By Any Other Name. Part 30 of 35

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Chapter 30

When we reached him, we shook hands and he helped my into the plane, getting into the second seat as I buckled up in the main seat. We spent some time going through the instruments, seeing that it was a similar upgrade to the Cheyenne, with the Garmin system, and similar touch screens and the automatic landing at the touch of a button. With the headphones on, he called up the flight control and we had permission to taxi to the end of the runway.

It was so similar to the Cheyenne I was doing all the right things by habit. We lined up at the end of the single runway and I had permission to take off. If the Cheyenne went like a startled rabbit, this one went like the jaguar that was chasing it. The acceleration was fantastic, and we were wheels up almost before I could rotate. After a few circuits he guided me to an airspace designated for aerobatic training, and we spent a good hour rolling, twisting, looping, and even climbing up and allowing it to go into a flat spin, with him calling out the moves to get us out of it. Not once did he have to take the controls.

When he told me to head back to the strip, he congratulated me. He said that he had flown with my father, and that I was a chip off the old block when it came to flying. He suggested that I could do aerobatics at shows, with my skills and star power being a great drawcard. As we were on approach, he pulled out his phone and took a selfie with me flying.

When we landed, we taxied to near the Cheyenne, now ready to take off. The manager was there, and the instructor signed me off as rated on the 600. I was given the receipt, and a big bundle of change. I peeled off several notes and told him to give his maintenance guys a good meal, on me. I also told him that if I was added to a cast of a TV show, I might be back as it was close to the Elstree Studios.

On the way home, I called Larry and asked him if he could go to Redhill to organise a parking space for the 600. He laughed, cheekily.

“Typical woman, can’t send her anywhere unless she comes back with a new plane.”

By the time we arrived at Redhill, he had just enough time to sort out a pair of parking spaces for us, side by side, and was waiting near them with the car as we taxied in and shut down. The airfield guys were quick with chocks on both planes and added tether cables. We unloaded the Cheyenne and put our bags in the car, then opened up the luggage compartment of the 600 for the first time.

We carefully took all the bags out and put them in the car, then I used a flashlight to inspect the bulkheads. I was expecting something, and a crack, just a fraction too wide, led me to a secret compartment. There were packages there that looked like drugs, so we closed it up again and locked the plane.

With both planes secure, Larry drove us to where Adrian had parked, and he followed us back to the house. Larry was keen to know what had happened, but I stalled him so I could tell everyone. At the house, I put all of the bags from the 600 into the office, and our personal bags were unpacked in the bedroom. It was still midafternoon, so I took the chance and rang Horatio.

“Hi there, Horatio. How are you?”

“All the better from hearing from you, Julia. Have you got another screenplay?”

“Not at the moment. What I do have is my father’s plane. He had been asking to see me, so I went to Berwyn Prison with a Group Captain Smithers from RAF Shawbury. I spoke to my father, and he gave me a key before saying goodbye, probably for the last time.”

“Sounds interesting. The key was to a locker or safe deposit?”

“Something much bigger. It fitted his Piper aircraft, which is now sitting on the ground at Redhill, next to the Cheyenne. I flew it home from Elstree, where it had been since before he was arrested.”

“Do I detect a ‘but here?”

“You got it. Do you know someone in the drug squad who you can trust, implicitly? I found a secret compartment in the plane with about twenty kilo of drugs. There is also a mini-CD which he told me would put a lot of people in front of a judge.”

“And?”

“What I would like is for nothing to be done until he dies. From what I could see, that will be about three months, or maybe less. It will give time for surveillance to be set up so that the named ones don’t get out from under.”

“Can we meet, at Redhill, tomorrow afternoon? Bring whatever you think is useful. Was there money?”

“Bundles of it. I used some to get the plane fettled so I could fly it back. He even kept his old flying suit from the Tornado days, I might see if it fits me when I take the new plane barnstorming.”

“Hold on to the money but check every bag to see if there are more drugs. Be ready to make a statement, tomorrow, and to fly the plane to a secure field, where they can go over it with a fine-tooth comb. I believe that they have a private hangar at Northolt. You may be without the plane for a few days.”

“That’s all right, I’ve got another one.”

“You’ve really taken with this flying, haven’t you?”

“I always wanted to learn, and an instructor told me yesterday that I was my father’s child when it came to flying. We spent an hour in an aerobatic zone doing things that I had never thought possible. My father said that the 600 was almost as much fun as a Tornado, and I have to believe him.”

“All right, eleven am tomorrow, by the clubhouse. I don’t know who will be with me, but you can be sure that they’ll be looking forward to seeing what you have for them.”

