The McCarthy Witch Hunt
a novelette by Kim Newman
'Mrs Stevens,' began Roy Cohn, sincerely, 'this is not an interrogation.'
The young woman on the other side of the desk made a face which very nearly said 'you could have fooled me'. Finlay thought her nose might have twitched slightly and felt uncomfortable.
'This is just an informal interview. To help you sort out questions that have been raised.'
'Will I be subpoenaed?'
The lawyer's smile was as fake as Finlay's right eye. 'There's been no question of that so far.'
Cohn was good in a snake-smooth way, Finlay thought, but too high profile. He thrived on publicity. No matter how he purred and charmed, there was no way Mrs Stevens hadn't made him as the prosecutor who put the Rosenbergs on Death Row. Finlay would have preferred someone more shadowy at this stage. Hugh Farnham, or the Kennedy Kid. Even Nixon.
'Who is that man?' Mrs Stevens asked, nodding at Finlay.
'I'm with the Bureau.'
'That's right,' he confirmed, hoping frankness would reassure her. Just now, Mrs Stevens was on the knife-edge between 'friendly' and 'unfriendly'. They all knew she'd ultimately testify. But they had to play the game out.
'I'm just a housewife,' she said, redundantly. 'My husband is with McMann and Tate. We live in Westport ...'
'Goodwife Stevens,' Finlay said, fixing her with his good eye, 'do not make the mistake of thinking us naive.'
She sat forward in her chair and looked at them. No one said anything for a moment. Finlay could hear the traffic down in the streets. He had kept on his hat and was sweating into the leather band. If he took it off, there'd be a reddish brand across his forehead.
This morning, before leaving the hotel, he'd found something tucked inside the sweatband, a pale length of substance that might have been a shed snakeskin. It crumpled and burned in the ashtray like cellophane.
Mrs Stevens was pretty in a plasticky magazine cover way. Permanent blonde hair, ordinary-attractive features, neat skirt and blouse, matching hat and handbag. Seven or eight years ago, while Finlay was combing what was left of Berlin, she'd have been a high school senior. Probably a cheerleader. She must have been the type.
'Roy,' Finlay said to Cohn, 'tell Goodwife Stevens where she stands. Straight talking is more comfortable than all the lawyer bullstuff.'
It was sticky-hot in the third-storey office the Sub-Committee rented in Manhattan. The window hadn't opened since Pearl Harbour. Finlay slipped off his suitcoat, calculating what the effect on the woman of the sight of the heavy automatic hanging in his wet armpit. He was sweating through his shirt into the leather of his holster.
Cohn shuffled folders and opened one. The others, Finlay guessed, were just for show.
'Your name has come up in testimony several times. Do you understand?'
Mrs Stevens nodded, face frozen.
'No accusations have been made. The Constitution entitles you to freedom of speech, freedom of belief, freedom of worship. There has, as yet, been no suggestion of illegal activity on your part.'
'I'm not a spy.'
'Of course not. However, we believe you are a member of a "circle" operating in this city ...'
'Circle' was the polite term. It was out in the open now. She knew they knew and she'd have to make a decision.
Cohn's spit-curl payesses shook slightly as he hummed to himself, almost too low to be heard. The first time, Finlay had assumed there was a radio left on in the room, tuned to a dead station and turned right down.
Mrs Stevens was uncomfortable. She didn't seem to sweat but she must be breathing his ripe smell.
He could tell what Mrs Stevens was thinking. How many lists did they have? How many names? How many of the others had already yielded the full twelve? How many times had she been named? Which of them had named her? Was she the second called into this room? Or the thirteenth?
Mrs Stevens chewed her lower lip, nibbling at the perfect lipstick of her mouth.
'I think I had better talk with a lawyer.'
Cohn's eyes glowed like neons. His head was poised, expectant. Mrs Stevens would bite the hook. 'I am a lawyer, Mrs Stevens.'
She shook her head slightly.
'Twelve names,' Finlay said, shockingly.
Mrs Stevens was startled. Cohn looked as if WeeGee had just published a photograph of him sucking Cardinal Spellman's dick.
'Just give us twelve names and you can go home. It'll all be over for you.'
... and all beginning for the next on the list.
'Do you want me to start for you?' he asked, looming over the desk, getting close enough to let her see the flaws in his right eye. 'How about Gillian and Nicky Holroyd?'
She was shaking now, asking herself questions, but not yet giving any answers. It was such a fixed game. There were always thirteen. The only way off the hook, the only way to qualify as a 'friendly', was to cough up twelve names.
'Twelve names, Samantha. Or do they call you Sam?'
'This is extremely irregular,' Cohn spluttered, trying vainly to cast himself as the nice guy cop.
A tear, solitary and perfect, traced a line down Mrs Stevens's cheek, cutting through mascara.
'Twelve names, witch.'
While the burning city cast giant devil masks into the sky, the long-faced warlock quoted a Hindu scripture Finlay had never heard of. 'I am become Shiva,' he said, 'the Destroyer of Worlds.'
The warlock, whom the other twelve called 'den mother', said it whenever there were reporters within earshot, making sure it was taken down. Finlay must have heard the quote four or five times. It would be in all the papers, all the history books.
The battle was over before the regular army got within ten miles of Berlin. The process of occupying the city was more a matter of putting out fires and rescuing trapped civilians than conquering the enemy.
At the end, though, the krauts put up a tougher fight than the Japs two months ago. Hitler's mages had held out to the last, circles of protection shrinking as the allies moved in. Then the Thirteen convened and made the Great Invocation.
'He's become Shiva,' Lilith said, 'and we've become extras, trailing behind with our spears.'
Lilith Ritter was the first witch Finlay had seen at close range. She had her hair up like a society matron, but wore combat fatigues a size too large for her. Around her waist was a belt like a mechanic's, tools familiar and unfamiliar dangling like the grasses of a hula skirt. He had no idea how old she was; her body was trim, but there was a deal of silver in her ash-blonde hair and deep lines bracketed her mouth and eyes. After the battle, she was clearly exhausted and wanted to sleep but the den mother wanted the Thirteen to convene physically on the site where they had triumphed spiritually.
Patton called the Great Invocation 'fighting fire with fire'. Just now, everyone was high on it. Only Finlay was close enough to be scared.
They advanced slowly through a residential area. They should all be in position by dawn. Then the coven would give thanks to whatever it was they worshipped and banish it back to wherever it had come from. Finlay wasn't sure how easy that would be. He didn't know Shiva but he'd certainly heard of Pandora's Box.
They had given Finlay a rifle but no one expected him to use it. That meant he got stuck with looking after Lilith. After all, they had a lot in common.
Sergeant Stoner was checking out their way. He signalled an advance, and the whole platoon started walking, as casually as if looking for a bar or a picture show. They all held their rifles loosely, hoping the shooting was over.
There was a fat dead woman in the road, rope-like blonde braids spread away from her head, face a bloody skull. She wore the black uniform of the SS Lorelei Division. The air was thick with the tang of ozone, remnants of the lightning bolts that had fallen in sheets when Asmodeus fought Tir. This had been the Twilight of the Nazi Gods. There were dead Norns and kobolds and trolls and aesir turning to mist throughout the city.
