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Whistleblower and Never Say Die

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Whistleblower and Never Say Die


  Also available from TESS GERRITSEN and MIRA Books











  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen



  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen


  To Adam and Joshua, the little rascals



  Laos-North Vietnam border

  Thirty miles out of Muong Sam, they saw the first tracers slash the sky.

  Pilot William “Wild Bill” Maitland felt the DeHavilland Twin Otter buck like a filly as they took a hit somewhere back in the fuselage. He pulled into a climb, instinctively opting for the safety of altitude. As the misty mountains dropped away beneath them, a new round of tracers streaked past, splattering the cockpit with flak.

  “Damn it, Kozy. You’re bad luck,” Maitland muttered to his copilot. “Seems like every time we go up together, I taste lead.”

  Kozlowski went right on chomping his wad of bubble gum. “What’s to worry?” he drawled, nodding at the shattered windshield. “Missed ya by at least two inches.”

  “Try one inch.”

  “Big difference.”

  “One extra inch can make a hell of a lot of difference.”

  Kozy laughed and looked out the window. “Yeah, that’s what my wife tells me.”

  The door to the cockpit swung open. Valdez, the cargo kicker, his shoulders bulky with a parachute pack, stuck his head in. “What the hell’s goin’ on any—” He froze as another tracer spiraled past.

  “Got us some mighty big mosquitoes out there,” Kozlowski said and blew a huge pink bubble.

  “What was that?” asked Valdez. “AK-47?”

  “Looks more like .57-millimeter,” said Maitland.

  “They didn’t say nothin’ about no .57s. What kind of briefing did we get, anyway?”

  Kozlowski shrugged. “Only the best your tax dollars can buy.”

  “How’s our ‘cargo’ holding up?” Maitland asked. “Pants still dry?”

  Valdez leaned forward and confided, “Man, we got us one weird passenger back there.”

  “So what’s new?” Kozlowski said.

  “I mean, this one’s really strange. Got flak flyin’ all ’round and he doesn’t bat an eye. Just sits there like he’s floatin’ on some lily pond. You should see the medallion he’s got ’round his neck. Gotta weigh at least a kilo.”

  “Come on,” said Kozlowski.

  “I’m tellin’ you, Kozy, he’s got a kilo of gold hangin’ around that fat little neck of his. Who is he?”

  “Some Lao VIP,” said Maitland.

  “That all they told you?”

  “I’m just the delivery boy. Don’t need to know any more than that.” Maitland leveled the DeHavilland off at eight thousand feet. Glancing back through the open cockpit doorway, he caught sight of their lone passenger sitting placidly among the jumble of supply crates. In the dim cabin, the Lao’s face gleamed like burnished mahogany. His eyes were closed, and his lips were moving silently. In prayer? wondered Maitland. Yes, the man was definitely one of their more interesting cargoes.

  Not that Maitland hadn’t carried strange passengers before. In his ten years with Air America, he’d transported German shepherds and generals, gibbons and girlfriends. And he’d fly them anywhere they had to go. If hell had a landing strip, he liked to say, he’d take them there—as long as they had a ticket. Anything, anytime, anywhere, was the rule at Air America.

  “Song Ma River,” said Kozlowski, glancing down through the fingers of mist at the lush jungle floor. “Lot of cover. If they got any more .57s in place, we’re gonna have us a hard landing.”

  “Gonna be a hard landing anyhow,” said Maitland, taking stock of the velvety green ridges on either side of them. The valley was narrow; he’d have to swoop in fast and low. It was a hellishly short landing strip, nothing but a pin scratch in the jungle, and there was always the chance of an unreported gun emplacement. But the orders were to drop the Lao VIP, whoever he was, just inside North Vietnamese territory. No return pickup had been scheduled; it sounded to Maitland like a one-way trip to oblivion.

  “Heading down in a minute,” he called over his shoulder to Valdez. “Get the passenger ready. He’s gonna have to hit the ground running.”

  “He says that crate goes with him.”

  “What? I didn’t hear anything about a crate.”

  “They loaded it on at the last minute. Right after we took on supplies for Nam Tha. Pretty heavy sucker. I might need some help.”

  Kozlowski resignedly unbuckled his seatbelt. “Okay,” he said with a sigh. “But remember, I don’t get paid for kickin’ crates.”

  Maitland laughed. “What the hell do you get paid for?”

  “Oh, lots of things,” Kozlowski said lazily, ducking past Valdez and through the cockpit door. “Eatin’. Sleepin’. Tellin’ dirty jokes—”

  His last words were cut off by a deafening blast that shattered Maitland’s eardrums. The explosion sent Kozlowski—or what was left of Kozlowski—flying backward into the cockpit. Blood spattered the control panel, obscuring the altimeter dial. But Maitland didn’t need the altimeter to tell him they were going down fast.

  “Kozy!” screamed Valdez, staring down at the remains of the copilot. “Kozy!”

