Disclaimer: These characters and original scenario belong to Airwolf's copyright holders. I'm just getting them off the shelf to visit with them for a while. About twenty-three years have elapsed since the end of Airwolf Season 4.
There are a number of original characters, because the characters have had children. String and Cait's brood consists of four children: Le Van, a physicist; daughter Jeanne; son, Patrick; and the youngest, Daniel Dominic. Dominique is the daughter of Saint John and Ellie Hawke, Basilio Santos is the son of Joachim Santos from the episode, "Bite of the Jackal." Le's wife, Sherri, is a veterinarian. Rabbi Moishe Locke is Jason Locke's wife, introduced in my story, "All in the Family." Jeanne Hawke, Patrick Hawke, Danny Hawke, Sherri Hawke, Moishe Locke, and Basilio Santos, as well as Amok Time the dog and Huey the cat, are original characters.
Dedicated to my husband, who was a fly fisherman.
Daddy Goes A-Fishing
Jeanny pulled the rowboat into the cove about a half mile above the dam. Sunlight sparkled on the water, mottled by the shadow of overhanging branches. Limbs of deciduous trees and bushes sprinkled among the pines were bare. Early snow gleamed on the peaks. A spit with tall pine trees stood between the boat and the cabin but the smoke from the cabin's chimney floated in the air above the trees. Jeanny shipped the oars and picked up her fly rod. Hawke did the same. Each cast expertly in opposite directions and settled down to serious fishing.
The resident eagle swept over the lake, crying. Both turned to watch her dive and skim the surface of the lake, a trout clutched in her talons.
"She sure makes it look easy."
After a while, with one trout on Stringfellow Hawke's stringer, and one on Jeanny's, she said, "Daddy, may I ask you a question?"
String rested his rod inside the boat and swiveled around so he could look at her. "Sure, Sweetheart. What's on your mind?"
"Well, my junior- year roommate from college e-mailed me this week. Her folks are getting a divorce. It was kind of a shock. She knew they weren't getting along, but she didn't realize things had gotten so bad. I don't think I ever saw you and Mom fight. Was I missing something or are you two, well, different from a lot of couples?"
Hawke paused to consider his words. He said, "You know, I can't speak for other couples. Your mother and I lived together for nearly a year before we were married. And we worked together and were good friends for nearly two years before that, so we knew each other very well. But Jeanny, this is the thing: when we finally acknowledged what we meant to each other, I felt like I had found my way home, to a wonderful, welcoming home. I've never stopped feeling that way. When I walk into a room and see Cait, I feel it all over again, every time. So disagreements really don't mean very much to me, although we've had plenty. You'd have to ask Mom for her take on it."
"You don't get bored with each other?"
"Why? Are we boring people?"
Jeanny laughed. "Not hardly. Okay, I guess that explains it. Why don't other people who get married feel the same way?"
"Probably many do. Many of our family and friends have managed to stay married. It takes work. You don't see that in the movies; people fall in love and then everything is perfect. It takes work for two strong-willed people to make a family, and it takes good luck. But Jeanne," he said, using her given name highlighted the serious purpose of their talk, "the reason we went out this afternoon, you know I love spending time with you, but I wanted to talk to you about your deployment."
"I'll quote my father," Jeanny said. "I always come back."
Hawke winced. "Jeanny, we are so proud of you. Your Mom and I watched you fly that jet up in Fallon and we couldn't get over it. But you know we can't help but worry." He chuckled, "For one thing, you're in the Navy, and you know how I feel about very large bodies of water."
"I practically grew up on this lake, Dad."
"Eagle Lake hardly counts as a large body of water." Hawke got very serious for a moment. "Your grandparents died on this lake, Jeanne. I never take it for granted, and we made sure you and your brothers don't, either. Anyway, I won't tell you to be careful, because that would be obvious, and sometimes impossible. Instead, I'll ask you to just keep thinking. You'll be sure to call or e-mail often?"
"Unless I'm caught up in some mission. I'll call Grandpa Dom, too. When Grandma Jean and Grandpa Tom Patrick are out in that RV of theirs, they're harder to get hold of."
"Don't forget Le. He worries about his little sister."
"I'm taller than Le," Jeanny said, and laughed. It was an old argument turned to family joke.
"You know, Jeanny, we may not have told you this, when Cait was pregnant with you, Le was afraid that we'd, I dunno, throw him back or something, like the wrong kind of fish, so Uncle Saint John and I made up the League of Big Brothers. Got Uncle Mike in on it too, even though one of his sisters is older than he is, and they invited Le to join. Joshua was jealous, because your Aunt Ellie was pregnant with Dominique, so Saint John and Mike invited him to join, too, as much as you can invite a six-year-old. Le took it very seriously. Saint John brought him to the hospital after you were born, and Le got to hold you when you were only a few hours old. I think he's prouder of you than we are. So be sure to keep him in the loop."
"I will, Dad. He's the best older brother anyone could hope for."
