Under the Wire

By MacsJeep

Episode 8.17: Part One

 

Phoenix Foundation Headquarters
L.A. Division

MacGyver sat dolefully at his desk, staring at the computer screen in front of him as if it would automatically download its contents into his brain. He hadn’t been in the office for weeks – mainly because it usually meant red tape and endless paperwork. But today, he’d finally had to give in and face the music.

Pete had Mac scheduled to do an audit on a company called Aurix Aeronautics with Nikki Carpenter in a couple of months, and Mac had to do his homework in advance if he wanted to do the job right. Getting a feel for Aurix, and exactly what technologies were involved, however, wasn’t anywhere near as interesting as field work.

Sheesh, when I get older I have a whole lot more of this to look forward to…

MacGyver tapped a few keys and brought up more information and classified schematics. This time, it actually piqued his curiosity a little, and he sat up from his slouched position to read.

The audit he was going to be doing had been initiated by NASA – Aurix were supplying some key systems for the space shuttle program, and the space agency wanted to know exactly what they were getting, and who they were dealing with.

Images of thruster control circuits and C.A.D. diagrams filled Mac’s head and he smiled. If you were going to have to deal with paperwork, then at least this was his kind of paperwork.

He settled into his chair to digest the electronic bounty when the door to his office swung open and Nikki breezed in.

“Don’t tell me you’re bored with the Aurix stuff already and want to pick my brains so you don’t need to read anymore of it?” MacGyver smiled cheekily at Nikki, teasing her. It was the usual game of wit and sarcasm the two liked to bounce off one another.

This time, though, Nikki wasn’t playing. “I haven’t had chance to even look yet.” She shook her head, and her expression said she was the bearer of bad news. “We finally have a lead on Roger Mariotte,” she sighed.

Mac straightened in his seat just a tad more. Mariotte had been like a ghost for months since the whole affair on Flight LA4177. The F.B.I. and C.I.A. hadn’t had any luck in finding him. It was like Mariotte had simply disappeared. That small fact had been a constant worry to MacGyver, because he couldn’t shake the feeling that Mariotte would try to hurt Sam again.

“What have you got?” Mac almost snapped.

Nikki cocked her head back towards the door, and MacGyver obediently followed her back to her office. On Nikki’s desk, a video image blinked on her computer screen over and over again. She clicked on a cursor with her mouse and zoomed in.

“This CCTV footage is from a gas station in Alameda. You can clearly see its Mariotte at the counter paying for fuel and groceries.”

The alarm the images caused was easily apparent in Mac’s expression. “Alameda..? Heck, he’s not even in a different state! This is too close for comfort.” Sam…what if he’s come back for Sam?

Nikki appeared to sense his fear and laid a hand on his forearm. “I’ve already sent two of our people down there to check it out. Pete approved it as soon as he saw the pictures.”

MacGyver ran a hand through the front of his hair in exasperation and the shook his head. “No. I need to go down there myself. If this is about Sam then…”

“Then we’ll take care of it. We’ll keep him safe, I promise.” Nikki’s eyes flashed with sincerity, but there was something else Mac couldn’t quite make out. A tinge of knowledge, perhaps, that he wasn’t quite privy to yet? “Actually, Pete wants to see you in his office…”

MacGyver whirled around on the spot and marched upstairs. If there was one thing he hated, it was being left in the dark, especially when it concerned his son.

* * * *

Pete Thornton’s Office
Phoenix Foundation Headquarters
L.A. Division

MacGyver knocked on Pete Thornton’s door but didn’t wait to enter. If anything, he’d expected Pete to be waiting for him, hoping to talk him out of going to Alameda. What Mac, found however, was Pete sitting quietly at his desk, with a U.S.A.F. general seated opposite him.

“MacGyver, we’ve been waiting for you.” Pete gestured with his hand. “This is Ben Harpham. He’s just flown in from Europe - a U.S. base in the U.K. to be exact.”

