A Grand Hurrah by Tex Searle

A Grand Hurrah by Tex Searle

A Grand Hurrah



If you choose, famed aviation artist Richard Broome of Broom productions, at no cost has offered to design the cover portraying the old legionary Frontier Airlines DC-3, arriving over the front range of the Colorado Rockies.  He would be given credit in book.  Richard is a friend of mine and a noted artist of various aircraft types with their backgrounds of beautiful cloud formations and mountains.  Mr. Broom’s paintings are highly sought after and have sold through out the country.      

Richard Broome

2809 Old Broadmoor Road              PH        719 576 1995

Colorado Springs CO. 80906           PH        719 576 1990



This book is dedicated to the memory of it’s author, 

Captain Texal Elijah Searle, pilot extraordinare.  

The Silver-Gray-Partners

Tex Searle

(1927 — 2021)

Had Tex lived, he would have dedicated “A Grand Hurrah” to 

Captain Jack Bering Schade, pilot extraordinare, mentor, friend…



Captain Billy Walker, FAL Ret.

Captain Tex Searle left his mark on aviation and with humanity.  Tex is a true legendary figure in aviation having spent over three decades as a pilot with the original Frontier Airlines.  Multifaceted,  Tex added “author” to his biography.  Tex’s first book, The Golden Years of Flying,  quickly sold out.  Then ASA began publishing it starting in 2007.  It is still selling well!

Captain Tex Searle thought of nothing but flying from his early youth. As a young boy lying on large stacks of hay (on his father’s farm in Delta, Utah), he could observe the old tri-motor Ford’s and Fokker’s, along with DH-4’s and Boeing 95 biplanes flying CAM4 (Civil Air Mail) flights between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. At age 17 Tex was serving on an aircraft carrier in the WWII Pacific, after the war he began flying for Frontier Airlines based in Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado. Upon retirement from Frontier as Captain in 1985, Tex served as Director of Training and later Chief Pilot for charter and mail contractors. His first love was in flying the old DC-3s on cargo runs throughout Alaska. Besides being rated on various large aircraft, Captain Searle has flown the Learjet on charter and mail runs, has flown for the U.S. Forest Service, and owned various aircraft including the “Hog,” a 600-horsepower Stearman used in mountain seeding and crop spraying.

Tex was a mentor to many.  I was fortunate to have been one.  

Tex himself had a mentor, Captain Jack Schade, his favorite captain and mine as well.  Tex would be a close second.  Interestingly, both would live to 93.  Both were great aviators.  Both, equally great people.  As you read on, Captain Jack Schade will show up first, with his forward, and, later, as a character in the book.

Before his health began to deteriorate, Tex asked me if I would help him finish his second book, “A Grand Hurrah.”  “Yup! Sure!” I said.  Tex sent me his final version.  It is all his work.  I helped some in the editorial end.  I am so very proud to help get this great read before your eyes.  Someday, perhaps, he’ll have a chance to let me know if I was helpful or a hinderance…  

I visualize ol’ Tex sliding to a stop before those Gates of Gold exclaiming, “Geez! What a ride!”  I visualize also, quite the welcoming committee on hand to greet him, all certain he will liven up Heaven.   

The Silver-Grays

Three silver-gray haired friends, who in their senior years longed for the excitement and sentimental pride that aviation had once bequeathed them.  In their lust to recapture those wonderful years they commandeered a DC-3 from drug traffickers and named her Bessie.  A four-way partnership was formed with Bessie a fourth partner.  From there in a sequence of flights they became involved in two dead-stick landings.  In Canada they struggled to remain flying in heavy icing.  The Canadians honored them as men of distinguished valor for the rescue of a boat wrecked family adrift in Queen Charlotte Sound.  Rod, the acknowledged leader in taking on the drug traffickers single-handed was propelled from one fulfillment to another.  Then in the high mountains of western Utah the partners found romance that brought love and contentment in their senior years.  This is a book of fiction with rousing life like qualities throughout its chapters.  When you picture the books characters you will see Tex, Jack Schade, and Bill McChrystal.  No question in my mind as to who the book’s characters are based upon.

About the Author

Having served in the Navy during W.W. II, the author has been associated with aviation for over sixty years.  During his early career with Frontier Airlines, he met and flew copilot for Captain Jack Schade, a veteran pilot who had piloted B-29s on missions over Japan.  From this, a lasting friendship developed that continued throughout the years.  When retiring from the era of the jet age, they returned to their first love “The Grand Ol’ Lady.”  Together they flew this Courtly Lady throughout the west, Canada, and Alaska, reminiscing of their rousing events of past memoirs.  The grand era of flying the Grand Ol’ Lady gave stimulus to Captain Searle who authored the popular novel “The Golden Years of Flying.”  And now a second novel, “A Grand Hurrah.”  Several of the subject matters featured in this novel are taken from stories of those old pilots when romance was a remembered part of aviation.


In the long storied history of aviation, the Douglas DC-3/C-47 is viewed as a true pioneer.  The plane was not only sturdy and dependable, but is still admired because it had an uncanny ability to perform almost any assigned task.

This plane did everything from precarious landings on snow and water, to towing gliders, and most especially carrying airborne troops into combat and hauling the wounded out.  It also served in war, armed with a rapid-firing gun affectionately known as “Puff the Magic Dragon!”

So how did this pirated aircraft, the main character in this story, come to be named Bessie?

Rod, the acknowledged leader of the crew, along with Rass and George, became very attached to the airplane as they spent more time with it. Rod was a descendant of a pioneer woman, who, in the 1840s, walked from Missouri across the Great Plains to what is now Utah.

She endured the heart rending challenges of extreme heat, frigid cold, blinding dust storms and occasionally even hostile Indians.  These trials beset her on nearly every step of her trek.  But she never wavered in her commitment to complete the journey.

As a young man, Rod marveled at her single-minded determination and endurance.  Her strength of purpose was etched indelibly in his memory.  From having flown DC-3s in his early career, it occurred to him that the way it responded to every challenge he demanded, it seemed to have a spirit like his ancestor Bessie.  So by naming the airplane “Bessie,” he ultimately paid tribute to two “Grand Ol’ Ladies.”

                                                    Captain Jack Schade, FAL Ret. 

1921 — 2014                                                                                                                                                                                                      


1     Forced Retirement………………………….

2     The Scheme…………………………………..

3     Hijack…………………………………………..

4     The Dreaded Dead-Stick Landing……

5     Rescue………………………………………….

6    Big Emma…………………………………….

7     The Lost Creek Ranch……………………

8      Confrontation …………………………….

9      Good Times at Big Emma……………..

10    Feds round Bessie……………………….

11    Feds Capitulate ………………………….. 

12    New Hoist Ritual………………………….

13    Alaska Charter……………………………. 

14    Klawock Arrival………………………….

15    Ambulance Flight…………………………

16    Home with the Family………………….

17    Maggie’s Return …………………………

18    Bird-Dogging the Traffickers………..

19    Plan Formulation ………………………… 

20    Plan Implementation …………………… 

21    Lucille ………………………………………

22    Golden Trail Mystery………………….. 

23    Last Rites at Knoll Hill……………….. 

24    Another Go for Alaska ………………..

25    Mayday ……………………………………. 

26    Triumphant Return ……………………. 

27    Queen of the Deep Creek MT………. 

28    Nuptials Fiesta …………………………..


Forced Retirement

Rod drove across town keeping one eye on the road and the other on the sky, concerned of low clouds in the west threatening to move into the Salt Lake valley that possibly could disrupt this weekly excursion of Rod Colson and his friend John Rasmussen.  Looking forward to arriving at the observation lookout at the Salt Lake airport, they enjoyed watching the flow of aircraft being vectored into their arrival sequence—then to observe their orderly spaced landing lights being vectored into the final approach.  Something they had enjoyed doing together, and to help pass the time away in their retirement years.   

A friendship that had developed some years earlier when they met in the observation sector of the Salt Lake Airport, and then to discover they both frequented the same small cafe outside of Highland Utah.  With little known of Rass’s past life, he one day did tell of having been called up for the draft in WWII, but had failed the physical.  Little more of his life was disclosed in those years from 1941 other than he was a retired custodian.  With a disposition that was entirely different from that of Rod, who as an airline captain had retired in 1980, they had little in common, other than their shared interest in flying, and the respectful companionship they held for each other. 

Rass had taken up residency in his trailer home at Highland, Utah many years earlier.  Never married and for the most part kept to him self, revealing little information as to his personal life or his past history.  Considerably shy, Rass spoke very little until becoming better acquainted, then to everyone’s dismay he sometimes became a chatterbox.  A mystery to his friends was his occasional dissertations of earthly wonders that a onetime custodian would not normally be aware of; leaving his listeners striving to comprehend what he had said.  At times Rass himself seemed puzzled as to his own sudden dialogue of historical events.   

Rod learned that Rass had allowed himself the extravagance of taking flying instruction back in the 50s, but after soloing and only flying several more months, he soon grounded himself from the flying of small planes because of prohibitive cost.  

The last two years had brought many changes in Rods life.  Having never had children and now a widower caused by an unexpected tragedy, Rod looked for ways to keep himself occupied.  Having retired ten years earlier as an airline captain Rod had enjoyed visiting several small airports in the area to banter with the local pilots and mechanics.  At times his friend Rass would accompany him, and it was during that period of time that Rass was introduced to George Hogans.  As a mechanic George had retired from the same airline Rod had worked for, and for something to do he sometimes filled in as a mechanic working on small aircraft at Sky Park airport in West Bountiful.

When the Ford coupe arrived at the trailer, Rass was there waiting.  Quickly climbing inside for their weekly drive to the Salt Lake International, and then to park in the observation area to observe the commencement of hub time.  In knowing Rod having had a long and varied career as an air transport pilot for the airlines, Rass often quizzed Rod of his varied flying experiences, and over the years he had learned a great deal about his friend.  Rod had explained his first employment consisted of flying as an eighteen year old youth with a bush operation in Alaska where he had learned the skills of scud-running, picking his way through low ceilings with restricted visibility in rain and fog.  From this he acquired a whole new dimension in flying, and the experience gained was invaluable.  

Then WW II broke out and during his hitch in the Army Air Corp, he had easily coasted through the basic and advanced flying requirements.  After having checked out in the B-24 Liberator he was soon designated a Command Pilot for the same aircraft, sometimes called the Big Lib by her crews with her four powerful Pratt & Whitney engines.  A hard working gal she was and Rod had titled her Scud Runner from reminiscence of his early day flying experiences. 

Rod explained to Rass how he and his crew had flown her across the water to join the war.  When she was hurting, they pampered her back to the base, and many times she returned the favor.  Together they had flown their allotted 25 missions plus three extra.  

When making the final arrangements for his reassignment stateside, Rod explained that sealed information was handed him containing orders to immediately report to wing headquarters where another highly secret communiqué was handed over to him.  The Army Air Corp was in need of veteran B-24 pilots to fly a single mission with the code name Tidal Wave.  A planned low level raid on the huge Romanian oil refineries located at Ploesti—lying deep in Romania.  A mission to be flown by the big Liberators to destroy a fortress more heavily defended than Berlin itself.  Rod begged off his orders for reassignment stateside too volunteer for a mission that unofficial estimates pegged at a 50% casualty rate or more. 

 The mission was flown August 1, 1943.  Of this force of one hundred-seventy eight Liberators, only eighty-eight returned to Benghazi.  Of those that made it back, fifty-five had suffered battle damage and 310 airmen had lost their lives.  Having survived this final mission, Rod returned stateside.  There he received news German Eighty-Eights had found the range on his beloved Scud Runner—ripping her apart over Bremen, and in the aftermath only two parachutes were sighted.  

Rod finished out the war instructing in the newly operational B-29s with their four Wright 2200 hp engines.  He had often reminisced of those memorable years and thoughtfully he disclosed to Rass, “When I look back at that time period in my life, those events seem unreal, like maybe something I once read about in a newspaper.  But of the friends made in those war years, those memories will be with me forever.”

When the war was brought to a close in 1945, Rod received his discharge and immediately hired on with a major air carrier.  During his airline career Rod was type-rated in various aircraft from the famed DC-3s up too and including the B-747.  An airline career lasting thirty-five years until the mandatory age sixty retirement ended his employment in 1980.  

When arriving at the observation area, the weather had now dissipated somewhat and would not be a factor.  The timing looked good with the evening sky portraying its own vast stage of myriad aircraft arriving on the scene for their scheduled rendezvous, as Rod had often commented, “A time of high-flying aircraft coming home to roost.” 

 While observing this staging being vectored into the traffic pattern, Rod once more felt that sinking feeling when reminded of those barriers that stood in the way of him and the only thing he had ever wanted to do—fly airplanes.  Having logged 39,000 hours flying the old wood and fabric creations from another era, then progressing into the jet age to fly the most recent Boeings, Rod still retained that deep affection for airplanes even after ten years having been retired.

Still scowling, Rod never minced for words when expressing his dissatisfaction with the Federal Aviation Agency, “Damn the feds, it was they who instigated this regulation grounding healthy pilots.  A statute making it mandatory that all airline pilots upon reaching age sixty be compelled to hand over their key to the cockpit.  Lifetime careers were terminated with a few scribbled words on a piece of paper.”       

Rass smiled when recalling the many summertime evenings his friend had dropped by to relax under the big cottonwood trees scattered throughout the trailer park, and to sip lemonade in the cool air before proceeding to the airport.  Rass listened intently as his friend unveiled his craving desire to ride out his twilight years escorting the Grand Ol’ Lady through the skies of remembrance, to recapture his grand hurrah.  Not unlike the old cowboy, whose recollection of a good saddle horse still lingered through the trails of remembrance.  In his early airline career Rod had flown this courtly lady, and it had been his burning desire to someday again take command and renew an old lasting friendship.  

From memory, Rod explained how the Douglas Aircraft Company had commenced the production of DC-3s in the mid thirties, and to those enthralled by her captivating ways and wanting to dignify her namesake—affectionately, they proclaimed her “The Grand Ol’ Lady.”          

While marking time, Rod’s endearment intensified, eager for that day to arrive when again he would cruise the vaulted heavens, to be free from earthly cares and soar among the billowing clouds, and again having a watchful eye to their ever changing creature like-images.  Then to ponder the constellations high in the night sky, and especially to relish this seclusion, his home in the sky.        

His resolve now becoming more prevalent, Rod promised himself he’d yet conquer this barrier that kept him from his grand hurrah.  To probe for that opening, hoping to somehow, someway, capture that one last hurrah, and when that day arrived, he’d take command and the yoke would be caressed with compassion, the throttles with affection and there would be hushed whispers of promises to be, when escorting the Grand Ol’ Lady through the skies of remembrance.

For ten long years the steel fence barring access to the cockpit brought loathing for this agency, determined to pursue their headstrong course that enforced such exacting compliance.  Becoming more overwrought, Rod fervently expressed.  “A courageous pilot having attempted to stand up to them would endure an unpleasant experience for having dared such a thing.  They shed no tears for the unfortunate.  But we can still dream, was it Bill Lear who suggested, ‘Everyone should dream a little, how can-a-dream come true unless we dream a little?’ ” 

Paying close attention, Rass observed Rod’s demeanor changing to a more gentler kind of disposition while disposed into those aspirations yet to be achieved, “I have to recognize that scheduled flying for me is a thing of the past, a memory, something I will always treasure.  I have to understand the only likelihood of me ever flying again will be with a nonscheduled operation, possibly one that flies charters or packs the mail.  I mopped too many hanger floors, pumped gas, washed and waxed airplanes in trade for flying lessons to let that barrier stop me now.  What I’m looking for is a break in the clouds, a fresh tailwind, anything that’ll clear the way for a grand hurrah.”

As the two men sat in the Model-A Ford loaned by Rod’s brother, Rass looked at his friend thoughtfully, he hoped Rod could get that break, he certainly deserved it.

Although Rod had revealed little of his domestic problems, Rass had known for sometime of Rod’s wife and her psychological everyday need for drugs.  She had managed too zero out their retirement savings besides a substantial balance Rod had carried in his IRA fund.  Then an added tragedy struck, while under the influence she was fatally injured in a massive collision.  The subsequent litigation had taken Rod’s remaining assets, leaving him nearly penniless.”    

When the conversation began lagging , the thought again crossed the mind of Rass    that information he had harbored for some time might now be an ideal time to pass that information onto Rod, then after hesitating he slowly laid it out, “You want to know something unusual Rod?  A fellow I know who grazes sheep out on Utah’s west desert has told me that on each Monday of every week, an aircraft lands at dusk on those dried-up alkali flats near the old Pony Express Trail.  In addition, an old fuel truck appears out of the night to fuel the airplane, and when the cargo has been transferred into the truck’s empty fuel tanks, the rig then vanishes into the night.  The pilots wait until early dawn before they too depart.  That’s been going on for several months now, what do you make of that?”  Rass asked.  

Rod thought about what Rass had enlightened him on, then growled, “You know it’s some damn drug-runners.”  Then after pausing a moment more he asked, “Did the fellow recognize the kind of aircraft being used?”  

Rass shrugged his shoulders, “He said it was a large twin-engine type, like those that dropped troops in the Normandy landings.”                 

“More than likely the Douglas C-47,” Rod mused in a reflective state.       

“Are the C-47 and the DC-3 the same?”  Rass asked.

Rod explained that before World War II, the Douglas Aircraft Company had assembled almost 400 DC-3s for the civilian markets.  When the military appropriated their production lines, the DC-3s were retitled C-47s for the Army Air Corps. There were several other designations used such as C-41, C-48, C-49, C-50, C-51, C-52, C-68, C-84.  There were others as well.  The Us Navy R4D’s, the British Dakota and ones made under license in Japan and Russia.   Holy smokes there have been more than 16,000 of ‘em built!”

Rod had to smile when seeing his friend’s enthusiasm, and from what Rass was asking, “I know your thinking about it Rod, and for what you’re now plannin’ I want in.  I’m old, got nothin’ to lose, so whatever you’re thinking I want in.” 

On the late night drive home, neither man spoke.  Rass seemed satisfied when seeing the old spark return to the eyes of his friend.  As Rod eased the Ford to a stop at the trailer, Rass confessed, “When I was workin’, I always talked about not workin’, and now I’m not workin’, I talk about workin’.  But I know you’re planning something Rod, and I’d give what’s left of my tomorrows just to pull gear for you.”

With an ember of optimism, Rod replied, “Yes, I am thinking of what your friend told you.  In the morning I’ll swing by, and during the interval if inspiration comes knocking on my door, I’ll spell it out to you over ham and eggs at Lucille’s Diner.”   


                                                  The Scheme

The following morning after picking Rass up, Rod could hear him pressing, “About those inspirations, has anything come of it?”

Smiling, Rod looked over at Rass with a twinkle in his eye, but said nothing until they were seated in the diner.  When sipping his coffee, he spoke in a hushed tone, “I’ve thought about that fellow who started all this and as I mentioned before I’m confidant as to what he has stumbled onto is drug runners.  I may be barking up the wrong tree, but it’s worth a shot in the dark, so I stayed up half the night attempting to work out a scheme, but without more input I could only lay out the basics.  We’ll have to roll with the punches until we have more information.  Right now Rass, what I have in mind is out of dire necessity.  As they say, necessity takes over when poverty arrives and even now he’s waiting on my doorstep.  I want you to know Rass it will be dangerous, might even be a complete failure.  There’ll be no tears for us if we spiral in.  So what I’m supposing—those drugs are being smuggled ashore from a seagoing vessel.  The traffickers like to avoid the border areas whenever possible, and this may sound crazy but I’m going after that airplane!  You still want in?”

Rass, showing a glow of excitement quickly replied, “Yes sir, partner!” 

The anger felt by Rod toward the drug runners, chastising them for the tragedy in his life was a remembrance not forgotten.  At six feet three inches and having black hair with a fleck of silver-gray at the temples, Rod’s distinguished appearance belied his nature of someone who had suffered grave adversity.  The slight western drawl backed by a perceptive mind, gave him that keen awareness of perils to be encountered when traveling an uncharted course.  There was no uncertainty in the course now being plotted.

Rod began laying out the plan.  With a mischievous expression he explained, “Well partner, we’re going to need one other volunteer to throw in with us.  Someone whose scruples aren’t to lofty and who can be trusted.  I have that person in mind and I’ll give you a clue, he’s a retired aircraft mechanic who likes action, but there is also a downer, he’s a quick-draw to wrangle.  I’m sure he realizes now that retirement isn’t all blue skies and calm winds, he’ll be ready to listen.”  

His reluctance now showing, Rass slowly replied.  “I know you’re talking about George Hogan’s, the mechanic you introduced me to”

“Just as sure as your name is John Rasmussen; you have someone better in mind?”

After pausing a moment, Rass shook his head in agreement while answering, “I suppose not, but sometimes he has a jeopardous effect on anybody who is unfortunate  enough to be around him.”

Thoughtful of Rass’s reluctance, Rod explained how George and his pickup were essential in hauling their gear, and cautioned it would be a no, no, for them to drive on the hardpan.  For the drug folks to discover fresh tracks out there in the alkali would be the same as posting their presence in Braille.     

Rod continued laying out the plan, “If the runners continue making their distribution run each Monday, we’ll need to arrive the previous day to determine the layout and launch our plan of action.  As for the supplies, we’ll need two hand-held lanterns with red lenses and a couple of flares.  I’ll ask George to locate them for us.  As for the dozen sticks of dynamite we’ll need along with primers and fuses, we can pick those items up at the Eight Ball Mine—I’m acquainted with the owner and it’s right on our way.  

“Now for our personal needs—for you Rass, if you’ll pick up three sleeping bags, a shovel, water, and enough grub for three days that should just about do it.  When was the last time you crawled into a sleeping bag Rass?”                          

“Not long enough!  You mean we’re gonna lie down in the middle of those desert critters?”

“Nothing to worry,” Rod grinned.  “They won’t snitch on us.”

After serving a customer Lucille was smiling when sitting down by Rod’s side.  She asked if he enjoyed his ham and eggs.  Rass, aware of her feelings for Rod wasn’t sure of Rod’s feelings towards her.  With his financial problems and memories of an unhappy marriage, Rass was certain Rod would be gun-shy around women, knowing that Rod had been badly burned before his wife’s death two years ago, and even afterwards he had continued to pay the price for his wife’s inappropriate lifestyle.

Lucille was laughing, and then being facetious, she promised, “The next time you drop by the house I’ll prepare steak instead of a BLT.”

Rass in realizing it was a good friendship quickly suggested, “If you’ll be fixin’ steak, I’d be obliged if you’d invite me along as well.”  As if they didn’t hear, Rod and Lucille ignored his suggestion.  

Lucille left to serve a customer.  Before an inquisitive Rass could begin an interrogation of Rod’s and Lucille’s mutual regard, Rod continued to explain their west desert plans.  “We’ll prime the powder with a two-minute fuse, then plant them in the ground five hundred feet from where they park the DC-3.  When the charges begin erupting, that will be our signal to send up a flare, and when it reaches full intensity we’ll move in with red lanterns.”

“I get it,” Rass broke in, “they’ll think we’re drug agents, and lam out of there.  Agreeing with Rass, Rod said, “I certainly hope so.”

“So what happens if they don’t turn tail?”

“There’ll be no tears for us.  If everything goes as I anticipate, we’ll have escorted Bessie out of the area before they realize we’ve commandeered their airplane.”

“Rass looked at him impassively.  “You did say Bessie?”

“Our new partner,” Rod smiled.  

Rass absorbed this, then smiling asked, “Why not call her Lucille?”

“Why not you keep your mouth shut!”  Rod snapped.  Then looking out the window until regaining his composure, he continued on as if Lucille’s name had never come up.  “After lift-off, we’ll set a course for a little airport in eastern Nevada I’m familiar with.  I wouldn’t anticipate the drug folks going out of their way much at all searching for that airplane.  Their distribution routine will have been exposed, and that airplane would connect them to their organized activities.  In time I would hope it’s freewheeling with Bessie.  But unfortunately, plans don’t always turn out the way they’re intended.”

Rass cocked his head to one side, “If we go flying that airplane around the country, maybe the law folks will think it’s us who are the drug runners.”

“Maybe so,” Rod agreed.  “But if it means anything, it will not be us hauling a shipment of drugs around the country.” 

Paying the tab and telling Lucille goodbye, the two partners walked out to the Ford.  Rod explained, “We have two days to lay it on the line, you pick up the supplies and I’ll try explaining to George what our plans are.”

Rass, feeling excited about what they were planning and trying to kick-start Rod’s mood up a notch, teased, “I’ll just hang on to the receipts.  After all, this will all be deductible on our income tax.”

Even more flustered, Rod stared at him…  “Now hear this Rass!  We’re not going to be turning any receipts into the government for any damn deductions.  Besides, living off social security I don’t worry about that crap, and with you drawing social security likewise, you shouldn’t either.  When you pick up the supplies, just tell them we plan doing a little prospecting out on the Deep Creek Range, and nothing else.”

Rass saw his opening and decided to take it.  “I’ll do that on the condition you lengthen those fuses to a five-minute burn instead of the two minutes you’re talkin’ about.”

Showing frustrating, Rod answered, “Fine—but I’m telling you now Rass, it’s going to be a long five minute wait for those charges to blow.”   

“Not for me it won’t, when I hear fuses hissing, I’ll be in second place and you’ll be in third.” 

“And who’s the one in first place?”  Rod asked with an inquisitive look.  

With an impish assertion, Rass replied, “That would be my shadow looking like a tuned up Mormon Meteor challenging the salt flats one more time.”       

En route to George’s residence, Rod thought about this five-foot-seven ball of fire he had known for more years than he cared to recall.  George who claimed to be a confirmed bachelor possessed the personality of a fireball, full of spit and vinegar and ready to discuss the world at large.  Rod would hold his own in the bantering of lofty tales with George, but his friend Rass on the other hand backed off to the wayside, not understanding this unrefined character of George, and wasn’t sure of his feelings towards George,  especially when he often referred to him and Rod as Captain Marvel and Private Smuck.   

Even though he was short-fused and would react to almost anything and everything, George was up to snuff when doctoring airplanes.  When Rod eased the Model-A into the lane, his short-cropped silver-hair was seen moving about the opposite side of his truck.  When pressing the horn button, the old Klaxon responded, ah-ooga, ah-ooga.  Recognizing this familiar sound, George raised up with a pleased expression to see Rod stepping from the Model-A and motioning at the same time, 

 “We need to parley.”  Rod called.     

“Well if it isn’t Mr. Rod Colson himself, and standing straight up.  What’s on your mind my friend?”            

“Rass and I have a proposition to lay on you.”

“Is that right, well if it has anything to do with things that fly, I’m out the back door.  I’m a mechanic—not a secretary.  I’ve had a gut full filling out forms to please the Feds.  As the old maxim goes, you’re legal to take-off when the paper work equals the weight of the aircraft, and as far as I’m concerned they can stuff it. 

“Becoming more incensed, George berated the U.S. Government.  “The Feds are all alike, they irritate me, they never get their hands dirty, and they all wear suits.  Wake up man!  Even now they’ve got us out numbered.  Now then, about your proposal?”                       

“My proposal is I kick in for a couple of burgers while you simmer down.”

“You came out here for that?  Didn’t I hear something about a proposition?”

“You did, but I don’t think now is the time to lay it out.”

“Has something to do with airplanes, doesn’t it?”

“In a way.”

“Come on, spit it out.”

“We have a lead on a DC-3 that is being used in an unlawful operation.  Rass and I are going to…uh… appropriate it.”   

George stared at Rod in stunned admiration.  “Is that right?”  He managed to say. 

Rod nodded but said nothing, waiting to hear what his friend had to say.

Then with an amused grin George said, “And you need another gray-haired partner.  I remember a time when Rass asked that I share in a contract he’d bid on, painting a bunch of yellow strips on a new football field parking lot.  He said he’d figured in plenty for labor, so he speculated we’d make a bundle.  I agreed.  Then, well, I should have known, when we were almost finished I discovered the cost of the paint hadn’t been figured in. 

Rod laughed, “Maybe that’s the reason Rass’s only income these days is social security.

George continued, “Now my friend, as to what I’m driving at, I’d like to hear up front just how you’re planning to purloin that Gooney Bird, if you understand what I’m driving at.”      

Masking a grin, Rod confirmed.  “We need you and your truck to transport our supplies to the west desert.  Then when everything is in place, you’ll clear the immediate area with that pickup, leaving nothing to attract their attention.  The following morning you can drive back to an advantage point to check the area, and if the aircraft is gone and you see strangers milling about, you can assume the scheme worked as planned.  But if it isn’t that way, then maybe you better expect that Rass and I are uninvited guests of the drug folks.” 

“And if you are?”

“Give us several days to call; they don’t want us any more than we want them.”

“Well that’s just fine, I’m to sit around several days waiting for something awful that might happen, and with those thugs, when it comes to mumble peg they ain’t playin’ fair.”

“If you don’t hear from us, go to the authorities and tell them a couple of old dreamers met their Waterloo.  Now when you check the area Tuesday morning, and if the aircraft is gone, but you do see strangers milling about, then you’d better offer a hasty entreaty to your Maker that they’ll assume you’re a sheepherder who lost his sheep.”   

“How about I go with you instead of that long-legged bearded Rass?”

“Can do,” Rod shrugged.  “That is if you don’t mind Rass driving your pickup.”

“Why hell no he won’t drive it!  The last time he used it he forgot to turn the door handle before climbing in, and then he forgot to undo his seat belt before climbing out.”

“I believe that answers that,” was Rod’s only response.

Early Sunday morning under a cloudless sky and anxious to hit the road, the Silver-Grays loaded the last of the supplies into the pickup.  After verifying Rass had the information leading to the dry lakebed, a course was set into the desert following the old Pony Express trail.  Late that morning found the old Dodge slowly climbing the slopes of Onaqui Mountain to traverse Look-Out Pass.  The cool desert air with unlimited visibility stirred an awakening in the souls of the Silver-Grays.  George, hugging the wheel striving to avoid the washboard ruts, and with some reservations glanced towards Rass doing the navigating from instructions scribbled on a brown grocery sack.  After three hours of jousting with ruts and washouts on the old trail, then having to coax the old Dodge through the steep Dugway Pass region, they pulled to a stop at the Eight Ball Mine. 

Kicking the kinks out of their legs, they paused to enjoy the serenity of ‘The Great Basin.’ Not seeing any activity around, George asked where ol’ Tex was hid-up.               

Rod explained with age creeping up on the old fox, he now spends more time in town. When he gets a belly full of national culture, he returns here to talk with his friends—the coyotes and badgers until he again feels anesthetized.

From prior instructions given to Rod, they soon locate the powder house, quickly selecting twelve sticks of powder and other needed supplies.  The drive then continued on into the desert.  With signs of distress in his voice, Rass pointed out the map didn’t seem to coincide with their present location like it did upon their arrival at the Eight Ball.  George was accusing Rass of getting them lost when Rod discovered Rass holding the brown grocery sack upside down.  The old Dodge ambled on with the Silver-Grays nervously eyeing Rass and his brown paper bag.  

Scowling, George fumed, “This is the most desolate, forsaken, uninhabited territory I was ever in!  It’s the end of the earth.” 

Rass didn’t agree with George’s summation but did agree they might be close.

Disgruntled with his Silver-Grays’ perspective, Rod commented, “Neither one of you appreciate the great outdoors at its best.  You haven’t even noticed the mirage to the south?  When did you last see a vast lake like that in the desert?  What we’re seeing is the ghost of an inland sea that once dwelled in the Great Basin thousands of years ago.  Back in the 1860s my great granddaddy was a Pony Express rider out here on the trail.  I’d hate to think what he might do if he caught you running off the mouth like that.” 

George took a deep breath, and snorted, “You’re right about that.  I meet up with your granddaddy and I’m outta’ here.”

A somber looking Rass looking around softly began elucidating, “Thousands of years ago the climate changes out here were not gradual, they happened very suddenly—like flipping a light switch, a radio carbon-dated grain of pollen left in the sand of ancient lakes verifies that hypothesis to be true.  Millennia ago this desert was vastly different from the salt flats and hardpans we’re looking at now—it was covered with beautiful pine forests.”

Flabbergasted at what Rass had espoused, a shaken George demanded, “Rass! Just how in hell would you know all that balderdash?”

Rass tentatively answered, “I don’t know how I know—I just know.” 

As the old Dodge ambled on into the desert, Rass remained the focus of interest. 

Making their way around the most northerly point of the Fish Springs Range, they soon encountered tracks left by a large vehicle leading to a dry lakebed.  Continuing on a short distance, the partners slowed before turning back to drive through scrub brush before stopping short of the hardpan as Rod called it.  From there he suggested they check it out by foot. 

Climbing out of the pickup they stopped to stretch, then while walking around to limber their stiff bodies George chaffed, “Someone once suggested these are the golden years, the only gold I’ve seen out here are wild horse puddles.”

Seeing George stooped over, Rass mimicked, “Got a problem?  You’re all bent over like some old man.”  

“I could use a little help.”  Rass moved in, placed both hands on George’s shoulders and with his knee in the small of his back, attempted to straighten him up.

“For pete’s sake, what the infernal hell are you doing?”

“You asked for help!  I was trying to straighten you up?”

“There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m here checking out our campsite and you show up and physically abuse me.  Rass attempted to grasp George in a headlock; George ducked and kicked Rass on the shin.  Hopping around on one leg, Rass let out a bloody scream when he found himself straddled a curled-up snake.  High-tailing it to the truck with trouser legs pulled up, Rass ignored his Silver-Gray partners when seeing them hunched over from laughing. 

With a pompous grin George cried, “I’m just tickled pink, ol’ Smuck twisted the handle before pulling the door open.”

Leaning out the window, Rass pointed to the snake, “I slaughtered my first big rattler and he’s a good five feet long.”

Gathering the squirming reptile on a stick, Rod then approached the truck.  “You didn’t slaughter anything.  Your so-called casualty is alive and well, and he’s about two feet long.  Out here we call ’um Blow Snakes—harmless, except for small Rodents.  Now knock it off the both of you!  Going off half-cocked out here someone’s going to get blistered, and that’ll put the skids on this whole operation.”  

Unable to keep a straight face, Rod in conclusion burst out laughing, the two partners joined in and the tension ceased.  Suggesting they follow him toward the supposed drug rendezvous, Rod worked his way down the brush lined dry stream bed to approach the hardpan. 

Rass inquired, “How would they know the hardpan as you call it would be firm enough to bear the weight of a large airplane?  From up in the air you couldn’t tell, and these flat hardpans turn into a mud lake following a brief thunderstorm.” 

George suggested they probably mimicked the ingenuity of the old time pilots.  When flying low over the ground they dropped a beer bottle, and if it broke they’d land and if it didn’t break, they’d didn’t land.

“Could be,” Rod nodded thoughtfully, “but I’d rather think someone may have scouted the locale prior to their arrival.  If we walk out there we’ll for sure leave fresh tracks in the alkali, and we can’t have that.  If you’ll look back towards the road, you can see where they turned off to make their way through the brush to reach the rendezvous.  From here we can see tell-tale vehicle tracks imprinted out there on the hardpan, including those tracks made by a DC-3.”  A mischievous grin appeared.  “We should thank them for leaving us their calling card.” 

“How can you be sure those tracks were made by a DC-3?”  Rass asked with some skepticism showing in his voice. 

Rod was quick to answer, “The number one clue—those tracks were made by a large aircraft.  Number two clue—the spread between the main gear is about eighteen feet.  What’s the span between the main gear on a DC-3 George?”

“Eighteen feet exactly and there ain’t that many big tail draggers around anymore.”

The Silver-Grays now certain this to be the location of the transfer and from where they were standing it would be five hundred feet from the imprints of where the the drug people had previously parked the DC-3.  Rod suggested that in the morning they would bury the charges among the brush at the edge of the dry gully.  Until the arrival of the airplane, that would be the ideal spot to keep watch. 

Looking more confident, and satisfied of their accomplishments up to now, Rod said, “The day’s shot and we have a big one tomorrow, let’s get some needed shut-eye.”

But no one moved.  As nightfall migrated over the landscape, the setting sun on the western horizon fought back, dazzling the clouds on the low horizon with diminishing streaks of brilliant silver, festooned with gold blending into the cobalt sky high in the firmament.  As if in a trance, the Silver-Grays stood catching those final moments of the finest show on earth. 

 The clear night air dropping the temperature, the two partners hurriedly crawled into their sleeping bags.  Rod waited, to search the northern skies that he might locate Polaris who would keep him orientated while in the desert.  When seeing the outpouring of infinite stars portraying their twinkling presentations on cue—going to sleep would now wait.  

Yielding to the hush of the desert night, quiet time settled in.  When through yawning, George whispered, “I take back everything I mouthed about this mystical desert.”  The stillness of the night engulfed the wearied partners. 

Early dawn crested the Topaz Range heralding the arrival of a new day.  Pursuers in the night sky slowly disappeared to their nesting areas while the early wake up birds announced the changing interval with melodious wake up songs.         

“Reveille, Silver-Grays! D day is upon us.”  Seeing no response, Rod remarked.  “I know now why only the youth are chosen.  Last evening you were as frisky as two youthful antelope. Now I don’t mean to interrupt your repose, but I’m wondering about that slithering critter between you?”  Springing up to dance about in their skivvies, the forth coming rhetoric would sear desert grass for twenty yards, mellowing only when the aroma of hot coffee and sizzling bacon frying over a cedar-wood fire captured their senses.

After a filling breakfast of bacon and fried eggs with crisp hash browns and coffee to wash it down, Rod thought they might be ready to face the day, until George, busy brushing his teeth asked Rass if he planned doing the same. 

“Oh, out here I just soak ’um in a little baking soda water,” Rass drawled.  

“Well Smuck, my suggestion to you is, go soak ’um in sheep dip.  Down wind from that exhalation you’re carrying around would put a fire breathing dragon on his knees at twenty yards.”

Rass looking hurt, soon rallied.  “You’re an uncouth pot licker, that’s what you are, an uncouth pot licker,” he cried.   

Losing patience, Rod called, “Gentlemen!  If the two of you would just shut up and make an effort to subdue this contention, the blue smoke would clear and the strife would be over.  Maybe then I might even enjoy this old man’s crusade.  George, after you help carry our equipment down to the stakeout, load your gear and clear out of here before someone stumbles on to that pickup.”  

Finished moving supplies to the edge of the hardpan—then preparing to leave, George studied his two partners somberly,  “In a way this is kind of amusing, three silver-haired old coots out here in the middle of nowhere aiming to do bodily harm on gangsters.  We ain’t even got a gun.  Do you suppose they’d be scared if they knew we were coming?”

“We couldn’t afford a gun after everyone chipped in for beans,” Rod explained.

“Regardless, this is grim business we’re messing with, and if anything happened to either of you, it would be like the sun went down too never come up again.  You’ve made my life considerably more pleasant in my association with you, and I love you both.  Rass, you know I was only funnin’.  Now you take care of this airplane driver and for what it’s worth, God bless both of you.” 

Rod along with Rass stood with hands in rear pockets, watching George trudge back to the truck.  With eyes moist, they turned away—a dead-heat when drawing kerchiefs.  “Must be the sagebrush,” Rass mumbled with a forced casualness.

Working through the morning the two partners dug ten three-feet-deep holes to bury one stick of powder in each.  Rod unrolled the fuse and cut twelve five-foot lengths, explaining, “This fuse burns a foot to the minute.”

“You said we’d bury ten sticks of dynamite, what happens to the two remaining sticks?” 

“With luck I hope to leave them a going away gift.”  Pushing one end of the fuse into the primer, Rod crimped its end to secure the fuse.  Using his knife a three-inch-deep hole was punched into the side of each powder stick.  After inserting the primer into the opening, two wraps and a tie were made around the stick securing the fuse to the powder.  Dropping one stick into each hole, dirt was tamped in leaving a short length of fuse exposed above the surface.   

Looking into the sky Rod commented, “High noon has finally come and gone and with time dragging somebody needs to drop kick the clock.”  

After eating their fill of beans the two partners bedded down in the thick brush to wait, neither admitting he was too apprehensive to sleep.  Suddenly Rod heard wailing music that had some similarity to a lyric he once remembered as Old Black Joe.  Not believing what he was hearing, he reared up in a sitting position to see Rass lying on his back mouthing a harmonica.  Rass paused long enough to announce the harmonica was soothing to his nerves. 

Rod suggested he sooth his nerves some other day, as it was not soothing to his nerves while waiting to hear the reverberations of an airplane. 

With the evening sun directing shadows over the landscape, Rod was quietly watchful, but Rass was just plain impatient.  “This waitin’ is exasperatin’!  How do we know they’ll show up?  And if they do, we might not be around to see another sunset?  We can’t back out, even if we had a mind too.  Oh for the mercy of it, it’s always the darkest before it gets darker.”

Rod glanced over at his friend to make a strong suggestion, “Cut the rhetoric Rass, they could fly over and we’d never have a clue.  I suggest you open up another can of Davy Jones Dessert, maybe the change in course will take the edge off.”

“Beans again,” Rass grumbled.

“Beans again,” Rod said.  “You’re the one who stocked the larder.  As to what I can see, you’ve stocked up on every kind of bean this side of Pluto.  With all the beans you bought, I thought maybe you owned stock in a bean farm.  When you hear the rumbling of those Pratt & Whitney engines, that rumbling in your belly will evaporate into thin air.”

 Rass mused, “Mercy! If it’s going to happen, let it happen, or what they’ll find out here will be empty black shadows—and don’t you try talkin’ me into anymore hijacking ever again!  What’s that?  Hear it?  That’s rumbling from big recips.  Oh mercy!  Listen to those Twin Wasp hummers!”  




Pointing, Rod whispered, “I have a bogie at six o’clock, flying low and coming straight in.  That lady is touching down without lights, as if she understands she’s invited to our charade.”

“Oh mercy!”  Rass gasped, “Do you ever wish you were home in bed?”                                              

“Keep your head down Rass.”

“Aw’ they’d just think I’m a porcupine,” Rass whispered in a strained laugh.  

“Some folks shoot porcupines,” Rod offered.”

Rass whispered, “The air stairs are down, and I can see three crewmen getting off that airplane.”     

 Rod admonished, “If they become inquisitive and commence to walk-around, they possibly might blunder into our concealment—then you’ll be the welcoming committee while I’m hotfooting it out of here.”                                                                                                                                      

“You mean I’d be forsaken here with all those drug runners?”  Rass asked.

Rod grinned, “All I care to say is, your welcome to chase shadows with me.”

“What if they did walk in on us?”  

Now looking more serious, Rod frowned, “We’d have no choice but to set our plan into motion.  The fiasco then is we’d have a cargo of drugs and no fuel.”

As the two friends continued watching, and seeing a tarp spread under the wing, it appeared the three crewmen were preparing to sack out without so much as posting a watch.  Rass, still irritable and chafing at the bit heard Rod caution, “You remind me of the man who had the hammers pulled back on both barrels and didn’t know where to aim.  Before we make a move, it’s imperative that truck arrives and refuels that airplane.  Running on empty isn’t the best preference for our welfare.  Life saving fluid in her veins keep the Pratt’s a humming.” 

With no moon, the night was black—thinking the crew might now be asleep, Rass, fidgety as ever asked, “Whoever called the DC-3 a Gooney Bird was dumb?  That’s an awful name; the DC-3 is beautiful, both on the ground and in flight.”          

Rod explained, “A cumbersome overloaded C-47 on its take-off roll resembles that of a Gooney Bird.  They are huge birds living on Pacific Islands who find it necessary to accomplish some fancy footwork during their struggle to become airborne, and they put on quite a show, but once in the air, they’re graceful and beautiful.  I call it the Doug myself—short for Douglas by whom it was assembled.  It has lots of names including Dakota, used by the British.  Back in the good ol’ days when Douglas was assembling DC-3s, and DC-4s, there was an adage, ‘If it’s built by Douglas and powered by Pratt & Whitney, purchase the ticket it’s safe to fly.’ ”

Waiting and listening in the quiet of the night, their attention was drawn to a distant rumbling emerging from out of the east with lights flickering about the landscape.  When drawing near in the crisp air, sounds of crunching rocks on the roadbed were heard along with the deep throb of the engine suggesting it was a diesel.  Seeing the lights swing from the roadbed toward the hardpan, to follow the previously-made tracks, and then hearing the whine of the transmission creating an eerie response, Rass’s impression was that of some mysterious monster stalking the night, jacking his emotions up even more.

From under the wing, crewmen flashed their lights and waved, directing the truck towards the airplane.  Voices of greetings were heard while the truck slowly backed into position for off-loading the aircraft.  The lights out and the engine now quiet, only the distant sound of meaningless voices drifting on the night air were heard as the desert returned to its mystical ways.

Somewhat annoyed, Rod whispered, “Rass, I overlooked splitting the ends of the fuses, if I don’t take care of that, I may not get a quick response when lighting them with a match.  Normally it would take about five seconds to light each fuse, so we’re looking close to a minute overall—it has to be taken care of.”

Rass groaned, “You’re gonna have to show a light to find those charges.” 

“You’re right about that, they see a light out here now and they’ll think two apparitions are out here doin’ a dance.  As soon as the drugs are off-loaded and stashed into the spare fuel tanks, we’ll take care of the fuses when they start up to reposition the truck for refueling the aircraft.”                     

Still cogitating, Rass whispered, “Time is standing still, this is worse than waitin’ your turn at the outhouse.”  Suddenly the diesel was heard interrupting the quiet of the night.  From the movement of lights, they watched the truck being positioned forward of the aircraft.  The refueling hose was reeled out and handed to the person on the wing. 

Hurrying to the fuses, Rod crawled from one charge to another splitting the ends with his pocketknife.  When crawling back, Rass was heard to call,  “They were too busy to notice anything, and I’ll bet next month’s Social Security check those spare fuel compartments are not only full, their chock-full of stashed drugs.”  

Watching silently, the movement of crew members who continually climbed in and out the driver’s side of the truck was unclear.  Hearing the engine being restarted—a loud meshing of gears was heard.  Rass whispered, “They’re having trouble, why else would we hear all those weird sounds?”

Uncertain now as how this would all play out, Rod whispered, “I’m hoping it isn’t what I think it is. They’ve got a problem trying to engage the power take-off unit that powers the pump pushing fuel to the aircraft.  If they’re unable to refuel that airplane, they will have created a problem for us as well.  Less than an hour from now early dawn will break over the Topaz Range.  If they don’t get a handle on it in the next few minutes, they’ll have some fast decisions to make and so will we.  Apparently there’s not enough fuel to fly to their intended destination, and with the problems encountered in driving a fuel truck out here, it must be important to their plans that the aircraft be refueled here.  If the problem isn’t corrected right away, they just might endanger their game plan and chance flying the aircraft to the nearest available airport for fuel, that is providing they have enough fuel on board.

“With the hubbub dying down, they may have reached a decision and now it’s our turn.  Not knowing if there is enough fuel to carry us to a daylight destination, it’s a life-or-death decision for you and me, and we have to decide now—what’s it going to be?”

Not expecting any decisions to be laid on him, and his chest heaving from all the sudden excitement, Rass was implicit, “Down the road if we don’t go, it will always be with us.  It’ll be like we aimed at the moon and hit the outhouse.”  

Seeing Rass not looking well, Rod became concerned and asked if he felt up to it?

“What does it matter Rod, I’ve nothing to lose.  This is my big chance in life to do something really swell, and I don’t want to go back too doing nothing.  Come on Rod—lock the breech and fire one.”   

“Here we go Rass, it’s lock and load on number one, or is the other way around.” 

Hands beginning to shake, Rass cried, “Oh mercy me!  Maybe I didn’t mean to say all that stuff.”   

“It’s too late for us now Rass.”  Rod crawled toward the fuses, and then hesitated when hearing Rass call out for him to wait.  “What is it Rass, are you okay?”

Rass hurriedly reached out and dropped a small object into Rod’s hand.  

Staring at the object, Rod asked, “What’s this all about?”

“It’s a lucky charm from Lucille; a silver bullet with chain to hang around your neck.  She was afraid you wouldn’t accept it from her, so she asked that I give it to you.  She wanted it to be a surprise and said you should wear it around your neck for good luck.”   

“While lighting the fuses, Rod turned to caution Rass, only to realize he was nowhere to be seen.  Shaking his head and calling in a low voice, “Damn you Rass, you’re going to cause me to have a heart attack.”  Then searching the thicket, Rod heard him softly call, “It’s me, out here on the hardpan.” 

Masking his annoyance Rod called for the two flares to be laid out.  Then with anxiety continuing to mount they lay in their own perspiration waiting.  Once more Rod gave a reminder, “When we hear the first blast, I’ll send up the number one flare.”   

“Those charges sure take their time blowing.”  

“If you’ll remember Rass, it was you insisted we cut a five-minute fuse,”  

“Why don’t they blow?” 

“Keep your head down.”  

“I’m so far down now I smell Chinese cooking.”   The sudden eruption sent rocks and scrub-brush flying high into the night sky.  Springing to his feet, Rod aimed the flare at a forty-five-degree angle above the truck and sent it flying.  Reaching its apogee, a muffled report was heard followed by a brilliant white light bathing the entire operation.   

The charges now detonating every five seconds, Rass could hear Rod yelling, “Move it, flip your lantern switch!”  Stumbling through the desert night with dust clouds partially obscuring them and remnants of brush raining down, they observed scattered crewmen running in panic.  Gasping for air Rass muttered, “They’ve seen our lanterns, they’re on the lam.”   

While the two Silver-Grays scrambled for the aircraft, Rod yelled, “I’ll climb onto the wing and check the fuel covers, then after I remove the fueling hose off the wing—you back that truck out of the way.” 

Climbing into the cab Rass growled, “I’ve never driven one of these things before.”  Then aware the engine was idling, and without waiting for the fueling hose to be cleared off the wing, the shift-lever was forced into reverse.  With a kangaroo lurch the truck cleared the aircraft with Rod scrambling to remain free of the snaking hose. 

When seeing Rass vault from the truck in making a stumbling lope to the aircraft entry, Rod hurriedly vacated the wing too remove the gear pins from their manual locking mechanisms in each wheel-well before hurrying to the aircraft entry.  Rass was seen struggling to free his legs from a ladder entanglement.  Pausing, Rod grabbed a confused Rass to grapple him aboard.   

Rushing to reach the cockpit, Rod shouted, “Buckle up, we’re going flying!”  

Calling out the checklist from memory, Rod called, “Fuel on board—that’s still a question.  We do have hydraulic-fluid, and the pressure is up.  Gear handle is neutral—fuel valves are set to their respective mains, and the parking brake is set.”  Motioning towards the two cowl flap actuators, Rod called.  “Switch the actuators to trail when we start our take-off roll.”  

Flipping both the right ignition and boost on, the starter was engaged along with the prime.  The engine coughed, and spit as the RPM began its surging climb.  Easing the mixture to its lean position the prime was released.  Visually checking to see blue smoke thinning, readjustments were made to the throttles.  The familiar sound of the big Pratt had Rod beaming with excitement. 

Not expecting the big engine sounds to be so distracting and vibrations to be so apparent, Rass looked to Rod for assurance.  When seeing Rod’s broad smile with no signs of apprehension, Rass took heart. 

When cranking the left engine the prop turned with hesitancy.  Coming off the starter, Rod called, “We have a low voltage reading from the battery.”

 “Oh mercy!”  Rass moaned.                                                                                                           

“Say a little prayer, Rass!”  Easing the right throttle forward until the right engine RPM gauge indicated 1800, enough voltage was generated by the right engine driven generator to crank the left engine.  Holding the starter toggle on, the left propeller came alive.  “Ignition on,” Rod called!  Intermittently coaxing the prime, the left engine coughed, spat, and then broke into an impatient roar.  Quickly moving the mixture control to its idle lean position, the prime was released and the engine waltzed into a steady rumble.  Both engines running normal, Rod called, “Can you see any activity out your side window?” 

“Cracker Jack good Rod, you did it.” 

“Rass, will you check out your window?” 

“Accept for a burned out flare giving off a few sparks its blacker ‘n’ all get-out.” 

“I’d like for you to sit here and steady the yoke, and don’t touch the brakes.”

Becoming even more alarmed, Rass clamored, “Where you going?”                       

“I’m going to personally deliver our going-away present.”  Climbing down from the aircraft, the fuses dangling from the two extra charges were ignited.  Rod tossed one into the truck cab, and the other after being tucked alongside the big fuel tank, Rod then turned to leave.

Knowing Rod would be unable to hear above the roar of the engines, Rass, now in a frantic attempted to draw his attention by yelling and waving out the sliding window,  “They’re back Rod, they’ve come back.” 

When seeing Rass waving from the cockpit, Rod made big strides to the entryway.  In knowing if he slowed his pace to climb the air stair he’d be an inviting target, choosing instead the headlong dive vaulting him onto the deck in a belly flopper’.  Stunned from the wind partially knocked from him, Rod struggled too pull the air stairs up.  Hearing a loud crack, a slug penetrated the overhead.  Hurrying to latch the entry door a second slug was heard thudding into the bulkhead above his head.  Still partially dazed Rod made a dash to the cockpit calling, “Rass! Are you okay?”

Looking embarrassed, Rass confessed, “I was scared as all get-out, and I wanted to help, but the seat buckle wouldn’t let go of me and I got all excited.”  Then seeing blood smeared on Rod’s brow, Rass called, “Mercy Rod, you’re harmed.”

Positioning himself in the left seat, Rod explained it was only a slight laceration from perforated aluminum.  As for your frantic arm waving, you may have saved my life.  Upon releasing the parking brake, the tail wheel was unlocked and foot pressure applied to the left brake pedal.  With increased power on the right engine, the aircraft pivoted to the left.  Moving the fuel mixture levers to auto rich, both throttles were eased to max power causing prop blast to send swirling debris trailing from the rear of the aircraft.  With a big grin Rod yelled, “Here’s alkali in your eye!”  

“Yeah, they’ll think a Kansas twister swallowed ’um,” Rass grinned back.

When easing off the foot pressure, the brake expanders bled off and Bessie moved forward.  “She’s singin’ Rass, let’s go flyin’.”  With the yoke being pulled back at eighty, Bessie reached for the sky. 


The Dreaded Dead Stick Landing

Seeing the desert sky light up like a mushroom, Rod banked Bessie around for a quick look.  Pleased to see flames shooting skyward, a westerly course was taken up.  When checking the fuel quantity for the left main, the fuel gauge indicated empty.  Switching the indicator over to the right main, it also indicated empty. 

Now assured his previous assumptions were correct that this airplane was out of fuel, and with misgivings crowding his self-assurance, Rod checked the rear tanks with apprehension.  Both registered small amounts of fuel, enough to prolong their anxiety. 

“About those traffickers,” Rass wanted to know, “You don’t suppose maybe they went up in that explosion do you?”                                                                                                                                          

“Negative,” Rod assured Rass.  “As soon as they caught the scent of burning fuse, you can bet the farm they plowed forty acres of alkali hightailing it through the night.”     

When leveling off, the power was quickly adjusted into the company notch to conserve fuel.  Rod explained to Rass, “Both engines will be drawing fuel from their respective mains until she commences to complain, and that will be right away.  After the mains are completely emptied out, we’ll work on the rear tanks.  Until its light enough, there is no way we can make out the few dirt strips in the area, but Bessie’s a good ol’ gal—she’ll hang in there.” 

Constantly scanning the instruments, Rod’s eye caught a faint flickering from the right engine low-pressure oil warning light.  The corresponding oil pressure gauge indicating low pressure was also noted.  Not knowing if this to be an indication of oil starvation, or a run-out engine, Rod chose to ignore the problem, feeling more inclined not to draw Rass’s attention to Bessie’s failings until they were more evident.  

Compounding the rash of problems, the right low-pressure fuel light flickered on and off.  Rass, having been quiet for the moment, straightened up.  In an attempt to display an air of indifference, Rod casually remarked, “The right engine would be refusing to run without fuel.”  The right wing was raised slightly to encourage any remaining fuel to drain toward the tank outlet.  “Nothing to do now but wait until number two commences to wind down; when that comes about I’ll switch the fuel selector from the right main to the right rear tank.” 

Rod had hardly gotten the words out when the right engine served notice it was down to sucking fumes.  Reaching over, Rod switched the selector to the right rear tank.  No more than having done this than the fuel pressure warning light for the left engine was seen to glow a steady red.  Appealing to Bessie, “Sonofagun, don’t let this turn into some ridiculous fiasco, give us a fighting chance.”  

Coughing several times, the engine began losing RPM. Rod quickly raised the left wing.  “By sucking every drop from each tank we’ll hopefully prevent Bessie from messing up this canyon.”  

Fear driven from watching Rod manipulate the fuel system of Bessie and hardly able to move, Rass suddenly drawled, “Bessie messing up this canyon?  What about us?” 

Hearing the left engine sound a warning, Rod quickly switched tanks.    

“Well Rass, one thing for sure, both mains are empty and Bessie is down to working on the rear tanks, you couldn’t fill a zippo lighter with what’s in those tanks.  How much longer the engines will remain on line is something I’m not looking forward too.” 

Rod, having done everything workable, the waiting began for the unplanned landing that fuel would now dictate.

Rass moaned, “This is like waiting for the hangman to trip the hanging rope.  I almost wish he’d pull it and end my agony.  I’ve never especially looked forward to sitting around waiting to die.”

With a smile, Rod suggested, “If its any comfort, you didn’t have to lay out money for a ticket.”  Not thinking that remark funny, Rass continued staring out his side window.  

Unable to ignore the flashing fuel light, Rass called it to Rod’s attention.  Rod said he had his eye on it, and that when the right engine begins to moan, he’d punch the feather button to streamline the prop for less wind resistance.  Bessie would then continue flying on single engine.

The light now a steady red and Bessie complaining, the feather button was punched.  Rod asked Rass to check out his side window to verify the prop was in full feather.                    

Confirming the prop was streamlined into the wind, Rass then sat motionless, staring at the prop and mumbling,  “Mercy, the right prop is feathered, we’re running on fumes, don’t know where we are, no place to land and Bessie’s descending to her final rest.  We should have left her on the hardpan with the drug folks.”  Looking out the sliding window, Rass hollered, “She’s losing altitude, we’re gonna die!”  

“Rass, I asked you keep your head in the cockpit.  What’s that smell?”

“Mercy  sakes!  It’s just a little noxious vapor from my inner workings, I’ll be all right”  

“I’m sure you will.  It’s me I’m concerned about, open your sliding window.”

“ I fess’ up for my stupid-mindedness, but after take off you were hollering number one this, and number two that, and something here and something there.  I was scared you weren’t doin’ the right hollers.  Next thing I knew, I’m up here waitin’ to die down there.  You use those fatheaded airplane words, and it’s like a foreign language.  

“Was I really hollering?”    

“Well, maybe not hollering, but you was talkin’ loud.”

“I apologize, Rass.  Bessie’s failures demand we do proper procedures!  She’s a forgiving ol’ girl as long as you treat her with respect, but ignoring her when she needs attention, and you’re asking for a sky full of troubles.  We didn’t have time to run you through a cockpit checkout, but taking all things into consideration, this one flight leaves you at the head of the class.”  

Ignoring the praise, Rass pondered, “It’s been a long time Rod, since I flew anything, and they were all light planes and I had my problems.  My instructor insisted I was making too many landings out of one landing.”

“You can pull gear for me anytime, just loosen up and you’ll be fine.  When this is over and we have time, a cockpit checkout along with some air work will be your reward.  As for now, Bessie needs our support  to accomplish a safe arrival.”  

His voice showing emotion, Rass shouted, “You talk like we’re going to make it out of this and she’s not even holding altitude on her only engine.”                    

“She’ll do fine Rass.  She’ll continue drifting down to maybe nine thousand feet,   as light as we are, that should be her single-engine altitude.  If you’ll look out the window you’ll see a mountain silhouette.  When we exit out this canyon, I’m sure we’ll fine more suitable terrain waiting for us.”  

“That is we exit this canyon,” Rass yelled.  “Oh mercy me!  The fuel warning light is back!” 

Rod raised the wing even more.

Frustration building, Rass continued shielding his trembling hands, feeling grateful for Rod’s knowledge of Bessie’s plumbing as he observed him manipulating valves.  Flying under deteriorating conditions that only happens to others, Rass had to marvel at Rod’s calm attitude. Knowing that he had not flown for years, but even so, his precise management of their fuel problem implied that Rod still retained a great deal in the upper story, solving one problem after another while maintaining a deft touch with the controls that was unbelievably smooth.  

“When did you last fly a DC-3?  Rass asked? Rod shrugged, “I’m not sure, maybe some forty-five years or so.” Straining to make ground features more visible as early dawn crept over high peaks, some relief was felt when seeing the indistinct profile of canyon walls declining in height suggesting that Bessie might be exiting the canyon—in seconds the warning light again flickered.  Dreading the moment when fuel starvation would determine the final letdown, Rod raised the left wing even more, sucking every ounce of fuel that might prolong the inevitable, and then suggested, “This will be the last dance.”

 Meshed in thought, Rass suddenly bolted upright.  Oh my!  Rod did say all those  years didn’t he.  Mercy!  Can a person remember to do now what he did then?  Reaching for his harmonica, the wailing strains of Old Black Joe were again a drift throughout the cockpit.   “Rass, there are things you’ll need to do, so lets put ol’ Black Joe in your shirt pocket.  When the engine expires and Bessie begins her final descent, I don’t know if we’ll be touching down with the landing gear retracted or extended—depending on the terrain.  Without power, the hydraulic pumps are unable to maintain system pressure.  We can free-fall the gear if necessary, but we need to maintain pressure for the brakes, that’s where you come in.”  Pointing down towards the deck, Rod instructed, “See that red handle by your left ankle?  After touchdown grab that handle and apply pressure.  It won’t move until I apply pressure to the brakes, then you pump as if your life depended on it.”  

With a last cough, Bessie gave warning the feather button should now be punched.  Experiencing this sudden termination of engine sounds, then to hear only the rushing of air over the metal surface of the fuselage was unnerving, as if Bessie’s soul would remain hushed while the Silver-Grays combined their efforts to insure a safe landing.  After Rod adjusted the airspeed to prolong the gliding distance, he glanced out the sliding window.  When seeing the changing terrain, this raised expectations they might now be exiting the canyon.  Admonishing Rass to keep a sharp lookout for any clearing they might put down in, Bessie’s gliding capabilities would now be tested.  Quickly checking the system hydraulic pressure, a mental note was made that remaining pressure would allow the flaps to be lowered. Rass let out a holler, “Rod!  Over there on my right, there’s a long narrow flat area at the base of the big mountain.  I can’t make out any obstructions on the surface.”  Rod glanced at the area Rass had indicated.  “I’ll make a shallow bank to our right,” he said.  “Tell me when it’s dead ahead.” 

Rass shuddered, “Don’t use words like that Rod,” he pleaded. 

 ”Like what?”  Rod asked, looking bewildered. 

“You know, dead.”  

Silent a moment in light of his friends comments Rod said, “I know what you’re telling me Rass,” he said thoughtfully.  “But regardless, it’s obvious we’ve snookered ourselves into a dead-stick landing.”  

