On December twenty-first, a box arrived FEDEX for Kat from Las Vegas. It held two jewelry boxes, labeled ‘C’ and ‘SG’ in a heart label with a ‘K’ on the other side. Kat took the one labeled ‘C’ and put it beneath the tree, then took the other to the dining table sat down and proceeded to open it.
“Isn’t that cheating?” I said.
“No, this one isn’t for Christmas, it’s for today.”
“You celebrate the solstice?”
“That isn’t the holiday I was referring to. It’s the shortest day of the year. It is, therefore, ‘short girl appreciation day’. Kenny hasn’t missed it since I was eighteen.”
I looked at Tori. “I guess since today is an actual holiday,” she said, “we might as well give it to her.”
Kat was a bit bewildered when I set down the nesting boxes for her to open.
Ken sent her a rather exotic cocktail ring. It was comprised of 2 mm alexandrites, a gem that has the property of changing colors, green in sunlight and red indoors.
Kat worked through the six boxes to the envelope that held the contract for Ken to ‘Guard Katherine Rosselli Carlson 24 hours 6 PM 12/30/90 through 10 AM 01/02/91’.
She beamed, I even noticed a tear.
“Kenny’s coming,” she said, and ran into the kid’s room to repeat it.
Well, as they say about the best laid plans, Kat was so happy to be able to spend any part of the holidays with Ken, that she just naturally spoiled her five charges even beyond what she had planned.
The pageant on December 23rd was pretty much normal until the dancers. Five years before they blew the town away, so they continued it as a tradition. Hetty was even better than she was in the rehearsal I’d seen. As a gauge of just how good she was at dancing a femme fatale, Nicky, in the grip of Oedipus and castration anxiety at five, hid behind his father. It even affected Ray a bit, while it seemed to empower Trish and the twins.
As had also become a tradition Kat held a party afterwards. Kat made two large bowls of Jack Black’s sangria, less the bottle of mescal and tripled with soda water in one bowl, 7 up in the other. Mostly over the last few years it had evolved into a dance or a ball. Susan Colson, and more lately Jeanne Colson had taught most of Annandale to dance. Hetty always conscripted me to dance the tango with her. Angie, over the last two years, had taught her father to dance a waltz and that along with Kat leading the surfer contingent in the stomp, were all considered a mandatory part of the program.
Tori and I always left on the 26th, neither of us really liked to be out of a city. Jo, Larry and the rest of the magazine employees, usually only Dee, tended to stay if it fell on a Friday. In 1990, however it was a Wednesday, so we all cleared out early in the morning. We left Trish and Ray with Kat. This year the twins, who had collectively gained the designation of the K-Krew, also got to stay. Kat would be down on Friday with them. By virtue of Tori’s torture rack backseat, Jen, Gio and Ali rode with Joey and Larry.
As soon as I stepped into the office Geri, the longtime secretary and actual Major Domo of the Confidential offices grabbed me.
“New York wants you to call as soon as you get in. And apparently, you are in. Tori too.”
I motioned Tori into my office, shut the door and punched the direct line and put it on speaker.
Harold picked up. “Have a Merry Christmas?” he said.
“Yes, and you?”
“Fine, thanks. We have a situation.”
“On January 9th, Baker is meeting with Aziz in Geneva in a last gasp diplomatic attempt to prevent what looks like a pretty major confrontation. The press is restricted, Baker has chosen Carver and Hansen from the National Review, the reason we even know anything about it is that Aziz has requested the two of you.”
“Well happy fuckin’ New Year,” said Tori. “Are you real sure we want to be the mouthpiece for Hussein’s regime?”
“Aziz’ message to us agreed to give you free rein. According to him you two are the only American journalists who even listen and he trusts you to be fair in your reporting.”
“As flattering as that is,” said Tori, “and as much as I believe Tariq means it, I repeat the objection.”
“I’m digesting it.” I said. “How long do we have to answer?”
“What’s your hesitation?”
“Tariq wouldn’t even entertain this if he didn’t have something to offer. Furthermore, he must think that it is reasonable enough that Tori and I will be, at least partially, in his corner. I’m trying to imagine what that might be.”
“Gwendolyn, the staff here and I have been trying to figure that out all morning. I can’t see where he has any sort of an opening except capitulation. The deadline State is giving us is the close of business tonight.”
“Get Gwen,” I said.
“Just a moment.”
“Are you serious?” said Tori.
“We deal with the Mafia’s Godfather, the Sin Fang of Heaven and Earth, we can deal with Saddam Hussein. I need to get a hook here. There’s something we are not seeing.”
Just then Gwen came on. “Nick, Tori, what can I do?”
“Start with the composition of the Iraqi army,” I said.
“Not getting what you mean?”
“Hussein likes to connect with history, the divisions of his army have historical names, the Hammurabi division, for example. Do you have that?”
“I have a list, let me go get it.”
“What’s in your devious little mind?” said Tori.
“There are Fifty-five divisions,” started Gwen. “Six Republican Guard, forty-nine regulars.”