When I hung up, I went through to the office to see what was in the bags. Two flight bags had only money. I didn’t bother to count it, but just put them in the bottom drawer with the lock. One case was all clothes, new and still with tags, including a good suit which will come in handy.

There was a small shoulder bag with passports and IDs. Six in different names with the pictures looking like my father the last time I saw him on the flightdeck. They had subtle differences, some with a moustache, others with sideburns. That was why there was another case with stage paint and glue, plus bags of various bits of hair. There was another sheaf of lists of airfields across Europe, with callsigns and runway bearings, some with an asterisk beside them. I copied the original letter for my own records.

I put the flight bag with all the paperwork out to take with me and added his original letter and the small CD. I was tempted to take a copy of that but it maybe password protected, so I left it for the experts. When I went out into the lounge, I had to stop and laugh.

Larry had put the fighter pilot suit on and looked quite dashing in it. When he saw me, he gestured to the pants.

“They’re a bit loose, Julia.”

I remembered one time that my father had dressed up for me when I was young. He had told me about the way the pants inflated when you were pulling out of a dive. He had foolishly shown me the emergency button on the belt, and I had tapped it, inflating the pants. I walked over to Larry.

“These are designed to stop your blood pooling in your legs, Larry, see.”

I tapped the button and there was enough compressed gas to blow the pant legs up. Adrian and Brendon fell about laughing as Larry tried to move. Molly came through at the sound of mirth and had a giggle, pulling out her phone to take a picture.

“Help, let them down, they’re squashing my nuts.”

I relented and pressed another button that released the air. In flight, they would be connected to hoses in the cockpit that inflated and deflated them as needed. We got him to put on the helmet and Molly took some more pictures of Flyboy Larry. As soon as I heard those words, I went back into the office, got some blank paper, and wrote ‘The Flyboy’ on the top. It would take some relenting, on my part, but I envisioned a film about Group Captain Curtis and his service career, intermixed with his peccadillos. It would end with his arrest at Heathrow, as nobody would believe what I had discovered recently. I would now need to see photos of my half-siblings, and my step Aunts.

I went back to the lounge, where Larry had got out of the suit, and we relaxed. Molly did a nice dinner, and we watched a bit of television. I went off to bed early, as it had been a big day, and Adrian wasn’t far behind me, to relax me further when we were in bed.

The next morning, I wore jeans and boots, seeing that I would be landing at Northolt, not sure how I would be getting home again. I took my time over breakfast, loaded up my Audi with the bags, and went to Redhill. I was early, so checked both planes and got the ground crew to take the tethers off the 600 and turn it around. I sat and had a cup of tea while I waited for Horatio.

When he arrived, he had the Military Police Major that I had met all those years ago. He probably was a much higher rank by now but didn’t tell me. As well, there was a beefy guy who could only be the detective. Actually, he was a Chief Inspector. I led them out to the plane. The detective asked me questions before we got on board. He wanted to see the luggage hold, so I opened it up and showed him the bags I had brought with me. He asked me where the compartment was but didn’t want me to open it.

“If you opened it before you knew what was inside, we’ll have to take your fingerprints to eliminate them when we dust. Has anyone sat in the passenger area?”

“No, when I went to be rated, there was only me and the instructor up front.”

“Good, we can dust the whole cabin and see if anything crops up. This was laid up for about ten years, so Horatio told me.”

“Yes, it was his getaway transport. In one of the bags there are several different passports and IDs.”

“Right, what we’ll do is have Horatio drive me to Northolt, and the MP will fly with you in the second seat. That way there’ll be no contamination in the cabin, although it does look like it had been cleaned. Horatio can bring us all back. Let’s go!”

He got in the car with Horatio, and they left the airport. I did a visual around the plane, checked the fuel, and we got in, with me in my seat. Switching everything on, with the Major looking on, I called up the airfield management and requested permission to start the motor and gave them my destination as Northolt. The controller told me that I surely got around. The Major raised an eyebrow, so I told him that the last time I took off, I was heading for RAF Shawbury. I was given a circuitous route north-east and around the north of London.

Making notes of the bearings, I warmed the engine, checking the gauges. I got permission to taxi and was told which end of the runway I was to use. As we taxied towards the holding point, the Major started to chat, with a lot of questions about Prisoner Curtis, his health, and the likely reason he had given me the plane.

“I never told him that I fly, so he probably thought I would sell this to fund his funeral. He had no idea how much money I’ve earned from the films, with more coming in every month.”

“How long has he got?”