A shot spanged against the sidewalk and soldiers scattered for cover. Finlay dragged Lilith behind the burned-out hulk of an army truck. The metal was still hot.
'Sniper,' he said.
The city would be full of diehards, mostly driven mad by the battle. It might take weeks to flush them all out. The Great Invocation had ended the War but it would be down to GI Joe and his aching feet to clear up the mess.
Finlay wrestled with his rifle, wondering if now was the time he'd have to use it.
Lilith concentrated, shutting her violet eyes. Then she pointed to a building. It had been an apartment block, but now it was sheared off above the first storey, teethlike timber-stumps exposed.
Finlay relayed her information to Stoner. The soldiers opened fire, and fire was returned. There was only one gun up there, but it was enough to keep them pinned down for hours.
Lilith muttered something to herself and stood up. Finlay tried to protest. She scurried over to the Lorelei and, with a bayonet from her belt, cut off the dead woman's hand. She did it as if she were cutting meat, pressing the blade down until it grit into the stone, wrestling through bone and gristle.
A shot zinged past the witch, raising dust. Stoner shouted at her to get back. Instead, she stood up and faced the sniper's nest, holding up the hand.
A ball of fire came from somewhere and touched the hand, darting five times until all four fingers and the thumb were alight. Lilith held the burning hand, incanting in a language Finlay didn't know, and tossed it at the building.
There was a silent explosion, flash-burning into Finlay's eyes. A flame, a dozen feet long, swarmed up the side of the building, melting through the wall. It was man-shaped, but also a thin hand, puppet-walking, the thumb its head, the fingers its arms and legs. It hurt to look at, like the naked sun.
They all heard screaming. And the tinier explosion that was the sniper's ammunition going off all at once.
They waited a full minute, watching the flameshape dart through broken windows and gaps in the masonry. Then Stoner signalled Carnovski and Hanlon to check out the place. The GIs kicked in the door and clattered around inside.
Lilith was unsteady on her feet and Finlay had to hold her up. It was as if the strength had been sucked out of her. Her knees gave and Finlay helped her sit down. He thought her hair grayer now than it had been before the business with the hand.
'That was a calculated risk,' she said. 'To make a Hand of Glory, you need a murderer. I thought it likely anyone in that uniform was one.'
Finlay shook his head. This was not the war he had expected when he was drafted.
'Strange allies?' she commented.
Stone signalled a move before he could reply.
'It's all right,' Lilith said, 'I can walk now.'
The witch got up and walked over to the building, Finlay trailing her.
'We found the sniper,' Carnovski was saying to Stoner, 'just some kid with an old gun.'
Stoner was unimpressed.
'The cellar was boarded up. I think there's people hiding down there. Women and kids, most likely.'
'What about the pikadon?' Lilith asked. 'It must be dispelled.'
Carnovski was about to reply when the front of the building exploded. The pikadon - what did that mean? - was huge now and composed of more than flame. People burned and screamed inside its body, wrapped closely in fire. Carnovski was right: there had been people in the cellar.
Lilith began conjuring.
Finlay just looked at the demon thing. Figures fell out of its limbs, flesh melting like wax, polished bones shining through liquid skin, eyes boiled blind. A stench wave hit him and he choked. The thumb-head swelled, black cinder eyes smoking in its face of flame. Lilith was incanting now, but the pikadon still grew, incorporating burning timbers, chunks of masonry, a twisted iron lamp-post. As it burned, it expanded. A maw opened in the fire, and a scream thundered through. Inarticulate rage and brute cunning were in the scream.
The pikadon didn't want to go home.
The soldiers fell back, appalled. Finlay saw Stoner, who claimed to be the only atheist in the foxhole, cross himself.
Lilith finished, and there was a pause.
The pikadon began to laugh, a philosophically scary, soul-scraping laughter. Lilith had her bayonet out again. It was still blooded. She drove it through her own hand, point into the palm, blade displacing meat and bone, emerging through the back.
She made an iron-pierced fist and gestured at the demon.
The fire popped out of existence, leaving all that had been inside the pikadon hanging in the air for an instant. Dying people, charred rubbish, clouds of brick splinters.
Everything fell to the ground. A small body broke at Finlay's feet, life knocked out of it. Finlay couldn't tell what sex it had been. He tried to think of it as a dwarf - Hitler had plenty of those - but he was certain it was a child.
A twisted spear of debris slipped out of the air and smashed into his head, a hot end fishing for his eye. Yelling, he went down, feeling where his face had been mashed.
The pain was an intense burst. Half his vision was red. The jagged length had seared through his uniform shoulder, burning skin away.
'Quick,' he heard Lilith shouting, 'the chaplain's been hurt.'
Most of the suburb was post-War development. It was a community of dream homes, an upper-income Levittown for the grey-flannel set. The houses were clean structures made of pastel squares and oblongs, with picture-book red roofs. Laid out on perfect grids, with green grass between the blocks, the neighbourhood had wide roads and spacious sidewalks, dotted with tall, shady trees. Ideal for washing your '53 Chevrolet on Sunday morning, for cycling a route delivering Life and Time, for canasta and kaffeeklatsches, for raising kids and going to church.
It wasn't the neighbourhood Finlay had grown up in, that was for sure. But it was America. Each home had its own underground chapel, stocked with missals and canned goods against Armageddon.
The church was at the heart of the grid, a fresh-painted building like a fairytale barn. Proclamations were posted on the board outside, stating the pastor's position on the latest community issues. Finlay knew the sort of thing: such-and-such a woman was caught in adultery, this-or-that goodfellow was commended for witnessing his neighbour's sins.
'There,' Brother Dwight said, 'that's the house.'
Finlay checked the address. 1164, Morning Glory Circle. Places around here all looked the same. The streets all looked the same. He'd heard around the Bureau of terrible, unforgivable mistakes.
They parked the convertible across the street and Dwight let the top down. There was no sense baking. It wasn't as if they were trying to hide. The Archbishop liked the brethren to have imposing automobiles, long black Oldsmobiles and Fords with engines that purred like big cats.
Mrs Stevens would be inside now, looking after the baby, doing the ironing, using a vacuum cleaner, cooking food for later.
You couldn't even hear the city.
'Sorcerous hag,' Dwight said under his breath. He hated witchcraft on a personal level. A stone-ignorant Baptist, he knew what the Bible said about not suffering a witch to live and it was good enough for him. When they burned the Rosenbergs, he wanted front-row seats with a good view of the stakes. There were a lot like him in the Bureau.
Finlay fanned himself with a file. His eye ground, but he didn't want to take it out. That upset people. Children ran away in tears after a look at his empty socket.
'I don't see why we're watching the house,' Dwight said, 'we know the coven meets at that fancy Manhattan place.'
'We're not watching the house.'
Dwight grunted. 'What are we doing then?'
'We're making sure everyone else in the neighbourhood watches the house ...'
An automobile drove slowly by. A young wife just back from the market, groceries piled next to a child in the back.
'Quick, take some notes,' Finlay told Dwight.
'Get your book out and jot something down. I don't care what. Just make sure people see you looking at the Stevens house and writing. And take off your jacket. So they can see the gun.'
