Paradise Ranch

“November One-Niner-Seven-Six Zulu, you are in restricted airspace. Change course immediately or you will be fired upon,” the disembodied voice said over the radio. Howard looked over his right shoulder out of the cockpit window and sure enough there was an F-16 falcon flying formation just a few feet off of his right wing. Turning his head he saw another one on his left wing. He was sure that there were at least two more behind them.

“Howard, what the hell are you doing?” his passenger panicked. Mike was sitting in the Gulfstream G550’s co-pilot’s chair, though he’d never piloted a plane in his life. He had ended up here through a decidedly bizarre turn of events and was now wondering if he’d live long enough to even soil himself.

“Six Zulu, this is your final warning. Either change course or we will be forced to open fire!” the voice was all business.

Howard figured he’d excited his guest long enough. He casually picked up the radio mic and keyed the switch. “This is November One-Niner-Seven-Six Zulu, requesting permission to land.”

“Six Zulu, are you out of your mind? You’re flying a civilian aircraft in restricted military airspace, now turn your plane around!”

“F-Sixteen, I repeat, request permission to land. Authorisation Papa Romeo X-Ray One,” Howard replied letting his finger off the switch. “Suck on that, hotshot,” he said under his breath and looked over at his passenger with a grin. Mike was as pale as a ghost and quite visibly shaken.

After several moments the radio crackled again, “Uhh, Six Zulu, permission is granted, sir. Change your heading to Zero-One-Niner and follow us in.”

“Roger that F-Sixteen.”

“What just happened?” Mike stammered.

“Relax buddy. Every air force base has a ‘hot list’ of codes used by special ops types in case of an emergency.” He saw understanding in Mike’s face only to be replaced with confusion once more, although this time without the added contortion of panic.

“But how is it that you have a code?” His question only evoked a smile from Howard. Mike was beginning to learn that being with Howard was an exercise in frustration. Every answer he’d gotten for his questions thus far only resulted in more questions. A lot of which were dead ends. Just like this one.

Howard keyed the mic again, “Groom Lake tower, this is Jolly Jumper on approach bearing Zero-One-Niner, do you copy?”

“Roger Jolly Jumper, your signal is five-by-five. You are cleared for runway two left, winds are twenty knots south by southwest, just follow the lights in.” Just then a dim row of lights became visible on the horizon.

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