himself
walking behind the interplant mail girl. Heads raised and eyes peered over reports and slide rules.
Arthur Sonett sensed that while Beverly Kloits was riveting from behind, she would be sensational
today from the front.
He fell into a kind of reverie, marveling how his feelings for Clarissa neutralized any erotic
impulses he might have otherwised experienced. Beverly Kloits, her long, straight hair reaching to
her mid-back, moved with a practiced swaying of the hips that seemed overdone to Arthur Sonett.
Would she walk well in high heels? No. She would clomp along with a too-heavy and -long stride.
Clarissa, by contrast, had a free and easy gait, with a lightness that seemed almost dance-like.
Was a fleshy thickening of the upper thigh endemic in the Kloit line? He recalled that all the
clan members seemed to be proportionally wrong down there. The mail girl’s blue skirt hugged her
body, slim at 19 years. He looked closely to verify this curious theory, and sure enough, at each
stride he detected a slight jiggling of surplus flesh high on the outer thigh – harbinger of a future
bulk, immune to diet or exercise.
Good God! He was suddenly alert to the size of the audience watching them move down the
long, empty aisle. Blanching and then blushing brightly, he turned off, cursing his bad timing and
mental lapse. Shit. You just did not follow the Heat Wave.
“Hey, Arthur,” Bob Nelson said later, “we caught you staring at Heat Wave’s ass. All the
way down the aisle.” Even two days later Jim Wilton teased him as they stood together in the men’s
restroom. “Arthur, they’re gonna be comin’ in here with handcuffs when the mayor hears what you
did to Beverly.”

Arthur Sonett would always be able to recall with perfect clarity that evening at the Vista
Restaurant the previous July because it was the turning point in his project that led to his career
breakthrough. He and Alex Mannoy sat by a window in the lounge looking at the rising foothills,
now turned a light brown from the heat and dryness of the California summer. Below, the Cedar
River still flowed full from snow-melt far back in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Mannoy had driven up in his old Studebaker, his “makeout car,” so-labeled by Dave
Cornwell. “He oughta call it the ‘Mayflower’ since he’s always hintin’ about all the girls that come
across in it,” Cornwell had said with his persistent giggle. “So he says. Frankly, like I keep tellin’
you guys, Breeder Mannoy hasn’t had a piece of ass since he’s been in Fernville.”
Arthur Sonett felt an uncomfortable comparison when in the presence of Alex Mannoy. The
big man delivered opinions in a strong resonant voice with annoying certainty, while Sonett spoke
tentatively in a thin timbre. Mannoy’s high-quality dark suits and jackets fitted his robust, wide-
shouldered body, while Sonett looked and felt uncomfortable in his clothes. He blamed narrow
shoulders and a fleshless chest, but Dave Cornwell argued that cheap department-store duds were
his main problem.
Mannoy’s square and strong-featured face suggested the future distinguished and forceful
one. Sonett’s narrow face and weak chin, a chin that cried out for a covering beard, foretold that not
even a kindly kneading from the passing decades could dignify his countenance.
Alex Mannoy graduated from MIT and began his career at the Los Alamos National
Laboratory in 1948. Later he completed a master’s degree in physics at the University of California
at Berkeley where he said the most inspirational course was the one with guest lectures by the
famous nuclear scientists, Edward Teller and Ernest Lawrence.
Arthur Sonett graduated from Colorado State with an electrical engineering major and began
his career working on the futuristic Northrop Flying Wing. He moved on to Douglas Aircraft and
later to Boeing. In 1953 Fred Jennings hired him over the telephone at a 12-percent salary increase.

That night in the Vista lounge Mannoy lectured Arthur Sonett about his fascination with
atomic energy and his exciting work at Los Alamos. Man’s future, his own future, would spring
from exploitation of the atom. Sonett was as mystified by the arcane ability of non-stop talkers like
Mannoy as he was by the talent of Bernie, the Vista piano player, with his effortless renderings at

the keyboard. Mannoy started his third scotch and soda and described the atomic revolution about to
take place.
“They were a little naive there in the ’40s, talking of meterless electric power from the atom,
but cheap and abundant power is a certainty.” He said the real action was at the Los Alamos and
Livermore Weapon Labs where specialized atomic explosives of all kinds were being developed.
“Just imagine, Arthur, small ones fitting in artillery shells! And it isn’t all military stuff
either. These devices will be used to excavate tunnels and canals. They’ll produce underground
caverns of intense heat for power generation and they’ll power huge spacecraft!
“You should see one of those things go off, Arthur. As the fireball rises it’s got all the rich
colors of the rainbow.” Mannoy’s voice became low and intense. “And then it turns a beautiful pale
yellow and shapes itself into a cosmic mushroom. It’s an overpowering sight.” Mannoy was quiet,
looking through his cocktail glass, contemplating the visions his words had painted.
“And the atomic-powered bomber is a good example of how this nuclear technology will
change our lives.”
“There’s still a radiation-shielding problem with that plane, according to Aviation Week.”
“Just an engineering problem, Arthur.”
“Some of the guys think you really want to be a football coach, Alex.”
“Yeh,” Mannoy laughed. “Football’s a wonderfully complex game. A fun hobby for me.”
Sonett leaned over and lowered his voice. “Alex, I want to integrate an atomic device in our
Moray missile. I need to know a lot of things.”
Mannoy was startled. “Hey, be careful, Arthur. Your ass’ll be in a sling if any security
people hear that.” He looked around. “Well, no harm … OK, you’ll have to go through a lot of
channels, starting with the Air Force Liaison Office at Maxtar. I can get my contacts at Los Alamos
to work back the other way. Not a bad idea.”
That July night’s discussion started Arthur Sonett into the bureaucratic labyrinth of atomic
weaponry. Three months later, in early October, after many delays and meetings, he would finally
go to Los Alamos where he met with a Ted Taylor, another designer, and a Pentagon representative.
Taylor said they talked with different groups all the time about payloads. “Payload” and “device”
were as close as their words got to the real thing. The meeting lasted less that thirty minutes.
Sonett was given an outline drawing along with weight, electrical interface and center-of-

gravity for a modified MK-7 warhead which might be accommodated in the Moray nose cone. The
arming package and procedures would be supplied by the Air Force if the missile became a reality.
The men were impatient to conclude the meeting whose tone Sonett recalled as being as bland as if
they were dealing with nuts and bolts for a hardware store. He asked what the energy of the device
would be.
“We’re talking small here,” said Taylor as the meeting broke up. “Between three and six
kilotons, but enhanced with a lot of killer neutrons.”

Only a few patrons were left in the Vista lounge that July night. Alex Mannoy talked of
football strategies and how the defense always caught up with offensive innovations.
“The double-wing, the single-wing, the T-formation, the triple-option were all big breakouts
in offense. But defense learned and adjusted … and heh, Arthur, what a perfect analogy for atomic
weapons, too! Defense is behind now, but new technology is gonna return the balance that military
history shows always prevails.
“You mentioned the radiation thing. General William Creasy has proposed an artificial smog
as a radiation shield for the population, and the Army’s done tests in Nevada using a heating-oil fog
of carbon smoke. A lot of fallout shelters will be built. The Industrial Dispersal plan will spread key
industries around the country. The Air Force has elaborate procedures to decontaminate air bases.”
But something about those atomic matters still worked around in Sonett’s mind, troubling
him. Then – for an instant – that picture of the hydrogen bomb explosion at Eniwetok in Life
magazine appeared vividly before him. Bernie had begun playing his concert arrangement of “Stella
by Starlight,” a romantic and haunting rendition. And despite Alex Mannoy’s reassuring atomic
lecture fresh in his mind, Arthur Sonett felt a deep, inexplicable melancholy as he looked out at the
beauty of the moonlit piedmont, imprinted with silhouettes of oak and pine on its skylines.
Alex Mannoy, too, was pensive, as Bernie wrung out the song’s last sentimental phrases.
“And, Arthur,” he said at last, “you hear all this emotional crap about these atomic bombs.
The scare stuff. But like an observer once said, it’s simple: After one of them goes off, the light and
fire end, quiet descends … and life continues.”


“ f Dad knew I was doing this, I’d get killed.”
“What’s wrong with a little swim up here, Clarissa?” Arthur Sonett’s voice came out
strained with tension. The very thought that day of swimming alone with Clarissa in Kloits Valley
made him so nervous he couldn’t concentrate on the Moray project. He felt a slight blush when
meeting friends in the aisles as if they could read his erotic thoughts, and at times he didn’t dare
stand up at his work station. It was her idea. She said a swim in Kloits Fork on warm summer and
fall nights had been a long tradition for Fernville’s young people, and was probably as worrisome to
those early parents as it was to ones today – and for many good reasons, she added with a wink.
It was dark with a quarter moon, and the October night was still comfortable with the
remaining heat from the Indian-Summer day. Plenty could go wrong, he thought. They could be
hassled by a group of college kids. Sometimes the sheriff drove through, rousted couples in parked

cars, and turned them in if they were underage and drinking.
His thoughts oscillated between the erotic and those worrisome ones. Beyond that he had
planned the serious talk about their future for later that night in the Vista lounge. Expressing these
matters wasn’t easy, so he’d practiced in his apartment and at Maxtar, hunched over his desk,
writing little notes while pretending to analyze electrical power demand for the Moray missile.

He drove a mile up the valley and parked behind a big oak tree next to a pool in the creek.
They engaged in a flitting, random walk of conversation, Sinatra in the background. The beer
gradually eased their tensions. He stashed the empties under the seat.
He kissed her, and her response tempted him to forget the swimming part. Intuition, not
experience, told him something might happen tonight. He could feel the little package of Ramses in
his left pants pocket. Making the purchase at the Foothill Drugstore was awkward, and he had
stalled around in the greeting-card section until the woman clerk was otherwise occupied. Ramses
were the best, Dave Cornwell had told him, answering a question Sonett had not asked.
“Help me down over this rock, Arthur. The weather’s warm but jeez the water’s cold.”
A little cold water was what he needed now. Just the idea of her undressing behind the big
oak, the touching of her bare arms as they climbed down the bank, and the faint outline of her
tightly suited breasts against the starlight had already prompted an off-centered pressure in his
swimming trunks.
They edged into the stream holding hands, whispering and giggling, and finally with a loud
“Now!” from Arthur Sonett, they dipped under in the belly-deep water.
He'd given up trying to separate love from the erotic in his feelings for Clarissa. When he
was with her, her erotic self overwhelmed him; and when he was not, his mind was full of it. After
four weeks with her, he now was sure she was the girl he’d settle down with in Fernville to begin a
rooted and structured life. And later tonight in the Vista lounge, much later after this wild and
delicious time, they’d listen to Bernie’s romantic phrasings and he’d have a couple of martinis. Then
he’d ask her – just when Bernie was nearing the dramatic climax in “Stella,” their song.
“See that big rock over there, Arthur, the one you can barely make out. At our graduation
party two years ago Beverly Kloits stood up there in the full moon and took off her top. Boy, was it

With that image in his mind and with his arms around Clarissa it was almost more than he
could stand.
“Arthur, you’ve got my straps off.”
“Who, me?”
“Is anybody around?”
“God, Clarissa. You’re tremendous!”
He helped her out of the water and up the bank. Things were moving fast. She hadn’t exactly
said “yes” out there, standing on the sandy bottom, but she meant “yes” and acted “yes.” He didn’t
need experience to read that right. He had protection, he told her. Plenty of it.
Old Breeder Mannoy must think these situations out ahead of time. He had that hot little
Austin Healy, but he also had the old green Studebaker, the “Sturdypecker,” Dave Cornwell called
it, with the big back seat. Arthur Sonett had given it some thought, too, and realized the Thunderbird
would present problems. He found a smooth spot on the ground and got out a heavy blanket.
“Arthur … I don’t know.” He anxiously swept away a few twigs and acorns and smoothed
out the blanket. No doubts, Clarissa. No doubts.
“I love you, Clarissa,” was all he could come up with, as he tried to help her wet suit down,
but the words came out rushed and mechanical.
Dave Cornwell told him once in idle conversation if he was worried about it, then use two of
them. “Jesus, Snakehips, if you’re that worried, then put all three on. But by then the subject might
be out of the mood.”
“My God! I think there’s a car coming.” Clarissa pushed up to a sitting position. Car lights
glinted through distant trees.
“It’s OK, Clarissa. They’re not coming out here.”
She threw a towel around her shoulders. “I’m getting inside.”
The car turned off and Clarissa gradually relaxed as they shared another beer and listened to
the radio. Sonett planned around the restrictions the car presented. This time he’d go slower.
Sparks of light danced on the windshield.
“Darn it! It’s gonna come by us.” She had her sweater on in a second. Sonett got out and put
on his shirt. “Shit,” he said, under his breath.
“Start the car, Arthur. I don’t want any trouble.”

The oncoming car bounced over the potholes until its lights illuminated the Thunderbird.
“Is that you out here, Arthur?”
“Hey, thanks a lot for comin’ by, Jim.”
“Listen, we’re sorry to bother you two. Joan and I were just cruisin’ around. We’re gonna
have the season’s final bonfire-fest out by the big pool. Come on over to the party if you want.”
“Not tonight, Jim.” A firm, authoritative reply, meant for both Jim Wilton and Clarissa.
“Let’s go, Arthur. It’ll be fun. Come on. I really want to go.”

It was too late to go to the Vista lounge. Besides, their first real argument ruined the mood
he had tried so hard to establish.
“I don’t know why you didn’t like that bonfire party,” she said in front of her house. “You
hardly sang or said anything. You just sort of sulked all night.”
“Well, I’d rather be alone with you, Clarissa,” was all he could say.
What he meant, though, was he had been close to a major milestone in his life, and within
hours of that, both of them giddy and happy, he was to have proposed to her next to the fireplace in
the Vista lounge under the romantic spell of Bernie’s “Stella.” And after a kiss she would say, “Yes,
of course, Arthur. Yes.”
Instead, he ended up with aching balls, mouthing words to old songs and listening to glib,
small talk and gossip about Maxtar. Alex Mannoy and Jim Wilton were clever and comfortable with
that banter. Clarissa had a good time. Funny how she didn’t seem to mind at all.
Dick Hervey posted notices that his two afternoon lectures, “Political Tides in the 20th-
Century” and “Fiction and 19th-Century Politics,” were cancelled today. Professor Hervey had taken
ill. Well, anyway, he was unprepared. He could have bluffed his way through, but he was hoping the
hour at the Fernville museum might stretch to two or three.
He saw John Wickware in the parking lot.
“I might drop by later this afternoon, Herv. Matter of Speotyto cunicularia.” Wickware
usually prefaced his animals with their scientific name. Hervey was unsure whether it was to
impress or was from the habit of scientific rigor.
“Not today, Wick. I’ve got a commitment,” he said and felt bad about it. Without his

moderating influence, Wickware could end up at the Fernville Lanes, or worse, for the night.
“Need an ordinance. People are popping them off with .22s. Little formal sentinels, standing
alertly by their burrows. Easy targets. Makes me ill.”

Hervey found Alice in a corner of the museum going through a pile of old books and papers.
He gave her arm a squeeze and sat down.
“Where’s Helen?”
“In bed. Not feeling well for the last week.”
“You look marvelous today.”
“Thanks. The parole to San Francisco.”
Alice showed him notes from the press accounts and police reports, and related the
circumstances of the murder in June of 1921. Helen worked at the company office in town. She
testified that on that Sunday she drove to the dredging operation in Cedar Valley in the Needham
Model T with papers and lunch for Henry. Bussio and Henry were arguing and had been drinking.
About 7:30 that evening she and Bud saw Bussio drive through downtown in Henry’s truck.
You couldn’t miss him with his mustache, leather vest and brown cap. Myron Haddad and three
others confirmed the sighting.
The next morning Henry’s wife, Susan, found him and never recovered from the shock. The
sheriff called it a very gory scene, with red blood all over. Henry’s truck was found at the Western
Pacific Station in Merced. A clerk recalled selling a ticket to Barstow on the 9:50 train to a man
answering Bussio’s description. Case closed.
“What do you believe? All of it? Some of it? None of it?”
“Some of it,” said Hervey. “Kloits is dead.”
“Me, too. Enough for the basis of my first murder mystery.”
“There’s something I want to find here. A picture I saw once.”
“I’ve already found it. Over here.” She led him to a faded photograph at the end of a wall.
He squinted at the picture. “You found it! You’re way ahead of me, Alice.”
Hervey studied the photo of a group of men constructing a small building. Written across the
picture were names and arrows pointing to several of them. One was of “Bussio” nailing up a piece
of siding.

“Left-eyed dominant. Left-handed,” said Hervey. He gave her an admiring look. “You were
on the trail, too. He would’ve shot left-handed. But it was a right-hand print on the gun stock.”
“So maybe Bussio didn’t shoot Kloits.”
“Well, to us latter-day sleuths, anyway,” said Hervey. “But he was positively identified
leaving the scene. The supposed argument. Nobody else.”
“Except Joe Milano.”
“Yeh, Milano, the Fernville town squire.”
Dick Hervey tried to match Alice’s exuberance over this ancient murder, reveling in simply
being near her. When she suggested that they make a list of possible fiction scenarios, no matter
how far-fetched, he took the lead, letting his imagination feed the craw of the budding novelist.
Bussio and Milano acted together: Milano the shooting, Bussio the fleeing. Milano did it,
and Bussio’s at the bottom of the dredger pond minus his hat and leather vest. Put Helen in there
with those two. A triangle – Bussio and/or Milano nail Kloits in a fit of jealousy. Helen, at 35, was
almost a knockout. Just look at those old pictures. Helen and Milano, lovers. Look at that handsome
Italian dude.”
“I like that one,” said Alice. “But where’s Bussio then?”
“Bud Needham, a little slow, finds out after four years about his wife and Henry. ‘Were
those few moments of passion worth it, Mr. Kloits?’ Bang! Helen covers for him.”
“Jealous cuckold shoots rival. That’s too hackneyed … and too close to home for you.
Where’s Bussio then? … A few moments?”
“Shirley Milano, the new beauty in town, must play a part.”
“Yeh. It could simply be Milano alibied by his lover, Helen. Then young Shirley comes
along, steals Milano from the aging Helen.”
“Hell hath no fury …”
“Yes. And in Helen’s case, hate grows stronger for another thirty-five years.”
“Where’s Bussio then?”
“This wears me out. Let’s have lunch?”
“There’s the Vista, but without third-person cover …”
“With all these papers and your aging and balding associate professor, we’ve cover aplenty.
Better yet … let’s invite the proprietor himself to sit down with us.”

“You’re buying me a drink, Hervey!” Myron Haddad said, looking uneasily at Alice. “We
had a good lunch today. Do every day. Vista’s got no competition yet. Some big L.A. chains are
sniffin’ around though.”
Haddad didn’t mind talking about events in 1921. “I was only nineteen. Worked in the
orchards. And yeh, I knew everybody around here. Everybody knew Helen.”
“She was beautiful then, from the pictures.”
“I don’t know about ‘beautiful,’ but she was damn good-lookin’. A great, uh … figure, and
real high-spirited. But when she got around 40, she went to hell.”
“She and Joe Milano were, you know, carrying on then,” said Alice.
“Carrying on?! Jeez, they were havin’ a flamin’ affair for a year or so after the murder.
Everybody knew about it except Bud. Bud was slow. Real slow. Worked some in the old Trinity.”
“Bud and Helen seem like an odd couple,” said Hervey.
“Seemed so to everybody. Bud was a big, handsome guy, though. And they had that kid,
Bud Junior. You all know him.” Haddad hesitated. “Listen, I’m not tellin’ anything out of school.
Everybody knew about it. Talked about it. … Still do.”
“Then Shirley came along,” said Alice, “and we can imagine the rest.”
Haddad laughed. “Chee … rist! What’s that old sayin’? ‘Hell …”
“ … hath no fury like …”
“That’s it! Shirley was fifteen years younger than Helen and really somethin’. Still is, kinda.
They all hate each other.”
“The day of the murder, Myron, you saw Bussio drive down Main street?”
“Well, yeh. It looked like Bussio. Same clothes.”
“And Bud and Helen were there, too?” Alice asked.
“Bud Needham? No, Bud wasn’t there. I came out of the store with some rabbit food. Helen
stopped me and started gabbin’ away. She said Bud was waitin’ down by the church.”
“Myron, do you think Henry Kloits had an interest in Helen … well … in that way?”
“Mrs. Smith, we’re pretty plainspoke in this part of the country. If you’re askin’ was Henry
bangin’ Helen … well, you couldn’t have found a soul around here who would’ve bet otherwise.”

“Just park your car behind that oak tree, Alice. Neighbors, you know.”
“You don’t have neighbors, Dick. And I’m here strictly on murder business.” They sat on
the back porch, and Alice spread her old books, files and clippings on the table.
“Now, Herv, just look what I dug out of dead storage in the museum basement,” Alice said
dramatically as she held up a thick handbook. “It’s an old mining reference book, The Coal and
Metal Miners Pocket Book, Fifth edition, 1908, and it’s got Martin Bussio’s name right on it! This
will help me flush out my novel with technical background filler and color about gold mining in that
era.” She thumbed to the yellowed, back pages. “And look here! See all these blank pages. Bussio
kept notes here, neat and regular, of weekly gold quantities the dredger operation produced. All
dutifully listed until the murder in June of ’21.”
“What a find!” said Hervey taking it from her. “The gold amounts listed are quite uniform,
between 185 and 205 ounces each week. And weighed to the tenth of an ounce. Bussio must have
been Henry’s key man.”
“The killer got away with just one week’s output, according to police records and newspaper
accounts, because Henry deposited each week’s production at the Valley National Bank every
Monday morning.”
Hervey frowned. “Funny … I remember Helen telling me over lunch that Bussio, or
whoever, stole only about 150 ounces … which was the week’s usual output, she said.”
“That’s quite a discreprancy. Anyway, back to my novel. I’m settling on Milano as the
“Alice, are you trying to solve a real murder now or just plotting a fictional one? I’d advise
you to stay with fiction and avoid the murky past.”
“Well, it’s frustrating. My fiction and the possible reality seem to be sort of converging in
my mind.”
“I’ll go along with the fiction where a Milano kills a Kloits and a Bussio. Your Helen
conspires in different ways to cast suspicion on Martin Bussio’s likeness who would be at the
bottom of a dredger pond minus his vest and hat. Your Milano gets off the train, say in Bakersfield,
dumps Bussio’s clothes, and takes the morning train back.”
“You’re writing my novel. And … yes! Police records show that Helen drove to Stockton
that Monday morning before the murder was discovered to take Bud to a chiropractor. She could

have picked up Milano. Bud would know … but Bud is dead. … Well, there I go again.”
“Dead also, are the other three so-called witnesses. One was a kid who ‘thought it could be.’
And there I am confusing the real and fiction too, Alice.” Hervey sighed. “In the real case Helen still
seems driven by revenge. It’s her Fixed Idea. Her obsession. If Milano were really involved, she
can’t squeal. A stalemate.”
“Our fictional Helen … maybe the real one, should watch her back,” said Alice.”
“Such imagination! But it’s a great plot idea for you, Alice. Your Helen is compelled to nail
the novel’s Milano somehow. Sometime. Sort of like my nephew, Howie Stadler, compelled to bury
the probability monster.
“Sometimes I think Helen is encouraging me, feeding me stuff, so I’ll write something that
in its way may continue to plague Joe Milano.”
“Sort of a clever posthumous action, eh? But that’s stretching it, my dear, although that
could be part of your fiction, too, I guess.”
They settled back in their chairs, both seeming to be worn out from that burst of creative
give and take. They silently watched a pair of crows chase away a red-tailed hawk near the creek.
“I’m awaiting the first big rain which will turn Roble Mountain out there green almost
overnight. And in the early spring it will be covered with wild flowers … Golden poppies, mustard,
lupine, goldenrod. Wickware knows them all. Wickware knows about everything that’s alive out
“I just love John. Will I ever meet Bernadette?”
“THE Bernadette. Probably not. Antique collector and dealer. Her only interest. Wick goes
home to sleep. It’s a dry house.”
“Fernville and its environs grow on one, don’t they?”
“Not until you arrived, Alice.”
“Just passin’ through.”
Without asking and without objection he brought out and poured the chardonnay. Then,
without objection, he kissed her.

Later on, as the afternoon air began to cool, they were back on the porch, flushed – much
like the flush in the low western sky. Both agreed the bad influence had been that lubricious talk of

those early days in the century. Blame it on Henry, Milano and especially Helen.


By the middle of October, 1955, Austin Cooper and his senior managers had devised a strategy for
design modifications to the XT-6 SPICA flight-test vehicle. Each morning Cooper and his
subsystem managers set goals and schedule for the day. After that, in shirtsleeves and with coffee
cup in hand, Cooper was everywhere, turning up unannounced in meetings, demanding answers and
action. Arthur Sonett could see him marauding through the SPICA design areas, terrorizing
designers at their drafting boards and arguing with section heads. Jennings was bad enough. Cooper
would be impossible for him.
“He’s reverted to his six-man-company form, his garage operation,” Beebe complained to
Ryland Smith. “There he goes, bullying everyone and ignoring our orderly procedures.”
Rumors spread that the SPICA missile, invulnerable to Soviet action, could be downed by
the fiscal cleaver. Undercurrents of worry pervaded the company and key employees began arriving
early with their stuffed briefcases now holding more than lunch and a newspaper.

At the afternoon status meeting Cooper said design changes in the power supplies,
hydraulics, shock and vibration isolation and some instrumentation were on schedule.
“I thought we were going with the new transistorized autopilot,” said Ryland Smith.
“Jennings and the rest of our technical …”
“We’re not making changes just to be makin’ changes! If it’s not broke, I don’t fix it! I’ll
change the goddamn autopilot when I think it’s necessary!” Cooper glared at Fred Jennings. Smith
was alarmed at Cooper’s appearance. His breaths were short and jerky and his head had a nervous
wobble, not good signs in a man of 45.
Arthur Sonett placed a dollar bet in the weekly football pool. Dave Cornwell established
point handicaps on eight games; employees were constrained to one entry and a ten-dollar
maximum, and they could select from one to five winners. Payback was based on the assumption of
perfect handicapping. Cornwell’s point spreads had been so good that those throwing darts at a
game sheet in the Vista lounge were doing as well as most of the so-called experts.
“You local geniuses had to figure the payback for me, Arthur.” Dave Cornwell said. “All I
know is that only one loss on a card means the company keeps your dough.”
“Simple probability of even chances, Dave. Pick the winners in two even games and get
back four times your investment. Pick all five right and win thirty-two times it.”
“If you say so. It’s Greek to me.”

Clark Beebe assured Smith the game had received few complaints. “This ridiculous, time-
wasting, societal sporting craze,” as he put it, was funneled into a harmless pastime. “I see Maxtar’s
ten-percent bonus for winners as simply a modest company benefit,” he said persuasively, “and it
sanitizes what might be construed as gambling. The Customer expects a quality product on time and
I must establish facilities, personnel and a harmonious environment to accomplish the task.”
Ryland Smith was still apprehensive, but Norris Deepak pitched in from his perspective.
“Beebe’s dumb football pool draws only about a fifth of our people, with most betting a few
bucks. Losers pay off the winners, more or less, because Cornwell’s terrific with the point spread
handicaps. So, our bonus might amount to just a few grand a season. Follow me?”
“Barely. Auditors get worked up over less than that. And I’m the one in the hot seat.”

“It’s too trivial to worry over, Ryland, but if the issue’s ever raised, take the initiative.
Maxtar was the first of the big defense companies to disperse from a major industrial area. Fifteen
smaller companies followed us in here. We’re developing the most advanced strategic weapon in the
free world. OK, we set up a hokey, little game to entertain the troops. ‘So, Mr. Auditor, take that
measly two grand and shove it, while I call up my buddy, General So-and-So in the Pentagon.’”

Dave Cornwell quipped with the bettors as he stuffed money and game sheets into the
official safe, sealed on Friday afternoons and opened on Monday mornings. “I use Vegas odds for
starters,” he explained to Arthur Sonett, “but I shave the points based on my extensive research …
and a kind of feelin’ I get … like Purdue is due.”
“What about old Blacksuit Mannoy? He’s picked four-out-of-four twice. He could wipe you
out with all the betting rights he’s lining up.”
“Arthur, that lucky bastard just picks any team wearin’ dog-pecker-red jerseys.”
When Sonett turned to leave, he confronted the lanky figure of Dr. Clark Beebe irritably
surveying the operation.
“What’s this monkey business of soliciting betting rights from other employees. Is that your
ticket, Sonett, or are you fronting for someone else?”
“No, it’s my own, Dr. Beebe.”
Arthur Sonett knew Alex Mannoy was involved in an underground web of players who
solicited the “right” to a non-player’s bet. He had twenty-five or so signed up for the whole season,
and managed his accounts at breaks, lunch time and after-hours, while maintaining an aura of
professionalism during work hours. And a growing number of gambling zealots were involved in a
shadowy second-market for “rights.” They met at the Vista to barter “rights” and make bets with
each other.
“We call it the ‘Last Rights Club,’ Arthur,” Cornwell explained. “It’s growin’ so fast
Haddad reserved us a banquet room Wednesday evenings.”
Dave Cornwell spotted Sonett and Dr. Beebe and hustled over. “Heh, Mr. Beebe. Haven’t
seen the color of your money yet. Better hurry. Three minutes to go in the morning break.”
“I’m not a betting man, Cornwell, and this contract betting must stop immediately!”
Cornwell looked hurt. “How the hell am I supposed to know who’s bettin’ for who?” He

smiled and poked Arthur Sonett in the ribs.
“I just heard about you and the Heat Wave, Arthur. They say you came out of there redder’n
a baboon’s ass.”
“What are you saying now, Cornwell?” Beebe demanded.
“Arthur tried to goose your mail girl, Beverly Bazoom.”
“For God’s sake, Dave, I was just walkin’ along …”
“Cornwell, your operation … and you are getting out of hand.” Beebe glowered down at
Cornwell’s dead-pan look. “I want you in my office tomorrow. My secretary will tell you when.”
Clark Beebe left and Cornwell laughed and slapped Sonett on the shoulder. “Relax, Arthur. I
was just jokin’ to shake up that Beebe wiener. Besides, you’re not the first person around here to be
mesmerized by Beverly’s ass. If management had any sense, they’d stick Beverly Bazoom back in
the blueprint room, disguise her tits in a trench coat, and hire my grandmother to walk the interplant
“We’re lucky, Ryland, those congressional guys didn’t come up here,” Norris Deepak said,
peering over the cocktail glass he clutched with both hands. “Wright Patman, of the House Small
Business Committee, made that unfortunate statement, quoted in all the papers, that billions for
research in defense work are outright gifts to big companies like us. So what? It all filters down to
everyone else … sooner or later … one way or another. In fact, Myron Haddad here has a Pentagon
pipeline directly into his restaurant.”
Haddad stood by their table. “I should’ve stuck with the Kloits road diner so I wouldn’t have
to put up with wiseacres like you, Norris. Pentagon pipeline? What the hell?”
“When Ryland picks up the tab for this staff meeting, it won’t come out of profits. It’ll be
added to the cost of building better missiles. Pentagon direct, Myron.”
“He’s nuts, Myron. What’s all that noise back there?”
“Well, this football club’s been drinkin’ since five, Ryland.”
“What club’s that, Myron?”
“You know. The one out at your place.”
“It’s a spin-off from the football pool that Beebe set up,” said Norris Deepak. “They’re
bartering for employee betting rights.”

“They’re drinking a lot of beer too,” said Haddad. Smith glared at Clark Beebe.
“Heh, Plutonium,” a big voice yelled out behind the curtain divider. “You conned the Heat
Wave out of her betting right … and maybe a hell of a lot more.” Roars of laughter.
“What! This is out of hand.” Smith was angry now.
“I’m gonna kick those guys out of there,” said Haddad. “These engineers come in after
work lookin’ real professional … coats and ties, you know. But this football mania and the booze
turn it into a noisy stag party.”
Ryland Smith continued to stare sullenly at the curtained-off room. Deepak stretched back in
his chair, watching the busy scene in the Vista. He said Fernville was the perfect economic
laboratory. He likened the Pentagon’s dispersal of defense industries to John Marshall’s discovery
of California’s gold at Coloma, a little north of here, that had triggered the 1849 Gold Rush. Just as
that earlier rush had done, dispersal would foment great economic and demographic change.
“Listen, Deepak,” said Smith, “it makes sense not to concentrate key defense industries in a
few locations, given the Russians’ new H-bomb and their strategic buildup.”
“Well, my viewpoint is purely economic as expressed by my paper just published in the
Economic Quarterly. I quantified the ripple-down and multiplier effects from the injection of
relatively virgin dollars into a bounded economic realm.”
“Virgin dollars? Bounded economic …”
“‘Virgin dollars’ simply means fresh dollars pumped in, usually through government
pipeline … not the money handed around inside a local economy where everyone takes in each
other’s laundry.”
“Why are walnuts cheaper in L.A. than here, where they’re grown?” asked Clark Beebe,
trying to end the subject.
“I’m afraid that’s one none of us economists can figure.”
“Deepak claims an economist thought up the Industrial Dispersal scheme,” said Beebe.
“Nonsense, Norris,” said Ryland Smith. It’s been addressed in a bipartisan way even before
the Russians got the H-bomb.”
“Dispersal will be a key consideration in competitive bidding in 1956, according to DoD
Instruction 5220.5,” said Clark Beebe.
“Companies already take it seriously,” Deepak said. “North American’s building the J-3

fighter at Columbus instead of L.A. Boeing’s taking the Bomarc missile to Wichita and the B-52 is
already there. Northrop’s moving stuff to Texas.”
“I know, Norris. Marquardt’s going to Ogden to build ramjets. Douglas is moving the C-132
turboprop production from Santa Monica to Tulsa.”
“Well, my comment about the imagined economist was apocryphal,” said Deepak. “I meant
to show that the Pentagon’s Industrial Dispersal idea isn’t based on a military rationale because that
would reflect an obsolete mentality carried over from the last century.”
“Look at SPICA, for example.” Deepak dropped his voice. “It can reach any point in western
Russia. There’s plans for atomic-powered submarines carrying atomic-warhead missiles. Isn’t it
obvious that the coming decades will be about ballistic missiles with hydrogen bombs able to hit
targets anywhere. Iowa won’t be any different from San Diego. Jeez! I sometimes think Pentagon
planners have a five-year lag in figuring out what the guy on the street sees as obvious.”
Deepak spoke with great intensity. Selling a growing Pentagon budget of hundreds of
billions would become impossible in congress if, year after year, those funds were funneled into a
handful of geographic locations. But spread the bounty into Kansas and Mississippi – contract the
money around the country – and then the DoD budget becomes a public benefit, an entitlement
program politically locked in – its monetary effects not unlike Social Security.
Ryland Smith had a pained expression. Deepak was beginning to spoil his evening.
“But this is no back-room conspiracy,” Deepak continued. “It’s an underlying, probably
unconscious consensus that promoted this brilliant concept.” He smiled, raised his glass and added
lightly: “My imagined economist would have been the most logical, single-minded author … if
there were one.”
“Deepak. Just concentrate on our contracts, and when you feel restless, work on the walnut
problem. Let’s continue this staff meeting over dinner.”
Smith recognized many Maxtar people in the restaurant. Deepak had a point about how
defense spending was stimulating a new Gold Rush of sorts. There must be newcomers here from
every state in the union. He saw engineer Arthur Sonett dining with an attractive girl. Sonett, he’d
heard, was from a small town in Kansas, and now he was in California’s old Gold-Rush country
putting down roots, perhaps for a lifetime. The girl seemed interested in activity on the other side of

the restaurant, and he just looked out the window – evidently a blind date that wasn’t working out.
Smith was still upset by Deepak’s frivolous banter about the grave nuclear issue.
“Deepak. The Russians have the H-bomb, and they’re building delivery systems. That’s the
bottom line of the future!”
“Yeh, maybe you’re right. As an economist I plan as if H-bombs don’t exist. But as a regular
person, I’m persuaded to start digging a hole under my house.”
“You’re putting Clark here to sleep.”
“Yeh, and economists put each other to sleep,” said Beebe.

