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Authors: A God in Ruins

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Leon Uris

BOOK: Leon Uris
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This book is
dedicated to my oldest and dearest friend,
HARRY KOFSKY.

Special thanks to my researcher, M
ARILYNNE
P
YSHER
,
and my assistant, J
EANNE
R
ANDALL
.

Man is a god in ruins…. Infancy is the perpetual Messiah, which comes into the arms of fallen men, and pleads with them to return to paradise.

—R
ALPH
W
ALDO
E
MERSON
,
N
ATURE

Contents

Epigraph

Part One

Chapter 1
   A Catholic orphan of sixty years is not apt to…

Chapter 2
   Their honeymoon became a sort of pioneer epic. Daniel O’Connell…

Chapter 3
   The banker’s chair from the turn of the century was…

Chapter 4
   Yes, it’s your president, Thornton Tomtree. A year ago I…

Chapter 5
   Henry Tomtree’s junkyard occupied a full block in a semi…

Chapter 6
   Quinn, I told myself, keep it simple. Literature is not…

Chapter 7
   It is nearly three o’clock. Nothing makes time pass more…

Chapter 8
   The nun, Sister Donna, set the little boy down at…

Chapter 9
   It was mud season. The tracks and washboard of the…

Chapter 10
   The result of maternal rage happened fast. When Siobhan left…

Chapter 11
   Greer Little was a lover whose mind never strayed far…

Chapter 12
   It had been a long time since Carlos Martinez had…

Chapter 13
   The personal greening of Thornton Tomtree began with spring’s warm…

Chapter 14
   Throughout the history of the republic, military mavericks have popped…

Chapter 15
   “Jeremiah Duncan here,” Duncan growled.

Chapter 16
   Aboard the C–5 each member of the Recreation and Morale…

Chapter 17
   It was a rare non-dank day. A kiss of…

Chapter 18
   Quinn spent a restful night, the sleep of the reprieved….

Part Two

Chapter 19
   Oh, what a glorious valley. It echoed in a sound…

Chapter 20
   Events, both sorrowful and joyous, befell Troublesome Mesa. Father Sean…

Chapter 21
   Bloody secrets! Bloody lies! The church, the ranch, his parents,…

Chapter 22
   It was still four hours to midnight. The party was…

Chapter 23
   State Senate Minority Leader Quinn Patrick O’Connell braked the Sno-Cat…

Chapter 24
   AMERIGUN was a show dog with a single trick, the…

Chapter 25
   Governor O’Connell stood as a lone pine in a burned-out…

Chapter 26
   “Governor’s office,” Marsha sang.

Chapter 27
   “Hee-Haw!”

Chapter 28
   The governor and his family snuggled into a booth at…

Chapter 29
   “Yuck!” Quinn said, smacking his lips together. He unscrambled…

Chapter 30
   “We take you now to our Denver affiliate. Don, are…

Part Three

Chapter 31
   From the get-go Thornton invoked a formal operation of…

Chapter 32
   The free-trade zone at Colon was a long hour’s…

Chapter 33
   Hosanna Corner in the godforsaken outskirts of godforsaken Lubbock…

Chapter 34
   What was it that annoyed President Tomtree about Labor Day?…

Chapter 35
   The worst part of this job, Maud Traynor thought, was…

Chapter 36
   Red Peterson groped, caressed, patted his wife’s backside, then hopped…

Chapter 37
   Sun’s first rays slithered over the rocky bivouac as the…

Chapter 38
   Air Force One moved to South Weymouth so that its…

Chapter 39
   “Hey, good-looking, how about buying a girl a drink?”

Chapter 40
   If tears had been stars, there would have been enough…

Chapter 41
   When it was apparent that Governor O’Connell was going to…

Chapter 42
   At the last moment Greer decided she needed Rae O’Connell…

Chapter 43
   On this day the grand repository of human existence and…

Chapter 44
   After the debate the ground shifted, radically. The Tomtree campaign…

Chapter 45
   In the mid-twenties after Lenin died, Stalin took power….

