Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online


Rocinante
An Aerial Adventure
A Tale From Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2011



Chapter 4

Mark called her up a little after nine the next morning. "If I come right by, will you be ready to go?" he asked.

"Give me ten minutes," she said. Just as she was pulling on the snowmobile suit she heard the rumble of the old Ford pulling up outside, and went out to meet him. Though a brighter day, it was still overcast, but much of the snow from the day before had already melted.

"Well, did you find the cord we need?" she asked.

"Sure did," he told her. "Ken Sawyerís got a part of a spool of it, and we donít need much. Weíll just have to go down and get it."

"Isnít he in Lordston?" she asked. "Thatís a long drive."

"Heís in Lordston," Mark said, "But, itís not a long drive. What it is, is a good excuse to go flying."

"We can fly on a grungy day like this?"

"Well, itís not the prettiest day, but those clouds are up there pretty high, and we can stay under them all right."

For once, Mark didnít park in front of the hangar doors. He didnít light the office heater, just headed straight to the red, white, and black four-seater Stinson sitting inside at the front of the hangar. While Jackie watched, half-mystified, Mark started the preflight routine, checking around the aircraft, draining accumulated condensation from the fuel, checking the oil, and other things. "This old Stinson here is my buddy," Mark told her. "Dadís had it for ten or twelve years, now. I did most of my learning to fly in it. I feel kind of like a traitor, planning to make the trip in the Cessna. You ever been flying?"

"Your dad took me for a ride in this plane once, maybe six or eight years ago," Jackie told him.

"Well, it wonít be totally strange to you," he said. Preflight finished, he unlocked and opened the hangar doors and, with Jackieís help, rolled the big old taildragger out into the open. He closed the hangar again and helped Jackie into the right seat.

"I guess I didnít notice before," Jackie said, "But this is all fabric, isnít it? Your plane has a metal fuselage."

"Where do you think I learned about recovering airplanes? Right here, back before I went into the service." He fiddled with some switches in the cockpit. "Well, letís see if we can get this thing started. The battery is getting old, and it could use a little more oomph in this cold weather."

He gave the engine a couple of good shots of prime. He had already set the prop as far off compression as he could, so the starter would have time to get up a little speed before the engine hit its first compression stroke. He flipped on the magnetos and turned the key. The starter growled, the engine coughed, and a propeller blade went by in front of them, then another. The engine made three or four turns before a cylinder caught, then two or three other jugs chimed in. In an instant all six had come to life.

Mark left the throttle at a high idle while the engine warmed up. He turned to Jackie and said, "That was easier than it could have been. When itís cold, this engine can really be cranky." She smiled, just taking it in as he busied himself with a few things that needed to be done, like setting the altimeter, caging the gyro, and turning the radio on, things Jackie didnít understand. Tall as she was Ė and her hair brushed the ceiling of the Stinsonís interior Ė with the tail of the airplane down she still could not see much over the nose.

After a minute, Mark let off the brake and began to taxi out to the end of the runway. He kept it slow; there were puddles, and he didnít want to mess up the plane. At the end of the runway, he turned the plane into the wind, ran up the engine, checked the mags and the carburetor heat, and looked at the oil temperature gauge; the engine was warm enough to fly. "You ready?" he asked.

"Sure," she said. She had done this before; she knew there was nothing to be afraid of.

Mark turned the Stinson down the runway and ran up the power. The old Franklin engine bellowed, and the plane gathered speed. In only a few seconds Mark could feel the tail getting light, so with a little forward pressure on the wheel he let the tail come up. The airspeed needle came off the peg and, in only a few seconds more, he could feel the Stinson trying to fly. Comfortable, he eased back on the wheel, and the plane left the ground.

Jackie could see the ground falling away. She remembered how strange it had seemed when she was a little girl, how all of a sudden it had been a long way down. She could see the horizon come up as the plane climbed above the tops of the trees, and she wasnít alarmed when Mark banked the airplane a little and began a slow turn over the town. Curious, she followed the streets with her eyes, until she could pick out her house. How small it seemed! How small the whole town seemed, for that matter. The expanse of the lake spread out to the east, still covered with ice. She could still see the fish coops out on the ice, but knew theyíd be coming off, soon.

