The blond ticket agent raised her eyebrows. "Next?"
There was a hint of challenge, Sean thought. This might be the end: the red-haired woman could describe him, and he was certain that the police kept files on Operation Life.
"Next?" she repeated, impatient now, studying his face.
Sean pulled the ticket from his back pocket and placed it on the counter.
She flipped it open. "Mr. Burke," she said. "Photo ID, please."
Sean took out his wallet. To his own eyes, the photo on his driver's license looked furtive. For a long moment, the ticket agent looked from Sean to his photo and back again.
One call, he thought. The airport swarmed with cops and blue-uniformed security officers. His palms felt moist.
"Did you pack your luggage yourself?" she asked.
"Did someone you did not know give you anything to carry?"
Sean drew a breath. "I wouldn't do that," he said.
The ticket agent hesitated, watching him. "Zone C," she told him. "Seat twenty-five B. They board about one-fifteen."
Once on the plane, Sean realized, he would be trapped. He did not board until the final call.
At two o'clock, the plane had not taken off.
A mechanical problem, the pilot explained in his John Wayne voice--a systems light that won't come on, probably just an electrical short. Sit tight and I'll keep you posted.
Sean bowed his head. They were holding him, Sean thought. At any moment, they would evacuate the plane and clap handcuffs on his wrists. The feeling came to him again: he was a small and lonely boy, terrified of his father, despairing for his mother's blank indifference. There was no safe place for him.
Sean stood abruptly. He reeled to the rear bathroom, past the other passengers, their faces weary, trapped, indifferent.
His own face in the mirror was white. When the retching started, racking his body, all he saw in the basin was saliva and traces of blood. The bathroom felt like a closet.
Sean opened the door, gulping for breath.
Slowly, he returned to his seat. He kept his eyes averted from the woman sitting next to him.
Ten minutes later, the pilot made his final announcement. Then the plane lifted into the air, vibrating with power, and Sean Burke left Boston forever.
Use of this excerpt from No Safe Place by Richard North Patterson may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Richard North Patterson. All rights reserved
Blood at the Root
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