In the thin morning dawn I spotted Dan’s hangar. Pulling myself into the aisle I made my way forward. “Can you let me out near that lane up ahead?” I asked the driver.
“Sure,” he replied, glancing up at me. “I suppose you know town is another six miles,” he added, his features unreadable in the instrument lights
“You got luggage?” he asked, the heavy bus rocking from side-to-side as he brought it to a halt on the shoulder, the sound of his flashes adding noise to the surging Detroit diesel.
“Negative. Just this,” I said, swinging the AWOL bag so he could see it in the light from the doorway lamp as I waited for him to open the door.
Stepping out, I turned away from the diesel exhaust and the shower of grit that filled the air as the driver powered it back onto the highway. In less than a minute only his marker lights were visible. Then there was silence except for the whisper of the morning wind. Reflecting on my late friend, Dan, I tried to compare this silent world with the confusion I’d shared with him – the Vietnam War, the firefights, the womping sound of helicopter blades, the voices of injured men, the shouts of the frightened GIs. There was no comparison.
The Eastern Texas horizon grew paler as I hiked the lane, the gravel crunching beneath the thick soles of my combat boots.
Dan and I had crewed a medevac helicopter. We’d nearly finished a tour when a sniper bullet took him out. It happened in an instant. One second he was giving me directions through the Interphone, the next second his blood was everywhere and his weight on the stick was taking us in. Had he been the pilot rather than the copilot we probably would have lost the aircraft in that desperate moment. As it was, I managed to heave his body off the stick before we did. With only fifteen or so feet it was touch and go.
Sally was Dan‘s life. He talked of nothing else. If he showed me her picture once he showed it to me a thousand times – a lanky blonde with tangled hair and grease on her cheek.
“She was packing the wheel bearing on one of the Stearman,” he said.
She was a skilled crop-duster pilot, and she was a capable maintainer. But she wasn’t certified. Dan was so he checked over her work and then signed it off. He’d mentioned once that if something happened to him he hoped I would look in on her.
And this morning, while on my way home, that was what he was doing – looking in.
On the southeast corner of the hangar was a light blue entry door. I paused there, wondering if anyone was around. Then I heard the faint sounds of country music, maybe Ernest Tubb. I couldn’t be sure. I made a fist and knocked. The music stopped and I heard nothing but the Texas wind. I knocked again.
“Who is it?”
“Name’s Zeke,” I replied.
“Don’t know anybody called Zeke.”
“Probably not, unless Dan mentioned me in one of his letters from ‘Nam. He was my copilot.”
A brief silence was followed by the sound of a deadbolt. The door opened as far as the safety chin would allow and just enough to reveal Sally’s face. She was just as pretty as her photograph. In her left hand was a very large revolver.
“What do you want?”
“I didn’t come wanting anything. Dan just asked me to look in on you if anything ever … anything ever happened to him. And that’s what I’m trying to do. But if you‘d rather, I‘ll set this stuff down and be on my way.”
“What stuff? I didn’t hear anyone drive up. How’d you get here?”
“I’m on my way to North Dakota. I flew to Dallas from Travis Air Force Base in California. Then I rode a Greyhound to here.”
“You got any ID?”
“I got an expired North Dakota driver’s license.”
“What kind of stuff did you bring?”
“A picture of you and Dan standing next to a Stearman and a hanky that he said used to smell like perfume.”