Read Fortunes of War Online

Authors: Stephen Coonts

Fortunes of War (12 page)

“Sooner or later, Jack, we are going to have to screw up the courage to start doing the right thing.”

“The difficulty is knowing what the right thing is.”

“No, sir. It is not. Overeducated quacks and New Age gurus can never see the right thing, but to people with a modicum of common sense the right thing is usually obvious. What everyone wants to avoid is the
of doing the right thing. Take Bosnia, for example, in the early nineties: the Serbs began murdering Muslims, committing genocide, killing every person who might exert an erg of leadership in the new Serbian utopia. They wanted to make the Muslims a slave people. This was a conscious choice, a policy choice of the Serb leadership
because they thought they could get away with it
. For three years, they did. For three years the American leaders wrung their hands, dithered, refused to use force against the Serbs. Genocide! Mass murder! Adolf Hitler's final solution one more time. We condoned it by refusing to lead the effort to stop it, by refusing to pay the price.”

“Bosnia might become another Vietnam, the liberals said.”

Hood took a deep breath, sighed deeply. “When you refuse to lift a hand to stop evil, you become a part of it. That's as true today as it was two thousand years ago. You watch, Jack. Tonight these people will argue about the dangers—the cost—of standing up to Japan. They will argue that Russia is a corrupt, misruled den of thieves with no one to blame but themselves for the fix they are in. The newspapers lately have been full of it. They will argue that we can't afford to get involved in someone else's fight. They will argue that this mess isn't our problem, that the United States is not the world's policeman. They will refuse to confront evil. Just watch.”

“People don't believe in evil anymore,” Innes reflected. “It's obsolete.”

“Oh no,” the president said with conviction. “Evil is alive and well in our time. The problem is that too many people have made their peace with it.”


The first real resistance to the Japanese occupation of Vladivostok came from squad- and platoon-sized groups of young troops led by junior officers. Without orders or coordination, they blocked streets and started shooting. These pockets of resistance were easily surrounded and wiped out. Still, Japanese troops attempting to link up and form a front across the peninsula were delayed. They called for tanks and armored cars to help mop up points of resistance. All of this cost time.

Two hours after dawn, several thousand Russian infantry were actively engaged. The belch of machine guns and the pop of grenades
was widespread in the northern parts of the city. Smoke from burning buildings and cars wafted over the city and the bay.

There was no resistance on Russian Island and in the area of the city around Golden Horn Bay because there were no Russian troops there. The police, outnumbered and grossly outgunned, surrendered without a shot. The unarmed civilian population had no choice; they merely watched and tried to stay out of the way.

By 7:00
, a squadron of Zero fighters was on the ground at Vladivostok airport, being refueled and rearmed with missiles and ammunition helicoptered in from a supply ship anchored a half mile out. A dozen helicopter gunships came ashore from another ship, and soon they were attacking Russian positions in the northern areas of the city.

Rain continued to mist down.


The sky was a clean, washed-out blue, with patches of long, thin, streaky clouds down below. On the horizon, the distant Rocky Mountains were blue and purple.

Against this background, Bob Cassidy was looking hard for airplanes. There were two smart-skinned F-22s out there, he knew, and they were joining on him. The damn things are like chameleons, he told himself, marveling that he couldn't see planes less than a mile away.

“Two, do you see me?”

“Got you, Hoppy Leader. I'm at your three o'clock, level. I'm heading three zero five degrees.”

“Lead's three one zero degrees, looking.”

He was looking in vain. The sky appeared empty.

“Three's at your nine o'clock, Hoppy. Level, joining heading three one five.”

Cassidy glanced left, caught something out of the corner of his eye. When he tried to focus on it, it wasn't there. He glanced at his tactical display in the center of his instrument panel. Yep, a wingman on each side, closing the distance, joining up.

He saw the man up-sun at about three hundred yards. He first appeared as a dark place in the sky, then gradually took the shape of an aircraft. He didn't see the down-sun man until he was about two hundred yards away. He was there, then he wasn't, and then he was, almost shimmering.

“This chameleon gear is flat terrific,” he told his wingmen over the scrambled radio channel.

The three fighters entered the break at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, and landed in order, one, two, three. The chameleon gear was off, of course.

They taxied to the ramp and shut down.

The hot, dry summer wind was like a caress on Cassidy's damp head when he removed his helmet. He waited until the ground crew got the ladder in place, then unstrapped and climbed slowly down.

He took a deep breath, removed his flight glove from his right hand. With his bare skin, he touched the skin of the airplane. It felt cool, smooth, hard.

