As regular readers of my stories know, I don’t do sequels. I’m often asked to because, I’m told, people want to know what becomes of characters they have grown attached to as these guys have grown older.
I don’t write sequels because then I’m stuck with characters whose lives I’ve already illuminated. I’ve said what I had to say about them. I’ve moved on so I can create new characters, which is a process of which I’m quite fond.
But, in an effort to get you guys off my back . . . hold on. I didn’t mean that. In an effort to soothe the savage breast you guys generally keep so well hidden — yeah, that sounds better — I have taken pen in hand, or, to be more factual about it, keyboard on lap, and I’ve written a sequel.
You don’t have to read, or reread, One Summer in Georgia to enjoy this story, but if you’d like to re-familiarize yourself with it and the people who populated it, you have my permission. I personally kind of liked those characters.
The plane noise with the jump door wide open made it hard to hear. He’d been shown what the hand signals meant, but hadn’t seemed to be able to remember them. The guy in charge, frustration oozing from his pores like stench from an unwashed alky, reacted by simply manhandling him to the door. The guy had had all sorts of first-time jumpers and many of them had been reluctant to actually step out the door when it came time. This guy didn’t seem to be reluctant so much as simply stupid. But stupid was an asset in this game.
“I’m coming with you, remember!” he shouted in the stupid guy’s ear, trying to encourage him while at the same time more or less having to wrestle him toward the door. When the guy just looked at him, his eyes rather vacant, the instructor wrapped both his arms around him and moved him right to the doorway.
“Okay, okay,” protested the first-timer. “Let me go. I don’t want you hanging on me when I jump. But you’ll come out behind me, right? Right?”
“Sure thing. But we need to go out now! We’re past the middle of the drop zone already. That ridge in the distance is getting closer. Go ahead. Jump!”
The first-timer took one last look at the instructor, then turned and sort of fell out of the plane. The instructor watched, then leaped out himself.
The instructor didn’t pull his cord immediately. He wanted to catch up to his pupil who, to his surprise, hadn’t pulled his, either. The guy had flattened himself out so his body was parallel to the ground thousands of feet below, slowing his descent. This was standard jump practice for old-timers, but unexpected from someone making his first jump. Probably just an accident, him falling into that position.
The instructor pulled his own body tight and shot after his pupil, catching him quickly, then flattening his body to match the descent speed of his pupil.
He drifted and maneuvered so he was facing the stupid guy who seemed to be showing some unexpected nerve and, catching the guy’s eye, mimicked pulling his cord. The guy nodded, and then pointed at the instructor, then himself, and nodded vigorously, obviously meaning they should pull their cords together and so stay together all the way to the ground.
The instructor nodded and reached for his cord. Then he put up three fingers, closed them back into a fist, then put out first one, then the second, then the third and pulled his cord.
Nothing happened. He continued to plummet. He pulled again, and the cord came off in his hand. He could see where it had been cut. He’d checked it just before boarding the plane! He looked at his pupil, who hadn’t pulled his cord on three. The man was smiling at him! And not looking a bit stupid.
The instructor had a backup chute, and he pulled that cord. It also broke away from the pack the chute was in.
The instructor only had one thought in mind. He quickly reached out to grab his pupil, only to see him finally tug on his own cord. As his chute billowed out, it appeared the man had been suddenly, abruptly jerked higher into the sky. The instructor knew what he was seeing wasn’t that man soaring higher, but himself falling at a much greater rate than his pupil.
Frantic, he tried to yank his chute from its pack manually, but found he couldn’t get it to come out. The flap it came out of through the top of the pack seemed to be stuck closed.
He tore at it only for a moment, then realization, a dreadful understanding, seemed to snap him into acceptance. Instead of trying to extract his chute, his hand went to his chest, and he pulled a handgun out. He pointed it at his pupil, now high above him. It was certainly an almost impossible shot, but he took it anyway. He began pulling the trigger, over and over, a look of betrayal on his face which quickly became one of helplessness.
