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       Hawx (2009), p.14

           Tom Clancy
 
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  "Good thing we know about them," Troy said. Maintenance people were already pumping fuel into his F-16.

  "We had the rest of the crews watching the feed from your pods live. They're loaded and just about ready to go."

  "Just let me drop the camera pod and I'm ready to load some JDAMs myself."

  "Change of plans," Harris said. "Loading bombs would take time. I want to launch the strike ASAP. I'm going to have you fly CAP for the strike package. The aircraft carrying bombs won't be able to maneuver as well as they enter the target area. They'll be at a disadvantage if they're challenged. If you come in with just your Sidewinders, you'll be ready to engage immediately."

  "Sounds like a plan," Troy said. He was no stranger to air-to-air combat, and the idea of going into a dogfight without a ton or so of bombs under his wings was appealing.

  "The strike pack will go in at five thousand feet and drop to one thousand for their bomb runs," Harris explained. "They'll be in two waves of three, hitting separate targets. They've already been briefed on this. You'll stay at five thousand, so you have the altitude advantage if the Sandies react and launch their fighters."

  "Two against one." Troy smiled, having been assigned as the lone CAP.

  "As the others exit the target area without ordnance, they'll be ready for air-to-air. Your job is just to protect them at their most vulnerable. Then the odds will be two against seven."

  THIS TIME, THERE WAS NO LONG WAY AROUND. THE Firehawk F-16s headed straight down the coast, flying low enough to hope that ground clutter would mask their approach for at least part of the half hour it would take. Sandringham probably didn't anticipate a surprise attack, but then Firehawk had not anticipated the presence of F-16s at the Sandringham base. Surprises can happen, even to surprise attackers.

  Troy made his return flight to the Sandringham base flying above and behind the strike aircraft, watching the sky and waiting to engage his search radar until he reached an initial point about five minutes out. If the Sandies detected search radar, they would know that a fighter aircraft was in the area.

  The first wave of strike aircraft descended to the prescribed altitude as Troy lit up his radar. Watching the three aircraft going in abreast reminded him of the old days in Sudan, when he had flown a similar pattern with Jenna Munrough and Hal Coughlin.

  "Bombs away."

  The crackly radio sounds of the first wave attack echoed in Troy's ears.

  "One 16 on the runway . . . don't see the second." At that moment, Troy saw the other F-16 on his radar. It was airborne.

  "I've been made," Troy heard someone say as he twisted his neck to get a visual on the Sandy F-16. There!

  He saw it closing on one of the first-echelon Firehawk F-16s.

  A Firehawk F-16 coming in at low level, laden with bombs, didn't have the ability for evasive action. It became a huge ball of flame as its own ordnance was ignited by a Sandringham Sidewinder.

  "Fox Two!" Troy shouted as he locked on to the enemy aircraft and picked off a Sidewinder of his own.

  The Sandy F-16, obviously in the hands of an excellent pilot, twisted left, then right. Troy's AIM-9 made the left turn but was going too fast to make the right.

  Troy climbed to stay above the other F-16, to maintain his altitude advantage as he attacked again.

  With one Sidewinder left, Troy wanted to narrow the distance as much as possible. He wanted to be sure that his next shot was a kill shot.

  Just as he tried to achieve a lock-on, though, the other plane sidestepped and broke the lock.

  Troy bored in, eager to close in and finish the fight. Closer.

  Closer.

  Whoa! What happened?

  One second, he was closing on the other F-16; the next, he was watching it slip beneath him like sand through your fingers at the beach. The opposing pilot had throttled back and let Troy overshoot.

  Troy banked hard. Having overshot, he was outside the other pilot's turn radius. If the other plane continued its turn, Troy knew he could possibly get back inside, but the pilot reversed his own turn as Troy turned. Again, Troy overshot him.

  Troy throttled back, trying both to jockey himself back into shooting position and to prevent his opponent from getting a clean shot.

