Sample Chapter

The Case of D.B. Cooper’s Parachute

CHAPTER 1

“You asked for cold cases, Neil,” the captain said. He pressed the play button of the digital recorder and leaned back.

“Multnomah County 9-1-1,” a woman’s voice said. “What is your emergency?”

“My—my what?”

The male voice on the recording sounded frightened. Neil had heard the sound of fear often enough to know. But there was something else—an accent. Not Spanish. German? Neil glanced up to Captain Dickers. The young department chief simply sat there, poker faced.

“Your emergency. Do you need help?”

“Yes. Yes, I—” the man’s voice faltered, as if searching for English words. “I know a crime.”

“A crime? What is your name, sir?”

“Cooper.”

“And where do you live, Mr. Cooper?”

“Not me! The man you want is Cooper. D.B. Cooper.”

Lieutenant Neil Ferguson ran a hand over his face. Ever since Neil’s promotion the captain had found little ways of letting him know where he really stood. If you become a detective in the Portland, Oregon police department at the advanced age of fifty-nine, you might as well ask for retirement. Subjecting him to a crank 9-1-1 call like this fit the mold.

“And what kind of crime do you think this Mr. Cooper might have committed?” The woman at the call center sounded even younger than Neil’s daughter. Apparently she had never heard of D.B. Cooper, the airplane hijacker who vanished after parachuting into the forests of southwest Washington decades ago. Every year people called the police, claiming to know Cooper’s true identity, and every single tip had led nowhere.

“Much crime. People work for him.”

“Do you know of a specific crime, sir? I’m not sure how to help you if you don’t have an example.”

“They steal painting from church. Orthodox church in Woodburn.”

Neil looked up, surprised. This wasn’t what he had expected to hear from a prank caller.

“All right, sir. And why exactly do you suspect—”

“Because I work for him too,” the caller interrupted. “I have a plan to stop. Are you listening?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I tell Cooper to meet buyer for art at eleven o’clock tonight. We meet at Midland Library on 122nd Street. But we send police instead. Understand?”

“I’m not sure,” the young woman replied. “Wouldn’t the library be closed then?”

The caller sighed. “Of course. Tell police to meet in parking lot. Only one car, unmarked, with motor running. And no uniforms!” The caller hesitated a moment. “They must get D.B. Cooper. Please!” Then he hung up.

The captain didn’t quite smile. “The call came from a pay phone at Powell and 134th at 9:15 this morning.”

Neil rubbed his wrist, thinking. The fact that the captain had played the recording at all suggested he was expected to follow up. And although the paintings had been stolen months ago in a city thirty miles to the south, Neil suspected the police there hadn’t found any hotter tips.

“This isn’t really in our jurisdiction,” Neil said. “That Russian art was Marion County and the whole Cooper thing was—I forget what—FBI?”

“But ensuring the safety of the Midland branch of the Multnomah County Library has always been one of our top priorities.”

Neil studied the captain evenly. “I’ll want backup.” He added this not so much because the neighborhood was rough as to call the captain’s bluff: If I raise the stakes are you still in?

“Take Sergeant Wu then.” Finally the captain gave him a big smile.

 

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive?” Connie Wu asked as they got into the unmarked black Buick in the downtown precinct’s underground garage.

She might as well have opened a valve to deflate him. Neil lowered his head onto the steering wheel. “Connie, I haven’t been drinking. I swear, not a drop for six months.”

“You asshole. I only meant—”

“Don’t apologize.” Neil started the engine.

Connie rolled her eyes. “I was thinking of your trauma.”

Neil glanced at her from the side. Here he was, supposed to be a detective, and still he was surprised to realize she was completely sincere, without the bitterness you might expect from someone who had told you, just last week, to stop asking her out. She wore a touch of eye shadow to widen her eyes. The black pageboy haircut framed her features as smoothly as an oval cameo. Blue jeans and a ribbed black turtleneck stretched in the right places. No hidden weapons on Sergeant Wu tonight.

Neil put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking stall, talking over his shoulder as if to the backseat. “They say my trauma is only a problem if I try to sleep at night. Or if I’m in any more high speed chases. We should be OK at a library.”

The darkness drizzled as they drove out Burnside. A cold, half-hearted February storm had been dragging through the city for days. Traffic signs and taillights reflected off the wet pavement, alternately blurred to nonsense and cleared by the wipers.

