Chapter 3: It’s time Kinshasa be like other African capitals

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Stories by Christian Filostrat

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Chapter 3


It’s time Kinshasa be like other African capitals



If the appointment of Judd Mosley to Zair stunned the Dictator, Mosley’s selection to be the new ambassador to Kinshasa sent shock waves through the State Department’s ninth floor. One member of the State Department’s Selection and Assignment Board compared Mosley’s selection to the National Science Foundation decreeing that creationism was science.

The uproar over this one assignment exploded into open panic because none of the nine members of the board was yet aware that Kinshasa had been downgraded; that it was no longer an A-list designated country. Not even John Lindley, the coordinator of the Selection and Assignment Board, knew. When he heard about Mosley, he was sure another misunderstanding was at work on the ninth floor. Lindley was a former Miami immigration lawyer, practiced in procedure and jurisdiction, but dead set against transparency rules – transparency rules interfered with business.

“I’ll show them,” Lindley promised himself, shocked to discover it was not a misunderstanding. “They can’t get away with this. I’m in the fiduciary position with respect to the Selection and Assignment Board. If I don’t agree to an appointment, there is no appointment. Judd Mosley to Kinshasa without consulting me, really? I’ve every reason to be as offended as I please. I’ll just squash that handshake and do my job by naming the right person to Kinshasa.”

He named his assistant, Barbara Bleding, to take Mosley’s place, knowing that they would not dare pick a black man over a white woman.

When Matthew Greeson, the secretary of state’s deputy and Lindley’s boss  received Lindley’s memo nominating Barbara Bleding to take Mosley’s place, he took the elevator down to the Coordinator’s office.

“I apologize for coming down unannounced,” Greeson said as he walked into the coordinator’s office. “But it was urgent that I tell you in person to end your objection to Mosley’s appointment and cease this frantic lobbying on Barbara’s behalf.”

Lindley was too versed in State Department’s bureaucratic practices not to know the importance attached to personal wishes. Some personal wishes were affairs of state. That awareness made him pliant toward superiors. His brusqueness toward subordinates, on the other hand, was well-known. Fearing a rebuke, he bent to the power in front of him.

“Matt, you’re always welcome, announced or no,” he said, standing up to shake the hand of a frowning Matthew Greeson, a middle-aged, bland-looking and mannered, man whose winning strategy to mask his all-consuming bureaucratic aspirations was to use self-deprecation and clichés. He was contrarily nicknamed “Fatman” for his vigorous daily use of the basement gym.

Greeson went to stand at the window, facing the Lincoln Memorial. He sighed and told the coordinator in a reprimanding voice, “The Mosley appointment is a political decision; the Judge himself made the nomination.”

“Good God, the Secretary of State is in on this? I didn’t know.” Lindley’s face took on the look of a child listening to a cautionary tale. Fatman was an invulnerable adversary. As phony as they came, he went out of his way to give minorities like Judd Mosley the sense he was not against their appointments as others at the Department were.

“Yes,” Fatman said, more irritation in his voice. “The Department made a mistake sending Kinglesthousen to Kinshasa to speak to the Dictator in ‘92.” It was lunacy for Kinglesthousen to go to Kinshasa with his nose in the stratosphere’s ass to tell the Dictator about African chromosomes, after the United States had shined his boots for thirty years. Washington could not very well stand on that.

“Now Washington is forced to use an indirect approach. This will guarantee he knows he’s history. No more reading between the lines.”

Such an unusually elaborate explanation from Greeson was the cue to nod; tell him you understood and change the subject. Something in Lindley’s mind rebelled, however. Not having the freedom to disagree offended him. He had to defend his right under pain of seeing it disappear completely. As the one and only Selection and Assignment Board coordinator of this organization, he would be nothing more than a rug to walk on if he didn’t do even that. He picked up a pencil; held it tightly in his hand, and shaking his head vigorously up and down, protested to Fatman’s back. “This is unsafe. Cornering a megalomaniac like this Dictator is unsafe,” he said. “He rages like King Kong. He’s not going to take this lying down.”

Matt Greeson spun around to stare at Lindley. “This dictator had it coming,” he said. “A corrupt and venal dictator like that deserves no consideration from honest governments. None.”

“Please don’t get me wrong,” Lindley said, his hand on his heart, thinking that he was forgetting himself, arguing with a guy, who was as thick as thieves with the secretary of state. “Of course, the dictator had it coming. How can I say no to that? I was only thinking of you. You saw how he intimidated us with what Klingesthousen told him over there. He would’ve crippled us if he had carried out the threat to give the New York Times, CNN and others the tape of what Klingesthousen told him about chromosomal abnormalities in Africa. We were shitting in our pants the world was going to judge us as flaming racists. Plus, he has friends in Congress. His ambassador spends beaucoup time on the Hill promoting his interests. I see him. Every time I go up there, I see him. That’s all I was saying. I’m not disagreeing with you.”

