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 March 17, 2018.

Chapter 7 – Hog Island Intrigue (part 1)

In our last exciting episode, Bridget and Kiki were driving toward the Hog Island air base, outside of Philadelphia, to pick up a new plane.  They had just spoken to the widow of Linford Price, who had given them a folio of papers from her husband’s time in the War, during which he may have crossed paths with the man now known as the Belgian, the head of a syndicate that is trying to muscle its way into American businesses.  They were heading down a dark country road when a truck appeared behind them and started bumping into their car.

– – – – –

The two men stared eagerly through the windshield of their truck, waiting for the car to appear. The truck’s engine was running but all lights were off. The men sat in darkness.

Soon they saw headlights approaching. “Okay, here they come,” one of the men said.

“How do you know it’s them?” the other asked as he grabbed the steering wheel.

“How many other cars would be out at this time? Besides, the boss said they’d be coming.”

They watched as the car drove by. As it did, the man put the truck into gear, turned on the headlights, and pulled out onto the road behind the car. He pressed the accelerator pedal to the floor and was soon gaining on the car.

“Turn on the other lights,” the passenger said, and the driver flipped a switch on the dashboard. The truck was fitted with a second set of headlamps, which considerably increased the light coming from the front of the truck. They were soon close enough to the car that they could clearly see the backs of the occupants heads.

“Hey, it’s two women,” the truck driver said, as the driver of the car put her arm out and waved for the truck to pass.

“You got a problem with that?”

The driver pressed the accelerator harder and the front bumper of the truck made contact with back of the car, visibly jolting the two women inside. “No, not really,” he chuckled.

The car swerved to the right, partially out of the glare of the truck’s headlights, then back onto the road. As the truck was about to hit the car again, the car suddenly swerved to the right again. The driver of the truck slammed on his brakes and watched as the car went off the road. It tipped as its wheels left the pavement, and rolled into the darkness beyond the reach of even the truck’s enhanced headlights.

“Wow,” the driver said, resting his forearms on top of the steering wheel and peering through the windshield.

The passenger reached behind the seat and came away with two flashlights. “C’mon,” he said, handing one to the driver.

The two men climbed out of the truck and down the embankment, focusing the flashlight beams on the overturned car. The first man to reach the car bent over and peered in and said, “Hey, where’d they go?”

The other shined his light in the other side, illuminating a folder wedged between the seats. “I dunno, but this looks like the folder we’re supposed to get. I’ll grab it while you look for the women.” He climbed into the car and pulled at the folder. Some of the contents spilled out and he gathered up those papers, jamming them roughly into the folder.

The other man stood up and played his light over the surrounding field. The brush was thick for this time of year, so he couldn’t see more than a few yards from where he stood. He started to walk into the field when he heard a rumbling from the road. He looked up and saw that another truck had pulled over in front of the one they parked on the road.

A burly man wearing a derby leaned his head out of the passenger side of the truck and yelled, “Hey, is everyone okay down there?”

“Yeah, we’re fine,” the man with the flashlight yelled. “It’s just a wreck. We saw it from the road, but it must have happened a while ago ‘cause nobody’s here.”

The man in the truck scratched chin through his full beard, as if he was mulling over what he just heard. “Okay, then,” he finally said before sliding over behind the steering wheel and driving away.

The man in the car stood up, gripping the folder to prevent its contents from spilling out again. “We should go,” he said. “That guy might send the cops back.”

“What about the women?” the other man asked, again playing his light around to try to find the car’s occupants.

“Leave ‘em. We got what we came for.” He waved the folder for emphasis. They scurried up the embankment, climbed into the truck, and drove away. The sound of the truck’s engine faded into the distance, and night again swallowed up the scene of the crash.

A few minutes later, a small flame appeared in the brush several yards away from the crash site and moved slowly in the direction of the overturned car. A few feet from the car, the flame emerged from the shrubs as Bridget stepped into the clearing, holding a lighter with the flame ahead of herself. “Keek?” she called softly. “Where are you?”

