Hard Landing

Hard Landing

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On a cold afternoon on the North Shore of Massachusetts, the body of Ellen Shepard is found hanging by the neck in the attic of her home. She leaves no family. She leaves no note. And she leaves vacant her position as the general manager of the notoriously brutal Majestic Airlines operation at Boston’s Logan Airport. The police rule her death a suicide. The company calls it a “tragic loss to the Majestic family.” But the people who worked for her call it what it is-one more victim lost to the devastating secret buried in Logan’s past, and meant to stay there.

Alex Shanahan loves the airline business. At 34 years old, she has no husband, no children, no long-term relationships-not even a dog. She has her job, which over her career has taken her from airport to airport and city to city. She lives among boxes she no longer bothers to unpack and pursues the assignments no one else will take, the ones she considers to be the best opportunities. Taking charge of the Boston operation after Ellen Shepard’s suicide is the perfect challenge for Alex.

From the moment she sets foot at Logan, Alex is pulled into the intrigue of her predecessor’s death. She is welcomed by an obscene depiction of Ellen’s dead body twisting at the end of a rope. It’s a greeting from some of her new employees, a warning that secrets can kill, and a threat that once she knows them it will already be too late.

But Alex wants to know the truth. She follows a trail of corruption and betrayal from the ramp at Logan to the airline’s executive suites. What she uncovers could bring down the airline and destroy the lives and careers of everyone involved. It could also cost Alex her life.

Lynne Heitman
Hard Landing

The first book in the Alex Shanahan series, 2001

PROLOGUE

Angelo rolled over, reached across his wife, and tried to catch the phone before it rang again. He grabbed the receiver and held it before answering, listening for the sound of her rhythmic breathing that told him she was still asleep.

"Yeah?"

"Angie, get your ass out of bed. You gotta do something for me."

He recognized the voice immediately, but didn't like the tone. "Who's this?"

"Stop screwing around, Angie."

He switched the phone to his other ear and lowered his voice. "What the hell you doin' calling over here this time of the night? You're gonna wake up Theresa."

"I need you to find Petey."

"You gotta be kiddin' me." He twisted around to see the clock radio on his side of the bed. Without his glasses, it took a serious squint to turn the blurry red glow into individual digits. Twelve-twenty, for God's sake, twelve-twenty in the friggin' morning. "I got an early shift and it's raining like a sonofabitch out there. Find him yourself."

"I'm working here, Angie. I can't leave the airport."

"Never stopped you before. Call me tomorrow."

"Don't hang up on me, damn you."

The receiver was halfway to the cradle and Angelo could still hear the yelling. "Don't you fucking hang up on me!" But that wasn't what kept him hanging on. "You owe me. Do you hear me? More than this, you owe me." It was the desperation-panic even. In the thirty years he'd known him, Big Pete Dwyer had never even come close to losing control.

Angelo pulled the receiver back. With his hand cupped over the mouthpiece, he could smell the strong scent of his wife on it-the thick, sweet fragrance of her night cream mixed with the faintly medicinal smell that seemed to be everywhere in their home these days. "What the hell's the matter with you?"

"If you never do nothing else for me, Angie, you gotta do this thing for me tonight."

The old bedsprings groaned as Theresa turned. When he felt her hand on his knee, he reached down and held it between both of his, trying to warm fingers that were always so cold lately. She was awake now anyhow. "I'm listening."

"He's probably in one of those joints in Chelsea or Revere. There's gonna be some guys out looking for him. I want you to find him first."

"Are you talkin' about cops? Because I ain't gonna-"

"No. Not cops. I can't talk right now."

Big Pete had to raise his voice to be heard, and for the first time Angelo noticed the background noise. Men were shouting, work boots were scraping the gritty linoleum floor, and doors were opening and slamming shut. "What's going on over there?"

"Just do what I tell you."

"What do you want I should do with him? Bring him over to you?"

"Fuck, no. Angie, you're not getting this. Find Petey and stash him somewhere until I finish my shift. Keep him away from the airport, and don't let no one get to him before I do. No one. Do you hear?"

The line went dead. Angelo held the receiver against his chest until Theresa took it from his hand and hung it up. "What time is it?" she murmured.

