Bad Luck and TroubleAuthor: Lee Child
Imprint: Bantam Press
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The man was called Calvin Franz and the helicopter was a Bell 222. Franz had two broken legs, so he had to be loaded on board strapped to a stretcher. Not a difficult manoeuvre. The Bell was a roomy aircraft, twinengined, designed for corporate travel and police departments, with space for seven passengers. The rear doors were as big as a panel van’s and they opened wide. The middle row of seats had been removed. There was plenty of room for Franz on the floor.
The helicopter was idling. Two men were carrying the stretcher. They ducked low under the rotor wash and hurried, one backward, one forward. When they reached the open door the guy who had been walking backward got one handle up on the sill and ducked away. The other guy stepped forward and shoved hard and slid the stretcher all the way inside. Franz was awake and hurting. He cried out and jerked around a little, but not much, because the straps across his chest and thighs were buckled tight. The two men climbed in after him and got in their seats behind the missing row and slammed the doors.
Then they waited.
The pilot waited.
A third man came out a grey door and walked across the concrete. He bent low under the rotor and held a hand flat on his chest to stop his necktie whipping in the wind. The gesture made him look like a guilty man proclaiming his innocence. He tracked around the Bell’s long nose and got in the forward seat, next to the pilot.
‘Go,’ he said, and then he bent his head to concentrate on his harness buckle.
The pilot goosed the turbines and the lazy whop-whop of the idling blade slid up the scale to an urgent centripetal whipwhip- whip and then disappeared behind the treble blast of the exhaust. The Bell lifted straight off the ground, drifted left a little, rotated slightly, and then retracted its wheels and climbed a thousand feet. Then it dipped its nose and hammered north, high and fast. Below it roads and science parks and small factories and neat isolated suburban communities slid past. Brick walls and metal siding blazed red in the late sun. Tiny emerald lawns and turquoise swimming pools winked in the last of the light.
The man in the forward seat said, ‘You know where we’re going?’
The pilot nodded and said nothing.
The Bell clattered onward, turning east of north, climbing a little higher, heading for darkness. It crossed a highway far below, a river of white lights crawling west and red lights crawling east. A minute north of the highway the last developed acres gave way to low hills, barren and scrubby and uninhabited. They glowed orange on the slopes that faced the setting sun and showed dull tan in the valleys and the shadows. Then the low hills gave way in turn to small rounded mountains. The Bell sped on, rising and falling, following the contours below. The man in the forward seat twisted around and looked down at Franz on the floor behind him. Smiled briefly and said, ‘Twenty more minutes, maybe.’
Franz didn’t reply. He was in too much pain.
The Bell was rated for a 161-mph cruise, so twenty more minutes took it almost fifty-four miles, beyond the mountains, well out over the empty desert. The pilot flared the nose and slowed a little. The man in the forward seat pressed his forehead against the window and stared down into the darkness.
‘Where are we?’ he asked.
The pilot said, ‘Where we were before.’
‘What’s below us now?’
‘Three thousand feet.’
‘What’s the air like up here?’
‘Still. A few thermals, but no wind.’
‘So let’s do it.’
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 signalled 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 fortyfive- 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.
The two guys clambered back to their seats.
The man in front said, ‘Let’s go home now.’
Copyright © Lee Child, 2007 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.