Dwight didn't understand how it worked but went along with it. A ten-year-old boy walked by, whistling some Johnny Mercer tune, a rolled-up comic book in his jeans pocket. Dwight pantomimed the whole thing, tongue half-stuck-out in concentration, elaborately sneaky side-looks at the house, incomprehensible scribble - in code, a good touch - digging into his pad.
Finlay took out a Christian Herald-Crusader. McCarthy was getting headlines, chairing the Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, delving into the religious histories of State Department employees, checking oaths of piety against proven affiliations. Today, he accused the State Department of employing 123 practising witches. Last week, it had been 141; next week, who knows? 209? 67? 180? It was a clever stunt. If he kept to the same number the question would be 'are there any witches in the State Department?' Now it was 'how many ... ?'
Dwight kept scribbling as a curtain moved in the house. Good. Mrs Stevens had noticed them. That was important. A slight breeze, pleasantly scented with new-mown grass, rolled down the street. Somewhere, a radio was playing. 'If They Asked Me, I Could Write a Book,' from Pal Joey, by Rodgers and Hart. There was a song from that show you never heard any more, 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered'. It had slipped from the playlists, along with 'That Old Black Magic' and 'We're Off to See the Wizard'.
'That McCarthy,' Dwight said, looking over at the paper, 'he's a real pistol, right?'
Finlay nodded and kept reading. It was hard to keep the tribunals and committees straight, and he was supposed to be an expert. First and foremost, there was the Committee on Un-Christian Activities of the House of Representatives (HUCAC), founded under Martin Dies (Texas) in 1938, currently chaired by Harold H. Velde (Illinois). That had a blanket brief and was there for everybody, the Committee of Committees. Then there was the Internal Security Sub-Committee of the Senate Episcopal Committee (SISS), chaired by Pat McCarran (Nevada), which handled affairs, like the Hiss and Rosenberg cases, with bearing on national security. The Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Government Operations (SSCGO), under Joseph McCarthy (Wisconsin), probed government employees: civil servants, teachers, the armed forces, postal workers, law enforcement agencies. The Sorcerous Activities Control Board (SACB), with five full-time members appointed by the President, was there to oversee HUCAC, SISS, McCarthy and anyone else it cared to include in its remit. Not forgetting the boards entrusted with enforcing the Truman Piety Order of 1947 by extracting oaths of religious observance from all manner of public and private individuals, and the Immigration Department Boards, who were empowered to deport summarily anyone of suspect faith who happened to have been born outside the United States of America. Plus the boards convened by state and legislative bodies, or for self-examination by various government departments, industries, trade unions, citizens' groups, denominations, and so on. As an apparatus of national policy, this whole grouping - including, of course, the Federal Bureau of Inquisition - was unwieldy but undeniably effective.
'Look,' Dwight said.
Mrs Stevens was coming out to play. She wore a blue housedress with starched skirts like stiff petals and a pristine apron the size of a G-string. She marched sternly across lawn, sidewalk and street, as if called out to see to a naughty child. This was her neighbourhood and she was queen of it. No one could defy her on these streets, surrounded by homes and backyards and bicycles and leafy trees.
'Goodwife Stevens, good afternoon,' Finlay said, taking off his hat, easing up from his car seat, so he was perched on its back, feet against the dashboard, casually. His gun hung down, rapping his ribs as he shifted. He played with his hat.
Other women, from other houses, were a hidden audience. He understood that. This had better be played broad, to impress the back of the stalls.
'What are you doing here?'
Finlay looked around, smiling. 'Enjoying the scenery.'
'It's a nice neighbourhood,' Dwight said, leering. He got too much from gangster movies. 'Real nice.'
'This is my associate, Brother Dwight.'
'Pleased to meetcha,' he said, showing bad teeth.
Like many Inquisitors, Dwight, in his deepest secret heart, wanted carnal relations with a witch, preferably against her will. He pored over all those reports the Archbishop had compiled on tantric practices, sweatily imagining. Dwight would be struck cold if Finlay let him know he'd perceived the private lust that underlay the public zeal.
Mrs Stevens ignored Dwight. She was smart. She knew Finlay was the one who counted.
'You have a child, Goodwife Stevens? Tabitha?'
'Strange name. Antique. Like Lilith, or Jezebel. Biblical. This looks a good neighbourhood for kids.'
She was trying very hard not to get angry.
'Do you go to church?'
'No,' she said, simply. 'Not as you would understand it, Deacon.'
'That's your privilege, your right as a citizen. It's enshrined in the Constitution.'
She looked over her shoulder, thinking of the child she had left in the house.
'The Constitution protects us all,' Finlay said.
'... even people like you,' Dwight added, unnecessarily. 'Even ungodly filth.'
Finlay ignored the fool. 'Do you have animals?'
Mrs Stevens shook her head.
'A cat, perhaps,' Dwight said, grinning again. 'A black cat? Miaooww?'
'Goats?' Finlay asked. 'Chickens?'
There were women in doorways now, under the eaves of little porticos, faces shadowed. A few kids sat on front lawns, looking on. This was better than the television, better than Dragnet, Martin Kane, Inquisitor or Cardinal Video.
Mrs Stevens backed away, stepping onto her lawn, putting the boundary of her property between them. She would have charms buried in a ring around the house to ward off ill-fortune.
'Are you aware that it is a misdemeanour to injure or kill livestock in connection with Satanic ritual?'
The witch looked disgusted. Then interested. Finlay realised she had noticed something about him, and became self-conscious. She tried not to be too obvious but she'd sensed something. He always had to remember that these people had powers. Calmly, he began searching himself. He turned out his pockets, then felt the inside of his hat. Nothing. This had happened before. They had to be subtler each time. It was under his suit-coat lapel, hooked into the material like a fishing fly. He held it up for her to see. A twist of bone, with a feather embedded in it. Like a tiny quill, its tip was black with dried blood.
'They keep trying,' Finlay told Mrs Stevens.
She looked at him, almost with pity. 'You don't understand, do you?'
He ignored her and continued his spiel, 'While your freedom of worship is an unbreakable plank of American law, it is a federal offence to practice sorcery or necromancy, to commune with devils and spirits inimical to the Christian faith of the United States of America.'
'Do your neighbours know,' Dwight shouted, loud enough for the whole block to hear, 'that you fuck goats for Satan?'
Mrs Stevens fled indoors. Everyone else retreated too, calling in children, shutting doors tight. Soon housewives would be telephoning each other, spreading the word on that Stevens girl, keeping their children away from her daughter, blaming little Johnny's grazed knee on the evil eye, saying you never could tell ...
'She's the Devil's Temptation, Deacon,' Dwight said, 'real tight 'n' juicy.'
'Shut up,' Finlay said, disgusted with his fellow inquisitor, 'and drive us back to the city.'
'Crabby, aint'cha, Deacon Finlay?'
'I don't understand,' said Louis B. Mayer, pomp shrivelling under the glare of Chairman J. Parnell Thomas, 'we showed it like it was in that picture. We had a real witch, with the hook nose and the broom and the flying monkeys. We had the song, Congressman, that every Faithful American sings, "Ding-Dong, the Witch is Dead" ...'
