“Your ETA was out by fourteen minutes,” Tessa mutters through a cigarette as she banks to line up the dirt strip.
“The wind changed,” Cordell replies. “You haven’t set the gyrocompass in an hour.”
Tessa says nothing, stubs out the cigarette. Cordell rubs his chin, pledges to recheck his plotting. His eyes follow a bolt of green which runs from the hills below to the opposite horizon, impaling at the plain’s midpoint the clustered structures of a town surrounded by a lowrise sprawl of slum. The runway lies within an irrigated patch of green, some sort of orchard, though it’s hard to tell from this altitude.
“Do they know we’re coming?” Cordell asks.
The plane descends steeply, and Tessa battles a crosswind, twisting the yoke to the left while standing on the right rudder pedal, nose askew of the centreline. She trims the elevator, drops the flaps, and throttles back, releasing rudder and aileron, allowing the plane to straighten out. The craft sinks to the sand and they rumble down the runway, decelerating as Tessa cuts the throttles. Cordell looks through the side window, sees limes dangling from the branches like verdant Christmas ornaments, gleaming in the sunlight. He spots among the shrubbery a yellow bulldozer parked with its blade facing the runway and for an instant he sees what looks like a man in military fatigues crouched in the seat.
He is about to comment when Tessa barks, “What’s this?” Cordell stretches his neck to look through her side window, sees an army truck with soldiers clustered in the back pull out from among the trees and onto the runway’s edge, matching their speed.
“Up!” Cordell cries. “Up up up, take us up! It’s a trap!”
“Yeah, got it,” Tessa says, reaching for the throttles before she calls, “Not enough runway!”
She stands on the brakes and they slam into their restraints. The plane pitches forward and Cordell feels the cockpit tilt sickeningly, thinks the tailwheel has lifted and they are tipping onto the nose. Tessa lets up and the tail thumps to the ground. The army truck continues until the soldiers hammer on the cab’s roof and the vehicle brakes. Tessa whirls the plane to face down the strip. “Puts wind behind us, but here goes,” she growls. She slams the throttles forward.
There is motion in the trees on the runway’s left side, and then like a yellow animal scooting headlong into traffic the bulldozer emerges and rolls onto the strip. It reaches the centreline and stops and the soldier in the seat turns to watch their approach, his mouth agape. Tessa grits her teeth, grunts, “All right, soldier. A little game of pollo.”
With only seconds to escape, the soldier leaps from the bulldozer’s saddle and lopes into the trees. Tessa pumps the brakes while Cordell grips the armrests and the Duck skids towards the yellow machine. A moment before collision Tessa swerves off the runway and they race for the trees. Cordell throws his hands over his face, hears the slap of leaves and twigs against the wings and fuselage. He hears branches snapping and the hollow tattoo of trunks against the aluminum, and when he lowers his hands he sees greenery whip against his window.
They stop. Tessa struggles out of her harness and launches her hand under her seat. It emerges clutching a nickelplated Beretta. She checks the magazine, chambers a round, and darts down the aisle.
“Wait,” Cordell yells. “Wait!”
He thrashes out of his seatbelt and hobbles down the aisle where Tessa is lifting a curtain from a window.
They hear from outside a truck’s approach, hear it skid to a stop, footsteps on dirt, voices. Then someone thumps on the door.
“Abra la puerta!” a voice demands.
Without a thought Cordell’s hand shoots out and plucks the Beretta from Tessa’s hand. They are both amazed by the speed of this move, and Tessa turns to him with a bewildered look. Then they each notice the weapon in Cordell’s hand, and Tessa makes a move for it, but Cordell draws it back. Her face flushes with rage.
“Give me that,” she growls.
Fear prickles along Cordell’s spine. “No,” he says softly.
“Bechard, I’m serious. Give me that gun.”
“I can’t, Tessa. You don’t stand a chance.”
She steps towards him like a panther, muscles tensed, ready to pounce. “That’s for me to decide.”
“Thank me later,” he says.
She leaps. With a flick of his wrist Cordell tosses the gun away just as she topples him, her hands snapping around his wrists. The fall winds him and the back of his head slams against the deck. She scrambles on top, straddles him, clamping his hips between her knees with surprising force. “Give it back!” she yells, spraying his face with spittle. He turns his head and struggles. Then she spots his empty hand and her grip falters. She is about to jump up when the door flies open and a dozen rifle barrels bristle inside. Tessa roars with rage, rears up, and with a mighty swing slugs Cordell in the jaw.