“We left Fiske and that poor woman down there. Do you think she’s dead?” Amy whispered, her face pale.
“No,” Dan said. But the truth was, he wasn’t sure. He took another discreet puff on his inhaler. His heartbeat was slowing down, but he was having trouble focusing.
At first this had seemed so cool, to be back on the run, outwitting the bad guys. But the Vespers — he didn’t know these guys at all, and that scared him. He could still hear the sickening thunk of Fiske’s head hitting the wall. Casper had treated Fiske like an insect, something in his way to be squashed under his shoe. The look in his eyes … it was as though Fiske were something less than human.
He wasn’t ready to get plunged back into this. He wasn’t ready at all.
But he couldn’t tell his sister that. She’d worry even more than she was worrying now.
Amy pressed closer to the glass. She pointed down the mountain. “Take a look at that helicopter.”
A copter was heading across the sky, casting a shadow on the pristine white snow.
It powered closer, its propeller whirring. They could see the pilot now, and a man sitting in the seat next to him.
“They’re arguing,” Amy said.
“Look. That copter is getting awfully close,” one of the women in the car said nervously to her companion.
Someone else said something in French. The cable car operator looked out and frowned. He spoke into his headset.
Suddenly, the passenger in the helicopter lunged forward. They saw the pilot jerk violently backward.
“He has a gun!” someone yelled.
The passenger began to push the pilot out of the seat. The helicopter tilted crazily.
An American man yelled, “Call the authorities!”
“He shot the pilot!” his wife screamed.
The pilot, they saw, was fighting for his life. Helplessly, they watched as the passenger clubbed the pilot with the butt of the gun. He hung on to his seat while the passenger pushed him toward the open door. Someone next to Dan hammered on the glass of the cable car and cried out something in German.
Then they all screamed with one voice as the passenger reared back and kicked the pilot halfway out the open door. The pilot gripped the side of the helicopter, but with one brutal thrust the passenger pushed him off. They screamed in horror as the pilot’s body fell, gaining velocity as he went down, until he was lost to sight.
Someone sobbed. The cable car was a babble of voices in different languages, calling out in anguish.
Dan swallowed quickly. He felt sick. Sweat broke out on his forehead. Amy looked at him, her eyes wide with horror.
“I’ve called the police,” the operator shouted. He repeated the phrase in German and Italian.
Amy had turned back to the window. “It’s not over,” she whispered.
The passenger was now piloting the helicopter. It was heading straight for the cable car. Instinctively, everyone moved away from it, and the car lurched crazily to one side. Several people screamed.
“Stay calm!” the operator yelled. “Keep the car stable! The police are on their way!”
Dan cast a quick look up the mountain. They were far away from the top, and the drop must be hundreds of feet down. Now he could see the passenger’s face. He felt the shock of recognition. It was the bank president’s assistant, the one in the silver glasses. “It’s Bruno!” he told Amy. “The guy from the bank who dissed us. He’s a Vesper.”
Amy was pale and glassy-eyed. “He’s going to cut the cables.”
Dan looked at her in alarm, then at the helicopter. It was higher than the cable car now and tilted to one side. The whirring blades were getting closer and closer. So close he could see the intent expression on the Vesper’s face, the way his gaze stayed on the cables above.
“He can’t —” Dan started, then swallowed. If the guy was trying to scare them, he was coming awfully close.
Screams erupted throughout the cabin. Instinctively, everyone moved back, and the car rocked again. Dan hung on to Amy as the helicopter loomed in their vision, Bruno’s black-gloved hands steady on the controls.
Then a terrible shrieking sound resounded through the cabin, and the cable gave way. The car lurched, and some of the passengers were slammed to the floor. They began to slide toward the closed doors. Dan and Amy barely stayed on their feet. Screams filled the cabin.
“What’s happening?” someone yelled in terror.
“We’re all right!” the operator shouted above the screams. “We can’t fall! There’s one cable left. We’re all right! We’re all right,” he kept repeating in English, then French, then Italian, then German, as though by saying it over and over it would make it real. But there was a sheen of perspiration on his face, and Dan could see fear in his eyes.
“He’s coming back again!” a man shouted.
Amy took Dan’s hand. He knew now what Amy had already guessed. The Vesper wasn’t trying to scare them. He was going to kill them.
The whirring blades angled to the left, ready to cut the final cable and send them plunging to their death.
It’s going to end here, like this?
The formula was in his head, the formula that could make him the most powerful person in the world. They had decided months ago that it was too dangerous to exist. Too dangerous to ingest.
But if he had done it, if he had taken it, could he have dispatched Casper Wyoming back in the chalet? He would have had the strength of a Tomas. If he’d had the cunning of a Lucian, would he have seen ahead and baited a trap instead of walking into one? If he’d thought more creatively, like a Janus, would he have come up with another way to escape, instead of climbing aboard a death trap? If he’d had the inventiveness of an Ekaterina, could he now figure out a way to get the cable car moving and away from this madman in a copter?
