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Detective Lieutenant Nolan Brice stood in the brush near the wrecked
aircraft, watching the men move about in the light of several spotlights
that had been set up by the National Guardsmen who had roped off the
area. The thick blackness of the surrounding forest, plus a glance at
his watch, told him that dawn wasn't too far away. FAA investigator
Dickson, a thin, stringy ex-pilot stepped around the scrambled bits of
wreckage and offered a light to the dead cigarette in Nolan's mouth.
"Thanks," Brice said and blew the smoke to the night. "What d'you make
of it, Mister Dickson?"
Dickson shrugged and pushed his snap-brim hat back with a blunt
forefinger. "Dunno. It's pretty dark to see much, but it's no private
"Why do you say that?"
"No wings, no tail assembly. Of course, it's hard to tell in the dark.
When it gets light enough, we'll know the story; but I don't know of any
private plane that looks like that one. Then too, the Army is holding
the news boys at bay. I think those two government fellows are playing
this one close to their chests."
Brice nodded and dragged on the cigarette, but he said nothing about the
speed of the thing. "Any bodies?"
Dickson shook his head. "The thing is pretty well burned, and the
bodies, if there are any to be found, could be all over the area. We did
find a kind of flying suit, though, badly burned and torn."
"Just the suit? No one in it?"
Dickson looked perplexed. "Bothers you huh? Me too. I can't figure out
why a pilot would carry something like that as an extra. Oh, well, it'll
all come out when we really start investigating."
"How long does a thing like that take?"
Dickson shrugged. "A couple of days, a week. Even a few months. It's
hard to say."
Brice nodded, took a final drag on the cigarette and tossed it toward
the wreck, watching the red ash burst near the wreck. Dickson had
wandered off to the far side of the crash-made clearing. Hell, Brice
thought, I'd better get that butt. Leaving a thing like that around here
could get me in trouble. They'd think it was part of the crash.
When he walked over to retrieve the butt, he saw the light from the
flood glinting on a small gold object. He picked it up and found that he
had someone's watch. The crystal had been smashed, likely in the crash,
and the hands were stopped at 4:15. The expansion band watch dispelled
his hunch that the pilot of the plane had been a Russian, or something;
it was a Bulova, and he didn't think Russians had them. But what cinched
the whole thing was on the under side of the face, in the light of the
spots, he could read: "To Nick, Love, Beth."
And suddenly, it was there! He knew the watch. He knew it as well as he
knew his own. Hell, he had picked it up at the jeweler's shop in
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