Major Characters include:
Chris Collins-- Fighter jock in the Navy, F-18 pilot.
Christine Hayworth-- Indy Car Race Car driver.
Jack Martin-- Chris Collins' Backseat man.
Jim Wilson-- Christine Hayworth's Head Mechanic.
John Marks-- Partner in Marks and Cullins Paints, also sponsor to Christine Hayworth.
Steve Cullins-- Partner in Paint Co.
Dean Lee-- Commander of the Aircraft Carrier Octagon (fictional).
"I need more horsepower, Jim, or he'll smoke me!" Christine Hayworth was yelling into the two-way radio that gave her a direct link to her head mechanic Jim Wilson. She was running hot and was steadily reducing power to avoid a melt-down. "Yeah, well, I can't give you anymore if you don't pit!" he yelled into the radio over the noise. "You know damned well I can't do that. I can not risk loosing this race!" she yelled back. As she rounded another corner on the track, the needles on all her gauges steadily drop back into the green zone, and she gunned it. Christine had been a car buff ever since she could remember. Her father would take her to the local races her town had, and even bought her two tickets to the Indianapolis 500, the biggest Indy car race in her life. She had told her father, after the race was over, someday she would drive in the huge race. She was slowly, but surely, on her way to it. She had found a few sponsors with big names, and found herself a good pit crew, when she was twenty, and began racing the year after. "Jim, everything's looking much better, I'm going for it." she yelled as she floored the engine, and passed the car in front of her, and also left the car behind her, in the dust. She was racing on an oval track in Michigan, but at a steady speed of 180 m.p.h., it was hard to keep the car straight on the straight-aways, and turned on the tight turns. She was coming up on the leader, and tried to pass when all of a sudden she heard three loud zings, when she looked down at her instruments, the panel was on fire!
Chapter 1: Realization
Christine had to overcome the adrenaline that threatened to take her judgement of the situation away. The fire was beginning to become unbearable, but she had to fight to steer the burning car off the track. When she had the car over in the grass, she popped the harness release and jumped from the car, she watched as the track crew extinguished the fire that almost burned her car controls. When she was sure the car was cooled off, she went back over to inspect the damage. She saw she and Jim would have to replace the panel with all her gauges and she would need a new seat, but something caught her attention, in the center of the burned-out gauge panel were three circular holes just above, she figured, where her head would have been. It hit her that moment; someone was trying to kill her.
"Is she all right?" a nervous Chris Collins asked his buddy Jack Martin. Jack shrugged his shoulders until the driver emerged from the smoking car. Everyone in the grandstands cheered and clapped when she finally came out. "That's Christine Hayworth, she's an awesome driver." Chris said after the cheering died down to the normal noise for the race. Jack grumbled something in reply to the effect of, "I could be in bed, this is shore leave, and it's early." Chris passed his tired friend another cup of coffee and went back to the race action. Chris Collins was a person that was just about as excited as any twenty-four year old could be about racing cars, back in his hometown of South Bay California he had a souped up '67 Mustang that he would drag race late at night. He preferred planes to cars, as he was a Navy attack jet pilot, but cars were hands-down his favorites. Most of the crew of Octagon was on shore leave and Chris planned to spend the whole week they were off, emersed in cars and racing. His back-seat man, Jack Martin, had a hang-over from their first night off the carrier, and his punishment from Chris was to go to a loud race early in the morning. It wasn't really early, about 9:15 a.m., but to Jack, it felt like 3 a.m., no that wasn't right either, because that was when he stumbled into his bed. Fully dressed. Chris thought this a proper punishment for Jack's irresponsibility. When the driver of the almost-totaled car climbed out, then went back over to look at it, Chris was a little confused. Usually the drivers left the track clean up crew to take care of the burned-out cars that wrecked. Chris dismissed the thought and looked down again at his pit passes, these two pieces of paper gave he and Jack unlimited reign of all the pits in the race. All the drivers in this particular race joined up with a local country music radio station in Michigan, and he had won the special tickets by singing the first verse to ‘Ain't Goin' Down' by Garth Brooks on the radio, while still keeping up with the CD being played. All of a sudden, Christine Hayworth dropped to the ground and started holding her leg in pain.
The man clad almost all in black hurried away from the race, he had finished the job he came to do; shoot Christine Hayworth. His employer was not exactly known to him, but in this business, the man could not afford to be picky about who paid him. His job was not to kill her, but warn her away from the car. He had tried to take her out, and get a bonus from his employer, on the track but had missed with three shots from his sniper-rifle. He had a 30.06 he could easily tear down and put in a brief case, and it made the jobs a heck of a lot easier.
