Read Guns [John Hardin 01] Online

Authors: Phil Bowie

Guns [John Hardin 01]


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

For Aaron Roberts.

Published 2006 by Medallion Press, Inc.
is a registered tradmark of Medallion Press, Inc.

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment from this “stripped book.”

Copyright © 2006 by Phil Bowie
Cover Illustration by Adam Mock

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.

Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Printed in the United States of America
Typeset in Adobe Caslon Pro

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First Edition

My thanks first and always to my parents, Edith and Erol, and to my sister, Nancy, for unflagging faith and encouragement. I owe Lee Child one for his support. Ken Gruebel has been an incisive critic. Bud Aldridge contributed good ideas. The hardworking folk at Medallion have done a fine job.

keening of the wind outside the cottage when Sam Bass untangled himself from the sheets and reached for it in the gray light. “Damn, what time is it,” he mumbled, sitting up groggily.

“It’s oh six hundred, Sam. This’s Ruben. Listen, we got us a situation here I thought you’d wanna hear about. You know the Stilleys pretty good, right? They got that big ketch the
The voice sounded hollow and scratchy, as though the caller was shouting from the far end of a long tunnel.

Sam turned on the bedside lamp and reached for his jeans hanging on a straight chair. “Yes,” he said loudly. “Is something wrong?”

The caller was Ruben Dixon, a grizzled Coast Guard boson’s mate stationed on the island, and a casual friend. Ralph and Adele Stilley were much closer friends, retirees in their middle sixties with an expensive new home on the sound side of Ocracoke and a shiningly restored fifty-foot vintage wooden sailboat they were supposed to be bringing back home after visiting family and taking a shoebox or two full of summer snapshots along the New England coast.

“This storm has blowed up into a real nor’easter overnight, Sam. Gale warnings up all over the place. Seas offshore here are fifteen feet and more. We got a weak distress call from the
an hour ago, from Miz Stilley. She was pretty shook but she gave us a fix from their GPS. Put ‘em about fifteen miles south of Hatteras. Said they got hit by a real big wave. Busted the aft mast. Taking on water and her husband’s hurt real bad. Haven’t been able to raise them since and no EPIRB signal. Now here’s the deal. One Jayhawk chopper out of Elizabeth City’s down for repairs. The other’s out hunting a sinking trawler that maydayed off Oregon Inlet. We got us a Herc assigned but they can’t take off for another two hours. This blow’s caught everybody with their pants around their ankles and it’s Sunday to boot. The crew and me set out in the motor lifeboat forty-five minutes ago. It’s rough out here but we’re makin’ good way. Thing is, I don’t know how long the Stilleys can wait for, like, an organized search, you know?”

“What you’re asking is will I go out and see if I can find them, right?”

“Naw, I couldn’t ask a civilian, even a hot rod like you, to do anything for us, even if it ought to be a piece of cake. Something went wrong it’d mean my ass, you know?”

“Dammit, Ruben. That wind outside is fierce.” He switched ears so he could pull on yesterday’s paint-stained denim shirt. “What exactly
the weather, anyway?”

“One of our people checked with Flight Service. Visibility’s not too bad. Between rain squalls you got up to four miles. Surface wind’s a little stiff, though. About twenty-nine out of zero one zero, with gusts to thirty-eight or so. Ceiling’s from eight hundred scattered to twelve hundred solid. Forecast through mid-day is about the same except for the winds maybe to shift and blow more out of the east, ease off some.

“Ruben, what I’ve got is a hundred-eighty-horse Cessna.” Sam stuffed his feet into his tall hand-made goatskin ropers, a five-hundred-dollar extravagance from six years and another life ago, scuffed and worn now, but still fitting like a second skin. “What you just described is marginal visual flight rules at best. No visibility at all in those rain squalls. Winds aloft I don’t even want to think about, and a bad thirty-degree crosswind on the Ocracoke strip. Picture trying to launch a kid’s kite out there now.”

“Well, like I said. There’s no way I could ask a civvy to help out in a search. I mean specially if it could be a little risky. I just thought if you was, say, out for a spin this morning anyway, and you happened to spot anything, you could maybe give us a call on your av band at what, one twenty-two point seven-five? Boat’s number is four three two five two.”

A little risky.

“Okay, okay. Maybe I’ll give it a try. I’ll need fifteen minutes to top off and preflight. What was that fix Adele Stilley gave you?”

