Kyle opened his mouth to scream, then clamped it shut tight.
The Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter rose and rose, and pierced the clouds at 75 knots. It wasn’t just the rising motion—he felt like he was on an elevator that was picking up speed with every floor, ready to skyrocket through the roof—it was the forward thrust as well. He didn’t know which was more disconcerting, but taken together it felt like he was being fired from a cannon. He glanced over at his ex-wife as she pulled back on the collective with her left hand, gripped the cyclic between her legs with her right, and worked the pedals simultaneously.
He swallowed hard, forcing his pending scream back down his throat.
“You okay over there?” Her voice came through the earpiece in his helmet and he looked over and saw a slight smirk playing on the bottom half of her face, beneath her own helmet.
Through gritted teeth, he said, “Faster.”
They came to altitude and leveled off, then Max tilted the cyclic forward and the speed really kicked in. The Dolphin punched forward and Kyle sank back into his seat.
Max had sprung her plan on the patio, and Kyle had agreed, but only if Kirby gave the OK. His daughter yelled at him to go already.
“But what about the con?” he asked.
Bobby stepped in. “I can be her paid assistant.”
“Paying assistant,” said Kirby.
“It’s about time Kirby showed me the ropes at one of these things.”
“We got this, Dad. Go.”
He felt full in that moment, as if his chest would burst with pride. He was trying to loosen his constricted throat to say thank you, when Max suddenly reappeared in her flight suit.
“Semper Paratus,” she said. “Let’s go.”
They sped north on I-95 in Kyle’s Bimmer, completing the fifteen-minute drive to the New London Air Station in ten. He hadn’t driven that fast since his Kansas dash to the airport with Corey, and that urged him on even faster. When they arrived, the sentry on duty waved them in when he saw Max in the passenger seat. Kyle wheeled into the parking spot by the hangar marked “CO” and they sprinted through it to the tarmac. The Dolphin, prepped by the duty pilot, waited for her, rotors spinning. The pilot scrambled out of the seat when he saw Max coming. Kyle climbed in beside her. Once they had their helmets on and Max switched on their internal comms, he asked, “How can you do this?”
“What’s the point of being the commanding officer of an Air Station if you can’t fly whenever the hell you want?” she said. To the flight mechanic in the cabin, she said, “Are you a romantic, Capistrano?”
“I’m in the Coast Guard, aren’t I, captain?”
“Then strap in, we’re in a hurry. No hover takeoff.”
“Aye, ma’am. Punch it.”
“What’s a no-hover—”
The words died in Kyle’s throat. Max pulled power and put the nose forward. The ground fell away at thirty knots, then forty, then fifty, until they reached their optimum climbing speed of 75 knots. Now they were screaming west over Long Island Sound, the Connecticut shoreline represented by a string of lights bordering the dark water far below.
“How long?” he asked.
“120 miles as the crow flies. Cruising speed is 120 knots, but we’re doing 175. The wind is at our back.”
New York City came into view miles out. As they approached, Max found the East River and they banked left, following it south. At the tip of Manhattan, she nudged the cyclic again. Kyle felt the bottom drop out of his world as they rolled to the right. He tensed reflexively, then looked out of his side of the canopy.
He saw it then.
Every skyscraper window, every headlight and taillight, every pinprick of illumination rotated around them in a carousel of light. For a wondrous, dizzying moment, he forgot to be afraid and a thought came to him, unbidden.
You wanted to do this once.
“Is this…what’s it’s like?” he asked.
“All the time,” said Max.
So much time wasted, he thought.While he had been planning, Max had been living. He’d blown it once before. Never again, he swore.
Please don’t let me be too late.
They rounded the tip of Manhattan and headed north over the Hudson, descending, until Max touched down, gentle as a whisper, at a private heliport by the river.
“As close as I can get you, Williams.” She pointed a gloved finger east. “You’re on your own for the last mile.”
He took off his helmet and she took off hers.
“I don’t know how to thank you.”
“We take care of our own.”
“You’re the coolest woman on the planet, you know that, Cold Max?”
“I’m no rock star though, am I?”
“The hell you’re not.”
She smirked. “We’ll hang here for an hour or so, you know, whichever way it breaks…”
“Don’t worry,” he said, smiling. “The wind is at my back.”
“Welcome back, Kyle,” she said, then jutted her chin toward the east. “Now go. Search. Rescue.”
“Man overboard,” he said, then opened the door, dropped to the ground, and crouched low. He ran, buffeted by the rotor wash and made it about then feet before he spun around and dashed back, forgetting something. He launched himself back into the cockpit, across his seat, and gave Max a kiss on the cheek.
Then he was jogging past the radius of the blades, then running. Then sprinting. He hailed the first cab he could find, leapt inside and said, “The Garden.”
After three agonizingly slow blocks of starting and stopping, he cursed and threw money through the plastic partition and leapt out.
He ran the rest of the way, Madison Square Garden looming in the distance. When he reached it, people were streaming out of it, the show over.
He pulled the phone from his pocket and went to his Recent Calls.
An irritated Louise Yardley barked, “What?”
“Wait,” she said, stunned. “How?”
“You’re not the only with friends in high places. Now, let’s see how much juice you really have.”
“What do you need?”