She walked to the car, holding the lighter at arms length and peered in. She then stepped back and squinted up at the road. She extended her arm toward the road, then keeping her arm straight, turned 180 degrees around and pointed the exact opposite direction, as if to figure a trajectory. She held the lighter up over her head and slowly walked in the direction she was pointing. “Keek, are you okay?”

“Over here, Bridge,” Kiki said, from a spot to the left and a few feet ahead of where Bridget was standing. Bridget hurried toward the sound and found Kiki trying to sit up next to a large maple tree. Bridget knelt down next to her friend.

“Are you okay?” Bridget asked. “Is anything broken?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Kiki replied. “Just had the wind knocked out of me. You?”

“I’m fine, I guess. Next time, I’d like a little warning before you push me out of a moving car.”

Kiki laughed, then winced and held her side. “I figured that it’d be best if we split up. That’s why I swerved out of the truck’s headlights long enough for you to get clear. I thought if they caught me, they might not get you. Didn’t figure on that damn deer.”

Bridget helped Kiki to her feet and the two women worked their way through the brush to where the car landed on its roof. “Well, we’re not going anywhere in this,” Bridget said, moving the lighter around to inspect the car. “And it looks like they got the folder.”

“Bridge, bring that light over here,” Kiki said from the other side of the car. Bridget walked over and held the flame near her friend. Kiki held up a few pieces of lined paper with writing on them, and a small photograph.

“Maybe they didn’t get everything,” Kiki said. The photograph was of two men, one who appeared to be Lin Price in a soldier’s uniform, the other a tall man in a rumpled suit and a stern expression on his face. Kiki turned the picture over and written on the back in pencil were the letters “HVE”

“‘HVE’? What does that mean?” Bridget asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe initials? Whatever the case, we’ve got to get out of here.” Kiki tucked the papers into her jacket and the two women climbed the embankment and started walking.

– – – – –

Bridget and Kiki had walked for about a half-mile in the dark when they saw a glow ahead in the distance, and then heard the sound of a truck coming toward them down the road.

“What do you think?” Bridget asked.

“Hard to say,” Kiki replied. “It’s going in the wrong direction, but it would be better than walking in the dark. What if it’s the bad guys coming back?”

“That’s what I was thinking. Should we take a chance?”

“Let’s see how many there are. I’ll hang back and you talk to them. If there’s only one, we can probably take him.”

Bridget nodded and Kiki slipped off to a batch of trees on the side of the road. Bridget stood off to the side, but within the view of the driver, and waved as the truck approached. The truck stopped and the driver turned on a light on the dashboard. She could see there was one man in the cab. He was wearing a derby and had a thick beard. “Hello, little lady,” the man said. “What are you doing out here by yourself?”

“Well, I’m not exactly by myself,” Bridget said as Kiki, seeing there was only one man in the truck, appeared behind her from out of the trees. “We had a bit of car trouble a ways back. Could you give us a ride?”

The man looked suspiciously from Kiki to Bridget. Bridget said, “Don’t worry, we’re not trying to hijack you. We had some problems earlier with some other truck drivers and we wanted to make sure you were not them.”

The man raised one eyebrow. “Yeah? And what kind of trouble was that?”

Kiki said, “Two guys in another truck ran us off the road. Then they stopped to finish the job.”

“And why would they do that?”

Bridget shrugged. “Who knows what people do for fun in this part of the country? We were just passing through and this happened.”

The man thought for a second, then said, “Okay, hop in. But I’m actually going that way.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

Kiki looked at Bridget and said, “That’s okay. That’s the way we’re going.” The girls climbed into the truck. The driver turned off the inside light and put the truck in gear. “I’m Kiki, by the way. This is my partner, Bridget.”

“I’m Alex Spencer, but everybody calls me Spence.” He slowed the truck at an intersection with a gravel road and made a wide u-turn. The truck was soon heading in the direction the girls had been walking.

“Glad to know you,” Bridget said. “If you don’t mind me asking, why were you coming down the road only to turn around when you picked us up?”

