A Body To Die For
A Body To Die For
A normal day in the life of Nick Strong usually didn’t include getting shot at, being chased through a muddy cornfield in the middle of nowhere by dangerous criminals or having two ribs broken while falling over a cliff. None of that usually happened to him until he joined the National Office of Criminal Investigations, a specialized team that was trying to bring the richest man in the world to justice. He was also the world’s most dangerous man. Boris Faraday went to war against America after spending seven years locked up in a high security federal prison.
Escaping, he had moved to a remote island in the South Pacific. Recruiting the most deadly, dangerous thugs, criminals and masterminds he could find, he launched his war of terror on America. A chilling note to the President of the United States bragged about how he was going to blow up the Statute of Liberty. Nick Strong and his partner, Kelly Lance were transferred to the new team—the National Office of Criminal Investigations—that had been hastily assembled to deal with the threat, only two weeks ago. Investigating complaints of residents in the area about strangers with guns, they found themselves in the Maine woods looking for the terrorists that were ordained to carry out the threat. A couple of hours ago, they had found them. The terrorist team consisted of six men and two women. After a brief gun battle, outnumbered, Nick Strong had tried to instigate an orderly retreat, however it had become a run for their lives.
Using a large tree for cover, Kelly Lance slammed another clip in her automatic and peeped around the side of the tree trunk. A gun barked and wood exploded from the tree about two inches above her head. “They’re still there,” she said ducking behind the tree and staring at Nick Strong. “How does your ribs feel?”
“They only hurt real bad when I move,” he said. “Imagine falling over a cliff and ending up in six feet of cold water.”
“I told you that cliff was too steep to climb down,” she said giving him a menacing look. “Volunteering me to go first wasn’t very nice either. I was clinging to trees and was doing quite well until you slipped on wet leaves and came tumbling down the hill taking me with you.”
“I’ll try to do better,” he said. His ribs hurt like hell and he didn’t know how he was going to fight if every movement caused so much pain. He felt useless. “But, they had us surrounded. Escaping over the cliff was the only option.”
Another bullet sprayed pieces of bark in his face and he moved closer to the tree with his back to it. She was only a few feet from him behind another tree in a similar position. They looked at each other and he smiled at her. “We can’t stay here all afternoon. I wonder what they are doing up here in the woods? Shouldn’t they be in New York Harbor or something?”
“Maybe this is their base of operations,” she said. “Who would ever think of looking for them out here? We wouldn’t have found them if it hadn’t been for those folks over in Berry. They saw strange men out in the woods target practicing with heavy artillery and called the local sheriff. The sheriff made the mistake of trying to take them with a couple of deputies. They all ended up dead so the story got back to the local FBI office. They got interested because of the automatic weapons the subjects had.”
Disgruntled, partly because of the pain and the fact she hadn’t exactly answered his question, he said, “Yes, I know all that. How do we know these are the people that we are looking for, the ones that are going to blow up the Statute of Liberty?”
“We don’t,” she answered, “except for the fact that the State Police found a cabin nearby they had been using. It had a lot of explosives, literature and nice things like that in it. The hit team had left the area before the police arrived. Daddy thinks somebody tipped them off.”
“That’s what the new Director of Operations wants to be called. Chummy, huh? When we joined the National Office of Criminal Investigations, we joined a classy group. We all have code names. I’m agent 08 and you’re agent 05. Isn’t that nice?”
“Just like in those movies,” he said. “Why doesn’t anyone tell me these things? Why can’t I be agent 007?”
“I don’t know,’ she said smiling at him just as another bullet cut through the still air over her head. “I guess you aren’t the type that likes his drink stirred. Either that, or you have your mind on beautiful women too much. ”
Shaking his head in disgust, he looked around the tree and fired six shots from his automatic toward a cluster of trees near the river. Satisfied that he had thrown a scare into the terrorists, he sat back against the tree and relaxed. “We’re in a lot of trouble and you’re making jokes,” he said.
“Who’s joking?” she said. “You are after every skirt that comes along especially if they have nice legs and a round butt.”
“I guess I do pay too much attention to them,” he admitted. “My question still remains. What are we going to do about those thugs out there? We’re outnumbered and I can’t move very fast.”
“Why don’t you get around behind them before they think of doing it to us?”
