SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14TH, 1550 HOURS
The witnesses standing at the edge of the field were staring in horrified silence, too stunned to speak. The scene that lay before them was grotesque, a primeval nightmare dredged up from some deep, dark depths of primitive man’s collective unconscious. Each witness had a different reaction. One fainted. A second one vomited. A woman was shaking uncontrollably. Another one thought: I’m going to have a heart attack! The elderly priest clutched his beads and crossed himself. Help me, Father. Help us all. Protect us against this evil incarnate. We have finally seen the face of Satan. It is the end of the world. Judgement Day has come.
Armageddon is here … Armageddon … Armageddon …
Sunday, October 14th, 2100 Hours
TOP SECRET ULTRA
NSA TO DEPUTY DIRECTOR COMSEC
SUBJECT: OPERATION DOOMSDAY
NOTIFY NORAD, CIRVIS, GEPAN, DIS, GHG, VSAF, INS
END OF MESSAGE
Sunday, October 14th, 2115 Hours
TOP SECRET ULTRA
NSA TO DEPUTY DIRECTOR –
NAVAL INTELLIGENCE 17TH DISTRICT
SUBJECT: COMMANDER ROBERT BELLAMY
ARRANGE TEMPORARY TRANSFER THIS AGENCY,
YOUR CONCURRENCE IN THE ABOVE IS ASSUMED
END OF MESSAGE
Monday, October 15th
He was back in the crowded hospital ward at Cu Chi Base in Vietnam, and Susan was leaning over his bed, lovely in her crisp, white nurse’s uniform, whispering, “Wake up, sailor. You don’t want to die.”
And when he heard the magic of her voice, he could almost forget his pain. She was murmuring something else in his ear, but a loud bell was ringing and he could not hear her clearly. He reached up to pull her closer and his hands clutched empty air.
It was the sound of the telephone that brought Robert Bellamy fully awake. He opened his eyes reluctantly, not wanting to let go of the dream. The telephone at his bedside was insistent. He looked at the clock. Four a.m. He snatched up the telephone, angry at having his dream interrupted. “Do you know what the hell time it is?”
“Commander Bellamy?” A deep, male voice.
“I have a message for you, Commander. You are ordered to report to General Hilliard at National Security Agency Headquarters at Fort Meade at 0600 this morning. Is the message understood, Commander?”
“Yes.” And no. Mostly no.
Commander Robert Bellamy slowly replaced the receiver, puzzled. What the devil could NSA want with him? He was assigned to ONI, Office of Naval Intelligence. And what could be urgent enough to call for a meeting at six o’clock in the morning? He lay down again and closed his eyes, trying to recapture the dream. It had been so real. He knew, of course, what had triggered it. Susan had telephoned the evening before.
The sound of her voice did to him what it always did. He took a shaky breath. “Hello, Susan.”
“Are you all right, Robert?”
“Sure. Fantastic. How’s Moneybags?”
“All right. How’s Monte Banks?”
He could not bring himself to say “your husband”. He was her husband.
“He’s fine. I just wanted to tell you that we’re going to be away for a little while. I didn’t want you to worry.”
That was so like her, so Susan. He fought to keep his voice steady. “Where are you going this time?”
“We’re flying to Brazil.”
On Moneybags’ private 727.
“Monte has some business interests there.”
“Really? I thought he owned the country.”
“Stop it, Robert. Please.”
There was a pause. “I wish you sounded better.”
“If you were here, I would.”
“I want you to find someone wonderful and be happy.”
“I did find someone wonderful, Susan.” The damned lump in his throat made it difficult for him to speak. “And do you know what happened? I lost her.”
“If you’re going to do this, I won’t call you again.”
He was filled with sudden panic. “Don’t say that. Please.” She was his lifeline. He could not bear the thought of never speaking to her again. He tried to sound cheerful. “I’m going to go out and find some luscious blonde and screw us both to death.”
“I want you to find someone.”
“I’m concerned about you, darling.”
“No need. I’m really fine.” He almost gagged on his lie. If she only knew the truth. But it was nothing he could bring himself to discuss with anyone. Especially Susan. He could not bear the thought of her pity.
“I’ll telephone you from Brazil,” Susan said.
There was a long silence. They could not let go of each other, because there was too much to say, too many things that were better left unsaid, that had to be left unsaid.
“I have to go now, Robert.”
“I love you, baby. I always will.”
“I know. I love you too, Robert.”
And that was the bittersweet irony of it. They still loved each other so much.
You two have the perfect marriage, all their friends used to say. What had gone wrong?
Commander Robert Bellamy got out of bed, and walked through the silent living room in his bare feet. The room screamed out Susan’s absence. There were dozens of photographs of Susan and himself scattered around, frozen moments in time. The two of them fishing in the Highlands of Scotland, standing in front of a Buddha near a Thai klong, riding a carriage in the rain through the Borghese gardens in Rome. And in each picture they were smiling and hugging, two people wildly in love.