RECEIVED AT LONG BEACH, CALIF, USA
TIJUANA, BAJA CALIF, MEX
DECEMBER 5, 1933
SENDING EARLY CHRISTMAS WISHES STOP SETTLED IN FOR WINTER TRYING LONGER STOP CANNOT MAKE PROMISES ABOUT RETURN STOP APRENDIENDO ESPAÑOL Y LO DEBES APRENDER TAMBIÉN
* * *
The ruse of Fierce Stranger permits me to invent a new identity for myself.
With the assistance of Ernesto Ordaz, and his extended family and allies in the Communist Party, I am allegedly living in Tijuana, BC, Mexico, escaping the repercussions of distributing pornography featuring the Chief of Police in the City of Long Beach, California, USA. The telegram bearing my name, sent by communists to Solstice Meridian, serves as a piece of evidence which she will believe is accurate and which she will likely share with others, including ’Olevaivai’olefe’e (and so US Navy Captain McKelvy), usefully commencing a rumor misleading public officials and city dwellers aware of my name and reputation into believing I am on the lam south of the border, when in fact I am caring for a long beard and moustache, occasionally enjoying tequila and reefer as well as Your Hit Parade on board an old bootlegger anchored several miles off the Long Beach coastline and awaiting possible conversion into a gambling boat. Cornero and the Ordaz brothers, separately, are the only ones keeping safe the truth of my present physical whereabouts. Trips to shore are deliberate and rare.
Long Beach City Manager, Jim Bonner, finished a hushed, arms-length snoop around things and passed its results to Cornero, who shared with me the names of two Santa Ana officers who in fact attended the cross-burning that occurred near Junipero and Third Street on November 17, 1932: Ruben Becker and Calvin Dickens. Bonner quietly discovered that both Becker and Dickens are currently long-term-engaged, young bachelors attending the First Baptist Church of Santa Ana and furthermore, according to his source over at the Santa Ana Police Department, happened to be off-duty on the night of St. Valentine’s day of that same year, when Dennis Carpenter was murdered in Wilmington. Such circumstantial evidence convinces me to spend additional effort contemplating appropriate theatrics to solicit a confession from at least one of these men. Without such proof, I am reluctant to act upon any hunches, since Solstice’s own claims to psychic powers, and Glamour’s belief in the same, clearly represent the sort of magical thinking that only leads to disappointment, especially if I accept the responsibility of harboring deadly intentions, escaping legal justice and avoiding public notoriety, all the while maximizing the calmness of my mind.
Offering his version of “devil’s advocacy” but also his inspired assistance, Rafael Ordaz helps me craft the imposter Jefferson Harper, an itinerant Baptist deacon hailing from Philippi, West Virginia, a fictitious, thirty-year-old graduate of Alderson-Broaddus Baptist College, which recently merged from two formerly separate schools, a fact I discovered at the public library, and therefore, offers a delaying effect thwarting any attempt to validate whom I claim to be. Long-bearded, I present myself as Jefferson Harper at the beginning of 1934, for the purpose of assisting Pastor Harry Evan Owings as his eugenics counselor working, without charge, to advise, during weekends, men and women members seeking to enter the covenant of marriage. Although skeptical, because of popular associations with abortion, Owings reluctantly allows me to circulate, among his congregation, copies of Margaret Sanger’s 1932 essay, “A Plan for Peace,” in which she calls attention to the need to offer sterilization and segregation for immigrants, Negroes and white Americans known to be of an inferior physical and mental stamina — another happenstantial discovery at the public library. At the very least, if church members choose not to have themselves vetted for marriage, then I argue to Pastor Owings, members will spread the cause of eugenics thereby playing their part to prepare America for its future. I persuade Owings to allow me to administer my specialized services, on a trial basis, by hand-picking one prospective couple in the midst of engagement, awaiting their summer wedding. Enjoying the reputation of being a decent peace officer, and a former Mormon anxious to prove his wholehearted conversion to the Baptist faith, Ruben Becker agrees to invite his fiancée, Miriam Jenks, to an exclusive, closed-door meeting inside the parsonage during an afternoon when Owings is absent.
