qualifying hours in the air, but he no longer flew on a regular basis

with the rest of the aviators. For someone who loved flying as much as

Marusko did, that was a constant, gnawing pain.

“I don’t know what you mean, Sir,” Bayerly said. He kept his eyes

straight ahead, his middle fingers correctly aligned with the crease in

his uniform pants.

“We’ll start with you, mister,” Marusko said. “You violated the Rules

of Engagement for your mission on at least three points. You went below

the hard deck, you crossed the border into Burma … and don’t give me

that hot-pursuit shit. And you engaged in close combat with unknown

forces in everything but the shooting. God damn it, you were this close

…” He held up thumb and forefinger a fraction of an inch apart. “This

close to getting into a shooting match with those people. What do you

have to say for yourself?”

“Sir, we … I mean, our orders indicated we were to fly cover for our

That allies. I understood that to mean protecting them from hostile


I had to go below ten thousand feet to position myself in case I had to

engage. Sir.”

“Mmm. And your little joy-ride into the Shan District of Burma?”

“I was on the bandit’s tail, Sir. I … uh … was escorting him to the

border. And with the other bandit on my six, I couldn’t get clear

without exposing myself to possible hostile fire.”

“Bull,” Marusko snapped. “You were gambling that you could get a shot

off if the bandit on your tail launched.” He looked hard at Tombstone.

“And you. What’s your excuse, Magruder? You went below the hard deck,

engaged in violation of standing ROES, and came within a few feet of

scattering a very expensive aircraft across the mountains in a midair

collision with a foreign national.”

“There’s not a whole lot to say about it, CAG,” Tombstone said slowly.

“It was pretty tight up there. I thought Commander Bayerly might need

assistance. The bandit didn’t react when I got a lock on him. Shaving

him off was the only way I could think of to do it without opening


“And if that bandit had pulled something as stupid as your stunt, you

wouldn’t be here right now. And your uncle would be trying to explain

the loss of you and forty million of the taxpayers’ dollars to CINCPAC

and the Pentagon and the CNO and for all I know the goddamned White

House too.”

Marusko stared at him a moment longer, then at Bayerly. When he spoke

again, it was with quiet deliberation. “You gentlemen are expected to

practice your career calling aboard this vessel in a professional and

workmanlike manner. I needn’t remind either of you that the Navy has

invested a great deal of time, effort, and money in those careers, and

it expects you to take them seriously. We’re not out here to play

games, but to carry out our orders precisely as they are given to us. We

do not play tag with unidentified aircraft. We do not let ourselves get

suckered across international boundaries. And we do not engage in

aerial games of chicken that could result in toasty international

incidents! Do I make myself clear?”

Their response was a lopsided chorus. “Clear, Sir.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“The two of you are fine aviators with excellent records, both squadron

commanders entrusted with grave and far-reaching responsibilities. You,

Magruder, should have known better. I think your uncle would expect

better of you. I know damn well that I do! Understood?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Marusko slumped back into his chair, toying with a pen scooped off his

desk. He could tell he’d touched a raw nerve with Tombstone. He’d

probably gone too far there, he decided, with the crack about the guy’s

uncle. “I understand your motivations, Magruder. You saw a buddy in

trouble and went to bail him out. If this were combat, I’d have to

commend you for quick thinking.” He slammed the pen down on the desktop

before him. “But damn it, this wasn’t combat today. Your orders were

to support Royal That Air Force operations over the Nam Mae Taeng.”

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Categories: Keith Douglass