Strong knew she was kidding trying to keep his spirits ablaze in the face of disaster as well as her own. Before he could answer, he heard the sound of a helicopter in the distance. “Great, looks like help is coming. Maybe Daddy decided to help us out.”
Before Kelly could respond bullets cut through the leaves of the bushes around them as the whirring chopper blades were heard overhead almost drowning out the sound of the gunfire. “They’re trying to shoot the chopper down,” she yelled. “C’mon, let’s give those guys up there some help.” Poking her head round the tree, she fired at the area where the last barrage of bullets had come from.
“Then why are they shooting at us if they’re trying to shoot the chopper down?”
“I don’t know. Ask them,” she said as she put a fresh clip in her gun. “Maybe they think they can get us before the helicopter gets close?”
Nick started to get up and fire at the thugs in the bushes. However, just as he was about ready to aim his weapon, bullets from above hit all around him. Glancing at Kelly, he saw that she was helpless as bullets tore up the ground and bushes around her. She was hugging the tree. Strong wished it were him she was hugging instead of the tree. Ignoring the pain in his ribs, he jumped up grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the river.
“Are you crazy? Is everybody crazy?” she asked as they ran toward the rushing river. “Why are those guys up there shooting at us? They’re supposed to be our friends.”
“Tell them that, not me,” he yelled as the helicopter pursued them peppering the ground all around them with red-hot lead. “Maybe they think we’re the criminals.”
“Maybe,” she said as he jumped into the river pulling her in with him. The swift current pulled them downstream and the helicopter followed. As they bobbed up and down in the swirling, churning water like two corks, Nick got a good look at the dark helicopter above them. Even with water in his eyes he could see the man with an automatic rifle sitting in the open door of the aircraft pointing the weapon at them. “Move faster,” he said. The pain in his chest was almost unbearable. He tired to ignore it and the cold water. Neither would go away no matter how hard he tried. “I don’t think they’re friends,” he said. “They’re trying to kill us. Make for the shore on the other side of the river. If we can get into the woods, we might get away. The woods are thicker there.”
Kelly found herself pulling, pushing and shoving Nick onto the bank of the river while the black chopper tried to maneuver for another shot at them. Hovering above the river, the wind blowing up the ravine where the river flowed was giving the pilot headaches. “Into the woods,” she yelled attempting elevate her voice above the noise of the river and the chopper. “It’s our only chance.”
Nick was almost exhausted and had difficulty breathing. His ribs felt as if they were on fire. Forcing as much of the pain out of his mind as he could, he struggled toward the cover of the woods with Kelly helping him every tedious step of the way. “I guess they aren’t our friends,” he said as they entered the woods.
Kelly turned around when he pulled his hand from hers. “What are you doing? Let’s get out of here while we still can.”
“We have to shoot that helicopter down,” he said. “We can’t let them get away. No time to waste. We have to get on the trail of those other terrorists.”
“Shoot it down? Just how are you going to do that? In case you haven’t noticed, they have an AK-47 and all we got are these peashooters.”
“Speak for yourself,” he said sitting down on a rotting log. Resting one leg on the other one, he reached under his pants leg and pulled out a long tube from a holster. Touching a button on the side of the tube, he smiled when four fins popped out. Pulling out a revolver he carried in a holster on his right side, he opened the cylinder and removed the bullets. Putting the bullets in his pocket, he pulled another bullet, a silver one, out of his coat pocket and loaded the gun with it. Carefully, he inserted the large end of the tube over the barrel of the gun until it covered about an inch of the barrel. His automatic hung in a holster on his left side. “Nothing like a little rocket to take down a helicopter, huh?”
“A rocket? It looks like a fat pencil. That thing won’t bring that big bird down. You’re absolutely crazy and you’re going to get us killed.”
“Watch,” he said as he got up and walked toward the river. She followed.
