Joe Mangione was genuinely afraid. Not only for his life and the life of the person sitting next to him, but afraid of what was happening to his personal version of reality. He had been in worse situations before, in his old reality that is. Mangione had been the pilot in several Army helicopters that had been shot out from underneath him. He had crash-landed two because of equipment failure. There were literally thousands of Viet Nam pilots from all branches of the military who, once plied with enough alcohol, could back up his story and add plenty of their own. But the one thing they would all have in common was that something tangible had caused them go down.
Sure, parts could fail. Hell, pilots could fail. Planes were no different from cars; you could always get a lemon from the factory. But Joe had flown this Cessna 182 before, and N173269 was a solid bird. If the rivets of this plane were going to burst apart like the buttons of a 300-pound woman trying to get into her size 5 high school prom dress, they would have done it along time ago. There was nothing tangible about what was happening to Joe Mangione and his plane right now, but knowing that only made him feel worse.
"Sara," said Joe as calmly as he could, "Listen up darlin'. It don't look good for us making it to Ilwaco. But I'm going to do my best to put what's left of this crate down in one piece. You with me so far?"
Sara just nodded her head, her eyes wide with fear.
"Good girl," returned Joe. "I've got all the fancy stuff handled on this end, all you have to do is two things."
Joe tried to speak his words evenly, but knew he was failing miserably as he fought to keep the plane in the air. "Number one, when I tell you to, put your head down between your legs and cover your head with your hands."
Sara looked at him wildly. "Jesus Joe, you've got to be kidding!" she yelled.
"Do I sound like I'm kidding?" he shouted back as the plane banked sharply to her side.
It took Joe what seemed to be an eternity to bring the aircraft level again. They both heaved a sigh of relief as the wings leveled out somewhat parallel to the horizon. Joe was not only glad to see that they were out of what could have turned into a lethal dive, but they were also a hundred feet lower and closer to the beach.
"Number two," he continued, "When I do land this baby, and it comes to a stop, I want you to unbuckle your ass and get out as soon as you can. Just get out and run as fast as you can."
Sara watched as he fought the controls, his feet moving as fast as his hands.
"Did you hear me, Sara?" Joe shouted.
"What about you?" she asked.
"I'll be right behind you, trust me."
"Wouldn't it be easier to land in the water?"
"The currents and undertows are a bitch around here, water's cold as hell," he yelled, as he looked out the rear window again. "No one knows we're going down. We could die from hypothermia before they sent anyone out to look for us."
Sara nodded in agreement.
"Besides," added Joe with a crooked smile that reminded Sara of the devil himself, "I can't swim for shit!"
Joe had barely gotten out his words when there was a loud thump followed by a high-pitched shriek coming from behind him. He felt the foot pedals go slack and realized without looking towards the rear of the plane that the rudder was gone. He glanced at his altimeter and saw that they were still three hundred feet above the ground.
"Shit!" Joe exclaimed aloud, without realizing he had even spoke.
"What now?" asked Sara, not wanting to believe things could get worse.
"No biggy, just lost another piece of the tail," Joe lied.
He wouldn't have said anything, but he knew that Sara had heard the noise too. She had chosen not to look back he noticed. Probably too afraid of what was coming up ahead, he thought to himself, totally agreeing with her as he did.
Their aircraft had been reduced to little more than a paper airplane. It was destined to finish out its flight at the mercy of the winds. With no rudder or right aileron, steering was out of the question. The left aileron was still attached, but it was pretty much useless, flapping in the wind stream as they drifted towards the ocean. Joe cut the throttle a little more, and they began to descend even faster. He watched the needle on the altimeter drop below the two hundred feet mark.
Sara began to tense up for the final impact, as the tops of the small wind whipped shore trees rushed up to meet them. It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that their angle of approach was wrong. They were coming into the beach diagonally, which would leave them very little room to land before ending up in the surf. Down below her she saw the rooftops of buildings and beach cabins, so close now that she could see the air vents and an occasional missing shingle. She could feel the plane buffeted by the ground turbulence. Suddenly they passed over the main highway and the trees were replaced by bunches of dune grass and sand. She could make out individual foot trails running down to the beach and she turned to look at Joe.
Joe would have seen the same things, except he was too busy crunching the variables of their attempt at returning to terra firma. It didn't look good. Had he had the chance to converse with Sara, he would have agreed that the angle was completely wrong. Unfortunately, there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.
"Head down, Sara," he shouted.
He killed the engine and pulled back on the steering wheel to try and flair the plane into the wind. He nearly pulled the controls out of the dashboard, as the elevators broke free of the plane, thanks to Eddie's last attempts at destruction. Now they were no more than an oversized dart, totally at the mercy of wind and gravity. There was no reason for Joe to hold onto the controls anymore, so he folded his arms across his head and began to bend over just as the plane hit the beach for the first time.
