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Title: A Town Is Drowning
Author: Pohl, Frederik, Kornbluth, C. M. (Cyril M.)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Town Is Drowning" ***


                          A TOWN IS DROWNING

                                  by
                             FREDERIK POHL
                                  and
                            C. M. KORNBLUTH


                           BALLANTINE BOOKS
                               NEW YORK

          This is an original novel--not a reprint--published
                       by Ballantine Books, Inc.

              © 1955 by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

             Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 55-12407

                           PRINTED IN U.S.A.


                        BALLANTINE BOOKS, INC.
                 404 Fifth Avenue, New York 18, N. Y.


      [Transcriber's Note: Extensive research did not uncover any
  evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


                _By Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth_

                         _Contemporary Novel_

                          A TOWN IS DROWNING

                           _Science Fiction_

                          THE SPACE MERCHANTS
                            SEARCH THE SKY
                           GLADIATOR-AT-LAW



                      TORN FROM TODAY'S HEADLINES


This novel takes you right into the heart of the _new_ flood country,
the Northeast United States which had generally been free of hurricanes
and attendant floods. Now disaster has struck, more than once--terrible
and grim.

       *       *       *       *       *

Although this novel will give you an accurate and brilliantly
vivid picture of what it's like to live through a flood, even more
importantly it will show you what the people are like who fought the
catastrophe and how those who survived are still fighting. In the
persons of Starkman the burgess, Groff the dynamic young executive,
Sharon the shrewd opportunist, Mrs. Goudeket, the resort owner, and
others, you will meet and understand the varying human elements that
the flood unleashed and intensified. Through it all you will sense a
growing feeling of pride--that despite the selfishness of some, the
people of the town met the terrible onslaught with courage and a sense
of mutual help.

       *       *       *       *       *

Already well known for their superb science fiction, Frederik Pohl and
C. M. Kornbluth demonstrate here their equal power in the realistic
contemporary novel.



                              CHAPTER ONE


The man in the filling station was clearly of two minds about it, but
finally he buttoned up his raincoat and pulled on his hat and came out
to Mickey Groff's car. "Sorry to make you come out in the rain like
this," Groff said. "Fill it up, will you?"

He rolled up the window and picked out the least soaked wad of Kleenex
to wipe the mist off the inside of the windshield. The car radio
stopped playing show tunes and began to talk about freezer food plans.
Groff snapped it off and leaned back to watch the turning dials on the
gas pump. By the time the man had put back the cap and sloshed around
to the window Groff had the exact change ready in his hand. "How far is
it to Hebertown?"

"Five miles," the attendant said, and went inside without counting the
money. As Groff pulled out he saw the lights go out on the pumps and
the big sign overhead.

You couldn't blame him, he thought; there weren't enough cars out in
this rain to make it worth while. He had been lucky to find even one
station open.

It was nearly impossible to see the road, no matter how hard the
windshield wipers worked. Rain was spraying in somehow; all the windows
were closed tight, but Groff could feel the thin mist on his face. He
rolled around a long, downgrade curve, and when he touched the brake
for a moment there was a queasy slipping sensation; the rain was coming
down faster than it could flow off the highway.

Foolish to drive all the way to Hebertown, Groff reflected; but the
only alternative, actually, was to take a bus. The railroads didn't
bother much with this little out-of-the-way corner of the state. And
that was something to keep firmly in mind when he talked to the burgess
the next morning, he reminded himself. An industry-hungry town could
make you some tempting offers; there was a firm promise of a tax break
and bank credit, and the suggestion that maybe a suitable factory
building could be turned over to you for nearly nothing at all. But you
had to keep freight differentials in mind too; and what about labor
supply? Well, no; he crossed that off. That was the whole point of the
burgess's cooperative attitude; Hebertown had plenty of available labor
ten months of the year, it was only when the vacationers came up from
New York and the other big cities that local unemployment and the state
of the local tax rolls ceased to be a problem. Still, what about that?
Were you supposed to close down in the months of July and August?

He shifted in his seat, forcing himself to lean back--it did no good
to peer into the rain--and tried to relax. Mickey Groff was a big man
and not used to sitting. It gave him a cramped, unwelcome feeling of
confinement.

There was a light ahead; it turned out to be a store with a neon sign
that said _Sam's Grocery_, but it gave Groff enough help to let him
pick up his speed to nearly thirty-five miles an hour. He had been
nearly an hour covering the last twenty miles, he saw irritably. Of
course, it didn't matter--it meant just one hour less to spend sitting
in the lobby of the Heber House, since there wasn't a thing he could do
until the next morning in this rain. But why did he have to pick this
particular Thursday to come up?

He passed the store, and at once the road was invisible in front of him
again. He tramped on the brake, slipped and skidded, and straightened
out. That was foolish, he told himself. He carefully slowed as the road
curved again....

Not enough. It was the other car's fault, of course; he saw the lights
raging at him down the middle of the road and automatically pulled over
quickly. At once he felt the sidewise slip and sway of the skid, but
it was too late to do anything about it.

       *       *       *       *       *

It _could_ have been worse. Thank God there was a good wide shoulder
right there. The only thing was, he seemed to be stuck in the mud.

Mickey Groff wasn't much of a waiter. There wasn't a showdog's chance
of a car stopping to help him, of course--even if one came by, they'd
hardly be able to see him. Anyway, Sam's Grocery couldn't be more than
a quarter of a mile back along the road, and from there he could phone
for a wrecker--or at worst, if the wreckers had their own problems on
a night like this, for a cab to get him into Hebertown. Once the rain
stopped, it wouldn't be much of a problem to get pulled out of the mud.

He almost changed his mind when he stepped out into the rain, but by
the time he had locked the car door behind him it was too late--it was
hard to imagine how he could get any wetter than he was. Mickey Groff
had heard of rain coming down in sheets, but he had never experienced
it before. This was something beyond all expectations; in ten seconds
he was wet to the skin, in a minute he was drenched as a Channel
swimmer. There was wind with the rain, too; part of the time it came
swiping at him from the side, stinging into his eyes, infiltrating his
ears, slipping up the cuffs of his sodden sleeves. By the time he got
around the curve in the road he was shaking with chill.

After ten minutes of staggering through the storm he wondered why he
couldn't see the lights of the store. Then he saw why, and it was like
a fist under the heart; the lights were out. There was the store just
ahead, but the neon was black, the windows were black, there was only
the faintest suggestion of a glimmer at the edges of the glass.

He went stumbling across a little gravel parking lot with water
sloshing around his shoes and banged on the door. Then he saw that
there was a light in the back of the store; it was a candle. He tried
the door handle and it opened.

Inside, the noise of the rain changed and dulled; instead of a
slashing at his ears it was a drumming overhead. A man came out of a
storeroom at the back, carrying a gasoline lantern, and the whole store
brightened and began to look more normal.

"Oh," said Mickey Groff. "Your power's out. I thought maybe you were
closing up."

The man said sourly, "I might as well be. Jesus, did you ever see
weather like this in your life? I been here--"

"Have you got a phone?" Groff interrupted.

"Phone's out too."

Groff sluiced some of the water off his face and hair. "Well," he
said. Somehow it hadn't occurred to him that the phones might not be
working. There wasn't much sense in going back to the car again; he
knew a mudded-in wheel when he saw one. You could push blankets and
boards under those rear wheels all night and the mud would just swallow
up what the wheels didn't slide right off. "Maybe you can help me,"
he said. "I'm stuck in the mud down the road and I've got to get into
Hebertown."

The grocer glanced at him appraisingly and then bent to adjust the
flame on the gasoline lantern. "I'm all alone here," he mentioned.

Mickey Groff waited.

"I hate to close up before time," the grocer said virtuously. "I'd like
to help you out--You stuck bad?"

"Pretty bad. Anyway, I can't rock it out. I was hoping to call a tow
truck from Hebertown."

"I got a pickup truck with four-wheel drive," the grocer said
thoughtfully. "You're welcome to wait here till I close if you want to.
Wouldn't be more than a couple of--"

"How about ten bucks if you do it now?"

The grocer's eyes flickered, but he shook his head. "You don't know
the people around here," he complained. "They wait till I'm just ready
to close, and bingo, two-three cars come zooming up. Milk for Junior,
catfood for the cat, coffee, they gotta have coffee, they wouldn't
bother me if it wasn't so jeezly important. Sit down and wait, mister.
It's only--" He squinted at the advertising clock above his door,
shadowed from the flare of the pressure lamp by a stack of tall cans on
a top shelf--"It's only half an hour."

Mickey Groff thought of lying to the man, giving him a story about a
medical emergency or a big deal with a deadline, something he couldn't
decently brush off for the sake of two or three catfood customers.
Then, because he didn't like to lie, he shrugged, made a disgusted
grimace at himself in the near-dark and sat down in a spindle-back
chair to wait out the thirty minutes. He knew what the trouble was;
it was the old thing. He had been born, apparently, geared up about
twenty-five per cent faster than most people. This was very handy in
some ways; he was a Rising Young Businessman at thirty and pretty soon
now he'd be a Rising Young Industrialist. His picture had been printed
in _Nation's Business_ along with eleven other promising youngsters
who owned their own plants, and one day it would appear alone. He knew
it and he knew it would be due to his built-in overgearing. But that
didn't make it any easier to sit and wait for the catfood customers.

The storekeeper--as most people did--sensed his mood. "Like to look at
the paper?" he asked, and handed him an eight-page sheet. It was the
latest--yesterday's--issue of the _Hebertown Weekly Times_. Groff had
studied the last four issues preceding it, as well as those of a dozen
other country papers, trying to get the feel of the communities they
served. On one of those communities he would soon have to stake his
play for the jump from forty employees to a hundred.

He held the paper up to the lamplight and read the main headline,
covering the three right columns. The chair crashed behind him as he
snapped to his feet. "God damn it to hell!" he said.

The storekeeper backed away, scared. "What's the matter, mister?"

"Sorry," Groff said. "I didn't mean you. I just thought of something I
forgot to do."

Which was a lie. He forced himself to set up the chair again, sat
down and reread the headline, pulses hammering at his temples. BORO
MAY GRANT SWANSCOMB MILL TO CHESBRO AT NOMINAL RENT; MOVE HAILED AS
EMPLOYMENT BOOM; OLD PLANT TO BE USED AS WAREHOUSE.

The former Swanscomb Mill was the building he had his eye on as the
shell for his projected new factory. It was ideal. It was empty
and unwanted by anybody since Swanscomb had moved south; it was
a low-maintenance brick shell with plenty of adjoining room for
expansion; it was solidly built and able to support his machine tools;
it had its own siding and a loading deck for trucks. And somebody
else, by incredible coincidence, was after it too. The pounding pulses
subsided and he steadied himself to read the story. It was one column
down the right and it was strangely uninformative. It led off: "Civic
leaders today hailed the announcement that Arthur Chesbro hopes to
secure the old Swanscomb Mill from the Borough as a warehouse for the
storage of materials and supplies." It didn't say who the civic leaders
were. It went on to recapitulate the familiar history of the plant. It
concluded by quoting Arthur Chesbro as hoping that at least a dozen
local citizens would be employed as warehousemen in the plant.

       *       *       *       *       *

A car's headlights outside turned the streaming store window into a
sheet of refracted yellow glare. A woman bustled in and peered about
uncertainly in the gloom. The storekeeper yes-ma'amed her and she
apologized for coming so late, the rain was so terrible she could
barely _crawl_, and could she have three cans of catfood?

The storekeeper gave her the cans, and when he closed the door behind
her--rain drove in during the brief moment and drenched a square yard
of floor--turned to Groff and said: "What did I tell you?"

"Who's this Arthur Chesbro?" Groff demanded. "The one in the paper."

"Chesbro? A big wheel over in the next county. Justice of the Peace.
Owns business buildings; couple of radio stations; the newspaper, I
don't know the name. I just get copies of the _Weekly Times_; they send
them so I can check my ads. Every week I take one. You look on page
seven, tell me what you think of it."

Groff yanked the paper open, looked at the grocer's little ad on page
seven and said: "You're Sam Zehedi? Syrian?"

The man looked gratified. "How'd you know?"

"A couple of your boys used to work for me. Damn fine millwrights."

"That's us!" Sam Zehedi said. "You give a Syrian a busted machine and
a wrench, he'll have it going in five minutes. We're a civilized,
Christian people. We been Christian a lot longer than the French or
the Germans. And you know what some dumb people called me when I first
bought the store? An Ay-rab. A heathen Ay-rab."

"They'll learn." Groff shrugged. He studied the newspaper story.
So this Chesbro was interested in newspapers. It looked, it very
definitely looked, as though he might have a piece of the _Hebertown
Weekly Times_ in his pocket; the story was pure propaganda.

Sam Zehedi went on: "Oh, they're learning. It's been five years now,
and I didn't let any grass grow under my feet. I'm a respected man
in this community, mister. You don't hear any Ay-rab talk any more,
except maybe from some of the summer people. Jews--they're bitter about
Ay-rabs, but then somebody sets them straight. I guess I'm the first
Syrian boy around here except for peddlers going through in the old
days the way they used to. It's like being a pioneer. Or a missionary."
He glanced at the clock. "What the hell," he said, "I don't think
anybody else is coming in this rain. I'll get the truck started and
pull her around the front, then you can hop right in and I'll lock up,
then we'll go tow you out."

"Fine," Groff said. "I appreciate it very much." The storekeeper
disappeared in the back; a door slammed and over the drumming rain
Groff heard a truck engine roar into life. Zehedi gunned it and held it
for a minute and then took off, swinging the pickup around in front.
Groff dashed for the cab when the door swung open and vaulted in. His
speed hadn't helped him a bit; he was wet all over again from his brief
exposure.

Zehedi got out on his side, sensibly swathed in a slicker, put out the
lantern in the store and locked up. He climbed back into the cab and
had to raise his voice to be heard above the rain beating on the top.
"Well, here we go, mister. About how far?"

"Quarter of a mile, maybe."

"We'll get you there." He put the truck in gear and crawled away from
the store, feeding the gas lightly. "My tires are pretty good," he
said. "I'd hate to start spinning my wheels, though." They crawled up
the long, gentle grade into the driving torrents.

"Notice my store's located at the foot of the hill?" he chattered. "I
picked it partly for that. People have time to see the sign, not like a
flat straightaway where they go whizzing past fast as they can."

Groff cranked down the window and stuck his head out. He couldn't be
wetter and he wasn't perfectly sure that through the rain-streaked
window his ditched car would be visible. The headlights seemed to bore
yellow cones through the teeming rain without illuminating anything
outside their sharp margins. The drops battered at his face and hair;
he pulled his head in feeling a little stunned. The violence of this
storm--he had a vague feeling that it couldn't go on without something
giving. What, he didn't know.

Headlights stabbed at their eyes from the rear-view mirror. Behind them
a horn howled and out of the darkness behind plunged a shape. Zehedi
gasped and twitched his wheel to the right. The car from behind zoomed
past them, cut into the right lane again and roared on; its taillights
soon were dim and then disappeared.

"Crazy idiot!" the storekeeper gasped, appalled. "He could have wrecked
us! He must have been going fifty! In _this_!"

Groff twisted in the seat and stared through the rear window. There
were headlights, far back but coming up fast. And the headlights went
out as he watched, with a glimmer....

He knew suddenly what had given. Even a city man, born and bred in city
safety, could recognize the signs.

"_Step on it_," he said to the storekeeper swiftly. "_Floodwater behind
us. Get us to the top of the hill. Fast._"

Zehedi didn't argue or hesitate. Few people argued or hesitated when
Groff used that tone of voice. Quickly and steadily he stepped on the
gas. They whirled around the curve where Groff's car stood empty and
past it. It was a long, straight upgrade from there. Either the rain
had slackened off a little or Zehedi was more worried about what was
behind them than about the rain; they roared up the hill, accelerating
all the way, and only stopped when they saw another car parked by the
side of the road, lights on and windshield wipers flapping, and a man
leaning out of the opened door, staring back.

It was the car that had passed them. Zehedi recklessly stopped
alongside him, making it a tight squeeze in case another car wanted to
get by. The other driver misinterpreted the move.

"Jesus!" he said. "That's a good idea! Keep them from getting past into
that. Jesus!"

He was in a flap, Groff observed. It wasn't surprising. "Flood?" he
called. But he knew the answer.

"Flood? Christ a-mighty, the whole goddam Atlantic Ocean's down there.
I was trying to pass a lousy milk tank truck for five miles--they
ought to widen this road, you get stuck behind a truck on these hills
and--anyway, I finally got past him, and all of a sudden I hear him
blowing his horn like a son of a bitch and I turn around and--" The
man choked. "Jesus!" he said again. "That lousy little creek. This time
of year, half the time it's practically dry. And here's the whole creek
jumping up out of the ground at me. I stepped on the gas and got the
hell out of there." He peered back nervously, as though the creek might
still be following, though they were easily two hundred feet up. "You
haven't seen that milk truck, have you?"

It would be a long time, Groff was absolutely sure, before anybody saw
that milk truck again.

Zehedi leaned across him. "Hey, mister. You think there was much damage
down there? I own the store back there--you know, Sam's Grocery, down
at the foot of the hill."

The man laughed. It sounded very nervous. "Not any more you don't," he
said.



                              CHAPTER TWO


If you had smoothed out the crumpled paper to look at the ad, you would
have read:

                        GOUDEKET'S GREEN ACRES

    Your happy vacation hideaway, tucked away in the heart of the
    majestic Shawanganunks. Golf! Tennis! Riding! Swimming (Two
    Pools)! Moonlight dancing! That grand Goudeket Cuisine (Dietary
    Laws Observed)! Under personal direction of Mrs. S. Goudeket.

However, you would have had trouble smoothing it out, because it was
soaked; it had been thrown in the middle of both of Goudeket's Green
Acres by a dissatisfied customer, raging at the malicious trick Mrs.
Goudeket had played on her by causing it to rain for three consecutive
days.

Mrs. Goudeket, wearing a set smile that was ghastly even in the
candlelight, moved among her guests. She was arch and gay with some
of them, apologetic and sympathetic with others, as circumstances
indicated; but in her heart she was torn between rage and fear. Now
it rains! For two months not a drop, so the grass is dying and the
dug well for the swimming pools goes dry, and the guests complain,
complain, complain, it's hotter than Avenue A, Mrs. Goudeket, and
couldn't you air-condition a little, Mrs. Goudeket, and frankly, Mrs.
Goudeket, what I wouldn't give to be back in our apartment on Eastern
Parkway right now, we always get a breeze from the ocean. And now it
comes down pouring, almost all of last week, and now it starts again
so hard the lights go out and the phone goes out, and there's a hundred
and sixty-five guests looking for something to do.

She told herself pridefully: Thank God Mr. Goudeket didn't have to put
up with this.

Not that he could have handled it; he would have retreated to his
room with a stack of Zionist journals, written letters to friends in
Palestine, wistful letters saying that maybe next year they'd have
enough for a winter cruise--

There had never been enough for a winter cruise; Mrs. Goudeket had
efficiently seen to that. First things first. A new roof before a
winter cruise to visit Palestine, new pine paneling in the recreation
room, things you could lay your hand on. And Goudeket's Green Acres
grew. Because of _her_.

But she had been kind and reasonable. She had let him send a hundred
dollars a year for planting orange groves. She had never argued when he
talked about retiring some day and going to Palestine--he always called
it that, even after it was Israel--to _live_. She could have argued;
she could have told him plenty. That this is America, that here you
don't retire and doze in the sun, here you drive hard and get big.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dave Wax came half-trotting through the dim rooms looking for her.
He started to call to her, changed his mind and came close before he
half-whispered. "It's the telephone, Mrs. Goudeket. It's working again!"

"Ah!" she exclaimed. "Why are you keeping it a secret? It's good news,
let's tell everybody--they can use a little good news. You see--"
She turned to the nearest couple--"they've fixed the telephone lines
already. I bet they'll have the electricity on in ten minutes, you wait
and see. Did you call up, Dave?"

"Call who, Mrs. Goudeket?"

"The electric company, Dave!" He shook his head. "Go call them! No,
wait--better I'll call them myself." Let him talk to the guests a
while, she told herself grimly. Perhaps when the lights were on again
and things were back in their normal swing she would want to talk to
her guests again. Or perhaps, she thought, hurrying across the dark and
deserted entrance lobby, she would go up in her room and lock the door
and pull the covers over her head, as she wanted to about once an hour
from May through September of every year since Mr. Goudeket died.

The phone was working all right, but it wasn't working well. Mrs.
Goudeket got the Hebertown operator and asked for the number of the
power company's repair service, but there was so long a wait after
that, filled with scratchings and squeals on the wire, that she began
to think something had gone wrong. She pulled out the jack and tried
again on another line.

All it took was waiting, it turned out. While she waited Mrs. Goudeket
had plenty of time to think of the meaning of the long wait to get
connected with the repair service. Not that that was any surprise,
actually, because she had been through storms before in the majestic
Shawanganunks; but always before it had been maybe a quick, violent
thunderstorm coming up after a hot spell, and it was a lark for the
guests because it was a change, or maybe a violent autumn storm when
only a handful remained. But here were a hundred and sixty-five who had
been penned in the hotel for days already and....

"Hello, hello?" She tried to hear the scratchy voice at the other end.
"Can you hear me? This is Mrs. S. Goudeket, from Goudeket's Green
Acres."

The scratchy voice was trying to say something, but she couldn't hear;
evidently, though, they could hear her so she went right on: "Our
electricity is off. Can you hear me? Our electricity has been off
for two hours. They fixed the phone lines, why can't you people fix
the power lines?" More scratchy sounds. Mrs. Goudeket listened to
them--first casually, out of politeness, then very, very hard. Then
there was a click.

Mrs. Goudeket looked thoughtfully at the switchboard for a moment.

This is new, she thought. Her mind was cold and alert; she knew she
could not afford rage. The electric company here is not a good company,
not like the wonderful Consolidated Edison in New York City. Here they
overcharge you--by mistake, they say--and here the meter readers are
underpaid and insolent, even with good customers like me. Their repair
men are unshaven and lazy and when they finally get to you they stretch
out a job forever so they don't have to hurry on to the next. But this
is new, this hanging up. I'm no fool, not after thirty years in the
resort business; I know their phone girls are under orders to kid the
customers along, promise anything, _not to hang up_.

Something must be happening, something bad.

She walked slowly into the lobby, with a mechanical smile for each
sullenly accusing guest. At the cigar stand she told little Mr. Semmel:
"A pack of cigarettes. Any kind."

He raised his eyebrows and passed one over. As she clumsily tore open
the pack, extracted one and lit it he began to grumble: "Some hotel.
Some light-and-power company. By now I should be getting the overnight
lines for Monmouth, Hialeah and Sportsman's, by now I should have
booked two hundred dollars on tomorrow. Believe me, Mrs. Goudeket, this
is my last year at Green Acres. This kind of thing doesn't happen up at
New Hampshire Notch; I don't pay good money for the concession so this
kind of thing happens."

A fattish, red-faced man bulged up to the counter, breathing whiskey
at them. That's a Young Married, Mrs. Goudeket thought with distaste;
that's what I have to take at this place because I can't get enough
nice young people. "Sammy," the red-faced man complained hoarsely,
"isn't the damn ticker working yet? I've got fifty bucks I have to
play. You're busting my system to hell."

Mr. Semmel said politely: "I'll see, Mr. Babin." He opened the plywood
door behind the stand, looked into the little room where the teletype
horse ticker stood, and closed the door again. "I'm sorry, Mr. Babin,"
he said, with a look at Mrs. Goudeket. "I think the wire's okay, but
you got to have power to run the machine and there isn't any power. If
it comes on later maybe I can phone Chicago for a repeat--if there's
time before midnight."

"Nuts," Babin said, and headed through the candlelit gloom for the bar.

"You see?" Mr. Semmel hissed, in a hate-filled whisper. "You see what
you're costing me? Never again, Mrs. Goudeket!"

She wandered off, preoccupied. Semmel was a nobody, a clerk hired by
the big brokers, in spite of his pretensions. But if the brokers, in
their cold and analytical way, did decide at the end of the season
that Goudeket's Green Acres didn't handle enough to make the operation
worth their while, next year nobody would come around and bid for the
horse-book concession. And it was the concession that pushed the resort
over the line between red and black ink.

You had to make money and you had to grow. Mr. Goudeket had never
understood that. Orange trees were all very well, but since 1926 she
had been the driver, the doer, the builder. And Mr. Goudeket had never
got to Palestine after all, which showed that dreaming got you nowhere.
She felt a guilty twinge. One year they could have made the cruise.
One year there had been nothing urgent, which is a miraculous year
in the resort business. She had put the money aside as a reserve and
said nothing about it, and poor Mr. Goudeket couldn't understand a
financial statement. The guests loved him, his Zionist connections had
been valuable, though he never suspected it, and he had been a fine
all-around handyman since the days in the Brighton Beach boarding
house; he had saved them thousands of dollars with his clever hands and
brought in thousands of dollars with his connections. But grow? He had
never understood. And so he never got to see Palestine? What of it,
anyway? And again Mrs. Goudeket felt the guilty twinge.

She peered into the bar; it was doing a good business by candlelight.
Her Young Marrieds--she grimaced--were getting drunk early. Dave Wax
was on a barstool with an on-the-rocks glass in front of him; he was
telling one of his stories.

"Dave," she said softly, "when you've finished your drink why don't you
give a little show for the people outside?"

The comedian theatrically gulped from his glass and told his barmates
loudly: "I love this dear lady. Just like my mother, she is. Just like
my mother--always hollering, '_Get to work, ya bum!_'"

He pranced out, grinning, on the tide of half-drunk laughter. She
watched him from the bar for a minute; he went looping through the room
loudly announcing a one-man show by that star of stage, screen, TV and
radio, Dave Wax, also available for weddings and bar mitzvahs, call
Murray Hill 3-41798805427--it went trailing on and on and on as he led
them to circle him around the piano. He pounded out the introductory
chords of his "Nervous in the Service" routine, which was very funny
and not too dirty; from there she hoped he'd go into a community sing;
that would calm the people down.

She went to the switchboard again and snapped the toggle for the
outside line. Try the electric company, get some kind of a real promise
out of them, maybe bully her way through to the Load Dispatcher, a
really responsible person, not like their phone girls.

"Hello," she said. "Operator, hello?" The line wasn't stone-cold dead,
but it wasn't buzzing with the reassuring familiarity of the dial
tone. A delusive droning kept encouraging her to try; mechanically
she switched off and on again, asked for the operator, tried dialing
various service numbers. As she went through the motions she thought
abstractedly that something had to work; the horse-book concession
was absolutely vital. She'd always known she should have an auxiliary
generator, paid for God knows how, so the teletype could be kept
going--but what good was a teletype with power and no line in? It was
dawning on her that the place was cut off from the outside world, that
the wires were down and would stay down for hours.

Radios? The radio must be saying something. There was a little station
in Hebertown that played nothing but records and news a couple of times
a day from the _Weekly Times_ office. Junk like who's in the hospital,
the borough council meeting, "want ads of the air," traffic things.
_They'd_ know what this rain was doing, they'd have an estimate from
the power and phone companies of the damage to the lines and when
they'd be back in service.

The radio would tell her everything she needed to know; then a calm
announcement to the guests and everybody would go to bed cheerfully,
rather enjoying the excitement....

But little Mrs. Fiedler came up and she had her portable radio in her
hand, weighing her down like a suitcase; it wasn't one of those little
pocket jobs but a substantial long-range outfit. Little Mrs. Fiedler
made something of a nuisance of herself when she played it beside the
swimming pool--highbrow music from New York City stations.

"Could you get me an outside line, Mrs. Goudeket?" she said. "I want to
call my mother in New York so she won't worry."

"Worry? About somebody at Goudeket's Green Acres?" the old woman
kidded. "She should have such worries. But I'm sorry, the phone's out
again. I don't know for how long. But why should she worry?"

"There was a news broadcast from New York, there's a flood up in
Richardstown. Of course that's a hundred miles away, but to my mother,
the mountains are the mountains."

"Ah. Richardstown. Mrs. Fiedler, did you try the local station? Let's
go into my office and see what they have to say."

But even the big, powerful portable failed to pick up the local
station. Mrs. Goudeket refused to think of what _that_ might mean.

Alone again, she realized that she'd have to send somebody out into
that terrible rain, send them to town, the _Times_ office or any other
phone they could reach. She had to know what was coming next. Send who?
Not the bartender; he was the most valuable man on the premises right
now. Dave Wax was next, and the kitchen help couldn't be spared. Dick
McCue, the "golf pro"--nineteen years old, doubling in trumpet--where
was _he_? He should be in the social hall backing up Dave Wax, keeping
the people busy, keeping their minds off--whatever it was. Where _was_
he?

And then she thought, distastefully, of exactly whom she'd have to
send. Sharon Froman, she called herself, and in the wild week before
opening she had let Sharon Froman foist herself on Green Acres as a
"publicity director"--just room, board, ten a week for the season. At
first Sharon Froman had actually worked; she had written good stories
that actually appeared, not cut too badly, in the issues of the New
York _Post_ which also carried Green Acres advertisements; maybe she
had even got them a couple of guests. That lasted for about ten days,
and then Sharon Froman had slowly withdrawn from any hotel activity
except eating; when you passed her room at any time of the day or night
you were as likely as not to hear the muffled thudding of a noiseless
portable. When Mrs. Goudeket barged in or met her in the dining room
and asked how the publicity stories were coming, Sharon Froman would
smile vaguely, teasingly, and say something that didn't, after you
stopped to think of it, make sense. "I think I've got a very dynamic
program lined up, Mrs. Goudeket, and I'm polishing the rough spots."

