Sunday, May 21, 2017

Fiction: Unwanted President. Chapter 7

The Plane Ride

By Ed Rogers

Tom took back everything he said about Finland being no colder than New York. The sun wasn’t up yet. It was that time of morning when the light of day and the dark of night seemed to be fighting each other. The wind came out of the north and it felt, as they walked to the hangar, like a thousand daggers hitting them.
    Tom and Mary both had on all the warm clothes they owned, but the wind was going through them and right into their bones. Carl had a fire going and hot coffee in the hangar’s small office. The smell of hot coffee and the warmth of the stove cheered them both.
    They stood by the stove shaking and trying not to spill their coffee. Carl walked in and handed them cold-weather gear – boots, coveralls, and a parka with gloves sewn on the ends. He said, “Put these on. The plane doesn’t have heat.”
    “My God,” cried Mary, “we’ll freeze to death.”
    “Not with that gear. You can lie in the snow for eight hours without getting that cold.”
    Carl was right. Once they dressed in the cold-weather gear, both Tom and Mary felt much better. They stopped shaking and soon warmed up to the point they needed to move back from the stove.
    “The sun is up and we need to beat the snowstorm that’s heading our way,” Carl said hurriedly, as he turned off the stove and lights. “Everybody on the plane, please.”
    “May I have some more coffee to go?” Mary asked.
    Carl smiled. “You may have as much as you like, Mrs. Cahill, but remember, it is going to be a long way to the next restroom.”
    Mary decided she didn’t need any more coffee and was wishing she hadn’t drunk the first cup. She and Tom stepped into the blowing north wind, and within seconds of being exposed to the agonizing weather, their faces were numb. The night had turned into a twilight of sorts, with just enough light to see the outline of the mountains and the small plane parked in the snow.
    Tom couldn’t make out any name of a manufacturer on the plane, and he had never seen one with its body shape. He just hoped it would stay in the air. You could see it was an old plane but well kept. It spoke of an owner who took great pride in his ownership. It was a two-engine job set up to carry four people. There was room behind the seats for cargo, and, if needed, the rear seat could be removed for additional cargo space. The airplane was like its owner, no nonsense. This would surely be a no-frills flight. Tom sat alongside Carl, and Mary sat in the rear seat with their backpacks.
    Carl began to warm up the plane and go through his pre-flight checklist. Tom asked, “Where in Russia are we going?”
    “There is a small landing strip right outside St. Petersburg. I have used it many times. Somebody will meet us there and take you to wherever you are going. I will wait and fly you back.”
    Before Tom could say anything else, the plane roared to life. It sped down the field, kicking up a blinding snowstorm behind it. Then it jumped into the air, the engines straining to pull its load skyward. When they reached flying altitude, Carl cut back on the engines and headed right between two mountains.
    They hopped from one mountain to another. They were so near to some that you might have gotten the impression if you wanted a handful of snow, all you needed to do was reach out the window. They all looked alike to Tom, but Carl knew where he was going. An hour into the flight, Carl looked back at Mary and said, “Welcome to what they call Russia. All this land used to be Finland, until our war with Russia in 1939. Now the new owners are the Russians, but they cannot stop us from flying in and out. Much black-market trade goes on between the West and Russia through these mountains.”
    That was just great, thought Tom, he was flying with a black marketer! He wondered if they shot you for that in Russia. Hell! They shot you for a lot less than that. Like entering their country illegally.
    The plane suddenly banked hard to the right and dropped like a rock to tree-top level. Tom heard Mary scream, and he could feel his hands going numb as his grip tightened on the bar in front of him. For a few minutes, it was as if the plane were heading right into the ground. Then Carl pulled back on the yoke and the airplane slid over the tops of the trees, missing them by as little as ten feet. Tom got his breath and yelled, “Damn it, Carl! Next time you’re going to do something nuts like that, tell us first. I nearly lost my lunch all over the airplane!”
    He looked back at Mary, who was white as a ghost. “Are you all right?”
    “I guess so,” said Mary.
    “I’m sorry,” said Carl. “We had to drop fast when we came out of that pass, or the Russians would pick us up on their radar. It’s a very dangerous cat-and-mouse game we play. If they find us, they’ll shoot us down. There will be no warning. They will not give us a chance to surrender.
    “We still think of this part of Russia as Finland. Most of us have family who still live over here. We see nothing wrong with flying in and out of St. Petersburg. The Russians don’t see it that way.”
