Read Hard Fall Online

Authors: Ridley Pearson

Hard Fall

Praise

Praise for
Hard Fall:

“Pearson excels at novels that grip the imagination.
Hard Fall
is an adventure with all engines churning.”

—
People
magazine

“Mesmerizing urgency.”

—
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Nifty cat-and-mouse caper. Crisply written tale.”

—
Chicago Tribune

Praise for
No Witnesses:

“Tough and intelligent.”

—
Fort Worth Star Telegram

“Up-to-the-nanosecond techno-thriller.”

—
New York Times

“Infused with astonishingly effective overtones.”

—
Boston Globe

“Good old-fashioned storytelling.”

—
Washington Post Book World

“A serious, well-researched, complex thriller.”

—
Los Angeles Times

Praise for
The Angel Maker:

“Exceptionally gripping and full of amazing forensic lore: a top-flight offering from an author who has clearly found his groove.”

—
Kirkus Reviews

“A chilling thriller.”

—Dell Publishing

DEDICATION

For Colleen

CONTENTS

Title Page

Praise

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Glossary

Acknowledgments/Author's Note

About the Author

Other Works

Copyright

1

Cam Daggett shook his watch, questioning its accuracy, and glanced a quarter-mile ahead at the dirty, exhaust-encrusted sign that indicated the lane change for National Airport. Heat waves rose in fluid sheets from the pavement, distorting the distance, carrying gray exhaust into the canopy of smog. Given this traffic, they would never make it in time.

News radio explained that the congestion was the result of a three-car pileup with injury. Daggett checked the rearview mirror, wondering if he could pull some stunt with the car. He feared that if he didn't, there might be a hell of a lot more injury to come. And it wouldn't be a few cars on a highway; it would be the burning hulk of an airliner spread over several acres.

“What about a helicopter? We could call for a helicopter.”

The big man on the seat next to him mopped his forehead and said nothing. Daggett's anxiety threatened again. He felt boxed in. By the traffic. By this obese man sitting next to him. He could feel his hair turning gray.

A yellow hamburger wrapper replete with golden arches fluttered like a bird with a broken wing and dove into traffic, adhering to the side of a Mercedes where it smeared catsup across the side panel doors like blood from an open wound.

He felt wounded, too, if pride could be wounded. Marcel Bernard had escaped FBI surveillance six days earlier in Los Angeles.

Now, through a fluke, a stroke of luck, they had the man in their sights once more. Daggett had no intention of losing him again. Bernard built bombs for a living. He was one of the best, or one of the worst, depending on which side of the interrogation table you sat. The interrogation. Impatience gnawed at Daggett like a stray dog at the mailman's heel. A bulging file back in his office at Buzzard Point contained a grainy black-and-white photograph of what had proved to be a portion of Bernard's thumbprint. Laboratory evidence. As good as a noose around the neck. Hopefully, the gallows might be traded for information vital to Daggett's continuing investigation into the downing of EuroTours flight 1023. The man who built the bomb was one thing; but the man who planted the bomb—he was the real killer.

Up ahead, a driver climbed out of his car and popped the hood. The August heat and humidity had claimed another victim.

“Twenty-two minutes,” he announced through clenched teeth to the overweight Bob Backman, enthroned in the seat next to him. Behind his back, they called him Falstaff because of his enormous gut. Coat off, wheezing like an asthmatic, Backman was soaked through in a sweat. “That plane goes in twenty-two minutes,” Daggett repeated.

Backman attempted to appear calm. He was a bad actor. Perhaps he intended to part the traffic, a fat Moses at the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Daggett had the leathery features of a major league first baseman. He had a hard brow, dark, intimidating eyes, and a prominent nose. His lips didn't move much when he spoke, a holdover from wearing braces during his adolescence. He was soft-spoken—a family trait—though by his build one might have expected more of a growl.

“Why exactly
did
you come along?” Daggett asked Backman.

“I wondered when we would get to that,” Backman admitted, blotting a drip of sweat from his double chin. Backman was a bookish man, with a receding hairline and chapped lips. He tended toward shirt collars a size too big and suits a size too small. “You're not debriefing him. I am.”

Backman conduct an interrogation? Impossible. It was like asking Ty Cobb back into the batter's box. Daggett gripped the wheel tightly in frustration. His Casio read:
MON
8–13.

Backman said, “I suppose you think I'm trying to steal your thunder. You do all the legwork, I do the debriefing and take the credit. That's not how it is.” He struck a pose, imagining himself a heavy, but this attempt also failed.

