Title: The Z Episode - Chapter 1 of 3
Author: Ariane DeVere
Word count: This chapter – 1638; the whole story – 8350
Disclaimer: Cabin Pressure belongs to the amazingly talented John Finnemore
There have been several stories written by different authors with their suggestions of how events may unfold after the events of Yverdon-les-Bains. This ... is one of them.
I’ve already finished writing the story and if it wasn’t for that evil verityburns, I would have posted the entire thing at once. Why am I posting it in three separate chapters over the next few days? Verity made me do it.
It’s not for me to urge you to read this story because it’s entirely up to you, but I am tempted to use the words of Giancarlo/Mandela in Timbuktu: “No, have a proper look! I spent ages on that!”
The Z Episode
“All ready for the final flight of MJN Air, are we, Arthur?” asks Douglas as the young man bursts into the flight deck.
“Yeah, I am!” says Arthur enthusiastically. “I’ve given GERTI a special hoovering, I dusted everything and washed down the windows, and I even de-scaled the kettle!”
“I’m sure she appreciates the effort,” Douglas says dryly. “Although I thought you’d be a bit less excited, what with this being our last job and all.”
“Oh, I am,” Arthur assures him. “I mean, it’s really sad that this is our last flight, but I’m looking forward to seeing Martin; and I’m really excited about going to live in a control tower!”
Douglas muses on the events of the past months since Martin moved to Zurich to take up his new job with Swiss Air. He’s reluctant to admit to himself that he misses the young pilot but flying alone has been rather boring and most of their last few trips as MJN Air have been cargo flights. Having only Arthur on board has been more than a little trying and Douglas has missed the banter with Martin or – and this is even more difficult for him to admit – with Carolyn. She has kept the company going for this long by taking short-haul flights that only require one pilot, and in the meantime has miraculously persuaded Mr. Alyakhin to buy GERTI from her. The yacht broker’s thought that he might be able to offer flights on GERTI as a ‘retro experience’ has been surprisingly successful and some of his regular clients actively ask for the battered old aeroplane for their trips to the south of France, or recommend it to their friends. With no way of keeping MJN going for long with only one pilot, Carolyn has not only talked him into buying the plane for a reasonable price but – after much negotiation – has persuaded him that he needs a pilot who knows GERTI’s quirks and can keep her in the air.
Douglas isn’t particularly happy at having to move abroad with the plane but Mr. Alyakhin wants her based in Germany for easy access to the continent, and so far Douglas’ two house-hunting trips to Zwickau have shown that it’s a pleasant enough town and – more importantly – he can easily get back to England to visit his daughter. He’s fairly fluent in German already, and he’s confident that he’ll cope once he finds somewhere to live and settles in.
Today’s final flight will give them enough time to get to the airport in Greece, unload their cargo and then return to Fitton later this afternoon. Mr. Alyakhin’s representative will meet them on arrival, sign off all the documentation and Douglas will fly GERTI to her new home tomorrow. He will rent a room until he can find his own place to live.
Meanwhile Carolyn will use the money to pay off MJN’s debts and will have just enough left over after the sale of her house to buy somewhere smaller for herself and Arthur. Determined not to simply retire, she has decided to run a small bed and breakfast. Douglas continually marvels at the thought of Carolyn still wanting to work with people despite how exasperating she finds the majority of the human race. He suspects that insulting people is what keeps her going, and he’s sure that she’ll make a success of her new venture. Knowing her, she might even become famous for being a female version of Basil Fawlty. It seems that she and GERTI have a similar talent for being strangely popular because of their faults.
Her house-hunting came to a head when Arthur spotted a place for sale in Zeals in Wiltshire. Not far from the main trunk road between London and the South West, it’s ideal for a small b&b but what caught Arthur’s attention is that it’s a former control tower of a long-closed airfield which was converted into a house decades ago. The thought of living in a control tower sent Arthur into ecstasies and he and Carolyn have visited it twice, and negotiations are ongoing as to the purchase price. Arthur has spent hours pestering Karl to teach him everything there is to know about air traffic control, despite the house not retaining any of its original equipment. Karl doesn’t seem to mind, enjoying having a young protégé even if Arthur rarely remembers much of what he’s been told, and Arthur’s looking forward to passing on his lack of knowledge to anyone who’s brave or naïve enough to spend a night at the new house.
“All right, driver, let’s get this thing in the air.” Carolyn interrupts Douglas’ reverie as she enters the flight deck. Their last job is a straightforward cargo flight and she doesn’t need to be along for the ride, but a recent Skype conversation between Arthur and Martin revealed that – purely coincidentally – Martin is co-piloting a flight to MJN’s final destination and they can meet up with him briefly at the airport. Douglas suspects that Carolyn would have come with them to Greece anyway – despite her constant assertions that she has no regrets selling GERTI and that it was a sensible business deal, he’s sure that she’ll miss the old girl a little.
