What If? Quick Take: 2009 Chrysler Aspen SRT8

Abimelec Arellano

Welcome to What If? Quick Take, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. While the cars shown in our regular What If? features are full 3D renderings and can appear in any number of images, the Quick Takes are off-the-cuff expressions of Abimelec’s imagination. Each one is accompanied by a short story. Enjoy! — Jack Baruth

“Why are we using a Durango for a prison break?” It was a reasonable question, but the look Zelnik gave Nelson was pure officer-grade NCO contempt.

“It’s not a Durango, Nelson. It’s a Chrysler Aspen. Aspen SRT8, to be exact.” Nelson took a breath before responding.

“Alright, Major. Why are we using a Chrysler Aspen, SRT8 to be exact, for a prison break? In Italy? Why are we picking up this highly conspicuous SUV from a bonded warehouse, in a country where everybody is driving a Fiat Panda? If we need a truck, why not a G-Wagen?”

“First off, Nelson, I’m not your Major any more. Second, there are reasons. It’s fast. It can shove a bit. It can jump a curb. And nobody knows what it is, so it will be hard to describe, hard to identify. The principle is to confuse the enemy, who in this case is not really an enemy and nobody that we want to hurt or even particularly inconvenience. Have I explained this in sufficient detail for you to continue with the mission?”

Nelson laughed in response. He, Rivers, and Tilley were dressed like Slavic gangsters and were each carrying about twenty pounds of gear. They’d come in on bogus passports as commercial travelers. Standing in this warehouse outside Perugia, they were already facing life imprisonment if caught. “Major — excuse me, Zelnik — Aspen or Durango or bicycle, what choice do I have?”

Five minutes later they were squared away and on SR599 south towards the prison. Zelnik, whose aversion to silence had been legendary since they’d all met in Desert Storm, decided to go over the plan one more time. “Right. The target will be exercising in the yard approximately ninety minutes from now. We will approach the fence. Rivers and Tilley will cut it, enter the yard, and seize the target. She has no idea this is happening, so she will be frightened. Rivers, you carry her. Tilley, get the sack over her head. Nelson, you will make suppressive shots towards the guards, but I want you firing over their heads. We have no reason to use deadly force here. We make a lot of noise and we get out. I’ll be turning the vehicle around and making a little noise of my own. We take SR220 to the A1 to SS75. The jet will be warmed up on the runway. By the time anybody truly understands what’s happening, we will be over the ocean. RV is Tunis where we will disperse into commercial flights while the target continues on a new flight. Any questions?” There were none. It sounded like a decent plan, same as it had sounded thirty days before in South Carolina. The four of them were experienced operators, while the Italian prison guards were going to be sleepy amateurs trying to get through their shifts. There was every chance that it would work perfectly.

Yet from the moment they hit the fence, things started to fall apart. There were a lot of vehicles around the prison — a lot more than the sat images had suggested. There were already guards running out of the main building as Rivers approached the target, who screamed and began to run. She was an athlete, hardly any slower than Rivers, and he had to tackle her to bring her down. From a distance, Nelson could see blood on her face.

Then he saw Tilley stumble and fall on a patch of concrete. “Tilley down,” he called to Zelnik, as he started scanning the yard. There! A guard with a subgun. How did we not know? He put two shots into the concrete wall above the guard’s head and the man dropped to the ground. Then he scrambled for Tilley, who was already back up and running in a crooked gait.

“Right hip!” Tilley yelled. “I’m fine for now.” Nelson got his shoulder under Tilley’s armpit and made a bit more noise in the direction of nowhere in particular. They were surrounded by screaming women running every which way but loose. It was fifty long meters to the Aspen. Nelson lifted Tilley into the rear seat, flanking the target, and took his place up front. Then they were on the move.

Aspen SRT8 rear three-quarter
Abimelec Arellano

“Fifty kilometers to go, and nobody behind us,” Zelnik yelled over the tinnitus that was occupying the front of their minds. The Aspen roared up to 120mph in a kinetic HEMI howl as Zelnik whipped it through traffic. When he split down the centerline towards a massive cabover truck, Nelson ducked despite himself — but they were past it and going again. Zelnik flipped open his Motorola and listened intently for a moment. “Alright, these fellows are sharper than we thought. Our man in the city says they’re blocking the road at the Spagnoli roundabout. This is where we get off.” Hard on the ABS, Zelnik cranked onto a wide two-lane to the right and picked up the throttle. Nelson could hear sirens in the distance.

Three kilometers later, a pair of patrol cars appeared behind them. Zelnik swerved to make his way around some blocking traffic and the target threw up on her prison outfit. The stench made Nelson want to vomit as well. “Handle it,” Zelnik hissed, and Nelson leaned out of the right side window to frighten off the cops. They weren’t particularly frightened and another car joined them as they made another sharp right turn and started whipping down a line of car dealers and warehouses. “We’re off-script now,” Zelnik spat, shoving a laminated map in Nelson’s direction. “Get us a route.”

