For All Nails #309: Remembrance Day FN1
By Johnny Pez and David Mix Barrington
Not for the first time, Foreign Minister Ezra Bakersfield found himself wondering whether this had been a good idea.
Bakersfield stood on a reviewing stand under the hot California sun while Governor-General Carter Monaghan gave a speech. Apart from the location, it was very much like all the previous Remembrance Days Bakersfield had spent as a member of Monaghan’s Cabinet. Up until now, the ceremony had always taken place at the Mount Scott National Cemetery in Burgoyne. FN2 This year, though, President Moctezuma had decided to highlight the growing entente between his country and the CNA by inviting the Governor-General to join him at the USM’s own Remembrance Day ceremony here in California. The invitation, of course, had been privately accepted in Burgoyne before being publicly offered in Mexico City. Bakersfield himself had been in favor of accepting it, but he was well aware that any gesture of friendship toward the Mexicans carried political risks here at home.
Mind you, the same thing was true from the Mexican perspective. This was as risky for Moctezuma as it was for Monaghan. They might both end up regretting this day.
“ ... appropriate that our two nations should come together in peace here in Williams Pass,” Monaghan was saying. “For it was here that they came together in war over a century ago ... “
Steven Taylor shook his head in bemusement. “I’ve never seen anyone who could get so worked up over something that happened so long ago. You must be the only Peejer FN3 I know who gets angrier about the Rocky Mountain War than about the Mocazo.” Taylor was between boyfriends at the moment, and had elected to spend Remembrance Day with his friend (and top-selling author).
“And why not?” Kahn insisted. “As bad as it was, the Mocazo was just one day. The war lasted for eight years. And at least everyone admits that we were to blame for the Mocazo.”
Taylor could tell that Kahn was getting ready to start up on the subject of Henry Gilpin; he recognized the signs. What was needed here, he thought, was a distraction, and whoever was editing the camera feed from the ceremony in Williams Pass helpfully provided him with one by briefly cutting away from the Governor-General to President Moctezuma.
“Who’s that woman standing next to El Popo?” he asked guilelessly.
It worked. “Oh, that’s his new Secretary of State, Maria del Rey,” Kahn answered.
“You don’t see a lot of diplomats with those kinds of curves,” he remarked.
Kahn snorted. “Since when did you start noticing those kinds of curves?”
“I’ll have you know,” Taylor said loftily, “that I am well aware of feminine standards of beauty, even if it is from a purely aesthetic standpoint. And she is clearly, as the Mexicans like to say, a hot tamale.”
“Makes sense, I suppose,” said Taylor.
“Well, that and the fact that she was his mistress at the time.”
“That definitely makes sense,” Taylor chuckled. “So how did she become the Secretary of State? Has she become El Popo’s mistress?”
“I doubt it. From what I’ve heard, El Popo hasn’t even touched a woman since Señora Moctezuma passed away. I think it’s strictly political between them.”
“ ... honor the sacrifice these men made,” Monaghan was saying on the vita. “Regardless of which uniform they wore, all the men who gave their lives here ... “
- Las Cruces, Mexico del Norte, USM
- 6 August 1973
“Shut up!” snarled Carmen Valenzuela.
Her kid brother Fernando looked at her in astonishment. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Look,” she said, “if you don’t want to listen to the speech, fine, go out y hit a cricket ball around or something. But if you’re going to stay here, shut la boca.”
“Hey, I was only saying that the Tory looks like –-“
“I heard what you said he looks like, you don’t have to say it again!” Carmen glared at her brother.
Fernando grinned a stupid grin. “I see. Sounds like someone’s coming down with a bad case of jungle fever!”
No, Carmen thought, someone’s come down with a bad case of guilt. Telling Fernando about it would be worse than useless, though. The only way to get him to stop talking, she knew, would be to hit him, and she didn’t want her visit home to end in a fight. Instead, she got up and walked away.
One month, she thought as she walked out the front door of her family’s house, one month and I’ll be in Montreal. And I don’t care if I never come back here again.
Through the screen door, as she walked away, she could faintly hear the sound of the vita. “ ... hope that the President’s generous invitation to address this ... “
- Williams Pass, California, USM
- 6 August 1973
“ ... gathering is a sign of future friendship and cooperation between our two nations. Thank you all, and may God bless the Confederation of North America and the United States of Mexico.”