“Then all aboard for Zakynthos,” he says cheerily.
“Zakynthos ho!” enthuses Arthur.
Douglas activates the radio. “Fitton Tower, this is Golf Echo Romeo Tango India, ready for the final flight of MJN Air.”
“Roger, Golf Tango India,” responds Karl. “Proceed to runway, aim in a generally upward direction, and Greece is the word!”
“Roger, Tower, and be assured that we are Hopelessly Devoted To You,” Douglas replies and taxis GERTI towards the runway. As he brings her to a halt prior to lining up for take-off, Arthur gasps and points out of the starboard window.
“Oh, wow! Mum, Douglas, look!” he exclaims.
A large sheet is hanging from the windowsill of the control tower. Clumsily painted in black letters on the sheet is the message, “FARWELL, MJN AIR.” The missing ‘E’ has then been added above the first word with an arrow underneath to show where it ought to be. Many of the engineers, mechanics and ground crew have lined up side by side outside the tower and each of them is holding up an empty pint glass from the Hose and Hydrant in silent salute.
As Arthur waves cheerfully at them through the window, Douglas pretends that Carolyn’s choked cough isn’t hiding a sob. He equally pretends that Arthur’s over-enthusiastic dusting is the reason why he’s got a tear in his eye.
“So why didn’t Herc take the job with Swiss Air?” asks Douglas an hour later.
“I told you,” Carolyn says tetchily. “He decided he didn’t want to live in Zurich.”
“Any particular reason why?” Douglas teases.
Carolyn glowers at him. “He didn’t want to keep travelling between Switzerland and England all the time,” she snaps.
“And why would he want to keep coming back to England?” Douglas persists.
“For the opera,” she says tightly.
“Ah, the opera, of course,” Douglas says. “Because the Swiss haven’t invented opera yet, have they? It’s absolutely impossible to go anywhere in Switzerland that has theatres or opera houses or even a small shed where budding singers can have a go at singing with a bit of vibrato. What a terrible backward country it must be.”
“Shut up, Douglas,” Carolyn says, and leaves him alone in the flight deck.
Douglas sighs. He really shouldn’t tease her about Herc’s decision, as he’s sure that she is more touched by his actions than she will ever admit. Taking redundancy after so many years at Cal Air has left Herc moderately well-off but not so wealthy that he can afford never to work again until retirement age. So far he hasn’t been able to find suitable employment elsewhere, and there’s little that any of his friends can do to help. Twice since Martin’s departure Carolyn has been offered a two-pilot job that paid well enough for her to swallow her pride and ask for Herc’s assistance in return for a token fee, but it was clearly embarrassing for both of them and Douglas later found an email on the office computer offering a similar job, which Carolyn had turned down. He hasn’t dared ask whether Herc will be moving to Zeals when Arthur and Carolyn relocate.
The rest of the flight is uneventful, with the exception of Arthur bouncing into the flight deck occasionally to tell Douglas all about the banner on Fitton Tower as if he hadn’t seen it himself. It’s a welcome distraction and Douglas listens patiently to the young man’s enthusiasm.
They touch down at Zakynthos International five minutes ahead of schedule and taxi to the hangars to have the cargo unloaded. Martin’s flight is due in within the hour and Douglas is happy to admit to himself that he’s looking forward to seeing him again. They’ve kept in touch by email – Douglas isn’t confident enough with his IT skills to try using Skype – but Martin hasn’t written much about his experiences working as a pilot for Swiss Air, which Douglas finds surprising. He has tried interrogating Arthur about his conversations with their former captain but Arthur has been rather evasive and has had an unusually uncomfortable look on his face as he avoids directly answering Douglas’ questions. The fact that he actually succeeds in evading the questions is both impressive and worrying.
With nothing to do for the next fifty minutes, Douglas suggests that they find a café and have some lunch. He announces that he’s buying, and grandly throws open the cabin door to gesture the other two outside and down the steps.
And that’s the moment – after so many years of never failing him – when Douglas Richardson’s luck runs out.
Author’s Note: I got rather excited when I was researching towns and cities both in England and on the continent with names beginning with Z, and found Zeals. The former control tower house on the decommissioned airfield actually exists:
And just in case anyone’s bewildered, “Greece is the word” comes from the musical Grease (where the line – obviously! – was ‘Grease is the word’), and the song Hopelessly Devoted To You comes from the same musical.
On to Chapter 2