Neither of them spoke, but their thoughts filled the sedan. Neil was angry that he’d made an idiot of himself by getting involved with someone from the department. He should have known that he would have to admit why he had been promoted ahead of her. If anyone in the department could have filled the shoes of Lieutenant Credence Lavelle, the detective who had solved Portland’s infamous Underground murders, it might have been Connie.

Connie was looking out the side window with a lump in her throat. She was sorry she had hurt Neil. He was basically a good man, someone who had already suffered more than most people knew. Maybe he would earn his promotion after all. And he was attractive—tall, blue-eyed, with the slender, athletic body of a much younger man. He rode his bicycle every morning, miles and miles, as if to outdistance the demons behind him.

They didn’t talk again until they were parked in the empty lot beside the library, the motor running, the wipers on intermittent, the low beams reflecting off the few cars still sloshing past on 122nd.

“Waiting for a ghost,” Neil said, checking his watch. Ten to eleven.

“How old would D.B. Cooper be?” Connie asked.

“He disappeared in 1971. The police sketch didn’t look like much. Just a white man with dark glasses and a high forehead. He might have been thirty at the time.”

“So our ghost would be in his seventies by now.” She shook her head, and the pageboy cameo swept provocatively past her lips.

Neil closed his eyes and turned away. This too, he thought, was part of his private purgatory.

When he opened his eyes a burgundy SUV was slowing in the far lane across the street, as if to read the hours on the closed Bikini Babes Espresso booth. Connie was leaning forward, watching it too. A Honda. The driver wore a tipped-down baseball cap. When he drove on, Neil rechecked his watch. Two to eleven.

And then nothing. The traffic died. A shaggy old man in a clear plastic poncho pushed a shopping cart along the sidewalk, stopped to stare at them a moment, and then trudged on. A kid in a big-tired pickup squealed out of the Hawthorne light at 11:12 and roared down the empty street—just the kind of cry for attention that you strain to ignore.

Neil was about to pack it in, figuring he’d suffered about as much as Captain Dickers had planned, when the burgundy SUV slowly swung off the street and rolled up to the book drop, less than a hundred feet away.

“I got the license plate,” Connie whispered. “Want me to run a check?”

Neil nodded. “But keep it quiet.”

The SUV’s window rolled down. When the driver leaned out to put something into the book chute, a streetlight strafed the side of his head. Beneath the baseball cap he was wearing a camouflage ski mask with holes for the eyes and mouth.

Neil pursed his lips in a silent whistle. “This guy must have checked out one hell of a hot book.”

“It wasn’t stolen,” Connie whispered back.

“What?”

“The Honda. And it doesn’t belong to anyone named Cooper. It’s half a year old, totaled in a wreck two months ago.”

“Doesn’t seem damaged to me.” In fact, the shiny SUV looked for all the world like a display model straight off a showroom floor. It growled quietly, idling.

“Now it’s registered to Yosef Duvshenko, 13380 Southwest Division,” Connie added.

“I guess he prefers the name Cooper when he’s trying to fence stolen Russian paintings.” It sounded stupid, but most thieves were even less creative than this. Neil reached for the door handle. “Guess it’s our move.”

Connie caught his arm. “No, let me do this.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want to alarm him.”

Neil frowned. “You think I’m that alarming?”

Connie shook her head, bobbing that damned sweep of hair past her lips again. “You just don’t look like an art collector.”

Neil didn’t have an answer for this. Maybe she was right.

“Cover me, OK?” Connie opened her door.

Neil rolled down his window and slid his service semi-automatic out of his jacket. Meanwhile Connie walked halfway across the parking lot, stepped over a divider full of bark dust, and held up her palms.

“Mr. Cooper?” she asked.

The masked face pulled back from the SUV’s open window.

“Can we talk?” Connie took another step into the headlights’ glare, her palms still up, showing she was unarmed. “I think you have something we want.”

We! Just as Neil was thinking that “we” was the wrong word—that something seemed wrong about this stakeout— that he should never have let Connie walk out there alone—the police scanner below his dashboard suddenly squawked to life.

“Sergeant Wu?” The dispatcher’s grating voice practically leapt out Neil’s open window. “We’ve traced more information on that Honda.”

A second later the SUV roared like a cornered lion and lunged forward. Connie started to turn, but the car had already swerved toward her. Rather than fall under the wheels, she jumped. The grille caught her in the stomach, banging her head on the hood. Somehow her fingers caught on the hood vents and held.

Neil had his semi-automatic out the window, but the SUV was careening so madly he’d be as likely to hit Connie as the driver. How on earth was she managing to hold on? The car spun around the lot one more time, bounced over the sidewalk, fishtailed into the street, and accelerated down 122nd with Connie still spread-eagled on the grille.

