Monday, June 6, 2011

CHAPTER FIFTEEN


“I remember when I was a little girl, my father loved to watch Bugs Bunny cartoons.  There was one my father never failed to laugh at uproariously no matter how many times he saw it. Bugs and Daffy Duck attempt to take a vacation by tunneling underground and they ended up hundreds of miles from where they were supposed to be.  And as I recall, all that Bugs could offer as an excuse was; ‘I knew I shoulda made that left turn at Albuquerque’.  I now understand why my father laughed so hard and so long.  There can be no other reaction to such an evolved degree of outright stupidity.  I only wish that I could find it in me to laugh now, since it strikes me that we are in exactly that same situation.”

            Kris was standing by the Land Rover, looking at their latest predicament while Dillon spread a map across the hood of his vehicle, holding the edges down with small stones he picked up from the side of the rough dirt trail they had been following for nearly five hours.  Dillon had been promising that they would stop soon for the night and he assured her that the GPS indicated that there was a spacious clearing next to a river not far ahead.  And while Dillon had been right about a great many things since this adventure began, this hadn’t been one of them.

            Kris was looking at a formidable gorge seven thousand feet straight down.  At the bottom were nothing but huge boulders and jagged, massive crags of rocks jutting  upwards.  Probably the only time a river flowed down there was during the monsoon season when flash floods were common.  But right now, there was nothing but rock, rock and more rock.

            A wooden bridge crossed the gorge.  Maybe some eight hundred feet long, it was wide enough to accommodate two Land Rovers.  The boards were thick and sturdy looking and the pillars that the bridge was anchored to looked as if they had been there for hundreds of years.  They were nearly petrified, so long had they been exposed to constant wind and rain and sun.  A woven mesh of rope, thick as Dillon’s wrists, served to prevent clumsy walkers from slipping and falling from either side. The mesh would catch them if their footing wasn't as sure as it should be. 

            Dillon reached down to his boot, and from a hidden sheath, withdrew a switchblade and pressed the button. A 10-inch long blade flicked out.  He used it to track their trail on the map as he said absently, “Funny you should mention Daffy Duck…. he’s my favorite cartoon character.  Who’s yours?”

            “I am an adult.  Adults don’t have favorite cartoon characters,” Kris snapped.  “And how are we going to get across this gorge before it gets dark?  And why didn’t it show up on your vaunted GPS?  I’m beginning to think your friend Eli was correct when he pointed out your over-reliance on silly gadgets!”

            Dillon was unperturbed by her tirade.  He’d become used to them by now.  “Everybody’s got a favorite cartoon character…. ah, I see where we went wrong.  C’mere and take a look.”

            Kris walked over to the Land Rover and Dillon used the switchblade to point out what had happened.  “See?  We turned off this road here because I saw the fresh tracks of trucks and I didn’t want to run into anybody.  Then I thought turning off here would bring us back onto the original road we were following but I missed the turnoff there and so we ended up at this bridge.  But it’s okay.  We can cross this bridge, drive for another hour and we’ll be right back on course.”

            Kris looked at him in total disbelief.  “You honestly mean to say you’re going to take this truck across that flimsy wooden bridge?  Are you mad?”

            Dillon closed the switchblade and stuck it back in his boot.  “It won’t be that bad.  I’ve crossed wooden bridges like this all over the world.  There’s a reason they’ve lasted for hundreds of years.”

            “That thing looks like it’s going to fall down as soon as we try to drive across it!”

            “Did you ever see The Wages Of Fear?”  Dillon asked.  “Or Sorcerer?”

            Kris sighed.  “No matter how much time I spend with you, I never fail to be amazed at your talent for spouting utter nonsense in the face of calamity.  What are you babbling about now?”

            Dillon shook his head as he folded up the map.  The Wages of Fear is a French movie about four down-on-their-luck losers stuck in South America who are hired to drive a couple of trucks full of nitroglycerin to an out of control oil fire.  Sorcerer was the American remake starring Roy Schneider. Both are kick-ass flicks.  Didn’t you have time to watch movies in-between keeping Lady Thelma pickled in vodka?”