Fatman turned back to look at the Lincoln Memorial. It had started to rain, and he tried to open the window to let fresh air in to dispel the irritation Lindley’s protest had caused him. For security reasons, they had sealed all the windows. Greeson hit the window with the palm of his hand and made a reproachful grunt at his disappointment; also at his subordinate’s persistence and at the Dictator’s heartlessness and the influence he’d had over Washington the past thirty years.

“A Dictator will do what a Dictator will do,” he said, his voice a low growl. “And this one is an archaic man; archaic enough to take the Mosley appointment personally. But after the Klingesthousen fiasco, this is what must be done. End of discussion.” He turned back to the window to try again to open it. When he couldn’t, he hit it with the other hand. After a moment, he turned around. “The most prudent approach now is Mosley,” he said as if talking to himself. “The Dictator can’t very well denounce Mosley – not the way he did Klingesthousen. What can he say?”

“That’s right,” Lindley said, barely managing a fake enthusiasm.

“Anyway,” Greeson continued, “once he gets the message he’s been downgraded, his pride will deter him from doing anything about it, especially on the Hill, regardless of how heartless he is. He hasn’t got anybody on the Hill to stand up for him anymore. He’s become the perfect reject; everyone is disgusted by him.”

“That’s right,” Lindley repeated.

“That’s right,” Greeson echoed. “He’ll most likely retire to one of his villas in France or Switzerland. Through the Saudi King, the secretary is putting the bug in the King of Morocco’s ear to invite him to Rabat.  He may be hard of hearing, but he’s not stupid.”

Lindley berated himself at having uncertainties linger about him. If he was going to keep his job, he had to do better.

Greeson, on the other hand, was looking at the Mosley appointment to Kinshasa. He needed it to go smoothly through the Selection and Assignment Board, and he needed Lindley to make it happen. His back to the Lincoln Memorial, he told himself that, by letting the fool talk him into a handshake, Lindley would be as eager as a drowning man reaching for a rope to please him and the secretary. He wanted Barbara Bleding. Greeson would appoint her Mosley’s deputy. That’s what he intended all along. He wasn’t giving anything, really. It was merely good bureaucratic politics to give this coordinator the impression he had wrung a rope out of the tight-fisted Fatman. Besides, Barbara was his protégé; and it was good practice to pay back in a meaningful way a UC Davis classmate, who had given him loyal service these many years. He smiled inwardly. Then he shuddered, remembering how much he dreaded scenes. When he tells her, “Barb, I’m sending you to Africa.” Her dislike of hot climates and her not too favorable feelings toward blacks would undoubtedly cause a scene. She was from West Blocton, if memory served, population 1,109 as of the latest census, in Bibb County, Alabama.  He reminisced how far she had come.  How many tall, handsome women, did the State Department have? he asked himself. He had always looked upon her as the model diplomat. He was proud to be the pillar on which her career leaned. She was his creation, in fact; and in the end, she would show her gratitude. She always had. As long as he explained unwearyingly that people in their business did not say no to such exclusive opportunities.

Designated ambassadors have the last word in the selection of their deputies.  But Mosley would not object to the choice made for him. He owed the secretary and Greeson too much gratitude to object.

As soon as Fatman left his office, Lindley shouted at the walls, “Keep your job or let the Monday morning meeting degenerate into a mutiny because of a damn Mosley.” He picked up the phone to invite the Undersecretary for Management, William Jeffries, his principal ally on the Board. Jeffries, a slight man who often wore rumpled gray suits, was a blunt speaking old campaigner for the preservation of traditional appointments.

Standing in the middle of Lindley’s office, Jeffries listened quietly to the coordinator’s explanation. He then announced, “This one will be biiig trouble!”

“Fatman, standing at that very window told me the order came directly from the front office; the Judge himself, in person, shook Mosley’s hand.”

“Fatman is full of shit,” Jeffries shot back. “The front office is too scared we’d see it as favoring people like Mosley to do this. No, it’s Fatman’s idea.” He took his glasses off and put them in his breast pocket. After a few seconds, he put them back on. “It’s Fatman’s buttering up to you-know-who up there for his deputy secretary job to be made permanent.  I bet you my paycheck it’s Fatman’s.”

“I thought so too; so after he left, I checked with the front office,” Lindley lied to impress Jeffries. “No ifs or buts, they want Mosley. They want him bad.”

“I don’t believe it!” Jeffries took off his glasses again and put them in his breast pocket. “The Judge is terrified of being perceived as promoting blacks. Not even the guy who carries his bags is one.  No way he will compromise that precious popularity of his for anything in the world.”