Mac shook Harpham’s proffered hand, but was somewhat taken aback by his presence at all. He’d wanted to talk to Pete about Mariotte, not whatever this was. If Pete was aware of what was happening with Mariotte, he didn’t show it.

So what have I just walked into? MacGyver mused silently as he took a seat. “So how exactly can I help? Nikki said you wanted to see me?”

Harpham took off his cap, sat it down in front of Pete’s nameplate and took a deep breath. “Yesterday, whilst on a mission to enforce a no fly zone, one of our F16’s was shot down over Bosnia. The pilot hasn’t made any contact as of yet, and N.A.T.O. won’t condone sending in a full search and rescue team as it may stir up the situation over there. It’s been pretty tense of late, especially since Operation Deny Flight took a more active role, and we bombed some actual targets last month.”

MacGyver took in the information, fiddling with a pencil he’d found on the edge of Pete’s desk. The General seemed to let the troubleshooter digest what he’d been told, then continued with the real reason he was here.

“This situation is pretty personal to me – you see the pilot, Lt. Pete Kaminski was a friend of my son’s. They did their training together.”

“If N.A.T.O. won’t let a team go in, how can we help?” Mac asked, feeling the officer’s pain.

Pete answered for Harpham. “The Phoenix board has agreed to send in an operative “under the wire” so to speak – an unofficial mission that will be denied should anything go wrong.”

Finally, MacGyver understood. “I take it I’m the operative in question,” he asked.

“Only if you agree,” Pete confirmed. “We expect conditions to be pretty much like they were in Romania last time, and you handled that perfectly.”

Mac bit into his bottom lip. He didn’t think things had gone perfectly that time at all. Sometimes he still had nightmares about what had happened to Viktor and the atrocities that had gone on over there, right under the rest of the world’s nose.

And what about Mariotte if I go to Bosnia? The thought, and Sam’s safety, lingered in his mind. “Pete, Nikki just told me about Mariotte in Alameda?”

Harpham’s expression said he had no clue what the men were talking about, but Pete held up a hand, and his own features softened as he obviously felt Mac’s concerns. “At the moment, it’s just a lead. We have good people here that can handle it, including Nikki. Lt. Kaminski isn’t so fortunate. He needs you, MacGyver.”

Was that emotional blackmail?

Mac knew Pete wasn’t beyond tugging at heart strings to get what he wanted, and a man’s life did hang in the balance – if, of course, the downed pilot was still alive.

“Okay, I’ll do it, but you better have someone watching over Sam while I’m gone…”

Pete smiled. “I already have Atkins tailing him.”

* * * *

Somewhere over Bosnia
24 Hours Later…

MacGyver looked out into the clouds as the tail of the private Phoenix jet he was aboard opened up. It was nighttime, and he was about to be dropped over the territory where the F16 had been shot down.

On any other occasion, his fear of heights might have already kicked in, but tonight, all he could think of was what was happening back home while he was here.

Was Sam safe? Where was Mariotte?

Mac tried to push the lingering thoughts out of his mind and focused on checking his chute one last time. He tugged on the harness, and nodded to the operative working the tail.

The subtle red light beside him turned to a glowing green and the man gave Mac a thumbs up. It was time to leave.

Swallowing hard, MacGyver stepped forwards until there was nothing beneath his boots but air and abruptly felt himself freefalling through the heavens. Even with his fears, it was an amazing sensation – to be one with the sky like a graceful bird of prey.

He savored the moment, checking the altitude gauge on his harness strap until it was time to pull the cord and open his parachute.

The dive was over all too quickly, and as the chute opened he was tugged backwards and up. No sooner had he settled into a vertical position than he realized something was wrong.

The wind that had been light and southwesterly when they’d taken off was suddenly much stronger here, and it had changed direction to almost the opposite of before. He tried to correct, guiding the chute as best he could, but up ahead was a copse of trees, and there was no way he was going to miss them.

