Lake refused to leave the house again until the guy from Portland arrived to bear him to his last American city. Two days more, then Vancouver. You're sure they speak English there?

The TV dinners began to taste like middle class K-rats so Lake and Jimmy scraped and wirebrushed the backyard barbecue, burned everyone hot dogs, hamburgers, bell peppers, potatoes wrapped in tinfoil, real food with smoke in it. Gladys and Mona washed the dishes, Jimmy and Lake tiptoed around the back yard whispering Dwight. No Dwight.

“You know what I think,” said Jimmy. “He stays in her room and watches her undress.”

“Jealous of a dead guy, that’s lame.”

They sat in lawn chairs ‘like a coupla suburbanites.’

“What’s in it for you?” said Lake.

“What’s in what for me?”

“Underground railroad thing.”

“Stop the war.”

“Freeing my 180-pound ass ? That’ll do it.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I mean what’s in it for you personally.”

“What do I personally get from getting you personally out of the country?”

“Unless your life is dedicated to getting this negro to freedom, Lord. What’s in it for you?”

“There was little I could do. But without me the rulers would have been more secure.”

“That’s a quote, right?”


“What’s in it for you, caped crusader?”

“When I was a kid”

“You got fifty ways not to answer. In your own words, that’s what they taught me my year at Wayne State, in your own words describe What’s In It For You.”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Uh uh, slick. How do I know this ain’t some white boy’s loopy game, gittin us over the border lahk in ol’ slavery days?”

“What difference does it make, long as you get there?”

Lake hissed. Jimmy lit a cigarette from the tip of the one in his mouth, flicked the old one into the charcoal embers.

“Take your time, Jimbo.”

Jimmy closed his eyes, squeezed the bridge of his nose, watched dimness pool in the grass.

“Notice,” said Lake, “you don’t ask me, on account of you know what’s in it for me.”

“When you were a kid,”

“Aht!” Lake’s hand up, stop!

“Wait,” said Jimmy. “You watched cowboy and indian movies, right?”


“Who’d you root for?”


“Not me. I fell for it. Custer was the Hero of Little Big Horn. Slaves accepted their condition. And anyway that’s all behind us now there is no race problem in America World War I saved the world for democracy and a rising tide lifts all boats. I had to read a fuckin book to find out there was poverty in this country.”

“You could of asked me.”

“Next incarnation gimme a call. You know those kids’ pop-up books, you open it up and—”

“I seen one in a library.”

“They issue them to middleclass white kids, part of the con kit. Here’s a pioneer town in Kansas, Jimmy, there’s the little bank and the doctor’s office and the saloon and the hitching posts and there goes the seamstress and a kid rolling a hoop. And nowhere in there anywhere — the dead Indians, landgrabbers, government-subsidied railroad tycoons, smallpox blankets, Chinese laborers, and worse than it being then, it’s now, this is the town you live in, Jimmy. Misery? Injustice? What’s that? And being white and filled with this pop-up fantasy, we expect you, Jimmy, to grow up to manage some part of the old plantation. Oh goody, can I be the first man on the moon? Of course, boy.”

Lake eased back in the aluminum chair, studied the white boy preaching.

“My dad came home from the war fed up. He had enough. Not exactly a pacifist. We went to Quaker Meeting. So when I turned 18 I applied to be a conscientious objector. Not too radical. I had some questions about mass murder as the way solve things. And BAM!” Jimmy slapped the aluminum arm rest, which gave a puny smack and stung his palm. “They send the FBI, which has nothing better to do, to Webster Groves, Missouri and they interview everybody, our neighbors, my 8th grade English teacher. The gym coach! ‘Is young Jimmy a good American or maybe a subversive have you seen him engage in unAmerican activities?’ My home town’s full of guys in bad suits asking is Jimmy a good American or a traitor. That sort of squashes the pop-up village, but the worst part.”

Jimmy had never before thought of this as the worst part.

“The worst part,” said Lake.

“My father had a war buddy, Howart, we called him Howard with a T. I came home from college, where by the way they were threatening to take away my scholarship for conscientiously objecting to ROTC.”

“Gotta love those tin soldiers,” said Lake. “Sorry. The worst part.”

“I looked up to this guy. He’s a writer, a journalist, debonaire, drinks martinis, blahblah. He invites me over to tell me I’m un-patriotic, would I have refused to fight the nazis, how can you undermine your nation’s resolve in this time of the Red Menace. He about broke me. Thing was, I had all those doubts myself, but they were my fuckin doubts. He had no business. I felt like. My dad flew his boss’s Cessna and used to take me along to cover small town stories in the American Heartland, and I felt like I was up there bouncing in the air and America was throwing shit at me, body parts, for just asking. Took me a while to figure out that the single answer to all my questions was Because America’s the Greatest Country in the World so Shut Up.”

“You ever tell your dad?”

“No. I was too humiliated or I didn’t want to make him choose sides or I don’t know what.”

“You guys want a beer?” said Mona from the back door. They did.

“The anger of the sucker at the con,” said Jimmy. “You know that feeling?”

Lake did indeed.

“What’s the word for the guy they con?”

“The mark,” said Lake.

“Okay. What I get out of it, personally?”


“Satisfaction,” said Jimmy. “A magic trick. Poof! I can make part of your Army disappear. Who’s the mark now?”