A brand-new story from the legendary Harry Turtledove about Governor Bill Williamson, a sasquatch with a plan.
Governor Bill Williamson’s breath smoked as he opened the 1974 Eldorado’s right front door. It was a chilly February day in Yreka. It was supposed to get to fifty later on, but Bill had his doubts that it would. The clouds blowing in from the west looked as if they meant business.
Barbara Rasmussen slid into the Mighty Mo. The governor’s publicist was in a skirt that showed a lot of leg; she had to be colder than he was. Sure enough, she said, “Brr! As soon as you start this beast, I’m gonna crank the heat all the way up.”
“Whatever you want.” Bill didn’t like to argue unless there was a payoff at the end. He closed the door, watched Barbara lock it after she put on her seat belt, and went around to the driver’s side of the two-and-a-half-ton Detroit behemoth. He got into the left rear seat. The Eldorado had no left front seat. The steering column was extra long, which let a nine-foot-two sasquatch drive from in back.
The governor of the state of Jefferson turned the key. The engine ran raggedly. He was glad it ran at all. Since the energy crisis, cars had shrunk while inflation soared. Even with special arrangements like this, he didn’t fit into more modern vehicles.
Barbara turned on the heater. She said “Brr!” again as soon as she did—till the engine warmed up, it would blow cold air. Bill didn’t care. The long, russet hair that covered all of him except his eyes, his mouth, the palms of his hands, and the soles of his feet left him indifferent to weather worse than this. He wore shorts for modesty and to hold his keys, wallet, and comb; sandals protected his size-thirty-two feet from stepping on anything pointy.
When he put the Caddy in gear, the transmission hesitated before shifting. It wasn’t warm yet, either. The Mighty Mo had a lot of miles on it. One of these days, he really would have to trade it in—chances were, on an equally elderly but less decrepit machine.
“Morning in America,” Barbara remarked as they rolled away from the governor’s mansion. Her voice held a certain edge. Like her boss, she was a Democrat, and viewed the new administration with something less than delight.
“Hey, Reagan’s been President for two weeks now,” Bill said, shrugging behind the wheel as he piloted the Mighty Mo east on State Highway 3. “We haven’t gone to war with the Russians yet, and we aren’t in a depression yet, either. So things could be worse.”
“They could be better, too,” she said darkly.
“Yeah, I guess.” Again, Bill turned down an argument. Barbara was too pretty for anyone male to want to argue with her. But he’d lost all respect for Jimmy Carter when the new ex-President conceded the election with polls in the western part of the country still hours from closing. How many votes had he cost down-ticket candidates with an idiotic stunt like that?
Signs on Highway 3 directed motorists to the Charles Earl Lewis International Airport. The airport that served Yreka actually lay in the little town of Montague, half a dozen miles to the east. That wasn’t why Bill smiled when he passed one of those signs. Only they gave Jefferson’s second governor, who’d led the state through most of the Roaring Twenties, his full name. He’d been “Charlie” to some people, “Bigfoot” to the rest. Bill was proud to try to fill his sasquatch-sized shoes.
He pulled off the highway and onto the access road that led to the airport. By the first parking lot stood a tall flagpole with Old Glory flying above the state flag of Jefferson: a dark green banner with the state seal in the center. The gold pan held two big black X’s to show how Sacramento and Eugene had double-crossed northern California and southern Oregon till they got together as the forty-ninth state in 1919.
A wide yellow ribbon was tied onto the aluminum flagpole with a fancy bow. More yellow ribbons decorated the doors to the terminal. Bill felt a big grin stretching itself across his face. “Hey, they got rid of the old ones!” he said. “These are all nice and new.”
“I should hope so,” Barbara said. “I called the airport to make sure they would, but they were already on it.”
“Good for them. Nice to know they don’t need somebody to hold their hands all the time.”
One of the terminal doors was tall enough to let Bill enter without ducking. The ceiling was tall enough so he didn’t feel claustrophobic inside. Most sasquatches in the country called Jefferson home; unlike too many other places, the state had laws mandating accommodations that suited their size. Bigfoot Lewis would have approved. He’d built the governor’s mansion to his scale, which made Bill and his wife happy every day of the week.
“We’re going to Gate One, Governor,” Barbara said after checking a little notebook.
“Uh-huh.” Bill’s big head bobbed up and down. She’d told him that the day before, too. Maybe she’d forgotten she had; more likely, she figured he’d forgotten. Publicists often treated the people they worked for like dull four-year-olds. Depressingly, a lot of the people they worked for needed to be treated that way. Bill hoped he wasn’t one of those—Barbara would never admit it if he was—but you never could tell.
The waiting area in front of the gate was packed with little people and sasquatches. TV lights blazed into Bill’s face. “Isn’t this a great day, Governor?” a reporter said, holding a mike high enough for him to answer into it.
“It is, but you don’t want to talk to me,” Bill said. “I’m not the show. I’m just here to see it myself and welcome him home, same as everybody else. Poor guy’s been away a long time.”
“You’re too modest, sir,” said the handsome, blow-dried talking head in the expensive suit. Beside Bill, Barbara nodded. She thought him modest to a fault. He didn’t. He was a politician, after all. If he hadn’t banged his own drum, he never would have got elected. But, as he’d said, this wasn’t his show.
One sasquatch-sized seat had a RESERVED FOR GOVERNOR WILLIAMSON sign on it. As far as he could see, it was the only unused chair near the gate. Barbara must have come to the same conclusion. “Guess I’ll just have to sit on your lap, Governor,” she said with an impish grin.
“Heh.” Bill hoped he didn’t sound too nervous. Part of him—the part in his shorts—wouldn’t have minded Barbara in his lap at all. He hoped Louise didn’t know just how attractive he found his publicist.
Sasquatches and little people, of course, had been getting it on in Jefferson for as long as there’d been sasquatches and little people here. Bill thought one of his great-grandmothers had been a little woman. He wasn’t sure, but he thought so.
And there stood Haystack Thornton, chatting easily with Hyman Apfelbaum. The pot grower from Eureka towered over Jefferson’s attorney general. He was almost seven feet tall, and wide in proportion—a great big little man. His bushy red beard and a hairline better than Reagan’s also argued he had some sasquatch in his family woodpile.
Authorities in Jefferson didn’t go out of their way to help the Feds prosecute people for marijuana. Did discreet campaign contributions from Haystack and his friends have anything to do with that? Stranger things had probably happened. Bill also knew the growers had helped pay for the Learjet flight everybody was waiting for.
No sooner had that thought crossed his mind than the private jet came in and landed. It taxied to the gate. The ground crew heeled out a sturdy movable stairway. The door in the Learjet’s flank opened. The PA system began blaring “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” at heart-stopping volume. Bill had never been enamored of Tony Orlando and Dawn. The more he listened, the less he liked them.
