by John Nation
One of the richest men in the world declares war on Sheriff Johnson and the Pack.
|By the time Eddie and Sheriff Vaughn were starting the patrol car that morning, Miranda and Sara were with her private investigator, Stan Chitwood. Miranda gave Stan all the information she had about Lyle Montgomery. The most important item she gave him that morning was the license number of the car he drove.
'As long as he isn't driving a stolen car, this will give me an excellent starting point,' Stan said.
'How long before you can give me what I need?'
'Let's meet in twenty-four hours. I should have some data for you then.'
'Then we will see you in the morning.'
After explaining to her private eye what she needed, Miranda and Sara started for the airport. They were going to El Paso so Miranda could check one of her cattle farms. The foreman of the ranch called her earlier and said a group of union organizers were threatening her cowboys with violence if they did not join a union. These men had not listened when he told them they were already making higher than union wages.
The foreman was ready to handle matters on his on, but called Miranda out of courtesy. Miranda asked him to wait a couple of days to see if she could quiet things down before they got out of hand.
Miranda was not positive her cattle problems were connected to what was happening in Houston, but would not be shocked to find out they were. If they were related, Miranda would question these union reps and gather any information they had. Then she would pay Lyle Montgomery a visit. If by chance he was not the one responsible for the blaze that killed one of her workers or the cattle problems, she would demonstrate in a way he was capable of understanding that she was not interested in selling. After that demonstration, she knew he would never want to see her again. If he was involved, well then the discussion would be a lot more lethal.
She gave the taxi driver a generous tip once he dropped her off at the hanger. Sara was already moving to the plane, starting her visual inspection. She began with the tires. Satisfied that they were indeed brand new, she examined the undercarriage. It took twenty minutes to complete.
When she finished, she moved to one of the men working on another plane. 'You're not the same crew I left the plane with yesterday. What happened to them?'
'This is a large facility ma'am. There is more than one crew. They left for the day and we came on after them.'
'How does she check out?' she asked while gesturing to her jet.
'Everything is at one hundred percent. Electronic system, A-Okay, fuel system, brakes, landing gear, propulsion system, wings, flaps, radio and everything else is in perfect order. It is easy to see you take great care of her.'
'Tonya has her hairpins, I have my jets.'
'Never mind. Can I take her now?'
'Yes. I just need you to sign some papers and then you are on your way.'
Sara paid for the maintenance and for a full fuel tank. Twenty minutes later they were in the long line of planes waiting for clearance to take off. Miranda sat with her in the cockpit, enjoying the view. Every ninety seconds they moved up one spot as a jet in front of them took off.
As they waited, Sara said, 'There is something about that crew that did not feel right.'
'What do you think it could be?'
'I can't put my finger on it exactly, but it was like the mechanic I spoke with was a con artist.'
'Do you think he cheated you on the billing?'
'Your guess is as good as mine. If we are ever here again, I'm going to insure his crew does not touch one of our planes.'
'When it comes to the jets, your word is law,' Miranda said.
Soon after, it was their turn and they raced down the runway. The takeoff was flawless as it always was when Sara flew. It was not long until they were above the clouds and soaring for West Texas.
They were half an hour into the trip when Sara sat up straighter. 'What was that?'
When Miranda heard the tension in her pilot's voice, she turned her senses to examining the plane, trying to find any sound out of place. She heard nothing unusual. 'What was it?' she asked.
'There was an unusual vibration, as if something broke. I felt it in the yolk.'
The vibration happened again. This time Miranda also felt it. 'There is something loose in one of the engines.'
'Yes, and after a thorough examination and maintenance workup, there shouldn't be. Either the mechanics are incompetent or else they knew exactly what they were doing.'
As soon as she said that, there was a pop and the port engine began smoking. Sara was on the radio at once, contacting the nearest airport and declaring an emergency. She received a new heading and was told she could land at once when reaching the airport.
She was placing the mic back when the starboard engine died. Her attempts to restart it failed. The jet was jerking and the nose began to bob up and down. Any other pilot would have been unable to keep control, but Sara was strong enough to hold it steady so it did not plunge to the ground. 'We're not going to make it to the airport. We'll have to bail out.'
'Let's go,' Miranda said as she unfastened her seatbelt and stood.
'Miranda, you grab a parachute and jump. We're approaching a small town and I have to make sure the plane is past it before it crashes.'
'I won't leave without you. What I can do is get the parachutes while you get us past the populated area.' She ran to the storage area where they kept the parachutes. She was back thirty seconds later holding two of them in her hand.
'The straps have been slashed on all of them,' she said. 'Is there any other way they can be used?'
'Only throwing them out first and hoping when you land you smash into one instead of the concrete.'
'Damn,' Miranda said as she tossed them away.
'Well,' Sara said. 'We know for sure the mechanics are not incompetent. They knew exactly what they were doing.'
By this time, the plane was low enough to be under the clouds. Miranda pointed to a lake in the distance. 'Can we get over that lake?' she asked.
'It will be close, but I think we can.' Sara forced the plane in a slow turn towards the lake.
'Get us as low as you can. We'll have to jump and pray the lake is deep.'
Four minutes later, they were down to nine hundred feet. The lake was a quarter mile away when the port engine died. The jet began losing altitude fast.
'It's now or never,' Sara said as she climbed from her seat. She reached for the door and pulled the handle to open it. Nothing happened. 'Oh, shit,' she moaned.
'Stand back,' Miranda said, moving Sara to the side. She rammed her foot into the door. There was a load clank and the door flew free from the chassis, disappearing behind the plane. She was almost pulled from the cockpit from the sudden rush of wind, but Sara reached out and pulled her back.
They each grabbed a side of the door frame, bracing themselves against the wind. The plane was down to four hundred feet when it reached the lake. They waited until they were five hundred yards past the shoreline before jumping. The jet was moving at a hundred and sixty miles an hour and they were a hundred and ninety feet over the water. The wind shoved at them, pushing them at the wing. The plane passed over them with only a couple of inches to spare. For two seconds they fell with their arms and legs spread and with the air ramming them face first. Seventy feet above the lake, they pointed their bodies at the water and placed their hands above their heads in the classic diving position. They both sliced into the water in a perfect dive.
Five seconds after she hit the water, Sara was back at the surface. She turned in time to see her jet hit. The left wing touched first and it started to cartwheel, spinning four times before breaking apart and exploding. She turned and faced Miranda when she surfaced next to her. 'Miranda, when we get back, those mechanics are mine.'
'Understood,' Miranda replied.
They swam for the shore.