Black-haired, square-jawed, near-sighted, in her early thirties, a
persuasive talker--Mrs. Goudeket was the living proof of that--groomed
either to perfection or not at all, maybe five feet six, easily twenty
pounds overweight. Sharon Froman. The perfect expendable to go out and
learn the score. Mrs. Goudeket started grimly up the steps. You better
be feeling good and dynamic, Miss Sharon Froman, she thought, nerving
herself for a battle. I got some real rough spots for you to polish now.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the bat's nest that that sneaking old hag Goudeket called a room,
Miss Sharon Froman was lovingly recopying chapter one of Her Novel.
Her only light was a candle socketed in the sticky neck of an empty
Southern Comfort bottle, and the flame flickered and turned blue
regularly as the wind swept through the closed windows. What a shack,
thought Miss Sharon Froman, not in anger but in judgment.

But it had its compensations. She could see the jacket copy for the
novel now: "_Spraddled Evening_ is an odd book, written at odd times
in odd places. Begun in a shabby trailer outside a Mississippi Army
camp--" She grimaced, remembering how perfectly foul Ritchie had been
when she'd had story conferences with Don while Ritchie was restricted
to the post--"it was shaped and polished by turns in the club car of a
transcontinental train, a cold-water flat in the East Bronx, a luxury
resort hotel and a Jersey fishing village, reaching its evocative
climax while Miss Froman was--" Well, that you would have to wait and
see, thought Miss Froman, taking page 2 out of the typewriter. But the
end was almost in sight. The first chapter set the tone for the whole
book; and now that that was nearly perfect it was only a dash to the
finish line.

She lit a cigarette from the candle before she put page three into
the typewriter. Page three was the one that would do Hesch in the
eye. He'd be sure to recognize the savagely drawn, feudal-minded pants
presser if he read it--and he'd be goddam sure to read it, if he had to
hock the watch she'd given him to get the price. Sixty bucks that watch
had cost out of her share of his Christmas bonus, and it was the only
decent thing he owned. "So why doesn't he sell it," she demanded of the
wind, "if he's so broke he can't keep up the alimony?"

She knew as soon as she heard the knock on the door that it was Mrs.
Goudeket. The chapter went into the bulging file under the bed; the
half-page beginning on the story about Dick McCue went into the
typewriter, using the paper bail so Old Bat-Ears wouldn't hear the
ratchet clicking. "Come in, please," she called, with just the proper
annoyance at being interrupted.

She glanced coldly at her employer.

Mrs. Goudeket sat down without waiting to be asked; those stairs were
getting steeper every day. "Sharon, honey," she wheezed, "I want you to
do me a favor. Frankly, I'm a little worried."

Sharon listened with minimal courtesy. Unbelievable, she thought to
herself, now the old harpy expected her to go driving out in this crazy
rain to find out if it was really raining. So suppose she got into
Hebertown, what could she find out? The lines were down? They knew
that. And what else could there conceivably be?

Since it was a point of principle, she knew what she had to say.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Goudeket," she said gently. "It just isn't my job."
Besides, the season was practically over; so let Old Bat-Ears fire her.

"Aw, Sharon," wheedled Mrs. Goudeket. "Who else have I got? Believe me,
it's not for me, it's for all of us. Suppose--"

"No."

"No!" shrilled Mrs. Goudeket. "I feed you the whole summer, for what?
One little thing I want you to do, and what do I get? Listen here,
young lady, I'm telling you for the last time--" It went on for ten
minutes, during which Mrs. Goudeket quite forgot to worry about the
storm.

She was still breathing hard when she appeared at the door of the Game
Room and signaled imperiously to Dick McCue.

"You got to drive me into Hebertown," she ordered.

"But Mrs. Goudeket!" He nodded back at the room, where a couple of
sullen guests were doggedly putting golf balls into a tumbler. "I got a
contest going. Dave said I had to help out; he said--"

"This is more important," Mrs. Goudeket said firmly. "You think I like
going myself? God knows what the guests will think, so don't tell them.
Let them look."

"All right, Mrs. Goudeket. I'll tell you what, I'll go get the car and
meet you at the kitchen entrance. Just the two of us going?"

Mrs. Goudeket smiled frostily. "Three," she said. "Miss Froman is
leaving us."



                             CHAPTER THREE


The burgess of Hebertown wasn't having any luck with his call to the
weather bureau. Because he was the burgess, he had got his own line to
the central office back in service; but the central office was having a
hell of a time getting through to any point outside.

If he had got through, he wouldn't have had much luck either, because
there were plenty of lines down, but practically all the ones that were
left were trying to get onto the same three instruments in the bureau's
outer office.

The chief of bureau was talking into one of them, kept open with a
direct line to the nearest Civil Defense filter center: "Charley?
Here's the latest. No chance of the rain stopping for at least several
hours, that's the big thing. Some places it's hitting an inch an hour.
There's all that wet air that Diane pulled in from the Atlantic, and
now the winds have pushed it up; when it gets cold the water has to
come out. How much?" He blinked at the phone; he had been in that
office for seventeen hours and, he suddenly remembered, he'd never got
around to having lunch sent up. "Call it ten inches, average through
the area affected. What?" He sat up straight. "Now listen, Charley!
I've busted forecasts and I've admitted it; but you can't hang this one
on me--"

The station duty forecaster, on the phone next to him, was saying:
"Sure, we're sticking by our forecast. Go ahead and print it. Flood
damage? No, I can't give you anything; not our line. Please, won't you
read the forecast? We said heavy rain. We said prospect of danger from
flooding because the soil is saturated--no room for the rain to soak
in, it has to run off somewhere. The only thing we didn't say was
'positively.'" He hung up, but didn't take his hand off the phone; it
would ring again in seconds. It didn't much matter what they printed,
of course; the newspaper that had been on the wire was in a town that
had grown rich from the two rivers that joined in its heart, and the
forecaster had his own feelings about what those two rivers might do.

He took his other hand off the clipboard and found he had crumpled
their copy for the last forecast into a ball. He tossed it in the
basket, hardly hearing his chief shouting into the phone next to him;
it didn't matter, he knew it by heart now anyhow, but as the phone rang
again, he made a dive and recovered the forecast. He smoothed it out
carefully. It might, he suddenly realized, be very important indeed,
over the next weeks and months when the investigating commissions and
legislative committees began sniffing through the debris.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Chesbro came smiling into the burgess's office. "Excuse me," she
said. "I knocked, but you were busy on the phone--"

"Not very," said the burgess, slamming the instrument down. Now he
couldn't even get the central office again. "What can I do for you?"
He didn't know the woman. She was expensively dressed; the burgess,
whose wife read _Vogue_, realized that her flat-heeled leather shoes,
her matching waterproof tweed coat and cap, her neat leather gloves all
were imported and expensive. For the rest, she was a small blonde in
her twenties with a careful, conciliatory look on her face.

"I'm Mrs. Arthur Chesbro," she said. "Arthur and I drove over from
Summit to see you. Arthur let me off and then he decided he'd better
move the car to a little higher ground, the top of that little shopping
street you have, Sullivan Street, isn't it? After General Sullivan, I
suppose? And he'll be right along and then you two can get on with your
little talk."

The burgess looked at her vaguely, her chatter only half comprehended.
If she had been a man he would have said something like: "I'm sorry
but I'm tied up now; write me a letter and we'll make an appointment."
Since she was a woman his old-fashioned notions ruled that out.
"I didn't expect Mr. Chesbro," he began. "I've got so much on my
mind right now with the rain--" He noted with wry amusement that
he had started to say "flood" and changed the word. Civic pride or
superstition?--"that I don't think this is the best time for a meeting.
Could you go and head him off, Mrs. Chesbro? It can't be urgent."

"Arthur thinks it is," she said. "A man phoned him from New York that
this Mickey Groff is on his way and Arthur swore around the house for
fifteen minutes and then told me to get out the car and, well, here I
am." She could ask for a favor and keep her dignity. "I'm sure it won't
take more than a minute. Arthur says it's all cut and dried."

Chief Brayer came in without knocking. His black slicker streamed and
his mustache was limp. "Henry," he said to the burgess, "I make it
twelve feet and rising at the Sullivan Street bridge. In thirty-five
it was only eight feet and in thirty-nine it was only nine and a half.
What's going on down in the Hollow, God only knows. Anyway, I'd better
get down there with all the boys. All right?"

"Sure, Red. Get on down. Send somebody to my place in a car with a
trailer hitch; have 'em tow my boat down to the Hollow. It's all set up
on the trailer in the garage, ready to go." He grinned wryly. "I was
thinking I might take Bess up to Cayuga for a day on the water."

Mrs. Chesbro looked on blankly.

"Great," the chief said. "It's got a good spotlight, too. We'll need
that. If you don't mind a suggestion, Henry, I'd turn out the fire
department and have them standing by. You may need some able-bodied men
in a hurry. Twelve feet and rising--" He hurried from the office.

"Excuse me," the burgess said to Mrs. Chesbro, and tried the
interphone on his desk. It worked; so far the main to the north end of
the borough had not been flooded and shorted out.

"Fire chief," said the interphone.

"This is Henry, Chief. Red Brayer thinks, and I agree, that you should
sound the general alarm for the volunteers, that they should be
standing by in the engine house with their cars parked in the square.
The Hollow's filling up fast--at least it must be; the water's twelve
feet and rising at the bridge."

"Right, Henry. That all?"

"For the present, yes," the burgess sighed. He clicked the box off.
Immediately he heard the klaxon on top of the building hoot three
longs, then pause and hoot again and then again. It was the Emergency
Muster signal, and it would galvanize fifty men scattered throughout
the borough into dropping whatever they were doing, tearing to their
cars and speeding to the borough hall, or more exactly to its ground
floor left wing where the fire department--two LaFrance pumpers, one
ancient and one beautifully new, two full-time employees, the chief and
the driver--were housed. He hoped they wouldn't be too disappointed
when they found they'd be on a boring standby.

And now, he thought, he really ought to get out and drive around
on a tour of inspection. There wasn't any point to sticking in the
office with the phone out and the firemen and police already committed
to action. He had hoped for some usefulness out of the local radio
station, but it was silent, had been for an hour. The news of the
Hollow explained that; the transmitter tower, a modest spire, was
planted in a marshy field down that way. It had something to do with a
good ground, he had been told once, so they had a good ground and they
were now bugged out the one time they'd be able to do a public service
beyond broadcasting damnfool hillbilly music.

He was reaching for his raincoat, to the dismay of Mrs. Chesbro, when
a big man came in. The burgess recognized him as her husband, the
redoubtable Arthur Chesbro of Summit. He had, quite consciously, had
as little to do with Arthur Chesbro as possible, but there was an
irreducible minimum of contact with the man that couldn't be avoided.
He was all over the place in Summit, a closely neighboring borough, and
he had feelers out through the entire area. You heard of his interest
in this and that--bankrolling a resort, buying a professional building
a county away and turning it over _fast_, snapping up timber rights
to a farmer's woodlot and turning _them_ over to a firm from over the
state line; snatching an FCC television construction permit from under
the nose of heavy competition and then not building the station after
all for mysterious and profitable reasons. He was a leading citizen,
the burgess supposed, but he had nevertheless carefully avoided him
whenever possible. He was not really sure why, but once after a couple
of bourbons with Chief Brayer he had told the chief that he thought
Arthur Chesbro suffered from a case of moral and ethical halitosis.

Physically, Chesbro was a picture of success, rather soaked and winded
success at the moment, having hiked in the rain from Sullivan Street
and climbed the steep stairs to the burgess's second-floor office.

He grasped the burgess's automatically extended hand with a firm and
manly grip. "It's good to see you again, Henry," he intoned. "How's
Bess?"

"Fine, thanks."

"And that boy of yours in medical school?"

"Fine--uh, Arthur." He thought resignedly that you have to go along
with these characters. And maybe, for God's sake, Chesbro actually did
remember Bess and did remember hearing about Ted and actually did wish
them well. Maybe.

"I see you've met my wife, Henry. Well, it looks like quite a nasty
downpour, doesn't it?"

Now he's talking about the weather, for God's sake, to put me at my
ease and get the conversation going on a topic of universal interest.
Always start by talking about the weather; nobody's so shy or so stupid
that he can't think of something to say about the weather. Well, sir,
this time the maxim was going to backfire in Arthur Chesbro's red face.
"Glad you mentioned that, Arthur," the burgess said briskly. "I'm
leaving now. I'm afraid we're in for something worse than we got in
thirty-five and thirty-nine, and I'm going to cruise around and have
a look-see. I don't know why you came to see me on a dirty night like
this, but if you can't put it in a nutshell it'll have to wait."

Arthur Chesbro was disconcerted. "Didn't you see the story in the paper
yesterday, Henry?"

"I've been mighty busy," the burgess apologized, getting into his
raincoat.

"Well, it said, roughly--well, never mind the story. What I want to do
is take the old Swanscomb Mill off the borough's hands and put a tidy
rental into the communal pocket--_and_ hire a few of your local people."

"Sounds fine," the burgess said. He started for the door. "But there's
a fellow with a plant in Brooklyn who's interested too. I understood
he's coming out to see us about it, but I suppose this weather'll hold
him up. I think we'd better table this matter until I hear from him and
have a chance to compare the offers. Now, if you'll excuse me--"

"I never thought," said Chesbro flatly, "that I'd see a neighbor
selling out to foreign interests when he has a bid from a local man."

The burgess took his hand off the doorknob and looked at Chesbro
steadily up and down. "I don't like your language worth a damn,"
he said. "I'd give you a lecture on manners if I didn't have more
important things to do. You can find your way out, can't you?"

Chesbro's eyes dropped, but the burgess thought he could read a look of
calculation on his face. "Sorry," he said. "By the way, my car is just
up the hill. Can I help out?"

"Well," said the burgess, and thought. Might as well save climbing all
the way up West Street--and you couldn't brush off a man who was trying
to do you a favor, just because you thought he stank. "Obliged," he
said. "If you'll drop me at my house I'll pick up my own car."

He waited with Mrs. Chesbro while her husband dashed through the rain.
She didn't talk, which the burgess approved, and once when he met her
eye she gave him a tired smile. The burgess judged that she was onto
her husband, and seldom had anything to smile about.

       *       *       *       *       *

For that matter, what did anyone have to smile about? The burgess
looked over his borough and hardly heard Artie Chesbro chattering
beside him. The street lamps at the bottom of West Street were out.
One of the big elms that framed the post office was trailing a pair
of enormous branches, broken-winged, across the street; they had to
detour far to the left to pass it. Well, there wouldn't be much traffic
tonight--and you couldn't tell, maybe he'd be lucky and the whole tree
would have to come down; and then they could get on with widening West
Street and the hell with the Garden Club.

They went up over the West Street hill and down the other side.
"--don't know if you've considered the importance of warehousing
facilities in attracting industry," Chesbro was saying in his ear. "War
plants? Sure. They're a dime a dozen, Henry, and they come and fold up
and then where are you? But you take a town that's got a reputation for
good, low-cost--"

The burgess felt entirely too surrounded by Chesbros, with Artie
babbling on one side and the wife, silent on the other. Then they
turned into Sycamore. The burgess leaned forward. Funny, he could
hardly see the highway junction at the bottom of the hill. They rolled
down at forty or so, and then everything happened at once. Something
jumped up out of the pavement ahead of them. "Watch out!" yelled the
burgess. "Jesus!" cried Artie Chesbro, slamming on the brakes and
skidding. It looked like a figure, some crazy kind of figure hard to
make out in the rain, that suddenly started to get up in the middle of
the road; it humped itself and flopped back, and then leaped high in
the air, higher than the roof of the car.

Mrs. Chesbro laughed out loud, nervously.

"Busted water pipe!" cried Artie Chesbro. "Look, Henry, it's a whole
fountain!"

It was a fountain, all right, but it wasn't anything broken. The
burgess swallowed hard. Not in '35, not even in '39, had the storm
sewers backed up hard enough and fast enough to send their manhole lids
flying into the air.



                             CHAPTER FOUR


Dick McCue started off like a jet pilot. "What's the hurry?" Mrs.
Goudeket demanded. "Better go slow and we'll get there." She was
feeling uneasier than ever; because though she had heard the rain
pounding on the house, and seen the rain sluicing down the windows, she
hadn't _felt_ the rain until that two-yard dash from the door to the
station wagon that had wet her to the skin.

"Sure, Mrs. Goudeket," he said cheerfully, and slowed down--briefly.
Fast, slow--he could drive that blacktop road down to the highway
in his sleep. This was what he liked; something happening. He never
would have taken the agency's offer of this job if he'd known it would
involve running putting contests for rained-in guests who blamed it
all on him. Girls, dances, a chance to sharpen up his game for the
all-important Inter-Collegiate Medalist next year--the agency had made
it sound pretty great. Of course, he had a lot to offer, too--his
maidenhead, for instance, as far as the world of golf was concerned;
now he was definitely and permanently a pro, and some of the doors in
golfing were forever closed to him. Maybe he should have held out for
more money. But what was the difference; Dick McCue knew well enough
that his game wasn't going to support him all his life; he had a good,
powerful drive and a touch with the putter, but everything between the
tee and the cup was hard work. It made him a splendid golf pro for Mrs.
Goudeket's guests, most of whose future golfing would be either on a
driving range or on one of those miniature courses that were coming
back, but that was as far as his talents went. Dick McCue didn't kid
himself--or anyway, not about his golf.

Mrs. Goudeket cried out and clutched his arm. "Look! Four hundred
dollars worth of topsoil!" But it wasn't four hundred dollars worth of
topsoil any more; it was a lake. She looked at it incredulously. She
remembered distinctly what it had looked like when she and Mr. Goudeket
had taken possession of Goudeket's Green Acres, formerly known as
Holiday Hacienda: It had been a muddy cow pasture, rutted and gullied.
It had taken three days with a bulldozer before they could start
putting the topsoil on--

Mrs. Goudeket swallowed, as she considered where the four hundred
dollars for the next batch of topsoil might be coming from. From the
back seat Sharon Froman called sharply: "Watch yourself, Dick!"

"I see him," McCue said, slowing down. A battered pickup truck was
wallowing around their entrance road, trying to turn around. The driver
was being meticulously careful about staying off the shoulders, which
made it a long process, but finally he got turned around and pulled
over. As the station wagon drew close he leaned out and yelled: "This
ain't the road to Hebertown, is it?"

Dick McCue leaned over his employer to roll the window down and yell
back: "No! You have to turn left at the road, then the second right,
left at the bridge--Look, just follow me." He barely got his head out
of the window before Mrs. Goudeket rolled it up again.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Follow him! Jeez, I ought to have an airplane!"

Mickey Groff said, "We ought to be nearly there by now. Does it look
familiar?"

"Nothing looks familiar," Sam Zehedi complained, trying to keep the
lights of the station wagon in sight. He stole a look at the dashboard.
Forty-two miles they'd come! Backtracking where the bridge was washed
out, taking a shortcut that had turned out impassable, getting lost on
the country roads down toward the river--forty-two miles, and they'd
started out three miles from town. There was a mile marker right in
front of the store....

No, not any more there wasn't. Sam Zehedi got a sudden cramp in his
belly thinking about it. The important thing was whether the insurance
covered it or not. He had the impression that he was covered for
everything from artillery fire by the Argentine army to glacier damage;
but that was a long time ago when he signed that check for the policy,
and he couldn't remember what it said about floods. Of course, he told
himself valiantly, that guy in the car was nuts; the store couldn't
have been just washed away. It was just that it was so dark and you
couldn't see through the rain from as close as you dared to get in the
car. Probably there was water in it, sure--but was that so bad? Look
at those people in Missouri and places like that, they go through this
every year.

He thought of the new freezer, not yet paid for, and moaned.

Mickey Groff snapped: "Are you sick? Want me to drive?"

Sam Zehedi swallowed hard. "I'm okay," he said. And he concentrated on
the twin red lights ahead of him, the beating raindrops that slipped
into the cones of the headlights and out again faster than the eye
could follow. He concentrated on the feel of the gas pedal, feeding the
gas delicately. _You're driving_, he told himself. _So drive and don't
worry._

But in less than five minutes he humbly asked Groff, "You know anything
about insurance?"

"Some," Groff said reluctantly. He could guess what was coming.

"Well, to tell you the truth I don't remember what my policy on the
store was like. Fire, of course, and extended coverage. That means
water damage, doesn't it?"

"I'm afraid not," Groff told him, feeling rotten. "Under some special
circumstances, yes--but what's back there, no. If it were primarily
windstorm damage with water damage secondary--for instance, if wind
tore your roof off and rain ruined your stock, you could collect. But
nobody's covered against--flood."

The word was out in the open at last. Zehedi choked back a sob. _You're
driving. So drive._

But in less than five minutes he found himself railing to Groff that it
wasn't fair, that he'd lost five years of work, that he would have been
ready to look for a wife in another three years, a good old-fashioned
girl from the New York or Detroit colonies of Syrians, somebody who
could cook the old-country food--God, how sick he was of hamburgers and
soda pop, sometimes he looked at a hamburger when he thought he was
hungry and just put it down and walked away with a pain in his belly.

"So why," he asked indignantly, a little hysterically, "didn't I stay
in the colony and eat my mother's cooking? I'll tell you why. Because
I wanted to be my own boss, I wanted to be a pioneer, it's no good
crowding into the big cities and working for other people. In this
country you have to make money to be respected, nobody respects you if
you're just a working stiff all your life. So I saved and I bought that
place through a broker and I've been slaving for five years, eating the
lousy food and thinking about broiled lamb I'm going to eat every day
when I find a wife, and then...."

He subsided and the rain drummed down.

They're an emotional people, Mickey Groff thought automatically, and
then cursed himself. Damned fool! Here you are thirty years old and
you're babbling stereotypes to save yourself the trouble of thinking.
Why the hell shouldn't he be emotional with his store washed away? I
seem to remember that when Zimmerman slipped the old knife between your
ribs with the trick specially printed discount sheet and cost you forty
thousand dollars you didn't have, forty thousand dollars for him and
Brody to spend on likker and wimmen, forty thousand dollars you might
have air-conditioned the plant with for better productivity and fewer
rejects, you weren't exactly philosophical about it. Your screams,
in fact, were allegedly heard as far west as Council Buffs, Iowa. So
less guff, please, about any "they," who exist only in your head, being
emotional, or stingy, or stoical, or vindictive or, for that matter,
generous and good-hearted. Take 'em as they come, one by one, for what
they show they are.

Zehedi was under control again. He said; "That guy's driving too fast."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Watch out!" Mrs. Goudeket yelled at Dick McCue. "Watch out!" The white
posts that marked the sharp left curve loomed big, too big, in front of
them. McCue twisted the wheel and stepped on the brake pedal hard and
fast. It was nightmarish to feel the rear of the car swivel around; it
was uncanny to see the road passing in front of him, defying all his
experience of perhaps a hundred thousand miles in a driver's seat. The
white center line flashed across his vision and then headlights glared
into his eyes; it was the truck that had been following them. The skid
continued for an interminable few seconds more; Sharon Froman was
screaming in the back seat. The rear of the car jolted down and McCue
and Mrs. Goudeket were thrown back against the seat as the front of
the car nosed up; metal crunched behind them. Then it all seemed to be
over. McCue took a deep breath, turned off the ignition and waited for
Mrs. Goudeket to skin him alive verbally.

She said, panting with relief: "I'm sorry I yelled at you, Dick. It
must have made you nervous so that happened."

He could have kissed her, hairy mole and all.

"If I'd been driving--" Sharon began coolly from the back.

"If your aunt had you-know-whats she'd be your uncle," said Mrs.
Goudeket tartly. "No remarks are required from you, Miss Elegant
Loafer." Sharon laughed.

"Both wheels in the drainage ditch," McCue diagnosed, "and we seem to
be hung up on the transmission."

"Can you get us out?" Mrs. Goudeket asked.

"No. But that truck's stopped. I guess we can get a ride."

Sam Zehedi laid his truck alongside the ditched sedan and got out.
"Anybody hurt?" he called.

"We're okay, thank God," Mrs. Goudeket told him shakily. "But my driver
tells me the car is through. Could you maybe give us a lift into
Hebertown? We'll be okay from there."

Mickey Groff got out--soaked again!--and surveyed them. "You two ladies
can fit in the cab with Mr. Zehedi here. The gentleman and I will ride
in the back."

"Will you take these, please?" Sharon said, opening the rear door. "Put
them in the back. Careful, that's a typewriter. And _very_ careful with
that one--it's manuscript. And these two are just clothes."

Groff wrenched open the double rear doors of the truck and put the
four pieces of luggage inside. In the darkness there were crates and
cartons. At least they'd be able to sit up instead of crouching on
a metal floor. As the driver of the ditched car passed before the
headlights he saw he was surprisingly young and obviously shaken by the
accident. "Get in," he said. "It might be worse."

Mrs. Goudeket, puffing, pulled herself up the high running board of the
truck and slid in beside Zehedi. Sharon followed, and slammed the door.
The truck moved cautiously off.

In the dark rear of the truck Groff and McCue had found milk crates to
sit on. "You all right?" Groff asked the young man. "Didn't bump your
head or anything?"

"It wasn't that kind of stop," McCue said. He began to laugh. "I'm from
Springfield, Ohio," he said between chuckles.

"Damned if I see the joke, fella."

"Well, mister, in Springfield, Ohio, damn near every spring, the little
old Springfield river that runs through town begins to rise and rise.
After a week of this it spills over the banks and the sandbags they
put up every time at the last minute and downtown Springfield is a
lake. Then everybody swears and gets the canoes and rowboats out of the
garage and goes boating glumly around until the water subsides. Well,
mister, I came east to college because I was tired of Springfield and
its foolish floods, and I run into this mess!"

Through the windows of the double door Groff saw they were passing a
small frame building with gas pumps in front. It was dark. "Cigarette?"
Groff asked steadily. He didn't want to encourage the kid's
near-hysteria.

"No, thanks. But the difference is, in Springfield it's slow and steady
and this is happening fast. And when it happens fast, sooner or later
a crest comes along and then it isn't one of those years when you just
go boating around; it's one of the years when you head for the goddam
hills, and fast."

"Then you think we're going to have a flood crest?"

"Hell, yes. Thirty, forty feet of water smashing down through the
valley. And when it comes, mister, we'd better not be there. Because
those things don't leave much behind."

They were stopping. "Now what the hell," said Mickey Groff.

There was a scratching at the double doors, and one of the women from
the ditched car climbed in. "Grand Central," she called. "Change for
the downtown local. Follow the green lights for the shuttle to Times
Square."

"You're cheerful enough, Sharon," the kid told her. "What's the matter?"

"Why, it's nothing at all. We're just out of gas, nothing else." She
turned to Mickey Groff. "Mr. Zehedi's compliments, sir, and would you
like to help him scout up some petrol?"

       *       *       *       *       *

They found the blacked-out gas station after squelching for a couple of
interminable minutes through the sopping night.

"I thought I had plenty of gas. How'd I know we'd be driving all over
the valley? You said just a quarter of a mile down the road and--"

"Shut up and let's see if we can get in," Groff ordered. Zehedi's
whining was getting on his nerves.

There wasn't a soul in the station. Not even a night light. Probably
no power, Groff thought. That meant no burglar alarms in case they
couldn't find an unlocked window--though hell, he thought wryly,
wouldn't it be nice if a State Police car did come screeching up?

"Up you go," he told Zehedi, clasping his hands to receive the toe of
Zehedi's foot.

"Locked," reported Zehedi after a moment.

"Break it open. With your elbow. Try not to cut an artery. Then when
you get inside see if--" He jerked his head aside as glass tinkled
around him.

"Sorry," apologized Zehedi.

Groff heaved and got him through the window and went back to the front
door to wait. He hoped to God Zehedi would be able to unlock something
from the inside. They would never get the women through that upper
window, and he didn't want to have to break the front door. They would
need every bit of shelter they could get.

Zehedi appeared, tried the front door from the inside (you idiot,
didn't you see the padlock? Groff thought sourly), and made shadowy
gestures toward the rear. He was yelling something, but you couldn't
hear a gunshot in the crashing rain. Groff got the general idea in any
case, and stumbled around to the back. Zehedi let him in.

The grocer was all keyed up. "That looks like a fuse box," he
chattered. "Didn't see a switch for the pump motors, but it ought to be
right around there someplace, wouldn't you say? And there're some soda
bottles in case we can't find a gallon jug. All we have to do--"

"Go get the others, Sam," Groff ordered. He took his fingers off the
light switch he had been trying, though he had known what the results
would be ahead of time. "No electricity, you see? So the gas will just
have to stay in the pumps for a while."

He closed the door behind the grocer and looked over their refuge.
It wasn't much of a filling station--a couple of pumps out in front,
an ice chest full of soft-drink bottles and a little serving counter
inside. They had come in through a sort of storeroom, and there was the
chance that there might be something useful in there, but it had looked
like nothing more promising than the usual collection of old newspapers
and three-legged chairs. There was a rickety stair to, presumably, a
couple more storerooms.

