Doug Calderon eased back his airplane seat and stretched his long legs as far as they could reach. Resting his temple on the little circular window, he watched the lights of Nashville glow dimly through the fog below, smudges of red and white and yellow under a curtain of gauze. The stars above were clearer. The scattered dots stood out sharp and bright, the Milky Way a dusty swipe across a blackboard.
There were only four seats on the Cessna Citation Mustang—three of which were empty—as well as a neat little center console perfectly sized for the small pile of loose-leaf sheets it held. Between the creak of the upholstery and the shine on the paneling’s fake mahogany finish, Doug could almost believe he was sitting in the back of a chauffeur-driven Maybach.
Swirling the bourbon in his glass, he admired the flight’s usual hospitality. A fifteen-year Pappy Van Winkle the color of buffed copper. The bottle had been waiting for him in the holder against the wall next to a couple of glasses, ready for him to serve himself.
The kind of in-flight beverage every airline should offer.
These kinds of perks made up for having to do this every week.
He sipped with deep contentment, savoring the notes of dried fruit, the hint of pepper, and that touch of smokiness on the tongue he always looked for in a bourbon. Tastebuds were said to lose their senses in a pressurized cabin—he’d read that in a magazine—so that a fine rye on ground level could taste as bland in the air as the cheapest powdered lemonade.
But at that moment, Doug really didn’t give a damn.
Sipping an aged bourbon while sitting in a leather armchair as the only passenger in an executive jet sure made up for any loss of flavor. Even if this wasn’t exactly how top-shelf bourbon was supposed to taste, it was certainly how top-shelf bourbon was supposed to be consumed.
He slid the glass back into the drink holder before picking up the contract in front of him.
Besides his usual business, this little thing was what had put him here. A new account.
A real rush job with intensive effort, and therefore, no expense spared. He’d spent the entire day negotiating the terms in person. That meant a journey from Nashville to New York and back again in a single day with all the weight of the deal on his shoulders.
Plenty of other lawyers would’ve said no to a job like that. To a client like her. But Doug didn’t like saying no. Not to someone prepared to fork out whatever it took.
He ran his finger down the first page, rereading the definitions of the first party and the second party and so on. Like a ballplayer studying recordings, he liked to go back over his finished work—there was always room for improvement.
No one could say he hadn’t earned the rewards his efforts brought him. The sacrifices he’d made, the debts he’d run up and paid off as he and Annette built the practice. The path he’d chosen hadn’t been easy. Not at all. A set of difficult decisions, one after the other. A constant series of compromises that had brought him the life he’d always wanted.
Adding a second was perfectly justified.
He flipped to the last page. There was his signature at the bottom, Douglas Calderon, Esq., next to the scrawls of the representatives of the second party. And between the opening lines of the contract and those signatures, no more than two and a half pages outlined the shipment terms, payment details, delivery dates, and the penalties for nonfulfillment of the pharmaceutical.
An initial ten kiloliters of Ventolin with the option to increase the amount in future shipments. The contract was one of the smallest Doug had ever negotiated for a client. The terms should’ve been straightforward, and yet the suppliers had argued over every clause and comma.
For ten kilos of “Ventolin.”
Doug chuckled and swirled another sip of bourbon around in his mouth.
As if the contract were enforceable. As if the Ventolin bullshit was anything more than a cover. As if anyone was going to court if one side or the other failed to meet their obligations. That wasn’t how his client operated, as the second party knew perfectly well.
They worked in exactly the same way.
But every business needed its paperwork. And every party liked playing hardball.
One thing was for sure—the less he knew, the better.
And he already knew way too much.
Setting the papers aside, he grabbed his magazine. The cover showed a new Lamborghini, the flaps of its yellow scissor doors turned upward. He flipped to the review of the new Dodge Charger, folded back the page, and admired the image.
Such a beautiful thing. The solid lines, the understated rear spoiler, the narrow hood scoop just ready to sniff up the white lines down the middle of the road.
How Doug wanted to climb inside, floor the gas, and hear that V8 engine roar. There was no music sweeter, no sensation more exhilarating, than torque slamming a spine into the back of a car seat.
For a moment, Doug wondered if he was getting too old for this kind of thing. He’d left fifty behind him over a year ago. With retirement in sight, the days when he expected to impress a young woman as he revved his engine at a red light were long gone. She might be impressed by the car, but the gray hair encircling the widening bald patch on the crown of his head and the deep lines on the sides of his eyes that remained well after he’d stopped smiling killed the magic.
