Kramer didn’t appreciate the number of cops at the crime scene nor the consternation and speculation among them as the X3 appeared from the heavens and landed in the field across the road. He ignored the stares and gesturing as his team, dressed in tactical gear, leapt out. And hadn’t they seen a huge tan dog wearing a Kevlar vest before?
Those posted to guard the driveway stepped forward when Kramer, Brandt, and Shadow all jumped the field’s rickety wooden fence and approached the parked police vehicles.
“Hold it right thar, yer lot.” A cop held up his hand and challenged the strangers with his thick Southern drawl. “Where all y’all think yer goin’? This ‘ere place is closed to tha public. If’n yer tha press—even more so.”
Kramer pulled out his gold badge and flashed it for all the gathered cops to see. “Afternoon, officers. We’re here on national security business. I suggest you save yourselves a whole lot of grief and let us through.”
The cordon of police faltered then slowly parted and Kramer, followed closely by Brandt and Shadow, sprinted up the driveway toward the house they’d spotted from the air. Their focus was the SUV behind the garage, not the murder scene inside.
They found a detective and a couple of forensics technicians poring over the vehicle. While Kramer introduced himself and his team, and explained their reason for being on scene, Brandt compared the vehicle and tags with prints taken from the Fort Lauderdale security camera footage. This was it—this was the SUV Harper had been driving. She caught Kramer’s attention and nodded.
“Found anything interesting?” Brandt asked one of the techs examining the floor area under the front seats.
“If you’re asking after the fingerprints that are everywhere…then yes.”
The voice was female, and when the tech wormed herself back out of the SUV, Brandt saw she was a pert brunette close to her height, and wearing glasses that gave her a decidedly academic look.
“Apart from those, this baby is pretty much clean.” Brandt stood stoic, as the woman looked her up and down noting the paramilitary outfit she wore then tilted her head. “I haven’t seen you around here before, who are—”
“I’m with him,” Brandt indicated Kramer. “We’re from Homeland Security,” she lied.
The brunette was suitably surprised and impressed, and merely nodded. There were some occasions when it was prudent not to ask too many questions.
“As I said, apart from the prints, we haven’t come across anything else. The story could change once we get the vehicle back to the lab where we can pull it apart. You’re welcome to look for yourself, just put these on and stay clear of the prints.” She handed Brandt a pair of blue latex gloves she took from her field coat.
Brandt glanced at the dusted prints covering portions of the SUV’s interior and exterior as she pulled on the gloves. “Thanks, will do.” While Kramer was occupied with the detective and a handful of cops, she set about examining the SUV for herself.
“Well?” Kramer asked when he walked up a few minutes later.
“The tech was right when she said this baby is clean—except for the fingerprints everywhere. Harper sure isn’t concerned about letting us know she’s in country.”
“She knew we’d be onto her sooner or later, so why hide the fact. C’mon, we need to get back into the air.” Kramer began walking back to the field and the waiting helicopter. He could hear its engines running.
“I take it we have a lead?”
“You bet,” Kramer said. “The cops know the victim owned an early model Honda Civic and it’s missing, presumed stolen by Harper. We have the tag numbers, and the cops already have a BOLO out.”
“Great. Maybe they’ll flush her out for us,” Brandt said. “Save us a lot of time.”
They reached the end of the drive and noticed a small crowd of locals had gathered at the fence rubbernecking at the peculiar-looking aircraft parked in one of their fields. Kramer had Shadow forge a path through the press of bodies until they were able to climb the fence and head across to the X3. When he glanced back at the spectators, Kramer saw virtually all of them had phones in their hands and were busy snapping pics and videos.
He sighed as he climbed onboard after Shadow and strapped in. What more would he expect from people these days?
Both pilots looked over their shoulders. “Where to now?” Cummins asked.
Kramer brought them both up to speed then directed them to fly north until they encountered the I-95, then to follow it.
“I don’t think we’re very far behind our target,” Kramer said. “Our job will be made that much easier and faster if the police BOLO scares her out into the open where we can spot her. But this woman we’re after is extremely smart, and she may not want to play our game.”
“Roger. Changing course. We should pick up the I-95 in five or six minutes,” Cummins said.
The gawking crowd quickly dropped away as the X3 shot forward.