'The role of the Witch of the West is not under discussion, Mr Mayer. We are interested, rather, in the, um,' - he consulted his notes - 'the part played in the photoplay by the character described as, you will pardon the expression, "Glinda the Good", the Witch of the North.'
Mayer's face fell and he almost blubbered, 'there was a War coming. Things were different.'
'Were they indeed?'
Thomas pressed the point.
Finlay had gone beyond amusement and was beginning to be bored by the HUCAC hearings. Probing Hollywood was good for headlines but no one really believed Beverly Hills was a nest of Satanists. Undoubtedly, there had been witches in Tinseltown (Louella Parsons, for one) but if the extent of their maleficence was sneaking a few lines lampooning the clergy into a Busby Berkeley musical, then Finlay would rather be going after more deep-rooted conspiracies.
He looked around the Caucus Room of the House's Old Office Building, star-spotting. He'd heard Robert Taylor would be coming and Adolphe Menjou. But this far Thomas - a shrimp politician of the old school, so crooked he'd have to be screwed into the ground when his time came - had concentrated on big money not big names and was hauling studio heads over the coals.
During the War, there'd been a craze for pro-witch movies. I Married a Witch, with Fredric March and Veronica Lake, was a services comedy, with a gruff general and his enchantress wife battling Nazi spies on the home front. Hellzapoppin' had Olsen and Johnson as inept warlocks summoning the Devil (Mischa Auer) to run a movie studio. There were romantic melodramas, like Gilda with Rita Hayworth and Spellbound with Ingrid Bergman, of love potions and seductive sorceresses. And patriotic war films, like Coven 13, with Edward G. Robinson, and The Strange Curse of Adolf Hitler, with Gale Sondergaard, of American warlocks working underground in Europe. It was only when the real stories about Berlin started filtering back to the States the climate changed.
The Hollywoodians were beached whales in Washington, cut off from cocktails and contracts and deals and dollars. They had nothing to contribute but hot air and Thomas was going to strut and preen until the building floated away on it. Witchcraft wasn't an issue to the Congressman, just a way to keep him in the papers.
Only in the inner sanctums of the Bureau was the full extent of the Satanic threat truly understood. Instinctively, Archbishop Hoover understood the danger. He was the one who realised the women were the dangerous ones, the witches rather than the warlocks. Reports came in from undercover men, suggesting an interlinked network of covens criss-crossed the country, tying in with every tier of American life. Workplaces, homes, city halls, army camps, small towns, everywhere.
The Devil was finding work.
Now Ronald Reagan, President of the Screen Actors' Guild, was explaining at length why he refused the lead role in Little Devils, co-starring the Dead End Kids, risking a suspension because he didn't want to appear in a picture espousing an Un-Christian way of life. Finlay could think of other reasons why someone would want to stay away from the Dead End Kids...
Finlay's empty socket hurt. He was still wearing a patch; soon the doctors could fit him with a glass eye.
He excused himself as Ayn Rand took the stand to deliver a stinging indictment of the sacrilegious undertones of Columbia's Reveille With Beverly and slipped out of the Caucus Room. The corridor was empty.
A couple of writers and directors would wind up in the stocks after these hearings, but not for raising the dead or invoking demons. They would all do penance for Contempt of Congress, which was the rap Thomas slapped on them when they refused to name the others in their circles. If anything, that was the important precedent: the criminalisation of silence. Those initially subpoenaed were known as the Hollywood Thirteen, and at least a third of them had already testified against their coven-mates.
He checked his watch. It was time to call the office. The real work of the Inquisition wasn't yet begun. Thomas's all-star road show was a curtain-raiser.
Finlay heard testimony droning on. Inside the Caucus Room, the director Leo McCarey volunteered that Satanists didn't care for his Going My Way because there was a character in the film they didn't like. 'Bing Crosby?' asked Thomas. 'No,' replied McCarey, 'God.' Finlay had seen that picture and not cared for it much either. None of the priests he'd worked with were like Barry FitzGerald or Bing Crosby.
He closed his good eye and saw the fiery outline of the pikadon in the darkness. It was imprinted on his mind, a constant reminder of what the crusade was all about.
He would spend the rest of his life trying to get the lid back on Pandora's Box.
Brother Dwight spun the racks, looking through the comics. His big case had been an investigation into comic books, and his most notable success ensuring the cancellation of The Haunt of Fear, which featured a character called the Old Witch whom he alleged was seducing children into Satanism. Dwight had a framed photograph of himself piling up a bonfire with The Haunt of Fear. Today all he could find was Bible Stories Illustrated and Disney Funnies. He probably had suspicions about Pluto; after all, wasn't Mickey Mouse's dog named after the Lord of the Underworld?
Finlay sat at the counter of the drugstore and drank coffee. This place didn't fit in with the Stevens's Westport. It was like something from his own childhood when a drugstore was an Aladdin's cave, mysteriously attracting his older brothers and sisters with its wonders. Besides comic books, the place had medicines, candy, magazines, stationery and a thousand oddities that might come in useful.
Everywhere had somewhere like this. It was a hang-out.
Dwight came back and got his mouth round a large jelly doughnut. Most people would be getting home from the office now, kissing the little wife, patting the little kids, saying a little prayer at the little household altar, putting their feet up and lighting a smoke. Finlay never went off duty, except for rare vacations. He didn't even have a regular apartment, because the Bureau shifted him around so much. As for a wife and kids, he'd never had the time ...
There was a teen-aged boy behind the counter, paper hat on his crew-cut, football shoulders swelling his T-shirt. The place wasn't busy yet, the after-school crowd had gone home and the night-out bunch not yet picked up their dates.
'Say, kid,' Dwight asked, 'what's your name?'
The boy's eyes narrowed suspiciously until Finlay flopped open his wallet, letting his identification rest on the counter-top.
'Jim,' the kid said. 'Jim Rogers.'
It would have been hard to think of a name that sounded more American, more Christian.
'Jim,' Finlay said, 'you must know this neighbourhood pretty well?'
'You know the Stevenses? Young couple, with a daughter?'
'I guess I know them.'
'What kind of a person names their kid Tabitha, do you think? Not Nancy or Sally or Joan?'
'I reckon it is unusual, now you come to mention it.'
'You ever heard anything ... uh, funny about Goodwife Stevens?'
Jim didn't say.
'Come on, kid,' Dwight prompted.
'Not a church-goer, is she?'
Jim's nervous face erupted into a smile.
'Hey, I get it. You guys are after witches. Like in that book, I Was a Satanist for the FBI?'
That had been a serial in the Saturday Evening Post, ghost-written for Matthew Cvetic, a warlock turncoat Finlay wouldn't have let in the office door. Now the crackpot specialised in giving lectures and leaving bad debts. Just one of the trash people swept along at the edges of the crusade.
'Kinda like,' Finlay said.
'Is Goody Stevens a witch?'
'You didn't hear that from us.'
'You got guns?'
Together, Finlay and Dwight lifted jackets to show the handles of their automatics.
'Gee whiz,' Jim said, and whistled.
'Keep an eye on the Stevens wench, would you,' Finlay asked. 'Just to be careful.'
He finished his coffee, scattered coins on the counter, and pushed away, dragging Dwight with him.
Jim would remember the tip. But he would also remember the guns and the badge. Mostly, however, what he would do was talk.
