He hammered along, arms swinging at his sides. He was known, well known, along the highways in hiding that are traveled by the poor and the mad, by the professional revolutionaries and by those who have been taught to hate so well that their hate shows on their faces like harelips and they are unwanted except by others like them, who welcome them to cheap rooms with slogans and posters on the walls, to basements where lengths of sawed-off pipe are held in padded vices while they are stuffed with high explosives, to back rooms where lunatic plans are laid: to kill a Cabinet member, to kidnap the child of a visiting dignitary, or to break into a boardroom meeting of Standard Oil with grenades and machine guns and murder in the name of the people. He was known there, and even the maddest of them could only gaze upon his dark and grinning face at an oblique angle. The women he took to bed with him, even if they reduced intercourse to something as casual as getting a snack from the refrigerator, accepted him with a stiffening of the body, a turning away of the countenance. They took him in the way they might take a ram with golden eyes or a black dog -- and when it was done they were cold, so cold, it seemed impossible they could ever be warm again.
When he walked into a meeting the hysterical babble ceased -- the backbiting, recriminations, accusations, the ideological rhetoric. For a moment there would be dead silence and then they would start to turn to him and then turn away, as if he had come to them with some old and terrible engine of destruction cradled in his arms, something a thousand times worse than the plastic explosive made in the basement labs of renegade chemistry students or the black market arms obtained from some greedy army post supply sergeant. It seemed that he had come to them with a device gone rusty with blood and packed for centuries in the Cosmoline of screams but now ready again, carried to their meeting like some infernal gift, a birthday cake with nitroglycerine candles. And when the talk began again it would be rational and disciplined -- as rational and disciplined as madmen can make it -- and things would be agreed upon.
He had sat on a hundred different Committees of Responsibility. He had walked in demonstrations against the same dozen companies on a hundred different college campuses. He wrote the questions that most discomfited those in power when they came to lecture, but he never asked those questions himself; those power merchants might have seen his grinning, burning face as some cause for alarm and fled from the podium. Likewise, he never spoke at rallies because the microphones would scream with hysterical feedback and circuits would blow. But he had written speeches for those who did speak, and on several occasions those speeches had ended in riots, overturned cars, student strike votes, and violent demonstrations.
For a while in the early seventies he had been acquainted with a man named Donald DeFreeze, and had suggested that DeFreeze take the name Cinque. He had helped lay plans that resulted in the kidnapping of an heiress, and it had been he who suggested that the heiress be made crazy instead of simply ransomed. He had left the small Los Angeles house when DeFreeze and the others had fried not twenty minutes before the police moved in; he slunk away up the street, his bulging and dusty boots clocking on the pavement, a fiery grin on his face that made mothers grab up their children and pull them into the house, a grin that made pregnant women feel premature labor pains. And later, when a few tattered remnants of the group were swept up, all they knew was there had been someone else associated with the group, maybe someone important, maybe a hanger-on, a man of no age, a man called the Walkin Dude, or sometimes the Boogeyman.
- ball of fire