Authors: Stuart Woods
Stone’s knees went a little weak. “What do you mean, my airplane is gone?”
“Gone, as in not there.”
“Not in the hangar? Maybe they towed it out to wash it, or something.”
“It’s not on the ramp, and the FBO isn’t even open, yet.”
“Check with the tower.”
“I have already done so, after half a dozen attempts to get them to answer. They just opened.”
“And zip. They have no information on the whereabouts of your airplane.”
“I’ll be out there as soon as I can,” Stone said.
Stone hung up.
“What’s wrong?” Dino asked. “You’ve turned an odd shade of white.”
“The airplane is gone.”
“You mean like,
, it’s gone?”
,” Stone said, looking for underwear and socks. Faith had taken all his things to the airport, except for one change of clothes. He got his pants on.
“Come on, Stone,” Dino said. “There must be some logical reason for this. Airplanes don’t just go
is what we’ve got on our hands. I’d planned to fly that aircraft across a chunk of the Pacific and home today, but I’ve got to find it first.”
Dino got dressed, too. “Well, let’s go, I’m as interested in this as you are.”
“Not quite,” Stone said, heading for the door. Felix met him there. “Did Faith take Felix’s bag with all his food and toys?”
“Faith took everything.”
They got into a cab. Stone gave the address to the driver and then sat, dumb.
“I hope you’re thinking about this problem,” Dino said after a while.
“How could I think about anything else?”
They screeched to a halt in front of the FBO, where the lights
were just coming on. Stone found a lone young woman busying herself with opening.
“I’d like to report a missing airplane,” Stone said to her.
“That happens sometimes. There are thieves everywhere. Is it a single-engine or a twin?”
“It’s a Gulfstream 500 jet.”
The young woman froze. “What are you talking about?”
“Do you remember having the linemen put it in your hangar?”
“Well, it’s not in your hangar now. Do you see it on the ramp?”
She opened a door, stepped outside, then returned after a couple of minutes. “You’re right,” she said.
“Should I call the police?”
“Well, if the airplane isn’t in your hangar and it’s not on the ramp, then it must be in the air,” Stone said.
“What do you suppose the police could do about that?”
“Find it when it lands?”
“You’re right again,” she said. “So, I should do nothing?”
“For the moment,” Stone said. He got a cup of water from the watercooler and downed it. His phone rang.
“Where are you?”
“In your airplane.”
“Oh? I didn’t know you were type-rated for a G-500.”
“I’m not, but we brought a G-500 crew with us to fly Zanian’s
airplane back. They weren’t doing anything so, I thought, what the hell?”
my airplane? Who do I call about that, the FBI?”
“You used to be a cop, didn’t you?”
“Wasn’t there ever a time, when you were in pursuit of a perp, when you took a civilian’s car for the chase? Happens in the movies all the time.”
“It happened to me twice in fourteen years, but I never commandeered anybody’s airplane.”
“ ‘Commandeered’? I like that word. Has an official ring to it.”
All Stone could do was sputter. “Where are you going?” he asked.
“Don’t worry, the tanks are all full. We checked.”
“We’re headed to Hilo first. If he’s not here, we’ll try Lanai. By the way, this is a
nice airplane. Did you come by it honestly? Usually, when people have personal assets this expensive, they’ve acquired them by, shall we say,
“I paid cash,” Stone said. “After-tax cash.”
“Well, I guess that means we don’t get to keep it, doesn’t it?”
“Don’t worry, you can keep Zanian’s airplane when you arrest it.”
“Oh, good. Gotta run.” She hung up
Dino and Faith walked into the FBO. “It’s nowhere to be found,” he said.
“I just got a call from Brio Ness,” Stone said. “The FBI has commandeered the airplane to search for Zanian.”
“Can they do that?”
“Do you remember the time when you and I were chasing an armed robber, and we threw an old lady out of her station wagon and took it?”
Dino smiled. “Yeah, I remember. She raised hell about that with the captain, didn’t she? Good thing we caught the son of a bitch.”
“Well, I’m going to raise hell with the director of the FBI about it,” Stone said.
“If she catches Zanian, it won’t do any good.”
“Then I’ll use this to press for early delivery on the reward.”
“Do we still get the reward if we’re not there when she captures him?”
“Damn right, we do.”
A while later, Faith walked over. “Stone, your airplane just landed and is taxiing in,” she said.
Stone looked out the window and discovered that it had begun to rain, hard. The G-500 turned off the runway and disappeared into the gloom.
“Special Agent Ness seems to be headed for the main terminal,” Faith said.
“She would,” Stone replied, “knowing that I’m waiting at the FBO.”
Stone’s cell phone rang. “Yes?” he said, wearily.
“Well, hi there. You awake?”
“Yes. Are you at the airport?”
“Yes, and all your luggage is here. Unfortunately, the FBI has, sort of, borrowed my airplane to look for Zanian.”
“Well, he should be easy to find now.”
“Why is that?”
