“We thought you were dead,” Rachel said, throwing her arms around Colonel Crawford and crushing him in an embrace. He grinned, embarrassed by the display of raw emotion.
Rachel had leapt to her feet and run forward to greet Crawford, Scott and Igor after tackling Katie to the ground. Katie still sat in the dirt in the middle of the road, trying to reconcile what she was seeing with what she had expected when the Russian helicopter had stopped them.
Dog worked his way out of Rachel’s open door and limped forward, tail wagging when he spotted Igor. The big Spetsnaz soldier ran forward when he saw him limping and dropped to his knees, gently stroking Dog’s head and softly speaking to him in Russian.
Irina joined them and she and Scott walked to Katie and helped her to her feet. She couldn’t speak at first, looking back and forth between them.
“John thinks he killed you,” she blurted when she had regained some of her composure.
“Plenty of time for that,” Crawford said as he walked up with Rachel at his side. “We need to get off this road and settled in for the night before a patrol spots us and asks questions.”
He surveyed Katie who was swaying slightly as she stood in the middle of the road, then turned to Scott.
“Tech Sergeant, get that vehicle off the road and concealed. Ma’am,” he turned back to Katie and extended his arm to escort her to the helicopter.
“The Russians have John,” Katie said without moving.
“I’m aware, but at the moment there’s nothing I can do. They are patrolling the area and we need to get out of here before we’re spotted.”
Katie nodded and allowed him to take her arm and lead her to the helicopter. Scott had jumped into the driver’s seat and drove the Jeep closer to the Hind, turning off the road into a dry wash and pushing it deep into some brush. Igor, who had already helped Dog board the helo, trotted up and collected the packs, weapons and ammunition from the Jeep as Scott hacked dead branches off the surrounding vegetation and used them to screen the vehicle from view.
“Where are we going?” Rachel asked when everyone was on board and Martinez lifted them into the air.
She gave Johnnie Ray a quick look, but ignored him for the moment. His hands and ankles were restrained and he was strapped to a web sling seat against the far wall of the compartment. A wide strip of silver duct tape covered his mouth and someone, probably Martinez, had drawn a big smile on it with a red marker.
“Nampa airport,” Crawford answered. “That’s where we’ve been laying low for the past two days. We tried to catch up with you, but there were too many patrols and we barely bluffed our way past a flight of fighter jets.”
“It’s a suburb of Boise,” Scott offered when Rachel didn’t react to the name of the town. “We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
“How do we get John back?” Katie moved to face the Colonel.
“Seattle,” he answered. “After they picked him up they took him to Mountain Home Air Force Base and on a plane to Seattle. Or that’s the plan. We were able to get that much over the Russian military radio in this bird. They aren’t talking about what they’re going to do with him after that, but I’m willing to bet there’s a military transport plane that will take him to Moscow.”
“If he’s already on his way to Seattle, why are we going to Nampa? There’s no time. We need to get to Seattle!” Katie forced herself not to shout at Crawford in her impatience.
“Fuel. We’re going to refuel and go. Captain Martinez has already looked it up and it’s four hundred air miles on to Seattle. Three hours’ flight time in this. We’ll be there before the sun comes up.”
What he didn’t say was that the Russians had such a large head start that the Major might be on his way to Moscow before they could reach Seattle. At least they knew the destination of the Gulf-stream was Boeing Field, south of Seattle. What they didn’t know was if John would be immediately loaded for his final flight, or if the Russians would hold him on the ground for some period of time.
Katie nodded and settled back against a bulkhead. Irina was sitting next to her and gave her a smile. Katie smiled weakly and closed her eyes, exhausted from the emotions she’d been dealing with.
“Tell me,” Rachel said to Crawford. “How did you wind up with a Russian helicopter?”
He smiled and began relaying the story, with help from Irina. They told her about their high speed flight to try and catch up with John and Katie, but having to divert away from the southern portion of the Sawtooth Mountains because of intense Russian patrol activity.
Because they were in a stolen aircraft they didn’t have the current passwords and codes for the transponder and had nearly been shot down. Fortunately, Igor was able to get on the radio and in his native tongue convince the patrol that they had experienced an equipment failure. Flaky hardware is endemic to the Russian military and the lie wasn’t that much of a stretch for their challenger to believe.
As soon as was safe, Martinez had dropped to fifty feet above the ground and gotten them to the closest airport that was outside the area of such intense interest to the Russians. For two days they’d sat hidden in a hangar, Igor and Irina taking turns monitoring the radio.
They’d grown concerned when the Russian presence in the mountains began to increase, then before they knew it they were listening to a concerted ground search of Twin Falls. With sadness and horror, they had all gathered around as Irina translated the communications as John had been run down, eventually surrendering.
There had been a discussion between the AWACS plane and Colonel Grushkin about sending one of the jets on CAP to destroy the fleeing Jeep, but the Colonel had ordered them to allow it to continue unmolested. As soon as they heard that, Crawford decided they would risk a flight to intercept and rescue Katie and Rachel.
They had waited for the Jeep to come closer to the area they were in, monitoring its progress through routine updates being broadcast to Russian forces by the AWACS. Martinez had assured them that it wouldn’t be long before the vehicle was outside the range of the surveillance aircraft, and the moment they heard the radio operator declare it was no longer being tracked, they took off.
Then it was Rachel’s turn to tell her story. They all sat listening with rapt attention as she talked.
“Wolves? Really?” Scott interrupted. “I thought they’d all been wiped out years ago.”
“So did I,” Rachel smiled, then continued her story.
Martinez asked a couple of questions over the intercom once she was done, then Rachel glanced to where Katie sat with her eyes closed before speaking softly into her headset’s microphone.
“Do you really think we can get to Seattle in time, and get him back?”
Crawford and Irina exchanged glances then he too cast a quick glance at Katie.
“We’re going to try,” he said.