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Extreme (Part 2)

Extreme (Part 2):

Read Extreme (Part 1)

EXECUTION (N.) 1: KILLING—THE KILLING OF SOMEBODY AS PART OF A LEGAL OR EXTRALEGAL PROCESS 2: PERFORMING OF SOMETHING—THE CARRYING OUT OF AN ACTION, INSTRUCTION, COMMAND OR MOVEMENT 3: MANNER OF PERFORMANCE—THE STYLE OR MANNER IN WHICH SOMETHING IS CARRIED OUT OR ACCOMPLISHED.

Kurt and Paige view the above definition in a reverse order of priorities. To wit:

Definition three, so they can do definition two without having to commit definition one.

That is to say, style (see supra, definition three) counts—don’t think it doesn’t. Style counts in figure skating, freestyle skiing and the theft of a billion dollars.

There’s theft and there’s theft. There’s theft that results in the good guys (being in this case Kurt, Paige and their friend Lev) relieving the bad guy (Lev’s Russian oligarch arms dealer stepfather) of his blood money without the actual shedding of blood, and there’s theft that results in the aforementioned bloodshed, which Paige will absolutely not countenance, neither in the execution nor in the planning, nor even as an exigency.

Exigency (n.): urgent need; something a situation demands or makes urgently necessary and that puts pressure on the people involved.

Yeah, well, death definitely puts pressure on the people involved.

As ultra-extreme athletes, Kurt, Paige and Lev are used to pressure—water pressure (big-wave surfing, free diving), air pressure (wingsuiting, BASE jumping), vertical pressure, a.k.a. gravity (downhill skiing, rock climbing), mental pressure (ultra-marathon running)—and they’re used to death; they just lost a dear friend, Latchkey, who wingsuited into the steel span of a bridge at 90 per.

Actually, it was Latchkey’s death that spurred Kurt into taking on this project of Lev’s and then talking Paige into it. Okay, at first he tries to talk Paige out of it but into accepting that he’d do it.

“Let me make sure I have this correctly,” Paige says. “You and Lev plan to drop onto a yacht in the Pacific, rob armed Russian thugs of a billion dollars, make it to land, disappear and live happily ever after.”

“Not me and Lev,” Kurt clarifies. “Me and you. We live happily ever after. It’s not a gay thing or a bromance thing. Lev would go and do his thing and you and I would do our. Thing.”

“Which would be what?”

Live (verb, not adjective, and therein lies the secret to, well, life), Kurt explains. Climb, ski, surf, run, fly, fuck, eat, sleep, repeat as necessary and/or desirable.

“Setting aside for the moment the practical—or rather impractical—considerations,” Paige says, “have you considered the ethical issue? That is, stealing is wrong?”

“Stealing,” Kurt agrees, “is wrong in most situations. But the money we’d be stealing comes from armaments that indiscriminately kill people. So it wouldn’t be as, if at all, wrong.”

He goes on to explain his thinking in the matter, and we should pause here to note that this conversation takes place in a motel in Moab, Utah, the site of Latchkey’s memorial service (Moab, not the motel) and a world center for rock climbing, dirt biking and all manner of outdoor fun and frolic. Kurt’s argument is mathematically based: It costs money to pursue the extreme sports that bring them sponsorships; they’re not getting any younger; the sponsorships are going to dry up and they’ll be left with nothing.

“I’m a university professor,” Paige argues. “I have an income, a pension—”

“This is what I mean,” Kurt counters. “You’re not even 30 and you’re talking about your pension. What’s next, a 401(k)?”

Paige swallows.

She does have a 401(k).

Paige goes out for a quick 15-mile run among the red rocks of Moab and thinks about not only the ethical issue but her life.

Flying along the single track, her feet avoiding the ankle-spraining rocks and scree, Paige considers that she has always been the “good girl.” Check that, not the “good girl”—the “perfect girl.” Perfect grades, perfect attitude, perfect skin, perfect teeth, perfect body—if, that is, you consider the lean, low-body-fat athletic frame of the female super-athlete perfect.

She has a good job, a man she loves and outside interests that keep the adrenaline flowing, but—

Paige has never done anything bad.

Wrong or even dubious.

She has summited heights. Might it not be time to explore depths (how high you can go may also be an indicator of how low you can go)?

And be honest, she tells herself. Kurt is right—time is catching up and time will render your extraordinary life ordinary.

Which is simply not acceptable.

The extra in extraordinary isn’t extra.

It’s essential.

Paige comes back from her run and says to Kurt, “I will give my consent to this under one condition.”

“Being?”

“I go with you.”

“No.”

“Why not?” Paige asks. “Because I’m a girl?”

“No.”

Kurt has been a reformed sexist since Paige kicked his ass in the Leadville Trail 100, the only redeeming feature being that he got to look at her, albeit from an ever-increasing distance, for 75 of those 100 miles before she disappeared over the horizon and then waited for him at the finish line.

“What, then?” Paige asks.

“I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“That’s what my mother said about my being with you,” Paige says. And besides, it’s a ridiculous argument because they’ve climbed (actually free-climbed—no ropes) together, heli-skied together, surfed together, BASE jumped together and wingsuited together. And now he doesn’t want to see her get hurt?

“Did you have your eyes closed all those times?” Paige asks.

“Could you,” Kurt asks, “point a gun at someone and say you’ll kill him if he doesn’t give you the money?”

“You said we weren’t going to kill anyone.”

“Unless,” Lev says when they take the discussion to him in a quiet corner of the motel bar, “there’s an exigency.”

And now we’re back.

Execution requires planning.

Stylish execution, anyway.

Sloppy executions you can just throw together (see definition one, Texas, Florida, Missouri), but the kind of execution that has a certain elegance to it requires preparation.

