The Symbiotic Club

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.

Chapter 19 - The Power Game

Freddy's hearing was set for the last Saturday in January, 1976. As I went to sleep the night before, I thought, "If this were the movies, we would have rain tomorrow." But, Mother Nature produced more appropriate conditions. Fog enveloped the area. So thick was the fog that headlights did not penetrate it even at 8:30 as I drove to the club. It was as if God wished to hide the injustice that was to transpire there that day.

The meeting room was arranged to resemble a courtroom. Two small tables were before the Position of the Priest of Justice. Rows of chairs, behind the tables, faced that Position.

The Judge and the Prosecuting Official, both appointed by the national office in Dallas, arrived together. They had coordinated their trips to permit their sharing a rental car from the airport. They shook hands with Dale Chase and Charles Lansburg on their way into the meeting room. The meeting room was practically full; other members lingered in the lobby and the hallway. As the visiting officials entered the meeting room, it filled behind them. They didn't shake hands with Freddy or his council, Harrison Murphy, who were already at one of the small tables. The Prosecuting Official took his seat beside the Area Coordinator at the other table. The Judge set at the Justice Position and called the hearing to order.

Dale Chase, Charles Lansburg, Wayne Fello and Professor Miller, as witnesses, remained in the lobby. The Prosecuting Official called the Area Coordinator as the first witness. He detailed Freddy's insult, his reading of the ritual and the disregard for the Circle which he manifested by his performance.

Harrison asked the AC if Freddy was the only High Priest in his district who had read his part. The Prosecutor immediately objected. "The other High Priests are not being tried here."

Murphy attempted to explain the relevance of his question in terms of consistency of treatment, but was unable to say much before the Judge said, "Sustained."

As I listened, I was forced to recognize the genius that had designed this organization. The character of that genius was difficult to fathom.

My reflections were interrupted when Chase took the stand. The Prosecutor asked him about his offices in both the national organization and our local club. It was apparent that he had devoted his life to the Circle.

The thought came to me that the founders of the organization had a keen sense of the ironic. They had established a way of making fun of us without our even knowing it. They walked naked and had everyone compliment them on their finery. In staging the show, they were masters, Sampson, an amateur. Somewhere, someone had simply forgotten that it was a joke.

Chase testified that Freddy was disrespectful to the Circle and to the guiding principles reflected by the Star. "Freddy's disdain for the Circle came out in his ungentlemanly language and disregard for the Area Coordinator. I haven't seen anything like it in my thirty plus years as a officer in the Circle. It represents a bad trend, in my opinion, a trend which we need to nip in the bud, so to speak."

Dale shook his head slowly as he spoke. He appeared deeply disturbed by what had happened.

Murphy asked Chase, "Have you not known officers who used foul language in the past?"

"Not to this extent." Dale's body was rigid, his jaw set.

"Aren't we talking about one term?"

"One used to refer to the National High Priest's representative." Chase showed none of the doubt about the proceedings which he had expressed to Professor Miller. At the moment, he was the prototype spokesman for the national organization.

"You've never heard any one use derogatory language in jest?"

"A degree of respect must be maintained."

"Have you ever laughed at a dirty joke?"

"What?"

"Objection."

"I withdraw the question. No more question for this witness."

Charles Lansburg entered with his legal pad in hand. He was exacting in detailing his attempts to motivate, encourage and help Freddy to learn his part of the ritual, all to no avail. "He never had any intention of learning it. It was obvious that he had no commitment to the values it represented or for the guiding principles of the Star."

Ritual was important to Charles. His testimony prompted me to think about the role of ritual in our lives. Routines, patterns provided security, comfort amid the highly changing life that was around us. Future Shock had been on the best seller list and it amply reflected the anxiety that many people felt. Rituals, embedded into the Southern heritage through its culture, may have symbolized the last fortress for Lansburg's values.

I was impressed by his poise, but I wondered how he could know Freddy's motives so definitely. Murphy went directly to that issue in his questioning. Charles wasn't in the least rattled by the question; he explained, with patience, how body language revealed people's attitude.

During his lecture, my mind returned to the function of rituals. So many of our business and social interactions involved little rituals. They all somehow communicated to others. To some extent, we all learned those stylized behaviors. However, they varied from culture to culture, and from class to class. The rich knew, without even knowing that they knew, the correct rendition; thus, they were, somehow, deserving of the finer things which they inherited. Finishing schools, and later colleges, began teaching these rituals to the less privileged. I concluded that part of Lansburg's problem was he realized that he had been forced to teach himself the rituals of his acquired class. He hadn't been born into "society," but had earned his place in it. Now Freddy wanted to become a Former High Priest without memorizing his part.

Some members eased out of the room during Lansburg's testimony. When it was over, many left the room. The testimony was, by then, well into its second hour. I was surprised that there was no recess.

Murphy called Fello as his first witness.

"What was the financial status of this club when Freddy took office?"