In a few minutes the Stinson was over the southwest arm of the lake, heading southeast. "Thatís high enough," Mark said, loud enough for Jackie to hear him over the engineís roar, while leveling off the plane and easing the throttle back. He fiddled with the trim for a moment, to relax the pressure on the wheel, and set a course for Lordston. He figured heíd better keep near the state roads, just in case; besides, there wasnít much to see out over the swamp to the south of the lake.

It was very noisy in the cockpit, and it wasnít conducive to conversation, but that was all right: Jackie was fascinated with the scene out the window. They left the little world of Spearfish Lake behind quickly. Sheíd known all her life that Spearfish Lake was a Northwoods town, but even so, she hadnít realized just how much forest there was spread across the landscape. Here there was a little farm, there a house, but she could see out her window that they were mostly concentrated pretty close to the state road. Off in the distance she could see Albany River, but she couldnít make out Meeker, even farther away. It was cold in the airplane, and Jackie was glad she had the snowmobile suit on. Although the heater knob was pulled all the way out, it didnít seem to be doing much good, but one foot was warmer than the other.

"You like it?" Mark asked over the roar of the engine.

"It looks different from up here," Jackie told him, feeling inane. She knew he had grown up with flying, and it probably wasnít all that special to him, but it was to her.

"Itís like a different world," he answered her in a loud voice to carry over the engine. To him, the best part of flying had always been looking out the window at the way the land unfolded. It was a fresh wonder, always something new every time he got into the air, something new waiting to be discovered. He hadnít been able to fly all he wanted since heíd been back from Germany. The weather had been lousy, and heíd been busy, but still he wondered if heíd even get enough flying in to suit him on the long trip, which seemed a lot closer now than it had only a few days before.

It did not take them long to get to Lordston; as they got close Mark began to let the Stinson down towards the ground as the little town began to rise in the distance. He turned to Jackie, "Iíll let Ken know weíre here," he said. She thought he meant he was going to do it on the radio, but the plane kept getting lower and lower, pointed at a metal building with various machines and junk sitting outside. Mark got down so low that they roared by not much more than a hundred feet over the building, then pulled the nose of the airplane up and began a sharp turn. Down by the building, she could see a man come out and wave at them. Mark rocked the wings to signal he had seen him, and pointed the Stinson at a little airstrip Jackie could see a mile or more away. "Did I scare you with that?" he asked. "I should have let you know it was coming."

"That was fun!" she said. "I knew you knew what you were doing."

Mark eased the power back, pulled on the carb heat, and set up his approach for the airstrip. The plane sank lower toward the gash in the trees, and soon the wheels kissed the muddy grass.

Mark taxied the Stinson up to the end of the airstrip, the end by the road. He was still shutting the engine down when a muddy pickup truck pulled up alongside, and he and Jackie got out to meet the driver.

Ken Sawyer proved to be a man in his forties, wearing greasy coveralls, a good foot shorter than Mark. It looked like he hadnít shaved in several days, and it was a couple of minutes before Jackie noticed he was missing his left hand; a hook was fitted there, instead. "How you coming on those wings?" he asked

"Oh, pretty good," Mark told him. "This is Jackie Archer. Sheís been helping me with íem. We ought to be able to wrap the rib stitching up today, if nothing else goes wrong."

"Iíve got to go up to Spearfish Lake tomorrow and look at a guyís bulldozer," Sawyer said. "You want me to stop by and check them over so you can start the doping?"

"If you could, itíd be great," Mark said. "Got a guy whoís going to let me use a bay of his body shop to paint it, and he said heíd do the spraying, but Iím not going to be able to mess around."

"Youíre coming along pretty good, then," Sawyer said. "By the way, hereís the cord."

"Thanks," Mark told him. "I donít think Iím going to need very much, but I donít think I have quite enough to finish. Iím glad you had it."

