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Dangerous Past

by A. Ebbers

4.0 stars – 20 Reviews
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Don’t have a Kindle? Get yours here.

Here’s the set-up:

The debut novel of reporter, military pilot, and Vietnam vet A. F. Ebbers, Dangerous Past is an aviation mystery-thriller that will hit the sweet spot for readers of Nelson DeMille, Scott Turow and Ernest K. Gann. Airline Captain Frank Braden is being stalked by unknown assailants who must arrange his death to look like a suicide or an accident before a specific deadline. He receives an unsigned message warning him against attending a Senate hearing in Washington. If he agrees, he will receive a million dollars and his wife’s life.

Reviews

“The author writes with breezy energy and is consistently at his best when describing scenes of suspenseful intrigue. Frank and his wife Nicole, emerge as a heroic pair. These two steal the show. Spirited, readable debut with extra points for plot and pacing.” –KIRKUS REVIEWS

“… This was a fantastic first novel by Mr. Ebbers. The story toggles between the Vietnam War and Present day. The transition is wonderfully easy to follow as each character recollects portions of their past. The imagery was amazing, and the suspense kept me pulled into the story. Needless to say, I enjoyed this spy thriller so much; this book was very difficult to put down, worthy of a five star rating.” – Amazon Reviewer, 5 Stars

About The Author

I’ve been writing for several decades and I try to make my stories realistic fiction. DANGEROUS PAST is a story of a man who must choose between doing what ought to be done or keeping his family alive by allowing a murderous and powerful Washington VIP to escape his past.

And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:

            1

 

 

October, 2000

 

 

 

The air was smooth as the Boeing 737-200 airliner sliced gracefully east through the night autumn sky over southern Tennessee.  Letters scripted in dark blue printed out the name WestSky across the sides of its white fuselage.

On the flight deck, Captain Frank Braden, 50, a fellow with inquisitive brown eyes, salt-and-pepper hair and easy-going mannerisms, occupied the left seat.

First Officer John Tate, 30, an eager-to-please copilot in the right seat. Tate had been delighted to see that he was scheduled to fly with Braden. Frank was known as a less demanding captain on his co-pilots and was easy to get along with, unlike a few captains who turned into hard-to-please tyrants in the cockpit. But he also knew that Braden was nobody’s fool and insisted on professionalism in the cockpit at all times.

“Heard you flew in ‘Nam?” Tate said.

Frank eyed his younger flight companion before answering, “For a short while.”

“Not a full year?”

“Got shot and sent back to the States.”

“Bummer. Viet Cong?”

Again, Frank hesitated before answering.  “No. American.”

The First Officer’s interest visually perked up.  “Wow, that’s cool. I mean, not you getting shot, but an American shooting you. Never heard of that happening.”

And, thankfully, my life has been mundane even since, Frank reflected.

“You know, I was just starting grade school when ‘Nam was going on.”

Frank nodded.

Tate paused and anxiously waited for his captain to follow-up the shooting episode with an explanation. But only silence penetrated the cockpit.  Out of the corner of his eye the First Officer saw his Captain staring blankly at the dark outside world beyond the windshield.

Frank knew he had little to complain about, even with his recent stock losses.  Everything he had worked hard for he had achieved.  As a senior captain with a major airline and married to a prominent and attractive surgeon, he figured they could get out of bankruptcy within two years. But then what? His two kids were in college and ready to leave home, and his wife recently starting spending more time at medical conventions and hospitals than at home. Sometimes they rarely talked when they were home together. Basically, he was worried that his brainy wife might be bored with him for not paying more attention to her. Was she thinking of splitting?

“Everything okay, skipper?” Tate asked.

Frank, momentarily distracted from his isolated thoughts, turned to his copilot. “In the end, everything works out for the best, doesn’t it?”

Not sure how to answer, Tate ventured, “I guess it does.”  John Tate was not one to disagree with any captain he was flying with even though he may not have completely understood the question. But he was not one to be able to contain his curiosity, either. He again abruptly broke the captain’s solitude, “Why’d he shoot you?”

