Title: The Z Episode – chapter 2
Author: Ariane DeVere
Word count: This chapter – 3995; the whole story – 8350
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.
Return to Chapter 1
The Z Episode
“Oh, look, there’s Skip!” Arthur cries excitedly an hour later as he sees Martin walking across the concourse with a man in a matching uniform. He calls out loudly. “Skip, hello! We’re here!”
Martin raises a hand and changes direction to walk towards them, followed by the other man. Arthur looks round apologetically. “Sorry, Douglas ...”
“It’s all right,” Douglas tells him. “I know Martin will always be ‘Skip’ to you. I think I’m confident enough in my own skip-ness not to take offence.”
Beside him, Carolyn draws in a sharp breath as Martin comes closer. “He doesn’t look well,” she murmurs, and Douglas quietly hums his agreement. Their former captain ought to be the picture of health – he has put on a little weight, no doubt a result of eating properly for the first time in years, and he is wearing a well-fitting uniform and a hat which sits comfortably on his head and isn’t laden down with excessive braid. He looks smart and successful, but there’s something about his face which makes Douglas grimace unhappily. Martin looks tired – not in a lack-of-sleep way but in a deeper, more painful way. Maybe ‘tired’ is the wrong word. He looks weary.
His smile is genuine, however, as he reaches them. He seems truly delighted to see them all, although his grin fades into a look of concern when he sees the sling on Douglas’ left arm. But before he can speak he’s engulfed in a hug by Arthur, his face squashed against the young man’s shoulder as Arthur tries to cuddle every part of him simultaneously, squeezing him tightly and babbling so rapidly that his words run into each other and make no sense at all.
“Arthur!” Carolyn says sharply. “For goodness’ sake let him go before you suffocate him!”
Arthur jumps back, grinning apologetically as Martin emerges red-faced and breathless. “Sorry, Skip,” he says. “I’m just really pleased to see you.”
“I know,” Martin pants. “It’s good to see you too. Hello Carolyn, and what on earth have you done to yourself, Douglas?”
“Nothing much.” Douglas replies airily. “I had a bit of an argument with GERTI’s steps. Well, when I say ‘argument’, they sat there and didn’t do anything and were generally boring, and so I decided it would be far more interesting to go down them head first and then break my fall with my shoulder.”
Martin winces and Douglas continues reassuringly. “We’ve all had a lovely time in the medical centre. I’ve had fun with an X-ray machine – sadly they wouldn’t let Arthur play – and now I have a delightful sling courtesy of Zakynthos International’s fine medical staff. It’s not quite as exciting as a plaster cast, but I’ll still let you sign it if you ask nicely.”
Not waiting for a reply, he turns to the uniformed man who has followed Martin and is standing nearby with a condescending look on his face. Douglas takes an instant dislike to him and his feelings are confirmed when the man slowly looks him up and down, pointedly paying close attention to Douglas’ rumpled shirt and trousers which are scuffed and dirty from their impact with the tarmac. Forcing a nonchalant smile, Douglas offers his right hand. “Douglas Richardson.”
“Radek Zaragoza,” the man replies, shaking his hand with a grip that is too strong.
“Good to meet you, Captain,” Douglas tells him insincerely.
“No, I’m the capt...” Martin blurts out, but then stops himself. “Oh,” he adds quietly, a slight blush rising into his cheeks.
Ignoring Martin’s gaffe, Douglas introduces Arthur and Carolyn, noting Arthur’s soft whimper as Zaragoza mangles his hand. Carolyn’s jaw clenches but she shows no other outward sign of her discomfort. Douglas’ hackles rise even further when the man smiles smugly.
“So, you are Crieff’s former colleagues,” the captain says. “He has been telling me all about you during the flight here. It sounds a strange company.” He turns his attention to Carolyn. “You are the owner, yes?”
“And CEO,” Carolyn says tightly.
“Chief Executive Officer of one airplane,” Zaragoza says with an amused look. “How busy you must be, yes? And I understand that this is your final flight.” He shrugs. “It’s probably for the best. Crieff pointed out your plane as we taxied to the stand. I wouldn’t have believed that any Lockheed McDonnells of that age were still in active service – and your one certainly looks rather the worse for wear.”
