The sun was directly in line with my eyes, making it difficult at best to see the road in front of us. And it was a rough road. Rutted and pot-holed from the heavy tires of trucks and agricultural equipment. I was pushing the Jeep hard, our speed hovering around 90, and the stiff, off-road suspension was beating us to death and making it a challenge to drive in a straight line.
I was straddling the crown of the road, unconcerned about meeting any oncoming traffic, and as much drift as the poor surface was causing in our path it was a good thing. At this speed I didn’t think I could keep the vehicle in only one lane.
Katie and Rachel were both buckled in and holding on for dear life. Dog’s front legs were resting in Rachel’s lap and she had an arm around his shoulders to keep him from being thrown off the seat.
“Rachel, keep an eye out the back window for pursuit. If they see us they’ll send one of those helicopters,” I said as I fought with the steering wheel.
She turned in her seat after adjusting Dog’s position and ducked her head so she had a good view of the sky to our rear.
“Do you really think they’ll see us?” Katie asked.
“I’ll be more surprised if they don’t,” I answered, grimacing when we bounced through a pothole and my seatbelt was all that prevented my head from smashing in to the roof. “They have to have an AWACS plane up there, which is why the phone isn’t working, and that will give them a great view for miles in all directions. The sun’s still up and we’re easy to spot when there’s nothing else moving.”
Katie nodded and adjusted her grip on the grab bar mounted to the dash in front of her. I glanced quickly in the mirror to make sure Rachel was still watching behind us, then realized that even if she did spot an approaching helo there wasn’t a damn thing we could do. The terrain around us was flat and open. Nowhere to hide. And I sure as hell couldn’t outrun them in the Jeep.
Feeling trapped at just the thought of a Russian helicopter chasing us down I pushed harder on the throttle. The small, six cylinder engine roared louder and we gained a few miles per hour, but as the speedometer needle bounced around 95 it was obvious this was it. There wasn’t enough horsepower to push the big tires and brick-like aerodynamics any faster.
It wasn’t much longer, no more than eight or nine miles from the barn, when Rachel called a warning that she could see something behind us.
“What do you mean, something?” I asked, wanting to look but afraid to take my attention off the road.
“I caught a glint of light, two actually. Looks like they’re a few hundred feet in the air and right over the road.”
“How far?” I asked.
“Can’t tell… wait…” She was quiet for a few moments and in the mirror I could see her pushing over the top of the back seat to get a broader view of the sky.
“OK, it looks like there are definitely two of them. I can see two dots and they’re getting bigger. They’re following the road.” I could hear the concern in her voice.
I looked in all directions but didn’t see anything we could use to conceal the Jeep. It was probably too late anyway. The Russian AWACS would have us spotted, tracking us, vectoring the helicopters to our location. The only real question at the moment was in regards to their intentions. Did they want me alive, or would a missile blow the Jeep and us into a few million pieces as soon as they were in range?
Thinking about it, I decided it wasn’t very likely they would attack first. They would want to verify who was in the fleeing vehicle. So they would catch up and force us to stop. And there wouldn’t be a damn thing I could do other than comply. Despite depictions on TV and in movies, a vehicle doesn’t stand a chance against a helicopter.
Unless you’re driving a Lamborghini and have a nice, smooth, straight road, the helo is faster. It is definitely more maneuverable and when it’s of the “attack” variety it’s also better armed. A few rounds from their canon would shred our tires or knock out our engine or turn us into hamburger if they weren’t careful with their aim. No matter, once they caught up it wouldn’t be long before the chase was over.
I spoke these thoughts as I continued to push as hard and fast as possible. Maybe our capture was inevitable, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to go quietly.
“What about the grenade launcher?” Rachel asked. “It worked once.”
“There’s two of them, and they aren’t going to sit still in a nice stable hover,” I answered, forcing myself to think rationally and not get caught up in the emotions of what I’d done. “Besides, they aren’t going to let me take pot shots at them. They will defend themselves and there’s not even a pile of rocks we can hide behind for protection.”
“How far are they?” Katie asked, turning in her seat and trying to see out the back window.
“I’d guess maybe three or four miles,” Rachel said. I didn’t blame her for her uncertainty. It’s damn hard to estimate distances to an aircraft in flight.
“What do we do?” Katie asked, turning back to face forward. “Unless you’re just going to pull over and surrender we need a plan.”
I was momentarily irritated, but not at her. At myself. She was right and I’d been focusing on the negatives, not trying to figure out a way to get us out of this. I churned through several ideas, quickly dismissing each.
“I don’t know,” I finally said. “I’m out of rabbits.”
Then realization dawned on me. It was the only thing I could do. Lifting my foot off the gas I hit the brakes.
“What the hell are you doing?” Katie yelled as she was thrown forward against her seatbelt. From the back I heard Dog grunt as he slipped off Rachel’s lap onto the floor.
