Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
From Library Journal
In 1959, anti-Communist sentiment runs highDeven in the Iowa town of Black River Falls. There, a murderer deposits the body of an alleged Communist sympathizer on the doorstep of PI Sam McCain (
Wake Up Little Susie
). Things really heat up after the two prime suspects also turn up dead. Exciting and intense, this is for fans of the series and historical mysteries.
Joe McCarthy's better-dead-than-red mentality has penetrated even the small Iowa burg of Black River Falls, where young Sam McCain supplements his earnings as a lawyer by working as a private investigator. At the conclusion of a photo-op appearance by touring Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev, former State Department official and Black River Falls resident, Richard Conners, a notorious liberal, indicates he'd like to hire McCain. He shows up at McCain's apartment a day later, near death, but he won't expose his attacker. McCain has no faith in the investigative ability of local law enforcement, so he proceeds on his own. In short order, he's also confronted with the deaths of a former FBI agent now fronting an anti-Communist organization and two other right-wing activists. The third Sam McCain case is as compelling and entertaining as its predecessors. Gorman, an underappreciated master of the genre, has created an insular, self-contained world in Black River Falls, where good and evil clash with the same heartbreaking results as they have in the more urban crime dramas of Block or Leonard.
"Gee," the beautiful Pamela Forrest said. "He actually looks kinda dopey."
And he did.
Here he was, the world's first nuclear-powered bogeyman, and he looked like the uncle everybody feels sorry for because he's fat and sloppy.
Nikita Khrushchev. Premier of the Soviet Union. The world's number-one Russian. Not to mention Communist.
On this warm sunny twenty-first day of September, 1959, "Nikki," as some of the press had taken to calling him, had come to a large Iowa farm as part of his trip to the United States. A farmer-businessman named Roswell Garst had invited him here. Garst had quite the spread.
"And his suit looks so cheap," the beautiful Pamela went on. "And he sweats so much."
I smiled. "Too bad he doesn't look more like Frankie Avalon, huh?"
She smiled back. "Yes. Or Rock Hudson."
Just then there was a small ruckus toward the back of the crowd. Protesters with signs that read death to the commies and better dead than red jeered old Nikki. While most Iowans despised communism, they believed in being polite to visitors. And they were curious about Khrushchev and were tired of the Cold War. Recently, a company had been going door-to-door selling bomb shelter kits for $2,500. That was the price of a new Chevrolet. Nothing is more admirable than turning a buck on the terrors of nuclear holocaust. The last ten years, grade school counselors had seen an increasing number of little ones who had nightmares about nuclear war. It was the age of the atom, all right. Just about every commercial you saw on TV had something atomic in it. Atomic-powered cars, refrigerators, toothpaste. Personally, I never went anywhere without my atomic-powered jockey shorts.
The crowd - farmers, businessmen, teachers, school kids - were shouting for the protesters to be quiet. Roswell Garst, the farm's owner and a very wealthy hybrid seed corn pioneer, had set up a press conference in his front yard. Reporters were asking Khrushchev questions about Russian farming. He would good-naturedly turn such inquiries aside (Russian agriculture was a sad joke) by poking the bellies of two plump farmers. Capitalism, he said, feeds it workers very well. Then he grinned his baby-faced grin and poked himself in his porky belly. And so does communism feed its workers well, he said.
Everybody loved it. He might have his plump finger on the trigger of the nuclear bomb, but he was as hammy as Jerry Lewis.
"Boy," Pamela said, "could I use a drink. And a smoke."
Pamela is the girl I've loved since fourth grade. Being that we're both in our mid-twenties now, that's a long time. One other thing I should mention is that Pamela has been in love with Stu Grant since ninth grade. Stu is a rich handsome attorney-at-law who was a golden boy halfback for the Iowa Hawkeyes and whose assets include an inheritance valued at slightly over a million dollars. That he's married now hasn't quelled her ardor much at all.
Two generations ago, her people had a lot of money. The money they lost in the Depression. But they kept their pride and pretensions. Pamela doesn't believe that good girls ever smoke outdoors. Your guess is as good as mine as to why good girls don't smoke outdoors. But then your guess is probably also as good as mine as to why Pamela wears a pair of sweet little white gloves just about every time she leaves the house. She wore them today with the blue silk dress with the built-in petticoat and the dark blue leather clutch purse. She was the prototype of all upper-class blond heartbreakers.
"Sounds like a good idea," I said. It'd been a long day. We'd had to get up early for the drive from Black River Falls, and now, with vermilion shadows stretching across the meadows, it was time to go. We'd seen him. I just wish he'd looked more like George Raft, was all.
We left the crowd, passed through the protesters - "Joe McCarthy was right!" one of them shouted, over and over again - and that's when we came upon the bold new black Lincoln of Richard Conners. We were just in time to see his wife Dana - his fifth wife, in case you're counting, and a woman thirty years younger than he - shove Chris Tomlin, and I do mean shove, toward the Lincoln. Chris was an ethereal redhead, very pale, slight and sexual in a quiet but powerful way. She was the wife of Bill Tomlin, the Harvard roommate of Richard Conners. Bill Tomlin had been one of the best political speech-writers in D.C. before going to work for Conners. He'd been along for all of Richard's adventures and was now in charge of organizing his papers for the Conners biography that Bill himself might write. Both Conners and Tomlin were there and they got between the women immediately. They were all wealthy and attractive people. You didn't expect scenes from them.