Rass glared at Rood, “That’s not funny, stop the turn its dead ahead.”                                                                                                                                 Rod saw the strip of land in the early morning light running parallel with the mountain base.  With little air between them and the terrain, it would be straight in.  “Shout it out if you see any obstacles.”  Sensing they were above the desired approach path, Rod waited to commit the landing gear, knowing that once extended without hydraulic pressure it stays down and will decrease the gliding distance considerably. 

“We’re turning,” Rass called.

It’s okay Rass, we’re a little high and Bessie will be making a couple of S turns to lose excess altitude.”  Dropping the flaps to one-quarter, Rod steadfastly observed the touchdown target.  Striving to judge their rate of descent, the flaps were lowered to one-half their full travel.  Approaching short final, Rod called, “What do we have?”

                    “It appears to be clear of obstacles.

Rod called “Here goes nothing.”  Eyeing the threshold intently and after calling flaps down full, Rod reached over and lowered the gear handle.  Glancing to see a green light—indicating the landing gear was down; Rod placed the latch control in the positive-lock position making sure the landing gear was locked in the down position. With back pressure applied on the yoke, Bessie eased over the approach end of the strip with minimal air speed until making ground contact.  Intentionally Rod thrust the yoke forward that made for better traction thereby generating more effective braking.  Bessie dipped to an unpleasant nose-down attitude.  Rass shouted, “We’re nosing over!”  

“Not this day!”  Rod called.  With the loss of lift the tail settled down abruptly.  “Now that’s what you call a short field landing.”  Knowing they had beaten the odds, both partners heaved a sigh of relief.  Safely down in what appeared to be a no-man’s land, the Silver-Grays made no attempt to deplane.  Heads bowed, they sat motionless with the exception of Rass’s hands.

Rod broke the silence.  “I would dare say on this flight there was a third crew member aboard.”  Before flipping switches, Rod reached back to open the star valve, at the same time instructing Rass to pump the manual hydraulic handle that supplied pressure to raise the flaps, protecting them from wind damage.

While Rass pumped, Rod walked aft into the cabin to locate the control locks. Climbing down from the aircraft with locks in hand, the ailerons, elevators, and rudder were all secured in place.  Using rocks to chock the wheels, Rod was heard to reassure Bessie, “I wish I could tell you how long we’ll be here ol’ gal, but rest easy, we have you secured against the elements.”  Rod’s voice was calm but when he attempted to climb the air stairs, he felt an unexpected weakness overtake him.  Sitting on the air stairs to recover and meditative of the many tribulations they had just overcome, thoughts were beholden to Bessie.  Rod smiled, “Thank you Grand Ol’ Lady.” 

Feeling somewhat refreshed, Rod returned to the cockpit to see a shaken Rass still in his seat verbally praising Bessie.  “In that black canyon I felt we were a heap of trouble headed for an aluminum trash pile.  If I’d had a surrender flag, I would have waved it.”  When attempting to leave his seat before realizing he was still buckled in, a struggling contest ensued.  Rass won and soon joined Rod in the rear of the aircraft.

Walking through the cabin to check the water and food supplies, a cooler chest filled with an assortment of foodstuff and cold drinks was located.  When seeing this, Rod bust out laughing, “I don’t even want to conjecture what our guest at the hardpan is saying about us.”                                                                      

Being mirthful, Rass added, “And I hope they never have the honor of meeting us.” 



Weary from a flight they would rather not remember, neither partner had stomach for food.  Rass opened a small satchel he’d stumbled onto, and while checking the contents he asked, “What are all these ledger looking things?”

Studying each report carefully, Rod advised,  “These are flight manifest showing the cargo weights carried out of Spainville, California, and from the stated times on these forms, it appears they flew a trip each Monday to various locations throughout the western part of this country.”  

Returning to the cockpit to examine the recorded entries in the aircraft log book, Rod thumbed back through the pages looking for departure and arrival dates, then amazed when unable to find any entry specifying Bessie had ever flown out of Spainville.     

The mystery began coming together when Rass handed Rod what looked to be legal documents from the satchel.  Purposefully scanning the pages, Rod went on to explain, “These documents lay out the terms of an agreement between two parties, stating that the first party,  Pacific Blue Imports, will furnish to the second party, Spainville Aviation, a DC-3 aircraft.  The party of the second part agrees to maintain said aircraft and furnish crews to operate such aircraft.  Said aircraft to be based at Spainville, California, an uncontrolled airfield and maintained in a manner to be immediately available to deliver cargo upon cargo’s arrival at Spainville Aviation.” 

“They sure say a lot of saids on that piece of paper,” Rass supposed.                                                                                                               

Rod continued scrutinizing the entries, attempting to solve the enigma of why Bessie was not recorded in the aircraft log book as flying out of Spainville, especially when the flight manifest showed otherwise.  Rass suggested, “They probably did fly out of Spainville.  They just didn’t want to advertise it.”                              

Smiling, Rod agreed, “I think you’ve hit on it Rass, Bessie more than likely did haul illicit cargo out of Spainville.  They’ve doctored the aircraft logbook for obvious reasons.  The Spainville Airport is an uncontrolled airport with no control tower, so they needn’t worry about flights being logged.  They strived to avoid every possibility of showing ol’ Bessie being connected with Spainville.  If Bessie were to draw suspicions to her unlawful cargo, those suspicions might also reveal the source of that cargo.  Bessie, bless her heart did what they made her do.  Why the flight manifest and other documents were left on board that could attest to their affiliation with that operation, and would have a strong bearing leading to a conviction for anyone connected with that organization were carelessly brought aboard Bessie to be hauled around like low priority cargo, is beyond rationale.  Down the line the answer may reveal itself.” 

While continuing to scrounge among the contents in the cargo hold, Rass commented.  “Maybe a Philadelphia lawyer can figure it out.”  Fingering the contents in a metal box, Rass paused, then breaking into a big smile.  “Rod, check this out,” he called.  A partially opened metal box with exposed one hundred dollar bills were spilling out onto the deck.

Tucking his hands into his rear pockets Rod cautiously studied the money, and then encouraged Rass to go ahead and empty it out.  Unlike Rass who was overjoyed, Rod’s manner was one of concern.  A concern that shot up as a total of ten thousand dollars was counted out.  Rass was beside himself with ecstasy.  “There must have been some kind of payoff,” he laughed, “and we’re the payees.”  

“Simmer down, Rass, this requires some thought.  This money is insignificant as to the magnitude of their trafficking.  More likely it’s used for operating expenses such as fuel and oil for Bessie.  If there had been a drug payoff, you can bet your harmonica there would have been considerably more money here than what’s been counted, and thank goodness for that.  Every transaction these thugs make is strictly cash on the barrel head.”   

 “What do you mean thank goodness for that?”  Rass yelled.  “It might be chicken feed to them, but to me, that’s a lot of money and I intend to help ’um spend it.”

 “The pressing problems we’ve inherited are not so much the money, but these documents now make this a whole new ball game, one that I don’t care to be a part of.  Our circumstances were precarious enough, but this changes the perspective and adds a whole new burden.  As for the money, that’s filthy lucre and we shouldn’t touch it.”                                                                                 

 “Not touch it!”  Rass bellowed.  “Oh mercy, money from heaven and you say can’t touch it!  We sit out here in the middle of nowhere and neither one of us could buy our way into a pay toilet.  We’re sitting on all this cash and you say, ‘Can’t touch it!’  Bessie needs fuel, she needs oil, and we ain’t talkin’ hamburgers.  How we gonna get the greenbacks to pay for this?”

 Knowing he had opened a Pandora’s Box, and considering their financial status, Rod acknowledged to himself there was some validity to what Rass was alleging.  With the state of affairs as they are, maybe a compromise might be more appropriate.  Finally he spoke, “Rass, this is a difficult judgment to make, but to settle the dust and retain a good working relationship, I propose we spend the money, but only for the requirements of Bessie.”

“Not to hurt Bessie’s feelings, I can go along with that,” Rass agreed. “You can’t help but have feelings for her, and here is something for you Bessie, when we get back to the civilized world, I’m gonna care for all of your needs and I’m…”  

Rod cut in, “Rass, you’re generous to a fault, but right now we need to generate a plan on how to obtain fuel and oil now, and check out why the oil pressure on number two keeps fluctuating.”

“Where in the world are we anyway?”  Rass asked. 

“I suppose we’re some where’s between the Topaz Mountains of Utah and Mt. Moriah in Nevada.”  Now visibly concerned over their mounting problems and with agitation growing from within, Rod thought of how quickly the events of the past several hours had turned on them.  Having second thoughts about Rass, Rod decided rather than upset him he’d not say anything more about their troubles.

Still in the clutches of a cold sweat, his thoughts were on what might possibly happen to him and his partners.  All we have done is seize Bessie from drug runners, and now with all their paper work found aboard, not only will they be looking for us, but the Feds also, and the state of Utah will claim first rights on Bessie for running drugs in their state.  The State of Nevada, where we possibly sit at the present time would present claims.  I know the Drug and Tobacco Enforcement folks would like to talk to us, and possibly the U S Department of Transportation.  The FAA always wants to talk to someone, and then there’s the IRS. 

The hell with them, I’ve seen worse.  Every Eighty-Eight in Germany had their sights on me.  I survived Col. Gerstenberg’s tunnel of fire going into Ploesti, and his Messerschmitt 109s and 110s coming out the other end.  I’m seventy years old, what have I too lose?  Old Zach Taylor got it right when he hollered, ‘Double-shot your cannon boys, give ’um hell—bring ’um on!’  

 “Mercy sakes alive Rod!  Are you all right?  You just threw a left hook followed by a right cross!”

“I dozed off.”  Rod mumbled.

“Having a nightmare,” Rass teased. 

 “I suppose so,” Rod answered.  “A nightmare chased by a charley horse.”  Rod, in feeling responsible for the state of affairs as they were, now felt it his responsibility to get them out of this nightmare.     

 Watching Rod stuff all the forms into a plastic bag, Rass ask what he planned doing?”                                          

“Just follow me and you’ll find the answer.”  After making a short climb up the base of the mountain, Rod said, “This will do.”  From its resting place a large rock was rolled aside, the plastic bag was placed into the depression and the rock was returned to its former resting place. 

When walking back down the hill, Rass had noticed Rod being rather quiet and asked him if he felt all right?  

“I’m fine Rass, just a little used up.”  In knowing those papers were are trouble, and knowing that even now the drug folks would be searching for Bessie who could provide the needed information to locate them.  In deep thought Rod had almost stumbled, and when he had regained his balance, he did so with a slight smile.  The thought had crossed his mind those papers were the breach in their plan that would provide the information he would need.  Now the seeds of revenge were beginning to sprout, and the formulation of a basic plan was beginning to take shape.

Those papers would unlock the door to the big dance.  Drugs had cost Rod dearly, and he promised himself there would be a payback.  As for his two silver haired partners, he wanted them out of harms way, and they would not be informed of his intentions. 

 Rod jerked back to reality when he heard Rass calling, “This is the first opportunity we’ve had to look around, have you noticed this stretch of land looks almost like a graded landing strip.”   

His mind now back on track, Rod said, “I guess we were lucky, or maybe Bessie knew the lay of the land, and good fortune was her companion this day.  I’ve read that in ancient times an inland sea had resided here in what is now called the Great Basin.  Its highest level was about 5300 feet and that’s what we’re standing on now, the ancient remnant of a shoreline carved into the base of these hills.  As one of the more prominent shorelines it is known as the Bonneville level.  When we’re ready to fly Bessie off this shoreline, I’ll set the altimeter at 5300 feet and Bessie will be current.”

With the morning slipping by, Bessie was given a close inspection.  Pleased, they found her exterior condition very satisfying.  The upper fuselage was painted white while the lower part retained its natural polished aluminum.  However, when trouble shooting the right engine, oil leakage was found trapped in the bottom of the nacelle.  Oil streaks were found on the under surface of the wing spreading to the trailing edge.  Rass was asked to visually check the forward components of the engine for oil leakage while Rod would visually scan the aft sector through the cowl flap openings.  Rass quickly hailed, “I think I’ve found it.  The lower part of some oil line is smeared wth oil, it appears to be from a loose fitting.” 

“After a quick examination, Rod said, “We may be in luck.  It appears to be a rocker box scavenger line, and by the looks of the fitting all we’ll need to do is tighten and safety it.  Bessie has been bleeding a long time.”  Rass volunteered to fetch the aircraft tool kit along with the stepladder from the forward passageway. 

Climbing the stepladder to better assess the problem, Rod said, “I can’t see any problem with the oil line, so hopefully it’s just a loose fitting.  I’m not too sure the size wrench I need, so hand me the adjustable and don’t tattle to George on me.”  After tightening the nut, Rod announced, “I’m out of a job up here.  We’ll ask George to safety it later.”                            

Kneeling down on the ground, Rass pounded his fist into the dirt while the same time protesting, “I’m going to kill you.  Why can’t you just tell me it’s all fixed without that ‘I’m out of a job stuff?’  I thought maybe the nut was stripped.”  Shaking his head in frustration, Rod helped position the stepladder at the wing trailing edge before climbing onto the right wing. 

When checking the oil level, he explained, “The capacity of these tanks is twenty-nine gallons, and this tank has less than three gallons as indicated by the stick.  No wonder ol’ Bessie was complaining.  We’ll need to fetch both five-gallon cans of oil that are strapped on the rear bulkhead.”

With both cans emptied into the tank, the walk-around was completed.  “Overall, Bessie looks to be in good health,” Rod surmised.  “When George comes aboard, we’ll have him change a couple of numbers on the tail, and then she won’t be so identifiable.  We’ll ask what he thinks about giving her a facelift by painting a couple of long red strips lengthwise on each side of her fuselage.”

With the immediate perplexities of Bessie taken care of, they returned to the cabin trying to solve the problems of acquiring enough fuel to accommodate Bessie in flying to a safe haven. Having been awake for more than twenty-four hours, a pair of packing blankets was soon rolled out, and the Silver-Grays drifted off into a much-needed rest.   


From the canyon—the direction from which Bessie had brought them, the trailing dust of a small vehicle grew near while threading its way through the rough terrain.  Exhausted, neither Rod nor Rass were awakened as it rolled to a stop at the air stairs.

A stranger, small in stature with a wiry body suggesting tremendous strength stepped from the Jeep, his silver-gray hair streaming in the breeze.  The two partners abruptly awoke when hearing his booming voice, “Welcome gentleman to the land of crimson skies and purple sunsets, if you’re interested my name is Jake Duggins.” 

In a confused state Rass staggered to his feet.  His eyebrows nearly at the top of his head he asked, “Are you some kind of mountain man?”  

The intruder laughed, “Not as yet, as for now I’m just another harmless gold seeker trying to grub a living out of these mountains.  It’s not often we have strangers drop in the way you did.  From the racket you were making while sputtering through Gold Leaf Canyon early this morning, I had a sneaking suspicion you’d be nearby.”  

Now smiling, Rod held his hand out and said, “My name is Rod Colson, and my partner is John Rasmussen.  We’re happy to make your acquaintance.” 

“I would kinda’ suspect that.  I’m the proprietor of Big Emma, a gold mine a ways back and up above Gold Leaf Canyon.  When you boys sputtered through the canyon this morning, I could hear this coughing, and I’m amazed seeing you in one piece.  From the reverberations your engine made bouncing off those canyon walls, and the visibility blacker than a coal miner’s underwear, I thought maybe you’d shook the dice once too often.  As you won’t be going anywhere for a while, might I suggest you return to Big Emma with me, and I’ll have Tabasco warm the ovens and conjure up some vittles and in the meantime we’ll do some talking.”


Big Emma

With some reservations in having to leave Bessie, the Silver-Grays climbed into the jeep.  Rass whispered, “Jake said that beings he was just passing through he thought he’d drop in and get acquainted, I’m wondering where he was passing through to go where.”                  

Enduring the rough ride, they soon entered Gold Leaf Canyon.  Awe-struck, the Silver-Grays were soon absorbed in the splendor of the cedar and juniper trees sheltering the grassy hills.  Examining the higher slopes, they were enthralled by the huge pines towering upward in their stately splendor.         

When reaching the high point of the canyon floor, then idling downgrade along the bank of a rock-strewn streambed, they soon turned to splash through the creek to begin the steep ascent up the mountain.  The humming of lower gears reverberated off the canyon walls in resonant-like harmony echoing the canyon’s greetings.  High above, their attention was drawn to switchbacks they would soon traverse while continuing up the steep mountain grade. 

Immersed in the splendor of it all, Rass gasped, “Oh mercy!  If I look down it’s scary, if I look up it’s scary.  I’m scared of heights, and if I close my eyes I’ll miss the grandest scene I’ve never seen.”          

Reaching the high divide, a descent was soon made into a valley carpeted with myriad wildflowers huddled among groves of aspen interspersed with lodge pole.  Mountains encompassed the whole valley, reflecting a framework of snow-white peaks onto the surface of a lake.  Jake called, “We are now entering the isolated confines of Amnesia Valley and I must give warning—once you abide here, you will know this to be the cradle of all humanity, and all remembrances of a distance past will be lost from memory.” 

When reaching the high valley floor a small clearing was entered where rustic log cabins were seen bordering the edge of the forested landscape.  Somewhat amazed when seeing a grand lodge resting among the trees with smoke spiraling from its rock chimney, then to see children playing, seemingly unconcerned with the new arrivals.  Across the clearing a large mining hoist with its accompanying waste dump stood while at its base several large trucks and pickups were randomly parked at the wayside partially hidden in the trees.  Barely visible on the hillside a large ore processing plant could be seen partially hidden in dense growth. 

Rass spoke, “Is that a Jersey cow I see near that barn-like building?”

“To keep Tabasco happy,” Jake replied, “he asked that I furnish a Jersey milk cow along with other amenities.  His wife María does the milking and to keep it fresh she leaves it covered in our cooling cavern.  From this we have homemade butter, and the best Dutch cheese you’ll have ever eaten.  The professor and the missus enjoy a bowl of warmed up bread and milk before going … I mean retiring for the night.  And if there are onions and radishes, that’s all the better.”

With his curiosity showing, Rod questioned, “You did say a professor?” 

“Yes, each spring he and his wife Mona drive out from Boston to spend the summer.  He’s a retired Army General who came out of retirement to teach at one of those Ivy League universities back east.  Be sure and address him as professor.  The professor’s wife is a photo biologist, or something along that line.  It has to do with the study of light in relation to biological processes.  She’s always out there taking pictures of flowers and various plants.  When they arrive from Boston we shepherd them up the dugway with Ralph, and when they leave we tie Ralph behind and shepherd them off the mountain.  Wonderful folks to be around—we don’t have an abundance of intellect around here.”               

 When arriving at the lodge, Jake motioned for them to follow him.  Stepping onto the large deck, they entered an inviting lounge with several leather couches and easy chairs facing a large television console.  Paintings of western scenes hung on the walls with a grand piano sitting off to one side.  The log burning in the rock fireplace with its dancing light and crackling display of sparks presented a warm atmosphere. 

To the Silver-Grays, it was an impressive and grand sight.  While following Jake through the dining area into the kitchen Jake called out in his booming moose-like voice, “Tabasco!  Come in here, I want you to meet the boys!”                                                                               

A short, rather fat Mexican, with an infectious grin as wide as a five-dollar bill made his entry through a side door followed by his lovely wife, a beautiful dark complexioned lady several inches taller than her husband.  “Boys, I want you to meet Lópes Antonio Pedro Arista, and attractive wife María, and this is Rod Colson and John Rasmussen who woke you before daybreak this morning.”  With greetings being exchanged, a gracious voice called, “You señors can call me Tabasco.  Everyone who comes to my kitchen must eat.” 

Following Tabasco and María through an exit, they entered a sheltered area with rolled up curtains that would also serve as sidewalls.  On the earthen floor red-hot embers from a pinewood fire warmed several Dutch Ovens of various sizes.  María loaded one with plump sausages, and into others heaping portions of hash browns were ladled in.  Peppers, tomatoes and onions seasoned from a recipe Tabasco claimed Cortez had brought from Spain at the time he invaded the Aztec Empire were added.

Asking Tabasco to set a table in the kitchen, Jake then acknowledged he had a business proposition to discuss with the boys.  María broke in, “La comida está en mesa.”  

While Jake offered a blessing on the food, Rod thought about these people that gave  an impression they were down-to-earth, God-fearing folks.  The more understanding he had of them, the more admiration he had for them.  Rass had begin eating when Jake explained he could have either elderberry or chokecherry syrup for his sourdough hot cakes, adding that María and her children pick them during the summer months on the lower slopes to produce jams and syrups.  Rass answered he would try both.  

When Tabasco placed a large container of cold fresh milk on the table, Jake suggested, “Drink an abundance of María’s milk, or next time there’ll be no milk.”  Rass had already sampled the spicy hash browns, and with eyes watering, exclaimed, “I see no problem with that.”

“Now boys, while you dig in, I have a business proposal.  But before we get into that I’ll give you a rundown on what you’re seeing here.  This should answer most of the questions you’re wanting to ask; everyone inquires about the same thing.  What you’re seeing here is a gold-mining operation known as Big Emma.  Although lately I’ve heard references such as the Last Chance mine.  Big Emma got her name from the wife of a member of the Golden Dozen stockholders, who glittered from all the elegant gold jewelry ornamenting her huge chassis.” 

“There were only a dozen shareholders, and they were out of New York.  They controlled all the stock and were known as the Golden Dozen.  So you can see why we have such nice facilities.  In Big Emma’s golden years, many of those shareholders would spend a great deal of time here in the summer.  They invited friends from back east to vacation here, and they loved to entertain.  That explains the guest cabins; everything they contrived was on a grand scale. 

“Then the day arrived Big Emma fell on hard times. The Golden Trail, as they called it, suddenly lost its way.  Now my daddy was one of those Golden Dozen, and as a geologist he launched a study to determine why the Golden Trail suddenly ceased to be.   His findings indicated Big Emma had been hit with faulting; caused from an earthquake that intersected the ore body, and that’s how the Golden Trail disappeared into the mountain.  How much the earth slipped is a big dispute.  Oh yes; now you want to ask if they drilled in an attempt to pick the trail back up. The answer is yes, but my daddy wanted them to tunnel. 

“They ran a couple of small exploratory drifts, but the muck they put over the waste dump wouldn’t measure up to a dung hill.  They hired this hotshot mining engineer who knew all the answers.  But when knowing the lay of the land, he was only operating on two blown cylinders. After that chaos they voted to shut Big Emma down, convinced that she’d bequeathed her last ounce of gold.

“Now my daddy, having enough confidence in his ability to find that door struck out on his own.  He staked everything he owned on Big Emma making it back.  He pulled his money out of savings, sold about everything he owned, and then borrowed for the remaining balance.  He scraped together enough money to take over ownership of Big Emma with the bank holding the mortgage on the balance.  The strain was too much and he collapsed.  Before passing away he gathered us at his bedside, and made us promise to stand by Emma and run that tunnel to the door of the Golden Trail.

“With little working capital we commenced blasting out a tunnel in the compass direction my daddy was implicit we follow.  It was slow going as we labored long hours trying to locate the door leading to the windfall.   
    “Having to raise a considerable amount of money to meet our first installment, it was necessary to pull back from our exploration work.  The installment to the bank is due at the end of this month, so for the past six months we’ve had to probe with pick and shovel every small pocket and vein of ore we could sniff out to be deposited in the holding bins on the surface.  We’ve sorted through these pickings, washed and run them over the shaker several times, until now we have about seven tons of high-grade ore mixed in with sand and gravel.  

“Assayed samples show its worth to be about seventeen troy ounces to the ton, and at today’s listing on the gold market, this amounts to almost $46,000.  Our problem now is how to transport this aggregate into the hands of an old associate; a family friend and brother-in-law who’ll run it through his concentrator.  He’ll give us payment on delivery and we’ll settle the concentrator cost down the line.”  

“I saw what I thought to be a large mill over by your waste dump.  Can’t you run your ore through there?”  Rass asked.

“Nope, I hope to crank that machinery up again in the not to far future, but for the small amount of ore we now have for processing, it wouldn’t be feasible.  You mentioned when we first met that you were delighted to see me.  Well, I was even more delighted to see you.  When I came upon you and that airplane in one piece, it was like a heaven-sent answer to our prayers.  But seeing the two of you in such a famished state, you looked more like a couple of fallen angels to me.  But in knowing if I could get some of Tabasco’s wake up cuisine into you, you’d be more receptive. 

“The problems we are presently encountering are coming from a suspect source.  The Burlington Gold Mining claims straddle the mouth of Gold Leaf Canyon, and our one and only access road runs through that property.  Like Big Emma, all their claims are patented.  From the early days of the mining industry, you could gain access to your claim over another person’s claim, if that was the only feasible right of entry to your claim.  

“Now the Burlington people want to challenge that right-of-way issue.  They are giving easement rights over the Burlington property to all vehicles entering or leaving with the exception of outbound loaded ore trucks.  Hell, we shouldn’t be fighting each other.  In the past we’ve had to team up in opposing restrictions imposed upon us by the Division of State Lands and Forestry. We have wilderness alliances and environmental groups coming out our ears.  It’s all just one big headache anymore. 

“It all comes down to getting that ore transported to the concentrator.  We’ve readied a truckload of high-grade ore for shipment—we didn’t conjecture we needed to be quiet about it; we’ve never had to be secretive.  In the past our working relationship with Burlington was open-door.  As it now stands we highly suspect the bank is corrupting the Burlington people to prevent that shipment from reaching the concentrator.  They’ve been around long enough to know they can’t win on a right-of-way issue, but they can stall us into next month.  I don’t want to face that, if the bank is involved in this shenanigan, there’ll not be any extension on a late payment.

  “Here’s what I’m asking, I’d like to pull a backdoor switch—we slip out the back door while they watch the front.  They’re not expecting that to happen.  As you now know there are no existing roads, only rough desert terrain that makes it impossible for a loaded ore truck to traverse.  Would you boys be in the market to airlift that ore out of here to help extricate poor ol’ Emma from those shysters?”             

Without hesitation, Rod agreed, “When you put it that way, how could we refuse?  The quicker we move on it, the better.  I’m sure Rass feels the same way, isn’t that right Rass?”  With his head lopped to one side Rass had slipped into the world of dreams.  “I’m sure it will be fine with Rass—the problem facing us now is fuel for Bessie.”

“We have underground fuel storage near the hoist shack that holds 5000 gallons, and it’s about half-full, can Bessie get by using that?”

“Right now Bessie will burn anything that a match will light.  If you’ll mark the destination on a map, I’ll work out a fuel load.”

Jake then revealed the destination they’d be flying too didn’t have a landing strip.  “It lies about forty miles north of Elko, Nevada, and you’ll be landing at a ranch located at the base of Independence Mountain.  The ranch sits on several thousand acres of grazing land and is fairly level on its eastern perimeter.  There’s considerable activity in gold mining there and that’s the location of the concentrator.  When you’re ready to depart, I’ll notify Bert of your estimated time of arrival.”

“You have a phone?”  Rod asked.

“You bet, it’s a radio telephone; you’re welcome to use it.”

“The person I need to call is still on his way home, he’s a partner we have some concerns about, and this evening I’ll attempt calling him.  What charts we have are all aboard Bessie, would you have a map of the location we can look at?” 

“Hold up there!”  Jake cautioned.  “Rass is going to get a charley horse in his neck if we don’t get him laid out.”  Then motioning, he asked Tabasco to lead Rass over to cabin number two and see to it that he is comfortable. 

When Rod followed Jake into the conference room, the ornate woodwork of rich cherry wood matching a large meeting table in the room was an impressive setting.   Quick to note the many shelves containing a variety of books from mining journals to Tom Sawyer, and on another, a wall containing a large scaled map diagramming all the internal workings of Big Emma were seen.  Rod’s interest picked-up when he saw the combined map of Nevada and Utah showing all the mining districts as well as the access roads leading to them.  Pointing to an area north of Elko Nevada on the wall map, Jake said, “That’s the location you’ll be landing, the Lost Creek Ranch.” 

Using a piece of string, Rod measured the distance from Bessie’s present position to the Ranch, then after laying it on the mileage scale, “As the crow flies it’s one-hundred and eighty-five miles to the ranch.  It will be necessary to land at Elko and raise the oil level to the full mark on both engines.  From where we stand, the Elko airport is about one hundred forty-five miles and it’s right on the way.   If you can let us have one hundred and fifty gallons of fuel, we’ll sweeten it with aviation fuel at Elko.  No offense, but I think Bessie would prefer that.  Now it will be necessary to make two trips.  You mentioned you have fourteen-thousand pounds of ore, and the most Bessie can handle comfortably is around eight-thousand pounds per load, so I suggest we split the load and make a second trip, we’ll also need containers to transport the ore in.” 

 “We have an abundance of empty powder boxes.  Due to Bessie’s present location we’ll not be able to use the front-end-loader, it will be necessary for the box weight to be kept at a hundred pounds or less—doing that we can manhandle them.  I’ll call the twins up from Emma, and they can start on that project now.  We’ll fuel Bessie and load the ore on board in the morning.  After that, it’s your call as when you leave, and in the meantime you’ll occupy cabin number one.  Tabasco will call you when the evening meal is ready.” 

“Señor Rod, can you hear me?”  Startled and somewhat disoriented, Rod finally realized it was Tabasco calling on the intercom.

“Señor Rod, wake up.  Comémos now, Levántase.” 

“Roger Tabasco, I hear you loud and clear.” 

Rod was pleased in seeing neatly laid-out amenities for his use, including a complete change of apparel.  After a refreshing shower and feeling more rejuvenated dressed in the clean attire, Rod glanced into the mirror.  A feeling of warmth from within was felt when seeing the suspended silver bullet. 

Walking to the lodge, time was taken to stroll among the pines, then to linger along the crystal streams listening to the rippling water making its way to the lake.  Several of Jake’s beef cattle were seen grazing on grassy slopes near the waters edge.  Feeling more revitalized Rod paused occasionally to gaze at snow-crowned peaks and to inhale the fragrance of late summer flowers.  A sentiment of peace surged within while standing in awe of this utopia bestowing its alluring enchantment throughout Amnesia Valley.    

When entering the dining room, a startled Rod beheld members of Big Emma’s family all seated and smiling with anticipation.  Mountain flowers reflected upon the bright silverware adorning the table setting.  Those in the room bequeathed an atmosphere of cheerful contentment.  Hardly recognizing Rass duded out in his clean apparel, with whiskers and hair somewhat brushed, everyone was laughing when Tabasco had suggested he looked like a porcupine. 

Jake’s presence became apparent when he was heard requesting the boys to please stand—then smiling with gratification,  “I want you to meet our newest members of Big Emma’s family, Rod Colsen and John Rasmussen who have consented to airlift the ore to the Lost Creek Ranch.”  When seeing the family stand and applaud, the surprised Silver-Grays nodded awkwardly while feeling somewhat out of place. 

Jake continued, “I believe you’ve met everyone here with the exception of our esteemed Professor Douglas Earle and lovely wife Mona.  She’s responsible for the attractive flowers adorning our table, and the other two gentlemen waiting to shake hands  are twin brothers Lloyd and Floyd Taylor.  They’re responsible for all the underground workings deep in Emma.  Then of course there are the four little ones of Tabasco and María.  The oldest is Lópes, and next in seating we have Antonio, Pedro and little María who keep us on our toes.  Now if everyone will be seated, Professor Earle will ask for the blessing on the food.” 

The tempting salad consisted of leafy greens, with sliced wild onion harvested by the professor’s wife from the slopes surrounding Amnesia Valley.  Watercress picked fresh in the lower creek added gusto, along with Tabasco’s blue cheese condiment blended to perfection.  The main course consisted of steaming beef brisket, marinated in secret ingredients entitled ‘Big Emma’s Sauce.’  

Attempting to extend a complement to Mona, Rod hesitated.  She quickly made known that Mona was fine and appropriate.  “As a family we are all on a first-name basis here except for the professor, and he insists on being addressed by his pedagogical title.”  Rod, now thoughtful of the family and feeling more at ease had feelings within for this grand hurrah to continue, and not to end up as just another one-engine stop.  But while it lasted, every moment will be cherished.

Leaning toward Rod, Rass whispered, “What about this Lost Creek Ranch?  If I’m to go there, then maybe it would be a good idea if I knew where I was going.”

When seeing a cart with several plump pies accompanied by a slab of extra-sharp cheese, the dinner guest heard Maria call out, “Postre time,” then listened as she explained, “Jake has asked that I always serve sharp cheese with his fruit pie, and this is everyone’s favorite—gooseberry, picked fresh from the vine to be preserved in bottle.”  A murmur arose from the children, but a hasty glance from María settled that.  

Leaning back in his chair Rass remarked, “I don’t know where I ever ate better than this, I’m much obliged.  Now if someone will tell me about this pedagogical stuff, it kind of rings a bell like I’ve heard it before.

The professor smiled, “In answer to your question, it means educator, or one who has the art of teaching.  And as for this meal—a hearty meal for a hearty worker,” the professor proclaimed, “makes one proficient and fortifies his dexterity, isn’t that so Mr. Rasmussen?”

“Ah—I guess so, but only to those who earn their keep.”

“I say there Mr. Rasmussen, you’re all right.” 

Rod pushed back from the table asking to be excused as he had an important phone call to make.  Jake assisted in getting the call through, and then returned to the family.  Letting the phone ring several times, Rod waited.  When about to hang up a familiar voice was heard, “George here, what can I do for you?”          

“George! Thank the stars, are you all right?”

“I’m fine, and I just walked in.  What about you and Rass, are you okay?”  

Feeling much relieved, Rod explained, “This releases a whole lot of anxiety, Rass and I are both fine, and we’ve worried about your well-being.” 

 “I did what you asked in returning to the hardpan this morning, and I saw nothing but smoking wreckage.  I was scared, I couldn’t determine if it was the airplane or the gas truck.  I was afraid you and Rass had gone up in smoke.”

“As a matter of fact,” Rod explained, “the truck did go up in smoke.  We managed to get the DC-3 off the ground, but we inherited some problems that I’ll explain later.  When you approached the hardpan this morning did you see anyone?”   

“You bet I did.”  George gasped, “I was closing in for better scrutiny, trying to understand what went on down there, and when I drove over a rise in the road there they were, five of them trying to hail me down.  I started slowing, until I remembered what you said about running into anyone.  With both feet shoving that accelerator home, the old dodge created a dust screen, but not before they punched two bullet holes into the top of my cab.”             

Trying to make light of the incident Rod said, “That gun does tend to shoot a little high.”  Then still looking thoughtful he questioned, “I suppose they got the number of your license plate?”

“I wouldn’t think so; I said the Dodge was kicking up a lot of dust didn’t I.” 

“Just the same,” Rod replied while being adamant at the same time, “we’ll play it safe.  You leave that pickup in your garage for now and make plans to meet Rass and I in Wendover Thursday evening at around 1800?” 

 “I guess that’ll be all right, but what am I to use for transportation?”  George asked.

 “Take the bus, and you have keys for both mine and Rass’s abode, so if you would; throw a few clothes in a bag for us, then bring your tools along with a couple gallons of paint for Bessie.”

“Who did you say that paint was for?”

“The name was Bessie, and you’ll like her.  She’s a good old-fashion girl and she’ll pick you up at Wendover.” 

 “Now wait just a minute,” George challenged.  “The last good old-fashion girl I was courting ran off with my tool box.”

“I know about that, Rod explained at the same time attempting not to bust out laughing.  The way Rass described it you told her it was either you or the tool box, and she grabbed the tool box and ran.  But you’ll like Bessie, she’s a high flier, and will take you places you’ve never been, and it won’t cost you a toolbox either.  Rass has already taken to her.”

“Well that doesn’t tell me much about Rass and his girl friends that I don’t know already.  I remember the last time Rass fell in love.  He’d asked that I meet him at his girl friends home for a dinner date, and I did.  That sister was so ugly I thought she was all duded’ up for a masquerade shindig…”

Rod cut in, “Yes, I heard about that, and you had to open your mouth telling her she’d scare the pants off Frankenstein.  When her father challenged both you and Rass to a no holds barred combat—that ended your expectation for a free meal.”  

“I don’t know why Rass was so bent out of shape,” George snorted.  “She would have stopped Big Foot in his tracks.  Look what I did for him, why he ought to be thanking…”

“Rass was only upset you got him thrown out before he had a chance to eat,”       Rod said.  “We could go on all night with this; Bessie is the name of our Grand Ol’ Lady.” 

“Aw, I know that, I was just funnin’.”

Back in the lounge, Rod joined the family who listened to Mona’s playing the songs of yesteryear.  Rass whispered, “Did you talk with George, and is he okay?”

“George is his usual self.  We’ll pick him up in Wendover the day after tomorrow.”

Without mentioning anything to Rod, Rass strolled over to Mona who was playing the piano and whispered aloud that Rod would sing Beyond the Blue Horizon if she’d play it.  With the family applauding, Rod reluctantly agreed to sing providing everyone would accompany him—then as he sang, many voices softened to become silent, enraptured by this resplendent baritone voice.  At the conclusion the professor was yelling, “Bravo! Bravo!”  In his ebullience he pumped Rod’s hand while exclaiming, “That was wonderful my son, it was simply wonderful.” 

While giving Rod a hug, Mona in a soft voice mentioned, “I have accompanied many remarkable voices in the music world, but none quite as inspiring as yours.  I’ve also witnessed a miracle, it takes a command performance to find favor with the professor and you accomplished it with one song—a song made for you.”  Rod was blushing when she kissed him on the cheek.

Seeing the family enjoying themselves Jake announced, “This is like old times and we need more of the same.” 

Before turning in for the night Tabasco announced that early breakfast would be served at 5:00 o’clock.  

Jake was smiling, “Not you Rod, the twins will leave early to transport the fuel and boxed ore.  It’s going to take them a while to arrive at Bessie, so I suggest the rest of us meet for breakfast at 7:00 o’clock.” 

Before leaving for their cabins the Silver-Grays expressed their appreciation for the warm reception, and how much they had enjoyed the family—then asked to be excused to return to their cabins.

Startled by a voice that came from nowhere, “Breakfast ready soon señor Rod.  This is Tabasco—over and out.”  Laughing to himself at Tabasco’s meaningful choice of words, Rod’s mind slowly drifted into how well he had slept in the high mountain air, and how peaceful and pleasant it all seemed.  Then having to disrupt this serenity so soon after the hijacking seemed beyond common reasoning.  Too expose Bessie to the prying eyes of those who might be observant of all itinerant aircraft in the Elko and Wendover area seemed an unreasonable thing to do.

With the uncertainties brought on by an unscheduled landing, Rod felt his only option would be to proceed with the planned agenda.   In knowing if they successfully completed the two runs, George would then modify Bessie’s exterior hopeful this would change the appearance of Bessie enough to throw anyone off her trail for the time being.  Still the suspense of so many uncertainties was frustrating. 

 With a hearty breakfast and María’s sack lunches to go, Jake and the Silver-Grays climbed aboard Ralph.  Jake with a mischievous grin asked Rass if he’d care to drive.

“I think I’ll just sit back here and enjoy the scenery, thanks just the same.”  Commencing the drive down the dugway, Jake glanced over his shoulder to see Rass hunched down in his seat.  “I thought you were going to enjoy the scenery.”

“I was just tying my shoe.”

Jake whispered to Rod, “It takes Rass longer to tie his shoe than my daddy when taking me to the woodshed.”

Approaching Bessie, the Silver-Grays were filled with anticipation.  The truck was backed in next to the cargo doors, and the twins were seen loading the last of the aggregate aboard.  Rod felt apprehensive as to the center of gravity, but after an inspection the load was verified to be properly distributed.  

Lloyd offered, “Your concern on the weight and balance was obvious to Floyd and me, we both served in the Navy as loadmasters, and it was kind of interesting to work out a weight and balance problem again.  We would have had her fueled, but we don’t understand the fuel setup on the C-47.”

Rass, having taken up station on Bessie’s right wing, “You just hand me that nozzle—I’ll handle this end.”  Then seeing more than one tank to be fueled, he meekly asked, “Which one do I stick the nozzle in?” 

With everyone now snickering, Rod held a straight face while calling out, “The forward tank on each wing, add seventy-five gallons each.”  

Rass called back, “That’s what I was intending to do all the time.”

A voice from one of the workers responded, “You could have fooled us.”  Rass turned and slammed the nozzle into the tank.

Looking over at Rod, Floyd said, “Jake insists you take on more fuel.  He made it clear he wanted another fifty in there; giving you a total of two-hundred gallons.”

Shuffling his feet and smiling to himself Rod said, “Right now Rass is meaner than a biting bear, so Floyd, you’ve been given the honor of passing that information on to Rass, it would be much appreciated by the rest of us.”

“I’ll do that,” Floyd said.  “But Rass isn’t going to like it.”  

Having just returned from inspecting the dirt strip, Jake winked at Rod.  “That’s right boys, ol’ Jake doesn’t want to hear any more of that midnight sputtering in Gold Leaf, so bring it up to two hundred.”  Jake went on to explain how he had inspected the ancient shore line for obstacles, and other than a couple of half buried rocks he had removed, Bessie had a good mile for her take off roll.

About this time Floyd returned with an odd grin on his face after telling Rass he had too add another 25 gallons each side.  Rod asked what his reply was.  Floyd said he just stood there hollering words like poop and horse hockey. 

Shakng his head Rod said, “When Rass uses cuss words like that, he’s awful mad.”   




The Lost Creek Ranch

Completing a satisfactory walk-around, then after pulling the props through checking for any hydraulic locks, the Silver-Grays climbed aboard.  With ample fuel and the cargo secured, Bessie was ready for startup. 

Rass now somewhat over his frustration asked, “How’s the battery-voltage holding up?”  

Rod assured him, “If the engines are spring-loaded for start, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

Rass begin reading the checklist aloud while Rod responded, checking off each item one by one.  With all checks completed Rod called, “Clear right?”

Rass quickly checked out his side window looking for the all clear sign by one of the ground observers, and then called, “Clear on the right.”  

The engine responded with a small bark before firing into its familiar galloping throb.  When hearing the familiar sound of the hydraulic system surging to full pressure, Rod returned the gear handle to its neutral position to silence the gear warning horn. 

Seeing the all clear signal from out his side window Rod hit the starter button for number one, the left prop turned readily, the engine caught and settled into its rumbling rhythm.  Speaking loudly to overcome the engine sounds, Rod asked for the after-start checklist and reminded Rass to set the altimeters to the ancient shore elevation of 5300 feet above sea level 

After holding two fingers up in a V for victory, Rod snapped off a quick salute at the same time showing a big grin.  Jake along with the Taylor twins responded with thumbs up.  Small applications of power assisted Bessie in maintaining a proper heading while taxiing.  When reaching the far end of the strip Bessie was turned into the wind.  Then in knowing the completed run-up checks had confirmed Bessie’s airworthiness Rod called, “Ready Rass?”   

Rass responded with an okay. 

Rod whooped, “Let’s go flying!”  Accelerating smoothly, a ribbon of dust trailed behind as Bessie lifted off at eighty knots.  Seeing those on the ground waving, Rod dipped a wing in acknowledgement before banking Bessie into a steep right turn.

“What’s with this?”  Rass called out in alarm.  “You’re banking towards that blasted mountain.”              

“It’s okay Rass, nothing to worry about.  I’ll continue the turn until we’re on a parallel southbound course.  But we still have too tuck in close to the Deep Creek.”

“We’re only a wing tip away from pushing up red posies.”  Rass argued.

Rod looked over at Rass while laughing, “From what we suffered through the night before last, I would think this would be old stuff for you, Rass.” 

“But I couldn’t see what we weren’t hitting in the dark,” Rass grumbled.

“What I’m attempting to do is to avoid radar detection as we are still operating in the military restricted area.  If Bessie were to appear on the air traffic control screen, someone then could easily track our blip until they understood our intentions.”

“Then, zap!  The good folks from the FAA have gotcha’.  Rod went on to explain, “They can recite those regulations forward and backward.  They even memorize all the new regulations they make that very day.  They’ll take your license away, and levy a fat fine.  If you challenge their decision and by some slim chance the judge sides with you, the FAA will appeal to the National Transportation Safety Board to have the judge’s decision overturned.  They’ve got the whole U.S. Mint backing their cost, but your cost comes from your own pocket, and if your pocket is like my pocket—between us, we ain’t got two cents.”   

“No wonder so many pilots medical out before age sixty,” Rass added thoughtfully, then after pausing a moment he suggested, “Why don’t you tuck Bessie in there a little closer just to be on the safe side?”

When gaining sufficient altitude, Bessie was banked to a westerly heading to slip through the gap lying midway between two ridges.  Now clear of the higher terrain, a descent was initiated to hug the valley floor.  “In a few more miles we’ll clear the restricted area, and if Bessie has painted a blip on the radar screen, they’ll let us know when landing at Elko.”  Rod announced.

 Free of the restricted area, Bessie was free to climb.  Pointing ahead, he called, “You’re seeing the beautiful Ruby Valley.  Long ago I visited the fish hatchery down there and saw schools of the largest and most beautiful trout I have ever seen.  I asked the head honcho where they intended to plant them.  He just smiled and shook his head.  Nevada takes care of her streams.  On this heading and altitude we’ll fly through Harrison Pass and avoid the higher peaks in the formidable Ruby Mountains.

Rod continued speaking thoughtfully, “There is a lot of early-day aviation history written in this part of the country Rass.  Can you imagine hauling the transcontinental mail in a war-surplus open-cockpit DH-4 in the dead of winter?  They lost a few also, in fact one crashed in this very pass attempting to skinny through the weather.  Another went down shortly after take-off from Elko.  Bad weather forced many to crash land in the mountains and across the entire route from east to west.  The only navigation aid they had going for them was a compass and their instincts.  They didn’t even have beacon lights to point the way until 1924.

 “The old Pony Express got it down to under ten days from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.  The mail plane pilots got it down to around 33 hours coast to coast.  There are a lot of heroes in aviation; however I’d stack those old pilots who flew segments between the East and the West Coast with any of them.  They were the forerunners of the airlines.                                                                                                                                                  

“When the post office began extending the mail route further west, and a pilot lost his life in flying the route, ‘he’s gone west’ was the term used in explaining his demise, and thirty-two pilots and nine mechanics have gone west.”

Rod looked over his shoulder to see why Rass was so quiet, only to see Rass dabbing at the tears in his eyes.  “Sometimes I talk too much,” Rod mumbled.

After clearing the Ruby Mountains, Bessie settled onto a direct course to Elko.  Rass called the fixed base operation on Unicom, and reported their current position as thirty-five miles southeast, landing Elko for fuel.  Elko replied the fuel truck would be waiting. 

“I was hoping they would give us wind and traffic,” Rod said, “I’d like to avoid calling Elko Flight Service.  That way we can avoid disclosing our tail number.  We’ll remain on this frequency and hope some other aircraft requests the wind and altimeter setting.”

A short time later a Bonanza reported 20 west, and Elko radio responded, “Roger Bonanza, understand your 20 west.  Wind is 090 at 15 gusting 25.  Altimeter 30.12 and no reported traffic.”

The Bonanza replied, saying he’d plan a straight in on runway 05. 

Encouraging Bessie to descend at a steady rate, Rod could hear the Bonanza reporting five miles out on final. 

“We have the Bonanza in sight and will follow it in.”  Rass replied to Elko radio.

Elko Flight Service requested, “Aircraft following Bonanza, say type aircraft?”  

Rod quickly cut Rass off, “Elko radio, you’re breaking up!  Apparently we have a bad receiver.”  Then looking at Rass, Rod suggested, “Don’t acknowledge any repeat calls, or they may start asking questions.”  Next the gear down was called for and the gear down check list. 

Shaking his head in frustration, Rass completed the checklist, “Wheels down with green light, pressure is up, final check completed.”

Correcting for a right crosswind, Rod kept Bessie crabbed into the wind until the right wing was lowered to oppose the wind in keeping the runway lined until touch down.  

When clearing the runway a fuel truck was observed waiting on the ramp with several nearby individuals.   

 “What’s with those cowboys waiting around that fuel truck?”  Rass wondered aloud.

“You tell me.”  Rod replied.  Then seeing one individual wearing a badge with handcuffs attached to his duty-belt, too his self Rod uttered, “Damn and after all we’ve gone through—now this.”  Cutting the mixtures, Rod heaved another sigh.  “I don’t know what they want for sure, but I can guess.” 

Becoming more distraught, Rass agreed, “Looks like room and board to me, and they’ve even parked the fuel truck to prevent our getting away.”

“Now remember Rass just let me do the talking.”  Rod deplaned Bessie, then while waiting for Rass, several individuals were seen to approach.  Rass, standing in the entryway suddenly proclaimed, “It was my contrivance.  It’s me your after!”

Looking puzzled, the refueler waiting by the fuel truck replied, “I don’t particularly care a mites-rear-end who you are, are why you are.  Will somebody tell me what tanks I’m to stick this nozzle in?” 

 “Huh?  Oh, uh … Rod!  What tanks do you want filled?”

 One deputy who was approaching Rod motioned, “We’ve been waiting for you.  We saw you turning onto final, and from the grand music those Pratt and Whitney’s were sending forth, my heart told me it was a C-47.  I flew these birds in Vietnam and I almost cried when hearing the rumble from those engines.  It’s been a while, would you mind if we go aboard.  I’d like very much to introduce myself to her and reminisce of old times?”

Rod, still somewhat confused at this turn of events replied, “Not at all if you don’t mind maneuvering around boxed cargo.  There’s an ice box in there full of cold soda, you and your friends help yourselves—the drinks are on Bessie.”

“Now who is Bessie?”

“You’re looking at her.”  After the deputy and his friends had climbed aboard, Rod maneuvered Rass off to one side and admonished, “We almost walked into that one with the performance you were putting on.  All you needed was curtains on each side of the cargo doors, and with another curtain call like that, we can forget about this whole operation.”

 “Oh mercy, I was thinking of you, Rod.”

 “I appreciate that Rass, only next time please listen to me when I ask you not say anything until we know who we are dealing with.  In the future I hope you’ll wait until they have the hand cuffs on me before making anymore of those curtain calls—okay partner?”

 “Okay Rod, I understand, and thanks.”

 After debating with himself Rod said, “Having to haul all that fuel bothers me.  Bessie will be over-grossed, and I’m not looking forward to putting down at that ranch with an over-grossed airplane.  But I’m not up to facing any more of what we’ve just gone through.  Go ahead Rass, notify the fueling personnel you want all four tanks topped off.  I’ll be inside making a phone call regarding some business pertaining to Bessie.”  

Finished with the call and hanging up the receiver, Rod returned to find Rass had settled the charges and had purchased the required maps.  A bystander asked where their next stop would be.

“We are not sure on that just yet,” Rod answered.  “We’ll be heading up Boise, Idaho way, and if the weather remains favorable, we’ll just keep going.”   

Rass leaned over and whispered, “What kind of an answer was that?  You know we’re going to a ranch near by.”

“You think about it Rass, then let me know if you come up with something better without broadcasting our destination to inquisitive people.  In other words— we can’t trust anyone.”

After scratching his head Rass replied. “I suppose not.”  Then looking at the gentleman who had asked the question, they saw him scratching his head likewise.

In a low voice Rod suggested, “That’s what we have to do Rass, keep everybody scratching.”  When the deputy thanked them for their hospitality, Rod asked if the C-47s he had flown in Vietnam were known as Puff the Magic Dragon.”

“They were, yes they were indeed, and the fire power those birds put out!  I don’t miss Vietnam, but I miss the C-47.  She was the airplane that changed the world.” 

Rod agreed, “Anyone associated with her remembers her with affection.” 

“Where is your home base?”  The deputy asked.

“Trout Creek, Utah, Rod answered with a straight face.”

The deputy repeated, “Trout Creek, I’ve never heard of it.  So you must be a ways from home—but when I say have a nice one, I mean it”

With a sigh of relief, the Silver-Grays buckled up and started the engines.  As Bessie taxied toward the runway, Rass picked up the mike and informed Elko radio they planned departing runway 05.” 

Again Elko radio came back with a request asking for their tail number, and again Rod grabbed the mike and explained they were unable to read him.  And again Rod threw up his hands and asked Rass not to do that.  “If he wants that number bad enough, he can request it from line tech.  Or possibly put the glasses on us; but we ain’t volunteering anything.  Try to remember that Rass.”    

After lift off, Rass chortled, “Boise, are there about, here we come!”  Unfolding the sectional chart, Rass held it over the pedestal for Rod to study. 

Pointing to the highway leading north out of Elko, Rod chuckled,  “Fifty years ago I navigated by highways and rivers, now I’m back doing it again and enjoying it even more.  Look at this back country Rass, mountains paralleling our course and cattle grazing in the hills, it’s all western.”

Pointing ahead Rass called, “Why would they have a large white looking cross in that field next to the highway?”

“You’ve done it again dead eye.  That’s a marker designating our landing site, they’ve thought of everything.  Those pickups by the fence with cowboys waving; ol’ Bessie’s going to be unloaded in a hurry.”

“The smoke from the ranch house bespeaks a calm wind,” Rass volunteered.  When Bessie was banked into a south downwind leg, Rod called, “Drop the gear, and call out the numbers.  

Rass responded, “Two green—pressure up.  All buttoned up for landing.”  Inspecting the grazing area for obstructions, Rass suggested, “It must be all right, that’s where they laid out the marker.”

“It’s kind of like what the professor was saying at dinner last night.  ‘Listen to everyone, just don’t believe everyone.’  Keep those eyes peeled Rass.”  Bessie gently banked too line up on final, then slowing to ninety-five knots, Rod called, “Three quarter flaps.”  Crossing the fence at eighty, Bessie eased onto the pasture rolling to a stop near the pickups.  Rod called out, “One down, and one to go,”  

At the bottom of the air stairs a tall lanky John Wayne-type was waiting to greet them, “Hello fly boys, I’m here to take that gold off your hands?”  Holding out his hand, “I’m Bert Taylor, the ornery cuss you’re looking for.”

Rod smiled, “Jake characterized you as a man that would go the last mile and give his bottom dollar that he might help a friend.  Apparently you’re doing that now.” 

“Why that sonofagun, did he say that?  Spreadin’ exaggerations like that will ruin a man’s reputation.  Tell him the next time I visit Big Emma, he’d better haul me up that mountain in something besides that jeep he calls Ralph.  You don’t know whether to jump or wait until you‘re bucked off.  Hope you don’t mind the folks taken’ a peep at your airplane, I spread the word there would be a big one in today and they didn’t believe me.”  With a grin and a nod of his head, “Now that they are here, they might as well pitch in with the unloading.”

With the ore off-loaded; many ranchers still lingered aboard Bessie.  One little blond girl looking to be four years old had taken Rod’s hand, and with eyes as blue as the sky, asked, “Are you going to come back to see me?”  Everyone’s attention centered on Rod.  Without hesitating he lifted her up in his arms.  Wrapping both arms around his neck, she hugged and kissed him on the cheek. 

Rod pointed towards Bert and asked, “Do you know that gentleman?” 

Little Sam answered, “He’s not a gentleman, he’s my grandpa and he told me to ask you.”

With everyone laughing, Rod asked, “Do you like your grandpa?  He told me he was the meanest, orneriest cuss around these parts.” 

“He is not; he’s the best grandpa in the whole world.”         

Laughing, Rod motioned to Bert, “That assumed reputation you’ve claimed doesn’t hold much weight with this little gal.” 

“Well times change.  But these folks you’re seeing here are the salt of the earth.  Now I need to ask you this.  I know the financial situation Jake is in right now is a short fall, and he’ll make it back.  His daddy gave him the straight poop, but hauling ore with an airplane—I don’t know, and of course the ongoing problem’s with the Burlington people isn’t helping matters either. 

“With his back to the wall, I wanted to go down there and take care of this problem the way it should be, but Jake asked me not too—said it’s not like that way anymore, as if I didn’t know.  We can’t take matters into our own hands like we did in the past and he’s right about that.  Nowadays we lay it in the hands of lawyers, and somewhere along the trail we end up with half of what we had when we started out. 

But I’ll say this for Jake, he takes after his daddy.  He’ll ride it out okay, and when you and him become better acquainted, you’re going to like him even more.  Now let’s get back to what I was saying, you can’t fly these airplanes on nothing, so these folks have taken up a little aggregation to help defray the cost

“That will make Jake happy,” Rod nodded.  “With him knowing everyone here is pulling for him that will be a morale booster, and as for the cost on this airplane, there isn’t any.  He helped Rass and me out of one bad situation when we needed it, and we’re now returning the favor.”

While hesitating, Bert kicked at a rock with his boot before commenting, “I did a quick study on you and your partner, and I go along with what Jake has expressed, ‘there’s not a lot of folks around like you anymore.’  But Hells Bells Rod, take the money and cover some of your own expenses and hand over the rest to Jake.”          

“Bessie’s been a humanitarian throughout her existence,” Rod countered.  “Her last tour of duty had her making flights contrary to her moral principles.  So this is on Bessie, and the benefactors who so graciously contributed money for her expenses.  Rass and I will turn your favors over to Jake, and when that door opens to the Golden Trail, Jake will see that Big Emma lays out a spread for everyone who helped him through some very trying times.

 “Would you consider returning to Big Emma with us and then you could visit Jake?”  Rod questioned.  “We’ll have you back here tomorrow with our final load.”

“I appreciate the suggestion, my wife Maggie is in ill health and has mostly been bed-ridden since our only son and daughter-in-law were killed while rock climbing in the Sierras.  Her health wasn’t that good to begin with, and Samantha has been living with us since then.  So right now my hands are tied with Sam and all, but I’m asking this, maybe you would give me a rain check on that offer.”

When Rod attempted to hand Sam over to the arms of a waiting rancher’s wife, Sam pulled back and cried, insisting she stay with Rod and his airplane.  Bert had to take her before she’d let go.  Then looking back and waving with tears flooding her big blue eyes, she blew a kiss.  Rod promised that come tomorrow he would bring the airplane and visit with her again. 

In the cockpit, it was obvious Rod was visibly shaken, but Rass didn’t say anything.  After completion of the intermediate checklist the engines were cranked.  With the blue smoke thinning the engines settled into a deep throb.  The uneasiness Rod was undergoing diminished somewhat after the throttles were eased ahead, and Bessie began a slow taxi.  

Sliding his side window back, Rod waved to all the new friends.  When seeing Bert and Sam, a special salute was bequeathed.  At the far end, Bessie pivoted about to begin the take-off roll.  Lifting off at eighty knots the shocks pushed out and Bessie once more eased into a positive rate of climb.  Over the rumble of the engines Rass heard the call for gear up.   Climbing for altitude the thrill was there for those airmen who loved the blue—always scanning—checking—adjusting—making sure all the gauges remained in the green.

The gear now tucked away and gauges showing green, Rass wondered why the big smile from Rod until he heard him call, “Your turn on the controls.” 

“Oh mercy!”  Rass cried.  When seeing Rass grasp the yoke in a grip that would make a Holstein Cow bellow for mercy, Rod quickly cautioned, “Now Rass, Bessie is a lady, an elderly lady at that, so treat her like one and ease up on that strangle hold.  Try holding the yoke as if you were holding your best girls hand.”

“She always grabs my hand and holds it,” Rass confessed.

“Rass, I’m trying to help you—listen to me.  Gently now, a shallow bank to the left, easy there, you’re leading with to much rudder.  Hold your bank steady with aileron and a little back pressure until Bessie understands what you want, then she’ll do the rest.  Nice and easy, now stop your turn on a heading of 125 degrees.  Nice job Rass! You’ve got this flying business all cowed.”

“It’s much smoother now the turbulence is gone,” Rass soberly suggested.

With a helpless gesture, Rod agreed, and then advised, “On this heading we’ll pass twenty-five miles east of Elko and that’s close enough for me.  The wide gap in the Rubies up ahead is called Secret Pass.  After we are on the other side, begin a 500-foot-per-minute rate of descent.  We need to be as low as possible, and hope that we’ll disappear form their radar screens.  Then maybe, just maybe the Air Traffic folks will get the impression we’re landed at Currie, Nevada, rather than continuing into their restricted area. 

Besides all that we have to hope one of those F-16s in the practice area doesn’t spot us, although they don’t fly so low around here anymore.  They kept scaring the rancher’s livestock until the rancher’s got fed up with it and let ’em have it.  You just don’t mess around with those old boys, in hand-to-hand combat I’d bet on the rancher every time.”

“Those fighter pilots have hand-to-hand combat training,” Rass countered.

“That’s so, but those ranchers have hands on combat wrestling big steers everyday.”   

After slipping through the gap, and banking north, Bessie’s wing tip issued a fond greeting to the Deep Creek.  Rod instructed, “Back the power off a little, we need to be in a position to land straight in—the strip is just ahead.”        

“I’m gonna be sick.”

“Hang in there; you’ll be fine.  Rass—you’re not listening to me?”

 “Oh Mercy!” 

 “Come back on the power and start your round out.  You’re doing fine; hold her off nice and easy until she’s ready to settle.  Atta’ boy Rass, the rollers have made ground contact.  Keep her straight with rudder and easy on the brakes, whoops!  Bessie is telling you no lead feet.” 

  “I have the controls Rass.  I failed to explain about the DC-3 braking action.  They’re sensitive, but once you get the hang of them, you only think about applying them and you’ve got braking.  The other thing to remember, Bessie is a lady and you had better treat her like one.  You do that and you’ll both make a fine team.”

 When Rod exited the aircraft Jake was there waiting, anxious to hear about the delivery.

“It couldn’t have gone smoother and your affiliate Bert is quite a man.  You didn’t tell me about the little blue-eyed blond that will steal your heart away.”

 “I knew you’d fall in love with her, everyone does.  Bert’s wife Maggie is not responding well and Bert is under the weather with anxiety.”            

“Those folks are all pulling for you, and here’s a little backing they want you to have.” 

While opening the packet, a roll of greenbacks that would turn a banker’s head fell to the ground.  Looking somewhat distressed, Jake retrieved the roll.  Staring at the money with tears welling in his eyes—slowly he turned and walked away.

A big grin showing, Rass expressed, “Me flying Bessie was like Christmas come early.  The twins said to tell you they are loading the remaining ore for our second trip, we can leave tomorrow whenever you say the word.”

Regaining his composure somewhat, Jake appealed, “What can I say? I don’t know what there is I can do to thank you enough for what’s happened here these past few days.  It’s almost as though Big Emma is awakening, and my daddy is out there cracking the whip.  I want you to take these greenbacks to defray some of your operating cost.”

“Bessie is not going to accept that, let us repay you for all you’ve done.  As for expenses, they’re been taken care of by a few of Bessie’s past benefactors.”

“Would you run that by me again?”  Jake asked.  “Somewhere in there I became confused.” 

“When we have time,” Rod replied, “I’ll give you the whole story.  All I can say now is that Bessie was being used in an illicit operation.  Rass and I along with one another partner you’ll meet tomorrow evening, like to cogitate among ourselves we rescued her. 

It was probably more for our own excitement and ambitions.  At our age, there’s not much we can lose and this is a hell of a lot more exciting than waiting to collect your Social Security check.  We’ve made our bed and regardless of what happens, we’ll sleep in it.” 

“When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be here,” offered Jake.  “You made a good impression on Bert.  There are some important people in this country who give Bert free rein in writing his own ticket, and with the connections he has, you’ll be glad he’s on your side.” 

