Jack begins the chapter by recounting the seven months he spent on the Irwin case, from September till March 1936-1937. In that interim, a great deal happened around him, however, and he attempts to fill in those gaps. First, Tom was in a car wreck with a young woman, and Tom was probably intoxicated and driving when the wreck happened—both he and the woman required medical care and were ultimately OK, and although the girl’s father was angry and threatened to make the issue public, Willie threatened the man right back, saying that, as a trucker, his goods must run on public roads—this, coupled with a small payoff, was enough to secure Tom’s reputation, at least for a little while.
Tom makes his first of several “big mistakes” in the novel. Here, no one is hurt, but this mistake foreshadows other things that will befall Tom in the novel, based on his carelessness, his devil-may-care attitude, and his belief that his father and mother will sweep any of his problems under the rug. Willie here is confident enough to wield his power in order to keep the girl’s father at bay—as will later be proved with Sibyl’s father, however, Willie will have more trouble covering up for Tom in the future.
Jack reports, however, that Lucy felt, in the meantime, that her son was becoming an overconfident and arrogant young man, and Willie again defended Tom, saying that Tom’s antics were doing little to distract from his dream of becoming a big-time college football player. Anne’s project, meanwhile, attempting to gain state money for a Baton Rouge Children’s Home, had succeeded, and she was undergoing the planning process, which required several meetings with Willie and his staff. And the Boss’s plans for the free state hospital continued apace—the Boss traveled around to study major hospital plans in other American cities, and attempted also to resist the efforts of Duffy to have the hospital contract signed with Gummy Larson, the crooked businessman with whom Duffy, in all likelihood, had a “special” arrangement.
Very little of this Children’s Home is described, and Jack does not seem to think, in the beginning, that Anne could in any way be “corrupted” by speaking with Willie. An interesting paradox is here revealed: Jack claims that Willie is not corrupt, though Anne does think he is; but as soon as Anne starts working with Willie, Anne comes to realize that Willie truly is bringing change to the state—her politics, in a sense, become more progressive. Later on, Jack will realize just how close Willie and Anne have become as they meet to talk about the Home.
Willie then has a conversation with Jack, one evening in the governor’s mansion, after repelling yet another persuasive advance by Duffy to have the hospital built using a crooked Gummy Larson contract. Willie tells Jack that, for once, he wants the hospital built without political horse-trading—he wants the hospital to stand as an indicator of his beneficence, his goodwill toward the state, his ability to better the lives of the common man. And this means that the hospital has to be built legally, so that no illegal activity can be used later to vilify Willie or take away this signal achievement of his administration.
Willie elaborates on his desire that the free hospital be, in a sense, free of all taint of political scandal. Willie, as above, has several reasons for this: he hopes to make it seem that at least part of his political legacy involved no graft; he worries that graft could derail the project and its ability to do good; and he knows that the only political monuments that truly last are the ones constructed on a firm foundation, not on a series of bribes.
Jack tells Willie he understands this explanation, but also that, with six million dollars around, surely a bunch of “flies” will attempt to pick away what they can. Willie then tells Jack that he wants the absolute best doctor to run his hospital—and that that man is Adam Stanton, Jack’s old friend and a committed opponent of the Stark administration. Jack says it will be next to impossible to convince Adam to lead this hospital for Willie, but Willie tasks Burden with exactly this—to persuade Adam.
Jack seems to understand all this, but also recognizes that six million dollars is a great deal of money (especially at this time), and that, as in politics everywhere, that amount of money will encourage people to take what they can. Only Willie cares about Willie’s legacy—everyone else cares about enriching himself in the bidding process.
Jack goes to Adam’s shabby apartment the next day in an attempt to win him over and to convince him to take the job as head of Willie’s free hospital. Adam hears out Jack’s proposal and denies flatly that he’ll do anything for Willie. Jack says he figured this was the case, but Jack knows that Willie knows that Adam wants simply to do good for the community—to help as many people as possible, without concern for his own wealth or interests. Jack promises Adam that, at the free hospital, Adam can do the maximum amount of good for the health of the people of Louisiana.
Adam wants nothing to do with Willie—he senses, rightly, that the hospital will spell doom for him. But Adam also seems to understand that the hospital has been thrust upon him, and that an offer from Willie is essentially “an offer he can’t refuse,” not because it’s lucrative, but because Willie will put pressure on him to gain the outcome he desires.