Daggett was thinking: To come all this way—to within a mile or two of finally interrogating Bernard—and now this loaf taps me on the shoulder and steals the dance. Again.

He and Backman had long since parted ways. Trust formed the cornerstone of any relationship, especially FBI agents working the same case; Daggett would never trust Backman again. A year earlier, Backman had pilfered a file from Daggett's desk, hand-carried it to the Special-Agent-in-Charge, and claimed credit for its authorship—a file that connected Bernard with the little-known West German terrorist group
Der Grund
. In that one move, he had effectively stolen eighteen months of Daggett's life. Afraid it might backfire on him, Daggett had not attempted to correct the injustice—authorship of such files was difficult, if not impossible, to prove.

As a direct result of this stolen credit, Backman had been promoted to chief of the foreign counterterrorism squad. The man was nothing but a lazy, unimaginative parasite who grew fat on the hard work of others. Over the past twelve months, he had developed this into something of an art. Everyone in the C-3 bullpen now took their files home with them out of habit.

When the chief of C-3 had climbed into his car thirty minutes earlier, Daggett had experienced an immediate déjà vu. The more things change, he thought. How many times had they ridden together like this? It seemed like ages ago. Despite his assertion to the contrary, Backman was here for only one reason: to claim credit for the apprehension of Bernard and any information gleaned through interrogation. Daggett plotted a way around this while Backman wheezed in the seat next to him, and lived up to his reputation as the human pork belly.

Backman knew little, if anything, about Bernard, and hadn't conducted an interrogation in at least a year, maybe longer.

“Nineteen minutes,” Daggett said bluntly, wanting some action. “Neither of us is going to debrief him if we don't get him off that plane.” He yanked on the door handle. He could run a mile in seven or eight minutes. He ran every morning of his life. He could escape on foot and conduct the interrogation himself. He had no intention of watching Bernard's plane take off overhead while he sat trapped in a car breathing in Backman's body odor.

“You wouldn't want to miss a chance to get Kort, would you?” the fat man asked.

Daggett pulled his foot back inside and shut the door. The dome light went off. He felt chilled.

“You're the one who gave us Bernard. You deserve to hear this.” He nodded at Daggett with something like respect. The heat was obviously getting to him. Fat people had more trouble than most with the heat. “The Germans raided
Der Grund
last night.” Daggett felt wounded: this was not the schedule he had hoped for. This had been his investigation, and now it was running away from him.

“They didn't get Kort,” Backman added in a voice filled with regret and failure, yet tinged with a hint of apology.

Daggett nodded and coughed up nervous laughter, and along with it, a bitter taste at the back of his throat. Blood or bile; all the same. Nothing could hurt him now; he had gone numb. He tugged at his shirt collar. The button popped loose. It slid down his shirt and rolled down his leg. He grabbed for the button but missed, which held significance for him.

His pursuit of Bernard, his passing of information about Der
Grund
on to the Germans—the last two years of his life—had all been directed at but one aim: to apprehend Anthony Kort. The carrot at the end of the stick that had kept him going. And now …

Backman interrupted his thoughts. Backman always interrupted. “Are you following this, Michigan?”

Daggett nodded, annoyed that Backman felt free to use the nickname. They called him that because of the college-letter jacket he lived in. It was a lucky jacket. If one looked real closely at the right-hand pocket, a small gather of thread about the size of a bullet stuck out there. There had been no Bible carried in Cam Daggett's pocket on the day he had been shot at, but instead an autographed baseball he had intended to present to his son on the boy's fifth birthday. The baseball now resided on Duncan's shelf, the hollow-point slug lodged deeply within it, and Duncan wore the jacket whenever possible. Daggett's
friends
called him Michigan, not people like Backman.

“If you think Bernard can get you Kort, you're dreaming,” Daggett said. “The Germans shouldn't have gone ahead with the bust. How many times did we discuss that with them? Kort would have shown up sooner or later. ... There would have been a lead of some sort. We're fucked. We'll never get him now.”

“Bernard—”

“Bernard won't know squat about Kort.
We
don't know squat about Kort. A name, that's all. What else do we have? No face to attach to it, no file. Just the name from an untrustworthy squeal. We put too much faith in that in the first place. Who knows if there even is an Anthony Kort?” Depression caved in on him. The air in the car had gone impossibly stale.

“Of course Kort exists,” Backman said angrily. “You know that as well as I.” But you could hear in his voice that he didn't believe it.

“He's a starting point,” Backman insisted, grasping at straws. “In all likelihood, Bernard built a detonator in his Los Angeles hotel room. Right? And now, thanks to
you
, we have no idea where that detonator is! If we did, we might find Kort yet.”

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