Don't Look Down Read online


  "Well, that sucks." A sly smile crossed LaFavre's face. "So how are those actresses?"

  Wilder thought of Althea. "Dangerous."

  "Right. I could use some of that danger. That little blonde in the car, woo-hoo. Hot, very hot."

  "Yeah," Wilder said, trying to sound offhand. "Did she look familiar to you? Like maybe she was in some movie about the Navy?"

  "Blow Me Down," LaFavre said. "Ran a lot on late night Showtime. I have the DVD. Second ensign on the right in the shower scene. A truly fine piece of cinema." He nodded toward Karen. "What's the story there?"

  "I tried that route," Wilder said. "You don't want to go there."

  LaFavre laughed. "Ah, my friend, but you do not have my charm, wit, and good looks."

  Wilder watched the land speed by below them, thinking that since he was now undercover, he should probably question Karen. Of course, he wasn't going to be good at it-his first ex had always said he had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Which he had considered kind of a compliment, because a sledgehammer could be a damn effective tool. Still, he could try charm. He grabbed a headset and spoke into the intercom. "Learn to fly in the military?"

  "Nope," Karen said. "Took a correspondence course from an ad in the back of a comic book."

  LaFavre snorted.

  Great. A wise-ass pilot. He'd lived with one of those. "My ex-wife was a chopper pilot." He'd never used that line before with a woman, but it seemed the only thing he could say here to get some common ground; this wasn't exactly the bar at the officers' club.

  "Lucky her."

  So much for charm. Next to him, LaFavre was silently laughing his ass off.

  "Yeah, real funny," Wilder said to him, pulling the mike away from his mouth. "Let's see you do better."

  LaFavre looked out the door of the chopper, noting landmarks. "We're a minute out." He grabbed hold of the stanchion between the front and back doors and swung himself out and around from back seat to front, taking the copilot's seat. "You got clearance, my dear?"

  "I'm not your dear, and I'm cleared," Karen said.

  "I could take it in if you'd like," LaFavre said. "Tower knows me."

  "I'm sure Tower does," Karen said. "But it's my aircraft."

  "Whatever you say, my darling."

  "I'm not your darling."

  Better than TV, Wilder thought and listened while LaFavre got shot down over and over again until they were hovering about ten feet over the runway. A military Humvee drove slowly out toward them and halted, just on the other side of a red line painted around the contractor's area. A guard was manning the.50 machine gun in the Humvee's turret and there was no doubt he had live ammunition loaded in it. Wilder knew what that red line meant: Don't cross or get shot. Beyond the red line were the helicopters of Task Force 160, at least those that weren't deployed, and from the scant numbers it appeared that most were overseas. Wilder wondered how many of those Nighthawks and Little Birds parked there he'd flown in over the years. He could see a handful of people in flight suits working on the choppers. Several glanced his way, most likely wondering the same thing Wilder was: Why the hell was the right skid hanging like that?

  A civilian mechanic from the contractor's hangar wheeled out a contraption that looked like a metal sawhorse. He put it on the tarmac and then he moved about twenty feet away from it and began making hand and arm signals, guiding the helicopter in. Karen positioned the chopper and then descended on the mechanic's signal. Wilder noted that the normally loquacious LaFavre was silent during the maneuver, which meant it had to be difficult. The sawhorse braced against the right side of the bird as the left skid touched down. The mechanic ran forward and used a couple of bolts to secure what remained of the right skid to the device. Done, he once more went to the front of the chopper and signaled to Karen with a finger across his throat, a signal Wilder had never been particularly thrilled with in any situation.

  "Nice," LaFavre said to Karen, which amounted to an effusion of praise for him.

  Karen was unimpressed. "You can get out now."

  "Certainly, my sweet."

  "I'm not your sweet."

  LaFavre got out as Karen began hitting the switches, turning off the engine with much more vigor than was needed. Wilder hopped off and took a look at the right skid. The front skid extension from the body of the helicopter was broken, the metal twisted.

  "Looks like the bolt blew out," the mechanic said.

  "Happen often?" Wilder asked, having flown hundreds of hours in helicopters and never heard of it.

  "Never seen it before."

  LaFavre was on his knees, taking a closer look at the break point. "Anybody want to hurt your actor?"

  "No," Wilder said. "Got some people might want to hurt me."

  "That's a given based on your lack of charm and wit," LaFavre said. "But you weren't on the skid."

  "I was supposed to be," Wilder said. "Last-minute change."

  LaFavre whistled. He looked at the break point. "My friend, that is not good."

  Wilder could see that Karen was not a happy camper as she joined them and stared at the twisted metal where the skid had parted from the chopper. She looked like hell without her helmet, her dark hair plastered by sweat to her head, her skin pale.

  "You look quite delicious with your helmet off," LaFavre said to her.

  "Can the bullshit," Karen said.

  LaFavre put his hand over his heart. "I am deeply wounded. But willing to overlook, given the stress of the moment."

  "Can we get another bird and finish the shoot?" Wilder asked her.

  Karen gestured at the other two civilian aircraft parked in front of the contractor's hangar, both aging Hueys. "Different choppers. We need this one."

  Wilder looked longingly across the field at the svelte new Night-hawks, the Special Operations version of the Blackhawk. All-weather capable, powerful, armored, and they had guns, which Wilder liked. Or even one of the four-seater Little Birds with their mini-gun pods on the right skid.

  "Dream on," Karen said. "Unless the smooth talker here can get you one."

  "The name is Rene LaFavre, my love." He held out his hand.

  "I'm not your love."

  "But you could be."

  Karen rolled her eyes. "Where did you get this guy?" She turned to the mechanic. "How long to fix it?"

  The mechanic let out a long spit of chew onto the tarmac. "Half an hour. Then my boss will have to test-fly it. FAA regulations, anytime a repair is done on an aircraft. Got to be test-flown and signed off."

  Wilder glanced at the sky. Even with the delay, they'd still have some daylight.

  "Can your boss fly it out to the film set?" Karen asked.

  The mechanic nodded. "Sure. He can use that as the test flight. We'll just tack it on the bill."

  Not my money. Wilder smiled. Hell, it was Finnegan's money.

  "Come on in the office and fill out the paperwork," the mechanic said. Karen sighed and followed.

  Wilder turned to LaFavre. "Could she put a chopper down on that bridge?"

  "I don't think anybody could," LaFavre said, watching her go. "Flying between those cables or under those towers would be quite a feat. But she'd be one of the ones I'd let try. You know, she's not very friendly but I can warm her up."

  "Some women just don't get your charm."

  "I'll try harder."

  Wilder rolled his eyes. "You said this wasn't good," he said, nodding toward the skid.

  "Anytime something breaks on an aircraft, it isn't good, my friend." LaFavre put his hand where the bolt had given out. "Could be metal fatigue. Could be a heavy-caliber round punched through at just the right spot. Of course, I'm not a ballistics expert and we're not in a combat zone."

  "That would be a hell of a shot," Wilder said, staring at the twisted metal.

  "Yah," LaFavre agreed. "Or someone was shooting at your actor thinking it was you and made a bad shot."

  The two men stood silent for several moments, star