The pastor typically dresses in contemporary fashion and wears no facial hair below his small, round spectacles. My clothing, however, evokes the style favored by the previous decade. To add a further element of disguise to the appearance of my beard, I have lost weight while living on board the bootlegging ship and now resemble in appearance and odor the sorry figure I assumed when I was recovering from my injuries, by now healed leaving hardly any scars, following the previous year’s earthquake. Below deck, under candlelight, I spent hours reading the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, absorbing melodic passages concerning judgment, damnation, sin, apocalypse, broken only by long mental breaks of just whistling and diddling. In my present state, sitting behind Owings desk in his personal office, I stare at Ruben and Miriam, with my head tilted forward as my eyes peer beneath my brow, hands brought together, fingers locked, breathing heavily and pausing between sentences for a great and solemnizing effect, aping Abraham Lincoln by conceit of an amateur thespian habit.
Ruben is a stout man, dressed in his Sunday pinstriped suit, hat in hand, anxious to be understood and accepted and outwardly confident with the aura of authority I superficially project. Nervously, he stares at Miriam’s full, pale face, when she finds the courage to express herself verbally. Usually, she sits modestly, keeping both hands gently resting on the creases of her neat and plain dress covering her soft belly and draping some feet below her knees. Their chairs are separated with some exaggeration, by about a foot, and the two betrothed do not touch each other, even once, during our entire conversation.
“Yes, well, thank you,” I begin. “I say ‘thank you’, for agreeing to join me in a faithful and objective conversation concerning the covenant of marriage.”
“Yes, sir,” Ruben replies, respectfully.
I study them both a long time. “Before we begin, I should ask whether you both appreciate the need for serious honesty in your relationship before the sight of God.”
“Of course, Mr. Harper.” Miriam nods in agreement.
“Very good. Now, our talk is strictly confidential. I do not intend to share what is said here with anyone, including Pastor Owings. I hope that, by offering my assurance to protect the confidential nature of our conversation, you find the courage to speak candidly with me, both of you. But before I begin, let me emphasize that the covenant of marriage is sacred, and by that, we mean it is something we set apart from everything else, as I’m sure you are aware. However, Jesus tells us in Matthew that ‘At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven’.”
Miriam chimes, “Chapter twenty-two, verse thirty-three.”
“Yes,” I affirm. “How is it that marriage will not matter upon the resurrection, but matters here on Earth? Ruben?”
“Well, ah,” he dawdles, causing Miriam to shift in her chair. “I suppose it has to do with Genesis, where God tells his children to be fruitful and multiply, and ordains marriage as his covenant.”
“Indeed, Ruben. God tells us in Hebrews that ‘fornicators and adulterers God will judge’. He ‘will judge’ it says,” I emphasize. “God’s prohibition of fornication is a condition of his covenant with the Jews – a covenant which even precedes Mosaic law, suggesting its universality to all peoples of the Earth. The Bible consolidates this prohibition in Corinthians, when we are reminded to ‘Flee fornication’ because ‘it is good for man not to touch a woman’. Indeed, the covenant of marriage is meant to give us a way to avoid fornication. The Bible says, ‘Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband’. I might add, it doesn’t say let every man have many wives.”
“Are you hinting at the Mormon church, Mr. Harper, because if you are…”
I stare a great deal of time into Miriam’s eyes, which had been formerly fixed upon me, but now look past my shoulders. “Perhaps. Does the one-hundred-year-old Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints make you uncomfortable, Miriam?”
Her gaze askance, the young woman nods irregularly.
“Officer Becker, does it make you uncomfortable?” I ask him, while I study Miriam’s face.
“I don’t dwell on my shame,” the convert says.
Still studying her face, I admonish, “Perhaps you should more, Officer Becker. Let me ask you, sir: have you touched Miriam?”
Ruben squints his eyes and leans forward. “Touched her, sir?”
“Yes, touched her.”
“In what way?” he asks. Miriam folds her legs then does the same with her arms, across her waist. Turning my attention, finally, back to Ruben, I see him swallow visibly. “I mean, touched her as in just… touching her, or touched her as in…”
“…As in what?” I interrupt.
Miriam, growing impatient, mutters to her betrothed, “He’s saying fornication, Ruben.” She then abruptly twists and stares outside through the window, hiding her self-pity.
Ruben scratches his eye, “I mean, Mr. Harper… I mean… you’re not oblivious at all.”
“What’s that you say?”
“I mean… crying out loud, we thought hardly anybody could see yet.”
I look at Miriam who is staring up at the ceiling at this point. Finally, she stands and gently rubs her hands across her faintly protruding belly. “This, here,” she says.
“You’re showing me that you two have… fornicated!” I protest. Miriam collapses back into her seat, despondent and upset. “Prophylactics?” I inquire. Ruben fidgets. “Not toothbrushes. Skins, like Ramses, Sheik or Sphinx?” Ruben fidgets, wanting to reach out to her, but fighting the impulse to close the gap with a touch. “What is it you’re feeling right now, Ruben? Do you want to show tenderness and touch her?”
