Seven Little Girls

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Chapter Twenty

When not called upon to be night people Tori and I usually called it a day between nine and ten. We both woke around five, but Tori, having picked up those hours on the morning shift at Rosie’s Diner in Annandale, usually forced herself to doze until about seven. When I turned on the TV at around five I caught the news of the Iraqi counter attack. As I had feared, Saddam struck at Israel.

I started in to get Tori when I heard the water in the bathroom and knew that she’d heard. I set the coffee to drip and foraged for breakfast, finally settling on maple flavored instant oatmeal.

Two things worked against my pessimistic appraisal of an Israeli counterattack. First, the Iraqi split the counterattack between Arabia and Israel. Second, a technological missile defense, which I assumed included Silicon Valley hackers, saw that the attacks hit nothing of consequence and only a few minor injuries were reported.

The TV woke Ray. He had apparently gone to school the day before because Hetty posted a notice from the school that the school would open at seven for parents involved in the “war effort”.

By the time we had dropped Ray off and made it into the office, the Israelis had already announced that they would not take action against the Iraqi attack. I breathed a small sigh of relief. The Israelis had made the best possible choice. The coalition remained intact, and Saddam’s defeat was written in the vapor trails of missiles that thought for themselves.

Having Ted’s scoop allowed Gwen and me to systematize the newsroom. We knew to expect a month of the same, and so were free to forecast and shape the next four issues. The overtime would be restricted to Tori, Jen and the five members of the research department. It allowed us to run a normal weekend schedule, which a good many employees appreciated. We did have our share of adrenalin junkies, so with a little juggling, we were able to both normalize things and still provide a twenty-four-hour watch.

The three dancers, not having cable had free access to our loft and had, apparently, decided to follow the war through the weekend. Monday, Inner City was slated to begin blocking out a modern ballet based in the Tristan Isolde story called ‘The Eternal Return’ taking its libretto from the screenplay written by Jean Cocteau for the 1943 movie, and its music from the classic Wagner opera. For the first time Hetty was charged with a part of the choreography and was thrilled by the prospect.

I had learned not to be surprised by secrets being common knowledge in any small community. I guessed that my formative years in a small town had actually given me an understanding of small group dynamics that my more urban colleagues didn’t share. In any case I was only mildly surprised when my Syrian grocery store tenant George (Jorji) Nazari approached us as we got home. Somehow my decision to include al-Qabas in Confidential had made the rounds of the Brooklyn Arab community.

“Nick,” said George, “they are telling me that you are going to publish al-Qabas in Confidential, true?’

“Yes and no. The al-Qabas staff in exile in Riyadh is giving us a column. In English only George, we’re not translating it and isn’t meant to replicate or replace the newspaper. We know the publisher and he is working with us, but we aren’t publishing al-Qabas.”

“Well could you give me some copies? I’ve had some requests.”

“You only carry Arabic papers, will it fit in?”

“As I said I’ve got requests.”

“How many?”

“About half a dozen.”

“I’ll call the distributor, they drop off copies to me Sunday afternoon, I’ll add a dozen for you.”

“Thanks, Nick.”

“Well,” said Tori, “that sure got around fast.” as we rode the elevator up.

“Not really, remember your six degrees,” I said. “I tell Issam, he tells his staff. One of them mentions it at prayer and someone overhears it. An Arab, he calls his cousin on Henry street. Five degrees by the time it gets to George, one short of the whole damn World. Furthermore, I would bet that anything known in Riyadh is probably common knowledge in this neighborhood.”

“It’s hard to look at this neighborhood as Arab,” said Tori, “it’s too diverse.”

“Only in New York.”

We could hear Elvis from inside the elevator, so apparently war had gotten boring. They had rolled back the rug I used to cover Hetty’s practice floor with and were dancing something that looked like the surfer’s stomp, with some rather athletic moves, but without a sliding step. Tori and I gave them a round of applause when they finished.

“What’s that,” I asked, “a variation of the stomp?”

“A new disco thing,” said Beverly. “It’s called the Melbourne shuffle. We got to speculating whether it could be done to older music, and face it, whose music is older than yours? It seems to work really well with Elvis’ ‘His Latest Flame’. You saw. Next we were going to try ‘Don’t Bring Me Down.’”

“Don’t let us stop you,” said Tori. “I’ve got to scare up some dinner.”

“Actually, that’s handled,” said Hetty. “Although it’s kind of weird. I went out for the paper this morning and Manny, you know the Arab butcher, gave me this gigantic breast, I thought it was chicken, but he said it was capon. In any case he said to thank you. Well, I didn’t want to insult where it came from so I made a Shwarma sort of thing in the crock pot. We had it about an hour ago, Turned out pretty well.”

“Dinner and a show,” I said, and looked at Tori. “You think we’ve earned it?”

“Indubitably,” she answered.

So, we got full plates and sat at the bar to watch.