Luckily, the elevators had done their job well enough before falling off and the Cessna hit the ground on one of its rear wheels. If they had hit nose gear first in the soft dry sand, the initial impact of slamming into the ground would have killed them instantly. The plane bounced into the air again, leaning to the left, and then the wind caught the wing and tipped them over even more. The second time they hit the ground was on firm wet beach, and the left wing tip caught the sand before the landing gear.
Sara's screams could barely be heard over the noise of the wing as it folded, the outer half of it being ripped off of the plane as it dug deeper into the sand. The Cessna went into a complete cartwheel, and the other wing sheared off in almost the same place. The crumpled fuselage came to a slamming halt on it's back in about a foot of water, sending spray ten feet into the air. After everything had settled, an occasional wave slapping against it's twisted hollow side was the only sound to be heard, soon to be lost in the roar of the breakers just a hundred feet away.
Jonathan polished off his beer and slammed the schooner down on the bar so hard that his father was amazed the glass didn't shatter. Luke set a refill down for Thomas and began topping off his own from the hidden brandy dispenser.
"Easy on the hardware, sonny," said Luke, giving Jonathan a look he reserved for his most unruly customers.
"I don't know what my dad told you, Luke, but obviously it wasn't enough for you to fully understand what's going on. Otherwise you'd be helping me load his butt up in my car, and all three of us would be getting the hell out of here," returned Jonathan, with a look of his own.
"So why don't you just humor us, and fill us in on the rest of the details?" asked Luke.
"Fine. Just fucking fine!" shouted Jonathan. "Maybe you could put on some tea, and round up some crumpets, and we can have a nice little chat until Eddie shows up. I'm sure he'll be able to make believers out of you two."
Jonathan turned towards his father, who still had the face of one who was waiting for answers. He resigned himself to the fact this was going to take more time than he felt they could afford.
"Okay, you win," Jonathan said. Luke reached over and began refilling his beer glass, giving him a nod of approval as he did.
"Start with Janice, son," Thomas said.
"Janice? Okay. You're probably not going to believe this, but Janice and Eddie have this power to communicate without the use of a phone. I didn't know about it until today as I was on my way here as a matter of fact. It's spooky, dad, let me tell you. One minute you're driving along having a conversation with yourself, the next thing you know, you're on a party line. Clear as a bell. They might as well have been sitting in the seat next to me. I damn near wrecked my car the first time it happened."
Jonathan looked at the two men, expecting to see expressions of disbelief. Luke's face hadn't changed a bit and his father was just nodding in silent approval. He took a drink of his beer, and decided to continue.
"Anyway, Eddie gets a hold of me first, and tells me that he knows where I'm going. He told me that I needed to get back to Olympia, and that I wasn't supposed to see you under any circumstances. He gave me instructions to meet him at the airfield down the street.
"As I get closer to Long Beach, Janice gets a hold of me in the same way. I hadn't talked to her since I left Nebraska, dad. And get this; she tells me that she had finished talking to Eddie and that we are in danger. No telling what he might do if he found us together is close to her exact words. She told me to round you up and meet her at Fort Canby State Park."
"So where is she right now?" asked Thomas.
"Hell, I don't know, dad. We really didn't get a chance to finish before we both felt Eddie coming on line again. I imagine she's pretty close, must be Oregon if she's coming up from the south. She said she'd be in a brown Nissan, so I know she's driving."
"What else did she say?" Thomas asked.
"Not much. Like I said, we both felt Eddie was trying to get a hold of me, and sure enough, as soon as Janice went away, Eddie was there."
"What did he say?"
"He was basically checking up on me, wanting to know how far away I was, shit like that. I lied to him to give me a chance to reach you first, but we don't have very much time, dad. I wish you would believe me on that."
Thomas looked towards Luke.
"What do you think Luke?"
"Your boy's probably right. I say you get the hell out of here. Besides, what's the worst that could happen? He could turn out to be wrong, and you'd have to spend a little time together. No harm done there. Probably do you both some good."
"Thanks Luke," said Jonathan sincerely. "I think it would be better if you came along too. No telling' what Eddie might do if he figured out that we were here and you had anything to do with us leaving."
"Alright. As long as you know it's because I'm damn curious and not because I'm afraid of some punk with an attitude problem. Luke Perry don't run from shit!"
"Understood," said Jonathan. He turned to his father. "Dad?"
"Okay, but you still have a lot of explaining to do."
"Fair enough. Just humor me for a little bit though; let's make it quick, okay?" replied Jonathan.
The three finished their drinks simultaneously and Thomas stood up from his bar stool.
"Just let me go to the head, and I'll be ready to go."