Groff made thrifty inventory of what was on and behind the serving
counter. A coffeemaker--no good. No power, though a cup of good hot
coffee would have helped a lot. Easily a dozen cardboard boxes which,
opened, proved to contain peanut-butter-and-cheese crackers and
Orioles. Candy bars and bags of peanuts beyond their utmost powers of
consumption--they might get rickets, but they wouldn't starve. But
water, though--the place didn't seem to have any.

Scratch water. They could get by on the soft drinks, or if worse came
to worst, there certainly was much more water than they needed right
outside.

A telephone! He looked through all his pockets without coming up with
anything smaller than a quarter; he slipped the quarter into the slot
and there was a mellow bong to acknowledge it. There was nothing else.
He held the receiver to his ears for a good two minutes, but the line
was dead.

And then he found the greatest treasure of all, a box of stubby
short candles, under the serving counter. Evidently power failures
were not unheard of around here--something, Groff reminded himself
automatically, to keep in mind when he talked to the burgess tomorrow.

_If_ he talked to the burgess tomorrow. There was something there that
would need thinking about, too, but the thing to do right now was
locate some matches. His own, of course, were more than merely wet--the
striking surface had soaked right off them. But there was a cigarette
machine, and fortunately a mechanical, not an electrically operated,
one.

By the time Sam got back with the others Groff was busy by candlelight,
trying to brace a Coca-Cola easel display to cover the window they had
broken. Sharon Froman was hugging the briefcase full of manuscript.

       *       *       *       *       *

You don't last thirty years in the resort business unless you know how
to take your mind off your troubles. Mrs. Goudeket, sipping delicately
from a quart bottle of black cherry soda, chattered gaily: "Soda pop!
Three years I haven't had a drop of soda pop. Now don't tell on me,
Dick. If Dr. Postal ever finds out, he'll kill me next time he comes to
the hotel--" She choked on a swallow of the soda.

Dick McCue sat on one of the counter stools, sneering at the spectacle
Sharon Froman was making of herself over that Mickey Groff. All the
same, he admitted to himself, it was a real championship performance.
She hadn't had two minutes alone with him, but McCue was willing to
bet she could tell to a nickel how much a transistor manufacturer, in
process of expansion from forty employees to a hundred, was likely to
have in the bank. And there wasn't a chance in the world that this
Groff knew what she was doing. This was the no-nonsense Sharon, the
hard-working first-week-of-the-season Sharon, who was right by Groff's
side when he needed a hand, who didn't ask foolish questions, who kept
calm and ready. And to think that as late as Monday night, sneaking
back to his own room, he had begun to think--

Sharon and the manufacturer came in from the storeroom with another
load of newspapers and dumped them. "All right," said Groff, "I guess
that's all we'll need. They won't be very comfortable, but maybe
somebody'll come by before morning."

"I don't expect to sleep much anyhow," said Sharon cheerfully. She
tapped Zehedi on the shoulder. "Move your feet a little, will you, Sam?"

The grocer started. He picked his feet up so she could spread the
newspapers, and when she was through she had to remind him he could put
them down again. Five years down the drain. Five more years of hot dogs
and that muddy water they call coffee. I'll be thirty-five years old,
and still three or four years to go--

Everybody felt it at once.

"The wind?" ventured Mrs. Goudeket. They stared at each other; the
building seemed to be vibrating slightly.

Dick McCue, suddenly white, stumbled across the floor and pressed his
face to the door.

"Take a look!" he yelled. "That ain't wind!"

Even in the blackness, they could see the river that had been a road
outside, the comb of current around the gas pumps, the surging water
that lapped at the door.



                             CHAPTER FIVE


An air watcher, it doesn't matter which one of the thousands he was,
stepped from the hospital elevator at the third, and top floor. He went
through a door marked NO ADMITTANCE and climbed iron stairs to the
roof. It was black and drizzling; he hoped the rain wouldn't get worse,
at least not during his tour of duty. He had heard on a news broadcast
that west of his area there were cloudbursts.

He was tired from a long day at his appliance store on Broad Street and
he was a little sorry he had signed up for this Ground Observer Corps
thing, but everybody in Rotary was taking a shift so he felt he had
to go along. He threaded his way around the invisible obstacles that
studded the hospital roof and groped at the black-out curtain of the
shack.

It was dry and bright inside the little cubicle, but somewhat crowded.
The man he was relieving yawned, looked at the clock--so he was two
minutes late!--and said: "Howdy. Ready to go?"

"Sure. Everything quiet?"

"Yeah. CMA Flight 24 was early and south of their course, so I phoned
in for the hell of it. Coffee's hot."

"Maybe later. Well, I relieve you."

The man passed over the night glasses and went yawning through the
curtains. The air watcher wiped the drizzled lenses of the binoculars,
sighed and stepped out onto the roof. He slumped into the swivel chair,
tilted back in the patter of rain and watched the overcast sky with
boredom. The little town's lights were bright; after a few minutes
outside you could see how far they really shone. And a few minutes
more and you could see the lights of the next little town, fifteen
miles away, as a dim haze on the horizon. By the time his tour was over
they would have gone out and everybody would be in bed, light rain
comfortably pattering on their roofs.

The phone inside the shack jangled--most unusual!

He blundered in through the curtains, blinking at the naked bulb. He
picked up the direct-wire phone and gave his GOC post number.

"Filter Center," said the phone. "Is your town flooded?"

"No!" he said, astounded.

"How much rain are you having?"

"Just a light drizzle. Why?"

"Thanks," Filter Center said, and hung up.

"Now what the hell--?" he gasped, standing there with the phone in his
hand, not realizing that he--one of thousands--had just played his part
in alleviating state-wide disaster.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Filter Center was in the basement of the College's newest
structure, the Physical Sciences Building. Its location was a low-grade
secret in that it was never published in the papers. Since it was
staffed mostly by unpaid volunteers, that was about as far as the
secrecy went.

The government had spent a lot of money on it in 1949. The money had
transformed an ordinary storage and heating-plant basement into an
air-conditioned, soundproofed office of enormous size. There was a
huge table with an inlaid map of the area; this was the heart of the
center and the numerous other installations were designed either to
send information to the table or take information from it. Information
came by phone from watchers like our man on the roof; his messages
buzzed from headsets into the ears of girls who stood at a plexiglas
sheet ruled off in grids. At word from him that he had sighted a
plane--direction traveling, height and type if possible--they scribbled
symbols in china-marking pencil on the sheet. One of the girls around
the map table then shoved a marker to the right spot on the map. The
Air Force liaison officer constantly on duty at the table checked
the marker against his list of submitted flight plans from the Civil
Aeronautics Authority and decided that all was well. If the marker did
not correspond with any submitted flight plan he picked up a phone
and called an interceptor base, usually to find that radar units had
beaten the filter center and its volunteers to the warning, that jet
fighters had scrambled, perhaps that the errant plane had already been
identified as a strayed commercial flight and that the fighters were
down again. Twice in five years the volunteers had beaten the radar,
and the lieutenant considered those two times well worth the cost of
the center and the boredom of duty there.

It was a very dull night, and the lieutenant was looking forward to his
relief when the call from the State Director of Civil Defense came in.

"Hell's busting loose, Lieutenant," the director said succinctly. "I'm
getting calls from here and there with spotty reports of flooding, but
mostly from scared people who want to know what's going on and what
they should do about it. Can you call all your air watchers and get a
summary of the situation?"

"I'll put the chief operator on it, sir," the lieutenant said. "We can
put the reports on the map. I'll report this to Group at once; I'm
sure they can get a meteorologist here at once to try and evaluate it
for you. And maybe the army will lend us an engineer officer with some
experience in flood control."

The night was turning out to be not so dull after all.
Diplomatically--he was liaison, not command--he filled in the chief
operator, and she made a little speech to the matrons and girls,
detailing half of them to continue meticulously with the aircraft work
and the rest to start phoning the watchers. The lieutenant rapidly
devised a set of symbols to summarize the conditions at each point;
his weather studies helped there.

Within minutes they were jotting them down on the map table. One girl
came to him with the question, what do you do when you can't get a wire
through?

"Put down an _F_," he said. "For flooded."

The director was back on the wire, and he hadn't even called Group
yet. "You'd better send a man of your own down here, sir," he advised.
"Somebody from your staff who can do nothing but report to you."

"Good idea. He's on his way, Lieutenant."

He got through to Group, the officer of the day first and then the
sleepy executive officer. The exec carefully avoided commenting on his
action but said, "We'll send you a meteorologist pronto. I'll message
First Army about the engineer officer. Meanwhile, keep at it--and don't
forget your primary mission, Lieutenant."

He would not forget. One of the girls at the plexiglas scribbled a
symbol, but nobody at the table picked it up; they were too busy
twittering and tutting over the grim picture shaping up along the
rivers of their state. "Get that intercept!" he snapped at the girl who
was responsible for the sector.

"Sorry," she said, burning red, and picked out a marker to shove
carefully to the right spot on the map. Multi-engine, approximately
angels ten, bearing 280. The lieutenant checked his list; it was CMA
Flight 24 a little off course.

And the girls kept calling; from some alert watchers they got
unbelievably exact information relayed from local police or
newsmen--normal river depth, present river depth, rise during the past
24 hours, condition of phone and power lines. From others they got
only brief impressions that there was trouble, and how much. From many
they got nothing at all. Down the river valley towns on the map table
crawled the menacing symbol _F_, over and over again.



                              CHAPTER SIX


The man in the winterized jeep unzipped a window, leaned out and
yelled: "The burgess around here?"

The four soaked men working around the tow truck didn't even answer.
One of them gestured down the road with an arm and they went back to
trying to get a line to a car that had gone off the road. It was now
roof-deep in the torrent that had once been a drainage ditch, and up to
five minutes ago it had looked as though something was moving behind
the windshield.

The man in the jeep spat into the rain and drove on. He finally found
the burgess's car parked with its lights on, along with a couple of
others, a few yards from the edge of the river. That was crazy, he
thought, why didn't they park them up on the highway, twenty-five feet
above the water? Then he remembered that he was on the highway.

"Man wants you, Henry."

The burgess turned around to face his chief of police. "If it's that
Artie Chesbro again, tell him to take his goddamn car and--"

"No. Lloyd Eisele--don't know if you know him, he's got a dairy farm up
in the hills."

"Then why didn't he have sense enough to stay there?"

"His boy's a radio ham, Henry. He's got a message for you."

Burgess Starkman snapped at the man: "Well?"

The dairy farmer said, "The kid has a contact with a phone line open to
the Civil Defense Filter Center in Springfield. They want an estimate
of damage; they want to know what help and supplies you'll need in the
morning. And they've got instructions for you." He took a piece of
paper out of his pocket and handed it over.

Burgess Starkman said to his chief of police, "What do you think?
Should I send somebody back with him to talk to them?"

"Sprayragen," said Chief Brayer promptly. "He's too old for this
anyhow. Let him sit down for a while." He went off to get him.

The dairy farmer looked around at the cars, the fire engine, the men
with flashlights and electric lanterns moving around in the downpour.
"Something happen?" he wanted to know.

"You could say that," the burgess said wearily. "There was a boy's camp
a mile up the river. It's gone now, and eight of the kids are missing.
We put a boat in the water, and all that happened was we lost a boat."
He glanced at the dairy farmer. "How'd you know where to find me? Have
you been in Hebertown?"

The dairy farmer nodded.

"Is it bad there?"

The dairy farmer coughed. "You haven't been in town for a while, have
you?" He didn't look at the burgess. "The water was up to the corner
where the Moose building is--you know? Somebody told me all the stores
on Front Street are gone."

He went on from there. By the time the chief of police got back with
old Sprayragen the burgess had pieced together an ugly picture.

As the jeep turned around, Burgess Starkman yelled, "Oh, by the
way--thanks!" He looked blankly at Brayer. "Did you hear what he said?"

"Enough." Brayer looked sick. He burst out, "God amighty, Henry, we're
doing this all wrong. We ought to be back in town, running the show,
instead of out here trying to do everything ourselves. We ought to
have two-way radio on the pumpers, and a first-aid emergency truck,
and an organization set up year-round with volunteers trained for
emergency work. Sure, it'd cost a little money, but what the hell, the
taxpayers'll stand for it. Something like this will make godfearing
citizens out of them for a while anyhow."

"Sure," said the burgess gently. "Sure, Red. You finish up here and
come on back to town and we'll start over." He left the chief of police
there, with his thick mustache running water and his old face worried
and indignant. As he headed back to the car where the Chesbros were
waiting, he thought: Red's a good man and he's right, only he hasn't
finished thinking it through yet. We need all those things all right.
But after this--what taxpayers?

       *       *       *       *       *

Artie Chesbro was sulking. If that power-mad son of a bitch Starkman
had been willing to give him two lousy minutes of his time, they could
have got the whole thing over with and he'd be back in Summit by now,
getting a good night's sleep, instead of catching pneumonia sitting in
the car. He couldn't even help out in their lousy Boy-Scout act--they'd
chased him back to the car the second time he'd fallen in, on the
pretext that they didn't have another flashlight to replace the one
he'd lost. So there went a fine chance to get Starkman's ear. Thank
God, he told himself virtuously, nothing like this could happen back in
Summit. For two cents he'd turn around and head back and the hell with
the burgess--the old Swanscomb place wasn't worth all this trouble.

Or anyway, it wouldn't be, if it hadn't been for the signed option
agreement he'd given the men from Chillicothe, Ohio.... "Shut up that
damn humming," he snapped at his wife.

Mrs. Chesbro laughed softly.

Chesbro didn't even notice the burgess until the door of the car
opened. "How's it going, Henry?" he demanded cordially. "Hope you found
those kids. Damn shame about the camp, but if they will build on low
ground they have to expect something like this."

"Let's head back for town," said the burgess. He looked at the clock on
Chesbro's dashboard. That couldn't be right! Two--three--four hours
they'd been out here, he counted.

That was time enough to wash all of Hebertown away. He leaned back, and
let himself be weary. He hadn't been up this late in--in--he couldn't
remember.

Chesbro was at it again, he noticed abstractedly. It didn't take him
fifty words to get from the flood to Topic A--why the borough of
Hebertown should, ought and must give him the old Swanscomb place. But
the burgess didn't mind. Chesbro was a saturation-talker; his tactic
was to hammer, hammer, hammer away, never giving the other man a chance
to get an adverse word in; and it wasn't too hard, after all, to listen
to the rain on the car roof instead. He realized vaguely that that rain
had been coming down awful hard for an awfully long time. Once, he
remembered, they had had a big summer thunderstorm and Bess had read
him out of the paper the amazing statement that more than four inches
of rain had come out of that one storm. This had to be more than that.
Much more.

What about Bess, by the way? Their house was high enough up, he
calculated, there wasn't much chance of flood water reaching it.
But had she stayed home? It wouldn't be like Bess to stay home by
herself, especially when he didn't show up and the phones were down.
She would have tried to cross the highway into the borough and found
out that that was impossible. Then she would have--he checked off the
possibilities--probably she would have gone to her sister's house. That
was all right; good location. Barring some freak like a falling tree or
a collapsing roof.

He leaned back, his mind slowly going blank and relaxed, under the
soothing drone of the flapping windshield wipers and the pounding rain
and Artie Chesbro's ya-ta-ta, ya-ta-ta, ya-ta-ta. Mrs. Chesbro had let
her head slump onto the burgess's shoulders. She was probably used to
that maddeningly persistent voice. Maybe asleep.

He glanced down at her.

She wasn't asleep. Her eyes were squeezed shut with anguish and her
mouth was suffering. Not with physical pain. The burgess realized
slowly that she was not used to the maddening voice at all and had
infinitely more reason to hate its clacking than he.

"Cigarette?" Artie Chesbro said again. Now what was the matter with the
old son of a bitch? He said more loudly: "Cigarette, Henry?"

"Uh, sure." Chesbro grinned wisely; the burgess had just come across
Polly in one of her queer moods. He reached over to the glove
compartment. "Matches? Here, here's my lighter."

The burgess spun the wheel of the lighter and held the flaming wick to
his cigarette for a long second while he took three puffs. Mrs. Chesbro
moved over a little. The darkness outside and the momentary brightness
inside the car turned the windshield into a mirror; he could see her
tortured smile.

The brightness inside almost wrecked them. As the burgess snapped the
lighter shut and you could see through the windshield again, Chesbro
gasped and tramped on the brake; fast as he was, the car was already
nosing into a surging stream that cut across the road.

The engine chugged and died. There was a long moment of silence. How
little we know our land, the burgess thought, too tired for panic,
filled with resignation. The hills and valleys we know and name, but
the little draws in the hills down which the heavens drain into our
river, we glance stupidly at them in a dry season and see nothing. But
this torrent before us is one of those draws. No doubt we paid just
enough attention to it--only where it crossed this road--to bury a
culvert that would guide it in time of rain and thought we were through
with it for all time. But the rain began and first it soaked into the
pasture and woodlot duff until they could hold no more; the rain went
on and raced in a sheet across pasture and cropland until it found the
draw and gurgled into it and raced down the hillside safely channeled,
hit the culvert with a gurgle and poured through and tumbled down the
hill on the other side, and still the rain sheeted down and the culvert
filled, and when it was gorged to the full the rain still fell, and the
water rose above the culvert and blindly poured across the road six
inches deep, a foot, a yard, and here we are. Try to get through and
blue sparks will snap from the sparkplug terminals to the wet block,
the vapor in the cylinders will not fire and Artie Chesbro's pride, his
joy, his car, will soon be a coffin for three drowned bodies, costlier
than any bronze sarcophagus.

But Chesbro was swearing and tramping on the starter. "Stay in!" he
yelled as his wife half-opened the door. "I'll get this son of a bitch
started or know the reason why!"

There was a lopsided chugging. One terminal was dry enough; it had been
only spray. And then the motor roared. The car backed violently up the
hill in the dark. "There was a side road," Chesbro panted. "Headed
uphill. Can't turn around on this damn thing, we'd go into the ditch,
but I can flip onto the side road when we come to it."

He felt good; this was what he was good at. From high school on he had
been a fast, hard driver who delighted in tricky maneuvering; for years
now he had been in the habit of passing anything on the road; it made
him feel good and he felt good now. He backed the car, roaring, twisted
full around in the seat and peering into the dark. He remembered a
straightaway and a left curve; as the car backed into the curve he
slowed a little but not much. And then they came to the side road.
"What did I tell you?" he cried happily. "There's the son of a bitch
right where I said it would be!"

He shifted and roared into the right turn up the hill. "Where does this
take us, Henry?" he snapped, as from the bridge to the chartroom.

The burgess smiled in the dark. "I don't know, Arthur," he said. "How
little we know our land...."

"Eh?" The old man was tired and rambling. Too bad; now it was all
on his shoulders. But when he got at him later he'd remind him that
he had, in a way, saved his life, that he didn't expect anything for
himself, but that he wanted to do something for the community--

"There's a light!" screamed Mrs. Chesbro.

It seemed to be a filling station; there were the pumps and there
was a two-storey frame building behind them. One of those crossroads
groceries, Chesbro thought as they swept past.

"But aren't you going to stop, Arthur?" she asked.

"Nonsense, dear," he grunted. "We started for Hebertown and that's
where we're going."

How little we know our land, thought the burgess again. For there,
ahead in the twin beams, was a sheet of muddy water. Their speed was
such that they plowed into it with a tremendous gush of spray. "We'll
make it," Chesbro cried. Water rose chillingly inside the car to their
calves as they plowed heavily forward and then lurched to a stop.

Chesbro said between his teeth: "Like last time." He ground the starter
three times; the fourth time he tramped on the button nothing happened.
The battery was shorted out.

"Here we are," Mrs. Chesbro said inanely.

Chesbro tramped on the dead button again and again.

"It's rising, isn't it?" said the burgess. "Let's get out and wade
before we have to swim."

Hating him, his wife and himself, hating the car and the water, Arthur
Chesbro opened the door; more water swirled in, seat-high. "Let's go,"
he said gruffly. "Five minutes and we'll be in that filling station,
grocery, whatever it was."

He gingerly lowered himself into the water; it came to his waist and
chilled the bone. "I'll lead," he said. "Come on."

Surprisingly there was a strong current; he had thought it would be a
sort of pond. Instead it was a temporary catch basin for the living
water that was thundering down from the heavens on its way to the
river and finally the sea. They were simply in a low spot where water
was detained for a while before rushing on. The same cubic yard of
water could wash out a power line running along a high ridge, wash out
a dirt road lower down on the hill, pour through a farmhouse lower
down smashing the windows and depositing stinking mud on the floor,
short his battery here, trapping the three of them, and still rage on
with a long career of ruin before it. It was the secret of the flood's
destructiveness.

Chesbro inched his way forward, taking care to keep the current abeam
of him, feeling for the hardtop with his feet. The burgess and his wife
held the skirt of his raincoat, one to a side.

He stepped on something slippery and crashed face-forward into the
muddy water; it was the burgess who, with unexpected wiry strength
hauled him upright again while he floundered.

"Fish or something," he sputtered.

They trudged forward, dead-tired after fifty feet of it, the current
and the sullen resistance of the water itself, but the level was
dropping about them as they climbed the rim of the basin in the land.

In ten minutes they kicked through inch-deep water to the road surface,
wet only with the pelting rain. Silently they splashed along the road.

"Wait," the burgess said abruptly. They stopped. He still had Chesbro's
lighter; he crouched and snapped it alight. "The water's still rising,"
he said. "Following right along behind us." As they stood there it
lapped at the soles of their shoes.

Ten more interminable minutes--hard walking, their weight increased
fifty per cent by their sodden clothes--and Mrs. Chesbro said: "There's
the light."

They shambled into a trot by unspoken agreement. It suddenly seemed
very important to them all that they should get to a warm, dry place,
shed their clothes, eat, sleep.



                             CHAPTER SEVEN


Sharon Froman shepherded the woman from the car, this Mrs. Chesbro,
into the back room--a queer one, she was, but that could wait. "Take
off what you can spare and hang it up," she said briskly, efficiently,
and headed back for the front room. There had been something when the
woman's husband and Mickey Groff met. Sharon Froman wanted to see.

They were comparing notes on the flood, and that was all right. If you
didn't have an ear skilled in detecting the grace notes of conflict
it might have sounded like any other strangers in common trouble, but
Sharon's ear caught resonances beyond that. Take the woman's husband,
for instance. He was chattering away to, of all people, sick-pup Dick
McCue; but his eyes kept wandering to Mickey Groff.

Mrs. Goudeket scolded: "Sharon! The blanket for Mr. Starkman, you
forgot it?"

"He can take mine," Sharon said--she didn't want to go back to the
storeroom just then. She handed the holed, grease-spotted rag to the
old man, then remembered and carefully draped it around his shoulders.
"They stink," she told him cheerfully. "And I think they've got bugs;
but they're better than pneumonia." She grinned at Mickey Groff.

"Thank you, Miss," said Henry Starkman. He had not failed to notice
that the girl was playing up to Groff. Gold digger, he diagnosed,
archaically and without passion. He was waiting for Chesbro to switch
his attention from the kid to Groff. Starkman had sat enough hours
in the law-offices of county politicians to smell the beginnings of
a deal before it really existed. Chesbro wasn't ready yet; he hadn't
even made up his mind to offer something to Groff--quite. But it was
in the air. Pretty soon Chesbro would turn to the manufacturer and say
something bluff and hearty like, "Well, I see we're going to be chewing
each other's ears off in the ring tomorrow," and then, if Chesbro could
find a private place to do it, the two of them would be talking quietly
for a while....

Starkman hugged the smelly blanket around him. Shivering, he thought
querulously: What's the matter with Bess? I want my cocoa.

He shook his head to clear it, and got up to look at the rain outside.
He shouldn't be here at all, of course; what had the people made him
burgess for, at that fat and sought-after salary of two hundred dollars
a year, if not to be on hand when the community was in trouble? And if
a flood wasn't trouble--

A sort of choking sound from Mrs. Goudeket made him turn around.

The Chesbro woman was standing in the doorway to the storeroom. In the
light from the candles she had no eyes, the ragged blankets she wore
were robes, she was blindly staring marble. She had swept the blankets
spirally around her body and over her wet hair; a hobble skirt at one
end and a turban at the other. She was striking, and she stood for a
moment posed as though she knew it.

Mrs. Goudeket made a tongue-smacking sound. Artie Chesbro looked around
vaguely. "Oh, hello, honey," he said. "Now, this thunderstorm we had in
Summit in forty-six a couple of cellars were flooded all right, but--"
Dick McCue nodded mechanically, his eyes fixed on the woman.

She came over to Starkman and sat down next to him. At close range,
the costume didn't seem as extreme as half-lit by the candles, but the
burgess felt uneasy. She was too close to him, that was it; she was
sitting on the floor, looking up at him.

"I'd better get you something to sit on," he said, and escaped.

       *       *       *       *       *

They managed to build a fire in the storeroom--there were a couple of
sheet-metal soft-drink signs; they raised one, punctured for draft, on
a row of bottles and placed another one underneath to catch the hot
ashes. It worked. Mickey Groff had placed his bet on the normal air
leakage around the window frames carrying off the worst of the smoke,
and so it did. It didn't pay to sit too close to it. You had to watch
it minute by minute to keep it fed and keep it from setting fire to the
shack. But it served to dry out their clothes, and besides it felt more
cheerful.

The men settled among themselves a plan for rotating guard
duty--guarding against fire and flood. Sam Zehedi and Dick McCue took
the first shift, one to keep the other awake; they sat and looked at
each other. They had nothing to say; and besides, it was hard enough
for the others to sleep without their talking.

Artie Chesbro, sharing a double pad of newspapers with his wife,
schemed feverishly: He hasn't said a word, he's waiting for me to make
the first move. How much should I cut him in for? Or for that matter,
do I have to--?

Well, yes. He'd seen enough of the burgess by now to know that the
deal he had optimistically outlined in the newspaper was out. Starkman
wouldn't cave in; you could use the anti-outsider theme just so far,
and then you had to come across with something tangible for Starkman
himself, or for the borough of Hebertown. On the other hand, what about
this: Suppose Groff cooled off on the location after being stuck in
this crazy flood they had down here? Maybe it wouldn't be too hard to
convince him Hebertown was a lousy idea--maybe even, this was a chance
to do something with the old Ackerman tract north of Summit. He doubted
that; Groff would know a swamp when he saw one; but suppose, an hour
and eight minutes from now, when they went on guard duty together as he
had carefully arranged, he merely suggested it to the manufacturer and
made it sound good.... He wished his wife would stop that damn humming
in his ear. God, why couldn't they at least be home, where they could
be decently asleep in their own individual rooms?

Asleep, Mrs. Goudeket's face was curved in a smile. She was dreaming
of 1926, a bride, the rooming house at Brighton Beach. Between her and
Mickey Groff, Sharon's face was smiling too, sweetly and trustfully,
as she nestled obliviously against the manufacturer, but of course she
wasn't asleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sam Zehedi sat torpidly over the fire, waiting for the last of it to
burn itself out. He'd nearly dropped off three times, and he and McCue,
consulting, had decided it was more dangerous to leave it burning than
to put it out. It did stink pretty bad, he thought fuzzily; putting
water on it had been a mistake. It smelt a little oily.

He swallowed and rubbed his stomach. That lousy candy bar, he didn't
like it, he didn't want it, why had he eaten it? He wistfully turned
his thoughts to pickled mussels wrapped in grape leaves, now farther
out of reach than ever, and a nice, plump black-eyed girl to serve them.

McCue had dozed off, he noticed. A kid. Well, let him sleep. What
difference did it make?

Funny, he thought dizzily, not even broiled lamb seemed attractive
right now. He shouldn't have drunk that cream soda either--he gulped
and wrenched his thoughts away from that cream soda. The smell of the
dying fire was getting pretty strong and he felt nauseous, as if the
floor were moving about underneath him.

Now the sleepers were turning and coughing. There was something wrong,
Sam Zehedi fuzzily thought. He swayed to his feet and lurched toward
the door. Clear the air, he thought. The last embers of the fire winked
out and he thought for a vague moment that he had lost his eyesight.
He flung the door open with his last strength and took a deep sobbing
breath. Images of white-tiled walls, green-painted corridors swirled
through his head; he was ten again and they were wheeling him along
the green-painted corridors to have his tonsils cut out, Morrisania
Hospital--

He fell heavily across the restless, coughing shape of Mickey Groff.

Groff sat up slowly, choking. His head thudded as if with the hangover
to end them all.

_Gas._

"Get up!" he cried, swaying. "Get up!" Around him they stirred and
coughed.

"Gasoline fumes!" he yelled. "Get up! Up the stairs! Move!" He
staggered through the dark room, kicking at them and yelling. The
stairs were in back--back. And this was--a wall. He leaned against it.
It would be good to slump down and rest for a moment, just a moment--

He lurched along the wall to the corner, to the open stairway that let
to the upstairs room. "Over here!" he choked at them. "I'm standing by
the stairs. Come on! Come on!"

One by one they stumbled to the sound of his voice and began to drag
themselves up the shaky stairs.

One. Two. Three.... Four.... Five....

"Come on! I'm standing by the stairs. The stairs. This way. This."

Two more to come. Two. More. Some fool was striking a light, a
blue-green light to blow them to hell. But no; it was his eyes, glazed
and burning, that made the light. Two more to come.

