IT WAS 1993
by James Strauss
Arch had never flown the particular model of Beechcraft they would be inside. He knew, whether he flew the plane or not, he was about to once again endanger the only three beings on the planet who seemed to give a damn whether he lived or died. In spite of that, he wasn’t about to tell Atlantis and Cyn that the pilot they were about to entrust their lives to was too drunk to fly. He felt bad about that.
Arch went back into the Terminal building to get the money. He didn’t want Atlantis to owe anything to the lounge lizard pilot, who had more knowledge than he should have, and was drinking himself to death over problems Arch didn’t want to know about.
“What about the people upstairs drinking and eating?” He asked Atlantis when he got back inside. He waited patiently, as Cyn dug thin stacks of aged twenties from the bag.
“They’ll be fine,” Atlantis replied. “Building maintenance will be here soon and your friends probably won’t be far behind. “Will that radio in your pocket tell them where we are?”
Instinctively, Arch pulled the little device out. There’d been no traffic for quite some time. He keyed the tiny microphone button once. Double and triple clicks came right back. The other agents were holding whatever positions they had in whatever locations they were in. Jeremy might have been flown in fresh, but his team was tight, and therefore more formidable. Arch needed to get rid of the radio, even though it provided vital information.
“Doug’s drunk,” Arch revealed, changing his mind about telling them. “He’s filing a new flight plan so the plane can land back at Lihue, but I don’t know how good he’ll be at actually flying in his drunken condition.”
Just then Doug walked through the lower door into the stairwell and went up to Amelia’s without slowing. “Just checking on the passengers to make sure they’ll be all right,” he said, before disappearing.
“I don’t like him or trust him,” Arch said, “but once we’re in the air I can fly and land the plane, so don’t worry. Whatever he does in Lihue is up to him, although I don’t think he’ll keep his commercial license if anyone sees him, or finds him like this.”
“He’s not flying you out of here for the money,” Atlantis said. “He’s helping you because he think’s you’re in political trouble and that you’re an American hero from Vietnam with the CIA. The money’s just for his own macho male pride.”
Arch stood, his body faintly rocking back ‘n forth from shock. “What?” he replied. “How would he know any of that?”
“I told him at the plane,” Atlantis said.
“And he believed you?” Arch asked, trying to wrap his mind around what she was talking about.
“He’s a vet, too, except he was on the ground over there,” she went on. “He’s got post traumatic stress, like he said you probably do. It’s why you’re so screwed up and can’t seem to make any relationships work.”
“Screwed up?” Arch blurted out. “I’m not screwed up and I have relationships.”
“Cyn?” Atlantis said, turning to Cynthia, who was going through her sack.
“Yeah, you’re screwed up all right, but maybe work can be done on the relationship thing. And Doug may have to come with us in Lihue so we can keep him out of trouble.” She handed Arch six stacks of twenties, as Doug reached the bottom of the stairs on his way back to the plane, a second cocktail in his hand.
Arch thought briefly about his relationships with those around him, of which Doug was becoming another odd ball member. Before he had time to really consider the possibility, he wanted to make absolutely certain Raul and Ringo were still alive, secure and safe as he’d left them. The radio still in his pocket started squawking for attention. He had to get rid of the radio because it probably had location detection ability wired somewhere into its circuits. He pulled it out to hear one of Ringo’s minions.
“Ten nineteen, according to plan?” came out of the little speaker since Arch didn’t have the ear plug for the radio. Ten nineteen was police and FBI code for return to station. Arch could not transmit a negative response without explaining, and if he tried to explain it would become instantly evident that he was not Ringo and that his radio was compromised. So far they’d been extremely lucky transmitting without being revealed, but there could be no further pushing at the edge of that envelope. He hit the transmit button to send one click, hoping it would serve as a positive assent. “Roger that,” came back. From wherever they were, the other two SUV’s would be heading immediately back to the airport to meet with Ringo and Raul.
Arch looked at Cyn, Atlantis and Harpo. “They’ll be here in fifteen minutes or less. We’ve got to get into the air now. There’s no chance they won’t figure out we got on an airplane, and then it’ll only take them a little more time to figure out where that airplane’s headed. Even if we make it to Lihue, deplane at a hanger instead of the terminal, how do we get from the airport to the port undetected?”
“Kismet,” Cyn replied. “Let’s go,” she went on, heading for the door out to the tarmac.
