And soon he was. Sailing three miles above the earth, piloting a Lear 35A, the finest private jet ever made, clear of markings or insignia except for its N registration number, polished silver, sleek as a pike.
They flew toward a stunning sunset -- a perfect orange disk easing into big, rambunctious clouds, pink and purple, leaking bolts of sunlight.
Only dawn was as beautiful. And only thunderstorms more spectacular.
It was 723 miles to O'Hare and they covered that distance in less than two hours. Air Traffic Control's Chicago Center politely asked them to descend to fourteen thousand feet, then handed them off to Chicago Approach Control.
Tim made the call. "Chicago Approach. Lear Four Niner Charlie Juliet with you at one four thousand."
"Evening, Niner Charlie Juliet," said yet another placid air traffic controller. "Descend and maintain eight thousand. Chicago altimeter thirty point one one. Expect vectors to twenty-seven L."
"Roger, Chicago. Niner Charlie Juliet out of fourteen for eight."
O'Hare is the busiest airport in the world and ATC put them in a holding pattern out over the western suburbs of the city, where they'd circle, awaiting their turn to land.
Ten minutes later the pleasant, staticky voice requested, "Niner Charlie Juliet, heading zero nine zero over the numbers downwind for twenty-seven L."
"Zero nine zero. Nine Charlie Juliet," Tim responded.
Carney glanced up at the bright points of constellations in the stunning gunmetal sky and thought, Look, Percey, it's all the stars of evening...
And with that he had what was the only unprofessional urge of perhaps his entire career. His concern for Percey arose like a fever. He needed desperately to speak to her.
"Take the aircraft," he said to Tim.
"Roger," the young man responded, hands going unquestioningly to the yoke.
Air Traffic Control crackled, "Niner Charlie Juliet, descend to four thousand. Maintain heading."
"Roger, Chicago," Tim said. "Niner Charlie Juliet out of eight for four."
Carney changed the frequency of his radio to make a unicom call. Tim glanced at him. "Calling the Company," Carney explained. When he got Talbot he asked to be patched through the telephone to his home.
As he waited, Carney and Tim went through the litany of the pre-landing check.
"Flaps approach...twenty degrees."
"Twenty, twenty, green," Carney responded.
"One hundred eighty knots."
As Tim spoke into his mike -- "Chicago, Niner Charlie Juliet, crossing the numbers; through five for four" -- Carney heard the phone start to ring in their Manhattan town house, seven hundred miles away.
Come on, Percey. Pick up! Where are you?
ATC said, "Niner Charlie Juliet, reduce speed to one eight zero. Contact tower. Good evening."
"Roger, Chicago. One eight zero knots. Evening."
Where the hell is she? What's wrong?
The knot in his gut grew tighter.
The turbofan sang, a grinding sound. Hydraulics moaned. Static crackled in Carney's headset.
Tim sang out, "Flaps thirty. Gear down."
"Flaps, thirty, thirty, green. Gear down. Three green."
And then, at last -- in his earphone -- a sharp click.
His wife's voice saying, "Hello?"
He laughed out loud in relief.
Carney started to speak but, before he could, the aircraft gave a huge jolt -- so vicious that in a fraction of a second the force of the explosion ripped the bulky headset from his ears and the men were flung forward into the control panel. Shrapnel and sparks exploded around them.
Stunned, Carney instinctively grabbed the unresponsive yoke with his left hand; he no longer had a right one. He turned toward Tim just as the man's bloody, rag-doll body disappeared out of the gaping hole in the side of the fuselage.
Copyright © 1998 by Jeffery Deaver.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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