March 21, 2008
Los Angeles, California
John Cliner stared at the chipped gold lettering on the frosted glass window as he jiggled his key in the lock of his office door, the tumblers finally releasing. The lettering ‘Cliner Estate Planning’ reflected back at him, catching the morning sun as he opened the door to his small, two room office. He gave a quiet sigh as he bent down to retrieve the mornings’ newspaper off the floor where it had landed after being shoved through the mail slot. He unfolded it with a one handed flick as he hobbled over to the coffee maker in the small reception area. Setting his worn briefcase down on the table by the coffee maker, he flipped the switch on the appliance to start a fresh pot, thinking how it was the only thing that made coming to the office enjoyable.
He looked around at the shabby wallpaper and the brown couch protected by a cracked and well-worn plastic cover, remembering the way it had once looked new and stylish when he first went into business for himself thirty-five years earlier. Looking back at the paper, he scanned the front page as he waited for the coffee to finish. Upon hearing the last few drips fall into the pot, he folded up the paper, tucked it under his arm then poured his first cup of the day before picking up his briefcase and heading into his office.
Laying his briefcase down on the large desk, followed by the newspaper and cup of coffee, Mr. Cliner reached over to push the button on his computer, starting it up like he did every morning. The motions he went through were so ingrained that he didn’t have to think about what he was doing as he unlatched the briefcase, taking out his lunch to put in the small mini-fridge tucked into a corner under a stack of old files. He heard his computer making its normal clicking and whirring noise as it started up the process of loading his files and preparing his list of activities for the day.
The dot matrix printer, half-forgotten on a shelf next to his desk, sprang to life and began chattering away as it printed a document. Mr. Cliner jumped slightly, his head whipping around to stare at the ancient printer, almost shocked that it still worked. Looking at his computer screen, he watched as an old software program he’d used until a few years ago begin loading. Moving towards the printer, he tore off the sheet of paper, giving it a slight flick to chase the dust off of it.
System Check – Activate validation system on File 88-765221
Estate of Stringfellow Hawke: Twenty year hold released - validating recipient of Estate directive.
Stringfellow Hawke: Deceased, March 21, 1988 – Trauma sustained from explosion
Client Directed Line of Succession for Estate:
Dominic Santini: Deceased, March 14, 1988 – DOA from explosion. Note: Business and all business assets (Santini Air Service) of Dominic Santini willed to Stringfellow Hawke per instructions of Estate
Saint John Hakwe: Brother - Deceased, December 2, 1992 –Trauma from skiing accident
Stringfellow Miller: Son –Deceased, June 6, 1994–Mother and Son killed by drunk driver
Saint John Van Lin Hawke: Nephew – Deceased, September 11, 2001-Died on Flight 97
Caitlin O'Shannessy: Friend – Deceased, May 4, 1988 – Died in movie stunt helicopter crash
Michael Coldsmith Briggs III: Friend – Deceased, May 16, 1988 - Killed in line of duty
Marella Callehan: Friend – Deceased, May 16, 1988 – Killed in line of duty
…. Activate secured file….
Cheyenne 'Red' MacPhearson: Daughter – Born: January 30, 1975
Marital Status: Single
Current Location: Nellis AFB, NV.
Current Occupation: Major, Fighter Pilot, Test Pilot in Air Force
Last known form of communication: Cellular Phone - ### ### ####
….Activate Hold Release - Deliver Estate instructions and directive….
As he read the document, he blindly reached back to find his desk chair and lowered himself into it. Had it really been twenty years? He glanced down at the newspaper to verify the date before he gave a quiet sigh, turning back to read the document again. He dreaded the task that now lay ahead of him. Perhaps he should consider retiring once this file was completed.
March 22, 2008
Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada
“Enough is enough!" came a man’s raised voice from down the hallway.
Those that had offices close to the Generals' knew this day had been coming and no one dared to walk past the General's door for fear he might redirect his frustrations at someone else.
There was silence for a moment before the General continued. "I have covered your ass for almost four years in hopes that you might get a reality check. My superiors are beginning to believe that I'm too soft on you. It's beginning to make me look bad. You have been passed up for promotion time and again because of your 'reckless' behavior." There was a thump of what sounded like a thick file dropped on top of his desk. "Insubordination, reckless endangerment of military equipment, disobeying orders and the list goes on and on," growled the General.
Again, there was silence from the person who was getting their ass chewed out. The Generals’ secretary looked worried as she stood near Major Martin’s desk, the Major wincing in sympathy as the General grew heated in his rant.
"I know what you've been doing Major!" he roared. "And I don't like it!" There came another sound of a thud from the office, but this time it sounded more like a fist hitting the file on top of the desk.
Finally, a low voice was heard asking something, but exactly what, the two down the hallway couldn't make out.
The roar of disbelief from the General's office in answer to the question made everyone instinctively flinch. "What do you mean 'And exactly what is that, Sir?' You know God damned well exactly what! You refuse to apply for promotions and when you think you might be offered one, you screw around, mess up and make it impossible to recommend you for one. It’s a miracle that you've made Major and managed to keep yourself from being stripped of your rank. You told me when you first came in under my command that all you wanted to do was be the best pilot around, and by God, you are! You're a natural at it! You've got more medals and ribbons than half the general's on the committee and yet, you ignore those honors as if they meant nothing!" he shouted, but the last few words seemed to have a hint of pride to them, more than anger.
"But dammit Major, they are going to clip your wings this time and soon!" the General shouted even louder than before. It seemed that by getting louder, perhaps he was hoping something might sink into the 'thick' head of the person on the receiving end. "My superiors are leaning heavily towards giving you a dishonorable discharge. Oh and they can so don't give me that look. They have grounds on any number of accounts and I can't cover your ass anymore."
There was silence again as if the General was waiting for a reply from the recipient of the lecture. When he received no obvious response, he expelled a frustrated sigh. "You are to take two weeks of leave. You are officially grounded for those two weeks until the committee has made their decision on your latest stunt. You are to get off this base by tonight and away from those you 'buzzed.' There might be an attempt of retaliation, though they've been warned against any action towards you. I hate to even suggest this but you better take this time to clear your head, get your priorities straight and get your 'house' in order. It will be a miracle if they don't discharge you and the All Mighty will have to come down from on High just to save your ass if they don't."
There came the sound of a slamming drawer, the rustle of paper followed by the scratch of a pen. "I suggest you take these two weeks of forced leave seriously. You might consider looking for something outside of the Air Force for work because I cannot even fathom what the outcome of this committee hearing will be," growled the General.
"You are dismissed Major MacPhearson. I don't want to see you back here until the day before your hearing," he said.
The dismissal caused the secretary to quickly tiptoe out of the Martin’s office and back to her desk. The slight rustle of cloth moving indicated MacPhearson salute before her booted footsteps were heard in the hallway as the Major exited the General’s office.
The secretary saw the Major pause near her door, pulling out her hat from her back pocket and shook it a little to open it up. The secretary thought Major MacPhearson had always been hard to read. Her face was often set in a perpetual state of stoic contemplation. Whenever the secretary had seen her smile, it never lasted for more than a moment and looked to be more of a smirk than an actual smile. Her blue gray eyes were striking against her darker reddish skin, her gaze often appeared cool and calculating and in the years she'd known the Major, that expression had rarely changed.
The secretary was brought out of her reflections when she heard the stairwell door shut behind the Major, causing the General to shout for her to come take a memo. With a soft sigh, she grimaced at Major Martin as she walked by his office and he winced. She continued down the hall to the General's office with her pad of paper and pen.
MacPhearson let the stairwell door slam shut behind her as she left the General’s office, pausing for a moment to pull on her cap before heading towards the barracks. At a distance to any casual observer, the slender woman could have passed for a man, especially when wearing her flight suit. She refused to cut her hair short which forced her to find other ways to keep it tucked out of sight and out of her way according to military standards. She usually braided it, looping it around her head and pinning it in place or wrapped it around in a bun. Wearing hair styles such as those accented her sharp cheekbones and gray-blue eyes that were more deeply set than some. Her skin had a dusky reddish hue causing her to often be mistaken as having Latino heritage.
She headed towards the barracks, swiping her badge to gain access through a side door. It wasn’t much to look at but it was where home had been for several years. She had a rank high enough and the seniority to have her own apartment on base, but by staying in the barracks she saved the money that would have gone for housing. She didn’t need much space anyway since she didn’t have much in the way of worldly possessions to be stored.
Heading towards the stand-alone locker in her quadrant within the women’s dorm, she was thankful for the lack of personnel in the vicinity. Most were currently on assignment, working or off doing other things in the early afternoon before they covered the evening shift. Reaching for the combo lock, she spun the dial and quickly flicked it to the numbers needed so the tumblers lined up for its release. Pulling the lock off, she opened the metal door, looking for the blue duffle bag that sat on the bottom, empty and waiting as always. Reaching down, she grabbed it and set it on the end of the bed, spreading it open. She pulled two sets of camos and one formal uniform off their hangers, folding them carefully before putting them inside the bag,
At the end of her bunk sat her foot locker and she quickly removed the combo-lock from the latch then pushed open the lid. The few sets of non-military clothing she owned, mainly jeans and sweatshirts went in next, leaving one set out. She quickly changed her cloths then withdrew a pair of boots from the footlocker that she wedged her feet into. Placing her dress uniform in a plastic bag, she shoved the bundle into the duffle, knowing she would need to find some place to launder it before she returned to base. She worked quickly to finish her packing, tossing in her shower kit and laptop case. Underwear, socks and shoes were stowed in pockets and the small spaces left in the bag until it was full. With one last inspection of both lockers, she zipped the bag shut and secured it with the extra closure straps around it.
Reaching into her foot locker, she pulled out her traveling bedroll, setting it with the rest of her gear. She paused for a moment to look at the now empty locker. Most of the other women that lived in this wing of the barracks had footlockers full of gear on top of what was usually overflowing from their upright lockers. Years ago, she’d learned to keep her belongings to the bare minimum. It made it easier to move from one place to another or pack quickly to leave the base and she never had to worry about her belongings being messed with when she wasn't around. She had a small storage unit in California where she kept a few items that she wanted to keep around for when she got out of the Air Force. What was stored there was of no use to her at the moment but would be useful to her when she found a place of her own.
With a quick check of the vicinity, she bent down and ran a hand between the wall and the back of the standing locker. Her finger tips gripped the tape that held a plastic bag secure to the back of it and pulled it free. Checking inside the bag to make sure everything was as she left it, she took inventory of her passport, military papers, her conceal and carry permit, multi-class pilot license, spare cash and two credit cards. She knelt down and stuck her hand under the bottom of the locker, feeling for a second bag that she pulled loose that held her wallet and a single key on a cord.
Some called her paranoid about her personal possessions but she remembered what it was like to live in the slums in any number of large cities. She’d learned to keep things hidden otherwise it would be stolen. A person was wise to travel with the minimum amount of gear so not to attract unwanted attention. Clothing and supplies could be easily replaced but there were some things that couldn't. The less she had of those things, the better.
