Seven Little Girls

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Chapter Seventeen

We cabbed to the loft and used both bathrooms at the same time, giving both of us a cold ending to our showers which woke us up pretty well, then grabbed the subway to work. If someone wanted to make a dystopian movie, the early post dawn hours of New Year’s Day in Manhattan would provide an excellent set. It was almost eerie walking the two blocks from the subway to the office. For some odd reason, a deserted city seems to define lonely so much more starkly than any other setting.

We had to ring to get in the building and a guard admitted us. I tipped him the customary five for working the holiday. I knew that only Confidential would be at work.

In fairly direct contrast to the deserted streets the Confidential floor was a veritable beehive. Not that anyone on staff had to be told to come in, Confidential was too close to being a family for anything to be said.

Gwen handed us both fairly thick folders, and said:” Meeting’s at noon. Bought donuts yesterday and stoked up the old coffee urn. Lunch will be horrible coffee and stale donuts. Enjoy.”

We went to our offices and settled in to read the avalanche of material Tori’s research department had developed. Confidential was very much like a family, and two of their own were being sent to cover one of the most important diplomatic meetings of the century. Since we were leaving on the morning of the seventh, they had six days to prepare us and would use every minute of them. The ‘lunch’ typified the attitude in that the six employees who spoke Arabic did most of the talking.

At five the rest of the West coast remnants showed up. The demise of John Baker, lately from Nashville, was the first order of business. Gwen gathered up John, checked everything on her list and executed him in the shredder. We took the R to go with Jen and Gio as far as Atlantic. We sent Ray to his room, and sat down in the center of the loft to continue our reading.

The next morning, we caught Beverly on the elevator.

“Hetty mentioned that I neglected to mention how much I enjoyed your interpretation of Myrtha,” I said.

Beverly blushed, smiled and thanked me.

Hetty came home on Friday giving us a place for Ray while we were away.

A constant stream of facts, history and economics tends to tire more than physical exercise. Almost constant reading for six days running wore both Tori and me down, and though we slept well, the morning of the seventh we still felt some fatigue.

Confidential prepared a forty-page document outlining all we had learned about the Al-Farazdaq division. We were still on the ground at Andrews when I handed it to Baker. “If you didn’t know this, now you do,” I said.

Tori and I found a sort of cubicle with a table in the center and settled down to continue our reading. The plane had taken off and settled into its cruising altitude when Baker, Greg Carver and Pete Hansen came up and took the three seats facing us across the table.

“You worried us,” said Baker, “All the more so because Pete picked up today’s copy of Confidential and we read ‘Small Town America Says Not Again’. You go back to Vietnam opposing American military action, and Confidential is to Liberalism what the National Review is to Conservatives. Then you walk on this plane and hand me what may be the last nail in the coffin of peace. Why?”

“You didn’t know?”

“About the division, yes. Its existence is typical Hussein. However, the demographic breakdown that shows how, with the dissident vote from the division, Iraq could well win any referendum in Kuwait now is brand new. When I walked on this plane I was prepared to accept a referendum proposal if I could get enough concessions. Now, that’s a whole lot less likely. So, Carlson I need to ask again, why?”

“Why is always such an enigmatic question, Mr. Baker,” said Tori. “However, the answer in this case is relatively simple. We are journalists and the truth means more to us than political advantage. I don’t think you appreciate what went into that. It was difficult to give it to you. I don’t think you have any idea what will happen if you and Tarik fail here, Mr. Baker. Our son is a software engineer, he designed a bomb that can almost walk up to you and shake hands before exploding. We know Silicon Valley and the weapons America has sitting in the Arabian desert are a horror that the World hasn’t ever experienced. A horror I wish, with all my heart, that I could prevent.

“Both my husband and I are from Annandale, the small town that is saying ‘not again.’ Just eighteen lives, Mr. Baker and we showed the holes they left in the lives, the hearts of one small town. What is sitting in the desert can, and if not checked, will blast holes like that in forty countries from San Francisco to Seoul. Will blast eighteen times ten thousand holes. When you negotiate with Tariq, remember Angie Aronelli’s eyes when she talked about her Uncle Yancey, the picture’s in the article. And remember that you have the power to create, or prevent the sadness you see there a hundred thousand-fold.”

“Do you concur Mr. Carlson?”

“I commissioned the article. I also zipped up the body bags of some of the best friends I ever had. But you have to know that. We know each other very well James because we both work for people who made damn sure we would before we stepped on this plane.