Seven years ago, this had been Nelson’s forte, figuring out where to go with just satellite images and bad local maps. Now, back in the First World, he found it wasn’t quite as easy anyway. “Ah… Next right, Aldo Manna. Okay… we have a dead-end coming up, hang a left in about 20 seconds…” The scenery was dizzy around him. This Aspen was a lot faster than any diesel HMMV. Zelnik short-braked the Fiat cop car behind them and the back of the truck seemed to hang in the air for a moment as the engine revved wildly. Then they crashed back to earth and Nelson could see the cops colliding behind them in the right-side mirror. “Alright… just run straight across the roundabout. Brace for impact.” The Aspen hit a curb and seemed to fly once more before settling down and running off the far side at perhaps sixty miles per hour.

Zelnik was still on the phone. “Alright. Nobody seems to know where we are. Let me make distance for a moment.” The 6.1-liter V8 roared again and they were filtering traffic in what felt like a Death Star trench made up of buses.

“Left on Ponta de… something.” Now they could hear sirens ahead of them. Zelnik frowned.

“We have one more trick to pull. Next farmhouse we see, I’m pulling over. Nelson, you and I are out. Follow my lead.” They came to a halt behind a tractor. Zelnik whipped out a Ka-Bar and started hacking at the paint, which to Nelson’s surprise peeled up. “It’s a vinyl wrap, Nelson. Quit eye-banging me and help me get it off.” For six terrifying minutes they pulled at various body panels, throwing the discarded vinyl to the ground around them. Finally they had a night-black Aspen instead of an ice-blue one. “Alright, let’s go.”

They pulled onto the road just moments before a quartet of police cars appeared ahead of them on the road. “Rivers, Tilley, down.” They shoved the target’s head into the center console. She was screaming without words. The cop in the first car looked at them with a bit of bewilderment as he flew by but there were no brake lights. “I think we’re secure. Everybody look alive, we’re still thirty klicks out.” There was a noise and thump against Nelson’s seat and he looked back to see Tilley sprawled against the inside door.

“Major, Tilley is out.” Zelnik frowned.

“We handle it in the jet. There’s a doctor waiting anyway, just in case our guest needs calming down.” Zelnik punched the gas as Nelson talked him through the Byzantine — more properly, Roman — series of turns necessary to get down to the Via Cagliari. As they approached the access driveway to the airport, a blue hatchback came out of a driveway, blocked the main road, and the doors opened to reveal two carabinieri who quickly took up a position in front of it.

“Major, do I…” Zelnik waved him off.

“We’re not in-country any more. There’s a better way to handle this.” Zelnik brought the Aspen to a halt about twenty feet away from the little blue Fiat. The cops walked up slowly, their subguns at a low ready. Zelnik leaned out of the window.

“Major,” Nelson whispered, “do you know Italian?”

“No,” Zelnik snapped, before breaking into a big grin and yelling, “Buongiorno! Ah… spaghetti! Pasta! Monica… Belluci!” With that last, Zelnik floored the Aspen, which leapt towards the cops. They hit the dirt and there was a loud CRUNCH as the hatchback was shoved out of the way. The Chrysler made the right turn onto the access road, turned right into the parking lot, and raced towards the jet sitting there with the stairs deployed. “That bought us five minutes,” Zelnik laughed.

Nelson carried Tilley up the stairs. Behind him was Rivers, with the target. Zelnik stayed on the ground, rifle at the ready, for ten seconds. Then he, too, ran up the stairs, helping the pilot pull them up after him.

“Lot of chatter on the radio,” the pilot said. “You sure I’m not going to see an F-16 above me in ten minutes?”

“This is Italy,” Zelnik replied. “They aren’t that coordinated.” Then, to the open-mouthed doctor: “See to our man first.” Tilley was laid on the most expensive-looking table Nelson had ever seen as the jet’s engines whined up to speed. There was a heavy push for half a minute, followed by a feeling of weightlessness. Nelson gave the doc his trauma seal.

“Your man’s hit, but he’ll live,” the doctor said, in a Southern U.S. accent. “Get the hood off that girl so I can talk to her.” Rivers had already zip-tied her into a chair. When the hood came off, Nelson couldn’t help but gawp a bit at the girl. Even without makeup, and with blood all over her mouth and chin, she was… well, she was pretty foxy.

“You’re safe,” the doctor said, holding the girl’s hands in his own. “We will be out of Italian airspace in twenty minutes. Miss Knox… you’re going home.”

Dedicated to the cadet officers (and fellow NCOs) of Civil Air Patrol Squadron 806, and all the real-world adventures some of you had in the GWOT and afterwards. I’m still sorry about putting our Cessna into that power dive — JB

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