Later the three relaxed in the busy Vista lounge as Bernie warmed up. Smith observed with
displeasure the table for six where Dave Cornwell gestured and talked in his extroverted way. The
rec club director, Smith realized, was not up to the high professional caliber he and his managers
expected, even in the recreation club. Now Cornwell regaled Alex Mannoy with a story. He threw
an arm around Arthur Sonett, whispered and seemed to giggle in his ear, pounding his other fist on
the table to accent his story.
“Sonett looks a little miffed because his date keeps talking to the big guy,” said Beebe.
Cornwell suddenly got up, waving his beer glass in the air. “Over here, Heat Wave. Bring
them over here!”
Beverly Kloits came into the lounge with a husky young man. Dave Cornwell broke into a
few phrases of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
“That Cornwell’s crazy when he’s sober. Drunk, he’s an obscene bully,” said Beebe angrily.
“He’s an embarrassment to the Maxtar Corporation. You’ve got to shape him up, Clark.”
“I’m going to fire him tomorrow.”
Smith sighed and suggested that with only a couple of weeks left in the football season and
considering the enthusiasm of the employees, it would be best to let the football pool run its course.
“Then move him into Maintenance under Floyd Sims.”
“On the night shift.”
“That’s good, Clark. On the night shift.”

John Wickware had come and gone. Hervey was making good progress on a draft of Politics

Around the Atom. He had relegated the face, figure, and spirit of Alice Devereau to a backdrop. But
later that night she called.
“Dick, I’ve got a couple of interesting things. Do you have a minute?”
“I have an hour. Two hours.”
“Well, I don’t. Listen. The dredger produced 5,320 Troy ounces of gold for the first six
months in 1921, according to Bussio’s handbook. … Troy? … Anyway, Helen said the dredger
output was pretty constant in those months, around 150 ounces a week, give or take. She knew, she
said, because she was the bookkeeper for the operation. That means less than 4,000 ounces were
officially reported for that period.”
“That’s a lot of missing gold. I can estimate the value. You may have found the murder
motive, brilliant Alice.”
“Or one of them. Helen’s still under the weather. When she’s feeling better, I’ll ask her
about the discreprancy in the nunbers.”
“Does Ryland know you’re calling the associate professor?”
“The Senator’s holding a staff meeting at the Vista.”
“So is Clarissa. But hers may be more like a court-martial. And I’m afraid poor Arthur
Sonett mayget convicted and sentenced. To death.”
“That’s too bad. I can hear Mr. Kloits squawking. Maybe you can return him?”
“Certainly. It’s within Clarissa’s thirty-day warranty. I think.”
“I love talking to you. This separation by telephone may be the best compromise in these
messy relationships.”
“Silly Alice.”
“I’m trying to write. It’s so slow and much harder than doing the research.”
“And not as much fun. Well then, back to the absolutism of the uranium world. It and you
are both destined to cause a lot of damage.”
“I already have. Absolutism?”
“The substance of my paper. I’ll explain later.”
“Bag lunch at the museum next week. I’ll call. And think about this. Have you ever observed
the bottom half of Bud Needham Junior? … See ya. Bye.”

It was past midnight and only a few remained in the Vista lounge. Arthur Sonett and Clarissa
Hervey sat in a booth by the piano. They said little, listening as Bernie played his own elegant
arrangements, introspective ones developed to epic lengths. Many patrons worried he would be
lured back to the big places in Los Angeles.
They held hands, but Sonett felt the obvious – that he was doing the holding.
“Bernie. Play ‘Stella,’” he asked almost in desperation. It was their song, the leitmotif of his
passionate thoughts of her during the long days at Maxtar. He was filled now with a foreboding
brought about by her slightest of actions or words – words which hinted at a terrible message about
to be delivered.
On their second date after a bowling match, sitting in that exact spot and under the spell of
that very same music, it had flashed to Sonett and so it had seemed to Clarissa, that they were in
love. Talk had not come easily. But later the subject of marriage was touched on, tentatively,
roundabout – a shy probing of the idea.
That evening in Kloits Valley was a turning point. He had waited for this night, hoping the
buoyant Clarissa would return. After dinner she insisted they join the Cornwell group. He endured
the long interval of banter and talk of the company – then felt anger and emptiness as Clarissa and
Alex Mannoy talked and laughed together.
Far in the future Arthur Sonett would remember two eminent events from these times that he
could recall with something of his original raw emotion: The discussion of atomic matters with Alex
Mannoy on that glorious and singular July night persisted in his memory, even to their very words;
and the feelings from the night he recognized his first love seared a place in him that would be
painful for years. Both recollections were linked to Bernie’s “Stella,” and whenever he heard the
song, a wave of emotion struck him – a confusion of the separate dramas from those two fateful

At her door he finally asked her what was the matter. The eerie sound of Hervey’s oboe was
cruel punctuation to her words which came after a tight-lipped kiss.
“There’s a kind of chemical feeling that’s missing, Arthur. I think we ought to slow things
down a bit.”


Richard Hervey was awakened by the whistling and screeching of Mr. Kloits. Clarissa had
forgotten to cover his cage, and Kloits joyously greeted the sunny day with his vocal tools – many
and loud for the cockatiel.
Hervey’s faded green pajamas hung on his wiry frame as if from a nail in the closet. When
he passed the hall mirror, he looked in and muttered, “So that’s the paramour?” He shuffled into the
small living room, avoiding dishes on the rug where Clarissa had watched television late the night
before. Roble Mountain was being ruined, but at least he didn’t have the noisy irritants that
Wickware did from the new housing tract of cookie-cutter houses under construction near his
cottage, once on the quiet edge of Fernville. “University Estates – Low Down – $95 a month – Bob
Kloits, Builder.” He shook his head. The headache might explain his trouble with that devilish
allegro last night.
At breakfast he could read from Clarissa’s face that the future did not bode well, or at all, for

Arthur Sonett. When he said it was fortunate that she attracted such worthy professionals, she
snapped, “Cut the sarcasm, Dad. I like Arthur a lot, but I’m only 19 and don’t want to get serious
about one guy.” She softened a little. “And even if I did, they wouldn’t, with my odd-ball father
playing that weird instrument in the middle of the night.”
A cup of strong coffee revived him. Kloits pecked at the cage toys, a clown of a bird with
orange cheek spots on his yellow head and an expressive topknot plume – a crazy hat for raucous
occasions. His gray wings and back were a conservative design start, Hervey thought, but after that
the bird became the work of a committee.
Since junior high school Clarissa was quickly infatuated. But when the time came, rejections
were swift and clean. Arthur Sonett, maybe a highly-thought-of missile engineer in the big
company, was nevertheless about to be tossed onto Clarissa’s growing scrap heap. Over the years
she had returned class rings, fraternity pin, silver bracelet and even a small diamond engagement
ring. But what could be the final disposition of Kloits the bird? Hervey reckoned it wasn’t a token
returned that could be tossed in the top dresser drawer and forgotten.
Hervey snapped the cage with his finger: “Keep it down, Kloits, or you’ll find yourself out
there with the red-wing blackbirds.”
He made his way on a relic of a bicycle to the campus for his ten-o’clock lecture. The
previous semester he had been pressed into service for a freshman English course. Over the years, at
high schools and college, he had taught a range of subjects from beginning algebra to civics, in
between handling the history, English and early American literature with flair. But spread around
like that, a dated generalist, he felt vulnerable among the growing faculty of PhD specialists, all
voluminously published.
His two significant papers on Germany’s colonial ventures prior to World War I had once
looked promising on his academic résumé, but were now puny reminders of potential scholarship
never fulfilled. His three-year venture into atomic politics was skeptically viewed by the college
administration – “A bit out of Fernville State’s league, isn’t it, Hervey? And yours, too, I’m afraid.
That’s something for the Hoover Institution at Stanford or Georgetown.”
The campus of Fernville State was spread out on a low hill on the southwest edge of town.
The two-story brick buildings with beige tile roofs were set out among mowed lawns now covered
with hand-sized leaves from the scattered london plane trees.

He wasn’t prepared for this lecture. Trying to stay with the main thread, he paused before the
blackboard. Students leaned forward, pencils poised. Professor Hervey projected a dramatic lecture
style where even his long pauses were effective.
An odd train of thought took over as he studied his scuffed shoes. The three-year-old brown
worsted suit was ill-fitting, cheap to begin with; the shirt, a bit ragged at the collar; and the tie was
from the second-hand shop. Everything he owned was old and wearing out. Even this lecture was
worn out. At 45 you expected the bones to tire, but when the rest of your baggage was falling apart,
life became an unremitting hassle. At thirty-nine hundred a year, he was trapped for the foreseeable
future with Sears Roebuck suits, ten-year-old cars and cheap gin. Engineers just starting out were
pulling in six to seven thousand. That kind of money could put some flair in the affair. A weekend
in San Francisco with Alice. Taxis everywhere. The best restaurants – well, good ones anyway.
He finished up the lecture in desultory fashion, his thoughts wandering to other employment
prospects. Real estate and insurance were possibilities, but “Professor” to “Agent” was a prestige
cliff he did not wish to fall from.
Back at his office he found a note asking him to come to President Earl Foley’s office. That
worried him. He rarely saw Foley.
When he arrived, the big oak door opened and a group of prominent citizens trooped out,
followed by George Barnes, the football coach at Fernville State. Hervey nodded at Mayor Ed
Kloits and the rest. They were all smiling. Hervey could understand why Barnes was happy. The
Fernville State Tigers were undefeated, including a decisive win over Sacramento State, a
powerhouse in a higher division.
He sat down with Foley and Ed McComber, the Chair of the Social Sciences Department.
Foley said the meeting was about a new stadium of twenty-thousand seats to replace the old
municipal field. The city would sell bonds if the college upgraded its sports programs, mainly
football, to compete with the bigger schools.
“It’ll be a five-year program. We’ll increase the coaching staff by two, put a little money
into recruiting and schedule bigger schools like the Cal Aggies and San Francisco State.”
“How about first upgrading my salary, Earl?”
Foley seemed sympathetic. “We’re stuck with salary schedules, Dick, and most of the rest of
the faculty has … you know, the PhD. And you haven’t published lately. But we’ll try to get you

five percent next month.”
Foley said Hervey’s talents as a generalist in this day of specialization were greatly
appreciated. “Could you help us out next semester in the freshman Health Education class?
Sampson’s out with the heart problem. Your schedule’s pretty light.”
“Health Education! What the devil’s that?”
“Well,” said McComber, “it’s a catchall … personal hygiene, public health and basic
nutrition, a course for the less-mature incoming student … a confidence-builder for the poor
Hervey abruptly stood up. “Thank you very much, but I regrettably must say no to your kind
offer. Perhaps something along the lines of 18th-Century English poetry or …”
“Cut the dramatics, Dick. We’re a little desperate. Mac here says you don’t have to know
anything about the course. There’s a detailed syllabus and audio-visual aids.”
“Oh. Then my daughter can teach it. Or how about you, McComber? … Or your daughter?”
“Please think it over,” said McComber, getting up to leave. “It might be a new field for you.”
Foley motioned Hervey to stay. Then he walked to the window rubbing his chin in thought, a
practiced gesture, Hervey guessed.
“Another matter, Dick. A bit more serious. I know you’re working on a major paper about
politics and the atom.”
“It’s turning itself into a book.”
“Well, it’s your other effort that worries us … that revising Hiroshima thing. Revising
history, or trying to, of that event is not in the public interest or Fernville State’s.”
“It’s about narrow and biased decision-making and validity of dissenting opinions.”
“Several assemblymen have called me about that piece of yours in the San Francisco
Chronicle. You’ve even been labeled as one of those ‘dreamy academics’ soft on communism. And
we’ve received complaints about your rather extreme liberal views on issues, local and national.
This isn’t Berkeley out here in this part of California, Dick.”
“Perhaps Health Education is my calling.”
“Perhaps it is. We’ll be monitoring your research efforts. Thanks so much for coming by.”
“Think of it this way, Herv. An appreciation of your versatility and lecture skills,” John
Wickware said over lunch at the Fernville Lanes. “No reason to consider suicide.”

“It was suicide as metaphor, Wick. It’s guys like me who’re fingered as the weeds to be
weeded out … the deadwood taxpayers’ demand cleared from the institutions.” Hervey paused and
peered through his martini glass as a crash from three simultaneous strikes coursed loudly through
the restaurant. “By the way, Wick. Need insurance? Life? House? Car?”
“Just practicing. In case the state-college budget gets whacked. ‘The Hervey Agency –
answering your insurance needs.’ It’s got a nice ring to it.”
Wickware made his tight little gopher smile. “The real victims of cuts in the budget would
be those with no voice and who can’t sell insurance … frogs, toads, wickwaria and the like.
Wickwaria literally has no voice. I and a few other starving researchers speak for them.”
“Nice, Wick. But I, Richard Hervey” – he dramatically got to his feet – “cry out for the
voiceless and the unheeded that the nuclear genie must be reined in. But I might as well be as
squeakless as your Wickwaria. Now, though, I have an appointment at the museum to assist our
attractive mutual friend in her endeavors to find intrigue in a thirty-five-year-old murder.”
“And I’m off to an afternoon lab. But let me say, Herv, that as a trained observer of the
salamanders’ closely-held secrets, purported ones between my fellow humans are quite like an open
“You’re not suggesting that …”
“Yes, I am. I even see a resemblance in the countenance … the lip.”
Hervey shook his head. “Alice, you’ve got colorful background material for several murder
mysteries, But after thinking about all this, I believe Bussio did as advertised, Squire Milano is
innocent and vengeful Helen is just trying to ruin his reputation with all the innuendo. And yes, she
may be using you in a rather far-fetched, posthumous plan to continue the process.”
“His behind and legs have a very similar …”
“Lots of folks have that kind of build. It might be a clever twist in your proposed fiction, but
too contrived for our real world.”
“The right-hand print?”
“Well, could simply be Bussio’s last grip in setting the gun down. Happened to be his right

Alice frowned. “The gold numbers then?”
“Well, OK. Henry Kloits committed a little larceny on the family operation.”
“Bud Junior was four years old in ’21. They were married in 1906. Childless for eleven
years. In those days children came along early in the marriage.”
“From what we hear of Bud, it took him years to figure out …”
“Listen. Next time you see Bud Junior downtown watch his walk. And the Mayor’s.”
“Half-brothers. Alice, you are a wonder.”
Hervey watched her nimble hands sort through the thick notebook and loose papers. She
certainly had found her calling.
“This is lots of fun. Look here. 1920 … Myron Haddad in jail. Battery … Henry with the
mountain lion … Three dogs poisoned … Bud Needham accused … angrily denies … Dead bass
and suckers floating through town … Stockton ‘Ports’ win again.”
“Hmm. Bud Needham shot himself in December of 1921, six months after Henry’s murder.
What did the papers say?”
“It’s right here. For months he’d been seriously and ‘painfully’ ill. ‘Depressed.’ He killed
himself with a .45. ‘Red blood all over.’”
“Ill from what?”
“Doesn’t say. Must have been cancer or something.”
Hervey reluctantly got up from the table. “I mustn’t miss this class again.”
“Ryland wants me to go to Florida next week. He’s on equipment matters. Very important.
But Cape Canaveral’s not my idea of a vacation. Besides, I’m helping Helen. She’s still bedridden.
Flu, she says. I’m worried. So is Nancy, her granddaughter. Bud Junior never calls.”
“Alienated, to hear Helen. All he thinks about is her money.”
“I’ve the council meeting tonight. It’s the Nike Ajax deal.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
In the evening Hervey picked up his election signs downtown. Don Flatley’s signs and
leaflets were showing up everywhere. He saw the probability of the collapse of both his political and
academic fortunes, the political skid more precipitous than the academic one. He hurried home,
uneasy, sensing a life change. Clarissa was out. Kloits needed water. He needed a drink.

The city council met Wednesdays in the old elementary school auditorium. Hervey occupied
an end-chair at the long table on the stage. Mayor Edward Kloits sat at the other end. Hervey was
surprised at the large public turnout – most for the barking-dog item, he guessed. There were some
votes out there and tonight he would try to be calm and constructive. Fortunately, he had worn his
best sport-coat and tie. He gave Alice back there a nod.
He was alert but quiet during the air-pollution issue. Mayor Kloits said he hadn’t noticed any
difference in the air. It was always a little hazy this time of year anyway.
Don Flatley presented a plan by the Scientology Club for street re-alignment at ‘Kloits
Corners.’ He was effective in showing projected traffic flow and could be winning votes. Edward
Kloits, Buddha-like, his narrowed eyes fixed on Flatley, betrayed his mortality by slow, heavy
breaths inflating and deflating his body. He said the matter was premature and would be referred to
the traffic commission.
Hervey had dozed through many barking-dog complaints. Did random, ear-splitting barks
after midnight make a “barking dog” under the law? Mrs. Marie Willis claimed it did. The bark
jolted her awake, causing her to lie awake, sometimes for hours, anticipating the next ones.
Mr. David Cornwell, the owner, said he did not own a barking dog. It was probably her
husband farting in his sleep. Mayor Kloits glared at him and asked the city attorney what constituted
a “barking dog” and therefore public nuisance. The attorney wasn’t sure, but thought it must be at
least three or four barks in a row repeated at some regular interval. He would research case law.
The attorney for the Vista Corporation said the four-story office building planned for
downtown Fernville by a partnership of eight dentists from Los Angeles would destroy the easterly
view from the Vista restaurant. “Vista” meant view. No view, no Vista. The council moved that they
would consider a plan for three stories, not four.
Finally, Mayor Kloits introduced U. S. Army Captain Wayne Crowley who set up a slide
projector and screen. Hervey read over the proposal Crowley passed out. It contained glossy
pictures of facilities and equipment and of rockets blasting into the sky. Crowley didn’t fit Hervey’s
image of an Army missile man. He was slightly built and conveyed a classroom-instructor’s bearing
with his assured manner, clear voice and horn-rimmed glasses.
Crowley described the Nike Ajax battery to be established on Roble Mountain, how it would

train crews of seventy-four men over eight-week periods, and what this miracle of technology could
do to enemy bombers. He put up his last slide, a pictorial of the Nike Ajax blasting into the sky,
with the winged and garlanded figure of goddess Nike in the foreground. The caption read: The
Goddess of Victory – Nike – She not only thinks but she dreams.
“What would she be dreaming about, Captain?” Hervey asked politely when the projector
was turned off.
Captain Crowley hesitated and said it was just a sort of slogan, a phrase the Army had
adopted. “Thinking” referred to the advanced homing radar – the electronic range calculator. Things
like that. “Dreaming” he wasn’t sure about. Nobody had ever asked before.
“I would suggest then,” said Hervey in measured tones, “that you are the ones who are
dreaming. Your Nike Ajax is obsolete … its concept fatally flawed.”
“Mr. Hervey. You’re out of order!”
“Sir,” Captain Crowley said in a condescending tone, “Nike Ajax is one of our most
advanced defensive weapons. They’re already defending several of our cities and are installed
around Berlin and other places in NATO countries.”
“But none in Britain. Britain says they’re ineffective.”
“Mr. Hervey!”
Hervey thought he might have shaken Crowley. He had dug out a lot of Nike information,
despite the secrecy covering such weapons. He knew that at higher levels, congressional and even
parts of the military, the Nike Ajax was considered obsolete. That it might be less than what was
indoctrinated had not reached Captain Crowley’s level. A missile represented by the goddess figure
– the deadly nose cone – the complex electronics – the mysterious radar that pursued and found its
victim – how could it not work?
During the public hearing the president of the chamber of commerce cited advantages to the
community, particularly payrolls. Several speakers criticized Hervey’s stance as un-American.
There went some votes, he thought.
“I’m Donald Flatley,” said the last speaker. “We should welcome this Nike training base
because such defensive weapons promise freedom from fear of atomic war. Once Nike and more
advanced missiles shield our populations and military forces from attack, the Russians, Chinese
Communists and other aggressors must then come to the bargaining table.

“I’m in the defense business and I have a master’s degree in engineering.” He paused.
Hervey expected to hear a few laughs, but the Fernville crowd was silent and expectant. “Mr. Hervey
asked what Nike could be dreaming about. Well, I can tell him.” Dick Hervey looked to see whether
the Fernville Tribune reporter was still there. He was. There go the votes.
“She’s dreaming the same dream we all are, a dream of peace realized through strength.
Nike and Captain Crowley and the battery on the hill are its symbols.” Rare applause came from the
public and council members. There goes the election. Thank God Don Flatley was a Clarissa reject.
It was moved and seconded that the city approve the Army’s plans. Discussion followed
about roads, water and sewage lines. Hervey hunched over the table, aimlessly doodling away.
The mayor asked if there were further comments. Hervey raised his hand.
“I have a master’s degree in history of the 20th Century … but I can dream, too, like Mr.
Flatley.” He paused, expecting some laughs, maybe even applause. Except for Alice’s smile, he saw
only expressionless faces. “Unlike Mr. Flatley, though, I would rather look at realities than live in
his dream world or that of our winged goddess. She’s the only exciting thing about that missile.”
Alice laughed out loud. Mayor Kloits raised his hand for silence.
“Councilman Hervey, hows about getting on with it to the point? We’re not here to debate
technical things. We’re talkin’ about a small training base.”
“Well, it has to start somewhere,” Hervey said half-loud. “Your Nike, Captain Crowley, is
only capable of shooting down a stray missile or airplane here and there, now and then. With
hundreds of planes and missiles carrying atomic and soon hydrogen-bombs to ten megatons, your
Nike is about as effective as …”
“… as pissin’ against the tide! As pourin’ sand down a rat hole!” a big voice boomed out at
the back of the room.
“You back there. You be quiet! I’ll have you escorted out.”
“Forget it, Mayor. I’m gettin’ out of here anyways.” The door opened and closed. Kloits
glared around the room searching for other transgressors.
“I couldn’t have put it better. People in congress say Nike is overrated,” said Hervey.
“They don’t know the facts … which are classified,” Captain Crowley said, his voice rising.
“General Wilbur Brucker says Nike can destroy any missile or airplane, no matter how high or fast.”
“Some shoot-down tests were just done at White Sands in New Mexico,” said Hervey.

“No comment.”
“Your hotshot Nike, Captain, under controlled tests got one hit out of nine attempts at
obsolete Matador missiles. No countermeasures and slow and low cruise targets.”
“That information is all classified.”
“Well, I found it.”
“We’re not here for this kind of discussion.” The mayor struggled to a standing position.
“We’re deciding on a current need of the Army. You’re gonna get yourself investigated, Hervey.”
“My point,” Hervey sighed, “is why tear up Roble Mountain and stick ugly buildings and
radar towers on it when in a few years funding gets shut off and Fernville’s left with a ruined
mountain. An eyesore.”
The mayor flushed. “Would your viewpoint, Councilman Hervey, have anything to do with
your view? Or your property value?”
The vote was eight to one.
Alice was waiting outside the door. “For a provincial associate professor you handled
yourself pretty well. But if the site were next to the mayor’s house, would the councilman have been
so persuasive?”
“Yes. But only if you were in the audience, Alice.”


It was the near the end of October, 1955, and the warm and musty Florida air gave Ryland Smith
the sense of a foreign land after his long flight from California. He had left a dry and cool Los
Angeles very early that morning on the DC-6 to Miami, and later stepped off a Convair 340 at the
Orlando airport, not much larger than the Fernville one. As he drove to Cape Canaveral, he realized
the years in California had biased him to a topography of contrast, to colors, and to seasonal
dryness. This land was flat, green and watery to excess.
Austin Cooper picked him up at the hotel and they drove up the coast to the Surf Restaurant
Cocoa Beach, which Cooper claimed made his frequent trips to Florida bearable. Smith guessed its
bar deserved that credit because at Maxtar Cooper subsisted from morning to late evening on
vending machine fare. He seldom wasted his time, he said, going out to lunch, and when he did, it
was for corn dogs at the Giant Orange on Kloits Road.
They met Colonel Lapides in the bar crowded with people involved in missile operations at
Cape Canaveral. Their conversation stayed well away from the SPICA missile, but Cooper hinted
that preflight operations had gone smoothly. Smith knew the three of them had great stakes in the
SPICA program. Cooper’s were his job and reputation; Lapides was riding the SPICA to visibility
in the large arena of middle-ranked Air Force officers; and Smith’s momentum toward real

corporate power could be derailed by a major contractual setback.
At dinner Lapides whispered that on Saturday the Northrop Snark just had a successful flight
test. He did not mention it by name, saying only that the big, slow cruise missile had made it clear to
Ascension Island. Those happy folks celebrating at the bar were contractor and Air Force people.
Cooper ripped into the crab with his big, unsteady hands and mumbled that if he were allowed the
luxury of thirteen partial failures, SPICA success would be assured.
Smith saw that their chief engineer was only partly aware of the food and his companions.
He was back rummaging around in the missile, remembering marginal pump seals, worrying about a
noisy gyro – distrusting every SPICA system where he didn’t have direct technical oversight.
Austin Cooper was the weak corner in the SPICA triumvirate, Ryland Smith realized. He
himself had marshaled the key resources by employing his executive skills. Colonel Lapides
brought intelligent oversight and political dexterity to the project. Cooper’s part needed more than
technical brilliance. For one thing you didn’t go out to dinner and embarrass your companions with
bad manners and introverted behavior.
Cooper’s wandering spirit returned when they talked of the technological extravaganza now
blossoming in the middle of the decade. He said he agreed with Werner Von Braun that airliners by
1985 would be ramjet-powered and fly at seventy-thousand feet and up to fifteen-hundred miles an
hour. And Walter Dornberger, another imported German rocket scientist, predicted rocket-propelled
airliners traveling up to ten-thousand miles an hour.
Yes, an atomic-powered passenger plane could be in service before 1970, Lapides believed.
When Smith wondered about radiation, Lapides assured him that radiation handling was just another
solvable engineering problem.
“Fred Whipple, that famous astronomer,” Smith said, “believes airliners in thirty years will
be huge, atomic-powered planes carrying passengers in the wings for spectacular views. Fantastic!”
Cooper thought we were ahead of the Russians with our Project Vanguard in putting up the
first artificial Earth satellite despite what some pessimists and Democrats were saying.
“In ten years we’ll have long-range bombers and ballistic missiles able to pinpoint every
Soviet target,” said Colonel Lapides.
“Won’t the Russians have the same?” Smith asked.
There was a long silence. “Well … probably,” Lapides answered. “We’ll have to stay ahead,

and our defense industries must be dispersed as planned.” They dropped that subject.
For another hour they foresaw spectacular breakthroughs, agreeing this year, 1955, was the
pivotal one in the coming age of technological marvels.
It was late now. Outside, the large moon shone between scudding clouds. Ryland Smith was
intoxicated by the scotch, the tropical Florida night and the stimulating talk of the coming
revolution. Lapides, experienced and intelligent, would be a force in shaping it. But Austin Cooper,
Smith knew, was burning out physically and emotionally too early in his spectacular career
“The Snark success will get a lot of publicity,” said Lapides. “And Navaho has completed
most of its critical system tests. We’re under the gun now.”

Smith passed through Security at five-thirty the next morning. Still time-warped by the
cross-country flight and half-asleep, Smith was escorted towards what appeared as a surreal dark
island leaking white light and noise. The half-shell, corrugated metal building housing the SPICA
was being readied for rollback on its steel tracks. He entered the hut-like interior where bright-eyed
people rushed about in an atmosphere of high intensity.
The SPICA strategic missile loomed before him, resting on its launch rails at a low angle. It
was larger and more impressive now with the ramjet engines hanging from angled pylons near the
middle of the body under the stubby wings and with the big Aerojet liquid-fueled booster-rockets
attached to the aft body. The Wright jet engine, the subsonic workhorse, was slung close against the
underside. Having just driven through the dark, watery land and musty air – like prehistoric air,
dinosaur air – Smith momentarily saw the missile as an elegant, sleeping monster.
He was told the booster rocket tanks holding the aniline fuel and RFNA oxidizer were filled
but would not be pressurized until just before launch. Gyros were running up in the guidance
system. Telemetry signals looked good, and the punched-tape flight-control program was loaded.
Austin Cooper moved around to the different engineering groups, restrained and even smiling.
This instrument of annihilation, Smith thought, required an inordinate amount of
preparation. Cooper had said most of these activities would be eliminated when the missile became
operational, but liquid-fueled booster-rockets would remain the controlling launch problem. In a few
years, though, large solid-propellant rocket motors would be perfected. “With boosters like that you

simply push the button … light the match … and whoosh! … she’s on her way!”
It was that long tapered nose cone, now filled with lead and instrumentation, that was
responsible for this great buzz of activity, the sophisticated hardware and most of Maxtar’s payroll.
Smith was told that the atomic device, when installed, would occupy the volume up to that second
ring of screws. Never discussed, yet it was well known the device would be thermonuclear.
Smith rcalled Lapides once saying that atomic warheads were just a matter of a bigger bang
and would take some getting used to – just like other revolutionary weapons throughout history.
“Gunpowder and the crossbow were departures from conventional weapons and hurdles of
psychological acceptance greater than what atomic weapons presented now,” he said. For emphasis
Lapides had quoted from the Air Force Doctrine of Atomic Air Warfare: The atomic bomb … ‘did
not appear to deviate from the normal evolution towards ever-increasing firepower …’”
Ryland Smith, though, became transfixed by that black nose cone, a small volume from
which men had found the way to release a miniature sun. Its explosive energy was rumored to be
between two and four megatons, well over a hundred times the yield of the Hiroshima bomb. He
recalled Norris Deepak’s comment about the absolutism of the hydrogen bomb – and standing next
to that simple black nose cone, Smith suddenly saw a nightmarish relevance to his words.
“Megaton,” “H-bomb” or “explosive device” were indeed unflattering terms to what was actually
inside there. Maybe Deepak wasn’t joking or intoxicated when he hinted that TNT was the proper
match to the human and earthly dimension. Smith thought then of the photographs of the
devastation of Hiroshima and of the eruption of the Pacific Ocean at Eniwetok, all that and much
more now capable of emanating from little black tapered cans like this one. In a kind of trance he
continued to stare at the nose cone when Austin Cooper approached, jolting him back to the present.
“You can forget today, Ryland. We’re cancelled because of communication problems down
range.” Smith put the black nose cone out of his mind. After all, Lapides and the others were experts
in these matters.
Smith had the day off. Cooper planned to review each subsystem again. Best to stay clear of
that. Last night Cooper had finally cut loose his own umbilical ties; the missile had to live or die on
its own. Now he would envision flaws and oversights and must re-connect his own lifelines.
Smith could hear him begin the day’s operations: “For Chrissakes yes, we’re gonna retest
that fuel valve!… Dudley, re-calculate the maximum Q, assuming we’ll be on the top of booster and

turbojet thrust envelopes all the way up … Check out that transponder again, Rogers. The signal
never did look right …”
Smith drove back across the base. The vast, empty tracts of grass, woods and marsh were
dotted with nondescript enclaves of sheet-metal buildings, trailers and large antennas for missile
He felt out of place and self-conscious in this milieu at Patrick Air Force Base. A pervasive
military presence protected technology far beyond his comprehension. He was at home in the
corridors of Washington and in executive suites, speaking at Rotary Clubs or planning long- range
company strategy. Alone, in the drab midst of the world’s most advanced weapon technology, he
felt like an intruder afraid of being asked what his contribution was to the great unseen projects
around him. Well, he was the head of a small empire of technocrats who spoke strange dialects,
selling an exotic product in what some claimed was a non-standard and temporary market of one
and only one Customer – and that a bureaucratic mélange wrapped in secrecy. Worse, he was
treated by these technicians as an awkward, unnecessary presence. He was only the administrator, a
puppet monarch, symbol of, and link to, traditional commercial enterprise.

Smith and Cooper had dinner together in the hotel dining room. The conversation dwindled
part way through the entrée. Smith longed for his usual dinner companions, people like Deepak and
Beebe who understood the obligation to be interesting and even humorous.
Ryland Smith said his friend, Senator Scoop Jackson, was calling for a crash program to
develop atomic-powered ships and submarines to carry atomic weapons. One of the problems facing
their SPICA was competition at all levels for the defense dollar.
“We’ve got to get over this development hurdle, Austin, into production and established in a
strategic deployment plan.” Cooper grunted and continued eating.
Smith could not erase that vision of the poised, blackened SPICA with its long, pointed nose
cone. The configuration of the missile was not new to him. At Maxtar he looked upon it as simply a
product, a sophisticated and expensive one, soon to roll out the shipping-room doors. But resting
there on the launch rails, aimed at the horizon, pointed someday at a city, its true lethal possibilities
struck him for the first time. And what flashed in his mind now, utterly unexpected, was that he, as
much as anyone, was responsible for it.

“A toast, Austin, to good weather, no goddamned shrimp boats in the test range, and a big
splash five-thousand miles down-range tomorrow evening.”
“Right,” Cooper said without enthusiasm as he raised his wine glass to Smith’s. “I’ve been
worrying all night about those goddamn ramjets. I heard today about a flameout in the Tullahoma
blowdown tests last week. A corner of the altitude-mach number envelope.”
“You can’t worry about everything, Austin.”
“Somebody has to.”
“I was worrying … well, not worrying … but wondering about something myself. I looked
at that nose cone which we can soon lob into the middle of Moscow and wondered how much
further we can go with this stuff. You know, one SPICA and much of Moscow is flat … gone.
Millions dead.”
Cooper looked up, alert and questioning, as if Smith had read his own deep and private
concern. “Yeh, we’re dealing with a lot of unknowns.” Cooper groped for the right words and
paused to sip the wine. Then he spoke rapidly and surely as if the words had long been in place.
“In five years we’ll have ballistic missiles and so will they. Missiles will be in submarines
and in airplanes … all with atomic devices. There’ll probably be tactical nukes spread all over
Europe. I’ve worked all kinds of military systems, Ryland, but it’s different now. This atomic stuff
is totally different. The politicians and the generals don’t understand it. The Reds don’t, I’m sure.
And I don’t even think I do … Nobody does.
“Listen, Ryland. I’m a technologist and I’m excited about what its future will bring …
except for this fucking atomic ringer! There’s too much ungodly power in too-small a package. This
is certain to become obvious to everyone. I’m predicting an international ban on atomic weapons.”
That tough exterior shielded more complexity than Smith had believed. Cooper solved what
he saw was an atomic-weapon problem in the manner he solved complicated engineering problems
– head-on and literally on the back of an envelope. Such weapons presented an unsolvable design
problem of sorts. The only possible solution was to simply eliminate them. By God, Smith thought,
Cooper just might be right!

It would be six o’clock back in Fernville. After a few rings, Alice finally answered. She was
out on the patio enjoying the evening cocktail. Paul was off to an early movie with Dexter. Smith

could tell from her voice, its pace and hesitations and volume, that she was midway into her second
Women were at their best under, never beyond, two cocktails. Alice especially so. His and
Alice’s unspoken problems emerged, sometimes pyrotechnically, when she got beyond, or well
beyond, that demarcation line. And he had to admit his management of the situation – he tended to
think of it as a management challenge – suffered from his own indulging.
Over the years his many business trips provided separations which both looked forward to.
With his prestige and money and, well, yes, certainly his physical attributes, there had been
opportunities which led to a few rather strong entanglements – The singer in the Detroit nightclub –
The estranged wife of a board chairman in Dallas – That damn secretary. He thought of them all
now, not guiltily, but rather as exceptions to the restraint he had exercised against the many other
In his eyes those transgressions did not make Alice’s less culpable. Few though they were–
or that he knew about – he was nonetheless angered by what happened in Chicago and hurt when
Alice’s relationship with one of his managers in Philadelphia became corporate gossip. Experienced
now, he picked up on the faint signals. That college guy, Hervey on the city council, seemed to be
showing up too often on his radar screen. But he quickly dismissed that suspicion. It was this
strange land and a tug of loneliness that triggered it. Alice’s voice was reassuring. Soon she was
going to a meeting of that ecology group at the museum. Why the concern? On the street that
Hervey character could be taken as a small-town druggist.

Early the next morning Ryland Smith stood on the balcony of the launch control blockhouse.
He was himself again. The surreal, disturbing atomic nightmare of yesterday was pushed out of his
mind by expectations of the drama about to unfold. Across the green stubble, dominating the view,
the huge SPICA missile was poised for launch. Men swarmed around it making final checks.
Cooper had gone out to the photography bunker with Sergeant Fricks.
“Twenty-five minutes to launch,” a loudspeaker boomed. Smith went into the concrete
blockhouse where launch specialists monitored their stations. He felt a shiver of pride.
Lapides, two other uniformed officers and a senior Maxtar engineer occupied a small
enclosure set aside by glass partitions and labeled “Launch Control.”