Frank looked down and picked up an approach plate booklet and examined it. The copilot finally got the hint and, although disappointed, wisely didn’t pursue the questioning any further.

About a dozen feet behind and on the other side of the flight deck door in the First Class section, senior flight attendant Beth Jordan, mid-30s, smiled as she handed a cup of coffee to a rotund businessman. Beth, slim, with a pleasant personality, had been with WestSky for ten years. She had planned to leave the airline five years ago, but her husband’s real estate business had its own recession and they needed the extra income.

“Cream or sugar?” She asked in a very polite but professional voice.

Suddenly, a terrific loud BANG shook the airliner like dynamite, tearing a ten by twelve-foot hole into the bottom right side of the aircraft fuselage. A deafening tornado-like wind rushed through the interior of the passenger cabin like a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up anything not nailed or strapped down. Simultaneously, a brief, chilled mist swept through the cabin amid the screaming passengers whose voices could not be heard above the shrieking wind. Paper and debris floated everywhere. Speechless, the rotund businessman’s body instantly became caught in the suction towards the hole. His body jerked upwards but was held by his seat belt.  Stunned and scared, his eyes widened as they involuntarily followed the stewardess, coffee cups, papers and other debris, down and out of the aircraft through a gaping hole in the bottom right front fuselage of the plane.

It had all happened so fast, even Beth didn’t have a chance to scream, just wore a shocked expression on her face as she disappeared into the night.

Seconds later, the power of the giant vacuum dissipated as the cabin pressure equalized with the outside atmosphere.  But dangling oxygen masks waved back and forth and a ceaseless, deafening, howling wind from the hole in the fuselage continued.

In the economy class, women continued to mouth unheard screams. A pair of flight attendants knocked to the aisle by the explosive decompression, grabbed the bottom supports of the seats and held on until suction towards the cavity ceased. Then they scrambled to their feet, motioning for everyone to put the masks on their faces. As if to demonstrate, they snatched two hanging masks from nearby empty seats and put them on.

Simultaneously, the same wind shrieked through the cockpit making normal conversation impossible. Debris, papers, checklists, and pieces of gray insulation floated everywhere.

“Shit,” Tate yelled. But nobody heard him. The sound of the wind drowned him out.

Frank quickly donned his oxygen mask, disconnected the autopilot, retarded the power levers, held the control yoke slightly backwards and banked the aircraft to descend. He squinted at his copilot since the swirling debris made opening the eyes fully very dangerous. After seeing Tate put on his mask, he pointed to the intercom switch. Both men turned the switch on. Now they could hear each other through their oxygen mask mikes and headsets.

“Explosive decompression, emergency descent, I have the controls, extend the speed brakes,” Frank said quickly.

Tate extended the speed brakes and put on the cabin seat belt sign.

The First Officer switched from intercom to air traffic control and in an unsettled voice, yelled into his oxygen mike, “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. WestSky Flight two-five-three. Explosive decompression.  One hundred ten souls on board. Thirty- thousand pounds of fuel. Leaving flight level three-three zero for ten thousand now.”

Frank pointed at the transponder. Tate nodded and put in the numbers, 7700, the emergency code.

“Can you see what’s going on back there?” Frank said.

The copilot turned toward the rear and gasped.  The cockpit door had been blown off its hinges and he saw the gaping hole in the aisle of the First Class passenger compartment.

“There’s a hole in the bottom of the aircraft in First Class. I can see lights on the ground through it.”

“See the attendants? How are the passengers?” Frank rapidly.

“Beth’s missing. The other attendants are getting off the floor in the rear cabin but they look okay.”

“Passengers?”

“Scared. But they’re in their seats sniffing oxygen.” Tate looked for the emergency checklist couldn’t find it in the debris. So he did it by memory, mumbling to himself while he glanced at the control and instrument panels. “Captain — airspeed.”