“What about the passengers? They’ll blab everything?” Arch said, not wanting to leave without some sort of plan, no matter how tattered or weak.
“Everyone will blab, including maintenance,” Atlantis responded, the door closing behind Cyn and Harpo. “His truck just pulled up. Cyn’s right. There is no choice unless you want to wait and give up, which is fine by me. Adventure is only adventure if it has a happy ending.”
“Man,” Arch exclaimed in a loud whisper, more to himself than to her. He gave up on checking on Raul and Ringo. They were on their own. Atlantis waved at the big local maintenance guy, and gave him a smile as she and Arch went through the door together, and headed toward the gaping hatch of the plane. Both propellers turned slowly, as Doug readied the craft to get into the air, while no doubt finishing his second Mai Tai. At the bottom of the stairs Arch handed the money back to Cyn.
“I think Doug’s beyond money right now,” was all he said, knowing that the King Air flight was likely dead-ending into Lihue Kauai, flown by a drunken pilot suffering from of post traumatic stress disorder, with four passengers having no likely prospects whatever.
Cyn, Harpo, Atlantis and Arch crowded aboard Doug’s ‘Sky Tours’ King Air. Doug was already in the left front seat wearing his earphones, operating the controls and bringing both propellers up to high speed.
“How do we close the hatch?” Arch asked, gingerly inserting himself into the co-pilot’s seat. The controls in front of him were familiar, but not that familiar. The stick, the wheel, engines controls, gear levers and some of the instruments were standard and easily recognizable, but the rest would take some thought and experience to figure out. He put on the co-pilot’s earphones. Doug pushed a button high above his head and Arch heard the open hatch beginning to cycle shut.
“Buttoning up,” Doug yelled over his shoulder, adding an ‘s’ to up.
The plane spun around like a top until it pointed toward the runway. Arch quickly belted in.
Doug laughed, “I told you I could make this thing sing.”
The King Air lurched forward pushing Arch back in his seat, as Doug pressed the engine control levers all the way forward to their stops. The plane bounced into full acceleration, one wheel running through the grass next to the tarmac, before popping up onto the wide thick asphalt of the main runway.
“Prepare for takeoff,” Doug said loudly, the plane already accelerating madly into the wind. The powerful turbines pulled the plane into the air before it was half way down the tarmac.
Doug left the engines at takeoff power, banking the plane sharply right, to the point where Arch could stare straight down at the ground below out of his side window. The ground was only feet away. Fear shot through his body. He reached for the wheel on his own stick, forcing himself to look straight ahead in order to take over control of the craft.
“Relax,” Doug admonished, slapping Arch on the left shoulder with his right hand, before moving to slightly reduce power. “Just bringing her around so you can check out the SUV hidden in the bush.”
Arch frowned. It made no sense, but then drunks usually made no sense when they were drinking to the point that Doug was. Arch looked over at the pilot’s profile and saw, unbelievably, the remains of the man’s Mai Tai sitting in a home made cup holder, mounted with duct tape up near the pilot’s side window. The King Air slowed appreciably, but that didn’t lower either Arch’s felt trepidation. It was extremely dangerous to bank sharply when close to the ground in any fixed wing aircraft, as while banking no matter how much power was being applied to the engines, the plane was falling toward the earth, since the wings were not ‘lifting’ it directly upward.
The King Air leveled. “Thar’ she blows,” Doug exclaimed, pointing in a downward motion with his left hand. Arch nodded. He never saw the Suburban. Not the Suburban left in the brush, anyway, because two other black Suburban’s were driving on the access road into the back side of the airport. Arch brought his eyes back to the front, reached over and pushed the throttles back to full power. The turbines weren’t supposed to cruise at such high speed, but life or death was in their spinning as fast as they were able without regard to safety.
It was possible that the men in the vehicles had not spotted the King Air, since it was moving quickly away from them at speed. Whether they’d hear the aircraft or not was anybody’s guess. It was vital, however, that they didn’t immediately know the direction of their travel. They’d find out soon enough using telephones and radios, so it was going to be a race between the fast-moving plane against the speed of their communications. The Sun Tours aircraft was screaming at top speed across the tops of Kauai island vegetation, not far inland from the Pacific Ocean.
“Yeah, I saw them,” Doug commented, reaching over to take another swig from his Mai Tai. “Figure if we stayed low we’d generate less noise. Got a commercial transponder in this thing so it’s not like they can’t find us on the scope if they’re looking though it.”
