Monday, March 29, 2010

Chapter 5

Jon took a longer look at the small woman standing in front of him. She had a cap on her head that kept the lights off her face, sunglasses, no real hair he could see, and whatever figure she might have had was hidden by a baggy one piece jumpsuit of an unflattering grayish color. Nothing about her triggered the smallest bit of interest.

The anger that radiated, however, had him making an involuntary smirk that he quickly stopped, sure that would not help diffuse the situation.

While he might have felt small standing next to the man named Greg, the woman in front of him appeared the height of a child when Greg moved to her side. He watched as she put a hand on the man’s arm, somehow managing to calm the big man and herself at the same time.

“Greg, this is Mr. Martin. Do you remember him calling?” Mel waited while Greg’s gaze went distant as he thought. There was silence for at least a minute until Greg shook his head.

“No, the man who called before had a short name. Not Martin.” Greg looked back at the man in front of them and side-stepped a half step closer to Mel.

Quickly realizing the large man was being protective of the woman, Jon stepped back himself and turned a smile on Greg.

“When we spoke on the phone, you called me Mr. Frank.”

Greg thought about that for a few moments and then turned to Mel.

“That was it, Mel. Mr. Frank. I remember!” He looked at her until she once again put a hand on his arm and smiled.

“Thanks Greg, that’s what I needed to know.” She turned again to her customer and grinned.

“So, Mr. Frank…should we go into my office and you can give me an idea of what you’d like to do?”

“Sure Mel…” Jon voice seemed to drawl out her name as he reached down to grab his bag, “…anything you say.”

Mel shot him a look, one that started another grin crossing his face.

"Sorry, Ms. Gordon."

She raised an eyebrow at him and somehow within the space of a few seconds he felt he had been weighed, measured ... and dismissed.

Before leading him to her office, Mel asked Greg to take her flight bag down to the plane.

“And Greg, make sure all the tanks are topped off, okay?”

“Sure, Mel, I will. All topped off. Okay.”

They both watched as Greg walked quickly back out the door, again slamming it behind him.

“This way, Mr. Martin.” Mel gestured toward the side office.

Settling himself into a rather worn armchair, Jon watched as Mel pulled some charts out of a side cabinet and picked up a pencil. She slid her sunglasses a bit downward on her now, adjusted her papers, and turned to face him.

“So, Mr. Martin, you want to charter my plane for two weeks, correct?”

Jon nodded at her as she continued, making notes as she spoke.

“What are you looking to do?” She cocked her head as she finished, waiting for his response.

“I’m looking to purchase some property. I want to go to these islands…” He stopped and pulled out a list from his pocket. “These are the ones with homes I want to see.” He handed her the paper and she opened it, seeing several of the smaller, less inhabited islands listed. All were within a 1,000 mile radius of her island and most of them she had been to before.

Opening one of her charts, Mel began identifying the islands on his list.

“Okay, we’re here on Cat, and I’m guessing you’re not looking at Grand Bahama Island or Nassau, right?”

Jon shook his head. “Too touristy.”

Returning to the map, Mel pointed to Crooked Island and Watling Island. “We’ll start with those two and just continue to work south. Alright with you?”

Nodding at her, Jon agreed. “That’s what I thought too. I have rooms arranged so we can just keep traveling.”

Mel’s eyes met his at that information, but he just shrugged. “I only have a month off, but I want to get this done within two weeks if possible. It just makes sense to stay at places along the way.”

She looked at him a bit appraisingly, but filed that information away as one point against her “rich idiot” judgment.

They continued working for the next hour, revising their plans and Mel filled out her final flight plan. She would be leaving a copy with Greg as usual, as well as filing one with Bahamian customs. Gathering her papers, Mel glanced at her watch.

“It’s almost one. Do you want to get some lunch before we take off or do you want to stop on Bent?”

A half smile crossed Jon’s face. “Bent?”

“Crooked Island, Bent?”

“Ahh…okay…” He laughed then. “Let’s eat on Bent.”

A short time later both were ready to leave and they walked down to the bay where the seaplane waited. Mel did her preflight check, Greg watching diligently as she did so. Jon stowed his bag in the back and then stepped back to light a smoke. He knew it would be his last while they were in the air and he savored it as the warm breezes flowed over him.

The conversation between his pilot and her assistant were barely audible as they moved around the plane and he allowed his thoughts to drift as he waited.

What he had told Mel was true, he had managed to clear his ridiculously busy schedule for a month at his wife’s insistence. He knew he had been almost impossible to live with during the last few months and her patience was wearing thin. His continual snapping at the kids had been her last straw and she had all but thrown him out with instructions to “go get your shit together”.

That wasn’t what she said. Asshole. Be honest in your own head.

“I want my husband back.”

Friday, March 26, 2010

Chapter 4

Shuffling papers on her desk, Mel forced her thoughts away from her father, and onto the upcoming charter. She pulled the scrap of paper towards her with the date on it and glanced at the calendar. Yes, today was the day.

