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The Wrong Side of Goodbye
Author:Michael Connelly

The Wrong Side of Goodbye

Michael Connelly


They charged from the cover of the elephant grass toward the LZ, five of them swarming the slick on both sides, one among them yelling, “Go! Go! Go!”—as if each man needed to be prodded and reminded that these were the most dangerous seconds of their lives.

The rotor wash bent the grass back and blew the marker smoke in all directions. The noise was deafening as the turbine geared up for a heavy liftoff. The door gunners pulled everyone in by their pack straps and the chopper was quickly in the air again, having alighted no longer than a dragonfly on water.

The tree line could be seen through the portside door as the craft rose and started to bank. Then came the muzzle flashes from the banyan trees. Somebody yelled, “Snipers!”—as if the door gunner had to be told what he had out there.

It was an ambush. Three distinct flash points, three snipers. They had waited until the helicopter was up and flying fat, an easy target from six hundred feet.

The gunner opened up his M60, sending a barrage of fire into the treetops, shredding them with lead. But the sniper rounds kept coming. The slick had no armor plating, a decision made nine thousand miles away to take speed and maneuverability over the burden of weight and protection.

One shot hit the turbine cowling, a thock sound reminding one of the helpless men on board of a fouled-off baseball hitting the hood of a car in the parking lot. Then came the snap of glass shattering as the next round tore through the cockpit. It was a million-to-one shot, hitting both the pilot and co-pilot at once. The pilot was killed instantly and the co-pilot clamped his hands to his neck in an instinctive but helpless move to keep blood inside his body. The helicopter yawed into a clockwise spin and was soon hurtling out of control. It spun away from the trees and across the rice paddies. The men in the back started to yell helplessly. The man who had just had a memory of baseball tried to orient himself. The world outside the slick was spinning. He kept his eyes on a single word imprinted on the metal wall separating the cockpit from the cargo hold. It said Advance—the letter A with a crossbar that was an arrow pointed forward.

He didn’t move his eyes from the word even as the screaming intensified and he could feel the craft losing altitude. Seven months backing recon and now on short time. He knew he wasn’t going to make it back. This was the end.

The last thing he heard was someone yell, “Brace! Brace! Brace!”— as if there was a possibility that anybody on board had a shot at surviving the impact, never mind the fire that would come after. And never mind the Vietcong who would come through with machetes after that.

While the others screamed in panic he whispered a name to himself.

“Vibiana…”

He knew he would never see her again.

“Vibiana…”

The helicopter dove into one of the rice paddy dikes and exploded into a million metal parts. A moment later the spilled fuel caught fire and burned through the wreckage, spreading flames across the surface of the paddy water. Black smoke rose into the air, marking the wreckage like an LZ marker.

The snipers reloaded and waited for the rescue choppers to come next.





1

Bosch didn’t mind the wait. The view was spectacular. He didn’t bother with the waiting room couch. Instead he stood with his face a foot from the glass and took in the view that ranged from the rooftops of downtown to the Pacific Ocean. He was fifty-nine floors up in the U.S. Bank Tower, and Creighton was making him wait because it was something he always did, going all the way back to his days at Parker Center, where the waiting room only had a low-angle view of the back of City Hall. Creighton had moved a mere five blocks west since his days with the Los Angeles Police Department but he certainly had risen far beyond that to the lofty heights of the city’s financial gods.

Still, view or no view, Bosch didn’t know why anyone would keep offices in the tower. The tallest building west of the Mississippi, it had previously been the target of two foiled terrorist plots. Bosch imagined there had to be a general uneasiness added to the pressures of work for every soul who entered its glass doors each morning. Relief might soon come in the form of the Wilshire Grand Center, a glass-sheathed spire rising to the sky a few blocks away. When finished it would take the distinction of tallest building west of the Mississippi. It would probably take the target as well.

Bosch loved any opportunity to see his city from up high. When he was a young detective he would often take extra shifts as a spotter in one of the Department’s airships—just to take a ride above Los Angeles and be reminded of its seemingly infinite vastness.

He looked down at the 110 freeway and saw it was backed up all the way down through South-Central. He also noted the number of helipads on the tops of the buildings below him. The helicopter had become the commuter vessel of the elite. He had heard that even some of the higher-contract basketball players on the Lakers and Clippers took helos to work at the Staples Center.

The glass was thick enough to keep out any sound. The city below was silent. The only thing Bosch heard was the receptionist behind him answering the phone with the same greeting over and over: “Trident Security, how can I help you?”

Bosch’s eye held on a fast-moving patrol car going south on Figueroa toward the L.A. Live district. He saw the 01 painted large on the trunk and knew that the car was from Central Division. Soon it was followed in the air by an LAPD airship that moved at a lower altitude than the floor he stood on. Bosch was tracking it when he was pulled away by a voice from behind.

“Mr. Bosch?”

He turned to see a woman standing in the middle of the waiting room. She wasn’t the receptionist.

“I’m Gloria. We spoke on the phone,” she said.

“Right, yes,” Bosch said. “Mr. Creighton’s assistant.”

“Yes, nice to meet you. You can come back now.”

“Good. Any longer and I was going to jump.”

She didn’t smile. She led Bosch through a door into a hallway with framed watercolors perfectly spaced on the walls.

“It’s impact-resistant glass,” she said. “It can take the force of a category-five hurricane.”

“Good to know,” Bosch said. “And I was only joking. Your boss had a history of keeping people waiting—back when he was a deputy chief with the police department.”

“Oh, really? I haven’t noticed it here.”

This made no sense to Bosch, since she had just fetched him from the waiting room fifteen minutes after the appointed meeting time.

“He must’ve read it in a management book back when he was climbing the ranks,” Bosch said. “You know, keep ’em waiting even if they’re on time. Gives you the upper hand when you finally bring them into the room, lets them know you are a busy man.”

“I’m not familiar with that business philosophy.”

“Probably more of a cop philosophy.”

They entered an office suite. In the outer office, there were two separate desk arrangements, one occupied by a man in his twenties wearing a suit, and the other empty and, he assumed, belonging to Gloria. They walked between the desks to a door and Gloria opened it and then stepped to the side.

“Go on in,” she said. “Can I bring you a bottle of water?”

“No, thanks,” Bosch said. “I’m fine.”