* * * * * *
Although eager to quit the vicinity of the murder scene as quickly as possible, Harper fought the urge to put her foot flat to the floor and stuck to the posted speed limit. She had to admit, the United States did have a few good points in its favor, one being that, for the most part, its network of interstate highways did actually succeed in moving traffic along at a fair pace—just as long as the weather cooperated, that states actually used some of their supposed infrastructure funds to maintain roads—and the list went on.
All of which didn’t matter one iota to her right then, as the stars continued to perfectly align for her, and she was well clear of that pokey little town and her discarded SUV. If her luck kept running true it might be another twenty-four hours before anyone happened upon the body in the cottage.
She glanced at the gas gauge. Damn. She should have pulled off a few miles back to fill up instead of getting to the stage of almost running on fumes. A quick check of Google Maps showed she was approaching some kind of major cloverleaf intersection. To the right lay the city of Rocky Mount, yet to the left and about equidistant from the highway, was a small town. Less than fifteen minutes later she took the off-ramp to Nashville, North Carolina.
Luck still rode with her because less than two miles after leaving the I-95 she spotted a sign for a gas station and drove another mile before pulling in to fill up.
While standing at the pump she looked about, and even though she knew the gas station was on the eastern outskirts of the town what little of it she could see impressed her a whole lot more than her last stop. Although small, Nashville was by no means a hick town.
Finished at the pump, Harper strode to the station’s convenience store for some bottled water and snacks. There were a few customers about, and all seemed overly interested in a broadcast coming from a TV screen mounted high on one of the walls. She paid for her purchases and wandered over to see what the fuss was all about.
“ . . . and police are withholding the name of the victim until relatives are notified. Fairmont Police Chief Summers, while reluctant to divulge specifics relating to this vicious killing, did mention to this reporter that they have impounded an SUV thought to belong to the killer whose whereabouts are still unknown. Repeating this breaking news . . . ”
Harper walked briskly to her car and left the station before hearing any more of the broadcast. She drummed her fingers on the wheel while she considered her next course of action. Clearly she needed to rid herself of this car—and quickly. Her eyes darted upward. She had the distinct feeling that if she looked she would discover a huge X or bull’s-eye painted on the roof of the car for the entire world to see. She shook the paranoia from her mind and concentrated harder on her predicament.
She was back on the highway before she realized it and flowing north in traffic that appeared to be heavier than when she stopped for gas. Movement in her side mirror caught her eye. A highway patrol car worked its way across two lanes into hers and fell in three cars back. Another patrol car emerged from behind a semi-trailer a quarter mile back and weaved its way forward until it came abreast of the other police vehicle. Then she spotted yet another patrol car parked about a half mile ahead.
Harper felt her pulse increase. A glance at the Google Map confirmed her worst fear. There was no exit from the highway for at least the next twenty miles. She was trapped.
Suddenly her rear vision mirror lit up with red, white and blue lights. She caught her breath as first one police car then the other took to the middle lane and roared toward her with sirens blaring and light bars flashing. Traffic frantically cleared a path, and for a split second Harper felt totally exposed, then she edged into the outside lane behind an old beat-up VW camper-van.
The first patrol car came roaring alongside, seemed to pause for a split second, then shot forward. The second followed suit, except that as it drew alongside Harper swore the trooper glanced at her before he raced after the other patrol car. Alarm bells went off inside Harper’s mind. Her eyes darted to the rearview mirror searching for any other police that might be lurking in the traffic trailing behind. The fact she couldn’t see any did little to ease her growing nervousness. She tried looking ahead for any signs of an impending police roadblock but the damn VW blocked her view. An SUV cruised by and blocked her efforts to move into the middle lane.
Harper was now effectively hemmed in, and her alarm bells grew so loud they threatened to explode her skull. She began cursing herself for killing the woman and stealing her car. It seemed logical at the time, but now she was about to reap the rewards for her complacency.
The minutes ticked past until she was positive she’d passed the spot where the parked patrol car had been. It wasn’t there. Her alarm bells quieted but didn’t entirely go away. She wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans and when the opportunity arose eased into the middle lane. There was no sign of the two police units that had overtaken her in such a hurry.
She had narrowly escaped the law’s clutches for some inexplicable reason; now the urgency for ridding herself of the stolen car was even greater. Her chances of slipping by the police a second time might not be so good. She checked Google Maps to determine her next move, conscious that time to her rendezvous was seeping away.