Frank looked at the rapidly unwinding clock-like altimeter and the increasing needle on the airspeed indicator and nodded.  He pulled the yoke back a little further to decrease the airspeed a bit while still maintaining a rapid descent to breathable outside air. “Any reply from Memphis Center?”

Tate shook his head, “Can’t hear a thing.  Still too much noise.”

“Keep transmitting in the blind. Tell ‘em it’s structural failure, vibrating badly. We’re diverting to Memphis.”

The airframe vibrations were quite noticeable as the airliner continued its descent. Tate, on a second look, reported that the interior of the fuselage near the tail section seems to be moving slightly up and down on its own.

A dozen thoughts were racing through Frank’s mind. God, I hope the structure of this old bird holds together at this speed. Once the integrity of an airframe has been compromised, all bets are off.  Dammit, there’s no way to dump fuel from a 737and we got a lot of it.  At least we’re still flying. So the worst is probably over. Hope we got good weather at Memphis.

    Out of the sight of the pilots, a small hanging piece of aluminum sheeting on the side bottom of the airline fuselage tore loose in the slipstream and slammed into the right engine inlet. Sparks flew out and a fire warning light ignited on the instrument panel.

Frank spotted the red light almost immediately. “God! What’s next,” Frank said to himself. He then yelled to Tate. “Check number two engine.”

Tate didn’t have to look hard. His eyes widened. An orange-reddish flame from the jet engine lit up the right side of the wing. Black heavy smoke trailed behind the engine.

“She’s on fire.”

“Damn.”  Frank quickly shut down the right engine and yelled to Tate. “Number two’s down. Push the fire button.”

Tate reached to the instrument panel. He pushed a big red button marked No.2.

“If it doesn’t go out give her another fire bottle in thirty seconds.” Tate waited the out the seconds and eagerly pushed the fire button again. He then switched on the right wing spotlight which he didn’t need. His eyes widened. In a grim voice he said, “Still see flames. Smoking like hell, too.”

“Tell Memphis we got one turning and one burning,” Frank replied. He didn’t want to even think about the possibility of the fire melting the engine support struts. He knew that a departing engine and pod would likely take a portion of the wing with it.

“Approaching ten thousand.”

“Roger. Leveling off,” Frank said. “Retract speed brakes.”

As the aircraft slowed, the cockpit wind noise lessened. Tate slipped off his oxygen mask. Frank ripped his off with his one free hand.

The copilot looked uneasily at Frank. “I’m feeling more vibrations.”

“Roger. Can’t control her below 170 knots.” Frank held the control yoke with both hands now, struggling to keep the aircraft from rolling either to the port or starboard sides. He nodded toward the power lever. “Reach over and give me a little more power on number one.”  Tate reached over and pushed the lever forward a little and the airspeed indicator increased to one hundred and eighty knots, dissipating the aircraft’s tendency to roll but causing the vibrations to increase.

“That’ll be our approach speed,” Frank said.

A ground controller voice was heard in their headsets. “WestSky two-five-three. Do you read?”

“Got you five-by-five now. Get our transmissions?” Tate eagerly replied.

“Roger, flight two-five three. Air traffic at Memphis has been diverted. You’re clear for a straight-in ILS approach to runway three six left. Ceiling 200. Fog. Visibility, quarter mile. Wind calm. Altimeter 2996.”

Tate alternated between looking at the smoking engine, at the instrument panel and glancing out the front windshield. He didn’t like anything he saw. Underneath them was a blanketing white sea of mist that they must descend their wobbling, burning, airliner into at high speed to reach safety.  He felt himself getting nauseous thinking about their odds. Taking a deep breath, he looked for the approach plate manual and couldn’t find it in the mess. He radioed their predicament to ATC. The controller answered in a minute giving frequencies and headings and altitudes required.

“Glideslope alive. You can start your descent,” Tate said.

“Got it.” Frank replied.

“I can still see flames coming from the engine,” Tate said quietly.

“Roger,” Frank said.

The controller voice was again heard over the headsets. “Emergency equipment is in position by the runway. Switch now to final controller on one two-four point one-five. Good luck.”

