"I'll need more explosives; a whole lot." Georgos' mind was working fast. "I know how and where to get them, but it will cost."
"I already told you we have plenty of money. For this time out, and more."
"Getting the gasoline is no problem. But clockwork mechanisms-I agree with you the timing will have to be exact-those ought to come from out of town. Bought in small numbers from several places. That way we won't attract attention."
"I'll do that," Birdsong said. "I'll go to Chicago; it's far enough away. Get me a list of what you need."
Still concentrating, Georgos nodded. "I must have a floor plan of the botel-at least the main floor and mezzanine where we'll set the first explosives."
"Does it have to be exact?"
"No. Just a general layout."
“Then we'll draw our own. Anyone can walk in there, anytime."
"Something else which will have to be bought," Georgos said, "is several dozen fire extinguishers-portable ones, the red-painted kind that stand on their own base."
"Fire extinguishers! For Chrissakes, we want to start a fire, not put one out."
Georgos smiled slyly, knowing it was his turn to be superior. “The fire extinguishers will be emptied, their casings weakened, and our time bombs put inside them. It's something I've been working on. You can set down a fire extinguisher anywhere-especially in a hotel-without it being suspect or, most times, even noticed. If it is noticed, it simply looks as if the management is taking extra safety precautions."
Grinning broadly, Birdsong leaned forward and thumped Georgos on the shoulders. "That's diabolical! Beautifully diabolical!"
"We can work out later how to get the extinguishers into the hotel." Georgos was still thinking aloud. "It shouldn't be difficult. We could 2rent a truck or buy one, and paint a fake company name on it, so it looks official. We'd print up some kind of authorization-maybe get a hotel purchase order and copy it-which our people would carry, in case they were stopped by anyone, asking questions. Then we'll want uniforms-for me, the others . . ."
"No problem about a truck or uniforms," Birdsong said, "and we'll work on the purchase order thing." He mused. "It's all coming together. I have that feeling. And when it's over, people will see our strength and fall over themselves to obey our orders."
"About the explosives," Georgos said. "I'll need ten thousand dollars cash-small bills-in the next few days, and after that . . ."
With mounting enthusiasm, they continued planning.
"If there's an obscure Jewish holiday which no one else ever heard of," Nim told Ruth, speaking from the driver's seat of his Fiat, "you can be sure your parents will dust it off and use it."
His wife, in the seat beside him, laughed. He had noticed, earlier this evening, when he came home from work and while they were getting ready to go out, that Ruth was in an easy, cheerful humor. It contrasted with the moodiness, and sometimes outright depression, she had exhibited in recent weeks.
It was now mid-January, and even though three months had passed since their talk about a possible divorce, and Ruth's concession that she would wait "a little while," neither had raised the subject again directly. But clearly, it would have to be discussed soon.
Basically, their relationship-an uncertain truce-remained unchanged. Nim, however, had consciously been more considerate, continuing to spend increased time at home and with the children, and perhaps Leah's and Benjy's obvious enjoyment of their father had caused Ruth to hold back from a final confrontation. Nim, for his part, was still unsure bow he wanted their dilemma to be resolved. Meanwhile, the problems of GSP & L kept him intensely occupied, with little room for personal concerns.
"I can never remember all those Jewish holidays," Ruth said. "What did father say this one was?"
"Rosh Hashanah L'Elanoth-or Jewish Arbor Day. I did some research in the office library, and literally it means New Year of the Trees."
"New year for Jewish trees? Or just any trees?"
He chuckled. "Better ask your old man."
They were traveling across town, beading west, and Nim threaded the car through traffic which never seemed to lessen, whatever time of day it was.
A week ago, Aaron Neuberger had telephoned Nim at work to suggest he bring Ruth for a Tu B'Shevat party-the more common name of the same holiday. Nim had accepted immediately, partly because his father-in-law was unusually friendly on the phone, partly because Nim had mild guilt feelings about his own behavior to the Neubergers in the past and it seemed an opportunity to expiate them. His skepticism, though, about his parents-in-law's almost fanatic Jewishness had not changed.
When they arrived at the Neubergers' bome-a spacious, comfortable duplex apartment in a well-to-do area of the city's west side, several cars were already parked outside and, nearer the house, they could bear the sound of voices from the upper level. Nim was relieved to know there were other guests, the presence of strangers might prevent the usual barrage of personal questions, including the inevitable one about a bar mitzvah for Benjy.
Going in, Ruth touched the mezuzab at the doorway, then kissed her hand, as she usually did out of deference to her parents. Nim, who in the past had scoffed at the custom as being-among other things superstitious, on impulse did the same.
Inside, there was no doubt about their welcome-especially Nim's.
Aaron Neuberger, who was apple-cheeked, stocky and totally bald, had sometimes regarded Nim with thinly veiled suspicion. But tonight his eyes were friendly behind thick-lensed glasses as he pumped his son-in-law's hand. Rachel, Ruth's mother, a voluminous woman who disapproved of diets for herself and others, clasped Nim in her arms, then held him back appraisingly. "Is my daughter not feeding you at all? All I feel is bones. But we will put some meat on them tonight."
Nim was amused and, at the same time, touched. Almost certainly, be thought, word had reached the Neubergers that his and Ruth's marriage was in jeopardy; therefore the older couple had set aside other feelings in an attempt to hold the family together. Nim glanced sideways at Ruth, who was smiling at the demonstrative reception.
She was wearing a softly draped dress of blue-gray silk, with pearl earrings of the same shade. As always, her black hair was elegant, her skin soft and unblemished, though paler than normal, Nim thought.
As Nim and Ruth moved forward to meet those who had arrived earlier, be whispered, "You look beautiful tonight."
She looked at him sharply and said, low-voiced, "Have you any idea how long it is since you told me that?"
There was no time for anymore. They were surrounded by faces, going through introductions, and shaking hands. among the two dozen or so guests there were only a few whom Nim knew. Most were already eating, plates piled high with delicacies from an elaborate buffet.
"Come with me, Nimrod!" Ruth's mother seized his arm in an iron grip and propelled him from the living room to the dining room where the buffet was set up. “The rest of our friends, you can meet later," she instructed. "For now, have something to fill that emptiness inside before you faint from hunger." She took a plate and began piling food on it generously, as if it were the day before the fast of Yom Kippur. Nim recognized several varieties of knishes, kishke cooked in cbolent, loksben kugel, stuffed cabbage and pitcha. Set out ready as sweets were honey cake, strudel and apple pirushkes.
Nim helped himself to a glass of white Israeli Carmel wine.
As he returned to the living room, the purpose of the occasion became clear. Rosh Hashanah L'Elanoth, their host explained, is celebrated in Israel by the planting of trees and in North America by eating fruit of a kind not partaken of, thus far, in the Jewish year. To make the point, Aaron Neuberger and others were nibbling on figs from several dishes spread around.
Something else the Neubergers made plain was that they expected donations from their guests, and the money collected would be sent to Israel to pay for tree plantings. Already, several fifty- and twenty-dollar bills had been deposited on a silver tray, put out for the purpose. Nim added twenty dollars of his own, then helped himself to figs.
"If you'll pardon an atrocious pun," a voice behind him said, "I suppose it all shows we give a fig."
Nim turned. The speaker was an elderly, gnomish man with a cherubic, cheerful face beneath a cloud of white hair. Nim remembered him as a doctor-an internist-who sometimes attended the Neubergers. He groped in memory for a name and found it.