Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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 Chapter 35

A Happy Marriage

Went had been looking conspicuously happy and confident recently, and the dinner invitation seemed to flow right out of his enthusiasm. Heike looked pleased when Jones relayed the invitation to her, and she said,

"I think we should be reasonably dressed up."

"I've got my journal editor's outfit with me. Will that do?"

"Very well. In fact, when you meet senior military and naval officers, you might find it helpful to imagine that they've just submitted papers that you're thinking of rejecting."

"But that's not how I should be with Went, is it?"

"No. I think the object at this point is to be nice to Went."

It happened to be a nice cool evening, and Heike turned out to be right about the dress code. Went looked almost like a movie Virginian, and Barbara, blonde and full-skirted, wore an obvious heirloom as a necklace. A definitely pretty woman, Jones, on brief meetings, had detected just a touch of a sailor's wife about her. It was often said that sailors had the worst wives, even worse than soldiers or marines. The reasoning was that they never got more than a few blocks from the beach and found the women they would eventually marry in sailors' bars.

Barbara was, of course, far beyond that. Jones hardly considered himself an arbiter of taste in women's clothing or home decoration, but nothing in those areas struck him as wrong. Barbara spoke well, with a southern accent a little different from Went's, and Jones could imagine that she had gone to a southern version of the University of Cincinnati. But it was also possible to imagine her being thrown into the swimming pool at the officers' club at the end of a Saturday night party. Jones had been present on such occasions, watching closely as skirts came up prior to landing in the water, and then, later, observing the cling of wet clothing as the throwee emerged from the pool.

Heike and Barbara managed to converse quite well. Barbara liked to tease her husband about his various habits and foibles, and Heike, with plenty of opportunity to observe the same things, joined in. Went liked being teased, and the little party quickly got off to quite a merry start. Indeed, Went was almost euphoric. At one point, he simply grabbed Barbara and kissed her. She looked a little embarrassed, but glowed rosily as she asked Jones and Heike if Went embraced the secretaries at JOAD whenever they came within reach. On being assured of his perfect office decorum, she laughed and gave Went a sidelong seductive look and smile.

Jones had hardly seen any long-married couple with so much sexual feeling for one another. Even Roger Ennis managed to keep his hands off his wife to a greater extent than did Went. But it didn't go far enough to make Jones feel that they were in the way. Went and Barbara would go to it, perhaps on the living room carpet, when he and Heike left, but it looked as if they liked to postpone such things in order to intensify desire.

After a couple of drinks, Went decided to show Heike the little garden he was cultivating in the back yard. Barbara didn't seem to mind what might have been a rather obvious ploy, and brought Jones a fresh drink. She seemed to regard Heike as an innocent, and, like the secretaries at JOAD, was inclined to educate her. She asked Jones,

"Do you ever take Heike dancing?"

"Well, no. I guess I never thought of it."

"There's a great open-air dance floor next to the amusement park at Glen Echo. It's a huge place, and, on a nice summer evening, a couple can drift off behind some pillars."

Barbara had evidently done just that, probably with Went. Most likely, they still did. Jones found himself wanting to kiss her, the way Went had, but restrained himself as he answered,

"Heike and I are certainly getting closer, but I've always been bad at the romantic things, sending flowers and so on."

"But it's so easy! Just a phone call. Heike's still a bit blitzed from being a refugee, but I think she's starting to come out of it. If you're the one who leads her gently to the promised land, you'll be richly rewarded."

Jones acknowledged as much, and replied,

"You're about the fifth woman to tell me that I'm in danger of overlooking someone who's really terrific."

"Yes. Are you taking our advice?"

Before Jones could answer, Went and Heike returned. She didn't look at all violated, but did look amused. It was revealed in the following discussion that Went cultivated some plants that other people considered to be weeds. He insisted stoutly that they were herbs.

After dinner, the men fell into conversation in the living room as the women went to the kitchen. Heike had once remarked to Jones that, unlike the Europe of her girlhood, where dirty dishes disappeared magically in the hands of servants, the visiting woman in America might as well bring her own apron. The hostess did, according to the new rules, say something about leaving the dishes for later. But, with the image of dirty dishes getting uglier and harder to clean by the minute in everyone's mind, she didn't long resist the offers of aid.