Brandt turned away from her window and its lofty panoramic view of the interstate highway, the lacework of secondary roads covering the surrounding North Carolina countryside.
“What did Darci have to report?” she asked.
“Not very much at all; at least nothing of major importance concerning Harper, but Spirit is doing just fine,” Kramer replied. Shadow lay with his head resting on Kramer’s thigh, and the former Marine stroked it absently as he gazed at the landscape below.
After years of service with the Corps he had come to rely on his gut instinct for guidance in a lot of tight situations. He couldn’t regard their current status in that exact same light, but neither could he discount the familiar sensation stirring within him. His instincts were somehow aware their quarry was close by; the net they’d cast was closing in around Harper.
“Oh, such as?”
Kramer turned to Brandt and blinked several times. “Say again?”
“You said Darci didn’t have any actual news to report on Harper, but you said it as if he did have something to report. What?”
“Oh, something about word out of Mexico of a major smuggling deal involving the Carli Cartel–one of the biggest players south of the border.”
“Any specifics?” Brandt asked.
“Not really. But it’s to do with a huge shipment into the United States—probably drugs or guns, or both—the usual stuff. The DEA, FBI, and Homeland Security are investigating, and Darci has Maria keeping a close eye on developments.”
“Well, at least we know one thing,” Brandt said.
“Oh, what’s that?” Kramer asked.
“It isn’t Harper being smuggled across the border.” Brandt smiled and turned back to her window.
A squawk sounded in their headphones, followed by the pilot’s voice.
“Just received word from the North Carolina State Police. Two of their units report seeing an early model Honda Civic heading north on I-95 out of Nashville. They confirm the tags on the suspect vehicle match those of the stolen vehicle we’re after. As requested, the units did not intercept but have placed a call for unmarked backup. ”
Kramer’s gut tightened. “What’s the sit rep on those units right now?”
“They’ve gone ahead and stationed themselves at each of the exits that Harper might take,” Cummins, the senior pilot, replied.
“We’re right over the I-95 now,” Kramer said. “How far out are we from where they spotted the Honda?”
“A little over five minutes.”
“Get us there, major—asap.”
“Roger that, sir.”
Cummins eased the X3 into a shallow dive and the aircraft increased speed, pressing its passengers back into their seats.
* * * * * *
Harper pulled over to the shoulder the moment she detected a police cruiser sitting at the exit ahead. If she took the off ramp she had no doubt the police would pounce. If she bypassed the exit the cops could well give chase and she knew there would be at least one or more units waiting further ahead—she’d be really trapped. But she didn’t understand why they hadn’t already grabbed her, unless—
“Are you having car trouble, ma’am?”
The face suddenly looming in her side window jarred Harper.
“Sorry for startling you. I saw you parked off the highway and wondered if you’re having any trouble. Are you, ma’am?”
Harper stared at the young man leaning down to the passenger side window. The John Lennon-style glasses lent him an extra five to eight years he didn’t deserve, despite his fresh innocence topped by a shock of wavy blonde hair. Here’s a godsend.
“Uh…sorry, no, I’m not having any mechanical problems—just new to this area and a trifle lost, that’s all.” Her eyes darted to the police cruiser a quarter mile up the highway.
“Maybe I can help then,” the young man offered, resting his forearms on the window’s edge. “I live in the area. Whereabouts are you headed?”
Harper caught a glimpse of his car parked behind hers. “Uh… some place called Zebulon. At least that’s what I think my sister’s invitation said. She’s getting married tomorrow.”
“Zebulon you say?” He looked back down the highway. “You missed the turn some twenty miles back.” He turned and gestured at the navigation screen. “Do you think you might have just punched in the wrong information?”
“I must have. Twenty miles back?” Harper reached for her shoulder bag lying on the front passenger seat and began fishing around inside it. “The invitation is in here somewhere.” She nodded at the empty seat. “I hate having you stand out there while I search for the right address. Why don’t you jump in? This shouldn’t take but a minute.”
The young man looked around and must have decided their cars weren’t endangering the passing traffic because he smiled and climbed into her car.
Even with the muzzle of her S&W 500 revolver pressed hard to the man’s side, the explosive shot pounded her eardrums and rocked the car. Harper didn’t need to check her victim. She’d just fired the most powerful game-hunting revolver at point blank range. No living creature could survive such a hit.