“What’s going on,” Lindley sighed, “is that our system is worn-out; it no longer protects the institution. Haven’t you noticed? Minorities aren’t coming anymore; they’re here. The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present,” quoting Abraham Lincoln. “We now have to ask ourselves what must be done so that we don’t lose control completely. You don’t want the powers that be to put an outsider to ride herd over us because we can’t manage without the dogmas of the past. Do you?”

“I don’t care how old it is,” Jeffries cried, using the hand gesture he’d picked up in Italy. “Until we have something better to replace it with, we defend it. This place is not the postal service or the military. Foreigners feel snubbed when we send them certain envoys.

“Oh come on!” Lindley exclaimed, already exasperated at having to do these contortions to get minimum cooperation.

“You don’t believe me?” Jeffries responded a bit calmer than Lindley, but still by no means calm. “At a Spanish-embassy reception the other night, the first secretary there pulled me aside. He wasn’t blunt about it, but in so many words, he was asking what they had done to offend us. I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“‘You have sent us someone of a somewhat lower rank,’” he said. “‘You have not done that before.’” And then he asked, “‘Have we unknowingly offended you? It must be a misunderstanding that together we can easily correct.’” I said I wasn’t up to date on all our appointments, and asked whom he was referring to. This is what he said: “‘Don’t get me wrong, this person is exceptionally gracious . . . but you refer to them in your building as positive achievement hires, and usually send them to Africa. You did send one or two to communist countries a few years back. Now we are concerned you’ve put us in the same category.’

“I was embarrassed and said I would look into it, and left it at that.  But you see what I mean. Our European friends are raising questions. It’s not that we have a choice.”

“You handled that one badly,” Lindley said slowly in a low voice.

“I said I didn’t know; I thought that was enough,” Jeffries said.

“I hope Fatman or the secretary of state doesn’t get wind of this,” Lindley said. He got up and walked to the window and, like Fatman, gazed at the Lincoln Memorial. His back to him, he chided Jeffries, “You should have defended the appointment regardless of who it was.”

“I didn’t know,” Jeffries said, pulling out his glasses. Lindley was used to Jeffries’ tics.

“Whether you knew or not, you should have said, whoever it is, we assure you is qualified and represents the United States of America.” He turned and faced Jeffries. “That would have put the ball in their court. What were they going to do, refuse us an entry visa? They can’t question or tell us who our envoys should be. I sure hope Fatman doesn’t hear of this.” He wondered why all his consultations with Jeffries were prickly ones. He had no answer.

“Now you listen to me,” William Jeffries said, his face an embarrassed shade of red. “Our business is to put America’s best face forward. All this first secretary wanted to know is whether or not our policy toward Europe has changed. That’s a fair question! So I checked. In theory it hasn’t changed, but practice is something else; unless you don’t think that sending one of them to Spain is a shift. As I told you, we must defend –”

“But Kinshasa is not in Europe, and this is not the time to agitate,” Lindley said, interrupting Jeffries. Exasperation was adding patience to his voice.  “It would be insane to antagonize the Judge right now. The last thing we need is a confrontation we’re sure to lose. Congress is breathing down his neck to implement the recommendations from the Carlucci report and the vice president and his crowd will seize at anything to humble him. He must see that we’re doing everything in our power to make good on these recommend- dations. We’re good bureaucrats. We are in love with progress,” he chuckled self-congratorily at his attempt at sarcasm. “Seriously, the old tokenism policy has started to show its rot. We have to polish it. As you said yourself, we have no choice. I want you to tell everyone to put the Principle of Perceptual Consistency out to pasture. It’s not to be used anymore. That’s an order.”

“As long as we limited them to certain places, we all understood,” Jeffries said. “Now you’re suggest –”

“Look, Bill,” the coordinator cut him off, “Forget for a moment all this; it’s not worth arguing about. We’ve just two days to get a consensus on this Mosley assignment.  I need you to convince four of the members to vote for this. Please! I’m desperate.”

Lindley was desperate because he had worked out a handshake deal with Fatman and had to pay up. That was usually how these things played out and it was left to those downhill to smooth the mess over. Lindley had sworn that was the last time he would be in such a spot ever again.

“What do you have to be desperate for?” Jeffries asked. “It’s up to the board. Not you!”

“Barbara,” the coordinator answered, pulling at his nose, a wry expression on his face.

“What about Barbara?

“She’s going to be Mosley’s deputy.”

“In Africa?” Jeffries exclaimed. I don’t believe it; she’ll catch something.”

“You’re wrong there. She’ll never screw one of them. No, her job will be to watch over Mosley; make sure he doesn’t go native on us – not that there is much chance of that.  Fatman assured me Mosley didn’t feel any particular empathy toward Africans. When another slaughter starts over there, he won’t get religion and start shouting ‘genocide’ like that cretin, what’s her name, and expect the US cavalry to come to the rescue. In the scheme of things, a pose is no less impressive than a stand; it’s a matter of timing.”