“Because he just called me and asked if I was coming with him.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“I asked him if he had transferred my two and a half million to my account. I called the bank manager, and he wasn’t in yet, so I left a message.”
“Did you tell Zanian that?”
“Yes. I told him I’d get back to him as soon as the bank opens.”
“And how did he take that?”
“He said they were refueling, and he would wait until he had full tanks.”
“Did he say where he was refueling?”
“Yes, at the airport.”
“I just assumed he was at the Honolulu airport, if he’s waiting for me.”
Stone thought about that. “I’ll call you back.” He hung up and turned to Faith. “What sort of paint job does Zanian’s airplane have?”
“I’ve never seen it until now, but most G-500s seem to have the standard Gulfstream paint design. If somebody wants a corporate logo or something, they have it done in a graphics shop and glued on over the original paint.”
Stone called the satphone on his airplane and a man answered.
“Special Agent Ness, please. Do you know how to connect me to the cockpit?”
“Sure. Hang on.”
“Special Agent Ness,” she said.
“Did you just land at Honolulu?” he asked.
“We were going to, but the weather turned foul, and we couldn’t get down. We’re in a holding pattern.”
Stone looked out the window; it was still raining heavily. “Zanian landed at Honolulu fifteen minutes ago.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I’m at the airport, and I saw him land. I thought it was you, in my airplane. The paint jobs are similar.”
“Holy shit! Keep him there until the weather clears. The forecast said it would be less than an hour.”
“How am I supposed to do that? Handcuff the airplane to the fuel truck? You should have your office call the tower and ground him.”
“I don’t know if we have the authority.”
“The tower is federal. You’re federal. What’s the problem?”
“Okay, I’ll get started on the red tape.”
“Just get your director out of bed and have him make the call. That should impress an air traffic controller. Even better, have him call the head of the FAA!”
“Sit tight,” she said.
Stone hung up and looked at the anemometer over the FBO’s counter: it was gusting forty knots.
“What did Ness say?” Dino asked.
“She said to sit tight.”
“Yeah, the FBI is always so very helpful.”
“Didn’t you read the tail number on that airplane when it landed?”
“In this visibility?”
“How did he land in this visibility?”
“Auto-land,” Stone said. “It will fly the airplane right down to the runway and to a full stop.”
“Then why doesn’t Ness’s pilot use that to land your airplane?”
“The original owner didn’t want to pay for auto-land. I’ve ordered the equipment, but it will be months before it can be built and installed.”
“Next time, spend the money.”
“I have spent the money, I just haven’t got the goods yet.”
“This is very annoying,” Dino said.
“I’m so sorry to have inconvenienced you,” Stone said, deadpan. “You know, it would be very helpful if you would run over to the main terminal and shoot out the nosewheel tire on Zanian’s airplane.”
“Why didn’t I think of that? Oh, because it’s underwater, out there, and I couldn’t stand up in the wind.”
“You always have an excuse, don’t you?”
“When I do, it’s a good one. Tell you what, I’ll loan you my gun, and you can do it.”
“It’s underwater out there, and I couldn’t stand up in the wind,” Stone replied.
“Now who has excuses?”
Faith spoke up, “Maybe I could ask the terminal manager to leave the fuel truck parked in front of the airplane, so it can’t taxi.”
is good thinking,” Stone said. “Do you think he’ll do it?”
“Well, I had a very pleasant conversation with him after we landed. He asked me to dinner, but I think he’s married.”
“Why do you care? You’re not going to have dinner with him, are you?”
“No, but he might get insistent.”
“Tell him the FBI is on the way to arrest somebody on the airplane.”
“He’ll ask me how I know that. What do I do then?”
“Lie to him.”
“What lie would I use?”
“Tell him you’ll come over there when it stops raining and do something very nice to him.”
Faith turned bright pink. “I am
going to do that.”
“Of course not. You’re just going to
him you will.”
“Certainly not! You can fire me, if you like, but I won’t do that, and I won’t tell him that I will!”
“If I fired you, how would I get home?”
“Good point,” she said. “Let’s drop the matter.”
“I apologize, Faith,” Stone said sheepishly.
“Let’s not talk about it anymore,” she said, picking up a magazine and pretending to read it.
Stone’s phone rang. “Yes?”
“The bank manager called. The funds have been deposited.”
“Congratulations! You’re probably the only one of his victims to get a refund!”
“What should I do?”
“Call him and tell him the money has arrived, and you’ll go with him, but right now, the cabs aren’t running because of the storm. And find out how long that will delay his takeoff. Also, see if you can wheedle out of him where he’s going.”
“I’ll do what I can,” she said, and hung up.
Stone looked out the window. “Is it my imagination, or is the weather letting up?”
“It’s not your imagination,” Dino said. “I can see the outline of the terminal across the way.”
“I think I can see the fuel truck,” Stone said, straining to see.
“I’m here,” a voice said.
Stone turned and looked. “Hello, Margot.” Felix trotted over and nudged him for a cookie. “Hi, Felix,” Stone said, supplying the treat.
