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 Chapter 19

Leaving Washington

The next morning, crisp and clear, Rachel watched Bert, Luda, and Cynthia set off on their various machinations. The others decided to walk around the city, probably ending up at the National Gallery. As Joan said, "In addition to the art, it's a wonderful place to rest."

By this time, all three ladies had become quite comfortable with Adam. After a little initial stiffness, he expressed awe and enthusiasm for all sorts of unlikely things, and had even raced Rachel to a hot dog vendor some hundred yards distant, barely beating her. Rachel was glad that she didn't have to ease up at the end, per her mother's prescription, to let him win.

     Rachel preferred not to go to tourist sites, but to wander around looking at people and things. When she said something of the sort, Joan replied, "That's what I like to do. I hate lining up in front of the White House to be guided around, and things like that."

Barbara and Adam, walking together, were of like mind, and they walked all the way to Georgetown. Rachel, talking mostly with Joan, got the idea that Barbara and Adam were becoming friends. Joan, without saying so, seemed to agree. At one point, she looked back and said, "I think he's an awfully nice young man. He probably hasn't had a lot of fun in life, and it's nice to see him enjoying himself."

When they were all gathered together on Wisconsin Avenue, Joan, half humorously, suggested, "If we're tired, we could just go to that movie over there."

The movie was a French one about Parisian gangsters and their girl friends. Rachel liked it, partly because of the street scenes in Paris, but also for its tasteful eroticism.

     Afterwards at a nearby cafe, Barbara said, "I like movies that are sexy, but not too explicit."

Rachel replied, “People like Barbara and myself have to learn about these things in tiny increments."

Everyone laughed, and Barbara said, jokingly, to Adam, "I bet you're a man of a thousand conquests, from Leningrad to Cambridge."

Shaking his head, he replied, "In Russia, they work the young musicians very hard, with little time left over. Some of the boy and girl students do get together, but there are always many more boys than girls. I was never one of the lucky ones."

This was said with a sad smile, prompting Joan to reply, "It's not a good thing to be the sort of teen-aged boy who has girls hanging all over him. The pseudo-sophistication that impresses at that age is vulgar and embarrassing ten years later."

"I hope you're right."

"I read of a man who married a rich woman by saying, among other things, 'Come out into the garden. I want the roses to smell you.' That's a teen-aged lover who never learned better."

"It apparently worked."

"Because the woman was stupid."

Barbara had another example. "I saw a movie in which a man arrives at a woman's apartment on a blind date. When she opens the door, he immediately asks to use the telephone. He then calls up the man who arranged the date and says, 'You're right, she's very beautiful.'"

Adam replied, "I'm afraid some Russians are like that."

"But you aren't."

"No. Too much self-discipline, I suppose. My friends used to urge me to loosen up and be more romantic."

Joan replied, "It's funny how the advice young people give each other is so often bad."

On that happy note, they headed back to pick up their luggage for the train.

     Rachel and Joan were in one taxi with part of the luggage while Barbara and Adam were in another. Joan said, "We might have managed to squeeze all four of us and the luggage in one, but I thought that Barbara and Adam might like to be together."

“I don’t think they’re on their way to being boy friend and girl friend, but they might be like my friend, Zeke, and myself.”

“It did seem to me that Cynthia was trying to bring Adam and Luda together. It sure didn’t work.”

“They’ll hardly look at each other."

"I read something about that. Dissidents in a dictatorship split into factions that often hate each other. Even more than they hate the dictator. So, when refugees meet, they wonder which group the other belonged to."

“I think it’s just that Luda scares him.”

"So many women in their thirties like myself try to be matchmakers. It usually doesn't work."

"Well, if anything develops between Barbara and Adam, it won't be because we arranged it."

When they got out of the taxi, Rachel was surprised to see Bert at the curb. He had evidently made it at the last moment to see them off. She was quite pleased when he rushed up to embrace Joan. Then, all of a sudden, he practically begged her to stay a few more days. It was really very romantic, and Joan, blushing and fluttering, seemed glad to oblige.

    Joan was certainly surprised, but it was the sort of thing that had happened before. There had been times, times when Bert had probably been with other women, when he came rushing back to her, frantic to make love. It might have been that the trysts had been unsatisfactory, but she thought not. Nor was it likely that he felt guilt, and was trying to atone. More likely, it was just that, in the end, he  preferred her to the others and delighted in her shy love-making style. It was, she joked to herself, better than being stabbed with spike heels by a naked courtesan with a whip.

     Back in the hotel, Bert was lighter and more sensitive than usual. Joan found herself wondering if there would be a trade-off, but then gave way to pleasure.