An officer in blues came walking over. He saluted. “Colonel, we had a call for you from Washington, a Colonel Eatherly. Japan has attacked Vladivostok. They want you back in Washington immediately. They are sending a plane to pick you up. And he wants you to call as soon as possible.”


So it was really true. The shooting has started.

Bob Cassidy walked slowly around the F-22, inspecting it with unseeing eyes while he thought of the Japanese officers he knew and the Americans in Japan. He found himself standing in front of the wing root, staring at the little door that hid the mouth of the 20-mm Gatling gun.

He turned and walked quickly toward the maintenance shops. They would have a telephone he could use.


The late-evening meeting at the White House went about as the president expected. The evening had been long, filled with depressing news. The Japanese were overrunning the Russian Far East.

National Security Council staffers used maps and computer presentations to brief the group. When they finished, the mood was gloomy.

The consensus of the group was voiced by the Speaker of the House: “America must stay neutral: this is not our fight. We must do what we can as a neutral to stop the bloodshed.”

The president didn't say anything. Jack Innes argued the president's position in an impassioned plea.

our fight. Every American will be affected by today's events.
Every American has a stake in world peace. Every minute we delay merely increases the cost of the final reckoning. This is our moment. We must seize the initiative now, while we are able.”

Alas, his audience refused to listen.

On the way out of the meeting, the Senate leadership paused for a quiet conversation with the president.

“Mr. President, we hear that you are putting very severe pressure on the United Nations to censure Japan, to pass some binding security resolutions.”

“We are talking with other nations at the UN, certainly,” the president said suavely.

The Senate majority leader spoke carefully. “In my opinion, sir, it would be a major foreign policy mistake to maneuver the UN into the position of advocating the use of armed forces against Japan. My sense of the mood of the Senate is that my colleagues will not support such a policy. You might find yourself dangling from a very thin limb, sir, with no visible means of support. That would be embarrassing, to say the least.”

“Most embarrassing,” the president agreed. There was no smile on his face when he said it.

Chapter Eight

“Any gas, Jack?”

Bob Cassidy had driven from Washington, D.C. He poured himself a cup of coffee and was standing at the cash register in a gas station/convenience store on the outskirts of Baltimore. He could hear the distinctive sounds of a ballpark announcer coming from a radio, apparently one behind the counter.

“Are you Aaron Hudek?”

The man behind the counter looked him over before he nodded affirmatively. The announcer at the ballpark was getting excited. Hudek reached down and turned up the volume slightly. A home run.

Hudek was in his late twenties. His jeans were faded and his blue service shirt had a patch over the breast pocket that bore the name Bud. He was about six feet tall, maybe 180 pounds, with a well-developed upper body. An old blue Air Force belt held up his jeans.

“Your mom said you were working here.”

“Why don't you pay your bill and let the man behind you pay his?”

“Pump three, and coffee.” Cassidy forked over money. “My name's Cassidy. I need to talk to you.”

“What about?”

“A job.”

“I got one.” Hudek looked at the man behind Cassidy, who held up a quart of oil.

After Hudek pounded the register keys and finished counting the change, Cassidy added, “It's a flying job.”

Hudek's eyes flicked over Cassidy again. “I get off in about ten minutes, when the girl working the next shift comes in. We can talk then.”


It was closer to twenty minutes, but a tree beside the pavement threw some shade on a concrete bench. Cassidy was there when Hudek came walking over. He didn't sit.

“How'd you get my name?”

“From the Air Force files.”

“So you're government?”

“Colonel Bob Cassidy, at least for a few more days.”

“What's the job?” Hudek asked matter-of-factly. He showed no interest in sitting. He didn't seem nervous or in a hurry. He just stood with his arms crossed, looking at Cassidy.

“Have you heard that Japan invaded Siberia?”

“It's been on the radio for a couple days.”

“I'm looking for people with F-22 experience.” Cassidy went on explaining while he watched Hudek's expression. He might as well have been talking in Hindi for all the impression he made. Hudek's expression didn't change an iota. Looking at him you would find it hard to believe he was an honors graduate in electrical engineering from MIT. One of the “10 percenters,” as Cassidy called them. The military flight programs had been so competitive the last twenty years, a person had to be in the top 10 percent of his class at every stage of his life—high school, college, and flight training—if he expected to fly the hot jets. Hudek was brilliant, a superb student, athletic, in perfect health, and he could fly the planes. Yet somewhere, somehow, it had all gone wrong for him.

When Cassidy stopped speaking, Hudek turned his head, checking the vehicles going into and out of the service area, then turned back. “Russia, huh?”


“Well, it's amazing.”

“What is?”

“That you're here. Didn't you read my last evaluation? My last skipper thought I was a stupid son of a bitch, and he said so in just about those words.”

