Gunfire continued to bark and crackle from the east side of the ridge,
Boychenko’s Spetsnaz holding off yet another charge by the naval
infantry. One charge, a few minutes ago, had come close to sweeping over
the defenders’ position; that one Russian marine had actually made it
all the way to the American position, shouting the naval infantry’s
battle cry “polundra”–very roughly translated as “Look out
below!”–before a U.S. Marine had shot him.
It was the only time all morning that any of the Americans had actually
gotten into the battle. Tombstone had ordered everyone in the group,
including the Marines and the SEALS, to stay out of the fighting if they
possibly could. Their small numbers could add nothing to the larger
battle raging up and down the ridge around them; their participation
would only guarantee that some of them would be killed.
And at the moment, Tombstone could see nothing in this desolate and
war-torn country worth dying for.
He was giving a lot of thought to alternatives, just now. The SEAL, Doc,
Was in a corner on the other side of the wrecked house, still trying to
raise someone on the satellite communications gear, but so far he’d only
been able to pick up coded transmissions. He’d hoped to reach Jefferson
directly, but either the signal was being jammed, or human error had put
the carrier on a different channel from the one he was trying to reach.
Those channels that they were able to listen in on either weren’t
picking up their transmissions, or else those transmissions were being
ignored in the general confusion of the moment.
Nothing, he reminded himself, goes as planned in war.
The problem was, there were several tanks coming up the east side of the
ridge, four of the odd-looking PT-76 amphibious tanks designed to swim
rivers. Those tanks, along with a number of armored personnel carriers,
were still positioned squarely between Boychenko’s Spetsnaz and the
American beachhead. The Spets forces had not expected heavy fighting;
the idea had been for them to serve as a blocking force on that
ridgeline and to provide perimeter defense as the Americans pulled out,
not fight a major ground action with elite forces. Boychenko seemed less
than eager to press the attack.
But if he didn’t, Tombstone and Pamela and Natalie and the rest were
likely to be guests in this country for quite a long time to come.
“Hey, Captain!” Doc called suddenly.
“You get ’em?”
“Still can’t raise Ops, but I think we’re tapped into the aircraft
tactical channel. I can hear the pilots talking to one another.”
“You can!” Tombstone sprang to his feet. “That’s great. Let’s hear!”
Doc led him to the wall where the satcom device had been set up, its
small antenna pointed carefully at a particular patch of sky in the
south. He took the headset Doc handed to him and pressed it against his
“Tomboy! Tomboy!” was the first thing he heard. “You okay?”
“I’M okay, Dix,” was her reply. “Just a little singed on the outside!”
Quickly he pressed the transmit key. “Tomboy! Tomboy! This is Tombstone!
Do you copy?”
There was a moment’s pause. Then, “Tombstone?” He could hear the
surprise in her voice. “Is that you?”
“I see you strapped on your Tomcat, like I told you to,” he said, using
the incident at the palace to positively identify himself.
“Damn it, Tombstone! Where are you? What are you doing on this channel?”
“I’m on the back side of a ridge west of Arsincevo. We’re having a
little trouble getting through to the beach. Think you can help us?”
“I’ll see what I can do. Give me your tacsit.”
He began describing their situation.
0912 hours (Zulu +3)
Tomcat 207 Over Arsincevo Tomboy was out of missiles, but she still had
the Tomcat’s left-mounted M-61A1 20mm rapid-fire gun, and almost five
hundred rounds remaining of her original 657. She dropped through the
sky, leaving the furball of the mass aerial battle above and behind,
flashing in an instant low above the row upon row of fuel tanks, and the
twisted, black columns of smoke marking dozens of raging fires.
That ridge. .. that would be where the Boychenko Russians–and