Peering through the bushes, they observed the chopper as it hovered above the river. The pilot was trying to figure out where they had gone into the woods. As the chopper swung around, Nick felt cold fingers caress his neck as the gunman swept the riverbank in a mock run ready to pull the trigger at the first sign of them. Aiming the pistol with the small projectile attached to the barrel, he pointed it at the fuel tanks hoping that the helicopter wasn’t out of range. The armor-piercing rocket could penetrate an inch of steel, except it couldn’t do it if it couldn’t reach the target. Praying for the best, hoping his hand wouldn’t shake too much he took careful aim and squeezed the trigger. Smoke followed the tiny object as it flashed away from the gun and into the bright, sunny afternoon. As Kelly’s hands tightened on his arm, his heart beat faster and he felt as if cold blood was being pumped through his veins. He held his breath and hoped for the best.
Exploding into a large ball of yellow and red flame, the chopper scattered in a dozen directions as flaming debris flew through the air. Kelly grabbed Nick by his arm and pulled him away from the bushes just as a piece of the rotor came crashing into the woods. Other pieces of the craft were falling all around them. “Run,” Kelly yelled as they ran into the forest with the sound of the explosion still ringing in their ears.
“Where to now?” They stood on a small knoll surrounded by trees. “Do we try to follow them or find medical help for you? Those ribs must be killing you.”
“I’ll be fine,” he said grimacing as the pain reminded him that he wasn’t quite all right. “I don’t think they’re broken. It feels more like they’re just bruised.”
“Let me take a look,” she said. “Let me unbutton your shirt and let’s have a look.”
“I didn’t know you were a doctor,” he teased.
“I know a broken rib when I see one,” she assured him. Opening his shirt, she took out a small knife from her purse slung around her shoulder and cut his undershirt down the center. Pulling it back, she looked at purple skin. “Yep,” she said. “They’re not protruding and it looks like they are only bruised. I guess you got lucky this time.”
“I’ll be okay,” he said. “We have to find out where those terrorists went and what they’re up to.”
“We know they plan to blow up the Statute of Liberty,” Kelly said carefully buttoning his shirt. When she finished, she patted his cheek and smiled. “You’ll be okay in a couple of days. Our problem is that we don’t know how or when they plan to do it.”
“That is why we have to follow them and try to find out,” he insisted. “We followed them for two hours this morning before we finally caught up to them. We learned the hard way that they have scouts watching to see if anyone is following them. Now that they know the FBI is after them as well as us, they will be more cautious.”
“I agree,” she said. “I have a funny feeling they don’t exactly take prisoners.”
“Whatever we do, we better do it quick,” he warned. “I’ll see if I can use my cell phone to let the FBI know where they are.”
“Where are they?” Kelly looked at him with her eyebrows raised and her eyes wide. “We don’t know where they are. We only know they’re upriver somewhere.”
“That’s close enough,” he said pulling his cell phone from his jacket pocket. After informing the local FBI office where they were and where they thought the terrorists were, they headed north following the river. “We have to keep quiet and keep moving,” he cautioned.
Kelly clung to his arm attempting to steady him. She could tell from the expression on his face that the pain wasn’t getting any better. The thought of facing the terrorists didn’t appeal to her except she knew they had to be stopped. If they really blew up the Statue of Liberty, the American people would be devastated. Somewhere out there, death waited behind every bush, tree and rock.
“Do you really think Boris Faraday is behind this?” she asked as they stopped behind a large oak with spreading limbs to catch their breath. “I mean, how do we really know? Anyone could have written that note to the President.”
“It had his signature, his fingerprints and a handwriting expert identified his handwriting. Is that enough proof for you?”
“I guess,” she said. “Looks like he’s sincere about carrying out his threats.”
Nick looked at her and started to answer. A small plane interrupted him as it flew overhead headed toward the north. “Kind of low,” he replied as it disappeared above the trees. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Yeah, they may have a landing strip close to here. Do you still have that map?”
“In my jacket,” he said grimacing. “Maybe you better get it.”
Together, they studied the map. “Nothing,” Kelly said. “No local airports for fifty miles and only a few places where a small plane might land.”
Pointing at an open area on the map where trees had been harvested long ago, Nick studied the map for a moment. “This might be it,” Nick said. “It’s on this side of the river about three miles away. We have to get there before they take off. I guess they had the cabin where they stored their equipment and finalized their plans. They were planning to use the plane to get them to New York.”
“Call the FBI and let them know what we know,” Kelly urged. “Maybe they can shoot the plane down or force it down. It was a small plane, a two-engine job. Would that get them to New York City?”
