It was mid-morning lunch before Storm and Kelly finished marking up the probable targets and the best sniper positions for five. Targets were limited to bridges and other rush hour traffic backup points. Jack grabbed the marked up topographical maps and called the Leesburg Airport to tell the pilots to get the helicopter ready for a flight over the western beltway. Westbound traffic was light, and Jack, Lou, Kathy and Shadow were airborne in the Bell 429 an hour and twenty minutes later. The side panels carried the logo of Global Surveys.
With marked up coordinates and the onboard GPS system, it was not difficult to check the proposed sites, photograph the positions and send the results to Frank before they landed. Once they were back at the airport, Jack called Frank and said, “If you agree, our team will react to any attack on the American Legion Memorial Bridge on Route 495. If there is an attack there, I believe it will come from the Maryland side. The ground is higher and escape routes are numerous.”
“Good, I’ll take care of covering the rest. The release of the pictures of the Professor and Hasani may delay the next attack. We still have to cover as many targets as we can today and tomorrow. You’ve been a great help in designing a reaction plan.”
At four o’clock Jack told Kathy and Lou to check their weapons. He wanted to be on station over the target area at 4:15. Jack had a strong feeling that the Professor would give the go ahead for at least a limited attack to keep building terror.
When they arrived over Route 495 near the American Legion Memorial Bridge, the weather was ideal for aerial surveillance. Three to five miles of wind from the west, visibility was good, with little or no haze over the bridge. Jack thought, this is ideal for the sniper. There were several places where a sniper could set up with dozens of traffic targets. The inner traffic loop of Route 495 was already slowing across the bridge. The cliché of shooting fish in a barrel must have been describing a situation like this. Jack knew the chance of spotting an experienced sniper from a cruising helicopter was almost nil. But after the sniper started shooting targets, then they had a chance to spot the movement during the escape. Hit targets may give some insights into the sniper’s firing position. Jack didn’t believe there would be more than one shooter unless the sniper and his spotter had to defend themselves.
Then the spotter would take on the closer targets. He also doubted that the sniper would try for targets beyond 500 yards.
It was now 5:00 and the light was beginning to fade slightly. Jack alerted Kathy and Lou that the shooter couldn’t wait much longer. He used the intercom to speak to the pilot to ask him to swing over the bridge to the Maryland side and hover over the high ground he pointed out. They were just crossing the bridge when a car on the bridge slammed into the cement bridge barrier. Then, a second and a third jumped lanes and crashed into cars moving from Virginia into Maryland. A massive traffic accident was occurring under them. The police radios they were monitoring reported shots fired and an officer down. Jack was looking for any sign of the shooting position when Lou said, “A white pickup truck just pulled off to the side of the beltway below us. I bet it’s a getaway ride.”
Jack told the pilot not to lose the truck. He used the chopper’s secure radio to call Frank who came on line instantly. Jack told him what was happening and to get out a bulletin on the truck, a white Chevrolet Silverado on the inner loop of the Beltway just over the Bridge on the Maryland side. He also told Frank they would be in pursuit and he would call in as soon as he had anything.
Kathy said, “Two people just got in the truck and it’s pulling out.”
Jack said, “Sam, did you get that?”
“Yeah, I did. What do you want me to do?”
“Follow that truck wherever it goes. Go up a thousand feet, so we can see more. I may want you to go down quickly, if I decide we’re going to be shooting. Be ready to land on short notice. There are at least two highly skilled shooters in that truck who will shoot at us without even thinking about it. One of the shooters will have a heavy caliber weapon that can knock holes in us from several thousand feet. So don’t give them anything. As it gets darker go down low enough so we don’t lose the truck. The shooting was timed so the darkness will help them escape.”
Lou said, “I think they are headed for 270 West to Frederick and merging with the torrent of traffic coming out of Washington. State Police road blocks will be hard to manage. When they think a police search is coming, they’ll split. Probably leaving the driver to create a diversion to help their escape.”
Jack said, “Lou, I think you’ve got it. There already is one diversion. First responders will still be going to the bridge as fast as they can. Not everyone will believe we’re following the bridge shooters. We have no real evidence for the law and order world. We saw no one shooting and we saw no guns. Only a pickup truck pulling over, and two people getting in. We can’t be sure they were the men. So most, if not all, of the police will be focused on the bridge area and not on our truck. There may not be many road blocks and that may help us get these snipers.”
Kathy said, “You know, I don’t think they know we’re following them.”