He wasn’t kidding anyone.
But the image of the Charger in an abandoned airfield, seemingly ready to take off in flight, made him feel like a twentysomething single man again. Except with money.
Cars like those had been his dream since before he’d been old enough to see over the steering wheel. To drive them, to race down an empty road and feel the rocket ship-like power beneath his feet…that was more exciting than any deal he’d made over the course of his career.
These days, he could afford a car like that—in fact, he had plenty. There was no way he was going to give them up just because some people might think him too old for toys. This was what sacrifice and compromise were for.
The intercom buzzed.
“This is Captain Peter Tillstrom speaking. We’ve started our final approach into Nashville. Please fasten your seat belt.”
Doug picked up the buckle, then gave it a second thought. There was no grouchy attendant on this flight telling him what to do. Besides, what could possibly happen? The plane wasn’t going to crash into a lamppost or make an emergency stop. He wasn’t going to fly headfirst into any windshield. He could do whatever the hell he liked, which was exactly what this life was about.
He tossed the seat belt aside, took one final slug of his bourbon, and dove into the review of the new Charger’s under-hood muscle.
A thud, like a heavy suitcase falling, came from across the aisle.
Before he could fully process what was happening, a deafening bang erupted, tearing a massive chunk from the plane’s wall. A ferocious whirlwind of air invaded the cabin through the gaping hole in the fuselage, drowning the alarms and the chaotic clattering of compartments. Emergency masks swung wildly, dangling in the pandemonium.
His contract papers swirled, tornadolike, in the mayhem. The bottle of bourbon and the two rocks glasses shattered, raining crystal. A pang of regret, sharper than any glass fragment, pierced his heart.
As the plane cracked down the middle, Doug was thrust from his seat. With a blast of pain, his shoulder crashed against the top of the bulkhead. Even as he reached for something, anything, to hold onto, time seemed to stretch. Flashes of his family, his first car, even the smell of his childhood home flooded his senses.
And then, like a seed through a straw, Doug was sucked out through the tear in the plane’s body and propelled into the vast abyss, caught between city lights below and the infinite stars above.
FBI Special Agent Stella Knox couldn’t believe it. She blinked, hoping that when she opened her eyes again, the night sky would look different.
Above, a glow illuminated the clouds where a plane had hovered a second earlier, and as a yellow streak shot across the sky, the sound of its engine shifted from a deep and steady drone to a high-pitched screech that whistled toward the horizon.
The boom from the explosion still echoed all around her.
Stella inhaled a sharp breath. Sesame oil. The scent assaulted her as she stared up at the sky in horror, a reminder of why she was currently standing outside Special Agent Hagen Yates’s Nashville town house.
The fragrance floated on the air, thick and nutty. Either her FBI colleague had gone to town with the stuff on the noodle soup he’d invited her over to share, or her senses were particularly sharp tonight.
Either could be true.
Or maybe she was having a nightmare.
Please let it be that.
After all, she’d been exhausted after spending much of the day in darkness, scrambling through the caverns of Southern Tennessee, relying on touch and sound and smell, after a killer had abducted her and Special Agent Stacy Lark. With the help of Agents Chloe Foster, Ander Bennett, and Hagen, who’d arrived in the nick of time, they’d escaped and made the arrest.
Though the murderer had almost killed Hagen.
Even though he’d had the killer in his sights, he’d held his fire. Instead of taking the shot, he hesitated, putting his trust in his colleagues to complete the capture and in the judicial system to levy the punishment.
That wasn’t like him at all.
Only a few days had passed since he’d allowed another killer to slip through his fingers…to his death from a fifth-floor fire escape.
Hagen had found the man who’d killed his father. Donald Monahon, a former officer in the Memphis Police Department. Instead of making the arrest, Hagen and the man scuffled, the confrontation ending with Monahon dropping five floors to his death.
Stella had arrived just in time to see Monahon’s wrist slip through Hagen’s grasp and his head smash on the street below.
Maybe that had been a nightmare too?
No. That was too real.
Monahon hadn’t just killed Hagen’s father—a prominent criminal defense attorney—he’d murdered Stella’s police sergeant father too. For years, Stella had wanted nothing more than to see her father’s killer in court. She’d hankered for the day the jury would return its verdict and the judge would announce a sentence that would send him to a concrete cell for the rest of his life with no chance of parole.
