By Tom Clancy

Created by Tom Clancy’s Op-Center, written in collaboration with Gen. Tony Zinni (Ret.), Gen. Charles Horner (Ret.), Gen. Fred Franks (Ret.), and Chase Madar; videogame developed by FamVal/Tripesplatter Jr.

It was a dark and stormy night in McLean, Virginia.

Former CIA director and ex-president Vernon Manley Babbitt sat at his dining-room table flanked by his most trusted compadres, who in many adventures past had defended the American way of life against nuclear terrorists, Islamic fanatics, and armed folk singers. Their next mission might be the most dangerous yet.

V. Manley Babbitt and his secret team called themselves the BFD, and their existence was so classified no one knew what the initials stood for. The BFD was licensed to do anything, from waterboarding the president’s mother to parking in handicapped spots, and with the safety of millions at stake, they often did. Babbitt surveyed his companions, tried and true, around the table.

First there was X, a man without an identity. Nobody knew X’s real name. Was it maybe just X? That kind of head-fake would have been vintage X. No one even knew what X looked like, not even X’s wife, because he always wore a brown paper bag on his head. He had ex-Special Ops written all over him, but not on the paper bag, which usually bore the logo of the retail chain where his wife had done the previous day’s shopping.

On Babbitt’s left sat Peggy Sue Rayban, a spunky, whip-smart computer whiz who was always good with a wise crack.

“Hey X, nice bag! Are Obama’s taxes so high the wife has to shop at K-Mart now?” she quipped, hilariously.

“Ha ha ha ha ha,” they laughed, mirthfully.

Across the table was Babbitt’s son, V. Manley Babbitt Jr, a fine young man and young father himself. Straining to break out of his famous father’s legend, he had become a dealer in antique doilies. At least that was his cover for keeping an eye on domestic terrorists, many of whom found out too late that the Junior’s lisp was a put-on.

And there was their Jingo Rodriguez, the talking dog. It was Jingo who five years before had scent-ID’ed Babbitt’s vice president as an al-Qaeda sleeper agent. President Babbitt had had no other choice but to knife the traitor upon receipt of that communiqué, at a Lincoln Center tribute to Pearl Bailey. The pooch’s intel had turned out to be faulty, but there was no room for hand-wringing when the security of millions was at stake. The next day Babbitt had signed an executive order to keep his dog from being put down and had the veep’s widow and children sent to Guantanamo. But at least Jingo still valued loyalty, valor, and patriotism—qualities which, truth be told, had never been abundant in the late vice president.

Jingo Rodriguez was now equipped with a CVU—Canine Verbalization Unit—developed at Quantico, which broadcast the dog’s thoughts in the reassuring tones of Donald Rumsfeld’s voice. Much of what came out of the CVU definitely qualified as TMI, but they valued Jingo’s input highly nonetheless.

V. Manley Babbit cleared his throat. “Fellas, you know why I gathered you here on this dark and stormy night, and it wasn’t just for Chinese takeout. Listeners in Palau have picked up chatter that our old friend the Nadir is back, and he’s planning something big. If we don’t stop him first, millions will die. We need to get the Nadir. We need to get him, dead or alive.”

A clap of thunder and flash of lightning accentuated the direness.

The Nadir. Of all the superterrorists that V. Manley Babbitt had ever tangled with, none was as fiendish as the Nadir.

Not that he hadn’t had competition. First there had been the Emir, who wrecked Babbitt’s dinner party for the Queen of England by telling long-winded stories, assassinating the Duke of Edinburgh, and sabotaging the soufflé. The BFD had struck back by booby-trapping Rod Stewart’s hairpiece at the Emir’s private birthday concert.

Then came the Fakir, who had hacked into the database of Babbitt’s philanthropic organization, which gifted armor-piercing bullets to kids with terminal cancer, and wreaked havoc with the charity’s finances, making a fool of Babbitt in front of all the world. The payback for that one had been personal alright, and it had not been pretty. But it had made a dozen dying kids very happy.

As for the Wazir, Babbitt’s team had scuttled his plot to trigger a nuclear exchange between Russia and China, and in the end only Russia was annihilated. (Serendipitous, if you asked ex-president Babbitt, which the liberal media seldom did.)

The Wazir’s feminist eco-terrorist girlfriend, the Brassiere, had been trickier still. She and the ACLU had nearly forced the sitting president into a legally binding marriage contract with that year’s Kentucky Derby winner, an act that would have cleared a path to the Oval Office for the sleeper agent they had installed as Speaker of the House.

Yes, at great cost this entire rogues gallery of terror had been vanquished.

But not the Nadir.

Through rain-streaked windows they saw the Chinese delivery boy approach the front door. The DINGER—doorway imminent notification generated electronic responder—had been developed at Quantico to provide clear and certain alert in case someone should wish to announce his presence at the door, all with the press of a button. Babbitt’s every muscle fiber tensed as the delivery boy’s gloved hand pushed the black circle: the electrons pulsed through the wires: wait for it, wait for it:

Ding dong.

“Okay, who gets the mooshoo pork? Egg roll? General Tso’s chicken?” Of course, compared to the Nadir, renegade Red Army general Tso had been a pushover, his defeat resulting only in the nuclear destruction of Bermuda, Palo Alto, and Taiwan. (Yep, Langley had no easy time hushing that one up.)

They dug hungrily into the greasy white takeout boxes. But the delivery boy stood there dumbly.

“Wassa matta?” said Peggy Sue Rayban, uproariously, “You no likey small tippy?”

“Ha ha ha ha ha,” they all responded, mirthfully.

But something was off. The mooshoo pork had no pork, just … tofu. Similarly, the General Tso’s chicken was poultry-free. Suddenly, Babbitt’s head began to swim.

The Chinese delivery boy languorously removed his baseball cap and long ebony tresses cascaded down. He slipped off his gloves, revealing elegant lacquered nails. It was RuManchu, the vegan transgender North Korean eco-terrorist and life-partner (it was rumored from a Vermont source) of the Nadir!

Peggy Sue Rayban started to crack wise but fell over before the hilarious quip could leave her lips. X and Junior: also down. As the lights dimmed, RuManchu sashayed slowly towards V. Manley Babbitt, whose mind and body were now ablaze with conflicting and confused thoughts.

“Arf, arf! Stuff happens!” said Jingo. “Arf, arf! I’ll get help.” And with that Jingo jumped through the picture window, shattering the dark McLean night into a thousand jagged shards. If Babbitt knew his Jingo, the valiant dog would be heading directly for his son’s family home, where grandson V. Manley Babbitt III would most likely be playing Raghead Blaster 7 [matching novel created by Tom Clancy’s Op-Center, written by Cynthia Ozick with Gen. Ray Odierno] on his PlayStation this very moment. And his grandson, though only three-and-a-half, would surely know what to do.

For one thing was certain: it would take more than a mickey slipped into V. Manley Babbitt’s lo mein to end the American way of life as he knew it. One way or another, the Babbitts would reach their Nadir and bring him back, brain-dead or alive!

Tom Clancy’s name appears on many works of fiction, some of which he may have written. Ditto for Chase Madar, a lawyer in New York.

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