"That is complete nonsense. Taste this!"
Douglas looked up, startled, as Carolyn snatched his whiskey tumbler out of his hand and thrust it at Herc.
He'd been pleasurably occupied in needling Martin about the rocky landing his captain had made at the Fitton airfield that afternoon and had been paying little attention to the conversation between Herc and Carolyn.
They'd all been invited over to Carolyn's house for drinks after the flight, something that had been rather surprising until they discovered Herc's presence. Douglas suspected the whole thing was a way for Carolyn to subtly boast about the presence of one Captain Hercules Shipwright in her life.
He and Herc had had a little run-in on his arrival, a bit of one-upmanship by the door. Douglas was still quietly seething about their first meeting. But haven't you done well for yourself? Herc had said in his patronising way and then made it ever so subtly clear that the likes of Douglas wouldn't even be welcome at a regional outfit like Air Caledonia where they had proper pilots. The man was such a prig.
So Douglas had hinted broadly at a considerably more successful smuggling run than he'd actually undertaken, just to see Herc's lips purse with disapproval, before ostentatiously brushing past the other man with a large tumbler of golden liquid in his hand.
Now he stared up at where Herc was taking a sip from his tumbler as Carolyn glared at her lover, arms aggressively crossed.
"Gosh, the old apple juice number," said Herc dismissively, handing the glass back to Douglas. "What is it this time, Douglas? Yet another two week dry period to prove how, of course, you can give up alcohol if you want to, it's just that you really don't want to?"
"What the hell is going on?" demanded Douglas as he surged to his feet, refusing to let Herc tower over him for a minute longer.
"After your remarks when you arrived tonight, I thought I'd tell Carolyn what kind of man you really are," snapped Herc. "I'd hate to see you bring down MJN Air. You seem to have done a jolly good job of hiding out here but I know you, remember. I know all the sordid stories from Air England. You're a thief, you're a drunk and you're a dangerous pilot, regularly reporting for duty just hours after your last drink."
Douglas could hear Carolyn spluttering in the background but his attention was down to tunnel-vision focused on Herc's smug face. He wanted to protest, wanted to use his considerable verbal skills to take Herc apart, but he couldn't and he knew it. Herc had been there. Herc had seen the drinking, seen the flights conducted when hungover, seen the smuggling escalate until he was finally caught. Herc and he had been friends at first, Herc even something of a mentor for him, being a few years ahead at Air England. They'd shared a love for flying, for opera, and for women.
However Herc had pulled back when Douglas's behaviour had began to escalate. He'd never been one of the set that had egged Douglas on in his later years at Air England and then had deserted him like rats fleeing the proverbial sinking ship the minute he got into real trouble. But he'd been close to people in that set, and he had been close to the management too, he'd heard the many spurious stories and in all likelihood he'd heard the true ones.
Anything he said could be countered by Herc and asking for understanding, protesting that he'd changed his ways and learnt his lesson - none of that had ever been Douglas's style. He would go down in flames before he'd condescend to beg, and he'd take Hercules Bloody Shipwright with him if he could. He went on the attack with the only weapon he could think of.
"And if you are so very high and mighty with your standards, what are you doing hanging out with her?" He gestured angrily at Carolyn. "Do you know she doesn't pay Martin? Not one single penny. Over two years service and he captains for her for a few stale sandwiches and truly terrible coffee."
He swung round on Carolyn, who was still trying to interrupt them. Now he didn't care who he hurt, he just wanted to bring them all down with him, with their smug superiority and judgmental ways. "Did you know Captain Shipwright here is an office holder in the British Airline Pilots' Association? And they most definitely do not approve of pilots flying for free. Undermines the entire industry, so they claim." He turned back to Herc. "She's just as much a bastard as I've ever been. I wish you both all happiness together."
He threw the contents of his tumbler at Herc, watching with satisfaction as the liquid trickled down that smug, spluttering face, and then he stalked to the front door, grabbing his coat as he went. Behind him he could hear Herc and Carolyn now arguing with each other, with weak protests from Arthur breaking through. They deserved each other, he told himself, letting the seething turmoil of his anger sweep him down the drive, into his Lexus and back to his flat. Banks of dark clouds had closed in over Fitton and it had begun to rain. It matched his mood perfectly.
It was time to move on, clearly. Time to stop wasting his talents at a tin-pot company permanently teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and get back to a proper airline with more than two poxy pilots, get back to the captain's rank which he deserved, get back to proper catering and five star hotels and ranks of admiring stewardesses. Carolyn would regret the day she chose Herc Shipwright over Douglas Richardson. Let MJN see how long they lasted without him to solve all their petty problems. Like he cared if MJN sank without a trace.
