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 August 26, 2017.

Barnstormers Chapter 4 – The Lost Plane

In our last exciting episode, Bridget was giving a man named Willie a ride in her airplane when he pulled out a pair of wire cutters, snipped several of the control wires, then bailed out into the Bay below. Bridget discovered that she could not control the plane, as it was headed out over the ocean.

– – – – –

Bridget watched as her passenger plummeted toward Raritan Bay, his arms folded in and his feet pointed straight down. “I hope you break your neck, you jerk,” Bridget yelled as the man hit the water. He was under for only a few seconds before breaking the surface, just as a boat reached him and fished him out.

“So what to do now?” Bridget asked out loud. “Seems like the ailerons and the rudder are out. Let’s see what I can do about the throttle.” She unbuckled her seat belt and stood up, testing the stability of the plane. Even without the aileron wires, it seemed like the plane wasn’t apt to roll, as long as Bridget kept her weight centered. She carefully stood on the seat, and looked over into the front cockpit. “Oh, wait,” she said, sitting back down. She bent down and removed the wing nuts holding the control stick in place. She stood up again and slid the stick over into the front seat.

“This is a bad idea, Bridge,” she mumbled to herself as she climbed over the small glass windscreen in front of the rear cockpit. Once over the windscreen, she carefully lowered herself in the front seat, trying to stay to the middle of the opening. She sat down, immediately pulled the wire cutters out of the throttle linkage, and threw them over the side. She tested the throttle and found that it was still in working condition. She connected the control stick and wiggled it back and forth to see what still worked.

“I can’t steer, but I have throttle and elevators. That means I can control my speed and my altitude,” she said to herself. She looked ahead and saw nothing but open sea. “So I can either control how fast I’m going when I hit the water, or how high in the air I’ll be when I run out of gas. Swell.”

– – – – –

Kiki watched Bridget’s flight from the ground and saw the man fall from the plane. She retrieved a pair of binoculars from the hangar and focused the glasses on the receding plane, just in time to see Bridget climb over the partition between the two cockpits. Kiki watched for a few seconds more and she saw that the plane did not change direction. She grabbed a rope from the shelf, then ran over to where the mechanics were getting the planes ready for the other pilots.

“Which one of these crates is the fastest?” she asked, barely catching her breath.

“Jimmy’s is the fastest,” Tim said. “He’s going to enter it in the National Air Race this year.” He pointed to a small brown SPAD S.XIII with a huge Hispano-Suiza V8 engine.

“Fine, I’ll take it,” Kiki said, grabbing the leather helmet out of Tim’s hands. She tossed the rope into the cockpit and climbed in after it. “Start me up.”

“I can’t do that. Jimmy’ll kill me if anything happens to this plane.”

“Look, Bridget’s in trouble. If anything happens to her, I’ll kill you. Now start me up.”

Tim looked at Bridget’s plane receding in the distance, then went to the SPAD and turned the propeller. The engine started right up, and after Tim pulled the chocks out from under the wheels, Kiki steered the plane to the runway and took off after her friend.

– – – – –

Bridget was trying to figure out how to capture the severed wires that were waving in the wind when she heard the sound of a plane approaching from behind her. She turned and saw the brown SPAD approaching fast, Kiki waving to her from cockpit. Bridget had already reduced her air speed to the minimum that would keep the plane in the air, so Kiki was soon flying next to her.

“What happened?” Kiki mouthed, because the engine sounds and the wind made verbal communication impossible.

Bridget make snipping signs with her fingers and pointed to the cut wires flailing in the breeze.

Kiki nodded and waved for Bridget to join her in the SPAD. Bridget looked at the single-seat plane and shook her head. Kiki nodded again emphatically and indicated to Bridget to keep the plane level. She then flew up over the Jenny and threw one end of the rope out of her plane. She had tied the other end around her waist, so she braced herself in the cockpit.

Bridget looked at the dangling rope, then at the Jenny, and out at the ocean ahead, where the plane would eventually crash. “Sorry old girl,” she said, “but I’ll get the guy who did this to you.” She started to climb the rope, after pausing long enough to detach the control stick and zip it up inside her jacket.

It wasn’t an easy climb, but Kiki kept the plane steady, and soon Bridget was at her side with one foot on the right wing. “You look like you needed a ride,” Kiki said with a grin.

“Yeah, thanks,” Bridget said, “but couldn’t you get a two-seater?”