Before Tate could acknowledge a reply, Frank quickly injected an afterthought into the mike.  “Keep the emergency vehicles away from the runway. With the structural damage we have we’re not too sure how aerodynamic we might be on touchdown. Could cartwheel.”

“I’ll pass it on,” the controller said.

While Tate changed radio frequencies, Frank gently pulled back the single power lever with his right hand and held a slight back pressure on the control yoke with his left hand as the crippled airliner descended into the murky fogbank seeking the safety of the runway two thousand feet below.

The vibrations lessened somewhat as the airspeed decreased but the wing alternately dipped and rose to one side or the other while Frank tried desperately to wrestle it back to the level position. He knew if the wing dropped just above the ground, the aircraft could cartwheel wing over wing, tearing itself into fractured pieces of metal in which only a lucky few would survive, if that many.

Flames and smoke continued pouring from the starboard engine, baggage occasionally dropping out from the gaping hole in its fuselage, as the Boeing 737 started the last approach its badly damaged airframe would ever make.

Frank glued his eyes to instruments on the panel, struggling to keep the wings level in the fog. Tate sat forward in his seat, beads of sweat on his forehead, his hand on the landing gear lever, his eyes trying to penetrate through the mist to see the runway.

“Vibrations increasing again,” Tate warned.

As Boeing 737 sped downward, Frank, eyeing the ILS indicator, kept the localizer and glide slope needles immobile.

“Descending thru 300 feet,” Tate called out. “Runway not in sight.”

We’re coming in too hot.  “Flaps 15,” Frank yelled.

Tate moved the flap level. Nothing happen. “Flaps inop,” Tate quickly warned.

Frank nodded. Had the fog thickened and dropped lower?

Suddenly Tate yelled. “I see the approach lights.”

“Gear,” Frank ordered.

The copilot quickly pushed the lever down. “Gear handle down.” He glanced at the instrument panel again and his face muscles tightened.

“Starboard and nose gears not down and locked,” Tate shouted.

Frank quickly glanced at the gear panel indicators. “Gear up. Tell the attendants to assume crash position. Can’t go around.”

“Roger.” Tate pulled the lever up and spoke the warning instructions into the cabin microphone which probably nobody could hear. But the attendants could tell that the touchdown was near and showed the passengers that they should fold their arms on their knees and bend forward.

Frank brought back the power lever and raised the aircraft nose slightly.

This gave the appearance of the fast moving aircraft floating just above the ground. When the aircraft nose rose and the airspeed slowed, the whole plane shuddered and a wing dipped dangerously closed to touching the ground but was quickly leveled by Frank as he plopped the airliner down on the runway. It skidded on its belly in excess of one hundred fifty miles an hour.  Sliding, the airliner fuselage scraped along the top of the asphalt runway sounding like fingernails grating across a blackboard magnified a thousand times. Sparks from the friction erupted under the airliner making it look like a giant sparkler.

It was now out of Frank’s control and he and the crew and passengers sweated the seemingly endless minute as the aircraft slowly turned sideways before grinding to a stop.

Emergency vehicles, lights flashing, quickly surrounded the fuselage.  Firemen shot foam into the smoking starboard engine as passengers evacuated their aluminum tube by sliding down emergency chutes. Surprisingly, a few of them appeared hardly fazed by their ordeal. Others, shaking, sobbed tears of joy, just happy to be on the ground in one piece. An elderly couple, traumatized and paled, was put into an ambulance.

Frank and the copilot jumped down to the runway from the food service door aft of the cockpit.  They walked a short distance, then turned and looked back.

Now that it was over, Frank started to fully realize the implication of what could’ve happened and he suddenly felt exhausted. The pilots, deep in their own thoughts, remained silent for several seconds, gazing blankly at the remains of the airliner.

Tate broke the silent first. “My ears hurt.”

“Mine, too.”

“As they say, any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. Cool touchdown, Captain.”