He marched into his flat, slammed the front door behind him and headed for his computer which sat on a small desk in his living room. It was time to dust off his CV, update it and get it back into circulation. He knew scores of people in the UK airline industry, hundreds of them. Someone would be able to get him an inside line, he was sure of it.
Quite some time later he was still staring blankly at his computer. The screen had begun to shimmer oddly so he'd finally resorted to printing his CV out. Unfortunately it looked as bleak on paper as it had on the machine.
Excellent results from the Oxford Aviation Academy, a set of steady jobs, the move to Air England, rising to the rank of captain. Thirteen good years and then the sudden 14 month gap followed by his reemergence as first officer at MJN Air. No reference from Air England, and - assuming Carolyn was going to fire him - no reference from MJN. There really wasn't any way to disguise the bitter truth. It screamed of his sudden and ignominious fall from grace.
Even if a potential employer was prepared to give a CV like that a second look, they'd phone around, ask if anyone knew the inside story. And of course all those hundreds of people Douglas knew in the industry knew the inside story, or thought they did, or knew of a rumour that was even more lurid than the truth.
Douglas could lie masterfully to other people but he'd never been interested in lying to himself. The brutal truth was that if he lost his job at MJN he'd never fly again. He'd be in his early fifties, in a recession, trying to find a new profession when all he'd ever done was fly planes. He couldn't afford to retire, not with his daughter not yet a teenager and university fees rising by the year. He'd end up in some menial office job, ordered around by a boss much younger than himself, vanished from the world of aviation except as a cautionary tale told to younger pilots.
He drummed his fingers restlessly on the desk. Could he talk his way out of this one? Persuade Carolyn to keep him on? Remind her of all the favours he'd done her? Douz, St Peterburg... After all, she'd known some of the truth, known that his tarnished reputation let her hire him cheap. And thinking about it, she had apparently been defending him to Herc, at least as far as his drinking went. But then he'd thrown his drink in her precious boyfriend's face, called her a bastard in her own home in front of the entire company. She'd never forgive him for that.
Why couldn't he have just left Herc alone? Been happy for Carolyn and dampened down his own relentless need to compete? He put his elbows on the desk and buried his face in his hands. He'd never fly again and in the end he had no one to blame but himself.
He started violently and swung round to see Martin hovering uncertainly at the door of the living room.
"How did you get in?"
"I did knock but I guess you didn't hear. You gave me your spare keys, remember?"
Douglas did remember. He'd moved himself into the new flat after selling off the house and dividing the money with ex-wife number three. He'd been doing responsible householder things, like leaving a set of spare keys with a friend, and had been taken aback to realise the most obvious candidate he could think of was Martin. He'd told himself it was sensible choice because he saw Martin most days. It was not because Helena had taken most of their couple friends with her and most of his airline friends had drifted away after the Air England debacle and funny little Martin Crieff who so awkwardly filled the captain's chair that Douglas clearly deserved for himself was now one of his few friends.
"What are you doing here?"
Martin gave a non-committal shrug. "Well, I wasn't staying at Carolyn's. The shouting was getting pretty heated and Arthur had fled to hide in his bedroom, so I sort of sidled out. I just thought I'd, uh, you know, uh, check how you were doing?"
He walked slowly across to stand at Douglas's side. "You seemed pretty angry, what with throwing your drink in Herc's face, so I--" Martin stared down at the CV lying on the desk. "Douglas! You're resigning?" His voice rose into a squeak of horror. "Oh no, please don't."
Douglas raised an eyebrow. "I'm not resigning but I am expecting to be fired, once that bastard has finished tattling tales to Carolyn. But why would you care? I'd expect you to be glad to be rid of me."
Martin was wringing his hands in distress. "I don't want to fly without you. I don't want another pilot."
Curious and frankly glad to be distracted from his own misery, Douglas waved a hand at Martin. "Sit down before you fall down. What would be wrong with another pilot? You might get someone who didn't tease you relentlessly and let you keep your fair share of the cheese tray."
Martin perched nervously on the edge of the sofa. "That's true but it's not worth it. Carolyn can't hire another inexperienced pilot. It's too risky. She doesn't trust me to pull off any difficult landings without supervision. If I'm the safe pilot the first officer needs to be the good one. So she'll have to find another senior pilot who'll resent working under me and will be all patronising and smarmy and refuse to follow my orders..." Martin trailed off in obvious distress.
