“EGGSHELLS are here,” he sent.
His finger hadn’t left the key when a man at the top of the rise, standing under the edge of Dostrem’s tent yelled something in Afghani. From the tones, he must have been calling to one of the sentries.
Okay, let’s see just how silent this suppressor makes the weapon.
His shot sounded like someone had pierced the top of a beer can. The bullet struck the man under his chin, throwing him backward into the side of the red SUV. Boyd bolted up the path and was at the top of the rise standing beside the vehicle almost before he realized it.
A bearded man, wearing a turban, pushed open the passenger side door and, leading with his AK-47 started out, yelling as he came. Boyd shot him in the forehead. Twice.
The fighter’s companion had been sitting behind the steering wheel. He, too, was screaming as he started out the door.
Wil had no clear shot and the soldier was starting to swing the weapon around the front of the vehicle.
A noiseless green explosion lit the tent on the driver’s side of the Toyota. In the middle of the starburst was a woman clothed in white robes. She stood, impossibly, in midair. Her eyes seethed with emerald fire and her red hair stood on end in a halo around her head.
She pointed a long index finger at the man.
As the terrorist turned toward her, Boyd rounded the back of the vehicle and shot him behind the left ear.
“Go now,” Anna said.
Her image only persisted in his eyes for moments. He had no time to wonder at the visitation. Dostrem’s small private, silken tent under the big canvas dome lay just ahead of the red vehicle.
The confused Elder, wearing an ankle-length sleeping robe, pushed open the curtain.
Boyd sprinted to the smuggler and dropped him with a knife-hand chop above the left ear. He then secured Dostrem’s wrists and ankles with nylon restraints, then wrapped duct tape across his mouth and around his head. He threw the skinny man into the front passenger’s seat and buckled him in.
The big SUV was filled, except for the front two seats, with an olive-colored canvas tarp. The crawling sensation it emanated would have been unbearable but for the effects of Anna’s blood gem.
How considerate. The driver had left the keys in the cup holder. Now, if this beast has any gas, we’ll be out of here.
No need for the special tool the Brit had provided.
When Wil started the engine, he saw the tank was almost full. He swung the vehicle to the right, knocking down one of the tent poles and headed down the rough goat-track trail toward the road in four-wheel drive mode. He’d turned on the interior lights so that Dostrem’s men would see their master and be loath to shoot at the SUV.
If they know what’s in the back, they’d be scared to shoot anyway. If they don’t know what’s under the canvas, they know it’s valuable. The Taliban probably won’t shoot for similar reasons.
Once the first shot was fired, by some nervous soldier, the Taliban and Dostrem’s men began to fire on each other.
Fog of battle, they say. Works well for the good guys tonight.
Boyd gunned the big V-8 on the open dirt roadway and shut off all lights. He could see perfectly. A few small-arms rounds pinged ineffectively off the front of the truck.
“Go ahead, Boyd, your status?”
“On A77 heading east toward Panjab. Have EGGSHELLS and Dostrem.”
“That you driving without lights?” Russell said.
“Careful. Spectre and Dark Angel see you now. We’re sending helpers. They should meet you just west of Panjab in about twenty minutes at your current speed.”
“A Ranger platoon spearheaded by a Special Forces team. They’ll be in Humvees. I’ll call you, and them, when you’re close.”
The radio went silent for a moment.
“Boyd, Spectre sees three trucks moving your way. Probably bad guys. Since we can’t tell who they are for certain, we can’t take them out yet.”
“I’ll be watching how…”
Machinegun fire spouted from the mountainside on his left. He’d been right, the Taliban wouldn’t risk damaging the cargo, but the bullets weren’t aimed at the body of the SUV, they shredded the tires. In seconds, the vehicle was on its rims.
The enemy had a sniper hidden with the machinegunner. A round smashed through the left front window, barely missing him. Glass sprayed his neck and he felt stinging cuts as a second round tore through the Toyota’s cab.
He grabbed Mohammad Dostrem and shoved him into the floorboard well.
On the side of the ridgeline, he saw the flash as another sniper bullet slashed through the vehicle where his head had been.
A hose of fire moaned and thundered like a red tornado dropping from the sky. It’s tail ripped the earth where the sniper had hidden. Spectre had unleashed its 20mm Gatling cannon, spitting out thumb-sized lead at more than 6,000 rounds a minute.
