(Missed Chapter One? Find it here.)
Dom had a full week planned with stops in several states, but when his mind was not otherwise occupied, his thoughts returned to Judy Cain. Certainly, she was a remarkable beauty, but — at least he told himself so — he had witnessed something that deserved his attention, whatever her appearance. Something mysterious and, if the familiar tug on his gut still meant anything, perhaps dangerous.
The best he could do for now was to think it through and make a list of things to check. After his last meeting of the afternoon, Dom sat at his hotel desk, picked up the phone, and called an old friend at the National Transportation Safety Board.
“Hey, Walt, it’s Dominic Roo.”
“Well, hey, Dom!” a cheerful voice replied. “Thought I’d heard the last of you. Didn’t you retire?”
“I did, but I just stumbled onto something. Any way you could get me access to ATC recordings from a couple of years ago?”
“Sure, that’s no big deal. What’s the date and sector?”
Dom gave it to him and wrote down the access information. “Thanks, buddy. I’ll let you know if I find anything.” Dom opened his computer, plugged in ear-buds, and navigated to the recordings. He listened with a fierce expression, like a conductor critiquing a symphony, making notes and recording timestamps. An hour later, after replaying one section three times, his hand slammed the desk and his face relaxed into a grim smile. “I knew it!” he said to himself. “OK, here we go.”
Dom looked at his watch and saw it was too late to reach Walt. He’d fix that in the morning. He picked up his phone and called John. “Hey, buddy. Say, does Fred have an instrument rating?”
“Uh, yeah, I think so. Why? You still on that?”
“Yep, I found something interesting. Get me into his hangar, will you?”
“Well, I guess we could pop in on Saturday morning. He’s usually there.”
“OK, I’ll buzz over around 9.”
“Morning, Walt, it’s Dominic Roo.”
“Well, well. And how’s your fishing expedition going?”
“Gettin’ a few bites. Any chance I can come in?”
“Sure! Come right after lunch.”
* * *
Walt retrieved Dom from the security desk and led him back to his office.
“So, what’s this all about?”
Dom settled into the guest chair, leaned back, put his fingertips together in front of his face. “A Benjamin Cain went missing over Lake Michigan a couple of years ago.”
“Indeed, he did.”
“What was the physical evidence?”
“Hang on, I’ll have to pull the file.” Walt sprang out of the room but was back in a minute, folder in hand, flipping through photos. “Looks like we found some debris… Documents belonging to the airplane and owner, a seat cushion…, looks like maybe a garbage bag… Coast Guard found some oil and gas residue in the area… That’s about it.” He tossed each photo on the desk as he finished with it, let Dom look them over.
“But no body?”
Walt shook his head. “No body. They sometimes show up later, but it would have happened by now if it was going to.”
“The controller who worked the flight — it was IFR — said the guy was at 6000 feet over the middle of the lake and then called mayday, started dropping. There was a west wind; he turned back east but ran out of altitude. Transponder dropped off the radar screen northwest of Manistee.”
“So, he ran out of gas?”
“Probably not. His credit card records show the airplane took on fuel in Greenville about an hour before the crash.”
“But nobody saw him there?”
“Nope. It was just after 6 in the morning on a Tuesday. Kinda murky weather. Local pilots probably still home in bed.”
“And you’ve got the tape from his flight from Detroit to Greenville?”
“Yep. All normal on that leg.”
Dom made some notes and said, “Thanks, Walt. That’s about what I expected.”
“Sorry to blow your theory.”
“Oh, on the contrary. It all fits my theory. You might want to listen to those tapes again and — by the way, can you tell if this garbage bag has a hole in the bottom?”
Walt took the photograph from Dom’s hand, bent over it with a magnifying glass he pulled from his desk drawer. “Maybe… Can’t say for sure.”
“OK. Thanks for your help, Walt. I’ll be in touch.”
Walt followed Dom back to the front desk and stared after him as he walked away from the building. If it had been anyone else, Walt would have shook his head and went back to what he had been working on. Instead, he pulled up the ATC tapes of the Cain flights and replayed them several times, a baffled expression on his face. An hour later, his mouth popped open, his eyebrows twitched, and he began to make excited notes.