“You know that I know most of the diplomatic community, and some, like Tarik Aziz, have become my friends. You also know that I fought in the war I railed against. I don’t forget my friends, or my country, James. I will do everything I can to convince Tariq that the force he faces, not necessarily deployed in the desert but waiting in a California valley, won’t consider the fourth largest, battle hardened army in the World any more than a fly to be swatted. What I want you to remember is what my wife asked you to remember, but I want to enlarge on that a bit. Angie is a very special young lady. She’s the principal dancer with CDC in San Francisco. Hands down one of the World’s best dancers. That took a lot of work, a lot of grit, and courage. She isn’t a little powder puff, she’s one tough little cookie, and perhaps, one of the strongest women you can ever meet.”

“You know what’s at stake here?”

“Sure, how money flows through the top 1% of the World’s population. Even though twenty years from now the same 1% will still hold the same 80% of the World’s wealth in their hands. And you know what? I don’t have a problem with that. I really don’t. I only ask that you don’t use the lives of my friends in your personal games and that you don’t make my little Angie cry.”

“OK Mr. Carlson, dammit, Nick, the only representative of the 1% on this plane is you. Not only your boss, your friend Cecil Drucker.”

“Maybe that should tell you something James.”

“Tell me what Nick?”

“That we are really doing nothing, accomplishing nothing. And that we are being given the chance to do something. Not for the 1%, but for the 99%.”

“I’ll think about it,” he said and got up.

Tori and I had flown from New York to Switzerland quite often, especially when we were on the foreign affairs desk. Only a couple times in over fifteen years had there been a nonstop, and they all ended in Zurich. With one stop, usually the fastest to Geneva, between ten and eleven hours was common and twelve hours not unknown. With the six-hour time difference, a morning flight usually arrived after midnight. We weren’t really prepared for a specially equipped jetliner in restricted airspace landing in Geneva in the early evening. Both of us used a yoga technique to sleep through long flights, on the government plane we weren’t even given access to sleeper seats.

While it threw off all our normal patterns, it worked out rather well. We had time to settle into our suite and order a light, late supper before going to bed. The wine list held a rather amazing coincidence. It had a 1987 Carason Pinot Noir, Kat’s premium label which featured the best from the combined vineyards owned by the Carlson and Ericson families. I ordered three bottles, sending one each to Baker and Tariq.

The State department had chosen al-Qabas, which was not actually in print as the Iraqi had ‘occupied’ it and replaced it with their own daily. Issam Mallah, who we knew, was the owner and publisher, represented it along with a reporter we weren’t acquainted with. Iraq chose two reporters from Uday Hussein’s chain.

The eight of us spent most of the morning questioning Baker. Nothing really emerged. The American position remained the same. Iraq had invaded a sovereign nation and both the United States and the United Nations, along with thirty-eight other nations were demanding that Iraq withdraw. The two Iraqi reporters tried to make the point that, historically, Iraq and Kuwait were a single entity, a debatable point, as well as the 1938 Kuwaiti attempt to reintegrate with Iraq. Baker ignored the first point, and dismissed the second as an antiquated initiative that was irrelevant in the modern World.

Tori and I had lunch with Issam and his reporter. It skirted protocol in that we were on the Iraqi side of the equation. However, Issam had worked with us more than once, and didn’t know the National Review reporters. Also, the relative status of our jobs rather put us together. A publisher fit together as equals with a managing editor and his director of research better than with reporters.

Tori and Issam had talked on the phone recently so he directed his first comment at her. “Do you think we will return home soon?” he asked.

“I think that much is a given,” said Tori. “I am sure you will be home by Spring. The question may be just how much of a home you will have to return to.”

“What do you mean?”

“You met our son, last year in San Francisco, you remember him?”

“Quite well, he has a beautiful wife and precocious twin girls.”

“That’s Ted. In any case, he is a software engineer and what he and his friends in Silicon Valley have developed are weapons conventional warfare has never even conceived of. One of the reasons we agreed to this is to tell Tariq that the pure destruction that sits on your old border may dwarf even nuclear weapons. If Saddam holds out any length of time, there may not be much of your home left to return to.”

Issam was taken aback by that.

“You’re serious?” he directed more at me than at Tori. Tori had learned to take this treatment lightly. Feminism was a Western concept and she learned to accept that a good many men from older cultures would look to her husband to confirm her words.

“You have no idea,” I answered. “We have a whole team from the magazine on it. Bombs that think, lasers that see and bombers you can’t. The destructive power that will be showcased unless peace can be made will leave a World in total shock. The only plus I can see is that it can all be aimed at the head of a pin in a pile of straw and hit the pin.”

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