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       Hawx (2009), p.21

           Tom Clancy
 
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  She had not, however, invited him to stay the night. When he had gone to see her, at least part of him had been yearning for that, but the frostiness of their previous meeting still remained as a barrier to the renewal of the sparks that once had flown between them. Hal Coughlin was still the unseen but strongly felt third presence in the room whenever Troy and Jenna were together.

  Today, however, Troy was not in the room with Jenna. He was in a crowded elevator in an office building on Washington's "Lobbyist Gulch."

  Hardly anyone noticed Troy--not that people do anything but conspicuously ignore one another in crowded elevators--but he could tell that they all were noticing what he was carrying. It was nearly lunchtime, and he was carrying two large, steaming pizzas with extra meat and extra cheese.

  Once, the U. S. Air Force had trusted him with eight figures' worth of high-tech airplane. Today--his second on the job--Mr. Mahmud had trusted him to deliver two large pizzas.

  There are actually many places in Washington, D. C., or any major city, where someone who doesn't want to share his true identity can find a job. Such was the case with Troy when he realized that his money was running short, and he saw the HELP WANTED sign in Mr. Mahmud's window. It was a small place with just three tables, but being in the proximity of K Street, it did an enormous takeout business. The only question Mahmud asked was, "When can you start?"

  Troy wondered if he had made the right decision to come to Washington. If he had chosen to keep the Los Angeles ticket, would things be any different? He would still be dead--unless he wanted Harris to know that he wasn't. At least his parents had access to his bank account--they had inherited it--and he wouldn't have to be delivering pizzas.

  He made the decision to come to Washington because he was obsessed with confronting and stopping Harris, but he had no plan.

  How?

  When?

  Where?

  Troy wished that he had gone to the Capitol on the day when Harris was testifying before Congress. He could have just walked up to him in front of a dozen television cameras.

  He could see the headlines, and he could imagine the creepers on the news channel screens.

  Firehawk Hero Confronts Firehawk Boss.

  Did Firehawk CEO Attempt to Murder Firehawk Hero? Would they even bother to figure out who Troy was before Firehawk security hustled him away?

  Unidentified Pizza Man Assaults the Great Raymond Harris.

  Would they even notice Troy before Firehawk security hustled him away?

  Journalists Ignore Another Nutcase.

  The lobbyists who'd ordered the two large pizzas were discussing the PMC takeover of the government as Troy arrived. While lie was making change, he overheard them talking excitedly about the business opportunities that would present themselves. There were so many rules and restrictions involved in the red tape of lobbying government agencies. Now that they would be lobbying private companies for essentially the same business, it would be much easier. They were excited and in a buoyant mood. Troy walked away with a twenty-dollar tip.

  "THAT DUDE HARRIS, HE'S GONNA KICK SOME ASS tomorrow," Vicente observed a few days later, as he rolled pizza dough with his eyes glued to the television set that was bolted to the wall high above the counter.

  "You think so?" Troy asked.

  It was a slow time of day, just before the lunchtime rush, and the two men were taking care of their prep work. "Yeah, man."

  Like Troy, Vicente had a past that he didn't talk about, but Mr. Mahmud didn't care. He paid them in cash, and he paid them pretty well. They made pizzas, and they made them pretty well. Who would have thought that a guy from Sinaloa who probably had felony warrants in his name on both sides of the border would take such an interest in American politics.

  "I hope he does, man," Vicente continued in accented English. "This dude Fachearon ain't got no cojones, man. I like this dude Harris."

  "You think he's gonna kick Fachearon's ass?"

  "Don't you?" Vicente asked. "That's what they're all saying on TV, y'know."

  "Where did you get your interest in American politics?" Troy asked.

  "It used to be so boring, man. I been here eight years . . . first time I've seen all this excitement, man. Back in Sinaloa, you get somebody like Fachearon who can't do nothing . . . he's in deep shit. Even if he don't wanna be gone, he's gone, man. This is cool, man. This Harris is cool. What he's doin' to Fachearon, man, is cool. I like to watch it. Up here . . . really boring .. . until now."

