Boyd had been waiting for Flynn. As soon as he tapped on the door, Wil swung it open.
“Good morning Sergeant Major. What are we doing today?”
“Got a mission for you. You don’t need to bring anything but your black suit and
Boyd put the clothing in a gym bag along with the leather box Anna had given him.
“Let’s go,” He said.
In Russell’s office, the vampire sat serenely as the Russell and Flynn outlined a plan, which would have seemed a suicide mission to others. When Russell told him an element of the mission involving the kidnap of Muhammad Dostrem, the major caught a quick glitter of controlled flame in Boyd’s eyes.
Clattering thumps outside announced their helicopter.
“Wil, are you okay with this mission?” Russell said.
“Sir, if you need me to say ‘I volunteer,’ I will. Do I need to sign anything, or can we just get it done?”
“Boyd, you’re our kind of man,” Flynn said.
“Let’s go. The taxi’s waiting,” Russell said.
The Operations Center was in an unmarked ordinary-looking building within a hundred yards of McCaskill’s headquarters. Inside, after passing two checkpoints controlled by armed guards, the three men were escorted into a room half the size of a basketball court.
Three lines of desks held computer monitors. Men and women in uniform worked at keyboards. One wall held three oversized video monitors, only one of which was currently active. The display showed rocky Afghan countryside and distant mountains.
UAVs, or drones, were controlled and monitored from this center.
A shaven-headed man of medium height and muscular build greeted them. He wore a major’s leaf on his uniform and his nametag showed him to be Kincaid.
He introduced himself all around, shaking hands. He paused only an extra second when he met Boyd.
“Vic, everything’s laid on. The equipment and support you requested will be delivered or in place prior to 1700. General McCaskill should be arriving no later than 1600. We’ll monitor the mission from here via a dedicated UAV. The Air Force will have the Spectre gunship on station by nightfall. An airborne control center aircraft will be high overhead. The Army elements are moving to their assigned positions,” Kincaid said.
Boyd had been listening to the briefing, but since the remarks were directed to Russell, he watched the video feed from the drone. Kincaid addressed him directly.
“Sergeant Boyd, you’ll be starring on one of those screens tonight. An armed Reaper UAV will be watching from the time you are on the ground until you’re home. We’ll be cheering you on,” Kincaid said.
Boyd’s silent answer was a smile that could have been copied from the Mona Lisa.
The stealth helicopter vibrated and thrummed through the Afghan mountain night. Boyd sat in the nylon-webbing seat with his eyes closed. To an observer, he appeared asleep.
He was not. His mind skimmed from one part of the operation to the other—and to Anna.
Russell, Flynn and Kincaid had done all they could to prepare him, given the few hours available. Kincaid had even brought in a short, bandy-legged man with an ear-jarring Cockney accent. The man had shown him how to start Toyota Sequoia SUVs without the keys, and had even given him a special tool.
Could come in handy.
The helicopter crew, pilot, co-pilot and crew chief had asked no questions about his unconventional uniform. They were professionals, accustomed to ferrying people for covert missions. They gave him a set of headphones and showed him where to sit and stow his gear.
“Passenger, this is the pilot.”
“Yes,” Boyd said.
“We are about five minutes out from your drop-off point. After you are safely on the ground, we return to base. Another aircraft will pick you up. Be sure to have the GPS homing device handy.”
The pilot’s words could have been spoken by a recording. These aviators had been on many high-risk missions.
Boyd’s heart rate accelerated. His muscles twitched, flexed and relaxed; power flowed like a molten river through fiber and nerves. His senses intensified. He could hear the stealthy rotors slice through night air and change their pitch for landing.
“Here you go,” the pilot said.
When the skids touched ground, Boyd was out the door, sprinting away into darkness with no parting words.
As advised by Russell and Flynn, he found a sheltered area in boulders nearby and waited silently, watching. He placed the GPS unit between rocks so that it was open to the sky. Only moon and stars illuminated a landscape broken by occasional trees. The aircraft had landed on a level area that dropped off to the south in a gentle slope. To the north, cold mountains looked down on narrow plains.
Boyd could smell trees and flowing water in the distance. Night bird wings stirred the air and tiny rodents, their targets, scurried through brown grass.
Time to go.
A more dangerous predator, the vampire, stalked his prey.