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Vincent Zandri is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Innocent, Godchild, The Remains, Moonlight Falls, The Concrete Pearl, Moonlight Rises, Scream Catcher, Blue Moonlight, Murder By Moonlight, The Guilty, Moonlight Sonata, Moonlight Weeps, Full Moonlight, The Shroud Key, and the forthcoming, The Breakup. He is also the author of numerous Amazon bestselling digital shorts including Pathological, True Stories and Moonlight Mafia, as well as the coauthor of Deadly Dozen which sold more than 90,000 copies in its first two months of publication. Harlan Coben has described The Innocent (formerly As Catch Can) as "...gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting," while the New York Post called it "Sensational...Masterful...Brilliant!"

Zandri's list of domestic publishers include Delacorte, Dell, Down and Out Books, and Thomas & Mercer, while his foreign publisher is Meme Publishers of Milan and Paris. An MFA in Writing graduate of Vermont College, Zandri's work is translated, or soon to be translated, into many languages including the Dutch, Russian, French, Italian, German, and Japanese. A freelance photo-journalist for Living Ready Magazine, RT, Globalspec, inTravel Magazine, along with several other global news agencies and publications, Zandri lives in New York and Florence, Italy. For more go to vincentzandri.com

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Chase Baker and the Golden Condor by Vincent Zandri

Chase Baker, the Renaissance Man, is back in a sexy, thrilling action-adventure from NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY Bestselling author, Vincent Zandri.

Chase, seeking inspiration for a new book, and a big pay-off, stumbles into the opportunity of a lifetime: to use his PI and archeological sandhogging skills to seek out an aircraft hidden deep in a remote part of the Amazon Jungle. But the aircraft in question isn't any old airplane. Legend claims it's an ancient flying machine called the Golden Condor—an intergalactic spaceship delivered to the Incans by aliens more than a thousand years ago.

There's a catch, of course. Hostile tribal natives, in collaboration with a band of Tupac Amaru revolutionary terrorists, will stop at nothing to murder Chase, his team of explorers, and his beautiful literary agent, before they reach the Condor. And if the terrorists don't kill them, then the writhing, creeping jungle almost certainly will.

But in typical Chase Baker style, once he sets his sights on the prize, nothing will stand in his way. They are embarking on a mission that, if it succeeds, will change the way historians view the ancient Incan civilization—and alter society's beliefs about early man and the heavens above.

Readers of Dan Brown, Clive Cussler, Wilbur Smith, and JR Rain, will find Chase Baker's adventures "well worth every minute," according to SUSPENSE MAGAZINE.

CURATOR'S NOTE

In the spring of 2010 I was looking for authors who might be willing to read and blurb my debut thriller, due for release in early 2011. Against all odds, and probably common sense, this bestselling and highly accomplished author agreed to do so, and a friendship was born. I admire Vince as much as I admire anyone in this business, and the fact that he writes some of the most compelling fiction out available today is an added bonus. Once you read this book, you'll be like me: a loyal Chase Baker reader. – Allan Leverone

 

REVIEWS

  • "Zandri delivers a great second addition to the life and loves and adventures of Chase Baker. Well written and researched locals and characters. A great mix of blood, guts, and sexy adventure! Can't wait for the 3rd installment!"

    – Amazon Reviewer
  • "A novel that moves like a Ferrari, set in exotic locations, Zandri has outdone himself with this first rate mix of classic adventure, mystery, suspense and erotic tension. It hooks you from the beginning and won't let go, this is realistic and highly enjoyable fiction."

    – Richard Godwin, bestselling Author of Confessions of a Hit Man
  • "Sensational...Masterful...Brilliant."

    – New York Post
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Prologue

Machu Picchu
Urubamba Valley
Amazon Basin (Amazonia), Peru
May 1939

Yanking back his goggles and resting them on the brim of his pilot's cap, Peter C. Keogh reaches into his waist-length leather pilot's coat and pulls out his map. His thighs pressed together in order to hold the stick steady, the forty-year-old freelance employee of Standard Oil exhales.