"Well, we'll have to get back to fishing now. We need a couple more for our supper." He reeled in his next fish and netted it. He cocked his head, listening. "Helicopter. Saint John's."
Jeanny just grunted, as she reeled in a trout. "That makes four. How many more do we need?"
"That should do it."
"Leftovers tomorrow night at Uncle Jason and Aunt Moishe's house. Their turkey is kosher."
"That won't save me from an overdose of squash casserole and mashed potatoes, not to mention pumpkin pie."
"There are worse fates than an overdose of pumpkin pie. With whipped cream," she added, and grinned.
"Tell me that when we all have to run an extra mile every day for the next week." They both turned to watch Santini Air's Jet Ranger come in over the cabin, heading for the helipad behind it. The shadow from the trees on the nearby shore slipped over the front of the boat. String shivered and zipped up his jacket beneath his life vest. "Time to go in."
"Yeah, it's so pretty today you forget it's the end of November." She picked up the oars, swung the bow of the rowboat around, and rowed for the dock.
The main floor of the cabin was decorated for Thanksgiving with multi-colored corn cobs and bunches of leaves. A pumpkin sat on the bar. The table was set. Le Van's very pregnant wife, Sherri, picked Huey the cat off the table for the third time and dropped him on the floor. He climbed the stairs with dignity and sat watching the proceedings through the railing on the loft, tail lashing and yellow eyes bright in his black, well-whiskered face. Amok Time, the blue tick hound, observed the proceedings from her spot by the hearth.
Saint John, Ellie, Dominique, Toni, and Dominic were unpacking their contributions to the feast in the kitchen. Joshua, Ellie's son from her first marriage, could not be with them. He was in Colorado, celebrating Thanksgiving with his son and wife and her family.
Patrick sat in a quiet corner of the great room playing his father's cello, since there was nothing left for him to do and no room in the kitchen. Le pulled out the keyboard and accompanied him.
String and Jeanny carried the fish into the kitchen to clean them. Danny was mashing the potatoes with eight-year-old seriousness. String scooped some up on his finger. "Hey!" Danny said, the laugh on his face belying the outrage in his voice.
"Fisherman's privilege." String licked the potato off his finger. "Pretty good." Cait threatened him with the wooden spoon she was using to stir the gravy, but he dodged the spoon and kissed her cheek. "Mmmn," he said, and kissed her lips. "Pretty good."
It was late February and high in the mountains, it was cold outside the cabin. String and Cait were bundled under a down comforter, cat curled up on Cait's feet. The satellite phone woke them at two in the morning. He groped for the phone and muttered, "Yeah?" into it.
"Speaking." String sat up, holding the phone.
"I'm Commander Montaigne, in Kabul. I must inform you that your daughter, Lieutenant Jeanne Hawke, is missing."
There was a very long pause.
"I'm here. What do you mean, missing?"
"She was riding in a convoy about thirty kilometers west of Kabul on the way to a forward base. The convoy was attacked. There were casualties. All the personnel on the convoy but Lieutenant Hawke have been accounted for. Several women officers have been the target of attacks recently and three others are missing, so we think she might have been abducted."
"What are you doing to find her?"
"We have search parties and surveillance all over this part of Afghanistan. We are sparing no effort to find them. It's winter. Normally the intensity of insurgent activity slacks off this time of year."
Cait switched on a light. String winced. "It's two in the morning here. I'm not sure I'm following you completely. What should we do?"
"I'm sorry about the hour. Her friend, Lieutenant Santos, said that you would probably rather be informed now than to wait until morning. All you can do is wait. We'll keep you informed. I will call you tomorrow at O-nine-hundred your time with an update."
String hung the receiver back in its cradle. "Jeanny is missing. They think she was kidnapped from a convoy. They'll call back at nine this morning with an update."
Cait wrapped her arms around his neck. He clutched her. "Oh, my God," she said against his neck.
Hawke rested his face on her shoulder. He was shaking. "Not Jeanny. Hasn't this family given enough? Not another MIA. Please God, not Jeanny."
Cait stroked his head. "We'll get her back, String. If we have to, we'll take Airwolf to Afghanistan to find her."
"Yeah," he agreed. "We will."
Hawke called Jason's office at Knightsbridge and reached one of the night shift staff. "Jason Locke's office," the male voice said. "This is Harry."
"Harry, this is Stringfellow Hawke. Would you have Mr. Locke call me at home when he gets in? He has our phone number. Please note that it's urgent."
"Should I wake him at home, sir?"
"No, I would have called him at home if I wanted that."
"Very well, sir, I'll have him call you. Goodnight."
Jason called at 7:30. Cait picked up the satellite phone and put the phone on speaker. "Cait?" he asked. "String called at two-thirty. What's wrong?"
Jason, whose older son was in training as an army helicopter pilot, caught his breath. "Give me the information and I'll find out what's going on."
"Here's String. He spoke with her CO."
