"Haynes is a gifted writer who grabs you on page one and doesn't let you go until the final page." -- Nelson DeMille
Three NTSB experts - people brought in to help investigate whenever a plane goes down - find themselves victims and witnesses rather than investigators when the plane they are on crashes.
En route to a conference, three NTSB experts -- known to insiders as "Crashers" -- Tommy Tomzak, a pathologist from Texas; Kiki Duvall, a sound engineer and former naval officer; and Isaiah Grey, investigator and former FBI agent - are aboard a twin turbo prop plane when, just outside of Helena, Montana, the plane crashes into a thickly forested moutainside. But the crash isn't an accident - it was brought down on purpose - and the "Crashers" weren't the target. The plane was brought down by mercenaries, led by an enigmatic, shadowy self-described patriot known only as Calendar, using weapons technology banned by international treaty. The targets - three men who planned to blow the whistle on the weapons technology and the power brokers behind its development.
In a twisty, compelling thriller that goes from the streets of Spain, to the mountains of the western United States, to the heart of the dark, hidden corridors of power where there are dangerous secrets that few suspect and fewer know, the "Crashers" are literally dropped in the middle of a case that neither starts, nor ends, with a plane crash with some of their own on-board. A new team of Crashers fights time, as a fire rages ever closer to the wreckage, conflicting and confusing evidence, and unpredictable outside forces trying to prevent them from uncovering the truth. With alllies - unseen and even unknown - working behind the scenes to help them, the team is trapped in the midst of a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse with the deadliest of consquences, a game that not all of them will survive...
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Read an Excerpt
SIX DAYS EARLIER
Renee Malatesta’s mobile thrummed. She ignored it.
She snugged the starched, white sheets around her and burrowed into the warm depression made by the German tourist she’d allowed to seduce her. He’d come to Segovia via bicycle. He had iron thighs and funny little ears and he smelled delicious. He slept the sleep of the just as Renee’s mobile thrummed again on the white-painted, faux-Victorian side table.
Renee’s nut-brown arm emerged from the eggshell-white sheet. She turned the phone so she could see the LED.
She glanced at the German biker, easily a dozen years her junior. He smiled in his sleep. She glanced around the havoc of the apartment, looking for her clothes. She found his bike jersey, decided it would do. She sat up, pulled it over her head, and freed her shoulder-length hair. She grabbed the phone and stepped out onto the ornate, wrought-iron balcony overlooking the plaza, thinking to herself, You could take the call in the apartment. It’s not a videophone.
Although, with Andrew, one never knew.
Four stories below, the nightlife of Segovia, Spain, was just getting started. It was 10:00 P.M. on a Friday, and everyone was in the plaza. Renee figured she was high enough that no one could really tell what she was wearing, and the big man’s jersey covered all the important bits.
She flipped open the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi.” He sounded chipper, but Andrew Malatesta always sounded chipper. “Sorry to bother you on vacation. I wanted to warn you.”
Renee stared down at the canopy of trees that dominated the center of the plaza. From the sounds of it, hundreds of people were out for the warm evening. “Warn me?”
“I’m at the AVE station in Madrid.” He pronounced it “abbey,” Castilian-style. “I’ll be there in thirty minutes or so.”
She blinked. “You’re in Spain?”
“I didn’t know if you had company. See you in a half hour.”
He hung up.
Renee tugged at the hem of the thin, blue shirt. Andrew was on his way. And he was in a mood to talk.
* * *
The German biker was agreeable about the rush. He dressed quickly, pecked her on the lips, and didn’t ask questions.
Renee took a long shower, washing all his cologne out of her hair and her skin.
She and Andrew weren’t living together, true, but they were still husband and wife. And they were business partners. She didn’t mind his suspecting that she’d taken an occasional lover but there was no point being cruel.
She’d carefully dried her wavy, shoulder-length hair with a diffuser. She pulled a white sundress out of her closet that would show off her tanned skin. Naked, she checked out her reflection in the full-length mirror, pronounced herself satisfied. Not bad for thirty-eight, she thought. Her eyes changed focus in the mirror, took in the rough, white-painted walls, the oak bedroom furniture, the five hundred-thread-count sheets, the spectacular view outside the open double doors to the balcony, and she smiled.
