Twin Ospreys cruised the sky over the Mediterranean, moving as one with a single goal in mind.
It had been thirty-one hours since our departure from the Valley of the Vanished. We made several stops, especially one at an private air field in Florida where Mitchell Drake and his professionals awaited us. It was here where Blue Thunder had been miraculously re-converted from seaplane back to airplane.
"We're coming up on five minutes to the drop zone," announced Woodward. "Everybody ready?"
"Ready," replied Gumball. "Let's do it."
I stood with the others in the passenger area, dressed in black, wearing an eerily familiar paraglider. As I thought about our destination, I knew what God had in mind when He inspired us to learn skydiving several weeks ago. I glanced around at those who were jumping with me, and saw the same bold determination in their faces.
"Does this all look familiar?" asked Dot, leaning in close and placing a hand on my shoulder.
"Our dreams." I nodded. "Amazing how God works things out."
"Yeah. You ready?"
"Only by God's grace," I replied with a grin.
She smiled and leaned in for a kiss.
"OPEN THE DOOR!" called out Gumball. "SIXTY SECONDS TO DROP!"
Because the side door of the Osprey was dangerously close to the rotors when in horizontal flight, it was decided that we would hover briefly high above the island and parachute from that platform.
Clayton opened the door, and we felt the sudden rush of air. As we lined up behind the doorway, she went from person to person, making one last check of our gear. As she checked mine, she gave me a toothy smile, and a thumbs-up.
"Good luck!" she yelled above the roar of the wind.
I nodded and returned the thumbs-up, but knew luck would have no part in our success. Prompted, I offered up another quick prayer on our behalf.
Then it was time.
Clark was first in the doorway when Clayton smacked him on the back. Without hesitation he stepped out of the doorway and vanished.
Next was Dot. I saw her disappear into the night sky, and knew that I was the next to jump.
As I stepped forward, I suddenly remembered a verse about God's angels keeping guard over us, so that we wouldn't even dash our foot against a stone. Then I felt the slap on my back, and took the step of faith.
It was really quite nice up there, as Caroline Island loomed beneath us. I could see the forms of my wife and friends, as one by one they opened their canopies and took the reins of control.
I finished my counting and pulled the ripcord. There was the initial jerk as the canopy caught the air, then it filled out and I began my glide.
I looked down at the island, and marveled at how God had led us every step of the way, preparing us for this very moment. It was like having deja vu for something that never had happened in the first place.
I saw a few of the canopies heading for the base of the large house on the hill. These were Woodward's people, who would neutralize any opposition and secure the house. Then my attention turned back to my own flight path. I was aiming for the large terrace on the very top of the hill. I saw two -- then three -- touch down successfully. They quickly released their chutes and pulled them aside for the next one down.
That would be me.
The ground came up swiftly, and I made one last appeal for a soft landing. Then my feet made contact, and I ran a few steps as I came to a halt. I started collecting my canopy, assisted by Clark's sudden appearance.
"You okay?" he asked in a low voice.
"Yes," I nodded.
I released my harness, ditched my canopy offside with the others', and followed our black-suited leader as she led us expertly around the side of the structure and through a door.
Inside the hall, we became still and waited. Our leader removed her hood, smoothed out her hair and straightened her outfit. A moment later, she opened the door at the end of the hall and silently walked into the room.
She left the door ajar, as we waited for our cue.
"Daniel, dear," she said, just loud enough to be heard. "Time to wake up."
The figure under the covers in the master bedroom stirred. She switched a desk light on and his eyes opened from the glare. Seeing the woman standing at the foot of the bed, he sat up with a start and gasped, "Pat!"
"Yes, dear," she cooed sweetly. "I'm back. Did you miss me?"
"But how ... who ...?" he stammered.
"How did I get here? How did I get free? Well, I had help ... from some new friends ..."
That was our cue. All but one of us walked into the bedroom and filed behind Pat, dressed from neck-to-toe in black outfits, our faces and hands streaked with black camouflaging. Needless to say, we were sufficiently intimidating.
Then the last of us walked in and took her position next to Pat. The man in the bed appeared to have stopped breathing for a moment, and his expression went from merely scared to absolutely terrified.
"JILL?" he blurted.
"Hello, Danny," the other figure said sweetly.
"But what ...," he started to say.
Woodward cut him off. "What am I doing here? Well, my new friend Pat and I have been comparing notes, and your name came up often." Her face went stone cold, and her eyes bored straight through him. "We're here to settle accounts."
"BUT I CAN EXPLAIN!" he squealed loudly, his hands out in front of him as if they could push the image away from him.
"Oh, don't bother," replied Pat, smiling. "It wouldn't help things, anyway." She and Woodward produced two nasty-looking pistols. They lifted them simultaneously, their laser sights making little red dots on Franklin's chest.
"Goodbye, Daniel ... you're fired!"
His mouth opened and he released an ear-piercing shriek of terror as they fired as one. The shells impacted with a sickening thud, and Franklin was thrown backwards. He didn't move.
The two women exchanged a high-five.
Woodward lifted her pistol. "Not bad. Very satisfying. What about you?"
She smiled. "Works for me."
"What did you call these?"
"Mercy bullets," explained Pat. "Although mercy wasn't what I had in mind."
Woodward nodded. "So, now what --" she started to say, but was interrupted by a buzz from the radio at her hip. A moment later, she announced, "The house is secure. No injuries, no casualties. I'll radio the Ospreys and let them know it's safe to land."
Pat nodded. She looked back at Franklin in the bed, sighed heavily, then walked out through the bedroom's glass double doors onto the terrace. She stood at the stone wall and looked out over Caroline Island. After a few seconds, she heard Clark's heavy footfalls, but didn't turn around.
"This spot looks out over the whole island," she said. "I always got a rush standing here, knowing it was all mine. But not now."
Clark put his hands on her shoulders and started to gently massage them. "We've both gone through a lot, Pat."
She didn't resist the contact. "Yeah, that we have."
"I love you, Pat."
Her hand reached up, touching his and squeezing lightly. She smiled.