"No problem," the mechanic said.

"Hey," Mark asked, changing the subject. "You know who owns that 140 over there?"

Jackie looked across the field to a little plane, and realized it was the same kind of plane she and Mark had been working on.

"Yeah," Sawyer asked. "The guyís in Florida."

"Darn," Mark told him. "I keep hoping I can find someone with a 140 so I can get a little dual before I fly mine for the first time. Iíve flown one two or three times, but itís been at least five years."

"No problem," Sawyer told him. "He told me I could fly it now and then to keep the oil up and the birds out of it. I can take you around the patch in it a few times right now."

"That would be great if you could," Mark said. "Jackie, would you mind sitting around here for a while?"

"No, go ahead," she told him. "I can sit here and watch."

Mark turned to the mechanic. "All right," he said. "Letís do it."

Mark and Ken untied the little Cessna, and Jackie watched as the two of them went over the preflight carefully, as the mechanic pointed out some things Mark should watch for. The two-seater was smaller than the four-seat Stinson, but she noticed when Mark got inside that his head wasnít brushing the ceiling. She stood back, as Mark started the engine; somehow, it didnít seem quite as noisy as the Stinson.

Once Mark and Ken finished the run-up, Mark pointed it down the runway and opened the throttle. Though the little Cessna had only a little more than half the power of the bigger plane, it broke ground fairly quickly, though without the impression of the brute power of the Stinson. It climbed more slowly, though; that was no surprise, but being smaller, it seemed livelier than the big, solid plane he had grown used to. The two of them flew out south of the airstrip a couple of miles, and Mark tried some turns, both steep and shallow; then, he slowed up to get an idea of how it felt approaching landing speed, and did some stalls, power on and power off. "About like I remember," he commented. "What do you want on the approach? About eighty?"

"Eightyís plenty," Sawyer told him. "Seventyís probably better going over the fence, maybe seventy-five if youíre heavy. Take her around a couple of times. These planes are pretty good about telling you what they want."

Mark turned the Cessna back toward the airstrip. Although there was not likely to be any traffic, he set up a landing pattern and began to shoot a few landings.

*   *   *

Jackie stood outside for a while watching the little plane off in the distance, then as her feet got tired, looked for a place to sit. She didnít feel like getting back in the Stinson, so she finally sat down on one of the airplaneís wheels. After a while she could see the little plane getting set up for a landing, and she stood up to watch. The plane straightened out along the grassy strip, sinking rapidly, and for a moment she thought it was going into the trees at the far end of the strip, but she realized after an instant that it was because of the angle she was looking. The plane sank onto the runway, and its tail came down. She heard the power come back onto the engine, and the tail came up again, heading for another takeoff.

The sight made her feel sad in a way; she realized as the plane soared over the road, climbing for altitude, that she had enjoyed the last few days with Mark more than she would have ever thought possible. She knew it would not be very long before she would be standing beside the runway at Spearfish Lake, watching Mark fly his own 140 for the first time Ė and soon he would be gone. She would miss him, she knew.

What fun it would be to go on the trip, she realized. She had envied him the idea of the trip ever since he had first told her about it, and had been sorry she couldnít do something similar. The flight this morning had only sharpened her taste for something like it; in the few days they had spent together, Mark had told her of more things he had planned, and it seemed like a lot of fun. She could imagine a little, for instance, of what it would be like to see the Grand Canyon open under the disk of the propeller, to look down at its awesome glory. She imagined sleeping under the stars under the wing, in a farmerís field so black with night that she could see a million stars. Yes, it would be fun to make the trip, she thought. It was too bad she couldnít. Even if she were to ask Mark, and he were to say yes, how would it look to her parents, to her friends, to go off on a trip like that with a guy she wasnít married to? Even if they were married, just supposing they were, it still wouldnít seem quite proper. As the plane flew around the airstrip, again and again, she found herself getting sad at the thought of losing Mark. Maybe heíd remember her, and come back for her, some day.

