Avalanche pass, p.1
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         Part #2 of Jesse Parker Mystery series by John Flanagan
Avalanche Pass

  Avalanche Pass

  Titles by John A. Flanagan





  John A. Flanagan


  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada

  (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

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  (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

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  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand

  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196,

  South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  Copyright © 2010 by John A. Flanagan.

  Cover photo of Helicopter © by Purestock/Getty Images; Avalanche © by Denis Balibouse/Corbis.

  Cover design by Brad Foltz.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


  Random House Australia Bantam book trade paperback edition / 2010

  Berkley Prime Crime trade paperback edition / February 2012

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Flanagan, John (John Anthony)

  Avalanche pass : a Jesse Parker mystery / John A. Flanagan.

  p. cm.

  EISBN: 9781101559918

  1. Hostages—Fiction. 2. Mercenary troops—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR9619.4.F63A96 2012




  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  For Reg and Jane,

  who showed us how to ski in Utah

  Table of Contents

























































  The ground below was a black mass.

  By daylight, it would be a rolling ocean of hills and mountains, covered in featureless green jungle. Here and there, the brown snake of a dirt road would wind its tortuous way through the green. The occasional building would be visible—farmhouses, for the most part. And one large sprawling house with a group of outbuildings surrounding it. But now it was just a sea of almost unrelenting black.


  The F-117 Nighthawk was flying itself up to the final waypoint and Major Nathaniel Pell, call-sign Stalker, took a moment to peer out of the small triangular windows, trying to make out some detail on the ground below him. Far off to starboard, he could see the lights of a small city looming in the darkness. Closer, he saw a group of lights in the sea of black, maybe seven miles ahead of him. Target, he thought.

  It was warm and comfortable in the cockpit. With the F-117 set on autopilot he had little to do. At sixty percent power—cruise setting—the twin turbofans behind him provided a subdued, almost soothing background rush of air over the canopy. He yawned. His biggest danger was falling asleep.

  Then, almost as he had the thought, a discreet chirp from his instruments brought him wide awake.

  The radar warning receiver was glowing in the top right quadrant, the glow slowly fading as the radar beam slid on by, over the Nighthawk. Stalker’s eyes narrowed as he watched the instrument. His forefinger went to the stopwatch control on his wrist chronometer, ready for the next warning chirp and flash.


  He hit the stopwatch and the sweep hand started around the watch face. When the chirp and flash came again, he stopped the watch and checked the time.

  Twenty-three seconds. That was the time it took for the radar antenna below him to rotate through a full circle, flicking its beam over his aircraft each time it passed. He wasn’t surprised to find a search radar out here in the boondocks. Knowing what was down there, he would have been surprised not to find it. And there were almost certainly SAMs as well—surface to air missiles ready to deal with any intruder that might be detected. For the moment, however, they posed no risk to him. The Nighthawk was invisible to the radar. Those below had no idea he was here.

  Neither did too many people back home. Since he’d been seconded to this black operations group, he’d breached foreign air spaces half a dozen times without more than a handful of people knowing about it. His orders came in a convoluted chain from the highest authorities. The NSA, the CIA, the DEA, even the White House on occasion, would tell his superiors what they required without ever questioning how it might actually be accomplished. Deniability, he thought, smiling grimly behind his oxygen mask.

  The radar passed over him again and he realized he was getting close to the business end of the night. He shifted in his seat to make himself more comfortable, rolled his shoulders to ease out the stiffness of sitting strapped in for four hours and keyed the transmit switch on his radio.

  “Showboat,” he said. Just one word. The reply came almost instantly.


  He flicked a switch, turning on the forward looking infrared viewer—the FLIR. After a few seconds, an image faded up, enhanced by computer so it resembled a normal TV picture, rather than IF imaging. A large s
quare building, two stories high, without windows or visible doors, it was flat roofed and solid looking. Not solid enough for what it was about to receive, he thought grimly.

