Table of Contents  Last Chapter  Next Chapter  Home Page

 Chapter 21

High Politics

London, May 12, 1937

It was the first clear morning in weeks. Eustacia awoke early, had a glass of juice, and went out walking. Being abroad before the shops and offices were open was a novel sensation for her, and she enjoyed it to the full. Proceeding first to Victoria Station, she wandered into the right-hand concourse just in time to confront a train load of early commuters pouring through the gate and making for the Underground station at her back. Only about half of them were past her when two more trains arrived. The stream was obviously about to become a torrent. Eustacia let herself flow with it, and was soon ejected out of the station in that part of the flood that escaped the vortex of the drain to the Underground.

Finding herself finally in a little garden, she set her course north through the confusing great squares of Belgravia, none set quite at right angles to any other. More or less groping her way through an area where she always got lost, Eustacia eventually arrived at Knightsbridge. The stores wouldn't be open for some time yet, but the wide curving street already was full of traffic. Scooting across, she headed for Hyde Park.

Although she could feel the cool fresh air moving, the only ripples on the Serpentine were the wakes of ducks and geese as they circled, squabbling only occasionally over a bit of stale bread. Eustacia remembered having walked there with Dottie on Christmas day. Virtually everything in the city had been closed, and Eustacia, to Dottie's disappointment, had been forced to cook their meals. However, Dottie had enjoyed their afternoon in Hyde Park, and had even wanted to set up a tent and live on a tiny overgrown islet in the Serpentine.

It had been gray and foggy then, but Dottie would have another vacation soon. They had gotten along better than Eustacia had expected. Dottie had even allowed her mother to take her shopping and buy her clothes. She had also gone into restaurants with headwaiters and tablecloths, the kind she would previously have scorned. Jean Filson had said that there was nothing wrong with Dottie. That a certain earthiness and tomboyishness would pass in time. Eustacia hoped so.

Without quite realizing where she was going, Eustacia crossed Park Lane and ended up at the embassy. She wondered idly whether Paul Filson would be in so early. It turned out that he was.

As soon as she saw him, Eustacia realized that Filson had something special on his mind. She had hardly sat down when he started talking.

"I saw a man who knows Winston Churchill fairly well last night. Ribbentrop invited Churchill over to the German embassy to talk, and he went. It must have been three or four days ago."

Herr Joachim von Ribbentrop was the German ambassador to Great Britain. In the public prints, he was chiefly notable for having marched up to the King of England and unburdened himself of a snappy Heil Hitler salute. Beneath the notoriety, he performed other functions, some of them much more important than those usually entrusted to an ambassador. Eustacia was aware of this fact, and wondered why he wanted to talk with Churchill.

"I thought Churchill didn't have any power left."

"When diplomats have certain kinds of proposals to make to another country, they don't take them directly to the government. This is a proposal which the Germans hope the English will accept tacitly, but which they know can never be acknowledged openly. Churchill's transmitted it to his government, but both the English and the Germans can deny that it was ever made."

Filson paused a moment, seemingly to gather his concentration.

"Ribbentrop began by telling Churchill that he could have been German Foreign Minister, but asked Hitler to send him here instead. That's a bit of boasting that seems to be typical of the man. In this case, however, it's probably true."

Eustacia, probably as a consequence of her early communing with nature, couldn't avoid sneezing. Filson seemed hardly to notice.

"The reason he gave is interesting. He told Churchill that Hitler's paramount desire is to negotiate a peace treaty with England, and that he came here with that object."

"I can't imagine that ever happening."

"There may be a purely naval treaty, but not an overall one. Ribbentrop apparently recognizes that now. But there's room for a secret understanding. Germany won't do certain things. If they don't, England won't go to war with them when they do certain other things. It's that simple."

"Do you know what the deal is?"

"Yes. Ribbentrop actually led Churchill to a world map on the wall to propose it. Germany won't touch the British Empire. Nor will she attack France, or any other country in western Europe. Germany would like some of her old colonies back, but that's not essential. The main thing she wants is this: that England give Germany a free hand in Eastern Europe."