“Thanks. But when the company sees their aircraft, they’re going to question that.”

“Hah, as if those desk nerds could do better,” Tate said.

Frank smiled and gripped the copilot on the shoulder. “Couldn’t have done without you, good job.” His voice then cracked. “We lost Beth.”

Tate nodded silently.

Frank turned and headed toward a side door in the terminal. “See you later. I’m going to catch a hop back to Austin after I complete about a thousand pounds of paperwork.”

*     *     *     *

 

It was midnight at the Austin–Bergstrom International Airport when Frank, still in his WestSky uniform and carrying his flight briefcase, exited with other passengers through the arrival gate.  Nicole Braden, Frank’s wife, a slender small-breasted woman in her mid-40s, ran out from a group of onlookers into his arms and held him tightly.

The walked down the terminal passageway arm-in-arm. “Nice going. Were you afraid?” She said.

“Too busy to get scared.” A frown crossed his face. “Almost lost it. Don’t know how it stayed together.”

“TV anchors elevated you from a mere mortal into a Greek God.”

“Couldn’t have done it without my crew.” Frank shook his head. “Our lead stewardess, Beth, was sucked out the hole.”

“Oh my God, that’s terrible.” Nicole’s face turned chalky white. “The newscasts hinted about a casualty but they didn’t have any details.”

“I phoned her family. I guess I should’ve allowed the company to do that but they drag their feet about things like that. I felt I owed that to her. That was the toughest thing I had to do tonight.”  Frank stopped her in the middle of the terminal walkway and hugged Nicole again.

Their English Tudor style home sat just off Lake Austin, amid a scattering of upper middle class homes on the hilly shoreline terrain.

Frank followed Nicole through the doorway, stopped and looked around. “Where’s Badger?”

“She must’ve wandered off again. I’ve been looking in the neighborhood for her all day. Nobody’s seen her.”

She hasn’t done that in a long time, Frank thought. He really missed her leaping, friendly greeting he got every time he entered the house. “I guess she’ll come home when she gets hungry.” Frank sat down in an easy chair, twirled his cap through the air onto the sofa, and yawned. Nicole went into the kitchen and returned. She handed him a cup of coffee.

“I phoned Susan and Richard in their dorms to let them know their dad’s okay,” Nicole said as she sat down, looking proudly at her husband on the couch.

Frank sighed as he acknowledged her warm admiration. I guess she’ll stick around for a while. Nothing like a near death experience to rekindle the passion, he told himself.

Frank yawned. “God. It’s been a long day.”

“Do they know what happened to your plane?”

“Metal fatigue is my guess. It ripped away in the slipstream and left a large hole underneath the first class compartment.”

“Oh, my God,” Nicole gasped.

“The FBI started questioning passengers as I left last night. I’m going to meet with them next week in Washington.”  Frank tried to stifle a yawn but failed. “I’m also temporarily grounded until the company completes their investigation, too. That’s standard procedure.” He handed Nicole his cup and she took it into the kitchen. When she returned, Frank was asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

The black wall of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. sank beneath the ground level like a grave. Frank stood among a wide variety of tourists gazing or reaching out to copy indentations of names on the wall. Some were dressed in the standard tourist fare. Others wore portions of jungle fatigues, either tops or bottoms, and green combat jungle boots, courtesy of their old military units or deceased relatives.

Frank’s eyes were moist as he touched the indentation of ‘Jack Braden.’ “I didn’t mean it, Jack,” he said softly.

Later that morning, Frank entered the FBI Headquarters building and was directed to a conference room by a uniformed man at the information desk.  Inside the room, several agents and an airline executive sat around a long, rectangular metal table. When Frank entered the room, FBI Agent Tim Coffey, 50, a nervous man of medium height with a disarming smile, rose and offered his hand. He looked directly into Frank’s eyes. “Good morning, Captain Braden. I’m Agent Coffey in charge of this investigation. Did your wife fly up with you?”

“Couldn’t make it. You know how busy surgeons are.”

“Everything okay at home?” Coffey asked.

