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What Is Happening Here?

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The Avengers , Iron Man , and Thor , and Spider-Man , and all situations and characters thereof, belong strictly and solely to Marvel Comics.   This is a fan-work, meant for enjoyment only, and not for any material profit.

You get used to Mexico pretty fast, way faster than I would have thought.  Things are quieter here, and slower.  Maňana culture, that’s real.  Everybody takes everything easy, and they’re so relaxed.  After the way things were in Washington, to come here, it’s a relief.

Got some friends down here.  Kid that sort of reminds me of Peter, and this other guy.  A maricon (what they call fairies down here), but not girl-y…  I remember when I first met Lok, it felt so weird, but I got used to it so fast.  Now I sort of miss it.  Like the best of both worlds, he was a woman when you wanted one, but then he could turn around again, and be all man.  This one’s not like that, he likes men, but he’s not really obvious about it.  Sort of like me.

What I want?  Want to get my family down here.  I want Loki, I’ve got a nice house, and a little plot of land.  I could farm down here.  We could farm down here.  Imagine, me a farmer?  Or Loki?

We’ll make the kid do the farming.  Little Peter, that I used to call Jackie Coogan, because of the cap.  God, he lost that newsboy cap in a hurry.  I remember him wearing it…  First time I met him, I think that was.  He got a proper hat later on, but when I think of him it’s always with that cap on, and that little face of his, peeking out.  That little, skinny face, and those big, big eyes.  Would he like farming?  I think he’d like farming, probably would love it.  It’ll be spare time pretty soon, because he’ll get a newspaper-job, I know he will, once he’s not…  Once he’s where…  Never mind.  Small plot of land, he can farm it in his spare time, after he gets off work.  But no drinking, the drinking is always what kills you.

Hell, exchange rate is still pretty good, and I managed to squirrel away a fair bit before I had to leave.  I’ll hire some men to do the farming for us, let Peter go off and have the news career he’s been dreaming of.  Just if he comes back, sometimes.  Just a weekend now and then, come back and say hi to Daddy Tony and Mama Loki.

Mexico:  Never where I thought I would end up.  Not all that different from where I grew up, California, cactuses, etcetera.  And rattlesnakes, can’t forget the rattlesnakes.  And the scorpions.  First morning I was here, I woke up, saw one of those sons of bitches on my pillow, thought I must be having the DT’s.

There’s something I’ll try:  AA, really give it a go this time.  Wonder if they even have AA down here, but they must have, AA is everywhere.

__________________________

You know what I really feel bad about?  My old life.  Not the recent one, me, and Loki, and Peter, and that nice house we got toward the end, in that suburb where you could almost forget about where you were, and what you were supposed to do there.  Really old life is what I’m talking about, and all my old, friends.  Pepper and Happy, and especially Rhodey.  I walked away from them… why?  Jesus, after all this time, I don’t even know.

Where it all started?  That would have to be my first news-job.  Pasadena paper, I don’t even remember the name anymore (proof, if you needed it, of what alcohol does to the brain-cells).  I was this fresh-faced kid, still wet behind the ears…  What drew me to Peter the first time I saw him?  It was that I saw myself in him.

...Where was I?  That’s right, my old life.  Apropos of nothing, you know I haven’t had a drink in almost a month?  Peaceful out here, you don’t need it.  Hell, maybe if the farming doesn’t pan out, that’s what I’ll do.  I’ll open a sanitarium, take in all the drunks and help them dry out.  Tony Stark’s Elite Rest Home, for Reforming Dipsomaniacs, I’ll make a fortune, ha.  Only could I trust myself around all the paraldehyde?  Wonder if you can even buy paraldehyde here in Mexico.  Probably call it something else:  El Paraldehyde-o.  Es muy bueno!

I’m doing it again, I’m losing the thread.  Too many years of hard drinking, I have literally pickled my brain.  No need for me to wonder why I started drinking, I know:  It was because I sold my soul.  ...No it wasn’t, it was before that.  Way, way before that.

Number one:  I was just this little kid, maybe 14-16 years old.  Or in other words, I was Peter’s age.  The age Peter was, when I first met him.  I was that age, back…  When was it?  Twenties.  The Roaring Twenties, the good-old-days, god, what a time to be alive!

Me, in the 1920’s, and I used to have this itchy feeling.  All the time, this itchy feeling, and sort of restless.  Because I knew that Hollywood was just a few miles away, and I wanted to go there so bad.  Used to take Pop’s car.  His Pierce Arrow, it was getting old, and I’d say to him, “Don’t you want something newer?  A Chrysler, Pop, a Cadillac, or maybe a Stutz Bearcat.”  He’d say, “Well Toshi takes such good care of the Pierce...”  Which he did.

Toshi drove too.  Try being a Flaming Youth, a Big Man on Campus, with the raccoon coat, etcetera, and you’re riding around in a big old Pierce Arrow, built the same year you were born, practically, and the Japanese chauffeur up in front.  Why I took that job at the Star to begin with?  It was so I could buy my own car.

Because I never wanted to work in Pasadena, are you kidding me?  I was counting the days until I could leave.  Wanted a job in L.A.  Los Angeles Times, Hollywood’s paper, wanted a job there, so I could be in on all the action.  There was this bar…  I went to this bar, it was the first bar I was ever in.

Do you even remember the speakeasy days?  God, hard to know anymore, everyone’s so young.  Well, nowadays… -- Last time I was in the States, anyway.-- These days there’s all these age-restrictions in place.  You have to be 21, or I think it’s 18 in some places.  Not sure, I was already way past both, by the time Weak Roosevelt got rid of Prohibition.

But in the speakeasy days, it was all so wide-open.  If they let you in at all, you could have a drink, or you could have lots of drinks, and it didn’t matter how old, or how young, you were.  And there was this bar, it was a newsman’s bar, downtown L.A., over near the Times office.  And at first I was just going over there, I was mooching around, and then one day they let me in.

It was never the booze, not at first, not back then.  That wasn’t the point, see?  I mean, I drank it…  Well, you had to drink something, right?  Or why would they let you stay?

Thing to do, you’d say, “Give me a ginger ale.”  Give me a ginger ale, give me a near beer, give me a cup of coffee, maybe.  I can remember standing there at the bar.  Fresh-faced kid, all of 14 years old, and I was standing there, all these newsmen around me everywhere.  “Give me a ginger ale,” I said, and I wouldn’t even have cared if it really was ginger ale they gave me, just being there, then, that was all I needed.

Back then you never knew what you were getting.  Grain alcohol, or the denatured stuff, had been run through this cleaning process, or that one.  Or it would be something made by some bootlegger somewhere, and you didn’t know what kind of place they made it in, or what they put in it.  Just the smell alone on some of it:  You did not want to get a smell of that stuff, before you drank it.

A story:  I’ll make it quick, I promise.  I was in the middle of telling you my story, but now I’m getting sidetracked.  Oh well, who’s ever going to read this thing?  You know what’s funny?  I thought I was going to be a spy, or maybe a double-agent, when I left the States.  Thought there’d be people all lined up, eager to hear all the dirt I could tell them, all about Windrip, and Lee, and the whole bunch.  But nobody wants to hear anything.  I might just as well have stayed.  Oh well.  But I am going to tell you my story, just first this little anecdote.

Anecdote:  One bar in town here, Los Tres Panchos, everyone goes there.  I went there this one time, right after I got here.  I was feeling down, lonely.  I drank a lot, right after I got here, just felt like I was going crazy.  And I go in one time, there’s this guy.  A big guy, Gordo they call him, big, fat guy, sort of a jokester.  I go in, there’s good old Gordo, and he sees me.  And he thought he was going to have some fun with the gringo, see?  So he brings over this bottle.  Stuff they have down here, it’s called mezcal, has a worm at the bottom of every bottle.  And old Gordo, thinks he’s going to have fun with the gringo, and he offers me some of that.  “This is what the real hombres drink down here,” he tells me.

I’ll never forget the look he got on his face, when I drank it all down, worm and all.  But what’s a nice clean worm, compared to what we used to get during Prohibition?

...Okay, where was I?  I was going to tell you about my first job.  Not sure why, I don’t even know what this story is supposed to be about.  It’s me, trying to explain, I guess that’s it.  Because once upon a time, there was this fresh-faced kid named Tony.  How did he grow up to become part of a regime like Windrip’s?  It seems like it was just overnight, like one day I’m that little boy, bellying up to the bar near the L.A. Times office, drinking needled beer, and the next minute?  Or maybe I’m trying to understand why I stayed in Washington for so long.  I knew what Windrip was right from the start, so why did I stay?  Why did I let myself stay?

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I was drinking pretty heavily there, toward the end.  Two, maybe three fifths a day, the bottles kept piling up, and I’d sneak them out when I thought nobody was looking.  Loki knew, but he never said anything.  Why would he?  I was his protection.  What did he even have, other than me?

Here’s how bad I was:  I told him that.  Big fight, ugly fight.  What started it?  Aww, Jesus, who even knows?

Here’s the thing, I don’t exactly remember, I was kind of drunk at the time.  I was always drunk back then, how it works:  You wake up with the shakes…  Who knows what I’m talking about?  I’ll bet it’s a lot of you.  All these drunks, walking around, and they’re keeping their secret, or they think they are, because no one calls them on it.  That’s what I was:  A drunk.  ...Where was I?  Woke up with the shakes.  They were so bad, because I’d been on the bottle for months…  Weeks?  A long time, I’d been drinking for a long time, because the days kind of all blurred together.  I would wake up, shakes so bad, and that sick feeling, you know the one I mean?

Feeling like if I could have died, it would have been an improvement, and I’d reach for the bottle, I’d take that first drink of the morning.  Hands shaking so bad I couldn’t pour it, could barely even get the bottle to my mouth.  And my body just saturated with booze, of course, and I only needed a little bit and I was drunk again.

You can’t really function like that, but I didn’t need to function.  I wasn’t writing, Lee would give me the stories he wanted ran, and I would put my byline on them.  Once or twice I’d add a few words, or I’d change something.  “The huge crowd at the Chief’s speech,” becomes “the massive crowd,” or it becomes a number maybe.  Four million, five million, always these incredibly large numbers, impossibly large, but that’s what Windrip wanted, and Lee’s job was to give him what he wanted.

If I added words, they made the story worse, not better.  A rule you would be advised to remember:  Nobody ever wrote anything decent when they were on the sauce.  I used to be a pretty damn good newspaperman, maybe I will be again, after I get dried out enough, or, who knows, maybe not too.

I’m trying to capture a memory here.  Hard to do, I don’t really have very many memories from the time I was in DC.  Because I knew what I was, going in.  I knew what Lee was, and I knew what he wanted me to be…  What he wanted me to do.  And how do you deal with shame like that?  You drink until it goes away, and that took more and more, and then it became a cycle, and then:  Bam, no memories.

This is what I think I remember:  Me and Loki, okay?  In bed, okay?  Because yeah, we’re fairies, or maricones, or whatever the hell you might want to call us.  You want to blame me for that?  Fine, go ahead, I can’t stop you.  But I’m here to tell you, that is not what you should be blaming me for.

...Like I was saying, we were in bed.  And it was morning, one of those many mornings, that all blurred together, me trying to get some sleep, when the sickness wouldn’t let me sleep, I’d wake up, and then I’d grab for a bottle.  There was always a bottle, and I always kept it where I thought Loki couldn’t see it, under the bed or someplace, maybe even under my pillow.

Loki saw it.  He always knew that thing was there.  He knew, but he didn’t say.  Because I was his protection, see?  Directive 427, the one about “males, engaging in indecent acts.” -- Fun fact:  I wrote the press release on that thing.  I didn’t write it, I mean, because I wasn’t writing, but it was my byline when it went out on the wire service. -- Where was I?  That’s right.  Loki and me in bed.

Loki knew I had a bottle, he knew I always had a bottle, but he never said anything about it, see?  Just once in awhile he would say something, that day he said something.  That day, which I can’t really remember, but I’m piecing together the shreds.

I woke up, and I had the shakes, and I was so sick I was doubled over.  First the dry heaves…  Here’s what booze does to your dignity, okay?  I couldn’t get to the bathroom.  How’s that?  Kiddos, if you’re thinking about taking up drinking, here’s your reason not to, right here:  Think about waking up, and your stomach rebels on you, and you need to get to the toilet, you want to get to the toilet, but you just can’t.  Still want that highball, kiddo?  Still going to take that fake I.D. and go try to get a beer at Maury’s?

Filthy, filthy, waking up in the middle of a drunk.  And you need that drink, you have to have that drink, just to feel anywhere near human.  And I wake up like that, and I grab for the bottle.

My hand, fishing around under the bed…  I remember that part, I remember every second of it so vividly.  And the dust under there, and I keep grabbing…  Felt something silky, that I knew was a pair of Loki’s step-ins.  Memory of a better time, those step-ins…  Of course we hadn’t had sex in weeks.  You don’t, when you’re in the middle of a drunk, because you don’t care, because it gets in the way of the drinking.  I remember feeling those step-ins…  I remember the emotions wanted to come, but I wouldn’t let them.  I remember touching the bottle, and picking it up…  Then the emotions came, but they were different ones:  First was the fear, “Is it empty?  Please god, don’t let it be…”

Bottle wasn’t empty, but I didn’t feel any relief.  You don’t feel good emotions in the middle of a drunk.  But I was glad, and I pulled that thing out.  And, like I said, the shakes…

I remember fighting to open that bottle, and it felt like it took hours.  And I remember I got it open, and that’s when Loki opens his big yap.  “Drinking again?” he said.

That’s what he said to me, and here’s what I answered.  And the ugliness of it, I just can’t get past the ugliness.  First, Loki says to me, “Are you drinking again?  I don’t know why you bother trying to hide it.”

He’s saying that to me, and I…  My mind plays tricks on me, and it tries to justify what happened.  You want to know what happened?  Try thinking about old Hollywood.  Remember what Hollywood was like before Windrip?  Back in the good old days, back when movies told real stories, and they showed real people?  Movie from back then:  Public Enemy, I think it was called, starred Jimmy Cagney, you remember him?  Snarling guy, pushed beyond what he can bear, and that’s what I felt like, that morning with Loki.  And Cagney reaches out, and he hurts the one he loves most, and that’s what I did too.

First with my words, I hurt him.  “What goddamn business is it of yours,” I say, or something like that.

And Loki says something to me.  I don’t remember what it was, but it was probably hurtful.  He’s good at hurtful when he wants to be.

Hell, I deserved it, whatever it was.  Because I love Loki, I do now, and I did then.  I love him, and I know…  I think he still loves me.  He loved me then, anyway.  But, whatever it was he said, I deserved it, and I knew it, and that was what made me so mean.  Because I wasn’t just trying to shut him up, I was trying to shut my conscience up too, see?

What I said, “I took you in, didn’t I?”  And I said the worst thing I could have said.  I said, “Where do you think you’d be, if it wasn’t for me?”

Just a few words, but I didn’t have to use more.  Because I met Loki through Lee, see?  And everybody in DC knew about Lee, and they knew what he’d do.  Parties with fairies at them, big parties, and lots and lots of fairies.  Orgies, I guess you’d call them, and Lee always in the middle, and all the fairies servicing him.  Not regular guys like me, that look like men, if you take my meaning, but real fairies, like you see in the moving pictures, boys dressed like girls, acting like girls, and Lee would be in the middle of them, and they would be servicing him.

That was what Loki was.  I met him at one of Lee’s parties.  He was servicing Lee when I met him, because Lee’s cold like that.  What do you call a guy who can sit and talk to you, and not just cocktail banter, but real conversations, and all the time there’s this boy on his knees, just going to town at his…

You know what he was going at.  That’s where I met Loki, he was on his knees in front of Lee, with his mouth busy.  And he swallowed when he was finished, because they all had to or else, and then later on when we talked, I pretended I hadn’t seen that, but we both knew I had.

And that was what I mentioned, that morning in bed, that and one other thing, the name of the camp where they put the fairies.  And I said, “You’d be in Winnetou right now, if it wasn’t for me.”  And then Loki said something, I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember what I did afterward.

My hand, against Loki’s face.  My red handprint, standing out, so distinct, and the skin around it, so pale.  And here’s the kicker for you:  Loki stayed.  Because he had to, right?  Because of Camp Winnetou.

Oh god, where’s Loki now?  Is he still alive?  I pray that he’s still alive…  I would pray, if I still believed in a god, but I don’t, what kind of a god could look down on a world like this, and the Chief, and Lee, and what they do?  What kind of a god could let people like me exist, after what I did?  I should be burning in Hell right now.  ...I hope Loki’s still alive.  And I hope he’ll come back to me someday, even though what he ought to do is spit in my damn face.  My whole life, the whole rest of it, however much longer I have, is all going to be trying to make it up to Loki for what I’ve done to him.

Dear Peter, if you’re reading this?  Don’t be like me.  Never, period, no matter what. -- Love(?), Daddy Tony

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I woke up this morning, and all I could think about was Pasadena.  Not Pasadena like it is now, but like it was then…  Like I thought it was, then.

Your mind does this thing to you, have you noticed?  Because the world’s a hellhole, I don’t think I’m saying anything radical there, I think everybody knows it.  The world’s a hellhole, always has been, always will be.  But people get seduced, they think about the old days, and they think..  Here’s what you do:  You remember how it felt, back when you were little.  Who thinks things are bad, when they’re little?  Little kids:  You have your Mommy, and she’s the best Mommy, and you have your Daddy, and he’s the best Daddy too.  And the best servants too (if you were lucky enough to be raised with servants), and you think all those things, everything of yours is the best in the whole wide world, that’s what it’s like when you’re young like that.  Then when you grow up, there’s always this part of you that still believes it all.

That’s where I was this morning, just in this warm, peaceful, dream-place of my memories.  It’s the place I used to go to when I was drinking, it was the reason why I drank.  Note to self:  Six weeks, now.  Six beautiful weeks of sobriety, and it will continue.  They say it’s the first drink that gets you drunk, and all you have to do is avoid that first drink.

Peaceful place:  I could sure use some peacefulness right about now.  Headline this morning:  “Windrip Expresses Dissatisfaction with Sarason…” -- And in passing, let me say, ye gods, what a headline!  Jesus, if I couldn’t write a better headline than that, even when I was drinking?  Stupid headline, all implications.  What a headline like that does to you:  Here’s what it does, it makes you think stuff.  Because it doesn’t say anything.  “Expresses?”  How?  What did he say, did he even say anything?  Or was it behavior?  Well then, what kind of behavior?  What did he do, or what is it he’s going to do?

I got the paper, like I said.  US paper, it was a Press-Enterprise, that’s out of Riverside, if you didn’t know.  Out of date, of course, because they all are by the time they get here.  This one had a date, two weeks ago.  And they charged me an arm and a leg for the damn thing, ten pesos, which is 80 cents American, but you know, that’s the transportation costs, hard to get anything here to Alamos.

And I saw the headline, like I was saying, and immediately I bought the paper, and I opened it up and I read the story.  And it was your standard, basic, Windrip-era garbage.  No facts in it, nobody deals in facts anymore in America.  It was all innuendo, just all really vague.  Somebody held a party, and someone else didn’t go, or else there was a look on someone’s face that shouldn’t have been there, or I don’t know, maybe someone expressed frustration, but they didn’t say what they were expressing it about, and then when you look at it?  All hints, nothing but hints.

It doesn’t pay to ignore that stuff.  Directive 427 started with a hint.  Fun fact:  I was there when that happened.  I was there when all the bad stuff happened.  How I remember it?  First there were these stories.  Unsourced, they were always unsourced.  “Senior White House Advisor:”  What does that even mean?  Who isn’t a “Senior White House Advisor” these days?  I think I was a “Senior White House Advisor” there by the end, and it they could have made a story out of it, I’ll bet Loki would have been too.  And Peter.

...But I was saying, I read this article, which was nothing but a bunch of hints and innuendoes, and two weeks old at that.  It probably means nothing, I’m sure it means nothing.  “White House Expresses Dissatisfaction with Sarason?  Please, Lee’s been with Buzz since he was a Congressman, they’re best friends, nothing is going to happen.  But if it did…  And if Loki is caught up in it…  Or Peter…

What can I do?  I’m here, I can do nothing.  What could I do?  Nothing.  Can’t go back across the border, I’m a wanted man.  And I can’t send a letter.  You get a letter from Mexico these days, you’re a sitting duck.  And, so what am I going to do?  Sit here and stew.  Just sit here and be miserable.  And not take a drink, no, no, I don’t want it, I don’t need it, I can’t let myself have it.  No matter what.

And so I go to my peaceful place, like in the dream from last night.  That was one hell of a dream.  Started out bad, but then how it ended…  It ended in Pasadena.

I’m not going to talk about the dream, because that really will drive me crazy.  Rabid coyote, stalking…  Not me, which would have made sense, and not Loki or Peter, which would also have made sense

I said I’m not going to talk about it.  Pasadena, there’s a safe subject, a nice, good, peaceful one.  Not the real Pasadena, like I said, I’m going to talk about the not-real one, the one I used to think I had, back when I was just a little kid.

Our house was in the hills, a little ways out of town.  It was one of these Craftsman-style houses, big rooms, and wood floors, and airy, you know what I mean?  Windows open, and high ceilings, and this feeling of freedom.  I had a bedroom at the back of the house.  The smallest bedroom, smaller than Jarvis’, smaller than Toshi’s, even, but I didn’t care.  Because it was my bedroom, see?  And I was this spoiled kid, with every luxury you could possibly imagine.  I had a phonograph, can you believe it?  Me, this little kid, not even ten years old yet, and I had my own phonograph.  And it was a new one, not like Mom and Pop just gave me the old Victrola.  These days it would be a radio (television set maybe, unless Windrip cancelled production of those in the last round of budget-cuts, which he probably did).  These days, it’s radios, but those hadn’t been invented yet back then, and I had a phonograph, and I had this big stack of records.

What I remember:  Me lying in bed.  Me, in my footie-pajamas, drop-seat open in back of course, because it was easier that way.  Me lying there, Jarvis having already tucked me in, and I’m listening to Harry Lauder, he was always my favorite.  “Rrrroaming through the gloaming…”  God, I loved his voice.  That Scotch trill, he’d give to the “r”s.  “Rrrroaming through the gloaming,” he’d sing, “with my lassie by my side,” and half the time I’d have to be up and rewinding the thing a couple of times, before old Sir Harry even got to his lassie, but do you think I cared?  And I’d go to sleep like that, listening to Sir Harry sing about “rrrroaming,” and with the smell of Jarvis’ supper in the air.

Bacon, he loved bacon.  When Mama and Papa went out, that’s always what he would have, and they went out a lot.  And I used to wake up in the morning, and that smell would still be there.  Me, running out into the kitchen, in the morning:  Me, still in the footie-pajamas you understand, and with the drop-seat still down, and my bare bottom sparkling there, for anybody to see, and I’d run out into the kitchen, and I’d give Jarvis a big hug.

“Can I have bacon for breakfast?” I’d ask him, but he always said no.

Porridge, that’s what I’d have.  Porridge is good for growing boys, it builds strong muscles.  Or cornflakes, I’d have those too sometimes.  Cornflakes and cream with sugar on top?  That’s still a good breakfast, if you ask me.  And a glass of orange juice, of course, which I wouldn’t have had.  We didn’t know about vitamins, back then.

We had a big yard…  My folks, you understand.  They had a big yard.  Big yard, nice lawn, and all these trees.  And we’d play out there, me and my friends.  We’d play baseball, football, etcetera.  That wasn’t until later though, I’m talking about when I was little.  Little kids, we’d play little-kid games…  And that’s when I met Rhodey, because his Mama worked down the street from us, and he used to come over to play.  “Little chocolate-drop,” my Mama used to call him, as in, “Here’s Bertha’s cute little chocolate-drop, come over to play with you, Tony.”

I loved Rhodey.  He was everything I wanted to be.  He was bigger than me, and faster, and smarter, and stronger.  You think I cared that he was black?  Hell, that didn’t matter to me.  It never does to small kids, it’s only when they get older.

Mexico’s not perfect, I’m not going to pretend that.  But they treat black men better down here than we ever did up in the States, even before Windrip.  Maricones too…  I’m doing it again, I’m thinking about Loki, I have to stop.

Where was I?  My best friends when I was growing up?  Rhodey, he was always my favorite, and then there was Happy, who lived next door.  And Pepper, she was a girl, but we let her join our gang after a while, because she was the best pitcher in the whole neighborhood.  And after that, it was always the four of us, we were always together.

Twilight:  You know those California twilights you get in the late summer?  Sun’s going down earlier, but not so much earlier that you notice it yet, and you’ve probably had supper, because they would always feed us kids our supper really early, 6:00, at the latest.  And we’d have eaten, hash, maybe, or bread-and-milk, or some kind of kid-food.  And then we’d be back out again, usually in my yard.

Playing hide-and-seek:  You remember doing that, don’t you?  Remember what it felt like, it’s starting to get dark.  Everything that was familiar, is just a little bit unfamiliar, and the darkness, and the shadows.  And the sort of creepy feeling you’d get, crouched down behind some bush or another, waiting for the Seeker to find you?  Always ended too soon of course.  How we knew it was time to go in, used to be because Big Bertha would come by, she would have to take Rhodey home.  And Jarvis always gave him a pocketful of cookies to take with him, I remember that.  Those wonderful big, fat, oatmeal-raisin cookies, with the nuts.  You can’t seem to get those anymore.

And I remember sometimes Jarvis would let me stay up for awhile, after I’d come in.  He’d let me sit in the living room with him, while I ate my snack.  Me, with a couple of those cookies, big glass of milk alongside…  You know something else I’ve found out about Mexico?  The milk’s still the same, down here.  It’s still that wonderful, creamy stuff you used to get up in the States, little thin layer of cream already forming on top, before you finish drinking it.  God, a man can get fat on milk like that.  First thing I want to do, after I get Loki down here…  Not going to let myself think about Loki.

...Where was I?  Jarvis and me in the living room.  And I’d be sitting there eating my cookies and drinking my milk, and the only sound would be the swish-swishing of Jarvis’ newspaper pages turning…

I know why I dreamed what I did last night.  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  Coyote:  That was Sarason.  And rabid, that means dangerous, which Sarason definitely is.  It wasn’t me, he was after, it was a puppy.  Puppy’s probably Loki, either that or Peter.  Maybe it was both.  I remember that throat-clenching feeling of fear, and I knew the coyote was out there, and then I saw it.  And I remember it went for that puppy, and I tried to get in the way.  And I knew I couldn’t let it bite me.  Because it was rabid, and I’d die, hydrophobia.  But I couldn’t let it get to that puppy, or else it would die.

This way madness lies, Stark.  Time to go out and do something.  I’ll take a walk, maybe.

Chapter Text

I remember how Pepper looked at me, after she found out I’d taken the job with Windrip.  I remember that, and I remember her saying, “Tony, how could you?”  Rhodey didn’t say anything.  He just didn’t talk to me anymore, after he found out.  And I felt guilty, and I felt so ashamed.

I didn’t think he would win, that was why…  That was what I told myself, the guy was a buffoon, and his campaign platform was a joke.  Flat $5,000 a year, for every man in America, that was what he promised, but how could anyone ever have believed something so patently impossible?  And, like I said, he was a complete joke.  He had this thing, where he collected all these different hats.  Fireman’s hat, and an Indian Chief headdress, silk topper for parties, that sort of thing.  You’d see him in the newsreels, he’d always be wearing one of these hats, while he made all sorts of absurd promises.

That was how Lee sold it to me.  Not in so many words, you understand, but implicitly.  I remember when I used to talk to him, back at the beginning of the whole thing.  We were, as you might say, sort of friends?  “Associates,” that’s a better word, we were associates.  Sooner or later, every single fairy in America that has an active social life, is going to meet every single other one.

Taking you back again here:  This was right before the Crash, I was 18 years old.  Thought I was riding high, Star had just promoted me from copy boy to reporter.  I was so full of myself back then, in my fedora, and wearing my overcoat all the time, of course, even when it was 80 degrees outside.  I remember one time…  What was I, then, still 18?  Or was that after I turned 19?  Doesn’t matter, it was toward the beginning of my time as a reporter, anyway:  First time I ever yelled, “Stop the presses!”  I don’t remember what had happened, but I remember yelling that.  And then all the presses stopped.  Nothing has ever equalled how I felt when that happened.

Where was I?  Lee?  That’s right.  He has a reputation, that you may or may not know about, not just that he’s a fairy, but that he likes his men… a little young, shall we say?  Men like that used to be all over the place, I guess they still are now.  You would meet them in the bars, those special certain kind of bars that only fairies go to yeah, but in the other kinds too.  I remember they always wanted to buy drinks for you, and if you let them, well then they would want something from you.

Something I don’t remember:  Did I ever… shall we say, did I ever give Lee what he wanted?  Blackouts, I started having them so early, like before I was 20.  Nothing scarier than losing time.  You wake up, and you wonder, “Where am I?  How did I get here?  What was I doing?”  I never woke up in Lee’s bed, but that doesn’t prove anything.  Maybe he brought me back to my place first, or then we did it at his place and then he took me home, maybe that’s how it happened.  The idea of me having slept with a man like that…  Don’t give me any credit for moral scruples here, this is just about looks alone.  He’s ugly, he was even then.  That face, like a bloodhound’s face, and that flabby, sagging old body of his:  Imagine letting that into bed with you.  Imagine him touching you, and doing things…  

I’ve watched Lee with men, and it’s not pretty.  Because he wants to be… shall we say, be the woman, in an encounter?  I’ve watched him, and what he’ll do:  Someone blind-drunk.  He likes them drunk, because that way he doesn’t have to ask, see?  Because even now with all his power, he still gets too many noes.  And they’ll be lying there, the kid, I mean, they’ll be there, lying all limp and whatnot.  Limp in all the wrong places too, if you catch my meaning.  I’ve watched Lee, what he’ll do is he’ll bend over and he’ll suck.  His mouth, in between the legs of a man, passed out drunk…  Was that me?  Did that ever happen to me?

It didn’t, I’m sure of it (I hope).  But I did used to see Lee around quite a lot.  He was associated with the film industry for a while there, back at the end of the 20’s.  And I would see him in the bars…  The fairy ones, you understand.  ...Used to see him there, he offered to buy me a drink a few times.  I usually said no, but after a while we would get to talking.  

He said he’d get me a spot with the L.A. Times, that was the bait he used.  He was with Metro at the time, and he said he used to work for the Times, and he still knew some people over there. -- This has nothing to do with what I was talking about, I don’t know why I’m telling you this story.  Except…  I don’t know, maybe it does.

And, where was I?  Lee and me:  One night, after I finished up at the Star.  And I wanted it…  Sex, you understand, I wanted sex; you know how it is being a kid, when you want it all the time.  And I’d just gotten done at the Star, and I wanted it so bad.  And Rhodey and Pep got off at the same time, but I lost them that night, took the flivver that I’d bought for myself by then, and I drove on into Los Angeles, looking for some action.

Bar over by Pershing Square, which is where all the fairy bars are:  This was late, late at night.  I should have gone straight home, I had work in the morning.  But there was this itch…  Like a physical craving, that I couldn’t ignore.  And I went into Los Angeles that night, I went to this bar.

You remember what I said about the odor in speakeasies?  This was a thousand times worse.  The fairy bars were always terrible, because if you were a fairy, you were, by definition, desperate.  I remember, you’d walk in, and the odor would hit you like a wave.  And…  You want to hear something disgusting?  After a while, that smell, it would trigger something inside you.  I think I could smell it right now today, and it would still trigger me in that same, deep-down way.  Marcel Proust, á la Recherche du Temps Perdu:  He had his madeleine cookies and his tisane, and I have…  I don’t even want to think about it.

