Today for “Feature Friday” let us welcome Steve Levi with his book The Matter of the Deserted Airliner.
We will have info about the book and author. A great excerpt from the book.
Make sure to check everything out and go and show him some love and add the book to your TBR 😉
Happy Reading 🙂
An airplane with no pilot, crew or passengers lands at Anchorage International Airport. As the authorities are pondering the circumstances of the arrival, a ransom demand is made for $25 million in diamonds and precious stones. Chief of Detectives for the Sandersonville, North Carolina, Police Department, Captain Heinz Noonan, is visiting his in-laws in Anchorage when he is called onto the case. For the next 36 hours, he pieces together the puzzle of how the crime was committed. But can he solve the crime, free the hostages and locate the perpetrators before the ransom is paid? [Novel in print.]
Book available to purchase
Just because something is obvious does not make it true.
. . . Detective Heinz Noonan
Time with in-laws is not called vacation; it’s called obligation. Every family is dysfunctional, some more than others. But those others are usually called in-laws. You refer to them as people with whom you would never associate unless you were linked by marriage. You can ignore the shortcomings of your own family. After all, you are related to them by blood.
Your in-laws are a different kettle of fish.
The best defense against in-laws is a good offense. Perhaps the best example of a successful campaign was Ferenc Molnar, the Hungarian dramatist and novelist. When he became famous he was besieged by his in-laws. When they came en mass to his hotel in Paris they were surprised to be treated so well by their now-famous–and now-rich–relative. He even insisted they sit for a group portrait. After they left he gave the photograph to the hotel doorman and said, “Whenever you see any of the persons in this picture trying to get into the hotel, don’t let them in.”
Captain Noonan, the “Bearded Holmes” of the Sandersonville Police Department, was up to his ears in in-laws. He had been looking forward to a pleasant two weeks with those in-laws in Anchorage, Alaska. He was looking forward to it being pleasant but he was sure he wasn’t going to get much pleasure out of it. After all, he had to put up with his four sisters-in-law and their families along with a gaggle of collaterals who wasted his time demanding he talk of old cases, new theories or prognostication of where criminal forensics was going in the next millennium.
However, there was a very big upside. The in-laws all lived in Anchorage which was a l-o-n-g way from Sandersonville, North Carolina. Alaska is a long way from anywhere. It is also a long way from anywhere so crowded you felt as though you were living on an ant hill. It had just enough cabs you can always find one, few enough people you do not have to wait for a table in a restaurant and the largest, most delicious fish in the world which could be caught within city limits.
As long as Noonan visited the northland when it was the Land of Midnight Sun the vacation was pleasurable. In July the sun came up at 1 a.m. and did not set until 4 a.m. He took this on faith because he made it a point not to be up and about at either 1 a.m. or 4 a.m. All he knew for sure was during the summer the sun did not rise in the East and set in the West. It circled the sky so you could never tell what time it was by looking at the position of the sun in the sky. Like Palm Springs, you were best served with sunglasses all day. Unlike Palm Springs, the temperature rarely got up to 80 degrees and the clouds came and went as the wind pleased, clouds and wind not being part of a Palm Springs summer.
Noonan had absolutely no desire whatsoever to visit Alaska when it was the land of ice and snow. It wasn’t so much the cold bothered him; he’d grown up in Maine and spent three years with the Army in Butte, Montana. He had no problem with cold and snow.
But he did have a problem with darkness.
Even on the coldest days in Butte the sun did come up. In a lot places in Alaska, the sun did not rise or set during the winter. Because of the tipping of the earth on its axis, during the winter Alaska was the most distant swatch of land from the sun. This meant sunrises were later and sunset earlier the later in the year it was. In Barrow, the furthest north community, there were 67 days when the sun never came up at all. Even in Anchorage it was not unusual for the sun to rise at 10:30 a.m. and set at 2:30 p.m. If you worked in a building with no windows and did not take your lunch outside, it was possible to go through an entire week and not see the sun at all. You would go to work in the morning dark and return home in the evening dark. If you did this for too many weeks and you would get what Alaskans call cabin fever, a type of claustrophobia brought about by being trapped in a cabin in a dark land for four or five months. Stephen King made cabin fever a well-known phenomenon with THE SHINING and the basic theme repeats in movies of people lost on desert islands or during long voyages on space ships.
What will make cabin fever worse is being stuck with your in-laws in the same cabin. Then it doesn’t have to be just in a cabin during the winter. It could happen on a crowded cruise liner anchored off Acapulco.
That being said, Noonan was not in Acapulco.
He was in Anchorage.
So were his in-laws.
This was a prescription for disaster if one did not temper his vocabulary.