The sky was brightening and the missile was visible through the narrow rectangle of a thick
glass port set in the concrete wall. Everybody clapped when it was announced that the shrimp boat
fleet was clear of the range.
A large map showing the scheduled track was on the wall. The easterly leg took it out over
the Atlantic as it gained its cruising altitude of thirty-nine-thousand feet. A thousand miles out, part
way to Africa, the path turned 45 degrees to the south and maintained that course to the crossing of
the equator, finally ending in the waters near Ascension Island after a five-thousand-mile flight.
At minus ten minutes an engineer reported the loss of the number three telemetry oscillator.
There was a worried consultation. Cooper would not be informed. They would go without it. At
minus three minutes pressurization of the booster fuel tanks was completed. At minus sixty seconds
the umbilical connections to the missile, the tubes and cables, pulled away.
Smith moved to the glass port. High drama was taking place. Lapides was on the mark when
he joked that after all the anticipation, the huffing and puffing, a last-second cancellation was
similar but worse than the emotional trauma of a forced coitus interruptus.
At minus twenty seconds a column of black signal smoke spouted up.
“fifteen … ten” – and a column of red smoke shot up – “one … zero … and fuel flow and
ignition!” The nitric acid and aniline fuel came together, spontaneously igniting into an inferno.
The SPICA exploded up the launch rails and Smith cheered along with the others. He could
see it for only several seconds as the bright boosters burned. He rushed out the door to the balcony
to follow the path of turbulent smoke and fire. Already, the spent boosters were tumbling down to
the ocean, and beyond, the SPICA grew smaller, trailing black smoke from its turbojet engine.
The professionals in the control room were calm now. A long day of monitoring lay ahead of
them. The automatic plotting board began to trace the track of the missile. Smith poured a cup of
coffee and watched. Colonel Robert Lapides stood by the plotting board, the very picture of
intelligence and composure.
After eighteen minutes some activity developed around a console. Three, four, and then five
engineers huddled over the display of meters and chart recorders. Lapides and his officers, listening
over headphones, intently watched the radar track. A minute passed.
“Is the course correction command getting through?” Lapides demanded.
“No, sir.”

“Tell the ‘Jorgensen’ to send a command in.”
“What’s happening? Is there a problem?”
“There is, Mr. Smith,” an officer said. “She’s drifting off course, and we can’t seem to
override the control system. We’ve told the first range ship to control it. Look at the plot there.”
The track of the SPICA started eastward from the Cape, down the middle of the missile
range. In the last few minutes it had developed a decided southerly bias and was approaching the
range boundary.
They’ll do something, Smith thought. Here was a room full of the best technical minds. They
would think of something.
“It’s holding thirty-nine thousand. Cruising nicely.”
“Yeah. But in the wrong goddamn direction,” Lapides said. “Keep sending that ten-degree
turn command.”
The path of the SPICA gradually turned directly south, relentlessly maintaining that
“She’s heading toward the Bahamas.”
“Prepare to terminate, Ralph!”
Terminate! Smith reeled. Four years of work. The hopes of thousands. A moment ago they
were excited and expectant. Now disaster loomed because of something maybe as simple as a
vacuum tube failure.
“Destruct!” Lapides called out. The Range Safety Officer pushed the red button, now
exposed from its safety cover. Silently, they all watched the board. The track of the missile
“Destruct, goddamn it!”
“I am, sir.” He pushed the button repeatedly.
Austin Cooper stood in the doorway. “Jesus Christ! What in hell went wrong?”
“We don’t know, Austin, but it looks like an electronics problem.”
Soon the path of the SPICA was well beyond the range boundary, stubbornly maintaining
its course to the south.
“That bastard’s headed over Cuba toward Venezuela,” Lapides said in a strained voice. “It
could terminate in the middle of Brazil, like that Northrop Snark did last year. There’s gonna be

hell paid for this one.”
Ten minutes later the track faltered and then stopped. The missile was beyond radar range.

Later that afternoon a solemn group assembled for the post-flight briefing. Smith sat in the
back of the room, shaken, as if a family member had dropped dead. They reviewed all the preflight
checkouts. Everything was in order. Austin Cooper, his head unsteady, looked out the window,
The destruct circuits had been tested.
“You got the safety wire off the destruct switch. Right, Riley?”
“Me? No. That’s on McDonald’s list.”
“What about it, Mac?”
“Hell no. Not me. That’s supposed to be on Riley’s list.”
Austin Cooper got up and shuffled over to the doorway, his head bobbing. He turned and
looked with anger and frustration at the subdued group of men. “We lost the number three data
channel with critical diagnostics. We never should have gone without it.” He walked out and
slammed the door behind him.
“You’re a little late, Dick. Where’s Alice? We’ve already selected teams for the different
Hervey sat down next to John Wickware. “Do I get owls, creek restoration or wickwaria?”
The Bristlecone Alliance had swollen to twenty-five members. Wickware said that soon
they’d have a large enough membership that its growth would become self-sustaining – for which
Hervey, in a whimsical mood, applied the term “critical mass.”
Hervey said that earlier he and Alice had been going over materials and scenarios for her
proposed historical novel, Auriferous Grounds – for Murder, and the time just got away from them.
Alice had to change and was on her way to pick up Helen.
“So Helen’s better. Am I in the novel?” John Wickware asked.
“Of course. Both you and I, two ready-made characters for the neophyte writer. But she’ll
have to modify yours for believability.”
They had done constructive work that evening on several possible murder scenarios. Hervey

calculated that in 1921, at about twenty dollars an ounce, the purported missing gold for six months
would be worth well over thirty-thousand dollars.
“Worth killing for,” said Alice.
Later she said the phone call was from Ryland. He sounded a bit melancholy. Said he missed
her and that the equipment was undergoing a delay. He said he was becoming uncomfortable in this
business, and maybe should move on to something else. She told him to run for senator.
The meeting began to break up.
“Funny,” said Hervey, “Alice left nearly an hour ago.”
Wickware said goodbye and Hervey walked over to his car. Just then Alice’s convertible
came too fast around the corner and squealed to a stop near him. Alice jumped out and ran over and
threw herself into his arms, sobbing.
“Alice. Alice! What’s wrong?”
“It’s Helen. I think she’s dead. I called the police.”


“Arthur, stop following me all over. At a neat party like this people mix around and dance with
“Yeh, I know, Clarissa. It’ll be a great party, especially with Dave and Teresa here.”
But it wouldn’t be. And he was resolved to spend four hours behind a mask of feigned
hilarity but fully aware of Clarissa’s every move and word and expression.
A pall hung over the Maxtar Missile Division after the SPICA failure, but Fred Jennings
went ahead anyway with his section’s annual Halloween costume party. Arthur Sonett suffered
under his own pall, as Clarissa was becoming more distant and unresponsive. That day he worked
on his Moray proposal, but dreamed of another – a successful one to Clarissa. His thoughts had
oscillated between two profound questions: How to quantify the killing range of the Moray missile’s
atomic payload – from the flash that blinded, the deadly gamma and neutron radiation, the searing
heat and the crushing shock wave – and the more compelling one of what Clarissa and Alex
Mannoy had been chatting and laughing about at a vending machine during the coffee break?
He had parked his Thunderbird at the end of the line of cars on Sequoia Drive, another
broad, curving new street cut high into the hillside above Fernville. Her hand was lifeless as they
walked down the road to the Jennings’ new house. The clear, cold weather pattern that gripped
central California sent a chill through his Spiderman costume. It hugged his thin frame, and the
rubber mask squeezed in his narrow face. For his physical makeup, he realized, this was a disastrous

choice in costumes. Clarissa’s fly costume was a clinging one too, with transparent wings and a
mask with bulging eyes. It would attract leers from all those horny guys in the section.
The living room was full of costumed guests, and the bar in the kitchen was already
crowded. Clarissa left to talk with friends while he got the drinks.
“Arthur, old buddy! Turn sideways and you’re the Invisible Spiderman.”
“Hi, Dave … Teresa. What neat outfits!” Cornwell smirked and struck a catcher’s pose,
displaying a complete catcher’s uniform with a big number “8” and “Stockton Ports” on the jersey’s
back. The catcher’s mask distorted his pudgy cheeks and heavy lips. His worn and stained mitt was
fashioned with wire and tape to hold a tumbler. On the black chest-protector was a crude drawing of
a voluptuous female torso with a big bull’s-eye at the navel.
“Not bad, huh? I’m masquerading as what I never could be. And Teresa’s masquerading as
what she really is.” The slight, young woman observed the catcher warily. Her sallow complexion
was set off by an umpire’s dark uniform and an oversized face mask. A chest-protector hung to her
knees. “You know who really runs the rec club? Who keeps a lid on me? She’s a tough cookie. Me,
I’m just the titular head … oh, pardon me, Teresa honey, I meant to say … figurehead.”
“You argue with me all the time, Mr. Ocho.”
“And that mask. How can you get a kiss through that?”
“Or without it.”
“See what I mean, old buddy. This little, skinny thing runs my ball game. Can’t even reach
second base.”
“Or first.”
“And check out her chest-protector here.” Cornwell tapped it gently. “Teresa needs a chest-
protector like Wiener Beebe needs elevator shoes.”
“That’s a strike on you, Dave! A couple more like that and I’m going home.”
“Anyways, it’s the Heat Wave that needs the chest-protector.” He eased Teresa toward the
big living room. “Lets us dance, honey … mask-to-mask.”
Fred Jennings, in a Dracula outfit, cornered Arthur Sonett and Bob Ingram and talked about
the disastrous event in Florida. Even after a couple of drinks the red-faced Jennings hadn’t been able
to shed his overbearing manner. He needed a couple more, Sonett thought, like last year when he
went around in his Dracula suit biting women on the neck, and ended up singing raunchy college

songs to his wife’s humiliation.
Jennings said in a cautious voice that everyone was relieved, all the way up to top levels of
the Pentagon and the administration, that nothing more had been heard from the wayward SPICA
missile. Cooper was physically devastated. “You might see a change there,” he confided.
“Are we lookin’ at a slowdown on SPICA?” Bob Ingram asked.
“Listen, Bob. We’re worried about more than a slowdown. Shit. A cancellation is what
management’s sweatin’ now. Heh, what’s that Cornwell character doin’ here?”
“His date, Teresa, is a close friend of your secretary,” said Arthur Sonett.
“He causes a lot of distraction. And his loud mouth is bad for the Maxtar image. Beebe said
they’re gonna cool him off under Floyd Sims.”
Arthur Sonett found Clarissa, and they danced in the crowded room. Alex Mannoy swung
by. Sonett turned to see Clarissa smiling up at him. Mannoy was impressive, Sonett thought, dressed
as a river-boat gambler, with a string-tie, black mustache and felt hat.
“Blacksuit Mannoy didn’t bring a date. That’s kinda weird.”
“It’s not nice to call him that, Arthur. Didn’t you know? He was bringing Nancy Needham,
but her grandmother died last night. She was kind of the town matriarch. My dad’s really upset.
They were close friends for a long time.”
“Clarissa, let’s drive up to Yosemite tomorrow morning. We’ll have dinner at the Ahwanee
Hotel and talk over things.” He tried to keep his voice low and confident, but he couldn’t suppress
the pleading strain in it.
“I can’t tomorrow. I have to do things.”
“Are you sure, Clarissa? Come on … Come on.”
“No, Arthur … I just don’t want to.” She pulled away. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
As she walked away he watched her lithe and light movement, her strong but good legs. His
hurt and frustration felt like an open wound. He went into the kitchen where Cornwell and a small
group were arguing about the merits of the Fernville State Tigers. Fred Jennings claimed their two
best players, Norman Kloits at guard and Jack Haddad, the left halfback, could play on any big
college team. He knew because he had played football – for the Michigan Wolverines! Herb Allen
said he was picking Fernville State over LaVerne College in Los Angeles tomorrow despite the 43
points Cornwell gave to LaVerne in the company football pool.

“Fernville could win by 60,” he said. “The other games you’ve got pretty well evened out,
“Listen, Herb. I took into account the two-hundred-mile ride in that ’47 shitbox of a team
bus and the crappy field down there with only one bleacher. It’s a big game for LaVerne. You want
fifty bucks on the side at 41 points?”
“Heh, let’s cut out this football crap and clear the kitchen,” Jennings said. “The party’s out
“How do you see the California Lutheran game here next week, Dave?”, one of them asked,
as they watched the revelry and dancing in the big room. “If Lutheran shows. The paper says they
got only nineteen healthy players?”
Cornwell raised his mask and lifted the glass in his mitt to his lips. “See our old buddy,
Arthur Sonett standin’ over there … kinda forlorn lookin.’”
“No wonder, the way Breeder Mannoy’s dancin’ it up with his girlfriend.”
“Yeh, and old 239’s rubbin’ it right up there. I swear that flabby bastard would weigh in at
exactly 239, just like plutonium.” Cornwell surveyed Sonett’s slender form up and down, as if he
were in a weight-guessing contest.
“Listen, Al. California Lutheran’s halfbacks make Arthur Sonett there … our Charles
Assless … look like Charles Atlas himself. I’d say Cal Lutheran and 52 right now if they don’t
forfeit. I could change a little by Tuesday. Their big left tackle, Wally Merva, is the only Lutheran
player who could even make the Fernville squad.”

Arthur Sonett spotted Clarissa talking with Don Flatley and his date. The tall, black figure of
Alex Mannoy hovered nearby. Sonett went down the hallway to the bathroom. A pirate-costumed
figure waited outside.
“Jeez, Arthur! Just like at work. Good party, huh?”
“Oh, hi, Jim.” He felt a little dizzy. Alcohol had moderated the sharp pain he’d felt to a
deep-down ache – a broad, pervasive melancholy.
“I used to work for Fred. I put together some of his early proposals. Brilliant guy, but an
overbearing mother. I bailed out of there when I could. Boy, that Clarissa really looks sexy tonight.
Jennings and all the other horny old guys keep dancin’ with her.”

“Yeh, I noticed.”
“I’m sick of this weather. The way it’s goin’ it might never rain this year. A guy on the radio
said the Russians are screwin’ it up with their high-altitude atomic-bomb tests.”
The door opened, and a witch-like creature emerged and squeezed by them. Dave Cornwell
came up and poked Sonett in lthe back.
“Jeez, Arthur. We gotta wait in line? I’d go pee right off Fred’s deck except my little part
would likely get froze off.”
“It was you-know-who, Dave, that took all the time in there.”
“Almost a perfect disguise, Arthur. But somehow I knew all along it was the Heat Wave.”
“Don’t tell me.”
The party was growing boisterous. Fred Jennings’ voice and laugh boomed throughout the
house. He cornered Flatley, Mannoy and Sonett, saying he was now going to buy them a drink
because they were the heart of his organization. Beads of perspiration rolled off his forehead and
down his red face as he raised his glass.
“To Flatley’s success in the election next week and to his great future in the missile
business! But frankly speaking, Don, I hope that Scientology stuff you talk about all the time isn’t
some goddamn new religion or somethin’. … OK, now here’s another one to SPICA’s success! But
the idiots gotta change that fuckin’ autopilot first. Come on, Arthur. Down the hatch.”

“Just because he doesn’t have a date, old Plutonium thinks he can hustle all the good-lookin’
girls here.”
“That’s Breeder Mannoy for you, Jimbo,” said Dave Cornwell. “I’m the only guy here that
feels safe with him around. My lovely date here is wearin’ a groin-protector and an iron mask. Just
look at 239 and Clarissa out there! Oh, dear … I bet poor Arthur standin’ there wishes she’d come
as an umpire instead of wearing that transparent, tight-fitting, bare-legged, low-cut …”
“Cut it out, Dave. Right now!”

“I’ve got fifty watts and these big Jensens here. We’ll crank up some new hi-fi stuff I got.
Let the neighbors know we’ve got a party goin’ here!”
Arthur Sonett danced with Clarissa again, trying to hold her close. He kissed her on the ear,

but she pulled away as if stung by an electric shock.
The house filled with a loud and eerie rumbling.
“Is it finally raining?!”
“Hey, Fred. What’s that anyway?”
“That’s one of my new sound records,” Jennings yelled. “‘Cloudburst on the Nile’ at twenty
watts. It’s the new wave of hi-fi listening. I got bullfrogs and steam-engine trains. Wait’ll I put on
the Red Howler monkey, one of the most terrifying cries on earth.”
“Where’s the gin?!”
“We’re out,” said Jennings. “Go downtown and get some more, Cornwell.”

Arthur Sonett hadn’t seen Clarissa for awhile. He got to his feet, swaying to the movement
of the room. She was probably resting in a back bedroom. They had both drunk too much. He would
take her home now and just write off tonight.
Jennings’ house shook with the sounds of puffing locomotives and croaking bullfrogs.
“Have you seen Clarissa?” Sonett asked Teresa Bondi.
“A while ago she was talkin’ with Blacksuit Mannoy by the fridge. She’s around here. Now
don’t you drink anymore.”
“Where’s Dave? Maybe he knows.”
“The dummy went to get more gin. That’s the last thing he or the rest here need.”

A horrifying screech echoed throughout the house, followed by another and still another.
“My God! What was that!”
Cornwell burst in the front door. “Shit. … Oh, dear! Leave my Teresa alone, Jennings!”
“Red Howler monkey at only fifteen watts,” Fred Jennings yelled.
“Fred! That’s enough of this.” Jennings’ wife turned down the volume.
Cornwell went into the kitchen. “They thought I was nuts in the liquor store, Teresa.”
“Good thing you left your chest-protector here.”
“Have you seen Clarissa, Dave?” Cornwell put down the bottle he’d started to open.
“Jeez, Spiderman … I gotta tell you somethin’.” He was frowning. “It didn’t register when I
first saw you.”

“What didn’t?”
“I saw Clarissa downtown just a minute ago. She was in Plutonium’s car. I figured with all
the booze you were probably in the bag, and he was takin’ her home.”
“Where was it, anyway?”
“Well … he was comin’ out of the Foothill Drugstore. I was next door at the booze store.”
Sonett pondered this information. “The drugstore? Was he in the Healy?”
“No. He had the old green Sturdypecker.” He put a thick hand on Sonett’s shoulder. “Now
don’t get any wild ideas, old buddy.”
Arthur Sonett tried to pretend he was having a good time, but his mind was full of what he
and Dave Cornwell silently acknowledged.
“Here’s a little soda, Arthur.” Cornwell handed him a glass, showing genuine concern. He
ventured that maybe it was OK – that Clarissa was tired and little angry, and Mannoy was leaving
then. The drugstore? Well, cigarettes probably. Teresa said Clarissa had always been a little
unstable, got mad easily and changed her mind a lot. Chances were Arthur would get a phone call
and a big apology tomorrow when she woke up.
“ … Oh! the minstrels sing of an English king who lived many …”
“Shut up, Fred, for God’s sake. This party’s over!”
Sonett’s hopes oscillated between the extremes. They were right. Clarissa was a little
uneven, but that was part of her attraction. Mother gone and raised by her father – a strange duck,
too. He’d wake up tomorrow and laugh at his outrageous imagination. Yet, he’d seen them together.
The stop at the drugstore. The big Studebaker. The alcohol. Such thoughts made his imagination run
He assured Dave and Teresa that he could drive the short distance to his place.
“I heard a rumor you’re gonna get transferred, Dave.”
“I know nothin’ about a transfer? A what?” Cornwell quickly turned serious.
“Something about you changin’ organizations. Floyd Sims’ department.”
“Floyd Sims is head of Maintenance,” said Teresa. “They call him ‘Neanderthal Man’
because he used to lift desks all by himself until he was promoted.”
“Maintenance, for Chrissakes?!”
Teresa poked his large upper arm. “Oh, take it easy, Mr Ocho. It’s probably nothing.”

“Listen. I don’t put up with shit like that.”

He wished he’d worn a coat, as he waited for the heater in the Thunderbird to take away the
chill. The lights of Fernville lay before him in the cold, clear air. Then, an overwhelming emotional
wave broke over him, like a delayed tsunami. His budding career at Maxtar, his new car and his
future in Fernville no longer seemed to matter.
It was after twelve and almost every place was closed. A few cars were in the Vista
restaurant parking lot, but not Mannoy’s green Studebaker. He cruised down the dark lane by the
Hervey house. The porch light was still on. Several cars were in the small park by the college. He
drove by the Fernville Lanes. Mannoy’s apartment? No. She’d never go there, and he had a
He drove on aimlessly, holding back from the last possibility. Then he turned off the county
road and crossed the Cedar River, now only a trickle through the dredger tailings. The rocky road up
the Kloits Fork was slow going. He was dizzy and nauseous. In the flat Kloits Valley the road
turned to dirt and he speeded up. The light from a bonfire flickered on the oaks – a few Fernville
State students huddled near the blaze, a final wilderness party before winter.
A strange personality seemed to be directing him. Would he be instructed to ram the
Studebaker, rip open the its door, and start swinging? The road turned close to the creek. His lights
picked up a glint between the oaks and scrub trees. Fifty-feet farther and he could make out Alex
Mannoy’s Studebaker, dark and still next to the river. He turned off, his fury directed to his
clenched hands on the steering wheel.
The stranger inside him was gone. He felt sick and impotent. Arthur Sonett drove carelessly
back down the rough road, bouncing over the ruts and scraping the side of the Thunderbird on the
rocky banks.
In Cedar Valley he thought of his revenge. There went the accelerating Thunderbird,
careening over the low rock pile, diving into the deep dredger pond. And the Studebaker, finally
returning from Kloits Valley, would stop as sheriff’s deputies watched the tow trucks haul the white
Thunderbird, lights still dimly on, out of the brown water.
And with a look of horror on her face she would ask the question, and the deputy would say,
“Yes, lady, there’s one body in there. A guy in a Spiderman costume.”


“ ’ve never seen such a stretch of dry weather around here. There’ll be a helluva water problem in
California next summer without some rain pretty soon.”
“Maybe so, Myron,” said Ed Kloits. “But if Helen up there was still kickin’, she’d remember
every fall in the last seventy, and she’d bore you about the dry years of ’03, ’16 and ’42.”
“Anyway, she’s lookin’ better than she has in the last forty years. Hardly recognized her, the
way you fixed her up, Ed. Our rich asshole, Milano over there, is probably finding those old embers
not so dead after all.”
Dick Hervey, John Wickware and Clarissa joined the many others walking by the casket to
pay homage to the region’s matriarch. Clarissa tightly held her father’s arm. Pale and nervous, she
made the obligatory stop, managing only a quick, downward glance. But tears were running down
her cheeks when she sat down in the crowded Episcopal church.
Neither Hervey nor Wickware could generate tears, but Hervey knew they both suffered a
large debit from their already meager accounts of warm and comfortable close friends. Indeed,
Hervey thought, he was probably Wickware’s only remaining one, not counting the wickwaria and
other like creatures. Hervey watched Alice and Ryland Smith move along in the line, and he
ruminated on loss and love and then desire, finding them all quite imponderable – similar in their
vagaries to mood and digestion and climate.
The Smiths were the celebrity couple. Hervey sensed a shift in the throng’s focus to the well-

tailored, handsome couple.
Alice said on the phone that if Ryland looked overly grim, it would not be from a funereal
mood over Helen’s death, but from the funereal gloom at Maxtar after a terrible problem in Florida.
Ryland even quipped that the funeral would be more like a relaxing coffee break, compared to the
stressful problems he had to address at Maxtar. And he was probably serious, she said.
“You can’t really get angry at Ryland. He’s just not sentimental at all.”
Fewer attended the gravesite ceremony. Hervey excused Clarissa from what he believed
would be an excess of morbidity for her. She was still shaken and wan, a carryover from Friday
night’s party, he believed. After sleeping most of Saturday, she claimed she was just tired from a
very late but great party. But Hervey knew a hangover when he saw one, and sternly told her two-
thirty in the morning was well beyond the reasonable limit. And that car. It didn’t sound like
Sonett’s Thunderbird.
“Well, Arthur had to leave early … or something.”

“Now I consider this the civilized way to end things,” Hervey said to John Wickware as they
walked up the path to Helen’s house that afternoon. Bud Needham Junior greeted them at the door.
“It’s not a wake, folks. It’s a celebration of my mother’s life.”
Wickware and Alice followed Hervey around to the small groups of people, all smiling now,
and Hervey noted there was little mention of the recently departed. Junior himself, Hervey said, had
the air of a man suddenly relieved of an uncomfortable burden. Alice said she sensed that and more,
a kind of newly found buoyancy to his “heavy bottom and thick legs,” as he positively “flitted”
about among the different groups.
The old house where Helen had lived for seventy years was comfortable, neat and
conventionally furnished, except for the big room she called the library, where hundreds of books
were stuffed randomly into bookcases, and papers and big file boxes were stashed on every
horizontal surface. A real working area for the amateur historian, Hervey thought. Helen’s lively
creativity was evident in the numerous uncompleted projects. Probably his own destiny too.
“She was just slumped in that big chair,” Alice said to Hervey and Wickware. “It was a
terrible shock. File drawers open, papers all about. It’s been straightened up some.”

“Poor Alice. You became one of her closest friends. Half the people here disliked her. Or
hated her.”
“Yeh. Like the Milanos in there, with their fake act of bereavement.”
“The paper said she died, heart attack, roughly between five and six o’clock.”
“Yes. She was quite dead. She had an expression of surprise … like she was reprimanding
her heart: ‘You can’t do this to me. Look at all the projects I must finish first.’”
“No autopsy, I gather.”
“No. It was so obvious, I guess. And Junior wanted quick closure. Dead today, funeral three
days later.”
“You got here at seven.”
“Oh, after that. I just walked in the door when she didn’t answer.”
“The paper said the police were called at seven-thirty-four.”
“Well … it was all so shocking. By the way, did you notice Bud Junior and Ed Kloits
standing near each other. You know … the bottoms, et cetera.”
“I didn’t. I was just curious about that time thing.”
“What are you talking about?” John Wickware asked.
“Let’s not go into this now. Come on. Junior’s going to make a speech.” Alice brushed by
them and they followed her out onto the patio.
Bud Needham thanked everyone for coming. His mother had mercifully died from a heart
attack. Otherwise, cancer was to take her within six months. Through her attorney she had directed
the family to disclose some aspects of her will that were pertinent to the public.
Bud Needham read from a paper: “‘I leave twenty-thousand dollars to the Fernville
Historical Society for maintenance and enlargement of the museum. I leave ten-thousand dollars to
the Bristlecone Alliance, a noble endeavor in a world of growing crassness.’”
Hervey saw few smiles and many frowns.
Bud Needham continued, naming lesser amounts to worthy local organizations. “‘Finally, I
have directed my attorneys on May 23, 1986, Centennial Day – and my hundredth birthday – to
open and publicly disclose my private and sealed papers held at the Fernville National Bank. Those
of you fortunate to be present then will find revelations about early deeds in our beloved Fernville
that will once and for all expose long-buried truths to the light of day.’”

“Look at Milano’s face,” Alice whispered.
“I am,” said Hervey. “And Junior doesn’t look too happy either.”
“I know Jennings is an outstanding technical person, well respected and all,” Clark Beebe
was saying. “I just have trouble seeing him in that job.”
“Yeh, he’s like a hard-driving colonel, but not quite general material,” said Deepak. He
huddled over his coffee cup, his lined face suggesting a frown, but Smith knew it could instead be
the beginning of a smile.
“We got stuck with Cooper at the merger,” said Smith. “Jennings can be a hell of
“Yeh, and we’ll all chip in to buy him a new pair of pants.”
“OK. Let’s cut the crap. I’ve made the decision, and Cooper will be here soon. It won’t be
easy.” He thumbed through the thin Monday morning edition of the Fernville Tribune. The sports
section headlined that the Fernville State Tigers had demolished LaVerne college 59 to 6. Jack
Haddad set a rushing record, and Norman Kloits “blasted apart the opponent’s line on offense and
anchored a smothering defense.” An item said that California Lutheran, now with only seventeen
healthy players, would decide the next day whether they would forfeit their game at Fernville on
Saturday night.
“Here. Listen to this,” said Smith. He read an item under Police Blotter: “‘Fernville police
were called early Saturday to quell a disturbance at a party on Sequoia Lane. A guest, David
Cornwell, 29, was arrested and booked for disorderly conduct.’ And for God’s sake, look at the next
item here.” He tossed the folded paper over to Deepak, who passed it on to Beebe. The last report
described an arrest for drunken driving of an Arthur K. Sonett, found asleep in his car in the center
of Pine Street with the engine running and radio on.
“The Cornwell item doesn’t surprise me, but Sonett …”
Smith looked out the window at a day so similar to those of the past weeks. Without a break
in this drought weather pattern soon, he’d have to cancel the planned skiing trip to Squaw Valley
with Alice at Thanksgiving.
“OK,” he said firmly,” Jennings will take over on an acting basis. This may be our best
chance to save the project.” He smiled. “Men can grow to meet demands of higher office. Look at

Harry Truman.”
Deepak got to his feet. “Let me say, Ryland, that any cutbacks in the SPICA program will
have drastic economic effects in Fernville. I’m documenting everything. This is a perfect real-life
laboratory of economic dynamics.” Smith ignored him. Beebe said Deepak was looking to selfish
ends in this time of dire company problems.
Smith’s secretary poked her head in the door. “Dr. Beebe, the rec club director, Mr.
Cornwell, needs to talk to you.”
“I can’t see that jerk now. Tell him to make an appointment with my secretary.”
“He says it’s very important.”
“That’s too bad. Tell him to …”
“Oh, go ahead, Clark,” said Ryland Smith impatiently. “Get it over with.”
The rec club director was neatly dressed in a conservative sport coat and tie. “Thanks for
seeing me, Doctor Beebe.”
“What’s up, Cornwell? I’m in an important meeting.”
“I’ve been unable to sleep, Doctor, since I heard the rumor.”
“What rumor’s that, Cornwell?”
“About my job, Doctor. I’m hearin’ I’m gonna get transferred.”
“At the end of the football season in two weeks we will offer you a position in the
Maintenance Department under Mr. Floyd Sims … at a reduced pay schedule … and on the night
shift. For your own good and the company’s.”
“I guess I let things get a little out of hand. Is this for sure, Doctor?”
“Yes. It’s gone to the highest levels. Mine.”
“Well, I got to be thankful I still have a job.”
“Yes, you surely do.”
“Well, thanks, Doctor. I’ll make the very best of it.”
“Good. Appreciate your reasonable response.”

Austin Cooper sat transfixed as Ryland Smith delivered a monologue on how management
viewed the crisis. They were at a critical juncture. It was necessary to make changes. Cooper had
made important contributions to the SPICA development, but his expertise was needed now in the

area of long-range planning.
“I’m canned off the SPICA. Is that what you’re trying to say?”
“Well, I’m making changes, yes. Jennings takes over immediately. I want you to work with
Jerry Spindler.” Smith could not mention the other reason for his decision. Cooper’s health was
gone. He wouldn’t make it to 50.
Deepak pitched in earnestly. “Austin, competition for missile dollars, any defense dollar, is
becoming intense. We need to establish a long-range posture with strong technical skills.”
Cooper took it all in, head bobbing, his breathing heavy and deep. He lit a cigarette. “My
life’s been all hands-on stuff. I’ve brought SPICA a long way. We’re close to success. I’m not
interested in sittin’ around talkin’ to bureaucratic types and Pentagon generals.”
“Austin, you’re a great technical innovator. But this has become a very big company. The
decision is final. Take a week off, and please consider the offer.”
Cooper slowly got to his feet. “I just considered it, Ryland. And I just resigned from this
fuckin’ company!”

Arthur Sonett’s Moray proposal was nearly finished. Typing, editing, graphics and
publishing would take another week. Deadened from evening binge-drinking and nights with little
sleep, he was apathetic about his immediate future.
“Do you want to go over the final draft?” he asked Jennings.
“I’m overwhelmed now, Arthur. Just finish her up and get a couple of copies for our files.”
“But aren’t we gonna send it to the Customer … to Wright Field?” Sonett persisted.
“With the budget problems there, this may not be the best window for it. By the way, you
don’t look too good. Still recoverin’ from my big party last Friday?”
That afternoon Sonett received a note in the interplant mail:
Arthur, I’m really sorry about what happened the other night. I was not very
considerate. Hope we can stay good friends. I want to return Meriweather to you.
Seeing her handwriting was another wrench to his bruised emotions. He wrote Keep the
stupid bird on the bottom and sent it back.
He had a chicken-pot-pie at the counter in the Fernville Lanes. As he left, he glanced at the
Los Angeles Times headline: “Democrats say bomber gap to widen.” Later that night in his small

apartment he kept telling himself his pain, which seemed unique to him, was a common affliction
suffered by many of his friends along the way. Jim Wilton said he’d taken a couple of bad hits
himself, but you did recover from these disasters, slightly scarred at the worst. Wilton was right.
Time and others would pave over this debilitating Clarissa emotion – and yet he knew, he just knew,
it had been a lightning strike never to be repeated.
His future looked brighter as the Moray work had generated self-confidence and respect,
although he knew it was probably only a symbolic step.
“Missiles,” Jennings once declared, “get more ultimate, not less so.”

Richard Hervey cast his vote at the Fernville Elementary School. At home Kloits raised a
racket and had picked up another loud bird-call, mimicking, Hervey believed, the local meadowlark.
He changed the water. Kloits was staying, Clarissa announced, and so was she. This new suitor,
Alex Mannoy, was more mature and self-assured than the others, Hervey saw. He dressed better
than the others, but talked incessantly. Clarissa always went to extremes.
The Army hadn’t wasted any time on Roble Mountain. A bulldozer was cutting a road along
the side. Hervey saw that the old, familiar valley oaks on top, whose rangy limbs once stood out
against the background sky, were already down.
Howie Stadler called to say he was on the way back to Los Alamos and would like to drop in
the next night. Wickware’s old car stopped in the driveway. Hervey got out the bourbon.
Local election results began to come in. Don Flatley and his supporters at the Vista cheered
when he went ahead of Hervey by twenty-five votes. The gap closed briefly, but with only a few
absentee ballots to count, Flatley surged to an insurmountable lead.
“It was a thankless job, Herv. Also, you didn’t campaign,” said Wickware.
Alice called to say she was sorry about the results.
“Come on over and join the wake.”
“Can’t. Tomorrow, Bud wants us to help him and Nancy sort out Helen’s stuff at her office.”
The Vista Restaurant was crowded early on Tuesday with the Fernville State Tigers football
team and key supporters who gathered in a banquet room to celebrate their winning the league
championship, even though two games remained. President Foley spoke first on the importance of

intercollegiate football to the college and to the community. Mayor Ed Kloits was next.
“The announcement I’m about to make is so earth-shaking this very restaurant will shiver on
its foundations.” The mayor’s timing was good but not perfect. The crowd joked and laughed for
fifteen seconds or so, until the 6:45 DC-3 from Sacramento briefly vibrated the restaurant. Then,
roars of approval came from the sixty guests, punctuated by raucous sounds from the next banquet
room. Myron Haddad, at the head table, forced a smile.
“The financing has been approved for the proposed twenty-two-thousand-seat stadium!”
More applause. Coach George Barnes made a short speech espousing the great character of this
team. He announced that California Lutheran would play the Saturday night game as scheduled.
“This game’s been called a mismatch, but I never permit my players to look past a game.”
The Last Rights Club broke up earlier than usual, as Dave Cornwell hadn’t shown up. Alex
Mannoy sat in the lounge with Bob Ingram and Arnold Anderson.
“‘Rights’ are getting cheaper,” Mannoy said. “Most people are bored with the whole thing. I
picked up another eighteen tonight. Got over forty, but keep it quiet.”
“I’m tired of it. I don’t even get my people out anymore” said Arnold Anderson.
“Isn’t that Arthur’s old girlfriend I’ve seen you with, Alex? Is that why he looks so sickly?”
“They were just good friends. Excuse me a sec. I gotta hit the ‘Pointers.’”
On his way back a girl called him over. “I’m finally relaxin’ after typin’ up Arthur’s darn
proposal. I had to stay out in the Beehive till almost ten tonight. Those equations and symbols drive
me nuts. Do you want me to bet the pool for you like always, Alex?”
“Sure. Here’s a ten and little extra. I’ll give you my picks tomorrow.”
“I picked up a pool card out there tonight.”
“Dave doesn’t usually put ’em out until Wednesday morning. How do they look?”
“You’re kidding,” said another girl. “Millie doesn’t know a football from a bowling ball.”
“That’s right, Alex. Here, you take the darn card and tell me what to do tomorrow.”
Mannoy looked it over as he walked back to the lounge. Cornwell had the first three games
pretty well evened out. He glanced at the fourth one, hesitated and then stepped back into better
light. Michigan State (20) and Purdue. What! Michigan State could go to the Rose Bowl. Purdue
was a dog. Cornwell had the point-spread reversed! He sat down at his table and held the card down
by his side. He checked the next game and then the last three.

“I’m still lookin’ for rights if anybody wants to sell.”
“I’ll unload my three for another beer, Alex,” said Bob Ingram.
“I’ll take the same deal for my five. I’m bored with the whole thing.”