“Failing to prepare is…blah, blah, blah.” (Actually, failing to improvise can also be considered preparing to fail, but that’s another story.)

Planning starts with intelligence.

Lev shows them photos and schematics of the boat.

Stepdad’s little oceangoing getaway is called the Ozerov.

Cayman flagged, built in the Netherlands.

Sleek black hull, white superstructure, shaped like a narrow V with a wedding-cake layering of decks.

A beautiful, dangerous-looking craft.

Five hundred thirty-five feet long, beam 72 and a half feet, Kevlar-hulled, 11,360 horsepower, cruising speed of 20 knots, max speed of 25.

Twin 19-million-candlepower searchlights.

Each cabin has a digital safe. Another, larger safe in the captain’s stateroom.

“The money won’t be in the safes,” Lev says, “but in a vault down in the engine room.”

Brushed-stainless-steel deck and flooring, Italian marble fixtures, goatskin wall coverings, three dining areas, a five-star kitchen, dance floor and an infinity pool—

“An infinity pool?” Paige asks.

On a boat?

In the Pacific?

Which is, in itself, an infinity pool?

Then there’s the helipad with a Soviet military chopper on it, just in case Yegor needs to get away quickly.

Several Narwhal SV-400 rescue crafts.

And a go-fast boat, mostly because any decent smuggler has to have a go-fast boat.

With 18 cabins, the Ozerov can carry 34 passengers and 70 crew.

“But there won’t be that many people onboard for this money run,” Lev says. “Yegor strips it down because he doesn’t trust people. Just him, Mother, an accountant, the captain, 15 crew, a chef, a sous-chef, a sous-sous-chef and 12 mercenaries.”

All the mercs are former Russian special forces.

All fought in Chechnya.

“How much money did you say will be on the boat?” Kurt asks.

“A billion dollars,” Lev answers, “give or take.”

“I’ll choose take,” Kurt says.

Lev also has the Ozerov’s cruising route, which had to be filed with the Peruvian Maritime Information System.

“Yegor is going through the Panama Canal,” Lev says, “then making a stop in Buenaventura, Colombia—not coincidentally the port for Cali—to pick up a payment from some clients.”

Then the Ozerov will cruise down the coast of Ecuador, graze the coast of Peru and turn right (starboard) across the Pacific toward the Cook Islands.

“Finding a boat in the ocean at night is going to be difficult,” Kurt says.

“No, it won’t,” Lev says. “I’ll guide you in.”

“How?”

“I’ll be onboard.”

Lev has made up with his stepfather. Gone Hamlet-like to Yegor’s Laertes and promised to be a good boy from now on and faithful to the king. Said he wanted to learn the family business from the inside.

(That much is true, anyway.)

So Lev will be on the boat with a handheld laser-guidance device to pinpoint the target for them.

Lev then pulls out a volume entitled Sailing Directions 125: West Coast of South America, put out by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and they go over maps of the coast and its waters. The book gives them information on tides, depths, currents, ports, lighthouses, towns, villages, weather patterns, naval bases and landmarks.

They have to hit the boat within the range of an aircraft they can both acquire and afford. A Cessna 208, for instance, has a maximum range of 1,240 miles, so the raid can’t take place more than 600 miles off the coast.

But the plane can’t fly them back.

“Unless we use a seaplane,” Kurt says. “Land near the plane, do the job—”

Paige laughs. “Did you just say ‘do the job’?”

“It’s heist talk,” Kurt says, “and then get back on the plane.”

“They’ll see the plane coming,” Lev says. “We’ll get blown out of the water before we can board. And even if we didn’t, police would be waiting for us when we landed.”

Lev’s stepfather owns the police in several countries.

“Zodiacs,” Kurt says.

They drop Zodiacs from the plane and row back.

Too slow, Lev says, and limits their range to a max of 50 miles offshore. And even a 50-mile row in that current and December weather might be too much. And besides—

There’s a bigger problem, so to speak.

A billion dollars weighs a little more than 22,000 pounds.

That would take a minimum of 40 Zodiac trips.

Not feasible.

They mull it over. Consider and reject a dozen possibilities.

“We could just take part of it,” Paige suggests, but you’re pretty much looking at all-or-nothing-at-all people here.

Then—

“We’re idiots,” Paige says. “The way off the boat is already on the boat.”

This strikes Kurt and Lev as a little too grasshopper for their tastes, but Paige points to a photo of the Ozerov.

Specifically, the helicopter.

“Could that carry 22,000 pounds and a few people?” Paige asks.

They hit the internet and discover that the chopper is a Mil Mi-17, and yes, it can carry 22,000 pounds and a few people.

“Can you fly a helicopter?” Paige asks Lev.

“I can.”

Paige shrugs.

Eloquently.

Well, there you go, grasshopper.

Paige’s solution is, well, genius, but still leaves problems.

They would have to land the chopper on the coast, where it would serve as a marker to their escape route.

Which would be bad.

After due consideration, Kurt asks, “What if we don’t land the helicopter?”

“Are you suggesting flying into infinity?” Paige asks.

“I’m suggesting landing it in the water, as it were.”

“That would be called a crash,” Paige observes.

“Exactly,” Kurt answers. “The helicopter plan is good, but good is the greatest enemy of great.”

“If this robbery thing doesn’t work out?” Paige says. “You might consider motivational speaker. You’re good-looking enough, and you already have the glib bullshit thing down.”

“Mock if you must,” Kurt says, “but Yegor didn’t become a multibillionaire by giving up. He’ll never stop looking for us, and the aim of this whole thing isn’t to spend the rest of our lives running.”

“Uhhh,” Paige says. The entire purpose of this thing is exactly so she can spend the rest of her life running.

“As fugitives,” Kurt clarifies.