“Sorry, this was all that was available. Lay on the wing and we’ll be back at the field in no time.” Bridget lay prone on the wing, tight up against the fuselage, and Kiki turned the plane to head back. Bridget took one look back at the pilot-less Jenny as it flew out to sea, then closed her eyes and held on.

After a while, Bridget was watching the coast as it passed underneath them when she spotted the boat that had picked up Willie after he jumped from her plane. She pounded on the side of the fuselage to get Kiki’s attention.

After a few tries, Kiki’s face appeared over the edge of the cockpit. “You okay?” she shouted over the roar of the wind.

Bridget pointed to the boat, which was pulling up to a pier on the New York side of the bay. “That’s the guy who broke our plane.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Land this crate and let’s go get him.”

“You’re kidding,” Kiki said.

“No, I’m not. Look, there’s a field just inland from the boardwalk. We can land there and nab him before they get away. C’mon, Keek, he sabotaged our plane!”

Kiki thought about it for a few seconds, then said, “Oh, what the heck. Hang on.” She banked the plane and headed for the field Bridget had indicated.

The field was fairly smooth, but it was a rough landing, partially because of Bridget’s weight on the wing throwing the balance of the plane off. Bridget scanned the gathering crowd after taking off her leather helmet and asked, “Anyone know of any cops around?”

One man raised his hand and said, “Yeah, there’s usually one in the guard house at the end of the boardwalk.”

“Great. Go get him. We’re going to need him.” She tossed her helmet back into the cockpit, and unzipped her flight jacket, removing the control stick she salvaged from the Jenny. Several people took a step back then they saw this. The crowd parted as the two pilots ran toward the pier.

“Did the guy in the plane say anything?” Kiki asked as they ran. “Before he bailed out, I mean.”

Bridget replied, “Yeah, he said ‘the Belgian’ sends his regards.'”

“The Belgian, huh? Well, that figures. Look, they’ve tied up the boat.”

The men from the boat stopped on the boardwalk as Bridget and Kiki approached. Willie was still wearing his waterlogged suit. The other man was short and stocky, dressed in a tee-shirt and dungarees.

“Hold it, you two,” Bridget said, and pointed at Willie with the control stick. “I got a score to settle with you.”

Willie laughed sharply. “Get this, Phil. She’s got a score. That’s a laugh. And what do you plan to do? Hit me with your little stick?”

Bridget swished the stick back and forth in a figure-8. “That’s exactly what I plan to do. You ever hear of la canne?

“Yeah, lady, we don’t have time for this,” Willie said and started to walk around Bridget to her left. Bridget took a step left and snapped the stick forward, rapping Willie on the side of the head. “Hey,” he shouted, putting his hand to his ear.

“You’re going to wait right here until the police get here,” Bridget said calmly, “and you’re going to tell them that you caused my plane to crash.”

Willie rubbed his ear and said, “Like hell I will.” He took a step toward Bridget, reaching out to grab her. She stood her ground, swinging the stick around to smack Willie on the back of both hands before he could take more than one step. He stepped back and stuck his injured hands under his armpits.

“Hey, stop that,” Phil shouted, and started to move toward Bridget.

Kiki stepped in his way. “You don’t want to do that,” she said ominously.

“Get outta my way, girlie,” Phil said, and reached out to push her out of the way. Kiki grabbed his left hand and twisted, pulling him toward her. As his body reached hers, she pivoted on one leg and threw him over her hip. Off-balance, he flew to the ground, landing face-first in the dirt. Before he realized what had happened, Kiki was on top of him with her knee in his back, pulling up on his arm, which she never let go of as he fell. He yelped in pain.

“Now sit tight,” Kiki said. “The police will be here in a minute, then we can see what part you have in all this.”

Meanwhile, Willie was flexing his hands and walking back and forth, like a boxer sizing up his opponent. Bridget moved with him, staying between Willie and the parked cars, still pointing the control stick at him. “I’m warning you,” he said. “Get outta my way.”

“And I’m telling you,” Bridget replied calmly, “you’re not going anywhere.”

Willie sneered and lunged straight for Bridget. She swiped at his head with the control stick, but Willie expected that and ducked out of the way. She took a step forward, as if to walk past him, then jabbed the stick between his legs and pushed it forward against his thigh as she moved, knocking one leg out from underneath him and sending Willie spinning to the dirt.

