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 Chapter 34

Crisis Management and Soccer

Mrs. Suggs was first into the room. Then came General Taylor. He was still on the warpath since the Sunday night leak, but he was also controlled and purposeful, the chief whom Mrs. Suggs respected the most. Really, he was the only one she respected at all.

General Taylor sat down diagonally across from Mrs. Suggs, smiled, and remarked on the fine weather. After a minute, he got up, leaving his brief case on the table, and started out of the room. He said,

"I'll be back in a minute. Don't let anyone peek at my papers."

It was a joke, but, then, not so much of a joke these days. Mrs. Suggs was prepared to defend the general's brief case with her life until he returned from the men's room.

The next arrivals were General Twining and Admiral Radford. In theory, Admiral Radford had retired and been replaced by General Twining as chairman of the JCS, but it had been agreed that, for the duration of the present crisis, they would continue as before. They were talking, and didn't notice Mrs. Suggs, but she knew they were talking about the alert two days previously. General Twining said,

"I'm pretty sure they were set to come. But the air defence command reacted so quickly that they turned back. It's as simple as that."

Admiral Radford replied,

"We've gotten too good in that area. We need to sucker them in and then turn all hell loose on them."

"Another thing that'll make em come further is to send LeMay deeper sooner."

General Taylor drifted in behind the other two men. It seemed to Mrs. Suggs that they were too absorbed in their conversation to have noticed him.

Admiral Burke and General Pate also came in together. In Mrs. Suggs' opinion, they would concur in almost any proposal that the chairman put forward. As soon as they were seated, Admiral Radford opened the meeting.

"I'm sorry that we have to have yet another special meeting, but, of course, everyone understands. There's been no lessening of tension in the last two days. We put a U-2 over the VVS bases yesterday, and the pictures showed long lines of busses leaving them. We can only think that they're evacuating all the dependents and non-essential perssonnel. More Tu-20s are being kept in the air than usual, and the ones on the ground are obviously ready to go at any moment."

General Taylor asked,

"Are dependents being evacuated from SAC bases?"

Radford looked to General Twining, who answered,

"No, not as far as I know."

"Then it looks as if they're expecting to be struck and we're expecting to strike."

"Well, they mounted what certainly looked like a strike coming our way."

"But what had SAC been doing just before that?"

There was no clear answer. It was obvious to Mrs. Suggs that, while Twining might be in charge of the air force, he had no exact and detailed knowledge of Curtis LeMay's daily actions. After a moment, Taylor said,

"I ask because I can envision the following scenario. First, LeMay sends a large bomber force unusually close to the Soviet Union. Second, they react by sending their own bomber force at us. Third, we make no show of opposition and let them get further than usual with no visual interception. Fourth, our fighters attack their bomber force and destroy it. Fifth, our bombers in the air, running low on fuel, land in the nearest friendly country. Sixth, the full weight of SAC attacks the Soviet Union."

General Pate was attempting, with obvious futility, to take down what Taylor had said. The latter paused and asked Mrs. Suggs to repeat his imagined scenario slowly. When she had done so, he commented,

"This may be a good way to win the next, and last, war, but the decision must be made by the president, not by us. In this critical situation, I propose that the details of all SAC movements of any size be transmitted in advance to the president for approval."

This was not, of course, a popular proposal. The members of the Joint Chiefs would ordinarily oppose agreeing in advance to submitting the plans for any operation short of war to civilian leadership, even to the president. But, Mrs. Suggs knew, there was a veiled threat. General Taylor was thinking of doing some leaking himself. More than that, he could, at any time, ask for, and get, an emergency meeting with President Eisenhower.

At that meeting, he could expose the plans of Radford and Twining, which could be put into effect with nothing more than a suggestion to LeMay to go a little further than usual with a provocative force and another to the Air Defence Command to hang back a little at first. Admiral Radford would certainly rather espouse the proposal Taylor had put forward than be pictured as a Macchiavellian who was trying to precipitate World War III.

It didn't surprise Mrs. Suggs that, while General Twining grumbled, Admiral Radford sized up the situation and agreed without even batting an eyelash.

That having been established, General Taylor indicated that he would shortly be circulating a paper, drafted by himself, in which he would set forth an alternative way of handling the sort of crisis which was before them.

By this time, Tom Williams, still at DRI in body if not in spirit, was at work on a on a mock-up for his Ph. D. thesis. He still turned up every day to log in and hear the news, but, whenever nothing was happening, he went to work on some philosophy books he had brought with him from Ann Arbor.

