Chapter One: When the Rain Falls in Reno
The rain was ironic considering Harold had predicted it three weeks before this rotten rendezvous, blatantly contradicting the weather forecasts of blue skies and sunshine. He had a way of knowing things like that, and it annoyed people to the last extreme. The only thing I hated about rain at night was that it obscured what would have been a perfect view of the street. I didn’t like infrared, either, and the fact that I might have to resort to that soon put me further out of sorts. I fought my resulting instinct to stand stalk still and be mindful of every noise and movement on the crowded London street. Even at three o’clock in the morning, people hovered outside, having been unable to get in out of the rain. To avoid looking too rigid, I checked my watch several times, rocking on my heels. At some point I even bought a newspaper from the homeless vendor across the street. On the front page was something about the royal family, an excerpt on some sort of American superstar near the middle, and complicated-looking puzzles at the back. no matter how intelligent I was supposed to be, newspaper puzzles never failed to singe my brain.. After sifting through the paper a couple times, I sat on a nearby bench. This was bloody ridiculous. Why was I so restless? My contact wasn’t late yet, and there was plenty of hubbub to keep even a miser occupied, and yet I fidgeted and fretted like a school girl in the face of adversity. If Harold could see me now, it would just be more evidence for him that children were not meant to be field agents. It was because of Harold that I had to get through this and do it right. That would wipe that superior attitude from his brain, and teach him to mess with me! And just because I was twelve didn’t mean I couldn’t do a good job. My father wouldn’t have let me go if he hadn’t made personally sure that I was ready.
I adjusted my hat and coat. Just to look busy. In reality the rain was welcome in my feverishly nervous state. The underdeveloped condition of this downtown locale didn’t help much; it reminded me too much of the eighteen-hundreds. The history classes at the public school in America my father forced me to attend still haunted me. I planned to enjoy summer while it lasted before I had to go back to that place in the fall.
Okay, so maybe I didn’t dislike it that much. In a strange way, I guess sort of liked homework. Pretending to be a regular kid was rank to the point of exhaustion, but sitting at the ancient desk in my room with my textbooks and a sharp pencil had a TV-commercial appeal. I could tell it made my father proud the few times he was home to walk in on the scene.
This was the longest we had lived in one place, and I was getting very agitated. Why my father chose to stay in the States undercover as a small-town business man was beyond me. we had only been here two years, and already I missed London. Living here, anyway. Being here on a contact mission was definitely not what I had in mind when I longed for England air. Even more than I hated downtown London, I hated being twelve. What was the good in looking sixteen when my father still treated me like a child? I tipped my face up to the rain, delighting in the way it slid down my face. At least this was better than school.
One of the few street lamps lining the cobblestone street went out, taking about half the light with it. My well-trained eyes adjusted flawlessly and quickly. There was a man walking toward me on the street, which shouldn’t have piqued my attention had it not been for the demeanour with which he carried himself. He demanded attention. I knew without question that he was my contact, one of Thatch’s men. He was dressed all in black like I was, which put me at ease. Black had to be my favourite colour.
He sauntered up to me, stuck his hands in his pockets after lighting a pipe, and stared across the street. The overplayed action almost made me crack a smile. “This bloody rain might very well drive me underground. Right brutal is what it is,” he said conversationally.
I opened my mouth, then closed it, scrambling for the proper response as my brain caught up to the fact that this was really happening. My first field mission. “Um, indeed. I mean, this is nothing. When the rain falls in Reno, everyone moors their boats at the dock and heads for the hills.” I know Harold was hell-bent believing that it would rain, but what if it hadn’t? His choice of code was just as good as him saying I told you so.
My contact smiled at me briefly before shaking my hand. “George Franklin Witherspoon,” he introduced himself.
“Nathaniel Bristershine,” I replied. The chip on the magnet in his glove clipped onto mine. I slipped my hands into my pockets, flicking the fingernail-sized chip off. “Good day, sir.”
He tipped his hat to me. “Take care, chap.”