“I want to console her, yes, but…”
“…But, the Bible.” A long silence fills the room. I resume, “It is good that you are sharing this news with me. Again, I promise my discretion, of course. I suppose this is why you’re getting married, is it?”
The two sinners nod at the same time.
“Are there other instances of fornication I should know about?”
Ruben wipes his lips in the palm of his hand, while Miriam shakes her head.
“You’re telling me, before you met Ruben, you were free of the sin of fornication, Miriam? Is that right?”
She gestures affirmatively.
“Did this fornication, giving you child, Miriam… was it painful? Did Ruben force himself into your womb, before he spilled his seed inside you?”
She shakes her head, meekly, nearly in tears.
As I interrogate her faithful soul, she forces out the word “yes” to each of my monotone questions fired in quick succession: “You succumbed to intense sensations when he first penetrated your body with his penis? Did his stimulations make you wet? Did he titillate your bosom applying his orifice? Did his erection endure hard and long enough to bring you to quivering hysteria?”
She starts to cry. “Mr. Harper, I…”
I turn mellifluously indignant, “How dare you, Miriam, to defile your body, as though it is yours. Is that it? Do you believe your body to be your body? Do you recall Corinthians, which says, ‘Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are…’ what?”
I await an answer and receive none. “Let me give you a hint,” I say. “Notice the Bible says, ‘which are’ after identifying both the body and spirit. Notice that the word ‘are’ is the plural form of the verb ‘to be’. Why the plural form? Because the Bible is focusing attention on both at the same time, body and spirit. They are inseparable, and to whom do these belong? The Bible says, ‘glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s’. Your body, the Bible says, is the ‘Temple’ of God. Let me ask both of you: did you engage in sodomy?”
“You mean…” Ruben pretends not to understand.
“You know what I mean, Mr. Becker. You answer me: was there sodomy?”
“Yes,” he says simply, dropping to the floor the hat in his hand.
“Ruben!” Miriam cries, raising her hands to mouth, nearly failing to resist the impulse to strike him.
“So, was this an oral or anal crime?” I ask, letting time pass. “Or was it both?”
Finally, Ruben grows impatient with my questions and speaks assertively, “Mr. Harper, if I may speak candidly here, I was led to believe this conversation would be about whether Miriam and I are parents able to bring healthy children into this world.”
“If that’s so,” the officer reasons, “then why are we talking about sin? I thought we should be talking about feeble-mindedness and physical deformities and the like.”
“What is sin, Mr. Becker?” I respond, smiling. “Is it nothing more, nothing less than weakness? Perhaps you suffer from a moral weakness, moral feeble-mindedness, moral deformities. Don’t you believe virtue and morality are passed among the generations, too? Surely, baptism washes us clean of sin and prepares us for living in the body of the church, yet also surely, you would admit that that act alone doesn’t make us all equal in all metrics, and it hardly vaccinates us morally.”
“Then…” After some moments pass in silence, Ruben finishes, “I’d rather have this conversation in complete privacy, and spare my wife.” He bends to the floor to retrieve his hat.
“Fiancée.” I move my head up and down. “Yes, perhaps that’s best. But before we do, I need to ask Miriam what she would do if you were incapacitated as a police officer?” I gaze upon this frail creature, who has removed a kerchief from her handbag and is wiping tears from her face. “Are you prepared to live your life alone, absent his consortium? Are you strong enough?” She doesn’t answer. I plead, “Let me help you, Miriam. These are personal questions, to be sure, but it would be best for you to know your own answers now. Your mother and father, did they live long lives?”
She says, gathering her composure, “My father passed at the age of sixty-three. My mother is still enjoying her life, as a widow, even though she was much younger than he was when they married.”
“I see, Miriam. Well, let me invite you to excuse yourself from our conversation. Please return, though in about, say, thirty minutes, after taking a stroll. It’s a nice day today, wouldn’t you say?”
Miriam stands, places her handbag on her arm and inhales deeply, trying to focus on happier emotions. “Yes, apologies for my breakdown, it’s just that…”
“…Shhh…” I reply, bringing my finger to my lips. “Of course, of course. In a half-hour. Ruben, you don’t mind sitting here so you and I may continue?”
Ruben turns and watches as Miriam leaves the room, closing the door behind her. “No, of course not, Mr. Harper. Sorry for my wife there. We’re discussing difficult matters about our intimate life, things nobody even knows about. I guess this… talk… is supposed to make us feel better, right? Talking about all of this?” His questions lack a certain earnestness and suggest skepticism.
