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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 20

[Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends.  We're so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside! 
Don't know why that was running through my head, but I thought I'd share it.
Yes, it's a little early - but here's another chapter for you to enjoy.  Back to the travels of Mike and Company.  What's going to happen to them in DC?



    In the end, they took the Metro.
    Neither Katrina or Stasia had ever ridden a subway, Mike rationalized.  Plus, it kept them more anonymous than being chauffeured around DC in a government-tagged SUV.  He bought SmarTrip cards for each, showed them how to use them, and then led them into Farragut West, Major Hughes in tow.
    Katrina was amazed.  Trains, she was a little familiar with.  But the sleek Metro trains, windows showing the crowded passengers, whooshing to a stop at the platform - these were totally beyond her ken.
    Stasia was terrified.  She clutched Mike’s arm fiercely, trusting him to guide her through what seemed to her an endless sea of humanity.  The enclosed, underground nature of the station helped her somewhat, though.
    “This is how many people get back and forth to work in DC,” Mike explained in Georgian as they moved to find a place in the car.  “Katrina, grab that pole and brace yourself,” he instructed.  “Stasia, you hold on to me, I’ll keep us upright.”  The train started with a slight lurch, sending Katrina bouncing off Mike.  “Whoa!  Hold on, there!”  Soon enough, Katrina was shifting easily with the movement of the train.  “How far are we going?” she asked.
    “Only a couple stops.  I thought we’d start at the Mall.”
    “But I don’t want to go shopping!”
    Mike just smiled.
    “This is the Mall.”  Mike had led them out the Metro exit up into the National Mall.  Ahead of them were the Natural History and American History Museums.  To the right, the Castle of the Smithsonian.  And to their left, the brilliant white obelisk of the Washington Monument gleamed in the spring sunshine.  “Ladies, shall we walk?”  Taking one on each arm, he turned to the west and the Monument.
    “What is that?”
    “That is the Washington Monument, erected to honor the memory of one of my country’s founding fathers.  He was -”
    “I know, he chopped down the cherry tree!”
    Mike had to laugh.  “That’s one of the stories about him, yeah.  Not true, maybe, but a good story.  Actually, he was the military leader who led the American colonies in their revolution against Britain.  Later, he was elected our first President.  ‘First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.’”  He grinned.  “Want to go up?”
    “We can go in?  Up?  There?”
    “Yep.  Great view.”
    Major Hughes cleared his throat.  “I don’t know if we can get in just yet.  I don’t think they open until nine.”
    Mike looked at him.  “You mean to say nothing could be arranged?”
    “Would it help if you said that I asked?”
    “So I’m asking.”
    “Give me a minute.”  Sure enough, a few quick whispered conversations on his secure cellphone later, Jack was walking with them toward the underground entrance.  They didn’t linger, but rather were directed quickly by a National Park Ranger to the elevator, taking a quick glance at the bas relief of Washington mounted above the door.  The Ranger was polite - it was DC, and she was used to giving VIPs access at odd times , though perhaps with a little more notice than today.  She’d been ordered to let them in; she did so.  Orders didn’t say anything about babysitting them. That probably explained why she wasn’t as verbose as Rangers tended to be.
    “How high are we going?” asked Stasia as the door slid shut.
    “The Monument is five hundred fifty-five feet tall - about a hundred seventy meters.  I don’t know how close to the top we’ll actually be, but it’s at least five hundred,” answered Mike.
    “Is it safe?” she asked nervously.
    “Safe as houses,” answered Jack.  “Don’t worry about a thing.  I’ve been up here dozens of times in all kinds of weather, and it’s just like being on the ground.”
    “With a better view,” added Mike. 
    The elevator stopped, the door opened, and they stepped into a small, stone-walled room.  Four small pairs of windows, one on each steeply-sloped wall, let in light.  Another Park Ranger smiled as they looked around.  “We open to the public in an hour, so take your time,” he said, and walked to a discreet distance from them and took his station.  Katrina dashed to the closest set, trailed by the others.
    “What is that?” she said, pointing.  Mike peered over her shoulder and answered. “We’re looking north, here.  So the large green circle is the Ellipse, then the White House, flanked by the Treasury and - what’s to the right?”
    The Ranger replied, “The Executive Office Building.  Not many people know that one.”