What would have changed, if I hadn’t gone there that night?  Or would anything have changed?  Maybe I was doomed right from the start.

That’s right, I was doomed, I should never have talked to Lee.  Him and his bloodhound face, and that horrible, sagging body of his, and the offers of drinks.  I was making a living, why would I need to let him buy drinks for me?  And why would I talk to him?

That night:  I was drunk, but I wasn’t as drunk as I would have had to be, not to remember.  I wasn’t blackout-drunk, I can still remember bits of what happened.  Me, walking in, crowd around the bar, just like there always was.  It was this whole big crowd.  Things were much more wide-open in America in those days, Roaring Twenties, you understand.  And the odor, and the sound of all the fairies talking.

I remember, I saw Lee over by the window.  He was surrounded by a crowd of men, all much better-looking than him.  I remember I thought, that’s why I was going over there (maybe there was a faint trace of an idea too, that I might get some free drinks out of it; Lee was always generous).  And I remember going over to talk to Lee, at that table.

He used to talk to me, back then.  Looking back at it now, after how it was with us toward the end of my time in Washington.  Thinking about how sometimes he wouldn’t even see me, he’d send a secretary, and then when he would see me?  A few words, ice-edged:  “Press release, Stark, see that it goes out,” something like that.  But at the beginning, he did talk to me, he was always so pleasant and friendly.

...Where was I?  Lee was at that table.  And I went over there, “Hi, Lee,” I said, or something like that…

I don’t remember when the other men started to disappear.  What must that have looked like?  Older men, most of them, like Lee.  Older men, better looking probably, because most men were, always, and they were there, but then after a while they all left.  Did they say things, first?  “Have fun with your toy, Lee,” or…  I don’t know, maybe, “Is he even of any use to you like that, Lee?”

I was of use to him like that.  And after that, it’s just vague flashes, that’s all I have.  How many had I had?  Jesus, I don’t know if that even matters, because with that Prohibition booze, you never knew what you were getting, how strong it would be, I mean.  Maybe I only had a few, or maybe, who knows, maybe I drank the bar dry before it happened.  Anyway though, I was blind-drunk by the time we left, and all I have is these vague flashes of what happened after we left.

Lee’s mouth, between my legs:  I remember that, I remember him sucking.  I remember my body responding to him.  I didn’t want it to, but I remember: it did.  And after that, another blank.  Next thing I remember, I was between his knees.  I was inside him (I don’t know of a delicate way to put it), I was thrusting hard, inside Lee…  Next thing I remember is a spatter of something that I knew was his semen, it hit me across the face, warm, and sticky, and disgusting.  And after that, another long blank.  Next thing I remember is someone dragging me upward, Lee, I guess, and his irritated voice:  “Tony, wake up, I’m not letting you sleep here.”

I used to be Tony to him, back then.  Why does that still matter?  After everything that’s happened, why do I still even care?

Everything?  Between me and Lee?  This wasn’t what I was going to talk about, it’s not what I wanted to talk about.  I was going to tell about Pepper and Rhodey, or…  No, I was going to tell you why I took the job with Windrip in the first place.  But really, there’s not much to tell.  It was the summer of ‘36, Lee came to me…  Right after the Democratic Convention this was, right after they’d declared Buzz their candidate for the fall.  And Lee came to me:  “Good pay, Tony,” he said, “and for just a few months of work.”  He said he needed my talents as a writer, he flattered me; Lee’s got a way of flattering you when he wants you.  He was always flattering me, leading up to… what happened between us, and this was more of the same kind of stuff, probably.  Just the old soft-soap, that Lee is so good at.  And I said yes.

And Pepper and Rhodey:  “Did you read the platform, Tony?”  Pepper’s voice was like the voice of authority.  “Did you see?  He’s going to send all of us women back to the kitchen.”  And Rhodey didn’t say anything, he just looked at me.

I remember how weak I felt, standing there, telling Pepper, “Well, he’s never going to win.”  And I remember I didn’t believe it, I wanted to, but I didn’t.  I hoped it was true.  Ha, hope, what the hell good is that?  And I remember Rhodey going over to Pep.  He didn’t say anything, but he went over to her, he took her hand in both of his when he said good-bye.  That was the end, for me and Rhodey.  First friend I lost by taking a job with Windrip, but not the last one.  Oh well, I deserved it.

Chapter Text

I don’t know why I wrote all that, just now.  It doesn’t…  I wasn’t…

What I thought I was going to do here?  It seemed like such a simple progression, and I was just going to tell it:  First I grew up in Southern California.  Then I went bad, and I joined Windrip’s outfit, I knew what they were, but I joined anyway.  Then after that I was in Washington, and that’s where I met Loki, and it’s where I met Peter.  And just for a while there, we had a life together, we had a family, and it was beautiful.  What did I want to talk about?  About that?  No, about how I had it, and what it meant to me, but what I wanted to talk about  was how it was my own evil that took it all away.

I wanted to understand, that’s it.  But I don’t know, maybe I can never understand, maybe that’s impossible.  What have I written so far?  Just a lot of whining.  Someday this will all be history.  Kids will grow up, and they’ll want to know what it was like, living in these times.  Will my account tell them anything?  Am I leaving anything of value for anyone, or is this just one man’s self-indulgence?

Short and simple, here’s why I took the job with Windrip:  It was because I didn’t think he could win.  Because Lee came to me…  I think we were at a party.  One of the kind of high-dollar Hollywood parties that he was always going to, and he would invite all of us privileged ones.  He would invite the ones he liked, kids, fairies, and such.  And we would go:  Doug Fairbanks and Mary, and Chaplin, and that sort, that was who would be there.  Lindberg was at this party.  Lucky Lindy, do you remember him?

Lindy was there, still very handsome, although he was already running to fat.  And there I was, in the same room.  He was the reason I was talking to Lee about politics in the first place, because that was all Lindy ever could talk about, or so it used to seem.  Lindy was saying all this, that he always said, all about America First, this and that, and how Europe was dead.  What is it about Europe?  Why do people do that?  Monarchy vs democracy, and supposedly we do things so much better in the States, because… why?  Because we’re only 150 years old, instead of hundreds and hundreds of years, like the countries in Europe?  Lousy reasoning, even on the face of it, but that’s what those kind want.  It’s about as complex as they ever get.  And like I said, Lindy was there, he was holding forth, all about those sort of things.  And then Lee comes up to me and he says, “You interested in that, Tony?”

I think that’s how it went, I think he approached me first.  I think he asked me if I was interested in what Lindberg was saying, and I think I told him no...

Here’s a conversation I know I had with Lee one time.  Maybe it was this time, maybe another one, here’s what happened:  “How can you do it?”  I remember asking him that.  Because what was I?  Early 20’s?  23, at the most? Meaning, I hadn’t lost my idealism yet, then, you understand.   And, “How can you do it,” I remember saying to him.  “You’re smart, Lee,” I said, “you know Buzz is a moron, and his whole platform is just a lot of hooey.  Why do you stay with him,” I asked him.  “Why stay, when you must know you could get whatever salary you wanted, from any paper in the country?”

I remember asking him that, and I remember Lee…  He never wavered, see?  He had a message, and he stayed with his message.  “It’s a challenge, Tony,” I remember him saying that, like helping a tyrant to power was just a game, it was a tennis match or something else equally inconsequential.  And I remember looking at him when he said that, and I remember the expression on his face.  An alive-expression; normally he looked embalmed, almost.  “It’s a challenge,” he said, “it’s the ultimate test of craftsmanship, for a creator.”

You read Windrip’s book?  The one Sarason wrote for him?  It’s not like Mein Kampf, it’s better.  Some passages in that thing just sing.  “And when I get ready to retire…”  Here’s a passage that’ll show you what I mean.  “...When I get ready to retire,” Lee wrote in the book, “I’m going to build me an up-to-date bungalow in some lovely resort…”  Note what he does there?  The phrasing?  Right out of an advertising circular, “an up-to-date bungalow,” and, “in some lovely resort:”  It’s aspirational.  Things that are close enough that the average man or woman can dream about them.  And of course the obligatory demonization of Europe, that was what all the Windrip-voters wanted:  “Not in Como,” it reads, “or any of the proverbial Grecian isles…”  Americans, who have never been to Europe, they can’t afford to go to Europe, and Lee wins them for Buzz by telling them it’s better over here anyway.  Such a joke.  Like the fox in the old fable, saying the grapes were sour.  But note the economy of words, please:  A whole position-paper, just in those couple of sentences, a whole policy being laid out.  Nobody can write propaganda like Lee.  He’s Joseph Goebbels, and Adolf Hitler, and Eddie A. Guest, all rolled into one.

And…  Where was I?  The party, right:  Lee pitched the job to me like it was all craftsmanship  “It’s fun,” he said, “you’re moving people…”

Lee used to quote from H.L. Mencken all the time.  You remember him?  Satirist, he was popular back in the 20’s, disappeared off the scene sometime during ‘37 or thereabouts?  He was arrested, that’s how I heard it.  Said something, probably just more of what he was always saying, but then when Buzz found out, he was gone.  Probably rotting in some jail somewhere now, if he’s even alive.  ...Mencken:  He used to be quite popular back then, with people like me, shallow kids, who wanted to pretend we were intellectuals.  And like I said, Lee used to love him, he was always quoting from him.  “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public,” that was one he liked.  The cynicism, that was what he liked, he loved talking about his cynicism, and cultivating ours.  And then he’d turn around, and…  

There was this other quote he liked too: “The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable.”  That was him, see, that was his conception of himself.  He was a great artist, and that meant he didn’t have to follow the rules of ordinary men.  And he would use that to flatter the rest of us, all of the kids, and fairies, and the other rejects that he gathered around him, to do his dirty work.  He told us we were artists, see?  And being artists, that made us above other men, and we could do whatever we wanted.  We could manipulate the ordinary men, we were obligated to do it, practically, you know, by our superiority?  And we all bought it.  Stupid little kids, buying what Lee was selling, all of us…  Not all.  Most of us bought it, and we’d stay.  A few did leave, those were the lucky ones, or the good ones, or something.

Chapter Text

One English radio station in Sonora… -- Or all of Mexico, maybe?  Bet there were more, back before Buzz. -- ...One radio station, they play Little Orphan Annie, pretty much all the time.  You can get very tired of Little Orphan Annie.  I’ll still tune in, though.  Got a radio.  Big, ugly box-thing, circa 1925 or so, polished wood cabinet, and the big dials, you know the kind I mean.  Thing overheats like crazy, play it for an hour, you can smell it all the way through the house, but I’ll still be over there, I’ll still be turning it on and listening.

Feels so good to hear English sometimes, you know?  I have a new love for Little Orphan Annie…  There’s other things on there too, music.  Cab Calloway, he’s on there a lot, and Crosby, sometimes.  It’s the serials I like best though.  Stella Dallas, Lum and Abner, Amos ‘N Andy, I’ll listen to any of ‘em if I can get ‘em, but I’ll admit I have sort of a soft spot for the little chatterbox with the curly auburn locks.

15-minute episodes, and they’ll run them back-to-back.  Sometimes they’ll get through a whole serial in one day.  Sometimes I’m there the whole day, and I’m doing nothing but tuning in to that damn radio station, and I’ll listen to the whole thing, just Little Orphan Annie, for 12 hours at a stretch.  My life is so empty, it’s just this house, and Little Orphan Annie, and memories.

One drink would make all that go away.  Just one, and I know they’d welcome me at the Tres Panchos.

I said I’d tell this story.  I’m kind of falling down on the job, how long since I wrote in this journal?  Three days.  And what have I been doing?  Listening to Little Orphan Annie.

Of course everyone knew the Buzz team was just riddled with fairies, everyone knew it, except for Buzz himself.  He didn’t know much, he was kind of a joke to all of us.  And he’d come around, we’d be so polite to him.  “My speech sure knocked ‘em dead last night,” he’d say, “did you see that crowd?”

And we’d all go, “Oh yes, Buzz, it was impressive, oh yes, Buzz, they loved you, oh, this Buzz, and that, Buzz, and oh Buzz, you’re the greatest man that ever lived.” etcetera.  He always just ate it up; the man’s ego was huge, but it was eggshell-brittle.

...But I was saying about the fairies.  People say it doesn’t make sense that we would go for Buzz.  I don’t know, I don’t think they understand.  Things like Directive 427, yeah, they’re bad, they’re horrible, but you have to ask yourself:  What did we have before then?

I remember before then:  I remember fairies were a joke.  Lavender this, limp-wristed that.  Two men dancing?  Oh, ha ha, oh, hee hee, oh, ho ho.  Remember the moving picture scenes:  Girls go by, there’s the fairy designer over to one side.  Fairy designer doesn’t care about the girls, and this is uproariously funny.  Think the little fairy kids don’t see that?  And think they don’t remember?

I remember raids.  Yeah, they got worse under Windrip, but the point is:  They were bad before.  And I remember arrests, men picked up, just for touching another man, or even looking at him.  I remember how you would go into public bathrooms, all the sneaking around you had to do.  That stuff matters, it makes an impression.  First you find out you don’t matter…  To society, I mean, you don’t matter to them, to the movers-and-shakers.  ...First you find out you don’t matter, and then from there it’s just this small jump to thinking that nothing matters.

Even Pepper did it.  Not about me, you understand, but she’d do it, she’d make jokes about fairies, even when I was there to hear.  Because she didn’t care, right?  Because that’s just what people do.  But that kind of thing corrodes a friendship.  It’s like this silent rot, always going on down underneath, down where you can’t see.  And the thing is, you don’t even notice that stuff.  Because you grew up with it, see?  All your life, people have always laughed at fairies, after a while you don’t even hear it.  But you do hear it, down underneath, and it makes an impression.

Why did so many of us go for Windrip?  Let me tell you a story:  Happened…  I don’t know, it had to have been ‘37.  Happened right before Directive 427, I was living with Loki, and we had a little apartment, just around the corner from the Capitol.  This wasn’t at our apartment, it was at Lee’s place, I think.  Well, that little apartment wasn’t really suited for parties, was it?  It was too small, just two rooms and a kitchenette, even Loki and I could barely fit in there.

Party.  At Lee’s house.  Here’s what I wanted to tell you about, Loki and I were over there, and like I said, this was right before Directive 427.  Back then the Minute Men were… oh, I’d say maybe 50% fairies?  Maybe more?  Back then Lee loved the MM’s.  Minnie Mouses, he called them, this was a Resistance term, but Lee loved it, and he used to use it all the time.  “I’m having all the Minnies over to my house for a party,” he’d say, and then he’d laugh. Or, “I met the nicest little Minnie last night, cute body, and red cheeks, made you want to pinch them.  I think I’m going to give him a promotion.”

Loki and I were over there, house was wall-to-wall Minnies, which was usual for Lee’s parties before Directive 427.  And we were there, and the food was good, and the booze was pouring pretty freely as usual.  Oh, and the Minnies…  You hear stories, people like to pretend it’s still that way, but it’s not.  But back then?  Back then, Minnies were at least 50% fairies, and there were some cute little numbers, let me tell you.  Back then, I had wandering eyes, and Loki used to hate it, but I couldn’t care less.

I’m getting away from what I was going to tell you.  So hard not to, all I’m trying to do is give you background.  I want you to know what the party was like, here’s what it was like:  Waiters circling with canapes, glasses full of champagne.  I didn’t care about the champagne, I’d be over at the bar, just refilling my glass and refilling it.  Loki would be at the champagne, we’d both be more than tipsy.  But I wasn’t so drunk that I don’t remember the conversation.

This was two Minnies, a blond and a brunet.  Two pretty-boys, slim, willowy.  I’d have put them at 21 easy, but everyone knew what Lee was like, the Minnies always tried to look younger than they really were.  One Minnie said to the other, “You seen any good fights yet?”

Two Minnies, both brand-new to DC.  They had seen fighting, that was the point of the Minnies, they were there to fight, to rough up anyone who dared say anything about Buzz.  One says to the other, “You seen any good fights?”

Other Minnie Mouse says, “A couple,” and then he laughs.  “I saw my old Sunday School teacher at a protest,” he says…  Made an impression on me then when he said it, but since then?  I can’t get it out of my head, because it was like night-and-day.  There’s this cute little Minnie, just this kid, maybe 21-22.  Little blond boy, cheeks all red, above that unsightly blue uniform, and the look of relish on his face.  “...Saw my old Sunday School teacher,” he says, “guy that caught me kissing a boy after church, and he said I’d go to Hell.”  Boy was grinning while he said it, and the grin kept getting wider and wider.  “Want to know what I did to him?” he says.

And the other one…  Ye gods!  “Oh, you treated him with kid gloves, I suppose?”

First Minnie starts laughing again.  “Oh, I was so gentle,” he says, “two days in the hospital, before he died.”

They were both laughing, but even then, I was just sick.  I was sick at them for saying it, and I was more sick at myself for being there to hear it, and I went off and I got as drunk as possible, and I ended up sleeping it off, that night, at Lee’s place.

Listen to this, though, because this is a prophecy:  Things won’t change, as long as fairies are treated like that.  Because right now, there’s not enough choice, see?  Right now about the best you can get is the sneaking life, and people are always laughing at you.  Who wants that?  What is there to care about, why not just burn the whole thing to the ground?  There’s always going to be a percentage who want something else, they want anything else, and who are they going to go for?  

Fascists, no kidding.  Same was true in Germany, I hear, right up until the Night of the Long Knives.  Which was what Lee called it when Directive 427 did go down.  He was the most brutal one, after the Directive, and that’s what saved him (that and Buzz is an absolute idiot who won’t hear anything against his beloved Lee).

I can’t write in this thing much, it makes me crazy.  But I think the radio’s had time to cool down now, let me go try it.  Maybe the English station is playing Little Orphan Annie.

Chapter Text

There was a while there where I really thought Loki would save me.  Nothing can save me, I’m damned forever, by my own actions, and my own choices, but I thought he could, for a while there, I really thought there was a chance.

I’ve talked about how I met him already, right?  I was at the party, and he was…  Lee would have these boys there, understand?  These pretty boys?  All the little boys, and the boys that acted like girls.  Loki was one of the latter.  He was wearing a gown, I remember, that first time, at the party.  It was this green gown, v ery elegant, like something an actress would wear.  Big stain, in the middle of the skirt, I remember that stain, because…  There is no way to put this delicately; I noticed the stain because of what Loki was doing, because I thought, “Who made that stain?  Was it Lee?  Was it someone else?”  I saw it, and I thought anyone at that party could have made that stain, anyone except me, at that point.

Don’t think it was some kind of a rescue-thing for me, it wasn’t, I’m not that kind of person.  I’m not a good person, the stain didn’t stick with me because I wanted to save Loki, oh no, it was quite the opposite.  It made him look like damaged goods, that was why, because I saw it, and I thought about what made it, and I thought, “That could be me, I could do that next.”

Hard, saying these things about yourself, but I have to, it’s got to be done.  I owe it to myself…  No, to the world, I owe it to the world, and to everyone in the world.  I have to tell what happened, because I was part of what happened, and we have to get to a place where it’s never going to happen again.  It’s not as simple as it looks, there aren’t good guys and bad guys, what there are is men like me, men who started out trying to be good, and then we failed.  Someday I dream of a world where men don’t fail when they try to be good.  Is that pie in the sky?  I don’t know, maybe it is.

Loki:  You would have taken him for a woman, if you’d seen him that night, only what woman ever lets herself be put in a position like that?  He was…  She was, Loki likes to be called “she.”  Loki was on her knees, Lee was talking to me just like nothing was happening.  He had his hand tangled in Loki’s hair.  Hair just a little too-long by men’s standards.  You know Queen Christina?  Remember Garbo in that picture?

Lee’s hand, tangled in Loki’s Queen Christina-hair.  I must have seen things like that about a million times already by then, I had grown so calloused.  I didn’t think anything of it, it was just how things were, all the time, in Windrip’s inner circle.  There were all of us, and we all did these kinds of things.  You listen to Buzz, he’s the best Christian in the world, and he is so religious, and butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.  Underneath all that though, you get under there and the whole thing was just this teeming subculture, like, not even with groups making it up, it wasn’t the thugs in one group, and the fairies in another, and the crooks in a third, it was all of us rubbing shoulders together, and picking up each other’s traits, we were all crooked, and we were all thuggish, and, at one time or another, all of us were fairies.

...But I was saying, about Loki, I saw him.  That green satin dress of his, he was so careful of it.  And I remember I paid to get it cleaned for him.  I remember him saying to me, “Don’t bother, I can do it myself with some gasoline,” and I told him no.  I remember his hands:  Rough hands, they used to catch on the silky stuff he would always like to wear.  Tailor’s hands…  That’s what he did, he was a tailor.  Fingers all torn up where the needles poked him, and all these burned places from ironing other men’s pants, infected places where the gasoline had gotten into a cut, or something else had happened.  Loki used to run his hands over his silky dresses, and you could hear them, like this little, scratchy kind of a sound.

I took him home with me that night, because I thought I could.  Because he was a commodity, understand?  All the boys were commodities, and you’d think no more of taking one of them, than you would of buying a loaf of bread.  And I took him home.  He was ready to just… you know, be a commodity?  I remember his face…  His voice too, it was something, completely uninflected, but his face?  Face was a blank, completely closed-off inside.

Here’s something I need to tell you:  This was afterward.  It was after… you know what.  First I did it with him, I used him, just as I’d use any other commodity.  I remember him saying to me, “In here?”  We were in the living room.  He looked around, indicated the sofa.  “On there?”  Then he looked at the wall, and then back to me, “You want it over there instead?”

I don’t remember where we did it.  I remember Loki’s tired voice, and I remember ignoring it.  I remember satisfying myself…  I’d like to say I at least felt guilty, but I didn’t.  I didn’t even feel bad about not feeling guilty, I just didn’t feel anything at all.  

And then the next day…  God, you want to hear disgusting?  Next day, and it was like I was seeing Loki for the first time.  Well, that’s how mornings are, right?  I wasn’t really drinking yet back then, and the mornings were still so fresh and wonderful.  And Loki looked wonderful, in that fresh morning light, and it was like I was seeing her for the first time.  This is the disgusting part:  I was proud of myself because it was like that for me.  All I was doing was just behaving naturally, and I was proud of myself for it, like it was something I’d done on purpose.  And the other disgusting part?  Loki went along with it.  It was like she didn’t see anything wrong any more than I did.

That was our first night.  It began in commerce, it ended in something that felt almost like love.  I remember going in to work that day, and it felt so good.  I remember I was whistling all day.  I remember I had an appetite, for the first time in I don’t know how long, and I remember going home.  Loki wasn’t there, of course, and I remember the place didn’t feel right without her.

Here’s what I did:  I went over to her place.  I didn’t know where that was of course, we’d had other things to talk about the night before, as you can well imagine.  What I did, I remember I called Lee.  He was just no end of amused, I really wanted the number of a call-girl?  Of a call-boy, I mean?  I remember him laughing, and that he twitted me about it… right up until I left for Mexico, actually.  And I remember that it ended up, I had to call about a dozen other people, flunkies, and madams, and so on and so forth, but finally I had the address.

Me, at Loki’s door, with a bouquet of flowers…  I was proud about that too, God help me, that I would bring flowers for a call-boy, it seemed the most generous thing a man could do.  But I got them, and I went over there, and I remember Loki’s face when he saw them.  And I remember, I took him out to dinner.  He was in men’s clothes when I got there, and he looked like a complete fairy.  “Am I dressed all right?” he said, and he indicated the clothes.  

I told him to go change into his best bib and tucker.  “Ladies clothes,” I told him, “go get dressed in that dress you had on last night.”

Something that didn’t hit me until afterward:  God, we were so insulated back then.  Both of us, me first, but then later, Loki as well:  No Directive 427 yet, and none of the regular laws applied to us either.  Because I was one of Lee’s boys, see?  Because ordinary law enforcement couldn’t touch me, and I was so used to that by then that I didn’t even see it.  Dangerous place to put a man, above the reach of the law.  And not just men that mean ill to the world, not just your Hitlers and your Buzz Windrips.  Because, the rest of us?  It makes us blind, being like that, it makes us stupid, because you feel like you’re invincible, and you feel like nothing can ever touch you.  No one’s invincible.  Sooner or later, no matter how high you fly, you will be brought down, and god help you, sometimes the ones you love can fall with you.

Chapter Text

This is what it was like, when it was good with Loki:  I’m not talking about the house.  The house was nothing, why did we even need the house?  House came later, and things were getting pretty bad by then, and I was always drinking, and Loki was always…  I don’t want to blame Loki, this isn’t his fault.

Loki got so he was a whore, there toward the end.  He was always going with other men, and then he would taunt me with them.  “I was with so-and-so last night…”  Thor:  Big, blond, muscle-bound.  A fag-Minnie, who’d somehow escaped the Directive.  “...I was with Thor,” he’d say, or, “I was with Von Doom,” or, “I was with somebody else.”  And the taunting smile on his face when he’d say it…  He didn’t want the sex, I really believe that, he just did it because he knew that it’d hurt me.  That was where we were, by the end, just hurting each other, just both of us that used to love each other, and now we were ripping each other apart with our claws.

That was because it was bad.  It got bad because of me.  Legal term:  Fruit of the poisoned tree.  Means nothing you get because of wrongdoing is ever going to do you any good.  And that was everything I had in Washington, wasn’t it?  The nice paycheck, and the beautiful job, and the Packard.  All because I’d sold my soul to take the job that Lee offered me, and work for Windrip.  I was better off before I had any of it.

But not Loki.  Loki was the one good thing that came to me, out of the whole time.  And here is what it was like when it was good with him, here is what the good times with him were like:

Apartment.  My little apartment.  Two rooms, as I believe I have mentioned, a living room and a bedroom:  I remember there was this chest of drawers, and I’d only filled one drawer of it.  Because I’d taken barely anything when I went to Washington, because I wasn’t expecting to be there past the election.  And I remember Loki…

I went over to his place, okay?  Which was a little rathole, room in a boarding house that smelled of cabbage.   I remember, we were over there, and I told him, “I want you to move in with me,” and I remember watching him pack his things.  Men’s things, but not many of them, and women’s things mixed in with them, but not many of those either.  His things fit into one suitcase, just like mine did, god, we had so few things between us, in those days.

I remember watching him pack his suitcase, and then I took him back to my place.  I remember how it was like just him unpacking felt like it made the place come alive.  Just the scent of his perfume… -- Her perfume. -- ...Just opening up the closet door, and the little flash of green I’d always see, that was Loki’s dresses.  Or her shoes…

Here’s a funny story, that will maybe tell you how it was with us:  Those shoes.  Ladies’ shoes, you understand, satin, and patent leather, and buckles and things.  Loki would always leave them in the middle of the floor, and then I’d trip over them.  Me, getting dressed in the morning… -- This is at the very beginning, you understand, this is still before things started to go bad. -- ...And I’d be getting dressed, shaving, putting on my tie, and so forth.  I remember just going about my business, and I would always trip over those shoes.  And I remember Loki on the bed… -- She always slept later than I did. -- ...She’d be awake, but barely, and I would trip over those shoes, and then she would always laugh.  But not a mean laugh, understand?  Not even an amused one, this was more like an invitation, and most of the time I would manage a few minutes I couldn’t spare, so I could take her up on it.

This is what I like to remember:  Me and Loki, in bed, when I should have been getting ready for work.  Her body was so warm, and she always smelled so good.  That spicy smell of hers:  I still have some things with that smell on them, handkerchieves she borrowed, and a couple of my old coats.  I won’t touch those things, I don’t want to, but sometimes I’ll brush against them, and I’ll catch a whiff of her smell, and it always brings ev everything right back.

Her and me, in bed:  “I have work,” I’d say to her, “you know I have to go to work, Loki.”

I remember how she’d always laugh at that.  “You won’t be late,” she’d say, then she’d drag me down onto the bed next to her, and then I’d always be late.

Coming into work ten minutes late, at a minimum.  I remember, there would be my secretary, Mrs. Arbogast, and I’d say to her, “Go get me some coffee, go get me a donut.”

I remember Lee coming in, and he’d make a joke of it.  “Hard at work, Tony,” he’d say, “or are you hardly working?”  Ha-ha, jokes, and underneath his jokes, always that edge.  He was a cat, playing with his prey, and I was the mouse, caught between his razor-claws.

“Hardly working?” he’d say.

I’d say something like, “Maybe, I was a little late, I don’t know,” or some such like that, and he’d laugh.

“I don’t mind, you do your job well enough,” he’d say, before giving me some more propaganda to work on.  And, more press releases, touting Buzz’s greatness:  Biggest inauguration, most work done in the first 100 days, most popular President in history, etcetera etcetera.

...God, that stuff sickens me.  How could I have let myself be a part of it?  But I won’t think about that, let me think about anything else.  Loki, I’ll think about Loki, or I’ll try.

I remember how silky her hair always was, brushing against my face, when we were in bed together.  And I remember her hands, those poor hands of hers, that were so scarred when I first met her, but after she’d had some time with me, they were so smooth and perfect.  I never looked at those nails of hers… -- Always buffed to perfection, and with the half-moons just so. -- ...Never looked at those nails without thinking how they had been, and how far we’d come.  And I would take one of her hands in my hands, and I would play with it.  This little piggie, and that little piggie, and so on.  And Loki would laugh, and I would kiss her.  One kiss for the tip of each finger, and then more kisses buried deep in her soft palm.  And I remember I’d do that, and the sound of her laughter in my ears, and her voice, “Oh, Tony, Tony, oh, stop, Tony!”

We had our little rituals.  Those mornings before I went to work, they were one of them, but we had so many.  Sunday supper:  Loki couldn’t cook, she never did learn how, right up until the very end.  I finally hired a cook for her, I remember…  But things were going downhill fast for us by that point, and that just made them worse.  Us, having our arguments in little hissed whispers, for fear Dinah would hear us…  I’m talking about before that, about when things were good.

Sunday supper:  Creamed something on toast, that was what Loki would usually make.  Creamed salmon, or or shrimp wiggle, or a Welsh rabbit, maybe.  All these gluey, gloppy things, on the white toast, that was always a little bit burned.  And Loki would make those things, and we’d eat them, just the two of us.  Beer to drink, always.  Nothing but beer, not on Sunday nights, because they were special, and I wanted to be sober.  And I would get invitations sometimes, but I’d turn them down, so we could be together.

Loki and me, eating those gloppy, gluey Sunday suppers…  Jello for dessert, Loki loved serving Jello,  It was the molds she liked, architectural nothingness, tasting like sugar.  And I’d look, and I’d say, “What’s in this one?  What’s in that one?”  There was always something, cherries maybe or bananas, or fruit cocktail.  Taste was always the same though, whatever it was, just this bland, nothing sweetness, and I would always have a big helping anyway, because it made Loki so happy.  And after that we’d go to the bedroom…  I do not want to think about Loki and me in the bedroom.

Dreams of lost happiness…  That was Camelot, for me.  How funny, huh?  Two men together, doing illegal things, and that’s what I’m homesick for?  But I am, I would do anything if I could have Loki with me again.

Here is what I dream about, me and Loki:  I want to feel her mouth between my legs again, I want to give her the same, to taste her taste again, on my tongue.  I want to hear the noises again, that she’d always make when I got her excited.  Muffled noises, her face buried in pillows, while her buttocks were so high up in the air.  And me on my knees behind her, with my hands on her hips, and those noises:  “Oh, Tony, please, oh, Tony, more, more, more!”

They say there’s an American Resistance, lord knows how you get in touch with them.  Lord knows if they’d have anything to do with me, with my past history, and if they do?  Yeah, I can just see them:  “You want to go where and do what?  You want to rescue who?  A fairy?  A whore-fairy?”

I brought out a lot of documents when I flew the coop, maybe I can arrange some kind of a deal.  But first I’m going to have to find the Resistance, before I can even try to convince them to help me, and I haven’t got the foggiest idea of how I’m going to do that.