He was still pulling the trigger uselessly when he hit the ground several seconds later. Then he was completely, eternally still.
His pupil was maneuvering his own chute. He had been ever since he’d pulled the cord. The ridge line was to the south, and he desperately wanted to close in on it. There were thermals rising off it, and he needed the lift they’d provide. This was the trickiest part of the operation. Delaying his jump as the plane moved closer to the ridge had been easy, as he’d known it would be. But now, his life depended on not just his skill but the wind. The men on the ground in the chase vehicle were all part of the instructor’s crew. If he landed among them, he was finished.
Using his chute’s control lines, and taking advantage of a soft but variable northerly wind pushing him south, he drifted closer and closer to the ridge. He could see some of the people on the ground gathered around the body, but some were running for their car, pointing up at him. Then they were in the car and taking off, moving in the same direction in which he was floating, accelerating rapidly.
He needed to catch the thermals and then ride them past the ridge to the plateau above them. He could see it was going to be close. He was dropping as he drifted, and the ridge was still too far away.
He made sure his steering and top vents were both closed, but there was little else he could do. Below, he saw the car stop and one of the men get out, holding what looked like a rifle. Great. Just great. But then, he was a small target, he was moving, and there was a wind which would make hitting him even more difficult.
This was just something else he had no control over. He was used to not having much control; it was a frequent occurrence in his job. What little he had now was simply part of it, something he accepted.
The man on the ground knelt down, pointed the rifle at him and probably pulled the trigger. No sound reached the man floating above. No bullet passed close enough to be noticed, either. The floating man saw the rifleman change his aim, aiming higher now, aiming more out in front of the direction in which he was drifting. Saw him put his finger back on the trigger.
And then suddenly it felt like he’d been yanked upward. He looked ahead rather than behind him at the shooter and saw the ridge directly below him. A thermal had grabbed the chute and lifted it. He watched as he rode over the top and out of sight of the men below.
There was a road that would take the men in the chase car to the plateau, but it was a tortuous one and would take them at least 15 minutes to travel it. The man opened his vents when he had moved past the top of the ridge and was above the plateau. A car was parked in the near distance, right where it was supposed to be.
He steered and dropped and ended up landing softly not more than 20 yards from his car. He quickly unsnapped himself from his chute’s harness and allowed the wind to pull it away from him, skittering along the barren ground into the distance. He found the car keys where they’d been left; he was driving away within 30 seconds of touching down. It would be another ten minutes before the chase car reached the top, and by then he’d be long gone.
He drove past a couple of State Police cars with men in vests standing nearby who waved at him as he passed. In town, rather than find a hotel, he went to the safe house he’d been given directions to. There he found a computer. He spent the next hour writing and sending in his report. It included a personal cover letter with it to be seen only by his boss:
I got the names you wanted of the guys in this cell, but no locations of any other cells, and who knows whether the names are real or not; even if they are, who’s to say they’ll keep using them? There was some mention of three other domestic groups, but no details of any of them at all. I felt that one person was running all of these cells, but can’t be positive of that.
This cell, which is now leaderless and whose remaining four members may or may not be picked up by the Staties, was a group of five. The leader of this cell is dead. I learned from him that the overall leader in the U.S. was known only to cell leaders, and I have no reason to doubt that. He got pretty talkative over a few beers and then some single malt scotch that was against his religion; he didn’t seem too concerned about that. Talkative, yes. Passing on vital intel, no.
The rest of the guys in the cell I infiltrated—well, none of them have leadership potential. I’d guess they’re already deserting their sinking ship. Hopefully they will drive right into your roadblocks. Then we’ll see how ready they are to die for their cause. Though I have no reason to doubt they will. They all seemed fanatical.
Oh, one more thing: the leader had a brother in this cell. Not the brightest guy, but one of the more vicious. It would be good if you could catch him. Who knows what he’ll do to get vengeance for his brother.
I’m off on my vacation now. Two months. See you in D.C. in September.
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