The Sixth Man by David Baldacci
THE SMALL JET BUMPED down hard on the runway in Portland, Maine. It rose up in the air and banged down again harder. Even the pilot was probably wondering if he could keep the twenty-five-ton jet on the tarmac. Because he was trying to beat a storm in, the young aviator had made his approach at a steeper trajectory and a faster speed than the airlineâ€™s manual recommended. The wind shear culled off the leading edge of the cold front had caused the jetâ€™s wings to pendulum back and forth. The copilot had warned the passengers that the landing would be bumpy and a bit more than uncomfortable.
Heâ€™d been right.
The rear carriage wheels caught and held the second time around, and the lead aircraft-grade rubber bit down a few moments later. The rapid and steep flight path in had caused more than a few of the four dozen passengers on the single-aisle jet to white-knuckle their armrests, mouth a few prayers, and even reach for the barf bags in the seatbacks. When the wheel brakes and reverse thrusters engaged and the aircraft slowed perceptibly, most of the riders exhaled in relief.
One man, however, merely woke when the plane transitioned off the runway and onto the taxiway to the small terminal. The tall, dark-haired woman sitting next to him idly stared out the window, completely unfazed by the turbulent approach and bouncy touchdown.
After theyâ€™d arrived at the gate and the pilot shut down the twin GE turbofans, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell rose and grabbed their bags from the overhead. As they threaded out through the narrow aisle along with the other deplaning passengers, a queasy-looking woman behind them said, â€œBoy, that sure was a rough landing.â€
Sean looked at her, yawned, and massaged his neck. â€œWas it?â€
The woman looked surprised and eyed Michelle. â€œIs he kidding?â€
She said, â€œWhen youâ€™ve ridden on jump seats in the belly of a C-17 at low altitudes in the middle of a thunderstorm and doing thousand-foot vertical drops every ten seconds with four max-armored vehicles chained next to you and wondering if one was going to break loose and crash through the side of the fuselage and carry you with it, this landing was pretty uneventful.â€
â€œWhy in the world did you do that?â€ said the wide-eyed woman.
â€œI ask myself that every day,â€ replied Sean sardonically.
He and Michelle both had their clothes, toiletries, and other essentials in their carry-on bags. But they had to stop by baggage claim to pick up an eighteen-inch-long, hard-sided, locked case. It belonged to Michelle. She picked up the case and slid it into her carry-on.
Sean gave her an amused expression. â€œYouâ€™re the queen of the smallest checked bag of all time.â€
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