“Apologies for the shock yesterday, but we couldn’t take any chances. You’ve proven you’re more than capable at handling yourself, and I didn’t want to risk any further loss of life. Yours or my men.”
“Loss of life, huh? That’s what you’re so worried about now?”
“We also took the liberty of rehydrating you, giving you some nourishment, new clothes. Seeing to your injuries. I have to say...you look much better.”
Ethan glanced out the window—endless pine forests streaming through valleys and over hills that occasionally climbed above the timberline into sheer rock escarpments.
“Where are you taking me?” Ethan asked.
“I’m keeping my word.”
“You. I’m showing you what this is all about.”
“I don’t under—”
“You will. How much longer, Roger?”
The pilot broke in over the headset. “Have you on the ground in fifteen.”
* * *
It was a jaw-dropping sweep of backcountry.
No roads, no houses as far as Ethan could see.
Just forested hills and the occasional squiggle of water through the trees—glimpses of stream and river.
Soon, the pine forest fell away behind them and Ethan could tell by the pitch change of the twin-turbine that the pilot had initiated their descent.
* * *
They flew over brown, arid-looking foothills, which over the course of ten miles flowed down into a vast hardwood-conifer forest.
At two hundred feet AGL, the helicopter banked and circled the same square mile of real estate for several minutes while Pope studied the terrain through a pair of binoculars.
He finally spoke into his mike. “We’re looking good.”
* * *
They set down in a large clearing surrounded by towering oaks in full autumn color, the rotors stirring the grass in long wavelengths that expanded out from the helicopter in concentric circles.
Ethan gazed across the field while the engines powered down.
Jenkins said, “Would you join me for a little hike, Ethan?”
Pam reached over, unbuckled his lap belt and shoulder harness.
“Cuffs too?” she asked.
Jenkins looked at Ethan. “You’ll behave?”
Ethan leaned forward so Pam could access the keyhole.
The bracelets popped open.
He stretched his arms out and massaged his wrists.
Jenkins looked at Pope, opened his hand, said, “You bring something for me like I asked?”
The sheriff filled it with a stainless-steel revolver that looked beefy enough to have been bored out for .357 Magnum cartridges.
Jenkins looked dubious.
“I’ve seen you shoot,” Pope said. “You’ll be fine. Anywhere near the heart, or better yet a head shot, and you’re golden.”
Pope reached back behind his seat and came up with an AK-47 outfitted with a hundred-round drum. Ethan watched him switch the mode from safety to three-round burst.
Jenkins pulled off his headset. Then he swept aside the curtain between the passenger cabin and the cockpit, said to the pilot, “We’ll be on channel four, and you’ll hear from us if we need to leave in a hurry.”
“I’ll keep my finger on the engine start.”
“You radio at the first sign of trouble.”
“Arnie left you a gun?”
“Two, in fact.”
“We won’t be long.”
Jenkins opened the cabin door and climbed out.
After Pope and Pam, Ethan followed, stepping down onto the skid and then into the soft, waist-high grass. He caught up with Jenkins, and the four of them moved quickly across the field, Pope out in front with the assault rifle, Pam bringing up the rear.
It was late in the day—a crisp, golden afternoon.
Everyone seemed twitchy and nervous, like they were out on a patrol.
Ethan said, “Ever since I came to Wayward Pines, you’ve done nothing but f**k with me. What are we doing out here in the goddamned wilderness? I want to know right now.”
They entered the woods, slogging their way through a riot of underbrush.
The noise of birds getting louder.
“But Ethan, this isn’t the wilderness.”
Ethan glimpsed something barely visible through the trees, realized he’d initially missed it because of all the vegetation. He quickened his pace, now clawing his way through the bushes and saplings that comprised the forest understory, Jenkins following closely behind.
When Ethan arrived at the base of it, he stopped and looked up.
For a moment, he didn’t understand exactly what he was staring at. Down low, the beams were wrapped in several feet of dead and living vines, the brown and the green camouflaging the shape of the structure, blending it so seamlessly into the color of the forest that if you looked at it askance, it disappeared.
Higher up, the color of the steel beams showed through—rust so deep it verged on red. Centuries of oxidation. Three oak trees had grown up right through the heart of it, twisting and turning as they climbed, some of the branches even providing support for the girders. Only the framework of the lower six floors still stood—the corroded skeleton of a building. A handful of beams near the top had bent over and curled like ringlets of auburn-colored hair, but most of the steelwork had long ago collapsed into the center to be subsumed by the forest floor.
The sound of birds coming from the ruin was tremendous. Like an avian high-rise. Nests everywhere Ethan looked.
“Remember when you told me you wanted to be transferred to a hospital in Boise?” Jenkins asked.
“Well, I’ve brought you to Boise. Right into the center of town.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re looking at the U.S. Bank building. Tallest skyscraper in Idaho. That’s where the Secret Service’s Boise field office is located, right? Up on seventeen?”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“I know this looks like a forest floor, but we’re actually standing in the middle of Capitol Boulevard. The state capitol is just a third of a mile through those trees, although to find any trace of it, you’d have to dig.”
“What is this? Some kind of trick?”
“I told you.”
Ethan grabbed the man by his collar and pulled Jenkins in close. “Start making sense.”
“You were put into suspended animation. You saw the units—”
“For how long?”