As the last of the Fernville State Tigers left the Vista Restaurant, Alex Mannoy followed the
tall and muscular figure of Jack Haddad. Ahead, Norman Kloits moved his muscular legs and thick
torso menacingly across the pavement.
“Holy smoke,” Mannoy said half-aloud. “Fernville State and seven points. And seven


When Dick Hervey arrived at the museum, Bud Needham Junior had already cut the locks on
Helen’s file cabinets, and he and Nancy were sorting their contents into little piles. Alice and Betty
Crowder attempted to make sense from scores of filing boxes filled with thick folders and
miscellaneous papers and letters. Helen was a packrat, Hervey saw, but she had been single-minded
about it, for everything there had relevance to the history of the Fernville region.
Alice gave him a quick wave and turned back to the carton of folders she was unloading.
Hervey didn’t expect a hug or a thrown kiss, but he thought her greeting was on the tepid side
compared with the exuberance with which she dived into the flood of paper.
Hervey helped Betty Crowder sort and put thick folders in new filing cartons. She relished
order, he saw, and must feel a kind of revenge after years working under Helen, for whom clutter
proclaimed creativity.
After several hours, they placed the three-inch-wide, green storage cartons on racks. “– Gold
Panning Tales – Early Days on the Mokelumne – Dredger Design and Evolution – Pre-gold Indian
Populations and Culture – Cattle Industry – Local Hardrock Mines – First Trails and Roads – The
Cyanide Process – Chinese, Mexican and Indian laborers – Kloitsville’s First Buildings –
Quicksilver Mines and Mercury Amalgamation – Predator Problems and Their Solution – ”
Poor Helen, Hervey thought, had found a calling of such scope that it needed several long
lifetimes of effort.
He compared the Needhams to Alice as the three bent over the piles of paper. Yes, the
Needham genes, and maybe even the Kloits ones, were already expressing themselves in young

Nancy. But Alice was just asking for an affectionate pat on the bottom.
He edged her away from the others. “You look very nice in those well-cut slacks. No sign of
a Kloits renegade gene.”
“My Kloits-Needham theory is believable now, eh?”
“Maybe. Anything interesting?”
“No. Historical stuff and a lot of miscellaneous junk. ‘Cyanide Process’ was just that. We
didn’t even get through all of it though. Strange … all that time with her door closed.”
“Crossword puzzles maybe. Howie’s arriving for the night.”
Alice frowned thoughtfully. “Ryland will be at another so-called staff meeting. Big
problems. I could come by.”
“Wonderful. But it’ll be pretty sad without Helen.”
“I know. Poor dear … Anyway, Stadler and his deadly game and long-suffering wife are
inspiration for another novel. I got a new typewriter today. Rarin’ to go. Eight hours a day.”
“Driven, eh? All of a sudden. I’ve got some questions.”
“I want to talk with Howie, not answer questions,” she said.
Hervey turned to leave. At the door he met Nancy Needham returning with sandwiches.
“Your grandmother’s efforts here were extraordinary, Nancy. And on top of all this she
hinted about writing novels, too.”
“Yeh. She was always workin’ on something.” Nancy was silent for a moment. “But she was
so secretive. We knew nothing about Improbable Town ‘til it came out.”
“Any idea what other writing …”
“Well, she mentioned a couple of things once.” Nancy shrugged her shoulders. “‘Auriferous
gravels’ … or something like that.”
“Helen had a side to her we never knew.”
“Anything else about book titles?”
“Well … maybe something about a process or something.”
“A cyanide process?”
“Yeh, that could have been it.”

The early November weather continued the pattern set in October, and the Cedar River was
barely flowing now. Without rain, Hervey knew, the few remaining bass and suckers in the little
pools below his cottage would soon be high and dry.
John Wickware showed up before the others, prepared for another political wake with a
surprise bottle of gin and one of bourbon to stash at Hervey’s house.
“Well, if you don’t need a wake and Helen’s had hers, then we’ll invent someone.”
“There’s a real one, Wick. Clarissa’s last. Engineer Sonett. A sensitive fellow. He could
right now be sticking his head in the gas oven.”
When Alex Mannoy arrived, Dick Hervey puzzled over his little Austin Healy sports car,
wondering how the big fellow might squeeze into it – and why he would want to. A new and
passing automobile fad out of L.A. he figured. Clarissa wasn’t saying much about this newest suitor,
but Hervey could read what was popularized as “body language,” and this new romance looked to
be too serious in too short a time.
Hervey regarded the assemblage of characters on the porch, his earlier and private alcoholic
indulgence whimsically enriching his view of them. Wickware and Howie Stadler, the uranium 235
ones – their instability concentrated by alcohol and by flirtatious odds – both close to breaking apart.
But Stadler would wreak less exterior damage in his split than what his whole piece now suffered
upon itself. And Wickware, a slow fizzle, his academic and scientific potential wasting tragically
away. Alice, stable in her way, but a breeder of dangerous instability in others. And here was Alex
Plutonium, himself and itself, newly coined and already a large physical presence to be reckoned
with and worried about.
“Some of the guys there make up funny nicknames for people, like for Alex,” Clarissa
remarked to Hervey earlier. “And some for girls aren’t very nice.”
Dick Hervey fixed Mannoy a scotch and soda while he awaited Clarissa’s return from her
hairdresser appointment. Clarissa getting her hair fixed! Now Alice had that natural attraction – he
saw it and labeled it as “beauty” – and the rare insight and self-confidence to know she was better
off to stay clear of beauty parlors.
“The Sequoiadendron giganteum may be the crowd-pleasers among your casual tree-
lovers,” Wickware was saying, “but the sugar pine, that huge, majestic California pine, is the true
beauty queen of our Sierran trees.”

“Pine trees all look the same to me, Professor,” said Howie Stadler.
“Seen one and you’ve seen ’em all,” said Hervey, with a wink at Wickware, whose frown
said Hervey’s levity was not appreciated.
Wickware turned to Alex Mannoy. “So you’re thinking of returning for a doctorate in
nuclear physics. Very commendable. Hervey, here, an authority on the nuclear age from a
philosophical viewpoint, views uranium as a deadly mistake by Mother Nature.”
A slight, condescending smile crossed Mannoy’s broad face. “Whoa there! If anything, it’s
the opposite,” he said in a strong, sure voice in contrast to Wickware’s reedy and tentative one.
Howie Stadler had been watching Mannoy intently. “Now I remember you. Los Alamos in
around ’48 or so. You worked a bit with Ted Taylor.”
“Yeh. I spent a little time there before my graduate work.”
“I’ve worked with Taylor at Alamos, Sandia and Livermore. He’s one of the hotshots in
weapon development, you know.”
“Well, you might say he’s a kind of designer, Dick. Might have had something to do with
what you saw happen over the hills last month.”
“So you’re in nuclear physics, Howie?” Mannoy asked.
“In a way. I’m a device technician.”
“Howie’s being modest, Alex,” Hervey said. “He’s just a few credits from a degree at Cal
Tech. A temporary setback. You two may be together soon, designing bigger and better devices …
no … it’s probably more accurate to say, ‘Smaller, lighter and more devastating atomic bombs.’”
“Come on, Professor. The gin’s bringing out your cynical side.” Alice had been watching
Howie and Alex Mannoy closely. The neophyte novelist at work, Hervey thought, screening the
personnel for key character traits. He was feeling a bit irritable. Alice wouldn’t be staying, he could
tell. She seemed distant the last few days – preoccupied, like Howie. Wickware sloshed his drink
around in little circles, and it caught Hervey’s attention.
“Remember, Howie, our little talk about the parallels between uranium and gold, when I said
both exploit mankind’s worst character flaws? Well, even a separation process is analogous … the
centrifugal effect of the swishing, oscillatory gold pan that separates minute particles of gold from
the sand and gravel chaff; and then literally a same centrifugal gaseous process that separates the

notorious uranium 235 from her innocent big brother. Another nice literary angle for you, Alice.”
“Yes. Once I master the murder genre,” said Alice in a stagey voice, mimicking Hervey and
Wickware in their more boisterous moments, “I see a future novel involving my favorite characters,
Hervey and Wickware, philosophers of the atomic age and the conservation movement and … ”
“The modern Quixotes of both. Ineffective and ignored,” interrupted John Wickware.
“That’s the whole idea!” Alice exclaimed. “They don’t realize they’re hopeless romantics
getting steamrolled by the modern world. They write and talk on matters few really care about.”
Hervey grew uneasy as he watched the spirited Alice perform. Their tenuous relationship
filled a vacuum, he knew – answered to something of her needs and his, too – something beyond the
immediate sensual. He wondered whether her newfound literary enterprise was beginning to fill that
vacuum, making him slightly jealous of the literary muse.
“Well, with atomic energy it’s all science and engineering. Philosophy doesn’t enter into it,”
Alex Mannoy said.
Hervey listened as Mannoy and Stadler talked animatedly about Los Alamos and America’s
coming deterrent stance with the hydrogen-bomb warhead fitted to the Atlas ICBM and carried by
the new long-range B-52 bomber. Was he to have the bad luck to be saddled with a son-in-law with
a messianic calling to this new religion of the insides of the atom? He was feeling combative but
realized part of that was the urge to show off to Alice who was taking mental notes, mining this rich
vein of controversy.
“After hearing you two zealots, my allegorical mind now accepts Professor Wickware’s
alternate proposition … that Nature’s uranium error wasn’t an error at all, but a planted deadly virus
to be discovered, worshiped and propagated by a new priesthood … unto destruction and death.”
Hervey’s caustic words, absent a playful edge, momentarily chilled the conversation. After
an uneasy silence, Alice said maybe everyone needed a refill.
“And Her nastiest little trick …” – Hervey got dramatically to his feet, playing now only to a
bemused Wickware, “was greasing the skids for the simple transmutation of uranium into that true
bastard of an element … plutonium!”
Alex Mannoy looked at Hervey as if he were on the edge of lunacy. Perhaps, Hervey was
hoping, he was reconsidering his relationship with Clarissa – a nice girl, but daughter of a fanatic
father needing a security investigation and possibly a psychiatric analysis.

“I disagree, Professor,” Mannoy said. “Plutonium will change the world for the better.
People get hysterical over this bomb stuff. Someone once made the point after witnessing a test:
‘Then, the fire ends, quiet descends and life continues.’ There’s your philosophy.”
“Oh, really. You’re the odds specialist, Howie. How do you see the risk of plutonium
disaster before Fernville’s centennial in 1986, considering that tons are spreading around the world
in bombs and power reactors … and a thirty-pound kernel of it, a pit of it, can wipe a good part of
San Francisco off the map? A paltry chance-in-a-thousand or ten-thousand, as politicians and
nuclear pundits might comfortably guess? But bear in mind the equation of risk: the chance of
happening and the extent of resulting damage. So tell us, Howie, as reassuring as these odds sound,
are they indeed long enough in this nuclear equation?”
Stadler stared back at him, his eyes expressionless. Mannoy and Alice looked uncomfortable
with the turn of conversation. Wickware half-smiled, rocking his glass back and forth.
“Yes, but …” Mannoy started to argue.
Clarissa came through the door and waved at the others. “Oh, oh. You’re at it again, Dad.
Don’t pay any attention to him or Professor Wickware, Alex. They’re in a different world. The last
century. Especially after two hours of drinking.”
“You look very nice,” said Alice.
“Thanks. Alex and I are going to celebrate his good luck in that little game at the company.
Dinner at a reserved table at the Vista Restaurant.”
“What game’s that?” Hervey asked.
“Well, just a little football-game guessing pool. No big deal,” said Mannoy.
“Alex is really good at picking the winners.”
Hervey and Alice watched through the kitchen window as Alex and Clarissa squeezed into
the open-topped little sports car.
“Just what you need, Dick. Change your image. Your personality.”
“You already changed it.”
“Heh! Now cut that out.” She squirmed away from him. “We can’t leave Howie and Wick
out there alone. They’ve absolutely nothing in common.”
“Serves them right for jeopardizing my post-election private party.”
Hervey fixed the drinks and handed one to Alice. She seemed distracted, edgy even. Her

voice lacked that teasing tone, which so often belied a sharpness from her spoken words.
“Remember when Helen came up with those off-the-cuff titles for the budding novelist?”
Hervey said. “She mentioned two right off. Well today Nancy confirmed that Helen was working on
two novels, Auriferous and Cyanide.”
“Yes! We always suspected she was feeding me stuff. Poor dear.”
“A couple of questions, Alice.”
“I’m not answering questions.”
“You don’t know what I’m going to ask.”
“Yes, I do.”
“OK. Then what’s the answer, mysterious but beautiful Alice?”
“Mysterious and beautiful, Sir. And flattery will … Oh, well … all right … I was foolish I
guess, Herv. When I got over the initial shock, I became so curious about, you know, Helen’s other
sides, and with all those papers and open drawers I just kinda looked around. Couldn’t help myself.
It seemed like just a few minutes.”
“I might have done the same, Alice.”
“And listen, Dick, I was going to tell you. Written on her calendar … on that day, Thursday,
was ‘5:00’, with a tiny ‘Junior’ next to it. Below it was ‘Milano 6:00.’ And in her top drawer was a
gun! A .45, I think.”
“Maybe murder! … Well, in my novel, anyway.”

“It’s those four-hundred-year-old valley oaks on the top of Hervey’s hill that I’ll miss,”
Wickware was saying.
“There’s a new version of Nike being developed,” said Stadler. “It’ll have a device.”
“A device?”
“Yeh, Dick. You know, an atomic payload. The Nike Hercules.”
Hervey feigned a heart attack.
“What lovely names they come up with,” said Alice.
“They’ve copyrighted all the exotic ones.”
“How about a ‘Wotan’ missile,” Wickware proposed, “after the god in German folklore?”

“Great name, Wick, and it would please all those German rocket scientists over here.” Then,
for a long moment they were quiet. Hervey sensed their thoughts were drifting away from a
commonality. Wickware’s mind could be anywhere. Alice was studying Howie Stadler, in a fantasy
world of the neophyte writer, embellishing the character who might propel her into print. Howie’s
mind, with that stenciled and limpid vision of the roulette table always a backdrop, could right now
be witnessing the little white ball bouncing at last into a winning black pocket. And Hervey himself
was again pondering that incredulous and other-worldly nightmare where a small hunk of metal,
gold-like in weight, could blow our once safe and simple Newtonian world into oblivion.
“Cousin Clarissa looks like she’s got a real live-one on,” Stadler finally said.
“Yes. And now I’m confronted with a nuclear-tipped Nike and maybe a nuclear-powered
“Just desserts for your transgressions,” Alice said.
“Could you build a crude atomic bomb, Howie?” Hervey abruptly asked.
“What! Of course not. The process took thousands of the smartest people and a huge
industrial base.”
“I’m suggesting you could steal fissile material, plutonium or enriched uranium oxides, for
example, therefore bypassing most of those other processes, all the years of effort.”
“So what. It’s incredibly complicated.”
“You know the physics, how they’re put together. OK, you’ve got the fissile stuff. What’s
that wonderful euphemism you folks use for bringing the two parts to explosive criticality?”
“‘Assemble.’ A gun-type bomb assembles the parts. Uranium works best in that case.”
“Assemble. Such an innocuous word. And it’s relatively straightforward. Not even tested for
the Hiroshima bomb. You’ve got a few smart guys and the material. Possible?”
“Well … possible. But not probable.”
Alice leaned forward and resed her elbows on the table and cupped her chin in her hands,
staring intently back and forth at the two. Did she see the artificin this conceit of his, that she was
the catalyst, that without her he never would have so cruelly burdened Howie Stadler?
“How do you know all this, Dick? There’s a lid …”
“On the specifics. Specifics for efficient, high-yield, lightweight bombs of all sizes.
Specifics on the wondrous hydrodynamics in the first microseconds that enchant the brilliant

physicists. But it doesn’t matter a whit to the nearby exterior world being blown and radiated to
death if your bomb is crude, inefficient and heavy.”
“You’d need a good lab, machine shop and a pretty good chemist.”
Stadler sucked on his cigarette and stared into the dark sky. “Well, all right, Dick, with your
scenario … maybe. Somebody like me might do it. But the odds against it are pretty incredible.”
Hervey settled back in his chair, trying to disguise his smug satisfaction. Alice was staring at
him across the darkened porch. He and Howie Stadler had outlined plot and character for a future
novel. Odds. She couldn’t have missed Stadler’s revealing use of that word. And she owed him
something, didn’t she? A finder’s fee. To be collected, he hoped, within the next few days.
“And isn’t it ironic,” John Wickware said, “that the physicists’ wonderful nuclear word,
‘fission,’ was stolen right out of cell biology … the multiplication of life? And as Hervey here will
say, it now describes a process for eliminating it.”
Wickware then frowned, trying to recall something. “Oh … and as I was telling you before,
Howie, Pinus Lambertiana, the sugar pine. Immense beauties over two hundred feet tall and straight
as an arrow. Long, horizontal, feathery limbs with gigantic cones hanging like stuck-on ornaments
… dominating the forest. But my point was that you could visit Sugar Pine Point up there at Lake
Tahoe and hardly find a single one. All ripped out. Before the turn of the century.”


Confronting the sleepy, haggard and otherwise disengaged faces which reflected rigors and
pleasantries from the weekend, Ryland Smith realized that nobody was ready-to-go at seven on a
Monday morning.
Fred Jennings, though, aggressively took charge of his new responsibilities. He said they
would work day and night integrating the new Bendix transistorized autopilot into the control
system of the SPICA XT-7 test missile for the upcoming flight test.
Smith turned to Deepak. “All right now, Norris, how do you see the impact from possible
actions by the Customer?”
“A spectrum of possibilities.” Deepak talked from detailed flip charts. Continuation of the
SPICA program led to production quantities, the SPICA II, and an increase of two-hundred people
in the work force over the next three years. The other extreme, abrupt cancellation, affected over 60
percent of the company and meant large layoffs. In between he showed the impacts from cutbacks,
stretch-outs and phase-downs.
“They couldn’t just cancel us out,” the manufacturing manager complained. “Don’t they see
the economic chaos it would cause in the Fernville region?”
“This is private enterprise, Ralph, not some goddamn, make-work socialistic program,”
Smith replied with irritation. “We’re no different from automobile or appliance industries. If the
Customer doesn’t want our product, we have to build something he does want!”
Deepak turned to his last charts. “Miscellaneous contracts make up 35 percent of our
business and are secure. And thanks to Jennings’ long-range shop we’ve got a pipeline full of
potential Air Force and Navy contracts.”

After the long meeting Ryland Smith visited the executive restroom. The background
rumble, the energy of the building, struck him as different from what he usually sensed.
Later, he called his secretary in for dictation. She cheerfully said she just got her bet in early,
before they closed the football pool. Smith said he was glad for her.

Arthur Sonett opened the envelope he found on his desk that morning. It held the official
“rights” form with five games selected, a ten-dollar bill, another dollar and a note: Arthur, please
bet these early today. We did agree on this. Alex.
He huddled behind his partitions. Screw the bastard! – And yet, he saw the ethical difference
between the two issues. He had promised to sell his “right” to Mannoy. Clarissa, though, was fair
game. Oral or written rules of conduct were never made in that universal, cutthroat competition.
Before the work hour began, he made his way to the rec club office.
“Arthur, did you give your right away?” said Jim Wilton.
“Yeh, to Blacksuit Mannoy for a ham sandwich. Why?”
“Why! Don’t you know what’s happening? The point spreads are screwed up on five games.
You can’t lose. Mannoy worked all night getting his clients out before work. His buddies in the Last
Rights club did the same.”
The clerks took in game cards and cash as fast as they could. Sonett did not follow football,
so only the skewed point spread in the Fernville game impressed him.
“Hello, Teresa. I heard Dave screwed up.”
“Screwed up! My God, he gave five games away. They’re off by 40 points or more.
Fernville State and 7 points! He’s gone berserk. He’s back there in the office just clucking around
and cleaning out his desk … waiting for the straight-jacket guys to show up. He just keeps
mumbling that he’s an expert here among other experts.”
“Here. I’m betting these five games for Mannoy.”
“You’re doing a favor for Breeder Mannoy?!”
“Well, I promised. No big deal.”
“For God’s sake, Beebe, what are you doing about this mess?” Ryland Smith glared at Clark
Beebe who sat hunched next to Norris Deepak at the conference table.

“I shut down the football pool before the morning break, but about three-hundred bets were
already laid. I say we cite fraud by the recreation club, return the moneys and weather the gripes.”
He glared at the small man next to him.
“Deepak, are you smiling at me?”
“Deepak looks like he’s scowling, to me,” said Smith.
“You’re damn right I’m scowling.”
Smith stood up and pointed his finger at Norris Deepak. “It was an official company
operation. We authorized it. We pay it off! You figure out how to do it!”
Deepak hesitated and braced himself as the bearer of very bad news. “Figure three-hundred
bets at ten bucks, and each for the maximum odds. Five winning games out of five, a payback of
three-hundred-twenty dollars. Simple probability for guessing five even chances … supposedly five
even chances.”
Clark Beebe and Ryland Smith rose up in their chairs, wrestling with the arithmetic of large
“It comes to around a hundred grand, Ryland … plus the 10-percent company benefit.”
“My God!”
“But let me look at the numbers. It’s not as bad as it sounds. The Christmas bonus will take
care of most of it. I can hide a little under long-range research, publicity, overhead. The rec club
goes. Pentagon will never know. Anyway, it’s a drop in the bucket to what’s regularly spilled
around there.”
“Just fix it, Deepak,” Smith murmured, “before the Wall Street Journal picks up on it. I’ve
got real problems here. He walked over to the window. A smoggy haze hung over Fernville in the
still air. Rain was needed to clear out this crud, but the identical weather pattern had persisted for
weeks. Matters were better up there on the hill though. Alice embraced her new typewriter as if it
were another diamond bracelet. Private typing lessons began that morning. She was focused, calmer,
and drank less. And last night in bed was a pretty good one, rare as it was. Smith hoped her literary
muse would endure for years the frustration of solitary creativity and the weight of rejection letters.
Dick Hervey and his department chairman, Ralph Weston, sat with President Foley at his
conference table. All looked ill at ease.

“Dick. Ralph and I’ve got a couple of serious matters here, but first-off here’s a little good
news. Your 5-percent adjustment has been approved.” Hervey mentally juggled the figures.
Eighteen dollars or so a month. Not bad. It would take care of Wickware’s needs and a little of his.
Foley and Weston then probed Hervey’s long-range research goals. He had to disclose the
third rejection of his short paper, “The Uranium Matter – The Real Diplomatic Failure at Potsdam.”
It was to be a wedge for his larger publication goals. But he knew the reality, and so did they: He
was an unknown, little-published non-PhD from a small college with a weak political science
department. Scant chance of breaking through the publishing bastions even with a work of
unchallenged erudition.
“Moving on, Dick. We’ve got potentially serious matters here.” Foley said inquiries had
been made about Hervey’s outspoken criticism of Maxtar, his negative and irresponsible reaction to
the Nike installation, and whether he had signed the loyalty oath required of state college teachers.
And now a conservative columnist in the Los Angeles Times included Hervey in a list of “pinko”
California professors soft on communism.
“Yes, I know you’ve signed the loyalty oath and these other innuendos have little merit …
probably. The House Committee on Un-American Activities, HUAC, is still snooping. California
universities and colleges harbor some pretty weird staff.” A pleading note softened his delivery.
“Hervey, the climate out here is not UC Berkeley. I could be forced into taking drastic action.”
Foley sat back and nodded to Ralph Weston.
“OK, Dick, the real action-item today concerns the paper you plan to give at that
philosophic-or-something convention in San Francisco.”
“Yes. Mortimer Adler’s Institute for Philosophical Research is sponsoring Survival of the
Humanist Tradition in the Modern Technological Age. I have a short, invited paper.”
“Yes. ‘A Moral Breakdown of the Nuclear Scientists and Their Technological Offspring.’
We’ve read the abstract. And who’s Adler?”
“The title is in the form of a question.”
“And you give the wrong answer. Both Earl and I are concerned.”
“It’s an issue we should all be concerned about.”
“Cut the sarcasm, Dick. This paper’s too controversial. Given these Cold War times, you
mustn’t even hint about some kind of moral problem.”

“Not problem. Blindness. But the question is inclusive of the generic technological mind
wherever it resides. The East side. The West side. All around the world.”
“So what’s your point?”
“Look before you leap.”
“Meaning …?”
“Listen. The lure of the uranium puzzle was the greatest thing since sex for that handful of
early nuclear physicists. Understandable, given its revolutionary possibilities.”
Hervey’s lightning thoughts then split along two parallel paths, the one guiding this little
exposition and the other triggered by the word “sex,” which popped up from his subconscious
whenever the subject was his proposed San Francisco trip. Alice had agreed to the clandestine
meeting, hadn’t she? – two rooms reserved at the small Stewart Hotel – two rooms? – deniability,
she said – prudence – eighteen dollars each – two nights – let’s see, we’re up to seventy-two dollars
already and then two nice dinners and the Wagner opera, which had clinched the deal – another fifty
or sixty– maybe Alice would help out a bit there – fortunately, Meistersinger – yes, but over four
hours, final curtain at eleven – drinks at a nice little place in North Beach – taxi here, taxi there – the
college per-diem would kick in how much? – not much – hotel at twelve – bed at twelve-thirty –
wait, he wasn’t 25 anymore – but could Alice’s body, presumably naked by then, hold off those
debilitating demons of age, alcohol and fatigue? – probably not – morning? – an early riser, he’d
joked, but she didn’t get it, and Alice was not at her best early – in fact, was at her worst – it would
be an adventure, but must fall well short of those serendipitous ones on her patio and in Kloits
Valley …
“Yes … oh … well, we pursued the uranium bomb then, terrified that Hitler or Tojo would
get it first. No one questions this logic or history.”
“Fine. So stick with the straight history and leave the moralizing out.”
“The moral blindness I see from my extraterrestrial viewpoint is that when the war ended,
technologists, politicians and generals all over didn’t stop and think, deep and long, about the
nuclear monster they’d created. A few did – and that’s the gist of my talk.”
“Listen, Hervey. With the Soviets, we had no choice. They were out to bury us. And are.”
Foley tapped his pencil on the desk impatiently.

What the hell, Hervey thought. I’m not going anywhere in this institution and besides, they
need me for the health education course.
“History, at its nodal points, turns on the personalities in place. A few different faces here
and in the Soviet Union then might have corralled the genie. A different Edward Teller says: ‘Yes, I
know how to make a thermonuclear bomb – but I don’t think it’s a good idea.’ A visionary Harry
Truman and a few more Pentagon generals see atomic and H-bombs for what they will become …
rather than as merely bigger explosions.”
“This is all irrelevant crap, Hervey. The real world …”
“A war-weary General Zhukov tells Stalin that even though we’ve stolen the secrets of the
H-bomb whose true nature, by the way, my generals and I just can’t comprehend … we can never
compete with America in an arms race.” Hervey was behaving as if the big office were his
classroom, as he paced and gestured.
“And an enlightened General Curtis LeMay realizes … no … that’s too much of a stretch.”
“That’s enough, Hervey! You’re acting crazier than Wickware. At least alcohol explains his
“I’m asking you to withdraw your paper,” said Weston. “For your own good; for Fernville
State’s reputation; and probably for the benefit of that conference.”
“I’ve heard the Winds of Freedom blow here, as they do at Stanford, and I shall …”
“They blow a lot harder there. If you go ahead with this, you’ll get no financial support. And
there will be serious reprimands added to your personnel file.”
As Weston talked, Dick Hervey was thinking more about his liaison with Alice than the
likely short-circuiting of his professional career. And what a clever analogy to perhaps include in his
paper: the pied piper of fame, money and intellectual challenge that lured nuclear technologists to
enthusiastically embrace the atom’s secrets had something in common with the illogical dimensions
of sex: The Law of Unintended Consequences could have been derived from either.

Hervey drove directly to the Fernville Lanes and found a spot at the end of the long bar.
With a fifty-cent martini before him, he sorted through his sea of troubles.
“Hey, it’s the professor. Remember me? I’m the dog man.” Hervey turned and thought he
recognized the stocky man standing behind him in the crowded bar. The tall, thin man with him was

Arthur Sonett.
“We’re hiding out here, my buddy Snakehips and me, to kill the pain. Me, over my job, and
him over his girlfriend who took off.”
“It was his daughter, Dave. Hello, Professor Hervey.”
They shook hands. “Well, Arthur, you’re in big company, I’m sorry to say.”
“I keep tellin’ Arthur he was born two drinks under par. See his eyes begin to sparkle
already.” Cornwell insisted on buying another round. Neither he nor Sonett dared to drink and drive
after that Halloween party. A friend was going to pick them up.
“You really mean ‘girlfriend,’ Dave,” Sonett said.
“Yeh, but Teresa and her nun … I mean her mum … have the mistaken idea I’m a crude sort
of guy. Why, just last night she said I was uncouth and I said, ‘What’s this uncouth shit, anyways?’”
Cornwell, trying to hold a straight face, burst into laughter.
Hervey talked more than he expected he would. Sonett was an agreeable person, and
Cornwell a character – responsive and funny in a self-parodying way.
“If my work on atomic politics isn’t published, I’ll end up at Fernville High School teaching
band and civics … if I’m lucky.” Hervey explained that his research was about decisions made and
not made regarding atomic issues in the five postwar years. “The release of atomic energy, my
friends,” Hervey said, raising his voice and martini glass for that classroom emphasis, “was never
politically recognized for its sheer and absolute truth: that it will be the single most important event
in the history of mankind, well ahead of the Second Coming! It appears we must learn its true nature
through catastrophe.”
Hervey saw the glazing of their eyes, guessing his subject was as responsible as the alcohol.
Cornwell said he didn’t need a lecture. He’d been at those Bikini tests and seen pictures of the
Eniwetok ones. The odds were we and the Russians would blow each other up. And he knew the
nature of odds as much as anyone, didn’t he? He giggled and punched Sonett on the shoulder.
“Dave’s lying low because he played God with the football odds,” Sonett explained.
“Well,” Hervey murmured, “those fusion H-bombs are producing odds, as a matter of
speaking, that nobody can get a grip on. Anything can happen. Nobody knows.”
“Just like in football,” said Dave Cornwell. “Orderly games with a simple conclusion after
the playin’ out of infinite possibilities.”

“Well put, my friend.”
“Snakehips is showin’ signs of life after getting steamrolled by your daughter, Professor.
After the Last Rights party, I’m takin’ him out to the bonfire and football rally in Kloits Valley. Lots
of chicks.”
Hervey warmly shook their hands. “Don’t sue me, Arthur. I’m uninsured against my
daughter’s transgressions.” He saw a deep sadness behind Sonett’s grin. In the lounge he bought a
San Francisco paper. The forecast said the edge of a tropical storm might bring a little rain to
parched California by late Sunday or Monday. An article on the bottom of the front page read:
“Admiral says no defense against V-2-type rockets – Admiral Low says the only defense against
ballistic rockets was a sure offense.”

Clarissa had fixed a simple dinner and afterwards cheerfully bounced around in her room,
straightening things up and throwing out a lot of junk.
Clarissa home on a Friday night! That was almost enough to sober him up.
His head didn’t feel like working. Alice was out to dinner. If she plunged into the literary
arena, perhaps he could hang around as her muse. He wrote:
Alice Smith. After “Auriferous” establishes you in the low-end genre and M sues you
for a million, how about a three-cornered view of Fernville from the old-timey
druggist, the overbearing industrialist and the callow newcomer seeking love and
success. Fernville, the confluence of gold and uranium mentalities – A literary gold
mine. Museum/Lunch/Wine/Monday?
He sealed it in a Fernville historical society envelope, wrote “Urgent Museum Matter”
across it, drove up Sugar Pine Drive and dropped it in the Smith mailbox. He felt like a high school
kid sneaking around his girlfriend’s house.
Ryland Smith, Norris Deepak and their wives were at the best table in the big dining room.
Dinner out at Alice’s insistence. Smith was moody after a difficult day, and the crowded, noisy
restaurant and lounge made him more disgruntled.
“Deepak, you could say Beebe is responsible for this windfall to Haddad’s restaurant
tonight,” Smith said sarcastically.

“Just think how bad it would be if Clark hadn’t closed the pool early.”
“Debbie and I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Alice.
“It’s a neat Keynesian way to stimulate the economy, Alice,” said Norris Deepak, winking at
Smith. “Haddad pays more taxes, buys another car from Milano who doubles his contribution to
Fernville State and …”
“Could we not talk about company gossip stuff any more, Ryland?” said Alice impatiently.
“Our night out in this so-called restaurant is bad enough.”
Behind a curtained wall Smith heard the Last Rights Club celebrating with Haddad’s best
champagne. The “Last Rights Roar,” a chant created just that night, echoed throughout the
restaurant for the fourth time. “Alabama, Notre Dame, Fernville State – Spartans, Badgers – Go!
Go! Go!” Cheers and claps throughout the restaurant.
Ryland Smith and Norris Deepak waited in the lobby as their wives visited the “Setters.”
Alice had drunk too much and was already in a bad mood. We need to get the hell out of this town,
Smith thought. Deepak picked a copy of the Los Angeles Times.
“Look, Ryland. More on the ICBM stuff.” He read a quote by Defense Secretary Charlie
Wilson: “The ICBM with its uranium bomb is a great strategic prize.”
Haddad and Joe Milano Junior came out of Haddad’s office.
“You ought to pick up our check, Myron,” said Smith. “If this town had any sophistication
you’d be out of business.”
“Yeh, yeh. I know. Wait until tomorrow night. I’m already reserved up for dinner, and
everybody’ll order the best steaks and booze.” Bernie, on the piano, broke into ‘On Wisconsin.’ “I
gotta give the piano player a little extra to play that crap. He thinks he’s more the salon type.”
“Hey, Norris,” said Joe Milano, putting a hand on his shoulder. “How about a nice, little
Austin Healy? I just got a clean ’51 in today. Just your size. The perfect sports car for you.”
“There’s talk Maxtar’s gonna sue your ass, Dave. Collusion, fraud, et cetera, et cetera.”
“Listen, old buddy, my charter was to set the game spreads.” Cornwell giggled away.
“Nobody said anything about getting them right! Anyways, this was supposed to be just a big joke,
my colorful way of resigning … giving Maxtar the finger, so to speak. I figured management would
simply cancel the whole thing, fire my ass and announce a fat Christmas bonus to calm the troops.”

“Beebe’s brain took two hours to figure it out.”
“But let ’em sue. I myself got no money in this. And who knows, the entire Notre Dame
team could come down with the ‘Mexican Two-Step’ at kickoff time.” Cornwell laughed with his
staccato giggle and rocked back and forth, playfully punching at Arthur Sonett and Bob Ingram.
People streamed by, waving at Dave Cornwell, many offering to buy him a drink. Arthur Sonett,
sitting with the celebrity of the evening, was caught up in the exuberance of the crowd. He felt a lift
in his spirits, and Clarissa was out of his thoughts for minutes at a time.
They rounded up a group to go to the big homecoming bonfire and football rally in Kloits
Valley. Word spread that Alex Mannoy had just bought the new 1956 grayish Porsche off Joe
Milano’s showroom floor, the first new foreign automobile handled by the dealership.
“Where the hell is Jim Wilton?” Cornwell asked. “He was gonna meet us here.”
“I’ll probably run into him behind an oak tree out there,” said Arthur Sonett.


Dick Hervey lay on his back, half asleep, his eyes following the cracks in the ceiling plaster,
curious about the new designs emerging year by year – relating their increasing complexity to that
of his own life. From the distant roar of heavy machinery, he guessed contractors were working
overtime that Saturday, flattening the top of Roble Mountain. Clarissa had forgotten to cover the
cage, and Kloits was noisily remonstrating with his drab counterparts outside.
His thoughts turned to Alice. He speculated that there had been a momentum change of
sorts, a topping out of their fiery trajectory. Nothing clear-cut, but what he sensed was as subtle as
the now-changing barometric pressure. His usual pre-caffeine morning angst, boosted by last night’s
gin, vaulted yesterday’s cavalier concerns into real worries. He could be targeted for some sort of
loyalty investigation where publicity alone, a patina of surmised guilt, would sully whatever
professional future he might have.
In the small living room sunlight shone on the old rug, victim of many spills, and partially up
the bookcase wall, a cemetery of books impressively disordered. He realized that contents from
most of those he read decades ago were now lost from his memory, and he might re-read them as
fresh and virginal. Yet he knew they had all contributed to – maybe were still present in – the
brickwork of his personality.
Taking stock of his the half-finished endeavors and depreciated ambitions, he viewed them
all now at an unfavorable mental angle-of-incidence and under a plummeting barometric pressure.
Alice called as the coffee percolated, two cups of which would lighten up his worries.
“Hervey! You can’t put notes in our mailbox. Ryland might have found it. And you and
Wickware with all your allegorical and didactic baloney. No one, least of all me, could turn that into
a novel.”
“Pluto, ancient Greek god of the underworld, transfigures into plutonium, ultimate destroyer

of the overworld. Maybe inspiration for your serious novel.”
“Have you been drinking?”
“Thinking about it.”
“Well, I’ll see you there Monday. Forget the wine, though. Maybe one last look for
‘Auriferous’ or ‘Cyanide.’ Odd we’ve found nothing in her personal files.”
“I have some ideas.”
“Ryland and I are taking the evening plane to L.A. Big meeting. Worry lines on the chief.”
“Couldn’t you stay, Alice?”
“Define didactic.”

