CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

we please.”

“And if I’m still press liaison,” Tomboy added, “my place is here.

Keeping an eye on her.”

The two women exchanged glances. .. and a “I-guess-that-told-him” nod.

Tombstone sighed. There was no time for argument, and he had no patience

at all with political correctness games.

He pointed at Pamela. “You. You’re quite right. I can’t give you orders,

but you will stay the hell out of the military’s way. Got me?”

“Certainly, Captain.” She gave him her sweetest smile. “Oh, and will you

still be requiring assistance from the civilian sector for your


He grinned. “That’s a negative. They’re flying in everything we need.

You I don’t need, and if you give me half an excuse, I’ll fly you out of

here, orders or no.”

She started to open her mouth and he held up his hand. “And, Ms. Drake,

if you insist on staying ashore, you will follow my orders regarding

where you can and cannot go, what you may and may not film. I’m not

going to telegraph my plans to Dmitriev on the ACN nightly news.”

Pamela started to respond, then nodded. “Okay, Matt. You’re the boss.”

Tombstone shifted his finger to Tomboy. “You, at least, are an officer

in the United States Navy and subject to my orders. You will return to

the carrier immediately and report for duty with your squadron.”

Her eyes widened. “Tombstone-”

“That’s an order, Flynn. They’re going to need every aviator they can

get up there. I want you flying an F-14, not wading around in the mud

with the grunts.”

He was remembering that cold tundra in the Kola, and Tomboy on the

ground with a broken leg.

“What about you, CAG?” Tomboy demanded. “You’re an aviator.”

He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, taking in Boychenko and the Marines

and a number of Russian soldiers standing on the patio nearby. “I’m also

the architect of all of this. I’ve got to see it through. .. and someone

ought to stay with it on this end to make sure the Russians carry out

their part of the bargain.” Even yet, he didn’t entirely trust them.

“This is not fair. If you’re trying to send me someplace safe-”

“There is no fair here, Commander. And the front seat of an F-14 isn’t

exactly what I would call safe. This has nothing to do with PC or me

trying to protect you. It’s what’s best for all of us. Our ship. Our

shipmates.” The fewer people he had to worry about. ..

Besides, he was concerned about her safety. Charging around in the dark

behind enemy lines with a bunch of Russian special forces and U.S.

Marines wasn’t the sort of thing she’d been trained to do.

He was carefully ignoring the fact that that sort of activity wasn’t

listed on his job description either.

Tombstone thought she was going to keep fighting him, but then she took

a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. “Aye, aye, sir.” She sounded


“As for you,” Tombstone told Pamela, “if I thought I’d get away with it,

I’d have you hog-tied and dragged on board the first helicopter to hit

the LZ.”

“I’m glad to see you know your own limits, Matt.”

He was about to give her a sharp reply when he heard the distant flutter

of rotors. He turned, staring out to sea. Moments later, the helicopters

materialized out of the night in a throbbing of turning rotors, the

far-off whup-whup-whup cascading swiftly to a droning thunder. There

were five of them, big, gray CH-53 Sea Stallions off the Guadalcanal,

and they came in hot and hard, flaring out one after another as Marines

and sailors directed them in with flashlights used as landing signal

wands. They settled onto the beach, their rotor washes setting up great,

wet swirls of sea spray and blown sand. As soon as the first helo

touched down, its rear ramp dropped open and a dozen U.S. Marines

spilled out, taking up defensive positions around the aircraft. Waiting

men, crouched nearly double to avoid the descending tips of the slowing

rotor blades, hurried down the beach, carrying the wounded men on

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