Up in the airplane, Ken Sawyer leaned back in his seat. He knew Mark was a good pilot, but he also knew he hadnít done much flying since the Army. But, his precise handling of the plane made him relax. Once Mark got the feel of the plane a little, there wasnít much to worry about. "Nice looking girl you got there," he said finally. "You taking her on the trip with you?"

"I didnít know you knew about the trip," Mark said.

"Your dad told me," Sawyer admitted. "Said he wanted me to make sure everything was as right with your bird as it could be."

"Naw, sheís not going with me," Mark said over the roar of the engine. "Sheís just a friend whoís been helping me out with the rib stitching."

"Kind of a shame," the smaller man said. "She looks like sheíd be fun to have with you."

"I donít think I could take her if I wanted to," Mark said. "I donít think one of these things could take two of us and all our gear."

"You could push the gross weight a little," Sawyer said. "One thing you want to watch out for is your weight and balance, though. You get the cargo section full of baggage, even if youíre not near gross, and with just you up in front, it might be pushing the edge of the envelope a little. The same weight, or even heavier, and a second person in front, and youíd be a lot better off."

Mark shook his head. "I donít think sheíd go if I asked her," he said, more to himself than to Sawyer, and concentrated on his flying. He knew he was doing all right, but he also knew he could do much better. He would want some practice with his own plane before he left on the trip Ė short field and soft field takeoffs and landings, especially, but mostly just making sure he was comfortable with it. Flying this 140 made him sure heíd made the best choice he could for the trip, considering the money. It wouldnít be long before he left, now; Jackieís help had gained him a week, maybe two weeks.

Sawyerís comment opened a new train of thought in his mind. He imagined for a moment what it would be like to have Jackie along on the trip with him. It would be fun; she was a nice companion. Often as he had dreamed about the trip, he had imagined, in a vague sort of way, finding some lonely girl in some town along the way, and taking her with him. This wasnít quite what heíd imagined, but . . .

He remembered, again, one night years ago, probably when heíd driven his old Chevy to New Jersey, when he was in the Army there. It was a long drive, and heíd driven all night, feeling terribly lonely. He passed by a medium-sized town along the way, probably two or three times as big as Spearfish Lake, and the thought crossed his mind that somewhere in the darkened city there was a girl sitting staring at the wall, just as lonely as he was. All he had to know was which door to knock on, and to say, "Hi, Iím Mark, and Iím here to love you."

The trick was in knowing which door to knock on. In the last few days, it almost seemed as if heíd found the door Ė and now, he was going to be flying off into the sunset without asking, without even knocking.

Heíd had to leave Mei-Ling behind; it had been great while it lasted, but heíd had no choice, no future there. It was going to be harder than he realized to leave Jackie behind.

Maybe she would like to go on the trip. He thought about it for a moment and decided it wouldnít hurt to sound her out a little, without actually asking her to go.

*   *   *

They were back in the hangar in Spearfish Lake, rib stitching on the wing again, before Mark finally thought of a way to probe Jackieís interest in possibly going on the trip.

They had been talking about what he was going to take with him. There were some things that were pretty logical, things like a tie-down kit for the airplane, a few tools, a backpack, a tent and sleeping bag; and a camera, clothes and other things. There was a big selection of maps heíd accumulated, enough to cover the whole country, and he had to bring them.

Other things werenít quite as logical; the telescope was going, for example. Mark had spent a few nights over the winter when it was too cold to do anything out in the hangar, down in the basement rebuilding the mounting, to make it as light and compact as possible to fit in the plane. He had included both a note pad and a sketch pad, and even a small kit of water colors, as he wanted to try doing some drawings along the way, as well. He calculated in his head; he weighed about 150, and Jackie, he guessed, would go 130. The gear he had planned on taking weighed about seventy pounds. Allowing another ten or fifteen pounds for a supply of food and water, which would have to be frequently replenished, left maybe forty pounds, fifty if he pushed it.

"Just for fun," he said. "Supposing you were to go with me on this trip. Do you think you could keep your stuff under fifty pounds or so?"

