Arrival At Longview
The copter was a civilian model of the old Soviet Mi-171, adapted for VIP transport, and there were comfortable wide seats like those on a passenger jet. Cody courteously let Emily have the window seat. “What’s the in-flight movie, sir?” he called out to the front of the aircraft.
“Birth of a Nation!” called back Barrow. “Actually, we do kind of have an in-flight movie, since this copter has a TV up here which I will turn on and get—CNN, it looks like. You folks at the back may not be able to see it very well. Comrades, please keep your seat belts on. This will be a short ride, but for all we know some die-hard loyalist FATPO or some church-going lout who is hearing voices from God in his head may decide to shoot at us in the air, or as we come in to land.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for fighter jets and missile trails,” volunteered Emily, her nose glued to the window.
“That’s a cheerful thought,” said Cody. “You can tell us to all put our heads between our legs and kiss our asses goodbye.”
The flight from Chehalis was only twenty minutes, as the Russian captain had predicted, but it seemed to last forever to Cody. No one on board spoke much. Cody could see the golf course at the Lewis and Clark looming on the ground through the window as he looked over Nightshade’s shoulder. The Russian helicopter landed on the hotel lawn, and as they were all watching the CNN news monitor they actually saw themselves drop out of the sky. They could see themselves, their copter sitting on the grass. There was a crowd of what appeared to be easily ten thousand people who were being held back by U. S. Army military police, Washington State Patrol, and men in blue helmets who were presumably UN peacekeepers.
“That’s an awful lot of MPs,” said Morgan suspiciously.
“They’re probably petrified of these sidearms we’re carrying,” said Barrow.
“I can understand why,” chuckled the mountain man. “They’ve been on the receiving end enough times.”
“Okay, now what?” asked Barrow as the copter’s engines switched off. “Jane, you’re our protocol officer.”
Jane Chenault was talking on her cell phone. She hung up and said, “Yes, that was Mr. O’Connell. There’s a couple of problems already.” She stood up “All right, guys, this is our moment, eh? We still have a minute or two before we disembark, while they are rolling out the red carpet, literally. Well, actually, it looks to be some kind of green vinyl, but someone’s being considerate. Either they don’t want us to get our shoes muddy, or else they don’t want us tearing up their golf course. You can see on the TV that pavilion type of open tent they’ve got set up at the edge of the landing pad, like a big awning? That is where we are supposed to be greeted by the American delegation, which in addition to assorted flunkies will be comprised of Secretary of State Stanhope, General Brubaker, and Mr. Lodge. Howard Weintraub and Senator Galinsky are boycotting all functions where any member of the NVA is present other than the direct negotiating sessions themselves. So I guess us girls won’t be able to compare our formal gowns with hers.”
“Which is just fine and dandy by me!” exclaimed Barrow enthusiastically.
“Now, I’m just all torn up inside over that,” said Morgan, shaking his head woefully.
“I must confess, I wish to look at the face of Galinskaya as little as possible,” admitted Stepanov. "It is remarkably ugly, even for a Jewess.”
“That means they will have all the more time to skulk in the corners and plot against us,” warned McCausland grimly.
“Yes, well, we’re also being snubbed in the matter of mood music,” continued Jane Chenault. “The Americans had kindly arranged for the Marine Band to be present, and as we did our little stroll down the catwalk out there they were going to play an orchestrated version of the old Civil War ballad Two Brothers.”
“Thus implying that this is a civil war against fellow Americans who are basically our brothers and not a war against a vile and monstrous tyranny,” said Barrow dryly. “Nice little spin. One for them.”
“Well, apparently, Weintraub got all outraged at the idea of playing tunes for terrorists, and so they scratched the Marine band, and now there’s no music,” said Jane. “I was speaking to Chernilov. This bird has some exterior speakers, big ones, and he has some CDs, but they’re all Russian classical. I think the 1812 Overture cannon passages would be a bit over the top. He’s got the Nutcracker Suite, but do we really want to go face to face with America to the sound of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies? The only thing Chernilov’s got that he says would be appropriate is something called The Great Gate of Kiev.”
“Ah, Mussorgsky!” said Stepanov. “I know it. It’s perfect for us. Very solemn and dignified.”
“Also very Russian,” said Barrow glumly. “Jane, what do you think? Music or no music?”