Chapter Text

MAMMY’S KITCHEN, A WASHINGTON D.C. RESTAURANT
This person, she’s meeting today, here at the restaurant:  He calls himself “Mrs. Odinson,” and he claims to be married to a Commander in the Minute Men.  Pepper met him at the party, Saturday night.  Being married to a high-ranking member of the Corporate Party, she meets all too many of these kinds of people, thugs, and criminals, and homosexuals.  This one asked to meet with her privately.  He mentioned a name, Tony Stark, which was the only reason Pepper agreed to the meeting.

Tony Stark was a friend of hers during childhood.  Looking back, it seems like he was always there, so warm-hearted, and yet, sadly, so weak.  In the end, that was what destroyed him; the last Pepper heard of him, he was working for the Corporate Party, his addiction to alcohol having destroyed all of his writing talent.  Now this “Mrs. Odinson” says he has news of him.  Worryingly, he said he couldn’t speak of it at the party, which suggests that Tony has fallen still further.

Pepper arrives at Mammy’s Kitchen a little early.  It’s a reflex habit she’s developed since her marriage, a way of giving herself at least a small moment of peace before Obadiah’s friends arrive, and she has to return to her role as Mrs. Stane.  She enters.  The place is depressingly like every other popular restaurant these days, it seems.  Waiters, instead of waitresses, women being unable to work outside the home these days, the smell of cheap coffee, overlaid with cigarette smoke, and the constant presence of the blue Minute Man uniform, everywhere she looks.  Pepper is wearing the kind of ruffly chiffon frock that is expected of a Corpo’s wife, her hat modest, and her face suitably downcast.

“Mrs. Odinson” is already there.  He’s taken a booth against the wall, in a back corner of the restaurant.  She sees him rise to greet her as she approaches.  His costume is feminine, as it was Saturday night.  A chiffon frock, rather like hers, and a with similar picture hat, shading his face.

“I am so glad you could meet me.”  Thus, “Mrs. Odinson,” his voice, soft like a woman’s voice, the accent Midwestern and ignorant.  “As I believe I said, we have a friend in common.”

“Tony…”  

A white-gloved hand comes up and touches Pepper’s lips.  “No names.  Let’s just say, our mutual friend.  That’s a book, right?  By Dickens?  Our mutual friend liked to read when I knew him, he was always wanting to make me read books and things.”

Flashback of a memory:  They were what, twelve?  Or it could have been earlier than that.  They were going to meet at their fort in the vacant lot, and Tony was late.  Then when he arrived he had a book with him…  Treasure Island, wasn’t it?  Or Master of Ballantrae.  An adventure book, at any rate.  Tony loved adventure books, which somehow only makes it all the sadder, how he turned out.  “You have to read this,” Pepper remembers him saying.  “Gosh, it’s so darn good!  Pepper, Rhodey, you have to read this book!”

With an effort, she pulls herself back to the present, and the man who is speaking to her.  “As I was saying,” he says, “I wanted to talk to you about our mutual friend.”

Another unwelcome memory:  Tony, toward the end of their friendship.  He was sliding into dissipation by then, drinking heavily, and associating with questionable characters.  With people like this “Mrs. Odinson,” as Pepper remembers it, Tony had stopped dating by then, and when you saw him with anyone, it would be with people like this, effeminate men, and others who, though manly enough, would stand too close, and behave too intimately when they were around him.  Men who made her uncomfortable, including Lee Sarason, who was the one who got Tony the job with the Corporate Party.  And after that he started drinking even more heavily.  

“News?”  Pepper swallows.  She looks at “Mrs. Odinson, sitting across the table, his picture hat throwing shadow across his face.  “Tony’s alive, isn’t he?”

I said no names.”  “Mrs. Odinson” glances around the room from under her picture hat, before looking back at Pepper.  “Our friend I was talking about?” he says.  “He’s alive.  Or he was the last that I heard, anyway.  He was unexpectedly called out of the country.”  He signals to a waiter.  “We better order something, Mrs. Stane.”

The waiter comes over.  He’s wearing blackface, Pepper notices.  These days an actual black man can’t get any job besides manual labor, and when they want to create an Old Southern atmosphere, this is how they do it.  The waiter is a weedy man, barely more than a boy, looking like the End Man in a High School minstrel show.  “What can I get for you, Young Misses?” he says, attempting slavery-era dialect.

“Mrs. Odinson” orders coffee for both of them, without asking.  “And a plate of cookies,” he says.  “You know the kind I like.”

“Yes ma’am, right away.”  The waiter bows and leaves, and then they have privacy again.

“What about T…”  Pepper swallows.  “What about our mutual friend?”

A faint nod of approval from “Mrs. Odinson,” when she avoids using Tony’s name.  Then finally he tells the story she came here to hear.  “He was drinking when you knew him, right?” he says.  “He was drinking a lot?”

Pepper nods, and the other continues.  “That’s what got him run out of Washington, it was the drinking.  And he left,” he says.  “I know he went to Mexico, and I think I know where.”  Again, “Mrs. Odinson” looks around the room before continuing, keeping his face, as before, well shielded by the picture hat.  “I think I could find him,” he says.  “I think somebody better find him, or he’s going to kill himself with all the drinking.”

“So he left because of the drinking?”  Pepper feels another pang, thinking of the Tony she used to know, being brought as low as this.  

“Mrs. Odinson” nods.  “That was what it was.”

“And you want to find him why?”

“Because we’re friends,” says “Mrs. Odinson.”  “Because you have to watch out for your friends.”

Tony was never one for being watched out for, not as far as Pepper remembers.  Her memory of him includes plenty of times when he would watch out for other people, but whenever someone else tried to return the favor, he would resist.

“Look, right now he’s made it too hot for himself in the States,” “Mrs. Odinson” says.  “He’d probably better stay in Mexico.  But he needs someone else there, someone to take care of him… at least, to make sure he got there safely.  I’d have gone already, but…”  The young man in the green frock looks down, covers his face with a white-gloved hand.  “I wish I had some money,” he says.  “It wouldn’t take much, but I don’t have any.”  He looks up again, his green eyes catching Pepper’s gaze and holding it.  “My husband’s only a Commander with the Minute Men,” he says.  “They don’t make that much.”

And her husband is a Provincial Commissioner, Pepper thinks, feeling that all of her doubts about “Mrs. Odinson” are being confirmed.  “I suppose you want me to pay for your trip, do you?”  Her voice is dry.

“Mrs. Odinson” frowns.  “I ain’t asking for no handouts.”  He takes a breath.  Pepper sees anger on his face, fighting with something else…  Is it a conniving look?  Devious?  “I guess you’re right to be suspicious,” he says at last.  He continues to look at her, his face changing, anger there again, with, this time, something like resentment.  “Look, I was married to… to him, before I was married to Commander Odinson.  We were…  I thought we were happy.”

Their waiter returns, and for a moment, “Mrs. Odinson” is silent.  He watches as the waiter pours their coffee, sets the rack of cream and sugar, and the plateful of cookies, in the middle of the table.  “Thank you, my good man.”  His voice is painfully refined.  He slides some folded bills into the waiter’s hand.  “I’ll let you know if we need something.”  He returns his attention to Pepper.

“Aren’t you worried about him, Mrs. Stane?” he asks.  “You were friends, I know you were, he talked about you a lot.”

Pepper nods.  Honesty demands that she at least acknowledge Tony, who was one of her earliest friends.

“Yeah, I know he changed,” says “Mrs. Odinson.”  “I know that better than anyone, don’t I?”

Does he?  Why does he?  Pepper’s anger now is at Tony, who form associations with people like this.  ...Who gets himself in trouble, and it falls on these raffish friends of his to rescue him, and on her to associate with them, and help them.  

:But he’s T…”  “Mrs. Odinson” swallows, as if catching himself.  “You know who he is,” he says, “and you know how hard it is to stop worrying about him, don’t you?  Alls I want…  I just want to make sure he’s okay.”

Against her better judgment, Pepper finds herself saying yes.  “Mrs. Odinson” isn’t honest, that’s obvious, and he is not the kind of person anybody respectable would want to associate with.  He represents the worst of what Tony’s associates used to be, and apparently still are.  Yet at the same time, he’s right about Tony, isn’t he?  He’s so well-meaning, that even when he goes wrong, it’s so hard to pull yourself away, so hard to stop caring.

“How much do you need?” she asks, knowing her voice is cold, not caring, but at the same time uncomfortable.  She’s turning into one of them, isn’t she?  Just one more Corpo low-life, like all the rest.

“A hundred.”  If “Mrs. Odinson” cares about her voice, he gives no sign of it.  Probably he’s used to being spoken to like that.  And, of course, she’s offered him money, hasn’t she?  “I can do it for a hundred, Roosevelt money,” he says.  “Or two hundred in Corpo money.  How quick can you get it?”

This is stupid.  “Mrs. Odinson” is obviously not honest.  For all Pepper knows, he might have made up this whole story, and he’s going to take the money and run away somewhere himself.  He’s going to take it home to this “Commander Odinson” who’s supposedly his “husband,” and they’re going to laugh about her together.  Anyway, even if he does find Tony, so what?  Tony’s a drunk, who can help a drunk?  But at the same time, if there’s a chance…

She represses another sigh.  “I’ll have it wired from my bank.  Give me three days.”

“So, Thursday?”  A flash of pure acquisitiveness glows for a moment, in “Mrs. Odinson’s” green eyes.  “Can I come to your hotel and get it?”

A shake of her head.  The last thing Pepper needs is Obadiah seeing (or hearing about) someone like this, meeting her at the hotel.

“I’ll send someone.”  “Mrs. Odinson” seems angry, hurt even.  Pepper wishes that she could care, but part of living in Corpo America is that you can’t care about hurting people anymore.

Chapter Text

[excerpt from a letter]
You have to come home right now, Peter.  I have what I said I was going to get.  Remember that vacation we were talking about?  For our health?  Remember where I said I would talk to my friend, and he’d arrange things?  He said he can do it, no problem.  Three weeks in the sun in Acapulco!  That sounds nice, doesn’t it?  It’ll be like a whole lifetime.

[draft-response to the letter]
Dear Loki,
I told you already, I can’t do it, I have a job.  I told you, Loki, I don’t need to do it.  No one knows me here.  Mr. Jamison gave me the job just like that, and I’m good at it, Loki, and I’m not leaving.  What is there for me in Mexico?  How do you think I’m gonna get a job as a reporter down there, when I don’t even know any Spanish?
You want a vacation?  You take a vacation.  I don’t care that you got two tickets.  Take Thor with you, he’ll probably love a vacation, and I don’t want one.  And I for sure don’t want to move to Mexico of all places, and we’re probably not going to be able to find Tony down there, so what’s even the point.  YOU go.  Send me a postcard.
Love, Peter

She’s doing it because of Tony, because she’s worried about him.  I don’t get why Daddy Thor puts up with it, I really don’t.  She’s not in love with him, she’s in love with Tony, she always has been, and she always will be.  Hard sometimes, being the kid of two people that loved each other like that.  They hurt each other, but they loved each other, and sometimes it felt like there wasn’t any space left.  But I shouldn’t talk like that, it’s ungrateful.

IF (BIG IF) I GO TO MEXICO:
1.) Have to learn Spanish.  Buenos días, seňor.  ¿Como está usted?  They say the most important phrase to learn is, ¿Donde está el baňo? (Where is the bathroom?)  Daddy Tony used to say the most important one was, ¿Donde está la cerveza fría?  (Which means where’s the beer?)  He would act like it was funny, which it wasn’t, it was just depressing.  Tell me, Parker, do you really want to go home to that?  Daddy Tony’s going to keep on killing himself slowly, and Mama Loki’s going to keep on being sad.  She should stay here, she should stay with Daddy Thor (even if she doesn’t love him).  Daddy Thor loves her, I don’t know if Tony knows how to love anything anymore, except the booze.
2.) New job.  Photographer?  Maybe?  I would only have to know enough Spanish to get the job, then, because photos are the same in any language.
3.) How would I meet up with Loki?  She wouldn’t send me the ticket, she better not, people would see it.  How do you communicate, when you can’t write letters?  How do you even set up a meeting?
4.) And I would have to give up my place here.  I like my place here, and I like my landlady, and I like Mary Jane, and I think she likes me.  Where else am I going to get something like this?  First time in my life I’ve just been an ordinary guy like everybody else.
5.) But I owe it to Daddy Tony Mama Loki.  She took me in, didn’t she?  And didn’t she protect me all those years?  They say blood is thicker than water, well I don’t have any blood-relations.  Daddy Tony and Mama Loki are She’s the only family I have, and this Mexico idea is

IDEA:
She’s not doing it to find Daddy Tony, because she knows that’s crazy.  She’s doing it for me, because she knows…  Because she’s heard something.

[revised letter]
Dear Mama Loki,
I would love to take a vacation to Mexico with you, Mom.  Sun and sand in Acapulco sounds really nice, especially when it’s starting to get so cold here.  Gosh, you wouldn’t believe the coat I had to get for last winter!  I’m still used to the warm winters we used to have, back in Washington.
Please let me know when you were thinking, and I will set this up.  I’ll tell Mr. Jamison that I need some time off, they say he’s usually pretty flexible, except for around holidays.  Well, Halloween’s coming up, but I never heard of people wanting to get off work for that, did you?  I think it’ll be okay.
You want me to meet you in Washington, or do you want to come up here?  Also, is Daddy Thor going to come with us?  I think he’d better, that way the Minnies at the border won’t be suspicious.  I think it would be really nice if he did come, it would be like we were all just one big family again.  Ask him, okay?  Tell him it would really mean A LOT to me!
Write me soon and tell me what’s happening, okay?  I love you, Mom.
Love, Your Boy Peter

PLAN:
1.) Learn Spanish!!!!!!!!!
2.) Ask Mr. Jamison for some time off (as soon as I know what dates to say)
3.) Tell Aunt May that I’m gonna be gone for those dates (whatever they are).  Be sure to tell her that I will be back, and to hold my room.  (Of course.  As if I’d forget that. -- Parker, why do you write down all these incriminating details?)
4.) Is there a way that I can take MJ with me?  Would that work?  Probably, she likes me, I think she would come.  (Don’t be dumb, Parker, why would she need to?  She’s not the one whose dad is wanted by the Corpos, is she?)
5.) I really hope she’s asked Daddy Thor!!!  That will make it so much safer more fun for all of us.

[excerpt from another letter]
...Grand Central Station, Peter.  September 30th.  I don’t know when exactly we’ll get there, because you know the trains.  Oh, it’ll be so good to see you again!  And Thor says the same thing!  He says he’s real flattered that you even remembered him, and he’s so excited about taking a vacation with you and me.  Three weeks in Acapulco!  What a thing to look forward to!
He got us tickets, and we’re flying out first thing in the morning.  First-class on United Airlines, Peter, just think about the luxury!  Just a week from now, and I’ll be seeing you again.  You be sure to have your suitcases packed, and make sure you’ve squared it with your boss all right, okay?

[scene, at May Reilly’s boarding-house, late afternoon, September 23, 1947]
Peter reads the letter through a second time, committing it to memory.  They’re coming in September 30th.  He checks the the timetable.  It says there are trains from D.C. hourly, from 8:00 AM until 10:00 at night.  These days that could mean anything, but if he asks Mr. Jamison for an extra day off work, that should be okay, he’ll just spend the day at the station waiting for them, if he has to.

Peter crumples the letter in his hand.  The feelings want to come, but he pushes them back down.  If he even starts to think about what he’s getting himself into, if he even lets his mind get close to it…

Some things, you can’t let yourself think about.  This plan is pretty good, anyway, it’s as good as they’re going to get, probably.  Thor’s coming with them, and he’s a Minnie himself.  They won’t question another Minnie too closely, will they?  They’ll cross the border, it’ll be safe.  Down there, they can make a life for themselves, exchange rate with Mexico is supposed to be pretty good, isn’t it?  Or they could go somewhere in South America, maybe?

Maybe they will find Daddy Tony, he thinks.  Maybe he’s changed, maybe he’s stopped the drinking, maybe they can all be a family together again…

The thoughts start making him feel really uncomfortable, and he pushes them down, along with the other ones.  Peter tosses the crumpled letter into the wastebasket.  He takes the basket downstairs, into the back yard.  He dumps the contents into the incinerator and sets them on fire.  That’s what he did with the last letter, and the notes he made while he was deciding how he was going to answer it.  He pokes at the flames, makes sure everything is reduced completely to ashes.  It’s not a perfect solution, because people have been caught sometimes, when the Minnies were still able to read the ashes.  You can mostly guard against that, though, as long as you make sure the ashes are really small.

Peter doesn’t go back upstairs until the fire is entirely out, and all the ashes are ground into the finest powder possible.  Inside his head, he’s planning:  First he’ll talk to Aunt May, and then he needs to talk to Mr. Jamison.  It would be good if he could take Mary Jane with him, but it’s probably better that he doesn’t.  Because they could get caught, couldn’t they?  And then it’s at least a camp for all of them, if not something worse.  MJ’s okay here.  She’s got a good family, who will take care of her.  Better not to let her risk her life along with his.

Chapter Text

I should never have gotten involved with Peter, I would have had so much more freedom.  I would have already gotten Loki out by now, we’d have been in Mexico years ago, and we’d be safe.  Why did I get involved with him?  I don’t know, it was just a series of dumb decisions.

It was right after I got to Washington, I remember.  I was there, I was with Loki, we were in that first apartment.  I said already, I met Loki right around the first Inauguration, right?  December of ‘36, that was, and we met at a New Years’ party.  After that, it was hot and heavy between us.  It was like a honeymoon-period.  Distracted me from drinking for a while, I was so caught up with him (but naturally, being me, I went back).  I remember coming home…  Winter outside, you know what winters are like in Washington?  Wet and damp, always raining, or it just was raining, or maybe it will be raining in a few hours.  Dark days, grey days, and I’d just come from California, I was used to sunshine.  I always hated it, but I remember I didn’t even notice the weather that winter.  And I would go in, I’d do my work, and I didn’t really notice that either.  Because then I’d come home, and there would be Loki, and we were everything to each other.

We had so much sex that first winter.  And we had it everywhere, in bed, yeah, but on the sofa too, and up against the wall in the living room, and in the kitchen.  Bathroom, that was Loki’s place.  Shower, our tiny shower, where one man could barely fit comfortably, and we’d both be squeezed in there, hot water going, and the air all steamy, and the slippery, sudsy feeling of Loki’s Dove soap, all over our bodies.  Dove soap, ladies soap, and the smell, and the creamy feel of it, like hand lotion.  And how Loki’s body felt under my hands, all hot from the steamy water, and creamy-smooth from the Dove soap.  Mmm, god, so good…  And it’s something that I can’t remember, I can’t let myself remember it, or else I’ll go crazy.

Where was I?  Well, I was going to talk about Peter.  I should talk about Peter, at least he’s…  At least my connection with him…

Was going to say it’s easier, talking about him, was going to say it’s less painful.  Nothing’s easy, and nothing’s less painful.  Everything’s impossible, and everything hurts, and what I did to Peter?  What I did by letting him trust me?  I should have left him on the street, left him to starve, even.  He’d have been better off if he were dead right now, what kind of a future is there for him in this world?

But I guess I’d better tell the story.  Here’s how it started:  Number one, there was me and Loki.  And we were just like newlyweds together that winter, it was all romance, and all sex, all the time that we were together.  And a lot of stuff just flashed right by, I hardly even noticed.  The Inauguration?  A blur.  Faint feeling of shame that this Frankenstein’s Monster of a candidate, that I’d helped Lee set up, helped win, now he’d actually won.  Feeling  that I was sorry, when I thought about my friends…  Not the new Corpo ones, you understand, but the old ones, the ones who were going to get hurt.  But none of it really registered, Loki was like a band-aid, he protected me from all of that.  When I was with him, there was no shame, and there was no pain.  It was just him and me, and it was good.

But the world was spinning on all around us.  Inauguration came and went, after that it was setting up the government.  And you’d see stories…  Press still covered that stuff in those days.  ...Stories, like I was saying:  Brawls, riots, casualties, people hauled off, and arrests made, and people turning up missing.  And all that stuff was on all sides, but I was mostly oblivious.  And then the marchers came to Washington, and that one I noticed.

One of Buzz’s campaign promises:  $5,000 free and clear, to every white man in America.  People actually believed that stuff, height of the Great Depression…  We called it the Great Depression, remember that?  Remember when we still thought it was going to end sometime, when we thought government might help it to end?  ...Where was I?  Height of the depression, people were suffering, they were hungry, and men were out of work.  Everywhere you looked, it was like that, and right after the Inauguration, they just converged.

Washington on the day of the Inauguration:  Pageantry, parades, crowds of excited people.  And the day after?  Because it really felt like it happened that fast.  Day after was like the exact opposite, first one was all color, and bright lights, and showmanship.  It was like where Buzz felt most natural.  That’s kind of his natural habitat, give him something he can give people, like a show, maybe a nice speech, and he’s a happy man.  That one was his day, and then the next day it was reality again.  It was worse than reality, it was like all the poverty, all the hunger, and the destitution and the desperation…  That was the day when they all descended on Washington, pretty much en masse.  It was like I walked home one day, and I felt pretty good.  The next day no one felt good, because there were all these people.

How does a dictatorship deal with something like that?  Because that’s what we were, right from the very beginning.  We were like a nascent dictatorship, ugly new realities, struggling to be born, out of the old ways leftover from before.  We were newspapers that still wanted to be free, Congressmen who still thought they had some authority, an Army that still thought it answered to the Constitution, not to the President and his minions.  We were a country where millions of poor men still had hope.  Their President had told them he was on their side, and he’d made promises to them, and after the Inauguration, bam, they all show up to collect on those promises, just as trusting as little lambs.

Little lambs, led to the slaughter, that was them.  I forget what was the pretext they used… -- We used. -- ...Was it…  It was what we always used, we said there was violence during one of the rallies.  We made there be violence, put a few MMs in civvies, send them out with orders to create the violence.  A punch thrown, or a bottle…  Handmade explosives, maybe, or even a zip-gun.  One person down, that was all we needed, and in sailed all the Minnies, and after that it was all over.

One day later…  Bloodstains on the street, I remember seeing them, knowing what had happened.  Men’s blood, innocent men, whose only crime was that they’d trusted Buzz.  Blood of men more innocent than me, men who deserved a job, and a safe life, and what did they get?  Death at the hands of criminals, who called ourselves a government.

After that, that’s when Peter showed up.  His dad was one of the marchers,  Buzz’s Army, they called themselves, and then they were all shot down.  But I was saying about Peter:  I don’t know when I first noticed him.  A day, maybe a week after the march?  I noticed him, then I didn’t.  He was there, then he wouldn’t be for a few days, and then I’d see him again.

What I should have done?  Here’s a dime, kid, get a sandwich, get a Pepsi, get whatever.  Should have given him alms, then at least he wouldn’t have been tied to me.  I tried that too, a couple of times, but it just wouldn’t work.

I think it’s something about being an alcoholic.  It’s part of your personality-structure, if you know what I mean:  Every problem in the world, it feels like it rests on your shoulders.  It feels like you’re the one that caused it, and then the shame comes, and it’ll make you do things.  What I did was to take a child into my house.  Skinny little Peter, with the newsboy’s cap on, and the ragged clothing, too-big, naturally, so he looked just like Jackie Coogan.  Seeing him, and watching the way his body seemed to shrink under those too-big clothes, and how every day his cheekbones would be more prominent.  And it all felt like my fault, and one day I took him home with me.  “Just to get you cleaned up,” I said, “just to give you a good meal.”

I remember Loki was so surprised.  I remember he treated Peter like a pet, at first, he was like a game to him.  Whole thing was like a game to all three of us.  We were a family, but what did that mean.  It was all pretend.  We had our cozy life, little apartment, just enough space for three.  Me and Loki in the bedroom, and we would make up the couch for Peter.

Here’s a memory:  Nights, and he’d wake up.  Nightmares, because of what…  Because of you know.  ...Nights, Peter would wake up.  I can remember him coming in, his hand touching my shoulder.  He was wetting the bed, there at the beginning, I remember that.  Probably also because of what had happened.  And I remember the touch of his little hand in the middle of the night, I remember waking up to the smell of urine, and Peter’s little voice.  “I can’t sleep,” he’d say.  I would have sent him back out to the couch, but I remember Loki always made room for him.  And I remember the warmth of it, the two of them there in bed with me, and we were like a safe, cozy whole.

Chapter Text

You know it’s bad, when talking about your binges is easier.  Here’s what those were like, by the way:  They were awful.  Afterwards…  Here’s what you do, okay?  You think about it, like, first it happens, then afterwards you relive every moment of it, again and again.  Wordsworth:  Poetry is emotion, recollected in solitude.  I’m here to tell you, alcoholism is drunk benders, recollected in sobriety.  Not all that different.  Except this is the ugly version of it, you know.

Why am I talking about this?  I certainly don’t want to.  Why am I thinking about it?  It’s because I have too much time on my hands.

Found the guy that’s in charge of the Resistance, down here.  Nice guy, smart, blond, name of Steve Rogers.  Steve’s head of the Expatriates’ Club, which is kind of a semi-official thing.  Lot of us down here, Americans, you know.  Funny, it’s not a big town, and with such a big percentage of Americans?

Bland people, sack-suits, hats 10-20 years out of date.  A bunch of real Babbitts… -- There’s a nice Jazz-Age moniker for you.  You even remember when we called people Babbitts, or are you too young? -- ...These fellows are a bunch of Babbitts, Rotarians, Hail, fellow, well-met, and are you a member of the Chamber of Commerce yet, etcetera.  They’re boring, they’re dull.  Kind of bunch where you go to their dinners, it’s rubber chicken and Jello for dessert, like you get in the states, just like they never even heard of Mexican food.  Funny bunch, still so insular, with the States like they are, nowadays, I don’t get it, myself.

But I was talking to Steve Rogers.  I must have been to about a dozen of those rubber-chicken Expat-Club dinners, before he leveled with me about being with the Resistance.  And we’re in town:  Cafeteria at the local, school, that’s where we were.  A Catholic school, because that’s what they have, down here.  Cafeteria’s are just like they have up in the States though, with those same easy-to-clean tiled floors, and the same depressing smells, coming from the garbage cans out back.  And all these tables had been put up, and we were there, we were all eating the rubber chicken.  And up on the dais, there’s speakers, whom I’m not listening to.

Speakers are saying a bunch of crap, they always say a bunch of crap at all these things, don’t they?  Well just being in Mexico doesn’t change them, I can tell you that from experience.  “The great United States, home of liberty, United States, and the flower of womanhood, and pure, unstained manhood…”  Jesus god, where do speakers like that come from?  Like they build them on an assembly line somewhere.

And I’m sitting there, I’m picking rubber chicken out of my teeth.  And I’m thinking, “Should I eat the mints in the tissue-paper basket?  Should I have another cup of coffee?”

Los Tres Panchos is just down the street, that’s what I was thinking about.  Smell there is such a friendly smell.  Smell of donkeys and dust, coming from the street, and the urinals in the men’s room, and all the liquor that’s been spilled everywhere, and all that.  Good smells.  And good sounds, men talking in fellowship, music coming from the mariachi guys, who have their instruments with them.  Songs of lost love, that’s what drunks like, it’s the same everywhere.  Sitting there with a drink in your hand, friends all around, and the sad sound of Mexican guitars…  You know, that’s how the booze gets you:  It’s the memories, they creep in when you’re not thinking about it, and then you can’t get away.

I was talking about Steve Rogers.  Head of the Resistance, Steve Rogers.  I was there, picking rubber chicken out of my teeth, and then here he comes.  “I heard you’ve been asking about me,” he says, gives me kind of a look, so I’ll know what he’s talking about.

Resistance can’t use me.  That’s the upshot of what he said that night.  Seems they have more than enough angry Americans exiled by the Windrip Administration already, and they can’t use any more.  Seems rescuing loved ones is the thing that motivates all of them.  “You just can’t go into it to rescue someone,” Rogers tells me, “it’s not going to work, we have to send you where we need you.”

Seems you can’t tell them, “I’ll go where you need me,” seems they don’t believe that.  They’re right, probably.  Get me north of the border, I’d probably jump ship immediately, head straight for Loki and Peter.  Seems I can’t really accept that, though, because it’s still frustrating, and it still hurts.  Seems Tony Stark still can’t walk away from wanting what he wants.  

Oh well.  That’s why I’m talking about the binges, I guess, is so I won’t think about that.  And they were bad.  See, you don’t go into it, wanting to drink for 3-4 days, or a week straight, or whatever.  When you go into it, it’s just…

Truth is, you go into it, and you know you don’t have any control.  And maybe it’ll be three days, maybe it’ll be a week, or maybe it’ll be longer.  You go into it, and it’s like an organism, it eats you, and digests you, at its own pace.  How long does it take?  That’s up to the binge, some are three-day binges, and some take four days, or a week or two, or more.  What’s attractive is the lack of control.  Does that sound bad?  It feels bad, it feels weak, like you’re infantilizing yourself.

Feels like I’m infantilizing myself, but I did it over and over, so I guess I must like that.  Feels like I’m this weak creature, like I’m less than a man.  But there was an attraction about it.  It was seductive, first the craving would come on, and then I’d just give in to it.

Feels like I don’t have to think, when I’m in the middle of a bender.  There’s the bottle, and it has a mind of its own.  You just do what the bottle tells you to do.  Does that make sense?

Long days, that have nothing in them, except liquor, and getting the liquor, and drinking it.  Dirty glasses, and you don’t care that they’re dirty, and the raw taste of cheap whiskey.  And the habits of mind, the seductive little daydreams, that draw you in.  Maudlin memories, heroic fantasies that are never going to come true, but at that moment, you don’t care.  Promises that you make, people that you avoid…  No loved ones.  No friends, no acquaintances, no one who’s going to say anything about the drinking, or even look at you the wrong way.  When you’re on a bender, it’s about the drinking, and you won’t let anyone stand in the way.  And you just go-go-go, and when you’re drunk, it’s good, and then when you wake up sober, first thing you want is to go get some more liquor, so you can get drunk again.

Waking up sober is horrible.  Well, it always is, but I’m talking about when you’re on a bender.  It’s the worst feeling in the world.  You’ve had a hangover once or twice?  You don’t know what waking up during a bender feels like.

I’ve read about why it’s like that.  Human physiology:  Alcohol is a poison, you put poison in your body, and there are going to be consequences.  I’ve woken up so weak that I couldn’t move.  But you have to move, because the only thing that makes the pain go away is more alcohol.  Getting out of bed, and you don’t feel human.  And maybe you forgot to get more booze the night before, and you have to go out.  Walking the streets, shaking all over, just thinking about getting a drink somewhere, anywhere.  And men do that to themselves, I did that to myself (and I would again, right this very minute, if I let myself).

Why am I thinking about the benders now?  Of all times, when it’s been more than two months, since I’ve had a drink, and I don’t think about it ...much, and I certainly don’t want to think about it, so why am I doing it?

Four words, Rogers said to me that night (maybe it was a few more than four):  “I think Windrip’s going to fall pretty soon,” he said.  Instantly, I’m thinking about Loki.

“What about Lee?” I say, referring to Sarason, who, god help me, is apparently still Lee, in my mind.  “What about Lee?” I ask Rogers.

He says to me, “Well, we’re hoping for the best.”

Hoping for the best.  What the hell does that mean?  

“Naturally,” I tell Rogers, “that’s what any American would hope for.”

What if Windrip and Lee Sarason fall?  What would happen to Loki?  What’s he doing now?  Does he have another protector?  Who would it be?

