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 this at the Tamale Hut on May 18, 2019.

Chapter 13 – Grounded and Surrounded, part 1

In our last exciting episode, Bridget and Mike reached the police station with the carburetor prototype, largely because of the timely appearance of Kiki, who impeded Alexander Pierce’s pursuit by dropping a load of fertilizer on his cars.  While at the police station, they are told that Kiki’s plane did not arrive at her intended destination.

 – – – – –

Alexander Pierce stood at the side of the road, surveying his situation. Behind him, one of his cars lay in a ditch on the side of the road, having landed there after a spectacular blow-out of its left front tire. Even now, three of his men were attempting to extract the fourth from the wreck, where he was pinned under the overturned car.

Pierce’s other car stood in the middle of the pockmarked road, covered in some type of fertilizer. His driver was doubled over on the other side of the road, coughing and vomiting as his system tried to purge itself of the foul-smelling material.

Pierce spat some brown-tinted phlegm on the road and wiped his mouth with a silk handkerchief. He watched as the tail lights of the Duesenberg shrink into the distance. He also watched as the plane that had attacked them with the powder headed for the treeline. He thought he saw some fluid leaking from the underside of the plane.

One of the men from the car behind walked up to where Pierce stood. “Well?” Pierce asked.

“I think Max is gonna be okay,” the man said. “We got him out from under the car, but I think his leg is busted.”

“Good,” Pierce said. “Now get the rest of the guys and clean this car off. We’re wasting time.”

The man looked down at the road and could barely see the Duesenberg tail lights. “What’s the hurry? We’ll never catch ‘em now.”

Pierce scowled. “Forget them. We’re going after that one,” he said, pointing at the receding plane. “We get her and that plane and we’ll be able to get anything we want from the other two.”

The other man smiled an evil smile. “I gotcha, boss. We’ll get going in a jiffy.” He called the other men over and started to wipe the fertilizer off the car, while Pierce watched the plane clear the trees and fly out of sight.

– – – – –

Kiki flew through the morning sky, humming a happy tune, when she felt the plane shudder and heard the engine hesitate. “Oh, what now?” she asked herself. She looked at her instruments and saw that the fuel indicator was pointing near 0. The engine hesitated again and she knew she was about out of gas.

“But I had a full tank when I left…” she said out loud, then started to scan the area for a place to land. She knew she was too far away from Martin Field to glide there safely. Fortunately, there were a number of farms nearby, so she just had to hope that the one she picked would be open to having visitors so early in the morning.

The engine quit completely, but Kiki didn’t panic. She still had plenty of altitude, and the sun was coming up so she had a pretty good view of the surrounding countryside. Ahead on the left was a large patch that looked to be a level field in front of a small ranch house. She smiled and turned slightly sideways into a sideslip, using the fuselage as an air brake to help her reduce speed and altitude.

The plane cleared the trees at the end of the field, and Kiki straightened out the plane, easing back the stick until the wheels touched down on the soft earth. She let the plane coast as long as she could, which stopped well short of the ranch house.

Kiki climbed out of the cockpit and inspected the underside of the plane. She saw several bullet holes in the area around the gas tank, and one uncomfortably near the cockpit area. She whistled when she realized how close she came to being shot.

She then walked over to the house at the end of the field. It was a small, single-level house, nothing like the large country house that she and Bridget had been staying at. It was also not as well-kept as Mrs. Jenkens’ place. The house had obviously been neglected for some time, but there was some signs that someone had been working on it. There was a fresh pile of lumber along the side, and the front rail had been recently replaced. As she walked, she saw a barn nearby in the same run-down condition.

She shrugged her shoulders and climbed the porch stairs. She was about to knock on the front door when it opened and she saw a man standing there. He looked to be around Kiki’s age, and taller than her. He had dark hair and dark eyes, and a dimple in the middle of his chin. He smiled when he saw her, and Kiki felt her knees weaken a bit. “Good morning,” she finally said. “I apologize for bothering you so early, but may I use your phone?”