“What are you suggesting?” Lev asks.

“We drown,” Kurt says. “Yegor finds the remnants of his helicopter and some of his money in the ocean. He sends divers for his money, not mercs after the thieves, because he makes the reasonable but false assumption that we’re dead.”

“Which we might be,” Paige says, “trying to safely crash—please note the oxymoronic juxtaposition of adverb and verb—into the water.”

Kurt admits it’s extreme.

But that’s what so good about it.

Now that they pretty much know the what, the next question is the where.

They need an escape route that takes advantage of their skill sets, i.e., a series of biomes and terrains they can traverse quickly and their pursuers slowly or, better yet, not at all.

And it has to be an area into which they can disappear and from which they can use their newfound wealth to purchase new identities and emerge chrysalis-like as new-formed beings.

(Money makes all things new again.)

After weeks of research—poring over books, the internet and Google Earth—they find that the combination of these qualities has a name:

Ecuador.

The Republic of the Equator.

Which, they agree, has a nice balance to it.

Good place to disappear into.

But actually, they’ll hit the yacht off the Peruvian coast at Cabo Blanco, near the border with Ecuador, then ultramarathon across a 70-mile stretch of the Sechura Desert—the northernmost section of the great Atacama Desert—into the highlands around Zamora, Ecuador, at the foot of the Andes.

Confident that if they have to go into the mountains—

No one can catch them there.

Execution also requires teamwork.

Which, as the word implies (in fact, demands), requires a team.

They will need more than just the three of them, as they intend to attack the boat from the air, which means a plane, which means a pilot.

And if the air in question is over the ocean, ideally you want a Navy pilot.

Dave Davids was one of such.

He grew up on a farm-slash-ranch in Enid, Oklahoma and from early childhood decided he wanted to see the ocean. What he’d seen enough of was dirt—plowing dirt, seeding dirt, kicking dirt, scrubbing dirt out of his skin and from under his fingernails.

Water, Dave reasoned, was clean.

Also, he watched Top Gun until he wore out the tape.

So when D2 went to Stillwater (OSU, go Cowboys), he joined ROTC and eventually became a Navy aviator so he could take off and land from the dirt-free deck of an aircraft carrier.

Dave is a firm believer in the old Navy aviation rule that you have to make up your mind—you can either be a pilot or grow up, but you can’t do both. He did enough time in the Navy to cash out for the cushy airline job, but Dave went the other way with it. Not for him hauling old ladies from Duluth to Decatur to see the grandkids. Dave decided to contribute to inter-American relations by flying the product of South America to North America.

With stops in Central America.

So it isn’t difficult to talk D2 into taking this assignment because

(a) D2 wants to retire. (b) Other people want D2 to retire. © He’s used to flying in South America, where people want to kill (retire) him. (d) The ethical issues of criminality are obviously not a problem. (e) All of the above.

They find D2 at his bachelor pad (Dave is of that age when a man still has a bachelor pad) in Coronado, San Diego, conveniently near the Mexican border (so that, once again, he could go the other way with it if the situation dictated) and close enough to the ocean to be considered far from dirt.

He takes them to a bar frequented by Navy SEALs.

Kurt and Paige have known D2 for years. He’s flown them on any number of jumps, and now he sips a Bud (D2 is of that age when a man still…) and listens to the plan.

He takes off his Padres baseball cap, runs his fingers through his thinning, sandy hair, replaces the cap, looks at Lev and asks, “How good a chopper pilot are you?”

“Quite good.”

“Quite good ain’t quite good enough,” D2 says. “Flying a chopper is one thing, crashing it is another. Crashing it on water is yet another. I know, I’ve done all three. Landed on a submarine deck one time and rolled the goddamn thing, and let me tell you, if a chopper wants to roll over, it’s like an old hound dog, it’s going to roll. But try to make it roll—”

“Dave?” Kurt asks. “What are you suggesting?”

What he suggests is extreme.

Next.

Another reality they have to face is that none of them knows dick about guns (yeah, yeah, Freud, I get it, please) and that the Russian mercenaries on the yacht definitely do.

“We need a military type,” Paige says, “with antisocial tendencies.”

“Former airborne,” Kurt says.

“But with a variegated skill set,” Lev adds, “especially in mountaineering.”

“Would he do it, though?” Paige asks.

They drive to Telluride to find out.

Neither Kurt nor Paige knows what Woody Barnes did in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, and he doesn’t talk about it except when he’s a little drunk and lets escape references to Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Hindu Kush and “wasting tangos.” They do know that he has a veritable charm bracelet of Purple Hearts to show for it, as well as an antisocial (see above) attitude leading him to the cabin he built himself way the fuck up in the mountains and out in the woods. (Because if one is good, two is better.)

They do know he can jump (they’ve jumped with him), wingsuit (ditto), ski and climb (ditto, ditto).

When they pull up in their jeep he greets them with a 30.06 Winchester and the words “I guess you can’t read a no trespassing sign that says PRIVATE, KEEP THE FUCK OUT. Oh, it’s you.”

Woody is an intense man of about five-foot-10, all of it muscle, black hair, dark eyes, dark soul.

He does not like people. (“Wolves are a vastly superior species.”)

He does like Kurt and Paige.

Kurt because he’s a hell of an efficient mountain-rescue guy and Paige because she could probably run down a mule deer, which is a very wolflike thing to do.

He invites them in for scotch and elk.

“Actually, I’m vegan,” Paige says.

“This was a free-range elk,” Woody explains.

Woody’s given name is Jake.

“I guess my parents never read The Sun Also Rises,” he explained to Kurt once.

When he did, he changed his name to Woody.

After dinner (Paige dined on wild asparagus and dandelion salad), Kurt and Paige describe the purpose of their visit.