As Renee Noel, she had grown up in abject poverty in Haiti. She hadn’t owned shoes until she was twelve. Looking around, she fired off a quick prayer of thanks to God. As she did most mornings.
She pulled the sundress over her head, tied the string behind her neck, and padded barefoot into the apartment’s living room. Andrew was just setting down his ever-present saddlebag in the attached kitchen. He smiled up at her, his black hair askew.
“Care for a cava?”
She said, “Why not?”
* * *
They went down to the Plaza Mayor de Segovia and joined the revelry. Andrew went to the Bar Juan Bravo for two flutes of the good Spanish brut while Renee sat on the ornate, nineteenth-century bandstand, watching the city come to life. Everyone was out on this Friday night. Children chased one another. Young couples flirting. Senior citizens telling stories they’d told a thousand times before. The night was clear and the moon almost full.
Andrew returned with the sparkling white wine, handed one flute to her, and stepped up onto the octagonal bandstand, leaning against the ornate iron railing. With his Sicilian roots, jet-black hair, and aquiline nose, he looked like a local.
“Cheers.” They sipped. The wine was good; not sweet. They couldn’t see the fourteenth-century wall or the much-older Roman acueducto from here but knew that a younger crowd would be gathering beneath its shadow tonight, to drink and laugh and skateboard. To the west, the great catedral glowed rose-colored at night, throwing ruby-tinted shadows across the revelers.
“I assume you weren’t just passing through.”
He gave her that brilliant Andrew Malatesta smile. The one that raised the ambient temperature in any given room a couple of degrees. He had deep-set eyes. That smile still made Renee’s heart flutter, even though she realized that everyone got the same one. A handsome man at forty, his hair remained untouched by gray and more than a little wild. He had a clean-shaven face and the body of an avid runner and soccer player.
“Darling”—he sipped his wine—“is someone, somewhere, working on the device?”
Fuck! she thought.
Children raced by, screaming laughter and dodging the young couples necking. Renee said, “Creating or even testing that device is prohibited by the Bruges Accord.” She smiled back over her shoulder at him. “Why do you ask?” Although she knew. She knew.
A futbol descended onto the bandstand from out of nowhere. Andrew shifted position, caught the ball with his raised left knee to bleed off its momentum. He glanced around, found the players. He dribbled the ball with his loafer, then side kicked it straight back to one of them. The boys howled with laughter and applauded. He didn’t spill a drop of his wine.
“There are footprints in the files.” He spoke with his back to her, watching the scrimmage. “Someone’s been in our backup server.”
“It was probably Antal looking up—”
He turned quickly. “It wasn’t Antal.” He crossed to her, sat on the steps, too, so they were shoulder to shoulder.
“Send Tichnor a message for me, honey.”
“I haven’t spoken to Barry in weeks.”
“Tell him, if he touches the device or any of my designs without my express permission, I will go to the press. About everything.”
Renee stared into his eyes. He didn’t yell, didn’t even raise his voice. But his anger seethed under the surface. There were maybe six people on Earth who could tell the real emotions behind his smile. Andrew’s wife was one of them.
“No one’s touched the damn thing,” she said. “You’re being paranoid.”
He smiled, his mahogany eyes cast down.
He’d been home in Maryland the last she’d checked. To fly all the way to Spain and take the high-speed AVE train to their vacation apartment in Segovia meant he wasn’t guessing. He knew. For sure.
When he didn’t respond, she decided to press his buttons. “How is your mom?”
He glanced up. “My mom?”
She sipped her wine. “This is delicious. Thank you. Did you bring running clothes? I was going to jog around the walled part of the city later, get—”
“Mom is fine. I don’t want to run. Halcyon/Detweiler is experimenting with my weapon designs.” He spoke in the same calm, even voice as always. His smile was ironic.
She sipped the brut, bought time. “You work sixteen hours a day down in your lab, coming up only for beer or to kick around a football. You’re growing mad.”
“There have been three breaches. I have them documented. The blueprints and their specs were downloaded in increments, hoping I wouldn’t notice. After the second breach, I added a little something of my own. For the third breach, the terminal they used was in the Halcyon/Detweiler main research facility, outside Reston. I don’t know if it was Barry’s fat little fingers on the keyboard but, hey, I’ve got logs of when he used his parking pass and when he used his swipe key to get into that very room.”
