If He opened his eyes and sat up straighter in his seat, because suddenly he received the revelation that he had been expecting. Or part of it, at least.
He still did not know what was going to happen in Chicago, but he knew the names of the people whose lives he was expected to save: Christine and Casey Dubrovek.
To his surprise, he realized they were on this plane with him-which led him to suspect that the trouble might come in the terminal at O'Hare, or at least soon after touchdown. Otherwise he would not have crossed their path so early. Usually, he encountered the people he saved only minutes before their lives were thrown into jeopardy.
Compelled by those forces that had been guiding him periodically since last May, he got up, headed to the front of the plane, crossed over to the starboard side, and started back that aisle. He had no idea what he was doing until he stopped at row twenty-two and looked down at the mother and child in seats H and I. The woman was in her late twenties; she had a sweet face, not beautiful but gentle and pretty. The child was five or six years old.
The woman looked up at him curiously, and Jim heard himself say "Mrs.
Dubrovek?" She blinked in surprise. "I'm sorry. . . do I know you?" "No, but Ed told me you were taking this flight and asked me to look you up." When he spoke that name, he knew Ed was her husband, though he had no idea where that knowledge had come from. He squatted down beside her seat and gave her his best smile. "I'm Steve Harkman.
Ed's in sales, I'm in advertising, so we drive each other nuts in about a dozen meetings a week.”
Christine Dubrovek's madonna face brightened. "Oh, yes, he's spoken about you. You only joined the company, what, a month ago?" "Six weeks now," Jim said, flowing with it, confident the right answers would pour out of him even if he didn't know what in the hell they were.
"And this must be Casey.”
The little girl was in the seat by the window. She raised her head shifting her attention from a pop-up storybook. "I'm gonna be six tomorrow, it's my birthday, and we're gonna visit grandpop and grandma They're real old, but they're nice.”
He laughed and said, "I'll bet they're sure proud to have a granddaughter cute as you.”
When Holly saw him coming along the starboard aisle, she was so startled that she almost popped out of her seat. At first she thought he was looking straight at her. She had the urge to start blurting out a confession "Yes, all right, I've been following you, checking up on you, invading your privacy with a vengeance"-even before he reached her. She knew precious few other reporters who would have felt guilty about probing into his life, but she couldn't seem to eliminate that streak of decency that had interfered with her career advancement ever since she'd gotten her journal ism degree. It almost wrecked everything for her again-until she realized he was looking not at her but at the brunette immediately in front of her Holly swallowed hard, and slid down a few inches in her seat instead of leaping up in a frenzy of confession. She picked up the airline's magazine which she'd previously discarded; slowly, deliberately she opened it to cover her face, afraid that too quick a move would draw his attention before she had concealed herself behind those glossy pages.
The magazine blocked her view of him, but she could hear everything he was saying and most of the woman's responses. She listened to him identify himself as Steve Harkman, a company ad executive, and wondered what his charade was all about.
She dared to tilt her head far enough to peek around the magazine with one eye. Ironheart was hunkered down in the aisle beside the woman's seat, so close that Holly could have spit on him, although she was no more practiced at target-spitting than she was at clandestine surveillance.
She realized her hands were trembling, making the magazine rattle softly. She untilted her head, stared at the pages in front of her, and concentrated on being calm.
"How on earth did you recognize me?" Christine Dubrovek asked.
"Well, Ed doesn't quite paper his office with pictures of you two," Jim said.
"Oh, that's right," she said.
"Listen, Mrs. Dubrovek-" "Call me Christine.”
"Thank you. Christine. . . I've got an ulterior motive for coming over here and pestering you like this. According to Ed, you've got a knack for matchmaking.”
That must have been the right thing to say. Already aglow, her sweet face brightened further. "Well, I do like getting people together if I think they're right for each other, and I've got to admit I've had more than a little success at it.”
"You make matches, Mommy?" Casey Dubrovek asked.
Uncannily in synch with the workings of her six-year-old's mind, Christine said, "Not the cigarette kind, honey.”
