Alaska Trooper Jack Blake chases the bad guys from the Last Frontier to Hollywood and beyond in this continuing adventure of the Bush Pilot/Lawman.
“HANG ON, THIS IS GONNA BE A LITTLE ROUGH!” Hayden warns us, as his thousand-yard-stare—earned from years of flying in Alaska—grows even more intense. He fights with the complex controls to maintain command of the helicopter as we bang through the violent turbulence. What had looked like a peaceful bay transforms into a tumultuous torrent of air, as the craft is thrown about like a cork in a whitewater river. Jet grabs my seatback and I grasp what I can, as we dodge the flying debris in the cabin for the white-knuckle flight a thousand feet above the sea. Bobbing in the waters, the herring fleet continues fishing, unaware of our battle in the air. Black nets drape from booms on boats as they pull gear from the water. Other boats race in circles, puffing clouds of dark smoke. There she is.” Hayden points to the biggest boat in the bay. “It’s too rough to do a recon, this approach is gonna be it.” Jet and I look at each other, shake our heads, and laugh. We aren’t exactly dressed for the occasion. I’m sporting the trooper formal attire—dress tunic and wool pants with shiny black boots. Jet looks very bride-like in her white kuspuck and mukluks. At least the Eskimo-made dress is insulated with fur, so she will stay warm. The gun belt she grabbed at Nishlik Lake is big enough to wrap around her tiny waist a couple of times, but she made it work. Not the usual accessory for a wedding day, but the black leather gear—cradling the Glock .40 caliber—is practical for this mission. Suddenly, Hayden yanks on the controls and banks hard to the right. Jerking my head to movement in my peripheral vision, a red and white blur rushes by the bubble window. The Super Cub is so close that the pilot’s green David Clark headset is plainly visible, and the racing Lycoming engine is audible. Lucky for all, the Cub pilot breaks to the left as we bank to the right.
“Herring spotters! They’re everywhere out here, looking for those stinking fish!” Hayden wipes perspiration from his forehead and regains our course. Jet once told me that hordes of small planes spot herring for fishermen, with midair collisions being an accepted hazard. Looking up through the skylight, I now see a whole gaggle of Cubs, Cessnas, other small planes and helicopters swarming above us like bees over a hive. They have no clue what our mission is, nor do they care. They have their own missions. The processing barge is huge in comparison to the little fishing boats. If it wasn’t for the antennae, cranes, machinery, metal shacks and all the other equipment on the deck, it’d make a nice landing strip for a small Bush plane. Hayden points the helicopter between two of the tallest cranes. This is going to be close, especially in the rough air, but if anyone can get us on the deck, it’s Hayden. “Jet, since I have to jump out the left side, how ‘bout you take the right? Then we can meet up once we hit the deck.” Jet nods in agreement. The helicopter pitches and twists. The booms look so close it seems they can reach over and grab the spinning chopper blades. I focus on the roof of the rusty white metal shack—the designated landing pad. Hayden doesn’t broadcast as we drop closer. One hundred feet, seventy-five, fifty, now just twenty. I scan the deck. No one in sight. Is that good news or bad?
“Get ready to bail!” Somehow, Hayden deftly manipulates us below the overhanging cranes. He banks slightly to avoid dangling cables, while still fighting the turbulence. Two men are in the barge pilothouse. One is frantically waving us off. The other man is holding a pistol to the waver’s head. I start to tell Jet, but Hayden blares over the headsets: “Jump!”
Jet and I fall several feet to the little shack’s roof, rifles in hand. I slide to my knee on the wet surface, but Jet gracefully lands in a run. We pile off opposite sides of the little building as the deafening helicopter rushes away. I grab my radio, telling what I see. “Jet, two guys in the pilothouse. One with a gun.” “Saw them. I’ve got one dead over here.” The barge’s deck is slippery, made so by seawater, herring slime and oils from the equipment. It smells of fish guts, diesel and sea air. The noise from the wind and the power plants will make it difficult to hear movement from the suspect, or much else.
The barge sways in the waves as we walk like drunken sailors to the bow, passing the body Jet had discovered. His eyes are open to the sky and there’s a red spot on his sweatshirt. We pull ourselves on top of a shipping container to get an overview. Using the scope of my rifle, my scan finds the pilothouse now empty. Jet begins searching with her scope, but we’re interrupted.
PING! PING! PING! The rifle shots tear into the metal roof, just a foot in front of where we lie. We spin off the container in unison. “Jet, the shooter must be on the deck outside the pilothouse. How about you stay here and cover me and I’ll try to sneak up on him.” My voice cracks into the portable radio.
“I need to be closer, Jack. I can’t get a visual from here. How about you take the port side and I take the starboard? I’ll try to get a better vantage point.” What I really want is for Jet to stay put, behind the container. I don’t want her in any more danger than she already is, but I know that won’t fly with her. “Okay, but stay low. Let’s go.” I reluctantly give in, like I have a choice. We start our approach.
