WHEN A U-2 SPY PLANE GOES DOWN IN A FIERY HEAP, THE PILOT'S DEATH IS A TRAGEDY BUT IT'S NO ACCIDENT.
U.S. Colonel Ed Coffin is sent to South Korea, the land of his birth, to lead the most important and grim investigation of his career: a secret U-2 spy plane has crashed under highly suspicious circumstances. A former U-2 squadron commander, Coffin is teamed up with his former lover, the irrepressible OSI investigator Marva "Mother" Hubbard, and together they learn that the plane's pilot was specifically targeted for death but why? Navigating a geopolitical web strewn with murder, ambition, and betrayal, Coffin is soon embroiled in a desperate race for survival. But Coffin is also on another, more personal mission and one way or the other, it may be his last.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Patrick A. Davis is the national and New York Times bestselling author of six previous novels: The Commander, A Slow Walk to Hell, A Long Day for Dying, The Colonel, The General, and The Passenger. He is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and the Army Command and General Staff College, and a former Air Force major who flew during the Gulf War. He helped plan and direct U-2 surveillance operations for Operation Desert Storm and flew eleven combat sorties. He is a former pilot with a major airline.
Read an Excerpt
By Patrick A. Davis
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SIX MONTHS LATER, OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN
From somewhere above the droning noise, Colonel Ed Coffin became dimly aware someone was calling him. Then he felt a hand shake his shoulder.
"Colonel, sir. Wake up. Sir..."
Colonel Coffin's eyes cracked open. He was lying in a darkened metallic tube and an attractive young woman with boyishly cropped red hair and wearing an even more boyish-looking flight suit was peering down upon him with concern.
"Jesus," she said, smiling with relief. "You had us worried. I'm been trying to wake you for the past five minutes, sir."
"Wake me? Give me a second."
His groggy mind slowly processed his surroundings. Open walls filled with wiring, cargo pallets wedged around him, the telltale hum of engines. It clicked; he was the lone passenger on a C-141 military transport, flying from Hickam Air Base, Hawaii, to Korea. Easing upright from the web seats he'd been lying on, he smiled apologetically at the woman. As the plane's loadmaster, she was responsible for the cargo and the care and feeding of passengers.
"I took a sleeping pill, Sergeant," Coffin said. "Guess it worked."
"I'll say, sir. You been out for almost seven hours."
Her eyes lingered on his with more than a passing interest. It was a reaction Colonel Coffin was accustomed to, and not only from women. People were curious about his ethnicity -- his mother was Asian, his father white -- and the mismatchbetween his youthful appearance and the eagles on his blue Air Force uniform. With his black hair, spare frame, and boyish good looks, Ed Coffin just didn't look old enough to be a full colonel.
But at forty-three, he was.
"The pills were prescription. Migraines." Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Coffin glanced out a window. It was a clear night, and peering downward, he was surprised to see they were still at cruise altitude, well out over the water.
"We're not landing?"
"Not for another two hours, Colonel."
"Two hours?" Coffin felt a trace of irritation. "Mind telling me why you woke me?"
But the loadmaster had keyed the mike on her headset. "The colonel's okay, Captain Beale. You want him up front or -- "
Motioning Coffin forward, she said, "Go on up to the cockpit, sir. Captain Beale's reinitiating the phone patch now."
"Osan Command Post, sir. They want to talk to you."
She waited expectantly, but instead of rising, Coffin removed a battered Korean-English dictionary from his shirt pocket and began studying it.
The seconds passed. A minute. Coffin kept reading. The loadmaster began a nervous two-step; he pointedly ignored it.
Listening to her headset, she finally said to Coffin, "Sir, Captain Beale has the CP on the line."
"Congratulations," Coffin grunted, without looking up.
Her mouth cycled open and closed. As a sergeant, she certainly couldn't order Coffin forward. "Right," she said into the mike, "I told him, Captain Beale. But the colonel doesn't seem to want to -- "
"Correct, Sergeant," Coffin interrupted her. "Tell Captain Beale to relay to the CP that I'm on leave for the next week."
She relayed the message. To Coffin, "Sir, the CP says it's urgent."
Coffin knew precisely what the problem was; he'd even anticipated this eventuality. A fast burner in the promotion game, Ed Coffin had spent his twenty-year career carefully choosing assignments with the sole purpose of making rank. A master at manipulation and blessed with natural charm, he'd pinned on full colonel years ahead of his peers. Setting his eyes on the next rung of the ladder, Coffin had lobbied to become a four-star general's executive officer -- a crucial job because it guaranteed him a powerful sponsor. After a few years of filling squares in various command billets, Coffin finally landed his coveted exec job, working for General Marvin Ford, the four-star in charge of all Pacific Air Forces. For the past fourteen months, Coffin had run the general's life, coordinating everything from appointments and briefings to picking out civilian suits for the general to wear. Hell, Coffin even picked up his laundry and walked the general's dogs.
