I’m 18,000 words into the fourth novel in the series, and I thought you’d like a short peek at the first chapter. Enjoy!
Otto was flying.
The thing was, he couldn’t tell what sort of aircraft he was in. He usually knew. Pilots had to. He had flown a number of types over the years, but the instruments and controls, while recognizable as such, were not at all familiar to him.
He ran through some options in his head, peering through the windscreen to an opaque white world. He was either in dense fog or a white-out. It was hard to tell which. And another thing was, he didn’t remember getting into the aircraft. It was as if he had come to either from being unconscious or asleep, and there he was seated at the controls of a mystery aircraft.
Well, first things first, Kerchner, he told himself. Are you right side up and in a stable configuration? In these conditions he knew he couldn’t trust his senses. He checked what looked like his artificial horizon, and, yes, everything looked good. A gauge next to it indicated that he was at 10,000 feet. Good. Unless he was over the Himalayas, he was all right. Next, power. Two big round RPM indicators. His ears told him the engines were running smoothly and strongly.
All right, then: location. In the center of the instruments was a rectangle about the size of a small cereal box. It glowed blue, but showed a blank blue face. He had to face it: he had no idea of where he was. He wasn’t even sure of how many engines he had. It sounded like two, but the atmosphere made it hard to tell. He could have been piloting a B-17 as he did during the war or a Beech twin like he did during his airline days. He couldn’t see far enough out each wing to even say what kind of engines they were except that he could tell by the sound they were big radials, Wrights or Pratt and Whitneys.
His check of instruments completed, he looked around the cockpit. The walls and racks were strangely devoid of detail, like a child’s rendering. It looked like the illustrations in the children’s books he used to read to the girls when they were younger. In tact, the whole cockpit had a kind of dreamy, cartoonish quality to it. Maybe he was in a cartoon…or a dream…or some sort of strange afterlife. Although this wasn’t like his afterlife experiences that came every time he had a close call with death. No, this was definitely more like a cartoon. He supposed that made him Bugs Bunny, or one of the characters in “Plane Crazy” or one of those Disney training films they saw during the war. Maybe that was an influence. Maybe he’d wake up soon and tell Betty all about it and they’d have a good laugh. Yes, that was it.
Otto flew along for a while, and then decided he needed to see what was below him. He set up a slow spiral descent, noticing that the white blankness outside his windows remained the same. It was like descending through clouds to the base in England…except that he knew what to expect when he broke through the cloud base. Here…maybe he would just spiral into the ground. Well, he had to do something.
He lowered through the opaque whiteness, ever alert for the sight of anything, good or bad. He watched the altimeter carefully, and when it reached 1000 feet, flattened his descent. The mist outside brightened gradually, and when he reached 500 feet he broke out of the over cast.
The landscape below looked familiar. It wasn’t Wisconsin, exactly, but it resembled the rolling hills and pastureland of his boyhood home. It looked like…it looked like England, and as he soared over church and steeple, meadow and river, he was certain. It was England, and the same area he had flown in during the war. But what was he doing here? He had never wanted to go back, not anytime soon anyhow. He dropped lower, and the landscape began to look very familiar.
In a flash of recognition, he know where he was. He was just inland from the Channel, near the airfield where he had crash landed years before. As the aircraft bore on (and he still could not tell what he was flying), he saw an airfield a distance ahead. He broke out into a cold sweat. He had a bad feeling about how this was going to turn out.
He came in over the outer marker, and he could see the fire trucks and ambulances waiting for him. As he came down the runway, he saw them rolling to the other end of the runway. As he watched, a bright flash erupted and a black column of smoke arose. As he flew over the source of the smoke and fire, he was it was coming from a B-17. No, not a B-17, but his B-17. The Mata Maria lay crumpled on the runway, awash in fire. As he watched, he saw the crash trucks roll up to the wreck. Crew members jumped out and ran toward the flaming bomber. Otto smiled grimly He knew who they had come to rescue. And he knew how it was going to turn out. He pulled his cartoon airship into a climb, back into the overcast, to the whiteout and to oblivion.
Otto felt as if he were swimming up through some liquid upward toward—what? He did not know, but he kept moving upward, languidly, in slow motion. The sensation was a pleasant one, so he took his time, rising silently impelled by an unseen force. He looked around and saw a bright golden luminosity stretching in every direction. The material above him brightened, as if it were becoming thinner. Suddenly he felt as if someone or something had taken hold of his shoulder and was shaking it. He could see nothing around him, and the sensation increased as he rose higher. He felt the substance fall away as he came to the surface, but the shaking continued. He faintly heard someone calling his name. “Otto…Otto…”
“Yes,” he mumbled. “Who is it?”
He opened his eyes as Mata’s concerned face came into focus. “Otto, you were having a dream. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” he said, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs. “Give me a minute.” He sat back and collected his thoughts. They came into focus after a few seconds. He knew where he was: aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Milwaukee to New York City, with his family and Tom and Susan Durham and Polly from the fixed base operation. After first thinking of the idea years earlier, even before Tom and Mata had met, they were on their way to see the sights of the city and experience the shopping and shows they had all heard about for years. Otto had a brief visit to New York when he came through on his way home from the war, but he definitely didn’t consider that a pleasurable visit. He was only passing through then, and he reflected for a moment how much had changed in the thirteen years that had passed: he had married Betty; they had their twins, Maria and Marion; Mata had married Pete; and they had their two children. Then there was the stint in Korea, the acquisition of the baseball team, the mob threats, Pete’s sudden death and the investigation, justice him, the various trials of the girls and all the rest. They had been through a lot, but they were still standing. They all deserved a break, and this was it.
“What were you dreaming about, Otto?” Mata still looked concerned.
“It’s hard to explain.”
“Well, I dreamed I was at the controls of an airplane, and didn’t know what kind it was or where I was or what was happening. I let down through the overcast, and I was over the field where I crashed. I saw the Mata Maria on fire and crash trucks speeding toward it. Then you rudely awakened me.”
Mata reached over and took his hand. “That must have been difficult, recalling that.”
Otto sighed. “Yes, I keep revisiting it all these years later. I wonder what it means.”
Mata smiled. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”