And he had to listen to them three times in a row, because there was a delay aboard the charter plane. After what only seemed like forever, Mark Gordon crawled out of the doorway, angling his shoulders so he could squeeze through the narrow opening. Once all of him, finally emerged, he stood up at the top of the aluminum stairway and threw his arms wide. Since his height was about the same as Bill’s, it made quite a gesture.
Everybody inside the terminal burst into cheers and applause, briefly drowning out the annoying music. A TV guy near Bill spoke into his mike for a breathless live shot: “After four hundred forty-four days of captivity in Iran, after a journey that bounced from Algeria to Germany to New York, after a ticker-tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes in New York City, State Department analyst Mark Gordon comes home at last to Jefferson!”
As Gordon made his slow way down the steps, several of the sasquatches sitting near Bill—the analyst’s family—got up and went to the door that would let them out onto the tarmac. A guard in a Smokey Bear hat saluted and stood aside to let them through. TV crews and reporters followed to record their meeting with the newly returned hostage.
The joyful screams and cries and embraces were much the same as they would have been among little people, only on a larger scale and an octave deeper. Bill and Barbara followed the sasquatches and the newsies out onto the blacktop, but hung back till a little of the commotion had died down.
When the analyst’s mother and two sisters started dabbing at their eyes (and his father wiped his with the back of his arm), Bill moved toward Mark Gordon. The analyst was skinny for a sasquatch, and looked desperately tired. As photographers clicked away and a TV cameraman bored in for the kill, Bill held out his hand and said, “On behalf of the whole state of Jefferson, Mr. Gordon, I’m honored to welcome you back to freedom.”
“Thank you very much, sir.” Gordon sounded weary, too.
“Would you and your folks do me a favor and stop by the residence for dinner tonight? We’ll slay the fatted calf for you all, and it will be on my dime.” Bill made sure he said that last bit loud enough to let the reporters hear. No one on the right was going to be able to throw rocks at him for wasting state money on someone for whom the United States had almost gone to war.
“I don’t know what they have planned. Let me talk to them for a minute.”
“Sure.” Bill stepped back.
The Gordons put their heads together. Mark and his father bent to do that. Like most sasquatch women, the ones in their family were a couple of feet shorter than the menfolk. After a minute or two, the freed hostage turned back to Bill. “We’ll be there, Governor. Thank you. What time?”
“Say, half past six, and we’ll eat at seven or a little later?”
“That should work.” Mark Gordon grinned crookedly. “I’m so jetlagged right now, I have no idea what time it is or what time it’s supposed to be.”
“I believe it. Well, if you sack out, your dad or mom can call, and we’ll set something else up.”
“Okay. I hope I see you.” This time, Gordon held out his hand. Bill took it. The photographers snapped more pictures.
Mark Gordon’s father was Tim. His mother was May; his sisters were Bonnie and Samantha, both of them younger than he was. They came to the governor’s mansion in a pair of aging Oldsmobiles almost the size of the Mighty Mo. Tim’s machine had arrangements like Bill’s. Mark rode in the back seat, too, with the front seat shoved all the way forward. May could drive a standard little-people car, and her daughters just about fit in with her. They all looked relieved to escape their cramped quarters, though.
Tim Gordon surveyed the mansion with undisguised envy. “Now this is all right!” he said. “I mean, our house is okay for us, but it’s still on the crowded side. You’ve got room to spread out in, Governor.”
“Our own place is like that,” Louise Williamson said.
Bill nodded agreement with his wife. “It sure is. The residence is Bigfoot Lewis’ baby. From what the old-timers in Yreka told me when I first got elected to the State Senate, Bigfoot never did anything halfway.”
“Sounds like a Jefferson kind of guy,” Tim Gordon said, not without pride. “If we did things by halves here, we’d still be stuck in California and Oregon.”
When they got inside, Mark Gordon kept staring in wonder at ceilings more than three feet above his head. “This is . . . amazing,” he said. Bill suspected he almost modified the word with an imperfectly polite participle. “Governor, Mrs. Williamson—”
“I’m Bill, please,” Bill broke in, at the same time as his wife was saying, “Call me Louise.”
“Thanks.” The freed hostage needed a second to reboard his train of thought. “The embassy in Tehran was made for little people. I didn’t fit real well there, but whenever you leave Jefferson you have to get used to that.”
“Oh, yeah.” Bill nodded. “Congress needs to do something about that, the way we’ve done for the airport and hotels and restaurants.”
“Outside the country, they have to use the buildings that are already there,” Mark said. “I managed . . . pretty much. But after we got captured, some of the places the Iranians kept us were too small for little people. They were way too small for me. I’m just glad I’m not a claustrophobe.”
“Those fucking bastards.” That wasn’t Tim Gordon. It was May.
“Now that you mention it,” Bill said, “yes.”
In black tie and tailcoat, the chief steward looked like a negotiator working to settle the Russo-Japanese War—or possibly, since he was so much smaller than the sasquatches, more like a dignified penguin. “Dinner is ready,” he said. “If you’ll follow me to the dining room . . .”
“Thank you, Ray,” Bill said as he obeyed. He was used to doing what Ray told him to. The chief steward had taken care of several governors before him, and would likely make several more feel at home in the mansion after he was gone. Bill had no idea how old he was; he had one of those faces that didn’t change much between thirty and sixty-five.
More mansion staff popped bottles of champagne as the governor, his wife, and his guests came in. The flutes at the place settings were more like bassoons; one problem with being a sasquatch was that you needed to drink more to feel it. That didn’t stop sasquatches from drinking, but did make it cost more.
Bill raised his glass. “To freedom!” he said. Everybody clinked. Everybody drank. The dry, dry sparkling wine smiled down Bill’s throat.
“Amazing,” Mark said again.
“Glad you like it,” Bill said.
The main coast was salmon poached in white wine and dill. “I think that’s the best fish I’ve ever eaten in my whole life,” Mark said after putting away a couple of pounds of it. “Is it extra good, or is it just me? I mean, a lot of what the Iranians fed us was pretty nasty, and there wasn’t that much of it to begin with. And when we got to the military hospital at Wiesbaden, they gave us Army rations.”
“I’m so sorry,” Louise said.
“Yeah.” Mark gave another of those crooked grins. “You know that old joke—‘The food was lousy, and such small portions!’? That was us.”
“Maybe some of it’s you, Mark, but not all of it,” Bill said. “I’ve got connections for good salmon.”
“Connections like the ones that paid for that Learjet for me?” Mark asked.
“No, no,” Bill said. Well, not exactly, he amended to himself. “I helped settle a quarrel about salmon fishing between the Karuk Indians and the merfolk.”
“And the Indians pay you back?”
