This Day in History Entry #353

November 11th, 2015 by Wordsman

That the terms were unfair was a fact
But the army was done, Kaiser sacked
So they went to their knees
Midst the Compiègne trees
Little wonder the peace later cracked

Event: The German delegation agrees to the Allies’ fairly lopsided terms for ending the war in a train car in the forest of Compiègne, France. The armistice goes into effect at 11:00 Paris time.
Year: 1918
Learn more: Armistice of 11 November

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June 25th, 2012 by Wordsman

The Wordsman is back from vacation.  Here’s a little reminder of our most recent KYPC challenge, for those who have not yet had a chance to respond to it:

Okay, I admit it: that was kind of hard.  Lucky for you, the lovely assistant has swooped in to save the day with an easy challenge: animals.

What?  You say we’ve already done animals?  Well, you ain’t done these animals.  These ain’t yer common households dogs and cats, kids.  Things are about to get dangerous.  Look!  There’s a shark!  And a gorilla and a panda (they look cute, but brother, you don’t want to mess with them.  And yes, I am talking about gorillas here).  And what about birds?  You ever see that movie, The Birds? I haven’t, but it still scares the hell out of me, which is why I keep my distance from all the swans, ostriches, and flamingos running around.  But that’s not the worst of it.  This challenge contains the most dangerous animal of them all.

Because no one ever suspects . . . the butterfly!

A. 鸵鸟 B. 火烈鸟 C. 蝴蝶 D. 大熊猫 E. 天鹅 F. 大猩猩 G. 鲨鱼

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June 15th, 2012 by Wordsman

The Wordsman is going on vacation, so there may not be much posted in the coming week.  This Day in History, at least, will keep going as ever, but the rest may experience a slight hiatus.  Stay tuned!

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The Next Day Part 13

June 8th, 2012 by Wordsman

The slap had clearly been a ruse, designed to convince her that these two were no more in cahoots than any other two random subway passengers.  In fact, they were co-conspirators, locked deep in a plot to . . . okay, that part could come later.  But this, this was her man on the outside, her means of communication with the rest of the world.  Through him the entire scheme was orchestrated.  And Officer Tang knew what happened to an orchestra when you take away the conductor.  At least, she assumed she did.  I mean, a bunch of musicians without a clear authority figure?  Come on.

The old woman was—so far, at least—untouchable.  But no woman is an island.  Everyone has a link, a connection, a weak point.  And Officer Tang had just found it.  She knew her mission: get . . . whoever this guy was.

Note: acquire high-tech long-range listening equipment before next observation.

Fortunately, not long after she had this realization, the young man left.  This was it.  The perfect opportunity to catch him on his own.  She would start off casually, asking him a few questions about a completely unrelated topic (which, since she was a police officer, he would have no choice but to answer).  She would get some key information: his name, address, phone number.  And then she would DESTRO—

Before she could deal out any biblical wrath, however, she collided with a large, soft individual.

“Where the hell do you think you’re . . .?” she started to roar.  And then she looked up.  Officer Tang clearly had much sharper eyes than the average person he saw every day on duty.  “Escobar?  What are you doing here?”

Neither of them was supposed to be there, but only one had been specifically ordered by their boss not to be there.  The guilt scale shifted decidedly toward Tang.  “Good morning, Officer Tang,” he said.  Escobar had a low, slow voice that was easy to miss if you weren’t listening for it.  And since he rarely used it, few people ever were.  “I thought the Captain said you should take the day off.”

“I am.”  She had . . . almost no qualms with lying for the sake of the greater good (when she did it, that is).  “I’m off-duty.”

“You’re wearing your uniform.”

“I—I’m doing laundry.  Nothing else is clean.”

“And your gun—?”

“Listen, Officer Escobar, I’d love to stay and catch up, but I’m in the middle of something very important right now, so . . .”

She looked around.  The conspirator had disappeared.  DAMN! Oh well.  She knew he had to come back to the station eventually.  And when he did, she would be ready for him.

Escobar wondered why she was staring at the exit for so long, but he decided it was safer not to ask.  Actually, he realized that her distraction might be the ideal backdrop for his next question, which he was hoping could fly under the radar, at least for a while.  “Say, Officer Tang, do you happen to know if we still have any of the stuff impounded in the Neuberger case?”

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The Next Day Part 12

June 1st, 2012 by Wordsman

Renewing observation.  Must discover secret behind suspect’s remarkable ability to resist arrest.  Have consulted with lab technicians, local science teachers, and radio psychics, but they refuse to take me seriously.  The only solution is constant vigilance.  Everyone slips up eventually.  Even me.