His raw throat and bursting lungs silenced him. He lurched across the
floor and stumbled over something soft. He knelt, took it under the
armpits and dragged it to the wall, followed the wall to the corner, to
the stairs. Feet on the stairs.

A young voice in the darkness choked: "Mr. Groff. Come up. I'll get
him. Can you make it?" Young McCue. Strong arms took his burden over
and it bumped up the steps. That was seven. One to go. He headed back
into the thick sweetness of the fumes and crashed to the floor. He
never felt McCue come to his aid and heave him up the steps, but
through it he was muttering: "One more."

       *       *       *       *       *

They were a sick lot when he awoke an hour later.

In the dark upstairs, cluttered with boxes and cans Mrs. Goudeket was
saying: "The water, it seeped into the gas tanks underground, it must
be. The gas floated up and all around us on top of the water. God be
thanked, nobody lit a match and the fire was out. As it was we were
almost poisoned in our sleep, thanks to that Arab." There was hatred in
her voice, fifteen centuries of it.

Burgess Starkman's voice emerged from an attack of coughing. "He's
dead, Mrs. Goudeket. You shouldn't--" He broke into coughing again.

Mickey Groff grunted, trying to talk. It was important to clear that
up. His head was pounding, but Mrs. Goudeket didn't understand. "He was
a Syrian," he croaked. "A civilized Christian people."

"Mr. Groff!" said Mrs. Goudeket. "You're better! We were afraid--You're
a hero, Mr. Groff. You saved our lives. Except--"

"Zehedi?" he asked.

He knew that she was nodding in the darkness, just as he knew that she
was bitterly ashamed of her outburst. "Too late," she sighed. "Ai, too
late. Dick went down with the handkerchief around his mouth and pulled
him up the stairs. His heart was going, and then it wasn't. Maybe
fifteen minutes. Too late."

A plump arm slid around him and Sharon Froman's voice said in his ear,
"Try to sit up. We all felt better after we sat up." She supported his
back and eased his trunk upright; he thought his head would explode. He
leaned against her dizzily and felt her cool palm against his forehead.
"Better," he grunted. "Thanks."

The burgess's old voice said abruptly, "Sing a psalm for Sam Zehedi,
the sad Syrian. Bess? Bess?"

"He's wandering," Sharon said very softly to Mickey Groff. "He won't
sleep."

Mrs. Chesbro moved across the floor to the sound of the burgess's voice.

"Where are you going, Polly?" Arthur Chesbro snapped.

"To the poor old man," she said. "Maybe I can talk him into signing the
lease before he takes wing."

Now, what did she mean by that? They didn't have a pen, there would
have to be witnesses, Groff was right there to break things up if
they tried to pressure him, it wouldn't work in a million years. The
stupidity of that woman was sometimes absolutely astounding.

She found the bony bundle that was Burgess Harry Starkman. "How little
we know ..." he was mumbling. "I was at Belleau Wood, you know.
Leatherneck couple wars back. They poured gas shells in for forty-eight
hours, but the leathernecks didn't have gas casualties. Court-martial
for gas casualties. Not like the doughboys, threw away their masks. Got
through Belleau Wood and here I am a gas casualty anyway, thirty-seven
years later. Ambushed in Hebertown Township. The boys at the Legion'll
get a kick out of that." He sat up abruptly and anxiously called out:
"Bess?"

She soothed him and urged him down. "Rest," she said. She felt and
unbuttoned his shirt, loosened the blanket around her and spread it
over the two of them, pressing herself against his bare chest.

"I remember," he said. "King Solomon. Old reprobate. But don't go away,
child." He fell into an uneasy doze, his breath rattling in his chest.
She pressed herself against him and lay still and silent.

Dick McCue said, "I wonder if it's safe to smoke."

Mrs. Goudeket snapped: "In a situation like this you don't take
chances."

Groff said slowly, "I think it's all right. Gas fumes are heavy; they
hug the ground. If we hadn't been sleeping on the floor--"

"I guess I'd better not," McCue said uncertainly. "You can't smell
much up here but--I wonder where the water level is now."

"We'll know in the morning," Chesbro said. "Couple of hours. My God,
who would have thought it yesterday?"

Sharon Froman said, "It's bad, Mr. Chesbro. It means a permanent loss
of industry--unless we move fast."

"What permanent loss?" Chesbro snapped. "We shovel out the mud, we
replace the machines, we get going again. The government'll help any
sound business in a case like this."

"I am thinking," she said, "of the South."

"The South? What's the South got to do with this?"

"This is the godsend they've been waiting for! Think, Mr. Chesbro!
They've spent millions on advertising and promotion to attract
industry--to steal it, if you like. Tax exemptions. Rent-free plant.
This flood is worth a billion dollars to them, Mr. Chesbro. If it's as
big as it looks from here, it's worth all the sixteen-page ads they'll
ever run in the Sunday _Times_. Believe me, I know. There are going
to be task-forces from the Bureau of Industrial Development of every
southern state calling on every manufacturer and distributor in this
area. 'Frightful about your tragedy,' and 'Us Delta folks want to he'p
you any way we can,' and 'Don't get us wrong, friend, we ain't out to
steal industry from the No'th at a time like this, but--' And then it
starts. They'll woo them with sites, with tax write-offs, with cheap
labor rates. They'll strip the area of industry, clean as a whistle.
Unless."

"My God!" said Chesbro, appalled.

He had never considered the angle but she was, God knew, dead-right.

Nor, he reflected self-pityingly, would _he_ get any such offers. What
did he have that would attract a Mississippi chamber of commerce? It
was all intangibles that his fortune was going to come from--was almost
coming from already, he assured himself panickily. He had come pretty
close; it was only a question of time until the legislature authorized
the trotting track, until the money borrowed from his wife's father
and invested in that promising Geiger-positive tract north of Summit
turned up real pay dirt, until--

Until never, now. Not if this frighteningly plausible young woman was
right. And she sounded right.

He said slowly, "You're a very smart young woman, Miss Froman. Have you
had any experience in this field?"

She smiled candidly. "Only enough to get the feel of it, Mr. Chesbro.
I'm a writer. You might say I've made a study of everything." (And
besides, I typed Hesch's thesis for him, didn't I? _The War Between The
States, Round Two: A Study in Industrial Dynamics._)

He nodded. "You said 'unless.' Unless what?"

She said composedly, "Unless we get there first. Unless we form an
organization immediately--on a regional basis--to hammer home our side.
_Skilled_ labor that's been through the birth-pangs of organizational
strikes. They're the roughest kind, and they still lie ahead for the
South. Access to the markets. A good life for the management and
supervisory workers. Bracing climate. Sound Republican territory."

She had him. She could feel it, and she was never wrong. Let him nibble
at the bait a while; let him taste it and want it, and bite down into
it all by himself--bite down on that buried "we" that would hook him,
deep and clean and gasping.

It had looked like a mighty dull autumn, but things were looking
better, thought Sharon Froman contentedly. True, if she was going to
help this interesting Mr. Chesbro with the curious wife it would mean
deferring work on her novel again. Too bad. But she didn't mind the
sacrifice. She had made it often enough before.

       *       *       *       *       *

Regional organization. Hammer hard. Grants from the government? Sure.
Tax breaks from the northern states, panicky attempts to match whatever
the South might offer? Sure, thought Artie Chesbro; he could arrange
that easily. And then?

No more waiting for the legislature to approve or for the assayers to
report or for any of the other soul-killing delays that had been the
sum of his life; he would be in, he would be at the top of something
big. Where he had always wanted to be. Where he deserved to be.

He looked across to where his wife had gone. And her, he thought,
satisfied, she would learn at last! Everything he had had to put up
with from her, over. Just because her father had a little money she'd
thought she owned him--him! Artie Chesbro!

He cleared his throat. "We'd better get some sleep, Miss Froman," he
told the girl. "We've got to talk about this in the morning. I think
there's a good deal in it--for both of us."

Mrs. Goudeket almost pounded the floor with her fists. Again on her
feet! Always this Miss Froman would land on her feet! Without hard
work, without virtue, always by black magic being in the right place,
always by the smiling face and the straightforward look fooling the one
person she had to fool. And this time it wasn't one man, it was two. So
let Mickey Groff slip through one snare, she had Artie Chesbro caught
in another. God, you call this fair? she demanded.

Better she should have left her at Goudeket's Green Acres. What could
she have caught there? That star of stage and screen and _brissim_,
Dave Wax? The horse-wire expert, Mr. Semmel? But no! She had to throw
the girl out--into this!

Mrs. Goudeket moaned and put her fingers in her ears to shut out the
maddening words.



                             CHAPTER EIGHT


That star of stage, screen and _brissim_ shouted fuzzily at the door:
"Go to hell! Let me sleep!"

"Dave!" It was Mr. Semmel's voice. "There's some men here. They want to
talk to you."

Dave Wax made an obscene suggestion to Mr. Semmel. He was a tummeler,
not the manager of the hotel; let Mrs. Goudeket come back and talk if
somebody should do it--"Wait a minute. What'd you say, Semmel?"

The concessionaire repeated it. "The flood's over?" demanded Dave Wax.
"The roads are dry?" He staggered over to the window to see the miracle
for himself.

Semmel let himself in. "They came in a boat."

"Oh." But it was no surprise. It was still raining. "All right. I'll
come down."

He found himself hurrying in spite of himself. It was only a couple
of minutes before he was hurrying through the lobby. He saw with a
shock that the sofas and chairs in the lobby were occupied--guests too
panicky to sleep in their rooms, too exhausted to stay awake; they were
sprawled and snoring.

The men from the boat were in the kitchen drinking coffee that the
cooks had somehow contrived to make. "I'm Brayer--Hebertown police
chief. You people all right here?"

"All right?" You call a hundred and sixty scared, sore guests all
right? You call wondering if the whole damn place is going to float
away all right? "I guess so," Dave Wax said slowly. He was almost
afraid to ask: "How--how is it outside?"

The man rubbed at his mustache. "It's a flood," he said succinctly.
"Ask me in the morning. Anyway, we're beginning to get a little
organized." His voice took on a mechanical, rehearsed quality. "Don't
let anybody drink water unless it's been boiled for ten minutes. Use up
everything you can that's in the refrigerators tomorrow morning. What's
in the freezers ought to be good till tomorrow night, if you don't open
them too often. What you don't eat by then, _don't eat_. Throw it away.
You probably don't have any water pressure, do you? Your own electric
pump, I guess? All right; you'll have to set up latrines--use chamber
pots if you have to. Dump them in the river to empty them--you're far
enough away from everything here."

"Wait a minute." Dave was a little slow to grasp the implications of
it. "You mean even by tomorrow night we won't have the power back?"

"I'll consider us very lucky," the police chief said heavily, "if
Hebertown ever has power again."

He got up. "They say that by daybreak the weather will be clear
enough for helicopters. If you need anything--a doctor if there's an
emergency, anything like that--hang a white sheet out of a window and
keep somebody standing by. When a helicopter or boat patrol comes by
they'll see it and investigate; then you wave another sheet at them and
they'll see that somebody gets here."

Dave Wax and Mr. Semmel watched Brayer and his boatman chug away.
"Hebertown Chief of Police," said Wax. "Isn't he a little out of his
jurisdiction?"

"He said they were looking for somebody. Wanted to know if we'd picked
up any refugees. God forbid." Mr. Semmel shook his head firmly. "A
mess. Now, in New Hampshire there would _never_--"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was cracking daylight when Brayer got back to Hebertown. He sat down
in the police station, now an emergency shelter with men, women and
children sprawled all over everywhere, and dazedly pushed away the
coffee somebody offered him. He hoped he would never see another cup of
coffee again.

He said heavily, "Henry'll turn up. I have a lot of confidence in Artie
Chesbro's instinct for self-preservation; he'll find a place to hole up
in."

"Sure, Red." The head of Hebertown's Civil Defense Squad, an
organization with an honorable history extending back nearly four
hours, dug his fingers into the bags under his eyes and tried to stay
awake. He owned a ready-to-wear establishment on North Front, and he
had once allowed the Red Cross to use his second-floor storeroom as a
fund-drive headquarters, a record of achievement which had done very
little to fit him for staying up all night. "I went down at eleven
o'clock to look at the water," he said meditatively. "I didn't want
my cellar flooded again, like in thirty-nine, so I shoveled dirt up
against the windows, and then I went home to bed." He laughed. He had
gone by his store again two hours later--in a boat--and had had to bend
down to look through the windows of the loft the Red Cross once had
used. "I heard on the radio a list of all the cities that were hit--the
worst ones. They didn't even mention Hebertown.... Say, what are you
going to tell Bess Starkman?"



                             CHAPTER NINE


Gray light filtered through the dirty panes of the second-floor window.
Arthur Chesbro woke slowly, aching in every bone. When he opened his
eyes stickily and peered across the grimy little room he could not at
first believe what he saw.

"Polly!" he choked, amazement and outrage blended. His wife, apparently
unclothed, was snuggled close to old Harry Starkman, under a single
blanket.

She looked up, smiling. "Hush," she said. "I finally got him to sleep.
His chest sounds terrible and he has a fever, but if he sleeps he can't
be too bad--for now."

She got up gracefully, managing to swirl the blanket around her without
showing, Chesbro hoped, _too_ much. Then he noted that the youngster
from the hotel was gawking. He cleared his throat loudly and the kid
looked away.

Mrs. Goudeket grunted to her feet. "Fever?" she asked. "Let me." She
went to the sleeping old man and felt his forehead. "He's burning up,"
she announced grimly. "An old man to walk through the rain and then he
got his lungs full of gasoline fumes. I suppose it's pneumonia."

They were silent.

"Excuse me," said Mrs. Goudeket. "I'm going downstairs, nobody should
follow me until I come back."

Mickey Groff thought: sensible woman. Somebody had to speak up. He
stood for a moment over Sam Zehedi. The poor guy had died hard,
fighting it; his eyes were ugly and his mouth contorted. His face in
the dim light was bluish, the hue of a swimmer's lips when he's been in
too long on a cool day.

Groff went to the window. Some time during the night the rain had
lightened; it pattered now instead of drumming. There was mist. He
struggled with the window and managed to inch it open against the
swelling of its frame and old incrustations of paint. Fresh air swept
gratifyingly through the storage room--and then he thought of the
burgess.

Sharon Froman understood his glance. She threw her blanket over the old
man and said, "He'll be all right." She stretched stiffly. "The old
woman's taking forever," she said.

Arthur Chesbro said firmly, "Mrs. Chesbro will be the next to go
downstairs. To find her clothes and put them on."

Polly Chesbro grinned amiably. "This thing _is_ scratchy," she said.

Groff leaned out and peered through the mist. All he could tell was
that there was water below; how much of it the enigmatic surface did
not say.

Mrs. Goudeket puffed up the stairs, a big carton in her arms. "Cheese
wafers," she announced. "Somebody open them."

Polly glided to the door, sculptural in her improvised robe, and went
down the stairs.

McCue, with the appetite of youth and an athlete, tore open the
corrugated cardboard and began gobbling wafers from the first carton he
came to.

"Manners, Dickie." Sharon Froman smiled. He swallowed his mouthful
convulsively and eyed her.

"Help yourself," he said coldly. "You're no cripple."

"Why _Dickie_," she purred. "After all we've _been_ to each other!"

Mrs. Goudeket looked up. "What's this?" she snapped.

Sharon looked amused and said nothing.

"I don't know what she's talking about," McCue said. The tone
automatically indicted, tried, convicted and sentenced him for unlawful
cohabitation. "I'll talk to you later," Mrs. Goudeket promised grimly.

Dick McCue found the cheese wafers were ashes in his mouth. He chewed
mechanically and wondered how he had managed to get simultaneously on
all these s.o.b. lists when all he wanted was a little innocent fun for
free--

He glanced at Sharon sullenly and saw she was chatting animatedly with
Chesbro about a publicity campaign enlisting all media, the possibility
of newspaper and magazine space and radio-TV time being donated if they
played their cards right. "Tear their heartstrings out," she urged.
"Get editorials; I've got some contacts in New York. You'd be The Man
Who Saved the Valley, Mr. Chesbro."

"Call me Arthur," he said. "We're going to be working closely together;
I can see that. My prestige and your ideas--"

Polly Chesbro came upstairs in her suit and raincoat; they were
wrinkled and damply steaming out the smell of wool but they were no
longer sopping. She was carrying her blanket; she draped it over the
sighing form of the burgess. His breathing was almost a crow. "He'll
never make it without penicillin fast," she commented, helped herself
to a box of the wafers and began to eat methodically.

Mickey Groff looked around; nobody was making a move for the stairs. He
stepped over the body of Sam Zehedi and went down. First outside into
the drizzle, where water was ankle-deep. He attended to his needs and
went back into the store. A bottle of pop caught his eye and he was
suddenly burning with thirst. He tore off the cap on a wall opener and
gulped it down as fast as the stuff would gurgle from the narrow neck;
after a queasy moment he ran for the door and made it in time. The pop
gushed up again violently. He sat down, swaying, on the wooden step up
to the door and retched a couple of times experimentally. He'd have to
be careful eating and drinking for a while. He had got a stiff dose of
the fumes.

Zehedi's blue-green, well-worn panel truck was just visible down the
road in water to the hubcaps, looking bulky and competent. The goddam
thing. And there stood the two gas pumps, goddam them too, and if
you could only get the pumps to work you could pump gas from their
underground tank into the truck and away they'd buzz, getting somehow
into town where the old man could be pumped full of penicillin and
dosed with oxygen as needed instead of dying like a sick dog in this
kennel.

He went wearily upstairs and said, "Next."

Sharon got up and said, "Excuse me, Arthur."

"Keep out of the cash drawer," Mrs. Goudeket said sourly.

"Did you leave anything?" Sharon asked, wide-eyed. Arthur Chesbro
laughed a laugh which turned hastily into a cough when Mrs. Goudeket
glared his way.

McCue said suddenly, "I think the rain's stopped." They crowded to the
window; he was right. The drizzle had ended and the mist was clearing.

"Good," Chesbro said. "They'll be able to get helicopters up. It's only
a matter of time now until they spot us."

Groff said, "I don't think the old man can wait."

Chesbro spread his hands eloquently. "What can we do?"

"Pack him in on our backs," Groff said.

Chesbro said soothingly, "I don't think that'd be practical, Mickey.
We're all exhausted, we've all had a touch of gas poisoning. We know
more or less where we are and we know which way the town is, but we
don't know what lies between us and the town. We may just circle around
until we drop from exhaustion. There's a better chance of us being
spotted if we stay in this place."

"We're three able-bodied men," Groff said, his temper rising. "We can
take turns. A helicopter's just as likely to spot us on a road as it is
to spot us here. Chesbro, _I'd_ like to sit here and wait to be rescued
too; _I_ don't have a yen to go sloshing through the water with
Starkman on my back either. But I don't think he can wait. We've got to
do everything we can."

"I've got my manuscript to carry," Sharon said apologetically.

"We'll _do_ everything we can," Chesbro said reasonably. "But what's
the sense of endangering all of us uselessly? The trip wouldn't be good
for him. And the women--my wife isn't strong, Mickey, she shouldn't be
subjected to--"

"Arthur," said his wife. "Shut up."

She smiled pleasantly at the gathering. "Who's going to be the first to
pack him?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Naturally that's me, of course, Dick McCue thought sourly, sliding
in the mud. I'm an athlete, so they figure I'm Superman or somebody.
He missed his footing and nearly fell. They might just as well have
carried him pickaback as on this door, wrenched out of the upper
rooms.... From behind him Mickey Groff called: "Time for you to take
over, Chesbro."

McCue relinquished his end of the improvised stretcher to Artie
Chesbro. His arms felt wrenched out of their sockets, and they had
covered five hundred yards, at the most.

The rain hadn't really stopped, not quite. There was still water to be
wrung out of the scudding stratus, and it came down in little bursts of
droplets. Polly Chesbro stumbled along beside the sick man, trying to
keep the rain off him when it came, ready with a smile when his eyes
jolted open and, for a moment, he stared wonderingly about him.

It was going to be a long trip. They had had to skirt around a sort of
contour line instead of following the road. Polly wondered briefly if
there would come a point where the road dipped down into the streaming
water, and there wasn't any useful hill handy. She didn't know this
road at all; had seen Hebertown only once or twice before last night;
had only the vaguest impression of what the terrain might be like. For
that matter, none of them knew much about the country they were hiking
across. On this Day, her mind inscribed in a crabbed hand, our Party
suffered the Loss of Its two Aboriginals, reposing our Destiny to the
care of the Greatest Guide of All.

Mickey Groff was remembering the Ligurian coast of Italy. The American
bombers had smashed it flat from Anzio to Genoa, and Groff had thought
proudly, a little selfishly, that no such destruction could ever come
to his own country. But this was as bad, at least as bad. They had come
across few houses, but there were ominous objects sailing down stream
that once had been houses and barns and all the other structures man
builds and his enemies sweep away. He tried to reconstruct the terrain
as it must have been before the flood, but there was a rightness about
the broad sheets of water that made it impossible. They were there;
they must always have been there. Why did people build their homes down
near the water, anyhow? Was a burbling brook in the back yard worth
having if suddenly, unpredictably, it could destroy your home?

He wondered if the War Department was able to look itself in the face
that morning, remembering the careful charts the colonels had shown
him that called for dispersal, concealment, removal of such essential
industries as his own. Suppose, they had said gravely, New York should
take a bomb; you'd be out of commission; you must move out of the
city to where you can be safe, since the production of your shop is
of great importance to the country's defense. And they had showed him
the maps, marked "Secret," of the instrument plants in Connecticut,
the explosives factories in the Delaware valley, the electronics
laboratories along the Jersey streams.

Two-forty-eight, two-forty-nine, two-fifty. "All right, Dick," he told
the golf pro, "you can take over for a while." He surrendered the back
end of the stretcher and looked around.

"Wait a minute!" he ordered sharply. "What's that up there?"

There was a private dirt road slanting down toward them, and something
was moving. They all set up a waving and bellowing, and a group of
horsemen appeared on the rim of the highway and came toward them, three
or four of them, picking their way through the mud.

"The United States Cavalry," said Polly Chesbro clearly, "is charging
to the rescue."

       *       *       *       *       *

Two of the riders were men in chaps and sombreros and the third was
a thirteen-year-old girl. They goggled unbelievingly at the litter
bearers. They were from a dude ranch up in the hills, and they were on
their way to Hebertown to complain because their lights and phone were
off.

"Jesus! We knew there was some rain last night, but we never had any
idea--" The cowboys stared at each other.

"How about giving us a hand?" Mickey Groff requested. "This man's in
bad shape. If we don't get him to a doctor I don't think he'll make it."

The cowboys scratched their heads for a while, and finally Mickey Groff
showed them how to sling the stretcher between two of the horses. "Hold
them tight and walk them slow," he ordered, putting a cowboy at the
head of each horse. "The ladies can take turns riding the other horse,
I guess."

But he got no customers for that; Mrs. Goudeket was scandalized, and
the young girl was too excited, and Polly Chesbro wouldn't get that
far from the sick man. Finally Artie Chesbro said off-handedly, "Hell,
no sense in _wasting_ the horse." He was in the saddle before anybody
could object.

It didn't make things good, but it made them better. Mickey Groff,
walking ahead, reasoned that he had disposed his forces well.
According to the cowboys, they had a good three miles to go on the
road--_if_ they could follow the road even approximately. An hour and
a half--double it because of the weather--maybe double it again, he
thought worriedly, if there were too many detours. He looked back at
the motionless figure between the horses. That was stretching it, but
there was a chance the old man might hang on that long.

Maybe the cowboys' first idea--slinging the old man across a saddle
bow and galloping away--was the right one after all. But no; they had
to stick together, at least until they found out if the road would
take them all the way. And besides, thought Mickey Groff, aware of his
limitations but also aware that he had succeeded to the command of the
party, you have to make up your mind and stick to it.

The girl came prancing up beside him. "You look like a good guy," she
commented. "Here."

He took the bottle from her; it was a pocket-sized half-pint of
whiskey. It was like a gift from God. He took two measured swallows and
put the cap back on; he could feel it biting in his throat, invading
the back of his nose, spreading warmly through his chest.

"God bless you," he told the girl sincerely.

"Sure. But don't tell on Charley, will you? I knew he had it, but if
Mrs. Koontz ever finds out she'll pulverize him." He started to hand
the bottle back to her. "No, you keep it. You might want some more, and
if Charley gets his hands on it again, good-by whiskey."

"Thanks." He slipped it into his pocket; then, remembering the rest of
the party, turned and glanced at them. McCue was plodding along head
down; Chesbro was glaring at him; Mrs. Goudeket was watching but she
caught his eye, smiled faintly and shook her head. Good enough, thought
Mickey Groff; we'll save what's left. He tried to remember what the
current position was on giving liquor to old men dying of pneumonia. If
it looks bad enough, he decided, we'll try giving him a shot; otherwise
better not.

The girl was chattering: "Won't the old lady plotz when she hears
about all this? That joker on the horse back there says he thinks the
whole town's washed away."

"I doubt it."

The girl was disappointed. "Well," she said, "I bet there's going to
be plenty of excitement in Hebertown, anyway. I always wanted to be a
nurse--you know, not in a hospital, a Red Cross nurse or something like
that, going away in the wars and all like that. My sister was a nurse's
aide, only they wouldn't let me in because I was too young."

"Eh? Nurse?" He glanced at her quickly. "Know anything about pneumonia
cases?"

"Sure. Penicillin, keep them warm, bed rest--"

"That's enough. Thanks." It had been a hope, but looking at her killed
hope.

They plodded on and came to a blacktop. "I know where we are," one of
the phony cowboys said. "Straight on in to Hebertown, two miles. It's a
ridge road; it ought to be clear sailing."

A car was buzzing in the distance; frantically they flagged it down
as it closed up on them. It was a late-model suburban with a New York
plate in the rear, man and wife in the front seat, three kids rioting
in the back. They all looked very strange to Mickey Groff, and he
realized at last what the strangeness consisted of. They were clean,
fed and rested.

"What do you want?" the man asked from behind the wheel, a little
nervously.

_What did they want._ Penicillin. Beds. Warmth. Coffee.

"Take us into town, will you?" Mickey Groff said wearily.

The man hit the lock button on his door and cranked the window up a
little. "It's only a little way on," he said evasively. "We aren't
going any place special, we just heard about it on the radio and
thought we'd come and see what was up--"

He hit the gas and the car zoomed on.

"Sightseers," Mrs. Goudeket said, wide-eyed. "God in Heaven,
sightseers."

Mrs. Chesbro was swearing.

Arthur Chesbro was swearing and trying to remember what the
license-plate numerals were.

After a while they trudged on, there being nothing else to do.

A helicopter came from the west as they marched, dipped low above
them and hovered for a moment while they yelled and waved. The pilot
pointed back into the body of the chopper with big exaggerated gestures
after they had pointed at the burgess on his litter. Then he buzzed on
eastward.

Mickey Groff said: "I guess he was telling us he was full up." He
rubbed his back for a moment. "Maybe he meant he'll be back for us."
But he didn't really think so, and the helicopter didn't come back
their way.



                              CHAPTER TEN


When they topped the rise and stood overlooking Hebertown there was a
moment of silence and then a groan of horror burst from them all.

"Gutted," Arthur Chesbro said succinctly. "Not a thin dime left in
town; not a nickel."

The true flood crest which they had missed in the hills had left a
plain wake through the town. It was dark brown and even from their
height they could smell its stink. Sewage, chemical waste, mud churned
up from river bottoms where it had been rotting for a century. The
brown smear lay over two-thirds of Hebertown, and there was something
worse at its center, a long streak scores of yards to either side of
the river. It seemed almost to have been bulldozed clean.

The river still boiled many feet above its normal height, and flotsam
rolled past, dotting its swell. There were tree trunks, chicken houses,
timber and swollen things you didn't want to guess at. The bridges were
out, the stout PWA bridge and the two rickety county bridges.

Chesbro studied the view. "Gramatan Mills are wrecked," he said.
"They'll never come back. They rebuilt on the river in ninety-seven
right where the old waterpower mill was. Half their plant's--torn away."

"Let's get on down," Groff said.

McCue volunteered: "I'd try the school--if it's standing. That's where
you always set up cots and aid stations."

Chesbro said: "The junior high's standing. Built well on the outskirts.
Lucky it's on this side of the river."

They started down the hill. The stink grew worse.

First they came to frame houses with picket fences and vegetable
gardens in the back. The porches were full; exhausted people looked
dully at them. At the third or fourth house a man came to his gate to
watch them pass.

Groff said, "We've got your burgess here. He seems to have pneumonia.
Can we make him comfortable in your place and get a doctor for him?"

The man said tiredly, "There's no room in my place. I have twenty-five,
thirty people. And the doctors won't make house calls, not today. All
three of 'em are down at the school. Take him there."

Mrs. Goudeket said, "Could you maybe put me up, mister? We've been
walking and walking--?"

"No room," he said. "I'm full up. Everybody's full up. Go to the
school. They got stretchers there. The Air Force dropped 'em in the
athletic field. I hope Henry gets better. Go down to the school.
They'll take care of you there."

"For ten dollars, maybe--" Mrs. Goudeket began.