Amazingly, while putting away even more alcohol, the pilot seemed like he was sobering up. Arch no longer doubted whether he could fly the plane. Gentle take off, straight climb to altitude, steady course, and then a gentle drop to a reasonably long runway, Arch himself could manage that, if he had to take over. Anything more challenging would likely not end well. Even the man’s speech was cleaned up from his slurring before takeoff. Doug moved some buttons on the center console radio.
“Sky’s in the air bound for Lihue, coming in hot, high and dry,” Doug said into the small mouthpiece attached to his earphones. He laughed immediately following the transmission. “Well, the dry part might have been a bit of an exaggeration.”
Arch looked over, trying to smile to support the man, while their lives depended upon his performance. It wasn’t as likely now that his flying skills, or lack of them, would kill them. It was his mouth that was the biggest problem.
“You’re not in Kansas anymore Doug,” a warm local, and very female, voice said through the headphones. Arch frowned over at Doug, and made a neck-cutting gesture with his right hand. It was to no avail.
“Change in flight plans, Dorothy,” Doug replied. “Maybe you got time for a quickie before I have to fly back. You know, a shot at the bar there in town?”
Arch’s shoulders sagged. If the authorities were alerted to Doug’s condition, then they’d be meeting the plane at the airport regardless of where they chose to land.
“Try to remember you’re flying sweetie, and stick to the program,” the woman said. “And don’t call me Dorothy over the air.”
Doug concentrated on flying the plane with his drink-free hand, bobbing and weaving up one side of a valley and then down into another. The feeling to Arch was like riding a fast elevator, and Arch knew if it continued for any time at all then there was going to be a sickening result in the back seats.
“Gotcha Delta…that’s code for you know what,” Doug radioed back.
“How long to Lihue?” Arch asked, cupping his hands so Doug could hear him through his headphones.
“Her name’s not really Dorothy, so don’t worry,” Doug yelled back, laughing.
All Arch could do was sit and wait to see what the drunken pilot was going to do next.
The five-minute trip into Lihue had turned into the Gilligan’s Island ‘three-hour tour’ of the Minnow, kind of a thing. The King Air swept down a lush green valley, Doug only pulling up on the controls at the very last second, causing Arch’s fear level to rise above his sinking stomach. Instinctively he reached forward, placing his hands on the steering wheel-like controls. Riding second seat didn’t allow for such a breach in flying
etiquette, under normal conditions. Pilots fly the aircraft. Co-pilots wait to fly the aircraft.
The ‘wheel’ was actually rectangular in shape, having two small handles on each side with switches placed in seemingly helter-skelter places about the padded center post. Arch looked over to see what effect the violation might cause, but there was to be no violation. Doug, the pilot, was unconscious. Somehow, he’d been able to put his unfinished Mai Tai glass back into its homemade holder. He sat fully strapped in with his head lolling forward. Arch’s eyes snapped back to the front, as his hands and arms automatically eased the wheel back to continue their climb. Once they cleared the edge of the abyss they’d just risen out of, he realized that he had no real idea where the Lihue Airport was. He’d flown into and out of the place on Maui, but could not remember exactly where it was or how it lay in conjunction with the town from their position, currently coming from Princeville.
“Cyn, I need you up here,” Arch yelled back over his left shoulder. He eased the Beechcraft up to five thousand feet, looked out the window beyond where Doug sat passed out, to see the ocean surface down in the distance. Arch knew the Lihue Airport was right near the water so he banked slightly to port and eased the plane in that direction. He brought the throttles slowly back a few inches in their adjoining slots and watched the plane’s speed drop to just over a hundred and eighty knots. Arch knew they were running against the trades at altitude so their speed across the ground was probably more like about a hundred and sixty miles per hour. Their progress was slow enough, and high enough, to allow some fleeting time for thought.
“I don’t feel very well,” Cyn said, from right near Arch’s left headphone.
“What’s wrong with him?” she went on, taking in the pilot’s obvious condition.
Arch pulled the phones off. There was no way he could talk to “Dorothy,” or anybody else, and remain credible in the air.
“I don’t know how to get to the Lihue Airport from up here in the air,” he confessed. “I need a second set of eyes. Doug’s out cold and too heavy to move, so see if you can squeeze over him and look outside.
Arch felt fearful and a bit queasy flying a plane he’d never flown before, toward a destination he couldn’t see, over an island it didn’t look like they’d ever get off of.