Bad News for Captain Engle. The Little Blind Girl. The Lady's Scent. The Dalton Gang Arrives in Tombstone. The Strange Plight of Flight 29.
Brian Engle rolled the American Pride LIOII to a stop at Gate 22 and flicked off the FASTEN SEATBELT light at exactly 10:14 P.M. He let a long sigh hiss through his teeth and unfastened his shoulder harness.
He could not remember the last time he had been so relieved - and so tired - at the end of a flight.
|2||He had a nasty, pounding headache, and his plans for the evening were firmly set. No drink in the pilots' lounge, no dinner, not even a bath when he got back to Westwood. He intended to fall into bed and sleep for fourteen hours.
American Pride's Flight 7 - Flagship Service from Tokyo to Los Angeles - had been delayed first by strong headwinds and then by typical congestion at LAX ... which was, Engle thought, arguably America's worst airport, if you left out Logan in Boston.
|3||To make matters worse, a pressurization problem had developed during the latter part of the flight. Minor at first, it had gradually worsened until it was scary. It had almost gotten to the point where a blowout and explosive decompression could have occurred ... and had mercifully grown no worse. Sometimes such problems suddenly and mysteriously stabilized themselves, and that was what had happened this time.|
|4||The passengers now disembarking just behind the control cabin had not the slightest idea how close they had come to being people pate on tonight's flight from Tokyo, but Brian knew ... and it had given him a whammer of a headache.
"This bitch goes right into diagnostic from here," he told his co-pilot. "They know it's coming and what the problem is, right?"
The co-pilot nodded. "They don't like it, but they know."
"I don't give a shit what they like and what they don't like, Danny.
|5||We came close tonight."
Danny Keene nodded. He knew they had.
Brian sighed and rubbed a hand up and down the back of his neck. His head ached like a bad tooth. "Maybe I'm getting too old for this business."
That was, of course, the sort of thing anyone said about his job from time to time, particularly at the end of a bad shift, and Brian knew damned well he wasn't too old for the job - at forty-three, he was just entering prime time for airline pilots.
|6||Nevertheless, tonight he almost believed it. God, he was tired.
There was a knock at the compartment door; Steve Searles, the navigator, turned in his seat and opened it without standing up. A man in a green American Pride blazer was standing there. He looked like a gate agent, but Brian knew he wasn't. It was John (or maybe it was James) Deegan, Deputy Chief of Operations for American Pride at LAX.
"Yes?" An internal set of defenses went up, and his headache flared. His first thought, born not of logic but of strain and weariness, was that they were going to try and pin responsibility for the leaky aircraft on him. Paranoid, of course, but he was in a paranoid frame of mind.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, Captain."
"Is this about the leak?" Brian's voice was too sharp, and a few of the disembarking passengers glanced around, but it was too late to do anything about that now.
|8||Deegan was shaking his head. "It's your wife, Captain Engle."
For a moment Brian didn't have the foggiest notion what the man was talking about and could only stand there, gaping at him and feeling exquisitely stupid. Then the penny dropped. He meant Anne, of course.
"She's my ex-wife. We were divorced eighteen months ago. What about her?"
"There's been an accident," Deegan said. "Perhaps you'd better come up to the office.'
Brian looked at him curiously.
|9||After the last three long, tense hours, all of this seemed strangely unreal. He resisted an urge to tell Deegan that if this was some sort of Candid Camera bullshit, he could go fuck himself. But of course it wasn't. Airline brass weren't into pranks and games, especially at the expense of pilots who had just come very close to having nasty midair mishaps.
"What about Anne?" Brian heard himself asking again, this time in a softer voice.
|10||He was aware that his co-pilot was looking at him with cautious sympathy. "Is she all right?"
Deegan looked down at his shiny shoes and Brian knew that the news was very bad indeed, that Anne was a lot more than not all right. Knew, but found it impossible to believe. Anne was only thirty-four, healthy, and careful in her habits. He had also thought on more than one occasion that she was the only completely sane driver in the city of Boston ...