“I’ve known that son of a bitch was a son of a bitch longer than anybody,” Potter muttered. He was a tall, well-made man in his late forties, whose spectacles made him look milder than he really was. Behind those lenses—these days, to his disgust, bifocals—his gray eyes were hard and cold and watchful.
He’d first met Featherston when they both served in the Army of Northern Virginia, himself as an intelligence officer and the future president of the CSA as an artillery sergeant in the First Richmond Howitzers. He’d seen even then that Featherston was an angry, embittered man.
Jake had had plenty to be bitter about, too; his service rated promotion to officer’s rank, but he hadn’t got it. He’d been right in saying his superior, Captain Jeb Stuart III, had had a Negro body servant who was also a Red rebel. After the revolt broke out, Stuart had let himself be killed in battle rather than face a court-martial for protecting the black man. His father, General Jeb Stuart, Jr., was a power in the War Department. He’d made sure Featherston never saw a promotion for the rest of the war.
You got your revenge on him, Potter thought, and now he’s getting his—on the whole country.
He turned the corner onto Montague Street, a boulevard of expensive shops. A lot of them had flags flying to celebrate yesterday’s inauguration. Most of those that did flew not only the Stars and Bars but also the Freedom Party flag, a Confederate battle flag with colors reversed: a star-belted red St. Andrew’s cross on a blue field. Few people wanted to risk the Party’s wrath. Freedom Party stalwarts had broken plenty of heads in their fifteen-year drive to power. What would they do now that they had it?
The fellow who ran Donovan’s Luggage—presumably Donovan—was finding out the hard way. He stood on the sidewalk, arguing with a couple of beefy young men in white shirts and butternut trousers: Party stalwarts, sure enough.
“What’s the matter with you, you sack of shit?” one of them yelled. “Don’t you love your country?”
“I can show how I love it any way I please,” Donovan answered. That took guts, since he was small and skinny and close to sixty, and faced two men half his age, each carrying a long, stout bludgeon.
One of them brandished his club. “You don’t show it the right way, we’ll knock your teeth down your stinking throat.”
A gray-uniformed policeman strolled up the street. “Officer!” the man from the luggage shop called, holding out his hands in appeal.
But he got no help from the cop. The fellow wore an enamelwork Party flag pin on his left lapel. He nodded to the stalwarts, said, “Freedom!” and went on his way.
“You see, you dumb bastard?” said the stalwart with the upraised club. “This is how things are. You better go along, or you’ll be real sorry. Now, are you gonna buy yourself a flag and put it up, or are you gonna be real sorry?”
Clarence Potter trotted across Montague Street, dodging past a couple of Fords from the United States and a Confederate-built Birmingham. “Why don’t you boys pick on somebody your own size?” he said pleasantly, stowing his glasses in the inside pocket of his tweed jacket. He’d had a couple of pairs broken in brawls before the election. He didn’t want to lose another.
The stalwarts stared as if he’d flown down from Mars. Finally, one of them said, “Why don’t you keep your nose out of other people’s business, buddy? You won’t get it busted that way.”
In normal times, in civilized times, a swarm of people would have gathered to back Potter against the ruffians. But they were ruffians whose party had just won the election. He stood alone with Donovan. Other men on the street hurried by with heads down and eyes averted. Whatever happened, they wanted no part of it.
When Potter showed no sign of disappearing, the second ruffian raised his club, too. “All right, asshole, you asked for it, and I’m gonna give it to you,” he said.
He and his friend were bruisers. Potter didn’t doubt they were brave enough. During the presidential campaign, they’d have tangled with tougher foes than an aging man who ran a luggage store. But they knew only what bruisers knew. They weren’t old enough to have fought in the war.
He had. He’d learned from experts. Without warning, without tipping off what he was going to do by glance or waste motion, he lashed out and kicked the closer one in the crotch. The other one shouted and swung his bludgeon. It hissed over Potter’s head. He hit the stalwart in the pit of the stomach. Wind knocked out of him, the man folded up like his friend. The only difference was, he clutched a different part of himself.
Potter didn’t believe in wasting a fair fight on Freedom Party men. They wouldn’t have done it for him. He kicked each of them in the face. One still had a little fight left, and tried to grab his leg. He stomped on the fellow’s hand. Finger bones crunched under his sole. The stalwart howled like a wolf. Potter kicked him in the face again, for good measure.