While Rass remained behind making certain Bessie was put to roost for the night.  Jake along with Rod climbed into Ralph for the steep ascent to Big Emma.  Jake called, “By the way Rod, a call came from someone who identified herself as Lucille, and I explained you would be back this evening and would return the call.  Is she a friend of yours?”    

After hesitating, Rod slowly answered, “Somewhat.”                  

After pausing, Jake suggested, “If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s your prerogative, but I’m listening.”                     

As though unsure of himself, Rod slowly explained, “Yes, she is a friend of mine, and that’s about all it can be.  She’s the proprietor of the diner I frequent and that’s how we became acquainted.  Our friendship grew, and it’s scaring the hell out of me.  I’ve nothing to offer her.  I’ve attempted several times to break it off and then I find I miss her.  I’m seventy years old, Jake, and she’s almost twenty years younger than I am, I’ve explained all this, but she doesn’t seem to read me, ‘age doesn’t make any difference’ she keeps telling me, ‘It’s how we feel about one-another.’ ” 

Jake thought a moment what Rod had told him and suggested, “You’ve mentioned how you’ve missed her, and so you do have feelings for her.”

“Jake, I tied the knot once and the knot broke.  I also ended up losing every … “

 Jake cut in, “Yes, I know somewhat of your circumstances.  Rass filled me in on your marital problems.  Now don’t get upset with Rass, he’s concerned about you and only wants what’s best for you.  I think part of your problem is pride.  As an airline pilot you’ve had it pretty comfortable, you’ve lived in a nice home, you’ve driven nice cars, and you’ve taken great vacations, but you know what, all that didn’t buy the contentment you’ve longed for, did it?  So you’ve worried about what you can offer her.  She knows your circumstances and it doesn’t seem to bother her.  Wake up and say hello to the world Rod, there’s someone out there that loves you; take her in your arms and never let her go. Money can’t buy what she is offering you, and you deserve some happiness.  You’re only as old as you feel, and I’ll tell you this Rod—you don’t look or act to be seventy.”

Now smiling, Rod said, “For a hard rock miner, you sound like a psychologist,” 

 “You know what, I was almost.  I didn’t particularly like it and they said I talked funny.  So when my daddy said he could use me in a mining venture in South America, I jumped at the opportunity and loved it.”                                  

 “I don’t understand it at all,” groused Rod.  “What kind of power does Big Emma possess over you people?  There’s the retired general, who’s a professor of something and he likes it here at Emma, and his wife, who is a photo biologist whatever that is, and now a psychologist who is a miner.”

“Think about it,” Jake laughed, “We all have the same problem.  Remember what I called the valley the first time you arrived here?”

“Why sure I remember, it was Amnesia Valley, who would forget that.” 

“That’s right.  I also mentioned that once you’re here, you tend to forget the past, and that’s how it is with all of us.  We like it here and you’re going to like it here also.” 

“I already do, now speaking of women, how come you’re not married?”  Rod asked.

“Oh but I am.  We’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to talk about it.  When we hit the dead wall, Irene returned too work at the hospital to help tide Big Emma over.  She’s working as an RN in Reno, but she loves it here and is anxious to return.  I hope that day isn’t too far off.”

“I hope so too Jake, and in a way I envy you.  I’m sure you’ll succeed in assisting Big Emma in finding her way back.” 

Jake explained, “There is something else I think you should know, a couple of the Burlington people were here today, they wanted to talk.  I didn’t ask what they had in mind, but I can imagine.  They’ll return this evening with a couple of bankers, and I would appreciate it if you were to sit in on the meeting.”



When finished dining, Big Emma’s family lingered at the table, visiting and taking pleasure in María’s tasty desserts.  Tabasco was heard to interrupt Jake, informing him some señors were waiting to see him.      

Jake asked Tabasco to invite them into the conference room and serve them dessert, and he’d be along when he had finished eating his dessert.  Jake then continued chatting with the family. 

When Tabasco returned and seeing Jake still lingering over his dessert—looking appalled, he whispered, “The Señors, they are expecting you.”

“Yes, I heard you Tabasco.  These folks in this room mean much more to me than those shysters in that conference room, now hand me another dessert.”  Seeing that Jake wasn’t going to be pushed around, Rod’s acceptance of Jake was even more respectful. 

Tabasco persisted, “The fat señor, the one smoking cigar, he said to tell you they no have time to wait, and wish to talk now.”

“The fat one is known as Mr. Mack.  If he were a little taller he would look like a big Mack Truck.  You go in there and tell Big Mack that smoking is not allowed on Big Emma’s premises, I’ll be along when I’ve finished eating my dessert, and I never hurry my dessert.” 

Tabasco stood aghast.  “Señor, you mean to wish Tabasco tell them that?”

“You bet, Tabasco, you’re going to tell them if anyone else lights up, you’ll throw them out.  You’re going to tell them in those exact words.” 

“I am?”  Looking back over his shoulder, Tabasco slowly withdrew to the conference room.  Loud muffled talk was heard, then a subdued silence.  The cigar smoke disappeared.  Tabasco returned from the conference room with a five-dollar grin, looking as if Santa Anna had just recaptured San Jacinto from Houston.

 Jake finally conceded in granting an audience.  The two friends proceeded into the conference room to see several somber men patiently waiting.  As they began to rise, Jake vigorously requested they not stand. 

 Big Mack then pointed to the Burlington representatives and said, “I believe you know these gentlemen.”

Jake in showing irritation expressed, “I thought I did, but I guess I didn’t.”

A smug expression showing, Big Mack explained, “This gentleman on my right is our regional vice-president, I’d like you to meet Mr. Clarence.”

Without acknowledging, Jake countered.  “This gentleman sitting on my right is Mr. Rod Colson, he’s representing Big Emma.”

When realizing what Jake had just advocated, Rod felt he had just been belted by the sound barrier.  Keeping his cool and striving to appear a bona fide’ attorney, he quickly sat up erect and began staring down Big Mack, and anyone else who might look his way.

Jake continued, “Now that the formalities are over, what is it you’re after?”

With a voice drooling of intimidation, Big Mack broke the ice.  “Mr. Duggins, we know of the difficulties between you and the Burlington Mining Company, and of the ore you’ve prepared for shipment lying useless in your bins.  It has occurred to us that we might assist you with a solution we have in mind, and alleviate some of your concerns.” 

“And what might those concerns be?”  Jake mocked.

With a smirk of confidence Mr. Clarence then interrupted, “Mr. Mack, informs me that even if you were to transport that ore today, by the time it was milled and assayed, it would be another month before you would receive any remuneration.  Our financial institution has instructed me that you have an obligation that is due at the end of this month; an extension is out of the question.  We want you to know we love our clientele and there isn’t anything we wouldn’t… ”  

Jake cut in, “I’m not here for a testimonial, might he have informed you what the solution is?” 

Stunned at this insolence, Mr. Clarence requested for Mr. Mack to respond to Jake’s inquiry.

“Uh, Mr. Duggins, I have been informed you are in the process of running a drift to reestablish contact with that so-called ore body.  I’m also advised that your chances of hitting China are greater than the possibility of you locating that phantom ore body.  At this juncture in our business relations, we feel we should offer a solution.   Our proposal is, you sign Big Emma over to the bank and we’ll see that this property is developed into a large recreational area, and of course you’ll be the manager.  Now we feel that’s a fair and equitable proposal, and one that will only be on the table but a short time.” 

Unruffled, Jake softly replied, “Not a chance,” then to sit calmly with arms folded, staring down his callers.

 A chill pervaded the room; the uneasy shuffling of feet by the callers was not lost on Rod.  Mr. Clarence, who now was showing signs of a nervous twitch, asked Rod what he thought of the proposal Mr. Mack had offered his client.                   

Seeing the regional vice-president now wavering, Rod went on the offensive.  “Mr. Duggins gave you a very dignified and proper response, and I do concur with his stated assertion in its entirety.  Now in response regarding the fabrications Mr. Mack has contrived, Mr. Duggins will bring suit for intimidation, harassment, and false accusations.  It is also apparent from your proposal that the Burlington Mining Company is in collusion with the Bank in regards to the illegal suspension of transportation over a right-of-way without a signed mandate.   In your attempt to bribe Mr. Duggins by offering him a management position, this is out and out extortion in your attempt to coerce Mr. Duggins into agreeing with your tampering. 

“Now, as for you representatives from Burlington, I want you to understand that you’ll also receive a summons for aiding and abetting in this fraudulent action.”      

Bellowing, Big Mack jumped up, “What accusation did I make?”      

“Among the allegations made, you referred to the fact the ore shipments would not reach the buyer in time for Mr. Duggins to collect and make the installment payment before the end of this month.  You further stated the ore bins pertaining to Big Emma are still full and awaiting shipment.  For your information, those ore bins you stated are full and awaiting shipment are emptied out.  Ore has been conveyed to the purchaser and Mr. Duggins has received payment—those so-called solutions are wishful thinking on your part.  He’ll have no problem meeting his obligation. 

In addition it is not the end of the month and you are here harassing Mr. Duggins about a late payment that is not yet due.  Mr. Big Mack, Mr. Clarence, your involvement in this scheme and the involvement of others in collusion with what you are attempting to do is a serious matter.  As for your holding up traffic on a free access, I can affirm your manipulation with the Burlington Company from their representative sitting by your side who will so state the particulars.”

“Why, uh … I don’t understand.”  Big Mack groused.   “How would any of your trucks have passed through the only appropriate egress in Gold Leaf Canyon without being flagged?”

“I thank you, Mr. Mack; we have now witnessed your involvement in this sham.” 

Stunned, Big Mack then suggested, “As nothing positive is going to be determined here tonight, we’ll take our leave now.”  Slowly walking to the door, they paused to huddle.  After a brief discussion—they returned to the table.  Mr. Clarence asked Jake if he would be interested in discussing a compromise. 

Jake yelled, “Compromise, what kind of talk is that?  You act as though I’m the guilty party!”  Jake seized Mr. Clarence by the seat of his pants and ushered him toward the door.             

Rod interceded, “Let’s listen to these gentlemen and what they might suggest.” 

His nervous condition becoming obvious to everyone and twitching constantly now, Mr. Clarence was invited to sit down.  In his submissive voice an appeal was heard, “Mr. Duggins, from what you have brought to light, I must admit that a great injustice was committed here this evening.  To make amends for this grave error on my part, first, I’m as guilty as my associate.  I took for granted the information presented to me as factual without an official inquiry on my part, and I must say I am in error.  Apparently my associate has a prosthesis for a brain.  If this should go to court, we both lose.  I can’t deny the fact that I’m on shaky ground, but I have to ask, would you entertain an offer for a settlement?”

Lowering his voice, Jake angrily cautioned, “I’ll listen, but it better have substance.  You’ve wasted enough of my time.”       

“I propose that the payment due at the end of this month be suspended and I’ll prepare a signed statement showing payment is cancelled.”

 Smiling for the first time, Jake leaned forward with expectation.  Rod quickly nudged his leg, “Mr. Duggins and I need a moment to confer.”  After making their way to the far end wall, Jake cautioned, “Grab it before they change their mind!”

“You’re sure that’s what you want?”

“Yes, grab it before they realize what they’ve done!”  Returning to the table, Rod countered, “In response to your proposal, Mr. Duggins feels by prosecuting he’ll receive a more equitable arrangement, and Burlington Mining having also been involved in this shake-down must clear-up the awkward situation they’ve created.”  

 When realizing what Rod had suggested, Jake turned white, leaned over and whispered, “That isn’t what I said.”

 “I know what you said—I said what you meant to say.” 

 After pausing, an anxious Mr. Clarence inquired, “What would you suggest to be a fair and equitable settlement?”

 “We need to thrash this over a bit more,” so it was back to the wall.  Rod questioned, “How many payments remain before you’re settled in full with the bank?”

 “In addition to the payment at the end of this month, there is one more final payment due in six months.  Each payment amount is 41,000 dollars.”  

Returning to the conference table, Rod laid it out, “Mr. Duggins has informed me that besides the payment due the end of this month, there is a final payment due in six months.  What we need now is a signed disclosure showing both payments are suspended and the obligation is now void and nullified.  Mr. Duggins will also require a statement from you stipulating there will be no further action on your part pertaining to these proceedings.  For his part Mr. Duggins will accept those terms and sign an agreement specifying there will be no further instigated proceedings on his part. 

“Now as for the involvement of you representatives from Burlington—concerning the diesel-powered unit adapted to the large drum hoist you have in storage.  You are to deliver those units to Big Emma and position them in place for immediate service.  You’ll also prepare a disclaimer as to the prohibiting of free access through the Burlington properties for mining and public transportation.   A release then will be executed by Mr. Duggins absolving Burlington Mining from any planned litigation by Big Emma.”            

While the two parties to the action conferred in private, Jake, with an incredulous smile inquired, “What come over you, Rod?  From what you were suggesting, I got to believing you were a real genuine attorney.  I hardly dared trust my ears, but I sure liked what I was hearing.”  

 “When you referred to me as representing Big Emma, my adrenaline shifted into after-burner, the ringing in my ears revved up, and I got to believing it myself.  I hope you can remember every thing I asked they lay on the table, I’m not sure that I can.”

  Looking somewhat baffled, Jake then asked, “Where did you get the information the representative from Burlington would implicate the bank, and how did you know about the hoist?”                            

 “I really didn’t know if he would.  I wanted to keep the pressure on, and the one Burlington representative looked like he was about to come uncorked, so I took a shot in the dark and he never opened his mouth to deny it.  As for the hoist, I overheard the Taylor twins discussing how well it would suffice as a replacement hoist for the shaft. 

 “I guess I’m going to owe you for attorney fees.” 

 “I guess not—that would be illegal.”

 When Mr. Clarence returned, he tentatively spoke.  “Perhaps, while we don’t believe you could prove all of your allegations in a court of law, and with due precautions, there is enough that would damage our long-term interests.  Therefore, with no legal recourse we agree to all your stipulations with one contingency, that is, we draw these instruments up forthwith, then have them witnessed so we can leave this all behind. 

It will be necessary that you agree not to discuss this with any of our associates in the banking alliance.  The representatives from the Burlington Mine will provide for the delivery of the hoist and power unit, and will also undertake the installation of the hoist and power unit—they’ve asked for additional time needed to set it up.  As for Mr. Big Mouth, you might consider employing him as mucker in Big Emma.  With his mouth he could keep the whole mine pressurized.  He’s a canceled check in the banking profession.”

With the vouchers prepared and ready for signatures, Rass along with the professor were invited into the conference room as witnesses.  After all the paperwork was finalized, the cancelled mortgage contract for Big Emma was presented to Jake with a witnessed notation, “Void and nullified.”  The agreements between Burlington Mining and Big Emma would be exchanged after completion of the set-up.

A somewhat chastened Mr. Clarence spoke, “Mr. Duggins, this is a very knowledgeable attorney you have representing Big Emma.  If he ever considers the task of a corporate lawyer, send him to me.  I wish I could say my visit here was enjoyable, if nothing else it was informative.”  Exiting the door with Big Mack in tow, Mr. Clarence never looked back.  

  Ecstatic with all that had transpired, Jake gave a deep sigh of relief and expressed his inexpressible joy, “I’m afraid I’ll awake and this will all be another dream.  Rod, how can I ever repay you for what’s been accomplished here tonight?  Now instead of scratching for pay dirt to meet the mortgage payments, we can apply our full effort to locating that door to the Golden Trail.  

This is the most significant outcome that’s happened to Big Emma since the original strike.  Irene can now quit her job and return home.  The Taylor twins will have the equipment they need.  Just the relief of knowing I don’t have any more deadlines removes a whole lot of anxiety.  The word that will put cream on the pudding is when hearing the twins shout, ‘The door is open!’ ”

 While Rod and Jake were shaking hands in congratulating each other on the turn of events, Rod was informed of a telephone call for him.  Picking up the receiver, a now familiar voice was heard, “I was waiting to wish you a pleasant evening,”

 “Lucille! What a pleasant surprise, it has been a pleasant evening and even more so now.”

 “For the record, you owe me for an order of ham and eggs, that’s what George demanded before he’d let me know where you had settled in.  He said something about you working at a mine.”

“Lucille, it is beautiful here, so peaceful and quiet, I know you would love it here.”  Rod paused before taking a deep breath, and then asked, “Would you consider making a visit here?”

Lucille caught her breath, “If you’re serious, I would love that, and now that you’ve expressed that, any place would be inviting with you there.”

“I want to thank you for the lucky charm Lucille, it works and I’m wearing it now.  As of yet you haven’t met Jake, but you will meet him and you’ll like him. He and I had an informative talk, and he can make you see things in a different light, I’d like very much for you to meet him.”

Lucille seemed to understand what he meant and her tone was warm as she said, “I don’t know who this Jake is, but I’d like very much to thank him for what he’s done.  I like what I’m hearing.”

“We…I guess we’ll see how things turn out down the road,” Rod stammered. 

“Down the road?  Rod, I do miss you and surely by now you know I love you.”  

“I don’t understand how you can love some old…”

She interrupted, “There you go repeating yourself again, and you promised we’d never ever talk about age differences again.  I’ve said before, age has nothing to do with us; it’s how we feel about one another.  You’re very insecure in yourself, and with love, I’m going to change that.”

Rod’s grin broadened when he suggested, “You and Jake will get along just fine.”

“I’m sure we will, but why do you say that?”  She asked.

“You both advocate the same things,” Rod said, keeping his tone mysterious.

“I even like Jake now without having met him,” Lucille laughed.  “Tell him I said to keep after you.”   

Rod promised he’d call again soon, although he wouldn’t know from day to day where he’d end up, or what he would be dong.  “When this is over, I’ll give you the whole story.  You will not believe the trouble three old codgers can get themselves involved in, but I do especially hope for you to meet the family, a family that has made my partner’s and I feel as one of them.

Rod, are you mixed up with the Mafia?”

“I hope you’re joking, Lucille.  This is a family of the best friends.  We eat together and sleep together—” he caught himself, then clearing his throat.  “Uh…I don’t mean we literally sleep together.  We all have separate cabins.  You’ll have to come here to understand what I’m trying to put into words.”    

“I was just kidding,” Lucille laughed again, obviously pleased to see Rod flustered.  “But call when you can—I miss you.”

When Rod awakened from another restful night’s sleep, the window was opened to better catch the sounds of rustling leaves in the quaking aspen, and to inhale the scent of mountain pine.  The sound of bubbling water, with its tinkling rhythm cascading its way down to the lake dispensed a soothing balm to his inner soul and summoned his waking thoughts to cherish this most treasured gift from Amnesia Valley.  Then remembering Jake’s invitation he smiled, ‘Some one will have to go down there and drag those trout out, they’ve gotten so big there’s no room left for the lake.’                       

With thoughts drifting to the events of last evening, Rod chuckled at his own boldness in confronting Big Mack and seeing his ego collapse as the evening progressed.  At the time of his departure, he resembled a broken down Toyota in tow.  Those thoughts were soon replaced however, with the lingering feelings from his late phone conversation with Lucille. 

“Attención, Señor Rod!  This is Tabasco calling Señor Rod.  How do you read?  Over.”  Rod’s eyes blinked open.  He didn’t remember falling asleep again.  He cleared his throat, “I read you loud and clear, Tabasco.”    

“Roger on the clear, Señor Rod.  El breakfast in forty-five minutos.”

After a relaxing shower, Rod had finished dressing before opening the door to be greeted by Rass, who waited to accompany him to the lodge.

 Rass had one topic on his mind.  “Those papers I witnessed, is it true Jake’s now the sole owner of Big Emma?”

“That’s right Rass, the whole kit and caboodle.” 

“Was it legal?  What I mean is, well I thought I heard Mr. Clarence refer to you as an attorney.”  Rass’s face was one of concern.
         “I think he got that impression when Jake mentioned I was representing Big Emma.  We let it ride and they were never informed I was an attorney or Jake my client.”  Rod shrugged.  “But, if that’s what they want to think about me, then I think it’s rather nice of them.”  

Rass was eager to share his news.  “Jake says he wants you as the permanent consultant for Big Emma.  After you left to talk on the phone last night, he asked if we might be interested in working here once Big Emma’s back on her feet.  I told him I’d jump at the chance, but I couldn’t speak for you.  

Rod raised his eyebrows, “That’s something we’ll have to talk about.”


Good Times at Big Emma

Everyone had gathered early for breakfast, and bubbling with excitement they waited until seeing the Silver-Grays enter the room; then hurried to greet them with back clapping and shouts of praise.  Almost smiling the professor announced, “Jake has explained of what you accomplished last evening, and now Big Emma’s struggle to stay afloat has taken on greater buoyancy.”               

In high spirits Jake exclaimed.  “And to celebrate the new hoist, the Taylor twins have chosen Rass the honor of taking that first sally into the depths of Big Emma.” 

“Striving to not look nervous and after some hesitation, Rass implored, “I beg leave to say that I decline your request.  In my stead I grant that honor to the professor that he may attend to that deed.”

The professor now beaming, “That’s a splendid proposal Mr. Rasmussen, splendid indeed, and might I also make a further suggestion that you and I both share that honor by roving the depths of Big Emma as companions.”

With out thinking Rass yelled, “What do you mean share?”  Then seeing the family, who waited expectantly, and knowing this was put up or shut up; Rass shut up and slowly nodded his head in agreement.

 Floyd then suggested he would furnish them with hard hats and carbide lights, and went on to explain the only hold up would be the completion of the hoist set-up.  Feeling some reprieve in hearing this, Rass hoped he might be in some far-off never-never land until long after the set-up had been completed.

 Breakfast, served as a buffet consisted of sourdough biscuits and sausage gravy, chicken-fried steak with a light sauce, and scrambled eggs seasoned with peppers and tomatoes. There was fresh churned-butter for the biscuits and all the buttermilk one could drink.  And of course, María’s Red Currant Jelly with an assortment of fruits and sharp cheese.

Leaning over towards the professor, Rass whispered, “That was monstrous good, Jake’s grub cost must be out of sight.”    

“That is not so Mr. Rasmussen, not so at all.  Almost every item on this table is grown, created, or supported by Big Emma through the ingenuity of the family.  Even Gertrude the jersey cow manages to impart her share by foraging on wild fodder in the meadow, and in return for this she provides milk, and from this we have cream for butter and other needs, and also down by the lake graze the beef cattle and every so often several are marketed to obtain money for flour and other necessities.

“You’ve seen the chickens, and all the greens for salads are grown on the lower slopes of Big Emma, as well as berries for jams, jellies and syrup.  So Emma is a gold mine in more ways than one.  As a family we all have our assigned chores and your turn will soon come.  The invigorating fresh air and the pure wholesome food is one of many reasons Mrs. Earle and I sojourn here each summer.  When returning to Boston in the late autumn, we look and feel ten years younger than our actual age.”

 “In that case, you must be older than I thought you were.”  Rass suggested.

 “How old do you think I am?”  The professor asked.

 “I would say around eighty-eight?”

Clearing his throat, the professor growled, “eighty eight!  What’s the matter with you?”

 “Nothin’, I feel pretty good.”

 Doing a slow burn, the professor snapped at Rass, “I’m only seventy-eight!”

 “Well, we still have some summer left,” Rass supposed.  “So maybe by then María’s larder will have done some wonders for you by then.  So how old do you think I am?”  Rass asked.  Ignoring the question, the confused professor turned his attention back to his meal.  Rass babbled on,  “Yah’ know, when I was a young tot my mother always cautioned—‘act your age, and when you get to be an old blade—don’t act your age.’  Well I’ve never been much for actin’, so I just pretend I’m actin’.”  

 Attempting to make meaning out of what Rass had said, and attempting to quell this blathering, the professor with a helpless gesture leaned over and whispered, “Excellent admonition your mother sanctioned, and may I suggest you follow your mothers guidance.”     

“What would I know about acting.  I’ve never been this old before, besides…”

Jake mercifully cut Rass off by suggesting their transportation to Bessie was waiting.

Rod, nodding to Jake with a grateful expression went on to explain he would need a moment to freshen up.                                                                                   

At the cabin, the chain holding the silver bullet was hurriedly attached around his neck, Rod hurried to catch his ride.

With the whine of the transmission ricocheting off the canyon walls, Jake asked Rod how the fuel for Bessie was holding.

“On the previous trip in Elko we topped off all four tanks, so at the present we have a little over six-hundred and seventy gallons remaining.  With the tanks full, Bessie can remain in the air for up to nine hours at cruise power with no reserve.  With a calm wind that comes close to 1500 miles she can range.  At my age, my derriere complains after a couple of hours of just sitting, so I find it necessary to move about occasionally.”

 Smiling at Rod and of what he had expressed, Jake asked him if he had an abundance of good flying memories of years past.

“Yes, a wealth of fond memories and treasured good times.  As one old-timer put it, ‘I’ve seen it, I’ve done it, and now I ponder it.’  Many of the old aviators in knowing they had pushed throttles for the last time found themselves hanging their hat on a dissipating cloud.  Those pilots still hanging in there at age seventy are among the standing fortunate.  There are no tears for us, but in spite of it all, Bessie has me feeling I’m in my second childhood—she brought us here to be with you.  Over the horizon the weather is breaking, blue skies are beckoning and you’re not about to see my hat hanging from that dissipating cloud.”   

The inspection done found Bessie sound.  When checking the fuel, Rass called, “Both rear tanks are chock-full and the forward tanks show 140 gallons each on the stick.”

“I dislike hauling extra fuel, in addition to Bessie having to exert maximum effort for lift off, she’s bending the rules.  Everything I’ve done in this operation is forbidden by the regulations.  With our hands tied by our present state of affairs, the less Bessie lands at strange airfields for fuel the better off we’ll all be.  Although it will be necessary we land at Wendover on our return trip to pick George up.  We should arrive back here around 7:30 o’clock this evening.”

After startup, Bessie was challenging the chocks when Jake signaled the wave off.  Rod in acknowledgement returned an all-well salute.               

Bessie again settled into her element of challenging the skies.  The shorter days of the late summer transposed into hazy skies.  This was Rod’s favorite time of the year and he explained to Rass how this late summer haze was sometimes referred to as Dog Day Haze, or Dog Star days in reference to the Dog Star Sirius, the brightest star in the sky that rises and sets during this sultry period in the late summer transition, and a time of lessened weather activity in the Mountain West as well as other regions. 

Rass explained he was already aware of Dog Days from what George had told him.  He said the mothers of his buddies never permitted them even to think about going to the ol’ swimming hole during Dog Days, fearing some mysterious element would sneak up on them and leave ’um with chills or some other scary thing.  When I asked George if anything like that had ever happened to him during those sultry summer days, George said to me, ‘Yeah, there one occasion.  I’d snuck down to the Old Mill to do a little skinny dipping, and as I was just ready to dive into the cool water this big dog snuck up from behind and bit me on the butt.  I don’t know if that has anything to do with Dog Days, but I still carry a reminder of Dog Day at the Old Mill swimming hole.’ 

While Rod was laughing Rass said, “George got what he dog-gone deserved.”

Enjoying the cooler air and to display her appreciation, Bessie settled into a smooth ride.  The two partners kicked back in a relaxed state to enjoy the Nevada landscape scrolling beneath the wings of Bessie.  Not realizing how quick time had flown, the Lost Creek Ranch was soon in sight.  When starting the descent to pattern altitude, Rass remarked, “I see the folks awaiting us.” 

Rod chuckled, “Bessie knows where the good folks are.”  Gently easing onto the pasture, Bessie was brought to a pleasant standstill.

Upon deplaning, Bert was there to greet the partners with a big grin and his famous vice-like-grip when shaking hands.  “Jake has explained to me the delightful account of your stand-off with those banker rascals and how the bankers wilted.” 

Paying little attention to Bert’s esteem, Rod was busy waving to Little Sam.  With Rass supervising, all hands pitched in for the unloading.

Bert persisted, “From what I understand, you twisted their arms pretty bad, and when we have time I want to hear the full lay out.”  Seeing that Rod paid little attention to his acclaim, Bert motioned toward the pickup.  “There are two good looking ladies over there waiting to say hello.  Maggie in having one of her better days insisted in coming along that she might have the opportunity of meeting you.”  Sam nearly fell out of the truck cab reaching for Rod, who reached in and gently lifted her on out the window.  With both arms around his neck she giggled, “You did come back to see me, you did come back!”  Feeling a little awkward at not having been around children, Rod soon cherished every hug. 

When Bert attempted to introduce Maggie, she laughingly cut him off, “I know who he is and he knows who I am.  That’s all you and Sam have talked about for the past two days.”  Nodding discreetly to Rod she continued, “I had expectations of seeing you flying around without wings.  What pleases me is that Sam has never taken to anyone like she has you, and it tickles me to see her so happy.” 

“With her sweet smile, she makes everyone happy,” Rod replied.

“Yes, bless her heart, I don’t know what Bert or I would do without her refreshing youthfulness racing through our home.  Your airplane has brought us a lot of excitement.”

Laughing, Rod said, “Yes, and that airplane has caused us some excitement also.  Rass and I both have commented on how nice it would be to spend some time here.  When we locate seats for Bessie, too show our gratitude we’ll take everyone for a ride around the patch.”  Then offering an apology, Rod said, “I’m sorry we have to rush, we’re expected in Wendover at 6:00 o’clock this evening.”

Pointing his finger, Bert agreed, “You’ve got a deal son, just call ahead when you know you’re coming and we’ll roll out the welcome mat.  Now then, I’ve a check here for Jake, and you tell him we’ll settle the concentrator cost down the road.  Now you boys won’t forget us will you?”

“Not a chance,” Rod replied. Then walking to the other side of the pickup he gently took Maggie’s hand in his, while at the same time expressing his hope that when they did return, she’d be feeling much better.  During the conversation Sam had fallen asleep.

Maggie suggested it might be better not to wake her.  “She was so excited last night knowing you would be flying in, she never fell asleep until after midnight.  You would have thought it was her birthday.”  With mixed emotions, Rod gently returned little Sam to Maggie’s arms.

“I see Rass motioning that Bessie is all unloaded,” Bert advised.  “So I’ll take Maggie and Sam back to the cabin.” 

Getting Rod’s attention, Rass signaled Bessie was ready for start-up.

After saying his good byes, Rod slowly walked over to Bessie, hesitated, then turned and thanked everyone for helping.  Waving to Bert, he thanked him for all he had done for Jake.

Bert called back, “In a few days I plan driving down for a little visit, maybe you and I can spend a little time swapping war stories.  Stand straight, ol’ partner.”

Receiving the all clear—switches were thrown.  When cranking the right engine, Rod released the starter toggle with a puzzled expression.  “We have a low pressure fuel warning light.”  On closer inspection he added, “The electric boost pump isn’t working.”

Rass beginning to look even more nervous questioned, “Without fuel pressure the engine won’t fire and you can bet the cattlemen’s feed-store just happens to be out of airplane boost-pumps today—so what now, Rod?”  

“How bad do you want to go to Wendover, Rass?”

“It’s not a question of not going Rod, we gotta go.  George is there waiting for us.”

“Well, if you think we really should go, there’s more than one way to booby trap a gremlin.”

Looking somewhat puzzled Rass inquired, “And what does that mean?”

“What that means is you’re to hoist yourself onto that wing, and from a tin can toss gas into the carburetor air intake that is located on the upper part of the nacelle.”

“You’re asking me to do that?”  Rass bellowed.

Rod was grinning as he called, “Just as sure as your name is John Rasmussen.”  

“Right now my name is crazy, but I’ll do it.”

“Grab an empty can from the trash bag and fill it from one of the sump drains we use to check for fuel contaminants.  When I see you poised at the nacelle, I’ll lay on the starter and you toss the fuel into the intake.  Then skinny off the wing before Bessie whisks you off.”

“Oh mercy.”

When seeing an unsteady Rass wavering out on the wing, Rod toggled the starter switch.  After splashing fuel into the air intake Rass disappeared from Rod’s view.  Bessie coughed, sputtered, and with blue smoke swirling about settled into a pleasing rhythm of deep-throated rumbles.  Throwing their hats into the air cheering ranch hands waved and laughed from the antics of Rass tumbling off the wing.  When back aboard Bessie, Rass raced to the cockpit grinning through his whiskers to make a slovenly curtsy before an amazed Rod, then to proudly proclaim, “I booby-trapped a gremlin!” 

“You sure did Rass.  Now I don’t want to hurt your pride, but you should know the rear end of your trousers is missing.  You’ve ripped a big hole in your sit-down area, and that’s why those cowboys are laughing so hard, seeing those polka-dotted skivvies trailing in your wake.”   

Both engines now reverberating, Rod eased Bessie into a slow taxi to the far-end of the pasture.  Watching while Bessie lined up into the wind, the folks from the Humbolt River Valley begin applauding when seeing her racing over the pasture to point her nose into the Nevada sky.

With Rass handling the controls, Rod took the time to reminisce, “I’ve always enjoyed flying in the west when the weather is pleasant.   I can locate my position at anytime by searching out familiar mountain ranges to recognize their high peaks.  But on the other side of the coin, when flying those old recips in foul weather—that will keep you awake.  With no radar or pressurization, and engines rated at low horsepower, you could only fly high enough to avoid the mountains, and that forced you to fly in turbulent weather with its heavy icing, and in those conditions a lot of flying by instruments was racked up.  In looking back I can still remember the time when a military transport designated the C-54 couldn’t hold altitude in heavy icing and crashed into Battle Mountain killing those aboard.

“When they began phasing out the recips in making the change over to the newer and faster jetliners, the romance in aviation was a declining memory and it has never been the same.  In the twilight of my career I was logging time while the autopilot did my work high above the weather in bright sunshine.  In the days of the old recips you were known as an aviator, or pilot, and even though the salary was a humbling experience, you were rich in the excitement of the era.  It was indeed the Golden Years of Flying, and to those old pilots whose memories of the past are like days of yore, they wouldn’t trade ’um for a million bucks.”   

“You start talkin’ like that around today’s jet pilots and they’ll jump up and down on your logbook.” Rass admonished.

When passing over Wells, Nevada, Rod suggested they follow the highway into Wendover, estimating they’d be on the ground in twenty minutes.

“Where did you learn starting a recip without a boost pump?”  Rass asked. 

“An old acquaintance of mine who flew Fairchild’s for the forest service had this problem while on a remote strip in the backcountry of Idaho.  The procedure he came up with was the same one we used, and it worked fine.  Kind of like priming your car with gas until the engine-driven fuel pump takes over.”  With the Wendover airport in sight, and the windsock hanging limp, Rod suggested they swing into a left base to land east without making radio contact.

After Rass had coaxed Bessie onto the runway, a slow taxi brought them to the parking ramp.  As the two Silver-Grays deplaned, George was seen waiting to greet them.  The bond forged among the three Silver-Grays now becoming more prevalent.  After George had been updated on the successful venture, he asked what kind of shape Bessie was in?           

“Not bad overall, but we do have a couple of minor problems,” Rod thumb-pointed over his shoulder.  “The electric boost pump is inop on number two, and we need an oil-line connection safety wired on the same engine.”

“The boost pump inop?  How did you get the engine started?”  George asked. 

“That’s a tale Rass needs to relate.  But first you need to do a little mending on his trousers with some safety wire, and for once just keep your mouth shut.”

When seeing the area needing mending, with a big grin George started opening his mouth, then having second thoughts he opened his toolbox instead and proceeded with the mending.  After he had finished Rass asked him to keep an eye on the refueling operation while he paid a visit to the men’s room in operations.

When he returned, George asked if he’d complied with the notice on the restroom wall.  

“What notice?” 

“The one requesting pilots with short stacks and low manifold pressure to taxi up close.” 

“Naw, that sign wasn’t for me—it’s for the shortsighted like you.”

“Chicken livers Rass! Hurry and raise the air stair and secure the door!”

“Is this some kind of joke?”  

“No! And for Bessie’s sake do it before that inspector over there sees you.”

Doing as asked Rass then inquired, “What’s the matter with you George?”    

George nodded towards the person wearing a blue suit.  “See that bird-dog standing over there trying to look important, he works for the Federal Aviation Agency as a maintenance inspector.  His name is Norman Fritz, and I’ve gone rounds with him before.  He’s from another region and they send him here to do the dirty work.  Hustle inside and tell Rod to remain indoors, and I’ll handle this roving troublemaker.”


Feds ground Bessie

George continued tracking down the pump problem until hearing a shrill voice ask, “Are you a mechanic?”

Climbing down from the wheel well too face this short choleric appearing individual, George questioned, “Do I look like some stewardess fixin’ this engine?”

“Well, I’ll put it another way, are you a certified mechanic?”

“Look Fritz, are you blind?  I’m George Hogans, that same Hogans you asked that same question six weeks ago in Salt Lake City.”

“Show me your certificate.”

Disgustingly, George replied, “Here we go again.  I’m going to wear it out digging it out for your pleasure.  It’s still that same little slip of paper you eyeballed in Salt Lake City, so I’ll tell you what we should do, you show me your credentials, and then I’ll show you my credentials.” 

From inside operations, Rass explained of George’s decision to handle this by himself.  Rod waited for what he knew would be a confrontation in knowing of George’s loathing of the FAA, and his oratorical skills in his dealings with the FAA.  For the present he chose to remain out of sight, and hope this wouldn’t turn into a fistfight. 

George asked the inspector, “Surely you must remember me showing you this certificate, it was only six weeks ago?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Then why you insisting I show it again?” 

“SOP! Standard Operating Procedures, Mr. Hogan.  We have to follow procedures.”

“It’s Hogans, not Hogan, and do you know what you can do with those procedures?”

“I suppose the same thing you told me the last time.  Now as for this aircraft, it’s obvious there is oil leaking from the right engine, there’s a puddle about two inches in diameter on the asphalt under the nacelle.”

“Only two inches,” George stammered.  “Bessie must be running out of oil.  Look, Fritz, you’re supposed to be familiar with round engines, so I assumed you would know its routine for them to drip oil.  When you find a nice clean pad under an old recip, you’ll know there isn’t anymore oil in its internal workings’.”

“That must have come from some ol’ soothsayer.”      

“Probably so,” George rebutted, “and I think I’m talking to one now.  But let me tell you something else Fritz, you tell everyone else what’s wrong with their bird, but from what I read in the paper, about half your airplane fleet can’t pass a safety inspection.” 

“Just the same, this airplane does not look safe to fly, and I’ll need to check the log book, where is it?”  Fritz demanded.  

“Where they always are, in the cockpit, and for your information this aircraft is secured and no one can enter that cabin unless the captain says so.”

“Where are the keys to the entry door?”

“The captain has them.”

“And where is the captain, may I ask?”

“You may ask but you’re not going to find out.”

“Are you refusing to give meaningful information pertaining to this airplane?”

“Not at all,” George grinned.  “Now here’s something you can tell me—is this a hearing?”  

Becoming somewhat rankled, Frits answered, “I’m pursuing essential information pertaining to this airplane.”  

“Well, the essential information pertaining from me too you is—you can go sit on your brains.”

“I’ll ask one more time, might the captain be in the terminal?” 

“Might you know this is Wendover.”  Then with a sarcastic grin, George suggested,  “Now why would anyone be loitering in the terminal when there’s a bundle of casinos and restaurants in town to keep a man occupied.  He may show up tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow—who knows?  While you’re waiting, might I suggest you do a little jogging on the runway?”

 “I pray tell that’s a foul deed you just suggested and regardless of what you’re telling me, I’m grounding this aircraft.  I’d ground all these old windbags If I had my way.  I’d love to get ’um out of the sky, they’ve had their day and are good for nothing now except melt down.  Given every opportunity to inspect one I’ll probe until that something unacceptable in my way of rational shows up—then I’ll pull its air certificate.  Yes, that’s what I’ll do and I’ll tear it all up in tiny pieces, that’s what I’ll do, tear it all up.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?  A long time ago the old Civil Aeronautics Administration tried doing that, and they had to knuckle under.  This airplane has a history second to none, and especially this airplane has a good memory.  You can save yourself a whole lot of trouble by not doing that.  She needs a break; you can’t just leave her sitting here with all that fuel aboard.”

“Fuel are no fuel, I don’t give breaks in this business.  Not only am I going to red-tag this ol’ crate, I’m going to install a ball-lock-seal on that door and it’s a federal offense to remove that seal by anyone other than a Federal Aviation Agency Inspector.”  Fritz completed the paper work for the grounding.  Then showing his contempt, he spit on Bessie, pumped his fist and turned to leave. 

George shook his fist and yelled, “You better hope you’re far down that road when my Silver-Grays hear the insultin’ things you said about Bessie !”  

Still observing from inside the building, Rass was full of praise, “Just like George promised—he got rid of the man from the FAA.” 

“Yeah, he got rid of him all right, but not before he put the shackles on Bessie.”  Rod wasted little time in hurrying to a phone.  After a short dialogue before hanging up Rod was heard to say, “Stand by, I’ll get back to you.”

When George walked into the terminal, he growled, “With inspectors like that nobody in his right mind would dare buy anything on time.  I’d say Fritz was running about three quarts low.  When seeing Rod he called, “Did you see what he did?  Ol’ Bessie’s been Hoovered by another inspector.”

“Can’t we just seize Bessie and get the-you-know-what out of here like we did from the drug runners?”  Rass pleaded.

Motioning his partners to a more secluded area, Rod explained, “We’re in enough trouble without inviting more.  Yes, Bessie is grounded, now we all need to understand this strategy and the part you’ll play—listen up while I lay it out. 

“The way this situation now stands, it’s a federal offense to move Bessie.  If we appropriate Bessie without clearing this grounding with the FAA, the first airport we land at, the Feds would have ropes around our necks.  George, do you know of anyone personally in the Salt Lake office who might know the routine of this inspector during his jaunts here?”   

George looked at his feet, scratched his head, and then put his hands in his rear pockets—a customary ritual for George when in deep thought.  “Yeah! I know one guy, I think we’re pretty good pals, what is it your after?”

“Call and ask him if Fritz frequents any of the casinos before he returns to Salt Lake, and if so would he know which one?” 

George got into a heated exchange with the frustrated operator while she hurried to put him through to his friend.  With only a short conversation George grinned and hung up, “He doesn’t appreciate Fritz either.”

Frustrated, Rod asked, “Is that all the information you received?”

“Fritz mostly frequents Everyone a Winner and plays the slots until 10:00 o’clock                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                before returning to Salt Lake late that evening

“Did you ask what kind of automobile Fritz would be driving?”

“I can answer that myself; it’s a dark blue four-door Ford displaying a shield with the inscription Federal Aviation Agency inscribed on its doors.” 

Without explaining Rod was back on the phone.  Then after a short dialogue he hung up.  Showing some anxiety he expressed, “All I can do is hope this all comes together—now here’s what we have.  An old friend of mine, Mel Beckly, a retired Highway Patrolman is coming out of retirement temporarily to give assistance.  He can still get into his uniform and he’ll bring an expired ticket-pad along with the bubble gum light.  Its base is magnetic with a rotating red light he’ll plant on top his car.  In less than two hours he’ll arrive here.  His colleagues stationed at the Utah Port-of-Entry when seeing this blue government vehicle headed east will alert Mel who’ll be waiting on the Utah side of the state line.  To disguise his charade Mel informed his associates it’s all a big prank on an old friend.

“Mel’s son who serves as a deputy resides in Briny Flat just outside Wendover.  He is on duty tonight so Mel has arranged for me to use his son’s residence for this official business.  I’ve appointed myself as temporary Briny Flat Justice of the Peace.  The plan calls for Trooper Beckly to apprehend Mr. Fritz and escort him here to appear before me.  Now for you Rass, to start the wheels turning your part in this charade will be to proceed to a casino called Everyone-a-Winner, and when Fritz shows up, make sure the gals serving free drinks pass his way often.  If he’s not a tippler, then slop one on him as its very important he smells like a brewery.  You’re to remain there until you see him leaving the casino, then call me at this number.”

Rass asked if Briny Flat already had a Justice of the Peace.

“Perhaps not but they do now.  George, you’re to accompany Rass to the casino,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               but remain outdoors as Fritz would recognize you.  Be sure to take along your locksmith tools, and then after you pick up a bottle of cheap booze, empty it half out and make sure that’s what you do with it.  After you locate the blue Ford, slip the remaining booze under the front seat on the driver’s side.  Then call to let me know when you see Fritz leave the casino, after that you can make yourselves scarce by locating motel rooms for us.  I’ll give Jake a call and let him know we’ll not make it home tonight.”

 Having picked up a rental car the Silver-Grays drove to Briny Flat where Rod was dropped off at the home of Mel’s son.  After letting himself in, and too make the room appear more bona fide, a table was pushed into the center of the room where several books were stacked on top along with a note pad and pencils.  Placing a chair at each end, Rod mused how this whole plan hinged on Mr. Fritz spending time at the casinos, preferably Everyone a Winner.  

When talking with Jake, who was having some concerns as to why the delay, Rod made light of the situation by explaining, “We will probably have Bessie cleared to go before midnight.  However, without runway lights at the Bonneville Strip, it will be necessary to delay the departure until just before daybreak so we’ll have light enough to land on our arrival.” 

 “Do what you have to do,” Jake advised.  “I’ll be waiting at the strip in the morning.”  Badly in need of rest, Rod stretched out on the couch to await the coming events.     

Smiling in anticipation, retired trooper Mel Beckly sped west on Interstate 80 to be in position at the appointed time.  Beckly had been a popular officer among his fellow troopers, who enjoyed pulling his chain by calling him Charger—a name that stuck from his quick response in chasing down traffic offenders.  Nothing was more gratifying than high pursuit.  Looking forward to this night’s venture Mel was reminded, “This is like old times, and they ought to invite us old codgers along once in a while just to get our adrenalin pumped up.”

When a few miles east of the port-of-entry, the trooper slowed to cross the medium before turning in the direction he had just come from.  After pulling onto the shoulder, a call was made to the port-of-entry advising he was on station awaiting their alert call. 

At the casino, Rass had located Mr. Fritz who while playing the slots appeared to be anything but happy.  One of the casino girls paused and asked Rass if he’d care for a free drink.  He explained that he didn’t drink, but then slipped her a buck and asked if she would give the drink to his friend in the blue suit. 

“We didn’t know he had a friend,” she said.  “He’s been in here several times and the girls think he’s an imperious soul.  He probably works for the government, but I’ll do what you’ve asked.”  Rass watched her approach Fritz to see her tapping him on the shoulder, then after handing him his drink; she placed the other by his machine and left.

Mr. Fritz nervously stared at the drink, and then scrutinized the casino patrons for someone who might recognize him.  Attempting to appear nonchalant he continued to observe the nearby patrons while fondling the drink.  In one sudden gesture the contents disappeared.  Once again he assumed a birddog stance—the second drink disappeared.

Rass located a half empty tumbler and waited until Fritz commenced playing his machine.  Seizing the moment, Rass staggered down the row of slots too lurch into Mr. Fritz who turned to stare at this impudent with gray bristles masking his face.  Losing his footing, Rass uttered, “Whoops.”  The hurled drink cascaded down the front of Fritz’s blue suit.  Glaring at this insolent clown who now was endeavoring to regain his feet, Fritz called him a dumkoph. 

Elated, Rass shouted, “Me a dumkoph? I ain’t got no drink runnin’ down the front of me.”  Fritz scooped up his change and quickly exited the casino. 


Waiting at the roadside, Trooper Beckly listened to the caller stating a blue Ford with government markings was burning up the highway in his direction.

In thanking his cohorts for their assistance, the retired Trooper said he’d take it from there.  Watching his rear-view mirror, the observed lights of the blue Ford loomed brighter.  Charger started the engine and braced for the chase.  The blue Ford raced by and hot pursuit was on. 

Beaming with anticipation, Charger reached for the bubble-gum light, planting it topside as the Pontiac wheels spun up.  While accelerating Charger plugged the light in and noted the reflection of the flashing beam, smoke from burnt rubber brought back memories of good times in the past.  Then seeing brake lights on the Ford flash bright red, the trooper became infuriated and cussing, “That rubber-necked wimp is decelerating to a standstill, for that I’ll throw the book at him.”

Pulling in behind the blue Ford the retired patrolman cautiously approached the driver’s side.  “You were pushing eighty when you passed me, and you were weaving over the center line.  Step out of the car Sir, and hand me your drivers license.”  The Trooper quickly stepped back.  “Wheeosh, you smell like you’ve been swimming in a vat—now step out and hand me your license.”

Observing Fritz to be fairly steady, charger brought more pressure to bear in knowing when you ask a drunk to do more than one thing at a time it will confuse him even more, “While rummaging for your license, hand over your registration certificate for the vehicle as well.”

Fritz called out, “I can’t see, I’m blacking out!”

“If you’ll swing your door back open, your interior lights will blink back on.”

With frustration building, Fritz handed over his license, his squeaky voice pleading, “Officer, this isn’t what it looks to be.  Some inebriate spilled his libation on me, causing a fragrance of spirits to ventilate the atmosphere around me.”

Bursting out laughing, Charger advised, “Well at least you’re original, but that doesn’t cut it—want to try again?  And what are you doing driving a government vehicle in your irrational state of mind?  Are the brass aware of your drinking problem?” 

“Drinking problem!  I only had a couple.”

“For two drinks you smell bad.  I need permission to search your vehicle.”

“Go ahead; I assure you you’ll find nothing.”

“Is that a fact?  Well my goodness, what’s this nothing I just retrieved from under the driver’s seat—it looks to be an opened container of hooch and its half empty.  Still sticking by your story some drunk ventilated the air around you.”

Even more frustrated, Fritz couldn’t understand what was happening.  “This must be some kind of nightmare.”  His squeaky voice now pleading, “I’m kind of an enforcer like you, only I work in aviation jurisdiction—give me a break.”

“I’m here to enforce the law, not to give breaks.  You’re a menace on the highway, and for the last time I’m asking you to exhale into this breathalyzer.  Take a deep breathe and put it right in here, and in the meantime it would be much appreciated if you’d kindly stand on your own two feet.”

“Well, if you’d care to look, you’ll see I am standing on my own two feet.”

“That will not be necessary, just step back and stay the hell off my foot.”  Shielding the breathalyzer while reading the scale, the trooper found he’d have to aggrandize the reading.  “Mr. Fritz,” the trooper barked, “Your snout’s so full of demon rum that it will be necessary to take you to lockup.  With you not looking so well, I’ll not put the restraints on for now, but if you feel the urge coming on, I want you to stick your head out that window sudden like.”

“I want to see a lawyer,” Fritz demanded.

“You can call him from lockup.” 

Staying with the plan the trooper slyly suggested, “To save time, it might help your situation if we dropped in for a little visit with the Justice of Peace in Briny Flat, I know him and if you’re real cooperative, you’ll find him to be more understanding than some magistrate.  I hear some drunks walk in the front door and right out the back door.” 

Sitting quietly in the back seat of the Pontiac—perplexed at being likened to a common drunk, Fritz thought of his mother and her foretelling of vile straits that catch up with those who partake of gambling and drinking.  Remembering his wallet, prudently he counted his money, then to realize he was out a whole three dollars and twenty-five cents.  How would he ever explain this?

Finally realizing he was the one on the outside looking in, and having to prove himself innocent—it would be him pleading for mercy.  Wondering if this would be similar to the hearings he himself had conducted in the past, and even more shocking if this went to trial, the United States of America wouldn’t be picking up the tab,  “Oh my.” 

Knowing if his division supervisor learned of this, he more than likely would be looking for lodging in Point Barrow, Alaska.  Members of the aviation community were still reminiscing over an incident Fritz had been involved in several months earlier.  Important hearings in the west had been instigated by the Secretary of the Interior regarding livestock owned by local ranchers having strayed onto a national forest reserve and knocking over a government outhouse while using it for a scratching post.  

After deliberating for more than three days, endeavoring to resolve this important impasse, a judgment was rendered making the ranchers liable for the thirty-seven-dollar repair to the outhouse.

Having resolved this important issue, the Secretary of the Interior and his entourage were preparing to board the government Grumman G2 in returning to Washington when they discovered the entryway barred by one of Mr. Fritz’s ball-lock-seals.  The supervisor for Fritz’s had sent out a memo instructing that a Sud Caravelle be tagged pertaining to its run-out hot section, and Fritz had erroneously grounded the Interior Department’s similar looking G2, much to the chagrin of the people from the Interior Department and the folks from the Federal Aviation Agency.  In the meantime those linked with the Sud Caravelle spooled up the engines and left town.


Feds Capitulate

 Resting on the couch, Rod quickly awakened when hearing the door being opened.  While sitting up he observed Trooper Beckly entering through the door followed by an individual whose appearance was that of a lost soul.  Quickly standing up Rod inquired, “What do we have here?”        

“This Sir is Mr. Fritz.  I’ve ticketed him for speeding eighty miles per hour in a posted speed area of sixty-five.  I’ve charged him with driving under the influence—he registered a reading of .12 on the breathalyzer.  A half empty container of a alcoholic beverage was confiscated as evidence pertaining to an open container in the vehicle.  As evidence I’m turning this over to you, and I’m also charging him with resisting arrest.”  He never did produce the vehicle registration,” the trooper complained.

“Resisting arrest?  Sir, I didn’t resist arrest, not once.”

Looking the other direction that he might hide his smile the trooper countered, “It was necessary that I ask for his driver’s license two separate times.”

Following his plan Rod began the dialogue of leading Fritz into the trap. “You’re not looking well at all Mr. Fritz, and you smell like refuse from a hog farm. 

“Sir, I messed my pants when I saw those flashing lights following me.”

 Now I wouldn’t want to turn anyone over for confinement smelling as bad as you.  So I suggest you check in at a motel over in Wendover and get a good night’s rest, then making yourself more presentable you can appear before me in the morning when you don’t smell so bad.  I’m sure then we can reach a more favorable determination.  I’ll have your vehicle towed and it’ll be available once you’re competent to drive again.  Is that agreeable with you, Mr. Fritz?”

“Oh yes, Mr. Justice! Oh my! I could tell when walking through that door you were a competent public servant, and I knew you’d recognize me as a stalwart employee of the government.”

Trooper Beckly, amused as he listened to Rod building Fritz up for the fall, but when listening to Fritz, a hint of nausea was felt.

Now ready to spring the trap Rod tendered the baited question, “I’m glad you feel that way Mr. Fritz.  Now I assume you are not one of our local citizens, what business brings you to our fair city?”  

Mr. Fritz proudly proclaimed, “I work for the United States Government as an inspector for the Federal Aviation Agency.  Just a few hours ago a DC-3 at the Wendover airport was grounded by me, making our skies even safer for the citizens of this country.”

Feigning surprise, Rod cocked his head to one side, “You what?”                   

“Yes Sir, I did ground, uh … did I say something inappropriate?”  

Rod looking sternly into the eyes of Fritz to lectured him, “So you have a DC-3 in leg-irons!  Would you be interested in knowing that DC-3 is my property!  This is amazing, I’m attempting to soothe over the DUI you’re accused of, and you stand there and tell me how you’ve Hoovered poor old Bessie.  In grounding my airplane, you’ve jeopardized my work commitments and I’m declaring you guilty as charged.  Trooper Beckly, restrain this meddler and turn him over for confinement.  Maybe that will keep him from stepping on everyone’s feet—as of now, these proceedings are closed.”    

“Oh my, was that your airplane?  What’s happening here?  This is not the way it’s supposed to be.  Please, uh … Mr. Justice, if I render void my enforcement’s and make amends, maybe in exchange you’d reconsider your enforcement’s against me?  I’ll do whatever you impose, just so this doesn’t get back to the district office.  The word compassion doesn’t play a role in the agency’s inquisition for those who might blunder.”               

Looking very stern, Rod firmly growled, “I now declare these proceedings reopened.  As for amends, try this one—that DC-3 is due for an air-worthy inspection,”  

Opening his brief case Fritz nervously fingered through a stack of papers.  When finding what he was looking for he advised. “I have the form right here, if you’ll give me the tail number of the aircraft, I’ll fill out these forms and sign them.  I won’t need to inspect the aircraft as I’ve already done so, and now determine it to be in excellent condition.”  

Surprised, and hardly believing what Fritz had said when Fritz had asked him for the tail number, Rod hurriedly recited N65276 for the finalization of the air-worthy paper work.  Fritz completed the air-worthy certificate, then from his briefcase handed over the forms pertaining to the grounding.  Trooper Beckly asked Fritz that he confirm the credentials made out for the traffic violations, then to everyone’s satisfaction they were also shredded and deposited into the container.  Rod sternly declared, “I pronounce these proceedings closed.”

Rod asked for Trooper Beckly to drive Mr. Fritz to the airfield; and there he would make amends for his naughtiness by removing the tags and the ball-lock-seal from the entrance way of aircraft 276.

After removing his handy work from Bessie, a dazed Fritz was escorted to the blue Ford and assisted in climbing behind the wheel.  Having never experienced such things as this, Beckly shook his head from all that had transpired this night.  After having waited for the blue Ford to disappear into the night, Trooper Beckly returned to Briny Flat.  Rod was waiting, quickly he was embraced by Rod, “Thanks to you ol’ buddy, we out-maneuvered the Feds this time around.” 

“Thank you,” Beckly shot back.  “I haven’t had this much fun since the Marianas Turkey Shoot—besides, I’ve hankered to do a little codgering’ with my ol’ buddy.”                         

Rod asked if he thought Fritz might be suspect to what went on here tonight.  It was a risky thing to do, but there wasn’t much of anything else I could think of that might possibly extricate Bessie from the Feds. 

“It doesn’t make any difference what he knows or what he thinks, this is more than just an embarrassment to him.  He will never grasp what really happened here tonight, and I would venture to guess he wants to put as much distance between the Briny Flats and his memory as possible.  “While driving to his car I had to reassure him several times this wouldn’t get back to the front office.  Besides, we can’t say anything or we’ll be trying to explain our way out of it.  He doesn’t know that, and you can bet your Ford Coupe he isn’t about to open his mouth or he’d be in trouble trying to explain something he didn’t understand in the first place. 

“It was a complete capitulation—you’re out of the woods and you’ve got yourself an airplane—your conspiracy was brilliant.  But there is one problem I have with this, while Fritz was removing the ball-lock-seal I noted the aircraft tail number and the number 276 you had given him for the air-worthy certificate were not a match.  I thought there might be an ulterior motive on your part so I didn’t say anything.”

“Yes, there is an ulterior motive.  With the number 276 Bessie will display when George finishes painting it on her tail, she shouldn’t be so recognizable to anyone.  But that could be a problem if some inspector should dig into the records in Oklahoma City.  They’ll determine that a DC-3 with that number was involved in a deadly crash at Denver, Colorado some years ago.  I assume the certificate number 276 for that airplane is wasting away in some dead file, so I’m resurrecting it for the sake of Bessie.    

Still smiling, and shaking his head in disbelief Rod said, “I about went through my seat when Fritz asked me, of all people for the tail number.  I’m amazed this whole thing worked to our advantage.  He’ll never know he was the principle player in an under-the-table numbers game.  That was an unexpected break in the needed identity change for Bessie, and Fritz took care of all the paper work.  I know you’re curious as to how we acquired Bessie, she was appropriated from drug traffickers by my partners and me.” 

“In other words you just got in and flew away.” 

“That’s just about the way it happened.  Nevertheless, after George paints the new numbers and does a little touch up work on her exterior she shouldn’t be so recognizable to the drug traffickers.”

 “I don’t mean to press the panic button Rod, but didn’t you go a little overboard pilfering a DC-3 from mobsters?”

Well yes, it did turn into something more than what we had in mind.  But as three old codgers looking for a little excitement, we wouldn’t change a thing.  But it has been spine chilling, kind of like being stuck on a railroad track with the express due any minute.  My thoughts were everything would be all right until we discovered all that paperwork on board.  For sure they’ll not like that—but we don’t like it either.  We were conspiring to satisfy our need for a little excitement, like once again being upstairs for A Grand Hurrah.”  

“I’m not ready to throw the towel in either,” Charger explained.  “You do that and the road to nowhere becomes longer, then waiting for your Social Security check to arrive is your ultimate hurrah.” 

While driving Rod to the motel, charger broke into a grin, “I better enlighten you as to what has been told me by some fairly reliable sources—someone blew a fuel truck up on the west desert.  From evidence found at the site, it was used to transport drugs.  Apparently the tire impressions show a large aircraft involved.  They’re trying to get a line on the traffickers now, and the dialogue points to others involved.  As yet, those making the investigation are not entirely sure how this will all come together.  I thought you might appreciate that information.”

Smiling, Rod said, “You knew all the time.”  Then stepping out of the Pontiac he turned to offer his hand, “Stand straight ol’ partner, and I do appreciate what you’ve done.”

With admiration in his voice, Charger suggested, “Give me a call the next time you’re stuck on that railroad track.”

In the early dawn the Silver-Grays drove to the airport while George continued bellyaching of the early departure.  Attempting to explain, Rod suggested, “The sooner Bessie is in the air, the better off we’ll all be and Jake will be waiting at the Bonneville strip.  Besides that, I thought you might be looking forward to your first social call on Bessie.”

Rass settled the fuel cost and returned to assist George in buttoning on the engine cowling.  Then pulling the gear pins and removing the chocks, the Silver-Grays climbed aboard.  When locating the jump seat, George snapped it in place just aft the pedestal between Rod and Rass.  Then buckling his seat belt, he announced, “Bessie has need for tender loving care and I’m here to satisfy that need.  From here on I’m to be Bessie’s personal crew chief.  Any mistreatment of Bessie and you answer to me.”

“Hold on there,” Rass scowled.  “As copilot I’m second in command.”

“You’re second in command only while upstairs.  When Bessie’s downstairs, I’m in sole command and that’s most of the time, so I’m in command more than you.”  

“Oh yeah!  Command in the air is … “Rod finely broke in, “Now just hold everything!  You’re both behaving like a couple old men.  When we set this venture up, we all agreed on being equal partners and that still stands, and it doesn’t matter who is doing what and when, we’re all on even terms.  Read the checklist Rass.”

 Lining Bessie up on the runway for take off Rass was informed it was his leg to fly.

Somewhat shocked, Rass ventured, “I … I’ve never flown at night.”

“Well there is a first time for everything and this will increase your proficiency,” Rod explained.  “After we take-off, keep climbing straight out east and keep your wings level by checking the artificial horizon on the panel.  When we’ve gained enough altitude that we can clear the mountains to our rear, we’ll swing back to a westerly heading until intercepting the southbound course.  With little outside lighting for visual reference, this area is a black hole at night.  Several pilots have become disoriented as to what is up and what is down, and they’ve augured in.” 

“Yah’, did you have to tell me all that mess, especially the auguring part.”  Rass mumbled.    

Showing agitation, George said.  “Letting Rass fly this thing at night is asking calamity to hold hands with disaster.”

On the roll and approaching 80 knots, Rass eased back on the yoke and Bessie again was airborne.  The climb indicator showing a positive rate, the gear up call was heard.  Seeing the air speed increasing to 105 knots, climb power was called for by Rass. 

Seeing there was no horizon or enfolding lights to use as a reference point, Rod prompted Rass to keep a constant scan on the instruments, especially the artificial horizon, as total darkness will be our companion this night. 

“Did you hear what George called Bessie?”

“Never mind about George,” Rod shouted, “scan the instruments.  Look at your artificial horizon, it’s telling you you’re in a left bank—level the wings now!” 