Even Tori who didn’t really like dance got into it a bit. The dancers were about as good as it gets. It is actually pretty rare in America to find any profession that is as intense as dancing. It pretty much requires that you start as a child and dedicate your life to it. What was amazing me was that my thirteen-year-old son was keeping up with three of the best.

The “war” remained background noise until after the middle of February. Small incursions became big news. Saturday the twenty-third at nine o’clock in New York, the ground offensive began. As Ted had predicted, tired, hungry men with rifles facing modern armor didn’t really make it a contest and almost immediately the Iraqi began to retreat. Saddam’s last gasp came the next day, releasing the rest of his missiles. Unfortunately, one actually got through hitting an American barracks, killing twenty-eight.

The Iraqi were almost immediately in full retreat, stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down as they streamed toward the border. By Monday it was over, pretty much as Ted had called it. Missing it, we published an extra on Wednesday which meant Tori and I weren’t able to relax until the next regular issue came out on the fourth of March and even then with a tip-in leaf detailing the cease fire Schwartzkopf presented and Saddam signed on the third.

Deena and Ali wrapped up the Winchester series, interviewing the crew that ‘suggested’ the strategy that won the largest military confrontation in nearly half a century. The American casualties eventually reached two-hundred and nineteen. Teddy made a lot of people mad at him by calling an attack on the retreating Iraqi unnecessary and ‘beneath’ us. The best estimates on Iraqi casualties were around sixty thousand. Saddam’s inflated propaganda figures tried to sell over a hundred thousand, but that wasn’t generally believed.

I got together with Issam and he was eager to continue our relationship through the rebuilding of Kuwait. He said that it would be at least a month to get out the paper. While the building remained intact, the equipment had crossed the border into Iraq.

“How many copies were you delivering in the US, before the war?” I asked.

“About ten thousand,” he said, “about half of that in New York. For the most part, we are read by Wall street types.”

“You still have the distributors?”

“Basically, we distributed directly Nick. We stripped the hard drives from all the computers before we left. When we get computers again, I can tell you exactly.”

“What kind of computers did you have?”

“That’s the irony, they got away with thirty of the latest Apples.”

I used my rolodex (in the offices only Gwen, Tori and I still used them. In the field, Candi hadn’t given up hers.) Pulled up Teddy’s number and gave it to him.

“You said you remembered Ted. Just give him a call. He’s a superstar in Silicon Valley right now. At the very least he can get you a deal with his connections at Apple and probably expedited shipping. Tell him Confidential will back your credit, if you don’t have any other help.”

“Thank you, my friend.”

“Business, my friend, you’re a Confidential columnist.

“Just curiosity, does Jorji Nazari ring a bell?”

“He takes three hundred of every issue Nick.”

“A lot of Kuwaiti in Brooklyn Heights?”

“Actually, they tell me Carroll Gardens. Why?”

“He’s my ground floor tenant, and he has been distributing you in Confidential since I got back.”

“We’ve got a lot to discuss.”

“We’re both ears up now, rebuild your newsroom, and talk to me again.”

Friday, Tori and were I wrung out, we dragged home. Ray wasn’t home and we were about to go down to Hetty’s before we pushed the panic button.

The elevator dropped, stopped at Hetty’s and then came back. And then Hetty was standing in the car.

“Ray’s with us. We need help Aunt Tori, Uncle Nick. please?”

Hetty’s red eyes gave up that we were walking into a mess.

Her loft was crowded with the Inner City Ballet Company.

Tori’s phone buzzed as we were descending, Tori just said, “Not now George.”

When we stepped out of the car, Hetty said:” Somebody killed Jody.”

Jody was a doe-eyed seventeen-year-old who most of the company expected to follow Beverly and Hetty. A beautiful, talented young girl. Tori’s phone buzzed again.

“George, we are fucking busy.”

Then a pause. “Name George!” said Tori. After a long pause, Tori just said, “send a car”, and hung up.

“Jody Eisenstein,” Tori directed at Hetty, “from Alamosa, Colorado. Apparently stabbed to death in the walkway next to the D’Agostino on sixty-eighth.”

Hetty just nodded, a little confused.

“She’s in the morgue at the 17th precinct in midtown. Her parents are coming from Colorado, but they would like a first-person ID before they arrive. Can you do that Hetty?”

“Yes, I’ll get my coat.”

Then she turned to me. “George says that it was a pretty brutal assault, and that there are aspects to it he didn’t want to talk about on the phone. He wants our expertise in language, and I really haven’t a clue beyond that. You heard me, a car is coming.

“Ray,” she switched gears, “in bed by nine. And the rest of you make sure he is. If you want cable you can all go up to our loft. We’ll be back as soon as we can.”

It was apparently a high priority for some reason, because the three of us barely got downstairs when the police cruiser pulled up. They didn’t use the siren until they pulled onto the Gowanus, and left it on all the way to the forty-second street exit to the East River Drive, and then squeaked at a couple red lights on the way to the precinct.

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