"Which means?"

"Hitler wants to conquer Russia. He's saying, in effect, to the British, 'You hate the Russian communists as much as we do. Let us finish them off.'"

"Will the British accept?"

"I think many of them might, except for one thing. An accident of geography. The Germans will have to overrun Poland to get at the Russians."

Eustacia felt the muscles in her neck and throat become tense. With a rather hopeless feeling, she asked,

"Will the British government give Churchill a message for Ribbentrop?"

"Probably not. Churchill already told Ribbentrop that England would never accept. Of course, that wasn't official. Stanley Baldwin is still the prime minister."

"Perhaps for only another few weeks. Everyone says it will be Chamberlain after that. Mightn't he agree?"

"I doubt it."

"Do you know why they picked Churchill to approach?"

"It was made to seem fortuitous, but I'm sure it wasn't really. I imagine it's because they think he'll end up in charge after they provoke a crisis."

"He's awfully out of favor now. At least, according to the gossip I hear. Partly because of the stand he took in favor of the king and his girl friend."

"That's the kind of thing everyone will forget in a few months. I think it's really a rather shrewd judgement. When Germany does provoke a real crisis, it'll be natural for the English to fall back on the man who's been warning them against Germany for so long. They intend to prove him right."

"Perhaps Curchill should have sounded weak. The way we are with Japan. Now Ribbentrop will report his answer back, and Hitler will aim his preparations at England instead of Russia."

"I don't think Churchill is capable of that. In fact, Baldwin is the only English statesman I can think of who might try to disarm an enemy by feigning weakness."

"Am I supposed to know this?"

"Our government is. I may have been chosen for the same reason that Ribbentrop chose Churchill. Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Hull can, at some future time, plausibly claim that they don't chat with naval attaches. As for you, personally, I guess it would be better if you didn't tell anyone but Murphy."

"I can see that you think this settles it."

"Yes. Ribbentrop and Churchill agreed that there will be war between them. Then they went on to talk of other things."

Although Eustacia had long ago reconciled herself to the probability of war, this was the first time it seemed real. She found herself hunting for some saving grace, if not a silver lining.

"Of course, that's just a European war, so far."

"It can't go on very long without involving us and the Japanese."

"Are there any predictions as to time?"

"A couple of years, probably. From now on, all the great powers but ourselves will be in a flat-out armaments race."

"I think it's likely that I'll be brought back. We've withdrawn from Spain, and there've been some problems with the Haitian government. They want ever larger bribes."

"We'll miss you. But it's probably just as well to have Mrs. Bellows disappear before anyone discovers too much about her."

The airfield at St. Marc, Haiti, June 3, 1937

Having tea in their little house between the airfield and the beach, Moses Whitby said to Bob Conway,

"Everyone says that the world's getting more complex, but it seems to me that it remains quite simple. There are the mass of the people, and then there are the rich who rob them."

"Some countries are more complex than Haiti, and have all kinds of middlemen."

"In Spain, there are the village priests, supported by the rich to help them oppress the poor."

"Yeah, and America works in a different way. There are large numbers of poorish people working their way out of poverty and at least hoping to be rich. They're quite happy to do evil things to the people one rung lower on the ladder."

"That's capitalism. But I really wasn't much attracted to the communism we saw in Spain."

"The trouble there is that they try to intensify the plight of the poor in order to get them to revolt sooner."

"So there's really no one poor people can trust anywhere?

"I don't suppose so. But they're worse off in some places than others."

"They're worst off right here. They're not only robbed, but arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and executed."

Conway, sipping at his tea, didn't look particularly outraged as he replied,

"Sure. We ignore that sort of thing because we're preparing for something bigger, war against the Japs."

"I'm not sure that war really accomplishes anything. You know, the last months of the last war were quite revealing. The fakery and pretenses were gradually peeled away."

"How do you mean?"

