The Adirondack Mountains, New York
The first hundred feet or so had been easy, a series of blocky ledges rising gently, rough-hewn and mossy. But then the final fifty feet rose almost straight up, a smooth rock face with a long vertical crack undulating through it. Charles Stone rested for a long moment at a flat ledge. He exhaled and inhaled slowly, with a measured cadence, glancing up at the summit from time to time, shielding his eyes from the dazzling light.
Rarely was a climb as perfect as this: that trancelike serenity as he pulled and pushed with his hands and feet, laybacking up the tiered rock, the pain of physical exertion overwhelmed by the sensation of unbounded freedom, the razor-sharp concentration. And—only other climbers wouldn’t consider it corny—the feeling of communion with nature.
He was in his late thirties, tall and rangy, with a prominent jaw and a straight nose, his dark curly hair mostly obscured by a bright knitted wool cap. His normally olive-complexioned face was ruddy from the chill autumn air.
Stone knew that solo climbing was risky. But without the carabiners and the rope and the pitons and the chock-stones and all the customary apparatus of protection, climbing was something else altogether, closer to nature and somehow more true. It was just you and the mountain, and you had no choice but to concentrate utterly or you could get hurt, or worse. Above all, there was no opportunity to think about work, which was what Stone found most refreshing. Luckily, he was so valued that his employers permitted him (though reluctantly) to climb virtually whenever he wanted. He knew he’d never be another Reinhold Messner, the master climber who had solo-climbed Mount Everest without oxygen. Yet there were times, and this was one of them, when that didn’t matter, so much did he feel a part of the mountain.
He kicked absently at a scree pile. Up here, above the tree line, where only shrubs grew out of the inhospitable gray granite, the wind was cold and biting. His hands had grown numb; he had to blow on them to keep them warm. His throat was raw, and his lungs ached from the frigid air.
He struggled to his feet, moved to the crack, and saw that its width varied from about an inch or so to half an inch. The rock face, up close, looked more perilous than he’d expected: a vertical rise with little to hold on to. He wedged his hands into the crack and, fitting his climbing shoes into toeholds in the smooth rock, he hoisted himself up.
He grabbed onto a cling hold, pulled himself up again, and managed to wedge his hands into the crack. Finger-jamming now, he edged up slowly, inch by inch, feeling the rhythm and knowing he could continue climbing this way clear to the top.
And then, for a brief instant, his reverie was interrupted by a sound, an electronic bleat he could not place. Someone seemed to be calling his name, which was impossible, of course, since he was up here completely by himself, but—
—then it came again, quite definitely his name, electronically amplified, and then he heard the unmistakable racket of helicopter blades crescendoing, and it came again: “Charlie!”
“Shit,” he muttered to himself, looking up.
There it was: a white-and-orange JetRanger 206B helicopter hovering just above the summit, coming in for a landing.
“Charlie, Mama wants you back home.” The pilot was speaking through an electric bullhorn, audible even over the deafening roar of the helicopter.
“Great timing,” Stone muttered again as he resumed finger-jamming his way up the crack. “Some fucking sense of humor.” Twenty more feet: they could just goddamn wait. So much for his day of climbing in the Adirondacks.
When, several minutes later, he reached the top, Stone bounded over to the helicopter, ducking slightly as he passed under the blades.
“Sorry, Charlie,” the pilot shouted over the din.
Stone gave a quick, engaging grin and shook his head as he clambered into the front seat. Immediately he put on the voice-activated headset and said, “Not your fault, Dave.” He strapped himself in.
“I think I just broke about five FAA regulations landing here,” the pilot replied, his voice thin and metallic as the helicopter lifted off the mountaintop. “I don’t think you can even call this an off-site landing. For a while there, I didn’t think I’d make it.”
“Couldn’t ‘Mama’ wait until tonight?” Stone asked plaintively.
“Just following orders, Charlie.”
“How the hell’d they find me out here?”
“I’m just the pilot.”
Stone smiled, amazed as always by the resources of his employers. He sat back, determined at least to enjoy the flight. From here, he calculated, it would be something like an hour to the helipad in Manhattan.
Then he sat upright with a jolt. “Hey, what about my car? It’s parked down there, and—”
“It’s already been taken care of,” the pilot said briskly. “Charlie, it’s something really big.”
Stone leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes, and smiled with grudging admiration. “Very thorough,” he said aloud to no one in particular.
Copyright © 1991 by Joseph Finder
Introduction copyright © 2013 by Joseph Finder
Excerpt from Extraordinary Powers copyright © 2005 by Joseph Finder