“He said six months, but I don’t think he’ll get past three. He has massive cancer points all over his body. He told me that he hadn’t mentioned it so that it would get worse, and he would be out of there quicker.”

“A hard man, that one. I spent many hours with him when he was brought in. He had no remorse. In fact, he was quite proud that he had got away with it for so long. If it wasn’t for you, he may be sunning himself on the Riviera.”

We stayed quiet as we reached the hold point and I had to wait for a training flight to land. When I got permission to take off, I turned onto the runway and gunned the motor. As it had, before, the plane was almost airborne as I rotated and we climbed away, heading for Chatham.

At a steady cruising speed, we got to Chatham and veered left and went north to Basildon. There we turned left once more heading towards Wembley Stadium, where I did a gentle turn until I picked up the approach beam of Northolt. We set down after giving our ID, and a police van had a ‘Follow me’ sign to lead us to a secluded hangar, where the doors were open, and I was beckoned to taxi inside.

When I had shut down, it was very quiet. We got out of the seats and left the plane. Horatio hadn’t arrived, yet, but there was a team of crime scene officers. Their inspector got me to take the bags out of the luggage compartment, and to point out how to open the secret compartment. He followed my instructions with his gloved hands and whistled when the door opened to reveal the packages.

I was shown to a desk, where a female officer took a very detailed statement. Then she took my fingerprints as elimination. After that, she motioned to the Inspector, who came over and witnessed me signing the statement after he had read through it. He then turned to the bags I had brought.

He held up the CD.

“Did he say what was on this?”

“He said that it held enough names and contact details to fill the Old Bailey, and that he was intent on taking everyone down. I expect that he was miffed that none of them had been in touch after he was arrested. I haven’t looked at it.”

“Good. What about these passports?”

“You had better talk to the military about those. They are one reason he’s in prison. The trial was a military one, under wraps. I recognised the names as the ones he had used when he married all his wives. The only time he used his real name was when he married my mother.”

He nodded and went off to speak to the Major, who was now looking on as the drugs were being removed from the compartment and stacked on a table. They stood and talked for some time as I watched the pile of bags grow higher. I had underestimated the number, as the compartment must have gone back quite a way. I would have to adjust the trim when I took the plane back. There was a crew in the cabin, dusting for prints and looking for anything left behind.

After about an hour, the detective and Horatio arrived. The inspector gave his boss a quick run-down of what had transpired. Horatio came over and took me to an urn. We made ourselves tea and went to some seats to rest and watch.

“I think that you have made some drug squad members happy, by the size of that pile. If it’s cocaine, it’s probably worth a million or more. They would usually put a find this size on the tele, but as you asked, it will be kept quiet. The Chief Inspector grilled me about your history on the way, so is up to speed with who you are, where you are, and the outline of why Curtis is in prison. I expect that the military will have to give them the file, and they will have to find someone with the clearance to read it.”

“How on earth did you get mixed up with these guys?”

“I had spent some time in the Army, Military Intelligence. They called on me to spend some more time with SIS when Falklands happened. I just kept in touch, it’s what I do. You never know who you’re going to need. You had better watch it in future. You have an impeccable background, can go anywhere in the world, usually in your own plane. The Chief Inspector has written down the details of both planes and said he may contact you, through me, should they need to move things around. He will tell you to keep the secret compartment as is, just in case.

He was right. Two hours later, the Piper had been dusted, searched, and thoroughly cleaned. The CI told me that it was good to go, as they had all the information that it could give up. He thanked me for my help, and the Major murmured “Again”.

The doors were opened, and the Piper was pushed out and turned around. They all wanted to shake my hand, probably because of my star status with most of them. Horatio was going to take the CI and the Major back to their cars at the office, so I climbed aboard the 600 and made sure all the gauges were as they should be. I switched on and started the motor, after calling the tower for permission. The controller guided me to the holding point.

“Cleared for take-off, Julia, Shawbury has sent us a clip of your take off there in the Cheyenne, I’ve got fifty quid that this stallion will get in the air in double quick time.”

“You’re giving me permission to make a battlefield exit?”

“Yes. You’ll be taking off in the opposite direction from when you landed, so you don’t have to veer like you did at Shawbury. Just go up to five thousand, contact London Tower, and return in the opposite direction that you came to visit us. Have a good flight.”

I got onto the end of the runway, run the engine up to reasonable revs. Then asked permission to leave.

“Stopwatch is on, go.”

I released the brakes and wound up the revs. I was well before any rotation point as I felt the wheels were off the ground. I pulled back the stick and climbed, throwing in a climbing roll as I went higher.