Appropriately, the evidence had been inside a pumpkin. Pages from a Grand Grimoire, which Alger Hiss intended to disseminate throughout the witch world. Finlay understood there were incantations which made the pikadon look like a lightbulb. Outside the Foley Square courthouse, crowds jostled for a look at the Satanic traitor. Many wore the wide-brimmed pilgrim hats that were suddenly in fashion, black circles dotting the crowd like mushroom heads. Earlier they had given a spontaneous cheer and sung hymns when Hiss's accuser, Goodman Whittaker Chambers, was escorted in triumph from the building.
Finlay gripped Hiss's arm and guided him down the steps, hat pulled over his own face, breath frosting in the January cold. Flashbulbs burst all around. There had been death threats from pious Americans and Satanic cults. Banners hung from buildings, quoting the Bible about not suffering witches. A few brave souls were trying to get up petitions against the conviction but they'd have bloody noses by the end of the day. Church groups were there to abominate the apostate, and others to look at the man who had opened the way for another, potentially final, witch war.
Hiss was quiet, small, insignificant, negligible. Even with the verdict in, Finlay was unsure of his guilt. Something about Chambers made worms wriggle in his gut. But it was necessary that Hiss be guilty if the crusade were to continue. The warlock meant less in himself than he did as a focus for righteous wrath. The American public needed to be angry about something; if they found it easier to be angry about one egghead bureaucrat than an entire international conspiracy of devil-worshippers, then Finlay would have to go along with that. It was what democracy was all about.
There would be no more sentiment about 'our witches' now. Berlin was officially a needless horror, a diplomatic dead end taken to finish a war that was already over, easily blamed on the dead Roosevelt, nothing to do with the current administration. Condemnations and pronouncements were coming in from all around the world.
Deviltry was on the prowl, and the armies of the godly were rallying. Under pressure, Prime Minister Attlee had just appointed Field-Marshal Montgomery to the long-vacant post of Witchfinder General. The Pope was issuing weekly bulls against heretical doctrines and deploying battle-hardened Jesuits in trouble spots. Even Stalin was purging the Red Army for mad Russian sorcerers.
People yelled and screamed. A surge of the crowd pressed forwards, and Finlay pulled Hiss back, allowing a line of cops to form.
The crowd would have burned Hiss on the spot.
Finlay felt that at last the rest of the country was waking up to the truth he saw every time he shut his eye and let darkness into his head.
In Alabama, the Ku Klux Klan had burned out a voodoo hounfort just after New Year's Day, averting a conspiracy to raise the dead against white virtue. In New Hampshire, a spiritualist medium had been weighted with stones and thrown into the sea. Hedge preachers and hobo priests travelled the backwoods with crosses and kerosene cans, rooting out and destroying the Devil's disciples where they found them. Christian America was awake.
With all the din, Finlay couldn't be sure, but he thought Hiss was laughing, a high, insane, feeble giggle. He had a bad feeling and looked around. He was nervy in crowds, unsure which individuals would be dangerous, confused by the noise and jostling.
She was on the steps, with a fur-collared coat and a high fashion hat, looking sadly at Hiss and him, face and hair completely white. She looked much older.
He turned his head, burying Lilith Ritter in the dark half of his field of vision.
'Deacon Finlay,' he heard her shout.
He forced Hiss forwards, pushing past her, away from her. He had left enough behind in Berlin.
They all got Hiss into the automobile, and it drove off, edging away from the kerb. Crowds parted, but jeers poured in. A bottle broke on the hood and the Brother in the front passenger seat slipped a hand into his coat.
'Be calm,' Finlay told him.
If Lilith was still shouting for him, he couldn't hear her. All he could hear was the chant of 'burn the witch, burn the witch, burn the witch ...'
Finlay hadn't been out to Connecticut for three weeks. Dwight could handle the detail and the Bureau had dug up a brother who was the image of Dick Tracy to sit in the Olds with him. In Morning Glory Circle, the car itself was a killer shark in a kidney-shaped swimming pool, unmissable. He had showed up at the Manhattan brownstone the evening Mrs Stevens's coven was scheduled to meet, but only five of the thirteen - not including Mrs Stevens - turned up. He expected they spent the evening wondering which of the others had fingered them. Then cut off a chicken's head and took their clothes off and had sex with each other. Or whatever. Most witchcraft in the United States was just an excuse for screwing around. He didn't even care that much about it. You had to plough through the fortune-tellers, fruitcakes, conjurers and bilko artists to get to the real damage-doers.
Roy Cohn showed up early and excited. He had a feeling this case was going to crack in the next few days. He wore the full beard and skullcap and carried his Torah, but on him orthodoxy looked like a disguise. He'd made his name exposing the cabbalist workings of the Rosenbergs' rituals, volunteering that the couple had to be prosecuted by a fellow Jew lest the taint of golem-raising and child sacrifice spread to his entire people.
'Mrs Saylor committed suicide last night,' Finlay told him.
Cohn couldn't conceal his delight.
Tansy Saylor, wife of a middle-ranking college professor, had been their channel to Mrs Stevens's coven. Named as a witch by a fellow traveller, an anthropologist, she had been easy to pressure, her husband's tenure being so fragile, and had been the first to cough up her twelve names. Since then, seven of the others had been called in and had all - angrily, hysterically, coolly, incoherently, through tears or with icy malice - named the others.
Only one had tried to cover for special friends in the circle by naming 'innocents' who weren't part of the coven; two of those now shaped up as promising leads into other covens. Witches had as many rivalries and feuds going as the baseball leagues. That was the reason why they never would get round to overthrowing the Christian Government. It was why the Indians had lost, too.
Cohn wanted more details. 'Does Mrs Stevens know?'
'Professor Saylor telephoned her last night. It's on the wiretap.'
'So the old guilty conscience got to the witch after all.'
'You could say that.'
'There's a higher justice, Deacon Finlay.'
Last night, according to the Bureau's tail, Cohn had left the offices of his law firm late and picked up a fifteen-year-old boy in Grand Central Station, taking him to a hotel in the area where he was well known. At the precise moment Mrs Saylor was walking into the river, Cohn was enjoying - presumably - sexual congress with a minor. Finlay didn't care about that, either. But information was useful and lawyers were notoriously slippery. Cohn wouldn't cut a deal with the Devil if the Righteous had a bigger stick.
'What's the Stevens situation like?'
Finlay got out his folder, which had Dwight's badly-typed reports in it.
'Pious Americans broke the family's front windows three nights ago, throwing stones. There've been more incidences of slogans daubed on their house. None of the local handymen will paint them over.'
'Regrettable. I guess the local cops weren't too upset, though. With their heavy caseloads, it's hard to expect them to catch every kid with a paintbrush.'
'The daughter's nursery has asked for her to be withdrawn. The other parents got up a petition and threatened to pull their own kids. The Knights of Columbus have added Goodwife Stevens's name to a list circulated unofficially among businesses in the area, a list of people whom it isn't advisable to supply with groceries, gasoline, hardware, liquor, and so on. Stevens's employment is under review and he may well be let go within the month. Advertising is a tetchy industry and many clients are picky about who gets associated with their products. Also Stevens's income tax returns for the last ten years are being re-audited as part of a random survey. There might be some trouble with the financing of the loan on their house.'