I fingered the little chip attached to the magnetic sheet sewn into my coat. One down, five-hundred-eighty-three to go. That was our quota, anyway. Who knew how everyone else was doing. The tension-laden alliance with the other intelligence agencies only involved announcing when your quota was achieved, and not making small-talk about how you were doing in the meanwhile.
My car was a nondescript green Mazda that was missing buttons on its stereo and had manual transmission. Rivulets of water ran down the windshield, slowing down as the clouds started to break and the moon shone through again. The rain stopped completely by the time I got to the airport. I parked the car and went inside, taking off my hat. One of my father’s friends was working customs tonight, so I didn’t even have to use my fake ID. My father, Daniel Charleston, was nowhere in sight. He probably got “held up” in Bulgaria or something. Looked like I would be flying solo again. Wasn’t that the truth. I expected to feel some sort of buzz after completing the rendezvous and getting one chip closer to achieving the goal, but I just felt tired. Mandy Heathrow, my handler, under orders from my father, had brushed me up on my combat and grace under pressure skills for hours on end prior to my meeting. Everyone had been so convinced that something would go wrong, though they tried to hide it, and I was still on edge. Just because it seemed over didn’t mean that you could relax, is what they planted into my head.
Jet lagged people milled around, looking lost and frustrated. I strode to the terminal that was completely empty. Not that that was unusual, since it was a private plane. My plane, in fact. It was a tenth birthday present. But I mean, I was literally the only one there. Molly, the attendant that should have been behind the desk, wasn’t there, her headset dangling off the edge. I stiffened. Something was very wrong.
Sprinting to the tunnel, I saw that the lights were off. also strange. I flipped on the night vision in my sunglasses, and then the annoying infrared. The tunnel was empty. A low rumble gently vibrated the floor. With a curse I kept running, skidding to a stop in time to see my plane detach from the tunnel, one of whom I could only assume to be Yeren’s agents in the cockpit.
See? Something always goes wrong.
Grace under pressure only worked when there was actually something you could do about a situation. Allowing myself to panic, I tapped my earpiece.“Heathrow! Come in!” I hissed. “They have my plane! Fairbanks, do you read me!” I was really hoping Mandy would answer, but I got Harold instead.
“Copy that,” he snarled, and I could just see him flipping switches on his control board. “You have to bug it! do it now!”
Right, duh. I never felt more stupid as I loaded the little gun and shot a single tracking bug toward my taxiing plane. It hit and stuck as it got out of shooting range. My bug dropped to the pavement. I stared at it incredulously.
Judging by Harold’s sigh of frustration, he had seen everything. “This is exactly why we shouldn’t let kids on the field,” he growled.
“Yes, well, they must have scattered the poles of the ions in the plane,” I said frostily. “It’s not my fault.”
“Well, do something about it!”
“What about the tracking devices in my stuff? Can you activate them from HQ?”
“Of course I can! But if they were smart enough to steal the plane, they would have been smart enough to ditch the stuff!” Unless its just that you’re stupid enough that they could steal your plane, he didn’t add. “It’s your plane, kid. You get it back. Stop wasting my time. Call in your daddy for help.”
“But don’t they need it in case it has some information about the chips?” I persisted, jumping down from the tunnel and running after the plane, invisible in my dark clothes. In the green glow of the night vision phosphors, I saw the promiscuous design emblazoned on side, defining my plane like a birthmark. A co-pilot jumped down from the plane, talking to someone concealed in the shadows of the hulking airport. I quickened my pace.
Harold cut the connection, as if I were too daft to understand if he tried to explain. Now that I wasn’t talking to him, I could focus. Keeping my eyes on the co-pilot, I took out my disposable phone. “Mayfield,” I said when Nash picked up. He despised Harold as much as I did. This was the perfect opportunity to prove him wrong about us. “Where are you?”
“Italy. Danst made me go home since there was no where else to be,” he said sourly. “Please, please tell me you need backup. Or pretend to need backup, if you value—”
“Yes, Mayfield, I need backup! I’m at the London airport. Be here. I’ll meet you at the entrance.”
