This posting features Chapter 51 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
The pilot shook his head emphatically. “Sir, this is dangerous. If our rotors catch the other helicopter — ”
“I heard you the first time. Now, do it again.”
Groaning, the pilot pulled back on the stick and the police helicopter swung to the right, directly into the path of the Channel 11 News Copter, which violently swerved to avoid a collision.
The radio squawked with the sound of multiple, overlapping voices. Finally, Chief Hewson’s voice overrode the others. He sounded nervous, shaky, highly aggravated.
“Roth, what the hell are you doing? Are you insane?”
The U.S. Attorney broke radio silence. “As I said — I insist that you turn around or land immediately.”
“Causing a mid-air collision will help no one.”
“I insist you land or turn around immediately.”
“I told you, Roth. Harris refuses to surrender to anyone but me.”
“So you say.”
“Look, we’re on the same team here.”
“If we had operating guns, I would order you shot from the sky.”
This last comment was greeted with stunned silence.
“Have I made myself and my intentions clear?”
“You have been perfectly clear, Mr. Roth.” It was Dana Dotson, and her shrill voice, much higher pitched and whiny than it sounded on camera, betrayed her emotions. She was livid —livid and scared. “Let me make something perfectly clear to you as well.”
“Go ahead, Ms. Dotson. You can lecture me all the want as your helicopter executes a right turn.”
“I’ve recorded everything you said over the radio. I’m sure our viewers will find your behavior every bit as egregious as we have.”
The U.S. Attorney leaned up and spoke to his pilot. “Do it again.”
“With all due respect, sir.”
“I said: Do it again.”
A nervous Mike Cameron intervened. “She’s baiting you, Mr. Roth. She’s hasn’t recorded your conversation. You can tell she doesn’t have a camera in place.”
They turned to gaze at the Channel 11 helicopter. Dana Dotson’s face was barely visible through the thick Plexiglas door. Beside her, Sheriff Hewson leaned forward and shot a crude gesture in their direction.
“Again,” Roth instructed the pilot.
“Sir, even if she has an audio recording, it won’t matter. She’s interfering with a federal investigation.”
Raising his voice and tapping the back of the seat, the U.S. Attorney spoke through gritted teeth. “Do it again. I will brook no dissent.”
Mike Cameron was unaccustomed to speaking truth to power, but lives were at stake. “Mr. Roth, please. We don’t have to do this.”
Beneath his safety glasses, Roth’s eyes were icy blue. He gazed at his impudent young assistant. “You had better watch your step. I’m running this investigation, and I decide what we do. Have I made myself clear?”
From the radio, Chief Hewson spoke. “Look, Roth, if it’ll make you happy, we’ll turn around.”
The wide-eyed pilot turned and searched the U.S. Attorney’s face for signs of intelligence. “Did you hear what he said? They’ll turn around. It’s over.”
“So he said. Now, do it again.”
“Mr. Roth, please. Be reasonable.”
“Do. It. Again.”
The pilot looked at Mike Cameron for support, but the assistant U.S. Attorney was defeated. He hung his head and stared at the floorboard. He offered no help.
“Do it again or lose your job,” Roth hissed.
“You da boss,” the pilot snapped in a sarcastic tone as he jerked the stick hard to his right.
“Holy mother of God,” Hewson shrieked through the radio.
Exasperated with the reckless U.S. Attorney and his asinine instructions, the pilot, a lowly U.S. Marshal with no authority to countermand Roth’s orders, showed his contempt in the only way he knew how. He thrust the police helicopter dangerously close to the Channel 11 News Copter. As he had feared, the distances were deceiving. He misjudged how close he was to the other helicopter, and their rotors collided.
Metal struck metal in a clanging impact that spewed sparks in all directions. The Channel 11 News Copter spun in a wide circle, its tail rotors slicing through the body of the police helicopter, instantly decapitating the young U.S. Marshal who piloted Roth and his assistant U.S. Attorney. An alarm blared through the news chopper, alerting the pilot to an imminent collision.
Down the police helicopter sank, down in a more-or-less straight line, a hunk of metal and glass bulleting toward the earth. When the projectile struck a wooded area somewhere over rural Alabama, it sent a fireball high into the clouds. The conflagration was visible for miles.
The Channel 11 News Copter was badly damaged, but the pilot fought for control. Twice he brought it out of a spin, and twice the stick pulled free of his hands, sending the helicopter into a furious tailspin. Smoke engulfed the cab, choking the inhabitants and reducing visibility to zero.
Calmly, competently, the pilot wiped smoke from his field of vision. He eventually kicked the door open and the smoke dissipated. Not yet resigned to a violent end, he fought valiantly. He was experienced, a former Navy pilot in the first Gulf War, and he knew it was crucial to lower their altitude. They might yet survive a crash if he could find an area devoid of trees and houses.
Dana Dotson, her camera, Bob, and Chief Hewson screamed in unison, more frightened than they had ever been in their lives. Bob vomited on his shirt, but in the confusion he did not notice.
Witnesses later recounted the scene, and all agreed the News Copter might have made it but for the power lines. The resulting crash and explosion knocked out power for nearly 15,000 homes. It took almost a week for electric service to be restored.
The late great Dana Dotson missed the most dramatic story of her storied career because, sadly, she was the story.