broke free from the target, then a second and a third, all trailing

smoke in graceful arcs toward the jungle. The bandit was popping

flares, trying to break Bayerly’s lock.

“Made It!” Stratton yelled. “I see him! The other bandit’s all over


“Hold on, Kid! I’m on this one.”

“Oh, shit! He’s going’ for a lock, man!”

“Cowboy Leader, this is Homeplate. Your request for weapons release is

denied. Repeat, denied. Standard ROEs apply. Fire only if fired


“Kid! Where’s our tail?”

“On our six, range one mile! He’s got a lock! Made it, he’s got


Bayerly could hear a second tone over his headset. The Tomcat was being

targeted by the second MiG. “Tell me when he launches!”

“He’s closing, Made It! Still no launch.”

“Come on … come on …

1409 hours, 14 January

Tomcat 201

Tombstone saw the second MiG lining up on Bayerly’s Tomcat. He’d heard

the order relayed from Homeplate, but he couldn’t wait and do nothing

while the enemy plane took a shot at Made It and Kid. He dropped the

Tomcat’s right wing and slipped into a steep dive. “Hang back, Batman,”

he called. “We’re going in.”

“That’ll violate the hard deck, Tombstone,” Batman replied.

“We’ll discuss my fitness report later.” He saw three aircraft symbols

on his HUD now, Bayerly sandwiched between two MiGs. “Dixie! Tickle

that guy with a radar lock.”

He lined up on the trailing aircraft, waiting for the warble that told

him he had a lock. If he couldn’t fire the missile, at least he could

startle the MiG’s pilot, who would hear the radar lock as a tone in his

own headset and know an American plane had him in its sights.

“Tone,” Dixie called.

The target MiG did not waver. Either he wasn’t aware of Tombstone’s

weapons lock, or he was gambling that the Americans would not fire


“He’s not going for it,” Tombstone said. “Going to buster. He rammed

the throttles full forward, cutting in the Tomcat’s afterburners.

Acceleration slammed him against his seat.

With startling swiftness, the trailing MiG swelled to fill his HUD.

Tombstone cut the burners, then finessed the stick to starboard, angling

the F-14 so that it would pass the MiG on its right side with a few

yards to spare. At close range, Tombstone could see details of the

other plane’s construction down to the individual rivets along the

fuselage. It was not a Soviet export aircraft, he saw, but a Shenyang

J-7, a Chinese copy of the MiG-21 built under license. He’d faced them

before over Korea. It was silver with red control surfaces, and he

could read the numbers on the nose. There were no national markings or

unit ID, however. Was it Chinese, Burmese, or something else?

The pilot looked back at Tombstone across the narrow gap between the

aircraft, eyes wide above his oxygen mask. Tombstone brought his stick

back to the left, closing the gap slowly, drawing closer … closer …

The J-7 pilot needed no further urging. As Tombstone brought the F-14

tight across the Shenyang’s bow, the other pilot cut his aircraft

sharply to the left, breaking contact with Bayerly’s plane and angling

away from Tombstone with his own afterburner blazing. Tombstone held

the turn, pulling a full circle as he began climbing once more.

“Cowboy Leader, this is Sierra Bravo.” Tombstone could hear the Hawkeye

calling Bayerly. “Cowboy Leader, be advised you are entering Burmese

airspace. Come to course one-eight-zero, execute immediate.”

Tombstone leveled off at ten thousand feet, searching the northern

horizon. Dixie spotted Bayerly’s plane first on radar and gave him the

bearing. Tombstone could see him then, the second of two contrails

flitting across the jungle, two miles to the north and down on the deck.

The border was invisible, but Tombstone knew that Bayerly had already

crossed the line and was plunging deeper into Burmese territory with

every second.

1409 hours, 14 January

Tomcat 101

Bayerly’s thumb caressed the trigger as the MiG grew large in his HUD.

“Cowboy Leader, this is Sharpshooter Leader,” Magruder’s voice called

over the radio. “Break off, Made It. Break off!”

“Cowboy Leader, this is Homeplate,” a second voice added. “Terminate

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Categories: Keith Douglass