She reached into her standing locker and pulled the 9mm Beretta secured in a shoulder holster off the back hook. She shrugged it on over her sweatshirt, then reached back into the locker and pulled out her leather flight jacket, shrugging it on and zipping it up before she took down her motorcycle helmet and gloves off the top shelf. Closing her lockers, she replaced the locks then gathered up her bag and bedroll. She slung them over her shoulder and gathered up her helmet before leaning down to slide her free hand under the corner of the mattress. She found her cell phone and pulled it out, flipping it open so she could turn it on as she left the barracks, heading towards the parking lot.
She hadn't expected any messages and was caught by surprise as the phone chimed, indicating she had a voice mail. She flipped the phone closed, shoving it into her jacket pocket. She’d check it later wherever she stopped for the night, but instinct was telling her it was time to go before her window of opportunity to leave without an incident, closed. The parking lot was fairly empty as she made her way out to the motorcycle covered with a tarp that protected it from the elements. Setting her gear down, she unhooked the straps that held the tarp down then pulled it off. Using several straps she pulled from the canvas bag of camping gear left strapped to the motorcycle, she secured her duffle and bed roll. Once she was satisfied that nothing would shift or fall off, she folded the tarp up then laid it over the pile of gear before strapping everything down with the two tarp straps.
Pulling on her helmet, she straddled the bike and fished out the key. The old Harley roared to life, the engine growling as it rumbled in the cool afternoon air. She revved the engine a few times then flipped the kick stand up as she put the bike into gear and headed out to the front gate. Stopped to give her leave papers to the Sergeant in Charge, he gave her a proper salute with the flick of his hand and she was on her way out the gate and onto to the highway, heading for the desert.
The evening stars out in the desert were brilliant this far away from the light pollution of the cities. MacPhearson lay on her bedroll, staring up at them as her mind continued working over the Generals ‘advice’, like she had during the six-hour ride from base. When the temperature in the desert started to drop and the shadows grew long as evening descended, she’d found a small area to pull off the beaten path. The place had seen travelers before as indicated by the ring of charred stones for a fire pit and several stones pushed into place around it for sitting. After finding enough dry brush to start up a small fire, she laid out her bedroll as close to the fire as was safe and pulled out her cell phone to listen to her voicemail.
"Hello. This is Mr. Cliner," came an older mans' voice, "It’s March 21st, the time is 9:45 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. I would like a chance to speak with you if at all possible. What I have to tell you is confidential and I do not wish to release details until I can verify you are truly Cheyenne MacPhearson. If you could call me at 602-222-9674 and arrange a time when we can meet, I would greatly appreciate it. I look forward to hearing from you and I hope what I have to tell you will be worth your while." There was a click and the voicemail ended. She stared at the phone for a moment in disbelief then listened to the voice mail a second time before she snapped the phone shut, thinking about the message.
She continued to mull it over, wondering what it was he had to tell her that was so confidential she had to be there in person to hear it. Pulling out an MRE from the camp bag, she assembled something resembling supper that consisted of a paste like substance that was supposed to be tuna fish, spread on crackers and a can of peaches. After she’d cleaned up her mess, she dug around in her jacket pockets until she found a small spiral bound notebook with a pencil stub stuck in the wire. Opening the note pad, she scribbled down the number, the name and the date Mr. Cliner had called. He’d called yesterday so hopefully when she contacted him tomorrow, he wouldn’t have gotten too impatient for her to return his call.
She stowed her gear for the night as the flames licked at the remaining dried sagebrush she'd tossed on the fire a few minutes before. Watching it burn down to hot embers, she worked to clear her mind before climbing into the bedroll that she’d moved to lay up against the fire warmed stones and forced herself into a light sleep until real sleep took her half an hour later.
March 23rd, 2008
Morning light found her on the road again, heading northwest through the desert. The Harley rumbled along, as if it was an old lion, content to be out in the sun. She had kept the engine tuned and in good repair though she let the body of the old bike be. It was better to make people think what you had wasn't worth much. If they thought it nothing but junk they wouldn't bother with it. The paint was dull and faded, scratched and some of the chrome showed signs of rust. But the engine was a work of art as it roared along the curves and twists of the highway.
By 0800, Red had found a small truck stop where she waited for one of the two shower rooms while warming her hands with a cup of coffee. When her number was called to use a shower, she took her duffle bag in with her and locked the door. She tried to avoid looking at anything for too long since it was an old, abused facility and didn’t look like it’d had a good scrubbing in years. However, the water was clear and hot as she quickly showered, brushed her teeth, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt before braiding her hair in a long tail down her back. As she headed back out to the café, several of the men waiting for their turn at the showers raised an eyebrow at how quickly she’d finished.
Settling into a booth, she placed her order for breakfast then pulled out her laptop and booted it up. Rummaging for a special cord, she found it and plugged it into her computer before she hooked it into her phone. The wireless signal was weak but she should be able to search for information while she waited for her food. Within a few minutes, she knew that the number given to her was registered to a Mr. John Cliner, an estate planning lawyer who had been in business since 1973. The address was in Los Angeles, California which corresponded with the area code of the number. Since there was little else on the internet about Mr. Cliner or his business, she shut down her laptop and unhooked her phone.
Once her laptop and gear had been repacked accordingly in her duffle, she waited for the waitress to bring her breakfast. A large plate of eggs, bacon and wheat toast was placed before her a few minutes later and the waitress came back to refill her coffee cup. Once she was alone and knew she wouldn’t be interrupted for a few minutes, she opened her cell phone and dialed Mr. Cliner’s number. It rang three times before it was picked up.
“Hello?" came an older mans’ voice.
"This is Cheyenne MacPhearson. You left me a message. Where and when?" she asked, getting right to the point. This wasn't the place to ask questions and the sooner she had a location and time, the sooner she could plan the next leg of her trip.
The man was quiet for a moment, perhaps surprised by the abruptness of the woman on the other end of the line.
"Thank you for returning my call Ms. MacPhearson. Do you know where Van Nyes Airport is here in Los Angeles?" he asked, trying to sound professional.
"Yes," she answered, though she honestly didn’t. She would have to buy a map and look it up.
"How soon could you meet me there?" he asked.
She was silent for a moment as she calculated the time it would take her to reach Los Angeles itself. "I can be there in six hours. Will that be acceptable?"
"Yes. Meet me at the Stars and Stripes Hanger. I will need verification that you are who you say you are. Once I have that verification, I will let you know what this is all about," he said, sounding thankful for once that someone was not asking him questions.
"Fine. I'll be there by 1500 hours today," she said and hung up the phone, probably leaving the man a little startled on the other end.
Pulling out her little notebook, she made a few notes about the conversation before focusing on her breakfast. It was decent fare and filling but best of all, it was hot. She still felt partially frozen from her stay in the desert the night before, even with the hot shower. After a third cup of coffee and finishing most of her meal, she paid the bill and left a tip on the table.
Within a few minutes, she had picked up a road map of California and paid for gas. Securing her duffle on the back of her bike, she quickly consulted the map then headed back out to the highway.
Early afternoon found her less than an hour away from the airport and the roads were congested with traffic. She had added time to her ETA, hoping to get there early enough to look around before the meeting.
As she drew closer to the airport, the skies overhead became busier with planes and helicopters taking off or landing at Van Nyes. The small airport appeared to have several bustling businesses, as could be expected for servicing this area of a large metropolis. She pulled up outside the entrance to the airfield and got off her bike. She took a moment to stretch her legs as she read the 'Help Wanted' board posted by security check-point. By the look of things, multiple flight services ran their businesses out of the airport, everything from charter companies to stunt flying and film crews for Hollywood.
She scanned the ads, figuring if she got discharged in a few weeks she should see what was out there for work. There were several cards on the board wanting to hire pilots and mechanics, a cleaning crew and even a business for sale. She pulled out her notepad again and made note of who was advertising for what, who to call and so forth. The business for sale peaked her interest.
Getting back on her bike, she headed to the security check point, asking for directions after she pulled out her driver’s license and military ID to register her visit. The guard directed her towards the hanger, giving her a brief description of the logo, the allowed her to pass through the gate. She made her way along the avenue of businesses and hangers and within a few minutes, she was passing the Stars and Stripes Air Service hanger, giving it a look over before continuing on. Seeing the red, white and blue design on the building caused a shiver to run up her spine, something tugging at the edge of her memory as if she had been here before.
It bothered her since one of the very few talents she had besides being a pilot was that she had a ‘photographic’ memory. She’d never been officially tested to verify if she did or not, but she had always been very careful to keep it to herself. Early on in her life, she’d learned to hide this little ‘gift’ by carrying a notepad and taking notes on anything that caught her interest. It usually spoked people to know that someone around them could remember anything they saw or read, so only a small handful of people knew about it.
As she drove on, that feeling of familiarity continued to nag at her while she looked for the business that was for sale. She was mildly surprised to find it was the hanger next to the Stars and Stripes building. As she stopped in front of it, seeing the ‘For Sale’ sign on the roll-back doors, she noted that it wasn't much to look at. It didn’t look like anyone had kept up the building in years, paint peeling, a broken window pane and weeds growing up along the edges of the walls. She absently wondered why Stars and Stripes hadn’t snapped it up to have extra storage, if nothing else. But its’ general condition didn’t leave her with a sense of confidence on her chances of setting up shop in a dump like that. Inquiring about the price wouldn’t hurt since it may be discounted due to its run down condition.
With a sigh, she checked her watch to see she had thirty minutes before she was to meet Mr. Cliner. Taking a minute to check her surroundings, she drove her bike past several more hangers, observing the people working on several different varieties of aircraft. Finally, she pointed the bike towards a service entrance road that led along the back side of these hangers and headed towards the Stars and Stripes hanger. She found a place to park near the fence then secured the bike before climbing off. After a quick check for anyone close by, she unzipped her jacket and pulled out the 9mm Beretta from its holster. She checked the safety before ejecting the clip to check the rounds, replacing the clip before sliding it back into its holster. Having no idea what this meeting might be about, she wasn’t taking chances with being in a strange place around people she didn’t know.
She removed the duffle off the back of the bike then slung it over her shoulder, pulled off her helmet and gloves before scanning the area again to make sure she wasn't being watched. She felt a touch embarrassed for feeling so paranoid but without answers as to what this was all about, she was willing to be cautious. With her helmet swinging from her hand by the strap, she moved around to the side of the hanger, walking along the wall towards the front, watching for signs of anyone hanging around that didn’t look like they belonged. She stopped for a moment at the corner of the hanger to watch the crew from the Stars and Stripes hanger work on preparing a motor in one of their choppers to be dismounted and removed.
As she stood there, an old, tan Ford Taurus pulled up in front of the building. A man climbed out of the car with some difficulty. He looked a little heavy around the middle, his brown hair thinning to bald and wearing clothes that could have come from the previous decade. He moved as if his joints were stiff and perhaps pained him. She could only assume that this was Mr. Cliner. He leaned back into the car and pulled out a worn, wide leather briefcase and headed into the hanger without looking around.