“No, the merfolk do. They nab the fish before they even start going up the rivers.” Bill paused a moment, then went on, “Speaking of that Learjet, how did you ever fit in there?”
“First thing I asked him,” Tim Gordon put in.
His son nodded. “It sure was. They had the plane specially fitted with a recliner big enough for somebody my size. But I don’t think the ceiling in a Learjet is even six feet high, so I had to crawl on and off. You saw how I came out of that miserable little door.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve flown a few times. Even when you can arrange for a seat that sorta fits you, airliners are no fun. That private jet must have been worse,” Bill said.
Louise asked the question that was also in Bill’s mind: “How did the Iranians treat you, Mark. I mean, they can’t be used to sasquatches.”
“No, not hardly,” the ex-hostage agreed. “Wasn’t much fun when a bunch of wild-eyed students pointed M-16s at my chest.”
“You didn’t say anything about that to us before,” May Gordon told him in accusing tones.
“Sorry, Mom. They didn’t fire—you can see that. But still, it was scary,” Mark said. “They were yelling in Farsi, things like ‘It’s a monster!’ and ‘No, it’s a demon!’ and ‘It’s an animal! Kill it!’ I didn’t want to let on that I could follow their language, so I spoke up in English. I said something like ‘I’m an accredited diplomat with the State Department. If you shoot me, it’s an act of war.’ A bunch of them had been to school in the States. They understood me just fine.”
“They treated you better after that?” Bill asked.
“Better. Not good. For the first few days, they kept me separate from the rest of the Americans they’d grabbed. That worried me, because I didn’t know if anyone else at the embassy knew I’d been captured. If nobody did, they could do whatever they wanted with me, and who’d be the wiser? But then I got a visit from an older man, somebody the students listened to. He said, ‘You are a yeti? I didn’t know America had yetis.’”
“That’s interesting. They would know about them, wouldn’t they?” Bill said. When Communist China invaded Tibet in 1959, yetis had fled the Himalayas along with the little people among whom they’d lived since time out of mind. He was still proud of meeting the Yeti Lama a couple of years earlier. “So what did you tell this honcho?”
“I said, no, I was a sasquatch, and we were close to yetis but not what the same, sort of like Japanese and Nigerians. He got that, all right.”
“What did he do about it?” Bill asked.
“He told me that yetis were kafirs—pagans—and that the new government was running them all out of Iran unless they converted to Islam,” Mark replied. “Then he asked if I was a kafir myself.”
“You should have told him yes,” his mother exclaimed. “Then they would have thrown you out, too, and you wouldn’t have gone through everything you went through.”
“It was more complicated than that, Mom,” the diplomat said with what sounded like exaggerated patience. “For one thing, I didn’t want to go while they were still holding the rest of the embassy staff. It would have felt like selling out.”
“Foolishness,” May Gordon sniffed. Her husband opened his mouth, then closed it again. They’d been married a long time. He knew nothing he said would change her mind.
“For another thing,” Mark went on as if his mother hadn’t spoken, “they weren’t just expelling the yetis who’d taken refuge in Iran when the Shah was still there. They were stealing everything the yetis had and mobbing them. I’m pretty sure one or two got killed. We were working on that, trying to see what we could do to protect them, when the embassy got seized.”
“So what did you tell this SOB who thought you were a yeti?” Bill asked.
“I told him the truth. I said I was a Christian, and that under Muslim law Christians and Jews were People of the Book and entitled to good treatment, and I asked him why he wasn’t living up to the Prophet’s teachings.”
“Good for you!” Tim Gordon said.
Bill wasn’t so sure. “How did he like that?”
“He turned red as a tomato. Then he said jailhouse lawyers had a way of winding up sorry they ever opened their big, fat mouths—not quite in so many words, but that’s what it boiled down to.”
“Did he?” the governor said with interest. He’d heard exactly the same thing from cops and attorneys here in Yreka. If it worked the same way in fanatically Muslim Iran, that had to be a piece of human nature. “What happened then?”
“They kept me by myself for another day and a half, then they put me back with the rest of the Americans. I got a hell of a welcome, pardon my French, ’cause till then nobody’d known whether I was alive or dead. They kept us all together in Tehran till the American military tried to rescue us.”
“Oh,” Bill said: one word full of pain. Jimmy Carter’s failure to extract the hostages from Iran had gone a long way towards electing Ronald Reagan. Maybe it was just bad luck; maybe the military still felt the hangover from the long, disastrous Vietnam War. Whatever the reason, the rescue effort fell apart in the Iranian desert.
“Uh-huh.” Mark Gordon nodded unhappily. “They didn’t like that much. They kept screaming that the Great Satan hadn’t saved his spawn. It sounds better in Farsi, I will say—not as stupid as it does in English. But if I never hear ‘Death to America!’ again, I won’t be sorry.”
“I believe that,” Bill said. “So they split you up after the helicopters couldn’t hack the sand?”
“Uh-huh. They didn’t want to give the USA another chance to get hold of everybody at once. They sent me and a few other people to a jail in the northern part of town. The cell was just bigger than I was, and they fed me the same slop Iranian prisoners got.”
“Doesn’t sound like a real enjoyable place for you to be,” Louise observed.
Mark gave her one more of his lopsided smiles. “Now that you mention it, no,” he said. “The good news was, none of the Americans I was with let on that I knew Farsi. The Iranians ran their mouths around me a lot. Half of them seemed to think I was some kind of big animal even though I spoke English.”
“They’re the animals,” Bonnie said. She was the younger sister, in her early twenties—about ten years younger than Mark. She did not care for the people who’d held him hostage. And who can blame her? Bill thought.
“Well, I hope I managed to do them a bad turn or two,” Mark said. “When the Army doctors were debriefing us in Wiesbaden, I wrote down as much as I could remember. Our people know more about where the Iranians have bases and weapons than they did before.”
“Good!” That was Samantha, who might have been halfway between Mark and Bonnie in age. “Now the only trouble is, it’s our numbnuts military that’s got the info.”
“They do the best they can,” Mark said in reproving tones. Sure enough, he wanted to hear no evil of the government he served. After a moment, he went on, “And the Iranians have more to worry about than the United States. They’ve been fighting the Iraqis since last September.”
“Serves ’em right!” Both his sisters said the same thing at the same time.
Mark Gordon only shrugged. “Saddam Hussein isn’t anybody’s nice guy, either. He jumped Iran when he thought the revolution had it all messed up. Oh, my God—the way our guards carried on when Iraq invaded! But the Iranians fought back harder than Saddam ever dreamt they could. Now they’re banging heads with each other, Saddam and Khomeini, each hoping the other guy falls over first.”
“Is that why the Iranians finally let everybody go?” Bill asked. “So they didn’t have to worry about Iraq and us at the same time, I mean?”