Demeaning chores for a colonel -- not that Coffin minded. To him, all that mattered was ingratiating himself to Ford and ensuring his support.
But nothing is forever and attitudes change.
Recently, Coffin had taken stock of his life and come to the painful realization that he'd been mistaken all these years. He'd always believed that success, professional success, was a precursor to happiness. But the truth was, he was miserable. He had no life, no purpose outside his work. With few close friends and no serious relationships -- he'd only proposed to one woman and she'd turned him down -- there was no one with whom to share his success. In past, his parents had been there for him, but they'd died in a car accident, leaving him alone.
And loneliness was a feeling that was all too familiar to Coffin. Until seven, he'd lived in a Korean orphanage and, as a mixed-race kid, he'd been regarded as something of a pariah. Adoption had been his salvation, affording him an opportunity for a far better life. Still, his early childhood branded him, and he never forgot that feeling of loneliness, the acute sense of exclusion. It's what fueled his constant need to prove himself.
But, at what cost?
That was the question Coffin had finally gotten around to asking himself. And he didn't like the answer.
The next step hadn't been easy. It took Coffin a week to summon the courage to tell General Ford that he no longer wanted to be his exec.
"You understand what this means?"
In a year, Coffin would meet his primary board for general, when he had his best chance for a star. Without Ford's signature on his annual evaluation, the odds of making it were slim to none unless a miracle occurred and he was promoted early.
"General, I have my reasons..."
"They'd better be good, Ed."
Apparently, they were. Once Coffin explained his rationale, the general didn't try to talk him out of it. He just wished him the best and initiated the transition process. As of next week, Coffin's babysitting assignment would be officially over, his replacement already in place.
And that, of course, was the problem behind the command post request. Coffin's replacement.
Ford's new exec was a cocky guy who'd waltzed in like he was the new sheriff in town and made it clear he had no intention of taking advice. That was fine with Coffin. Instead of wasting time training the guy, Coffin opted to take a week of leave.
But he figured he'd get a panicked call when the new exec realized he wasn't the Shell Answer Man and discovered Ford had a low tolerance for foul-ups. Well, screw him; the guy had his chance.
Smiling grimly, Coffin checked his watch. Almost 1830 hours, Korea time, and he tried to recall when he'd last eaten. Pocketing the dictionary, he rummaged under the seat for his box lunch. The loadmaster began two-stepping again.
"Relax, Sergeant," he said, offering a smile, "odds are it's only a misplaced briefing or itinerary."
Her pretty face went blank.
Coffin sighed, motioned for her headset and mike. "Captain Beale, Colonel Coffin -- "
"Tell the CP I'll phone on a land line when we land -- "
"Hang on, sir. The CP's calling again. I'll put the HF on intercom so you can hear."
The operative word was hear. Coffin's mike was intercom-only; he couldn't transmit over the plane's radios.
As he waited, he fished out a ham sandwich. Ten hours ago, it had probably been edible. He shrugged; as a bachelor, he'd eaten worse.
Moments later, he heard the telltale hiss of a high frequency radio. Then: "Razor, two-four, Osan CP. Inform Colonel Coffin his leave is canceled and he is ordered to come to the radio."
"You get that, sir?" Beale said to Coffin.
Coffin's mind kicked into gear. One thing was certain; this had nothing to do with the new exec.
"I'm coming up."
Rising, Coffin felt the beginnings of another headache.
Finishing off the sandwich in two large bites, Coffin made his way forward to the cockpit. He knew he looked like hell and was tempted to slip into the lav and clean up. But any additional delay would be pushing it; someone with serious clout was already irritated with him.
Likely candidates? General Ford? Didn't figure. He's the one who approved the leave, insisted Coffin take it. General Gruver, the three-star Seventh Air Force commander in Korea? Possible. But Coffin and Gruver had worked together before and gotten along. Besides, how would Gruver know Coffin was en route to Korea? Another general? Someone from the embassy?
Shaking his head, Coffin gave up and went up the short metal stairs into the cockpit. The two pilots and the flight engineer twisted in their seats, looking at him. The pilots were rail-thin captains who looked about sixteen; the flight engineer, a grizzled master sergeant. The FE handed Colonel Coffin a headset. "It's all set, sir."
Coffin keyed the mike. "Command Post, Colonel Ed Coffin. I understand you have a message..."
"Yes, sir," a man said. "Stand by."
Coffin glanced out the windscreen. In the blackness ahead, he could make out the faint lights of the Korean coast. It was a sight he was familiar with; he'd spent countless hours flying high above it.
Moments later, a voice came on the radio, a woman's voice. The instant she began to speak, the blood drained from Coffin's face.
"Oh, my God..."
