This is another one of my short stories. It’s a little longer than the last one. I entered this into a contest. The prompt was, an old plane lands in an airport unexpectedly. I didn’t win, but I like this story.
Airplanes on Sunday Morning
John hated working early mornings, even more so on mornings like this. Mornings in January were colder than his mother in law during Sunday dinners. As an owner, he’d earn the right to come in after the sun rose, after breakfast with his wife and son, and long after the frost melted, but half his team called in sick. Owning his own security company sounded more prestigious and seemed a logical next step for a decorated flying sergeant pilot. However, John hated it. During the war, John followed orders but as a business owner, responsibility meant something different. That dedication did nothing to keep him warm as sat in his truck guarding a field at the back end of Idlewild Airport.
Sitting alone gave him time to think about the company. This job wasn’t hard, his clients were happy, and they had meat on the table every night for dinner. He pictured his life as grand as when he flew in the European Theater. Life developed faster and changed in a heartbeat. Now life trickled and nothing changed.
He turned to truck on to warm the engine. A steady stream of air circulated in the cab from a small hole he cut through the firewall of the cab. Between that and the coffee his wife made, the cold was almost tolerable. Without any distractions, going back to sleep sounded good. Maybe life wasn’t that bad after all.
John and his men only guarded this section of the airport. The contract lasted until the airport became fully functionable, then this area would be used for dignitaries and the government. Government contracts provided most of the work for everyone these days; a lot of rebuilding after the war. John knew a job like this lead to more work and it wasn’t hard. Even his laziest guy wouldn’t complain about just sitting and watching a landing strip.
He flipped down the visor to get his Camels and got out of the truck. Quitting never worked because that sensation of the first drag called every time. His wife asked him not to smoke in the truck because sometimes they used it when they want out and she claimed the smell lingered in her hair. He learned a long time ago, standing outside for a few minutes made life easier than an angry wife.
He inhaled the last puff and threw it aside. When he got back in the truck he hit the rear-view mirror with his shoulder. He adjusted the mirror and saw something that made no sense. After turning around and looking out the back window, it made even less sense.
What the hell? More coffee. I need more coffee.
He’d only seen one of these before, on a visit to the National Air and Space Museum while on a short leave in Washington D.C. A Wright Flyer.
He opened the truck door and almost fell. The nightstick on the bench provided a little security, but the gun in the glove compartment provided more.
Surely the Germans wouldn’t go backward with their planes?
The plane stopped a few yards in front of him and the pilot turned off the engine then climbed down.
“Stop right there. I don’t know who you are or what this is about, but I’m close enough to do some major damage. Keep your hands in the air.”
The man turned and faced John, palms out in front of him as if surrendering. “Um- I don’t think you need anything like a gun Mister. I have no weapons myself. I just flew in from up north a ways. I promise you, I’m not up to any ill-intent.”
“I’ll decide that for myself. What I know is you have no business being in an airfield used by the United States government.”
The man looked around. “Airfield? It does look different from the last time I saw it. It was just a farm then. But now-” he used his had to shield his eyes from the sunlight. “What’s going on here? Isn’t this Idlewild Farm?”
“It hasn’t been that for a long time.” John felt his heart beating in his ears. “In a few months, it will be dedicated as New York National Airport. Everyone knows that so don’t pretend you didn’t.”
“I haven’t been here in about thirty-five years. A lot changes in that time.”
“Where have you been?”
“France, mostly. Fought a little bit for them in the war and now I’m rebuilding my own land.”
“You don’t sound French.”
“I’m not. Born in Indiana, son.”
John looked closer, noticed gray hair and realized this guy must be a lot older than first thought.
“I’m going to come closer and I want you to take off your jacket nice and slow. I’m warning you now to take out any weapons and throw them on the ground. I don’t know who you are and what you’re doing but know that I am not afraid to do whatever is needed.”
The man lowered one of his hands and stuck it out towards John. “Well, we can make that better. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Wilbur Wright, but everyone calls me Will or Willy.”
“Do you think I’m some young pup who’s still wet behind the ears? Everyone knows Wilbur Wright died in 1912. Now get your hand back up.”
“Oh yeah, about that. That’s what we wanted everyone to think. I guess it worked.” The man looked over John’s shoulder. “Is that your truck?”
“What if it is?”
“Look, son, I’m cold. I left from up north early this morning and I still have a big day of travel ahead of me. I’m here for my brother’s funeral. Let’s go sit in your truck and I’ll explain.”
“Take off your jacket.”
The man did and dropped it on the ground where John motioned. John stepped closer, never looking away. He cautiously checked for weapons, then walked behind the man targeting his back with the barrel of the gun.
“Go to the truck.”
John was so focused on the man claiming to be Wilbur Wright he stepped in a hole and stumbled. He scrambled for his gun, afraid this stranger would take advantage. The old man turned around and held a hand out to help John.
“I don’t need help.”
“Of course not. Say do you happen to have any coffee in your truck? I thought I could handle this chill, but it just got to be too much. I remembered this farm from a long time ago and I thought it would be a good place to rest and wait until it warmed.”
“Go get your jacket. Sorry, should have gotten it for you.”
They walked to the truck and before John could protest, the stranger opened the passenger door and let himself in the cab. None of this made any sense as the old man poured some coffee out of the thermos. How could this old flyer be any kind of threat? Maybe he was just some crazy pilot left over from the war.