Sarason wanted Loki, he never made any bones about that.  And Loki would never give him as much as the time of day, not after he was with me, he wouldn’t.  I was his protector, and we were a couple, and he liked it that way.  And Lee Sarason would come over, we would be a household, and he’d be our guest.  Did he take Loki after I was gone?  Is Loki his now?

Loki’s with someone, I hope he is.  He’s with someone who’s got enough authority that he can protect him, I hope, because Loki could never make it on his own.  Loki’s an exotic, a hybrid.  It would be like putting an orchid in a potato patch, and expecting it to survive, to make him live on his own.  So he has someone.  I hope he has, and I hope he’s someone who can keep him safe.

And I hope this new someone, this protector of his, that he must have, I know it.  Hope the new man can keep him safe, that’s all, even if Windrip and Sarason fall.  But I don’t see how that can happen.  Homosexuals are always the first ones to get hurt any time something happens.

Chapter Text

TO-DO LIST:
1.) Marriage License.
2.) Permission-letter from the District Commissioner.  (Hopefully this will not be a problem.)
3.) Do you need an appointment at the Registry Office?
4.) GET SOME FLOWERS!!!  (Even though MJ says she doesn’t care about them, she really does.  Girls always care about these things.)
5.) Problem: she needs a plane ticket.  How do I get her one?
6.) Black-market?  What would they want in return?  Money.  How would I get enough of it?  Damned if I know.
7.) Communists Resistance?  Perhaps?  Just so long as I wouldn’t have to go to Russia in return.  Maybe they’d let me do something else instead?  (Provided, you know, that I can even find the Resistance?)

[excerpt from a letter]
Dear Mama Loki,
Guess what!  You remember how I told you about Mary Jane?

__________________________

Something happened last night, that I am not proud of:  I was at Los Tres Panchos (thank god, there was no drinking).  I shouldn’t have been there, I shouldn’t even have gone near there, there is nothing there that I need.  A lot of soaks, standing around wasting their time.  Dipsos, doing what dipsos do the world over, just pour-pour-pour, and soak-soak-soak, hour, after hour, after hour.  Lot of boozy conversations, and the smell of booze, lot of drunken singing, and the sound of liquor being poured.

There was a woman there.  Not a real woman, a maricon, like Loki.  Beautiful?  No.  But to me he was, last night.

He was a whore, cheap and obvious.  So tall, and the dress?  One of those flouncy ones, you can get at the mercado, all ruffles, and machine-embroidery, and sleaze.  Skirt that was supposed to be floor-length, but it was mid-calf on her him.  Cheap wig, hiding man’s-length hair, I know because he took it off, after we were back up at his room.  You could see the five-o’clock shadow too, under his make-up.  Someone like that is a disgrace to Loki’s memory, but a man has needs.

We were at his room (or her room, however you want to put it).  Cheap room, narrow bed, cockroaches everywhere.  And this cheap, sad little excuse for a dressing table.  When I looked at that, and I thought of what Loki has (used to have, hopefully still does have)...  Those kind of women need their make-up too, and they need perfume, and all the little pretty things women like so much.  And here was this boy (woman), this little table in the room, that she had obviously tried to pretty up herself:  Little ruffle of ratty fabric tacked on it, and the most godawful cheap excuse for a mirror you ever saw in your life.  Flowers on there, those ugly paper ones you can get at the mercado, and a bottle of perfume that I smelled, and it was just like Flit.

Maricon wasn’t bad-looking, once you got the clothes off him (her).  And he was giving, I will say that.  If I wanted to do it, he was agreeable.

Once.  I did it once.  After that, I ran out of there, feeling…

What the hell does it matter what I was feeling?  Once I had someone who really loved me, and I walked away from her.  I don’t mean when I left.  When Lee let me get out, right before they came and arrested me, one last favor for someone who’d been so loyal, Well Done, Thou Good and Faithful Servant (he was never my friend).  I left Loki the day I decided to put the booze ahead of her.  We were a couple, we were all-in-all to each other, and I let the booze take her place.  You can be gone, and still be there.  You know sometimes I feel quite lucky that the authorities cracked down on me like they did?  Allowed me to realize I’d lost sight of priorities.  Which is worse, losing what you love most from an outside force, or because of your own efforts?

Note: I am going back to the States.  And I’m going to find Loki… at least make sure she’s all right.  Will she come back here with me?  Probably not.  And if I’m caught up there?  Hell, life’s not worth much down here, not without my family.  It’ll be the end I deserve anyway, the fate I’ve probably been subconsciously looking for, all my life.

This is a lie.  It will be ugly, and painful, and there will be no dignity there.  No dignity in a concentration camp, not for anyone.  Life there, I’ve heard stories…

A man I saw once:  This wasn’t a Party event, this was low-level stuff, propaganda for the masses.  I was beyond being capable of the high-level stuff by then, Lee comes to me, and he says, “Cover this event, Tony,” and I went.  The man there, the speaker:  Russian expatriate, I don’t remember his name.  Only yes I do, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, I remember his name, because I had the devil’s own time keeping the spelling straight, with me as drunk as I was.  Woke up the next morning, had to edit all my copy.  Lee came to me and he complained, “Tony, these days we have to clean up everything you write.”

Mr. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Comrade Solzhenitsyn, as he would have been, in Communist Russia.  He was in a concentration camp there, I don’t know how he got out.  God alone knows why he was willing to defect to us of all people, because he talked a good game, to hear him, he was all for freedom-freedom-freedom.  But is it so surprising?  Doesn’t one’s own survival always trump other considerations?

Mr. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:  I remember the speech he gave.  Drunk as I was, I remember it.  It was disturbingly memorable.  No pride, in being in a concentration camp, no dignity.  Life is mere survival, how many days of soup made from rotten potatoes can you stand, and still do 14 hours of work a day?  How many interrogations can you endure, before you just give up, and start blurting any old thing?  How many people will you betray, just to survive, and who will they be?  Your friends?  Prisoners have no friends, and they have no family.

Point that drove it home to me:  The man wasn’t 30 yet.  That day, when I heard him speak… ‘47, it was, late in 1947.  Germany had won some little victory, in what was already by then, a stalemate.  But, they’d won it, they’d liberated such-and-such town, and the concentration camp was on the outskirts.  And there was this man there, this Solzhenitsyn, and I think they recognized the propaganda value, and they sent him to us.  27 years old, he was, I think, or maybe it was 28.  And he looked like an old man, worn face, seamed, and these sad, sad eyes.  Eyes that had seen a lifetime, they’d seen Hell, and he looked like he’d never expected to make it through.  And there he was, he was telling his story, but all I could focus on was that face.

The Resistance is all Communists.  That’s why we wanted him up there.  Resistance isn’t just rife with Communists, it is Communist.  And that was supposed to upset us, we were bringing in all these speakers, they were supposed to tell us about all the atrocities Stalin was committing.

This from a government that’s committing its own atrocities.  How do you get anyone to take it seriously?  These days, I understand, fewer and fewer are.  So what if Stalin’s evil?  Who else besides him is there, right now?

Story you still hear all the time, here in Mexico:  I heard it again, just the other night, when I was at the Tres Panchos.  Black-market fellow was talking about it, when I was there to ask him about getting a ticket back to the States… - $5,000, in Mexican money, I can just make it, if I liquidate everything. - ...Where was I?  He was talking.  Told this story (that I’d already heard about a hundred times before):  Another Russian, a man named Trotsky.  Trotsky was a high-up in the Revolution, right after the Great War.  Something happened, and he ended up, he was in exile to Mexico.  And the Russians came and assassinated him there, that’s the story no one can forget down here.  Whole free world, these days, is just Russia, and its satellite-countries.  And Mexico.  Mexico won’t ally with a country that would violate its sovereignty like that.

So to recap:  Mexico isn’t Communist, but the Resistance is.  I don’t care. Who would care in times like these?  Someone is hurting the ones you love your country.  Who wouldn’t work with whoever it took, if it would give you the chance to save them?

(And I note in passing, here it is again, another example of why the Resistance won’t have me.  My priorities are all wrong, I should worry about the country, not about my family.  And then the Communists would let me help.  ...It occurs to me, all of a sudden, to wonder:  What does Stalin want in return for all this help?  And who does he want it from?  That Steve Rogers, is he going to have to pay some kind of debt to Russia, once he finally liberates America?  I wonder what that will look like…)

Chapter Text

Her name is Preciosa.  His name.  Or he calls himself that.  Every moment that I’m with him, I feel like I’m betraying Loki.  But I go anyway, why?  Keeps me from drinking.  I think.  Maybe it keeps me from thinking.

Preciosa isn’t so bad.  He (she, whatever)...  He’s an ignorant kid, but then Loki was an ignorant kid.  Above a certain class level, one seeks out the ignorant, the lower-class, those who aren’t afraid to acknowledge what they are.  It’s liberating, when one is always so very frightened, one’s self.  One’s life becomes a string of proletarian engagements.  Nights spent, or many nights, or weeks sometimes.  Would a man of our own class look twice at us?  No, because they’re afraid, and with good reason.  And there are the lower classes, there are men (women) like Loki and Preciosa.

Ye gods, but I sound arrogant, don’t I?  This is because I am arrogant.

What would happen if I sold everything I have, and went looking for Loki.  Would I find her?  Would she have anything to do with me if I did?  What would I have left, upon my inevitable return to Mexico?  No house, no land, no possessions.  All the little things that I take for granted, sleeping in my own bed, and paying these good, Mexican women to do my work for me, and a few pesos in my pocket for the occasional gift for Preciosa:  Those would all be gone, wouldn’t they?  And what would I do?  Could I get a job?  Who would want a worn-out hack, ex-drunkard journalist?

This is how I talk with Preciosa:  We’re in her room.  It’s always her room, it would feel like a betrayal, bringing her home with me.  In her room, she’s at that shoddy dressing table of hers.  She’s adorned herself, how?  I don’t know.  Some little gift or another that I’ve brought for her, she has to try it on immediately and look in the mirror, and then she turns to me, “Tony, am I pretty?”  Naturally I say to her, “You’re very pretty,” and she looks at me, and her gaze becomes keen.

“Tony, you’re lying to me, aren’t you?” she says.  “You’re thinking of someone else…” -- “Estás pensando en otra persona,” we always speak Spanish when we’re together. -- “...There’s someone else, isn’t there?” she says.  “Who are you thinking about, Tony?”

I have never told her about Loki.  Not that she would mind, because she wouldn’t, but I would.  It would be the last, the worst betrayal.  I’ll say other things to her instead, lies, things she doesn’t want to hear, flattery.  “Oh, but Preciosa is the most beautiful girl in the world…” -- “Preciosa es la chica más hermosa del mundo.” -- “...How could anybody think about anyone else with you here?” I’ll say, and she knows I’m lying, and I know, but neither of us ever acknowledges it.  That would make the dream go away, if we did that.  Her dream, my dream.  These days one needs one’s dreams.

Transport, back to the United States:  First a train to the border.  You can’t catch a train here in town, you have to go to Hermosillo.  Tracks here got sabotaged, that was back in the 20’s, back during the Revolution.  Tracks never got fixed, I guess Alamos was never anybody’s priority.  Has-been man, living here in this has-been town, that nobody cares about anymore.  Why am I even trying?

Self-pity is a bane, let me continue:  First take the train to the border, then after that comes the hard part.  Technically speaking, Mexico is neutral, never any declaration of war.  Fun fact:  I remember Lee was always talking about going to war with Mexico, because he said we needed an enemy.  That was before our formal alliance with Germany and Italy (and Japan too, I’m not sure what that was about).  One of those entangling alliances History teachers are always talking about, we allied with them, and then we had to join all of their wars.  War with Britain, war with Russia, war with I don’t know who else.  That was just sending supplies back then, but I don’t know about now.  Maybe our men are fighting?

Never mind.  Mexico’s neutral at any rate, that’s all I need to know.  Neutral, but it’s a distrustful neutrality.  I couldn’t get into America the normal way, I would need extra-legal means.  Coyote, that’s the term I’ve heard used down here, or sometimes you’ll hear pollero.  Coyotes smuggle men across the border, it’s a job for them, they’ve been doing it for years.  If I liquidate everything, can I can find a coyote to take me across?

I hear you have to swim across the river.  Do I want to try to make it across a river, when I probably won’t even be able to find Loki anyway?  Will I make it when I do try (and is it really such a tragedy if I don’t make it, and my miserable existence ends there)?

First step, I buy a train ticket, second step, I hire a coyote…  No, first step, I sell all my possessions, for whatever I can get for them.

__________________________

[scene, at Grand Central Station, evening, September 30, 1947]
He doesn’t give up after the first train arrives and she’s not on it, or the second, or even the third.  Twelve hours, he’s been here now, or maybe more, it’s hard to keep track.  MJ’s at home.  At his home, even with everything that’s happening, it still feels good, just thinking about her being there.  That should be her home too.  Too bad they can’t stay here, she fits in so well with Aunt May and the other boarders, and it feels so good to be able to close the door, and have it be just the two of them, alone together.

People are starting to come up to him now.  First one, then a wait, and then here comes another one.  “Are you waiting for someone?  Do you know what train you’re waiting for?”  A cop just came over, not a Minute Man, fortunately, but they work together, so it’s practically the same thing.  He basically questioned Peter:  “Who are you waiting for, and where do they live, and what train are they coming in on?”

Also, “Are you going somewhere with them?  Where are you going, and when will you be leaving?”  You learn how to play dumb.  Sometimes you’re not sure how convincing you really are, though.

“I’m waiting for my mom.”  Peter thinks about Mama Loki, tall and rawboned, in those dresses of hers, that she always wears.  He hopes the cop thinks he’s talking about a normal mother, tries to project the impression that he is.

They always knew one of them might get caught, but he was always thinking it would be him.  He’s the one who’s made a deal with the Resistance, isn’t he?  Maybe he hoped it would be him.  He’s young, he’s strong, he could survive a concentration camp no problem, but Loki?  Shreds of conversation he’s heard over the years, from Daddy Tony and others:  “She used to sell herself./Do you know what she used to do?”  A checkered past, that’s the term people use.  Mama Loki had a checkered past, it influenced her, Daddy Tony used to say, and, “I’m protecting her from that.”  Well, he’s not around to protect her now.  And who is, Daddy Thor?  Can he do it?

There are stories that want to come into Peter’s mind.  Ugly stories, he does his best to push them away, but he can feel them, at the back of his mind, just waiting for an unguarded moment, so they can come back.  He is not going to think about what it’s like in the concentration camps, what it must be like...

What’s he going to think about instead though?  Going to Mexico?  Him and MJ on that plane, with the two empty seats next to them?  What he should do:  He should find Mama Loki, he should see if he can rescue her, it’s what Daddy Tony would want.

Daddy Tony should be here to rescue her himself.”  The thought comes into Peter’s head, and he immediately pushes it back.  Rescue her?  Daddy Tony couldn’t even save himself.  He’s an alcoholic.  He’s helpless, well-meaning, but helpless.

Peter’s job to rescue Mama Loki.  But he can’t, the Resistance wants him in Mexico, there’s no way to back out of that now.  Even if he tried…  Everyone knows the Resistance are thugs, just like the Corpos.  Right now they’re helping him, but they’d turn on him in a second, if they thought he was trying to welch on their deal.

Loki’s doomed.  There’s nothing he can do, or MJ, or Daddy Thor, probably.  Peter looks at the station clock again.  8:45.  Worth waiting around any longer?  Probably not.

But he still waits two more hours before going home.  Every time he tries to leave the station, his heart starts breaking inside him, and he goes back.  And after awhile, the cop stops bothering him.

Chapter Text

They don’t make any effort to hide it when they arrest someone.  First there’s all the blue uniforms, all kind of crowding in.  MMs ride the trains all right, yeah, but usually it’s ones or twos of them.  Then when there’s an arrest coming, suddenly they’re all together.  Four, five, maybe, at first, then there’s ten or more of them, they’re coming in a big bunch, like a phalanx.

Big bunch of blue uniforms, surrounding one person, two maybe, at the outside.  Everybody around is giving them a wide berth.  Being arrested is contagious, didn’t you know that?  Don’t want to get any of that on you.  Surprised looks, from the person being arrested:  “What, me?  You want me?”  Huffing and puffing, “You don’t mean me, you can’t mean me, I didn’t do anything.”  Most of them, they don’t even have to hit them or anything, they just give in.

This one was one of the ones that did fight back.  A big blond man, wearing an MM uniform himself.  At first Jim thought he was part of the arrest force.  That woman with him, the too-tall one, he was with her like an undercover agent, just getting her confidence so he could lower the boom.  Then when the boom got lowered on him too, the look on his face!

White people go so white when something like that happens, that they’re like ghosts.  The girl was pale to begin with.  Her face went kind of a green color, almost the same shade as the dress she was wearing.  His face was sort of red to begin with, and it went dead white.

This was just for a second, you understand.  MMs come over, “Sir, madam, you’re under arrest,” they say.  Big blond guy goes deathly white, just for a second, then the reaction hit.  “What?  Me?  You can’t do that!”  Big blond guy was bleeding from the face by the time they took him, he had his nose broken, it looked like, maybe a few teeth out as well.

Big blond guy put up quite a struggle, and everyone all around them, they’re just staring.  Reaction like it’s a show, but it’s not a show too.  There were these moving pictures they used to show during the children’s matinees.  Pictures where the idea was, they were going to turn you away from doing what was bad.  The one the theatre owners always liked best was called Ten Nights in a Barroom; if Jim saw that one once, he must have seen it a hundred times.  After awhile, it became a joke, but the first  time?  Horrified fascination.  That’s how the other passengers always look when the MMs come in and make an arrest.

There are some other memories there, that he’s not going to touch.  Friends…  Do little black boys still have white friends?  Do the Corpos allow it?  Distant voices, Pepper’s voice, Tony’s too.  Used to be there was anger, when he’d think about Tony, but now there’s more important things to do than hold onto anger.

Now the challenge is to get through every day.  Just do what it takes just keep his job.  Do the white folk want him to carry their luggage, or shine their shoes, or what do they want him to do for them?  Porters don’t have the rights they used to have, but it’s still the best job you can get.  Pay is enough that his mother doesn’t have to work anymore, just take in some laundry sometimes, on the side.

But the arrest:  It was just like any other arrest, a little more violent maybe, because the blond guy tried to fight.  And the woman, lean, rangy, flat-chested, like a flapper.  “Don’t fight, Thor,” she kept saying, “Thor, it’s not worth it, Thor, stop!”

MMs hit her a couple of good ones too, because of all the talking.  Her hat came off, flew up into the air, and you could see it wasn’t a woman at all, she was really a man.  That was when all the passengers started laughing at them.  Before that, they were people, but after that?

Dehumanization:  A lovely word that porters don’t use (but cub reporters at the Pasadena Star did).  It never takes much to dehumanize someone.  Just give them some reason to think you’re different than they are, and there you go.

Girl in the green dress was dehumanized, after her hat came off.  “Thor, don’t,” she kept saying, “stop, Thor!”  Then the MMs started in on her too, and she changed her tune pretty fast.  “Thor, help me,” she screamed, but Thor had enough troubles of his own, and he couldn’t do anything.

MMs waded in, pretty soon both of them were in cuffs, being frog-marched to the back of the train.  Holding car, no one ever goes there, just prisoners and guards.  No one’s allowed in there, Jim’s certainly never seen it.  Given the things you hear coming from there, though, not to mention the smells?  Nobody would want to go there, not on a bet.

After that, it’s always just like nothing has happened, but you can see the difference.  Difference:  People who were happy aren’t anymore.  “Boy, it’s too cold./Boy, it’s too hot./Boy, my shoes are dirty./Boy, get me this, get me that./Boy, get me everything.”  Suits can’t be white enough, smiles can’t be big enough, shoes can’t be shiny enough, and never any tips.

Is there something wrong with thinking about tip-money, after something like that?  A man has to survive.  Tip-money is what saves Mama from having to take in laundry; there are some months when he sends enough that she can just take it easy.

What happens to the people that get arrested like that?  One of those things a black man had better not ask about.  But what else is new?  There have always been plenty of things like that.

Other memories, things he doesn’t like thinking about:  He came home one night, he was fretting about something.  About not getting a byline on one of his stories, that was it.  Back then, they used to buy all his stories, but then there would always be somebody else’s name on them when they ran them, one of the white reporters.  Back then he used to complain about that, and Mama would always look at him like he was crazy.  “They’re paying you that much just to write, Jimmy, and you’re still not satisfied?”

Back then, a thing called the Negro Renaissance, which lasted, maybe all of two seconds.  It lasted just long enough for Jim Rhodes to get all discontented and unsatisfied, and then it seems like it just went away.  If you think about things like that, it’s pretty easy to work up a good head of anger, but what good has that ever done anybody?

The tall thin one, Loki, he called himself.  A man-woman, lord only knows why the MMs hadn’t picked him up before.  Directive 427 should have already gotten him, years ago.  There are special concentration camps for men like that (“fairies,” as Tony used to call them).  None of them ever come back.  Was this Thor guy a fairy too?  Well, he’s being treated like one now probably, because he was with one when they arrested him.

Nobody wants to hear the stories about these things.  Just like Mama never wanted to read the stories about lynchings that he’d want to show her in the colored newspapers, back in the 30’s.  She’d just say, “Don’t talk about that, Jimmy, let’s talk about something nice.”  Back then he would get angry, but now he understands:  Some things come too close to home, and they’re too dangerous.

It’s always a bad rest of the day, after the MMs arrest someone.  Jim was doing the New York/D.C. circuit, when they got Thor and Loki.  Trains that are always delayed.  “There’s a war on,” the passengers will usually say, and they’ll cut you a little slack about it, they at least won’t act like it’s your fault.  After an arrest, it is your fault, and god forbid you should answer back to any of them, not if you want to keep your job.

“Boy, when is this train going to get in?  Boy, weren’t we due in New York ten minutes ago?/Half an hour ago?/Two hours ago?”

“Yassuh, I’m sorry, sir./Yes ma’am, I’m sorry ma’am./Can I get you something?/Can I he’p you, maybe raise your shade a little bit for you?”

Ma’am mutters something to her neighbor about, “These uppity colored boys,” and half the time it’s a black mark on your employment record.  Ma’am’s just scared herself, but why does she have to take it out on you?

“Rats in a sack,” that’s what Mama always says.  “You put ‘em in there, and you just shake the sack, watch them fight each other to death.”  Mama always says, “Be Christ-like, Jimmy, turn the other cheek, return good for evil.”  Hard advice for a kid raised during the Negro Renaissance.  When you think about it, what good did they do, teaching you to expect better?

Jim got through the day when they arrested the fairy couple all right.  Nobody complained too much, and there weren’t any new black marks on his record.  A little while after that, they transferred him back to the L.A/Frisco circuit.  That’s the one where he can see Mama, and Pepper too, sometimes.

Seeing Pepper will sometimes still make him think about Tony, who is god-knows-where now, and doing god-knows-what.  Used to be, he would put part of the blame on Tony, for the death of the Negro Renaissance.  That’s too much weight to put on any one person though, isn’t it?  And it’s just more of that same rats-in-a-trap kind of thinking, that doesn’t do anybody any good.

Chapter Text

I’m not a Communist.  I don’t believe in that whole philosophy…  I guess you’d call it a philosophy?  People taking their orders from Russia:  I don’t believe in that.  Here’s what I do believe in:  Different countries’ governments, each trying to do their best for their own people, which, these days, is something you’re seeing fewer and fewer of.

I’ve got a friend named Bucky Barnes.  I grew up with him.  This was in Brooklyn, long time ago, turn of the century.  Bucky was my best friend, and we did everything together.  I remember collecting scrap metal…  This was something the kids used to do, back then, we’d collect the metal all week long, then we’d sell it to the junk dealer on Saturdays, and spend the money on penny candy.  Do you remember penny candy?  I do.  I guess it wasn’t much good, but we all liked it.  I used to have a standing appointment with Bucky, we’d meet at the candy store, after we’d been to the junk dealer’s, or finished our chores, or whatever it was we had to do on a Saturday morning.  Then we used to spend the whole day together.

Bucky is a Communist.  He’s the real deal, joined the Party very early on, during the early 20’s.  What did it for him, he always said, was how the other countries treated Russia, after they ousted the Czar.  And he hung on too, my god, but he hung on.  I remember having arguments with him back during the Roosevelt era.  There were plenty of stories already out by then, about what Stalin was doing in the name of Communism, but you couldn’t shake Bucky, oh no, he would just talk about the greater good, and he’d use that tired old line about, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

Eggs!  As if you can talk about people that way, human lives!  But I don’t know, I guess over time, I’m coming to understand what Bucky meant.  I think what he meant was that there are some injustices in the world that have to be addressed.  I think he was just saying that he couldn’t see anyone else who was even talking about those problems, besides the Communists.

You know, I never understood what a big problem racial prejudice is in America, even though Bucky used to talk about it all the time.  Bucky understood those things really early.  He always had a lot of black friends, and he would tell me stories.  Here’s another thing he would talk about:  Franklin Roosevelt.  Roosevelt used to make big promises about government help, that was supposed to end the Depression.  Bucky would always talk and talk about how all the help was going to white people.  “You think black men aren’t suffering too?” he’d say, and he’d talk about how under Communism, race wasn’t going to matter anymore.

I don’t know, I think race will always matter in America.  I’ve been to Germany.  It’s a horrible place, but it’s horrible in a different way than how America is becoming, under Windrip.  In Germany, they have one scapegoat, Jews.  And that’s a relatively new scapegoat, I’m pretty darn sure the Jews were able to participate just like everyone else, before Hitler took over.  With Windrip, it was never just one scapegoat.  And it wasn’t new ones either, but more a matter of taking the men some people already hated, which was black men, mostly, yeah.  Windrip made the hate official, but it’s always been there.  Sometimes I think it always will be there, and that just makes me really sad for my country.

I will say this:  No one’s ever asked me to join the Party since I’ve been with the Resistance.  Neither of us, not me, not Sam… -- That’s Sam Wilson, my partner in the recruitment operation we run down here in Alamos.  He’s black.  You know, funnily enough, it wasn’t Windrip’s racism that made him join the Resistance?

We have a lot of conversations about this.  There’s plenty of time working in the Resistance, that’s just sitting and waiting.  Sometimes I’ll paint a little, keeping up my story that that’s what I’m down here for, but there is a limit.  Nobody ever buys the paintings, and the walls are getting pretty full.  So, a lot of times, Sam and I will just talk.  He’s a conservative…  What passes for conservatism these days, anyway.

Sam believes in the Constitution.  That’s his whole philosophy.  He says what went wrong in America was it was all just words, before.  He believes there’s still a chance to do it over again, and this time do it right.  I don’t know.  I used to be like that too, I think, but that’s a young man’s philosophy.  The older I get, the more I think maybe there’s no chance for the old America, maybe I should just give up and join the Communists.

Like I said though, right now we’re not Communists, not either of us.  But we are constantly having to deal with the question, it’s the first thing all the expatriates always want to ask us.  For some it’s a positive, they’re the ones who have managed to get hold of a little real news, usually about how the Communists have re-taken Spain, and how they’re about to do the same thing in France.  Others, it’ll be completely negative for them.  They’re the ones who only know the Windrip propaganda, which is all about Stalin’s atrocities, with nothing about ones being committed in Germany, and Italy, or in Windrip’s America, for that matter.

Those men will come in.  We try to keep the interviews informal.  First, I’ll talk to a man, at an Expatriates’ Club meeting maybe, and then if he looks like he’s got some potential, that’s when I’ll invite him to the house, and Sam and I will meet with him, usually out on the patio.

They’ll always get there, and the first thing they’ll do is act really shocked that they’re being interviewed by a black man. -- These are the brainwashed ones, you understand. -- Some of them make good agents, but you always have to get past the brainwashing, first.  And they’ll act surprised about Sam, but they won’t say anything, because that would be “rude,” and the thing they’ll all ask about, is Communism.

“Is it true the Resistance is infiltrated by Communists?”  That’s what they always ask.  Then Sam and I will tell them that we’re not Communists (which is true), and then they’ll look strangely at Sam some more.  If we can get past that?  That’s when we start having a good conversation.

For the record, Communism pretends to stand for a lot of important things.  And they’ll put money into it.  It is true, Sam and I aren’t Communists, but we do take money from them.  The challenge is going to be breaking away from them again, after we finally win this fight.  Sometimes I think we’re going to be able to do that, but then there are other times…  I just don’t know.

There’s a new boy in town.  We’ve sort of had him saddled on us.  He was recruited back up in the States.  Some kind of a deal, I think, where the Resistance helps him get his wife out of there safely, and in return, he works for us/  That’s not a good way to recruit agents.  I do think he’ll make a good one, with some help, but…  Let’s just say deals like that are one of the reasons I don’t want to become a Communist.

I don’t know what we’re going to do with the new boy.  I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with him.  All we got was a message:  “Give him some time with his new bride, and then send him out.”  Send him out?  Where?  To do what?  And it’s personal for him, it’s always dangerous when it’s personal for a man, you have to be objective if you’re going to do the job right.

The boy has family here in town, I think that’s why they sent him here.  His father is Tony Stark, who’s a drunk, who lives here in Alamos.  I actually interviewed Stark.  He wanted to join the Resistance to rescue someone…  His wife, I think he said it was.  I couldn’t get Stark to move past the personal aspect, which is why I passed on taking him as an agent.  Now I’m worried that his son’s going  to be the same way.  Parker did say that he understood he has to do what the Resistance tells him to, but he was talking an awful lot about…  His mother?  Stark’s wife?  The relationships in that family are really confusing.  ...He was talking about her, apparently she’s been arrested, and the boy is scared about where they might be holding her.  We’re going to have to plan missions that keep Parker out of the States, I think, so he won’t go off on some wild-goose chase to rescue the mother, or worse yet, take Stark back up over the border with him, and get them both caught.

That means I have to find a way to use the boy down here, and god knows we already have more agents in Mexico than we know what to do with.  Sam keeps saying don’t worry, but Sam’s an optimist, about people, as well as about American ideals.  I am worried.  The boy’s way too obsessed with his family, one way he’s like his father.  And another way he’s too much like Tony Stark for his own good?  He wants to be a hero.  That gets Resistance agents killed.

Chapter Text

1.) The girl stays here.  Peter, yesterday:  “We have a room,” he tells me.  “The Resistance is paying.”  What am I going to tell him, “Don’t take anything from Comintern unless you have to”?  “Don’t trust those Communist bastards, Peter”?  A man has to trust the other men he fights with, doesn’t he?  How else does he continue fighting?

“Let me do this for you, Peter,” I said.  “Let me help you, we’re family, aren’t we?”  And he got a look on his face just like he used to have when we’d tuck him into bed. ...Like I’d see on the nights when I was sober enough to be there with Loki, helping to tuck him in.  Look said, “I trust you on this.”  How often does a man like me have this kind of trust given to him?

2.) Cleaning, repairs.  Tumbledown houses come cheap, it’s not until you start repairing that the money really starts going.  Plastering’s not bad, and I think roofing comes cheap too, but if there are structural problems…  Seeing the old nest egg really dwindle already.

Whole second wing though, just standing empty.  Two bedrooms, one for the kids, one for a nursery.  Pretty babies, coffee-colored, like their Mama.

3.) Kids stay in Mexico.  Later, after this is all over, god willing Peter is still here to be with his Mary Jane.  They must not go back.  I remember how it was before Windrip.  Is that what we’ll go back to when he’s gone?  Mixed-race marriages not even legal in most states?  Governments controlled by the Ku Klux Klan?  Peter, Mary Jane, their babies, deserve better.  They stay here.

4.) Loki.  Nothing I can do.  Money that’s spent making a home for the kids here in Alamos can’t be spent on wild-goose chases.  Insert philosophical verbiage:  What is it they always say?  Can’t make omelets without breaking eggs, of all the stupid analogies, normally said by men who are perfectly sure they will always be one of the ones doing the breaking, and never the one being broken.  Comfort yourself with that, Stark, don’t think about her.  She is an egg, she will be (probably already is) broken, but if you don’t look, it’s like it never happened.

