Chapter 10 Feinstein Hears about the Invisible Airplanes
Zeke Feinstein sat in the press hooch, sweating like a lawn sprinkler and pondering the strange press release from HQ. He had not felt guilty for days, or even worried about being Jewish. This invisible-airplane business was going to get him a Pulitzer. A big story at last, and he had broken it. His parents would be proud, even if he had changed his name. Of course, he suddenly remembered, they wouldn’t know, because he had changed his name. Anyway, the trick now was to take the story and run with it while the other reporters were still off balance.
Flies buzzed torpidly around his coffee cup. From outside came the hollow roaring of amtracs preparing to go look for mines. On the television behind him a high-voiced sergeant with Armed Forces Television explained how the war was speeding the economic development of Vietnam.
“…have found that bomb craters have significant potential as fish ponds, bringing wholesome seafood and nutritious protein for the first time to regions of the Republic of Vietnam that….” he squeaked. Feinstein tuned him out.
The release said, “HQ/USMC—General J. Walter Grommett III, Commander I Corps, announced today that reports of strafing by invisible enemy airplanes have been blown out of proportion. The command has been studying the developing situation for months and while considerations of security prevent further elaboration, Allied control of the air remains virtually complete. The command stresses that no casualties whatsoever have been sustained as a result of strafing by invisible communist airplanes.”
“Hmmmmm, cryptic,” thought Feinstein. What did it mean? He assumed that it must mean something. The more straightforward explanation, that it had been written by an idiot and meant nothing, didn’t occur to him. He had been in country only two months. The release was a virtual admission that the communists really did have invisible airplanes— meaning, he guessed, some clever technical means for countering radar and making them blend with the sky. Or something. He might ask Hearn, who understood technical things.
The squeaky sergeant intoned from the wall, “…nitrogenating the soil. The paddies of Vietnam have been intensively farmed for centuries, and are now nitrogen-poor. Did you know that every molecule of TNT contains three atoms of nitrogen? This is just another example of how democracy benefits….”
Getting to the bottom of the invisible strafers might not be easy. The brass were obviously keeping this one very quiet. How… ?
Then an idea came. It wasn’t much of an idea, but it was the only one he had. As he left the hooch the television rattled, “…Morale Services Division has engaged Klok Mortuary and The Gadarene Swine, whose hit single Moonlight and Grave Worms has been the smash number….”
Corporal Hearn was sitting in his jeep at the motor pool, reading Theory of Higher Order Reaction Rates. Feinstein asked him, “What would you do for a whole case of Jim Beam?’
Hearn finished his paragraph before looking up. “Slaughter my mother, put nerve gas in the New York subway system, or eat C-rations two days in a row. That do it?”
“I want to fly with one of those guys who dogfight the invisible airplanes.”
“No way, GI.”
“You find out who the pilots are for me, and that’s a bottle. Two bottles. If I get a ride with one of them in a dogfight, you get the rest of the case.”
Hearn thought. He knew there weren’t any invisible airplanes, but it didn’t seem to make any difference to Feinstein. It didn’t seem to make any difference to anybody. Maybe it didn’t matter. Everybody seemed to profit from nonexistent invisible airplanes. Hearn sort of liked inventing crazy stories about them and then reading them in the newspapers. Feinstein liked writing them. The Marines liked talking about them. Maybe they didn’t have to be real. As for finding the mad pilot who did whatever it was he did up there, it couldn’t hurt to try.
“I’ll keep an ear out. You hear another trac got it?”
“Yeah. Gooks keep hiding them, we keep finding them. They gotta figure it out sooner or later, you just can’t fool the Corps.”