Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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 Chapter 32

An Accidental Death

Many of the best and most exciting mathematicians in the world were Russian. This fact had no bearing on the arms race. The level of abstraction was so great that there were no applications to any sort of technology. But it was politically awkward. The Russians seemed to be overtaking the Americans militarily, economically, athletically, and in their appeal to the vast unclaimed part of the world. A panicky westerner, suddenly aware of traditional Russian prowess in chess and mathematics, might have concluded,

"By damn, they're smarter, too."

On the American side, Heike had just returned from a week's visit to Michigan, where she passed her general exams with something to spare. Even though her previous work would be counted as her thesis, it was too late for the final orals to be scheduled in time for the June commencement. However, it would all be official by the end of the fall semester.

She had as much respect for the Russian mathematicians as anyone, but, practically brought up on the likes of Lobachevski, she was hardly panicked. On the other hand, she wasn't above pointing out that a Russian mathematician occupied a much more pampered position than his or her western counterpart. It was a great thing to be an Academician, and no one wondered whether a person who proved theorems made an honest living.

One aspect of the disparity showed up in the journals. A Russian mathematical journal allowed its writers as much space as they wanted to lay out their proofs and explain them. American mathematicians, on seeing the translations, gritted their teeth in jealousy. Their own journals, perpetually under-funded, required them to squeeze as much as possible into as little as possible. It might take weeks for the reader to finally figure out what was going on. It was a colossal and unnecessary waste of time. Heike decided that her journal would be in the Russian style.

Her initial call for papers had said as much, but the submissions tended to be in the usual style. The writers had to be coaxed into expanding their offerings and adapting to the new style and format. Tensy was fully in accord with this drive for clarity, even if she still didn't understand the result. She was also in favor of printing symbolic material with enough leading to be legible for those with normal eyesight. The printing of any mathematical symbolism required a lot of special typography, and, all in all, Heike spent a good deal of time on the telephone with Tensy. The latter then suggested that she come back with Jones one Monday night and spend the week with herself and her husband. Heike had always been curious about Jones' Cincinnati environment, and, still having some vacation time left, was happy to accept.

Reggie, of course, was pleased. He almost immediately discovered that Heike was musical, and he put on a new record that someone had just given him. To Jones, it sounded more or less like classical music. Reggie, in a totally uncharacteristic way, raised his hands sentimentally, as if imploring the heavens, and announced,

"Ah, that might be Dvorak's New World Symphony."

Heike, totally taken back, looked more shocked than Jones had ever seen her. Then, before she could say anything, Reggie came back to earth with,

"But it isn't. It's Brahms' Third."

Heike burst out laughing, but Tensy asked Reggie,

"How does one know that it isn't Dvorak?"

"That's a fugue just now. He wouldn't be able to handle a fugue."

For some time, Reggie and Heike talked music. Tensy asked Jones,

"Did you know that she has this dimension?"

"No. I didn't know Reggie did either. It doesn't seem very British somehow."

"Serious music does seem more German or Italian, but there are English enthusiasts. You'd die laughing if you saw Reggie playing his bassoon. He makes an unlikely instrument sound quite good, but he looks terribly funny while he does it. I bet Heike plays something too."

"She does have a piano in her apartment, but I've never heard her play it. One of the Melancholy Boys has a grand piano to impress his girl friends. Since it doesn't have any keys, there's an awkward moment if one of them wants to play it. I did wonder if Heike's piano was like that."

"Jones, I'm not certain of many things, but I am certain that Heike's piano has keys. She and Reggie will shortly be playing a sonata for bassoon and piano."

"I never heard of one of those."

"Trust me, Reggie has scores for all the ones in existence, and I bet Heike can sight read."

It wasn't long before Tensy's prediction was confirmed. They sounded very good to Jones, but he said to Tensy,

"They'd probably sound good to me even if they weren't."

"I hardly know more about music than you do. Despite being dragged to concerts every other week or two. However, music appreciation is one of the easiest things to fake. You just learn the composers' names, and make sure to pronounce them correctly."

"I already know that you don't say 'Mozart' the way it's spelled."

"A good start. Other than that, you only have to nod and sigh occasionally. If you're really daring, you can shout 'Bravo' at the end of a piece."

"I'm not that daring."

"Reggie will occasionally point his finger at, say, the trumpet player just before he sounds off. But you have to know the score to do that."

"You could point two fingers at different players to improve your odds."

"That's another thing, Jones. People like Reggie and Heike don't joke about music. You'll have to stop that."

"I wonder how many other talents Heike has."

"I bet she writes poetry."

"Could well be."