The wings again level, Rod prompted, “Keep a constant scan on the instruments.” Accelerating rapidly, the air speed indicator now in the cautionary range and fast approaching the critical stage. What’s the air speed indicator telling you Rass?”  Rass attempted pulling power off until seeing Rod inhibiting the throttles.

Rod called, “Point the nose up a couple of dots above the artificial horizon, the needed altitude will kill off the excessive airspeed.”   

Quickly coming back on the yoke, Rass over-controlled and Bessie headed for the sky like a paroled despot from purgatory headed for freedom.  Rod gently coached until Rass had it down to only occasionally roughing up the night sky.

“When should I turn west?”  Rass asked.  

“When you finally finished demonstrating graveyard spirals, you were locked in on a westerly heading.  You can turn south now, we’re going home.”

Hearing unusual sounds from the aft section, Rod turned in time to see George mumbling out loud when crawling back into the cockpit.  “They say when an aircraft impacts the earth, the earth always wins.  I thought this thing was scheming to get even for the assault and battery Rass was laying on her, so I took up station in the aft section.  They tell me that’s the location to be when disaster strikes, and that’s where I waited to meet my Maker.  

“You’re a wounding my feelings,” Rass sniffed. 

“Considering Rass’s experience, he performed in a satisfactory manner since this is his first experience flying solely in reference to instruments.  A little advice I pass on to you also George, don’t ever refer to Bessie as ‘this thing.’ She’s a princely lady with the royal name of Bessie.”               

“That’s right George, you have to remember those considerations, just remember what goes round comes round.” 

“And what goes up, comes down,” George fired back.

Rod reminded Rass that he hold steady on a south heading to stay abreast the restricted area while flying parallel to its west border.

After a rousing introduction on his initial flight, George calmed down. His attention now focused in seeing the dawn paint streaks of crimson in the eastern sky as first light broke over the majestic Deep Creek Mountains.  With a summit above 12,000 feet towering over an ancient seabed, George marveled the mountain withstanding the centuries of time with its craggy outcroppings and irregular slopes of green timberland.  Its lower slopes that in ancient times were continually assaulted by the inland sea, that eventually opened a chasm in the northern regions to drain itself into the ocean.  As a remnant of its heritage, pure white salt flats bespeaks of a little known past.  

The cool morning air made for smooth flying and with George now settled into a peaceful state, a more buoyant mood was felt by the Silver-Grays.  With the successful hijacking of Bessie, an awakening of youthful vigilance in the partners had taken over and with the growing camaraderie with in themselves; they knew they could cut it.  The illusions that the aged and senior are synonymous trailed in Bessie’s wake.  

“Start easing Bessie down,” Rod advised.  “When turning east to enter the restricted area, we must be as low an altitude as possible to avoid detection by radar.” 

Descending into the lower altitudes, turbulence began buffeting Bessie and Rod suggested they tighten their seat belts and prepare for a gut-wrenching ride through the gap.  Rass, glancing out his side window, yelled, “My wing is flapping!”

An amused Rod explained, “The DC-3 is one of the first aircraft built with flexible wings for better strength and to better withstand turbulent air.  As a pioneer using this new design, she has proven this to be sound engineering many times.”        

Rass continually over-controlled as he fought the moderate to greater turbulence, exerting stress that approached Bessie’s structural limitations.  Frantically he yelled, “Take it’ Rod!”

“I have the controls, Rod calmly replied.”  Then with compassion, Bessie was allowed to wallow amid the billowing air currents, nudging the controls only enough to maintain directional control while coaxing and wheedling her through the gap.  When vacating its eastern extremity the turbulent air slackened much to the relief of the Silver-Haired-Partners. 

Somewhat shaken George grumbled, “I’ve always wondered, but I sure as hell know where hell is now.” 

Banking north, dust clouds were seen rolling over the strip partially obscuring its view.  An ominous presence pervaded the cockpit when realizing this called for a strong crosswind landing.  Rod disclosed Bessie’s max crosswind component of twenty-five miles per hour would now be tested.  Anything above that and Bessie tends to lose her composure.  With no air ground communications for a wind check, the Silver-Grays were certain the wind exceeded Bessie’s max crosswind limitation.

Easing to a lower altitude to make a fly by, Rod suggested, “With all this wind possibly a dry front is passing through the area.”  Rass and George still shaken from the turbulence in the gap were even more alarmed when seeing Jake standing at the end of the strip holding a makeshift windsock standing straight out crosswise the strip. 

 Hearing the landing checklist being called for, both Rass and George had dire feelings of anxiety in knowing Rod planned to take her in.  George at once slumped down to fiddle with maps and things he held in his lap.  After turning final for a north landing, the gear down command was given.  Rass reached for the gear-handle and with some misgivings lowered the handle.  Checking out their side windows for a visual gear down check, the gear handle was returned to neutral and the down latch secured.  A submissive acknowledgment was given by Rass, “Gear down with green light.”  A puzzling vista greeted him upon seeing the strip approaching through the captain’s windscreen—a phenomenon caused by the excessive right crab into the wind.  Willing Bessie toward the strip for better directional control Rod slowly increased power on the up-wind engine to sustain flight before reducing power on the left engine. 

Rass continued calling out the air speed in ten-knot increments.  Easing the yoke back to commence the round out, Rod explained this to be a no-flap landing.  Confronting the wind, Bessie’s upwind wing was lowered too an extreme angle.

With engine power continuously being maintained on the upwind engine—left rudder peddle in full travel, the right main gear encountered the dirt strip.  When slowing the aileron travel was returned to neutral, the added weight on the left gear assisted Bessie in maintaining directional control during heavy left braking until reaching taxi speed.  Rod reached down undoing the tail wheel lock letting Bessie wind-cock into the wind while easing to a full stop.

Still shaking and attempting to show bravado, Rass chided George, “The real pros answer the call when Mother Nature throws down the gauntlet.”                      

“If this is what everyday flying is, consider me permanently grounded,” George snorted. 

Laying out the details for securing Bessie into the wind, Rod explained, “I’ll hold the controls steady until you’ve attached the external control locks and gear pins.  Having done that, chock the wheels with large rocks.” 

When the Silver-Grays lowered the stairs, Jake was there to greet them.  “I was sure you couldn’t land in this wind, it’s gusting thirty to forty miles per hour or more.”

Making the introductions, Rod said, “Jake, I want you to meet George Hogans, the best mechanic this side of the Mississippi.”

“I’m more than happy to meet you.  Your Silver-Grays have told me a great deal about you, and I hope you enjoy your stay here at Big Emma.”

After the introduction Rod handed over the check Bert had asked him to deliver.  “Airmail delivery right to your doorstep.”

Jake looked at the check, shook his head slowly, “I still can’t believe what’s happened here, but I can live with it.  I called Irene and it will be a week or so before she can leave her job to return home.  It’s going to be great having the family all together once again, and by the way Rass, the new hoist is all in place.  Everyone is in anticipation of you and the professor making the proving run.” 

Rass winced with a sickly grimace, “I’d rather not keep a more deserving person from that honor, so whoever would like to go in my stead, please step up.”  No one moved.  “I was afraid of that,” 

Jake called, “All aboard Ralph, let’s get out of this wind.”

Leaving the flat desert terrain to enter Gold Leaf Canyon, Jake confidently guided Ralph through the creek to begin the ascent up the dug-way.  When traversing the narrow switchbacks the road steepened even more.  In awe, George, gazing at the steep slopes slowly spoke, “I never realized such scenery ever existed out here.  Are we in Utah or Nevada?”

Jake explained, “Shortly after we departed the landing strip, we crossed from Nevada into Utah where Big Emma abodes, whom you shall soon meet.”

Exiting the high divide to descend into Amnesia Valley, George became outwardly astonished at the splendor his partners had attempt to describe to him.  “I thought all they had out here was salt flats and fast cars.” 

Dropping them off at their cabins, Jake requested that George bunk in unit three.  “After you’ve settled in, come over to the lodge, you’ll find breakfast waiting.”

George was now showing more interest and while walking to the lodge, he explained that tomorrow he planned slapping on the new numbers and face-lift.  But if the wind keeps up, he’d grab a fishing pole and head down to the lake.                 

Rass said, “The Taylor twins have volunteered the use of their mechanism that converts energy into mechanical motion that powers the compressor that pressures the paint gun that will cut the man-hours in half and save us a lot of time.”  

Staring at Rass, George yelled, “Why can’t you just say engine driven compressor instead of all that malarkey about energy and motion stuff.”

Rass stared back and asked, “Did I say that?” 

George stared back, “Just forget I said anything.” 

“How can I forget anything you didn’t say in the first place,” Rass asked.  

Letting out a mournful sigh, George muttered, “How do I get into these things?  I should know better than to get into a one-on-one with you.”  When entering the lodge, George was visibly moved by all the rustic comfort.  “I can’t believe this place, how did you ever land here?”

“Well we didn’t exactly plan on landing here,” Rod explained.  “In fact, when we did land we weren’t quite sure of our location until Jake found us and fetched us here.”

Offering his version, Rass explained, “Well there’s more to it than that.  We flew through the canyon on one engine while it was still dark.  All the while I was hankering for Rod to do a turn around and get us out of there—but he got us through.  Then our remaining engine quit, leaving us up in the sky with dead engines.  When we took flight from the drug runners, I was seventy-one years old and when we landed I was eighty.  One more flight like that and I’ll be ninety.  Can you still fly when you’re ninety?”      

“Only if you’re dead,” George snorted.  “And if you don’t quit telling blind jackass stories like that the tooth fairy won’t come see you anymore.”

Retaliating, Rass shot back, “That tooth fairy stuff is just a bunk house fairy tale.”  

When entering the dining room the family greeted them with introductions being made all around.  The one person present they hadn’t met earlier was Maria’s mother Juanita, who had come to spend the remaining part of summer helping María and Tabasco with the canning of fruits and jams. 

Rod suggested, “It’s obvious to me where Maria inherited her good looks.”  After breakfast Juanita invited a startled Rass to help with the washing of bottles in preparation for the fruit canning.  To everyone’s surprise Rass accepted and followed Juanita into the kitchen to begin scullery duty. 

George took leave to help the twins with a welding problem.  With everyone occupied, Rod asked Jake if he’d mind meeting with him in the conference room, there they would talk in private.

After being seated, Rod hesitated, and then slowly spoke.  “Jake, I’ve debated with my self about giving you the story of how we ended up here and why.  You may think my partners and I are foolish old men, but we were dying a slow death.  When a person has been on the move all his life, and the aging process begins to overtake him—it’s normal for some folks to think they should retire to watch the grass grow.  But that wasn’t for me or my partners.  

“We decided to do something about it, and we did.  True, we haven’t accomplished much, but I’ll lay odds there are not many folks who in the short time of this venture will have had more excitement than we have had, and we’ve never looked back.  Like Rass has mentioned, we haven’t a thing to lose?  I was concerned as to how you would react to all this.”    

Jake was adamant,  “I want you to know the door will always be open, and you’re welcome here for as long as that wandering lust will let you remain here.” 

Rod gave the account of how Bessie was hijacked, and the explosion of the fuel truck, leaving the drug traffickers stranded in the desert.  “If we had gone to the authorities we would have had to forfeit Bessie.  The problems I’ve inherited are not so much the airplane, but from the documents found on board Bessie.  Those papers could possibly embroil all those ever connected with that operation.  They’ve doctored the aircraft logbook to show Bessie as not flying out of Spainville, California, but its obvious Spainville is the main nucleus for their drug distribution.

“I questioned they would have searched very long for Bessie, but when finding their paper work aboard, it was like having two strikes called on us, and a fast ball on the way.  I’m sure that even now they’re pursuing every conceivable lead to locate those responsible for the commandeering of that airplane.              

“Jake, I haven’t said much to the Silver-Grays about this, and there is no need for them to worry any more than necessary.  But I can’t just sit around waiting for the drug folks to locate us, so it’s up with the old battle cry, strike first and strike hard.  But without an objective, I’d be fanning the breeze.  So I plan striking out on my own in hopes I locate the culprits before they do us.” 

Jake cautioned, “What you’re telling me seems incredible, and do you have any specific plan on how you’re going to undertake this pursuit?  You’re not going to accomplish much if you only locate the runners.”

“I don’t have anything particular in mind, but I’m nursing a strategy that will stop or delay the shipment at their dispersal point.  In doing that I’m then in hopes someone tied into that outfit will show up as to why the delay, and if I’m fortunate, when they leave I’ll tail him in hopes they’ll lead me to who calls the shots for Blue Pacific Imports.  I realize there are a lot of contingencies in this, but what do I do?  I have to start somewhere.  I can’t think of any other way to approach it.”

“You’re looking at a whole lot of unknowns,” Jake cautioned, “and you’ll find yourself dealing with individuals who think nothing of snuffing out the lives of anyone whom they think is privy to that operation as well as those responsible for leaving those papers on board Bessie.  I know you’ll not rest until this is taken care of, but be careful you’ll be walking into unknown territory that could trip you up, and that bothers me.  Besides, I need you here when that door opens—then you and I will talk business.”

 “I appreciate that, and from what I’ve seen, Rass has already staked a claim.  By the way, what’s the status with María’s mother?  She’s probably the only person in the world that could entice Rass into a kitchen—and not only that, she has him doing dishes, and even worse, he seems to enjoy it.”

“I saw that and was a little surprised myself.  Juanita divorced her husband several years ago.  All he did was run around while she made the living.  She’s an excellent cook, and no doubt that’s where María learned her culinary skills.  In all these years Juanita wanted nothing more to do with men.  She has a beautiful voice and before long she’ll have Rass singing duets with her.”                  

“What’s with all the bell ringing?”  Rod asked.

“That’s the assembly call for everyone to meet at the hoist-shed for the ritual.”

Now joshing Rod said, “I doubt they’ll get Rass out of the kitchen, he’s not too excited about riding that cage.”  .

“You better think again.  Juanita is tugging Rass with one arm and the ceremonial bottle in the other.  She’s as anxious as anyone to see that new lift in operation.”


New Hoist Ritual

Excitement beginning to mount, Lloyd was heard to call out, “Ladies and gentlemen and all the folks from the rural areas, on this special occasion we are gathered to bestow a proper name for our new sprung hoist.  Now if our two honored guests will step into the cage we’ll proceed with the ritual.”  Showing a dignified smile, the professor gingerly stepped inside.  Rass lingered behind to pull his socks up and tie his shoe, then with due precaution entered the cage.     

Jake was laughing, “Those whiskers are good for something, as a camouflage they hide one scared character.  When he understands what it’s all about, they’ll have to drag him out.”

Lloyd stepped into the cage to place hard hats with lighted carbide lanterns on the heads of the professor and Rass.  Although the shaft was well lighted, the lanterns were for ceremony.  He explained the operation of the intercom, keeping them in touch with the hoist operator.   Stepping out and latching the cage door, Lloyd called for Juanita to come forward.  “Juanita will now acclaim our new hoist.”

“With this botella of crystal clear mountain agua, I christen thee Trail Finder.”  Vigorously smashing the bottle against the cage, both Rass and the professor were splattered by the contents.

Seeing Tabasco looking a miff and then staring angrily at Juanita, the professor realized something was amiss.  When sampling the splashed contents, a smile appeared.  “As to this being crystal clear mountain agua, it is not.  I think Juanita in her rush to be here on time, seized a bottle from Tabasco’s private stock of tequila.”   

Operating the controls in the hoist-shed, Floyd let the cage pick up speed as it dropped into the depths of Big Emma.  Then slowing, Floyd’s voice was heard over the intercom,  “You are now at the three hundred foot level and the large tunnel you can see intercepts the chute from which gold ore was once extracted.  As you descend you’ll see tunnels at various depths used to bisect the now mined out ore chute. 

“You’re now at eight hundred feet.  Somewhere between here and the crosscut above, a fault changed the downward trend of the channel lode, and the Golden Trail disappeared into the mountain.  The two exploratory drifts you are seeing were made in an attempt to relocate the Golden Trail.

“You’re now at nine hundred feet where you can observe the planned drilling operation of a new tunnel.  Before passing away, Jake’s daddy gave compass directions to be followed that we might relocate the Golden Trail.  We are now in the process of carrying out those instructions.” 

The professor suggested, “Think about it Rass, we are one-thousand feet down in the bowels of the Earth, if there was another earthquake, they wouldn’t even have to bury us.”

“Mercy professor, you didn’t have to go and say anything like that.”

“What do you say Rass, let’s you and me take a little stroll through these tunnels.”

“Rass hollered, “Where you going, I didn’t say anything about taking a stroll.   Seeing the professor continuing on, Rass caught up with him and called, “I thought you might want me to come along after all.”

In the half light the professor suddenly stopped, then took another step forward and stopped again.  All the while staring intensely at his shadow on the tunnel wall, then he spoke with concern, “I do not like this at all, there are two of us and yet only one shadow appears on the wall.”

Rass yelled, “You didn’t have to say anything like that either, I’m going back to that cage as fast as I can.  As Rass turned to leave, the professor still staring at his lone shadow, leaped with fright when seeing his shadow break into two separate shadows.  The professor screamed, “Wait up Rass, I’m going with you!”

Rass was already in the cage when the professor rushed in screaming to lock the cage door.  Grabbing the mike from Rass he asked to be hauled topside now.  When the cage didn’t move he yelled a second time.  Rass informed the professor that if he pushed the button, the intercom might work.  

On their way topside the professor still looking pale finely got the words out telling Rass, “That was awful what that shadow did.”  After figuring it all out, a still shaken Rass got his courage up to tell the professor that maybe while in that dark tunnel he was standing a little too close to the professor and that gave the impression of one shadow.

Now looking embarrassed the professor said, “Close to me—now I think about it you was hanging on my back.”  The professor suggested that maybe for the good of both of them it might be better to not say anything about what went on down there.  Rass agreed.       

Arriving back on the surface, Rass gave thumbs up as though this was an everyday occurrence.  Lloyd called out, “Everyone will have the opportunity to see Big Emma’s internal undertakings.”

When seeing Rass re-enter the cage with Juanita, Lloyd winked and chuckled.

Rass mumbled, “This is Juanita’s first ride and I have to be here if she’s scared.” 

With a dubious grin, Lloyd answered, “You’re a chivalrous ol’ soul.” 

While waiting their turn, the family was in a festive mood.  Tabasco, now over his upset that his mother-in-law had smashed a bottle of his best tequila, helped María serve punch and cookies.  George walked over too Jake and asked, “Is it always like this around here?”

“We were due for something good to happen, and Rod made it happen.  When the bankers fumbled the ball, Rod picked it up and ran straight ahead.  Big Mack never knew what hit him. Right now we’re knocking on the door of the Golden Trail and when that door opens, Big Emma is going to host a day of feasting the likes of which Big Emma’s family and friends has never had the pleasure.”

When walking to their cabins, George expressed his reservations to Rod.  “Jake is quite a man, but I don’t know.  He talks with a positive attitude like it’s a done deal they’ll locate that ore, and that bothers me.  What if they miss?  Or there isn’t a vein of gold.  What then?   There are a lot of nice folks here hopin’ and waitin’ and expectin’ them to chew into that mother lode any day, and maybe … just maybe … that mother lode ain’t there.”      

“I read once that where there is no vision the people will perish,” Rod said.  “You’ve heard what they’ve said about Jakes daddy.  I’ve never known anyone having had a stronger vision than Jake or what I’ve heard of his daddy in Big Emma giving up her secret to the lost gold.  It’s true, a lot of hard rock miners have met their waterloo in betting their bottom dollar that pay dirt is just one more foot away—but some of them were working on hope alone.  Working with a little knowledge and a strong vision will get you a long ways down that road.  Big Emma will take care of her family.  Now what about Bessie, and how long will it be before the touch-up is complete?”  

“If the wind quits blowing down in the flat—first daylight to start slapping on paint would suit me fine.  Then if we can convince Rass to stop doing dishes long enough to help, I think we can have it all done by tomorrow evening.  She’ll need to recuperate overnight, and then she’ll be ready to show off her new makeover.  What have you got going?”

“I won’t know until I make one more phone call,” Rod expressed.  “Possibly there may be some helicopter parts needing transport to Alaska.  An old flying buddy of mine owns and operates Heavy Lifter’s in Mission Bells, California, and has contracts for select cutting of timber from logging operators on Prince of Wales Island.  He operates several 214-B1 heavy lifter helicopters assembled by Bell.  For support he has a couple of rotor blades and a boom that we’re going to transport.  We’ll be flying into a strip at Klawock where there are no navigational aids.  To let down through the weather we’ll need to make the approach into Ketchikan where navigational facilities are available.  Ketchikan is known as the rainfall capital of Alaska, so chances are good we’ll be doing some scud running from Ketchikan to our destination Klawock.

“What’s this scud runnin’ stuff you’re talking about?”  George asked.

“As I said,” Rod replied.  “Klawock has no navigational facilities, and if we’re trapped above the clouds, there’s no way we’re going to locate it, and if we attempt letting down not knowing where we are, we’ll find those clouds have a lot of rocks in them. 

“So we’ll let down on the gauges at Ketchikan until we break out the bottom, then pick and hunt through the scud to find the island where Klawock is located.  Then we have to hope a couple of mountain passes have enough visibility to skinny our way through to the interior of the island where the strip is located.  There’s nothing to it—that is when the visibility is unlimited and the sun is bright and shiny.” 

“How about finishing that sightseer story you were telling before Rass got air sick?”

“As I was saying, a friend of mine flying bush out of Yakutat told of flying several sightseers up Disenchantment Bay to see the Hubbard Glacier.  On his return flight the weather turned sour, so he descended until they were just above the water in trying to remain clear of clouds. 

“Haze restricted his forward visibility, and while proceeding through Yakutat Bay, an enormous ghost-like object materialized out of the haze directly on his nose.  His reflex reaction had him hauling back on the yoke, where he found himself swallowed by clouds.  For the moment he was disoriented—he couldn’t remember any island having been there before.  Not daring to let back down in the murk, he radioed for a clearance and shot the approach into Yakutat. 

“Shortly thereafter the visibility picked up and he decided to retrace his flight path to reconstruct what happened.  There, in the middle of the bay sat this enormous cruise ship at anchor.  He said, ‘I’ll bet the crew on the bridge threw their skivvies overboard after I skimmed over … I did mine.’ ” 

“The only people who’d believe a story like that would be a toilet-paper salesman,” George snorted.  


Alaskan Charter

 The rays of the morning sun beaming through saddles amid high peaks, flooding the valley with radiant shafts of sunlight found Big Emma’s family in high spirits.  Enjoying this late summer weather they were prepared to undertake this new week with persistency and a dedicated effort to once more bring new life to Big Emma.                                          

Rod had received word everything was go for Alaska.  With her new face-lift, and painted tail numbers complimenting her air worthy certificate, Bessie had been made ready to take on the elements.  

Anxious to make their first payload delivery, the Silver-Grays said their good-byes and hurriedly climbed aboard.  With checklist completed, both engines started without a whimper, and chocks were removed.  Rod commented, “My cunning deftness to manipulate the primers is bettering.  Let’s go flying.”  

The departure of Bessie heralded a bold business venture for the Silver Grays.  Within them selves high spirits were felt as Bessie climbed on a direct course to Mission Bells, California. Rod praised his two partners, thanking them for how well the face-lift on Bessie had turned out.  “She looks like the new girl in town and I know she’s happy as she is making a good five knots better airspeed than normal.”

Over Lovelock, Nevada, the pilot’s guide pertaining to the Loran Bessie carried among her navigational aids was reviewed.  The destination coordinates for the FBO (Fixed Base Operation) at Mission Bells were carefully scrutinized.  Rod pointed to the CDI (course deviation indicator) and asked Rass to keep the CDI needle centered.  “It will lead you too Mission Bells, and depending on the head winds, the Loran indicates we’ll be there in another hour and twenty-five minutes.”

Eighty miles out of Redding, Rod contacted Oakland Center; checking on any activity in the Whitmore Military Operations area.  Receiving a negative, a direct course to Mission Bells was continued.  Three miles south of Lassen Peak, Bessie was eased into the initial letdown. Then entering the traffic pattern at 2,000 feet above field elevation, a calm windsock was observed.  With no ground radio for a traffic check, George was requested he keep a sharp lookout for other traffic.  As Rass banked Bessie onto final, Rod cautioned, “This gravel strip is only 3000 feet in length, have the numbers pegged over the fence.”

Easing Bessie onto the strip, brake pedal pressure was gently applied until slowed to taxi speed.  George read the after-landing checklist while Rod performed the clean up.  Following directions from the flagman, Rass brought Bessie to a stop near a large maintenance hanger.  Inwardly pleased at what his two partners had achieved, Rod felt comfortable with their job performancemaking for a better-coordinated and safer trip.

When stepping down from the air stairs onto a red carpet, Rod recognized his old buddy Chet Asay, the Colonel from World War II flying days waiting to greet him.  With much back punching and tall exaggerations as to their youthful looks, a blend of silver-gray hair fluttering in the breeze advocated otherwise. 

“The red carpet is for special occasions.  Fact is—this is the first time I’ve had an occasion to use it.”  Inviting the Silver-Grays into the lounge; office girls were asked to serve ice cold lemonade. 

“What happened to the fixed-base operation?  To me this appears to be strictly an all helicopter operation,” Rod questioned.

“The small-time fixed-base operators are having a rough time with spiraling upward cost in the aviation industry.  We are also hampered by all the regulatory requirements from government agencies spilling out the walls.  

 “A while back an FAA inspector came bird dogging around the place, and we were not aware of someone stealing a fire extinguisher off our fueling tanker, without that missing bottle you would have thought Mount Shasta was in danger of burning to the ground.  With all the jumping up and down, and flapping of arms I thought one of my helicopter’s had broken loose from its tie down.”

“And here is one mechanic,” George chipped in, “that hung it up for just what you’re talking about.  It was sink or swim in paper work for me and I was sinking.  My mind became immersed in the depths of despair and it was time to bail out, so that’s exactly what I did.  The day I hung it up, they gave me a plaque for the nice fellow I am.  It was an airplane mounted on a base that I took home and placed on my desk.  I cringed as it did a snap-roll off the desk, hit the deck and busted a wing.  I thought oh chicken livers, is this an omen of what my retirement is to be.”

Rod stepped in, “We have legislative lawmakers now telling the country that we are living longer and healthier lives and the retirement age should be raised.  Then down the street we have the FAA holding firm on the age sixty requirements for airline pilots to retire.  The FAA ought to be dancing to the same tune as their big brother.  They won’t open the books and show us where the older pilot has been a detriment to aviation.  Those aviators were there in the golden age of aviation and they made it happen, and I’d better get off this subject before my blood pressure shoots up and they shoot me down.” 

Chet asked Rod if he remembered the cute little auburn-haired Limy that Rod had courted while stationed in England. 

“Yes, her name was Evelyn, and to her I was just a friend.  Some fast talking Colonel probably convinced her to marry him.  It would be interesting to know what happened to her,” 

“Well you’re about to find out.  See that cute little auburn-haired gal walking through the door?”

Rod did a take, a double take—then springing to his feet he stammered, “I didn’t know… I had no idea.”  Eyeing Chet, “So you’re that fast talking Colonel!”

 A smiling Evelyn explained, “When Snookers informed me you were flying in today I had to drive out here to say hello, and check to see if you still blush red.”

 A surprised Rod asked, “Snookers?  What’s this all about?”

 “With Chets fast talking, he’s always snookering me out of something—the name seemed appropriate so I tacked it on him.”

Rod was laughing, “My congratulations to you, Col. Snooker.” 

 “In late 1943 I received orders I was to be transferred back to the States, so I persuaded Evelyn that we should tie the knot then and there, and she would come over the pond later as a war bride, and after the war ended we settled here.”

“I’m glad it worked out for you.”             

“Thanks, and if we’re going to get that biscuit transporter loaded we need to move on it, the boys leave early today.”  When making certain all the equipment was secured, Chet had noticed there was no life raft aboard, “I’m not letting you fly to Alaska without one.  I have extra six-man rafts fully equipped with all the survival gear you might need in an emergency.  You toss it into the water, pull the lanyard—and whiff, it does the rest.  It even has a canopy to keep you out of the weather.” 

Smiling in gratitude Rod offered, “If that’s what you feel, your offer is accepted, but we expect to return it still in its wrappings.”


With Bessie climbing into the California skies, the three Silver-Grays were sitting high, looking forward to the next few days of flying.  Pointing to the east, Rod explained, “You have a front office view of Mt. Shasta located in the Cascade Range—famous for its twin peaks rising to a height of 14,162 feet.  One reason for its majestic bearing is there are no other peaks in the vicinity anywhere near that height.  On a misty day if you see the snow crowned peaks, it deceives you into thinking it’s much higher than it actually is, but never the less it’s up there.”

“The Loran shows our ground speed at 150 knots, in two hours and forty-five minutes we’ll be landing at Boeing field, and then we’ll refuel and hunker down for a night’s rest.  The forecast indicates the low pressure over Northern Vancouver Island will be moving eastward, so plan for an early departure.”

 Flying low enough to enjoy the view, the planned route of flight had them flying over Eugene, Oregon, direct to Portland, direct to Seattle.  Rod requested for Rass to contact Portland approach on frequency 118.1 and inform them our location is 30 miles south and we’ll be flying through their area at10,500 feet en route to Boeing Field.

“Portland approach control, this is Bessie on 118.1, over.” 

“Aircraft calling Portland on 118.1, say your aircraft type and call sign.” 

“They don’t know who or what Bessie is,” Rod laughed, “Tell ’um we’re flying a DC-3, and then give our tail number.”

“Portland approach control, we’re a DC-3…”

Approach interrupted, “Well I’m a Flying Saucer, now can I have your call sign?”

“This is Bes… I mean Douglas 276, and we are 30 miles south at 10,500 feet en route to Boeing field.”

“Roger Douglas 276, we have you radar contact.  We have no reported traffic.  Say your aircraft type again?”

“We’re flying a DC-3.”

“Then you really are a DC-3.  I thought they were all reminiscing in that big hanger in the sky.  I jumped to conclusions thinking you were testing me on aircraft recognition, so please accept my apology for the exchange.”   

Still laughing, Rod pointed east and explained, “That’s the ever prominent Mt. Hood about 40 miles from our position.  With an elevation over 11,000 feet the snow never melts on the summit.  It stands as one of the more noted peaks in the Cascade Range.”

Leaving Portland behind—approach control terminated radar following, and wishing them a pleasant trip, suggested they take good care of Bessie.

 “Maybe Mt. Hood got its name from the snowy hood it’s wearing,” Rass suggested.  Then pointing, he asked, “Is that Mount St. Helen’s—the one that blew her top.”

 In a mischievous mood, George gave response, “According to the map it is.  You know, it’s a whimsical charade—some women are like that.  I knew a couple that always carried a full head of steam and every now and then they’d blow their top.  But then again, they weren’t Saints.” 

With Bessie continuing to roll up the miles, and George and Rass enthralled with the changing landscape, Rod pointed out Mt Rainier, and explained, “There’s no mistaking the King, Washington State’s most prominent landmark showing off its 14,410 foot snow-crowned summit.  George Vancouver who sighted it in 1792 named it for a friend.

“The air traffic at Seattle being one busy control area,” Rod suggested to Rass.  “With all the radio chatter, you handle the controls while I handle the communications.”  Tuning in the automated landing information for Boeing field, the partners listened, ‘Information Yankee is current; temperature 62 degrees, wind south at 10; altimeter 29.92; landing runways 13 left and right.  Heavy aircraft use runway 13 right.’

 Being identified on radar they were requested to maintain their present heading with expected radar vectors to Boeing field. When being vectored onto final, Douglas 276 was cleared to land.  One more time Rass gently eased Bessie onto the runway as though she had tender feet.  Clearing the runway, Rod informed ground control this would be a one-night stay.

“Roger, follow the flagman.”

When Bessie was aligned on the parking pad, Rass cut the mixtures, and called for the parking checklist, and Bessie was again at rest.    

George asked the fuel personnel to top off all four tanks, and if necessary add enough oil each tank to bring the quantity up to 29 gallons on the stick.

 Quickly taking aim, Rass snarled, “You’re overstepping your behest, it’s my charge to request the fuel load.”

George shot back, “In a pig’s eye, I’m the crew chief.  When Bessie is on the ground I’m in charge.  So grab them apples and chew on ’em.”

“You just shush your mouth; it wouldn’t even be welcomed at a pigsty.”

 George grabbed Rass by his collar.  In twisting free, Rass slammed into Rod who had hurried there to quell the disorder, only to get himself knocked on his keester.  Ramp personnel whooped and hollered cheering them on.  Struggling to hold his temper, a disgusted Rod dusted himself off and then questioned, “The fueler demanded I get over here, that you two were squabbling and threatening bodily harm.  What’s it all about?”

Rass was grinning, “I got Hogans goat.”  Rod put it bluntly, “Everyone is laughing—you want ’um to think the circus is in town?  Prior to our arrival I was leaning toward how everything was coming together, and now this.  You’ve embarrassed Bessie, you’ve embarrassed me, and you’re making an exhibition out of all of us.  Rass, while George is having Bessie serviced, call a motel and request the courtesy van.”

After the evening meal Rod having invited his two partners to meet in his room for job clarification status.  “Our primary function after each departure is to make sure Bessie makes a safe arrival. This will take a lot of dedication and work from each of us, more so on the ground than in the air.  In the morning I’ll check the up-line weather before filing the flight plan.  Rass, you settle the tab for the fuel and oil, and then order three box lunches to go.  

“George, it’s your responsibility in sticking the tanks—make sure they’re topped off until the wrinkles in those tanks snap to attention.  Continue your normal fuel contamination checks and make double sure all fuel and oil caps and covers are secured.  Don’t forget to brighten Bessie’s disposition by putting a smile on her alcohol tank.  My feeling is we’re going to find obscured skies over Port Hardy, and we want the odds on our side.  Later George, when you become more familiar with Bessie, you can have stick time.  That’s it partners, now hit the sack and that’s an order.” 

 When arriving at the airport the following morning, all grievances forgotten, Rass and George were as high as two kids destined for Disneyland.  This would be a first time in Alaska and they were eager to point Bessie at the midnight sun.  Studying the weather charts, Rod wasn’t at all happy with what he was looking at.  The low-pressure area centered northeast of Vancouver Island had intensified with little movement to the east.

 Concerned that when flying into the back of this system, they would be bucking headwinds.  Of further concern was the icing level, aware at this time of year the icing levels were usually higher, but then the minimum altitudes in the Comox area would have them flying higher also.  With little choice, Rod made the decision to fly the higher altitudes in an attempt to avoid icing, and strive to buck the higher headwinds. 

Then turning his attention to the weather prognosis chart, hopeful signs were indicating the system would begin a gradual movement to the east with skies partially clearing north of Port Hardy.  Some comfort was afforded in knowing from Port Hardy en route to Annette Island the weather map painted high-scattered clouds.  But, approaching Ketchikan, they’d be greeted with lowering clouds and visibility restricted by rain.  

After take-off Bessie climbed steadfastly over Puget Sound in air as smooth as black velvet.  As forecast by the weather charts, Puget Sound weather was holding CAVU (Ceiling and visibility unlimited).  There was little talk among the Silver-Grays who now busy watching out for other traffic and stealing momentary glances at the engaging seascape. 

Pointing ahead to the Strait of Juan De Fuca, Rod explained, “This serves Canada and the United States as the gateway for ships entering and departing the Pacific.  The large city we see ahead is beautiful Victoria.  It was settled by the Hudson’s Bay Company and named for Queen Victoria.  Off our right you can make out the San Juan Islands.  Folks in these parts will challenge anyone who dares suggest this isn’t the sailing capital of the world.”

Rass challenged, “Well maybe in America, but not Sweden.  In Sweden one out of six folks owns a boat, and in the U.S. it’s only one out of sixteen.  So there!”

Shaking his head, George with a look of bewilderment yelled, “You did it again.  Are you Swedish or something?  Maybe you’re a reincarnated Viking come back just to torment me.”

“Not even a Viking could dent your head,” Rass countered.  Becoming more aware of the changing scenery Rass proudly proclaimed, “Sitting up here in the front office seeing what I’m seeing, I feel like a magnate.  I wouldn’t trade seats with no-man,” 

Bessie flying level at 10,000 feet and still holding a ground speed of 150 knots in smooth air enabled Rod to stay busy scanning the horizon ahead.  When seeing the first signs of wind-whipped clouds appearing over the horizon, Rod again checked the outside temperature gauge to note a reading of three degrees centigrade; knowing that if it remained at that temperature are higher, ice would be of no consequence.  But any drop in Celsius would be an admonition they were approaching the fringes of the low-pressure area.

 Seeing Rod’s continued glances at the outside temperature gauge, Rass made inquiry as to what temperature they were most apt to find icing?

“That wall of clouds ahead will soon answer your question.  You’ll see an impulsive drop in the temperature, then temperature wise we’ll be in a critical icing area, and we need to make decisions now as the groundspeed has dropped off to 120 knots.  We can’t descend lower in an attempt to increase the temps because of the high terrain obscured in clouds.  Our only alternative is to climb in hopes the temperature will drop even more and possibly conditions then will be so cold, icing will be of no concern.  I’ll give Vancouver Control a holler for 14,000 feet.”

 Vancouver advised of opposite traffic now descending to 11,000 feet, and as soon as traffic became a non-factor the request would be granted.

 Rod acknowledged, and after requesting a top report on the clouds, he advised they’d be standing by.  Turning to George, a request was made he break out the oxygen masks.

 “Seeing that wall of clouds rushing at us gives me a feeling we’re about to smash head-on into those Canadian Rockies,” George asserted.

With the flow rater valves being adjusted to feed proper amounts of alcohol to each prop slinger ring, Rod explained, “I’m sluicing the props with alcohol now, and then it will act as an anti-icing agent and impede the build up of prop ice.  When Bessie begins accumulating ice, she’ll speak her mind.”   

Penetrating the dark clouds, Bessie immediately encountered light to moderate turbulence. Seeing the build up of rime ice on the windscreen, Rass questioned, “I’ve never been in clouds before, how do we know the amount of ice buildup Bessie is collecting?”

“From our station here in the cockpit we can visually check out our sliding window to observe the leading edge of the wings for ice accumulation, also we can visually check the prop spinner for ice build-up.  If you’ll check the wing leading edge, you’ll see the initial build up of ice accumulation now.”

“How do wing leading edge boots rid the ice from the wings?”  Rass asked.

George asked to answer that, “Back in the early days of Bessie and even now, icing on aircraft is a formidable adversary that aircraft attempted to avoid.  As a way of impeding this sudden onslaught until safer skies can be found, rubber boots were adhered to the leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces.  The air pumped into the tubular cells forces them to alternately expand and retract and causes cracks in the ice build up that can be overwhelmed by the force of the air-stream flowing over the wing.  If you’re wondering how I know all that, well I’ve patched a lot of leading-edge boots that had holes in them in my day.”

A sharp volley was heard causing a pulsation felt throughout Bessie.   A wide-eyed Rass came out of his seat clamoring, “Oh mercy—now what?”

 With a reassuring smile, Rod calmly explained, “Apparently ice is now adhering to the props, and what you’ve heard is the shedding of prop-ice from one of the blades that smacked the fuselage.  When ice sloughs off one of the blades, it will usually cause an unbalanced condition—just ignore it.

“Ignore it!”  Rass yelled.  “I’m sitting here at 10,000 feet in an airplane that is shaking my insides out, and you say ignore it.”     

Smiling to himself, Rod went on to explain, “Adjusting the flow raters to a higher rate will increase the flow of alcohol to the props, then by varying the angle of the prop-blades, this gives the wind different angles too attack the ice, and this should alleviate some of the vibration.  If you’ll take a peep out at the wing leading edge, you’ll see ice accumulating at a rapid rate.  Super-cooled droplets colliding with the leading edge surface will cause this.  My rotating the switch will actuate the de-icer valve.”  Rod visually checked to be sure the leading edge boots were expanding in various sections causing large ice-sheets to crack and disappear over the wing into the slipstream. 

Looking a little wide-eyed, George in striving to speak in a calm voice squeaked, “What’s with those weird sounds flying formation with us?”

“The ice accumulation on the fuselage and antennas creates eerie sounds when colliding with the troposphere.  That’s what I was referring to when I suggested Bessie would speak her mind.” 

George squeaked, “Not only does she speak her mind, she likes to shake, rattle, and roll.”  

In appraising their present situation, it was necessary to add the last fragment of power and run the props up to 2350 RPM to maintain their present altitude.  In knowing that if a climb clearance wasn’t forthcoming, the added weight from ice build up on her underneath sides and the diminished lifting qualities of flying in prolonged heavy icing could lead to an uncertain fate.  Knowing he could only ask so much of her, and making plans to turn back, Rod picked up the mike to ask for an update on their situation—only to hear a clearance being issued to climb too and maintain 14,000 feet.  The tops of the clouds are reported to be 17,000 feet. 

Any thought of Bessie making the climb to 17,000 feet to fly on top the weather would be wishful thinking.  In Rod’s mind, under these conditions he felt they’d be fortunate in making a climb to 14000 feet.  Running the props up to 2550 RPM, (max allowable RPM except for takeoff), and then coaxing and cajoling Bessie to make the climb, Rod promised that Mother Nature would look favorably on her struggle to persevere, and she’d be rewarded posthaste with improving conditions—provided she achieved her goal.                   

 Rod felt Bessie take a deep breath, then giving it a good go she struggled with all the added weight.  Having experienced this impasse many times in his early airline career, Rod was aware that a mushing climb would expose a greater surface area of Bessie’s belly to the elements.  But then remaining at 10,000 feet would proclaim a verdict of death by ice that would exhaust Bessie’s resolve to fly out of heavy weather, leaving her and her occupants to descend to an unknown fate.

 Fighting desperately for every foot of altitude, Bessie’s propellers continued shedding ice at a machine gun rate.  To Rod the fusillade of prop-ice beating upon the fuselage brought back memories of flack during the Low Level Raid on the Ploesti refineries in WWII, a memory one could never forget.                                                                                                                                                       

Rass reverted too playing his harmonica, claiming it would be uplifting to Bessie.  For this first-time reality of experiencing moderate to severe icing, George remained silent with head bowed fumbling with his map.                                                                       

 Then, blessed relief, Bessie had flown into an area of rising air currents and her rate of climb scaled upwards 100 feet per minute, then progressively increased through 200 feet, and ultimately settled on a gradual climb rate of 300 feet per minute.  Seeing Bessie was now holding her own in the climb, Rod brought the prop RPM back to 2350.  After a torturous 14 minute climb to obtain her goal of 14,000 feet Rod pushed the nose over, and as Bessie settled into her assigned altitude her airspeed gradually increased, much to the relief of the Silver-Grays.  Rod jubilantly yelled, “She’s packin’ the mail now!”

True to Rod’s promise, Mother Nature bestowed improved flying conditions.  The ride was smooth, and most important they were free from all icing.  When 30 miles northwest of Port Hardy, Bessie broke into the clear, then flying over Queen Charlotte Sound in clear skies Rod was granted his request to descend to 8,000 feet, down where oxygen mask were unnecessary, where the warmer temperatures would prevail and liquefy all remaining ice and lessen the burden for Bessie. 

“It looks like we are coming from somewhere.”  Rass supposed. 

Having been quiet for a time, George spoke, “I propose we celebrate our good fortune in our association with Bessie by breaking out the box lunches.”  With the three partners holding up a carton of milk, a toast was given by George, “Here’s to a true and hard-working lady, a more dedicated maiden you’ll never find.  May peace follow where ere she fly?  No man knows her past, and no man knows her destiny.  May a tailwind be her company, up there in the blue.” 

Still looking pale, Rass was heard to utter, “I second that.” 

George asked Rass if he was going to eat his lunch.

“Uh no thanks, I had a big breakfast.”

“But that was yesterday and if you remember, except for take outs the restaurant was closed this morning when we left.”

Asking to be excused, Rass remembered something in the cabin needing his attention. 

George reached over and unsnapped Rass’s safety release, preventing the seat from being ripped from the deck. 

A short time later, George asked, “Are we accumulating ice again?” 

“Of course not,” Rod answered, “Why would you ask a question like that?” 

“I can hear those mournful wailing’s from the cabin.”

“George, you are an unsympathetic, harassing vexation!”              

Returning to the cockpit looking somewhat better, Rass with his two partners welcomed a birds-eye-view of blue sky arching down to meet the North Pacific.  Below, a large cruise ship was seen making knots up the marine highway, curling foam was seen spilling from her pointed bow, while aft a trailing wake of a sparkling phosphorescence sea swirled in the sunlight. 

“I bet it’s nice on that boat,” Rass supposed, “but I wouldn’t trade places—from up here all the world is a stage.  Was it Will Rogers who said that?”  Both his partners bit their tongues, saying nothing.    


 Approaching Annette Island, visibility began dropping caused by low clouds.  To ease the minds of his two partners, Rod suggested, “Flying at this low altitude the warmer temps would hamper the icing, and for your information we have now entered into Alaskan airspace from Canada.”  Calling Ketchikan radio, a request was made for the latest weather and any available pilot reports on conditions at Klawock?

 “We have no current weather reports for Klawock.  Our present weather is reported 900 overcast, visibility 3 miles, altimeter 2990, wind calm. 

Receiving clearance for the arc approach with a request to report over Guard Island, Rod advised that should they break out of the clouds with enough visibility, they would cancel the approach into Ketchikan and proceed too Klawock under visual flight rules. 

Beginning the let down in moist clouds, a break in the clouds over Clarence Strait was sighted.  Canceling their instrument flight plan, Rod advised they’d now proceed too Klawock. 

Reaching Kasaan Bay in deteriorating weather conditions, the shoreline of Prince of Wales Island was seen in the mist.  Now laboring to remain between the clouds and water below, Rod asked the Silver-Grays to keep watch for a long arm of water that would appear from their left.  

Rass then pointed to the mouth of an inlet.  Urging Bessie on, Rod positioned her to enter what he hoped would be Twelvemile Arm, then flying low over the shoreline the partners were asked to keep watch for the ferry landing and a village named Hollis.

Through the mist the ferry landing was seen below.  Bessie now sandwiched between clouds above and terrain below continued on to enter a narrow canyon whose steep inclines were sheltered by thick green foliage.  With excitement building, Rass pointed to a waterfall plunging too the canyon floor.  When switching the landing lights on, Rod explained, “Up ahead the canyon makes a couple of sharp S turns and with our low cloud cover and high terrain, I hope to squeeze Bessie through the divide.  It’s common practice from a safety standpoint to switch the landing lights on when in close surroundings for noise abatement purposes.”

“What’s this about aircraft landing lights and noise abatement?”  George asked.

Both Silver-Grays straightened up when hearing Rod explain, “When two or more aircraft endeavor to share the same airspace, the forecast calls for artificial thunder.”

Entering the S turns, Rod labored to maneuver Bessie between the confines of sheer walls, compelling the wings into an almost vertical bank—first right, then banking left to prevent Bessie from launching herself into the canyon walls.       

Emerging from the divide, it was as though Paul Bunyon himself had flung aside nature’s curtain, opening up this panoramic view of landscape that waited to greet them.  Hills and valleys alike were sheltered with dense forest carpeted by green undergrowth; interspersed with sky blue lakes bestowing a pristine splendor in its original environment. 

As the high terrain began to fall away to greet the valley floor, Rod backed the power off in commencing the letdown.  Pointing to a narrow lake ahead he informed his two Silver-Grays, “The Klawock landing strip lies just beyond the lake, keep your eyes focused.” 

As usual, Rass spotted the strip and pointed it out.  The uppermost trees stirred into motion from the trailing wake greeted Bessie as she touched down on the unimproved landing strip completing her first payload delivery.  


Klawock Arrival

 The propellers wind milling down, the throb of the big Pratt & Whitney’s were at rest.  The Silver-Grays stepped down to be greeted by a peaceful calm, marveling this scene of nature in the raw that was welcomed.  The fragrance of wet pine was pleasing to their senses.  Enraptured, and not wanting to break the serenity of this moment, they stood in awe—they were in Alaska.  Rod broke the silence, “This is what it’s all about.”          

Rass, observant to this impressive environment calmly marveled, “The profundity of this glorious manifestation grossly exceeds mortal comprehension.”

Taken back by another of Rass’s enlightenments, the two Silver-Grays eyeballed him with peculiarity.  Unable to come up with an appropriate response, George shrugged his shoulders and turned to Rod, “You once told me Bessie was a high flyer and would take me places I’d never been.  But how would I know I was gonna like it until I saw it, and now I saw it I like it.”  Gently patting Bessie George promised, “You’re a good ol’ gal Bessie, when needed you answered the call.  From now on to show my appreciation, I’ll baby you, I’ll make sure the partners shoes are clean before boarding, and I’ll make double sure your alcohol tank is topped off on every walk-around. 

When seeing Rass limping, Rod asked what his problem was. 

“Well if you have to know, when we were skinny hopping around those ridges I got a hitch in my get along.”  Then changing the subject, he asked, “Where are the Mounted Police?”

“This is the United States Rass; the Mounted Police are posted in Canada.”

While stretching and walking around, a pickup truck was seen slowing down, its driver leaning out the window called.  “I guess you’re looking for me?  My name is Tar and I work for Mr. Asay.  We received a call from him letting us know you should be here.  There’s a flatbed truck right behind me with the hydraulic hoist.  We’ll have you unloaded in a jiffy and where do you want these packaged fish?”

“What fish are you talking about?”  Rod asked.

Tar explained, “Mr. Asay instructed us to deliver a hundred pounds of fresh halibut.  So here it is—five twenty-pound boxes of fresh steaked’ halibut, all packed in dry ice and ready for transport.”

“Well I’m not about to argue with that, stow them in the aft section where they’ll remain cool.”

“What do you use the helicopters for?”  Rass inquired of Tar.

“To begin with, the trees are marked ahead of time for select cutting.  Then our lumberjacks proceed into the wooded areas to cut out the marked trees with chain saws.  After the trees are down and trimmed, the choppers arrive and the hooker attaches the long-line to the logs to be airlifted to a holding area.”  We have one lumberjack who marks his territory as an animal would, leaving his scent to ward off would-be-intruders.  He claims he’s never come face to face with a bear so for.  

 After the unloading of Bessie, Rod informed the partners they’d return to Ketchikan for an overnight stay, plans then called for an early departure the next morning.  Ready for start up the intermediate checklist was completed and the right engine cranked.  As the engine revved into its steady throb, Rod called out, “Clear on one” and toggled the starter switch.  The propeller dispensed a succession of sluggish starts and stops before lurching to a standstill. 

Looking somewhat dismayed, George suggested he’d pull the cowling that he might check the starter.  Then while making the close inspection, he hollered, “Blasphemy!  The starter has electrocuted itself and will not be of service ever again.”

Looking even more downcast, George held his hands out in a hopeless gesture while explaining, “I hate telling you this but when you asked me to come aboard in this partnership, I have to confess I knew it would be a continual trial in addressing the needs of Bessie.  She’s had many years of rough handling, and not the best of care.  I know she’s pleading, telling us she’ll do her very best in upholding her end of the partnership.  But still, we must expect malfunctions at the most critical of times, and it’s a shame.  It hurts me that I have to dress her wounds with worn second and third hand parts.  For her sake, things must get better.”

 “We’re in a heap of trouble,” cried Rass.                        

 Weighing the alternatives, Rod in knowing parts were not available at Klawock, let alone a DC-3 starter, suggested,  “The quickest turn around we can hope for, is to have one flown into Ketchikan, then flown here by the local commuter, all time consuming and costing a bunch.” 

 George insisted it’d be impossible to hand prop an engine the size of Bessie’s, so asking Rod, “What’s your game plan?”          

“School isn’t out on this yet.  A long time ago I flew with an old captain known as Stick and Rudder whose aviation career went back to Varny Airlines, and he explained in those days they had to make do with whatever they had on hand.  He had this same problem in a remote wilderness area in Idaho, and we are now going to use his quick fix.”

George snickered, “About somebody always breaking down in the wilderness…that wouldn’t be another of your cockamamie’ tales would it?”

 Still grinning, and attempting to look offended, Rod fired back, “If you don’t believe me now, then you’ll never believe the story of a pilot once known as Tree Top Charley.”  Rod approached Tar for the use of his truck and a 50-foot length of strong manila rope.  When he explained what it was for, Tar asked if he was pulling his leg?

“No, this is fact and I need your help in pulling it off.”  Shaking his head and thinking maybe Rod was crazy, Tar finally agreed to help, but only after telling Rod he didn’t like anything involving a rope, and was only doing this because Mr. Asay said he had to do what Rod asked of him while in Klawock.

Winding the rope in a clockwise rotation around the propeller hub, Rod made a half-dozen winds.  With the remaining rope a slipknot was tied to the truck hitch with the other rope end being handed to Tar.  Giving directions, Rod asked that he sit on the back of the truck, and if anything goes haywire too yank his end of the rope, then to let go or he might find himself on a sling shot ride to the next island. 

When getting the drivers attention, Rod advised, “When you see a thumbs-up signal from the cockpit, you put that truck into a jack rabbit overdrive and head straight out from the wing.”

Seated back in the cockpit, Rod restarted the right engine.  Then setting up for a quick start on the left engine, the ignition was switched on followed by flipping the electric boost pump switch on.  The primer would be intermittently toggled with the thumbs up signal.  A call to Bessie was heard, “You can do it!”

With wheels spinning, the truck slowly gained forward traction—the taut rope spun the propeller with increased revolutions.  As the rope dropped free of the spinner, the engine coughed, belched out a cloud of blue smoke, and settled into a deep throb.  With both engines running normal, a thumbs-up was shown to Tar and his ground personnel who huddled in amazement.  With a sigh of relief Rod called, “They’re turning, and she’s singing.”     

Staring in disbelief, George declared, “If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it, and I’m still wondering.”

“You better believe it!  If a spark hadn’t launched its self onto a shot of combustible fuel, then propping her by hand would have been our last resort; it’s been done but not with a whole lot of success.” 

 Once more in her element and seeing the clouds had lifted over the divide, Bessie continued climbing to over-fly the twisting divide below.  Leaving Twelvemile Arm and Kasaan Bay behind, Bessie brought them into Clarence Strait.  The automatic direction finder pointing the way, they soon were reporting over the Guard Island radio fix waiting a change over to the control tower.

When cleared to fly inbound to the airport numerous floatplanes were observed flying over the Tongass Narrows.  George yelled, “Holy biscuits and gravy look at those huge black fish!” With only a quick glance Rass suggested they might be waiting around for a sick airplane.   

Seeing the Ketchikan airport sandwiched between the base of the mountain and the shoreline, the steep slopes left only enough room for a single runway paralleling the shoreline. Across the narrows lay the community of Ketchikan, nestled at the base of Deer Mountain with its steep slopes protected by thick foliage and protruding pine trees stretching down to the Tongass shoreline.  

The white cruise ship anchored in mid channel with Pennock Island in the background presented a picture postcard framed with blue skies strewn with scattered lamb clouds.  Rod suggested the old artist seeing this would squeal with delight in tribute to the master painter. 

When clearing the runway the partners observed the flagman motioning them to parking.  Rod suggested holding off refueling until knowing the time involved having a starter flown in.

Walking into operations, a call was heard, “Hello stranger, haven’t seen a Dakota in these parts since the ice age, she’d gladden the heart of a crusty old aviator anytime.” 

Observing a head of red hair on what he thought to be one of the original lumberjacks.  Rod introduced himself, and while still shaking hands his new acquaintance in a talkative mood chatted on, “My name’s Steve Serelle, but the folks around here they call me Bedrock, it’s a hand me down from when I’d tried my luck prospecting on the Uncompahgry.  

“For six months and a lot of sweat I picked and shoveled, sinking me a shaft on the side of a hill.  It was a struggle all the way down to bedrock where gold was supposed to be had.  Then I finally hit it … gold! I struck gold! Seeing all that glittering gold I knew my dreams had come true.  I was even going to buy myself an airline.  

“Then that no-good rotten two-bit assayer went and told me it was fool’s gold and my dream turned into a prospectors nightmare, I felt like a fool.  From then on instead of Serelle it was Bedrock.  It was Bedrock this, and Bedrock that, it was always Bedrock.  Nobody ever forgets, nor do they remember I dug a hole forty feet down all by myself.  Now, you’ve heard my greatest moment in life what’s to be done for you?”   

 “While still laughing Rod asked, “Well Mr. Serelle I’d like to use your phone to make a long distance call.  The starter on the left engine has gone west and I’m trying to locate a live one.”

“You just wait here.”  Soon Bedrock was back carrying a wooden box and explaining, “We’ve got a live one here, take this dude and tell your boys to bolt it on.  We’ll show that dead engine cranker’.”

Amazed at this windfall, Rod expressed, “I had no idea you stocked DC-3 parts.”

“Well we do and we don’t.  After you turn this over to your boys, come back here where we can do a little talking about the golden years.”

 Rod dutifully complied with the order, and informed his partners, “We’ll be going home in the morning.  Mount this starter and I’ll see about a fuel load.”

 Eyeing the box with suspicion, a surprised George declared, “This starter is crated in its original wooden box.  It must be fifty years old—and it’s brand new.  I’ll bet a fat calf the Buick Motor Division who built Pratt & Whitney engines during the big one assembled it, and Bessie’s going to love this.”

“How can anything fifty years old be brand new?”  Rass demanded.                                            

“For anything as old as Bessie every part we’re lucky enough to sniff out these days is reconstructed, or from a spare parts inventory.  This starter has never been used, so I say it’s brand new.”

“Well I say you’re older than Bessie, and the knee replacement you had—is that called a new knee?  A remake?  Or did you get it from some spare parts inventory?”

“What kind of talk is that?  I tell ya Rass, it’s too bad they can’t fill that vacuum in your head with some smarts—some of your brainy parts are wasting on a shelf.”

“That’s not a nice thing to say, have you ever apologized to anyone?” 

“Never had to, and before you get an apology from me, pigs will fly.”

“If I ever see you oinken’ and a grunten up there with your pals, I’ll fill your bacon so full of buckshot they’ll haul you off to melt down.”  Rass threatened.  

Looking somewhat disgusted, and knowing this could go on forever, Rod, taking Rass by the arm suggested he might be a little out of sorts today.  “We don’t want George bolting that starter on backwards, you come with me.”  When entering the hanger they observed Bedrock climbing down from the loft.                       

“After seeing that Dakota I thought I’d take a quick roster of what I have in the loft,” Bedrock explained.  “In the late 1940s and early 50s they hauled passengers, fish, freight are whatever through here.  They began stocking spare parts after one flight packed to the overhead with fresh fish broke down.  Then while waiting for replacement parts that didn’t arrive, their ice melted.  The Bald Eagles thought they had died and soared to Bird Heaven on an updraft while feasting on those tasty denizens of the deep.  Now if you and whiskers will just climb up to the loft with me, we’ll see about an arrangement.” 

Astonished when seeing boxed starters, generators, ignition harnesses, electrical parts, and small miscellaneous parts scattered on the dust-covered shelves, Rod could only shake his head.  Bedrock removed a cover that sheltered twenty-one DC-3 seats still festooned in their original gray fabric.                

 “Too a bare bones DC-3 this would look like manna from heaven.  I wish we had the means to take…” Bedrock interrupted, “Now hear me out!  I said I wanted to make an arrangement and I didn’t mention green stuff.  These parts may look like manna to you, but to me they’re not paying the rent.  They’ve taken up space for forty years and I need room to expand.  Now listen up, I have a turbine Otter Float Plane sitting on the rocks over on Sevier Lake located 100 miles northeast of here.  It lies just southwest of the Cambria Glacier.  One of my Otter pilots was on a landing approach when the turbine ingested a goose, knocking out a raft of impeller blades.  He touched down on the water okay, but glazed a knife-edged rock submerged just under the surface.  It sliced a gash five feet long on the belly of that pontoon.  He was able to beach her on the shoreline before she could sink. 

Shaking his head in despair, Bedrock continued, “Just thinking about that Otter makes me want to throw-up.  I’d just gotten it into service after a costly turbine power conversion.  With the damage that occurred, we are unable to make a field repair.  Someway I need to airlift a replacement turbine as well as a pontoon into a small landing strip that’s only a short distance from Sevier Lake.  Then I have to make arrangements to airlift the damaged equipment back here, where I can forward them to a repair station in Canada.  If you’ll look over there in the corner you’ll see the new turbine and pontoon awaiting transport to the landing strip.   

“Years ago the Canadian Forestry chopped out a small landing strip for light aircraft making it possible too fly in supplies and equipment during the fire season.  From the lake to the landing strip is about 300 yards.  Now my problem—a large cargo-hold requires a large airplane, which the strip cannot accommodate. 

“When I saw you taxi up in that Dakota, it was like someone had switched the Northern Lights on.  That bird is a dandy short field performer, and furthermore it can haul as much as a congressman’s valise stuffed with pork.  Now about that arrangement, you let that Dakota solve my problems and these parts are yours.”

“Seats too?”  Rass Whooped.

“Seats too; and when you’re ready to head out home, I’ll have my boys mount the seats on the floor railings and top off all fuel tanks.  How’s that for scratching backs?”

 Rod was concerned knowing they didn’t have the proper paper work for Bessie.  Not wanting to jeopardize her status, he asked, “What’s involved with customs in a border crossing and landing in Canada?”

Bedrock said, “The Canadian authorities fully understand the unusual working conditions in close border flying.  It was in Canada that aircraft were first utilized in backcountry flying.  They’re most cooperative in unfortunate mishaps such as mine, and we play it straight by keeping them informed of our circumstances.  They’re aware of the problem with the Otter, and as long as we make every effort to rectify the problem and fly her out they leave us alone.  Returning to the U.S. side of the border is another story.  What customs or the FAA don’t know, won’t hurt them.  They don’t scratch backs, and I would need another secretary to take care of the paper work.”

“When do we leave?”  Rod asked.

“I’ll have my people load the dolly into our de Havilland Beaver.  By leaving at daybreak, they’ll land on the lake to remove the damaged pontoon and turbine from the Otter and transport them up the lake trail to meet you at the strip at noon.  The hydraulic arm-lift I’ll send with you for the off-loading of the replacement turbine and pontoon, and for the hoisting aboard of the exchanged equipment from the Otter.  You get a nights rest and show up here at 10:00 o’clock in the morning and I’ll have the Dakota fueled and my replacements aboard.  The ferry to your motel will be leaving right away—you might even see killer whales cavorting out there.  They move in every so often to put on a show.”

The following morning aboard the ferry, George sidled up to Rass—stared eyeball to eyeball and uttered, “You look as forlorn as a blowfish with mumps.”

“I didn’t sleep so well last night, all that fish I ate stirred up nightmares about sharks.” 

 Guffawing, George retorted, “Like the ol’ Indian counseled, you stuff yourself with jerky and your insides turn outside.”

When arriving at Bessie, Bedrock was there to greet them. Handing over a sectional chart showing the course all plotted he informed the Silver-Grays, “The Dakota is serviced, loaded and made ready to fly.  The timing looks good and the boys will be waiting at the strip.”

While strapping themselves in, George pondered, “That Bedrock is a nice person, but I’m wondering if under all that red hair, there might be a bald head?”