“Sergeant?” the scanner asked.

Neil squealed the Buick out into the street and flipped on the siren. Then he yanked the mike off its hook. “Sergeant Wu is on hood of that Honda, heading south on 122nd at sixty miles an hour.”

“Copy that.” The voice had turned grim. “On the hood.”

“Yeah. So send an ambulance and every patrol car you’ve got.”

“There’s a squad on I-205 that’s five minutes away.”

“Five minutes? Then fuck it.” Neil dropped the mike and gripped the wheel. It was his worst nightmare, all over again. The flashing lights, a carnival gone mad. The side streets, full of innocents. He could almost feel Layton beside him, cheering him on as if it were all a video game: “Cut left around the bus! Everyone’s pulling over for the siren. We’ll trap him at the railroad.” But Layton was dead and Connie was clinging for her life.

Twenty blocks of hell, and then the SUV banked hard to the left through a red light onto Powell Boulevard. A rag doll slid sideways off the hood and rolled into the entrance of a beauty salon’s parking lot.

Neil was trembling with cold sweat when he slewed up sideways in the street. He banged the door open and bolted through a haze strobed blue and red by the spastic lights in the Buick’s back window. The cyber wolf howl of the siren might have been the keening within his own head: Connie Connie don’t die Connie it’s my fault Connie it’s always my fault—

Her hair had been scraped off above the left ear, leaving a bleeding patch of meat the size of his palm. Her eyes were closed but he thought he felt a puff of life at her lips. Quickly he checked for a pulse at her wrist, and just as quickly his stomach turned at the sight of her hands. Ribbons of red flesh hung from her fingers. Somehow he managed to check her wrists anyway. The pulse was there.

“Stay with me, Connie.” He clutched her bloody head between his hands, trying to slow the bleeding. “You’re going to be all right, Connie. You’ve got to be all right. We’re going to nail the guy who did this. I swear it, Connie.”

Neil was crying by now, but even his tears couldn’t drown out the voice inside him—the ugly voice that kept saying the guy who did this was Lieutenant Neil Ferguson.

 

The masked man who called himself D.B. Cooper circled a few blocks, watching out the rearview mirror of the Honda SUV. He hoped the undercover policewoman was dead. She hadn’t been very alert after hitting her head on the hood, but you never knew how much someone at that close range could see. As for the bozo in the black Buick, he’d hardly been able to drive, much less offer any real pursuit. Cooper actually had to slow down, so as not to lose the police car too soon. Timing was everything.

Then Cooper took 136th north a few blocks to Division, rolling along at a lazy thirty-five miles per hour. Beside a shabby sheet metal sign for Foreign Motors Sales & Service he pulled down an alley and turned off his headlights. The parking lot in front of the shop was a glaring desert of mercury vapor and blacktop. Behind the hangar-like garage stretched a dark yard of sleeping wrecks. A shiny coil of razor wire topped a seven-foot chain-link fence around the perimeter.

Cooper took a remote control from the passenger seat and pressed a button. With a clank and a whir, a ten-foot section of the fence began rolling aside on little wheels in a buried metal track. He drove thirty feet into the yard, pressed a second button, and the gate began sliding back.

Suddenly a bare bulb blinked on above a shed door marked “Office” at the back of the building. A man stepped out and shaded his eyes against the bulb. He squinted into the darkness, looking puzzled. He was about thirty, with short, wavy black hair and a black Blazers sweatshirt.

Cooper stepped out of the car. He wore a long black raincoat, black gloves, and white hospital slip-ons over his shoes. He took a few steps toward the porch, smiling through the hole in his ski hat. “Yosef, you’re working late tonight.”

“Cooper? I thought—”

Cooper dismissed his anxiety with a wave. “That buyer of yours never showed up. Don’t worry. It happens.” Then he switched to Russian. “Is everything all right here?”

Yosef stammered back in halting, Ukrainian-accented Russian, although this should have been much easier for him than English. “No, I—the silent alarm went off, maybe an hour ago. There’s been a break-in.”

“Anything missing?”

“My gun. It was just a derringer revolver. And the Honda I’ve been working on for the past month. They started messing with my computer, too, but then they must have gotten scared and left.”

Cooper nodded. “Your buyer double-crossed you. Come here, look what I found.”

Yosef stepped down into the yard. When he got a closer look at the SUV, his mouth opened. “I spent the past two weeks repairing that car. Where—?”

