I had spent a couple hours walking the streets of Brookwood. Each time I spied a woman walking alone, my eyes lingered looking for evidence that she was the shooter. But every woman I saw just didn’t seem to fit the imagine of a cold hearted killer. To be honest, I only saw two women walking alone that night, one was in her late fifties or early sixties, dressed to the nines, and wearing a fur coat. The other, a lanky teen, and she was only alone for a brief moment before meeting up with a gaggle of girls at the front of the cinema. The mysterious lady with the gun had vanished.
However, the walk was good for a couple reasons, it gave me time to process what I had witnessed, clearing my mind, and also time to get accustomed to this town. And just time to be alone and digest the events of where I was. Generally, when I needed some time to really think, I could get in my car and just drive and I don’t know why but I usually had my best thoughts when I was behind the wheel of a car. I suppose for a pilot that might seem odd, but when I flew I thought about flying. When I was in a car, I could tune out everything else and just drive with my thoughts.
The walk wasn’t the same rewarding experience of brilliance, but it would have to do for now. By the time I strolled my way back to the Hotel, I had a semblance of a plan, I just needed the night to think on it. And maybe a Scotch before turning in.
Inside the Hotel bar, Mike sat at the counter, empty glass in front of him. I approached and sat beside him. The bartender came over and I ordered a single malt, on the rocks. A double.
“Sarah?” I asked.
“She’s gone to her room. Said she wanted to be alone.”
My drink arrived and Mike gestured to his glass and ordered another. I sipped the Scotch and was immediately feeling the burn, and it felt good.
“We have to find a way to get home, Jack.”
“I know, and I think the only way that is going to happen is to get us all back in the air and head out of here. Eddie was talking a lot about flying and this upcoming race. So I think we should enter. I have a hunch that the lady we saw in the ally tonight is in the same race.”
“Because in a crowd of skirts, she was wearing pants. Trust me, she’ll be at that airfield tomorrow. And where she goes, we go. She’s our ticket home.”
I finished my drink in one gulp, then slid from the stool and slapped Mike on the back.
“Get some rest tonight, my friend. I’m off to bed.”
“Will do, Jack. One more and I’ll be out for the count.”
“Just be ready at the crack of dawn. We’re sliding out of here early.”
Sleep was very hard to come by that night, however, some time when only the crickets were stirring out the window I finally fell into a deep dreamless sleep. So when my alarm clock on my phone awoke me at five in the morning, I woke with such a start that I bolted straight upright in bed. Completely disoriented, I stared around the room and the memories of the day prior flashed through my mind. My consciousness was trying to deal with the events and arrange everything back into a logical timeline.
It was hot in the room, sweat saturated the sheets and my face was slick. I stood from bed and walked to the basin and once filled with the water from the pitcher, I tried my best to wash away the sleep. I slid back into my clothes, turned my phone back off to conserve the battery. It was good for an alarm clock, but that was about it. After a couple deep breaths, I left the room and went to Mike’s, knocking on the door until he yanked the door open in a fury.
“Time to go. Be downstairs in ten.”
He slammed the door and I waled down the hall to Sarah’s room. One soft knock and I could hear her coming to the door. She opened it quietly and was already dressed.
“You ready to go?”
“Can’t stay here, can we.”
Sarah followed me downstairs. Just the bellman was in the lobby.
“Say,” I asked him, “Know a quick way to get to the airfield by chance?”
“Maybe. I get off here in a short while. I can give you two a lift.”
“Thanks, there will be three of us though, our friend will be down shortly.”
“No problem. I’ll meet you out front in about fifteen, just have to turn over the keys to the day guy.”
I thanked him and Sarah and I found our way over to the chairs in the lobby to wait for Mike. True to his word, the young bellman came through about a minute after Mike finally swerved into the lobby. Mike looked rough, and I knew it wasn’t just one more that he had after I had left him last night. Unfortunately, there was no Starbucks drive through to aid in the recovery. He’d just have to suffer along with the rest of us.
We followed the young bellman across the street and he gestured for us to get in his old car. I climbed up front, putting Mike and Sarah in back.
“So you all are pilots? You in this race?” asked the young man.
“Yea, I guess we are Contestants now. Must be exciting for this town, having all this going on.”
“True. Brookwood is a pretty quiet town most times. So I heard that next stop is St. Louis. That right?”
“Yea,” I said. Who was I to disagree.
“That would be pretty swell. I have never been more then thirty miles from here, but I always wanted to see the west.”
“Yea, I said. Well, you should. It’s a big world out there.”
After that, we drove in silence. The sun was breaking on the horizon, and a new light was spilling onto the fields and the farm houses. No huge billboards mucking up the landscape, and just a narrow dirt track road leading out of town into the country. Simple, quiet, and beautiful. I could see why Eddie thought of this as a gift. Take away the terrifying aspect of being pulled away from home and the slight sense of being completely lost, it was easy to get caught up in experiencing something that so few could ever live.
We arrived at the airfield, and the young man pulled the Ford off into the grassy field along the main hangar.