She waited a few more minutes, taking in the sights and sounds around her. Finally, feeling that things were as they seemed, she headed towards the hanger entrance. She entered through the open doors into a chaos that felt soothing to her nerves. The feeling of deja vu struck her harder this time. The hanger seemed so familiar to her that it caused her to stop and take a good look around at the interior. Her gaze came to rest on the older man standing next to a desk where a frazzled looking woman worked on an old desktop computer. Most likely she was the controller for the business but that was no guarantee. She saw Mr. Cliner digging around in one of his pockets, looking for something.
Walking up to the pair she remained silent as she waited for him to take notice of her as he continued to check his front pockets for something. Finding what he was looking for in his left jacket pocket, he looked up and gave a little start as his hand automatically covered his heart. "Good lord. You gave me a scare," he said, exhaling in a gust of breath.
The woman turned to look at her, "Is there something I can do for you?"
Looking from the woman to the man, she shook her head slightly. "No, thank you. I'm here to see Mr. Cliner."
The older man gave her a long look. "Ms. MacPhearson?" he asked.
"Major MacPhearson," she corrected politely, using her proper title, letting it be known that she was still a member of the military.
"My pardon," apologized the man. "May I ask if you have the requested ID’s with you?" he asked.
She gave him a steady looked for a moment before setting her duffle bag down on the floor, her helmet set to rest on top of it. She reached into her leather jacket and pulled out her military ID, Driver’s License, multi-class pilot license and passport. She tentatively held them out towards him.
The man took them carefully and began searching through them. He nodded as he looked at each piece of identification individually before handing them back.
"Please bear with me as I have one last check," he stated and held up a clipboard with a sheet that was obviously meant for recording fingerprint impressions. "Could you please ink both thumbs and then put your prints on the respective squares?"
Her eyes narrowed slightly as she looked at him, then at the clipboard. "What is this all about?"
The man looked back at her, still holding the clipboard out towards her. "If you pass this final verification, I will be more than happy to answer any and all questions," he said, looking at her almost pleadingly. "But legally, I can’t say anything until I have your thumbprints and have compared them to prior thumbprints taken."
She blinked, feeling a jolt run through her body. “Prior thumbprints? When?” she asked, feeling alarmed. She had given the military her fingerprints when she enlisted and when she was fifteen, had her finger prints taken by police but those were part of a sealed file and her military prints weren’t available for public record.
Mr. Cliner shook his head, “Believe me when I tell you that as soon as I can verify you are truly Cheyenne MacPhearson, I will gladly tell you everything, including when prior fingerprints were taken.”
Clenching her jaw somewhat, she took the clipboard and pressed her left thumb to the inkpad that sat open on the secretary’s desk. She lifted it and placed it in the corresponding square before switching hands to repeat the procedure with the right. When she was finished, she handed the clipboard back to the man before looking around for something to wipe her thumbs off with. Seeing nothing available, she gingerly reached into her jacket and pulled out a worn hanky and proceeded to clean her thumbs.
As she did that, the man went over to a photocopy machine that had seen better days. After making several copies of a document he’d pulled from a folder and taken with him, he repeated the process with the paper from the clipboard. He pulled out a small magnifying glass from his left jacket pocket, apparently what he’d been searching for earlier. Leaning over the copies laid out on top of the copier, he began to make marks with a red pen on both sets. While he worked to verify her identity, she turned to watch the crew from earlier removing the motor from the chopper. Several of the mechanics kept throwing her interesting looks before glancing down at the patches on her flight jacket.
Finally, Mr. Cliner came over to her and held up the papers as if in triumph, smiling warmly. “Thank you for your patience Major MacPhearson. I have verified your identity and if you would come with me, I have quite a bit to tell you.” His smile held a touch of sadness for some reason she couldn’t yet fathom.
Looking from the papers to his face, she throttled down the desire to strangle him if he didn’t get to the point soon. Mentally ‘sitting’ on her frustration, she gave a slight nod then bent down and gathered up her gear. He picked up his briefcase and looked at the woman who had sat and watched the ordeal.
"Rachelle, I’m taking her to the office. We are not to be disturbed," he stated.
This is a bit of a long chapter. Cheyenne learns quite a bit about the past and begins to realize there's a lot more to this whole inheritance than just land or money.
As a side note, for anyone reading this, please remember to take some things with a grain of salt and that they are there for moving the plot along.
I tried to blend the feel of the shows from back in the 80's and how things are in the current, modern-day reality. I do understand that estate planning and inheritance doesn't work like I've written here (I used to work for an estate planning lawyer *shudder*.) However, it always seemed in the 80's type shows that if you needed there to be an object that did XY&Z (insert whatever producers needed to further the plot), things miraculously appeared or were explained as 'advanced technology', or just how things were 'done'. The 80's shows never seemed to follow how things would really work in reality.
In that vain, I tried to keep things somewhat rooted in basic reality and yet, use some of the tricks from our favorite shows from way-back-when.
Heading toward the only visible office door in the hanger, Mr. Cline turned on the light as he entered and waited for her to follow. As soon as she squeezed past him, he shut the door behind her. She grimaced as she looked around at the cramped space that had once been an office. Now, it could pass as a recycle bin. There was barely room to do more than sit in the one empty chair in front of the desk. Paper, manuals, catalogs, magazines and binders were stacked haphazardly about the small room. It overflowed most vertical services, leaning precariously against walls, desk and what might be a file cabinet. It smelled of stale body odor and the dust was thick on several stacks crammed into the corners. There was very little space on top of the desk itself next to the computer monitor and ancient tower unit. Both looked like someone had used the desktop system as a rag, repeatedly wiping their grease-covered hands on them. She shuddered to think of what the keyboard and mouse must look like.
Mr. Cliner frowned then gave a sigh of frustration at the state of the desk, setting his briefcase down on top of the paperwork scattered there. He motioned for her to sit which she did with great hesitation, shoving her duffle and helmet under her seat. She grimaced again as Mr. Cline reached over and turned down the blinds on the window that faced out towards the hanger, kicking up further dust as he did so. Muscles along her spine and in her legs tensed as she began to feel trapped. Either oblivious to her growing sense of panic or preferring to ignore it, he shuffled over to the desk and sat down behind it.
He busied himself for a moment with the combination lock on the briefcase before opening the latches then turned it so it faced away from the door. Removing a stack of papers off a rectangular object inside, she gave a start at the recognition of what it was. The object was a black colored box, several switches and a small dial along the front side. It was a scrambler; something used to create white noise on a sonic level to keep others from using eavesdropping equipment to listen in. She bit her tongue in an effort to keep from demanding he explain what the hell was going on as he flipped several of the switches to activate it. Once a green light lit up indicating it was active, Mr. Cliner exhaled and appeared to relax a little.
The desk chair let out a horrendous squeak as he leaned back in it, causing him to wince before he clasped his hands over his expanded waistline. He took a moment to collect his thoughts before speaking. “Thank you for being patient. I can tell you are quite stressed by all of this but it is something I was explicitly instructed to do when the time came. Your biological father insisted upon it.” He quickly held up a hand to forestall the question that she opened her mouth to ask, causing her to close it quickly with an almost audible snap.
“Please, there is so much to tell you and I can only imagine that for the next hour or so, you might feel as though someone dropped you down a rabbit hole. But if you bear with me, I’ve got a bit of history to tell you. I hope by the end of this, you’ll finally understand why I’ve been made to take such precautions.” He took the stack of papers that had sat on top of the scrambler and set them on the desk in front of him, face down.
She shifted, her hands holding the edge of the chair in a death-like grip. Her heart was racing as she tried to keep the jumbled up mess of feelings at bay for a little longer. “All right Mr. Cliner, you have one hour to explain,” she stated, trying to release some of the tension she felt between her shoulder blades by rolling her shoulders back a little and stretching her neck from side to side.
He nodded and shifted slightly, wincing as the chair squeaked again. Reaching forward, he picked up the card stock he’d photocopied earlier. It looked a bit faded with age, yellowing along the edges. He turned it to show her the front that displayed the small hand and foot prints of a young child. “This was the only way I could confirm you were who you say you are. These were taken when you were barely a year old, right here in this office to be exact. I’d been in business for less than a year when I was hired to help document your existence. I’d known your biological father since we were both fifteen, having attended high school together. I can only assume I was brought in because he trusted me.” He held the paper out for her to take.
She stared at him for a moment, now understanding the sense of deja vu she’d had earlier. She leaned forward, taking the offered document and saw the paper tremble slightly as she examined it. “So I was brought here as a baby,” she stated as if to verify the validity of what he claimed. She didn’t bother looking up at him, her eyes locked on the names at the top. Her name was on the top line, Cheyenne Marie Williams, followed by her location of birth in Concho, Oklahoma and birthdate, January 30, 1973. On the next line was the name Margaret Ann Williams with the word ‘mother’ under it and a second name to the right of it, Stringfellow Hawke, with the word ‘father’ under it. She looked back up at him, trying not to gape.
Mr. Cliner was quiet while he waited for her to digest what he’d just given her. As she did, he took a moment to appraise the woman before him. She was slender like her father had been but a little shorter in height. She had the reddish brown skin of her mothers' Native American heritage and black hair done up in a braid that hung down her back. Her gray-blue eyes, the chiseled nose and sharp cheekbones convinced him of her true heritage, that of a Hawke. The way she had looked at him when they’d first met, like a predator waiting for the right moment to strike, was the same way String used to look when assessing someone. However, the current look on her face was that of someone who’d just had their world turned upside down.
She laid the card down carefully on the edge of the desk as if afraid it might disappear. Looking up at Mr. Cliner, she swallowed only to discover her mouth was very dry. "So what does this mean?" she asked, somewhat proud that her voice sounded calm.
He smiled sadly at her, "It means that I can finally put the burden of monitoring Stringfellow Hawke’s estate to rest and perhaps consider retirement. Once we’ve gone through everything I have here and I file the signed estate documents with the county, you will be a fairly wealthy woman," he said.
She turned this new bit of information over carefully in her mind. Taking a slow, even breath, she glanced at the scrambler. “Why are you using this? If this is about me signing legal paperwork to inherit an estate, why do I feel like I’m in spy movie?”
Mr. Cline gave her a steady look. “With what your father was involved in, even to this day, it still could have repercussions that might cause issues for you. What I have to tell you is for your ears only. There are enough busy bodies around that I don’t trust someone not to try and listen in. The scrambler isn’t to keep anyone from trying to physically eavesdrop from outside. It’s to help disable or confuse any electronic listening devices that might have been planted here or used at a distance.”
The way he said that last sentence made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. “Was this Stringfellow Hawke some sort of gangster or into something illegal?” She couldn’t find the right words to express her uncertainty.
