The pilot slowed more and turned and came to a stationary hover, three
thousand feet above the desert floor. The man in the forward seat twisted around
again and signaled to the two guys way in back. Both unlocked their safety
harnesses. One crouched forward, avoiding Franz's feet, and held his loose
harness tight in one hand and unlatched the door with the other. The pilot was
half-turned in his own seat, watching, and he tilted the Bell a little so the
door fell all the way open under its own weight. Then he brought the craft level
again and put it into a slow clockwise rotation so that motion and air pressure
held the door wide. The second guy from the rear crouched near Franz's head and
jacked the stretcher upward to a forty-five degree slope. The first guy jammed
his shoe against the free end of the stretcher rail to stop the whole thing
sliding across the floor. The second guy jerked like a weightlifter and brought
the stretcher almost vertical. Franz sagged down against the straps. He was a
big guy, and heavy. And determined. His legs were useless but his upper body was
powerful and straining hard. His head was snapping from side to side.
The first guy took out a gravity knife and popped the blade. Used it to saw
through the strap around Franz's thighs. Then he paused a beat and sliced the
strap around Franz's chest. One quick motion. At the exact same time the second
guy jerked the stretcher fully upright. Franz took an involuntary step forward.
Onto his broken right leg. He screamed once, briefly, and then took a second
instinctive step. Onto his broken left leg. His arms flailed and he collapsed
forward and his upper-body momentum levered him over the locked pivot of his
immobile hips and took him straight out through the open door, into the noisy
darkness, into the gale-force rotor wash, into the night.
Three thousand feet above the desert floor.
For a moment there was silence. Even the engine noise seemed to fade. Then
the pilot reversed the Bell's rotation and rocked the other way and the door
slammed neatly shut. The turbines spun up again and the rotor bit the air and
the nose dropped.
The two guys clambered back to their seats.
The man in front said, "Let's go home now."
Seventeen days later Jack Reacher was in Portland, Oregon, short of money. In
Portland, because he had to be somewhere and the bus he had ridden two days
previously had stopped there. Short of money, because he had met an assistant
district attorney called Samantha in a cop bar, and had twice bought her dinner
before twice spending the night at her place. Now she had gone to work and he
was walking away from her house, nine o'clock in the morning, heading back to
the downtown bus depot, hair still wet from her shower, sated, relaxed,
destination as yet unclear, with a very thin wad of bills in his pocket.
The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, had changed Reacher's life in
two practical ways. Firstly, in addition to his folding toothbrush he now
carried his passport with him. Too many things in the new era required photo ID,
including most forms of travel. Reacher was a drifter, not a hermit, restless,
not dysfunctional, and so he had yielded gracefully.
And secondly, he had changed his banking methods. For many years after
leaving the army he had operated a system whereby he would call his bank in
Virginia and ask for a Western Union wire transfer to wherever he happened to
be. But new worries about terrorist financing had pretty much killed telephone
banking. So Reacher had gotten an ATM card. He carried it inside his passport
and used 8197 as his PIN. He considered himself a man of very few talents but
some varied abilities, most of which were physical and related to his abnormal
size and strength, but one of which was always knowing what time it was without
looking, and another of which was some kind of a junior-idiot-savant facility
with arithmetic. Hence 8197. He liked 97 because it was the largest two-digit
prime number, and he loved 81 because it was absolutely the only number out of
all the literally infinite possibilities whose square root was also the sum of
its digits. Square root of eighty-one was nine, and eight and one made nine. No
other nontrivial number in the cosmos had that kind of sweet symmetry. Perfect.
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