Cleve was more than merely suspicious when, coming out of the Forty-Second Street Library, he met Stoneham “by chance.” Too many coincidences in the past had made it difficult, if not impossible, for him to believe the encounter fortuitous. They stood on the library steps in the rain, Stoneham trying to hold his black umbrella over both of them, Cleve deliberately keeping clear of it, though the rain drenched his hair and ran down his collar. “What do you want, Paul?” Cleve asked.
“Such a rude way to greet an old friend, Joseph. Not even a hello, or a how are you?” Stoneham was without rancor. “Come have a drink.”
“First tell me what you’re after.”
“The first thing is that you still don’t know enough to get in out of the rain.” Again Stoneham tried to shelter him under the umbrella, but Cleve stepped back until he was underneath the library portico. Stoneham followed, impervious to the muttered complaints and angry stares of those who were waiting out the rain and had to duck out of the way of his umbrella’s spines. “You’re such a distrustful sort, Joseph. Here we run into each other on this lovely spring day, the grace of the gods you might say, and I ask you in a nice friendly way to have a drink. And what do you do? You burke me.”
“Burke? What’s old Edmund got to do with it?”
“The word’s a verb, as I would have thought you’d know. Come along. I’ll tell you about it.” Stoneham took him by the elbow. Cleve suspected that Stoneham, who knew all too well about his fascination with words, had probably prepared the gambit well in advance, but he got under the umbrella and they went down the library steps together. “We’ll just go up to the Club. It’s only a couple of blocks.”
As they walked towards the Harvard Club, Stoneham explained that the verb burke derived from a nineteenth-century Scot named William Burke who’d been executed in Edinburgh for “burking” someone; that is, for smothering an individual to death without leaving marks on the body, so that the corpse could then be sold for medical dissection. The term had come to be more commonly used to mean the act of suppressing someone, or getting rid of someone quickly, so that even if Edmund, the statesman, was better known for his wise reflections on the French and American revolutions, it was William, the murderer’s name, which had passed into the language. Stoneham smiled his perfect smile, and though Cleve took the point immediately, he didn’t like it.
In the anteroom to the Club, the doorman greeted Stoneham by name, but Stoneham declined his offer to take the dripping umbrella to the cloakroom. Instead, Stoneham collapsed it, tied its folds tightly together with the buttoned band, and took it along with them. In the men’s room, as Cleve dried and combed his hair, Stoneham shook the umbrella out and wiped it dry with a face towel. The barman greeted Stoneham by name too, and without direction made him a double martini straight up before taking Cleve’s order. Stoneham led him past the half-dozen tables in the game room, occupied by bridge and backgammon players, into the library where they sat in leather armchairs separated only by an end table where an ugly pewter lamp shed its dim light on a brass ashtray and a worn copy of the Modern Library edition of Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Stoneham laid the umbrella at the side of his chair and with a gesture of his martini glass noted the Gibbon. “You don’t think they’re beginning to lose confidence around here, do you?” and Cleve was forced to smile.
Even sitting there silently sipping his martini, Stoneham seemed to be on fire inside himself. Cleve knew he ought to be grateful to him for he owed Stoneham his life; in fact, he owed Stoneham several lives, yet he found it hard to muster the proper gratitude. Moreover, he sensed that he was about to be put in Stoneham’s debt once more, and he didn’t want any of that. He also disliked Stoneham’s curious way of showing up when he was needed. “That’s why they call us ‘the Friends,’” Stoneham had long before explained to him, pointing out the irony of such a sobriquet being applied to “the Company.” Cleve preferred the simpler “Agency,” because he saw the organization as an almost inevitable instrumentality, a secret means used to act for a more public authority which that public authority could then disown, just as he knew its “agents” as men authorized to act for those others who might not publicly be willing to acknowledge their acts and who, in the event, could therefore more easily repudiate both.
In his Oxford grey flannel suit, his button-down blue shirt and maroon-and-blue striped tie, his heavy English shoes that had just the right dull polish, Stoneham was, as ever, elegant. Even walking through the rain, he had somehow managed not to spatter his shoes or trouser cuffs, and his perfectly creased trousers now exhibited just enough ribbed maroon socks to show they’d been chosen precisely to match the maroon of his tie. In his lapel, as if it too had been worn to match, was the small rosette of the Legion d’honneur. What had changed was his face, harder and warier since Cleve had last seen him, even more disguised by the trimmed blond beard that was darker than Stoneham’s thicker moustache. As usual, his eyes were masked by tinted glasses, now octagonal lenses in delicate gold-wire frames which made him look more the New England lawyer than ever. Stoneham had that same sang-froid Cleve recognized in other upper-class professionals he’d known. Prep schools, Ivy League universities, European travel, thé dansants, balls for debutantes and full-dress proms, gave them a mask of reserve that was as often stiffness as composure. Having taken several gulps of his martini, and pushed the Gibbon volume a bit further from his elbow, Stoneham asked him what he was doing. Looking for work, Cleve replied, no, not that kind of work: he wanted no more jobs for “the Friends.” He mentioned that he’d only recently completed a book on détente, The Anatomy of an Illusion.
“Want us to help?”
Cleve put out both his arms, palms out, as if he were shoving against a wall. “Thanks a lot, but no thanks. Besides, that isn’t the Party line now, is it?”
“Mustn’t mix up your vocabularies, Joseph. You mean that just now it’s not government policy.”
“You want me to teach you the Iron Law of Oligarchy? Remember, Paul, you introduced me to Michels, and I’ve never seen the world quite the same since. You even gave me a copy of the book, unsigned, of course, which I still own and hold dear.”
“You won’t sell it when the hard times come? Jobs are scarce for men with your special talents.”
“So I’ve been finding out. But Sylvia’s still working, and we’ve got a little saved. We’ll manage.”
“Well…” said Stoneham.
The naked threat brought Cleve to his feet. “You put your hands into Sylvia’s professional life, and so help me, Paul, I’ll kill you.”
Stoneham set his martini glass down slowly, plucked the lemon rind and began to chew it. “You’re getting paranoid. What gave you such a crazy idea? I’m Paul Stoneham, your friend, remember? The man you once called your guardian angel. What was the expression you said fit me so perfectly, your Malach-Hamoves?” His Hebrew pronunciation was excellent, and for the first time his grimace revealed that he now understood the insult Cleve had given him.
“That was a bad joke,” Cleve admitted. “More often than not, you’ve been my Angel of Life, but it was also you who put me in peril before you could save me.”
“Jews don’t have angels of life, do they? Their own God, Yahweh, gives life and none else.”
“You’ve been reading up. Business slow?”
“Still that volatile temper, Joseph. After all these years, still ready to kill for your own people,” Stoneham said. “Is it so easy?”
“You know better to ask that. You goyim taught me to kill to survive. Until then, I was just a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn.”
“The hell you were! Quit deluding yourself, Joseph. You had that yetzer hara you told me about, just like the rest of us, goyim and Jews alike.” After a long silence, his powerful fingers tugging at his beard, Stoneham said, “You know Annette and I have separated. A bad time for me, a very bad time.” Stoneham shook himself, then in a quite different voice continued, “Ah, well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, doesn’t it?”
“Is the divorce final?”
“I don’t know. We haven’t been in touch for several months. I’m not even certain where to find her. Lawyers.” Stoneham raised his glass and one of the attendants hurried toward him. Without further instructions, the man returned with a second martini, which Stoneham pensively stirred with his forefinger. It was Annette’s gesture, not his. He held the glass with both hands until the moisture condensing on it ran down his fingertips. “She hates my work, wants no part of it.”
