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The Root of All Evil. 1st Chapter


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One

NOVEMBER 1942

It was one thing to be cold, but quite another to

be freezing. Not long ago, Paul Madsen, had been

warm and safe. At home. Now he was in New York

where his mind raced to find a way to rouse up some

inner warmth. With nearly everything else having

failed, he imagined himself back at home in England

and for a while the charade worked. He forgot about

how cold and miserable he actually felt, but within a

few seconds a harsh wind soured him on the game

he was playing.

Yet the blistering cold was not the only difficulty

Madsen faced. He was dying, literally falling apart

internally at what one doctor had said was an

unimaginably quick pace and as recently as two weeks

ago, another doctor had whispered that what he was,

in essence, was a dead man breathing. So maybe the

cold, bitter air was a bargain, Madsen thought. To

feel it meant he was still alive, but the all-consuming

question was: how much longer?

Paul Madsen tucked his emaciated neck down

deeper into the collar of his expensive overcoat, snuggling

the downy shawl tighter around his throat. He

pushed on. He had seen how nimble death could be

so he fought the wind seeking to expand his lead on

the Grim Reaper. He had to exploit the promise of

the one good deed he hoped would grab God’s attention

and cinch for him a sumptuous grant of divine

mercy.

He walked even faster.

With so many different directions to go in,

Madsen lost his focus momentarily and when the

howling North wind warned him that temperatures

could fall even more dangerously low, he found this

idea quite unattractive. He gazed at the sky. There

was even less beauty in the appeal of the darkness of

approaching night.

Desperation clutched at all his inner resources

and since there was practically nothing left of his

weakened lungs, when the souped-up cough surged

up from out of the depths of his bowels,he instinctively

sensed that the end was near. At its peak, the wracking

cough would normally only paralyze him until

his strength matured enough to stabilize him, but

this time he was crippled internally and knocked to

his knees. Unquenchable, liquidified, green snot

dripped from his dilated nostrils at high speeds while

the phlegm that stagnated in his tightly constricted

chest exploded into his throat becoming vomit so

translucent it sprayed from his gagging mouth like

polluted water. Regaining his feet, Madsen rocked

to and fro in his exquisitely hand-crafted shoes, sure

that death was muscling in on his turf.

Standing in the grim blackness that the night had

conjured up, he steered his wobbly legs across a flat

street that rolled down a steep hill next to a diner.

“Hey, man”, Madsen shouted at a passer-by,

“please sir, tell me, where do the niggers live?”.

When Madsen burst into another spasm of godawful

coughing, the man frowned in disgust and

quickly walked away. He wanted to have nothing to

do with anyone that wretchedly ill, especially at a time

when no one had money for medicine.

Pulling himself together, Madsen managed to

achieve a modicum of respectability and flung himself

into the welcoming warmth of the cavernous

restaurant, but he was immediately fraught with the

panic that the hacking cough would seize him and

that the patrons sensing he had tuberculosis would

unhestitantly pitch him out into the snow to die. He

couldn’t risk that, couldn’t imperil the mission that

had brought him so far from home. What real value

was there, he scolded himself, in dying incomplete?

He would do what he had come to do and driven by

this euphoria, aggressively strolled across to the

counter at a robust clip.

By the time he reached the counter, Madsen had

collected a big piece of inner resolve that seemed

insatiable and though he realized his request would

raise eyebrows, it wasn’t that outrageous.

“Excuse me, kind sir”, Madsen said warmly, “but

I can’t seem to find any niggers and I’m in dire need

of one. Could you tell me where they live”?

The diner’s owner remained surprisingly calm.

“Are you pulling my leg?”.

“I daresay not, my good man. The request is quite

legitimate. I desire a nigger”.

“Ah”, the owner nodded knowingly. “I see”.

Reading the man’s thoughts, Madsen quickly

blurted. “Oh no. Not for that”. He blushed. “I’m sorry

if I misled you. I’m not a pervert. It’s just that—-”.

“It’s none of my business”, the owner snapped

gruffly, “but just the same we don’t cater to them

‘round here”.

“Still, you must—”.

The owner stared coldly at Madsen. “I don’t know

where you’re from, but in this country we’re not

obsessed with those people. You a foreign correspondent

of some sort?”.

Madsen shook his head. The incessant demand

to cough was tumbling round and about in his lungs

and he predicted that it wouldn’t be long before he

was swallowed up in an avalanche of fitful retching.

His bowels were already starting to swell with noxious

gases. “Please”, he begged.

His skepticism heated by Madsen’s pleading, the

owner spoke cheaply. “If you’re not a fag or a commie

news reporter, just what would you do in coon-town?”.

“Knock on any door . . . .” Madsen stopped. He

would burst the man’s bubble, would leave. “I am

sorry. I have come to the wrong place”. He hobbled

towards the front door, the need to cough reinvigorated

by the dragging down of all the moisture in his

mouth. “I bid you farewell”.

