The administrator got off on the 22nd attic of the abode in Manhattan and strode into the obergruppenführer’s office. He stiff-armed his accessible approach upward, his swastika tie pin bright in the chandelier light, and barked, “Sieg heil.”
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“Sieg heil,” responded John Smith, the commander, with a apathetic salute. “At ease, lieutenant.”
“Sir, we’ve aloof accustomed some intelligence that I anticipation I should accompany to your absorption immediately.” He paused.
“Yes, what is it?”
“Our agents in the Confederate Sector accept abstruse that the Man in the Aerial Castle may not be a man at all.”
“How can that be?” Smith snarled. “Who’s arch the attrition then? Joan of Arc?”
“There’s more, sir. Not abandoned is the Man in the Aerial Castle not a man, he’s not alike white. He’s a atramentous woman.”
“Oh, appear on,” Smith said.
“There’s more, sir. The Man in the Aerial Castle isn’t overextension the chat by books or movies, as we thought. He, I beggarly she, is accomplishing it with 45 rpm records.”
“Have you absolutely apparent one of these records?” Smith skeptically inquired.
The abettor swung his covering accessory about to his stomach, pulled out a agenda slipcase, extracted some white tissue paper, abundant the cardboard and pulled out a seven-inch almanac with a doughnut hole. Cacographic beyond the white characterization in a amethyst felt-tip pen were the words “The Man in the Aerial Castle: Mississippi Goddam.”
“OK,” Smith said resignedly. “Let’s apprehend it.”
The abettor went to the aperture and airtight his fingers. Anon a adolescent anatomical scurried in with a phonograph, acclaim placed it on table by the window, acquainted it in and anxiously placed the almanac on the spindle.
The allowance aback abounding with an assertive piano vamp, and woman’s abysmal articulation batten the introduction, “A brace of weeks ago, four little girls were asleep in Alabama, and at that time we got the afflatus to do this song. I beggarly every word.” The piano quickened and her alto purred, “Alabama’s gotten me so upset; Tennessee fabricated me lose my rest, and everybody knows about Mississippi God Damn.” Her articulation channelled from cabaret to blues, however, as she accomplished the afterwards verses and growled, “Oh but this accomplished country is abounding of lies; you’re all gonna die and die like flies. I don’t assurance you anymore.”
Smith’s forehead channelled with worry. “This isn’t good,” he muttered. “How abounding of these things are there?”
“Our agents accumulate award them,” the abettor replied, “but we feel like we’re aloof bribery the surface.”
“OK, here’s what we’re activity to do,” Smith declared decisively. “Keep attractive for these annal and abort them—and abort the almanac players in the houses breadth you acquisition them. Assemble one aggregation to acquisition this woman accompanist and addition aggregation to acquisition the bulb that’s acute these records. We’ll stop this afore it goes any further.”
The abutting morning at 8 a.m. sharp, Joe Blake was in Smith’s office. “At ease,” Smith said wearily. “You’re not activity to accept this, but it seems that the belled Man in the Aerial Castle, the messiah of the resistance, isn’t a man at all; he’s not alike white. What affectionate of attrition is that? Led by a atramentous woman? It’s hardly account the accomplishment of crushing it. Listen to this.”
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Smith put on the 45. Blake, a adolescent man with complicated animosity about his father, the backward Reichsminister Martin Heusmann, and about the government he served, begin those affections afflicted by the music. His absolute band was angry by cull of the accent and the abandon of the vocal, but his appetite was stoked by the befalling for a advance if he begin and captured this singer. He kept a poker face until the song ended.
“If we weren’t activity to arrest her for treason,” Joe joked, “we should arrest her for crimes adjoin music.” Smith belly-laughed in agreement. “She sings like a cat in calefaction and plays the piano as if she were application her elbows rather than her fingers. And all she does was accuse about those four pickaninnies abnormality too abutting to a bomb activity off. Let me go get her. I advised Negroid ability in college.”
Smith eyed him anxiously for a while but assuredly nodded. “You be accurate bottomward there,” he told Joe. “The Party leaves best of the assignment to the bounded officials, because they’re harsher than we are. Watch your footfall about them; they’re so barbarous they accord Nazis a bad name. Like that brainless bombing in Birmingham. What did that accomplish? But I would alpha there, because this babe accompanist seemed to apperceive an abominable lot about the explosion.”
The afterward morning, afterwards one added night with his adherent Nicole, the filmmaker from Berlin, Joe had the keys to a atramentous auto and was active south on Route One through New Jersey. The alleyway baffled the radioactive bang breadth that had been Washington and beyond the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry.
As he larboard the American Reich’s Union Sector and entered the Confederate Sector, Joe noticed the aberration immediately. Added of the streets were pockmarked by potholes; added of the storefronts were unpainted. Accessible sewers ran in advanced of board shacks, and acid wire was amplitude aloft the fences surrounding the big estates. The cops patrolled on horseback, brandishing rifles; Negro prisoners confused alternating the roadways with chains shackled to their ankles. It may accept been 1963, but it acquainted like 1933.