    “How much longer till we land?” asked Mary. “I’m not feeling very well right now.”
    “It will pass, Mrs. Cahill. In a few minutes the fear will be gone and you’ll feel better. Just think about something else. We’ll be landing in about one hour, unless I have to go around the outskirts of St Petersburg, then it’ll be an extra thirty minutes.”
    Fortunately for Mary, there wasn’t much traffic around St. Petersburg, so Carl was able to fly straight to the small field. Looking to the north, Tom could see the snowstorm coming. It looked like a big white wall slowly moving toward them.
    Carl parked the plane next to the little house at the end of the runway and got out. “Go on into the house. I’ll tie down the plane and be right in there.”
    Tom knocked on the door, and a sweet-looking old lady with gray hair, standing about four-foot-six, answered it. The warmth of the large cook stove flowed out over them and pulled them toward it as if it were a magnet. The old lady didn’t speak English, but motioned them to come in and sit down at the table. While they removed their cold-weather gear, she didn’t ask, she just poured two cups of steaming hot soup, and handed it to them. They started eating the soup as though it were nectar from the gods. Tom paused from his eating as Carl came in – behind him, he could see the snow beginning to come down.
    “I see you have met my grandmother.” Carl smiled and kissed her on the cheek and sat down with his bowl of soup.
    Tom and Mary both nodded their heads toward the grandmother and smiled.
    Tom and Mary had finished their soup and Carl was almost done with his when the telephone rang. The sound made them all jump. The grandmother answered it and handed it to Carl. Neither Tom nor Mary could understand what Carl was saying, but they knew it was about them. Carl hung the phone up and came back to the table. “A car will be here within the hour to pick you up. They didn’t sound very friendly. You must do what they tell you – for your own safety, and theirs. If they think you’re endangering them, they will kill you, and maybe me. You do understand this, don’t you?”
    “Yes, we understand,” said Tom. “Do you know where they are taking us, and who we are going to see?”
    Carl raised his shoulders. “I fly you in, I fly you out. I would think that you would know who you are meeting. Whoever it is, do what they tell you and you’ll be fine, and I’ll be here when you return.”
    Tom felt like a fool for coming halfway around the world and not knowing who he had come to meet. He turned to Mary and said, “I thought you called or talked to someone in Russia and told them we were coming. Didn’t they tell you who they were?”
    “I called the number that you saw in the journal. A man answered and asked who I was and what I wanted. I told him my name and that John Cahill was my father-in-law and had spoken to S.K. there in Russia. I informed him I was in Germany and wanted to come and speak to S.K. He put me on hold for what seemed a long time; when he came back online he gave me Carl’s number, address, and when to show up. He hung up the phone before I could get any more information.”
    Tom’s first thought was that they were fucked. He would have bet that the name on that piece of paper that burned up in the car was the person they were there to meet. Out loud, he said, “Oh shit!” He was saying it more to himself than to Mary; he had seen “S.K.” at the end of the journal but had thought nothing of it. But now, seeing the effect his outburst had on her, he knew he had to tell her about the danger they were in. “I’m sorry, Mary, this is my fault. I should have told you what happened in Virginia when you got to Carl’s house last night.”
    “In Virginia? What happened in Virginia?”
    Tom took a deep breath. “I can’t swear to it but I believe my phone at the New Daily is tapped. I spoke to the Professor and he gave me a name here in Russia. I can’t remember what the name was but I’m sure the first name started with ‘S.’ Soon after leaving his house I was run off the road by a black SUV. I had told no one I was going to Virginia. The only time it was mentioned was when you and I spoke on the phone. I was thrown clear of the wreck, but my notebook and the paper with the name on it burned in the car fire. They killed the professor, and I believe they are looking for me – and now you.”
    Mary looked terrified. “Who are they and why did they kill the professor? Thank God you weren’t hurt.”
    Tom shook his head; it was a question he had been asking himself. “I don’t know who or why. But if my phone was tapped – they know about the journal.”
    “Tom, we have no choice; according to the journal something happened here in Russia. John wrote ‘S.K.’ and the number, so it had to be important to him. He found some kind of information in Russia that sent him back to the States, where he killed the President. This is our last hope to find out who Bo and White are. Whoever S.K. is, he must know why John killed the President.”
    Tom reached over, took Mary’s hand, and said, “Don’t worry. It’s just like Carl said, everything will be fine.”