“GERTI works just fine!” Arthur protests. “She’s never let us down – and even when she does break a bit, Douglas always finds a way to fix her.”
Zaragoza gives him a withering look. “You give your airplane a name?” he asks, his sarcasm obvious.
“It’s her call sign,” Arthur begins to explain eagerly, but Carolyn puts a hand on his arm.
“Not now, Arthur,” she tells him, throwing a dark look at the captain. He smirks back at her, and Douglas is wondering how soon she’s going to start an argument with him when Martin interrupts.
“Douglas, how badly have you damaged your arm?” he asks.
“It’s not broken, only wrenched,” Douglas reassures him. “It should heal fairly quickly.”
“But he can’t fly,” Arthur bursts out. Douglas glares at him but Arthur perseveres. “He’s not allowed to fly us home, Skip, so we can’t get back in time to hand GERTI over to Mr. Alyakhin, so Douglas won’t get the job flying for his company, and Mum won’t get the money for selling GERTI and we won’t be able to afford to move to Zeals and live in a control tower. It’s a right pickle, Martin! But don’t worry – Douglas is going to sort it all out.”
Douglas smiles tightly at Martin, whose eyes are wide with horror. “Yes, don’t worry about it, Martin. You know me – I’ll sort it all out.”
“How?” Martin asks quietly.
“Oh, you know – I’ll make it up as I go along and it’ll all be fantastic and we’ll arrive back at Fitton with three minutes to spare and Arthur will call me ‘brilliant’ about fourteen times a minute,” Douglas says with as much confidence as he can muster. Even by his own standards he’s impressed at how easy he’s making it sound, despite the fact that right now he doesn’t have a clue where to start.
Arthur nods eagerly. “You see, Skip? Nothing to worry about,” he tells his former captain.
Martin turns to Carolyn. “Could Herc get here in time?” he asks her.
“He’s visiting his sister in Zweibrüchen,” she tells him. “Even if I asked, he’d have to get all the way to Munich for a direct flight here. It would take hours.”
“But you’re never going to find a pilot here who’s rated to fly GERTI!” Martin exclaims.
“Herc isn’t rated to fly her either,” Douglas points out.
“Right now I would take someone who has simply sat in a cockpit,” Carolyn retorts, and Douglas shrugs his agreement. She turns back to Martin.
“It’s not your problem, Martin,” she tells him. “We’ve got out of worse messes than this one, and I’m sure we’ll think of something. I’ll ring Mr. Alyakhin and persuade him to delay the sale. It’ll be fine.”
Martin looks at her worriedly, then turns to his captain. “Maybe I could take some leave, even if it’s unpaid?” he suggests. “Atkins is meeting us here and flying back with us – he could take over from me for the return flight. I could be back in Zurich by tomorrow morning.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Zaragoza snaps. “You know you must apply for leave eight weeks in advance.”
“But as an emergency ...” Martin begins.
“Crieff, you are my co-pilot, not Atkins,” Zaragoza cuts him off. “You have a job to do, and you can’t go off on some joyride whenever it suits you. Now, we must go, yes? We have paperwork to complete, a rest period to take, and then we fly back to Zurich.”
“Go, Martin,” Carolyn tells him. “We’ll sort it out ourselves.”
“Go,” she says sternly.
He nods reluctantly and steps closer to kiss her cheek. “Good luck,” he tells her before turning to shake Douglas’ hand. “Get this fixed,” he tells him.
“Trust me,” Douglas says as smoothly as he can manage. “I’ll email you from Zwickau in a couple of days’ time.”
Martin looks into his eyes for a long moment, clearly trying to work out whether his friend is as confident as he sounds, then nods and turns to hug Arthur.
“Bye,” Arthur says. “I wish we could have chatted for longer, but it was great seeing you again, Skip.”
“Fizz,” Martin says, forcing a smile.
“Buzz,” Douglas responds automatically.
“’ave a banana,” Arthur sings quietly. There’s little enthusiasm in his voice and he immediately steps closer to his mother’s side and leans against her as if in need of comfort. She puts an arm around him and looks at Martin, jerking her head to indicate that he should leave.
