Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
It was cool enough to be wearing a jacket when Jon parked the Monte Carlo outside the Skyhook Aviation hangar at Sky Harbor airport. It wasn't the first time they'd been there; they'd made numerous trips with Jennlynn in her Learjet 24, which she'd nicknamed Skyhook. The name had a double meaning -- it should have had an "er" at the end of it, but it sounded better over the airwaves the way it was.
Jennlynn had been a pilot long before Jon and Tanisha had first heard of her. Before Jon and Tanisha came to Lambdatron, she'd been sort of the unofficial company pilot in her old Mooney Mark 21. As time went on the company had more and more need for having a charter plane on call, so with Stan's advice and assistance Jennlynn had formed Skyhook Aviation and traded her Mooney in on a twin-engine Cessna 310, which shared hangar space with the Learjet and was used when needed.
Right from the beginning it had been clear that Jennlynn couldn't do all the flying herself, so when she bought the 310 she hunted around for a part-time pilot. Phoenix is a popular place for retired military pilots to live, and she had little trouble turning up Mike Hanneman, a retired general whose last job in the Air Force had been commanding an AWACS radar plane. Though a terrific pilot, Mike didn't want to work full time; he much preferred playing golf and taking money off of suckers on side bets. If Mike needed help and Jennlynn wasn't available, he could dip into his friends and golf suckers among retired military pilots, most commonly a retired Army aviator colonel, Joe Brockway. Neither of them had any qualms about being part-time pilots for a company owned by an active part-time prostitute, although it definitely had been an issue with both of their wives, and that had to be dealt with in the beginning.
Mike also had some knowledge of high-energy electronic systems left over from his Air Force days, so occasionally was a consultant for Lambdatron. Between that and the fact that Jon and Tanisha having had flown with him before, he wasn't a stranger to them. He was about Jon's height, lean and sinewy, with short-cropped gray hair, and somewhere around sixty, give or take. In Jon's opinion Mike looked just about how he would have expected a retired general to appear.
Mike was just rolling Skyhook out of the hangar when Jon and Tanisha arrived. In the mercury vapor lights of the ramp, the aging Learjet looked even more shark-like than it usually did. Built clear back in 1967, well before either Jon or Tanisha had been born, Jennlynn had once explained to them that the white plane was sort of "the classic sports car of business jets." She'd come across it unexpectedly at a Drug Enforcement Agency auction, and using inside information she'd been able to purchase it at a price well under its market value. The only problem with it was, since the plane had been a drug-runner, Jennlynn had learned the hard way it wasn't a good idea to take it out of the country. If they did, it was most likely when they came back a drug dog would go off like a firecracker; twice in the past that situation had led to lawsuits to recover the cost of a new upholstery job. That was the main reason Jennlynn had been aboard a commercial airliner from Mexico City to Chicago in the first place.
"I was starting to wonder about the two of you," Mike called cheerfully as he disconnected the powered dolly from Skyhook's nose gear. "I didn't think Stan was going to be too thrilled if I left you behind, but we're cutting this one a little tight for time."
"We could have been here earlier if we'd known," Jon replied.
"I figured it was going to be all right; you kids aren't known for showing up late," Mike grinned as he ran the dolly back into the hangar. "Boy, our girl had quite a day, didn't she?"
"We missed the press conference," Jon admitted, "But we saw the landing. That was something."
"I saw it, too," Mike nodded as he hit the switch to close the hangar door. "As soon as I heard her voice I figured she was going to be able to land it all right. In some ways they get easier as they get bigger. That press conference was something. I thought Jennlynn was just going to gut that little blonde turd. But boy, that missionary guy, Jeff whatever, he took the hide right off that bitch without raising his voice. I had to chew out some people in the Air Force now and then, but his was a classic. I could never have done it that well."
"We keep hearing that," Tanisha said as Mike went over and opened the door right behind the pilot's compartment. "I'm really sorry we missed it."
"Well, I imagine Jennlynn would rather have missed it, too," Mike smiled. "One of you want to ride up front?"
"Well, actually I'd just as soon get some sleep," Tanisha told him. "Tomorrow is going to be a long day on top of only half a night's sleep tonight. Go ahead, Jon, I'll ride in back."
"I'll ride in back too," Jon said. "Unless you need someone to keep you company, Mike."
"Probably won't," Mike said. "But ride up front for a while until you get sleepy if you like, then go back and join Tanisha."
"Thanks, Mike," Jon said, climbing up the steps behind Tanisha. Bent over because of the low ceiling in the Learjet, she headed back to a seat over the wing, while Jon got into the co-pilot's seat.
