Congressman Zachary Taylor Harris entered his apartment in Kalorama Place late after the Fall Follies of 1956 at the National Press Club. He stooped for a note shoved under the door. It said to call immediately. Without taking off his coat, he went to his study, put on silver framed spectacles and dialed a number in suburban Maryland. A hoarse voice answered. "What is it, Robert?" "It's the hearings, Congressman. We've hit a snag. They want you to reopen them next week," said Robert Bird, his administrative assistant, coughing through a Pall Mall. "Next week! Impossible! What’s wrong with those monkeys over at Justice? They know I just adjourned the committee sine die." "I told them that, Congressman, but there's pressure from the Bureau. The Director's involved. Looks like Nelson and Sterling have gotten to him. He wants them resumed right away. Masters tells me the AG’s got a flock of new subpoenas ready to go." "Sonofabitch, man! I'm up to my ass in provincial politics. Half of Bessemer Steel's management is on the street. You tell that crowd of Micks to back off. I don't care if they want to subpoena the Kremlin. Next week is out of the question. There'll be no hearings, period. Tell them that." "That's okay, but what do I do about the Director?" "I'll handle him!" Harris placed the receiver back on the cradle, took off his glasses and blotted perspiration from the back of his neck with a handkerchief. It's just like that devious sonofabitch to pull a stunt like this. The headline-grabber has his publicity machine oiled and ready. He's not going to like what I have to tell him. There's no way these hearings can be reopened. Certainly not now. Zach Harris was confident he could handle his opponent but the new investigative climate in Hampton County gave him pause. He should have paid more attention, but winding down the SUBACK hearings occupied him all summer and fall. Investigations into public venality by an aggressive politician with reform in his nostrils can always be counted on to produce good newspaper copy. As conducted by the young District Attorney, however, they could lead elsewhere. If certain long-dormant lines were to be unearthed and followed, there's no telling where they'll take him. Federal investigators with sophisticated tools could rip up buried conduits and cables. Who knows how deep they might go? The quality of the material he saw was first rate; too good to be coming from local sources. It had the fingerprints of the Bureau all over it, especially the stuff from across the Delaware in New Jersey. He'd have to pay big to get a margin sufficient to offset Ike's coattails, to checkmate Bess Steel's money and to end the snooping of the ambitious District Attorney. No less than 80 percent. A vote that big had never been achieved in the 26th congressional district let alone anywhere in the United States in a contested election. Lloyd Kressman, the man he’d depend on to deliver it, will gag when he hears the numbers. Before he could make a definitive move he needed time; time to mobilize the District - he could put full faith in Kressman. But his aide’s phone call deeply upset him. How the hell would he convince the Director to back off the cockamamie notion that the country needs another round of pointless hearings. The man's as cagey as a magician in a poker game. Plays six hands at once. He sank deep into the armchair. He put the circuitry of a politically sophisticated mind to work. Somehow, he'd have to motivate the Director to back off. But more than that he needed to know what the investigations were turning up. It would not be easy and it carried a calculated risk. But Zach Harris loved a well-considered gamble. Besides, his safe on the Hill contained the only insurance policy he’d ever need. To get the Director’s cooperation he needed to know the extent and quality of information the Bureau possessed. Like the men who understand power in Washington, he knew that beneath the Director’s veneer of calculated civility lay an unstable ego. The facade masks a manic instability; paranoia with an intricate and systematic purpose. A grotesque mission, god knows for what; perhaps a weird whiff of destiny.
Zach Harris began mapping a strategy. He had to cut through the hard reptilian shell to soft tissue and lay bare the paranoia at the core. Only when he had the man with his defenses down could he, Zach Harris the insiders’ insider, finesse the Director into doing what he wanted. Over the years he'd trafficked in stories about power or perceived power in Washington. He'd chuckle when reading a Times Herald or Evening Star account of the powerful chairman of this or that committee. "Powerful, hell. The sonofabitch's marinating himself in J.T.S. Brown and wouldn't know a caucus from a cactus." But one man interested him above all others. Any story from the congressional poker circuit about the former clerk, who became the nation's first and only internal security boss, immediately entered his mental databank.