"It started when a soldier in the trenches who wanted to take a shit would wave a small white flag. He could then climb out of the trench and squat in no-man's land without being shot."

"That sounds sensible."

"Sure, but it required the soldiers on opposite sides to trust each other even when their officers might order them to shoot the guy shitting."

"Why did the officers object?"

"They were afraid of any sort of understanding with the enemy. They thought of it as the first step in losing control of their own men. And it happened. Infantry patrols out at night began to run into each other without violence. Instead of shooting, they talked in whatever of languages they could muster."

"Couldn't the officers prevent that?"

"Only junior ones would be out on patrol, and they themselves often weren't armed. They were also out-numbered, and, of course, they didn't want to be killed either."

"You can't have a war if the soldiers won't fight."

"No. Then the men on opposite sides began to communicate, and arrange times to bury the dead who were scattered over no man's land. I visited the front one day when they were doing that. Men from opposite sides were all over the place, helping each other dig and talking as best they could."

"And there still wasn't anything the officers could do?"

"Not short of firing on their own men. And I guess they didn't dare do that. It got to the point where I thought that the common soldiers on both sides might join together to declare the end of the war, shooting their own officers if necessary."

"If they'd got to that point, they might have gone home and started a revolution against the generals and politicians."

"Yes, indeed. The elites on both sides began to catch on. They'd rather lose a war than lose control of their own common people. And so an armistice was quickly arranged, just in time for the German war-mongers to fight their own communists."

"So the true enemy isn't the enemy country or its people. It's the elite of every country."

"So it seems to me now."

Angel returned at that point, and they all went into the kitchen to make dinner. As the discussion continued, Angel said,

"I don't think it's like that with the Japanese and Chinese. There isn't the kind of stalemate where the soldiers of both sides might join together. Mostly, it's Japanese common soldiers slaughtering Chinese civilians."

Bob replied,

"The Japanese have succeeded in brutalizing their own soldiers to the point that they aren't open to any kind of reason or human feeling. They probably won't be even if they're defeated."

Angel, re-arranging her hair, tilted her head on one side and said,

"That is, the Japanese elites, not content with robbing their people, have reduced some of them to a puppet-like existence in which they automatically do their masters' bidding."

Whitby, in the act of slicing an onion, put down his knife and announced his intention of going out for a walk. In leaving, he added,

"I'm really not hungry. I may fix myself something later."

After he had left, Angel said,

"I should have known. This kind of talk really depresses Moses. He gets the feeling that there's nothing productive he can do."

"Well, these are the kinds of problems no one can solve. At least, we may be able to help defeat the Japs."

"But that's still a long way off. Our kids may be soldiers of fortune in the Balkans or Africa by that time. They might even join the wrong side."

"Yeah, we're teaching them how to fight, and not much else."

"Anyhow, we've got this airshow that Howard wants to put on to organize."

"What's the point of that?"

"It's to curry favor with the new government that wants to raise our rent. They're basically just theives like the others, but he wants to put them on a reviewing stand and do stunts over their heads."

"Is that likely to make them demand less?"

"Howard seems to think it'll help if we show them lots of attention and respect."

"It doesn't sound very convincing to me. What does Moses think about it?"

"He wasn't here when Howard came by, and I haven't told him."

"This is hardly the time to tell him when he's in this mood. Anyhow, he's just about decided that the clowns who run things here are worse than the Nazis and Japs."

"I know. Of course, Howard did have something else in mind that might appeal to Moses."

"Machine-gunning the president as he stands on the platform?"

Angel laughed and replied,

"No, but Howard doesn't think these people realize what air power can do. He thought we might attack an old boat anchored just off shore and sink it. Without ever saying, or even implying anything, we might give them the idea that, if they get too difficult, we could bomb the presidential palace."

"I think that will appeal to Moses."

