Authors: John J. Nance
John J Nance -
The unkempt head of Bradley Lumin swam into perfect view in the high-powered rifle scope, the crosshairs holding steady just behind his left eye. With great care, the shadowy figure holding the Winchester 30.06 chambered a round and clicked off the safety. He took a deep breath and moved his index finger next to the trigger. For hours he had remained hidden in a row of low, scraggly trees some thirty yards away, patiently waiting for the occupant of the ramshackle trailer to plop himself in front of his aging computer. Every night Lumin's pattern was the same, though this time later than usual. The image in the scope wavered momentarily as the heavyset nan adjusted the yellowed undershirt he was wearing and scratched him- self, then leaned forward again into the crosshairs. Bradley Lumin, I sentence you to death. A sudden shiver ran the length of the sniper's body, and he relaxed his finger and pulled his eye away from the scope for a second to regain his composure, the weak light of a quarter moon revealing a pair of angry eyes within the cloak of a black ski mask, dark coat, and pants. In the far distance he could hear the never-ending stream of traffic between Cheyenne and Denver whining up and down the Interstate, five miles removed from the scruffy farm that Lumin had rented for his sudden exile from Connecticut. And from the nearby town of Ft. Collins, the gunman heard the wail and warble of an electronic siren as authorities responded to another emergency. He took a deep breath and raised the 30.06 again to eye level, steadying his aim in the crook of a branch, bringing the crosshairs to rest once again on the left side of Lumin's head. His index finger caressed the trigger lightly, looking for the right position, then touched it in earnest, the ball of his finger against the cold steel of the trigger, feeling the resistance from the springs within as he checked the target once more and began to squeeze.
Aboard AirBridge Flight 90, Colorado Springs International Airport, Gate 8. 9:26 A.M.
The captain was late.
Annette Baxter, the lead flight attendant on AirBridge Flight 90 to Phoenix, tossed back her shoulder-length red hair and studied her watch as she turned toward the cockpit. She could see the copilot's left hand adjusting things on the overhead panel as he ran through his preflight procedures, but she could see that the left seat-the captain's seat-was still empty.
As small as AirBridge was, there always seemed to be a new pair of pilots up front on every other leg. Annette paused and closed her eyes briefly, trying to recall the copilot's name. He was barely in his mid- twenties and already a two-year veteran of AirBridge, sandy-haired and almost too cute to be acting like such a gentleman. Yet he had shaken her hand on boarding and greeted her with perfect formality. She'd had to suppress a giggle.
David! David Gates, like the musician. She smiled to herself. The real David Gates was closer to her generation. Probably even a grandfather by now. This right-seater was just a kid. She leaned into the tiny cockpit and gestured to the empty captain's seat.
"David, who's our captain today, and is he planning on joining us sometime before takeoff, or is he going to meet us in Phoenix?"
The young copilot looked around with a startled, defensive expression,
and she held out her hand in a stop gesture.
"I'm kidding! I've got a weird sense of humor. You'll get used to it." "I'm sure he's on his way," Gates said with obvious caution. "I saw him in operations."
"Oh, good. I was worried he might be stuck in traffic, or something worse."
She patted his shoulder, cautioning herself not to act too motherly.
She refused to think of herself as motherly. "I'm not panicked.
I'm well aware we've still got twenty or thirty seconds before we're late and our airline goes bankrupt as a direct result."
There was a tentative smile from the right-seater.
She tossed her hair again and leaned in farther. "So, who is the supreme commander today?"
She paused involuntarily. "Ken Wolfe?" "Yes... you know Ken?" he asked.
her eyes focused outside the copilot's window. "We've flown together many times. How about you?"
"Several times." He watched her carefully, but added no more.
Annette looked at him and straightened up with a thin smile. "Well, if Ken slips in without my seeing him, tell him I'll be up shortly, and tell him we've got a legal celebrity aboard today in first class. In the back, however,
we have a well-dressed 'Mikey.' He hates everything. I expect him to be trouble."
"You need me to come back and talk to him?"
She shook her head, trying not to smile at the image of the baby-faced five-foot-nine first officer reading the riot act to the very senior, very demanding, very self-important stuffed shirt in 6C.
"No, it's not that bad, yet. I can handle him with whips and chairs. I just need to brief the captain."
"Who's the celebrity?" the copilot asked.
"It's a surprise.
I'll brief both of you later."
"What's a surprise?"
A deep male voice filled her left ear as Annette turned to find Ken Wolfe standing in the cockpit door.
"Ken! Good to see you. I was just..." she gestured toward the copilot as she realized she was blocking his way. "Here... let me move into the galley."
"You were talking about a surprise?"
She nodded. "I'll let you get settled, then I'll tell you."
He smiled and nodded as he moved into the cockpit. He placed his flight bag to the left of the captain's chair and turned to greet the copilot with a handshake before sitting down.
Ken Wolfe let his eyes move with practiced familiarity around the cockpit as he completed the mental transition to airline captain, his mind focused exclusively on the task of orchestrating an airline flight. It was a comforting ritual, the copilot briefing, the flight attendant briefing, the cockpit setups, and the paperwork duties. Even the presence of a malcontent businessman in coach as reported by Annette had an element of comfort about it--a business-as-usual veneer.