“Where’s my luggage?”
“In that pile over there,” he said, pointing.
“Not aboard the airplane?”
“We don’t have an airplane yet.”
“Stone,” Dino said. “Look across the way.”
Stone looked out across the runway and could clearly see the
terminal building and the fuel truck on the ramp. What he could not see clearly was a G-500. Then a faint rumble turned into a roar and the G-500 came tearing down the runway and lifted off. He turned and looked at the radar display behind the counter. They were on the rear edge of a big area of yellow and red precipitation. “Shit!” he cried. “He must have taxied when the weather started to lift. He was just sitting there, at the end of the runway, waiting for takeoff visibility!”
“That seems like a logically accurate assumption,” Dino observed, “especially the part about taking off, since we just saw it happen.”
Stone called the satphone on his airplane, and it rang and rang but was not answered. Then, as he watched, his Gulfstream set gently down on the runway and turned off toward the FBO.
“And that would appear to be your airplane,” Dino said.
They watched as it taxied toward them on the ramp, then turned 180 degrees. Linemen went out and chocked the wheels, and the airstairs door opened.
“Look who’s here,” Stone said, as Brio Ness emerged, briefcase in hand.
“Get it refueled,” Stone said to Faith. “And lock the doors so Ness and her people can’t get back aboard. And get your people out there and start your preflight.”
Special Agent Ness entered the FBO and looked around. “Is there such a thing as a drink around here?” she asked nobody in particular.
“At nine in the morning?” Stone asked. “The watercooler is over there.”
She went and drank two cups of water, then looked out the
window toward the main terminal. A sunbeam illuminated it. “Where’s Zanian’s airplane?” she demanded.
“It took off about ten minutes ago,” Stone said. “It was quite a sight. I’m sorry you missed it.”
“How could he do that?”
“He simply waited for the weather to lift, then did it.”
“Where’s he bound for?”
Stone turned to Margot. “Any info on that?” he asked.
“Viktor said he was going to Acapulco.”
“Yeah,” Dino cut in, “that’s what he said before he flew to Honolulu.”
Ness had collapsed into a chair and was shouting into her cell phone. She hung up and looked at Stone. “I want a lift to Acapulco,” she said.
“Not until I have it in writing from you that I am entitled to the ten-million-dollar reward,” he said.
“But I haven’t captured him.”
“Not my fault,” Stone said. “I told you, correctly, where to find him, but you didn’t act quickly enough.”
“We couldn’t land in that weather! My pilot said you don’t have auto-land.”
“I don’t believe there is a weather limitation on the reward,” Stone said. “Let’s have it, and on the Bureau’s letterhead.”
“I’ll commandeer your airplane again!”
“Sure. Show me the court order.”
She looked at her watch. “The courts won’t open . . .”
“I’ll settle for the letter from you confirming that I get the reward.”
“The papers will love this,” Stone said. “I can see the headline: FBI SPECIAL AGENT NESS (NO RELATION) FUCKS UP ZANIAN ARREST IN HAWAII!!!”
“No, no, no!”
“Or you can give me the letter, and I’ll fly you to Acapulco.”
She opened her briefcase, fished out a sheet of stationery and began to write.
“There’s a computer over there on the counter. Write it there and use their printer,” Stone said.
“You’re welcome to my computer,” the manager said, “and our printer is color. Is Microsoft Word okay?”
“Okay,” Ness said. She walked across the room, sat down at the desk, and began to type, while Stone looked over her shoulder and made suggestions about the wording. She used the print button.
“There you go,” Ness said.
“Just sign it,” Stone said, offering his pen. “And with your own name, not Amelia Earhart’s.”
She signed it and handed it to him. Stone read it again, folded it neatly, and handed it to Dino. “Witness that,” he said, “then guard it with your dear life.”
“Nah, I’m a party to it.” He got the FBO manager to witness it, then put it into his inside jacket pocket. “The letter is now witnessed and in the custody of the NYPD.”
“How much longer to refuel?” Stone asked Faith.
“Twenty minutes, or so. They didn’t use all that much.”
“File for Acapulco,” he said, “then unlock the doors.”
She sent someone out with the key, then got on the phone.
“Okay,” Stone said to the rest of the crew. “Get the luggage
aboard, including Special Agent Ness’s, and prepare the cabin for takeoff.” They sprang into action, more or less.
“Can I take my SWAT team?” Ness asked.
“Order one up in Acapulco,” Stone said. “They speak the language.”
Half an hour later, they were taxiing.
They had been in the air for twenty minutes when Faith called on the intercom. “They’ve changed their destination to Oakland.”
“Change our destination to our final,” Stone said, then hung up.
Ness looked worried. “What is your final destination?” she asked.
“Well, since they’re not going to Acapulco, there’s no point in landing there, is there? Change your SWAT team to Oakland.”
“What if they change it again?”
“Then you can change your SWAT team again. Meantime, our final destination is Teterboro, New Jersey.”
“After a bit of a drive.”
“Oh, what the hell,” she said.