The Innocent Never Knew
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Raymond Solvig watched the silver jet streak past his office window. The sound faded as it vanished in the haze as he watched for one bearing Polaris marking. He didn't spot one. The non-stop traffice into Dallas/Fort Worth International was a pleasant distraction from his mundane job, but today, unable to concentrate, he looked around the cubicle he called his office. The broken ski tip near his IN basket spawned images of Grandfather's workshop. Sawdust wafted under dim light while his calloused hands crfted his trademark racine skis. Raymond's fingers traced the tip's smooth edge, recalling Grandpa's expression when he showed him that broken ski. He smiled. Happier times. "Whatever you choose to do with you life, do it well," he always said. Raymond spotted one of this business cards, adrift on his desk. "Raymond Solvig, Senior Flight Operations specialist, Polaris Airways," it read. "You would have been pround, Grandpa. No one believed in me like you." Overseeing Jeppesen instrument approach plates was a job that warranted respect. Every pilot at Polaris Airways depended on him. So why couldn't his father accept that? Why couldn't he be proud of him?
Dad stared back from inside a black desk fram, his gold medal raised in celebration, gloved hand waving to the crowd. Skiing was his father's passion, not his. Dad did everything to discourage him from leaving Jackson Hole. He expected him to take over the family business, but Raymond's calling lay elsewhere. One wintry day, Raymond left for Dallas, abandoning his father's dream. Whatever relationship they had ended that day. Forty years later and suddenly alone, Raymond's guilt tortured him.
He looked over his Polaris Airways longevity certificate, hanging on the wall. Thirty-five years didn't seem possible. He tucked the business card in its holder and slid his chair back. Before he walked out, he laid his father's picture facedown. No one noticed him leave.
The glass hallway was an oven in the summer, icebox in the winter. Fire doors at either end made the temperatures extreme. The mirrored skyscraper landscape was nothing like the snow-capped Tetons. He yearned for pine scent and mountain air. But he could never return. Ann and Terri kept him in Dallas.
Stopping short of the pilots' locker room, he listened to the sound of his breathing. A moment later he was removing the flight bag from Captain Don Bellamy's locker. He worked quickly so as not to draw attention. Granddaughter Terri crossed his mind as he stuck the revision in Bellamy's binder. His hand trembled. What was he doing? But his anger consumed him. Bellamy had abandoned his love child. He would show the bastard.
The binder fing snapped. He looked around, but saw no one. He stowed Bellamy's flight bad and closed the locker. Raymond paused in the hallway, staring at the last photo taken of his late wife. Her blus eyes stared back, blonde hair catching some lone-gone breeze. And that smile...Maggie. Neither expected he'd be a widower. Another plane zoomed past, but all he saw was Maggie's last moment as she struggled for words. "It's time," she said.
"But how can I let go after thirty years?" he asked. Then her hand went limp.
He often slept in the easy chair, away from their bed, her perfume. But there was no escaping her memory. Anna and Terri shared her features. Maggie was alive in their eyes. Anna's salary couldn't support an apartment and a nanny, so now he was the nanny for Anna and Terri. He thought of Captain Bellamy's binder and smiled. Maggie.
Anna Solvig comtemplated her new living arrangements while riding the employee parking lot shuttle. Frosted bus windows kept her thoughts alive. She had no choice but to move in with Dad. He never said it, but resentment filled his eyes. The driver braked abruptly. She gripped the bar, bracing for an impact that never came. The bus accelerated, and her mind drifted. Her life might have been different had she listened to him. Living with Dad was challenging, but everyone was adjusting. She worried about his depression. Raymond had dropped twenty-five pounds since Mom died six months ago. His five-foot-nine-inch frame was a skeleton of the alpine skier in her photos. He refused to seek help.
Jesse Flaherty rarely left his cattle ranch, but the dinner invitation from his high school buddy turned golf course manager was something he couldn't pass up. He needed to know what happened to Bart Casswell. Why he'd disappeared, and why he was back. He was drawn to the scar on Bart's cheek, but didn't ask.