(It’s not like it never happened.  And it probably hasn’t happened yet, she’s somewhere, she’s waiting for me.   Christ. )

5.) Make a list.  What renovations need to be done?  Prioritize.

6.) Where do I sleep in the meantime, while the kids have my room?  Preciosa’s?  She would in a heartbeat.  I could never embarrass the kids that way.  Sofa in the alcove off the kitchen, or I take the room the kids rented.  I’m sure Rogers wouldn’t mind.  Not like I’m depriving him of his new little Resistance-soldier.

7.) Step three, letter for Preciosa:  Have to tell her I’ll be away for awhile.  Can she read?  No matter.  Put some money in there, anyone can read money, she can buy herself something.  This is the smallest guilt I am facing right now.

Dear Loki,
Do you remember the day we got married?  I remember a beautiful spring day.  Blue skies and cherry-blossoms, and you were just like a cherry-blossom that day, Loki, just as pale and perfect.  I remember your dress.  “White,” I said it was, and you laughed at me, you said, “Cream, Tony.”  And your skin against that cream dress was like lighter cream, shading to pink, just like the cherry-blossoms.  I remember holding you like you were porcelain that day, you were so perfect and delicate.  I remember what we did together after all the guests left, you and me, back when we shared a bedroom, and had all our nights together.

I can’t do this, Loki.  You know what I am.  I’m just one man, and not a good man.  These days it feels like my mainspring’s broken.  You were my mainspring, Loki.  It felt like I could hold on, as long as I could believe that you were out there somewhere, waiting for me.  What am I going to do now that you’re

Terrifying thing, Loki:  You’re not gone.  No, worse, maybe you are gone, maybe you aren’t, and I just don’t know.  How would I know?  They’ve taken you…  Where have they taken you?  Winnetou, like we always talked about, or is it somewhere different?  Are you out of it now, Loki, gone, dead, forever?  What will I do?  How will I survive in a world without you?

This comes to every man.  There is always a time when your Other Half goes, and you have to continue on without her.  How do other men do that?  What sort of life is that, getting and spending, toiling along the climbing way, with nothing to look forward to, except more of the same?

I tried to write a will, Loki.  I went as far as gathering my paperwork together:  Latest statement from the bank, and the deed for the house, title papers for the truck, such as it is.  Realized those were the assets I’d been going to liquidate so I could come for you, and now I can’t.  Realized once again, how pitifully small they are.  I never was going to be able to get to you with that little bit of money, was I?  When I still don’t even know where you are?

Now how do I live, Loki?  What is there in the world for me?  I look at the kids.  Is it true you never even met Mary Jane?  How could Peter do that to you?  You’d like her, she looks past the surface, like you did do, and her little trick of glancing at you from behind her hair:  Just like you used to do, with that little smile of yours.  Oh Loki, for those times..  Just for those times, that I used to hold so lightly, to be back once again:  Loki, I’d give anything.

LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
I the undersigned, being of sound mind and blah-blah-blah  I Anthony E. Stark, residing at Obregón #5, Centro, 85790 Alamos, Son., Mexico, declare this to be my Will, and I revoke any and all wills and codicils that I previously made.

Standard verbiage pay all my enforceable unsecured debts and funeral expenses, etcetera etcetera.  Hope and pray that doesn’t eat up the entire damn estate, have to hold onto enough that she can at least keep the house, someplace for my grandchildren to live someday.  There has to be a place, I can’t count on Peter, I know  that.  Who knows what kind of danger the Commies will send him into?

I give and bequeath all my tangible personal property and all policies and proceeds of insurance covering such property… -- Note to self:  Buy insurance.  Somebody, somewhere, must sell policies to irresponsible American expatriates.  Look into it, Stark. -- Where was I?  I do give and bequeath...  All of it goes to my common-law wife, Loki.  If she does not survive me, I give that property to our adopted son Peter Parker, and his wife Mary Jane, and any children (Issue?  Check legal terminology) of theirs, in equal shares, I trust Peter and MJ to divide it fairly, for the protection and maintenance of my grandchildren.  My executors may pay out of my estate the expenses of delivering tangible personal property to beneficiaries, and of course cover any/all costs of administering this will, which will probably take up every single goddamn centavo, and there will be nothing left, so why the hell am I even writing this damn thing?  Eh, to hell with it, must have a will, I suppose.  Get on with it, Stark.

I’ll be gone.  What the hell do I care what happens to them anyway?  But I do care, that’s what keeps me alive and getting up every morning.

Dear Peter,
Please don’t think too badly of your old man, after I’m gone.  I promise you, I will hold on just as long as I can, for your sake and Mary Jane’s.  I promise you I’ll do all I can for your wife, and any babies you and she may have.  Please understand how much the two of you mean to me

Can’t write it.  It rings false.  Nothing means anything to me except for what I have lost (who I have lost).  Every day is like walking across broken glass.  It’s a chore, get up, coffee, that I want, and breakfast that I don’t want, go through the motions and pretend, until it’s time to go to bed again, so I can do it all over again the next day.  I could take the Ford into the workshop, and close it up tight.  Carbon monoxide poisoning:  They say your skin turns cherry-red.  Nice, rosy cheeks, maybe I’ll leave a pretty corpse after all.

To hell with that, not going until I find out what happened to Loki.  Which is a death-sentence in and of itself, how the hell am I going to get past the border guards, much less all the way up to Winnetou?  Not to mention, how will I pay for it, when Mary Jane and the grandkids now need all my money?

Dear Loki, I’m coming to you soon, one way or the other.

I miss Preciosa.  I want a drink.

Chapter Text

A girl can always survive, providing she’s willing to do whatever it takes.  Loki’s survived on her back before, she could do it again.  Only this time, what does she have?  An ugly men’s uniform, and a pair of pink underwear.  The man who runs this place can’t seem to get it through his thick head that maybe homosexual men (and women) might not mind wearing pink.

The man who runs the place swears up and down he isn’t homosexual.  He lies.  Every night, practically, there’s another one just like Loki, going up the road to his house.  Loki is going to be one of them, because she has to be, because she has to survive.  All it’s going to take…  She has to get there first, then she has to cut out all those other girls.  Survival of the fittest, Tony would say.  He’s always so quick with those academic references.

There are only a few men out there who are as starry-eyed romantic as Tony.  He saw Loki that one night, and then after that…

Loki was fine before Tony, and she was fine after Tony as well.  Didn’t she find Thor, back when Tony started drinking so heavily?  Didn’t she make him love her too?

Wasn’t easy.  They were already cracking down hard on homosexuals by then.  Loki knew she had to survive on her connections, and she could see Tony’s were getting weaker.  That bastard Sarason didn’t respect him anymore, that’s how it started, and then after that, you could see he was getting ready to fire him.  Tony was oblivious, he was so drunk most of the time, and when he wasn’t, he was getting over being drunk.  Shakes?  Vomiting?  DT’s, even?  Loki’s seen them all.  And there was Thor, so big and trustworthy, and with that kind heart of his.  Best thing about being a girl like Loki is you can get them straight or homosexual, provided you’re convincing enough.

Tools of the trade:  A girl learns to make love so the man can’t even tell she’s not the real thing…  ...So they can’t tell she doesn’t have what other girls have, because Loki is the real thing, she’s a girl in every way except for anatomy.

Thor didn’t even need the tools of the trade, though.  That big heart of his:  Once he opened it up and let Loki in, she was there for all time.  Is he still alive?  If he is, he remembers her, and he loves her, just like she still loves him.

The man in charge of this place, who’s so proud of how cruel he can make it.  Striped uniforms, pink underwear, spoiled food.  He’ll go on the radio, or he’ll be in the newspapers, and he’s always bragging about how hard me makes it for innocent people, just because they’re homosexuals.  But it’s all a lie.  That one, he has an eye for a pretty girl, and he can see her underneath that striped uniform and the stupid, ugly pink underwear, that probably belonged to a dead person before you put it on.

That man sees through your clothes.  Which can be handy for a girl with no way of making herself pretty in here.  One thing Loki knows for sure?  Her body is beautiful.  It’s the slim, beautiful flapper’s body that some men like more than tacky sweater girls, or Jane Russell-types, with their va-va-voom, and their ugly big chests.

Commander Thanos is ugly yeah, but a girl can’t let herself think about that.  Sure he’s ugly, but so what?  Was Sarason such a prize either?  Him, with the saggy, pouchy eyes, and the whiskey blossoms all over his nose.  Or when Loki used to lay it down for every MM that would have her:  How beautiful were most of them?  Cracked face, yeah, and that complexion, purplish almost.  Not to mention how he acts, always so arrogant, like he’s better than everyone.  But he’s just a man, and he has a body like a man’s, and he likes all the same things.  Hungry little member, hiding in his pants.  You know it’s little, they’re always little with that kind.  And you just pay enough attention to the Little Commander, you’ll have the big one just eating out of your hand, it never fails.

There are things you can’t think about in here.  Thor is the biggest one, but there are others.  Where is Peter, right now?  Did he get out okay after the MMs got her and Thor, or did he go back to that girl of his, what was her name?

...Mary Jane:  Did he go back to Mary Jane?  Is he married to her now?  Are they expecting a baby, even?  Something to keep far, far out of your head, you think about things like this too much, you will surely go crazy.

What about Tony?  Funny thing is, that one’s easier than thinking about Thor and Peter.  That one was the past way before any of this even happened.  Tony left when he started drinking like he did, there was literally no Tony left, there at the end.  And what are the odds that he’s changed?  Drunks don’t change, they just keep getting worse and worse until they die.  Maybe he’s dying somewhere, maybe he’s dead even.

...Maybe Loki was wrong, maybe she’d better not think about Tony either.

Plan of action is this:  First, she has to get his attention.  Make-up will do that, you can get make-up here, it’s just a matter of doing what you have to, with the right few guards.  Guards will get it for you, cheap, ugly, tacky make-up, that Loki wouldn’t have let near her sensitive skin, but these days a girl can’t get too picky.  Ugly pink powder…  She’s seen some of the other girls use it, she knows what you get.  Cheap Woolworths’ powder, lipsticks that probably have been used before, probably by some girl who’s dead now.  Lipsticks that may or may not be  the right shade, but in a camp full of pale faces, at least you’ll stand out.  And all the come-hither ways that a girl knows how to use:  Loki’s always been good using those.

Thanos will fall.  He’ll be hers, it’s just a matter of time.  Or if not him, second-in-command is the same way, so the other girls say.   Second-in-command is even uglier, but this is survival, and beggars can’t be choosers.

How long before she’s so clappy no one will look at her?  Hell, who cares?  Survival’s survival.  First, the make-up:  Hello, Mr. Guard, are you looking for a good time?  After that, you just go right straight up the ladder:  Hello Mr. Higher-Up Guard, hello Mr. Guard Who’s Even Higher Than That, hello Mr. Other-Commander, and then hello Mr. Commander.  Hello safe place, maybe a bed with some blankets on it, or some meat that still tastes like meat on your plate, instead of those damn spoiled-bologna sandwiches.  

Hello survival, that’s what it comes to.  And then after that, there’s a whole lot of things that are so impossible it’s better not to even think about them.  Will she make it until they liberate this damn place?  Will she maybe even get out of here before then?  Will she see Peter again?  Who knows, probably the answer is no for all of that, but at least she can take care of tomorrow.

And no thinking about Thor and Tony, definitely no thinking about either of them.  There were good times with both of them, but that’s over now, it’s all in the past.  Present is Thanos, with his ugly cracked face, and his purplish complexion.  It’s letting him do whatever he wants to, whenever he wants to, and without ever complaining.  Complaining?  Hell, it’s inviting it.  Hello, Mr. Thanos, do you like a good time?  Are you looking for a little action?  My husband used to be so high up in the Windrip Administration you wouldn’t believe it./My husband used to be a Commander with the MMs./You can be my husband, Mr. Thanos, just say the word.

Chapter Text

A man named Steve Rogers:  He’s been with the Resistance for a few years now, he’s getting to be quite a leader.  Nick was a leader with them too, but he walked away from it.  He got fed up with the way they operate.  Black men are being given responsibility all right, in Mexico.  Women too, you see all kinds of women in power down here, behind the lines from where the real struggle is happening.  What happened to working undercover, for crying out loud?  Plenty of white men doing it.  You go up in the States, you’ll see Resistance agents all over the place, they’re hoboes, pipe-fitters, assembly-line workmen.  White Resistance agents go undercover all the time, up in the States, but that’s it.  Where are the Resistance mammies, or the Resistance porters, or shoeshine boys?  Where the Resistance wives, for that matter?  Or the Resistance hookers?

Girl who really woke Nick up to the problem:  She’s a fine girl, beautiful, calls herself Natasha.  High-class call-girl up in Washington, then the Resistance turned her.  She worked one mission for them, got some dandy intel out of a fellow in the Windrip Administration who was in love with her, but then that was it.  Natasha says the Resistance didn’t drop her, they just wanted to move her down to Mexico.  “A promotion, they called it,” she says.  “I called it being kicked upstairs, and I said to hell with it, so I quit.”

What kind of organization just lets their best people go like that?  Over what, over dignity?  Aren’t they supposed to be like soldiers?  What kind of soldier puts his dignity over completing the mission?

Since then, Nick’s met some others.  Fellow he met in New Mexico, name of Banner:  He was an orderly in a mental hospital, agreed to go undercover as a patient in a hospital in Washington, where they were keeping political prisoners.  He got three good men out of there before they caught on to him.  Now Nick’s got him stashed somewhere that doesn’t need to be mentioned, waiting on the time when he can be useful again.

Natasha’s done some more missions too, and there’s a guy she keeps recommending, a circus performer.  “Stage-name’s Hawkeye,” she says.  “Supposedly he’s blind, but I think that’s just part of the act.”  Who knows but what a blind circus performer could be very useful to the Resistance, it’s just a matter of finding the right place to use him.  Knowing them though, it would be one mission, then they’d kick him upstairs down to Mexico, just like Natasha.  The Resistance is like that, they don’t know how to be effective.

Nick’s down in Mexico right now.  Little town by the name of Alamos.  Resistance has Steve Rogers stationed here, he’s doing recruitment.  Nick was here to talk to his partner, a man named Sam Wilson.  Wilson was a no-go, he’s sticking with Rogers and the official Resistance.  Right before Nick blew town, he heard about another man worth looking into, one Anthony Stark.

Story behind Stark:  He’s a homosexual, used to be in close with Windrip, then something happened.  “He’s a wanted man,” Rogers says.  “We probably couldn’t even get him back into the States, without him getting arrested.”

So, get him arrested?  So, aren’t there some things the Resistance could do from inside a prison camp?

“And he’s obsessed with this girl,” Rogers says.  “This woman, I think she’s his wife, gal by the name of Loki.”

Loki’s in Camp Winnetou, up in New York.  Rogers says this like he doesn’t even know what he’s saying.  Winnetou’s a homosexual prison.  Whatever this Loki is, he isn’t a woman.

“Lot of important artists are homosexuals,” Nick says to Rogers, like it’s just a random thought.  “Who else do you think they’ve got in Winnetou?  Cole Porter maybe, or Langston Hughes, or Cary Grant?”  Idea here:  Send Stark in there, he helps get some of those guys out.  Idea flew right over Steve Rogers’ oblivious head, which is what makes him a good Resistance leader, Resistance doesn’t like original thinkers.

They say Stark’s a drunk.  They say he didn’t draw a sober breath, the first month or so that he was down here.  They say he still pretty much lives in that bar downtown, the Three Panchos.  Word from the regulars at the Three Panchos, though…  This Nick knows firsthand, because unlike the bars up in the States, it’s an integrated bar.  ...Word from the regulars is Stark’s not coming in to drink these days, so at least he’s probably sober.  Word is, he comes in to meet with a homosexual that works here, a prostitute, calling himself Preciosa.

Right before Nick can meet up with this Stark and get his measure, he gets a call, has to go back up to the States.  Word from Natasha is Banner’s broken cover, they need to find a new place for him to hide out.  Nick’s gone the next morning, back into the worn-out flivver that got him down here, up to the border, where he ditches the car (Corpos don’t like seeing a black man driving), and back for now, into his American cover, shoeshine boy outside the St. Regis Hotel in D.C.  Ends up being two months before he can get back down to Alamos and talk to Stark.

__________________________

It’s about a week after Peter goes, that MJ finds out she’s expecting.  Peter’s baby.  This is what it feels like, being a wife during wartime, isn’t it?  They go off, and you don’t know where they are for weeks, months, who-knows-how long.  You don’t know if they’re safe, you don’t know if they’re dead, or if you’ll ever see them again.  Maybe your baby will have a dad, and maybe he won’t, who knows.  Wives during wartime, they’re not supposed to think about those things, are they?

MJ’s pop was in the Great War.  He always made a joke out of it.  “Chief cook and bottle-washer for Camp Lee,” he’d say, big grin on his face, and then Mama would laugh.  “They let the white boys do the fighting…”  Pop, again.  “You know what, baby?  That was fine with us, you think we cared?  Let them go overseas, let the Kaiser put a bullet through them…”

Sometimes MJ wishes she’d married a black man, but it wouldn’t have made any difference these days, would it?  That Mr. Wilson who works with Mr. Rogers, he’s his equal, isn’t he?  But on the other hand, you’ll notice, he’s staying safe down here in Alamos.  Maybe it’s still just the white boys that do the actual fighting.

One thing anyway, at least she and the baby have someplace to live down here.  Daddy Tony is pretty much how Peter made him out to be.  He acts like a drunk, like all of the alcoholics that MJ’s known over the years, always sort of edgy and nervous, all the time that he’s not drunk.  He acts like he’s guilty all the time, which is what drunks do.  Probably he’d steal the coat off your back to buy a bottle, if he was on a tear, which is another thing that drunks do.  But he hasn’t been anything but sober so far, that’s a good thing, right?

The thing that worries her is Peter.  Mama and Pop, up in the States, they’ll be all right, won’t they?  They keep a low profile, Pop’s got his job waiting tables, and Mama’s been taking care of that Senator’s children pretty much ever since MJ can remember.  “Job security…”  This is another thing Pop always said.  He used to say, “We wanted to be sure you got an education, Mary Jane, because your generation can do anything.”  Then later on that changed to, “Someday maybe you can use your education,” and then, “Someday maybe a black person can use an education in this country.”  The thing that stayed the same, though?  Job security.  “It’s all about job security,” Pop’s always said.  “Maybe our jobs aren’t the best jobs, Mary Jane, but we know how to treat the white people.  They like us, and that means our jobs are secure.  That means something, these days.”

No need worrying about Mama and Pop, they’re going to be just fine.  But Peter?  He could be anywhere.  He could be doing anything, facing any kind of danger.  Where is he now?  Is he still undercover, or have the Corpo-boys caught him?  Is he ever going to see his son (or daughter), and will the baby ever know his father, or will it be her and Daddy Tony, trying to raise the child alone, and telling him stories about his pop?  Who knows, but if you think it doesn’t keep MJ awake at night, you’re wrong.

And when she’s awake, she’ll always hear Daddy Tony.  Some nights he’s in his room, which is across the hall from hers/  She’ll hear him pacing back and forth for hours.  He’s not drunk, at least, but he’s also definitely not happy.  Other nights he’ll go out, and be gone for hours.  Mornings, he’ll have a smell about him, not booze, but cheap women’s perfume.  Daddy Tony has a girlfriend, which is a good thing, who knows if Mama Loki is even still alive.  It’s not good for him, though, not from the looks of him.  No matter how many times he goes and visits her, he always looks just as miserable as ever.

Chapter Text

Went to the Tres Panchos.  They said Preciosa wasn’t there.  Said she’d be back…  I don’t remember.  Lost track of time a little.  No big deal.  No harm done.  Everything’s ALL RIGHT!

__________________________

[letter]
Dear Uncle Steve,
So good to hear from you.  Glad to hear your good news that that girl in town, the one you told me about?  Glad to hear she’s doing well.  And you of course, and Cousin Sam.  You’ll be happy to hear I landed a job.  Say hello to the newest reporter at the Big Indian Gazette.  Pay’s not much, but you know a single man doesn’t need too much to get by on.

That girl you were telling me about:  What was her name?  Mary?  So she’s having a baby, huh?  Tell her I hope her husband gets back real soon, a baby needs a father.  Meanwhile, you and Sam do all you can for her, okay?

Write me again soon, okay?
Your Nephew, Peter

[draft-letter]
Dear Tony,
I’ve found her.  She is definitely at Winnetou.  And she’s doing all right, Tony, you will be happy to hear.  She’s found a fellow to protect her.  Trust Mama Loki, to always land on her feet.

[draft-letter]
Dear Daddy Tony,
They sent me over there.  You know who.  The Resistance?  I went over there to take pictures.  Get this, Tony:  They’ve got em making munitions.  Big sons of bitches, like missiles, anti-tank rounds, that kind of thing.  And absolutely no protections.  Just while I was there, Tony, two explosions...

[draft-letter]
Dear Loki,
I don’t blame you one bit for what you’re doing, if it keeps you alive.  Just do whatever it takes, okay?  Please?  Just still be there, just stay safe for your grand-baby.

I can get you, I’m sure of it, but it’s going to take time.  First of all, I’ve got to be sure the photos are getting where they’re going, and next…  I don’t know how I’ll do it, Mama Loki, but it is going to be done, I’m not going to just let you rot there forever.

Love, Peter

TO-DO LIST:
1.) Develop photos.  Choose best ones.  Sunset ones prob. won’t sell.  Black-and-white, you can’t make out the details, but you never know.  And there’s the snow-covered mountains:  I think that set turned out pretty well.
2.) Editor has to pay me for the other ones.  $40 is a lot.  Go in, Parker.  Tell him, “Pay me today, or I’m walking.”  Tell him, “How many men do you think want a job out here in Possum Crick, or whatever this darned place is called?”
3.) Trip down to Poughkeepsie, to get the negs out.  Reminder:  Bring em some more Spam, Treet at least.  Share-and-share-alike, so important these days.
4.) Present for T.A. and W.K.  Got to say thanks to them, for saying they’ll keep an eye on L.  What can I sneak in there?  Cake with a file, ha ha.  Wonder if they’d let me bring a regular cake in.  Don’t think they’re feeding em so well at Winnetou.
5.) Reminder:  White patches in the negs mean blood.  Don’t need to develop those.  Don’t develop em, too much…  too many....  Black patches mean an explosion, better not develop those either.  Sometimes a while before the blood starts flowing, but you see more than you need to, right from the start.
7.) Don’t forget:  Letter to Mr. Rogers.  Uncle Steve.  And buy stamps next trip in to Poughkeepsie.  And paper.
8.) Burn the rubbish!!!

[scene, outside Mrs. Barnhart’s boarding-house, mid-morning, January 14, 1947]
Peter comes out of the house prepared:  Shovel for digging out the wheels, and the scraper for clearing the windshield.  Key to unlock the car door.  Model A.  Black, of course, since it’s a Ford from the 20’s.  Sometimes he’ll look at the car and he’ll laugh.  Darned thing’s older than he is, isn’t it?

Car door unlocked, Peter gets in.  Paper sack with his lunch in it goes on the passenger seat.  Spam-and-pickle sandwich:  Not his favorite.  Mrs. Barnhart fixes what she wants to fix, and she says she can’t always get meat.  Couple of letters in there that he can’t send, too dangerous.  He’ll burn those once he’s far enough out of town, so it won’t be noticed.

Manilla envelope with the prints for the paper goes in back of the lunch-bag.  A nice thick envelope, it has to be, Mrs. Barnhart’s sandwiches leak.  Several decent snow-scenes in there, that the paper might want.  One with a cardinal in it, he just happened to be aiming that way, and it flew in, perched on a pine branch, right in the middle of the shot.  And there’s a couple with a deer in it.  Wildlife photos are usually worth at least a couple dollars each.

Letter for Mr. Rogers goes behind the photos.  Peter’s meeting his contact in Poughkeepsie, and he’ll give him the letter to send down to Mexico.  What would be good, would be if he could send some other stuff with it.  His wife’s having a baby, isn’t she?  If he could just send her something, some money, or a letter at least…  Naturally, he can’t, though.  He can’t even mention her by name, too dangerous, if the courier gets intercepted, with the letter on him.  Mr. Rogers words, right before Peter left to come north:  “I’ll watch out for her, Pete, you have my word on it,” and Sam said the same thing.  Tony said he’d take care of MJ too, for whatever that’s worth.  He’s got a house though, at least, and some servants who seem like they’re fairly responsible.

Just for a moment, he lets his mind dwell on Daddy Tony:  He was sober the entire time Peter was in Mexico, wasn’t he?  But how many times has he been like that, sober for weeks, or even months at a time, before falling back off the wagon?  Drunks are like that, they can’t help it.  The booze is just stronger than they are.

Mama Loki:  Peter can’t even think about her, it’s too…  Too something.  To tell the truth, he’s not even sure it was her he saw, when he was at Winnetou.  It sort of looked like her, but not quite.  Coloring was wrong, but maybe that was paint.  She looked like she had troweled the stuff on, and all the cheapest make-up you can get, too.  “Drugstore stuff,” she used to say, with a sarcastic laugh.  Mama Loki always got her make-up from the Helena Rubenstein store, the best stuff they sold.  

Hopefully it was her though, hopefully she’s all right.  Who cares that she was with someone?  He looked important, he’ll take care of her.  Mama Loki is…  Well, you wouldn’t call her easy.  She’s a survivor, that’s what she is.  She didn’t care all that much about Daddy Thor either, but she knew she needed someone to help, after Tony started going downhill so bad.  She did what she had to.  This is more of the same, this is just her looking out for her survival.  Only it’s a shame this man can’t be bothered to give her much else besides survival.  Even at his worst, Daddy Tony at least could be counted on for enough for decent make-up and stuff like that, the things a girl likes.

There’s one more envelope, and that goes into the slit in the upholstery, under the seat-cover.  Word from the Resistance is, if it gets found, he’s on his own.  But it won’t get found, this is a good hiding-place.  Their idea?  “Put it under the spare tire, Parker,” the guy said, and Peter practically laughed in his face.  Sure, right, because a fellow is always digging around in the trunk, underneath the spare tire, of all places.  Because that’s just what everyone wants to do, up here in the darned mountains, with snow three-feet deep everywhere, because really, who doesn’t want to stand around in a snowbank, rooting around in the trunk, that’s not going to look a bit suspicious, is it?

Car door’s closed, engine’s going, and the car’s starting to get at least a little warmer.  Peter reaches down.  Up goes the seat-cover, just a little bit, down on his left, close to the handle for making the seat recline.  There’s the slit in the upholstery…  Just for a second his heart is in his throat, because it feels like one of the envelope’s missing.  Then he finds it, and he can breathe again.

Two envelopes in there already:  First is from when he was in Watertown…  “Looking for work,” he said, and then he went into every office he could over at the Army base, until they started getting suspicious.  Pictures from that shoot are all garbage, frankly, nothing in there that will be useful to anyone, but he risked his life for them, he’ll be darned if he’s not at least going to send them.  Second pack is from the mental hospital, where they’re also building munitions.  Ugly pictures, those; that was the shoot that taught him:  Don’t look too close at the negs from right after an explosion.  Add in the envelope from his trip up to Winnetou.  Three good sets of pictures.  The Resistance is definitely getting their money’s worth from him.

Peter’s hand comes back up to the steering wheel.  Left foot on the clutch, right hand on the gearshift.  He puts the flivver in gear, pulling out of his parking spot, careful to avoid the snow piled up against the curb, and a patch of black ice he can see, out on the roadway.  And out of the residential area where he’s boarding, and onto the highway, heading down out of the mountains.  Just 9:00 in the morning now, he should be able to make Poughkeepsie by lunchtime easy.  But he’s not eating Mrs. B.’s Spam sandwich, that’s for darn sure.  Cafe there, the last time he went in:  They served you beef stew that tasted like it really had beef in it, not to mention three different choices of pie.

Chapter Text

Texas?  Is this Texas yet?  How do I get to Texas.  Got to get there, it’s important.  Man there I need to talk to, need to shake his hand.  Man called Doom.  You heard of him?  Everybody’s heard of old Doom-y.  Old Doom-y is famous.

I may or may not have had a couple today.  Like, one or two…  Seventeen or eighteen, maybe?  But it’s not a problem, I can still stop whenever I want.  Hell, six months sober…  Six goddamn months.  And that was in Mexico.  You know how hard it is to stay sober in Mexico?  Whole goddamn economy runs on tequila.  But I stayed sober down there, I can do it up here too, just haven’t started yet.  Going to Texas first, going to meet Doom, shake his goddamn hand.

I think it’s Texas.  Or New Mexico… maybe?  Nevada?  All those states down there:  Make ‘em one state.  Tex-Mexico-Nevada, give ‘em some goddamn name like that, I don’t care what it is, but it should be something.  Whole country, it’s California on one side, Wash’ton and New York, other side, and nothing in between.  Just nothing.  Lot of unimportant places, unimportant states, unimportant people.  A blur, a shadow.  But I think it was Texas.

Everything happens in Texas, you noticed that? -- Hey, bartender, my credit still good?  Set ‘em up again, one for me, one for my friend here.  For my friend…  Good friend Whatsisname, give him a double, he deserves it. -- Where was I?  That’s right:  Texas.

You noticed everything happens there?  Where did you say we were again, right now?  You said Arizona, right?

California?  Can’t be right.  Doesn’t look like any California I’ve ever seen, and I used to live here.  Calexico:  Doesn’t even sound like California.  I’m calling bullshit on that one, you should excuse the expression.  This is Mexico.  That’s good.  Better not go back into the States, I’m a wanted man, you know.

Treason, they called it, which is a lot of crap.  No such thing as treason, not now, not anymore.  Good quote I heard once, went something like this:  “Treason never prospers, something-something reason…”  Don’t remember all of it, not offhand, you understand.  Kicker though?  Get this:  Goes, “Because if it prospers, none dare call it treason.”

How’s that?  You like that one?  That’s Windrip’s America right there, that one is!  God damn, I hate this place!  Wish I’d stayed down in goddamned Mexico.

Here’s what happened, okay?  Here’s why I left.  Wouldn’t tell jus’ anyone, but I’ll tell you, you’re a friend.  Here’s what happened, all right?  It was all in the news story, it was about this Doom.

Everything always happens in Texas, all the deaths, understand?  Kid named Kennedy, I think it was Kennedy, he got killed down there.  And another guy, Johnson was his name, he got killed down there too.  Johnson was goddamned lucky, we were just about to arrest him, crimes against the state, you know what I mean.  But he was shot, that’s how it works in Texas, people get shot.

What was I saying?  Bartender, ‘nother drink.  Guy could die of dehydration around here.

Texas:  Saw this story, knew immediately it would be Texas, because it’s that kind of place.  And I knew I had to shake old Doom-y’s hand, old Doom-y is doing…  Well, it’s understandable, know what I mean?

Makes sense, that’s what it does.  Not that I’d do it, but…  I dunno.

There I was, I was at the theatre.  Goddamn Bijou, or…  I don’t know what it’s called, I don’t remember.  Went there with some friends, who I also don’t remember, they were good friends, though.  We had had a few, one of ‘em says, “Let’s go to the movies.”

“Vamos al cine,” he says…  This was Mexico, you un’stand.  “Vamos al cine…”  Little moving-picture palace, only dates back to something-something, maybe ten or twenty years before the Mexican Revolution.  Goddamn nickelodeon-place, know what I mean?  All set up, show The Great Train Robbery, show Perils of Goddamned Pauline.