In spite of the gangster-hunter, hard-nosed cop image the Director cultivated through his Hollywood friends, seasoned politicians knew otherwise. If Zach Harris trusted anything in Washington, he trusted the superior quality inside information shared over strong whiskey and a well-played poker hand in the smoky rooming houses on Independence Avenue or in the backrooms and rented flats within spitting distance of the Capitol. That's where the real work gets done; legislative agendas midwived and headcounts tallied. Zach Harris was a regular almost from the day in 1933 when he stood in the well of the House with his right hand raised in solemn oath. He learned to sift out the grit and separate muscle from gristle, fact from gossip, and to discount the unctuous flattery that floated over the House floor in roseate clouds. He honed his legislative and parliamentary skills under the tutelage of the swamp rats whose grand-daddies riding with General Nathan Bedford Forrest ripped up railroads, sacked baggage trains and raised general hell six decades before. He handled a whiskey glass with the best of them and could reel off bawdy stories better than any carpet-bagging, funny-talking but god-damned decent Yankee who'd ever paid them mind. He developed a fine set of nostrils for sniffing out fakery. If anybody's to be mistrusted in Washington, his experience taught him, it is the senior bureaucrat. The man who's here year in and year out, wraps himself in civil service protection, owes nothing to nobody; who's never been bloodied in an election, who doesn't have the scent of the people on him. The most dangerous of this breed is the peddler of information from undigested reports, who never surfaces by name, but covers himself with that overworked term, "an official source." He'd seen enough to know. Hell, he considered himself an expert.
Zach Harris sank deeper into thought. He plumbed and probed, searching for the disparate pieces that when put together would form a mosaic. Something about the Director lurked deep in the folds of his cerebral cortex. He began a systematic year by year, decade by decade review of the times their paths had crossed - Judiciary Committee hearings on amendments to the criminal codes; support for Harris-MacNaughton; testimony on wire tapping, telegraphic interception and mail opening; meetings on the Bureau's appropriation. The exercise produced nothing specific. Then he considered the public man. As light breaks down in a prism, he filtered out the spectrum from infrared to ultraviolet. He traced each wave backward in time: the evidence which broke the Rosenberg case; lassoing the 14 Nazi saboteurs from the U-boat off Long Island; the public enemy lists, the evidence that convicted Hauptmann, the Dillinger arrest and the Barker-Karpis publicity; the recorded material which comprised the legend. The photographic memory he relied on to produce a parliamentary maneuver that left the opposition muttering oaths; which could produce whole sections of Roberts Rules whirred like a movie reel. He reached down deep into his auditory vault. The exercise produced a tangled web of images, words and phrases. They emerged slowly, coalescing into a fixed image. The year was 1950. The place was Madison Square Garden. He was seated onstage; one of six congressmen receiving the American Legion's I Am An American Award. The Director was being honored as the Legion Man of the Year. He remembered the deliberate way the man approached the podium; how he paused, never looked up from his text; how he gripped the rostrum with both hands to give the speech they all came to hear. His hard brown eyes blazed; a film of sweat glistened on his chin and upper lip under the merciless television lights. The high-pitched voice was clear, strong and certain even though it lacked the timbre and cadence of a great speaker. What it lacked in polish, however, it more than made up for in intensity; a presence which conveyed the power of certitude to his listeners: "Communists have been and today are at work within the very gates of America ... Atheistic materialism is their idol; the destruction of the God of our fathers their goal ... they have in common one diabolical ambition - to weaken and to eventually destroy American democracy by stealth and cunning ... My fellow delegates no less than western civilization is at stake." He recalled how the legionnaires, in their blue serge overseas caps, rose, knocked over chairs and stood in the aisles cheering. They whooped and whistled a full ten minutes. Zach Harris remembered thinking if this man were running for national office he'd win hands down. The question was, did he believe this stuff, or was it like his own speeches to friendly partisans hungry for raw meat? Zach Harris probed for a deeper, more penetrating analysis of the man. He had only pieces of the myth. He needed something deeper, a psychic fragment to support the calculated risk he knew was essential to bring the Director around. With it he would devise a strategy which would not only produce the information, but would keep any investigation in the district at the nuisance level and well outside federal interest. He finally found what he was searching for deep in his own experience; from a long-buried conversation with his political mentor, A. Morton Brodfield, Woodrow Wilson’s last attorney general. He remembered the story as if it were yesterday. It was over whiskey and soda on a snowy winter evening at the Willard bar. The old man, now semi-retired, recounted the disastrous decision which denied him the presidential nomination in 1920. Had he relied on his political instincts, Brodfield told his protégé, instead of responding to the importuning of a pudgy, baby-faced underling in the investigations division, he, Mort Brodfield, not the feather duster Cox, would have had the Democratic presidential nomination at San Francisco. America would have been spared the conspiracy cooked up under Warren Harding’s nose by Daugherty and Fall. We’d have had Mort Brodfield and Al Smith in an unbroken line instead of the do-nothing Hoover, the old man told him in a long soliloquy:
A candidate needs a national reputation, which I had. But he needs something else; something that shows he understands the concerns of the little man. I decided we ought to break up the German beer trust. It would reach into every workingman’s lunch pail. Well, I launched an inquiry. Anti-German feeling was running awfully high at the time. It was a perfectly natural thing and it certainly appealed to the common man. We’d just finished off the Kaiser and the Huns, yet the working man found the hard-earned money he spent down at the corner tavern going straight back to the Reich. The damned Heinies had all the beer formulas, the licensing and the entire American distribution system tied up. A damnable outrage was what it was.