“You bet,” Nick said. “It probably carries about four passengers so whatever they planned didn’t include all the people we saw.”
“Perhaps some of them were just guards or extra people to ensure that the main players were protected and safe. Maybe they were just extra security.”
“Perhaps,” Nick said. “After the twin towers, thousands of thugs around the world who don’t like America decided that if the Muslims could do it to us, they could too. Boris Faraday is just one of them. We have to get him and prove to the world that we don’t forget such things.”
“Who could forget that day,” Kelly said. “I remember people jumping from buildings and I just wanted to nuke Iran, Syria, North Korea and a dozen other of those little oil-rich countries.”
“I think a lot of Americans would like to do that,” Nick said grimly. “Who knows, maybe it will come to that. Maybe that is all those Muslim extremists understand. It may be the only way to stop them.”
“Well, we can’t nuke these bastards we just got away from without hurting ourselves,” she said. “We’ll have to find them and find out what they’re up to.”
Without speaking, they moved quickly through dense forest not knowing when they might encounter the terrorists. Nick was surprised when they came to a meadow that was near the river. At the north end of the meadow, he observed a small metal building that looked as if it had been recently constructed. Pieces of scrap lumber and other building materials were piled neatly near the building. The airplane, a blue on white one was parked near the building. He was sure it was the same airplane they had seen earlier.
“The field is big enough for a runway,” Kelly whispered her blue eyes sparkling in the early afternoon light. “He landed, but what are they planning? How does the airplane figure into this scheme?”
“I don’t know,” Nick said. “That’s what we have to find out. We have to get closer.”
“There are guerillas all over the place down there,” she warned. “They have guards all around the meadow. That’s almost a small army down there, Nick.”
“I know,” he said. “We have to try to get around the meadow and behind that building. It is located so close to the forest that they might not notice us.”
“Fat chance,” she said. “Let’s go.”
From the concealment of the bushes behind the building, they watched as men carried boxes from the building and put them in the airplane. Nick thought about what they were seeing trying to figure out what they were doing. It was clear that their activity had some significance in their plot to blow up the Statute of Liberty, except he wasn’t quite sure what they were doing. The boxes could contain explosives, he thought and then shuddered at the thought.
“Freeze,” a gruff voice said behind them. Nick froze. Kelly looked behind them and her face turned pallid while her eyes grew wider. “Don’t move, if you want to live.”
Nick slowly turned around with his gun in his hand and discovered a gun pointed right between his eyes. He dropped his gun and studied two burly thugs that looked as if they had spent two years on an ugly farm. They both were well muscled, had a stern look on their faces and their thin lips were pulled tight. These aren’t the kind of people that you can talk to, he told himself as he tried to think of a way to overpower them, and couldn’t before they ordered them to walk toward the front of the building.
“Well, Mr. Nick Strong and Miss Kelly Lance. I’m so sorry that we couldn’t meet you earlier back there. We tried hard to contact you,” a man said as they approached three men standing in front of the shed watching the plane being loaded. The man who had spoken was tall with short red hair, deep blue eyes and a rough face that should have still been peeking out through prison bars. Nick thought that he might have been in prison only recently judging from his pallid complexion. “I’m Stephen Chandler. I’m going to blow up the Statute of Liberty and there isn’t anything you can do to stop me.”
Nick didn’t like him right away. Knowing they were in a lot of trouble, hoping that the FBI might show up, he tried to stall until they arrived. Engaging the enemy in conversation seemed like a good thing to do. “How did you know who we are?”
“Mr. Faraday has spies everywhere. Installing a couple in the FBI and in your private little team wasn’t too hard. Everything is easy when you’re the richest man in the world.”
Nick wasn’t impressed. Glancing at Kelly, he saw that she had that angry look on her face like a groundhog that had been cornered by an old hound dog and was anxious to tear into the nearest living thing. Chandler seemed like the most likely target she had in mind. Chandler’s words stung him like a bee. Someone had penetrated the agency and that meant that they had probably planted false information. Was the Statute of Liberty the real target? If not, what was the target? “So, he has spies everywhere, huh?”
“Oh, you bet,” Chandler boasted. “Why, he even has people in the White House. Can you believe that, boy?” Chandler spoke with a southern accent. “He pays quite well, too. Now, I hope you and the lady don’t mind me planning a little trip for you. You see, you’re going to accompany the plane on its final journey.”