Chief of Staff Chewy Enciso clapped along with everyone else on the reviewing stand as Monaghan stepped away from the podium. God, the man was a dull speaker! It was a wonder the Tories hadn’t all voted for Skinner out of sheer boredom. Y that speech! It had probably been re-written half a dozen times by half a dozen speechwriters to make sure it didn’t say anything at all.
Just for a moment, as Enciso glanced around at the assembled dignitaries, he found his gaze locked together with that of Vincent Mercator. The Secretary of War held him for a moment with his eyes, then turned his head to watch the President.
What is that man thinking? Enciso wondered. He had a feeling that whatever it was, it had nothing to do with Chewy Enciso, and he felt an obscure sense of relief at the thought.
Letting the unsettling thought drop, Enciso returned his attention to President Moctezuma as he lumbered past on his way to the podium. As dull as Monaghan had been, he knew, El Popo wouldn’t be much better. Put him in front of a crowd, y his boss could give a speech that would bring the casa down. But a setup like this, with just a vita camera pointing at him? Stiff as an ironing board.
Oh, well, here goes nada ...
The President, being a head taller than Monaghan, had to pause for a moment to adjust the microphone. Then he cleared his throat, a sound like a lococicleta starting up, before saying, “I’d like to thank the Governor-General for his inspiring words, and for graciously agreeing to ... “
“ ... join us here today. We come here today to remember ... “
The vita receiver in the enlisted men’s mess looked as though it had been sitting on its shelf since before the Global War, and for all Corporal Terry Henning could tell, maybe it had been.
He and Serjeant Blaylock were sitting at a table, a half-full pitcher of Willkie pilsner between them, while the snow-flecked black-and-white image of Immanuel Moctezuma added slightly to the already-high ambient noise level. Ordinarily, they wouldn’t be off duty at this time of day, but it was Remembrance Day, and they could sit back, relax, and enjoy a few mugs of Southern Vandalia’s Finest before returning to duty tomorrow.
Henning could just about make out Moctezuma’s speech, but it meant that he missed something Blaylock said to him.
“Sorry, Sarge, what was that?”
Shaking his head, Blaylock repeated, “I said, have you had a look at our new pilot?”
“No. Why, does he have two heads or something?”
“Not he, Corp, she. Cornet Alexandra Stapleton, fresh out of Marlborough City.”
“What, for real?” Henning asked. He had heard that the Air Force Academy had started accepting women cadets, and the first set had graduated the year before. But he couldn’t imagine what one of them would be doing in a nowhere unit like the ten-twelve. “What did she do to wind up here, slug the Commandant?”
“Nothing that simple,” Blaylock said. “Word is that her father showed up one day and shot up the place.”
Henning swore in astonishment. Then, after a pause, “What’s she like?”
Blaylock shrugged. “Like a Cornet, fresh out of M.C. You know the type.”
“No, I mean, what’s she like?”
Blaylock seesawed his hand. “Not too bad. She’s no Tania Monroy, but I wouldn’t kick her out of my bed.”
“Hmm,” Henning hmmed. “Think she’d like her portrait done?”
“Your scribbles aren’t exactly Rembrandt, Corp.”
“Can’t blame a bloke for trying, Sarge.”
Blaylock laughed. “Corp, you’re the only bloke I know who would ask a woman up to see his etchings, and then show her a bunch of etchings.”
Henning joined in Blaylock’s laughter, then drained his mug. Among the chatter in the mess, he could just make out Moctezuma’s voice.
“ ... that terrible winter, when four armies found themselves ... “
- University of Mexico City
- Mexico City, C.D., USM
- 6 August 1973
“ ... struggling to survive, the larger war forgotten as they ... “
Professor Frank Dana had been hoping to catch the cricket match between Mexico City and Henrytown in the faculty lounge, but all the networks were carrying the Remembrance Day ceremony at Williams Pass. With a shrug, he had sat down and watched. It wasn’t as satisfying a way of putting off grading essays, but it would have to do. If only Moctezuma’s delivery wasn’t so wooden.
“Excuse me, didn’t mean to interrupt.”