“If you quit, would she come back?”
Stoneham nodded. “Also, she’ll agree to have a child.”
“Then give it up, Paul. Annette is worth it, let alone having a family.”
“You really have changed your mind.”
“Nathan’s the best thing ever happened to me, the first gift in life I ever got free and clear.”
“Better than Sylvia?”
“No woman, surely no wife, is altogether a gift, or ever altogether free and clear, Sylvia no more than Annette.”
“I never can seem to learn that. Or pay the price. I love the work, Joseph, and I’m good at it. I want to go on with it. Besides, what would I do? Where would I go? Back to the law, to making a few rich men richer, and a lot of poor men poorer? To hell with that!” His normally guarded voice rose for a moment, then subsided. “That is not for me.”
“What is, Paul, power?”
“Usefulness, Joseph, usefulness.”
After leaving the Department, Cleve knew how useless he’d felt. History was being shaped without him; he was no part of shaping his own time. Not that he’d seen himself as a colossus on the scene, but he had considered himself a dedicated subordinate figure, and useful. However much he told himself that such notions of indispensability were illusions, even delusions, without them he felt naked, empty, without a public role.
Being jobless, of course, made everything worse. Try as he did, he couldn’t sustain his sense of inherent worth separate from his market value; and he couldn’t see how his life could have any meaning without a job in the public weal. At first, he called friends, colleagues, even acquaintances, in the various fields he’d worked in, in universities and research institutes, in publishing and journalism, and later, in desperation, commercial export-import companies. Finally, he’d even been willing to take a job proofreading in a newspaper or printing firm, but no one would hire him. Some said he was “overqualified”; others told him he had no marketable skills; still others never bothered to return his phone calls or answer his letters. A few took him to lunch in Seventh Avenue restaurants or bars that were off the beaten track, where they would not be likely to meet anyone they knew, and offered to loan him money to tide him over until he found something, but they would do nothing for him in their own firms or the companies they dealt with. Some of them treated him as though they were investing their time or the lunch in a man who was down now, but not yet out, who might in time return to a position of enough power and influence to do them a service. Those he hated most of all. At last, Cleve went to the executive placement agencies, read the want ads, but society seemed to have no room for him, no use he could serve. Finally, he started his own freelance editing and writing business, and in the time left to him when such assignments were scarce—which was often—he plunged into writing his book on détente.
“I’ve got a pretty fair idea of what you went through, Joseph,” Stoneham said.
“How could you?” Stoneham had family money, two trust funds.
“You sent out résumés, people made inquiries, the word got back.”
Cleve could imagine the responses. Very able man. Hardworking. Responsible. But difficult to get along with. Not a team player. Rocks the boat. A loose cannon. “Another of those indispensable illusions, Paul, like my wanting to be useful, to be a significant part of the history of my own time. God, how many times do I have to learn it? Personal relations are like the alliances between states; they are not based on mutual affections but on common interests. What can you do for me? Not what you did last week, but now, today and tomorrow. When you no longer can do things for people, pfft!” Cleve blew the feathers of friendship off his fingertips.
“Yet you believe it would be different for me if I left ‘the Friends.’”
“Right class, right schools, right clothes, right appearance, right name, right religion. Some of the best law firms would snap you up.”
“Most of my fellow lawyers are uncomfortable with what I’ve done, what I’m doing. They don’t like it any better than Annette does. It has to be done, of course. They all acknowledge that, but it’s dirty, sleazy, underhanded. They don’t want to get their hands dirty, at least not that way.”
“Get a few dissident Catholics and Jews to do the dirty work for you?”
“Same old paranoia, Joseph. Societies are wasteful. They can afford to be. Plenty more where I come from, just as there are plenty more where you come from. They can waste me quite as easily as they can—and have—you.”
They’d come to a conversational dead end, and sat silently until Stoneham brought them out of it. “How goes the free-lancing?”
“Blunted. A fair amount of work, but not much cash. A few weeks back I wrote a hoopla speech on ‘people’s capitalism’ for a corporation executive. Not the most interesting or useful assignment, but surely the best paid.”
Stoneham put his hand on Cleve’s forearm, and Cleve covered it with his own. “Thanks, Paul. I’ve begun to think of myself as an ‘untouchable.’”
“Interested in something better?”
“I see the bait. Where’s the hook?”
“We’ve got an interest in a small weekly magazine for politicals, intellectuals, trade unionists, European and other socialists. Maybe 50,000 circulation all told, a third to a half of it foreign. You know the spots: Europe, Central America, India, Ceylon, Japan. The magazine needs an executive editor, number-two slot—no slur intended. Top dog is a Russian émigré, old school Menshevik. Name is Boris Axelrod. Meeting him is like walking into history. Knew lots of the boys who made the Russian Revolution, and lots who didn’t: Miliukov and Kerensky, the ‘saintly’ Martov and Chkeidze, even Trotsky. After the Bolsheviks seized power, Boris escaped the hard way, across Siberia and out into Harbin. An interesting man.”
“Must be getting on, isn’t he?”
“Midsixties, but been around for a long, hard time. Which is why the magazine needs a younger backup editor. Besides, his English is straight out of Gregory Ratoff and Mischa Auer.”
“Why not you? They need someone who knows about the Soviet Union and its history, knows about politics, and can handle the language.”
“But I’m not a socialist.”
“Neither is Boris Axelrod any longer, even if he imagines he is. Job pays less than your salary was in the Department, but I think you might be able to negotiate a bit.”
“You underwriting them? ‘The Friends,’ I mean.”
“In a way.”
“You know,” Stoneham replied, and they laughed together.
And that was how Joseph Cleve came to work at The World Mirror. Stoneham had implied that the magazine would find him useful, but he hadn’t made clear why the Agency might want him there, or what their interest in the magazine was.
The World Mirror’s offices were in a dilapidated eight-story building off Union Square, half a dozen small, dark rooms giving off a single long corridor like a railroad flat, then three rooms where the editorial staff worked. In a private office, as far down the corridor as possible from where the magazine was edited, Boris Axelrod was ensconced in solitary splendor behind a desk piled high with papers and sporting a smoking glass of dark tea in a metal holder, the kind Cleve hadn’t seen since childhood. An emaciated man of middle height, looking far older than his years, Axelrod had a full head of faded yellow hair the same color as his nicotine-stained fingers, and a shower of flaky dandruff on the shoulders of his shiny blue serge suit that had seen better days. His rheumy blue eyes, in his heavy-featured deeply lined and pockmarked face, were sly. He didn’t get up or shake hands, but waved Cleve to a chair. “So you are this miracle fellow, Joseph Cleve?” He pronounced the name Yussif Klif. “I’m being told plenty about you. Mostly is good, but not all.” He rummaged among the chaos of papers on his desk, then held aloft what Cleve recognized as his résumé. “You have past, I see, but what kind of future?”
Cleve agreed that not everything about him was good, but how many saints did Axelrod know? There was no answering smile. Stoneham had warned him that humor was not one of Axelrod’s strong points. “What is not good, Dr. Klif?”
“I don’t like taking stupid orders.”
“You are not liking authority?”
“If it’s intelligent…”
“You’re obeying only when you think is right?”
The temptation to fall into that Akim Tamiroff English and say, “When I’m agreeing” was great, but Cleve resisted it.
“You are socialist?”
“What is independent? Independent is nothing. Without party, a man alone is nothing. Without party discipline, party is nothing.” Cleve heard the echoes of “Solidarity Forever,” but if he had learned nothing else about himself, he’d learned that he remained a party of one. “When majority says, you obey?” Axelrod persisted.
