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 Chapter 34

Tears of Victory

The American Fleet, June 6, 1730.

It was toward evening when Timmy MacAllister, his eyes tired from staring into the diminishing but still bright sun, banked to port and came around in a big circle. There had been little point in the whole exercise. The Japs had no carriers and no planes left. There might be ships left to bomb, but there wasn't a fucking thing for a fighter pilot to do. He'd been ordered to take up a whole wing, and he had, just so's the admirals could shit easier when they sat on the can. But now he was done.

When Timmy picked out his carrier, he headed straight for it. Other fighter leaders might make a big thing about being the last to land, but he had never had much stomach for bullshit. He wanted to get down and get something to eat.

When he was all lined up and the landing officer with his paddles was telling him to come in, Timmy kicked his ship a little to the left. The landing officer went beserk, waving him off with his paddles, but Timmy got back on course real fast and plunked his wheels as he caught the hook. The next time, he'd do a god-damned slow roll on his approach.

Timmy has hardly out of his cockpit before some high- and-mighty asshole approached him. It turned out, they'd finally decided the battle was over. Timmy could have told them that a long time before. Besides, he didn't like having anyone making speeches at him. He just pretended that he couldn't hear on account of the engines and got below.

When he was going through the ward-room, Timmy saw Murphy with the shit-eating grin he had when he was about to screw someone. Timmy was past before Murphy could get to him and shake his hand or shove his finger up his asshole or whatever he wanted to do. He could only hear Murphy's rich laughter as he went down the corridor. It was a laugh that made him sound like he worked in a whore house. Then Murphy called after him,

"It's all right, Timmy. No one wants you to be polite. I just wanted to say that Moses couldn't have done it any better up there."

Who the hell ever thought he could, for Chrissake? He was another asshole too.

A half hour later, Captain Murphy climbed the innumerable flights of steel stairs inside the bridge structure of the former battleship. A simple conning tower would have sufficed for present purposes, but it had cost less to leave most things the way they were.

When he finally arrived on the flag bridge, Admiral Snelling was standing erectly at the rail, sweeping the western horizon with his binoculars. There was nothing to see, but it was obvious that the man who had become the victor of Midway, mostly through the actions of others, was going to behave, as much as possible, like Horatio, Lord Nelson.

When the admiral realized that Murphy was at his elbow, he jumped in a way that Nelson would not have, and muttered under his breath. Having expected to find him euphoric, Murphy was surprised. Had it not yet sunk in that he would be considered to have won the greatest naval battle in American history?

Instead, the admiral was furious. He sputtered some more and snarled something about young thugs and degenerates. It turned out that he was talking about Timmy, with whom he had earlier had an abortive interview. Murphy replied,

"He isn't very palatable, and he might easily have become a thug. But he's been extremely useful."

"I'm going to discipline him and relieve him of command."

"But that would distract people from your victory, admiral. You've just sunk more ships than John Paul Jones ever did. This is the time to be magnanimous. You should be photographed pinning a medal on Timmy's chest."

Murphy supposed that he had intervened at least a hundred times to keep Admiral Snelling from doing unwise things in moments of anger, and he was confident that he would also prevail this time. The admiral had turned toward the wing of the bridge, where no one could see his face, and was producing an odd retching sound.

Murphy, wondering what Miss Boscombe would have done, put his hand gently on the old man's shoulder. The yeoman behind them would spread the rumor that the admiral had reacted to his victory with tears of thankfulness. That was all very well, at least as long as he didn't do anything to Timmy. Murphy said,

"Remember, sir, combat pilots are almost always killed sooner or later. You should leave Timmy in the air."

At that, Admiral Snelling brightened and wiped his face with a spotless white handerchief.


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