The sun was shining brightly, as it had on the many previous mornings, but now wisps of
cloud were evident on the northwest horizon. Hervey sat in the old wing chair and scanned the
newspaper. An item on a back page caught his attention. The Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins
University was involved in research for the Titan ICBM. It was another example, Hervey thought,
of the trend to casually treat such work in the context of traditional university research. He stopped
at the phrase near the end: “… strategic delivery system for a powerful atomic device.”
He could squeeze a lecture out of that pregnant, little phrase, a lecture aimed at Clarissa and
her generation: Why it was only page-seven newsworthy that the best academic minds were
contributing to the development of a giant missile which could seek out any target on the now-
miniature globe and deliver there a bomb of unimaginable horror.
And Clarissa could rest assured – no, unassured – that over there and elsewhere, equally
brilliant minds were developing the fixings for similar bombs. No, Clarissa, not “weapon,”
“device,” or “payload,” but “bomb” in its utterly real and horrific, full-fury connotation.
Would she respond then: “It’s all so incredibly stupid! How did your generation blunder into
this nuclear nightmare?” The lecture ended. Look! Clarissa and half the students have nodded off.
It was an idea he could incorporate into his work. The cautionary words of the few who
grasped the revolutionary nature of atomic weaponry were lost in a blizzard of compromise and
ignorance by politicians, were disparaged and ignored by the military cabals, and were easily shed

by those nuclear technologists who saw their own holy grails through the lens of instant
gratification. None foresaw that in just fifteen years after the genie’s birth, four-megaton Hydrogen
bombs could be lobbed around the globe’s limited real estate. General Curtis LeMay himself said it
all, way back in ’46: “It is possible to depopulate vast areas of the earth’s surface, leaving only
vestigial remnants of man’s material works.”
He should expand his major work but weave in an optimistic premise. Surely the deadliest
scenarios must play out – or not – before 1960. But by 1965 the common goal of even the most
parochial politician, the most jingoistic Communist tyrant, the man in the street – and even you,
Clarissa – will certainly be to stuff of the atomic genie back in his bottle.
A host of depressing thoughts surged again. The coming enlightenment he envisioned was
far too sanguine. The publishing dilemma. The college problem. And Alice Smith.
Hervey shuffled back into the kitchen and saw the sheet of white paper taped to the
refrigerator. He held it at arm’s length and read:
Dear Dad. Alex and I eloped this morning. We are driving to Las Vegas in his new
car. Please don’t be too upset because I think this is the best way for everybody.
Alex and I are very much in love. We’ll be at the fanciest hotel in Las Vegas. Keep
good care of Meriweather until I take him back. Lots of love. Clarissa.
He tried to keep busy the next hour. Mr. Kloits whistled happily to his good friend in the
small mirror. Hervey found a bit of solace in realizing he had been spared a long engagement with
the slamming doors and effusions of joy and doubt.
Later that afternoon he and John Wickware sat on the porch watching dark clouds slowly fill
the sky. Hervey chuckled and said he was in such a depressed state that morning that he wondered
whether his head and shoulders would fit in the gas oven.
“I find a couple of drinks or several cups of strong coffee effective antidotes for that
common feeling,” said Wickware.
By noon the parking lot at the Vista was nearly full, with the Last Rights club making up
many of the early customers. When the scores from the midwest games came in, they conformed not
at all to the rec club’s point spreads, but closely to those of real experts in Las Vegas. With four of
the five games under their belts, the bettors gave one last raucous toast to Dave Cornwell and

promised to return in force after the finale that night.

Arthur Sonett and Dave Cornwell found two seats close to the makeshift press-box area,
where Mayor Kloits, Myron Haddad and Joe Milano held a block of reserved seats. The Fernville
municipal stadium seated twenty-five-hundred, most of them on the west side of the field in a
permanent grandstand. Across the field, bleachers ran between the 20-yard lines for supporters of
visiting teams.
The night was warmer than expected. Cornwell figured that close to two-thousand fans were
there, not bad considering the crummy team they were playing. A few brought umbrellas, but most
relied on the latest expert weather forecast which called for a light rain to arrive sometime the next
morning. The Fernville State College marching band, in splendid blue uniforms trimmed in gold,
entertained on the field. Forty or so hardcore supporters of California Lutheran College listlessly
waved their red and white pompoms.
Ed Kloits said “Rats!” when the first raindrops fell. Later, the Weather Service tried to
explain how the violent storm had surprised its forecasters with its speed and strength in coming off
the Pacific Ocean. A typhoon-like storm front had moved northeasterly from Hawaii, mixing warm
subtropical air with the jet-stream. The air-mass collided with a cold front five-hundred miles west
of San Francisco. There, a mid-ocean high bumped it toward California where its spiraling clouds
rapidly spread across the land. The Weather Service later admitted that its experts had greatly
miscalculated the intensity of the storm which left over three inches of rain in many parts of central
For Arthur Sonett those days would have blurred and been forgotten over the passing years
but for their coincidence with the shock of Clarissa’s elopement. He remembered them with a
unique limpidity, even to that night’s event and Dave Cornwell’s loud and colorful rendition of the
action before them.
“Here they come!” shouted the Fernville State yell leaders. As the teams trotted onto the
field, disparity in numbers and size was clear. The Tigers suited up forty-four players, while
California Lutheran fielded but seventeen. Only their number 75, tackle Wally Merva, was
impressive in size.
“Look at those monster Lutherans! I should’ve given State 14 points!”

By kickoff time the light rain turned heavier and the running track pooled with water. The
crowd began to empty out of the stadium.
The Tigers moved swiftly down the field under single-wing power plays, as Jack Haddad
slashed and then sloshed for big yardage. The sixty-yard drive was evidenced by sixty yards of
bulldozed turf now turning to mud. At the ten-yard line the slippery football came loose.
“Let’s go, Dave. We’re gettin’ soaked.”
“Hell no, Arthur! This has the makin’s of one of the greatest games ever.”
They watched Fernville State dominate the first half, but fumbles of the muddy ball or a
lucky tackle stopped their drives. On the last play Jack Haddad broke clear at the twenty-yard line,
only to slip and fall untouched at the five.
The warm rain now fell in torrents, turning the field and parking lots into seas of mud. A jam
of cars, their lights at disordered angles, engines snarling, moved slowly and then not at all. Gusts of
wind drove the water in sheets, briefly obscuring action on the field. Lutheran was down to thirteen
available players.
“Put me in, Coach! No. Put Snakehips in!”
A bank of lights blinked out at the south end and Sonett saw the dim scene there as a
writhing dance of long shadows of mud-encased, wrestling players.
Late in the fourth quarter the visitors recovered a fumble. Two plays later, Lutheran’s Vic
Pixal threw a wobbly, floating ball a few yards downfield where it was caught. Defensive players
slid into each other and the receiver slogged his way into the end zone. Norman Kloits smothered
the attempted conversion.
“Fernville’s seven points are holdin’ up … but only barely, old buddy!”
Angry now, the Fernville State Tigers huddled, broke out with a roar heard above the storm,
and mounted a relentless drive. To Arthur Sonett each play appeared as a mass of thrashing, mud-
encased bodies sliding inexorably eight to ten yards toward the shadowy end of the field.
“Only a minute left! Hold the ball! Run out the clock,” someone yelled near Ed Kloits.
He turned in anger. “Whadaya mean over there, buddy? Run out the clock?! We’re down by
6 and we’re goin’ for the win. Fuck you!”
“Listen … buddy yourself. We’ve already won! Lutheran gives 7 points … and fuck you,

Ed Kloits was on his feet, furious. But yells from the crowd brought him back to the field of
play where Jack Haddad powered close to where the referee figured the goal line ought to be.
“This is magnificent, Arthur!” Even though cold and soaked, Arthur Sonett was caught up
by the drama before them.
The Tigers took time-out with fifteen seconds remaining. “Certainly, a kind of heroism and a
sense of epic drama was behind the final strategy in that last huddle,” the Fernville Tribune reporter
later wrote, describing in detail those final moments. “Coach George Barnes called for the weakside,
off-tackle smash, but co-captains Norman Kloits and Jack Haddad argued ‘no’ in that huddle. Pride
called for them to end it by going directly at Lutheran’s strength, the side where Merva was. …”
(“Yeh, right at that fucking Merva,”) Jack Haddad related afterwards.
“Fall on the ball!” – “Stay away from the big mother!” – “Give it to Haddad!” – “We’ve
already won!” – Arthur Sonett would remember it all.
For him, and for the few spectators now standing, the play at the far end of the field was
impossible to follow. But Sonett’s skeleton-outline was later filled in with such detail by friends and
the press that the play became etched in his mind as if he’d witnessed it close-up in slow-motion and
in bright sunlight. Norman Kloits thrust off from his mighty legs into the target. They collided and
Kloits went down. The blocking fullback, too, bounced sideways off an impenetrable Merva who
met Jack Haddad head-on at the goal line. In that terrific crash the ball squirted into the air and came
down into the arms of a surprised Wally Merva – “who recognized it,” the Tribune writer
disparagingly wrote – and Merva began to slosh his way toward the far goal posts.
“Go! You big mother. Go!” Dave Cornwell shouted and laughed and jumped up and down
on his seat, pounding Sonett on the back.
Earl Foley’s wife, Edna, captured the scene perfectly in her famous painting. A regionally-
acclaimed artist, she recognized the dramatic and artistic merits of the scene developing before her.
Her six-foot-long watercolor, “Touchdown Run,” hung for years in the entrance foyer of the main
library at Fernville State. She had portrayed, with surrealistic overtones, the essence of that
remarkable night as seen through a gauze-like film of slanting rain. The heroic figure of Wally
Merva, an outsized gladiator shedding water and mud in mid-stride, was bathed in a bright, orange-
yellow light. Little Vic Pixal, just behind, was turning to make the final block on Jack Haddad
whose flailing limbs and twisted body spoke of his hopeless chase.

Strewn all along the field from the dark mound of players back at the other goal line were
running, stumbling players, their loyalties clearly evident by subtle depictions of their carriages.
Below, Coach George Barnes in his blue and gold slicker, was bent over at the waist, mouth open,
stunned by the action before him.

“I’ve never seen this place so dead with so many people still hangin’ around,” said Teresa.
“We’re all in mourning, kiddo, for one reason or another,” said Dave Cornwell. “Cheer up,
Arthur. You lost something that can be replaced. Easily. I want you to see how other people handle
Arthur Sonett wasn’t paying attention to either of them. It was thoughtful of Teresa and
Dave to invite him to check out the “death scene” after they cleaned up, but Bernie had just finished
playing “Stella by Starlight” and he struggled to get through another emotional bottom.
Cornwell lifted his glass. “Cheers. We three are small losers compared to the rest out there.
So I lost a lousy job. Teresa’ll get transferred to the boring purchasing area. And you, Arthur, after
your momentary setback, will soon be back charming the ladies of Maxtar and Fernville. But just
look at those poor bastards out there. They lost a lot of cash money. Potential cash money.”
Cornwell lit a big cigar and gazed over the room. The crowd avoided him, and when
someone did drop by, he was withdrawn and aloof.
“You’re really playing the role, Dave,” said Teresa.
Jim Wilton came over and said the Last Rights Club had been kicked out earlier, and there
were fights in the parking lot. “And I hear it’s an awful mess at the stadium. Three to four hundred
cars are stuck in the mud. It’ll take a week to get them out. Even the tow trucks are stuck.”
Cornwell solemnly raised his glass again. “There’s one party we’ve forgotten to drink to.”
He pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket. “Our good buddy Breeder Mannoy would have wanted
to know about this. He’s at the Dunes Hotel. I took the liberty of sendin’ him this telegram for hand
delivery.” He tossed it on the table.
what’s the score down there stop the score here was lutheran 12 state 0 stop
repeat state 0 stop the rains came stop like I predicted stop peckers up Cornwell


On Monday Arthur Sonett watched the big man in Jennings’ office load up the bookcases.
Jennings had cautioned him: “Watch those goons like a hawk while I’m in Florida, Arthur. I don’t
want my models wrecked.”
“Jeez, Dr. Sonett,” said Floyd Sims, “I shouldn’t be doin’ this heavy-duty movin’ anymore. I
was supposed to get a man, Cornwell, from the rec club, but they canned his ass over that football
pool. Doesn’t make sense after the way he called the Fernville game. The company cleaned up.”
“You’re better off. Cornwell does things his own way. You’d end up with a lot of misplaced
desks and broken bookcases.”
“I had eighteen rights. Then some drunken bastard jumped me in the Vista parkin’ lot after
the big wake. My car’s still stuck out at the field. All in all, a bad day.”
Jennings reported from Florida that preflight tests were trouble-free. The transistorized
autopilot was installed and exhaustive verification tests performed.
Arthur Sonett and Jim Wilton went to lunch at the Vista. Wilton bought him a beer.
“Arthur, I’m real sorry about the Clarissa thing. It looked like you two were goin’ great
guns. I hope I didn’t screw it up that night in the valley.”
“It wasn’t going to work out, Jim,” he said with little conviction. “I’ll recover. In about a
year. Thanks for the words.”
Wilton said he was worried about layoffs.
“Well, Dr. Deepak said in the lecture series at the college that giant defense companies like
Maxtar are now part of the permanent industrial landscpe. There’ll always be jobs somewhere, even
for you, Jim.”
“Yeh. Aviation Week says the Russians are developing an ICBM that can hit any target over
here by 1960. And some general said we have to plan for missile interception. That could lead to a
lot of R and D.”

“Well, the defense always catches up, according to Blacksuit Mannoy.”
“Yeh, and even you’ve come up with a defensive missile, Arthur. Just think what the genius-
type guys must be dreamin’ up.”
Jim Wilton said he’d make a “Pointers” stop. Sonett followed him through the lounge.
“Hey, Snakehips. Jimbo! Over here.” Dave Cornwell sat at a small table drinking coffee.
“Guess what? I’m interviewin’ for a bartender’s job here. I was pullin’ cars out of the mud with my
big old truck to make a few bucks. Haddad’s Jaguar was the third one. Anyways, one thing led to
another, so here I am checkin’out the opportunity.”
“We thought everybody except Teresa Bondi was on to you.”
“Yeh, but Haddad needs a little personality behind the bar. And he probably thinks he owes
me after that windfall he got Friday from the Maxtar suckers.” Cornwell clucked away at that
thought. He spread his arms wide. “This is the real world out here. I’m through working in those big
windowless joints, dealing with all those introverted bastards with their big slide rules and … ”
“Yeh, yeh. We know, Dave.”
In the parking lot they agreed Dave Cornwell belonged in a social setting like that.
“Will Ryland wonder why you’re at the rather modest Stewart Hotel instead of the elite
Mark Hopkins or Fairmont?”
“This is a working trip, I’ll tell him. Except for the opera, I’ll be researching Fernville
history at the California Historical Society, and hotel luxury might dilute my willpower.”
Hervey worried that long nights at the opera would dilute his staying power. “We could skip
the Strauss,” he said hopefully. “His most difficult one. You said once you didn’t care for him.”
“I meant Johann, Professor. Die Frau ohne Schatten is Richard. Difficult, yes, but we can’t
miss it. And Friday, downhill with Meistersinger.”
“‘The Woman Without a Shadow.’ Not you, Alice, for you cast an especially long one.
Better imagery, though, might be the turbulent wake you leave for people like me in your helter-
skelter path.”
“Helter-skelter has become focused and single-minded. My new hobby.” Alice leaned
against an old file cabinet while Dick Hervey hung onto a storage shelf as they bantered and laughed
in the museum’s storage room.

“I must get back to the typewriter. Momentum’s the thing. My Auriferous is just pourin’ out
faster than I can yet type.”
“I could give you typing lessons.”
“You’ve given me enough lessons.”
They worked their way down another aisle of storage boxes.
“We’ve looked through most of the material here. If there’s any novel stuff, it could still be
hiding in this paper warehouse or at her house,” said Hervey. “You said that when you found poor
Helen, her study or library was messed up. Like somebody, you know who, was looking for
Alice chewed on her fingernail. “Hard to tell. Helen was naturally messy. Look at this place
and extrapolate to her private library. But I did wonder about that.”
“A surprised look on her face?”
“OK.” Alice hesitated. “I know what you’re thinking, Hervey. How do you murder an old
infirm lady and make it look natural?”
“Pillow. Suffocate. No reason to question, with that bad heart and cancer. No autopsy. And
doctor is Junior’s boyhood chum.”
“The budding mystery writer needs more plot twists.”
“Listen, it’s hard enough fleshing out cardboard characters like you and Wickware without
trying to invent a matricidal angle.” Alice hesitated. “But, yes, Dick … yes! Illegitimacy. Money.
“‘Heh, Mom. How come my rump and legs and hair and protruding upper lip remind
everybody of Ed Kloits? And just asking, but didn’t you work for Henry Kloits long ago, and why
did Daddy kill himself’?”
Alice stifled a combination laugh and exclamation.
“The author teases her readers about the prime suspects while diverting them from the real
killer,” said Dick Hervey.
“There’s nobody left.”
“Except the author, herself.”
Alice reared back, staring at Hervey’s wide-eyed innocence. “Me! Are you crazy?”

“The driven writer. Desperate for material and old evidence.” Hervey laughed. “Not a bad
scenario from a dour, old atomic scholar.”
“Maybe you should write the damn novel.”
“You … she … would need to be modified, though.” Hervey took her hands and pulled her
arms up. “These small, delicate hands; these slender, tender arms; these small shoulders here … will
never do. In this configuration the authoress herself would be the victim of our big Helen.”
“Oh, Hervey!” said Alice, pulling away and laughing softly. “But we’ve left the realm of
fiction. It would be just awful if Milano or Junior really were … and I just can’t see Junior at all.”
“I agree. Stay back in 1921 where the real action was. By the way, Alice. You’ve never said
much about the social contacts you and Ryland have had with the Milanos.”
“All pretty superficial. A dozen occasions maybe. And I still don’t really know him at all.”
She tossed him a kiss and started for the door. “But he has that way about him, those searching eyes
that a woman senses as a subtle entree to a possible next step.”
“That an Alice woman does, anyway.”

Dr. Norris Deepak explained his money-velocity theory at the Tuesday evening lecture
series. Money, he said, coming into a local economy via a government “injection,” a word he
favored because it suggested an overt and curative action, immediately stimulated the economy’s
heartbeat because it was not tied to the inertia of the marketplace. He diagrammed on the chalkboard
how it was mathematically an open-loop system because the output or result responded immediately
to the input. That was “fast money,” as opposed to normal market operations which produced
“slower money,” because the output influenced in some ways the input or stimulus – slowing the
entire process. Control over the open-loop model could be either passive, which meant increased
inflation, or active, through a flexible taxation policy.
“Defense spending is the perfect example of an open-loop injection industry,” Deepak said.
“DoD money is funneled directly into the local economy, and anticipation of prosperity unleashes
funds from banks and other credit instruments. Growth is rapid and certain.” Deepak beamed at his
small audience. “The economic beauty here is that the product, the missile or whatever, doesn’t
compete in the market place. And in the case of atomic missiles it’s never used, soon becomes
obsolete or sits forgotten in a warehouse. Consequently, no market feedback and the economy just

hums along.”
“What do you mean, Dr. Deepak, ‘the atomic missile never is used?’”
“Now that’s a paradox, isn’t it, Mrs. Questioner? I didn’t say that since they’re never used
they’re not needed.”
“Dr. Deepak, I’m lost. If the Russians invade West Germany, then a war breaks out and we
must use those weapons. We can’t not use them.”
Deepak patiently explained that his model eschewed that ultimate scenario – that of a real
war in which your best effort was expended. In that situation, every economic model disintegrates
anyway. Therefore, the theory itself was modified to exclude major conflict. All the atomic
warheads, their missiles and ancillary equipment, a big part of the 34-billion dollar defense budget,
were therefore excluded from use by his model. Exactly where we stood today in real life.
“This fast money invigorates every corner of our society. Look at the Maxtar payroll and the
taxes we pay. Streets get fixed and schools built. And to get re-elected, your local congressman
suddenly becomes more concerned over continued prosperity than with the deep and complicated
political issues of military obsolescence or requirement.”
At the end of his talk a tall, balding man approached him. “Who pays the tax when you guys
lose a contract and go out of business?”
“My research, sir, tells me Maxtar will be here as long as your walnut orchards produce nuts.
Ups and downs, perhaps, but we are a growing and permanent enterprise.”
“Well, you make a little sense from an economic standpoint. But your implication of a
universal nuclear sanity is naïve indeed. No, my friend, this is the era of enthusiastic technicians,
spurred on by parochial politicians and over-zealous generals, solving the technically ‘sweet’
problems, as Oppenheimer called them, with little thought to the next twenty years.”
“Some of our people talk of a defense against these weapons,” said Deepak.
“A delusion of the most dangerous sort. I’m counting on world-wide nuclear enlightenment
and real political action by 1965. I’m writing a book about it.”
“I’ll look forward to it,” said Deepak, an obvious smile on his young-old face. “However,
my research sees great economic fallout over this nuclear head-butting … and little of your
enlightenment. I predict things will remain as they are for some time.”
“You could make refrigerators and sell them to Russia.”

“If we made refrigerators instead of weapons,” said Norris Deepak, “it wouldn’t be long
before every Russian had two of them … and that’s one of the problems.”


It was Arthur Sonett’s first glimpse of executive grandeur – the mahogany paneling, oversized,
comfortable chairs, the large conference table and tasteful paintings on the walls. They gathered in
the conference room awaiting Ryland Smith’s call from Florida. Arthur Sonett represented the chief
engineer’s office, as Mannoy and Flatley and others were immersed in writing new proposals. He
wore his new sport coat and well-polished shoes.
Dr. Deepak’s eyes flitted around the table, evaluating each person. His plastic face with its
clefts, creases and wrinkled forehead projected multiple expressions, from frowning disapproval to
genial smile.
Sonett felt the eyes of the engineering managers on him. Their slightly quizzical expressions
reflected their unspoken thoughts: “He doesn’t look as though he belongs here.” He knew the
defense business was so competitive that a kind of natural selection operated to pass to the higher
levels those blessed with the right combination of technical excellence, ambition and personal élan.
Whatever the magic formula, Sonett had misgivings about his own mix.
Maybe it was time to purge his images of career, money and the girls of California. And like
the many empty-handed miners of the Gold Rush who reluctantly returned to their easterm roots, he
should do the same.
The secretary dashed into the conference room. “Mr. Smith’s on the phone. I’m going to
switch him to this speaker system.” She worked the knobs on the box. “Mr. Smith! Mr. Smith!” she
called until his voice came loudly into the room.
“Are you there, Deepak, Beebe and the rest of you?” There was a short silence, persuasive of
terrible news to come. “It was a disaster here. SPICA was terminated right after launch, a couple of
miles out.” A communal groan arose from the table. “Soon after the boosters burned out, she rolled
off course. Jennings’ people believe it’s a malfunction in the control system … probably the
goddamned new autopilot.”
“The new autopilot? The transistorized job?” The manager of Flight Control Systems looked

“What’s Colonel Lapides’ reaction?”
“What do you think? Worse, those senators on the Armed Services Committee, Stennis and
Saltonstall, are here. I’ll be in Fernville tomorrow night and in my office Friday morning. Deepak, I
want to see you right off.”

Rumors of cancellation of the SPICA contract swept the company. Clark Beebe’s office
issued a memo saying the rumors had no basis in fact, and Ryland Smith presided at an awards
ceremony in the shops for success in reaching quality-assurance goals. But Friday morning
loudspeakers called everyone to attention: Ryland Smith announced in a grave and slow-paced voice
that the Air Force had cancelled the SPICA program. This was a major setback, but he called on
employees to redouble their dedication. Maxtar Corporation would continue to seek new
opportunities with the Customer. There were no plans for personnel reductions.
“What he was really saying,” Jim Wilton said to Arthur Sonett at the Giant Orange, “is
there’s not going to be layoffs this week or next week. But look out after that.”

Ryland Smith paced his office, his handsome face drawn and pale. Deepak sipped coffee,
while Fred Jennings reviewed another proposal, hastily put together, for a drastically revised
SPICA. Range was reduced to less than two-thousand miles, thereby eliminating the
“intercontinental” and “strategic” selling points of the original. It was termed an “Intermediate
Range Theater Missile” for European deployments. Its warhead was reduced to a hundred kilotons.
“Beginning the ninth of December we must start layoffs,” said Norris Deepak. “We’ve got to
dump five- to six-hundred employees by the end of January.”
“Norris,” Smith’s voice was pleading, “could we postpone layoffs until after Christmas?”
“No. Corporate won’t buy it. Losses would be too high. But when I’m down there Monday,
I’m going to pound on them, cry on their shoulder, to get interim work from our other divisions.”
Smith was chilled, thinking of the economic impacts to the Fernville region. His golfing
partner, Joe Milano, had a big chunk of Valley Electronics whose sales of test units and special
vacuum tubes to Maxtar accounted for over 60 percent of their business. Maxtar contracts supported
a number of other small companies in view from his office window, even the janitorial services
company. This was free enterprise all right, but a system served through one major artery – now

about to be severed.

Late in the afternoon, Arthur Sonett could sense the usual Friday restlessness in the great
building. The mail girl worked her last round, but not even that late afternoon tonic could elevate the
depressed spirits along her route.
Fred Jennings called Sonett into his office. “Arthur, I want to tell you ahead of time about
organizational changes planned for this section. I’m taking Flatley to be on my staff. And I’m
promoting Mannoy to take over Preliminary Design. He’ll organize it how he wants. You’ll stay
here under him.”

That evening Arthur Sonett tried to sort out his emotions at the Vista bar. The restaurant was
unusually quiet for a Friday, but the bar was busy.
“They’re drinkin’ a little more and tippin’ a lot less,” Dave Cornwell said to Sonett and Jim
Wilton. “And these technical types were never real generous that way. How’s that martini, Arthur?
Don’t tell Haddad, but my close, personal friends get premium English gin instead of that Los
Angeles-made, off-brand, watered-down horse piss Haddad uses here for the well drinks … Hey,
you look like you’re still sweatin’ the Clarissa reject.”
“It’s worse than that, Dave. He’s gonna get transferred under Blacksuit Mannoy.”
“Jeez! That is terrible news.” Cornwell shook his head compassionately. “You get a
complimentary jolt for that, old buddy. By the way, me an’ Teresa decided to set up a little catering
business. She’s good with the whore-ders and stuff like that. Gets it from her mother.”
The afternoon shock was wearing off. Alcohol cleared Sonett’s vision, and he saw his way to
the future.
“I have to tell you guys. I’m gonna quit. After the Christmas bonus, if there is one, I’m
giving a two-weeks’ notice. I’m going back to Kansas and work for a family company.”
“What! Are you OK, Arthur? You’re giving up a real career. You’ll change your mind when
you sober up.”
“I don’t think so, Jim.”
“You’re gonna go straight! Congratulations.” Cornwell pounded him on the shoulder. “But I
believe it’s the gin and that ‘Stella’ song Bernie just played.”

“Could be, I guess.”
“I’m the one that needs an escape hatch,” Jim Wilton said.
“Hey, you can work pourin’ champagne for the new Cornwell Company, Jim.” He looked
down the crowded bar. “I gotta go. Those guys down there are Joe Milano’s business buddies.
Maxtar just cut off orders for their special vacuum tubes and they’re truly sufferin.’ I overheard the
wife there say, ‘Honey, why don’t you just go and make a lot of radios or somethin’ with them?’
God, that was funny.”


Dick Hervey met a taciturn Bud Needham Junior at Helen’s house where a big “For Sale” sign was
stuck in the front lawn. Hervey followed him up the pathway, and yes, he saw what Alice saw: a
kind of a match there – the bottom half – the particular walk – the way the arms hung without much
back-and-forth. “A ‘Kloits’ written all over him,” she had exaggerated, and in her exuberance had
probably conditioned him to see more than was merited. Still –
After several notes and a telephone call, Bud Needham reluctantly agreed to meet Hervey at
Helen’s house and help find two fairly rare books he’d once loaned her.
“Take a look through those shelves. The rest are personal things.”
Bud Needham left, and Hervey scanned the bookcases and piles of books, finding the R. L.
Stevenson anthology but not the Johnson Lives of the Poets, Volume One, an early edition worth
more than a few dollars. He was sure she hadn’t read it. Even he, once a scholar of that era, had only
managed to skim it. Nor could she have read many of the hundreds of other books on the
overflowing shelves. Her busy life precluded that. Helen was more accumulator than reader.
Her big desk had been tidied up. Hervey poked around – no gun in the top drawer. Beneath
a pile of papers he found her worn, loose-leafed working calendar with pictures of Yosemite’s
natural wonders. The large, daily squares were filled with notes. Sure enough, in a bottom corner of
the day of her death was junior 5:00. Below it was milano 6:00.
When he heard Bud Needham clomping down the hall, he quickly scanned “September.”
Early in that month he found another Milano listing. So these two protagonists had met at Helen’s
secluded house and might have done so on the evening of her death. Maybe Alice’s fertile
imagination could work a nice lurid angle into her novel: one dying but still-glowing tiny ash from
their once-roaring, pitch-filled blaze of thirty-five years before; a last, desperate defiance of time’s
erosions; the final clasp to this vestige of that real world of their youth.
Hervey laughed to himself, visualizing a disrobed Helen, and very soon after, their
embarrassed unclinging. But it was, after all, fiction. Alice at her typewriter could take ninety-five
pounds off Helen, round off her rough edges, knock decibels off her hearty voice and lighten up her
plodding step. Hmm – not so bad there. And Milano? Hair still dark. Body slim and presumably still

virile at sixty – he didn’t need much rework. Hervey would pass these thoughts on to Alice, the
novelist. She’d get a laugh and perhaps an entire chapter.
Hervey took his found book and met Bud Junior down the hall.
“You found one of ’em, anyway. The other’ll turn up when we clear out all her junk.”
“Junk” came out emphasized in a derogatory, almost angry way, Hervey thought. Bud Needham
never made eye contact, and he had a downcast manner which Hervey figured a psychologist could
trace back to an overbearing, physically dominating, and mysterious single mother.
“I wonder how far your mother got in the novels she was writing.”
“Novels? How the hell would I know?”

Hervey found Wickware waiting on his back porch. Wick would have to start making
appointments. What began as a Friday evening drop-by, before he faced the long weekend with
THE Bernadette, had turned into a four-evening-a-week regimen to the detriment of Hervey’s work
ethic. He fixed a couple of light drinks. They quietly watched the thinning clouds scud to the east, as
a high-pressure system cleared out remnants of the season’s first storm.
“In four more days those brown hillsides will suddenly turn green. The tiny grass seeds are
out of sync with the seasons. They’ll think it’s springtime.”
“Nice observation, Wick. A green surprise that puzzles visitors from the East. Brown one
day and all green the next week. One of the pleasures of living in California.”
They watched a line of trucks move down the newly cut road along the side of Roble
Mountain. Structures were starting to go up on top.
“My students have finished sampling the dredger ponds. I’ll have a paper out soon about the
extent of mercury contamination there and in the river silt.”
“And I wouldn’t eat the bass. Or the crayfish.”
“The word ‘cyanide’ has a more ominous ring to it than ‘mercury.’ Any cyanide residues?”
“No, no. All washed away. Harm done and gone long ago. Speaking of cyanide, how’s your
protégé doing on her writing?”
“She’s immersed … maybe enmeshed in it. Driven, she says.”
Hervey looked out at the Cedar River, now flowing rather nicely. “Will we get a run of

salmon with more rain?”
“Possibly. Depends on San Joaquin River flow. Several students are ready to make a count.
But the runs are in serious decline.”
A feeling of melancholy came over Dick Hervey as he thought of the many warm evenings
they had experienced that fall with that diverse mix of people – with Alice, the real catalyst. But
along with the weather, the salmon and his Roble Mountain, those times, too, were in decline.
John Wickware expressed a similar sentiment. “Helen’s gone. It’s a bigger loss for us old-
timers than I ever expected.”
“Yes. My thoughts, too, about Clarissa. It’s going to be a long, lonely winter without her
banging about the house.”
“Even nephew Howie brought a dimension to your back porch.”
“We won’t be seeing him for a long time.”
“And the writer starts to fly solo now.”
“You’re a perceptive old codger, Wick. I hope you hang on.”
“On that nice turn, Herv, I believe I’ll have another.”
Ryland Smith and his staff finished the planning strategy for a last, desperate trip to the
Pentagon while Jennings and Flatley prepared four new proposals. Smith had appointments with
California Senators Knowland and Kuchel and three California congressmen. They would plead
economic hardship for the Fernville region. He would meet with the Assistant Secretary of the Air
Force and lobby members of the Senate Preparedness Committee. Deepak was at corporate
headquarters, seeking interim company assistance.
“We’ve got to avoid breaking up our technical teams,” Smith said. “That’s the message
we’re delivering to Washington and to Corporate. It’s in the country’s, their and our interests to
maintain this great team at Maxtar.”
Clark Beebe said the city council dwelled on the specter of lost jobs, and Bob Kloits
complained that commitments for nine of his new houses in “University Estates” had been
withdrawn. Other businessmen voiced similar economic troubles. Beebe said the city council
drafted a letter to the Secretary of Defense, angry that this region should suffer from the whims of
DoD bureaucrats without a public input.

“What a laugh,” said Jennings. “Charlie Wilson’s handling a 34-billion-dollar defense
budget, and they think a few million spent in Fernville will get his attention.”
Norris Deepak was later to show in his classic work on the Fernville economy that the mere
threat of layoffs had slowed and then nearly stopped the flow of dollars around the local economy.
Banks tightened up on loans and automobile sales foundered. Deepak explained to those who would
listen that fast money had in a few weeks become slow and even sluggish money.
“Simply the mere threat of DoD pipeline-dollars drying up was a larger psychological
component in my mathematical models than I’d believed,” he later wrote, when his work became
prominent among the econometrics crowd.

Norris Deepak returned late the next night, driving up from corporate headquarters, and met
Smith at the Vista Restaurant. He was excited as he broke the news.
“I think we can save the whole thing, Ryland!” He massaged the cocktail glass in his hands,
his face-mask squirming with intensity.
“Are you kidding? Let’s hear it!”
“I had to forfeit my balls, and yours too, but I browbeat them into transferring substantial
corporate work to us.” Deepak described the windfall in his animated way. “But this work is only
temporary, Ryland, four to six months at best.”
Smith was ecstatic. “You’ve done a great job, Norris, but I do have reservations about that
one fabrication job.”
“Heh, take a look over there at the bar,” said Deepak. Haddad was nuts to hire that moron.”
“Yeh and notice when he looks over this way … how he gives us that nasty, little chicken-
shit smile of his. Anyway, Norris, tomorrow we’ll draft a plan for this work. When we’re in
Washington next week, Clark can set up operations.”
At the staff meeting the next morning, Ryland Smith announced that Deepak had sifted
through the corporation’s various divisions and came up with short-term, one-of a-kind jobs. He
badgered corporate to transfer them to this division. “We’re Maxtar’s top profit center, and we must
be kept intact for the next generation of guided missiles. But we’d better get a big Air Force or Navy
contract within six months.”
Smith went over the charts describing the array of diverse jobs, which ranged from welding

research on thin-walled stainless steel cryogenic tanks for the new Titan ballistic missile, to the
fabrication of hundreds of jet engine shipping cases, work transferred from the Container Division.
“We’ve got systems and stress-analyses work for our numbers people, environmental testing,
and the mockup of a large earth-orbit satellite for our design and manufacturing guys. And there’s a
whole bunch of other little jobs I won’t detail now. … then there’s these gold dredger buckets.”
“Gold dredger buckets? Isn’t that beneath … ”
“We’ll produce the first high-tech, aerospace-era bucket,” Jennings said with his loud
cackle-laugh. “Maybe we can bill DoD for the forge we’ll need for the bucket structural members.”
Smith stood up, frowning at the banter among his executives. “Let’s not joke about this.
Fabricating 475 of the largest gold dredger buckets in the world for South Africa is both a
manufacturing challenge and a very profitable enterprise. But we still must lay off eighty to a
hundred engineers and support people. This is stop-gap. We’ll know more in Washington next
week. Norris deserves a hand from everyone.”
The Fernville Tribune printed a front-page editorial about the new contracts at Maxtar that
could keep the labor force mostly intact. The mix of new products was believed to include a large
number of huge dredger buckets. These could be the largest and costliest such items ever made, and
in a way an ironical connection to Fernville’s Gold Rush beginnings. The editorial rhapsodized:
Perhaps we are seeing the first fruition of that age-old yen of the human spirit – the turning
of weapons into plowshares. And rather than disparage this radical departure from the
sophisticated missiles made by our Maxtar Company, we should rejoice and welcome it.
One day we may brag to our grandchildren that it was in Fernville where a turning point
was made toward world peace, when weapons were turned into – not plowshares exactly –
but gold dredger buckets. And that’s close enough, we think, for a beginning.
Myron Haddad could tell right away by the size of his reservation list and the entrees
ordered that the economy was turning around. At Dave Cornwell’s suggestion he offered a “Bucket
of Wine” special, and Cornwell poured what he called his “Bucket-Size” specials until six o’clock.
Smith expressed his displeasure to Deepak over the misplaced emphasis on the “dredger
aspects” of the new business, especially when big-city newspapers took the matter out of context.
“High Tech Goes Slumming,” was the headline for a feature article in the Los Angeles Times
Sunday Supplement. “Guided missile firm seeks bigger profits in lowly buckets.”

