Thank God for That

Chapter 40: Death on a Public Easement

Denny Dash worked fast. He poured the contents of his bungalow dresser drawer into his FC2 travel tote, scooped in some toiletries from the bathroom, and spread a sheen of 3-2-1 BlistOff across his lips. No telling how long he’d be exposed to the elements, or where.

Denny hadn’t planned on leaving Pu’ukan yet, but explosions and fighter jets breaking the sound barrier like the crack of doom were never good omens on Third

World islands. He knew he had stirred up the pot; he just didn’t anticipate it boiling over so robustly, or so soon. Now that it had, better to leave as soon as possible than to be killed or, worse, caught and extradited to the New York State family court for unpaid alimony and child support, and to criminal court for embezzlement.

He cut through the pool deck on his way to the harbor. The pool area was a mess. Debris was everywhere: busted concrete, broken glass, mutilated patio furniture, cabana walls blown out, Harry August’s yellow golf cart lying on its side. The pool itself was a garbage dump, with a huge turbine nesting in a muddy crater at what had been the deep end.

Harry August didn’t look much better. He was in a daze. He hardly noticed when

Denny tipped the golf cart back onto its wheels, started it up and headed for the marina.

Denny didn’t notice the little red helicopter stalking him from above.

#

Mitch Kinsella struggled to keep the audio feeds alive. He blamed the jets.

“They’re jamming everything in the air. I can’t compete with the Pentagon.”

Lady turned to Fish Rommel. “Don’t you let Pitch get bombed on. Do not let that happen, do you hear me? Call them off.” She grabbed him by the collar. “Now!”

“I can’t. They’re APC,” Rommel said.

“What the hell is APC?”

“Air Praetorian Corp. Private security contractor. Closely held. The government’s lousy with them.”

“What are you saying?” Roger asked. “That the president of the United States has his own private air force?”

“More like an air wing that he shares with the security firm’s corporate clients, but yes.”

“I don’t care who, whose or what they are,” Lady said. “Just call them off!” She still had Rommel’s collar in her fists.

“I can’t. That’s the point: APC isn’t USG. They’re not in the chain of command.

They report directly to the client, which is the president. We’d have to get General

Services to renegotiate the contract. And that’s impractical at best.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Roger said.

A contract is a sacred bond, Swing,” Rommel said. “You should know that.”

“Then get the Goddamn CEO on the phone and be admirally with him!” Lady

said.

“That’s even worse,” Rommel said. “The CEO’s a guy named Johnny Feif. Real jerk and a half. Won’t listen to anybody unless they’re a signatory to the contract. Of course, that’s what you pay a guy like that for: total contractual loyalty.”

“What happens now?” Tish asked.

“What happens now,” Rommel said, “is that in about ninety-seven seconds, that island and all its moveables will cease to exist.”

In despair, Lady let go of her grip on Rommel’s collar. In frustration, she kicked

Cole in the ribs.

#

No sooner had Bundy righted the PAYBACK from the draft of the Hornets than

Phil, looking out her window, spotted a new contingency.

“Hey, Bun? Anyone say anything about a little red chopper joining the party?

Maybe as an observer?”

“Negative. I think.”

“What about a yellow golf cart?”

#

Pitch, wobbly but standing, tried to call Lady on his headset. Bupkes. Ditto on the cell. Not even a busy signal. He pulled the headset off and slapped it against his thigh like a tambourine.

Still nothing.

From above came the familiar rumble from the PAYBACK, followed by the familiar hail of machine parts. Another five minutes and there’d be more plane on the ground than in the sky. Pitch put the headset back on for at least a sliver of protection on the treeless overlook. His timing was almost too good to believe: Not four seconds after he got the headset on, a three-inch bolt, nut and washer assembly smashed onto it. It knocked him back down, but not out.

And it fixed the equipment. Once again, voices crackled through the headset, including one he hadn’t heard before.

#

Roger Swing scoffed at the notion that the president had a secret air phalanx at his disposal and that it was impervious to civilian authority.

“In our system, the military answers to the civilian authority, admiral,” he said to Rommel. “Not the other way around. It’s what makes us special.” He grabbed the headset from Lady and told Mitch Kinsella to break into the lead pilot’s radio line.

“You’re wasting precious time, Swing,” Rommel said. “I already told you: They’re not military. They won’t listen to you. They answer to the contract, not the office. Besides, who the hell would listen to the acting secretary of the Treasury?”

“Got ’im!” Mitch Kinsella said, buoyant that he finally got something done on the

first try.

“Captain, this is Roger Swing, the Secretary of the Treasury. Can you hear me?”

“I hear someone intruding on my radio line,” replied the commander of the squad of Hornets, Col. Ludovico Pinchuck, U.S.A.F., Retired, now a senior vice president with

Air Praetorian.

“Captain, this is Treasury Secretary Roger Swing. I am the highest civilian authority on the ground here and—and you are to—” he turned to Rommel as if to ask how to call off a bombing mission—“to stand down.”

Rommel nodded.

“You are to stand down and return to your barracks.”

Rommel shook his head.

“Or to your battleship. Or your basecamp. Wherever you need to return to,

Captain, you just—you go return there right now. Uh, with all deliberate speed.”

“First of all, I’m not a captain,” Colonel Pinchuck said. “Second of all, I’m with APC, so I answer to one man and you ain’t he. And third of all, aren’t you just the acting secretary?”

Tish grabbed the headset from Roger. “Now you look here, Major. I don’t know

who you think you are, but you do not talk to my husband that way! Ever! Are we clear?”

Her answer came in an ear-splitting rip of jet engines.

“Ow! You fuckers!”

She tore off the headset and handed it back to Roger, waggling a pinky in her ear.

“Am I bleeding? I think I’m bleeding!”

“Right?” said Mitch Kinsella. “It’s crazy when that happens!”

Two of the jets screamed over Tangaroa. Three more criss-crossed the general vicinity of the PAYBACK. Colonel Pinchuck again pulled even with the PAYBACK and again peered into the cabin for a closer look at Bundy than before.

“I think he likes you, Bun,” Phil said. “Second time he’s done that.”

After blowing past the PAYBACK, Colonel Pinchuck radioed his wingman. “Hey, Doyle. Jump up here and give the wheel man of this jalopy a visual. Tell me if it’s who I think it is.”

Doyle screamed up to the PAYBACK, peered in on Bundy, blew past, and reported back.

“I’ll be Goddamned,” Doyle said. “Not sure who the broad is, but there’s no doubt about the pilot. That’s impressive as hell.”

#

Near the bottom of the Plumage Oaks driveway, a car struck Speaker Delgado as he was getting into his sedan. Seconds later, Pammy St. Pierre flew back through the front door to announce the new news like the town crier.

“Holy shit on a stick! Fripworthy’s law clerk just ran over Delgado! I think the

Speaker of the House is dead!”

“Where exactly?” was all Lady wanted to know.

“On the street! Not five feet from the end of your driveway!”

Lady stared at Pammy dumbstruck, as if processing the information. Once processed, she sprang back to consciousness.

“Public right of way. Not my problem.” With tragedy unfolding globally, there was no time to care locally. She turned back to the monitors. Pammy ran back outside to record the crumbling of the republic in time for the Sunday Style section.