"Martin, I resent working under you, I patronise you and don't follow orders. You've survived that for over two years now."
"Yes, but you're you! I know you. And it's not all like that. We have fun together. Sometimes you're kind. I know you deliberately let me win things occasionally. And you've taught me so much about flying. If you go, I should--"
"No Martin! You are not falling on your sword for me. I'm not going to get another job as a pilot, not with the recession, airlines downsizing, going out of business. There are more pilots than openings at the moment. You won't get another job either. Flying is what you love, what you live for. Don't throw it away."
"What will you do?" asked Martin unhappily.
"I don't know," answered Douglas honestly. "Rely on my luck to turn something up, I guess. Not that I feel very lucky right now." He stared bleakly at the CV on the table before turning back to Martin, a smile pasted on his face that didn't reach his eyes. "I'll come and run Icarus Removals for you, in a managerial capacity of course. I bet I can double your turnover."
"Oh great," retorted Martin, clearly trying to join in on the attempt at levity. "You'll be playing the piano to entertain the client while I push the boxes out of the door. I can just imagine."
"Frankly I think we should focus on divorced women moving into new homes," said Douglas, doing his best to put a lecherous leer into his voice. "I'll entertain them upstairs while you carry their furniture inside. Give them a new start in all areas. I bet I can substantially increase your tips that way."
"Douglas!" exclaimed Martin, trying to sound scandalised. Then he gave it up and laughed. "Sadly, you are almost certainly right about the tips."
They lapsed into silence for a while, with Martin finally standing up awkwardly. "Well, I guess I should be going. I just meant to stop by for a minute."
Douglas considered the offer. His dignity required him to accept, to pretend that everything was fine and that tomorrow would bring him great new opportunities. But the truth was that he was tired and miserable and his dignity was feeling more than a little battered. "Stay," he said abruptly. "I don't really want to be on my own this evening. I'll rustle up some coffee and biscuits. I think I have chocolate Hobnobs somewhere."
Martin dropped back down onto the sofa. "I'd like to stay," he said quietly. "I don't much feel like going home alone right now."
"Excellent. Coffee and biscuits are on the way." Douglas stood up and headed for the kitchen.
An abrupt knock on the door startled both of them.
"That is odd," commented Douglas. "I know I'm a man with many friends but Casa Richardson is not normally this popular on a wet Tuesday night."
He pulled open the door and stared. "What the hell do you want?"
"I've come to apologise," replied Herc, standing in the hallway dripping from the rain.
"Not accepted. Sod off." Douglas tried to close the door but Herc stepped forward to stop him.
"Please Douglas. Let me come in, just for five minutes. I've got two things I want to say to you."
"I don't want to hear them."
"Carolyn's thrown me out on my ear. I've got my comeuppance. Please give me a chance to talk to you."
Herc had been thrown out? Douglas's curiosity temporarily overcame his anger. "Five minutes only." He stepped back to allow the other man to enter.
Still, the minute Herc was in the room he suddenly didn't want to hear it. Really, it was no surprise that Carolyn had chucked him out. She was unlikely to take well to being told how to run her company, nor to be flattered by the 'man of the world protecting his little woman' approach. However she was perfectly capable of deciding to get rid of both him and Herc and he wasn't at all sure that he was ready for some smug apology from Captain Goody Two-Shoes Shipwright.
"I'm making coffee for Martin," he said abruptly. "You'll have to wait." He turned to the kitchen, trying to let his anger overcome his instinctive good manners. "Can I get you a cup?" he finally offered through gritted teeth.
"Thank you, I'd appreciate that," replied Herc, clearly picking his words carefully.
Douglas bolted for the kitchen, where he leaned heavily on the counter and let his head hang down, trying to centre himself with deep breaths. It was a long five minutes before he finally turned to his coffee machine and produced three cups to go with the plate of biscuits.
He walked back into the living room with the tray to find Martin crammed into a corner of the sofa, as if he was trying to make himself as small as possible, and Herc standing awkwardly by his desk, quite clearly trying to look as if he hadn't been staring down at Douglas's CV the minute before. Douglas put down the tray very carefully, telling himself that emptying a mug of hot coffee over Herc's head would be yet another in a long line of mistakes.
Once they'd all picked up their mugs and he'd irritably ordered Herc to stop hovering and take a seat, he turned on the other man. "Well? Your five minutes is ticking by."