Rod declared, “Climbing into the clear Alaskan skies Bessie was is at her best.  She loves to kick up her heels at these sea level altitudes,” 

Holding an easterly heading, the Misty Fiords Wilderness was soon in range.  Rod studied the chart intently to hold Bessie on the plotted course while his two partners enthralled with it all, kept quite for now.  Rod banked Bessie into a new heading that soon had them flying over Brooke Island.  Then continuing up the Alice Arm until reaching the Kitsault, they held the course plotted by Bedrock in continuing to fly up river another 20 miles before a course change had them on a northeast compass heading that soon brought Sevier Lake into sight. 

Rass reminded the Silver-Grays, “There are no ripples on the water, so the wind is calm.  But I wonder about that strip, it looks more like a postage stamp than a landing strip.  Besides, it doesn’t look wide enough.  I remember Bedrock saying it would be necessary to keep Bessie aligned in the center as our wing clearance would only be five feet on each side.” 

 George chortled.  “Looks more like a hog trough surrounded by trees to me.  I kind of wondered why Bedrock didn’t make the trip.” 

After circling for a once-over, Bessie turned onto a long final.  “This is where we earn our keep.”  George pointed out, “and like they say, flying is hours, months and years of boredom with spasmodic intervals of sheer terror.”

 Rod suggested, “You might say we sometimes test Bessie’s determination to persevere, and sometimes things get a little testy, but to me every day flying is sheer pleasure and there is always something new to learn.”  

After calling for full flaps, Bessie slowed even more.  

Coming back on the yoke, the increased power eased Bessie into a stabilized descent.  Intent on calling out the numbers, Rass hadn’t realized they had touched down until power reduction.  Minute braking eased Bessie to a full stop.

 After the props had quit rotating, Rod noticed the door warning light flash on.   When stepping back into the cabin Bedrock’s crew was seen making adjustments on the hydraulic lift that would lower the turbine and pontoon from the cabin.  With this done, the damaged pontoon and turbine were then quickly hoisted aboard.  The one appearing to be in charge informed the Silver-Grays they could wheel out when ready.

“Not quite,” Rod informed them, “If I pivot around under power, the wing tips will not clear the trees, so we need your help in seesawing Bessie around.  With all hands pushing and pulling, Bessie was maneuvered until her nose pointed back down the strip.  Taking advantage of every foot for take-off, Bessie was rolled back until her tail feathers brushed the trees.” 

A ground support member taunted, “I’ll put up four-bucks against four-bits you birdmen won’t get that old bird off the ground.”

 George flared up immediately, “Put your money where your mouth is, and I’ll call that bet!  That so called old bird did a hell of a lot better job getting us in here than the Otter did when she clipped your wings.”  Rod hurried a protesting George aboard. 

With George strapped in, Rass turned to face him—eyeball to eyeball he scolded, “You know how to holler much, you just don’t know how to shut up much.” 

Rod quickly surmised, “According to my personal specs, Bessie will lift off at the end of the strip.” 

Not liking anything about what he was seeing, Rass suggested, “The trees at the far end of the strip, they don’t look that far to me.” 

“You don’t see them worrying,” George snapped.

“I suggest the both of you settle down,” Rod prodded.  “We got Bessie into this, and she expects us to get her out of this.  So along with luck, skill, and cunning, we’re going to sand the rails.”  Revving the engines to full take-off power—the brakes were released.  “When indicating 70 knots call it out, and while you’re at it call for a little help in winning this short field shoot out.”

 Bessie started agonizingly slow, and then accelerated more quickly.  Rod gave his full attention to staying aligned in the center of the strip.  George with a look of dismay kept his head bowed down; waiting to hear the gut wrenching sound of ripping metal should a wing tip brush a tree.  Rass, when aware the airspeed indicator was moving up the scale quickly glimpsed ahead.  Seeing the trees at the end of the strip rushing at him, his body begin twisting from side to side, striving to will Bessie out of harms way, called, “Oh mercy!  Uh—70 knots!”

 Not waiting for the numbers, Rod applied backpressure on the yoke, and as the gear struts pushed out he called, “Bring ’um up.”

  The Silver-Gray’s could hear the uppermost trees punishing Bessie’s undersides.  Like an immense lawn mower Bessie fought back, her props  shearing the treetops.  The skirmish over, Bessie climbed into the blue sky.

Heaving a sigh of relief, “I don’t know how much skill and cunning was involved here, but I’m sure a whole bunch of hallelujahs would be appropriate.”      

“What’s that ornament thing around your neck you’re massaging?”  George inquired.  Rod blushed, without realizing it; the silver bullet was being tenderly caressed.

Not revealing where it came from, Rass explained it was Rod’s direct line to his Guardian Angel.  “He rubs it and that angel comes a flyin’.”  

“That I believe,” agreed George.  “When we iced up over Comox, I saw him doing the same thing and shortly thereafter the updrafts elevated us clear of the ice.  I propose we make that Guardian Angel a fifth partner.”

“With those trees rushing at us, I thought we were gonna get a whole lot of scratchin’,’’  Rass supposed.       

Rod broke out laughing, “Regardless of what you two surmised, we’re flying, Bessie’s singing, and we are on our way to Ketchikan.”             

Despite lingering doubts as to the condition of Bessie’s undersides, she performed with commendable expertise.  The Silver-Grays reveled in what they had set out to do and what they had now accomplished.  George reminded, “Those parts are money in the bank.” 

“Speaking of money in the bank,” Rass prompted, “we mustn’t forget the promised fuel.”  

Rod quizzed, “If we can have the seats mounted and the parts on board, would you care to continue towards home?  Maybe flying as far as Bellingham tonight or with an early start in the morning we could then fly all the way home?”  

 “My vote is to continue all the way home tonight,” Rass urged.

George immediately countered, “That isn’t what Rod asked, besides, that’s a long flight you’re proposing Rass, and most of it would be after dark.  If we fall asleep and crash or crash while landing without lights, who would be around to help Juanita with the dishes?  

“You’ve got to know, Rass, it would be like beans without ham if not anyone should come forth to boost you through that Blue Horizon.  It’s a done deal that some unfortunate soul is gonna be compelled to pay last respects to you.  Why I’d be negligent in my duty if I didn’t hand over a sawbuck to bribe some destitute to will you through that Blue Horizon.  Therefore, being the shy and reputable mortal being I am, I’d do it just for you.”

Rass stared at George and in a twisted way yelled, “You want me to believe you’re the milk of human kindness, but I ain’t buying.  You keep it up motor mouth and you’ll get a monkey wrench in your paunch.”

“Wait a minute,” Rod cautioned.  “You’re both becoming a pain in the old caboose.  A minute ago you couldn’t heap enough praise on Bessie and now she has to listen to all that malarkey.  One more abusive allegation and you’ll both be exiled to the tail compartment.”    

“Aw, we were just funning’ weren’t we Rass, put ’er there ol’ pal.”

“That’s right, we were just pretendin’, and I ask pardon to Bessie for any such misdoing.  We won’t say anymore blasphemes.”  When the two partners shook hands, Rass clutched the hand of George in a squeezing vice like gripe.  George now grimacing with pain listened as Rass threatened, “Will we George.”      

 Flying over the Carroll Inlet, George now looking down in the mouth had little to say.  Rass now doing the cheering pointed in the direction of an inlet and called out, “Hey George, see that body of water over there, the map says it’s called George Inlet.  How do you like that?”

“Glad somebody appreciates me.  Then seeing a small lodge with the tied up fishing boat, George perked up, “Someday when the bucks start rolling my way, I’m gonna come up here and buy that lodge, then I’ll spend the rest of my days in Fish Haven.”

“What about me?  You gonna leave me behind?”

“Not if you’ll cook the fish and do the dishes.”

Laughing, Rod wisecracked, “If anyone should ask where you two had disappeared, I would tell them you paddle yourselves up George Inlet until you arrive at Fish Haven.  There you’ll locate the two of them eating fish and watching the satellite dish.  But I like it, it’s a fine idea.” 

 Rass asked what their present location was.

 Pointing ahead, Rod explained, “That’s Mountain Point.  From there we’ll bear northwest over Pennock Island into the Tongass Narrows.  Another 10 minutes and we’ll be on the ground.”  

Rass keyed the mike and notified Ketchikan Radio they were over Mountain Point and landing Ketchikan.  Radio advised they continue inbound, and to contact Ketchikan Tower abeam the runway, and watch for floatplane traffic.  

Seeing smoke spiraling upward from dwellings hidden in the pines, they observed the narrow main street lying at the base of Deer Mountain—the heart of Ketchikan.  Watching with intent they gazed at the waterfront consisting of mooring piers constructed for the sea-going trade and cruise ships that plied the marine highway.  Several of the large marinas seen were utilized by sailboats, many of them from Canada and the lower forty-eight making ports of call. 

George asked, “Rod, I remember you telling me you put in time up here as a bush pilot.  Were you based around this area?”  

“I flew mainly out of Fairbanks, and at times Nome—that’s in the North Country.  This area known as the Southern Coast enjoys a fairly mild climate compared with other parts of Alaska.  The weather is tempered by the easterly flowing Japan Current, that temperature wise circulates mild ocean currents through here and affects the entire Southern Coast.  Further north, much of the time our planes were ski equipped. 

“I had the privilege of flying the old Fokker’s and Fairchild’s, and even the Norseman MK fitted with a Pratt & Whitney engine.  I was just getting the hang of bush flying when the Army Air Corp called with an order I show up to be inducted, asserting my voluntary enlistment had been accepted.  The outfit I was working for was nice about it, and gave me free transportation part of the way home by letting me ferry a Lockheed Vega mounted on floats to Vancouver.  In fact, Ketchikan was one of my fuel stops.”

“Douglas 276, this is Ketchikan radio, how do you read? Over.”

Looking perplexed Rod answered, “We read you five by five—Douglas 276.”

“We hate to interrupt your serenity, but there was a request you call the tower abeam the runway.  Are you planning to continue up Clarence Strait?”

“Uh… sorry about that Sir, we were so engrossed with your artistic surroundings that we just plain forgot to make the switch.”

“Start a left turn back to the airport and change over now.”

“Ketchikan tower, this is Douglas 65276 on wide left base.  Sorry for the lack of communications.”

“Roger Douglas 276, this is Ketchikan tower, that’s a common occurrence around here. You’re cleared to land.” 

Upon arrival, Bedrock was waiting and motioned for them to taxi to the fueling station.  After shut down, the partners were exiting Bessie when Bedrock called, “I see you returned with souvenirs.  In Canada it’s illegal to clip trees without a permit?”

 When checking the tail wheel, small broken tree limbs were seen attached to the support.  Given a once-over, Bessie was found healthy, even with propellers that now sported green tips. 

 Bedrock seemed rather anxious and explained, “When seeing those clouds moving in from the northwest, I checked the weather.  They cautioned that a deep low-pressure system is moving in from the Gulf of Alaska and the barometer is dropping fast.  If you would like, my boys will mount the seats now, and the gas boy is awaiting your nod to top off all four fuel tanks.  The parts are already secured in the rear cargo hold, so it’s your call.”


Ambulance Flight

  Rod observed the gray altostratus clouds darkening the entire sky to the northwest, making his decision easy.  “Load ’um on, and gasser up, we’re leaving.”  Then hurrying toward the weather shack he called back, “I’ll check the down-line weather.”

Upon Rod’s return, Bessie had been made ready.  The carpets Bedrock had promised were all snapped down, and with cabin seats fastened to their rails, Bessie’s image again was that of an early-day airliner.  Gratefully Bedrock acknowledged, “You boys pulled me out of a bad one when I needed it most, and I’m not about to forget it.”  Both Rass and George broke into smiles when hearing Bedrock inviting them to stay at his lodge over on George’s Inlet.  “I keep it stocked and the boat has all the gear you’ll need to tie into a big one.  Your spouses are welcome and I’ll ferry you over in the Otter or better still, you take the Otter and fly yourselves and then you can do some sightseeing.”  

Rod broke out laughing, “Due to circumstances beyond our control, you’re looking at three lonesome bachelors, just the same your offer sounds great.  We’ll give a hoot and a holler as when we’re coming.  For now we plan flying as far as Bellingham, staying there for an overnight rest then continue home in the morning, and many thanks to you for making this an obliging trip.”  The Silver-Grays hurriedly climbed into the cockpit.  With his red hair ruffled by the breeze, Bedrock signaled an all clear to the cockpit. 

George acknowledged.  “He may be Bedrock to some people, but as for me he’s First Cabin,” 

Bessie climbed into the Alaskan skies, racing to leave the weather behind.   Having time to reflect on their grand hurrah, Rod looked over at the Silver-Grays and said, “The irony of fate, it’s interesting what a few words can do in changing one’s direction.  If the sheepherder acquaintance of Rass hadn’t given out the information on seeing an aircraft making forays into the desert, I more than likely would still be looking through that fence.  Knowing and associating with both of you has been a privilege, as well as interesting.  I feel it an honor to be counted as one of your sidekicks, and I want you to know that on a scale of 1 to 10, you’re both a baker’s dozen to me.  If that curtain were to close on me today I would say it ended in a swell way.”

 His heart having been touched and not wanting his partners to see eyes brimming with tears, Rass turned his head away to gaze out the side window.  When seeing sun bright billowing clouds drifting high in the sky, one in particular held his attention.  Watching in awe as the fleecy curls slowly formed an appearance of brilliant silver-white hair, then to see the cloud form the visage of a smiling face with a sweet countenance.  Overwhelmed by the loveliness of this gracious form he knew was beaming down just for him, Rass closed his eyes in fervent prayer, aspiring to keep this most resplendent scene in his heart.

When looking again into the sky, he searched for his visage.  Tears streaming down his cheeks and with fervent feelings Rass turned to Rod with faltering voice, “Oh mercy Rod, you didn’t have to say those things.  That curtain won’t come down yet, you’ll be fine.”

 Somewhat taken back, Rod asked, “I was just talking; I didn’t mean to imply I was expecting anything to happen right away.  Believe me; I’m not making any reservations for that big hanger in the sky.  Why do you say those things?” 

“Cause I saw your Guardian Angel.  She was up there in the sky smiling at me—I tell you I saw her and I know what I saw.” 

George, in support of Rass, “I think he must have seen something Rod, I was watching his reflection on the side window and from all the contortions it was going through he looked tensed.” 

“Tell me, Rass, just what did you see?”    

“Well, I was looking at this big cloud and it smiled at me.”    

Rod blurted, “I can’t stand any more of this.  Here, you get in this seat and take the controls Rass, and maybe that’ll keep your concerned eyes in the cockpit.  And you George keep a constant scan on the instruments while I go aft to rest my head” 

“Comox!  That has me flying over Comox while you snooze.”

“That’s right Rass.  The weather there is fine and you can wake me if you have a question.  Just follow the course indicator and you won’t get lost.”

“Get lost!  I been lost ever since George started telling me where to go?”

Looking at George, Rod quipped, “If you catch Rass gazing at those clouds again, tell him he’s a candidate to join the cloud-blind.”

With Bessie flying in trim, the two Silver-Grays took the opportunity to enjoy a spectacular view of the ocean.  George commented, “Two weeks ago if you had told me I’d now be looking down at the North Pacific, I would have said the next thing you’ll tell me is Sadie didn’t burn the biscuits.” 

“What are your plans when we arrive at Big Emma?”  Rass asked George.

“The twins have asked me to help with a welding problem.  That’ll take a couple of days, and then I’d like to go collect my truck.  I need it for transportation between Big Emma and the Bonneville strip and I can leave my tools in it.  Also you and I can do some running around like watching them play the slots in Nevada.”

“I kinda’ wish I hadn’t brought up that document stuff, Rass implied.  Don’t you think it will be kind of risky going back for your truck now?”

“Maybe, but Rod knows that if he asked me not to go, then he’ll know I might suspect things aren’t as they should be, and I haven’t pushed Rod for that reason.  He’s not going to stand still knowing someone is out there looking for us, and he’s not talking because he doesn’t want us worrying about it.  I haven’t appro ached him on the subject because he suspects the less we know, the less we worry.  When we get back, you can take it to the bank he’s gonna make some kind of move.”

“You think maybe he plans taking the two of us along?”                 

“Fat chance!  If there’s danger involved, he’ll go it alone.  The drug folks are a bunch of thugs and we don’t know where or who they are, but I’ll lay odds Rod smokes ’um out.”

In clear skies Bessie homed on the Comox navigational fix, the Silver-Grays studied the islands mountainous terrain with its dense woodland and scattered lakes.  With crest rising to 7,000 feet in elevation, George speculated, “It’s easy to understand now why we couldn’t descend when Bessie was sparring with the ice.  When you look at it from up here it’s awesome, but disguise all those rocks in clouds and it would be a specter of terror to a pilot flying blind at low altitude.”

 With the late evening skies closing out twilight time, Rod began awakening.  From his passion for the stars he probed the familiar cobalt sky.  Fond attachments were recalled when seeing the evening star (Sweet Star of Hope) appearing on front-center stage, resplendent in the heavens.  As the nighttime curtain fully opened to reveal the planetary vault of the firmament, other stars began to appear in their appointed settings in the great constellations.  Rod focused intently on this heavenly display with unanswered questions relative to the mysteries of the cosmos sequestered in the vastness of space.  His mind now adrift upon the seas of infinity, the gentle nudging of sea breezes upon Bessie jarred him back to an earthly reality.  When stepping into the passageway, Rod called for a position report.     

“The lights of Comox are coming alive,” George called.        

In a sedated mood, Rod stepped into the cockpit to relieve Rass and strapped himself in the left seat.  Keying the microphone, Vancouver was asked for a vector direct to Bellingham. Acknowledging his request, a heading of 110 degrees was suggested.  This would avail Bessie in avoiding the busy air traffic in the Vancouver control area.  

Below in the night, moving ripples in the Straits of Georgia reflected the twinkling surface lights of shore installations along with lights from shipping traffic.  Fascinated, the Silver-Grays watched with intent as scenes of nightlife scrolled beneath the wings of Bessie. Strobe lights from vectored aircraft being sequenced into the Vancouver pattern held their attention.

 When passing into Uncle Sam’s territory, the friendly Vancouver control issued a clearance to proceed direct to Bellingham, and then terminated radar vectors by wishing a pleasant journey.  In the far distance the rotating green flash of the beacon reminded the Silver-Grays of a nights rest awaiting them.  Bellingham tower advised, “There is no reported traffic—enter a right base for runway 16 and you are cleared to land.”

Treating Bessie as the lady she is, Rod, after easing her onto the runway smoothly taxied to the fuel island.  While Bessie was being attended under the watchful eyes of the partners, Rod placed a call to Big Emma.  Disturbing news was forthcoming as Jake solemnly described, “Maggie has taken a turn for the worse, and Bert is attempting to charter an air ambulance to fly her to Reno.  The doctor has suggested she be taken there for special treatment.  Now the problem, the ambulance flight is unable to land in the pasture, and they are calling for ground transportation to move her to the Elko airport.  This is taking a lot of time.”         

Rod asked that Jake get back to Bert and have him cancel those arrangements.   “We’ll leave Bellingham immediately.  Have Bert instruct a couple of hired hands to position their pickups—one at each end of the pasture, then shine the headlights on the pasture, using them as boundary markers.  Bessie now has seating and we’ll recline a couple to make a berth for Maggie.  Our estimated time en route to the pasture is three hours.”     

 “I knew you’d do it,” Jake cried.  “You’re the answer to Bert’s transportation needs, and take special caution when landing in that pasture,” 

Rod informed the Silver-Grays of the action now planned.  With Bessie serviced they scrambled back aboard to request special handling from ground control. Receiving clearance to taxi to the runway of their choice, and cleared for immediate take-off, precious time was not wasted.  Bessie climbed into the expanse of the heavens, her props churning the night air.

Bellingham called to report scattered clouds topping the Cascades, the upper winds for 14,000 feet are from 300 degrees at 30 knots, right on your tail.  The en route weather is reported clear.  Rod thanked the controllers for the expeditious departure.  With stars illuminating the heavens, Bessie would make better time proceeding under visual flight rules.  Informing the Silver-Grays, Rod explained, “We’ll plan flying at13,500 feet where Bessie will enjoy the higher tailwinds that will boost her ground speed in excess of 200 mph.  We’re up for the night partners and I’ve had my rest, so Rass, it’s your turn on the new seats.” 

Rass retorted, “How can those seats be new when they are …” 

Rod quietly suggested, “Rass, just go back there and go to sleep.” 

 With George proudly manipulating the controls from the right seat, Rod pulled the sectional chart out for the Elko area.  Rechecking the coordinates for the ranch, Bessie would now fly direct.

 The soft glow of the instrument lighting and hypnotic drone from the big Pratt’s provided a soothing balm to their souls.  To relax even more, Rod stretched, then hunched down in his seat.  Sitting low enough to scrutinize through the bottom portion of the windscreen he began laughing.

 “Are you all right?”   George asked. 

“I’m reminded of an old friend from airline days.  Sometimes when walking down the flight line we would look up to see who was occupying the front office of various aircraft.  If you should see two eyes peering down at you from the bottom of the glass, sort of like Kilroy, you would know it was him.  Having flown B-17s over Europe in WWII he always dropped his seat to its lowest position, taking advantage of the cockpit armor plate protecting his butt from being pasted by flack, he never did shake the habit.”                    

His thoughts soaring high into the solar system and its mass of infinity, only to be overwhelmed and incapable of fathoming the mysteries of interstellar space, the mind began shutting down.  The invisible veil closing out his introspection, and leaving his many unanswered questions too drift as nomads throughout infinite space.  Turning toward George, Rod complained of a slight headache.

“Again, George nodded with a grin.  Uh huh, your upper works have been on another junket to outer space.” 

Shaking his head, Rod attempted to explain his thoughts, “The night time sky with its celestial bodies is a masterwork of excellence.  With all its endless vastness and a purpose that defies all understanding, I cannot comprehend it at all.” 

“Uh, yah’, I suppose so,” George surmised.        

 Bessie pushed on through the night sky.  Clear and brilliant shone the stars above mantled in the night sky.  Striving to remain more alert, Rod observed Bessie’s midnight path over the invisible terrain hiding in the night far below.  Identifying various municipalities from their radiated glow, the warmth of the luminescence emanating from this vast ocean of invisible terrain sent greetings of camaraderie to those who make their way in the night sky.

Far south of their position, out of harms way could be seen pretentious lightning illuminating the standing cumulus clouds who gave it birth, spiraling them into luminous Japanese Lanterns.  Feeling appreciative of its magnificence, yet grateful its stance was elsewhere, Rod thought of words Rass once expressed, ‘If heaven is better looking than this, then it must really be something.’  

Having passed over Pendleton, then scanning beyond the Blue Mountains, the reflected lights of Baker, Oregon were seen appearing over the skyline.  Bessie’s ground speed holding true, as though she understood time was of the essence.  Then in the vicinity of Boise, the Loran placed them 128 nautical miles from the ranch.  Her ground speed holding above normal, thanks to the upper winds at this rate they would be over the ranch in less than forty minutes.           

Rod suggested a descent to 11,500 feet be initiated now, and keep the airspeed needle nudging the yellow.  They’d remain at that altitude until clear of Independence Mountain until seeing the hoped for lights from traffic on the roadway adjoining the Lost Creek Ranch, needed to permit them to make the descent into the black void surrounded by high mountains.  When descending it would be imperative that vehicle lights used as boundary markers for the pasture would be on station.           

 When over Independence Mountain, Rod prudently remarked, “I’ll fly the approach, and you watch for vehicle lights.  Without them it will be an arduous letdown.”  Having just expressed his concern, a loud cheer burst from George, “Biscuits and gravy that pasture looks like a Montana brush fire!”                  

Encircled with lights from a variety of vehicles, the pasture stood out as a ring of fire.  Rod, with a sigh of relief spoke softly to himself, “Is this what Lindbergh experienced when he set the Ryan down at Le Bourget?”  Calling for the gear and the gear down check, Bessie banked steeply to remain in the parameter of the pasture while losing altitude.  When flipping the landing lights on, ground vehicles responded with lights blinking off and on in recognition.  “The rancher friends of Bert and Maggie are folks to be admired,” Rod remarked.        

Turning onto final, Bessie was trimmed for the stabilized approach using the makeshift boundary lights as the aiming point, then stealthily moving onto the pasture as a nighthawk would searching for prey. 

Shaking the effects of a deep sleep, and aware they were on the ground, Rass stirred, and then stumbled aft to drop the air stairs.  Startled, by the blinding lights and shadowy figures drawing near in the dark, the stairs were immediately returned to their up position to be latched.  Hurrying to the cockpit Rass shouted, “Go Rod!  Go!  The drug folks are here!” 

 After getting Rass quieted down, Rod smiled to himself as he gently held Rass’s arm to explain how they were safe in the pasture.

Rass mumbled, “I’m sorry Rod, I don’t mean to be a burden.  I was thinking we were back at the hardpan.”    

Don’t give it a second thought Rass, now those air stairs need to be lowered and everything readied for Maggie, so come with me.  After lowering the stairs Rod signaled directions to the backing van while aware at this late hour, the wives of ranchers were there to show their support for Maggie.  When volunteers removed her stretcher from the van, shouts were heard, “Hurry back Maggie, with out you the Humbolt won’t be the same!”  Ranchers and spouses responded with applause and cheering.   

 When being lifted into the cabin and seeing Rod ready to greet her, Maggie’s voice faltered.  Taking short breaths she whispered, “Hello, Angel of Mercy, lean down here where we can jaw a little.  You answered the call didn’t you, and now you’ve come too help poor old Maggie?  These old bones never let me rest anymore.  I wanted to stay at the ranch, but ol’ Doc and Bert insist I go.  All this fussing’ is a big bother.” 

 Leaning down, Rod kissed her on the cheek, and in a hushed voice, “No fussing’ at all Maggie, I take pleasure in flying to Reno, welcome aboard.” 

Rod along with Rass assisted in helping Maggie to the reclined seats.  With the forward seatbacks removed, Maggie rested fully reclined.

When introducing Doc Sorensen to the Silver-Grays, Bert said, “I took the liberty of inviting the Doc to accompany us.  He’ll be attending to some business in Reno, so traveling with us he can also attend to Maggie’s personal needs.”  Mulling this over, Rod knew the business part was a charade in hopes it might ease the gravity of Maggie’s state of well being for all concerned. 

While making sure Maggie would be comfortable with blankets and pillows boarded by the rancher’s spouses, Rod felt something tugging on his trouser leg.  Looking down, a sleepy eyed Sam was seen smiling up at him, she asked, “You come to get me, didn’t you?”  When glancing at Bert and seeing him nodding his head in the affirmative, Rod reached down, gathered her in his arms and whispered, “Yes Sam, I am here for you.”

George scrambled aboard announcing Bessie had passed inspection and ready for service.   

Making sure Sam was snuggled down next to Bert, Rod explained, “We can expect a smooth flight—the weather at Reno is clear.  We’ll be one hour and forty minutes en route and George will be attending to the cabin duties.  If oxygen is required, notify George and feel free to visit the cockpit.” 

 A solemn Bert fighting his emotions shook Rod’s hand, and explained, “Rod, you don’t know what this means to us and I can’t thank you enough.  Maggie dreads flying, but with you and your silver grays she consented to go.  After we’re off the ground and Sam is asleep, we need to talk.”

 Throttles eased forward, Bessie turned into the wind—her stacks belching fire, Bessie’s engines responded with a healthy roar.  Lights shining from the many vehicles flashed off and on in a parting farewell as Bessie lifted into the star-studded Nevada sky.

Intercepting the freeway west out of Elko, the chain of automobile lights snaking into the desert was followed. Doing this Bessie would safely cruise at a lower altitude, providing her passengers the more common oxygen supply they were accustomed to.

Suddenly Rass demanded, “Why doesn’t the moon ever show its face?  It’s been the dark of the moon since this all began.  All I ever see is black below and stars above.”

“Just so we keep it that way is fine with me,” Rod smiled.  “The time to remonstrate is when you have stars below and black earth above.  Some pilots finding themselves in that predicament have lost their self respect.  If you’ll recall your night take-off at Wendover, you might grasp what I’m driving at.  Bessie prefers flying right side up.”

With everyone resting comfortably, Bert made his way into the cockpit.  Getting the attention of the partners, he spoke, “Doc Sorensen says Maggie’s condition is critical and it’s only a matter of days.  But hanging on hope and the good Lord willing, I want those specialist in Reno to examine her.  Maggie says she’s ridden her last mile, panned her last gold, and just wants to be left alone—not having anyone fuss over her.

“I don’t know which way to turn; she and I have been partners for over fifty years.  She’s the ramrod of the Lost Creek Ranch.  Maybe I’m asking too much of her, but with me insisting, she finally consented to go.  I’m doing everything I possibly can and I want those doctors in Reno doing the same.  If you can believe this her biggest worry now is her horse won’t get the kind of care she says it needs. 

“Now about Little Sam, Jake has suggested she return to Big Emma with you and remain there with the family until the dust settles.  He was sure it would be all right with you, Sam likes it there and enjoys playing with the Tabasco children.” 

With the hammer down on the big Pratt’s, the steady throb sent feelings of assurance while Bessie powered her way over the dark landscape.  Approaching Reno, Rass reported their position over the Mustang Ranch.  Approach advised, “Plan landing 16 right, and roll out to cross the east-west runway.  The Executive Terminal will be off your right and you’ll see flashing lights from the waiting ambulance.” 

Easing Bessie into a slow descent—the airspeed indicator nudging the caution range, Bessie was cleared to land.  With power backed off and gear lowered, flaps full were called for and Bessie greeted the runway.

Before the props had quit windmilling’, George opened the doors in preparation for the ambulance.  Taking Little Sam in his arms, Rod walked to the rear exit to await the transfer of Maggie.  Motioning those who were assisting to pause a moment, Maggie reached up for little Sam.  Rod leaned down that Maggie might take her.  Holding her close, counsel was heard from Maggie.  “Now my little one, I want you too remember all the things grandmother has explained to you, especially that I love you very much.  Remember, you’re grandma’s little darling, and I’m asking you to be a brave girl.”  With a big hug and smothered kisses, Rod was asked to take her.

Striving to be brave, Sam sobbed, “I will grandma, I will!  Oh grandma I love you!”  The medics now aboard to ease Maggie through the exit waited.  With tears falling, Maggie, struggling for a last glimpse, whispered, “Please, please watch over my little one.”  

“Giving Little Sam a good by hug, Bert quietly followed behind the stretcher-bearers. With Little Sam in his arms Rod turned to see an attractive lady hurrying toward the ambulance. With helping hands she climbed aboard.  Bert, showing a pleased smile motioned to Rod, “Irene made it in time.”  The doors on the ambulance closed.  Rod felt somewhat relieved knowing Jake’s wife had arrived to give comfort and care for the details.  Waving at the ambulance fading into the night, tears streaming, Little Sam whispered, “Good-bye Grandma.”

Climbing into the predawn skies, a subdued sentiment was apparent throughout Bessie.  In the cabin, George cared for a wearied Little Sam now comfortably tucked into her makeshift bed.

As George reclined his seatback Little Sam reminded him he hadn’t said the nighty-night prayer.  George jerked upright with a look of terror.  Scratching his head and hum-hawing while striving to come up with an answer, he finally suggested she say the prayer.  Little Sam informed George that she said the prayer last night with grandma, so it was his turn.  Looking defenseless, a humbled George asked, “What do I say?”  

Shaking her head Little Sam looking at George in a peculiar way explained, “Silly, everybody knows the nighty-night prayer.”

George was making an effort to muffle some words when little Sam reminded him he had to kneel down.  Looking even more distressed, George pleaded, “What if someone should see me?”

“Heavenly Father will see you.”

Looking even more fearful, and at a total loss for excuses, George looked around once more to see who might be watching, then kneeling next to Little Sam he mumbled the words,  “I pray the Lord my soul will keep, and if I’m bad, please make me good, thank you Lord.”  When George commenced to stand up he was reminded by Sam that grandma always gave her a goody-night-night kiss.  Hesitating once more to look around, George quickly leaned over and kissed Little Sam on the brow of her head.  Then tucking the covers around her—watched until she was fast asleep.

Reclining his seatback to a restful position, George smiled in hearing the throb of the engines, satisfied in knowing Bessie was telling him he’d done good.   Pleased with all that had transpired, an exhausted George fell into a deep slumber—Bessie continued her way through the night sky.  

Unable to resist his passion to scan the big map in the sky, Rod leaned forward to better gaze into the heavens, waiting for his lifelong friend the Constellation Orion who would make his appearance with the winter constellations in the southeast skies.   Accompanying Orion would be Sirius the most luminous star of all, like a sparkling diamond it glitters, yet they call it the Dog Star.  His mind amazed when reminded this glittering light he so often observed in the heavens had departed from Sirius during the time of Columbus.  

The first dawning now appearing in the skies, Rass stuck his head into the cabin, and quietly motioned George he should come to the cockpit to enjoy another Nevada sunrise.  Seeing the Stillwater Range serving as the backdrop for the dawning blush of an eastern sky; whose powder-puff clouds now accumulated into a morning splendor of gentle radiance, Rass suggested, “It’s almost like the early dawn has used a powder-puff to gently pat rose-colored clouds into the sky.”  Transfixed by this vivid panorama, they continued watching the waning stars twinkling their leave-taking.  The pleasant emotional effects infused upon the partners lingered into the late morning.

Finally, George said he had something he wanted to say, “The upshot of all this business is, I’m convinced now that Bessie does have a soul.  After she was airborne from the pasture, somebody had to be stoking the fires.  Her propellers clawed the air like a wildcat, and at the pace she was setting, I knew the train was running on time.  Undoubtedly she was aware this mission was a life or death mercy flight.  She’s been to the gates of hell and back, and the devil himself couldn’t have prevented her from accomplishing the deed she fulfilled this night.  Now this whole shebang is back to normal, those big Pratt’s keep purring like a contented tiger.”  

Rasp reminded George what Rod had once explained, “‘You treat Bessie like a lady, and she’ll make you fall in love with her.’”  Then with a prankish grin, “I know you have regard for her; I saw you kissing her on the oil cooler.” 

George, quick to dispute he hadn’t kissed Bessie for the reasons Rass had in mind, he was sampling a liquid spot on her oil cooler to determine if it was oil, fuel, or hydraulic fluid.  Then proudly he proclaimed,  “Sure, I give Bessie tender loving care,  I even pat her and tell her how proud I am of the things she is doing, and that she is beautiful and wonderful, and in her quiet way I know she approves of what I’m doing for her.  She even tells me so by the tone of her robust engines.”  

Solemnly, Rass quietly whispered, “Cradled in the arms of her wings, I too feel peace and solitude.  I am consoled by the free wind flowing over her trim body—humming a lullaby just for me.”  

 The late morning sun now shining high in the sky, Rod reminded the partners, “Alright, come out of it, show some life around here.  It’s time we start our descent as we’ll be landing shortly.  What say we wake Little Sam and let her sit on your lap, and then she can watch the show from the front office.”

When George returned with Sam the atmosphere quickly brightened.  Her blue eyes wide with curiosity—her captivating smile piercing the hearts of the Silver-Grays.  

Giggling, she pointed to the sky, “See the big scratch in the sky.”

The Silver-Grays began laughing when seeing a contrail stretching across the sky, spawned from a high-flying aircraft.  Bessie eased through the gap before turning north onto a long final to the Bonneville Strip.  When making ground contact on the ancient shoreline, Bessie had brought them home.  Rass thought it nice to have a home to come home to.

Along with Jake, Juanita was there to greet them.  Hurrying to a startled Rass, she held him in a bear-hug while asking, “You home safe and whole, did you have exito on your jaunt?”

Even the whiskers couldn’t conceal the blush.  When Rass managed to wiggled loose, he stooped down to take considerable time in tying his shoes.  When slowly raising he stammered, “Uh … uh … it weren’t know belly stuffed with merriment, but with skill and cunning we stood up to it.”

Standing next to Rass with his arms folded, George reached over and tapped him on the shoulder, “How about the whole lot of praying?” 

With the halibut off-loaded, Juanita climbed into the back seat between George and Rass taking his hand to hold on her lap.  Rass slowly peeked around Juanita to see if George was watching.  Grinning, George looked Rass straight in the eye to see him blush even more.  Rass took up his stoic stance staring out the window. 

Making their way up the dugway, Rod with Little Sam sitting on his lap reflected of the far-reaching events of the past few days and worried that the end result wouldn’t be in one’s favor if the traffickers succeeded in locating the Silver-Grays first.  Bessie had them in the fast lane, and with her came the inherited problems of drug traffickers. 

Not being one who waited for time to summon its challenges, and with little background information to develop an appropriate strategy, Rod determined to meet the problem head on.  Anything and everything was speculative, but drawing on past experience, he was convinced a surprised sudden onslaught against the unseen foe might change the odds.  The problem now—how to locate that adversary. 



Home with the Family

Arriving at the lodge, the family was seen waiting.  Rod, pleased to see Tabasco’s children greeting little Sam with affection, a relationship Jake had so appropriately described.  Hearing Jake call for Tabasco to heat the ovens for three famished Silver-Grays, Rod sighed, “I’m bushed, and the only thing that appeals to me is a soft bed waiting to console the aches and pains of one tired ol’ soul.”   

“I can see that,” Jake said, “and when the evening meal is ready Tabasco will call you.  If you like, when the twins surface I’ll have them transfer Bessie’s newly acquired inventory to our storage shelter.”

After a relaxing shower, Rod was preparing too turn in when a knock on the door had him back on his feet.  Slipping into a robe he opened the door to see María reaching out to him with a bowl.  He asked, “What’s this about?”

“Its bread crumbed into a bowl of extra hot milk seasoned with salt and pepper.  It put you in deep siesta before your head know what hit you.  Some call it Graveyard-Stew, compliments of Jake.”  Rod thanked María and asked her to convey his thanks to Jake for his thoughtfulness.  Finished with his bedtime snack, Rod crawled between the sheets.  The last thing remembered, how pleasant a warm breadbasket and a down filled pillow.

Confused, Rod was making an effort to unravel his mind as why he so quickly sat up in bed—the answer came loud and clear.

“Señor Rod, I say again, this is Tabasco calling, how do you read?  Over.”

“I read you loud and clear, go ahead with your message.”

“Roger, Señor Rod, I read you loud and clear too.  La comida ready in 45 minutos.”

“Thank you, Tabasco.”

“Si, Señor Rod, you have taken siesta all day.”

“Thank you again Tabasco.”  Still groggy from a deep sleep, Rod shuffled into the shower to adjust the faucet letting the cool water spray down his back, encouraging his body clock to gradually synchronize to the time of day.  After shaving in the soft mountain water—a rare indulgence, and finished dressing, Rod lay on the bed to relax and meditate this peaceful state in Amnesia Valley.  The calming influence of bubbling water from the brook induced a sense of well being from within.  Now fully awake and more conscious of the refreshing scent of pine, Rod inhaled deeply to enjoy this stimulating fragrance.  Feeling more vitalized, an after dinner stroll among the pines seemed a pleasant thing to do.   

A knock on the door jolted Rod to the reality of the evening calm.  George called, “Are you planning to chow up?” 

When opening the door, Rod was startled to see little blue-eyed Sam holding onto George’s hand.               

“We have come to get you to eat.”  Lifting her into his arms, they strolled to the lodge.  

Little Sam insisted she sit beside Rod.  Now beginning to feel more at ease, the Silver-Grays joined in the dinner chatter.  Juanita entered the dining area wheeling a tray piled high with baked fresh halibut, followed by Rass who chose a seat next to Little Sam.  Startled by Rass’s red eyes, Rod asked if he hadn’t slept well.

“After we arrived here, I felt it my charge to help Juanita carry the halibut into the cooling cave. We got to talkin’, and the next thing I know the whole day was broken down.”

Setting his sights on Rass, speaking in a low voice George chided, “Your eyes look like fish eyes—you better keep your mouth shut, or Juanita’s going to get her hooks into you.”

Without thinking, Rass jumped to his feet.  Jake misunderstood Rass’s intent and called upon him to offer a blessing on the food.

Rass froze, the color draining from his face, he stammered, “Oh mercy!  When opening his mouth a second time nothing happened.  Rod slowly rose and explained, “What Rass wants to say is, the last time I supped at his place he offered the blessing, and now he thinks it’s my turn.  I’ll offer the supplication.” 

The color returning, Rass slowly sank into his chair mumbling, “Yah’, that’s what I was gonna say.”  While Rod asked the blessing, Rass leaned over to George and whispered, “That was embarrassing George, someday I’m gonna boot your rear end so hard it’s gonna end up where your face is, and that wont look very nice.”

“Awe don’t sweat it Rass, four-hundred years from now, nobody is gonna give two hoots an a holler as to your abashment.” 

Finished with dessert Professor Earle announced, “We have enjoyed an excellent repast accompanied by commendable conversation.  May I suggest we retire to the lounge for an evening of relaxation while Mrs. Earl performs a repertoire of classical music for our after dinner enjoyment.”                       

Mona interjected, “My dear husband, this is still a free society and the family will choose the selections they so desire.”

Almost in unison the family insisted Rod again should sing Beyond the Blue Horizon. 

Rod made an effort to protest when Mona interrupted, “I sense that you would like the family to accompany you.  You made this same request the last time you sang, and with everyone enraptured by your voice, at the conclusion you sang as a soloist.  The family enjoys your rendition of this beautiful song.  Please sing it as our guest soloist.”

With Mona’s assurance and the resonant tones from the piano, Rod decided that maybe they did enjoy his effort.  With newfound assurance, his heart and soul went into the rendition.

Professor Earle again captivated by Rod’s rich baritone voice quietly grumbled, “To Hades with that classical stuff.” 

As Rod sang, the words became more meaningful to him.  Life was now more purposeful and once again each new day was a gift to be thankful for. 

At the conclusion the professor was on his feet hollering, “Encore! Encore! More!”

“I hope you will excuse the actions of the professor, Mona explained.  He listens to the classics primarily because he feels well rested at the conclusion.  Not once did he close his eyes during your beautiful rendition.  This is like a wake-up call for him, when he’s impressed, he becomes excited and hollers, and this is only the second time in ten years he has become excited and hollered.  The first was when you sang the other evening, and now thinking about it, I wish there was something I could do to make him holler.”   

Holding out her arms, Little Sam went to Rod.  Seeing her sweet countenance, Rod took her into his arms knowing this little blue-eyed blond could melt the heart of a morning sunrise.       

Holding Little Sam in his arms, Rod slipped out to make a phone call to Lucille.  When answering, her soft voice was quickly recognized.

“Hello Lucille, this is Rod.”

“I recognize your voice now, and this is a coincident.  I was thinking of you and curious as to where you might be tonight.”

“We’ve been extremely busy flying helicopter parts too Alaska, and on our return flight we put in at the ranch that we might life-flight Maggie to Reno for medical treatment.”                                                    

“I appreciate you calling, and what are your plans now Rod?”

“In a day or two I’ll be leaving for California to pursue an important undertaking.  After that’s done and over I was hoping maybe you would accompany me here to meet the family.”                                        

Lucille’s voice full of excitement, she quickly answered, “That would be wonderful, keep me informed and I’ll make the arrangements to be ready when you arrive.”

“By the way Lucille, I have another of my girl friends here in my arms.  Would you care to say hello to her?”

“You what!  And you want me to chat with her?  Rod, I’m hopeful this is some kind of witticism, and besides it would help by letting me know more about Maggie.”

“Little Sam is the granddaughter of Maggie, and Sam is waiting to say hello to you.”

“Rod took me in the airplane to care for me while my grandma is sick.”

After pausing, Lucille expressed, “Sam, you sound like a sweet young child?”

“No, I’m older than that; I’m four years old already.  Are you Rod’s mother?”                                                                       

Rod was quick to explain, “We call her Sam—short for Samantha, she has blue eyes, blond hair and as cute as a cuddly Panda Bear.  You’re going to love her.”

“I’m looking forward to that, but please explain I’m a friend and not your mother.”

“I have to go now, uncle Jake is waiting for me so please come see me.”  

After saying goodbye to Sam, Lucille cautioned Rod to be careful while in California.  “Call when able and I’ll be looking forward to being with you and meeting the family.”

“I miss you, and I will call,” Rod promised.

Little Sam blew Rod a kiss as Jake carried her to be with others for bedtime stories.  

A short time later Jake returned, and after hesitating he motioned to Rod, “I hate being the bearer of bad news, and I didn’t have the stomach to spoil a pleasant evening so I’m laying it out now.  Irene called and informed us the results of the doctor’s preliminary examination on Maggie, their test confirmed Doc Sorensen’s diagnosis.  From what the test indicated, they were all in complete agreement that further treatment would be futile.  The doctors conferred with Bert and explained the results of their findings, informing him there was little more that could be done, other than try to make her comfortable. 

“Irene said when she and Burt entered into Maggie’s room to explain the doctor’s findings; she was sitting at a table writing letters.  Irene said Bert looked appalled and told her she should be in bed.  Maggie replied, ‘People die in bed, besides I’ve things to do.’

“Irene went on to say that Maggie smiled in a reassuring way when telling them it would not be necessary to reveal the Doctor’s findings, she had known all along.  Then she asked for just one thing, a return to the ranch at once.

“Bert attempted to reason with her, assuring her the hospital would be more comfortable, giving her the constant care she would need.  Maggie scolded Bert and went on to say she was ready to leave for the ranch and if he didn’t make the arrangements, she would tell those doctors they were full of horse hockey and she was going to walk out of there now.

“Bert relented, informing Maggie he’d then arrange for transportation.  Maggie was adamant, ‘You don’t arrange anything.  Call Rod, I don’t want to die in just anybody’s airplane.’

“Maggie reached for Bert and asked him to hold her in his arms.  While crying they tenderly whispered to each other and Irene cried as she explained to me how she’d treasure that moment the rest of her life.  Irene said when she turned to leave Maggie asked that she wait.  Irene explained it was a very emotional time for her, seeing these two wonderful people who had overcome hardships and obstacles throughout their life, now holding each other like two young lovers.

“As Bert sit on the edge of Maggies bed, Maggie told us, ‘Maybe we can’t overcome this unforeseen deterrent halting our future dreams.  But it can’t stop us from looking back at a lifetime of wonderful memories.  It makes it easier knowing Bert has loved ones like you and the family.’ 

Irene then informed Bert and Maggie that she was planning to accompany them to the ranch and would remain there in caring for their needs.”

Rod asked if a time had been suggested for them to be in Reno.

Smiling, Jake replied, “I took the liberty of informing Bert that Bessie will be waiting at the Reno airport at 9:00 o’clock their time in the morning.  The problem now, as Irene will be accompanying Bert and Maggie to the ranch is how to return her car to Big Emma.”

Rod suggested that maybe the professor and Mona could fly to Reno with them and drive Irene’s car back from there.  “If we leave here at 6:30 o’clock in the morning we’ll arrive in Reno in plenty of time to be ready when they arrive with Maggie.  I’ll notify the Silver-Grays of the planned agenda.”


The Return of Maggie

The following morning Bessie fervently climbed into the clear Nevada skies, running on time while pulling duty as an ambulance flight.  The cockpit door remained open giving the family free access to the front office at their pleasure.  Professor Earl, being the first to take advantage of the opportunity listened when he heard Rass ask how he liked flying in the DC-3 ?
          “I feel right at home.  At the cessation of hostilities in Europe we utilized the C-47 to shuttle our intelligence corps to various sites throughout Germany.  The Army ordered various units to salvage as much as possible the technical knowledge the Germans had perfected before the Russians found it and shipped it behind the iron curtain.

“One of our C-47 captains maintained if The Grand ol’ Lady would always be flown high enough to clear the high terrain, everything else would be insignificant.  Even a klutz could figure that one out.  Those of us fortunate enough in having been acquainted with this wonderful ol’ workhorse while performing clandestine service, will always have lingering affections for the Grand ol’ Lady.”

Surprised at this fragment of ancient history, Rass announced, “Professor, you’re all right.”                          

While pushing the nose over to begin a gradual descent Rod requested for George to pass out the chewing gum.  This will help in equalizing the pressure in our ears.

Calling Reno Approach, Rass reported their position over the Mustang Ranch.  A friendly response was heard, “Welcome back, plan landing runway 16 right, and change over to Reno tower now.”

Bessie again drew the attention of airport spectators when touching down on the runway.  Rod applied light brake pressure, letting the nose of Bessie dip ever so graciously in extending a personal salutation.

“And greetings to you too,” Reno Tower acknowledged in return.

After parking at the Executive Terminal, both engines were at rest and the wheels were chocked. George quickly lowered the air stairs.  Before exiting, Mona stepped into the cockpit, “It was exciting riding in a DC-3, the professor and I will probably remain here a few days before returning to Big Emma.”

Becoming excited when seeing his wife Jake called, “There she is!”  Greeting each other with affection before returning too Bessie for Irene to meet the Silver-Grays. 

Shaking hands and praising the Silver-Grays, Irene expressed, “Thank you for all the wonderful things you’ve accomplished for Big Emma, and for what you are doing now.  Bert and Maggie cannot say enough for what you’ve done, and Jake has expressed the family have taken you in to their hearts.”  

 With the arrival of the ambulance, Bert, the first one to climb out called to Rod in a jesting manner, “I don’t know how Bessie is going to remain in business with me keeping her occupied.”

“It was the love of flying and the need to be doing something worthwhile that enticed us back upstairs,” Rod explained.  “I wouldn’t trade the joys and friendship that have come my way this past week for the past ten years.  Having the privilege of meeting you and Maggie makes it all the more worthwhile and I speak on behalf of my partners as well.”

“When everything settles down,” Bert said, “I’ll square up with you, and I don’t mean legal tender alone—I have a premonition that somewhere down the line you’re going to need my support.”

While Maggie was being eased through the entryway, her eyes focused on the Silver-Grays, and in acknowledgment she feebly waved.  With everyone now aboard, the doors were secured, checks were made to see everyone was comfortable.  When seeing Maggie motioning to him, Rod leaned over to hear her whisper, “Just get me to the ranch as fast as you can, partner.”

With Bessie on a direct course to the ranch, George took time to philosophize, “I don’t know—every time we’re on a mercy flight Bessie seems to know the story.  I swear again with fire rumbling in her stacks she lowers her head, snorts, shifts into automatic tailwind and away we go high railing it all the way.  Listen to her; she almost sounds like she’s humming.” 

“Well, that humming is music to my ears,” Rod agreed.

“Me too,” Rass chipped in, “and before I forget, while at Reno I went into operations to pay the fuel charges and they refused to take the money.  I asked, what’s with that?  They said, ‘Mr. Taylor called earlier and requested the charges be sent to his ranch.’  So I handed out some free advice by suggesting they shouldn’t trust a man they didn’t even know, and who calls on the phone to make a charge?  They just looked at me like I was some kind of old man, and then they had the gull to proclaim, ‘Perhaps you’re the one who doesn’t know him.’  What did they mean by that?” 

“There’s a lot we don’t know about Bert,” George allowed.  “In fact, we know less than that.”

“There are a lot of important people around this country who don’t publicize the fact they’re important,” Rod surmised.  “Perhaps Bert is among that privileged few.  Suppose we invite Jake to the cockpit and get the straight poop, he’ll for sure know what’s going on.”  When Jake made his presence known, Rod related Rass’s encounter with the fuel bill and their comments about Bert.  Jake laughed, “If you wait to hear it from Bert, you’d be fertilizing dandelions up on the hill.  His reputation goes back to World War II.   One of the most significant breakthroughs of the war came when the British crippled a German submarine.  For reasons unknown the scuttling charges that should have sent it to the bottom to preclude its capture failed to detonate.

“A British boarding party salvaged the secret Enigma Ciphering Machine, code books, charts—the whole ball of wax needed to decipher Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz coded messages he sent his U-boats while at sea.  Using this equipment, the admiral had repeatedly radioed coded position reports of allied convoys as well as other vital information needed by his U-boats.

“Naturally it was of the utmost importance the seizure of the coding mechanism be kept secret from the German high command.  The British code breakers at Bletchley Park in England shared this information with Naval Intelligence in this country, and that’s when Bert became involved.  Bert’s one of those who assisted in establishing the school of code breakers for our naval intelligence personnel in the basic functions of breaking and interpreting coded messages.  From here American code breakers were sent to Bletchley Park to work and learn from the British, and Bert helped coordinate between the British and this country. 

“The fortunes of the wolf packs dramatically changed after their remarkable communications complex was tapped into, and suddenly their U-boat’s were being assaulted by allied aircraft and warships that were provided updated position reports on their movements.  With the besieged submarines being chased from their hidden lairs, they became the hunted prey, and allied shipping losses dramatically decreased while Germany’s increased.

“After the war, Bert returned to the Humbolt to build on his spread.  But for years after the war because of his knowledge in Naval Intelligence they recalled him for covert assignments that were vital for the defense of this country.  He also served as a highly regarded Nevada State legislator for a number of years until the day he decided to hang it up.  They attempted to entice him to run for the gubernatorial office of Nevada, but he declined in favor of retiring to the ranch fulltime with Maggie, and watch over their mining and cattle interests. 

“So now you can see why the gold-braided hierarchy behind closed doors pays special attention to what Bert has to say.  Bert is among the privileged few given free rein to write his own ticket, and he still has far-reaching contacts.”

“How come you never mentioned this before?”

“Bert’s funny on matters pertaining to him.  He wants friends who like him for what he is, and not for who or what they’ve heard.  He’s what you call a square shooter, and if something goes wrong, he fixes it.  That’s why he feels so helpless now, not being able to help Maggie.  If he likes you, he’ll go through hell and high water for you.”

Battle Mountain now in the trailing wake, Bessie was urged into a gradual descent.  Turning to Jake, Rod suggested, “If Maggie is up to it, we’ll circle over the canyons west of the ranch to give her a birds-eye view of their domain, and then we’ll drop down where we can circle the ranch house and let her have a nice view into the canyons.”

After explaining Rod’s offer to Bert and Maggie, Jake returned to the cockpit beaming, “When I explained your suggestion, Maggie’s whole disposition brightened.  Bert has her propped up ready.”

Rod eased Bessie over the higher ridges of Independence Mountain, providing Maggie an excellent view down into the canyons she had spent so much of her life riding herd, especially enjoying the high country where she and her husband had spent leisure hours riding the ridges.  

After clearing the mountain Bessie eased into a lower altitude to circle the ranch.  Maggie was ecstatic seeing the panoramic view of the ranch and looking into the canyons.  Gratified to see Maggie so very pleased, Bert put his head next to her, sharing the same window and listening to Maggie’s exuberance, “Looking at it from up here is like my whole life is flashing before my eyes.  I can see the creek crossing where your favorite horse Nance stumbled, and you ended up in the water?”  After pausing a moment, Maggie smiled,  “You ol’ gooseberry, you insisted we spend the whole afternoon on the grassy slopes of Knoll Hill while your trousers dried, and then you named our only son Knoll.”  Bert continued wiping the tears spilling down their cheeks.                                   

After being eased onto the pasture Bessie rolled to a gentle standstill.  A somber gathering of ranchers and spouses were seen waiting.  While Irene was preparing Maggie for the off load, Maggie was heard to whisper, “Before you take me, I have something I must say to the Silver-Grays.”  With the three partners assembled, Maggie haltingly expressed, “I cannot find words for what I want to say, and for what you’ve done for all of us.  While seeing the ranch far below, I felt the presence of angels hovering near, and a feeling of peace I felt in knowing I had nothing to fear and all would be well.  I thank you with all my heart and you are men of good stock.  May the skies above smile with compassion upon you and Bessie.  Now that you’ve returned me to my home, I want you to know I’m not going to spend my time dying, I have all you wonderful family to live for.” 

Speaking quietly to her husband Jake, Irene suggested, “I don’t think I’ll be here very long.”

“You’re doing the honorable thing,” Jake answered.  “Maybe in a few days I’ll drive up and we can spend a day or two together.”

Watching the trailing dust of the vanguard, Jake nodded to the Silver-Grays, “After our arrival at Big Emma, Bert left instructions that you’re to be grounded.  For the past several days you’ve been on the go with Bessie, and if you don’t heed his advice—no offense to Bessie, but Bert says you’re going come down with what submariners call, Tin-Can Neurosis.” 

With Bert’s humor having brightened their dispositions, the Silver-Grays scrambled aboard.  Jake was invited to occupy the jump seat, while George would do the flying with Rod assisting.  Their mission accomplished, Bessie climbed into the evening skies.  George spoke, “With not much to do, and trying to stay busy, in the past six months I’ve done more than a half a dozen tune-ups on my old dodge.  Then good ol’ Bessie came along and propelled me out of obscurity into the fast lane.  Unless I hear different, I plan on hanging around a couple of days to help the twins with a welding problem, and then if it’s okay with you Rod, I’d like to go fetch my truck.  Perhaps then Rass and I can do a little running around.”

Pausing momentarily while in thought, Rod finally suggested, “I suppose that will be all right on the condition you refrain from running around while there, and when leaving there I prefer you leave after dark.  We can’t be too cautious covering our tracks.  Is Rass planning on go…” 

When interrupting, Jake advised, “I approached Rass about operating the hoist, and he consented to give it a try.  I have two more miners arriving in the morning and this will give us the additional help needed to commence a double shift in the exploration tunnel.” 

“You’ll have no trouble persuading Rass to hang around,” George chuckled.  “He’s preoccupied with your domestic help, and I hope you can keep him out of the kitchen long enough to operate that hoist.”

Looking more serious, Rod brought up the matter in California he had to attend too, and made the suggestion this would be a convenient time to take leave. 

Jake Looked over at Rod momentarily, not knowing how much George was aware of his intentions, Jake suggested, “I have the extra Dodge pickup, and it’s yours to use if you don’t mind driving an old truck.”

“You’re on, that Dodge isn’t anywhere near the age of Bessie, and I’m proud of my association with her.” 

 When George attempted landing on the strip, his uncoordinated control movements ended in a frolic.  Bessie’s intent was to skip down the strip like a playful porpoise.  With hurried instructions from Rod Bessie was persuaded to keep her feet on the ground.  Shutting down the engines and stepping into the cabin, Rass was seen on his hands and knees looking under the seats.  When asked what he was doing, he yelled, “My teeth!  My teeth!  Help me find my teeth, and don’t ever tell me who made that landing.”

After disembarking Rod suggested it might be a few days before the necessity of Bessie taking to the air again, so extra precautions were needed in protecting her from the elements.  Jake stood with admiration in seeing the Silver-Grays going about their assigned tasks with tender loving care.  They conversed with Bessie in such a caring manner he expected to hear a reply.  Then realizing that Bessie was being treated as an equal partner, so in reality, she was now a member of the family as well.  But when thinking she might have a soul, Jake reacted, “This is crazy, it’s me with that tin-can neurosis stuff.”

“Hold up a moment,” Rod urged.  “I’ve got to go stand behind a rock.”  Hurrying a short distance up the hill, and seeing no one paying attention, the large rock was rolled aside to retrieve the documents.  Stuffing them inside his shirt, Rod returned for the arduous drive to Big Emma. 

When arriving at the lodge, Juanita was seen patiently waiting for Rass who was heard mumbling something about a shoe not being tied, and for the others to go on ahead.

George teased, “Your shoe looks fine to me—it’s even laced up.”                     

“Get in here and leave those two alone,” Rod scolded.  Inside the lodge the savory aroma emanating from the dining room whet their appetites, Tabasco called, “It’s on the table.”  Famished as they were, little time was wasted in helping themselves to the spread. 

When seeing his two partners eyeing him down for answers, Rod knew he had to explain, “I can’t give you a rundown on what is going to take place as I don’t have answers for that myself as yet.  I’ll be a couple of days on the road to California, I might be gone a week or more, I am just not sure.  Age shadows me constantly now, and to get an early start age prescribes I turn in now.  George, you look after Rass, and Rass you keep your eye on George.”

Attempting to hide his emotions, George offered, “The Dodge will be serviced and waiting at your door—good hunting airplane driver.  


Bird Dogging the Traffickers

The sun high overhead, Rod turned off highway 6 for a late breakfast at the Major’s.  The Dodge seemed inclined to keep moving, and having finished off a rush order of ham and eggs—Rod pushed on through Las Vegas for a planned nights rest further down the line.

Sleeping well and feeling more energized, the few hours drive to Spainville would be delayed while attempting to forge a more likely scheme to impede the drug shipments—feeble as it may be.  Following a late breakfast, it was back on the road.  Eating up the miles the old Dodge pushed on.  The first anxious moments were felt when seeing traffic signs displaying the off ramp information for Spainville.

Amid heavy traffic, the Dodge exited the off ramp that would lead into the heart of Spainville.  Seeing the sun still high in the western sky, a decision to continue onto the airfield was made.  Using caution, the Dodge slowed when entering the airport perimeter, then slowed even more when entering the parking area.  Taking the opportunity to become familiar with its environment, the DC-3 parked at the FBO (Fixed Base Operation) caught Rod’s attention.  It brought to mind the old repetition; the only substitute for a DC-3 is a replacement DC-3.  Approaching one of several line boys seen servicing the DC-3, Rod questioned, “I haven’t noticed this Doug parked here before, has this one been around long?”  Ignoring the inquiry, the line boy continued with his duties. 

Using a different approach Rod offered a little fodder to stimulate a response, “A long time ago I think I flew this ol’ gal, and it would be worth five bucks to know what she is doing here.” 

In response, the line boy straightway replied, “I work the afternoon shift and this is the first time I’ve seen her.  She wasn’t here yesterday during my shift.”

Needing more information, Rod casually offered more fodder and then asked, “What happened to the other one?”

“That lady hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks, they must have replaced her.  They’ve asked that we service this one and have her ready to haul cargo out of here tomorrow at noon.”  Slipping the line boy another five bucks, Rod turned to casually saunter between the rows of various aircraft.  With hands in his rear pockets the expectation was to give an illusion of a spectator here to gape at aircraft—but at the same time committing to memory every lay-out and detail, and especially did he study the large hanger knowing it too play a significant part in the plan.

Feeling more encouraged that this might yet all come together, a short drive was made to an out of the way motel in knowing that if much time was required at the airport, the pickup might become more recognizable to inquisitive unknowns.  Remembering that police sometimes make random checks on vehicles at motels with out-of-state license plates, the Dodge was secluded among the many vehicles in a nearby apartment complex.  A quick walk had Rod soon checking in at the motel.  Leaving everything blank on the requested auto information, he informed the desk clerk a friend had dropped him off.  Not knowing what to expect, every aspect was taken to shelter his movements.

 Walking to a nearby restaurant, the usual ham and cheese with fries were ordered to go, then while returning to the motel Rod stopped at a small gift shop; taking his time in buying a street map of Los Angeles and surrounding communities.  Back at the motel the shoes were quickly removed and soon Rod had himself perched on the bed, his light repast forgotten as he thrashed over his planned delaying stratagems to be accomplished on the replacement DC-3 before she should depart the following day at noon.  

Before turning in, the bath was filled to the brim, then immersing his tired soul into this steaming water, his wearied body calling for this soothing therapy.  Enjoying these few moments in a relaxed state, and then to crawl between crisp sheets—letting sleep overcome this exhausted soul. 

Another refreshing shower in the early hours brought feelings of optimism.  After shaving and finished dressing, a quick walk to a small diner too order his favorite ham an eggs sunny side up, with a ham and cheese to go.