"It's twelve-thirty, baby. I gotta go out for a little while."

"Who was that?"

"Big Pete needs me to find his kid."

"Again?"

"Yeah, but this time there's something hinky about it. Something's going on."

"Mmmmm…"

He leaned down and kissed his wife on the cheek. "Go back to sleep, babe. I'm gonna take the phone off the hook so nobody bothers you."

The big V-8 engine in Angelo's old Cadillac made the bench seat rumble. He sat with his boot on the brake, shaking the rain out of his hair and waiting for the defroster to kick in. With fingers as cold and stiff as his wife's had been, he tapped the finicky dome light, trying to make it come on. Where the hell were his gloves, anyway, and what was that garbage on the radio? Damn kids with their rap music, if you could even call it music. He punched a button and let the tuner scan for his big band station while he searched his pockets for gloves.

"…with friends and family on that flight are advised to go to the Nor'easter Airlines terminal at Logan Airport, where representatives-"

Angelo froze. What the hell…? He wanted to turn up the volume, but couldn't get his hand out of his pocket. His heart started to pound as he tried to shake loose and listen at the same time.

"Again, if you've just joined us, we're receiving word-"

The scanner kicked in and the rage-filled rant of a midnight radio call-in host poured out. Angelo yanked his hand free, leaned down and, goddammit, cracked his forehead on the steering wheel. Still squeezing the glove in his fist, he jabbed at the tuner buttons until the solemn tones of the newscaster emerged again from the static.

"…we know so far is that Nor'easter Airlines Flight 1704, a commuter aircraft carrying nineteen passengers and two crew members, has crashed tonight just outside of Baltimore."

Angelo put both hands on the steering wheel to keep them from shaking.

"That flight did depart Logan Airport earlier this evening. The information we have at this hour is that there are no survivors, but again, that report is unconfirmed."

The bulletin repeated as Angelo reached up and used the sleeve of his jacket to wipe the condensation from the windshield. He peered through the streaked glass and up into the black sky. There was nothing to see but a cold, spiteful rain still coming down. But he felt it. He felt the dying aircraft falling to the earth, falling through the roof of the old Cadillac. He felt it falling straight down on him.

Goddamn you, Big Pete. Goddamn you.

CHAPTER ONE

When the seat belt sign went out, I was the first one down the jetbridge. My legs wobbled, my muscles ached, and my feet felt like sausages stuffed into leather pumps that had been the right size when we'd boarded six hours earlier. All I wanted to do was get off the airplane, check into my hotel, sink into a hot bath, and forget the five hours in the air, the half hour in a holding pattern, and the interminable twenty-five minutes we'd spent delayed on the ground because, the captain had assured us, our gate was occupied.

The captain had told an airline fib.

When I'd looked out my window and down at the ramp, I'd seen no wingman on my side of the plane, which meant we hadn't been waiting for a gate, we'd been waiting for a ground crew to marshal us in. Hard to imagine. It's not as if we'd shown up unexpectedly. The crew that finally did saunter out was one man short and out of uniform. I made a mental note.

At the bottom of the bridge, the door to the departure lounge was closed. I grabbed the knob and could have sworn it was vibrating. I turned the knob, pushed against the door-and it slammed back in my face. Odd. Behind me, fellow passengers from the flight stomped down the jetbridge and stood, cell phones and carry-ons in hand, blinking at me. I gave it another shot, this time putting my shoulder into it, and pushed through the obstruction, which, to my embarrassment, turned out to be a family of four-mother, father, and two small children. They'd been pinned there by a teeming mob, the size and scope of which became clear when the door swung wide, and the rumble I'd heard became a full-fledged roar.

There must have been a thousand people smashed into the departure lounge, at least twice the number that would be comfortable in that space. Judging by their faces and the combustible atmosphere, they were all supposed to be somewhere besides Logan Airport in Boston. It was Ellis Island in reverse-people trying to get out, not in.

The gate agent who had met our flight was past me before I knew it.

"Excuse me," I said, but my voice evaporated into the crowd noise. I tried again.

"Baggage claim is that way, ma'am." Without bothering to look at me, the agent pointed down the concourse, turned, and vanished into a wall of winter coats.