“Here, in World Mirror, I am majority. Socialist majority, of course. I am democracy. You follow my orders.”
L’état, c’est moi; socialisme, c’est moi. A Menshevik with shades of the Bolsheviki, of Lenin and Stalin. The Party, it is I. Democratic centralism, it is I. Socialist democracy, it is I. Even in his reluctance to let the first job opportunity to come his way in more than a year go by, Cleve couldn’t make himself say yes. You’re compromising yourself from the beginning, he berated himself; but he remembered Stoneham’s caution. “Go easy at first. If you can get along with Boris—no easy task—you might be running the magazine in a few years. He’s an old man—and sick.”
“In two weeks,” Boris Axelrod said, “you come to work, Monday morning, nine a.m. sharp. I must give notice to man who works now, so I don’t introduce you. I will show you how to do then.”
“If I could work together with the man who’s leaving for a few weeks, to see his routine, things would be simpler.”
Axelrod had a sudden fit of chest-racking coughing. Noisily slurping his tea, he waited for the paroxysm to subside before saying, “Take my word, with this man would not work.”
Cleve was to learn that “take my word” was one of Boris Axelrod’s favorite assurances, and one which could never be relied on.
The first day Cleve came to work at The World Mirror, he arrived at eight-thirty in the morning to find that all the offices were still closed, except the reception where a fat smiling woman in her fifties sat at her desk. While she continued to type letters, the woman attended to the switchboard and a brass samovar that looked at least a hundred years old. The woman introduced herself as Marya, Axelrod’s secretary, unlocked the door to what she called the “editorial suite,” showed him to his desk and got him all the things he needed to get started. Then she led him back to the reception to go through the formalities of putting him on the payroll. She offered him a cup of coffee, which he declined, then made herself a pot of tea from the samovar, using the same strong black Russian tea from the red tin chest with its Russian brand name Cleve recalled was his father’s favorite. Marya was swift and efficient, and the way she handled his arrival reminded him that changing editors was not an extraordinary event at the magazine. In the two weeks between being hired and coming to work, Cleve had read through almost the entire file of the magazine at the Fifth Avenue Library, noticing that changes on the masthead were frequent, and that no executive editor had lasted for more than two years.
In addition to himself, the staff of editors included a young, ebullient junior editor, Fitzgibbon Williams, just out of Antioch, enjoying his first job in the world of professional journalism; and the book-review editor, a tightly corseted middle-age dumpling of a woman, Anna White, whose smiling, freckled face, with its crown of glossy blonde hair and her mischievous green eyes, made her look like one of those peasant women in the Soviet propaganda posters. But it was the associate editor, with whom Cleve was supposed to work most closely, who shocked him. His name was Leo Fertig, and he was almost the identical twin of the young Stalin, or at least the photographs of him Cleve had seen reproduced from the files of the St. Petersburg Okhrana. With his strong nose, hooded eyes and cruel, sensual mouth, coal-black hair and mustache, right down to the pipe he smoked, Leo Fertig could have passed for the Georgian seminary student Djugashvili. Although Cleve knew Stalin had been dead for almost a decade, having Fertig around made him oddly uneasy. Because of the way their desks were placed, Fertig sat behind him, and a hundred times a day, Cleve heard his wooden matches strike as Fertig lit and relit his pipe. Each time he did so, Cleve flinched. Whenever he glanced over his shoulder, he saw the watchful dark eyes, the angry stare of animal cunning; all he could think of then was Stalin’s orders to his Lubyanka henchmen during the “Doctor’s Plot”: Beat, beat, and beat some more! It sent chills up his spine.
For the first seven issues of the magazine he edited, Cleve arrived at the office at seven in the morning and left at the same time in the evening, working through lunches, and taking manuscripts home to read and edit over weekends. By the time he’d put the seventh issue to bed, he had the mechanics of the magazine under control and a pretty clear idea of how it functioned editorially. The World Mirror had a network of reporters all over the world whom Boris Axelrod called his “cadre.” Sometimes these were trade unionists and socialists, but just as often they were correspondents for wire services, newspapers or other magazines who had something to write that their own publications wouldn’t print, either because it didn’t “fit” their editorial policy or offended some advertiser, or was too long and complex for their audiences. Sometimes it was an article where a reporter simply wanted a byline instead of Time or Newsweek anonymity. The network had remarkable scope and the correspondents displayed astonishing loyalty to Axelrod and the magazine, though he paid them a pittance or nothing at all. Many well-known and well-paid reporters were eager to have their work appear in The World Mirror because they believed the magazine was a “showcase” in which they might influence policymakers and people in “high places.” Consequently, a curious prestige was attached to being published in its pages.
The magazine made no bones about being “socialist,” though except for the fact that a number of Axelrod’s most stalwart contributors were old Mensheviks, and that some of the dullest trade union and Socialist Party conference reports were from time to time made mandatory to publish, Cleve was hard put to find any socialist content in the bulk of its substance, although its forthright anti-Stalinism, as well as its occasional animadversions on capitalism, people’s and otherwise, pleased him.
The magazine also boasted a regular theater and film critic, and a substantial book-review section devoted largely to works on politics, history, economics and international relations, to which in the first press of work, Cleve gave little attention. As he explained to Anna White, whose province those areas were, he would appreciate her continuing as before while he tried to get the “front” of the book refurbished, as Axelrod had commanded as his first priority. When she objected that the cultural “back” of the book interested more people and brought in the only advertising revenue, Cleve promised that he would talk to Boris about changes in the back of the book. Anna White laughed. “You and every other editor who’s ever worked here, Joseph, but Comrade Boris isn’t interested in culture, only in politics.”
Though Fitzgibbon Williams had been on the magazine for only a year, he was a great help. Cheerful, swift, skillful and cooperative, he did much of the makeup and mechanical work, and he helped with the proofreading. So, too, was Anna White good-natured and cooperative, but Leo Fertig performed what he said were his assigned tasks—both Anna and Fitz told him that Fertig had fobbed off many of his assigned chores to Cleve—sullenly and somberly, speaking only when spoken to and then replying in gruff monosyllables. However much Cleve tried to involve him in planning the new format and each issue, Fertig refused. Hour after hour, he sat at his desk, smoking his pipe, refilling it in that interminable ritual of scraping, tapping, stuffing, tamping and lighting that Cleve continued to hear behind his back. It got so that every time Fertig began that ceremony, Cleve had to control his compulsion to look over his shoulder to see where Koba was and what he was up to. That was how he came to think of Fertig, as his Koba, his personal Stalin, walking softly, watching, waiting—but for what? And Cleve remembered the fates of, among others, Trotsky and Bukharin, at Stalin’s bloody hands.
The weekend after he’d put the seventh issue to bed, Cleve went into the office on Saturday when no one was around, and among other things, turned his desk and typewriter to face Fertig’s. The following Monday he was delighted to notice how the change had disconcerted Fertig, so much so that Koba managed to have his pipe go out twice as often as usual and doubled his already frequent visits to the toilet. During one of Fertig’s absences, Fitzgibbon Williams came up to Cleve, congratulated him on turning the desk around, and invited him to lunch.
In a smoky bar and grill on Fourth Avenue, eating hot roast beef sandwiches on kaiser rolls and drinking schooners of icy dark ale, Williams tried to explain what made Fertig tick. After Curt Gulden’s departure—Gulden was Cleve’s predecessor—Fertig expected to become executive editor. “He’s been an assistant editor for ten years, came here straight out of high school, and he told me that Boris promised him. Because you took the job he wants, he hates your guts.”