"But you do things she probably doesn't. She isn't sports and exercise crazy the way you are, is she?"

"No. She's active. She'll run across the park, do somersaults, and chase imaginary butterflies. But that's about it."

"So she jokes about the things you take seriously. But that's okay."

"Then, of course, she's smarter than I am."

"Even at philosophy?"

"She probably would be if she took it up."

"You're considered very smart, Jones."

"She's beyond smart."

"I can believe it. But, then, she's used to being smarter than just about everyone. That really needn't be a problem."

"You sound as if you're proposing marriage between us."

"But, of course. She's charming, and also good for you. Besides, you need someone to save you from the Octavias of this world."

"I do feel safe with Heike."

"That's an extraordinary admission for you, Jones! I hope she doesn't want children."

"She's never mentioned it. Why?"

"A woman like that, no matter how hard she tries, can't tolerate the boredom involved in raising children. Even I couldn't. Children's problems just aren't very interesting. Try to imagine telling a child for the sixth time not to dump egg on the floor."

"Yes. I think I get that."

"And, of course, you'd be a horrible father."

"Now, Tensy, I'm not that bad. I wouldn't sodomize an infant."

"Well no, I exaggerated. But you'd be totally divorced emotionally, not only from the child, but in the area of helping your wife cope with giving the same instructions six times in a row."

"I'd probably tell her to let the kid throw egg on the floor."

"Exactly. In short, you wouldn't understand."

"Okay. But, even with contraceptives, children sometimes arrive unbidden."

"That's easy. You don't penetrate."

"What ...."

"Don't be shocked. Some of the best sex doesn't require it. Reggie and I do just fine without it."

"But ....."

"Don't be bourgeois, Jones. Haven't you ever had any experiences of that sort."

"Well, there was a prostitute in Sydney. She was terrific, and you didn't realize it, but she only used her hand."

"Quite so. Musicians are particularly good with their hands. And there are mouths, too. You once told me that Heike has difficulty with sex, but some of it might have to do with fear of penetration."

"Well, yes."

"There you are, then. They're almost done. This bit is called a 'coda'."

"Are we expected to clap or cheer?"

"With restraint, Jones. That's it."

The Melancholy Boys had gone, not underground, but, as Leo put it, "into a culvert." Fred Starcher, convinced that the FBI was planning to assassinate him, had suddenly departed, no one knew where. It had simultaneously been decided that they ought to include some women in the group, and Octavia and Tensy were popular choices. Reggie was invited, but declined on the grounds "that disrespectful remarks might be made concerning the Queen." Roger Ennis didn't have quite the Melancholy look, but it was agreed that he came close enough. They switched to Friday nights, and the big old tumbledown house that Roger and Octavia rented suited them quite nicely.

Jones supposed that it was the muted and highly intellectual adolescent rebellion in Heike that had so appealed to Reggie. He was always, at least unconsciously, looking for spies. The Melancholy Boys weren't looking for spies, but they loved any young lady who, after a couple of drinks, interjected into a discussion of early Christianity the remark,

"Jesus may have had trouble with numbers greater than a hundred, but his building of his cross shows that he could manage a right-angled construction."

From there, the conversation followed its usual swirls and ellipses. Jones had really only seen Heike in her interactions with naval and military officers, but the Melancholy range of subjects was much greater. He began to wonder if there was any area in which Heike was ignorant when Octavia came up to him quietly and whispered,

"She's lovely. In ten years, she'll be beautiful. In twenty, she'll be utterly extraordinary."

Octavia gave him one of her inimitable touches on his arm. He was also conscious of her power to agitate as she leaned close to him. But, then, she was gone. Heike didn't do quite the same thing for him, but she was, in so many ways, so young.

Heike, now in a rather intense discussion with Leo, didn't flirt. She probably didn't know how to in the ordinary way. Octavia hadn't said that Heike was now beautiful. She really wasn't. She wouldn't catch eyes going down the street the way Octavia did. But she was certainly a hit with the Melancholy Boys. They were good judges. And then, in another dimension, Octavia might well be right. There might just be tricks of the trade that exciting women picked up over time. In that case, Heike wouldn't later on be as available as she probably was now. It could be a matter of taking the refugee before very many people recognized her true value.

Yet another hastily organized dinner party took place at the Adams' house with Sim and Janey Loomis, the Hawthornes, and Roger and Octavia Ennis. Jones was a little surprised, in view of the dean's known displeasure with Roger Ennis, that Janet Adams had invited them both at the same time. However, in the flurry of Heike's being introduced all around, Wilson said quietly to Jones,

"Janet says that Sim was just as sexy as Roger as a young man, and that they should get to know one another better."