"Objection."

"Sustained."

The apparent was becoming increasingly concrete: The verdict was reached before the trial. The Judge was working with the Prosecutor to make the record vindicate the decision. I remembered my experience with Dr. Sloane and my mother's words: The dumbest person can ask questions which the smartest can't answer. As I watched the interaction of the Prosecutor and Judge, it was clear that the most immoral people were possibly the ones who set standards that the most moral can't equal.

While I was thinking, Harrison must have been able to ask Fello a question that he was allowed to answer because Wayne was saying, "I have seen our Area Coordinator do worse. He read his part when I visited his home club."

"Objection!"

"Sustained! Again, Gentlemen, we are not here to try anyone besides the defendant. Charges have been brought against him by a duly appointed official of the Circle. Other misgivings are irrelevant. Anyway, two wrongs don't make a right."

Harrison bowed his head as if he had been duly reprimanded. He may have resigned himself to the obvious. Nonetheless, he continued the questioning, "Would you say that Freddy was serious when he used an expletive to address the Area Coordinator?"

"Objection."

"If you mean, 'shit ass,' no I don't."

"Objection, the witness is not qualified to speak to the defendant's motives."

"He uses the term often; it's a common part of his vocabulary," Fello persisted.

"The objection is sustained. If you wish, the defendant can speak to his own motives."

Harrison seemed to ignore the Judge's last comment. "I have no more questions of this witness."

The Prosecutor asked, "You have been involved in ritual contests have you not?"

Wayne grinned and answered, "Yes."

"Then, you have some appreciation of what the ritual should represent. Would you say that the defendant represented your standards."

Wayne shrugged, "I like to think I have higher standards than most."

"That's not what I asked. Did the defendant reflect your standards."

"Few people live up to the standards I set for myself!"

The Judge commanded, "Answer the question!"

"Well, no, then. He didn't live up to my standards."

"Were you pleased with his rendition of the ritual?"

"I guess not."

"I have no further questions of this witness."

"Defense Counsel, call you next witness."

The Professor looked distinguished in a dark blue suit, but Murphy Harrison seemed duly wore down. He established that the professor worked at the university, but didn't ask which department much less his credentials which permitted him to speak to the quality of Freddy's performance. Harrison simply asked if, in the professor's opinion, Freddy was disrespectful in his presentation of his role.

"In my professional opinion, he was not."

The answer seemed to jar the counselor's memory, "What is your field of study?"

"Speech. I have taught and evaluated oral performance for over twenty years. I focused on the nonverbal dimensions for several years, and have published articles on the nature of vocal expression."

"I have no further questions."

"Your witness, Prosecutor."

"You have all this academic work, but do you have any experience, beyond your partial year at one Position and attending meetings at this local club, which would qualify you as an expert in the specific rituals of the Circle?"

"I have studied the manuals."

"Yes, but you have never been to any of OUR workshops, gone to any of OUR contests, or done anything which would give you a basis for judging the quality of OUR rituals?

"You're saying that there is a right way, a wrong way and an OUR way?"

The Professor gave the same emphasis and inflection to "our" as had the Prosecutor. I smiled, but the effect seemed to be lost on everyone else, especially the Judge.

"Answer the question," he snarled.

"Okay!" The professor was steamed. There was a strenuousness quality in his voice that I hadn't heard before. I could see the veins in his neck. "I attended the exhibition of teams from the Area which was held at this building last year. Four teams read the passages and six High Priests sounded worse than Freddy."

The Prosecutor seemed caught off guard. He finally regained his balance sufficiently to halt the professor, "All right. You attended an Area contest, but you have had no training in the proper presentation of the ceremony?"

The professor shrugged his shoulders in resignation, "No, I haven't."

That ended the testimony.

I expected Murphy to stand for the summation. He did not. His voice was resonant, but it was clear that he had accepted the defeat. He knew when the cards were stacked against him. He made the compelling point that justice should be even handed. The Circle should not punish selectively. The Judge didn't appear compelled. Murphy argued, further, that the efforts which Freddy made for the club should compensate for any apparent discrepancies in his behavior. He ended strong, "Freddy saved this club from almost certain financial ruin. For his efforts, Justice demands that he be reward by the Circle, not punished."

The Prosecutor did stand. He resembled a beardless Abe Lincoln as he turned toward the defense table so the audience could see his profile. "It would be possible for us to minimize the offenses of the defendant. Off colored remarks directed to officials of the Circle are usually simply overlook on some grounds or another. 'The person didn't mean it, he was just joking, or he was temporarily out of control.' I know I've overlooked a few such comments in my time.

"The ritual is demanding. Many of us have had difficulty learning it. Still, the mandate is clear. The High Priest, of all people, must set a good example in being able to recite it.

"Probably, most important, is the respect that one shows for our guiding principles. They are the lights which have made us the greatest fraternal organization in this country.