“Probably had something to do with it. I don’t know how much.” Mark yawned an enormous yawn. This time, the smile that followed seemed distinctly sheepish. “Sorry about that, Governor—uh, Bill. Sometimes I don’t notice how worn out I am till it hits me all at once.”
“Go home, then, or back to your hotel, or wherever you guys are staying,” Bill said. “Sleep. Get used to being free again. And look, if you ever need an ear to talk to, give me a buzz. I’ll make sure the secretaries put you through no matter what time it is.”
“Thanks very much, sir. I may even take you up on that,” Mark said.
“I hope you do.” Bill meant it. There would be things the freed hostage didn’t want to talk about with his family or his close friends, for fear of alarming them. They might be things he hadn’t wanted to tell even the military debriefers in Germany. If he did feel like letting his hair down, who better to listen than another sasquatch man, one who wouldn’t judge him or freak out?
Tim Gordon clasped Bill’s hand. They both squeezed carefully; neither, no doubt, was used to shaking with someone whose hand his own big, hairy mitt didn’t swallow. “This was nicer than I know how to tell you, Governor,” Mark’s father said. “You savvy umglatch?”
“You bet. I don’t know a lot of the old talk, but I know that one.” The language sasquatches had spoken among themselves was drowning in a sea of English. Bill understood only little bits and pieces of it. Luckily, Tim had hit on one of those. Umglatch meant something done better than properly even though it didn’t have to be done at all. It lingered not least because it had no simple English equivalent.
“Well, it was. We all appreciate it, believe me,” Tim Gordon said. He and his family headed for the front door. Bill and Louise went with them to finish the good-byes.
Bill didn’t like bifocals. He needed them; that was one more unpleasant fact of middle age. But they were a damn nuisance. He couldn’t read through the tops or see anything past arm’s length through the bottoms. He’d loved to read till he got into politics. Sadly, the gobbledygook masquerading as English in legislation had gone a long way toward curing him of that.
He wasn’t entirely disappointed, then, when the phone on his desk rang and gave him an excuse not to keep plowing through the appropriations bill he was studying. His hand swallowed the standard-sized handset as he picked it up. “Yes?” he said.
“Sorry to bother you, Governor, but you told me you’d take a call from Mark Gordon any time,” his administrative assistant said.
“I sure did. Put him through, Phyllis,” said Bill, who was not in the least sorry to be bothered.
“Yes, sir.” Phyllis Ward sounded resigned. She had a filing cabinet for a mind—anything out of place distressed her. She made a terrific aide, even if she wasn’t always thrilled dealing with a looser thinker like Bill.
The phone clicked and popped a couple of times. Then the freed hostage said, “Is that you, Governor?”
“In person—accept no substitutes,” Bill answered. “How does Jefferson feel now that you’ve been back for a week or so?”
“Everybody’s so nice to me. Not just my family, but everybody,” Gordon said. “After all the students shouting and waving guns in my face, it doesn’t seem natural, if you know what I mean.”
“Maybe,” Bill said. “Like the good cop after the bad cop?”
“There you go! You nailed it in one,” Marks said. “I don’t trust friendliness any more. I keep wondering when the bad stuff will start up again. Isn’t that terrible?”
“I’d say it’s natural.” Bill glanced at the clock on his desk. As he did, it went from 11:38 to 11:39. “You want to have lunch with me? If it’ll cheer you up, I can make like I’m interrogating you.”
Gordon’s laugh was shaky, but it was a laugh. “That’s one of those jokes that would be funny if only it was funny. But I’d love to have lunch with you, if only because you’re somebody who makes jokes like that.”
“One of the odder compliments I ever got, but maybe not one of the smaller,” Bill said. “You know where Fat Albert’s is, around the corner from the residence here?”
“No, but if it’s that close, I can find it. I’ll look up the address in the phone book.”
“Okay. See you there around half past twelve?”
“Sounds great. ’Bye.”
Fat Albert’s was half a step up from a Denny’s. You could get fancy burgers or salads with enough meat and cheese in them to clog your arteries in spite of the greenery or (since the owner, who was fat, was a Greek in spite of his name) things like spanakopita and keftedakia and dolmades.
“Hey, Governor!” Albert said when Bill and Mark walked in together. “Who’s your big buddy?” A second later, recognizing Mark, he did a double take. “No, wait—I know who. Lunch onna house for you both.”
“No, I’m buying,” Bill said. “That way, I don’t have to do the what-kind-of-favors-did-you-accept? dance with the accountants.”
“No, I’m buying,” Mark said. “I’ve got fifteen months of back pay burning a hole in my pocket, and hazardous-duty bonuses on top of that. And you’re kind enough to let me bend your ear a little.”
Bill let the diplomat talk him into it. The bookkeepers wouldn’t get their knickers in a twist over lunch with a former Iranian hostage. Or if they did, he figured he could outface them.
They sat down at one of the three sasquatch-sized tables. When the waitress—who, Bill happened to know, was Albert’s niece—took their order, the governor chose dolmades. Mark Gordon asked for three cheeseburgers, a double helping of fries, and an extra-large vanilla shake.
“I’m going to eat American for a while,” he said, and then, thoughtfully, “or maybe Chinese. Chinese would be great . . . but not here.”
“No, not here,” Bill agreed. To him, spiced lamb in grape leaves was interesting and exotic, but he could see why Mark aimed to get reacquainted with the tastes of home. He sipped from his glass of ice water, then asked, “So how’s freedom feeling after all that time when you didn’t have it?”
“Funny. Funny-peculiar, I mean, not funny-haha,” Mark answered. “I have to get used to being outside, for instance. They kept me under a roof almost all the time, so no reconnaissance plane could spot where I was. I’d sort of stand out in a crowd of Iranians.”
“Oh, maybe a little,” Bill said dryly.
“The only times they did let me out in the open were when they had crowds of students cursing me and the people they were holding with me,” Mark said. “I had to play dumb, make like I had no idea what they were saying. Some of the things they said, that wasn’t so easy.”
“Lucky you,” Bill said. Mark Gordon nodded.
A little woman with graying brown hair hesitantly approached the table. “Excuse me,” she said, “but you’re Mr. Gordon, aren’t you?”
“That’s right,” Mark replied.
“I just wanted to tell you how glad I am that you’re home safe.”
“Thank you very much, ma’am,” Mark said. The woman gave a shy nod and went back to where she’d been sitting. Mark spoke to Bill in a low voice: “That’s nice, but I don’t want to have to keep doing it the rest of my life. I don’t want to be ‘ex-hostage Mark Gordon’ the rest of my life, either.”
“You can’t always get what you want.” Bill’s try at channeling Mick Jagger was none too good. If he hadn’t already known that, the look on Mark’s face would have told him. He went on, “One of these days, it may open some doors for you. Still has to be raw now, though.”