Zaragoza has been watching the group with a look of distaste. “Good luck to you,” he says insincerely, then turns and starts to walk away. Martin grimaces and follows him, but after only a few steps he stops and tugs on his commander’s sleeve.
“No, I can’t ...” he says frantically. He turns to Zaragoza with an anguished look. “I can’t just leave them like this, Captain. There must be a way I can fly them back to England. Surely I can take compassionate leave?”
“You’re not entitled to compassionate leave until you have worked with the company for six months,” Zaragoza tells him impatiently. “You know that, Crieff. Even unpaid leave is only permitted for genuine family emergencies, and this hardly qualifies.”
“I could resign,” Martin says with an air of desperation.
“Martin,” Carolyn says firmly, “you will do no such thing! I forbid it!”
“Well, of course you can resign,” Zaragoza says serenely, “but your resignation will not take effect for six months. Really, Crieff, you know this, yes?” He smirks. “Everyone talks about the English pilot with all the regulations in his head. Anyone would think that you spend all your free time reading the manuals and doing nothing else. Now stop this nonsense and come with me.”
He starts to walk again and for a moment Martin falls in behind him, but he stops after a couple of paces.
Zaragoza turns back, and his expression is stern. He opens his mouth but Martin speaks first.
“No. There’s one way of leaving the company more quickly.”
“Oh God,” Douglas murmurs, starting to step towards his friend.
Martin holds up an imperious hand and Douglas is shocked to find himself stopping in his tracks. Martin draws himself up to his full – albeit not very impressive – height and stares up into Zaragoza’s eyes.
“If an employee is dismissed for gross professional misconduct, his or her employment is terminated immediately,” he quotes calmly.
Zaragoza’s eyes narrow.
“Any employee dismissed for gross professional misconduct shall be excluded from all company flights with immediate effect,” Martin continues. “If such a dismissal takes place while the employee is away from home, they must finance their own return.”
“First Officer Crieff,” Zaragoza says with exaggerated patience. “You will not do this. We all know how much you wanted this job in the first place. Captain Deroche still dines out on her story of your interview. If you are dismissed from Swiss Airways, you will never work in the aviation industry again. Now come with me.” He directs a withering look towards the others. “You are not going to throw away your career for this ludicrous little airline.”
Martin’s determined look falters and he slumps slightly. He looks at his friends apologetically before turning back to his captain.
“You’re right,” he says quietly.
Douglas sighs out a relieved breath.
“I’m throwing it away for my family,” Martin says, and swings the punch.
Martin is dragged into Swiss Air’s offices by security staff to be formally dismissed. The process takes over two hours and afterwards he is instructed to leave his uniform behind at the airport. He doesn’t have a change of clothes with him but Arthur scurries off to GERTI and comes back with a pair of black trousers and a white shirt belonging to Martin. He explains that he found them in a locker after he left and couldn’t bring himself to throw them away or send them on. The shirt is a little tight and Douglas is wondering whether to bet Martin that at least one of the buttons will ping off by the time they get back to Fitton, but he isn’t sure whether Martin’s ready for such banter. He seems to be in shock, his face pale and his voice quiet as he goes through the pre-flight checklist in GERTI’s cockpit, and when he’s not flicking switches or pressing buttons his fingers continually spasm into clenched fists. Douglas has advised Carolyn and Arthur to stay off the flight deck and he lets Martin get on with the checks, responding to each item on the list with crisp efficiency, allowing him to concentrate.
They’re in the air fifteen minutes later and as they level off, Martin lets out a quiet sob, but reins it in and instead begins to talk. Once he starts, he can’t seem to stop and the words pour out as he tells Douglas everything about his time with Swiss Air – how it was marvellous and terrible at the same time. He talks about how amazing it has been to be flying airliners, how much he enjoyed being in the cockpit, learning the new equipment, being responsible for such huge aeroplanes and their cargo and passengers. But his joy at work has been balanced by the loneliness; he never flies with the same crew twice and so has never really got to know anyone. Although he has a nice apartment just outside Zurich and lives near many of the other airline staff, he has been too shy to seek out company, doesn’t socialise with anyone and only gets to talk with friends by emailing Douglas, or by Skypeing with Theresa or with Arthur. Douglas realises that this is why Arthur wouldn’t tell him about their conversations – the young steward clearly realised how miserable Martin was, but also understood that Martin wouldn’t want him to tell Douglas about it.