He gave her a sheepish look, shaking his head slightly. "Let me apologize for all of the secrecy in regards to this. I will get to all the details in time so please bear with me. First off, let me give you some background on your father." He shifted in the chair, ignoring the grinding squeak as he took the first document off the top of the stack of papers he’d pulled out earlier, flipping it over and handing it to her. She looked down at it, seeing two men in a black and white picture; an older man wearing a ball cap with the letters ‘SA’ in an upside down triangle on the front, covering what appeared to be a head full of gray hair. He was heavy around the middle and had bushy eyebrows. The photo showed him in partial profile, turned slightly towards the man next to him, laughing at something with a toothy smile. A slender, younger man stood next to him with light colored eyes that seemed guarded, emphasizing his sharp facial features. He was giving the older man a sideways glance, a smirk lifting the corner of the younger mans’ mouth to show his amusement at whatever had caused the older man to laugh. Seeing the photo was like a punch to the gut. Both seemed familiar with that feeling of deja vu returning from earlier. She knew instinctively that the younger man was her father since she saw similar facial features every day in the mirror. She even smirked the same way when she found something amusing.
After giving her a moment to take in the details, Mr. Cliner spoke up. "The man on the left is Dominic Santini, former owner and operator of Santini Air, now known as Stars and Stripes Air Service. The man to his right is Stringfellow Hawke, your biological father."
She continued to stare down at the picture, goose flesh prickling the skin on her arms, making her glad she was wearing her jacket. Looking up from the picture to Mr. Cliner’s face, she saw he hid nothing in his expression, the honest sense of his words reflected in his eyes. She raised an eyebrow as if signaling he should continue, though her heart was racing and her hands had started to sweat. What Mr. Cliner was telling her was information she had secretly wished to know ever since she was able to understand what being adopted meant.
Once Mr. Cliner was sure he had her attention again, he began to explain the history of Stringfellow Hawke’s childhood and how he knew Dominic Santini. He continued to pull photos from the stack of papers, handing them to her one at a time. He gave her a picture of a smiling Stringfellow as a young boy, standing next to his older brother St. John, who also went by the name Sinjin. Their parents stood behind the boys, looking happy. He went on to describe the boating accident that killed their parents but left the sons alive. Mr. Cliner explained how this caused Dominic to step in and take over the care of the two grieving boys. Several more pictures passed into her hands of Stringfellow’s teenage years, including one of him sitting on stage with a cello between his knees, playing a solo piece. This caused her to raise an eyebrow. If he had been trained in classical music, she sure hadn’t inherited that talent from him. She couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, even if her life depended on it.
Mr. Cliner paused a moment to let her examine the last picture he’d given her. Clearing his throat to get her attention, he handed her a picture of Stringfellow standing next to a beautiful young woman, both in front of a red sports car. The next picture he handed her was that of the same car, busted up and bent around a tree. “String walked away with barely a scratch. She didn’t. It had been deemed an accident as he had been forced to swerve to avoid an oncoming semi that tried to pass someone on the highway. He lost control in the loose gravel on the shoulder and rolled. To the day he died, he still blamed himself for her death.”
Cheyenne chewed on her bottom lip a little as she set the photos down in the growing stack after examining them carefully, taking in details of each. Mr. Cliner held out another photo, this one of String and his brother, who was dressed in an Army uniform. It was obvious in the picture that String was proud of his older brother by the look he was giving Sinjin. Without saying a word, he held out another photo that showed her father standing there, not much older than the previous one, dressed in BDU’s and obviously somewhere overseas, perhaps Vietnam. Sinjin was dressed in a similar set of camos, his arm slung around Strings neck and the two seemed to be hamming it up for the camera.
“He lied about his age and joined the military to follow his brother to Vietnam. Their chopper went down four months into his tour, trying to help pull troops out of an area that was being overrun by the VC. Two died in the crash, the rest of the chopper crew were eventually picked up except for Sinjin since there was no room on the transport. They were coming under heavy fire and had to leave the area. When the chopper went back for Sinjin and the remainder of evacuating soldiers, it was discovered that it had been seized by the VC. Sinjin and the other six soldiers were reported MIA and later on, they were declared POWs. Your father blamed himself for Sinjin’s capture and imprisonment, and never gave up looking for him until the day he died.”
She noticed how tired Mr. Cliner’s voice sounded as he continued to speak about the years that followed Stringfellows’ time in the military. Finally he stopped handing her photos and clasped his hands together, resting them on top of the remaining papers in the stack. “String had always been a bit of a recluse, usually keeping everyone and everything at arm’s length. He’d gotten it into his head that he was cursed, causing anyone he cared about to die or come to harm. Santini had hired him to help with his growing business, partially to keep String from becoming a hermit but also because Santini thought of your father as his own son.”
He shrugged slightly, “He’d been back in the States for a few years when he met your mother. How or where he met her, he never said. She was the first one he opened up to since the loss of his brother and those of us that knew him had high hopes that it might turn things around for him.” He gave a gusty sigh. “Your mother left him only a few months later, causing him to become more of a recluse, disappearing for days, sometimes weeks at a time.”
She set down the last photo he’d handed her and rubbed her face. “Let me guess,” she said, finally breaking her silence. “A number of months later either someone brought me to him or my mother showed up with me in tow and handed me over.” She couldn’t keep the frustration and touch of childish anger out of her voice.
Mr. Cliner frowned slightly. “Nineteen months later to be exact. She returned to tell him she was dying of an invasive form of brain cancer, that you were his child and she couldn’t care for you any longer. She left you with him and disappeared. I finally found records showing that she’d died several months later in Oklahoma, where she’d gone back to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal lands.” He sighed softly, “However, I was unable to track down any living relatives from her side of the family or photos of her. Record keeping at the time of your birth left a bit to be desired.”
Sitting back in her seat with a huffed a frustrated sigh she crossed her arms over her chest. “Fantastic. So basically Stringfellow Hawke didn’t want to be burdened by a child so he gave me up for adoption. Right?” she said, trying to not sound bitter.
He raised an eyebrow at her words, “It wasn’t that he didn’t want the burden. For some reason he was terrified that if he became attached to you in any way, the curse would take you too. Santini couldn’t get him to listen to reason and was unable to care for a small child while trying to run a business. He had been divorced for a number of years and lived by himself. So Santini contacted me on Stringfellow’s recommendation, to start the process to getting you adopted. String kept his distance, leaving your care to Santini for the few days that you were in their company. I did my best to document your information and help find a couple that would love you like their own. You were placed with an adoption agency until everything was official and finalized with the McPhearson’s. After that, it’s been part of my job to keep track of you over the years. I gave Santini annual updates on you until he was killed in a chopper explosion. As far as I know, he never shared them with String.”
She opened her mouth to make a frustrated retort and he held up a hand. “However, when your father began planning his estate, coming to the realization that he may never see his brother alive again, he started to put together a list of inheritors. He made sure you were on that list, but your existence was to be kept secret. He set stipulations that his estate would remain in escrow for twenty years after his death, whenever that might be. At the end of the twenty years, whoever was left on the list of inheritors was to share in a portion of the estate. It wasn’t to be revealed he had a daughter until that time. He did this because he wanted to keep you as safe as possible from this believed ‘curse’. It might be a good thing he insisted on it being that way, because you are the last survivor of the entire list. You will inherit his full estate.”
Her mouth hung open slightly as she tried to wrap her brain around the whole thing. There was information missing or something she hadn’t been told yet. The pieces didn’t fit together. “So, there were other people set to share in the inheritance of his estate besides me? And twenty years? What if he’d lived to be eighty? I could have been an old woman before any of this ever came about. You make it sound as if he knew he was going to die at a young age.”
Mr. Cliner held up his hand again. “There’s more to tell you that will explain some of what he did and why he did it. I just wanted you to understand that you weren’t an after-thought. In his own way, he did think about you and did care about your future.”
She jerked up out of her chair and went to stand by the dusty blinds. Her emotions were in turmoil, as if she were a young child again, trying to deal with not understanding why her adoptive parents couldn’t or wouldn’t tell her who her real parents were. It had taken her time to come to terms with the fact that they didn’t want to request the information on who her real parents were. She swallowed down the lump in her throat that was threatening to choke her before crossing her arms over her chest as if trying to comfort herself.
Mr. Cliner watched her, his expression resigned. “What I have to tell you next is the main reason for the scrambler. Yes, this is where it gets to be like a secret spy movie. The information I have been given was done so with extreme reluctance and to this day, I’m sure it is still highly classified. Both String and Santini felt that it would hopefully give information that could save or protect the lives of those who would inherit. I didn’t want to do it but they were adamant about it. In the end, I knew I would need some way to explain how all of this came about.”
Cheyenne turned a little to the side to look at the lawyer, confused. With a touch of hesitation she made her way back to her seat, pulled it a little closer and slowly lowered herself down, her knees almost touching the front of the desk once she settled. She chewed on her lip again, one of the habits she’d acquired as a child she’d never truly been able to break herself of.
He lifted his hands off the pile of papers and picked up another photo, handing it to her. The photo showed signs of age, the corners bent slightly and a small tear along the bottom. The picture was of a black, sleek modeled helicopter with a white underbelly and obviously a design that was way before its time if she could guess by the age of the photo. Then she saw little details that told her that there was more to the helicopter than what it first appeared to be.
As she stared down at the photo, Mr. Cliner spoke up. “That picture was taken in 1984. The name of the helicopter was Airwolf. It was a one-of-a-kind prototype and built by RedStar Industries. However, it was owned by a government agency known as ‘The Firm’. I don’t know much in the way of the details about how String and Santini became involved with that agency. Something happened that caused String to take possession of it, allowing him to hide it from said agency. He refused to give it back until The Firm found his brother, dead or alive, and returned him to the States.”
Pulling another picture from the stack, he held it out to her. She hesitated to take it, still staring at the aircraft in the first picture. Finally she looked up and took what he offered. The picture was of Santini, her father and a woman with short red hair standing in front of Airwolf. All three of them were dressed in similar gray flight suits and the patch on the woman’s upper arm was more visible than the others, showing a winged, snarling wolfs head. Next to the trio stood a man dressed all in white, wearing a white panama hat, a cane in one hand and the left lens of his glasses blacked. The woman who stood with him was also dressed in white, wearing a turtle neck sweater, a knee length skirt and high heels. She had light brown skin and black, curly hair styled in what was probably the current fashion at the time.
“The two in white were part of The Firm. The man was Michael Coldsmith-Briggs the Third and the woman was Marella Callehan, his assistant. The redhead was Caitlin O'Shannessy, someone Dominic hired who became close friends with both men and ended up on the team that piloted Airwolf. Michael allowed String to keep the helicopter hidden so long as the team helped him out with any ‘issues’ that arose that needed something outside of the agencies purview to deal with. I don’t have any details of events they were deployed to assist with, but at the time that aircraft was the fastest chopper in the air and outfitted with state-of-the-art surveillance and defense equipment.” He pointed to the photo of just the chopper before shifting uneasily in his chair, letting her look over both photos.