“Giving up,” I said. “They want me. When I get out you drive like hell. They’ll stop for me and you’ll have time to get away.”
I reached across and grabbed Katie, pulling her close and kissing her. Reaching over the back seat I squeezed Rachel’s hand.
“No! Drive! We’ll think of something!” Katie screamed at me, grabbing my arm.
“Honey, there’s no time. You know I’m right. Now go!”
I pulled away from her grasp, avoiding meeting her eyes and stepped out of the Jeep. Slamming the door, I looked in and saw she was still not moving, tears rolling down her face.
“Go!” I shouted, pounding on the window with the palm of my hand.
Katie finally started moving, unbuckling her seatbelt and working her way over the center console. Behind the wheel she looked out the window and met my eyes.
“I love you.” I read her lips.
I gave her my best smile and told her I loved her before stepping back. She floored the throttle and the Jeep shot forward, engine screaming as she kept the power on. I stood there, in the middle of the road, watching them disappear into the setting sun, then turned to the east when I began hearing approaching rotors.
Two fat dots quickly resolved into Russian Mi-24 helicopters. I guessed they were close to a mile away and I calmly removed my weapons and placed them on the asphalt before stepping a few yards away. By this time one of the helos had come into a hover about a hundred yards away while the other one went into an orbit around the area.
They didn’t land, just patiently waited for something. Through the windscreen of the one hovering over the road I could see the pilots staring back at me. What the hell were they waiting for? I had surrendered and disarmed myself. All they had to do was land and take me. Then, as the orbiting helo moved farther away on its racetrack course I picked up the sound of another rotor.
A third Hind came into view, rapidly approaching. The hovering helicopter slipped sideways a few hundred yards to make room, pivoting as it moved so it remained facing me. The new arrival was moving fast, flaring into a brief hover before touching down.
The man in the co-pilot’s seat popped his door open and jumped down, followed by four soldiers from the back that I was sure were Spetsnaz. He began striding directly towards me as they spread out and formed a crude perimeter, weapons trained on me.
I had time to get a good measure of the Russian as he crossed the distance from the idling helicopter. He was my height with a full head of tightly cropped, iron grey hair. Broad shoulders tapered to a narrow waist and he moved with a fluidity that revealed his conditioning. As he drew closer I could see the three small, silver stars on his shoulders that marked him as a Colonel.
The uniform fit him well, the pants bloused into gleaming black paratrooper boots. He came to a stop six feet away and looked me up and down. His eyes were pale blue, deeply set in a face that was hard angles and planes and had that uniquely Russian appearance that I’ve never been able to put into words.
“You are Major John Chase,” he stated with certainty in only slightly accented English. OK, maybe more than slightly accented. He kind of sounded like Boris Badenov from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. “Is that your wife in the Jeep?”
“You have what you came for. Let’s leave her out of it,” I said, meeting his gaze.
“I have no interest in her,” he said after a long pause.
I nodded my thanks.
“And who are you, Colonel?” It was taking all of my self-control to not say something sarcastic or disrespectful, but there was no point in needlessly antagonizing my captor.
“I am Senior Colonel Yuri Grushkin, Commanding Officer of the 45th Guards Spetsnaz Regiment of the Russian Federation Army. I’ve read your file and am surprised you chose to give yourself up. You know why I’m here?”
“I have a good idea, but just for shits and giggles why don’t you tell me.”
I wasn’t really interested in talking to the man, but the longer I drew this out the more time Katie and Rachel had to get out of the area. I didn’t necessarily believe that he wouldn’t send a helicopter after the Jeep, but there wasn’t any reason for the Russians to bother going after them now that they had me, especially if I appeared to be cooperative.
“Shits and giggles,” Grushkin repeated, laughing. “You Americans and your useless sayings. You are like weak little spoiled children, trying to act tough.”
I smiled at him, refusing the take the bait he was dangling in front of me and lose my cool. After a moment he smiled back and flapped his hand at one of the soldiers. The man came forward, handed his rifle to the Colonel and approached me with his hands waving for me to raise my arms.
With a sigh I complied and he stepped behind me and began a very thorough body search. I had expected this and hadn’t bothered to try and conceal any weapons, which was a good thing since they would have been found. The Russian checked every crack, crevice, nook and cranny on my body.
Once satisfied, he pulled my arms behind my back and restrained me with thick flexi-cuffs pulled tight around my wrists. He placed a firm hand in the middle of my back and applied pressure to get me moving in the direction of the waiting helicopter. I walked fast enough to keep them from getting impatient and angry, but took as much time as possible.
“Where are we going?” I asked Grushkin when we reached the Hind. I had stopped outside the troop compartment door and turned to look at him.
“Seattle, then Moscow,” he smiled. “President Barinov is quite anxious to make your acquaintance.”