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by Robert Vaughan
Description: The launch of Sputnik. Rock 'n' roll fever. The struggle for civil rights. Robert Vaughan's seventh volume of the American Chronicles has America entering the fifties amidst the fright of a cold war with Russia and a fiery war in Korea. Prizewinning war correspondent Shaylin McKay and African-American war hero Travis Jackson have a date with destiny. Back home, sexy screen siren Marcella Mills and Hollywood's leading lady Demaris Hunter find both their careers and their emotions harnessed to the rising fame of a sensual country boy with a guitar. Two brothers, Deon and Artemus Booker, are splitting their famous family apart by choosing different paths--one on the white man's basketball courts of the NBA, and the other off to Alabama to stand up for justice and equal rights with a young Martin Luther King, Jr., as the American Chronicles go on.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, 1992
eBookwise Release Date: January 2002
10 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [510 KB]
Reading time: 318-445 min.
AUGUST 1952, ST. LOUIS
Standing at the window of the Lambert Airport tower, looking out across the field through a pair of binoculars, an air traffic controller scrutinized the four-engine DC-6 in the traffic pattern for landing.
"He's turning onto final now," the controller said.
"You don't see any other traffic around, do you, Mr. Simpson?" an associate asked him.
"No," Henry Simpson replied.
"Uh, Lambert Tower, this is Independence on final," popped the voice of the DC-6's pilot over the loudspeaker. Normally a pilot's voice was heard only through the headset of the controller working that aircraft, but since all other traffic had been steered away to facilitate this particular landing, everyone in the tower could hear him.
"Roger, Independence. You are clear to land," Simpson said.
The pilot responded, acknowledging the call.
"His gear and flaps are down," Simpson advised the others.
"Mr. Simpson, we've had planes stacked up now for the better part of an hour. When can we bring them down?"
Simpson lowered his field glasses and looked around the control room. A half-dozen men, each in charge of a tier of airplanes, all now relegated to a holding pattern, were awaiting the landing of this one plane. "Anyone critical on fuel?" he asked.
There were no affirmative responses.
"If anyone gets that way, divert them to their alternates. Otherwise, tell them to be patient for just a few minutes longer. I'll reopen the field the moment Independence clears the runway."
"Yes, sir," the man who asked the question replied.
Simpson picked up a telephone and dialed a number. When it was answered he said simply, "Independence is on the ground."
In the headquarters building for World Air Transport, the secretary who took Henry Simpson's call hung up the phone, then walked across deep-pile, rose-colored carpeting to a closed door. Gold leaf on the frosted glass of the door announced:
WORLD AIR TRANSPORT
OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
The secretary knocked lightly.
William Canfield was sitting at his desk. He was in shirtsleeves, though the jacket to his black suit was hanging on a rack just behind him. To the left of his desk was a large brown-leather sofa, where Willie's wife, Liesl, was sitting. Tina, their three-year-old daughter, was lying on the sofa with her head in Liesl's lap.
Liesl was also dressed in black, and though she was composed now, it was obvious that she had been crying, because her eyes were red and puffy.
"Mr. Canfield, the plane has landed," the secretary said.
"Thank you, Norma," Willie answered. "Notify the driver and the police escort, would you please?"
"Yes, sir, at once."
Willie stood up and slipped on his jacket.
"Are you all right?" Liesl asked.
Willie looked over at his wife and smiled. "Yes, I'm fine. How about you?"
"I'm all right," Liesl replied. Her speech retained a trace of an accent that revealed her German origin. "It's just that when I think of your poor mother, how she is going to have to carry on alone now... I worry for her."
"Well, she'll miss Dad, sure enough, but she's always been a very independent, very self-reliant person. She'll be okay, believe me." He held his hand out toward Liesl. "The police want us already in the car when it goes out to meet the plane."
"Very well," Liesl answered. She persuaded her daughter to sit up. "Come, Tina. It is time for us to go."
