Kat had arranged a party to welcome us home in our loft. The San Francisco office of Confidential closed a bit early so Larry, and Joey were there with Trish and Ray had someone to aid and abet. Ted, and Donna brought their twins Kerry and Kelly, and my namesake, their son. Deena brought Ed, Gio, Jen and Chavy since they were together in Annandale. Ali brought Brian. Kat met us at the door with our glasses of her noir.
Hetty and Angie, for some unknown reason, were playing with Tori’s burka when Deena walked over. “Someone for you to meet,” she said and as we walked over to a stranger Teddy, Donna, Ali and Chavy joined us.
Deena introduced him as Dr. Charles Poole, he spoke first.
“It seems we think alike, Mr. Carlson.”
“Nick,” I said.
“I’m Chuck,” he said. “I met Ted when I interviewed him for my study. Dee heard. It seems we are both following the same will o’ the wisp.”
“And that would be?”
“Preliminarily I’m calling it a Winchester delusion. You know the Winchester Mystery House down in San Jose?”
“Went there years ago.”
“You know the story?”
“Just roughly. Sarah Winchester thought the ghosts of all the people killed with Winchester rifles were haunting her. I think I’m getting it.
“On the eve of the first technological war you’re trying to discover if killing with a smart bomb can create the same delusion, or a form of it in the weapons designers.”
“They told me you were quick. That’s basically the thrust of the study. Ted wrote the program for one of the smart bombs, if they are used I want to record his reaction. Imagine my surprise when Dee told me that she was on the same mission.”
“Chuck,” said Tori, putting out her hand.
“I’m Tori. I provide a little mental order for my genius husband and our genius son.”
Chuck seemed a bit taken aback as neither Tori nor I looked old enough to be Ted’s parents. He would eventually ask and Kat would tell him the story, but, just then, Tori didn’t miss a beat.
“Teddy, what fantastical, magical machine have you plucked out of your games to set the World on fire?”
“Basically, a bomb that, how do I express it? Sees or feels it’s way to a target. There are two types. One uses sound, like a bat, it’s too slow, and I assume they’ll shoot all the prototypes in the initial assault. The one I worked on uses lasers, light speed, fast enough. If programmed to attack a building, it will map the building with lasers and attack the weakest point. It’s the one the press touted as the bomb that goes in doors or windows. I got the idea from Star Wars. When they attack the Death Star, it seemed to me to be terribly crude to leave the killing shot to a pilot, so I designed the original system. I showed it to John Scully, and before I knew it, Raytheon was on my doorstep. I have the initial copyright, Apple, Raytheon and I share the Patent.”
Donna reached into her portfolio. “Few people have seen a smart bomb. I got a couple peeks and sketched it.”
“Okay, wow, it’s a scoop. I’m not sure how to use. Do I let Saddam know what he’s facing? If I thought he’d get out, that might be worth it. But I don’t think he will. He’s got a battle-tested defensive army that just may, in conventional terms, be among the World’s best. Will a story tip something that will kill American troops?
“Donna, put your sketch away and don’t show it to anyone. After bomb’s been used, I’ll want it. Until then it’s rather a loose lips sink ships kind of thing. Didn’t Raytheon caution you Ted?”
“No, not really. I’m a software engineer, I couldn’t build one.”
“Dee,” I said, “next story.”
“A little Rosenberg?”
“And Karl Fuchs, look it up.
“Now Chuck, who’s funding you?”
“Just the university.”
“Oh sorry, Santa Clara.”
“So, work with Dee, and when the madness stops we’ll get you a grant through Confidential.”
Just then Kat walked up. “Jesus Big Brother, they just got in from God knows where and a twenty-six-hour plane trip. I go to all this trouble so they can unwind, and you’re winding.
“Eat, drink and relax for God’s sake.”
Out of curiosity I walked over to Hetty and Angie.
“Converting?” I said.
“Just an idea, Uncle Nick,” said Hetty. “You saw our Giselle. It seems to lack something in the opening to the second act. The choreography drove us to distraction. The Wilis, no matter what we did, just didn’t feel like ghosts. This garment covers literally everything, yet it moves, ripples. The mesh dresses we use are too stiff. Ang and I are trying to see what happens when we dance in it.”
“Chancy”, I said. “Frankly the opening of the second act never said ‘ghost’ to me. The movement is pure female aggression, especially Beverly’s interpretation of Myrtha. Your gentler, softer interpretation of Giselle was the perfect counterpoint. The aggression says, ‘femme fatale’, as a man I am supposed to fear them, the story arc conveys Giselle as our savior, not just the savior of the rake Albrecht. Remember Gautier wrote the Libretto. It’s a pure decadent expression. The gauze costumes aren’t meant to hide anything, Gautier would probably have preferred nude. The reverse of what you’re doing.”
“Could apply other places, Uncle Nick. And when you get back to New York, you go downstairs and tell Beverly what you just told me. Jesus, she thought you didn’t like it. Uncle Nick, sometimes you take the strong, silent type to extremes.”
