“That’s not a good idea,” Martinez said when I told the small group what I had in mind.
The fueling had completed and we were all back in the VIP bar, eating another quick meal before we departed. Yes we were eating a lot, but there was no guarantee of when we would have anything other than an MRE again. When you’re on the move, fighting to stay alive, food is very much like water. You eat as much as you can, when you can, because it may be a long time before you get any more.
“You have a better one?” I asked in between bites.
“Look, I understand you need to get there fast because of the weather front coming in. I get that. But once we link up with Scott we should all follow in the Bradley. We’ll be a few days behind, but you may need us. Have you thought about where you’re going once you find Rachel?” Martinez asked.
That caught me unprepared. My concern for her had driven all thoughts other than getting there as fast as possible out of my head. I looked around the table at Katie and Colonel Crawford. They just looked back at me.
“I agree with the Captain,” Crawford finally said, wiping his mouth with a heavy linen napkin before taking a drink of water. “You may very well need support and that Bradley can keep moving in just about any kind of weather. We have no idea how bad it’s going to get and I can’t stop thinking about how bad the tornadoes in Arkansas were.”
“What does that have to do with snow in Idaho?” I asked.
“When the storms were bearing down on West Memphis it was mentioned to me that there’s a theory that nuclear detonations would have an adverse effect on the weather. Cause storms to be stronger. I don’t know if that was the case but you saw the aftermath of those tornadoes. I was raised in the southeast and have experienced a few in my day, but these were like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard of.
“My point is, it’s early in the season for a winter storm to be dipping down out of Canada. Not unprecedented, but very early. And if it’s magnified as much as those tornadoes seem to have been, you may need us and the Bradley to get out of those mountains.”
I sat there chewing, thinking about what the Colonel had said. As much as I wanted all of them to head to the safety of the Bahamas he had a valid point. If only a few inches of snow fell I was confident in being able to find a four-wheel drive truck that could make its way through. But what if he was right and this was a big storm that wound up dumping feet, not inches? We’d be stuck.
“OK, you’ve convinced me.” I nodded and pushed my empty plate away. “But what about the Russian surge? They’re going to have air assets up. We already know they’re flying an around the clock CAP. They might ignore me in a civilian vehicle traveling on the roads, but I’m willing to bet a Bradley moving will draw unwanted attention.”
“I don’t have an answer for that,” Crawford conceded. “But I think we need to take the chance.”
I shook my head, not in disagreement but at the thought of the level of risk the people travelling in a US military vehicle would be taking. Then I thought of another problem.
“Comms,” I said. “I was planning on taking your sat phone so I could stay in touch with Pearl. Use them as my eye in the sky. How do we stay in contact?”
“The Bradley has comm gear,” the Colonel responded. “Blanchard issued an FSOC unit to them before they headed out to find you and there’s also HF radios on board.”
“Then why haven’t we been able to reach them?” I asked.
“We’ll figure that out when we catch up with them,” he said, pushing his chair back and standing. “Shall we get moving?”
We all stood and I tossed some scraps to Dog who snatched them out of the air without bothering to stand.
“Let’s go get Rachel, boy.” I said to him, scratching his ears as I walked past. He jumped to his feet and raced up the stairs ahead of me.
I took a moment to situate my vest, adjusting it to a comfortable fit. It had been soaked with sweat, covered in blood and dirt was ground in to every fiber. I had washed it as best I could and it now only stank badly enough for me to notice if I took a deep breath.
“Ready?” I asked Katie as I loaded the last full magazine into a pouch.
“For a road trip? You bet!” She smiled, checking her rifle over. “Remember the last time we drove across the country? We came back married. Wanna stop in Vegas and see if that preacher in the blue leisure suit is still around? Renew our vows?”
I looked at her, not sure if she was just being flip or if there was some insecurity over us going off to save Rachel. Not that Katie wouldn’t be the first to say we had to go help her but that didn’t mean there wasn’t concern over what might come once we found Rachel. Not surprisingly she read me like a book, knowing exactly what I was thinking.
“Just trying to lighten the mood,” she said. “Let’s go get your girlfriend.”
“Hey,” I started to say, but she and Martinez both burst out in laughter.
“You are so easy,” Katie said. “My mother was right about you.”
“Right about what?”
“You ready?” Katie turned to Martinez and they headed for the stairs, completely ignoring me.
Shaking my head and grumbling I took a last look around to ensure we weren’t leaving anything behind that we might need. Not seeing anything I followed the two women up the stairs and out onto the roof. Colonel Crawford was standing by the Huey, burning cigarette in hand as he spoke on the sat phone. He ended the call as we approached.
“Here,” he said, holding the device out to Martinez. “Petty Officer Simmons is sending their current coordinates.”
“That’s good, sir, but there’s not exactly a nav computer in this old war horse to plug them into.”
“Shit,” Crawford mumbled. “We’ve all gotten too goddamn used to technology. Or maybe that’s just me. How about I call her back and get a heading and distance? Will that suffice?”
“Yes, sir. That will be perfect,” Martinez smiled and began walking around the Huey to perform her pre-flight check.
While she inspected the aircraft I coiled up the hose we’d used for transferring fuel and put it in the Huey. Next came a pump, a smaller hose that would fit into a vehicle’s filler neck as well as some tools I had gathered from the maintenance shop. I’d need to refuel whatever car or truck we found and didn’t expect the power to be on at any gas station we stopped at.
With the pump, which could run on a car’s electrical system, I’d be able to open the access plate to a station’s storage tanks, drop a hose down the hole and pump gas into my transportation’s fuel tank. Less convenient than just pulling up to the fuel island and swiping a credit card, but it would serve the purpose.
By the time Martinez was finished the Colonel wrapped up his call and gave her the information she needed. She nodded and climbed aboard, the rest of us following. I took a few minutes to get my improvised harness wrapped around Dog and secured to the tether hanging from the ceiling. He didn’t like it but he put up with it. I really couldn’t ask for anything more from him.
“Katie, you want the pig?” I asked while I was double-checking the security of Dog’s tether.
“What?” She asked. “The pig?”
“Sorry. The M-60. The door gun. You want it, or you want me to take it?” I clarified.
“I think I’ll pull rank and strap in,” Crawford said, situating himself in the open door. “Been a long time.”
The starters sounded and a moment later the rotor began spinning lazily, gaining speed.
“Why “pig”?” Katie asked, sitting down next to Dog.
“Carry one around in the field all day,” I said. “They weigh about twenty-five pounds, without ammo.”
Katie smiled and said something that I couldn’t hear. The rotor was at take off speed and Martinez lifted us into the air, turning and heading into the rising sun.