“Lev. Intense Russian guy.” Woody describing someone as intense is akin to Joseph Goebbels describing someone as anti-Semitic. “Good climber.”

“That’s him.”

“Russian mercs.”

“Yup.”

“Water jump.”

“Ocean jump, yes.”

“I’m not a fucking SEAL.”

“It’s a lot of money, Woody.”

Woody gestures around the cabin. Woodstove, gas lanterns, bed, chairs, books. Lots o’ books—Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Hemingway, Harrison. “I don’t need money.”

It’s a no.

Then Woody says, “I do need something to do. The squirrels out there? I’m starting to name them.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah,” Woody says. “Makes eating them harder.”

Okay, so you got your sky guy and your gun guy, now you need your water guy.

They find Crazy Isaiah right where they expected to (find him, if you’re hung up on the participle thing).

At the Hanalei Taste lunch stand, quaffing a plate lunch. (A plate lunch, for the uninitiated, is two scoops of rice, macaroni salad and, in this case, katsu chicken.) Actually, two plate lunches, because Crazy Isaiah is a big Hawaiian kanaka—six-foot-seven, three bills, most of it muscle.

The Hanalei Taste is within walking distance of Hanalei Bay, Kauai and within easy driving reach of some of the world’s best surfing spots.

Crazy Isaiah is a waterman.

Not a surfer—a waterman, and there’s a big difference. Now, CI can surf, hell yes he can—from 80-foot monsters to one-foot beach breaks—he can longboard, shortboard, paddleboard—but he can also do anything else you might need or want to do in the ocean—swim, dive, fish, spearfish, sail, kayak, motorboat, navigate. He knows the ocean. He reads currents and waves like an accountant reads a spreadsheet.

You look at the ocean and you see one thing.

CI looks at the ocean, he sees thousands of things.

So when CI is sitting staring out at the ocean, there are two possibilities—he’s baked himself into a daze, or he’s absorbing knowledge. Now, without taking his eyes off his food, he says, “Sorry about Latch. Solid dude.”

“Yeah.”

“I paddled out for him.”

“I know he’d appreciate that.”

“When it’s my time, bruddah, I’m just going to swim behind the break and let Mother Ocean take care of it.”

“I hear that.”

Kurt lays out his proposal.

CI hears him out and then says, “So you want me to Jet Ski out into the moana, pick up a pilot off a crashed helicopter and bring him in—in the winter, off Cabo Blanco. With angry Russians in pursuit.”

How Crazy Isaiah got his name was he hooked a great white from his longboard and let it tow him from Princeville to Haena. It was Kurt who gave him the name when he heard about it and said, “That’s crazy, Isaiah.”

So to Isaiah, crazy is a term of approbation, not opprobrium.

“I’ve surfed Cabo Blanco,” CI says.

“One of the reasons we wanted you,” Kurt says.

Kurt hasn’t surfed CB, Peru—but it’s iconic, known as the banzai pipeline of the Americas. Technology has changed things, but the way they used to predict surf at CB was to see what was going on in Hawaii and then wait five days for the wave to arrive in Peru.

“Depending on the swell,” CI says, “might be tough landing a ski through that break. Could capsize, especially with a rider.”

“What are you thinking?”

“Ski to the break,” CI says, “then surf in.”

“Huh.”

“It could get nasty,” CI adds.

“Let’s hope,” Kurt answers.

The worse, the better.

The worstest, the best.

They need one more member of the team.

The laundry guy.

The question is—what are you going to do with a billion dollars in cash once you’ve landed it? How do you transport it? And to where? No bank in the world (outside of maybe New Orleans and Providence, Rhode Island) is going to accept a billion in cash, and those two towns are a long way from Cabo Blanco.

D2 has the answer.

“Alvaro Mendoza,” he says over a Bud.

“Who is Alvaro Mendoza?”

“Mister Clean,” D2 answers. “Actually, Señor Clean. The Colombians swear by him.”

“Can we trust him?” Lev asks.

“Of course not,” D2 says. “We do the same thing that the Colombians do. Sit beside him with a shotgun until he moves the money into safe, numbered accounts. As long as you have a gun to his head, Alvaro is a Boy Scout.”

“How much will this cost us?” asks Lev.

“Six points. Maybe five with this kind of bulk.”

“And he’ll physically move the money?” Kurt asks.

Physically, metaphysically, symbolically, electronically, digitally, whatever.

Señor Clean moves money.

The team assembled, the next step, as it must be in any caper-slash-heist story, is—

Training.

You don’t just drop out of the sky onto a boat in the ocean at night, relieve it of Carl Sagan numbers of dollars and disappear without practicing first.

Or do you?

“The question,” Kurt says at the team’s first meeting, held at a rented house outside of Moab, “is how?”

How do you practice dropping out of the sky onto a boat in the ocean at night, relieving it of Carl Sagan numbers of dollars and disappearing when: the practice is as dangerous as the actual event; you don’t have a boat in the ocean on which to practice; said practice might draw unwanted attention to what you’re practicing for; and all the little money you have is going for the actual thing.

Woody has the answer, based on dozens of missions.

“You do what you can.”

Words to live by.

Hopefully not to die by.

Listen, you’re talking about people who are preparation freaks.

For whom training is a way of life, people who know that the difference between living and dying in the sky, on a mountain, in a wave, is often a matter of the endless repetition you’ve put yourself through so that when the unexpected happens your mind and muscles aren’t busy with the expected but just do it naturally and free you up to handle the new stuff.

But they’re also realists, they get it——

Yeah—you do what you can.

They build a mock-up of the Ozerov.

Of sorts.

What they do is stake out ropes in the desert that replicate the boat’s various decks, then practice the assault, over and over again (as the word practice indicates) until it becomes muscle memory.