“We carry Russian rifles and we arrived here in a Russian copter,” said Jane. “I think they know. I’d say go with the mellows. We also don’t know whether or not they’ve got people planted in the crowd to yell slogans and obscenities and whatnot at us, and generally cut a shine for the TV crews. They used to love to do that before 10/22. We might want some classical music to drown out any claques. You have to bear in mind that we haven’t done any media interviews up until now and we made the reptiles keep their distance down in Chehalis and Centralia, much to their frustration. So except for a few odd exceptions like Captain DiBella beating that reporter on camera in the Eastgate Mall, the world as a whole has never seen us except as faces on the post office wall. You might say this is our coming-out party, and they are all out there looking us over as fresh meat after a long hungry spell. From this moment on, in addition to all the government spies, the media are going to be all over us like ugly on an ape, eh? I’d say let’s make our entrance to some groovy vibes. It will give them one more fairly harmless thing to yammer about on the cable talk shows.”
“I feel like the aliens descending to earth in that old movie about close encounters,” Gair said.
“That’s how most of these people probably view us,” said Barrow. “Jane’s right. We’ve always been the hidden enemy, invisible except for our gun muzzle flashes in the dark. Okay, ponderous Russian entrance theme it is, and I hope Captain Chernilov has good musical taste.”
“Right, this ramp is wide enough to we can go down three abreast,” said Jane. “General Barrow, you and Commandant Morgan and myself need to step out first, to present contrast. Diversity, if you’ll pardon the expression.”
“You got the beauty on one side and the beast on the other, Frank,” laughed Morgan.
Comrade Chenault lined them all up in front of the rear door. “Now, the salute,” Jane said to Barrow. “When you reach General Brubaker, you should give him a snappy military-style salute. Not NS. The object is to see if he returns it. If he doesn’t, we’ll just ignore it and move on. But if he does that means he acknowledges the NVA as fellow soldiers, so this is an important political statement as well. It may also be a signal of their intentions for the whole conference.”
“No Heil Hitler?” asked Barrow.
“Oh, good Lord, no!” said Jane, shocked. “Really, General! You know and I know what that ancient salute of our race means. The overwhelming majority of the billions of people who will be witnessing this around the world do not. Remember, this is an historic event and we only get one take. Please, sir, don’t turn it into comic opera!”
“So I shouldn’t fart and spit when I shake hands with people?” asked Morgan.
“All right, this is it, comrades,” called Barrow. “When the ramp hits the ground just follow us out, we walked down this vinyl pathway they’ve laid out. Don’t try to march in step. We haven’t practiced drill and ceremonies, and we’ll just end up looking foolish. No goose-stepping or clowning around, just a calm normal walk. If anybody in the crowd yells, ignore them. No yelling back, no giving them the finger, nothing like that. I don’t think they’re close enough to throw things, but if they do, we just dodge their incoming and get on with this. We meet the Americans, and then…what?” He looked at Jane.
“We get on that electric courtesy van by the marquee, and they take us to our section of the hotel,” said Jane. “The Swedish peacekeeping team will follow with our baggage, loaded onto golf carts. We have Mr. O’Connell’s promise the bags won’t be tampered with. I’m not sure how much weight his word actually carries with the feds, but I don’t think they want to publicly embarrass him. It’s finally gotten through their heads that constantly baiting and humiliating Europeans isn’t exactly productive.”
“Is my beret jaunty-looking enough?” asked Emily.
“It jaunts fine,” Cody told her.
Barrow spoke on an intercom. “The pilot says they’ve got that vinyl walkway rolled out and they’re ready. Okay, Captain, let ‘er rip.”
“Rip?” came a Russian voice on the intercom. “What is rip, please?”
“Atkryti dvyer, Tovarich Capitan, y mozhna mui muzyika Mussorgsky yest? Spasiba!” called Stepanov into the intercom.
There was a sudden, dead silence broken only by the whirring of the electric motor on the door. The last words spoken before the ramp began to lower was when Emily said out loud, “Jesus, if my mom is watching this, she is going to kill me!”
Cody turned to her in amazement. “Where the hell does she think you’ve been all this time?” he demanded.
“She thinks I’m shacked up in a motel someplace with you, of course,” said Emily.