A sea of green stretches for as far as the eyes can see. A forest-covered jagged mountain landscape that is as unrelenting in its thickness as it is in its sheer vastness. The retired US Army Colonel turned explorer-for-hire pulls back on the throttle of his de Havilland DH 82 Tiger Moth and begins to descend toward the tree-topped canopy of a valley split in two by the white-capped waters of the fast-moving Urubamba River. Wiping away some of the condensate from his goggle lenses with the tips of his leather-gloved fingers, he leans his head out over the fuselage to get a better bird's-eye view of the territory below.

"You've got to be here somewhere, you snake," he speaks into the cool, humid wind that slaps his face as he searches for an elusive break in a jungle that blankets the back half of Machu Picchu and beyond.

The unexplored half.

While his blue, eagle-like eyes search, his brain pictures the five-thousand-dollar bonus waiting for him. The cash comes to him only if he can locate a trail extension the famous cartographer and explorer Dr. Hiram Bingham described in eloquent prose more than twenty years ago—a trail that begins at the backside of Machu Picchu and ends at the mouth of the Amazon River inside the Amazon basin at a place untouched by the modern world, a place known only as Inferno.

He opens the map just enough so that it doesn't blow away in the gale force winds. Looking up quickly at the brown, barren, boulder-strewn summit of Machu Picchu in the distance, he then looks back down upon the map.

"The Machu Picchu summit is my benchmark which means you must be directly below me. But where?"

Folding the map back up and stuffing it back into his coat pocket, he reaches down to the floor with his free hand and grabs hold of his 16mm Eyemo movie camera, the same make and model his young friend Bob Capa used recently in and around the bombed out streets of civil war–[BH1]plagued Spain. Leaning the lens over the side, Keogh presses the trigger on the camera and starts shooting footage regardless of the fact that the trail he's being paid to "rediscover" is nowhere to be seen.

"This is all because of you, Hiram, baby," Keogh whispers to himself, his words fading into the wind. "I don't come back with proof of a trail, I not only don't get my bonus, the bastards will make me return my entire advance. And now that I'm a dad, I need the dough. Just need to get a little lower …"

Luckily, Keogh knows that movie cameras—even the super-high-tech hand-held ones like the Eyemo—often pick up details that the naked eye cannot see, and that's what he's banking on right at this moment. That the camera lens will somehow break through the dense foliage and capture, even if only for a fleeting second, a humble visual hint of trailhead made of dirt or stone that will lead Standard Oil to believe they can guide a team of drillers into the Amazon basin in order to mine its vast resources of black gold. Fact is, Keogh is counting on it.

But what he's not counting on is what can go wrong when he takes his eyes off of the horizon for too long. An Army ground commander for most of his adult life, Keogh didn't take to the skies until after his retirement at age thirty-five. Fearless in demeanor and often reckless in flight, his sky instructors would often scold him for "not keeping your goddamned eyes on the road." "What road?" would be the likeable Keogh's common response. A response that would be accompanied by brilliant blue eyes and a smile full of straight white teeth.

That recklessness would prove to be bad luck over the jungle today, as the wheels on the dangerously low-flying Tiger Moth suddenly clip the top of an ironwood tree, causing the nose of the biplane to dip just enough for the propeller to catch a branch. The prop snaps in two. An alarmed Keogh pulls the camera back into the cockpit, drops it onto the floor, and shoves it under the seat. He grabs hold of the joystick, yanks it all the way back in order to gain altitude. But with the prop broken, all he can manage is to make the plane climb a dozen hopeless vertical feet before it stalls, dropping nose first into the thick tree-covered jungle canopy.

_ _ _

When Keogh comes to hours later, he finds himself being pulled out of the cockpit of a plane that's snagged itself in the tree branches like a wood and paper kite that's snapped free of its string in a hard wind. The plane's wings have sheared off and the fuselage has capsized, so that if it weren't for the seat belt, Keogh would have surely plunged to the ground one hundred feet below and broken his neck.