Sparked by unknown perils, a familiar ringing returned to his ears, a sensation often experienced long ago when commanding Scud Runner on their many missions.  Arriving at the airfield, and striving to avoid easy exposure, the Dodge was parked towards the rear of parking.  While attempting to relax and leaning back to wait—time turned into drawn-out hours of anxiety.  When checking his watch, to his chagrin only a couple of hours had passed.  

When finally seeing movement on the ramp, his attention was drawn to the tug slowly backing toward the DC-3 parked on the ramp.  Seeing the tow bar connected to the main gear attachments, the DC-3 was towed into the large hanger to be maneuvered into a corner, there to remain with its cargo doors open.

Continuing his vigil, Rod felt some satisfaction in seeing this sudden activity, and even more watchful when seeing a large delivery van arriving to drive through the main gate with its two occupants, then to continue onto the fixed base operation.  The driver was seen to hurry inside—then soon reappearing with two line technicians in white coveralls.  After watching the van retreat into the hanger, the large hanger doors slowly closed.  Rod smiled to himself in knowing the DC-3 was presumably taking on a cargo of drugs for the noon departure.  

“Mr. Colson, I believe?”  Hearing this unfamiliar voice, a startled Rod turned to face a middle-aged gentleman looking very sharp dressed in a gray suit.  The ringing in his ears intensified by this unexpected encounter Rod hesitantly asked, “I don’t believe we’ve met, would you care to remedy that?”

“By all means, my name is Jack Bolivar Schade.  I’ve been instructed to give any assistance you might request under reasonable circumstances.”

“What made you think you’d find me here?” 

“That was the easy part.  Apparently someone who wields a mighty big stick is aware of what you’re attempting to accomplish.”

“And what establishment are you representing?”  Rod asked.

“Sorry, Mr. Colson, I’m not authorized to reveal that information at this time.”

“But, under reasonable circumstances I am authorized to provide guidance and such other paraphernalia that you might request.  According to information the top echelon has received, you’re onto something of vital importance.  The top echelon itself was preparing to launch a take-over from you of what you’re involved in, but that was before instructions came down not to intervene.  But for the record we’ll be a straddle the fence—so it’s still your luggage.” 

Rod now recalled that day Bert had counseled him, ‘Someday, somewhere, down the line you’re going to need my assistance,’ now he’s extending it.

The large doors on the hanger slowly opened.  The van exited the hanger to return to the FBO.  Before the hanger doors had closed again, Rod made out the cargo doors on the DC-3 had also been closed.

Feeling more assured, Rod questioned, “Would you locate where that van picked up the cargo it dropped off here?”

“It will take a little doing, but I can do that.  What are you planning?”

“I’m planning gremlin mischief to delay the departure of that aircraft.  Doing that, I hope to lure someone to arrive here from the drug cartel as to why the delayed departure.  When that someone leaves here, I’ll be on his tail; hopeful that trail leads to their base operations.”

Attempting to mask his ire at Rod’s ineptness, Schade exclaimed, “They’d have you ferreted out in a minute, then you’d be in big trouble.  Only on rare occasions do we use that old maneuver.” 

Schade excused himself momentarily, soon to reappear carrying two small packets.  Opening one, he explained, “This little bird dog is an electronic bug we sometimes call a snitch bug.  As a transmitter, it sends out signals for our mobile tracking units to home in on.  If someone travels a great distance, we then use aircraft with special receivers to sniff out its whereabouts.  This bug is to be attached in an obscure area, preferably underneath the vehicle.  It’s magnetized, so slap it on and make yourself scarce.  Then contact me immediately and don’t ask for me by name.   My identifier code to you will be Colt 44.  You’ll identify yourself as Browning Twin-Fifties, which ought to ring a bell.  After confirming our proper identities, you’ll then give me all the info you’ve collected on the bugged vehicle, such as make, approximate year and color.  The license plate will more than likely be bogus, so don’t squander your time on it.  When we have a positive ID on the vehicle and its location, you’ll be contacted.”

Schade asked Rod to memorize both the contact number and the extension number given to him, then he explained, “Either number could possibly change at anytime, but don’t sweat it, you’ll be updated.”

“My instructions are I’m to give you this wallet-sized identification card with your coined name:  Special Agent E. Douglas, a name befitting our new sprung special investigator that will be recognizable to the powers that be.  Use it with caution and don’t ever let anyone handle it. Quickly display it when necessary and doors will open like magic—otherwise they’ll remain closed.  If you did gain entry without the use of this calling card and if you are fortunate, you might only be tossed out on your butt—if you’re fortunate.

“I suggest you take this brochure—it contains essential guidelines you’re to be made aware of.  When finished reviewing it, place the pamphlet in the toilet and before you can twist the handle it liquefies.  If any aftermath should arise from actions pertinent to what you’re involved in, destroy the card, and if there is an aftermath, we’ll deny any affiliation with you or the card and claim you likely acquired it from some counterfeit chiseler.  I hope you’re cognizant of what I’m communicating to you.  If all goes well and you’re still above-ground after the pursuit of your objective, you should then return the card.  

“The other request is for you to strap this small voice recorder beneath your apparel.  Its voice activated and will record conversations up to fifty yards.  You owe your big stick a huge debt of gratitude.  The powers that be just don’t operate in this manner. 

“Now for my own information, why are you so adamant in carrying out this operation on your own?  Why don’t you just go home where you’ll be safe and turn this whole operation over to those in the business?  The brass is wondering about this also.”

Rod kicked at an imaginary object on the asphalt several times then slowly he replied, “I’ve thought about it a couple of times, but then where does that leave my two partners and me.  Maybe the day will someday come when your big thrill in life is going to the post office to collect your social security check, then you’ll better understand what I’m trying to make you aware of.  At our age we were just waiting for each day to pass into the next day, and we didn’t think life was all that great; at our age who does.  Besides all that, I owe them a payback.

Rod paused, for the moment he studied Shade wondering if he should lay it all on the table.  Seeing Schade waiting patiently, Rod thinking what the hell, he probably knows more about what I’m trying to do than I do myself.  Taking a deep breath he laid it out, “Okay Colt 44, this is the way it is, I really didn’t think the drug runners would actively risk pursuing that airplane.  But when those tell tale documents were discovered aboard that airplane that changed everything.  At first I didn’t know if I should cut and run, are take the drug runners head on.  In the meantime my partners and I had us an airplane, and life was good.  Bessie as we call her is now a member of the family, and my partners and I have fond affections for her.  In trying to hang on to that airplane, I had no choice but to take the runners on, and at my age, what’s there to lose. 

“Now for the rest of your question, if I were to turn all this over to your people—my partners and I would end up with no airplane.  Then I’d be sitting with my friend Rass in his trailer drinking that damn bitter lemonade he makes and pondering what happened.  I’ve made it this far and I’m going to see it to the end, that airplane belongs to us.  Does that answer you question?”

Realizing now that Browning Twin 50s was a man who held to his convections, and not one to back down, Colt 44 replied, “It certainly does, and I’ll do all I can to help.”  Rod watched as Schade maneuvered toward the van with the remaining bug tucked beneath his arm.  Walking nonchalantly alongside the rig, he purposely slipped and faked falling.  Reaching out with both hands the van was grabbed that he might regain his balance.  Minus the bug he turned and waved before disappearing into the parking lot.

With what had taken place weighing heavily on his mind, Rod watched the van exit the airport, then sat quietly thinking.  To nobody in particular he said, “It all begins now, either I’m right, or I’m wrong.”  Stepping down from the Dodge he made his way between the parked vehicles until entering the confines of the airport itself.  There he walked between tie downs of various aircraft until arriving at an entry door at the rear of the hanger.  Using caution Rod stepped inside to stand in absolute quiet, every detail was taken into account. 

Recalling the planned departure at noon, time was now an important factor.  Taking a hitch in his belt Rod boldly approached the DC-3 to lower the air stairs. After climbing aboard the stairs were raised and latched. When entering the cockpit, the few tools carried in his pocket were removed before occupying the captain’s seat.  Checking to make sure the battery switch was off, and then reaching up, the faceplate that gave access to the ignition wiring for the number two engine was removed.  Grasping the lead wire, the insulation was cautiously pushed back.  Clipping out a short section of wire to break the continuity, the insulation was pulled back in place to conceal the gap.  As a back up, the procedure was repeated on the number two magneto for the same engine.

Replacing the faceplate, Rod listened for any activity.  Then stepping into the passageway the hinged cover of the main electrical junction box was opened.  In disguising his second gremlin the lead cable to the paralleling circuit bus from the main-panel was disconnected.  A small plastic washer that would break the continuity in the circuitry was inserted before reconnecting the cable back to the buss.  Rod then closed the cover. 

Having more confidence in having accomplished this much of the plan, Rod quickly moved aft into the cabin to check the consigned cargo.  His suspicions confirmed when seeing the printed labels that read Pacific Blue Imports.  Aware the labels were to be destroyed; one was removed to be concealed under his shirt.   

When reaching for the release too lower the stairs, the sound of approaching voices were heard.  Trapped, Rod hurried to open the small hatch giving access to the tail compartment.  Kneeling among the many control cables and hardly daring to breathe, he waited, straining to hear their conversation.  Then to hear them describe how several small airtight containers were to be removed from each packing crate, to be placed in separate lots all having been stamped to show their final destination.  

Hearing the crates being jimmied open to remove the sealed containers, the empty crates were heard breaking up when tossed onto the hanger floor.  One voice with a clipped twang implied he would carry the shattered crates out to the incinerator and torch them.   

 The accompanying voice cautioned that all identifiable markings and labels were to be incinerated along with the broken crates with absolutely no evidence remaining.  “There can be no screw-ups like the last trip.”

“I suppose you’re referring to the documents we should have removed from the aircraft and hand-delivered to the boss.  What are you going to come up with when he starts asking questions?”

“Just what we agreed, they were inadvertently incinerated with all the other evidence we had been told to destroy.”

The clipped voice insisted, “They’re not going to buy that.  You can bet that shotgun rider has given the full story on what happened, and if he doesn’t locate that DC-3, then they’ll be looking for some answers from you and me when they discover those papers are missing.  Do you ever worry those papers might unexpectedly turn up somewhere?”

“You better hope that airplane is now running drugs out of South America, and if it is, they wouldn’t give a free pass to Hades for those papers.  But if it isn’t, and if they do surface, that’s the day you and I receive a free pass.”

“Why don’t we just tell the boss we don’t want any more of this kind of flying—I prefer the mail run?  After what we went through in the Utah desert, I’m still looking at shadows.  All that dust and crap I swallowed when they revved those engines up would give a man consumption.  If this is what it takes to build flying time to qualify for a better position, I might not be around to fill that slot.  That shotgun rider was shooting at his own shadow.”         

 The companion voice remarked, “There’s nothing we can do about that shadow dancer, he works directly for the drug traffickers and if he wants to find that missing DC-3, that’s his prerogative.  I’m just glad he filched some old prospector’s truck to get us into town.  With the license number from the pickup that attempted to run us down he has a good lead and he’s going after it. 

“They may even now be aware those papers are missing and haven’t approached you are me because of their need for us to fly this trip.  As for us, there’s no changing course now, once you step into the muck they know every step you take and we’re in this up to our necks.  But if the day does arrive we have to make a run for it, those Deep Creek Mountains in Western Utah looked like a pretty safe place to hang out for awhile.  After you’ve finish burning the packing crates and labels, do a walk-around and I’ll locate a line tech to pull this bird out of here.” 

Realizing he had to move, and move now in knowing the walk-around inspection requires a visual check of the control cables of which he was sitting among,  Rod cautiously opened the hatch where his attention was directed to the airtight neatly stacked metal containers secured to the deck.  The air stair was down, and not seeing or hearing anyone Rod quietly exited the aircraft.  When hurrying to the rear of the hanger, a large metal supply locker was seen.  Discreetly stepping inside, the double doors were pulled shut.  

Soon the clipped voice one could be heard talking to himself while continuing with the inspection.  Rod in checking his immediate surroundings felt the ringing in his ears intensify when seeing the glass cylinder used in testing for fuel contaminates lying on a shelf.  With this discovery the double doors were expected to open momentarily.  

 With legs impatient to quick-step out of there and his mind urging discretion, the needed explanation as to why he loiters in supply lockers failed to materialize.  Deciding instead, if the doors should open a polite thank you would be expressed, then to step out of the locker to make a sudden back door exit from the hanger; believing the clipped voice one would be so wide-eyed—he’d be unable to react in time until the one who loiters in supply lockers would be far down that road.   

 An approaching tug was heard, and a voice inquiring if the walk-around had been completed.”

“Everything but the sumps.”

“We’ve got to pull her out of here now; and we’ll finish checking the sumps out on the ramp.”

When seeing the DC-3 being maneuvered out through the big doors, Rod took a deep breath, and then exited the locker to slip out the back exit.  Sprinting around to the front of the hanger, his intent again was to appear as one of the locals strolling amongst the parked aircraft.  Exiting the airport perimeter, the increased stride soon had him opening the door on the old Dodge.

While agonizing that leaving now would defeat all he had accomplished, Rod hesitated.  Not seeing anyone who seemed mindful of his presence—the ignition was turned off.  Hoping to grab a short rest, Rod leaned back only to recall in anguish the license number on George’s pickup now a known certainty to the drug runners.  Being unable to alert George, Rod fretted this couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time.  The key now is to forge on ahead, anticipating the delaying tactics would accomplish their task of summoning those heretofore-unknown persons to make their appearance.   

Seeing the DC-3 towed to its ramp parking, the two pilots stood by the air stairs as if waiting.  A heavy-set man soon appeared wearing a wrinkled white shirt with its loosely tied necktie who greeted them warmly. When seeing him hand over a small metal box, Rod noted its similarity to the metal box containing cash that Rass had discovered in Bessie’s cabin. 

After shaking hands, the two-crew members climbed aboard and signaled ready for start up on two.  The heavy-set one signaled all clear.  Feeling some hesitancy, Rod waited with anticipation when seeing the propeller turn over several times without the engine firing.  Rod smiled broadly when observing the copilot pointing at fuel dripping from the nacelle; indicating an over-boost engine caused by the Gremlin.  From past experience, Rod anticipated that while the excess fuel drained from the carburetor—in the meantime they’d start up number one.  The prop turned readily with blue smoke escaping out the exhaust in a swirling mist and soon the engine was heard to settle into its galloping throb.

Attempting a restart on two, the problem still existed.  The heavy-set one not so friendly now and growing more impatient shouted expletives at the cockpit and cautioned, “If you don’t get this aircraft underway, we’re in for a whole lot of trouble.  We’ve had warning any further delays will not be tolerated.”

Cranking the engine continuously caused a strain on the starter, and soon smoke was seen escaping through the cowling.  The two crestfallen pilots released the starter switch.  Unable to solve the problem on number two, both engines were secured.  When climbing down from the aircraft, the heavy-set one was waiting.  After a bitter exchange accompanied by abundant arm-waving a mechanic was sent for. 

Laughing from all the confusion he had caused, Rod settled back in his seat feeling more assured in knowing they hadn’t a clue as to the problem.  Knowing from past experience the first thing the mechanic will check would be the carburetor, and that would take time.  The more time the mechanic took, the greater the possibility of that someone making his appearance. 

Breaking out the ham and cheese, Rod settled back for a long wait still chuckling at the various tests being conducted on the engine.  After a period of wasted time checking the carburetor the engine cowling was buttoned back on, indicating this stage of their testing was completed.  Eventually they would turn to the electrical system in their search for the gremlin. 

Pleased with his delaying tactics, Rod felt even more assured when seeing the line techs returning the aircraft to the hanger.  Once more the large doors were closed and secured; the hanger lights were seen to go out.  A large truck was observed being parked as a barrier, preventing anyone from entering through the large hanger doors.  The driver and his companion remained inside the cab as one would in keeping watch. 

With dusk spreading its shadows, the parking lot now almost vacant, Rod, mindful a daylight operation was needed for the inconspicuous landing sites chosen by the drug folks felt some satisfaction in knowing this day’s drug run had been scrubbed. 

Afraid the old Dodge might arouse someone’s curiosity; a return to the motel for a much-needed rest deemed the prudent thing to do, then to continue the vigil the next morning. 

 Sleeping more soundly than he had the past several nights, an early wakeup found Rod enjoying breakfast at the Daylight Diner.  After the selection of his sack lunch, a return drive to the airport was made to once more screen the old Dodge among the many vehicles.  With activity picking up, several personnel dressed in white coveralls carting toolboxes were seen making a hasty entry into the guarded side door of the large hanger.  Seeing the fuel truck still stationary at the front of the hanger, Rod nodded in self satisfaction 

As the day wore on, and beginning to feel the effects of a warm sun shining into the cab, Rod casually eyed a black Chevy working its way into parking several rows ahead.  The driver who remained inside was seen visually checking the environment, especially the hanger.

Observant of his suspicious behavior Rod jerked fully awake.  His expectations now acclaimed this the fish the bait had been set for.  Expectations grew even more when the heavy-set one was seen leaving the FBO to approach the black Chevy.  Without any verbal acknowledgement the big one crawled inside.  Watching this scenario Rod quickly assumed the Chevy driver had to be the go-between the FBO and Pacific Blue Imports.  Seeing the courier and the heavy-set one engaged in a heated argument, his concern now was to plant the bug before the Chevy should leave.  Seeing both suspects step from the Chevy for what he knew to be an altercation was frustrating, then a sigh of relief when seeing them move toward the hanger. 

Casually stepping from the Dodge to approach the Chevy, then leaning down, the bug was planted on the underneath frame.  Feeling confident he hadn’t aroused the suspicions of anyone, the unlocked door of the Chevy was opened to retrieve a small object similar to that of a garage door opener to be stashed in his shirt. 

Meanwhile the hanger doors were seen to slowly open and again the DC-3 was towed out to the ramp.  The propeller on number two began rotating—with a cough and a cloud of blue smoke the engine roared into life, leaving Rod to wonder if any suspicions had been aroused.

Knowing that in conducting the engine run-up agendum, the backup gremlin would now manifest his presents by causing the engine to cutout during the all important number two magneto check.  Still to come, a new problem for them would be the overhead voltmeters indicating the generators were not in parallel.  If suspicions were not aroused by now, surely they would after a plastic washer would be discovered in the paralleling circuitry.  With his Gremlins buying the needed time, Rod grew more confident the plan would play out to his satisfaction.  Not wanting to push his luck, the decision was made to return to the motel before the driver of the Chevy should return. 

Locating a phone booth, a call was placed to Colt 44.  When Schade came on the line, Rod identified himself as Browning Twin-Fifties, and then gave the requested information on the black Chevy.  Colt 44 replied, “You’ll be advised as to the best fishing spot when we have a strike.”  While hanging the receiver up, Rod was shaking his head and smiling.

Unable to rest, anxiety continued sapping his energy throughout the long night.  While tossing and turning the reflections of an ancient past came to mind, that of commanding Scud Runner while flying the protective box formations over Europe with companion B-24s.  Then to strike at Germany’s industrial might, causing havoc with Jerry and his war machine.  Even with all its dangers a most pleasant association was remembered in the close camaraderie held among crewmembers from all walks of life, and the telling of those things employed in surviving that day’s mission. 

Eventually drifting into an unsettled slumber, the constant ringing of the phone in the early hours had Rod reaching for the imaginary fuel shutoff before realizing it was the phone and not a fire warning bell.  Shaking his head while endeavoring to drive Scud Runner from his mind, a shaken Rod fumbled the receiver to his ear.  A brief message gave instructions he proceed to a pay phone and return the call.  Doing as requested, the number was quickly dialed, “Please identify yourself and the party you wish to speak with.”

 “Browning Twin-Fifties here awaiting connection to Colt 44.”  Rod fully awake and now thoughtful this whole method of operation was kind of interesting.

When satisfied it was Rod on the line, Schade advised, “This is for you and you only.  The van you pointed out for me at the FBO picked up its load of packing crates from warehouse B-777 located on Marine Drive at the San Pedro Harbor.  From satellite imaging we have learned that consignment was as you said delivered to Pacific Blue Imports backing up the information you had given to me.  From what you’ve come up with in this operation and what we’ve learned from you, this is going to be huge.  The High Echelon is excited.  

“In pursuing your hunch we’ve learned the Ila Maru is a maverick freighter flying the Panamanian Flag, and is involved in suspicious cargo.  But we can’t get a handle on it as yet.  She’s what is known as a tramp steamer carrying her own derricks for off and on loading at various ports of call.  Her deckhands look to be a renegade crew of Japanese and American seamen.”  Before hanging up Colt 44 advised, “The High Echelon has asked I make you aware these people are dangerous.  This whole operation could blow up in our face, especially if they feel they’re being boxed into a corner by someone who may be privy to what they are doing.” 

In thanking him for the information, Rod advised they’d be updated on any changes.  With no thoughts of backing off and excited about this new information, the Dodge was soon on its way to the San Pedro docks. 

After some difficulty in locating the Port Authority, the ID was flashed with an authoritative gesture while the same time requesting the advanced booking schedule for the Ila Maru.         

“I assume what you’re asking for is the list of the arrivals and departures and any special handling request for docking services.” 

Striving to appear unperturbed, “Yes, that’s what I need.” 

“The register shows the Ila Maru has booked a harbor pilot and tugs for a scheduled dockside berth this Thursday, that’s tomorrow at 1600 and will tie up at Bravo Wharf, dockside 26.  Furthermore, the next evening they have requested tugs for an 1800 departure.”  Then volunteering additional information, “For the past three months, the Ila Maru has scheduled a dockside berth for an overnight stay once every month.  The crew aboard that rusty-plated scavenger is as motley a bunch of bilge-muckers—the most profound debauched dregs we’ve ever had to contend with in this harbor.  If there is any lead you might extend to us that will hasten the decommissioning of that scow, it will be carried out without further delay.”  Not volunteering any information, Rod replied, “I’ll see what can be done.” 

When checking with customs Rod was informed they’d begin their inspection before the dockworkers even had her secured too the wharf.  “We inspect all inbound cargo before it is unloaded.”  Then a puzzling circumstance was mentioned.  “It’s bizarre in the fact the Ila Maru, besides her regular cargo carries a super container.  Yet, all it ever contains are a few commodities that even a small skiff might convey.  Besides running background checks we’ve been asked to check her logs, and as per request we’ve followed up on her ports of call, and we have no answers.  “It’s strange, everything about that rusty seagoing agglomeration points to a suspicious undertaking, but she always comes through with an unsullied inventory.  Just the mention of her name gives me the shivers.”          

In checking with the longshoreman dispatch office, Rod was informed that after the arrival of the Ila Maru at the wharf, the ships Master insist there will be no off-load until the following morning at 0800.  Asked about the large container on board, the chief dispatcher responded, “I assume they carry it for the sake of appearances, it’s what we call a double packet, meaning extra large to you.  They’ve never scheduled an exchange for a live container, so they ship out with that same defunct container.  It’s a strange one, I have never hated a ship in my life, but that ship is weird.   If you find a rationale for that one, call it in to dispatch, we’d like to hear about it.”            

With his newly acquired data, Rod returned to the motel, stretching out on the bed to assess the day’s information, and what part the mysterious container plays in all this.  How traffickers are able to smuggle hundreds of pounds of deadly narcotics ashore in broad daylight, not only under the covert eyes of those involved, but under the close scrutiny given all incoming vessels from the prying eyes of agents skilled in illegal waterfront activity.  Knowing the solution had to be resolved by the following evening; Rod’s manner was one of serious concern.          




Plan Formulation

Making an effort to ease his mind by reading various subject matters, Rod thumbed through the pages of that day’s newspaper.  One article in particular caught his attention, telling of container ships being put under more exacting controls to abolish the unlawful commodities being imported into the country.  Reminded of the large container on the Ila Maru, and from what had been expressed to him that it carried only a few commodities.  Unexpectedly Rod’s reasoning took on a new aspect, unexpected answers were becoming more apparent, all pointing to a watery solution.  

With the qualifying factors before him, Rod still questioned if this could all be possible.  Possibly he would spend the rest of his life making license plates if his logic proved wrong.  With this last piece of information in place finalizing his plan—Rod, with revived up spring in his step, and ears ringing hurried to a pay phone.  

Schade had been waiting and informed Rod they had tried to reach him earlier.  “We have a line on your inquiry,” an address in Santa Monica was given.  “It’s an estate on one acre of ground encircled by a security fence.  The property is well guarded and the phone number is unlisted, as is the service phone.”  Both phone numbers were recited to Rod.

Schade asked if there was anything else he might be of assistance.

“I’ve been waiting for that,” breaking into a sly smile Rod make inquiry, “What’s needed is six explosives, two that can be detonated by a timing device, and four that can be detonated by remote control at my choosing.  Something not overly powerful, but something that will encourage a person to abandon his skivvies when seeing a nearby wall collapsing.”

 Somewhat overwhelmed, Schade hesitated.  “That’s a tall order, I don’t know if that’s on the approved agenda or not.  To be honest, I’ve mentioned before they’d prefer to move in and acquire control of this operation and they still might.” 

“Mr. Schade, I appreciate your having been assigned to assist me, and the offered guidance, but now it’s down to a few clicks on the dial and the door is on the verge of opening, the powers are beginning to grovel.”                         

 “You know my hands are tied,” Schade pointed out, “and I only have so much leeway in what I can do for you.  I have too answer to those asking questions, and they’re still full of misgivings how this will all end.  It’s only because of your friend Big Stick that the plug hasn’t been pulled before now.  I’m going to do what I can, so let’s you and me hang in there a while longer and for my information have you had any experience with explosives?”

“I’ve handled several hundred tons in my day.”

Seemingly puzzled, Schade replied, “I’ll see what I can do.”

“You might want to tell the powers that be that on the morrow at ten o’clock I need to take possession of those explosives,” When hanging up the receiver Rod felt some misgivings in the way he had reproached Schade.  Asking himself why he had talked to Schade in the mannerism he did, he’s only trying to help.  Then recalling the evening at Big Emma when his adrenaline went into afterburner and thinking himself a bona fide lawyer, and now I’m thinking myself a bona fide agent.  If I can’t handle the pressure then I should pull the safety-cock and run like hell.  But then, the ringing in my ears has diminished somewhat so maybe, just maybe there’s a message there some where’s.           

While still at the phone, a call was placed to Big Emma.  Tabasco upon hearing Rod’s voice became excited and cried out, “Jake say, no haler en el teléfano! I get him pronto!”

Jake’s information was indeed grave.  “I’ve waited anxiously for your call.  We have a serious problem!  George has been abducted and is being held by that same gunman who was stranded on the hardpan.  He’s threatened that George will be pushing up petunias in the desert if the missing documents are not returned within forty-eight hours.”

“Did you speak with George?” 

“Just long enough he let me know this was the real thing.  The gunman did all the talking.”

“Did George say he was all right?”

“There’s not much he could say, although he didn’t say he was being mistreated.”

“Just hang tight.  If they call again, tell them a confidant of mine has the papers and if anything happens to either of us, that confident is instructed to hand the papers over to the DEA.   Also tell him that you expect my arrival sometime Friday evening, and that upon my receiving the papers from my confident, I’ll turn them over to whoever they designate provided they show positive proof of releasing George.  Stall them however possible, I have high hopes of getting George released before any of this is necessary.  Jake, I’m sorry it has come to this, I didn’t intend for you to become involved, and I offer my regrets over this whole affair.”

Infuriated, Jake shot back, “Now that’s enough of that kind of talk, what are families for? Keep me informed on the latest scoop and I’ll do the same this end.  One question, what’s this about a confidant and do you really have one?” 

“Not really,” Rod answered, “But all’s fair in love and war.”  When explaining how he could be reached, Rod could hear Jake laughing.

Flustered, Rod demanded, “What’s the matter with you?”

“Now calm down Rod, it’s all right.  I was thinking if George begins spouting off to them, they just might pay us to take him off their hands.”

“You can bet he isn’t just sitting there pouting,” Rod laughed.   

Attempting to abate some of his anxiety, Rod walked to the small diner.  Taking a seat at the counter he informed the waitress he only wanted dessert, and asked her to suggest something.

“Pie, it’s made right here at the diner.”

“Fine, I’ll try your apple with a glass of cold milk.”

When the waitress brought his order a slice of sharp cheese was seen.  Looking up, he asked, “How did you know I enjoy cheese with my pie?”

While laughing the waitress explained, “Many old timers prefer pie that way.”

Rod smiled, “With me it’s like peaches and cream.”  Rod was killing time, waiting for tomorrow, and still agonizing over this growing dilemma.  Is this all turning into a rotten tomato with George’s life now at risk?  Taking a last bite Rod thought of Big Emma, and how nice it’d be shooting the breeze with the family and eating María’s pie.  I’ve been gone five days and I’m homesick for the first time in my life and my ears now ring constantly.  

“I could turn all this over to Colt 44, but then he wouldn’t understand the connection the big container plays in all this unless I explain it to him, and then he would know I’m crazy.  They would also lay a claim on Bessie, George and Rass would never forgive me for that.”  When Rod turned to leave, the waitress called, “The cheese is on the house, but the proprietor would be pleased if you’d pay for the pie and milk.  Sorry about the homesickness.”

Flustered, Rod uttered an apology and added, “I guess I’m old.”

“You shouldn’t say that.  To me you appeared to be in deep thought.”  Rod laughed, paid the tab, left a generous tip and proceeded back to the motel.

Early the next morning, dressed and eager to move on, the floor was paced while awaiting the arrival of Schade, agonizing that he may not show, and even if he did show he might not have the explosives.  Time was hanging heavy and seemed without end until a knock had Rod hurrying to the door. 

After the initial greetings, little was said while driving to the apartment complex.  Being cautious about the explosives, Schade explained, “The midnight oil burned late last night, but after an all night disputation, it’s still your show.  They couldn’t shake Big Stick’s confidence in you, so before I split I need to point out a couple of things about these explosives.”  Pointing to the back seat, “This first one is called the Attention Getter’.  You set this pointer to how many hours from now you want it to detonate, and then clip it to the charge and when time runs out, boom! You’re guaranteed to draw everyone’s attention.

“About this Electronic Wave Detonator:  This belt is for you and is equipped with four toggle switches marked 1-2-3-4.  When ready to fire number one, lift this safety cover that also serves as an arming device, toggle the switch and you’re sure to have instant confetti.”

When loading the explosives into the cab, Rod thanked Schade for hanging in there with him.  As he turned to leave, he heard Schade call, “I wish I could go with you ol’ buddy, but I do wish you all the luck in the world, you’re going to need it.”

Following the Santa Monica freeway, Rod rationalized how he needed it!  If those powers understood what a flimsy plan I’m working with, it would be me going to the funny farm.  My dad always reminded, ‘For every uphill, there’s a downhill.’  Just maybe, things will work out and I’ll knock ’um dead with my stupidity.

Turning onto the off ramp leading into Santa Monica, Rod carefully followed directions indicated by the yellow marker drawn on the map.  When noting the sign on a large nursery, reading “Oak Creek Nursery,” the name was retained.  Slowly entering the tree-lined parkway leading to the estate was a picture of elegance.  Scrutinizing the estate, especially the trees and beautiful shrubs, the old Dodge cruised slowly outside the grounds taking into account all the alternatives, at the same time paying extra special attention to the gate security.   

Seeing enough to validate his intent, the old Dodge continued several more miles to a second nursery.  There, two large ornamental shrubs and a shovel were purchased to be placed in the truck bed.  The last item chosen was lettering that would adhere to an exterior.  Again locating a pay phone, a deep breath was taken when dialing the estate service number.  A man’s voice responded, “Service desk.”

Rod explained, “This is Oak Creek Nursery calling.  The two replacement shrubs you ordered have arrived.  Our greenhouse personnel have requested we replace the dead shrubs with these healthy shrubs while still fresh from the supplier.”

After a pause, the surly voice asked, “Do you know who made that request?”

“No, but the information is around here somewhere.” 

“How did you get this phone number?”

“Look Sir, do you want these shrubs?  Someone there left a number so we could check back when the order come in.  I do know the message states we deliver your shrubs immediately upon arrival.  It’s essential we get them into the ground at once.”         

“What kind of vehicle will your botanic personnel be driving?”  

“Our attendant will be driving an old Dodge pickup with lettering on the doors that read Oak Creek Nursery.”               

“Come on over, security will open up.”

Rod pulled into a side street to sort out the lettering, then laying them out on each door to read “Oak Creek Nursery.”  After a dusting of dirt to conform to the appearance of the old dodge, the drive to the estate was taken at a leisurely pace to prevent the lettering from streaming off the doors. 

Pulling in at the gate, the guard at once began inspecting the contents in the bed of the pickup.  When looking into the cab, he asked, “What’s in the boxes there next to you?”

The ringing in Rod’s ears became more elevated.  In all the planning he’d forgotten to disguise the most damaging evidence of all, the explosives here in plain sight!  Fearing he would end up as damaged goods, from a sudden impulse he mumbled, “Crap.”    

“Well, take your fertilizer on through the gate.  How long you expecting this to take?”

Unable to believe what had transpired, a shaken Rod now undergoing a cold sweat replied, “Long enough to replace two shrubs and fertilize them.”

Rod reasoned to himself, sometimes the obvious isn’t so obvious, having those explosives here in plain sight put off any suspicion he might have had otherwise, and even with the perspiration pouring down my neck and the stupid remark I made about crap—he thought I was talking to him.

The old Dodge passed on through the gate, coming to a stop adjacent the ailing shrubbery at the rear of the estate.  Taking care after digging up the afflicted shrub, it then was placed between him and the rear of the mansion to somewhat conceal his real intent. After cleaning out the hole, the Attention Getter was carefully laid in the cavity.  The timepiece was adjusted to make contact at eight o’clock the following morning.  Placing the fresh shrub along side the Attention Getter, the removed soil was replaced.  When finished repeating the process with the second shrub, Rod heaved a sigh of relief.

Seeing he had not been observed, Rod walked nonchalantly to the rear of the servant’s quarters; there the cover from the water-main trap was removed.  Keeping watch for any activity from the main dwelling, the number one Confetti Maker was placed inside.  Replacing the cover a hurried walk was made to the rear of the main dwelling, there the second Confetti Maker was placed into the window well.  Satisfied he had not drawn anyone’s attention, with caution Rod continued along the rear of the manor, repeating the process in the two remaining window wells.

When loading the dead shrubs into the Dodge bed, a shadowy figure was seen postured inside the rear entrance door.  As that individual stepped out, a dark-complexioned man in an expensive dark suit with thick eyebrows and a baldhead was seen smoking the old Jiggs renowned cigar.  A huge man who would tip the scales at over 300 pounds, and his surly voice demanding, “Whatdaya’ think you’re doing?”    

Perspiration again running down his brow, Rod braced, “Just what I was instructed to do, replace these dead shrubs.”

The big fellow motioned for the security guards and started yelling, “I just got off the phone talking with Oak Creek Nursery.  When I asked about shrubs being delivered here, they didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.  Who are you anyway?”  

Looking for some sort of delaying ploy, Rod suggested, “Did you try calling the Springdale Nursery?”  Seeing the fat one was not going to buy that, Rod grabbed a fire hose, jerking it from its support while the same time desperately grabbing the lever.  Menacingly, Rod warned, “Back off Buster or I’ll blast ya’!”  Bellowing like a bull moose, the big fellow charged. Aiming the hose, Rod pulled the lever saturating this infuriated hulk, washing the cigar from his mouth, then ran for the Dodge anticipating the snaking hose would keep the big dude off his feet. 

Whipping the old Dodge around in an attempt to scatter the security personnel Rod yelled, “You can keep the shovel.”  Hardly slowing, with lettering pealing from the doors, Rod waved and smiled at gate security when crashing through the gate.

Punishing the truck to its limit, Rod hurried down the freeway en route to the San Pedro docks with dead shrubs flying out the bed, and the same time hoping the snagged wires from behind sending out showers of sparks along with metal dragging beneath the truck leaving ribbons of fire would abandon their pursuit.  Nerves frayed, and wondering how much more of this he could stand—the side window was lowered to inhale gulps of fresh air in hopes this to revive a sagging energy.  

Turning off at the first exit, a quick stop at the small café was made to wash down a ham and cheese sandwich with a cup of hot coffee, needed to buttress up his strength for this all-night vigil.  After picking up his ordered sack lunch and while settling his tab, two Highway Patrol vehicles were heard rushing down the freeway.  The waitress informed Rod, “Our police monitor reports they’re attempting to chase down some old pickup that’s been reported on fire.” 

“Probably some old geezer chasing his dream.”  Rod grinned.

Knowing the Ila Maru would be docking shortly, the Dodge was back on the road pushing to be there for the necessary surveillance.  When finding a parking space at the harbor, the flashlight along with what few tools were available was grabbed along with his sack lunch.  Bailing out of the dodge and hurrying to pier B, workers were seen scurrying about dockside 26.  After a scrutiny of the site, Rod noted the ship would dock with her port beam next to the pier, leaving her starboard beam on the open water side.

Looking to see the large cargo vessel still berthed forward of where the Ila Maru would dock, Rod made his way up the gangway flashing his ID to the OD (Officer of the Deck), at the same time requesting permission to move aft to the fantail where he would spend the night on surveillance.  As an added precaution he explained his ship was not involved. 

Being very cooperative, permission was granted.  The OD directed a seaman to convey a comfortable chair aft, and then requested a second seaman to requisition a pair of night-vision glasses for Rod’s use while a guest aboard ship.  Rod was informed the stern would be posted off limits to the ships company.  

“Chow call will be sounded at 1800.  I’ll have a mess boy deliver a tray, and I’m sure it will be a little more inviting than what’s in that beat up paper sack you’re holding onto.”

Surprised by the unexpected cooperation from this fine young officer, Rod thanked him, then turned to make his way aft.  Having been engrossed with the OD, he almost failed to see tugs gently nudging the Ila Maru alongside her berth.  While being secured to her moorings the gangway was run down.  Inspectors were seen boarding the Ila Maru to begin a routine examination.  Walking to the starboard side of the stern for a better view, the large container secured aft on the Ila Maru could barely be seen.  Looking over the gunwales to the water below, a small rubber raft was seen tied off to a dangling rope ladder.  With several hours of daylight remaining and not expecting anything unusual to occur until after dark, Rod stretched out in his chair thinking this a good time to take five. 

Startled by a gentle shaking, Rod abruptly sat up endeavoring to regain his bearings from a deep slumber.  His vision becoming more focused, a personage draped in white was seen standing motionless before him holding an object.  Still disoriented, Rod called out, “What is it?”  Then recognizing the mess boy dressed in whites holding his mess-tray, Rod shook his head and mumbled, “I thought maybe that was a harp you were holding.”   Confused, the mess boy replied with a snappy “aye, aye, sir!”  Then quickly putting the tray down, he posthaste double-timed forward resembling one still at attention. 

When checking the contents of his tray, Rod liked what he saw.  The main course consisted of chipped beef layered on toast smothered in a white sauce, and a navy-style bean salad on the side.  Now reminiscing, Rod had to smile, “We had a name for this when I was in the service—can’t remember what it’s called now.” 

Rod, peering through the glasses to more closely observe inspectors meticulously checking the Ila Maru, then seeing the motley ship’s crew appeared unperturbed this close-up inspection given their ship. Several seamen were seen loitering on the bridge quaffing beer, others involved in crap games laughed with those slouched over the gunwales harassing the shore personnel.                          

Thoughts of traffickers as would be modern-day Buccaneers occupied Rod’s reasoning, in that Buccaneers stealthily steal ashore under cover of darkness too loot and pillage to make gain, while the drug traffickers send their ill-gotten commodities ashore in broad daylight—cargo that avails the populace into destroying themselves, then wait to collect their plunder.               

Of concern to Rod would be the aftermath of his actions if he were wrong.  George was already in the hands of relentless avengers, then maybe himself, or Rass.  Bert had staked his reputation in backing him all the way, as well as opening doors of needed cooperation from government agencies.  Watching the deep shadows fading into the dark bay, the curtain of darkness would soon be fully opened.  Feeling a tinge of isolation being away from the family, thoughts of warmth from big Emma’s family lingered, and the longed for attachment that had come to him in his late years, 

Completing their work, the inspectors were seen in their withdrawal from the Ila Maru.  Rod continued his lonely vigil and listening to distant voices softly fading into the still of the night.  Much wearied, and midnight approaching, the scanning continued even more.  In checking the open-water side of the Maru, activity now was picking up.  Two seamen were observed lowering lines along with a rope ladder, having done this they too scanned the bay.             

Rod’s adrenaline quickened when small ripples were observed stirring the water into a small wake.  When following the wake to its source a small periscope was seen being propelled through the water.  Fascinated by its movement, Rod kept watch as it slowly made headway to the open-water side of the Ila Maru.  When along side the starboard beam, the forward motion slowed even more until dead in the water.  Hearing the muffled sound of blowing ballast, Rod watched with fascination as it partially surfaced with its topside breaking water.  With a sigh of relief, his reasoning now validated with the arrival of a midget submarine. 

Examining every detail, various objects were made out.  With ballast tanks partially blown, the midget lay low in the water, making it difficult for anyone to recognize.  From a topside hatch two crewmen who looked to be Japanese emerged from the sub.  The two seamen on the Maru used a jury-rigged block and tackle in lowering material to the deck of the submarine, there to be quickly released by the submariners who promptly set about fastening fence-like objects into place.  In surprised awareness, Rod watched the little sub assume the overall shape of a harmless supply barge, snuggled next to its mother ship. 

The large hatch aft of the small conning tower was fully opened, giving easy access into its interior.  Watching with fascination, packing crates now appeared topside to be silently placed into a cargo net, to be hoisted aboard the Ila Maru. 

In Rod’s way of thinking, his logic was beginning to bare fruit.  The Maru’s cargo was scheduled for an off load in the early morning hours.  From there a short conveyance would soon have the cargo secluded at its assigned warehouse B-777.  Then the lawful stored commodities in the warehouse would be separated from the newly arrived contraband and shipped to their various storehouse centers, leaving a fully stocked storage of narcotics sealed in hermetic containers disguised in packing crates.  The drug cartel could then rely on ample reserves for the replenishment of traffickers. 

Amazed at the number of crates being hoisted topside from the sub’s small interior, Rod recalled that Japan’s midget submarines were a failure in World War II.  Now renegades were attempting to restore the little submarine back to an auspicious existence.  The ultimate damage that could result from this sub’s task would in all likelihood bring about more impairment than the total destruction midgets committed during World War II.  

After midnight, no work details were scheduled until the offloading of cargo commenced with the early morning shift, giving the little sub free rein during the quiet of the night to combine its illicit cargo with that of the Ila Maru’s inspected cargo.  Then with the fulfillment of its rendezvous, the midget would cast off to submerge into the still black waters of the bay, leaving its periscope to keep watch while beating it out to sea—there to await the arrival of the Ila Maru.  

After the offloading of the ships cargo by the morning shift, the Maru planned casting off in the evening hours to make its way to the open sea.  There the Maru would make contact with the midget in the late hours of the night to hoist it aboard where it would lay resting unseen in the protective super container.  With some gratification, Rod thought this an ingenious strategy and looked forward to having deep sixth it.                

The last of the packing crates now being hoisted aboard a crewman from the Maru was seen motioning to a submariner to come aboard for what Rod assumed would be new sailing orders.  Surprised at the boldness of the duty officer, so confident, that with this lapse in their over all planning, the midget would negligently be the responsibility of the remaining seaman, who apparently not being overly concerned of the lurking dangers, sit-down on the deck to rest against the small conning tower.  Seeing the other Japanese crewmember climbing the rope ladder, Rod dismissed any thoughts of notifying the DEA for the time being.  With this breach in their strategy and time running, a snap judgment to forge ahead was decided upon.            

With some difficulty, Rod managed to lower himself into the rubber raft, then to cast off.  Nearing the bow of the Ila Maru, the raft was maneuvered near her open water side, anticipating the overhang of the hull above might aid in avoiding detection of the little raft far below.  After closing in on the midget, the raft was quickly tied off to the bow.  Leaving his shoes and socks in the raft and climbing aboard, a hurried, but difficult bare foot stride was made on the slippery metal surface of this small cigar shaped hull.  

Approaching the small conning tower with his flashlight at the ready, Rod took small quiet side steps until seeing the legs of the crewman stretched outward in a sitting position on the opposite side.  Taking one hurried step to acquire a stance a would-be batter would do, the flashlight was swung hard against the head of the unsuspecting crewmember.  Watching him slump to the deck, Rod hurried to the opened hatch.  

When stepping down the ladder, the pungent odor of a fetid interior assailed from within.  With this disclosure Rod was mindful this little sub at one time or another might have rested undisturbed in some forgotten bay, a relic of WWII.        

Directing the flashlight beam aft, it was necessary to bend over while making his way aft.  The many replacement valves seen were confusing and unable to ascertain which controlled what until seeing a round wheel with spokes attached to a round disk counter-sunk into the keelson.  Knowing he’d located the seacock, and applying his full strength, every effort was made to twist the valve free.  Unable to make it budge, and time becoming a distressing reality, Rod located the wedging tool attached to the bulkhead, quickly threading it through the wheel-valve-guide—applied leverage broke the seal free.  Spinning the wheel with both hands, cold seawater surged in.  The torrent now rising above his ankles, it was imperative this little sucker be abandoned now.

Peering out the topside hatch for any activity, the lone Japanese was seen slowly recovering.  Making his exit from the interior of the midget, Rod soon discovered his way up the deck of a rising bow was an exercise in futility.  His feet continuing to slip, a bad dream was remembered of trying to run and unable to do so.  But this was real!  With the aft of the sub sinking lower, and the bow rising higher above the water, Rod looked back to see the lone crewman dog-paddling about screaming in Japanese. 

Pushing over the side too plunge into the depths of the bay, the shock of cold water had Rod emptying his pockets of any tools, fighting to break surface while retching sea water.  Quickly regaining his bearings to make a hasty swim, the rubber raft was soon grasped in his arms only to have it wrenched free to soar upward still lashed to the rising bow. 

With its aft-end sinking lower, the sub commenced its downward thrust into the depths, with the little raft obediently following.  A feeling of dismay overtaking him, Rod pondered this as to a distressed soul losing ones parachute.         

Striking out to the cargo ship minus his shoes, the hissing moan of air pressure escaping the little sub was heard relinquishing its soul to the depths.  Spooked by an object recoiling out of the water, Rod stroked even faster.  When knowing a cold object had grazed his shoulder, he quickly turned to face this intruder!  Astonished when realizing the raft had broken free to vault up from the depths too break surface, leaving a flawed securing line to recoil off his shoulder.                    

Like something akin to a flounder doing a dance with the fat lady, Rod struggled to climb aboard the raft.  The shoes gone missing, the small paddle located near by was  stroked until reaching the dangling ladder attached to the large cargo ship.  Grasping the wildly swinging ladder, hand over hand like an inebriated ape, Rod hauled himself upward to collapse on the deck—there to lay sprawled from fatigue. 

Catching a second wind it was back on his feet, the night vision glasses with the sack lunch were taken to make a shaky retreat forward.  Standing dripping wet before the Officer of the Deck, the night vision glasses were handed over.  

Eyeing the wet clothing on Rod and his bare feet, the officer remarked, “The OD that I relieved reported you’d be standing surveillance, but nothing about a midnight swim.”

Looking at him, and knowing he couldn’t disclose what had taken place, Rod repeated his thanks, then hurried down the gangway with the OD observing his every move.

Tossing his lunch into the Dodge, a quick drive brought him to the nearest phone.  Having placed a call to Colt 44, a voice was heard, “To whom do you wish to speak?”

“Colt 44,”  

“Who shall I say is calling?”

“Browning Twin fifties.”  Cold, wet, and out of sorts, Rod shouted, “I don’t have time for this whom stuff—get me Colt 44 on the double now.”

Immediately Colt 44 was heard demanding, “Do you realize what you’ve done?  You might have given our…”

Interrupting, Rod gasped, “Another time perhaps, listen up!  The Ila Maru is berthed at Bravo Pier, Dockside 26 in the San Pedro harbor.  She has taken on packing crates teeming with drugs from a midget submarine.  The sub mysteriously sunk on the open-water side of the Ila Maru, and most likely will prevent that scow from leaving port. 

“If you hurry, at the Spainville airport you‘ll locate a DC-3 in the large hanger with a cargo of drugs consigned to Pacific Blue Imports.  The drugs were brought there by the large van from the warehouse on Marine Drive that you gave me the information on.  They use it as a distribution center.  The aircraft has developed mechanical problems, and as soon as the Gremlins are eliminated, it will commence making its deliveries.  You’ll want to talk to the heavy-set one at the FBO wearing a white shirt with the loosely fitted necktie.  It appears he’s the mastermind for the transporting of drugs to the suppliers.  The man who drives the black Chevy is the go-between contact for Blue Pacific Imports and Spainville Flying Service, and I have documents alleging this as fact.  As a matter of fact I observed the connection myself while at the airfield.   I’m leaving…”

Colt 44 interrupted, “Stand by.”  Soon he was back on line stating the Coast Guard and the Mobile Drug Enforcement Agents, along with the FBI were en route to the San Padro docks as well the Spainville Airport.  Colt 44 then asked, “What is your present location?”

“I’m en route to Santa Monica.”

“Wait up a minute, are you telling me you’re on your way to that estate?”  Then in a questioning voice, Colt 44 inquired, “You’ve come up with a lead as to your pursuit?”

 “Well almost, I think I met the Godfather.”

“You met the Godfather!  What’s a Godfather got to do with all this?”

“Yeah! He likes me, I gave him my shovel.”

“What the hell are you telling me?”

“Well if he isn’t a bona fide Godfather, then he must be the heavyweight for some drug cartel who weasels himself into this country aboard that submarine.” 

“You’re still talking peculiar, what’s this about a sub?”

“I don’t think he’d be inclined to move about too much.  Once you’ve seen him, you’ll never forget what he looks like.”

“The sub?”                         

“No, the bald headed one.”

Wait a minute, I need to get my head straight.  After a pause, Colt 44 asked, “Describe him.”

“I thought I did, he’s about five feet nine inches tall, dark complexioned, weighs over three hundred pounds and has heavy eyebrows under a bald head.  I can attest he has a contemptible disposition.  If he were a few inches taller, he’d look like a steam locomotive smoking the old Andy Jigs cigar.” 

“You’ve just described Lorenzo.  We didn’t expect his arrival for two more weeks.  We’re aware of his activities, but Mexican officials are dragging their feet. He’s been hiding out in Colombia and Mexico and represents a contingent of suppliers throughout the U.S.  He provides support and financial aid to the narcotic traffickers.   He’s responsible for the bribing of high government officials in Mexico and making sure the movement of drugs through Mexico has a free lane.  Because of his corruptive influence, seventy percent of all cocaine shipped into this country now slips through Mexico, and ninety-eight percent of that ends up on the street.                      

“It’s apparent with this breakthrough, he’s now taking on new horizons pressing a midget submarine into service, and he can be nasty.   Let me call in help.”

“I need to go it alone.   I wouldn’t want to disappoint him as he’ll be expecting me this morning.” 

“Why do you say that?”

“I left my calling card and it will get his attention around 8:00 o’clock this morning, then after having a little chat with him, he’s yours.”

“I was afraid to ask about the explosives, but it’s still your show and I hope your feet are dry after the final curtain.  We’ll be standing by.”

Rod thought about Lorenzo and how he’d like to deep-six him alongside his submarine.  Things were moving fast and with lady-luck still on his side Rod, dismally he pondered if this to be a hangman’s meal when reaching for an abused ham and cheese to munch on while waiting his encounter with Mr. Corruption.  In checking the time it implored he leave now to reach the estate in time for zero hour.


Plan Execution

Cautiously driving through the parkway to approach the estate, the ground shuddered  from two violent explosions shattering the early morning calm.  In knowing his calling cards would have gotten everyone’s attention, Rod made a bold move by pulling up to the main gate.  From his vantage point he observed several individuals hurrying out back the estate while others were seen cautiously looking through the rubble.  Not seeing any security at the gate, the confiscated item from the black Chevy was pressed into service.  With a sigh of relief the newly installed gate was seen to quickly open.  Driving boldly onto the estate the old Dodge was parked between a bright and shiny limousine and the black Chevy. 

Unabashed, Rod strode over to join Lorenzo and his henchman, then to stand looking innocently among them with hands in his rear pockets taking in the scene.  Lorenzo was heard screaming, “If I get my hands on that flower pot who hosed me down!  He’s the leader of this insurrection.  Someone hurry down and warn gate security that the gendarme’s will likely show up.  Keep ’um out; tell ’um the uprising was a false rumor.  Tell ’um anything.”  

Rod sidled over to confront Lorenzo and suggested, “You’re the big honcho around here, so maybe you should do those things yourself.  If you’ll look over there you’ll see your gate security is busy covering all takers that your trousers are to be blown off your butt before sundown.”  Hysteria taking over, Lorenzo screamed, “My gateman is what?  Shoot ’um, shoot him now.”  As Lorenzo’s henchmen opened fire, a confused security force immediately returned fire, causing even more confusion.  

Rod, with sarcasm in his voice yelled, “Anything else you need done big boy?”

Lorenzo, busy ducking and jumping here and there began yelling, “Stop it!  Stop it right now!”  What’s the matter with you peoples?”

Finally recognizing Rod, the sneer on Lorenzo’s face turned into a frenzy.  Having easily sidestepped a wild punch thrown by Lorenzo, then quick to retaliate, Rod let go a round-house right that landed in Lorenzo’s paunch.  Dropping to his knees like an axed bull, Lorenzo gasping for breath yelled, “Shoot ’um!” 

Seeing two of Lorenzo’s henchman closing in, with bravado Rod pointed his finger at them and shouted, “If I see one weapon, or if anyone of you take one step closer, you’ll all be on a fast train to hell.  This whole miserable estate is couched with explosives and they’re begging to go to work, so I tell you one-time only, back off.” 

With some help, an unsteady Lorenzo managed too regain his feet, Rod angrily demanded, “There are some things you need to rectify, and I suggest we talk somewhere in private without these interruptions.  This is one noisy establishment?”  

Looking over at the nearest henchmen Rod stared him down, then thinking he should leave an impression, “Just so you’ll understand what I’m telling you—set your sights on the servant quarters over there.”  When toggling the supposed switch, instead of the servant quarters—a rear portion of the mansion blew hurling debris and dust ever which way.  Halfway apologizing Rod stated, “Whoops—wrong switch.”  The henchmen started backing off, warning each other this madman has lost his marbles.  

Knowing he had to do something, and do it fast, Rod shouted, “Now this miserable fat one and I are going inside that white elephant for a little chat.  I’m a little unsteady so I might do something crazy like toggling all these switches at the same time, and if there is any of you that have it in mind in approaching that building I wouldn’t do that if I were you?”

Hurrying to leave behind the noisy shoot-out between Lorenzo’s henchmen and his security people firing aimlessly at each other with bullets ricocheting over the estate, Rod quickly prodded Lorenzo towards the manor.  Once inside the study, Lorenzo having somewhat recovered from the blow to his paunch, but still a little shaken sit down and asked, “Just who the hell are you, and what are you after?” 

Rod paused a moment, and then asked, “What size shoe do you wear?”  

Looking confused, Lorenzo bellowed, “Say that again.”     

“I said I want your shoe size.”  

Lorenzo gesturing with indifference answered Rods question, “Size 15.”  Suddenly it dawned on him Rods real intent, he yelled, “You wouldn’t!”

Rod smiled back, “I would.  Just take ’um off and gently slide ’um over here to me your midget submarine shanghaied mine.”  With shoe’s on that were five sizes too large, Rod threatened, “I need straight answers.  You don’t give straight answers—you don’t leave here in one piece.”

“What’s this about a submarine?”  Lorenzo blurted.  

“You tell me.”  Losing patience Rod slowly toggled the switch for number one—the explosion ruptured the outside water main sending a huge volume of water gushing high into the air.  The servant’s staff having panicked rushed from their damaged quarters into the blinding force of spray.  Unable to see, they trod on a confused and drenched squalor of henchmen who themselves struggled awkwardly on hands and knees while attempting to escape this deluge.  Having been shot at by security, trodden on by the servant’s staff, and now conquered by mud and water, Lorenzo’s henchmen aborted their failed rescue of Lorenzo.                  

Not aware of all the confusion outside, Rod continued tormenting Lorenzo, “I don’t know if there’s anything more despicable than overblown gutter-rats pushing crack cocaine onto kids.  You’ve enjoyed seeing your victims squirm, but now the shoe is on the other foot.  Do you feel comfortable sitting in front of someone half crazy—crazy from worry over your brainless gunman holding my partner hostage!” 

“I don’t understanding anything you’re saying.”

“In that case here is something I’m sure will kick start your memory up a notch.”  Lorenzo mopped his brow even more when seeing Rod slowly toggle number three.  The rear center section of the building collapsed, stirring up white powdered dust even more throughout the manor. 

 Lorenzo cupped his hand to his chin, attempting to conceal the involuntary trembling.

With all the uproar during the initial explosions, he thought he might be dealing with an insurrection, but changed his mind when this red-eyed irrational showed up with threats and demands.  With his immense body continuing to convulse with fear, Lorenzo continually wiped at the perspiration running in rivulets down his jowls.  Hearing the approaching sirens was a welcomed respite. 

Threatening vengeance, Rod admonished, “My legs are weak, my patience thin, and I’ll not ask again, so pick up that phone and instruct your shot gun rider to release his hostage, and as to your well-being you’ll want him healthy.”

Afraid the phone might not function and now giving up his last vestige of any bargaining power, Lorenzo caved in and quickly dialed.  A voice answered, and with some relief Rod heard Lorenzo dictate, “Release the hostage!”  A short pause, “I said release your collateral.  It’s over, there’s nothing left to bargain with.  We have no advantage so do as I say and hand over your weapon, you’re the casualty and now he’s in charge.  Do you understand?  It’s over!  Give him the phone.”  

When Lorenzo handed the phone to Rod, George was heard asking, “Who is it I’m too talk with?”

“You silver tongued haranguer; you’re talking to your old partner, that’s who.”         

“Rod! They snared you too?  What’s happening?”

“You’re a free man to return to Big Emma.  Are you all right?”  

“I’m fine, and for that guy’s sake, it’s a good thing you called when you did.  I was getting ready to show him some WWII stuff.” 

“Turn him over to local law enforcement and have them get in touch with the DEA in Los Angeles.” 

“I wish I could do that, when he started looking crazy like, he dropped the revolver, tossed me the phone and stampeded out the door like a terrified gazelle.  I thought he’d gone nuts.”

As Rod listened to George talk, a feeling of relief from all that had transpired reminded him of the adage, ‘A trial by fire forges close bonds with those who pass through it.’  Thankful that George was now free and healthy, Rod instructed, “As soon as you’re able—call Jake and advise him of these timely events.”

“I’ll do ’er, and you’re gonna fill me in on what went on down there.  I’ll arrive at Big Emma Saturday.”

“Don’t lose your self respect with that gun.”  Rod cautioned. 

Hanging the receiver up Rod looked over to see a somber looking Lorenzo who was pleading, “I’ve done everything you’ve asked.  Are you done with me?”

“I’m done with you, but the folks out front are waiting to have a chat with you.”

“You did this alone and I still don’t know who you are?”

“Let’s just say you held my friend against his will.” 

Rod teasingly fingered the detonator switches.  “There are more charges to blow, but I’m mixed up on the count, this next one possibly could bring this whole structure down.”  As Rod fiddled with the switches, a small chip of falling plaster ricocheted off Lorenzo’s head.  Screaming, he crawled under the desk bellowing at Rod for detonating another charge.  Chuckling to himself, Rod cautioned, “This building isn’t up to code, we better evacuate the premises.”

“You blasted well right we better.  I’m better off out there with those constabularies than here watching you flounder around with those switches.”          

Hardly recognizing Rod plodding towards him in Lorenzo’s unusually large shoes, and a distraught Lorenzo in bare feet, the both of them looking like walking ghost from all the collected white dust.  Colt 44 striving hard not to bust out laughing hurried forward with several agents too place Lorenzo in custody.  The remainder of Lorenzo’s bewildered and mud trodden henchman followed with their arms held high, next could be seen the confused and anxious security staff with their up stretched arms obediently following.   

Shaking his head in amazement, Colt 44 uttered, “Golly dang Rod, we can’t believe all we’re seeing here and they’ve had to put a call in for more paddy wagons.  Now before you leave, we need to talk a moment.”  

Handing the detonator belt over to Schade, Rod remarked, “You’ll find one unused charge in the remaining window well.”

Laughing, Schade said, “Well I’m glad of that, and it will be taken care of.  What little evidence remains would have been destroyed had you pulled the trigger.” 

Handing over the voice recorder, Rod added, “I’m sure much of the incriminating evidence you’re going to need, you’ll find in here.”

Schade seriously explained, “The force wants you to know they underestimated your perseverance.  Your friend Big Stick is an excellent judge of character.  He said you’d deliver, and you did.  Because of you the force is now walking ten feet tall in the eyes of our citizens, and the force now has a request in to waive the age requirement for you to join ranks.” 

Seemingly apologetic, Rod advised, “Someone once said, ‘When they were in danger, they felt immortal.’  But I sure didn’t feel immortal, I was anxious as all hell, and all through this nightmare I had feelings my name was anxiety dancing with misfortune.  It seems as though everything that happened last night was not because of anything I did, but in spite of it.  As for the offer, tell the force no, but thanks.  I know when to quit.”

“I have to ask one thing, how did you set this up in the way you did and pull it off?”

“Just between you and me, it was through the brilliance of my stupidity.”

Laughing, Schade suggested, “I wish I had some of that.”

“I’d like to remain anonymous in this.”

“The High Echelon will be glad to hear that, you can bet they’ll never expose your cover. The less the public hears about you, the more credence they receive.  But regardless, you’ll learn the morning news is talking about a one-man vigilante who took on the drug traffickers and deep-sixth a sizable portion of their operation.  You and your round-house diplomacy—this isn’t going to go away very soon, and I haven’t the audacity to explain you did it all without a hand weapon.”

“Schade, you know this would have been impossible without you running interference.”  After a short pause, Rod quietly added, “We did it, didn’t we Schade.”

“We did a tremendous job.”

“Here are the documents that initiated this whole nightmare along with the ID card.” Schade then explained, “I’ll relieve you of the documents, as for the ID, that’s yours to keep.  Other than the thanks the whole force has asked me to convey, this is all the reward we can offer.  And while I’m still handing out advice may I offer another suggestion?  Before you hit the on-ramp for home, you might want to take a shower, and use lots of suds getting rid of that white powder you’re covered with.  Some folks might not take it too kindly when seeing some apparition cruising down their freeway.”

Now that it was over Rod felt a tremendous rush of emotions.  Turning to leave, he added, “You’re a real professional Schade, and I’ll never forget you.  As for my reward—he’s on his way to Big Emma.” 

“Before you go, if you’ll forgive me for asking, I’d like to know about your feet.  I don’t remember them being anywhere near that magnitude?” 

“I left my shoes in the dinghy.  I’d taken them off so I could sneak up on this Japanese cowboy from behind, and when the midget submarine went down, my shoes went with it.  So Lorenzo loaned me…”

Shaking his head Schade interrupted, “Now I wished I hadn’t of asked.  You’d best get on your way, and one last suggestion, get yourself some new shoes that fit and don’t ever tell a story like that to anyone.  In their way of thinking that would be preposterous.”   

