A brand-new story from the legendary Harry Turtledove about Governor Bill Williamson, a sasquatch with a plan.
Governor Bill Williamson’s breath smoked as he opened the 1974 Eldorado’s right front door. It was a chilly February day in Yreka. It was supposed to get to fifty later on, but Bill had his doubts that it would. The clouds blowing in from the west looked as if they meant business.
Barbara Rasmussen slid into the Mighty Mo. The governor’s publicist was in a skirt that showed a lot of leg; she had to be colder than he was. Sure enough, she said, “Brr! As soon as you start this beast, I’m gonna crank the heat all the way up.”
“Whatever you want.” Bill didn’t like to argue unless there was a payoff at the end. He closed the door, watched Barbara lock it after she put on her seat belt, and went around to the driver’s side of the two-and-a-half-ton Detroit behemoth. He got into the left rear seat. The Eldorado had no left front seat. The steering column was extra long, which let a nine-foot-two sasquatch drive from in back.
The governor of the state of Jefferson turned the key. The engine ran raggedly. He was glad it ran at all. Since the energy crisis, cars had shrunk while inflation soared. Even with special arrangements like this, he didn’t fit into more modern vehicles.
Barbara turned on the heater. She said “Brr!” again as soon as she did—till the engine warmed up, it would blow cold air. Bill didn’t care. The long, russet hair that covered all of him except his eyes, his mouth, the palms of his hands, and the soles of his feet left him indifferent to weather worse than this. He wore shorts for modesty and to hold his keys, wallet, and comb; sandals protected his size-thirty-two feet from stepping on anything pointy.
When he put the Caddy in gear, the transmission hesitated before shifting. It wasn’t warm yet, either. The Mighty Mo had a lot of miles on it. One of these days, he really would have to trade it in—chances were, on an equally elderly but less decrepit machine.
“Morning in America,” Barbara remarked as they rolled away from the governor’s mansion. Her voice held a certain edge. Like her boss, she was a Democrat, and viewed the new administration with something less than delight.
“Hey, Reagan’s been President for two weeks now,” Bill said, shrugging behind the wheel as he piloted the Mighty Mo east on State Highway 3. “We haven’t gone to war with the Russians yet, and we aren’t in a depression yet, either. So things could be worse.”
“They could be better, too,” she said darkly.
“Yeah, I guess.” Again, Bill turned down an argument. Barbara was too pretty for anyone male to want to argue with her. But he’d lost all respect for Jimmy Carter when the new ex-President conceded the election with polls in the western part of the country still hours from closing. How many votes had he cost down-ticket candidates with an idiotic stunt like that?
Signs on Highway 3 directed motorists to the Charles Earl Lewis International Airport. The airport that served Yreka actually lay in the little town of Montague, half a dozen miles to the east. That wasn’t why Bill smiled when he passed one of those signs. Only they gave Jefferson’s second governor, who’d led the state through most of the Roaring Twenties, his full name. He’d been “Charlie” to some people, “Bigfoot” to the rest. Bill was proud to try to fill his sasquatch-sized shoes.
He pulled off the highway and onto the access road that led to the airport. By the first parking lot stood a tall flagpole with Old Glory flying above the state flag of Jefferson: a dark green banner with the state seal in the center. The gold pan held two big black X’s to show how Sacramento and Eugene had double-crossed northern California and southern Oregon till they got together as the forty-ninth state in 1919.
A wide yellow ribbon was tied onto the aluminum flagpole with a fancy bow. More yellow ribbons decorated the doors to the terminal. Bill felt a big grin stretching itself across his face. “Hey, they got rid of the old ones!” he said. “These are all nice and new.”
“I should hope so,” Barbara said. “I called the airport to make sure they would, but they were already on it.”
“Good for them. Nice to know they don’t need somebody to hold their hands all the time.”
One of the terminal doors was tall enough to let Bill enter without ducking. The ceiling was tall enough so he didn’t feel claustrophobic inside. Most sasquatches in the country called Jefferson home; unlike too many other places, the state had laws mandating accommodations that suited their size. Bigfoot Lewis would have approved. He’d built the governor’s mansion to his scale, which made Bill and his wife happy every day of the week.