Ruben read off the latitude and longitude and Sam used a pencil stub to copy the numbers onto a pocket pad on the bedside table. He put a number one in a circle beside the fix. A blast of rain rattled against the cottage’s tin roof. The light coming in the window was a dingy gray and the window banged softly in its frame. “How far do you guys think they could have moved since this fix?”

“That’s a tough one,” Ruben said. “Do they have the engine? A good bilge pump? If he’s out of action how much does she know? Hold on, here comes a real big bastard…” The phone crackled for ten seconds. “Okay, anyway, would she try to take the seas on her bows and run for an inlet? Or take it on the stern and make for deeper water, steer clear of the shoals? You got to make some assumptions or it’s just a crapshoot. So figure that rogue wave really hammered them. Figure no power. The current’s tryin’ to push them northeast while the wind’s driving ‘em southwest. Anyway, you consider all that, we put them maybe thirty miles east southeast of Ocracoke Inlet now. Coordinates might be…”

Ruben read the numbers off and Sam copied them, putting a circled number two beside them. He wished Ruben good luck and hung up. He knew that riding the bucking rescue boat through the confused seas out there would be no picnic. Ruben had given him a tour of the Coast Guard station and the boat two months back.

The forty-four-foot motor lifeboat, with its squarish fiberglass passenger cabin perched on the aft deck and its high amidships steering station open to the weather on three sides for visibility, was self-bailing and self-righting. Though it was not nearly as fast as a cutter, with a top speed of only fourteen knots, it had been designed to handle the roughest water and was virtually unsinkable, but the ride for the crew of four on a day like today could be sheer hell despite all their training.

Sam used the bathroom, raked his thick black hair back with his fingers, and crammed an old ball cap on to hold it there, pulled on a light jacket, and grabbed a stale donut from a box on the kitchen counter.

Then the power went out, the ancient refrigerator wheezing to a stop.

There was no avgas on the island, so whenever Sam couldn’t fill up at Manteo or some mainland airport, he burned auto gas, laboriously using five-gallon cans to lug it to the plane. No power meant the pumps at the village station would not be pumping. So, no fuel. He tried to remember exactly how much was left in the plane’s tanks. He usually kept the plane topped off but this one time he had neglected that chore after his last flight two days ago.

Outside, the wind pummeled him, almost snatching the ball cap away. Ragged gray rolls of cloud scudded low overhead and the tough, wind-stunted wax myrtles around the cottage were shuddering. As he drove his rusted Jeep Wrangler down the sandy lane on the outskirts of the village and squealed onto the deserted main highway, rain spat inside through several old rents in the soft top, soaking the seats. The tall marsh grasses on both sides of the road rippled wildly as though in sympathy with the restless sea out beyond the dune line.

He hoped the
was still afloat. It was August and the ocean was plenty warm so the Stilleys would not soon die of hypothermia if they were in the water, but the odds against finding them quickly would increase exponentially without the boat to spot. And Ralph had a mild heart condition. The man definitely did not need the stress of a foundering boat added to whatever injury he had suffered from the big wave.

He had met the Stilleys eighteen months ago when they had been supervising the construction of their two-story contemporary home and had chartered Sam several times to fly them to the mainland so they could select wallpapers, appliances, and furnishings, and to take care of bank business. Though they were twenty-five years older than Sam, the three of them had hit it off immediately. Ralph was a big, weathered, bald man with a faceful of smile lines, and Adele was a perky redhead barely five feet tall with an infectious shrieking laugh that often caught the amused attention of bystanders. They had made some real money together in their own long-haul trucking business. They were absolutely devoted to each other and shared a quirky sense of humor. He called her Red and she often called him Chromedome. Ralph knew enough dirty jokes to have written a blue encyclopedia, and could somehow deliver the worst of them inoffensively and almost always hilariously. They had invited Sam to their housewarming and after the party had wound down, the three of them had sat out on the brand-new rooftop deck under the stars. With the stubby Ocracoke lighthouse winking lazily over by the inlet they had poured salty dogs from a huge sweating pitcher, had devoured the remains of the hors d’oeuvres, and had laughed, at times tearfully, into the small hours. Sam always enjoyed watching the two of them interact and he valued their friendship.