Burden attempts to continue to convince Adam to take the job, but to no avail—Adam says it would degrade himself and his work to do it for Willie’s hospital. Burden says he is leaving soon for Memphis to speak to a medium, Miss Littlepaugh (this is just before his journey to talk with Lily), and then excuses himself, saying he will check back in with Adam when he returns.
Jack exposes the temporal workings of the narrative here: he has bent the story around Willie and his own research in order to foreground certain events in certain times, to increase the drama of the story. Jack cares less for temporal continuity and more for a continuous dramatic tension in the narrative.
After Memphis, Burden returns to Baton Rouge with a message from Anne that she wishes to meet with him and discuss something with him. They go for a long walk together that evening, and Anne eventually tells Burden that she has spoken with her brother about the free hospital job, and that she is urging him to take it, because she now comes to realize that working with Willie will bring the maximum good to the greatest number of people. Burden is shocked to hear Anne supporting Willie in this way, and wonders whether Anne has come around to Willie in the course of asking his administration for money for her Children’s House charity.
Anne has now fully turned to supporting Willie and his project. Here Jack begins to sense that something else might be coming between Willie and Anne, perhaps a romance of some kind, but Jack also knows, or thinks he knows, that such a relationship would be impossible, that Willie would never be able to woo Anne successfully, that she finds him too distasteful a politician and a man.
Anne is convinced that Adam should take the job, too, because she feels that Adam has cut himself off from society with his overwork, and that only in doing this job will he regain some balance in his life—will he be a good brother to her again, and a good friend to Burden. Jack says he has evidence—from his “historical researches”—that will change Adam’s worldview and perhaps convince him to work with Willie. Anne asks what this could be, and Burden replies by telling her of Irwin’s accepted bribe, and of the fact that her own father, Governor Stanton, looked the other way and chose not to prosecute Irwin for the bribe. Anne is shocked by this information, and by its stain on the family name.
Anne does not want to hear what her father has done—even if he has only tacitly acknowledged the crime that Irwin himself perpetrated. But Anne also realizes the power this information will have over Adam, and recognizes that it will be good for Adam to be associated with Willie, to work for the free hospital, and to feel engaged in the community of Greater Baton Rouge. Thus Anne is “between a rock and a hard place”—she wants to help her brother, but to do so she must tarnish their father’s legacy.
During the intense conversation between Anne and Jack, a policeman arrives and wonders what the commotion is—Jack talks back to the cop, who threatens to haul him off to jail—only at this point Jack mentions that he works for the Boss, and that the cop could get in a lot of trouble for messing with Burden and interrupting his business. The cop immediately frees Burden and gives Burden and Anne a ride part of the way home—but Anne is angry with Jack about his revelation, and now about Jack’s willingness to use his political powers for his own gain in so petty a manner with the cop—and she asks the cop to drop Burden off early, so he can catch a trolley car home. Burden exits the car; the cop drives Anne home, and she remains angry with Burden.
Jack here throws around his political weight in a manner Anne finds distasteful—interestingly, this is one of the few times in the novel that Jack seems pointedly to enjoy being associated with such a bigwig in the state. Typically Jack is content to live and work in the shadows, receiving little to know public notoriety for his efforts. But here, perhaps, in a misguided effort to impress Anne, he does what he can to show the policeman who’s boss.
Anne asks Burden a few days later to send her the Photostat of the letter Mortimer sent to his sister; Burden does so, and five days letter Anne reports back to him that Adam will take the job Willie’s offering—that he is crushed by the idea that his own father, Governor Stanton, whom Adam had considered a man of unimpeachable virtue, would stoop so low as to allow someone in his administration to take a bribe. Apparently, as Jack figured, Adam’s realization that all politics is essentially a dirty business enabled him to abandon his final sense of property and to decide to work for Willie.
Jack’s a very able student of human psychology—perhaps it is this skill, above all else, that makes him a keen political operative, reporter, and student of history, which is, after all, merely the study of networks of human relationships. Jack knew that Adam would give up all pretenses of “fighting the good fight” and opposing Willie if he realized that his own father participated in dirty politics the way Willie does.