When he got off the bus in Birmingham, Joe arrested in at the sheriff’s appointment and pulled out his orders from the obergruppenführer. “Do you apperceive breadth I can acquisition some Negro biologic users that I ability clasp for some information?” he asked the sheriff. The constable laughed and acicular the company to the south ancillary of town.
After dinner, Joe afflicted into some grubbier clothes, mussed his hair, half-closed his eyelids and absolved bottomward the sidewalk. He begin a dozen atramentous men aptitude adjoin the boarded-up windows of a above five-and-dime store. Joe pantomimed sucking in on a marijuana cigarette. The aboriginal 10 men abandoned him, but the 11th nodded adjoin the adjacent alley, and Joe followed him there.
The man pulled out a cardboard sack of dried, chopped-up leaves and mumbled, “Five dollars.” Joe sniffed the capacity and pulled out a five. As anon as the man accustomed the bill, Joe affective his wrist, askance his arm abaft his aback and airtight him adjoin the wall.
“That’s right,” Joe snarled, “I’m a cop, you impaired fuck. But I’m not an Alabama cop; I’m a Reich cop. And you’ve got a choice: I can about-face you over to the bounded rednecks actuality or you can accord me the advice I want.”
“I don’t apperceive anything,” the man whined.
“OK,” Joe said, “let’s go bottomward to the station.”
“Wait a minute, delay a minute. I aloof got out of prison, and I can’t go back. What do you appetite to know?”
“I’m attractive for the Man in the Aerial Castle—or maybe it’s the Woman in the Aerial Castle.”
“Never heard of him—or her.”
“OK, let’s go bottomward to the station.”
“Alright, alright. Follow me.”
It was nine o’clock at night, and the pot banker led Joe accomplished the closed-down doctor’s office, accomplished the barbecue joint, accomplished the abbey aptitude to one side, about the corner, through an alley, into a housing-project courtyard, accomplished the clotheslines, through the laundry allowance to a aperture that opened to let in a negro brace and to let out the complete of a changeable accompanist and piano. Joe accustomed the bouncer to be abashed by his arrival, but allegedly he wasn’t the aboriginal white being to acquisition his way there. Joe angry to the pot banker and said, “Come on in; I’ll buy you a drink.”
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They begin an abandoned table in the bend with two mismatched, broken folding chairs. Christmas lights were broadcast beyond the apparent rafters in the low beam in October, but they provided added affection than illumination. A aide brought them two attempt glasses of aphotic aqueous of arguable agent and accustomed a dollar in return.
Once his eyes adapted to the caliginosity and blubbery blind of cigarette smoke, Joe spied a woman sitting at an cocked piano abutting to a bagman and an cocked bass player. She was dark-skinned and oval-faced affected by a accurate perm and a neater atramentous dress. She sat with straightened abode on the bank and her continued fingers danced beyond the keys. She was half-singing, half-moaning article alleged “I Adulation You, Porgy.”
Joe accustomed the appellation from his account about the banned Jewish/Negro agreeable Porgy and Bess, but of advance he had never heard the song before. Article about the bedfast addendum in the chords and anguish in the articulate got beneath Joe’s skin. He knew dozens of songs about barren love, but none them articulate like the absolute bond in your abdomen that accompanies such frustration. This one did. It seemed absurd that this Negro adult was adage what he acquainted about Juliana Crain, his ex-lover now about in the Neutral Zone, but she was.
The pot banker started acclamation and singing alternating aback the Aerial Castle accompanist chanted the lyrics to “Sea Lion Woman,” a aberrant nursery beat about adorable changeable sirens on the shore. She took a piano abandoned on “It Don’t Beggarly a Thing” and seemed to be appropriately alluring and aggressive aback she sang “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Was that adventurous or political? There was no such catechism about the final two songs: “Jim Crow” and “Mississippi God Damn.” The army was on its anxiety egging her on as she belted out the words.
Joe went up to her afterwards the appearance and sat bottomward at her table. “Who the hell are you?” she demanded.
“I assignment for the Reich and I’ve been beatific bottomward actuality to arrest you,” he said. She slapped him adamantine beyond his larboard cheek. He accomplished aback beneath his sports coat, pulled out a Luger pistol and airtight it on the table.
“The abandoned acumen you’re not asleep or in handcuffs now,” Joe told her, “is that I accept a accord to action you.” He acquainted a shotgun cage bundle the aback of his head.
“And the abandoned acumen you’re not dead,” said a tall, attenuate Negro man cradling the shotgun, “is that I’m cat-and-mouse to apprehend what affectionate of accord you accept in mind.”
Joe had been in these situations before, and he knew how to abide calm. He didn’t alike glance at the apache abaft him but kept his eyes on the singer. “I don’t apperceive why,” he told her, “but I absolutely like your music. I’ve never heard annihilation like it, and I absolutely appetite to apprehend it again. The botheration is this: If I don’t arrest you, they’ll accelerate addition abroad who will. So here’s what you charge to do: You charge to actualize addition bistro with a piano, some booze and a record-pressing apparatus that I can arrest abutting anniversary aback you’re not there. And you charge to accord me some added records, so I can abode that I’ve baldheaded new evidence.”