There was nobody at the airstrip. Five light planes were in a line on the small parking apron, all of them rocking their wings and straining at their tiedowns, wanting to fly. At mainland airports, tiedowns were most often just worn ropes. Out here, twenty miles from the mainland, where many a fierce storm had blown some common sense into the natives, they were stout chains. Sam’s twenty-year-old blue-and-white Cessna, three niner zero Whiskey Sierra, was the farthest away from the single open-walled shelter that housed only a pay phone and some benches. He parked the Jeep on the grass behind the plane just as a squall hit. The cold gray rain drenched him through to his skin while he did a fast walkaround, pulling out the rudder gust lock and unhooking the chains as he went. The agitated surf thundered out beyond the dunes that ran alongside the strip.

He unlocked the cabin and climbed into the left seat, using a paper towel to wipe his face. He pulled the master switch and watched the needles jump up to just under half tanks, knowing that light plane fuel gauges were notoriously unreliable, realizing that fueling up from cans would be next to impossible in these conditions anyway.
So figure a maximum of two hours flying time with no reserve.
He punched the two fixes from his pocket pad into his GPS and started the elapsed time clock. The plane rocked on its gear and the wind whistled in the vents. As an afterthought he dug under his seat for a yellow inflatable life jacket and put it on. He clicked on the seat and shoulder belts, snugged them up tight, pulled on his headset, gave it two shots of primer, clamped the foot brakes, released the hand brake, and keyed the starter. The engine stuttered to life and the prop became a fluttering gray blur, blowing the rain back off of the windshield in quick little runnels. He switched on the radio but left the transponder off.

The fixes were close to the Atlantic Defense Identification Zone line, or ADIZ. Prowling around out there could trigger the coastal warning net and some bored non-com from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base might mark him for an enemy bomber from Grenada or a flying saucer from Mars and scramble a pair of Tomcats to bounce him just for the sport of it. Flying in low-level search patterns, without his transponder, there was less chance of him being painted on anybody’s radar and having to take the time to explain what he was doing. Also, the weather might legally be IFR, in which case he was not even supposed to take off without filing an instrument flight plan with Air Traffic Control. ATC was not likely to grant him clearance to conduct a search offshore in these conditions. If anybody wanted to know later, he would just have to say conditions were basically VFR, with at least three miles visibility and at least a thousand-foot ceiling. There wasn’t anybody out here checking.

The windsock, starched by the gale into a rigid cone, danced about ten degrees side-to-side in the gusts. The brutal crosswind was from the left about thirty degrees to the strip on average. He had never taken off in a light plane in such a wind, much less a crosswind. He checked the gauges, noting the oil pressure in the green, set the altimeter to zero, and taxied out onto the narrow runway, holding the yoke full forward to keep the buffeting gusts from getting under the tail. He back-taxied the length of the strip and swung it around to line up into the wind. He held the brakes while he did a run-up to check the magnetos and the carb heat, and cycled the flight controls to their stops. Then he lined up on the centerline and let it fast idle and warm, the wings rocking, while he talked to the plane, an old habit since his student days two decades ago.

“Okay, old girl. The best way to do this is a short-field takeoff but with no flaps. As soon as our wheels are off we crab full into the wind. Hold the rate-of-climb down and be ready for those gusts.” He rehearsed the takeoff mentally for a few seconds, then said, “Okay, let’s do it.” He clamped the brakes tighter and pushed the throttle smoothly to the panel, watching the windsock for the most favorable wind direction and hoping for a lull. The engine was bellowing at full power, the brakes slipping. The wind seemed to let up somewhat and he cranked in full left aileron to keep the wind from lifting the left wing during the early part of the roll, and released the brakes. Then he was moving, picking up speed, easing off gradually on the aileron, and a sudden gust shoved the left wing up, hiking the left main gear clear of the pavement despite his immediate return to full aileron deflection, the right tire yelping as it skidded sideways, the sand at the right edge of the strip getting close, and he reached for the throttle to chop power but the gust eased and the left wheel bounced back down and he was accelerating so he left the throttle fire-walled. He tested the elevator and then pulled the plane up off of the pavement, immediately lowering the nose to stay in ground effect and build flying speed, pushing left rudder to crab into the wind.

The airspeed indicator inched up to eighty miles per hour and he let her climb at full power into the wind, fighting the gusts to keep reasonably level, noting the island stretching away to the northeast to quickly disappear in the sand-and-salt spray and the rain mist. The shelter and the dunes crawled by below. A sudden lash of rain sounded like gravel flung against the Plexiglas windshield.

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