Ears still ringing, she climbed out of the driver’s seat and made her way around to the passenger side with her bag slung over her shoulder. She had to look casual to passing vehicles. Careful not to snag herself or her clothing on the jagged hole made by the exiting bullet, Harper opened the door and leaned the seat back making it appear as if the man was sleeping. She even rested the head against the pillar, the face tilted against the window after relieving the body of all identification.
The keys to her new ride in hand, Harper climbed behind the wheel of the late model Dodge convertible. It took a few minutes to locate the control and close the retracted roof. As she passed her former vehicle and rejoined the northbound traffic she checked her handiwork and smiled.
She swept past the unsuspecting cop as he climbed from his car and glanced skyward. Harper thought she heard the sound of a helicopter over the guttural roar of her Charger but didn’t bother checking.
“There’s the first state trooper . . . parked beside that exit down there.” Brandt pointed at the uniformed figure waving up at the X3.
“And if I’m not mistaken,” Kramer said glumly, “that’s our Honda back there parked on the shoulder. Why do I have a feeling we’re too late?”
His suspicions were confirmed several minutes later after Cummins landed the X3 in the median strip as close to the stationary vehicle as possible. Kramer and Brandt sprang from the aircraft and sprinted across the lanes of oncoming traffic with Shadow at their heels only to find the body of a young deceased male.
“This is the car Harper was driving,” Brandt announced after checking the license plates.
Kramer stood beside the vehicle looking at the body. He’d seen more than his fair share of the dead during his deployment to Afghanistan and recognized the signs of this being a very recent killing.
He turned and scrutinized the highway stretching north. “My gut is telling me we might have just missed Harper. Unless we identify this poor guy and his vehicle as quick as possible we stand the chance of losing her forever.” Even as he spoke, Kramer could see the trooper’s car roaring toward them down the median strip.
Halstead stopped at various grocery outlets as he passed through the historic city of Winchester that lay an hour’s drive west of the nation’s capitol. He needed provisions for his cabin hideaway and didn’t want to draw undue attention to himself by making his purchases at just one store.
It took almost an hour to make his rounds, but finally he was back on Route 50 driving west into the Alleghenies, the locals’ name for the Allegheny Mountains and among the loftiest part of the Appalachian Mountain range.
As he left the main road and took the 704 southwest into a long slit of a valley carved into the range eons ago, Halstead had to smile at the irony of what he had just done. Here he was, the mastermind of a terrorist attack that might well prove more devastating than 9/11, having just provisioned himself at a city with historic ties not only to America’s Revolutionary and Civil Wars and several notable senators, congressmen—even the 2012 presidential candidate, Rick Santorum—but also to the wife of the legendary Daniel Boone, no less.
After a little over twenty minutes negotiating a paved road that snaked along the heavily treed valley, then a few miles on a well maintained dirt road that led him over a steep ridge and into a cleared flat area, Halstead drove into the tree line at the north end of the clearing and pulled up before his sanctuary.
The fake beard he’d adopted before fleeing home was a component of the fictitious identity he established years earlier among the scant number of locals living here. It would provide them little hope of associating him with any news releases that would soon flood the media.
He carried his supplies into the cabin and moved about, throwing curtains aside and windows wide open to allow the mountain freshness into his hideout. It wasn’t long before he sat before his computer with wine in hand whistling softly as he logged into the system monitoring his jihad teams.
His computer’s countdown clock showed thirty-six hours. At ten locations around the country the synchronized watches of the team members should show the same.
* * * * * *
Its close proximity to the nation’s capitol, approximately seven miles south of downtown Washington, D.C., meant the majority of Alexandria’s populace consisted of professionals working in the federal civil service, in the U.S. military, or for one of the many private companies contracting to the federal government.
The boss man stood at the dingy office window smirking at the frazzled commuters passing by. The building he’d temporarily taken over occupied the corner of a relatively quiet intersection. It had stood vacant like that for several years.
He knew that the sudden activity at the building would draw scant attention from anyone and he’d told his new employer as much. Those who did glance at his men in overalls and their vans assumed a new tenant was preparing to move in—they couldn’t be further from the truth.