"I suppose I could," Jackie said. Sheíd been thinking about that very thing as he talked, what she would take if she were going on the trip. It was clear it wouldnít be very much. "I suppose Iíd want to take a tent, but we could share a tent, and youíve already got one. With the backpacking, Iíd want to take my pack, and it would do to hold a lot of my gear."

"Youíve backpacked?" he asked.

"Not for a couple of years," she said. "My dad and I went up and hiked through the Pictured Rocks, over by Munising. Thatís quite a hike. He bought me a new Kelty just for that trip, but Iíve only used it a few times."

Without saying anything, Mark thought that was interesting. Real interesting. He hadnít been aware sheíd done any backpacking at all. Camping, yes, but backpacking was much more critical of weight; sheíd know how to keep the weight of her gear down, and how to make do with less. Sheíd probably have a lot of the gear sheíd need, already. "Have you got a good sleeping bag?" he asked.

"A summer-weight down bag," she said. "It wonít do for real cold weather, but the idea is to sort of stay out of real cold weather, isnít it?"

"Yeah," Mark told her. "About the only real plan for my first day or two is to fly south to spring as quickly as I can. Speaking of which, letís finish this rib and go warm up in the office."

A few minutes later they were sitting in the office. Jackie had found a scratch pad, and was marking items down in a list. Mark gave her a copy of his list, and she cribbed a few items from it.

Some of the items on her list were a little surprising. "Iíd want to get one of those little ultralight spinning rod and reel outfits," she said. "They only weigh a couple of pounds. Take a few poppers, a couple of small spoons, and a few hooks for bait fishing. Mostly for fun, not with the hope of catching anything to eat. Itíd be too big a pain in the butt to have to get a fishing license in every state we visited."

The break stretched out as she worked on her list; many of the items they talked about to see if they could pare them down or do without. Her experience in backpacking and camping was proving to be a plus, Mark could see; she wasnít planning on taking the kitchen sink with her. Mark only had to make a few suggestions, and those minor.

"Letís see how weíre doing," he said, after a while. Between them, they made guesses at the weights of the items on her list, and she totaled them up. "Comes to forty-two pounds," she said. "I can think of some things I could add, but then weíd probably accumulate stuff along the way." She shrugged. "Itís fun to dream about," she said. "Itís just too bad I couldnít really do it."

"Why not?" he asked. So far, his idea had worked, and he could see she was enthusiastic about the trip.

"Well, it just wouldnít be right," she said, a little sadly. "What would my dad and Sarah think if I ran off with you, since weíre not married? Theyíd think I was some kind of a tramp! Everybody else in town would think so, too. Iíd love to go on the trip with you. Iíve been dreaming about it ever since you told me about it. But, thereís no way I could do it."

It was after dark when they finished up the rib stitching. The end had been in sight, and without discussing it, they pressed on, skipping dinner. Jackie was as happy as Mark to watch him put the last knot in the cord. "Thatís it," he said. "Iíll have Ken look them over tomorrow, then Iíll take them over to the body shop."

Jackie stood up, saddened a little. The long, tedious rib-stitching job had been fun for her, mostly because she had been with Mark. There probably wouldnít be much opportunity again to spend time with him, working on the airplane, or not.

Mark felt it a little, too; he had enjoyed being with Jackie, and it had been interesting to think of her on the trip with him. It looked to him like she wanted to go, but she wouldnít do it. He sort of hoped sheíd still be waiting and available when he got back, next fall, or in a year, or whenever he happened to get back to Spearfish Lake. "I think the grill is still open down at the Spearfish Lake Inn," he said. "What say I buy you a burger and a beer to celebrate?"

"Iím not really dressed for the Spearfish Lake Inn," she said.

"This time of year, no one will mind," he said. "We could go to the Pike Bar, though the jukebox is kind of loud, but nobody there will care how youíre dressed."

"Sounds all right by me," she said. They turned off the lights in the hangar and turned off the heater in the office, with a feeling of finality that was hard to overcome.