Mike closed the cabin door, pulled the latches tight and checked them, then slid into the pilot's seat. This wasn't the first time Jon had ridden in the front of the Learjet, not even the first time with Mike as the pilot. He just sat back and watched Mike throw switches and do whatever else needed doing to get ready for the flight, working from a plastic-covered checklist. After a while, Mike turned his head and said, "Tanisha, you all buckled in back there?"
"All set, Mike," she called back. "Take her away whenever you're ready."
"Good enough," he replied. "Jon, you want to pull on that headset so we can talk over the engine noise and not bother Tanisha?"
"Yeah, sure," Jon replied. He knew the Learjet was loud, especially on the ground -- it didn't have the noise suppression engines that came on later models. Watching the jet take off from the ground was like hearing a long, slow roll of thunder. Once he had the headset on with the boom mike in front of his face, he said, "Anything I can do to help, let me know."
"Shouldn't be much," Mike replied professionally -- after all, he'd been flying jets much of his life. "Might as well crank 'er up." He threw a couple more switches, and a low, whining sound started from the back of the plane, the sound of one of the engines spooling up. Within seconds it was more than a low whine -- the sound was loud enough that it would have been hard to talk over. On the panel some gauges came to life, and Mike was satisfied enough with the way things were going that he started to spool up the second engine. In a few seconds, Jon heard Mike call on the radio, "Sky Harbor Ground, Learjet five nine zero sierra hotel at the north general aviation hangars, taxi for takeoff."
"Ah roger, zero sierra hotel," was the response in the headphones. "Taxi left for runway two seven right, hold short of the active."
"Not busy this hour of the night, we ought to be able to get right out of here," Mike commented as he pushed the twin throttles forward and Skyhook started to roll. "That'll buy us some time on the other end."
"Yeah, you said we are cutting it a little close," Jon observed.
"We are, pretty much," Mike told him. "We're not going to the general aviation terminal; there could be press there, especially if they're flying charters in. My old Air Force buddy has worked out for us to meet Jennlynn and some friends back in the hangar area. They're going to find some dark spot to lay low until we show up, and then drive right up to us. We're just going to load them on and split, hopefully before anyone notices."
"You think someone would notice?" Jon frowned.
"They might," Mike shrugged. "I mean, it wouldn't take a whole hell of a lot of research to connect this plane with Jennlynn. The N-number is pretty distinctive, after all. If I'd had a little more time I would have brought the 310. It's a lot slower but it would be a lot more covert, too. I mean, if I was flying this anywhere else, it wouldn't be any big deal if someone did associate this plane with her, but when we show up down there some of those people might be bright enough to put two and two together. I really doubt it, but you never know."
"That really sucks," Jon shook his head. "Here Jennlynn does something pretty heroic, and saved the lives of hundreds of people, maybe thousands if the terrorists had gotten the chance to take that plane to the Daytona 500 like I heard them say on TV. Yet the press is made up of such a bunch of assholes that we have to sneak her out of town before the crack of dawn."
"That's it in a nutshell, Jon," Mike sighed. "It's not pretty, but that's the way it is. Like it or not, this is going to change her life a lot, and in ways she probably doesn't want it changed. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm glad she did it, and I'm even more glad she was there on that airliner to be able to do it. But still, she shouldn't have to pay the price she's going to have to pay for being a hero in this day and age. I for one don't like what that says about what this country has become."
A few minutes later Mike shoved the twin throttles of the Learjet all the way forward. The plane raced down the runway between the colored lights, then launched itself into the black of the Arizona night sky. Jon had only made a couple night flights in the Learjet, and in a way they were even more spectacular than the ones made in the day. The ground fell away from them quickly, and soon there were only scattered lights around the black of the ground beneath them, so they might as well have been millions of miles in space, rather than a mere six miles high. From that altitude it was clear to them just how empty the countryside was beneath them. Jon knew he really should be sleeping, but just looking out the window and talking with Mike was interesting. Mike occasionally had to talk to air traffic controllers, but there was little enough traffic in the air at that hour so they didn't get interrupted much.
Eventually, Jon became aware that Mike was setting up for a landing at Dallas-Fort Worth. "What's this all about?" he asked.
"We don't have enough fuel to make the whole trip without tanking up," Mike told him. "I don't want to have to stop at Biloxi long enough to get fuel, since we want to get right in there and right out again. I know I can get jet fuel at DFW this early, so it's the logical place to top off."
"OK, that makes sense," Jon nodded.
The pit stop at Dallas-Fort Worth wound up costing them close to an hour, what with the time to descend and land, taxi to the general aviation service, fuel up, then get back up to cruising altitude. At least Tanisha didn't wake up for any of it, Jon thought -- one of us, at least, ought to be awake tomorrow. "We're going to be timing it just about as planned," Mike announced. "Maybe a few minutes early, maybe not, we'll have to see."
