An excerpt from the novella by Josh Lanyon
The nose of the red and white twin engine Baron 58 was crunched deep in the bottom of the wooded ravine. Mud and debris covered the cockpit windows. One wing had been sheered off when the plane crashed through the surrounding pines, knocking three of them over. The other wing was buckled beneath the craft. The tail of the plane had broken off and was lying several yards down the ravine.
Will mopped his face on the flannel sleeve of his shirt. Eight thousand feet up in the High Sierras, the sun was still plenty warm despite the chill spring air.
“Either the pilot was unfamiliar with the terrain or he didn't have a lot of experience with mountain flying. Avoiding box canyons is one of the first things you learn.”
“Look at this,” Taylor said, and Will made his way across the rocky, uneven slope to him. Taylor pointed to the fuselage. “Take a look at those registration numbers.”
“N81BH.” Will's blue eyes met Taylor's. “Now why does that sound so familiar?”
Taylor grinned. “It's the plane used in that Tahoe casino heist last year.”Will whistled, long and low.
“Yeah,” agreed Taylor. Just for a moment he let his gaze linger on the other man's lean, square-jawed features. Will's hair, brown and shining in the sun, fell boyishly in his eyes. He hadn't bothered to shave that morning, and the dark stubble gave him a rugged, sexy look - very different from the normal nine to five Will. Not that they exactly worked nine to five at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
Will's gaze held his for a moment, and Taylor looked away, focusing on the plane's registration numbers again.
“What'd they get away with again?” Will asked in a making conversation kind of voice.
“Something in the neighborhood of two point three million, was it?”
“That and murder,” Taylor said grimly. “They shot two sheriff deputies making their getaway.” These days he was touchy about law enforcement officers getting gunned down.
“Doesn't look like they got away far.” Will moved away towards the open door of the plane. He hopped lightly up onto the broken wing, and for a moment Taylor felt a twinge of envy. He was still moving slowly after his own shooting six weeks ago; sometimes he felt like he was never going to get it all back: the strength, the speed, the agility he had always taken for granted. He felt old at thirty-one.
He walked towards the broken off tail piece, and Will -- only half-joking -- called, “Watch out for snakes, MacAllister.”
“You had to say that, didn't you?” Taylor threw back. He studied the rim of the ravine. It had been winter when three masked men with automatic weapons had robbed the Black Wolf Casino on the Nevada border of Lake Tahoe resort. They had fled to the nearby airport, hijacked a plane and disappeared into the snowy December night.
Local law enforcement had theorized the Beechcraft Baron had crashed in the High Sierras, but the weather and the terrain had inhibited searchers. It was clear to Taylor now that even under the best conditions, it would have been just about impossible to spot this little plane tucked away in the crevice of this mountainside.
He glanced back but Will had vanished inside the wrecked plane. He could hear the eerie creak and groan of the aircraft as he moved around inside.
Taylor worked his way around the crash site. Not their area of expertise, of course, but he knew what to look for.
Scattered engine parts and broken glass were scattered everywhere. A couple of seats had been thrown clear and were relatively intact. There was a weathered plank of wood that must have originally been a writing desk, and some broken light fixtures and vinyl parts of storage bins. The plane could have carried five passengers in addition to the pilot. The casino had been hit by three bandits - the fourth had been driving the getaway car that sped them to Truckee-Tahoe Airport. Four people would have inevitably left DNA evidence, but the crash site was four months old and contaminated by the elements and wildlife. He glanced around at the sound of Will's boots on the loose rock.
Will said, “The pilot's inside. No one else.”
That was no surprise. The initial investigation had cleared the pilot of involvement in the robbery; if he'd been alive, he would have contacted the authorities. Taylor thought it over.
“No sign there were ever any passengers on board.”
“No incriminating black tie?” Will referred to the famous narrow black necktie that legendary hijacker D.B. Cooper left on the Boeing 727 he jumped out of way back in 1971 - back before Will and Taylor had even been born.
“Not so much as a stray sock.”
“Then I guess they weren't doing laundry up there,” Will remarked, and Taylor looked blank.
“You know how one sock always gets lost - forget it.” It was a bad joke, but once Taylor would have known instantly what Will meant. Once Taylor would have laughed.
“Parachutes?” Will asked.
“Doesn't look like it,” Taylor said.
“Interesting. The pilot's got a bullet through his skull.”
“Ah,” said Taylor.
Their eyes met.
“Come take a look,” Will invited, and Taylor followed him back to the front section of the plane.
Will sprang onto on the wing, reaching a hand down for Taylor, and with a grimace, Taylor accepted his help, vaulting up beside him. The wing bobbed beneath their weight, and Will steadied him, hands on Taylor's waist for an instant.