Yellow sawhorses marked SLPD TRAFFIC BARRICADE blocked the street at Market and Eleventh. The St. Louis Police Department had cordoned off a wide area around Christ Church Cathedral and wasn't letting the through traffic get any closer than two blocks away. When the big black Lincoln, which was escorted front, back, and both sides by motorcycle policemen, arrived at the barricade, one of the traffic cops quickly pulled it aside to let the entourage pass. Once the cars were through, the barrier was replaced.
A couple of telephone repairmen on the scene had watched the police turn away traffic, but neither of them had been curious enough to ask what was going on. As the Lincoln limousine drove by, one of the men stared at the small man with the rimless glasses riding in the backseat.
"Hey, Marty, son of a bitch! You know who that was? That was Truman!" he said, turning to his colleague. "I swear that was President Truman."
"Truman? Oh, yeah! Of course!" Marry replied, the light dawning.
"What do you mean, of course'? What are you talking about? What is Harry Truman doing in St. Louis?"
"Didn't you read the papers yesterday? I'll bet you anything Truman's here for the funeral."
"Jeez, Tony, are you living under a rock or something? Bob Canfield died. You know, the guy who founded Canfield-Puritex."
"You don't say. Hell, I thought he died a long time ago. I mean, Canfield-Puritex... that's been going on forever, hasn't it? How old was he, anyway? Eighty? Ninety?"
"According to the paper, he was sixty-nine."
"Sixty-nine? Get outta here! Sixty-nine? That's all? I sure thought he was a lot older. I mean, what with all the money he had and everything. Just how much do you think he was worth, anyway?"
"Well, according to the newspaper," Marty said, referring again to his unimpeachable source of information, "Canfield-Puritex is one of the ten wealthiest corporations in America, and Bob Canfield was the majority stockholder. I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't worth a hundred million dollars or more."
Tony whistled. "All that money, just from selling Corn Toasties and Dog Vittles!"
"You have been living under a rock," Marty scoffed. "Nobody gets that rich from a single enterprise anymore. The Canfields branched out years ago from breakfast cereal and animal feed, They've got canned and frozen vegetables and meats and candies, too. According to the article, they also own land all over the country... farmland down in the southern part of the state and timberland up in Oregon or Washington or some such place. And paper mills, too. Hell, Tony, every time you wipe your ass on Feathersoft toilet paper, you're putting money in Canfield's pocket. And don't forget, they also own World Air Transport."
"You know, it's kind of funny when you stop to think about it," Tony said.
"Well, here Bob Canfield had all that money and all, but he's lying in his coffin with empty pockets. It just goes to show you that when you come right down to it, everyone's really equal."
Marty chuckled. "Well, that's the good old U.S.A. for you. Every last one of us has an equal chance to make a hundred million -- so hand me that multimeter, will you? 'Cause if we don't get this job done, the telephone company'll fire us, and we'll never make our first million."
Connie Canfield was waiting in one of the many small rooms at the back of the cathedral. She was alone, which was as she wanted it, though a number of well-meaning people had offered to sit with her so that she wouldn't have to be by herself. What they didn't realize was that she wasn't really alone -- nor was she really there. Transported by the power of her mind, she was reliving a sweet moment from nearly fifty years earlier.
Connie was walking down the hill from the commuter station toward Statue Circle in the quadrangle the quad, as it was known to all -- of Jefferson College. It was 1904, and Jefferson was still an all-male school and several years away from being designated a university. The few females on campus were, like Connie, visitors from Mary Lindenwood College in St. Charles.
Reaching the Statue Circle, she smiled at the four young men lounging beneath the great bronze Rodin statue of Henry Spengeman, the founder of the school. The youths, Bob Canfield, J.P. Winthrop, Terry Perkins, and David Gelbman, were seniors and, as upperclassmen, were permitted inside Statue Circle. That these four were ensconced on the pedestal itself inferred that their status was above other seniors'. Unlike the rest of the area inside Statue Circle, the pedestal wasn't reserved by tradition but had been staked out at the beginning of the school year by these four, who, by dint of their popularity, social position, athletic ability, and academic achievement, had established themselves as the crème de la crème of the senior class. They called themselves the Quad Quad, and Bob Canfield was the leader of the group.