            “I will be most certain to Netflix them at my earliest opportunity, assuming I live to see civilization again.  What has that got to do with our present situation?”

            “Well, in both movies, there was a part where the trucks had to cross a wooden bridge over a gorge.  The way they did it was this: one guy went ahead and made sure the bridge was safe and guided the trucks over the weak areas.”

            “And you’re proposing we do this?”

            Dillon stowed the map away inside the Land Rover.  He leaned on the door and sighed tiredly.  “Look, Kris, if we gotta backtrack we’ll lose too much time.  The best way for us to do this is for you to get inside, drive the damn truck and I’ll walk ahead and test the bridge.  If we do it my way, I guarantee we can have camp set up inside of two hours and have dinner and get a good night’s sleep.  If we have to backtrack and go around and all that other good shit, it’ll be maybe four, five hours before we can even think of settling down for the night.”

            Kris was biting her lower lip in indecision.  “You’re sure that we can get across safely?”

            “I’ve crossed maybe a hundred bridges just like this one all over the world.  I’m telling you, the people who built them made them to last…we’ll be over before you know it.  Just be careful you don’t run me over.  I’ll be about ten feet in front of you.  Now, the Land Rover has a lot of power so you don’t have to tromp on the gas pedal.  Just ease it and we’ll be fine.”

            Kris climbed behind the wheel and took the keys from Dillon.  “I’m still not sure about this…the common sense part of my brain keeps saying we ought to backtrack and never mind the lost time.”

            Dillon waved a gloved hand carelessly.  “You worry too much…what could go wrong?”


***


            Chew Mi looked at the three dead bodies of the mercenaries, lying neatly side-by-side in the living room of Dillon’s rented villa.  They had their hands neatly folded on their chests with a note pinned to the shirt of one.  A simple printed note that said: ‘You’re going to have to do better than this.  Love, D.’

            Paul Gynt directed the dozen men with them to search the rest of the villa.  He holstered his Magnum revolver and joined Chew Mi.  She wore a leopard print leather jumpsuit so tight it was a wonder than she was able to breathe.  A jaunty beret with several medals pinned to it sat on top of her head at a rakish angle.  She whacked a swagger stick against her leg as she surveyed the three dead men.

            “Three of them,” Gynt snarled.  “Three!  And he took ‘em like they were rank amateurs.”

            “Compared to Dillon, they are.  I keep trying to tell you that this is no ordinary man we’re up against.  Where’s the other man?  His body’s not here.”

            “Right here.”  Rubbing his sore wrists, the straw boss emerged from another room, where Gynt’s men had found him.  “Dillon and his partner tied me up and left me.”

            “Partner?”  Chew Mi frowned.  “You don’t mean the girl?”

            The straw boss shook his head.  “Nah…this was an old guy.  But he’s a tough old son of a bitch.  Bastard nearly took my head off when he walloped me unconscious.  Dillon called him Eli.”

            Chew Mi looked thoughtful.  “Eli, hmm?  Eli Creed?”

            The straw boss nodded in the affirmative.  “Yeah…yeah…I think that was the name.  Eli Creed.  You heard of him?”

            “Yes I have, and you should have as well.  He’s a dangerous man in his own right.  Dillon called him in for backup.”  Chew Mi whacked her leg again with such force that Paul Gynt winced.  That had to hurt, but Chew Mi looked as if it didn’t bother her one little bit. 

            Paul took over the questioning.  “Where did they go?  Did they discuss their plans?”

            “Don’t be an idiot, Paul,” Chew Mi chided.  “Dillon’s too smart to have said anything in front of him.”

            “Hey, I saw something here, though.  Dillon had all kinds of maps of the area here in this room.  It looked like he was trying to plan a route somewhere.”

            Chew Mi nodded and looked at Paul.  “He’s going for Odin.”

            “Impossible.  How could he have figured out where Odin’s base is?”

            “Give Dillon enough time and he could figure it out.  One thing I’ve learned about him: he’s a lot smarter than people give him credit for.  I don’t think we can put it past him that he’s on his way toward Odin right now.”