Officer Tang had no choice but to admit that she had not merely “slipped up” but very nearly jeopardized the whole operation.  She had underestimated her opponent.  The woman’s disguise was good, she had to give her that; what officer wouldn’t think that arresting a fragile old woman would be no more than an afterthought?  And therein lay the beauty of it.  Officer Tang had spent so much time deciding why she would be arresting the suspect that she hadn’t been able to spare a moment to figure out how.  But she would not be making that mistake again.

Actually, Officer Tang was not supposed to be there, either.  After the judge had refused to dignify her suggestion to dispatch the National Guard—along with various other more ridiculous requests—with a response, the captain had called her aside and told her in no uncertain terms to take Saturday off.  But she had not taken a day off of anything (work, school, crossing guard duty) since Reagan was president.  The concept was entirely foreign to her, like the details of the Hawley-Smoot Tariff, or the words “inadmissible evidence.”  She was not about to start now.

Like Peter, Tang had spent a lot of time thinking since the previous day.  Unlike Peter, she had spent very little time sleeping.

11:13:42 AM: contact made.  Conspirator is tall, blond, mid-twenties, clean-shaven, hatless.  Offers suspect a bag containing some variety of baked good (cupcake?  cookie?  Is this relevant?).  In previous observations, have seen passersby give suspect advice, money, garbage, pamphlets, political campaign buttons, pieces of paper containing the words “Here, you throw this away.”  Cannot recall suspect ever before receiving food.  Need to consult past notes.  Is this evidence of a more significant connection?

She wished she could hear their conversation, but she was standing considerably farther back than she had on her previous investigations.  By showing herself to the suspect before she had adequately prepared to make the arrest, Officer Tang had tipped her hand.  This time around she would be playing things much closer to the vest, which in her case meant that she would probably be playing inside her vest.

Now, to be fair, Officer Tang had been very focused on the old woman on Friday, and for every day before that.  She had developed extreme tunnel vision, to the point where she could see only the suspect and those who came into direct contact with her—and even those she could only make out vaguely.  So it’s probably forgivable that it took her ten whole minutes to recognize Peter as the man who had gotten slapped the day before.

And then everything clicked.  She knew what she had to do.

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The Next Day Part 11

May 25th, 2012 by Wordsman

Escobar didn’t know what a jib was, but he liked the cut of Peter Hamlin’s.  He approved of the move of bringing the old woman a muffin, which he immediately recognized by sight and by smell as a Gingerberry Jazz (since the previous fall he had expanded his dining options at the Dough-Re-Mi.  He had even eaten a scone once or twice.)  He thought that the kid’s handling of her was firm but fair; like a champion jockey, he seemed to know when to push and when to pull back.  Most of all, though, he appreciated the fact that Peter’s presence was getting the woman to reveal the mystery of who she was and what she was doing there.

Escobar wasn’t really supposed to be there.  Mrs. Escobar was under the impression that he was out grocery shopping.  Plus, if he were to be recognized by either the woman or the kid, it could lead to a lot of awkward questions.  Fortunately, he had the perfect disguise: a police uniform.  Or rather, the lack of a police uniform.  In Escobar’s experience, when he was in plainclothes he could walk straight up to someone he saw every day while on duty, say “Hello,” and still not be recognized.  It was better than Clark Kent’s glasses.

But even if he had been in uniform, even if he had been on duty, even if his radio was telling him to get to the other side of town on the double or risk losing his badge, he still would have been down there.  Although he had given up on ever finding out the woman’s secret, he had never truly forgotten about her.  He had to know.  And now that he knew, he had to help.

After listening to their conversation, Escobar had an idea.  It was a wild, foolish idea.  It would never work in a thousand years.  It would irritate his wife, possibly cost him his job, and in all likelihood accomplish nothing.  But he was going to try it anyway.

Despite this mad plan, Escobar might have been comforted to learn that he was at worst the second-craziest person in Simon Park Station that morning.

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May 21st, 2012 by Wordsman

Yes, I’m actually apologizing for lateness in advance this time.  The Wordsman will be occupied with a Master’s Examination for roughly the next 24 hours and will be unable to work on the site.  KYPC will appear on Wednesday at the earliest.

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The Next Day Part 10

May 18th, 2012 by Wordsman

The image of the loyal pupil forced the woman to back off a little from her cantankerousness.  “I mean, it might not be totally pointless.  It’s something that just came to me a few months back.  But I can’t ever figure out if it does anything, because every time I try to sing it, a train pulls up and interrupts me.”

He glanced over at the empty platform.  “Haven’t you ever thought that maybe the song is what’s making the trains arrive?”

Something about being down here all the time must be making me stupider, she thought.  Maybe it’s the bad air. “Oh.  Hey.  I bet you’re right.  Well, sounds pretty useless to me, but since you’re so eager to learn, here goes.”