“We’re going to Gate One, Governor,” Barbara said after checking a little notebook.
“Uh-huh.” Bill’s big head bobbed up and down. She’d told him that the day before, too. Maybe she’d forgotten she had; more likely, she figured he’d forgotten. Publicists often treated the people they worked for like dull four-year-olds. Depressingly, a lot of the people they worked for needed to be treated that way. Bill hoped he wasn’t one of those—Barbara would never admit it if he was—but you never could tell.
The waiting area in front of the gate was packed with little people and sasquatches. TV lights blazed into Bill’s face. “Isn’t this a great day, Governor?” a reporter said, holding a mike high enough for him to answer into it.
“It is, but you don’t want to talk to me,” Bill said. “I’m not the show. I’m just here to see it myself and welcome him home, same as everybody else. Poor guy’s been away a long time.”
“You’re too modest, sir,” said the handsome, blow-dried talking head in the expensive suit. Beside Bill, Barbara nodded. She thought him modest to a fault. He didn’t. He was a politician, after all. If he hadn’t banged his own drum, he never would have got elected. But, as he’d said, this wasn’t his show.
One sasquatch-sized seat had a RESERVED FOR GOVERNOR WILLIAMSON sign on it. As far as he could see, it was the only unused chair near the gate. Barbara must have come to the same conclusion. “Guess I’ll just have to sit on your lap, Governor,” she said with an impish grin.
“Heh.” Bill hoped he didn’t sound too nervous. Part of him—the part in his shorts—wouldn’t have minded Barbara in his lap at all. He hoped Louise didn’t know just how attractive he found his publicist.
Sasquatches and little people, of course, had been getting it on in Jefferson for as long as there’d been sasquatches and little people here. Bill thought one of his great-grandmothers had been a little woman. He wasn’t sure, but he thought so.
And there stood Haystack Thornton, chatting easily with Hyman Apfelbaum. The pot grower from Eureka towered over Jefferson’s attorney general. He was almost seven feet tall, and wide in proportion—a great big little man. His bushy red beard and a hairline better than Reagan’s also argued he had some sasquatch in his family woodpile.
Authorities in Jefferson didn’t go out of their way to help the Feds prosecute people for marijuana. Did discreet campaign contributions from Haystack and his friends have anything to do with that? Stranger things had probably happened. Bill also knew the growers had helped pay for the Learjet flight everybody was waiting for.
No sooner had that thought crossed his mind than the private jet came in and landed. It taxied to the gate. The ground crew heeled out a sturdy movable stairway. The door in the Learjet’s flank opened. The PA system began blaring “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” at heart-stopping volume. Bill had never been enamored of Tony Orlando and Dawn. The more he listened, the less he liked them.
And he had to listen to them three times in a row, because there was a delay aboard the charter plane. After what only seemed like forever, Mark Gordon crawled out of the doorway, angling his shoulders so he could squeeze through the narrow opening. Once all of him, finally emerged, he stood up at the top of the aluminum stairway and threw his arms wide. Since his height was about the same as Bill’s, it made quite a gesture.
Everybody inside the terminal burst into cheers and applause, briefly drowning out the annoying music. A TV guy near Bill spoke into his mike for a breathless live shot: “After four hundred forty-four days of captivity in Iran, after a journey that bounced from Algeria to Germany to New York, after a ticker-tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes in New York City, State Department analyst Mark Gordon comes home at last to Jefferson!”
As Gordon made his slow way down the steps, several of the sasquatches sitting near Bill—the analyst’s family—got up and went to the door that would let them out onto the tarmac. A guard in a Smokey Bear hat saluted and stood aside to let them through. TV crews and reporters followed to record their meeting with the newly returned hostage.
The joyful screams and cries and embraces were much the same as they would have been among little people, only on a larger scale and an octave deeper. Bill and Barbara followed the sasquatches and the newsies out onto the blacktop, but hung back till a little of the commotion had died down.