  His words were almost lost in the howling maelstrom of wind. The DeHavilland shuddered, a wounded bird fighting to stay aloft. Maitland, wrestling with the controls, knew immediately that he’d lost hydraulics. The best he could hope for was a belly flop on the jungle canopy.

  He glanced back to survey the damage and saw, through a swirling cloud of debris, the bloodied body of the Lao passenger, thrown against the crates. He also saw sunlight shining through oddly twisted steel, glimpsed blue sky and clouds where the cargo door should have been. What the hell? Had the blast come from inside the plane?

  He screamed to Valdez, “Bail out!”

  The cargo kicker didn’t respond; he was still staring in horror at Kozlowski.

  Maitland gave him a shove. “Get the hell out of here!”

  Valdez at last reacted. He stumbled out of the cockpit and into the morass of broken crates and rent metal. At the gaping cargo door he paused. “Maitland?” he yelled over the wind’s shriek.

  Their gazes met, and in that split second, they knew. They both knew. It was the last time they’d see each other alive.

  “I’ll be out!” Maitland shouted. “Go!”

  Valdez backed up a few steps. Then he launched himself out the cargo door.

  Maitland didn’t glance back to see if Valdez
s parachute had opened; he had other things to worry about.

  The plane was sputtering into a dive.

  Even as he reached for his harness release, he knew his luck had run out. He had neither the time nor the altitude to struggle into his parachute. He’d never believed in wearing one anyway. Strapping it on was like admitting you didn’t trust your skill as a pilot, and Maitland knew—everyone knew—that he was the best.

  Calmly he refastened his harness and grasped the controls. Through the shattered cockpit window he watched the jungle floor, lush and green and heartwrenchingly beautiful, swoop up to meet him. Somehow he’d always known it would end this way: the wind whistling through his crippled plane, the ground rushing toward him, his hands gripping the controls. This time he wouldn’t be walking away….

  It was startling, this sudden recognition of his own mortality. An astonishing thought. I’m going to die.

  And astonishment was exactly what he felt as the DeHavilland sliced into the treetops.

  Vientiane, Laos

  At 1900 hours the report came in that Air America Flight 5078 had vanished.

  In the Operations Room of the U.S. Army Liaison, Colonel Joseph Kistner and his colleagues from Central and Defense Intelligence greeted the news with shocked silence. Had their operation, so carefully conceived, so vital to U.S. interests, met with disaster?

  Colonel Kistner immediately demanded confirmation.

  The command at Air America provided the details. Flight 5078, due in Nam Tha at 1500 hours, had never arrived. A search of the presumed flight path—carried on until darkness intervened—had revealed no sign of wreckage. But flak had been reported heavy near the border, and .57-millimeter gun emplacements were noted just out of Muong Sam. To make things worse, the terrain was mountainous, the weather unpredictable and the number of alternative nonhostile landing strips limited.

  It was a reasonable assumption that Flight 5078 had been shot down.

  Grim acceptance settled on the faces of the men gathered around the table. Their brightest hope had just perished aboard a doomed plane. They looked at Kistner and awaited his decision.

  “Resume the search at daybreak,” he said.

  “That’d be throwing away live men after dead,” said the CIA officer. “Come on, gentlemen. We all know that crew’s gone.”

  Cold-blooded bastard, thought Kistner. But as always, he was right. The colonel gathered together his papers and rose to his feet. “It’s not the men we’re searching for,” he said. “It’s the wreckage. I want it located.”

  “And then what?”

  Kistner snapped his briefcase shut. “We melt it.”

  The CIA officer nodded in agreement. No one argued the point. The operation had met with disaster. There was nothing more to be done.

  Except destroy the evidence.

  Chapter One


  Bangkok, Thailand

  General Joe Kistner did not sweat, a fact that utterly amazed Willy Jane Maitland, since she herself seemed to be sweating through her sensible cotton underwear, through her sleeveless chambray blouse, all the way through her wrinkled twill skirt. Kistner looked like the sort of man who ought to be sweating rivers in this heat. He had a fiercely ruddy complexion, bulldog jowls, a nose marbled with spidery red veins, and a neck so thick, it strained to burst free of his crisp military collar. Every inch the blunt, straight-talking, tough old soldier, she thought. Except for the eyes. They’re uneasy. Evasive.

  Those eyes, a pale, chilling blue, were now gazing across the veranda. In the distance the lush Thai hills seemed to steam in the afternoon heat. “You’re on a fool’s errand, Miss Maitland,” he said. “It’s been twenty years. Surely you agree your father is dead.”

  “My mother’s never accepted it. She needs a body to bury, General.”

  Kistner sighed. “Of course. The wives. It’s always the wives. There were so many widows, one tends to forget—”

  “She hasn’t forgotten.”

