About ten a.m. the next morning, September 14, 1975, Ben Rich called a meeting of those who were working, or might be working, on the Hopeless Diamond project. They met in a drafty corner of the old main hangar, where a ten foot mockup of the plane sat on a crude pylon consisting of four 2x4x4's attached to a plywood base.
The plane was starting to look rather beautiful in its hooded, sinister way, Paul thought.
About twenty persons crowded in a semicircle around Ben and the mockup.
100 feet away, Steve Rossi supervised a crew of technicians working on a small radar source.
"Okay," Ben announced. "Your attention. You are about to see my personal proof of concept. Are you ready, Steve?"
Rossi wavedthumbs up.
Kelly Johnson stepped next to Ben and announced dourly: "Ben and I bet each other a quarter about this contraption. He says it will outdo the D-21 drone, which has the lowest radar signature of any plane to date."
The men laughed, some with a tinge of derision.
Ben held up a quarter and walked up and down like a challenger in a boxing match. "In a few minutes, we're going to change the nature of warfare."
The corner grew quiet.
"Ready?" At Steve's answer, Ben nodded. He pointed to a cathode ray tube on a stand nearby. "Gentlemen, you see that gadget? Watch the screen." He took a few steps out. "See that van parked about 200 feet away? Let's test our equipment. Shoot the van, please."
The technicians turned their gun and aimed it at an old blue van parked against the wall.
"Look at the return."
On the screen, Paul saw a large bright blotch. As the timer swept around the face of the readout, the bright blotch kept showing up regularly.
"We have a big fat van on our radar screen. Now, gentlemen, we're going to aim at our model here and let's see what happens."
Paul had butterflies. This was it, the deciding moment. Even though Ben said he'd already seen the results and was bullish, Paul was filled with a sense of dread. What if it failed?
The men watching the screen began to grow restive.
One yelled to the shack: "You guys need some help?"
"Your aim is off," another yelled.
"Is it plugged in?" a third quipped. Laughter.
Steve Rossi yelled back: "It's been on for several minutes. Look closely at the tube."
The men crowded inall laughter now silentand stared.
"There is nothing!"
"Wait, I see something!"
"That thing's broke!"
"No, there." Ben pointed to a tiny pinprick, a single pixel of light so small it was lost in the brightness of the sweep itself against the darker green background field.
A babble of amazement rose.
"Come on," Ben said, "I'll let you each try it out. That's the only way you're going to believe this." He gave Paul and Bill a thumbs up and a wink. "Great job," he whispered.
There were still guffaws of disbelief.
"Okay," Ben said patiently, "let's make this a real benchmark. We're going to have Steve fetch the wooden mockup of the D-21, and we'll shoot them side by side."
Some of the men straggled away, because they had work commitments. About ten persons, including Paul and Bill, remained for the half hour it took to pull the wooden drone model out of storage and wheel it next to the Hopeless Diamond model on a technician's tool cart.
The D-21's manta-ray shaped body filled the radar screen like an electrified advertisement. The Hopeless Diamond remained nearly invisible.
"The best part," Ben announced, "is that these results exactly fit the calculations made by Paul and Bill."
Applause pattered from the crowdno more derision.
"But the most amazing part is that the signatureno bigger than an eagle's eyeis the same no matter how big or small the target."
Paul felt an intense relief wash over him.
That evening, as Pete rode his bicycle up and down the sidewalk and both driveways, Marsha said: "You have a glow about you." She and Paul sat on his back porch. She had made lemonade.
"I had a great day." Paul checked out Condor III from all sides.
"I know, you can't tell me about it."
"Yup. Tell me about you. How was your day?"
She hesitated. "I had an offer on the house."
"Oh?" He tried not to show his distress.
"I decided to accept, and we're going into escrow. That means I might be free and clear as early as next week."
"I see." He did not want to ask the obvious question, but she answered it for him.
"We're leaving on Monday, Paul." She looked down.
"I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too."
"I said I wasn't going to say anything more, but you know that I'll keep my door open for you down here if you change your mind."
"Don't, Paul. It's the worst thing you can do. I'm not coming back. Not ever. Don't waste any time. Please. I do care about you, more than...anyway...and I wish you the best."
He excused himself and went to the bathroom. Through the lace curtain, as he sat, he saw here walk across the lawn to her house, looking anxiously for Pete. "Peter!" she called. "Peter!"
Pete came streaking around the corner on his bicycle, laid it down by their back door, and hugged her. Together, they went inside.
Paul sat in the bathroom and held his head in his hands, feeling as if he'd been hit by a car. If there ever was a time he wanted to cry, it was now. No tears came. Just an awful gray feeling, like a load of wet concrete weighing him down.
Some time laterhe had no idea how longhe heard her voice at the kitchen screen: "Paul, honey, want to come over and eat?"
As he tidied up in the livingroom, more to regain his composure, he held up Condor III and looked at it from all angles. Good job there, he told himself. Pete would have a good time with it. He'd take it over to their house. Where was the control panel? Oh, over there in the corner. He did a few dishes, washed his face to be fresh, and went out the door.
"Hi," she greeted. She'd set a fine table. "My china is all gone, packed, but I have these plastic plates that are imitation china."
"Smells great," he said, kissing her, to Pete's approving look.
Paul ate quietly. He couldn't talk about his triumph at work today, whose luster had dimmed considerably because of her words, and he didn't want to talk about their trip north. Sensing that, Marsha looked down at her food a lot and ate slowly, sparingly, as if she didn't have much appetite. Paul ate hungrily, but not tasting much.
"Wonderful meal," he said afterwards, and they held hands across the table but didn't look at one another much.
"Paul, where's Condor III?" Pete asked.
"Oh, I was going to bring it. It's on my living room table."
"Can I go get it?"
"Sure. I told you, it's yours."
"Be careful, sweetie," Marsha said.