The airfield at St. Marc, June 13, 1937

Monsieur Jacques Fevret was a young man in a hurry, in a hurry to get out of Haiti. Preferably in the direction of Paris. He had been there for years as a student, but his family refused to keep him there indefinitely. Even though his allowance enabled him to live quite fashionably in Port au Prince, and would have allowed him to live acceptably in France, his aunts (who supplied it) were adamant. Jacques would remain in Haiti, perform numerous services for them, and marry a young woman of the mulatre elite soon to be chosen by them.

The only way out was to behave just disgracefully enough to be sent abroad, but, at the same time, not lose his allowance. He had been trying for almost ten years without success

Jacques had chosen to semi-disgrace his family by being a political firebrand and quasi-revolutionary. Real revolutionaries were executed, often by being dismembered while still alive. The American marines had kept that sort of thing in check, but Jacques had always been careful not to be the sort of person who would be dismembered as soon as they left. He wanted to be perceived as someone filled with hot air who would never actually do anything or instigate anything, an educated young fop who was also a bit of a scoundrel. But, of course, no threat to anyone.

Though he was known for loose talk vilifying the Americans and desiring to "drive them into the sea," Jacques actually liked them. Apart from being a comforting presence, they were modern and glamorous, particularly the ones who flew hot fighter places. He had met Captain Moses Whitby, and had done his best to form an acquaintance, if not a friendship, with Mr. Howard Pardoe. The latter gentleman remained rather distant, which, though understandable, was a pity.

There was no official invitation to the air show for Jacques, but he had come anyway. Quite apart from wanting to see what promised to be the most exciting event of the year, there was always the chance of meeting some of the Americans and cementing what they called "contacts." Paris failing, it would be very nice to spend some time in New York or Washington.

Jacques had come up the previous evening so that his clothes wouuldn't be soiled or disordered by the journey, and had spent a pleasant night in the hotel with a local girl for company. In the morning, dressed in a cream-colored silk suit with matching shoes and spats, he took the carriage to the airfield and strolled on to the perimeter, just fashionably late enough to make a good entrance.

The dignitaries were already on the reviewing stand. The new president, Stenio Vincent, stood front and center beside Howard Pardoe with a rather severe expression on his handsome face. Jacques knew Vincent, just as all members of the elite knew one another, but wasn't sure how much toleration he could count on in the new regime. He therefore walked close enough to the stand to be noticed, but not close enough to be intrusive or pushy. He did not, for example, try to catch Vincent's eye. He nevertheless saw, out of the corner of his own eye, one of the ministers point in his direction and speak to Vincent. It was just possible that a messenger would be sent to invite him to join them on the reviewing stand.

As it turned out, there were two messengers, a middle- aged policeman and a very young one. The former addressed Jacques pleasantly by name and continued,

"Good morning, sir. I am instructing my young colleague here in police techniques, and I'll begin with a demonstration. If you would turn around, sir."

It didn't sound much like an invitation, and it was, in general, a mistake to turn one's back to a policeman. But, of course, there wasn't any choice. The policeman put his arms gently around Jacques, his fingers finding an opening in his shirt, as he spoke to the young policeman,

"The hand placement is half-way between the belt and the collar, and the motion is brisk and energetic."

It was, indeed, brisk and energetic. Buttons flew in all directions and fabric tore. Jacques ended up bare-shouldered with his tie and collar still around his neck and his jacket and shirt bunched around his wrists in back. He had seen the same technique applied to others and knew what was coming next. It was, however, better not to resist. The senior policeman explained,

"Both hands go between his arms and inside his waist-band in back. There is first a push forward immediately followed by a pull backward and downward."

The Creole peasants had, by this time, formed a happy circle, laughing and gesturing. The push forward was more like a double-punch to the kidneys, and the backward and downward pull left Jacques in his white silk underpants with his other clothes around his ankles. The policeman then put one boot on the clothing between Jacques' feet and, taking his right wrist, guided him gently into a forward-bending position. Jacques stared balefully at the grinning peasants.

It was fortunate that the sideways kick, delivered by the junior, came just below Jacques' tailbone, thus sparing him the lower back injury so common in those similarly processed by the police. It nevertheless lifted him completely out of his shoes and the clothing at his ankles, landing him on his face on the hard ground. Everyone cheered, and the senior policeman called out,

"Thank you for your cooperation, sir."