Reaching under the seat he grabs hold of the movie camera, holds it tightly while trying his best to maintain consciousness as he eyes the native men who are performing a rescue. Aside from dark leather thongs and sparse ornamentation such as bracelets and necklaces of beads and bones, the short, thickly black-haired, tattooed natives are naked and barefoot. But they work in unison, chanting indiscernible words to unrecognizable tribal tunes as they unbuckle the beat-up pilot from the cockpit seat, carry him down from the trees and then across the jungle floor. Even in his semi-conscious state, and with sharp pain coming from his legs, he senses that the natives don't mean him any harm. But he also knows that their sentiments could change at any moment. The tribes of this jungle are renowned for their head-hunting practices and cannibalism, and should they find his wavy blond-haired, blue-eyed head an attractive sacrifice to the Gods, they won't hesitate to behead him and give over both his heart and entire blood supply to their deities.

Pressing his left bicep against his rib cage, he feels the hard cylinder on his shoulder-holstered Army issue Colt .38 and he feels a sense of profound relief. These natives may indeed try to kill him, but should that happen, he's prepared to take a few of them with him.

As the journey proceeds into the heart of the jungle darkness, Keogh feels the sharp pain in his legs and the sickening dizziness in his head, and passes out again.

The next time he regains consciousness, Keogh finds himself once more gaining altitude. But this time he's not strapped into the cockpit of his Tiger Moth. Instead, the natives are carrying him up a steep set of stairs carved out of the bedrock that constitutes a giant cliff-face. He lies back on a crude gurney made of thick tree branches, animal hide, and rope, and despite the constant sharp pangs of pain, he marvels at his body's ability to remain stuck to it even while being tipped upright, booted feet first, at a severe angle. He's even more impressed with the engineering that had to be involved in carving the staircase from out of this cliff. The team of scantily clad natives might be primitive in appearance and means, but they possess some serious construction skills.

As they climb higher and higher, Keogh begins to notice that the pain coming from his legs is growing progressively worse. Looking down at his lower extremities, he can see the familiar knee-high, lace-up boots, but he also notices something else that stains his canvas trousers.

Blood.

It's then he realizes that both his legs are not only broken, but they are broken badly from compound fractures.

"Gangrene," he whispers to himself. "You can't be far away from me now."

Lying back on the gurney, he pulls a cigar from his coat pocket, along with his lighter, and he fires it up.

Inhaling deeply of the smoke, he silently prays, "My dear Lord, how will I ever get out of here now? I have no plane, no method of communication with the outside world, no legs to walk on. As time goes on, and I do not report in, my employers will assume the worst. That I am dead. They will close the file on me and that will be that. No rescue parties. That was a part of the agreement. The risks I took in taking on this mission were mine alone to assume, and no one else's. I was to either succeed at my mission or fail. No middle ground. And dear God, have I ever failed. I know it's been a long time since my last confession. Decades, in fact, but please have mercy on my soul. That is, if I've still got one."

The gurney dips and bucks, sending intense shock waves of electric pain up and down the length of the nerve bundles that service Keogh's damaged legs.

"Oh God," he says aloud, "get me out of here."

That's when the young, smooth-skinned native man holding the foot of the gurney to his right turns and shoots him a look.

"You must not talk," he speaks in a low, quiet, but somehow commanding voice. "You must save your energy."

"You speak English," Keogh comments through a cloud of cigar smoke. "But how can that be?"

"Yes." The man nods. "I was educated in Lima where I drove a taxi and kept an apartment for a time. I am a rare individual living inside this jungle. An educated man who deserted the concrete jungle to make his return to true civilization. Now please, rest. Soon we arrive at the Mouth of the Beast, and you will need all the strength you can muster."

"The Mouth of the Beast," Keogh repeats. "I'm not sure if I should be happy or frightened about going there."

Tossing what's left of his cigar over the side of the gurney into the leafy canopy far below, he lays his head back painfully into the cot. Soon, exhaustion sets in, and he is fast asleep once more.