“Did Axelrod actually promise Fertig the job?”
“Who knows? With Boris you can’t ever tell. He lies all the time, sometimes for the sheer pleasure of lying. In this instance, though, I doubt he promised Leo anything. He hates Leo’s guts even more than Leo hates yours. I’ve heard Boris say so himself a hundred times. When he’s pissed off with Leo, Boris tells him that the only way Leo will become the executive editor is over his dead body.”
It was a declaration Boris Axelrod was to make in identical words when, the next week, he invited Cleve to lunch at The Russian Tea Room. Up to then, Boris had left him pretty much to his own devices except for Boris’s twice-daily stroll through the editorial rooms when, somberly overlooking how busy they were, he would always growl, “Edit! Edit!” as though they were galley slaves, in both senses, and Boris their taskmaster. At least once a day, Axelrod stood staring over his shoulder at some new design and typography Cleve was incorporating into the magazine, or watched him red-ink and cut some manuscript Boris had brought to him to be edited before sending it to the printer, until, with a palsied pat on the shoulder and the undeviating adjuration to “Smarten it up!” Axelrod would return to his office down the hall. It was, as Cleve noted to his wife, an altogether un-socialist way of doing things, and probably the way Axelrod recalled the straw bosses of his youth treating the muzhiks in the Russian fields.
As they sat in one of the red leather booths of The Russian Tea Room, Boris tossed off an icy glass of vodka, wiped the oily film from his lips with a piece of black bread, which he then munched, before saying, “To find good piece of chleb in this country is out of question. Even here, in the best Russian restaurant in New York, cannot find… This chleb better what I buy in grocery what tastes like cardboard. Chew and chew and no taste. Not even Soviets can ruin good Russian black bread and good vodka.” A note of perverse pride in his countrymen shone momentarily in his voice. Boris Axelrod didn’t ask Cleve what he wanted to eat, but ordered for them both: borscht and pirojok, blini and red caviar. Having dismissed the waitress, whose delight in having him speak to her in Russian was plain, Boris said he was more or less satisfied with what Cleve had done so far with The World Mirror. “Maybe,” he hedged, “I expect a little more”—he showed a six-inch space between the extended thumb and forefinger of his left hand, then spread his arms wide—“because they telling me how good you are editing.”
Half in jest, Cleve said, “I’m even better than that.”
Boris’s rheumy blue eyes were cold. “I seen a lot better, so do not be so proud. You are okay, Joseph, all right, but not magnificent like Mischa Ramzin.” Stoneham had forewarned Cleve that all of Boris Axelrod’s past executive editors, except the last one fired and the one presently on board, were the likes of which Boris never expected to see again. Mikhail Ramzin, who had occupied the chair two editors back, was now Warsaw correspondent for the Paris Herald and had, in fact, been one of the magazine’s best editors, if not the very best.
“Mischa, he is born here, but he speaks Russian like intelligent, fluent. His father is my comrade in St. Petersburg, and he teached his sons, even his daughters, to speak, like native. You,” Axelrod asked in Russian, “don’t speak?”
“Only enough to say nyet,” Cleve replied. “I was too stupid to learn from my father, who wanted to teach me.”
“Aha, your father is Russian?”
“From Vilna, when it was Russia, and a socialist.” He didn’t mention that his father had been a member of the Jewish Bund.
“His first name?”
Boris repeated the name, Nathan Cleve, several times, looking puzzled, then snapped his fingers and tapped his temple. “Clothing workers. An organizer. Good, strong against the Communists. He’s not alive?”
“No,” Cleve said.
Axelrod began to denigrate the languages with which Cleve was familiar—French and German, Spanish and Portuguese, Hebrew and Yiddish—and on the last two, he was most scathing. Hebrew was the language of religious fanatics who, while people starved, huddled in their prayer shawls and phylacteries worrying about whose ox was gored, what was kosher, and how many days after a woman’s period she might be considered “clean.” Speaking a language not of this world and its problems, Jews were wedded to an outmoded past and a nonexistent God. Or the others, like those Zionist fanatics for whom nationalism was everything, as if the problems of workers, or ordinary people, or even of Jews, could be solved by colonizing a strip of Mediterranean seacoast and calling it their ancestral homeland. And Yiddish, it was the worst of all the languages: a language of and for slaves, a crude amalgam of German, Polish and Russian, without a genuine grammar, without distinction—a jargon, not a language.
“Boris Axelrod will bait you every time,” Stoneham had warned him. “If he can find a weak spot in you, he’ll keep picking at it until it’s raw and bleeding, just to make you miserable and lose your temper. If you do, he wins.”
“Wins what?” Cleve asked.
“Who knows? He’s a Russian.” It was one of the jokes between them, both of them convinced that Churchill’s precept about the Russians being a riddle swathed in a mystery wrapped in an enigma was arrant nonsense. People who were different from you, whom you didn’t understand, always seemed unfathomable: inscrutable Orientals, mysterious Muslims, enigmatic Indians, and to the French, English and Germans, the incomprehensible Americans.
“Fertig, he is one of the religious,” Boris was saying. “Goes home early on Fridays to pray to his God, and more he is for Palestine than for paradise. But all religious, you don’t watch him, he steals your eyeteeth. Watch him! Watch him!”
“Tell me, Boris, if you kept Fertig on the magazine for ten years, why didn’t you make him executive editor?”
“Never! Not good. Not good enough. No school. Only gymnazium, no more. And no sense, no political…” He paused and rubbed his thumb and forefinger together as if to start a fire of the word he was searching for.
“Savvy?” Cleve supplied.
“So it is. Savvy.” Boris pronounced it savoy.
The waitress arrived with the borscht and pirojok, and Axelrod began to slurp the borscht. After he’d finished and pushed the bowl away, Cleve asked why, if Fertig had so few virtues, Axelrod hadn’t fired him altogether. “So long he does not go above himself, I do not fire him. There’s room for small man to doing small jobs on small magazine.” When the blini and red caviar came, Axelrod lathered both of their dishes with sour cream and commanded, “Taste! Taste! Delicious here, and best in whole city. You will enjoy.”
They discussed the advertising and circulation, about which Boris continued to be evasive. Cleve could get neither circulation figures nor advertising revenue, and wondered how the magazine was kept afloat. Stoneham. The Agency. Undoubtedly footing some of the bill, but all of it? Boris wouldn’t even give him the business costs, only the print order, which Cleve was convinced was substantially greater than their actual circulation, but Boris handled the circulation from his office and through a mailing house whose name he never gave. “How can I be effective unless I know the true financial picture?” he asked.
“Never mind money. I take care of money, circulation. Bring in writers, Joseph, new writers, good ones. Edit! Edit!” He pounded the table so their glasses of tea shook.
“I don’t even know how much I can afford to pay contributors.”
Boris’s avaricious grin bared teeth stained with caviar. “For no money, for so little you can. Fifteen dollars, ten. Say them is honorarium, not payment. Big word, small money. We are small, poor, idealist, socialist magazine. Cannot pay a lot. They must give for the Cause.”
Cleve heard the capital letter clang like a gong on the last word.
Cleve argued for a weekly editorial meeting of all the staff—Fertig, Anna White, Fitzgibbon Williams, and the two of them. After all, The World Mirror was a socialist magazine, wasn’t it, so they should make it as much a cooperative effort as they could. Besides, the others might come up with good ideas for articles, the name of a gifted writer. But Boris would have none of it. “They don’t ask for nothing, except,” he acceded grudgingly, “if Anna wants, books to review. Articles, only me and you, we ask, nobody else ask.”