Chapter 46
   Balancing a bucket of ice and a bottle of vodka…

Chapter 47
   Marine Corps Helicopter Number One swayed from its Camp David…

Chapter 48
   “I’ve never seen anyone with the will to equal Siobhan’s,”…

About the Author

By Leon Uris

Praise for A God in Ruins

Copyright

About the Publisher

TROUBLESOME MESA, COLORADO
AUTUMN 2008

A Catholic orphan of sixty years is not apt to forget the day he first learned that he was born Jewish. It would not have been that bombastic an event, except that I am running for the presidency of the United States. The 2008 election is less than a week away.

Earlier in the day, my in-close staff looked at one another around the conference table. We digested the numbers. Not only were we going to win, there was no way we were going to lose. Thank God, none of the staff prematurely uttered the words “Mr. President.”

This morning was ten thousand years ago.

I’m Quinn Patrick O’Connell, governor of Colorado and the Democratic candidate for president. The voters know I was adopted through the Catholic bureaucracy by the ranchers Dan and Siobhan O’Connell.

My dad and I were Irish enough, at each other’s throats. Thanks to my mom, we all had peace and a large measure of love before he was set down in his grave.

All things being equal, it appeared that I would be the second Roman Catholic president in American history.
Unknown to me until earlier this day, I would be the first Jewish president as well.

Nothing compares to the constant melancholy thirst of the orphan to find his birth parents. It is the apparatus that forms us and rules us.

Aye, there was always someone out there, a faceless king and queen in a chilled haze, taunting.

Ben Horowitz, my half brother, had been searching for me, haunted, for over a half century. Today he found me.

Tomorrow at one o’clock Rocky Mountain time I must share my fate with the American people. You haven’t heard of Rocky time? Some of the networks haven’t, either. Lot of space but small market.

The second half of the last century held the years that the Jews became one of the prime forces in American life. Politically, there had been a mess of Jewish congressmen, senators, mayors, and governors of enormous popularity and power. None had won the big enchilada. I suppose the buck stops here.

Had I been elected governor as Alexander Horowitz, I’d have been just as good for my state. However, the discovery of my birth parents a week before the presidential election could well set off a series of tragic events from the darkness where those who will hate me lay in wait.

How do I bring this to you, folks? In the last few hours I have written, “my fellow Americans” twenty-six times, “a funny thing happened to me on the way to Washington” twenty-one times, and “the American people have the right to know” three dozen times. My wastebasket overfloweth.

Don’t cry, little Susie, there
will
be a Christmas tree on the White House lawn.

No, the White House kitchen will not be
kosher. My love of Carnegie tongue and pastrami is not of a religious nature.

By presidential decree, the wearing of a yarmulke is optional.

Israel will not become our fifty-first state.

To tell the truth, my countrymen, I simply do not know what this means in my future. O’Connell was a hell of a good governor, but we are in uncharted waters.

I’m getting a little fuzzy. I can see into the bedroom, where Rita is sprawled in the deep part of a power nap. Rita and our bedroom and her attire are all blended with Colorado hush tones, so soft and light in texture. At the ranch Rita liked to wear those full and colorful skirts like a Mexican woman at fiesta. As she lays there a bit rumpled, I can see up her thighs. I’d give my horse and saddle to be able to crawl alongside her. But then, I’d never finish my Washington’s farewell to the troops speech.

On the other hand, Rita and I have made the wildest gung-ho love when we were under the deepest stress.

Write your speech, son, you’ve got to “face the nation” tomorrow, Rocky Mountain time.

Straight narrative, no intertwining B.S. or politicizing. Explain the O’Connell né Horowitz phenomenon. Truth, baby, truth. At least truth will not come back to haunt you.

Strange, I should be thinking of Greer at this moment. Rita is the most sensual soul mate one could pray for. We have loved one another without compromise for nearly thirty years. Yet, is it possible that Greer is really the love of my life?

I’d have never come this far in the campaign without Greer Little’s genius. I would have been tossed into the boneyard of candidates never heard from
again. She organized, she raised money, she knew the political operatives, and she masterminded my “miracle” campaign.

I was struck by the realization that Greer would leave soon, and I felt the same kind of agony as when we broke up years before. I had needed to see Greer on some business, and knocked and entered her room. She had been on the bed with Rita, passed-out drunk. Rita had held her and soothed her as though she were a little girl, and Rita had put her finger to her lips to tell me to be quiet.