It wasn't really so bad. Jacques' cuts were minor, and, while his rear end hurt, he was able to massage it effectively with his hands. The men on the stand, including Vincent, were openly laughing at him. That was good. They didn't usually have people they held in contempt executed. Humiliation was enough, and he had been humiliated before.

It did occur to Jacques that, when his aunts heard a properly adorned story of the unprovoked attack, they might decide that a man for whom the new president felt such distaste would be better off in France. Getting into the wreck of his clothing, and using his tie as a rather flamboyant substitute belt, he looked upward as the show began.

It started with some twenty fighters in a line-astern formation. Glinting silver in the bright sunshine, they came over fast at medium altitude in a gentle arc. The considerable roar quieted and focussed the crowd much as the overture of an opera might have done. The compact powerful little fighters were spaced perfectly as they tightened their turn, ending up with the first plane chasing the last in a perfect circle, still with the same even spacing. It was an impressive example of precision flying, and Jacques felt that it was only the beginning.

After unwinding the circle, the planes flew off some distance in a shallow climb. When they came back in a moderate dive to a point just above the crowd, each fighter in turn did a complete loop, tearing out over the beach as it finished. Jacques, like the others, found the mixed screams and roars of propellors and engines extremely exciting.

The tension was maintained with low-level aerobatics of all sorts, often in unison with wing-tips almost touching. Like other Haitians, elite and otherwise, Jacques was quick to sense the presence of the supernatural. In particular, he wondered if the precise order maintained in the middle of howling screaming chaos wasn't emanating from something deeper which they could not see. In any case, it was obvious that they were building up to a coda, the nature of which he could hardly guess at.

Just when it seemed that the spins, rolls and loops must be on the point of tearing the little fighters apart, another line of planes appeared above them. These were biplanes, and, as each plane reached a point above the reviewing stand, it tipped over into a steep accelerating dive.

Stenio Vincent and his colleauges looked very uncomfortable as the biplanes, with bombs clearly showing underneath their fuselages, shot down on them. However, the target turned out to be a fishing boat anchored a hundred yards off the beach.

The first bombs sent up tremendous spouts of water with deep partially muffled booms. The water poured down on the decks of the little ship, and it seemed to stagger. Then there was a direct hit. Instead of a boom, it was the loudest crack Jacques had ever heard. The boat was momentarily replaced by a fiery orange ball which spewed chunks of wood and splinters in all directions. There was hardly enough of the little ship to sink, the only remnant being a bit of the bow bobbing on the surface. There was a tremendous cheer from the crowd, and Jacques wondered if it were the end of the show.

It turned out to be a false ending, with the true coda yet to come. The biplanes disappeared over the land, and two fighters appeared, higher than they had been, as they did lonely aerobatics. One then dived, almost vertically, at the crowd as the other followed close behind. Half-way down, the first one pulled out and turned sharply. The second followed, and there was a brief follow-the-leader sequence. Then there was a noise Jacques hadn't heard before, but guessed must be machine-gun fire. Indeed, there was smoke from the guns of the second plane. Not only that, there was smoke from the tail of the first plane, and then flames from the engine. It went into a spin, but, before it got very far, there was a blinding white flash. Moments later, the sound of the explosion reached the ground.

Jacques, almost lost in the excitement of the moment, was sure he had been right. No human pilot could have survived such an explosion. On the other hand, members of the air group surely wouldn't kill each other just to put on a good show. At least one of the pilots was a loa or houngan who had learned new tricks.

As Jacques watched the flaming wreckage of the plane drop into the sea, he supposed that the show was finally over. But, then, he became aware of the other fighter seemingly diving right at him. He was about a hundred yards from the reviewing stand, and was hemmed in on all sides by the crowd. As if in a single motion, they all dropped flat on the ground. This time, the ground underneath heaved, and Jacques hearing was altogether wiped out. He turned over just in time to avoid a plank from the reviewing stand dropping out of the sky.

