Nine hundred feet above the jungle mountains of southern Mexico, two men fought for control of a gun. The Piper Cherokee jounced and yawed as the combatants struggled in the rear cabin. Only the autopilot kept the aircraft on course, its human counterpart slumped dead in his seat.
Ramsey didn’t know if the pilot had died drinking from the tainted flask they’d passed earlier or a bullet from the silenced .25-caliber automatic he now struggled to control. It wouldn’t matter in any case unless he ended this fight the victor. Ramsey’s opponent had size and strength, obvious by the way he’d managed to get Ramsey on his back and pin his shoulders. He lacked experience or training. He twisted to his right side, rammed a knee into the bigger man’s groin and then shifted to his left. His opponent didn’t hear the stiletto blade click into existence.
Ramsey drove the point into the swarthy Guatemalan’s back at the apex of the right kidney. He felt the unmistakable vibration that signaled a cut through first the main renal artery and then the fibrous nerve bundle. The man screamed in agony and arched reflexively. Ramsey pressed the attack by driving the stiletto upward to slide between the fourth and fifth ribs into the heart.
As the native smuggler writhed on his knees, Ramsey’s hand found the pistol. He wrapped his left palm around the cold handle, snap-aimed center mass and squeezed the trigger. Even suppressed, the report cracked like the pop of hot grease in a pan. The bullet entered the chest point blank and split the breastbone. The man’s body jerked before he pitched onto his face.
Ramsey fell back and fought to catch his breath, the adrenaline coursing hot blood through his veins. His neck flushed and chest heaved, the rush of fear washing over him. Ramsey fought back the nausea. Stars swam in front of his eyes, popping and flashing at the periphery of his vision. He felt like passing out but he fought with deep gulps of air. The pilot had obviously died from secondary causes. Ramsey knew the difference between the effects of poison. This had been some kind of drug, a narcotic or sedative.
Fortunately, he hadn’t imbibed much of whatever they’d used to lace the whiskey in the flask.
Ramsey shook his head to keep his wits as he grabbed the armrest of the passenger seat and pulled himself to a seated position. He looked through the front windscreen and saw the wall of green loom in the course. He had maybe ten seconds to correct and he knew even as he scrambled to his knees and lurched for the cockpit he wouldn’t make it. His surmise became a reality all too quickly as he heard the crack of tree branches against the wings.
Ramsey managed to disengage the autopilot and pull back the stick, but not before the treetops assaulted the underside of the wings and lower fuselage. The wood and coarse branches scraped the aircraft aluminum with a sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. Then Ramsey heard a gross burp from the engine, then a dreaded sputter and final cough.
The engine died.
Past the treetops the view took Ramsey’s breath away for a moment, thoughts of his impending demise forgotten. Beyond the span of verdant green trees marking the width of Lacandon Jungle was the cool-white marbled beaches where they met the Laguna Miramar. A truly beautiful place when Ramsey didn’t consider his current predicament. Unfortunately, the dead silence of no more engine brought him back to reality.
Ramsey flipped the ignition switch several times to attempt to get the engine started but no dice. He finally squeezed his way into the copilot’s seat. He thought back to his Company training in aerodynamics. Without engine power or clearings in which to land, or crash in this case, he’d have to hope he could coax the Cherokee to ride the winds whistling through the Montañas del Oriente that would give him enough lift to pass beyond the jungle and reach the Miramar. He checked the altimeter, verified he had enough altitude to make it work, and then engaged the left aileron full to turn hard into what he hoped would be an updraft.
He guessed right. The plane abruptly gained lift and Ramsey worked the flaps, which at least seemed in operational order. If luck held, he’d make it to within distance of the lagoon and then he could drop fast and come down into the water nose up. Unlike a full-sized jet, these flaps wouldn’t broaden the wing surface significantly so he could gain speed in the dive and then angle upward and glide onto the water.
He guessed wrong. The plane lost its updraft and tipped nose first into a missile-style descent. Fortunately, he’d progressed far enough along the draft he would still reach the water. Ramsey squeezed out of the cockpit, grabbed hold of his pack and moved to the door. He opened it and watched the approaching ground. It came rapidly and for a moment Ramsey thought he might not make the lagoon. His good fortune, or maybe just Divine Providence, prevailed and the appearance of the dark blue water brought a fresh rush of adrenaline. Head still fuzzy, he had enough wits to throw the pack over his head so he didn’t strike it and then bailed on a three count.
Eight feet later, he hit the water feet first and descended into a warm, wet void of azure-green that coalesced amidst a bubbly wake on impact.