The helicopter was roaring fast and low across the ocean, leaving the coast of Florida behind. The chopper was so close to the water’s surface, it left a trail of spray in its wake.
“Speed is critical,” Addison yelled into his headset’s microphone over the thundering rotors. “So I’ve ordered the Redfire supply ship to move forward without us. Jeffers, your micro-sub will be waiting for you there.”
North, Holland and Jeffers were crammed onto the back bench of the helicopter, Jeffers in the middle. Each small jolt of the helicopter caused their knees, elbows, or earphones to knock against the others. When they shifted to adjust, they collided again. The entire trip in the back bench seat was an uncomfortable three-person dance.
Addison and pilot were snug in their front row bucket seats. Addison had never introduced the pilot. He was silent, concentrating on flying the helicopter.
“I just thought of something,” North said into his mic.
“The first time’s always difficult,” Addison said. He was checking his cell phone and didn’t look back.
“What if Sinclair is dead?” North asked. “He made the call but since then they’ve killed him?”
“Then you leave the body, come home and we’re all done,” Addison said.
“Any other backup plans?”
“Backup plans are too expensive.”
“This guy’s a billionaire and you don’t have a backup? It seems common sense if the guy is buying a Katrina contract to have some insurance.”
“We are the insurance.”
“He’s right, North,” Holland said. “Who ever heard of insurance for insurance?”
“Insurance insurance? Might not be a bad business venture,” Jeffers mumbled. “And then maybe insurance for that.”
“I’m talking about a backup, that’s all,” North said. “What if we run into trouble?”
“Don’t,” Addison answered.
“What if trouble comes looking for us?”
Addison turned in his seat to face backwards and look North in the eye. “There’s no backup, North. Deal with it. From your special ops and wetwork experience, you should be used to that. More people involved increases the profile of the mission and endangers secrecy. Redfire sells itself on being discreet.”
“None of this seems well-thought-out,” North grumbled.
“When I picked you off the roster,” Addison said, “did I make a bad choice?”
North met his gaze. “Maybe.”
“Well, there weren’t a lot of options. Everyone else was busy.”
“Nice to know we’re second-stringers,” North said.
“There won’t be any trouble, sir,” Holland said. “We’ll take care of it.”
Addison turned forward again. “I appreciate that, Holland. A can-do attitude does a lot for morale. Pay attention to her, North.”
“A can-do attitude sometimes means people aren’t being realistic,” Jeffers added.
Holland turned to face him.
“I’m not saying that’s the case here,” Jeffers said quickly, his voice trailing off.
No one spoke again until they could see the aft of the boat racing away from them at full speed, a wake of white foam marking its path. Once they saw the ship, it grew quickly as the helicopter closed in. They were close enough now to see the crew pointing and running about the deck.
The pilot spoke to the ship’s captain through his headset.
“On approach. Keep her straight. Steady. That’s good. Good. Hold it. Hold it.”
The ship’s bridge was elevated on a tower rising above the low, flat fishing area in the back. The deck had been cleared so the chopper could land.
“She doesn’t look designed for holding a helicopter,” the pilot said.
“Sometimes you have to improvise,” Addison said.
“Are we really in this much of a hurry? She’s not going to stop?”
“Just get us down there.”
“This is crazy.”
The ship bounced across the water with the helicopter chasing it, descending gently through a thickening cloud of grey exhaust.
“Tell them to at least slow down,” the pilot said.
“No,” Addison answered, “that would waste time.”
“I can barely see.”
“Then concentrate on flying and not bitching.”
North and Holland crammed themselves against the side of the helicopter. Jeffers leaned backward as hard as he could. Being in the middle, he grabbed a knee of each person on either side of him. No one complained.
The helicopter was vibrating, buffeted by the draft swirling around the bridge tower as the ship plowed forward. Spray dotted the lower part of the cockpit windows, crawling upwards as the helicopter edged closer.
The chopper suddenly surged forward, rotors slicing close to the antennas on top of the bridge. Everyone in the cockpit but the pilot splayed out their hands to brace for impact. The pilot grabbed the control stick with both hands, trying to steady the chopper inside the draft-free zone just behind the bridge tower. If the helicopter moved too far forward it would collide with the ship. If it fell too far back, the air rushing around the boat would push them away.
Two sailors stood on the ship’s deck, well clear of the landing zone, signaling the alignment of the chopper’s skids with hand gestures.
“This is nuts,” the pilot yelled. “Tell them to stop. We’ll lose ten minutes max.”
“Not good enough,” Addison answered, his voice quivering. He was gripping the chopper’s frame tightly, his face pale.
Hovering, the helicopter swung to the port side, over the water, then back over the deck. Then it fell behind over the churning wake, then forward, to almost strike the tower again. The pilot’s hands were shaking on the stick, fighting the competing forces.
Jeffers put his hands over his face. Holland closed her eyes and turned away. North ground his teeth.
The chopper drifted backwards, away from the tower. The pilot flicked a switch, cutting all power to his craft. North’s stomach churned as they dropped to the deck with a crunch and bounced, tilting backward.
The view inside the cockpit rotated skyward as the helicopter rolled backwards. Equipment tumbled all about the cabin. Those inside watched with silent horror as the ship’s tower dropped from view until all they could see was sky.
The view froze for a very long second.
The helicopter tilted forward as they crashed down with a second crunch. The sailors moved quickly, pulling tight on cables looped through the landing skids.
Everyone caught their breath as the bird was secured at multiple points. Each new anchor reduced the chopper’s shaking until it was bouncing over the water as one with the boat.
The quiet in the cockpit was broken when the pilot spun in his seat, stabbing his finger at Addison’s face.
“Don’t you ever! Ever! Make me do that again.”
Addison firmly pushed down the pilot’s hand.
“Do not talk to me like that. Not if you want to keep your job. And your finger.”
“All this risk for one frickin’ guy,” the pilot mumbled. He tore his headset off and threw it against the cockpit window.