“Well, you are now,” returned Cody, as sudden laughter roared through the whole compartment. The result was that when the ramp touched ground and the NVA delegation marched out into the warm sunlight at Longview, they were relaxed and smiling. A red-faced man who looked like a construction worker in a suit met them and introduced himself as Seamus O’Connell, and asked them to follow him. The walk was about thirty yards to the tent, and suddenly the heavy rolling chords of Mussorgsky’s Great Gate of Kiev boomed out over the golf course and into the crowd, which had suddenly fallen silent. Here at last before them were the dreaded terrorists of the Northwest Volunteer Army, calm and confident and strolling across the intervening distance like they owned the place. And who was that foxy blonde right at the head of the group? And those other chicks? Didn’t the evil Nazis hate women and want to enslave them and turn them into sex toys and breeding stock? The Russian music drowned out the unheard but definitely present sounds of the first stereotype crumbling, not to mention the sound of John Wayne turning in his grave.
Under the marquee stood three men surrounded by a phalanx of flunkies in uniform and out. Behind them stood a row of television crews, cameras and boom mikes waving in the air. Walter Stanhope was tall and distinguished looking, a dark coiffure tinged elegantly with silver, a silk tie and a tasteful diamond stickpin. His face was studiously blank. Oliver Lodge was a quiet, small man of about fifty, dressed in a suit one had to look at closely in order to appreciate its expensive cut, and he looked like he was waiting in perfect patience for a train that wasn’t due for another few minutes, but which he was confident would arrive on time. Brubaker was fidgeting in full Air Force dress uniform that seemed a little too tight. He looked like a scowling bulldog. He clearly wished he was anywhere else on earth. O’Connell made the frosty introductions. “Gentlemen, I’m sure you’ve studied one another’s files, so you know who everyone is,” said the Irishman in mellifluous tones. “Now, shake hands for the cameras, and when you come out of your corners, give me a good clean fight.”
“Which is better for you, Mr. Stanhope?” asked Barrow. “Do you want me to stick my hand out for the cameras so you can let them see you refuse to shake it, or do you want me to not stick it out so you can moan about my not offering it?” Stanhope’s lip curled like he was sucking on a lemon and he stuck out his own hand, which Barrow grasped briefly. Lodge stepped forward and quietly shook Barrow’s hand without making a fuss, like they were meeting for a business lunch at Trader Vic’s or the Harvard Club.
“This is a bit awkward for us, General Barrow,” he said quietly. “None of us ever thought it would come to this. I’m sorry Mr. Weintraub and Senator Galinsky aren’t here, but I’m sure you understand how upsetting it is for them. Don’t worry, they’ll come around.”
“I’d rather they didn’t,” said Barrow. “We don’t want them here. We don’t want them anywhere.”
Behind him the Kentuckian stepped forward. “Name’s Morgan,” he rumbled, low and dangerous. “John C. Port Townsend Flying Column. I don’t cal’clate I’ll shake hands with you boys just yet. Maybe later on, when we got something to shake on.”
“Stepanov, Andrei Stavrovich,” said the Russian, with a small formal bow. “I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Secretary.”
“I’ve heard you are secretly a Russian military officer, sir,” Lodge asked him quietly. “Is that correct?”
“Actually, Mr. Lodge, before the war I was a copy machine repairman,” replied Stepanov.
Frank Barrow turned abruptly to General Brubaker, snapped to attention and saluted crisply. Caught off guard, out of sheer lifetime habit, Brubaker returned the salute, and the hovering television cameras caught it clearly. Barrow could even hear a few gasps from the crowd. Brubaker jerked down his hand from his cap visor and practically spluttered in chagrin, but Barrow had already turned away. Wildly he looked around, up and down the line of NVA people filing past, and he fastened on Cody and Nightshade. “My God, how old are you, son?” he demanded.
“Old enough to have made sure some of your lot never got any older, sir,” replied Cody politely.
“And you?” asked Brubaker in astonishment, looking at Emily.
“I’ll be old enough in a couple of weeks, then you can have my room number, big boy,” she simpered. O’Connell overheard them, leaned over, and said “Now, now, me girl, let’s leave off playin’ the silly buggers until we get to the negotiatin’ table.” He firmly shepherded both of them towards the courtesy van. It was over before they quite grasped it all, the doors of the van were shut, and they were rolling towards the imposing great hotel.
“Good job, Frank!” chortled Morgan. “Wrong-footed the bastards right from the first minute!” The reporters who clustered around the security-cordoned lobby entrance shouting questions at the NVA delegates noticed that they were all laughing as they got off the bus and were swept into the hotel by the Swedish UN troops. That and the amusement which had been captured on video when they first stepped off the copter gained them the nickname on that night’s cable shows of “The Laughing Terrorists.”