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Authors: Richard S. Prather

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BOOK: Pattern for Panic
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Buff sat opposite me next to her father, the Doc, and Monique was close on my right. Either one of the gals had plenty to occupy a man's attention for hours or years, but they were sitting still and I happened to see this cigarette girl in motion, which is an entirely inadequate word for the way she walked.

Instead of hip joints she apparently had ball bearings, and she oozed past the table calling softly, “Cigarettes?
Cigarros?
Cigarettes?” in a voice that could have sold hashish. The ball-bearing portion of her anatomy was only half of it, and it was a moot question which half was more interesting in motion, because the upper half was a staggering affair in a loose and extremely low-cut something which remotely resembled a blouse. She was carrying a cigarette tray in front of her, which seemed like a good thing, just in case.

Monique pinched my leg.

“Ah,” I said, “hello. I think I'm out of cigarettes. Anybody want cigarettes? Monique? Buff? Doctor? Pack of Belmonts?"

Buff rested her chin in a cupped palm and leaned forward, a strand of blonde hair drooping over one gray eye. “Shell, you've got half a pack left,” she said, smiling. “So pay attention. To
us.
"

“Well ... I smoke fast,” I said, and glanced at Monique. She had her tongue stuck into one cheek and her left eyebrow was raised a quarter of an inch.

There was quite a contrast between the two gals. Buff was fair, soft, mischievous, a young nineteen. White skin and ash-gray eyes with a smile in them, long blonde hair and a bright red mouth with laughter always behind it. She wasn't really beautiful, just fresh and healthy and happy looking—and with a body you'd never see in
Vogue
but which would be right at home in
Playboy.

In a way I thought of Buff as “light” and Monique as “dark.” It was more than Monique's short-cut, crisply waving black hair and the direct glance of her dark green eyes. It was a darkness and a kind of smoldering tension inside her, the droop of a heavy lower lip, the scarlet splash of those bruised-looking lips. And right now it was the way she looked at me, tongue moving against the inside of her cheek. If Buff made me think of spring, of young things swelling with life and growing, Monique made me think of summer, and all that heat. She just plain looked hotter than hell.

“You obscenity,” she said. “What were you thinking?"

“When?"

“You know when."

“Uh-huh. And you know what. Drink your milk like a good girl."

“It's Scotch. And I'm not a good girl."

I had a hunch she wasn't kidding, but I didn't know her well enough to be sure—yet. She'd come to Mexico with the Buffingtons, and though I knew she and Buff had met at a party in Glendale, California, and had known each other less then two months, they acted like sisters. Not, of course,
my
sisters.

The doctor, a biochemist and research worker specializing in the investigation of communicable diseases at the Southwest Medical Institute near my stamping grounds, Los Angeles, was short and thin, with a wrinkled face and stubby goatee that made him look older than his fifty years. He was bald, and the goatee made his face appear remarkably long and narrow, and as if all his hair had slipped down to his chin.

His wife had died two years earlier, of spinal paralytic polio, after receiving three shots of the Salk vaccine. Her death had had two effects on the doctor. He had concentrated all his efforts upon his own intensive investigation of poliomyelitis, and he had transferred all his love for his dead wife to their only child, Buff.

I grinned at her. “Hi, Buff. Where were we?"

“Oh, you and Dad were ignoring us, lunging at each other's throats."

She exaggerated. We had been arguing, but pleasantly. Doctor Buffington was well known in the States, not only as a man of science but as a peace-at-any-price pacifist, a modern “liberal” and egghead; and he was always shooting off his mouth on subjects he knew nothing about. Because he was a whiz at cooking gunk in test tubes, a whole gang of people assumed he was also a whiz in practically any other field—as though experts on the sex life of crocodiles automatically become experts on tapestry-weaving or bridge-building. But I once met an expert on the sex life of crocodiles, and he didn't even know beans about alligators.

I liked Buffington, though. He was eloquent, charming, literate, an easy and pleasant conversationalist, a nice guy. Despite the fact that I liked him personally, and despite his obvious sincerity and intellect, I considered him to be, like many eggheads of my experience, something of a fathead.