    “Thanks.  Then, we have Lafayette Square and our hotel a little further on.”
    She rushed off to the right.  “That’s the Capitol!” she exclaimed.
    “Exactly,” said the Ranger.
    “Bunch of Congresscritters,” added Mike.  The Ranger shrugged.  “The Smithsonian is off to the right, over there.  And somewhere off to the left is the National Archives building.  That’s where the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are kept.  We’ll take a walk over there later today.”
    “Okay!” she said, and off she went again to the south windows.
    “Jefferson Memorial across the Tidal Basin,” he said before she could ask. 
    “What are the flowers?  They look like the ones around the Monument,” she asked instead.  Mike looked out with her.  The Tidal Basin was ringed with trees bearing thousands of pale pink flowers.
    The Ranger came to his rescue again.  “It’s the Cherry Blossoms, miss.  Sakuras.”  Her face must have shown confusion, because he added, “It’s an annual spring event in Washington.  The cherry trees, which were a gift from Japan to the United States in the nineteenth century, bloom, reminding us of the enduring friendship between our two countries.”  It was obviously a question he was used to answering.
    “We will go see them, yes Michael?”  Mike didn’t think that refusing would be wise; from Stasia’s look, she agreed.
    “Of course we can.”  He walked to the final windows.  “Take a look over here,” he called.
    Before them stretched the Reflecting Pool, from the new World War II Memorial at the near end to the Lincoln Memorial at the opposite. “From this monument to the first great President we can see down to the memorial for another great man, Abraham Lincoln.  He’s the one who defended the Union when the easy course would have been to let it fracture.  He’s the one who truly forged a single nation instead of a multitude of small ones.  He’s the one who made this country worth defending, proving it was an ideal worthy of sacrifice.” 
    He abruptly cut off, as if feeling he had revealed too much.  He heard again the lyrics, resonating in his ears, reminding him of too many close calls.  Syria.  The nameless key in the Bahamas.  Paris.  Forcing a smile, he began, “Let’s get moving, ladies.  We’ve interfered with the routine enough, I’m sure.”
    “I’m beat,” said Mike, hours later.
    They saw the cherry blossoms, or Sakuras, as they were called in Japan.  Stasia and Katrina were enraptured, strolling through the white and pink flowers.  Stasia took photos - lots of photos.  Photos of Mike.  Photos of Katrina.  Photos of Mike and Katrina.  Photos of flowers.  Photos of  Mike didn’t know what else.
    A fair walk along the bank of the Potomac brought them down to the Lincoln Memorial.  They lingered for a while, hushed, letting Mike stand at the statue’s feet, wrapped in his own thoughts.  Mercifully, Stasia kept her photography quiet.
    They walked along the Reflecting Pool, past the Monument, to the Smithsonian.  There, they spent the bulk of the day poking into ‘America’s Attic.’  Lunch was bits and pieces gathered along the way. 
    Mike had suggested a regular lunch, but Stasia had protested, saying that she had planned a proper dinner for them, and not to eat too much.  He did persuade them to steer clear of the hot dog carts, though.  Time enough for that at the ballgame.  That was the proper order of things.  By the time they emerged from Air & Space, thoroughly impressed, it was nearly five, and Stasia was impatient to return.  The Archives would have to wait.
    Tonight, Katrina wasn’t around to help him shower.  Stasia was, though, and her ministrations certainly took an edge off the other minx had caused the previous night in the shower and, later, in bed  God - he felt like the walking poster boy for blue balls. 
    When asked about Katrina, all Stasia would reply was, “She had to prepare,” and said nothing more.  Eventually they were both dressed, well, but not as elaborately as the previous night, and left the suite.  “Katrina?” he asked, but she just guided him downstairs to the hotel restaurant without a word.  There, the maitre’d led them to a private dining room.  A table was set for two.  Stasia stopped at the door, saying, “She awaits, Michael.”  And she turned away, a sad smile on her face, and unshed tears in her eyes.
    Mike sat down at the elaborately set table.  A figure appeared at the door; he half rose before he realized it was simply a waiter, bearing a glass of scotch.  Elijah Craig, as it happened.  He’d had plenty of time to learn the subtle difference in various types of scotch.  Bridgewater, the British half of his new pair of batmen, had refined his education, being even more of a whiskey connoisseur. He’d taught him the subtleties, how the blends could enhance each other’s qualities, how single malts could vary from region to region - it had truly been eye-opening. 