“‘Raw’ isn’t a tenth of it.” Mark didn’t amplify that, because the waitress came back with their food. Albert had piled enough dolmades onto Bill’s plate to let him built a fair-sized log cabin. He started eating them instead. Marked worked through the burgers and fries with little happy noises. His shake was the size of a young lake. He proceeded to drain it. “Wow!” he said. “The animal part of me feels better, that’s for sure.”
“Me, too,” Bill said. “You look like you could do with some weight back on. I wish I could say the same, but I can’t.” That hadn’t stopped him from making the stuffed grape leaves disappear.
“The animal part of me . . .” Mark let his voice trail off. When he didn’t pick up right away, Bill made a small, questioning noise. Mark sighed. “I wish I had a drink.”
“They sell beer and wine here,” Bill said. “The state Capitol’s only a few blocks away—they’d better.”
“Heh.” Yet another lopsided smile from the freed hostage. “Wouldn’t go with the shake, I’m afraid.”
“If you want something, I’ll never tell. But you started to say something about the animal part of you, only you didn’t finish.” Most of the time, Bill wouldn’t have pushed. But the freed hostage had sad he wanted to bend his ear. Mark might need reminding of that.
“Right,” he said now, and eyed the glass for the sasquatch-scale vanilla shake as if he really did wish it had been half rum. Then he sighed again. “While I was locked up in that jail in the suburbs, one of the guys who was guarding me said to his friend, ‘My father has a tiger skin on the wall of his living room. He shot it up by the Caspian when he was my age. I wish I had this thing’s hide on my wall like that.’”
“‘This thing,’ huh? Would’ve been fun hearing that and pretending you didn’t get it,” Bill said. “You must’ve earned yourself a best-actor Oscar tht day.”
“Fun? Mm-hmm. I don’t remember the last time I had so much fun. Good thing I’d been there a while by then. I’d got used to playing dumb—but not as dumb as the guards thought I was.”
“If they talked about skinning you, I guess not!” Bill cast about for some way, any way, to change the subject even a little. To his surprise and relief, he found one: “I didn’t know there were tigers near the Caspian Sea.”
“As far as anybody can tell, there aren’t—now,” Mark Gordon said bleakly. “Nobody’s seen one around there for ten years or so. For all I can prove, that asshole guard’s dad shot the last one in that part of the world.”
“Wonderful.” Bill found himself also wishing for something stronger than water. When he was starting out in politics, a lot of the veterans took their first drinks as soon as they rolled out of bed and kept at it till they hit the hay again. Some of the local politicos still did, but not so many; a lot of those veterans had found out the hard way they had but one liver to lose for their country. Bill rarely indulged with the sun in the sky.
“Oh, at least,” Mark said.
“I’m sure you didn’t tell your family about that one,” Bill remarked. He waited for the analyst to nod, then asked, “Did you say anything about it to the debriefers in—where was it?—in Wiesbaden, that’s right?”
“Nah.” Now Mark shook his head. “They were nice enough, but they were all little people—and not little people from Jefferson, either. I could tell they didn’t quite know how to deal with me. You’ll know what I mean.”
“I will, will I?” Bill clicked his tongue between his teeth. Even here in this easygoing state where sasquatches had always lived, some little people saw them as nothing more than big, dangerous critters—not a whole bunch of little people, or he wouldn’t be occupying the governor’s mansion, but some.
“I think you just may,” Mark said. “For all I could tell, some of those guys might not have minded a sasquatch-skin rug for their living room, either. So I kept my mouth shut.”
“If you could do it around the Iranians, you could do it around the Americans, too, huh?” Bill said.
“That’s about it,” Mark agreed.
“Glad to give you the chance to open up a little bit, then,” Bill said.
Mark Gordon sent him a quizzical look. “Not ‘Glad you could share that with me’? If one debriefer and counselor told me ‘Thank you for sharing that,’ a dozen of them did. More than a dozen.”
“Mark, I’m a politician. I hear a lot of bullshit—it comes with the job,” Bill said. “I come out with bullshit every now and then, too. That’s also part of the job, and sometimes people expect it of you. But I try not to do it when I’m not on the job, so to speak.”
“No wonder I like you,” Mark said. “I got called on the carpet a couple of times for writing reports in English and not in the fuzzy talk they like to use at State. I can write that stuff, too, but it makes me want to brush all the crap out of my hair afterwards every time I do.”
“I hear that—you bet I do.” Bill caught the waitress’ eye and raised a forefinger. When she came over, he said, “Can we have the check, please?” He intended to grab it as soon as she brought it back.
But she said, “There is no check.” Bill and Mark both spluttered. Grinning, she went on, “Uncle Al says you can fight him if you don’t like it, but he figures he’s big enough to whip the two of you together.”
Bill looked over toward the counter. Albert, who couldn’t have topped five feet eight, flexed a flabby bicep at him. Laughing, the governor said, “Okay, I know when I’m licked.” Albert stopped flexing. His niece went away. Bill left a tip about twice the size of what he would usually have put down. If the waitress didn’t want it, she could give it to the United Way or something.
Outside the restaurant, Mark said, “Thank you for letting me bang my gums. Nice to talk to somebody who kinda knows where I’m coming from.”
“Any time—and I mean that,” Bill answered, though he wondered how much he understood about being held captive for fifteen months by people who hated his country and thought he was one short step, if that, above a beast. They shook hands. Mark Gordon headed for his father’s car. Bill ambled back toward the governor’s mansion. It was all very civilized—and that, thought Bill, was one more thing the freed hostage would have to get used to all over again.
This time, Bill was answering a missive from a woman in Arcata who was unhappy the state wasn’t doing more for sea otters. The way her letter sounded, she wanted him to put them on the Jefferson welfare roll. Bill had nothing against sea otters, but he thought that went a bit far.
When the phone rang, it was still a relief, even if one different from that caused by escaping bureaucratese for a little while. “Yes?” he said.
“Governor, I have Mr. Asianto Supandy on the line,” Phyllis Ward told him.
“Who?” Bill said—the name reminded him of something out of Star Wars. But then it rang a bell. “Wait. Isn’t that—?”
“The Indonesian honorary consul—that’s right,” his administrative assistant finished for him.
“I wonder what he wants,” Bill said, bemused. “Well, put him through. I’ll find out.” The nearest Indonesian general consulate was down in Los Angeles. When Supandy wasn’t helping Jefferson’s small Indonesian community and the even smaller number of Indonesian travelers who ran into trouble here, he ran the only Indonesian restaurant in Yreka.
“Hold on, please,” Ms. Ward said.
A few seconds later, another voice came on the line: a high, resonant, accented tenor. “Is that you, Governor Williamson?”