“I read it. I don't give a damn about paperwork or saluting or parking-lot etiquette.”

read it.”

“I need fighter pilots.”

“Well, I really ain't interested. All that is behind me now. I haven't flown in three months. Don't miss it. Don't miss the pissy little Caesars in their cute blue uniforms, either.”

“This isn't the peacetime Air Force. This is war, the real thing. I guarantee you, there will be no strutting martinets, no shoe polish, no bullshit.”

“I've heard that song before,” Hudek said with a sneer. “Now I'm
supposed to raise my right hand, then sign on the dotted line. What if you just happen to be wrong? What if your little operation is more of the same fucked-up fire drill I just got out of? Then I'm already in and it's my tough luck, huh?”

“I'll be right there with you. If I'm wrong, we'll still be in it together.”

“You're going to be there?” Hudek was incredulous.

“Yep. Are you?”

Hudek put his hands in his pockets and flexed his shoulders. “Don't believe so,” he drawled finally. “Even if it's what you say, I've got some other things going. I've done the military thing and it's time to move on, go on down the road. There's this girl…. She sorta likes me, wants me to settle down, have a kid. Got a deposit down on a little tract house going up in a subdivision near here. Ain't much, but it'll be all mine.”


“I'm tired of dicking with paper-pushers, tired of always doing what some fathead who happens to be senior to me thinks we oughta do…tired of trying to
look good

Cassidy got up and dusted his trousers. Then he passed Hudek his card, on which he had written the telephone number of his hotel in Crystal City. “Call me. Let me know what you decide.”

“I'm doing that very thing right this minute, Colonel. I'm letting you know. I have definitely decided. Absolutely decided. I don't want to go to a fucking Siberian icebox.”

“Call me.”

“I am
going to call you. Listen!
I don't want to go
. I don't even like their food!”

“Tonight. Late. I have another guy to call on. Maybe you know him—Lee Foy?”

“Damnation, can't you hear me? Ain't my mouth working right? I ain't calling you tonight or any other time. I'm telling you right here and now
—I'm not going to Russia
. I don't do Third World shitholes. And I never heard of Foy.”

“He said he knows you. Said he met you a couple years back during the F-22 op eval. Said you were a real good stick but you had a shitty personality. Said you'd give me a ration of crap.”

“Oh! Foy Sauce, the California Chink. Yeah, I know that lying little slant-eyed bastard. Is he going?”


“Jesus, taking Foy Sauce—you clowns must be scraping the bottom
of the barrel. They're going to shoot all you people down. You'll all be dead in a week.”

“Call me tonight.”

“Where is Foy these days, anyway?”

Cassidy didn't reply. He unlocked his car and got behind the wheel.

Hudek stood watching Cassidy as he piloted the rental car slowly toward the street. He was still standing there when Cassidy went through the light at the corner and glanced back, just before he turned left.


Lee Foy was living in McLean, Virginia. He was an up-and-coming real estate agent. “I'm making a ton of money,” he told Cassidy. “I don't speak a solitary word of Chinese, but the company assigns me to every Hong Kong businessman or Chinese official coming to the Washington-Baltimore area. I always make the sale. Being a hyphenated American has its advantages. I'm getting rich.”

“I've always wondered what a number two in a Stanford graduating class did with his life.”

Lee Foy beamed. “Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, believe me.”

“Number one in your flight school class, number two in your class at test pilot school. That right?”

“All that is behind me. I'm making serious money now.”

“Uh-huh. Well, I talked to Hudek. You were right about him. He's a jerk of the first water.”

“Good stick, though. Funny thing, but I never met a saint flying a fighter plane.”

“So, are you going to give up all this good living and easy money and come fly for the Russians?”

“Hell no. I told you that yesterday.”

“That was your wallet talking. The shooting has started. Now I appeal to your patriotism, your manhood, your sense of duty.”

“My wallet covers all those things. I'm making good money and I like it a lot.”

“It'll still be here when you get back.”

“When I get back, some other Charlie Chan will be sopping up the gravy, Colonel. The world doesn't stand still for anyone. And we both know that my chances of coming back aren't red-hot.”

“The chances aren't bad, or I wouldn't be going.”

“Don't shit me, Colonel. If you make it, you'll come back a brigadier.
Cassidy. You'll retire on a general's pension. You'll spend the rest of your days lying around some 0-club sucking suds, fat and sassy, schmoozing about the good ol' days with old farts in yellow golf slacks and knit shirts decorated with ponies and alligators while you wait for the next retirement check to show up in the mail. Me, if I live through this little adventure, I'll come back a year or two older and a whole lot poorer, with a bout or two of dysentery and a couple cases of clap on my medical record. I'll have to rent apartments to crack addicts to make a buck. Thanks, but no thanks. I'll stay right here in the good ol' US of A and keep the good times rolling.”

