Escape the swamp
The next day Richard was raring to go. He was waiting at the end of the dirt road an hour before dawn. He was pouring over the swamp maps checking his GPS and compass. He decided that due to his new found paranoia and the hazardous local wildlife both animal and human, he would take some additional precautions. In an electronically locked suitcase Richard had a semi-automatic rifle and pistol with additional mags. The suitcase also had some non-lethal means. Underneath the padding for the guns was several flash bangs and concussion grenades.
His father insisted everyone in the family be trained in self-defense. Zeus, the head of security for Chosset Senior’s company, personally trained each of them to use firearms, knives and personal defense. He showed each family member how to survive imminent peril. Be observant, be mindful, don’t try to be a hero. As a last resort fight, take in the environment and use it as a weapon, whether it was beer bottles, rusty nails or a set of keys. Some would call it paranoia but Zeus called it preparedness.
Richard put an extra magazine in the pocket of his cargo pants and a flash bang and concussion grenade in the other. Just as he finished loading his pockets he heard the distinct roar of the propeller of a swamp boat. Hog Bear came tearing through the bush and did a complete circle around his vehicle. Stopping beside Richard. “Uz readies for an adventures in meez swamp?”
Richard took his rifle, took a slow deep breath and aimed down the site. He slowly exhaled and squeezed the trigger. The bullet flew straight on mark and hit his target, an empty beer bottle lying on the ground. Richard flicked the safety back on and handed it to Hog Bear. He laughed shaking his whole belly around. “Iz knews Iz liked uz for somes reasons, uz be right at homes here in da swamp.”
Hog Bear helped Richard load the rest of the equipment. Together they looked at the map and Richard pointed to where he needed to be. “Iz be telling you that place gots bad muju.”
Richard looked at Hog Bear. “Why does it got bad “muju?”
“Iz knows lots of hunters and fishermen’s that has d’er boats been wrecked up and somes of dems evens seens stuffs. D’ers an old stories bouts creatures livins in da swamp. Nobody’s goes d’ers much not evens meez. But if uz nots afraids to goes, Iz not bez afraid to takes you.”
The ride took a few hours and Hog Bear as a good host and guide to his swamp pointed out local flora and fauna. They stopped for a lunch of frog legs that Hog Bear caught the day before and fried up southern style.
When they pulled to within half a mile of the beacon Richard felt the mood of the swamp change, Hog Bear became fidgety in his elevated captains seat. Richard had Bear slow to a walking pace. He broke out his binoculars and began scanning the lakeside. They approached within 300 feet of the beacon and Richard caught the briefest shift of something from the bush. He pulled the binoculars down and then looked again. He chalked it up to an animal or his imagination and kept scanning.
Richard found the homing beacon had shifted position to an inlet in the south, it didn’t look like where he had dropped it and the GPS confirmed it. He pointed Hog Bear to where they should be. Hog Bear cut the engine and the boat gently glided into the thick swamp reeds that Richard could not see through in the helicopter. Richard confirmed it was the location when he saw some reeds with the pink fluorescent dye he had dropped. Hog Bear handed Richard a machete to cut a path through them. Richard jumped off the front into about a foot and a half of water. His fishing boots and waders kept the water and any swamp creatures that would like to bite into Richard at bay.
Progress was slow. They weight pushed them down into the muck making every step more tedious. For the most part the reeds parted but to get a better idea of where they had come from Richard would cut a path. They continued in another 50 feet following the water into a hidden inlet.
As the shore line closed in on the water the cypress trees hung over the reeds. They kept pushing forward until Richard took a swing with the machete and contacted metal. Richard looked back at Hog Bear and he shrugged his shoulders. Richard cleared away the reeds to reveal a rusted blue cylinder. Richard cleared away the length and breadth of the object to get a better look at it. It was long about 15 feet but only a foot wide. It was originally painted green but in several spots had rusted through from exposure and the acidity of the water.
Richard stared at it hoping it would reveal what it was to him. He looked at Hog Bear who just shrugged his shoulders again. Hog Bear came over and tried to lift it up. They would need a crane to pull this object from the suction of the mud. Richard started to get an idea of what it may be. He followed the edge to what Richard thought was the front and could see it curve upwards towards him.
