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to die.

Chief Deputy Marshal Timothy Lassen didn’t have the legal or moral authority to
kill him. Would Judge Wyman or any other federal judge throw the book at him
for putting a TOW missile into Cazaux’s filthy hide? Probably not, Lassen
decided ...

the target is reaching my max tracking speed. I need authority to shoot. Am I
clear to engage?”

. . but his own conscience would prosecute him, find him guilty of selling
himself out, and sentence him to a life of remorse and guilt for betraying his
badge, his sworn oath, and himself.

Lassen said on the radio. “Do not engage, repeat, do not engage. Stay clear of
the suspect aircraft, tail him as long as you can, report his position. Hunter

taxied the LET to the end of runway 13 Right, rapidly performing last-second
checklist items as he aligned himself with the runway centerline. Then he
stomped hard on the brakes and held them. The Stork was intently watching the
engine instruments as Cazaux pushed the throttles up. The LET rumbled and
rattled like a freight train out of control as the two sets of engine needles
began to move. They heard a few loud coughs and bangs from the engines, and out
the comer of an eye Krull could see long tongues of flame occasionally bursting
from the exhausts and lighting up the tarmac.

aircraft on runway one-three right, warning, shut down your engines

Stork yelled something and pointed to one of the instruments, but Cazaux shook
his head. Krull saw several gauges with their needles in the red arcs, but
Cazaux was ignoring them all. It seemed to take forever, but finally the power
needle made it up past 90 percent, and Cazaux released the brakes. The Stork
kept his hand on the throttles to make sure they were full forward, jabbering
away unintelligibly about something. The engines still didn’t sound right, were
obviously not putting out full power yet.

Captain,” Krull said, “this looks bad.”

knots . . .
Cazaux shouted.
Krull hit the stopwatch. “Just be quiet and give me a countdown.”

seconds!” Krull shouted. It looked as if the airspeed needle had barely moved.
“Eight seconds . . .” The needle was just over ninety knots, bouncing back and
forth wildly in its case. “Ready, ready ...

did nothing but continue to watch the instruments, both hands on the yoke, feet
dancing on the rudder pedals, trying to keep the plane on the centerline.

said twelve seconds, Cazaux, twelve seconds! We’re only at one-ten. Aren’t you
going to abort the takeoff?” “Not likely,” Cazaux said. He waited until the
runway end-identifier lights had flashed under the nose, then hauled back on
the control yoke with all his might. The nose of the LET L-600 hung in the air
precariously. The Stork’s eyes were wide with fear as the white chevrons of the
runway overrun area became visible—and then the cargo plane lifted off. But it
was as if the Belgian mercenary wanted to commit suicide, because he
immediately pushed the control yoke away from his body, forcing the nose of the

the hell are you doin’?”

up, goddammit!” Cazaux shouted. “We lifted off the runway in ground effect—we
aren’t at flying speed yet.” His eyes were glued to the airspeed and
vertical-speed indicators. Airspeed was pegged at one-ten, still ten knots
below flying speed. Krull could do nothing but watch the trees at the departure
end of the runway get closer and closer by the second. A lighted windsock
whizzed by, the orange, cone-shaped flag not far below eye level. They were
still too low.

up!” Krull shouted. “We’re gonna hit!”

watched, and in a few seconds the airspeed indicator crept up to one-twenty and
the vertical speed indicator nudged upwards. As soon as it did, Cazaux raised
the landing-gear handle. The cockpit occupants heard a loud
outside the windows as the
tops of a stand of trees were chewed apart by the propellers. Krull could see
the lights of homes atop the nearby hills getting larger and larger by the
second. But as soon as the red landing gear warning lights were out, Krull felt
pressure on the bottom of his feet, the LET behaved more like an airplane and
less like a ballistic sausage, and the homes disappeared safely under the
nose—close enough to rattle the windows, but there was no impact.

. . . man, I thought we were goners,” Krull exhaled. “You either crazy or you
got big brass balls. What was all that bullshit about acceleration timing? I
thought you said you were gonna abort the damn takeoff.”

Krull, there is only one thing worse than dying in a massive fireball in Chico,
California, and not making the delivery as promised,” Cazaux said as he slowly,
incrementally raised the flaps, carefully watching the airspeed to make sure it
didn’t decay, “and that is surrendering to the police or to the military. I
will never surrender. They will have to take my bullet-riddled body away before
I will give up, and I will take as many with me as possible before I go. If I’m
awake I will try to escape, because capture is worse than death to me. I was in
a prison once. It will never happen again.”

you crazy motherfucker, you did it,” Krull said with undisguised glee and
relief. “Those pricks ain’t gonna catch us now.” The Stork looked at Krull with
wide, white, disbelieving eyes, then began to laugh loud enough to be heard
over the thunder of the LET’S turboprops. “What’s this brother laughin’ at?”

laughing because we’re not out of danger yet, Mr. Krull,” Cazaux said. “If the
authorities want me as badly as I think they do, they have one more card they
can play.”