I reached the co-pilot as he shook hands with the man and turned to leave. Oh, no you don’t.
“Sir,” I said, grasping his sleeve with my gloved hand. “I know this is a private plane, but this is only a temporary parking zone. I’m going to have to ask you to leave within the next five minutes.”
The co-pilot smiled at me. The way his teeth gleamed in the eerie green glow reminded me of the snakes my father and I had wrestled while training in the Amazon. “That won’t be necessary. We were just leaving.”
Yes, yes you are. And I thank you for that.
I stood with my arms crossed, waiting as they taxied onto the runway. The takeoff was seamless, the wheels smoothly tucking in as it sped off into the sky, like a shooting star or a liberated dream of sorts. I will see you soon, I thought to it. When it was in the right spot, I snapped a picture with the camera in my glasses so I could draw it later, though my fingers itched to be holding a pencil this moment. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to capture the exact feeling of the moment if I waited too long, though that was just an excuse to credit my impatience. I had never been an extremely patient person, and now I had to wait for Nash to get here. Danst was almost as rigid as Harold, but at least he encouraged Nash to try to get better instead of being a bully. If Nash took his jet, he would be here shortly, but knowing Nash, he could be temped to fly his helicopter over. It was a blue-painted LAPD Bell 206, like Taylor McCain’s. Nash regarded McCain as a spoiled teenage girl would regard some big movie star or singer. I couldn’t say I felt the same way. What McCain had started was way too violent and sketchy for my liking. He should have just burned those chips.
The proper morning hours were fast approaching, and more people milled around, more kiosks opening. Finally able to assuage my edgy hunger for creation, I purchased a cheap pencil set and a poor excuse for a sketchbook from a store that supplied things to amuse children on a plane. In a restroom, I shoved my trousers and jacket into the garbage, revealing the dark jeans and concert tee shirt I was wearing underneath. The perfect teenager disguise. I mussed my hair a little, which wasn’t hard to do since it was getting way too long. Through the airport doors, morning sunlight was starting to break through. I sat on a bench outside, fiddling with my GPS. My plane was headed for Russia. That was just great.
I had to avoid being tagged as a loiterer, so I went back into the airport and bought myself a bottle of soda. I remembered last year when Nash and I had been waiting in the airport for my dad to pick us up, fooling around to pass the time. A security officer came in and told us to cut it out, and Nash jumped on my back and I pretended to go down. Just for the heck of it. My father was not pleased to see us in the security office. Danst had revoked Nash’s privileges to his chopper, which had almost torn him apart. I shook my head and smiled. I didn’t know why he liked that helicopter so much. I had flown it once, and the rocking motion of it had both unnerved me and disoriented me. he thought that airplanes went too fast and needed too much space for lift-off and were useless because they couldn’t hover. We were like Americans fighting over whether Ford or Chev was better.
When Nash came up to the front entrance I knew he had taken the stupid helicopter, espeCDAlly since he was late by at least three hours. There was a girl with him with carrot hair a little bit lighter than Nash’s and braces on her teeth. She was kind of pretty in a girly sort of way, and she had the look of someone who worked out a lot. She couldn’t be much older than us.
“Who’s your friend?” I asked, smiling at her. She smiled back, a little standoffish and watchful.
“Good to see you too, buddy!” Nash slapped me on the back. “Natalya, this is William Charleston. He thinks he’s better than everyone else because he’s British.”
“Nash is jealous,” I told her. “And I’m sorry that’s the first thing you had to hear about me. I’m actually very nice.” I shook her hand. “Natalya…that’s Russian.” All at once I was leery of her. Nash had to know that you can’t just bring anyone into the CDA if you wanted them to stay alive. There was something about her…but then again, there was something about everyone, wasn’t there?
“Natalya came and found me when we took a detour to Russia to get my helicopter,” Nash explained as we walked toward the parkade. “That’s why I was a little late. She heard about us and wanted to help. Her father is in the Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravleniye.”