Oh great…

Mac’s boots skimmed the treetops for several seconds, and then he was plunged into a large oak that would have given the one in Sherwood a run for its money. He dropped rapidly until his fall was broken by the canopy of his parachute snagging in the upper branches.

With an undignified jolt, he came to rest high off the ground, with only a sliver of moonlight through the clouds and branches to give any illumination to the scene.

MacGyver took a moment to regain his composure and then reached down for the release of his harness. He slammed his palm down hard on it, expecting to tumble to the earth below, but nothing happened.

So, Mariotte is running loose in L.A. I’ve been blown into woodland, and now my harness is jammed and I’m left literally high and dry. Can today get any worse?

Mac slid his right hand down to the pocket in his field jacket where he’d stored his knife, but annoyingly, the harness was completely covering the flap, and it wouldn’t slide out of the way. He wriggled, but it only seemed to tighten the harness more.

I guess it can get worse…

Somewhere to his left there was a noise, and Mac instantly stopped grousing and concentrated on the sound. Someone or something was approaching. The question now, was friendly locals, or Serbs who would take him prisoner, if he was lucky.

Mac strained his eyes in the darkness, and after a few seconds was able to see three people moving through the trees – and they were definitely trying to be covert, even though they were dressed just like villagers.

Dare he ask for their help?

“Ugh, folks…would you mind giving me just a little hand here?” MacGyver tried to sound casual, maybe funny even. Heck, it always worked for Jack Dalton.

The group stopped dead in their tracks, and after what seemed a moment’s deliberation moved closer. Mac realized he was looking at two young women in their twenties, and a teenage boy.

The girls seemed friendly enough, at least from their expressions, but the kid was holding an AK47, which was now firmly pointed at Mac. His stoic, unwavering gaze suggested he would use the weapon in a heartbeat.

The elder of the two girls put her hand on the barrel of the gun and gently pulled it down to point at the muddy earth they walked on. “Not everyone is our enemy,” she soothed, and then turned to Mac, scrutinizing him. “Are you an American pilot?”

Mac licked his lips. He was a good judge of character, but just how much could he divulge to these people, when he didn’t even know who they were, or who they worked for? He decided on just enough information not to be lying. “No…I’m not a pilot, but I am American. I guess you could say I’m looking for someone.”

The girl struggled to stifle a giggle and her face grew into a warm smile. “Well, Mr. American, you’re not likely to find anyone hanging around in that tree!” She put a hand on her chest. “I am Ana.”

Mac smiled back as warmly as he could, hoping to soften the other two locals bravado as he had Ana’s. “You have a point there,” he agreed. “Name’s MacGyver, and I’m pleased to meet you folks. I don’t suppose you happen to have a knife I could cut my harness with? I’m kinda stuck?”

Ana turned to her companions and spoke rapidly in her own dialect. After a moment, the other girl, and the kid with the AK47 shook their heads.

Ana frowned. “I’m sorry, we have nothing suitable. I could go back to the village, but we’re really not supposed to be out here…”

MacGyver guessed the three were part of some local resistance type group, and he didn’t want to get them caught by the bad guys, just to get him out of a tree. It was time to think outside the box. He twisted in the harness that was causing all the trouble, spinning around so he could get a better view of what was around him.

In the darkness, it wasn’t easy, but in the distance he thought he saw the glimmer of something metallic. Mac squinted, forcing his eyes to focus on the thing. It was a derelict 4x4, and by the looks of it, it had been hit by a shell. Some parts of the cab were still intact, though.

MacGyver spun back around to face Ana, who was still watching him intently. He nodded towards the hulk of a truck. “Would you mind going over to that truck and seeing if there’s something sharp I could use? Maybe a shard of glass or metal?”

Ana nodded and ambled off, leaving her friends to watch over Mac. He wondered if that was intentional, given he could be a spy working for the enemy. After all, they knew nothing about him, and owed him nothing.

