- Author: Dan Stratman
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A Capt. Cyndi Stafford Novel (Book 1)
Also by Dan Stratman
Also by Dan Stratman
About the Author
Copyright © 2021 Dan Stratman
All rights reserved.
eBook ISBN 978-1-7325992-8-4
No part of this book may be used or reproduced or transmitted in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations in a review.
DEADLY DILEMMA is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover Design & Interior Format: Killion Publishing
Also by Dan Stratman
The Capt. Mark Smith Series
To my sainted Mother, Jan. Your kind heart and unending patience with family and friends were just a few of your admirable personality traits that I strive to hopefully emulate one day.
“Ghost Two-Six, you are cleared for takeoff on runway nine and a high-speed flyby.”
The young fighter pilot grinned broadly under his oxygen mask after receiving permission to unleash his inner Tom Cruise on the unsuspecting people beneath his flight path. He pressed the microphone button on the throttle. “Ghost Two-Six cleared for takeoff.” He chuckled to himself, “This should get their attention.”
Controllers in the tower at Cheyenne Regional Airport rushed to the window facing west, eager to watch what was about to happen across the other side of Interstate 25.
The pilot stood on the brake pedals and advanced the throttle in his F-35. Knowing they wouldn’t restrain the $120 million beast any longer, he released the brakes, dropped his heels to the floor, and mashed the throttle into full afterburner.
The Pratt & Whitney engine went from an angry howl to an earth-shaking roar. Like an oversize blowtorch, flames twice the length of the jet shot out of the tailpipe. The F-35 Lightning II leaped forward like a predator pouncing on its prey.
A mile away, windows in the tower cab rattled in their metal frames. Airport workers on the ramp tightly cupped their hands over their ears. The impact of the sound waves caused their chest walls to pulsate. The heads of every pilot snapped toward the unmistakable sound of the afterburner, secretly wishing they were in the cockpit.
Less than half the runway was needed to get airborne. The pilot scooped up the gear and retracted the flaps. He leveled off a mere one hundred feet above the smattering of buildings in the capital city.
The fighter accelerated at the ludicrous rate of an additional one hundred knots every five seconds until it reached Mach .99. The “Maverick” wannabe eased the throttle back just enough to prevent his permanent grounding for shattering every window in town. The pilot banked right into a wide, looping turn back toward the north. He looked over his shoulder, acquired his target, and smiled.
The stealthy gray fighter hugged the snow-covered terrain as it snuck up on its target. The fighter jock reached out and raised the red safety cover over the MASTER ARM switch. Bomb bay doors snapped open. He sat up a little straighter in his ejection seat and rocked his head side to side to ease the tension in his neck. The pilot rolled out of the turn and pointed the nose of the jet directly at F. E. Warren Air Force Base, home of the 90th Nuclear Missile Wing.
A late-model blue sedan pulled into the specially marked spot in front of the base gymnasium. One large silver star was the only thing on the license plate. In the back seat, hidden from view by darkly tinted windows, was the lone passenger.
The driver zipped up his parka and jumped out of the car, scurrying around to the right side. He moved quickly but kept a gloved hand on the car as he navigated the slippery pavement. The driver pulled the door open and stood at attention.
Brigadier General Arthur McNeil stepped out of his staff car and took in a deep breath of crisp Wyoming air. McNeil was two inches shorter than Napoleon Bonaparte and had a high-and-tight haircut. At fifty-three, he wasn’t reluctant to wear a tight-fitting track suit to show off his muscular, sinewy build. He waited at the back of the car as his driver popped open the trunk. General McNeil reached in and pulled out his gym bag. A silver star adorned the side.
An airman glued to his cell phone strolled past the front of the car. He was watching videos of skateboarders wiping out as they tried new tricks.
McNeil saw him and yelled, “A-ten-hut!”
Fresh from eight weeks of basic training in San Antonio, the eighteen-year-old instinctively snapped to attention and stared straight ahead. McNeil’s bright red face soon filled his view.
Inches from the perplexed airman’s face, McNeil barked, “Son, this isn’t the Army. We have standards in the Air Force. When you see a staff car with the license plate of a flag officer attached, you will salute it.”
The teenager furrowed his brow and looked around nervously. “But sir, I didn’t see anyone in the car.”
“I don’t give a damn if my car is at the bottom of a lake. If you see it, you salute it!” McNeil’s face reddened even more. “Give your name and unit information to my driver. Your commanding officer will be hearing from me!” McNeil stomped off.
As he marched up the sidewalk, a gray object streaked silently overhead from behind—at 99 percent of the speed of sound.
A quarter second later,