Richard dug his hands into the mud and found there was even more buried. He realized what they had found was a pontoon from a sea airplane. He quickly started taking pictures. Richard was so wrapped up with the pontoon he nearly forgot where the rest of the plane was.
Richard pushed forward through the reeds deeper into the inlet. Richard could see a small rise above the water where a lone weeping willow tree had laid claim. Its branches and leaves hung low some dipping into the water others blending seamlessly with the reeds.
Then Richard saw it, under the umbrella of the willow, an aircraft. It had crashed nose first into the tree and sat on its belly. The jet engines were conspicuously mounted onto the top of the wing. One of the wings was submerged into the swamp while the other was tilted into the air. The topside of the plane was painted with varying patterns and shades of blue. Two cannons were mounted on each wing beside a single seat cockpit.
Hog Bear’s jaw dropped as he saw what was there. “Dat d’ers an aero-plane.” Richard picked up a thick branch and handed it to Hog Bear. Richard instructed him to go to the nose of the plane and hold it there. He pulled out his laser measure and pointed it to the branch. From nose to tail it was a shade over 34 feet. Richard measured the submerged wing from tip to the fuselage, about 40 feet.
The plane had no markings or numbers. Richard took the machete and jammed it into the crease between the fuselage and the canopy. It groaned in disgust. Hog Bear came over and got his massive paws under the lip. He lifted with all his might and the canopy swung open. As it flipped over the outside of the plane the hinges gave out. The canopy crashed to the ground breaking the silence that had been around them in the swamp.
Hog Bear and Richard froze for a moment. The plane’s pilot never made it out. The skeleton still had on its original leather flying apparel. The leather aviator cap was soaked in blood and bore a single bullet hole at the temple, most likely a self-inflicted wound. As Richard leaned into the cockpit he could see the fuselage was bent in, pinning the pilot’s legs.
Richard began snapping pictures to document the scene. In the pilot’s lap was the Parabellum pistol he used to end his life. As Richard peered into the coffin the enigma began to unravel itself. He recognized the language on the instrumentation. Though Richard couldn’t speak or read it, he could decipher one word, Geschwindigkeitsmesser. Richard had driven on the Autobahn and knew the most important word there Geschwindigkeitsmesser, tachometer. The Luger pistol cemented his theory.
It looked like a Messerschmitt Me-262, the world’s first jet powered craft powered by two Junkers Jumo 004 engines. It was the fastest plane in the skies in WWII and thankfully was deployed too late in the war and in too few numbers to make an impact. It was a Blitzkrieg weapon that the Allies had little ability to combat in flight. So the focus was to destroy it on the ground and second eliminate its essential infrastructure. The Allies targeted factories, fuel stores, hangars and runways. The last being the key to the equation before him.
If Germany was bombed out with no runways how do you get the last best weapon into the air? You make a runway out of two-thirds of the earth. It made complete sense. What made no sense was how a revolutionary airplane ended up half a world away from where it originated, in a hostile country when it had a range of 650 miles and the Germans had one aircraft carrier that was never deployed.
Richard finished photographing the plane and went back to the skeleton. He wondered how long he waited before deciding to end his life. Then his thoughts went to his family waiting for him to return home. Richard said a prayer and began to search the cockpit. Around the skeletons neck was a heart shaped locket. He carefully removed the silver charm. Richard opened it but the picture had long since disintegrated. As he closed it his fingers ran across some indentations on the back. Richard flipped it over and saw the initials HF and IW.
In his breast pocket of his leather vest Richard found a tarnished silver cigarette case and matching lighter. Richard carefully removed them so not to destroy the leather. The lighter had an inscription, Henrik Brunnuer. The cigarette case was still sealed tight. Richard released the clasp and the aroma of tobacco wafted into the air. Four cigarettes sat where its owner had placed them. Richard removed one and with his waterproof matches lit one up. The tobacco was strong and stale, after a couple of pulls he dropped it into the water.
Richard lagged behind Bear as he linked to a satellite, uploading the pictures to secure company server. Bear was up on the boat checking the prop blade as Richard came through the reeds. Richard began pulling himself onto the boat and for a second lost his balance. He began falling backward into the reeds when he felt a sharp pain in his shoulder.
When Richard hit the water Bear turned to look, a second later Richard heard a loud thud and looked up at Hog Bear. He grabbed at his right arm and yelled out “Dat bitch bit meez.” When he moved his hand Richard could see it was no bite, but a bullet wound. A second later the second thud came and Hog Bear dropped to the deck.