Well, there was life without Greer, but there could be no life without Rita. Yet it still hurts.

I watch the hours flow in the passageway behind me like the tick of a suppressed bomb about to be released. I am through with a draft. I write another.

As the hours to dawn tick off, it all seems to come down to the same basic questions. Am I telling the truth? Do the American people have the civility and the decency to take the truth and rise with it?

Why me, Lord? Haven’t I had enough of your pranks? Isn’t slamming the White House door in my face just a little much, even for Your Holiness? I’m at the landing over the reception foyer of the White House. The Marine band drums up “Hail to the Chief” and the major of the guard proclaims, “The president of the United States and Mrs. Horowitz.” Oh, come on now, Lord. Aren’t you carrying this a little too far?

Well, all the stories of the good Irish lives are best passed on around the old campfire from
schanachie
to
schanachie
, and I’ll not spare you mine.

In actual fact, my own beginnings began at the end of World War II, when my future adopted father, Daniel Timothy O’Connell, returned from the Pacific with a couple of rows of ribbons and a decided limp.

BROOKLYN, AUTUMN 1945

The war to end all wars had ended. The Military Air Transport DC–3 groaned as the cables stretched in a turn, and a piece of the plane’s skin flapped against the pilot’s window. The tail swung. A queasy contingent of soldiers, sailors, and a few Marines were losing the battle with their equilibrium.

Staff Sergeant Daniel Timothy O’Connell tried to suck oxygen from the wilted air as beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. The sergeant mumbled into his beard that he had come all the way from San Diego without puking and damned if he was going to puke in front of a planeload of swab jockeys and dog faces.

In the cockpit a pair of MATS women flew the craft, adding to his discomfort. “Guadalcanal,” he continued mumbling, “Tarawa, Saipan, Okinawa, only to crash ten miles from home!”

Crossing the United States was no simple matter. There was no commercial air service to and from San Diego. MATS, which took as many discharged veterans as it could, had hundreds on their waiting list.

O’Connell had caught a train from San Diego to L.A. From there, two different airlines making nine stops over a twelve-hour period landed him at Wright-Patterson Field outside Dayton.

There was a delay of several hours before another MATS plane could get him to the East Coast. He checked in and segued into a bar just outside the gates and sashayed in with a sailor he had teamed up with named Gross. Marines seldom used first names, so Gross was Gross.

They entered the Blue Lady lounge to see a half dozen women lined up at one end of the bar.

“Could be a B-joint,” O’Connell said. “Got your dough safe?”

“Money belt.”

“You see,” O’Connell went on, “they know a lot of GIs are coming through Wright-Patterson Field loaded with back pay and that we have to be out of town soon.”

“I know you’ll protect me,” Gross said.

“Beer.”

“Jim Beam with a Jim Beam backup.”

“A couple of ladies would like to treat you boys.”

“I’ll bet they would.”

“Hey, take off your pack and stand at ease,” the bartender said. “I’m Army, myself. These are a lonely wives club. Some of them have been without for two years. Just women without men. They work at Wright-Patterson.”

“You know,” Gross said, “I might settle in here for a few days.”

“Yeah, only after we find a Western Union and you wire home the money you’re carrying.”

“You going to stay?” Gross asked.

“No,” O’Connell answered.

“I mean, look at them, their eager little bodies twitching.”

“It’s a duty thing,” the Marine snapped.

“With me, too,” Gross said. “God would never forgive me if I just upped and ignored His perfect works of beauty.”

“I haven’t seen my sweetheart in over three years,” Dan said, becoming serious. “So pick a filly and let’s get your money home.”

With Gross on the way to wonderland on the arm of a happy/sad lady with two kids, Dan O’Connell returned to MATS at Wright-Patterson Field. He had been bumped by an officer.

In a race down the train platform he got aboard a train to Pittsburgh with no time to spare for the overnight ride to New York. Dan was up before daylight,
a hundred dreams all fusing. How does one play out his homecoming scene?

Siobhan Logan rushed into Dan’s arms while her brother, Father Sean Logan, remained a step behind. Sean smiled widely as they embraced. He had seen them as teenagers, young adults, same pose, only this time she screamed for joy.