Spence grinned. “Well, I saw a wreck earlier tonight, and there were two guys with flashlights poking around in it. They said everything was fine, but the more I thought about it, it seemed suspicious, so I was going back to see. I’m guessing that was your car?”

“Yeah, it was. Did you recognize the two guys? I heard them talking to you.”

“No, it was too dark. Voices didn’t seem familiar either.”

“What about the truck? Had you seen it before?”

Spence shook his head. “Too dark. But I make this run four days a week and I rarely ever see anyone out here.”

“Where are you going?” Kiki asked.

“I work for a company that has plants in Bethlehem and Chester. I drive in the middle of the night from Bethlehem to Chester, then the next afternoon back up to Bethlehem. I like driving at night. It’s peaceful.”

“Yeah, as long as you don’t have a nut trying to run you off the road.”

“I suppose,” Spence said, “so what brings you ladies out on this road at this time of night?”

“We’re going to the Hog Island to pick up our new plane.”

“Plane? You two are pilots?”

“Yeah,” Kiki said defensively, “you got a problem with women pilots?”

Spence laughed. “No particularly. I just never knew any pilots. I always thought you gotta be a little nutty to go up in one of those things.”

Bridget laughed as well. “You don’t have to be, but it helps.”

Kiki said, “We’ve been working in a Flying Circus, but we’re going out on our own now. When we get out new plane, we should take you up for a ride.”

Spence waved his hand. “Not me. I admire your nerve, but I’ll keep my feet on the ground, thank you very much.”

Kiki sighed. “Well, the offer is always there.”

“Thanks. So you said you’re going to Hog Island? I thought that was used by the military.”

Bridget nodded. “The field is used by the Air National Guard, and that’s where they shipped our plane. Are you going close to there?”

“As luck would have it, I go right by the field on my way to Chester. Today is your lucky day.”

– – – – –

Time passed quickly on the road to the airport. Spence told Kiki and Bridget about his wife and two sons, and showed them the pictures that he had tacked to the dashboard of the truck. The girls told Spence about some of the stunts they’ve performed at the air show. More than once, Spence visibly shivered when he heard of some of the more dangerous maneuvers.

They finally reached the gates of the Air National Guard field just as the sun was coming up. Spence pulled the truck over and turned on the dashboard light. “This is our stop,” Bridget said, zipping up her jacket. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Thank you for the company,” Spence said. “I like the peacefulness of night driving, but sometimes it’s nice to have someone to talk to.”

Kiki patted him on the arm. “Don’t forget that the offer is always open. Whenever you want to go up, just let us know.”

“Thanks, but I don’t think so,” he said. “You two be careful, though.”

Kiki winked. “If we were careful, nobody would want to come and see us.”

Spence laughed heartily as the girls climbed from the truck. They closed the door and waved, and Spence turned the dashboard light off and drove away. The girls walked toward the front gate. Next to the gate stood a small wooden guardhouse, over which a single dim bulb burned under a rough tin hood. The guard walked out as they approached. He was a young man in a tan uniform. His hand was on his sidearm.

“Hello,” Bridget said when they got near. “Bridget Doyle and Kristina Hansen. I believe you’re expecting us.”

“Wait here,” the guard said and went into the guardhouse. Through the window, the girls could see him checking a clipboard. After a minute he came out and unlocked the gate. “You’ll want to go to the first building on the left. Ask for Major Morrison.”

“Thank you,” Bridget said, and she and Kiki walked through the gate. The sun was rising behind them and they got their first good look at the airfield.

– – – – –

Who or what is ‘HVE’?  Who is Major Morrison?  What’s in store for the girls at the airfield?  We’ll find out the answers to these questions and more in the next exciting chapter, which will premiere at the Tamale Hut on April 14, after which it will be posted here.

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If you don’t want to wait until April, you might consider joining my e-mail list.  Once a month, I send out an e-mail with information on my writing projects, and any literary events I might be attending, and I include a new chapter of the Barnstormers story (usually with additional content I don’t have time to read at the Tamale Hut) in every e-mail.  Click here to sign up today!

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