"Money's no good," the man said. His voice began to rise hysterically.
"Nothing's no good. I work at the Gramatan Mills and look at it. I
worked there twenty-seven years, I was going to get my pension in 1958,
and now the mill's gone. My father drove down into town before it hit
to see if he could help and he isn't back yet and I don't know if he's
alive or dead." He took sudden hold of himself. "I have to go and tend
the cookstove. You have to boil your water now. Thirty people drink a
lot of water, we keep boiling it all the time. Take care of Henry." He
went back up his path and inside.

Past the rustic houses on the fringe they came to a belt of substantial
older places, the homes of the borough petty aristocracy. Here the
smear of brown had reached; the horses picked their way uncertainly,
fetlock-deep in stinking mud. A mad-eyed woman in a housecoat was on
one of the handsome porches shoveling and shoveling; the silt plopped
into the silt that covered her lawn.

They passed a house with a broken back. A towering poplar, surely the
pride of the owner once, had stood in his front yard. The flood water
had come; it had loosened the soil to the consistency of porridge;
the tree had tilted a little, leaned; its wide shallow root system
had given way and the trunk had crashed across the roof, caving and
crumpling it in.

There was a house with black, dead eyes. Somehow fire had started;
candles, or a fireplace carelessly laid for warmth when the
electrically fanned oil heater clicked silent. The innards of the house
had burned, and the fireman had not come. There was a pathetic pile of
furniture outside, but where the people were you couldn't tell.

There was a house that, in all that chaotic destruction, had survived
unscathed. Its windows had their glass, its doors were neatly locked,
there were two spindly iron chairs on the porch. And then you looked
and saw that it rested in the middle of a road, where the water had let
it drop.

But it was the smell that hurt. You could imagine a hurt town mending
itself and growing again. But this stench from the river bottoms was
the stink of death. "I'll bet," said Artie Chesbro with a dreamer's
eyes, "you could pick up any mortgage in town for five cents on the
dollar today."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Soames was the town's only specialist. He had built a white
Georgian house and a three-car garage out of something less than a
quarter of a cubic foot of the human female anatomy. He was an expert
on every fold and canal from the _labium minus_ to the hydatid of
Morgagni, and of the hundred and four babies born in the borough of
Hebertown and surrounding territory in the past twelve months, he
had delivered ninety-three. They told scandalous anecdotes about his
extra-official life--"Mrs. Hoglund? Hoglund? Oh, I didn't recognize
you with your pants up"--and there had been a suggestion at the County
Medical Association that some of his most profitable pregnancies
were not permitted to come to term. But there was no human being in
Hebertown and environs who doubted that Dr. Soames was the greatest
doctor on earth.

And what good was he doing now, he demanded silently, swabbing alcohol
on the morning's twenty-fifth rump to ready it for the needle.

He sighed and jabbed home the needle of yellowish fluid. The kid jumped
and howled; Dr. Soames's hand was not as dexterous with injections as
it might once have been. They were working themselves into a coma, all
three of the doctors, with routine shots against typhoid and penicillin
to keep the sniffles of the kids from getting worse; but any ambulance
driver could have done as much. What these people needed--homes; help;
money--was not in their little black bags.

"Dr. Soames!" Chief of Police Brayer was coming into the school's gym.
The tired old face looked worried--almost panicked; Soames had thought
the time for panic was over. "They're bringing Henry in, Doctor. He
looks bad."

The burgess came in, under clean blankets, on an aluminum-frame
stretcher at last. Soames took a quick look. Fever; coma; and the
unmistakable racking, hard-fought breaths. Pneumonia? "Wake up Doctor
Brandeis," he ordered; but he found a hypodermic and loaded it without
waiting.

The other doctor's eyes were bleary when he staggered in, but there
wasn't much doubt. "Pneumonites, all right," he said, auscultating
the burgess's chest. "We ought to have oxygen, Frank." Chief Brayer
listened to the doctors. He cut in, "Don't we have any oxygen?" Soames
shook his head; and Brayer remembered. The oxygen was there, all right,
in the firehouse, where it was handy for the pumpers to take along in
case of drowning or asphyxiation or any of the other things Hebertown
called out its fire department for; but it wasn't handy at all in case
of floods, since the firehouse was in the Borough Hall. You couldn't
even see the roof yet, though the water had gone down.

He blundered out of the room and buttonholed one of the other
volunteers. "Who've we got who can swim underwater?" he demanded. "We
have to get the oxygen out of the firehouse--Henry needs it."

They found a couple of high-school kids, on the swimming team, and they
went down to survey the drowned-out hall. The water had slowed enough
to put a boat out; they rowed down Front Street, over the back yards of
the cottages, into the River Road. "Must be around here," Brayer said
doubtfully, staring at the muddy water. "Some of the houses got moved,
I guess...."

It wasn't there. One of the boys eventually went down, but only for a
moment. He came up sputtering and grunting, his eyes squeezed tight;
when they got him into the boat and he could talk coherently again he
said, "Sorry, Mr. Brayer. Maybe there's still some of the firehouse
down there. But that isn't water, it's plain mud. Even if I had a face
mask, I couldn't see--and I don't have a face mask." They took him
back to the school to have his eyes looked after. Chief Brayer leaned
dizzily against the door frame, watching Dr. Brandeis bathing the kid's
eyes. What, he wondered, was Hebertown going to be like without Henry?

       *       *       *       *       *

Mickey Groff woke up. They must have given me a shot of something, he
thought clearly, and sat up.

A girl in a white uniform with gold bars at the collar leaned over him
and said, "You ought to go back to sleep. You've only had about two
hours."

He shook his head. "How's the old man?"

"Which one?"

"Starkman--the burgess." But she didn't know the name. Groff stood
up and staggered to a chair. What was an army nurse doing here, he
wondered. Wings and a bar; maybe they'd flown in help from outside.

Somebody helped him to a garage, empty of cars, with duckboards laid
over the mud on the floor; there was a sort of emergency feeding
station organized there and he got hot coffee laced with thick canned
milk, syrupy with sugar. He went out in the sunshine and drank it
gratefully.

Sunshine!

He slowly accepted the fact that it wasn't raining any more. The sky
was spotty with clouds, but there was a lot of blue.

"Mr. Groff." He tried to get to his feet; it was Artie Chesbro's wife.
She stopped him.

"Where's everybody?" he asked.

"Sleeping, mostly. Except my husband, who is out looking for orphans to
rob. Have you seen Henry?"

He blinked. "Henry?"

"The burgess. Mr. Starkman." He shook his head. She said gently, "I've
been with him all morning. If they don't get help for him soon--"

He noticed that her eyes were unaccountably filled with tears. "I
thought I saw an army nurse--"

"Yes. But they didn't have oxygen, and that's what he needs. It's on
its way, I guess, or anyway they say it is." She looked at the coffee.
"Wait a minute. I want some of that."

Mickey Groff looked after her and sighed. Now, why was she mothering
the old man? And what was that "orphans to rob" remark? It had been
fairly obvious that she and her husband were not cut from the same
bolt, but was it possible for her to see her husband that clearly, and
keep on living with him?

He was beginning to wonder whether he shouldn't get up and start
somehow helping out when she came back and sat beside him. She was
humming to herself, he noticed, and glanced at her curiously; evidently
she wasn't so upset after all.

"I knew," she said, dreamily swirling the coffee around in the mug to
stir it, "that two of us would go. It is the difference between six and
eight."

"The what?"

She laughed as if a child had done something clever. "I knew you
weren't a student of the Great Science," she said cheerfully. "There
are perfect numbers, and imperfect numbers; the imperfect numbers
are--imperfect, and the worst of them are the deficient ones. Eight
is an imperfect number, you see." She grinned at him. "You think I've
flipped," she commented.

"Well, I wouldn't say--"

"But you'd think it. No matter, Mickey--do you mind if I call you
Mickey? I'm quite sane--I have the advantage of you, you see, because I
have my diploma to prove it." She sipped her coffee. "That's what makes
Artie so mad," she said pleasantly. "He got me committed to the Haven,
and they kept me there for nearly a year; and now when he threatens to
tell people I'm crazy I don't have to worry, because six perfectly fine
psychiatrists agree that I'm not."

Mickey Groff said weakly, "That's very nice, Mrs.--Polly, I mean."

She said seriously, "You mustn't think that the Great Science is one
of these crackpot cultist affairs. I know gematry has a bad name, but
you'd be astonished at the great minds that have worked on it. Fermat,
Bachet--back as far as Diophantos, in fact. Why, if you'd just--oh,
please, Mickey." She touched his arm as he started to move. "I'll stop.
This isn't the time to talk about important things."

"Important."

"This," she said, "is a time for shallow, surfacy affairs, a time
when distractions come crowding in and cannot be ignored. One such
distraction is that Mr. Starkman is dying and needs oxygen."

"I have an idea," he said. "Come on."

There was a boy of fourteen standing by with a handkerchief tied around
his left arm, an improvised brassard. "Son," Groff said, "do you go to
the junior high?"

"Yes."

"The burgess, Mr. Starkman, needs oxygen and they can't get at the
firehouse tanks. It occurred to me that there might be some in the
school--those little tanks they call lecture bottles that they use for
demonstrations in chemistry classes."

"I haven't taken chem yet, mister, I don't know," the boy said
unhappily.

"Are there any teachers here?"

"Yes sir! Mr. Holtz the math teacher's making the coffee back there."

Groff approached Holtz, a small, harried man. Holtz listened and said:
"Not in the junior high, no. No lecture demonstrations, just recitation
and lab. But the senior high across the river would have some. My
good friend Mr. Anderson lectures there and he believes in making it
spectacular. Yes; they would have lecture flasks. I'd guide you there
if I weren't assigned. Perhaps you can find somebody--"

Groff decided he would not. These people were working at top capacity
now. He could do the job on his own.

Groff and Polly picked their way through the silt to the river bank. A
rowboat manned by two husky youngsters with the improvised brassards
was unloading a weeping woman and a silent child.

"Get to the school," one of them told her in an important, basically
uncertain voice. "They'll take care of you there. They've got nurses
and everything."

She walked off clutching the child's hand, still weeping.

The kids looked after her, round-eyed. They told Groff: "That's Mrs.
Vostek. Her husband drowned. We just found her sitting on her porch
crying. Maybe she's gone crazy."

"Can you get us across the river? We want to get into the high school
and look for oxygen bottles. The sick cases need it."

"That's what we're here for, mister!"

Good kids....

On the other bank, perilously attained, the kids pointed Groff and
Polly in the right direction and took aboard two grim brassarded men
who carried a limp, moaning girl of ten between them.

The other side of the river was the older part of town; the inevitable
slum had grown up there. Here in the streets and on the steps they saw
drunken men and women with blank despair in their eyes tilting bottles
skyward. One of them drained his bottle and yelled: "To hell with it!"
and hurled the empty through the plate-glass window of a silt-choked
little magazine-and-candy store. A man, not young, sitting in the store
came charging out with a sawed-off ball bat in his hands, swinging.
"You cheap rotten bum!" he yelled. "Things aren't bad enough, you have
to make them worse!"

While the drunk stared stupidly, Groff rushed between them and caught
the wrists of the man with the bat. "Easy," he said. "For God's sake,
you'll kill him with that thing."

The drunk came to life. "Let him kill," he yelled. "What's the damn
difference now? No job, no house, no furniture. Let him kill!" But he
reeled off down the street while Groff held the furious man.

"Stupid bastard," the proprietor swore. "I'll give him bottles.
Three-fifty he owes me, I'll give him bottles!" Then the fight suddenly
evaporated out of him. Groff let go and they walked on, looking back to
see him shamble into his store again and sit down with the bat across
his knees.

They passed a bar, and there was no nonsense about that. Two men who
looked like brothers stood grimly at the door. Each had a shotgun over
his arm. When Groff and Polly walked by they shifted the guns a little
and said nothing.

A corner grocery had become a sort of involuntary relief station. There
was a long unruly line leading to the door. The grocer stood there;
behind him in the store his wife was bringing up canned goods, bottled
pop, everything. The grocer, sweating and afraid, was handing out the
food and drink to the sullen people as they passed.

"Please," he was saying, "I haven't got time to write this down. Please
remember what you take and come around and settle when things clear up."

After a fashion he was avoiding the sack of his store.

The high school was an old red brick building, smaller than the new
junior high across the river. Groff marched up the steps and tried the
door. "Bloody hell," he said. "Locked, of course."

She pointed. "There's an open window."

They climbed in and found themselves in the principal's office. Three
men with sledge hammers and crow-bars were knocking the knob off the
safe. They turned menacingly.

"Go ahead." Groff shrugged. "I can't stop you."

"Get the hell out of here," one of them said.

"We came to get some oxygen," Polly said. "For the sick people across
the river."

"Sick people? Okay."

They went into the corridor and wandered from room to room; on the
second floor they found an old-fashioned lecture theater, bowl-shaped
with steep rows of seats focusing on a laboratory bench piped for water
and gas. There was a promising-looking door behind it.

It was locked. Groff kicked at the door and swore with pain; the
building was old-fashioned brick and its woodwork was old-fashioned
golden oak, the stuff you can hardly drive a nail into. He trudged down
to the office again. The three men were gone; the door of the safe
swung open. They had left one sledge; somehow he had expected to find
all the tools dropped, but apparently they were going to work their way
methodically through every safe they could find.

He returned with the sledge and bashed at the golden-oak door until
its latch sprung and it swung open. It was the storeroom for lecture
supplies and the gas flasks were neatly stacked on the top shelf.
There was a complete carton of a dozen twelve-inch cylinders marked
O_{2} and another carton with eight cylinders.

"Thank God," he said. "Let's go."

The things were horribly heavy.

As they retraced their way to the river bank they were stopped three
times by loungers collected in groups of half a dozen and had to show
them the cartons' contents and explain that it was for the sick people
across the river.

There was a long wait before they could hail one of the boats passing
back and forth; finally a rowboat with a roaring outboard motor pulled
up. Two men with American Legion caps manned it. They explained their
mission and were taken aboard. One of the Legionnaires asked: "How are
things in Old Town?"

"Breaking up fast," Groff said.

The man understood perfectly. "The goons," he said, nodding. "There's
talk about sending in the National Guard," he said. "Meanwhile I guess
it's our problem."

He took the heavier carton from Groff when they reached the river bank
and Groff took Polly's; together they walked to the gymnasium where
Harry Starkman lay.

One of the doctors--Brandeis?--looked at the lecture bottles dully,
took one and shambled over to the burgess's litter. He drew the blanket
over Starkman's face, slipped the bottle under and cracked the needle
valve for a few hissing minutes, then checked the old man's pulse.

"Very good," he said at last to Groff and Polly. "There's something to
hope for now. Now clear out, you two. Find something useful to do."

"There's going to be trouble in Old Town tonight," Groff said. "And it
may spill over here."

Polly, preoccupied, said, "The number is still imperfect. Two of us
will have to go. I do hope it won't be you, Mickey."



                            CHAPTER ELEVEN


There was a solid line of cars, bumper to bumper, on the northbound
side of the highway. It ended against a roadblock consisting of
two state troopers, one standing in the middle of the lane with a
double-barreled shotgun over his arm, the other by the roadside where
he could look into the cars. Their patrol car was pulled over on the
soggy shoulder, its motor idling.

A new Lincoln with a middle-aged man at the wheel was next.

"Why do you want to get through, mister?" the trooper demanded. He
had long ago given up the time-consuming request for registration and
operator's permit.

The man was flustered. "I have some friends in Newtown," he said. "I
thought maybe there was something I could do for them--"

The trooper glanced into the back of the car. Empty. "You haven't got
anything they need," he said. "Turn around and go home."

Meekly the man U-turned around the trooper in the road and sped south.

The next car was a tired, top-down convertible with two young couples
who might have been high-school seniors, college freshmen or young
working stiffs. The driver explained, too glibly, indicating the girl
by his side: "Her mother lives in Bradley, so she got me to drive her
in. You know the railroads and buses aren't running, officer."

But the girl giggled.

"Where does she live in Bradley?" asked the trooper. The girl hesitated
and took a deep breath before beginning to lie. The trooper gave a
weary shushing gesture. "Skip it," he said. "Turn around and go home.
This is no circus."

The driver began to bluster. "I've got a license, I can drive where I
want--"

"Turn around and go home," the trooper said. "If you keep arguing I'll
run you in for obstructing traffic. If you're stupid enough to proceed
down that road, Schultz there will fire one warning shot and will then
blow your goddam head off. Move."

The boy roared his motor spitefully to say the things he didn't dare
say, let up suddenly on his clutch and spun around the patrolman with
the shotgun in a U-turn.

The next car was black and driven by a man in black. Its rear and the
seat beside the driver were filled with cartons; the trunk lid was
half-up, tied by a rope to the bumper over more cartons.

"I'm from the Beaver Run Meeting of the Society of Friends," the man
said quietly. "We've gathered some things they may need in there.
Medicine, bandages, Sterno, flashlights."

The trooper hesitated. "We're supposed to accept contributions and turn
you back, then a truck comes and takes them in. But I haven't seen any
truck and I don't know whether there's going to be one or if it was
just talk. You look as if you can take care of yourself, mister. Go on
in and don't get hurt." He called to the trooper in the road: "Let him
through."

"Thank you," said the Quaker, and drove on at a careful thirty-five
miles per hour.

Down the southbound lane, the deserted left strip of the highway, a big
car purred, slowing obediently to a stop at the outraged shout of the
trooper. The old man who was driving said nothing; the young woman with
him put out her head and called, "Dr. Buloff, Factoryville, New York.
Are there any instructions?"

The trooper backed around the car and read the New York plates. The
second two characters were MD. He said to the old man, "Just go in and
free-lance, doc. They can use you."

"Thank you, officer," the old man said with a good trace of German
accent, and the car purred on.

In rapid succession three imbeciles followed the doctor's example of
using the southbound lane. All were sightseers, and all were turned
back with curses.

The next car in line was a '39 Ford driven by a white-faced young man
with the jitters and a narrow mustache. He had identification papers
ready in his sweating hand. "John C. Barshay," he said precisely. "As
you can see from the address on this envelope I live at 437 Olney
Street, Newtown. I work in New York City and come home weekends. My
wife--I haven't been able to get through on the phone." His voice was
rising hysterically. "I demand to be let through, officer!"

"Calm down," the trooper said gently. "Of course you can get through.
We're not here to stop people like you. I hope everything's all right."

The young man fought his way back to composure. "Thank you, officer,"
he said precisely, and drove on.

Then there was a phenomenon, a car coming _from_ the flooded area. It
was coming fast until the driver, presumably, could see that the hassle
up ahead was a roadblock and then it stopped and began to wheel around.

"Hold 'em, Schultzie!" the trooper yelled at his partner with the
shotgun. He leaped into the idling patrol car, spun its wheels for an
instant in the soft shoulder and then zoomed free down the highway. The
other car had barely finished its turn; he had it crowded off the road
in seconds. He got out with his gun drawn and a casual bead on the head
of the unshaven, slack-jawed man in the driver's seat. "Get out with
your hands up," he said, his body shielded behind the front of his car.

The driver got out, dull-eyed.

"Turn around."

He did, and the trooper frisked him. There were things in his pockets,
none of them gun-size. The trooper, from behind, pulled out watches, a
costly new spinning reel and some rhinestone rings and necklaces.

The back of the car was filled with new suits and dresses, some
crumpled and mud-stained. The trooper lifted the trunk lid and found
shiny new appliances--a pressure-cooker, a steam iron, a handsome floor
fan, a sandwich grill, a rotisserie.

"Is this car yours?" the trooper asked interestedly.

"No," the man mumbled.

"You'll be sorry for this day's work, boy," the trooper promised. "Keep
your back turned."

He rolled up the windows, took the car keys from the ignition and
locked it up. With the man beside him he drove back to the roadblock
and prodded him out with his gun.

"Looter," he said to his partner. "Stolen car locked up down there,
full of plunder. Watch him." To the man he said: "Stand over there and
don't try to run or you'll get killed. Now, who's next?"

"Press," said a jaunty young man in a convertible, showing a card
quickly.

"Do that again," the officer requested. Reluctantly the young man did.
The officer read aloud: "The Zeidler News Service requests that police
and fire officials extend all press courtesies to its representative
George E. Neumann." He grinned. "Back to Pittsburgh, Mr. George E.
Neumann."

The young man shrugged and wheeled his car around.

The next two cars were, or appeared to be, driven by legitimate
relatives of people in the flood area; at least they were filled with
sensible supplies. The trooper passed them. The next was a year-old
Dodge sedan with an oldish driver and a youngish passenger. "Haggarty,"
the driver said. "New York _Daily Globe_. This is Vince Ruffino, my
photographer. The press card." It was a little green folder with
picture--an embossed city seal through it--thumbprint, description, and
the signature of the police commissioner. "Fire badge," said Haggarty,
flipping open a leather folder. "Okay?"

"Okay," the trooper said, and waved them on.

The line of waiting cars was beginning to break up. The number of
people turned back and the sour replies they had called as they passed
those still in line explained it.

Another vehicle coming away from the flood area, fast. It had a
cardboard sign with a red cross on it stuck in the windshield. A
station wagon, full.

The trooper at the checkpoint paused to watch. The driver of the
station wagon stopped by the trooper with the shotgun, spoke to him for
a minute, nodded and slid into gear again. The trooper at the check
point stared at the faces inside the station wagon, some drawn, some
nervously exuberant, as it went past.

The trooper with the shotgun was walking down the road toward him.
"Transients," he said. "They're getting them out."

The other trooper said hesitantly, "Did--did you ask--"

"Yeah. They haven't found anybody answering your wife's description,
not that the driver knew about anyway. She'll be all right."

"Sure. Thanks." The trooper with the shotgun turned and walked back.
His partner sighed and moved on to the car at the head of the line. It
was stretched out of sight again.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You want me to stop for any of this?"

The photographer said, "Nope. I'll wait until we get in the town. But
jeez, it's pretty beat up, isn't it?"

Jay Haggarty nodded and concentrated on his driving. One of the beat-up
elements of the landscape was the road they were on. Water had scoured
gravel out from under the surfacing in places, and there were potholes;
water had rushed across the road in a flood in other places, and left
mud and debris.

A man in a leather windbreaker yelled at them to slow down, and
Haggarty obediently put his foot on the brake. He followed the
man's instructions and they crawled across what had recently been a
four-million-dollar toll-bridge. It seemed to be vibrating as they
crossed it, Haggarty had to remind himself that they wouldn't have been
allowed on it if it weren't safe. The river was within two feet of the
surface of the roadway, and there was an uneven thudding as flotsam
rammed into the accumulated tangle on the upstream side.

They passed between the empty toll booths and headed for Hebertown.

Haggarty said, "I was here just before the war, Vince. Nice, quiet
little town. It doesn't look as if it's been built up much since then."

Ruffino said, "Who the hell would want to build a house around here?
You wake up some morning and you're under water. Give me Passaic."

There was a second roadblock just before the sign that said:
ENTERING HEBERTOWN. Haggarty showed his card and leaned out
of the window to ask where the emergency relief headquarters was. The
directions turned out to be pretty complicated: It's straight down
Center Street, only you can't get through there--trees across the
road. So turn left on Maple, but you won't be able to take the bridge
at White Street because it's blocked off; go three blocks further and
cross on the highway bridge. Then you'll have to watch out for soft
pavement on Locust....

Ruffino said, unbelievingly, "Jeez, Jay, it's worse here than it was
down by the river. Do you mean that little creek had enough water in it
to do all this?" He stared at the little gray stream that flowed under
the highway bridge, and at the twisted, half-collapsed warehouses and
storefronts that were easily five feet above water level.

"It's the little streams that do the damage," Haggarty told him. "Once
the water gets into the rivers it's all right. It can flow away. But
you see how close these buildings are set to the creek here? As soon
as the water came up a couple of feet it clobbered them."

He stopped, because the photographer was opening the door of the parked
car and no longer listening. It was as good a place to get started as
any. Haggarty pulled over to the curb, locked the ignition and got out.



                            CHAPTER TWELVE


Mrs. Goudeket caught up with Polly and Groff. "So long I slept," she
said, panting. "They wouldn't wake me up. How's Mr. Starkman?"

"They think he'll be all right for a while, anyway," said Mickey Groff.
"There's a whole field hospital coming in, somebody said. If he holds
out until then he's got a good chance."

"Thank God," said Mrs. Goudeket, beaming. "And Mr. Chesbro?"

Polly Chesbro said cheerfully, "I haven't seen him all day."

Mrs. Goudeket looked at her appraisingly. All she said was, "I guess
he's pretty busy."

Mickey Groff coughed. "Uh, the diner up the hill is in business, Mrs.
Goudeket. We were just about to go up and get something to eat. Would
you like to come along?"

"Why not? Then I got to find a car to get back to the hotel. Imagine,"
she laughed. "One hundred and sixty guests, and the only one there to
keep an eye on them is Dave Wax. Believe me, Goudeket's Green Acres
is one place they'll never come back to again!" She was very gay
about it, Groff thought.... If you didn't look too closely. He had a
sudden picture in his mind of what the last twenty-four hours meant
to Goudeket's Green Acres and to Mrs. Goudeket herself. One hundred
and sixty guests. At, say, five dollars per day per head. Over eight
hundred dollars a day; and out of that you could pay for the putting
green and the swimming pool, pay the salaries of the cooks, trumpet
player and chambermaids and busboys, pay the installments on the
mortgage and the electric bill. And squeeze out a profit; enough to
keep you for a year on what you made in a summer. But, although your
one hundred and sixty guests could cancel themselves out overnight,
reservations or no reservations, you couldn't cancel the trumpet player
or the mortgage or the putting green....

They had to wait in line, but they finally got a booth in the diner.
The menu was soup, sandwiches, and stew--apparently slapped together in
a hurry out of what would otherwise have spoiled in the refrigerator.
There still was no power; evidently the diner was operating its stoves
on bottled gas.

But it tasted good to all three of them. Outside the diner again, with
coffee in cartons for Groff and Polly Chesbro for them to drink at
their leisure, Mrs. Goudeket said, "Listen, what are you going to do
now? You still have business here, Mickey?"

Groff shrugged. "That's what I came up for. But I doubt I can do
anything about it today."

"So stay overnight at Goudeket's Green Acres," she said hospitably.

"You think we can get back there?"

"Must be somebody with a car. I can pay."

Groff looked around. There were a lot of cars, and not many of them
were going. As he watched, a big sedan chugging down the road with a
load of dirty-faced children coughed and stopped. A man in a Legion
cap, red-eyed and bearded, got out and wearily opened the door for the
kids. They apathetically began to trudge down the hill to the temporary
hospital.

"Out of gas," Groff said. "They're all running out of gas."

And then one car that was not out of gas, a low-slung sports job, came
rocketing along the road, took a turn too fast and skidded on the
mud-slick street. Its fishtail swerved left into a fire hydrant with
a crash that made the dishes behind the diner counter rattle. On the
rebound the car's remaining energy sent it nosing to the right through
the plate window of a clothing store. By then it was burning fiercely
from the tail. Two figures, dark in the glare of burning gas, spilled
frantically from the bucket seats and flailed their way through the
smoke and jagged glass.

"Come on!" Groff yelled, a general invitation to perhaps half a dozen
weary, red-eyed men standing about with coffee cartons of their own.
They ran for the smoky blaze; it beat fiercely against Groff's forehead
and cheeks. He found himself almost racing crazily into the flames
before he stopped. Groff peered into the holocaust and saw nothing.

A man tugged his arm, drawing him back a couple of yards. The man said,
preoccupied: "That was Ed von Lutz's little car. A Porsche. Ed's got a
garage, he had that thing for advertising."

Groff said, watching two people die, "Why's he racing it around town?"

"Oh, that wasn't Ed," the man told him. "Ed got killed in his
garage hours ago. Water undermined the sills and footing, he was in
there trying to straighten up and then the floor gave way and his
air-compressor storage tank rolled over him. That wasn't Ed. That must
of been some crazy kid that's been hanging around thinking about the
little sports car ever since he got it in, and he thought this was his
chance for a free ride. I guess that was his girl with him."

The quick, fierce gasoline flame was burning itself out; now the blaze
had passed to the clothes on display, the fixtures, the shelves. The
building was a long brick row, not battered by the worst of the current
but horribly soiled. The clothing store was the central one of seven
shops; there were apartments upstairs.

"Let's get the burning stuff out before it spreads," Groff said grimly.
He walked into the smoke and, holding his breath, came out with a
smoldering armful of suits off a rack. He dumped them in the gutter,
where they charred and stank.

"Axes," a man sighed. "Hardware store around the corner."

"I'll get 'em," shouted Mrs. Goudeket, trotting off. "Save the man's
stock. Don't let the fire spread."

The next half hour was a nightmare of chopping and prying at burning
wood, dashing out for smokefree air when you had got a little ahead of
the flames. Groff burned his left forearm when he brushed once against
the still-blistering frame of the car. Midway through the job somebody
covered the two charred figures from the car with a pair of topcoats
each and they carried them out and laid them on the curb. Later they
were gone; somebody, Groff never knew who, had taken them to the
temporary morgue in the M.E. church basement.

He woke once from his daze of chopping and prying to find Polly Chesbro
pulling on him. "They're stealing everything, Mickey," she said
insistently. "Can't you stop them?"