The countryside below was getting settled now, although it was still the dark of night outside. A little more than half an hour out of Dallas-Fort Worth Mike began the letdown for Gulfport-Biloxi. "Well," he said, "Now I guess we get to find out if anyone down there has their head screwed on at this hour of the morning."
"Well, here's hoping everything goes right," Mike commented twenty minutes later as he taxied Skyhook down a taxiway between two rows of hangars at the southeast corner of Gulfport-Biloxi Regional Airport. "We're on time, I just hope they are. The Horton Air Services hangar is supposed to be down here somewhere."
"Boy, I don't know how you expect to find them," Jon shook his head from the right seat.
"They're supposed to flash their headlights at us," Mike replied, "Like that up ahead and to the left." Immediately he swung the taxiing Learjet toward the headlights, and flashed his landing light back twice. "Hell, this may work after all. Get the door, Jon. I'm not even going to shut the engines down."
"OK, Mike," Jon replied, unsnapping his seat belt and squirming out of his seat to get over to unhook the door latches. It seemed like he spent a long time bent over next to the door before he felt the Learjet stop. Mike told him quietly, "OK, there they are. Go ahead and open up."
Jon pushed at the door and lowered the steps. The Learjet was now open to the night air, which seemed heavier and more humid than Phoenix. It was still dark outside, but in the limited light of the security lights scattered about Jon could see a light-colored minivan sitting off to one side of the plane, headlights out, with the faint hint of three people standing in front of it. As soon as the plane was stopped and the steps were down, the three came walking quickly toward Skyhook, each of them obviously carrying luggage. They heard Jennlynn's voice call out, "Claudia, Cindy, thanks for everything." That was a relief; apparently things had gone all right on the ground.
Jon reached out to take Jennlynn's suitcase as she came up the steps. "God, am I glad to see this plane," she said as she got on board. "Jon, Tanisha, just load the suitcases into the back seats. Mike, just so you know, we're taking three with us. I already told Jeff to ride up front with you."
"Fine with me, I want to shake his hand," Mike replied. "Any problems?"
"Not that we saw," Jennlynn told him. "But I don't want to hang around here to find out, either."
The second guy getting on board was heavy set and getting a little bald; Jon stepped back a bit, and the new guy handed Jon a small suitcase and a carry-on, then headed right for the co-pilot's seat. A third guy was behind him, just carrying a small duffel bag; in the low light of the cabin Jon could only see that he was tall and slender, with dark hair. "OK, that's everybody," Jennlynn said. "Jon, can you get the door?"
"Yeah, no problem," Jon replied, hearing Mike already calling ground control for permission to taxi for takeoff. Skyhook was already rolling as Jon pulled the door tight, threw the latches, and told Mike, "All right, the door is closed and latched."
"Secure the luggage in the back seats the best you can," Mike said. "Then find a seat, everybody."
There was confusion for the next few minutes in the cramped cabin of the Learjet. Somehow Tanisha had wound up in the back, having the luggage passed to her so she could stack it in the seats and on the floor. She barely got it finished when they heard Mike's voice over the cabin loudspeaker. "If everybody's ready, we're out of here."
"Ten seconds, Mike," she yelled, then hustled forward to get past Jennlynn and the tall, dark-haired man to the seat she'd been sitting in before, just across the narrow aisle from Jon. She grabbed her seat belt, quickly latched it, and yelled, "OK, Mike, take it away!"
Mike didn't answer, at least with words -- the sound of Skyhook's engines spooling up behind them told her he already was pushing the throttle forward. As always, the Learjet was very noisy heading down the runway, but then it pitched up and reached for the dark of the night sky, and the sound died out considerably. Though Jon's view was mostly blocked by the wing, he could see the ground was falling away rapidly.
Mike's voice came over the loudspeaker again. "If I was still wearing blue, I'd call that a successful hot-zone extraction," he said. "Jennlynn, I'm going to keep it VFR under 18,000 for a while before I file a flight plan with someone else. That might keep someone in the press from figuring out where we're going."
"Thank God," Jennlynn said from directly behind him, not loud enough for Mike to hear her up in the cockpit, but Jon and Tanisha could hear her just fine. "I'm sure Biloxi is a nice town and I'll probably be back there some time, but right now I haven't wanted to be out of a place quite as bad since I left home."
"We heard about that," Tanisha replied. "Jennlynn, in spite of all the press stuff, we think you did fine, and Stan does, too."
