For All Nails #260: Be My Guest
By Johnny Pez
In an odd way, Joan Kahn was glad to be back in Hoboken. For one thing, it gave her a chance to visit her family in Brooklyn City, which she didn’t get to do on a regular basis now that she spent most of her time in the USM. For another, she had enjoyed her previous appearance on “Closing Time”, and she was looking forward to chatting with Walt about her Mercator book.
The production staff at “Closing Time” kept their green room well-stocked with refreshments, and not just the alcoholic kind. Kahn had arrived half an hour earlier, and was enjoying a snack of chapman biscuits and orange juice when Janet Lazenby, the assistant producer, escorted another woman into the room. She was dressed in an elegant, shimmery black gown accented with a tasteful yet expensive set of diamond earrings and necklace.
Kahn had no difficulty recognizing the other woman. Even in the USM, coverage of the CNA’s off again, on again space program was extensive, and everyone knew about the Sweet Six (and to a lesser extent, the Dishy Dozen, as the second group of space pilots had been dubbed). Although most of the discussions regarding them consisted of the “which one would you rather bang” variety popular among Mexican men, she had nevertheless formed opinions on the original Six, and her opinion of Major the Honorable Evangeline Gilmore was that she was a real piece of work.
“Have you two met?’ Janet asked brightly.
“I rather doubt it,” said Gilmore in tones of faint but unmistakable disdain. Sure enough, a real piece of work.
With Gilmore’s posh accent grating in her ears, Kahn let her own Brooklyn City idiom have full reign. “Likewise,” she said in a sneering tone her Aunt Bernice would have been proud of. She was acutely aware of how drab her own white blouse and black skirt looked in comparison to the pilot’s finery. Kahn had, of course, dressed with the intent of looking as professional (and professorial) as possible, and not at all like the raving Masonist she in fact was.
“Allllrighty,” said Janet after a momentary pause. “I’ll just leave you two to get acquainted, then.” With her eyes rolling, she hurried off.
“Should I know you?” said Gilmore archly as she seated herself. Kahn was quite certain that Gilmore knew perfectly well who she was. Why else would she have made that snotty reply to Janet’s question?
“That depends,” said Kahn. “Did they teach you to read back at Marlborough City?”
“Ah, I take it that you’re a scribbler of some sort, then.” Gilmore’s smile was as sweet and poisonous as a jar of nightshade preserves.
“If you ever stopped in at the Academy library in between fencing practice and afternoon tea,” Kahn said, “you would have seen one of my books there.” Now, how in the world did she know that? Oh yeah, whatsername, Stapleton, had mentioned it back in Mexico City.
“How odd,” said Gilmore, “I’ve been in the Academy library on numerous occasions, but I don’t recall ever seeing any books there written in crayon.”
“Only because they don’t print Burke’s Peerage in crayon,” said Kahn. “Though I can’t imagine why not. I’m sure the target audience could use the help.”
“Better that than a target audience that reads Hebrew,” Gilmore sniffed.
Kahn blinked. Although Judeophobia had been declining in the CNA since the Bloody Eighties, a genteel variety was still popular in certain traditionalist circles –- the sort of circles that produced people like the Major. Gilmore might not be the sort of raving Jew-hater that the British Nats seemed to be producing in ever-increasing numbers, but as far as Kahn was concerned, she had just crossed the line. All right, she told herself, now the gloves come off.
Dropping her bantering tone, Kahn said, “Would you like to know how your father died?”
She had the satisfaction of seeing the superior expression vanish from the space pilot’s face, and the sneering tone drop from her voice. “I know how my father died,” she answered icily. “He was murdered.”
“Everybody knows he was murdered,” Kahn agreed, “but I know who did it.”
“Oh, the CBI knows,” said Kahn. “That’s where I got the information; a jeffy scribbler like me has contacts in all kinds of unlikely places.” She had once mentioned Lord Horace Gilmore to Liddy, and the ex-Director’s answers had been quite candid. “The CBI just never told anyone, because the truth was too inconvenient. I’m sure that if you asked Sir Benjamin, he’d be willing to talk about it. Strictly sub rosa, of course.”
“Of course,” said Gilmore, her eyes glinting with rage. “Do go on. This is fascinating.”
“Well,” said Kahn, “Kramer had just set off their bomb, and the army desperately wanted to start work on its own version. Unfortunately, official policy in Burgoyne was that the CNA wasn’t interested in pursuing atomic research.”
Kahn allowed herself a smile. “Our late revered leader. Anyway, your father set up a top secret project, secret even from the government, to try to steal the bomb from Kramer. According to my sources, they were pretty ruthless about it. Some important people in Taipei wound up dying messy, unpleasant deaths, and Salazar decided that somebody in the CNA had to be taught a lesson about futzing with the Octopus. I understand you saw the results for yourself.”
Gilmore’s eyes were shooting daggers at Kahn, but she remained silent.
“Of course,” Kahn continued, “it would have been very awkward from a political standpoint to come out in the open with something like this, especially after Jay became Governor-General. Much better to just maintain a discreet silence and let everyone think the Mexicans had done it. So, it turns out that your father’s murder has been avenged -- by Vincent Mercator, of all people. Kind of gives an ironic twist to the whole thing, doesn’t it?”
“You’re lying,” said Gilmore. “You’re a lying, filthy, jeffy whore.”
Kahn ignored the insults. She had expected worse. “Like I said, don’t take my word for it. Ask Sir Benjamin.” She added, sardonically, “After all, if you can’t trust the former Director of the CBI, who can you trust?”
For a moment, Kahn was certain that Gilmore was going to physically attack her. Instead, the aristocratic pilot rose abruptly from her seat and stalked out of the green room, only pausing briefly in the doorway to say, “If I find out you’re lying, I’ll kill you.”
“Be my guest,” said Kahn, but she was already gone.
Janet returned a few minutes later with a young stand-up comedian in tow. Her eyes became frantic when she realized that her lead guest had vanished.
“Where’s Major Gilmore?”
Kahn shrugged. “Just up and left. Could be anywhere.”
After swearing under her breath, Janet said, “Miss Kahn, do you think you can do an extra segment?”
“I think I can manage it,” she said with a faint smile.
“Thanks, I appreciate it,” said Janet. She hurried off, leaving the comedian looking uneasy. Kahn guessed him to be in his early 20s.
“So, what’s your name, kid?” she asked.
“Rosenberg,” he said, his eyes still taking in the green room. “Gary Rosenberg.” His accent was a pleasant, familiar Brooklyn City one.
“Relax, Gary, have a seat,” she said, motioning him to the chair recently vacated by Gilmore. “If you’re nervous, Walt keeps a well-stocked liquor cabinet.”
Rosenberg peered at her then, as if noticing her for the first time. “Should I know you?” he asked.
(Proceed to #260A: East or West? Minsk at the Crossroads.)
(Proceed to 15 June 1978: Waging Peace.)
(Return to For All Nails)