“Yes. Why?”

“Oh, nothing, just part of our procedure.”

Frank took a seat and folded his hands on top of the table. He noticed that an airline executive from West Sky was at the meeting and Frank nodded to him. The executive, sitting at the far end of the table, did not acknowledge the greeting. Frank thought that was strange since he once had been introduced to the man.

A minute of silence passed before Coffey, studying some papers in front of him, looked up at Frank. “I see you visited the Vietnam Memorial before you came over here.”

“How’d you know?”

“Part of our procedures. Lose a buddy over there?”

“My older brother.”

“Was he a pilot, too?” Coffey asked.

Frank shook his head. “No. He was a warrant officer with the Army CID. He got nailed by the guys he investigated in ‘Nam.’”

“They ever catch ’em?” Coffey appeared impatient.

Frank shifted uncomfortably in his seat and looked at his watch. “They, uh, died over there, too.”

“Interesting.” Coffey made some hurried notes on his writing pad and looked up with a serious expression. “Okay, let’s get to the point. A bomb went off in the luggage compartment. Of course, you knew that, right?”

“Jesus!” Frank bolted upright in his chair. “I assumed it was metal fatigue. Nothing written about a bomb in the newspapers.”

“We delayed our findings to the news media until we were more positive.”

“How did it get by security?” Frank was breathing faster now. We were closer to eternity than I figured.

The agent scratched the back of his neck and rose from his chair. “The way the bomb got aboard your aircraft was unique.” Coffey walked around the table and stopped behind him. Frank, uncomfortable that someone was standing close behind him, turned around.

Coffey leaned toward Frank. “It will save us all a lot of grief and time if you tell us now. Did you intend to commit suicide?”

Frank looked at Coffey as if he couldn’t believe what the agent just said. “Excuse me?”

The agent leaned back as he studied Frank. He obviously enjoyed this game of cat and mouse. He silently paced the length of the table. His next question came in a nonchalant manner. “Do you have a dog?”

“No, no, what you said before,” Frank said, somewhat dumbfounded.

“We’ll get back to that. Do you own a dog?” Coffey said in a louder voice.

“Yes, or we did until a few days ago. Our Lab is missing.”

The FBI agent strutted back to his paperwork and momentarily shuffled through them. He again looked up at Frank. “In your teens you had some experience with taxidermy. Correct?”

Frank looked questioningly at the agent. “I really don’t see where—“

“Please answer the question.”

“Yes, sir, it was a hobby.”

“A small package of explosive material was sewn into the belly of a Lab,” the agent said softly before pointing his finger and proclaiming in a louder voice. “Your dog, Mister Braden. That’s how you got it aboard your aircraft.”  Coffey placed his hands on his hips and waited silently for Frank’s reaction.

For a moment Frank felt as if he had fallen through the looking glass and was staring into the face of a Cheshire cat. He had come to Washington expecting to use his expert knowledge of airline flying to help the FBI understand the metal fatigue problem that nearly killed himself, his passengers and crew aboard the aircraft he commanded. Suddenly, he was the accused. He also noticed that he was no longer referred to as Captain but as Mister Braden.

“The bomb residue was all over what was left of Fido and the kennel,” Coffey added.

Frank composed himself and demanded, “Are you sure?”

“The baggage handler remembers putting the kennel on board. He stated that the dog appeared to be asleep. Figured it was sedated. He remembered the name on the shipping tag.”

“What was the name?”

“Yours.”

Frank leaped out of his seat. Three agents simultaneously rose quickly out of their seats.  Coffey motioned them to sit back down. He turned to Frank. “Please sit down.”

Frank, his heart racing, complied and returned to his seat.

“That’s crazy. If I intended to bring a bomb aboard, why in hell would I be dumb enough to use my name on the shipping tag.”

Coffey smiled. “That’s simple. You didn’t expect you and the plane to return.”

“But it did and I brought it safely down. If I had wanted to kill myself without detection, I could’ve easily done it then.”