"Perhaps, the defendant's transgression on any one of these three points could have been overlooked, and we would not have had to have had this trial. Yet, here we are. It is clear that he is guilty of not one, not two but three transgressions. The three together certainly justify his removal from office!"

I was amazed at the number of members who commented on how fairly the hearing had been conducted. The movement to put it all behind them had begun. The verdict was as obvious as if it had been the morning's headlines. Freddy would take the fall and they would all remain members of the Circle. The gods of the ritual had their sacrificial lamb, their power would be demonstrated, and they would be appeased. The local establishment had something of revenge; although they would hunger for more, Freddy was sufficient for the moment. The gamblers would take the loss in stride. After all, they had regained their gaming tables, and they never liked Freddy much anyway.

It was well into the lunch hour; so, I took Professor Miller for hamburgers. He was still visual upset, but considerable less so than during the trial.

"You know, that prosecutor apologized to me! For being so rough! Like someone he had just shutout at handball! He didn't even know that it was he who was outscored. When the game is fraudulent, one need not worry about being outscored."

"Didn't you know that's how it would be before it started?"

"Yes, and I should not have been upset by it. I accomplished what I intended."

"Which was?"

"Three things, I am not sure of their order since they are important for different reasons. I wanted to show support for Freddy. When I chose not to enter the meeting, as you remember, it wasn't a clear cut decision, yet my action had to be one sided. Freddy wasn't blameless in all of this; he could have learned his lines, but to the extent that it is 'us against them,' I wanted to be counted with Freddy."

"I am not sure they wouldn't have got him on something else if he had learned his lines. You told me, even last spring, that you felt like prey waiting for the buzzard to pounce if you showed any sign of weakness."

"Yes," Professor gave a nod of acceptance more than agreement. "That relates to my second reason for our little effort today, and I guess that it's the same as Freddy's and whose ever is backing him. I did not want it to be a cheap victory for them. They may be able to do as they please, but it cost them as well as us."

"Sounds like a hollow reason to me."

"Perhaps, but I believed Dale when he told me it had been the worst two months of his life."

"Okay, what was your third reason?"

"I want to see the club emerge from this as a place that I can enjoy. That means the current leadership must continue, which meant that some of us had to exert ourselves now."

"You've positioned yourself well in that regard. Everyone ought to know that there isn't a leadership vacuum for the like of Lansburg to fill."

"Think so? Well, thanks. I feel better. Mary made an excellent selection." He smiled. "I could not ask for a better son in law. You know, after she met you at the park, she went on a diet that day. And, since then, it has been easier to live with her."

I smiled, "She knew a good thing when she saw one, and she knew how to get me! That's just one of the things I love about her."

"I rejoice for it. I have worried about her."

"Because she wasn't married?"

"No, not that, exactly." He paused, obviously thinking, deciding how to continue. "When Mary was about sixteen, I became heavily involved in gambling, at the club and in Las Vegas. I was gone from home most evenings. It severely affected our relationship, Mary's and mine. I'm not sure exactly what it was. Perhaps she thought I was running around on her mother. When I saw how unhappy she became, I put limits on my gambling. My family has always been the most important thing in my life. I could beat the dealers, but the earnings were inconsequential by comparison. Anyway, once I quit, Mary got better, but it just hadn't been the same until she met you. You've have been good for her."

"I intend to remain so. I like being part of the Miller clan!" I laughed and began cleaning our trash from the table.

Back at the club, the activity upstairs, that Saturday afternoon, closely resembled the Saturday afternoons before the ban. The players said little of the trial. Buster Sampson, who was dealing, did tease The Professor about his ineffectiveness, "Well, I guess now we know what the opinion of a Ph.D. is worth in the Circle of the Star."

Miller simple shook his head and said, "Hit me." The card punctuated how things were going by taking his total over 21. My fortune was no better than his that afternoon. After I had lost $120, Clyde invited me home for dinner. He seemed to have put the trial behind him.

Freddy's name wasn't placed in nomination for the four year term on the Executive Board later that month. Allen North was nominated to become the new High Priest in April. Clyde Miller was nominated for the second spot, Priest of Piety. Henry Ruth decided to continue as Secretary, apparently finding a meaningful new hobby. There was no alternative nominees. Allen and his fellow officers were duly elected at that year's Reunion Night in February.

The official announcement of Freddy verdict came in late March and had the effect of yesterday's news. Freddy was pronounced guilty on two of the three counts. He was cleared on the charge of lack of sincerity in his reading of the ritual. Perhaps, a Ph.D. did have some meaning within the Circle after all. Nevertheless, the two indictments were sufficient to retroactively remove Freddy from office and to purge his name from the list of men who had served our club as High Priest.

The verdict should have been no more than a symbolic defeat to Freddy. However, it appeared to affect him deeply. He stopped coming to the club entirely. I saw him around town twice in the following months; both times he was unkempt. Within the next year, he was arrested for attempting to sell drugs to minors.

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