Axelrod sat back with a cigar, burped, and sighed. “Such a shame it is I do not come here more because food is so tasty. Like being young again to eat such things.” He sighed, and replete, smoked in silence. The heavy aroma of the cigar turned Cleve’s stomach, but yet he felt oddly serene. Perhaps things would work out. Perhaps compromises could be made without his being compromised. Hadn’t Stoneham advised him to bide his time? Hadn’t Sylvia too? He would hold his tongue, keep his perspective, be patient. The magazine was improving. He was bringing in better material, new and better writers; he might even make the magazine a truly significant publication and political influence instead of the faded socialist refraction of the 1930s it had become. And so far Boris had met him halfway, accepted almost every single one of his suggestions for several dozen projected articles, even endorsed his idea for a major debate in the magazine on the “Better Red Than Dead” controversy, which was then simmering. Cleve had had to compromise on who should write in defense of that viewpoint, and there Boris was adamant, insisting on Gerald Pruner, a long-time former member of the American CP in the 1920s and ’30s, one of the Party’s most brilliant theoreticians who was now one of the Communists’ leading antagonists, but a man who used the same savage personal vituperation and invective against them as he had once used in their behalf. Still, though Boris detested him, he allowed Cleve to invite Lord Soames Grenfell, the English historian and philosopher, to argue the other side and to defend the “Better Dead Than Red” viewpoint. Cleve was empowered to write to Grenfell and—even!—offer him a $100 honorarium. Because Pruner was Boris’s personal friend and neighbor, Boris declared that he would ask Pruner personally. Even if you knew you were right, Cleve reminded himself, you couldn’t have everything your own way; you had to compromise, but his reflections left him uneasy.
In the taxi on the way back downtown, Boris patted his shoulder. “I’m already liking you, Joseph Cleve. Just wait. You will, with my teaching, soon become a great editor, so good maybe as Mischa Ramzin, even if you do not speak Russian.”
It might have been Axelrod’s unexpected approval, or the vodka, or both, that made Cleve ask, “Is it my imagination, Boris, or does Leo Fertig look like Stalin?”
Axelrod’s palms came together with dry, abrasive applause. “You see him! Bravo! You are maybe so smart as Mischa Ramzin.” Boris’s eyes grew vague with recollection. “I remember that Iosif Djugashvili, that Georgian bandit, that robber of banks. I well remember him.” His eyes suddenly snapped back into focus. “Leo Fertig is my Stalin,” he said. “He works for me. So I keep him…in his place. Not to worry about Fertig.” His laugh was grating. “With me Leo is already fertig.” He had obviously made the play on words many times before, but he still enjoyed it.
As they drove past the Fifth Avenue Library on their way downtown, Boris’s voice turned darker, shot through with Slavic melancholy. “I am sick old man. Soon I die and leave magazine for you. World Mirror be all yours, Joseph, and with it you can do how you like.” As if reminded of his mortality, he had a harsh coughing spell.
“Not to Leo Fertig?” Cleve asked.
Between paroxysms Boris said with unaccustomed vehemence, “Over my dead body, over my dead body he even becomes executive editor. Take my word, Joseph, never will Leo Fertig become more than he is, never will he have the magazine.”
Neither of them knew it then, but Cleve did take his word: What was prescient was that Leo Fertig was to get The World Mirror exactly as Boris said he would, over Boris Axelrod’s dead body.
Fertig sat bent over his pipe, scraping out the cake, knocking the remains free, tamping new tobacco in the bowl, his voluptuous lips pursed, his beady black eyes slitted: Djugashvili, the bandit’s face. Cleve thought how fine it would be to shave off that greasy black mustache, clean it from that brutal long upper lip, baring it to the world like some naked if obscene political truth, a revelation that Lenin’s Testament had, after all, been correct about Stalin, that Koba was a rude ruffian not to be entrusted with power. But the moment passed, and Cleve called to Fertig, holding up the paste-up pages, asking Fertig to see if he could get some good pictures of Rudolf Hoess from the photo agencies. Leo made believe he hadn’t heard, and after the second call, Cleve figured the hell with it, there wasn’t time to play those games Fertig liked to play. Fertig would never come to him when called, never pick up anything from his desk. Everything had to be brought to him, to his desk. It was Fertig’s little rebellion, his way of demonstrating that he refused to acknowledge Cleve’s authority. Cleve dropped the proofs on Fertig’s desk, explaining that they were chapters from a new book about the former commandant of Auschwitz that he’d managed to get first serial rights for The World Mirror.
Fertig looked at the proofs scornfully. “Already made up?”
“I left room for two half-tones, about sixty picas square each. Reduce what you get to those dimensions. Preferably a couple of scenes of Hoess at the concentration camp, or a closeup of him, if they can find one.”
Fertig went about lighting his pipe, and, when it was glowing, began to read the paste-up. Cleve reminded him that he could read the piece in page proof later, but now they needed the photos to have the engravings made, the paste-up finished, because otherwise they would miss the printer’s deadline.
But Leo wouldn’t be hurried. “I want to read this first. This stuff on Germany is funny, got to be careful with it.” He puffed his pipe, then clenched it in his teeth. “Maybe we shouldn’t use it.”
“I didn’t ask you whether or not we should use it. It’s my decision, not yours.” Cleve heard his voice rising. By changing his desk to face Fertig’s, he now had his back to the door, so he didn’t see Boris Axelrod come into the office until he heard him bark, “What kind of yelling is here? This is a fish market with women? Edit! Edit!”
“Boris, Cleve’s got an article on Auschwitz,” Fertig volunteered.
“I want to read it first.”
“First, first?” Axelrod groaned. “Since when you are an editorial maven?” Only when he was furious did Boris permit himself the use of any Yiddish words, and then only to Fertig. “Listen to me, Leo, the managing editor, he tell you you should get pictures, you get pictures! You don’t argue. You don’t tell Dr. Yussif Klif what he should do.” He wielded that Dr. like a bludgeon. “You do what he says. And quick too.”
“But Boris,” Fertig protested, “you know what’s happening with the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats…”
Axelrod cut him off. “So now you are expert on German politics?” He pronounced the words eggspoyt and joymen. “Since when?” Axelrod turned to Fitzgibbon Williams, saying, “Fitzy, please you should do me a favor. You should call up right away and get some good photographs for the article, and quick also, yes?”
Williams began to call the photo agencies. Fertig, pipe smoke pouring from between his clenched teeth, went down the hall to the bathroom. Axelrod closed one bulging blue eye in a wink, shaking his head until an additional snow of dandruff rained down on his shoulders as he asked, “Fitzy, tell me something. You think maybe when Leo, he goes so much to the toilet, he maybe plays with himself?” Then, with another heavy wink and a spasm of coughing, Boris walked out.
By afternoon they had a dozen photos, none first-rate, but the best they could find on such short notice. Cleve had Fitz size the two they chose, but Fertig remained aloof. Though Cleve called him over to consult on the photos, Fertig remained at his desk, refusing even to look at them. The next day when the proofs came back, Fitz was out for lunch, the printer’s messenger was due in half an hour, and Cleve still had a final article to finish editing before sending it down. So he took the proofs to Fertig and asked him to set them into the Auschwitz pages and write the captions. Fertig slapped his pica rule on his palm and began to remake the pages before laying in the engraver’s proofs and writing the captions. Cleve went back to editing the article. About five minutes before the printer’s messenger was due, Cleve asked Fertig if the proofs were done. “Done. Here. On my desk.” Fertig pointed with his pica rule.
