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Meanwhile in China, mild-mannered President Fa Mengyao and his devoted aide Gang are maneuvering desperately against sinister party hard-liners Minister Lo and General Han. Now Fa and Gang must convince the world that the People’s Republic is not out to kill the Dalai Lama, while maintaining Fa’s small margin of power in the increasingly militaristic environment of the party.
On the home front, Bird must contend with a high-strung wife who entertains Olympic equestrian ambition, and the qualifying competition happens to be taking place in China. As things unravel abroad, Bird and Angel’s lie comes dangerously close to reality. And as their relationship rises to a new level, so do mounting tensions between the United States and China.
Walter “Bird” McIntyre, defense lobbyist, would-be novelist
Myndi, his wife, an equestrienne
Bewks, his brother, feckless but amiable Civil War “living historian”
Chick Devlin, CEO, aerospace giant Groepping-Sprunt
Angel Templeton, directrix, Institute for Continuing Conflict, Washington, D.C., headquarters of interventionist Oreo-Con movement
Rogers P. Fancock, exhausted, put-upon director, National Security Council, the White House
Barney Strecker, profane, risk-taking deputy director for operations, CIA
President, United States of America
Winnie Chang, chair, U.S.-China Co-Dependency Council
Lev Melnikov, founder, chairman, and CEO, Internet giant EPIC
Chris Matthews, taciturn TV-talk-show host
Fa Mengyao, mild-mannered, tormented president, People’s Republic of China; general secretary, Chinese Communist Party
Gang, his loyal longtime aide
Lo Guowei, scary, sexually aggressive minister of state security, PRC
Han, constipated, bellicose general; minister of national defense, PRC
Politburo Standing Committee, CCP, various members, names too complicated to list
Zhang, retired admiral, People’s Liberation Navy; former minister of state security; mentor to Fa
Sun-tzu, long-dead but very much alive military theoretician and strategist
As to the escape of the Dalai Lama from Tibet, if we had been in your place, we would not have let him escape. It would be better if he were in a coffin.
—Nikita Khrushchev to Mao Zedong, 1959
Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
Om mani padme hum.
An unearthly sound—clarions, shrieking—summoned Bird from the land of the undead.
Gummily, his eyes opened.
The hellish sound continued.
As his wounded brain clawed its way back to consciousness, it dawned on him that it was his cell phone. The ringtone—opening bars of “Ride of the Valkyries”—announced his wife.
“Unh.” Valkyrie hooves pounded on his cerebellum.
“Well, you sound good.”
Myndi’s voice was an unhappy fusion of Gidget and marine drill sergeant. He looked at his watch. Not yet 7:00 a.m.; she’d have been up since four-thirty, training.
“Went out with . . . Chick . . . after . . . the . . .” It emerged a croak, the words forming letter by letter, syllable by syllable, Morse tappings from the radio room of a sinking vessel. “. . . vote. We . . . lost.”
“I saw,” she said in a scoldy tone, as if to suggest that Bird obviously hadn’t put his all into it. She added, “I suppose this is going to have an effect on the stock price?”
He thought, Yes, darling. It will in all likelihood have an effect on the stock price.
“Walter,” she said—Myndi refused to call him “Bird,” hated the name—“we need to talk.” Surely the unhappiest words in any marriage. We need to talk.
“We are,” Bird observed.
“Why don’t you have some coffee, darling. I need you to process.”
Process. How she loved that word.
“I’m processing. What?”
“I’ll call you back in ten minutes. Make it fifteen. That’ll give you time for a nice hot shower.” She hung up, doubtless having activated her stopwatch.
Walter “Bird” McIntyre blinked his eyelids at the ceiling. It looked down on him with disdain.
He rose unsteadily and confronted the full, blazing glare of the morning sun through the floor-to-ceiling glass panels. He shrank like a vampire caught out past the dawn.
Bird called his condo the “Military-Industrial Duplex.” A flippant nickname, to be sure. It was in Rosslyn, Virginia, on the once-Confederate side of the Potomac River. The compensation for the unfashionable zip code was a truly spectacular view of the nation’s capital. This time of year, the sun rose directly behind the great dome of the Capitol Building, casting a long, patriotic shadow across the Mall—America’s front yard. Myndi, seeing the view for the first time, sniffed, “It’s nice, darling, but a bit of a cliché.”
