Chapter 66

Copyright© 2010 by Michael Wolfam

"Oh, this is gonna end badly, isn't it?" Finn shook his head as he reached behind the seat and dug the last remaining rocket out of the metal storage locker. He was glad to get out of his seat and stretch. He opened his door, jumped into the deep snow, and pushed his way to the front bumper. Using his free hand, he climbed on the hood, hooked the winch cable to the rocket, and knocked a sheet of ice off the launching rail. Once clear, he mounted the rocket to the rail and inserted the firing mechanism. "Fly straight, little buddy." Finn gave the rocket a wistful pat. He adjusted the launcher so that it was pointed toward the ground. If launched on flat ground, the rocket would hit the snow about twenty feet in front of the armored bumper. He climbed back in and tapped the dash. "I really hope you aren't planning to do what I think you are," he said as he buckled his seat belt.

"Oh, what I have in mind is probably ten times worse than what you're thinking!" Liv exclaimed, dropping the shifter into drive. She took a deep breath and let her foot off the brake. "You ready for this, Rokee?" She pet the steering wheel apprehensively. Slowly, Liv followed the valley until she reached the slope she had noticed on the gun camera's monitor. "You ready for this?" She looked over at Finn. "One last chance to back out."

"What? And miss out on all the fun? If you somehow survive this goddamn kamikaze mission, I'll never live it down. I'm not saying we'll make it, but better to die than have to deal with the possibility of you gloating about it for the rest of my life."

"Yeah, I would never let you live that down." Liv said. A wave of exhaustion passed over her body as she cut to the left and aimed straight for the imposing peak directly in front of them. The slope started increasing, but the powerful SUV never slowed as it raced across the frozen ground.

Periodically, Finn would raise the camera and zoom in on the summit. "You don't really think this is possible, do you?"

"Not sure, but I've got to do whatever I can to save Grannie," Liv said determinedly. "I remember one time, me and Dad took his Jeep up the side of a mountain just like this. It was scary as hell. We never did that again. It felt like we were going to tip over backward's the whole time. I think Dad was pretty scared. He didn't say anything the whole way up."

"So, it felt kind of like it does right now?" Finn kept his voice calm. Panic was starting to build in his chest as the slope grew steeper, pushing against the back of his seat.

"Nope, this is much worse." Liv's palms were sweating as she clenched the steering wheel. It took all of her concentration to keep from panicking. The turbocharged V-8 rumbled, and she focused on the sound to calm her nerves. In the monitor, the summit grew closer.

It took every ounce of courage to keep her right foot on the accelerator and not pop the transmission into reverse and get the hell off the mountain. Liv knew it was only a matter of time before gravity tore the front end of the Jeep away from the steep slope and sent them tumbling back down the mountain. When she had scanned the terrain earlier, she had noticed that the last twenty or so feet were completely vertical. There was no possible way the Jeep could drive all the way to the top. She only hoped they would be able to get close enough.

"Oh shit, I hope your plan works." Finn let out a deep breath, trying to keep the fear out of his voice. He could feel the front end of the Jeep losing its grip on the icy rocks.

"If it doesn't work, it was really nice knowing you." Liv stomped the gas pedal and the treads dug into the slope, sending them surging forward another ten feet. Then the rubber tracks spun against air. The front end had finally lost its footing.

The moment he felt the front leave the ground, Finn fired the rocket. In the monitor, they watched helplessly as the tiny projectile arched out of sight, trailing the bright red, plasma rope. He held his breath and prayed it would take hold. Finn counted to five, then flipped the switch that reeled in the winch. The Jeep was teetering precariously, and finally, overcome by gravity, the front end started tumbling over backward.

They were just past the vertical position when the front end stopped its slow tilting motion. The sturdy grappling hook had found something to wedge itself between, just beyond the summit.

"Are we dead?" Liv asked, slightly opening one of her tightly clenched eyes. She had been envisioning what it would feel like to roll all the way back down the mountain.

"Probably," Finn replied. "Although, I was really hoping that heaven or hell would have a bathroom. I think I'm about to wet my pants!"

His stab at humor broke the tension, and Liv allowed herself to relax slightly. "Alright, funny man, you work the winch, and I'll drive." Finn nodded and thumbed the button. Slowly, the powerful winch dragged the armored vehicle up the vertical wall. Liv matched the speed of the Jeep with the winch, and soon, all four tracks were making solid contact with the ground.

Near the top, the vertical, rock wall transformed into a gentle slope. By the time they reached the summit, they were back in a normal driving position.

"Okay, you proved that you're a badass, so now what?" Finn wiped a bead of sweat from his brow.

"Now, we're gonna follow the ridgeline until we get on top of that mine. Then we're gonna drop in on our little friends, like an un-invited spider."

"Sounds like a plan. But before we go, I'm gonna turn some snow yellow," Finn said as he unbuckled his seat belt.

"God." Liv sighed dramatically. "You just went, like eight hours ago. This is why our road trips always take forever." Finn flipped her the finger, which made her giggle. "Hey, while you're out there, unhook the grappling hook and wind it up. We're gonna need it."

It took Finn several minutes and a tire iron to convince the grappling hook to release its grip on the boulders. He used the external winch controls to reel in the line. Then he hopped back in the Jeep. "Remind me to tell Derrick thanks, that grappling hook really works!" He brushed snow off his jeans.

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