“Would you please bring them over to me?” Cleve asked, “so I can give them a once-over before I put them in the envelope for the printer?”
Fertig did nothing.
“Leo, I’ve still got eight pages to finish on this article. The messenger won’t wait.” Their eyes engaged, but still Fertig made no move.
Cleve finished editing the article, then went to Fertig’s desk for the page proofs of the Hoess chapters. Fertig’s enigmatic expression flickered, a quickly suppressed scornful glance. Cleve went through the proofs, acknowledging to himself that Fertig’s revised makeup was better than the earlier one he’d done himself, until he saw the captions. Under each photo, Fertig had printed the name Rudolf Hess instead of Hoess. Swiftly Cleve penned the o’s in, but Fertig stamped his pica rule down on the sheets so Cleve couldn’t pick them up without tearing them. “What did you do?” he growled.
“You misspelled Hoess’s name in the captions.”
“It’s right. Just here they spell it without the umlaut,” Fertig said.
Only then did Cleve recognize that Fertig thought Rudolf Hoess was Rudolf Hess. “You’re confusing the two men,” Cleve explained patiently. “Rudolf Hess was the number three man in the Nazi Party right after Hitler and Goering. That Hess flew to Scotland in May 1941 to try to negotiate a peace with England. The man in these photos is Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz. These photos are from 1942 and 1943”—the dates of the photos were printed clearly on their backs—“and by that time Rudolf Hess was in an English prison.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Fertig said.
“Leo, I remember Hess’s flight in May 1941. You were too young to remember it.”
“You’re wrong. It’s the same man.”
Cleve slapped the pica rule off the page proofs. “You’re too stupid even to learn anything,” he said.
“I don’t want to learn anything from you. You don’t have anything to teach me. I’ve been here for ten years, and I know how this magazine should run. I don’t have to take orders, or anything else from you.”
“You’re an ignorant, unpleasant sonofabitch, Fertig.”
“Watch the way you talk to me,” Fertig warned, coming out from behind his desk, his fists balled. “I don’t take any crap from you.”
Only then did Cleve let the anger burn away his restraint, and he found himself shouting, “For months I’ve been trying to get along with you, to get you to cooperate because we’re putting out a magazine together, and we need every set of hands. But you’re too big a bastard to understand being treated decently. Okay, if you won’t take orders from me because I know more than you—yes, I do—or because I’m a better, far more experienced editor and political analyst than you are—yes, I am—then you’ll take orders because I’m your boss. From now on, when I tell you to do something, you do it! None of your guff and none of your sulking. And if you don’t, so help me, I’ll fire your ass out of here so fast you won’t have time to light your pipe.
“What’s more, you come at me with your fists like that once more, and I’ll knock you ass over teakettle.”
The voice from behind them was guttural, furious. “And if Dr. Klif is not firing you, Leo, I will myself make you fertig. What is this yelling, fighting? This is Madison Square Garden?”
Fertig, his fists trembling at his sides, shouted, “Your Dr. of Philosophy, Boris, your big shot editor, doesn’t know German spelling, what an umlaut is for.”
So Cleve had to explain their disagreement, which he otherwise wouldn’t have done. Looking puzzled, Axelrod reached for the proofs, glanced at the photos and captions, then turned to Fertig. “Schmuck! Idiot!” he roared. “Hess, he takes his aeroplane to England in May 1941 so he should make peace with the reactionaries, the Cliveden Set, so Hitler and his generals, they shouldn’t have to fight a two-front war against England in the west and Russia in the east. Next month, in June 1941, when Hess fails, Hitler he sends the Wehrmacht into Russia without peace with England. This man, this Hoess, is another Nazi, a smaller fry.”
Cleve had taken down one of the encyclopedias from the bookcase, found the section on Hess, and handed it to Fertig, but Fertig waved it aside. “I know you’re wrong,” he repeated.
“Putz!” Axelrod bawled. “Open up your dumb face and look on what the book says. Learn something. Better you should spend Saturdays in the library, you should read maybe a little history, than praying in the synagogue, or reading your Talmud. From that you maybe would learn something better than what is kosher to eat.”
Reluctantly, Fertig took the book and read, smoke trickling out of his nostrils as if some fire burned uncontrollably inside him. Cleve recognized that if before Leo Fertig had been an opponent, he was now an irreconcilable enemy. Nothing would concentrate his hatred so much as being made a fool of, except making a fool of himself.
It took almost a year before Cleve clashed with Boris Axelrod full tilt. “He’s a strange old fellow,” Stoneham told Cleve during one of the occasional lunches they had at a vegetarian Jewish-style restaurant off Union Square, where Stoneham loved to meet because he considered the place echt-New York Jewish. He did not, of course, come to the office to meet anyone because that would have violated security. No one was to know about the Agency’s connection to the magazine, or to Cleve. Stoneham enjoyed watching those among the restaurant’s clientele who ate in caftans, their earlocks and fringes displayed, and he always ordered such “echt-Jewish” dishes as noodle kugel, stuffed cabbage, or cheese blintzes. “Boris has taken a liking to you, Joseph, but he complains that his board doesn’t trust you.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you’re neither an old socialist nor a trade unionist.”
“My father was both.”
“Ah, but you can’t travel on your father’s bona fides, not with these boys.”
After Stoneham carefully chewed his kugel, discoursing on how white and black raisins improved it, how the crust should be browned and crisp, he inquired, “This Leo Fertig, what’s he like? I know, I know, he looks like Stalin. I’ve heard that a hundred times from Boris, but what’s he really like?”
“Cunning, rude, brutal, poorly educated, a natural dogmatist, and ravenously ambitious.”
“Not only looks like Stalin, he sounds like him.”
“Stalin, Paul, had genius, an evil genius surely, but a great murderous genius for politics. Leo Fertig’s a petty, small-minded makeup man on a small obscure magazine.”
“So was Stalin once.”
“However catastrophically, he transformed a sixth of the land surface on the earth. Fertig walks a narrow rut.”
“The Board wants Fertig to replace Boris.”
“Why would they want him? He’s really both stupid and ignorant, not to mention unpleasant.”
“Because, like them, he’s a small man. Because he’s theirs. They don’t like the way you’ve run the magazine.”
Cleve displayed more astonishment than he felt. “I can’t imagine why? I’ve improved the quality of the magazine, and Boris tells me I’ve even increased circulation…”
“Not enough articles on the Socialist party in Japan or Ceylon, the trade union conferences in Mexico.”
“They want to keep the magazine parochial, small-minded.”
“They want to keep it theirs, and they are parochial and small-minded.” Stoneham pushed his plate away, leaving his kugel half finished. “The basic thing is you don’t take orders.”
“I take suggestions, Paul, not orders.”
“Then the years haven’t taught you enough. You can’t stay inside and outside forever.”
“I am what I am.”
“Only your Jehovah can say that. Doesn’t Boris give you orders? And don’t you listen when he does?”
“I listen, but I don’t always obey. And sometimes I think that shabby old man is interested only in living out his days comfortably. Whatever he once was, he seems to me a complete cynic now.”
“You’re wrong, Joseph. Boris really believes in a ‘third-force,’ a Social-Democratic Left that will negotiate a bridge between tyrannical Stalinism and a callous capitalism, and humanize both of them.”
“You believe that’s possible, Paul?”