Only a short burst was needed. The mountainside was silent.
“Boyd; you okay?” Russell.
“Roger. EGGSHELLS and Dostrem are okay, too. Say thanks to Spectre.”
“Bad news, Boyd, here come the trucks.”
“Spectre going to take them out?”
“No. Here’s what I want you to do.”
The instructions were brief and made good sense. As soon as the radio was silent, Boyd could see dim marker lights of trucks heading toward him.
He stopped, slipped from the truck and, moving around the back of the vehicle, dropped off the roadway into the sparse brush growing on the side of the south side of the road. Below him, about five feet away, a sheer rocky crevasse dropped hundreds of feet to broken rocks.
Damn! Right now, I wish vampires could fly.
The trucks stopped and turned on all their headlights. Men began yelling and scuffling along the dirt road.
Boyd keyed a text message to Russell. “How many?”
“Spectre shows 12. Wait.”
Sounds from the Taliban fighters indicated movement up the hillside where the machine gun had been. A quick glance up revealed flashlights moving where Spectre’s cannon had plowed the side of the mountain.
As voices began to return to the vehicles, Boyd slid further down, holding the thick base of a hardy evergreen.
The texting signal vibrated against his leg. Boyd opened the device.
“Spectre and Dark Angel have the bad guys targeted. They’re loading the EGGSHELLS cargo and Dostrem into one of their trucks, the one in the middle. Wait.”
A new message popped on the screen.
“Can you get across the road and up on the mountainside?”
“Yes. What then?”
“When they start to move, stay parallel with the middle truck, but well away from the road. Be ready. ”
When the truck doors banged shut and engines started, Boyd moved across the road like a black wind blowing up from the canyon.
The lead truck opened a gap of about fifty yards. The vehicles were rolling without headlights again, creeping along the dirt road.
The night was ripped by Spectre’s cannons.
The lead vehicle was shredded and swerved to the right—burning. The remains bounced against the cliff walls and exploded as it fell. Gasoline flames and heat blew along the canyon’s sheer walls like the chimney of a furnace.
The following trucks halted. Men poured from the rear truck like angry ants from a disturbed hill. The truck exploded in place.
No warning. Dark Angel, the Reaper, had fired a precision missile.
As the truck burned, Boyd pulled on his shades and counted. Three Taliban had survived. Two stepped from the middle truck.
Nearly inaudible shots from his weapon took down two of the fighters who had survived the missile strike. As they fell, the third one ran to join the two at the middle truck. He was leaping for the open truck bed when Boyd hit him with a shot to the midsection. He crawled to the edge of the road and tried to raise his weapon.
Another shot took him over the edge into the crevasse.
The cargo truck began rolling. As it swung left toward the mountain to avoid debris in the road, Boyd jumped into the back of the vehicle, with the canvas-covered cargo. His landing went unnoticed.
As the vampire was planning his next move, the truck began to swerve wildly as ripped tires slapped the gravel road on all four wheels. The driver managed to get the vehicle under control without wrecking.
“Get out and up the hill to your left.” Russell’s voice came through the earbud.
As Boyd slid off the edge of the pickup, the driver opened his door. Boyd grabbed him with his left hand, hit him behind the ear with his right and dragged him into the shrubs that grew along the edge of the road. Binding the soldier with nylon cuffs, he threw him over a shoulder and jogged away from the road, up the mountain, into the night.
Behind him he heard amplified voices. American voices.
“Drop your weapons. Hands on top of your head,” in English followed by an Afghan interpreters voice with, presumably, the same message.
Russell spoke through the earbud. “Boyd, what are you carrying?”
“A Taliban fighter.”
“We may want to talk to him.”
“Right. Don’t kill him,” Russell said.
“Where am I going?”
“Stop for a minute. The Special Forces and Rangers have what’s left of the Taliban fighters and cargo. Dostrem is alive but has a stinking pantload. Set your GPS to
these coordinates. We’re sending a chopper to pick you up. You may have to sit on your prisoner, but it’s a short ride back. You’ll be here before dawn.”
“Okay, Major, he’s out of it for a while anyway. Only problem is, he stinks.”