Barnstormers

Here’s the next chapter of my new story, about two women and a plane near the dawn of the aviation industry. I read it at the Tamale Hut on June 23, 2018.

Chapter 9 – The Handsome Man

At the end of our last exciting episode, Bridget had been taken from her job at gunpoint by Bob, the former mechanic now working for the mysterious Belgian. They drove to a nearby airfield, which Kiki had coincidentally been snooping around. Kiki saw the car arrive but didn’t know it contained Bridget, and was about to peer around the corner when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

 – – – – –

Standing at the corner of the hangar, Kiki heard the car stop in front of the open door. She was about to peer around the corner to try to see the car’s occupants when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

Almost faster than she could think Kiki grabbed the hand and twisted it. At the same time she yanked down, pulling the arm over her shoulder and throwing the person to the ground.

“Hey, wait, Kiki,” the person on the ground said, holding up his hands to defend himself. “It’s me, Tommy!” Kiki looked down to see Tommy Jenkens at her feet, the 15-year old son of the woman that she and Bridget were staying with.

“Tommy?” Kiki asked. “What are you doing here?” She helped the boy to his feet.

“Ma told me you borrowed my bike to come here to see if you could get a job, and I thought I would, too. You know how much I want to fly.”

“That’s not exactly why I’m here,” Kiki said. “I think there’s something shady going on.”

“Yeah?” Tommy said, his eyes wide.

“Yeah. That’s why I haven’t gone in yet. I want to see what’s going on first.” She peered around the corner, just in time to see Bob and Bridget walk from the car to the hangar. When she saw the gun in Bob’s hand, she pulled back.

“What’s going on?” Tommy asked.

“They’ve got Bridget.”

“Who has her?”

“The bad guys. We have to help her. Wait here.” Seeing no one in front of the hangar, Kiki cautiously crept around so she could get a look inside the open door. She then hurried back to the side of the building.

“So, what did you see?” Tommy whispered.

“Bridget’s there, with three or four guys watching her.”

“Should we go get the cops?”

Kiki didn’t respond right away. She was staring at the plane that was idling in front of the hangar. It was a Huff-Daland two-seater, the kind of plane that was popular for crop dusting. She figured that the way it was sitting heavy on the grass, that it was likely full of fertilizer or other material to be spread over nearby crops. A smile crawled across her face as she turned back to the teenager.

“No, we don’t need the cops. We’ve got this. Here’s what we’re going to do…”

– – – – –

Bridget sat on a metal chair in the middle of the hangar and watched the men working around her. She could see Bob through the window into the office. He was talking with someone on the phone, probably the Belgian.

Bridget was starting to give in to despair when she noticed two figures running toward the plane idling in front of the hangar. She recognized the smaller of the two to be Kiki. She looked to see what the men around her were doing. Two were working on a plane at the far end of the hangar. One had joined Bob in the office, and the one that Bob had told to keep an eye on her was standing at a workbench along the side wall. None of them seemed to have seen the figures running across the field, and she knew she wanted to keep it that way.

She stood up and shouted, “Hey, you mugs! What does a lady have to do to get a little attention around here?”

“You sit down,” the man at the bench growled, pointing to the chair.

“I’m getting a cramp,” Bridget said loudly, stomping her feet. “And I have to go to the bathroom.” Bridget saw that the two men by the plane had looked over at her, smirked, then went back to what they were doing. Bob was still on the phone, and he and the other mechanic watched her through the window.

The man at the workbench approached her, carrying a wrench. “You sit down or I’ll give you a cramp,” he said.

Bridget stood her ground. “That doesn’t even make sense,” she said defiantly. “What a stupid thing to say.”

Anger flashed in his eyes, and he raised the wrench menacingly. “You sit down or so help me…”

“Okay, okay,” Bridget said as she sat down on the chair. The man sneered at her for a second then walked back to the workbench. “But I really do have to use the ladies room,” she called after him.

Bridget looked around at the other men in the hangar and it appeared that they all went back to what they were doing. Meanwhile, she saw that the two figures had reached the idling plane.

– – – – –

Kiki and Tommy stood as close to the plane as they could in hopes that no one inside the hangar would see them. They paused a few seconds to catch their breath, then Kiki turned to Tommy.

“So you know what you’re supposed to do?” Kiki whispered. Tommy nodded and scrambled into the front cockpit. He reached over the side and gave her a thumbs-up sign. Kiki glanced down to make sure that the wheel chocks were in place, then pulled her flying goggles out of her jacket pocket and put them on. She took out a handkerchief and tied it around her face, then tapped the side of the plane in a signal to Tommy.

Tommy applied the throttle and the engine got noticeably louder. Kiki watched as the mechanics in the hangar noticed the change and started to walk toward the plane to see what was happening. Kiki tapped the side of the plane again, and Tommy pulled the lever to release whatever was in the tank that was destined to be spread over the nearby fields. The powder billowed out behind the plane and into the hangar, dispersed by the backwash from the propeller.

As the powder filled the hangar with an eye-searing, choking cloud, Kiki ran into the building, protected by her goggles and the handkerchief on her face. She was running toward Bridget when she heard the door to the office open and a voice say, “What the hell…” followed by a fit of coughing. Kiki recognized the voice of the man who had twice tried to kill her. She ran over to the office door and finding Bob trying to wipe his eyes of the blinding powder, Kiki balled up her fist and punched the man square in the nose. Bob fell backward. His head hit the concrete floor and he lay still.

Kiki reached down and grabbed the cuff of Bob’s pants leg and dragged his unconscious form over to where Bridget was sitting. Bridget, having seen the cloud of dust billowing out behind the idling plane, sat on the chair patiently with her eyes closed and the front of her blouse pulled up over her nose and mouth. Kiki grabbed Bridget’s arm and put Bob’s pants cuff in her hand and said, “Hold onto this, keep your eyes closed and follow me.” Bridget stood and allowed Kiki to lead her through the cloud, past the coughing and gasping mechanics, dragging Bob behind them.

