A tense thriller follows yacht racers across the Pacific in a high-stakes race to the finish line as world-famous software billionaire Rex Wyman sets out aboard the Victory, a yacht designed and navigated by computer, in an all-out struggle to save his crumbling empire, recoup his assets, and evade a long list of enemies who will do anything to stop him. 30,000 first printing.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
James Thayer is the author of eleven books, including the gripping suspense novels White Star, Five Past Midnight, and Terminal Event. An attorney, he lives in Seattle, Washington, with his wife and two daughters.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Snow was wicking away blood from his leg, and the red color expanded in a circle that looked like a bull's-eye, and the pilot knew he did not have long. He was no longer cold and no longer shivering, and it vaguely troubled him, but everything was vague now, and fewer and fewer things were troubling him.
Huge snowflakes flew past, coming at him endlessly, as if he were soaring through the galaxy, and so thick he could see little beyond his boots, and his boots were being covered by snow, so he supposed he would soon see nothing but white. The mountain was claiming him. In a few moments he would cease being a human, and would become a topographic feature, another small wrinkle on the side of McKinley.
At least, that's where he thought he was, Mount McKinley. His F-16 Viper had quit on him, just flamed out, and what could he have expected from an engine built in Belgium, damn them, and the fighter had begun to coast, and an instant later his hydraulics went out. The F-16's nose sank, nothing he had encouraged, and then the plane began to roll as if it were on a spit, so he pulled the lever and out he went, into the blast of air, gratified when his chute opened. At least something worked.
Snow had softened the impact, and he had landed in fine shape, he remembered, though chilled through. On the ground, the chute toppled him and dragged him along as if he were a plow, but he managed to release it, and the chute was probably in Siberia by now, where it was surely better weather.
The pilot's name was Peter Bradley, and he had until about an hour ago been participating in the Air Force's combat exercise Cope Thunder, flying with Navy and Marine pilots, and with pilots from Canadian Forces and the Royal Air Force. The exercise was in its tenth day, and Bradley had been flying two missions most days. Though many American flyers in Alaska for Cope Thunder were from bases in the Lower 48, Bradley was posted to the 18th Fighter Squadron, the Blue Foxes, flying from Eielson Air Force Base southeast of Fairbanks. The Blue Foxes' primary mission was close air support, though not so close as to be sitting on a snowbank, bleeding to death or freezing to death, Bradley didn't suppose it mattered which.
He had taken the Arctic survival course at the Cool School at Eielson, the 66th Training Squadron's introduction to cold and hunger, and they had made him plenty cold and hungry, but not like this, out here, alone and with a broken leg. At the Cool School he had learned about the lethargy and disorientation that accompany freezing to death. He wondered how long his mind had left. Would he recognize it slipping away? Would enough of his intellect remain to understand that less and less of it remained? Can the diminished comprehend the diminishing? He should have been a philosopher.
God, he would like to see his wife again. He could fly a Viper but she was the brains in the family. He laughed weakly, his breath rolling away behind him in a streaming cloud. He could no longer feel his ears under his helmet. He was wearing a sage-green flight suit and a winter-weight flight jacket, with its twill outer shell and quilted lining and storm flap, and he might as well have been wrapped in rice paper for all the good the jacket was doing. A Snickers bar was in a pocket on the left sleeve, held in place by a Velcro flap. A Snickers would be good right now.
Bradley had climbed Mount McKinley once. Almost climbed it. The West Buttress was the mountain's easiest route, but there were no easy routes on McKinley. His climbing team -- six friends from Eielson, all F-16 or A-10 pilots -- took ten days to stage their ascent, and did everything right, pushing up their caches, returning to a lower elevation to sleep. Climbing high, sleeping low, acclimatizing. They got within two thousand vertical feet of the summit when a storm roared in from the Gulf of Alaska and fairly blew them off the mountain.
McKinley -- none of the pilots called it Denali, lest they be magically and irrevocably transformed into tree-hugging Birkenstockers -- killed easily and routinely, with its minus fifty degrees temperatures and its hundred-miles-an-hour wind. Many times, skilled climbers had been surprised by a bit of errant weather, and had been flash frozen on the mountain. That's what was happening to him, Bradley knew. Flash frozen, something the Jolly Green Giant would do to an ear of corn. McKinley was killing him, easily and routinely. He sighed, and stopped himself when it sounded too much like a groan.