Ten minutes later, Ana returned empty handed. She shrugged. “All the glass is in tiny pieces,” she explained. “And the metal is torn and twisted, but there is nothing I could get free without a blowtorch!”

“Okay, thanks anyway…” MacGyver bit into his bottom lip.

There was something he was missing here. He glanced over at the wreck again and realized it had once been a Mitsubishi – and not just any Mitsubishi, it was a Japanese import variant, and that sometimes meant they came with emergency flares in the footwell on the passenger side. It was a huge long shot to think that the flare would still be present and not damaged, but it was worth a look.

Mac grimaced apologetically. “Look, I hate to ask, but could you go back over there? Look on the front passenger side near the floor. There might be a cylindrical flare fastened to the A panel trim.”

Ana cocked her head, smiled, and then padded back over to the LWB Pajero.

The boy with the gun scowled. “You waste our time. We could be elsewhere, killing Serbs!”

MacGyver looked the kid over and doubted seriously if he’d ever killed anyone. Whether he was capable was anyone’s guess. “Taking lives isn’t the answer to anything,” he offered carefully. “There are always solutions, y’know, if you look hard enough?”

“That’s good, coming from an American,” the kid retorted. “You people seem to worship guns. I’ve seen on TV, you all have them in your homes, stuffed in your belts or hidden in your cars!”

Mac lifted both arms away from his body. “You won’t find one on me…”

Ana appeared from the darkness, breaking up the conversation. In her left hand, she held a very tatty flare. “Is this it?” Without letting Mac answer, she clambered up the tree and onto a lower branch just high enough to pass it to him.

MacGyver was surprised and impressed with how agile she was, considering the long skirt she was wearing. These people have had to adapt, and fast, or die…

Mac stretched his right arm until it felt like muscle and sinew would snap, and it just gave him enough reach to snatch the flare. “Thank you. Now you folks might wanna take a few steps back while I use this to get down…”

Ana slithered back down the oak and practically had to tug the boy back to a safe distance. The other girl was exceptionally quiet, and extremely obedient. She moved into the shadows of the trees like a wraith, almost vanishing at Mac’s instruction.

Once MacGyver was sure it was safe, he took a breath and ignited the flare. Its scarlet glow lit up the night, and it was a beacon to the enemy, but also a savior to the troubleshooter.

Carefully directing the heat to the lines on the parachute, Mac cut through each one in turn until he felt the last one snap. With a crack, Mac suddenly felt weightless as his body tumbled to the ground. As his frame hit the dirt below, he instinctively rolled as he’d been trained.

It was a harsh fall, but MacGyver was lucky enough to escape with just a bumps and bruises. He scrambled to his feet and brushed off sods of soil and loose mud from his jacket. Then after fumbling for a few seconds more, he was finally able to retrieve his knife and cut away the rest of the harness that had kept him up the tree.

As he worked, his local companions watched him. When MacGyver eventually stowed his knife back in his pocket, Ana stepped forwards, her hands clasped in front of her. “This is my brother, Velid, and my sister Kadira.”

Mac nodded to the pair but focused on Ana. He had a mission here, after all, and time was wasting. “Ana, do you know anything about an American pilot being shot down around these parts? He’s the person I’m here to find…” It was a risk divulging even that much, but he needed intel.

Ana took down a long breath, glanced warily at her very edgy brother, and then nodded. “We know where he is. We have been helping him since he came down from the sky much as you did.”

There was a hesitancy in her voice that said she still wasn’t sure whether to trust MacGyver or not, and Mac couldn’t blame the girl. These were harsh times in this area, and death could come swiftly from the Serbs with their ideas of genocide.

Mac hunkered down just a touch, until his eyes were level with the girl’s. Eye contact was always a good way of gaining trust. He put a hand on Ana’s shoulder. “Will you take me to him? He could be in a great deal of danger. Heck, we all could…”

“Why should we believe a word you say?” Velid spat, the AK47 in his grasp moving dangerously close to targeting MacGyver again. “You could be in league with the Serbs, and we could be leading you to this man to kill him!”