There we were:  I had maybe gone to sleep for a little while.  Woke up, newsreel was on.  “Guy named Doom,” it says, “he killed 27 people, and he wounded…”  I don’t remember how many were wounded.

You want to know why I want to talk to him?  Want to know the reason.  He won’t give a reason, that’s why.  Story said so.  “No explicará por qué los mató,” it says.  ¿Hablamos español en Alamos, entiendes a mi amigo?  No explicará, means no explanation.  Nobody kills 27 people without having an explanation.

If I’d have done it, there would have been an explanation.  And I’d have made sure I died before they caught me.  Machine guns, rain of bullets, go down Bonnie-and-Clyde style, fighting ‘til the end.  But definitely a reason.  Get some dough for MJ and the kid, there’s a good reason.  Because I won’t be there to protect them.  Or if I could get Windrip, or one of his gang…

‘Scuse me, bartender, I’ll stop.  Don’t mean anything, you know how we drunks are, we talk.  Sorry though, I understand, I’ll stop.

Just keep it nice and impersonal, all right?  Just telling a story.  Old Doom:  This was what the newsreel said.  He was…  I think it said this other guy was his friend.  Maybe it was Nevada?  Manhattan Project, does that ring a bell?  Test sites, trial explosions…  Because they were all scientists, understand me?  Where do you find scientists?  All around this area…  Well, not here, naturally, but around here.  

Doom was a scientist, and he had a beef against…  Name’ll come to me.  That was in the story, see?  Said, he’d had a beef with…  Richards?  I think it was…  No, it was Reed, Richard Reed.  ...Beef against Reed, because he’d been passed over for… something.  Doom had a beef against this Reed guy, but they said that wasn’t the reason.  Said it couldn’t be, it didn’t make sense, and besides, this Reed wasn’t even one of the ones that got killed.  So, they said it was something else, and this Doom fellow, of course he’s not talking.

Who kills like that, without a reason?  Who?  If I did it, there would be a reason, like I said, probably it’d be money.  Just a couple of banks, just that…  What could I get?  Couple thousand?  That’d be enough.  Got to keep MJ and the kid, got to take care of them, damn sure Peter’s not going to be around to do it.  Or revenge…  Sorry, bartender.

Jesus god, you can’t talk about anything, some places.  Loose lips sink ships:  So hard to abide by that sometimes.  Christ, I might as well go home, but to what home?

Oh well, might as well finish.  Tell my story, have a couple more drinks.  I’m going to sleep tonight, I can tell you that, anyway.  Tonight we’ll merry-merry be, for tomorrow we’ll be sober.  Some truth there, my friend!  Who cares about tomorrow?  Tomorrow can take care of itself.  Tonight I’m drunk… -- It is night, isn’t it?  What the hell, right now I’ll tell the story, let tomorrow take care of itself.

I was at that theatre, and I saw that newsreel.  Left home…  MJ said, “I’m expecting a baby…”  How am I supposed to support a baby?  Had a use for that dough.  Wasn’t saving, I was liquidating, spend it all, go up to the States, go to New York.  Got a friend in New York.  Can’t leave her there, it’s a bad situation.

Loose lips, ships…  What you don’t know, Windrip and his goons can’t beat out of you, I’m doing you a favor, not telling all of it.  All you need to know:  She’s a friend.  And it’s a bad situation.  Bad.  B-A-D, period, now shut up, let me continue.

So I was liquidating, and then along comes this news.  MJ’s having a baby.  Where’s the father, you say?  He’s gone.  Doing something important, you don’t need to know.  He’s not there, okay?  Falls on me, what can I do, I need that money.

And I was going to talk to someone about it, but she wasn’t there, and I got tired of waiting.  One thing they tell you:  The first drink is always the hardest.  It wasn’t, it came goddamn easy.  And I was out of practice, and it only took a few.  Woke up in that movie theatre, and that was…  I don’t know how many days later it was.  Or hours?  Maybe?

Story about old Doom-y was playing, about how he’d killed all those people.  Picture of him onscreen, but I don’t think I was awake when I saw it, I think it was a dream.  Nobody looks like that.  Armor?  What is this, the Middle Ages?  Surprised I didn’t dream up a dragon too.  ...Picture, and the story:  He killed 27 people.  Mató a 27 personas, that’s Spanish for he killed 27 people.  I watched it, and I saw the grin on his face, so I guess there wasn’t armor.  Couldn’t have been.  And it made total sense to me, understand?  J’ever get to a place where something like that could make sense to you?

...No, it doesn’t.  Doesn’t make sense, want to know why?  What I learned:  There I was, movie theatre, realized something, here’s what it was:  What separates me from ol’ Doom-y?  Only one thing, still would have to make sense for me to do it, that’s all that separates us.

Remember a friend:  Good friend.  He left because I…  Was committing treason, high crimes, misdemeanors, what have you, and I was…  I hurt him, that’s why he left, because I hurt him, hurt our friendship, but here’s the thing:  Something he used to say, or rather, his mom would say it.

His mom:  There was a good woman.  One of these kind, goes to church every Sunday, used to say, “Bless you child,” then she’d give you a cookie…  Must have been twenty years since I even thought of Big Bertha, she was a good woman.  And her son?  Good man.  Didn’t deserve a traitor-friend like me.  Jesus, if you counted up all the people I’ve hurt…  If you even tried…

Going to cry in a minute, I’m not careful.  When that happens?  Time to go to go home, go to bed.  Let me just finish this first.  Where was I?

...Right, right, right, Big Bertha, that was it:  “Rats in a sack,” she used to say.  Point was, you get the rats angry, see?  Get ‘em good and angry, they start attacking each other.  Exact-same way with people.

Guess I’m still not that angry yet, though, that’s what old Doom-y taught me.  I’d still need a reason, that’s all separating him and me.  I’d need one, and he didn’t.

Want to know what I’m doing, friend?  First:  Go shake old Doom-y’s hand.  Shake his hand…  Where is he?  Texas?  I think it’s Texas, New Nevada, maybe.  Go shake his hand, tell him…  Ask him, because I know he had a reason.  Want to know what it was.  Then after that?  New York, if I can get that far, gonna save my friend.  And after that, I think…

Sometimes I think that’s where both of us’ll die.  Hail of bullets, Bonnie-and-Clyde style, go out like gangbusters.  But that’s the booze talking, it’s time for me to stop before something really bad happens.  ...If I can stop?

Chapter Text

He’s not sorry.  Going in with Fury was the right thing to do.  But it’s going to hurt like hell, leaving San Bernardino.  No choice now, of course, not after the deed’s been done.  There’s one more guy safe, one more man, Fury says he can use.  Does he look like much?  No, but neither did Bruce.  If Fury says he can use him…  You just have to trust his judgment.

Bruce would be the first guy to say he doesn’t have any judgment, himself.  Strategic thinking, that’s what he doesn’t have, while Nick Fury has it in spades.  Division of labor, what is it the Communists say?  From each according to their ability.  This is Fury’s ability, he’s good at planning these things, while Bruce?  Eh, it’s been a long time since he gave up expecting that he’d ever be able to use his best abilities.

Orderly work is dehumanizing at its best, but he just sort of fell into it, after he lost his security clearance.

Story Bruce doesn’t like to tell…  That he doesn’t even like to think about:  There was a kid, him.  Young kid, grad student in a good Engineering program, when the War Department took an interest in him, offered him a choice spot, working on the Manhattan Project, out of Los Alamos.  Most guys would be set for life, right?  But most guys don’t have whatever it is, inside Bruce…  What is it, bad upbringing, like the Freudians say?  Feels more like there’s something missing inside him, like one of his genes got misplaced, or a chromosomal imbalance, something that’s just not the same, about him, he’s different from everyone around him.

Eh, who cares?  Six months in a private hospital.  That was generosity, because it should have been the public hospital, he didn’t have any money.  But a professor from his undergrad days pulled some strings, got him into what was supposedly the good place.  Course of shock treatment, and a lot of talky-talk from the Freudians, and when he did recover, it felt like he did it by himself, no thanks to any of them.  Sometimes it feels like he didn’t recover at all.  But he got out, anyway, got a job.  Not a good job, most people don’t like to hire ex-mental patients.  That’s when he got into orderly-ing, just a little after that happened.  First he was bussing tables in a lousy restaurant near the hospital, and then when he started working in the hospital, the transition was so smooth you almost didn’t notice it.  Job’s all right.  It pays the bills, anyway.  Normally Bruce doesn’t think about the chance he lost at Los Alamos, or about the others, less smart  than he is probably, who are working there now.  Normally he doesn’t think about how he crapped out, his first time at-bat.

Flawed people have flawed lives.  That’s just reality, and there’s no point complaining about it.  Anyway, he’s doing some good now, since he hooked up with Fury.  Three political prisoners are free now, because of him.  ...No, four…  Does Stark count as a political prisoner?  What the hell is he?  He just looks like any old drunk.  

Fury says he’s important.  Fury says he can use him, and if Fury says that…  Never mind what it looks like to Bruce, Stark was worth saving, and he did the right thing to save him.  And if he’s not a real charmer, so what?  Who’s Bruce Banner to judge that about somebody else?  Not like he’d win that many charm contests himself.

The day was just one of your standard, regular days.  This was the day Fury called on Bruce again, but he didn’t know that until it happened.  And it just started out like any other day, he was working mornings, and he went in to work.  He was just sitting around drinking coffee with the others, when the call came.  Unfamiliar voice was unfamiliar, belonged to a guy calling himself Coulson, probably not his real name.  “Coulson” gave Bruce the right code words, and then he gave him his marching orders:  “A guy coming in, stash him, Banner.  And fake records, you’ve done it before, and don’t let him talk to anybody, not until Fury gets there.”

Stark talked to people.  He’s one of the kind of drunks that can’t keep his mouth shut.  Bruce spent a good couple days hovering, lying for him.  Hard to cover for a guy bragging that he’s friends with half the government, but “delusional” covers a lot of ground.  And if the other guys clobber him a little, you don’t say boo, because you don’t dare to.  Look at it this way, which would Stark rather have, a beating or two in the hospital, or a lifetime sentence in one of Windrip’s prison camps?

Turned out, he got both, but how was Bruce supposed to know that?  Turned out, that was Fury’s plan:  Get him out of the mental hospital, and send him to a prison camp, to rescue a lot of people.

Turned out it made even less sense than most of Nick Fury’s plans, but that’s not Bruce’s problem, is it?  And if you think about it, did it make any more sense for Fury to trust him?  He’s come through a few times already, who knows what Stark might be able to do?

Drunks are always self-centered.  They have that in common with ex-mental patients, that terrible, debilitating self-consciousness, that can hold you back from doing anything.  You could almost feel sorry for them, except after a while it becomes so repetitive.

Bruce saw Stark through the shakes.  He got the paraldehyde into him when he needed it, and he sat and held his hands a few times, when Stark wanted to moan about how he was the worst person in the world.  Standard, typical stuff all the alkies always go through.  After that, Fury came.  Bruce kept the others out, while he was talking to Stark.  And then after that, Stark’s release, not sudden or precipitous, but the same way they always release the alkies, first you get ‘em good and sober, then you send ‘em out to get drunk all over again.

After that, Bruce lost Stark’s files, like he was supposed to.  Down into the basement room that holds the records…  He’s done this before, it’s pretty simple, you just find the file folder for somebody that’s been dead a long time, drop the other folder in there.  Nobody’s found any of the ones in DC yet, why would they find Stark’s?  And after that, it was time to blow town, and that’s where the problems started.  Problem with leaving San Bernardino:  He’s finally got a girlfriend here.

Thing with Fury is just a loose arrangement.  Sometimes he calls on Bruce, and he does stuff, but there is no official commitment here.  Betty’s somebody he met while he wasn’t working for Fury.  She’s a nice girl, a nurse at Patton State, which is where Bruce has been working.  They could be so happy together.  It could be permanent, at first they’d both work, so they could save a little, and then maybe they could even start a family, have some kiddos of their own.  Well, none of that is going to happen now, is it?  Now, when he has to leave San Bernardino?

Bruce sees Betty one more time before he goes.  Fury wouldn’t like it, he’d complain, start talking about loose lips, etcetera.  Fury can go suck eggs, Betty’s true-blue, she’s not going to spill anything he’s told her.

Not that he told her much.  “I’m leaving San Bernardino,” he said.

She looked at him, those pretty brown eyes of hers so wide open with surprise.  “Leaving Patton, Bruce?  Leaving me?”

What was he supposed to say?  “I don’t want to leave you, Betty...”  It didn’t cut much mustard even to him, when he said that.

“Can you come back?” she said…  They were at McDonald’s, which is a drive-in, cheaper than most.  He should have taken her to a decent restaurant, somewhere nice, with candles on the tables, and live musicians.  Any other time he would have, but hell, how much money does he have?  He needs all his dough to relocate.  You can always get a job at a looney bin, they’re always hiring, pretty much all the time.  But you have to get to it first, and once you’re there, don’t you need someplace to live?

Greyhound bus ticket to Camarillo.  Hospital there specializes in juveniles, so they say, but it’s a bughouse, there’s sure to be plenty of your common, or garden-variety loonies there as well.  Probably have to start again on the back wards with the schizos…  Hell, good thing if it’s mostly juveniles, isn’t it?  Be a lot harder hiding political prisoners in with a bunch of kids.  Working the schizo ward won’t be so bad, not if they’re really schizos at least.  Nothing as soul-destroying as working with them when you know they’re sane.  Giving them their Thorazine injections, and watching the other guys clobber them, thinking their just like the others, the regular crazies.

“I don’t think I can come back,” he told Betty.  “I think there’ll be trouble…”

They’re in his car, parked under the light from the yellow McDonald’s sign, which is lighting her from behind, making a golden halo out of her hair.  And she’s looking down, but then she looks up at him.  “Why, Bruce,” she says.  “What kind of trouble?”

He didn’t tell her anything about Fury.  Nothing about who he was, how he was wanted by the Corpos, or why Fury visited him.  But Betty’s not dumb.  “Does it have to do with Stark,” she said.  “The guy that said he knew everybody?”

“No.”  He could never lie to Betty, she picks up on it right away, looks at him, her mouth skeptical.  “I can’t tell you what it’s about,” he says, “but I have to leave.”

“He left too.”  Betty’s smart, and she’s figured out the whole thing, just from the little he’s said.  “He escaped, and you helped him. I hope he’s okay.”  She takes Bruce’s hands, and she looks at him with so much love in her eyes.  “And you have to be okay, Bruce, I couldn’t stand it if you weren’t.”

A man’s lucky if he can get a girl like Betty to love him, even once in his life.  What kind of world is it, where Bruce has to walk away from that, and for what?  Because of a no-good drunk like Stark, who probably won’t even do anything useful?

Chapter Text

[fragment of writing, found under Mattress 24, in Cherokee Cabin]
Here’s something Lee did one time, he took us to a place like this.  Not Winnetou, because there wasn’t a Winnetou yet.  No Directive 427 yet, back then, but there were camps, it feels like the camps have always been here.

Camp was in Georgia.  Bit of a drive, huh?  From our comfortable life in DC?  Corpos, so resourceful, they’ll take what’s already there, and then they’ll use it.  “Use:”  Nice anodyne word, that shields you from the real meaning.

This one used to be a jail, and it was down in Georgia.  You want to know what it was like?  Old movie:  Picture starring a guy named Paul Muni, he was big back then, and mostly in that kind of film.  Social commentary films, I think that’s what we called them, or social realism, maybe that was it.  Old terms, that seemed like they had a meaning back then, but now?  It’s like I can remember how it felt when they had meaning, but it’s an outsider’s view.  I can’t get inside the Tony who cared about those things, he’s gone forever.

Social commentary films were films by liberals, talking about how bad the system was.  And back then, back when those pictures used to come out, we would all go and watch them, and we used to think, or I did anyway, I’d think, “Yeah, this whole goddamn system needs to be dismantled, just blow the whole goddamn thing up.”  Made us susceptible couple years later, when the Corpos came along, or I don’t know, maybe that was just me.

Long digression there, but it doesn’t matter, nobody’s ever going to read this.  This is just for me, myself, and I…  Hell, probably I won’t be able to read it either, lousy scratchy pencil on old newspaper doesn’t make for a whole lot of legibility.  Going to take this thing after I write it, going to fold it into insoles for the shoes they gave me here, cover up the worst of the holes, for when I get away.  But first I write it all down, have to organize my thoughts, before I do what I promised Mr. A. I’d do for him… if I can.

Paul Muni:  Star of a tasty little bit of social realism, called Fugitive From a Chain Gang.  Came from a book, a true story.  Story was about how bad the system was, I remember watching it, and I just wanted to tear the whole thing down.  How many others that watched it, went on to become Corpos?  It couldn’t have been just me, could it?

But here’s why I bring it up:  If you watched that picture, you know what the camp was like that Sarason took us to, back in…  Well, it was pretty early.  37, maybe early in ‘38.  He took us there, showed us the whole thing, barracks, and the trucks they used to take the work-crews out, and the unmarked graves.

Not mass graves, not yet, back then.  Winnetou has mass graves.  There’s one that’s still open, couple others, they’ve covered up, but you can still find ‘em by the smell.  But this was early, early days, and nobody had any idea yet of the scale the whole thing was going to take on later.

This was a political camp, Communists, mostly.  We were already doing the propaganda by then, I remember, and looking back, it wasn’t such a hard sell, getting everybody to hate the Communists.  Most people hated ‘em already, I mean, not people like us, not the inner circle, who pretty well knew the Commies were just our mirror-images, but the regular, ordinary, Main Street-kind of people.  Kind of people Buzz liked to call “his” people, the ordinary, vulgar ones, most of ‘em wouldn’t know a new idea if it bit ‘em, and they already hated the Commies, W.R. Hearst had been telling ‘em to hate them ever since the 20’s, hadn’t he?  And we told ‘em everybody that was getting sent to the camps was Communists, or they had Communist sympathies, but of course it wasn’t true.

Camps were for people that got in the way.  That was how it was, at first.  Communists got in the way, and the usual malcontents, Wobblies, and so on.  Newspaper editors, not from the big papers, of course, which were mostly Hearst-owned, or they copied the Hearst, pro-government style.  Little editors, from country papers, in remote locations:  One article criticizing Buzz…  Well, if you knew how many of those papers had published at least one.

One was supposed to be all it took, but sometimes we didn’t get to ‘em right away.  But they were there, all those little editors, and sometimes the guys that worked for ‘em.  And the Commies, of course, Wobblies, etcetera.  And we’d pick up Senators, Congressmen, if they kicked too hard, and they were in there too.  And you should have seen the place, Jesus God, the smell of death, that just hung over the entire camp.

I remember Lee showing us around that place, that used to be for Georgia chain gangs, and now it was for men just like us.  He didn’t say anything, because he didn’t need to, we all got his message loud and clear:  That could be any one of us, if we got in the way.  We could be like that Congressman, who used to be so fat and arrogant, now he was scrounging for scraps.  We could be like the little newspaper editors…  One that got to me?  He was an old guy.  Salt-of-the-Earth, New Englander-type, hadn’t changed since the 1800’s.  Side-whiskers, this one had, if you’ll believe that.  And we were going by, there was this little crowd of Corpo-guards around him.  One of ‘em was pulling on his whiskers, the others were making these maah-ing sounds, like goats.  Then he went down, and they all piled in there, just hitting and kicking him.  Lee didn’t have to say that could be us, we all knew.

After we’d seen the camp, we were all so loyal.  Loyalty born out of fear…  See, here’s the thing, here’s what people don’t understand about how a system like that works:  We weren’t dumb, and we weren’t really all that evil either.  We saw what was happening, and we hated it, most of us.  Sometimes you’d run up against a true-believer, the rest of us hated that kind, but most of us were just ordinary men, we saw the evil, but we were scared to do anything about it.  What held us back?  Cowardice, that craven fear you get, for your own skin, the desire to avoid pain.  You’d see something especially bad, and you might be tempted to say something about it, then you’d remember  those guards, all crowding in to kick a poor little editor.  You’d think about the fat Senator, who was so starved now he’d eat potato peelings, things you wouldn’t give a dog.  You’d know you didn’t want to be like that yourself, and you’d keep your mouth shut.  Cowards, not fanatics, are what always keeps fascism going.

Mr. A.’s smart.  I’m sure he knows I would have still hung back out of cowardice, if he’d tried to talk to me when I was in Mexico.  Inertia:  Powerful force.  An object at rest tends to stay at rest, such as a man who’s going along, living his safe, comfortable life.  In exile?  Maybe.  But it’s rest, and it feels safe.  How to jolt a man out of that?  Easier to get him when he’s already in motion.

Why did I agree to Mr. A.’s deal?  Easy.  It was because I knew I was in trouble either way.  That officer, who was a confederate of Mr. A.’s, I knew he’d just hand me over to the regular cops, if I didn’t say yes.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t:  You heard that saying?  That was me.  It was prison camps either way, for Anthony E. Stark, and why not do some good if you can, and at least clear up your conscience some?

Worst part about Winnetou:  It’s not what you’d think.  I already knew anyone could end up here, I’d seen it before, remember?  Wasn’t a shock when I saw men from Café Society, that I used to have fun with.  Cole Porter?  No shock there, not when we used to trade prostitutes.  And Cary Grant, and Lorenz Hart, and the others…  I always knew they’d end up here eventually, because they were all well-known as fairies, and it didn’t surprise me much when I saw them.

Here’s what surprised me:  They’re just shooting the Negroes.  Soon as they get here, I mean, they don’t even make ‘em work first, they just shoot ‘em.  Wasted labor.  America’s always treated black men bad, but like this?  I was expecting something more like modern slavery.

Mr. A. told me to get three men out, and two of them are dead.  Two poets, black men.  Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, they were pretty famous, even I’d heard of them.  Now their dead.  Dead and rotting, for who knows how long.  How could Mr. A. not have known that?  But he didn’t, and he told me to get them.

Also Aaron Copeland, who’s a composer.  A white man, still alive, I think I can get him out.

Maybe I can get L. out too.  L. won’t talk to me, she says I’m poison, dangerous to anyone  that’s seen with me.  L.’s doing what she does, she’s surviving.  I remember seeing her, and it was just like I’d expected her to be.  She was dressed up, in all the finery she could manage (which wasn’t much, which was so heartbreakingly pitiful).  She didn’t have a dress, but she’d made some modifications to her uniform, to show her body off better.  And she was wearing make-up, god alone knows where she got it.  She’s trying for someone powerful, which is about the only way a man like her can survive in a place like this, and I understand, and I respect it.  But if I can get her out, if I can just get her to Mexico, if she will just listen to me…

She won’t.  Not if she’s smart.

How I got here, is I got drunk, and of course, being me, it wasn’t just a one or two-night thing.  When I get drunk, I stay drunk, it’s like I’ve got no control over what happens.  I gave in, and I lost control.  Woke up in a drunk tank somewhere in California, and that’s where Mr/ A. found me.  And that’s where he gave me his pitch, and, because he had it all laid out, and it made sense, that’s why I agreed to it.

A man could go crazy in here.  I keep telling myself, “Stark, it’s not for much longer, Stark, you’re going to be out of here soon, tomorrow, probably.”  It won’t be tomorrow.  Maybe it won’t be ever, Copeland won’t talk to me either.  I could escape without him, but what would be the good?  Deal is, safe passage south for both of us, I can’t go without the targets…  Without my one surviving target…  (Jesus God, Rhodey, are you still alive?  Did they get you, like they got Hughes and Cullen?)

...Can’t get out of here without the targets (the one target).  Every day, I get up, and every day nobody will talk to me.  Because I was one of them, see.  And every day is more hellish than the last one, because I was one of them.  I’m the example, I’m the guy that shows others what happens if you try to break free.

Ha, some example!  I didn’t try to break free, I was pushed out.  But I came back, see, that’s why they have it in for me.  And every day is just like hell, I’m not sure how much longer I can survive.  Food?  I’d kill for a…  Christ, even writing the names of foods damn near drives me insane all by itself.  No food for traitors, disloyal Corpos.  I get just enough to keep body and soul together, and that, only for as long as I’m useful to them, as an example.  And I work harder than any of the others, and that’s saying something.  And the beatings…

Never mind.  One guard:  Found him by saying Mr. A.’s code words to him, and then he made the proper response.  Can I trust him to get Copeland for us?  Well, I guess I’m going to have to.  And if I can possibly get him to get Loki too…

Christ, so many if’s.  I’m going to die here, I’m going to die of if’s.  Not that they’re going to kill me, because I am useful to them, but how much can one man take?  I’m going to die, and my body’s going to go into that mass grave, and nobody will care, nobody will even remember me.  Good-bye, world.  I think I loved you, but now I’m not even so sure...

Chapter Text

[rough-drafts of a letter]
Dear Tony,
I love you.  Stay away from me, I don’t need you, I’m doing fine.

Dear Tony,
He’s here.  You know who I mean.  I mean Lee.

Tony,
Where’s our kid?  Where’s Peter?  He alive?  Are you even thinking about him?  Damn you, Tony, Peter went to Mexico, he went there looking for you.  What are you doing here, when he needs you?  You were never any use to anyone.

__________________________

One night with the Commander, then he doesn’t ask for Loki again.  The other though, the second-in-command, he likes her all right.  He’s not so generous with the privileges.  “You want to sleep here?” he says.  “In my cabin?”  Mean look…  God, that guy’s ugly, he’s almost as ugly as the Commander.  And he looks at Loki (who is supposed to ignore all that ugliness, she’s just supposed to pretend he’s the handsomest man in the world).  “You want to sleep here?” he says.  “What kind of a chump do you think I am?  Go back where you belong,” he says, and he gives her a shove, sends her stumbling.  He’s eager enough to have her service him, but as for giving her anything?  He’s selfish.

Somewhere along the line, it feels like Loki forgot how to handle these things.  She got out of the habit of just grinning and bearing it, she started to expect something else.  Thor spoiled her, or Tony.  Poor Tony, who was so weak, and he couldn’t handle it, he couldn’t survive.  But he loved her, he downright treasured her, things like that get a girl spoiled.  Somewhere along the line Loki started caring what happened to her body.  You can’t care in a place like this, it’s the ones that care that always go first.

Cells here used to be cabins, because this used to be some kind of a summer camp or something.  And they still have these cute names:  Cherokee, Osage, Apache.  Names out of Western movies, and some places you can still see some of the Western look this place must have had once.  Horseshoes over the doors, rail fences, that kind of thing.  Little details, but you stop seeing them after awhile, you just don’t even notice.  Got enough on your plate without noticing these cute, pretty things.  They don’t fill your belly, or give you a warm bed to sleep on.  Nobody ever survived because they had horseshoes and old wagon wheels to look at.

Loki’s in Osage.  Sign over the door says Maximum Occupancy: 12, but there are 30 of them in here.  30 queens, girls like Loki, all competing to see which ones of them will survive.  Some days you could almost feel sad for the rest of them, but this is survival, and feelings will get you killed.  

They’re all dead jealous of Loki, of course, because she’s got the second-in-command. None of them have anybody as high up as that, and most are just happy if they get noticed once in awhile.  Noticed gets you food.  It gets you privileges, shoes without holes in them, a warm piece of clothing once in awhile, and not as many beatings.  Noticed means you work the easy jobs, and shorter hours.  That’s why they all do it, why they’re still competing, when they should probably work together.

Someday someone’s going to get the Commander, and all the other girls will hate her.  Loki will hate her (unless she’s the one that gets him, which she still hasn’t given up on).  Commander’s the only one that’s got a house, instead of a cabin.  He’s got the best clothes, and the best food…  He’s got a car.  Imagine getting out of here, even for a few hours.  Imagine being the one that can make him care enough about you that he would do that, that he’d take you… well, anywhere, really.

Second-in-command’s Loki’s though, and that’s not so bad.  And he does what men do, all the sloppy, sappy, disgustingness.  “Mmm, I lo-ooo-oove you, ooh Loki, I lo-ooo-oove you, ooh, Loki!”  Enough to make a girl sick.  That face, saying “love:”  It’s all anyone could do, not to laugh.

One time she did laugh.  Only thing that saved her was how bad he wanted her.  Tell him a lie.  Say, “Oh, it was nervousness,” or shyness, or whatever.  Watch his face change, anger going out of his eyes, and that other expression coming back.  Sheep’s eyes, that’s what they call it, and he looks just like a sheep.  A stupid, ugly sheep.  Sheep wants her, and she gets down on her knees for him again.  Anything to please the master, who’s becoming her slave.

Sheep’s the one that told her Lee was here.  He seemed like he thought it would please her.  Pleases her more that he would want to please her enough to tell her.  Him, groveling in front of her, bringing her gifts, wanting to make her happy.  Makes her smile, just thinking about it.  But it’s good knowing that Lee’s here, too.  Maybe someone here will kill him.

Loki wasn’t going to talk to Tony.  “Too dangerous,” she told him, when he tried talking to her, but that wasn’t it.  What it was, she would see him, and all she could think about was how he’d hurt her, and the ways that he’d hurt her, and all the times that he’d do it.  Not with cruelty., even though he did hit her once or twice, but it was his selfishness that would hurt.  Tony thinks about Tony.  He wants to think about the people he loves, because he does love people.  He loves her, and he loves Peter, and possibly some others as well.  But Tony is selfish, and he always takes care of himself first.  Right after he arrived, back when she wasn’t talking to him, that was why:  It just felt so good seeing him suffer, for once in his life.

Then Lee came.  Maybe she wanted him to kill him for her, maybe that’s why she went to him then.  Tony would do that, that’s exactly the kind of dramatic gesture he likes best.  Or maybe she just wanted someone else she could gloat with.  She for sure can’t do that with any of the other girls.  They all hate her too much, because she’s the one that got the second-in-command.

Just in the week or so since he’d arrived, Tony has gone downhill so much.  Because they aren’t feeding him, and because of the interrogations.  Everyone gets interrogated, but he gets it worse, because he used to be so close to Buzz and the others.  Because he was close to Lee, who’s getting interrogated every day too.  And you can see the bruises from the beatings…  If it were Lee’s, she’d be nothing but happy, but Tony?  Even after everything, seeing that still make her feel nothing but sad.

Tony, with his face all bruised, and one eye nearly shut.  Tony, with bloodstains on his clothes…  Her Tony…

“You should go away.”  He’s mumbling, sounds like they’ve loosened some of his teeth too, and he looks at her, one eye black, one half-closed, with a big cut right over it.  “You’re right,” he says, “I am dangerous, please don’t let them find you here, Loki.”

Thing about Tony is he does think about other people, even though not always at the right times.  She can see it in his eyes, he’s not scared for himself, he’s scared for her.  And that’s why she kisses him, she could swear, that’s the only reason.

The first time.  That’s why she kisses him the first time.  And after that she’s hooked again, just like she was before.  What is it about Tony?

Chapter Text

Betty’s upstairs, in the cheap little bedroom she rents, at this cheap, ugly San Bernardino boarding-house.  She still isn’t talking to him, and he can hear her crying, through the cheap, very-thin walls.  A man shouldn’t have to raise a little girl on his own, Thunderbolt should have married someone else after Mrs. Ross died, lord knows, it’s not like there weren’t plenty of women who would have had him.  There still are, most of them are getting kind of predatory-looking though, these days.  There’s a certain kind of upper-class woman, past a certain age they go all hawkish, even down to the beady, birdlike look in their eyes, god help him if he had to have one of those in his house, all day and all night!  Anyhow, most of them have daughters of their own they’re getting ready for their debuts, the last thing they want is to have to a stepdaughter dumped in their laps.

Mrs. Ross could have managed Betty.  She was ambitious enough when she was young, marched down 5th Avenue smoking a cigarette during the Easter Parade one year for god’s sake, and she did two years of college before he was finally able to prevail upon her to get married.  Mrs. Ross knew enough to grow out of it.  She knew that women can’t be sacred once they step down from their pedestal; she understood that important values need to be upheld.