Likewise with the weaponry.

Woody selects the same weapon for Kurt and Paige—the HK MP5-N popular with special ops around the world—with wet technology sound suppressors. Easy to jump with, good in close quarters.

“But there isn’t going to be any sound to be suppressed,” Paige says, “because we’re not shooting, remember?”

“Right,” Woody says, somewhat unconvincingly. For himself he’s chosen the Remington 870 Tactical 12-gauge shotgun. “In case we need to make a big mess in a tight situation.”

“But, again—”

“Yes, Paige.” He explains that she has to look like she knows how to handle a weapon exactly so she doesn’t have to use it. If Yegor’s people (which Woody admits sounds like a bad horror film) get a sense she can’t or won’t, violence will ensue. And as the best way to look like you know is to actually know, Paige is diligent about learning the HK.

Which is as much as saying that Paige is Paige.

“Where did you get these weapons?” Kurt asks.

Woody shrugs like, where else?

Arizona.

They practice.

Phase one: insertion.

(This is Woody’s terminology, and Paige refrains from comment.)

“Land” in the water.

(Ditto from Paige—too obvious.)

“Gain” the deck.

“Secure the opposition.”

Phase two: target acquisition.

Woody makes Yegor open the vault.

Collect the “target.”

(“Is that the money?” Paige asks.

“That would be the money,” Woody answers.)

Kurt guards the opposition.

D2 acquires the helicopter.

Phase three: exfiltration.

(“Sounds like a skin product,” Paige observes.)

Load the helicopter.

Lev and Paige access the chopper.

Woody and Kurt cover and follow.

Chopper takes off.

They do it over and over and over again, with variations as to where the Russian mercs might be located. They practice what to do if one or more of them gets wounded, what to do if, indeed, the mercs “offer opposition.”

“The plan there,” Woody explains, “is for all of you to basically get out of my way while I kill them all.”

“Again…,” Paige objects.

“Exigency,” Lev assures her.

The rest of it they can’t really practice.

“You can’t practice crashing a chopper,” D2 says, sounding for all the world like Allen Iverson. “I mean, I’ve crashed three of them. Is that practice?”

Paige is not exactly reassured by this.

They don’t need to practice riding big waves, because all of their lives have been spent literally or metaphorically riding big waves.

(Well, not D2.)

“Charlie don’t surf,” he says. “I’m staying in the boat.”

(In addition to Top Gun, D2 has apparently also worn out his tape of Apocalypse Now.)

They do need practice getting out of the parachute rigs and wingsuits in a cold ocean, so what they do is rent a cabin up near Little River, row a boat out into the fog and jump into the cold northern California sea in all their gear.

It’s tough, because you have the use of your arms or legs to stay afloat, but rarely both at the same time, and then you have to stuff the gear into a wet bag, strap it across your back and swim.

Ten strokes under the water, two strokes on top to breathe, then back under.

They practice this in the daytime until they have it down.

Then they do it at night.

One thing that spurs efficiency is that this is very sharky water, CI tells them.

Great whites.

He performs some kind of Hawaiian blessing over the water to ask the sharks to leave them alone.

Paige is not exactly reassured by this.

There’s a point at which practice dulls instead of sharpens.

And anyway, they’re out of calendar.

Lev goes to Panama to catch the boat.

The rest travel in phases to Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Where D2 “knows a guy” with a Cessna 208.

Kurt and Paige get a room at the Hotel Oro Verde.

It’s all ready to go.

Then la virazón hits.

They’d read about these seasonal winds in the book.

Storms are rare off the coast of Peru, but la virazón blows up every once in a while.

The flying will be tricky.

The jump trickier.

The seas will be rough.

The banzai pipeline at Cabo Blanco kamikaze banzai.

In the morning, fanatic surfers will flock to the beach to catch those waves.

But that’s in the morning.

They’re going tonight.

“This is getting very real,” Paige says as they watch the weather report in bed and listen to the windows rattle.

Kurt would normally object to the use of a modifier with real, believing that things are either real or not, that there are no gradations to reality, but he doesn’t want to piss her off, so he settles for, “It is real. Are you having second thoughts?”

“And third and fourth and fifth.”

“It’s either go or no-go,” Kurt says.

It’s too late to replace her.

“I don’t want to kill anyone,” Paige says.

“Neither do I.”

“And I don’t want to die.”

“Agreed.”

“And I don’t want you to die.”

He pulls her tight against him, reaches around and puts his hands on her wide strong shoulders, feels her pubes press against him. “We’ve based our lives on the principle that living is more than just not dying. It’s worked out well so far.”

Paige reaches down and slips him inside her.

Looks into his eyes and smiles.

He has the Kurt-like discipline not to move.

It’s a game between them, a challenge.

Not to move and stay hard.

Not to move and stay wet.

First one to move loses.

And wins.

Her muscles squeeze.

“Bitch.”

“I told you to take those tantric classes.”

“Too many hippies,” Kurt says. “Patchouli oil.… Shit.”

“Surrender, Dorothy.”

“Fuck you.”

“Sure, talk dirty, that will help,” she says, then moans, “I’m leaking down you, can you feel that?”

He can and holds out for 30 more seconds before he moves. Rolls on top of her, stretches her arms out above her head and holds them there and then they’re in the wave, on the mountain, and it’s a different contest now and he wins this one and when she comes she says, “I love you.”

The Cessna 208 Caravan rattles like a malaria victim.

It took off from the private (read: drug trafficker’s) strip on the Isla Puná, Ecuador and is now in the sky over the Pacific, in the fist of la virazón that shakes and tosses it.

D2 at the stick, flying low, literally under the radar.

Woody, Paige and Kurt in the hold.

Winter wet suits under the wingsuits.

Polypropylene gloves.