"I know, I talked to Stan," Jennlynn told her. "It must have been after you guys left Phoenix. Sorry you two had to be pulled into this."
Jon loosened his seat belt and twisted around so he could at least look at Jennlynn out of the corner of his eye. "If that's what it takes, that's what it takes," he told her. "The worst we could face is nothing like what you did."
"Oh hell, landing the plane was easy," Jennlynn shook her head. "The shit on the ground, though -- well, I don't know what I would have done if it had been anyplace but Biloxi where Will could help out." She looked over at him with a grateful smile, then took his hand across the aisle. "Will," she said directly to him, "I don't know what I would do without you."
"Miz Swift," he smiled. "I done told you already, I just done what I could. We'd have been a hell of a lot worse off if I hadn't run across Claudia here a while back. I just greased the skids a little, that's all. When you get right down to it, Jeff done way more than I did."
"Yeah, but you knew what strings to pull," Jennlynn smiled at him. "That's part of why I love you, Will."
"I love you too, Miz Swift," he replied. "I just wish the hell things didn't happen to you like this."
That exchange probably wouldn't have shocked Jon and Tanisha quite as much if they hadn't known Jennlynn as well as they did. Ever since they'd first met Jennlynn, they'd known her as a loner who didn't let other people into her life easily, or at all in most cases. While she was a prostitute, and had experience with probably hundreds of men, they'd always understood her part-time work at the Redlite Ranch was a hobby, a way of keeping a furious sex drive under control without letting it descend to a personal level. Never once had there been a hint of her having even the beginnings of a boyfriend or anything like one. But, even knowing Jennlynn, the way she and this guy looked at each other in the half-light of the Learjet's cabin was well beyond the two being mere acquaintances. Jon and Tanisha looked at each other with the same question in their eyes: what the hell was going on here?
Jon took a longer look at Will in the low lights in the Learjet's cabin. He was wearing jeans, a western shirt, and tooled cowboy boots. He had slightly dark skin and rugged good looks, and the clothing made it look almost as if he'd stepped out of a western-theme commercial. In fact, Jon thought he looked as if there ought to be a pack of Marlboros in his pocket, although there wasn't. Still, there was an indefinable but definite air of cowboy to him -- and not just drugstore cowboy, but the real thing.
"You two already knew each other, I take it?" Jon asked, thinking perhaps this Will had been a customer at the Redlite who Jennlynn had pressed into service somehow, and was paying him back with a touch of intimacy.
"Oh yeah," Jennlynn smiled. "Ten years now, Will?"
"More'n that," he said softly. "It was eleven years ago last fall you saved my life with that little Cessna 150 you used to have."
Again, Jon and Tanisha exchanged questioning glances. They knew Jennlynn had owned a Cessna 150 long before they'd come to Lambdatron, but that was about all. Never once had there been a hint of her saving someone's life with it -- but one thing they knew about Jennlynn was there were a good many stories in her life that she didn't tell anyone.
Jennlynn saw the confusion on her friend's faces. "I guess you guys never met Will," she frowned. "I know Mike did, back when Will and I did that Grand Canyon trip about the time I met the two of you."
"Never have," Tanisha said. "Hi, Will. I'm Tanisha Chladek, and this is my husband, Jon."
"Yeah, I've heard Miz Swift having good things to say about both of you," he told them. "I'm right pleased to make your acquaintance."
"I have to admit," Tanisha said, "I've never heard a word about you from Jennlynn."
"Of course you have," Jennlynn shook her head. "I'm sure I've mentioned him to you. Will is Shirley's grandson; I know we've talked about him."
"Damned if I recall," Jon shook his head. He knew who Shirley Hoffman was, because he and Tanisha had met her on that memorable day when Tanisha had played the role of a hooker at the very real Nevada brothel. That was the day Jon had picked Tanisha out of the lineup for one of the most memorable and intense hours of sex of their lives. Shirley was a sweet, slender, grandmotherly woman who looked her age, partly because she'd spent much of her life on a Nevada ranch, but partly because she'd spent over fifty years off and on as a prostitute or a madam. She was the house manager at the Redlite Ranch, and Jennlynn had been close friends with her since not long after the day she turned out in the trade.
Jon and Tanisha knew that occasionally Jennlynn spent holidays with Shirley and the Hoffman family at their ranch out in some godforsaken nowhere place in the middle of Nevada, and until Jon and Tanisha had come along, the Hoffmans were about the only hint of a family Jennlynn had. "To tell you the truth," Tanisha said, "The only thing I can remember about him is you saying once that all of Shirley's kids and grandkids had been prostitutes or married them, except for one who hadn't gotten married yet."
"Yet," Jennlynn grinned. "He's the one."