            “So what do we do?  How do we stop him?”

            “How soon can you get me a helicopter?”

            “What kind?”

            “Any attack helicopter loaded down with all the ordinance it can hold.  Something light and fast.”

            Paul already had his cell phone out and was punching in a number.  “Give me ten minutes and I’ll get you the meanest bird I can find.”

            Chew Mi whacked her leg again and smiled.


***


            Kris was biting her lower lip so hard, she had drawn blood.  They were maybe halfway across the bridge and she hadn’t prayed this hard since her SATs that they would get across in one piece so she could go ahead and have a heart attack.  If she didn’t look down, it wasn’t too bad.  Unfortunately, the bridge was swaying and that had the effect of convincing her that it was getting ready to collapse at any moment.  Dillon was out in front, a little too far for her taste, and she was convinced he was out that far so that when the dammed bridge did begin to fall apart, he could dash to safety and leave her to die.

            Dillon was carefully stomping on the boards and waving her to come on.  They were so tightly lashed, there were virtually no cracks between them, so the effect was much like riding on a bumpy road, except for the fact that roads didn’t swing from side to side.

            Kris couldn’t take it any longer.  She stuck her head out of the window and screamed; “I don’t know how I let you talk me into this bloodydamnawful insanity!  This is crazy!”

            Under his breath, Dillon muttered; “That’ll do, donkey . . . that’ll do.”

            “What!?  What did you say?!  Is the bridge breaking?”  Kris looked down wildly.

            Dillon sighed and forced himself to smile as broadly and as splendidly as he could.  This was the last time he would drag a woman with him on an adventure, and he didn’t care how beautiful or sexy the next one was.  “We’re doing fine, Kris!  Just keep coming on ahead!  Not too much further now.  We’ll make camp on the other side and we’ll make a nice fire and sing ‘Kumbaya’, okay?”

            Kris was snarling something he couldn’t quite catch but he had a feeling it probably had to do with his ancestors and their mating habits with various animal species.  He waved her on.  Kris gingerly tapped the gas and The Land Rover crept forward like a tired old man with bad feet and a weak bladder, struggling to make it to the bathroom at 3 AM.


***


            Chew Mi strapped herself into the cockpit of the Quartermain & Levine Ringstriker, a compact one-man (or in this case, one-woman) attack helicopter.  Paul  pointed out the ordinance as Chew Mi familiarized herself with the controls.

            “You got your 30mm electric cannon trigger here.  Just put the helmet on and look at what you wanna kill and pull the trigger, okay?  Two fire-and-forget Hellfire missiles and 15 smaller HotStuff heat seekers.  You can’t kill Dillon with all this, then he’s either divinely protected or you don’t know what the hell you’re doin’.”

            Snorting in derision, Chew Mi snatched off her beret and flung it away, then she put on the helmet.  “There’s a reason your incompetents haven’t been able to kill Dillon yet and that’s because nobody deserves to kill him except for me.  He’s the only man to have eluded me this long and given me the trouble he has.  No one else has even come close.  I’ll almost be sorry to kill him.”  Chew Mi’s voice had become dreamy, almost sensual as she continued. “I had a chance to kill him.  He lay at my feet and he was unconscious and helpless.  But that would have been far too easy and too plain.  Dillon’s death must be as spectacular as his life, and I must be the one to send him to Valhalla in a burning pyre that will be the envy of every warrior’s soul as he goes to join them.”

            Paul Gynt was unimpressed.  “You ask me, I think you have some serious father figure issues you need to resolve.   Just go kill the guy, okay?”


***


            The gentle ringing of the phone on his office desk awakened Gregory Tipp.  He yawned and sat up on the bed that folded out of the couch.  Ever since returning to London, he hadn’t been home but stayed mostly at his office, waiting for some word, any word about Odin and/or Dillon.

            He walked over to the desk and picked it up, grunting, “Tipp here.  What’s going on?”

            “Sorry to rouse you, sir, but you wanted to be alerted the minute there was any news.”

            “Get on with it, man.  What’s happening?”