They walked into the Pike Bar a few minutes later and got a table as far from the jukebox as they could manage. The waitress came over and took their order, reminding Jackie she would be back at work the next day, not out at the hangar with Mark. It made her feel sad in a way, but she resolved to spend all the time she could manage with Mark while he was still around.

There were some great songs on the jukebox in the Pike Bar. Chantilly Lace was blaring as they sat down, and it was followed by others as someone in the room kept the quarters coming. After a while, somebody plugged in Me and You and a Dog Named Boo. It was a song both Mark and Jackie especially liked, and it had a certain significance, too: "Me and you and a dog named Boo, traveliní and liviní off the land; me and you and a dog named Boo, how I loved beiní a free man."

"Sounds like you," Jackie said. "I really wish I could go with you. I canít get the trip out of my mind."

"We wouldnít have room for a dog," Mark told her.

"The plane will have to do," Jackie said. "It needs a name, anyway. How about, ĎMe and you and a plane named Boo.í"

"Boo is a dogís name," Mark said. "If I were going to give it a name, that sure isnít the name I would choose. My plane is not going to be a dog."

Jackie turned to look at him. "What would you name it?" An intense smile was on her face.

"Iíve thought about it on occasion," he said. "This whole trip is like a dream, anyway. Maybe I shouldnít be doing it, but itís a dream to follow, like Don Quixote. If I were going to give the plane a name, Iíd name it after Don Quixoteís horse, Rocinante."

"Off tilting at windmills on your faithful steed, huh?" Jackie asked. "Whoís going to be your Sancho Panza?"

Mark listened to the song for a minute. It had been too much to hope for, but he might as well make the offer. "You could be if you wanted," he said.

She looked at him, almost with a tear in her eye. "Iíd like to," she said. "Mark, God knows, Iíd like to. But I canít, and you know why."

"I think youíre wrong," he said. "But itís a decision you have to make, not me. Think about it. If you change your mind before I leave, the offer is still good."

"Thanks, Mark," she said. "I donít see how I could ever do it, but I appreciate your asking."

*   *   *

It was hard for Jackie to get dressed for work the next morning. She was up at eight, feeling she ought to be getting ready to go out to the airport to help Mark with the plane, instead of pulling on the ugly white waitress dress and going to work the lunch crowd at Rickís.

It was still far too early to be going to work, so she decided to drive over to the airport, just on the off chance that Mark might be out there already. His car wasnít there, but there was a pickup truck and a long flatbed trailer sitting in front, as was the Cessna 140 that Mark and Ken Sawyer had flown the day before.

Jackie walked into the hangar, where she saw Mark and the mechanic inspecting the wings. "Hi, Jackie," Mark said. "Canít stay away, huh?"

"Just wanted to see them in the daylight," she said, knowing she was lying.

"Well, they look pretty good," Sawyer said. "Thereís no reason I canít sign them off."

"As long as youíre here," Ken said, "I want you to check out a few things on the engine, so I can get started putting the fuselage back together. And, Jackie, as long as youíre here, you can help us load the wings on the trailer."

It only took a few minutes to take the wings out to the trailer through the hangar door. Mark tied them down to the trailer for the trip to the body shop, using plenty of padding. "You going right over to the body shop?" she asked.

"No, thereís a couple of things I need Kenís help on, and as long as heís got the other 140 here, there are a few things I need to look at to figure out how to do. Then, I think weíll fly around the patch a few more times. Itíll probably take all morning, and then Iíll get the wings over to Borkís."

"Well, no point in my sticking around, then." she said, sadly; there wouldnít be much time she could spend with Mark, today. "Iíve got to be getting to work pretty soon, anyway."

Mark knew he would miss her today, too. "Tell you what," he said. "By the time youíre getting ready to close tonight, I should be getting pretty well tired of smelling dope fumes. You can only smell the stuff so long before you start getting light-headed and funny-minded, anyway. Iíll stop over and have a hamburger and a piece of pie, and then maybe we can do something after you get off. It looks like it might clear off today; maybe we can get the telescope out."