Staggering and jostling through the crowd, Jacques' hearing gradually returned, albeit with a loud ringing in his ears. The second pilot could no more be human than the first. On the other hand, the members of the government on the stand were decidedly human. They must all have been killed. So must the policemen who had attacked him. Jacques burst out laughing.

Union Station, Washington D. C., June 15, 1937

In the course of making her way from Waterloo Station in London to Union Station in Washington, Cynthia Harding had crossed an ocean and passed through Southampton, New York City, and various other points. She had also changed her name without benefit of marriage or divorce. However, these were mere details. Only the termini of her journey were clearly in her mind.

Waterloo was much broader and more crowded. One had the feeling that hundreds of builders had congregated under the great glass canopy and erected a row of typically English houses to accomodate the various offices and waiting rooms. It seemed a vast marketplace by comparison to the cathedral atmosphere of Union Station. Though smaller in terms of tracks and people, someone had designed it to be impressive. The passengers and workers did indeed seem to be impressed. At least they were less given to spitting and dropping trash on the marble floors.

Where the public facilities in Waterloo couldn't even be approached by a sane person, Cynthia had often availed herself of the ones in Union Station. She had done it without giving a thought to social diseases, and there had been a maid to assist. She was now back in her own great spacious clean country. Leaving the ladies' room, and rejoining the porter she had left outside with her luggage, Cynthia looked for the Murphys. While they hadn't said that they would meet her, she rather hoped that they would. Not seeing them, she was about to go to the taxi line when a young woman she recognized as Maxine Dunphy, Admiral King's secretary, rushed up.

"Welcome home, Miss Harding."

Cynthia, glad that she hadn't been forgotten, responded brightly, but Maxine cut her short.

"I'm afraid I have some bad news about Captain Whitby and Angel. They're both dead. We only heard yesterday afternoon."

Later, Cynthia wondered why she had immediately jumped so firmly to a conclusion. They had tried to be too fancy, and had collided in mid-air. She hardly pressed Maxine for the details

"A training accident?"

"I guess so. Admiral King said to bring you straight to him. I guess he'll tell you what happened."

"Is he very upset?"

"God, yes. He's in a terrible mood. The worst I've ever seen him."

Cynthia didn't have much to say during the long taxi ride. Someone must have made a mistake. She suspected that it hadn't been Angel. Probably Whitby had been under too much tension for too long, and had gotten a few yards out of position. The way they did aerobatics in formation, that was all it would have taken.

Angel had done so much with so little fuss. She probably died without feeling resentment at Moses or anyone else. And that despite the fact that her death had been unnecessary. In a certain way, Whitby had had no future. Cynthia had seen it very early on. He'd been lucky to last as long as he had. But Angel could have gone on forever, getting stronger all the time.

Cynthia's thoughts, scattering all over the landscape, next lighted on Admiral King. She had no desire to come upon him on a bad day. She asked Maxine about Commander Murphy.

"He's on his way down to Haiti. By the way, I almost forgot. Mrs. Murphy wants you to call her as soon as you can. She was going to meet you, but the admiral wanted me to go instead. She talked with your daughter at camp on the phone last night, and said she was fine."

Cynthia actually hadn't thought about Dottie since arriving, but was glad to hear about her. Otherwise, she had a definite feeling of foreboding. She instead remarked cheerfully,

"Anyway, it's good to see cars driving on the right side of the street."

As they rode without speaking, Cynthia recalled Angel as she had first met her in Idaho. She really hadn't changed at all since. There could have been very few women like her, at any time in history. It was too bad that she hadn't gone to Spain. But, of course, someone had had to stay behind. Cynthia now decided that they were right in sending Whitby back when they did, but should have brought Angel over with a couple of other squadrons.

If it was like most aviation accidents, Angel had burned to death. Cynthia thought it likely that she would be sent there immediately, probably in time for the funeral. The Haitians might have an open casket, even with a disfigured body. Or, if the face hadn't been burned, they might just cover up the rest of her.