Willie grunted as he sprang back up off the ground, but Bridget was waiting for him to rise, and as he turned to face her, she brought the stick to the side of his head with a satisfying thunk. Willie staggered back and shook his head, dazed from the blow.

“Have you had enough?” Bridget asked, continuing to point the stick at him. “Because I can do this all day.”

Willie roared and rushed at Bridget again, this time protecting his head with his arms. Bridget landed a blow against his forearms, then dropped down on one leg with the other outstretched, swiping across Willie’s knees. Again, he went sprawling in the dirt. Bridget sprung up and whacked him quickly on both sides of the head. Willie stayed on the ground and shouted, “Okay, enough! Enough!”

Bridget stood over him, stick poised to inflict more damage, as a uniformed police officer approached. “Finally,” Bridget said under her breath. She grabbed Willie by the back of the collar and hoisted him to his feet.

“I’m glad you’re here, officer,” Bridget said. “This man sabotaged my plane. I’d like you to arrest him.”

The policeman looked at Bridget, then at Kiki kneeling on Phil’s back, then at Willie. “Willie, what’s this all about? And young lady,” he pointed at Kiki, “get off that man.”

“I don’t know, Art,” Willie said earnestly. “I paid this young lady for a ride in her plane, and she threw me out over the bay.” He indicated his damp suit. “I’m lucky Phil was out in his boat and picked me up.”

“Now why would she do that?” Art asked, sizing up Bridget, who was still holding Willie up by the collar.

Before Bridget could say anything, Willie blurted out, “I don’t know. She must be crazy. Then after Phil got me to dry land, she was here, hitting me with that stick.”

“He’s lying,” Bridget said calmly. “He got in my plane with a pair of wire cutters and cut my control wires before he jumped from the plane.”

“Is that your plane?” Art asked, pointing at the SPAD parked in the field.

“No, that’s mine,” Kiki said. “Well, I borrowed it.”

The cop nodded and asked Bridget, “So where’s your plane?”

“Probably in the ocean by now,” Bridget said with a tinge of sadness in her voice. “After he cut the wires, I couldn’t steer it, and it was heading straight for open sea. This control stick was the only thing I could save.”

“And where are these wire cutters you say Willie had?”

Bridget frowned. “I was so mad after he jumped, I threw them out of the plane. But he did it! Why else would he jump from the plane.”

“I didn’t jump,” Willie said. “You threw me out.”

Art looked at the crowd gathering around and said, “I think it would be best if we sorted this out down at the station.”

“Fine with me,” Bridget said, and shoved Willie toward the policeman. “Here you go.”

“I meant that I’m taking you down to the station. You and your friend there.”

“What?” Bridget exclaimed. “But he wrecked my plane!”

“I don’t see any plane,” Art said calmly, as he reached for his handcuffs. “I only know I saw you two assaulting two of our citizens, and you with a deadly weapon.” He pointed to the control stick, which Bridget dropped.

“Thanks, Art,” Willie said. “We’ll be down later to swear out a complaint.

Bridget just stood there, speechless. Kiki then approached the policeman and took a small leather billfold out of her jacket. “I had hoped to keep this quiet,” she said softly so that the crowd might not hear, “but we’re law enforcement, too.” She handed the billfold to Art. In it was a card for Kristina Hansen, identifying her as a member of The International Criminal Police Organization. “As you probably know, the ICPO charter says that we can’t make arrests directly, but that we work with local law enforcement. So I’m requesting, as an agent of the ICPO, that you detain these two men for questioning.”

Art looked at the card, then handed the billfold back to Kiki. “Miss, I don’t know anything about any ICPO. All I know is that I’ve never seen the two of you before, and I’ve known Willie and Phil going on 20 years, so I’m inclined to believe them.” He held out the handcuffs. “Now if you two ladies will be so kind as to put these on, we can head back to the station and figure out what happened.”

Kiki walked over to Bridget, who said, “So what are we going to do now?”

Kiki shrugged. “I guess we have no choice. Let’s just go to the station and sort this all out.” She snapped one cuff on her wrist, then put the other on Bridget’s wrist.

Art picked up Bridget’s stick from the ground, then led the two girls through the gathering crowd and toward the black police car parked near the guard house at the end of the boardwalk. As they walked, the girls could hear Willie and Phil snickering behind them.

Can the girls prove to the police that Willie sabotaged the plane? What is this organization that they belong to? And who is this mysterious Belgian?  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 30, after which it will be posted here.

– – – – –

If you don’t want to wait until September, 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!

Advertisements