It began as the Hops and Malt Inquiry. The Hearst papers started calling it the Wurzburger Scandal after the German beer. I got a good Milwaukee German, Frank Overmeier, to sponsor the bill. We wanted to show Henry Mencken we weren't out to embarrass German-Americans. Frank opened the inquiry with a set of hearings. I got things started as the leadoff witness. I laid out our argument. I spelled out the specifics of the Kraut's monopolization. I had German maps displayed in color and Gothic type to give them a sinister look, but the thing never caught on. After a month the newspapers went on to other things. We were at a standstill. Then one day this curly-haired young fella who worked down in one of my divisions at Justice - investigations to be exact - got up at a departmental meeting and made what I thought at the time was a very smart suggestion. 'Why waste time on small beer? Go after our real enemies, the Bolsheviks and the Eastern European Jews and Slav bomb-throwers.' He gave us a long, very convincing talk on socialism. He started with Huns and Russkies with unpronounceable names and ended with Lenin and Trotsky. He concluded with sweat glistening on his upper lip and a wild look in his eyes. I'll never forget the weird look on that baby face, Zach. What was taking place in Russia, he told us, would influence politics in this country and around the world for the next fifty years. That was 1919. I've got to hand it to him. He was right on the money.
He was up to the minute on everything Red. Hell, half the time I didn’t understand what he was talking about. But we took his advice anyway. We went about it systematically. I formed a special investigating force of lawyers, tax agents and customs officers. I had the power under the 1917 Espionage Act. Well, he got me to sign an order letting him carry out a complicated scheme to raid homes and offices of suspected Bolshies. Colonel House and Joe Tumulty were against it, but couldn't block things the way they did when they had the President's ear. Wilson was virtually on his deathbed with his fourth stroke. Our agents picked up thousands of aliens all over the country to start out the new year. We had the Reds on the run. The New York Times had us in headlines and in lights on the Times Square news board. Hearst gave me enough coverage to win the nomination for emperor. I was on my way to the presidency.
Then the roof caved in. Before you knew it, they were throwing bombs and shooting people. The harder we cracked down, the more bombs they'd set off. They blew up old Morgan's bank, and damned near got me. If Millie and I hadn't been out that night, they'd have blown us to the parapets of Jericho. Their bomb blew off my front porch, collapsed our living room and killed the Bolshevik who threw it. Parts of him were hanging in my elm trees. That fellow brought me a lot of grief, Zach. You've got to steer clear of him. I don't know why I ever let him talk me into that damned fool scheme. I'd have been nominated and elected. Now look where he is. I thought he was crazy then, and I think he's crazy today. He has a tendency to go off half-cocked. Something funny about him. I mean deep down inside. I've known many men in the course of my years here, but nobody like him. He has always had this wild gleam lighting up that baby face. You can't trust him. His gol-damned foolishness ended my public career. Mark what I say, Zach, you've got to be very careful in your dealings with him. Personally, I think he's psychopathic. He keeps card files on everybody like the Russian Cheka. And the son-of-a-bitch's a damned hypocrite. Look how he's kept this Red business going. That dad-blamed fool Stone made him a permanent institution. Now he's the country's chief of police and a Red expert to boot. A damned mountebank's what he is.