My eyes widened. “Russian military Intelligence?” I squeaked. “Nash, what have you done?”
He waved a hand. “Relax. Danst and her father were talking one day, and I’m not sure how, but somehow her dad convinced Danst to let her come along to get some experience or something.”
Natalya spoke up. “My father thinks I need to be prepared for all sorts of things,” she said, her accent faint.
I nodded. “That sounds like my dad. But Nash, Harold can’t know about her. he will shave our skin. Lucky for both of you, my plane was headed for Russia the last time I checked. We can drop her off there. I guess it’s ok that you brought your helicopter, Nash. Where is Danst?”
“Sleeping. He told us to have fun.”
Typical Danst. We took a cab to Nash’s helicopter, which was designed to look exactly like the inside of McCain’s. Man, that kid was spoiled. And obsessed with Taylor McCain. “I’m familiar with the art of flying helicopters,” Natalya spoke up. “But Mr. Mayfield would not let me touch the controls.”
“That’s Nash for you,” I replied loudly enough that he would hear. “Possessive as the devil and really ugly to boot.”
“You’re one to talk, Charleston,” he called back. “You need a haircut, or maybe a mow. And PS, the chicks dig the Irish accent!”
“I am not sure about the English that you too are speaking…” said Natalya.
“Nash thinks he’s incredibly good-looking and that you have a crush on him,” I said loudly as the rotors started spinning. “And that he has an Irish accent!”
“You just can’t hear it over the rotors!” Nash protested. “And Natalya does dig me! you’ll see!”
“If my father could see me now he would be very proud,” said Natalya. I think she was trying to change the subject. I grinned at her teasingly and took out my phone. I couldn’t help being a little bit ticked off at Nash. Who knew how long that co-pilot would actually stay on the plane? The tracker showed that he was in Russia, and considering how fast it was going, I could only guess he was still on the plane.
“Yeah, I wish I could say the same for my father. Hey, Nash, you didn’t even ask what we were doing. A little distracted, chap?”
“Good observation, Da Vinci. Why are we going to Russia?” by the smirk on his face I realized he already knew.
“Rogerson has my airplane,” I said meekly.
“I told you airplanes are crap.”
“Only to people who have no taste.”
“No taste for the useless, my friend. Just remember, I’m just your mode of transportation when you run into trouble. I have to be careful not to pull any of these beautiful muscles of mine!”
I snorted. “You can’t pull a muscle doing nothing.”
“Exactly. Now, stop being rude. We have company.”
“What a strange pair you two make. Are you friends or merely partners on this mission to retrieve your aircraft?”
I punched Nash on the arm, hard. “We are the best of friends! Right, Nash?”
He shook his head. “Not anymore. Natalya, you’re my best friend now, okay? I have removed William from his position and I need someone to fill the space.”
“it would be a pretty big space to fill,” I said modestly.
“Right, but Natalya’s beauty more than makes up for the space your big head took up.”
Natalya rolled her eyes and laughed. “Strange,” she said again. “Are we going to have to go under cover once we get to your airplane, Will?”
“Actually, I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get it back. I don’t think I can just steal it. Nash, did you bring weapons? Didn’t think so. I’ll think of something.”
“That’s pretty presumptuous,” called Nash.
“Just fly, Nash. That’s why I hate helicopters. They are so slow. We have a lot of ground to cover before we get to the border.”
“And I hate airplanes because they need a lot of ground to cover before they get anywhere.”
I ignored this and went back to talking to Natalya. She looked like she was enjoying herself. “What I was going to say before we were so rudely interrupted is that if my father were here, he’d skin me within an inch of my life. Losing an airplane is not something he takes lightly to. I’m still not sure how Rogerson managed to do it.”
“Rogerson,” she repeated. “Head honcho of the GCI. Why would he want your airplane?”
Hearing her say “head honcho” was something to behold. “Are you familiar with Chips Contention?”
She tipped her head to the side. “Contention,” she said. “A struggling together in opposition and controversy. Do you speak of McCain’s computer hard drives?”