Perhaps because his work was concerned with saving lives, he had for years taken every opportunity offered him to protest armament races, the Bomb, international tensions, war itself. After one major speech a couple of years back, in which he had urged America to love its Russian brother, he'd made a
Time
cover. A few weeks later,
Life
had done four pages on him, praising his “courage and humble humanitarianism,” and it seemed to sort of unhinge him. Since then he'd raced about in near desperation, mounting platforms and shooting off his mouth like a toothy cannon. He had let go another salvo today, and that's what we'd been arguing about.

The doctor was combining a September vacation in Mexico City with the opportunity to make an address here before a meeting of the International Legion for Peace, the ILP. Earlier this afternoon he'd delivered that address at the Bellas Artes, and Buff, Monique, and I had been in the audience. His address had been on the necessity for “Peaceful Coexistence” with Russia, which to anybody with kindergarten knowledge of the Communist conspiracy is a contradiction in terms—and the doctor and I had been batting that around, too. He was on his fourth highball, and having at me quite freely.

“Doc,” I said, “it was sure a rousing speech. You really know how to sling the stuff around. But it was a golden voice and words of brass, the same tired old peaceful-coexistence garbage—"

He interrupted me, yanking on his goatee and glowering at me from pale blue eyes. “That's the trouble with you! Angry, always angry—violence—"

“Who's angry?"

“But must you always speak with such insufferable bluntness?"

“There's another way?"

“Shell, be serious. We
must
coexist—don't you believe Khrushchev sincerely wants peace?"

“Sure.” He blinked, surprised. I grinned. “Only he means something else by the word. Look, a Commie says to his neighbor, ‘I'm for peace, pal. Give me your house, money, wife, furniture, and old light bulbs, and we'll have peace. Otherwise I'll thump you on the head and take them.' And if the neighbor won't go along with this jazz, the Communist yells,
'You
are not for peace.' Does it begin to filter through your skull that we can't talk a language of reason to Soviet psychos and liars—"

Buffington interrupted again, yanking on his goatee as if attempting to remove it. “There you go. Always you talk about the Russians as if the word were an expletive. And that is the real problem—the problem in depth. As long as there is such complete lack of brotherhood and understanding among peoples there will be war."

“Oh, nuts. Brotherhood and understanding again. Doc, how understanding can you get? Start with the little ones: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia. Add the Poles, Czechs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Hungarians—there's understandable understanding for you. Add the half billion of China, plus North Korea, North Vietnam, East Germany, Tibet. Now Cuba. Not to mention the Communists—pretending to be non-Communists, of course—everywhere in the States, right here in Mexico, in Laos, Iraq, Uruguay, Bolivia, all through Latin America; in Japan, Turkey, Africa, India—hell, every place you can name. You can't play footsie with the Commies, Doc; they take the foot."

The Doc didn't say anything.

Buff said, “You made a speech."

I grinned at her. “I guess I did."

Monique said, “I don't know what you're talking about."

Dr. Buffington said, somewhat disgruntled, “Neither does he."

I laughed. “Incidentally, I wasn't talking about the Russians. I was talking about Communists. And Russia isn't basically Communist—less than four percent of the Russian people are Party members, Doc. Even fewer in the satellites. The Reds are in control, that's all. Hell, there's probably twice as many anti-Communists as that in Soviet slave labor camps."

“That may well be true. But our government deals with those few who
are
in control. And I still insist that the only weapon in the war against war is truth, complete truth."

“Nice alliteration, but it just ain't so. Truth is one weapon, sure, but it's only one—and it can't beat a clever lie that people
believe
to be truth. Especially when the lie is repeated over and over again. You're a scientist, Doctor. You know your Pavlov. Enough repetition and the dog salivates, enough skillful repetition and the man salivates—or believes. And don't forget, Pavlov was a Russian."

“Well...” He paused, scowling.

Buff patted her dad's hand, got up and looked at Monique, and they both automatically went off toward the rest rooms. It's a funny thing, but it seems that women are constitutionally incapable of going to the john alone. Whether two or more, they leave en masse, like a parade.

I watched them go, and had some of my drink.

Dr. Buffington stared intently at me and said, with the manner of a man who has solved a vexing problem, “Shell, I fear you have succumbed to McCarthyite brainwashing."