Meanwhile, all Hagen wanted was revenge. He’d seen his father help too many of Tennessee’s worst criminals go free to put his faith in the law. When he’d had the choice of arresting his father’s murderer or letting him die, he’d made his decision.
But in the caverns, he’d made a different one.
Hagen didn’t usually make her nervous. They’d grown close over the last few weeks while chasing down killers and investigating their fathers’ deaths. But after she’d seen him drop Monahon from the fire escape of his apartment building, she’d lost faith, assuming they were on different paths and chasing different goals.
Now she doubted that conviction.
In Memphis, he’d insisted what happened to Monahon had been an accident. That the old man had tripped, and Hagen hadn’t been able to haul him back up alone. She hadn’t believed him.
But maybe she’d been wrong. Maybe he had changed. She’d seen that change yesterday. The moment between the aim of his weapon and the second they’d wrestled the suspect to the ground had made the difference between who he’d been and who he was now.
Still, she needed to talk to him to make sure, because they weren’t finished with the investigation of their fathers’ murders. Before Donald Monahon died, he’d given Hagen the name of the man who’d given the order to kill their fathers.
Ramirez had been her father’s partner. She’d recently discovered he’d worked undercover to track a web of corrupt cops in Memphis and was currently in witness protection. In other words, he’d gone to ground. They were trying to find him, looking for a way to gather the evidence they needed to arrest him.
Now, once more, Stella really believed she could make that arrest with Hagen. He’d grown. He no longer acted on impulse and anger.
She could trust him. At least, she thought she could. But could she trust herself?
Is any of this real?
From inside Hagen’s town house, Bubs barked, bringing her back to the nightmare unfolding in front of her. The plane falling…falling…
Turning, Stella pounded on the door. She winced as her injured wrist protested. Her arm had only recently come out of its cast, and she was still a little sore.
The shriek of the plane racing into the fog above the city nearly muffled Bub’s barking, tearing through Stella’s nerves. She put her hand to the living room window. The lights were on, and a glass of beer stood half empty on the table, but there was no one inside.
Where the hell is he?
A few moments later, a strange, muffled roar came from a distance.
And what the hell was that?
Had the plane crashed already? If so, she’d expected the sound to be louder. A quick glance up answered that question. The plane was still falling…falling…
She ran around the side of the house to Hagen’s backyard. Maybe he was in the kitchen listening to music with his headphones on. He was expecting her, after all. For a moment, she wondered whether he’d reach for his gun and shoot as soon as he saw someone approaching his patio, but she pushed the thought out of her head.
Hagen was more cautious now, more thoughtful and less impulsive. He wouldn’t shoot her.
The blinds on the patio door were open, the light in the kitchen revealing a cutting board with a line of half-chopped green onions scattered alongside a knife. A pile of cilantro waited its turn next to the blade, and a bowl of soup sat beside the chopping board.
Bubs trotted into the kitchen and sat by the door, waiting for Stella to come in. She tugged at the handle, but the door was locked, and Hagen was nowhere to be seen. Stella banged her fist against the glass. Bubs watched her but didn’t move.
“Dammit, Hagen. Where are you?”
The butterflies in her belly were transforming into bats. Large black creatures that brought both fear and anger. She’d spoken to him less than half an hour ago. He’d sounded fine. And now he was gone.
And a plane is falling from the sky.
She took out her phone and called 911 to report the explosion in the sky. She apparently wasn’t the only witness, and the dispatcher barely took her name before hanging up on her.
Stella knocked on the door again. “Where are you?”
She called Hagen’s number this time. The line rang and rang before going to voicemail.
Bubs licked the end of his nose. Stella’s heart sank as a chilling and horrifying idea rose.
The man Hagen let die, Donald Monahon, had been a scumbag on the Memphis PD in the early 2000s and an underling in the illegal organization of the man Stella hated most, Joel Ramirez, who’d been her father’s partner on the force. And Donald had a daughter.
Samantha Monahon was a murderer, plain and simple, just like her corrupt cop father. While Hagen’s assault had led to her arrest, she’d just escaped from custody. If she was looking for revenge, Hagen would be at the top of her list.
And she wasn’t the type to ignore a grudge.
Surely, though, Samantha wouldn’t waste time with abductions or torture. If she’d come out of hiding to take revenge, she’d have shot Hagen in the head and left his body where the FBI could find it. She’d want everyone to know what she’d done.