This was along the gravel road, where cars were backed up for miles. We'd seen the Lincoln on the highway and ended up parking two cars behind.
"You two get in the car and shut up," Conners snapped. "I'm sick of your damned arguing. You're like a couple of little kids."
He opened up the back door of the Lincoln and practically stuffed Chris inside. Dana went around and got in the front passenger seat.
He had started to get inside the car himself when he saw us approaching. He climbed back out, slammed the door behind him, and said, in a voice comfortable with command, "Tell your girlfriend to go for a walk. I need to talk to you."
"About what?" I resented his tone.
He had one of those profiles made to be chiseled in stone. Better than handsome, he was mythic, especially with his graying locks and his angry blue eyes and his high-rhetoric voice.
"About what?" he said. "About somebody trying to kill me, that's about what. Now can we talk in private or not?"
"I'll go say hi to Dana," Pamela said nervously, and flitted away.
Richard Conners left Black River Falls in 1931. He went to Harvard, where he completed a master's in political science. Right before the war broke out, he went to work for the State Department. He was soon one of FDR's favorite advisers. He was also brilliant, driven, and contemptuous of just about everything and everybody he encountered. He was, as far as I could gather after slogging through two of his five best-selling books, more of a utopianist than a communist or even socialist. In the meantime, though, his wide circle of friends included many prominent communists and socialists. He even had a very public affair with a Soviet consul's beautiful wife, who killed herself in Anna Karenina fashion after Conners refused to marry her. By that time, he was on his third wife and the divorces were getting expensive.
After the war, Conners worked for Truman, though old Harry never did like or trust him. Conners did a lot of the radio talk shows of the day. His version of things was that he pretty much ran foreign policy and Truman had to get permission before he made any serious foreign policy announcement. All the while he was publishing best-selling books that extolled the virtues of the masses - the kind of thing you'd have if John Steinbeck had written copy to accompany Walker Evans's famous photographs of the Depression - the trouble being that Steinbeck was not only of the masses (like Conners), he genuinely loved the masses (unlike Conners). Conners spent his public life banging on tables on behalf of the masses, but he spent his private hours in limousines, attending ballet, opera, and movie premieres, and sleeping with the wives of the powerful and famous. His motive seemed to be revenge. By God, I didn't have a silver spoon shoved up my ass the way you did, but I'll get even by turning your spoiled wives into instruments of betrayal.
He was able to sustain his power until another man of the masses came along. For Senator Joseph McCarthy, Richard Conners was an obvious and easy target. All he had to do was remind his ever-growing TV and radio audience that not only did Richard Conners's personal life demonstrate his contempt for American virtues, so did his professional life. He quoted many passages from Conners's books back to him, while Conners sat there looking like a slightly bored duke as played by Charles Boyer. Two or three times on that first afternoon (you can bet everybody in Black River Falls was watching, McCarthy having convinced the networks to televise his hearings live), Conners corrected McCarthy's grammar and attire ("That suit of yours could stand a cleaning, Senator"). Conners was a strapping, physically powerful man so he never came across as effete, but he did seem arrogant and icy. The last quote McCarthy read was the most devastating. Conners contended that the American press had consciously vilified Stalin, who was, according to Conners, a decent man who only dealt harshly with his political enemies when necessary. "The American press is afraid to portray Joseph Stalin for what he really is - a true man of the people." It was after this that McCarthy hinted he'd given secrets to the Russians.
I still remember that quote and how stupid and infuriating it was. But a good deal of the left was caught up in maintaining Joe Stalin's image as that of a beloved and temperate uncle. Stalin was a butcher on par with Hitler. While I hated the Cold War, I wasn't naive about Russia or the merciless Soviet regime that ran it, or the proliferation of Russian spies in the United States following the war. The conservatives were paranoid and hysterical about spies; the liberals refused to do anything about them or to even acknowledge their presence.
That was the end for Richard Conners. His State Department tenure ceased with Ike's election, it being unlikely that Conners and John Foster Dulles would become fast friends; Harvard, where he'd been lecturing part-time, declined to invite him back; and his publisher suddenly felt that there was no longer an audience for his books. Such was life during the time of Joe McCarthy. Spying on your fellow American citizens got so bad that the Hearst newspapers started supplying "facts" about local "subversives" in their respective communities.
Conners took to writing mysteries (some good ones) under a pen name and he returned to Black River Falls, where he bought the old Grotte mansion. It was a huge place of native stone, an aerie really, perched above the Iowa River on a red clay mountaintop. He'd been here a year when Trawler College asked him to lecture on political science. He was such a seductive speaker that the college decided to risk the ire of the local political right and make him writer-in-residence.
"C'mon," he said now. "Let's walk."
Despite their political differences - which were vast - my boss, Judge Esme Anne Whitney, who carries a photo of Ayn Rand in her wallet (just kidding), is a friend of Richard Conners. He's a frequent guest at her parties. She considers him something of a social equal, given all his connections. He'd been in her chambers many times when I came in but had never deigned to acknowledge me. I mentioned this to the Judge one day, and she said, "He's a perfect liberal, McCain. He loves the masses but hates people. He figures his love for the downtrodden gives him the right to be a snob and a shit. I, on the other hand, hate the masses but love people." Which was a crock, but I hadn't said anything.