She would have fixed Betty.  She’d have done the debut right after she graduated High School, probably.  Nurse’s training?  Why?  Betty’s well-off and beautiful, the last thing she needs is to take a job away from some ugly girl who can’t get a husband.  And, Patton State Hospital, of all places?  A mental institution, that specializes in housing sex-deviants?  Mrs. Ross would have nipped that little idea in the bud right away.  She was pretty savvy, once she grew out of all that flapper/New-Woman childish nonsense.

Thunderbolt frowns.  He thinks about Undersecretary Osborn’s son Harry, who keeps calling and calling, asking after Betty.  She shouldn’t even be here in California, not at such a crucial time in her life.  She should be in Washington, where he’s got contacts, and could help her find a husband, either Osborn’s boy, or somebody else.  Her bratty words, when he said that to her:  “What if I don’t want a husband, Daddy?” she’d said, and it was all he could do not to take a slug at her.  A few years ago, he could have turned her over his knee, but now?  Lordy, if only Mrs. Ross were still here!

Thunderbolt has never met this Banner, that’s supposedly been taking his little girl out.  Since she’s moved to California, he hasn’t been able to keep up with her life like a father should with an unmarried girl.  He didn’t even know there was a Bruce Banner in her life, until just last night.

Betty came home crying.  “What’s wrong?  What’s got my little girl upset?”  Words a Daddy should use, when speaking with his Princess.

And, “Oh, nothing,” she says, talking in that way she’s always done, that shows there’s really something.

“If it’s some boy, breaking your heart,” he says, “I’m personally going to kill him.”

“Oh, Daddy,” says Betty, “no.”  She spins some story about a boy who had to leave, some kid…  An orderly at Patton, for god’s sake!  An orderly!  ...This boy was doing things he shouldn’t have been doing, Betty wasn’t very clear about what exactly, but it sounds like it was pretty bad.  This boy, this Banner, somehow he got Betty mixed up in his lawbreaking.  Witnesses are accountable if they don’t say anything, Betty knows what this Banner was up to, even though she won’t tell what it was, he can see it in her face.  One hour…  No, one minute, that’s all it would take, before a halfway competent interrogator would break her.

He’d probably go down too, because they’d think he was in on it.  Thunderbolt knows this, but he also knows it’s not important.  He’s pushing 70, but Betty’s just a girl, she’s the one who should have a bright future ahead of her.

Betty is going to have her bright future.  She let spill where this Banner was going, just up the coast a ways to the next mental hospital, which a little cursory research shows in in Camarillo, California.   The thing to do, is to find him there, the thing to do, is make Bruce Banner talk.

Dewey wants Thunderbolt back in Washington.  He wasn’t happy about him going out to California in the first place, he tried to talk him out of it, a lot of blah-blah-blah about Buzz’s stupid idea of going to war in Mexico, although god alone knows what Thunderbolt was supposed to do about that.

“I trust you, Thunderbolt...”  Supposedly it’s Presidents that get old quickly, but Dewey looks about a hundred years old right now.  Because he should be in the battlefield, or at least doing military duties of some kind or another, but Buzz decided he needed him in the White House, and there he is now, looking older, and more tired, every day, while he tries to keep Buzz from going to war all over the globe.  That voice of his, “You know Sarason’s working on him day and night…”  Sarason’s another like Buzz, who shouldn’t be there.  The man’s the most blatant kind of sodomite, and more to the point, he also doesn’t know beans about how the government works.

“Why don’t you take the opportunity of getting rid of him?”  Thunderbolt said it as a joke, but he wasn’t all that surprised a few days later, when it turned out Dewey had taken his advice.  The man had had it coming for a long time, his advertising talents were all very well and good back when they were getting Buzz elected, but they’re not much use anymore now.  And, as noted earlier, the man’s a sodomite.

Dewey just frowned, though.  “You know that won’t solve the ultimate problem here…”  He broke off.  Nobody on the Secretary of War’s staff ever talks straight-out about the ultimate problem.  You don’t dare, not when the walls have ears.

The thing with Buzz, is that he stands for certain important principles that need to be protected, because they made America great.  The thing is, just because he’s become something of a problem himself, you never dare say so out loud, because it would reflect on those principles.  Buzz is the face of America’s values, to a certain misbegotten sector of the population, mouth-breathers mostly, a lot of inbred, back-country morons, who might lose their faith in the values themselves, and the government that’s protecting them, if they ever found out the truth.

The thing is, Buzz was never easy to deal with, even at his best.  He was the kind of slow-witted, pork-barrel politician that the Midwest has always sent to Washington in droves.  It was all he was ever capable of doing with himself too, but then Sarason came along, him with all his brilliant advertising ideas, that he learned on Madison Avenue.  Credit where credit is due, Sarason got him elected, which was one good thing, the white race couldn’t have stood another four years of Roosevelt.  Now though, they’re all stuck with him, and Buzz just keeps becoming more and more of a problem.

There’s a noise upstairs:  A door.  Betty’s door?  This damn boarding-house where she’s staying, the walls here are so thin, it could be anyone’s.  Any minute now, one of those ugly bluestocking-girls who live here with her might walk in and start flirting with him like they did the other time, or, god forbid, it could be that godawful inverted-looking landlady.

A moment or two later though, and it’s Betty that comes in, all bright again, after having had a good cry.  Little Sunshine-and-Showers, he used to call her, back when she was a little girl.  “I’m sorry, Daddy,” she says, and she gives him a good hug.  “I know you just want what’s best for me.”

“That’s all right,” he says, and he hugs her back.  Then, standing, “What say we go out, and I buy my Princess a good dinner?  Anyplace in this one-horse town where a man can get a good meal?”  She mentions a name, a beaner-place, from the sound of it.  Betty’s always had a fondness for Our Little Brown Brethren, god alone knows why.  “Sure honey,” he tells her, although it’s not to his taste, “if that’s what you want.”

She frowns.  “You don’t want to go there.”

“You’re my little girl, aren’t you?” he says.  “If you want foreign food, Daddy’s going to buy you as many tacos as you can eat.”  He takes her arm, like she always used to love having him do back when she was little, and they leave for this Mexican place of hers.

Tomorrow, he’s going to find Bruce Banner.  The kid needs to pay for his own crimes, whatever they are, and Betty had better not have to be involved.  Dewey and the other Generals can babysit Buzz without him for a few more days, Thunderbolt Ross has a family responsibility he needs to take care of.

Chapter Text

[Notes found under the front seat of a truck, abandoned in upstate New York.]
Targets:
1.) Countee Cullen
2.) Langston Hughes
3.)
Aaron Copeland

Supplies:
1.) $500 (not enough) to bribe the guy in the Motor Pool (it won’t be enough), that’s all Nick Fury allocated for the truck to drive the targets out (because he’s a goddamn a cheapskate)
2.)
Tony Stark (AKA, Mr. Dispensable, AKA, Mr. Shot While Escaping)

New Plan:
1.) Stark’s got to live, or I’d feel guilty.
2.) That homo boyfriend of his stirs up a riot against Sarason (which will be easy, everybody here hates him)
3.) We go get a truck and we drive out of there (and, not coincidentally, Yours Truly gets to keep the $500)
4.) And everybody in the story lives happily ever afterward (except for maybe Lee Sarason, but who cares about him?)

New List of Targets:
1.) Tony Stark
2.) His homo boyfriend
3.) Aaron Copeland, I guess, or Fury will get mad

__________________________

He calls himself Loki (and he also calls himself a girl, but what the hell, who am I to judge?).  There were three of us involved in the caper, and he was the smartest one (except maybe me).  Couple of times there, I was about ready to drop Stark off the back of the truck, especially after we could hear the dogs getting closer.   Not sure how I’d have managed it, probably gotten Copeland to push him for me.  Copeland was desperate to get out of there (which I guess I can’t really blame him about).  Or one good bump would have done it.  Roads up there look like they haven’t been redone since Roosevelt was President.

Problem with Stark?  He talks too much.  It’s just Me-Me-Me, Self-Self-Self, Everything-Everything-Everything, all the time with him.  And the past, who wants to talk about the past all the time for god’s sake, what good does that do you?  But there was that boyfriend of his, I could see that he, at least was a survivor.  I could also see what it’d do to him if I left Stark behind, , and that’s why I took him along.  It was the worst decision of my life.

Previous worst decision of my life?  Working for Nick Fury (why did I?).  Joker has these ideas, he thinks they’re brilliant ideas, but dig this:  Does he carry them out?  Does he ever put himself into harm’s way?  Hell no, it’s always some other poor shmoe, who maybe got his attention by being too soft-hearted, or who knows why they got his attention, but once you have his attention?  Buddy, you better watch the hell out.

We are going to get to Mexico.  Somehow.  It is going to happen.  And when I get down there, I’m going to stay, Nick Fury better not think he’s going to have Wade W. Wilson to kick around anymore.  Our days are through, let him take the piddling bribes and try making his own deals at prison camps for a change, and see how he likes it.  Me, I’m for the seňoritas, and the cerveza, lazing around in the shade all day with a sombrero pulled over your eyes, and maybe shooting up a cantina now and then, just for kicks.  I’m for having fun.  From now on, my whole life is going to be dedicated to fun (or it will be after I get down across the border, anyway).

Copeland is all right, I guess.  He’s useful, anyway, which is more than you can say for Stark.  Just don’t try talking to him, because he believes in America.  As for Stark, he’s a pain in the ass, as I believe I’ve said.  Loki’s the one that’s the prize of the bunch.  He’s smarter than the others, and he’s the one that pointed out we could use Sarason as a distraction, back at Winnetou.  Came in handy.  Saved me the bribe money (which unfortunately, I’ll probably still have to use before we get South of the Border, I blame you, Nick Fury).

We ditched the truck, the first day out, because it was too obvious.  This was after we lost the dogs (those side-arms they issue you when you sign on at Winnetou sure can come in handy).  Loki drove, while I took out the canines.  Stark said he’d do it, but it was pretty obvious he couldn’t (I’m beginning to wonder just what exactly Stark can do).  Copeland sat there and looked horrified at us, for doing it.  Like I said, he believes in things (bless his poor little heart).

So, that was our escape.  That was the first part, anyway.  First, I’m at Winnetou.  Second, they bring Stark in.  I beat him up a couple of times, just to allay suspicions (which wasn’t any great struggle, let me tell you).  Then there was the bribe money, which wasn’t enough (as I tried to explain to Nick Fury, back when I took the job).  Guy in the motor pool wanted six hundred, and he wouldn’t budge, and then fortunately Loki came up with this alternate idea, which saved us having to spend any money.

When did I talk to Loki for the first time?  Hell, who cares?  It was after I talked to Stark, that’s when it was.  And of course Stark had to make this whole huge deal out of the fact that I’d beaten him up, that time.  Tony Stark wants to try blending in with prison guards without beating a few people up?  Let him.  I will personally drive him back to Winnetou, so he can try.

Where was I?  Loki.  He had a plan all ready, this is how the guy thinks:  Most of the homos at Winnetou hated Sarason, see, apparently he’d done dirt to most of them in one way or another, and they all hated his guts.  So Loki says to me, “I can arrange a riot, all it’ll take is a few words.”  I told her him I’d get the truck and Copeland,  he and Stark needed to meet up with me at such-and-such an hour, on such-and-such a day, and then right after that, the riot had to start.

It started.  300 screaming homos with nothing to live for can make one hell of a riot, let me tell you.  They went at the building where Sarason was being held…  I was getting Copeland into the truck, and I saw that.  After that, I was driving, I didn’t see what happened, but Stark kept calling out reports.

“There,” he says, “a guard went down.”

Loki was next to him in the back, and I heard her him go, “It’s Warren, isn’t it?  Tell me it’s Warren!”

I don’t know if it was Warren, or who it was.  It could have been any of them, I think a lot of ‘em got killed that night.  Loki and Stark, sitting in the back of the truck, and every few seconds one of them would sing out, “Look, they got So-and-So,” or, “Look, there goes somebody else.  And, the sound of their voices when the other homos got inside the building?  And when they dragged Sarason out?  Even Copeland was happy about that one, and he’s not the kind to get happy about people being hurt, not even the ones that deserve it.

So yeah, so I drive out of there, it’s like a homo party, the whole way down.  And we get out of the mountains, and then that’s when things start going wrong.  We’d stopped, see, that was what started it.  I’d like to say it was Stark’s fault, but being fair here, this time it was Copeland.  

Because he was in such bad shape, see.  All of them were, but it was him that made us stop.  He had a fever, and he needed drugs, and so we stopped to get him some.

Loki stole the drugs (because she’s he’s resourceful).  Loki also heard a radio broadcast while she was in the store.  She he comes back and she says they’re already on our tails.  Not just the schmucks from Winnetou, who weren’t a problem, but the entire damn country was looking for us, we were all over the radio, on the news.

We had to ditch the truck.  Then I had to use some of the $500 to buy a flivver, because Copeland wasn’t up for much walking.  Four of us, squeezed into one little Ford:  Fun, fun, fun, right?  And no time to waste finding any other way of getting south, for fear Copeland will up and die on us.  I think he’s going to make it.  We’ve been dosing him up with all the sulfa we can steal, and he seems to be getting a little better.

Where are we now?  Virgina.  Somewhere in Virginia.  Lot of forests around here, a lot of farms.  Some of the farms might be friendlies, I remember Fury gave me a list of a lot of ‘em, places where we could stop for a bed, or something to eat, or whatever.  Not sure which ones, though, because I lost the list, I think it might have been in with the papers I left in the truck.  So, we’ve been getting along on our own.  Steal from the farmers:  I’m getting pretty good at stealing chickens, but I’m nothing on Loki.  Sometimes we’ll find gardens that still have some vegetables in them, even this time of year.  And there’s the gun, when we get too desperate, I can always shoot a squirrel or something.

How much longer before we get to the border?  Days.  Unfortunately.  But I think we can do it.  I’ll deliver Copeland to Mexico, just like I promised (and Loki and Stark too).  And after that, it’s good-bye to Nick Fury and all his plans, I’m for the fun life of leisure.

Stark looks like he’d be fun if you got a few drinks in him.  He says he’s given that up, but once a drunk, always a drunk.  I figure we’ll shoot up a few cantinas together, once we get down to Mexico.

Chapter Text

I knew she wouldn’t want to hear it.  No one ever does.  Telling one’s personal confessional:  It is the ultimate self-indulgence.  Who does it help?  Only the person telling the story.  And of course no one ever wants to listen, come on, would you want to hear theirs?

I told Loki, though.  I told her how intent I’d been, on saving my own skin…  Everyone here thinks I’m a hero.  Because, mirabile dictu, I “came back for Loki?”  As if anyone else wouldn’t have done the same thing, and I took so long about doing it.  So damn long.  ...As I was saying:  I told her about what a coward I’d been, I heard the Corpos were coming, and I didn’t even wait for her, I just fled.  I told her how I’d only come back to the States because I was on a drunken binge, and all these other things.

“Shh, shh, Tony,” she kept saying.  “Tony, be quiet, can’t you see that none of that matters?”

“If I’d wanted a hero, you think I’d have been with you in the first place?” she said, making a joke out of the whole thing, which was always her way.  Laughing off the ugly realities that neither of us ever wanted to face.  Looking away from things that were painful, creating a safe, false reality, and then trying to live in there.  I used to be so eager to join her in her pretending, but now?

Now I really don’t know which of us is right about it, maybe it’s me, and also, maybe it’s her.  Here’s what I know:  She kept telling me, “Shh, shh, be quiet,” while I told my story like I was vomiting, all the cowardices, and the petty bits of bullying that I should have apologized for long ago.  I kept talking, and talking.  And all the time, I was in her arms…

We were in a cabin.  Abandoned place, ugly, more like a shack.  Place on a farm that looked deserted, wet fields, nothing in them except the sticks of long-dead plants.  Damp leafless trees, hugging the cabin like they were scared, scared of the ugly world all around us.  Wilson found it, of course.  He found the cabin, I mean.  And we gave the only bed in it to Copeland, by general agreement, and Loki and I shared a broken sofa, in the corner of the living room.  And I was in her arms, on that broken sofa.

“Shh, Tony, just rest,” she kept saying, “shh, Tony, you need your rest.”

I wanted to tell her it felt like I’d been resting my whole life.  I wanted to say being on the sidelines, always running away from real responsibility unmans a person, which is what happened to me.  You go in with good intentions, but after a while they just atrophy and corrode.

I didn’t tell her any of that, though.  Because I knew it would be burdening her, she didn’t want to hear it, some things a man has to carry alone.  And I talked until I could control it again, and then I shut up.  And then one more phrase:  “I love you, Loki.”

Her lips on my forehead, giving me grace I didn’t deserve.  “You fool, I know you do,” she said.  “I love you too, Tony.”

We didn’t make love.  One-room cabin, I wouldn’t have cared about Copeland, but Wilson was on the floor, just a couple feet away.  Bastard who talks about everything, and always as offensive as possible.  Bastard who’s responsible for half my bruises and injuries, and some of Copeland’s too, probably.  I’d love to it out with him, beat him up just once, make up for what he did to me, but I think we need his help to get to Mexico.

Oh well.  Loki’s slept with me every night since we’ve left Winnetou.  Just slept, frustrating as hell, but with Wilson around?  Wilson is always around.  But we’ve been sleeping together, which is good, feels like having my family back.

Loki, looking at me:  “Peter married Mary Jane?  And they’re living with you?”  Doubt in her eyes, suspicion that I’m only doing it so I can get her back.  Then I watched her face change, as she realized it was the most practical thing for everybody, and she smiled.  I get lots of doubt like that from Loki, all of it very deserved.

Loki, to me:  “She’s having a baby?”

I hugged her tight, gave her a kiss, and said, “You’ll be the most beautiful Grandmother in all of Mexico.”  Grandmother, not father.  I know how to make Loki happy.

We’re going to get to Mexico in another day or so.  Get through Houston first, cross at Laredo, which is one of the most godforsaken, dusty holes you ever saw in your life, I remember from the last time.  After that, two days’ drive until we’re in Alamos.  My beautiful house, and Mary Jane already there, and now Loki will be too.  If we can just get Peter back…  If we can get him back before the baby comes…

__________________________

I wonder what happened between Lee and Buzz.  It wasn’t the homosexual thing, I know that for a fact.  Long nights, whooping it up, at Buzz’s little soirees.  Nights…  This was well after Directive 427, right up until the time I left Washington, and I doubt much has changed since then.  ...Nights, Loki beside me…  She dresses up pretty convincingly, but some of the others?

Buzz knew what Lee was.  He knew what a lot of us were.  And I left…  He threw me out.  He threw out a lot of us, but it was never for the homosexuality, see?  I went for drinking.  There was another fellow, they said it was for the homosexuality with him, but it wasn’t.  His thing was little boys.  Really little, it was a 12-year old that got him kicked out.

It was a General’s 12-year old, that’s what got him kicked out.  If it had been a nobody’s son, he’d probably still be there.  Same thing with me, for that matter:  Wasn’t the drinking.  That’s not what got me kicked out, it’s because I was hurting the government.  Because I was hurting Buzz, because it always comes down to him.  He seems like a clown, but he has full control in Washington.  Every single thing that happens there, happens because it’ll help Buzz.

And the things that don’t happen?  The people that get stopped?  What was Lee doing that was going to hurt Buzz?

...Or that he thought was going to hurt him?  Man was always so paranoid.  We used to say he was half-crazy…  Maybe he’s all the way crazy now?  Fascinating.  

I remember his ranting.  Dewey Haik:  Secretary of War, Dewey Haik.  I remember Buzz right up in his face, and his own face red and sweaty, spit flying, hitting Haik’s face, his mouth even and all the while, Buzz was shouting.  Problem was, Haik had countermanded an Executive Order, slowed down the transition of Negroes, out of the Army.  For that, he got a dressing-down, which was always Buzz’s way, everyone had to always do his exact bidding.

“He says jump, you’d better be in the air, before you ask how high.”  Lee said that.  He never acted on it, you understand, but he said it.  That was what he wanted from us underlings.

And what Buzz wanted from Lee?  It’s kind of fascinating to speculate.

We used to talk about it.  What did Buzz want from him?  Because Lee was always brutal, see, and not just behind Buzz’s back, but right to his face.  With that acid, cutting tongue of his, that bitchy, homosexual’s tongue.  “I’m the puppet-master,” he’d say.  “You’re my dancing bear, Buzz, you’re my little roughneck, I send you out when we need to soft-soap the rubes, and meanwhile I’m back here, I’m doing all the real work.”

Buzz grinning at him.  Both of them smelling like whiskey from a mile off, because it was that kind of party.  Don’t even know why I noticed what they smelled like, I probably smelled worse myself.  Buzz, with that dog’s grin on his face, that sheepish, goofy smile.  “I do what you can’t,” he says, “you couldn’t talk to those people if your life depended on it.”

Lee smiling back at him:  “I couldn’t because I’m above them,” he says, and then they both laughed.

It looked like a friendship.  A sick friendship, you always got the feeling that deep-down both of them hated each other, but still, it was a friendship.  And a long-standing one.  Lee already knew Buzz when I met him.  A lot of us were carpetbaggers, we only joined the Corpos once it was quite clear Buzz was going to get elected, but Lee was a long-timer, he’d been with Buzz since the very beginning.  What happens that could end something like that?

Buzz isn’t going to fall soon, is he?  And Lee was maybe talking too much about that?  Maybe Lee was planning to replace him, maybe that was it.  What a funny President he would have made.  I can remember how he always talked.  He liked the Roman Emperors, see.  Not the capable ones, not Augustus, or any of those.  And he never liked them for their abilities, it was always the perversions that interested him.  Tiberius, there was one:  Supposedly he was one of the better ones, administratively, but what Lee liked about him?  Apparently he had this pool, and he’d put little boys in there, little naked slave-boys.  “Imagine swimming in that pool,” Lee would say, and he’d have this disgusting grin on his face.  “Imagine, you’d have a barge, and it would look like a regular pleasure-barge.  And you’d be naked, and they’d…”

“They’d be naked too?”  For the life of me, I don’t remember who said that, but their nervous little giggle when they said it will be with me until my dying day.

And Lee laughed too, this disgusting, pleasurable laugh.  “Of course,” he said.  “And I’d be wearing a crown of bay leaves, of course.  Bay leaves were the symbol of victory.”

That’s it.  He was going to take over.  Buzz found out about the coup ahead of time, that’s what did it for him, I know it.  So nice, seeing Lee at Winnetou.  And what happened to him?  Satisfying as hell.  I was laughing with Loki, when we saw the prisoners drag him out, and then what happened to him after that…

What is this godforsaken world doing to us, that we could have laughed, at seeing a man burn to death?  Vengefulness.  It’s sick, and ugly.  Even if we can get rid of Buzz somehow, will there even be anything left of Americans’ souls so that we can rebuild this country?  Sometimes I don’t know...

Chapter Text

How Tony’s always been is that he wastes all this breath, talking about things nobody wants to hear about.  “I did this to you, Loki, I hurt you that way, Loki.  I’m so sorry, Loki,” he’ll say, like that makes everything better.  Doesn’t he get it that it’s easier to forgive that stuff if you don’t have to talk about it all the time?

Tony had some cash in his office, back when they were in Washington.  They didn’t talk about it, but they both knew it was there, $5,000 or so.  It was escape-money, and they both knew that too.  Tony always swore up and down he’d never leave without Loki.  Did he believe it?  One of the problems with Tony Stark is he believes things like that, things that are obviously not true.

And they both knew what was coming.  Tony was drinking more and more.  He was acting erratic, temper outbursts, followed by periods of work, followed by those drunken binges he would go on, where he’d vanish for days, and nobody ever knew where he was.  Was it just the booze, or was it that he knew he didn’t have much longer left?  Who cares, what does it matter, the point is, that’s how he was.  And people were saying things.  This is how it works in Washington, nobody ever says what they’re thinking, not in so many words.  “Don’t worry about Stark,” that was the most Loki ever heard anybody say straight out, but that was Sarason, and you knew what he meant.  With the others, it would be insinuations:  “Well, I feel sorry for him,” meaning Loki.  “ Certain people ,” meaning Tony, and then a sly reference to the Directive, and nothing more would need to be said.

Bad times.  Frightening times.  Tony, drunk all the time:  The fear was just shining out on his face, it was there in every movement he made, but you couldn’t help him with it, you couldn’t comfort him.  He’d lash out at you, or he’d just disappear.  Or he’d be sloppy-drunk, he was getting that way more and more often.  How do you help a man when he’s like that?  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he’d say, in that slurry, boozy voice, and you never knew for sure what he was talking about, and whenever you tried to say anything back to him, it was usually right before he’d start throwing up.

The day he left started out just like any other day.  It was one of these cold, grey December days.  The weather here in Alabama is a lot like it was there, back then:  Grey clouds, thick, and they never seemed to go away.  Rain sometimes, the clouds would let up for a while then, but not for long, the next day they’d be back.  And Tony was…  Did he sleep at home the night before they came?  Funny how Loki can’t remember now, maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t, it used to go both ways all the time, back then.  Maybe he was at home, sleeping off another load, or maybe he was at his office that night.  He was at the office the next day, which was a good thing, or he wouldn’t have had the dough to escape with, but as for the night before?  Who knows, does it even really matter?

The past doesn’t matter, it’s passed.  You think about the past too much, you’ll go crazy, which is maybe Tony’s problem.  And he thinks about the future too much too.  Better to think about the present.  It’s here, it’s the only thing you’re going to be able to do anything about anyway.  Past’s over, future might not even happen, but the present is here, and at least you can survive for a little while longer.

Tony was ...maybe at his office, the night before they came to get him.  Funny, that’s one thing he hasn’t talked about yet, in all his dragging up of the past.  He was somewhere, maybe Loki never will know where.  She didn’t know for sure that he’d gotten away, until she saw him at Winnetou.  Little remarks that people would drop, more of the same kind of hints and insinuations.  Things they’d say that would make you think they knew something, that they knew for sure he was still alive:  “Wanted man,” and then a significant look over Loki’s way.  “Money,” sometimes someone would make a remark about money, or there was the  time someone said, “Lee’s still looking for him,” but that could have been so many different people.  Loki never knew for sure what had happened with Tony, but the money was gone from his office, and she hoped that meant he’d gotten away safely.

“I left money for you too.”  Tony here now, and of course being apologetic.  One more time through, dredging up the past yet again:  “I left you plenty, Loki,” like that was what mattered the most.

And, “Yes, yes, I know you did,” one more time from Loki.  “I was fine, Tony, I was safe, I was alright.”  Loki the comforter.

The day they came for him, Tony was wherever he was, and Loki was in bed, asleep.  Peter was still asleep too, that’s how you know how early it was that they came.  They always came early for arrests, probably they still do.  Nothing like the element of surprise, bang down the door, drag the poor people out of bed and haul them off in handcuffs, before they’re even really awake.

Loki doesn’t remember them coming in, probably because she was asleep.  What she does remember?  Hands grabbing her, tight grips.  Cruel words, but these guys were hardly the first ones to say those:  “His wife?  No.  Lady-boy, ugly little man-woman lady-boy.”

Why dwell on it?  It’s past now, anyway.

Hands pulled her out of her bed.  Hers and Tony’s.  Soldiers were everywhere, uniformed Corpos, tearing everything apart, and throwing things all over the room.  Men waking up Peter, and him so scared, even though he was already alomost an adult by then.  Peter, clinging to her, “Mama Loki,” he was calling her.  The soldiers had fun with that.  “ Mama Loki?”  And ugly laughs.  “Kid, what are you, are you blind?”

No one’s ever prepared when something like this happens, and there is just nothing that you can do.  But Loki got through it all right, didn’t she?  And so did Peter, he’s somewhere now, hopefully he’s safe.  And Tony got through it, even though he’s still got to dredge it up again, over and over.

“Yes, I was able to keep the money,” Loki tells him, even though that’s a lie.  They froze her accounts, she lost all of that money, but she still had the contents of the house, didn’t she?  That brought her about five grand when she sold it, almost as much as Tony had when he went to Mexico.  And there was Thor, he stepped in right away, almost.  Maybe there were some tough times right at the beginning, but she made out alright, and so did Peter.

“I had plenty of money, Tony.”  Her hand on his face, unshaven since they’ve been on the road, scratchy, stubbly, and so much thinner than it used to be.  She’s thinner too, she knows she is, but a girl can handle that better.  She’s slim.  Tony’s skinny, almost a skeleton.

“Peter and I were fine, Tony.”  They’re in another sharecropper’s shack tonight.  Where the hell are they? Alabama?  Mississippi?  Louisiana?  They all blend together, they’re all just the same.  “Stupid part of the country,” Wilson calls it, “We’re in Ass-Crack Alabama, or Moron Mississipi, or maybe this is Stupidtown, who knows?”

Funny sense of humor, Wade Wilson has.

“We were fine,” Loki soothes Tony.  They’re sleeping together on another broken-down sofa, in another broken-down sharecropper’s cabin, somewhere outside Stupidtown, or Moron Mississippi.  Too cold to sleep separately in these places, even though that would probably be better for both of them.  “We were fine, and we never blamed you for running away, we knew you had to do it.”

Tony, as always, has to start in again:  ‘La-la-la, I didn’t have to, Loki, I was a coward, Loki, I ran away, and I’ll never forgive myself, la-la-la-la.”

“Tony, will you shut up?”  Kiss on the lips to take the sting away, only why should she even bother?  Let him feel the pain for once in his life, let him deal with the consequences of his own actions.  

Only where to even start with Tony, why waste your breath?  He hurt people, and he feels guilty about it, that’s how Tony Stark is.  Probably he’ll hurt people again, including Loki and Peter.  He’s still the only family they’ve got though, and what does anybody still have nowadays, besides your family?

“I was a coward,” Tony starts again, and Loki silences him with another kiss.  Those lips of his, cracked now, from the cold, and with little bloody places that you can taste.  They still look the same though, and they’re still warm, and when she kisses him, they still open up, and let her into his mouth.

“But I was,” Tony tries one more time, “I ran away, I left you alone.”

“Yes, and you probably will again sometime,” Loki tells him.  ‘It doesn’t matter, now get some sleep.”

She’s squeezed as close to the back of the sofa as she can get, to make enough room for Tony.  He’s lying, half on top of her, it’s not comfortable, but it is pretty warm.  And his arms, wrapped tight around her feel so good.  They feel safe, which isn’t very realistic, Tony’s still Tony, and he’s still not good at keeping people safe.  That’s how it feels, though, and his head is on her chest, his hair still soft and tickly against the bare skin of her throat.  They’ll sleep like this, and they’ll get the strength they need, to go on again tomorrow.

They’re family:  Her, and Tony, and Peter, and Peter’s wife now too, apparently, and their baby that’s on the way.  Everything can crash around you, but if you’ve still got family, you’ve got something, right?  And you have to fight to protect it.

Chapter Text

Buzz still wants to go to war with Mexico.  He’s got this idea it’ll make him popular again, somehow he’s realized that he’s not popular, despite the Potemkin Village show everyone’s been putting on for him.  It gets tiring, propping up a madman.  You can see it on Dewey’s face, on all their faces, probably.

Sometimes Thunderbolt will look at himself in the mirror.  He could be seventy, couldn’t he?  And him just barely 55.  Sometimes he wonders how he got stuck in this situation in the first place, and if there’s any hope now, of him ever getting out.

There isn’t, probably.  Old quote, one of the Founding Fathers said it:  “We must all hang together, or we will surely all hang separately.”  Men all around, just itching to stab you in the back, Washington is full of them.  And all of them always have Buzz’s ear.  Why did Dewey have to lower the boom on Sarason?  It was because he couldn’t get rid of him.  Tried firing him, but Buzz would keep calling him.  Late at night, or first thing in the morning.  You can’t babysit a grown man 24 hours a day.