This particular morning had not started well. The “bearded Holmes” was slowly working his way through the morning copy of the Anchorage Tribune, the local newspaper with the thickness of a napkin, as he sat on the white wood bench in his mother-in-law’s gazebo. The gazebo was the only place he was safe from children, in-laws and the gaggle of neighbors because it was so small. Small enough to give someone cabin fever if they spent the winter there. Or an afternoon listening to in-laws and neighbors.
Looking up from the paper Noonan was displeased to see his son Fritz coming toward him with a cell phone. Cell phones were a blessing when you were at work but the spawn of the Devil between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. The only people who used them between those hours were wives and salespeople. Of all the years he had owned a cell phone he had yet to receive one cheery message after 5 and before 9. When he did get a call between those hours it was either his wife demanding he pick something up at the grocery store on his way home or a late assignment from the office, something the Commissioner wanted done Right Now which always could have waited until the next day.
Or the Second of Never.
Fritz, the oldest of his twins – by three minutes – handed him a cellular telephone. Handed, however, was a polite of way describing how the possession of the phone was transferred. Thrown would have been a better verb. One moment the lord of the North Carolina manor was pleasantly reading what business page there was in a paper the thickness of tissue paper and the next he was clawing for a telephone the size of a pack of cards as it somersaulted toward him through the air.
Today he was in luck. The phone was actually headed in his direction. The day before he had been forced to root around in the rhubarb to find the phone by tracing the outraged voice coming from the other end of the electronic beam. Had Fritz been younger, he would have tossed the phone like a sack of sand. Now, at 13, the phone-to-dad transfer was a casual lob, not quite a lateral but, considering his growing size, the transfer would be honed in high school in the fall.
Noonan dropped the newspaper and bobbled the instrument one-handedly because the other was full of coffee cup. He finally secured the phone between the heel of his left hand and collar bone. He shouted an exclamation at which his wife would have frowned as Fritz made a mad dash for the garden gate, fishing pole in one hand and king salmon net in the other.
Ever since Fritz and his brother Otto had discovered Alaska was famous for its salmon –king, red and silver – they were spending every moment of their vacation with their grandfather on the Chulitna River. Each morning they would pile into the old man’s pickup and head north. Every evening they would arrive home dog-tired and covered with mosquito bites and more stories than fish.
Clearly the only thing stalling the trio this morning was this phone call. Dad now had his phone so they were like the Hittites: history. In fact, Fritz had crashed out of the back yard so fast the phone was still mid-air when the good captain heard the back gate slam and the instantaneous roar of Grandpa’s pickup as it backed out of the driveway.
Actually, it was perfectly acceptable for Noonan for his kids to go fishing with their grandfather. This kept three of the family out from underfoot all day. His wife, Lorelei, was usually off with her childhood friends, Alaskans all, and this was fine as well because it got her out of his way. All day. The litter of in-laws were working, or pretending to work, and their kids were in summer school or art camp. All of these circumstances kept them from being at bay until supper time. It was what made a vacation a vacation: being with the family without having to be around them.
There was, however, one significant drawback to being in Alaska and it was a dilly. With everyone else gone, it left the Captain alone with his mother-in-law. While it was true she could not be described as a stunning conversationalist, she could not be called a wall flower either. In fact and unfortunately, she was like a shark in a feeding frenzy when she got her chance to talk. Now, with husband, daughter and grandchildren gone from her home, she would lurk in the bushes waiting for someone to engage in a lengthy, inane conversation, the bulk of which was one-sided. While the Chief of Detectives desired nothing more for his vacation than the silence of the Alaskan wilderness, what he got was an ongoing verbal onslaught of kindness, advice, concern and suggestions from the time his family left in the morning for their various adventures until they returned in the evening at which time his mother-in-law would have exhausted her store of advice and slipped into the blessed lethargy of 40 years of connubial bliss. Noonan suspected his father-in-law looked at him sympathetically in the evenings but as the old man was the perfect grandfather – other than the moments when he would delight the kids by flopping onto his back on a picnic table and proceed to arf like a seal, his arms and legs flailing like flippers – Noonan had no complaints of the old man.
Thus it was with great enthusiasm that Captain Heinz Noonan, Chief of Detectives of the Sandersonville Police Department and one of America’s top crime fighters, hiding behind the white lattice of his mother-in-law’s gazebo was pleased to get a phone call. Any phone call. At the very least it meant he would not have to converse with the walking catalog of trivia of his mother-in-law. Speaking of which – at this very instant – he could see her cutting her way toward him through the clover. It would only be a moment before she lumbered into the gazebo full of enough advice, concern and suggestions for a year of newspaper columns.
“I hope so. Otherwise I’ve got someone else’s ID.”
“I hate to break into your vacation, Captain.”
Noonan looked through the trellis at his approaching mother-in-law and said with gusto and volume, “Not a problem. What can I do for you? Or rather, who are you?”