But apparently Martin is past caring now, and as he pours out all his unhappiness his tight grip on GERTI’s controls loosens and the tension in his face relaxes slightly. When they first spot the coastline of England ahead of them, Martin begins to smile a little, and shortly afterwards he laughs at something Douglas says. It’s a stupid one-liner and not all that funny but Martin bursts out laughing and simultaneously bursts a button on his shirt when he sucks in a frantic breath. Both of them stare as the button bounces off the windshield, then they crack up laughing and can’t stop themselves for almost two minutes. Martin’s laughter is a little hysterical but it’s clearly therapeutic. Douglas gets the feeling that it’s the first time that Martin has laughed properly for months.
They push GERTI as hard as she’ll go, but they land at Fitton forty minutes after Mr. Alyakhin’s rep was due to arrive to complete the transaction. Karl sounds amazed when he hears Martin’s voice over the comms, and babbles enthusiastically to him throughout the descent. At no point does Martin scold him for using the radio as a chat line. As they taxi towards the stand, Martin sees the banner still hanging from the control tower and half-cries, half-laughs at the mis-spelling.
While the pilots complete the shut-down checks, Carolyn hurries to MJN’s portacabin in the hope of finding the rep still waiting, but she is standing in the doorway looking disconsolate when the others arrive. Douglas puts a comforting hand on her shoulder as he walks in, and Martin lets out a shuddering sigh and flops onto the saggy sofa in the corner of the room. Carolyn sends Arthur to buy some decent coffees from the canteen, and disappears into her office to ring Mr. Alyakhin while Douglas sits down on a chair opposite Martin. They sit in silence for a few minutes, Douglas watching carefully while Martin gazes down into his lap. As his shoulders begin to hunch, Douglas realises that the gravity of what Martin has done is starting to sink in, and he hurries to try and distract him.
“You’re an idiot,” he tells the younger man bluntly. “I mean, what you did was probably the bravest and noblest thing I’ve ever seen from anyone, but you’re an idiot, Martin.”
Martin chokes out a laugh. “You’re welcome,” he says.
Douglas smiles. “You didn’t expect me to hug you and tell you how wonderful you were, did you?”
“Perish the thought,” Martin retorts, although he quirks a brief grin. He sighs. “So – that’s my flying career gone up the Swanee. Good job I didn’t get rid of Dad’s van. It looks like I’m going full time with Icarus Removals.”
“Oh, I’m sure we can come up with something,” Douglas says. “If Carolyn can talk Mr. Alyakhin round, maybe she can persuade him that he needs two pilots to keep GERTI airborne.”
“From what Arthur told me, Carolyn had to work really hard to persuade him to take you with the plane,” says Martin. “He’s never going to take both of us on, and you know it.”
“Well, maybe not,” Douglas concedes, “but there must be some way you can stay in aviation.” He looks thoughtful. “What about retraining to teach flying? You’d get to go up in aeroplanes, even if they’re only light aircraft, and there must be an airfield somewhere around that would employ someone with your experience.”
Martin’s head lifts and a pensive look appears on his face. Just then Arthur totters into the portacabin carefully balancing a tray of coffee cups, and he’s still trying to remember how many sugars he put in each cup when Carolyn comes out of the office with several sheets of paper in her hand. Her expression is grave.
“Everything all right, Mum?” Arthur asks.
She walks over to him and gives him a gentle smile, and Douglas immediately goes onto full alert. He’s never seen such a soft affectionate look on her face. Martin also sees her expression and straightens up, his face anxious.
“Arthur,” she says quietly to her son. “You need to be very brave right now.”
“What’s the matter?” he asks her, his eyes filling with fear.
Carolyn sighs. “I’m sorry to have to tell you that your father has died.”
Douglas manages to catch the tray one-handed before it hits the floor.