     It turned out at breakfast the next morning that she was to be involved in some sort of business deal. She asked jokingly, "Have you promised someone a night in bed with me in return for some trade advantage?"

Bert didn't laugh, and actually seemed a little shocked. He explained, "I've always kept you separate from business, but, really, I don't think I need have. You aren't totally naive, and you may imagine the business to be worse than it really is."

"I think I knew that you'd always be involved in marginally unethical operations when I married you. I was probably rebelling against the stodginess of my parents."

Bert now laughed, "I can deliver you from stodginess. We're soon to meet Cousin George."

They were finishing breakfast at this point, and, in the taxi, Bert explained about Cousin George. He finished with, "He's quite intense, and he often jabs with his cigar when he talks. The story is that he once set another man's necktie on fire with it."

The name on the office directory in the lobby was that of Major George MacAfee. Joan asked, "I thought you said that he was a former sergeant."

"Since leaving the army, he's been a mercenary soldier in Africa and Latin America. I'm sure he was a major in someone's army."

Joan's first impression of Major MacAfee was that he was like Bert, only more so. She found herself being welcomed rather elaborately in a way that was almost courtly. When Bert, perhaps jokingly, said, “In case I’m assassinated by the insurgents, Joan can carry on in my place,” MacAfee smiled and offered her a choice of tea, coffee, or gin. The gin option at nine in the morning seemed to be a bit of a joke, and she was happy to choose tea. He then moved to a tea pot that was already ready, and said, "I'm a tea drinker myself. I've always admired British methods in their empire, and I try to copy them."

Bert asked, somewhat skeptically, "What British methods do you admire, George?"

"Controlling most of the world with civil servants rather than soldiers. I have a friend who says that the world needs only a system of British District Officers. I dare say he's right."

All this was a little surprising in a man who was so obviously a professional soldier, albeit of an unusual kind. Even though Joan realized that George would have frightened many people, she felt at home with him as she sipped her tea.

     Bert brought up his last wrestling encounter with George, and the other replied, "I just got a lucky armlock. You'd beat me nine times out of ten."

     Gradually, the talk drifted to Latin America, business, and insurgents. George said, "The very worst thing is to send soldiers into the hinterland, even in groups of company size. The insurgents fade into the forests and watch. Even if the soldiers don't rape the women in the villages, they get ambushed on their way back. Then, as likely as not, they break ranks and run, leaving their guns and equipment on the ground."

"I wonder why the governments always want more arms for their men if most of them end up in enemy hands."


"I think El Presidente will ultimately be satisfied with just enough firepower to keep the insurgents from coming into the capitol and burning the presidential palace."

"Okay. So the situation perpetuates. Are you really interested in helping him take back the countryside, Bert?"

"Let me just ask how you'd do it."

"I'd go down to the country with a man I know who can pass for the sort of mixed breed that's common there. We'd begin hiring peasants to go join the insurgency and report back when possible."

"Wouldn't a lot of them get exposed and killed?"

"Sure. That's the point. You want the insurgency to think it's being penetrated. That will generate suspicion, and these people will turn on each other."

"Yes. Once one genuine collaborator is exposed, it's easy for rebels to accuse and kill anyone they don't like or fear."

"It's awfully easy to get rebels to fight each other. When they're all exhausted, the government can pick up the pieces."

"If that actually happened, George, El Presidente would no longer be dependent on us. He might nationalize my companies."

"Yeah. That's why I asked. Instead, I could just take down the arms that they want and dole them out. I'd also give them fancy new uniforms. That'll make him feel good as he takes the salute from his balcony on the march-past."

“He also wants helicopters.”

“That’s ridiculous! Too expensive, too hard to man and maintain, and too conspicuous.”

“I’ll explain to him that they’re easy to shoot down with weapons that the insurgents have.”

There was a moment of silence, and Joan asked, "Aren't a lot of dictators killed by their own bodyguards?"

"That happens. You know, Bert, it might be pointed out to El Presidente that he needs to be nice to his household cavalry, or whatever. Would he be a cheapskate with them?"

"In this particular case, I think he might be. He's pretty puffed up without a real sense of danger."

"That's fatal. Try not to be taking tea with him at the wrong time."

"I'll let you do the deliveries, George. You do have a sense of danger."

"Damn right. Well, Bert, we both know that my charges are reasonable. In this case, ten per cent of the value of the shipments, and I don't quibble over little things like personal expenses."

"I think that will fly, George."

"See how easy it is, Mrs. Howard?"

"I have more trouble negotiating with my maid."

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