Dana turned away from the vita at the sound of the unfamiliar voice. “No problem,” he said automatically. “It’s pretty dull.” Then he got a good look at the other man and said, “Professor Sobel?”
“Why, yes. I say, isn’t it Professor Dana?” The accent was unmistakably Australian.
Dana rose from his seat and shook the other man’s hand. “That’s right. Oh, and you can call me Frank. What on earth are you doing in Mexico City, Professor?”
“Oh, then you must call me Rob,” said Sobel, as he took a seat next to Dana.
“Rob it is,” said Dana as he resumed his seat.
“As for why I’m here, Frank, the UMC Press is publishing the Spanish language edition of For Want of a Nail ..., and I’m here to go over it with them.”
“That’s odd,” said Dana. “I haven’t heard anything about it.”
Sobel rolled his eyes. “Perhaps because of the title, which they insist on changing. Apparently, they’re afraid that Spanish speakers won’t understand the reference. The Spanish language title is going to be Los Escorpiones en una Botella.”
“You have to admit,” said Dana, “that it’s a pretty fair summary of your thesis. You seem to view the two nations as inherently antagonistic.”
“Which you were at some pains to dispute in your critique.”
Dana smiled. With a gesture at the vita, he said, “I think events have borne out my view.”
Sobel shrugged. “A meaningless gesture. Two centuries of hostility can’t be dismissed so easily. You lot will be back at loggerheads in no time.”
“Would you agree to a little wager, Rob?” Dana asked. “I say that ten years from now, the USM and CNA will be allies. If I’m wrong, I write an essay called ‘Why Robert Sobel Was Right’. If I’m right, you write an essay called ‘Why Frank Dana Was Right’. What do you say?
It took only a moment for Sobel to thrust out his hand and say, “Done, sir!”
Dana shook Sobel’s hand. “Done!”
On the vita, Immanuel Moctezuma was saying, “ ... was only three months ago that the remains of ... “
- Palo Alto, California, USM
- 6 August 1973
“ ... Lance Corporal Pyle were identified and returned to the North Carolina town of ... “
“It's really the perfect image for any war,” Bobby said.
“Williams Pass. Thousands of men stumbling around in the cold and the dark, starving, desperately trying to kill anybody they run into. For absolutely no reason.”
“But our army was a thousand miles inside your territory. Your guys had a reason, didn't they?”
“So it was more Gilpin's mistake, maybe. But then most of our other wars were our mistake. The Big Beaner thought New Granada and Alaska and goddamned Siberia would look better in our color on the map. Silva had our guys all over the South Pacific being eaten by lizards, so that maybe we could conquer some kangaroos." FN4
“I'm not saying there isn't a reason to start that seems to make sense, or that we shouldn't prepare to defend ourselves at all. It's just that in the end, some ordinary soldiers always wind up freezing in the dark or being eaten by lizards.”
“But at least we're talking now, right? Monaghan and Moctezuma seem like sensible men, don't they? Not like Mercator--”
“Actually I think the Mapmaker is more sensible than you guys ever gave him credit for. For all his talk, he never started any wars, did he?”
“What about the border incidents?”
“All theater, I think. More goddamned mistakes, but nobody in either military wanted them to get bigger. And why would they? We have a much better army, and you have K-bombs. Hell, you might even have superbombs. You guys just like to paint Mercator as the devil –- I saw that when I lived there.”
“Bobby, when you go to army training, do they paint us as the devil?”
“Actually, no. We did a war game once, about what we would do if fighting started on the border, but the rhetoric is all about defending the nation, and being so strong no one will ever dare attack us. We're a citizen army, remember, not like you guys. Everyone has a relative who fought in the Global War, like my father and my Uncle Charlie. We know what it's really about.”
“And I don't know anyone in our army. I just saw the cadets marching around UNO every so often. Bobby?”
“Let's be the peace. Us. Tory and Gringo. Forever.”
“Is that a proposal?”
“Isn't the man supposed to propose?”
“Okay. Anna Tory DiMaggio, will you marry me?”
“Yes, Bobby Gringo Contreras, I will.”
Forward to FAN #310 (Joan Kahn): Unknown History.
Forward to 23 September 1973: Sunday Morning Coffee.
Forward to USM Politics: Don't Stand So Close to Me.
Return to For All Nails.