On takeoff from Denver during a winter blizzard, an airliner piloted by veteran Captain Marty Mitchell overruns a commuter plane from behind. Bizarrely, the fuselage of the smaller aircraft is tenuously wedged onto the huge right wing of his Boeing 757, leading Mitchell to an impossible life-or-death choice.
Mitchell’s decision will land the former military pilot in the cross-hairs of a viciously ambitious district attorney determined to send him to prison for doing his job. Despondent and deeply wounded by what he sees as betrayal by the system, Mitchell at first refuses to defend himself or even assist the corporate lawyer forced against her will to represent him.
Pitted against the prosecutorial prowess of flamboyant Denver DA Grant Richardson, who is using Mitchell’s case to audition for a presidential appointment as a U.S. attorney, is young defense attorney Judith Winston. Her lack of experience in criminal cases could mean the end of Mitchell’s freedom, if he doesn’t end his own life first. However, a rising level of gritty determination even her law partners have never witnessed before, propels Winston to lay it all on the table to save Mitchell and expose Richardson as a fraud.
16 SOULS takes the reader for a wild ride in a heart-stopping aviation and legal thriller propelled by irresistible characters, an agonizingly possible airborne dilemma, and a desperate refusal both in the air and in the courtroom to give up in the face of devastating odds.
From The Book:
Captain Michelle Whittier had come back to consciousness slowly, the scene
around her as incomprehensible as the muddled dreams of a drunk. She was in the cockpit – a cockpit – but it was very cold, and there was a wild appearance to it with papers and debris strewn everywhere, including the glareshield. Worse, there was the noise of a slipstream, but no panel lights. And the cacophonous roar of their twin turboprop engines, where was that?
She tried to raise her head and lean forward, but her right shoulder protested with a cascade of severe pain, and she gasped as she tried to relax back to her original position. Her head hurt, too. She turned her head to the right, trying to make out the face of the copilot who was leaning forward and draped over the controls.
What the hell happened? She wondered, trying to make sense of being apparently airborne with no lights and no engines after…what?
Am I dead? But there was pain, and maybe that meant no. Nothing made sense.
No panel lights! Just a glow…emergency lights overhead.
Yet, there was a glow outside somewhere to the left in her peripheral vision, and braving the new flash of searing pain in her shoulder Michelle forced her head part way to the left, her mind unable to comprehend why a row of lighted airliner windows seemed to be stationary there, where the left wing should be. Were they flying formation with someone? Why?
The pain stabbed at her again and she felt herself drifting back to unconsciousness, relaxing to let it overwhelm her. Take her. Whatever nightmare this was, it wasn’t anywhere she wanted to be. Oblivion was clearly better.
But it was so cold, and what sounded like voices from the cabin behind brought her back enough consciousness to spark her to try. She was captain after all, wasn’t she? Shouldn’t she deal with whatever this was?
Once more she forced her body forward and upright, accepting the screaming pain and finding it not as unbearable as she’d first thought. Her right shoulder, she figured. Something had happened to hurt her right shoulder.
Again she looked left, this time turning her body part way around to get her eyes squarely on what was out there.
The windows of an airliner were now unmistakable. A big airliner of some sort, with faces in the lighted cabin, some staring back at her. She let her eyes move forward and down, seeing the left engine nacelle of the Beech she’d been flying. But there was no buzzing noise of a turboprop, no indication of a propeller, and…no left wing.
She could feel her aircraft, or what was left of it, moving, bouncing and twisting in whatever wind this was, as if they were sitting on a larger airliner’s wing – as if that were possible.
Must still be a dream.
There were more voices from behind her, and Michelle forced herself to accept the massive protest from her shoulder as she swiveled to the right to peer through the cockpit door to where the cabin should be.
In the glow of the emergency lights she could see the cabin was a godawful mess as well, with belongings strewn everywhere, the floor covered in spilled briefcases and coats. There were passengers there, too – several of them awake and looking back at her in wide-eyed, stunned silence.
How many… she wondered, not remembering the number they’d had aboard.
Painfully she turned back forward, her eyes resting on the copilot’s limp form again. This time she tried to get her right arm to move, to touch him, to shake him.
No engine power, no propeller, but our right wing is flying.
Motion in the right seat caught her eye. Just a small movement, but something to indicate he was still alive. She heard him moan.
He was staring at her uncomprehending, blinking in the shadowy light, his head jerking left and right as he tried like she had to force sense out of an insane situation.
“Where are we?” he gasped.
“I…I don’t know for sure. It…I think we’ve been hit by a bigger aircraft, and….and we’re on his wing.”
“We were hit? Oh, God! What are….what….”
He was struggling to look over her through the left pilot’s side at the airliner windows beyond.
“Our left wing’s gone, Luke. The props, too.”
“Our engines?” Shock, she figured, was fully engulfing him. She watched the younger man glance forward then, his hands moved ever so slightly toward the control yoke as a scream erupted from her. “NO!”
He looked over, totally confused. “Maybe we can pull up!”
“NO!” she said again, shooting her left hand out at him, the gesture falling short but getting his attention. In the space of a split second she had understood exactly what he wanted to do. The control cables would still be connected from the control yoke to the elevators in the rear, if the tail was still there. One hard pull on the yoke and the broken airplane would leap free of the bigger bird to certain death.
‘Why?” Luke managed.
“Our left wing is gone. We have to stay here.”
“We’re…Luke, listen to me. My right shoulder is bad hurt. We can’t fly. If we get shaken loose, we’re dead. Don’t touch that yoke.”
Michelle looked back at those windows. The glow of the interior looked so warm, and it was so cold in here! There were eyes over there staring at her, too, and one had a face attached she could almost make out. A man with what looked like epaulets on his shoulders!
She scrambled with her left hand to find her flashlight in the left sidewall pocket, yanked it up and snapped it on, playing the beam toward the face in the window and raking it back and forth frantically as if to scream “We’re in here! We’re here!”
There were emergency exits on both airplanes, but a no man’s land in between – a 250 knot wind tunnel – and Michelle suppressed the reality of what that meant.
From The Author:
Airline flying used to be described as endless hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror, but in the past thirty years, those moments have all but disappeared. With 93-thousand commercial airline flights over the planet everyday, almost nothing ever goes badly wrong. Yet, that potential is there with every landing and every takeoff – and especially in the middle of a challenging snowstorm I’ve thrown at my characters over Denver one wintry night – and worse, the mortal challenge of a legal system which can occasionally be allowed to run amok.
Everything about this book is possible, from the cockpit to the courtroom, and especially the legal trap sprung by an overzealous district attorney who, at the most charitable, doesn’t understand the basic concept of inadvertent human failure and why such errors should never involve criminal prosecution.
One word of warning: I’ve constructed this story to keep you up all night, and leave you thinking about the consequences for a very long time.