Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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 Chapter 12

Academic Infiltration

Jones hadn't gotten back in time for Ennis' class. But he knew where Mrs. Blakey-Fenton parked her car. After some ten minutes, she appeared, tiptoeing and balancing her way through the muddy gravel of the parking lot. Despite the bright sunshine and unseasonable warmth, she didn't look as if she were having a very good day. Students were everywhere, cavorting in undignified ways and calling to each other in coarse ugly tones.

In what amounted to a commuter college, the parking lots were the preferred areas for social intercourse. However, it was hard to reconcile the resulting hubbub with the idea that serious scholarship was taking place a few hundred yards distant. If Mrs. Blakey-Fenton's expression was any guide, she was about to give up the attempt at reconciliation.

At first, she didn't see Jones, who was sitting in the driver's seat of her Packard. He rolled down the window, and, affecting a low Brooklyn accent, said,

"Take a load offa ya feet, girlie."

"Jones! How'd you get into my car?"

"You forgot to lock it. Hand over the keys and we'll go for a ride."

"I have too much to do before dinner to go riding around. But we could go to the Vernon Manor for a drink."

Mrs. Blakey-Fenton took the news with utter astonishment, but with much more apparent pleasure than had Sarah Swift.

"That's wonderful, Jones! You've well and truly infiltrated the system. It'll never be the same again!"


"Sure. You're not the kind of person these people think you are."

Jones let that go and told her Sarah's view of the matter. Mrs. Blakey-Fenton replied,

"I don't know Adams as well as you and Sarah do, but I can't really see him acting from spite, or even righteous anger. And that even though most of the professors in both our departments are mean and hateful in petty ways. A man with an Olympian view like Adams' might look over such things without seeing them. But, he might, at the same time, realize that very different sorts of people are needed."

"I do get the impression that he and Loomis might have decided to call for Wyatt Earp."

"And you're a perfect modern-day semi-academic Wyatt Earp. They chose exactly the right man! But even Wyatt had to exert himself mightily to clean out the bad guys."

"I'm not the head, so I can't fire them."

"You probably will be the head eventually. In the meantime, you can scare them very badly."

"If I want to."

"Well, yes. But a lot of things will happen automatically. Young Professor Ennis will be apopletic when he hears the news, but, by the time you actually see him, he'll have decided to toady shamelessly to you."

"How do you know that?"

"He's pretty rational in a practical way, but without much character. As my husband would say, low moral fibre."

"That's a funny phrase."

"I understand that it comes from the RAF. These were people who didn't want to go up in airplanes to be shot at. Ennis is like that. I think he did manage to avoid the war, incidentally."

"I was imagining that he'll be grumpy at best."

"I bet you he won't. He may embarrass you with flattery, and, of course, he'll be ready to knife you in the back. But there'll be a big smile for you every morning."

"If you turn out to be wrong, can I undress you?"

"You've already done entirely too much of that! Besides, you now have at least as much to lose as I do. Being caught by the police in a parked car with a disrobed socialite is exactly the kind of thing that tenure doesn't cover."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. The reason for tenure is to protect professors from being fired for their political or philosophical positions. But the professor must keep his pants up, and he isn't allowed to lift students' skirts."

"You're not a typical student."

"But a student nonetheless."

"Isn't there anything we're allowed to do?"

"Perhaps with extreme discretion and no little planning. Eventually. For the moment, nothing but flirtation. Which you love."

"Yes. And, of course, I have what Hume would call a vivid image of you behind the machines."

"Keep it vivid because it isn't going to be renewed. Incidentally, we shouldn't be seen having drinks together at places like the Vernon Manor. Anyone knowing either of us and seeing us together would assume that we're having an affair."

"Is there anywhere we can go."

"I think there is. Let me give you directions."

The Church of the Immaculate Conception, standing high above the river and the downtown area, would have been a spectacular tourist attraction if there had been any tourists. As the village church for the tumbledown little village of red brick houses isolated on the hilltop, it ministered to Cincinnatians who were insufficiently adventurous to move off the hill.

Standing at the edge of the cliff in front of the church, Jones inspected the bend of the river he knew so well from rowing. The foaming and churning wake of a tug could be seen moving rapidly downstream while the tug itself, working against the current, stood almost still. Mrs. Blakey-Fenton, apparently uninterested in tug wakes, pointed to a long flight of steps reaching up to their eminence from the main village street and said,

"The women of the community crawl up those steps every Easter, and pray at each step."

"I bet they don't use the word 'crawl'."

"No, but that's what they do. They probably call it 'ascending', as if they were ascending to heaven."

"Do they bang their foreheads against the cement at each step?"

"I'm sure they do. They wouldn't pass up the opportunity to inflict moderate pain on themselves. They then stagger into the church with bleeding knees and bruised foreheads."

"Women who'd do that must be ugly to begin with."

"Probably so. Most religious people around here are the downtrodden former peasants of various European countries."