“Fiancée. All of this, of course,” I reply and position my body forward continuing my stentorian manner. “I think it’s rather brave of you two to consummate your liaison in the eyes of Christ and his church, rather than eloping or hiding your sins, abandoning your child to an orphanage, or even worse, to an abortionist, although…”
Ruben is stunned by this second-to-last word, “Damn it, Mr. Harper. This is such disappointing conversation.”
“Well,” I respond, arching an eyebrow. “Was it exciting, your indiscretion? Did it make you feel super cheerful?” I wait for his response in silence. His lips sealed tight, I speak dismissively, “Cheerfulness… such a transitory feeling, the doorway to sin and disgust. Illusory, wouldn’t you say?”
He raises his brow and nods.
“Is Miriam the first one you fornicated, Officer Becker?”
“It wasn’t, was it?”
“One to ten?”
“Ten to one hundred?”
“Hundred to one thousand?”
The penitent coughs into his hand. “I’m just…”
“…No, no,” I interrupt, waving my hands. “Please. Although I consider myself an educated professional, I’ll spare you the humiliation of endlessly admitting evil, because this isn’t a Catholic Church, and I’m not a papist hearing your confessions. But just investigating… were they all females, your dalliances?”
“Dalliances?” he asks, squinting his eyes in confusion.
I act as though his ignorance provokes my enormous frustration. “Liaisons, encounters.”
The lawman pauses, turns a bit red.
“I see. So, you enjoy sodomy. And have you ever received sodomistic pleasure?”
Silence. At length, he says, “I have been weak in my past, it is true. I once stole a camera, when I was a boy. The camera belonged to an older man who was able to make me do things.”
“Are you a homosexual, Mr. Becker?”
“You’re saying he raped you.”
“No,” he says, protesting vigorously. “No, I wasn’t oblivious to what he was doing. But I stole his camera because I was mad he stopped paying me each time after the things we were doing. There was another time later on, but other than that, it’s strictly been normal stuff with ladies. I am not a homosexual, Mr. Harper.”
“Did you penetrate… ? Show me. Your penis.”
Taken aback by the question, he hesitates.
“For what purpose…”
“ … so I may tell whether you are a homosexual. Now. Show me.”
Ruben Becker stands, loosens his trousers and reveals his penis, pink and fat, relaxed about five inches long in its flaccid state. “Play with it.” He touches and wiggles it, but it hardly grows, proving nothing of course. “I see. If you did penetrate, you should know that such action is classified as less degenerate, because you occupied the masculine position in the performance of criminally deviant genital intercourse.”
“Put your pants back on and sit down. Mr. Becker, any admission to degeneracy, of any degree, is certainly cause for the Lord’s concern, and perhaps you might spend time thinking about what your proper responsibilities towards Miriam should be, aside from just going through devotion motions. But in the meantime, I need to explore with you other matters that involve aspects of your personality which possibly indicate a lack of moral and intellectual genetic stamina. Have you ever stolen anything, aside from this camera, when you were a boy, like you mentioned?”
“No,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.
“No, honestly. I am a fairly honest person.”
“And seductive, I see.”
He smiles, showing me contrition on top of self-love. Back-and-forth, I discourse serpentine, snaking in between flattery and shock.
“Have you ever brought physical harm to another person?”
He furls his brow, and asks, “Outside the line of duty?”
“Either way,” I clarify.
“Either way? Well, I have made a few tough arrests, if that’s what you’re asking. And I was once caught in a fight before I became a peace officer – a knife fight. I won. There are times when I see someone get out of line, and I might… nudge them on the head… or something… to straighten them out. Nothing too severe, typically.”
Curious, I delve more deeply. “You love this country?”
“Of course, Mr. Harper. It’s in my blood. I would give any part or my whole life for it.”
I nod. “Would you take another’s life for it?”
“To defend it, I would do that in a second.”
“What does that mean, defending this country?”
“What do you mean, ‘what does that mean’?” he asks, defensively.
“Describe your instincts about Mexicans.”
He grows agitated. “Wetbacks, what about them? I don’t think they should be coming here, if that’s what you’re asking. And when they do, I think they should be speaking English, like Chinks, Japs, Coolies and everybody else in America. What else you got for me?”
“Well,” I continue, “do you think such races inherently suffer from moral, physical and intellectual weaknesses?”
“I don’t see your angle. Where you going with this? What’s this got to do with my marriage?” He says, letting his voice rise in tone and volume.
