"Thanks my friend!" she said, and tapped him on the shoulder.
The pickup squad must have wondered why none of us were the least bit surprised when the chief officer suddenly stepped into the room from out of the balcony while we sat at the table and had coffee. The squad had patiently waited there. Maybe they wanted to catch us exchanging secrets or something like that. Since nothing of the sort happened, or maybe the coffee smelled too good, they gave up waiting and came in.
"Nobody move!" the officer commanded us in broken English, pointing his gun at us. He said we were all under arrest. He was accompanied by two lesser-ranking uniformed officers. He himself wore a gray business suit and a crumpled raincoat. I was tempted to laugh. He resembled Lt. Colombo down to a hair, from the famous TV series. He even acted in the same manner, in the most predictable way. "I never thought that the real world would catch up with the comics," I said to myself. I found it difficult to take the man seriously, or to be scared of him. I was tempted to laugh. This though, would have gone too far.
It seemed that we all had our fun with him, even Ushi. However, it also seemed that our TV character in the Lt. Colombo script was definitely more intelligent.
"Please comrades have a coffee," said Ushi gently, without even looking up at them. She had three extra cups on the table, and spoons. Evidently she knew that this was the wrong thing to say. She couldn't suppress a smile at me. It inspired a sense of compassion for them.
Of course there were accusations made, talk about bribery, disrespect for the law, conspiracy to commit espionage. Our passports were collected up. The man took off his coat and paced up and down the living room, lecturing Ushi and Steve on the virtues of patriotism while one of his uniformed fellows took our passports away with him, to have them checked.
Colombo shouted like a general driving a cavalry regiment into a charge. In that, he was unlike the quiet Colombo from the TV series. The whole neighborhood must have heard him. And then there was the weighty matter of the three extra cups! Ushi made gestures that she could explain them. But he rambled on about this being evidence that we were waiting for more spies from the CIA, and he wanted names. He had his note pad ready.
"Comrades, these cups were for you," said Ushi smiling. "I thought you would probably get cold hiding out on the balcony. You should have parked the pickup car further away."
That's when Ross stood up like he might have stood against the demonstrators in Pittsburgh. Compared to 'Colombo' Ross was a giant of a man. Ross put his hand on Colombo's shoulder. "I might as well confess, Sir. I'm the CIA man you are after."
The man made him sit down and be quiet.
"No, no, I really do work for the CIA," Ross insisted, "but not as a spy. I'm a naval observer stationed at the coast of North Carolina where a Soviet trawler launched a cruise missile three nights ago, against Washington, DC."
"Lies, lies," shouted the man before hearing Ross out. "Lies won't get anyone off the hook."
"I suppose you had better verify his story," said Ushi.
"That won't be possible," said Ross, "the Soviet Union denies that it happened."
"Oh, there are ways," said Ushi. "My boss, General Gerber, has connections. He will know."
Our little Colombo twitched and got pale when the name General Gerber was mentioned. He sent his other uniformed officer to the pay phone to talk to General Gerber!
Now we waited. While we waited hardly a word was spoken. Tony and Heather looked quite pale. The silence became tense. 'Colombo' paced the room again, and I had the same uncomfortable feeling that I have had during my first experience in East Germany, while waiting for my passport to be returned at the checkpoint. Only Steve didn't seem to be bothered in the least. He made himself a glass of soda water with lemon slices and ice cubes, and another one for me, and started telling me that someone had actually found a way of accelerating nuclear particles at a speed greater than the speed of light. And since Colombo who apparently had trouble writing in English, wrote every word down that was spoken, he became extremely occupied. Soon Steve began asking about the cruise missile crisis. "How close did the thing get to Washington?"
"Would you believe Arlington?" answered Ross.
Ross looked over Colombo's shoulder. "No, Arlington is spelled ending with I N G T O N," he corrected the police lieutenant, or whatever his rank was.
"I can see why your President goes to such extreme measures," said Steve. He added as a concession, "but giving the Soviet Union the Star Wars project as a gift, that's most generous and quite unexpected."
"That's what he wants to do, and that is why he needs to have the best scientist and journalist there, like Ushi and you," said Ross, "someone we can trust to cover the occasion without misunderstanding it."
"Arlington?" asked Tony. "I thought they shot the cruise down closer to Norfolk with three E-3 Sentry AWACs tracking it."
"It must have been one of their new stealth cruise missiles that are hard to see on radar," said Ross. "It was probably a naval adaptation of their modified version of the ASX-17. Its frame is made of synthetic fibers covered with a radar-absorbing paint. Also, its shape is designed so that its surface contains no flat area, but scatters whatever radar waves would be reflected back."
"Actually, the E-3 AWACs don't detect a stealth aircraft directly," said Tony, "because there is no radar reflection from a stealth aircraft. They can detect it only by a faint traveling void that a stealth aircraft creates when there is a highly reflective background beneath it."
This was Tony's contribution for the benefit of the lieutenant.
"The AWACs' computers are searching for shadows that change position," Tony continued. "The tracking officers then relay the position to the pilots with constant updates. To a pilot chasing one of these, its like chasing a fifteen foot kite going six hundred miles an hour at an altitude of less then two hundred feet. Just try to chase a thing like that with an F-15 in bad weather. You have to rely totally on the AWACs to guide you to within a few hundred feet of it until your own radar catches it to lock in the weapon systems. The F-15 Eagle is the most advanced flying computing center you can imagine. The computer tracks all radar sightings automatically, both above and below the aircraft, from close up to beyond visual range. The targeting is totally reliable. Once a lock has been established the target is taken care of. The computer does the rest. The system can track seven targets simultaneously. But when it comes to cruise missiles that are small and agile, and hard for the radar to keep in lock, the system breaks down. Then you have to go for visual and use your gun. Add bad weather and cloudiness, and you really don't know what you're shooting at. These cruise missile kites are really too small for visual tracking, at least they were so on the simulators."
"I've been told that it was a heat-locking air-to-air missile that got the cruise missile down," said Ross, "But why did they track it for so long? That is a mystery to me."
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