According to Went, Barbara, when dressed up in a hostess outfit, took off her dress to do dishes. He further suggested,

"Heike probably will too, and we could burst in and surprise them."

Jones doubted whether Heike would follow Barbara in this practice, and he also judged that Went wasn't quite serious, merely playing with the idea. But it was, in its way, yet another recommendation for Heike. Went wanted to see her in her underclothes.

Perhaps as an alternative to sexy subjects, they discussed the last war. This was something Jones seldom did, and he didn't think Went did so either. In fact, this was the first time they had ever talked directly about their own experiences, as opposed to general considerations of strategy and tactics. After a few minutes, Went concluded,

"We were both in the business of arranging ambushes, me with torpedoes and you with gunnery."

It was agreed that those ambushes were exciting, and even thrilling. Went said,

"Occasionally, there was even a comic element. A lot of Japanese freighters were lightly built above the main deck with tall single stacks. Once, when we hit one amidships, the stack went one way, and the entire bridge structure disintegrated and flew in all directions. It was like a child's toy with a spring that makes it fly apart when you hit the bullseye."

Jones could imagine the exultation felt by the man at the periscope. He replied,

"Of course, we didn't sink ships very often, just barges full of soldiers. I think the high point for me was always when we spotted a loaded barge at night and illuminated it with our searchlights."

"Did they start diving overboard?"

"No, they manned whatever guns they had, sometimes shooting with rifles, but we had them out-gunned by far."

"Were the barges easy to sink?"

"The wooden ones didn't sink at all. But we gradually blew them apart with our forty millimeter cannon. Then there was the mopping up. Men swimming all over the place."

"Did any get away?"

"A few soldiers would try to hide in what was left of the barge, mostly underwater."

Went didn't ask what had happened to them. The mopping up, it seemed, was something like the dishwashing that Barbara and Heike were now engaged in. Jones allowed,

"Things are so different now. It's even hard to remember what it was like."

"Much less explain it to someone else."

Laughter was heard from the kitchen, and the ladies joined them, carrying coffee.

Barbara settled on the couch next to Went, and she seemed just as happy as he was. It was nice to see, if a little odd, and Jones wondered if there were such things as second, or perhaps third, honeymoons. When they left about eleven, Went and Barbara waved from their doorstep, their arms around each other.

Jones asked Heike if she were too drunk to drive, but she replied,

"There's a new study that says that people drive better after a couple of drinks."

There were a couple of swoops, but Jones resigned himself to the inevitable. He said,

"Went said that Barbara takes off her dress to do dishes. Did she?"

"Oh, yes. But not her necklace or shoes. It was quite a glamorous performance."

"For your benefit, apparently. Did she invite you to follow suit?"

"Yes, but I'm sure she knew I wouldn't. I look like a thirteen year old orphan in my slip."

"I bet you don't."

"You might be approving, but it's a more intense kind of thing to withstand the cool appraising stare of another woman."

"She wouldn't have been like that. She was too happy. She also thinks you're a terrific person."

"She does think that I'm smart, honest, fairly benevolent in my attitudes, and unlikely to flirt with Went. But, if she were going out to hunt men, she wouldn't take me with her."

"Of course, right now, she's not hunting anyone but Went."

"Sure. But she'd know how to. She probably did use some wiles on him."

"I wonder if she was a virgin at marriage."

"Probably like the secretaries. They go as far as they conveniently can with two or three couples in a parked car. That drives their boy friends wild with desire."

"Whatever Barbara did, it certainly worked on Went."

"You know, I almost forgot. Barbara confided all kinds of things in the kitchen. Including the reason they're both so happy. It started on a down note with her complaining that their friends all have more money, wear better clothes, live in better houses, and so on."

"Yeah, I've heard a little of that from Went. He's descended from all sorts of prominent Virginia people, but no money to speak of has come his way. They pretty much live on his salary."

"There was just a hint that she wasn't fully aware of that fact when she married him. She pointed to her necklace and said that was the only damned thing she had to show for all of Went's heritage. She said everything else came from the dime store."