  "So you like Harris?"

  "Fachearon's a weak man. Everybody can see that. America needs a strong man. You need a strong man to show the world who's boss. Everybody says he's the man."

  News and political gossip are the lifeblood of Washington, D. C. The flow of such chatter was the sustenance that underpinned the politicians, the journalists, the pundits, the news junkies, and the anonymous guys who made the pizzas that kept them going. Each day, Troy saw this lifeblood grow more and more bizarre as President Albert Bacon Fachearon fought an uphill battle against the rising tide of the PMCs. For Troy, the most bizarre thing about it all was that nobody else seemed to find it strange that Congress was on the verge of privatizing the executive branch. Some opposed it on its merits, but none on the sheer peculiarity of the concept.

  Congress was doing what it does best. It held hearings while its members were taped doing sound bites and appeared on morning talk shows. What Congress had not done--at least not yet--was take a vote.

  An impatient Raymond Harris complained, telling an interviewer that in the private sector, decisions were made quickly--especially important decisions like this. The pundits quickly did what they do best, criticizing Congress for dithering. Like Harris, with whom they had become captivated, the journalists waited impatiently for Congress to take a vote.

  Troy opened a big plastic bag of mozzarella cheese and glanced up at the television. He was almost getting used to seeing Raymond Harris's name on the screen.

  News Alert: Harris to Appear, read the screaming yellow and red headline.

  The talking head was standing in front of the Capitol quoting Harris, who had just said it was time for decisive action, and explaining that Harris would be back on the Hill tomorrow, advocating a vote.

  "So will I," Troy said, looking at the screen.

  "Huh?" Vicente asked.

  "I gotta tell Mr. Mahmud that I'm gonna be late tomorrow," Troy said. "I've got something to do in the morning."

  Chapter 47

  U. S. Capitol, Washington, D. C.

  "WHAT'S GOING ON?" TROY ASKED A MAN STANDING near the barricade.

  He had gotten an early start Friday morning on his hike to the Hill. He knew that Raymond Harris was scheduled to testify at 9:00 A. M., but he wanted to be sure that he was on hand when the Firehawk CEO's limo arrived. What he found was an unusual flurry of activity as one black Town Car after another sped up to the Capitol steps to disgorge passengers.

  "I heard they called Congress into session this morning for a vote on this PMC deal," the man said. "All the senators and congressmen are showing up."

  "Nobody wants to be absent for this vote," interjected a woman who was standing nearby. "It's about time if you ask me. They've been sitting on this thing for weeks. It's like General Harris says . . . they've gotta get off their duffs and make a decision already."

  "Is Harris coming up today?" Troy asked. "They said on the news yesterday that he was supposed to testify."

  "All the committee hearings were canceled," said a Capitol policeman who was standing near the crowd barricade. "Everybody's going to be in their chambers for the House vote and then maybe a Senate vote this afternoon."

  Feeling defeated, Troy turned away from the barricade and headed down the hill on Pennsylvania Avenue toward the pizza parlor. He would be there well before the lunch rush. The vote in favor of turning the executive branch over to Harris and the PMCs was widely reported as a foregone conclusion. The analysis by every news channel showed that the
opposition just didn't have the votes to block the tidal wave of inevitability.

  Things were busier than usual at Mr. Mahmud's that day. A lot of people were making a bit of a party out of watching the live television pictures from Capitol Hill.

  "Didn't expect to see you 'til this afternoon," the proprietor said as Troy arrived.

  "I got done earlier than I thought," Troy said. "So I thought I'd come in."

  "Good thing you did," Mr. Mahmud said. "I need help here at the take-out counter."

  Troy was glad that it was busy. It took his mind off his distress over a missed opportunity to confront Harris. After today, if there actually was a vote, Harris would be unlikely to show up in public. Unlike politicians, CEOs didn't have to show up to smile at voters.

  He watched the television out of the corner of his eye as congressmen were going on the record from the floor with last-minute statements. He couldn't hear the audio, but the creepers kept him abreast of the essentials.