Driving out the gate, Rod could see several agents pushing a shaken Lorenzo into the paddy bus.  All the agents turned to face Rod, and on command from Schade, saluted.  A smiling Rod acknowledged with thumbs up.  Emotions still high, Rod drove to the motel for a needed shower and short rest before making the drive to Big Emma.  



With only a brief rest, Rod was anxious to hit the road and hurried to get underway.  Having been away from Big Emma for almost a week, it was hard to grasp all that had transpired in such a short time.  Knowing he wouldn’t be under the burden that somewhere drug runners were laying for him and his Silver-Grays was a welcomed relief.

With an overnight stay in Pioche, Nevada, and after having lunch at the Major’s on Highway 6, the old Dodge once again pulled onto familiar ground to park along side George’s pickup.  Little Sam who had been anxiously waiting went straightaway to a smiling Rod, who hoisted her up to be smothered by kisses and hugs.  “This is what it’s all about,” beamed Rod.

“Your mother is here,” Little Sam gleefully announced. 

“My who?”  Lucille and George stepped from the lodge.  Momentarily stunned, Rod stared in disbelief at this rapturous vision.  Without saying anything, Lucille went to a dazed and confused Rod.  Tenderly they embraced, a mischievous grin appeared and Rod teased, “Greetings, Mom.”

George extended his hand, “From what we are hearing on the news, I have a vague idea of what you did in cutting me loose.”

“Have they mentioned names?”

“No, and the only discussion I’ve had on this is with Lucille.   I know Jake has it pretty well reasoned out from listening to the news, but he’s not saying anything.  It seems like everyone here knows it was you down there launching World War III, but not a soul has blathered a word.  One thing for sure, they think they’re the only one who has an understanding of what went on.”

“That’s fine, let’s keep it that way.”     

“I hope you’re not upset with George or me,” Lucille explained, “I insisted he bring me with him.” 

“Upset?”  Rod grinned, then winking at George, “You did good.”

Soon the family gathered and exchanged greetings.  Jake explained, “You informed me how pretty Lucille is, but she is even prettier than that.”

Looking concerned, Rod asked about Rass.

“Today being Saturday, and with you and George returning we shut the shift down.  I know you’ll believe this, good ol’ Rass is helping Juanita scrub down the kitchen.”

“We plan hot time for you and George,” Tabasco announced.  “Burritos smothered in Santa Anna’s green hot salsa, right out of fires of old Mexico.  So todos be ready dinner en una hora.”     

With a conniving smile the professor chimed in, “What Tabasco didn’t explain is that Santa Anna, conspiring to perpetuate Montezuma’s revenge, mixed this concoction together at a time Mexico City was under siege from General Scott, anticipating the general and his troops would stampede out of Mexico with tears streaming from their eyes on one end—and breaking wind from the other end after the consumption of it’s fiery contents.”  

Looking somewhat mortified, Rod quickly suggested he needed to freshen up and get into some decent shoes, but Little Sam wouldn’t let go.  Lucille quickly suggested she would accompany him to his cabin and Little Sam could then return with her, as her room was upstairs in the lodge.

Walking the flower-lined path, Lucille mischievously exclaimed, “When some folks do something remarkable, they get the big head, but you don’t get the big head, you get big feet.”  Before Rod could catch his breath, Lucille continued chatting, “You described how enchanting it is here, but this is awe-inspiring, and I don’t even know where I am.”

“When we first arrived, I thought we might be in Nevada, and we were in Nevada.”  Rod explained.  “As it is, Big Emma lays in Utah just this side of the Nevada state line.”   

Hardly taking her eyes off Lucille, Little Sam pleaded, “I think you are nice, will you stay with us for always?”    

“Sammy, I wish I could answer that.  For always is something I wish I knew.” 

Changing the subject, Lucille asked Rod if his stay in California was rough.  “You must have been in some kind of danger, everyone here is tight-lipped about it.  Only George has related to me what little he knew.”

“It wasn’t as bad as some make it out to be, but it’s done and over with.  The silver bullet you gave me is a real lucky charm, I wear it always and I think it’s nice you have some concerns for me.”

“You know I do.”

Taking Lucille in his arms, Rod whispered, “You don’t know how happy you being here has made me.” 

When finished consuming the sumptuous repast, the family relaxed while exchanging pleasantries.  Jake leaned over and quietly suggested that Rod accompany him into the conference room, “We need to talk.”

Turning to Lucille, Rod asked to be excused, saying he’d return shortly. 


Golden Trail Mystery

When Rod entered the conference room, Jake immediately expressed his concerns.  “We have a problem, the Taylor twins are remaining quiet and they’ve asked the new shift workers to do the same.  I see no reason to upset the family until we understand what’s going on down there.  When I said we shut the shift down because of it being Saturday afternoon, the truth is…” Jake choked, then after pausing a moment, “all drilling in the exploratory tunnel has been shut down—it’s apparent we’ve missed the Golden Door. 

“My daddy was explicit we would uncover the Golden Trail between 275 and 300 feet. We’ve pushed that tunnel beyond the 300-foot mark, and we haven’t had a sniff of mineralization.  My daddy couldn’t have been wrong, and I’m at Dead End Junction.”              

Rod noticed that during the entire evening both Jake and the Taylor twins had seemed somewhat subdued.  Knowing the tremendous burden Jake was under in attempting to locate that door, then tunneling beyond the point of the supposed breakthrough and not finding it would lay most men at the end of the trail.  Concerned and knowing this is to be Jake’s last shot, Rod asked, “When your daddy gave you directions to run that tunnel, exactly, what did he say?”

“We were laying out markers at the surface to plot the course of the exploration tunnel.  Then we planned going down to the level where the tunnel would commence.  The markers would be used to plot the exact course, it was there he suddenly took ill and we rushed him to his accommodations in the lodge.”   

“Did he say anything about the compass?”

“You have to realize the situation as it was.  We were all pretty shook up, and from what I remember he spoke very deliberately, at least twice he said, ‘compass course 300 degrees.’ ” 

“Who was in the room with you when your father passed away?”

“Besides myself, Irene and the Taylor twins were there.”

“You wait here and I’ll invite the twins in.  Maybe they can throw additional light on this.”

With the twins seated, Rod commenced, “Jake has explained about the problem with the exploration tunnel and we are trying to get some verification as to what compass information Jake’s daddy had in mind before he passed away.” 

 “Probably no different from what Jake has already told you,” Lloyd said.  “Jake and I were laying out the markers on the surface under his dad’s direction.  While I was standing at this specific marker he took a sighting, and that’s when I heard him call out, compass course to the Golden door 300 degrees.’  He was getting excited, and then I heard him call, ‘now all…’ and that’s when he collapsed.”

“That’s how I remember it,” Floyd volunteered, “It was after we had carried him to his accommodations, it was there I heard him faintly whisper, ‘Now all I have,’ and nothing more was said.”

Expressing his thoughts, Rod laid it on the line, “I may be headed in the wrong direction, but as a geologist your daddy would understand the functions of the compass, and the numbers at that time gave him a compass course of 300 degrees.  My thoughts are, before he completed his calculations he was overcome.  In what has been brought to light, you have mentioned he said, ‘now all…’ I’m still speculating, but the way I see it he intended to say; “Now all I need to do is subtract the variation in this area to determine the true course.  Continuing, Rod explained, “The charts aboard Bessie tell us the variation between Magnetic North and True North in this area is sixteen degrees easterly.  From my old cadet days I remember the formula east is least and west is best.  So from the 300-degrees your daddy calculated, we have to subtract the 16-degree’s variation for this area.  In order to follow the true course of 300 degrees you had used in running the tunnel, you probably should have run the tunnel using a compass course of 284 degrees.  I’ll go over this later, but it appears you’re 16 degrees right of the course your daddy had in mind.  

Jake cried out, “If this is true, we’re still breathing!”  The twins joined Jake in whooping and hugging. 

Rass stuck his head through the door as to why the ruckus, then hurriedly withdrew—closing the door behind him. 

The professor quizzed, “Well, what is it Rass?  I can’t stand here all day.”

“I’m not sure; they may have found Tabasco’s tequila.”

Returning to the dining room, with elation Jake announced, “Once again we are all family. Rod has returned from a successful sojourn to California.  George spent a few obliging days in Pleasant Grove.  The high rollers—Professor Earle and lovely wife Mona are now present after a profitable stay in Reno, and our newest member Lucille, who honors us with her charming ways is here from Pleasant Grove.  We encourage her to make it permanent.”

Before retiring for the night, Jake announced, “Breakfast will be a buffet served until noon.”

Lucille asked Rod if it was like this every evening.

Half kidding Rod said, “Sometimes it’s worse.”  

“I loved every minute.  Everyone is so free and cordial.  I don’t remember when I’ve enjoyed myself more.” 

While accompanying Lucille to the stairs leading to the second floor lodgings, Rod suggested, “Suppose tomorrow we ask María to prepare a light repast for us and we’ll walk down to the lake and have ourselves a picnic.”

Lucille whispered, “Suppose we do that and pleasant dreams to you.”  Lucille put her arms around Rod in a fond embrace.  Sensitive to her soft lips, a peaceful serenity brought a closeness Rod would forever covet within himself.  

Lucille turned too quietly ascend the stairs.  Rod paused until Lucille had reached the top landing, where she turned and blew him a kiss.  His ears ringing he whispered to himself, “I ain’t any sixteen, but for an old codger I’m feeling young.”  

The morning sun reflecting into his room Rod awoke with a start when hearing Jake’s voice on the intercom.  “Rod, if you hear me, can we meet for a few minutes?  The twins and I will be in the conference room at 11:00 o’clock this morning, if you will meet with us there.”

 Having the time to remain in bed a few minutes, Rod savored the fragrance of the pines as he listened to the calming resonance of water splashing down the creek.  Lingering thoughts remained from last night, and how comfortable he felt with Lucille, especially did he look forward to the picnic.

When inside the lodge, Rod located Lucille who was chatting with María to explain that Jake had requested a short conference and that she should go ahead and enjoy breakfast. 

María offered, “When you done with your get together, you come to kitchen, María feed you.”

“Thank you, I’ll pass on that for now,” Rod said.  “But I would like to impose on your good nature to put together a picnic for Lucille and I to enjoy down by the lake.”

“Oh yes, Lucille, she already tell me.  I tell her I fix you good out-doors meal.  The way to man’s heart is through his mouth.  I tell Rass and Juanita—maybe they go too.”

“Uh, Lucille and I would kind of like to be by ourselves.”

“Oh, I guess that be okay, you too old to get in trouble.”

Shaking his head, Rod glanced at Lucille with a silly grin to see her stifling a quiet laugh.  Saying nothing more Rod made a hasty retreat to the conference room.

When seeing Rod enter the room, Jake immediately explained, “We need help in our effort to realign the tunnel course that will get us back on the correct path without having to start all over.” 

“Do you have it worked out?”  Rod inquired.

“Not yet.  All this true course magnetic stuff is a pain in the butt.” 

“For whatever the reason, I couldn’t go to sleep last night, so I got up and plotted it out on paper.  Your daddy had it figured he’d possibly start hitting pay dirt at 275 feet.  Using the entrance of the exploration tunnel as my reference point, my calculations show you to be 16 degrees right of the course your daddy was plotting.  Those 16 degrees are telling us you are about 70 feet to the right of the location your daddy was shooting for. 

“From what I understand the exploration tunnel as it now stands is maybe 5 feet beyond the 300 foot marker.  I would suggest you backtrack 30 feet from the face of the tunnel, and then shoot that tunnel on a magnetic course of 194 degrees.  When tunneling approximately seventy feet, this will put you at the location your daddy was shooting for.  From there you’ll be hoping and praying to reclaim that Golden Door.” 

Feeling more rejuvenated, Jake burst out, “I’ll buy that.”  Then directing his remarks to the twins, “You’re about to see the elephant—in the morning I want you to strap the horns to the bull and let the rocks fly until we’ve busted through that door.”    

When Rod returned to the lounge, Lucille was waiting.  Taking the basket under one arm, and holding Lucille with the other, they strolled down the lake path.  Pointing out the snow crowned peaks, Rod explained, “I love these mountains, and they’re called the Deep Creek. Haystack Peak surveys his domain from over 12,000 feet in elevation.   The range isn’t near any major settlement, that’s why it’s so peaceful here.  Eventually the quiet serenity of these old-time ranching and mining folks will gradually erode because of the many regulatory restrictions being imposed by the land management people.”

“I don’t think it will be that bad,” Lucille suggested.  “I also like it as it is now, but the days of isolated regions are fast becoming a ghost of memories, and some of these areas need to be protected.  The Indians had this problem with us and now we are complaining about the same problem they had.  How about we move to Alaska and add to their problems?”

Breaking into a smile, Rod teasingly asked, “I think I understand what you’re saying.  Your pedigree wouldn’t by chance go back to the Native American would it?”

“No, but once in a while I do see red.”          

“I did see your feathers ruffled a bit.”

Locating a grassy area near the water, Lucille spread the blanket for María’s delicacies. Tossing a few tidbits to the chipmunks, Lucille asked, “Has Little Sam had the opportunity to see this?”

“I really don’t know if she has.”

Lucille then asked, “What is the situation with Little Sam?”

After reflecting a moment, Rod explained, “Sam’s parents were killed while rock climbing in the Sierras.  She then lived with her grandparents Bert and Maggie at the ranch.  After Maggie’s illness became critical, Little Sam was brought here to Big Emma to be with her Aunt Irene and Uncle Jake.  If I’d been fortunate enough to had children of my own, I’d have been grateful for a little blue eyed blond just like her.”  Smiling even more, Rod continued, “I kind of think she’s in puppy love with me.”

Lucille agreed, then being a good sport she jokingly added, “Well, it’s obvious she’s taken with you.  She probably thinks you can fly without wings, but don’t try it around her.”

“Do you think I can fly without wings?”

“No, but I’d be pleased if you’d stay on the ground long enough to tell me what your plans are.”  Holding Rod close, Lucille pressed her lips to his, and then whispered, “Are you afraid I might shoot an arrow into your heart?”

 “You’re using persuasive tactics that I have no defense for.”

 Again, Lucille kissed Rod.

 “There’s not much I can say.  I wish it were different, but right now I couldn’t support a church mouse, even if it fasted every weekend.”  Lucille straightened up, flustered and expressing her feelings, “I didn’t ask for a financial accounting.  I was hoping you might give an inkling of what your feelings are for me, and what your thoughts ‘down the road’ as you once quoted it might be.  I’ve practically thrown myself at you.  I do love you Rod, and I’ve wanted for you to feel the same for me.  I’m embarrassed now that I pressured George into bringing me here with him.”  A bewildered Rod watched Lucille finish packing the leftovers into the picnic basket, fold the blanket, then starting up the trail she called back, “Thanks for the geography lesson.”

While inspecting the new hoist, Jake become startled when seeing a troubled Lucille hurrying up the lake trail.  Calling for her to wait up, she continued on without looking back.  Hurrying to catch up, he asked, “Things can’t be all that bad, so whatever is bothering you—you need to tell me so I can fix it?”

“Not if it’s another geography tutoring.”

“I promise—no geography lecture.  Now let’s you and me take ourselves into that conference room and do some conferring.”  Handing Lucille his handkerchief, Jake maneuvered her into the room to offer his guidance.  “Lucille, I want you to promise you’ll hear me out.   I can surmise what happened down at the lake and I sympathize with you in your feelings, but in fairness to Rod, you have to understand his situation.  I know Rod loves you with all his heart and you’re everything he’s looked forward too, but at his age he worries it’s too late for him to get his feet back on the ground financially, he’s from the old school and thinks he has to offer you financial security before expressing his feelings for you. 

“A couple of weeks ago he decided there had to be something more in life than going to the post office.  He wanted to live again, to make life worthwhile and he did.  He left his tired blood back there on some hardpan, and someday you’ll understand what he’s done for this operation.  What I’m telling you now must remain between you and me, but you must try and understand Rod’s dilemma and have patience for just a while longer.”

With tears streaming Lucille told of her feelings, “I want you to know that Rod’s financial status doesn’t mean one iota to me.  Don’t you think I know of things that have happened to him, and know what has transpired through no fault of his.  I’ve admired Rod for what seems forever, but it’s as though he never knew I existed.  When he first started frequenting the diner, it was at that time he realized I was a living person for the first time, and life got better after that.  He was more reserved than most of my customers.  It was as though he didn’t have to prove anything and he was always courteous and polite.  I found myself wanting to be with him even more, and I felt maybe he wanted to be with me.  My impression was he needed someone to love and care for him, and I know we enjoyed each other.  Maybe I’m making more out of this than there really is.”

If you leave now Lucille, you’ll miss out on everything the family has put their efforts into, and this will change.  The family has taken to you and we all need to hang in there together for just a while longer.  If everything works out as I know it will, good things will happen to Rod, and you wait and see, they’ll happen to you too.  We’ve been living on patience and hope with a lot of praying for the past six months, I’m sure you can endure with the rest us a little while longer—now how about it?”           

A knock on the door, and Rod was seen entering the room.  “Lucille, I apologize, please, I didn’t mean to make it sound the way I did.”  As Lucille went to Rod, Jake gave a sly wink and scurried out the door. 

When Jake returned to the lounge Tabasco whispered, “Everybody looking for you, Bert is on el teléfano, and he need talk pronto.”  Taking the phone, Jake engaged in a short conversation.  When hanging up he requested for Tabasco to lower Big Emma’s staff to half-mast, then have everyone meet in the lounge. 


Last Rites on Knoll Hill

Jake had soon located Little Sam in the playroom, and taking her into his arms he asked the other children to run out and play for just a little while.

With thoughts of all the distress and sorrow that had come into the life of this little blue-eyed blond, Jake with a heavy heart began to explain the painful news of her grandmother’s death, knowing that once more her little heart would be broken. 

“Sammy, do you remember what your grandmother said to you the last time you were together?”

“Yes, Grammy told me I was to be brave and that she loved me, and for me to remember all the things she once told me.”

“Do you remember what those things are?”         

“Yes, she told me I wouldn’t see her for a while, that she was going to a place where angels live, and visit mummy and daddy.  She would stay there with them and wait for me, because someday I would go there too, to be with them.”

“Sammy, your grandmother is with those angels now and I know she is informing your mother and father what a brave sweet person you are.”  Jake then let Sam run to join the other children. Pondering in his mind this discussion with Little Sam, and thinking to himself, that’s like Maggie, always caring for every last detail.  I went in there to console Little Sam and I come out of there with her having consoled me.

Having returned to the lounge, Jake addressed the family.  “As you may now know, Maggie passed away today at noon.  I received a call from Bert a short time ago telling of Maggie’s last request.  She asked that she be laid to rest on Knoll Hill.  Those of us having known Maggie would know she wasted little time in whatever she was involved in, and she has asked that she be buried midday tomorrow.  All those attending the service are requested to be at the ranch house at 11:00 o’clock in the morning.  From there the procession will move on to Knoll Hill where a short graveside service is to be held.” 

Rod proposed, “Bessie is available for transportation, but we’ll need to have ground transportation on the other end.”

“Bert is one up on you.  I took the liberty of informing Bert all the family will attend; and he will have several vans standing by upon our arrival.” 

 “What about flowers?”  Mona asked.    

Jake said, “Maggie requested no flowers.  She said they gave her hay fever.  I explained to Bert the family most likely will disregard her wish this one time and if you say it will be all right Rod, we’ll need to land at Elko where I’ll have flowers waiting.”

The following morning, with eighteen souls aboard, Rod was seen entering the cockpit with George not far behind.  George paused at Jake’s seat to pass the word, “There is an old adage that proclaims when a good pilot enters a cockpit; it becomes a part of him.”   

Rass would be serving as flight attendant with additional help from Little Sam.  This would be a first time airplane ride for the Tabasco family and the children squealed with anticipation. The old pro, Little Sam gave words of assurance to her little friends.  “After we go fast, the ground will fall away and the farther the ground falls away, the slower we go.  White puff balls will peek through the window and smile at us, then magic—we will be there.”

Having concerns for Juanita looking visibly nervous, Rass suggested, “I better sit beside you and hold your hand until after we take off.”  As the props began rotating Juanita seized Rass’s hand, and clutched his leg with the other.  Rass bellowed in pain.

Jake looked over his shoulder and asked, “What’s going on back there?”

Attempting to look calm and divert attention from his predicament, Rass mumbled, “Nothin’, I was just coughin’.”  Prying Juanita’s clenched hand from his leg, he asked that she grip the armrest instead, and then he’d grip them whenever she needed rest.  

Both engines started agreeably, sending whiffs of blue smoe trailing behind.  When settled into their pocketa, pocketa rhythm, the new generation of pilots who had never experienced the joy of hearing round engines, would swear the Rods were about to be dumped on the tarmac.

Her throttles to the high stops, her engines rumbled into that memorable deep-throated roar on take off that would make an old pilot sit up like an Irish setter on the point.

Having made a refueling stop at Elko and the taking on of flowers, Bessie now over the ranch initiated the letdown flying a circuit around the pasture before turning final.  George called, “Final checklist complete.”  In a gentle motion, Bessie rolled onto the pasture and then slowing taxied to the waiting vans.

When arriving at the ranch house the family was soon mingling with an array of friends there to pay their respects.  Bert motioned to Rod and Lucille, asking for them to please follow him.  “There are some special people here waiting to meet with you.”   

Rod complied, and with Lucille at his side met with the strangers.  “Rod, I want you to meet Governor Williamson and lovely wife Flora.  And over here we have Mr. and Mrs. Jack McKenzie.  Gentlemen, this is the man you’ve been asking about and I feel it an honor to have you meet Rod Colson and lovely companion Lucille Knight.  Jack has especially wanted to make your acquaintance Rod.  He heads up the Western Regional Drug Enforcement Agency.”

While shaking hands, McKenzie emphasized, “It is a privilege meeting you Mr. Browning Twin-Fifties and I’ve heard nothing but excellent praise from what you have accomplished.  From the information I’ve received, and what we’ve learned from the mop-up of that operation is incredible.  The methods used by you to acquire covert information of their over all operation will be analyzed for future indoctrination of new agents.  Our offer stands; we’d be honored having you with us as a consultant in covert operations.

“Now another situation, I’m sure you’ll be happy for what I’m about to tell you of your friend Colt 44, and I want you to know the code name Colt 44 has been dropped and he’ll once more be recognized as Jack Schade, only now you’ll add the Mr. for his proper title.  Mr. Schade, who will be heading up our Investigative Office that handles all Covert Operations in the Southern California region.”

Somewhat puzzled and shaken at what this McKenzie had laid bare, Rod thanked him for his generous remarks and then motioning with his head towards Bert, “Big Stick over there is the man you need to give credit.  Without his opening doors, I’d still be down there ringing doorbells, and Mr. Schade explained to me where to find those doors.”

Bert announced, “I hate cutting in but it’s time we move up the mountain,” 

While returning to the van, Lucille asked, “Just what did you do Mr. Browning Twin-Fifties, that the Governor of this state, and this man McKenzie were so full of praise for you?”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Rod replied, “They’ve mistaken me for someone else, me giving a shovel to a fat man was no big deal.”                  

In jest, Lucille was laughing, “With charity such as that, we’re proud of you.”

 Obeying Bert’s directions, the vans moved to the head of the procession to follow behind the hearse.  George was chuckling, “I’ll bet a Sadie biscuit you won’t see this again, the Governor’s limo is several cars back in the procession.” 

Jake acknowledged, “Those close to Bert will always be at the head of the line.”   

The solemn procession moved up the canyon to approach Knoll Hill.  Crossing through creeks with clear running water, grassy slopes were seen with scattered herds of Black Angus standing at the wayside, as if paying homage to Maggie.  Above, Eagles soared as if to convey a last acclaim.  Rass commented, “If heaven is more good looking than this, then it must really be something.”

When gathered at Knoll Hill, in quiet respect family and friends alike fell in behind the casket bearers making their way up the mountain trail.  Ranchers and their wives carried flowers and sprays sent from throughout the west.               

Waiting for the entourage to assemble at the selected burial site, Rod, holding Little Sam in his arms and with Lucille at his side, observed the valley far below and reasoning an artist couldn’t have done it more justice.  When admiring the distant ranch house, the dream home of Bert and Maggie, Rod now understood Maggie’s wish in wanting to be buried here among the majestic pines overlooking the valley below.  

With the procession all assembled, Bert suggested everyone gather in close.  “Maggie would want me to express our deep gratitude and appreciation for your presence this day and for your messages of love and sympathy.  Even with the short notice, many of you have traveled a great distance to be here.  We acknowledge the presence of Governor Williamson and Mrs. Williamson, and we express thanks to everyone for counting us among your many friends.

“Maggie was adamant that I especially thank our fellow ranchers for their many acts of kindness, and that is an easy thing to do.  We want everyone to understand they are standing among neighbors of the Humbolt River Valley who are the salt of the earth.

“Yesterday, just before her noble spirit took flight, Maggie with a pleasant countenance, whispered, ‘our son Knoll is here to escort me home.’  Those of us at her bedside stood in silent respect.  With a pleasant smile and a squeeze of my hand, she was gone.  There was such a loving influence in that room that no one had cause to mourn.

“We’d appreciate any of you who wish to express a few sentiments to please do so.  Then following these remarks, the Singing Grandmothers will render Maggie’s favorite song.”  After which Bishop J.T. Southerland, in accordance with Maggie’s wishes, has driven over from Deseret to dedicate the grave.”

An old rancher by the name of Ed Branson sidled up to the side of Bert; speaking in a low voice he expressed his gratefulness to Maggie, “I have known Maggie and Bert as long as any of you.  When my first wife LaWella took sick, Maggie was the first one there.  When my horse fell and I was hurt, she was there again.  Maggie doctored me back to health, and I want to say she made the finest chicken soup I ever eat.  God bless her.”

Jeb Dawson, a long-time family neighbor, looking timid but determined, stepped forward to add his thoughts. “I have never been much for attending church, but I remember my mother telling me that this life is just a preparation for something greater.  After knowin’ Maggie, I know this to be true.  She was a queen.  When I was near her I felt that I was in the presence of royalty.  She even prepared her meals with dignity, and when I was invited to eat ham and beans, accompanied by bread pudding in her kitchen, it was a royal feast.  Yes, she sat on milk stools and rockin’ chairs in this life, but I’ll bet any taker five bucks she’s on a throne now with rockers so she can rock and smile while seeing us strugglin’ down here.  God be with you Maggie, may you rock in peace.”                 

A nervous Thisbe Morten remained almost hidden among those paying their respects.  Twisting a handkerchief around her fingers, her voice barely audible, “I liked Maggie and she was always nice to me.  She made the best raisin pie this side of currant creek and she taught us to make it proper.  And there’s something else, Maggie was always organizing quilting parties, and they’d get auctioned off at the county fair to buy needy things for the less fortunate.  Then at Christmastime, The Grandmothers for Cause would distribute them.  God rest her soul.”

Bonnie Midley stepped forward, “I remember years ago Maggie organized our singing group and we called ourselves the Singing Grandmothers.  Maggie talked Brother Bagley into being our director, and after he heard us sing, he didn’t show up much after that and soon bagged it.  But it gave us a distraction in the winter, especially at Christmastime when Bert hitched his team to the big feeder sleigh and we’d all go caroling.  Oh how I treasure those precious days.  May you rest in peace Maggie.”

Using his cane to help steady himself, a trembling old Whisky Smith, his voice wheezing, “I would just like to stand on my two feet and say so long Maggie, you’ll be missed.  Even on the worst of days if you was around, it was like the sun was smiling.”  Tears clouding his vision, he reached for his kerchief, shook the dust from it, wiped his tears and blew his nose.  When through coughing, in a faltering voice he stammered, “It just won’t be the same Maggie.  May the keeper keep his eye on you.”  

The Singing Grandmothers—weeping while struggling to sing “Rock of Ages” were cheered when a saddened assemblage joined in. 

 The Bishop, J.T. Southerland then remarked.  “As each of you who eulogized this remarkable Lady, I thought of the words of the Apostle Paul when he spoke, ‘Oh death, where is thy sting?  Oh grave, where is thy victory?’  I only wish it had been my privilege to have better known this extraordinary lady.”  With these remarks the grave was dedicated, and the services were concluded. 

Bert called to remind everyone the Grandmothers for Cause would be serving refreshments at the ranch.  “I’m sure no one will want to miss their homemade raisin pie.”

Back at the ranch, Rod suggested the interior of the ranch house was a reminder of the lodge at Big Emma.  Bert remarked, “It should be, you do know that Irene and Maggie are sisters and Irene always helped Maggie with her decorating.  But not everything they concocted made me happy.  Those throw rugs you’re standing on, not all the material in those rag-rugs are from discarded apparel, in there somewhere are a couple of my prized Pendleton Shirts.  When I quizzed Maggie on this, she informed me the floor needed them more than I did.  Nothing ever got very old around this house bless her heart.  Whenever an item went missing, I knew where it went missing.” 

 Moving into the adjoining room, the buffet style spread was busy; countertops were loaded with casseroles, hot Parker House rolls, and a variety of salads.  Additional tables held homemade pies, with their bulging crust.  The choice was theirs, just so it was raisin.

Rod, in knowing they must be on the Bonneville strip before dark called for the roundup.  While Tabasco was helping Irene load her personal effects, Jake looking very excited felt his world might now be coming together, Irene his wife was aboard and looking forward to being home, but coming home to what?  Knowing this to be the last drive in an attempt to free up the Golden Trail, there’d be no more trails to follow.  Dreams and wishes an objective do not make, but the trusting of Jake in his daddy he’d stay the course.    

 “It will take a few days to get squared up around here.”  Bert advised.  “After that I’ll drive down to be with you.  I want to be there when you ferret out that door.”  Then handing Irene a small wrapped gift, Bert smiled, “Maggie wanted you to have this as a small token of our appreciation for what you’ve done, especially these last few days.”

Irene asked if she should open it now, “By all means.”  Jake answered.

Taking the wrapping off, she looked inside.  Tears streaming down her cheeks she cried, “Oh Bert, I can’t accept this, it has sentimental value for you and Maggie.”  Holding up a solid gold jewelry box for the family to see she explained, “I know what this is—it’s the gift your mother and father gave Maggie on your wedding day.”

“Maggie would have it no other way.  I’m only carrying out her request.  If you want to go against her wishes, then you take it up with her.”

“Well, I’m not prepared to do that just yet, but someday Little Sam will appreciate this.”

“Little Sam will enjoy a lifetime of mementos,” Bert made known.  “Maggie was relieved in knowing her prayers were being answered much to her satisfaction that Little Sam was receiving a lifetime of affection now, and knowing this made it much easier.  Save a place at the table for my feet, for I’ll soon be paying you a visit.”


Another Go for Alaska

When back at Big Emma, Tabasco informed Rod the protectorate of Mission Bells, California, was on el teléfano.

“Protectorate?  The only person in Mission Bells I know is Colonel Asay.”

Tabasco’s replied, “He say he Colonel, so he protectorate of land where he live.”

Smiling, Rod said, “I think I understand where you’re coming from Tabasco; however it sounds like another jaunt to Alaska.”  With the receiver to his ear, Rod hailed, “Greetings Colonel, what do we have?”

“I’ve been trying to reach you.  We have a section of woodland they’ve just finished select cutting to fill a contract.  The trees are down and they want the area cleared immediately.  Two of my 214Bs have blown turbines and I need them transported to Winnipeg in exchange for two reconditioned turbines as soon as possible.  Can you take care of this for me?”

“We’ll leave here before daybreak and arrive at Klawock in the afternoon.  Have those all secured to pallets for easy loading into the cargo hold, and then we’ll continue on to Winnipeg.  What’s the weather at Klawock?”

“Some reported rain showers at Klawock, and you should have good weather en route. There are a couple of low-pressure areas moving toward the sound, and by leaving before daybreak you’ll be well up the passage before the centers move in.  Right now, a tailwind awaits you over a good stretch of your course.”                   

After thanking Chet for the charter Rod hung up.  Inquisitive family members waited to hear about the call.  Rod summarized what had transpired and explained they would be back in three or four days.  The twins voluntarily agreed to remove all the seats from the cabin except the customary two.  Rod thanked them and asked they also secure the life raft aboard Bessie. 

Jake intervened by asking Rod if he felt it was really necessary to take on this added burden for them.  Pointing out their financial status had improved, and the prospects for further improvements were just a matter of time.  “Why push your luck into something that might not be necessary?” 

Rod explained he had thought about that, but Colonel Asay had pulled him and his partners out of a tough situation when they needed it most, and felt this was kinda’ like a thank you junket.

Looking somewhat concerned, Jake expressed, “We’ll be looking forward to your return.”  

With the business end taken care of, Rod asked Lucille if she’d care for a stroll through the pines.  Quickly agreeing, they stepped into the crisp night air to feel the presence of the moon that shone with splendor upon the valley.  Strolling through dense pine, owls were heard hooting their haunted greetings.  When pausing to gaze at moonbeams glittering on swaying boughs, Lucille put her arms around Rod and asked if she should be here when he returned?

“That would be unthinkable.  Having you with me I now have a sense of fulfillment I thought I’d never ever experience, and I will savor this the rest of my life, how could I ever want you to leave.”  

Seemingly more contended Lucille softly spoke, “For what you’ve just whispered, I’ve waited forever.”  In silent embrace they held each other in this moment of shared love now in their lives.  

With dawn approaching, the partners were seen monitoring the gauges, waiting for the all green go-ahead.  Receiving the wave off, Bessie was free to roll.  Fire streaking from her stacks reflected the night air.  Hurrying through the night Bessie lifted off in the dark shadows of the Deep Creek to climb into a sky that shone clear and brilliant with stars illuminating the skyline. 

The Silver-Grays having pride in their accomplishments, now possessed feelings of belonging.  Having changed their course in life, the skies brought the contentment they had endangered their lives for, holding the promise of wonderful things to come. 

Bessie slowly banked to fly the gap, and then flying low until clear of the military’s private domain, Rod then gave Bessie her head and she pulled for the stars, flaunting her defiance of gravity as if to say, “You point the way, the remainder leave to me.”

The instruments reflecting the lighted glow manifested an inward peace that all was well. Smooth air without the repugnant ripples of disturbed air gave impressions of weightlessness in a serene existence.  As the curtain of darkness prepared to close in readiness for a new dawning the Silver-Grays, mesmerized by this mornings pageant and not eager for this enchanting scene to end were startled when hearing a voice interrupt this reverie,  “I’m going to ask for Juanita’s hand.”       

Incensed that anyone would dare break into this panorama, George quickly demanded, “Rass! Was that you?”  Then turning the cockpit lights up, a starry-eyed Rass was seen with an overly affectionate smile.         

George pleaded, “You got it bad Rass, but couldn’t we wait for just a little while to talk about it, like maybe four-hundred years from now?”

“Oh! I don’t mean now.  I mean when I get my first paycheck working at Big Emma.  I think I love her, and she can cook and sing, and best of all I think she loves me.  I never had anyone that did that before—that means a lot, I like that.  Knowing that someone loves you makes you want to do things for them, and that’s how I feel about her.  That’s why I stay in the kitchen helping so much—I want to do that for her.  She likes telling me about the flowers, and shows me where to find the bright-Red Snow Plants, the Mountain Laurels and my favorite, the Indian paintbrush.”                                                                                                                                                          

“I wouldn’t bet on that paycheck,” George cautioned.  “But let’s don’t hurry it; we’ll talk about it another time.” 

Rass continued articulating, “Sometimes at night we go for a walk down the lake trail and sit by the water.  She likes me to tell her about the stars, but she has a hard time understanding when I explain we are revolving around the sun at 66,600 miles per hour, that in theory our Milky Way Galaxy itself is moving through space at some 1,300,000 miles per hour.”    

Shaking his head George yelled, “There you go again man.  I don’t know what you’re telling us, and I don’t know that you know what you’re talking about.  Just like all that gobbledygook the Salt flats being a onetime forest, how do you come up with such nonsense?” 

Looking somewhat mystified by his own assertions, Rass slowly answered, “I don’t know, and I just don’t think its gobbledygook stuff either.”  

Looking a bewildered soul who had been struck dumb, George sat shaking his head.  Then nodding to Rod, “Rass has it bad, I don’t know of Juanita’s feelings towards him, but I’ll yank her chain if she does anything to hurt him.” 

“I don’t think there’s anything for you to worry about,” Rod smiled.  “For as long as I have known Rass, he has felt he was born under an unlucky star.  Now that he feels they are beaming down just for him, let him have his day.  As for now I’d like for you to spell me at the controls, and then switch with Rass in a couple of hours.  If I don’t get out of this cockpit now, I’m inviting another home made headache.”

Upon relieving George of the controls, Rass now piloted from the left seat.  When approaching Bellingham, Rass suggested that Rod should be awakened and be advised they were forty miles out.  Entering the cockpit, Rod could see Rass undoing his safety belt.  “Sit tight there partner, it’s about time you displayed your mastery.  Proceed with the approach and place Bessie on the runway without my help.  I’ll occupy the jump seat and you pretend I’m not here.”

Sitting in the copilot seat, George glared at Rod with a look of rebellion in his eyes while protesting, “That’s easy for you to say, but I’m outta’ here.  They tell me the road to hell is paved with good intentions!  You can have my intentions if Rass is destined to plant her on by himself!”

Agreeing with George, Rass called, “You tell ’um George!”

With a mischievous grin, Rod threatened, “This sounds like mutiny in the troposphere!  I know what I’m doing.  Now hang in there before I charge the both of you with insubordination.  Maybe I should designate left-seat authority for you George, how would that be?” 

“That would be wanton suicide,” George bellowed. 

Rass appealed, “The captain should be in this seat.”  

“Rass!  You’re usurping my authority to delegate.  For now you’re the acting captain.” 

“Then I’m dedicatin’ my stuff to George.”  Rass avowed.

“In a pig’s eye you are, I ain’t the one with an airplane license,” George bellowed. 

 “What license I got is expired, just like I’m gonna be,” Rass moaned.

“You won’t win with that argument,” Rod laughed.  “We’re all illegal, even Bessie is illegal.  Now the both of you settle down and get back too flying this airplane.”     

After calling in their location, George grumbled, “If them inspectors down there knew a bunch of mavericks were up here, they’d either run for their lives, or have us lined up for the guillotine before sunset!”

Turning final with clearance to land, a few beads of perspiration could be seen on Rass’s brow while George sweated profusely.  Rass again asked if the gear was down and locked.

George, quick to respond snorted, “You’re going to wear that question out, that’s the third time you’ve asked that same thing, and for the third time the gear is still down and locked.”

Easing the yoke back, Rass let Bessie slowly sink to the runway.  When the rubber made contact with the asphalt, a long squeal from smoking rubber rotating up to speed was heard.  Rass unexpectedly cried out, “Oh mercy!”  Pulling hard on the yoke, at the same time fire-walling the throttles, Bessie was forced into an early lift-off.  George caught a glimpse of a racing pickup disappearing beneath the nose of Bessie. 

The unexpected surge, caused the jump-seat backrest to slip down—in amazement, the two partners caught a glimpse of two feet flying up between them as Rod achieved a trapeze back flip to land on his butt in the passageway.  Slowly regaining his feet, he snarled, “I guess we won’t try that again.”   

After clean up, Rass banked Bessie downwind for another approach.  Re cleared too land at their discretion, the tower went on to explain, “That renegade came out of nowhere so fast we didn’t have time to give warning.  The airport authority is closing in on him now.”

George wisecracked, “Everything happened so fast, Rod, and his flip flops, and you’d think we were the Keystone Cops.  Bessie looked like a loose goose in a sluice; she was flapping her wings so fast I thought the state of Washington would have to bury us on the installment plan.” 

Having more confidence, Rass hunkered Bessie a second time onto the asphalt like molasses spilling down a bib and tucker, then smoothly taxied to the fueling bay.  After shutting the engines down, the Silver-Grays made no attempt to deplane, shaking their heads at what had transpired.  Rass, now proud of his new authority called, “You riffraff remove your duffs from this airplane, we got work to do!”  

Still in shock, George puzzling over this unexpected performance of Rass asked Rod in a low voice, “Who is this guy anyway?”  

Rod’s attention was on Rass, “Now Rass, I wouldn’t have pressured you into taking command if I hadn’t had my full confidence in you.  You even handled the unexpected with expertise.  In other words you did good, as I knew you would.  Rod then suggested he’d check the up-line weather while the two partners attended to the servicing of Bessie. 

With fuel tanks topped off and the walk-around complete, Bessie was made ready.  When Rod returned he outlined what they could expect in the latest en route weather.  “The briefing counseled there are two low-pressure areas in the North Pacific moving toward Queen Charlotte Sound.  At the present time the centers are currently located about 80 miles left of our intended route.  The lows are showing signs of increased intensity, and reports coming from ships at sea tell of expanding winds and high seas with heavy rain.  If we leave now we can take advantage of strong tail winds and skinny through before the brunt of intensifying lows move over our intended route of flight.” 

“And just for you Rass, Comox is reporting high overcast with the sun dimly visible, surface winds are southwest at twenty-five knots.”

Picking up their instrument clearance by radio, Bessie, again on the roll climbed to her assigned altitude of 12,000 feet.  The Silver-Grays relaxed in their seats for the anticipated scenic ride to Klawock.  

Rass, with a hint of accomplishment, said he was ready for a nap, and not to disturb him until well beyond Comox.

Making excellent time Bessie, cruising beneath overcast clouds was soon over Comox enjoying unlimited visibility.  When the initial greetings of light turbulence were felt from the approaching weather system, Rod sensed Bessie’s ground speed increase even more.  Leaving Comox behind, then Port Hardy, the outer fringes of the twin twirlers with their black rolling clouds pushing in from the North Pacific could be seen.  Seeing the sea below churning huge breaking waves, the spray whipping from the crest, Rod advised, “Flying through here as we are now, we’re eluding the main brunt of the weather pattern none too soon.”

Vancouver control was heard requesting an update on their present weather conditions.  When acknowledging, Rod advised, “Conditions the same as the last hourly sequence, except for continual light turbulence we’re encountering.  To the left of our course, dense black clouds rolling in from the west can be seen, and soon this location will be overrun with those same conditions.”  

Vancouver Control acknowledged, and then advised, “There are reports of two large merchant vessels having had quite a go of it when the centers passed over their area.  With the latest severe weather alert remaining in effect beyond the next eight hours, all shipping and air traffic are being alerted to the intensity of the approaching storm.”

As Rass staggered into the cockpit making noises protesting the turbulence that had jolted him from his slumber. 

George asked if he’d lost his teeth?

“Not this time, I kept them buttoned in my pocket.”  




“Douglas 276, Vancouver Control calling, do you read, over?”

Pressing the mike button Rod affirmed, “This is Douglas 276, we read you three by three, go ahead with your message.”

“A distress call from a sailboat caught in the storm has been relayed to us.  The communication says they can only remain afloat but a short time and the wind carried away their only life raft.  The nearest ship that can provide assistance is several hours away, are you in a position to render aid?”

“What’s their location?”  Rod asked.            

“The relay noted the reception was fading when receiving the sailboat’s last mayday.  The copied coordinates you’ll receive was the last communication.” 

After reading back the coordinates, Rod requested radar vectors to their last reported position?”

“Negative on the vectors, our radar coverage doesn’t extend that area.”

Asking Vancouver to stand by, then turning to the Silver-Grays Rod flatly stated, “Well partners you heard the man, I want you to know from reported weather reports, Bessie may not be up to it.  What’s it going to be?”  

“Come on, Rod!”  George snapped.  “You know we’re going, let’s get on with it.”  

Expressing his thoughts Rass agreed, “Bessie has never turned down a mercy trip yet.  We’re partners don’t you know, so you’re not leaving me here.”  

When finished punching the sail boats last known coordinates into the Loran, Rod called Vancouver, “This is Douglas 276.  Our present position is 30 miles northwest of Port Hardy.  Our planned course to the sailboats last reported position will be 262 degrees; a distance of 108 miles to cover.  Our estimated time en route is thirty-six minutes.”  When acknowledging, Vancouver requested they be kept informed. 

Banking Bessie onto her new course, Rod asked the partners to snug their safety belts for the expected heavy turbulence.  Seeing the ominous wall of rolling black clouds extending from the turbulent water below to high overhead, Rod advised Bessie would remain at 12,000 feet until it was necessary to descend.  Still showing concern, he cautioned, “Its imperative we find enough clearance between the water and the base of the clouds for a visual search.” 

Bessie plunged into the ominous wall of clouds accompanied by a barrier of turbulence.  Heavy rain lashed at her, dripping into the cockpit through leaky seals in the overhead escape hatch and wetting down the Silver-Grays.  Rod fought to keep some semblance of control as Bessie careened in the violent up and down currents of air.  The curtain of boiling clouds continually elevated her up, and then released her to make an involuntary descent—then to do it again.  With the temperature beginning to drop, rain turned into hail with its flailing rivet like chatter.               

Demon ice sculptured crystallized moisture onto the antennas and windscreen.  Anything protruding from Bessie was fair game for this death-dealing onslaught.  Sensing a slight tremor in the yoke, Rod recognized Bessie’s early warning that her number one was in the initial stage of suffering a chill.  As the tremor continued throughout the aircraft, George leaned over to Rod and softly spoke, “I feel it also, the ignition harness on number one is sucking up water like a parched sponge.  I’m almost glad the rain has turned into hail.  If we continue taking on more moisture this whole rescue attempt could turn into a washout, especially if we have thrown our only raft into the elements.” 

Aware at this altitude the deeper the twin twirlers were penetrated—the colder the temperature and more the turbulence would increase.  Bessie now approaching her structural limitations was cause for grave concern.  Ignoring the old maxim (altitude—the pilots lifeline), caution was thrown to the wind.  Throttles pulled back, Bessie eased into a descending attitude.  Then striving to lessen the strain, the turbulence was continually parried in an effort to cushion the jarring forces Bessie was forced to endure.  With a ray of optimism, Rods instincts noted the jolting ride had swapped for a more cushioned rolling motion, and warmer temperatures now encouraged ice to abandon its ceaseless onslaught.  But the return of rain pouring in sheets was again cause for concern.

Visibility restricted in heavy rain, the altimeter continued its downward spiral.  When indicating 1000 feet above the sea, another attempted call to Vancouver was met with silence.  Asking the Silver-Grays to persist in their scan for water, Rod again cautioned, “If visual contact is not established, this mission will have been flown in vain.”

His voice a whisper, George mouthed, “That water is only a stone throw away, and I can even smell it.  

Striving to safeguard against many pending uncertainties, one in particular required immediate attention.  Rod gave warning to his partners, “Flying into this low pressure area the altimeter is going to indicate we are higher than our actual altitude above the water.  I don’t know how near to the wind blown waves we are, and without a current setting the altimeter can’t be trusted, so here goes nothing.” 

Looking even more apprehensive, George asked, “So I understand what you’re telling us, Bessie is actually flying a lower altitude than what the altimeter is showing?  Is that what you’re telling us?”

“Like it or not George, that’s what I’m telling you.  Keep your eyes peeled for water.” 

George moaned, “We’re caught between the devil and the dark blue sea.”

“Maybe for now,” Rod agreed.  “But Bessie will not play the devil’s advocate.”

Perspiring profusely, the Silver-Grays continued scanning with anxiety pervading their minds.  The water continued to beckon, waiting to encompass them.  Suddenly pointing, an excited Rass shouted, “Oh mercy sakes alive I think I see it.  Yes!  Yes!  I see it!” 

Seeing the breaking waves engulfed in gray mist, in unison the Silver-Grays cried, “Pull up!”  As Bessie’s nose lifted, her underneath sides were heard protesting the wind blown spray.  Rod requested for Rass to reset the altimeter at twenty feet above sea level, and Bessie’s will once more be current.                                                                                                                                                                 

In disbelief George stammered, “It’s incredible, when the crest of the waves break, graybeards with their menacing appearance can be seen to cascade down the steep slopes of racing waves.  How anyone in a small boat in those conditions can be alive is insane.” 

The necessary added power in maintaining level flight increased the engine vibration even more, causing even more concern among the partners.  Rod, fully aware he had flown Bessie into an area of entrapment, snared between sea and clouds.  Unable to descend, and unable to climb, Bessie continued striving to withstand the heavy rain. 

Suddenly recognizing there was an engine problem, Rass demanded with a cry of desperation, “Mercy!  Not here!  Not out here!  Those waves look like a green eyed monster, can you keep it runnin’ Rod?”

Attending to Bessie’s many needs, Rod ignored Rass’s plea and explained, “At this low altitude the Loran is receiving intermittent signals.  If it will hold four more miles we’ll then be over their last reported position.  At that point we’ll begin making a sweeping search, drifting downwind as a floundering vessel would do. The scud shows signs of thinning and we have about a quarter-mile visibility, so a favorable search is becoming a possibility.  If and when we do locate them, one of you will force the cargo door while the other kicks the raft out on my signal.  Make sure the lanyard is free, we want no inflation up here.” 

George, sitting on the edge of his seat keeping a firm grip on his two partners seatbacks again cautioned, “Bessie can’t handle any additional moisture in that ignition harness!”  

As though he didn’t hear, Rod calmly issued further guidance.  “When we locate them we’ll understand more of their situation.  When I give the signal to kick it out, the decision is yours, shove it out or don’t shove it out.” 

“Mud in your eye!  I’m not making that decision.”  George growled. 

“I’m with George,” Rass stammered.

“If no one will make the call, when I give the signal, heave it out.” 

With growing intensity, the engine vibration had increased even more.  Rod shouted, “Ground zero!”  From over the sailboats last reported position Bessie was maneuvered into a sweeping search—drifting with the movement of the waves. 

Aware the engine mount was at max stress limit, and when they could have used it most, Rod punched the feather button for the ailing engine, freeing the angled blades to streamline into the wind. 

“You had to do it, Rod!”  George desperately called out.  “Laying that engine to rest was the right call to suppress the vibration.” 

 Rass paused playing the harmonica long enough to ask if the search would be abandoned? 

“We can’t relinquish the search now,” Rod explained.  “They most likely can hear us.  Keep your eyes open, not just for the boat, in all likelihood it’s on the bottom and they’ve taken to their life vests.”  Sweeping back and forth, the wind continued pushing Bessie with the movement of the waves. 

Seeing the Loran red-flagged, Rod was even more persistent, “They must be in the water!   If the vessel isn’t down, they would have fired distress signals.”  Not hearing the sound of the harmonica, Rod glanced over long enough to see Rass shielding his shaking hands under folded arms.  In an attempt to ease his fears, Rod urged that he pretend Bessie was a single-engine plane, just like those he had once flown.

“Yeah!  Well those single engines I once flew were not fifty years old, and I was not flying over the North Pacific in weather that even ducks panic.” 

George growled, “Over a half century ago, Bessie was surely over the beaches of Normandy.  She took care of business then and she’ll take care of business now.  She’s giving us every gut busting stitch of power that Pratt can muster.  So knock off the frivolous chatter before you get her upset.”

 Pointing, Rass suddenly shouted, “I see them, up ahead too our left!”     

“I have them in sight,” Rod called. Quickly Bessie was maneuvered for a more appropriate view.  “I see four adults and two children all waving frantically.”  Dipping a wing in acknowledgment, Rod seized the moment as though reverting back to wartime strategy.  “Assume stations—unship the raft, standby for dispatch overboard.  Flying in continual rain while maneuvering for a more favorable approach from the windward side, Bessie disappeared into the haze.  To those in the water, her appearance was that of a ghostly apparition vanishing into the mist. 

With inexpressible joy, those in the small circle again waved and yelled upon seeing Bessie emerge from the mist.  Constantly scanning the instrument panel Rod saw the RPM winding down on the remaining engine.  Slamming the mixture too emergency rich while actuating the boost pump switch, the engine rebounded with life-giving throbs. 

Steeling himself, Rod maneuvered Bessie to the aiming point knowing a miss to one side or the other under weathered conditions would allow the wind blown raft to wash by with no possibility of being retrieved.  Back in the cabin the two Silver-Grays kept watch through the open door into the cockpit.  To give warning Rod raised his arm high for his partners to see, then making small corrections for windage, Bessie closed on the release point.  The arm was lowered.

Continually flying in scud, Bessie banked to make a fly by.  The survivors were seen helping each other boarding the inflated raft.  “Those poor distressed souls—so close, yet so far.”   Rass murmured.  

Gratefully, all the occupants crawled under the protective canopy to escape the punishing wind.  Leaning out the flap opening, one survivor gave thumbs up to the winged angel now disappearing into the haze. 

Seeing the Loran still asleep, Rod maneuvered Bessie to a heading that hopefully would take them in the direction of the Queen Charlotte Islands, the nearest land.  George was asked to tune the automatic direction finder to the Cape Saint James marker, a radio beacon stationed at the southern tip of the island.  

In knowing he should update his two partners of what he planned, Rod explained, “Our number one priority is to strive for landfall, and if we do make landfall, we’ll need to find a clearing with enough space to put Bessie down safely.  If not, then to ditch her next to an island with the remote possibility of salvaging her later.”

Becoming upset, George clamored, “You got water on your brain?  We gotta’ save Bessie, she wasn’t made to land in that ocean, and where you gonna find an island.  As for those options, take one more off the list.  The heavy precipitation is blocking the ADF from homing on the Cape Marker.  If we make it through this, I’ll stuff those ignition harnesses so full of silicone they’ll remind you of the fat lady about to bust her britches.”

Maintaining their heading, Rod estimated their present position to be forty miles from the Cape.  Bessie skimmed over the crested waves, withstanding the heavy rain that showed few signs of letting up.  In a cockpit becoming more restrained with each passing moment, from habit Rass again reached for his harmonica, pressed it to his lips and mouthed the only tune he knew.  Recognizing this calming melody even through the tempest, his partners welcomed this unexpected respite as the sweetest of music. 

 After having asked for the Queen Charlotte sectional chart that he might check the coordinates, Rod unexpectedly called back.  “Disregard, the Loran is still asleep.  We’re stuck with dead-reckoning in hopes of locating that Cape.”

George asked Rod what he had in mind by the term dead reckoning?

Rod, gestured with both hands, “When you’re over water, it means a lot of guess work, it means a lot of hoping, and it means a lot of praying.  Does that answer your question George?” 

“Yeah, I guess it does, but I wish it didn’t.”

Grasping for alternatives to give out their position, in desperation Rod again reset the transponder to the emergency code, then keying the mike he called out their position in the blind.  Having done this his concentrated efforts were to prolong the inevitable. 

Coaxing Bessie to remain airborne with her remaining sick engine now a distressing reality, and for the abuse Bessie was forced to endure George shouted, “Bless her heart, she’s on the verge of spewing her guts out trying to reach that safe haven.” 

The RPM gauge now indicating a gradual decay of revolutions, the partners aware they were in a losing situation wouldn’t come to terms.  With anxiety building, a care-worn Rass demanded, “Where’s your Guardian Angel now we need her?”  Caressing the silver bullet, Rod calmly replied, “She’s up there among the clouds.  You can’t see her, but she’s observing.” 

George said, “Speaking of the silver bullet, here’s my peace offering.”  His startled partners listened as he explained,  “On our last trip up here, Mr. Serelle sit me down and give me a quick lesson on Alaskan weather and I learned a lot.  He explained that the Aleutian Islands are recognized as the cradle of storms, and he gave me a black pearl too hang from my neck.  He told me when your feet are about to get wet, you offer a black pearl to Poseidon, the Greek God by casting it into the sea.  In exchange for the black pearl he’ll maintain vigil over you while you’re in his domain.”  Opening the sliding window, the black pearl was seen to disappear into the howling fury.  “How come he only got one for you, Rod and I could use one?” Rass questioned.

“I told him Rod has the silver bullet.”

More frustrated, Rass yelled, “That leaves me up the creek big time!”

“I wish it was a creek,” George snickered.  “Matter of fact ol’ buddy, Mr. Serelle was thinking of you.  He said that beings you were a dry land sailor who never learned to paddle, that this razor sharp shark tooth fastened to a silver chain is especially for you.  If you end up in the water—he said to tell you now and then just jab your self in the butt with it and your whiskers will remain dry.”  

Looking at George with a spiteful scowl, a crestfallen Rass mumbled, “What we’re a needing now is a sky hook.”  

Drawing on years of experience, Rod continued to urge and coax Bessie on.  Flying on the edge of a stall, any decrease in airspeed and Bessie gave a pre stall warning by shaking her wings.  Because of high wave action, attempting to fly in water affect was a washout. 

George, with a twinkle in his eye embarked on singing a remembered sailor chantey, “Oh, bury me not in the deep deep sea, where the dark blue waves will roll over me.” 

Rod smiled while listening to George sing, no one understood better the fateful hand dealt Bessie.  Always the fix up man, George now was attempting to lighten our mood and shore up Rass’s confidence.  For two friends tied by a steadfast bond, they have strange ways of showing it.                                                                 

The throttle to the stop coaxed every fraction of power from Bessie.  Rod notified the partners that if his estimate to the big island was in the ballpark they should be nearing their objective in three or four minutes.  The engine vibration now at the crisis point, the whole airplane shuddered.  Seeing the engine twisting in its mount, ready to wrench itself free from the wing, Rod ordered the two partners they take up positions in the cabin with backs against the forward bulkhead for a water ditching.  Both adamantly refused, insisting they’d take their chances together.                      

No time for argument—forward visibility still resembling a window with the blinds down, Rod questioned, if after all this Bessie might perish in the sea, or even smash into the Cape.  Wielding a final shudder, the right engine rapidly lost power until the windmilling’ prop now drove the engine.  With fate resting in his hands, the feather button was quickly punched.  Easing back on the yoke Rod cautioned, “Brace yourselves!”  Her nose held high, Bessie’s appearance was that of a proud bird poised to touch down on the water.  Apart from the sound of decaying wind rushing over her fuselage, the throes of a deathly silence transposed throughout their beloved aircraft.  Head held high, Bessie mushed’ onto the surging swells.   

The following morning Jake asked for the family to meet with him in the conference room.  Waiting, they sensed an omen of uncertainty when seeing Lucille and Juanita were not present.  “I have already informed Juanita and Lucille of what I now must make known to you.  Lucille has asked she be excused and Irene is with her in her room, and Juanita is being attended by María.”  

His voice portraying emotion, Jake softly spoke,  “A short time ago I received a call from Col. Asay in Mission Bells informing me that Bessie is down, possibly in Queen Charlotte Sound or the big island itself.  No one knows for sure.  The last word received is when they reported leaving 12,000 feet to fly to the scene of a vessel that had sent out distress calls.  Because of darkness and severe weather, a search was not launched until early this morning.

“With Rod’s experience, my personal feelings are that Bessie will be found and the Silver-Grays safe.  Col. Asay advises we’ll be informed as events begin to unfold and further developments come in.”

Early in the afternoon wire services in the U.S. picked up on the reports from Canadian news dispatches, and were now sending news updates over their own networks.  Eyes glued to the news channels, the family listened as they were told how three airmen at the risk of their own lives, plunged into torrential weather conditions in an ancient Dakota aircraft to aid those victims in distress.      

A later story clarified the Dakota as none other than the legendary DC-3, manufactured in the United States over a half-century ago by Douglas Aircraft.  To those crewmen from all over the world associated with this wonderful lady, in a time honored fashion she was acclaimed, “The Grand Ol’ Lady,” and another chapter of her worldly accomplishments is now being written.  

Later reports showed an interview with Col. Asay, who refused to reveal names of the crewmembers other than to explain they were all equal partners along with an aircraft named Bessie.    

Incoming reports now referring to the DC-3 as Bessie questioned, “Where is Bessie and her crew members?  Have Bessie and crew given their lives in the service of others?  Was contact made with the sailboat.” 

Programming was interrupted by a special newscast, “A short time ago survivors were picked up by helicopters from a life raft in Queen Charlotte Sound.  They are presently en route to the Sandspit Airport on Queen Charlotte Island.”  

When the helicopters had set-down at the Sandspit Aerodrome, a gathering of news reporters shoved and pushed for interviews.  Canadian authorities were attempting to shield the survivors from the onslaught of the news media when one of the rescued was heard shouting at the reporters too back off, there’s something needed to be said. 

Network TV sources in the U.S. picked up on the action, and all of Big Emma’s family crowded around the TV.  The survivor expressed, “My name is Ralph Creed and I want to say to the families of these courageous pilots that what I witnessed yesterday was an act of courage, and maybe the word unfathomable would be a more appropriate expression.  We had abandoned our vessel as it sank about 10 minutes prior to their arrival, and in that water we would not have survived another 10 minutes.  

“When hearing an unusual rumbling sound approaching, we watched in awe as an airplane broke out of the gray mist skimming the crest of waves.  I recognized it to be a Dakota, but my family recognized it to be an angel with big silver wings.  My youngest granddaughter even thought it resembled a big silver cross in the sky.  I can’t begin to explain the euphoria we experienced when she dipped her wings in recognition. 

“I’ll never understand how those chaps were able to keep that airplane between the breaking waves and low clouds while flying in heavy rain and poor visibility.  When they flew over I could see the left propeller was not rotating, and with only one engine operating it didn’t look good for them.  As they disappeared into the dense mist, we prayed they would come back and be able to once more locate us.  Yes, it was like the heavens were about to open when we heard that aircraft drawing near from out of the haze.  Just knowing someone was there with us trying to help us raised our hopes and lifted our spirits, and then we saw it, a life raft splashed the water upwind from us.  It drifted right into our little circle.

“When I pulled the lanyard it inflated immediately.  What a blessed relief to scramble aboard and be protected from the wind and spray.  When they turned to fly away, I don’t know if they saw me but I gave thumbs up in wanting them to know we were okay and we would pray for them.  Then as they disappeared into the heavy rain I could hear the remaining engine acting up.  They were in trouble and I knew it, and they had a long way to go regardless of which direction they flew, and I hesitate in saying this—for them to overcome the raft of troubles out there in the sound this day would be a miracle.  Those chaps deserve every break in the book.”  

Back at the lodge, Big Emma’s family was growing more despondent with each news report.  In attempting to give comfort, Jake was explicit, “Rod is a veteran pilot and has brought his ship back to base in other situations as bad, are worse than this.  They are up there worrying because they know we are down here worrying.” 

With the curtain of darkness slowly opening on a sea that now rested, the evening luminescence in Queen Charlotte Sound paraded its brilliance in response to the glittering stars above.  The search suspended for the night, with the exception of ground parties searching the southern tip of the big island.

Early dawn had Robert Townsend flying his single engine de Havilland Beaver equipped with floats and retractable gear.  Flying steadfast toward the southeast extremity of Queen Charlotte Island to continue his search where it had terminated the last evening.  Diligently scanning each inlet and bay in a methodical process, Townsend worked his way toward the tip of the big island.  

Glancing out toward distant Comber Bar, he thought it highly unusual to see an object resting there on the bar.  The Beaver was whipped around to fly seaward over foaming surf for a close scrutiny.  When approaching the bar, the object was made out to be a very large aircraft.  

Puzzled as how such a large plane had put down on so small a bar, he recognized it to be a Dakota.  The landing gear was not down as she rested on two protruding tires extending a short distance below the nacelles.  Other than bent props, she appeared to be in good condition.  Was this the aircraft he was searching for?  Seeing no movement, a low pass was made to read the numbers on the tail, then comparing them with his field notes, the bush pilot verified this indeed was the missing Dakota.  