Bart felt his gaze while scanning the liquor bottles. Their conversation was strained. Things had changed. High school was a long time ago. He needed Jesse to loosen up. "You still drinking gin?"
"Hardly drink at all. But what the hell. Pour me a shot for old time's sake."
Bart tossed in an olive and passed the glass. "Here you go - just like old times."
Jesse stirred his drink, taking in the room. A halo of leftover smoke hung suspended mid-air. Shiney golf clubs and packaged balls awaited buyers. Catsup bottles awaited refills. Tee times on the white board would change with the weather. He felt out of place. He needed to leave.
"Jesse? You okay?"
Bart's voice brought him back. His cavernous lines reminded him of their age. So many years. Jesse chewed the olive and downed his drink. God it burned! His eye's watered, he couldn't speak. The alcohol spread its warmth to his stomach. How did he do this in high school? Better yet, why?
Bart burst out laughing. Whatever tension he felt vanished. "You're right," he said. "You don't drink anymore, do you?" Jesse shook his head, drying his eyes. Bart filled up a glass and passed it over. "Don't worry. It's water, straight up."
Jesse sipped it, took a deep breath, then polished it off. The ensuing brain numbing angered him. Why didn't he just ask for a Sprite? He managed a smile. "I still can't believe it," he said. "Bart Casswell - University golf shop and restaurant manager. Unreal." Bart eyed him, cautiously. "Oh, come on, Bart, lighten up. You disappeared off the face of the earth. I figured you died on the rodeo circuit."
Bart downed a Scotch and poured himself another. "Almost did," he said. He tried topping off Jesse's shot glass, but Jesse covered it with his hand. He set the gin aside and wiped down the counter. "Of course, that was a long time ago."
Jesse stabbed another olive and popped it in his mouth. He picked at this teeth, watching Bart. For the first time, Bart's eyes showed fear.
Bart turned away, putting the gin bottle back on the shelf. A long time ago seemed like yesterday. He resented Jesse's gaze. "I don't suppose one of your bulls ever pinned you? Blew snot in your face?"
Jesse shifted in his seat. He shook his head, waiting.
"Well, mine did. It didn't last long, but that bull scooped me up and sent me flying. I never felt his horn tear into my face. I woke up in a hospital twelve hourse later. Never watched the replay."
Jesse nodded. "So that's when you decided to hang up your boots?"
"Hell no," he snorted. "That just made me more determined. You don't really think I'd let a goddam bull get the better of me?" Jesse took a sip of water. "No, Jess - I got mad. Real mad. And I got even, too." Bart filled his glass and raised it. "To the bull," he said, downing the shot. He slammed the empty glass on the counter and went back to wiping. "You sure you don't want another round?"
"No thanks. I shouldn't have had the first one." Jesse glanced at his watch. Bart was just getting warmed up. He could drink him under the table in high school. He needed to leave. "I can't remember the last time I stayed up so late. I'd better hit the road. Thanks for dinner, Bart. It was great."
Bart reached for the bottle. "C'mon Jess. You can't leave yet. I haven't seen you in ages. Stick around. Have another drink."
"No, thanks. I can't handle liquor anymore. Besides, I've got to get up early. Don't let another twenty years slip by. Drop by the ranch and we'll burn some steaks."
"Sounds good." Bart walked Jesse to the door. He turned the knob and the door blew open. "Damn, that's cold. Look at that snow!" He hugged his chest and moved aside so Jesse could step out. "Drive careful, Jesse. I expected a storm, but I sure didn't figure this."
Jesse took Bart's hand. "You know, Bart, even bull riders know when they've had too much. Can I drive you somewhere?"
Bart's glossy eyes smiled back. "Thanks, but I was planning on staying here. Take care of yourself, Jesse. See ya next time."
Sergeant Uri Malovich watched the airliner fly past his Humvee. His men were positioned behind the University Airport Professional Center, awaiting orders. Maintaining radio silence was crucial. Traffic on University Boulevard was light, with only an occasional rental car passing by. The four-lane road could be easily blocked. No one would question his authority.