  At last, it finally came time for the vote. The people seated at the few small tables craned their necks to watch, and Mr. Mahmud turned up the volume. Most of the people ordered a second soft drink.

  The roll call began, and within moments, the Executive Branch Management Bill, the bill to put the executive branch in the hands of a consortium of PMCs headed by the Firehawk CEO, had a lopsided majority in favor.

  Then, a strange thing happened.

  The vote in the House of Representatives started to swing the other way. When it was over, the bill passed, but by a razor-thin margin of 221 to 214.

  The hush that had fallen over the room ended as the pizza parlor pundits at the tables began discussing and rationalizing the unanticipated results of the long-awaited vote.

  Troy heard Vicente say something about Harris kicking Fachearon's ass--his favorite analysis of the situation--and they heard reports that the bill was being hand-delivered to the Senate chamber.

  Troy took some consolation in knowing that Raymond Harris was not resting easy at this moment. He was probably sweating bullets and making calls to every senator who owed him a favor. The CEO who had been above the fray was having to get his hands dirty in the trenches of politics.

  As the lunch crowd thinned out, Troy went out on a couple of nearby deliveries. People in the offices seemed just as absorbed in the Senate debate as were the people in the pizza parlor during the House debate earlier in the day. Lobbyists whose clients had big government contracts were concerned about keeping them. Those who represented people with smaller slices of the government spending pie saw it only as an opportunity to be exploited.

  At times like these, Troy remembered the words that had been spoken to him long ago when Harris was explaining why the Zapatistas were anxious to keep the Chiapas pot growers in business.

  "It's complicated," Harris had said. "But if you follow the money, it all makes sense."

  Troy wondered how much money had been spent to skew the vote in the House that morning--and how much Harris was spending right now.

  The Senate vote was in progress as Troy walked through the building lobby after his last delivery. A group of people had paused in front of the television above the reception desk, but Troy couldn't bring himself to watch. It was too painful. He just hoped the senators would give Harris a close enough margin so that he'd have to sweat it out as he had in the House vote.

  When he got back to the pizza parlor, everyone was just staring at the television screen. Vicente, who always had plenty to say, was speechless. So too were the four customers. It was so quiet that one woman stepped outside to make a phone call.

  The Senate had voted.

  The Executive Branch Management Bill had lost, 59 to 41.

  Harris had lost, and President Albert Bacon Fachearon would continue to run the executive branch as the voters had elected him to do.

  The pundits, none of whom had predicted this outcome, were now spinning the news so as not to appear totally out to lunch.

  Troy just smiled and breathed a sigh of relief.

  "WE'RE GONNA HAVE TO STOP MEETING LIKE THIS,"

  Jenna Munrough said, glancing up from her mail. As had been the case earlier in the week, she saw Troy Loensch walking across Thirty-first Street. "You could have called."

  "I happened to be in the neighborhood." He shrugged.

  "Speaking of which, I tried your cell number and it was disconnected. I need your new number."

  "I'm dead, y'know," Troy said. "Dead men don't have cell phones. I don't have a cell phone or much of anything else. All my worldly possessions were at Cactus Flat. Guess maybe they were shipped to my mother's place in California."

  "Where have you been?" Jenna asked.

  "Around. Trying to figure out a way to confront Harris."

  "Y'all must have been pleased by the 'Senators' Surprise' this afternoon."

  "Is that what they're calling it?" Troy smiled. "I bet there was some gnashing of teeth over at Firehawk today."

  "I wasn't there."

  "Where were you?"

  "Capitol Hill," Jenna explained. "The administrative liaison people were up there helping out the congressional liaison people. They wanted a maximum lobbying e ffort ."

  "So you were lobbying congress for a 'yes' vote?" "That's my job."

  "You must have been pleased with the vote in the House."

  "Not really," Jenna said. "Not personally . . . not after I started thinking about what you said the other night. Not after I started listening to a lot of what was coming in from the constituents."

  "What do you mean?"

  "Around Washington, it seems like everybody is ready to run Fachearon out of town . . . all the talking heads anyway. When I was in those congressional offices, the staffers were showing the e-mails that their bosses were getting from back home. You're on the side of the majority, Loensch."