They reached the car and Bridget helped Kiki load Bob into the back seat. Kiki got behind the wheel, started the engine, and pressed the button for the horn several times, which was the signal for Tommy to climb out of the plane and join them. But before he left the plane, he pulled the chocks out from the wheels, and the plane started to roll toward the field.

Tommy ran to the car and climbed in, and Kiki drove away from the hangar. He looked through the back window and saw the mechanics walk out of the dissipating cloud. They looked from the car racing away from them down the road to the pilotless plane heading out over the field, and took off running toward the runaway plane.

The car bounced down the dirt trail, heading toward the main road. “Thanks,” Bridget said.

“Don’t mention it,” Kiki said. “What the heck were you doing there?”

Bridget jerked her thumb at the unconscious form in the back seat. “Your boyfriend wanted to show me his new business venture.”

Kiki shook her head. “I thought we decided that he was sweet on you, not me.”

“Hardly,” Bridget said with a chuckle.

Kiki reached the main road and drove straight to the local police station, where she turned over custody of her prisoner to the local authorities. She told them about the open warrant for the arson attempt at the Aeromarine factory, and that was enough for them to hold Bob.

– – – – –

The following day, Bridget went back to work as if nothing happened. The parade of potential investors, inquisitive reporters, and customers curious about new Langston Pressure Carburetor continued throughout the morning. Bridget kept a sharp eye out, but saw no one she thought suspicious pass her desk.

After lunch, Bridget was typing a letter when the door opened and a man walked in. He was tall, very good-looking, and impeccably dressed in the latest style of suit. He removed his hat and touched the side of his head, but not one wavy strand of blond hair was out of place. He strode through the office with the grace of a dancer, smiling to the secretaries working on either side of the aisle. All eyes were on him as he approached the president’s door, knocked twice, then entered, closing the door behind him.

Gracie rolled her chair over so that it bumped into Bridget’s and said, “Wow! Where did he come from, and are there any more like him at home?”

“I was just wondering that myself,” Bridget replied, still gazing at the door.

“I call dibs,” Helen said.

“Like heck you do,” replied Gracie as she rolled back to her desk. “When that fine specimen comes out, it’s every woman for herself.”

All the ladies in the office waited with baited breath for the reappearance of the handsome stranger. Gracie touched up her lipstick, while Helen checked her hair using the little mirror that she kept in her desk. Bridget tried to continue typing the letter she had started, but her eyes kept drifting back to the door. There was something about that man that made her nervous.

After more than a half-hour, the door opened and the tall man reappeared. He carefully closed the door behind him, paused, then with a brief chuckle, as though laughing at some private joke, he started through the office. He walked slower on his way out, with a bit more swagger than he had on the way in. One might think he was soaking up the stares of the office women.

Bridget’s typing slowed as she tried to watch the man while seeming like she wasn’t. As he passed her desk, he nodded his head almost imperceptibly toward her without breaking his stride. He continued on and out the door to the street.

All the women exhaled at the same time once he was gone. Bridget tried to continue her letter, but Gracie rolled her chair over and said, “I hate you,” before rolling back.

“What?” Bridget asked.

“What has she got that I haven’t got?” Helen asked Gracie. “He didn’t even look at me.”

“But I didn’t do anything,” Bridget protested.

“It was the typing,” Gracie replied. “He likes a girl who types.”

“C’mon, knock it off. He just glanced at me as he was going by.”

“Honey,” Gracie said, “a glance like that from a man like him and I’d be having his babies.”

Bridget started to laugh but stopped when the door to the president’s office swung open and Mr. Langston walked out. There was a stunned silence as the large man with the shock of prematurely white hair stormed through. He growled, “Gone for the day,” as he passed the girls’ desks and hurried through the door out of the office.

“He looks upset about something,” Bridget said. “I’ve never seen him like that.”

“Neither have I,” said Helen, “and I’ve been here lots longer than you have.”

“I hope everything’s okay,” Gracie said.

“Me, too,” Bridget added.

– – – – –

“So how good-looking was he?” Kiki asked. She was laying on her stomach on the bed in the room that she and Bridget shared. Bridget was sitting at the small table near the window, writing the days events in her journal, something she did most days after dinner.

“Let’s just say that he’d give Ramón Novarro a run for his money.”

“Wow. And he winked at you on the way out?”

“Not winked. More like nodded his head a little.” Bridget tilted her head slightly for emphasis.

“Still, he didn’t do that to anyone else in the office, did he?”

“No, and the other girls gave me the business about it.”

Kiki laughed. “Maybe he likes tall women.”

“How would he know? I was sitting down.”

“Maybe he liked your posture?”

“No, there was something else about him.” Bridget thought for a bit. “Something vaguely sinister.”

“Sinister? What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know. But there was something about him that made me feel … uneasy.”

“Yeah, you’re not used to being propositioned by good-looking men.”

Bridget shook her head. “You’re incorrigible.” She closed her journal and turned away from the window. Had she not done that, she might have seen the two shadowy figures stealing across the field in front of the house.

The two shapes avoided the squares of light on the lawn that were coming from the house and headed toward the airplane parked in front of the barn. When they reached the plane, one of the shadows climbed into the rear cockpit. The cockpit was then illuminated by a soft glow.

– – – – –

Who was the good-looking man visiting the Langston Aircraft office? Why was Mr. Langston so upset? And what do the shadowy figures want with Kiki’s plane? We’ll find out the answers to these questions and more in the next exciting chapter, which will premiere at the Tamale Hut on September 15, after which it will be posted here.

– – – – –

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