“Don’t assurance this cracker,” said the gunman.
“Put bottomward the gun, Stokely, and you too, Mister,” said a shorter, bastard Negro who had appear up to the table. “We can assignment this out.”
“Hush up, Marty,” the accompanist said. “You too, Stokely. And put abroad those guns. You’re authoritative me nervous.” She silently stared at Joe for two minutes, admitting it acquainted like ten. “OK, I’m activity to booty a adventitious on you. Meet us aback actuality in 48 hours and appear alone. If there are any abnormal white bodies in the area, we won’t appearance up. If the bank is clear, we’ll accord you an abode then. And Marty actuality can get you some annal now.”
“What’s your name?” Joe asked.
“Nina,” she said, “Nina the Man in the Aerial Castle.” She laughed loud and continued and abolished abaft a decrepit curtain. Stokely followed her, and Marty said, “Follow me.” He led Joe up three flights of stairs in the accommodation activity and alternating the accurate balcony. Marty rapped on the aperture and aside a password; chains slid abroad and the aperture opened to a awkward accommodation abounding of little kids. A man led them to the aback bedchamber and a closet ample aerial with 45s. Anniversary was in a apparent white sleeve with a name and appellation cacographic on the white label.
Joe sorted through the discs. He saw “Jim Crow” by the Man in the Aerial Castle, “A Change Is Gonna Come” by the Kitchen Cook, “Alabama” by the Coal Train, “Change of the Century” by the Coal Man, “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Mo’ Debtta and “We Shall Overcome” by Burning Ray Gun. “I’ll booty two of each,” Joe said. “How abundant do I owe you?”
“That’s six dollars,” the almanac man said. “Why two of each?”
“One for my boss,” Joe replied, “and one for me.” He bought Marty a coffee and pie at the Negro restaurant about the bend from the projects. “How’d you get alloyed up in this?” Joe asked him.
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“I was a preacher,” the man with the accurate mustache said, “but the law actuality didn’t like my sermons. So I absitively to go into the almanac business. The bang-up man can stop our sermons, but he can’t stop our music.”
“Do you absolutely anticipate you can defeat the Reich with guns?”
“No,” Marty replied, “you’ll consistently accept added accoutrements than us. But the white association bottomward actuality haven’t done any absolute assignment in a continued time. Aggregate about actuality depends on Negro workers. If we stop assuming up for work, the accomplished shebang will bullwork to a halt. Afresh we’ll be able to accomplish some changes.”
“You absolutely anticipate that will happen?” Joe asked.
“It will booty time,” Marty said, “but our bodies are absolutely fed up. And these annal are absolution them apperceive that they don’t accept to booty it anymore.”
Two months later, Joe was aback in Obergruppenführer Smith’s office. The bang-up was not happy. “I anticipation you said this accomplished Man in the Aerial Castle nonsense had died out.”
“It did, sir,” Joe said. “We destroyed bisected a dozen nightclubs and several thousand records. The woman herself disappeared, and our sources say she died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
“Then how do you explain this abuse bang by the Negroes in Alabama?” Smith thundered. “They don’t appearance up for work, and they won’t explain why. Alike aback we asperous them up a bit, all they say is, ‘We shall overcome.’ What the hell does that mean? Is that from one of those records?”
“There was a almanac with that title, sir.”
“The Germans aren’t blessed with the situation, Joe. They’re sending some of their hard-ass agents to accord with this. Aback they access abutting week, you’re activity aback south with them, and we’re activity to end this already and for all. Is that understood?”
“By the way, Juliana Crain is aback in New York. She said she’d like to see you.”
Joe was at Juliana’s auberge allowance aural the hour. Aback she opened the door, she put her feel to her aperture to announce the allowance was bugged. They went alfresco and took a alms to Brooklyn breadth Joe kept a abstruse apartment. Aback they got there, Joe knelt by the bed, baldheaded a safe and spun the dials aback and alternating until a final bang opened the door. Inside was a accumulation of 45s. He put “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by the Man in the Aerial Castle on the phonograph and aerial the arm assimilate the grooves.
“Listen to this,” he whispered. “Have you anytime heard annihilation like it?” She hadn’t. She was so affected that her jaw afraid accessible in wonder. Aback the song finished, Joe aerial the arm aback to the beginning, took Julianna in his arms, and they apathetic danced in the attenuated amplitude amid the bed and the kitchen. “Music like that,” he said, “makes you feel like aggregate you’ve been told is a lie.”
Later, aback they woke up afresh in bed, he told her, “I can’t accumulate arch this bifold life. If there’s activity to be a war, I appetite to be on the ancillary of this music. Can you bootleg me into the Neutral Zone?”
She smiled and said, “Only if you accompany those annal with you.”
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