  "That's good to know," Troy said, feeling vindicated. "What do you think of the way it turned out today up there?"

  "Relieved. Glad it's over."

  "Thought you said it's your job to not be glad of how it turned out?"

  "My job isn't hurt." Jenna shrugged. "The government still needs to spend money on PMCs. It really doesn't have an army of its own anymore."

  "What's wrong?" Troy asked, noticing that Jenna suddenly had a concerned expression and was looking at something out of the corner of her eye.

  "Nothing. . . . Listen, not to change the subject, but I think it might be a good idea for us to go inside." "Thanks for the invite." Troy smiled.

  "We shouldn't be standing out here . . . shouldn't be seen together."

  INSIDE, JENNA KICKED OFF HER HALLS-OF-CONGRESS three-inch heels and went straight for the Wild Turkey, pouring one for Troy without asking.

  "You're worried about Harris catching you with the late Troy Loensch," he said, touching her glass with his.

  "That would put a little hurt in my job situation," she said. "You've got me paranoid now."

  "Put a little hurt in my life situation," Troy said. "He put his cards on the table that day when he left me at eighty thousand feet in an uncontrollable airplane. I'm sure he could come up with some ideas for Jenna Munrough's accidental demise."

  "Y'all still want to confront him?" Jenna asked.

  "Yeah. I want to see him explain what happened up there that day. I want to see him explain what happened in front of some television cameras."

  "You'll probably have your chance next week. Now that this thing has failed, he and Kynelty will be back on the Hill lobbying for a resubmission of the bill."

  "How likely is it that Congress will do that?"

  "My opinion? Not very. I saw what people were saying in those e-mails. Even if they were going to take it up again, it wouldn't be any time soon. Matter of months. Maybe not even in this session."

  "But you think Harris is gonna be up there again next week?"

  "You know him. He doesn't like to take no for an answer."

  "Will you be going up with him?"


  "Probably not," Jenna said. "He'll just be trying to meet with the House leadership. The congressional liaison people will set it up. . . . Will you be there?" "Probably. I gotta do this thing."

  "Be careful," Jenna cautioned.

  "Thank you for your concern."

  "I care about you," Jenna admitted.

  "That's sweet of you." Troy smiled.

  "I'm serious," Jenna insisted. "I really do care about you."

  "I thought that after . . . y'know . . . after that . . after Hal got killed . . ."

  "You thought I blamed you for killing Hal?"

  "I did kill Hal," Troy admitted. "I didn't know it was Hal . . . but that doesn't mean that I didn't do it."

  "I understand that . . . intellectually," Jenna said.

  "But it was hard to look at y'all . . . knowing."

  "I understand," Troy said, casting his gaze downward.

  "Mainly, I was pissed off at me," Jenna said.

  "At yourself?"

  "I slept with you while I was engaged to Hal. I hid his ring in my damned purse and made hot, sweaty lust with you all night. And that was after trying to seduce you one time before that."

  "That you did." Troy nodded.

  "I'm pissed at myself because Hal loved me and he was basically the sweetest, most caring man I ever met . . "Why are you pissed at you for that?"

  "Because ever since that night in Eritrea, I've wanted your body, Loensch. I loved Hal and he loved me, but I wanted you. He was sweet and thoughtful . . . you're an arrogant asshole . . . but you are just so good in bed."

  "Well . . ." Troy started to say as Jenna took his glass from his hand, set it on an end table, and pushed him down on the sofa.

  Having unbuttoned her blouse, she pounced on him, kissing him madly and pressing her body against his.

  Chapter 48

  Thirty-first Street NW, Georgetown, Washington, D. C.

  "WHAT TIME IS IT?" TROY ASKED, AS HE AWOKE TO the slippery, pleasant sensation of the naked body of Jenna Munrough being pressed against his.

  "I don't care. It's Saturday," Jenna said, lifting her head slightly. Her tone underscored the fact that she was annoyed at the interruption to her ongoing search for physical gratification.

 
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