Seven Little Girls

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Chapter Fifteen

I walked in on Larry to see if the Business Report needed anything for the January issue. I found him cursing at two piles of paper on his desk.

“Someone shoot your puppy dog?” I asked.

“I commissioned two economists to forecast the effect of the war on the west coast economy.”

“And they don’t agree. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that if you laid all the economists in the World end to end they’d point in different directions?”

“You’re not helping Nick.”

“Figure it out yourself, and take the closest one. There are some pretty big clues. A whole lot of very expensive ordinance is going to go boom. Most of it will have to be replaced from Silicon Valley, L.A. and Seattle. Let alone the largest military force since the Second World War needs to be fed. Who can do that but California?”

“One says that will make things rosy, the other calls it a bubble that will burst.”

“Go with the first. Right or wrong we don’t want to add to the major trauma this may turn out to be.”

“You give Saddam a chance?”

“Follow me. Saddam launches his counteroffensive, missiles and Air Force, at Israel, not the coalition. Israel takes the bait, all of a sudden, we are in a two-front guerilla war. When I brought up Israel with Aziz, he just said ‘who is the enemy of my enemy?’ Taking Kuwait doesn’t stop it, but it ends the coalition. So, the Middle East becomes another Vietnam with limited international support.”

“You think that will happen?”

“I think it’s a possibility.”

“Well Dee took the time to give me a solid picture of the agricultural end. If I take the optimistic piece, and my tech reporters come through, I’ve got January before Christmas, barring surprises.”

“So, both magazines are set until it all comes down. A week and a half to spare.”

When both families are headed for Annandale, Joey usually takes Ray, as he and Tricia prefer to discomfort their parents as a tag team rather than in singles competition, and, we had to admit, the back seat in Torie’s fastback Mustang was a bit uncomfortable. For the second year, Nicky would be housed with his sisters, Ray and Trish, in the kid’s room, next to the Guest room in the new wing of Kat’s house. We had a room in the same wing along with Joey and Larry who took their room which shared a bath with ours. Ali and Jen shared the guest room while Chavy took her accustomed daybed in Dee’s room. This left only Ken to be accounted for and this year he couldn’t make it. Jerry Considine’s death had made it tight at the Harris agency and Ken would spend the holiday season at several high-profile events and parties. This circumstance frosted Kat no end, and she would take it out on the rest of us as she always did by spoiling our children to the point where they turned into raging brats. This year was Nicky’s maiden voyage into brat hood, being only five and missing the last Ken-less Christmas three years earlier. We got together and bought Ken for New Year’s Eve, wrapping the contract in six nesting boxes under the tree for Kat to unwrap. We hoped this would promote some harmony during the week between Christmas and New Years.

Hetty and Angie were, of course, home, and could be found in Susan and Jeanie Colson’s dance studio. Every year they did a duet at the Christmas Pageant. I found out why they were playing with the burka when I looked in and saw them.

“Uncle Nick, c’mon in and watch,” said Hetty.

So, I sat in the back of the studio with Susan and Jeanie while they did the awakening scene from Giselle. Hetty took the role of Myrtha instead of Giselle as she had in the Inner City production. The story is a rather simple one, based in Slavonic folklore. Giselle, an innocent young girl is seduced by the disgraced noble rake Duke Albrecht. When he abandons her, it breaks her heart and she dies. The Wilis, the spirits of maidens, like Giselle, who are betrayed by their lovers and die, come back in dreams in the night taking their revenge by dancing men to death by exhaustion. The climax, if done well is one of the best in classical ballet. The Wilis target Albrecht, who is guarded by Giselle. The number of Wilis grows as they circle Albrecht and Giselle with perfect precision, maintaining stoic expressions, in long tulle dresses. Tulle is a stiff mesh-like material. So, I saw the fascination with the burka. The effect is to create a rather ethereal motif of rising tension as the Wilis, led by Myrtha close in on the pair. Giselles’ gentle choreography contrasts with aggressively feminine moves of the Wilis, and it becomes a duel Giselle wins, saving Albrecht with her love and avoiding the fate of becoming one of the Wilis.

Myrtha is the queen of the Wilis and after the introduction of the Wilis, awakens Giselle from death. This was the scene the two of them were recreating. Hetty did it about as well as I have ever seen it done, very athletic and even menacing, all the while displaying a stoic stone-faced look. Angie was in no way a disappointment. Like Hetty had done as Giselle, she caught a delicate, naïve feeling in her movements, and facial expression.

They finished and Hetty came over to me as I stood up. She stood up on her toes, turned and fell back. I caught her, as I was fairly used to doing. The first time she did it to freak Tori, and she did it to surprise people with me rather often.

“Did I do it better than Beverly?” she asked.