It was a long morning for Mark. Sawyer checked the plane over pretty well, completing a lot of the items that would be needed for the annual inspection. After a while they went out and shot some takeoffs and landings in the borrowed 140. With Sawyer on his way back to Lordston, Mark got into the pickup to take the wings to the body shop for painting; the end of the job was in sight.

Mark didnít have much experience with a spray gun, and Carl Bork had agreed to do the spray work for him if he got him set up. With some of the lumber he had brought he built stands for the wings in the paint booth, and he and Carl carried them in from the trailer. It took a while for Mark to mask off several places he didnít want painted to get Carl set up for the first coat, which was a type of fungicide. Carl looked at the instructions and decided heíd better wear a respirator. Mark decided to wait outside the paint booth, and bummed first one, then another cigarette from one of the panel bashers.

The next step wasnít a spray job, but a brush job. He needed to put on at least four coats of thin, clear dope with a brush, working the dope deep into the fabric to help make it airtight, so there was nothing to do but get a big brush and start in.

One side of the first wing went fairly quickly, but that was all; by the time he got to the second side he was bored and wanted someone to talk to. The first side on the second wing was even worse. The afternoon was long and dull, duller still since he couldnít talk with Jackie. He had gotten used to having her around. It was kind of like Mei-Ling; he was comfortable being around her. By the time he got the last side on the second wing done, his head was spinning from the fumes, and the first side of the first wing heíd done was ready for another coat.

Mark went outside into the cold, leaving the ventilator fan running full bore, and smoked a cigarette to clear his head. He felt better when he had finished and went back in for the next chore. With one coat of dope on the wing, the next step was to dope reinforcement strips in place. These thin strips of cloth, pinked on the edges, needed to be placed over all the exposed rib cords and knots from the rib stitching, then doped into place. It was a slow job, and it took him most of the afternoon and on into the evening, with frequent breaks for fresh air.

Late in the afternoon, Carl stuck his head into the paint booth and said, "God, that stuff stinks! I think youíve got everybody in the shop started on a good high. How much more is there?"

"Well," Mark told him. "I kind of figured on going to dinner when I get done with these strips, and when I get back I should be able to get the second coat done. Then, two coats tomorrow, and then weíll be ready to spray."

"Well, Iím leaving," Carl said. "Iíll leave the back door open so you can get in after dinner, but lock it up when you leave. Kick the heat back before you go."

It was after six before he was more or less done with the reinforcing strips. Rickís Café was only a block or so up the street so he decided to walk it to clear his head.

"God, you reek," Jackie greeted him as he walked into the little restaurant. "I mean, you stink to high heaven."

Mark took a table as far away from anyone else as he could manage, more to be kind to others than anything else. "I take it to mean you donít plan to help me out when you get off from work," he said.

"Oh, Iíll help," she smiled. "But it means Iíll have to wash my hair tonight, instead of tomorrow, so I donít want you keeping me out until all hours."

"Wonít have time to do more than one coat tonight," Mark said. "But Iíll be glad of your help, however long it takes. I swear to God, painting is duller than rib stitching."

As he ate, the other customers began to get up and leave; Rickís closed early, and Rick and Jackie began to close up while he watched. "You can follow me home and drive me back," she told him, "I can see I want to wear the oldest clothes I own tonight."

"Might not be a bad idea," he said. "I get through with this doping, Iím not going to wash these; Iím going to burn them."

In a few minutes, Jackie was on her way home. Mark had told her he was going to drop off the pickup and trailer, get his car, and he would be along in a few minutes. Jackie walked in the front door and noticed her dad was home; sheíd sort of lost track of his schedule. "Donít tell me youíre going to be home tonight?" he asked.

"No," she said. "Just changing clothes." She went out into the kitchen and searched through the rag bin. She found a hideous pair of stretch pants sheíd always hated and one of her dadís old shirts, with holes in it and some of the buttons missing. Perfect! Taking the rags, she raced upstairs, pulled off her waitress uniform, and pulled on the rags; Mark would not be long, she knew, and she didnít want to keep him waiting.

