Red’s heavy engineer boots sank in the sandy beach, getting the cuffs of his Levi’s damp right through their selvedge. Behind him, Louise made her way from the hidden beach hatch, where construction continued around the clock beneath. She strolled up in her blue sundress, looked Red up and down in his Leader Of The Pack getup. “Even on a tropical beach you dress like that?”
Red glared. “I’ve made a commitment to being who I am, lady. I don’t shift for anybody, or anything. This leather jacket is part of me.”
“So is that sweat soaking it. You take yourself entirely too seriously, kid. Life is short.” Louise sipped her gin and tonic, let her toes spread in the sand.
Red stared out at the ocean. His eyes focused in on the new USS Indianapolis, off in the distance.
“Don’t I know it.”
On board the ship, a small white plane came in for a landing. The Captain waved them in, positioned parallel to a futuristically sleek jet. The hatch of the white plane opened. Bud came down the stairs, then looked back up at Buzz, who stood at the top, shivering.
“You coming?” Bud called out.
Buzz ran a hand over his freshly shaved head. “I need a haircut. I’ll feel more like myself after a haircut. I always do.”
Bud grimaced. “You know what, you just stay put, Buzz. We’ll get you to a barber. Just lay back down for now.”
Buzz said nothing, he just turned and stumbled back.
Bud just shook his head. The Captain strolled over, scratching his heavy white beard. “That one is deep in the grip, is he?” he said.
“That he is. You’re the Captain of this ship, I take it?” Bud extended his hand. The Captain grasped it, with his one good one. “Lucky the sharks left me the right one!” he said, waving the hook at the end of his left arm about.
Bud smiled. “I suppose you could call that luck. The meeting underway downstairs?”
“It ’tis. Just that way. Down two and on your right. I’ll look after your friend.” With that, the Captain started up the steps to the plane, and Bud climbed down into the depths of the ship. It was odd to be on board a large ship like this with barely any crew. It wouldn’t need much of one, after all- its primary function would simply be as a gateway to the base being built beneath the island.
Bud came upon the metal door to the war room and found it somewhat ajar. He knocked, anyway. “Come in,” said a voice with a Texas lilt.
Bud stepped in. There, beneath a large map of the world was a long table with room for twelve. Only two sat at it. One, to the right of the table’s head, was Howard Hughes. He was dressed in a natty suit. The one on the left was an upper middle aged man, dressed in the full regalia of a U.S. General. His brown hair was thinning, his face was somewhat round and craggy. At the head of the table sat a large radio. It was a massive piece of work, a 4 square foot cube with tubes and wires all around it. It had a big round speaker in the lower center, and a round screen the same size above. It seemed to be a green radar, with a jumping blip.
The General extended his hand to shake Bud’s. Hughes did not, he just nodded an acknowledgement.
“General Lawrence Schwartz, correct?” inquired Bud, “Seen the news about your plane crash all over the papers. Looking good for a dead man.”
“You as well, Agent Allen. Have a look.” With that, the General pulled two black and white photos from a briefcase, laid them across the table. They looked for all the world like up close shots of Bud and Buzz with their faces blown half off.
“Holy shit,” Bud began, “that’s pure rugged. Doctored photos?”
Hughes ran a finger across his mustache. “Plastic surgery on a pair of John Does, positioned at the scene of the Washington Monument, with just some minor structural damage. Word is, you boys went so far down that cult rabbit hole that you turned on the red, white, and blue, but your bomb blew a dud…”
Bud nodded. “Just enough to kill us both, not enough stir to attract attention, get the press going…”
The General finished the thought: “They’re busy enough making hay from the Bay Of Pigs. So to both the CIA and the Order Of The Scorpion, you’re a couple of goners. Only we know otherwise. Where’s Agent Wilson?”
“Still on the plane,” Bud answered, “the DTs aren’t being kind to him.
“That’s a shame, I commend you for finding your own way through that forest. You are exactly the right kind of man we need in this outfit, we’re pleased to have you a part.” the General said, then glanced at his watch. “Shall we commence?”
“We shall.” Bud answered succinctly. The men all sat. Hughes pressed a button and pulled a lever on the square machine. It began to buzz, he began to speak. “Go ahead, Jack. You are on the line.”
The familiar voice of President Kennedy filled the air.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen. Welcome to the first meeting of the Global Hierarchy Of Secret Tactics, or GHOST, if you will.”
It was 5 seconds before Bud realized he was the only one snickering.