“Yeah. It’s almost like a war between us, the GRU, the AIS, AMAN, ASIO…and basically the entire world. Rogerson probably thinks I had some chips on that plane.” I guess in all technicality, Natalya was the enemy, but I figured that as long as we didn’t share anything top secret we would be fine. Of course, if Harold knew that I was chilling with a daughter of a GRU officer, it may not end well for either of us.
Fairbanks had abandoned me, though, so this was payback time. I’d get my plane back, all right. one thing I had to do first was call my father to let him know where I was in case he saw where I was and jumped to conclusions.
“William? What the hell are you doing in Belgique?” he greeted me. His harsh tone made me flinch.
I breathed in to the bottom of my lungs. He never had any time to talk. “Rogerson jacked my plane and Harold told me to get it myself so I asked Nash to take me to Russia which is where it should be according to the tracker I put on the co-pilot but if it isn’t then I’m not sure what I’m going to do but I was just calling to tell you that I’m not going to be at home.” I took a breath. “And I—”
“Whoa, whoa!” he said. “Will, slow down. what do you mean, Harold won’t let you? And are you sure it was Rogerson?”
That stumped me. “Well, I’m not sure who else it would be.”
He sighed. There was a commotion in the background and he said he had to go. “But don’t go making assumptions, William. That is what will get you into trouble. You have to be open-minded about all possibilities. Oh, and William?”
“I love you, kid.” he quickly hung up before I could reply. He had been saying that more often since what happened in Spain. I had been taken hostage by the ETA in exchange for all the chips we had taken from the GIA in Algeria, and my father had left me there. Ever since I officially joined the CDA, my dad gave me the same lecture every time he was with me: “Never show weakness. No matter what they have against you, finish your mission and come back later if you can. Don’t ever let them get to you.” It made sense, until I actually got to experience it. The look on his face when he walked away to bring the chips to HQ about broke my heart because I could see leaving me was breaking his, but I knew he had a job to do. In our line of work, you can’t afford to let your emotions and personal feelings get in the way of your mission. That is how the bad guys won every single time in the past. It’s how the same GIA got to Taylor McCain after he had dispersed the chips throughout the world. They kidnapped his wife, Beth, and when he couldn’t produce the chips that they wanted, they shot both him and Beth. If he had thought clearly and hadn’t tried to come to her rescue, came up with one of the master plans he was always so good at, they might both still be alive. The only reason I’m alive after Spain is that Nash came and rescued me.
I tried not to make too many friends for this reason, but since not knowing me isn’t an option for my dad anymore, he just worked very hard to make sure I can defend myself, and made sure I had the proper experience to do so. I guess I couldn’t really hold his constant absences against him. He was trying his best, and he felt guilty about Spain. No, guilty isn’t really the word for it. Tortured more accurately describes how he looks whenever it is brought up or something reminds him of it. The promotion he got, for example, and the increased income that came with it. he was able to scrape up enough money to buy the plane that I had seriously not been expecting. So this was more about proving to Fairbanks that kids aren’t useless. This was about my dad.
“Love you too, Dad.” I said softly, putting my phone back in my pocket. We were almost out of Belgique, and it was after noon. “Nash, not to hurt your pride or whatever, but this is getting ridiculous. We need to get to Russia today. I’m calling Aunt Cara.” Carolina Stafford of the 777s.
“William! Not Aunt Cara!” he protested dramatically. “And my Bell is just fine!”
“Who’s Aunt Cara?” asked Natalya. Her razor-straight hair glistened in the sun.
“Well, she’s not really anyone’s aunt…she’s a deep-cover agent for us. She’s practically retired. She’s old and miserly, and she owes us. My dad saved her life about six times while they were fighting off bandits in Afghanistan. I helped too,” I added. “She said that if we ever need anything, anything at all, to just call. Well, this is the time. She’s practically a billionaire.” I punched in her number.
“Why does Nash not like her?”