“It’s me, Mr. Supandy. What can I do for you today?”
“I hope you and your family are well, sir?” Supandy went through a couple of minutes of small talk before he got down to business. Thinking back, Bill realized he always did that. It might not be the American way, but it was how his culture handled things. At last, he said, “I have heard that you have honored Mr. Mark Gordon with your friendship.”
“I’d say it’s more the other way around,” Bill replied. “But where did you hear that?”
The restaurant owner chuckled. “It may be better if I do not say.”
Bill grunted. That most likely meant Fat Albert had been bragging. Bill knew realtors heard things from other realtors, and politicians from other politicians. It was bound to work the same way with restaurant guys. Where Supandy’d got the news didn’t really matter, though. Bill focused on what did: “What if we are?”
“If you are, Governor, I would like to invite the two of you to my establishment, the Bird of Paradise, for a dinner to celebrate the friendship between Indonesia and the United States of America.”
“You would?” Bill said. “What brings this on, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I do not mind in the least, sir—not in the least,” Asianto Supandy answered. “I have received a communication from Mr. Kertosudiro, the consul general in Los Angeles. Our President, General Suharto, seeks to reassure the American people that not all Muslim nations are enemies to your country. Thus, around the United States, Indonesian officials are seeking to do what they can to promote good relations between themselves and the brave people who endured captivity in Iran.”
“I . . . see,” Bill said slowly, wondering if he did.
Supandy chuckled again. “I am proud to do this for my country. It is mostly Muslim, as I told you. I myself, though, happen to be Catholic. The small island I come from, Pulau Flores, was held by Portugal until two lifetimes ago. Almost all the people there took on the faith of the ruling power. We are Catholic to this day. Like America, Indonesia enjoys religious freedom.”
“Isn’t that interesting?” Bill said, which seemed safe enough. Even a small, lightly populated state like Jefferson was bigger and more complicated than it looked from the outside. Jefferson didn’t have a hell of a lot to do with Indonesia, but he was willing to believe the far-off island country was also bigger and more complicated than it seemed from Yreka. He was also willing to believe he couldn’t turn down the invitation without offending. “Let me have your phone number, Mr. Supandy. I’ll get hold of Mark and find out when he’s free, then I’ll call you back. I appreciate the gesture, and I’m sure he will, too.”
“You are doing me the favor, not the reverse.” Supandy gave Bill his number, then said, “I hope to hear from you soon, sir. Good-bye.” He hung up.
Bill used the eraser end of a pencil to punch the phone button that connected him to the outer office—his fingers were too big for the job. “You have a number where I can get hold of Mark Gordon, don’t you, Phyllis?”
“I sure do, Governor. Hang on for one second, please.” His administrative assistant needed hardly longer than that to find it and read it off for him.
“Thanks.” He hit 9 for an outside line, then punched it in. Mark’s mother answered the phone. Bill chitchatted with her for a little while (the way Supandy did with me, he thought, and smiled), then asked to speak to the State Department analyst.
“What’s happening, Gov—I mean, Bill?” Mark asked after May Gordon called him to the telephone. Bill told him—no beating around the bush now. After a small delay, the diplomat sighed. “General Suharto is a nasty, murderous son of a bitch. You didn’t hear that from me, by the way, but he is.”
“Hear what?” Bill asked innocently.
“Okay. I knew I had reasons for liking you. Suharto is what he is, but he’s aligned Indonesia with the United States.”
“That makes him our nasty, murderous son of a bitch?” Bill suggested.
“Now I didn’t hear you.” Mark chuckled. “As a matter of fact, though, yes. And Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country in the world, even if it’s not real close to the Middle East. What it does carries weight. It’s Sunni, too, like most Muslim countries, not Shiite like Iran. That adds to its influence in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So okay, I’d better show the flag and let this guy give us a dinner.”
“Supandy’s a friendly fellow. Interesting, too. I’ve met him a couple-three times.”
“Interesting how?” the ex-hostage asked.
“You’ll see. Shall I call him back and set this up? I’ll let you know what we work out. If you have problems with it, I’ll change it, promise.”
“That sounds great,” Mark said. “’Bye.”
When Bill called Asianto Supandy, they quickly agreed on a day and time. The little man from Pulau Flores asked, “Do you mind if some reporters and photographers are there? I wish it to be seen that Indonesia is making a point of showing its friendship with your country.”
Our nasty, murderous son of a bitch went through Bill’s mind again. Hadn’t Suharto slaughtered a raft of Chinese and Communists when he overthrew Sukarno back in the mid-Sixties? Bill reminded himself that had nothing to do with Supandy personally. The restaurateur was just doing what the Indonesian consul general in L.A. told him to do. “Publicity is fine with me,” Bill said. “I’ll give Mark a heads-up about it, too, of course. I don’t expect it will bother him, but if it does I’ll tell you.”
“That will be excellent, sir,” Supandy said. “And I will see you at seven o’clock next Friday. Good-bye.”
Mark Gordon came to the governor’s mansion before the dinner. Bill took him to the Bird of Paradise in the Mighty Mo. Any car with two male sasquatches in it was bound to feel crowded, but the enormous Eldorado felt less crowded than most would have.
“My knees aren’t too bad up against the back of the front seat,” Mark said. “When I’m a passenger in my dad’s car, I feel like I’ve got some of those Italian Red terrorists kneecapping me.”
The Bird of Paradise was near the western edge of town, in a neighborhood carved from orchard and forest in the past twenty-five years. The restaurant shared a strip mall with a beauty shop—by the little red-and-white flag in the front window, also Indonesian-owned—and a Rexall and a liquor store. The parking lot was crowded. A TV news van’s crew had set up lights in front of Asianto Supandy’s eatery.
A reporter form the Siskiyou Daily News waved to Bill as he unfolded from the Mighty Mo. Mark got out on the other side. “Oh, for Christ’s sake,” he muttered when he did.
“What’s the matter?” Bill asked.
“Look at the poles holding up the awning in front of the place.”
Bill looked. Sure as hell, both iron supports were decorated, if that was the word, with enormous yellow ribbons. “A little tired of that, you say?”
Mark rolled his eyes. “No, a big tired. I never could stand that stupid song to begin with.”
“Now that you mention it, neither could I.” As Bill spoke, the TV lights brightened. He went on, “Performance starts now. Here comes Supandy—somebody must have tipped him off that we’d got to the lot.”
“Ohh,” Mark said in soft surprise. Most of the time, Asianto Supandy wore the same kind of clothes other restaurant men did: black slacks and a white shirt, sometimes with a tie, more often without. Today, though, he’d decked himself out in Indonesian national costume, with a batik shirt above a striped, skirtlike sarong.
