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Memory Lane | The Nation

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Memory Lane

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Charles E. Wilson, the president of GM in the fifties, has been misquoted for decades as saying, "What's good for General Motors is good for America." Suggesting, and this was no leap in capitalist logic, that the company he headed, selling as it did then half the cars in the US and having been a major player in producing tanks and vehicles during World War II, was the embodiment of Yankee determinism and success. Destiny made manifest, which brought the Pilgrims to these shores... the cry for freedom from the tyrannical British, the westward expansion, the railroads, the Gold Rush--what were those but the God-given impulses to create and to control one's environment?

About the Author

Gary Phillips
Gary Phillips's short stories have appeared, most recently, in Los Angeles Noir (Akashic) and in Full House (G.P....

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In this last episode we mostly wrap things up, but leave a few strange matters for earthly or cosmic interpretation.

Breakfast turns violent, more is revealed, and while a decent president gets elected, there's no rest for Congresswoman Kang.

Mace Gilmore considered this, relaxing in his seat in his private jet as it winged its way across the country toward Baltimore. The two index fingers of the CEO of the Fallenbee Directive were suspended over the keys of his laptop. Not for the first time he second-guessed himself if this was a good idea. But who better to tell his story than him? Sure, he could well afford to hire a ghost writer or two or three and keep them on retainer as he dictated his tell-all. But that would be... delicate.

A hired scribe would have knowledge of illegal and, some might judge, unethical acts that Gilmore had done or ordered. What would such a person do, knowing this, even if they were bound by a nondisclosure agreement or suspected that physical coercion could be employed to ensure their silence? But to take it to that level might impair their enthusiasm for the work.

Too, there certainly must be writers out there who were simpatico with Gilmore's outlook. He had flirted with the notion of contacting one of the many right-wing pundits, or even a thriller-writer or two--he liked the pacing those guys did in their books. Not a screenwriter though. Can't trust a fizzy-water-swilling malcontent screenwriter. Just look at how those lefties had subverted what Robert Ludlum had done in his Bourne novels. Making the character repentant about being a patriotic assassin. Fuckin' Hollywood.

Still, he'd finally dismissed that approach for just the idea that someone else would be in possession of facts, of verified conjecture, and the names and dates that only Gilmore knew fully, the truth and nothing but. Well, sir, that was too much of a burden to put on any one person except him. Gilmore had long concluded he wasn't sugar-coating in his memoir the whys and whens of what he'd done in the name of his company's interest. Because, all said and done, he truly believed what was good for the Fallenbee Directive's stockholders was emblematic of American enterprise.

The billionaire glanced out the window at a floating field of silvery clouds below. The tree-huggers, the Code Pinkers, the naysayers and the bomb-throwers painted him as some mustachio-twirling villain right out of the Saturday morning serials. Well, he reflected, rereading the onscreen text, wouldn't his posthumous book confirm that? He laughed heartily out loud--Why yes, it would.

"Everything alright, Mr. Gilmore?" Seated across the cabin and facing him, his assistant Felicia Leslie removed her iPod's earplugs and looked at her boss questioningly. Her swimsuit-issue body poised to rise and glide to him in a heartbeat.

He waved her off. "I'm fine, please don't mind me."

Gilmore finished typing the paragraph he was working on when he interrupted himself. He again looked out the window. Usually he could plow his way through his narratives unmindful of the distractions around him. But lately he wasn't able to sink into the work as easily as he had in productive spurts these last two years after he'd gotten the news from his doctors following the check-up. Second and third opinions confirming their prognosis.

Gilmore worried his bottom lip, wondering if getting to the end of his project was a sign of not wanting to stop. Being able to look back, to distill and clarify his deeds and the motivations behind those acts in his public, private and secret life--on paper, as if it were cathartic. Fully admitting these matters after all these years, even if only at this moment in his encrypted files, was better than going to pay to whine at some therapist, as Bernice, his second wife, had been so fond of doing...

Stung by a bee? Why, that triggered for her that time in the country when she was 8 and Uncle Ned, hard-drinking and horse-gambling Uncle Ned, lured her behind the rowboat shed and groped her inappropriately. This supposed breakthrough recovered memory turned out, $25,000 in billable hours later, to have been hogwash. It was Jimmy Carlyle, a year younger than she was then, who'd followed Bernice behind the shed, and it was she who had, via mutual childhood curiosity, showed him hers on a dare from the boy.

Or maybe it was the fear that doing this memoir forced his hand to finalize the preparations for its publication after he was gone. When he typed in the last period, the cosmic machinery was set in motion and the scythe of fate would descend across the back of his neck. Any fool knew the good times couldn't last forever. The mau-maus were right, for the market didn't self-correct without Adam Smith's invisible hand needing some guidance. Be it in the form of government-sponsored corporate giveaways or, more concretely and lastingly, hard-lobbied beneficial legislation. But even given all that, the once-mighty GM couldn't outrun the crushing waves of global economics.

Wilson's famous statement was made on the occasion of him being selected by President Eisenhower to be the Secretary of Defense. Appearing before the Senate's Armed Services Committee, Wilson was asked if he, who in 1950s dollars owned some two-and-a-half million dollars' worth of GM stock, could make decisions in the best interest of the government--decisions that may be counter to his financial interests--if he were the Secretary. His response was, "For years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors, and vice versa." He got the job.

Gilmore's sat phone chimed and he thumbed it on. "Yes?"

"Countryman planted bugs in Kang's apartment in Monterey Park but she found them," the voice on the other end said.

"By accident?"

"No. She had an individual sweep her place and her office."

"What about Cenine?"

"He's meeting her."

Gilmore said, a tight smile on his face "You mean he's laying the pipe to her at some goddamn five-star hotel."

"Yes, sir, that's what I mean."

Gilmore glanced back out the window. Dark clouds colored the sky.

To Be Continued...

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