Anne asks Burden to promise to show these materials to Irwin before making them public—to give Irwin a chance to rebut the charges before Burden uses them to smear him. Burden agrees to do this. The next day, Burden goes with the Boss in the black Cadillac to talk with Adam. Willie gives Adam a long speech on what “the Good” means, since Adam believes he is joining the hospital team in order to do good—Willie tells Adam that “the Good” has always been decided by men in power, that it is always relative, and that often the Good only comes when men serve their own interests first. Adam says he will work with Willie but that he does not necessarily have to respect Willie’s values. Willie leaves by subtly threatening Adam, saying that Adam will fall in line and do his best to help the hospital when he works there—and Willie and Burden then leave the small apartment.
Willie here reveals his political and moral philosophy in as much detail as he will provide in the novel. Willie’s theory might be boiled down to a few particulars: that there is no such thing as absolute good or absolute evil; that instead these qualities are relative to the situation and to the people involved; and that the good is essentially a utilitarian construct—it is whatever provides the most happiness to the most people. Thus Willie is OK with traducing a few democratic boundaries here and there to make the hospital a success—and he hopes Adam will be OK with that, too, during his Directorship of the hospital.
Burden then has an extended daydream, soon after this meeting with Adam, in which he recalls Willie’s energetic speech on the steps of the state capitol in 1936, during his impeachment crisis—Burden remembers how he asked Willie, later, after the speech, if he had meant what he said about trying to help the common man. Willie spluttered and said that of course he had meant it—that the hospital plan in particular is the crown jewel in his administration’s attempts to better the condition of the poor in the state.
Willie, for a third time, avers that this hospital means more to him than anything else, and that he is willing to sacrifice more or less all his political ambitions in order to certify that his administration will be remembered in Louisiana for putting the good of the people first. Jack clearly recognizes, because Willie has said this so often, that Willie is serious about his desire to keep the hospital “pure.”
Burden then realizes something that has been bothering him since the night Anne asked to speak with him, and when the cop nearly arrested him—Anne had come to Burden with the information that Willie wanted to hire Adam to run the hospital, and Burden had not first told Anne this news. That means Anne must have gotten it from somewhere other than Burden, and Burden wonders who that person might be.
But Jack’s researcher mindset cannot be forgotten so quickly—he knows that Anne found out about Willie’s desire to hire Adam before Jack spoke with her. This means that Anne has an earpiece into the workings of government that Jack didn’t know about—and Jack begins to sense that Anne has special ties to the Governor, too.
Burden asks Adam a couple days later, when he is over at Adam’s apartment attempting to patch over their friendship and to talk to Adam about the plans he is drawing up for the hospital, if Adam told Anne, before Burden did, that Willie had offered him the hospital job. Adam says that he did not, and Burden continues to wonder who did. Then, several days later, in the capitol office, Sadie comes bursting out of her own room screaming that Willie has “done it again,” gone off with another woman, and that she knows nevertheless he will come back to her. Jack asks who this other woman could be, and Sadie seems surprised that Jack doesn’t already know—it’s Anne Stanton.
A major revelation in the novel, and one that will have dire consequences for everyone involved. Very little of Willie’s relationship with Anne is actually described—their courtship occurs entirely “offstage,” yet Anne seems heartily to believe that she love Willie, that Willie loves her, and that their relationship will endure after Willie moves on from Lucy and makes it clear he is willing to establish a new life with Anne. Jack, for his part, is completely flabbergasted.
Jack has no idea that Willie and Anne are having an affair, but now his gut-feeling makes sense—Willie told Anne himself that he was going to hire Adam to take this hospital job. This explains why Anne was so eager for Adam to accept in the first place—not only because she believes Willie to be a good-hearted politician, but because she is falling in love with Willie. In a rage and a daze, Burden leaps out of the office, walks down the steps and into town, and doesn’t stop until he reaches Anne’s apartment in Baton Rouge. When he gets there, he bangs on the door and she opens—realizing what Jack is there for, she merely nods, implying that it’s true—she’s having an affair with Willie.
Jack’s love for Anne, and his inability to let go of the past, is never more foregrounded than in this moment, when he walks all the way to Anne’s house without even seeming to decide to do so. For Jack, it is more important that Anne remain single so that he has at least some chance of ending up with her—he believes, here, that Anne’s decision to begin an affair with Willie marks the absolute end of his relationship with Anne—but this, too, will turn out not to be true in the novel.