The day after the early morning phone call, Jason met them in the foyer at Knightsbridge to escort them. Mike was in uniform. Michael Coldsmith Briggs III, Deputy Director Emeritus, waited for them in Jason's office, sitting next to Marella to the right of Jason's desk. He stood and shook Mike's hand. "General Rivers," he said, formally, despite nearly twenty years of friendship; the occasion demanded it. Dominic had insisted on coming, although no one intended to allow an eighty-eight-year-old, retired pilot to go to Afghanistan.
"Archangel," Mike acknowleged.
String and Cait followed them inside the office. Saint John already was there. String was unable to contain himself and paced as soon as the office door closed. "What's the plan?"
Jason said, "There is a leak, probably in the Afghan contingent at the base outside of Kabul. American women officers are being targeted, and it has to come from inside information. So we propose to fly the three of you, Saint John, Mike and String, with Airwolf in a C-130 to a base near Kabul. Lieutenant Santos will meet you there. We have a search grid set up in the area where we think the women are being held and some very high tech surveillance in place."
"What about the leak?"
"That's part of the plan. We are laying a trap. Please sit down." He waited for everyone to settle. String perched on the edge of a cabinet, then thought better of it and sat next to Cait on the sofa. He took her hand. "We were going to test Airwolf's new surveillance gear locally. Now we'll do it in action, certainly not my first choice. Gentlemen, pardon me, and ladies, Airwolf can't support all of the equipment that the newer helicopters carry. The ship's body is too streamlined, but she can fly higher, giving a broader view instead of closer detail. So we're going to insert her into the search pattern where she can do the most good. Lieutenant Basilio Santos will be your liaison with the rest of the search and surveillance team. I understand he's flown Airwolf a few times. Is that acceptable, String?"
"Entirely. Jason, we appreciate it."
"It's not just for Jeanne's sake, String," Jason said. "We can't let these insurgents target our officers, women or men. But since it's Jeanny who's missing, it's personal for me, too. I have had calls from the Pentagon, so there are real policy issues. We want to get her back. We want to rescue the other women if they're still alive, and the intelligence indicates that they may be, and we want to deter the insurgents from trying this sort of thing again."
Saint John asked, "Jason, are String and I going as civilians or are we back in uniform? Technically, I suppose, we're still listed as inactive reserve."
"Airwolf is not a military ship and you're not part of any unit there. Mike is Air Force, and the missing women are from the Navy, Marines, and Army. But Mike will outrank anyone you deal with. You and Saint John are civilian contractors, as you have been." Jason cleared his throat. "I had to persuade the powers-that-be at the Pentagon to allow you to go at all. They think you are too involved, and they have a point. I'm concerned too."
"You're awfully quiet, Michael," Mike observed.
"I'm worried. You're all a long way from seeing regular combat, but you're heading into a shooting war. Saint John, you're eligible to collect social security - there's a reason why we don't draft senior citizens. Mike, general officers normally don't fly sorties. Sorry, Cait, I know you're worried about your daughter, and now String is going into harm's way. Of course, a Seal team will go in on the ground when the women are found. They're trained for it and you three would only be in the way."
Cait squeezed String's hand. "Is there a better surveillance team in the world than the Airwolf team, Michael?" she asked. "If we didn't have Danny at home, I'd be going with you. Jeanny knows that her family will be coming for her."
"You're right, Cait. There's no better team. No better." He looked back to his successor in the Company. "Jason?"
Jason continued, "The ground crew is loading the weapons on Airwolf. You'll finish fueling her in-country. We should have you three on your way later this morning. There will be a briefing and a quick training session to insert Airwolf into the search pattern."
Michael stood up, leaning heavily on his cane, and took String's hand. "For God's sake, be careful." He shook Saint John's hand. He turned to Mike and they clasped hands. "It's been a long time since I sent my friends into danger, but I haven't forgotten how little I like it."
Jason stood, too, and shook each of their hands, in turn. "Cait, my wife wanted to know if you would like to wait with us, for part of the time while they're there. Bring Danny and the dog down. We have lots of room since the boys are off on their own. I suspect Dom would be relieved to have you close by. So would Ellie. If Jo wants to come down from Santa Barbara to join us, we'd love to have her."
"Good idea," Cait said. "I'll let you know. Thank Moishe for us."
Hawke wished he could sleep in the plane but he was too agitated. He checked Airwolf's systems compulsively, paced the largely windowless length of the cargo plane, talked with the flight crew, then did it all again. Finally Saint John could stand it no longer and snagged his arm as he paced by. "I assume you were like this when I was missing?" The thought shook him. "Dear God. Tell me you weren't like this for sixteen years?"
"Ask Dom. I was a model of calm forebearance."
Saint John snorted. "Right. Anyway, sit down. Walking all the way to Afghanistan isn't going to help."
"It'll help me," String muttered. "I'm worried about that new equipment on Airwolf. A couple of the systems might impact flight performance, and the testing we did was preliminary."