Although he often found himself thinking about Elizaveta, he spent some nights with Elaine, who had returned from her short sojourn in Santo Domingo. It was quite a different life from anything he had ever experienced, replete with every luxury including a walk-in shower which squirted water at one from every direction.

Boris was calling every day, and Elaine said,

"It's getting to be embarrassing. He must know that I know that he only wants to know where Mamie is. We're hardly bothering to go through the pretenses at this point."

On Thursday, acting on Desmond's instructions, Elaine told Boris that Mamie had left town. He was almost beside himself. He wanted to know where she had gone, and wasn't satisfied when she claimed not to know. On Friday, he called back, just to see whether, as far as Elaine knew, Mamie had returned.

On Friday night, by arrangement, they went back to the Petit France and met Desmond at his usual location in the lounge. He came to the point more quickly than usual and said,

"He's been calling those numbers. He'll be getting no answer at about half, but, when someone does answer, he asks for the person in Elaine's book. He called me last night, and, in the guise of Senator Leverett Salstonstall of Massachusetts, I accepted an invitation to a party at the Soviet Embassy. But, obviously, the way things are now, he has more on his mind than that."

Tom replied,

"Well, Boris is a passionate man. It's not inconceivable that he might want to get all these influential people together to make some kind of pitch to them, probably a peace appeal of some kind."

Neither Desmond nor Elaine was much impressed by that suggestion, and Tom offered,

"I'll be seeing him at soccer tomorrow. I'll see if I can get some idea of what's going on with him."

As Desmond saw them into the dining room, he said to Tom,

"This is no time to be cautious. Try to get something out of him, no matter what you have to say. You can always start by asking about the little lady who defected back the other way."

The soccer game started in the usual way with everyone kicking the ball around. In fact, there were about twenty people, a few of whom Tom hadn't seen before, and they were kicking three balls. Boris was there, but, aside from kicking him the ball occasionally, Tom had no interaction with him. Just when it began to look as if they'd never get started, Charles got Tom to help him lay out the goals, using the usual collection of gym bags and bits of clothing. Tom put his keys beside one of the bags, and Charles reminded him,

"You always put your keys there, and then, when more people come and we move the goals back, you can't find them."

Tom admitted as much, but there was nowhere else to put them. Charles suggested that he swallow them, and then retrieve them from the other end later on, but he wound up putting them by the gym bag just the same.

They usually played shirts against skins, and Tom liked being a skin so as not to get a shirt, which he hoped to wear another three days, unnecessarily dirty. He got his wish, and the game began when someone started to dribble the ball. Not everyone knew that the game had begun just yet, but they soon caught on.

Tom found himself playing opposite Boris on one wing. In that position, Tom knew that, if one let a fast opponent break past one, and a ball was simultaneously kicked deep to him, he could go in for an easy goal. It was a little like being a corner back in football, and Tom had been victimized twice in one afternoon by a deceptively swift African diplomat. Boris wasn't fast enough for that, but, when Boris' side had the ball, Tom made a point of sticking close to him. As they were running along in that fashion, Boris suddenly said,

"You're on the point of attacking us."

"I certainly hope not."

Just then, Boris' team lost the ball and Tom burst upfield past him. Tom was free for a pass, collared it, and passed it back into the middle, not far from the goal. But Pierre was a little slow in coming up, and the other side got the ball. Boris then had a head start, but Tom caught up with him. When they were even, he asked,

"Why do you think that?"

"Mamie Eisenhower has been hidden away somewhere. Probably in the bottom of a coal mine."

The image of Mrs. Eisnehower sitting in a straight chair in the middle of a pool of water with the black walls of the mine illuminated by a lanterrn struck Tom as funny. But, he realized, of course, that it was a bad sign from Boris' point of view. The ball was then kicked hard at Boris. Tom had him well covered, and it went over both their heads.

It was a feature of the diplomatic game that there was no out-of-bounds. It wasn't really an ideological point, nor did it represent an attempt to escape from the rigid protocols which governed so much of diplomatic life. It was just that nobody bothered to collect the bits and pieces of clothing and use them to mark sidelines. When a ball went obviously out of the playing field, whoever was closest to it collected it and dribbled or passed it back. Someone on the other side might race him for it, in which case there might be a spirited little competition to see who brought the ball back.

