Book: Precipice

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Twin Falls was surrounded by a lot of agriculture and as we began heading west we drove past huge farms that were now sitting untended.  Massive pieces of equipment could be seen resting where they had stopped.  The road we were on was flat and even though it was only two lanes, it was wide with broad shoulders to accommodate all the trucks that would carry the produce to market.

When we stopped in the city to top off the fuel tank I had needed a bathroom break, and was sure Dog and the girls did as well, but decided to get us out into open country so we weren’t having to fight at the same time we were trying to go.  Less than a mile ahead I could see a large grove of trees near the edge of the road. 

As we drew closer a barn and several vehicles came into view.  I pointed it out and alerted them that I was planning to stop for a few minutes.  Both of them nodded and quickly checked over their weapons to make sure they were ready.  I couldn’t help but grin at the sounds of magazines being dropped, checked and clicked back into place.

“What’s amusing you?”  Katie asked from the passenger seat.

“Just thinking how surreal this is,” I said.  “Driving down a road, telling you we’re going to make a stop and the first thing you do is check your rifle.  A couple of months ago all you would have done is warned me to make sure it looked like the kind of place with clean bathrooms.”

“Well, if they’re not, you’re going to be in trouble,” Katie said, looking out her window at a large tractor lying on its side in a field.

I slowed the Jeep, coming to a stop on the pavement to survey the area before pulling off the road.  More than a dozen old trees shaded the barn and surrounding area, their branches swaying slightly in the chilly breeze blowing down out of the mountains.  Large, double doors were set in the end of the barn facing us, one of them swinging slightly with the wind, the other locked into place.  It looked deserted.

“Good as any,” I said, taking my foot off the brake and idling onto the short, dirt track that led from the road.

I pulled to a stop thirty yards from the barn and we sat there for a minute, engine idling, waiting to see if there were any infected inside that were going to come out and greet us.  Finally, still seeing nothing, I shut the engine off and stepped out.  Katie and Rachel got out the far side at the same time and all of us raised our rifles and scanned the area.

“I’m going to check the barn,” I said quietly after none of us detected any threats.

I moved forward and the girls fell in with me.  I started to say something but Katie just stuck her tongue out at me and crossed her eyes.  Trying not to laugh, I focused on the open door to my front.  Katie and I went in, Rachel taking up station with her back to the open door, keeping an eye on the surrounding area.

The barn was gloomy, but my eyes quickly adjusted.  It held two tractors and several power attachments for them that I couldn’t identify.  There was also a large truck with an open bed and mud caked tires.  I suspected it had been used to transport harvested produce from the fields to a location where it could be transferred to a larger truck for the drive to town.

Finding nothing of concern, I waved Katie out the door ahead of me and we rejoined Rachel.  While they made use of the privacy afforded by a rusting harvester, I lifted Dog down out of the Jeep so he could get a break too.  As soon as his feet touched the ground he shook, sneezed and limped over to the closest tree.

I was just zipping up when the sound caught my attention.  Rotor noise.  Correction.  Rotors making noise.  It was on the threshold of hearing, but I was certain I was hearing multiple helicopters.  They were too faint for me to recognize the signature and identify the aircraft, but what I could hear told me they were large.  I had little doubt they were Russian.

“Hear that?”  Katie called from the far side of the Jeep.

“Yes,” I said, shading my eyes with my hand and peering in the direction of Twin Falls.

We were only perhaps ten or fifteen miles from the edge of town, but that was far enough that I didn’t stand a chance of seeing the helos.  The wind had shifted until it was coming out of the east and that was probably the only reason I was even hearing them.

“Shouldn’t we get moving?  Get away from here?”  Rachel asked, coming over to stand next to me.

I turned and looked west, along the road.  The terrain was flat and I could see to the horizon.  It was wide open without a single tree or structure visible.  Turning back, I continued to try and spot the helicopters.

“If we do, and they come this way, we’ll be caught out in the open,” I said.

“You think it’s the Russians?”  Katie asked, joining us.

“That’s what I’m thinking,” I answered, fishing in my pocket for the sat phone, then heading for the Jeep when I remembered it was on the charger.

Lifting it out I noted there was no signal lock and looked up at the trees.  They shouldn’t be blocking us but I moved out into the open just in case, keeping an eye on the signal meter in the display.  It still didn’t lock onto the satellite.  Getting a bad feeling I powered the phone down, then restarted it.  No change.  Shit!

“What?”  Katie asked as I walked back to the Jeep.

“Sat phone’s not connecting,” I answered, tossing it inside and closing the door. 

“Any idea why not?”

“Just a guess, but if that’s Russians I have an idea they’re jamming the signal.  Don’t want us communicating with anyone.”  I resumed my pose with a hand shading my eyes, staring to the east.

“Why would the Russians be looking for us?”  Rachel asked.

I glanced at Katie and nodded for her to tell the story.  We’d told Rachel about the events at Tinker and how we’d found her, but hadn’t gone into detail about some of the things that had happened on the drive to Idaho.

While Katie filled her in I checked on Dog.  He had stretched out in the dirt by the Jeep’s back bumper where he could keep an eye on us without having to stand.  I gave him some water and a thorough head rub as I thought about our situation.

My initial reaction was to get on the road and put as much distance as possible between the Russians and us.  If I didn’t know how easy it is to spot a moving vehicle in open terrain from a helicopter flying at a couple of thousand feet, I would probably have given in to that impulse.

But what really bothered me was how had they found me again?  I was almost certain I’d shaken them in Dodge City, and it’s a hell of a long way from Kansas to Idaho.  There was only one answer that made sense.  There was another traitor.  And this one had to be in Hawaii.

Colonel Crawford and the people with him knew where I was going.  Jessica knew where I was.  Other than that we hadn’t had communication with anyone.  Now the Colonel and the rest of his party were dead, at my hand.  Had one of them betrayed me?  Had I been completely fooled by either Irina or Igor and they were actually Russian agents?

I didn’t think so.  Too many things tipped the scales in their favor.  That left Pearl Harbor.  How many people were actually aware of who and where I was?  I had no idea, and with the sat phone not working I couldn’t contact Jessica.  Maybe that was good, though.  Maybe she was the mole.

I dismissed that thought as soon as I had it.  She had us spotted precisely.  If she was the mole, the Russians wouldn’t be having to search the area.  They’d be crawling up my ass with a big, bright flashlight.  That left someone she worked with.  I needed to talk to her.

Standing, I yanked the Jeep door open and grabbed the phone.  Still no signal lock.  I walked back into the open, making sure I was well away from any branches that could even possibly interfere with the device.  Nothing.  Just an icon of an antenna and the word “searching” rapidly blinking beneath it.  As I stood there, staring at the offending device, I could still hear the faint sounds of helicopter rotors from over Twin Falls.

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