“Christ, Norris! Half the population down there sits around on their asses Sunday morning
drinking coffee and reading crap like this. It’s not news and its not true.”

That evening at the Vista bar Arthur Sonett joined a dispirited Jim Wilton who showed him
the two-week layoff notice. “Well, it’s back to old L.A. for me.”
“Arthur. If you take off, how about a deal on your Thunderbird?” Cornwell hung around the
two of them. “Teresa’s gettin’ a little narrow-minded about my big old truck.”
“Nope. At least I’ll come out of all this with some nice wheels.”
“Say, you got girls in Kansas like Beverly, Arthur?”
“Jim, not even L.A. has girls like Beverly.”
Cornwell stretched his arms across the bar and grabbed their shoulders. “I’ll miss you guys.
We all spent time in the bucket factory. Chalk it up to experience, but let’s hope we never have to
go back to where the sun don’t shine.”
Thursday afternoon Arthur Sonett had his first meeting with Alex Mannoy, a short
administrative session during which the real subject was carefully avoided although it permeated the
fifteen minutes like a fog of combustible vapor verging on ignition at every word. Sonett returned to
his desk, his armpits dripping and throat dry. Why not give two-weeks’ notice right now?
At two o’clock the secretary told him he had a phone call.
“Arthur. This is Fred.”
“I thought you were in Washington, Fred.”
“I am, and we’re still in a meeting. We’ve had a million of them.” His voice was quick and
high-pitched. “This is important, Arthur. It’s about that proposal of yours.”
“The Moray? The one the guys called the low, slow Dodo missile?”
“It’s a nice piece of work, Arthur, and we need it back here right now. How many copies do
we have around there?”
“You need it? … Well, four or five.”
“That’s enough.” Jennings’ voice became commanding. “Get on the seven o’clock to
Burbank tonight and catch the redeye to Washington out of L.A. International.”
“What? Wait a minute, Fred.”

“There’s no time to talk. Beebe’s people are taking care of the travel. Security will be there
soon to get those proposals ready for you to hand-carry back here. You get yourself ready.”
“I’ve got a dentist … ”
“Don’t argue! Just get your ass back here.” Sonett experienced again that wilting sensation
under the voice of authority. “Take a cab to the Plaza Hotel. A room’s reserved. I’ll pick you up at
ten sharp. Get some sleep on the plane and be ready to talk.” He paused a few seconds. “As you
know, Arthur, I haven’t had time to go through your proposal. Our team will be relying on you for
the details.”
Arthur Sonett did not like airplane travel. At the airport he told Jim Wilton that he was savvy
enough about mechanical stuff to know what to worry about. The Martin 404, despite the bouncy,
dark ride and random clunks and knocks, arrived safely at Burbank Airport. Later, on the DC-6 to
Chicago and then to National Airport in Washington, he drank two martinis, hoping the alcohol
would reduce apprehension and induce sleep, but it did neither. For years he would have nightmares
stemming from his exhausted, dawn arrival at a gray and bitterly cold Washington, D.C. He was
driven to his hotel through the famous streets, winter-drab and foreign to him.
In a trance-like state he was picked up by Jennings. His eyes were half-closed as Jennings
described the interest shown in the Moray proposal. They were escorted down long hallways in the
Pentagon, and entered a plush conference room where nearly two dozen people were sitting. Sonett
nodded at Ryland Smith and Dr. Deepak. He was on the verge of throwing up.
“This is Arthur Sonett, my assistant,” Jennings said. “He’s our key man behind the Moray
work.” Sonett sat down, noting that about half the attendees were uniformed Air Force officers. He
assumed the rest were Pentagon officials. The civilian at the head of the table thumbed through the
thick proposal Jennings had handed him.
“That,” Jennings whispered, “is an assistant secretary of defense. It’s the highest level we’ve
reached.” He gripped Sonett’s shoulder. “For Chrissakes, don’t fuck up.”
“Let me bring you up-to-date on the background to this situation, Dr. Sonett,” said the
official. “And of course it’s classified top secret with need-to-know access. This is very sensitive
and also very alarming.”
Arthur Sonett read curiosity in the faces turned to him, but he felt something else in those
looks, something expectant – a pre-approval. He bit his knuckle and squinted at the world map on

the wall. Inside, a voice was telling him he was in the driver’s seat. He was carrying the ball.
“I see this design is for a subsonic, low altitude, ground-to-air missile system with a large
“Very low … very slow … very cheap … and very loud,” said Arthur Sonett. Jennings
stiffened next to him. Others smiled, and a few chuckled nervously.
“You people were pretty far-sighted on this.”
“Well, that’s Maxtar’s hallmark,” Fred Jennings interjected.
“OK, here’s what’s going on, Dr. Sonett. All missile work, both here and there, has been
along a logical, technical evolution toward larger and more complex assets at higher speeds and
altitudes. Both we and the Soviets know what the other’s doing in general. But now Intelligence
says they’re turning out large numbers of solid-rocket-boosted, subsonic, simple turbojet, drone-
type missiles … indeed the technology of the late ’40s … which accommodate a small fission
device, say six kilotons or so. A large Soviet task force, like the one we were monitoring earlier this
year in the Atlantic, could secretly carry hundreds of these, most of them decoys. And the damned
things can be carried on freighters and on old bombers, too. Our Nike, Bomarc and fighter defensive
networks would be ineffective against such a massive and distended threat. They’d raise holy hell
along our eastern and western seaboards, and would open the doors to pinpoint attacks by their new
Bison strategic bomber.”
“With our lines of offshore picket ships, Liberty ship hulks and old mothballed ships,”
Sonett broke in strongly, “you’ve got like a Maginot Line along both coasts. And the Moray itself
can go into almost immediate production.”
“Now, if you would, Dr. Sonett, walk us through your design and proposal in the next hour.
If it’s as good as it looks so far, I think we can get you folks an interim letter-contract real soon and
probably sole-source the whole thing within six weeks.”


Their seats weren’t bad – halfway up the dress circle, where there would be a bit more anonymity.
Alice said that lower down, where the glitterati gathered, she might be recognized by acquaintances
from the opera-going set who ventured here from her previous haunts in Cleveland, Chicago and
Beverly Hills.
Her caution, which Dick Hervey appreciated, meant separate cars, separate rooms and a
proscribed public intimacy. When he said he’d even take the hotel stairs, she said that would be fine.
Over cocktails before the opera they playfully deadpanned through an exculpatory routine:
Cousin? – No. Not close enough. And too obvious.
Brother? – Not with your nose.
Ryland’s brother from Maine? – Do I look like a senator’s brother?
Uncle? – Yes. Uncle by marriage would be perfect.
“‘Ingrid, please meet my Uncle Fred. He’s from Idaho.’”
“‘Delighted to meet you, Ingrid. Frisco’s an amazing city. And my favorite niece here is
going to show me all her charms.’”
Alice burst out laughing.
“Let’s pray you don’t run into somebody,” said Hervey.
Saturday morning broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera hadn’t prepared Hervey for the
abstruse nature of Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten. Anyway, he had larger matters on his mind.
Alice was, in her way, resplendent in pearls and black. He had too much of Fernville in him to be
comfortable in that glamorous milieu. He felt conspicuous, as if he bore a sandwich sign
proclaiming him a washed-up, minor-league teacher from the provinces, overmatched by the woman
and the complex opera – and as holding zero net-worth. Now, after the lights dimmed, and with the
dark and disturbing music complementing his own troubled thoughts, he saw the woman who was
without a shadow enter the stage, and he put his hand over Alice’s. Soon she would be a long and
lingering one – a shadow without a woman.
Of immediate worry, though, was his lecture at Adler’s Philosophical Society. He’d applaud
with the others, but he was thinking of the disturbing scientific credo of Drs. Teller, Fermi and the

rest of them: “The important thing is for scientists to do the things that can be done – their science
gives them no special insight into public affairs – weapons developed were not only weapons of
terrible destruction but, more than that, they were also super physics.” There! The tap root – the
scientists’ rationale – to the nuclear blunder.
The fission success, revealed in ghastly and revolutionary displays at Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, cooled the heads of some in the political, military and scientific cabals, and the nuclear
genie was vulnerable for a brief time after the war. Hervey could say in an attention-getting lead that
this interval was perhaps the most critical time in human history, when bold action might have
stemmed the sophomoric enthusiasms of politicians, generals and the nuclear technicians. Address
the nuclear dilemma through personality rather than hardware. Scientists like Oppenheimer and Leo
Szilard expressed second thoughts over the monster they’d brought to life. The Acheson-Lilienthal
report, which advocated United Nations oversight of nuclear facilities and of uranium ore, was
prescient about the verging dark shadow. But it was so naïve about real politics and the dark corners
of human nature that it didn’t stand a chance of halting the nuclear blunder.
Look here! Even our renowned Dr. Teller once expressed an enlightened view about control
of the atomic genie. In an early edition of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in a moment of
surprising candor, he said: “Nothing that we can plan as a defense for the next generations is likely
to be satisfactory; that is, nothing but world-union.” He meant international control of nuclear
developments. Soon after, he switched to a strident advocacy for the building of his “Super” – the
hydrogen bomb.
Here would come the usual question about the damn Russians, reflecting fears over their
expansionist intentions in Europe and elsewhere. Wasn’t the bomb our last and best defense against
their aggressions and their own atomic weaponry? Was there evidence of their moral restraint about
using them, given their sordid history over the last thirty years? Well, there wasn’t much. That’s the
conundrum and the sticking point in all this. He’d have to fall back to that tepid philosophical idea:
the wrong people, Stalin, Beria, Malenkov – and a few of ours – happened to be in place. Those
odds again. But suppose world leaders then had seen the nuclear bomb as an unwelcome alien
invasion of our little world – as a common and lethal enemy that forced countries to join together to
corral and smother them in their infancy.
The curtain dropped, the applause began. And he was trapped in the argument box. No facile

way out, then or now.

At intermission they left separately. Hervey ordered cocktails at the foyer bar and met Alice
in a quiet corner.
“Well, Uncle Fred, the opera must have mesmerized you. No fussing, wiggling or hacking.”
“Like the crowd around us. Yes, I was immersed in the experience, but the price of these
drinks has jolted me back to my Fernville world.”
Alice laughed. “Well, it isn’t Puccini. I was thinking in there it must be our irreconcilable
differences that somehow energized this little thing of ours. I never think about money, but you
always do … or must. Me, quite loving this social scene.” She paused and raised her glass to the
milling people around them. “Even the opera part. And you obviously feel quite out of place.”
“There’s many more.”
Hervey guessed it was also the humor both saw in these differences, now held at arms-
length, that prolonged and spiced the affair. If they had to live with them at close range, the situation
would quickly turn incendiary.
The five-minute bell rang and they finished their drinks. Alice stood away from him and
talked as if she were priming a student for the next act.
“Dick. We’re both tired. It’s been a long day with the drive and all. Big dinner. Long opera. I
need to lie low tonight … if you gather what I mean.”
Hervey tried to look surprised and disappointed. He shot a contrived glance down her body.
“I’m sorry, Dick, but …”
“You’re right, Alice. We’re not 25. And you do look a bit tired. Tomorrow night we won’t
have that mournful cello and moody drama to rise from. Rise? Yes! For tomorrow I’ll be singing the
‘Prize Song,’” he said with a dramatic flourish.
“You’re so funny! Thanks, Hervey.”
He held a look of reluctant acceptance while rejoicing inside. He needed an hour tonight to
organize and practice his speech and an hour early in the morning. Mostly, though, he wasn’t fit for
a long night – or even a short one.
The curtain rose, the drama began – the culmination of Strauss’s right-brained complexity

and insight. How could it be, he thought, that those technical geniuses, working from the brain’s
other side, were coming up with more hideous weaponry? How did we blunder into this nightmare?

Hervey kissed her in the hallway in a fatherly way, and she thanked him again. He worked
on his talk for a while when the phone rang. Oh, oh, he thought. Alice had changed her mind, and
there would be an invitation he’d have to refuse.
“Dick. I had to tell you the news!”
“How about over lunch?”
“No. Listen. Ryland just called. He was very excited. Maxtar was just awarded a big
contract. But the really big news is he’s been offered a position as executive vice president of the
whole of Maxtar. In Los Angeles!”
“I’m glad for him and the Fernville economy.”
“Now don’t be that way. We all knew the Smiths were short-timers in Fernville.”
“We can meet halfway in romantic Bakersfield.”
“You go back to sleep. I’ll see you at lunch.”

He thought his speech to the audience of a hundred and fifty went well enough. As always,
his deliberate speaking style, pauses, confident manner and professional bearing filled in when
substance was on the thin side. And, of course, during the discussion the matter of the damned
Russians was raised. If morality had any place in stopping the nuclear madness early on, and the
Russian leaders in their hermetically-sealed universe displayed none or else lost theirs believing we
had none, then …
Hervey left the point moot. Since he was addressing a philosophical society, he concluded
appropriately: “It just may be that those right-brained artists, in their many depictions of the pockets
of darkness in the human soul, have long been telling us that whatever the mix of personalities, the
‘what-ifs’ or the revisionist reconstructions of those days in the ’40s … we humans would have
found a way to blunder into the nuclear nightmare of today.”

They would leave just after Christmas, Alice excitedly told him over an early dinner in San
Francisco’s North Beach. She knew just the part of Beverly Hills where she’d look for a house. Paul

would immediately go to a private school. She hoped Fernville High hadn’t ruined him for life.
Ryland promised a trip to Paris and Rome in the spring. She’d get involved again in the Art League
in Los Angeles, and both would do some grass-roots work for the Republican Party to get some
name-recognition for Ryland, just in case. But all this would be secondary to her writing. Her first
novel, Auriferous Grounds – for Murder, she hoped to finish by February or March.
“Well, here I am talking too much about myself again. I can tell I’m boring you. Let’s have a
bit more wine, then we must go.”
“Or a lot more and forget the opera.”
“Oh, no. Not Meistersinger. It’s my favorite.”
“Hitler’s, too.”
“Now don’t be so damn cynical. It was written in 1868.”
This wasn’t the Alice of the moonlit patio, although as beautiful now, glowing from the wine
and dazzling in jewelry and a low-cut gown. Back then, his ego had been boosted by her seeming
vulnerability. She had probably seen his quickness and flippant knowledge as more than it was. He
guessed all that was not enough to sustain much of a relationship beyond the secret trysting in its
storybook setting.
Before they left the restaurant he lightly said they were like two dissimilar onions, whose
thin skins, which once seemed enigmatic, foreign and even interesting, had been peeling away over
the last month. She was irritable and distracted, and said she didn’t know what the hell he was
getting at; the red wine on top of the two martinis were too much for a man his age.
“That’s quite a condescending observation,” he said with an edge as they got into the taxi.
“I’ve been around,” she said.
“I’m afraid you have,” he said, knowing that the light treading between them, the
playmaking around their real-life opposites was close to moribund.
The shared tenseness throughout the four-hour opera was accented during the intermissions.
She ordered bottled water and he a soft drink. In the white light she looked older, her real 35 no
longer suggesting a 30, and he could detect the teasing gestation of fleshy clues that would become
a 40. During the second intermission they stayed in their seats. Alice talked of progress on
Auriferous, although she was now experiencing a writer’s block of sorts, as intrigue over the
presence of Joe Milano at Helen’s house leaked backwards in time to influence how she treated plot

and character in 1921.
“My curiosity’s got the best of me. I’m gonna smoke old Joe out.”
“What! You mean like, uh, ‘By the way, Joe, what were you doing at Helen’s about the time
she was murdered? … wait … I mean suffered a heart attack?’”
“No, no. I’ll tell him I need background color, first-hand material from those early mining
days. And I do. Then I’ll tease him a bit and pop the calendar question.”
“Will this happen in broad daylight or in …?”
“Hervey! I do believe you’re jealous.”
“Now how could I be jealous of a guy who owns the town, has a forty-year reputation for
you-know-what, has all his goddamn black hair and two inches on me … heightwise?”
Alice burst out laughing as the lights dimmed. “Dick, if it weren’t for your humor.”
“It bounces off yours pretty well. It’s our bottom line … or maybe was.”
Hervey was reconciled that Walther’s operatic success wasn’t going to translate to his. It was
a short, quiet ride back to the hotel. They hesitated at the elevators. The ending was inevitable, had
always been – death, taxes and affairs like this. But now a headache, fatigue and a sore back from
four hours in a cramped seat would dampen – postpone for tonight anyway – the anguish a 45-year-
old, beneficiary of a rare lightning-strike, might rightly feel just then. The coming winter nights
alone on the back porch and in the now-silent old house would present the real challenge.
“Going up?”
“No. I believe I’ll walk it.”


By early December, winter had rendered skeletal the cottonwoods, buckeyes and deciduous oaks,
and the recurring rains had rejuvenated the Cedar River. The water’s strong but silent flow by Dick
Hervey’s cottage augured well for the crayfish, suckers, bass and perhaps even the Coho salmon.
John Wickware wistfully said the fish were likely to have already located and traversed San
Francisco Bay, entered the Sacramento River, and turned off unerringly into its San Joaquin branch,
where they were just beginning to detect the faint and unique and seductively rapturous scent of the
Cedar River drainage. Wickware already had his weir-like fish-counting rig set up in Cedar Valley.
The black phoebe showed up in the shrubbery near the creek for the third straight winter.
The inside bird seemed to enjoy watching the black-hooded little creature’s tireless, darting sorties
at tiny flying insects. Kloits still screeched away at Hervey – as both fervently anticipated a final
Alex Mannoy’s apartment was in a rabbit warren of apartments. But the newlyweds would
soon move to a larger one on Calaveras Road where an almond orchard had been leveled – “paving
over the priceless, deep loam,” Wickware had complained to the city council.
The elopement and marriage experience took on the significance of a weekend shopping
jaunt to a neighboring town, and – “Oh, by the way, we got married.” Hervey thought Clarissa was
holding to the emotional middle-ground, neither flushing much exuberance nor showing signs of a
letdown. He wished them well and promised a nice wedding present after they moved.
Vera raged over the phone about Hervey’s parental failure, but he assured her that Clarissa
had married into a status well above what they might have logically projected for her. “Mr. Mannoy
holds a master’s degree in nuclear physics, Vera,” he said, “and is a big, handsome fellow to boot.”
He knew that would do the trick – and it did.
He was far behind in his research schedule because of the diversions of that fall – the
diversion of Alice. She was physically in the background now, except for a weekly lunch in the
museum. But her mindful presence caused him frequent mental and physical flight from his work,
and indeed some anguish as she withdrew into writing-only schedules.
Politics Around the Atom, Revising Hiroshima, and A Failure at Potsdam had become elastic
in scope. Now he found himself drawn to the quasi-philosophical, the moral question he had raised

at the San Francisco conference. Where was the stopping point – was there one? – in scientific-
technological research that pointed at, and inexorably led to, a monstrous, future product – say a
loaded, black metal nose cone, shorter than you and which you could get your arms around?
Absolutes. No more lazy thinking in that military realm of the relative.
John Wickware, too, established a regimen, not as strict as Alice’s, for he still dropped by on
weekends and indulged himself as before. Fernville State was getting tough on him, he admitted.
Alice called Hervey regularly, advising him of plot turns and difficulties in her novel. Their current
status, she told him sweetly, was difficult for both, but really was the only practical course.
“Practical wasn’t in your vocabulary a short time back,” he told her, sounding as dejected as
he could. “And I don’t feel a status. I feel more of a limbo.”
“Oh, I’m gonna miss you down there in L.A.,” she laughed. “We must keep up some line of

Early in December, on a sparkling clear and warmish day, they met for lunch in the small
city park. He brought along a thermos of red wine, knowing its catalytic workings were now limited
to increasing Alice’s volubility and short-term good humor. They chatted and joked through lunch.
“But listen, Dick.” She put her hand confidentially on his shoulder. “I finally screwed up
enough courage … you’d call it gall … to make an appointment with Joe Milano.”
“To confront the character who’s the murderer in your novel?”
“Well … not exactly. But to pop the question. ‘Why were you at Helen’s house that day?’”
“There may well be another murder, which I’ll have to write about … oh, Alice, it’ll be
bleak around here. A sober Wickware. A radioactive son-in-law. No wit. No raucous Helen. No
lively daughter. No enchantress.” Hervey poured out the remaining wine. “It’s a marvelous day.
How about a drive up the canyon?”
“Oh no you don’t! My creative muse trumps your wine one. I’ve got a schedule.” She got to
her feet. “Besides …”
“Yeh, I know,” he said with a resigned nod. “When do you see Joe?”
“Well, it’s tonight. We’re going to meet for dinner. A little place near Merced. Strictly
business, but discretion, you know.”
“Why not at his office?” A plaintive note had crept in.

“Now don’t look so upset. Joe’s got fifteen years on you. Besides, Dick, you’ve really
nothing to say about this.”
“What’s Ryland say about it? Or Shirley?”
“He’s in L.A. looking at private schools with Paul. Shirley? … I don’t know.”
They walked back to her car. “Be sure Milano sticks to the agenda. Yours.”
“Don’t be silly,” Alice said, tossing him a kiss.

From a corner of the bar in the Fernville Lanes, Hervey could see the intersection of Kloits
Road and the county road that came down from the hills. At six-thirty, Alice’s green Ford
convertible came around the bluff and, in character, rolled fast past the stop sign. It turned left on
Kloits Road and sped out of town. Wickware was at a herpetology conference in Monterey. Clarissa
and Alex were on their way to visit Vera in Sacramento. The radar dome on Roble Mountain was
being painted white. He might as well have another martini and stay for the chicken-fried steak

Later that night he struggled with a difficult chapter in Politics Around the Atom – about
safety, transportation and accountability of plutonium – the most dangerous material in the universe.
At ten the intruding vision of Alice left him unable to concentrate further on the issue of the
millennium. He telephoned her house but there was no answer. He exercised the oboe briefly and
cleaned the cockatiel’s cage, relieved this messy chore would soon be over for him. At twelve-thirty
he drove through the quiet streets to Sugar Pine Drive, with its sweeping view over Fernville and the
valley. The driveway was lighted and the backdoor lights were still on. He guessed he’d have to
wait until the novel was published to learn how Alice’s night had panned out.


The white Thunderbird moved up Kloits Road with authority, making a fast turn on Missile Way
just short of squealing its tires. It turned off into the Maxtar parking lot and worked its way right up
to the front into a restricted parking area.
What seemed different now about Arthur Sonett was not explicit enough to draw comments,
but it might prompt internal questions as he passed them by: Back a little straighter? Head held
higher? A purposeful stride? The clothes?
Jim Wilton merged from a side aisle, and they walked along together.
“Arthur, you’re a new man now with a great job and a real office. And out from under
Blacksuit Mannoy. What’s your title?”
“Well, I’m the Technical Assistant to the Moray Project Manager, Chuck Boardman. Nice
guy. No more Jennings breathing down my neck.”
“Keep me in mind, Arthur.” Wilton slapped Sonett on the shoulder. “I’ve been bred to be a
staff assistant to a staff assistant. And with Cornwell gone maybe I can get you bred with the best
chicks around here.”

“Just put the file cabinets against that wall, Floyd. The book cases over there.” Sims said this
was the last physical moving job for him, as two new people had just been hired.
“It looks like times are gonna be good again. My wife thinks we oughta get into some
property up here.”
Fred Jennings dropped by. “Arthur, Personnel told me Lockheed and Aerojet have contacted
you. Before you entertain any offers, please talk to me.”
Sonett said both companies had solicited him after publicity broke over the new missile.
Both presented exciting plans for the future. Aerojet, close by in Sacramento, talked of giant booster
rockets. Lockheed was starting up missile and satellite-systems facilities in Palo Alto and
Sunnyvale. There were new opportunities all over as Congress opened the purse strings for defense.
He was tempted, all right, but the future here looked even more promising.

Ryland Smith was relaxed and smiling happily. “I’m aware this is against company policy,
but then it’s still me who makes company policy here in Fernville.”

“OK, Ryland, quit hemming and hawing and pour the drinks,” said Dr. Clark Beebe. “Most
executive suites around the country are smashed by this time on a Friday afternoon, only two days
before Christmas.”
“Yeh, Clark, you should’ve closed the plant at noon,” Norris Deepak said. “The parties
began even before lunch. Nothing’s getting accomplished out there.”
The three executives took their glasses and sat down. It had been a good year, and the next
one looked even better. Deepak said his economic theory on money-flow and prosperity, as
influenced by the defense-spending variable, was now supported by real data in the test-tube case of
Fernville. He would write the book about it.
“We’re glad you got all your data, Deepak, because for sure we don’t want to go through
that ghastly experience again,” Smith said.
“Ryland.” Beebe held up his glass. “Congratulations again on your promotion. We’re all
gonna miss you.”
“Thanks, Clark. It’s been a tough run up here, but in some ways I’ll miss Fernville and this
part of California.”
“I’m guessing your Alice won’t though.”
“That’s for sure! She’s already salivating over real-estate ads for Beverly Hills in the L.A.
papers.” Smith appeared jovial, but Alice’s latest caper angered him. A couple of weeks before he’d
phoned her five times from Los Angeles. At two in the morning she still wasn’t home. She didn’t
hear the phone, she claimed, but it was right next to her goddamn ear in the bedroom. Probably that
sonofabitch Hervey was involved again. If they weren’t leaving Fernville, he’d get that communist
bastard fired.
They clicked glasses again, and Ryland Smith said, “Just between us kids, I’ve got a kind of
long-range interest in politics. At the higher level of course. Not at the bickering, ineffective level of
local politics.”
“You’d make a great senator, Ryland,” said Beebe.
“You’d look the part anyway,” said Deepak, “and that’s three quarters of the battle.”
Smith enjoyed the banter as he opened a copy of Aviation News. “Look here. This is real
exciting, an editorial about the new Russian threat with those cheap, throwaway, bare-bones cruise
missiles and our Moray program.” They scanned the editorial by Robert Lotz:

If it were not enough for the head-in-the-sand types in Washington that the recent
Soviet advances in bombers and missiles shocked the rest of this nation to the reality of the
Soviet threat, then we must hope this new intelligence will cause them to remove their heads
and look around. Specifics about the new low-altitude, subsonic missile, called the SR-13,
are classified, but information released so far should remove all doubt that the Soviets are
striving for nuclear first-strike superiority. Arming large numbers of low technology
missiles, indeed the technology of the forties, with small, atomic warheads puts the Eastern
and Western seaboards at great threat. Our defenses would be overwhelmed by distended
fleets of incoming missiles, most of them decoys, that lack even basic modern electronics.
The havoc created would set the stage for precision attacks by their new long-range Bison
jet bombers.
Countermeasures are on the way. One imaginative defensive scheme involves long
lines of picket ships along the coasts capable of launching large numbers of low-
performance missiles armed with small atomic warheads …

They chatted over other good news. The Pentagon was receptive to the short-range SPICA
proposal. A Navy contract was due in January. Smith and his top managers had just received
substantial year-end bonuses. Beebe was pushing to hire another eighty people. Stores in Fernville
were having their best-ever Christmas sales. And the scotch was good, the best Ryland Smith could
find in their town.
“I want to propose one last decision to make here in 1955. I want to return all that stop-gap
work to the other divisions. I believe it sullies our main purpose and capability.”
“Including the big buckets, Ryland?” Beebe said with pretended concern.
“Especially the big buckets, Clark! What about it, Deepak? Write off what we’ve put into it.
Generate corporate goodwill.”
Deepak appeared thoughtful, holding his glass out as Smith splashed in a bit more scotch. He
poured in some water. Beebe slid the ice bucket down the table.
“Well, diversity makes some economic sense. But we’re in the missile business, and I
believe we must cast our fortunes there.” He hesitated and smiled. “In fact, gentlemen, that’s where
the fortunes are. OK. We’ll write off the bucket work and the rest and hire and fire as occasions

“So how much goes down the tubes on the start-up costs we’ve incurred?”
“Not a great deal. And frankly I can bury most of it.”
“Are you saying the Department of Defense can’t tell the difference between dredger bucket
and guided-missile costs?” Clark Beebe asked in a light tone, drawing a frown from Ryland Smith.
Deepak was inscrutable as he stared at Clark Beebe. Then his flexible, round face-mask
changed slowly to an expression of outright indignation. “What a terrible thing to suggest, Clark!”
Smith shook his head and laughed. “I’m gonna miss you guys, too, but not this sort of
bullshit. Well, it’s decided then. To 1956, gentlemen!”

Fred Jennings set up a makeshift bar next to his office and went about, red-faced and jolly,
hugging and shaking hands with everyone in the vicinity. Earlier he had passed out Christmas bonus
checks, generous this year.
“Where’s Mannoy? He oughta be here.”
“Old Plutonium’s not the same since he ran off and got himself married. I think the
honeymoon’s over.”
“Hey, Flatley, speaking of honeymoons! Take a look over there under that mistletoe I hung
up this morning.” A lot of mistletoe kissing, tentative, reluctant and embarrassed, was happening
throughout the beehive. But this one caused heads to turn – the combination of that shy Arthur
Sonett and Heat Wave, the mail girl.
Decorated with Christmas lights the Vista restaurant in its elevated location above Fernville
was the visual and social focal point during the holiday season. Its parking lot overflowed into
adjacent streets and dinner reservations were full on this Christmas Eve. Several other Fernville
restaurants were being refurbished, and two new ones were in the planning stages by groups with
Los Angeles money behind them. Myron Haddad’s near-monopoly in the eating and drinking
business would be gone by summer.
The lounge was crowded with people two-deep at the bar. Bernie was on duty early, playing
subdued background music to the lively conversations around him, yet too early for his own
sentimental and romantic arguments.

“Myron,” said Joe Milano Junior, “you oughta buy that property next door. Dad says the
way things are goin’ in Fernville it’ll be a gold mine in a few years.”
“We’ve tried. Helen Needham owns it … did. But we’re on Bud’s shit-list.” He looked at his
watch. “I’m gettin’ an ulcer over these goddamn airplanes. Yeh, I’d like to build a new place. It
wouldn’t vibrate, that’s for sure. The ‘Vista Vibrator,’ for Chrissakes. Cornwell, my bartender, gives
free drinks to customers who’ve ordered but haven’t been served yet when the place shakes. He’s
popular, but he creates a lot of raucous noise and gets pretty obscene. I’m gonna let him go after the
“By the way, Myron, I just got in a beaut of a sport car. Know anybody that might want a
’56 Porsche with less than a thousand miles? I mean she’s cherry. A beautiful, grayish color.”

Later in the evening, when Bernie’s music was in transition before his final virtuosity,
Arthur Sonett talked with Jim Wilton at the end of the bar. His emotions were coming under control
but he preferred not to hear “Stella” anyway. He’d seen Clarissa occasionally, always feeling a jolt
of emotion that diminished all too slowly. Dave Cornwell had just said that he and Teresa Bondi
were ready to start their catering operation.
“She’s bailin’ out of the bucket factory in the middle of January. We’ll be runnin’ all the
receptions, parties and funerals around here before long.” He leaned over to Sonett. “By the way,
Snakehips. What do you think of old Teresa anyways? … aside from the flat part of it.”
“Teresa’s a great girl, Dave. Way too good for a crazy bastard like you.”
“Now that’s just what her mother keeps sayin’! And Teresa’s Catholic to boot and you know
my unfortunate compulsion to question authority.” Cornwell slid another beer in front of him. “You
and Jimbo are ridin’ free tonight. It’s a Vista company benefit for us bartenders in need of a
sounding board.”
“Does Haddad know?”
“Hell no. Haddad’s tighter’n a bullfrog’s ass.”
“Hey, Arthur. Tell us again. Were they like big pillows?”
“Again? Listen, Jim, it was just a quick mistletoe kiss.”
“Snakehips didn’t feel anything. She was huggin’ a two-by-four, one tit on each side.”
“Listen. I had too much of Jennings’ booze. So did she.”

“Well, old Heat Wave would cure your Clarissa hangover in about ten minutes.” Cornwell
reached down and brought up a large painting.
“Look what I’m givin’ Wiener Beebe for a Christmas present. Teresa did it under my artistic
direction.” The likeness of the face and head of Dr. Clark Beebe emerged from a toilet bowl with a
large, red rose between the teeth. He wore a football helmet with: “Lutheran 12, Fernville 0 – 1955”
written across it.
“Beebe’s too dumb to figure that out,” said Jim Wilton. Cornwell thoughtfully drew on his
cigarette. “I was thinking of somethin’ similar for Breeder Mannoy. The football game didn’t help
the wedding night … if you know what I mean … and I believe you do. But if I asked Teresa to
paint it, she’d never speak to me again. And out of concern for Arthur’s emotional lesions I won’t
describe the wilting-pecker scene I envisioned in four panels of living color either.”
“How do you see the marriage goin’, Dave?” Sonett asked, ignoring Cornwell’s prolonged
giggle. This had been a burning question for weeks, but he tried to sound casual.
“I’m giving three to one it won’t last a year. And I’m the odds expert here, don’t forget.”

Professor Richard Hervey finished his drink and shook a few hands at the departmental
Christmas party in a curtained-off room at the Vista Restaurant. President Foley made a late
appearance, and despite being warmed by alcohol from earlier parties, his handshake and “Happy
New Year” were decidedly on the tepid side, Hervey thought.
He started to pass by the crowded, noisy lounge, but he caught sight of her unmistakable
white dress at the piano bar. He hesitated, then strolled into the crowded area. Bernie was indulging
the crowd with his Christmas rendition, a number of carols artistically melded into one long piece.
The crowd at the piano entered and withdrew their voices as they were so moved. Alice, too, joined
in, although Hervey knew ensemble singing suited her not at all.
He ordered a martini for that lady there at the piano bar. No. Make that a double, bartender –
one last, ruined night in Fernville for Ryland Smith – and just water for him. He had work to do that
night, thank you. He stood back in the crowd.
“‘Night and Day,’ Alice!” he called out. “Yeh, Alice. ‘Night and Day,’” yelled another
voice. Others in the crowd joined in. “Come on, Bernie!” Alice raised her martini glass in a gesture
of thanks to the anonymous buyer as Bernie played the introductory chords.

She was really quite good – good enough that the crowd around the piano quieted, beguiled,
too, by her elusive beauty. Then she spotted him and gave a little half smile. She raised her glass
and changed the words: Night and day – you were the one …
Hervey smiled at her and turned away. He got his overcoat and hat and waved at Myron
Haddad as he started to the door. Alice finished and Bernie began to weave chordal meanderings
into his “Stella by Starlight.”
Hervey started thinking about uranium again – probably, he reflected, the only person on the
planet doing so at that moment.

The chilling and dense radiation fog, common to the great Central Valley during the cold,
cloudless days of winter, thickened over Fernville. The lights of the town and all the Christmas
decorations dimmed and finally became obscured from view of the remaining customers. Last to
disappear were the big floodlights in the industrial park where, minutes before, the shadowy outlines
of the Missile Systems Division buildings loomed in the mist. But to the north, solitary and
protruding above the faintly glowing blanket covering the town, bright strings of Christmas lights
still shone from the Nike Ajax missile structures on Roble Mountain.
Arthur Sonett got his coat and waved at Dave Cornwell who was telling a story to a captive
group of patrons. His feelings were a rich mixture of deep melancholy, new found pride and
anticipation of the future, all warmed from alcohol and the friendships of the evening. As Bernie
started his masterwork, Sonett felt that sting of sadness again. He shrugged it off and waved to
Bernie as he left the lounge.
Near the entrance door he found himself walking with another departing patron. The man,
older and of Sonett’s height, looked over at him.
“Sonett? … thought I saw you in there.”
“Professor Hervey.” They shook hands. Sonett said he was happy for Clarissa, and Alex
Mannoy certainly had a big future.
Outside in the parking lot, Hervey lingered with him. “Those Christmas lights across the
way on Roble Mountain … they’re my homing beacon.”
“I remember you were pretty much against that Nike installation.”
“As a Christmas decoration, it’s quite impressive. Anyway, I guess I’ll have to live with that

Nike battery for my duration.”
They stood together in the parking lot, the cars wet from the fog. Hervey put his hand on
Sonett’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Arthur, about the Clarissa matter.”
“Thanks, Professor. At least now I can concentrate on my work and the future. Probably you
can, too.”
“Well, life will be less noisy. But you’ve got thirty years ahead of you. Me … I’ll clear out
my attic, try to stay employed and finish a book or two I’m working on. And not run for public
“Your life is simplified.”
“Yes, and tomorrow it gets simpler when Clarissa moves the rest of her stuff to their new
apartment. Kloits, the bird, goes then … your donation, Arthur, as I recall.”
The cars were parked near each other. Arthur Sonett moved to his white Thunderbird.
Before Dick Hervey started his car, he yelled to Sonett: “Those damn birds live forever. I
was afraid for a while I was stuck with something to always remember you by.”