"You need me to come back and talk to the man?" Ken asked. "David, here, made the same offer," she replied, arching her thumb at the copilot.
"No, but something tells me our long-suffering passenger will feel even more deprived if he doesn't succeed in having a really bad day.
He wants a meal, not peanuts, he hates our coffee, he doesn't like the 'feel' of the seats, he's angry I told him to turn off his cellular phone, and he's upset I won't let him keep his briefcase at his feet during takeoff."
"Oh, is that all?" Ken replied, forcing a smile. "Any idea who the S.O.B. is?"
She smiled and nodded. "His name is Blenheim. The jerk runs a Canadian Rockies bus tour outfit in Seattle. He's sort of a travel agent, and he's livid because we didn't give him first class for free. But, to balance the equation, we've got a celebrity legal eagle in first class who's a real gentleman. That's the surprise."
The captain looked puzzled. "I'm sorry... who're you talking about?"
Annette stretched the word and handed the man's business card to the captain as if it were a trophy.
Ken smiled at her before looking down at the gold seal that adorned the upper left-hand corner. It was the logo of the United States Department of Justice. His eyes moved to the clear, black type in the middle of the card. He blinked and looked again.
"I read earlier this week," Annette was saying, "that he's the front- runner for Attorney General of the United States. The President is supposed to be submitting his name to Congress this week."
She watched the captain for a few seconds, puzzled at his silence. "You okay?"
All the blood had drained from Wolfe's face, and the hand holding the card was shaking slightly. Annette heard him take a ragged breath and swallow hard.
"I'm okay, Annette. Just a scratch in the throat," he said in a strained monotone before looking back at her suddenly, modulating his words. "Where is... Mr. Bostich?" He smiled a partial smile that wasn't real, his eyes vacant and distracted.
"He's in seat One-A, Ken. Should I relay a message or something?" "No!" Wolfe handed back the business card as if it were a spider and shook his head vigorously, his response sharp. "No, please don't." She started to say something else, then backed through the cockpit door in alarm as Ken suddenly threw off his seatbelt and lunged toward her, questioning through tight lips, "Anyone in there?" with a quick gesture toward the forward lavatory located just behind the cockpit.
Annette glanced at the lavatory door in confusion. "It's empty," she managed,
but he was already brushing past her to slip inside. His face was pasty.
She heard the lock slide into place, followed immediately by the sound of vomiting.
Aboard AirBridge Flight 90. 9:44 A.M.
With a late departure behind them, first officer David Gates made the 'flaps up' call as the powerful 737 climbed southbound a thousand feet above the suburbs of Colorado Springs, soaring into the clear blue sky with an amazing view of Pike's Peak on his right.
This was David's leg, and he relished the chance to fly the Boeing and revel in the feel of her-yet a corner of his consciousness was working on the problem of what in the world had been going on with the captain back at the gate.
flaps up," Ken Wolfe repeated. "I'm setting speed two-ten knots,
and level change."
Even his voice sounded different now. Not exactly carefree, but calm and collected, where he'd sounded haunted and distracted just minutes before.
Just because a national figure had come on board?
But Gates just couldn't get the captain's sudden trip to the lay out of his mind. Departure time had come and gone, but the captain had remained inside. David had left his seat then and tapped on the lavatory door to ask if everything was all right. The captain's pained voice from within had been really unsettling--more of an agonized whine than a voice.
David was prepared to alert crew scheduling that they might have a sick pilot to replace when the lay door opened suddenly and Ken Wolfe emerged, looking strangely fit and serene. He'd smiled at his copilot and slipped back into the left seat as if nothing had happened. "Are you okay, Captain?" David had asked.
Wolfe had looked at him, his eyes staring right through the copilot for several uncomfortable seconds before he smiled a sort of determined, jaw-setting smile, and motioned toward the back with his thumb.
"I feel better now, David. Better than I've felt in years." "Good.
I was getting worried."
"Sometimes," Ken began, "God gives us strange and wonderful opportunities, don't you think?"
The voice of the Denver Center controller cut into David's thoughts.
"AirBridge Ninety, Denver Center, good morning. Turn right now to a heading of two-six-zero, climb to and maintain flight level three-three- zero."
Instinctively, David's finger caressed the transmit button in case the captain failed to reply. Most AirBridge copilots were used to Wolfe not responding to radio calls, even though the captain was supposed to be talking to the controllers whenever it was the copilot's turn to fly. Throughout his yearlong tenure at AirBridge, Ken was often moody, often distracted,
some days saying almost nothing, other days talking nonstop. He was courteous enough, but the unpredictability of his moods had become an uncomfortable legend, and flying with him meant extra stress.
Ken's voice replied instantly. "Okay, Denver, a heading of two-six-zero and up to three-three-zero for AirBridge Ninety."
David engaged the autopilot and checked the settings on the auto- flight panel. They were moving at two hundred fifty knots now, almost five miles per minute, beginning the familiar trek over Durango, Colorado, and Four Corners to Phoenix.
David glanced over at the captain, wondering again about Ken's state of mind.
He knew the captain had been hired as the new airline expanded, and he knew Ken came from Connecticut. Other than that, Captain Wolfe's background was a blank.