He still talks about him.  “Where’s Lee?  Lee shouldn’t have been fired.  Lee’s a good guy.”  Does he know Sarason’s at Winnetou now?  Has it sunk in?  Hard to tell, it’s not like you can flat-out ask.  You can’t talk about anything with Buzz, without being very careful.  Sometimes he’ll seem reasonable, then he’ll turn around and just explode on you.  And he does have absolute power.  One of the things Sarason put in place while he was still here, that Dewey hasn’t found a way to dismantle yet.

This is not a good time to be a Corpo.  There’s men, more and more of them, Thunderbolt’s heard them.  They’re starting to talk about jumping ship, but they’re scared, afraid they’d be arrested.  Cowards.  They would be arrested, of course, Buzz would see to it.  Buzz hates it when a man from his Administration goes wrong, he just goes crazy.  Then it’s the camps, cold water and dry bread, and forced labor, if you’re not going to contribute to the Homeland voluntarily, you must be made to do it.  But what kind of a movement has to hold its members this way?  What happened to the days when people believed?  Dewey can do this, it’s just going to take longer than expected, people need to be patient

The kid Banner:  He was Resistance.  Not the usual Resistance, the one that’s actual, productive people who have turned traitor.  There’s an off-shoot apparently.  The Banner kid was very forthcoming about it, once the proper leverage was being used.  “He squealed like a little piggie.” -- Vernacular.  The interrogator used it.  Good interrogators are like good Presidents, they’re scarcer and scarcer these days.  It’s true though, Banner talked.  And talked, and talked, and talked, and most of it was of actionable quality.  It was actually an incredibly helpful arrest for the government.

Follow-up, on Banner:  He’s in one of the camps now.  Manzanar probably, his having been in California, but Thunderbolt hasn’t bothered to check.  Probably that’s for the best, although it does seem one could have made a good case for sending him back to his Resistance buddies, and seeing how much information he could have gotten.  A missed opportunity.  One of many.  (Such as, would Roosevelt have been that bad a choice he was at least manageable.)

One should not even think those things, it’s dangerous.  A man can’t always help what he thinks, though, and Thunderbolt made the mistake of a drink after dinner.  One drink.  Two,. if you count the one before dinner.  Used to be he could handle four or five, and not break a sweat.  An Army man is supposed to be hard-drinking, it’s part of the ethos.  But loose lips sink… not ships, like the bloody Brits were saying, back before Hitler flattened them.  Loose lips sink careers, and Dewey might still be able to pull this thing out, Thunderbolt wants to be around when that happens.  (If it happens?)

Banner’s locked up somewhere now, at any rate.  Probably Manzanar, but who cares?  At least he won’t come back sniffing around Betty.  She’s on her way east now, with her father, which is how it should be.  She didn’t put up so much of a fuss about it either, not after Thunderbolt explained things to her.  She’ll get a debutante ball next summer, and if he pulls a few strings, he can probably get her presented at the English Court.  Wasn’t Edward VIII a popular heart-throb, just a couple of years back?  What girl wouldn’t want to meet him?

The Banner boy’s information:  This is the only string left undone, to get this whole thing wrapped up and finished.  Apparently the Resistance has quite a network going, not the real Resistance, but this dubious offshoot of them that Banner belongs to.  A lot of crazy people, and Negros, and homosexuals, tramps and hobos, and all of the worst dregs of society.  IWW types, Wobblies and Communists.  They were busy destabilizing the country back before the Corpos took over, back in the 30’s, apparently they’re still at it today.  Who knows, maybe they’ll get their wish this time and actually do it (that is, if Buzz doesn’t destroy the country first).

The Banner kid was rescuing somebody, that’s what he was doing in San Bernardino in the first place.  He was rescuing, ironically enough, somebody that Thunderbolt’s actually heard of:  Tony Stark, who used to be part of Sarason’s homosexual coterie, until even they got fed up with him and put a warrant out for his arrest.  The Resistance can have him, as far as Thunderbolt’s concerned, he was always pretty well useless.  But, if they can catch him, they’ll probably get his Resistance-rescuer too, and maybe they can start rooting this whole movement out.  Destroy the whole thing, root and branch.  First they get the lowlifes, Banner and his bunch.  They’ve got to be easier than the real Resistance, which is mostly men with some ability.

He’s not chasing down Stark himself, and thank god, he’s not going back to Washington right away either.  A nice vacation first, just him and his daughter.  There’s a place down in Texas, a dude ranch, Thunderbolt first went there on his honeymoon.  Cutest place you could ever imagine, kind of rustic, hitching posts, and cowboys in wooly chaps, that sort of thing.  He and the wife used to take Betty there all the time, back when she was little.  What little girl doesn’t love horses?  Weather there should be nice, and they can get in some good healthy exercise, before getting back to the swamp.

Latest report from the manhunt for Stark:  Supposedly he’s headed for Canada.  Thunderbolt’s contacted Security along the border.  Nobody in Stark’s party gets hurt, not until they squeal like little piggies (to use the vernacular).  If he takes down the Resistance, Thunderbolt will be Dewey’s golden boy for the rest of his career.  Or Buzz’s, for about ten minutes, until he gets distracted (assuming Buzz is still in office when it happens).

__________________________

[letter, dated December 15th, 1947]
Dear MJ,
You know that Sinatra song you liked so much last Christmas?  This Christmas, that’s going to be me!  I’m going to be home for the holidays, baby, I can hardly wait!  And I’d better see you’ve been taking care of yourself, and eating right, and getting lots of exercise.  Remember, you’re the mother of our baby.  I kind of hope it’s a little girl, and she’s got your brown eyes.  And she’ll give me those looks like you used to do, like you thought I was a complete idiot.  I sort of was, I guess, and I probably still am.  What every fellow needs, MJ, we need some smart girls in our lives, to run things for us.

Well, I did my job, just like I was supposed to.  I got the photos, and they’ve been sent where they were supposed to go, and that stuff.  Next up, is I have go to down and meet with Captain Rogers again, he’s gonnal give me my marching orders for the next assignment.  And who knows where I’ll be going then, it could be anywhere.  But before that, I get to spend Christmas with you and little MJ The Second (even if she hasn’t been born yet, I’ll bet it’s getting pretty close), and Daddy Tony.  Right now, that’s good enough.  Gosh, MJ baby, I just don’t have words for all my excitement!

Well, I’m not supposed to say where I am right now, for fear someone gets hold of this letter and they read it.  I’ll give you some hints, though.  Think Moonlight and Magnolias, and Scarlett, sitting on the veranda, with all her young fellers.  (Or if you want to get realistic, think Tobacco Road, gee whiz, I swear to you MJ, a fellow could get hookworm just from looking at the ground down here!)  Anyway though, yeah.  I’m down below the Mason-Dixon Line right now, down where the cotton blossoms go, where Old Black Joe wanted to get back to (who knows why, wasn’t he a slave down there?).

I’m getting silly, aren’t I?  It’s because I’m so excited.  I’d better dummy up right now, before I say something I shouldn’t say.  Don’t think it hurts to just say I’m only about a day’s drive away from the border, though.  And I have a ride all lined up, is going to take me to…

Look at me, telling you all kinds of top-secret details.  Loose lips sink ships.  I will be home for Christmas, MJ.  And I don’t care about any old snow, or mistletoe, or any of that, not as long as I can be with you.  And Little MJ The Second.  And Daddy Tony (I hope he’s doing okay?).  Count on me, baby.  I’m gonna kiss you so hard you’ll forget all about skinny old Frankie and his big blue eyes.  Make some Christmas cookies for me, okay?  Or whatever they eat in Mexico at Christmas-time.

Much love from,
Your husband Peter

Chapter Text

San Antonio is one helluva city.  We get there, and it was…  Turned out it was Christmas Eve, which pretty much took all of us by surprise.  We’ve kind of had a lot on our minds, and keeping up with the calendar?  Not a priority.

Fun trip.  We were in a chicken truck for like 500 miles or so, that was interesting.  That was after the flivver died, fortunately Copeland was getting better by then, or I don’t know if he’d have survived it.  Need to have him survive, if I want to get paid.  And believe you me, I want to get paid!

Where was I?  Chicken truck:  You ever ridden with chickens?  I don’t recommend it.  Chickens stink.  After awhile you stink, when you’ve been riding with ‘em.  I get too close to Stark, even now, he’s still got that some of that buck-buck aroma to him.  Which is, admittedly, kind of funny.  But I digress.  Flivver died anyway, we were somewhere around Houston.  Caught a break with the chicken-truck guy, took us all the way in to San Antonio, and since then we’ve been thumbing it.  And like I said, I wanted to stay in San Antone until after Christmas, you know, have some fun?  But oh well, three wanted men with me, probably not a good idea.  

You know what I just thought about?  I’ll bet I’m a wanted man now too.  Fun stuff, I’ll be just like Pretty Boy Floyd.  Maybe I should go full-on Pretty Boy here, maybe I need an outlaw name.  Deadpool, there’s a good name.  I think my outlaw name is Deadpool (Mister Pool, if I don’t like you).

Where was I?  Oh yeah, that’s right, San Antone:  That is one hell of a good city.  We were at this place, kind of a market kind of a place.  Place where the chicken farmer had to go when we got there, you know?  I guess he was going to sell his chickens there?  Restaurant at this place, or kind of a bakery-thing.  Pan dulces, they sold there, and they were the cheapest, most delicious things you could ever possibly eat.  I had like a hundred of them, things shaped like pigs, and things like slices of  jelly roll, with coconut on the outside, and I don’t know what all.  Bar right near there, any other time I would have gone on over and had a couple of cervezas.  I am absolutely going back to San Antone after I drop off Copeland and the others.

So anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to.  Here am I, your Friendly Neighborhood Deadpool (definitely that’s going to be my outlaw name).  I’m kind of like Santa Claus this year in a way, if you think about it.  Just any day now, there I’ll be, sliding down Nick Fury’s chimney, with my load of presents.  And, what is Santa bringing Good Ol’ Nick this year?  What about a famous composer, and a few other assorted outlaws?  I wonder if he’d want the kid too.

We’ve got a kid with us now, by the way.  Kid we picked up in this godawful little town, too small to even have a name.  One business in that town, I kid you not.  Store at a crossroads, gas pump outside, and a sign, said, Live Bate (Texans are mostly illiterates).  And the kid was parked on the side of the road, right outside this little Live Bate town.  He had his hood up, and there was smoke coming out of there in big clouds.  You could see that thing wasn’t going anywhere...

I’m telling this thing wrong.  Comes out sounding like I’m this big hero, which I’m not.  Anybody who knows me will tell you, Wade Wilson is not a hero.  I’m just this guy, and right now I’m trying to make some money by delivering some stuff, and that’s all.  How it happened?  The real way it happened?  It was because of Loki.  Let me try telling you the story over again.

Okay, first off, you ever been to Texas?  I mean, in the wintertime?  Colder than a witch’s tit down here.  It’s this really sneaky kind of cold, blue sky, green plants everywhere you look, but Jesus God, a guy could freeze to death out here.  And we were hiking along, you know, we were thumbing it.  Mile, after mile, along this dusty country highway, and the wind blowing us, felt like it would strip the flesh right off your bones.  And Loki was helping Copeland, who’s still not walking so good, and Stark was kind of dragging along behind them.  And we came upon this car, hood up, smoke billowing out of it.

Turns out Loki knows the kid.  The one that was trying to fix that wreck of a car, I mean.  Turns out they’re family, him and the kid, and Stark too.  Here’s how that one went:  We’re walking along?  Freezing our balls off, like I said?  Car up ahead, smoke billowing, also like I said, and I’m thinking, “I hope I don’t get stuck having to fix that thing for him,” because you could see it was pretty well hopeless.

Then Loki sings out, and yells, “Peter!”  No, it was more like, “Pe-eee-ter!!!!!”  Loki started running.  I don’t know what happened about Copeland, I guess Stark grabbed him or something, anyway, he didn’t fall down and get hurt some more, which is the important part.  People pay better when you deliver their orders to them undamaged.  Loki starts yelling, like I said.  “Peter,” she he yells, “PETERPETERPETERPETERPETERPETER!!!!!”  And she he takes off running toward the kid with the car, and I catch up, there they are hugging, and crying all over each other.  You could see Stark wanted to join them, so I was the nice guy, I took Copeland off his hands, so he could.

I guess the kid’s wanted by the Corpos too?  My god, what a family, right?  Whole crew of them are outlaws, Bonnie and Clyde have nothing on the Stark family, or whatever the hell they call themselves.  They’re not very good outlaws though, unfortunately.  No bank robbers, not even any skill doing something that would be useful, like stealing cars.  Friendly Neighborhood Deadpool steps up and rescues the kid for ‘em, I’m the hero here, etcetera, but what do I get out of it?  Four incompetents with no survival skills instead of the three I had before.  Merry Goddamn Christmas, Deadpool.  We should have stayed in San Antonio.

Oh well.  We’re going to sleep warm tonight, at any rate.  Down here in Freezing Brass Monkey, Texas, you have to take what you can get, I guess.  See, here’s how it works:  Up north of here?  You know, Alabama, Houston…  Bayou country I guess you’d call it?  Up there it’s all sharecropper’s shacks in the middle of cotton fields, and you can usually count on a roof over your head, pretty much every night.  Down here it’s goddamn ranches.  And I swear, those things are huge, like, goddamn gigantic.  Serious question here:  What the hell do cowboys do for a warm place to sleep at night?  Do they bunk down with the cows, or what do they do?  Goddamn ranches are like a million miles, some of them, you’ll see fences, that stretch for miles, and you’ll see cows, and absolutely nothing else.  Except tumbleweeds.  So do the cowboys sleep under the tumbleweeds, maybe?

Oh well.  There’s some buildings up ahead a few miles, we’re going to sleep warm tonight, at any rate.  Nice little buildings, gate with a sign over it, says, Bar Something-Or-Other Ranch.  We are staying at the Bar Something-Or-Other (Bar Sinister, maybe?).  We’re staying at the Bar Sinister, because we’re sinister people.  Better not try for the main house, because I don’t have a lot of firepower with me (and we’re almost out of ammunition, but oh well).  We should be able to manage with one of the barns though, we’ll just sneak in.  Place has lots of barns, they can’t possibly keep track of all of them.  And barns are pretty warm, because of the animals, and we can make beds out of the hay.

Ha, it’ll be just like a Nativity Scene, if you think about it.  Loki can be Mary, she’ll he’ll like that, and Stark can be Joseph, who I think was kind of a loser.  Kid Peter’s their Jesus, like, an eighteen-year old Baby Jesus.  And that makes Copeland and me the angels, I guess.  Oh well, I’ve done worse things in my life than be an angel.  Just think about it:  Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool, the Angel.  Wonder how I’d look with some wings.

Hope we can snitch some food from somewhere, once we get to that ranch.  Only problem with bedding down with the animals?  We can’t eat hay and oats and stuff, we need real food.  One more reason we should have stayed in San Antone until after the holidays, but oh well, hindsight is 20-20.  At least this way Loki’s got the kid Peter back, and that makes her him happy.  Loki’s a good guy, he deserves to be happy.

Chapter Text

I was bored.  She was easy.  Stark and Loki and that kid of theirs, they were blathering…  There is a limit to how much of that mush a man can take.  And Copeland had a fever again.  Typhus:  Not an easy disease to stop without antibiotics.  There was this truck I wanted for when we made our escape.  But just to be honest for once, I’d have left the barn anyway, one way or the other.

The weather?  Biting, Texas-cold.  Wind so high the ties of her scarf were parallel to the ground, and her coat was whipping around her legs.  Cold, grey sky up above.  One of those ones with the clouds,  they’re so high up in the sky you know no rain is coming, but they also won’t let the sun through.  And nobody was out there, except her and me.  Which is also maybe part of why it happened.

You hear about the girls these days.  Supposedly they’re all a lot of little whores, not that Yours Truly had seen much evidence of that, up until now.  Supposedly they’re all easy, that’s what she kept telling me anyway.  “Oh, I’m a modern girl, oh, if only Buzz Windrip could see me, if only the Corpos could see me, if only Daddy could see me.”  Maybe I just hadn’t met the right modern girls up until now, maybe it’s just the ones whose Daddy is in the government.

So, what happens is the barn with the trucks in it is across this courtyard thing from the one where we’re staying…  This is a dude ranch, okay?  As in, it’s not real?  One side of it:  That’s the one the tourists are supposed to see.  Corral with horses in it, cowboys with fuzzy chaps.  I think they have some longhorns over there too, you know, just for show?  This was on the other side.  This side looks like a real ranch, it looks like people really work there.  And I wanted to get from our barn, over to the one where the trucks were.  I needed one with a trailer on it, to get the rescuees out.  Got it, too, but that’s another story.

This one’s about the girl.  She was standing over by the dumpster, which was doing what dumpsters do, AKA, sending out clouds of stink so thick you could actually see them.  What kind of a rich girl goes out and stands next to a dumpster?  Answer:  A depressed one.  This girl is extremely depressed, and she’s so angry at Daddy it hurts just to listen to her.  She’s trouble, if you want to get right down to it, trouble with a capital T.  Sometimes stuff happens, two ships that passed in the night, and so on and so forth, blah-blah-blah, etcerera, etcetera.  One minute, I was looking at her, over by that dumpster, and the next minute, it felt like, we were in bed.

Not bed.  That would have been the ultimate disaster.  It was the truck, we were in the truck.  She’s one of these gorgeous society girls, you know the kind.  Girls that are bound for trouble, too much of Daddy’s money, and not enough supervision.  And I see her:  You know the term Long-Stemmed American Beauty?  This chick had gams that wouldn’t quit, even with her pedal-pushers you could see it.  And she was wearing one of these car-coats like the girls do, collar turned up against the wind, and a scarf on her head, instead of a hat.  Also sunglasses, also red lipstick, on her mouth, that was turned down so low it almost touched the ground on both sides.  A depressed girls mouth.  One more warning sign I didn’t pay attention to, not until it was too late.

So anyway, where was I?  That’s right, I go over there.  Over to Pretty Depressed Girl, With Too Much of Daddy’s Money.  And she’s smoking.  Girl smokes like a chimney.  “You want one?” she says to me, holds out the pack of Camels.

So, I say yeah.  Hell, never say no to a free smoke, right?  She gives me one, long, white, rich-girl hand, that she left in my hand, just a little bit too long, and she looks up at me.  Brown eyes, looking into mine from over catseye sunglasses, and then she smiles, kind of a sexy smile.  “You work here?” she says.  I told her yeah, and I think she believed me.  

She liked getting it on with a working man, you could tell.  All those rich girls do, Corpos want to keep them off in a tower somewhere, like a princess, but what do they want?  Workingman’s cock, every single one of them.

So, we’re standing there, still by that dumpster, and we’re talking some.  I’m spinning her a line of bull about working, and ooh, the ranch, and ooh, the horses, and especially, ooh, the cows, why do you think they call us cowboys?  Meanwhile, she keeps sidling up to me, closer and closer, until she’s closer than the wallet in my pants, or the shirt on my back.  She’s acting hornier and hornier, and randier and randier.  “Ooh, that’s fascinating,” she keeps saying in between my stories, and, “Ooh, that’s so interesting,” always in that hoity-toity rich-girl’s voice of hers, and always gluing herself even closer to me, until my own arms and legs aren’t as close to me as she is.

“Oh, a cowboy,” she murmurs, “oh, mm, umm.  Oh, what’s underneath those jeans?  Mmm, humm, I want to see.”  I ...think we were in the truck by the time she got that far.  This is leaving out the extended make-out session we had outside the barn first, and also the one we had when we were right next to the truck, which was when I got her bra unfastened, and got the first feel of those rich-girl titties.  Big ones.  Round.  And she practically swooned, the first time I touched the nipples.  “Oh, ooh, Deadpool, oh, oh, oh,” like that.

By the way, I didn’t tell her my real name.  And also by the way, what kind of a girl except one who’s swooning with lust would even buy that there’s a cowboy named Deadpool?  She believed it because she wanted the sex.  There’s no way she’s ratting on us, it would only make her look worse to her Daddy.  

She’d just better not decide to follow us.

Where was I?  Truck.  Long bench-seat in that thing.  Upholstered in blue vinyl, fortunately, covered with a blanket, considering the temperature.  We climb in there…  Also fortunately, it was unlocked.  She’s got her pants off almost before we get in, and then mine followed, shortly thereafter.  And she was a delicious piece of ass.  She’d had experience, just enough to make her responsive, but not enough so she was big down there, the way some of them get.  And I took her hard and fast, and she was screaming the whole time.  “Oh, Deadpool, oh, Deadpool, ohhhhhhh, Deeeaaaaddddpppoooolll!!!!!!!”  Like that.

Then after that, that’s where the red flags started to come, because that’s when she started to talk.  Serious red flags.  Dangerous.  Girl had a boyfriend who was in the Resistance, and her dad’s high up in the government.  “Bruce…”  That’s the boyfriend, not the dad.  “Bruce is in Manzanar now,” she says, “and it’s my fault,” and then she starts crying.

Well, what does a guy do in a situation like that?  I comforted her, what else could I do?  And she keeps on talking, and talking, and talking:  “Bruce is a nice boy, why did Daddy have to do that to him, when it wasn’t even serious, it’s not like we were going to get married.”  Also, “This Resistance thing, it’s meaningless, it’s worthless, it’s pointless.”

“The Corpos have this country sewn up tight.”  You couldn’t even see her eyes, for the tears, by the time she said that.  And her voice?  Anger, so thick you could cut it, and also resignation.  “It’s not like there’s any real hope, what is the Resistance?  It’s just a few kids like Bruce.  What Daddy doesn’t understand,” she says, “people need something.  They need hope, even if it’s not real hope, without that, you go crazy.”

“Crazy, like jumping into a truck with the first guy you meet?” I say to her.

She looks at me, anger in those eyes of hers, but it’s overlaid with the tears.  “I hope you don’t think you’re the first man I’ve been with.”

I say, “I don’t think anything.”

She says, “What other freedom do they let us have anymore,” and some other stuff after that.  She was a nurse, apparently, only Daddy didn’t want her being a nurse, he wanted her to be a debutante, and marry some rich guy.  I wanted to say that being a debutante, and marrying some rich guy, is better than being in a concentration camp anyway, but I didn’t, I just let her continue.  And she continued, for a long, long, long time, and then we had sex again.

You know the old saying about locking the barn door, after the horse is out?  That was how it was with us, the second time through.  Now I knew who she was, and I should have run screaming, but hell, we’d already done it once, hadn’t we?  What was the harm of doing it one more time?

And then she says to me, “Will I see you again?”

We’re lying there, you understand, after the second time through.    She’s curled up on top of me, and I’ve got my arms around her.  We’re both naked of course, under the horse blanket from the front seat, and we’re smoking the last of her Camels.

“Will I see you?” she says, and I make like I really work there.

“Yeah,” I say, “I’m looking forward to it.  How long are you staying?”

She and Daddy are going to be here for another four days.  As for us, we’re leaving tomorrow morning.  Hopefully, Hot Pants Betty doesn’t get a craving for some more Deadpool Dick.  Hot Pants Betty is going to have to satisfy herself with one of the real cowhands.

Mexico:  We’ve got the truck, and most of us are able-bodied.  We should be in Alamos in another day or two.  I took Hot Pants Betty’s wallet, while her pants were off.  300 bucks in there.  Daddy might not let Princess have her little nursing career, but he’s sure generous with the spending money.  We can use it better than her (or Yours Truly can use it).  How much can it cost to let cowhands into your rich-girl panties, whenever Daddy’s not looking?

Chapter Text

I knew we were going to have trouble when I saw him, back at that damn ranch.  Tad Ross.  General Ross, I should say.  He had a nickname, what was it?  I don’t remember.  Thunderbolt?  Mad Dog?  It was one of those self-aggrandizing names military men give themselves.  There’s always some pretense that their men gave it to them, heroism under fire, courage in battle, or some such blah-blah-blah, but you know they gave it to themselves, it just sticks out all over them.

Ross was one of Dewey Haik’s men.  “Watch out for them,” Lee would say, when we were out drinking.  Here’s what he’d say:  “Watch out for those military guys.”  Notice how that’s about all of us there?  Then followed up by,  “He hates me.”  Haik, you understand, hated him, Lee Sarason.  Note how the focus shifts there, first it’s all of us, then right away it shifts, now it’s just Lee.  That was how he’d do it, not all for one and one for all, but all for one and one for Lee, and god forbid you weren’t helping him, even for one moment, you’d be kicked to the curb.  That was Lee, all over, the man was stone cold.

But he was right, the military men didn’t like us.  They thought we were fairies.  Degenerates, they’d probably have said.  They thought that was why, but it wasn’t.  Hell, you think there aren’t fairies in the Army?  Army’s crawling with them, and the Navy?  Don’t get me started.  No, what they didn’t like, it was that we were smarter than them.  They’d look at us, and they’d know you can never quite extinguish that spark of independent thinking that is at the center of every writer’s brain.  Military men hate independent thinkers.  They wish we’d all die.  But of course the fairy thing made for a good excuse, everyone hates a fairy.

Yeah, I was saying, I saw Tad Ross at that damn ranch we stopped at for a couple of nights.  And yeah, I know why we had to stop there, it was because of Copeland.  He’s sinking, by the way, I don’t know if we’d be able to get him into Mexico alive even without Ross on our tails.  What he needs, he needs a comfortable compartment, on a nice safe train.  He needs nurses ‘round the clock, and sustaining food.  Invalid food, what was it they used to give us kids when we were sick?  Like, broths and things?  Beef tea, and milk toast, and gruel…  Yum, gruel!  He needs those kinds of things, he needs the kinds of things anybody used to be able to get, practically for nothing, back in the good old days, back before we took a meat-ax to this country by helping the Corpos get into power.  

Christ, I should be the one dying, not him.  I’m the one who deserves it, not him.  What did he ever do?  Just write a lot of egghead music, that some people like, whereas I helped build a dictatorship.

I told em that.  This was right after I saw Ross for the first time.  I told Wilson, I said, “I’ll go out there, I’ll be a distraction, the rest of you can get away.”

Loki put the kibosh on that one.  She didn’t say anything, not then (later she let me have it).  Words were no sooner out of my mouth, than I felt her hand on my wrist, fingers like steel.  Then later on like I said, once we were alone, she gave it to me with both barrels.  “You have responsibilities, Stark, you have a family …”

Funny thing, when she said that:  That she’d still think of me as family, I mean, after everything I’ve done to her.  It made me feel…  I don’t know, I liked it, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

Loki is unsheathed steel, by the way.  It’s like this whole thing has changed her, not that she wasn’t strong before, but now?  I think she’s unstoppable.  She’s like a… -- That’s another thing that’s changed, Loki’s definitely a she now, there’s no he left about her, at all. -- ...She’s a mother lion, protecting her cubs, or a she-tiger, guarding the den, claws unsheathed, fangs dripping blood, with a pile of dead predators gathering at her feet.  She’s an Amazon, or...  What were the Norse women called?  Valkyries?  That one’s good, I can see her like that, riding into battle with a smile on her face, and her long hair flying free, Wagner playing in the background.  Loki is amazing, she’s a warrior.

What does that make me then, a cub?  A housewife?  You’re getting ahead of yourself, Stark.  If Ross saw you, you’re probably all going to be dead, and then who cares what you are?  And how could he not have seen you, you saw him, didn’t you?

Wilson’s in charge of the rescue.  He’s streetwise, and he knows how to procure things.  Peter’s the man who can be seen in public, because he’s the only one of us who’s not wanted ( yet ).  All of us take turns with Copeland, and we work together nights, making a home out of whatever godforsaken hole Wilson’s found for us.  Loki’s our Warrior Woman, for when we need one.  That sounds unkind, she’s more than that, she’s like the driving force, keeping us all together.  And, what about me?  There’s one function I can provide, that none of the rest can.  I’m the one who knows the Corpos, inside and out.  I’m the man who can maybe (hopefully) out-think them.

What’s the danger with Ross?  If he saw any of the others, I wouldn’t say it’s much.  Low-level escapees.  We’re less than a day’s drive from Mexico now, he’s not going to provoke an international incident over a couple of homosexuals leaving, just saves the Corpos the trouble of killing them.  Lee used to talk about going to war with Mexico, but I know the military men always hated that.  They want peace, at least until they’re ready to go to war.  Things like that have to be on their terms.

If he saw me, Ross would come after me, I’m pretty sure he’d do that.  I am what he fears most, like all military men, I am an independent mind.  I don’t think any of them cared much the first time I got away.  I was just a drunk then, see.  I was a has-been drunk, and they probably expected me to die pretty soon, facedown on a barroom floor, somewhere in Mexico.  Now I’m back, and I’m different, I think.  I think it shows that I’m different.  If Ross saw me…  Please god, I pray he didn’t, but if he did?   He’d see that I’m not scared of em anymore, that’s what he’d see, that I’m back, and I’m ready to fight this time, for my family, and for the truth.

Maybe that’s what I should do with my retirement:  I should write a book, tell everything I know about Windrip and his gang, and what makes them tick.  Tell-all memoir.  Yeah, that hasn’t been done to death already.  Brilliant idea, Stark.  Oh well, too early to worry about that right now, anyway.  Right now, we still have to get into Mexico.

Risk is the border.  I remember the last time I got across, I paid… -- Through the nose, because I was desperate.  500 bucks, for a spot in a freezer truck.  Birdseye vegetables, flash-frozen, a lot of expats will pay premium for a taste of home.  I rode into Mexico in style, behind a pallet of frozen peas.  But I set that one up in advance.  Who knows if Wilson’s set anything up for us to get across.  He doesn’t seem the type, and if he hasn’t, we’d better start.

How do you get across?  Well, you certainly can’t go tooling down to the border like you did in the good old days.  Father and Mother, and the 2.3 kids in the station wagon?  They’re not going to get through.  Haven’t been open borders between America and Mexico since sometime in the 30’s.  What you do is you have to sneak across.  I’ve heard about people wading the Rio Grande like the Mexicans do, but Americans aren’t good at that, we’re too soft.  We go, hiding in food trucks, or disguised as Mexicans.  “Hola, seňor, yo no soy Americano, yo soy Mexicano, olé, olé!”  Old, white men, with their faces smeared brown, but their paunch betrays them.  I think we’re skinny enough to do it, though.  If we can just keep Copeland upright long enough.

“Hola, señor ... ¿Loki? ¿Qué es un Loki? No somos Americanos, somos Mexicanos.”  Got to get some dirt, smear our faces up good, get some of those straw hats with the dingleberries in back, and the men can wear those.  We’ll get Loki a rebozo.  And our clothes are ragged enough to pass, lord knows.

The only thing is:  Did Ross see me?  Lord god, I hope not, goodness knows, I took all the precautions I could.  But that ranch, it was huge, and the bunkhouse?  Lots of windows, tons of windows, and not very many blinds down that I could see, who knows, anyone could have seen any of us.

Oh well, we’ll know pretty soon, I guess.  Later on this afternoon, like five or six, when all the workers are going home.  Biggest delusion in Washington:  Closed borders means no Mexicans coming in, all the jobs are for Americans.  Mexicans will always work in America, way more than vice-versa.  Hell, those tacos and things Wilson brought us for our lunch, you think an American made those?  Tacos, lovingly made by a mamacita, who will be going home tonight.  And we’ll go with her, Antonio, and Pedro, and…  Hell, I don’t know.  Lokita?  Aaron-o?  El Wade-o de Wilson-o?  Have to think of some names that sound plausible.

I’ll do that.  And then I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon making them practice em, until they sound convincing.  As long as Ross didn’t see me, we should get across okay.  I don’t think he saw me.