"You can't test her now. Jeanny is waiting for us to find her."
"That's my point. There's a lot riding on Airwolf performing perfectly."
"Enough. We will be part of a larger team. Jeanny isn't depending on us alone. And we'll have to be fresh and ready when we get there. You used to know how to relax before going into action. Do it."
"You don't outrank me anymore, Sinj."
"Yes I do. I'm older."
Mouth moving into a reluctant smile, Hawke sat down on the bench next to his brother. "Satisfied?"
"Yeah. Shut up and get some sleep. It's not like we have a view or anything."
Hawke strapped himself in and leaned back against the windowless side of the plane. "Or anything." He shut his eyes.
The desiccated brown landscape and distant snowcapped mountains in the late afternoon sunlight reminded Hawke of Nevada. An icy wind knifed through the airfield and he pulled the collar on his parka tighter around his throat. The altitude was only about two thousand feet higher than the cabin at home, but the air felt much thinner. Grayish brown mud and sparse weeds showed through the thin snow adjacent to the concrete tarmac.
Saint John drove Airwolf down the ramp and parked it. He stepped out to see two officers in Navy uniforms welcoming the others as they exited the plane. They exchanged salutes with Mike. Hawke watched their eyes follow Airwolf as she rolled down the ramp. She was nearly obsolete, but still sleek, deadly, and beautiful. Dom's Lady. Mike performed the introductions. Basilio Santos waited until the higher ranking officers were finished.
"Lieutenant Santos will show you to your quarters and then to the briefing. I imagine you need to get something to eat. A crew will fuel up your aircraft. Is that acceptable, gentlemen?"
"It is," Saint John responded. "And thank you."
"Very well. The briefing will begin in an hour. You will be inserted into the search pattern tomorrow at first light." More salutes and the two officers walked away.
Hawke turned to Basilio Santos, struck how the boy he had known since his father brought him to the United States fifteen years before had grown into the officer waiting for him. "Basilio." He extended his hand.
"We'll find her, Mr. Hawke," Basilio told him.
"I know we will. Lead on, Lieutenant."
Basilio led the brothers and Mike to the quarters assigned to them.
The briefing took place in a temporary structure in the heart of the base. Folders were distributed and everyone took their place at their desks. Colonel Montaigne stood by the projected map on the screen.
Using a laser pointer, he outlined the area where the women were believed to be held. He described the surveillance drones overflying the area and the narrowing scope of the search. Some interesting intelligence had been passed to the NATO forces by an inside source of questionable reliability but it suggested that all four women officers were still alive.
The live search would be continued the next morning, with Airwolf taking part. Montaigne went over radio frequencies, procedures, and other necessary issues. Meanwhile, a convoy, supposedly with another woman officer in one of the vehicles, would leave for a remote base. In actuality, it would carry marines concealed in two of the transports, ready to take on any attack. Discreet air support would shadow the convoy. It was hoped that the insurgents responsible for the abduction of the other women would be lured into an attack. Finally, he stopped and looked to Mike. "Is this acceptable, General Rivers?"
"Entirely. Thank you for bringing me and the crew of Airwolf into the search."
"Mr. Hawke?" Montaigne looked at String and Saint John. "Both of you?"
Saint John stood and said, "Yes. As General Rivers said, thank you."
"Good enough. We'll see you on the tarmac at O-four-hundred tomorrow morning."
Everyone stood and picked up their paperwork. "Saint John," String said, "I've got to take the Lady for a shakedown ride. We can't have the electronics fail during the mission."
"You really think we need to?"
"I know we do. Some of the new gear ties directly into the turbo controls. We have to know if the systems are reliable."
"Fair enough. Mike, time for a ride."
"Now. Get us permission. We need to take her high, do some standard maneuvers, and engage the new surveillance equipment. Then we'll top off the tank."
"Good enough. Give me a few minutes. Meet you at the ship."
The brothers strode to the grand old gunship. "Dom would always say, 'Ah,' when we walked into the Lair," String remembered.
"He still does it, even though she's at the lab at Red Star, now. I let him take the controls for a few minutes last week."
"He told me. Made his week."
Saint John walked around Airwolf, doing a preliminary flight check. "How are you holding up, brother?"
String rubbed his eyes behind his aviator glasses. "I'm doing what I have to do, Saint John. Things have to take their course. It wouldn't do any good for me to go off half cocked, fly off with the ship, whatever."
"No, it wouldn't help. Hang on. We'll find her."
They were in their Airwolf flight suits when Mike returned with Basilio. "I've got a flight plan and route for us, should keep us out of the way of our aircraft and ground fire. Let's go. We'll need to refuel after, and we need to get enough sleep tonight." Saint John handed Mike his flight suit and waited for him to put it on. Basilio was dressed in his Navy flight suit. "Take the left seat, Lieutenant," Mike told him.
