For All Nails #294: Crazy

By Johnny Pez

Off the South Georgia Coast
19 March 1899

As a boy back in Indiana, Ezra Gallivan had never been especially fond of boat fishing. Fishing was something you did while standing on the bank of a river, or at worst wading in wearing hip-high doheny boots. Boat fishing was for people who were too lazy to spend the day on their feet.

That changed when he met Christopher Hemingway. At the Boston convention back in '83, he and Chris had been among the rising stars, Gallivan in his first year as Mayor of Michigan City, Chris in his first year as Governor of New Jersey province. Chris had been a protégé of Scott Ruggles, and the two of them had been part of the group that had secured the Coalition's nomination for Ruggles. After the wheeling and dealing was done, Chris had invited Gallivan to join him for his annual two weeks' holiday sport fishing down in Georgia after the elections. Gallivan had done so, and found to his surprise that he enjoyed himself. Ever since then, he had made it a point to keep the month of March free, and spend it traveling to the little town of Miami on the southern outskirts of Flaglerville, where he and Chris would set out in a chartered steam yacht to test their skill against the bluefish and marlin.

Sixteen years later, Chris had Scott Ruggles' old seat on the Grand Council, and Gallivan was in his third term as Governor-General, but they still spent two weeks every March on a chartered steam yacht. They sang songs, boozed it up, and talked about everything under the sun while waiting for something to bite. One day, as Gallivan had always known it eventually would, the subject of the conversation turned to Benito Hermión.

"Doesn't he worry you?" Chris asked. The two men were seated at the stern, their lines trailing behind the yacht, and the mid-morning sun was sparkling off of water the color of perfect Mexico del Norte turquoise. "He conquered Guatemala, he conquered New Granada, he conquered Hawaii, and now he's conquered Alaska. Seems to me, you've just got to figure that eventually Pedro's boy is going to want to give that other scorpion another tussle."

Gallivan chuckled. "Chris, believe me, the last thing Benito wants to do is get into a knock-down, drag-out fight with the CNA. He'd be crazy to try it, and Benito is anything but crazy."

Chris appeared to be astonished. "Zee, are we talking about the same man? Every other word out of his mouth is a denunciation of 'jackals' and 'devils' and 'vipers' and whatnot. If he isn't a crazy man, then he's been working very hard to convince everyone in the world that he is."

Gallivan paused for a moment before answering. "Chris, have you ever heard of President Norton?"

"No," said Chris, "can't say that I have. What was he president of?"

"The CNA."

It was several seconds before Chris answered. "Zee, are you having me on?"

"Well, I suppose he wasn't officially President of the CNA, but he claimed to be. He was a character in Michigan City when I was growing up. He was born in England, and his father went into business in Egypt. When Norton was a young man, he moved to Michigan City to set up on his own. Did all right for a while, but then he lost his shirt trying to corner the market on Manitoban wheat. After that, he sent a notice to every newspaper in town proclaiming himself to be the President of the Confederation of North America."

"Sounds like he was off his rocker."

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Gallivan grinned. "But get this. At least four papers actually printed his proclamation, and when he started issuing 'executive orders' dissolving the Grand Council and ordering the construction of a fleet of aerial battleships, the papers printed those, too. He issued his own currency, and businesses in Michigan City would accept it as payment. He was actually able to stop a mob from killing some union men back in '78 by kneeling in the street and praying. He died when I was thirty, and all the papers ran banner headlines announcing his death. Thousands of people turned out for his funeral."

"I still say he was off his rocker," said Chris firmly.

"That's just it," said Gallivan. "That was his secret. If you or I tried to print our own private currency and pay our bills with it, we'd be arrested for fraud and thrown in gaol. We're both known to be sane men, so our only motive could be criminal. But Norton had convinced everyone that he was mad, so he was able to get away with actions that no sane man could ever have done."

"I think I see what you're getting at," said Chris. "You think Hermión is doing the same thing, talking like a crazy man so that folks let him get away with things they'd never let a sane man do."

"That's just what I think he's doing," said Gallivan. "If you ignore what he says and pay attention to what he does, you'll see that he's a very crafty fellow. He took a shaky country that was coming apart at the seams, and turned it into a monolithic juggernaut. He's got everyone there, the Anglos, the Mexicanos, the business leaders, the workers, even the females, eating out of his hand." With another chuckle, the Governor-General added, "Don't be deceived by appearances, Chris. He may sound crazy, but he's as sane as you or I. And no sane man would try to conquer the CNA. That's why I know we've got nothing to worry about from him."

"You know, Zee," Chris said after a time, "if you're right about Hermión, then it occurs to me that maybe we ought to have made this Norton fellow the President of the CNA after all. If we had, we might be the ones who are conquering Alaska today, instead of the Mexicans."

"Well, Chris," said Gallivan, "the trouble with having an empire is that eventually, you're going to need an emperor. Norton might have done well enough as a president, but I don't think he was cut out to be an emperor."

Forward to FAN #295: The Third Republic.

Forward to 1903: Historiae Virorum Illustrorum Novangliae.

Return to For All Nails.

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