Jack said, “They may be just playing it cool. Here we are west of Frederick into the rolling hills and mountains that extend into Pennsylvania. Where are they going?”
Sam, the pilot, said, “They’re slowing down. I think they’re looking for something. Look! They’re pulling off. My map shows an extensive state park below us. If they get loose in those mountains on foot, we’ll never find them from the air. It’s too dark now, and I can only spend another hour searching for heat signatures before heading back to refuel.”
“Take us down to 200 feet. We’re going to stop that truck. Lou, Kathy, get ready for some shooting. We only have bolt action counter-sniper rifles, so we need aimed fire. Concentrate on the cab. Sam, if the truck stops, take evasive action. They’ll come out shooting. If they start shooting find a nearby place and put down. Shadow and I will get out. Kathy call in and report. I have enough in my pack for three days. I’ll carry the radio and my cell.”
Jack secured Shadow’s leash to a seat belt, so he wouldn’t be thrown out the open doors by any violent maneuvers. The truck was maintaining a 50 mph speed on a gravel road, throwing up a tail of dust. The first few rifle shots hit the cab, and the truck lurched off the road into scrub pine trees. Two of the occupants ran out, sought cover on the edge of the forest and opened fire. The low-flying helicopter was an easy target for experienced shooters. Several rounds pierced the thin skin of the chopper before Sam could take evasive action and get out of the line of fire.
Kathy yelled, “Lou’s been hit! Looks bad!”
“Sam, is the bird okay?”
“Yeah! Nothing I can see wrong.”
“Good, get down now to jumping distance.”
Jack was shrugging into his pack and getting Shadow’s leash loose.
“When Shadow and I get out, get Lou back to Frederick. Kathy, you know what to do. Call the nearest competent emergency for gunshot wounds and do what you can with the onboard first aid kit. It doesn’t look like a pumping chest wound. I have to go now. I’ll be in touch. Don’t worry! Come on, Shadow, let’s go to work!”
Sam kept just above the tree line until they were out of range. Kathy took his kevlar vest off and cut up the center of Lou’s jersey. The vest did not stop the bullet. The entry wound was high on the right side of his chest. There was no exit wound. She hooked up a bag of plasma, gave Lou a shot of morphine, and stuffed the wound with bandages. While she was doing this, she called Frank, who told her to get Lou to Frederick Memorial. He would call ahead. They had a helicopter pad and a good reputation for emergency care.
Sam broke in and said, “We’re losing fuel fast. I think we can make Frederick, but we have no time to waste. Make sure the pad lights are on. I’m tapping into the air control system and declaring an emergency. We can’t deal with any delays.”
Kathy said, “Frank, here are the coordinates where Jack and Shadow got out. Jack asked that reaction teams stop at the wrecked truck and do not try to pursue. Jack doesn’t want the friendly fire problem. He’ll get them. Shadow can track at night. The terrorists will not be able to rest. Monitor the area for cell phone or push-to-talk radio. I’m sure they will try to contact the Professor or vice versa. Tell the emergency care people, Lou is barely conscious. I’ve got the bleeding from the wound under control. He is having increasing difficulty breathing and some bleeding from the mouth.”
Sam said, “There’s the pad. Buckle up. We are going in hard! Fuel is gone! Hope fire crew is standing by. I’m cutting all power! Hang on!”
When Kathy awoke, Sam was sitting by her bed. He had a large bandage on his head. Kathy sat up and said, “How’s Lou?”
“He’s still in surgery. That’s all I know. You’re in bed because we hit hard, and you cracked your head on something. I did, too. The doctors said we could both leave when we felt okay. Minor concussion, they said. My head hurts like hell, mostly from the stitches. You should rest before trying to get up. Lou’s daughter will be here very soon. The head surgical nurse swore she would come to this room with news about Lou as soon as she can.”
“Damn it, my head’s okay! It’s Jack I’m worried about. He’s out there hunting down three skilled killers, and he acted like he was going for a hike with his dog!”
“Ma’am, I wouldn’t worry too much about your man. I’ve seen many tough men but Jack is the coolest and toughest of all of them. He thinks he has the strongest hand. I think so, too. I wouldn’t want him and that huge dog on my trail.”
“Maybe so. We’ve been living with this kind of stress for two straight years. I’m beginning to doubt my ability to continue. The worst is the waiting. People you love are doing incredible, dangerous things. And as good as they are, they don’t always come back. We lost my best friend in a firefight last year. She gave her life to save Jack. Now she isn’t there to help.”