  “I’m not sure what I can tell you. What I ought to tell you.” He turned to her, his pale eyes targeting her face. “And really, Miss Maitland, what purpose does this serve? Except to satisfy your curiosity?”

  That irritated her. It made her mission seem trivial, and there were few things Willy resented more than being made to feel insignificant. Especially by a puffed up, flat-topped warmonger. Rank didn’t impress her, certainly not after all the military stuffed shirts she’d met in the past few months. They’d all expressed their sympathy, told her they couldn’t help her and proceeded to brush off her questions. But Willy wasn’t a woman to be stonewalled. She’d chip away at their silence until they’d either answer her or kick her out.

  Lately, it seemed, she’d been kicked out of quite a few offices.

  “This matter is for the Casualty Resolution Committee,” said Kistner. “They’re the proper channel to go—”

  “They say they can’t help me.”

  “Neither can I.”

  “We both know you can.”

  There was a pause. Softly, he asked, “Do we?”

  She leaned forward, intent on claiming the advantage. “I’ve done my homework, General. I’ve written letters, talked to dozens of people—everyone who had anything to do with that last mission. And whenever I mention Laos or Air America or Flight 5078, your name keeps popping up.”

  He gave her a faint smile. “How nice to be remembered.”

  “I heard you were the military attaché in Vientiane. That your office commissioned my father’s last flight. And that you personally ordered that final mission.”

  “Where did you hear that rumor?”

  “My contacts at Air America. Dad’s old buddies. I’d call them a reliable source.”

  Kistner didn’t respond at first. He was studying her as carefully as he would a battle plan. “I may have issued such an order,” he conceded.

  “Meaning you don’t remember?”

  “Meaning it’s something I’m not at liberty to discuss. This is classified information. What happened in Laos is an extremely sensitive topic.”

  “We’re not discussing military secrets here. The war’s been over for fifteen years!”

  Kistner fell silent, surprised by her vehemence. Given her unassuming size, it was especially startling. Obviously Willy Maitland, who stood five-two, tops, in her bare feet, could be as scrappy as any six-foot marine, and she wasn’t afraid to fight. From the minute she’d walked onto his veranda, her shoulders squared, her jaw angled stubbornly, he’d known this was not a woman to be ignored. She reminded him of that old Eisenhower chestnut, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.” Three wars, fought in Japan, Korea and Nam, had taught Kistner never to underestimate the enemy.

  He wasn’t about to underestimate Wild Bill Maitland’s daughter, either.

  He shifted his gaze across the wide veranda to the brilliant green mountains. In a wrought-iron birdcage, a macaw screeched out a defiant protest.

  At last Kistner began to speak. “Flight 5078 took off from Vientiane with a crew of three—your father, a cargo kicker and a copilot. Sometime during the flight, they diverted across North Vietnamese territory, where we assume they were shot down by enemy fire. Only the cargo kicker, Luis Valdez, managed to bail out. He was immediately captured by the North Vietnamese. Your father was never found.”

  “That doesn’t mean he’s dead. Valdez survived—”

  “I’d hardly call the man’s outcome ‘survival.’”

  They paused, a momentary silence for the man who’d endured five years as a POW, only to be shattered by his return to civilization. Luis Valdez had returned home on a Saturday and shot himself on Sunday.

  “You left something out, General,” said Willy. “I’ve heard there was a passenger….”

  “Oh. Yes,” said Kistner, not missing a beat. “I’d forgotten.”

  “Who was he?”

  Kistner shrugged. “A Lao. His name’s not impo

  “Was he with Intelligence?”

  “That information, Miss Maitland, is classified.” He looked away, a gesture that told her the subject of the Lao was definitely off-limits. “After the plane went down,” he continued, “we mounted a search. But the ground fire was hot. And it became clear that if anyone had survived, they’d be in enemy hands.”

  “So you left them there.”

  “We don’t believe in throwing lives away, Miss Maitland. That’s what a rescue operation would’ve been. Throwing live men after dead.”

  Yes, she could see his reasoning. He was a military tactician, not given to sentimentality. Even now, he sat ramrod straight in his chair, his eyes calmly surveying the verdant hills surrounding his villa, as though eternally in search of some enemy.

  “We never found the crash site,” he continued. “But that jungle could swallow up anything. All that mist and smoke hanging over the valleys. The trees so thick, the ground never sees the light of day. But you’ll get a feeling for it yourself soon enough. When are you leaving for Saigon?”

  “Tomorrow morning.”

  “And the Vietnamese have agreed to discuss this matter?”

  “I didn’t tell them my reason for coming. I was afraid I might not get the visa.”

  “A wise move. They aren’t fond of controversy. What did you tell them?”

  “That I’m a plain old tourist.” She shook her head and laughed. “I’m on the deluxe private tour. Six cities in two weeks.”

  “That’s what one has to do in Asia. You don’t confront the issues. You dance around them.” He looked at his watch, a clear signal that the interview had come to an end.

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