"It couldn't really, could it?"

"No. That was an exaggeration. Although that dress she was wearing might possibly have come from Sears Roebuck. Some of their clothes are okay, and she's pretty enough to make them look good."

"It's funny that she was complaining. She looked pretty happy to me."

"The complaining was very short-lived. She was on air when she went on to tell me that Went's leaving the navy. It's already arranged for him to be the Washington representative of a submarine builder in Connecticut."

"Wow! I never guessed anything like that."

"They're going to get a nice house, a better car, and she's going to go prancing and swirling around in beautiful clothes. When they feel like it, they'll be able to go to New York City for plays and fun."

"I wonder if Admiral Benson and Captain Stallman know about that."

"Wouldn't they have had to give Went recommendations?"

"Yes, probably so. The shipbuilder would be hiring Went so as to influence Benson and the other admirals. Went couldn't do that if he didn't leave on good terms."

Jones did some quick thinking, made more difficult by a sudden turn, in an attempt to reconcile this news with the attitudes of Benson and Stallman in their recent interview. Was that "point that smart men didn't get" connected with Went's sudden departure? He then asked Heike,

"Do you know when this was arranged?"

"Quite recently, I gathered. Tonight might be a sort of celebration."

"I've never seen anything that looked more like one."

"You know, I am a little drunk. I almost forgot the other thing."

"I can hardly imagine."

"Barbara, in the middle of her euphoria, is also a little worried. Went has one more mission to perform, and she thinks it may be dangerous."

"Jesus! This must be what Benson and Stallman were hiding from me."

"I don't think Barbara knows what it is. It's a vague worry."

"Why does she think it's dangerous?"

"She caught Went amending his will. He made some excuse, but she didn't believe him."

"One thing is certain. We've underestimated JOAD and the navy. Now it sounds as if they might do something to start World War III after all."

Heike, now at a stop light, replied,

"That's what we originally worried about. We've come full circle."

"I know. You thought Went was dangerous from the beginning. I was the one who thought he and the rest of JOAD had been neutralized and left in the dust by General Smith and CASP."

"Whatever the navy's up to, it can't depend on computers."

Jones, agreeing, added,

"I wonder why they were so upset when they lost the computer."

"A matter of status. It might have made them so angry that they organized the present scheme, whatever it is."

"Yes. And they wrote us off as defectors and stoolies."

"That must have been about the time that Admiral Benson verbally assaulted me. It would also have been when Went started saying he was only interested in defensive submarine operations."

"That was when he got us out in a PT boat and had you shooting at the buoy."

"All that was really the height of absurdity. It must have been part of his act."

"I wonder if Went was in on it from the beginning."

Heike replied,

"The dinner tonight might just have been another move in nullifying any suspicions we might have. We're to report to CASP that JOAD is mostly concerned with re-seducing its wives."

"Except that Barbara spilled some serious beans to you."

"The best laid plans don't always allow for two girls getting together in the kitchen with dirty dishes and a bottle of wine."

Heike started the car with a moderate screech of tires and said,

"Still, JOAD doesn't command the submarine force. It only advises it. The force can't do anything very dangerous without some sort of permission from on high. Who could give it?"

"It would have to go to the CNO, Admiral Sherman. But even he couldn't approve something with those potential consequences. If it went to the joint chiefs, the other services would find out and horn in on what must be intended as a submarine show."

"Who, then?"

"I don't know. Probably they'll spring it when they're all set to act. The air force, and LeMay in particular, won't be ready with counter-arguments."

Heike then asked,

"Where does that leave us with Went?"

"Much as before. It's only through him that we can find out what they're up to."

"He can't know what you and I are up to, can he?"

"Not unless you get drunk with Barbara and let it out."

"Oh God! Well, I am pretty sure that I didn't do anything like that."

"Anyhow, we're not totally opposed to JOAD. We do want them to put some sort of alternative deterrent on the board. We just don't want them to do anything unduly provocative. And that's also Smith's position."

"Should we tell him what we've found out."

"I don't think just yet."

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