Inspector O and the List

Inspector O was staring at his hands, preoccupied, so I sat down without saying anything. When he finally looked up, his eyes were brimming with tears.

“Puleeeze don’t sanction me,” he said. He put his head down on the table and sobbed softly.

“Don’t what? What are you talking about?”

“Your synchronized sanctions. Church, please, I’ve done no harm. OK, so I draw my paltry pay from the party military department responsible for mud.”


“Isn’t that what you call strategic weapons?”

“WMD,” I said. “And I don’t think you qualify for sanctions.”

“Oh, I do, I do. Please take pity. I quake every night before falling asleep, worried I’ll greet the new dawn to find I am on that cursed list.”

“Sit up, for heaven’s sake. You’re attracting people’s attention. And stop blubbering. I didn’t come all the way here to the capital of Moldova to see you blubber.”

O sat up. His eyes were dry. “No list?” He paused. “You mean I can’t get on the list?”

I shook my head.

“Damn! I need to be on that list. Anyone on it gets special treatment, gold watches, the whole two yards.”

“Nine yards.”

“What do I have to do to be listed?”

“Defy UN Security Council sanctions, for starters.”

He wrote that down. “I’m on it. It would be best if when a new list with my name comes out that it’s part of the synchronized action stuff. Sounds better. Nudges me into a new category.

Actually, I’ll let you in on a secret; when they heard it, some people above me,” he glanced at the ceiling, “thought it must be like synchronized swimming, with a lot of legs sticking in the air. We had to send up an explanation.”

“You don’t seem to think we are serious about this.”

“Oh, to the contrary. I do, I do. Just before I left, someone handed me Kirby’s remarks. He said the Biden administration takes us seriously. We take that seriously.” He smiled. “We also noticed the white flag.”

“I’m afraid to ask. What white flag?”

“Now you’re spokesman, person, is saying that you have ‘successfully slowed’ us, and that you will use all your available tools to ‘further limit the growth’ of ‘these destabilizing weapons programs.’ Careful, some people might think that is grudging admission that there is no way you can do much.”

I picked up my menu. “Let’s order.”

“I’ve got a question for you first.”

This, I knew, was why we were having this meeting. “OK, ask away.”

“Japanese moving toward preemptive capability.”

I continued to study the menu. “Have you considered the Sarmale? Looks like stuffed cabbage to me.”

“You know, if the Japanese try to get a preemptive capability, the baby goes out with the dishwater.”

“Bathwater, and no one will vouchsafe Tokyo’s right to defend itself.”

O stared at me. “You said that with a straight face. I’m giving you points for that.” He wrote it down in his notebook. “That’s going to be your line of argument? Please, use it.” He hummed a tune. “Recognize it? ‘Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work we go…’ Walt Disney. We do his animation. Good money in it. Is he on your sanctions list?”

“Or, maybe we should try Mămăligă cu Brânză și Smântână. Should we get one order or two?”

“No time.” He stood up and looked at his watch. It was gold. “Order whatever looks good. I’m supposed to catch a ride to Transnistria, then go on to Odesa. Helping someone do something.” He shrugged. “On Japan, let’s agree, you go your way, we’ll go ours, and neither of us will see Mark Twain.”

“Never the twain shall meet,” I shouted after him, but he was already out the door.

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