“Final journey?” Nick asked. “May I ask where we are going?”
“Of course,” Chandler said. “I’m afraid it will be your final journey as well. The plane is loaded with explosives. You’re going to visit a lady friend. She has a body that is worth killing for, or at least I imagine your government thinks she is worth killing for. I never did like France and she was a gift from the French government.”
“The Statute of Liberty,” Kelly said. “You’re really going to do it.”
“Yes,” he said. “Now, if you don’t mind.” He pointed toward the plane. “My men will make you comfortable. The pilot will fly the plane to the target. When he is near it, he will parachute out of the plane. The plane will be on automatic pilot and I’ll leave the rest of it up to your imaginations.”
With their hands bound with strong ropes, they were pushed toward the plane. Nick noticed the pilot, a young man with long hair and a dirty gray mechanic’s uniform on, crawl into the front seat and close the door. One of the men opened the back door and Nick saw that boxes almost filled the rear of the plane. There was only room for Kelly in the back seat. The front seat was reserved for him. He would have a front row seat when the plane crashed into the statue.
When in the air, Nick glanced back at Kelly. Her face showed as much despair as he felt. With his hands tied behind him, he couldn’t do anything, except pray. Even though it seemed like several hours, Nick knew it had only been less than an hour when the pilot engaged the automatic pilot and donning a parachute, jumped from the plane. He could hear the rushing wind sweep by the plane as the door slammed shut again. They were on their own headed toward New York Harbor.
As the plane buffeted up and down riding the air currents like a huge bird, he tried to work his hands free and couldn’t. The ropes were tied tight.
Glancing back at Kelly, he asked, “Are you all right?”
“Sure,” she said. “I’m fine until we hit that statute and then it won’t matter anymore.”
“Turn around and work your way up between the seats,” Nick instructed. “Maybe I can get you free. Hurry, we only have minutes, maybe seconds until it’s all over.” Looking ahead of him, he recognized the landscape below them. They weren’t over New York Harbor or anywhere close to it. “That’s the capitol down there,” he said. “Hurry. We’re headed for Washington and I think I know what the target is.”
“He did lie to us,” Kelly accused as she struggled to turn around in the small space. Finally, she had her back between the pilot’s seat and the passenger seat. Nick tried use extreme caution as he maneuvered between the two seats. The last thing he wanted to do was to accidentally disengage the automatic pilot. That could be disastrous. “Now, why do you think he did that?”
“I guess he thought that since we were going to die, we would find out at the last moment and by that time it wouldn’t matter. Hurry,” he urged.
Kelly worked at picking the knot. Her hands were small and her fingers were trembling. Ignoring slimy worms trying to work their way from her stomach up into her throat where they would certainly get lodged, she finally breathed easier when she felt the knot loosening. “I’m almost there,” she said. “Be patient.”
“Patience has nothing to do with it,” he said. “I hate flying. In fact, I don’t think I will ever get on a plane again. Keep at it, you’re doing great.”
The sudden roar of two fighters flying alongside them interrupted their conversation. Nick looked over at one of the jets and was surprised to see the pilot signaling him to turn away from the capitol. “Can’t they see that my hands are tied?” he yelled.
“Probably not,” Kelly said. “They’ll shoot us down if we continue on our present course. We better hurry.”
As if reading her mind or hearing what she said, the jets broke away and came in at them from different directions. As they approached and the seconds ticked away, Nick felt his bonds loosen and the ropes being pulled away.
“You’re free,” Kelly yelled. “Do something and do it damned quick.”
Free, he was tempted to rub his throbbing, tingling hands and massage his arms except he knew there wasn’t times for self-indulgence. The jets were approaching fast and the small plane was getting closer to the capitol. He could see it looming below the horizon like a beacon of death, an invitation to hell.
Working his way over the console between the seats, he managed to get into the seat and strap himself in. Putting his left hand on the wheel, he disengaged the autopilot and felt the plane swing wildly to the right and begin a slow descent. They were going toward the capitol. The pilots of the fighters would recognize the move as a hostile one. They were doomed. In seconds, guided missiles with mean warheads would be on their way. Did he have time to change course?
