Thank God for That

Chapter 39: Dogs on My Tail

Bundy pointed the nose of the beast eastward for one last pass over the Pu’ukan.

“This is it, Phil. We’re going in for real this time. Not that I know what the hell we’re even doing at this point.”

“Then let’s do it, Bun! For real!”

“In five … four … three … two …”

“Hornets at five, Bun!” Phil yelled. “Pull up! Pull up! Pull up!”

Bundy yanked the throttle and swung hard to port just as a winglet of U.S. Navy Superhornet jet fighters screamed by the PAYBACK. The swirling draft of the supersonic jets ripped thirty feet of skin off the back of the B-29 and knocked it off course again. Engine Number Three seized, and a loose sack of chocolate coins flew through the cabin.

In the Oval Office, President Horvath was nearing the end of his address to the nation when a series of insistent raps was heard on the other side of the door to the right of his desk. He had jammed a chair under the doorknob, but he knew it wouldn’t hold for long. He quickly finished up his remarks.

“God bless the U.S.A!”

The door burst open and the chair flew into the TelePrompTer, knocking it down. The video feed went dead but the audio continued, picking up the sounds of violent scuffling, confusion and belligerent cross-talk live from the Oval Office.

“Show’s over, Mr. President.” It was Special Agent Guy Rapp of the Secret

Service.

“Get your hands off of me, Treasury ape!”

“Randall! Cut the goddamned sound cable!” Special Agent Rapp barked.

Renewed scuffling; hard and bitter words; clarification that the Secret Service was no longer in the Department of the Treasury but had moved into Homeland Security some years earlier.

“Sir, I’m authorized to shoot if you resist,” Special Agent Rapp said. “Randall, the pepper spray! Stat!”

“Stand down, Agent Rapp! I’m your president!”

“Juice him, Randall!”

The president’s eyeballs boiled under a stream of pepper spray. He screamed in pain, and the sound went dead.

#

“Whaddaya mean we lost the feed!”

“They cut the cables, Jay!” said Freddy McMahon, Jay Buckman’s producer in the CNN studio in New York, which had been broadcasting the Oval Office fracas.

“There’s nothing we can do about it.”

“They’re about to shoot the president of the United States and bomb a golf resort and I have no feed?”

“So far so good on the bomb link, but we lost the shooting.”

“I want that shooting!” Jay pounded his desk. “I must have that shooting!”

“Hold on a sec.” Freddy toggled his earpiece. “I’m getting something.”

“What! What is it, Freddy! Talk to me!”

“Shit! We just lost the bomb feed.”

#

What were half a dozen supersonic jet fighters doing out here? Didn’t Rommel clear the zone? Or had Fish Rommel screwed Bundy Swing twice in one lifetime?

“I’m running out of limbs for this guy, Phil,” Bundy said.

“Number Three’s hanging by a thread, Bun. We’re gonna lose her for sure.”

“I’m running out of engines for this guy, Phil.”

A second later, the Number Three fell off the wing and plunged into the hotel pool like an anvil in a cartoon, sending a plume of pool water, concrete and patio furniture skyward. The PAYBACK itself dropped a hundred feet with the loss of the engine, but with one node on each wing now, it was much easier to handle. Bundy pulled the bomber out of danger and banked back out to sea. Yet again. Phil kept watch out the window.

“What a day!” Bundy said.

“It ain’t over yet, Bun.”

“Now what?”

“Two dogs on our butt, coming in hard. And more behind them.”

Bundy checked his rearview mirror. Two of the Supherhornets were screaming in on them, at five and seven o’clock. There was no way the PAYBACK would survive the windstorm from their drafts, let alone air-to-air missiles. They braced for contact.

Pammy St. Pierre bounded out the front door past Lady, Michaela and Cole

Charleston.

“Gotta dash, hon. Horvath’s declared war.”

“You mean—he’s alive?”

“ ’fraid so!” Pammy called out. She was already at the bottom of the driveway.

Lady hugged Michaela. “He’s alive! The sleazy, venal viper is alive! Oh thank

God in heaven for that.”

