Mob Rule: Part 37
Jack and Lyndon come face to face with the devil called politics and those who wear their mother’s laundry in the Deep South
By John Armstrong
We convened a nervous war council in the station’s coffee shop, with three hours before our train to Tallahassee. The only other departure between then and now would have taken us back through Alabama to Memphis and that didn’t seem like any real improvement over where we were, so we sat tight and waited. I repented of our decision to trim the touring party down for the Deep South campaign. We’d left the bulk of the staff and most of the guns behind us in Texas, the brain trust reasoning a larger party could seem confrontational, particular one with a dozen or so hired gunsels in it.
There’s an old theory that in a dangerous situation, you’re sometimes better off to be unarmed, because it makes you tread carefully where you might not with a gun in your hand. That may be so, but I had two guns under my armpits and I still felt plenty cautious. The first thing I’d done when we got inside the station was go through my bags and put my shoulder harness on. It was hard to keep thoughts of rope and angry men in hoods out of my mind and I’d have been happy to have some shooters with us now whether they hurt anyone’s feelings or not, though when I considered it more rationally, even 100 armed men wouldn’t have been enough to protect us here. We were alive on sufferance, to tell the truth.
It was just past 10 p.m. and the station couldn’t have been less threatening. Overhead fans turned half-heartedly above us and even the flies seemed to be too tired to do anything but meander around on foot. The only sound was the waitress changing filters in the coffee pots and the occasional opening and closing of a door as the baggage room workers went about their jobs. We jumped a little every time they did.
Bobby, Sydney, Lyndon, Vanessa, Otis and I made up the campaign’s executive committee in extraordinary session and the first order of business was, do we continue? No one wanted to say it, but we all had our doubts. We could get on the train and stay on it straight to DC if we chose to.
It was Bobby who settled that issue. He was angrier than I’d ever seen him.
“Wallace and his Dixie League goons are the only ones we’ve had any problem with down here, right? The moderates on both sides, the Negroes, even the segregationist ones, they all want to see the Bosses gone. So the question really is, how strong is the league?”
“Strong enough,” Bird said. “In sheer numbers, they’re outmanned 100-to-1, or more, but they show up in the middle of the night and kill people who disagree with them. You won’t get anyone to say boo, white or black. They’re risking their homes and their families’ lives if they do.”
Lyndon said, “That’s always the way with bullies, which is all they are when you come down to it. They depend on the threat that they have no compunctions about what they’re capable of if you stand up to them.”
I knew exactly how Frank or Meyer – or Cohen – would deal with them. We’d hit them so hard it would be over before they stopped bouncing and as for reprisals? They should think long and hard about that – we could match anything they thought up and likely be nastier about it if we had to. And we didn’t need to threaten women and children, either. We were professionals when it came to violence.
The other thing was, the campaign had already promised multiple people the same jobs, made god-knows how many hollow promises and concessions to its backers with no intention of paying off, outright lied to many of them. I didn’t see how was this any different.
…We could match anything they thought up and likely be nastier about it if we had to. And we didn’t need to threaten women and children, either. We were professionals when it came to violence…
But it clearly was. Bobby said he’d be “goddamned if some guys wearing their mother’s laundry are going to run me off but I just hate to knuckle under to them, even for a few months.” Sydney was slightly more pragmatic about the idea though it was clearly repugnant to him.
“It’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? We find a way to get along with them, even if only for the short term, or we give up the South entirely. That would leave a huge pocket of Mob control, which these guys like Wallace are all fine with since the bosses mostly leave them alone.
“But I don’t think we can pull this off without the whole country. Lyndon?”
Johnson was slowly stirring his coffee, deep in thought. Finally he laid the spoon down on the saucer and said, “I got into this because things in this country run contrary to everything I believe in, and it sticks in my craw to even pay lip service to a bunch that’s as bad or worse than the Mafia or the Mob or whatever you want to call them. I agree with Sydney though — politics is the art of the compromise and this is a hell of a big one, but I can’t see any way around it. Though it makes me ill to say it.
“Right now they think we’re scared to death, so if we come to them willing to deal, I believe they’ll take it at face value. To use Miss Vanessa’s word, they’re an arrogant bunch. Especially when it comes to Yankees – no offense to you all.
“I think we could sell this horse.”
“Al right then,” Sydney said. “Bobby and Lyndon will be the bargaining committee with the League, and you’ll need to bargain just as hard as if we intend to honor the commitment. Just try to keep the greater goal in mind.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Lyndon said. “There’s never been the day George Wallace could get the best of me in a fair dicker. And he knows it, too.”
“And the day after the inauguration, I’m going to mobilize men to march in here and clean these bastards out, for good.” Bobby’s face was hard and determined and if this was entirely what the whole revolution was about, I could have been right behind him. He showed flashes, but that was all.
Lyndon snorted and said, “And in the meanwhile, I’ve got a little something for Bull Connor that’ll take his mind off us some.”
Everybody waited and Lyndon laughed and lifted his cup.
“Eugene – Bull – is a hog farmer by trade, cotton as well but pigs mostly. I know the right folks to have it put around as a verified fact that ol’ Bull enjoys relations of a romantic type with his swine. I know plenty who’d be happy to pass that story on.”
“Jesus Christ,” Bobby said, “you’re going to call him a pigfucker? No-one’s going to believe that.”
“They don’t have to, “ Lyndon said, laughing so hard coffee slopped onto the table. “I just want to hear the sonofabitch deny it.”
Mob Rule is a work of fiction, serialized exclusively in The Ex-Press. To read past instalments, click here.