It was with a shock that Cynthia realized that they had arrived. She was still thinking of other things as she started to cross the street. Maxine grabbed her hard and pulled her away as a car squealed and skidded away. Maxine spoke with alarm.

"Are you all right, Miss Harding? You stepped right out in front of that taxi."

"Yes. Awfully good of you to save my life, ectually. I must still be looking in the wrong direction."

Cynthia waited in the outer office with three or four people she didn't know while Maxine went in. The admiral seemed to be in conference, and it might be some time. She had just picked up a magazine when he suddenly appeared, looking taller than she had remembered him. He looked at her sharply and spoke almost casually,

"You're fired."

It seemed almost as if he might have been joking, but Cynthia could see that he wasn't. She had half risen to her feet, with the magazine in one hand, and now remained in that position for a second or two. By the time she straightened up, he was on his way back to his office. Without even looking back, he spoke loudly and contemptuously.

"Get out of here."

It was the presence of the other people that made her really angry. Otherwise, she thought she might have just left quietly and given him a chance to cool down. As it was, she got to the door of the inner office right after the admiral had closed it, and pushed it open with a crash. She then reached across a startled civilian for the telephone. The admiral made no move to stop her until she asked the operator for Sheldon Stone's office. He then ripped the receiver away from her, and slammed it down. Cynthia felt herself breathing hard, but made an effort to sound businesslike.

"I can call from the phone booth outside, admiral, but I thought you might like to say a few words in your own defense."

In this moment, Cynthia had clearly in mind some words Sheldon Stone had once spoken to her.

"Some very highly placed people have taken an interest in your case, Miss Harding. You need have no concern over money."

Did that also mean that she need have no concern about an admiral who was turning purple? Perhaps not. Her bluff seemed to be working. King was ordering her never to call Stone, or anyone else in the Navy Department. She was pretty sure that he was about to include the newspapers in the growing list of places she couldn't call. However, he suddenly stopped short. He must have remembered why he couldn't fire her. She replied sweetly.

"You admirals do tend to forget that you can't give orders to civilians. Particularly ones that no longer work for you."

She was enjoying herself now. She had no intention of uttering even a word about the newspapers, but she was pretty sure, by the admiral's expression, that he was imagining headlines. As he still didn't say anything, she continued, still in the voice of a secretary of the southern persuasion,

"Oh, Admiral King, you do so remind me of Admiral D. D. Ricketts. Wherever can he be these days?"

With that, she slipped swiftly into the outer office, and then into the corridor. There were cries of "Come back" in her ears, but she ducked around a corner.

Cynthia was outside, and had reached Pennsylvania Avenue, when the admiral finally had to run to catch up with her. She kept going while he spoke, and headed suggestively in the general direction of the newspaper buildings. She hoped that he was too agitated to wonder why she hadn't gone to Sheldon Stone's office.

In fact, although Cynthia knew that Stone wouldn't want to fire her, she wanted always to approach that gentleman from a position of strength. The worst thing would be to air this sort of squabble in front of him.

As it turned out, she needn't have concerned herself. Admiral King wished only to unfire her, and to hush up their little incident. She was reassured that he didn't apologize, and rather admired the way in which he got himself out of trouble with so little loss of dignity. It was almost as if she were a wayward child who had caused unwarranted embarrassment. She cut him off,

"So far, no one's told me what happened. I only know that Moses and Angel are dead."

The mere thought of the incident seemed to excite Admiral King anew.

"Your man tried to kill Stenio Vincent, the president of Haiti."

Cynthia didn't stop to dispute the implied charge, but instead pressed the admiral for details.

"Those fucking politicians down there were practically trying to blackmail us. Holding us up for ridiculous bribes just to keep using the airfields."

"I know. Howard Pardoe wrote me about it."

The mention of Pardoe's name occasioned yet another outbreak of wrath.