'Sounds good. She must be sweating.'
Finlay wasn't so sure. The others in the coven were Manhattanites, self-important and concerned with position. The Stevens woman was Mrs Average, a June Allyson character. It was quite possible she had a real sense of values. The sincere ones were always the most dangerous, the most powerful.
'Say,' Cohn grinned, 'could we play up the sex dirt thing? That's the part that really sticks in the craw with the unwashed. Could we get some naked photographs of rituals or something? Preferably with animals, or a two-fer-one, or kids or something.'
Cohn, despite his smarts and his ambition, wasn't all that different from Brother Dwight.
'We can try,' Finlay said.
'They say it's Christian,' Brother Swaggart explained, 'but it's voodoo, so far as I can see.'
Finlay and the local Brother stood at the back of the tent, the crowds between them and the platform. It was even more sweltering inside than it had been out in the Louisiana heat. He had been bitten by bugs, and didn't have a shirt that wasn't imbued with the smell of his own wet-and-dried sweat.
The girl on the platform - about thirteen or fourteen - praised someone who could have been the Lord or could have been Baphomet, and plunged her arms into the dry fishtank, up to the elbows, allowing the rattlers to wind around her wrists, to climb up over her, to wrap around her head and shoulders. She stood up and her snakes hung from her, slowly writhing like sea-anemone fronds.
Finlay had seen enough. There was a cross outside and the man who preached wore a dog collar but this was black magic, as much as bowing before a goat-headed image or drinking cockerel's blood. He would report it and the Bureau would send a team in.
He pushed out of the tent and tried to breathe clean air.
A group of children were sitting on the hood of his car, bare feet dangling, grazed knees showing through their pantslegs, big eyes staring. They looked like the shocked children he'd seen in Berlin, unable to believe the cataclysm they'd just survived.
A flame danced in his eyeline and he blinked it away.
Finlay shooed the kids off like flies, and slipped into the driver's seat. A small human figure hung from his rearview mirror, sack-cloth stuffed with straw, limbs and head stuck out like starfish-legs, neck gathered in with string, a rusty nail driven through its heart.
Finlay didn't feel a thing as he tossed the doll into the dirt.
It had gone beyond polite 'this is not an interrogation' interviews. Mrs Stevens had been subpoenaed before the latest HUCAC hearings, a new deal Archbishop Hoover had worked out to investigate possible witchcraft in the press, motion pictures, television, radio, publishing and advertising. McCarthy was still chasing teachers and State Department employees which left the anti-sorcery field wide for other players. Madison Avenue was begging for a probe. Although Stevens was not as yet suspected of any involvement in his wife's coven, she was in a perfect position to influence him and he was in a perfect position to influence an entire nation. If Stevens could sell toothpaste, washing powder and root beer, he could easily wrap a little Satan in with the package.
He sat in his hotel room, the ice in his untouched bourbon melted to specks, listening to the sounds of the city. Every hotel room was the same: prominent wooden cross, embroidered Bible sayings, tiny radio. Finlay was beginning to feel Mrs Stevens wouldn't give them her twelve names.
The family had a lawyer now, a New York sharpie. Since Mrs Saylor's suicide, Mrs Stevens had avoided contact with Dwight and his sidekick, courteously refusing Cohn's tactfully-worded invitations. The lawyer used expressions like 'not too late' and 'all this unpleasantness can be avoided', but didn't see they only made the witch more determined to stick it out... If she broke, it would be on the stand. She could plead the Fifth, which was tantamount to an admission of guilt. But whether she was judged guilty or innocent was an irrelevance, because she was not charged with any prosecutable crime. It was not against the law to worship Satan.
Just as it wasn't against the law to refuse service, to terminate employment, to call in loans, to avoid a neighbour, to isolate a child, to comb tax records.
Finlay turned on the radio. Walter Winchell had just named Lucille Ball as a former witch. The star admitted she had attended a seance in the late thirties to please her grandfather but denied any other allegations. Winchell pressed sternly on naming names. Funnily enough, the radio columnist always named Lucille Balls and Veronica Lakes - after all, hadn't she been in I Married a Witch? - and Bela Lugosis. He wasn't much interested in Samantha Stevenses or Tansy Saylors. Samantha Whosits? Tansy Whyevers? There were a sight too many celebrity inquisitors - Roy Cohn included, Finlay reflected - in this crusade.
No, he decided, Goodwife Stevens would not give in easily. It wasn't in her nature. She would not give them her twelve names.
They already had thirteen names.
Testifying meant nothing. The coven was already broken, Mrs Stevens must know that. Cohn had leap-frogged her and gone on to the Holroyds and the others. Finlay, with responsibility for Mrs Stevens alone, didn't know, but she could easily be the single hold-out. In the group of thirteen, she would be the traitor to the common cause. She would be the only one not to inform on the others. They would want her to. As long as she refused, their testimony was shameful cowardice. If she too recognised that she had sinned and pleaded for absolution by naming names, then they were all absolved, all reconciled to the church.
It was madness to continue. But it was a madness Finlay understood. Though he prayed for Mrs Stevens' salvation, devoutly hoping she would find a way to the light, he had to admire her. For many, sorcery was just a fad; for Samantha, it was a faith.
That was why it was dangerous.
The right side of his face burned, an ache from his upper teeth joining with a pain in his forehead, throbbing in unison. His glass eye was a red hot dot in the irritation.
Since Berlin, he had not known a day without pain. It was like a curse.
Lilith Ritter was in London now, living in a cheap boarding house, giving private lessons to stupid children of rich parents. She'd been a teacher in civilian life, before the den mother requested her to work on the Great Invocation. Finlay had had nothing to do with her case, which had been touchy for reasons of national security. In the end, she'd been allowed to leave the country before a subpoena could be issued, the Bureau deciding it would be best not to give her a pulpit from which to speak. Nobody wanted to hear more about Berlin. Montgomery's people were keeping an eye on her. Reports came through occasionally.
He wondered what Lilith thought of him now. If she thought of him at all. Did her hand hurt as much as his face?
His eye fluttered shut and the level of his drink lapped near the rim of his glass.
In the darkness, something burned and screamed. Years passed in seconds...
He jolted awake, warm whisky seeping through his pants. It was later, and the city sounds had changed.
Alert, he searched the room. All his clothes were still in one suitcase and his papers were in the hotel safe. The drawers and closets should be empty, home only to hotel hangars, spare linen and the Gideon Bible.
There was nothing.
Still, he felt uneasy. He rattled his bedside lamp, and something shook inside the stand, a blue vase with a narrow neck. He eased the bulb and the socket out of the stand, and shook. Whatever was in there was too big to slip out.
Finlay smashed the vase. In the ceramic fragments was the dry skull of a small animal. A cat, he thought. Characters had been traced on its forehead.
He ground the skull to paste and tiny shards in the ashtray, then flushed them down the toilet.
His sleep was light and disturbed by dreams.
Finlay was at the Committee Rooms early, before the bulk of the reporters... He wanted to get away from the skull remnants in the plumbing of the hotel. The fetishes were coming thicker now, like a plague. He had to wonder who was slipping them to him, and what their purpose was. Finlay knew too well the powers they could invoke.