“I’ve never seen it done better, you terrified me, but I am going to insult you too. Angie did Giselle every bit as well as you did, and being shorter carried it off better given your size difference. Beverly didn’t tower over you.”

“You’re right. Tell Beverly she was good anyway.”

The object of my outing was to see Jack at the police station. The dance studio was just on the way. I had two Cuban Montecristos in my pocket and my object was to identify the origin of the anti-military stance in town. I had checked the VFW that morning and of the thirteen returning Vietnam vets, ten were still alive. The largest contingent was still World War Two vets at twenty-one members, Korea checked in with five. Of Annandale’s ‘movers and shakers’, only Tommy Kellog, Al and Jesse Ericson, Hal had been in Korea, and Mike Aronelli weren’t members, although for the most part they acted as if they were.

I walked into the station which was deserted except for Jack, walked back to his office and threw a cigar to him.

“Since it’s too early to open a bottle of brandy,” he said, “I assume this is business and I just got bribed.”

“Pretty much,” I replied, handing him the cutter on my keychain and two wooden ‘strike anywhere’ kitchen matches.

We cut the tips of the cigars and rolled them in the wood flames below the sulfur. Then I just waited him out. Eventually he spoke:

“I assume you want to know why I snapped at Ali,”

“Be a good start,” I answered.

“Hell Nick, you were there, and you have a son. You don’t think Annandale has done its fair share? You have to go back to the World War before you find a war that was in any way popular. I have two sons I don’t want to be called ‘baby-killers’. If people are going to zip their childhood friends into body bags, let’s spread it out a bit more and not see all the casualties come from small town America. The woman’s auxiliary at the VFW is double the membership. Vietnam has over a dozen war widows in it. And I’m not counting Jo Jo.”

“The current situation seems rather popular,” I said.

“Until it bogs down and becomes a way of life. When did we learn about Vietnam Nick? Junior High? Then it hung over us in High School. You even went to College, and still it was there, in time to let you catch the worst of it. And we always go into it in the middle of a mess. Korea, then Vietnam, standing in the middle of divided countries and taking a side. Now we’re standing between two groups of camel jockeys, half a World away without really being threatened. Damn Nick, can’t Annandale take a break from it? A generation that doesn’t get shipped overseas, half of whom come home in coffins?”

“Pacifist doesn’t suit you Jack.”

“Pacifist? Nick if this were 1941 I’d already be in uniform. I’m not against war, if it’s necessary. None of us are. I’m against a half assed ‘military conflict’ we don’t want to win. We’ll probably kick them out of Kuwait, and then, what happens? Saddam goes home to build a bigger army, learn from his mistakes and try again? Can’t we, here in our little community of wine, cherries and oleanders, choose not to participate?”

“Any dissenters?”

“The Avery brothers stay silent when it comes up. Both Jarheads, semper fi? You becoming a hawk, Nick? Your daughter wouldn’t like that.”

“Kat takes an active role?”

“What she told me is that Vietnam crippled the men she loves the most, and Annandale is too small to inherit that.”

“Well I have never been a hawk, and I don’t think now is a good time to start. In this case I really don’t see much alternative. Saddam apparently pushed a bit too far. I started where you are. Let the Arabs settle it between them. But that isn’t pushing it. We are only barely. This is an oil fire, and we are putting it out. When the Japanese open their checkbook for missiles that cost over a million to fire, you know this threatens a whole lot more than us.”

“It’s still a bad business Nick, and I don’t care to invest my sons in it. Please convey my apologies to Ali. She’s a persistent little thing and she caught me in a bad moment.”

“Will do.”

I wrote up the gist of what Jack told me and gave it to Ali, remembering to convey his apology.

She was having a lot more success concentrating on the victims. People opened up a bit, enough time had passed, and, because they remembered their husband, fiancée, brother, uncle as a hero, they warmed to the idea of a major magazine agreeing with them. Chavey’s talent really shown through as she caught the emotions in the expressions of the interviewees. She had also spent a fortune at the photo finishing counter in the Rexall copying the photos people allowed her to borrow.

The last one on the list provided the only problem. Steve Peterson was apparently the last of his line. Well not quite, he predeceased his parents. However, both parents had died and they were interred in the Peterson section of the cemetery, a section that had existed practically from the founding of the cemetery and the town itself. Steve had been Ed’s best friend through school, so I talked him into a remembrance. Chavey spent half a day in the cemetery to catch the perfect shadows across his gravestone.

On December twentieth, I locked Ali in my room, which doubled as an office for Tori and me in Annandale to write the article. The article: “Small Town America Says Not Again” was enough of a tear jerker that it wasn’t widely panned when published scarcely a week before everyone knew war was imminent.

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