"Oh. Good," Casey said, then returned to her pop-up storybook.
"The thing is," Jim said, "I'm new in Los Angeles, been there only eight weeks, and I'm your classic, original lonely guy. I don't like singles' bars, don't want to buy a gym membership just to meet women, and figure anybody I'd connect with through a computer service has to be as desperate and messed up as I am.”
She laughed. "You don't look desperate or messed up to me.”
"Excuse me, sir," a stewardess said with friendly firmness, touching Jim's shoulder, "but I can't allow you to block the aisle.”
"Oh, sure, yeah," he said, standing up. "Just give me a minute.”
Then to Christine: "Listen, this is embarrassing, but I'd really like to talk to you, tell you about myself, what I'm looking for in a woman, and see if maybe you know someone. ?" "Sure, I'd love that," Christine said with such enthusiasm that she was surely the reincarnation of either some hillbilly woman who had been a much sought-after troth-finder or a successful schatchen from Brooklyn.
"Hey, you know, the two seats next to mine are empty," he said "Maybe you could sit with me the rest of the way. . . .”
He expected her to be reluctant to give up window seats, and an unexpressable twist of anxiety knotted his stomach while he waited for her response.
But she hesitated for only a second or two. "Yes, why not.”
The stewardess, still hovering near them, nodded her approval.
To Jim, Christine said, "I thought Casey would like the scenery from way up here, but she doesn't seem to care much. Besides, we're almost in the back of the wing, and it blocks a lot of our view.”
Jim did not understand the reason for the wave of relief that swept through him when he secured her agreement to move, but a lot of things mystified him these days. "Good, great. Thank you, Christine.”
As he stepped back to let Christine Dubrovek get up, he noticed the passenger in the seat behind her. The poor woman was evidently terrified of flying. She was holding a copy of Vis Pis in front of her face, trying to take her mind off her fears with a little reading, but her hands were shaking so badly that the magazine rattled continuously.
"Where are you sitting?" Christine asked.
"The other aisle, row sixteen. Come on, I'll show you.”
He lifted her single piece of carry-on luggage while she and Casey gathered up a few other small items, then he led them to the front of the plane and around to the port aisle. Casey entered row sixteen, and her mother followed.
Before Jim settled down himself, something impelled him to look across the wide-bodied plane to the aerophobic woman whom they had left behind in row twenty-three. She had lowered the magazine. She was watching him. He knew her.
He was stunned.
Christine Dubrovek said, "Steve?" Across the plane, the reporter realized that Jim had seen her. She wide-eyed, frozen. Like a deer caught in car headlights.
"Steve?" He looked down at Christine and said, Uh, excuse me a minute, Christine . Just a minute. I'll be right back. Wait here. Okay? Wait right here.
He went forward and across to the starboard aisle again.
His heart was hammering. His throat was tight with fear. But he didn't know why. He was not afraid of Holly Thorne. He knew at once that her presence was no coincidence, that she had stumbled on to his secret and had been following him. But right now he didn't care.
Discovery, being unmasked-that was not what frightened him. He had no idea what was cranking up his anxiety, but it was escalating to a level at which adrenaline would soon start to squirt out his ears.
As he made his way back the aisle toward the reporter, she started to get up. Then a look of resignation slid across her face, and she sat down again.
She was as easy to look at as he remembered, though the skin around her eyes was slightly dark, as if from lack of sleep.
When he arrived at row twenty-three, he said, "Come on." He reached for her hand.
She did not give it to him.
"We've got to talk," he said.
"We can talk here.”
"No, we can't.”
The stewardess who had warned him about blocking the aisle was approaching again.
When Holly would not take his hand, he gripped her by the arm and urged her to get up, hoping she would not force him to yank her out of the seat. The stewardess probably already thought he was some perverted Svengali who was herding up the best-looking women on the flight to surround himself with a harem over there on the port side. Happily, the reporter rose without further protest.
He led her back through the plane to a restroom. It was not occupied, so he pushed her inside. He glanced back, expecting to see the stewardess watching him, but she was attending to another passenger. He followed Holly into the tiny cubicle and pulled the door shut.
