Seven Little Girls

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Chapter Nineteen

They gave us a helicopter ride to Reagan where the four of us caught the Trump shuttle into Newark. Confidential sent the Limo for us, Pete and Greg were stranded so we gave them a ride. We might have discussed something, but the look Tori had on her face sort put a damper on communication.

Since we landed at two and didn’t get home until after six I made a mental note that if it ever happened again, we’d just take the Limo both ways.

Hetty had been clued that we were in route and heated up a pot of split pea soup with ham, and bacon. Hetty made a lot of slow cooker meals and had become very good at them. She generally chose recipes that improved every time they were heated, as well recipes that followed Tori’s diet plan for her.

I was searching for a way to bring Tori out of her funk. I found a bottle of ’86 Carasan in the cellar and served it with some lame joke about being a better sommelier than the most expensive hotel in Geneva, it didn’t go over well.

The morning didn’t improve Tori’s mood. The entire research staff was walking on egg shells all morning. Just before lunch, we got a break, Teddy called.

He said he had a clean line, and that he had been OKed to give us a scoop. I called in Gwen, Harold and Tori, and put him on speaker.

“Okay understand that I can’t really get specific, but this is pretty big story just in outline. Last Monday, they called in all the designers and asked for ideas on strategy, how to most effectively use our inventions. We came up with a battle plan that just maybe unique, if it works. Of course, this is probably the first time in history we have the weapons to make it work. Basically, we are working toward a zero-casualty rate on our side of the ledger with a minimal casualty rate on the other side. Also, minimal destruction, pretty big, right?”

“If it works Theodore,” said Harold. “Both Nicholas and I have stood on battlefields and I don’t think either of us can imagine such a situation. Am I wrong Nicholas?”

“Your positing something that is pretty unbelievable Teddy. Several hundred thousand men all armed and looking to take over the same real estate certainly doesn’t equate to low casualties in my mind, but we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, exactly what laws of the universe are you going to alter?”

“You’ve come close enough to some of these weapons to know what they are capable of. Missiles used to be pretty indiscriminate, that’s not true anymore. Laser technology can target missiles, guns and bombs within inches. We’ve even hacked the guidance systems of the Iraqi scud missiles, and while we can’t ground them, we can deflect them enough to render them nearly ineffectual.

“Now, the problem of collateral damage is pretty much solved. The problem becomes targeting. We’ve had three U2s over the area constantly, they tell us there will be two more. We couldn’t see any better if we were standing on the street ourselves. We can put a bomb through any door in Kuwait. So, the question is what to target?

“Conventional military thought is to attack the army, suppose you don’t? When we sat down and figured it out, it just didn’t make sense. We can take out their air defenses in a day. All we really have to do is program our missiles to recognize them if they are not in plain sight. Having done that, we have fifty planes we can put into the air with minimal protection that in shifts can scramble all electronic communication. That accomplished, you attack their infrastructure. You take out their commissary, armories, blow holes in the roads that connect the army to itself, supplies, oil, fuel. Take out nearly everything they need to resist. You keep it up for a month, until all they have left are a few pieces of armor, field artillery and men with guns, and even then, with a shortage of fuel, food and bullets and no communication. So far, no casualties on our side and minimal damage and casualties on theirs. If they capitulate at that point, because they see that we can target the army next, the largest military conflict since D-Day, which by the way killed almost half a million, ends with probably less than ten thousand dead. That’s possible.”

“Not probable though, war is, in the end, politics,” I said. “Hussein needs a battle, basically to give himself stature with the Arabs. And Teddy, it’s nothing new. Basically, all you’re doing is starving out a siege, although you are hastening the result.”

“One of the generals said something similar. We just considered him a killjoy. But consider, even if they choose to make a stand, we just take out their armor and field pieces, which we can do rather easily and let them face heavy armor, unless they’re high on drugs they’ll retreat.”

“If it works out Theodore,” said Harold, “you and your friends will have made the most inhumane human activity, a bit more humane. And if you can do that, the achievement rather dwarfs your weapons. I hope we’ll be able to acknowledge it by Spring.”

“Have Donna fax her smart bomb sketch, and Teddy,” I said, “thank you.”

It was a pretty big scoop at the time, a lot of outlets wouldn’t tumble to the strategy for a couple weeks. I was already writing the article in my head, The Silicon Valley Solution, how computer game geeks make war, when I turned to see a smile on Tori’s face.