“Can you fly this thing?”
“Sure, Kelly. I took flying lessons and got my license a few years back.”
“I thought you hated planes.”
He thought for a moment trying to remember which controls would take them away from danger. “I do now,” he said as he pulled back on the wheel and banked to the right hoping the plane wouldn’t stall. “I guess I’ll have to like this one though, until I can get us on the ground.”
“Where are we going to land?”
“At the airport,” he said. “Where else?”
Picking up the microphone that had found a home on the seat, he called the control tower. After explaining that two jets were about to shoot him down and that he was a government agent, the air traffic controller told him to circle toward the airport while he contracted the fighters. Nick sighed and smiled when the jets turned away. In minutes, they were alongside him again. He knew that this time, they were there to guide them to the airport and make sure that they didn’t go any other place.
Climbing into the front seat, Kelly pulled the safety belt around her luscious body. “Nick, I hate to tell you this,” she said, “but you’re going to land this crate at a busy airport with a ton of explosive aboard, is that correct?”
“Yep, I hope so,” he said and then ignored her as he listened to the directions the controller was giving him over the radio. Flaps down, reduce airspeed and turn right thirty degrees, the controller told him. Nick did as he was told and hoped for the best. As the runway loomed ahead, he could see planes parked all over the place. Obviously, his little plane had been considered the most important plane on the agenda especially since it carried such a wallop. “I guess they think we can do this or they would have shot us down,” he said.
“You’re a real bundle of cheer,” Kelly said. “Take it easy, okay?”
“Sure,” he replied. “I’m so damn scared that I can’t do anything else. Luckily, this little babe almost flies by itself and we’ll be fine.”
By the time they reached the middle of the runway, Nick managed to bring it to a complete stop as instructed by the controller. Before they could disembark, fire trucks, emergency crews and police cruisers surrounded them. Nick recognized one of the men that got out of an unmarked police car. He was Brad Holman, an agent with the agency. He wondered why he was here.
“I’m in charge of the operation here,” Holman told them as they got out of the plane. “The FBI alerted us that Washington might be a possible target. They said you told them the enemy had an airplane and we sort of put things together.” Looking at the interior of the plane, he whistled and rubbed his chin. “My, they were serious, weren’t they?”
“Yeah,” Kelly agreed. “If they had hit the White House with that, nothing would have been left of it.”
“How did you know that they would try for the White House,” Nick asked.
“We knew they had a plane in Maine. We simply tracked every plane, especially small ones that left that part of the state. That plane never filed a flight plan so we knew something was wrong. When it didn’t head for the Statue of Liberty, we weren’t surprised when it headed for Washington. Not only that, but the FBI caught the rest of the conspirators and they said that Washington was the target.”
“How did you get them to tell you something like that?” Kelly looked at Holman in disbelief.
“When our country is threatened, we have our means,” he said and walked away. They followed him back to the airport lobby as the bomb squad began to remove the boxes from the plane. “We don’t mess around. We’re going to find Boris Faraday and make a skeleton out of him.”
“What do you mean?” Nick asked. “Do you intend to kill him?”
“Sure,” he said. “We’re going to take our little team to new heights. We’re going to go after terrorists no matter where they are and kill them. Daddy wants you and Kelly to head up the field operations. Think of all the exciting places you can go. South America, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and even Pakistan are a few possibilities.”
“Is Faraday hiding out in all those places?” Kelly asked.
“No, but he will be when he hears we foiled this plot. He’ll be on the run now that he knows we know where he is.”
“We’ll think about it,” Nick said as they walked toward the ticket counter. “I presume we’ll be operating on our own.”
“You’ll have backup,” Holman said. “We won’t leave you out in the cold without protection.”
“That’s nice of Daddy,” Kelly said. “What makes you think we want to do it?”
“Because it’s in your blood and you got a taste of the excitement of the chase,” Holman said. “And I can tell that you like to work together. You’re a team and you’re what we need to get Boris Faraday out of the picture.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Kelly agreed. “We are a team except I think we’re going to take a quick vacation before we do anything.”
“Yeah,” Nick said. “We may take a vacation in South America.”
Holman looked them with a puzzled look on his face and then grinned. “You’re both crazy,” he said. “Plain crazy.”