He saw the nondescript van roll up to the building and honk its horn twice. The boss man left the office and crossed the workshop to one of the old roller doors. He pulled on a dangling rusty chain and raised it. The van drove inside and he lowered the door immediately behind it.
“This is the last of it.” The driver climbed out and joined the boss man at the rear of the vehicle.
“Great. We’ve just about finished the paint job. We’re right on schedule.” The boss man gestured at a far corner of the building where they could see blurred figures moving about behind an enclosure of thick plastic.
“Had any word from her yet?” the driver asked.
The boss shook his head as he tugged the van’s rear door open. “Nope, nothing yet. Then again, I was told not to expect one from her until three hours before our meet.” He looked at his watch and shrugged. “At this point no call is good news, I’m guessing. She said she’d only contact us early if her plans suddenly looked like they were going awry.”
“You hope.” The driver smiled slightly, and then he frowned. “First of all, we don’t have a clue what her so-called plans involve. Second, I don’t know about you, but these days, helping someone have a van painted like that is too damn suspicious for my liking. The thought of this place suddenly being surrounded by the cops or feds makes me a little nervous. If her plans go all to hell, who’s to say she could decide to simply skip out leaving us holding the bag? I’ve never spoken to her, let alone met her—have you?”
The boss didn’t answer but leaned into the van and began pulling cardboard cartons out. Realizing an answer wasn’t forthcoming, the driver helped stack the beer carton size boxes on the cracked, grease and oil-spotted concrete floor a few feet clear of the vehicle.
Twenty minutes later the two men wiped sweat from their brows and studied the orderly pile. The sound of spray guns came from behind the plastic curtain.
“And not knowing what’s inside these boxes is giving me the heebie jeebies.” The driver held up his hands as the boss made to respond. “I know, I know…I’ll shut up now.”
“Anyone ever tell you that you worry too much?”
The driver merely shrugged and closed the van door. “As soon as I get paid I’m outta here. Just saying.”
“Yeah, well, your constant bitching is starting to get on my nerves,” the boss growled. “Just saying.”
The boss man led the way into what used to be the gas station’s office. He dropped into a battered seat while his driver chose a broken-down sofa to watch the TV and wait for the others to finish their paint job. The boss glanced at the wall clock.
Harper checked the car’s digital clock and calculated there were thirty-four hours left for ISIS to begin its attacks. Her eyes switched to the map’s image. She reached out with one hand and pinched the touchscreen until the image included her destination. Barring any further mishaps or delays, she estimated she had just a little less than four hours to arrive for her meeting, so she needed to get to a phone fairly soon.
She was surprised. What with her having to swap vehicles a couple of times she thought she’d be way behind her schedule–instead she was pretty much on time. She smiled. Will wonders never cease?
Then she surprised herself even more by thinking of Kramer for the first time since their run-in and her narrow escape back in Belize.
That had been too close. If it hadn’t been for those damn idiots on their bikes trying to make a snatch-and-grab run on her briefcase Kramer wouldn’t have had the chance to get that close in the first place.
The whole incident had proven extremely costly. Losing the diamonds that were meant for the cartel must have them royally pissed off at the moment. That got her wondering about the Marine being in Belize. How in the hell did he manage to track her from South Africa and arrange to be right there at the same time?
She lost contact with his movements soon after Valdiron had been killed. Circumstances after her lover’s death made it necessary for Harper to go underground for a while to avoid the intense search for her she knew would follow. It meant she couldn’t have any of her contacts keep tabs on Kramer for fear word might leak within the criminal community that she was seeking revenge. There were too many two-faced bastards in her business who might sell her out to the FBI.
Harper wasn’t even sure if Kramer was still in the United States Marine Corps. The fact she had encountered him in Belize suggested he might be retired from the military. Whether he was on a one-man crusade to hunt her down, or working for some organization or other to the same end didn’t really matter now. It was a fait accompli.
She shrugged. At first she had laid all blame for what happened to Valdiron and Catalina at Kramer’s feet, but as time passed her focus shifted to a far greater target. Her thirst for revenge had grown so strong it required more than Kramer’s death to quench it. Besides, as far as she was concerned, Kramer was now dead and no longer a pain in her ass. Now she was on the verge of fulfilling her years of planning, and ISIS was merely an unwitting player in her scheme.
A sign indicated an exit ahead and she slid the car across the lanes in preparation to take it. She had a phone call to make.
