The Devil on Chardonnay

BOOK: The Devil on Chardonnay
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CHARACTERS

 

JACQUES – Viral researcher

HENRI – Banker and Jacques’ lover

 

CAPT. BOYD CHAILLAND – Air Force pilot

EIGHT BALL – Boyd’s dog

MAJOR GENERAL BOB FERGUSON --  Director, Counter Proliferation Task Force

ANGELA KELLY – Air Force nurse

 

RAYBON CLIVE—Pilot, Mombasa Marine Tours

DAVANN GOODMAN – Co-pilot, Mombasa Marine Tours

MARIAM AJAK – Davann Goodman’s fiancé

OYAY AJAK – Mariam’s uncle

 

COL. JOE SMITH – Army pathologist

MOSBY, aka LYMON BYXBE – Owner of BioVet Tech

PAMELA PRESCOTT – FBI agent, lawyer

MACDONNALD WILDE – Paroled felon

KHALID – Businessman in Qatar

COOPER JORDAN – President, Planters National Bank

 

MICHELLE MEILLAND – European merchant banker

WOLF GOEBEL – Michelle Meilland’s bodyguard

CHARLES MEILLAND – Michelle’s grandfather, owner of Chardonnay

NEVILLE ST. JAMES – Captain of Chardonnay

CANDIDO MENDES – Azorean sailor on Chardonnay

CONSTATINE COELHO – Azorean smuggler and pirate

COL FERREIRA – Portuguese Chief of Security at Lajes Field

CAPT ANGEJA --  Portuguese search and rescue pilot

 

CHAPTER ONE

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Blood was everywhere.  It oozed from cuts and dripped from noses, and even fell like tears from saddened eyes.  The shiny black skin of these farmers, recently prosperous and now mostly dead, was blazoned with blotches and tiny red spots. 

Fifteen years of working with laboratory animals at the Pasteur Institute in Paris had not prepared Jacques for the emotional impact of applying a tourniquet to the arm of a pregnant woman as she begged for water, drawing tube after tube of blood until the vein collapsed and then moving on to the next hut, leaving her to die. 

Sweat ran down his sides and he fought for breath through the filter of the biological-hazard suit he wore.  He’d worn these suits before, but it had never felt this close.  He carefully put the filled vacuum tubes into compartments in a Styrofoam container, making sure no blood touched the outside of the tubes.  He would be the one who would handle them later, without the suit.

“Jacques!  Allons!”

 Jacques turned toward the muffled call.  Willi, his assistant, stood with his bloody hands held out awkwardly at his sides, his half-filled box at his feet.

“Non!”  Jacques yelled through the suit.  He pointed at the box and then the next hut.

Willi stood for a moment, then pulled the box into the dark interior of a plywood shack.

Waiting in the hotel in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, for nearly two years had not been easy.  Jacques had recruited Willi more for companionship than technical help.  The big German’s easy smile and long-winded stories in the bar had helped pass the time as the streets were taken over by roaming bandits periodically making travel outside the hotel unsafe.  The hotel housed a pleasant enough international community of mining and oil-field engineers, diamond buyers, embassy personnel, aid workers and advisers. 

Ironically, it was one of the country’s incessant civil wars that allowed Jacques to finally beat the World Health Organization to an outbreak of a rare filovirus.  Rwandan soldiers had again entered the republic from the east, this time to challenge the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu army bent on repeating the Rwandan massacre of the Tutsi, and had gotten into it with the Congolese Army; a three-way fight that lit up the eastern third of the country.  Chaos reigned, and most of the international organizations stopped all travel to wait it out.  Rumor on the streets in Kinshasa told of an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever on the Lulua River downstream from Kananga in the Kasai Occidental district, midway between the capital and combat in the east.  Jacques and Willi chartered a plane and flew to Kananga. 

“Batarde!”  Willi yelled as he crashed backwards through the wall of a hut, pulled by a naked man with blood streaming from his mouth and nose clinging to his waist.  Willi beat at the man’s head and arms until his hold loosened and he fell away.

“Okay,” Jacques said, shaking his head and motioning for Willi to follow him.  He carried his second box toward a waiting pickup.

Willi quickly followed and, now a paragon of efficiency, loaded all the boxes into the bed of the  battered Toyota. 

