He turned to Ross. "If this was a technical failure on the part of the Russian and the Air Force is dealing with only one single missile, you can consider the job done. That's what General Dagmar said."
"Who the heck is General Dagmar?" Ross answered without looking up. "I never heard the name Dagmar mentioned before."
"General Dagmar is my sweetheart girl at the regional NORAD control center. She is the nightshift communications officer. She has ordered every aircraft to intercept that is in the air near Johnston Base. She has also broadcast the alert to every station at Langley Base and got three replies already. She further alerted the Air National Guard in Richmond. Our best bet is Langley, though. They've got the right platforms. They got AWACs. They can track this thing with their AWACs that can guide the fighters right to the tail pipe to shoot the cruise down. Dag said, consider it done. She didn't even seem concerned. Of course, if what we saw coming was just a small part of a planned attack, with swarms of these coming in from all sides..."
"God help us then!" said Ross and cut Tony off.
Ross got the scope tracking the boat again. By then the boat had turned towards the open sea, possibly trying to get away from Captain Simons' cutter.
"They won't outrun the Coast Guard," said Ross. "It's just a matter of time before Jack will catch up with them." He took the phone again.
The computer kept tracking the boat. We watched it steaming out to sea. We watched it with bated breath, though there wasn't anything exciting to see. Ross seemed to have gotten through to the Coast Guard. "Let me speak to Captain Simons... What do you mean, you can't allow..."
As he spoke the tracking screen went white. I noticed a flash far out over the water. Then came the sound of an explosion. It must have been a huge explosion for the sound of it to travel so far over the wind. When the tracking picture cleared, the boat was no longer visible. There was floating debris. The boat hadn't actually sunk. It had disintegrated as though it had been filled to the brim with dynamite.
Ross relayed the event over the phone. "No, that couldn't have been Jack shooting at them. You of all people should know that the Coast Guard doesn't carry large weapons," he said. "It was either a suicide blast, or a kill by a submarine."
While we watched, a sub surfaced, probably looking for survivors.
"I don't think they want any witnesses left behind," said Sylvia.
We saw people at the tower of the sub shooting into the water.
"What a waste of fine sailors!" commented Ross. "Damn it all!!!"
"I can't believe what I'm seeing," mumbled Tony. "It looks like the guys on the sub are shooting at something all right. Why would they be killing the survivors?"
"Maybe they are shooting to sink some equipment that is still afloat," commented Ross.
Minutes later the sub submerged again.
"Jack may be in great danger!" said Ross and picked up the telephone again. "Why can't you stop Captain Jack Simons? He must stay out of this area! The submarines mean business. They appear to have shot their own survivors or whatever else floated about... Radio silence! My God, break the radio silence! You can't let Captain Simons run into this trap... Sure you can come and see the whole thing on video tape, but you better have Jack with you!"
Twenty minutes later, Captain Jack Simons and his crew sat with us in the living room. The tape was rewinding. The phone to the Coast Guard was still open. The CIA was on its way with a chartered floatplane to pick up the tapes. More people from the nearby Coast Guard and Navy station were also coming up. But before any of them arrived we had a private celebration.
"Hooray, the fly boys got the cruise shut down!" shouted Ross, with the phone still in his hand. "They've got it! They've got it! They got it ten miles out of Arlington."
I shuddered, realizing how close it had come. Another thirty miles and Washington would have been a wasteland.
They had told Ross on the phone that thanks to our warning, and someone hitting the right buttons at Langley Base, bypassing all the lines of command, they had been able to get three AWACs in the air. Thanks to General Dagmar the entire elite fighter team had volunteered. The team from Seymour Johnson base had established a radar sighting. The sighting had provided data for the AWACS to be pre-positioned. The rest, they said, was nothing more than a simple textbook exercise. Ross also said that the Russians denied any knowledge of the incident, and this, he added, was very, very good.
We watched the video tape three times that night, once with captain Simons, once more with the chaps from the Navy, and once after that with the CIA agents who dropped by on a helicopter and took the tape away. After that, suddenly, everyone left.
It was rather strange to have peace again. But the peace was superficial. Questions and arguments arose in my mind, none of which made much sense because we would never know what really had happened. The final secret went to the bottom of the sea with the men who had launched the missile.
The commander of the spy ship might have been drunk, or trigger-happy, or gone crazy under the pressure of the circumstances. Or the launch might have been caused by malfunctioning equipment, or by a plain honest mistake by one of the sailors who had worked too hard and too long under extreme stress in bad weather. Or something went wrong during the chaos while they were trying to outrun the approaching Coast Guard cutter.
The one thing I found odd though, was that the Russians didn't alert us that an accident had happened, and more than that, that none of our automatic sensing equipment had detected the cruise. It had slipped by our radar, our sound sensors, and our infrared detectors. Maybe the accident was good for us. Obviously, we needed better equipment with more modern technology. Maybe we needed laser radar technology or something else based on new physical principles.
After everyone had left, none of us felt like going to bed. Who could sleep after that? Ross turned his telescope on and set the computer up to scan for more boats. We didn't get to bed until four in the morning. Around three, Ross got another bottle of wine from the cellar. But nobody felt like celebrating. We had come through the most decisive event, probably in all of human history, as Ross suggested, and had narrowly averted a global disaster. Still, nobody felt like celebrating. No glasses were raised, no speeches were made. We sipped at the wine and hardly talked. The episode was like a horrible dream. There was no feeling of victory, only the kind of emptiness one feels after a nightmare.
If it were not for the dirt on the floors and the filled ashtrays as testimonials, it might all have been a nightmare indeed, so unreal did it seem.
We decided to scrub the floors before going to bed. I never thought it could be an invigorating exercise, scrubbing floors, waxing and polishing them.
We tidied up until the early morning news came on. It was the most wonderful newscast imaginable. There was a brief mentioning of the sinking of an unidentified fishing vessel during a storm off the coast of North Carolina. It was all packed into a single sentence that revealed nothing. Then came the sports report. Nothing was said about a Russian missile, about submarines, about the total failure of our coastal electronic detection system. Not a word was said about the entire, narrowly avoided, potential catastrophe. The door was kept open thereby, for diplomacy.
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