John put the nightstick in the bed then climbed in himself, keeping the gun on his leg for easy access.
“Mister if you are indeed the Wilbur Wright, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do. I remember learning about your death in school. Typhoid Fever, right?”
“You sure you want to hear the whole story? I’m not keeping you from anything important, am I?”
“I don’t think there is anything that needs as much of my attention right now as you do.”
“It does seem like a quiet morning. Sunday morning normally are, no matter where you live. Orville and I did our best test Sunday mornings. Even in France, you can count on a peaceful Sunday morning.” He sighed. “I’ll tell you my story if you tell me what happened to Old Man Idlewild’s Farm.”
“I’ve never known it to be a farm. It was a beach golf course before the city took it over. Now it’s slated to open this July as an international airport with fifty-five terminals. This strip here has been set apart from the others because the government plans to use it for God knows what. My company watches over things here at night and on the weekends.”
“Yes, sir. A small security company I started about a year ago. I hired some of my buddies from the war.”
“As a pilot for three years.”
“Sometimes I wonder if my brother and I didn’t make the war worse.”
“With our planes, son, but if it hadn’t been us, it would have been someone else, I suppose.”
“Sir, I’ve told you all I’m going to tell you about me. It’s your turn.”
“Right you are.” He finished what was left of his coffee. Then sat for a few minutes as if thinking. “I guess I can’t really prove to you who I am. All my identification is in my new name. So you’re going to just have to trust me and you can start by putting that away.” He nodded to the gun.
John studied him a little then put the gun on the dash; still accessible, but maybe not so intimidating. Both men stared at other for a little bit then Wilbur let out a big sigh.
“The best time of my life was when Orville and I worked together down on the Outer Banks. Do you know where that is?” John nodded. “The beaches there are beautiful. There is nothing like gliding over the water.
Designing, making, and testing our flyer was the easy part. It was just the two of us creating magic. The hard part came after. Everyone thought we made up all our records and data.” He blew in his cupped hands trying to warm them a little. “Hard to believe we even had a few people who wanted to kill us. Every step grew harder and harder. The worst battle started in the patent office. Seems there were other people who felt their designs were the originals and ours was the copy. It became very stressful. Orville was the better fighter.” He put a cigarette in his mouth from the pack JOhn left on the bench. “Do you mind?”
“Well, my wife-” John stopped.
Which is she going to mind more in the truck; a cigarette or a man risen from the dead?
John nodded once then took out one out for himself.
“By 1912, I didn’t want to fight anymore. So Orville helped me fake my death, I joined the army and fought in WW I, and ended up living in France. I only came back here to go to my brother’s funeral.”
John shook his head. “No one is going to believe you are Wilbur Wright, you’ve been living in France, and you returned for you brother’s funeral.”
“I suppose they won’t. I didn’t plan on running into anyone. I knew there was a barn out here where I could hide my plane until I took off. I’m so old I don’t think many people will pay any attention when I slip in the back and slip back outside right before the service is over.”
Wilbur grabbed John’s shoulder. It spooked John but not enough to grab for his gun. “You have to help me with this, son. A lot of good people will have a big mess to deal with if it gets out that I didn’t die. Please.”
John felt torn. This guy probably belonged in the mental hospital over in Manhattan. In fact John began to think he might need to stop by there too.
“If I do help you, and I’m not saying I am, but if I do what do you need?”
“I need a tow for my flyer; somewhere where it won’t be noticed then I need a ride into the city. The funeral is in Dayton. I planned on taking a train. I’ll be back here in a week.”
“Ya know, if I remember correctly, there is a hanger at the end down there-” he pointed to the left.”And there won’t be any crews out here this entire week. There’s only one guy on my team I’d trust to help with something like this. He and I can take over this job for the week.”
“Would he believe you?”
“Probably not, but he’s a good guy. If I ask for his help, he’ll help whether he believes or not.”
“I can’t tell you how obliged I am to you for helping me. I guess I didn’t think all of this out very well.”
“Mister…um… Wilbur did you fly all the way from France?”
“From France via Halifax. I have a cousin there who proved to be very helpful with the layover.”
“This plane made it all that way? I don’t see how your old plane could do it?”
Wilbur laughed. “Did you think this was our original plane? It’s not even a copy of the original. I’ve made a lot of modern day tweaks. It’s much more like one of your Grumman F4F planes. It just has the look of our Wright Flyer.”
“I’ve got to see this. I can only imagine what you’ve done. Does it still have a steerable rear vertical rudder?” “Well, let’s go see. Wait until you see what I’ve done with that rear rudder.”
They got out of the truck and walked to the front.
Wilbur leaned a little towards John. “Does this mean you’re going to help me?”
John looked around. If the wrong person found out about this, he’d lose his job and the government might arrest him and Wilbur. But no matter how impossible all of this seemed, he could not deny a Wright Flyer landed just a few yards from his truck. A thought formed in his mind.
“If I say yes, I have one request.”
“I don’t have much money if that’s what you want.”
“No, I don’t want money. I want something better.” He looked towards the plane and nodded. “Can we take her for a spin first?”
“Nothing sounds more fun. You may never want to fly another plane, though.”
“I think I’ll just have to take that risk.” He stuck his hand out to shake on the deal. Wilbur gladly took it
They walked towards the plane as John began asking one question after another so fast Wilbur couldn’t even answer all of them. John didn’t care if he left his truck or walked out on the job. He was the boss. That should account for something.