If I had it all — every power — could I have escaped this moment?
Dan faced the helicopter. He hadn’t learned not to be afraid, but he had learned that turning away was not an option. He wanted the last thing he saw to be that guy’s face, so the Vespers would know that Dan Cahill hadn’t been scared. The terror that gripped him — his enemy would not see it.
“Polizia!” someone yelled.
Someone else was sobbing as the police helicopter flew at terrific speed toward the rogue helicopter. Dan could see Bruno’s furious face as he dipped his copter sharply to the right and zoomed away, with the police in pursuit.
A few people were crying. The American man hugged his wife and rocked her from side to side. A tall German skier gave a short, strangled laugh. Relief made them all giddy for a moment. Until they remembered that they were still dangling over a staggering drop on only one cable.
“The rescue helicopter is on its way,” the operator said. “We should see it in a moment.”
“And then what?” Amy asked. “How will they fix the cable?”
The operator looked at her kindly. “They can’t fix it,” he said. “They’re going to airlift us out.”
“Air — airlift?”
“A rescue worker will be lowered by cable from the helicopter and he’ll take one group out at a time. Don’t worry, they are very good at their jobs,” the operator said.
Dan suddenly realized that he was freezing. The car wasn’t heated, and condensation was beginning to build on the windows and ice over. It was difficult to see out now. Which was probably a good thing, being that Amy was a weenie about heights.
“Did they catch the helicopter pilot?” Dan asked the operator.
He shook his head. “Not yet. They’ll get him.”
Soon they heard the whirring of the blades. They could just glimpse the rescue helicopter approaching. Dangling at the end of a long cable was a rescue worker in a red parka. The helicopter flew higher, and they felt the slight bump as the rescue worker landed against the cable car. A second later the doors opened, and he swung in.
The noise of the copter was loud in their ears. He motioned to the man and wife close to him, and then to Dan and Amy. Slings were attached to the cable, and the man and his wife were already slipping into them.
“I have to sit in that and be towed in midair?” Amy asked. Her face looked terror stricken. “Dan, I can’t do this.”
“Are you kidding me? Of course you can. You’ve been on the top of Mount Everest! This is cake.” He didn’t like the look on Amy’s face. His sister was madbrave when she was in the moment. It was the waiting that did her in.
“Come on.” He urged her forward. “Can this be any worse than the time I made you jump off the balcony in that Cairo museum?”
Amy laughed weakly, but she moved forward and sat gingerly in the contraption. The rescue worker snapped her in.
Dan stepped into the sling.
“Ready?” the rescue worker shouted.
Everyone else nodded, and Amy’s weak “Not really” was swallowed by the rush of wind as they stepped off the cable car into midair.
Dan felt the jolt of the cable and the blast of cold air in his face. Clouds were building in layers around the mountain, and the tiny pellets of snow striking his cheeks felt like ice. They swung at the bottom of the cable as the helicopter started down the mountain. Dan looked down and gulped. Amy kept her eyes closed.
They were probably in the air for about five minutes or so, but it felt longer. Finally, he saw far below a cluster of rescue workers clad in red parkas standing in a clearing near an alpine hut. The helicopter flew lower and lower, and he saw them waiting, arms outstretched. The helicopter hovered above, and in seconds, a rescuer had grabbed his legs. He almost toppled onto the guy. Now that relief was coursing through him, his muscles felt like slush.
“Are you okay?” the rescuer asked.
Dan nodded, even though he wasn’t sure. Would the guy think he was crazy if he kissed the ground? He decided to skip it.
He could see now that the hut was bigger than he’d thought, and was a small restaurant. Skiers sat inside, most of them sipping at hot drinks while they watched the rescue operations. Some of them were in their stocking feet. It was odd to come back to a world where people sat around, warm and comfortable in their socks, eating soup, while he’d almost been turned into Dan Jam, smashed into goo on a mountainside.
He walked on unsteady legs toward Amy, who was already sitting on a bench, a mug of soup in her hands. Next to her, skis had been planted in the snow and were sticking straight up like a small forest. Snow boots were piled on a mat. There was a jumble of goggles in a basket.
Dan took the offered cup from a rescue worker and tasted the best soup of his life. Everything looked so sharp and clear — the blue shadows on the snow, the crazy clouds, the creamy ceramic sheen of the cup.
“You can go inside and warm up, if you wish,” the rescue guy said. “Do you see the person talking to the couple over there? He is going to come over here and talk to you as well — he is a medic. You don’t appear to be in shock, but we must check. Then you may take the tram down the mountain. There are escorts waiting.”
“Thanks.” Dan sank down next to Amy. “That was close,” he said.