  With his left hand he reached to the row of weapons selection switches and hit two of them. The display panel lit up to show two laser-guided weapons, ready to drop. He selected a ripple of two and, finally, dialed a separation of five seconds into the system. Now one pressure on the bomb pickle would release the first bomb immediately, with the second rippling off five seconds later. He frowned for a moment. The twenty-three second window between radar sweeps wouldn’t be enough to open bomb doors and release both weapons. And when the bomb doors were open, the F-117’s low radar signature was seriously degraded. That meant the people below would know he was here.

  He shrugged. Knowing it and doing anything about it were two different things. They might see him briefly but they’d have no time for a SAM launch before the bomb doors closed again and he disappeared from their screens. He armed another switch and a set of crosshairs appeared, superimposed over the image of the building. The aim point was a little to the left and below center so he steered the sight to the center of the flat roof with a miniature joystick.

  He smiled grimly. “Footlights” was an appropriate call sign. Somewhere in the dark jungle below him, a two-man Special Forces covert team was concealed, illuminating the building with a laser designator. The laser energy reflected from the building would guide his bombs to their final target, as long as the designator was switched on. All he had to do was center the crosshairs, pickle the bombs, orbit gently while they both released, and then get the hell out of Dodge. The laser seeker head on the bombs would do the rest, slaving them to the laser sparkle, so that they steered themselves right into the center of the roof.

  And he could watch it all on TV while he headed for home.

  On the ground below, Roberto Modesta yawned and rubbed his eyes as the radar completed another sweep. Then, abruptly, he sat up, staring at the scope as a small blip appeared, held, then faded after the indicator line had swept on.

  Modesta hesitated. Had he really seen a blip or had it been his imagination? After three hours of watching and seeing nothing, he was prepared to believe that his eyes were playing tricks on him. He knew he should call Alvarez, head of security here at Monte Verde, and report what he had seen. But what had he seen? He decided to wait for another sweep, and confirm that the blip was still there.

  Anxiously, he watched the radial line of light creep around the scope, willing it to go faster.

  There! It was there again. But faint. Fainter than any return he had ever seen from a plane before. Even the little Piper Navajo that had strayed above the compound some weeks back had put out a more solid echo than this. Still, there was something there.

  He leaned back from his screen and called to the adjoining room.

  “Commandante! I’ve got something on radar!”

  Just his luck, he thought gloomily, that the bad-tempered head of security was on duty this evening, and not one of his lieutenants. Odds were that this was a false alarm—a flock of birds or a glitch in the system.

  The door to the other room opened and Alvarez entered, fastening his belt buckle. He was a big, fleshy man, a former police lieutenant, and the belt cut into him when he was sitting, dozing.

  He scowled at the technician now, hunched over the radar screen again, his finger hovering over a point on the screen.

  “What now?” Alvarez said, his ill temper at being disturbed all too obvious.

  “A contact, sir,” Roberto told him. As the line of light swept over the point, he jabbed his waiting finger where the blip had appeared on the last two sweeps.


  The beam swept onward, leaving a blank screen behind it.

  “It was there!” he protested, sensing the security chief’s anger. The beam swept around again and again; there was no sign of an echo.

  Disgusted, the security chief backhanded Roberto across the back of the head. His head jerked forward under the impact, and he cracked his eyebrow painfully against the hood of the radar scope.

  “You’ve been drinking again, haven’t you? I’ve warned you before.”

  “No! I swear it was there! I saw it! It was…”

  The room shook as a deafening explosion erupted across the clearing. Then the overpressure hit them and both men were hurled to the floor. A few seconds later, a second explosion shattered the night. This time, it was accompanied by the lurid yellow glow of flames licking at the shattered warehouse.

  Fifteen thousand feet above them, Stalker watched it all on TV, and smiled as he rolled the F-117 out of its orbit and headed for home.

  “Showtime,” he said quietly.






  Jesse was one of the last out of the cable car.