When the analyst’s mother and two sisters started dabbing at their eyes (and his father wiped his with the back of his arm), Bill moved toward Mark Gordon. The analyst was skinny for a sasquatch, and looked desperately tired. As photographers clicked away and a TV cameraman bored in for the kill, Bill held out his hand and said, “On behalf of the whole state of Jefferson, Mr. Gordon, I’m honored to welcome you back to freedom.”
“Thank you very much, sir.” Gordon sounded weary, too.
“Would you and your folks do me a favor and stop by the residence for dinner tonight? We’ll slay the fatted calf for you all, and it will be on my dime.” Bill made sure he said that last bit loud enough to let the reporters hear. No one on the right was going to be able to throw rocks at him for wasting state money on someone for whom the United States had almost gone to war.
“I don’t know what they have planned. Let me talk to them for a minute.”
“Sure.” Bill stepped back.
The Gordons put their heads together. Mark and his father bent to do that. Like most sasquatch women, the ones in their family were a couple of feet shorter than the menfolk. After a minute or two, the freed hostage turned back to Bill. “We’ll be there, Governor. Thank you. What time?”
“Say, half past six, and we’ll eat at seven or a little later?”
“That should work.” Mark Gordon grinned crookedly. “I’m so jetlagged right now, I have no idea what time it is or what time it’s supposed to be.”
“I believe it. Well, if you sack out, your dad or mom can call, and we’ll set something else up.”
“Okay. I hope I see you.” This time, Gordon held out his hand. Bill took it. The photographers snapped more pictures.
Mark Gordon’s father was Tim. His mother was May; his sisters were Bonnie and Samantha, both of them younger than he was. They came to the governor’s mansion in a pair of aging Oldsmobiles almost the size of the Mighty Mo. Tim’s machine had arrangements like Bill’s. Mark rode in the back seat, too, with the front seat shoved all the way forward. May could drive a standard little-people car, and her daughters just about fit in with her. They all looked relieved to escape their cramped quarters, though.
Tim Gordon surveyed the mansion with undisguised envy. “Now this is all right!” he said. “I mean, our house is okay for us, but it’s still on the crowded side. You’ve got room to spread out in, Governor.”
“Our own place is like that,” Louise Williamson said.
Bill nodded agreement with his wife. “It sure is. The residence is Bigfoot Lewis’ baby. From what the old-timers in Yreka told me when I first got elected to the State Senate, Bigfoot never did anything halfway.”
“Sounds like a Jefferson kind of guy,” Tim Gordon said, not without pride. “If we did things by halves here, we’d still be stuck in California and Oregon.”
When they got inside, Mark Gordon kept staring in wonder at ceilings more than three feet above his head. “This is . . . amazing,” he said. Bill suspected he almost modified the word with an imperfectly polite participle. “Governor, Mrs. Williamson—”
“I’m Bill, please,” Bill broke in, at the same time as his wife was saying, “Call me Louise.”
“Thanks.” The freed hostage needed a second to reboard his train of thought. “The embassy in Tehran was made for little people. I didn’t fit real well there, but whenever you leave Jefferson you have to get used to that.”
“Oh, yeah.” Bill nodded. “Congress needs to do something about that, the way we’ve done for the airport and hotels and restaurants.”
“Outside the country, they have to use the buildings that are already there,” Mark said. “I managed . . . pretty much. But after we got captured, some of the places the Iranians kept us were too small for little people. They were way too small for me. I’m just glad I’m not a claustrophobe.”
“Those fucking bastards.” That wasn’t Tim Gordon. It was May.
“Now that you mention it,” Bill said, “yes.”
In black tie and tailcoat, the chief steward looked like a negotiator working to settle the Russo-Japanese War—or possibly, since he was so much smaller than the sasquatches, more like a dignified penguin. “Dinner is ready,” he said. “If you’ll follow me to the dining room . . .”
“Thank you, Ray,” Bill said as he obeyed. He was used to doing what Ray told him to. The chief steward had taken care of several governors before him, and would likely make several more feel at home in the mansion after he was gone. Bill had no idea how old he was; he had one of those faces that didn’t change much between thirty and sixty-five.