The words just came out. The cockpit crew stared at him in surprise. Since Coffin hadn't keyed the mike, the woman continued to talk, unaware of his reaction.
Coffin's mouth felt like sand. He stood with his heart pounding. He kept telling himself it couldn't be her, that it had been a long time ago and he must be mistaken.
But that voice...
He listened. The voice was deep and seductively husky, with a distinctive accent that was more Northeast than New York.
The woman cryptically told Coffin an emergency had occurred and that his leave was canceled so he could conduct an investigation. "Lieutenant General Gruver personally assigned you to the case, Colonel," she added. "The matter is confidential and you'll be briefed on the details when you land."
"Nothing else you can tell me now?" Coffin asked, managing to sound calm.
"Not over an unsecured frequency."
"Does General Ford know?"
"And he approved this?" Ford knew the trip to Korea was important to Coffin.
"He didn't, did he?" Coffin said.
"He said it's your choice."
"So I can decline."
"Neither General Gruver nor General Ford believe you will."
Like hell, Coffin thought. In the past, his job had always trumped his personal desires. But not this time.
"I decline," he said.
"You don't know the specifics. When you do -- "
Coffin cut her off. "It doesn't matter. Tell General Gruver to find someone else."
For almost a minute, there was no response. The crew continued to fixate on Coffin with something approaching shock. It didn't compute, a colonel bucking a three-star.
Then the woman said, "I just spoke with General Gruver; he said to remind you that your leave is still canceled."
"Now hold on a minute -- "
"Command Post out."
Coffin's jaw clenched. But the hissing radio told him she'd terminated the call. No doubt about it, he thought. It was her.
She always had to get in the last word.
Shaking his head, he handed the headset back to the FE.
"Wonder what they want you to investigate, sir?" the sergeant said.
That was only one of two questions that bothered Coffin. The second was why they specifically wanted him. There were thirty thousand American troops stationed in Korea. It wasn't like he was only colonel who could lead an investigation. Unless...
Unless it was something only he was qualified to do.
When he heard the FE mention they were being diverted from their intended destination, his hunch became a certainty.
"We're not landing at Osan?" Coffin asked.
"No, sir. The runway is closed. We're going into Kunsan."
Bingo, Coffin thought.
At precisely 2036 hours, the huge transport touched down at Kunsan Air Base, ninety miles south of Seoul. Coffin barely felt the landing; the pilots might be Opie Taylor clones, but they knew what they were doing.
As the plane exited the runway, Coffin rose from the cockpit observer's chair and leaned against the windscreen. A snowstorm had passed through and foot-high snowdrifts were visible on the infield. Turning down a taxiway, the big jet lumbered past seemingly endless rows of F-16 fighters. A major U.S. Air Force installation, Kunsan was second in size only to Osan.
"Welcoming committee, sir," Beale announced, tapping the brakes and cranking the nosewheel steering.
They were turning onto the base operations ramp. A marshaler with glowing wands guided them into parking, an air force staff car and several uniforms visible behind him. Under the bright ramp lights, Coffin scanned the small group. A lieutenant colonel, a captain, and sergeant.
None were female.
The plane lurched to a stop and the engines wound down. Pulling his overcoat off the chair, Coffin threw it on over his uniform jacket. In contrast to his earlier appearance, he now looked every inch the air force poster boy. Even if no one had been expecting him, Ed Coffin would have meticulously groomed himself and donned a fresh shirt. With him, image was everything. It was only recently that he'd learned it wasn't the only thing.
"You going to take the job, sir?" the FE casually asked, as Coffin reached for the stairs.
The young pilots squirmed in their seats, uncomfortable that the FE had dared voice this question. But as a senior NCO, the master sergeant had been around too long to be intimidated by a colonel.
"You really want to know, Sergeant?" Coffin asked him.
"Not particularly, sir." He grinned. "But I got a bet with Captain Beale that says you aren't crazy enough to tell a three-star no."
Coffin had to smile. "Pay up, Captain."
Beale's head bobbed, clearly embarrassed. The FE laughed.
On this point, the generals had been correct. There was no way Coffin would turn down this investigation.
Even if he still wanted to.
The loadmaster met Coffin at the foot of the stairs, breathing hard. "I took your bags outside, sir. This sure isn't Hawaii. Jesus, it's cold."
Coffin smiled his thanks and donned gloves. Worming on his flight cap, he peered through the open passenger door and saw the staff car moving toward the plane, the waiting committee hurrying behind it. As he was about to exit, Coffin suddenly closed his eyes and massaged his forehead.
"You okay, sir?"
"Fine. Never better."
But as he left, he took out several pill bottles from his jacket and hurriedly swallowed pills from each.
"Right," the lieutenant colonel barked into a radio. "The colonel is on the ground. Start your engine and pass CP an ETA to Osan."
