UNITED STATES—There is something that happens with fellas like Willy Long, they start out good and pure, and then it was something Lord Acton said, one of these English fellers, he said that total power corrupts and total power corrupts totally so I figure by the time the bullet reached Willy he was a putrid sack of pus and jelly, bones gone to powder, mush before he hit the floor (oh but I am getting ahead of myself).
Willy had colorful way to put it, much better than Lord Acton, and his followers felt the snub more ‘n anybody, in that they became legion, it was their bond. Unconditionally, they loved Willy, that was all there was to that. “How many men ever went to a barbecue, and would let one man take off the table what’s intended for nine tenths of the people to eat? The only way you’ll ever be able to feed the balance of the people is to make darn sure that man comes back and bring back some of that grub he ain’t got no business with.”
He was funny, that’s what I say, when you get ‘em laughing they’re eating outta your hand. It took awhile; it took about 10 years to ripen, and Willy Long made his big leap. Like they say, his opponents sat around dreaming ways to cook Willy’s goose, before he and his populism took away all the golden eggs. Talk about poison, you could get to Willy Long’s French pastry chef, and through some tasteless, odorless bromide in his swimming pool, cut the brake cables, ground glass in his whisky, cross wires on the heating coil in the bathroom, electrify a flooded tile floor.
Now he went from haranguing about Rockerfeller’s oil company to the corporation which was just as hateful in the 1930s and faceless. It made a great target. And in his book, “Share the Wealth” (and its follow up “Share the Wrath”) he knew the power behind the throne. And he could put a name to it. And Willy played dirty, “He’d give the mob the address to the power.”
Sam Delaney was such a deeply private man, it made him sick at heart, when he was talking about the guy who hogs the barbecue, Willy was talking about Sam covertly. He had bulletins printed and glued to every telephone pole and under every windshield wiper, and it bore the imprimatur of his own newspaper to give it legitimacy, into ever mailbox and plastered on every tree. They sure didn’t scrimp in ink neither, it was in the fat font of the big headlines of all time.
Sam Delaney was the quiet one. Tall as he was and broad-shouldered as he was, he didn’t have to make a big stir. As he passed into his 50s, he was pushed into public view, kicking and screaming. He was a guy who wanted to tend the store and liked to see and do rather than be seen. The Man from Moldava had the foreigner’s dread of being singled out, of being asked for papers and getting ushered out. It made no logical sense, here was Sam Delaney an insider’s insider and he lived with the constant knowledge of the viability of options he could be invited back to Russia, where he formed as a person.
He was the Michael Corleone in a lot more ways, if Michael Corleone howled and yammered more in a heavier Russo-American accent. In the pages of the Times Picayune and on the cathedral radio console in his white wedding-cake mansion, Sam followed the rise of Mussolini and Stalin and Hitler’s meteoric rise. Always a sensitive reader of crowd mentality, he tuned in on the dark mood spreading across Europe and the growing numbers of refugees coming out, in the grousing on the soup lines, and the mood of the hobos battalions that threated the docks. They slept in the streets and he stepped over them when he donned his fine clothes tailored in Boston.
“We gotta do something about these people,” he’d tell Rebecca. “They’re restless. They can’t put bread or bananas on the table. They need jobs, or there’s no telling what they’ll do. Without the mooring that comes with a job.” For the first time in his life after winning so many hands at life’s poker, Sam confessed, “I am scared.”
Rebecca caught him now and then biting his nails, a very unpleasant habit, and she brought him a gold clipper set to wean him off the habit.
“It will spoil your whole game,” Rebecca said. “If the other corporates see you nibbling away at a meeting.”
And she threatened, as she would to an unruly schoolboy, to apply cayenne pepper to Sam’s cuticles.
To be continued…
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.