“So basically they did spy work for this Coldsmith guy?” she asked, beginning to slowly form her own theories on some of her unasked questions.
“In a manner of speaking,” he said slowly. “As I stated, I don’t know any of the details. I don’t even know the full capability of what the helicopter could do. String gave me those two photos to help explain things when the time came. No one knows I have them and if anyone ever found out or knew I had what little information I have on it, I could find myself in serious trouble from several government agencies. I’d like to keep my dull and boring life the way it is so I will simply ask that you either dispose of those photos as soon as I leave here or hide them as if your life depended on it, which it very well could.”
She jerked her head up to look at him. “These pictures are over to twenty years old! You mean to tell me that having information or photos of something that by now is probably so obsolete compared to modern-day electronics, that someone would …,” She seemed unable to even fathom what someone might do if these pictures were discovered.
He leaned forward, staring hard at her. “Why do you think your father set up his estate the way he did? Why do you think he didn’t expect to live to be a ripe old age? He was hiding a top-secret, dangerous piece of military hardware. As far as I know, it’s never been recovered. It could still be in storage wherever String hid it, God knows where. It was hinted that there was information in its computer that not only the US, but other countries would kill to keep from coming to light.”
Her face paled visibly and she sat back in her chair, looking at the photos as if they might bite her. Her heart was racing again. What the hell was this all about? This meeting went from information on an estate she inherited to having the sudden possibility of being caught up in something top secret.
Pulling out a piece of paper from the stack, he looked at it then handed it over. “This is the list of progression, those who were to inherit part of his estate after his death. I want you to look very closely at the list of names and their dates of death.”
With hands that had started to tremble, she took the paper from him. She slowly read through the list and within moments she began to see the pattern. Of the nine names on the list, her father’s included, four were dead within the same year of Stringfellow Hawke’s death. Of those four, three were in the same month as his. Two of those three were on the same day less than two weeks from the third death. Of those that happened after 1990, two of the three were accidents according to the notes but her mind suddenly sprang forward to wonder about the validity of either of those. The most recent death was just eight years previous and was in no way an accident.
Stringfellow Hawke: Deceased, March 21, 1988 – Trauma sustained from explosion
Dominic Santini: Deceased, March 14, 1988 – DOA from explosion. Note: Business and all business assets (Santini Air Service) of Dominic Santini willed to Stringfellow Hawke per instructions of personal estate
Saint John Hakwe: Brother - Deceased, December 2, 1992 –Trauma from skiing accident
Stringfellow Miller: Son –Deceased, June 6, 1994–Mother and son killed by drunk driver
Saint John Van Lin Hawke: Nephew – Deceased, September 11, 2001-Died on Flight 97
Caitlin O'Shannessy: Friend – Deceased, May 4, 1988 – Died in movie stunt helicopter crash
Michael Coldsmith Briggs III: Friend – Deceased, May 16, 1988 - Killed in line of duty
Marella Callehan: Friend – Deceased, May 16, 1988 – Killed in line of duty
Cheyenne 'Red' MacPhearson: Daughter – Born: January 30, 1975
Marital Status: Single
Current Location: Nellis AFB, NV.
Current Occupation: Major, Fighter Pilot, Test Pilot in Air Force
As she read and re-read over the list, her thoughts began to spiral out of control. St. John must have been found, alive and brought back to the States. She also saw that at one point, she had a half-brother and a cousin. She had to clamp down on her roiling emotions. She had wanted a brother or sister when she was younger but The MacPhearsons’ were unable to have children and seemed unwilling to adopt another child just so she could have a sibling.
Of the eight people Stringfellow Hawke had listed as inheritors of his estate, she was the only one still alive. She looked up at Mr. Cliner as she tried to school her expression so she didn’t seem like a weak willed woman, easily upset by all of this news. She didn’t know how successful she was as his expression softened a little.
“So from what you’ve told me, I’m going to assume that this ‘Firm’ agency decided to systematically kill off anyone who might know about this helicopter. Two might have been accidents but if you follow the current path of suspicion, things like car crashes and skiing accidents can be caused easily enough in order to cover up the removal of said person.” She had to roll her shoulders again, hearing the stress in her spine pop slightly. It didn’t do anything to relieve the pain that was forming from her muscles tightening with this added stress.
He gave a slight nod and began to pull out photocopies of articles about the explosion that had killed Santini and her father, plus one about the death of Caitlin O’Shannessy when her stunt chopper crashed on site of a film she was doing work for. Several more followed about the car crash that had killed her half-brother before he handed her an article about her uncle being found and returned to the States less than half a year after her fathers’ death. Two articles were handed to her about his death over three years later in a skiing accident.
Finally the pile was down to several small stacks of papers clipped together. She shuffled the papers and photos in her hand before placing them on the pile with the others. She noticed absently that her hands were cold though the office seemed a bit stuffy and she was still wearing her leather jacket.
It was silent in the office for a few minutes; the muffled noises of the men working out in the hanger could still be heard as she stared at the stack of papers in front of her. She let her mind review everything she’d seen and read within the last hour, as well as everything she’d been told, going over the nuances in his voice to the looks he’d given her. Her stomach took that moment to growl and though she knew she was hungry, not having eaten since breakfast, the thought of food at that moment didn’t even sound appealing.
Thankfully, Mr. Cliner was silent, waiting patiently for her to come to grips with the purging of this information. Several more minutes passed and she was distracted slightly by the sound of something banging outside, followed by several of the mechanics yelling at someone else. It was those familiar noises, sounds that she had grown up around that allowed her to focus her thoughts once more.
Looking up at the man across from her, she took in a slow breath and let it out. Her thoughts condensed down into one question, "So, what now?"
The following hour made Cheyenne feel like she’d been caught in a whirlwind. Mr. Cliner gathered the documents and photos he’d shown her and put them in a pocket within the lid of the briefcase. She found it curious that he left the scrambler on.
Once everything was back in order and the case lid shut, he peeked out the blind on the office window then opened the door. Waving his hand in a way that beckoned someone forward, a woman with Hispanic ancestry came into the office, letting Mr. Cliner shut the door behind her. A third person in the cramped space made Cheyenne’s skin crawl and she had to fight down the desire to leave. The woman introduced herself as Margo Gonzalez and stated that she was the notary Mr. Cliner had requested. She had a sweet face and was dressed in blue slacks and matching business jacket, a white blouse and a white, blue and gold stripped scarf secured with a pin that looked like some form of angel, finishing the ensemble. She was there to validate and notarize Cheyenne’s signature on the estate documents Mr. Cliner had drawn up.
It took them forty-five minutes to go through all of the assembled paperwork before the woman was dismissed. As soon as Ms. Gonzalez left the office, closing the door behind her, Cheyenne breathed a little easier.
Mr. Cliner opened the briefcase again and placed one set of the signed copies inside. “Those are for your records. I had you sign two copies of everything so you could have one set of originals in case anything happens to these,” he said waving the second set. “I will get all of these filed tomorrow with the county courthouse or appropriate government entity and will let you know when it’s complete. Once everything has been completed, I’ll bring by a bound copy of the officiated documents. Everything was set up years ago for me to be the power of attorney on the estate, allowing me to make decisions about this business and pay the bills. It allows me to transfer the business, equipment, cabin and surrounding land as well as the financial accounts into the names of anyone able to claim the estate when the time came. It may take me a few days to work through it all since I’m sure there will be hoops I’ll have to jump through repeatedly to get it all accomplished. You should have access to any funds you need within 48 hours.”
He grew quiet for a moment, stilling his movements of placing his copy of the documents into a separate folder. Looking up at her, he met her gaze. “Just be warned, once things have been filed and transferred, your inheritance will become public record. You could end up on someone’s radar if anyone is still out there looking for knowledge about the whereabouts of what we previously discussed. Be careful who you talk to about what you’ve learned today. Honestly, I’d prefer you not say a thing to anyone. I know it might seem paranoid but you’ve also learned the fate of those that were before you on the inheritance list. I don’t want to add a date of death next to your name anytime soon.”
She nodded dazedly to him, swallowing nervously. “What about this place?” she asked. “Can I stay here until all the documents are finalized?”
He nodded, smiling tiredly. “Just ask Rachelle for a set of keys to the building before you leave and everything should be legally in your name within 48 hours. If anyone brings up any issues before then, just show them the set of documents you signed. Any other questions can be directed to me. If you want, I can contact Mr. Walker, the gentleman that was managing this business and inform him that his services will no longer be required?” he asked, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out a business card, holding it out towards her.
She took it gingerly, “If you wouldn’t mind. I would like to see what I can make of this place in a week or so. I’m sure I can find someone else who can manage the business for me until I can get out of the Air Force.”
He nodded then reached into the briefcase to turn off the scrambler before shutting the lid. “This briefcase is now yours. It once belonged to Dominic and I think you should have it. I changed the lock code to that of the month and day of your birthday. You should change it to something else as soon as possible, using the instructions inside.”
Looking down at his business card, she tried to think of any other questions she might have. She had a lot to think about tonight. Finally she looked up at him then held out her hand. “Thank you,” she said quietly, “For everything you’ve done.”
He shook her hand gravely. “It was my honor. I’m glad to meet you again, all grown up now,” he said with a sad smile. “I truly wish you could have known your father. He was a good man. So was Dominic.”
She nodded and motioned for him to precede her out of the office. He gathered up his file folder full of documents and left, making his way out of the hanger. The roll away door was still open to allow the cooler evening breeze to blow in. It was already dusk outside, still early enough in the year that it was almost dark by the time people left work for the day. The hanger had grown quiet and with a quick glance Cheyenne saw the crew was gone. Half of the overhead sodium lights were off causing the two choppers that sat in the repair bays to cast shadows.
As she stood in the office doorway, she took a moment to get a good look around the entire building as her mind worked over the information she’d been given in the last several hours. She spotted the woman that Mr. Cliner had called Rachelle. She was still sitting at her desk working on a rather large stack of paperwork. She approached cautiously, “Rachelle?” she asked.
The woman looked up at her and attempted to smile but Cheyenne could read the nervousness in her features. Most likely, Rachelle knew what the meeting with Mr. Cliner was about and unless something happened, Cheyenne would be the new owner of the business. She could only imagine what Rachelle must be thinking, perhaps worried about keeping her job.
“What can I do for you?” Rachelle asked.
Trying to seem as relaxed as possible, Cheyenne attempted a smile in return, holding out her hand to the woman. “I don’t believe we were properly introduced. I’m Cheyenne MacPhearson. I’ve been told that I’m the new owner of the Stars and Stripes Air Service. Mr. Cliner said I could get a set of keys to this building from you?”
Rachelle looked at the hand and then shook it, her grip firm but her hands were cold. “I’m Rachelle Winters.”
With a little more relaxed smile, Cheyenne asked, “What is your job here?”