Crouching along the side of the barge, I use the generators, equipment boxes, control units, and barrels as cover. Jet will be doing the same on her side. Only occasionally can I catch sight of her. That sight—her lithe body in the white dress with the flowing golden locks, and loaded for battle, is both humorous and sensual. It will be great when this part of the day is over and we can pick up on what we were doing less than an hour ago. Movement to my right! Drawing the Glock, I swing the barrel toward the target. “Meow.” The barge cat. I sometimes think that it’s the mission of felines to sneak up on us humans, often at the worst times. A dog would never do that. Maybe slop into you with his wet hide, demanding a toss of the stick, but not sneaky stuff like this. This is a friendly fella though, so I give him a quick pat on the head and read his tag: Skyler Edward King. “Hello, Sky King. Good to meet you,” I offer. He stretches, and then jumps away. I take the break in concentration to call Jet on the radio. “Jet, do you have anything yet? Nothing but a four-legged creature over here.”
“Nothing yet. I think most of the crew must be below deck...wait. There’s a lot of blood on the deck. More on the rail over here. Just a sec, I think I hear something. Up by the pilothouse. Standby, I’ll check it out.” The pilothouse is about fifty feet from me. There is too much junk between my side of the barge and Jet’s side for me to see her. I return to my crouching walk, then… Scuffling, muffled voices, then a gunshot from Jet’s side of the barge! Quickly, I scale the storage container separating us. What I see makes my heart sink and my blood pressure rocket. The shooter has Jet! The burly, bearded wild man holds Jet in a headlock. She’s facing my direction, her mukluks off the deck. She’s struggling. Her martial arts skills are usually enough to get her out of almost any confrontation, but he has the drop on her and he’s much larger. Plus, the revolver he’s holding to her right temple gives him a distinct edge over her defensive tactics. He’s roughly dragging her toward the pilothouse. I want to blast him out to sea, but I don’t have a clean shot. Jet is being used for a shield and they are moving too fast. I need to get the advantage, and get it without delay. My current position provides no cover, but there’s a worse problem. Jet and her captor will soon be back in the high-perched pilothouse. From the roof I’m on, the trajectory is at too much of an angle for a clean shot, and there will only be one shot. I look skyward for inspiration. I find it. Like a mast on a sailing ship, a large steel pole rises from the deck. Near the top of the pole is a crow’s nest, surrounded by metal plates. Slinging the rifle over my shoulder, I begin climbing the slippery metal ladder on the pole. I get half way up before the first glitch. PING! A shot hits the other side of the pole. I hear and feel it. The sniper has made me. Becoming as skinny as I can, I shinny up the pole with as much speed as I can muster. I dive into the crow’s nest as the next shot hits the side plate. Above me, the yellow and black smiley face flag of the processing company flaps violently in the breeze. “Jack, the captain’s dead. Stay dow...!” Jet tries to warn me. “Give me that!” The voice of what must the shooter’s yells. As calmly as I’m able, I speak into the portable radio. “Sir, this is Trooper Jack Blake. Let’s talk about this.” “What do you want to talk about, cop? It looks like I have the advantage here. I got me a cute little cop girl. Kinda reminds me of my ex-wife. I think we might retire to the captain’s quarters. Guess he won’t be needing his bed any longer, on account of the fact that he’s dead and all.” The guy is a talker. That’s good. Maybe I can keep him talking. Talking is better than him going on with his plans. I figure that he has locked the door to the pilothouse by now, so I can’t rush him. Plus, there’s no way for me to get to it without being in his line of fire. Me getting shot won’t help Jet. My best bet is to keep him in the window. But Jet has a plan of her own. The shooter’s grimy hand, terminating in dirty, long fingernails, relaxes its grip on Jet’s neck so he can continue his diatribe on the radio. Jet takes the chance. She slides a knife from the sheath of the trooper’s belt and rams it into his leg. The force is so great that the blade breaks. So does the shooter’s temper. Almost strangling Jet, he tenses his grip with the force of a grizzly. Exhaling with putrid whiskey breath, he screams into the radio.
“Forget what I said before, cop. This one reminds me a little too much of my ex. I’m just going to put her out of my misery right now, if you don’t mind. Then we can continue our little chat.” The killer puts the .357 revolver to Jet’s temple as she prays silently.
“Hold on, hold on a minute. You don’t want to do that.” I need just a little more time.
Swaying in tempo with the seas, the crow’s nest isn’t the perfect shooting platform, but it will have to do. I poke the rifle barrel between the steel plates. Focusing on the pilothouse, I chat with the killer to keep him from killing again—to keep him from killing the reason for which I live.