Townsend was reporting his find to Sandpit radio when he paused, “Stand by, I now see two individuals exiting the aircraft and they are waving.  I’ll set the Beaver down on the lee side of the bar to effect a rescue, and when I have a better understanding of their circumstance I’ll get back.”                                                                       

Townsend showed what bush pilots were made of when he touched down on tidal currents swirling on the lee fringe of the bar.  Slowly making way, the tips of the floats were nudged onto the bar itself before shutting down the Wasp Junior.  Rod was there to greet the pilot as he stepped down from the floats.  “I hope it’s not too often you have to rescue the rescuer.”

 Townsend laughed, “From information I have, there are three of you and I only see two.”

Rod explained, “George, my partner has returned to the aircraft to assist our other partner Rass, who got a pretty good bump on the summit when he clobbered the windscreen.  From the time of impact he’s been talking like he got off the train early.  We suspect a slight concussion caused from the water impact.” 

“You don’t look so good yourself, how are you feeling?”  Townsend asked.  

“Other than a couple of black-eyes and bruised snouts we came out of it fine.”                   

 “Do you ever wear your shoulder harness?” 

 “When Bessie came into existence, a shoulder harness was unheard of, and when she is airworthy again, you can bet the first thing we’ll do is have them installed.  How high do the tides run?”    

“Later this fall high tides start rolling in and Comber Bar will be under water.  For now the Dakota is safe on high ground.  To satisfy my curiosity, what procedure was used to coax Bessie onto that small bar?”

“It was blind luck.  We had no forward visibility and when our remaining engine shut down; Bessie nestled onto the waves and surfed to a halt where she now rests.  It’s probably a good thing it turned out the way it did.  I might have flown her into the trees on the big island.  She knew what she was doing.”

Before leaving, the Silver-Grays promised Bessie they would somehow liberate her from Comber Bar.  Leading Rass by the hand and taking a last look, the three partners climbed into the Beaver.  After casting off from the beach and with the Wasp Junior purring like a baby tiger, Townsend announced, “Our destination will be the Sandspit Aerodrome.  I don’t know if you chaps are aware of it, but as of now you’re celebrities here in Canada.  There’s an array of blimey reporters waiting to eat you alive.”    

Crestfallen when hearing this, “It’ll probably be more like an interrogation,” commented Rod.  Then smiling he asked, “Would you request an ambulance for Rass?  George and I can then slip aboard to accompany him to the medical center.  I’d like to avoid the press where ever possible.” 

When taxiing the Beaver to the fixed-base operation, the waiting ambulance was seen encircled by an unruly crowd of reporters.  After shut down, a stretcher was quickly brought to the Beaver.  When knowing the stretcher was for him, Rass called in a gracious tone of voice, “Gentlemen! Gentlemen!  I do appreciate your concern, but if you wouldn’t mind, I’d rather walk. I’ve always been in a position too care for myself.  Now if you wouldn’t mind.”  

Again, puzzled as to the sudden change in Rass’s demeanor, and of his eloquent speaking that was out of character for Rass, Rod pleaded, “Now hold up there Rass, I know you can walk.  George knows you can walk.  They don’t know you can walk.  This is the only way we can avoid this crowd.” 

“Now if you wouldn’t mind, I’d as soon you address me as Mr. Rasmussen.  My colleagues address me as such and why should I expect anything less from you?”

Now upset from the clamor of questions from reporters, Rod grabbed Mr. Rasmussen and strong-armed him onto the stretcher.  With his head lopped out one end and his feet out the other, they elbowed him into the waiting ambulance.

Finished with the initial examination, the doctor stepped into the waiting room with an expression of consternation.  While wiping his brow he inquired of Mr. Rasmussen’s professional standing.  

Rod said, “Rass has worked all his life in janitorial services as for as I know.” 

“Mr. Rasmussen’s speech is grave and professorial.”  The doctor informed them.  “He lectured us on something about quantum being an elemental unit of energy, and that the quantum theory states that energy is radiated discontinuously in quanta.  He has a harmonica and is in there now playing a medley of classical arrangements for the nurses.”

“Maybe that bump on the noggin was for the good,” George suggested.  

The doctor confirmed Mr. Rasmussen had sustained a mild concussion, and suggested, “In as much as his present intellect and lucidity does not conform to what we understand of his past history, I suggest we keep him here under observation.  I’m sure he’ll be all right in a day or two, and recover his normal functions.” 

“That’s too bad,” George uttered.

Rod and George were treated and then released, George commented, “If they wait for him to quit talking funny, he’ll be here a long time.”

“George! What the doctor ascribed is that Rass is clear and precise in his speech.  As it stands now we don’t understand everything we know about Rass, and it’s rather disheartening he can’t retain some of the astuteness he mysteriously manifests ever so often.  But I’ve got to say he had me in left field when he demanded I address him as Mr. Rasmussen, and in thinking about it, it is somewhat baffling.  He has told me he always worked as a janitor, now I wonder.  This situation has me concerned.”

George in agreeing with Rod expressed his thoughts, “It was baffling like when he explained about the Salt Flats at one time being a forest.  I can’t even comprehend any of his cockeyed declarations, but I sure do admire him for being able to articulate such things.  Then he’ll turn dumb, like the time he was upset because you wouldn’t insert earplugs to prevent you hearing the ringing in your ears.  If I’d known where to send it, his family would have gotten a sympathy card from me.” 

“As long as I’ve known Rass, he has never mentioned anything about a family,” Rod said. 

Finding a place to stay and all settled in, Rod quickly placed a call to Big Emma.  Jake answered and Rod asked that he save a place at the table, as they’d soon be coming home. 

Almost yelling, “I knew that would be you!  The family is overjoyed knowing that ordeal is over.  We watched on television when you stepped from the rescue plane into the ambulance.  Juanita is here and wants to know the condition of Rass; I’ll let you talk with her.” 

“Si Señor, this is Juanita.  How that Amigo of mine doing?  He didn’t look so good on bed with wheels.  I no like him traipsing around the world being a hero, he forget about Juanita.”

“Rass would never forget you.  He got his bell rung, but give him a couple of days and he’ll be his old self and we’ll be on our way home.”

Scratching her head as to what Rass was doing with a bell, she handed the phone over to Lucille.

“Oh Rod!  I panicked when I thought something might have happened to you.  I’m so excited, will you be coming home right a way?”

“Yes, as soon as we take care of some business pertaining to Bessie and Rass is through giving his lectures and concerts.”                        

When finished talking on the phone, the partners heard a light tapping.  George opened the door to be greeted by an esquire looking gentleman wearing a stiff collar and mopped down hair being parted in the middle.  Wearing large rimed eyeglasses he introduced himself as a courier for the elected.  Holding a document out at arm’s length, in a singsong voice he announced, “The House of Commons has released a communique that an important acclaim is to bestowed upon you my lads.  You are hereby requested to make yourselves available this Saturday for your conveyance to the Sandspit Aerodrome.  I have been entrusted to squire you to the landing field myself at 1:30 o’clock on the afternoon for this bestowal.”

Walking to the door, Rod was implicit, “If there’s anything I don’t need, is another bestowal.  What I need are solutions on how to get Bessie up and running.  She’s the deserving one.”

Somewhat flustered, the courier responded, “I beg your indulgence.  They failed to convey information this Bessie being a member of your crew.  I’ll bring this before the ministers and inform them of your omitted crew member.”

Remaining inside to avoid reporters, and annoyed in having to stay an extra day to receive some sort of honor as Rass would be released early Saturday morning, they had  planned on leaving then.  

Rod was even more puzzled when informed that Bedrock had put the word out on Bessie’s predicament, and it seems the whole world is aware of Bessie’s distressing dilemma.  It was even more mystifying when Mr. Serelle explained, “For your information there are some startling developments, and you’ll probably have the particulars before I do.”

Early Saturday morning both Rod and George arrived at the medical center to check Rass out of the facility.  After requesting they meet privately with him in his office, Doctor Worcestershire explained, “Now I am going to release Mr. Rasmussen into your care.  Upon his arrival here he demanded we refer to him as Mr. Rasmussen, and he refused to identify with the name Rass as you had indicated to me he was known.  Then after a time his mannerism slowly changed, and now he has acknowledged his name to be Rass once more.  From his behavior, and what he has manifested here, I suggest his unsettling behavior could be flashbacks to an earlier time period in his life.  We have no medical history on him so we don’t know if he has ever experienced any amnesia symptoms, and this bothers me and it should you also.  I would like to know more of his past history but you’ve implied you have known him for some time, and the name Rass seems more appropriate as to what formal educational skills he exhibits.  

“But I must say that before his mannerism had changed back, and to what it is at the present time,  Mr. Rasmussen besides being the perfect gentlemen he is, presented our staff with a stellar discourse on historical events concerning the early inhabitants in this province.  In conclusion he held our staff entranced as a talented entertainer on that harmonica, and our staff would love to have him return at anytime.  

“As for his personal appearance, after the trimming of his mustache and beard by the nurses, and having his hair somewhat trimmed, he has a likeness too that ol’ river boat admirer Mark Twain.  From what I’ve seen and learned from his stay here, it is my personal opinion that in former days, he would have been an engaging individual to be around, and as for him always being a janitor,” the doctor shook his head back and forth.  “I don’t agree with that at all.  Seeing Mr. Rasmussen before the change, his actions and his appearance as it is now he is much too distinguished that.”  

When returning to their accommodations George asked, “Is that really you Rass?” 

“Yes ’um.”

“And did you enjoy your stay at the medical center?”

Rasp nodded his head with a big smile, “The special snacks the midnight nurse always shared with me sure beat the box lunches we always have, and the nurses are nicer to me, especially the midnight nurse.  I kinda’ would have liked staying another night or two.”

“Chicken livers,” George complained, “Every time something bad happens to you, it always turns out being something good for you.  Why can’t something bad like that happen to me instead of you?” 


At 1: 30 p.m. sharp, “Spit and Polish,” as referred too by George waited for the Silver-Grays to board their transportation.  Approaching the airport considerable activity was seen; several rows of parked vehicles and numerous aircraft were seen.  When climbing out of their means of transportation, Spit and Polish was adamant for them to accompany him.  Making their way too the rostrum through the milling throng of well wishers who were shouting, “Well done—bleeping good job, Yanks.” 

Nearing the platform, Rass unexpectedly drew back; with excitement in his voice he whispered to George, “I see a reincarnated Bessie!”

“Come on Rass, if you’d said that out loud they’d be requesting the funny wagon?” 

“I know what I’m seeing, there behind all that scaffolding!  That’s Bessie.”

In a doubtful undertone, Rod also expressed, “By George, it does look like Bessie.  How can that be.  More likely a stand-in they’re using for the presentation.”

Rass, ignoring the waiting dignitaries shouldered his way past the platform with Spit and Polish tugging at his shirttail.  When his two Silver-Grays caught up with him, Rass was seen hugging shiny propellers with tears streaming down his cheeks, “It is Bessie, its Bessie.”

Verifying that it was indeed Bessie, the Silver-Grays conversed in hushed tones, giving sympathetic pats about her bottom sides.  George was heard to whisper, “Even bad things that happen to Bessie turn into good things.”  Overwhelmed with unanswered questions, they complied with the pleadings of Spit an Polish to climb the series of steps leading to the speakers’ rostrum.   

The spokesman called for everyone’s attention.  “We are assembled here this day to honor three gallant airmen who hail from our friendly neighbor to the south.  Minister Patrick McCreedy, from our own British Columbia Province, and who presides as Minister of Veteran’s Affairs has been conscripted by the House of Commons to make this presentation.” 

After clearing his throat Minister McCreedy began speaking.  “As all of you are aware, Parliament is now in assembly.  When the House of Commons became mindful that three honorable airmen were attempting the rescue of six of our Citizens without regard for their own safety, we suspended that day’s parley.  Like many of you, we followed the story from televised newscasts.  A motion was made that we honor these three stalwart airmen with the Medal of Merit.  Needless to say, this is one of few times all parties signed on unanimously.

“We honor you Airman John Rasmussen, Airman George Hogans and Airman Rod Colson, and on behalf of the citizens of Canada, I present each of you the Medal of Merit signifying distinguished service above and beyond the call of responsibility; for exhibiting extraordinary bravery, and for the capable manner in which you skillfully handled your craft under extreme adverse conditions. 

“Now waiting in the background, we honor the acclaimed Bessie, affectionately known as “The Grand Ol’ Lady.”  She was heedful of her trustworthiness and proceeded foremost to carry forward this trust, never asking for quarter.  To Bessie, we bequeath the Blue Commendation Ribbon for going the extra mile.  There are six citizens of Canada willing to attest too their well being for her prolonged effort.”  

Deciding this had gone on long enough George inquired of the Minister, “Whose elbow grease was it that salvaged Bessie?”       

Looking somewhat perplexed, Minister McCreedy pointed, “Why ah, that chap over there, he’ll give proper response to your inquiry.”

When the Silver-Grays made they’re way over to him, they were greeted with a big smile by Mr. Creed.  “I trust that everything rendered Bessie meets with your approval.”

In amazement, Rod stammered, “It’s astounding as to how you managed this.”

“I hold the reins for Pacific Northwest Salvaging Ltd.  We’re presently working a job in Grizzly Bay, not far from Comber Bar.  It was only a matter of towing our crane barge to the site and directing Bessie’s undercarriage to move into the channel guides, and then winching her aboard to be barged here for the presentation.

“I had a couple of Dakota mechanics flown in from Winnipeg.  They brought with them two reconditioned propellers and two new batteries.  With local aircraft mechanics volunteering their time for a good cause, the gear was pumped down to get at the battery case in the belly of Bessie, no wonder you weren’t getting out on your radio, it was a bloody mess.  In working the ignition harness over on both engines they drained a lot of water, did some cowling repairs around the oil coolers—inspected the engine mounts, then ran her up.  Those Pratt & Whitney’s purr like the wings of an angel, and I hope what’s been accomplished is satisfactory with you.  

“She’s filled with petrol and ready for service.  Now, this check I’m sure will cover your expenses and loss of revenue fees, and I want you to understand this remuneration is only a token of the heartfelt appreciation my family and I have for you.  We have some understanding as to what you were undergoing when seeing you circle overhead in that big silver bird known as Bessie.”

 Shaking his head in amazement Rod exclaimed, “Just knowing Bessie is back on dry land is thanks enough for us.  Those breaking waves must have given you the ride of a lifetime.”

“It was uncomfortable for sure, but we have taken on similar weather with no problem.  A microburst threw a curve and knocked our vessel on her beam-ends, and when I released the sheets she righted herself, but the mast had broken off.  The rigging kept the mast from floating free and that bloody beast thought it was a battering ram.  Before I could cut it free, it had staved a hole in our port beam. I knew then Davy Jones was starting the count, but we fought back.  We stuffed a mattress into the rift trying to suppress the incoming water, and with all the bilge pumps working overtime, we kept her afloat until the hourglass went empty.  Then while inflating the raft, the wind seized it breaking its staying line.  We watched in horror, seeing it disappear into the mist.  That blimey deserter I know is up north keeping company with the tundra.  We were at the mercy of the bloody elements, not knowing if anyone heard our distress calls.  When Bessie emerged from the gray mist we knew then our prayers had been answered.”

When interrupting, George suggested, “Sounds like Bessie is ready.  What say we cut and run before any more twirlers take another swing through the Sound.”

Not before we thank all those who participated in the search for us, and especially Robert Townsend who found us and brought us here.  After the partners had shook hands and thanked all those involved in the rescue, Rod thanked Creed for all he had done in the salvaging of Bessie and in making her airworthy.  Rod then suggested as it was getting late they had better remain overnight, as it would be necessary to check with Col. Asay to see if he had anything for the return trip. 

Returning to their accommodations, Rod called the Colonel and again apologized for not taking care of business.  Col. Asay replied that everything had turned out for the best and he was grateful all were safe.  “I had the turbines flown in to Klawock as I was in a bind at that time.”  Then laughing; the Col. quipped, “Now you’re famous, you’ll probably up the stakes on the next run.”     

“We owe you for a life raft, if it hadn’t been for that raft, the Creed family would have perished.”

“Well, looking at it from the other side, that raft almost cost you your life.  Without it, there’d been no need to undertake the rescue.  You take Bessie home and kill the battery switch.”

Early the following morning a new-sprung raft was discovered on board with the attached message, Sorry about your raft, I hope this replacement will pass muster.  If the raft you airdropped would have held more boarders, my feelings are you’d have splashed Bessie into the sound and crawled aboard with us.  Everything turned out for the best and I’m glad it was Bessie who answered our mayday.  Sincere thanks from the bottom of our hearts.                     Signed, Ralph Creed                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

“I guess there are a few good people left in this ol’ world,” George reputed. 

“Just like us partners?”  Supposed Rass.

“Why sure,” George agreed.

With her Commendation Ribbon prominently displayed in the cockpit, Bessie performed superbly during flight above the sound.  Rass commented, “It sure doesn’t look like the same ocean we were sparring with the other day.”

A pleased Rod suggested.  “I’m sure Bessie would oblige by descending and skimming the waves like a Gooney Bird, and if that’s what it takes to make you happy, that’s what we’ll do.” 

“Don’t worry about me,” George wisecracked, “I’ feel real good.  Regardless, Poseidon has in his possession the only Black Pearl I ever owned.”

“Why so long before throwing it into the ocean?”  Rass questioned.

Looking up into the sky, George grinned, “I was waiting until the situation got real bad.”

Landing at Boeing field for fuel, the Silver-Grays secured Bessie before leaving to have lunch.  Nearby, two unknowns with identifying FAA badges were carefully scrutinizing Bessie.  One who looked to be immaculate with his impeccable trimmed mustache and custom-tailored suit pulled out his notepad too thumb through the pages,  “Uh-huh … just as I had hoped, that’s Bessie, the aircraft we have been reading and hearing so much about the last few days.  With all the publicity she received I checked on her tail number and what I discovered was that number belonged to a DC-3 that crashed and was destroyed in Colorado some years ago.  So just watch me stick a ball-lock seal on that door.”

Becoming upset, his partner yelled, “Listen up bird-dog, may the sea gulls above have mercy on your bald pate.  You do that and Canada will declare war on this country, and furthermore Bessie has acquired celebrity status here for her exploits up there.  We’ve had enough bad publicity without you Hoovering Bessie, so stick that notepad in your rear-end pocket, and that ball-lock seal around your neck and let’s get out of here before the seagulls drop a little memento for us to remember them by.”

Upon returning to Bessie, the Silver-Grays observed a small crowd.  When entering the cockpit Rod asked where Rass went missing? 

“George, pointing his thumb over his shoulder, “I thought I saw him talking to some people near the boarding area.”  George returned to the aft exit and looking out into the crowd, Rass was seen busy signing his John Hancock for the admirers and proclaiming, “No mortal pen could write what I endured.  It was a calamity in the making, but with steady hand I hung in there and I did it until the chores were done.” 

 George called, “Come aboard, Major Hoople, Bessie’s fonching’ at the bit.”

 Looking a bit embarrassed, When climbing aboard Rass inquired, “What’s with this Major Hoople stuff?”

“You don’t remember Major Hoople?  Why he was that old character in the comics who made a whole lot out of nothing telling of his far-fetched accomplishments.  Listening to you I was reminded of him.”

Looking sheepish Rass shot back, “Well, at least I’m a character.”

Departing Boeing Field, Bessie climbed to clear the Cascades and on into the bright sunshine.  Enjoying the prevailing tailwinds, she put her head down for the home stretch. 

Egging Rod on, George mouthed, “You told me once that Bessie is a high flyer and would take me places I’d never been.  Well, I have to agree, she’s taken me places I never dreamed I’d see, and it’s all been heart thumping.  

“Now my question, we have journeyed up through the northwest twice and it’s been more than I bargained for.  Where’s that carefree flying you keep talking about?  Rass and I have changed from gray to having silver gray hair, and now the hair on Rass’s head even matches his whiskers.  Before those nurses trimmed the hair on his head and shaped up his whiskers, you couldn’t tell where his hair ended and his whiskers started.  He either looked like some left over patriarch or a mop, I haven’t decided which, and now with hair and whiskers all trimmed he doesn’t look like anybody except for maybe that river boat admirer that Doctor Worcestershire was talking about.”          

“As for me, I’ve enjoyed every minute,” Rod countered.  “I do admit there were times it was puckering, but the feeling of pride we have in our association with Bessie—doesn’t that mean anything to you?  Would you give that medal up for everyday blue-sky flying?  We’ve earned a whole lot of blue-sky flying, and it’s just over the blue horizon coming our way.”

Not much has ever come my way,” George rambled on.  “And that goes way back, “A long time ago I thought I wanted to learn to fly, and when I got old enough I raced to the flying field and plunked down a hard earned sixty-five bucks to get me a solo permit.  But there was a problem—on my first lesson I got a queasy stomach and barfed all over my instructor and he refused to give me any more lessons.  He thought it might be better for me to join the infantry and get into a motor pool or something to learn a trade.  I followed his suggestion and the next thing I knew I was fixing toilets in all the regiments’ latrines.  I even made corporal until some colonel on short notice hurried into one of our enlisted men’s latrine to do his job.  The toilet he was sitting on overflowed and pretty much drenched him.  Soon after that I was back to buck private learning to fix engines on bombers for the Army Air Corp.  And that reminds me, the B-24s I worked on had Pratt & Whitney engines, the same engines as Bessie and the B-17’s has the Wright engines.  One day we were sitting around the hanger chewing the fat and I made the old renowned remark, one wrong doesn’t make a Wright and two Wrights don’t make a Pratt & Whitney.  I didn’t know there were any B-17 crewmen around until one of them jumped up and shook his fist at me and yelled, ‘I don’t have to listen to that kind of bull.’  He tried, but he never did catch up with me.”

Rass chimed in, “Wow, and you made private doing all that.  This flying has opened new stuff for me too, and when we get back, I’m gonna park my backside by that hoist and wait for all the hollerin’ and yellin’ we’ll hear when that Golden Door swings open.  Remember this, when they find that door, we got jobs waitin’.  Were it not for Bessie, I’d be sittin’ out front my trailer watching the neighbor’s dog chase cars.”

A sly grin taking over, George questioned.  “What happened at the cemetery?  I remember to kill time you’d spend time there reading names on the headstones—finding out whose toes were pointing skyward.”  

“After several years I got tired of doing that,” Rass explained.  “It was like reading the same newspaper over and over; the names on tombstones never change.”  

“Just what the hell were you expecting…” George yelled. 

Rod hurriedly cut in, “And now you have Juanita to share with you those things of interest.”  Then looking toward George, Rod suggested, “That’s what you need, George, a good woman, one that even looks nice in the daylight.”

“I’ve been looking for a long time and haven’t unearthed her yet.”  

Rass suggested, “If you’d stand still long enough, maybe she’d find you.”    

“Are you tired of what we’re doing?”  Rod asked.

“I don’t know what it is, you guy’s seem happy, and you even have genuine women  who seem to like you.  Women like me until I run out of prosperity, then they evaporate.”

“Maybe that’s what your problem is,” Rod suggested.  “Instead of showering them with tool boxes, keep your mouth shut and shower them with affection.  Treat ’um just like you treat Bessie.”

Approaching Currie, Nevada, Rod pushed Bessie into a descending attitude hoping to give the false impression they would be landing.  Then to continue flying at low altitude with expectations of remaining below radar coverage while in the restricted area.

The controller working the Northern Utah segment called to his supervisor Ken Archietta and requested that he check the screen with him.  “It’s always the same, they begin their let down when approaching Currie, and after they’ve disappeared from my radar screen, I assumed they’ve landed at Currie.  Then the other day I got a call from the center at Hill Air Force Base asking about a C-47 parked in the restricted area.  Today that phantom again disappeared from my screen, and that’s why I called you.  I’d like for you to check it out with me.”     

Picking up the phone the controller dialed—after receiving verification no aircraft had landed Currie during the past several hours, he suggested to his supervisor,  “I assume even though he doesn’t show a blip on the screen, he is flying below my radar coverage in the restricted area.  It has to be the same C-47 that Hill is requesting information on.  I can call out an intercept for recon-photo identification?  Right now, Hill has F-16s in the practice area and they usually have one standing by equipped for photo reconnaissance.” 

Where did he pop up from?”  Archietta asked.

“He wasn’t a pop up.  Oakland Center had been following him and I was wired in when he entered my sector.”

“If he wasn’t operating with a clearance and hadn’t requested flight following, why was Oakland so interested in him?”  Archietta picked up the direct line to Oakland and made a request for a link hookup to the controller working the Northern Nevada sector.  The controller came on line and after listening to Archiettas request, he mentioned he and a controller from the Seattle Center had been following Bessie’s flight path out of curiosity to determine her home base. 

“Bessie?  Is this the same Bessie we’ve heard so much about on the news lately?”

“You got it, the one and only.  Is there a problem?”

“Not anymore there isn’t.”  Archietta turned to the controller who had brought this to his attention and suggested in no uncertain terms, “That C-47 you’re so interested in is Bessie, you file an intrusion on her and you’ll have the Canadian Government on our necks and you and I both will be cleaning radar screens.  Just ignore her and pretend you know nothing about her.  Pass the word onto whoever relieves you and whoever relieves them, and as for Hill, you didn’t see a thing.  The less we know of Bessie, the better off we’ll all be.  You got that?” 

“Yes Sir Mr. Archietta! I didn’t see a thing.”


Triumphant Return

Oblivious to the attention they were receiving, Bessie continued through the gap, then banking north in preparation for the landing.  The strip now in view, the partners observed several pickups parked at the far end.  George remarked, “It looks to me like the whole family is here to greet us.  Several weeks ago no one would give an oink or grunt as to who we were, and Rass was right when he suggested Bessie has opened up new horizons, and I kinda’ like it.”  After rolling to a stop at the far end the stairs were lowered and the Silver-Grays slowly filed off one by one.  Waiting family members were seen unfurling a bed sheet with painted lettering that read. 

Welcome Home Silver-Grays

We’re Proud of You

The family waited until Lucille and Juanita had greeted their intended, then with Little Sam at the forefront the Silver-Grays were surrounded with admiration.  Rod’s nose, still swollen and the black eyes the whole crew sported had everyone laughing.  The professor admonished, “That’ll teach you to mess with Bessie.”

Arriving at the lodge they met a beehive of activity.  Jake informed the Silver-Grays they had turned the corner and now running the gamut to that ore body.  “We’re blasting rocks around the clock pushing that tunnel, and for every foot gained the suspense builds.”  Jake was smiling when he stressed, “The lock on that door will soon meet its demise, and we will then see the elephant.” 

George asked if there was something he might do to help out. 

“I’m glad you asked, the big compressor is running constantly supplying air to clear the passageways and provide for the air-machines.  Now if you would keep the compressor up to speed, along with the air machines, I’d be indebted, and Rass, if you’d be so kind to take over the hoist responsibilities, that will free up a man to assist below.”          

“I see you’re hoisting muck from the exploration tunnel to the surface,” Rod commented.  “Why not deposit it in the off-course tunnel.  It serves no purpose and will save you a bundle of time and manpower.”

Jake brightened, then following through called Lloyd on the intercom making the suggestion.  Overseeing the excavation deep in the bowels of Big Emma, Lloyd acknowledged quartz fissures were beginning to appear on the tunnel face, “This marks the first indication of any change in the geological intrusions.”

Tabasco had brought Juanita’s sister Arcadía on board to help with the feeding of two shifts around the clock.  Rod had volunteered to go underground with Floyd’s crew who would make the shift change in one hour.

Grabbing a quick bite before starting his shift, George motioned to Rod and asked who the dark-haired beauty was? 

“Beats me, this is the first time I’ve seen her,”  

When George approached María, she responded by calling aloud to Arcadía.  “This one wants to know about you, his name is George—and she Arcadia.  So she my mother’s sister, that make her my aunt, and she big help while we so busy.”

With a small curtsy, Arcadia replied, “I happy to meet you señor.”

After Arcadia had left, George motioned to María and whispered, “You didn’t say if she was wedded to someone.” 

“I no say that cause she not.  She widow for dos years.  Why you want to know?  You want to make her no widow?”

Revealing a trait seldom evident, George blushed while at the same time stuttering, “I … I, uh, was just trying to make conversation.”

During the remainder of the meal, the two partners chuckled, mindful of George’s admiring glances towards Arcadia.  

When finished eating, Rod was preparing to leave with the shift when Tabasco called, “You amigos get down there and find El Dorado pronto, take big torment from Jake.” 

During the change of shifts Lloyd gave his update on the latest drilling operation, “We blasted the drift face about an hour ago; the passageways are still fairly obscured in dust, but their tolerable.  I’m so charged up I feel like returning with you.  We’re knocking on that door and I mean knocking on that door, and I aim to be there when it opens.  In the meantime if you see any yellow, pass the word to wake me.”

With Rass operating the hoist, Rod suggested he ease the cage down the same way he had eased Bessie onto the runway at Bellingham and everyone will be happy. 

When motioning to Rod, Rass asked, “Before I send the cage down, can we talk?  I’m all mixed up in my thinking, and I need to straighten out my mind.  It’s about Arcadia.  You know that she and Juanita are sisters.  If somehow Arcadia learned to put up with George and his monkey work, and they got married, and me and Juanita got married, he wouldn’t dare go around calling me Uncle Rass would he?”

“No, that wouldn’t be it at all; you see George would be your new brother-in-law.”

“Oh mercy!  And I had to ask.”

The cage dropped with a thump, leaving its wide-eyed occupants momentarily suspended in mid air until regaining their footing.  When reaching the bottom level, excitement was growing even more.  The shift workers hurried through dust particles drifting through passageways, and then down on hands and knees they crawled over the three-foot deep muck pile blasted from the tunnel face, eagerly checking for any clue to the Golden Trail.  Quartz fissures now becoming more evident with increased coloration seen on the tunnel walls, but as yet, no fulfillment of their flaxen dreams of hope.

Floyd gave instruction on the operation of the air-driven mucking machine.  Being a quick learner, Rod was soon scooping up and wheeling muck to the off-course tunnel.  Laboring through the night Rod hadn’t realized how quickly time had flown until hearing Floyd call, “Blast alert!”  Quickly starting for the cage Rod heard Floyd call, “Hold up there speed.”

Floyd then asked the other miners to return to the cage and alert the hoist operator to stand by.  With Rod watching, Floyd lit the fuses extending out the drill holes of the tunnel face, then after hurrying to the main shaft he called on the intercom, “Fire in the hole!”  Quickly boarding the cage, all ascended topside. 

Rod, his eyes blinking while adjusting to the morning light, looked pleasantly surprised when seeing the gathered family waiting for bits of information; Lucille asked what it was like down there? 

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but it does take some getting use to.” 

 Jake felt some encouragement with the quartz showing, but still uneasy it was taking so long.  Hearing an arriving pickup, everyone unexpectedly cheered when seeing Bert waving.  Jake called, “I didn’t expect to see you for several more days,” then handing Bert a sample rock, he asked, “I need your prospector’s insight, check this out.” 

 Bert rolled the rock around in his hand like prospectors do, then reaching for his prospector’s glass, studied the sample for geological evidence.  Smiling, he looked up and advised, “Well, it’s not the mother lode you’re searching for, but it’ll sure beat wages.”

Somewhat dismayed, Jake asked, “Are you telling me this is gold-bearing quartz?”

“What I’m telling you—it isn’t twenty-four carat, but there’s sufficient gold in there that your amalgamation mill can sequester very easily and raise your standard of living.”

Stammering, Jake expressed, “I guess I had a fixation on a continuation of the high-grade ore the Golden Trail was yielding when they lost it.”

“I didn’t say you wouldn’t uncover the Golden Trail.  What I’m telling you is that if it doesn’t get any better than this, what you’ve uncovered will be a nice nest egg in itself.  Either way you can’t lose—keep those rocks flying.”

“You’re just in time to go underground for an inspection of the latest round,” Jake advised. 

“We’d like to go too,” Irene insisted.

Lucille asked Rod if he would accompany her?

Laughing, Rod replied, “I can hardly believe what you’ve asked, climb aboard.”

Lloyd come a running.  “Someone should have woken me earlier,” then scrambled aboard along side the professor and Mona.   

Jake called out, “Rass, you in a good mood this morning?”

“Yes ’um,”  

“Then just a reminder, nice and easy on those starts.”  Smoothly working up speed, the cage dropped into the depths of Big Emma until easing to a stop at the exploration level.  Sensitive to the breeze from blowers clearing the visible dust, they waited until Jake turned switches giving more light.  When asking the family to close ranks, Jake explained, “We don’t want our women folk panicking when seeing reflected ghost shadows performing the Highland Fling on the tunnel walls.” 

While pointing, Lucille suggested, “That poor stupid looking shadow over there looks almost real.” 

Rod grinned, “Oh he’s real alright, all of us are very fortunate that poor ol’ looking shadow didn’t hear you.  That just happens to be George working over an air machine.” 



Queen of the Deep Creek Mountains

Entering the exploration tunnel, the family continued on into the poorly lit passageway; becoming more aware of the powerful air currents circulating throughout the tunnel.

Jake gave warning, “Any of you wishing to inspect the tunnel face will find it necessary to crawl on your hands and knees over the muck pile blasted from the face.”  With ranks tightly closed, all hands proceeded cautiously.  Jake suddenly stopped—the family waited with concern.  There in the faint light they could see Jake sobbing uncontrollably with Irene holding him in her arms. 

In anticipation, Bert picked up samples of rock to be closely examined.  All were startled when suddenly he shouted, “Eureka!”  With excitement mounting he explained, “This isn’t your worthless muck pile anymore, if you’ll examine the results of the latest blast you’ll detect grains of gold among the crystals of quartz.  The door to the Golden Trail has yielded at last, and Big Emma true to her destiny is once more Queen of the Deep Creek Mountains.  

“We are kneeling on pay dirt worth thousands of dollars, and it appears to be a much richer lode from when it disappeared caused by the underground faulting.  All the while Jake has been in pursuit of that door; Big Emma has been hoarding and protecting her treasure.  It will be interesting to see the results when the twins have finished cross-cutting the exposed ore-body, that will lay open the true wealth of this flaxen dream.”

Regaining his composure, Jake apologized for his behavior, “Upon seeing the glimmer of yellow, I thought this might all be another dream.  Then I thought of my father and wished he could be here, and when I felt his presence I broke down.  Carry what you may to the surface too document that Emma’s door is indeed open, and may rest and comfort return to the family.”

Smiling at Rod, Lucille whispered, “This is the most inspiring experience I could have ever imagined, I’m so happy for the family.”

“Just like Bill Lear once expressed.”              


“Bill Lear’s declaration of a dream, ‘everyone should dream a little, if you don’t dream a little, how can a dream come true.’ ”

With the family preparing to return topside, Jake asked the twins if they were going to shut down the shift and return topside with the family?  

“Even though it’s not my shift” Lloyd said, “I’m not about to leave now.  I’ll remain here with Floyd and the rest of the shift workers and we’ll ramrod that cross-cut Mr. Taylor is pushing for to find the true breadth of this ore body.”   Tongue in cheek, Lloyd softly hinted.  “We have extra shovels—you wouldn’t suppose the professor would care to do a little hard-rock mucking?”

“Humph! That’s considerate of you for sure, as much as I would like to assist you, it will be necessary that I accompany Mrs. Earle to the surface, and I do thank you for your munificence.” 

“What the hell is this munificence stuff?”  Lloyd groused. 

With the announcement the door had opened, the family exploded with jubilation.  Their hopes and dreams were now real.  Giddy with elation, joyously they hugged each other.  Professor Earle paused to search out his shoe, lost while dancing on the waste dump.  The family all-sharing in this marvelous discovery—the bond was never stronger. 

Watching the antics of the family, Jake commented, “They stuck with us through this ordeal, and now it’s pay-back time.  There’s sunshine above, gold below, and a crazy loving family.”

When returning to the lodge, the evening meal was waiting.  Their souls filled with joyful emotions, they hadn’t room for appetite.  As a family they chose to cherish this moment in silence, to seal within this special occasion forever.

Early the following morning found both Jake and Bert descending in the cage.  When reaching the lowest level the sound of jackhammers with their carbide bits could be heard chewing into the ore body preparing for the next round of blasting powder. 

Straining to see-through the fine-dust-particles, the twins could barely make out the features of Jake and Bert.  Stepping back from the face to greet them, Floyd said, “We’re using six-foot drill lengths on the last round of each hole.  By working through the night we’ve knocked out sixteen feet of crosscut, and samples tell us we’re still in pay dirt.  The overall footage adds up to a twenty-six-foot crosscut of high-grade ore extending to the very end of the drill holes.  How far it extends beyond there, only Big Emma knows.  The Golden Trail is becoming a Golden Highway.”

In stunned belief, Bert counseled, “Apparently this is more than a wide fissure of ore.  All indications point to a developing glory hole.  That’s what every prospector bankrolls his grubstake on and hopes his burro is still on its feet when they hit the Mother Lode.” 

Knowing the crew needed rest, Jake requested they all return topside with him.  “Maybe later,” Lloyd replied.  “My adrenaline has waited much too long for this—everything I look at turns yellow.  What we’re seeing now is the craving dreams of prospectors from the tinhorn with no grubstake, to the tycoon who fantasize of that one more strike.  I’d like to remain here with Floyd and push that cross-cut until we determine the true expanse of this ore body.”

While walking to the lodge, Jake asked Bert if he’d accompany him to the conference room.  “I need your expertise.  Irene and I have been mulling this over, and I would appreciate your input.”  When comfortably seated, Jake began, “I’ve asked you here because I’m considering bringing Rod into the operation.  Without him, we’d still be shooting the compass for that door.”

“Knowing Rod as I do now,” Bert smiled, “he’s going to feel you owe him nothing, and anything that did come his way, he would share with his Silver-Grays.  Now that you’ve asked for my input, I would suggest you make him general manager, you’re going to need a good all around man to fill that management position, and while I’m giving out free advice, I might also mention that with the amalgamation mill needing to be brought back on line, I’ve been impressed with George and his mechanical abilities.  He has the expertise to pick up on the amalgam process in a hurry and could manage that operation for you.  As for whiskers, let him continue to supervise the hoist operation, and that of funneling ore to the crushing plants.”

“Bert, what you’ve suggested confirms the tentative plans Irene and I have carefully considered.  The Silver-Grays are part of this family now and I intend to keep it that way.   It was Rod’s contributions that gave Big Emma new life—besides, if Rass should leave, I’d lose part of my kitchen help.  I’m going to invite them in now and see what we can work out.  I have plans for all the family who stuck by me through some very troubled times.”

Jake called to Rod and asked that he bring George and Rass to meet with him.

Rass hesitated, “Why does he want me in that room?  I was only in there once when he asked me to sign some papers.”

“We’ll see—some scary things come out of that room,” George teased.  

With the Silver-Grays seated, Jake commenced, “I can’t continue forever thinking all this a fantasy.  The reality of all this is, it’s time we select our management team to get Big Emma up and running.  I’ve asked we come together that I can express my thoughts about some of the responsibilities needed to get Big Emma back into production.  Irene and I would appreciate your consideration on these suggestions.  Earlier I indicated that when we locate the door, I’d like for you to become permanent members of Big Emma’s family.  That time has arrived and these are my proposals.  Emma needs a general manager to oversee all mining and milling operations, and Rod, you are my first and only choice.  I wouldn’t even think of anyone else filling that position. 

 “And you, George, with the huge volume of ore needing to be processed, the amalgamation mill will be brought back on line, I’d appreciate it if you would ramrod that part of our operation.  I realize you’re unfamiliar with the process, but with your background of kick-butt motivation, you’ll have it down in short order.

“Now, Rass, your responsibility will be to oversee the movement of ore up to the surface bins, then making sure the proper amounts are channeled onto the conveyer belts supplying both the crusher plant and the ball mill. 

“Irene and I have discussed this, and we are agreed that instead of you receiving a salary, we are asking you to accept a percentage ownership in Big Emma.  For you, Rass, we’re offering a three percent ownership in Big Emma, and for you George, the same.  The good Lord willing, the day will come when you’ll both be men of means.

“With the responsibilities the general manager will inherit, that position calls for a ten percent ownership in Emma.  Your ingenious timely solutions leading us back on the main line only bolsters the fact it takes more than a shovel to solve the mysteries of underground mining.  For what you’ve done Rod, the family could never thank you enough.”   

The Silver-Grays sat as though numb, saying nothing while in awe this reverie was genuine.  Within a few short weeks they had progressed from Social Security recipients to potential millionaires.  Dazed and overwhelmed from these arrangements, time was needed to comprehend these startling revelations Jake had bequeathed.   

Jesting somewhat in a low voice, Rod said, “That’s a generous compensation you’re considering.  Poverty has been a guest of mine longer than I care to remember, maybe now he’ll be looking to get acquainted with the folks from the Drug Cartel.”

“I’ll miss poverty too, but I can get use to it,” George laughed.  When seeing Rass’s untied shoes, George said, “Maybe now Rass can buy himself a pair of those button-down shoes before the untied laces on his old shoes grab him and he stumbles into another headache.”

Asking to be excused, Rass said he needed to do some talkin’ with Juanita.

George quickly decided maybe he should also accompany Rass.  Shortly thereafter, two couples arm in arm were seen strolling down the lake trail.

Jake told of plans for the coming celebration, “Tabasco has asked I let him arrange the Golden Trail celebration.  Some years back he was associated with a group of Spanish horsemen who enjoyed portraying the Days of the Old Spanish West.  It was during that time they became close associates and that is where he met María.  In the summer and early fall they traveled to county fairs and Rodeos throughout the Southwest.  Then the show disbanded due to the high overhead cost.  Tabasco has implored that I let these descendants of the Californeo’s share their talents for just one more hoopla, bringing back the Spanish West. 

 “Tabasco almost cried when I told him to go all out and Big Emma would foot the cost.  He said their ranks have grown thin and he wasn’t sure how many of his old amigos were still above ground.  This celebration is taking on more of a fiesta atmosphere, and from what I see and hear, a day will be set aside as the Nuptials Fiesta.  I’ve made it clear I want this celebration to be a memorable one for all.”

Rod commented, “The only celebration I’ve heard of out here is the Pony Express Days, and that’s a dandy.” 

Jake continued,   “We are extending invitations to a few folks down in the valley and surrounding ranches.  Bert will invite several special friends, and also those who were close to Bert and Maggie from the Humboldt River Valley.  The Grandmothers for Cause will be here to assist Tabasco’s kitchen help with the food preparation.

“We want you and your fiancées to invite close friends.  The only requirement is they bring camping equipment.  I don’t care if it’s an RV or just a sleeping bag.  A variety of food will be served at a twenty-four-hour buffet, compliments of Big Emma.”  The Grandmothers for Cause and their spouses will occupy guest rooms upstairs in the lodge and VIPs will occupy the extra guest cabins 

Rod blabbed of what George spouted when he heard of Tabasco’s planned celebration, “‘For what he had seen of Tabasco’s aged amigos, they’d never make  sundown.’ ”


Nuptials Fiesta

 This memorable day with its evening shadows commencing to unfold across the valley, casting its charm throughout, motivated a hesitant Rod into asking Lucille if she would care to accompany him for an evening stroll.  He explained, “We’ve come to the end of the road and there are things now needing to be said.”      

While watching the receding rays from the sun transforming the majestic peaks into a shadowed background of silhouettes, Rod calmly spoke, “This is my favorite time of day, I call it quiet time.  The breezes have calmed until only a slight rustling is heard in the Aspen and the ripples on the lake have withdrawn until now it resembles a mirror framed by a mountain profile.  Even the fluffy clouds resemble a gathering of fleecy lambs grazing in the sky.  I’ve always thought Mother Nature shared a changing personality for each new day.  But then we didn’t come here to talk about that.  Lucille, what I’m trying to say is will you be my bride?”  

Lucille put her arms around Rod, and with an affectionate squeeze and a warm drawn out buss she whispered, “I wouldn’t dare refuse the general manager.”

Surprised, Rod asked where she had heard that?

“Irene enlightened me.”

“What else did she tell you?”

“She told me you were now one of the proprietors of Big Emma.”

With a conniving smile, Rod asked, “Is that why you’re willing…?”

“You keep on with what you’re about to say, and I’ll punch you in the snout so hard you’ll think Jack Dempsey has taken on the mining camps again.”

“When should we tie the knot?”  Rod asked.

“Tomorrow,” Lucille answered with a mischievous smile.

Taken back by Lucille’s answer, Rod questioned, “Tomorrow!”  That’s impossible.”

“Just kidding.  If you’ll hold me close I might explain.”  Rod drew Lucille to him until her soft hair brushed his face, then while holding her trim body their lips met.  After a short pause a shaken Lucille explained, “Irene is taking care of all the details and on the second day of the celebration the Nuptials Fiesta will commence.  On that day there will be a triple wedding.”

Looking even more aghast Rod mumbled, “A triple wedding for whom?”

“You asked when we should be married, so now you know.”

“I’m going to be a groom in a triple wedding?”

“Yes, you and your Silver-Grays always do everything together.”

“We do?”  Looking even more confused Rod slowly asked, “I could see Rass involved but you’re telling me George …” 

Interrupting him Lucille said, “Some folks don’t take forever.  George asked Arcadia for her hand the day after they met and she accepted.”

“Is Rass aware of what George has done?”

“Sure,” Lucille quickly answered, “Rass is telling everyone George is like a fish going after bait, whatever that means.  Your feet were the only ones lollygagging behind.”

Looking more assured Rod said, “I hope I survive long enough to get you on that honeymoon.”

With a shrug of her shoulders showing indifference, Lucille enlightened Rod.  “I hope you don’t mind the guest that will be accompanying us.”  

“What do you mean guest!”  Rod asked his expression full of puzzlement.  “Surely you don’t mean Rass and George along with their new Señoras are going to chaperon us on our honeymoon!”

“That’s exactly the way it is.”

“I’m having a bad dream, why would we go with them?”

Lucille teasingly explained, “George called Bedrock and made the arrangements for the honeymoon lodge.”

“Do I want to know where that is?”

“From what was explained to me, you fly up George Inlet until you arrive at Fish Haven.  Does that sound familiar?”

“How come I’m the last to know these things?  I suppose George has thought about transportation to the lodge from Ketchikan?”

“Mr. Bedrock explained for this special occasion one of his Otter float planes would be available during our stay at the lodge.  Doesn’t this sound exciting?”

“It sounds crazy to me.  The silver bullet must be working overtime.”  

With Fiesta Day drawing near, RVs were among the early arrivals with several pulling horse trailers.  Tabasco and María were there to greet old friends and suggest where they might camp.  Most chose down by the lake.  During that evening, several guests in pickups and automobiles with license plates designating they were from neighboring states continued to arrive.

Being protected by a large canopy set up in a wooded area, the kitchen help with Tabasco and María overseeing made ready for the buffet.  A small gathering of Caballeros with their Señoras had assembled under the canopy to play guitars and serenade the guest.  Down at the lake, several Vaqueros were seen outfitted in their attractive regalia mounted on prancing horses. 

As twilight ushered in the evening skies, stars appeared above the skyline presenting a twinkling peaceful display.  Quiet time making an orderly arrival settled in while family members gathered on the deck chatted and watched the activities of the guests.  Rass asked if anyone had seen George?  

“I’ve seen him several times up around the forge shack.  I don’t know what he’s tinkering with, but he’s hard at it,” Jake said.

In a hushed tone Lucille said, “The enchantment of this valley tends to impart a restful sentiment that mesmerizes one’s soul.  Anyone captivated in its spell would never want to leave here.”    

“Now will you stay with me for always?”  Little Sam pleaded.

Holding her close, Lucille whispered, “Yes Little Sam, I’ll always be here for you.”

Showing contentment, Jake thought perhaps he would turn in, “Now that I don’t have to conjure up a dream to give me peace of mind, I sleep better.”           

The dying embers from campfires freeing an aroma of mountain pine to curl throughout the night air brought about feelings of contentment throughout the valley.  An occasional rustling of quaking aspen was heard along with the swooshing sounds of a nighthawk searching for prey.  Guest and family alike succumbed to the enchantment of Amnesia Valley.

 Come the early dawn, the Taylor Twins had detonated several charges of dynamite ushering in the commencement of the festivities.  A happy Tabasco, wearing a sombrero with swaying tassels waved and saluted to everyone while leading the way of his sparse parade.  Several Vaqueros in their finest Spanish attire were seen astride their mounts bedecked with ornamental martingales and saddles of the finest decorative leather, with spurs jingling to the rhythmic sound of prancing horses. 

Señoras and señoritas alike, adorned in brightly colored apparel, shook their tambourines in rhythm to the spirited dancing.  Though few in number, those at the way-side clapped and cheered with exuberance watching this small procession celebrating the good fortunes of Big Emma.

 The tantalizing aroma of mountain fed beef rotating over beds of fiery embers enticed the onlookers.  Tabasco appeared often, making certain the steaming slabs were liberally basted with Big Emma’s secretive barbecue sauce.

Throughout the day, guests enjoyed a series of entertainment.  Friends of Tabasco in the autumn years of life struggled in their halfhearted attempt of throwing steers by their tails.  Some, astride their mounts were unable to swing down enough to pluck partially buried bandanas from loamy soil.  Roping skills were unsuccessful in their attempt to lasso Jake’s cattle, which stood their ground.  Some riders just fell off their mounts to lie on the ground cussing father-time.  

Shaking his head, Tabasco bewailed, “Father-time is not treating my amigos with respect.” 

The call went out informing everyone this special feast of steaming barbecued beef is now on the carving table. 

The professor called, “Please, may I have your attention.  Friends of Tabasco for old time’s sake have persuaded for him to once again dance the fandango.”  Grinning from ear to ear Tabasco stepped onto a wooden platform, and asked for everyone’s attention.  Bowing to everyone, then throwing a kiss to his amigos he swung into the fandango.  Amid much fanfare, the guests stood clapping and shouting olé!  olé!  His performance of the fandango was magnificent.  At the conclusion, Tabasco apologized for not doing an encore, “I’m out of the breath, the high elevation and me do not agree.  Manana maybe.  ”Continuing on, the professor launched into his welcoming speech, “Jake has asked that I proffer you welcome, and express appreciation for joining with us in celebrating the reappearance of the Golden Trail.  Eat, drink, and enjoy yourselves for this joyous occasion.  However, Jake extends a word of caution; please do not pursue his beef cattle.  Tomorrow is designated Nuptials Fiesta day, and when the early dawn has ushered in a new day, and the crowing of the rooster has ceased his wake up overture, everyone will convene at the lodge for the unity of certain members of Big Emma’s family in a triple wedding.”  


The evening shadows stealing down the mountain foretold the opening of the curtain of darkness.  On cue, the high valley commenced its transformation into a peaceful calm.  Silhouetted on the skyline, the Deep Creek Mountain cast its shadow over the lodge, encompassing a contented family gathered to enjoy the night air.  From open campfires were seen the reflected shadows of guest dancing to the strumming of guitars with their accompanied singing.   

Jake mused, “Tomorrow the Queen, Big Emma, will host the wedding ceremony that will bring the family together even more.  When the brides and grooms return from Fish Haven, all the ordered replacement equipment will have arrived, and Big Emma will once more produce revenue.”

The family watched with interest the approaching twinkling lights swaying gently to the accompanied soft music of stringed instruments.  When nearing the lodge, the family recognized Tabasco and several of his friends mounted on horses holding lighted candles.  As spokesman, Tabasco recited, “We come this night to ask good wishes for the Señors and their pretty Señoritas, who become one before tomorrow’s evening.  With lighted candles we ask prayers for your happiness and may the good Saint watch over you for always.”            

María stepped forward, presenting each rider a white flower, then giving a polite curtsy she called, “Si Señors, with your good wishes and prayers for the intended, you have made this a most magnificent evening—gracious.”

The hour growing late, a peaceful calm spread throughout the valley.  Amnesia Valley was again at rest.  


Nuptials Fiesta day arrived with the bustling and scurrying of Big Emma’s family.  Visitors and family alike had partaken an early buffet, to make ready for the wedding ceremony. 

Both George and Rod having queasy stomachs elected to forego eating.  Down at the buffet loading his plate with all the refreshments he could layer on, then to return for refills time and again, Rass took pleasure in chatting with everyone who would give him their attention.  Several Grandmothers for Cause had finally gotten his attention long enough to ask if he was to be one of the new grooms?

“Yes I am.”


“This morning.”

 “If you plan getting hitched this morning, you better knock off the eating and get your fanny over to the lodge to recite your I do.  The ceremony is ready to begin, and Juanita is looking pretty mad.”

“Oh for the mercy of it!”  Rass dropped his plate and hurried to his cabin.

The participants assembled at the lodge continued waiting with Juanita who anxiously called for Rass.  Rass being a no show, his dismayed Silver-Grays volunteered to check his whereabouts and set a fire under him.  When approaching his cabin, they heard the familiar sounds once heard from the aft cabin of Bessie.  Rod called, “Rass!  You don’t sound so good, are you going to survive?”

“Yes … I am.”

“Well come on, you’re holding up the ceremony.”       

“You mean now?”

“What’s your problem Rass?”

After a short pause Rass was heard mumbling, “Is diarrhea of the mouth with you?”

“George is here, he’s concerned about you.”

“Does he have to know?”

“Know what?”

“I kinda’ got air sickness.”

George grinned, “Right on Rass, had a big feed on your wedding day, didn’t you.”

When finally appearing with bloodshot eyes, Rass supposed he was ready.

“Well, fish eyes, you finally swallowed the hook,” George teased.

Rass retaliated,  “Not as fast as you did when you swallowed the bait.”  

“There’s a wedding awaiting us,” Rod yelled.  When returning to the lodge Rod was surprised to see more of his friends, but with the ceremony waiting, he acknowledged their presence with a smile.  When feeling the warmth of a soft hand take his, Rod turned to see his beautiful bride-to-be, then to be filled with awe having never before seen her in a full-skirted dress with its low neckline and favorite color blue.  When seeing the silver bullet suspended from a silver chain, Rod smiled even more. 

The Reverend Wells Cahoon, having been summoned from Lone Tree, Utah, to master mind the wedding ceremony explained, “As I have never performed nuptials for three couples to be wedded at the same time, and that I won’t be trying to reckon who is who, I’ll ask the bridegrooms to take their intended by her left arm and form a half-circle to face me.  Those giving the brides away—please stand to their backs, and the best man, where is the best man?”

Jake explained to Reverend Cahoon, “Each of us best man was determined to give the brides away and each of us were determined to be the best man for the Silver Gray Partners as well.  So we went out back of the lodge and had a little discussion, and we settled our determinations.  We will all be acting as one.”    

Reverend Cahoon bowed his head and stood silently as one would in prayer, then putting his hand to his forehead he mumbled, “I suppose if that’s what you’re all determined to do, that will have to do.  Now have I forgotten anyone?” 

“You forgot me,” little Sam cried.        

“Hugging that bouquet of flowers you must be the flower girl.  Please come and stand by my side.”  Addressing the gathering with an amused expression, Reverend Cahoon requested everyone to hush up now, this service, uh, I mean ceremony will now commence.  “Rod Colson, do you take Lucille Knight—John Rasmussen, do you take Juanita Garcia—George Hogans, do you take Arcadia Gonzales as your lawfully wedded spouse and promise to love, honor and cherish her?” 

The bridegrooms answered in the affirmative, with the exception of Rass, who standing like a cigar store mannequin said nothing.  With everyone awaiting his acknowledgement, Juanita nudged him in the stomach.  Quickly shielding his mouth Rass bent over.  

Juanita whispered, “You eat too much buffet!”  

“He’s got the back door trots,” George blurted out.  Except for George the brides and grooms attempted to ignore this spectacle—keeping their eyes on Reverend Cahoon. 

Becoming confused, Rass attempted to explain, “I was all right until I ate.” 

Exerting remarkable restraint, and wishing to conduct this special occasion in a fitting manner, Reverend Cahoon loudly restated the question, “John Rasmussen, will you please state your intentions…” 

With stomach churning, Rass again covered his mouth with both hands.

Eyes wide with apprehension, a distraught Reverend Cahoon yelled and stepped back, “If you’re about to do what I think you’re about to do, don’t look at me!”

Mortified, and on the verge of panic, Rass knelt down and began tying his shoelace.  Knowing Rass had a tendency to freeze in times of stress, Rod leaned down, and in a calm reassuring manner instructed, “Just nod your head Rass, everything will be fine.”

Rass obeyed, and the ceremony regained some propriety.  Reverend Cahoon now looking uncomfortable and wanting to end this confused affair hurried on, “Do you brides-to-be want all these grooms-to-be as your lawfully wedded husbands?”  

When hearing one “I do” and two “Si’s,” the Reverend looking even more confused solemnly announced, “By virtue of the legal authority vested in me by the State of Utah, I hereby pronounce you lawfully wedded.  May you have joy and a long life together, and you may now exchange rings.” 

The brides and grooms stood in shock.  In all the excitement and hasty planning the rings had been forgotten by all except George, who had labored over a hot forge smelting pure gold from quartz rock—too fashion wedding bands for each couple.  Then in the excitement of the occasion—had forgotten to pass them on to the brides and grooms. 

Quickly the rings were given to the couples.  Visibly disturbed and wanting to end this ceremonious occasion Reverend Wells Cahoon announced, “As husband and wife each groom may now kiss his bride—and as for me, I now bid each of you good day.”  Little Sam surrendered the bouquet of flowers to the new brides, who tossed them to ardent hands—friends hurried forward to offer congratulations and best wishes. 

Rod was totally surprised when he suddenly realized it was his friend Jack Schade motioning to meet with him.  After the initial greetings were expressed, Rod listened with interest at what Schade had to say.  “I was running late arriving here and it didn’t help my disposition any when I found myself climbing this damn mountain to reach Amnesia Valley as you call it, and I don’t mind telling you it scared the hell out of me.  I wanted you to know Lorenzo is still in a trauma from our recent encounter with him, and is now in permanent dry-dock.” 

Somewhat puzzled, Rod asked, “You didn’t come all the way up here just for that did you?”

Smiling, Schade set his sights, “No I didn’t, but you’re going to have a hard time believing what I am about to lay on you.  You might want to inform George that after the shadow dancer had made his hurried exit, and leaving George a free man, he stole a car in his attempted get-a-way and when they finally corralled him, a search was made on the stolen vehicle, and secluded in that trunk was a bale of marijuana that he knew nothing about.  After telling him they’d located his stashed contraband, the arresting agent went on to say, ‘You should have seen his eyes before he fainted.’  I’m sure he and Lorenzo will have a great deal of time to do some long distance sympathizing.

Schade dropped the bomb, “The big one that was a shocker for all of us is all about your partner Rass, and I suggest out of professional courtesy you now address him by his true rank and standing as Professor John Rasmussen.

With raised eyebrows Rod questioned, “You did say professor?”

 “That’s exactly what I said,” still laughing Schade continued, “and a Full Professor at that.  You may not know about the hierarchy insisting on a background check of your two partners, and during that investigation it became evident that Mr. Rasmussen was a noted historian who in the late 1940s taught at a college in the mid west.  He had never married and was well respected for his knowledge of historical events.  Being in demand he made a great deal of money from speaking engagements throughout the country, then tragedy struck, he had been called to a prestigious university back east for a speaking engagement and at the conclusion of his discourse, he turned to acknowledge the applause when a shoelace from his untied shoe tripped him.  In falling, his head grazed the lectern.  They asked him to lie still, then after a couple of moments he stood up and waved to the assemblage.  When leaving the rostrum, the applause continued as he stopped to shake hands with several of his associates, and then walked out of their lives never be seen by them again.”            

Shaking his head in stunned belief, Rod said, “That explains a lot of things we didn’t understand about Rass, and I strongly suggest that everyone let well enough alone and not to disclose any of this to him or anyone else.  I haven’t the faintest idea what it is, but he has either forgotten are his mind has drawn a blank concerning the occurrence that changed his life.  After all these years Rass has now made a new life for himself, he’s happy doing the things he has wanted to do so let’s don’t mess it up for him.”

In gratitude Rod shook hands with his friend Mr. Jack Schade and congratulated him on his big promotion and suggesting he’d get back with him after the honeymoon.

When Rod turned to thank Reverend Cahoon, Jake pointed to a trail of dust stirred up by the reverends vehicle making a hasty retreat from Amnesia Valley.  “He didn’t even wait for gas money,” Rod moaned. 

With rice being thrown, the Taylor twins led the way to the waiting transportation amid cheers and best wishes.  Little blue-eyed Sam smothered Rod and Lucille with good-bye hugs and kisses as they paused to express their love and gratitude to a contented Jake and Irene. 

When seeing two young strangers throwing rice from among those wishing them well, and who looked vaguely familiar, Rod queried Jake, “What’s with those two gentlemen?” 

A sly grin appearing, Jake explained, “I neglected to inform you that you’ll need more hands who will work in the milling operation under George’s supervision.  They seemed like nice boys, and said they needed a nice quiet place to hang out for a while so I put ’um to work.  The one with a clipped voice mentioned something about them losing their pilots job when someone hijacked the airplane belonging to their boss.”

Looking incredible from what Jake had disclosed, Rod again queried, “And the two Japanese over yonder handing out rice?”

“Well, they also had a little problem, something about a submarine being sunk by some red eyed samurai.  Funny thing about the short one, he wears the imprint of a flashlight on the side of his head, but then we’ll talk about that later.”  Taking a confused Rod by the hand, Lucille was leading him to their transportation when Jake called with a harassing grin, “From all that’s transpired here today, Rod seems a little befuddled.  Make sure he doesn’t over exert himself in his newly acquired interest, and gets lots of rest.  Take care we need you.”

When all aboard Bessie, a somewhat perplexed Rod having shrugged off the startling information regarding the new hired help, but when thinking about Rass and his professorship, that was a lightning bolt out of the blue.  Finished buckling in, Rod sat quietly with his head bowed saying nothing, then shaking his head in disbelief and taking a long look at his partner sitting in the copilot seat, Rod asked, “Rass, if our Guardian Angel was to make her presence known to us at this very moment, and she gave you a choice of doing anything in the world you might wish to do, what would your response be?”  

Without taking the time to even think about it, and with a grateful expression shown in his countenance, Rass expressed, “I would want to be here in this seat— ready to pull gear on your command.”

Extending his hand, Rod smiled, “Welcome aboard Rass, and it’s a pleasure having you my partner.”

“Thank you Rod, I feel the same about you.”  

Sliding the window back, Rod hollered “Clear Right!”  Russ automatically started counting the blades. He flipped his thumb up and Rod switched the #2 magneto on.  Soon, with both engines running, the taxi-out, the run-up complete they lined up on the centerline of Runway Two-Seven.

Rod said, “OK Rass, your airplane!”  



“Gear Up!” With the runway lights fading in the mist, Bessie flew west climbing slowly into the setting sun.  “Flaps Up!” Trailing the hydraulic controlled cowl flaps, Rass exclaimed “Climb Check!” Climb Check Complete,” said Rod. 

With the steady drone of the old Pratt/Whitney 1830’s in the background, Rod looked over at Rass.  Rass, “What?”  Rod, “What’s the next adventure ol’ Bessie will lead us to, ol’ friend?” Rass had a far away look.  Bessie just droned westerly straight at her next adventure…