            “Well, it’s Odin again, sir.  He’s made another announcement.  Says that he’s going to strike again in 10 hours but hasn’t said where.”

            Tipp dry-washed his face while he groaned.  “Very well.  Send me a copy of the latest warning.  B.I.T.E. still on alert?”

            “Yes, sir.  They’re ready to move out as soon as you give the word.”

            “And we’ve heard nothing from Dillon, correct?”

            “No, sir.”  The voice on the other end hesitated a second then went ahead and asked the question that even Tipp was beginning to wonder about.  “Sir, can we be certain that Dillon is even still alive?”

            Tipp thought about that question with professional detachment and then gave the only answer he could give; “No, we can’t be certain about that at all, I’m afraid.”


***


            All of Dillon’s senses were acute to an alarming degree of sensitivity and if he had to put money on which was the highest developed, he'd have been hard put to choose between his sense of smell and his hearing.  His nose and his ears had frequently saved his life.  And it was his ears that were standing him in good service now, because he was hearing something he didn’t like at all.

            He held up a hand to stop the Land Rover’s progress, cupped his gloved hands behind his ears and turned his head slightly.  He had heard what sounded like the blades of a helicopter, and a helicopter out here could only mean that Odin was looking for them.   Dillon didn’t believe in coincidence and there was hardly a practical reason for any helicopter to be out this way.  He waved at Kris and ran toward the Land Rover.  Kris’s eyes bulged wide and she screamed in panic, convinced that the bridge was falling.  Dillon wished mightily that he could simply knock her out until this was all over, but that was hardly a solution.  He had to get inside the Land Rover and drive it off the bridge right now before—

            A waspish black helicopter looped into view from over the low hills far to the left of the bridge.  Dillon saw it coming swiftly toward their location.  He made it to the driver’s side of the Land Rover and unceremoniously shoved Kris out of the seat and onto the passenger side.  She squealed in panic and struggled to sit upright.  Dillon watched the waspish attack helicopter coming closer, and he could see the electric cannon spinning slowly, preparing to fire.

            “Get down!”

            Dillon grabbed Kris and shoved her under the dashboard just as the helicopter’s 30mm electric cannon spat sixty rounds a seconds in a hot stream.  Fortunately, Chew Mi had been in such a hurry that she hadn’t bothered to load armor piercing shells into the magazines and Dillon’s Land Rover (like all of his vehicles) was sufficiently armored so that the bullets flattened against the doors and windows, raising minute spider web cracks in the glass, but otherwise not even causing much of a dent.  The noise was deafening inside and Kris screamed.  Several of the thick ropes holding the bridge together popped and whiplashed through the air and the bridge sagged some five feet. 

The helicopter whooshed on past, close enough for Dillon to look out the driver’s side window and see the grinning face of Chew Mi.

            Kris was shouting; “Who’s shooting at us?  Odin’s men?”

            “Worse,” Dillon grunted, looking through the back seat for something.  “It’s Chew Mi.”

            “Chew Mi?  The girl from Numby Castle?  What in God’s name is she doing here?!”

            “Trying her best to shoot the shit outta me.”  Dillon came up with a Heckler & Koch MP5A3 submachine gun and pressed a button on the dashboard.  The roof of The Land Rover folded back and he stood up.  Compensating for the swaying of the bridge, he squeezed the trigger, firing at the helicopter as it came back around for another pass.

            Chew Mi yelped as 9mm slugs smashed into the canopy.  The armored glass was strong enough to keep most of them out, but a couple got through.  It was just blind dumb luck that she wasn’t hit.  That, and Dillon’s gun had jammed.  Chew Mi grinned and let out a war whoop as she fired a pair of HotStuff heat seeking missiles that immediately sensed the heat being thrown off by the supercharged engine of the Land Rover.

            Dillon dropped the submachine gun and dived into the back seat again, coming up with a Very pistol in his hand.  He slammed a flare into the pistol and fired it up into the air, away from the bridge.  The flare arced upwards, bursting into brilliant, superheated life, and the two missiles abruptly changed course, curving under the bridge, turning back upwards into the air to zip right past Chew Mi’s helicopter on either side and collide with each other as they converged on the flare.

