Page 14 of Starlit Skies

Font Size:  

“What?” Paul didn’t seem to comprehend Nash’s words.

Then the glass shattered right where Nash’s head had been a split second ago. Skylar screamed and struggled beneath him.

“They’re shooting at us,” he yelled again. “Get us out of here.”

Fuck, he needed his gun. But it was inside the special lockbox, in his overnight bag, which was tucked away in the luggage compartment. There was no way to reach it from here.

Another slug slammed into the side of the large windshield, barely missing Paul’s head. Nash felt, rather than saw, the chopper nosedive to the right, away from the men with the gun, taking evasive action. At least Paul had finally got the message.

“Mayday! Mayday, this is Victor-Hotel-Yankee-Whiskey,” Paul shouted into his headset. “Someone is shooting at us. I repeat, someone is shooting at us. Mayday. Mayday.”

Skylar squirmed underneath Nash, but there was no way he was letting her up. “Stay down,” he growled. His instinct was to get as low as possible. Should they unstrap themselves and lay on the floor? But what if the chopper was damaged, and they had to make a forced landing? Or worse; what if they crashed? They’d fare better if they remained strapped in.

He needed to call this in, get them some help. With one hand holding onto Skylar, he fumbled his phone out of his back pocket and dialed 0-0-0.

“What is your emergency?” a voice on the other end of the phone said.

As Nash put the phone to his ear, more bullets rang out, but this time, they pinged off the fuselage above them, instead of crashing through the windows. It seemed the men had a change of plan. Instead of firing to kill the pilot, they were aiming at the rotor.

These guys meant business. Nash counted at least five more bullets hit the helicopter. Who the hell were they, and what did they want?

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Paul swore. “What the hell…?”

Nash felt the chopper shudder, and then it dropped, bucking like a bronco as Paul fought to control it. Nash’s phone tumbledfrom his hand. Skylar squealed from somewhere under his chest. The rotor blades whined and began to make a clunking noise that sounded a hell of a lot like a death rattle.

Nash peeked from beneath his elbow. His phone was on the floor, a disembodied voice still asking about his emergency, but he couldn’t reach it. Shit. Nash tried yelling instructions at his phone, but he had no way of knowing if the dispatcher could hear him.

Paul was struggling mightily with the controls. He gripped the stick with both hands and was hauling back on it, while desperately punching buttons on the dashboard. Whatever Paul was doing wasn’t stopping their downward trajectory, and they hurtled toward the ground.

“Brace, brace, brace,” Paul called, never taking his eyes off the trees below. “We’re going in for a heavy landing.”

More like a crash landing. Nash clung even tighter to Skylar, who’d stopped struggling beneath him.

“I’m aiming for that clearing down there,” Paul yelled.

Nash glanced quickly at the ground, then decided that was a bad idea, it made him sick to his stomach to see everything lurching sideways. But he needed to know what Paul was saying, any small piece of information might help them come out of this alive. His police training kicked in, and he forced himself to continue searching the oncoming terrain, even though his stomach threatened to empty its contents all over the floor.

Paul seemed to have managed to stop the helicopter’s headlong dash toward the ground, and while they were still dropping lower, the trees were skimming beneath the skids, rather than coming straight at them. Nash twisted his neck, scanning the surrounding skies. He caught a glimpse of the other helicopter flying well above them, watching and waiting.

“Mayday, Mayday, this is Victor-Hotel-Yankee-Whiskey. We are in a forced landing. Coming down over Lamb Range.Mayday, Mayday, I repeat, coming down hard, fifty kilometers west of Cairns.” Paul’s voice was loud, but calm, now, as if all his energy was being poured into one emotion. Intense concentration. He wanted to get this helicopter down in one piece.

“I see it,” Nash said. “The clearing, I can see it up ahead.” There was a granite knoll, devoid of trees, lying along a ridgeback of low hills.

But then, the helicopter began to spiral, slowly at first, then increasing in speed, like a macabre carnival ride.

Paul wrestled valiantly with the controls, his feet working the pedals up and down. Their mid-air spin slowed, and eventually stopped.

They were skating along the tops of the trees now, the clearing still a few hundred meters ahead. The skids broke through the branches of a tall tree, leaves and branches flying everywhere.

“Come on, baby, just a few more feet,” Paul said, his voice low and urgent. The clearing was maybe one hundred meters away now. The belly of the helicopter scraped along the crowns of even more trees. Shit, if they got snagged in a branch, they’d never make it to the clearing, the helicopter would be dragged down into the foliage, perhaps even turned upside down.

All of a sudden, the vegetation disappeared. They were over the clearing. It was now or never.

“Land it, land it,” Nash screamed. The trees on the other side of the clearing careened toward them. Paul needed to cut some of their forward speed.

“I’m trying.”

A skid touched down onto rock and then bounced up. But it was too late, they were running out of room, their forward momentum still too fast. The trees on the other side of the clearing raced toward them, and the small helicopter burieditself into the dark rainforest, smashing a path through the underbrush. Nash clung to Skylar and prayed.