Sally and Zeke sat at the yellow dinette table and sipped their coffee in silence. Each deep in thought.
“Do you have any experience with reciprocal engines?” Sally finally asked.
“Quite a bit, actually. That’s what I started on way back when I was a kid in the air force. I worked my way up and eventually became crew chef on C-54s, Old Shaky’s, Super Connies, and supervised the maintenance on a few British Lancaster Bombers that wandered into my territory.
“I like the old prop engine more than the screaming jets – The smoke and sputter when they first start. It‘s music. A good flight engineer can make those engines sing.”
“What is an Old Shaky Is that an airplane?”
Zeke smiled. That’s the nickname for the C-124 Globemaster. They were built like an elephant, big and fat. A good airplane for its time, and versatile – a section of the floor worked in conjunction with an overhead winch it became an elevator. It was also easily converted to a double-deck troop carrier. Not to mention the nose opened up like clam shells with ramps for hauling vehicles – tanks, truck, helicopters. It was ahead of its time. But when it was empty it vibrated and shook to beat the band. It could bring a flight crew to their knees. That’s how it got its name. I liked that airplane in spite of its shortcomings.”
“I would have never guessed,” she said smiling while she absently stirred her coffee for the umpteenth time.
“But why the question about my recip experience?” he asked.
“The fellow carrying the note on this place knows a little about airplanes. He knows the periodic inspections are coming due. He also knows I don’t have an A&P license, that I have to hire it done.”
“How much of your stuff is he holding as collateral?” Zeke asked.
“Everything – airplanes, equipment, hangar, twenty acres of real estate. If he forecloses, I’m on the street.”
“So what are you asking of me?”
“I’m asking you to help me re-certify those two Stearman,” she said, pointing with a nod of her head. I’m in trouble, Zeke. I need your skills for a couple of weeks?”
Zeke expected as much, Dan had hinted around about future problems with a loan, but somehow hearing ‘I’m in trouble’ sounded more urgent. Zeke didn’t respond. Instead, he reflected on the family wheat farm in North Dakota. The corporation he and his two brothers had formed last year. It had saved the family farm from the greedy and powerful agribusiness people. But his physical presence was required. His brothers were counting on him. Besides, things were moving way too fast here.
“l can’t offer you much pay,” Sally continued. She was not aware that he had tuned her out while he reflected on the old family farm, the two-thousand North Dakota acres. “But I’ll put you up in a motel, feed you three squares, and loan to pickup to drive. Two weeks, that’s all I ask,” she added.
“You can’t know how much I’d like to help,” he said watching her hope fade, and wished he hadn’t been so abrupt with his response. “Look, I’m committed at home. The wheat will be ready for harvest by mid summer. I’ve got to be there to help with critical decisions. My brothers are depending on me.”
“Okay, a week. Can we get the inspections and maintenance done in a week?”
“I don’t know. There could be serious problems. Some of this stuff can’t be postponed. Not only would it be illegal, but it could endanger the aircraft and the pilot. I’d have to do a walk-around and then check the aircraft logs.”
She was silent. He saw from her expression these were things she didn’t want to hear. When she didn’t respond he continued.
“Have you ever considered selling out, get the cash and find something else to do. I mean this operation would bring a lot of cash.”
“I could never do that, Zeke.”
“Well, for two reasons.”
“Such as?” asked Zeke, leaned over the table toward her.
“For starters this was my daddy’s place, his dream. It would break his heart if I sold it.”
“Where is he now?”
“He died a couple of years ago.”
Then that’s not a valid reason. What the other objection?”
“Dan always loved North Texas.“
“I understand, and as harsh as it sounds you can’t live your life for the wishes of a dead man.”
She stared at him, her eyes brimming with tears.
“Let’s take a walk. Let’s see what you have here,” Zeke suggested, scooting his chair back.