"Yes. The damned fool. Do you know what Pardoe did? He organized an air show for the benefit of Vincent and those other monkeys."

It turned out that there had been an air show in honor of the anniversary of President Stenio Vincent's accession to power. Pardoe, while refusing Vincent's demands, had got up the occasion in order to smooth a few feathers, if that were possible.

According to Admiral King, Pardoe had got all the dignitaries, arranged according to rank, on the reviewing stand.

"He had Whitby and his girl friend doing their stunts up above. What he didn't count on was that Whitby had loaded his plane with explosives."

The admiral actually laughed at this point. He then continued,

"Whitby put his ship into a vertical power dive and crashed right into the middle of the reviewing stand."

"Weren't they all killed?"

"Some were. No loss there. Pardoe apparently saw it coming and got Vincent away just in time."

"How was Angel killed?"

"Whitby shot her down just before he did his dive. Her plane was a flying bomb too. Blew up in mid-air. That apparently got Pardoe out of his daze."

Cynthia replied,

"It sounds as if Howard did some quick thinking and acting."

The admiral ignored her, and added, seemingly for good measure,

"Then, there's that other friend of yours. The one you've been sleeping with. He aided and abetted Whitby."

"Bob Conway? He's still alive?"

"Until I can arrange to have him hung."

"How do you know he was involved?"

"He tried to get Pardoe away from the reviewing stand. Faked a phone call from Washington. When that didn't work, he tried to drag him away. Pardoe caught on and grabbed Vincent. It must've looked like a tug-of-war between Harlem and the Bronx."

"So Bob's action really saved Vincent too?"

The admiral, now seating himself on a nearby bench, said nothing as he gave her a malevolent look. She asked,

"What are you going to do about him?"

"I'd shoot him, except I suppose you'll blackmail us into giving him a medal."

After a few more minutes of desultory conversation, it was agreed that Cynthia would go immediately to Haiti to help Murphy, but that she should see Sheldon Stone first. As King put it,

"This mess is more politics than navy. It's Stone's job to fix things up with Stenio Vincent. I'm glad it's not mine."

Even Cynthia was surprised at the ease with which she got an appointment with Mr. Stone for that very afternoon. His secretary, in fact, had been trying to reach her.

After a quick but satisfying meal at a disreputable little restaurant, Cynthia presented herself.

"I'm glad to see you back, Cynthia. I'm told that you've already been fired today."

She had forgotten what a network Stone had. However, he obviously regarded the incident with King as a joke, and she replied in kind.

"It seems that I'm now eligible to be fired a second time. Is that what you had in mind?"

"Oh dear no. Admiral King seems quite upset over these events. Things have gone contrary to so much that these people learn at Annapolis."

"You mean, trying to assassinate presidents of friendly countries?"

"That's putting it rather strongly isn't it? There are several points to be made here. One. News doesn't get out of Haiti. Attempts are made on the life of the president several times a year. No one cares. The news doesn't even appear in the Haitian papers. Government censorship. We'd never have known about it, but for Pardoe. Two. No one is to be blamed for Whitby, least of all you. We knew he was crazy when we hired him. We needed someone who was crazy. He did a first- class job. It took much longer than I had feared for the pressures to get to him. Three. Stenio Vincent and his minions were becoming absurdly greedy. They needed a good scare. Captain Whitby gave them one."

Cynthia realized that she preferred Admiral King in a rage to Mr. Stone's smiling self-assurance. She replied.

"From your point of view, it sounds as if there's nothing wrong at all."

"I'm sorry. They were friends of yours weren't they?"

"Yes. Particularly Angel."

Mr. Stone looked confused.

"Oh, that was his wife's name wasn't it? She must have been interesting."


"Too bad I never met her. Anyway, you'd better go down there and help Murphy and Pardoe get things reorganized. The Japanese naval air forces are now getting combat experience in China. We can't let them get ahead of us."

Within an hour, Cynthia began the long and indirect journey to Haiti.


Table of Contents   Last Chapter   Next Chapter  Home Page