  As the two aircraft scissored across the Malaysian landscape, Troy knew that if he could coax the other guy into maintaining his defensive turn, rather than reversing and turning the other way, he would have the opening that he sought. But this wasn't working. The other pilot could not be coaxed.

  Again and again, Troy turned and watched the other F-16 slip away.

  Gotta try something, Troy thought.

  As he got behind the other aircraft, and just before the guy reversed his turn, Troy throttled back, allowing him to stem their lateral separation and turn with the other F-16.

  This gave him the split second that he needed. "Fox Two," Troy whispered.

  The other F-16 banked hard to the left to avoid the missile.

  This deft maneuver worked.

  The missile missed by no more than a few feet from the aircraft.

  However, the shock wave from the Sidewinder blowing by prevented the other pilot from reversing his turn as he had become accustomed.

  Troy was very close and still in firing position as the other plane was momentarily locked in a turn and unable to execute a turn reversal.

  Within a second, this situation would change, but that was then, and Troy was in the moment.

  He thumbed the trigger of his M61 and watched the stream of twenty-millimeter rounds streak toward the other plane--and connect.

  Troy saw a piece of the tail tear off and cartwheel upward.

  Troy watched the puffs of dust and smoke as his rounds struck home and watched the hits march up the belly of the F-16, which was still locked in its leftward bank.

  Everything turned into a blinding sheet of light as one of Troy's twenty-millimeter high-explosive rounds connected with the fuel tank of the other aircraft.

  The whole engagement had lasted less than thirty seconds, the burst from the Vulcan cannon no more than two or three.

  Troy looked around to get his bearings.

  He saw the plume of black where once there had been another F-16. Beneath him, there was only jungle. There was no ocean to be seen. His rolling, running dogfight had taken him deep into the mountainous middle of Malaysia, far from Kuantan.

  "Firehawk CAP here, scratch one bogie," he reported. "This is Firehawk Leader, CAP. We're over the target. Firehawk Three didn't make it. No chute."

  Part of the strike package had continued to orbit the target area looking for signs of life in the wreckage of the aircraft that was shot down by the F-16 that Troy had killed.

  As he passed over the newly paved, now newly cratered, Sandringham runway, Troy could see the wreckage of the Firehawk F-16 and the other Sandy F-16. The latter had the misfortune of being ready for takeoff just as the bombers arrived. It didn't stand a chance.

  When it was determined that the Firehawk pilot had not survived, the eight surviving Firehawk aircraft formed up and headed back toward Kota Bharu.

  The score was Firehawk two, Sandies one. As far as the bombing was concerned, Raymond Harris had wanted to deal a blow, and a blow had been dealt.

  Marriott Courtyard, Arlington, Virginia

  TROY LOENSCH OPENED ONE EYE AND GLANCED AT the red numerals staring back at him from the clock radio.

  5:47.

  His open eye traveled to the slit of window beneath the heavy curtain. The light was the weak, faint light of midwinter.

  5:48.

  Was that A. M. or P. M.?

  With the faint light, it could be either.

  He had arrived well after midnight. Had he slept for four or five hours--or sixteen or seventeen? He couldn't tell. Troy staggered to the bathroom, fumbled with the coffeemaker for a moment, gave up, and collapsed back onto the bed.

  5:56.

  He had arrived well after midnight, flying in on the Fireha
wk Gulfstream by way of Tokyo and Barking Sands in Hawaii.

  It was supposed to be a moment of triumph for Troy, but either he had slept through his corporate commendation presentation or he would arrive at it hopelessly sleep deprived.

  Had he still been in the U. S. Air Force, he would be receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross. As Raymond Harris had told him, Firehawk had scrambled around to come up with something appropriate to give him, something that was the corporate equivalent of a DFC.

  I deserve it, he thought to himself as his mind began to awaken. Too bad I slept through me getting awarded it.

  Troy had emerged as a hero in the war between Fire-hawk and Sandringham. Beginning with the F-16 he shot down on the first day, up through his blowing up, both of the former Australian Navy frigates that the Sandies used to patrol the South China Sea, he had been a key part of winning the war against Sandringham.