There was no sign of a break-in or a struggle. No broken glass or bloodstains on the floor. Bubs looked more curious than concerned. Stella went back to the front door and tugged at the handle. Glancing around, she tried to imagine where someone like Hagen might hide an extra key.
That was when she saw a slip of paper that must’ve fallen from the edge of the door, half buried beneath the mat.
The handwriting was Hagen’s.
Got a lead on Ramirez. Sorry.
Anger flamed in Stella’s chest, burning away her confusion over everything that was currently happening. At that moment, she didn’t care where Hagen’s lead had come from. Leaving like this was such a stupid thing to do.
Especially as a plane is literally falling from the sky.
Dammit. Hagen didn’t have the evidence to make an arrest, and beating a confession out of Ramirez wouldn’t help them. They had nothing to gain by seeing Ramirez now. Nothing except the satisfaction that came from killing the man who’d ordered their fathers’ deaths.
That was where Hagen had gone, in search of a personal satisfaction that ignored justice and pushed her needs aside.
Crumpling the note into a ball, Stella turned her back on the door and examined the sky, barely able to see the falling plane above the trees now.
Please crash in a field. Not a populated area.
She brought up the number of Supervisory Special Agent Paul Slade. She needed his help.
Since learning of their search for Memphis’s criminal mastermind, their boss had been helpful and understanding, and he’d gotten Hagen out of jail after the death of Donald Monahon. Although, he’d also told them to back off and leave Ramirez alone for now.
If Hagen had shot off to confront the man, Slade would not be pleased. Not at all. Stella could do nothing for the people inside the plane, but she could do this. Slade needed to know. Stella’s deep disappointment in Hagen was evolving into something much harder.
She didn’t care what Slade would do to Hagen. She really didn’t.
Her boss answered on the second ring. “Stella. I’ve just had a report of a small plane coming down. Might be an accident. If not, we’re—”
“I saw it explode, but that’s only one of two reasons I’m calling.” Stella spat out what she knew. “I’m at Hagen’s. He’s not here. He’s gone after Ramirez.”
The line fell silent for a moment. “You think, or you know?”
“I know. He invited me over for supper earlier. But when I got here, he was gone. Then the plane exploded, and I found this note.” She pressed a hand to her forehead. She was blathering.
“You sure it’s from him? Any sign of a break-in? Samantha Monahon’s out and—”
“I know. I checked. There’s nothing here. The note’s in his handwriting, and he’d have found a way to show me if he was writing under duress. I talked to him thirty minutes ago, and he sounded…he sounded fine.”
“That doesn’t mean he was home.”
“It’s just after nine p.m. now—”
“His phone’s probably off, but I can check. We don’t know where he’s going, and we don’t have enough to put out a BOLO. Even if I wanted to. And I don’t think we need to get the marshals involved.”
Slade fell silent again. Stella could almost hear his brain ticking.
“All we can do is trust him. And I do trust him, Stella. Hagen might do stupid things sometimes. He might act when he needs to think or fly off the handle when he needs to get a grip, but I don’t think he’ll cross the line. Not when the time comes.”
Stella said nothing. In the distance, another explosion lit up the sky. The plane had hit the ground.
Anger burned in her chest. Helplessness too.
Those poor people.
And in the middle of it all, this thing with Hagen. Trusting him felt too weak, and yet, Slade seemed comfortable doing nothing. His indifference surprised Stella and kicked at her certainty.
“So we don’t to do a thing? Just let him go?”
“Call him again. Leave a message telling him to get his ass back here. I’ve got to go…Nashville PD’s on the other line. They’ll probably want some help with whatever happened to that airplane.”
“Let me know.” She brushed a lone tear away. “I just watched it fall from the sky like a meteorite.”
To continue reading Killer Blast click HERE!
Fly the deadly skies…
As FBI Special Agents Stella Knox and Hagen Yates inch closer to apprehending the mastermind behind their fathers’ assassinations, tragedy strikes. A private jet explodes over Nashville, its sole passenger skewered on a skyscraper’s antennae during his descent.
Why would a perfectly good plane fall out of the sky?
The team quickly rules out pilot error and learn that the plane was meticulously maintained. This leads Stella and the rest of the team to a chilling conclusion: intentional sabotage. But why?
A terrorist would have picked a more crowded plane. So who would want the pilot or the single passenger dead?… Read More