The shapeless pile of rags that was the woman’s body expanded slightly, her cracked lips parted, and then a sound that made those images seem even uglier in comparison emerged.  It was a gentle, faintly mournful tune that in no way called the image of a speeding subway train to mind.  It was the most beautiful voice he had ever heard.  Peter tried to tell himself that he hadn’t put up the fuss about wanting to learn simply to hear her sing again.  He was not entirely convinced.

And, right on cue, in the middle of a phrase, a train pulled into the station.

“There you go,” the woman said, after the mechanical shrieking had cut out.  “Practice that.  Just don’t do it while you’re standing on any train tracks, I guess.”

Peter nodded.  Years of having to memorize songs for band had given him an excellent memory for tunes, and this one wasn’t especially complicated, so he didn’t need her to go through it more than once.  He closed his eyes and ran his fingers along the flute once without blowing.  “Thanks,” he said, lowering the instrument.  “Now then, I suppose I’d better let you get back to . . . whatever it is you do here.”

The woman laughed unpleasantly.  Peter started to walk away, but then he paused and turned back.  Oh great.  What now? “One last thing.  I realized that I went through all of yesterday without ever introducing myself.  I’m Peter Hamlin.”  He extended a hand.

She took it.  Her hand was not as unpleasant as he had expected.  Then again, his only previous contact with her hands had been when they were either twisting his arm or striking his cheek.  “Nice to meet you,” she said.  I hope, she added silently.

Peter stopped shaking and frowned.  “Um, this is the part where you introduce yourself.”

She smiled.  It was an extremely fragile smile, like a suspension bridge made out of toothpicks, or a skyscraper made of playing cards, or anything else that could collapse from a slight change in the wind.  “People call me the Old Woman of Simon Park Station.”

“And what do you call yourself?”

“I call myself ‘me.’  Or sometimes ‘I.’”

“You know what I mean.”

The Old Woman of Simon Park Station sighed and looked down at her lap.  “I really don’t.”  Her possible train-summoning song had been slow and sad, but her tone of speech now made it seem like a five-year-old’s birthday party in comparison.  “I don’t remember my name.  I don’t know who I am, or where I came from.  I don’t remember anything before I showed up here.”

She expected another barrage of questions from her interrogator, questions she had pointlessly asked herself time and time again.  But instead she just heard him say, “Okay.”  She looked up to see him headed back toward the exit, but he stopped one last time.  “If you don’t remember where you came from,” he said gently, “how do you know it wasn’t worse than here?”

“Worse than here?”  She looked around at the noisy children, the bedraggled parents, the humorless faces of people who had to go into work on a Saturday.  She heard the subway doors bump roughly shut and the train pull out of the station for the twentieth time that morning.  She smelled bad coffee and oil and a number of things even grosser than that.  Simon Park Station was a world without sunlight, a world without music, a world without hope.

“That’s not possible.”

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Coming Soon!

May 11th, 2012 by Wordsman

The next KYPC update will hopefully be arriving in the near future, ideally some time this weekend.  The Wordsman has found himself a little busier than he expected to be this past week.

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The Next Day Part 9

May 11th, 2012 by Wordsman

She scowled.  “Look, I don’t think I should be teaching you anything right now.  Your job is to go find musicians.  Surely you don’t need a magical song to do that.  Besides, you’re not ready.  You think this is something you can just leap into headfirst?  It could be dangerous.”

“Says the woman who threw me into the deep end yesterday by all but forcing me to learn a song that can control people’s minds.”

“That was . . . come on, that was different!  I was desperate!”

“Aren’t you still?”  Peter stood up and looked down on her.  It was a very basic trick, but a good lawyer will use any advantage, including height, to get the upper hand on a witness.  “According to your plan, I—along with some group of mystery people to be named later—am going to have to perform one of these songs.  I think I proved yesterday that I’m not very good right now.  I need the practice.  And unless you want me going around working on the Beherrschunglied, which sounds pretty dangerous to me, you’re going to teach me something else.”

“I don’t feel like it,” she said, groaning.  “Come back tomorrow.”

He crossed his arms.  “I can wait just as long as you can.”

It was an absurd statement.  The old woman had literally waited more than seven months just to meet someone.  This was longer than Peter Hamlin had waited for anything in his entire life.  And yet . . .

“You’re not going anywhere, are you?”

“You can add ‘persistence’ to that list of traits I may or may not possess.”

“Fine.”  She scowled again as she tried to think of the most meaningless thing she could teach him.  “Here, learn this; it’s absolutely pointless.”

“I’m so glad you decided to be so helpful.”  But he knew when to compromise.  Peter raised his flute to his lips and waited.

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