Groff looked around. The store was gutted, the fire only an evil
smoulder here and there. He coughed and walked out, sidling around the
twisted, blackened little car with the bashed-in tail. He breathed
fresh air outside; to his surprise it was late afternoon.

The pile of clothes from the store was dwindling before his eyes.
People were picking it over and grabbing; Mrs. Goudeket was screaming
at them: "Leave the man's stock alone! I'll--I'll--" She took an axe
and made a feeble pass at a man in mechanic's coveralls. He shoved
her hard and sent her sprawling. Polly Chesbro began to curse the man
fluently; he ignored her as if she were a buzzing fly. Groff went and
picked up the gasping old woman. "You hurt?" he asked.

She rubbed her behind and shook her head, glaring murderously.
"Loafers," she said. "Bums without brains to run a business themselves.
Look at them!"

Groff looked at them. From the wrong side of the tracks--river in this
town. Sick, neurotic faces, shrill neurotic voices as they squabbled
over tidbits like carrion crows. Feeble slum types, most of them,
but a few of the gorillas that every slum produces in defiance of
malnutrition. Men, women and gorillas, there were about a dozen of
them. This was his cue to deliver a ringing oration on the rights of
property and shame them away from the only chance most of them would
ever have at an eighty-five dollar suit or topcoat.

He took up Mrs. Goudeket's axe and walked purposefully toward the
carrion crows. "Break it up!" he yelled hoarsely. "If you can't do
anything useful you can go home and not make any more trouble."

The gorilla who had shoved Mrs. Goudeket looked at him appraisingly,
picked up the bundle of clothes he had neatly laid aside and walked off
with them in his arms. There was a nice charcoal-gray single-breasted
suit on top.

"Put those down!" Groff snarled. The man just kept walking. There was
a crackle of laughter from the others around the pile. Where were the
decent people, Groff wondered angrily. They were on the fringes and
they were waiting. Their world was balanced on a razor's edge, and they
dared not breathe. Let it tip one way and looting would tilt again to
law and order; let it tip the other and looting would tilt over into
murder.

Groff balanced the doubled-bitted axe in his right hand and hurled it
at the departing gorilla. It flew like an arrow; its flat top thudded
into the small of the man's back. He fell, howling, on the soft bundle
of clothes he embraced. Groff walked up to him and rolled him over with
his foot. The man cursed him and Groff drew back his foot for a kick at
his bullet head. The man stopped instantly, glaring. "Go home," Groff
told him.

The decent people on the fringes had come to life. They cried to the
carrion crows: "Go home. Leave the man's stock where it is. Get back
where you belong."

And it worked, because it was still daylight.

On the way back to the school, the GHQ of the town, Groff and Polly
Chesbro and Mrs. Goudeket saw again the ruin and the despair, and
something new: hatred. A couple railed at a man standing on his porch
that he had plenty of room, that they had to have a place to sleep,
they _knew_ he had plenty of room--but the man grinned hatred at them
and calmly shook his head.

"That," said Polly Chesbro in a low voice, "could be the paying off
of an ancient score. The couple in the mud could be Mr. and Mrs. Town
Banker, suddenly poor because they haven't a bed, and the man on the
porch could be the village bum, owes everybody in town, brink of
financial disaster, but suddenly rich because he has a bed. This is the
day of jubilee, Groff, the day of leveling."

They passed a house canted off its foundations; they saw a man calmly
building a rubbish fire against one corner of it and almost went on,
so natural did it seem. His eyes were bright when he looked up, and he
seemed only a little offended when they kicked his fire apart.

"It's the insurance," he explained. "Twelve thousand dollars, fire with
extended coverage. You know what it'll cost me to get this straightened
up? Rent a crane, a big gang of men with hydraulic jacks, a week's
work easing the house back on the footings, and then everything will
be sprung, the whole house'll have to be replastered. Five thousand
dollars, easy, and I haven't got it. So I figured, we're covered for
fire, make a clean start, the kids are grown now and we don't need a
place this size--" Of the adjoining houses he had not thought at all.

They walked him down to the school; he chattered volubly all the way,
quite unhinged. Polly efficiently vanished in search of a doctor with
a needleful of morphine, and eventually she led one of the army medics
toward them.

The arsonist snapped to and said crisply, "Sir, these civilians tried
to prevent me from carrying out my mission. If you ask me, they're
Krauts."

The medic led him away, protesting.

       *       *       *       *       *

Artie Chesbro said worriedly, "Sharon, are you sure Akslund's coming
here? None of these dopes seem to know anything."

Sharon Froman said, "Positive. This is the only road in from the north.
He'll have to stop at the check point even if he is a congressman."
She paused, added, "The captain who told me was the detachment
communications officer. He got it right off the radio himself." She
gave Chesbro a smile of good fellowship. It never hurt to remind a man
how helpful you were being.

Chesbro sighed, "I'm getting tired of waiting here, all the same. These
tinhorn heroes are getting under my skin. The next idiot that wants to
know if I'll help out with the salvage squads or let them take this car
for emergency duty gets a tire-iron across the face."

Sharon said sympathetically, "You'd think they'd know enough to leave
you alone, wouldn't you?" There was a siren scream from down the road,
and they both sat up straight to look. But it was only an ambulance; it
slowed briefly at the roadblock, the troopers waved it by and it sped
away.

Sharon took out a cigarette and pressed the dashboard lighter; then
she remembered it didn't work and lit the cigarette with a match. It
wasn't much of a car they were in; but it was the best car Chesbro had
been able to rent for what money he had in his pocket. And naturally he
wouldn't have been able to do it by himself, she thought comfortably.
She was the one who had learned that Representative Akslund was coming
into the disaster area on an inspection tour; she was the one who had
located the car; and she was the one who had put the idea in Chesbro's
head of meeting the congressman and riding with him. Nicely done,
Sharon, she told herself; and the best part of all was that she had
succeeded in making him think it was his own idea.

"I wonder how Polly's making out," Chesbro said.

Sharon permitted herself a frown, her face turned away. She said
gaily, "Probably loving every minute of it, Arthur. It must be pretty
exciting for her. Anyway," she added blandly, "Mickey Groff's probably
taking good care of her."

"Mickey Groff?" He looked at her with surprise. "Polly?"

Sharon said, "Well, he _did_ seem rather interested--"

Chesbro shook his head. "Oh, no. You don't know Polly. Believe me, men
aren't her--" He hesitated, and said, "Believe me, she has too much
sense to get involved with a two-bit operator like him. She's loyal,
Sharon. Absolutely loyal to me." He was silent for a moment and then,
without looking at the girl, he said, "Polly's a funny kid. She isn't,
uh, _normal_, if you know what I mean, like you'd think a wife would
be--but she's loyal. Absolutely."

Sharon Froman took a deep, quiet breath. Ah-ha, Mr. Chesbro, she
thought to herself with satisfaction, the wife isn't quite normal,
eh? Somehow or other she doesn't respond when you get that urge, and
the years go by, and then you notice that you aren't getting the urge
as often--as far as she's concerned at any rate. So after a while you
don't even worry when she's off with another man.

Sharon nodded wisely to herself. Just the way it had been with Hesch
and his first wife. She'd made a man out of Hesch, even if he had
finally let her down, and she could make a man out of this unpromising
lout too--

The unpromising lout sat up sharply. "Hey," he yelled, "something's
coming! It's got a state-police escort. Maybe it's Akslund!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The congressman was on the best of terms with the Air Force--possibly
because he held appointments on three appropriations committees.
The Air Force had been delighted to fly him up from Washington that
morning, and had been eager to fly him right into the disaster area in
a helicopter; but Representative Akslund himself had put his foot down
about that. Transport planes were one thing; helicopters were something
else. So the last fifteen miles of his trip were in a car furnished
through the courtesy of the state police.

"Unbelievable," he murmured--but enunciating every syllable crisply and
clearly. "It looks as if a war had been fought over every inch of this
lovely countryside. I estimate the damage I have already seen is in the
millions." Out of the corner of his eye he observed that the AP man
who had tagged along wasn't writing anything down. Disappointing; but
Akslund was too old a hand to try to hint about it. The AP man would be
with him for a good many hours yet. There was plenty of time for direct
quotes.

The police car ahead sounded its siren. The congressman craned his neck.

"Road block," the driver explained. "They'll pass us right through,
sir."

But they didn't. The driver of the car ahead stuck out his arm and
semaphored a stop; the congressman's chauffeur braked sharp and smooth,
and stopped a yard away from the other car's bumper.

A state trooper on point duty walked over and said, "Sorry to hold you
up, sir. You can pass, of course, but there's a man here who says he--"

Artie Chesbro appeared, panting. He stuck his hand in the open window.
"Good to see you again, Halmer," he said. "I'm Artie Chesbro. State
delegation. Perhaps you remember our little chat at the Waldorf last
year--the fund dinner."

Representative Akslund opened the matchless filing case in his head
and riffled through the cards. He remembered. "Glad to see you again,
Chesbro. Are you in this mess?"

"Up to my eyebrows. From the very start. There were eight of us trapped
in a building all night long; one was killed by gasoline fumes,
another's in the hospital with pneumonia this minute. But that's not
the point. I've been thinking heavily about relief and reconstruction,
Halmer, and I've developed some ideas I'd like to share with you. Mind
if I come along?"

Representative Akslund noticed that the AP man was scribbling at last.
Eight trapped all night, one dead, one dying. This Chesbro knew what
he was talking about. His interests were medium-big and diversified,
said the _Chesbro_ card in Akslund's head; he'd be able to give him the
sound businessman's viewpoint. Akslund knew he had to move fast; the
first public figure to hit the headlines and newscasts with a formal
plan would skim the publicity cream. How to be a statesman-humanitarian
in one easy lesson. Chesbro would save him time.

"Get in," he told Artie.

"Room for my assistant, Miss Froman?" Artie asked.

"Of course, Chesbro. I need facts and I need them fast."

Artie waved the come-on to Sharon in the car on the shoulder.

She reached into the back of the car for her manuscript briefcase and
gaily ran for the limousine. She didn't even bother to lock up the car,
which Artie had rented with a solemn promise that he'd return it to the
garage in exactly two hours. It would get back to the man somehow, she
thought contentedly. Big things were happening now; no time for trivia.

       *       *       *       *       *

The AP man leaned forward and asked: "C-H-E-S-B-R-O?"

"Right. Arthur Chesbro, of Summit. I own a piece of the Hebertown
newspaper, I have some real estate, I'm interested in broadcasting.
Thirty-nine years old."

"Veteran?"

"Ah, I was a consultant to the War Manpower Commission; I wasn't
actually in the service."

"Who's the man who died?"

"Sam Zehedi, Z-E-H-E-D-I, I think it goes. A grocer, about thirty.
We were holed up in a filling station on State Highway 7, just two
carloads of people who couldn't get through the flood. The sick man
is, I'm sorry to say, my very dear friend Henry Starkman, the Burgess
of Hebertown. In the morning when we realized he had pneumonia we
carried him about twelve miles into town. He's in that improvised
hospital they have there. When I saw him last his condition was poor.
He is about sixty-five. He was in my car when we got stopped; we were
looking at conditions and making plans. On a small scale, what Mr.
Akslund is here for." Cue to Sharon!

Sharon said to the congressman, "The networks are probably trying to
get mobile broadcasting units in right now. They should be set up and
sending by midnight. By morning they'll have all they need to lead the
disaster strong in the breakfast newscasts."

It was a reminder that they had better get down to brass tacks on a
concrete proposal for relief and reconstruction. Dramatically issued
from the site of the flood, it would be unbeatable.

They were rolling slowly into Hebertown proper.

Artie said to the driver, "Drive around for a while."

"Yes," said Akslund. "Show me everything."

Sharon added: "Drop me off at the school. I'll get the police chief to
find a room for us somehow. We'll have work to do."

"Lots of it," Akslund said thoughtfully, looking through the window at
the wreckage.

       *       *       *       *       *

No cars!

Mrs. Goudeket rubbed her forehead thoughtfully. She had tried two
garages, and no cars for rent. Chief Brayer, they said. He had
_commandeered_ them, if you please, had them driven to a "motor pool."
The couple of cars going through the streets that she had flagged down
were "on missions." See Chief Brayer.

Well, she would see this new dictator, this Hitler of Hebertown. She
reached the schoolhouse, and there, sure enough, was the motor pool
in the teachers' parking lot across the street--a strange collection
of vehicles ranging from a two-ton farm truck to somebody's little
Rambler. There was a man with a clipboard at a table, on guard.

She sniffed and walked into the marble lobby of the school, which
was crowded and noisy with the talk of fifty busy people. There were
two uniformed men at card tables; one was in a fireman's queer, boxy
uniform cap and the other must be this Brayer.

He was talking to a boy scout--at a time like this!--but she waited
until he was finished. Then she burst out, "I've got to have a car. I'm
Mrs. S. Goudeket of Goudeket's Green Acres. I've got to get back to my
place. Now."

The mustached old man looked up. "Sorry, ma'am," he said. "We need all
the cars for public service. Maybe later after some help comes in. Why
don't you--"

"Did you hear who I am?" she yelled.

"I don't give a damn who you are," he yelled back, standing up. "The
town is drowning. People are sick. People are looting and burning.
We're trying to hold it together for a few hours until help comes.
Don't come here grabbing for a car. Go and find something useful to do.
They need help in the hospital, people to make beds and carry slops.
You can do that, or if you don't want to do that you can at least get
out of everybody's way!"

He sat down and turned to a man wearing a handkerchief around his arm
and immediately was in thoughtful, intense conversation with him.

Mrs. Goudeket recoiled a step, then walked slowly from the lobby.

Maybe--maybe he was right. There was Polly, waiting for her.

She said to the girl, "No cars. We should go work in the hospital they
set up for a while, Polly. They need help."

Polly Chesbro nodded. Together they walked to the improvised excuse for
a hospital.

Mrs. Goudeket was thinking: Mr. Goudeket wouldn't have stormed up to
that busy old man. He would have seen that making beds in the hospital
right now is more important than whether Green Acres is in the black
this year. Mr. Goudeket may have been right about more things than I
ever knew before....

She wondered idly how the orange groves in Palestine for which they had
donated year after year were growing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ten minutes later Sharon was at the desk, telling Chief Brayer: "You've
got to. He's the head of three committees. He can turn the faucet and a
million, five million dollars runs into Hebertown. Or he can leave the
faucet shut. Think of your town, Chief!"

Brayer sighed and wished Henry were there. At last he beckoned to one
of the deputies and said, "Take two men. Go to the new Fielding place,
that little ranch-house thing on Sullivan. Turn everybody out. We need
it for Congressman Akslund and his, uh, staff. Leave a man there to see
that nobody sneaks back in. Better leave a man there as long as the
Congressman's there, for a guard and in case there are any messages."

"Thanks, Chief," Sharon said warmly. "You're doing the right thing.
I'll just wait here; they'll pick me up. And can you let us have a
guide to show us the way to the house?"

"Sure," said Brayer. "God, it must be smooth to be a congressman!"

       *       *       *       *       *

They had dropped off the AP man, and Artie could talk freely. "Another
thing I didn't want to say in front of him, Halmer, is the Southern
angle. Those Democrats from Dixie are going to be swarming around
the valley offering sites and tax write-offs and hell knows what to
persuade damaged industries to relocate. This means you build up the
Democratic South and drain strength out of our state. Unemployment and
discontent. We're G.O.P. here, but not by such a margin that a sharp
local depression couldn't put the state over the line. The cities,
frankly, we lost last time but we have the counties as of now. If the
valley isn't saved, Halmer, it might cost us a senator--and you know
what that would mean. Knocking off Bolling and his sixteen years of
seniority and the committee appointments that go with it would be a
very serious thing for us nationally. I'm not exaggerating when I say
that a large, prompt injection of cash is vital to everything you and I
stand for."

Akslund hooded his wise old eyes and nodded.



                           CHAPTER THIRTEEN


Polly Chesbro went through the ranks of litters to the one on which
the burgess lay. A nurse in the pinstriped cotton fatigue uniform had
shoved a thermometer under his tongue and was looking at her watch.

"How is he, Lieutenant?" Polly asked.

The nurse whipped out the thermometer, read it, jotted down a figure on
her clipboard and said, "Holding his own. Excuse me." She shook down
the thermometer, popped it into a glass that held many thermometers,
picked out another one and slipped it under the tongue of the person
in the next litter, a girl of ten with a dry, burning face and dry,
burning eyes.

In the marble lobby of the schoolhouse Mickey Groff was studying an
extraordinary organization that had sprung up within a very few hours.
Card tables had been set up and conference tables dragged from offices
and classrooms. For an ad-hoc government with the wires out you wanted
everything under one roof, in one room, instead of scattered through a
town hall. When a man came to you with trouble you could fix, this way
there was no phone to pick up; this way you called across the room and
things happened fast.

There were two main centers around the fire chief and the police chief.
They retained roughly their old jurisdictions, respectively over the
destructiveness of nature and the cussedness of man. While Groff
watched, a woman came coolly to the fire chief in her turn to say that
her undermined house was beginning to sag and she had twenty refugees.
They had gone out into the street, could he find places for them? And,
as an afterthought, could they do anything about the house? The fire
chief called to three boy scouts, part of his combined field force and
housing records. One knew a big thirteen-room place on the outskirts
which, when he last checked, had only twelve people in it. Thirteen
rooms. Space for twenty more. And the house?

"George," the fire chief called to a brassarded man, "get some people,
a dozen if you can, and see if you can do anything about Mrs. Comden's
place. She says it's beginning to lean badly. Be a pity to see it go
now."

George, an electric-company rigger, said, "What kind of a house, Mrs.
Comden? How big? Which way's it going?"

"Frame. Two-story, eight rooms. It's going into the street, maybe gone
by now, I don't know."

"What's in the back yard? Do you have a back yard?"

She passed her hand vaguely across her forehead, brushing back her
hair. "Back yard? Just a back yard. A vegetable garden..."

"Good," said George with satisfaction. "I know where there's some wire
rope and oil drums. We'll dig in the drums for deadmen and anchor the
house to them with the rope. I'll need a truck, Chief."

"You get a car," the chief said. "Sorry." He scribbled a note which
would go to the guardian of the improvised motor pool outside. George
walked off with it slowly, collecting waiting men. He picked them
big and burly. The woman trailed apathetically after. The chief was
already engaged with a man who wanted a gang to clear away snapped
and fallen electrical cables which would set his house afire--and, as
an afterthought, the neighborhood it was in--the instant current came
through again. He got two men with axes and a felling saw to cut away
the fallen tree that had brought down the cables.

It was getting dim in the marble lobby, in spite of the tall windows.
On a couple of the card tables candles stuck in their own wax were
being lit; across the room somebody was pumping up a Coleman lamp. It
lit, in a dazzling green-white flare, and the gloom was gone for a
while.

On the police chief's side the reports were more bitter. "Goons from
across the river, Red. So far they're just hanging around and talking
it up, but they've got bottles. It's just a matter of time before they
get brave enough to smash my window and grab the furs. There's a dozen
of them and I've got to have at least six men. So help me, if I don't
get six men I'm going to kill the first drunken s.o.b. that makes a
move at our place. I've got my brother there with the shotgun now--"

"Skip the rest, Pete. You and your brother are two able-bodied men and
you've got a shotgun. You don't need any help."

"I don't _want_ to blast 'em!" the furrier wailed. "Why do we hire you
guys, anyway?"

"We're spread too thin, Pete. We'll send the patrol car past and put
a scare into your friends, but don't expect us to tie up six men for
every shop on Broad Street. We're spread too thin and we have to keep
moving. Matter of fact, I ought to let your brother handle the store
himself and deputize you right here and now."

"No you don't, Red!" The man backed away and was gone.

A wide-eyed scout darted up and gave old Red the three-fingered salute.
"Big fight, Chief, down on the river, foot of Sullivan. I don't know
what it's about, maybe one of the boats--"

The chief yelled at two waiting men in Legion caps: "Take a car.
They're trying to take over one of the ferries at Sullivan Street.
Break it up and keep patrolling the river. We've got to keep the boats
in our hands." The men stolidly moved off to the car pool.

Mickey Groff knew by then where he'd be useful. He went up to the
chief's table and said, "I'd like to be deputized."

The old man stared at him. "And go looting with a badge? Who're you,
mister? I haven't seen you in town before."

"Mickey Groff. From New York. I came in to see your burgess about
taking over the old Swanscomb Mill for a factory of mine."

"Groff. Henry talked about your offer. All right--Groff." The old man
suddenly grinned. "Think I'll even trust you with a gun. Know how to
use one?"

"Yes. The army."

The chief snorted. "Army! I hoped you might be a hunter. Well, maybe
you'll do. Put up your hand."

Groff did.

In a rapid mumble the old man asked him whether he swore to uphold and
defend the laws and constitution of the State of Pennsylvania, so help
him God. Groff said he would, and the old man said he hereby appointed
him a special deputy policeman of the Borough of Hebertown. "And," he
added, "I sure hope this is legal because I've been doing it all day.
Sign your name on this list. Clarence, give this man a thirty-eight.
Have you got a handkerchief, mister? No? Clarence, give the man a clean
handkerchief to tie around his arm."

He clanked down an enormous revolver and five cartridges on the table.

"Five?" Groff asked.

"Army!" the chief snorted. "The chamber under the hammer is kept empty
in civilian life, Groff. Let me see you load it."

Fishing in his memory, Groff broke the revolver, set the safety, loaded
it and closed it, being very careful where he pointed the thing.

The chief said, "I guess I won't have to take it back after all. Now
you stick around and wait. Talk to Murphy over there. He's been a
deputy before this."

Murphy was small and quiet. He volunteered that he was a plumber and
that there'd be a lot of work for him after all this was over. He
showed Groff how to carry his pistol in the waistband of his pants
and said cautioningly, "Of course we ain't going to use them, you
understand."

Groff, who had his doubts about it, said he understood and watched
while a battery-operated receiver-transmitter on another of the card
tables came to life under the ministrations of a sixteen-year-old boy.
The fire chief and the police chief both charged over; so after a while
did a doctor from the outside when the word reached him. The three
tried simultaneously to dictate messages to the bulldozed teen-ager.

The fire chief wanted chemical trucks sent in, as many as could be
rounded up. The police chief wanted National Guardsmen, at least a
battalion. The doctor wanted to know where the hell the goddam army
field hospital was. It was an interesting fight and Mickey Groff was
sorry when a trouble call came in and he and Murphy missed the end of
it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The man in the Legion cap said, "You best give me that gun, fella. I
can handle it."

"So can I," said Mickey Groff. He wasn't nasty about it; but the man in
the Legion cap shrugged and let it go. "This the place?" Groff asked as
the car stopped.

"This is the place." The Legionnaire scowled worriedly. "They took all
the boats across the river. You see anything over there?"

Groff got out of the car and looked. It was full dark now, and the
river was wide. There were lights of some kind on the opposite bank,
but he couldn't have told you what they were. Flashlights and electric
lanterns, most likely.

But they looked a little bit close.

Groff ordered, "Turn the car to the right. Put the brights on." The
Legionnaire cramped the wheels around and inched forward. He kicked the
button of the highway-beam headlights.

"They're coming, all right," said Groff. Shapes were lying on the
water, punctuated with hand lights.

"Sons of bitches," said the Legionnaire bitterly. "Now there'll be hell
to pay. Four of us against every goddam goon on the river--and Harry
and me ain't even got guns."

"Take it easy, Walt," Murphy said. But in the reflection from the
headlights Groff could see his face was worried.

Murphy, who had appointed himself in charge of the detail, sent the
Legionnaire named Walt after the Legionnaire named Harry; and he
disposed them as best he could. Groff got the place of honor--he had
a gun. He was put on the end of a little loading jetty; Murphy took a
position on a floating landing platform; Walt and Harry were left to
stand by the car, to keep the lights on the boats.

And the boats came on, four of them, put-putting through the water in
convoy formation. Funny, thought Groff abstractedly; if I were them
I'd come ashore upstream a little way. This is the natural place for
deputies to be waiting for them. If they used their heads they'd know
that, and they'd come ashore somewhere else--

He thanked his lucky stars that the goons evidently were not using
their heads.

Harry, behind the wheel of the car, was making a fantastic amount
of racket grinding gears, racing the motor, shifting back and forth
to pick out one boat after another with the headlights. Damn fool,
thought Groff aggrievedly. He could hardly hear the deputy named Murphy
shouting at the approaching boats. There was some kind of answer from
them, but he couldn't make that out at all.

But they were getting close.

Groff carefully dropped to one knee, rested his hand with the revolver
in it on the railing of the jetty, and took aim at the lead boat. How
long had it been since he'd fired the pistol-dismounted qualifying
range? Nearly fifteen years, he guessed; it was in the first few
months of basic training, and always after that it had been a carbine
or an M-1.

Somebody was coming up behind him.

Good God, he thought, they've made another landing! He started to turn.

It was the man Walt, grabbing for the gun. "Leggo, you!" he panted,
clutching at the revolver. "If you're too yellow to shoot let me have
it!"

Walt was no kid; he was in his late fifties at the least. But he was
big and solid, and Groff was off balance. For a moment he staggered at
the end of the jetty, Walt leaning on him....

They both went in.

The water was cold and the current was fast. What became of the
revolver Groff didn't know. He broke surface, spluttering and choking.

Walt was splashing right beside him. "Help me!" he bawled. "For God's
sake, help me! I can't swim!"

Groff had one bitter moment of temptation--let him drown! cried his
subconscious. But then the decision was out of his hands. Walt flailed
toward him and caught him. Groff went under, choking; he struggled
upward, carrying the panicky man with him, got a breath, went under
again--

The next time he came to the surface someone was there to grab him.

The goons! Instinctively he tried to fight free, but somebody in the
boat had a good grip on his arm. They hauled him in, and another boat
had Walt.

"You all right?" one of the men in the boat demanded anxiously. Groff
said dizzily, "Sure. But--"

"Take it easy," said the man in the boat. "We'll take you up to the
emergency center. We figured you people'd need some help, so after we
got things under control on our side we came on over." He said proudly,
"They thought I was nuts, keeping after everybody to join the Civil
Defense squads. I guess they'll change their minds now!"

Chief Brayer was looking a little ashamed of himself, but he recovered
quickly. All the men from the other side of the river had guns; all of
them were personally vouched for by the Civil Defense man; they made
valuable reinforcements for the exhausted deputies Brayer had been
swearing in.

They found dry clothes for Groff, and Brayer put him in charge of the
dispatcher's desk to give him a chance to warm up. It had turned windy
with nightfall.

There was a commotion outside, and a couple of state troopers came in.
Groff looked past them; there was a dignified-looking old man, somebody
of importance, by the way the troopers stood by him.

And with him were Artie Chesbro and Sharon Froman.

Groff stood up to get a better look. Chesbro glanced around the room,
caught Groff's eye, looked away, gave him a fishy smile, spoke to the
dignified-looking old man, and shepherded him out of the room, along
with Chief Brayer and a couple of other top men.

Something didn't smell good. Groff called another deputy over and asked
him to take care of the desk. He walked over to one of the troopers and
said: "Who's that you came in with?"

The trooper said, "Congressman Akslund, that's the old guy. The other
fellow's some kind of local big shot, I guess. You ought to know him
better than me."

Local big shot.

Mickey Groff looked thoughtfully at the door Chesbro and the
congressman and the village elders had gone out through.

Back at the filling station. The night Zehedi had died. What was Sharon
Froman selling Chesbro? "A big regional organization to fight back
against the inroads of the South. You and me, Mr. Chesbro."

You and me--and Congressman Akslund, it looked like.

Mickey Groff shook his head, half-enraged, half-admiring. You had to
hand it to Chesbro; he always kept his eye on the ball.



                           CHAPTER FOURTEEN


By midnight the United States Army was working one of its accustomed
miracles.

It involved a number of things, starting with a phone call at noon from
the White House to Fort Lowder, New Jersey. A major general commanding
a division in training there said to the phone call, "Yes sir," and
after he hung up, to his one-star assistant commander, "Excellent
training for the 432nd, Jim. Get it done." The brigadier made some
calls and then he and the C.G. finished their lunch serenely. The calls
whipped Fort Lowder to a froth of activity that looked senseless at
first; an engineer officer took off like a bat out of hell in one of
the division's light planes and soared over the flood valley 175 miles
away, swooped low over promising field after field, and returned.
Leaves were canceled for the division's quartermaster battalion of
two-and-a-half-ton, six-by-six trucks. Ordnance mechanics of the
division's heavy maintenance company swarmed like maggots around a
dozen red-lined vehicles under orders to get them rolling at any cost.
Warehouses were skillfully looted of parts by ordnance sergeants while
ordnance lieutenants engaged guards in casual conversations that ended
when they got the high sign that all was well. And the cause of all
the activity, the 432nd field-hospital battalion, which had almost
forgotten that it _was_ a field-hospital battalion, got the pitch by
early afternoon. Long broken up into their training-camp formation,
scattered through dispensaries and the base hospital, they were
abruptly reminded of their battle mission by an announcement over the
base PA system by the division surgeon, their commander.