String turned on the engines, pulled back on the collective, and Airwolf lifted off majestically into the clear, thin, Afghan air. "Mike, let's engage the surveillance gear."
"Okay, let's get up to angels ten, then we'll see what happens on turbos." Airwolf climbed rapidly. At ten thousand feet, String said, "Mike, turbos."
Airwolf leapt forward, then as suddenly, seemed to stall. "Mains," he ordered. Airwolf's airspeed dropped as the rotors caught her. "Saint John, what happened?"
"Starboard turbo flamed out."
"Let's try it again. Mike, turbos."
Turbo flight lasted fifteen seconds this time. "Not now," String muttered, as she dropped to what felt like a crawl as the main rotor kicked in, even though they flew at nearly three hundred knots per hour. "Mike, disengage the new surveillance equipment. Let me know when it's off."
A moment of silence, as Mike's fingers passed over the computerized display. "Okay, it's off."
"Turbos," he confirmed, as the ship leapt forward. This time the flight was normal. Hawke pushed almost to Mach One, rolled, did a loop, and brought her back over the airfield. "Turbos off, mains," he ordered.
"Mains," Mike echoed.
"Now, let's see if she flies with the surveillance gear running." There was a rough catch as Mike switched on the new equipment, but the ship leveled out and flew normally. "So we can use the turbos or use the new surveillance gear, but not both. We still have some of the old gear, and I don't know how much, exactly. Basilio, you want to join us on the diagnostic?"
"Okay, you take her for a few minutes." String waited until Basilio had the controls, then lifted his hands. He ran the young man through basic maneuvers on rotors, then said, "Let's try turbos. Now she's going to feel different from your jets, slower, more delicate, but also she'll feel more powerful. Ready?"
"Mike, turn off the new surveillance gear, let us know when you're ready for turbos."
After a moment, Mike said, "Ready. Give it a try, Lieutenant. I know you've done it a few times before."
"I'm backing you, Basilio," Hawke said. "Turbos now."
The young pilot hit the button and held on as the ship surged forward. He got the feel of it quickly and consulted the flight plan. "Up to angels fifteen," he said, and pulled back on the collective. "Wow," he murmured, leveled out, then brought her down.
"Good flying. You're a natural pilot. I'll be doing most of the flying. You'll be busy monitoring the surveillance gear at your station and handling communications, but it's good to know you can take over in a pinch. Let's go back to the base."
"Going to be a long night, isn't it?" Saint John commented.
"Might be. I don't think we have a choice."
"Right. Let's do it."
Hawke brought the ship back to the hangar. Saint John refueled her, then they rolled her into the hangar. "Sinj, get out the schematics for the new gear. The trouble ought to be pretty specific."
Saint John opened the nose cone and hovered around the machinery.
"Lieutenant," Mike ordered, "Go get us some coffee."
"Gonna need it," Saint John agreed, as he climbed back to the engineering station and took off the panel to expose the computer that operated the surveillance upgrade.
All four men were red-eyed and more than tired on only a few hours of sleep when O-four-hundred came the next morning. Saint John headed for the ground crew's station. They were not sure that they had corrected the problem, which left the stark choice of using turbos or having access to the new surveillance equipment, but not trusting the ship with both at the same time. Urgency and fear for Jeanny demanded that they work around Airwolf's limitations. String concentrated as he took Airwolf above the other helicopters and settled into the tedium and desperation of the search for his daughter.
The radio was startling in the concentrated atmosphere of Airwolf's cockpit. "Papa Bear, this is Brother Bear. Do you copy? Over."
"We copy, Brother Bear," Basilio answered. "Over."
"Communications are good. Let's get this done, over."
"Communications are good," Basilio verified. "Over and out."
Basilio monitored their position and direction as the hours passed. They had to return to base to refuel, leaving Hawke pacing almost frantically until they were airborne again. Mike passed rations to the front of the cockpit. Mike finished his sandwich and an energy drink, then said, "String, You need to eat something."
"Thanks, Mike, but I'm not hungry."
"Doesn't matter. You've got to."
Hawke started to retort, then thought better of it. "You're right. Basilio, take over."
He swallowed the food without tasting it, gulped the energy drink. "Coffee's better."
The food helped, but they weren't refreshed as the afternoon wore on. The brown plains and thin layer of snow seemed endless. Some small villages or housing compounds were scattered through the mountains, made of the same dull stone as the landscape itself. Clusters of trees by the residential compounds mostly were just bare trunks and branches in the snow.
As the sun went down, the team pulled back to the base. Hawke's grim face deterred any conversation. He ran another diagnostic, mechanically ate the sandwich Saint John handed him, and was about to start another pre-flight check when Saint John grabbed his shoulder. "String."
String slumped against the nose of Airwolf. "I know. I know." He rubbed his eyes. "Same drill tomorrow, right?"
"Briefing at O-four-hundred, then continue the search."
"I'll sleep in the Lady, okay?"