Blood poured from a gaping hole in the side of his head. Richard realized that the slip and fall had saved his life. The bullet grazed his shoulder. He dove to his belly and accessed the situation. The shot came from in front of him and slightly to the left. It was no accident and was taken by a good marksman. The first shot was nearly on its mark except for his timing of the fall, the second was slightly rushed and the third he took his time aimed dead on. Richard knew if he exposed anything he would be dead too.
The shooter most likely did not take it from the water so he would be on bank across the lake 250 yards or so away. After lying in the swamp for an eternity Richard heard the rumble of a boat engine. Staying flat he wiggled forward to the airboat and slipped into the water using the boat to shield him.
Richard had seconds to come up with a plan. He still had his gun but he was too afraid to shoot at anyone. The assailant approached at speed and whipped into a 360 degree stop turn. The wake pushed the airboat at Richard. He had no choice but to dive straight down.
The water was only about five feet deep under the boat. Richard plastered himself into the bottom and watched the shadows above him. As he looked up he saw the bottom of the airboat was shaded differently. He reached up and felt that Hog Bear had modified the classic airboat flat bottom hull. In the front it came to a point then it split off and ran down each side of the airboat like a hydrofoil, putting less of the boat in contact with the water to increase speed.
It let the boat ride higher in the water and at rest it left six inches of air between the hull and surface. Richard pressed his mouth and nose up against the hull and took a deep soundless breath. The assailant hopped onto the airboat and began rummaging through the equipment. He jumped from the front of the boat into the reeds. Richard could hear him go towards the plane.
Richard took the opportunity to swim from the boat to a bush over hanging the water. He pushed his body as far into the bramble as possible. He forced himself to stay hidden though every instinct told him to run. Curiosity kept Richard from closing his eyes as the marksman came back into view.
Richard could see why the locals were scared of this place. He wore a full gillie suit dressed for the swamp. It looked like something out of “Swamp Thing.” He climbed back on the airboat and looked around again just to make sure he did not overlook anything. Then he pulled out a satellite phone. He hit one button and a few seconds later must have connected.
His voice carried across the water, “I know I hit him but he ran off into the swamp, the guide is dead. The assailant listened to the response and then replied, “I will keep hunting him there is no chance he survives this swamp between me, the gators, and the snakes.” He hung up the phone and picked up the reserve gas can, dumping its contents all over the airboat deck.
With his 8 foot inflatable boat that was all black he towed the captain-less airboat into the middle of the lake and set it ablaze. The black boat sped off to the east and Richard watched as the airboat burned then sank taking all evidence of Hog Bear with it.
Richard waited for the hum of the engine to die and waited a few more minutes to be sure he would not double back. When he thought it was safe he began running out of the swamp towards the west. For hours Richard fought the swamp. From land to water and back again, over and over. He did encounter wildlife but only at a distance, the gators and the snakes seemed more confused at why Richard was there then trying to make a snack of him.
What the assassin didn’t mention on the phone was that the insects would probably be what killed him. Richard had bug bites on top of bug bites. Every inch of exposed flesh plus the occasional crafty insect that worked its way into his clothing. His skin was burning with pain. One mosquito landed on Richard and it was no smaller than a bird and took enough blood to donate to a blood bank.
It took Richard the entire night to hike out and finally reach civilization. Civilization turned out to be another dirt road. He staggered down it like the undead searching for flesh. A cloud of dust was coming at Richard but he could do little about it. He just dropped in the road and waited.
Through the dust Richard could see an old 1950’s pickup, painted a shade of beige that was only found attractive back then. The pickup slowed as it approached him then stopped. His eyelids were so swollen from the insect bites he could barely see who got out.
Richard was able to get his left eye open just enough to see a young girl in daisy dukes walking towards him. She wasn’t quite Daisy Duke but she did have the girl next door attractiveness. She had long muscular legs and wore converse sneakers. The distance to the rest of her body made focusing his one working eye difficult to determine the other features.
She bent over Richard and in a soft southern draw said, “I think I need to get you fixed up.” His lips also being swollen Richard just nodded. She helped him to his feet and got him onto the bench seat of the pickup. He laid with his head towards the driver and was asleep before she got back in.