A high-pitched whine announced another arrival into Albuquerque International Sunport. The Hummer vibrated as the plane flew overhead. Albuquerque Sunport shared its runways with Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratory. The only ways to distinguish military from civilian aircraft were radio calls, exterior lights, and engine noise. This appeared to be another 737. Probably Southwest Airlines. The watch was tedious. The arrivals had diminished to a trickle. The brightly lit parking structure opposite the golf course restricted his night vision goggles. Soon, that would change.
Something moved. Malovich lowered his NVGs and watched the jackrabbit dart into the golf course. He raised his night goggles, fumbling for the coffee jub. "You'd better run, rabbit." he said. "Sticking around could prove hazardous." He filled his cup and set the jug aside. The cup warmed his fingers, the aroma magic. At best they had five minutes. Worst case, three. The storm ensured success.
Raymond Solvig heard someone at the door of his Dallas home. He put on his wire-rimmed glasses and dangled his feet over the side of the bed. He wasn't expecting anyone. Then the door opened. He got out of bed and peered into the hallway. A shadow moved across the living room. "Anna?" he said. "Is that you?"
Anna Solvig dragged her suitcase across the carpet and sank into the sofa. She had been up for nineteen hours and flown four thousand miles. She wanted sleep, not conversation. "Sorry to wake you, Dad."
"You didn't," he said, stepping into the living room. It was dark, but she still had the lights off. Her silence beckoned. He found the easy chair and watched her slump and rub her temples. He ached for her. "So, how was your trip?"
"Long. Five days, three to five legs a day, hassled by airport screeners and disrespectful passengers for slave wages. It's not exactly the job I envisioned." She kicked off her shoes and wiggled her toes, wincing a little.
Raymond smiled. "Your mother always did that."
And Mom would have listened. She closed her eyes. "Dad?"
"I worry about you and Terri."
"Welcome to parenthood," he said. "You need to relax, Anna. I'm doing fine and so is Terri." He moved to the sofa and took her hand. It was cold, tense. He turned her and began massaging her shoulders.
As his fingers worked, Anna began to relax. "Mmm. Mom taught you well."
Raymond stopped suddenly. Maggie. "No one could do it better," he said. His fingers slowed. Anna placed her hands on his, begging him to continue, but the moment was gone. His hands felt clumsy, their touch gone. "You should see Terri. She's sleeping like an angel."
"I will in a minute. You were doing so well. Don't stop."
Raymond's mouth ran dry. He worried about Bellamy's flight bag. But there was no turning back. To do so meant his job, and possibly his daughter's. He dug his fingers into her back. She moaned from relief. "Anna, I know this isn't the same as having your own place, but you're always welcome here. Besides, should anything happen to me -"
"Stop it, Dad. I hate it when you talk like that."
Awkward silence followed. She was right. She knew the house was hers when he died. He moved to the easy chair. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
Anna stretched on the sofa. He head was ready to explode. She needed her own place where she could relax, not play fifty questions. She forced herself to stay calm. "You didn't, Dad. I'm tired, that's all. By the way, how's the new nanny?"
Raymond stared at a crumb on his toe. He tried flicking it off, but it stayed put. He rubbed it off on the chair. He thought hard before answering. Terri was born right after Maggie died and they'd already gone through four nannies. Two barely spoke English. Their budget was tight. "Terri was bathed and fed when I got home. You can't do better than that."
Anna's tired eyes roamed. The neighbor's cat walked the fence, light strips filtered through the blinds. Terri's playpen sat in the corner, a blanket draped over the side, a string of toys dangled overhead. Childbearing was supposed to be the pinnacle of womanhood, not something you regret. "I'm gonna check on Terri. I'll see you in the morning."
"Is everything all right?"
Fatigue etched her face. "I always believed Don and I would get married, travel the world, have kids. Now I just hope Terri can know her father."
Raymond sank into the chair. Bellamy's Jepps bag came to mind. Things were now in motion. The kitchen clock ticked. "Anna, you fell in love with Peter Pan. Flyboys never grow up. They prey on young flight attendants. Everything's fine until they find someone younger, prettier. Don't carry the blame."
"Don wasn't like that."