Michaela hugged Lady back, hard. “Oh it’s wonderful, Lady! Just wonderful,” she said, hanging onto Lady a few seconds longer than appropriate.

Lady unclenched herself and rushed back into the living room to report the good news. Once there, she discovered new trouble unfolding on Plasma I: two fighter jets were about to blow the PAYBACK out of the sky. She was sure Pitch would end up as collateral damage.

Roger longed for a large plastic bag to pull over his head. “You work so hard to build a country and then, in an instant, pfft. Gone.”

“Yeah. And in an instant, your brother gets exploded in midair,” Tish said. She drew Roger’s attention to Plasma I.

It didn’t take a political scientist to see the cascade of catastrophe about to unfold: The Navy jets would shoot down the PAYBACK; Senator Farnum would be killed on the ground from the debris, the explosion or both; and they’d all end up disgraced. The weakest—or the most decent—would commit suicide rather than force the government to spend millions on a prosecution that would wrench the nation and result in a long prison term anyway.

Fish Rommel began to prepare himself mentally for another stint in the can. Cole Charleston was more than happy to go back inside, where he could harvest recruits from the endless orchards of low-hanging shitwads. But he wasn’t about to concede defeat just yet. He tore the headset off Mitch Kinsella’s skull, placed it on his own head, and broke onto the PAYBACK’s radio frequency on the attached mic.

Cole Charleston sensed an apocalyptic moment, and he was seizing it. He wanted the Superhornets to bomb the island.

“Commander Swing, this is Cole Charleston. Can you hear me?”

“Hey, Padre! Long time, no baksheesh!”

“Commander, I am speaking to you on the authority of the United States

Government in Washington, D.C.”

Phil and Bundy exchanged skeptical looks. “Yeah, that’s great, monsignor, but—”

“Do not interrupt me, son. Listen carefully, in silence, until I finish. And then you are to execute the assignment precisely as I will have instructed it to you. Indicate that you understand.”

Bundy flipped off the radio for a tête à tête with Phil. “I hate to be a Bitter

Brenda, here, but I get the distinct impression that the archbishop has gone rogue.”

“Fucking clerics,” Phil said. “Totally unreliable.”

Bundy got back on the line with Charleston. “Hey, vicar, do me a favor and put

Rommel on, will ya’?”

Just then, the lead Hornet swooped up and pulled up with the PAYBACK— cockpit to cockpit—and stayed there long enough for the pilot to give Bundy a visual once-over, then blow past. Bundy, busy with Charleston, only half-noticed.

“Negative, Swing! You are to do precisely as I’ve instructed. I repeat: Indicate that you understand.”

“Yeah, I understand.”

 “Good.”

“I understand why people think you’re a nut. It’s because you’re a nut. Adios, elder. Over.”

“Swing! Swing!” It was too late. The line was dead.

A second later, Lady was ripping the headset from Cole’s skull. Cole fought back, but in an instant found his arms pinioned behind his back.

“Easy there, archimandrite.” It was Fish Rommel. “You’re in civil society now.

You play by our rules.”

Rommel jammed Charleston’s forearm half an inch higher up his back, but Cole kept up the struggle until he felt a fist slam into his kidney like a sledgehammer. He crumpled to the floor. For a moment, Tish, Fish and Lady stared in disbelief at Roger, who stared in disbelief at his balled-up hand. The Secretary of the Treasury had just waylaid a cleric with a kidney punch. Cole looked up in pain.

“Et tu, Swing?” he croaked.

Lady grabbed Cole’s headset and told Mitch Kinsella to put her through to Pitch.

He did.

“Pitch, dear,” Lady said, suppressing her panic. “We’ve got a situation.”

The line was staticky. “A train station?” Pitch replied.

“No, Pitch. A ‘situation!’”

“I don’t see any train station! I see some planes, though! Sorry if I’m yelling! It’s as loud as all get-out here! I think it’s from those new planes overhead! Are those

Rommel’s?”

The whoosh of the Superhornets filled the speakers. Lady wanted to know if Pitch had the contingency code.

“Maybe it’s time,” she said.

The line went dead again.

“Pitch! Pitch!”