Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center
Ninety Days Inside The Empire: A Novel by William Appleman Williams


Page 49

About the time that the church had finally emptied, all but two of the white men who had escaped the communion were gathered with a few others at a large round table at one end of the terrace of the River Bay Country Club. That arena offered a typical potpourri of serious golfers, dedicated hackers, sexual voyeurs, amateur gamblers, tennis enthusiasts, and businessmen who enjoyed cutting deals in a relaxed and sunny environment. Also, the drinks were generous and the food excellent. The common denominators which brought and kept the members together were a sizable amount of discretionary income, and a romantic desire to associate vicariously with Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.

Those two exceptional athletes played the course now-and-again because it posed a serious challenge for them as well as top amateurs. And Texas duffers were no different from any others: they preferred to cheat on a tough back nine. The course had largely been designed by an early cattleman who developed an obsession for golf when he failed to excite any enduring local enthusiasm for polo. He had done a very ingenious job of it, and only minor changes had been needed over the years. He had picked the spot because it offered the knolls, trees and creeks that made the game worth playing. And the eccentric old gentleman (he had worn jodhpurs during roundups) had felt the same way about table games, and hence the club boasted what were said to be the only snooker tables in Texas-as well as a no-limit, five-card-draw poker game. Members only, of course.

As the table on the terrace filled, drinks were ordered and raised in welcome, and two foursomes were arranged. Then a stocky man with a work-lined face named Charles Burton opened the serious talk. He was the machine man in the special primary election to choose a Democratic candidate for the seat in the House of Representatives. Burton had been a state senator who chose not to run again after four terms because he liked the field work in his drilling equipment business, and because he could get what he needed or wanted over the telephone to Austin or Washington. That kind of power was the reason he had been prevailed upon by Speaker of the House of Representatives Sam Rayburn and others to run after the incumbent had killed himself in a drunken one-car accident on County B.

"I know Truman had to make a speech to the NAACP, but he was a damn fool to sound like Henry Wallace!"

"You have a point, Charles, but he's in with the alligators just like the rest of us. We got to win this election and he's just trying to keep the pieces of the pie in the sky till come November. He can't do it with just the South."

That wisdom came from Ralph George Crown, a tall, almost gaunt, man of almost magical presence who owned and directed the daily affairs of the vast complex of businesses called The Crown Enterprises. He could and did delegate authority and responsibility: two of the whites at communion had been his men who reported to him in person before he came to the club. But he ran the show. Among his accomplishments, he had arranged the location, and secured the contracts for building, the various Naval Air Stations in Texas. He decided to test the Admiral.

"I'm told a goodly number of your people attended church today."

Rear Admiral Alexander Randolph Breckinridge had not expected the thrust so early, but he had been at general quarters since he sat down at the table.

"Well, Mr. Crown, you fight a war for the Four Freedoms, and some people are going to reach for that pie in the sky."

Crown liked that in a man-or a woman when it came time for that-but made note to push a bit deeper.

He turned to Burton: "That's what I mean, Burt. The Admiral gets the point." Then back to Breckinridge.

"But can you keep that hunger within limits? You will use your ways to remind people not to get too greedy?"

The Admiral looked past the man to the 18th green, then stood a moment to watch a long, curving downhill putt. He sat down, did not apologize, and spoke very slowly.