Then he picked up his fedora, which had fallen off in the fight, and put it back on his head. He took his spectacles out of the inside pocket. The world regained sharp edges when he set them on his nose again.
He tipped the fedora to Donovan, who stared at him out of enormous eyes. “You ought to sweep this garbage into the gutter,” he said, pointing to the Freedom Party men. The one he’d kicked twice lay still. His nose would never be the same. The other one writhed and moaned and held on to him- self in a way that would have been obscene if it weren’t so obviously filled with pain.
“Who the dickens are you?” Donovan had to try twice before any words came out.
“You don’t need to know that.” Serving in Intelligence had taught Potter not to say more than he had to. You never could tell when opening your big mouth would come back to haunt you. Working as a private investigator, which he’d done since the war, only drove the lesson home.
“But . . .” The older man still gaped. “You handled them punks like they was nothing.”
“They are nothing, the worst kind of nothing.” Potter touched the brim of his hat again. “See you.” He walked off at a brisk pace. That cop was liable to come back. Even if he didn’t, more stalwarts might come along. A lot of them carried pistols. Potter had one, too, but he didn’t want anything to do with a shootout. You couldn’t hope to outsmart a bullet.
He turned several corners in quick succession, going right or left at random. After five minutes or so, he decided he was out of trouble and slowed down to look around and see where he was. Going a few blocks had taken him several rungs down the social ladder. This was a neighborhood of saloons and secondhand shops, of grocery stores with torn screen doors and blocks of flats that had been nice places back around the turn of the century.
It was also a neighborhood where Freedom Party flags flew without urging or coercion from anybody. This was the sort of neighborhood stalwarts came from; the Party offered them an escape from the despair and uselessness that might otherwise eat their lives. It was, in Clarence Potter’s considered opinion, a neighborhood full of damn fools.
He left in a hurry, making his way east toward the harbor. He was supposed to meet a police detective there; the fellow had news about warehouse pilferage he would pass on—for a price. Potter had also fed him a thing or two over the years; such balances, useful to both sides, had a way of evening out.
“Clarence!” The shout made Potter stop and turn back.
“Jack Delamotte!” he exclaimed in pleasure all the greater for being so unexpected. “How are you? I haven’t seen you in years. I wondered if you were dead. What have you been doing with yourself?”
Delamotte hurried up the street toward him, his hand outstretched and a broad smile on his face. He was a big, blond, good-looking man of about Potter’s age. His belly was bigger now, and his hair grayer and thinner at the temples than it had been when he and Potter hung around together. “Not too much,” he answered. “I’m in the textile business these days. Got married six years ago—no, seven now. Betsy and I have a boy and a girl. How about you?”
“Still single,” Potter said with a shrug. “Still poking my nose into other people’s affairs—sometimes literally. I don’t change a whole lot. If you’re . . .” His voice trailed off. Delamotte wore a handsome checked suit. On his left lapel, a Freedom Party pin shone in the sunlight. “I didn’t expect you of all people to go over to the other side, Jack. You used to cuss out Jake Featherston just as much as I did.”
“If you don’t bend with the breeze, it’ll break you.” Delamotte shrugged, too. “They’ve been coming up for a long time, and now they’re in. Shall I pretend the Whigs won the election?” He snorted. “Not likely!”
Put that way, it sounded reasonable enough. Potter said, “I just saw a couple of Freedom Party stalwarts getting ready to beat up a shopkeeper because he didn’t wan...
Revue de presse
“Turtledove [is] the standard-bearer for alternate history.”
“Turtledove’s Great War/American Empire series is an epic achievement, a meticulously worked-out alternate history of the 20th century’s great two-act tragedy. . . . Bravo! A fine performance by a master-craftsman.”
Author of Island in the Sea of Time
American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold
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“We can be assured Turtledove will deliver on the promise of this uncompromising series.”
American Empire: Blood & Iron
“Anyone who loves a good story with surprising plot twists and vivid characters will love this book. Anyone who loves history will love what Harry Turtledove can do with it.”
New York Times bestselling author of Red Phoenix
“A masterpiece . . . Harry Turtledove’s novels are never as tense as when war looms on the horizon, threatening to break out but not yet arrived. [American Empire: Blood & Iron] covers some of the most treacherous ground of recent history, and it rarely puts a foot wrong . . . Sure to both please and terrify.”
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From the Hardcover edition.