Franklin waited with a blank face until the man was out of earshot.
“Bess, what are their flight plans for the rest of their day?”
She responded with a list that included the location of a key field commander who was known for his ambition. The next two puzzled Franklin for a moment, until he remembered they were the location of two very important vendors working in support of the larger contract. One was the new manager for the parts supplier for the crawlers; the other was something he had to query Bess about. It was the manager for the satellite communications support, an opulent bunker just below a massive dish antenna atop the highest mountain in that part of the country. Bess noted in passing that Mister Big held a major portion of stock in each of those companies. After that, the entourage was headed back to the base and was supposed to fly out on their plane that night.
Bess managed to relay all of this before the VIPs began heading back to their chopper.
It came to Franklin in a rush. This slimy bastard wanted to hire him to be his private sniper to kill his enemies, using a weapon that was undetectable by any existing technology. He was going to try to bribe the new parts manager just like the old one. He was going to try something easily as nasty with the satellite manager. And he was going to seduce that commander — and could probably make a genuine offer of promotion — to support him in something that required military force. What he didn’t actually own, he could disrupt by controlling critical elements. And maybe this stuff wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, because this nasty little man was prepared to keep working this way until he had control over everything.
“Bess, do you reckon this fellow seeks to take over the whole world?” He really didn’t expect an answer.
“That appears to be the obvious end of his maneuvering” Bess said dryly.
The chopper began to rev up the engines. A short time later it shot up in the air and climbed steeply overhead.
“Bess, unlock the targeting.”
“Are you sure?”
“Do it. And make sure the sensor doesn’t record this.” Franklin raised his rifle and dialed up everything to max.
Just before the bird was out of range, Franklin pulled the trigger, sighting up the turbine’s exhaust vent. The engine exploded into fragments; the blades broke free and scattered across the sky, trailing smoke where they had been attached. The bird started to drop a few meters, and then a secondary fireball erupted from the fuel. The shell of the bird blossomed outward at the top and separated from the power train; the luxury interior kept burning all the way to the ground.
Back at the base, Barry had been sitting in his office with his head in his hands. It was all he could do to stay at his appointed place of duty; he desperately needed to be out on a lonely hilltop and sing along with the wind.
It sounded almost as if someone had kicked the door open. One of the secretaries blurted out, “The VIP chopper exploded!”
Barry jerked his head up. “When? Where?”
“We don’t know yet. All we have is the actual notification. It was taking off from a stop and exploded. There’s almost nothing left of it, and it was too high for anyone to survive.” The woman disappeared down the hallway.
It was over. Barry was numb. Eventually he came back to himself and looked around. He picked up Torrie from the desk. “What should I do now? Got any ideas, Torrie?”
“Prepare for some local errands, Barry.”
Of course. He turned his conscious mind to the task. First was the quick rundown of things he had already done, but it amounted to a readiness checklist. The mental exercise made him feel like he was back into some modicum of control. Then he checked to see if the sense of foreboding was gone. It was. But for some reason, he didn’t feel the least bit like celebrating.
There was some loud chatter in the hallway. He looked back at his phone. “Torrie, tell Ned about this. I can report later in more detail if he wants.”
“Done,” the cellphone reported solemnly.
Mostly Barry was hoping Ned would get back to him with something that restored a sense that things were alright. He didn’t want to know everything, just enough to make sense of the implications of this turn of events.
From the hallway: “Barry! Emergency dispatch!”