Strolling up to Coffin, the light bird saluted, as did his men. He spoke in a rush, saying, "Welcome to Korea, sir. I'm Lieutenant Colonel Kelly, the base operations commander. Everything's a go." He glanced to an air force blue hangup bag and civilian suitcase sitting on the ground. "Those yours, sir?"
"Yes, but I need to clear customs -- "
"You've got a waiver, sir. We need to hustle. Orders straight from General Gruver. He's hot to have you at Osan. Rich. Ben."
As Kelly nudged Coffin toward the staff car, the captain and sergeant grabbed the bags and tossed them in the trunk. Practically shoving Coffin into the backseat, Kelly followed after him. To the driver, he said, "Pad six."
The car made a U-turn and sped across the massive ramp.
"Pad six?" Coffin said.
"Your ride," he said, pointing. "Got in no more than twenty minutes ago. Had to hump it to get it refueled."
Leaning forward, Coffin spied a Blackhawk helicopter less than a hundred yards away. Moments later, the engines whined and the rotor blades started to spin.
"They tell you why they want me in Osan?" Coffin asked.
Kelly did a double-take. "You don't know, Colonel?"
Kelly shrugged. "Hell, don't look at me, sir. It's way above my pay grade. All I was told was to get you out of Dodge and pronto."
"What about the plane crash?"
Another stare, this one accompanied by a frown.
"Wasn't there a plane crash at Osan?"
"News to me, sir."
"But the runway is closed..."
But Coffin didn't see. As a pilot and former flying squadron commander, he knew plane accidents weren't normally regarded as top secret items. While the public might not be immediately told, certainly an in-theater base-ops commander would be kept in the loop.
Arriving at the Blackhawk, Coffin recalled something else that concerned him. It was the woman on the radio. Her presence. Unless she'd changed jobs, she wouldn't normally be involved in an aircraft accident investigation.
He had a bad feeling as he crawled from the car.
It was like walking into a wind tunnel, a loud one.
Ducking low against the Blackhawk's spinning rotors, Coffin waited as Kelly and the driver slung his bags up to the flight engineer crouched in the cargo hold doorway. The FE scurried to stow them, then motioned Coffin up the steps.
Inside, the lighting had been shifted to red for night flying. Web seats ran down either side and Coffin strapped into the one closest to the door. After shutting the cargo door, the FE handed Coffin a headset, shouting into his ear. "Press this button for intercom. Flight should take about twenty minutes, sir." He grinned. "Lieutenant Colonel Hardy sends his regards."
A name from the past. "Is he your detachment commander?"
"Yes, sir. Took over last month."
Coffin nodded, donning the headset. To his left, he could see into the glowing cockpit, the faces of the pilots barely visible.
Up to now, Coffin had assumed he was alone in the back. But as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he became aware of a figure sitting in the opposite corner. Something thumped hard inside his chest.
Copyright 2006 by Patrick A. Davis
Excerpted from Deception Plan by Patrick A. Davis Copyright © 2006 by Patrick A. Davis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
OK, here's the deal- I'm bored and in the armpit of Iraq; waiting for some James Patterson & Dean Koontz books to arrive when I see this book and decide to give it a go. I'd never previously read anything by the author, but the cover, comments by WEB Griffin, and the plot description on the back of the book were very compelling. BIG MISTAKE! I've read hundreds, if not thousands of books in my life, and this one rates as one of the ten worst. Keep in mind, I'm no high speed literary critic or some snooty reader that likes curling up by the fireplace with a "good read" and a snifter of Brandy. I'm just an average reader with book tastes in suspense, adventure, and history; both fiction and non-fiction. The plot, once it eventually expands, is ridiculously stupid, confusing, and bounces around like a ping-pong ball. The key characters are so unlikely they might as well be from planet Krypton; not realistic at all. The USAF enlisted characters are portrayed as highly submissive and intimidated morons & ninnies who can mostly only bluster "sir" frequently to their "superior" officer hierarchy; highly berating. There were also numerous grammatical errors (no, I'm not a college English professor, either) that show maybe Mr. Davis and his editors were in a hurry to crank this book out, get some sales, and upgrade to another class of Mercedes. The most significant grammar/spelling mistakes I found were: Page 146- "And now you're ready (to) throw all that away?" Page 248- "I didn't intend (to) involve you." Page 254- ".........we're kidnap(p)ers, remember?" I'm not sure what the frequent problem was with leaving out the simple word "to". Was there a shortage because POCKET BOOKS didn't pay the "to" bill when this was published? I've seen excellent reviews for other books written by Mr. Davis, so it makes me wonder what happened with this one? What was WEB Griffin thinking (or drinking)when he rendered his remark about the book? Barnes and Noble needs to develop a negative star rating specifically for books like this. The book didn't completely mention all of the casualties. In addition to MAJ Erik Olson and Airman Jeanne Roche, the reader is one as well.