The second hand of the clock had just passed the hour and she noted with surprise that it was already 11 in the morning. Where was her damn charter? Pushing back from the desk, she entered the main room of the hanger, finding Greg packing last minute additions to her kit.

From long experience and her father’s ironclad insistence, Mel always carried a full survival kit. All the sea pilots she knew did so. There were, of course, the requisite flares and a raft, as well as waterproof matches, a few lighters, a first aid kit, two space blankets, a knife, and other assorted gear she had added over the years. Everything was compact enough to fit into a waterproof suitcase with the raft attached by a strap on the outside. She had never needed her kit and she didn’t plan to, but weather and water were unpredictable and she believed in not taking chances.

“Mel, I’m gonna take this out to the plane, okay?” Greg’s voice brought her attention to him and he smiled broadly at her nod of thanks.

Taking a few minutes for herself before her client’s arrival, Mel went upstairs to her living area and grabbed her own personal bag. It had in it some overnight supplies, as well as an extra bathing suit, two changes of clothes, and three sarongs that folded up into nothing.

She grinned as she thought about island living. With a bathing suit and a sarong around her hips she could go almost anywhere and fit right in. A tank top or two for a shirt and she was presentable for all but the most fashionable of restaurants. Thankfully on the smaller islands, there was a dearth of the fashionable and she could come and go as she pleased.

From frequent long-term charters over the years, Mel knew that her clients could be capricious at best in their demands. She had found herself sleeping in the back of her plane more than once when one or the other of the rich idiots had decided on a whim to spend the night at a spot not originally planned. They had enough money to get a room with no notice and did so without the slightest thought as to what their “hired hand” would do. They usually just informed her they were spending the night and to “be ready” at a certain time the next day.

Mel would just smile when she told them that her “overnight rate” was $1,000 per night, payable up front, or she would happily return home and they could make other arrangements. A few had, but the majority simply waved her off, peeling the money from bulging wallets, and then taking off for the night. She was as comfortable in a plane on the water as she would have been at the finest hotel, so she would spend the night, freshen up the next morning at a local place where she was usually known and the day would start again.

Most of her clients she found herself rating on the Asshole Behavior Scale. The ABS worked pretty much like the Richter scale for earthquakes, with Mel often wondering which client would be a 10. So far, there had been several threes, a rather large number of fives, and even one eight. The eight had been the one who’d thought an altitude of 5,000 feet was the perfect time to reach over and grab her boobs. A screaming dive and a roll had convinced him there was no good time to do that.

Taking the time to throw her hair into a long French braid, she tucked the ends under a cap, adjusted it on her head to shade her brow, and started down the stairs. At the far end of the hanger, a door opened and a man stepped in, glancing around as he did so. He had a black medium-sized bag in one hand and a cell phone in the other, talking rapidly to someone. Mel lips pursed in a moue of annoyance and rolled her eyes. Another one with a cell phone glued to his ear.

Shaking her head as she stepped onto the hanger floor, Mel thought of her last two charters. Both rich men with cell phone disease who had nearly had fits when flying over the ocean when they realized they couldn’t get a cell signal.

Like there are cell towers in the mid Atlantic!

One man had been stupid enough to open the small side window to stick his phone out for a signal and then had cursed a blue streak when it had been sucked from his hand. He had watched it fall until it was a speck and then had actually demanded that she go back so he could get it.

When she had told him that they were at 4,500 feet and that the phone would not have survived the impact and even if it had it would have sunk, he had threatened to sue her for causing him to lose his phone with all his numbers. She hadn’t even minded cleaning her cockpit after “turbulence” made that idiot lose his probably overly-indulgent lunch. He had not sued.

The man who had entered the hanger had finally noticed her standing at the foot of the stairs and took a few steps in her direction.

“Excuse me, Miss, can you tell me where I could find Mel Gordon?” His voice was rather low, with some type of accent she couldn’t identify.

“What can Mel help you with?” Her own husky voice answered him as they walked toward the other. They stopped a few feet apart.

Putting down his bag, the man shook his head slightly in answer.

“What I need is to speak with Mel Gordon. Can you tell me where he is?” A note of impatience crept into Jon’s voice as he thought about the fact that he was already running late.

Shitty directions. How can someone give such shitty directions on such a small island? Look for the three trees. What the fuck happened to road signs?

Mel crossed her arms as she took in the man standing in front of her. From the top of his head to the well-worn boots on his feet, everything about him screamed money. The leather bag he had so casually tossed on the floor, the open-collared shirt that looked tailored, the snug jeans that didn’t look like any Levi’s she had ever seen, even his dark sunglasses didn’t seem off the rack. Adding his appearance to the tone in his voice, even the well-worn baseball cap on his head and full beard didn’t detract from her impression that he would soon have his own rank on the AB scale.

“Well, Mister…”

The man broke in as she knew he would. “Martin. Frank Martin.”