Dan’s testy hip and knee made itself felt when he dropped his sea bag to encurl her and spin her about.

“Oh, Dan, your leg, I’m sorry.”

“I’m still big enough to hold up a drunk in either hand. Siobhan! Siobhan! Oh, you are so beautiful.”

Dan spotted Father Sean advancing timidly. He wore a Roman collar. Ordained and everything.

“Father Sean.”

“Just Sean.”

The two men were the closest of pals, and they went their separate ways—Sean to the seminary and Dan to the Brooklyn Police Academy. Both had prayed that Dan would get home. Dan didn’t embrace men. A tough handshake, a couple of slaps on the shoulder.

“I’ll take that sea bag,” Father Sean said.

“I can deal with the weight.”

“Oh, it’s not the weight, it’s your general awkwardness. See now, with your limp we’d have to attach the bag to your waist and have you drag it, or you could put it back on your shoulder and when you fall down I can pray over you and Siobhan will pass the plate.”

“All right, all right—if you’ve no respect for a wounded veteran! Anyhow, I sent the big trunk home by Railway Express.”

“I hope it finds its way to you someday,” Father Sean said.

*  *  *

The Promenade along Brooklyn Heights rarely had enough benches and parking spaces these days. Dan was not the only lad from Brooklyn coming home.

“They’re talking about putting a bridge over the Narrows,” Siobhan said quickly and shakily, “to Staten Island.”

“They’ll never get a bridge over there.”

This kiss was fiercely mellow or, as Dan would say in the Marines, “The price of poker has just gone up.”

Siobhan straightened up and gulped a monster sigh. “We’re all but married in name.”

“Of course.”

“Then you are behaving stupidly.”

“What did I do?”

“It’s not what you did. It’s what you
do
! If we are virtually married, I want to do what married people do, now, today,” she said.

“I’ve thought about it so much,” Dan said, “that I want it to be utterly perfect, utterly. I want us to be joined by God first.”

“That will take God two weeks. God may be patient, but I can’t wait that long. I’ve got a key to a girlfriend’s flat. Either we go there now, or I’m going to undress right here, right now.”

 

Home! The grand illusion.

Everything you remembered had to be perfect to balance the imperfections. A cop from Flatbush. Now, that was a big man in Marine eyes. The only man who really came from a perfect place was his closest and eternal buddy, Justin Quinn.

Home! Dan had forgot that his mother’s voice ranged between a squeal and shrill. Gooseflesh popped out on his skin when she argued, like someone had run chalk over a “singing” blackboard.

Home! Dan remembered those midnight-to-eight walking beats. It could be noon before he could get to the paperwork. The nights brought gunplay and gore. One of his backup partners had been massively wounded. A tot murdered in its crib, the mother’s throat slashed, and a deranged boyfriend opting to shoot it out. (“That was a bad one. Take a couple days off, Dan.”)

Home! Until he saw her again, he had clear forgotten about the wart on the end of his aunt’s chin.

Or how small and crushing the streets were.

Or how tiny his room was.

The closeness of space and people led to a repetition of life.

Now, Justin Quinn had a real home! Justin Quinn had never returned. He had been killed in Saipan, but even the night before his death he had spoken of the beauty of his father’s ranch in Colorado. It was the perfection sought by all but experienced by few.

A Marine’s life can be boring, but there is always a jazzy sparkle when he is polishing up for shore leave. He and Justin blew through the camp gates. Justin would go to waiting arms. Dan played it straight with Siobhan for the entire time. But he was a singer and dancer and great teller of jokes. Well now, he did get into an awkward situation or two with the ladies in New Zealand, but nothing he couldn’t tell Siobhan of, at a later time.

Home! Relatives and friends who spent most of their lives stirring the pot in each other’s kitchens and salty old yarn spinners bragging about WWI, the “big” war in France and their blowout in Paree.

No Sunday came and went without a wedding or a christening. Hardly a week passed without a wake.

“How many Japs did you kill, Dan?”

“San Diego! That’s the end of the earth now!”

“Go over your medals one more time, Dan. Which one was for getting wounded?”

“Is it true what they say about them Asian women?”

BOOK: Leon Uris
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