Rachelle grimaced. “My title is ‘Controller’ but I do pretty much everything. I do all the parts ordering, services billing, answer phones, schedule appointments and jobs as well as arrange equipment for said jobs, not to mention try to balance the books and keep things afloat.”
Cheyenne’s eyes grew a bit wide. “Wow. That’s quite a load.” She glanced up at the clock on the wall. “Are you normally here this late?”
The woman stood up and moved towards a cabinet on the wall, “No,” she called back over her shoulder. “Due to spending all my time trying to find a part for the No.4 chopper over there, I’ve gotten a bit behind with invoicing and paperwork.” The sound of keys clinked as she came back towards Cheyenne. “However, my daughter isn’t happy with me since I’m going to miss most of her game tonight.”
Looking around, Cheyenne frowned in thought. Rachelle handed her a set of old looking keys on a worn leather strap that served as a key chain. “The one ringed in blue is the side door key,” Rachelle explained.
Nodding, she took the keys and looked at Rachelle. “Since I guess I’m the boss now, I suppose I have the right to tell you to leave the paperwork for tonight and go to your daughter’s game. Show up tomorrow when you normally would and we’ll see what we can do about getting those invoices done.” Looking over her shoulder towards the pig sty of an office, she grimaced before looking back at Rachelle. “I get a feeling there’s a lot that needs to change around here.”
She saw Rachelle pale a little causing Cheyenne to grimace. “Don’t worry,” she tried to say in an encouraging voice. She was horrible at figuring out how to speak to regular people in a way that didn’t sound like military orders. “You’ll still have a job. Lord knows I have no idea where to even start with running a business. Been military for most of my life so I’m the farthest one from knowing which end is up. But if the rest of the business is in the same state as that office, we’re in serious trouble.”
Rachelle only nodded nervously even though Cheyenne had tried to make light of the situation. She made a small shooing motion towards the door. “Go see your daughter’s game. I’ll expect you here tomorrow morning bright and early.”
Rachelle didn’t wait to be told twice and grabbed her purse up from under the desk. She hurried towards the side door where a coat rack hung on the wall, grabbing her jacket. She half-turned and gave a short wave as she left through the main hanger door.
Once Rachelle was gone, it grew eerily still with only the sound of distant rush hour traffic and a single engine plane tacking off from the main runway. The building felt empty, almost as if it had been abandoned long ago. She stood there for several long minutes, staring out the hanger door, eyes unfocused as she tried to gather her frayed nerves and come up with a plan.
Finally, she couldn’t take the stillness any longer and spoke aloud. “What the hell just happened and what the hell am I in for?”
As if the sound of her own voice shattered the overhanging sense of emptiness, she walked out of the hanger and headed back to retrieve her motorcycle. She didn’t bother to start it, opting to push it around the side of the building and into the hanger. Once she had the bike situated into an out-of-the-way corner, she pushed the button that controlled the large hanger door and watched as it rolled shut. Moving about the place, she checked door locks and made sure that all entrances were secure. Her imagination and paranoia was beginning to run rampant and she needed to feel she had some security at her back.
Going over to Rachelle’s desk, she sat down and reached for the phone. Exhaling slowly, she dialed a number she knew by heart, though she hadn’t called it in almost a year. She just hoped it was still active. The phone rang several times before an answering machine picked up. The voice on the recording sounded older than she remembered but she listened as the message played. 'You know the drill. Leave your name, number and message…oh and the date you called. Might be times I don't get a chance to return calls for a while.' *Beep!*
She swallowed a little before speaking into the phone. "Hey. It's Red. Been a long time since we last got a chance to talk. Mostly my fault I guess. Was wondering if you'd be interested in helping me check out some property here in California that I’ve apparently inherited today. It's March 23rd. Time is 2030 Pacific Time. Number is the same as it’s always been. I might be able pick you up and fly us there if you get this in time. I’m on leave for two weeks from yesterday. Or better yet, if you get this message before March 28th, come find me at the Stars and Stripes Air Service at Van Nyes airport." With that, she hung up.
She'd used the nickname she'd had since she was ten, which also happened to be part of her call-sign. Saying it like she had, reminded her of a day long ago, the memory never seeming to fade. She put her elbow on the desk and reached over to grab one of the pieces of paper on top of Rachelle’s stack. She dropped her chin down into her open palm, exhaling sharply as she tried to focus on the time log in front of her.
Her mind began to drift, still seemingly stuck in the past on the day her adoptive mother had taken her, after much pleading and begging, to a Native American Dance Demonstration. She had wanted to see something about her heritage but when they arrived, she’d spent the better part of the morning trying to hide behind her mother.
She’d been watching the dancing with extreme fascination but had been too shy to actually go up and talk to any of the brightly decorated adults. It wasn't until several other children her age ran up to her, looking to include her in their game of tag that she finally got enough courage to speak to someone. With a nod from her mother, she'd run off at full speed after the other kids. They had played hard all afternoon, dodging, ducking and running wild. When the kids had finally taken a break to get something to drink, a weathered, old man approached her.
His face was a mass of wrinkles, his black hair had long ago turned to gray but his smile was warm and friendly. He had asked her a few questions about her parents and what tribe she belonged to. When he'd learned she was adopted and that she didn't know anything other than her mother was Cheyenne, thus the reason for her first name, the old man laughed heartily. He nodded to himself as if he was reminded of something. Her adoptive mother had come over to see if she was all right in the company of the old man.
The man smiled at her mother and nodded, "You have a very talented and special daughter. Thank you for taking her under your wing. She will do great things in her life, I think," he said before looking back at Cheyenne, nodding once more as if to himself. "You are like the little red otter from the River People. Shy of all new things but soon willing to explore once curiosity has overcome all reason. But RedOtter is swift and cunning in its own element, just like you were when playing with the other children. However, RedOtter can also attract trouble easily if it's not careful to watch its tail," he said, looking seriously at Cheyenne.
Her mother wasn't sure what to say to him but he had turned and slowly shuffled off. They had headed home soon after but her mother took to calling her RedOtter or 'Red' for short to gently tease her from time to time. It stuck with her even as she enlisted in the Air Force, making the nickname as her call-sign.
With a sigh, she shook away the memories of her past. She looked at the clock and realized that she’d zoned out for over half an hour. Looking down at the log sheet in her hand, she exhaled sharply before putting it back on Rachelle’s pile. Standing up, she headed toward the office and stood in the doorway, her mind boggling at the mess of paper stacked up in every corner.
Making her way back towards the hanger, she began a private tour of the other areas of the hanger while looking for things she could use to help clean out the pig-sty. She managed to find several large, empty boxes and two trashcans that she drug back to line up outside the office door. Pulling off her jacket and hanging it on the back of Rachelle’s chair, she began the arduous task of cleaning out the long neglected dump. She got the sense it was going to be a late night but she had to start somewhere.
She needed to find business records, papers, contracts, logs of activity, anything she could get her hands on to figure out how this place had been operated in the past. From the looks of things, half of the detritus hadn’t been touched in twenty years. Before she did anything tomorrow, she had to know what the status of the business was before making decisions on staff and operations. If the office was in any way a reflection of how the rest of the business had been run, she couldn’t fathom how it had kept afloat this long.
March 24th, 2008
0730 brought Rachelle to the front door of the hanger. She was always the first one here in the morning since she didn't live far away. She had fretted all night about the strange woman that had shown up the day before to sign papers that gave her ownership of the business. She wondered if she'd even have a job today, even though the woman had assured her she would. She'd never done wrong by the company but she didn't know this new owner and she might not like anyone that worked there.
She gave a mental sign of relief when her keys still worked to unlock the side entrance. As she opened the side door, she found the lights over her desk were still on and the office appeared to be well lit. The smell of coffee greeted her as she moved over to her desk to set her purse down. Once divested of her jacket, she made her way slowly towards the open office door. Outside the office were two large garbage cans full of junk and papers, one large box full of old books and another full of papers that might have sensitive information on them. There was a bucket of bits and pieces of junk sitting beside the other containers of trash. Moving to the doorway, she could only stand and stare, her mouth dropping open in surprise. It actually looked like…an office, not a pit or the recycle bin it had become.
She remembered the one time she’d tried to help clean it out but was abruptly told by Mr. Walker to leave it as it was. The shelves on the wall were now organized with manuals and trophies she'd never seen before, though some of them looked ancient. There were pictures on the walls that she’d never seen or knew existed. The desk, two chairs and the floor around the back of the office were actually visible and of all things, clean. The file cabinets were uncovered from the mounds of paper on top of it and the two drawers that were open, showing files to be in an organized manner.
It dawned on Rachelle that she hadn't seen the Major. She walked back towards her desk and looked around again. "Hello?" she said aloud, her voice echoing off the walls of the hanger. "Are you here Major MacPhearson?" she called out as she scanned the area. The sound of footsteps on the stairs leading to the storage loft made her look up. Cheyenne came down with a box of items in her arms, looking as though she'd spent the night in a dust bin. Most likely she had, knowing the state of the office and the loft.
The woman gave her an honest smile this time, not one shadowed with nervous tension. "Hi," she said as she set foot on the hanger floor. Setting the box down on an empty desk, she pulled a rag out of her back pocket to wipe off her face and hands. “Please call me Red if you like. It's easier to yell," she said.
Rachelle found herself staring at the woman, quickly shutting her mouth that she had let fall open again.
“What? Do I have grease smeared across my face?” she asked, as if trying to figure out why she was being stared at in such a manner.
Rachelle gave a little start. “No! No,” she said again, as if trying to gather her thoughts. “It’s just that I’ve never seen this place looking so…clean or empty,” she said hesitantly, trying to wrap her mind around things.
"Then I won’t even tell you what I found in the desk drawers,” said Cheyenne with a grimace. Looking around, her eyes settled on the clock. “What time do the others usually get here?"
"Most days, a little after eight if traffic isn't too bad," answered Rachelle.
"Alright. If I read the schedule correctly, we don't have any appointments for the next two days until we can get the parts for that engine over there?" she asked, pointing towards the disassembled mess on a workbench.
Rachelle nodded. "We've had a hell of a time trying to get the part from our supplier," she said sounding a little frustrated, "I couldn’t get Mr. Walker to try any other supplier but that one."
Red nodded with a bit of a smile. "Tell you what. As soon as the crew is here, I'll get them started on a few things and then you and I can sit and talk."
Rachelle’s face suddenly paled, looking nervous at the prospect of speaking with her. Red raised an eyebrow at this. Did she think she was getting fired? Trying to break the tension with a slight chuckle, Red shook her head, "Don't worry Ms. Winter. If I’ve read through the files correctly, you’ve been with the company for some time and I personally would like to make your dedication to this place worthwhile. You've done quite well with what little you've been given and I hope by the end of our discussion this morning, things will be looking much better for you."
Rachelle wasn't quite sure what to make of that but she relaxed a little, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment at her reaction as she gave a nod. Red nodded in return with a slight smile before moving towards the back of the hanger. “I’m going to go grab a shower. As soon as everyone is here, tell them to hold off on anything they’re working on so I can talk to them.”