In the waiting room, he found himself with a gaunt young Jesuit from Georgetown. One of the expert witnesses, the priest was a specialist who had performed exorcisms and studied the anthropology of sorcery. He was often called to give precise testimony about the nature of sorcerous practices.
He was nothing like Bing Crosby or Barry FitzGerald, so Finlay asked him about the skull.
'Is this what they call a rune?' Finlay asked.
'Unlikely,' the priest replied. 'Runes are usually on parchment scrolls...'
'I've had those too. We all have. A hazard of the Inquisition.'
'Could you identify the designs painted on the skull?'
'I think so.'
The priest produced a flip-book of drawings and encouraged Finlay to go through them as if they were mug shots. There were many designs, some obscene, some puzzling.
'This one,' he said, certain.
The priest looked, ice-blue eyes narrowed, then looked again, at Finlay.
'Are you sure?'
Finlay nodded. 'How bad is it, Father? I can take it.'
'You must have made a mistake or else something is very amiss, Deacon. This is not a curse but a blessing. If it were on your person, it would be an aura of protection against a curse. Have you ever suffered ill-effects after involvement with the supernatural?'
'Not since the War.'
'Not a head-cold? Boils?'
'No. I've had threats, of course. Who in the Bureau hasn't? Archbishop Hoover must be the most cursed man in history.'
'Over the years, you say you've found many artefacts like this skull? All with similar designs?'
'Extraordinary,' the priest gave a thin smile. 'In other circumstances, I'd have to conclude you were a warlock.'
Finlay felt a cold caress.
'Of course, some witches have strange standards,' the Jesuit lectured. 'There are odd obligations. If a warlock or sorceress felt you were owed something, say for an offering of pain or for being the innocent victim of a curse directed at someone else, they might feel compelled to look after your interests, even against your will.'
Half of Finlay's face burned with remembered fire. A voice he always tried to ignore cried 'Deacon Finlay'. It was impossible. Lilith was in London, powerless.
'They wouldn't even have to be here,' the priest continued. 'The strength of witchcraft is that it binds together the believers. They are everywhere, all around, all the time.'
No one who could summon the pikadon was really powerless.
'I can't think why a witch would feel obliged to look after me,' Finlay said. 'In fact, it is impossible.'
'Few things are impossible, Deacon.'
Finlay excused himself and went to the washroom, where he subjected his clothes to a methodical search. He found nothing that shouldn't be there and didn't know whether that made him feel safer.
'Beldame,' Cohn began, 'are you now or have you ever been, a communicant of the Church of Satan?'
Mrs Stevens conferred briefly with O'Brien. He explained to the committee that his client chose not to answer the Question.
'First and Fifth?' Cohn snapped, impatiently.
The lawyer - it was hard not to think of him as the defence lawyer - nodded, explaining that Mrs Stevens indeed sought protection under the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
Finlay looked around the Committee Room. Lucille Ball wasn't here, Senator McCarthy wasn't here, Walter Winchell wasn't here, and the Devil wasn't here. Therefore there were no television cameras.
Stevens sat at the table with his wife, their bored daughter dressed up like a little angel between them, too young to understand.
'Mrs Stevens,' Cohn said, 'what are we to do with you?'
Mrs Stevens looked blankly at her persecutor. Cohn was enjoying himself... He wore his most rabbinical suit and sat at his table, next to Finlay. Whenever he was photographed, the huge crucifix was behind him, a sorrowing Christ looking over his shoulder, and two Deacons in steeple-hat masks loomed at either side of him.
This close, Finlay could feel the buzz of Cohn's excitement.
'Do you espouse the practice of necromancy? That is, do you commune with the Dead?'
'My client ...'
'First and Fifth, Mr O'Brien? I see. Mrs Stevens, are you a member of your local library board?'
'My client ...'
She interrupted her own lawyer and said, 'I was. Until last year.'
'Were you requested to resign?'
'Come, come, Mrs Stevens. This is a matter of record. There is nothing, uh, incriminating here.'
She nodded, once, sharply.
'Were you requested to resign from your library board?'
She coughed and said, 'I was.'
'And why might that be ...'
'My client ...'
'First and Fifth. We seem to be going round and round. I apologise for the tedium.'
Cohn's sidekick David Schine - 'we're going to get you, come Cohn or come Schine,' they sang - handed him some pieces of paper. It was just a stunt to fill time, to give Mrs Stevens more minutes sweating under the lights.
'Do you believe in a God, Mrs Stevens.'
'Several, in fact?'
'My client ...'
'First and Fifth, First and Fifth. Evidently there is no philosophical argument your client would care to enter into for fear of incriminating herself.'
Finlay was interested in Stevens. He had lost his job late last year and found himself unemployable in his old trade. For a while, he'd written obituaries and high school sports reports for his local paper, but Brother Dwight had had a talk with the editor and that position evaporated. The Stevenses had been trying, without success, to sell their house. It might as well have been haunted.
'Mrs Stevens,' Cohn launched in again, 'on April 30th of last year - known, I believe, as Walpurgis Night in some quarters did you attend a ... a gathering in the Manhattan apartment of Roman and Minnie Castevet? A party, if you will.'
As he spoke, he pulled a sheaf of 8X10 photographs from a brown envelope... Finlay had taken them, with Dwight holding up a newspaper in the foreground to establish the date. They showed Mrs Stevens, Mrs Saylor and others arriving at a brownstone and travelling up to one of the apartments. He had used a long lens, and caught some of the preliminaries. Smart men and women in dinner jackets and cocktail dresses exchanging conversation around the canapés.
Mrs Stevens allowed that she had been at the 'gathering'.
'And could you tell us who else was present.'
'My client ...'
'First and Fifth doesn't apply. No one is incriminated by a simple list of who was there.'
Mrs Stevens and O'Brien whispered harshly to each other.
'Come on,' Cohn said, visibly itching. He was cool but he was impulsive...
'If you don't recall precisely who was present at that sabbat, we can show you photographs, which you can identify ...'
O'Brien covered the microphone in front of him with his hand as he listened to Mrs Stevens, who shook her head vigorously as she instructed him. Then he argued back, gesturing wildly with his free hand. He could see the impasse she was in.
She had to answer. She had answered already and so lost her right to keep silent. Technically, if she told Cohn the time, she lost that right. It wasn't clean or clear but she would have to answer. O'Brien couldn't get through to her any more than Cohn could have.
Witches were stubborn. The women were used to wielding power. Nobody told them what to do. Not their husbands, not their countries ...
'Mrs Stevens, if you choose not to identify these people, I shall have to cite you for contempt.'
She must know that the others had sat here, that they had all named her, identified her.
There was a room in the Castevet apartment with no exterior windows. That was where the coven met. Whatever went on behind that door was not on the record. No camera could penetrate and all attempts at placing recording devices inside had been frustrated. Dwight had spun an intricate fantasy of goat-greased bodies penetrating each other, of elaborate and scatological blasphemies, of demons conjured up from the depths of Hell to copulate with the witch women.
'Mrs Stevens,' Cohn continued, words like bodkins stabbed into freckles. 'You must answer my questions.'