“Nash doesn’t like her because she thinks I’m the most adorable thing she’s ever seen,” Nash said. while I was on the phone with Aunt Cara, he was making radio contact with a landing pad in Charleroi. He was ticked off about landing the Bell and ticked off about having to see Aunt Cara. Poor unfortunate soul.
“Maybe you should stop being so Irishly-irresistible, Nash.”
“Yes?” came Aunt Cara’s nasal, snobby-sounding voice. “Who is this?”
“hey, Mrs. Stafford. It’s Sam Winston.” That was the alias I had had at the time.
She gasped like she was drowning. “Samuel? Is it really you? How are you, darling? I haven’t heard from you since Afghanistan! Can I help you with something? please say that I can!”
That was a good start to the conversation. “Actually, yes. I was wondering if I can borrow one of your planes…”
An hour later we were staring the gigantic triple-seven in the aileron. I bet that ten of my planes could fit inside of it. Aunt Cara met us at the hangar, hugging me tightly and pinching Nash’s cheeks, saying how much he had grown. When she turned her back, he gagged and rolled his eyes. I shot him a warning look. She said that Natalya reminded her of a friend she had had as a child. If only she was this nice to other people, she might not be old and alone. I did like her, and I wished Nash would be more respectful. She just didn’t know what to do with her love so she pinched his cheeks. And really, he was kind of cute in a little boy kind of way. I was glad I had outgrown my cuteness a long time ago.
She started bombarding me with questions about my dad and what we were up to nowadays and what our progress was with the chips. I had to gently remind her that we were in a big hurry. My plane was alleged to have landed in Frovolo, Russia.
“But this thing will take you there in ten minutes. The nearest airplane hangar is in Volgograd, and then it’s less than an hour and a half to Frovolo,” she protested weakly. The sadness in her eyes was a little too much. Just this morning I was executing my first mission and now here I was doing a job fit for someone more of my father’s experience and grandeur. And I hadn’t slept in over twenty-four hours. Suddenly I wished that we were still taking the fourteen-hour trip in Nash’s helicopter.
“Are you sure it will only take ten minutes?” I asked double-meaningfully.
She nodded, brightening.
“Then why don’t you come with us? I can’t fly a plane this big and I was hoping to get some sleep. Nash couldn’t stop talking about how much he had missed you, so I’m sure he would love to talk to you.”
Do I need to describe the look of death Nash gave me? Didn’t think so. He did trip me as we were climbing the steps to board the plane. Natalya poked him in the back.
“Wow, this is eerie.” Nash’s voice echoed in the luxurious but devoid interior of the 777. It was built to hold 300 people in relative luxury. “It’s like someone sucked out all its insides or something.” He turned to Aunt Cara. “What do you use it for, anyway?”
She shrugged. “Nothing really. It kind of just sits here, actually.” She smiled suddenly. “Would you like to have it? I saw you in that ghastly old helicopter. I bet you would like a real aircraft, wouldn’t you?”
Ooh, that was not the right thing to say, Cara.
His face turned kind of purple. She was waiting for him to answer. Natalya and I turned our backs to hide our chortling. “Really? You mean it?” Nash said, through gritted teeth.
“Yes, of course! If you want it, it’s yours. I know you guys are much more mature than those…regular kids. I must say you don’t look the part, but I’m sure you’re use to getting presents like this all the time!”
“Actually, no I’m not. Thank you so much!” He threw his arms around her
Natalya and I exchanged raised eyebrow looks. Aunt Cara took a seat, and Nash stuck out his tongue at us. We smiled back at him sweetly.
We settled in for takeoff, the engine purring like a temporarily subdued wild cat. I had always loved the way the speed builds, like suspense in a good movie, little bumps in the pavement jarring you in your seat, and then, for one glorious second, everything is still. Your stomach is in your knees as you are suddenly in the air. You look down and everything is quickly going away and getting smaller, the shrinking rate slowing as the plane levels out. Then you are within arm’s reach of the clouds, and it feels like you’re floating in a winter wonderland, too high up for the shadows to get you. The sun is always shining up there. if you have ever been in a plane you will know what I am talking about. And if you have never been in a Boeing 777-200LR, all you have to do is multiply that experience by about a hundred and you will know exactly what it is like. Plus, there is more room. The air feels cleaner somehow, too. I really wished Aunt Cara had offered her plane to me instead of Nash. Then I felt bad when I remembered how hard my father had worked for my plane. The one I was supposed to be rescuing.