Zach Harris pondered the old man's words. The exercise cracked open the thick rhino hide of the myth covering the psychic vulnerability he was looking for. Soft pink tissue lay at the core. He would reopen the hearings on terms he was confident the Director would meet. He'd get the Director's agreement by offering him a new assault on his ancient enemies; an assault to be revealed not to 5,000 legionnaires, but to millions of Americans right in their living rooms. He knew it was an opportunity the Director could not, would not, refuse. Television was the key. It would guarantee the Director's passionate commitment and put him in Zachary Taylor Harris's debt. It would pull the plug on young Daley’s career. So thorough an exertion deserved a reward. He mixed a scotch and soda and lit a cigarette. The latter expressly forbidden. Damned medicos'll deny a man air and water if you listen to 'em. He carried the drink and an ashtray into his study, picked up the telephone and dialed a number known only to a handful of representatives and senators holding chairmanships of investigative committees. The number was listed in the pocket notebook in which he recorded useful information like his colleagues' votes on certain bills, election results and unlisted phone numbers. He waited. The phone clicked and buzzed, emitting metallic sounds. The line noise and the illusion of distance sounded as if he was speaking over the trans-Atlantic cable.
Sonofabitch's got his own phone tapped.
It rang twice. A voice devoid of timbre or resonance answered. "This is the Director." He sounded automatic like the time and weather voice. "This is Zach Harris." "Who?" "Congressman Zachary Taylor Harris," he said testily. "Oh, yes. Your man said you'd call. How are you? Sounds like you've got a head cold. Rotten connection. You'd think C&P could do better in the nation's capital."
Sounds like you've got the damned Army Signal Corps in your closet, you shifty bastard.
"I've been here reading. Burning a little midnight oil. Lucky you caught me. I was about to turn in. Tell me, congressman, you ever read the analytical works of a priest name of Charles MacFarland S.J. over at Georgetown?" "Can't say I have. Closest I came to the cloth was debriefing a chaplain we'd trained in intelligence during the war. I used to hear his confession. Why?" "I've just finished his treatise on Marx. He certainly lays out the disheveled old pervert with clarity. Ever read any Marx or Feuerbach, Congressman? You ought to. Now what can I do for you?" "To get straight to the point, my man tells me you want me to reopen the security hearings. Frankly, I've got real problems with that, and I want to explore a more realistic timetable." A long pause. "You still there?" "Out of the question. I want those hearings reopened forthwith, Congressman. I've got fresh evidentiary material which simply cannot wait. Statute of limitations expires, and I want it before the public now. Even a few weeks' postponement will mean work down the drain. Hundreds of man-hours up in smoke and thousands of dollars wasted; taxpayer dollars, Congressman. What’s more, my schedule simply won't permit postponement. I expect to be tied up being stabbed and poked over at Walter Reed next week. Then when you people are in recess, I'll be taking my sojourn at Del Mar. That will finish me to the end of the year. During this period, I am available to no one, Congressman, including the President. Those hearings must be reopened at once. Congressman Harris, you and I have an exceptional opportunity before us. I have evidence which places friends and associates of your professor at the center of Communist activity from 1937 on. Matter of fact, I’ve passed some of this material along to Mr. Nelson and his man. They’re all for pursuing it, but they want a signal from you to go ahead. No, these hearings must proceed at once. Absolutely no postponement." "Look, I can't go into this in detail on the telephone. Can we meet tomorrow? How about four o'clock?" "Well, let's see - graduation at Quantico in the morning, then Clyde and I will be lunching at the Mayflower, and at three, a retirement ceremony. That will last till well past four, then the Attorney General. Five looks available. I'll shoehorn you between the General and my five-thirty staff meeting. Can you be here at that hour?" "I prefer my private office in the Capitol." "Oh, no. Out of the question. I can give you no more than thirty minutes, Congressman and that's stretching it. My meetings start promptly."
You sonofabitch. Next time you're on The Hill to justify your god-damned discretionary budget, I'll have Flynn put you on hold till your balls ache.
"All right. I'll be there after the national security briefing." "I did not know you were in on that briefing, Mr. Harris. Little out of your bailiwick, isn't it? Well, that's neither here nor there. Four-thirty it will be. I’ve penciled you in, congressman. A good night to you, sir." Zach Harris held the phone in his fist for a long minute. "You bastard," he spat. The cigarette and drink tasted a year old. How would he explain it to the Speaker, who wanted the Committee adjourned permanently. He thought he’d put an end to things when he gaveled the committee to a close sine die that very morning with the professor’s cogent summarization and in facing down Nelson and the committee Republicans.