“Going south, hang on.” Tony swung the helo around, provoking excited chatter in the headset, which Chris ignored.
“This is Special Agent Abbott, going in for a visual to determine location of the hostage and detonator.” Chris ignored the responding chatter and looked through the binoculars, trying to focus in the bumpy ride.
Suddenly he spotted Evan in the passenger seat, hair blowing back from his terrified expression. A large pink bruise distorted the right side of the boy’s face, swelling his right eye. Evan’s hands were handcuffed in front of him. He wasn’t holding the detonator. Chris tried to see if Shank had the detonator, but had no luck. There was no time to lose. A protective fury gripped Chris’s chest, the closest he’d experienced to a paternal feeling.
“This is Special Agent Abbott. Preparing to extract the hostage. The hostage does not have a detonator. Do not fire on the hostage or the dually. Repeat, do not fire on the hostage or the dually.” More excited chatter crackled through the headset, and Chris heard a few “copy thats” from the other helos. He turned to Tony. “You got a ladder?”
“Sure, behind your seat.”
“If I hang a ladder outside, can you get me down to that dually?” Chris climbed out of the seat and into the belly of the helo, opening the trunk and rummaging to find a rope ladder of yellow nylon.
“You’ll see the clips on the wall there.”
Chris located the clips, secured the ladder to the helo wall, and opened the door. Wind buffeted him crazily, but he grabbed the handle and righted himself, saying into the headset, “This is Special Agent Abbott. Deplaning to extract the hostage.”
Frenzied chatter came nonstop.
Chris looked over at Tony. “I’m going. Thanks.”
Tony nodded, tense. “I’ll keep talking to them. Go with God.”
“Thanks.” Chris slid off the headset, grabbed the ladder, and climbed out of the helo.
Chris got hit full force by a powerful wind current. It almost blew him off the rung but he kept his grip. The ladder swayed sideways as their helo swept toward the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, a major span of seven lanes with a center divider heading to and from Camden, New Jersey. Two massive anchorages stood at either end of the bridge, and along the span were arches with lighted signs to shift lanes in off-peak hours.
Chris climbed down the ladder, flying over the sign that read WELCOME TO THE BENJAMIN FRANKLIN BRIDGE, DELAWARE RIVER PORT AUTHORITY. Below him, the black dually barreled around the curve at Fifth Street onto the bridge. Tony steered their helo farther south, overshooting the dually, then circling back toward the city for the one pass that Chris would get to grab Evan.
Chris kept climbing down the ladder, buffeted by the wind and the wash from the other helos, circling like hornets. Again he spotted a long gun poking through the passenger-side seat of one of the helos.
He couldn’t stop them now. He could only hope that the gun was aimed at Shank and not Evan or the bomb. His feet reached the final rung, and he flew through the air at the end of the ladder.
Tony turned the helo west, then south to complete the circle, at the same time lining up with the dually.
Pandemonium broke out on the bridge. Drivers sprang from the parked cars and abandoned them, running for their lives toward the nearer side of the bridge.
Suddenly Chris realized that their helo was zooming toward one of the arches over the bridge, which would crush him. Tony jerked the helo upward just in time, sailing Chris over the top of the arch, but they’d missed their first pass.
The other helos circled or hovered, creating major turbulence, setting Chris swinging crazily on the ladder. He could barely manage to hang on.
Below, the dually barreled up the incline of the bridge. Shank started firing at the helos. The helos returned fire or jerked out of the way, evading the bullets. Chris was still armed, his Glock in his shoulder holster, held securely by the thumb break.
He kept his eyes on the dually as Tony began another pass, circling again to the north, then toward the west, and then south again, ultimately beginning his descent to the dually. It would be Chris’s last chance to save Evan.
He spotted another long gun poking through the back door of one of the larger Black Hawks. He intuited that they were waiting for him to get in position to take their shot. Meanwhile, Shank kept firing on them.
The dually sped to the summit of the bridge, and Chris kept an eye on Evan as Tony flew their helo closer, within fifty feet, then forty, then thirty.
Evan looked out the passenger-side window, spotting Chris, his eyes wild with fright. He shouted, “Help, Coach!”
The helo was twenty feet from the passenger side, then ten feet, and Chris could see Shank pull Evan away from the window.
The second arch of the bridge zoomed toward Chris at warp speed, and he made his move. It was do or die.
Chris linked his legs through the bottom rung of the ladder, flipped down and backwards, and reached both hands down. The ladder swung toward the dually with him facing away and upside down. Momentum carried him to the passenger side window. He arched his back and stretched out his hands toward Evan.
“Evan, catch!” Chris shouted, on the downswing.
Evan thrust his handcuffed arms out the passenger side of the dually and grabbed Chris’s arms.
Chris grabbed him back, gripping Evan’s arms as tightly as he could, and in the next moment Tony flew their helo up and away, lifting Evan from the speeding dually and clearing the second arch.
The air filled with a lethal barrage of automatic weapons fire. The snipers must have hit Shank. The dually veered to the left.
Chris secured his hold on Evan, straining with all his might to hold on to the boy as they flew through the air. Evan looked up with terror in his eyes, his hair blowing wildly, locking his fingers around Chris’s forearms.
“I got you!” Chris shouted to Evan.
Below, the dually barreled toward the cars that had been abandoned, parked every which way, along the north side of the bridge. Motorists scrambled safely out of its path.
Chris watched the scene unfold with his heart in his throat.
The dually headed straight for a Corvette and drove squarely onto its low front end, kept going onto its hood like a ramp, and took off over the side of the bridge. The dually soared away from the bridge into thin air, its wheels still spinning, then plummeted into the Delaware River.
Chris held his breath. There was a muffled boom. The fertilizer bomb exploded underwater, producing a massive bubble of white water and ripples in all directions. The bridge shuddered at the percussive wave, but the explosion was far enough from its anchorage not to damage them.