Raymond sighed. He shouldn't have said anything. Another sleepless night. "We're both exhausted. I'm going to bed. Tomorrow's a big day."
He forced a smile around his guilt. "Just an expression. Good night, sweetheart."
Captain Don Bellamy waved at the kids from the cockpit of his Boeing 737. Their faces lit up as they waved back. Bellamy turned to his co-pilot, First Officer Cindy Hoyt. "Amazing how easily kids are entertained," he said.
Hoyt smiled, waving to the kids. Then the mechanic's voice came over the intercom. The captain could charm the kids while she called for pushback. She checked the frequency and keyed her mike. "Ramp Tower, 351's ready for push."
"Roger, 351, cleared to push at zero five. Contact Ground."
Hoyt confirmed the clock matched their push time of five minutes past the hour. She relayed the information to Bellamy and prepared to start the engines.
Bellamy keyed the intercom to talk to the mechanic. "Cockpit to ground," he said. "You're cleared to shove it." The overused expression failed to draw a response out of Hoyt or the mechanic. There was a jolt, then the tug pushed the twin-jet away from it's Dallas-Fort Worth gate. "Keep smiling, Cindy. Those kids are still there."
"You're cleared to start engines," the mech said.
"Rog." Bellamy looked at Hoyt. "Start Two."
"Turning Two," she said, pressing the right engine's start button. The floorboard vibrated as the RPM climbed. When the RPM stabilized, she slid the fuel lever forward. The fuel flow gauges showed fuel was going to the engine. Seconds later, the engine temperatures began to rise. "By the way, did you see who's in First Class?"
"Nope," he said, monitoring the start. Once the cabin door was locked, Bellamy's only concern was getting his plane to its destination on time. "Temperature's peaked. Start One." While the left engine spooled up, he glanced over the passenger manifest. "Senator Sam Tinsdale's on board?" Hoyt nodded. "Now why would Senator Tinsdale be going to Albuquerque?"
"Beats me. Both engines are stable. After Start Checklist when ready." Bellamy nodded. Hoyt completed her post-start duties and read the checklist, calling it complete when Bellamy finished his responses. She checked the weather briefing one more time. Snow was falling to the west. "You think we'll make Albuquerque before the cold front hits?"
"We'll divert if it's a problem," he said. "I just hope it doesn't screw up our LA layover. I plan to run on the beach before we head out tomorrow."
"Mind if I join you?"
The wind-chill made it feel like ten degrees, but Uri Malovich's white snowsuit kept him warm. Except for a narrow swath from his wipers, his Hummer was shrouded in snow. No one anticipated such extreme temperatures. He worried about the equipment. His watch read 22:46 hours; 10:46 pm. Polaris Airways Flight 351 should be in-range by now. He inserted his earpiece to monitor Air Traffic Control. "Polaris 351, Albuquerque Center, cross Miera at one-five thousand." Albuquerque Center's transmission was loud and clear. "Comply with the speeds and restrictions on the arrival. Expect vectors for Runway Eight. Runway Three-Five's closed." Uri Malovich downed the last of his coffee. Flight 351 was on schedule. He alerted his men while the pilot read back his clearance. "Polaris 351, Albuquerque Center, turn left heading two-four-zero. Contact Albuquerque Approach on one-two-three-point-niner."
"Twenty-three-nine, Polaris 351."
Malovich selected the new frequency and waited. Soon the silence was broken. "Albuquerque Approach, Polaris 351's with you, level one-five thousand with Information Papa." The 737 was fifteen thousand feet above sea level. Information Papa confirmed the pilots had received the latest terminal information broadcast.
"Polaris 351, Albuquerque Approach, descend to one-two-thousand, expect vectors ILS Runway Eight. Winds are zero three zero at eight gusting to twelve, visibility six thousand feet, blowing snow. Braking action was reported good by a Southwest 737 twenty minutes ago. You're number one for the approach."
"351 copy." Hoyt set twelve thousand feet in the altitude window and the throttles retarded. The nose eased over in a shallow descent.
The perspiration on Malovich's lip was cold. The visibility was decreasing. He feared the Senator's plane would divert. He twisted the key to start the Hummer, preparing to move out. He turned up the radio to override the defroster noise.