She squeezed into the corner, trying to stay as far away from him as possible, but they were still virtually nose to nose.
"I'm not afraid of you," she said.
"Good. There's no reason to be.”
Vibrations were conducted well by the burnished-steel walls of the lavatory. The deep drone of the engines was somewhat louder there than in the main cabin.
She said, "What do you want?" "You've got to do exactly what I tell you.”
She frowned. "Listen, I" "Exactly what I tell you, and no arguments, there's no time for arguments," he said sharply, wondering what the hell he was talking about.
"I know all about your" "I don't care what you know. That's not important now.”
She frowned. "You're shaking like a leaf" He was not only shaking but sweating. The lavatory was cool enough but he could feel beads of sweat forming across his forehead. A thin trickle coursed down his right temple and past the corner of his eye.
Speaking rapidly, he said, "I want you to come forward in the plane, farther front near me, there're a couple of empty seats in that area.”
"But I" "You can't stay where you are, back there in row twenty-three, no way She was not a docile woman. She knew her own mind, and she was not used to being told what to do. "That's my seat.
Twenty-three H. You can' strongarm me-" Impatiently, he said, "If you sit there, you're going to die.”
She looked no more surprised than he felt-which was plenty damned surprised. "Die? What do you mean?" "I don't know." But then unwanted knowledge came to him. "Oh Jesus.
Oh, my God. We're going down.”
"What?" "The plane." Now his heart was racing faster than the turbine blades of the great engines that were keeping them aloft. "Down. All the way down.”
He saw her incomprehension give way to a dreadful understanding "Crash?" "Yes.”
"When?" "I don't know. Soon. Beyond row twenty, almost nobody's going to survive." He did not know what he was going to say until he said it, and as he listened to his own words he was horrified by them. "There'll be a better survival rate in the first nine rows, but not good, not good at this You've got to move into my section.”
The aircraft shuddered.
Holly stiffened and looked around fearfully, as if she expected the lavatory walls to crumple in on them.
"Turbulence," he said. "Just turbulence. We've got. . . a few minutes yet.”
Evidently she had learned enough about him to have faith in his perception. She did not express any doubt. "I don't want to die.”
With an increasing sense of urgency, Jim gripped her by the shoulder "That's why you've got to come forward, sit near me. Nobody's going to be killed in rows ten through twenty. There'll be injuries, a few of them serious, but nobody's going to die in that section, and a lot of them are going to walk out of it unhurt. Now, for God's sake, come on.”
He reached for the door handle.
"Wait. You've got to tell the pilot.”
He shook his head. "It wouldn't help.”
"But maybe there's something he can do, stop it from happening.”
"He wouldn't believe me, and even if he did. . . I don't know what to tell him. We're going down, yeah, but I don't know why. Maybe a mid-air collision, maybe structural failure, maybe there's a bomb aboard-it could be anything.”
"But you're a psychic, you must be able to see more details if you try.”
"If you believe I'm a psychic, you know less about me than you think you do.”
"You've got to try.”
"Oh, lady, I'd try, I'd try like a sonofabitch if it would do any good.
But it won't.”
Terror and curiosity fought for control of her face. "If you're not a psychic-what are you?" "A tool.”
"Tool?" "Someone or something uses me.”
The DC-10 shuddered again. They froze, but the aircraft did not take a sudden plunge. It went on as before, its three big engines droning.
Just more turbulence.
She grabbed his arm. "You can't let all those people die!" A rope of guilt constricted his chest and knotted his stomach at the implication that the deaths of the others aboard would somehow be his fault.
He said, "I'm here to save the woman and the girl, no one else.”
Opening the lavatory door, he said, "I don't like it any more than you do, but that's the way it is.”
She did not let go of his arm but jerked at it angrily. Her green eyes were haunted, probably with her own visions of battered bodies strewn across the earth among smoking chunks of wreckage. She repeated herself, whispering fiercely this time: "You can't let all those people die.”
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