Coffee. Must. Have.
At least, he reflected with what little self-congratulation he could muster in his debased state, he hadn’t yet reached the point where he needed a snort of booze to get himself going again in the morning.
His computer screen was on. He remembered the (thankfully) unsent e-mail with a shudder of relief and mechanically went about the rituals of caffeination, acting as his own combo barista/EMT.
The Valkyries shrieked anew. Apparently his fifteen minutes had elapsed. For God’s sake . . .
Myndi had been unamused to learn the ringtone he’d chosen to announce her calls. Really, darling. Passive-aggressive, are we?
He decided—manfully, mutinously—not to answer. He smiled defiantly. Whatever she had in store for him this morning, it could wait until his system had been injected with piping-hot Kenyan stimulant.
He wondered idly, what could it be this time? Another termite-rotted column? Peckfuss the caretaker drunk again?
He didn’t care. He would call back. Yes. Muahahaha! He would . . . pretend he’d been in the shower.
He poured his coffee and sat before the laptop, pressed the buttons to launch the cybergenies of news.
Post: SENATE KILLS DUMBO
Times: SUPERDRONE DIES IN SENATE COMMITTEE
Bird wondered how Chick’s hangover was coming along. Or whether he had even made it back to his hotel. Was he lying facedown in the Reflecting Pool across from the Lincoln Memorial, dead, another casualty of the appropriations process? It was a distinct possibility. Chick had defiantly switched to tequila at some point after 1:00 a.m. Always a smart move at the tail end of a long evening of drinking.
Bird maneuvered the cursor to the desktop folder marked ARM.EXFIL. He clicked open CHAP.17 and read a few paragraphs as the Valkyries shrieked anew.
“Brace for impact!” Turk shouted above the high-pitched scream of the failing engines.
Bird considered. He inserted through gritted teeth after shouted. Yes. Better. But then he wondered: can one in fact shout through gritted teeth? Bird gritted his teeth and tried to shout “Brace for impact!” but it came out sounding vaguely autistic.
The ARM.EXFIL folder contained the latest in the McIntyre oeuvre, his current novel in progress, titled The Armageddon Exfiltration. This was the third in his Armageddon trilogy. The first two novels—which had not succeeded in finding a publisher—were The Armageddon Infiltration and The Armageddon Immolation.
It was the literary output of nearly a decade now. He’d started when he went to work right out of college at a Washington public-relations firm specializing in the defense industry. During the day he wrote copy and press releases urging Congress to pony up for the latest and shiniest military hardware. But the nights belonged to him. He banged away on novels full of manly men with names like Turk and Rufus, of terrible yet really cool weapons, of beautiful but deadly women with names like Tatiana and Jade, who could be neither trusted nor resisted. Heady stuff.
He treated his girlfriends to readings over glasses of wine.
The mushroom cloud rose like an evil plume of mycological smoke over the Mall in Washington. The presidential helicopter, Marine One, yawed frantically as its pilot, Major Buck “Turk” McMaster, grappled furiously with the collective stick—
“ ‘Yawed frantically’?” the girlfriend interrupted. “What’s that?”
Bird would smile. Women just didn’t get the technology, did they? But then Bird had to admit that he didn’t get the women writers. Danielle Steel, Jane Austen, that sort.
“It’s when a plane does like this.” Bird demonstrated, rotating a flat palm around an imaginary vertical axis.
“Isn’t it a helicopter?”
“ ‘Yawed frantically.’ Okay, but it sounds weird.”
“It’s a technical term, Claire.”
“What’s ‘mycological smoke’?”
“A mushroom cloud. ‘Mycological’? Adjective from mushroom?”
Claire shrugged. “Okay.”
“What’s the matter with it?”
“No, it’s fine. It’s lovely.”