"I'm sorry I couldn't come to the meet," Connie told them, referring to the intercollegiate track meet held earlier in the day. "But I had an exam in English Lit. How did the Quad Quad do?"
"Bob took the laurels in his event, while David came in second," J.P. answered. "Terry was second in the one hundred, and I was third."
Connie looked at Bob, her heart bursting with pride and love. "Oh, wonderful! I do wish I could have come,"
"I do wish I could have come."
"What?" a startled Connie asked. Looking toward the doorway, she saw that Demaris Hunter had entered the room and uttered the very words she herself had just been thinking. "Oh, hello, Demaris. I'm sorry, I didn't hear what you said."
The actress walked over to the settee. "I said, I was shooting a movie in Europe when the ceremony was held at Jefferson, inaugurating the Canfield School of Business. But I do wish I could have come. Under the circumstances now, I feel it was particularly rude of me to let the filming come first."
"Oh, don't be silly, Demaris. Bob was a huge fan of yours, and he understood perfectly why you couldn't come. Besides, you sent such a lovely gift for the foyer of the building." Connie gave a small, wistful laugh. "And, as I recall, Bob said he would rather have the gift anyway."
Demaris laughed, too. "That sounds like Bob. I can just hear him saying something like that." She leaned down to embrace Connie. "Oh, Connie, if I can do anything, be of any help whatever..."
"Thank you, but John and Willie seem to have everything under control. It was sweet of you to come, though. It's wonderful to think of Bob having so many friends."
"The President of the United States, Governor Adlai Stevenson, Charles Wilson, Edsel Ford, Nelson Rockefeller, the head of the Petzold Media Group, the head of Tannenhower Brewery..." Demaris said, ticking off the names on her fingers. She gave a low whistle. "I'll say this, your husband had some pretty impressive friends."
"You included," Connie said. "You are such a dear for being here."
"There's no way I wouldn't be here," Demaris replied. "I was supposed to leave for Korea this morning but I told the USO to get someone else; I couldn't make it."
"Have you been to Korea before?"
"Yes, I went last Christmas with Bob Hope, so I don't feel that I'm letting people down. It's a messy little war, Connie, not at all like the last one where everyone knew what they were fighting for. I do hope we can get this one over with soon."
"Who will take your place?"
"Marcella Mills? I'm sure the boys will appreciate her."
Demaris smiled. "She does raise a few temperatures. Did you hear what Joan Crawford said about her?"
"She said that Marcella wears clothes in a way that makes everyone a student of anatomy."
Connie chuckled. "Miss Crawford does have a way with words."
"Grandmother?" a new voice said.
Connie looked toward the door and saw her sixteen-year-old grandson, Morgan -- the older child of her older child.
" 'They're about ready to start now. Dad asked me to come get you."
"Oh, thank you," Connie said, standing. She walked over to the doorway and took Morgan's arm.
"I'd better get back in there as well," Demaris said. "Please, remember: If there's anything I can do for you, just let me know."
"You're very sweet," Connie said. "Thank you for offering, but I'll be 'all right."
With her arm through Morgan's, Connie went back into the cathedral chancel. The church was packed with people and banked high with bouquets, wreaths, and sprays of flowers. Bob's casket sat on a catafalque in the transept. In keeping with Episcopal tradition, the casket was closed, and Connie was thankful for that. She didn't want to see her husband's face in death; all she had to do to see him alive was close her eyes... and she wanted to keep it that way.
Connie was well aware that everyone was looking at her as Morgan escorted her to the family pew, where her two sons, John and Willie, waited with their own families. Morgan's sister, fifteen-year-old Alicia, was having a particularly difficult time. But then, she always had been her grandfather's favorite.
