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       Hawx (2009), p.26

           Tom Clancy
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  For many of the people in the room, who had aviation backgrounds, this was a welcome comment. Even though most were indeed part of the home office bureaucracy, few wanted to think of themselves as bureaucrats.

  "With this in mind, I'd like to officially announce that we are going to expand and add additional resources to HAWX, our High Altitude Warfare, Experimental, Program. The future belongs to those who own the technology of the future, and I intend for this to be Firehawk. With that in mind, I'd like to introduce the new head of the HAWX Program. Some ofyou have met Aron Arnold. He's new to the home office but not to Firehawk. . . ."

  As the meeting broke up, Jenna noticed Arnold coming toward her.

  "I don't believe we've been formally introduced, Ms. Munrough," he said, extending his hand.

  "Might as well call me Jenna. I've seen you around. You're in from Cactus Flat, I hear."

  "Yeah, I was there until the general invited me to join him back here a couple of weeks ago . . . and you can call me Aron."

  "So, I guess you'll be headed back out to Cactus Flat, Aron?"

  "I'm not much of a home office guy." Arnold shrugged. "By the way, I had a chance to fly with Troy Loensch out there. I hear that you were in his Air Force unit over in Sudan?"

  "Yeah. I flew with him over there. That's where we first met Harris."

  "Too bad about what happened to Loensch," Arnold said. Jenna couldn't detect whether he was being sympathetic or just making conversation.

  "Too bad for sure," Jenna replied. She detected no trace of emotion, but then, Arnold struck her as an emotionless individual.

  "Helluva way to die . . . lost at sea and all. I was out there at Cactus Flat when the word came in that he had gone down," Arnold said. "We crewed together on a few Shakuru flights before it happened. . . . Actually, that's one thing I wanted to talk to you about."

  "What's that?"

  "How long has it been since you've been in the cockpit of a high-performance aircraft?" Arnold asked. Jenna felt herself jump slightly.

  What was he asking? What was Raymond Harris's fair-haired boy asking? Did he know? Did he expect her to answer that just two days ago she was in a cockpit shooting Sidewinders at Raymond Harris?

  "It's been a while," she answered noncommittally. "Why?"

  "Because from what I've heard . . . and seen in your resume, you're the kind of pilot we need at HAWX. I'd like to ask you to consider transferring from Herndon to the HAWX Program."

  "Y'all are inviting me to come out to the desert and fly high-altitude stuff?"

  "Exactly. I'll talk to Turcios and we'll work it out. Are you interested?"

  "Tell me more," Jenna said, unslinging her purse and setting it down on the conference room table.

  "We have a lot of new stuff coming on line out there," Arnold said. "I figured you wouldn't mind trading a desk chair for an ejection seat."

  "What the hell," Jenna said thoughtfully. "I think this probably would be a good time for me to be getting out of Washington for a while."

  Chapter 60

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

  LIMPING SLIGHTLY, TROY MADE HIS WAY UP THE tree-lined street as the sun hung low in the western sky. The pain in his leg from the injuries he had suffered on that mountaintop in Nicaragua was exacerbated by the hard landing in the Catoctins, but it wasn't as bad today as it had been on Sunday.

  He probably should have cooled out for another couple of days, bunking anonymously at the YMCA and slinging pizza dough anonymously at Mr. Mahmud'sbut he was anxious to see Jenna Munrough. He convinced himself that it was to assure himself that she was all right, that she had survived, but he knew that he longed to feel her touch. He admitted to himself that he was in love with Jenna.

  It was a different kind of love than he had felt for Cassie. Back then, it was a simpler schoolboy-schoolgirl sort of love--after all, they were in school, in that insulated and insular world where things are so much less complex. With Jenna, it was a relationship founded on mutual respect. Long before they liked one another, they grew to have a professional respect for each other as pilots. Gradually, respect had grown into friendship, a kind of laughing, joking, disarmed friendship.