Aunt Cara carried on to Nash and Natalya in the seats in front of me. This was not sleeping conditions. I tried all those methods my father had taught me, the right way to take deep breaths and relax your muscles one by one. I focused on the quiet hum of the planes engine and not what they were saying, imagining the smooth flow of oil running through like the waters of a silver river. The silver river my father and I had passed while backpacking through the mountains in Canada, deciding to walk in case someone spotted our chopper. I was eight at the time, still so happy to just spend time with my father. Back when things weren’t complicated by feelings of hurt and resentment. It was some sort of government ranch called Ya Ha Tinda, folded into the Rockies of a province called Alberta.
“This is what it’s all about!” my dad shouted over the rush of the water, spreading his arms wide and inhaling deeply. It was very cold up there, and all I was wearing was a shirt and a pair of shorts. We were supposed to be crossing that bubbling thing that seemed alive and ready to eat me. “Come on, we’ve got to keep moving, but just remember how this feels, okay?” he ruffled my hair. “Someday you’re going to need a place to escape to when things get hard. and believe me, Will, in our line of work, things always get hard.”
“Yeah, Dad, I know.” I made a face as the water bit at my leg. I looked over at my dad to see if he was enjoying this as much as I was, but he wasn’t there. I whipped around, water splashing up and slapping me in the face. I was alone in the giant silver river. I cried out. “Where are you, Dad?” I screamed frantically. “Dad!”
Something caught my eye a stones throw away. A hand that was quickly swallowed up by the rapids that were growing higher, the once clear water turning pink with blood. “No! Dad! Come back! I’ll save you, just come back!” Please…
“Will? Wake up, Will!”
My eyes snapped open. “Huh? What?”
Nash’s face peered down at mine. “Were you having a bad dream again?” he asked. I sat up straight, heart thumping painfully. My eyes didn’t want to open, and the dim lights of the 777 hurt. Something strange was making my face sticky; I scrubbed my eyes and looked at my hand in confusion. Tears…? The dream came back to me like the rushing river. I gasped again. I had to find my father. He’s in Bulgaria, said the voice in the back of my head. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to find him, even though I knew where he was.
“Yeah…I guess I was. where did everyone go?”
Nash held out his hand to help me up. “Getting a car to take us to Frovolo. We decided to let you get your beauty sleep, beautiful.”
I gazed at him, still fighting sleep.
He looked down at the floor. “What did you dream about, Will?”
“I dreamed that I lost my dad in Ram River…the river ran with blood.” I shook out my shaggy hair. “Strange. Oh well, it was just a dream. Lets see what Aunt Cara got for us to drive.”
Nash, at least, was expecting a Lamborghini or a Dodge Challenger or something. what we got instead was a rusty ’67 Ford pickup with windows that had an actual crank to roll them down. I didn’t think it would go faster than thirty miles an hour if you rolled it off a seventy degree hill. The city of Volgograd was alive with people. Natalya was conversing with the old grizzled driver in Russian, and he seemed annoyed. She put on a pleading face, one that was very hard to deny. When that didn’t work, I saw her slip him what looked like a large amount of money. With a look of disgust, the man bustled out of the truck and stood with his hands on his hips as she got in and started it. “Are you coming, Nash? William?”
“Wait! Just a minute, you guys!” said Aunt Cara, bustling out with a big sport-style bag. “I thought you might need these.”
Nash opened it and pulled out a handgun, some grenades, and other necessary tools. “Thanks, Aunt Cara,” he said. “You’re the best.”
“You guys be careful, now,” she said seriously. “I want to see you pick up your new plane in one piece.”