Wonderingly, the six hundred officers and men formed on the parade
ground, many still in hospital whites. They were young M.D. first
lieutenants grinding out their drafted service wearily. They were
male R.N.'s with their big perennial bitch that they were lucky to
get a rocker while a woman of equal training automatically got a gold
bar. They were corporals who knew one end of a hypodermic needle from
another, pharmacists who ached to inventory their own stock of trusses,
penicillin, candy bars, yo-yo's and bulk vanilla ice cream in their own
corner stores again, privates and recruits who could swing a sledge or
mop a corridor. They were a handful of majors and lieutenant colonels
who were honest-to-God career military surgeons passionately interested
in the problems and possibilities of their work. On the parade ground
the division surgeon reminded them of something. It was that they were
trained to move into a given bare field and turn it, in two hours, into
a functioning, five-hundred-bed hospital.

They dispersed to almost-forgotten warehouses where they broke out
field medical chests of instruments and medicine. They found again
the long coiled snakes of green treated canvas, tons of it, the 500
litters, and the thousand tent pegs, big and small, and the jointed
tent poles and the miles of rope, each piece in its place, and the
sledges to drive the pegs, and the Coleman lanterns to hang on the
poles. The trucks of the quartermaster battalion backed up and the tiny
handful of field-grade officers buzzed everywhere, yelling and cajoling
and consulting loading lists, and trucks were unloaded and reloaded a
dozen times in some cases to get the right load in its right place in
the line of convoy.

The engineers had finished an overlay strip map of the route by then,
and mimeographs began to spin out copies for the quartermaster drivers.
An MP platoon moved out in a truck and one man was dropped at each
tricky intersection to wave the convoy through. Each MP had a couple of
K-rations with him, because he'd be busy long into the night; as the
convoy went past the rearmost men they'd be picked up in the truck and
leap-frogged ahead of the foremost men to the next tricky intersections.

The water trucks went as a matter of course, but it took a flash of
genius for somebody to realize that the area would be short of gas, and
this got the infantry into it. A puzzled rifle company found itself
yanked off the firing range and assigned to the mysterious chore of
filling five-gallon jerry cans with gas from the pumps of the division
motor pool and stacking them solid in three six-by-sixes.

It took a flash of West Point tradition for the division band to be
massed at the camp gate when the 432nd rolled off shortly before
sunset. The division commander was there; the band oompahed and
he impassively took the salute from the startled doctors in the
command cars. A few of the enlisted men of the battalion rolling past
remembered vaguely about crossing the arms and sitting at attention.
There wasn't a man there who was not, though they'd hoot at the word,
inspired by the ancient tradition of the field music and the ancient
greeting they were exchanging with the tough old pro who was sending
them on their way.

They rolled for six hours, until their tailbones were bruised and
their bladders ready to burst, along highway and detour and miserable
blacktop. It was dark soon, but the sound of some of the bridges they
rumbled over scared them silly. K-rations and canteen water staved off
the boredom, and so did banter when they crept through the towns.

They arrived eventually at the field the engineer officer had spotted
from his division plane and stiffly went about turning the field into a
five-hundred-bed hospital. It took cursing and coaxing, and five men,
utterly out of condition, doubled up clutching at brand-new hernias
while they manhandled the tons of canvas and pegs and poles. Another
was doping off in the dark and a truck backed over him, killing him.
The casualty rate for the operation was one per cent, which was not bad.

While the tents rose in the headlights' glare the officers in their
jeeps and command cars were spreading out to the stricken communities.
One of them found Hebertown, two miles away.

       *       *       *       *       *

The young lieutenant, for a few hours not wearily grinding through
his period of drafted service, said to Chief Brayer, "We're prepared
to take over your entire medical load. Who's in charge on the medical
side?"

The police chief said to one of his men wearily, "Get Dr. Soames. Good
news for him."

But Soames had seen the jeep and medics in it. He burst in and roared:
"Tench-_hut_!" Automatically the lieutenant popped to. "Suck in
that gut!" Soames snarled, and then broke into relieved, hysterical
laughter. "My God, you looked funny as hell," he wheezed at the
officer. "Haven't had so much fun since we bribed the cooks to serve
the division surgeon fricassee of haemoangioma!"

The lieutenant looked a little green and asked stiffly, "How many cases
have you, doctor?"

"Ninety-five, shavetail. Take 'em away. We're all beat to our socks
here. The town medics, the emergency people they flew in--we're beat."
Dr. Soames sagged into a chair and seemed to lose interest.

The lieutenant went outside to his jeep and told the signal corps man
with the SCR 6300: "Ambulance-fitted trucks for ninety-five cases. I'll
check 'em over and get them classified."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Goudeket and Polly Chesbro had, semi-automatically, fallen into
the routine of the improvised hospital. For hours they had been doling
out rationed water, mopping brows, jumping to the "Here-you" of the
handful of nurses and doctors, cleaning up vomit and blood, dumping
and washing ducks and bedpans. Mrs. Goudeket first saw the brisk new
lieutenant talking crisply to an exhausted nurse.

"That one," she said. "He isn't tired."

Polly said wanly, "That's nice." She wasn't listening, particularly.
She'd come to the hospital in the first place to keep an eye on the
burgess, but he was off in an upper room, what they humorously called
the "quiet" ward because there was, in fact, fractionally less noise
and confusion there than on the lower level. She hadn't seen him for
hours.

Mrs. Goudeket insisted, "Look, darling. There's another one. Maybe
another ambulance came in?"

"That's nice," said Polly, escaping. They were moving two of the
patients again, and it was her sector of the floor. The patients were
carried off in litters--new green ones, Polly noticed wearily; maybe
there was another ambulance in. Strip the cots, bundle the bedding,
scrounge through the stacks of afghans and torn sheets and quilted
comforters for something to make a new bed with, turn down the covers
and help the new patient in.

But there wasn't any new patient, not for either of the beds.

Two pink-faced kids in clean green fatigues brushed by her and set a
litter down next to the bed with the eleven-year-old boy in it. Polly
started to warn them about his probable fractured ribs; he had been
under most of a frame dwelling for eight hours before he was found. But
they seemed to know what they were doing; they rolled him gently to one
side, slipped the litter under, rolled him gently back.

She watched them carrying him away. Funny. A lot of the patients were
going away, carried by these frighteningly expert, incredibly fresh new
people.

It had to be true. Help had arrived--help in quantities, enough to meet
the need.

Polly stood up straight. "That's nice," she said dizzily, and pitched
headfirst across the bed she was stripping down.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dick McCue, young and healthy and very tired after toting the burgess
in, had slept twelve hours, awakening in darkness in the school
gymnasium. A child was crying on one of the other litters and a weary
mother was trying to soothe it. McCue was enormously hungry; his last
"meal" had been a cup of syrupy coffee before he staggered into the
improvised dormitory and passed out; his last before that had been
breakfast on cheese crackers in the gas station. His stomach was
actively growling.

He headed for a dim door, stumbling over litters and bundles of
personal possessions; he was cursed a couple of times.

The dark corridor outside was lighted at its end, and he emerged into
the school lobby full of men with homemade armbands. From somewhere
came a tantalizing smell of coffee.

He asked one of the brassarded men. "Just coffee here," the man said.
"Nearest food's the diner up the hill. Can't miss it; it's lit."

And the diner did stand out like a bonfire by virtue of one pressure
lamp. He found a cop there to keep order and a chipper waitress who
looked at him, grinned and set out a bowl of breakfast food, crunched
open a can of condensed milk with the corner of a cleaver and poured
the whole can into the bowl. "Sugar," she said, and shoved the
dispenser at him.

"Thanks." He poured sugar on and began to spoon down the cloying
mixture as fast as he could.

"Another?" the waitress asked when he was done.

He patted his stomach experimentally. "I guess not," he said. "You have
any coffee?"

"Coming up." She slapped a mugful at him and he sipped it down.

"Better," he said. "How much?"

"For free," she said. She assumed a Greek accent. "Mr. Padopolous says,
America's so good to him this is his chance to say thank you."

"Well, thank Mr. Padopolous for me when he gets back."

He walked out into the dark and bummed a cigarette from the cop. After
a deep drag he told him, "I'm a transient. In town by accident."

"You're lucky," the cop said sourly. "I live here."

"Yeah. Well--I mean, is there anything I can do?"

The cop shrugged. "Not much. Help's getting here, lots of it. The army
rolled in a hospital and the governor sent a battalion of National
Guards. One of them's supposed to show up here and relieve me so I
can get some sleep." He yawned tremendously and sat down on the diner
steps. "My advice to you, get some sleep and in the morning they'll
have something fixed up for you. Maybe those army trucks'll get you
where you want to go."

Dick said, "Thanks," and walked off. Well, he'd missed it. Slept right
through it.

The cop called after him, "Hey, kid. Not toward River Street. The Guard
sent a sound truck around. Unsafe buildings, wide-open warehouses and
stores. They're patrolling with guns. Got it?"

"Got it," said the too-late hero. "Thanks." He turned right and walked
on. He'd be able to find the school again; it was the only place in
town, maybe the only place for miles, with _two_ lights in front, one
shining through the door and the other hung to a spike in a phone pole
outside where the motor-pool man guarded a weird collection of vehicles.

He rambled down one dark street cursing inwardly. He was sure the big,
dynamic Mickey Groff hadn't slept through it, had seized the chance for
leadership and heroism.

Quite suddenly his chance arrived and he almost walked right past it.
Two writhing figures in a doorway, a woman and a man in a silent,
deadly struggle. He had one arm around her head and his paw over her
mouth; her dress was torn down the front.

It flashed through his head. He was about to Defend the Virtue of
a Maiden against the assault of a Lust-Maddened, Drink-Crazed Human
Beast. Chivalry stuff.

He grabbed the man's shoulder and heaved, but his heart wasn't in it.

A fist flailed from nowhere and smashed him high on the right
cheek, hard enough to make an icy area of numbness for a moment and
then--hell's own pain. From that moment his heart was in it. While the
woman, shoved aside, lay on the ground panting, he waded into the man.
After the first few blows it was no longer a fight but first-degree
assault. He battered the man to the ground and stood over him grimly,
his chest heaving. "You want any more?" he croaked.

The man mumbled something. It could have been "no."

He looked around for the woman; she was reeling down the street, one
arm propping her against the wall. A couple came scurrying past, stared
at her and gave her a wide berth. He hastened after her. "Can I help
you?" he asked.

She said sluggishly, "Went to see if my sister was--no. Jus' go away.
Thanks, and everything. But leave me alone. Please."

He backed off and watched her slowly make her way down the street. She
turned a corner and he crossed the street to see. She painfully climbed
the steps of a frame house with a porch, went inside and the great
adventure was over.

Except for the damnable aching of his cheekbone.

In Hollywood, he thought sourly, it would have been just the beginning.
The boy and the girl meet cute and you take it from there. In real life
you save them from rape and they don't want to have anything to do with
you. She was probably embarrassed, horribly so, and wanted no part of
anybody who had seen her with her dress torn, about to be violated.

As he walked he constructed a face-saving fantasy about another maiden
who might be less preoccupied and more grateful, but it was uphill
work. His cheek was very bad, and it occurred to him that it might be
more than a bruise; people did get fractures there. Also he seemed to
have broken a knuckle.

The hero business didn't pay very well.

He turned around and headed back for the school. Maybe he could find a
doctor there to take a look at his face; he was by then almost sure he
could feel bones grating when he worked his jaw.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a panel truck, like any other panel truck you might see except
for the name on the side and the thirty-meter whip antenna sticking up
from the roof. It parked out in front of the schoolhouse and Mickey
Groff stepped outside to see what was going on. _Federal Broadcasting
System Mobile Unit Four_, he read. One of the men in the front seat
wore headphones, was talking into a hand microphone.

It was nearly two o'clock in the morning. Hell of a fat audience
they'll have to listen to them now, thought Groff. It didn't occur to
him that all over the country listeners were staying up past their
bedtimes for just such eyewitness, on-the-spot accounts as this.

Chief Brayer came out and said, "You still here? Get some sleep."

It was good advice for the chief too, Groff thought. He was too old
a man for this sort of carrying-on. The national guardsmen had taken
over the problems of patrolling the flooded-out, burned-out areas, and
most of the temporary deputies had turned in their guns and armbands.
But Groff wasn't sleepy. He was tired, dead-sick tired, but he wasn't
sleepy.

He said, "Chief, what was Artie Chesbro doing with the congressman?"

Brayer rubbed his chin. "I forgot you and him were competitors," he
said, almost apologetically.

"Keep on forgetting it," said Groff. "That isn't why I'm asking."

Brayer looked at him thoughtfully and shrugged. "You think Chesbro's
horning in on something? Maybe you're right. He's thick as thieves with
old Akslund, all right, and I'd swear they never saw each other before
today. The congressman's all hotted up about a regional disaster-relief
agency. He's been sending out statements and messages--right through
our own radio; I read some of them. One of them went right to the White
House, boy. He's asking for a billion dollars grant."

"And I suppose Artie Chesbro wants to have something to say about
spending it?"

The chief said slowly, "Wouldn't you?"

"No!" said Groff, suddenly hot. "What's the matter with you, Brayer?
You know this Chesbro--Starkman knows him. He's a cheap angle-shooting
county politician. Not even your own county, for God's sake! I came
up here to start a factory--maybe not a very big factory, compared to
Ford or R.C.A., but the biggest damned factory I ever tried to start;
and Chesbro was in on the ground floor ahead of me, trying to steal my
factory site for some two-bit deal of his own. You think he cares about
Hebertown? You think he's going to worry about whether the right people
get the right money, or whether the area makes a recovery from this? He
cares about Artie Chesbro, and that's all!"

"Now, hold on a minute, boy--"

"Hold on, hell! If Henry Starkman wasn't half-dead, he wouldn't let
Chesbro get away with this! What right have you got to--"

"Hold on, boy!" The old man was suddenly erect, forceful. "You don't
have to tell me what Henry likes and doesn't like. Forty-one years
we've been friends, and between us we pretty near run this town. And
you know what's been happening? Every year a couple more buildings off
the tax rolls, every year another couple thousand dollars short in
collections. Chesbro? Sure, boy. He's out for number one. But I saw
that message that went to the White House. It said a billion dollars.
God, man--do you know what any part of a billion dollars would mean to
Hebertown?"

He glared at Groff without speaking for a moment. Then he leaned back
and rubbed his eyes wearily. "A billion dollars," he said, and it was
like a prayer.

       *       *       *       *       *

The little ranch house had been perfectly untouched by the flood; it
was well uphill on Sullivan Street. Representative Akslund worked
comfortably through the day in the pine-paneled den. His work consisted
mostly of conversation with Artie Chesbro while Sharon sat by and took
notes by candlelight. Agreement was reached, a statement was signed,
the old man yawned politely and shuffled off to the master bedroom.
"You release this to the network," he said from the door. "The wire
services can take it off the air. Good night."

And Sharon and Chesbro raced to the school.

"Damn it," said Chesbro peevishly. The mobile broadcasting truck was
gone. They scurried around with flashlights; Sharon found a state
trooper who thought he remembered seeing it heading down toward the
roped-off area at the foot of River Street. The houses there were
either down or abandoned, and the only permitted persons were national
guardsmen, theoretically patrolling against looters.

"Hello," said Mickey Groff. Sharon Froman jumped and turned around.

She said, projecting throatily, "Mickey! Thank heaven. It's good to see
you, Mickey. We were worried."

Artie Chesbro caught her eye and slid away. Sharon said gaily, "Hasn't
this been a day? We haven't slept ten minutes altogether since we saw
you last. Luckily I'm a writer." She lifted her briefcase with a smile.

"What's that got to do with it?"

"We writers have our little secrets," she said. She put her hand on his
shoulder, strolling him away.

"Where'd Chesbro go?"

"He'll be back," Sharon assured him. "Buy me a cup of coffee and tell
me what's been going on."

"Buying" a cup of coffee consisted of rinsing out a cup and ladling
black coffee out of the tarry stew that had been bubbling over a
gasoline flame for six hours. Groff let himself be steered and took a
sip of the coffee. It was awful, but it was coffee. He said, "I've been
helping out around here as best I could. So has Chesbro's wife, and so
has Mrs. Goudeket. And you?"

Sharon said with a quiet pride, "We've been doing our share, believe
me. We've spent the whole day with Congressman Akslund. He just went to
bed a few minutes ago."

"Alone?" Mickey Groff asked.

Sharon looked at him with cold resentment. "That's an unpleasant
remark, Groff," she said thinly. "If that's the way you intend to talk,
I'll leave you alone." She turned her back on him and walked haughtily
away.

Anyway, Artie Chesbro was already out of sight; there was no chance
that Groff could find him before he reached the mobile unit.

Poor Mickey Groff, thought Sharon with deep and sincere sympathy, he
would take it hard when he heard Chesbro had Congressman Akslund's
backing to head the Emergency Relief Committee. But he had had his
chance. He had seen her first, but he had chosen to throw in his lot
with Mrs. Goudeket and that fantastic Chesbro woman; and she had gone
over to the better man.

Poor Mickey Groff, Sharon thought comfortably. Maybe some other
time....



                            CHAPTER FIFTEEN


Mrs. Goudeket tottered into the marble lobby of the schoolhouse. A
flaring pressure lamp threw grotesque shadows against the polished
walls and the room was almost empty. Some men dozed over their card
tables and desks. Outside the last of the ambulance-fitted six-by-sixes
was rolling noisily away with the last of the casualties.

Chief Brayer's head snapped up from a nodding doze as she cleared her
throat.

"Chief?" Mrs. Goudeket said timidly. "Just a few hours since I asked,
but I think things have changed a lot, hah?"

He focused on her with difficulty and said at last, "Oh. The lady from
the hotel."

"Goudeket's Green Acres," she said automatically, with pride. "I was
thinking that now maybe things are more under control, hah? So maybe
you could spare me a car, some gas. I have to get back, look over my
property--" If it still is my property, the thought came, unwelcome.

"A car?"

Mrs. Goudeket was exasperated. "You heard. A car! Look, if it makes you
feel better, I could take some people with me. You need shelter? I have
room. Believe me, by now I bet I have more room than you can imagine.
We have food, too." Food for the booked-solid week, which would now be
a week of hundred-per-cent cancellations and empty tables.

Chief Brayer looked wearily interested. "Yes," he said absently, "you
would have food. All right. I yelled at you before, didn't I? I'm
sorry--"

She shrugged. "No apologies, please. Your language--But you meant well.
You were busy."

"We needed the cars," he said doggedly. "We had to keep them for an
emergency, you see. That's all that counted. In case there was a fire
or a burglary, the cars had to be here."

"Don't explain. Please, do I get a car? I'll be careful. I could write
out a check, leave a deposit--" She had almost said five hundred
dollars. "A hundred dollars?"

"Don't have to." Like a man in a slow-motion movie he hauled a memo pad
across the desk, hoisted a pen from his uniform coat pocket. He wrote
painfully. "Give this to Mr. Cioni--you know where the cars are? Across
the street? All right. How far do you have to go?"

She threw up her hands. "Who knows? Always before it was seventeen
miles. Now we have to go around and around--who knows?" There was an
edge to her voice.

"Tell him I said to give you a half a tank of gas."

"Thank you," said Mrs. Goudeket.

Across the street, three trucks and four pleasure cars, one of them
with the tires flat. The motor pool. A civilian in charge, and in the
back a national guardsman with a gun.

The man in charge of the motor pool studied the note with a flashlight
whose beam was fading to orange. He looked at her doubtfully. "You
going to drive it?"

"Don't worry, mister," she snapped. "Do you want to see my license?"

"Me? Nah." He pottered over to a '47 Dodge sedan and copied the plate
number on the chief's note. "Give me your address, lady?"

She did. He copied it down with the license number. "Sign," he said,
and she did. Mr. Cioni copied the data onto another sheet, signed it
and carefully put the original chit in his pocket. He gave her his
copy. "This is your trip ticket," he said. "In case you get stopped by
a state trooper, this proves you didn't steal the car. We hope."

Now garrulous, he added: "She's yours. I don't know if this is legal,
but it makes sense, doesn't it? At least we got records. After things
are straightened out I guess somebody'll get in touch with you to
return the car."

She misread his fatigue and his nerves as suspicion. She said
haughtily, "Young fella, at Goudeket's Green Acres we have a fleet of
late-model cars and station wagons. And to be very frank with you, if
a guest should drive up in a forty-seven car in this condition, the
room clerk would discover that his reservation had not been received,
believe me." Almost she believed it, in the heat of the moment. Almost
Goudeket's Green Acres was the Concord or the Grossinger's they had
meant it for.

The aspersion passed clean through the weary ears of Mr. Cioni.

"I guess that's right," he said. "Good luck."

"Please, you should give me a half a tank of gas. Mr. Brayer said so."
She looked pointedly at the stack of jerry cans that had been dumped by
one of the quartermaster trucks.

Mr. Cioni wearily climbed into the car, snapped on the dash light and
turned the key. The gas needle stayed on zero. Mrs. Goudeket inhaled
triumphantly.

He banged the dial with the heel of his hand and watched it creep
joltingly up to the halfway mark. He said to nobody, "I know these
babies." He said to Mrs. Goudeket, "You got your half a tank. Good
luck."

She said, "Watch nobody else takes my car, will you? I'll get my
friends."

Her feet were killing her. Across the street, back into the
schoolhouse, up the stairs.

       *       *       *       *       *

She hiked wearily into the deserted "quiet ward," where Polly Chesbro
was sprawled on one stained cot and Dick McCue, looking like the
returned stray cat he was, on another.

She shook him gently. "Your face better, Dick?"

He sneered experimentally. "I guess so." He yawned, and that did hurt;
but not too much. "I thought maybe it was a broken bone, but it just
hurts on the skin now. I'll live." He was feeling pretty cheerful. The
disappointing parts of his Rout of the Drunken Beast were dropping out
of his recollection. He said, "Did you get the car, Mrs. G.?"

"Of course," she said, surprised. "Why not? Things have quieted down.
They have time for a reasonable request from an important local
business proprietor." He looked at her sharply, but there was no
expression on her face. For the first time it occurred to Dick McCue
that here was a woman, not so very smart, not so very young, capable of
being wrong, capable of having foolish hopes. She thought she was still
an important local business proprietor. A ramshackle summer hotel. They
folded by the hundreds, year after year; it didn't take a flood to put
them out of business. The flood was only the mercy bullet through the
blindfold, after the man was down.

Polly was awake. She said, "Mrs. Goudeket, it's nice of you to offer to
take us in, but--"

"But?" repeated Mrs. Goudeket. "What but?"

Polly Chesbro said, "I don't want to leave Mr. Starkman."

Mrs. Goudeket snapped angrily, "He's your father, maybe? A whole
hospital they bring in on trucks to take care of him, and you can't
trust the doctors to fix him up? So stay, Mrs. Chesbro! Hang around the
old man some more, make a fool out of yourself. But I have to get to
work!"

She glared furiously at the other woman, trembling with anger. Polly
Chesbro was wiser than she; Polly felt the anger, and knew it was
directed not at herself but at something inside the old lady. Polly
said perceptively, "Don't worry, Mrs. Goudeket. Everything always works
out."

The old lady was crying. Dick McCue stared in wonder as Polly Chesbro
put her arms around the woman and protected her from the harsh
surrounding world.

After a moment Mrs. Goudeket pushed herself away, sniffing. "You have
a Kleenex?" she inquired, embarrassed. "I don't know what got into me,
Polly. Please, you have to excuse--"

"There's nothing to excuse," said Polly Chesbro. "We're all worn out."

"No, not worn out. Tired, yes. Sick, maybe." Mrs. Goudeket wiped her
streaming nose and said dismally, "Ever since Sam died it's slave,
slave, slave. You know what Sam said? Every year. 'Next year we go to
the Holy Land, why not?' And always I found a reason. So we kept on
with the hotel, and it killed him." She patted Polly's arm absently.
"Worn out is from a summer with the guests complaining about the food
and changing their rooms. From something like this flood you only get
tired."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Goudeket pulled herself together after a while. Polly left her,
and then came back. "Mr. Starkman's wife is with him," she reported.
"I suppose I might as well go with you, Mrs. Goudeket--if the offer's
still open."

"Open? Of course it's still open. And Mr. Starkman?"

"Much better. They think he'll be all right now." Polly Chesbro's
expression was grave and joyous. They'd pulled the old man through;
and Bess Starkman had been more than grateful for Polly's help to her
husband. Polly said, "Let's get the others."

"Others?" Mrs. Goudeket demanded suspiciously.

"Mr. Groff and Arthur--and Miss Froman."

Mrs. Goudeket looked mutinous. "Mr. Groff is perfectly welcome to come
if he is so inclined," she said. "Likewise Mr. Chesbro. But as for Miss
Froman, believe me, Polly, I know her better than you. She'll get along
wherever she is, trust her, but it isn't going to be at Goudeket's
Green Acres."

Dick McCue explained, "Goudeket's Green Acres has _had_ Miss Froman."

Polly was stubborn and silent, but she went down the stairs with them
uncomplainingly.

They found the three in the ground-floor cloakroom where coffee had
been dispensed through the day. Mickey Groff was the gray-looking one.
Sharon and Artie Chesbro seemed to have tapped some source of strength
and wakefulness not given to ordinary humans.

Mrs. Goudeket announced flatly, "I've got a car, to go to my place,
Goudeket's Green Acres. I think it is a good idea if you all come with
me. Here is finished; they have the army now, and plenty of doctors,
National Guard, everything. Why should we be a burden? I have plenty of
room for--"

She hesitated; the words didn't want to come out. She glowered at them:
Big, solid Groff; big, sly Chesbro; soiled, amused-by-it-all Sharon
Froman. _Yenta_, she thought scathingly. Dirty, low female--but still
she needs help. As I may need help some day. As from the Mountain we
were told to give help.

She said with difficulty, "That means everybody, naturally."

Sharon caroled, "Why, Mrs. Goudeket, you've forgiven your naughty
little girl!"

So full of energy and joy! Mrs. Goudeket muttered angrily to herself,
but all she said out loud was, "Well, yes or no?"

Artie Chesbro said cheerfully, "That's very nice of you, Mrs. Goudeket.
I think I'd better stay in Hebertown, though--some important things to
take care of. There's a radio truck around somewhere and I want to--"

Sharon interrupted loudly, with a warning look, "Mr. Chesbro means
Congressman Akslund has left him some work to do. Anyway, Mrs.
Goudeket--"

Oh, she was arch! And no sleep, marveled Mrs. Goudeket--"much as I'd
_love_ to join your little party and share the finest of accommodations
for which your hotel is noted, there are big things to be done. So
thanks, but no thanks."

"Fine," said Mrs. Goudeket. "Stay here with your big things. Now before
somebody steals my car, we better go." She folded the trip ticket from
the motor pool and put it down on the table next to Dick McCue. Mickey
Groff said, "Wait a minute, Mrs. Goudeket. What are these 'big things?'"

Chesbro laughed. "Groff, does Macy's tell Gimbel's? I tell you what.
You want the Swanscomb place, right?" He shrugged generously. "It's
yours. I won't buck you."

"If you won't buck me it's because you don't want it any more," Groff
said. "You're after bigger game. What would that be, Chesbro? A finger
in a billion-dollar pie? A chance to spread federal funds around the
way you want to? Maybe the break you've been waiting for?"

Chesbro said fretfully, "Now Mickey, _please_. Why can't you be
reasonable? You're an outlander here, you've got nothing to do with the
community. You want to move in with your nickel factory? Go ahead. I
won't stand in your way. I'll even help you. But you can't do anything
with the federal grants, because you don't have the connections,
because you don't have the information about who needs what, because
you aren't local and wouldn't be allowed to come within smelling
distance of it in the first place. Why not live and let live?"

He was open and honest, Groff saw--as open and honest as the likes of
Artie Chesbro ever knew how to be. You work your side of the street,
he was saying, and I'll work mine. Under the ethical stands of Artie
Chesbro he had made an honorable proposal. It would never have occurred
to him to entertain propositions like--

Federal funds are money in trust--

A time of catastrophe is not a time to feather one's nest--

Or even--

A businessman who opposes what you want to do is not necessarily a
jealous rival.

There simply was no handle, Groff thought, by which you could get
hold of the man. He was completely out of touch. Off in a kind of a
dream. It was almost as if he was drunk; but that, of course, was
impossible--liquor would have put him out on his feet in seconds.

Polly Chesbro said suddenly, "What did you want the radio truck for?"

Artie looked alarmed. "Now, honey, don't you get mixed up in--"

She said, "Artie, I know how your mind works. Did you think if you
got on the radio and told them that you and the congressman were
handling relief here, that would keep him from backing out? Did you
think everybody in the country would be listening--at this time of the
morning!--and that would make it official?"

"They're recording," Artie Chesbro said sullenly. "They're going to
rebroadcast in the morning. I already talked to one of the men from the
network."

Dick McCue said, "Mr. Chesbro, it's nothing to me one way or another.
But there's a curfew, you know. You can't go running around out there
tonight."

Artie Chesbro's expression was petulant. "Leave me alone, will you? I
know what I'm doing!"

Polly Chesbro folded her hands and looked at him. "Artie, don't you
ever learn?" Her expression was gentle, her voice was calm--even warm,
Groff thought, with a sudden shock that was almost jealousy. "Remember
the television station?"

Artie whined, "Honey, I told you a thousand times--"

"You were all set to make a million dollars out of television," she
said. "Remember? Only you wouldn't wait for the F.C.C. to grant the
license. 'We'll start building,' you said, 'and then they won't
have the guts to turn us down.' Only they did. You never got that
construction permit. What was it my father put up? Fifteen thousand
dollars? And you lost it all, remember?"

