dollars for the rent-a-car people. The collision with the palm tree and

the tennis court fence didn’t do that Datsun’s bodywork any good.”

Marusko removed his glasses. When he spoke again, it was with a low,

almost quiet voice, the voice which CAG Marusko used when he was in his

most dangerous mood. “So, four grand will settle things with the

civilians and you luck out, but by God you still have to settle with me,

Wayne. I’m not letting you off the hook that easily! Do we understand

each other?”

“Yes, sir. Perfectly, sir.” Almost four thousand dollars! As a Navy

lieutenant, Batman received $2,596 this month, a figure which included

both flight pay and the temporary bonus of hostile fire pay for his

service in Korea, but he was still going to have to take out a Credit

Union loan to raise that much cash all at once. He’d be paying this one

off for quite a while.

“It occurs to me, Mr. Wayne, that a change of scenery would be

beneficial for both of us. It will remove you from the temptations of

exotic Bangkok …

and it will get you out of my sight. It happens I have an empty slot

for a special duty assignment. How does U Feng sound to you?”

Batman’s jaw dropped. “U Feng? But that’s … oh, shit!”

“You have a problem with that, Mister?” Marusko’s voice was whip-crack

tight again.

“No, sir. No problem, sir.” U Feng! And the worst of it was, he

hadn’t even made it with Becky or Arlene. His attempt in the pool had

been just that … and a dismal failure after all that he’d had to

drink. And Becky had promised him another chance tonight.

“It is now 0914 hours. I want you and your RIO in the Ready Room,

suited up and ready to go, by 1430 hours this afternoon. I’ll have your

orders cut by then. Launch is at 1500.”

“Yes, sir.” There was nothing more to be said.

“Get out of here!”

“Aye, aye, sir!” He fled.

Behind him, Marusko picked up the Shore Patrol report again and began

re-reading it. His reserve broke at last, and he collapsed back in his

chair, laughing helplessly.

1445 hours, 16 January

CATCC, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson

Made It Bayerly crossed his arms and surreptitiously leaned against the

bulkhead of the darkened room.

“Air Boss says they’re ready to go on Cats One and Three,” a third class

radarman at one of the consoles said.

“Okay, Paterowski,” Senior Chief Hansen said. He looked bored, sitting

back in the room’s command chair with a mug of coffee in his hand, his

headset perched at an angle to uncover one ear. “Tell ’em we’re ready

to pick up.”

“They’re going to launch the helo first.”

“Makes sense.”

Bayerly glanced over at the status board, where a young third class was

writing backwards on the transparent plastic. The Sea King’s mission

was listed as Bangkok, a run to the That Airlines helipad in the city

and back.

That would be Tombstone Magruder’s helo.

Damn the man, anyway. Bayerly’s thought was raw pain and anger. The

word had quickly spread throughout the ship that the three civilian

visitors to the carrier the day before had been from a high-powered

Stateside news program, and that one of them, a real looker of a woman,

had asked specially to interview Commander Bigshot Magruder. So now the

lucky bastard was on his way to Bangkok.

Bayerly glanced to his left. Several other naval flight officers from

various squadrons were there, standing in various attitudes of

relaxation or boredom. It was standard practice for NFOs to stand

stretches of duty in Air Ops, where they could be asked for advice

during a crisis, especially one involving a man in their unit. Since

he’d been relieved of flight duty, it was natural that Bayerly put in

more than the usual duty time for VF-97. He didn’t like it, though. He

didn’t like it one bit.

The other officers had been all but shunning him since his suspension,

almost as if he’d already lost his wings. Even now, McConnell,

Rostenkowski, and the others seemed to be avoiding his eyes, and he

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Categories: Keith Douglass