Impulsively, I turned back to hug her before we squeezed into the ratty pickup, piled three across with the sports bag on Nash.
“So, what’s your master plan?” asked Nash, putting his feet up on the dash. There was a cracking noise and the dashboard sagged. He quickly removed his feet.
“I am not one hundred percent sure,” I said. “I would like to know what we are dealing with first. The co-pilot hasn’t moved. Maybe he’s dead.” And that would be just great. One more thing to deal with. At least I could infer that he was still with my plane. “I’ll think of something when we get there.”
Right at that moment, something clicked. My tracker indicated that my plane had been taking to Frovolo, and Aunt Cara said that the nearest hangar was in Volgograd, and my plane was in Frovolo. Where on earth was it parked? Surely not in a field somewhere. But that was the only place. I smiled. This was going to be easier than I thought. I told Nash my theory.
“Ah, so that’s what you store in that big head of yours.” He reached out as if to pat me on the shoulder, but smacked me instead. “Nothing. Will, if they went through all that trouble to steal your plane, you’re not going to be able to just walk up and take it back just because it isn’t in a fancy airport! You would be able to do it, of course, if they had stolen a helicopter.”
“Oh, do shut up, Nash.” I flicked his ear. The motion reminded me of something…made me get an idea. I flicked him again.
“Sorry…hey, you know, I think you might be right! I really do have nothing in my head!”
Nash gave me a look.
“No, I mean it! I’m so daft! Why didn’t I think—”
“Okay, Will, it doesn’t have the same effect when you insult yourself.”
“My bug! The one I planted on the co-pilot…I could’ve been listening in on their conversation!” My extreme lack of sleep was catching up to me, indeed. I took out my real cell phone and tuned into the bug I had planted. I was about to turn up the volume when Natalya screamed, the truck bouncing out of control as we hit something. My phone almost flew out the window.
We were in the middle of nowhere, the sun shining down on us like a bad sign. The big black trucks had appeared from the air, seemingly. There were men in black suits and sunglasses pouring out, running toward our pickup with guns at their shoulders. Natalya screamed again, terror on her face. She stomped on the break, the truck jolting so hard that something exploded in Nash’s sports bag.
They were screaming into radios in Russian, and before Nash or I could do anything to protect Natalya, one of them wretched open the door on her side and yanked her out. Another one subdued Nash. I was trapped.
“Will!” she cried, struggling in his grasp. I dove across the seat after her.
“Let her go!”
“Don’t move,” said a voice with a deep Russian accent. I turned, taking my eyes off Natalya. A man with no sunglasses was there, one of those big Goliaths that you instantly know can take you down. I would have been scared even if he hadn’t been pointing a gun as thick around as I was and the length of his arm. Nash was being held captive behind him, staring at me. Ever so slowly, he moved his eyes downward. There was a rock the size of a fist at his feet. As I realized what he was going to do, he kicked the rock, and it bounced off Goliath’s head. Lightning fast, I took an adhesive grenade from my pocket and launched it at the back of his head when he turned in surprise, firing his gun. The bullet missed Nash and hit the Russian, knocking him dead to his feet. The rest of them scrambled like rats to get to Goliath before the bomb went off. The whole point of them is that you can’t just peel them off. Goliath dropped his weapon. I threw my last grenade on it, and everyone backed away very quickly. Some of them, not quickly enough, but there were still at least fifty left.
It was the perfect cover for Nash to get away. He did a double backhand spring and landed behind me, watching my back. they surrounded us, were circling us, expressionless. “Why haven’t they shot us yet?” Nash whispered.
“I don’t know…where’s Natalya?” I whispered back.
“They put her in a van and drove off, heading South. Can you still see it?” He told me the license plate number.
One of the secret servicemen gave a shout. Instead of attacking like we expected them to, they piled back into their vehicles, and it was then that I saw the black van that had left a long time ago disappear on the horizon. Very faintly, I heard the scream of a girl.
“Nash…” I said. “Just let the general’s daughter get kidnapped.”