“Why does the Agency give them money, then?”
“They’re useful in parts of the political spectrum our people normally wouldn’t have access to.”
“Don’t you have anything to say about policy?”
Stoneham looked up at the painted tin ceiling, watched the old style electric fans lift the long cones of fly-specked flypaper. “Only with Boris,” he said finally.
“The Board doesn’t know?”
By ignoring the question, Stoneham gave him an answer. Eyes only. As usual. “Boris has a high regard for you,” Stoneham continued after a time, “considering, of course, that you are a Jew, and,” they chorused together, “you’re not so good yet an editor as Mischa Ramzin.” They laughed. “Why don’t you make some effort to butter up those Board people?”
“They won’t talk to me. I’ve tried. Fertig’s their man. They know him. They like him. They’re comfortable with him. They trust him, fools that they are. When they come into the office, which isn’t often, they barely nod to me. They go right to his desk and make themselves at home.”
“We would like to keep you there, Joseph. That’s why I brought you in.”
“Don’t you have some say in that?”
“Not if Boris Axelrod dies.”
“You sure he’s so sick?”
“We’ve talked to his doctor. He doesn’t have too much time left.”
After that, Cleve tried harder, invited board members to lunch, sent them articles in page proof he thought might interest them, but the effort proved futile. Two board members never bothered to return his several phone calls. Three others told him straight out they thought him an excellent editor, undoubtedly better than Fertig, better even that Mikhail Ramzin one assured him, but they wanted “one of their own” in the editor’s chair. Another accused him of making the magazine too interesting, insisting perfectly seriously that a socialist magazine should be dull. “If they wanted to read lively,” he remarked scornfully, “they should read the lies in Time Magazine.”
All the board members were rabid because he’d invited some ex-Communists who were now anti-Communists to write for the magazine. At most these numbered half a dozen, but the Board members were especially incensed by them. Such men couldn’t be trusted, they maintained. How could you know if they were KGB plants to infiltrate the socialists? Since they had once been part of the apparat, they were permanently spoiled, rotten. Nothing Cleve said about how many people went into the CP for idealistic reasons, were soon disenchanted and dropped out, and how remarkable their insights were precisely because they had been inside, convinced the board members. They remembered too well being called “Social Fascists” by those “Stalinist swine.” They ticked off on their work-calloused fingers every socialist persecuted or murdered by the Communists from the Constituent Assembly to Erlich and Alter.
“Blame them, you can’t,” Boris maintained at their monthly lunch at The Russian Tea Room, when over dessert Cleve raised the question.
“I don’t blame them, Boris, but you don’t run a good magazine on feelings, you run it on brains.”
“Feelings also is important.” Meditatively, Boris blew on his tea, his drooping mustache already sopping, his eyeglasses steamed. “For a few months, forget about them, hah?”
“And then what?”
“And then,” Axelrod sipped his tea, “we’ll see. What you done with the board members, I appreciate, Joseph. You shouldn’t be discouraged. They don’t know yet who you are. When they know, they will change their minds. They will approve, don’t worry.”
“I’ve tried everything, Boris, but Leo’s their man.”
“Just leave it to Axelrod. Fertig will be fertig.” He liked repeating that refrain, but now it lacked conviction.
“You’re fooling yourself, Boris. Believe me, one way or another, they will make Fertig editor.”
“Over my dead body,” Axelrod said.
The Saturday Cleve took his son Nathan to New York to see a display of electric trains at the Lionel Building, he decided, while they were downtown, to show Nathan where he worked. He was not sure Nathan was old enough to remember later anything he was shown now, but he himself still recalled clearly the times his father had taken him to the places where his father had worked, those Seventh Avenue sweatshops with lines of sewing and pressing machines, cutting tables, piles of cut cloth for pieceworkers, racks of finished garments. He hadn’t been much older than Nathan was now, and he had never forgotten. Nathan asked if this was where he went when he “went to the office.” Cleve told him that it was, explaining how the magazine worked, the assignment board, the correspondence and article files, the library, the layout sheets and illustrations, even explained how a pica rule worked. When Nathan wanted to work the electric typewriter, Cleve went to his desk to get a sheet of paper and saw that one of the drawers had been crudely jimmied. Someone had pried it open, and nothing in it was missing except Lord Grenfell’s article. Only one person could have jimmied the desk: Boris Axelrod. “Why, Boris, did you have to do that?” Cleve asked himself. Earlier in the week, Boris had asked to see the Grenfell manuscript and Cleve had refused him. “You are not letting me—me!—see an article for the magazine?”
“After Professor Pruner’s piece is in, you can see them both.”
“What Pruner has to do with anything?”
“Boris, don’t take me for a fool. You and Pruner are old friends. He’s your neighbor. You want to give him Grenfell’s piece before he writes his own so he’ll have a little advantage.”
“I would do that?” Boris gave his most charming, tobacco-stained smile of innocence. “What’s so bad, Joseph, if I’ll give Gerald a little help? He’s one of us.”
There it was again. One of us. And Cleve knew he was never one of them, always the party of one, the minority individual. “It’s not fair,” he replied.
“Fair? What is fair? That Grenfell because he is Lord, he should convince the whole world it should lie down for the Soviets? That’s fair?”
“Boris, Grenfell is not pro-Soviet.”
“How you can know what is in Lord’s heart? Grenfell says better Red than dead, no?”
“That’s not what his essay says.”
“This you will regret, Joseph.”
“Whatever I do, Boris, I will regret it.”
After Nathan was asleep, Cleve told Sylvia what Axelrod had done. She advised him to overlook it. “After all, Joseph, he is the editor and publisher. He’s entitled to see all the submissions. It’s his magazine.”
“The editorial responsibilities are mine. He’ll show Grenfell’s work to Pruner so Pruner can slaughter him in the debate.”
“Grenfell’s a great scientist, a Nobel Laureate, not a babe in the woods.”
“Grenfell debates like a gentleman. Pruner argues like the former CP agitprop guy he was. He knows every dirty trick in the book, and uses all of them now against what seem to him friends of the USSR, as once he used them against the enemies of the USSR.”
“Isn’t that what you wanted, a debate? Let them show their worst and best sides, in an argument and in character. Your readers will benefit.” Her smile was tentative. “Do you want to stay at The World Mirror?”
“Not if it is going to be like this.”
“Not even if you succeed Mr. Axelrod?”
“Not if this is what I have to do to succeed him.”
“The Board members will want you out. Fertig wants you out. If you alienate Boris Axelrod, where are you?”
“Out.” For a moment he wanted to tell her about the Agency and Stoneham, but he knew that was out of bounds, and a part of him was ashamed to admit that that was how he had gotten the job in the first place.
“I don’t understand you, Joseph.”
To end the conversation, Cleve replied, “Sometimes I don’t understand myself,” but even as he spoke the words, he knew he didn’t believe them.
In the office the next day, his desk drawer was shut tight, and when he opened it, Cleve found Grenfell’s manuscript in it. It was then he knew what he had to do. He waited for Boris to give him Pruner’s article, which Axelrod did the following week; then Cleve made copies of both articles, gave the Grenfell copy to Axelrod as if he believed Boris had never seen it or given it to Pruner. And immediately thereafter he mailed a copy of Pruner’s piece to Grenfell in Cambridge, with a brief note saying he was enclosing the Pruner article because he’d given a copy of Grenfell’s essay to Pruner. If Lord Grenfell wished to make emendations or additions, Cleve concluded, the deadline was in three weeks. In a fortnight, Cleve received a polite, handwritten note from Grenfell stating that he thought such an exchange of articles ought fairly to have waited until after they were published, but he was willing nonetheless to let his piece stand as it was. He didn’t think he cared to use either the personal slanders or the political vitriol Professor Pruner indulged in, nor to answer them.