He had landed just fine, he brought up the memory again. Released his parachute from the harness after a short slide along the snow, then had taken four steps -- he didn't know in which direction as he couldn't see anything because of the falling snow -- and he must have been on a snow bridge because then the snow under his boots had suddenly given way, just collapsed from under him so that he found himself falling through the damned air again, you'd think once would be enough. He fell awhile, then smacked the ground and started to slide, his leg catching on some rock and snapping, and finally he stopped where he was now, and hadn't been able to move an inch since. He knew a steep slope was nearby -- he had ridden it down -- but it was behind the veil of snow.
Bradley's head came up. He abruptly felt as if he were not alone. Peculiar, because he surely was. He looked right and left into the blur of snow. He asked aloud, "Is someone there?" He waited. "Hello? Anybody there?"
No one, of course. Not on the mountain in November. He had met his wife, Karen, at the commissary at Fairchild Air Force Base, near Spokane, where the Air Force had sent him for survival school, not that anything he learned there was doing any good now, the numbness up to his thighs and a Snickers bar in his sleeve pocket he couldn't reach because his hands wouldn't work, so the Snickers might as well have been on the moon, but she managed the commissary and he was standing at the magazine rack looking at bra ads in a Cosmopolitan -- for the first time in his life, honest to God, he swore to her later -- and she passed behind him as he was studying the ads and she laughed, and they were married six weeks later.
Not that he really wanted the candy bar. It was just there. He didn't care about it, or his plane. An eight-million-dollar piece of equipment broken up in the Alaskan wilderness somewhere. He loved flying that bird, and he particularly enjoyed ground attack exercises, firing away at buildings, airfields, simulated hangars, and dummy aircraft. The plane quit on him at the worst time: when it was in the air. He laughed, sort of a laugh at sort of a joke.
He was growing smaller, the life leaving him. He wondered where he was, why everything was white. He wanted to see his wife. If she would just hold his hand for a while. Hypothermia killed a hundred thousand Krautsters in World War II, old Mr. Frosty doing the work of the Lord that time. But not this time. His wife's name was Karen.
The world was reduced to a low tunnel, and he was racing through it, stuck on the mountainside. He had bailed out in daylight, so the sun was up there, but obscured and indifferent and of no account. The snowflakes had gained weight, it seemed. Bradley could feel every one of them against his face and chest as they rudely pummeled him. Or maybe he couldn't. He was above the tree-line, and with nothing to rattle, the Arctic wind was almost noiseless, a muted sigh, but still drawing the life out of him. He sat on the snow, bleeding.
His wife. He could smell her perfume, right there on the mountain. He again looked left into the moving storm. "Karen?" Nothing but snow.
He was losing it, and that was a fact. Karen standing there on Mount McKinley, as if there were a chance of that. She had told him once that she was afraid of heights, and that she didn't even like escalators. He smiled, tried to smile.
Joy suffused him, and giddiness, and he could see clearly, if only for a few feet. The dead white of the storm took on a slight soft rose hue, a touch of warmth in its coloring. Many of his questions were about to be answered. He hoped it would be something grand, like a blinding flash, and maybe some trumpets. And there were worse ways to die. Ask Joan of Arc. This was hardly like dying, up here on this mountain, just an easy letting go. Of course, the rose hue might be retinal hemorrhaging caused by altitude, another of Mount McKinley's little pranks.
Still, his wife, down in Fairbanks. He wished he could see her. One more time. He closed his eyes, just for a moment, he hoped. It seemed such a small thing, seeing Karen once more, but she was far away, on the other side of this storm. He recalled their honeymoon. Had that been fun or what? They had gone somewhere warm but he couldn't remember where, would never remember now. His body was going and his memories were going. His past was slipping away. Soon there would be nothing. Cold was all around. He was dying.
A word. Out there in front of him. A rather cheery word. Something other than snow. One word, said aloud.
God's voice, surely. Bradley had hoped for something more majestic, something booming, some nice quote from the Old Testament, but bingo was fine. Who was an Air Force lieutenant to second guess the Lord?
"You're alive, looks like. That's a good start, Lieutenant Bradley."
The snow resolved itself into a man, standing in front of Bradley, then bent over him. Big red REI parka with an American flag sewn on the sleeve. Under the parka and covering his legs was a one-piece mountain suit. His gloves had fur on the back so he could wipe his brow. He carried a mountain axe he had been using as a third point of contact.
The man was chewing something rapidly, really working at it, visible even under his mask. He asked, "Are you in pain?"
Bradley could only whisper. "Not any more."