The third and final time the Colonel lifts his head up, he is lying on the floor of a cave. The place is enormous. Cavernous. Dimly lit with at least two hundred burning torches mounted to the walls by means of heavy metal clamps. Something occupies the floor. Something big and bird-shaped. Excepting the three black, vertical legs and feet which extend down from its belly and beak, the object appears to be made of gold. The light from the torches makes the giant bird's golden skin glimmer brilliantly. Raising his hands to his eyes, Col. Keogh rubs the sleep out of them and takes a closer look. The object is not a bird, exactly, but something else.

"Well, I'll be a sad son of a bitch," he whispers. "It's a goddamned plane."

How the hell did a plane that big get all the way out here in the jungle where there's no landing strips? How did it get up here in this cave? And if it's a plane, where are its propellers? He's heard talk about some experiments going on inside Nazi Germany with propellerless jet engines, but that's the stuff you find in the Buck Rogers Saturday afternoon movie serials.

That's when something else comes to him.

He's not presently lying inside a naturally formed cave, so much as a natural cave that's been manually widened on both sides and extended deep into the heart of the mountain. Also, the ceiling has been raised while the floor has been smoothed out. The engineering he is witnessing is simply too incredible for words, be it ancient engineering or as modern as the day before yesterday.

Keogh is an experienced pilot and he knows an airplane hangar when he sees it.

"An airplane hangar all the way out here in the jungle. A hangar that houses a golden, bird-shaped plane with no propellers."

Four natives approach him, including the smooth-faced one who spoke English. They take their respective places and lift him up off the floor.

"Is that an airplane?" Keogh grunts through pain-gritted teeth as they begin to move in the direction of the big golden bird.

"The human beings here don't understand the word airplane," he explains, talking slow and softly over his left shoulder. "They only understand the concept of the bird. So that's what they call it."

"The bird."

"You would know this bird as a condor."

"But there are no condors in Peru. Only far up north and far down south."

"It is still a condor, Colonel. No matter how you look at it."

"It is a beautiful sculpture anyway. Magnificent even. How long has it been here up in this cave?"

"For many, many generations. So long, in fact, only the Gods would know for sure."

Keogh is stunned at the news. It would mean that the bird/plane would have been constructed in ancient times. But that's impossible.

"Who built her then?"

"So many questions from a man whose legs need emergency repair or else face the doctor's blade."

"I might be in pain, or even dying. But the still alive explorer in me is curious as all hell."

"No one knows who built her. Legend has it that she one day appeared above the jungle from out of the heavens, and landed in this cave."

"Wait. What do you mean landed? As in, that thing flew here?"

This time, the man turns all the way around so that he can look into Keogh's eyes.

"Yes, the bird flies. What other purpose would a bird's wings pose?"

Keogh can't believe what's coming from the man's mouth. It must be the stuff of legend and that's all. Modern flight wasn't tamed until thirty-seven years ago. If what this man is telling him is true, this "bird" must be thousands of years old. Yet he is insisting that it was flown here.

Having arrived at the bird, they come to a stop beneath the bird's belly. The English-speaking native issues a loud order in what Keogh recognizes as the ancient Incan language of Quechua, and just like that, everyone drops to their knees as if in reverence of something that's about to occur.

There comes a noise and loud bang that seems to make the cave rattle, and then a bright light emanates from the belly of the bird. The light is square-shaped as it beams from out of a big door that is being opened. The door is slowly opening from the top and lowering itself via hinges installed in its bottom, much like the bow door on a military cargo ship. When it is entirely opened, an amazed Keogh can see that the door also serves as an entry ramp.

"What in the world is happening?" he says.

"The bird not only flies," the English-speaking man whispers. "It contains tools and machines that can heal your legs quickly. Then, once you are rested, you will perform the sacred duty the Gods have brought you here to perform."

"And what duty is that, sir?"

"You will fly the Golden Condor back home for us."

"And where exactly is home?"

The man slowly raises his head, reverently looks up at the black cave roof, and smiles.

"The heavens," he says.