“In the library parking lot. I brought it back to save you the trouble. But there’s a ping in the motor, like they drove it too fast.” He held his gloved hand toward the driver’s door. “Try it. See what I mean.”

Yosef looked worried now, and more confused than ever. The only person he had told about the library rendezvous had been the 9-1-1 operator, and that was just to alert the police. Could the police have broken into his office and taken his Honda? But then why would they leave it at the library? He got into the driver’s seat, found the key in the ignition, and started the motor. It sounded fine. Out of sheer distraction he turned on the headlights and checked the wipers. Then he looked up uncertainly at the masked man beside the driver’s window.

Cooper recognized Yosef’s look—the ears-back pose of a disobedient puppy. The gesture touched him, despite everything. It was almost enough to change his plans. There was still time, just barely.

“You know, Yosef, I’ve had the feeling you’re unhappy. You want out. Am I right?”

Yosef didn’t dare speak.

“It’s all right. I understand.” Cooper took off his baseball cap and glanced at the sky. The drizzle had not quite stopped. That was good.

Yosef managed to clear his throat, but his voice still came out low and broken. “I owe you everything, Cooper. All of the cousins do. You brought Nadia. You got me the garage. It’s just—” He ran aground.

“I said I understand. The rules are different in America, aren’t they? I don’t like playing the old small games any more than you do. This may startle you, Yosef, but I want out too.”

“You do?”

“Yes. I think we’re all ready for something better. Something bigger. Much bigger. And you’re going to help take us there.”

Yosef opened his mouth again, but could find no words.

“Watch closely.” Cooper gripped the collar of his knitted ski mask and pulled it up over his head.

Yosef stared at the exposed face. “You—You’re—”

“What did you think? And now it’s your turn for a while.” He held out the mask. “Put it on.”

Yosef held the mask in his hands. His heart was beating so hard he could hardly think.

“Go ahead.” Already the first mosquito whine of a siren was on the edge of hearing. “Put it on!”

Mechanically, Yosef pulled the mask over his head. Then he looked up with the same baleful, lost expression, as if for approval.

“Good. And now the cap too.” Cooper reached in the window and helped him put the baseball cap on over the mask. “Look at you. You’re the new Cooper! Look ahead. What do you see?”

The siren was unmistakable now, perhaps six or eight blocks away.

“Come on, Yosef. Tell me what you see ahead.” He reached into the pocket of his raincoat and took out the derringer.

“Nothing?” Yosef gaped hopelessly out the windshield. “It’s just black.”

“Perfectly right,” Cooper said, suddenly calm. “I’m sorry.” Then he held the gun to the side of the ski mask and pulled the trigger.

The blast splattered blood across the dashboard and jerked Yosef’s head onto his right shoulder. Cooper calmly reached in the window and fished up Yosef’s limp hand. He wrapped Yosef’s fingers around the handle of the derringer, held it out the window, and pushed the trigger finger. A shot fired harmlessly into the night sky. Then he moved the hand back inside and let it drop. The gun hit the steering wheel and clattered to the floor at Yosef’s feet. The elbow caught on the windowsill and hung there.

Yes. It would be fine.

Cooper took off his gloves and stuffed them into a pocket of his raincoat. Then he unzipped the coat, took it off, and turned it inside out. He rolled it into a bundle and tucked it under his arm.

The siren was out in front now—just one car, but he knew there would be two policemen. They would take most of a minute thinking about the front door.

Cooper walked deliberately across the yard to a big Dodge pickup, stepped on the front bumper, and climbed onto the hood. He checked the pattern of raindrops on the hood where he had stepped. Then he climbed onto the cab roof, braced himself, and jumped over the razor wire of the fence.

He landed so hard on the alley gravel that he almost cried out. He really was getting too old for this, he thought. Gasping, he managed to crawl behind a hedge. There he took the hospital slippers off his shoes and stuffed them into the raincoat bundle.

A voice and a flashlight were starting to come down the alley, but Cooper knew how easy it was to disappear if you were merely walking. He ambled across a yard to the next street, heading toward his Prius a mile away. He had parked the car beside an apartment’s recycling center. He would toss the raincoat in the garbage before going home to a lovely big snifter of cognac.

People were always looking in the wrong place, he thought. Portland cops were as blind as everyone else. He had counted on the stupidity of people for years, and they had never let him down.

That was why he was the only one who had ever discovered the true identity of D.B. Cooper.


(Want to read more? "The Case of D.B. Cooper's Parachute" is available in bookstores as a paperback, and online in all electronic formats.)