Bird put down the manuscript. “Claire. It’s not supposed to be ‘lovely.’ There’s nothing ‘lovely’ about a twenty-five-kiloton thermonuclear device that’s just detonated in the Jefferson Memorial.”
“No, I guess not.”
“They have to get the president to the airborne command center. Every second is—”
Claire yawned, frantically. “I could go for sushi.”
Again the Valkyries shrieked.
“Walter. I’ve been calling.”
“Sorry. Just vomiting up blood.”
“I was in the shower. You said you needed my brain to work. So it can process. Okay. We are go for neuron function. On one. Three, two, one. Initiate neuron function. Whazzup?”
“It’s Lucky Strike.”
Oh, God . . .
Myndi launched into what Bird estimated would be a three-, maybe four-minute disquisition. He didn’t want to listen to any of it, but he understood that to interrupt an equine medical diagnosis would open him to a charge of indifference in the first degree. He let his head tilt back at a stoical angle.
“So Dr. Dickerson said I absolutely have to stay off her until the tendon is fully healed. Walter? Walter, are you listening to any of this?”
Tendon. That word. How Bird hated that word. It had cost him tens—perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. There were other equine anatomical terms that made him shudder: scapulohumeral joint, fetlock joint, coffin bone—but he reserved a special odium for tendon.
“Really, it comes down to a moral issue.”
Bird had been fantasizing about dog-food factories and the excellent work they do.
“Whoa, Myn. Did you say ‘moral issue’?”
“Yes. If I keep riding her instead of giving the tendon time to heal . . . Walter, am I not getting through to you? If the tendon goes . . .” Was that a gasp he heard? “. . . I don’t even want to think about that.”
“Myn.” Bird sighed. “This is not a good time.”
“Do you want me to call you back?”
“No, sweetheart. I’m talking about . . . You saw the news this morning?”
“Walter. The speed competitions are six weeks away.” Pause. “All right—so what do you think I should do?”
Bird massaged his left temple. “I take it you’ve already priced a . . . replacement . . . animal?”
“It’s a horse, Walter. Sam”—another word that always induced a shudder: her trainer; or rather enabler—“says there’s a superb nine-year-old filly over at Dollarsmith.”
“Don’t tell me. Is this one related to Seabiscuit, too?”
“If she were, Walter, she certainly wouldn’t be going for such a bargain price. The bloodlines are stunning. The House of Windsor doesn’t have bloodlines like this.”
Bloodlines. Noun, plural: 1. qualities likely to bankrupt. 2. hideously expensive genetic tendencies.
“How much is this nag going to cost me?”
“Well, as I say, with those bloodlines—”
A new pain presented—as doctors would say—behind Bird’s eyeballs.
“But we’ll need to move fast,” Myn added. “Sam says the Kuwaiti ambassador was over there the other day sniffing around.”
Despite his pain, Bird found the image of a Kuwaiti ambassador “sniffing around stables” grimly amusing.
“Baby. Mercy. Please.”
“Walter,” she said sternly, “I assure you I’m not any happier than you about this.”
“But surely it’s possible I’m more unhappy about it than you.”
“What? Oh, never mind. Look—we agreed when I decided to try out for the team that we were going to do this together.”
This, it occurred to him, was Myn’s concept of ‘together’: She’d compete for a place on the U.S. Equestrian Team and he would write checks.
“I know we did, darling. But what we didn’t know when we embarked, together, on our quest for equestrian excellence was that the stock market would dive like a submarine, taking the economy with it, and defense spending. Defense spending? You remember, the thing that makes our standard of living possible? I am looking out the window. I see defense lobbyists all over town, leaping from buildings. Myn? Oh, Myn-di?”
Silence. He knew it well. Betokening The Gathering Storm.
Finally, “So your answer is no?”
He could see her now: pacing back and forth across the tack room in jodhpurs, mice and other small animals scurrying in terror, sawdust flying. In the distance a whinny of tendinitis-related pain coming from the stricken Lucky Strike. “Lucky”? Ha. Myndi would have unbunned her honey-colored hair, causing it to tumble over her shoulders. She was beautiful. A figure unruined by parturition. Didn’t want children—“not just yet, darling,” a demurral now in its, what, eighth year? Pregnancy would mean months out of the saddle. Bird was okay with the arrangement. He had to grant: the sex was pretty great. One day in the dentist’s office, browsing the latest unnecessary bulletin about Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, Bird read that the Duchess of Cornwall—“like many women who love to ride”—was great in the sack. Who knew?