They’ve checked and rechecked their equipment.

Parachute riggings.

Headlamps.

Glow sticks.

Weapons in wet bags.

Woody has tampons taped around his ankles.

“Seriously?” Paige had asked.

“Entry wounds,” he answered. “Stanch the bleeding.”

She notices that he didn’t say anything about exit wounds.

Night jumps are more dangerous because you can’t see the surface coming up at you, getting larger and larger.

Ocean jumps more dangerous yet.

Pull the chute too late, you go in with too much velocity and the water might as well be concrete. Get tangled in your equipment, it pulls you under and there’s no one waiting in a Zodiac this time to pull you out.

And they have to navigate so precisely, to get close enough to the boat.

Without colliding with it.

In this buffeting wind.

She remembers the wind the day that Latchkey died. How close they’d come to calling that jump off. And that was just for pride, for sponsorships.

We should have called it off, she thinks, the vision of him smashing into the steel still too vivid in her mind.

Paige feels the plane start to climb.

Going to take it up to 14,000 so they can’t be spotted from the boat. Not that the people on the boat could hear them anyway, in this wind. Not that they’re even worried about being attacked in the open ocean in the middle of a virazón.

This is crazy, Paige thinks.

Too crazy.

Too extreme.

Crazy Isaiah looks out at the whitecaps.

Listens to the cannons go off.

Waves big, getting bigger.

Headed for a closeout, but he has to find a way out there. People are counting on him.

Eddie would go, he thinks.

So would Isaiah.

He starts the motor and runs parallel to the surf for 50 yards south with the inshore current, searching for a gap but can’t find one, so he turns the bow straight into the wave. Risky, especially towing a quiver of three boards. Goes up and up, vertical and then almost backward, thinks he is going to flip, to capsize, but makes it over the top and then plunges down.

It’s still rough in the heavy swell, but he’s past the break.

Coming back in will be another story.

A mile out the current switches from south to north and he adjusts accordingly, feeling it under the skin of the boat.

The ocean is in his blood, in his DNA.

He’s a waterman.

Lev gets out of the Jacuzzi and towels off. Puts on jeans, a bulky black knit sweater and desert boots. Goes out of his cabin, past his stepdad and mom’s, and hears they’re otherwise engaged. (“Refrain tonight, and that shall lend a kind of easiness to the next abstinence.…”)

He walks up to the deck.

Can see the captain on the bridge.

With one of the mercs.

Five more are playing cards in the dining cabin.

Two asleep.

Four on watch.

The yacht anchored for the night against the storm.

Lev walks aft and points the laser device toward the sky.

“Got it,” Kurt says, looking into his GPS.

D2 hears him, sets the autopilot to fly the plane away from shipping lanes. The Cessna will live for 50 more miles, run out of fuel and crash into the deep Pacific. D2 pushes a button that slides the bay door open, and climbs back into the hold.

Kurt will go out first, his device strapped to his shoulder, honing in on Lev’s signal.

Woody next, training on the light attached to Kurt’s helmet.

D2 after him.

Paige on sweep, to help, if she can, anyone gets into trouble.

Now Kurt moves to the bay door.

Looks at his teammates and nods.

Looks back to Paige and smiles, hoping she can see it.

He balances in the bay door and then jumps.

Plunging through darkness

Is an interesting sensation.

Feeling motion but

Not seeing it as

Wind

Bangs him

Forces him down

Then up

Then across.

Tries to smash him

Crumple him up like paper and

Toss him away.

Kurt relies on an instrument

Numbers

And a small red light

Not his own instincts

To tell him where he is and

What he needs to do.

Paige sees his light 100 feet below.

Wind no friendlier to her, no

Respecter of gender

But she has long known that there is no

Chivalry in nature.

She maintains her form

Arms stretched out to catch the air

Legs straight back to maintain speed

Eyes on the light below.

No

Ground to guide her

No

Landmarks

But her mind…

What she thinks about is

Peter Pan

Jumping from Wendy’s window into the Kensington night

And she recites to herself

“Second star to the right and straight on till morning”

The flight path to Neverland

(a.k.a. the Island of the Birds).

Paige was never Wendy and isn’t now, she

Was always Peter, she

Never needed help to fly.

Kurt, he’s more Springsteen——

“Take a right at the light

Keep going straight until night.

And then, boy, you’re on your own.”

Too bad he thinks of that

Wishes he didn’t because

At about 7,000 feet

Lev’s light goes out.

“What are you doing out here?”

Lev switches off the laser, slides it under his sweater. “Watching the storm.”

“Mind it doesn’t wash you over,” the merc says. He cups his hand and lights a cigarette in the wind.

Offers one to Lev, who shakes his head.

“That’s right,” the merc says, “you’re a health nut. I’m losing at cards. Thought I’d get some air before I lose my whole pay.”

He stands beside Lev.

Kurt

Who rarely believes in relative degrees of anything

Now realizes that there are relative degrees of darkness.

There’s the darkness of no sun or stars or moon, there’s the

Darkness you have to endure to get to the light and there’s the

Darkness you feel when you’re

Lost

With only 6,000 feet to go.

Directionless

Kurt peers through the darkness

Rain slashes now, making

It even harder to see.

If they come down too far from the boat

They’re dead

Will drown before morning

Under a black sea and sky.

I guess, Kurt thinks,

We all die in darkness anyway.

From 100 feet above

Paige can feel Kurt slow down

Sense that he’s pulled in, evened out

Is cruising

A nighthawk searching for prey and she

Wonders what’s gone wrong.

This isn’t Kurt’s style, he’s

A full-speed plunger, a diver, a

Cut-to-the-chaser.

Hesitation

Is not Kurt, whom she has often heard say,

“Hesitation kills.”