The man said, “Sure,” then he looked over her head and said, “and where did that come from?” He walked past her and pointed to the plane parked on his front lawn. “She’s a beauty. Is this yours?”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” she said sheepishly. “I had a little emergency.”

He turned and grabbed her elbow. “Oh, are you okay? Do you need to sit down?”

She looked up into his eyes and said, “Yes…” then she collected herself and continued, “I mean no, I’m okay. I just ran out of gas.”

“Why don’t you come in and tell me about it,” he said, not letting go of her arm. “Oh, and I’m John.”

“Pleased to meetcha, John, I’m Kiki.” Kiki smiled as John led her through the front door.

The inside of the house was much like the outside, with some of the rooms a work in progress. John took Kiki’s leather flight jacket and hung it in the hall closet. They walked down a hallway that ran the length of the house. At the back of the house was a large kitchen, in which most of the renovation seemed complete. A sturdy wooden table stood on the left and a sink, range and icebox on the right.

Another man stood at the sink, sipping something from a stoneware mug. He turned when John and Kiki entered the kitchen. Kiki blinked, because he was as good looking at John, but with darker skin and no dimple.

John led her to the table and directed her to a sturdy wooden chair. “Paco,” he said, “can you get our guest some coffee?” He then sat down opposite Kiki.

Kiki smiled. “You don’t need to go through all this trouble,” she said. “I just need to make a quick call to get someone out here to help me with my airplane.” Paco walked over and put another stoneware mug full of steaming coffee in front of her. “Thanks,” she said.

“It’s nothing,” Paco said with a smile.

“Kiki, this is Paco,” John said. “He’s my partner in this little rehab project.” He turned to Paco. “Kiki’s the pilot of the airplane on our front lawn.”

“Airplane?” Paco said, leaning over to look down the hallway through the front door. “I didn’t hear any airplane.”

“I glided in,” Kiki said. “I kind of ran out of gas.”

John laughed. “Okay, you have to tell me how a pilot runs out of gas.”

“It’s easy when someone shoots a hole in your gas tank.”

“Shoots?” Paco gasped.

“Yeah, I probably should explain. My friend and I are working with the police and we were chasing some men who wound up shooting at my plane. I’m fine and the plane is mostly fine, but a lucky shot punctured my gas tank. When the gas ran out,” she spread her hands, “I had to land somewhere.”

“Thank goodness you’re all right,” John said. “So who do you need to call? The friend you spoke of?”

“Yes,” Kiki said, after taking a sip of the coffee. “May I?”

“Sure. The phone is just over there.” He pointed to a wall-mounted phone.

Kiki walked to the phone and lifted the earpiece. She cranked the handle to alert the operator and asked to be connected to police headquarters downtown.

– – – – –

Bridget and Mike were talking to Sgt. Fletcher when there was a knock at the door, Officer Sherman stuck his head in and said, “There’s a Kristen Hansen on the phone. She’s looking for Bridget.”

The three followed Sherman to the front desk, where the officer behind the desk handed the receiver to Bridget.

“Hey, Bridge,” Kiki said. “You okay?”

“We are,” Bridget said. “How about you? They said you never made it to Martin Field.”

“They were right. When those goons were taking pot shots at me, one of ‘em got lucky and punctured the gas tank. I had to land in a field.”

“What field? Tell me where you are and we’ll come get you.”

“Hang on.” Bridget heard muffled conversation on the line, and while she was waiting, she signaled to Fletcher, who handed her paper and a pencil. After a few minutes, Kiki said “I’m at the old Swanberg farm on route 12. House number is 11545 East.”

Bridget repeated the address information as she wrote it down. She asked Mike, “Do you know where that is?” Mike shook his head, so she showed the note to Sherman, who nodded. “Okay, we’ll come get you. How bad is the gas tank?