  From friendship, there followed a mutual lust that had become a component of this friendship. Watching Jenna scream past in her F-16 as he floated earthward in his parachute harness, Troy had felt a powerful surge of longing. Strangely--for him--he longed not so much for his own survival, but for hers. He imagined that this was the moment when a religious person would have said a prayer. Troy longed for them both to get through this ordeal, and to be together. As he crashed into the dogwoods and bundled up his parachute, he thought of their last quiet moment together, that last calm moment before the phone call that catapulted them into the skies over the Washington metro area. He was surprised to find his mind riveted, not on the thrill of sex, but on the way that her soft, smooth shoulder rose and fell rhythmically as she slept. He remembered having watched that for a long, long time. He remembered the two tiny moles behind her shoulder and how he had found himself almost hypnotized by the sound of her breathing.

  "I love you, Jenna," Troy had said out loud as he made his way down the mountain. He had said it so effortlessly, and he said it often, hoping beyond all hope that he would have a chance to say it to her in person.

  "I love you, Jenna," he shouted, startling some birds whose squawks seemed to torment the man who had thought he'd experienced love before, but who had discovered vastly new dimensions to this emotion.

  AS HAD JENNA, TROY READ THE PAPERS, WATCHED the television, and decided that the world truly believed Harris's assailants to be U. S. Air Force pilots. Nevertheless, like Jenna, Troy feared that their escapade in the Maryland skies would not go unpunished in a world in which Firehawk ruled, and in which Troy and Jenna had conspired to kill Firehawk's shining star.

  Troy had absorbed the television news voraciously, carefully watching for an item about. a dead woman in a parachute hanging from a tree somewhere, or of a Fire-hawk employee arrested for conspiracy. No such story had appeared, and finally, on the Monday after the infamous Saturday, Troy left work before the dinner rush so that he could be at Jenna's condo complex, waiting and watching for the Porsche.

  Troy walked through Georgetown anonymously, as he had on his previous visits. He walked, not as a moth to a candle, but with the confident anonymity of a man who was already dead.

  "Loensch," came a familiar voice, seemingly out of nowhere.

  Troy was barely aware of the sound of a car window coming down.

  A familiar voice. A familiar face.

  "What are you doing here?" Troy asked angrily. "Where the fuck have you been for the past week when I've been trying to phone you?"

  "Things have been in motion."

  "No shit," Troy affirmed. "Where were you when Harris tried to kill me? And how did you find me here?"

  "I didn't know that Harris tried to kill you, but it looks like he won't get another chance."

  "I saw on TV that it was some Air Force pilot that they couldn't find," Troy said.

  "We saw you and Munrough running out of here pretty fast on Saturday morning," the CIA man said, half smiling. "It was almost like you were in a hurry to get to the airport."

  "If you guys are so good at knowing things like that, how is it that you weren't able to stop this thing on Saturday . . . or are you working for Kynelty now?"

  "We're the good guys, Loensch."

  "There are guys, and there are guys," Troy said. "I'm not so sure I believe in good guys and bad guys anymore."

  "On one level that's true, but there's always more than meets the eye."

  "Who are you guys, Nagte?" Troy asked. "Who are you, really?"

  "You've seen our company ID."

  "I've heard that your 'company' has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Firehawk and Cernavoda since Saturday morning," Troy retorted.

  "They swallowed some pretty large fish when they swall
owed the executive branch on Saturday. I don't think that they'll ever fully digest them, and I predict a spate of indigestion when the euphoria of that meal fades."

  "What do you want with me?" Troy asked. "You wanted Harris compromised, and he's about as compromised as he can be. I'd say that the job you asked me to do is finished."

  "I think the job is only just beginning."

  "I'm through," Troy insisted. "I've got to go . . gotta check on a friend."

  "She came through it in good shape," the enigmatic CIA man said. "Just want you to know that she's okay. Back on the job today, in fact."

  "At Firehawk . . . at Herndon?"

  "I'm sure that you'll hear all about it."

  "I'm sure. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm out of here, and I hope you guys can carry on without me."

  "This thing isn't over, Loensch," Nagte said somberly. "It isn't over by any stretch of the imagination."



  Tom Clancy, Hawx (2009)

  (Series: # )




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