Martin interrupted nervously. "Maybe I should go?"
"Please stay," said Herc. "You may as well hear this too. In fact that's one of the things I want to say, really. I didn't understand MJN at all. I really didn't realise the extent to which you are more a bizarre sort of family than just another charter business."
He glanced over at Martin. "At Air Caledonia, and even more so at Air England, if a colleague looked like he was in trouble, everyone else would be heading for the exits. You certainly wouldn't come visiting after hours."
Douglas grimaced at the memory. He'd prided himself on being the most cynical of bastards but even he had been taken aback by how quickly he'd been abandoned by so-called friends the minute he'd been rumoured to be in real trouble with the management.
"At Air Caledonia we fly with different crews every day. Everyone keeps their head down, does their job and heads home alone. I'm pretty sure our CEO wouldn't recognise me in the street, let alone know my name," continued Herc. He lent forward with his elbows on his knees, twisting his coffee mug round and round in his hands, his full focus now turned on Douglas. "The minute she realised what I was getting at, Carolyn started defending you. Telling me how often you'd saved the company from closing down. She didn't back down once the entire time. I rather envy you that level of support."
Douglas tried not to indulge the tiny tendril of hope that was blossoming in his chest. After all, Carolyn didn't like being criticised and she didn't like being wrong. She was perfectly capable of defending him in front of others but still firing him once their backs were turned.
"Anyway. So. That was the one thing I wanted to say to you," said Herc. "The other is a straight apology to you, Douglas. You look exactly like your old self, you sound and act like your old self. It never occurred to me that you might have changed. Carolyn told me you've been sober for what, eight years now?"
"Nine years and seven months," replied Douglas flatly, waiting to see if Herc would do the maths.
"I really didn't think you had it in you to stop drinking. I'm jolly impressed," said Herc. "And Carolyn assures me that's she's quite the stickler for the rules and you don't get away with anything illegal on her plane."
"Certainly not," replied Douglas, thinking that what both he and Carolyn considered to be strictly illegal might be considerably more flexible than Captain Shipwright realised. Still, he kept that thought to himself.
Herc rose to his feet, putting down his half-drunk mug. "Once again, you have my sincerest apologies, Douglas. Thank you for letting me talk to you despite all the trouble I've caused. I'd best be off. I've a jump seat on a flight out of Bristol tomorrow morning and I still need to find myself a hotel for tonight."
"Find a hotel?" queried Douglas.
Herc looked uncomfortable. "Well, I had been expecting to stay at Carolyn's."
Douglas walked across to the window and peered out into the driving rain. He'd hurt a lot of people in his days as a drunken sky-god and he'd not been much bothered about apologising to any of them. With a sigh he turned back to Herc. "You don't want to be driving in this. It's coming down in torrents now. Stay for a while until it eases up. At least finish your cup of coffee."
Herc, obviously surprised, sat down again slowly. "Thank you, jolly good of you. In that case, maybe you can fill me in on what actually happened in St Petersburg? Carolyn went on and on about it, about how you saved MJN, but she was so angry that it wasn't really making sense. It did seem to involve various people being frozen to the aircraft but I'm sure I misunderstood that bit."
Douglas, leaning back against his computer desk, opened his mouth to commence on yet another epic tale of his own brilliance and then abruptly shut it again. Martin was still huddled uncomfortably in a corner of the sofa, trying to look inconspicuous. She doesn't trust me to pull off any difficult landings, he'd said. Another senior pilot who'll be all patronising.
"It all started just after we'd taken off from St Petersburg, having dropped off an oligarch and his yacht-loving cronies. It was Martin's sector and it'd been a tricky takeoff, with a nasty little crosswind. And then number two engine caught fire, probably a bird strike by a goose." And Douglas was off, telling a detailed story of Martin landing G-ERTI on one engine. He suspected the entire incident had been a blur for Martin, who'd been flying on instinct by then. But Douglas had been ruthlessly assessing each step, expecting to have to seize control from his panicking captain at any moment. "And Martin landed us as lightly as if he'd been bringing us down in Fitton on a warm summer's afternoon," concluded Douglas.
"Martin, my dear chap, I am most impressed," said Herc warmly.
"Um, well, thanks..." A flustered Martin didn't know where to look. "I did spend the next ten minutes throwing up in the head," he said in a sudden rush.
"Quite understandable, I'm sure I'd have done the same," replied Herc. "I've flown with pilots who'd have been throwing up over the controls the minute the strike happened."