Lindley laughed. Jeffries thought that the coordinator’s laugh was derisive because Lindley knew he was as good as fired. There was no way the board would vote to send Mosley to Kinshasa.

“Yeah, right,” Jeffries said derisively as well.

Lindley made a point of showing him deference by going to open the door for him to leave. In the hall, he passed people he knew and nodded to them; asking himself after each one, is this one a faker like me or merely ignorant to the rot of the bureaucracy? He was a faker because moving people meaninglessly around furthered only the coordinator’s interest.  Nothing to do with US interests. He was pleased that Lindley would fail this time.

Lindley walked back to his desk and lifted the receiver to call the next board member on his list of members to browbeat, into supporting the Mosley appointment to Kinshasa. After Jeffries, he looked for a soft target. He picked Mattie Tierney. Getting his way with a middle-aged black woman who made it to the Selection and Assignment Board as the token minority would be far simpler than Jeffries.  She came at once, and Lindley rose to shake the hand of the woman filling the door, having to look up to make eye contact with her.

Mattie Tierney was not just imposing in size. When she came into Lindley’s office she walked with a straight back that defied her age. A sort of righteousness in the religious sense was in her eyes, and Lindley looked uncertain: Perhaps Mattie Tierney was not just another quota filler.

That thought brought to mind the day the Judge was appointed to the secretary of state position –‘The historic first in the nation’s history.’ The members of the Selection and Assignment Board were sure they would have to adjust, reasoning that a minority boss would not be as dismissive of minorities as previous secretaries had been. At the end of a meeting of the board, a chuckling Mattie Tierney walked up to the head of the table, where Lindley was sitting. “Tell the members,” she told him, “that I don’t need them to be nice to me. I have been coming to the Department too many years and seen too much juggling of personnel and policies not to know that the deference paid to me now on account of the new secretary’s race will be brief.”

Now sitting across the coordinator’s desk, Mattie Tierney tried to make sense of what the coordinator was telling her.  She had already heard it was an African American hand they had shaken for Kinshasa, and she tried to understand why this change was taking place now, but she was too far removed from where such decisions were made to know.

The Dictator and his country had been demoted. Lindley would make sure Tierney did not find out until after the meeting of the board.

Looking at her with a mixture of uneasiness and subdued condescension, Lindley spelled it out for her: “Miss Tierney, change has come to the Department; not just a new secretary of state. I need your help getting this assignment through at the meeting Monday.  We want Judd Mosley for the Kinshasa job; however, no one knows better than you that some think places like Kinshasa should remain a preserve for whites only. Can I count on your help, to see this through?”

Lacking all the information about this appointment, Mattie Tierney told Lindley, “You can count on me to do everything in my power to ensure the positive outcome of the Monday morning meeting of the Board.”

The coordinator sighed with relief. With Mattie Tierney on board, he was certain he could carry out Fatman’s order and save his job. However, William Jeffries’s first report was not optimistic. “I have not yet converted a single member of the board,” he told Lindley over the phone. With Jeffries’ second report, Lindley became frightened again. A few minutes later Fatman called his coordinator. “I got wind that a number of board members are reluctant to rubberstamp the Mosley appointment. You told me there would be no problem.” A committed opportunist, Matthew Greeson possessed the congenital acumen to thrive where process was worshiped. The night before, he had hurried home to tell his wife, “The Judge has personally shaken my hand, making my first deputy secretary job permanent. I’m the virtual secretary of state, dear.”

“But what about that trouble you’ve been having with the coordinator of the Selection and Assignment Board?” she asked.

Pushing his face to hers, he said, “Nothing on this earth is going to undermine my advancement because of another “Imbroglio Negro.”

Strolling among the booksellers on the banks of the Seine, he had seen the title of one of the great Chester Himes’ novels, Imbroglio Negro, and, liking its resonance, made it his own to use behind closed doors when referring to minority questions in the Department.

“Well dear,” his wife replied, “there will be many more troubles from minorities. This isn’t some novel on the bank of the Seine. This is the entire state department of the United States.”

Greeson nodded to his wife. “The prudent approach then is to leave it to the coordinator to deal with. Let him wreck himself on the reefs of the Imbroglio Negroes. He is disposable.”

“Look,” Greeson said, in a voice he made grave to show Lindley how serious he was, “If you can’t take care of it, I’ll have to do something else.” Still, to make sure, he added, “That would not be good. I think you know what I mean.”

“We still have the weekend,” the coordinator said. “We’ll have the vote by Monday.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am certain.”

“OK; I am counting on you. Call me noon Sunday with an update.”

Submitted: October 05, 2018

© Copyright 2020 Christian Filostrat. All rights reserved.


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