INTERMEZZO 1956-1986

Jan 1956 – Your sarcastic note about Joe and me is pitiful. A long dinner. So
what, Hervey. You and Ryland can go to hell –

March 1956 – Auriferous about finished! Such typing skills. Hold details of your monstrous house
in Beverly Hills. Plutonium arrogant and Clarissa subdued. Wick’s making it through his probation.
Health Education course is a snoozer. The calendar “M.” Tell me! The curmudgeon misses you –

April 1956 – Ryland, Supreme Corporate Boss, is a new person with lots of golf,
tennis, nice restaurants. Milano? Such a letdown. Those meetings were over
property next to the Vista. Helen didn’t answer the door at 6:00 on that
Thursday!! Joe said she was devious and vengeful. Not the sides of her we
loved. Auriferous finished and agent has sold it! Yes, Fernville is often on my
mind –

May 1956 – Wildflowers abound on Roble Mountain, but it’s ugly on top. So Dutton’s publishing
Auriferous! Congrats. I assume Helen will be credited as co-author. Clarissa’s been home for three
days with the damn bird –

Aug 1956 – It’s unkind of you to imply poor Helen had a part in Auriferous,
aside from the title. This author will steer well clear of Fernville after the novel
is published. Bakersfield plan is just not possible, but try Carmel. We’re off soon
for three weeks in France –-

Oct 1956 – Just read your clever Auriferous. I implied plagiarism to my pretty Alice because of the
implausibility of a hunt-and-pecking neophyte writer turning out a well-received murder mystery in
such a short time. Those ten minutes in her office! You’re ripe for the “Cyanide Process” in this
region as editorials and local talk denounce your “slanderous and ill-concealed distortion of a
murder case, long-closed, impugning citizens of high reputations.” Litigation on the horizon –

Oct 1956 – Beautiful but lonely evenings on the back porch. I would welcome Kloits, even Kloits
the ex-Mayor. Plutonium’s returning for a PhD (in nukes). Wickware’s in trouble again with a
religious group over his latest article on anthropomorphism. He’s for it, although maybe not for
salamanders. Haven’t heard from you. Success gone to your head? –

Oct 1956 – After months of agonizing, I’m coming clean! Helen gave me her
Auriferous manuscript two days before her death. Sketchy and very rough. She
made me swear to stick to its basic thrust, as truth was at its heart. I guess I
didn’t hide the locale, the times or Milano and the Kloitses well enough. Ten
minutes? Well, bad me, the driven writer, was looking for a Cyanide. Helen’s

work helped. 20,000 copies in print! Nice reviews. We’ve insurance. Milano and
the rest can go to hell –

Nov 1956 – Kloits is back and Plutonium’s gone. Clarissa moved to a small apartment. If a Cyanide
turns up I’ll send it along. Thanks for your candor, but did you find anything at all? Grammar
lessons in Bakersfield? –

Nov 1956 – I’m so sorry about Clarissa, but it’s probably for the best. I took this
rather cryptic, scribbled poem of sorts from her top drawer which I’ve kept
secret and pondered over. I read a lot into this, and maybe you will too!! –

Path to truth we’ll bifurcate There’s much in store for predator

One goes true, one’s checkmate Obliquely causing all that gore
Misdeeds of the hick turned squire Coyote cowers, awaiting fate
Deceived then smothered heart’s desire Auriferous path incriminates

Here’s the split, which way to turn

Let’s go left, then he’s to burn
Or take the track to cyanide
And one’s sad history – – rectified ( justified? Clarified?)

Feb 1957 – Some minor publishing success in periodicals for me, but no luck yet with Hiroshima.
So a nice England trip for you, but it’s I, the old literature specialist, who deserves it. Health
Education class is history. Yes! Helen’s verse raises big questions. May Cyanide present itself! –

May 1957 – My pretend senator is well connected in political circles and we’ve
met V P Nixon. Paul’s off to Yale next fall after a little ‘behind-the-scene’ arm
twisting. Condor will be published in the late fall! And it’s all mine! Minor upper-
tract surgery. Told to cut back on booze and cigs. Bah! Lithe Alice is up nine
pounds, but not where the likes of you liked it. Ryland’s taking a wine course!
He hates being upstaged at fancy dinners by overbearing wine snobs. Yes,
Dick, that interval in Fernville was memorable, unique, through the mix of
people, place and humor. Bakersfield, however, is out of the question. Glad
Clarissa’s back in the dating scene –

Oct 1957 – Ran into Bud Junior. Have to admit!! Wick and I speculated over Helen’s odd verse you
“discovered.” It’s quite explicit if taken literally. “Hick turned squire” – Perfect! But 1921 secrets

likely to remain so despite the snooping novelist. President Foley moves up and on to my benefit. A
big wedding here, Helen’s granddaughter, Nancy Needham, and Engineer Ingram. Her girth
explained by renegade “Kloits” gene? Plutonium showed up with Beverly to Clarissa’s fury. The
reception was by “Cornwell Associates.” Out of character for the character –

Feb 1958 – Happy to learn of Clarissa’s engagement. So this Wilton person is

on the colorless side, but many a woman has suffered from the colorful one.
Howie Stadler’s two years away from another try, you say? Ryland’s in line for
Pres of Maxtar. But Cleveland!! He might opt for politics. Several of my friends
are deep into Scientology. You’re so cynical. No wonder you sit around by
yourself drinking. Maybe you’ve got a past-life problem. –

June 1958 – Condor, nice 49er background and Fernville’s relieved and approving (see clippings).
We hoped you would make the wedding. Took over the Vista for the reception, run by Cornwell Co.
Poor John fell spectacularly off the wagon (throw-up, fall, ambulance). Dr. and Mrs. Plutonium
(Beverly) present. A bit tense. He’s starting at the Livermore nuclear weapon lab. Clarissa and Jim
will soon move to Valley Vista – pink gravel roofs, six walnut trees, three and two and brand new.
(fourteen grand). Kloits, noisier than ever, is back here until the move –

June 1958 – Poor John. My favorite character. Champagne will do it every time.
Just last month I had a similar misfortune and Ryland’s threatening AA. I’m
starting Centennial Murders but will stay well clear of the Fernville venue even
though Milano dropped his lawsuit –

May 1959 – Ryland will be a candidate for the 36th Congressional District! His
exalted presence plus the vivacious, talented wife will make him a shoo-in, they
say. He actively supports Nixon, who will make an appearance for him. I got
another rejection, but Centennial going well –

May 1959 – It’s now the Helen Crossman Historical Center. More floor space, two clerks, displays
and dioramas and few visitors. We’ve two new restaurants and the Vista’s suffering. Bernie was
lured back to L.A. No more throaty nightingales. Your Maxtar lost a big contract but landed three
others –

Jan 1961 – I’ll be bouncing back and forth, Washington and Beverly Hills. I Hate
to fly. Political life’s not my cup of tea either. It’s boring, even when compared
to those languorous days and nights in Fernville –

June 1961 –To answer your novelistic question: an amateurish bomb is very unlikely for Howie
Stadler types – but – – Howie’s 32-kilobuck shot is planned for next month – and that 30-megaton
Soviet shot, dear Alice, is all we need to know about the nuclear blunder. I will be so glad to see you
in August in hot Bakersfield! Don’t fret the twelve pounds – “… in the eyes of the beholder …”
Mine. My train arrives at two. Meet in that Holiday Inn bar –

Jan 1963 – Thanks for the Christmas card. So Ryland won again! Wick and I’ve read your three
published, but what’s holding up Obsession? The Stadlers struggle along and Patti works two and
three jobs. They’ll surface again in about ’70. Bad news – Clarissa and Jim split. She’s at loose
ends, I’m afraid. Well, OK, Alice – after a year and a half, why don’t we forget the Bakersfield
fiasco and resume our remote tête-à-tête based on that one-of-kind five months in 1955?

Jan 1963 – Regarding Bakersfield – sure. Forgive my pique, but 50, 40 and
alcohol too! My long drive, your slight of my genre because of lack of interest in
yours, a rejection for me just that day, accusing Ryland of trying to start World
War III, and the frowning disapproval I detected in your search for a 20-year-old
coed in the drooping shape of a 40-year-old. I nearly got killed driving back
over the Grapevine – dark, trucks, tired, mad and probably drunk –

Jan 1963 – That’s my Alice! I apologize for the Milano remarks. Those two o’clock doubles were a
huge mistake. I was so excited to see you. Wick and I were reminiscing about Helen and her times,
and she must have had another story to tell, the real story, and Cyanide, if it exists, must be it. We
fiddled with that little poem of hers, but it was Saturday night and soon we engaged other matters –

June 1966 –Ten years and your accounts of Fernville and its denizens make it
seem as if I still lived there. I’m so angry to learn of the dam in Kloits Valley. My
condolences to Wick. Ryland’s not sympathetic. Says we’ll need a lot more
dams. Politically, like most other things, we go in opposite directions. I’m sorry
to hear of Clarissa’s problems but glad she’s in treatment and you’re helping
her –

Sept 1970 –Well, my magnum opus, Politics … finally got its hour of recognition and a few dollars.
I’ve eight published articles, polemics – made a dozen invited speeches. Hiroshima … made it in a
small way, but thousands of aimed nuclear missiles (probably three at Fernville and Maxtar) testify
to my and many others’ impotence in the nuke matter. We’re just “pissin’ against the tide,” my
fishing friend, Dave Cornwell, likes to say –

Jan 1971 – Wick became Emeritus today but he still works all the time. It’s that or at home with
THE Bernadette! Remarkably, he’s dodged suicide, cirrhosis and being fired. A few more years for
your humble professor. The inimitable Cornwell says I ought to move from this dump on the river
before the encroaching multi-family housing eats me up. I confess to a bit of arthritis, tricky back,
trifocals. The Nike site was deactivated! My faction wants the mess removed and the oaks back, but
others want Historical Society to preserve it – as a memorial to hubris, futility and waste, I’d say!

July 1971 – Ryland is considered by some as Vice Pres potential! Howie fails
again!! 64 thousand. The odds on that, please? There’s a little high blood
pressure here and a bit of “irritable something.” A difficult AA regimen is now
underway –

Jan 1972 – Clarissa’s off in a trailer court near San Diego with her third, a glib promoter type.
Bristlecone’s a bigger organization now but we still mostly lose. Poor Vera’s failing fast in
Sacramento. Emphysema –

Feb 1975 – I sometimes think you folks in that backwater of Fernville are the
lucky ones. I see so much artifice the way we live. And you’ll think, Herv, that I
fit right in. Maybe I did, but at 55 (God, 55!) I think I followed the wrong piper.
Of course if I’d married someone like you, I’d be a worse alcoholic, a
dysfunctional wife and envious of that Alice Devereau in Beverly Hills. I’ll try a
couple more novels and then my tank will be empty. And it was filled mostly
during my transit through Fernville, by it, you, Wick, Helen and the rest. Well, I
really stopped smoking –

May 1978 – When I feel the need for a little therapy, I venture up to Kloits Lake with Dave
Cornwell and troll around in his boat. Too bad you must pay for same, but after your experiments
with EST, L. Ron Hubbard and the bizarre one at the trendy Big Sur Esalen mind-warper, a real
shrink may be the safest bet for you. So Ryland’s jumpin’ on the Ron Reagan bandwagon! But age
seventy may take him out as V P. Wick’s mild stroke was hastened by Gov Ron’s: “You see one
Redwood, you’ve seen ‘em all.” Poor Howie still hangs on at Livermore and Los Alamos –

Feb 1981 – Yes, it was a mild heart attack.. But it’s given me a new goal! Since
my mind is hopelessly screwed up (as you often hint) I’m going to resurrect my
body. Diet. Exercise. Back to my fightin’ weight of ’55. Don’t laugh. You’ll see –

June 1981 – Don’t be cute, Professor. I said “fighting” weight. Jogged two miles
today and a heavy gym workout. Have lost twelve pounds. Ten to go. Ryland is
spearheading Reagan’s proposed military buildup. Since you shamed me from
joining the Libertarian Party, I guess I’m a Democrat which is grist for Wash.
pundits. But still the dutiful wife at the boring gatherings –

Oct 1982 – I didn’t think I harbored much of the sentimental, but seeing the old cottage demolished
in one day almost drew tears, as it did for Clarissa who’s back here and fairly stable. Kloits hates my
spacious new condominium despite his fine view of the new freeway system. I should have got into
real estate forty years ago. My two acres on the river!! First my Nike and now Reagan’s missile
defense scheme! “Star Wars,” it’s dubbed. Alice, you are a wonder. A half marathon! So a half
martini for me. THE Bernadette has left us – and poor Wick’s starting to hole up, drinking and
listening to Bartok –

April 1983 – We’re now in our eleventh term and my fifth novel’s been
accepted! But Obsession’s still incomplete. I run three miles a day and write for
three hours. Dick, do you remember Bernie, the piano player at the Vista? Of
course you do. We ran across him at a nice little place on La Cienega. Claimed
he remembered me! No singing there but he played “Stella” for me. I cried. Not
over you, not over Fernville, but over the past, and my squandered youth –

April 1983 – Your bosom is what Bernie remembered. I’m pretty much on the wagon, 98% anyway.
Clarissa makes me toe the line –

Oct 1983 – This will be Ryland’s last term. The Administration needs him to
push through key funding for the SDI program. (Strategic Defense Initiative –
what a mouthful). I told him the whole thing sounds preposterous (based on
your sarcastic rendition of it). But he said if scientists like Dr. Teller support it,
then – blah, blah, blah. Fernville’s centennial coming up and I almost forgot
about Helen’s private papers! Maybe I’ll sneak in –

Feb 1984 – Howie and Patti came by. It’s been years. Gamble number nineteen in about two years.
Howie maintains a veneer of sanity over a tortured inner world, but he’s still employed at the
weapon labs. They both look awful! The centennial is going to be a major event here. I’ll turn
seventy-five the week before and the way I feel I can forget about celebrating mine –

May 1984 – Wick’s going on 78 and losing mental sharpness. The saddest, though, is seeing the old

idealist broken and discouraged by the savaging of his natural world. The Burrowing Owls are gone
and the sight of a logging truck coming out of the mountains can ruin his day. His pride and joy, his
wickwaria, now extinct –

Oct 1985 – Small world! During a sub-committee hearing on SDI, one of the
scientists involved was Dr. Alexander Mannoy, an associate of Edward Teller!!
He and Ryland had dinner and chatted about old times at Maxtar. You could
have had Mannoy all these years. Just turned 65 and stable at 114 pounds! –

Dec 1985 – Dr. Clark Beebe, President of Fernville State, is head of the executive committee
planning a major aerospace technical conference during the town’s Centennial in May. It’s labeled
“Science and the Citizen,” and one of the main elements will be an SDI debate with imported big-
shots. Kloits is back as Clarissa’s moving again. How long do these damn birds live, anyway?…
114 pounds! Makes my blood pound, but not where it will do any good –

Feb 1986 – Can you believe it?! Ryland has been invited to give the keynote
speech at your scientific convention! Beebe harassed him into it. The shadow
senator now sees this as an opportunity for a last major speech at a high-profile
conference on a high-profile matter. I guess this means I’ll be there although it
makes me very nervous, having departed the 1955 Alice, mind and body, and
local clans may be lying in wait. Kloits, I’m afraid, will outlive you, although the
Nike battery did not quite –

April 21, 1986 – Alice Devereau knows who that is. And so do I. I see a demand for a new edition
of your novel: Auriferous Grounds – for Murder. Helen Needham’s papers to be opened, so
Milano and Kloits clans sweat. Me – feeling rather poorly lately. If I’d known I’d live this long …


Fernville, California
May 1986

“It was a compelling illusion. {nuclear strategy since 1952} Even many of those who recognized its
pretense and inadequacy willingly fell under its spell. They continued to play the game because
there was no other. They performed their calculations and spoke in their strange and esoteric
tongues because to do otherwise would be to recognize, all too clearly and constantly, the
ghastliness of their contemplations. They contrived their options because without them the bomb
would appear too starkly as the thing that they had tried to prevent it from being but that it
ultimately would become if it ever were used – a device of sheer mayhem, a weapon whose
cataclysmic powers no one really had the faintest idea of how to control. The nuclear strategists had
come to impose order – but in the end, chaos still prevailed.”

Fred Kaplan The Wizards Of Armageddon, 1983

“There are no secrets … there is no defense”


For many years Richard Hervey’s anticipation of his solitary evening cocktail hour began early in
the afternoon. When yearning yielded to practice before the lunch hour, he acknowledged the
problem, bent to Clarissa’s admonishments and nodded his head in silent agreement to his doctor’s
canned but stern lecture. Now, when beleaguered by accumulated angst, he went fishing, or gritted
his teeth and turned on a little Mozart.
Still, this new abstinence, along with non-smoking and an exercise regimen, could do little to
reverse the results of those careless dissipations over many decades. He knew that the casual
observer, seeing the clefts, wrinkles, blotchy skin and the hitch in his walk, might guess him to be
well into his eighties. But what the hell. At least he wasn’t blind and out-to-lunch like Joe Milano
and a few of the other old-timers around Fernville.
Sitting on his spacious and elevated patio overlooking the eastern suburbs of Fernville and
beyond to the green-hued foothills of springtime, Emeritus Professor Richard Hervey was
concerned, not so much over what Alice would now look like – but what they would say to each
other. Would their conversations be bland and trivial, both realizing those thirty-year-old bagatelles

of intimacy were best held at a safe remove?
Ryland Smith was another uncertainty. The angry note he’d sent shortly after they left for
Los Angeles might still have currency. I’ll personally ruin you, Hervey, if you ever communicate
with Alice again. Had Alice squealed during an alcoholic row? Were they seen at the opera? Would
Smith’s anger have been tempered by time, or perhaps diluted by ten or fifteen years of impotence?
On that thought he drank from a large glass of ice water, adulterated with a mere ounce of
good gin, a twice-a-week indulgence which Clarissa agreed to and closely policed. It was just
enough anyway, a taste, a hint, which triggered a pretty good imitation of the euphoric lift six
ounces used to do. John Wickware claimed that just pretending a couple of tasteless vodka shots
were in his tonic water worked remarkably well. With those examples of runaway imagination,
Clarissa said she was glad not to be privy to their old-man sexual fantasies.
In their glances would be mutual reminder of that Bakersfield fiasco years before where he
saw elements of grand opera’s pathos and bathos. He would see, but pretend not to, the
reconstructive work likely done on her face. Curiosity now upstaged remnants of his old feelings,
for he’d passed through and was done with the Romantic Age and was stuck now in the cold
realities of what he termed was his Age of Enlightenment. And besides, Alice was here mainly for
the disclosure of Helen Needham’s private papers. The rest of her 1955 Fernville experience must
well have lost its emotional luster.
The goddamned bird started to squawk. Clarissa claimed her temporary surplus of cats gave
him a nervous diarrhea. The creature was failing, its brilliant colors faded and gem-like eyes dulled.
It spent most of the time now on the bottom of the cage with its feathers puffed out. Hervey hoped it
would not expire on the premises.
The phone rang. It was Patti Stadler. From her first words he knew his premonition had
proved correct: Howie’s demon had struck again.
“Dick! Howie’s going back again. He’s going to stake it all! You have to talk to him.”
She sounded almost hysterical, and he could see why. Howie Stadler had finally won last
month, more than a quarter of a million dollars, after nineteen straight roulette losses over half a
lifetime. Hervey hoped this windfall would settle accounts with Howie’s demon and he and Patti
might begin a kind of normal life. But long ago he’d sensed that Howie could never stop.
“Patti, you know there’s nothing I can do.”

“It’s even worse. He was fired from the Livermore Weapons Lab. After thirty-five years!
He’s been acting crazy since he won.”
“I’m terribly sorry about that, Patti. He seemed pretty upbeat when you were here.”
“It was those comments of your friend, Dave, that started it all. I can’t stand it any longer!”
Hervey was close to not caring any longer. Howie could blow his brains out if he wanted to.
Long ago Patti had been his favorite relative, almost like a little sister. And almost like a daughter
when he’d helped her through college and introduced her to a Prince Charming on his way to a
brilliant career. But over the years she’d become a disagreeable stranger – his Patti, stolen away and
ruined by this maniac. Now their marriage was over. Papers had been filed.
“All right, Patti. Have him call me. I’ll do my best.”
Couldn’t this be a clever plot line for Alice? Through impossible odds a bright young guy
with one flawed gene squanders his career, lives on the poverty line, turns a sweet girl hysterical and
ruins their marriage and health. Then he wins a huge pot of money, and the story’s real-life
denouement is right now unfolding before our eyes.
Their rare appearances always shocked him. Sixty now, they had inflicted on their bodies
several lifetimes of abuse, and Hervey guessed the curse of the red and black had also provided
fertile ground for future debilities, both physical and mental.
At his little party for them after their big win, they were lighthearted. A quarter million
dollars out of the blue – out of the red actually – would do that. Hervey hoped their marriage might
be saved, but after a few drinks, raw nerves began to talk.
“We could’ve got out of this mess a long time ago.”
“How? Just tell us all how, Patti!”
“You know! If only you’d played red like I’ve begged you.”
“See! She’s crazy.”
“It’s true! It was always red. And after all these years, you finally listened to me.”
But then Dave Cornwell’s comments upset them further, and Dick Hervey, sensing bigger
trouble, told them all to leave.

On the phone now she was crying, trying to tell him something else.
“ … and it’s even worse. He’s going back … bet it all, and … ”

“And what, Patti?”
“And he’s going to play black. Black! … Just to spite me.”
The celebration of the Fernville Centennial was titled “Science and the Citizen,” when the
American Institute of Aerospace and Astronautics, the prestigious AIAA, was persuaded to hold its
annual five-day technical meeting there during the centennial. Hervey thought the organizers outdid
themselves by adding a final Sunday panel debate on President Reagan’s SDI, the Strategic Defense
Initiative, labeled “Star Wars” by some. The Fernville Tribune noted that Professor Richard Hervey,
colorful longtime resident, former city councilman and prominent supporter of the Fernville
Historical Society, would give the welcoming introduction for the SDI debate.
Dr. Clark Beebe and the executive committee instructed him to give the audience just a nice
little non-technical warm-up before the serious stuff: a little regional history; Fernville’s
contributions to the nation’s defense posture; a couple of jokes. Keep it simple and light, because
plenty of controversy over the SDI subject would follow.
Helen Needham would have been perfect for the job, Hervey thought. He imagined what her
speech would cover if she could view the panorama before him now from the second-story of his
condominium. She would take that view back a hundred years to the single, grubby main street with
its saloons, wagons and commercial busyness, to when gold fever was still in the air. The small
Wells Fargo bricked building and an early section of the Kloits Mansion were about all that
remained now. Looking far to the east, she would describe ravaged mountainsides and mud-filled
streams after the thirty-seven years of wanton exploitation for gold from 1849. To the west she’d
describe the beginnings of agriculture, yet without benefit of irrigation, and vast, rolling hills of oak
and grassland. From Roble Mountain then you could look far into the San Joaquin Valley and see
the immense Tulare Lake and swamp, a primeval wildlife habitat, the richest in the West. But soon,
within a short, hundred years, that vast expanse would be turned into cotton and desert and lost from
human memory. Yes, Helen Needham should be making the speech.
But it was his three minutes and he would eschew the tainted romance of that past. Now his
view encompassed the outsized complex of the Maxtar Corporation and the dull-white structures
atop a bald Roble Mountain. These artifacts – and with uranium to be the dominant theme on
Sunday – told Richard Hervey that the most compelling story presented at centennial time could just

be his.

John Wickware called to complain that no one had come to see him all week.
“Clarissa was there Monday, John. And I’m coming tonight.”
“Don’t forget to bring a little sippin’ stuff, Harvey.”
“It’s Hervey. I’ll try to sneak a little in for you, John.”
Wickware kept busy reading in his assisted-living quarters and was lucid most of the time.
His walk, salamander-like, which Alice had demonstrated in an exaggerated mimic long ago, had
become more sloth-like in its deliberate, mesmerizing slowness, as arthritic joints and debilities
from another stroke took their toll. Hervey figured Wickware’s rapid decline was triggered less by
age, alcohol or the death of THE Bernadette, than by his realization that wickwaria were probably
extinct. While still able, Wick and graduate students from Fernville State trudged over the low
mountains and valleys year after year, but wickwaria were nowhere to be found.
“They’re still out there somewhere, Herv. We’ll find them and fight for habitat restoration,”
he was still saying. But Hervey knew the creature must soon be added to that growing list which
starred those crowd-pleasers, the ivory-billed woodpecker and the passenger pigeon.

Hervey could use a real drink now as his thoughts soured over Patti Stadler’s tragedy and
poor John Wickware’s decline. He wondered whether his experience with human nature and
uranium was responsible for his turning into a self-described old, skeptical curmudgeon. Maybe
“skeptical” should now give way to a “cynical” because of that natural, narrowing mental step that
aging brought to the forefront. Hervey thought of an easy example as his mind drifted. He had once
been “skeptical” about actions taken and those planned to improve traffic conditions in the
sprawling city. Now he was “cynical,” knowing that whatever the sophisticated studies and
constructions, it would be like “pourin’ sand down a rat hole,” as Dave Cornwell would put it, and
traffic jams there were destined to remain an implacable fact of life.


Ryland Smith was finally able to relax that Wednesday evening on Clark Beebe’s big deck after his
busy day, the beginning of Fernville’s centennial celebration. He had performed the duties expected
of the event’s premier participant with visits to the various venues and token appearances at several
of the early technical sessions of the AIAA. Alice, too, was treated as a celebrity and was now on a
tour of the college campus.
It had begun the night before at the airport. The long-serving congressman from the 36th
District in southern California talked briefly with the official welcoming group. This was easy for
him, a veteran of brief and superficial encounters with mayors, county supervisors, Republican
clubs and chambers of commerce. And he was conditioned to ignore pickets at the back of the
crowd, such as those present here with “NFZ” and “NO STAR WARS” placards.
He felt the admiring glances at his physical self, a body still slim and erect, his own long,
straight hair making its final natural color change from the silver-gray of his middle years to the dull
white of the elderly. Many there would be wondering why California Republicans had skipped over
Ryland Smith, instead chosing song-and-dance man, George Murphy, and sleepy S. I. Hayakawa as

their senators.
He was asked whether his role as moderator of the big Sunday debate on President Reagan’s
Strategic Defense Initiative would color the proceedings because of his outspoken political support
for it.
“No,” Smith replied. “My function is to act only as referee. The arguments will be made by
illustrious professionals supporting the opposing viewpoints. Dr. Edward Teller has indeed bowed
out of the debate, but Dr. Alexander Mannoy, his distinguished associate, will replace him.”

Now Ryland Smith raised his wine glass with the others as Fred Jennings proposed a toast to
the good old days when, before the freeway, it didn’t take a half-hour to get from the airport to
downtown. The alteration of Fernville over thirty years was for Ryland Smith a shocking step-
change that undercut the beguiling gradualism of his own aging. His former home, once the highest
in the eastern hills, was now in “middle-management territory,” Clark Beebe said. “Executive
territory” was now located here in these high hills and out in the flatland in gated communities to
the west. And then, Alice’s odd observation popped up again to Smith, more depressing than it
should have been: There had been several turnovers in cats and dogs.
“You know, fellas,” said Smith warmly, raising his glass to them, “it sure doesn’t seem like
thirty years. I fondly remember you all as part of the old Maxtar management team. Deepak, you
look as cagey as ever. And, Fred, I’d never recognize you with that rug on your head.”
“Yeh, and I’m thirty pounds lighter than in those days. Run every day. I’m 65 and feel like I
could still make the Michigan football team.”
“Your rug, Fred, has psychological impacts,” Clark Beebe teased. “You’re irrationally seen
in a more favorable light than a bald guy, which enhances your self-esteem. Minus the rug, you
wouldn’t be CEO of Maxtar International.”
Norris Deepak turned a lined and liquid face to Clark Beebe. “I knew you would come up
with nonsense like that, Beebe.”
“Well, Norris, a student of mine wrote her master’s thesis on the statistical correlation of
certain physical characteristics to top executives. You, at five-feet-five, and with a forgettable face,
would never make it into that select group.”
They sipped wine on the long deck in the warm, spring evening. As the old industrial park

below became illuminated, their eyes were drawn to the great old building. It had spawned
impressive careers for them and others, Smith thought. He, a senior congressman, conservative but
respected across the political spectrum. Beebe was president of a large state university. Fred
Jennings headed a merged corporate giant. Deepak – old Deepak. He just might be the famous one.
Head of the renowned business school at Fernville State University, he was widely published and
quoted. Smith consulted with him from time to time, although he was often left frustrated in that
bewildering campus of Deepak’s abstract economic theories.
Beebe explained how he and others had sold Fernville to the AIAA science and engineering
convention, successfully competing against Las Vegas, Honolulu and other exotic venues.
“Golf courses. California’s gold country. Yosemite not too far. The college atmosphere and
the lure of the centennial celebration, of course.”
“Yeh, but it won’t be long, Clark, before the wives realize this isn’t Vegas or San
Francisco,” Jennings said.
“I heard that Dr. Don Flatley’s on the SDI panel too,” said Smith. “I recall him at Maxtar.”
“It’ll be old-home week, Ryland. Arthur Sonett’s on it too.”
“Sonett! Why I remember him, of course. His work got us started on the Moray missile.”
“Dr. Sonett’s been around the block,” said Jennings. “He was with DoD for years and now is
a principal at Deltatron, one of the most influential defense think-tanks in Washington.”
“I knew the Moray missile project eventually went belly-up.”
“Yeh, we got into pre-production, built a few prototypes. The program carried us for almost
two years. The line of picket ships wasn’t real feasible, and then the Army’s Nike Hercules missile
program siphoned off a lot of defensive-missile funding. Mainly though, it turned out the Soviets
didn’t have a threat with those cheap cruise missiles anyway. Bad intelligence, I guess. Fortunately
for Maxtar, defense gurus at DoD and the Air Force were a bit slow on the uptake.”
“That’s funny,” said Smith. “I recall how alarmed they were in the Pentagon.”
“I know, but the Soviets were doing the logical things … jet bombers, nuclear subs, ballistic
missiles and H-bombs. Effective cruise missiles didn’t really come of age until the seventies.”
“Well, Deepak laughed, “it wouldn’t surprise me if you could sell DoD the Moray concept
all over again. Say we were thirty years ahead with the concept.”
Jennings responded with a too-long cackle that made Ryland Smith cringe. Jennings had

developed a kind of aplomb in appearance and mannerisms, except for that hideous laugh.
“I can see the headlines now,” Jennings said, “‘Maxtar solves the cruise-missile dilemma …
again! … Thirty-year-old missile system saves the day.’”
“Well, you’ve done OK without it,” Smith said. “The facility looks as busy as ever.”
“It is,” Jennings replied. “I’m taking you guys on a nostalgic tour later in the week.”
“What replaced the old Vista Restaurant and lounge where we conducted considerable
government business?”
“The Pioneer Hotel is our newest. The Milano, Kloits and Haddad families own it. And the
Roble Lounge at the top’s got a lot more class than the old joint.”
The Milano name bore on Smith’s mind more than the others. Years ago it had prompted
frustration and anger. In one of their reconciliation sessions twenty-five years before – the one that
worked, more or less, for him and Alice – she had admitted, in a tearful mea culpa, to the Milano
affair in Fernville, and he had brought forth one of his own in Santa Monica, both adjudicated to be
roughly equivalent on the damage-scale of infidelity. Not an affair, though, she maintained then, just
that single evening which began with only innocent intentions. Must have been that expensive wine
Milano ordered at dinner, she quipped.
“Well, all right, darling … Night.”
Smith had felt a peculiar sense of relief then. If Alice had “slipped” a few times – well, it
was somehow more bearable if the slip were with a “quality” person rather than with someone like
that pesky, left-wing loser Richard Hervey, whom he had once mistakenly suspected.
Tomorrow he’d give the keynote speech to the four-hundred scientists and engineers
attending the AIAA convention, and during the week he’d help out with centennial events. On
Sunday he would lead the symposium on the SDI. Then he’d return to Washington and wind down
his political career.
On the deck steaks were broiling under the watchful eye of a young man; and from the
kitchen came sounds of dishes being prepared. Beebe explained he’d hired a catering company since
his wife and Deepak’s were in Europe. “A first-class operation. They bring a wine cellar with them,
at least forty different and impressive labels.”
Beebe grew sentimental. “Look at that city there. We cover more than 30 percent of its time

span. A hundred years ago there was just a small settlement around the Kloits Mansion.”
“At old Funeral Corners.”
“It’s been the perfect laboratory for economic research,” said Deepak. “All the elements for
a modern economic model, yet small enough that I can trace everything.”
“Deepak pursues his economic hobbies using Fernville State as a roost. His reputation rests
on his talent to obfuscate. Put two like him together and there’s a zero-sum output.”
“Well, Fernville State needs published professors like me and Flatley more than a figurehead
like you, Beebe. We bring in research and endowment money. Why, Dr. Flatley’s physics
department is awash in research money, most of it DoD-related.”
Ryland Smith smiled at their playful banter which drew him back to the Maxtar days.
Beebe got to his feet. “Dinner’s ready, folks.”
“I saw a name on the catering company truck, Clark,” said Smith. “‘Cornwell Catering.’ Is
there any connection with that fellow …”
“Ryland, it’s Dave Cornwell’s company. ‘Cornwell and Sons.’ He’s the guy that…”
“Of course. My God! How could I forget?”
“Dave Cornwell’s a Fernville mainstay. His company operates all over the valley. Got a
branch in Sacramento. They put on conferences, weddings, symposiums, you name it. Cater the
food, provide the audio-visual, and arrange transportation and lodging. They’re doing the AIAA
meeting this week and the SDI conference on Sunday.”
“And dinners like this?”
“Just a small sideline.”
“Amazing,” Smith said, cutting into his thick steak. “I remember him as a crude sonofa-
bitch. Vulgar sense of humor.”
“He still has that belligerent look, but he’s very conservative now, runs a tight ship, and is
They talked of old times. The basis of their friendship was unaltered, and to each other they
seemed little changed: a couple of gimpy backs – a little arthritis – wrinkled and patchy skin – the
physical evidence of thirty years apart, but equally shared, so easily discounted in each other.
“I propose a toast, gentlemen.” Ryland Smith raised his wine glass. “Not to another thirty
years for us. That’s unrealistic even for you young guys. Instead, let’s bid another good hundred to

Fernville, our little city that spawns so many fond memories for us.”
“By 2086,” said Deepak, “the city will have spread halfway into the Central Valley.”
“Assuming the world doesn’t blow itself to smithereens before then,” said Jennings.
“Why should it?” said Ryland Smith. “It got through the last thirty years, didn’t it?”


As he approached her across the lobby of the Fernville Museum, he realized she would appear as a
stranger on a chance meeting in the street. A kiss – handshake – shoulder grasp – hug? Tentative
movements and half-smiles at three feet showed both were uncertain. But after a bit of clumsiness,
he kissed her on the cheek, and they embraced with a brief hug, resorting to the acceptable,
formalized greeting of casual friends at a cocktail party.
“Well, at least we’re both still walking … you better than I,” said Hervey.
“The new wing and the refurbishments have turned this drab old place into quite an
impressive little museum,” Alice said. “Not bad for a city like Fernville.”
“A ‘city’ now, eh?”
“City! Yes. Its spread upward and outward. If I were plunked down here unknowingly, I’d
never recognize it … or you either, Herv, for that matter.”
“Which I’ll take as a compliment. Yeh, standardized sprawl is happening all over California.
Gated communities of the smug and slightly paranoid will seem normal to young people now.”
“Oh, Hervey! As acerbic as ever. But gated communities in Fernville?!”

