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CHAPTER 38

MY BOSS WAS assassinated.

Captain Josh Siegel could feel his hands trembling on the stick as he taxied Edmond Kirsch’s Gulfstream G550 toward the main runway at Bilbao Airport.

I’m in no condition to fly, he thought, knowing his copilot was as rattled as he was.

Siegel had piloted private jets for Edmond Kirsch for many years, and Edmond’s horrifying murder tonight had come as a devastating shock. An hour ago, Siegel and his copilot had been sitting in the airport lounge watching the live feed from the Guggenheim Museum.

“Typical Edmond drama,” Siegel had joked, impressed by his boss’s ability to draw a huge crowd. As he watched Kirsch’s program, he found himself, along with the other viewers in the lounge, leaning forward, his curiosity spiking, until, in a flash, the evening went horribly wrong.

In the aftermath, Siegel and his copilot sat in a daze, watching the television coverage and wondering what they should do next.

Siegel’s phone rang ten minutes later; the caller was Edmond’s personal assistant, Winston. Siegel had never met him, and although the Brit seemed a bit of an odd duck, Siegel had become quite accustomed to coordinating flights with him.

“If you have not seen the television,” Winston said, “you should turn it on.”

“We saw it,” Siegel said. “We’re both devastated.”

“We need you to return the plane to Barcelona,” Winston said, his tone eerily businesslike considering what had just transpired. “Prepare yourselves for takeoff, and I’ll be back in touch shortly. Please do not take off until we speak.”

Siegel had no idea if Winston’s instructions would have aligned with Edmond’s wishes, but at the moment, he was thankful for any kind of guidance.

On orders from Winston, Siegel and his copilot had filed their flight manifest to Barcelona with zero passengers—a “deadhead” flight, as it was regrettably known in the business—and then had pushed back out of the hangar and begun their preflight checklist.

Thirty minutes passed before Winston called back. “Are you prepped for takeoff?”

“We are.”

“Good. I assume you’ll be using the usual eastbound runway?”

“That’s right.” Siegel at times found Winston painfully thorough and unnervingly well informed.

“Please contact the tower and request clearance to take off. Taxi out to the far end of the airfield, but do not pull onto the runway.”

“I should stop on the access road?”

“Yes, just for a minute. Please alert me when you get there.”

Siegel and his copilot looked at each other in surprise. Winston’s request made no sense at all.

The tower might have something to say about that.

Nonetheless, Siegel had guided the jet along various ramps and roads toward the runway head at the western edge of the airport. He was now taxiing along the final hundred meters of the access road, where the pavement turned ninety degrees to the right and merged into the eastbound runway head.

“Winston?” Siegel said, gazing out at the high chain-link security fence that surrounded the perimeter of the airport property. “We’ve reached the end of the access ramp.”

“Please hold there,” Winston said. “I’ll be back in touch.”

I can’t hold here! Siegel thought, wondering what the hell Winston was doing. Fortunately, the Gulfstream’s rearview camera showed no planes behind his, so at least Siegel was not blocking traffic. The only lights were those of the control tower—a faint glow at the other end of the runway, nearly two miles away.

Sixty seconds passed.

“This is air traffic control,” a voice crackled in his headset. “EC346, you are cleared for takeoff on runway number one. I repeat, you are cleared.”

Siegel wanted nothing more than to take off, but he was still waiting for word from Edmond’s assistant. “Thank you, control,” he said. “We need to hold here just another minute. We’ve got a warning light that we’re checking.”

“Roger that. Please advise when ready.”

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