“Mr. Martin. If you would just tell me what business you have with Mel, I’ll be glad to help you.” She unintentionally cocked a hip as she spoke and Jon was suddenly glad his eyes were hidden as he took in her slightly aggressive stance. He had opened his mouth to answer her, when they both were startled by the bang of the door slamming. A large man entered and immediately smiled.

“Mel! I did it. I put the kit in the plane. It’s all ready for you.”

Face and voice softening, Mel smiled at him. “Thanks Greg. You did a good job.”

Greg nodded at her and seemed to be grinning from his hair to his toes.

“Is he here yet, Mel? Is this him?” Greg motioned to the man standing in front of her.

“I don’t know yet, Greg.”

Jon could hear the smile in her voice even as he turned to look at her.

“You’re Mel Gordon? The pilot?” His voice unfortunately took on a slightly incredulous tone that instantly had her hackles rising.

Her eyes narrowed behind the dark glasses as she felt herself stand straighter, his tone sending her from curious to pissed off in 2.5 seconds.

Had she just met her first 10 on the Asshole scale?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chapter 3

The next day proved to be a revelation for Mel and the beginning of a great friendship and working relationship.

Greg had shown up at seven the next morning, catching Mel still in her robe after a shower. She had opened the door still rather bleary-eyed, not having yet had coffee. She’d found Greg nearly bobbing with excitement on the doorstep and had grinned at the expression on his face. She’d had him come in and showed him where the planes were after cautioning him not to enter them without her and had returned to her upstairs loft to dress and put coffee on.

Mel had been gone less than fifteen minutes, calling out Greg’s name as she stepped off the stairs. She looked around the organized clutter of the hanger, not seeing him for a few seconds until she heard the clink of a tool being laid on the concrete floor. Walking around the side of the smaller seaplane in the hanger for repairs, she stood in astonishment as she saw Greg working on the engine with a precision that had her mouth falling open.

Deep into what he was doing, Greg didn’t even notice the woman standing next to him. He had always loved engines, whether they were car engines or boat engines or even plane engines. The fact that he had never worked on a plane before had nothing to do with the almost instinctive way he tightened some bolts, loosened others, and started dismantling what she already knew was a sticky carburetor.

Having worked on planes her entire life, Mel knew there was nothing Greg could do that would be irreparable and she let him dismantle the carburetor as she watched, saw him clean the components, adding lubricant as necessary, and then begin putting it all back together with speed and efficiency.

A short time later she and Greg were sitting having a cup of coffee when she offered him a job. That had been five years ago and she had never regretted her decision. Very quickly she had realized what had probably happened on the cruise ship. Greg was definitely mentally impaired in some areas, while remaining high functioning in others. He had a way with mechanics and had learned over time to do simple office work such as answering the phone and taking messages she could use.

At times she had been frustrated with some of his mistakes, but whenever she had felt it bubbling up, she had looked at his face, fallen with the realization that he had done something wrong, but not ever knowing quite what he had done, and she had realized that she could never be mean, never berate him, never be that cruel. Greg was simply the sweetest man she had ever met and she was glad he was her friend.

Greg lived in another section of the hanger she had converted once she realized he was staying in a room in town where there were no laundry facilities and that he had to eat out all the time. They worked together during the day, had dinner at night, and then went their separate ways in the evening. Greg had a large comic book collection and seemed to favor Spiderman, and Superman, and Batman, pretty much any comic that ended in “man”. She could sometimes hear him laughing to himself as he enjoyed one of his favorites.

The years had gone by and she found some solace in having Greg’s company. Since her father’s death when she was 22, she had been alone, running the business he had started. Mel had adored her father, a rough spoken, outspoken bear of a man, who had continued to throw his daughter up over his shoulder and dump her in the ocean when she had sassed him well into her late teens. She usually ended up bobbing to the surface. laughing along with her father who stood on the seawall, hands on his hips, his mane of hair blowing in the breeze. He would then fish her out and let her do what she wanted to do anyway.

What Mel wanted to do was fly. Since she was old enough to point her father had taken her up in the plane with him. Her mother had been gone her entire life and Mel had no memory of her. Alex Gordon simply refused to speak ill of his wife. He was the one who had wanted to move from the United States to the small island they now lived on. He was the one who had taken their savings and bought a seaplane to live the life he loved. Alex had never blamed her mother, although Mel would never forgive her for leaving them behind.

During the years of her childhood, her father had no one to watch her and she had been with him on every flight, to every port, through every kind of weather, and she had lived for those times. It was just her father and her and they were enough. Alex had started teaching his daughter as soon as she was able to talk and by the time she was 17 she had her own pilot’s license. By the time she was 18 she was doing her own charters.

The years from the age of 18 to 22 had been one of the happiest times in Mel’s life. She and her father were partners, the business was good if a bit erratic, and it seemed as if the rough times, when the business was building, were behind them. That all changed two weeks after her 22nd birthday when her father was killed in a plane crash. She knew it was weather related, knew her father couldn’t have done anything different, knew all the facts. It didn’t change a thing. Eleven years later, now 33, she missed her father as much as she had the day she lost him.