After half an hour Arthur has more or less cried himself out in his mother’s arms and is now sitting on the sofa with his head on Martin’s shoulder, sniffling as Martin tightens his arm around him. Carolyn has walked over to the other side of room and is repeatedly chewing the inside of her mouth, still savagely gripping the papers she brought in earlier. Douglas goes over and speaks quietly.
“Is that Alyakhin’s paperwork?” he asks.
“No,” she says shortly. “Mr. Alyakhin left a message on the answerphone saying that the deal’s off. He wasn’t very complimentary about our inability to be here for his wretched rep. No, this ... this ...” she brandishes the papers in Douglas’ face, “... is a copy of Gordon’s will. His solicitors were under instruction to send it to me upon his death. Oh, and by the way, he died three days ago. It’s taken them this long to notify me – and more importantly to notify his son.”
“Why didn’t his wife contact you?” Douglas asks.
“He left Hayley ages ago – the divorce has already gone through,” Carolyn tells him. “I don’t even know whether she’s been told – and right now I don’t care. This is just about the last straw.”
Again she clenches the papers. “The solicitors emailed this to me as soon as I returned their voicemail message,” she says. “He’s left pretty much his entire estate to Arthur as his only child. According to the solicitors, Gordon was worth about three and a half million pounds.”
Douglas lets out a low whistle. “Good for Arthur,” he says.
“Oh, yes, good for Arthur,” Carolyn says. “Except you know what he’ll want to do with the money, don’t you?”
“He’ll give it to you to keep MJN going,” Douglas realises instantly. “Well, if it’s what he wants, and if you’re willing to keep the company going, why shouldn’t he?”
“Because he can’t,” she snaps loudly.
Arthur looks up from Martin’s shoulder and wipes his hand under his nose. “Are you all right, Mum?” he asks.
“I’m fine, dear heart,” she tells him gently, “but I need to talk to Douglas in private if you’ll be all right out here?”
Arthur nods, and Martin gives her a reassuring smile. “I’ll be right here,” he tells her.
Douglas and Carolyn go into her office, and she whirls on him as soon as he closes the door. “That bastard has put a clause in his will which specifies that under no circumstances is Arthur allowed to give a single penny of his inheritance to me,” she grates. “Arthur’s money will be managed by a team of accountants appointed by Gordon’s executors, and every penny he spends will have to be accounted for. If Arthur tries to give any of it to me, they can block the transaction immediately.”
She sighs. “I don’t want Arthur to give me money to keep MJN going, Douglas,” she says more quietly. “But he loves the company – you know that. As soon as he knows that he could save MJN, he’ll want to do it, and that selfish git is ruining Arthur’s dream just because he hated me. And now that the deal to sell GERTI has fallen through, he can’t even help me buy the house in Zeals. Oh, he could buy it outright, I imagine, and let me live there with him, but I don’t know if I would even be allowed to run it as a business, so the bed and breakfast idea is kyboshed.”
Her mouth tightens. “And I really don’t like the idea of moving into Arthur’s house like some poor old lady living in a granny annexe.”
Douglas lifts his head. Something Carolyn just said has triggered an alert in his head, but he can’t put his finger on it yet.
“I’m no legal expert,” he tells her, “but do you mind if I take a look at the will?”
“Feel free,” she says, thrusting the crumpled papers into his hand, “but the very smug solicitor to whom I spoke has reassured me that there’s no getting round the terms.”
She heads towards the door. “I don’t know how I’m going to break this to Arthur,” she says. “He’s had enough shocks for one day: you trying to kill yourself by falling out of GERTI; then Martin beating up his captain and getting sacked; then losing his father ...” She sighs shakily. “The last thing he needs to be told is that he’s a multi millionaire but he can’t even save the company he loves.”
“Arthur’s stronger than you think,” Douglas tells her. “Just be gentle with him.”
“I have every intention of being gentle,” she snaps.
Douglas looks at her pointedly. She stops with her hand on the door handle.
“Yes, all right,” she tells him. Taking a deep breath and forcibly lowering her hunched shoulders, she throws him a grateful smile before leaving the room.
Douglas sits down in Carolyn’s chair, adjusts the sling on his arm and makes himself comfortable, then begins to read the will. After three minutes he purses his lips thoughtfully.
After three more minutes he begins to smile.
On to Chapter 3