“Wait”.

Madsen stopped, but kept his back to the man.

“Are you talking to me?”

“Go into the kitchen, through that door there.

Bernie is back there”

Madsen turned slowly. “Bernie?”.

“Yeah, Bernie”, the owner rasped. “A real-live

nigger”.

* * *

Madsen pushed hurriedly through the swinging

doors, roughly dispelling the air bagged in his throbbing

chest. He was doubled over by the force of the

impact and now adding to his woes was a ragged fever.

Straightening himself up, Madsen spied an elegant-

looking black man in a chef’s hat and apron,

eyeing him cautiously, but when Madsen smiled and

stuck out his hand, the black man took two steps back-

wards. Madsen grinned, knowing that the aura of

doom that surrounded him could not have been inviting.

“You may not believe it, Bernie, but today is

the luckiest day of your life”. Then he collapsed to

the floor.

It came as no surprise to Madsen when he came

to that the black man was nursing him, had loosened

his shirt, and was wiping his forehead with a cold,

damp cloth.

“Thanks”, Madsen offered weakly. He reached

into his coat pocket. “It seems as if you have already

earned this”. He shoved an envelope into Bernie’s

hand. “Take this”, he commanded softly, “there isn’t

much time”.

“Who are you?”, Bernie asked suspiciously. He

glared at the envelope with even greater concern.

“And what is this?”.

Summoning the last of his renown iron will,

Madsen tried to stand, but found it difficult so he

insisted that Bernie help him to his feet. “Is there

anywhere we can have a bit of privacy? I need—”.

“This way”. Bernie led Madsen to a table.

Once seated, Madsen understood there was a

basically only two ways this could go and best of all,

both options offered unlimited possibilities, but there

was one catch: he didn’t have a lot of time. He

coughed, glad it was just a mid-tempo roar and composing

himself, he pointed to the envelope. “War

bonds. Also some stock certificates”. He stared at the

black man. “They’re yours.”

“Why?”.

Madsen ignored the question. “As bearer of these

bonds and certificates, whenever you’re ready to start

living like a king, all you have to do is to redeem

them. That’s all it takes. Everything is endorsed—-”.

“Why?”.

When Madsen stopped coughing, he spoke wearily,

“You’re rich, Bernie. You’re the fucking richest

black man the world has ever seen”. When Bernie

fell back clutching his chest, Madsen grinned triumphantly.

“You do understand, then”.

“I know about war bonds”, Bernie admitted.

“There’s nothing you really need to know. I have

taken care of everything. You’re filthy rich, Bernie,

just like I was”. Madsen winced. “Easy come, easy go”.

A tear rolled from the black man’s eyes. “May

the Lord—”.

“Yeah, yeah”, Madsen grumbled, “my sentiments

exactly. I’ve been a very mean person . . . .” After the

coughing subsided, Madsen shrugged. “Trouble is,

I’ve enjoyed the dickens out of being me, the infamous

Paul “Mad-dog” Madsen”. For a while as he

spoke, Madsen felt positively giddy, but his depressed

lungs were a magnet for pain and pretty soon he was

wheezing and coughing again. Turning increasingly

morose, he stuffed his hand into another pocket of

his coat. “The stocks and bonds were for you. Do you

have any children?”.

Bernie nodded.

“Well this is for your children’s children’s children”.

Madsen handed Bernie a simple, unadorned

jewelry box.

“I-I don’t understand”.

“And you probably never will, but listen carefully.

What’s inside this box is highly valuable and to be

quite honest, people would kill to get their hands

on those documents”.

Bernie gulped. “Documents?”.

“Don’t fear. As long as you keep them in your

family, passing the box along from generation to gen-

eration, all will be well”. Madsen gripped Bernie’s

arm tightly. “No one outside your family must ever

know about this box, understand?”.

Bernie nodded.

“Good, because it is very, very important that you

understand this”. Madsen lowered his voice. “To say

anything to anyone about the contents of this box

would . . . .”He paused. “It would bring about the

immediate destruction of your entire family”.

“By who?”.

“Your government”, Madsen croaked. “Your president”.

Madsen released his grip. “You have been

warned. I can do nothing more”.

“These documents”, Bernie whispered fearfully,

“wh-what are they?”.

“Enough to destroy this country”. Madsen felt

stronger. “There is a duplicate copy of what you have

in that box stashed away in a private Swiss bank account,

but international bankers and an assortment

of other rogues may sniff it out”.

“What happens then?”, Bernie inquired timidly.

Madsen sighed. “If that happens, then everything

will go to your descendants”.

“Then what?”

“Then what?”, Madsen laughed happily,

“they’ll own the whole damn country, that’s what!”

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