I moved over to the bar for a refill and ran into Ed. Tori, of course, doesn’t believe in unwinding, but I’d had enough Winchester delusions and smart bombs for the day.
“So,” I said, “how’s the normal World.”
“Only slightly abnormal. And then only because you sent three little girls on a wild goose chase.”
“Being on the verge of war isn’t affecting Annandale?”
“Nick, we’re the last soldiers to come out of there. Vietnam pretty much cured Annandale. Any kid in Annandale who wanted to join up would have to run away from home to do it.”
“That isn’t a story?”
“I guess it is, just not what Chavy, Ali and Jen are telling me they’re looking for.”
“What you are looking for isn’t always what you’ll find.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
We had two full lofts, as only Kat, Ed and Gio went back to Annandale. However, at nine they all left us alone, recognizing that a solid night’s sleep was our biggest need.
“You guessed wrong,” said Tori backing into me.
”Yes and no,” I answered. “If Ali is as good as I think she is there is a story in Annandale’s disregard of what maybe a coming war. A generation that turned its back on war in one small town, that was gutted by Vietnam.”
“What do you make of the Winchester delusion?”
“You might not catch it, but having been there in a way I sort of picked it up from the crew of the Enola Gay. “It was necessary. It saved lives.” Became almost ritual with them. But with six of them I picked up something we had in common. Sometimes, in the night, they’d go over ways it wouldn’t have had to happen. My nightmare. They mouthed the words, but didn’t fully believe them. I could tell because it was a lie I told myself. Is it a delusion? Who knows? You and I both know that we can’t kill without damaging ourselves. The question is how far can you be removed from the act to feel it?
“I just wish Teddy wasn’t the guinea pig.”
That morning, Tori and Joey started working with Dee and Chuck on the ‘Winchester Delusion’, while I had Ali, Jen and Chavy in my office.
“Pixie,” I said looking at Ali, “You ready to switch gears?”
“I was going to give up. This war, or whatever it is, doesn’t seem to affect Annandale.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“It’s like after Vietnam, they swore off. I looked it up. Eighteen men, of the thirty-one that went, died in Vietnam. In a town that graduates a dozen or so a year from high school, that’s a big chunk. Of the ones that came back, no one wants to be reminded of it. I used every trick I could think of to get to Ed, and Jack. Jack finally just snapped at me:
“It doesn’t need to be remembered, the only thing that does is that we see it doesn’t happen again. Not here.” he said.
“So that doesn’t strike you?” I asked.
“As newsworthy? A town that turns it’s back on war? Find out why Pixie. When Jo is done, have her help you, she’s an Annandale war widow; she’ll give you the story of her first husband, Don Early. Go down to the Shell station and tell Aaron Costello I want the story of his brother, as he remembers him. Go to Mike Aronelli, have Angie take you sometime over Christmas after you interview her about her uncle Yancey. There are eighteen holes in the fabric that is Annandale, find them, make people feel them. Make people understand why there are no men from Annandale in the Arabian desert.
“Chavy, you’ve got about a month. Photograph the holes. Jen, you’re here with Dee, maybe you and Brian can get up there for Christmas.
“Go! You’re pissing on the wheels of progress here.”
As they left I started trying to put together what I recalled of the eighteen. I knew them all and would be able to help Ali pull it all together. About an hour later I walked into the Winchester group.
The story board held three of Chavy’s eight by tens and two contact sheets of the Winchester House. The photos she blew up featured strange looking rooms photographed through windows with thirteen panes. Chavy was talented enough to catch reflections in the glass and it actually looked like the rooms held ghosts.
“To bring you up to date,” said Tori when I walked in,” we have eight subjects that are already enrolled in Chuck’s study. Dee found four more through Teddy and Raytheon. Dee has interviewed all but two of Chuck’s subjects and all four of her own. Chuck is talking with Dee’s four over the next two days. With the dozen, we are covering five separate guidance systems from three companies, the Lockheed stealth plane,” she glanced down at her notes, “the F-117 Nighthawk, both the AAI/Israeli Pioneer and Nothrup Chukar drones, ground fired, ship fired and air fired missiles and bombs. I’ve already faxed the list to Gwen and both New York and I will see what we can find out. Not that I hold out a lot of hope that I’m going to crack top-secret information on the eve of a war, but you never know.
“Dee will clear up her interviews tomorrow. You’ve already cleared the year end issue, but we need New Years and possibly one more issue before it hits the fan. Rick’s already filed one story from Riyadh, and Candi says another is in the pipeline. Can we get Ali’s story in before then?”
“I’ll push Ali when we get to Annandale. The piece has been changed, and I need Jo on it,” I said. “I didn’t know that Annandale turned pretty radically against military service, so I sent Ali to find out why. Basically, we know Vietnam gutted the town. Apparently both Jack and Ed are pretty adamant about boys not signing up.”
“In spades, Uncle Nick, and they aren’t alone,” said Dee. “There isn’t a vet in town that doesn’t make it clear that Annandale boys have already provided their share of cannon fodder.”
“So, we leave a couple days early for Christmas.”