The driver stuck to the alleyways as much as possible; it provided slightly better cover and minimized the risk to any bystanders. But ahead, a moving crew had the passage completely blocked off. The staff sergeant braked hard, and a plonk plonk plonk on the roof from their assailants’ M-60 told him they were far too close. Shifting to reverse and hitting the accelerator hard, the limo’s engine belts squealed as they shot backwards, blindly for the ruined rear window.
“Aerial,” the driver said into his mic, “Tell me some good news, sir.”
“I bring you the Gospel According to the U.S. Army, Four-Charlie,” came the response. “There’s an on-ramp to India-Two-Niner-Five about one kilometer due west of you. She’s shut down for repairs; think you can make that?”
“Due west, aye,” the driver said. He heard the roar of the Apache overhead, and was confident enough to take time to swivel the car around. There was a grating of metal on the pavement, and the passengers knew that at least one tire was down to the rim. They exchanged worried looks but kept silent; now wasn’t the time for feedback.
The windshield wasn’t in much better condition than the rear window by now, and the limo traded paint samples with a double-parked delivery van as they careened back onto the main thoroughfare. The passengers winced at the brush. The grinding of the tire rim, once heard only in the tight turns, was now constant. David was sure that they were sparking, and wondered if there was a danger of the gas tank catching fire. He decided to keep that question to himself for now.
“Ma’am, gentlemen,” the driver called back. “How we holding up back there?”
“We’re fine for now,” said LeMoyne. “Won’t we be wide open on the Interstate?”
“Ahh-ffirmative, sir. I suspect that’s part of the plan.”
“I don’t suppose we have any backup plans?” asked David, still with an arm around Agent Diaz.
“I do have a ninety-two stowed away, Admiral, but it’s a long shot.”
“A MANPADS,” the driver said. David was clueless, but elected not to ask what the hell that meant, suspecting he wouldn’t understand that answer either. The term did call to mind an amusing mental image, though, and his laughter drew a bewildered look from Rebecca Diaz.
The passengers felt nearly nothing as the limo plowed easily through the barricade to the on-ramp, which was closed for resurfacing. But the car’s rims skidded frequently on the rough, naked aggregate, and the driver had to back off the gas. His grimace was the first discernible break in deportment, and it didn’t last long. He nodded as the predictable sound of rotors neared again, and hung on for the inability to do much else.
“Here they come,” muttered Diaz, closing her eyes and clinging tightly to David.
Overhead, the Apache was closing on the Super Cobra as its door gunner let loose another barrage. True to form, the attackers’ helicopter retreated almost vertically.
“Have target; two-five-zero meters, one o’clock,” said Satch. “Engaging.”
“Fire,” said the pilot.
“On the way.”
The Super Cobra did a seemingly-impossible bank hard left, and its flare systems did their job of distracting the Sidewinder. Satch followed-up with a burst from the cannon, getting only air. “Fuck,” muttered the pilot quietly. If the attackers had access to full countermeasures, then it was a sure bet they had more advanced weaponry as well.
To any observer on the ground — any stupid enough not to take cover — it must have looked a dance of two moths. Either was far too maneuverable for the other; this wasn’t the task for which they were designed. The Super Cobra once again slipped from the Apache as it tried to position itself between the assailants and the car, which had now ground to a dead stop. It steadied itself to get a lock on the doomed limo, and the pilot tried to ready a missile of his own before the Apache could close again.
Then he noticed the doors were open. From the corner of his eye came a flash of color. From over the side of the on-ramp, a Marine in embassy dress was holding a shoulder-mounted launcher. The tone from his own sensors was the last thing to register to the pilot’s conscious mind.
The Super Cobra bloomed into fire and showering debris, and the driver dove back to cover with his charges. Amidst the falling dust, David shook his head, looking at the staff sergeant.
“That’s your man pad?” he asked, pointing at the launcher.
“MANPADS. Also called the FIM-92 Stinger missile.”
“You could’ve just said you had a missile,” David said with an incredulous look.
“It didn’t occur to me,” the driver grinned.
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