"Does the priest stand at the top of the steps with a whip and lash them for thinking sexy thoughts?"

"You're probably thinking of the flagellantes of Mexico. Cincinnatians aren't flamboyant enough for that."

The church, surprisingly large and ornate, had the sort of complex interior that Jones associated with Catholicism. It was completly empty apart from themselves, but he remarked in a hushed tone of voice to his friend,

"You must be used to this sort of thing."

She replied, rather loudly,

"I was brought up in it, but, even as a child, I was conscious of all the hocus-pocus. Everything you see here means something, often something rather barbaric. The priest jumbles together all the symbols and throws in a little dishwashing during the mass. He then warns the congregation against heresies they've never heard of, and, in any case, would have no inclination to commit."

"It sounds as if you might have somewhat fallen away from Catholicism."

"I did most of my falling by the age of eight or so. What about you?"

"My people never went to church. My mother used to say something about belonging to some religion, I can't remember which one."

"If it were Catholicism, you'd remember. You don't seem to be Jewish, so, unless you declare for atheism, you count as Protestant."

"If I declare for anything, it'll probably be for some philosophical position."

"It's better if you think up something no one's ever heard of. Since you're the new professor, people will be curious. It'll also give you something to write about."

"I've already discovered that it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong as long as you generate academic controversy."

"That's right. Any publicity short of moral turp is good publicity."

Mrs. Blakey-Fenton slid into a pew and said,

"Incidentally, I didn't bring you here for moral turp. But it's a safe place to hang out. Usually, there's no one here, and there'll never be anyone we know. Later on, we can bring good things to eat and drink."

Jones sat down with a smile, placing one hand comfortably above her knee. She left it there, and he remarked,

"The last meeting of the Melancholy Boys was interesting. Do you remember Leo, the one I introduced you to in the Pink Room?"

"Yes. He was confusing."

"How so?"

"He looks like someone from a northern slum and sounds like a southern gentleman."

"He was in the infantry in the war, and that may account for the slum look. It also made him a survivor, and something more than that. He sees how to exploit almost any situation he finds himself in."

"I gather that he applies the same thinking to the academic world."

"Yes. We've all noticed that it's publication crazy, and, as a result of that, editors of academic journals have tremendous power and prestige."

"I know. Even if they're gray little men with big glasses who never write anything themselves."

"Leo's idea is that we start our own journals."

"But no one will know about them."

"Leo says that you send announcements of a new journal all over the place and ask all the big wheels in the profession to submit papers."

"Will they send them to a journal they've never heard of?"

"According to Leo, they've all got old papers in the bottom drawer that they've never published. He thinks he'll get a certain proportion of those papers. Then, his first few issues will have big names on some of the papers, and he's in business."

"He won't make money, but I guess that's not the point."

"No. The Melancholy Boys have another idea. We'll put out journals, each with its own editor, but with overlapping subject matter. Editors don't publish their own papers in their journals, but we can publish each other's papers and all become somewhat famous."

"That's diabolical! But you already get your papers published. You don't need that."

"I just got another accepted, but it won't appear for a long time. I write these things pretty quickly, and I need another outlet."

"You need to disguise the operation a bit. The journals shouldn't all look the same and have the same mailing address."

"Yeah, although it might be all right if it looks as if Cincinnati is a hotbed of intellectual activity. Besides, the people in each field won't know about the journals in other fields for some time, even if they're launched at the same time."

"I bet you haven't worked out how much it's going to cost to do all this printing."

"No, we thought we'd get a second-hand press and run it ourselves."

"My husband has a printing company among other things. There's more to it than you think. A new journal won't be taken seriously if it looks as if it's been run off on the department mimeograph machine."

"Well, we'll have to work it out."

"If I can be editor of one of these journals, I'll get my husband to print all of them."

"Wow! Will he do that?"

"Sure. He likes to indulge my whims. It would just be pin money for him."

"How would you explain it to him?"

"Don't worry. Of course, I'll bring you and Leo around to meet Reggie. He'll be very much amused by the whole thing."

"That could be a bit tricky."

"Oh, Jones. Isn't it obvious by this time that we're never going to bed together?"

"It wasn't obvious to me."

"Well, we can play all sorts of flirty games, but, since you won't have actually put it to me, you can be comfortable with Reggie. In fact, you two will like each other. You're both immoral in many ways."

"Would he mind that much if we did sleep together?"

"Perhaps not. But, if he knew, he'd use it as an excuse to step out himself."

"Okay. Well, what's your journal going to be?"

"It's going to be concerned with language, not traditional linguistics, but the various kinds of connections between language and philosophy. You'll contribute to it."


"And I'll have parties for the contributors, and also invite certain people from the English department whom I don't like."

"Why them?"

"The chance to just peek at my glamorous group of intellectually elite people from which they're otherwise excluded will drive them into severe depression."

"I thought you said I was the immoral one."

"You are. I'm just mischievous."

Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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