Martin hurried on into the rest of the story, as if more comfortable with a tale given in praise of Douglas. Soon he and Douglas were speaking over each other as they tried to convey the awfulness of Gordon Shappey. "You know how Arthur thinks other people are great? Positively brilliant, in fact. Well, he stuttered for five minutes when we asked him what his dad was like before managing to say that he’s alright," said Martin.
"Alright?" Herc looked horrified. "He must be terrible."
"Oh, he most certainly is that," continued Douglas. By the time he'd reached the part of the tale where Gordon was boasting of hanging the tail fin of G-ERTI over the mantelpiece, resprayed NYBJAMS – Not Your Bloody Jet Any More Sweetheart, Herc was looking slightly sick.
"And then he walked off, leaving Arthur's present behind," said Martin. "When Arthur reminded him, Gordon said: I don’t drink cheap gin. You keep that."
"Oh gosh, I've messed this up badly." Herc had his head in his hands. "Arthur was getting so upset when I was fighting with Carolyn and neither of us were paying attention to him."
"You like Arthur, don't you?" commented Douglas.
"I like both of them a great deal, much good that that does me now," replied Herc glumly. "At least tell me that you somehow managed to outwit Mr Shappey."
Douglas and Martin were off again with their story and by the end Herc was laughing despite his unhappiness. "Well, I can see why Carolyn thinks you're an asset to the company, Douglas."
He turned to Martin. "You know, when I first joined Air England and was flying as an FO, I was landing a 737-200 at Peretola Airport. Visibility was deteriorating and there was a tricky crosswind so I was approaching at a crab angle. The plane banked right, we veered off centerline and the right hand wing tip contacted the runway. I aborted, naturally, and executed a go-around.The wing had sustained substantial damage, as had the flap fairing, and we had to divert to Milan. I have to tell you, it took me years to live down that one!"
Douglas sighed. He did so hate charmingly self-depreciating piloting stories. Self-aggrandisement was much more his style. Still, he wasn't about to be outshone by Captain Hercules, especially not when he could see Martin beginning to get starry-eyed with the attention.
"Well, my star turn at MJN has probably been the time I borrowed G-ERTI to bomb a thousand quid koi carp at the house of my ex-wife."
"Say that again?" Herc stared at him in astonishment. And Douglas was off with another tale. Soon they were trading back and forth, tales from Air England, Air Caledonia, MJN. To Douglas's secret satisfaction, MJN stories almost always topped anything Herc could offer by virtue of their variety and bizarreness. Even Martin finally awkwardly joined in, offering the tale of their triumph at Douz.
By the end of the evening Martin was chatting away with confidence, a goofy grin on his face. Douglas rather suspected that this, rather than any sexual act, was Martin's ultimate private fantasy. Sitting around shooting the breeze with other experienced pilots, one of the boys, one of the gang. Even Douglas hadn't had a chance to do this for years and he had to admit it felt pretty good.
As he watched Herc and Martin talk, he was overcome by a profound pang of loss. He didn't want to stop flying. He didn't want to leave Carolyn's company, despite the poor pay and crappy working conditions. He didn't want to lose his place in the community of pilots or in the strange family of MJN.
"Good Lord, it's nearly two a.m. I really must be going if I'm going to find a hotel," said Herc.
"Don't be ridiculous," replied Douglas. "Unless your hire car converts into a boat, you don't want to drive in this and you'll never find a hotel now. Martin, take the guest room. Herc, you can have the sofa. And it's time for all good little pilots to go to sleep."
* * *
The following morning, Douglas and Martin were still standing in the kitchen yawning and waiting hopefully for the coffee machine to warm up when Herc walked in, now fully dressed in his Air Caledonia captain's uniform. Douglas allowed himself just one longing look at the four stripes on the sleeve.
"I must be off." Herc shook Martin's hand warmly. "It's been a pleasure and a privilege to get to know you, Captain Crieff. I'm sorry we are unlikely to get a chance to do it again." He turned to Douglas, taking his hand but this time simply holding it between both his own. "Douglas, once again, please accept my sincerest apologies. You're not the man I remember from Air England and I'm sorry I won't get a chance to get to know the man that you've become."
Herc headed for the door and then stopped just as he was about to step outside. "Douglas, I really don't think Carolyn is going to fire you but if she does, sling your CV my way and I'll see what I can do."
"Tosser," muttered Douglas once Herc was gone.
"She won't fire you? Will she? No she won't. She can't. Can she?" blurted Martin.