“Come off it. I've succumbed to facts. As for brainwashing, my friend, the shoe is on the other foot. We've got a very clever gang of pro-Red salesmen in the States—in the press, television and radio, publishing, movies, schools, government agencies—any place where spoken and written words can be used to shape opinion or policy. They feed us a whitewashed Red line, and we swallow it—"

“Nonsense. The American people have more sense than to be influenced by obvious Communist propaganda."

“It isn't ever called Communist, it's called American. And it isn't obvious or it wouldn't be effective propaganda. They don't hit us with a red club, just tap us lightly with a soft pink sap—over and over and over, like the ringing of the Pavlovian bell.” I paused. “It's all in knowing how to make the dogs salivate, Doc. And they know how."

He frowned. “As a scientist, I am fully aware of what can be done to condition animals, Shell. Even people. It could happen in a police state, perhaps, but not in the United States."

I sighed. “O.K. But the next time some fat issue involving Russia or Communism comes up, watch the same pink and pro-Red cats start shoving the Russia-Communist angle into the background and concentrating instead on America's errors, or Red hysteria, or McCarthyism—whatever the current Party line happens to be. Watch them play up Russia's successes and America's failures, while at the same time playing down Russia's failures and America's successes. With the natural result that a lot of people gradually start believing the Russian molehill is a mountain, and the American mountain is a molehill. Which ain't the truth, Doc—but which sure helps Russia's phony propaganda. As you did today, by the way."

“You reactionary imbecile. In my speech, I spoke from sincere and honest conviction, from the depths of my heart—"

“I would prefer more of your head—"

“—and not even an imbecile like you will deny that the Russian peoples, even the Communists, are human beings. Should we ignore this, like ostriches? They are our Russian brothers! And we are our brother's keeper!"

I grinned. “Maybe so, Doc. He sure
needs
a keeper."

His face started getting red, and he gulped the last of his highball. I looked around, hissed at a waiter and signaled for more drinks. The Mexican cigarette girl was across the room, facing away from me, bending over. Man, I thought, she looks almost as good from this end. The hell with Communists.

When I turned back to the doctor he was staring across the room, and for a moment I thought I'd jarred him. But that wasn't it. Buff and Monique were parading back, looking content. The girls sat down and Buff said, “Still jabbering away, aren't you?"

“Still jabbering,” I said. “But we are about out of jabber."

Dr. Buffington said, “Imbecile."

He said it pleasantly, but he still looked a little steamed up, so I said quietly, “Hell, you know what I mean, Doc. Shaping public opinion, whether it's in international relations or home-grown subversion is like the public relations business. Control enough of the words reaching people and you can make most of them believe damn near anything. You can make them believe—falsely—that Chiang is a ‘corrupt dictator' and Mao Tse-tung is simply an agrarian reformer; that Batista is a ‘corrupt dictator' and Castro's a Cuban Robin Hood; that Rhee and Trujillo are ‘corrupt dictators' but Red dictators are democratic reformers—hell, isn't that what's happened, what's happening right now? Don't we sell out our friends and pay off our enemies? Man, control enough of those
words
and you can make the whole world go to war, or refuse to; make people afraid of the Bomb, or Fallout, or the giant Russian Molehill; practically make people strip naked in the streets."

Monique gurgled.

I looked at her.

“That last one,” she said, “should be interesting."

I grinned at her. “Yeah. Be fun trying, anyway. Might take a long time with the prudish ones."

“Like me."

“Yeah, like you, dear."

Then: “Cigarettes,
cigarros,
cigarettes?"

I turned my head. And there she was, it was, they were—the Mexican cigarette girl. She was leaning toward me over the tray of cigarettes, and it looked as if she were going to go up in smokes.

“Cigarettes?"

“Hello,” I said. “But of course."

We finally settled on a package of Belmonts. She pulled the little red strip, opening the pack, tore the top half open and pulled one cigarette partly out of the package. Service. All kinds of service. She cleverly stayed bent over while she made change for a twenty-peso note I gave her, and by the time I got my change I'd ripped the cellophane off the pack and badly bent one of the cigarettes.

BOOK: Pattern for Panic
12.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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