“Not many around now. Y’all getting an early start.”
“Yes, well, we have some work to get done before we can leave. It’s a long trip west, and the plane’s need a bit of maintenance.”
We got out of the car, and I leaned down to the window to say goodbye.
“You have a nice trip there, Mr. Cash,” said the young man, nodding and looking at my shirt.
“Uh, yes, thanks. Thanks for the ride.”
Sarah was giggling behind me. We watched the Bellman drive off, heading east further away from the city.
“He thinks your name is Johnny Cash,” Sarah giggled.
“Why the hell would he think that?” asked Mike.
“Because Jack is wearing that shirt, idiot. Jesus, are you still drunk?”
“Maybe. Or not drunk enough.”
“Come on you two, let’s see if we can steal some fuel. And maybe a new shirt.”
I put Sarah and Mike on fuel duty while I went through the main hangar looking for anything else that might come in handy along the way. One good thing about this period of time, no one was too keen on security and nothing was really locked up. It might take a little jimmy and shake to pop open a drawer or cabinet, however I sure didn’t have to fear for closed circuit monitors or padlocks.. I made my way into the manager’s office and started rummaging around. I was able to find a couple navy blue maintenance shirts, and I grabbed them both, glad to have a change of clothes. I found some change in the top drawer of the desk, so I helped myself, lining my pockets with something resembling correct currency for the age.
I found a few aerial charts, and an old leather bag tucked in a corner. I grabbed it up. I stuffed the maps along with a flyer advertising the race into my hip pocket, folding one of the shirts and tucking it away into the case. In the bottom drawer of the desk was a bottle of scotch and a box of cigars. Beggars can’t be choosers, and possession is, well, needless to say they found their way into the leather case.
Quickly changing into the other shirt, I stuffed my Johnny Cash t-shirt into the case as well, dawned my leather jacket and headed back out to the hangar. There was a table set up along one side of the hangar and on it information about the race. It also appeared to be the log of pilots and planes entered in the race. I read through the book until I found what I was looking for. Then I grabbed a pencil and scribbled in my name and Sarah’s along with our planes, slightly fibbing on the age and type of the Stinson. Seems that two little planes from Souther Tennessee were now last minute adds to the cross country race.
According to the flyer and the event schedule, the race would depart by 10 AM. I glanced at my watch and saw it approaching 6:30. No doubt this airfield was about to get quite a bit busier very soon, so it was time to head out and see if Sarah and Mike were successful in getting our planes topped off. We couldn’t really pay for fuel, so it looked like my life had just taken an interesting turn, becoming an Aviation Pirate. It sounded better than Thief.
On my way out of the hanger, I noticed a few wrenches and other assorted tools, so I helped myself, rolling them in a navy wool blanket and tucking them down into the leather case. By now, the case was starting bulge with the spoils of the aviation pirate. Leaving the hangar behind, I hot footed it over to the Stinson across the field, unlatching the side cabin door and stuffing the case down between the front and rear seats.
Mike and Sarah were coming across the field, pulling a drum dolly. The drum was full and Mike was cussing a storm heaving it across the uneven ground. Sarah carried a long hand pump in her free hand while tugging and steering the drum dolly with her other hand all the while bickering at Mike for still being drunk.
“And you stink!” She yelled. “Jack! There’s a water hose on the side of the barn and a trough, permission to throw this stinking mess in?”
“You don’t need my permission.”
“Ah, the both of you just shut up and help me get this fuel on board. Then I’ll go wash!”
Sarah fed the pump into the barrel and I climbed up on the tire, balancing on one foot while she handed me the hose and nozzle. Mike started pumping and fueled started flowing into the port tank. When it was topped, we followed suit with the starboard and then drug the barrel over to the Waco and topped it as well.
“You two get this barrel back to where you found it. Then throw Mike in that trough. He stinks worse now.”
Since the barrel was nearly empty now, Mike could handle the weight on his own and stormed off with it in tow, pump in hand and yelled back at both of us to stay the hell away from him for the rest of the morning. Actually, what he said was a bit more unpleasant, and I just chose to ignore the remark.
“What now,” asked Sarah.
I pulled the chart out of my pocket, then walked over and sat down in the grass between our two planes, laying the chart out on my lap. Sarah knelt down beside me while I studied the map. It was certainly much less complex than modern aviation charts, and far fewer landmarks or ground reference points noted, and no remote navigation aids.
“Grab one of the sectionals from the side pocket in the Stinson. I’d like to see if we can find some common ground between this map and ours, might make navigating a bit more easy.”
Sarah returned with the VFR sectional and we laid them both out, comparing the towns, lakes, rivers. Over all, there were many similarities. This made me a lot more comfortable, and I was able to use the sectional legend for distance and compass rows to lay out on the current map. I pulled out the flyer, and make marks on the map with a pencil at all the noted city waypoints as denoted by the flyer. Plucking some blades of grass, we measured them on the sectional chart and converted those distances to correspond with this current timeline chart, and then could notate distance as well as magnetic course for each leg of the race.