Rachelle watched her go through the doorway that led to the bathroom. For as long as she had been with the company, she had only used the shower facilities that were part of the main bathroom in the back, twice. The men however used it all the time and stored extra sets of clothes, coveralls and shower kits on the shelves back there. She was pretty sure ‘Red’ wouldn’t be thrilled with the state of the shower. It was a constant battle to get the men to clean it, since they were the ones using it.
She went about her morning duties, getting things ready for the day after pouring herself a cup of coffee. One by one, the crew arrived, milling about the coffee pot as they marveled at the state of the office, each seeming to take a turn at standing in the open doorway to gawk.
Red came back from her shower a few minutes after the last employee arrived. She was dressed in clean clothes though her hair was still a little damp, hanging in a braid down the middle of her back. As she approached Rachelle’s desk, the men appeared to scurry off in hopes of finding something else to occupy their time, all the while casting glances towards her with uncertainty.
“They're all here," Rachelle said quietly. With a nod, Red poured herself a cup of coffee, walked out to the hanger floor to look over the three men that were trying to look as though their curiosity wasn’t getting the better of them. She took a sip of the steaming cup as she collected her thoughts about things she’d discovered and tried to make up her mind on how to handle some of her concerns. It had been a massive crash course and she wasn’t even sure she had a full grasp on half of what it took to run this place. She said a silent prayer in thanks that Mr. Cliner had taken care of informing the former manager that his services were no longer needed. She didn’t think she had the guts to do something like that, just yet.
She took another sip of coffee before setting the cup down on top of a nearby cart. Clasping her hands behind her back in what she hoped looked like a relaxed pose, she addressed the men. "Gentlemen, I'm Cheyenne MacPhearson and the new owner of this business. Please address me Cheyenne or Red. Mr. Walker, the former manager, will no longer be running this business. For the next two days, we have nothing on the roster for jobs. It'll be something we'll have to work at fixing. Just because we don't have work currently on the board doesn't mean you'll be sitting idle. By the end of tomorrow, I want to see this entire hanger cleaned up, organized and that includes scrubbing down what you call a bathroom. That’s disgusting. All of the aircraft that is a part of the business will be serviced, cleaned and detailed. During this time, I will be evaluating each of you on your knowledge in aviation mechanics and/or your flying skills." She looked at each person, seeing the nervous look in their eyes.
"I have no intention at this time of getting rid of anyone, but this is a new day and a new start. To get this business back off the ground and into the air, we need to put on a better face for the public. Anything going on under the table ends right now. If you don't feel you can work under these conditions, then I will ask for your resignation with no questions asked. Otherwise, I want you three to start by cleaning out the loft. Anything that is in the way of supplies can stay up there but at least organize and inventory them. Any junk, paperwork, boxes of odds and ends needs to be brought down here to the hanger floor. I'll go through it later. I want to see things dusted, mopped and swept out. Then you can work on cleaning up and organizing the tool chests and parts cabinets," she said, her voice sounding stern, giving no question that she meant business. "If you find we are missing tools or equipment is worn out, please make a note as to what is a priority to be replaced and what can be used for a little longer. If you find that we’re running low on supplies or stock, make note of it and give it to Rachelle."
The men looked at each other before one spoke up. He was the youngest of the three and from what she could tell of the paperwork she'd read, the hothead of the group. "What experience do you have running a business like this? You were wearing a flight jacket yesterday but anyone can buy one of those online. Do you even know how to fly?" he asked with a slight smirk, crossing his arms over his chest.
Red took slow steps towards him, her eyes snapped with cold calculation. "Kid, you have no idea who you're talking to, do you?" she asked, her voice low and even.
The kid shook his head but gave a little snort with his smirk. "Nope, I ain't never heard of you before."
She came up to him, stopping just within arms’ reach, her hands still clasped behind her back, looking for all the world like a drill sergeant about to reprimand an unruly solider. The other two men, more seasoned and possibly a little wiser, both shifted backwards to be out of the way, wanting to see what happened next but not wanting to be involved.
Red flicked her eyes in their general direction but said nothing to them as she looked back at the kid. "I am MAJOR Cheyenne MacPhearson. I am a fighter pilot for Uncle Sam of these here United States. I've flown more missions, put in more hours behind the stick and flown more types of aircraft than you can think of. I have my licenses to fly anything from biplane, chopper to 737's. I was already flying choppers when you were still sucking on your momma's tit and wearing diapers. I have a purple heart, multiple other medals and accommodations for action and bravery above and beyond the call of duty," she said, glaring at the kid who looked suddenly like he wanted to crawl into a hole to hide.
There was a soft whistle from one of the other men who must have served in the military at one time or another. "Now, I am your boss and when I say jump, you better be asking how high or I'll be drop kicking your ass out onto the pavement to go work somewhere else. Do we have an understanding?" she asked, her voice still low and even.
The kid swallowed and nodded, his eyes a little wider. "Yes ma'am," he said as he backed up a step.
"Good. Now, gentlemen,” she said, her voice casual and her stance relaxed again. “If you would be so kind, get to work while I have a meeting with Ms. Winters." She turned and headed back into the office, the three exchanging looks before heading off to look for cleaning supplies.
Rachelle headed towards the office, carrying a pad of paper and a pen. Red motioned for her to shut the door behind her and then indicated the seat she was to sit in. Red leaned back in the office chair and smirked as it remained silent. Her first order of business the night before was to oil it, eliminating the horrendous squeak it made. She folded her hands over her stomach, her elbows resting on the arms of the chair. "So…" she said as Rachelle got herself settled, "Think I'll have any more problems with the kid? Is his ego too big to deal with a woman talking down to him like that?"
Rachelle seemed a little surprised at the question but then thought for a moment, "Actually no. He reminds me of a pack dog, looking to challenge the top dog but when that challenge is met, he backs off and behaves with the rest of the pack," she said, getting a chuckle out of Red and a nod.
"I got that impression too." Red shifted a little in her chair. "Now onto business. Ms. Winters, I see by your file that you've worked here for seven years. It says you have your pilot's license for choppers and you've managed to get in your minimum flight hours to keep your license valid but you don't actually fly for the company unless it's absolutely necessary, correct?"
There was a little nod of her head but she said nothing in return.
Red continued, "From what I can tell from the memos, documents and other files I uncovered in this mess, your talents could be better used for something more than a ‘catch-all’." Red watched her expression and noted Rachelle looked nervous again but it was overshadowed with a sense of excitement.
"How would you like to be the new manager of the business?” Red quickly held up a hand to forestall anything Rachelle was going to say. “I am still part of the Air Force and until I retire or for some reason, get discharged, I can't run this business from Nevada. I need someone with a good head on their shoulders who knows the business and has some good, new ideas." She leaned forward in her chair with a slight smile on her lips. "It comes with a pay raise, full benefits and if the business grows, so will your year-end bonus."
Rachelle appeared stunned and looked at Red as if she had just grown a second head, "Me…but I …you want me to be the manager? Are you sure I'm qualified? I mean, I'm just the controller," she stammered, trying to make sure she had heard Red right.
Red nodded, "You might have been 'just the controller' but you ordered parts, did most of the business paperwork around here and kept this business afloat. You worked with what you could and have been around long enough to see what 'not' to do and what works. It'll mean more hours though I’m not sure how your daughter will take that. I gather you’re a single parent, but a pay raise might help a little with some of the everyday stresses?" she asked, hoping Rachelle would bite.
Rachelle still looked dazed, "I…I would be honored to manage the business for you. I've had so many ideas but Mr. Walker was never really interested in any of them," she said, beginning to ramble before stopping herself.
Red nodded and handed her a pad of paper with several pages of written notes. "Now, since that's done, here is a list of things we either need to order in supplies or things I would like to see done in the next two days to help the men get this place up to snuff so we can all start fresh. It might mean spending a little more than we should but if it will bring in business, we'll handle the extra cost."
Rachelle looked over the list carefully. Basic office and cleaning supplies, finding a new parts distributor, order new overalls and uniforms for the office crew from jackets to shirts. Order a new computer system to have three computers hooked to a central server. They needed new flyers and mailers to advertise that the business was under new management and ownership. Evaluation of the price for services, seeing what the competitors were charging and adjusting the pricing to meet the market demand. Last on the list was finding a company that shredded paperwork since the overflowing boxes on the hanger floor was going to grow even more before all of the clean-up was done. Rachelle went back over the list again, her excitement growing as she saw the great potential in what this business could be.
For the next two hours, they went over items on the list and Rachelle's ideas for things in the future. When she left the office, Rachelle felt like she was walking on air. The men were mostly done with the loft and a stack of boxes sat on the floor to be inspected or sorted through. Red knew it was going to be another long day, but it was a good start.
March 26th, 2008
Red rubbed her face in exhaustion as she sat at the old metal desk that had once belonged to Rachelle. Earlier in the day, she’d asked the guys to help move the large, ancient metal behemoth into the loft along with two small file cabinets. With a little sweat and no small amount of cussing, they’d managed to haul everything up the stairs and got it situated to her satisfaction. Pizza had been ordered in way of thanks for the extra effort they’d put in.
She had a good view of the hanger floor from where she sat while remaining partially hidden from casual observation. It allowed her to have some privacy while still making her accessible to anyone who needed her. Red had insisted that Rachelle take over the main office. It gave Rachelle the position of authority within the business since Red wouldn’t always be available to help make decisions.
The file cabinets had been an interesting find during the clean out of the stock room the day before. They had been partially hidden under a stack of catalogs with boxes of junk sitting in front of them. One of the cabinets had been locked, no one knowing where the key to it were. Rachelle had tried an entire ring of extra keys she’d accumulated over the years but none of them worked. The other file cabinet was full of junk and outdated documents that were useless and ended up in the recycle boxes. The locked cabinet didn’t feel like it held much when it was moved out into the main hanger.
Using a little trick she’d picked up in her early teen years, she jimmied the lock open with two straightened paper clips, to see what was inside. The items she found in the bottom drawer of that cabinet caught her attention. There were four cardboard tubes that contained large printouts of aerial photos dating between August 1986 and June 1987. The detail of the photos was impressive for the late 80’s but she got a sense that they had been taken by something rather high tech. Knowing what Dominic and Stringfellow had been involved with, it wouldn’t surprise her if they had been taken from cameras in Airwolf and printed somehow, for some unknown reason.
She’d found nothing else to indicate where they had been taken or why so she put them back in their tubes. She put them in the bottom drawer where she found them and would try to find time to study them up close once things settled down. The locked cabinet had also contained a few black and white photos of Dominic as a younger man standing next to a man that appeared roughly the same age. She could only assume that man was her grandfather. He looked somewhat like Stringfellow but the chin and eyes were different. She’d tucked those into her briefcase along with the 3-ring binder and manila envelope full of documents that Mr. Cliner had delivered just that morning.