Exasperated, she waved a hand at him, the fore and little fingers extended, the middle fingers tucked under the palm.
'The record should note that the witness made a sign at me,' Cohn explained. 'The Evil Eye, I believe.'
There was uneasy laughter and Stevens looked sick. His wife was slipping. Until now, she had shown complete control. The little girl was antsy, almost wrestling with her father as she fidgeted.
'I have a list here of the company that Walpurgis Night,' Cohn said. 'If Mrs Stevens could corroborate it as correct and state that she had no names to add, then this committee would have no further business with her. Mr O'Brien, we could all then go home ...'
That was unusual. Cohn liked to have the names out loud. He enjoyed the ritual humiliation. But he was giving Mrs Stevens a chance to get free of it all with a single nod of her head.
One tiny gesture.
'You must be aware that the majority of these people have identified themselves as former witches and given testimony to that purpose, describing and detailing the practice of sorcery as performed in your coven.'
Mrs Stevens sat like a sphinx.
'Whether you say so or no, it has been established beyond the slightest smidgen of a doubt that you are indeed a witch.'
Cohn's voice was high, now. He was almost uncomfortable. Finlay wondered if the Devil's Sign had rattled him.
'Your private beliefs are your own affair but you are connected by marriage with a great industry, an industry that can subtly shape the minds of the young. That, and your involvement with the library system, makes your witchcraft of considerable interest to the community.'
Schine took the photographs to the witness's bench and spread them out. All thirteen were in one or another. He placed the list of names on top of the glossies. Mrs Stevens did not look down.
'As a colleague of mine once said to you, twelve names. All it takes is twelve names.'
It was a tiny gesture, not so much a nod as a twitch. Cohn, and Finlay, took it for an assent.
'Victory,' Cohn muttered.
Cohn grinned, triumph coming like a sexual climax. Finlay heard a buzzing in his head, as if there were a wasp trapped in his skull. Then, there was a burst of agony inside, as a dot of flame expanded to fill his consciousness.
'Do you confirm the identification of your coven partners?'
The question hung. Cohn half-turned and leaned to Finlay to whisper a comment, grinning with premature victory. Finlay couldn't see Cohn's face, because the lawyer was on his right, the sightless half of his head, but he could hear a chuckle starting. In court, Cohn would often lean so his head almost touched another's, to pass smug comments. He looked like a schoolboy.
'We've got the hag,' he whispered. Finlay was distracted by the wrench of pain in his face.
Mrs Stevens's nose twitched again and Finlay's glass eye exploded like a compact grenade. Cohn's face was wiped away in a flash. Somehow, Finlay felt cold air inside his ruptured skull.
There was a commotion in the Committee Room as robed Inquisitors bore down on Samantha Stevens, a woman now proved stronger and stupider than anyone involved in her investigation had suspected. The scourges were out, whipping around the woman.
Finlay regretted he had destroyed so many protective totems. He heard Lilith calling in the red dark, and wondered if she were dead too.
Cohn slumped forward, staring face shot through with shards of bone and glass. Finlay sat upright and still, feeling the strange absence that was a third of his head. His half-sight faded as consciousness receded into his corpse.
As Cedric Belfrage pointed out, one of the advantages of the term 'McCarthy Era' is that Joseph McCarthy was disgraced in 1954 so the nightmare can be seen to be fairly brief, though the mindset and apparatus epitomised by the junior Senator from Wisconsin stayed firmly in place for upwards of twenty years afterwards. To call the period of hysterical anticommunism 'the Hoover
Era', for instance, would be far more apt than focusing on a gloryhound like McCarthy at the expense of the real fanatics, but also suggests uncomfortably a trend in American history extending from Hoover's accession to power in the late teens to his death in 1972.
I keep coming back to this period. Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy and Ayn Rand appear in my novel Bad Dreams, whose villain, Hugh Farnham, is an immortal vampiretype creature who takes
a position in the witch hunts to prey on creative minds. The narrator of 'Famous Monsters' is, among other things, a blacklist survivor. And in 'In the Air', one of the series of 'USSA' alternate histories I've been writing with Eugene Byrne, McCarthy also appears, as
a bigoted antidissident hysteric in a communist 1950s America ruled by a Stalinist Al Capone. As the Federal Bureau of Ideology, the FBI appears in another USSA story, 'Tom Joad'.
Having been born in 1959 and thus missed the fifties, I admit
that my reimaginings of recent history are drawn from mainly secondary sources, not least the fictions and fantasies thrown up by the
20th Century. In the case of this story, I feel I should add a bibliography of the books I found most useful: Cedric Belfrage's The American Inquisition 19451960: A Profile of the 'McCarthy Era', Peter Biskind's Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties, Lester Cole's Hollywood Red, Otto Friedrich's City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s, Curt Gentry's J. Edgar Hoover:
The Man and His Secrets, Elia Kazan's A Life, Arthur
Miller's Timebends, Victor S. Navasky's Naming Names, Herbie J. Pilato's The Bewitched Book, Nora Sayre's Running Time: Films of the Cold War, Nicholas von Hoffman's Citizen Cohn: The Scandalous Life and Times of Roy Cohn, Lawyer, Fixer, Destroyer. Given my professional interests, the list is skewed towards books about the entertainment industry though one of the things I wanted to deal with in 'The McCarthy Witch Hunt' is that for every movie star who suffered, there were thousands of anonymous and innocent teachers, housewives, union men and even communists whose lives were wrecked.
I keep coming back to this period. Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy and Ayn Rand appear in my novel Bad Dreams, whose villain, Hugh Farnham, is an immortal vampiretype creature who takes a position in the witch hunts to prey on creative minds. The narrator of 'Famous Monsters' is, among other things, a blacklist survivor. And in 'In the Air', one of the series of 'USSA' alternate histories I've been writing with Eugene Byrne, McCarthy also appears, as a bigoted antidissident hysteric in a communist 1950s America ruled by a Stalinist Al Capone. As the Federal Bureau of Ideology, the FBI appears in another USSA story, 'Tom Joad'.
Having been born in 1959 and thus missed the fifties, I admit that my reimaginings of recent history are drawn from mainly secondary sources, not least the fictions and fantasies thrown up by the 20th Century. In the case of this story, I feel I should add a bibliography of the books I found most useful: Cedric Belfrage's The American Inquisition 19451960: A Profile of the 'McCarthy Era', Peter Biskind's Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties, Lester Cole's Hollywood Red, Otto Friedrich's City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s, Curt Gentry's J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets, Elia Kazan's A Life, Arthur Miller's Timebends, Victor S. Navasky's Naming Names, Herbie J. Pilato's The Bewitched Book, Nora Sayre's Running Time: Films of the Cold War, Nicholas von Hoffman's Citizen Cohn: The Scandalous Life and Times of Roy Cohn, Lawyer, Fixer, Destroyer. Given my professional interests, the list is skewed towards books about the entertainment industry though one of the things I wanted to deal with in 'The McCarthy Witch Hunt' is that for every movie star who suffered, there were thousands of anonymous and innocent teachers, housewives, union men and even communists whose lives were wrecked.
© Kim Newman 1992, 1998.
This story first appeared in Kim's collection The Original Dr Shade (Simon & Schuster).
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