Her blood froze. “Trojan horse?”
“Inside the specs. Of course. The bastards are real, dear. Barry Tichnor is real. They’re studying my prototypes, trying to create the device.”
The blood drained from her face. She set the flute down next to her gladiator sandals. “Andrew? Andrew, this isn’t just breaking some contract. This is corporate espionage against a Fortune 200 company!”
Andrew sipped the cava.
When Renee was angry, her Haitian accent tended to kick in. “Go home. Go invent a better mousetrap. Go invent a better windmill; it’ll give you something to tilt at. Go fuck Terri and leave homeland security to patriots.”
Andrew smiled. He finished his wine in a gulp. “Patriots,” he repeated, whispering.
“You think America doesn’t have enemies? You think the Barry Tichnors of the world are just pesky capitalists?”
He set his glass down on the step. “If you provide access to the device or any of our prototypes for Barry or anyone else, be they Halcyon or even the Pentagon, I will go to the media. I’m not kidding here, honey. When have you ever known me to bluff?”
Her anger snapped. She stood, stepped down onto the flagstones of the plaza. “When you said, I do!”
Andrew smiled his smile. “I’m not, you know. Fucking Terri. And it’s difficult to maintain the moral high ground when there’s a condom wrapper in the kitchen garbage.”
Renee paced, her mind racing. “I’m your lawyer. Go to the media and you’ll be breaking your nondisclosure agreement. Halcyon’s lawyers would crush us!”
He ran his hand through his always-askew hair. “I’ve written depth-charge programs into our backup server. Tell Halcyon if they go scrounging in there they’ll release a virus that will fry their mainframes. I swear to God, it’s the most malleable virus ever. It’ll send Tichnor’s corporation back to the Stone Age. They want to sue me, they’ll have to scrounge up a manual typewriter to do it.”
“Now it’s treason and corporate espionage plus sabotage! Andrew, goddammit! Stop being so pig-brained! This is a matter of national security!”
“It’s not, you know. It’s the military-industrial complex putting itself above international law.”
She scoffed. “International law?”
He smiled. “Spoken like a true lawyer.”
“You never understood the importance of Malatesta, Inc. being a Pentagon subcontractor. It’s not just the millions you pissed away, you holier-than-thou bastard! Your designs are brilliant! They’re revolutionary! The security of—”
Andrew belted out a laugh.
Renee flinched. “What?”
“The irony, baby, is that you’re not wrong. I have more than sixty patents to my name, and the weapon-design stuff is some of my all-time-best work. And it’s awful. Awful.”
Renee couldn’t hear the sheer anger in his voice. But she could read it in his eyes.
“It was hubris. It was ego. And, fuck, yes, it was greed. Halcyon/Detweiler and the Pentagon dangled millions of dollars in our faces and I had visions of sugarplums and Maseratis. I admit it. It was the high of the dollar. But, baby? I’m not a weapons builder. I’m not.”
She glanced around the plaza. Two hundred people out and all were ignoring their spat. Couples fight in public in Spain. It was no big deal.
She steeled her jaw. “Except you are a weapons builder. And America needs you.”
Andrew stood and dusted off the back of his trousers. “Baby?”
She said, “It’s Renee,” and glowered.
“Renee?” He stepped closer to her, his hands on her shoulders. He kissed her and she stood her ground, not kissing back but not averting her lips, either. “I love you. I’m sorry about … you know. Everything. Tell Tichnor I’ll strafe his mainframe if he takes any files off our server. Tell him I’m out.”
He turned and walked the length of the plaza back to their pied-à-terre.
Copyright © 2011 by Dana Haynes
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This author has made a bang-up entry into the world of fiction. You are right up there alongside the investigators, finding out who-dunit. Can't wait for the next book in this great new series!
Starts off slow and confusing. But does it get much better. Real good reading.
Loved this book in the beginning it was a little slow but then it took off and became a great book. I will read more books this author puts out. Its been awhile since I've read a great book. Good books are easier to find.
(I know! I've never been more excited!!!)
Patrisha grab my hand!*raced over to her and grabbed her hand yanking her back*
*it glows brighter and the purple swirls begin to reach out to her. Forming tendrals*