Taylor moved away. Not that he minded Will's hands on him - there was nothing he'd have liked more than Will's hands on him - but this had nothing to do with attraction and everything to do with lack of confidence. A lack of confidence in Taylor being able to look after himself. Not that Will had said so, but it was clear to Taylor - and maybe it was clear to Will too, which might explain what the hell they were doing up in the High Sierras one week before Taylor was officially due to start back at work.
Because if they couldn't figure this out - get past it - they were through as a team. Regardless of the fact that so far no one had admitted there was even a problem.
“After you,” Will said, waving him into the gloomy and rotting interior of the plane with exaggerated courtesy. Taylor gave him a wry smile and ducked inside.
“Jesus. Something's made itself right at home in here.”
“Yeah. We'd know if it was a skunk. Maybe a marmot or a weasel. Something relatively small.” Will's breath was warm against the back of Taylor's neck.
“Relatively small is good,” Taylor muttered, and Will laughed.
Three years they'd been together: partners and friends - good friends - but maybe that was over now. Taylor didn't want to think so, but -
His boot turned on a broken door lever, and Will's hand shot out, steadying him. Taylor pulled away, just managing to control his impatience.
Yeah, that was the problem. Will didn't think Taylor was capable of taking two steps without Will there to keep an eye on him.
And that was guilt. Pure and simple. Not friendship, not one partner watching another partner's back, not even the normal over-protectiveness of one partner for his injured-in-the-line-of-duty opposite number. No, this was guilt -- because Taylor loved Will, and Will knew it. And Will didn't love Taylor. And somehow Will had managed to convince himself that that was part of the reason Taylor had stopped a bullet.
He clambered across the empty co-pilot's seat and studied the remains of the dead pilot slumped over the instrument dashboard control panel. The pilot's clothes were in rags, deteriorated and torn. Bacteria, insects, and animals had reduced the body to a mostly skeletal state. Not entirely skeletal, unfortunately, but Taylor had seen much worse during his tour of duty in Iraq. He examined the corpse dispassionately, noting position, even while recognizing that animals had been at it - some of the smaller bones of the hands and feet were missing.
“One bullet to the back of the head,” he said.
“Yep,” Will replied. “While the plane was still in flight.”
Taylor glanced down at the throttle. “And then the hijackers bailed out,” he agreed. This part at least still worked between them. They still could work a crime scene with that single-mindedness that had earned the attention and approval of their superiors.
Not that they investigated many homicides at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Mostly they helped in the extradition of fugitives who fled the country, or ran interference for local law enforcement agencies with foreign police departments. But now and then they got to get their feet wet.
“In the middle of the night and in the middle of nowhere,” Will said. “Hard to believe all four of them made it out of these mountains safely. FBI and the local law were all over these woods within twenty-four hours.”
“Maybe they were local,” Taylor said. “Maybe they knew the terrain.”
“Wasn't the prevailing theory, was it?”
“No.” He backed out of the cockpit, and Will did it again - rested his hand on Taylor's back to stabilize him -- although Taylor's balance was fine, physically and emotionally.
He gritted his jaw, biting back anything that would widen the rift between them. Will's friendship was better than nothing, right? And there had been a brief and truly hellish period when he thought he'd lost that, so shut up and be grateful, yeah?
Will jumped down to the ground and reached up a hand. Taylor ignored the hand, and dropped down beside him - which jarred his ribcage and hurt like fuck. He did his best to hide the fact.
“More likely what's left of 'em is scattered through these woods,” Will commented, and Taylor made a face.
“There's a happy thought.”
“Imagine jumping out of a plane into freezing rain and whatever that head wind was? Eighty knots. Maybe more.”
“Maybe someone was waiting for them on the ground.”
Will nodded thoughtfully. “Two and half million divides nicely between five.”
Taylor grunted. Didn't it just? He pulled his wallet out, fishing for something he could note the crash site coordinates down on. It was liable not to be easy to find this spot again. He squinted up at the anvil-shaped peak to the right of the canyon. The sun was starting to sink in the sky.
Will stood next to him, looking over his shoulder, and just that much proximity was driving Taylor nuts. Will smelled like sunshine and flannel and his own clean sweat as he brushed against Taylor's arm, frowning down at Taylor's diagram - Will was the better “artist” of the two, if you wanted to call those scribbles art.
“Well, hell,” he said, “I guess we should start back down, notify the authorities we found their missing aircraft.”
Will looked at him inquiringly, and Taylor nodded. That was the logical thing to do, after all. But he wasn't happy about it. Two days into their “vacation” they weren't any closer to bridging the distance between them - and it would be a long time before they had this kind of opportunity again. By then it might be too late. Whereas this plane had been sitting here for over four months; would another four days really make a difference?
“We'll rest up tonight and head back tomorrow then,” Will said, after a moment.
Taylor gave him a narrow look, but the truth was he was tired and climbing in the dark would have been stupid even he wasn't. So he nodded again, curtly, folded the diagram back in his wallet, and slid it in his Levi's.
Copyright 2000-18, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.