Three thousand feet

The altimeter says

Blinking red like a warning.

Useless to know altitude without direction, he already knows that

He’s plummeting toward the sea, he has no choice but to

Pull the chute and it

Jerks him up

And he starts to slow and then to float and then he sees

Green and red lights.

The starboard and port lights of the yacht respectively, the boat’s shape now so familiar from ropes on desert sand—outlined in the night, and he swings on the lines to guide and navigate and hopes his teammates have pulled the cord and are doing the same as he aims for a point 100 yards from the aft.

Green and red

The colors of Christmas

Gifts under tree and

He loosens his chest rig before he hits the water

Pulls up his knees

And then he hits.

Lev has the clock in his head.

Knows that if they’re coming, if they’re not hopelessly lost in the absence of the laser, they’re coming any second.

Can he shove the man beside him off? Start this bloodless effort with a bloodless murder? Or distract him? Get him out of the way?

The clock in Lev’s head isn’t ticking, it’s pounding.

A fuse that can’t be unlit.

A time bomb that can’t be stopped.

He says, “You know what I do smoke?”

The merc gives that twisted little smile of the co-conspirator. “Against the rules.”

“But do you have any?” Lev asks. “For a price?”

The merc weighs the risk-reward factor.

Comes down on the reward side.

“I’ll be back,” he says.

The water is cold.

Even in the wet suit, the water is shockingly, breathtakingly cold as Paige goes under for just a second, fights to the surface and sheds her harness before the chute can drag her away with the current.

Frog-kicking, she pulls off her wingsuit, stuffs it into the wet bag and starts to swim.

Toward the lights of the boat

And Woody and D2

And Kurt

Treading water, waiting for her, then

As practiced

They form a line and swim

Counting it out

Ten strokes under the water

Surface and breathe for two strokes

Ten strokes under

Surface and breathe

Gets into a nice rhythm

Comes up and sees

Lev throw a life preserver.

Then it’s all hustle.

Frog-kicking aft, Woody opens the heavy wet bag and distributes the weapons.

They pull black hoods over their faces.

Then Woody goes up the ladder.

Followed by Kurt and D2.

Paige climbs up, meets Lev and they move.

With the ease of practice.

The push of adrenaline.

They move through the boat to their assignments.

This is chess, not checkers, because they have already thought through the problem—how do you quickly capture 12 people on a 535-foot boat—and the answer is, you can’t, you don’t. You don’t try to capture all the pieces (checkers), you just capture the king (chess).

Woody and Kurt are first through the door to Yegor’s cabin. They catch him in bed, he sits up and flicks on the light to see black-hooded invaders with guns pointed at his chest.

“Go ahead,” Woody says, “push the alarm.”

“I already have,” Yegor says calmly.

Tousled thick red hair, jowly face you might expect of an oligarch. Lev’s mother is blonde and lovely, pulls the sheet over her lovely chest.

Woody grabs Yegor by his (silk) pajama shirt and hauls him out of the bed as they hear the (expected) sound of footsteps running toward the cabin. Pulling Yegor in front of him—human shield—Woody wraps a forearm around his neck and points the shotgun to the side of his head as the first of the mercs bursts in.

“Tell them to do what I say,” Woody demands.

“They speak English.”

“Tell them anyway,” Woody says. “In English.”

“Do what he says.”

Then Woody tells them the same in Russian.

Which, Kurt thinks, is impressive.

Guns collected, guns thrown over the side.

Ditto cell phones.

Heads counted, all present.

Made to lie on the floor of the dining cabin, hands on the back of their heads, fingers linked, faces down.

Woody’s a little rough with Lev.

Shoves him down hard.

Then he walks Yegor out of the dining cabin and says, “You don’t want to die for a small portion of your wealth.”

“We’re in agreement,” Yegor says. “I will open all the safes for you.”

“That’s okay,” Woody answers. “Just open the compartment next to the engine room.”

Yegor takes that in, and then says, “I will pay you $10 million in cash not to do this, and you will get to live.”

“You’re going to pay me a lot more than 10 mil,” Woody says, “and you get to live.”

They go down to the engine room.

Lev’s mother whispers to her son.

“Don’t try to be a hero.”

“All right.”

CI reaches the rendezvous point.

Which he checks on his GPS.

As a native Hawaiian, he can navigate by the stars, the current, the swells and his oneness with the moana.

But there’s no point in being a dick about it.

Here’s what a billion dollars looks like (on the off chance you’ve never seen a billion dollars in U.S. cash):

Twelve stacks on wooden pallets, above five feet high each, of $100 bills.

As mentioned earlier, 22,000 pounds of money.

It takes almost two hours for the crew and the mercs, under the watchful HKs of Kurt, Woody and Paige, to load it onto the helicopter.

But only a minute for Woody’s Remington to shatter all the communication equipment on the bridge. And only a few more minutes to blow holes in the Narwhal crafts.

He can’t blow holes in the go-fast boat, but it can do only 50 knots in a rough sea, and 50 knots isn’t going to catch a chopper.

“You know I’ll find you,” Yegor says.

“I know you’ll try,” Woody answers.

He grabs Lev by the sweater and pushes him into the chopper.

“So,” Woody says, “we’re taking a hostage. If no one comes after us for 72 hours, we’ll release him unharmed. If anyone does, we’ll release him dead. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Does your wife understand that we’ll kill her son?”

“Judging by her sobs, I would say that she does.”

“So you know that if you ever want to get laid again,” Woody says, “you’ll let this go.”

“No one,” Yegor says, “lets a billion dollars go.”

Woody takes a stack of a million bucks and hands it to him. “Travel expenses. Sail west.”

“You’re very generous with my money.”

The rotors start up.

This is when things go sick and wrong.

The thing about intelligence is that it tends to be predictable.