But that wasn’t the only thing that made Mark Gordon exclaim. Supandy was one of the Duendes, the little people of Pulau Flores. Duendes was a Portuguese word that meant something like goblins or leprechauns. Supandy had once told Bill he was three feet seven and five-eighths inches tall; he’d stressed those five-eighths with considerable pride. Over the past fifteen years or so, English-speakers who’d devoured The Lord of the Rings had started calling the Duendes hobbits, and the name seemed to be spreading.
Waving to Bill and Mark, Supandy called, “Governor! Mr. Gordon! In the name of the Republic of Indonesia, I am proud to welcome you to my humble establishment!” in his ringing tenor.
“Thank you very much, sir,” Bill boomed back. “In the name of the state of Jefferson, I thank you for inviting us here this evening.” He wasn’t a Federal official; he couldn’t speak for the USA. What he could do, he did.
Reporters scribbled in their notepads. Photographers’ flashes filled Bill’s eyes with purple-green spots. The red light under the TV camera’s lens was on. They were being immortalized for posterity, or at least for the eleven o’clock news.
One of the shutterbugs said, “Can we get the three of you together for a group picture?”
“Absolutely! I would be delighted!” Asianto Supandy said.
Bill sounded more temperate: “Sure, Hank. We can do that.”
Out of the side of his mouth, Mark murmured, “How much you wanna bet they caption the damn thing ‘The long and short of it’?”
“I won’t touch that one,” Bill answered the same way.
They posed in front of the awning. It was high enough to let sasquatches pass under it without ducking; Supandy went along with Jefferson’s equal-access laws. The name of the restaurant and a bird-of-paradise silhouette appeared on the dark green cloth in gold leaf. They’d show up in the photographs, too. Won’t do the business any harm, Bill thought as he took his place.
Supandy gravely shook hands with Bill and Mark in turn. Bill was cautious whenever he shook with a member of Homo sapiens. With the Duende, he was extra careful. The top of Supandy’s head came past his knee, but not very far past it. The hobbit might have weighed fifty pounds—say, a tenth as much as the governor. He was hairier than a Homo sap, but nowhere near as shaggy as a sasquatch. Whether he had hairy toes like a real fictional hobbit, Bill didn’t know. As usual, he wore tiny black oxfords, highly polished.
The photographers grumbled at trying to get everybody into their pictures at the same time. Finally, Hank—who at six-one or so was about halfway between the long and the short of it—said, “Governor, can you maybe pick him up to get all your faces close together, like?”
“Mr. Supandy, it’s up to you,” Bill said. “I will if you don’t mind and if it doesn’t offend you. If it bothers you any way at all, just say the word and I won’t.”
“Go ahead, sir,” the restaurant owner replied. “You will not drop me. I am an American citizen now. If you drop me, you will lose a vote.”
“You understand how politics work here, that’s for sure.” Bill gently lifted Asianto Supandy. The Duende’s grin showed a mouthful of teeth—and a gold crown on one in front. Supandy shook hands with Mark Gordon again, this time without the sasquatch needing to bend almost double to do it. The photographers got the pictures they wanted. The TV camera recorded the moment, too.
“I’m pleased to thank Indonesia for showing me such generous hospitality,” Mark said.
“Are we good?” Bill asked. When nobody told him no, he lowered Supandy to the concrete once more.
“Now we will enjoy an Indonesian feast,” the restaurateur said. “Gentlemen of the press, I think eating should be a private affair, fit for talk that will not be in tomorrow’s newspapers.”
The reporters grumbled a little, but only a little. They had the story they’d come for. Now they could go write it up so it would be in tomorrow’s newspapers—and the TV crew could edit their tape so people could watch it before they switched to Johnny Carson.
A long vertical bar that Duendes, ordinary Homo saps, and sasquatches could all handle opened the Bird of Paradise’s front door. Supandy used it. Holding it with one hand, he waved Bill and Mark in ahead of him with the other. Bill thought he heard a grunt of relief when the hobbit let go. For someone his size, that door would have been a lot of weight.
Unfamiliar spicy smells tickled Bill’s nose. Unfamiliar music played at about Muzak level. It wasn’t Muzak, though. To Bill’s untrained ear, it sounded like a cross between a catfight and a series of car crashes, luckily heard from some large distance.
“Gamelan music began on the island of Java, west of Pulau Flores,” Supandy said. “It has become the national music of Indonesia, though people there also like music from this part of the world.”
“Iran is the same way,” Mark said. “It has its own music, but a lot of Iranians like the Western stuff, too. The ayatollahs aren’t very happy about that—they’re clamping down on music from America and Europe.”
“Foolishness,” Supandy sniffed. An Asian—probably Indonesian—woman came up. She was short for Homo sap but towered over him. When he spoke to her in a tongue they shared, though, his voice crackled with authority.
She dipped her head to him, as hirelings did with bosses all over the world. To Bill and Mark, she said, “Please follow me.” Sure enough, her English had an accent like Supandy’s.
She took them to a table suitable for sasquatches. Along with their chairs was a tall bar stool with a phone book and a sturdy pillows on the seat. Perched on that foundation, Asianto Supandy could eat at the table with them.
“I have chosen tumpeng for us tonight,” he said. “Like the gamelan orchestra, tumpeng comes from Java, which is our island with the most people. Now it is a national dish. Tumpeng is traditionally served at a selametan, a feast that celebrates the unity of those who take part. I think it is fitting for tonight, when we remembered the friendship between the country I come from and the country where I live now.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Mark said. Bill nodded.
“It is the least I can do. And would you care for beer or wine? I have not a full liquor license, but I can do that. And, being a Christian, I can do it without fear of sin, as Muslims may not.” He spoke sharply in his own language. A waiter brought him a bottle of beer. “Anker lager is brewed in my country,” the restaurant owner told Bill and Mark. “Is it as good as a fine German lager? I think not. But—forgive me—it is much better than the dishwater your American breweries turn out.”
The waiter came back with two buckets full of ice and bottles of Anker. He set one by each sasquatch, then brought glasses and church keys. “Enjoy yourselves, gentlemen,” he said.
Bill and Mark opened their brews. “To American-Indonesian friendship,” Supandy said. They clinked glasses and drank. Chuckling, the Duende went on, “I envy you how much you can hold. This one bottle will last me all night, and I will be tiddly by the time I finish it.”
“We ought to envy you,” Bill replied. “When generous friends don’t give us beer, drinking enough to feel it gets expensive.”
Their host looked comically surprised. “I never thought of that!”
“Why should you? You don’t need to worry about it.” Bill sipped more Anker. “You’re right—this is better than most American stuff. A couple of little breweries down in California make good beer. A guy here in Yreka is talking about starting one like that. I hope he can get it off the ground.”