“Yeh. Out in the acre-minimum developments on our western fringe, eating up the rich
valley soil, as Wickware used to say.”
Dick Hervey felt their easy banter of before gradually return, as they sauntered through the
main rooms, the museum serving as a comfortable stage for their reunion. He remembered it was
here, by these faded photographs, where the touching and bumping and laughing aroused urgent
stirrings that prevailed over obligation to his two-o’clock lecture. Now his internal dialogue teased:
By the way, Alice, I remember when we faced this old dredger photo, how your slim, bare arms and
the fragrance of your aphrodisiac perfume incited an embarrassing priapism. Embarrassing,
because Betty Crowder had a clear view of me from her desk in the next room.
“What’s so funny, Herv?”
“Oh, nothing really.”
“Whatever happened to that Betty something who helped Helen Needham run this place?
She couldn’t hide her disapproval when she saw us here.”
“Betty Crowder. She managed it for twenty years. Never did sort out all of Helen’s stuff.”

By now Dick Hervey had assessed this new Alice. In her face he could discern the subtle,
accumulated impacts of those hundreds of cocktail parties – the clefts and lines from the forced
smiles and disagreeing political frowns – the muscular developments around her mouth from her
generous and responsive laugh. He guessed she’d had several regimens of plastic surgery, easily
discernible to ever-inquisitive and perceptive women. But that face, with those large hazel eyes,
framed with thick, gray-streaked hair done in a casual but elegant way, was yet a magnetic attraction
that must still draw those protracted stares, as it did thirty years before.
Professor Richard Hervey, with that masculine problem of the elderly upon him, was forced
to take an academic, disinterested view of her 1986 configuration – itself now unhelpfully unerotic.
Years of exaggerated athleticism had produced a wiry body where a careful observer might detect
the tentative beginnings of a wizened one. Certainly, Hervey saw, her bosom had been sacrificed.
And her bottom, in well-fitted slacks, had lost its roundness. He guessed that her once-excellent legs
would be thin and shapeless above the knees, sinews standing out, and approaching stick-like below.
She had made a choice years before, preserving beauty aggressively through her face, but whipping
the rest of her body into a too-trim dynamo which would be bouncing around at 90 when most of

her surviving contemporaries were shuffling about in assisted-living quarters.
“I can hardly wait to see Helen’s private papers on Saturday night,” said Alice.
“Maybe even the mysterious The Cyanide Process will show up.”
“Maybe. And then I could finally finish that difficult manuscript of mine after nearly thirty
years.” And that murder mystery would end her writing career. It had become drudgery and she
didn’t need the money or further recognition. They would retire to Palm Springs where they had
many friends, and enjoy a relaxing life for the first time in their marriage.
“Safe inside your gated golf-and-tennis compound. You’ll go crazy living that air-
conditioned nightmare … watching stock-market returns with Ryland and arguing over the big
question of where to go to dinner. You’ll start drinking again, take up Bingo and watch morning
Alice laughed. “You’re probably right, Herv. I do worry about it.”
“There’s yet another novel for you though: The life and times of Howie Stadler. He won,
you know. A few weeks ago. Over two-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars.”
“What! Incredible. After how many tries?”
“Nineteen, I think. A rather imposing streak of odds. But that’s only part of the story. He’s
hooked. He’s staking it all again later this week in Vegas. Worse, though, he was fired last week
after more than thirty-five years at the Los Alamos and Livermore nuclear weapon labs. Patti says
he went sort of berserk, threatened his supervisors and was hauled off by security.”
“And if he loses this time … I remember him, on the edge back then. Better get the straight-
jacket ready if he picks the wrong color. What a story!”
“Yes, and Patti’s hysterical … but get this, Alice. It’s not about his being fired or even about
the big gamble. It’s because he’s going to bet Howie-black rather than Patti-red. You may witness
the tragic finale of this forty-year-old bizarre tale.”
“My gosh! I see a best-seller here.”
Hervey rolled his eyes. “Well, I see failure and tragedy first.”
“Dick, of course I see the misery in their …”
“I know, Alice. I know. But back to the Cyanide thing. Auriferous may barely pass for
fiction, but Cyanide, if it turns up in Helen’s papers, could nail Milano in ‘The path to truth’ even as
it ‘clarifies’ Helen’s past,” Hervey said, emphasizing the key words. “And there’s still a lot of

feeling around here in the Milano and Kloits clans.”
“So Bussio’s out as a suspect. Those must be his bones back in the Kloits mine.”
“Well, we think so. He was never meant to be found, holed up at the far end of a long,
caved-in shaft with part of a .45 slug next to his backbone. But modern technology and gold at over
five-hundred dollars an ounce allowed them to excavate the entire mine.”
“But my Auriferous rings true so far, doesn’t it, Herv?”
“Maybe. But remember, Helen lied whenever it suited her. And Cyanide could make you an
easy mark for a few million in libel if you published .”
“We’ll see,” Alice said. “That bit of doggerel was scratched out for herself, laying out her
turmoil about how or whether to finally resolve the blackness in her past. Poor old Joe. Such a nice,
kind old guy. But I’ll write about Helen’s ‘path to truth’ no matter where it takes me.”
“Nobody in Fernville thinks of old Joe as a nice, kind old guy, Alice. But you saw a part of
him the males around here probably didn’t.” Hervey tried to deliver his words in the light-hearted
tone he felt that ancient matter now warranted. The original hurt he suffered had been diluted over
the years to the weak potency of a homeopathic dosage. It remained in his memory, not as burning
sentiment, but as a kind of betrayal. The principle of the thing.
But its recall struck a more tender chord in Alice. “Damnit, Hervey! You’re as sarcastic as
ever. Why bring that old thing up? I wrote you about that evening’s business.”
“Yeh, but I took the rap for Milano then for the night’s business.”
“Just stop right now, Dick! It was none of your goddamned affair anyway. You’re a pathetic,
limping 75-year-old, jealous over a 90-year-old blind guy in a wheelchair … and out-to-lunch, as
you say.” Alice tried to hold an angry, eye-blazing look, but when Dick Hervey began to jiggle with
suppressed mirth, she burst out laughing.
Now relaxed, they sat on a bench talking amiably. Hervey realized their old bond still
retained its humor and warmth, the real glue of their relationship, sexual bankruptcy
notwithstanding. For the next hour they chattered away, behaving like the closest of friends – freed
of the burdens of love’s physicality.
Alice could hardly wait to visit John Wickware. Hervey said morning was the best time, as
Wick tended to get a little confused as the day wore on. “And remember to say,” Hervey cautioned,
“that wickwaria are sure to turn up sooner or later back in those remote canyons.” Wickware had

received a little brief acclaim in the ’60s with his published polemic, California – Then – Now–
Tomorrow: – A Review of Its Ecological Destruction. It was all so true, of course, but the book
came across as a bit of a screed, which tended to put off the more cautious scientific establishment.
Politicians and the public, with a few exceptions, ignored it. Wickware’s chronic depression then
drifted down into despair which was sealed by the extinction of his salamander – his real badge to a
scientific legacy. Hervey said his own published stuff, especially Hiroshima and Politics, received
similar treatment and were rarely referenced today.
“I read the Hiroshima copy you sent me. Ryland skimmed it too. Good thing you didn’t
scribble on the flyleaf. He went on a rant about revisionist, left-wing, so-called historians.”
“I got plenty of vitriol and hate mail and nearly a ticket out of Fernville State, but I’m not the
only so-called historian with alternative views there. But just wait til Sunday to hear real nuclear
“Yeh. Ryland’s been gearing up for this SDI conference for months. It’s important for the
country and his legacy in congress, he says.”
Hervey changed the subject. “Wait until you see Bud Needham Junior, Alice. Genes take
their good time in bringing to full-flower their manifest destiny in us humans and …”
“You’re getting at the Kloits’ lowers. I was right, wasn’t I?”
Dick Hervey laughed. “If jokes and innuendo in Fernville count about that, then yes, you were right.
Poor Junior. He always looks so disgruntled. Maybe Cyanide will answer that question.”
“Yeh, but it could be devastating to him and the extended family,” said Alice.
Hervey stood up and took her hand. “It crossed my mind, Alice, to invite you to my spacious
condominium for a glass of chardonnay, but I must tear myself away and work on my speech.”
“And I’m expected at the Kloits Mansion for a talk on early California. ... Lucky us.”


The thin man stood at the head table before the microphone, while a few of the hundred and twenty
people quietly finished dessert. He delivered his comments in a raspy baritone, frequently checking
notes in a manner suggesting he was not fully prepared for the occasion. But he had the people in
his grip, having learned from others at podiums and from his own performances that audiences were
seduced more by manner and reputation than by substance. Politicians and preachers proved the
Now he discussed Soviet research in defense against ballistic missiles. He pieced together an
unsettling picture of their leads in high-energy laser and kinetic-energy weapon research.
“Their research in excimer lasers is believed to be four times ours, and while it applies to
ballistic-missile defense, the prospect for offensive applications is very worrisome.”

At the rear of the hall in the Pioneer Hotel two men stood against the wall.
“Let’s get out of here,” the elderly one whispered. “My back’s killin’ me. Besides, I have a
hard time with this guy’s stuff. What the fuck are excimer lasers, anyway?”
“So do I,” said the younger, dark-haired man. “But it’s Fernville’s biggest-ever professional

meeting, so I thought you should check out this talk in your own hotel.”
“Somebody said I might recognize that guy up there from a long time ago.”
They read the program description for the day. It said the noon luncheon-meeting of the
Executive Committee of the Aerospace Sciences Division of the AIAA was open to attendees – ten
dollars – advanced reservations required. The featured speaker was Dr. A. K. Sonett of the Deltatron
Corporation. Dr. Sonett, a former DoD scientist, was involved in basic research on President
Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. Topic: “Facts and Fantasies About Current SDI Research.”
“No, he doesn’t register. But you run into thousands in the restaurant business.”
The speaker had a short, trim, graying beard connected to his hairline by long narrow
sideburns. This disguised the receding chin, made the face fuller, and enhanced the mouth and thin
lips. Even A. K. Sonett’s mother would have approved. His brown hair receded slightly and was
tinged uniformly with gray. The deep-set brown eyes and strong nose were still the face’s best
features. To those who would remember Sonett, he seemed taller, standing erect now.
“I’ve never seen such a group of serious-looking people, Joe,” said Myron Haddad. “I’ll go
hear my old friend Ryland Smith at the college tonight, but no more of this SDI stuff for me. The
centennial celebration with Clark Beebe’s ‘Science and the Citizen’ bullshit is hassle enough.
“Most of these guys are tied to government expense accounts, too, so it’ll be pretty dull.”
Haddad carefully turned to leave. “I gotta re-negotiate with Dave. He claimed this
convention would be the greatest thing since sex, but he screwed us on room rates, and his bar
estimates are way off. And when the wives of these AIAA scientists discover Fernville isn’t Frisco
or Vegas, a lot of guys are gonna get cut off in my hotel this week.”
Joe Milano Junior laughed and held up the week’s program. “Well, Clark Beebe and I put
this together, and Fernville actually looks pretty good on paper.” He read snippets from the
brochure: … “the wonderful May weather in inland California … hillsides emblazoned with
wildflowers … Fernville’s fine restaurants and four championship golf courses … evening tennis
tournament … fashion show … exciting tour of unclassified areas of the Missile Systems Division
of Maxtar International… lectures and a Shakespeare festival at the college … the colorful
centennial parade, including the annual children’s pet walk.”
“Yeh,” said Haddad, “but that’s on paper. The pet walk might be their highlight of the week.
You should’ve included the opening-up of old Helen Needham’s cornerstone, or whatever it is.”

“That’s a non-event, Myron. Let that old bitch’s bones and her phony papers rot in silence.”

The speaker was into his final remarks. Now in oft-traveled territory and using phraseology
lubricated by many such talks, he left his notes and talked easily of the general paths SDI research
should take over the next two years. Then, sound judgments could be made on its feasibility.
“The weapons race over the years has put offensive power in our and the Soviets’ hands,
which has led to the so-called ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ … MAD. SDI is a right-turn from the
present course. Its successful implementation will lead to a weapon build-down on both sides.”
Perhaps he had gone a little too far there, extending his cool logic to projections bordering
on the messianic. SDI was rife with messianic overtones. You poured hundreds of billions into that
nightmare of complexity because, after all, wasn’t it the next logical step in defense technology?
Experienced advocates like him knew SDI could be sold only by promoting that final
chapter: By rendering ballistic nuclear weapons ineffective, they might then be mutually dismantled.
That was the denouement of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative – where Man finally
escaped the hanging nuclear Sword of Damocles.
As Arthur Sonett neared his conclusion, he tried to maintain an air of confidence. But
something about this abrupt step-back to Fernville, to his prehistory, caused him some distress with
the last part of his talk when it departed from its technical aspects. Perhaps the air of Fernville,
maybe the combination of its latitude and longitude, caused him to experience once again traces of
self-doubt. He thought those feelings had been put to rest long ago by advanced degrees, published
papers and some acclaim.
The applause was restrained, he felt, more an acknowledgment of his having passed a test
than of the worth of the contents of his talk.
Later he walked onto the open veranda of the hotel. He had arrived late the night before,
having driven from Virginia, allowing extra time to make the trip a long-overdue vacation. The late-
spring air was warm and redolent of grassland and agricultural scents as familiar to him now as if he
had smelled them just yesterday. He looked toward the west, a fine view over the city, and was
shocked. The Fernville he remembered had been drastically transformed. He was 59 and by this
example of how the years had altered Fernville, they must also have made unrecognizable that frail
and callow young man of 29.

He saw a new city, a drab, sprawling place, a random crawl of growth in all directions. Its
scale had once seemed just right – except, of course, for the Maxtar building which loomed nearby,
still out of proportion to its surroundings. The massive structure was one of the few remaining
monuments to mark his short stay there. Looking at it now, a mosaic of remembered emotions
bubbled up. He felt the apprehensions evoked by the old building. A faint lusting, not real, but a
remembered, second-hand feeling, warmed him as he recalled the field-of-view from his work area.
Mixed in were the thrill of self-discovery and pride in his growing self-confidence.
Thinking about these feelings later, Arthur Sonett would conclude that Fernville offered him
only simple nostalgia. He had complicated that with the unsettling thoughts which had plagued him
for many months. He’d been involved in the defense business too long. He enjoyed considerable
prestige, but his unending preoccupation with the matter of nuclear weapons, its perplexing
dilemmas and potential horrors, tore at and aged him.
Over his long career he’d matured personally and grown professionally in parallel with the
massive technological buildups of nuclear weaponry. Through nearly four decades in the defense
establishment, he had witnessed the unique step-changes in the technology of annihilation: the A-
bomb – the H-bomb – the jet bomber – great liquid-fueled intercontinental rockets – nuclear-
powered and nuclear-armed submarines – solid propellant rocket-boosters – “mirved” warheads –
“smart” cruise-missiles. Each advancement hinted at a strategic advantage that might moderate or
even halt the leap-frog escalation of such weapons.
Arthur Sonett realized that the nuclear standoffs were much more dangerous now than they
were in the early years. He had embraced SDI as a logical next step because of its promised sliver of
hope. Now, though, he was besieged by doubts. The ten-day automobile trip had given him time to
reflect on the abstracts of the technical papers to be presented by scientists and technologists at this
AIAA meeting – and they gave a stunning emphasis to his growing skepticism.

“Excuse me, Dr. Sonett, but I think I remember you from a long time ago. I just heard part of
your luncheon speech.”
Sonett turned to the slender man with olive skin. His full head of straight hair was dark
except for white sideburns.
“I’m Joe Milano. You might remember our name.”

“Milano? Sure. Your family had the car and other businesses here.”
“Right. My dad’s 90 now. Can you imagine?”
“I barely recognize the city.”
“Yeh, your Maxtar really started the boom in this region. All the towns were growing, of
course. But you kicked us in the ass in the ’50s with that big plant and payroll.”
“The old Vista Restaurant was our favorite hangout … the only one, in fact.”
“That’s right. Well, the property became too valuable. We owned some land around it. So
did old Ed Kloits, Myron Haddad and Bud Needham. We formed the Pioneer Corporation and
developed about twelve acres right here … this hotel and the shopping center. Jack Haddad and
Norman Kloits, Ed’s nephew, manage it.”
Sonett’s curiosity about Fernville and its 1955 denizens came alive. Myron Haddad was
something like 82. Mayor Kloits! Ed was in a rest home, but still alert. Next Saturday was the final
day of the centennial celebration and Ed, along with other old-timers, would be there, most of them
to be wheeled in. He’d bring his dad, who was no longer lucid. The passage of time was cruel,
wasn’t it?
Sonett brought up names from Maxtar. Milano remembered a few. “Alex Mannoy, yes! How
could I forget him, the guy who bought a new Porsche and then sold it back three weeks later. We
made a lot of money on that turn-around. And, of course, Mannoy later married Beverly Kloits.
Dave Cornwell? Didn’t you know? His company is puttin’ on this whole technical meeting.”
What luck, Sonett thought. Of the people who crossed his life back then, Cornwell had made
the most vivid impression. Well, Cornwell – and Clarissa Hervey.
“I really can’t see old Dave in this line of work.”
“Listen. Fernville couldn’t handle a conference of this size without him. He arranges
everything, but he’s tough. We practically gave the hotel rooms away.”
“Do you know his wife’s name?”
“Teresa. She’s in the company, too. And so are their three sons.”
Bernie, the great piano player, left for some big place in L.A. in the late ’50s. Hervey, who
taught at the college? Years ago he was active in the anti-freeway and dam campaigns, but Milano
hadn’t heard the name recently.
“The freeway was absolutely essential. But wouldn’t you know … old Ed wasn’t going to let

them bulldoze the Kloits ancestral home. At the last minute he got it declared an historical site.
That’s why the freeway has the big jog just south of the hotel.”
“So Funeral Corners finally got fixed.”
“Yep. Listen, Arthur, I didn’t get much of the technical stuff in your speech today, but I
agree we gotta develop this missile-defense idea. Professor Flatley out at State has been pushing the
idea for years. I don’t follow why anybody’s against it.”
“Come out on Sunday and you’ll hear lots of reasons why.” Arthur Sonett’s professional life
had been insulated from the “liberal-arts world,” as he and his colleagues termed it, but they
recognized there must be interfaces to their hermetically-sealed world of specialized technology and
“need-to-know” communication. And life at these interfaces was complex and messy. True
technicians and strategists in the defense establishment avoided this bloody arena, let their
spokespersons and the politicians deal with it. Yet Sonett now found himself an advocate, having to
go out to that boundary with the public and show that his numbers were better than the other guy’s.
The difficult people in the opposition were those without numbers at all, who argued from political
or philosophical positions or from a claimed moral high ground. SDI was beleaguered by them.
Sonett asked Milano to follow him to the parking lot. They walked downstairs through the
big lobby swarming with AIAA members, all casually dressed. So different, he thought, from those
early years when the dress code for professionals called for coats and ties. Like him, all were pinned
with a white card in a plastic holder bearing name and affiliation. The crowd was a cross-section of
the country’s elite scientists and engineers.
“OK, Joe, take a look at this.”
“Wow! A vintage T-bird.”
“It’s a ’54, Joe.”
“It’s perfect. How long have you had it?”
“I’ve had it for over thirty years.”
Milano was intent on going over the white car. The canvas top was up; he peered at the
immaculate interior. “You’ve had it for over thirty years?” Then he looked up and a smile spread on
his face. “You son-of-a-gun, Arthur. You bought this in Fernville … and goddamnit, I sold it to
you! I was the only one who had anything like this in town.”
“That’s right, Joe. I bought it at the insistence of Dave Cornwell. It was supposed to enhance

my non-existent sex life. You hustled me out of thirty-nine-hundred dollars.”
“Listen. This baby’s a real collectors’ car. It’s worth twenty-five grand just as she sits.”


“ Here he comes. He made it!” The slight, bent-over figure of John Wickware came into view
around the corner of the small banquet room. He slowly worked his way through the people around
the bar. Dick Hervey and Clarissa held up their arms as beacons. Wickware stopped, looked
uncertainly around the crowded room, gave a little wave of recognition and carefully shuffled over
to their table.
Hervey had offered to help him to the men’s room, but Wickware gave him a cold stare from
watery eyes and said he did not require assistance. “I still retain the homing instinct of my
salamanders,” he had said in a thin, wheezy and humorless voice. “I’ll be back and, if not, it means
I’ve gone extinct.”
“Same old Wick,” Hervey said. “Morbid humor. Still sharp.”
“Part of the time, anyway.”
The meeting of the Bristlecone Alliance had honored John Wickware as founder and thirty-
year member. Dick Hervey received acclaim from the throng of fifty attendees as one of the original
members, and Clarissa was acknowledged for years of volunteering. The Bristlecone banner, old

and faded, hung on a wall. Depicted across its ten-foot length was a gnarled and twisted old
bristlecone tree limb with but a few scrawny green branches sprouting from it. John Wickware said
it represented their organization’s tenacity but also its limited successes.
Hervey said this probably was his last meeting at Bristlecone, and certainly it was for Wick.
“There’s more bickering now and too many prima donnas. When Wickware and I ran it,
things got done.”
“But you still lost most of the time anyway,” Clarissa said.
“Well, we won the concrete-pipe-factory suit. We stopped the walnut packers from dumping
junk in the marsh … and had a few other successes.”
“Yeh, but we lost the dam. The orchards. Wick’s salamander. The owls. The salmon run.
And probably now the NFZ. But that’s what progress means in this day and age, my ex-husbands
and most people say.”
“Yep,” said Dick Hervey, nodding approvingly at his daughter. “Our little burrowing owls
were no match to seventy-two holes of manicured golf courses spread over our rolling hills.”
Dick Hervey appreciated the Bristlecone Alliance, and related groups that Clarissa
participated in, more as focal points for her haphazard interests than for their rare successes. And
Alcoholics Anonymous, the group he himself shunned, certainly was a key influence on this 49-
year-old, functioning, thrice divorcee. He conceded that her bookshelves of so-called “new age”
literature must contribute to her self-assured, bright, and outgoing personality. He often wondered
whether such interests were a reaction to his fact-mandated and cold (she claimed) view of reality
which he delivered through a poorly disguised arrogance. But he thought he might have dissuaded
her from crystals, pyramid power and aliens among us. The “personal aura” he wasn’t sure about.
Fortuitous, also, was her job with Cornwell and Sons, charitably offered by her old friends
five years before when she was at her low point. It was a stable and what she termed a “fun” job.
She had the welcoming face one would seek out in the supermarket for assistance, a valued asset for
the Cornwell operations. Hervey thought she might end up an eccentric old woman found dead one
day amidst an accumulation of newspapers and cats. But things could have been a lot worse.
Wickware finished his soft drink, holding the glass in his shaking hands as liquid dribbled
down his chin. Hervey looked toward the bar and lounge hoping to spot Alice, but the throng there
were all professionals from the AIAA convention.

“Some of those guys forgot to take off their name badges,” Dick Hervey said. “About as
tacky as walking around with an unzipped fly.”
“I typed up a lot of those,” said Clarissa. “And was I ever surprised to come across Arthur
Sonett’s name. From the distant past!”
“Sonett? If I recall that ancient lineup correctly, he was the birdman, the guy responsible for
thirty years of screeches, whistles and messy cages.”
“That grumpy bird was the only creature you could get along with, Herv,” John Wickware
said, smiling down at the table.
“Dave gets along with Dad because he doesn’t put up with any baloney.”
“Well, he’ll have more than baloney to put up with at Sunday’s big SDI conference.”
Clarissa shook her head. “He’s going nuts over all the details. This week’s meeting is the
biggest thing his company ever put on. Temper tantrums. He yelled at Phyllis and me when he
caught us handing out NFZ literature on company time.”
“NFE?” said Wickware, puzzled.
“NFZ, John. Nuclear Free Zone. It’s on the June ballot and being pushed by the left-wing,
liberal crowd around here.” Hervey winked at Clarissa.
“Dave talks as if it’s a communist plot. It’s supposed to be just a symbolic thing, really, but
maybe it’s a dumb idea, our little area going against the mainstream of … well, destiny, I guess.”
“No, honey. History will record that you and others started an NFZ and then franchised it
around the world like a fast-food chain. Eventually the nuclear genie gets cornered and stuffed back
where he belongs.”
“Do you believe that, Herv?” Wickware, who seemed on the verge of falling asleep, looked
up quickly and studied the other’s face.
“No, Wick, I’m afraid I don’t believe it … and nobody else does either.”
“It’s funny,” Clarissa said, “newspapers and movies are filled with all sorts of scary stories
and dire warnings about the nuke stuff, but nobody seems to really worry about it for very long.”
Hervey pondered this. An “A” in his course for her.
“I’ve had the same problem with public concern about wickwaria and others,” Wickware
said. “Nobody gives a damn.”
“A few do.”

“Yeh,” John Wickware mumbled, “but as your articulate fishing friend, Dave, would
probably put it … ‘it’s just pissin’ against the tide.’”


Congressman Ryland Smith’s keynote speech in the Fernville State auditorium drew a packed
house and was televised on the regional educational station.
“This scientific conference won’t be isolated from the public in the sterile confines of a big
hotel,” Clark Beebe had proclaimed. “We’ll involve the entire community through public seminars
and by AIAA members delivering talks at civic and private functions. We even bribed the local
radio station from its rock music and truck and furniture advertising to cover interviews and events.”
Dr. Norris Deepak disparaged the idea. “I can’t communicate advanced economic theory to
those outside my profession, Beebe. Now take those Rotary Club guys who’ll try to stay awake
listening to a AIAA scientist lecturing about ‘supersonic flows with strong viscous-inviscid
interaction.’ All they have in common is putting their pants on the same way.”
“Everyone enjoys being recognized as an authority, Deepak, sufficient gratification right
there for the scientist,” said Beebe. “And the Rotary guys will respond with a collective glow at
being recipients of these difficult but powerful ideas. The interchange will be perceived as fruitful.
On the other hand, your so-called science spawns conflicting theories, attracts weird scholars, and
the world goes on, heedless of economists’ predictions and mathematical artifices.”

Dr. Clark Beebe concluded his introductory remarks by contrasting modern Fernville with
the city thirty-three years earlier when Ryland Smith put it on the map by bringing in the Maxtar
Missile Division. Even then Smith was seen as a natural for a future political career.
Congressman Ryland Smith stepped to the podium and attempted to adjust the microphone
which began to emit a crackling static. Smith smiled and waited patiently, having experienced many
sound-system problems throughout his careers. A stocky man in a gray suit stepped onto the stage
and strode to the podium.
“Turn it off, Ferguson!” he bellowed up at the control room. He removed the mike and
looked it over. He turned to Beebe and muttered something about cheap university crap. The crowd
in front snickered.
That’s him! Arthur Sonett realized. Another microphone was brought in. “Turn it on,
Ferguson!” he yelled. He tapped the instrument and smiled impishly at Beebe and Smith. The crowd
clapped as Dave Cornwell walked away, his short legs propelling him aggressively along.
Smith’s topic was “Assessing the Soviet Threat Through the Next Decade.” The program
said Ryland Smith was on the Armed Services Committee and was an advisor to the administration
on foreign policy. Arthur Sonett knew he was close to President Reagan. Fernville citizens were
able to see and hear one of the most politically influential men in the country.
Sonett had heard variations of this speech over the years. Smith cast an historical light on
Soviet relations with the West, cataloging their transgressions and citing examples of their duplicity.
He would quote Soviet military literature to show that for the last twenty-five years some of their
military leaders believed they could fight and win a nuclear war. Well, Sonett thought, some of ours
did, too. He heard Ryland Smith hammer at the rationales for a powerful U. S. defensive posture:
“The Soviets are spending well over five-billion dollars a year on laser-weapons research for
defense, and ten-thousand scientists and engineers are directly involved … The construction of the
giant radar in central Asia at Krasnoyarsk is a clear violation of the ABM treaty … The nuclear
throw-weight of United States and NATO has been reduced more than theirs in the last five years …
In a Soviet first-strike, analyses show that a low percentage of our ballistic missiles and strategic
bombers would survive …”
Arthur Sonett had used the same logic and data in his talks. This speech was a standard in

the repertoire, always effective over the decades because of the fears raised by its selective truths,
generalities and questionable emphases.
He tuned out Smith and his mind drifted. The tone of Cold War talk in his Fernville days
was much the same, except the Soviet empire then was foreign and mysterious. Now, Soviet
scientists often joined ours in technical discussions. Eye-to-eye or over lunch they soberly discussed
the possibility of nuclear Armageddon each might bring upon both powers. Later they might enjoy
cocktails and dinner together and talk of their families.
Sonett saw how dread over the Soviets’ first H-bomb test in the ’50s was now diluted,
relegated to the back of the public’s mind. Yet he knew the real danger was much greater now than
in 1955 when photos of the new Soviet Bison bomber caused widespread alarm and spurred calls to
build massive civilian bomb shelters. Now, any square mile on the globe could be targeted and
reduced to gravel in the forty minutes of a missile’s ballistic trajectory. The average public worry,
though, was much less than before.
He recalled reading on a back page of a morning paper that American planes intercepted a
Soviet strategic bomber wandering into U. S. air-space off Alaska and escorted it away – but no
mistakes permitted now. Sonett thought then of the Pentagon’s top-secret “Single Integrated
Operational Plan” – SIOP – on hair-trigger alert, and whose activation would launch multiple
warheads from Trident submarines, B-52s and ICBMs, a simultaneous barrage to wipe the Soviet
nation and Eastern Europe from the face of the earth. Surely, Sonett thought, Ryland Smith knew of
the Soviets’ poised equivalent. Smith was talking now of nuclear weaponry as if the realities
delivered by a four-megaton hydrogen bomb had never quite registered with him.
Ryland Smith said development of the Midget-Man missile was essential because of the new
Soviet SS-X-24 mobile rail-car missile – a “sobering development,” the White House called it.
Arthur Sonett understood this reasoning – and yet he realized such logic over the last thirty years
had not enhanced security, but had greatly diminished it.
Sonett looked over the leaflet handed to him in front of the auditorium, activist literature of
the kind found on college campuses. It urged a “yes” vote for a Nuclear Free Zone in the Fernville
region and was sponsored by the Bristlecone Alliance. Quaint, he thought.
As he scanned the list of financial supporters a name jumped out: Richard Hervey. But he
knew it was the daughter who caused the name to be hung on a special memory hook. The

devastation from the crash of that high-speed romance had rippled along in his consciousness up to,
and even beyond, the time of his marriage five years later.
Now Smith was saying the Soviets had circled Moscow with their Galosh anti-missile
defense, and we had no comparable system. He was really stretching it there, Sonett knew, for it was
a futile defensive system. Like the Krasnoyarsk radar issue, it was a technological red herring made
an issue for political purposes. The Pentagon held no doubts Moscow would be reduced to a
smoking pile of ruble with or without that ring of obsolescent hardware …

… Clarissa wouldn’t be 50. He remembered her now as being immature and superficial –
and yet there had been an endearing “something” about her. He could remember it now, feel it a bit
maybe. He laughed to himself. Old Dave Cornwell would say, “Yeh, it was those endearing tits.”

His eye roved over the audience, stopped and moved back on a face. Memory spoke and tied
it to Maxtar, thirty years before. It was that executive guy in Finance. It was Deepak. Sonett was
amazed how perfectly the face matched the one he now resurrected from memory. Time had
touched it early. But a genetic disposition, perhaps diet and exercise, had transformed an old-
looking 33 into a young-looking 63-year-old.
He recalled that time long ago in Washington when Deepak elaborated to him a strange
theory about building a megaton nuclear warhead, nailing it shut in a box, and storing it in a
warehouse where it would be forgotten. He said classical economic theory relied on a societal
demand function, yet here you started millions of dollars pin-balling through the economy based on
a forgotten piece hardware, and a useless one at that – because it could never be used. A salutary
economic fallout, as with the former, but here a more predictable and stable one.
“… Another treaty like SALT II could be negotiated in the next two years.” Smith was into
the last part of his speech …

… She was a puzzle. That brief affair. He had never again experienced anything quite like it.

He thumbed through abstracts of the scientific papers to be given, seeing a continued trend
into remote corners of specialization. Once more he felt that tickle of underlying inferiority when

afield of his own specialties.
The scientific papers reflected the largesse streaming out from the Department of Defense.
His own small company, like hundreds of others, swarmed around the major firms or agencies in the
primary tier of the disbursal chain. As Norris Deepak said thirty years earlier, you couldn’t imagine
a more efficient or democratic way of spreading around half the national discretionary budget. “This
is the textbook example, Arthur, of what I call ‘trickle down’ that really works.”
Sonett scanned the session agendas, deeply troubled again. “Large-Scale Fire
Phenomenology” – “Regional Impacts from a Major Nuclear Exchange” – “Large Systems Nuclear
Hardening.” Lugubrious subjects like these were now commonplace in such technical gatherings.
He thought of his pre-nuclear past and how relatively safe life once was.
The “Fire” agenda listed arcane papers on firestorms engulfing cities – of entire regions
burning – of massive fires in the piney woods, together with calculations of smoke-plume heights
and calculations of the “urban fuel bed” – all based on a “nuclear exchange.” So, too, was the
session on “Regional Impacts,” which he knew would produce rancorous controversy over the
politically-hot topic of “Nuclear Winter.” Sonett thought “Nuclear Exchange” was a rather insipid
term for a nuclear holocaust. The nuclear-hardening session was chaired by Dr. Alexander Mannoy.
As Smith was finishing his speech, Sonett’s attention was drawn back to the abstracts on his
lap. He saw them now as a collage of dreadful graphics:
– – it is likely the merging of many individual fire plumes will characterize the fire
source. Therefore, the problem of extreme scaling or inordinately large extrapolation is
avoided – – by representing the mass fire as a cellular array of locally indistinguishable
plumes evolving in a stratified environment – – it is shown that standard Taylor plume
theory and vector kinematics can produce a unique three-dimensional velocity field – –
macroscopic formulation is presented and related to analyses of the aerosol size-distribution
based on the Smoluchowski equation – – extrapolates knowledge about pool fires to mass
fires. Froude modeling principles imply – – one-half the smoke production from a nuclear
exchange is attributed to wildland fires based on implicit assumptions regarding target
areas, local-fuel types and loadings, weather conditions, and attack scenarios – – a critical
factor with regard to ignition of the contents of urban structures modifiers, such as screens,
blinds and shades. Closely coupled is the distribution of radiation ignitable window-fuel

arrays which include curtains, draperies, blinds and shades. Fortunately, several surveys
devoted effort to characterizing window-coverings – –

“Fortunately.” – Arthur Sonett was locked onto a construct of visual horror that blanked out
the world around him.

– – describes a model for estimating blast-induced fire-starts in urban areas – –

Predictions of blast-induced and thermal ignitions are needed to assess the fire vulnerability
of targets and non-targets – – Unless fire damage is accounted for, the consequences of a
nuclear attack cannot be determined – – the number of fires may decrease in regions of high
damage because of the mitigative effects of structural collapse and the disruption of utilities
– – The model is calibrated by data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and supported by data
from natural disasters – – We applied the model to a hypothetical but factually-based urban
area covering eighty-five square miles. Over 3,000 secondary fires were predicted to start if
a one-megaton airburst-weapon targeted an industrial zone on the edge of the urban area.
Naturally, the results depend on the urban-mix geography and attack parameters – –

“Naturally.” – Hiroshima, a calibration point. Arthur Sonett saw these excerpts now as sick
movie parodies of horrors imagined, but never to be realized.

– – – available fuel consumed at five and twenty-five

hours after attack – – sensitive to the visibility, window-glass transmittance, and blast
extinguishment – – using one residential tract type in place of the fourteen types used in
1968 – – the fluid dynamics and thermodynamics of – – results of particular interest when
the time to peak-burning and fraction of strongly buoyant motions generated by large area
fires – – in a major nuclear exchange the scenario of intense firestorms raging for many
hours over several large urban areas is very plausible – – be able to simulate the interaction
among the firestorm heat island, mesoscale convective complexes, and the longer-period jet-
stream flow-patterns– – inside buildings where most fires are expected to start neither blast
nor fire will be in free-field conditions – – flame/shock interactions, flame displacement and

extinction, flameholding, glowing combustion, fire scatter, and ember generation – –
– – – A three-dimensional numerical prediction cloud model is applied to the simulation of the
convective response to an urban firestorm over Denver, Colorado, in the springtime – –

“Denver, Colorado, in the springtime.” SIOP – and its Soviet equivalent – in action.

Applause shook Arthur Sonett back to the reality of the auditorium, He left before the
question period began and drove back through town on the freeway, past the curve at the Kloits
Mansion. The Maxtar building was still imposing, its slab walls illuminated by bright floodlights.
The major fork in his career path happened right there and he could recall all the main events. If he
had taken the wrong path, a case could be made that so, too, had we and the Soviets then.
He drove back toward downtown on Kloits Road. The Giant Orange was g