"Honey! These people don't want to hear--"

"Then there was the drive-in theater. You only got five thousand out
of my father for that. But that went down the drain, too, like all your
other million-dollar ideas. What was it that time? You figured you
could buck the motion-picture projectionists' union? And then--"

Mickey Groff cleared his throat and said, "Excuse me, Polly. You're
embarrassing everybody."

Polly laughed gently. "I'm sorry. But really, I hate to see my husband
go off like this again."

Groff said to Chesbro, "Like I say, I don't want to butt in; but
remember what McCue said about the curfew, Chesbro. I happen to have
been around when the national guardsmen got their orders; I wouldn't go
out there if I were you."

Mrs. Goudeket said heavily, "That's right, Mr. Chesbro. I was down by
the motor-pool place, and they've got guns and--"

"Now you just listen to me!" It was Sharon Froman, her eyes flashing,
her face a Valkyrie face. "Arthur Chesbro knows what he's doing, and it
isn't up to any of us to try to stop him! You make me sick, all of you.
I spent the whole day with Arthur and Congressman Akslund and, believe
me, the congressman knows Arthur understands how to do things. And if
Arthur's all right with the congressman, I don't see why he shouldn't
be all right with a wet-behind-the-ears kid--" Dick McCue's jaw dropped
open--"or a fat old biddy--" Mrs. Goudeket began to sputter--"or a
mental case--" Polly Chesbro only nodded judiciously, but Mickey Groff
sat up straight and cut in.

"Just a minute, Miss Froman!" he started; but he couldn't make himself
heard. They were all talking at once--

To Sharon Froman. Nobody paying any attention to Artie Chesbro at all.

By the time anyone got around to paying attention to Artie, he wasn't
there.

       *       *       *       *       *

He closed the door quietly behind him and walked out the main door,
nodding pleasantly to the guardsman, across the street to the car pool.
It was all going so well, he thought dreamily, so very well. He even
managed a little wry chuckle of amusement about the silly spectacle his
wife had made of herself. That silly old business of the television
station! That ridiculous story about the drive-in theater! But he could
afford good-humoredly to overlook her raking up those long dead scores,
because everything was going very well indeed.

Curfew? Not a problem, he thought with satisfaction, not as long as he
had been wise and clever enough to pick up Mrs. Goudeket's trip ticket.
The car was his now--he'd just have to say Mrs. Goudeket had sent him.
He wouldn't be on foot for any length of time, and no one would bother
him in the car, with a regulation trip ticket. The whole world was well
within his grasp, he realized with satisfaction and joy.

And it was due at least in part to Sharon Froman. He nodded to
himself in the darkness, picking his way carefully down the slippery
street. She had written the official announcement of the plan for a
Tri-State Emergency Allocations Supervisory Board that he and the
congressman--with Sharon Froman--had cooked up.

Artie Chesbro chuckled out loud. Why, it was even Sharon who had
been so resourceful about the matter of the benzedrine. He had been
pretty near passed out with fatigue early in the day, even before the
congressman had arrived; and she had produced, out of what she gaily
called her "kit of writing tools," the little bottle of ten-grain
tablets that had waked him up, sharpened his brain, made it possible
for him to work on through the endlessly exhausting day.

A fine girl. A great acquisition. They would go far together, thought
Artie Chesbro, stumbling dreamily down the misty street, filled with
the sense of power, alive with the joy of achievement--coked to the
eyebrows.



                            CHAPTER SIXTEEN


Mr. Cioni saw the man approach jauntily. Who, he wondered, can be full
of bounce at this hour--one of the new people from the field hospital?
But as the man came into the cone of light from the shaded Coleman
lantern he saw that the fellow wasn't army, that he wore in fact the
uniform of an old-timer who had been through the day and a half on the
spot. The uniform was a stained and shapeless suit, mud-caked shoes,
red eyes and a growth of beard.

"I'm Mr. Chesbro," the man said to Mr. Cioni. "I've come to pick up the
car allotted to Mrs. Goudeket."

"The hotel lady? She said she'd be back herself."

Chesbro smiled and handed over the trip ticket. "She's exhausted. I'll
pick her up and drive."

"I see. It's that Dodge. Be careful."

Artie almost laughed aloud at the absurdity of advice from this nobody
to _him_, confidant of Akslund, Johnny on the most wonderful spot
imaginable.

He drove off. River Street? Yes; the broadcasters were at River Street.
He turned left and heard faintly a shout from the little nobody of the
motor pool.

A fragment of the Rubaiyat--now _there_ was a poem, not like those
jumbled things Polly wrote!--drifted by. _Would we not shatter it
to bits, and then remold it closer to the heart's desire?_ Which
was exactly what was going to happen. He had never really had a big
chance before, but by waiting and building and sending out his lines
of communication he had survived until the big chance came along. The
county was shattered to bits, and he would remold it. It wouldn't look
like much to an outsider--Akslund. To Akslund and his staff he would
seem a disinterested and patriotic businessman working his guts out
with no hope of personal gain to reconstruct the smitten area.

He had better start thinking about his lists.

       *       *       *       *       *

The five walked into the motor pool. Mrs. Goudeket stared blankly
at the empty space where the Dodge had been. She said to Mr. Cioni
hopefully, "You moved it? Into the street?"

Mr. Cioni looked sick. "Guy had your trip ticket," he said.
"Mr.--Cheese?"

"Chesbro," Dick McCue said. "Rat bastard Chesbro, to be exact."

"Just resourceful," grinned Sharon Froman. "He'll be back. Let's
wait. He just wants to get the statement out to the country. Time's
important, you know. He's got to hit the morning papers and newscasts."
And I, she thought comfortably, pointed that out to him. The boy's
geared to a country-weekly tempo, but he's got talent all the same.

Mrs. Goudeket said something long, eloquent and heartfelt in Yiddish.
Groff, the New Yorker, got the gist. It was a prayer that Artie Chesbro
die of cholera upside-down with his head stuck in the ground like a
radish and worms eating out his ears.

       *       *       *       *       *

His lists. There would be two of them, one of people to get the nod and
the other of people to get the nix.

"A sound businessman and a hard worker, that boy. Built his place
up from nothing. Guts and brains, the kind of man we want to help
first--fast. I know his stock and his turnover, and I'd say fifty
thousand would set him on his feet again. Of course he's the kind
who'll consider it a debt of honor, won't rest until it's clear...."

And the other. "Um. Yes. Know the man well. We've got to help him, of
course, but I wouldn't put him at the top of the list. The _vital_
services have got to be restored first, of course. I know people need
(shoes, gasoline, bread, hardware) but it's my feeling that a more
efficient man should be assisted first. We don't want any free riders
and we don't want to subsidize chaotic competition in the first month."

No indeed. We want to organize the area. A nod to Flaherty, the fuel
man whose note I hold. A nix to Greenlease, the hardware man who
unpatriotically carries his current obligations and improvement loans
in Philadelphia. A nod to Erpco Feed, who buy their sacks from my very
good friend and associate Don Rider, who is under my thumb because of
his lease. A nix to Fowling, the appliance wholesaler who won't use my
trucks when he's in my territory. A man who doesn't encourage local
business is asking for trouble, and this is his chance to get it. An
emphatic nod to Rorty and his skinny new wholesaling business; in a
year he'll pass Fowling and I'll be in the driver's seat.

Turn nobody down, he cautioned himself. Merely postpone, and postpone,
and postpone. And eventually there will be no more money left and the
nixed will find themselves in a poor competitive position and a little
later they'll find they're broke and out of business. And the people in
business will be my men.

I will have approximately one hundred operations tied to me, covering
every phase of manufacturing, real estate, wholesaling, retailing,
distribution and finance in the area. I'll trade with myself, supply
myself, transport myself and finance myself and anybody who tries to
move in will never know what hit him. It will be positively pathetic if
anybody tries to compete with Artie Chesbro.

The car crept slowly along the littered road toward River Street. His
thinking had never been so clear and lightning-fast--and his heart had
never thudded so alarmingly. The benzedrine, he supposed. Well, you use
things for what they're worth and take the incidental consequences like
a man.

A big man. First the valley area, perhaps a year to consolidate
it. Then move down- and upriver, slowly at first. But he knew the
pace always accelerated. The bigger you get the faster you grow.
Rockefeller, Morgan, Zeckendorf, Odlum--they all had started somewhere.
This was his somewhere. Artie Chesbro considered quietly that he'd be
running the state by 1959. If there was a war, knock a year off the
timetable. Wars were good business for a good businessman.

And, he thought quietly, with the clarity of benzedrine, they pruned
the human tree.

       *       *       *       *       *

An eighteen-year-old sprig of the human tree, Luther G. Bayswater, was
walking slowly down River Street with a feeling of intense unreality
enveloping him.

It seemed frightfully queer that he should have a helmet on his head,
heavy boots with two-buckle flaps on his feet and around his waist
a full cartridge belt with a first-aid kit, a bayonet and a canteen
hitched to it. Queerest of all was the rifle slung on his right
shoulder, whose sling he held in the fork between thumb and fore-finger
like a hick eternally about to snap his gallus.

Luther was a private in the National Guard because his mother had a
confused notion that this would keep him from overseas service, ever.
Somebody had told her so. She missed her little boy, she said, when he
was away on summer training and she didn't like the idea of him going
through the dark streets--so late, and in strange neighborhoods!--for
his armory sessions, but she comfortably reported that it was all
worthwhile for her to have her peace of mind about Luther not having to
go overseas.

His mother was at that moment in bed with a high fever induced by the
phone call from the company clerk that had mobilized Luther.

His mission--unreal!--as given him by the hardware merchant who was his
platoon leader was to cover two blocks of River Street like a cop on a
beat.

"It isn't interior guard duty," the lieutenant explained. "None of
that halt-advance-officer-of-the-day-post-number-four stuff. Just make
like a cop and don't let any monkey-business happen. Fire a warning
shot if you have to. And, ah--" The lieutenant was embarrassed. "If
you have to, uh, shoot _at_ anybody, aim for the legs. Any questions?"
There were questions, a world of questions, but Luther wasn't sure what
they were. And besides the hardware-lieutenant was in a hurry to get
back to Company, where the captain was waiting for an explanation of
why the platoon sergeant had been found to have his pockets stuffed
with half-pint liquor bottles.

Private Bayswater saw lights and heard a motor running and, in his
state of acute disbelief in what was around him, stood stock-still for
most of a minute, staring at the vehicle. It was parked at the foot of
Wharf Avenue, a panel truck. By and by he made out that it was a radio
broadcasting truck, and remembered that the lieutenant had told him it
was in the area. Perfectly all right.

He stayed near it; it was less lonesome there. Until by and by Private
Bayswater became conscious of a nagging yearning for a smoke.

Luther didn't smoke much, because his mother had proved to him, with
graphs and charts and doctors' reports, that terrible things went on in
the lungs of men who smoked cigarettes. But he wanted a cigarette bad.
And anyway, there wasn't anyone around. Everybody in town knew that the
National Guard was patrolling, with orders to shoot if they had to.
Nobody would be stupid enough to try anything. Nobody had--and he'd
been on duty for nearly an hour.

He leaned against a sagging warehouse-front experimentally, and it
didn't sag any more than before. He bounced on the steps, and though
they shook it didn't seem likely he would fall through. He stepped
inside, closed the door as nearly as it would go, and greedily tore the
paper on the pack getting a cigarette out.

Cupping the cigarette, he looked out of an unglassed window and was
pleased to find that he could observe the streets as well from in here
as from outside. Fantastic! It was the first good chance he had had to
look over the damage done to Hebertown. He wondered briefly about what
kind of people were crazy enough to build their houses in a place like
this, where the water could come up and do what had been done to these,
but Luther Bayswater was not much given to worry about other people's
troubles--

And besides, he heard a noise.

It sounded like a door slamming. Car door? But he could see the
panel truck. Nobody was moving there. The two men were still inside,
busy about whatever they had to be busy about, or else just waiting
for daybreak and their first direct broadcast. A door in one of the
buildings?

Maybe. Luther Bayswater wished he had been listening more attentively.
A door slamming in a building--that might be just the wind, of course.
But if it wasn't the wind, it was one of the hazy mythological figures
called looters that he was supposed to be on the lookout for.

He swore a tepid oath, ground out his cigarette and opened the door. It
made a frightful racket; he hadn't noticed anything of the kind when he
came into the building.

The noise scared him. He unslung the rifle and gripped it in the
approved port-arms position, crosswise over his chest, one hand
comfortingly near the trigger guard; and he stepped out into the
inimical street.

Somebody was moving, not near the radio truck but in the other
direction; someone who seemed to be trying to stay out of sight, moving
in and out of the shelter of the buildings.

Luther Bayswater pulled the bolt of the rifle back. It made a tiny,
unmenacing sound--he'd hoped it would crash through the streets like
a thunderbolt and send the terrified criminal fleeing. He raised it
to his shoulder and called waveringly: "Halt! Who's there?" Perfectly
safe; there was no chance the gun would go off and make him appear an
idiot, not as long as he didn't close the bolt.

The figure stumbled and ducked out of sight. Baffled, Luther lowered
the rifle, which was wearingly heavy. Almost absent-mindedly he shoved
the bolt home--still perfectly safe, still nothing that would make him
look ridiculous, for he knew enough to keep his finger off the trigger.
He cleared his throat and called again: "Come out of there! I see you!"

Fantastic cowboys-and-Indians scene! Luther couldn't help feeling
embarrassed at how badly he was doing his part of it. Suppose the man
did come out? Suppose he came running at him, with a knife or a pistol,
and Luther was standing there flatfooted and gapmouthed, trailing the
gun? He brought the butt up to his shoulder, snapped up the range
leaf, curled his finger lightly through the trigger guard--perfectly,
perfectly safe; these Springfields took a good heavy tug to go off--and
as meticulously as on any qualifying range laid the bead of the front
sight between the V-edges of the rear, just at knee level, just where
the man had been. He waited.

       *       *       *       *       *

Good-humoredly, Artie Chesbro shrugged and parked the car. He got out
and started to walk down the rubbly street; there was no sense trying
to drive down here, where the river had swept beams and bottles and
cinder-blocks helter-skelter across the pavement; he had decided that
the third time he had spotted something in his way and wildly swerved
the wheel, and hit something else instead. He thought detachedly that
perhaps his reflexes were a touch overstimulated by the benzedrine.
Amusing. But it didn't in the least matter, not when he could see
everything in the clear luminous light the benzedrine gave.

He tripped over something, stepped down on something else that rolled,
and stumbled almost into one of the buildings. Careful, he warned
himself, suppressing a chuckle. Why, it was almost like getting a load
on! But without any of the disadvantages, because he certainly wasn't
slowed down or incapacitated in the least; he could feel it.

Somebody yelled at him. Artie Chesbro paused thoughtfully to
listen--what had the man said?--and became conscious of the deeper,
louder thudding of his heart. Possibly that fourth tablet had been one
too many, he admitted; better get this over with and rest for a while.
A touch concerned--after all, he didn't want to be too exhausted for
the big day tomorrow--he stepped forward to see what the man wanted.

He ran right into something he hadn't seen. It shoved him back on the
ground, brutally strong, remorselessly hard. Damn it, he thought,
gasping--It didn't hurt, though, not for a moment. And then it did
hurt, very much. And then neither it nor anything else ever hurt
again....

The private was sobbing: "I _did_ aim for the knees, Lieutenant! He
wouldn't stop! I _told_ him! I thought he was a looter, like you said,
and I _did_ aim for the knees...."

The company commander leaned in front of the lights of the weapons
carrier and crooked a finger at the lieutenant. He was holding the
private's M-17, pointing to the sights. The leaf was set for a hundred
yards; the shot had been not more than twenty-five.

A bullet leaving a rifle goes up before it goes down; the line of sight
is straight, the line of trajectory curves in a parabola; an aim that
would be dead-on at a hundred yards will strike high at twenty-five.
Not very high. About as high as the difference between a man's knees
and the middle of his chest.

The company commander looked significantly at the lieutenant, and
snapped the sighting leaf closed. "You did your duty," he told the
private. "All right. Let's clean up here," he told the others gathered
round.



                           CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


"The skunk's never coming back," Dick McCue said bitterly. His face was
hurting again. He wanted to lie down again in his comfortable room at
Goudeket's Green Acres, horror and fatigue far behind.

Mrs. Goudeket didn't even hear. She had taken her place on the one good
chair, near the door, and she was waiting for the moment when Artie
Chesbro, the thief of cars, should walk back inside. That, thought
Mickey Groff, would be a moment to watch. Chesbro had been asking for
it for a long time. It would be a pleasure to see the old lady taking
him apart.

He thought wrong.

The old lady sighed and said, "How long now? A day and a half I been
away from Goudeket's Green Acres, and all the time I been worried sick.
You know something? Now I'm not worried."

Mickey Groff said, "That's right, Mrs. Goudeket. There's nothing to
worry about. Everything's all right there, you'll see."

She looked at him surprised. "All right? Nah." She shook her head. "All
wrong, you mean. Believe me, Mickey, I know what can happen to a place
like Goudeket's Green Acres when it should only rain three days in a
row, much less something like this. Goudeket's Green Acres is finished.
What's the sense trying to kid myself? I should know better."

Groff looked at her uncomfortably. But she didn't seem panicky, didn't
seem on the verge of despair. She was calm enough for six. He said,
"What are you going to do?"

She leaned forward and patted him. "I'm going to sell, Mickey," she
announced. "You think I'm doing the right thing? No, don't tell me--I'm
going to do it anyhow. My husband, Mr. Goudeket, he was always after me
to sell and go to Palestine. 'Sell, Mrs. Goudeket,' he'd say--always
I kept the hotel in my name, you see--'sell and let's live a little.'
And every time I'd say next year, next year. Now--it's next year. I'm
sixty-three years old, Mickey. It's time I took it easy for a while."
She brooded silently. "Why should I lie?" she asked. "Sixty-six."

Mickey Groff said reassuringly, "I think it's the right thing to do.
You'll like it in Israel. Nice climate, plenty of things going on, a
whole new country rising out of the desert--"

She looked at him incredulously. "Mickey, a nice climate? Nice with the
Egyptians raining down out the sky like clouds in their jet airplanes?
Please, I'm not a child; if I go there I give up nice things in order
to be with my people. But it's what Mr. Goudeket wanted, and I stole
it from him, so now I'll go. I can sell Goudeket's Green Acres like
_that_." She snapped her fingers proudly. "Only--why didn't I do it
while Mr. Goudeket was still alive?"

A light truck banged past the schoolhouse down toward the river,
and almost immediately another followed. Dick McCue said curiously,
"Something going on? I _thought_ I heard shooting."

"There's plenty going on, Dicky," Sharon Froman informed him kindly.
"Things are very busy around here tonight. But you wouldn't understand."

No one paid any attention to her. After a moment she laughed and lit a
cigarette. Clods, she thought with gentle contempt. Naturally they were
jealous of her and of Artie Chesbro. There were two kinds of people.
One kind was the doers--herself, that is; and along with her such other
persons as she temporarily dragged along to heights of accomplishment
and success. The other kind was everybody else. Not even her worst
enemy, she mused, trickling smoke out of her nostrils--not even Hesch,
or Paul, or Bert, or any of the others she had temporarily blessed
with her help and presence before withdrawing--not any of them could
deny that she had moved fast and successfully this day.

Polly Chesbro got up and crossed over to Mickey Groff. "May I have one
of _your_ cigarettes?" she asked.

"Sure." Groff lit it for her.

She said, "What are you going to do now, Mickey? After things clear up
a little, I mean."

He hesitated. The question had not occurred to him for some time. "Go
ahead as planned, I guess. Chief Brayer said the Swanscomb place wasn't
damaged, and your husband seems to have given up the idea of making a
warehouse out of it."

She laughed, not maliciously. "I wonder if he remembers that he signed
a lease on it," she said.

"Lease?"

She nodded. "There were a couple of men from Ohio in to see him last
week. He drew up a lease on the spot, and they paid him a binder."

Groff said, "Hell. Well, that was pretty stupid of him, but if it's a
matter of getting--him--in trouble I suppose I could find some other--"

"Get Artie in trouble? Small chance, Mickey. He lands on his feet.
And if he doesn't, he always has the family money to bail him out--my
family, that is. What you really mean is you'd back out in order to do
me a favor, isn't it? Don't answer. It wouldn't be a favor, Mickey. I
decided a long time ago that I couldn't mother Artie. I had to let him
get in his own scrapes and get out by himself, if he could get out. It
hasn't made a man of him yet, but there's always the chance it may."

She tipped the ash of her cigarette neatly into a thick china saucer.
"Stay around, Mickey," she said. "All of us need people like you around
here. For much more than business."

A quality in her voice touched him, deeper perhaps than she had
intended, deeper than he could remember being touched before.
Responsibility. That was the word. Someone had to help. And it was
something very different from ego that made him think too: Someone has
to lead.

Dick McCue heaved himself to his feet. His whole head was hurting now,
and he was feeling savage. "I'm going to hit up the chief for another
trip ticket, Mrs. Goudeket," he announced. "Half an hour's long enough
to wait for the b--for Mr. Chesbro."

"Why not?" said Mrs. Goudeket. She went with him. Groff could hear the
discussion clear from the cloakroom; but they won their point. They
came back with another scribbled slip of paper, and the whole party
headed for the motor pool--even Sharon, though no one had asked her.

There was somebody down by the motor pool.

As they drew close another little truck came up, making a convoy of
three of them, and the driver of one of them hopped out, heading
for the motor pool's Coleman lamp. The driver was a captain, and
upset about something; he said to Mr. Cioni, "I understand there's a
temporary morgue somewhere around here."

"Basement of the Methodist Church," Cioni said, absently walking over
to the open jeep. "That's at--"

He had leaned over to peer at what was huddled in the back of the jeep.
He crossed himself and stared at Mrs. Goudeket. "Here's the guy that
got your car, lady!" he called.

"Artie!" gasped Polly Chesbro. She sped to the jeep and unbelievingly
lifted the head on its stiffening neck, staring into the blank face.

The captain, his nerves twanging through his voice, snapped, "Please
don't give us any trouble, lady. This is no business of yours."

Groff said, "He's her husband."

The officer lamely said, "I'm sorry. Very sorry." And then,
defensively, "A warning shot was fired. He didn't stop. This area
is under full martial law and the sound truck announced it to
everybody--" He saw that she wasn't listening, was staring in
disbelief. He got out of the jeep and lit a cigarette and waited.

Groff beckoned him to one side. "What happened?" he asked.

"Shot for looting," the captain said brusquely. "He was in a roped-off
prohibited area. He didn't halt. The kid was absolutely right."

"Kid?" asked Groff. The captain had told him more than he had intended
to, and realized it now. "Somebody panicked?"

"Who are you, mister?" the captain asked.

"Not a reporter. I've got a factory in Brooklyn. I knew the man."

"Close friend?"

"Hated his guts."

The captain was shocked and reacted with the truth. "As a matter of
fact," he said in a low voice, "maybe it shouldn't have happened. But
we're legally in the clear. Was he important?"

"Very. But I don't think you'll find anybody who'll press an
investigation."

The captain took a deep, relieved drag on his cigarette and flipped it
away. "What about his wife?" he asked. "Is she going to keep this stuff
up?"

"I'll do what I can," Groff said. He went over to the jeep and the
staring woman.

"Polly," he said.

She turned and told him in a dry, controlled voice: "I'm all right.
It's just so strange to think that it's--over. Him and his bragging,
him and his plans, him and his tramps. It's over. I suppose you miss
a tumor when they cut it out of you. That's the way I miss him." She
sagged against Groff in a half-faint. He led her to a chair where she
sat like a stick. The captain, in a businesslike way, asked Cioni,
"Just where's this church?"

Cioni told him and the jeep rolled away.

"No, no, no," Sharon Froman was saying faintly.

Then she smiled and said to Groff: "Girl backed the wrong horse, didn't
she? Mickey, how'd you like to meet Congressman Akslund first thing in
the morning? Artie's gone, one with the martyrs, but Akslund's still
going to need expert advice on the reconstruction. I've got an in
there."

"Keep it," said Groff, and put his arm around Polly.

She turned to Dick McCue. Her smile was becoming ghastly. She said,
"Got a kind word for an old friend, Dick? We've had some fun together.
Shall bygones be bygones?"

"No," said Dick McCue. "If you keep bothering me I'll take out your
upper plate and step on it."

Her hand flew to her mouth. There was a bark of laughter from Mrs.
Goudeket. "You thought nobody knew? You thought you could see through
everybody, Miss Sharon Froman, but nobody could see through you? We
all know you have an upper plate. We all know you'll never finish your
book or hold a man. We all see through you because we all see through
each other, but we know also that we're seen through. That makes us
sometimes kind to each other--we have to be. But you, you have to think
you're perfect and that if anybody sees anything less than perfect in
you it's because they're fools."

The '47 Dodge rolled slowly into the motor pool. A scared young voice
asked: "Is this the place I'm supposed to leave the car?"

"I guess so," Mr. Cioni said.

The young soldier climbed out wearily. "Boy," he said, and wiped his
brow. "I'm supposed to wait here until they come by on patrol and pick
me up."

Groff moved out of earshot of the women. "Hear about the shooting?" he
asked quietly.

The soldier shuddered. "Heck, I'm the guy that did it. Had no choice. A
cop shoots if somebody runs and doesn't stop, doesn't he? Well, I was
supposed to be a cop." And he added defensively and illogically, "How
could I check the sighting leaf in the dark?"

That told the story. Of course he could have checked the sighting
leaf in the dark by the clicks if he had known enough about it. Artie
Chesbro, struck down in full career by a quarter-trained child who had
not meant to kill. Something--God? Chance? Compensation?--had laid a
finger briefly on the balances and dressed them. The world was saved
from Artie Chesbro--until the next one came along.

"Get in the car," Mrs. Goudeket grunted, sliding behind the wheel.

"Come on, Polly," Groff said. She leaned against him on the short walk;
a certain excitement--compounded of a feeling for her and of a sense
of challenging opportunity--began to tingle through him. She sensed it
and smiled; it would be nice, she thought. In the back of the car she
dropped her head on his shoulder and was asleep.

Dick McCue got in beside Mrs. Goudeket and slammed the door.

"Mrs. G.?" asked Sharon Froman. "You can't _mean_ this?"

Mrs. Goudeket snorted, put the car in gear and ground off down the road
to Goudeket's Green Acres.

"Bitch," said Sharon softly. She walked over to the motor pool man.
"You're Mr. Cioni, aren't you? Somebody said you were a plumbing
engineer."

"Just a plumber," said Mr. Cioni modestly, but flattered.

"There's going to be a lot of work for you before long."

"Oughtta do pretty well out of it. The shop's hardly touched. My wife,
thank God, hardly knew it was happening. She's an invalid."

"How terrible! But shouldn't somebody be taking care of her? I'm a sort
of practical nurse, you know--"

"Well, say, that would be--"

Sharon Froman was very tired. Even while she moved through the pickup
ritual for perhaps the twentieth time a crazy, spinning maggot grew
in her head that she really ought to throw herself on the ground and
scream; it was the only sensible thing to do. With a great deal of
effort she resisted and forced out the foolish idea, knowing it would
come back.

Mrs. Goudeket twisted the wheel of the car hard, to avoid a fallen
telephone pole. "Such a thing, such a thing," she muttered as she
avoided the muddy shoulder.

"Only a telephone pole, Mrs. G.," said Dick McCue.

"No, I meant that no-good, that Sharon, that there should be a girl
like that." She shook her head.

"And always will be," said Groff, with Polly's head pleasantly pressing
his shoulder, her nearness making him feel confident and quiet. "But
that's not what's important. The Sharons and the--the--"--he didn't
utter Chesbro's name because Polly might not be asleep--"the others,
they're the ones the pessimists and cynics are always thinking about,
pointing at, making a thing of. But I'm going to remember something
else out of all this. Starkman. That doctor almost ready to drop on
his feet. The kids who did the diving. All the dozens and dozens who
were _there_ when they were needed. Fast. With both hands and with
everything they had."

"It's a fact," said Dick McCue. "It's as if when things are okay,
everyone just sort of buys and sells and takes care of his own and
locks the front door. But when there's a real jam they, I don't know,
they get bigger. Most of them, anyway."

"Yep," said Groff quietly. "That's why, in spite of the unholy mess,
this town isn't licked. That's why, even though I could forget
Hebertown and locate somewhere else, I don't think I'm going to. Maybe
I ought to have my head examined, but I'm sort of--proud of this place."

"You going to be welcome," said Mrs. Goudeket, smiling at the clearing
road ahead. "You going to be very welcome."

       *       *       *       *       *



                 _A Savage Flood Changed Their World_

It was a pleasant little town in the Northeast. It had never been
hurricane country. When they heard that Diane was coming, they couldn't
really believe it would harm them. And the hurricane itself didn't
touch them.

But the rains caused by the hurricane ravaged their little town as
viciously as the worst artillery attack could have done.

This is a powerful and tremendously graphic novel of people trapped in
that town: and how they learned what a flood really means.

And how they found out what they themselves were like.


      THIS IS AN ORIGINAL NOVEL--NOT A REPRINT. PRINTED IN U.S.A.



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