Chapter 2: A Kind Stranger
"Chris! Whatcha doin' man? The race ain't over yet!" Jack yelled as Chris hurried away from their seats at the crowded outdoor arena. "It is for me!" he yelled back. What's with this guy? Jack thought to himself as he struggled to catch up with Chris. When he finally caught up to Chris, he heard someone ask for their pit passes. When they were let into the pit, Jack realized that it was Christine Hayworth's wrecked car sitting on the far side of the fenced in space. He went over to look at the car, and was surprised to see Chris in the driver's seat.
"You see these holes, Jack? It doesn't look like blown fuses did it." Chris stated pointing to three circular holes.
"Exactly what I thought," said a new voice from behind the two. "I'm Christine, I drive the car you're sitting in," she told Chris. Once they introduced themselves, she finished, "well, I used to. But as you saw on the track, she's gonna need a lot of work."
Chris climbed out of the car and started, "Do they have any idea what caused the wreck? I mean, you didn't hit anything that I saw. It was like one minute you're driving, the next, you're just not." Chris asked.
"Everybody thinks it was just a fluke. But these," she said pointing to the holes in the car's panel, "Lead me to believe it was more than an accident."
Chris rubbed his chin and asked, "What do you think happened?"
Christine walked around the car and looked at it carefully, "I think it was attempted murder." said Christine flatly.
"Did you take care of it?" asked the man in the chair facing the fireplace. The fire was crackling and giving off heat, but one of the two men sitting around it, still felt an inner chill.
"I scared her off, like you said, Mister Willingham, but I don't think she'll stay away." the other man said, the one that felt the chill.
"What makes you think that, Doug?" Willingham asked.
"Would you call me Mister King please. And I just think she's got more spunk than you think, no offence."
"None taken, Mister King. But I think you give her too much credit. She is only human, you know, and everyone is afraid of something, and if she is cleaver enough to figure what is happening, the fear of death will keep her away." He started musing, "Although she does face death practically every day."
The room they were sitting in was dark and was only lit by the fireplace, and the glow from the lighter Willingham used to light his cigar with. It seemed to King that the glow of the lighter gave the man that had hired him a grandfather-ish look. Of course Doug knew better than that, this man he was talking with was ruthless, going to great lengths to get what he wanted. King could only study the man before him and try to guess what it was he really wanted, he only knew one thing about the man; he wanted what ever it was bad enough to kill.
Chapter 3: Kick the tires and light the fire
"Gentlemen," the sergeant started, "This is just a normal flight enforcing the no-fly zone. You will flying F-18Es. They have upgraded radar-jamming and weapons capacity. If you observe what would be considered a hostile act under the eighth page of your briefing, challenge the offending plane and bring it down. Any questions?"
Chris Collins and Jack Martin had been brought aboard the Octagon at New York harbor three days ago and were getting settled into their quarters when they had been informed they would be flying. They had arrived in the Persian Gulf expecting to be waiting in the mess hall the whole time, but were quickly surprised, when an Iraqi MiG-29 made a daring fly-by of the carrier. After that incident the skipper had put the entire crew of pilots on alert-status. Chris and Jack had been ordered to the briefing room before they could even have break fast. Chris thought a moment about the F/A-18E's seating capacity - only one seat. "Sir," Chris raised his hand.
"Make it quick Mr. Collins, we fly in fifteen minutes."
"Yes sir, I noticed in the F-18E's specs that this is a one-seat jet. I also noticed our ‘co-pilots' are here too."
"That's right, we need all the drivers we can get for this one, and that means separating you pairs, but your backseater will be your wingman."
The sergeant started explaining the jamming systems on the jet's nose. "May the best driver get the most bogeys." Chris whispered to Jack.
After they were dismissed, the sergeant led them to the flight deck where ten identical-looking attack aircraft were parked with canopies up. They differed only in whose name was spray-painted over the fold out stairs. Each pilot found his plane and waited for his spot to take off.
"How's it feel to be in the front seat, Jack?"
"I could get used to it, bro. Definitely."
Chris and Jack were next. Chris taxied to where the catapult would hurl him, with terrific force, down the line. Chris started his main engine with a whirl from the turbo fan. He could feel the cat raising up behind him, it was almost time. He heard someone from the tower say "Go!" so he did, almost as quickly as it started it ended and he found himself in the air. Jack was repeating the same launching process and was soon in the air with Chris. "Black 2, do you copy?" Chris asked Jack, whose call sign for this mission was Black 2. Chris was Black 1. "Roger Black 1 I am up and running. Let's go kick some butt."
Chris was settling into his flying groove when his threat indicator lit up. "Hey Jack, I got a SAM locked onto me. I'm gonna break and check it out."
"I'm with you, Black 1." Jack gave him a thumbs-up and banked with him.
"Activating radar jamming now." Chris said as he activated chip on the nose of the aircraft.
Like something out of a dream, a yellow flash and a trail of black smoke was heading straight toward at his jet. . . .
© 1999 Copyright held by the author.
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