At five thousand, I levelled off and lowered the revs as I pulled up the wheels. Then I adjusted the trim for the lack of weight in the back.

“Thank you, Julia, I won the pot on that one. There was a second pot on whether you would do something different, which I won as well. That is one hell of a plane. Have a good trip home, and no loops on the way.”

I took it easy as I passed over Wembley, climbing to ten thousand as the London Tower requested, and then Basildon, before going south to Chatham and then on the bearing for Redhill. When I put it down, I taxied to its parking spot and switched everything off. On the way, I had time to think. While I had been in America, I had found out about Angel Flights. I knew that we didn’t have an organisation in the UK. I wondered if it was time that we did have one. I had the money, I had the contacts, and I had two planes.

When the plane was tied down and locked, I walked to where the car was and drove home. I had something to do when I was there, getting on the computer and emailing the Ninety Nines, asking for any advice. Adrian wanted to know how I had got on, so I told him that the plane was searched and dusted, and I was fingerprinted when I filled in a statement. I couldn’t tell him how much weight of drugs were found, only that it was a lot more than I had estimated.

I sat in the office and checked for Angel Flights in the UK, finding that there are quite a few that used helicopters. The majority were registered charities. There was a fixed-wing service that covered the East Anglia region, and also from the Channel Islands. I could see, straight away, that there wasn’t much of a chance to gain regular work for the two Pipers. What I could do, however, was to offer a premium service, and no limit to distance. The only service that offered what I was thinking of charged for its services. I would have to talk to Horatio to pass it around his circle of friends. I could see us working with politicians and landed gentry. I would also have to get cleared on night flying. I had done all-weather training, but needed to get an instrument rating before I was fully certified.

The Ninety Nines answered me with a lot of information. It seemed that I would have to set up a charitable operation, or else go for a commercial licence. They suggested that I think of another name. There was a heap of case studies of similar operations in the US. I was starting to get the idea that it would be possible. On the end of the email was a list of five women aviators, in the UK, with suitable planes and time on their hands. Three had Lear Jets, and two had King Air 200s.

In order to set up the service, I would have to register the charity, and find a base where we could have all our aircraft together. Then I would need to look into changes to the cabin to take a stretcher, as well as medical equipment that would be able to monitor a patient. We wouldn’t be taking anyone with severe medical problems. I reread the email and saw that there was a company, in England, who could make the cabin changes.

I then emailed each of the other pilots, telling them the sort of thing I was planning and to see what their feedback would be. I rang Horatio the next day.

“Horatio, this is your favourite biting insect, Julia. You know we were talking about working with the Government. Do you think that they would be happy to donate to a charity when we fly them somewhere. I’m thinking about setting up an operation like an Angel Flight, able to cover the country and into Europe. Most cases are treated by NHS flights, with helicopters, within local areas. I’m thinking of longer trips, and a richer clientele.”

“You’re a classic, Julia. Both the Major and the Chief Inspector were discussing something similar on the drive back to the city. I think that you’ll find your way made much easier than the usual application. Everyone was amazed at how you left Northolt.”

“The tower controller told me it was all right, and they were taking bets on how quickly I would be off the ground. He thanked me for giving him the closest guess.”

“I’ll contact you and set up a meeting with some influential people. Are you sure you want to do this? It will limit any movie-making time.”

“I think I’m over all that. I’m writing a book. Well, I have the title on a sheet of paper so its officially started.”

When we finished our call, I rang the head office of my old airline, asking to speak to the boss. It took a while, but he came on the line.

“Julia, my favourite stewardess, what can I do for you?”

“I’m toying with the idea of setting up a charity, similar to Angel Flights. But aimed at the more well-off clients, as well as working with the government. What I’m asking is if you know of any hangars around, where we can base ourselves. It will need its own fuel tank, and room for about seven planes, none bigger than a Piper Cheyenne or a King Air 200.”

“When you ask for something, young lady, you don’t ask for anything easy. It’s good that you called. Tomorrow I’m having a meeting with my property managers. We might have something along the lines of what you want. I’m not promising anything, but it would give my accountants something to write off as a donation. I’ll email the agency when I know something. Your films are quite popular on our flights, and your cut-out is still in pride of place in the VIP lounge. Got to go, my secretary is waving papers at me, Bye for now.”

Marianne Gregory © 2024

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The UK Equivalent

joannebarbarella's picture

Of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Our Julia is about to become a national star as a philanthropist as well as a film star. She'll need better planes though; ours carry full stretchers, nurses and heaps of medical equipment, and the service is free.