Six weeks later, when the two articles appeared, the debate was headline news all over the world. Boris came into the editorial rooms with a sheaf of telegrams in hand, his yellow smile pasted on his face, his pain-filled eyes joyous. “All we hit!” he chortled. “All! Wire services, features, everybody wants we should give them permission to reprint Pruner’s piece.”
“Just the Pruner piece, Boris?” Fitz inquired mischievously.
“Fitzy, you want you should spoil my day?”
“Just asking,” Fitz replied, “just asking.”
Mostly, Cleve was persuaded, it was not the quality of the articles, nor even the conflict of personalities involved; it was the nature of the debate. Better Dead Than Red was the central issue of their time, and Lord Grenfell’s position, simply summarized, was that it was preferable for humankind to survive as a species, even as slaves for a time if that was necessary, because change was inevitable and “history showed” that time eventually eroded even the most repressive tyrannies. Pruner attacked Grenfell for “surrendering to Bolshevism and Soviet tyranny,” accused him of being a dupe, of adopting the very same view of ends and means, of historical change, that the Stalinists did, the willingness to sacrifice one, or several, generations in order to hope to reestablish freedom and democracy at some unknowable and unforeseeable future. Grenfell believed that even the conquest of the planet by Communism, though undesirable, was better than reducing the earth and humankind to radioactive cinders. Somehow, in time, freedom and democracy would be rekindled, reinvented, would reassert themselves, so Better Red Than Dead. Pruner insisted that the “survival of the free world” was the quintessential question; and the only way to keep the planet from a nuclear Armageddon was to resist the Soviet thrust for world hegemony with every ounce of Western wealth, strength, courage and arms. Better Dead Than Red, although Pruner avoided framing it in those words.
The debate was Cleve’s greatest success as the editor of The World Mirror, greater, even Boris admitted, than anything Mikhail Ramzin had ever achieved in his legendary career, the greatest coup the magazine had brought off in more than thirty-five years. Almost everyone congratulated him, and Cleve even received notes from two of the Board members and a phone call from Stoneham, but not a word from Leo Fertig, whose scowl was more pronounced, who smoked his pipe more and more, and went to the toilet more frequently; like the Malach-Hamoves, he sat there at his desk biding his time.
And his time was not long in coming. A month later, when the furor over the debate articles had begun to die down, when the checks for the reprint rights and congratulatory letters had begun to subside, Cleve went to the toilet to wash up before going to lunch and found Boris Axelrod on the floor outstretched in front of one of the urinals. Cleve yelled until Fitzgibbon Williams came running, and Cleve told him to phone for an ambulance and the police. Cleve folded his jacket under Boris’s head, loosened his clothes, brushed the lank yellow hair back from over his eyes and forehead and tried to comfort him, but Boris, his eyes rolling wildly in his head, his fingers clenching weakly, kept murmuring, “Not fertig, not fertig.” Whether he didn’t want to die, or didn’t want Leo to become executive editor of the magazine, Cleve couldn’t tell.
It was fifteen minutes before the ambulance from St. Vincent’s arrived, but by then Boris’s eyes had rolled up into his head, and even before they started the oxygen, the injections into that withered arm’s ropy blue veins, Cleve knew Boris Axelrod was dead. Numb, he watched them tear Boris’s clothing open to bare his sunken chest, hit it with the electric paddles, once, twice, three times, and as Boris’s emaciated body jerked, Cleve felt each shock in his own flesh. Nothing helped. Boris Axelrod was dead. Fertig.
After that, Cleve knew it was only a matter of time. At Boris’s funeral, he was not asked to speak, but Fertig was singled out as one of those privileged to deliver a eulogy, though it was widely known that Boris loathed him. Cleve had thought Boris a cunning, likeable scoundrel, and had been genuinely fond of him, grateful for Boris’s brusque kindnesses, fascinated by the events and characters of his Russian past when he could be persuaded to talk about them. He felt Boris’s death more as a personal than a professional loss, even as he was certain that Boris’s prophecy would prove true: Over Boris’s dead body, Leo Fertig would now become his heir to the magazine, and he, Cleve, would be fertig. Through it all, Boris’s last enigmatic words kept running through his mind. “Not fertig? Not Fertig?” When six weeks later, as Cleve continued to go through the editorial motions, and after what the Board evidently considered a “decent interval,” a big, bluff, dictatorial trade unionist named Sam Melson, who had hated Boris almost as much as Boris despised him, came to see Cleve during lunch hour when both Fertig and Fitz were out, and Anna White was visiting a publisher, Cleve knew what to expect. Melson told him he was “being relieved of the editorship,” that the Board would see to it that he was given two months’ severance pay, but that they wanted his desk cleared, his keys turned over to Marya, and him out of the building by the end of the working day.
Contemptuously, Cleve asked him, “And you’re a good trade unionist? A lifelong defender of worker’s rights?” But the irony was lost on Melson. “Would you like to tell me, Sam, why I’m being let go?”
“To you, I’m Mister Melson.”
“Then to you I’m Doctor Cleve.”
“That’s why I’m firing you. Because you don’t know your place, how to take orders, because you don’t have no respect, because you’re not a team player. Because…because…you’re not one of ours.”
“And that’s what you call trade union ethics? Socialist principles?”
“I don’t have nothing to apologize to you, and I don’t have to explain the Board’s decision to you either,” Melson yelled, his face red with anger. “You have authority problems, authority problems.” But Cleve knew such words and ideas were not Melson’s, though they might easily be Professor Pruner’s or even Leo Fertig’s.
Blustering, Melson added, “Don’t think we don’t know what sneakiness you made with Grenfell. We saw your letter. Fertig showed us…” Then he realized he’d made a mistake, bit his lip, and shut up. Cleve was not all that much surprised that Fertig had gone through his correspondence file, but now he wondered if it had been Boris who jimmied his desk drawer or Fertig? Boris who’d given Grenfell’s article to Pruner or Fertig? Probably he’d never know.
Cleve cleared out his desk, packed his personal belongings in two cardboard cartons and sealed them up for Marya to mail to his home. All of it took less than an hour. By then Fitz had returned, and Cleve told him what happened.
“I’m leaving too,” Fitz declared.
“Not on my account, Fitz. You might have some opportunities here, and another year of experience on the magazine will help you. Just don’t stay too long.”
“Without you, Joseph, and without Boris, this isn’t a place I could work in,” Fitz replied.
About fifteen minutes later Fertig returned, eyes shining, face split into a grin he could barely contain. He came directly up to Cleve, his hand outstretched, saying, “I’m sorry you’re going, Cleve, but I guess the best man won.”
For just a fraction of a moment, Cleve didn’t believe what he was hearing, seeing. Then, furiously, he hit Fertig in the belly and watched Fertig’s astonished face spit out his pipe. Gasping, he crumpled to his knees. It took all the rest of his self-control in that turbulent red haze through which Cleve was seeing not to kick in Fertig’s Stalin face, but he restrained himself. After turning his keys in to Marya, who tearfully embraced him and lamented, “First Boris, now you,” Cleve walked stiffly down the stairs, avoiding the elevator, and thinking that maybe Fertig was right after all, that the “best man” had indeed won—but at least he had not been away duck hunting, even if he knew that Stoneham and “the Friends” would find this the last straw.