Authors: John O'Brien
The glittering waters of the bay past the outer vestiges of downtown Olympia filter in through the windscreen.
The crisscross pattern of streets is empty of movement and mostly empty of vehicles.
Some cars are parked in spots on the main thoroughfares but the ghost town atmosphere prevails.
I dip the nose forward picking up airspeed as the helicopter responds to my anxiousness to find my kids.
A road parallels the bay into Olympia from Puget Sound to the north.
I pick up this road after downtown Olympia slides by to my left.
The foundations of burnt houses appear on the left side of the road with a large embankment on the immediate right.
No indications of the Humvee or a red truck appear as I slow and we proceed up the road.
There is a chance they took a side road after seeing the truck so I’ll check on the roads on top of the cliff after I reach the park where they were heading.
“Where the fuck are they?”
I ask in a whisper; more talking to myself than conveying a message.
“Don’t worry, Jack, we’ll find them,” Greg responds hearing my whisper.
“There,” he says pointing.
Ahead, just around a corner of the road, I see a Humvee lying on its side in the ditch.
I descend and come to a hover over the vehicle.
Nothing is moving on the ground or inside.
The front and passenger doors are open on the driver’s side, pointing upward.
The vibrations of the helicopter, the rotors turning overhead in a blur, and the wrecked Humvee below us are the only company.
“Is that a red truck cresting that hill?”
Greg asks pointing to his left.
I swing the nose around to get a better look.
Sure enough, I see the back end of a truck disappear over a hill in the distance across the bay.
It’s driving on one of the main roads toward the south end of town.
I have a dilemma; check out the Humvee or follow the vehicle.
The kids and Gonzalez may still be in the Humvee hurt and needing assistance or they may be with the truck.
I look in our immediate area for place to land but see I can’t quite plant it without our rotor hitting some of the burnt structures still jutting into the air.
I should be able to find the truck again if we’re quick, especially from altitude.
If I’m careful, I can get within a couple feet of the ground without hitting anything.
“Greg, I’m going to get close but you’ll have to jump down and check on the Humvee,” I say looking for the best spot.
“Sure, no problem, Jack,” Greg replies.
I edge down the road a touch and find a spot close to the water where I can edge down.
I have to keep over the water’s edge and bring the strut close to the small embankment rising from the inlet.
The tide is in so I can’t put it down on exposed land.
Greg opens the door and a wash of air rushes inside along with an increase in sound from the rotors slicing through the air.
He removes his helmet and, grabbing his M-4, steps out onto the strut.
Leaping the two feet separating the strut from land, he lands in a crouch, rises, and rushes over to the Humvee.
I angle away from the shore and watch as he reaches the Humvee.
He runs around to the front to peer in then climbs onto the vehicle and looks in the open doors.
Looking over to me, he shakes his head and jumps down.
As Greg trots back, I edge over to the embankment once again.
I feel the helicopter list as he clambers onto the strut and I try to counteract the increase in weight on that side.
I’m not familiar with that aspect of flying rotors as of yet so Greg hangs on for dear life as we jostle around and move out over the water.
I’m finally able to get some semblance of control and he climbs back in the cockpit.
“Well, that was interesting,” he says settling in and donning his helmet.
“Yeah, sorry,” I reply.
I was just wondering if I was going to take a leisurely morning swim.”
I chuckle but my anxiousness cuts that short.
We turn and head south gaining altitude.
“Base, Jack here, over,” I say into the radio wanting to know where the hell Lynn and the rest of the teams are.
There’s not much I can do in the helicopter even should we find the red truck again.
“Base here, go ahead Jack,” I hear Kathy respond.
“They’re all gathering in the parking lot now, Jack, and should be on their way shortly,” she answers.
“Okay, we’ve found the Humvee and no one is present.
We spotted the red truck heading south through town and we are on our way to locate it once again,” I say, also giving the coordinates of the Humvee.
“Roger, Jack, I’ll relay that to her.”
“Thanks, out,” I say as the bay slides underneath us.
Gaining altitude, we head south down the main road where Greg spotted the truck disappearing.
I don’t see anything and it underlies the feeling of loneliness the empty town gives off.
I look down the side streets and mostly vacant parking lots as we accelerate.
If they are speeding away, and they are easily able to so with the empty roads, they could be quite a distance ahead of us so I need to get a closure rate going just in case.
It will give us less time to look in the immediate area but my thought is that we can search the area if we don’t find them on the road.
At least we will have narrowed it down some if I don’t spot them.
Leaving the town behind, we manage to locate the red truck ahead of us as it leaves the road, turning onto highway 101.
I drop down behind the trees and activate the overhead camera system.
The camera is located in the housing above the rotors so we can remain invisible while still surveying the area.
The truck is heading west to where the highway splits, either heading west to the coast or north up the Kitsap Peninsula, which, by the way, is the way towards my old house.
I hop from tree line to tree line keeping the truck in view.
Magnifying the view, I see a couple of people riding in the bed of the truck but I don’t see any sign of Gonzalez or the kids.