“Ah, but then you had a copilot who could have stopped you or at least radioed your errant behavior to the ground,” Coffey said. “Or you could have had a change of heart.”

“Why would I do something like that, anyway?” Frank demanded.

Coffey calmly returned to his questioning. “We’ve been going over your history.”

“So?”

“Your father committed suicide, didn’t he?”

Frank glanced at the airline executive. The man took out a notebook and wrote in it. That was one piece of information that he failed to mention on his original airline application. “That was never proven,” Frank said quickly. “The coroner’s report stated that the cause of death was inconclusive.”

“Then why did the insurance company contest it in court?”

“It was a big policy, I guess.”

“Didn’t your father take some considerable losses in the stock market just prior to his death. And didn’t that insurance money keep your mother, sister and brothers from being destitute?” Coffey nodded his head as he spoke with sympathy in his voice, attempting to get Frank to agree.

“How would I know? I was barely five,” Frank said calmly.

Coffey walked away, somewhat frustrated with Frank’s resistance to his tactics. He figured he had a mentally unstable human before him and he wasn’t going to let him escape responsibility for his actions. My God, this man not only tried to kill himself to give his family money and to cover it up for the insurance payoff, he tried to sacrifice a hundred and ten other people who had trusted their lives to him. Coffey turned around with a more aggressive attitude and put his face almost into Frank’s face.

“Didn’t you have some recent stock losses?” Coffey said loudly.

Frank noticed the airline executive taking notes again. He felt his blood pressure rising as he looked into Coffey’s face only inches away. He tried to keep his cool and quickly answered, “Some.”

“SOME,” Coffey yelled, backing away from Frank and picking up some papers from the table. After he looked at them he waved the papers at Frank. “I would say 1.2 million dollars is quite ‘SOME.’ How MUCH do you have in your bank account right now?”

“That’s my business.”

“Oh, no,” corrected Coffey. “That’s our business. Need I remind you that we’re conducting an investigation of a bombing of a national airliner and you’re required to answer our questions. You know I can summon federal marshals to conduct you to a holding cell down the hall.”

Frank realized Coffee was right and changed his attitude.

“Well, after we paid off some of our debt, I’d say a couple thousand.”

“Couple thousand, eh. That’s not very much for the neighborhood you live in, is it?”

“We’ll get by.”

“Sure about that? Don’t you have two kids in a fairly expensive private college? TCU, I believe.”

“Look, I’m a senior airline captain making nearly $145,000 a year and my wife is a noted surgeon, making twice that.”

Coffey, moving in for the kill, held some paperwork in front of Frank. “If you’re so well off why did you file Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings just prior to your near fatal flight?”

“To pay off the remainder of our debt over a due course of time, or don’t you know the difference between a Chapter Eleven and a Chapter Seven?”

Coffey glared at Frank and went back to his table and picked up more paperwork. He now knew that he had underestimated his prey and that Frank would walk, at least for today. “Your military record is spotless except for one major incident.”

“Yes sir.”

“You killed an American officer in Vietnam.”

“That was self defense, sir.”

“We’ll check it out,” Coffey said.

“Be my guest.”

The last remark caused Coffey to lose his composure. “Look, by the time we get through examining your past, we’ll know every time you scratched your butt. Understand?  I’m giving you one last chance to make it easy on yourself. Are you responsible for the bomb aboard WestSky Flight two-five-three?”

Frank, his blood again rising, snapped the pencil he was holding in half. “Not only no, but hell no. Don’t you know that a terrorist is still out there while you’re wasting your time with me? Man, have you lost your reasoning?” Frank stood up and put his face right in Coffey’s face. “Are you through or do I call my attorney?”

Coffey jabbed his pointed finger into Frank’s chest. “That’s all for now. We’ll contact you later. In the meantime, don’t try to leave the country.”

Frank moved straight toward the door and right through an unyielding Coffey. Their shoulders bumped hard. There were no apologies. Coffey made a threatening move toward Frank but was restrained by another agent.

Continued….

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