"I believe General Wilcke has made it quite plain in the past, sir," said Frances Whittle, with perfectly Britannian polite hostility, "that you are not authorized to enter this facility unannounced."
"If I want your opinion on something, Group Captain, I'll give it to you," growled Curtis LeMay. Pushing past her into the hangar, he made straight for the impromptu conference table at the back, behind which Ivan Ivanovich sat propped against the wall in his accustomed "chair" position.
"You witches think you can just do whatever the hell you want," LeMay went on, striding away from his "chaperone" with a sudden burst of speed. "Well, you've got another think coming today! You know the old Liberion expression - 'Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me'?"
Without waiting for an answer, and to the considerable surprise of everyone in the hangar, the general suddenly hauled out his sidearm and opened fire, pumping five rounds into the battered pressure suit's chest.
He would probably have gone for all seven, but before he could get them all off, Shirley Yeager had crossed the hangar so fast she seemed to have teleported, the insulted air thundering in her wake. Her nerves jangling - she rarely used her magical gift for speed on foot, and it was always a weird sensation when she did - she hit the general amidships in a perfect flying tackle, sending them sprawling to the floor and the pistol spinning from his hand. It fired again as it hit the floor, the stray round punching a hole in the wall.
"What the hell is going on in here?" Trude Barkhorn demanded, storming into the hangar through the door next to the bullet hole. Wilma Bishop and Francesca Lucchini, entering from FUEL STORAGE, issued a similar query in near-unison.
"Trude, give me a hand, General LeMay's gone crazy!" Shirley declared, though in truth she was having little difficulty managing the furiously struggling officer.
"Ivan! Noooooo!" Lucchini yelled, darting to the pressure suit's side as it slid slowly sideways and slumped to the floor. She fell to her knees next to it, her hand on its shoulders, and eased it the rest of the way down, then tried to open the helmet visor, crying, "Speak to me, Ivan! Say something!" After a moment's fumbling, she got the visor open and removed the MAQUETTE sign, tossing it aside.
Beneath, the plastic face of a shop mannequin gazed expressionlessly out of the helmet, its painted eyes fixed on the far corner of the hangar.
"Ivan, oh Ivan!" Lucchini wailed, bending over the fallen dummy and resting her head on folded arms. She stayed like that for a few moments, sobbing, while Francie and Wilma hesitantly approached from behind; then, suddenly galvanized, the petite Romagnan sprang to her feet and turned toward the spot where Shirley and Trude had LeMay pinned.
Her green eyes now full of fury, she snarled through gritted teeth, "You." At the wrath in her voice, even LeMay looked up, blinking in puzzlement that was (a bit comically) identical to that of the two women whom he'd been trying to fight off a moment before.
Lucchini's panther ears and tail sprang out (the former flattened back against her head), her body glowing, and she lunged forward with fingers bent into claws, screaming, "You killed Ivan!"
There followed such an inventive, colorful, and above all astonishingly obscene stream of Romagnan profanity that Shirley, who understood most of it, felt her ears go bright red. At the same time, she couldn't quite keep a goofy little smile from stealing onto her face. Our little Haywire's growing up, she thought to herself.
That the invective wasn't accompanied by physical mayhem was only thanks to Wilma, who seized her furious comrade from beind when she made the first lunge and held her in place, arms flailing, while she ranted. When Lucchini paused for breath (an impressively long way into the exercise!), Wilma leaned and murmured in her ear,
"I think you're overselling it a little, kiddo."
Rather than cut herself off right then and there, though, Lucchini played the scene out like the Roman thespian she was, making a great show of running out of steam and relinquishing her magic, then slumping, spent and tearful, in her colleague's arms. Turning around, she buried her face in Wilma's chest (reflecting as she did so that if she couldn't have Shirley for this part, this was just about as good), whimpering one last time,
"He killed Ivan."
"Shh, shh, I know," said Wilma soothingly, petting her hair.
"What in the world is going on in here?" another voice demanded from the door, and everyone (except Lucchini) looked up to see Minna-Dietlinde Wilcke and Mio Sakamoto standing in the doorway, looking baffled.
"General Crazypants here decided he was gonna shoot up the place," Shirley remarked, forcing LeMay's hand a little higher on his back and eliciting a grunt of pain from the general as she did.
"What?!" Mio said.
"Is anyone hurt?" asked Minna.
"We're all fine, but I'm not sure Ivanovich is gonna make it," said Shirley wryly, nodding her head toward the slumped dummy. Lucchini sobbed louder.
"Shh, it's OK," Wilma told her. "Ursula can fix him."
"I see," said Minna, her expression switching instantly from concern to unamused severity. "Mio, go and call General Spaatz's headquarters, if you please. Tell them General LeMay is under arrest and ask them to send someone to take him off our hands immediately."
"Uh... right," said Mio. Clearly bemused, she turned and left the hangar.
"You won't get away with this," LeMay growled, still trying fruitlessly to get loose.
"I won't get away with what?" Minna demanded, hands on hips. "I'm not the one who barged into another officer's command and started shooting, General. I think you'll find it's you who has the explaining to do here."