"No. You're not a kid. You need a bed." He slung his arm around String's slighter shoulders. "Come on, brother. We'll get some sleep and be ready to find Jeanny tomorrow." The two huddled together in matching Airwolf flight suits, Saint John's gray head inclined toward his brother's salt and pepper. Mike joined them. His gold hair had dulled and was streaked with gray. The three old warriors walked together. Mike returned salutes automatically. Some of the young men and women on the base turned to watch them.
They were airborne as the sun rose. The search grid continued across the brown and white, corrugated landscape. The morning proved fruitless. The search teams stopped at mid-morning to refuel, then set out again. Soaring above the other aircraft and drones, Airwolf had a broader view. They followed the grid, String checking the map and computer, Basilio watching the surveillance screens, and Mike monitoring the ship's systems.
The tedium of long hours of searching was broken suddenly as they observed the large compound with two main buildings and three outbuildings, several vehicles, and a sizable heat source. Basilio checked the surveillance gear. The radio crackled. "Papa Bear, monitor the compound at eleven o'clock."
"We see it, Brother Bear. Going in." He turned to Hawke. "Let's make a pass over those houses, Mr. Hawke."
"I see them. Hang on."
Hawke took Airwolf down in a dramatic swoop, losing ten thousand feet of altitude as if dropped from a cliff. He passed to one side of the compound. Basilio said, "I'm reading a cluster of heat sources in the building on the west end. I think they're human. Maybe animals in that outbuilding."
"Armaments?" Mike asked.
"Mines, around the perimeter. I can't read what's inside the compound. You'll have to assume there's some weapons."
"Women and kids?"
"We hope our women. There's no way to tell. I hope they wouldn't put families in the middle of landmines."
"Okay, Lieutenant," Mike ordered. "Let's call the rest of the team. I think it's time for the Seals to go in and look around. Alert them to the landmines."
"Yes, General. Calling now."
Hawke took Airwolf back to its higher altitude and kept a surveillance pattern as the Blackhawk carrying the Seal team landed on the roof of the largest building. Watching the long distance down to the conflict, they could see the flash of explosives and weaponry. Hawke's hand on the collective was shaking slightly. Basilio concentrated on the view with his field glasses.
When the voice on the radio filled the cockpit, Hawke realized he had been holding his breath. "Papa Bear," the voice said, "we've got them. All four, alive."
They were avoiding using names but Basilio asked, "The most recent hostage, is she all right?"
"Fine. Surprisingly well." There was a chuckle, startling in the context. "Seems she heard your ship when you overflew the compound, took advantage of the distraction, and with an Army captain, she had gotten control of their weapons and had two of the bad guys on their knees. I think we saved those guys' lives when we arrived – she was, well, really…" The pause suggested looking for a clean word to use on the radio, "… angry. We're heading back to the den. See you there, Papa Bear. Out."
"Papa Bear out." To Hawke, he said, "Jeanny's fine. She was in the process of nearly single-handedly retaking the compound when the Seals got there. Let's head back, in formation, as we practiced."
"That's my daughter. In formation, gentlemen. Mike, combat mode, let's give them adequate cover."
"In formation," Basilio confirmed.
"In formation," Mike echoed, and added, "Lieutenant, we're standing in for Jeanny's grandfather in your seat and her mother where I'm sitting, with Hawke pilot and captain. They were Airwolf's original team, and they are still a legend. Let's honor them by getting Jeanne Hawke home safely."
"Aye, aye, General. Honored to be aboard."
"Good," String broke in. "Shut down the new surveillance gear. We'll depend on the older equipment. Let's watch for ground-based anti-aircraft and shoulder-mounted Stingers. Gentlemen, stay sharp."
He lifted Airwolf off steeply, following the Seal team's Blackhawk helicopter. Basilio said, "Anti-aircraft position on the ground at nine o'clock."
"I see them. I'm getting between them and the Blackhawk. Give me chain guns."
Hawke set Airwolf swooping down toward the position that was just below the top of a bare, dusty-looking rocky hill.
Some anti-aircraft fire raked Airwolf. It shuddered.
"Mike, how bad is it?"
"Fifty millimeter round through the left turbo, just the skin of the ship, it didn't hit anything vital."
"Too close. Did we get them?"
"We did. But, I think there's more at that location."
Basilio, in the counter measure station, watched his instruments for a moment. "Stinger. It's acquired us."
"Release chaff," Hawke ordered.
"Chaff," Basilio confirmed. He watched his screen. "Didn't take it."
The radio crackled. The Seal team's helicopter flying parallel announced, "We're painting it, Papa Bear. Go get it."
"Roger." Hawke followed the laser on the missile and pulled Airwolf into a steep climb. The missile followed. Gulping air to keep from blacking out, Hawke dropped beyond the ridge line. The missile exploded into the rock face. Rising back into the air, the radio crackled again.
"Another stinger, Papa Bear."