Connie passed by President Truman's pew, and when he nodded almost imperceptibly to her, she nodded back. Governor Stevenson, who had recently been selected as the Democratic candidate for president, looked down awkwardly.
When Connie reached her seat, she put her arm around her granddaughter and pulled the young girl to her. Alicia silently sobbed on her grandmother's shoulder.
Faith, Alicia's mother, a tear-soaked handkerchief clutched in her right hand, reached over with her left hand and touched Connie lightly on the arm. Connie squeezed her daughter-in-law's hand for a moment, then looked at the front of the church.
The Jefferson University choir began singing the school song, "Golden Leaves on Jefferson Ground." The blend of rich voices resonated through the cathedral as if the music were coming from a host of angels. After the school anthem, the choir sang a hymn.
"Eternal Father, strong to save, Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep Its own appointed limits keep: O hear us when we cry to thee For those in peril on the sea."
Though known as "The U.S. Navy Hymn," it was also one of the hymns from the Episcopal Hymnal and was Bob's favorite. After an earlier heart attack had reminded him all too forcefully of his mortality, Bob had talked with Connie about funeral arrangements, requesting her to have the hymn sung at his funeral. Since then Connie had been unable to listen to it without choking up. Today was no exception.
The last note of the song reverberated through the great stone hall of the Gothic cathedral. Several seconds of silence followed.
Out in the narthex a door closed.
A plane passed overhead, the engine drone finding its way inside.
The priest moved to the pulpit and looked out over the crowd of mourners, almost as if he were counting the house. Then he began to read:
" 'I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.' "
He read several more passages, then delivered a homily. When finished, he nodded at the pew where six young college students, all wearing white carnations in their lapels, sat. They were the pallbearers, composed of past and present members of the Most Exalted Order of the Quad Quad of Jefferson University. Dutifully they stood and took their positions on each side of the coffin and bore Bob Canfield out of the gloom of the church into the daylight.
Willie watched Harry Truman take a sip of his coffee and then put the cup back in the saucer. The President's glasses reflected the sun, and for a moment Willie couldn't see his eyes. Then Truman shifted his head slightly, and Willie could see the eyes plainly. They were bright, clear, and sparkling with good humor. Willie couldn't help but wonder how, with all the adverse press the President had been getting, Truman was able to maintain that humor.
"I am a reader," Truman was saying. "Always have been, always will be. Someone used an adage about reading in an article once, and I thought it made a pretty good quote: 'All readers aren't leaders, but 'all leaders must be readers.' Pretty good philosophy, don't you think?" he asked the Canfield brothers.
"Yes, Mr. President, it is," John replied.
"That's the kind of sage wisdom you might find in Mr. Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac." Truman took another swallow of his coffee. "Mostly I read history," he continued. "I consider myself somewhat of an historian -- something John probably remembers from his days working in the White House."
"I do remember, Mr. President. You have an excellent grasp of history," John said.
Truman smiled. "I appreciate the compliment, but I'm not by any means an academic historian. I am what you might call a popular historian."
"What's the difference?" Willie asked.
"Well, I can give you what I consider to be the difference. An academic historian is expert in one field of history -- say, the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the English public education system. And if you were to ask such an august gentleman a question about the Industrial Revolution and the English public education system, why, I'm certain he would be able to tell you anything you want to know... and quite a few things you don't care to know," he added with a laugh. He held up his finger. "But ask him a question about Civil War battles fought in the state of Missouri, and he wouldn't have the foggiest idea. Now, a popular historian would be able to tell you a little about the Industrial Revolution and a little about Civil War battles fought in Missouri and perhaps throw in a small discourse on the Napoleonic campaigns as well. A popular historian's interests are much more eclectic than those of the academic historian. And speaking as a popular historian -- and, if I may add immodestly, as someone who has had some small effect on history -- I predict that when the American chronicles of this century are written, your father, Robert Canfield, will be regarded as one of the most influential men of our time."
"That is very kind of you, Mr. President," Willie said. "But you must know that Dad spent his entire life working in the private sector."