The man's helmet covered a balaclava. Tinted Scott ski goggles hid his eyes. He removed a pack from his back. "We're going to fix you up. No worries now."
The man's chest harness was rigged with an ascender for self-rescue. Pulleys hung from the harness, along with several screws, prussic and tape slings, and carabeeners. The man's climbing harness was affixed to a rope that disappeared behind him into the snow. Quick-don crampons were over his Raichle climbing boots. He carefully brushed snow off the pilot's flight uniform.
"Broken leg," the man said to nobody.
Following the rope, a second fellow emerged from the storm, and then a third, all wearing red parkas.
The first man spoke quickly into a radio. Bradley couldn't make out what he said. Maybe his brain was freezing.
"The bag and a heated IV," the lead rescuer said to his team. Bradley heard him this time. "And, Sandy, get a bag valve mask ready."
The others didn't say anything. They moved in silent and swift choreography.
A hypothermia kit was opened, and an olive-drab patient treatment bag resembling a large sleeping bag was unrolled. The bottom of the down-filled bag was made of heavy-duty cordura nylon, and handle straps were sewn along it at intervals that matched the patient's shoulders and knees. A ruff of artificial fur rimmed the head opening. The lead rescuer checked Bradley's pulse and a few other things the pilot couldn't follow.
Then the rescuers placed an inflatable splint around the fractured leg. The lead rescuer explained to the pilot, "It'll stabilize your leg. Less pain, and less damage to surrounding tissue caused by the jagged bone ends."
Peter Bradley was stuffed into the bag, none too gently. The lead rescuer activated several three-pound chemical heating pouches, wrapped them in cloth from the backpack to insure they didn't burn the pilot, then slipped them into the patient treatment bag. Bradley couldn't feel them. The team was moving quickly. They hadn't been at his side longer than two minutes. The first rescuer gently wiped the snow from Bradley's face, as kind an act as the pilot had ever experienced.
The second rescuer had activated a heating pad, and he placed it into the insulation cover around an IV bottle. The first man opened the bag just enough to get to Bradley's arm. The pilot supposed a needle punctured his arm. He couldn't tell if the rescuers cut open his jacket and flying suit, or whether they had punctured everything, right down to his vein.
A sked board made of thin plastic was unrolled and tucked under the pilot. Bradley's mind flickered like a candle. He and his new bride had honeymooned in Mexico, at Cabo San Lucas. That was it. Mexico. Her dad had paid for it, his wedding present. Cactus and desert and the high sun. Bradley moved his mouth, but couldn't force out any words.
The first rescuer leaned closer, and the pilot tried again. "Is my wife Karen with you?"
The rescuer bent still lower. "Your wife? She's down in Fairbanks. She'll be getting a phone call any minute telling her that we've found you and that you're alive."
"She's not here?" Bradley's voice was wheezy, and almost lost in the wind. "Then who is that fourth person with you, off to the left? Standing there and watching."
The rescuer didn't bother to look. "There's only three of us, Lieutenant, come up this mountain to get you. Your wife is at your apartment down in Fairbanks."
His rescuers must have decided he didn't need the bag mask to help him breathe. Karen was over there, in her blue parka with the hood, wearing the perfume he had purchased for her in Mexico. Let his rescuers think otherwise.
"What's your name?" the pilot asked. Getting the words out was an act of will. His head was low in the rescue bag, and surrounded by white fur.
"Jess McKay. Captain, 212th RQS."
Bradley knew who these guys were, knew their reputation. He didn't want to be goofy in front of them. He tried to rally, to pull his thoughts together. He managed, "Where am I?" Small sentences. Keep it easy. "McKinley?"
McKay nodded. "But nowhere near the top. You landed near Kahiltna Pass, elevation about twelve thousand feet. There's another six thousand feet of mountain above us."
"Nobody hired us to chat," the rescuer named Sandy growled. "The helicopter is waiting downhill, and my TV dinner is still in the oven. Probably burned to black."
"PJ humor," McKay said to the injured pilot. "It takes some getting used to."
The rope snaking after him, the third pararescue jumper climbed thirty paces uphill to anchor the others. McKay and the second PJ gripped the sked board.
"We've got you now," McKay said. "You'll be okay."
"No, I'm dead," the pilot replied. Every word was a struggle. "I'm quite sure. Dead."
"Not out here in the cold." McKay grinned under his mask, still chewing. They started down the mountain. "That's not the way we work. We don't consider a man dead until he is warm and dead."
Copyright © 2001 by James Stewart Thayer
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