The controller watched from a darkened room. They were down to a skeleton crew. Flight 351 was his last inbound and he needed to relieve himself. A few minutes more wouldn't matter. He keyed his mike. "Polaris 351, turn right heading zero-one-zero, descend to eight thousand. Ceiling is two hundred overcast, visibility one-half mile." The controller watched the radar blip descend to eight thousand feet on its northerly course, the glow reflecting in his glasses. The 737 was little more than three thousand feet above the ground. Steep terrain lay to the north and east. Pressure jabbed his bladder. "Polaris 351, Approach, turn right heading zero four zero, cleared ILS Runway Eight. Contact Tower at Supot."
Malovich checked his Jeppesen approach plate. Supot was one of the last navigation pints on the approach. He flashed his headlights once. The plan was a go.
"Tower, Polaris 351's Supot inbound," Bellamy said.
"Polaris 351, Albuquerque Tower, cleared to land Runway Eight. Wind zero three zero at one-one."
A second later, everything turned black. The precision glidepath beam for Runway 8 went off the air for a nanosecond. A green light confirmed the remote transmitter was working. Malovich listened on frequency. No indication 351 was going around. He settled into his seat, watching. "Keep her coming, boss. Keep her coming."
Captain Bellamy transferred aircraft control to First Officer Hoyt in the descent in preparation for a low-visibility autoland approach. In accordance with company policy, Hoyt would monitor the autopilot while Bellamy looked for the runway. The snow gave a fascinating sensation of speed. Hoyt didn't notice.
Bellamy thought about Senator Tinsdale in First Class. He felt obligated to get Tinsdale to his destination. The winds were in limits, no red flags on the instruments, the autopilot was set; the plane would land itself. But something nagged at him. He confirmed their altitude matched the approach plate when they crossed the Final Approach Fix. Descending at one thousand feet per minute, they had ninety seconds until touchdown. The radar altimeter counted down their feet above the ground. One thousand. "Cat III autoland, stable," Bellamy said to Hoyt.
Hoyt focused on her instruments, still uncomfortable with near zero visibility approaches. They practiced autoland approaches to keep the airplane certified, but this was only her second actual hands-off landing. She scanned her panel for Off Flags, but there were none. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Bellamy's hand resting on the glare shield. The plane was on glidepath, on airspeed. She had to trust her captain.
"The landing lights are too bright," Bellamy said. "I'm turning them off."
Hoyt's anxiety reflected in the cockpit lighting.
Sergeant Uri Malovich leaned over his steering wheel, searching the black sky. No landing lights meant a go-around. The jet noise increased. Then came a report of a pickup truck on University Boulevard. The plan was falling apart. "Silence!" he said over the radio. He anticipated ordering an abort, but the noise was steady. Its landing lights were out, but the 737 was still coming. A glow appeared from a wingtip light. He tossed his mike aside and the the truck in gear.
Captain Bellamy crosschecked his instruments. Their descent rate seemed excessive considering the headwind, but the autopilot was tracking properly. He dimmed his lights further, searching for the runway. "Still no lights," he said. The radar altimeter read two hundred feet. Fifteen seconds to touchdown. He announced he had control of the aircraft and rested his hands on the controls. The autopilot stayed its course.
Hoyt raised her hands, signaling Bellamy had control while she continued to monitor the instruments. Still no Off Flags, on course, on glideslope. Everything looked good.
Bellamy's pulse quickened. Fifty feet. Still nothing. "Cindy, hit the lights!" The landing lights cast dark shadows. "What the -" Bellamy overrode the autopilot and banked the aircraft left. Alarms sounded when the autopilot disconnected.
Hoyt looked up. "Don! The gara - "
The Sunport parking garage spun the 737 like a toy. The tail section sheered, hurling bodies and shrapnel in a dirt cloud. The sky turned orange from ignited fuel. Malovich's team went to work as the fuselage came to rest near University Boulevard. Uri Malovich donned his NVGs looking for survivors, buth the glare was too intense. He left them in the truck and used ski goggles instead. He cursed as his foot sank into the muck.