As we continue to follow at a distance, I see them take the exit heading north.
“What’s the plan?”
“I think for now we’ll just tail them until the teams arrive.
I’m not sure what their response will be if they see us, especially if they have Gonzalez and the kids.
And, there’s really not much we can do while they’re moving.
We’ll determine their destination and go from there,” I answer and see him nod his reply.
“You know, we could pull ahead of them and take out their radiator and tires as they approach.
Just a suggestion,” Greg comments.
“Yeah, I thought of that but we don’t know how many of them there are nor what will happen to Gonzalez and the kids if that happens.
There are too many variables right now.
The truck could even flip,” I reply.
“Jack, this is Lynn over,” I hear coming over the radio.
“Yeah, Lynn, this is Jack, go ahead,” I respond.
“We’re outbound with five teams.
I left Alpha, Bravo, and Green behind with Drescoll in charge.
What’s the situation?”
“We found the Humvee.
Did Kathy give you those coordinates?”
I say in way of answering.
“Yes, Jack, I have ‘em.”
“Okay, send one team there and search the area.
We’re turning north on Highway 101 following the truck at a distance.
We’re about thirty minutes ahead of you.
Keep coming and we’ll find out where they’re going and formulate a plan at that point,” I say.
“Copy that, Jack, we’re on our way,” Lynn replies.
Greg and I continue to tail the truck as it progresses along the highway.
We watch through the camera-provided images on the screen, until the truck disappears from view, then pop up and find another vantage point behind trees or the occasional building along the way and repeat the process.
At one point, we draw close to where Nic is buried and I send a mental prayer her way, the sadness of missing her fills me and makes me all the more anxious to get Robert and Bri back.
If anyone harms them, they’ll find a world of hurt on both themselves and everyone they know.
I’ll absolutely rain pain and destruction on their world.
“If they took them, Jack, they’ll pay,” Greg says as if reading my thoughts.
I look over and realize we aren’t that much different in our ways of thinking or experiences.
We’ve talked some and I know he’s seen some pretty serious things himself.
It’s good to have him along and to know that Lynn is not far behind.
Looking at the truck in front of us, racing along the road at a pretty good clip, the people inside have no idea what is behind them.
If they did, they wouldn’t have done what they did – if they did anything that is.
I wonder how long they’ve scouted us or what they know
, I think as we hop behind yet another stand of trees.
It’s apparent they must have been watching us and I think back to those movements on earlier trips this way when I felt uneasy.
We watch from a distance as they go past the first Shelton off ramps and then exit at the third one leading to the north part of town.
Looking on, I see them turn by the high school and I take notice of the fenced-in grounds.
Wooden observation towers have been recently erected in the corners and at various intervals.
Guessing this is where the truck is headed, I turn on the recorders, making sure to keep the truck in sight but also making sure I record the entire area.
As guessed, the truck turns and passes through gates into the high school complex itself.
I maneuver slightly and zoom in.
The truck stops by what I remember as the main office building.
The two people in back hop out of the bed and open the doors.
Zooming in closer, I watch as they pull Robert and Gonzalez from the rear seats.
It appears they are either sleeping or unconscious and it’s all I can do not to race to their location and erupt in a frenzy.
I know that I can get them back now that I have a location but I’ll have to play it smart.
I continue to watch as Michelle and Bri are pulled out in the same manner, although Michelle looks as though she can walk with some assistance.
My heart beats faster and my anger rises seeing them like that.
Greg reaches over and grabs my arm.
I hadn’t noticed but I had edged the helicopter closer as if it could feel my desire to swoop in and get them.
“Easy, Jack, we’ll get them.
They have to be okay or they wouldn’t have bothered carrying them this far or handle them like that,” he says not releasing his grip until I stabilize the helicopter once again.
“I know, thanks,” I reply taking a deep breath.
Grabbing the mic, I say, “Lynn, this is Jack, over.”
“Go ahead, Jack,” Lynn responds.
“What’s your location?”
“We’re just passing that creek before the casino,” she answers.
“Okay, stage there.
It looks like they have some sort of encampment here.
I need to analyze it more.
We’ll come up with a plan afterwards,” I say.
“Okay, Jack, we’re staging off the road and will await your call,” Lynn replies.
“I want to get a look at the other side and get a recording of the entire camp,” I tell Greg.
“Okay, it looks like we can sneak around to the east and cut behind that far tree line,” he responds pointing to a band of trees in the distance.
The camp around the high school itself is surrounded by a chain link fence with barbed wire encircling the top.
Constructed back a little from each corner is a built up, covered observation platform.
An overhang stretches around the exteriors and it looks as if the ladders can be pulled up creating bunkers that can’t be scaled easily.
To the extent that I can see from this vantage point, the platforms are also constructed at intervals around the perimeter and the corner ones are manned.
A string of pole-mounted lights also line the perimeter with what appears to be small spotlights on the towers themselves.
“Okay, let’s try and sneak around that way,” I say agreeing with Greg and wanting to get a recording of the other side as well.