Tom had become famous for his willingness to chase any ball, no matter how far off to the side it went. If someone chased him, he often drew his opponent even farther away before doubling back with the ball and leaving him behind, the effect being that the other side would be temporarily short one man. On this occasion, Tom used his advantage in speed to get to the ball, but Boris followed him. Charles called out,

"Don't follow him, Boris. He has no sense of proportion."

Boris did follow and said,

"All your important people have left for some hideaway."

It was then, suddenly, that Tom remembered about Elaine's address book. Before he could say anything, Boris shouted,

"I've called them to invite them to a party, and there's either no answer or I get some secretary who's evasive. One even pretended to be his principal and accepted."

"How do you know it wasn't him?"

"Senator Saltonstall has a Boston accent. This was an oily bastard who works in his office. I've just sent a signal to Kublaikov back in Moscow."

"What signal?"

"That they're all gone. The only reason I've been kept here is to give that signal."

Tom kept dribbling the ball. Boris made no real attempt to get it back, and the others were shouting. Tom immediately decided to tell Boris the whole story about the book as they ran toward the game. It took only a few sentences. Boris understood immediately. He gave up all pretense of playing and shouted,

"Where's the nearest phone?"

There was a phone booth some hundred yards away, near the street, and they both sprinted toward it. As they ran, Tom decided that it was more important for Boris to get his message through first. It seemed to him that Boris was running faster than he ever had before, and it wasn't easy to keep up with him.

The booth was occupied by a middle-aged man, with his wife standing just outside, adding her comments to the conversation. Boris was shouting as he came up, his accent more evident than usual. He should have said that someone was having a heart attack, but he instead said something about having to reach the Soviet embassy. That was the wrong thing. The man started talking about dirty communists and where they could go while the receiver squawked in accompaniment. The wife became shrill, and also expressed nativist sentiments. Boris, purple in the face, only spluttered.

Tom grabbed the receiver out of the man's hand with one hand, and ejected him from the booth with the other. Boris dove into the booth and Tom handed him the receiver. The man and his wife were both battering on Tom, who was guarding the doorway to the booth, when Boris called out for a dime. Tom had no money in his pockets either, but he snatched the woman's purse, held it up beyond her reach, and discovered a small change purse within it. He could feel the coins in it and handed it to Boris as he returned the larger purse.

The other players might have been expected to play on despite the eccentric departure of Boris and Tom, but they evidently sensed an emergency and followed along. They also saw Tom holding the man at arm's length while, with the other hand, he tried to keep the woman from hitting him with her umbrella. Above all, he blocked them off from the booth, where Boris seemed to have gotten through to someone.

Tom managed to give a rough account of the situation to Charles and the others who gathered, and Charles attempted to dissuade the couple from further violence. The British accent seemed only to make things worse, but it was finally Carlos, with his third-world bearing, who managed to convince them that an absolutely essential message had to be got through. Carlos also had a ten-dollar bill which he forced on the man "in compensation for the severe inconvenience they had caused him."

The man seemed to like ten-dollar bills, and he stopped his attempted mayhem on Tom long enough to take it. Having done so, he substituted angry words for blows as far as Tom was concerned. Carlos kept talking, and Tom noticed that his rather courtly formality had a calming effect. Just then, Boris finished and Tom got into the booth, quickly dialling Desmond's home.

Mrs. Desmond answered, and was coy,

"Now, Dave's up there getting dressed, and I don't want to disturb him because we have a real exciting garden party to go to and ...."

Tom shouted,

"Army red flash emergency!"

He hardly knew what he was saying, but he then remembered that, when he was a nine year old air-raid spotter in 1943, it was the phrase he was supposed to use if he ever spotted a German aircraft over the Massachusetts hills. Whether it was now appropriate was arguable, but it seemed to work. Desmond soon came on the line.

After Tom had given his frenzied account, Desmond replied,

"I was beginning to wonder if it was a good idea to give him the wrong numbers."

Desmond spoke as if it had been Tom's idea. Tom was about to protest that it certainly had not been his idea when Desmond said,

"I'd better make some calls now."

Tom got off the line immediately and apologized to the couple whose tranquility they had so effectively shattered. They still looked disgruntled, but he moved off quickly. Charles asked,

"Are you and Boris arranging to blow the world up, or are you trying to prevent that from happening?"

Tom looked at Boris and replied,

"I'm trying to blow it up, but Boris has no sense of fun."

Charles said,

"Right then. Back to the game."

The whole sequence with the telephone had taken only a few minutes, and, as far as could be remembered, it was Tom who had last had the ball.

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