That is, in the absence of mental illness, intelligent people can generally rely on other intelligent people to respond intelligently.

This is not true, alas, of stupidity.

Stupidity, in Kurt’s experience, tends to be random, because stupid actions tend not to be based on a reasoned analysis of quantifiable data.

To wit—

Yegor Chubaiv is a multibillionaire.

Therefore the loss of one of those billions is not a matter of life and death.

Attempting to rush an armed person is a matter of life and death.

And your life is worth more than an excess billion dollars, especially if that billion belongs to someone else.

You cannot enjoy any amount of money if you’re dead.

All the crew and the mercs have so far gone through the above chain of thought, evaluated the risk-reward factor and cooperated.

So, for that matter, has Yegor, whose billion dollars we’re talking about.

(a) He can always make more money—the world is not going to suddenly run out of wars. (b) He hopes to recover it anyway. © Life is very, very good if you’re Yegor Chubaiv, so why take a chance on fucking that up? (d) Yegor isn’t stupid.

Stanislav Kuzmin is.

Stupid and sexist.

He’s been eyeing the woman this whole time.

Waiting for his chance to make a big impression on his boss, who will doubtless be so grateful that he’ll make Stanislav a multimillionaire.

There’s another key difference between smart and stupid—

Smart is dangerous.

Stupid is deadly.

That is to say, stupid has killed a lot more people than smart has.

As Paige turns around to walk to the helicopter, Stanislav lunges for her gun.

Sound travels for miles on the ocean.

Carried by the wind.

CI hears the shots.

Morality is a matter of time.

It takes time just to ask, “What’s the right thing to do here?” much less to answer the question.

Especially in a morally ambiguous situation.

Paige doesn’t have this kind of time.

She doesn’t have any kind of time, she has no time because this is an

Exigency (n.): urgent need; something a situation demands or makes urgently necessary and that puts pressure on the people involved.

What she has is instinct, and that instinct raises the HK and pulls the trigger and does it well, putting a tight pattern of five shots into Stanislav’s chest and an end to his assault.

Now she stands there in shock, looking at what she’s done.

If you’ve never killed someone, no one can tell you how it feels.

If you have, you can’t tell anyone how it feels.

In those few seconds, the mercs break for it. Run not toward the people with guns (that would be stupid), but away. There are guns all over this ship. One of them grabs Yegor and hauls him off the deck, another grabs Lev’s mother.

Kurt, he grabs Paige and pulls her back toward the helicopter.

“Time to go,” Woody says.

Time to exfiltrate.

In military terminology, the exfil is “hot.”

Live fire is coming in.

Kurt hears the smack of bullets against the chopper’s armored skin. Worse are the cracking sounds against its fortified windows, which nevertheless spiderweb. The mercs are marksmen, of course; they shoot for the pilot.

D2 knows this too.

He’s been shot at before—

Iraqis, Taliban, Colombians, DEA—

So he gains altitude as fast as he can.

Not easy—22K pounds is a heavy load.

Irena tries to stop them from shooting.

“My son is in there! My son is in there!”

(Like those dumbass signs on rear windshields—BABY ON BOARD. Because otherwise, you were planning on slamming into the car, right?)

Yegor doesn’t mind the small-arms fire—it’s when one of his geniuses shoulders a rocket launcher with an infrared scope and guided-missile system that he steps in.

“There’s a billion dollars onboard,” he says, “that I’d prefer not go to the bottom of the ocean.”

“And my son!”

“That too,” Yegor says.

They have to watch the chopper fade into the night.

The helicopter rumbles over the water with the grace of a very pregnant elephant. Kurt looks down and sees Crazy Isaiah.

In position.

You have to love a man insane enough to be as good as his word these days. Now he has to hope that Alvaro Mendoza has his trucks rolling up. Sitting on a beach with a billion dollars in cash would not be good.

He turns to Paige. “How are you doing?”

She shakes her head.

“You didn’t have a choice,” Kurt says.

“I had the choice not to be there.”

True, Kurt thinks.

He respects her too much to try to talk her out of her pain.

D2 sets the ship down hard, but he sets it down.

Alvaro is there with two old Army trucks with canvas covers.

Two drivers and five men.

Kurt doesn’t know what he expected Alvaro to look like, but he looks like a banker, in a gray suit and brown shoes.

Silver hair, silver mustache.

He looks into the chopper bay and says, “Dios mio.”

“Get it moving, Al,” D2 says.

“Will his men keep their mouths shut?” Kurt asks.

“Tip them each a few hundred thou,” D2 says.

They unload the truck. It doesn’t take long, but long is too long because they’re running out of night.

Soon as the money is in the trucks, Lev hops in one, Woody into the other, beside Alvaro for the drive to Guayaquil, where he’ll put it in the washer.

Woody smiles and shows him the shotgun.

“That is not necessary,” Alvaro sniffs.

Kurt leans through the window to say so long to Lev.

He uses the words they always do when they start over the lip of a big wave or the crest of a mountain.

See you on the other side.

Irena objects to her husband getting into the go-fast boat with his nine remaining men. “They said 72 hours!”

“I know what they said.”

“He’s my only child!”

“I’ll buy you a new one.”

A better one, Yegor thinks.

He’s not a fool. He knows an inside job when he sees one, knows that his own people are way too afraid of him to do something like this.

But Lev

The little son of a bitch

Lev isn’t afraid of anything.

The go-fast boat races toward the coast.

Kurt and Paige get back in the chopper.

They could let D2 do it on his own, but then again, they can’t. He might need their help, or CI might need their help getting him in. And Kurt isn’t about to leave Paige alone on the beach, nor is she willing to stay there.

D2 takes it back out to sea, roaring now under the lash of la virazón. Until they spot

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