“How did you ever become a fighter pilot, Foy, a cynical, money-grubbing bastard like you? You're a damned civilian.”

“I could make that plane dance, Cassidy. Ask Hudek. But that wasn't a living. Selling real estate to the ‘Ah so' crowd is a living. Making the sale is my thing.” He pointed downward. “See these shoes? Damn things are alligator. Cost five hundred bucks a pair on sale for thirty percent off.”

“What's your point?”

“I'm tired of being poor, man. My wall is covered with diplomas I can't spend. I've seen the money and I want some.”

“The Russian government will pay five thousand for every Japanese plane you bag.”

“Five thousand what? Bongo bucks? Yuan, yen, pesos, rubles? Man, that stuff is toilet paper.”

“U.S. dollars.”

“That'll be easy to earn. I'll go up every morning and knock down two bad guys before breakfast. Seriously, Colonel, I make that much selling a condo and I don't have to risk anything to get it. I don't have to bleed, either.”

“Hudek told me not to take you to Siberia. Said you'd be dead in a week. He called you Foy Sauce. Said you can't fly for shit.”

“Fuck Fur Ball. And tell him I said so.” Hudek's nickname was fighter pilot jargon for a dogfight, so named because a computer presentation of two or more three-dimensional flight paths resembled something from a cat's tummy.

Cassidy shrugged.

“Hudek and I weren't butt-hole buddies, but he knew damn well I could fly that plane.”

Cassidy fingered his card. He had written the telephone numbers on it in ink.

“You look at my evals, Colonel. My skippers knew what I could do.”

Cassidy tucked his card in Foy's shirt pocket and turned away.

“You see Fur Ball again,” Foy called, “you tell him I'll kick his ass on the ground or in the sky. His choice.”


Cassidy rented a car at the airport in Cheyenne and drove. He went through two thunderstorms and passed close to another. By the time he reached Thermopolis he estimated that he had seen four hundred antelope.

He got directions at the biggest filling station in town. “Which way to Cottonwood Creek?”

The house was at the end of a half mile of dirt road. It had a roof, four walls, and all the windows had glass, but it didn't look like it would be very comfy during a Wyoming winter, when the cold reached twenty below and the snow blew in horizontal sheets. The thought of a Wyoming winter reminded Cassidy of Siberian winters, and he shivered.

A man in bib overhauls came out of the dilapidated little barn next to the house.

“You Paul Scheer?”


“Bob Cassidy.”

Scheer came strolling over. “Somebody called from Washington, said you were coming, but I told them you were wasting your time. Did they give you that message?”

“I got it.”

“Well, it's your time. I got a couple beers in the fridge.”


There was a redbone hound on the porch. Only his tail moved, a couple of thumps, then it lay still. “He came with the ranch,” Scheer said, nodding at the dog. Cassidy lowered himself into one of the two porch chairs while Scheer went inside for the beer.

The wind was blowing about ten or twelve knots from the northwest, a mere zephyr. The brush and grass near the house were low, sort of hunkered down, not like the flowers and lush bushes in Japan and Washington, where the winters were milder and the summers twice as long. Cassidy took a deep breath—he could smell the land.

When he and Scheer were drinking beer from cans, Cassidy asked, “How much ranch you got here?”

“About thirty thousand acres. Fifty-five hundred acres are deeded; the rest is a BLM grazing lease.”

“How many cows?”

“Three hundred and thirty cow-calf units.”

“Sounds military as hell.”

“Doesn't it?”

“As I understand it, Paul, you left the Air Force in 1995 after ten years of active duty, worked for Lockheed-Martin as a test pilot in the F-22 program until last year, then quit and moved to this ranch out here in the middle of Wyoming.”

“That's accurate.”

“If you don't mind my asking, what's a place like this worth?”

Scheer grinned, displaying perfect teeth. The thought crossed Cassidy's mind that some women would consider Scheer handsome.

“What it's worth and what I paid for it are two completely different things. I paid two million. Now, your next question is, ‘Where did ol' Scheer get two million dollars.' The answer is, ‘Out of my four oh one (k) plan.' I'm single, live modestly, don't have any expensive vices. The stock market has been doing fine the last fifteen years, and I have, too. Saw an ad for this ranch one day, got to thinking about it. You know, as I was looking at that ad, it came to me that the time had come. The time had come to cash out and do something stupid. Haven't regretted it one minute since.”

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