What point was there in struggling?
“Have Sam call me,” Bird said. The left side of his brain immediately signaled, Dude. You’re already broke, and you just okayed a quarter million dollars’ worth of new hoof? Are you out of your mind? Wimp! Pussy! Fool!
“Thank you,” Myn said, a bit formally, Bird thought. Maybe she didn’t want to sound too appreciative when really all he was doing was living up to his side of the bargain. Right?
It was a bit late to try to salvage the remains of his manhood, so he said, “I don’t know if the bank’s going to go for it. I wouldn’t if I were the bank.”
“Things will turn around, darling,” Myn said. “They always do. And you’re brilliant at what you do.”
“All right. But I get Lucky Strike.”
“Why would you want Lucky Strike?” she asked suspiciously.
“For the barbecue this weekend.”
“Aren’t we having Blake and Lou Ann over on Saturday for a barbecue? At this rate, we can’t afford beef. They say horse meat’s tasty, but you have to cook it slowly.”
“Really, Walter. That’s in appalling taste.”
But her tone was playful, frisky. And why not—she’d just scored a new horse.
“Call Sam, darling,” she said. “I have to go deal with Peckfuss. There’s an awful smell coming from the woods. And you have to do something about his teeth. I just can’t bear to look at him anymore. It’s revolting.”
“Whoa. Choose: new horse or Peckfuss’s dentition.”
“See you Friday. Oh—don’t forget the sump pump. They’re holding it for me at Strosniders.”
So now Bird had his to-do list for the rest of the week: (1) Borrow $225,000. (2) Pick up sump pump for the basement, which had now been flooding since, oh, 1845. (3) Peckfuss’s dentition. All the elements of a terrific weekend.
Myn had always wanted a place in the country. The real estate agent who’d sold it to them had said, perhaps even truthfully, that Sheridan’s troops had looted it and tried to burn it down.
“And do you know, it was the slaves who saved it!”
Bird thought, Oh, really? This was the third house in the area they’d been shown that had allegedly been saved by devoted darkies. He wondered—it was surely a logical question: Why would slaves risk their lives to save the Massa’s house? Oh, never mind. The agents also delighted in pointing out scorch marks, supposedly mementos of General Sheridan’s slave-thwarted arsons.
It was a lovely old house, though, on 110 acres and at the end of a long, winding oak-lined driveway. Stables, barn, willow trees, trout stream—source of much of the flooding.
The original name was Upton. After a few years of paying bills, Bird renamed it Upkeep. When his mother’s Alzheimer’s progressed to the critical point, he moved her in—not in the least to Myndi’s liking. One night Mother was found wandering the hallways in her peignoir, holding a lit candelabra.
“Sort of perfect, in a Southern-gothic kind of way, don’t you think?” Bird said, trying to put a good face on it. When Myndi didn’t bite, he added, “Or is it just another cliché?”
“Walter. She’s going to burn the place down. With us in it. You have to do something.”
The caretaker, Peckfuss, volunteered his daughter, Belle, to keep nocturnal vigil over Mother. Bird felt sorry for Belle. She had five children, each of whom, insofar as he could tell, had been sired by a different migrant worker. Belle’s amplitude—she weighed in at about three hundred pounds—put a strain on the ancient staircase. At night Bird and Myndi would listen, holding their breath, as the staircase groaned beneath Belle’s avoirdupois. Bird playfully proposed to Myndi an arrangement whereby Belle could be winched up to the third floor with block and tackle. But dear, sweet, kind Belle was an ideal companion. She’d sit by Mother’s bed through the night, consuming frozen cakes, watching reality-TV shows. Her favorite was a showcase piece of American programming imbecility called 1,000 Stupid Ways to Die. One night Bird found them both watching an episode that re-created the demise of a man who had sought to conceal from the police a canister of pepper gas—in his lower colon. Mother was riveted. Bird thought sadly of the days when Mother read to him and his younger brother, Bewks, from The Wind in the Willows. When her condition deteriorated further, the impecunious Bewks moved in to help. Bird loved Bewks. Bewks’s great passion was “living history,” the term preferred by its practitioners to “reenacting” or “dressing up in period military costumes and playing war.”