Tori was a very tough person, and she always bounced back. I wasn’t worried that she wouldn’t this time, however I was worried it would take until the situation had passed. The way Ted and his colleagues had handled the situation broke right through her worse fears. I had a lot of the same fears. Close proximity to American politicians for nearly a decade had given me a certain contempt for them as well as a disbelief in their competence. In the coming war I could imagine several scenarios that led to disaster, and I did not see anyone in American politics who could handle them. If I disagreed with Harold’s liberal ideas, it wasn’t because the ideas on their own were bad, it was because I doubted the ability of American politicians to carry them off successfully. James Baker was a prime example. A Texas lawyer, not a diplomat. A good part of the current problem stemmed from his inept handling of the Palestinian/Israeli mess.

It took until the fourteenth to connect with Rick and Candi. When I finally got through I was able to explain the scoop and how we needed to rearrange our freelancers to get the greatest advantage from the information. All of our freelancers were attached to combat troops, and would end up anxiously sitting through at least the first month of the war. We needed them on the weapons, on the technology that was being showcased. I also had them contact Issam and tell him what we had learned in confidence. Both Tori and I had frightened him badly and I felt that I owed it to him to settle his mind about the possible collateral damage within Kuwait.

Issam contacted me on the fifteenth, as the World waited, breathlessly for hostilities to begin as the UN deadline passed. He called to thank me and we got to talking. I ended up offering him a weekly four-thousand-word column to be published under the banner of al-Qabas and completed by his company until they could return to Kuwait City. I was worried as I took the idea into Gwen. Both Gwen and Harold were adamant about keeping the magazine in house. As editor, I certainly had the power to do what I did, but I had the feeling that it would be a bit against the grain. I was happily wrong as both saw it as a way to connect with the Arab market in America, a very hard market to crack. For the time being, Confidential became the exiled home of Kuwait’s premier daily.

Tori, freed of her funk, and Jen were driving everybody pretty hard. Both Deena and Ali had called me to complain that neither Tori nor Jen seemed to be aware of the four-hour time difference between the coasts, and the, probably top secret, things they were demanding were pretty much beyond finding. Ted had given his sister/mother a peek behind the green door and it whetted her appetite.

We got the call shortly before midnight technically still the sixteenth in New York, that the strikes had begun. We immediately turned on the TV. The cable news networks did a good job, but were basically hampered by the military’s apprehension concerning the technological weapons which kept them at a distance. The noise brought the three dancers up from downstairs. Beverly made coffee and Gerry ran out to Queen Pizza on Court street to grab two sweet sausage pizzas and a bag of zeppoles. Ray came out and plopped himself in Hetty’s lap.

“There isn’t a dark window on Atlantic avenue,” said Gerry.

“You live over a Syrian specialty grocery, half a block from a halal butcher. This is an Arab neighborhood, you’re surprised?” I answered

About three, the missiles and F-117 stealth fighters had cleared the sky and destroyed most of the Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries. This released the main coalition air force. About four the military command released the first pictures from the U2s. I think the whole World was mesmerized by the smart bombs. It was amazing to watch one change direction, begin to circle a building and then seemingly go in a door.

Things were exciting enough that neither Tori nor I felt the fatigue we should have beginning the day on two hours sleep. We dressed and headed for the office about seven. Hetty promised to get Ray to school, which won her a rare dirty look from her ‘baby bear’. However, knowing how well Ray manipulated Hetty, I figured Ray would be a truant.

Normally we had three televisions in the offices. Gwen, Harold and I all had one in our offices, and Tori kept one in the closet in research. Harold sprang for eight more and the offices monitored every coverage. We arrived before eight, expecting to be among the first in, to our surprise the offices were half full. Everybody recognized that we only had a day and a half to get everything together.

By ten Rick and five of his six freelance teams checked in, and rewrite was typing furiously. Issam had been given a premier viewing post and his team produced a very slick article with photos.

At eleven I retired to my office to write Gwen’s publisher’s note (which either Tori or I always wrote for her) and my weekly ‘From the Editor’ piece. Both flowed out rather quickly. My own piece, I centered on the fact that I lived above a Syrian Specialty Grocery along Atlantic avenue in Brooklyn Heights and watched my neighbor’s nightlong vigil of the proceedings. For Gwen I simply noted that, even with the latest communications technology, with seven teams onsite, not one coalition casualty had been reported and noted that that was an excellent way in which to begin a war.

I took Gwen’s piece into her. She skimmed it, initiated it and dropped it in her out box.

“Corn beef? Treaty Stone?” I said, naming our favorite Irish pub.

“And Guinness, don’t forget the Guinness,” she answered. “Collect ’em.”

Gwen grabbed Harold while I pried Tori and Jen out of research and we went to lunch. The Middle Eastern night had turned the war into a light show surrounding the restaurant’s wall on a ring of televisions.

We returned to the office and got a surprise. A package from the State Department held a copy of the first photos from the U2s chronicling the opening moments of the conflict. It had a note addressed to me that said simply, “Thanks, J. A. Baker”.

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