The envelope contained a variety of papers from original Deeds, titles to business equipment and financial accounts proving that everything had been transferred into her name from Stringfellows’ estate. As for the business, she’d received a new set of documents for the company listing her as the owner, organized in the 3-ring binder. After a solid hour of reviewing and discussing all of these documents, she managed to grasp the general concept of how the Articles of Incorporation worked and what they represented. Thank God Rachelle had been there to hear all of it since she would be running the business in Red’s absence.
Thinking back about the documents, she realized she needed to get a safe deposit box set up at the bank that held the business account. She had no place to store all of this and she knew that she needed to get it done before she went back to Nellis. She trusted Rachelle, but this was something she felt she needed to do to verify that all of these important documents were properly stored in case something happened to her.
It was after 5:00 pm and dusk wasn’t far off when she heard Rachelle’s footsteps stop at the base of the stairs. “Red?”
“You heading home Rachelle?” she called back down, not having moved yet from her seat behind the desk.
“Actually, I was hoping to convince you to come home with me for a home cooked meal, a real shower and let you sleep on something that’s better than that cot you’ve been sleeping on in the loft.”
This caught Red’s attention and she stood up, moving towards the stairs to look down at Rachelle who was looking up at her expectantly.
“I’m all right here. You don’t have to do that,” she said. She suddenly felt nervous, not sure of what would be socially acceptable in a situation like this. Yet she didn’t want to hurt Rachelle’s feelings by rejecting the offer.
Rachelle shrugged, “It’s the least I can do. Besides, Erica had the day off of school and has been working to fix a nice supper for us.” The woman smiled almost impishly, “So, unless you want to hurt the feelings of my budding personal chef, I don’t think you have a choice but to come home with me.”
Red’s eyes widened at this and she fidgeted. “I don’t want to put you out or anything. I really don’t mind staying here.” She offered this as a final show that she didn’t want be a burden on anyone. She had always prided herself on being self-reliant but the thought of a real bathroom, with a real shower and sleeping on something softer than the hard army cot, sounded almost like heaven.
There was a snort from the bottom of the stairs and Red focused on Rachelle again. “Give me a break. I’m offering and I don’t think you have much choice but to accept.”
With a slight nod, Red grabbed her duffle bag and the briefcase that were shoved under her desk and made her way down to the hanger floor.
Rachelle smiled like she was up to something and finally spoke up. “Besides, I think we need an intervention. Your clothes need a serious washing. These washing machines here need an overhaul or replaced.”
Red gave Rachelle a surprised look then felt her cheeks grow warm as she had to admit that, yes, she really did need some place to wash her clothes. She felt her skin crawl at the thought of having to wear these clothes for another day or two.
“Fine, you’ve convinced me. But I’ll warn you that I’ve been told I snore.” She smirked in Rachelle’s direction.
With a look heavenward, Rachelle grinned even wider. “If you get too loud, I can always feed my 12-year-old sugar and caffeine before I turn her loose in your room.”
Red sat at Rachelle’s kitchen table, dressed in a borrowed pair of sweat pants and t-shirt. Both were a little big on her but she didn’t mind. They were clean. The washing machine in the small closet off the hall chugged away, washing most of what she’d had in her duffle bag. She’d set out her uniform after asking Rachelle if there was a place on the way back to work where she could have it laundered. Luckily Rachelle knew of a place not far from the airport that did a pretty good job.
In front of Red sat a plate of lasagna and garlic bread. It looked fantastic and she gave an appreciative sniff before looking up at the thirteen-year-old who had made it. “This smells absolutely divine,” she said in the way of a compliment. Her stomach growled silently in agreement.
Erica, who Red had been introduced to earlier in the evening, beamed with the admiration. She was an energetic, passionate young teenager who had a desire, according to her, to be a world-class chef someday. She was the spitting image of her mother and Red had noticed a lack of photos around of any male figure that might be the father.
“Thanks Ms. MacPhearson,” she said, blushing.
“Please, call me Red. Besides, calling me Ms. makes me sound old,” she said to the teenager.
“Oh, okay. Make sure you save room for desert,” Erica piped up as she made her way over to the fridge.
Rachelle was sitting next to Red, giving her a slight smirk. “See, I told you. You won’t go hungry around here.”
Red flushed slightly, “Well, at least I won’t be eating out of a paper bag tonight or a vending machine,” she said as she waited to start until Erica had joined them.
“I’m sure it’s not too hard to set up a hot plate or something at the hanger to fix yourself something. There’s one probably around there somewhere,” Rachelle said as they began to eat.
Red shook her head. “Wouldn’t have done me any good if there was.” She took a bite of the lasagna, seeing the steam rising off the section she’d just cut away from. The food was hearty and the taste of the different ingredients combining to make something that was delicious.
Erica looked up at her, curiosity written on her young face. “Why not?”
Rachelle raised an eyebrow as she saw Red actually fidget, her darker skin seeming to grow a deeper shade as if she were blushing. After Red cleared her throat a few times, she looked up at Erica. “Because, I can’t cook. I apparently don’t have the knack for cooking anything and sometimes even reheating food can be a challenge.”
It took a moment for Erica and Rachelle to digest this information. “You can’t cook?” Erica asked, almost incredulously. “It’s not that hard! How can you not be able to cook?”
Red felt Rachelle’s eyes on her and she could only shrug. “Trust me in this. I’ve eaten way too many of my own failures and have thrown plenty more away that were inedible. I just don’t have a talent for it. A friend of mine told me once that I could burn water.”
Erica could only stare at her, open mouthed as in shock as her mother began to chuckle. “Well at least I know not to expect you to invite me up to this ‘cabin’ you inherited for a meal anytime soon,” Rachelle said, trying to contain her amusement.
Sitting a little straighter, Red gave her a sidelong glance, smirking. “Oh, you’ll be more than welcome to come up, so long as you bring the food and prepare it yourself.”
March 27th, 2008
Day four of Red’s ‘grand’ adventure found her returning to the hanger, clean from having showered again that morning and her clothes freshly laundered. On the way to the airport, Rachelle had made several stops. The first was to a local grocery store so Red could pick up supplies for the trip to the cabin. Most of those had been stored in a cooler that Rachelle had let her borrow. The second stop had been to the local dry cleaners and Red left her uniform there to be cleaned and pressed before she returned to Nellis. The final stop had been to the bank where the business account was so that she could pay for a Safe Deposit Box. She gave a sigh of relief as she stored the official documents Mr. Cliner had given her just a few days ago.
Red was hoping this would be the last full day of work she needed to put in before flying north to check out the property that she only seen in a picture. She was getting antsy to see what was left after almost seven years of standing empty. Mr. Cline had given her the keys to the place, stating that Van Lin had been living there for a few years until he had died in the 9/11 attacks. He explained that he had given Van Lin permission to live there, if for nothing more than to help keep the property maintained. After Van Lin’s death, Mr. Cliner had all of his personal property packed up and sent to his distant relatives. Nothing that belonged to the estate had been utilized during Van Lin’s stay and was still secured in a vault under the cabin. That statement alone had made her even more curious about this hide-a-way in the woods.
She had yet to hear back on an answer from the message she’d left the first night here but she hadn’t expected an immediate response. However, she silently wished it would be sooner rather than later. Of all the things she’d done in her life, for some reason, this had her more on edge than she remembered ever being.
As the day progressed, she pulled the last employee aside to test their basic knowledge about their job, reviewing their flight logs and any issues that she might need to know of. She gave them a chance to express their opinions, thoughts and ideas on how to make the business better. Writing everything down, even if some of the ideas did seem a bit absurd, she gave Rachelle the list to review and spent time discussing it with her.
As mid-afternoon approached, one of the pilots was dispatched to transport several business executives from their company to a party in one of the high-income suburbs. They’d had a couple of small jobs the day before that the men had been delegated to handle and Rachelle had already contracted six new jobs for the next week. Since making Rachelle the manager, the hanger had begun to resemble a small bee-hive of productive activity.
After reviewing the finances once she had full access to the bank accounts and investments, Red was mildly surprised to find that they weren’t hurting for money, at least not yet. There were a few tools that needed replacing, installing a security system and getting a better computer and phone system. The list of stock supplies was a bit daunting but she trusted Rachelle to find the best suppliers and best prices possible.
One of the investments that Hawke had made quite a few years ago was coming to fruition and she felt that it might be enough to look at acquiring the business and hanger for sale next door. It could give them a place to store excess pieces of equipment until needed. The potential of buying the business was that it came with all of the equipment and tools being stored inside.
Rachelle had been tasked with contacting the real-estate manager for the property to see what it looked like inside. Red had asked Lex, their oldest pilot and someone she felt she could trust, to help Rachelle inspect the property and give an honest opinion if he thought it would be worth the purchase and at the asking price. Rachelle seemed a bit nervous by this prospect of making such a big decision without Red but only blushed and nodded when Red told her she had faith in her to do what was best for the business.
Rubbing at her eyes, she groaned a little as she leaned back in her chair, wondering if she should go in search of aspirin before the tension between her temples turned into a full-blown headache. She’d finally finished reviewing the information Rachelle have given her about three different suppliers, a computer company Rachelle was considering to set up a new computer system, along with information on the other businesses Rachelle had researched to help handle printing, uniforms and security.
When it looked like things had settled down, Red gathered up her duffle bag and briefcase, loaded it and the borrowed cooler into their oldest chopper, which had been pulled out of storage and serviced the day before. Heading towards the office, she poked her head in the door. "Rachelle, I'm going to take the Number 3 chopper and go up to the cabin. I might be gone for a day or maybe as long as five. I could end up making a few trips back and forth to the hanger. I won't know much until I find out what condition its in."
By now Rachelle was aware of the general circumstances of Red being the new business owner and who her father had been. "I can be reached by cell phone or radio but if it's an emergency and you can't raise me, I'll be up around Eagle Lake." She grabbed a sticky note and wrote the GPS coordinates on it before handing it to her.
Rachelle took the note, looking nervous, "All right," her voice sounding a bit uncertain.
Red gave her a slight smile that actually warmed her eyes a little. "You're a smart woman Rachelle. You know how to run this place way better than I do. Just keep working on the list we discussed. We're going to need to have an accountant come in at some time in the next month to get our books in order and give us a trial audit. Usually the government loves to audit businesses that have changed hands. I don't want to be caught by surprise and I'm sure if we take those precautions, it'll make your life easier. If you can't work something out, call me. Otherwise, I trust you to do the best you can," she said, trying to give the woman the sense that Red believed in her ability to keep things running smoothly.
Rachelle nodded and looked a little more relaxed. "All right. Take care and be safe," she said as Red turned back around and headed towards the old chopper. After verifying her gear was secured in the back, she pulled out the instructions that Mr. Cliner had given her to the cabin.
She climbed into the pilot seat and started the old bird up. Within moments, she had the clearance from the airport controller to take off. The chopper responded smoothly and she swung it north, heading up the coast towards Eagle Lake.