Tailspin Page 2

But its condition seemed not to matter to the man stretched out along it. He lay on his back, hands linked over his stomach, a years-old aviation magazine with curled pages tented over his face while he slept.

Dash came back around to the pilot. Still speaking in an undertone, he said, “We get all kinds passing through here, you know.”

“I’ll guard my lunch until I can take off.”

Dash exhaled with agitation. “It’s not like your cargo is a rodeo bull.”

He had actually flown one such snorting mean bastard from Cheyenne to Abilene in a DC-3. Damn thing had bucked all the way there. The bull, not the plane, which had been a sweetheart. That was 1985, if he was remembering right. Back when he was young and wild and thin. Well…thinner.

He sighed with nostalgia for the good ol’ days then resumed his argument with the pilot. “All you’ll be carrying tonight is this fancy tackle box.”

“The airport is closed, Dash.”

“The big mama, yeah. But—”

“And so is every FBO in a two-hundred-mile radius of Atlanta.”

Dash shifted the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, then held up both hands in surrender. “Okay. You win. I’ll cut you in for a larger share.”

“I can’t spend extra pay if I’m dead.”

Dash bit off the soggy end of his cigar and spat the wad into the trash can. “You’re not gonna get dead.”

“Right. Because I’m not flying until the fog dissipates and the airport reopens. The plane is fueled and ready to roll when we get the thumbs-up. Okay? Can we drop it?” He pulled himself up taller. “Now, the crucial question. Is the popcorn machine still busted?” With that, the pilot turned and followed the odor of scorched corn kernels toward the hallway that led to the pilot’s lounge.

Dash’s cell phone rang. “Hold on. Maybe this’ll be your thumbs-up.”

The pilot stopped and turned. Dash answered his phone. “Yeah?” When the caller identified himself, Dash held up an index finger, indicating that it was the call he’d hoped for. It was his counterpart who’d brokered the charter at a private fixed base operator attached to Hartsfield-Jackson.

“Yeah, yeah, he’s ready. Good to go. Chomping at the bit,” he added, skewering the pilot with his glare “Huh? Divert to where?” His frown deepened as he listened for another half minute. “No, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.” Even as he said that, he knew better. “No PCL system? You’re sure somebody’ll be there to turn on the lights?”

The pilot flinched. A pilot-controlled lighting system would have enabled him to turn on the runway lights from his cockpit.

“Okay,” Dash said. “Email me the particulars. Got it.” He clicked off and said to the pilot, “We’re in luck. There’s an FBO outside a small town in northern Georgia. The client will meet you there. He’s leaving Atlanta now by car. It’s a two, two-and-a-half-hour drive, but he’s willing—”

“Northern Georgia? In the mountains?”

Dash made a dismissive gesture. “Not big ones. Foothills.”

“Is it controlled?”

“No. But the landing strip is plenty long enough for this aircraft if you, uh, set down at the very end of it, and the crosswinds aren’t too strong.” Reading his pilot’s dubious expression, he snapped his fingers. “Better idea.”

“I wait for Atlanta to reopen.”

“You take the 182.”

The pilot sputtered a laugh. “That bucket? I don’t think so.”

Dash glowered. “That bird was flying long before your daddy was born.”

Which was the wrong thing to boast because the pilot chuckled again. “My point exactly.”

“Okay, so it’s not as young and spiffy as the Beechcraft, and it’s seen some wear and tear, but it’s reliable, and it’s here, and you’re going. I’ll gas her up while you file your flight plan. Name of the place is—”

“Hold on, Dash. I signed on for the Beechcraft, flying into a controlled airport, not chancing it in uncontrolled airspace over mountainous terrain, in pea soup, and landing on a short strip where there’s likely to be strong crosswinds. And hoping that somebody will be there to turn on the runway lights?” He shook his head. “Forget it.”

“I’ll pay you triple.”

“Not worth it. I’d have to be crazy. Up to you to head off the client and make him understand that nobody can deliver tonight whatever is in that box. He’ll get it when the weather improves. I’ll continue to monitor it and get on my way as soon as I can.”

“You pass on this, you’re history with my outfit.”

“Not so. You need pilots too bad.” He picked up the boxed lunch and took it with him as he crossed the lobby and headed down the hallway.

Dash swore under his breath. He’d issued an empty threat, and the smug son of a bitch knew it. He needed pilots rated for several categories, classes, and types of aircraft who could climb into a cockpit and fly at a moment’s notice.

This one was an asshole, but he was a bachelor and therefore more available than the men with families. He was eager to chalk up hours that he could eventually peddle to a commercial passenger carrier.

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