A wedding feast had brought Ebola out of the forest.  Not content with chicken or pig, the villagers had wanted something special: monkey.  The hunters shot a big male, and the skinning and gutting had been a communal affair.  The illness spread so quickly that the first villagers to die were left unburied, rotting in the sun. 

Jacques' truck bounced along a rutted trail through the jungle for a mile before breaking out into a clearing where loggers had cut gigantic, centuries-old iroko trees for export as African teak. Other trees had been cut up for charcoal, leaving an atrium in the forest. 

Hauling the teak out of the jungle to the sawmill at Kananga required the loggers to build a better road than the rutted one Jacques had just driven, so the going from here back to a waiting plane would be easier. 

Jacques and Willi jumped out of the truck and retrieved their boxes, loading them into a crate taken from the back of a Land Rover parked next to one of the huge stumps. Stepping away, they opened their biohazard suits, being careful not to touch the outside surface with their exposed limbs.

“My suit tore when I fell through that building,” Willi said in French, holding up his left arm while standing in the legs of the suit.

“The skin is not broken,” Jacques said reassuringly as he looked at the bare arm.  He stepped out of his suit and tossed it into the back of the Toyota. 

“That was horrible back there,” Willi said as he pulled his left leg out of the suit and bent over to remove the right leg. “Why would anyone want the Ebola virus?  It is the devil himself.” 

Jacques quickly pulled a small automatic pistol from the pocket of his bush pants and brought it close to Willi’s head.  The slight crack of the report was scarcely noticeable in the vastness of the forest. 

Willi crumpled to the ground, blood flowing from a small hole behind his ear.

Jacques grabbed Willi’s shoulders and dragged him to the side of the Toyota, propping him against the rear wheel.  He crouched behind the truck and pointed the pistol at the gas tank beneath it.  He fired one shot, then stood and sealed the crate holding the vials of blood and dragged it to the Rover.  With some difficulty, he loaded it into the back.  He started the Rover and left it running with the front door open while he rummaged around in a satchel in the back seat and pulled out a hand grenade.  He walked casually back to the Toyota, tossing the grenade from hand to hand like a juggler.

Using a handkerchief to prevent his fingers from being soiled, Jacques opened Willi’s mouth and inserted the grenade.  Blood was still trickling from the bullet hole in the dying man’s head, running in dark rivulets down his neck to soak into his shirt, wet from shoulder to  waist.

“Goodbye, Willi,” Jacques said and sat back on his heels for a moment, looking into the lifeless eyes staring out of half-open lids.  He fought back the tightness in his throat.  Then he pulled the pin on the grenade and sprang up, covering the hundred feet to the Rover with the speed of a track star.

When the grenade exploded, obliterating Willi’s head and igniting the gasoline vapor, Jacques' Rover was fishtailing down the logging road headed for Kananga. 

It wasn’t the 50,000 Euros, Willi’s share of the payment for Ebola, it was his unreliability that caused Jacques to decide to eliminate him.  The episode in the village was just the beginning.  The hard part of the bargain lay ahead.  The deal was to capture Ebola, replicate and purify it, and leave no trail. 

CHAPTER TWO

Poinsett Bombing Range

The flash was obscured by the roof of the Chevy van, and smoke flew out of both windows.

“Shack,” the range officer said immediately. 

Boyd Chailland looked back over his left shoulder to see his practice bomb hit and grunted against five G's as his F-16 Falcon pulled out of its dive.  He snapped a left turn and throttled back, level at 2,000 feet. 

“Anyone want to press?” he asked over the radio. 

As usual there was a dollar riding on each event in the dive bombing mission: low level, high level, and pops.  One bomb per pass, two passes per event, three events: three bucks.  Like dollar Nassau in golf.  A press means double or nothing on the last hole, or in this case, bomb.

“Negative,” his wingman said, followed by two clicks of static as the other two pilots keyed their microphones but said nothing.

Leading a four-ship flight on the Poinsett Range near Sumter in South Carolina, Boyd flicked the second turn in the square they flew around the impact zone and saw the new lieutenant miss his first pop by a hundred yards.  After the third turn, Boyd pushed the throttle forward into afterburner and pulled back on the stick, feeling the G’s pushing him into the seat as the Falcon shot upward.  He glanced into the impact area and located the target; the flat black van was still smoking from his last direct hit.  Still headed west, he glanced at the altimeter and at 5,000  feet squared the wings east and west and pulled the nose over, pointing now to the south and the target.  