As it happened, Bewks’s period was the Civil War. His specific adopted persona was that of a Confederate colonel of cavalry. Nutty as it all was, Bird conceded that Bewks cut a neat, dashing figure as he clumped along the porch in his cavalry boots, tunic, and saber. He styled his hair long, after the windblown look of George Armstrong Custer, hero of Gettysburg and Little Big Horn.
How Mother’s brain processed Bewks’s 19th-century appearance, Bird could only guess. For her part, Myn found him “odd.” But Bewks knew his way around a stable and was a bit of a horse whisperer himself, so he and Myn could talk about tendons. Myndi was far too smart to let condescension get in the way of convenience.
Sitting on the porch of a summer evening with an old-fashioned in hand, watching the sun set over the Shenandoah and turn the fields purple, Bird reflected on his fortune: a trophy wife, candelabra-wielding mother, staircase-threatening caregiver, saber-wielding brother, dentally and mentally challenged caretaker, crumbling house, money-sucking mortgage, dwindling bank account.
If he was not from these parts himself, Bird felt at such halcyon moments that he was at least a reasonable facsimile of a Southern gentleman. He smiled at the thought that just the other day an impersonal letter had arrived notifying him that Upkeep’s mortgage was now held by a bank in Shanghai. So if he wasn’t an authentic Southerner, he was at least an authentic American, which is to say, in hock up to his eyeballs to the Chinese.
Bird emerged from the chill interior of Groepping-Sprunt’s corporate jet into the Turkish-steam-bath heat of Alabama.
For the umpteenth time, he wished Al Groepping and Willard Sprunt had built their first rockets in a more temperate clime. Years of visits to corporate headquarters in Missile Gap had taught Bird to limit his outdoor exposure to sprints between air-conditioned spaces. But it wasn’t the heat that was troubling him most just now.
Yesterday there had arrived from Chick Devlin a terse e-mail summons slugged URGENT. Bird knew that layoffs would follow the Dumbo shoot-down. Was his own head on the chopping block? Losing Groepping as a client would be . . . well, disastrous.
Chick was not his usual grinning self. He barely looked up from his desk when Bird entered. Bird braced to hear, Sorry, pal, but this isn’t going to be easy . . .
“Coffee?” Chick said, mustering a brief, perfunctory grin. “I swear I’m still hungover from last week. Why in the name of all that is holy and good did you let me start drinking tequila at that time of night?”
“I tried to stop you,” Bird said, “but you seemed intent on suicide.”
“Felt like roadkill. So guess who I just got off the phone with? Lev Melnikov. Man, oh, man, is he one pissed-off Russian.”
Melnikov was chief executive officer and chairman of the Internet giant EPIC. And he had recently thrown a tantrum of (indeed) epic proportions over China’s censorship and hacking of his operations there. In a retaliatory snit, he’d pulled EPIC out of the country.
“I imagine he would be a tad displeased,” Bird said. “It’s not every day you lose two or three hundred million customers.”
“Weird thing is how personally he’s taking it. That’s unlike him. Lev’s a nerd. Nerds don’t get emotional.”
“You’re a nerd,” Bird said. “You get emotional.”
Chick grinned. “Only about our stock price. Hell, Lev Melnikov’s got more money than God. But you got to remember about Lev—he grew up in Soviet Russia. He doesn’t like getting jerked around by a bunch of Commies.”
“Commies.” Bird smiled. “Ah, for the good old days of the Cold War. Course, I’m way too young to remember all that. More your era.”
“Lev was about thirteen or fourteen when he and his folks got out. But he remembers what it was like, growing up scared, waiting to hear that three a.m. knock on the door, KGB hauling your daddy off to the gulag.”