  8:03.

  It was still light outside, and considerably brighter.

  Troy had dozed off again--this time under the covers--and he felt much better after another two hours of sleep.

  He made coffee, shaved, showered, and opened his suitcase--which had made it barely eighteen inches inside the door before he abandoned it last night.

  He located his least-wrinkled khakis and his Firehawk Windbreaker. The ceremony wasn't until 4:00. Hopefully, by that time, gravity would have softened the wrinkles in his Firehawk blazer.

  Hoping that he hadn't missed his complimentary breakfast, he located his key card and headed for the elevator.

  He barely noticed the man who passed him in the hall, but he did notice the big guy with the shaven head leaning on the wall near the elevator pretending to read his complimentary copy of USA Today.

  "Mr. Loensch, could we have a word?"

  Troy took a step back as the man reached inside his sport coat.

  One of the perks of not flying commercial was that Troy was always accompanied by his personal Beretta 950, an easily concealed 4.7-inch automatic that was a useful tool when it was necessary to have a little bit of .25-caliber firepower. Once in Bangkok, it had saved his life. Here in Arlington, it was Troy's equalizer to whatever was inside the man's sport coat.

  "I wouldn't if I were you, Mr. Loensch," came a voice from behind him.

  He felt a muzzle pressed into his spine between his shoulder blades.

  Troy took his own hand away from his waistband and put both where they were easily seen.

  He felt a hand relieving him first of his 950, and next of his cell phone.

  The mystery inside the shaven-headed man's sport coat turned out not to be a gun, but merely a wallet.

  He tipped it open to reveal a Central Intelligence Agency ID that was either for real or a facsimile that was especially believable at a distance of a dozen feet. Troy noticed that as it was displayed, the man's thumb covered the line where his name would be.

  "Mr. Loensch, could we have a word?" the man repeated, nodding toward Troy's room.

  "Just one?" Troy replied in a vain attempt at humor. The CIA man didn't even crack a smile.

  Back inside, they insisted that Troy have a seat in one of the two straight-backed armchairs. Both of the anonymous CIA men remained standing, and the one with the shaven head did all the talking.

  "A lot of people found it pretty alarming to turn on their nightly news a couple of weeks ago to find that a PMC had--to quote Raymond Harris in that infamous CNN interview--`declared war' on another PMC and they were duking it out in a Third World country using some pretty sophisticated hardware."

  "I suppose maybe a lot of people did," Troy said. "I was not really in a position to be concentrating on media reaction . . . but then, you probably know where I was and what I was doing."

  "You were in the midst of a war . . . essentially a gang-style turf war . . . between two extranational private armies."

  "I never thought of war having 'style," " Troy quipped. "In case you haven't noticed, PMCs are the way wars are fought now that nations no longer have a stomach for war, so they outsource it."

  "And that's a good thing?"

  "My opinion? It's just a 'thing,' neither good nor bad in itself." Troy shrugged. "It's just the way it is. But the United Nations and more than a hundred countries must have thought it was good, because it took all that to make PMCs a reality . . . allow them to act as international and independent outfits. Can I ask a question?"

  "Okay."

  "I'm taking a wild guess here that you boys didn't shove a gun in my back so that you could lecture me about what you think of PMCs, because if you had asked, I don't really care what you think . * * so tell me why you did shove that gun in my back."

  "We need your help."

  "That's a great way of asking." Troy almost laughed. "Shove a gun in a guy's back because you need his help?"

  "Shoved a gun in your back because you went for yours," the other CIA man said.

  "Help doing what?" Troy asked, ignoring the second agent's comment.

  "Help us with a discreet investigation."

  "Of who?"

  "Of Firehawk in general and Raymond Harris in particular."

  "You want me to spy on my own company?" This time Troy did laugh. "That's a joke. Why?"

  "We suspect that Firehawk may be a danger to the security of the United States."

  "You train a dog to guard your junkyard and freak out when he gets rough with other dogs?"

