Authors: David Freed
A CORDELL LOGAN MYSTERY
Copyright © 2012 by David Freed
All rights reserved. No part of this publication, or parts thereof, may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of brief quotes in a review, without the written permission of the publisher.
For information, address:
The Permanent Press
4170 Noyac Road
Sag Harbor, NY 11963
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Flat spin / David Freed.
p. cm. — (A Cordell Logan mystery)
1. Pilots—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. I.Title.
Printed in the United States of America.
For Karoline and Jerry, who gave me life
Don and Mitch, who gave me wings
here are three rules for writing the novel,” the great William Somerset Maugham once said. “Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” With all due respect to Maugham’s literary genius, I believe that one of those rules is to be surrounded by smart, supportive friends and relatives who can both challenge and comfort a humble scribe as he lurches along that darkly self-doubting path that is a first novel.
I am indebted to many such wonderful people. Their myriad contributions appear tangibly on the pages of this book, even if their names do not.
My thanks to
, author par excellence and former Navy SEAL Chuck Pfarrer, whose courage and inspiration by example, generosity of spirit, and depthless humor over two-plus decades of friendship have hauled me out of more than a few shell craters of my own making.
I would be remiss without thanking my late, brilliant editor, Dale Fetherling, who read an early version of this book and offered constructive comments edged with always tactfully delivered, “What in the hell were you thinking?”-type notations. Ditto the skilled, ever-sage Dick Barnes, another of my mentors and former editors from the
Los Angeles Times
. Other talented, hawkeyed journalists were not afraid to weigh in critically when assessing my often tortured efforts, and are deserving of praise. Among them: Barbara Baker, Scott Duke Harris, and especially Barb Hallett, whose effusiveness after reading an early draft convinced me that maybe I was on to something. Thanks also to editor Anne Bensson, whose deft assessment of my deficiencies in plot improved the outcome immeasurably.
For their guidance on matters technical, I would like to express my appreciation to two longtime friends, Sergeant Arthur Ames, PhD (Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department, retired); and Captain Greg Meyer (Los Angeles Police Department, retired). Thanks also to Terry Harris, the most competent, certified flight instructor from whom any pilot could ever hope to learn—even if she does like working the rudder pedals with her bare feet.
Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency is as loyal an ally and effective an agent as there is and I am fortunate to be represented by her, as I am to be published by Judith and Martin Shepard, who took a chance on me when others were unwilling. I’d also like to give a well-deserved shout-out to artist Lon Kirschner for his excellent book jacket design, and to Joslyn Pine for her meticulous copyediting.
To Doug Barr; Norm Draper; Steve Chawkins and Jane Hulse; Dennis Franklin; Howard Hilt; John Jarrett; Jim and Bev Kreyger; John and Cathy Maier; Jay Pfeiffer; Maggie Roiphe; Carl and Helen Schaukowitch; Bob and Edna Sizlo; Bruce Smith; Ty Smith; Scott Weiner; Steve Wick; the many members of the Bates, Freed and Kash clans; my amazingly talented sister, Lisa Pavelka, and her industrious brood; my warrior surrogate sons, Mathew Best and Mike Eggli; and my own awe-inspiring children, Rachel Ann and Army National Guard 1
Lt. Robert M. Freed, I am blessed by your presence and made whole by your laughter.
To my beautiful partner, Dr. Elizabeth Bates Freed, who, on more evenings than I care to admit, prodded me to “finish the damn book” after bringing me red wine and insisting that I read to her what I’d struggled to write that day, when I would’ve been only too happy to pursue other, less trying avocations (like, say, alligator wrestling), I remain forever yours.
Finally, to Aurelia Valley, a transformational high school English teacher from suburban Denver who struggled mightily to instill in her distracted, working-class students a love of prose and recognized some potential in one of them, encouraging him to explore the writer’s life, I offer my belated gratitude. I only wish I could have thanked you before you were gone.
Live thy life as it were spoil and pluck the joys that fly.
rlo Echevarria opened his door in flip-flops and a foul mood.
“You got the wrong address, dude. I didn’t order any pizza.”
The Domino’s guy stood there mutely on the front step, cap pulled low, face obscured in the dim buttery glow of Echevarria’s jelly jar porch light, cradling a pizza hot pouch in both arms like it was baby Jesus.
“What are you, deaf? I said you got the wrong address.” Echevarria went to push the door closed, but the Domino’s guy blocked it with his foot, drawing a blue steel semi-auto from the red vinyl pouch.
Echevarria yelled, “Wait a—”
The .40-caliber hollow point splintered rib bone and mushroomed through Echevarria’s left lung, blowing a kebab-size chunk of flesh out his back and dropping him like 164 pounds of wet laundry.
Slugs two and three made pulp of Echevarria’s liver and spleen. The coroner would deem all three wounds potentially fatal. Any cynical street cop, which is to say, any cop, would deem them all sweet, sweet shooting: three rounds, center mass, square in the 10-ring.
The Domino’s guy tucked the pistol up under his shirt, then calmly gathered his spent brass, depositing each casing in the hot pouch before disappearing into a pleasantly temperate San Fernando Valley evening. The tang of cordite lingered on the breeze with the perfume of night-blooming jasmine.