"Mike," Hawke said, as he wheeled the ship to face the new missile. "Bring up a sparrow."
"Sparrow," Mike confirmed.
Hawke lowered his targeting visor, aimed, and fired. The missile exploded. Then he flew directly at the ground position and raked it with chain guns.
"We get 'em?"
"Position neutralized," Basilio responded.
The radio again, "Good shooting, Airwolf."
"Thanks. And thanks for the company."
Off the radio Mike said, "You know, we're too old for this."
"Now you tell me."
Any other threats below seemed to have gone to ground. In twenty-five minutes they were on approach to the base. "Mike, you want to come back to Santini Air when you retire? Stunts are a lot safer than this."
"Are you kidding? You and your brother are crazy!"
Basilio's strangled attempt to keep from laughing filled their headsets. "What are you snickering about, Lieutenant?" Mike demanded.
"Permission to speak, General?"
"Might as well, Lieutenant? I would point out that you fly fighter jets. Of course, your choice of service leaves much to be desired."
Basilio wisely avoided defending the Navy to an Air Force general. "General, may I point out that my brother flies for Santini Air? I'm the cautious one in the family, no offense intended, Mister Hawke."
"None taken, though I note that you're seeing my daughter, and I might have to speak with your brother since he's flying our aircraft. Now let's go see how Jeanny's doing."
Hawke climbed out of Airwolf. Jeanny slipped out of the Blackhawk and ran toward him. He looked at his daughter with relief. Her naval flight suit was torn and dirty, her cap was missing so her short red hair was visible, tall, slender, she was the image of her mother at Jeanny's age.
Jeanny cried, "Dad!" She flung her arms around him. Then she turned to Mike. "Uncle Mike," she said, hugging him.
He allowed it to go on for a moment, then stiffened. "Lieutenant Hawke, we are in uniform."
She stiffened, stepped back, and saluted smartly. "General." She turned and said, more shyly, "Basilio." She saluted Basilio and he returned it. She turned back to face the two bound militants. She nodded toward Hawke. In rough Pashto, she said, "This is my father." She gestured toward Mike. "And this is my uncle." Saint John, out of breath, came running from the radio room where he had been monitoring the mission's progress. Gesturing toward him, she said, "And he is my uncle, too." That exhausted her command of the language.
Hawke put his arm around his daughter's shoulders. "Jeanny," he said, hugging her close. His attention was caught by an Afghan military officer moving in their direction across the concrete pad. The man's eyes shifted away from his. Hawke pulled her behind him. "Mike," he murmured. "Watch that…"
The Afghan pulled out a handgun and aimed it at him. Time seemed to slow down. Hawke pushed Jeanny further behind him and reached for his own weapon. The gun barrel in front of him was level at his chest. He didn't dare duck, because it would leave Jeanny exposed. Instead, he threw himself at the Afghan. He heard the gun's report and felt the bullet's impact. He tried to fire his gun but he was falling. More gunfire roared around him.
Jeanny put her arm under his head. "Daddy!"
"Uncle Mike got him. I'm okay."
Hawke passed out.
Saint John said, "Moishe," when she picked up the phone. "It's Saint John. Is Cait there?"
"She's right here," she said, then handed the receiver to Cait. "It's Saint John."
"Cait," Saint John said, "we've got her. She's all right."
"Thank God," Cait breathed.
"We got to her before they hurt her. We rescued the three other missing women, too. They'd been held longer…well, they're not in good shape. But they are good officers. They took advantage of our incursion and were in the process of escaping when the Seal team reached them."
Cait sat down heavily on a kitchen stool. "That's my Jeanny. When can she come home?"
"She's in the clinic right now getting a check-up. Then she'll have to be debriefed. I don't know if she'll get any leave. I hope so. Mike, Basilio, they don't have a mark on them. And the people who were setting the women up to be abducted were identified and all but one were captured. Mike killed the other guy."
"Is Airwolf okay?"
"She took a fifty millimeter round through the edge of one of the turbo pods but it didn't hit anything vital. Just gives her a little character. Tell Dominic his granddaughter and his Lady are fine."
"Saint John, can I speak with String?"
Saint John paused.
"He's in the base hospital. The man Mike killed was an Afghan officer. He started shooting at us. String protected Jeanny and Mike took the shooter down."
"Sinj, what aren't you telling me?"
"String rushed the shooter when the guy fired and it threw his aim off. They're still evaluating him. Cait, I think String's going to be okay. From what the doctor told us so far, the shooter jerked upward so the bullet broke String's left collar bone and went straight through. Unless they find something else, they're going to put the bone back together with a titanium rod, strap him up, keep him a few days and send him home. He'll be unable to fly for a while, you'll have to help him button his shirts, he'll have to play the keyboard one-handed and let the cello rest for a few weeks, and he'll have trouble going through airport security. Anyway, he can't talk to you right now."
Saint John could hear the long pause and the sound of a chair pulling out. He thought he could hear his sister-in-law sitting in it heavily. "I'm staying with him, Cait. I'm looking out for him, and I'll keep you posted."