  "Have you ever heard Raymond Harris make statements about the use of PMCs to overthrow and control countries?"

  "That's not new. I can name about seven, including Malaysia at the moment, that are already controlled by one PMC or another."

  "Overthrow the United States?"

  Troy paused. He realized that some of the things that Harris said about the ineptitude of politicians and governments could be taken out of context. More than once, he had said that the world would be better off if Firehawk ran it, but Troy had always considered this merely a form of blustering.

  "If you locked up everybody who made crude remarks about politicians, you'd be locking up half the country,"

  Troy said. "You'd also probably be locking up most of the politicians."

  "This is not about crude remarks. It's about a loose cannon pointing himself at this country."

  "He blows off a lot of steam, but I've never heard him say anything about overthrowing the United States government," Troy said, racking his brain to recall whether this was, in fact, true. "As far as being a loose cannon, I've always found him to be the kind of commander who runs a tight ship, runs well-planned missions and--"

  "Stretches the rules?"

  "I suppose."

  "Breaks the rules?"

  "Gets the job done."

  "Ends justify the means?"

  At that, Troy paused.

  "What are you trying to say?" Troy asked.

  "That he'll step on anybody to 'get the job done." " "Step on who, specifically?" Troy asked.

  "You say that he runs a well-planned mission?" "I said that." Troy nodded.

  "Tell me about a raid on a Sandringham facility near Kuantan."

  "Which raid? There were a couple."

  "The first one, the one where Harris was unaware of the presence of F-16s at the base until you yourself ran a recon."

  "How do you know that?" Troy asked.

  "We're the CIA," the man said, smiling for the first time. "Knowing is our business. Is what I said true?"

  "Your source has it right," Troy replied. "So what? Lots of missions are flown with last-minute intel."

  "Were you ever briefed on where those F-16s came from and who was flying them?"

  "Sandringham," Troy said, acting bored.

  "Do you know who was flying them?"

  "It doesn't matter to me," Troy said, recalling his dinner with Aron Arnold. After that night, it really didn't matter. He had learned to divorce the job from his emotions.

  The CIA man opened his thin briefcase and took out a folder wit
h some photographs.

  "As you have gathered by now, the CIA has been keeping an eye on Firehawk. It may interest you to know that we did reach the wreckage of that F-16 that you shot down."

  "You guys went to a lot of trouble, then," Troy said, taking the photos that were handed to him. "It was pretty deep in the jungle."

  At first it didn't register.

  Faint recognition became solid recognition as he reached the third photo.

  The images were close-ups of the cockpit of an F-16. The canopy had come off, and the pilot remained still strapped in his seat. His head was tipped at an angle that suggested a broken neck. His eyes stared lifelessly into space, his mouth was opened slightly, and dried blood covered his chin and left cheek.

  The name strip on his flight suit read "H. Coughlin."

  Chapter 32

  Marriott Courtyard, Arlington, Virginia

  TROY SAT IN THE LOBBY TEARING OPEN A PADDED envelope.

  Inside were his cell phone and his gun, the magazine having been removed and emptied. When he and the CIA men parted company, they said that they'd leave his things at the front desk, and they had. That they'd emptied the magazine told him that they didn't completely trust him. That they did not take his cell phone battery told him that they didn't care who he called. They'd be listening.

  The meeting that morning had not happened.

  No routine camera surveillance of any part of the hotel showed the three men together. No routine camera surveillance of the lobby recorded a padded envelope being handed to a bellman, who wrote the name and room number on it in his own handwriting and handed it in to reception to hold for Mr. Loensch.

  In a meeting that had not happened, Troy learned that he had killed the man with whom the story of his life had been tightly intertwined since they were both in OTS. That seemed like a very long time ago.

  Had Harris known that Hal Coughlin was flying for the Sandies?

  How could he?

  The meeting that morning had not happened--the CIA men had said so. But they had also given him instructions for contacting them when--not if--he wished to not have a second meeting.

  Jenna Munrough.

 
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