Douglas sighed. "I just don't know. It's clear she was delighted to have Captain Shipwright in her life and she's going to blame me for losing him. She's not a gracious loser. Come on. Let's go across to the airfield and get it over with."
Douglas insisted Martin drive with him. "Your tires on that van are balder than a billiard ball. You can't drive it in this rain." He didn't mention that he rather wanted company when he walked into the MJN portacabin to find out his fate.
"I don't think we'll be flying this morning," commented Martin as Douglas parked the Lexus by a flooded runway.
"No, you could use it as a venue for the Olympic rowing," agreed Douglas. "That's unlikely to put her ladyship in a good mood."
They ran through the rain to the portacabin, to find Arthur sitting on the step, sheltering under a vast umbrella decorated with Disney characters.
"Counting raindrops, Arthur?" said Douglas, trying to sound his normal nonchalant self.
"No, hiding from mum. She's a bit cross this morning."
"Oh great," muttered Douglas as he pushed open the door.
They were met by an instant steam of verbal castigation. "What sort of pilots do you call yourselves, swanning into the office at this time of morning? As usual there's work to be done and you of course are nowhere to be seen--"
"Carolyn," protested Douglas, "we're fifteen minutes early and besides we clearly can't fly this morning. There's no work to do--"
"There's always work, Douglas, not that you'd know work if it bit you on the ankle while foaming rabidly at the mouth. And you'll need to be a week early for the rest of your career to pay me back for your tardiness. This is not a charity for rubbish pilots. This is a business teetering on the brink and the final push will doubtless come from you two fooling around."
"Don't you Carolyn me, First Officer Richardson, the only way we can fly today is if we convert G-ERTI into a float plane. Another day lost, I should take this personally."
"I think we have to consider this one an act of God, and I doubt he's out to get you personally."
"Oh I'm quite sure he is, and if he isn't you certainly appear to be. No. I don't want to hear a word from you, not a word. Martin, this is for you." Carolyn thrust a piece of paper at a bewildered Martin. "It's backpay from the start of the year. You get minimum wage for the hours you fly and twenty pounds a day when you are on stand-by. And don't you dare ask for a penny more. This will be the death of MJN, see if it isn't. This will be the straw that breaks the back of the already malnourished and exhausted camel, the final unbearable burden, the--"
"Carolyn, we'll be in the plane reviewing emergency procedures, won't we Martin," said Douglas as he started manoeuvring his captain towards the door. "Call us when you need us."
He stopped at the door, having pushed Martin out into the rain to join Arthur. "Carolyn, about last night..."
"Don't, Douglas. Just don't. Get out there and fly my plane." She abruptly turned her back on him and Douglas, getting the message, slipped out.
"Come on Martin." He grabbed the other man and headed back towards his Lexus.
"Douglas? Aren't we going to review procedures in G-ERTI?"
"Me? Do procedure reviews? Absolutely not. We won't be flying for hours yet, not with the runway a play park for ducks. We're going into Fitton so you can deposit that cheque into your bank account tout de suite. I saw the look on your face. You were just about to fall for her guilt trip and give it back to her. If I'd not been there, you'd have ended up offering to pay her to fly for MJN!"
"You're probably right," said Martin ruefully. "Good thing you are still here." He stared down at the damp cheque clutched in his hand. "She's paying me. She's actually paying me!" He turned excitedly to Douglas. "I'm a pilot. A professional pilot! It's not just a hobby any more."
"You've been a professional pilot for quite some time, Martin, she's just acknowledging that truth. But it is interesting that she's suddenly paying you, very interesting! You tried to get paid, to no avail. I tried to get her to pay you, same result."
"What? You did?"
Ah. Douglas hadn't intended to share that little fact with Martin. Still, it hardly mattered now. "Yes, I did try but even I couldn't extract more than vague promises from her. And yet she apparently values Hercules Shipwright's opinion so highly that she's been shamed into paying you, despite having thrown him out."
"She doesn't seem very happy," said Martin tentatively. "If she goes on like this for weeks, it's going to be difficult."
"It is going to be unbearable," said Douglas flatly. "We'll be hijacking G-ERTI and heading for Tasmania. There's only one thing for it. We need to get them back together again."
"How on earth are we going to manage that?"
"Well, good thing we have a long rainy day ahead of us to make plans," replied Douglas. "I do love a challenge."
And really, it couldn't do any harm to have Captain Smarmpot Shipwright owing him a truly colossal favour.
- THE END -