“There’s no need to get discombobulated, Mr. Becker. Just part of the scientific process. Let me ask you about Negroes.”
“Again, what about them?”
“Let’s say you saw one strike a white man.”
“I’d arrest him.”
“He’d remember his place when I got done.”
“Would you kill him?”
He stops before giving his reply, studying my face, wondering what my motivation is. “Maybe. It depends. Would you?”
“Well,” I breathe a sigh of relief, before indulging a very slight imitation of a subtle drawl, I recently heard on the radio. In a hushed voice, I speak, “I believe this is a white man’s country, which boasts a heritage that should be kept pure from communists, papists, Jews, Chinamen… homosexuals. And I think an uppity coon should be reminded of his place, or lose it, and I don’t give no mind nor sweet patootie to no Paul Robeson.”
The peace officer hesitates before whispering, “Well, then, if I hear you right, we agree.”
Resuming my normal voice, I elaborate, “The curse of Ham.”
“Sounds ‘bout right.”
I lean back in my seat, and fold my hands behind my head. “So, again, let me ask: would you kill him?”
“ ‘Maybe’, I said.”
“Have you ever killed anyone, Officer Becker?”
He laughs, “Have I ever killed anyone? I wear a badge. What do you think? Have you?”
“Me?” I ask, joining his laughter, and not speaking quietly, but confidently and sympathetically. “Once.” I pause a long time for full dramatic effect, as if speaking truthfully of an evil that had to be done at one time. “There was this ebony buck who raped a white woman back out in West Virginia. Well, to be honest, I didn’t do the deed by myself alone. But I sure helped pull his neck up by a rope hanging from a tall tree branch.” I force a slow smile out of one corner of my mouth.
“You say that with pride,” he observes, more at ease with himself.
“Sure. I killed one… once. And I didn’t do it by myself.”
“Was that back when you were a Mormon?” I joke.
“Nah,” he says humbly, shifting uncomfortably. Clearing his throat, he asserts his voice, “Out in Wilmington, couple years back. With my partner.”
“Your partner. And that would be…”
“Both of you were on duty?”
“Listen, if we’re done with all of this awkward talk of murder and fornication, I’d really like to finish up, I hope you understand.”
“Of course. Listen, Mr. Becker. When you act to end someone’s life you have to ask yourself what the context is, wouldn’t you say? I mean, if you were on duty and took someone’s life to defend yourself or another person, that wouldn’t be criminal homicide, now would it? And besides, there is an argument to be made that the genetic matter from creatures who are irredeemably, hopelessly morally degenerate and racially inadequate also should be sterilized, permanently, especially if their chemistry poisons the rest of us with suffering, like germs, if you get my point.”
He nods. “Cleansed with super strong Ivory Flakes, yes. That’s right.”
Interlocking my hands together across the table, I invoke a scholarly tone, “Honestly, you might take a long, careful look at one of the copies I distributed concerning the plan promoted by Margaret Sanger. She makes a very good, solid case for a federal inquiry into this menace of racial and sexual genetic contamination.”
“You mean a presidential commission, Mr. Harper?”
“Nah. Just a congressional committee.” I start pointing at him. “But also, I recommend you and Miriam seek spiritual counseling from Pastor Owings. Reveal her current condition, tactfully, and in doing so demonstrate your devotion to Miriam, and brag of her devotion to you, and beg, both of you, for his spiritual protection, his pastoral wisdom and most important, his abiding forgiveness, and rededicate yourselves, truly, to the body of Christ.”
“Amen, Brother Harper,” he says.
“Very good, Officer Becker,” I chuckle then stand. “Now, let’s take a short break, brother.”
* * *
…AN INCREDIBLY SHORT TIME LATER, FIERCE STRANGER RACES ACROSS THE HARBOR…
“WITH MY ARMLET OF VOODOO AMAZONA, I’LL SHOW ‘EM WHAT I GOT — BETTER NOT ALL AT ONCE, AND…. SAVE… UP… YERBA MÁGICA!”
“PATROL BOAT — BYPASS IT. WAIT… BETTER IDEA!”
ON A ONE-WAY RADIO…
“ROLLINS TO YANCY! MASKED MAN… OUT OF THIN AIR! ERECTION BLOCKS THE SUN! FOOTLONG… VA… VAMPIRE SPERM! EVERYTHING SMELLS… LIKE… MARI… JUAAA…!”
SUDDENLY, THE ARMLET’S VOODOO COMES ALIVE…
“CHUPA ESTA GRANDOTA PANOCHA AMAZONA, CABRÓN!”