“And now he’s an American citizen worth twenty billion dollars. The only midnight knock on his door he needs to worry about is the IRS. Tell him to chill. Buy a football team. That’ll take his mind off Chinese Commies.” Bird set his coffee cup down on the glass with a clunk. “Okay, I guess that’s enough small talk. So, why did you drag my sorry ass down here to this swamp? Give it to me straight up. Am I getting the boot?”
PRAISE FOR THEY EAT PUPPIES, DON'T THEY?"Writing comic fiction about world events demands wit and inside knowledge about Washington. It also requires an ability to see the light side of serious issues like China's treatment of Tibet, the death of beloved spiritual leaders and America's financial dependency on China. These are not funny topics, but Christopher Buckley's new novel about them, They Eat Puppies, Don't They?, is hilarious."— USA Today
- "With rising concern about China's military buildup and its economic rivalry with the U.S., perhaps the best course of action is to milk the situation for some laughs. And there are laughs aplenty in Christopher Buckley's sendup.... Creators of great works of satire, such as Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, don't appear often, but Buckley follows in the footsteps of fellow satirist Tom Wolfe in giving readers a delightful perspective on some of the leading issues and social mores of our times."—Associated Press
- "Sun Tzu's Chinese classic, 'The Art of War,' gets quite a workout in Christopher Buckley's latest uproarious political farce, fervently quoted by strivers and schemers in both Beijing and Washington."—The New York Times Book Review
- "Buckley is at his searing best.... Buckley knows Washington. He knows satire. He knows Dr. Strangelove and how to ratchet up absurdities. As our antiheroes get closer and the stakes climb, the book mixes outrageousness and plausibility like a dirty martini..... this is a funny book, and there's nothing here to displease the devoted Buckley fan. And perhaps it speaks to his skill with satire that as the world teeters toward war, we find ourselves missing his lobbyist."—The Washington Post
- "They Eat Puppies, Don't They? cuts deftly between politburo meetings in China and backroom deals in Washington while skewering D.C. pretensions.... Unlike so many other satirists of Beltway culture, Buckley is both deeply informed and deeply funny."—The Wall Street Journal
- "Waggishly amusing... It requires a certain measure of audacity to reward that most whacked of political piñatas, the Washington lobbyist, with his day in the sun. But lobbyists and spin doctors have been good to Buckley (see Thank You for Smoking and Boomsday), who reciprocally accords them a mordant admiration akin to that which David Mamet has lavished upon real estate sharks and card sharps."—San Francisco Chronicle
- "A hilarious and page-turning story of political absurdity worthy of Dr. Strangelove himself."—The Daily Beast
- "A funny, funny book.... Buckley is that rare combination-a brilliant satirist of the first-order and a laugh-out-loud funny writer. They Eat Puppies, Don't They? is one of his best."—Houston Chronicle
- "Sharply hilarious, outrageously fun....Outrageous does not mean implausible, however, and Buckley commands the material so convincingly that the reader stops to ponder if some comic invention wasn't something read in the newspaper last week...They Eat Puppies is smart entertainment, too. And seriously funny."—Cleveland Plain Dealer
- "World powers get little respect from Christopher Buckley in his latest novel.... And as the title might suggest, there is a lot of humor to be digested...hilarious....The usual disclaimer describes the book as a 'work of fiction,' and one can only hope there are no exceptions to that."—The Oklahoman
"Bulls-eye political satire"
- "The title refers to the supposed culinary propensities of the Chinese, but as this novel makes clear, it's said with more than a twist of irony....A lively and politically spirited read."—Kirkus Reviews
- ""Y0u won't really be fond of any of the characters in Christopher Buckley's satire 'They Eat Puppies, Don't They?' But you will have a ball reading about their shenanigans.—Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
- "Christopher Buckley, amuser-in-chief...Buckley's latest foray into international affairs is entertaining and topical. It cuts close to the bone, funny and otherwise."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- "A well-built addition to Buckley's oeuvre"—Publishers Weekly
- PRAISE FOR CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY
- On Sale
- May 14, 2013
- Page Count
- 352 pages