Wilson smiled in the way he usually did when he said, 'Fancy that'. But, this time, he said instead,

"And, of course, in view of yesterday's news, Roger doesn't really have a protector any more."

There was still a hint of humor in Wilson's voice despite the tragic nature of the previous day's news. Howard Garfield, having built a bomb shelter behind his house, had apparently been enjoying its comforts without fully appreciating some of its main features.

The idea had been to have it so securely lockable that people outside the family wouldn't be able to break into it in the event of an atomic attack. After all, since they hadn't helped pay for the shelter, they had no right to the security it afforded.

It turned out that, if the locks were thrown a certain way, a person inside the shelter couldn't get out. There was, unfortunately, no telephone inside the shelter. The walls were much too thick to allow the passage of sound, and, unaccountably, the air vent was jammed in the closed position.

Howard had been missing a couple of days, and then, when enough heavy equipment had been marshalled to finally break into the shelter, he was discovered to have been asphyxiated. It was, of course, the talk of the party. Wilson expressed the Olympian view, saying,

"So far, shelters haven't saved anyone, and they've killed at least one person."

Some of the ladies, taking it a little more personally, made such remarks as,

"Just think, he was standing right here in this room a short time ago."

Janet replied,

"You know, he hardly felt safe anywhere, even standing next to Wilson. Perhaps, guarded by all that steel and concrete, he finally did feel safe."

Wilson added,

"Yes. I dare say he died a happy man."

Sim Loomis then remarked,

"His death means that the college comes in for some very considerable bequests. One thing I'd like to do is to better fund faculty leaves and travel expenses."

Stan Hawthorne looked pleased at that, and made approving noises. Jones could feel that Heike, entirely undaunted by anything the Melancholy Boys had said, was a little surprised by the pragmatism of those present.

By the time they sat down to dinner, everyone seemed to have settled on an attitude to adopt in the matter of Howard Garfield. Heike became the object of curiosity, but it was discreet enough not to make her uncomfortable. Indeed, she seemed, on the contrary, to be more at home here than anywhere else. Jones wondered why. These people were mostly much older, which might have helped, and their glances were certainly admiring. Moreover, while they were all fairly intellectual, they were much more predictable than the Melancholy Boys, or, for that matter, Reggie. And, then, there was Wilson. Even though Heike had been taken up with the others, and hadn't had much chance to speak with him, his benign, and even commanding, presence had its effect. Janet must have seemed to Heike to complement her husband, and Heike had no way of knowing how devious she could be.

Whatever the cause might have been, it was after dinner, while standing with a coffee cup in conversation with several people, that Heike dropped her bomb,

"My father actually helped the Nazis persecute other Jews."

It was a near thing that the coffee of the others didn't land on the carpet, and Janet Adams asked, a little breathlessly,

"And your mother?"

"I did what I could to get her to leave Germany with me. But she was just too used to obeying my father. And, of course, his anti-Semitism didn't do them any good in the end."

Jones, even though he already knew the truth, was as surprised as anyone at Heike's admission. But, then, he remembered that virtually her only female friends were the secretaries at JOAD. As Jones listened quietly, the older women present were able to put things into some perspective. There were other fathers who persisted in craziness, dragging their families with them, and, while the results were not as dramatic, they were still painful enough. The one assumption in the continuing conversation seemed to be that no woman would have done such a thing on her own.

Much later in the evening, Jones found himself with Janet Adams. She said to him,

"Heike is brilliant and amazing. But the things she's experienced can't really be dismissed as casually as she tries to."

"People tell me that about my war experiences. But I don't seem to have any problems."

"You're one man among many with such experiences. And even you may have to talk them out some time. Heike's position was extraordinary. There's almost no one who would really understand."

"She's only mentioned it once to me."

"It'll come back. At least it should. And there's always a price to be paid. It could well be worth it if you're somewhat prepared."

"You mean psychiatry?"

"Good psychiatrists can help. Bad ones make things worse. What really causes difficulty is having to cope with children when you're turned inward with your own problems. I know. I've had to do that."

It had never occurred to Jones that either Wilson or Janet had had any problems to speak of. He now wondered if Wilson had understood, or whether he himself would have. In response, he laughed and said,

"Tensy has already advised me strongly not to have children."

Janet looked relieved, and replied,

"A lot of us women are in the same boat. Reggie's an even more unlikely father than you are. It didn't come naturally to Wilson, but he actually did pretty well."

"If Wilson found something difficult, I might find it impossible."

Janet, apparently thinking that she had gone too far, tried to back track and make light of her suggestions. But Jones wasn't fooled.

Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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