PYRAMID POWER – snippet 53:



            As he listened to the byplay, Melvin Steinmetz found himself wondering whether he’d backed the wrong horse in this race. Unlike everyone else at the table, Melvin didn’t really have a personal stake in the outcome. True, if the policy he advocated were to be adopted by the administration in place of Tremelo’s, his think tank would land a very juicy contract. So what? The Future Enterprise Institute was one of the three or four most prestigious and sought-after independent research and policy development outfits in the nation. They already had plenty of juicy contracts.


            He was simply convinced that Tremelo was wrong, dead wrong, and the consequences of his erroneous thinking were likely to be disastrous. As bad and probably worse than any major nuclear exchange—and Steinmetz’s think tank specialized in studies of nuclear war. Whether he realized it or not, Tremelo’s policy with regard to the Krim pyramid amounted to a revival of the Mutual Assured Destruction policy that had governed relations between the US and the USSR during the Cold War, when it came to all-out war. “You leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone, because we can each destroy the other.”


            For all its somewhat surrealistic nature, MAD had worked pretty well during that era—but only because the “mutual destruction” part had been true. What Tremelo couldn’t seem to grasp was that it was not true when it came to the pyramid. Who knew what the Krim could do, or not do—or would be willing to do? What Tremelo advocated amounted to…


            “We’ll leave them alone, and… we’ll see what they do.”


            That wasn’t good enough, not by a country mile. The United States had to take a pro-active stance toward the pyramid. Simply waiting and watching—what Tremelo called “quarantine”—gave all the advantage to the enemy. It amounted to unilateral disarmament.


            The problem, unfortunately, was that—so far, at any rate—Tremelo had all the proven and capable experts on his side of the debate. And it didn’t help one damn bit that the public doted on them even more than they did on Tremelo himself.


            One of Melvin’s associates at the Institute had called it the American nation’s “ingrained Humphrey Bogart complex.” Beneath the somewhat rueful whimsy, he had a point. No professional security force had been able to penetrate the pyramid without suffering 100% casualties—all of them fatalities except for a few still listed as missing in action. Whereas the “amateurs” had come out of it unscratched. A professor whose absent-mindedness was simply charming, when coupled with the rest—and with a zaftig new blonde girlfriend, to boot, who exuded “outdoorswoman” rather than “bimbo.” The country had gone even more gaga over her Afrikaans accent than they had over that silly Australian actor’s accent a few years back. A black maintenance man. Two paratroopers, one of them Hispanic and the other a Midwestern good-ole-boy.


            Racial harmony, even. It was enough to drive you mad—not because the people themselves did, but because they backed Tremelo to the hilt.




            With misgivings, Steinmetz had been persuaded to throw the considerable if very non-public influence of the Future Enterprise Institute behind the drive by the senators from Texas and California, with the open backing of the defense industry and the covert backing of the Secretary of Defense, to get APSA enacted and set up the PSA. The defense industry, of course, had its own completely material reasons for opposing Tremelo’s policy, which came down to nothing more subtle than that Tremelo’s approach didn’t produce any big fat defense contracts. With a somewhat less pig-in-the-trough mentality, the secretary of defense and the senators from the nation’s two biggest defense-industry states shared their views.


            Melvin’s misgivings had grown when Helen Garnett emerged as the front-runner for the new post. He’d had to hold his nose at some of the legal implications of APSA, to begin with, figuring you couldn’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. But what he hadn’t foreseen was that a vigorous egg-breaker like Garnett would wind up running the show. Yeah, fine, the woman was tougher than nails and was possibly the best political fund-raiser in the country. And… this qualified her how, exactly, to oversee setting up a hands-on approach to the pyramid?


            The plan she’d developed that had turned into a mare’s nest was typical, he thought. Using the “need to rescue Tom Harkness”—who’d been nothing more than a second-rater on the National Security Council’s staff—as an excuse to set up an “Operations Directorate” was a scheme right out of the woolliest days of the OSS in World War II. Except that Helen Garnett was no Wild Bill Donovan, and the team of operatives she’d picked bore a lot more resemblance to the Watergate plumbers than they did to OSS agents.


            What a mess. Maybe if he bailed out now, he could still get Tremelo to listen to him.


            Probably not, though. Miggy and he got along well enough, but Tremelo was just plain stubborn. Always had been.


            While he’d been ruminating, the conversation around him had continued. Melvin had paid just enough attention not to lose track of where things were. So, he wasn’t taken by surprise when Delacorte—he’d be the one, naturally; the coarse bastard—finally said it out loud.


            “All right, Helen. We’ll back you in the coming hearings, of course—although you do understand that you’re going to have to let some heads roll.”


            That much was obvious, of course. They could only hope that Agent Supervisor Megane shared G. Gordon Liddy’s stubborn sense of honor as well as his screwball cowboy attitudes. If all went well, he’d just take the fall and keep his mouth shut. If he turned out to be another John Dean, though…


            Steinmetz couldn’t help but wince a little. He didn’t know any of the details of what had happened in Fort Campbell—and didn’t want to know, either—but he was dead certain there’d be all hell to pay. Just from what he’d learned, he didn’t doubt for a moment that the PSA’s agents on the spot had grossly transgressed even the wide latitude APSA have them. Not to mention their grasp of public relations, which made that of the devil look good. What sort of lunatic goes out of his way to infuriate officers and enlisted men in a military unit as well-known and well-regarded as the 101st Airborne, for God’s sake?


            Delacorte cleared his throat. Here it was. “As for the rest, since you have no way of getting in touch with your two agents still in the pyramid, we’ll just have to hope…”


            But he let the words trail off, the gutless prick. So Steinmetz said it for him. “We’ll just have to hope that we don’t wind up with the same scorecard. You’re all aware, I trust, that in his talk show last night—the most widely watched in the country—Orville Trenton made the remark that, in less than three days, three out of the five PSA agents who went in came out dead. But ‘the real pros’—yeah, that’s what he called them—still seem to be intact.”


            That was good enough, he figured. He was not going to say out loud that the best thing that could happen now would be for the dead bodies of Jerry Lukacs and Liz De Beer—and practically the whole Jackson family, including four kids—to come plummeting out of the skies.


            Melvin Steinmetz wasn’t sure if he was backing the wrong horse. But he was surely backing the one that stank the most. He’d have to take a shower when he got home.


            “That’s it, then,” said Senator Edwards, finishing his drink and starting to rise from the table. “Helen, we’ll see you at the hearings.”