“No, no.” Mark shook his head. “If he gets his brewery off the ground, he must be making light beer, and there’s nothing worse.” His large and small tablemates sent him identical reproachful stares.
The Iranians should have kept you. The words got to the tip of Bill’s tongue, but no farther. Had he known Mark better, or had the ex-hostage been free longer, he might have said them. As things were, he feared he’d hit a nerve. Sometimes the best thing even for a politician was keeping his yap shut.
“This is not a perfectly proper selametan, and not only because of the beer,” Asianto Supandy said, using words about another subject the way Bill used silence. “In Java, it is a Muslim ceremony, and begins with prayer. But it is a ceremony of celebration, and you, Mr. Gordon, you have returned safe from trouble and danger. So I thought it was fitting here.”
And the bigger wheel in Los Angeles told me to do it, Bill thought. But that was one of the things that went with representing your old country’s interests here in your new one.
Two waiters came up, each carrying an enormous circular tray. One set his in front of Bill, the other in Mark. In the center of each tray sat a tall cone of rice. The setup put Bill in mind of a volcano surrounded by a jungle of delicious-smelling food.
“Each of those is usually tumpeng for a table,” Supandy said. “But you are bigger than ordinary people. I hope this will be enough. If not, please ask for more. It is my honor to serve you.” As he spoke, the woman from Indonesia gave him what looked like a child’s portion of tumpeng, complete with its own minivolcano in the middle.
“I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Bill said. Even for someone of his size, there was a lot in front of him. He gently tapped the banana-leaf wrap that topped the cone. “How do you get the rice to stand up like this?”
“Inside is a woven-bamboo frame. And the rice is cooked with coconut milk, to remember Mr. Gordon’s sweet return,” Supandy answered. “Sometimes the rice will be made with turmeric instead, to give it a golden color. That is done for prosperity. I thought sweetness would be more fitting tonight.”
“I think you’re right,” Bill said.
“Me, too,” Mark said. “Nobody goes to work for the State Department expecting to get rich.”
Bill tasted the rice. It was sweet and moist and spicy and good. He waved at the rest of the tray. “What all else have we got here?”
“You see the fried prawns and the hard-boiled eggs.” Supandy waited for Bill to nod, then went on, “The eggs come still in the shell. When you peel them, in a way of speaking you show how you plan and do for time to come. The shrimp are from the sea. So are the teri kacang—anchovies with peanuts, that is in English. Anchovies school together. Is that the word, school?”
“That’s the word,” Bill and Mark agreed.
“Thank you,” the Duende said. “This means you have harmonious relations with people near you and with your family.”
“It all has a meaning, doesn’t it?” Bill asked.
“Oh, yes, certainly. This is worked out over many, many years. Along with eggs, the ayam goreng—the fried chicken—stands for the creatures of the air.”
“Spicy,” Mark said, setting down the bone from a chicken thigh. He opened a fresh Anker to help put out the fire. After Bill tried the ayam goreng, he needed more beer, too.
“For land animals, we have here tonight semur. This is beef stewed with sugar in soy sauce. Also there is empal gepuk, which is fried beef. It is also sweet, and highly spiced, too. The vegetables from the earth are called urap. They are steamed and flavored with seasoned dried coconut meat chopped fine. The spinach in them stands for a peaceful, safe life.”
“It’s good,” Bill said in some surprise—spinach wasn’t usually one of his favorite vegetables. Coconut improved anything.
“So glad you like it. And the bean sprouts, they mean you will pass on your legacy to those who come after, while the grown beans mean long life.” As Asianto Supandy explained the symbolism of the dishes in the tumpeng feast, he worked away at what was on his own plate. He didn’t have a lot, but he had some of everything.
“This is all so good,” Mark said. After so much deprivation in Iran, he was still making up for lost time—and doing to his tray what General Sherman did to Georgia. After another swallow of beer, he went on, “I like it that so many of the dishes have to do with friends and family.”
“That is what the tumpeng stands for,” Supandy replied. “People are what matters in this world, is it not so? Big, middle-sized, small—that is not important. Good people, people someone cares about, people someone loves, they are what makes life worth living. When we work, we work so we can be with those people and so we can care for them, yes?”
“Yes,” Bill said before Mark could. “You have a good way of looking at things, Mr. Supandy.”
Mark nodded. “You sure do, sir.”
“Pah!” The Duende held out both hands, palms down, as if denying anything. “You are too kind to a small person from a faraway land.”
“You said it yourself—big and little aren’t what counts,” Bill replied. “We’ve felt that way here in Jefferson for a long time. If we didn’t, we’d tear ourselves to pieces. Before we figured that out, we damn near did.”
“And that you’re stretching friendship all the way across the Pacific just makes everything tonight more special.” Mark might have worked out of the public eye in Iran till the students seized the American embassy, but he had the makings of a pretty fair diplomat himself. He added, “It’s the word my dad used with you, Governor. This is all umglatch—better than it needs to be.”
“Umglatch?” Asianto Supandy pronounced it with care. “This is not an English word I hear before.”
“It’s not an English word at all,” Bill said. “It’s from the language sasquatches spoke before we ever knew there was such a thing as English. Maybe there are a few way up in the mountains who still use it all the time, but I wouldn’t even bet on that.”
“Most of the students who learn it in college these days are little people researching sasquatches.” Mark chuckled self-consciously. “I should talk—that’s what I was doing, taking Farsi down at Berkeley. I passed the Foreign Service exam, and they shipped me to Iran . . . and look how well that turned out.”
“My people, we have our own speech, too! This is so fascinating, that we are so much the same, big and little, in a medium-sized world,” Asianto Supandy said. “And our language is also withering. More and more folk on Pulau Flores, my kind and the bigger ones, we use Bahasa Indonesia instead of the older tongues. That must be the same as it is with English here. A few words live on and give spice to the local dialects, but not much more.”
“Here, it’s not just sasquatches and Indian tribes that that happens to,” Bill said. “The attorney general’s mom and dad came here from Eastern Europe. They spoke Yiddish at home, and Hyman grew up knowing it. But his kids use English all the time. They understand a few words of Yiddish, but that’s about it. Their children won’t know any. It’s a shame.”
“They’re Americans first,” Mark said. “Hell, I’m an American first. The Iranians sure thought so—when they didn’t think I was a monster, anyway—and they made me believe it. Why not? Doesn’t matter where you come from. Doesn’t matter how big you are, or how hairy. Room for everybody here. And you know what else? That’s the way it oughta be.”
“Damn right!” Bill opened another Anker. So did Mark. Supandy was still working on the one with which he’d started the tumpeng feast. They all clinked glasses together one more time and drank.
“Tie A Yellow Ribbon” copyright © 2020 by Harry Turtledove
Art copyright © 2020 by Red Nose Studio