She was back downstairs in plenty of time. "Looks like youíre dressed to paint the town," her father said. "Halloween, maybe?"

"Painting wings, actually," she told him. "Mark stinks so bad today I donít think the clothes would wash out, and I donít want to mess up anything good."

"Some date," her dad laughed, hearing Markís unmuffled car pull up. "Well, have a good time."

Again, Mark helped her get into his car, although she thought she had the trick of the door by now. It only took them a few minutes to drive back over to the body shop. "Well," she said, "I found out today that this is going to be my last week at Rickís. Marjorieís ready to come back to work."

Mark shrugged. "At least itís not as if you didnít know it was coming. What are you going to do now?"

"I donít know," Jackie said. "Sit around the house, I guess. The Tastee-Freeze will be opening in a couple months, and I might be able to get a job there, for the summer anyway."

"You could still come along with me," he suggested.

"Donít think I wouldnít like to," she told him. "I mean, I want to do it, but thereís so many things telling me not to. I mean, what are people going to think? What are Dad and Sarah going to think? For that matter, what am I going to think? I mean, I thought about it a lot today. Itís almost like we would be living together."

"Well, we would be, pretty much," he said.

"Thatís not what I mean, and you know it," she said. "Iím talking about going to bed together, and I donít think Iím ready for that."

"Iíll go along with you there," he said. "I donít think weíre ready for it either."

"The heck of it is," she told him, "If I were to go along with you, weíd be living in each otherís pockets, right next to each other, and we might find ourselves doing something we shouldnít."

Mark was silent for a long time as he drove toward the body shop. In his fantasies about picking up some girl along the way and taking her with him, sex was part of the fantasy, but somehow, Jackie didnít quite fit the mold. She was a girl, of course, and he had somewhere along the way imagined he would wind up making love to any girl he picked up, but, somehow, with Jackie it didnít seem like an imperative. He was a little surprised to realize he had not even kissed her yet. It was almost as if she were a sister, a buddy, not a lover. He was shocked to realize that, and recognized she wouldnít believe him if he told her that.

"I canít deny it might happen," he told her finally. "If you go with me, Iím not going to promise you we wonít find ourselves making love. Iíd be lying if I told you any different." He reached over, and pulled her over to him so he could put his smelly arm around her. "All I can promise you is if it happens Ė and it might not Ė the time will have to be right, for both of us. Iím sorry, but thatís the best I can do."

"I can live with that, I think," she told him. "If it happens, it happens, and, hopefully, itíll work out for the best. But even if weíre like brother and sister to each other, what will people think?"

"I told you about that," he told her, pulling into the parking area behind the body shop and shutting off the engine. "The hell with the little people, especially the ones with the little minds."

She nodded. "You also said theyíll say, ĎAw, hell, it just runs in the family.í"

"I told you," he said, getting out of the car to go open her door, "That itís the perfect excuse to do something you want to do, anyway."

She waited for him to open the door for her and then said, "But what about my dad and Sarah?"

"Thatís a little tougher," he said. "Youíre going to have to deal with that one. About all I can suggest is you sort of run it by them, without really committing yourself, and see what kind of a response you get. You might be surprised."

They got off the topic over the next few minutes, as Mark showed her what he was doing, and got her a large paint brush. "The general idea is to lay it on thick, so it soaks into the fabric," he told her. "But not so thick it runs on you."

They took the opposite sides of a wing, and began to slap on the dope in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. With the two of them working, the job went more quickly than it had earlier, and soon they had finished the wing and started on the other one.

After they finished the second wing, Mark walked over to see if the first wing was dry yet. It wasnít, but it was tacky and well on its way; they had made good time. "You know," he said, "If we were to wander over to the Pike Bar, we could have a beer and come back and get another coat on."

"I donít know if weíre dressed right for the Pike Bar," she said, pointing at the messy rags she wore.

"Youíre right," he said. "We may be overdressed, but letís go, anyway."

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