            The shockwave from the explosions caused the bridge to sway even more violently and more ropes snapped from the strain. The Land Rover slid from the middle of the bridge to the mesh railing on the left side.  The railing held, which was a testament to the skill of its builders.

            Chew Mi struggled with the controls, cursing wildly as the small helicopter was rocked by the shockwave.  She got it under control and sent it swooping upwards so that she could come around for another pass.

            Kris and Dillon struggled inside the Land Rover to sit upright, having been tossed around like dice in a cup.  Kris twisted around, trying to see what was going on.  Her elbow hit the lock of the passenger side door and it flew open.  With a shocked howl of terror, she fell out of the vehicle.  She flailed for a handhold and managed to seize the seat belt.  Her plummet to the rocks below was halted and she hung precariously, screaming for Dillon to pull her in.

            Dillon, who was trying to see just where the hell Chew Mi had gotten to while he plugged a fresh clip into the H&K, yelled back; “Just hang on!”

            “As if I have a goddamn CHOICE?!”  Kris screamed back.

            Dillon stood up and saw Chew Mi coming back in, the electric cannon firing.  He fired back, the armor-piercing bullets of his machine gun punching through the canopy.  Two of them took Chew Mi high up on the chest.  She snarled and broke off her attack, diving down and to the left.  Dillon pounded bullets into the helicopter as it swooped under the bridge.  He dropped the smoking gun on the floor of the Land Rover and leaned out to grab the seat belt, hauling Kris up and in.  “What are you doing up here?”  she demanded. “Why don’t you shoot her?”

            Before Dillon could answer, more ropes broke.  It wouldn’t be long before the bridge collapsed completely.  He threw himself behind the steering wheel and said; “Strap yourself in!  Tight!”

            “What are you going to do?”

            “The bridge is breaking!  I got an idea, though!”

            Dillon flipped several buttons on the dashboard and the entire vehicle began shaking violently.  With a blast of compressed air, the thick cable on the front drum of the Land Rover fired with explosive force.  There was a round metal ball on the end of the cable, and ten feet away from the Land Rover, it sprang open like a metal flower into a six-pronged grappling hook.  The cable sped over the bridge and fell to the ground on the other side.

            Just then, major support lines simply snapped, one right after another.  The bridge groaned and began to come apart.  The Land Rover fell toward the cruel, uncaring rocks below.

            The grappling hook was dragged along the ground until snagging in the roots of a huge tree that looked to be a hundred years old at least, and held.

            The Land Rover jerked like a trout on the end of a line and slammed with bone-jarring force into the wall of the gorge, dangling at the end of the cable.  Dillon reached down for the H&K.  He could hear the helicopter and he was certain that Chew Mi was going to take this opportunity to uncork everything she had. 

            Chew Mi was glaring with murderous hatred at Dillon through a red fog.  She was losing a lot of blood and knew she was going to pass out soon.  Once that happened, she would crash and die.  But she was determined to take Dillon with her.  She thumbed the button to fire the electric cannon at the same time that Dillon fired his weapon at the missile pods.  Dillon’s explosive bullets punched into the HotStuff heat seekers and ignited them, engulfing the helicopter in an orange and red fireball.  Heat washed over him.  He watched with grim satisfaction as the fireball plunged to the bottom of the gorge, where it crashed and exploded again, throwing flaming metal high into the air, ribbons of burning fuel arcing left and right.

            Kris let out a whoop of exultation and pounded Dillon on the back, yelling, “You got her!  You got her!”

            “Yeah, so I did.  Now let’s get ourselves out of here.”  He pressed a button on the dashboard and the winch throbbed into life.  Slowly, the Land Rover climbed the gorge wall and up over the edge. 

            Once they were on flat land, Kris gratefully fell out.  She hit the ground and just lay there, gasping in joy at being alive.

            Dillon climbed out and walked to the edge, looking down at where the helicopter burned.  Billowing clouds of thick black smoke filled the air.  “One of these days, I gotta get me a real job,” he muttered.

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