A rookie and her field training officer, both working the night watch out of Devonshire Division, punched the at-scene button on their mobile data terminal six minutes after catching the “shots fired” call. They found Echevarria lying facedown, unresponsive, inside the entryway, blocking his partially opened front door. Hoping to save a life and impress her FTO, the rookie bulled open the door, sliding the body and smearing blood across the oak parquet floor, thus disturbing both a homicide scene and the on-call LAPD homicide detectives who would arrive later along with more than a dozen other uniformed patrol officers, all of whom raced to the scene to get their nightly dose of gore, even though the need for lights and sirens had long since passed, along with the decedent.
Several of Echevarria’s neighbors told police they’d heard him yell, heard what sounded like firecrackers, and glimpsed the killer through their windows. They described him as five-foot-five and 180 pounds. Or five-foot-ten and 160 pounds. Or well over six feet, on the thin side, with a long loping stride—kind of like Gomer Pyle, who used to be on TV back when TV was worth watching. One witness said the shooter was a Latino in his late twenties. Another said he was Arabic in his thirties. Two witnesses said the killer was a Caucasian with a West Hollywood tan. Still others described him as “Jewish-looking” or “the Italian-type” or even Indian—the tomahawk-chop-Geronimo kind, not the kind that worship cows and wrap goddamn bed sheets around their heads. Whoever murdered Echevarria was swarthy and clean-shaven. The witnesses all agreed on that. They also agreed on the getaway car: nobody saw one.
On Echevarria’s coffee table, investigators snapped digital photographs of an empty pint bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey, three recently emptied takeout cartons from a Chinese restaurant on nearby Sherman Way, and a paperback copy of
Cover-up: The Secret of UFO Technology Transfer
, detailing American industry’s covertly profitable relationship with space aliens. Wedged in the waistband of Echevarria’s plaid flannel Costco lounge pants, under his bloodsoaked “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for the Other Guy” T-shirt, they found a nine-millimeter Beretta, Model 92FS, standard U.S. military issue. The pistol held a full fifteen-round clip. The firing chamber was empty.
“Like tits on a nun,” one particularly salty patrolman observed.
The paid funeral notice that ran in the
Los Angeles Times
six days later said Echevarria had “set off to see the Lord to receive the angel wings he’d deserved for so long.” It said he was born in Oakland in 1961, that he’d earned a business degree from San Francisco State, and that he’d built a successful international marketing company in the Bay Area before taking early retirement and relocating south to LA, there to enjoy the balmier weather, Dodger baseball, and serving his favorite charities, none of which were specified. Survivors included his “devoted wife and soul mate,” Savannah, and a twenty-year-old son from a previous marriage who worshipped him “for the exceptionally caring parent that he was.” No mention was made of Echevarria having been gunned down and gone off to see the Lord in flip-flops and Costco lounge pants. His passing, it was noted, had been “sudden and unexpected.”
Of course, anyone who knew the real Arlo Echevarria knew the obit was mostly all bullshit.
Especially the unexpected part.
e were turning final when the engine died.
My student was a frosted blonde divorcee named Charise MacInerny with all of six hours in her private pilot’s logbook, who’d decided that learning to fly was an excellent way to show her plastic surgeon ex-husband that she was still every bit as alluring as that gold-digging, cheerleader-turned-pharmaceutical sales rep slut he’d dumped her for. Charise swiveled her ridiculously blue Malibu Barbie eyes toward me, wide with horror, and said, “Fucking do something!”
My plane, the
, was 300 feet above ground level, half a mile from the runway and dropping faster than the Dow in October. Charise had extended too far downwind in the pattern and surrendered too much altitude, while I’d been stupidly mesmerized by the postcard pretty coastline and shimmering sea of diamonds beyond, wondering how the hell I was ever going to pay for the 2,000-hour overhaul due on the
’s power plant.
“I have the airplane,” I said in my nothing-rattles-me-I’m-a-certified-flight-instructor voice.
I grabbed the copilot’s yoke with my right hand, yanked the carburetor heat control with my left, and brought the nose up to sixty-five knots indicated—best glide speed in a Cessna 172. Then I reached down between the seats, keeping my eyes outside the cockpit to maintain spatial orientation, and groped the fuel selector valve: it was turned to both tanks. The gas gauges registered more than half-f—plenty of go juice—yet the engine was deader than a resolution the morning after New Year’s Day.
Charise was hyperventilating. “I don’t want to die, Logan!” she yelled into the boom microphone of her headset. “Please don’t let me die! Oh Jesus oh Jesus oh Jesus oh mother of JESUS!”
“Chill out, Charise. It’ll be OK.”
Or, quite possibly, not.
Ahead of us was a BMW dealership, a lumberyard, and a parking lot jammed with yellow school buses—not the most forgiving locales to attempt what we aviators euphemistically like to call an “off-airport” landing, and what TV anchors refer to as a “lead story.” In a flash, I envisioned myself at the top of the evening news:
An incompetent flight instructor and his comely student died today when their single-engine airplane . . .
If the crash didn’t kill me, the humiliation of my own inattention would.
I glanced down at the mixture control, which is what I should’ve done to begin with. The red knob was pulled all the way out. Instead of easing back on the black throttle control knob to reduce airspeed, as she was supposed to have done, Charise had inexplicably pulled the fuel-air mixture, effectively starving the engine of gas. I shoved the red knob forward hard enough that I thought for a second the metal shaft might snap in half, retarded the throttle control to a quarter-inch, then reached across Charise’s supple thighs with my left hand and cranked the ignition key.