Excerpt from “River of January,” free on Kindle until Tuesday, April 2, 2019.
Chum glanced up from Ailor’s desk, where he was adding up airtime in his logbook. A well-dressed gentleman, clearly from the city, faced him. The caller had quietly stepped through the door, surprising the pilot, intent on his figures.
“You found him, sir,” Chum smiled warmly.
“My name’s Rosenbaum, Richard Rosenbaum, but I go by Ross. The man extended his hand, as Chum hopped up. “Say, I need a reliable passenger plane for hire, with a good pilot at the helm. Your name was given to me over at the AP office.”
“Uh huh,” Chum answered casually, privately pleased at the referral. “Where exactly would you need me to fly, Mr. Ross?”
But Ross answered something else. “I have a chair on the stock exchange, but don’t hold that against me,” he volunteered—Chum gawked, and Ross laughed, “I know. You’re surprised I have the guts to state my occupation. We Wall Street types aren’t exactly popular with the public these days, are we?”
The flyer chuckled at the businessman’s blunt honesty.
“Well, I won’t crash the plane, if that’s what worries you. The market crashing is enough for now,” Chum joked back.
With the ice broken, Chum and Ross got down to business, discussing rates and various destinations. Sensing Ross could become a first-rate client, he offered, “Would you like to go up for a spin, Mr. Ross or Rosenbaum?”
The client laughed again. “Love to— love flying.”
Twenty minutes later, the plane eased down, trundling to a gentle stop on the airstrip. As he released his safety straps the broker remarked, “Thanks for the test ride. You know, you’re quite the pilot—may I call you Mont?”
“Nooo, sir. My friends call me Chum,” the pilot answered.
“Well, Chum, I’d like you to plan on a pleasure trip next weekend. The boys and I need to get to Havre de Grace in Maryland. And I will stay in touch.”
The two men shook hands again, and Ross, whistling, walked over to his Chrysler Imperial, and motored away.
Promptly a week later, while jiggling his office key into the door, Chum heard Ailor’s phone ringing. He burst in, leaving the keys hanging in the lock, and seized the receiver.
“Hello, Chumbley here—hello?”
“Morning Chum,” flashed an urgent voice. “This is Richard Ross, and I am awfully glad I caught you at the office! We have a horse posted in the third race and need to get to Baltimore, fast.”
“Havre de Grace Race Track?”
“A horse in the third.”
“Wait, where are you calling from?” the young man asked.
“Newark. We’ll be waiting at the airfield for you to arrive.”
“Horse track, huh? Roger that. I’ll gas up the Waco and be over soon.” Jogging to the hangar Chum reflected, “This trip sounds like fun, especially if I make a couple of bucks.”
Taxiing down the runway, the flyer lifted off—his trip was just a short hop west—and Chum presently approached the New Jersey landing strip. From his windshield he could see three figures moving outside an office building near the tarmac.
“Must be Ross,” Chum mumbled. Touching down, the pilot slowed and turned the plane toward his passengers. But he noticed they were running toward the Waco. Ross was shouting something and waving his arms.
“We need to go, now, Chum!” the pilot finally heard above his roaring engine. Chuckling, as they clambered aboard, the flyer again turned and taxied down the same airstrip, quickly lifting off toward the southeast. His three passengers breathlessly discussed the upcoming race card. Thoroughly entertained by their excitement, Chum listened.
“That number six will be tough to beat,” and “I paid a call to those stables and I wasn’t that impressed.”
This flight wasn’t long either, but apparently too lengthy for the impatient stockbrokers. As Chum circled the county airfield, Ross reached up and patted his shoulder. “Not here, Chum. It’s too far from Havre de Grace. Land the plane at the track, put it down on the infield!”
Stunned, the pilot clarified, “At the horse track?”
“Yes sir! There’s no one better than you to pull off a landing like this one!”
As he doubtfully turned his plane around, dangerous images passed through Chum’s mind—in particular, the incident in Elmira. He understood, as every pilot understood, that potential disaster rode along with him on every flight.
Chum worried: What are the chances of cart-wheeling the plane? Can I regain lift if I come too close to the viewer stands? Will I be arrested?
Ross read Chum’s alarm and assured the pilot, “I trust you. The field is long enough for a good flyboy like you to manage. And we’ll pay for any mishap or damage.”
“How ’bout my broken neck?” the pilot half-joked.
The broker snickered.
Chum shrugged, lowered the nose of his Waco, and touched down firmly, bouncing on the grass, and smoothing out as the plane slowed. By the end of the infield, the Waco stopped, facing the viewing stands. Safe. No snags. Leaning over the yoke, he inhaled deeply realizing he’d held his breath through the approach, the landing, and the braking.
Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Available on Kindle and at http://www.river-of-january.com