“This is Ayanna Driscoll. I’m the head of Airport Security here at the Anchorage International Airport. I’ve got kind of an odd story but I can assure you . . .”
As soon as he was assured he could stretch this phone call long enough to dissuade his
mother-in-law for a least another 15 minutes, Noonan stepped out from behind the white bracing of the gazebo and gave a planned, surprised look and pointed at the cellular phone with his coffee cup-filled hand. He gave a helpless “sorry but I can’t talk now” look and gesture. His mother-in-law got the message and broke off her approach to the gazebo. With great satisfaction, Noonan smiled as she turned her back to him and began walking back toward the house lost in a grove of evergreens.
“Call me Ayanna.”
“OK, Ayanna, every story I get is odd. Give me what you’ve got.”
“Your name was given to me by the Anchorage Police Commissioner, Charles Dabenshire. I know him casually and professionally. He suggested I give you a call. He knows you’re on vacation at your in-laws here in town but . . .”
“Crime doesn’t take a vacation. Yeah, sounds like Charlie, work first.” He paused for a moment, looking at his retreating mother-in-law. “As it happens,” he continued, “I’ve got nothing but time today.”
“This might not take long. Actually, at this point it’s more of a ‘what’s going on here?’ problem.”
“That’s the way the big problems always start. Tell me what’s happened.”
“OK. At about 01:15 this morning Unicorn Flight 739 from SEATAC landed in Anchorage after routine instructions.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m talking jargon. Before a plane lands there is a flurry of communication, mostly about local weather conditions, wind speed and direction, if there is any ice on the runway, which runway to use, at which gate to dock and other routine information.”
“Unicorn 739 landed without incident. It rolled into Gate A-17, shut down its engines and then just sat there.”
“Just sat there?”
“Right. As in nothing happened. The ground crew cranked the walkway out to the fuselage door and waited for it to open. It didn’t. The ground crew assumed it was jammed on the inside so they tried to raise the pilot by radio and intercom but got no answer. Then they tried waving to the pilot through the terminal window but there was no pilot in the cockpit.”
“Is this unusual?”
“Not really. We do have doors stick every once in a while – events we do not mention to the FAA – but it does happen. Not being able to reach the pilot by radio or intercom is a bit unusual too but not surprising. The pilot and co-pilot could have left their seats, say to go to the restroom. If she didn’t have her headphones on – the pilot was a woman, by the way – it is also possible.”
“It’s always good to see women in the workplace,” Noonan said. “Go on.”
“We tried to wave through a terminal window to the pilot but the cockpit was empty. It’s a bit out of the ordinary since there’s a lot of shutting down before the pilot and crew can leave the plane. When we finally got into the plane we found it empty. That, I must say, was unusual.”
“Yes, sir. Empty. As in no one on board.”
“I thought you said . . .”
“I did. It was a routine landing. The pilot and the control tower had a standard conversation. The aircraft followed all the rules right down to the docking procedure. There was no one on board when the ground crew finally made it into the plane.”
“Not a soul.”
“Can someone get out of an airplane without being seen, like through an emergency exit?”
“There weren’t any emergency exits open but there are a few ways to get out of an airplane without using an emergency exit. We assume the pilot exited through the wheel well. We didn’t see anyone on the control tower security camera tape so we have to assume whomever was flying the plane just kept under the aircraft until she got to the terminal overhang and just walked through the baggage holding area like she belonged there. The security cameras are there to keep people from heading the other way – in from the street, not out from the aircraft. If the pilot was dressed like the ground crew, no one would have been the wiser. After all, we didn’t know there was a problem until we couldn’t get the main hatch open. It was long enough to give our girl about three or four minutes to make a clean getaway.”
“Now you want to know where the pilot is?”
“Not really. We want to know where the 89 passengers and crew of 6 are.”
Steven C. Levi is an Alaskan historian and writer. He has lived in Alaska for more than four decades and has more than 80 books in print and on Kindle. His nonfiction books on Alaska history include BOOM TO BUST IN THE ALASKA GOLD FIELDS, an historical forensic investigation into the sinking of Alaska’s ghost ship, the Clara Nevada, as well as a history of Alaska’s bush pilot heritage, COWBOYS OF THE SKY, a “Battle of the Books” winner in 2008. His flying books include a technical how-to for flying in Alaska, BUSH FLYING, and a biography of legendary bush pilot Archie Ferguson. Levi currently teaches for Central Texas College and has taught for Chapman College, University of Alaska Anchorage and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. His flying fiction incudes BAIT, the saga of a kidnapped bush pilot, and most recently, THE MATTER OF THE DESERTED AIRLINER, an impossible crime in which a 737 lands in Anchorage with no pilot, crew or passengers – and extortionists demand $25 million for the return of the hostages.