March AFB,


night crew had just finished a grueling three-hour-long exercise in which a
flight of ten Sukhoi-25 attack bombers from Mexico had tried to penetrate the
air defense screen around the United States and bomb the Coast Guard base at
San Diego and the U.S. Customs base at March Air Force Base so all drug
smugglers could enter the United States easier. They had gotten that idea from
a series of actual attacks a group of Cuban terrorists had made a few years
back, when sophisticated drug cartels used military weapons to protect their
drug shipments from American interdiction forces. That was good for about a
dozen different air defense scenarios built into the computer system at the
Southwest Air Defense Sector.

Colonel John Berrell, the Senior Director on the floor that evening, made the
last few remarks in his shift exercise critique sheet. Overall, it was a very
good exercise. His shift was young and inexperienced, but they performed well.
There were usually no instructors around at night, so every console operator
had to be on his toes and be prepared to carry his or her load alone. A few coordination
items had been missed by overzealous operators in one of the Weapons Control
Teams who thought they knew their procedures down cold and didn’t use their
checklists. The plastic-covered pages in the red folders before each operator
had been built over decades of experience and covered every known contingency
in the air defense game. It was almost guaranteed to keep the operators out of
trouble when the fur started flying.

crew had accomplished the most important aspect of the job: detect, track, and

clicked on his master intercom button: “Ops to all stations, well done.” No use
pointing out the ones that screwed up—they still had a long night ahead of
them, and he wanted everyone’s mind clear and sharp. “Run your postexercise
checklists and check your switches are back in real-world mode. Repeat, check
switches back in real- world mode.” Several years ago in
, an American air defense unit had been
running a computer simulation in which a large stream of Soviet bombers invaded
. The exercise was a success and the computer-generated bad guys driven
off—unfortunately, after the exercise, one operator forgot to turn off the
simulation. An hour later, the “second wave” of Soviet bombers “appeared” on
radar, and the panicked operator scrambled dozens of very real, very expensive
American, West German, Belgian, Norwegian, and Danish fighters against the
phantom bombers before someone realized it was not happening.

were the good of days, Berrell thought. Before the sweeping world political
changes in 1991 and 1992, air defense units were the spearhead of national
defense and deterrence. Radar constantly sweeping the horizon, young faces
staring at green cathode ray tube radarscopes, picking out the enemy from
within the friendly targets; determined, daring men sitting by their planes
ready to launch at a moment’s notice to track down and destroy any intruder.
Before 1992, before the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the threat was deadly
real. A Soviet Backfire bomber that appeared on radar five hundred miles off
the coast was already in position to launch a large AS-12 nuclear cruise
missile—one such missile could destroy
, or any major city on the eastern seaboard.

in 1994, the
was gone;
the Russian long-range bomber threat was nonexistent. The Russians were still
flying their heavy bombers, but now they were
rides to wealthy Westerners in mock bomb runs out in
, for God’s sake! The air defense forces of
United States
had been cut down to only eighteen
locations across the contiguous
United States
, and
Puerto Rico
. With only two alert aircraft per location,
that meant a total of thirty-six aircraft were defending approximately forty
cubic miles of airspace. True,
many countries, including Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, still had
bombers and cruise missiles aimed at the United States, but the real day-to-day
threat had all but disappeared. Air defense had all but gone away as a mission.

still had a need to protect and patrol its
borders and maintain the capability to hunt down and identify intruders, but
now the intruders were terrorists, hijackers, criminals, drug smugglers, and
lawbreakers. In order to prove to the world that the
United States
was not becoming lax about national defense
and readiness, it was important for
to demonstrate its capability to patrol its
frontiers. The remaining air defense units were clustered in the south and the
southeast instead of the north so that the fighters could better cover the
Mexican and
regions, where drug smugglers, illegal
alien movements, and fugitive flights were clustered.

was busy reviewing the postexercise checklist cleanup and working on the
after-action critique when the deputy sector commander, Navy Captain Francine
Tell man, came over and sat beside him. As part of NORAD, the North American
Air Defense Command, the individual air defense sectors were under joint
services command, representing all the branches of the
military as well as the air defense forces
. Tellman, a twenty-year Navy veteran of air traffic control and air
defense operations, was the Navy’s representative at the Southwest sector. The
fifty-two-year-old Navy veteran was not due to come on duty for another three
or four hours, but it was typical of her to come in early when a big exercise
or some other unusual event was underway. Divorced twice and currently
unattached, the sector was the big part of her life now. “Evening, John,” she
said to Berrell. “How did the Ham- merheads-7 surge exercise go?”

BOOK: Brown, Dale - Independent 04
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