“This will make navigating a lot easier in case we lose the group due to weather or some other factor.”
“So we’re going through with this race?”
“Well, not to win the prize, but to see where all this pans out. I have a hunch that Eddie didn’t exactly tell us the complete truth.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think he meant to come here, to this exact time. I thought a lot about this last night.”
“Ok, so he talked about this Navigator being a gift. And he also called it a Competition. A competition means there is a certain amount of strategy involved if you have any chance of winning. So unless you’re a really bad player in whatever game this is, you don’t choose random destinations. I think he chose this time because it was here that something once happened or would happen here.”
“He wanted to change time?”
“Well, I am not Stephen Hocking, but I don’t think that’s exactly possible. I think every path that is chosen has to be unique, and a moment in time is still a moment in time.”
“Well, look, you’ve seen Back to the Future right? The whole idea that you can go back in time and erase your future if things don’t happen in a certain way? Or think about the fact that you went back and almost ruined the future is actually the true timeline and that by not going back you change your future.”
“Point is, this isn’t that, we’re not changing times. We’re not in our past, not our timeline. We’re in a different timeline, completely unique and if you met someone that appeared to be your grandparent, it wouldn’t be truly your grandparent.”
“Exactly. I think.” I shrugged. “Look, I don’t know anything about time travel except what I saw in a movie or two. But I have a feeling that every time you go back to a time or place, it’s really not the same place you went to.”
“Are you saying then we cannot ever go home?”
“I wish I could answer that. Maybe this whole Contest, as Eddie called it, is just to find our way home. And if that’s true, then he deliberately came here because he wanted something, something that would be consistent across all timelines at this moment in time.”
“What Moment?!” Mike was coming around the nose of the Stinson. Water drenched the top half of his body, his face still dripping. Sarah and I stared at him.
“What? I washed, OK! They didn’t exactly have a towel hanging on the fence post!” Mike sat himself down to Sarah and I. He didn’t smell all that much better, but I could tell he was more alert.
“Jack is telling me his theory on time travel.”
“Yea, well, that’s all it is anyway. Just a theory and a hunch.”
Mike said, “If you can get us back home, I don’t care how crazy your theories are, Jack. I just want to go home.”
I was mildly surprised at Mike’s lack for adventure. For the moment, though, I shrugged off his mood and tried my best to get him up to speed with our conversation.
“So Eddie comes here for something that could be found at this point of time, no matter want dimension he would be in? And this thing, maybe its the key to going home.”
“Right. I think. We know he wasn’t from our timeline.”
“What thing was he looking for?” asked Sarah.
“I don’t have a clue.” I said. “But I think it has something to do with this race, and whatever it is, the woman that killed him is presumedly after the same thing. She knew him and he knew her. He said he hadn’t been back to this time for a long, long time. He said he was trapped in our timeline trying to find a Navigator. So, I reckon that woman stole his. She out smarted him, beat him here, and he had to live twenty years in our timeline just to find a way back here. When she saw him, she killed him.”
“All for this prize.”
“It’s a theory.”
“Crazy one. Might be missing a fact or two or three.” Mike said. “But hell, we’ve got nothing better to do. Might as well do what we do do well. And that’s fly.”
“I fly well. You fix things.”
“I fix what you break because you’re a lousy pilot.”
Sarah smiled, “Is that why my annual bills are rather small, I’m a good pilot?”
“How do we know this woman when we see her?” Mike asked.
“Not sure.” I looked across the field and that a few cars had shown up at the main hangar. “But we’re not going to learn much unless we make nice with the locals. I penciled in our names in the race book. So, I guess we’re officially in. Mike, see here,” I showed him the chart and the work that Sarah and did. “The flight bounces from St. Louis to Kansas City, criss crosses the southwest and ends here at Catalina Island.”
I could see Mike crunching numbers in his head, maybe even a little puff of smoke coming from his ears.
“That’s like 1,500 miles, give or take a hundred or two.”
“Close enough, I figure something around 1,800. Factoring winds and flying into the west, looking at 22 to 24 hours of total flight time.”
Sarah chimed in, “Race day ends on the 4th of July. Today’s the 30th, so five days to fly 24 hours. Piece of cake.”
“Sure, but you’re in the open cockpit, hope you brought your rain gear.” I smiled. “Whatever this object is that Eddie wanted, it’s somewhere along this race course or its waiting for us at the end. Either way, we’re in, and we’re going.”
Mike looked back at the hangar and a growing crowd of people. A couple fires were started and it appeared someone was frying bacon and eggs. The waft of food made all of our stomach’s growl in unison.
“Guys, one thing is for certain. We’re not going to win any race on an empty stomach. And we’re not going to find out what we’re after without getting to know the locals. Time to reconnoiter!” Mike exclaimed.
“And eat.” I said.
“Coffee,” said Sarah.
“Arrrrgh,” I growled. “We be air pirates, and there be our spoils.”
Sarah and Mike looked at me. They both got up and left me sitting on the grass and headed off across the field toward the growing crowd. I could hear them muttering to each other, something about me losing the plot.