* * * * * *
“What is it, luv?” Darci came into Maria’s office having been summoned. He found her engrossed in her array of computer screens and high tech equipment, most of which he was only vaguely familiar with.
“A couple of things—neither of them good news, I’m afraid.”
“Oh?” Darci pulled up another office chair and set it beside his wife’s.
“First of all, Kramer and Brandt just reported in to say they barely missed Harper,” Maria said.
“Bloody hell,” Darci swore, thumping his thigh with a fist. “What happened?”
“They’d just lifted off from that murder scene where Harper had killed the woman and swapped vehicles when they got a call from the North Carolina State Police saying the stolen vehicle was spotted heading north on the I-95.” Maria slipped her headphone off one ear and swiveled her chair round to face Darci. “After the troopers confirmed that it was, in fact, Harper at the wheel, they followed our orders not to intercept, but went ahead and set up watch points at highway exits.”
“So far so good,” Darci muttered. “ Where did things go wrong? You started off saying this isn’t good news.”
“Well, according to Kramer, it looks like Harper may have pulled onto the shoulder at some point—could be she spotted a trooper’s car parked at an exit ahead of her. Anyway, another driver must have thought she was in some sort of trouble and stopped to give assistance.”
“So she killed him and drove off in his vehicle,” Darci said angrily.
Maria looked at him surprised. “That’s what Kramer reported. How did you know?”
“Because that’s what I would have done if I were Harper.”
Maria nodded. “Well, the X3 put down in the median strip next to the scene, and Kramer believes they missed Harper by a few minutes. Right now the NCSP are trying their best to identify the victim and his vehicle so they can put out a BOLO for his car.”
Darci leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, and stared up at the ceiling. “You mentioned some other news?”
“Yes.” Darci detected a strong note of concern in Maria’s voice. “That business concerning the Carli Cartel. I’ve picked up quite a lot of chatter between Homeland Security, the FBI, and the DEA. They’re beginning to think our fear that Harper has ties with ISIS might have merit after all. They’re even consulting the CIA.”
Darci sat up, a deep frown on his face. “What’s happened to have them suddenly take us seriously for a change?”
“Word coming in from their own resources on the ground is suggesting the cartel’s supposed huge shipment of drugs and/or guns across the border wasn’t that at all–it may have something to do with ISIS.”
They stared at each other for several minutes without uttering a word. Both of their faces carried the same look of fear. Something serious was going down.
“You’re thinking what I’m thinking, aren’t you?” Maria nodded silently. Darci sprang out of his chair and began pacing the office nervously. “This is something we’ve feared for ages—that, for some diabolical reason, the cartels might suddenly decide to buy into this whole terrorist issue and begin using their networks to smuggle teams of terrorists into America.”
He wheeled around.
“You’d better get word—” But Maria was already back at her console warning Kramer and Brandt.
Twenty-five hundred miles and three time zones away Kramer listened intently to Maria as she updated him on the latest development. After she had rung off he turned to find Brandt staring at him with a grim expression.
“Why do I feel Harper has something to do with this?” Kramer asked softly.
“Because you’re like me when it comes to coincidences—they just don’t happen.” Brandt’s voice had a hard edge to it.
Kramer looked over to where troopers were directing highway traffic while sheriffs and forensic people worked the crime scene. His gaze shifted to the pilots standing by the X3.
“Right from the start I thought this whole business was something personal between you and Harper,” Brandt said. Kramer turned back and scowled at her. “If what Maria reported is true then it has turned into an issue way bigger than just the two of you—it now concerns everyone in America.”
Kramer’s jaw tightened. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye. A sheriff’s officer had a trooper hold the traffic for him then he sprinted across the road toward where they were standing.
“Good news, officer?” Kramer asked.
Despite his young age the man was slightly on the heavy side, and a few seconds passed while he paused to catch his breath.
“I…I think so, sir.” He took a deep breath. His eyes widened at the sight of Shadow lying at Kramer’s feet. “We believe we might have identified the shooting victim. Give us a few minutes and we should be in a position to confirm it.”
“Tell whoever is in charge over there that’s all you have—a few minutes.”
The officer shot Kramer a quizzical look. “Yessir.” Then he dashed back to his colleagues.
Kramer turned and whirled a hand above his head, signaling the pilots to fire up the helicopter.