“Um, it’s got a hole in it,” Kiki said.

Bridget sighed. “I mean, is it fixable, or do we need a new one?”

“I don’t know. Can you patch ‘em with bullet holes?”

“Never mind. We’ll bring a new one. That’ll take me a little extra time.”

“Take your time,” Kiki said. “Me an’ John and Paco are just getting acquainted.”

“Okay, we’ll see you soon.” She gave the phone back to Sherman, then said, “John and Paco?”

“What?” asked Sgt. Fletcher.

“Nothing. Kiki’s safe, but she had to make an emergency landing in this field.” She waved the piece of paper with the address. “Mike, we need to get a new gas tank for the Jenny, and some gas so she can get to the air field.”

While they discuss plans to retrieve Kiki and the plane, no one noticed the man who was sitting on one of the benches in the police station slip away quietly.

– – – – –

Bridget and Mike walked out of the police station just as a black sedan stopped in front and four men got out. They rushed up the stairs, brushing hard against Mike as they went. The door of the police station slammed behind them.

“Those guys were in a hurry,” Mike said, straightening his coat.

“I’ll say,” Bridget said. “And pretty rude, too. They might have knocked us over.”

They reached the bottom of the stairs when the doors opened again and one of the men came out. “Miss Doyle?” the man asked.

“That’s me,” Bridget said.

The man walked down the stairs, removing his hat and offering his hand. “Hello,” he said. “My name is Eric Day. I’m special agent with the Bureau of Investigation.”

Bridget shook his hand. “Good to meet you. I thought there was no Bureau presence in Cleveland.”

He smiled. “It’s true the regional office is now in Detroit, but there are BOI agents in most major cities in northern Ohio. It just took them a little time to reach out to us.”

“How did you know to come here?”

“We were contacted by the … um … other group to assist.”

Bridget stared for a second, then said, “Oh, you mean the ICPO.” She saw the agent glance at Mike, then added, “It’s okay, he knows I work for them. This is Mike Abbott.”

Day shook Mike’ hand. “Glad to know you. Yes, the ICPO agents are on their way, but with the murder of Mrs. Langston, they reached out to us to help before they arrived.”

“That’s great,” Bridget said. “I assume you know about Alexander Pierce.”

Day smiled. “Yes, we’ve been after him for quite some time. He’s a dangerous man.”

“Well, I think we can make a strong case against him, as long as we can find him. He was behind the attack on the Langstons and he’s tried to kill us several times trying to get the prototype of some new equipment that Mike designed. The prototype is in the police station here under lock and key, but Kiki still has the plans.”

“That would be your partner, I believe. Miss Hansen?”

“Yes. We were just on our way to see her. She had to make an emergency landing after Pierce’s men shot up her plane. I’m afraid if he finds out where she is…”

“Let me get my men and we’ll go with you,” Day said. “You may need reinforcements.”

– – – – –

Kiki sat at the kitchen table, regaling John and Paco with her escapades of working with the flying circus.

“So the crowd thought the plane had landed itself, without a pilot?” Paco said, a touch of amazement in his voice. “How could you see where you were going?”

“I had a couple o’ mirrors that Bridget rigged up like a periscope,” Kiki said, “like they used in the trenches in the War. I couldn’t see behind me, but I could turn it a little left and right. With that, it was a cinch!”

“Amazing,” John said. They were sipping their coffee when they heard a knock at the front door. He looked at Kiki. “Maybe that’s Bridget.”

“I doubt it. She said she had to get a new gas tank.” She walked through the dining room and cautiously looked through the window at the front of the house. She quickly returned to the kitchen. “Remember those guys I told you that were shooting at me. I think that’s them.” She looked out the back window and saw two men in overcoats snooping around the back of the house.

– – – – –

What will Kiki do?  Can Bridget reach her in time?  Will Alexander Pierce get away with the plans?  We’ll find out the answers to these questions and more in the next exciting chapter.

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