As they sat by the fire waiting, Mary would look at him every so often, while the sweet granny talked to Mary through Carl. Tom would only smile and keep his thoughts to himself. He had planted himself in a big easy chair and was half asleep.
    Suddenly, Carl got out of his chair and walked to the window. He heard something other than the blowing snow. The rumble of a car engine could now be heard over the snow storm and howling wind. Out of the wall of white, Carl made out the outline of a sleek black car as it raced toward the house at a high rate of speed.
    He turned and excitedly said, “Quick, get dressed – the car is coming.”
    Carl put on his big parka and told them, “Stay here until I come and get you. Do not let them see you looking out the windows.” Then he was gone out the door.
    In a few minutes, Carl came back in with two black hoods. He told Tom and Mary, “You need to put these on. It is the only way they’ll take you.”
    Tom didn’t like the idea of hoods. Hoods were something they put on people they were going to shoot. Mary didn’t even think about it. She took the hood from Carl and put it on. That left Tom with little choice; he reluctantly put the hood on. Carl led them out to the car. They blindly stumbled through the snow, Mary almost slipping and falling more than once, her death grip on Tom’s arm the only thing keeping her upright. They stopped beside the car, and Tom heard Carl and the Russians talking about something. Carl sounded infuriated, but Tom had no idea what they were saying. Whatever they were arguing about, it didn’t sound like good news.
    Carl touched Tom’s arm and said, “These damn Russians want more money. Their word isn’t good enough to wipe your ass with.”
    Tom was trying to think of something fast. There was no way he was going to pull out more money in front of these Russians. If they found out how much money he was carrying, they might kill and rob them. Then it came to him. “Tell them you’ll have two thousand more for them, once we’re safely back here.”
    Carl told them, and there were some words back and forth. The Russians wanted half the money up front. Carl told them they had been paid once, and until the customers were back here safe there would be no more money – in the end, they accepted the deal. Happy or not – they agreed to take Tom and Mary with them.
    They put the two of them in the back seat and raced back into the white wall of snow. Carl watched the tail lights fade away in the snow storm, and walked back to the house, where his grandmother waited at the door.
    The Russians said nothing to them. Tom wasn’t sure if this meant they couldn’t speak English, or they just chose not to let them know they understood English. In any case, it was better to keep quiet.
    The driver was going at full speed. Tom was thinking the snow must make it hard to see. Every so often, the car would go into a skid and the Russian on the passenger side would scream something in Russian at the driver. Tom was somewhat glad he couldn’t see. If they crashed and died, it should be over before they knew it was happening. The Russians drove like that for what seemed more than an hour. The snow storm had hit hard, Tom could hear the wind picking up, and the car skidded even more turning corners.
    Then suddenly the car stopped, and the men opened the back door and pulled Mary and Tom out. The cold wind coming out of the frozen north astonished them. Tom felt Mary’s hand grab his arm. Her anxiety was running from her hand trough Tom’s body. He leaned toward her and softly said, “Everything will be all right, Mary. I’m right here with you.”
[Editor’s Note: The novel from which this excerpt is taken can be ordered from Amazon, as either a paperback or a Kindle book.]

Copyright © 2017 by Ed Rogers

1 comment:

  1. You know Ed Rogers has taken a few small-plane rides when you read a chapter like this (or chapters from his first published novel, Boystown: The Cocaine Highway). Reading these descriptions is better than being on the plane yourself, because you’re safe.