"Should I fly out?"
"No. I'll let you know if anything changes, but right now, it seems like it will be another set of interesting scars and a lot of inconvenience. He's going to be pretty uncomfortable for a while."
He imagined Cait gathering her composure. "Well, how is Jeanny, psychologically?"
Saint John cleared his throat. "She's a warrior. I don't know if that's what you wanted. What am I trying to say? I remember that she wanted to be a princess when she used to play with my daughter. They both wanted to be princesses. I never thought we'd see her like, well, like we were, in Vietnam."
"I know. I know. But remember, Sinj, your Dominique also wanted to be Dr. Crusher, you know, on Star Trek, and Jeanny, besides wanting to be a ballerina, wanted to play third base for the Dodgers."
Another pause, then he laughed. "Yeah, she did, didn't she? Just between us, Basilio Santos thinks that Jeanny is a princess. Anyway, I've got to call Ellie and Dominic. Mike is phoning Jo. Jeanny will call as soon as they're finished with the debriefing. Try not to worry, okay?"
"Okay, I'll try. Thanks, Sinj."
Hawke got his eyes open, but it took a few minutes to realize Jeanny was sitting next to him. His left shoulder and arm were bound and splinted. An IV and a blood transfusion dripped into the other arm. A cannula supplied oxygen to his nose. He focused on the figure sitting by his bed. "Hi, Sweetheart," he said to Jeanny, voice hoarse.
"Dad," she said, tears running down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry."
"I got you hurt. I'm sorry."
Hawke raised his right hand to her face and cupped her cheek. "You didn't send that guy to shoot me, Jeanny. I am so proud of you. You kept thinking. Just don't worry."
"I'll try." She stood and kissed his forehead. "Uncle Saint John is waiting to see you."
Saint John took his place in the chair. "They want us in here just one at a time. How are you doing, brother?" Hawke's lips were tight with pain now that his daughter had left. "Did they give you enough pain meds?"
Hawke closed his eyes for a moment. "Didn't want to worry her. I could use a little more."
A week later, Airwolf landed outside the hangar at Santini Air. A C-130 had flown the old gunship and its crew back to Edwards, then the team flew Airwolf the rest of the way home. Hawke had ridden back to the States in the C-130 sleeping on a bolted-down gurney. For the short flight to Van Nuys in Airwolf, Saint John buckled him into the left seat, careful not to jostle his braced and bound left shoulder and arm.
Family, friends, and supporters were gathered by the hangar. The right-hand hatch popped open. Mike stepped out. String climbed out of the left seat. He leaned against the glossy black skin of the ship. Saint John stood beside him on his good side, one hand ready to steady him. Jeanny followed them out from her place in the back of the ship. As her feet touched the concrete, everyone burst into applause.
The rest of the clan ran joyously across the tarmac. Jeanny was enveloped in her mother's hug, then her grandfather's. Her brothers took their turn embracing her, then turned to welcome their father home. Le had driven from Sacramento that morning, leaving his wife and newborn daughter in the care of the in-laws. He hugged Jeanny fiercely, but had to settle for a fervent handshake with his father, rather than risk hurting him.
Dominic rested his hand on String's good shoulder. "I thought we were finished with this risking your life, stuff," he muttered.
"Sorry, Dom. If the guy who shot me wasn't dead already, I'd file a grievance against him."
"Smart-mouthed kid," Dom said, relieved smile creasing his face.
Finally Cait was able to wrap her arms around Hawke's back below the brace and he put his good arm around her and inclined his head until he could kiss her.
"You're still my hero," she whispered.
"Caitlin," Hawke murmured into her hair.
The rest of the extended clan cleared a path for Michael.
"I told you I don't like sending my friends into harm's way. What did you do, go out and look for trouble?"
"Never had to look for it," String told him.
"My point exactly." He extended his hand to Saint John and Mike, in turn. "I'm glad you're all home, if somewhat the worse for wear." He embraced Jeanny and kissed her cheek. "And you, young lady, pardon me, Lieutenant Hawke, Marella and I have been worried sick."
Jason Locke had arranged for one of his staff to fly Airwolf back to Red Star. As Airwolf disappeared into the clear sky, Cait insisted on getting String into the Jet Ranger for the ride back to the cabin. His face was drawn with pain. Saint John gave her the medications and instructions from the doctors in Afghanistan, and a schedule of appointments with a doctor at the Company clinic. She helped String take a pain pill and buckled him into the left seat. Jeanny, Patrick, and Danny climbed into the back. Le would follow with Saint John, Ellie, Dom and Toni. Cait lifted off into the warm and sunny California sky. She looked over at String with concern. "Are you okay?" she asked him softly.
"I'm fine, Cait," he assured her, feeling comfortable and drowsy in the warm pool of sunlight shining through the helicopter's windshield. "It's good to be home."