“But I’m not,” MacGyver said with total conviction. “You can frisk me, you won’t find any weapons.” Of course, real killers can use their hands as the weapon, he thought dryly. But better not offer up that fact to Velid – the kid was obviously pretty bitter about trusting people.

“I trust you,” Ana broke the moment. “Kadira will return to our village, and I will take you to the pilot with Velid.” She looked to the younger girl expectantly, and Kadira nodded and ambled off onto a nearby pebbled path. “Come, it’s this way…”

Ana guided MacGyver through the copse with Velid bringing up the rear. The boy was stonily silent, and Mac noted, very jumpy. In his nervous state, it would be easy for someone to get hurt or worse.

Mac made a mental note to be more careful around Ana’s brother as he stepped over a small rivulet of water, splashing through a shallow area the other side.

Ana smiled at his lack of local knowledge of the terrain.

“Hey, it’s kinda dark out here,” Mac made light of the moment as best he could. “How about giving a guy a break?” He shuffled up closer to Ana, his hands in his pockets as he walked. “Where are your parents?” He asked carefully, jerking a thumb back to Velid. “Did something happen to make him so bitter?”

Ana shrugged. “Our parents are dead, killed for their beliefs. I suppose you could say the war happened, if you can even call it that.” She stopped walking and looked at MacGyver with eyes filled with something he couldn’t quite fathom. “Why doesn’t the outside world do more?”

Mac wished he had the answer, but whether it was here, East Zambula, or some South American state, no one seemed to care until it was too late. Sanctions just didn’t work fast enough when people were dying.

He looked back to Ana with sadness. “I just don’t know…”

Ana nodded, as if she expected the answer, and then pointed to an abandoned, bullet-ridden house. MacGyver instantly thought about the three bears, or Hansel and Gretel, except this was no fairy tale.

The house had once been painted white, and there were remnants of floral curtains at the windows. One whole wall had been blown out by a shell, though, shattering any illusions.

Ana stepped over the rubble of the wall and grabbed a carefully placed lantern from behind an old black stove that sat on its side. She lit the lantern, and then moved on again until she reached a pile of debris that appeared to be from a collapsed section of roof.

Ana put the lantern down and grabbed some of the wreckage, quickly pulling it to one side. It was then MacGyver realized the rubble was actually carefully placed camouflage for a cellar door. He dug, helping the girl to finish the task, while Velid stood guard.

Once the door was free, Ana grabbed a large metal ring and tugged. The thing screeched open with a rusty growl and Mac winced.

Ana ignored him and took the lantern in one hand, deftly clambering down set of steep stairs into the unknown. MacGyver followed, watching his step on the ancient wooden rungs.

At the bottom, he noted he was in a pretty small room that smelled of damp earth and mould. Water dripped from the ceiling in several places. In the far corner, sitting in the only totally dry spot on the floor, was a man, mulling over a wad of paperwork. He glanced up as he realized Ana had company, and the look on his rugged features said he was not happy to have been found.

MacGyver’s eyes scanned the man’s clothes – they were military issue, yes, but definitely not a USAF flight suit. In fact, Mac was sure they weren’t U.S. issue at all.

To confirm his suspicions, the stranger pulled a SIG Sauer automatic faster than lightning, and pointed it at the troubleshooter.

Mac winced; things were not going to plan.

“And just who the bloody hell are you?” The man’s accent wasn’t American. In fact, he had a British accent – not an Oxford or Cambridge man for sure, though. Mac guessed the guy was from Yorkshire, or thereabouts.

“Name’s MacGyver…and I’m guessing you’re not Lt. Peter Kaminski?” Mac slowly moved to put his hands in the air. His newfound “friend” looked more than annoyed, and his trigger finger itched like he wasn’t afraid to use it.

The gun didn’t waver. “You guessed right, Pretty Boy.”

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