“Biker 1 in hot,” he said over the radio, announcing his intention to the range officer to drop a bomb on this pass.  Upside down and craning his neck backward, Boyd again located the van.  He pulled the nose beyond horizontal into a 60 degree dive at the edge of the trees a half-mile north of the truck and rotated his Falcon so that he was upright as he began his dive.

Now looking through his heads-up display, he could see the van, an attitude indicator superimposed on the crosshairs of the targeting device, and a “pipper” indicating the spot where the computer had calculated the bomb would land if it were dropped now.  Moving his aircraft, he brought the “pipper” below and slightly to the right of the van, now growing in the viewfinder, and used the attitude indicator to make sure his wings were square to the target so when he pulled out he’d go up and not sideways.  When he was 500 feet above the drop point, he moved the aircraft so the “pipper’ was on the van.  He could see the holes from previous hits.

Practice bombs, about the size of a man’s arm and made of cast iron, weigh about 25 pounds.  They contain a detonator and a small amount of black powder produce a flash and some smoke when they hit so the range officer can score the drop.

At 1,500 feet, Boyd pressed the green button on the stick in his right hand and pulled the nose up.  He grunted as he strained against the G-force and rotated the wings counterclockwise so he could look over his shoulder and see his bomb hit. 

“Shack,” the range officer said again. 

With four shacks out of six drops, Boyd had won this wager going away.  He pulled back on the throttle to slow down as he headed east and watched his wingman at the top of his pop maneuver.  The wingman corrected a shallow dive as he descended, dropped his bomb and pulled up.   

“Twenty-four,” the range officer called out a moment later. 

Boyd looked up and behind his wingman to see the lieutenant at the top of his pop maneuver, struggling to get his aircraft pointed south while bringing his nose through horizontal to a dive.  He was halfway to the drop altitude before he thought to bring his wings around so he could pull out after he dropped.  He dropped below the thousand-foot minimum altitude, and the bomb disappeared into the trees, 200 yards from the impact zone. 

“Foul!”  The range officer said ominously. 

Boyd made a mental note to take the kid out in the  D model the next week and teach him to drop bombs before he hurt someone.  The poor performance of the new pilot had taken some of the fun out of the mission.  He was already thinking of a way to skip out after the debrief so he wouldn’t have to listen to the kid make excuses for missing the whole damn drop zone with his final bomb. 

It had been fun rat-racing single file down the Wateree River to the Congaree River just above the treetops, zipping across Lake Marion and east to the Santee River and then out over the Atlantic.  They’d entered the Military Operations Area and gone supersonic just for grins before climbing to 30,000 feet and doing rejoins and formation flying.  Boyd would rather have done air combat maneuvers, but the two new pilots needed some basic work before going up against a captain with 2,000 hours flying, including six years in the F-16.  After expending most of their fuel and with their 12 minutes of range time only 20 minutes away, Boyd had waggled his wings to signal “rejoin.” He headed west, throttling back to save fuel. 

It was time to head home, debrief and hit the club on a Friday night.  In his younger days that would have been the highlight of the week; drinking and raising hell with the other fighter jocks.  Now, that wasn’t enough.  Boyd wanted something else to happen later, something dark. Something he didn’t understand.

 “Biker 1 to Shaw approach control,” Boyd said, initiating the sequence to get his formation permission to land at Shaw Air Force Base, just 10 miles away between Sumter and Columbia, South Carolina.  He felt more excitement now than he had during the dive bombing.  He was sure now he would slip away from the festivities at the club.

For the past couple of months, he’d thrown himself into running and working out, with free-weight sessions lasting an hour most nights.  He’d concentrated on a rotation of presses and curls, exhausting each muscle group to avoid looking into places within himself that he didn’t like to see.  It wasn’t just the woman in Colorado.  He missed her, but he missed something else more. 

Landing within a minute of the estimated landing time filed in his mission plan, Boyd turned off the firing mechanism beneath his ejection seat and opened the canopy as he turned off the runway.  Steering with his feet he placed both elbows on the sides of the aircraft and pulled into the slot indicated by the ground crew, who would inspect the aircraft for damage and armed bombs that hadn’t dropped.  They put chocks under the wheels and a safety tag on the 20 mm cannon.  He opened his visor and dropped one side of his oxygen mask as he looked over at the three other aircraft pulling into position beside him. 

BOOK: The Devil on Chardonnay
5.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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