  He cleared the wooden landing stage and dropped his battered head radials into the snow. They were several seasons old and they’d seen a lot of work. But they were old friends and he trusted them. Right now, trust was important, he thought. He stepped into them, feeling the satisfying clunks as the bindings engaged and locked onto his ski boots. Stamping them experimentally onto the snow a couple of times to make sure they were securely fastened, he skated a few steps to the edge of the drop.

  Eleven thousand feet below, and seventeen miles away, he could make out the straight lines and grid-like layout of Salt Lake City, viewed through a notch in the sawtooth-shaped mountains. He shook his head. The inner anger that had been burning at him for the past few days forgotten for a few moments in the sheer beauty of the view before him: crystal-clear air, a sky so blue that it hurt the eye to look at it and line after line of marching, snow-covered mountains.

  A hand touched his sleeve, drawing his attention away from the stunning landscape.

  “You ready?”

  Larry Allison, the instructor he’d hired for a two-hour session, was waiting patiently beside him. He was the antithesis of the stereotypical ski instructor: forty-one years old, he was of medium height compared to Jesse’s rangy six foot one, with a stocky build and the beginnings of a paunch beneath the blue and gold uniform ski suit. His face was round and tanned, becoming startlingly white above the line of the woolen ski cap that covered a balding head. A few strands of his wispy blond hair escaped from under the cap. But for all that, he skied like an angel and was a good instructor as well. Jesse knew that the two didn’t always go together and he’d asked around before he’d selected Larry. The instructor nodded at the view, understanding Jesse’s distraction.

  “Can never resist the temptation to look at her myself. We can wait a spell if you like.” He spoke with a slow, friendly Utah drawl. Jesse shook his head briefly.

  “No. Let’s get going. I’m ready.”

  The instructor studied him for a moment, unhurried and relaxed. “Well fine then,” he said. “We’ll head down to the turn-off and stop there.”

  Jesse followed the direction indicated by the pointing ski pole.

  “We’re not going down Drifter again?” he asked and Larry pursed his lips, shaking his head.

  “Hell, no. Time for something a little harder.”

  Jesse nodded assent and started off down the trail, skating a few steps to gain momentum, then falling into a relaxed, slumped posture as the skis picked up speed over the perfect snow. Larry watched him as he skied away. He was a good skier. Hell, he was way better than good. He had the totally relaxed and fluid movements of someone who’d grown up on skis. The instructor frowned. From what he’d seen of Jesse so far this morning, there was little he could teach him. There might be a few minor points of refinement he could help with—anyone could use a tune-up from time to time. But the tall, dark-haired man who’d engaged him at the ski school that morning was every bit as good a skier as he was himself.

  He wondered about Jesse’s reasons. He’d bee
n wondering about them ever since their first run down Drifter, a blue-black run that was moderately challenging and gave him plenty of time to assess a client’s capabilities. Larry always took a new client there first. He’d learned early in his career not to accept a customer’s assessment of his or her own ability. Most skiers wanted to be better than they were and a lot seemed to think that saying it made it so. Not Jesse, however. He’d assessed himself as “tolerable” when Larry had asked. It had taken maybe twenty yards for Larry to see that he was dealing with an expert.

  He shook off the contemplative mood and started after the tall figure. Jesse had reached the turn-off point and was waiting for him and Larry guessed he was waiting impatiently. Clients who shelled out one-eighty big ones an hour for private instruction tended to want their money’s worth. Leaving his thoughts hanging in the clear cold air behind him, he took off after his client.

  As he’d anticipated, Jesse was moving his feet in impatient little shuffling steps when he reached him at the beginning of the first trail. Drifter curved to the right, snaking under the cable car and winding its way down the mountain. On their left was The Wall.

  “Where to?” Jesse asked and Larry jerked his thumb at The Wall below them. Jesse looked and, for a second, Larry saw the quick flicker of apprehension cross his face and knew why he had been approached for this lesson. Jesse was scared of the steep, almost vertical ski run that dropped away. Maybe “scared” was too strong a word, he thought. But he was definitely nervous—more nervous than a skier of his obvious experience and ability should be.

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