Page 33 of Overload

If you have to, get rid of her. There are easy ways."

"She'll be all right. Besides, she's useful." Georgos was uncomfortable under Birdsong's scrutiny and changed the subject. “The truck depot last night went well. You saw the reports?"

The big man nodded grudgingly. “They should all go that way. There isn't time or money to waste on bummers."

Georgos accepted the rebuke silently, though he didn't have to. He was the leader of Friends of Freedom. Davey Birdsong's role was secondary, as a link to the outside, particularly to those supporters of revolution-"drawing room Marxists"-who favored active anarchy but didn't want to share its risks. Yet Birdsong, by his nature, liked to appear dominant, and sometimes Georgos let him get away with it because of his usefulness, particularly the money be brought in.

Money was the reason right now for avoiding an argument; Georgos needed more since his earlier sources had abruptly dried up. His bitch of a mother, the Greek movie actress who had supplied him with a steady income for twenty years, had apparently hit hard times herself; she wasn't getting film parts anymore because not even makeup could conceal the fact she was fifty, her young goddess looks gone forever. That part Georgos was delighted about and hoped things would get progressively worse for her. If she were starving, he told himself, he wouldn't give her a stale biscuit. Just the same, a notification from the Athens lawyers-impersonal as usual-that no more payments would be made into his Chicago bank account. Georgos' cash needs involved current costs and future plans. One project was to build a small nuclear bomb and explode it in or near the headquarters of Golden State Power & Light. Such a bomb, Georgos reasoned, would destroy the building, the exploiters and lackeys in it, and also much else around-a salutary lesson to the capitalist oppressors of the people.

At the same time, Friends of Freedom would become an even more formidable force than now, to be treated with awe and respect.

The idea of creating an atomic bomb was ambitious and perhaps unrealistic-though not entirely. After all, a twenty-one-year-old Princeton student named John Phillips had already demonstrated in a much publicized term paper that the "how to" details were available in library reference materials to anyone having the patience to assemble them. Georgos Winslow Archambault, steeped in physics and chemistry, had obtained all the information he could about Phillips' research and had built up a file of his own, also using library data. One non-library item in the file was a ten-page handbook put out by California's Office of Emergency Services and directed to police agencies; it outlined ways of dealing with atomic bomb threats and that, too, had provided useful information. Georgos was now close, he believed, to creating a detailed working drawing. However, actual construction of a bomb would require fissionable material, which would have to be stolen, and that would take money-a lot, plus organization and luck. But it just might be done; stranger things had happened.

He told Birdsong, "Since you've brought up time and money, we need some long green now."

"You'll get it." Birdsong permitted himself a wide smile, the first since coming in. "And plenty. I found another money tree."


Nim was shaving. It was shortly after 7 am on a Thursday in late August.

Ruth had gone downstairs ten minutes earlier to prepare breakfast. Leah and Benjy were still sleeping. Now Ruth returned, appearing at the bathroom door with a copy of the Chronicle-West.

"I hate to start your day off badly," she said, "but I know you'll want to see this."

"Thanks." He put down his razor and took the newspaper with wet 1hands, scanning the front page. Below the fold was a single-column item:

GSP & L,

Rate Hike


Electricity and gas rates are not going up.

This was revealed yesterday afternoon by the California Public Utilities Commission in announcing its turndown of an application by Golden State Power & Light for a 13 percent increase in gas and electric rates which would bring the giant utility another $580 million annual revenue.

"We do not see the need for an increase at this time," the PUC stated in a decision arrived at by a 3-2 vote of the commissioners.

At public bearings GSP & L had argued that it needs more money to offset rising costs due to inflation and to raise capital for its construction program.

High officials of GSP & L were not available for comment, though a spokesman expressed regret and concern for the future energy situation in California. However, Davey Birdsong, leader of a consumers group-power & light for people hailed the decision as . . .

Nim put the newspaper on the toilet tank beside him while he finished shaving; he had learned of the decision late yesterday so the report was confirmation. When he went downstairs Ruth had his breakfast ready-lamb kidneys with scrambled eggs-and she sat opposite him with a cup of coffee while he ate.

She asked, "What does that commission decision really mean?"

He grimaced. "It means that three people, who got jobs because of politics, have the right to tell big corporations like GSP & L and the phone company how to manage their aff airs-and do."

"Will it affect you?"

"Damn right it will! I'll have to revamp the construction program; we'll cancel or slow down some projects and that will lead to layoffs. Even then there'll be a cash bind. Long faces this morning, especillly Eric's." Nim cut and speared a kidney. “These are great. You do them better than anybody."

Ruth hesitated, then said, "Could you get your own breakfast for a while, do you think?"

Nim was startled. "Sure, but why?"

"I may be going away." In her quiet voice Ruth corrected herself. "I am going away. For a week, perhaps longer."

He put down his knife and fork, staring across the table. "Why? Where?"

“Mother will have Leah and Benjy while I'm gone, and Mrs. Blair will come in as usual to clean. So it will just mean you’re having dinner out, and I'm sure you can arrange that."

Nim ignored the barb. He insisted, his voice rising, "You didn't answer my question. Where are you going, and why?"

"There's no need for either of us to shout." Beneath Ruth's composure he sensed an uncharacteristic hardness. "I heard your question, but the way things are between us, I don't believe I should have to answer. Do you?"

Nim was silent, knowing precisely what Ruth meant: Why should there be a double standard? If Nim chose to break the rules of marriage, have a succession of affairs, and stay out many evenings for his own diversions, why shouldn't Ruth exercise similar freedom, also without explanations? On that basis, her declaration of equality-which it clearly was seemed reasonable. Just the same, Nim felt a stab of jealousy because he now was sure Ruth was involved with another man. Originally be hadn't thought so; now he was convinced, and while he knew that give and-take arrangements existed in some marriages, he found it hard to accept them in his own.

"We both know," Ruth said, interrupting his thoughts, "that for a long time you and I have only been going through the motions of being married. We haven't talked about it. But I think we should." This time, despite an attempt at firmness, there was a tremor in her voice.

He asked, "Do you want to talk now?"

Ruth shook her head. "Perhaps when I come back." She added ' "As soon as I work some things out, I'll let you know when I'm leaving.

Nim said dully, "All right."

"You haven't finished your breakfast."

He pushed the plate away. "I don't feel like eating anymore."

* * *

Though the exchange with Ruth-jolting in its suddenness-preoccupied Nim during his drive downtown, activity at GSP & L headquarters quickly eclipsed personal thoughts.

The ruling of the Public Utilities Commission took priority over all other business.

All morning a procession of executives from the utility's financial and legal departments, their expressions serious, hastened in and out of the chairman's office. Their comings and goings marked a succession of conferences, each concerned with the essential question: Without any increase whatever in the rates it could charge customers, how could GSP & L carry out its needed construction plans and stay solvent? the consensus: Without some drastic and immediate cutback in expenses, it simply wasn't possible.

At one point J. Eric Humphrey paced the rug behind his desk and demanded rhetorically, "Why is it that when the price of bread goes up because of inflation, or meat prices soar, or it costs more to get into a ball game or a movie-no one is ever surprised and it's all accepted? But when we point out, truthfully, that we can't produce electricity at our old rates because our costs have gone up too, nobody believes us."