CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

quick on the uptake.

Except when she was trying to get him to see the futility of his

continuing career with the Navy.

“I’m pretty tired,” she told him. It wasn’t entirely a lie. “They’ve had

us on the run ever since the Georgia thing came up.”

“Is that what you were coming over to cover in the first place?”

“Sort of. The UN peace initiative was being covered okay by Mike Collins

and some of our other field people. But then that Army helicopter got

shot down.

He nodded. “Big news Stateside, huh?”

“Navy jets shoot down Army helo? I should say so. Those were your

planes, weren’t they?”

“They were off the Jefferson, yes. Remember Batman?”

“Of course.”

“He pulled the trigger.”

“God. What happened?”

“is this an official interview?”

She sighed. He tended to get so touchy when she asked probing questions.

“Strictly off the record. I was just wondering.”

“It was an accident,” he said.

Well, she’d known that. She made a face. “I didn’t think you’d done it

on purpose.”

“Someone screwed up between Washington and the Black Sea,” he said,

looking away at the landscape passing outside. “The IFF codes for that

Army helicopter didn’t get delivered. We’re taking steps to make sure

the same mistake doesn’t happen again.”

She glanced up at the driver, sitting behind the wheel of the Zil. He

was obviously listening in on the conversation.

Tombstone saw her look and smiled. “Don’t worry about the driver. He’s

just the FBS’s local spy. Isn’t that right, Abdulhalik?”

“Hey, I just work here,” the swarthy man said, flashing a dazzling grin.

“Your secrets are safe with me!”

“Right.” He turned back to her. “I assume he’s FBS, anyway. But what

happened to that helo’s no secret. They probably know all about that.

Right, Abdulhalik?”

“Low-grade stuff,” the driver replied. “Doubt that they pay me more than

eight, ten thousand ruble. Now, if you want to tell me how many nuclear

weapons are on aircraft carrier. ..”

“Not a chance. Drive, okay?”

“I drive!”

Pamela looked away in disgust. Silly macho games. Those two were

actually enjoying their banter!

It was growing dark by the time the aging Zil rental car got them to the

cliff-top aerie known as Lastochinko Gnezdo, the Swallow’s Nest, perched

high atop the rocky cliff overlooking the sea.

“It looks like a German castle,” Pamela said as Tombstone held the car’s

door open for her. “Or someone’s twisted idea of what a German castle

should look like.”

“It is,” he said, grinning. “It was built for Baron Steingel, a rich

German oil magnate, back in 1912. Photographs of this place must grace

every Crimean travel brochure printed since World War I.” He turned to

the driver, pulling his billfold from his jacket and extracting some

bills. “Here you go. You’ll pick us up?”

“I be right here, Tombstone.” He dug an elbow against Tombstone’s ribs.

“Hey, don’t know how you American Navy do it,” he continued, lowering

his voice. .. apparently on the assumption that Pamela couldn’t hear his

conspiratorial semi-whisper. “Two girls in one day! A-okay, man!”

“Never mind the performance critique,” Tombstone told him brusquely.

“Give us a couple of hours, right?”

“A-okay! I be here!”

Pamela pretended to study the architecture. It really did look a little

like a fairy-tale castle, perched on the very edge of the cliff. The

western sky, beyond the town of Gaspra and the peaceful waters of the

sea, was turning pink and blood-red. “It looks familiar,” she told him.

“Did you ever see the movie Ten Little Indians? Agatha Christie?”


“This is where it was shot. There’s a cafe and restaurant here now.” He

took her arm. “Come on.”

And that, Pamela thought with a tightening of her lips, was exactly like

the man, always sweeping in and taking charge, as though she and

everyone else were just more aviators in his air wing.

The interior was overdone, heavy on the schmaltz and red carpeting. “The

people at the hotel said they get a lot of tourists here,” Tombstone

told her. “If we get a waiter who only speaks Russian, I’m going to be


“Well, it’s nice to know you’re not perfect at everything.”

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