"That's exactly my point," Truman replied. "Men like your father -- and like Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller -- are the men whose ambition, energy, and dedication have made, and continue to make, our nation what it is. What would free enterprise and democracy be without men like these? Such men are the architects of our civilization. Politicians and military leaders merely support the system that men like your father have built for us."
"He would be very honored to know that you think so, Mr. Truman," Willie said. "It's going to be hard to carry on without him."
"You do have a big pair of shoes to fill, gentlemen," Truman said. He smiled. "But I can't think of anyone better able to fill them than you two."
John smiled sadly. "You'll notice, Mr. President, that it will take the both of us to fill one pair of shoes."
"Well, I didn't say it would be easy. I just said I was certain you could do it. How are your enterprises going, by the way? There are no unpleasant surprises in store for the economy, are there? Is business doing well?"
"Yes, sir," John said. "I am pleased to report that Canfield-Puritex is doing exceptionally well."
"As is World Air Transport," Willie added. "We now have landing agreements in fifteen countries."
"What about that new jet airliner the British are flying?" Truman asked. "What is it called? The Comet? Are American carriers going to be hurt by that?"
"Well, sir, there's no denying that we'll feel the effects of it," Willie admitted. "But the Comet is terribly expensive to operate -- and BOAC doesn't have that many of them yet." He smiled. "Despite what it says in their ads, jets aren't making all other forms of transport obsolete."
"How long in your opinion, Willie, before we have jet airliners?"
"I'd say we're at least eight to ten years away before engine technology is developed to make jet airliners profitable."
"Yes," Truman said, "that's what I've been told by others as well. You know, there are those in Congress who want to establish an official government airline, like BOAC. They say we will have to have jet airliners right away to compete with the rest of the world. And, as you pointed out, since jet airliners cannot yet turn a profit, private enterprise wouldn't be able to bring this about. Only a national airline could afford something like that. What do you think of such a plan?"
"Mr. President, that would be a terrible mistake," Willie replied. "It would be the ruin of private airlines. We have to operate in the black. We couldn't compete with an airline that didn't care whether it was successful or not. Why, such a thing would have just the opposite effect of what Congress is looking for. It would set America's airline operations back by ten years or more."
Truman smiled. "That is exactly what I said to them. And I told them that if they tried to pass something like a national airline, I would veto it. You'll be happy to know that they quit talking about it."
"Of course, pretty soon it won't be my problem anymore. It'll be the problem of the new president."
"I wish you were running again," John said.
"I considered it," Truman said. He took off his glasses and polished them as he smiled at John and Willie. "And contrary to what my critics think, I would have won again, just as I did in '48." He put the glasses back on, fitting them very carefully over each ear. "But I've had enough politics to last one lifetime. I'm ready to go back home to Independence, where I will follow the news in the papers and on radio and television, just like any other concerned citizen. My only regret..." He let the sentence hang.
"What is your only regret, sir?" John asked quietly.
"My only regret is that I am leaving Korea for the next president to handle. I would give just about anything to settle that business."
"The Communists are offering nothing in the peace talks?"
"Peace talks?" Truman scoffed. "Those sons of bitches are treating it like we're meeting in Versailles, not Panmunjom. They aren't there to talk peace, they're there to dictate terms. Well, by God, they won't dictate them to me. And I'll tell you the truth of the matter, they won't dictate to the next president either, no matter who he is -- be he Democrat or Republican."
"I don't mind telling you, Mr. President," Willie said, "I'm just as glad I'm not a part of this war. And my hat is off to those who are."
"We owe them more than a tip of the hat," Truman said. "A lot more. This isn't like the last war. Then we had bond rallies, bands, and waving flags at every corner. In this war our boys are nearly forgotten, yet they're fighting as cruel an enemy and as difficult a war as any we've fought in our history. Yes, sir, Willie, we owe them a great deal more than a tip of the hat."
Copyright © 1992 by Robert Vaughan