    Sipping the Craig, he waited a few more moments and another figure appeared.  He rose again; this time it was Katrina, dressed in - kitchen whites?
    “Are you ready for dinner, Kildar?” she asked formally. 
    “Will you be joining me?”
    “Soon enough.  Are you ready?”
    “Yes, please.”
    Katrina disappeared, only to return moments later with a salad.  Simple, green salad, fresh vegetables, a vinaigrette.  Nice.  Nothing special, but nice.  He didn’t say so, of course.  He knew better.
    The next course was trout almondine, a dish he had never had before.  The sauce was a lemon butter, and golden toasted almonds surrounded the fish.  He cleaned his plate.
    Third was a common Georgian dish called mtsvadi, a kebab.  This one, when he tried it, was perfectly seasoned beef.  He could taste the delicate flavor of the grape vines that it was usually cooked over, and wondered where she had gotten them in DC.
    Fourth was khinkali, a Georgian dish Mike had tried a few times out of politeness.  It was a dumpling, filled with a peppered mix of beef and pork.  Mike liked spicy foods, but the spice in these tended to be, well, boring.  He cut a piece of the onion-shaped pastry, dipped it in the yellowish sauce, and bit.  Instead of doughy, peppery beef, he tasted lamb, and ginger, and - yep! - she had a ponzu sauce for dipping.  Eagerly, he finished the khinkali, and waited for the next course.
    It wasn’t long in coming.  Katrina brought this final course in herself, laying the platter on the table before him.  Arranged in a star pattern on the plate were the diamond-shaped pastry called gozinakh.  Made simply of honey, sugar, and chopped nuts, it was a particular favorite of his, very similar to baklava, but rarely seen around the caravanserai.   Although the Keldara made the best beer on the planet, they didn’t, as a rule, have much of a sweet tooth.  So it was only on his rare trips into Tbilisi that Mike was able to enjoy this treat. 
    He realized Katrina was still standing by the table.
    “Have you enjoyed your meal, Kildar?”
    “Wonderful!  Did you cook it all?”
    “Most,” she answered, sitting.  “I didn’t make the salad, but I was told that it was a usual thing to start an American meal?”
    “It is, but this was hardly an American meal!  Mtsvadi, khinkali, gozinakh - only the trout was ‘American’ in any sense.  How did you learn how to cook trout, anyway?”
    “I found a recipe on the Web,” she answered, laughing.  “So.  Am I able to cook?”
    “Mother Savina?  Or Griffina?”
    “Both,” she confessed.  “Have you tried the gozinakh yet?  I’ve only made that once.”
    “I’m sure it’s delicious,” he said, lifting a piece and taking a bite.  “It is!” he exclaimed around a mouthful.
    She relaxed further.  “I was only able to make it once,” she admitted.  “Neither Mother makes it well, I think.”  She took a bite of her own piece.
    A few minutes later, Mike said, “Thanks for the dinner, Katrina, but why?  Wouldn’t it have been easier to do this at the serai?  It must’ve been tough getting grape vines, not to mention finding time to plan and execute all this.”
    “Stasia helped plan.  You told Daria to make reservations here; Stasia called after and talked to Chef Medroun.  He agreed to let me use part of his kitchen, and he acquired all of the ingredients.  I came down for a bit yesterday, while you napped, and did some preparation.  The rest I did today, after our day out.”  She dimpled.  “I’m so happy you liked it!”
    “You dodged the question, Kat.  Why?”
    “Cat?  Why are you calling me an animal?”
    “No, no, not cat meow.  Kat, the first part of your name, Katrina.  It’s a pet name, a familiar name, a name that nobody else calls you.  Your family calls you Trina, so I’ll call you Kat.”
    “A name?  For me?  Only for me?”
    “Yep.  You like it?”  Her glowing smile was answer enough.  “Still dodging, Kat.  Why?”
    “All the girls heard of what you did during the Rite,” she began.  “You cooked a meal for the girl with you.  We heard, too, why you did it, because it was part of courtship in America, part of ‘dating.’  I thought that, since we are here to ‘get to know each other,’ that I should cook something for you.  Call it part of the Rite of the Kildaran.”
    “And what else is part of this Rite?” he asked teasingly.
    She looked down, blushing.  “You’ll find out soon enough.”


  1. Really like the story so far. Glad I found this site linked through one of Ringo's facebook pages. Did you set it for black background and white lettering.

  2. "she could quote you the parts of the USCMJ and US Code that she was going to shatter,"

    Should be "she could quote you the parts of the UCMJ and US Code that she was going to shatter,"

    Stands for Uniform Code of Military Justice.

  3. Thanks for the great read.

    One small correction: Looking north from the Washington Monument, the Executive Office Building is on the left.

  4. Please forgive the impertinence but Elijah Craig is a brand of bourbon, not scotch.