"I'll shut down the stove and finish locking up, and I'll be right behind you," added Luke.
"Thanks," said Jonathan nervously, adding, "just hurry, okay?"
Eddie had been resting for over twenty minutes when he finally decided that he was strong enough to get on his feet again. The rain and wind had picked up even more, and his lower back and legs were soaked. He slowly walked to the relative shelter of the old hangar and leaned against one of the walls. He felt like he might be coming down with pneumonia. Things weren't going exactly as planned, but there was no turning back now. His head was still throbbing from the strain of events, but at least the pain was bearable now. It was really the first time he had ever pushed himself this hard and he told himself he had to accept the fact that there were limits to his powers. He would have to be more careful from now on.
He looked down at his watch and realized how much time had passed. Still no Jonathan, but he admitted to himself that all things considered, that might be a blessing in disguise. He decided to give him five more minutes, and then put out another probe. He hoped that his hold on Jonathan wasn't slipping, but the way things were going today, it would be just his luck. Damn! He didn't need this shit right now. He still had to deal with Janice somehow, and he wasn't sure he had completely taken care of Sara and Joe. It was all getting very messy and Eddie detested things being out of his control, even the least little bit.
He forced himself to regroup and put things into order. First things first; he would try a quick scan for the Cessna, or what ever it was that Mangione had called it. He had never had any luck with objects that were out of sight, but then he hadn't tried recently either. He could contact Jonathan from miles away, and Janice too, he reminded himself, but that had never worked with anyone else. He had tried many times, with Sara in particular, but as far as he could tell, his brother and sister were the only ones who seemed susceptible to his mental inquiries. He had never tried to locate an inanimate object. Nevertheless, he had to try.
What if they had somehow landed in one piece? It wouldn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that the plane had been sabotaged. He knew that no one could pin it on him, except maybe Jonathan or Janice. And they could never prove it. Still, he didn't need the hassle of unwanted investigations or the possible negative publicity this close to elections. He had to do something else if possible.
It was then that he remembered what Joe had said back at the airport in Olympia.
'The tanks are topped off, and the flight plan's filed.'
They hadn't been in the air for more than an hour before landing, so there had to be a shit load of fuel left in that puddle jumper.
"God! How could I be so stupid?" he shouted to himself and the sea gulls starting to land around the hangar looking for shelter from the coming storm.
A plane full of high-octane gas, and he was busy popping rivets, he went on to chastise himself. Fucking ignorant, Triple E! All he had to have done was melt one of the wings, and voila! Carnation Instant Fireball!
What was done was done, he told himself, and what wasn't, wasn't. Still, he didn't know if it was too late or not, so he gave it a try.
A few moments later, with a slight increase in his headache again, he realized that he was probably wasting his time. It was just too hard to focus on something he couldn't see. There was just no telling what had happened, but he would be sure to catch the local news later on in the evening to find out. His next action was to get hold of Jonathan.
“Jonathan, you've got five seconds to answer me, or else there's going to be hell to pay. Where in the fuck are you?” he projected with all of his pent up frustration and far more energy than he needed to reach just up the road.
Janice finally decided that she had put enough space between her and Larry, the State Trooper, to make a quick stop and get in touch with Jonathan. She didn't want to take the risk of running into another State Patrol, so she pulled off the road and parked along the side of a little Mom and Pop store just off the highway.
She got out of the car, letting Granite get out too, and he quickly began to sniff out the area.
"Don't go too far, Granite," she said as she walked up the old wooden steps to the front door of the store.
She quickly found the coolers at the rear of the store, and grabbed another six pack of Bud Lite. As she approached the counter to pay for her beer, she spotted a large tube of foot long beef jerky. She picked out a couple of strips and stepped up to the register. The old woman behind the counter rang up the purchase.
"Will that be all for you today?" she asked.
Janice spotted a display stand with little packs of Bayer aspirin in it and placed one of them on the counter next to her beer.
"And one of these please."
"That'll come to nine seventy," replied the woman.
"Nine seventy?" asked Janice in surprise.
"Hey, you want a bargain, Portland's just a mere forty miles up the road. You're only the second customer I've had today, sweetie. I'll be lucky if I make enough to pay the electric bill for keeping your beer cold."
Janice handed her a ten.
"Keep the change," she said as she headed outside.
Granite was sitting at the base of the steps when she came out the door.
"Good dog," Janice said, patting his head when she walked by him. "Time to go."
She opened the car door and let Granite climb in first then quickly got behind the wheel. The rain and wind began to pick up and she resigned herself to the fact that it was going to be a nasty drive to Astoria.
"Here you go, Granite," she said as she handed him one of the jerky strips. "That should keep you busy while I make a little call to my big brother."
She reclined her seatback, closed her eyes, and began the process of contacting Jonathan.