“Drop the Guard and give me the names.”
I stopped her when she reached the forty-second division, the Al-Farazdaq division.
I looked at Tori, her smile told me she got it.
“You got it Gwen?”
“Okay, follow. The Tughril Beg division is rather famously composed of Irani dissidents. Now Hammam ibn Ghalib, better known as Al-Farazdaq is a classical Arab poet who was born and lived in Kazma. Where’s Kazma Gwen?”
“Shit, what you’re telling me is that Saddam has an entire division of Kuwaiti dissidents quartered in Kuwait.”
“Right,” said Tori. “Now work it out. The upper classes have left, who’s still there? And what might be the result of a referendum if you held it today in Kuwait? Especially if you have an entire division of dissidents on your side?”
“Jesus,” said Harold, “What you’re saying is that if they offer a vote, it’s rigged.”
“All Tariq has to do is convince Baker that they will submit to a vote. Balance the couple token divisions they will leave with an equal UN peace keeping force they will cooperate with and hold a referendum.”
“Tell me, how do you know all this,” said Harold.
“When we took Arabic, Al-Farazdaq’s poetry was a part of the curriculum”, said Tori. “He was almost an Arab De Sade. Really nasty, pornographic satire.”
“So, we decline?”
“On what, my spitball guess? Harold, we are journalists, and we are Americans. Gwen and the research staff goes to work to confirm my guess or find me full of shit. Tori does the same here. Confirm with State, go to work and drop it all in Baker’s lap. Would we be flying with him?”
“On the flight, keep trying to confirm until Tori and I step on board.”
Well, having initiated the shit storm, I was distinctly persona non-grata. The general rule was to come up with three independent sources to verify the original fact, or rather posited fact. As the person who posited the fact, I was barred from the search to confirm it in order for the search to remain objective.
Thursday, I shaped the first two issues of 1991, the seventh and the fourteenth, leaving room for our report from Geneva. The issue of the twenty-first would be a bit of a fire drill, if Aziz and Baker were successful in Geneva, it would be a collective sigh of relief, if not the largest military action since D-Day would have begun.
I didn’t even go into the office on Friday. At ten, Donna showed up to pick up the K-Krew who arrived, with Kat, about fifteen minutes later. Ken was due from Vegas at noon, so Kat dumped the kids and headed to SFO with a peck on my cheek. I just shook my head.
Donna left and I was alone with Trisha and Ray. The situation didn’t last long as parental supervision wasn’t their goal and they disappeared downstairs to Tricia’s room.
I puttered around a bit, setting up the bar for New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Eve Larry and I opened our lofts for a party. We laid out mattresses and generally tried to be sure only the sober drove home. Some people even came in from Annandale equipped with air mattresses and sleeping bags. Tori had informed me the day before that we were taking the New Year’s red eye to New York, so we would leave pretty much when 1990 did. Ray, Jen and Gio would follow us on New Year’s Day.
That night, Tori backed into me, as she was used to doing and said: “You were right, it checks out.”
“Through what?” I asked.
“A ton. The Ba’athist organ Ath-Thawra pretty much celebrated the division. Uday Hussein’s papers, Babel ran the contest that named it. In Kuwait, al-Qabas covered it and even named a few names. It’s owned by Issam Mallah, remember him? In any case, he’s in Riyadh and Candi had his number. It seems that nearly every discontented Kuwaiti is in an Iraqi uniform. Alik, the Armenian paper in Tehran ran an article on both the Iranian dissident division and it, apparently asking whether an Armenian and/or Kurdish dissident division is on the drawing boards in Baghdad.
“I took a flyer and called Mir Javed Rahman in Karachi. He knew about the division and confirmed that Jang had covered it, in Urdu, which you know I’m weak in. The surprise, I guess, is that most Muslim media carried some mention of Saddam’s ‘foreign legions’ over the last couple years.”
“Any in English?”
“What are the odds Baker doesn’t know?”
“Baker? You know the communication isn’t the best between State and the CIA, the CIA certainly knows. I guess it hinges on whether the CIA is connecting it the way we are.”
“Well, saves you working the last weekend of the year. In a perverse way, I was rather hoping to be wrong, or that everyone missed it.”
“You’re not alone there. I’m not really sure which is better. I think if it avoided the conflict the diplomatic solution, even if it gives Saddam Kuwait, might be better. The more peeks I get of just what we are capable of technologically the scarier this becomes. The pure destruction we are capable of just might make this a modern Dresden.”
Ted and Kat put together a really impressive smorgasbord as well as distributed tapas throughout both lofts. I’d say Ken helped them, but aside from putting his arm around Kat at every opportunity, he didn’t accomplish much. The party started about six and usually lasted until one, then resumed for a few hours the next morning over brunch and Bloody Marys. Tori and I said our good-byes and headed to the airport at ten. We ran into 1991 over Tahoe, and settled in to sleep through the one night of the year most people don’t bother unless they’re drunk.