Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The sun was still up when Mark dragged himself out of bed. It was going to be hell to get back to something resembling a daytime schedule, not that it mattered right now. At least it was warmer in the old hangar in the daytime, but not enough to make any difference. Heíd spent a lot of cold evenings out there over the past winter.
A shower and a shave made him feel almost human again. He glanced out the window; it was still clear, although he could see it was blowing a little, so he knew it probably wouldnít stay clear much longer. It probably meant more snow, as if they hadnít had enough this winter. He got dressed in clean clothes and went downstairs.
"I suppose youíre going to be either out at the hangar or out with the telescope again tonight," his mother said accusingly.
"Both, I think," he replied. "Iíve got someone who wants to see M-31 and M-45, and when I get done with that, I might as well work on the rib stitching some more."
"Are you going to be late?" his mother asked.
"Hard to say," Mark told her. "Iíll probably spend an hour or two with the telescope, and then see how I feel about working on the wing."
"And youíll be half the night," his mother replied, understanding him perfectly. She knew Mark was feeling time pressure as the days marched by. "Iíll leave some leftovers for you in the refrigerator, if you want some."
Mark had a sandwich and a cup of coffee. Noting the time, he pulled on his Carhartts and headed out the door. Outside, the wind was even sharper than he had expected. It would be cold after the sun set; he probably wouldnít have the telescope out much.
His old Ford started on the first try. It wasnít far to the Archer house, only about a mile or so, so Mark left it running when he went to the door. The thought crossed his mind that he was sorry he had set this up; it would not be a good night for observing, and he really had other things he needed to do.
Jackie was waiting for him when he got there, dressed casually now in jeans and a flannel shirt. "Are you ready to go?" he asked.
"I guess so," she said.
"Better bring something warm, like a snowmobile suit," he warned her. "Itís going to be cold out there tonight."
"I can wear Dadís," she said, and went to get it.
While he was waiting, he talked with her stepmother a little. Soon, Jackie was back, carrying the bright red snowmobile suit over her shoulder. "Iím ready," she said.
The carís heater had been going long enough now to warm it up a bit. Mark went over and opened the right-side door for her, not necessarily because it was the courteous thing to do, but because the latch was tricky, and the door had to be lifted to close properly. "Hope you donít mind this piece of junk," he said, "But I needed a cheap car that only had to last me for a few months."
"Itís all right," she replied. "Are we going out to Turtle Hill again?"
"I donít think so," he said. "With this wind, itís going to be awful cold out there. Besides, you and your boyfriend werenít the only couple whose plans we screwed up last night, so tonight I think weíd better let the romantic life of Spearfish Lake march on like normal."
"Heís not my boyfriend," Jackie again protested. "Donít get the wrong impression. We only had the one date. I was glad when I saw you out there last night, since it meant I wouldnít have to walk home if he couldnít keep his hands to himself."
"We donít go out there often," Mark smiled in the gathering darkness. "But when we do, it always seems like we get a car or two an hour. They pull up and someone rolls the window down and asks, ĎAre you guys going to be here long?í We always answer, ĎNot long, maybe three or four AMí, even if weíre packing up. Itís kind of fun."
"Thatís not nice," she laughed. "Didnít you ever go out there with your girlfriend when you were in high school?"
"Never did," he replied truthfully. The fact that he had never had a girl friend in high school had nothing to do with it.
"Where are we going, anyway?" she asked.
"Out to the airport, I guess," he said, realizing he hadnít thought about it, but it would allow him time to get the heater on and the office warmed up for work later. "We can set up downwind of one of the hangars, and be out of the worst of the breeze."
"Thatís right," she said. "Youíre a Gravengood, arenít you? Do you fly, like your dad?"
"Soloed on my sixteenth birthday, but Iíd been flying for years before," he said.
"Did you fly in the Army?"
"No," he told her, the disappointment still biting. "My glasses are too thick. They wonít take you into flight school if you wear glasses. Besides, itís all helicopters, anymore."
Spearfish Lakeís airport hardly deserved the name; it was a grassy, open area, where the soil had been too thin to grow trees after it had been logged over a century before. At some time back in the thirties, the WPA had cleared off what remained of the stumps, leveled the ground, reseeded it to grass, and built a small hangar. In the forty or so years since, a couple of T-hangars had been added, but it was still a grass strip, still unlighted. Normally, only four planes were kept at Spearfish Lake year-round, but on summer weekends there might be a dozen or more, flown in by people from their homes down south. There were several junky old cars parked behind the main hangar, owned by those summer visitors, and only used to run out to summer cottages around the lake.
Mark drove in the driveway and pulled to a stop on the concrete pad in front of the main hangar, noting the wind direction from the windsock on the roof. Right here was about as out of the wind as they would be likely to get. "Iíve got to run inside for a minute," he said. "You can stay here, out of the wind, while I get set up, if you like. Iíll have to help you with that stupid car door, either way."
"Can I go inside to put my snowmobile suit on?" she asked. "Itíll be easier than trying to do it in the car."
"Yeah, it would be," he agreed, then opened the car door and got out. He helped her with the Fordís right door, and went over to the airport office. Inside, it was cool and still. He got the lights turned on to reveal the cluttered room, with trash and papers strewn about it, stuff stacked high in the corners. On the wall hung a calendar opened to October, 1970 Ė six months out of date, now.
While she busied herself pulling the snowmobile suit on over her clothes, he lit a fire in the big, old oil space heater. It would take the chill off of the room, though it would take a while and not get real warm with this wind. He put a teapot full of water on top of the heater; after a while, he would be able to mix a cup of coffee.
As he did this, she looked at him with an unspoken question in her eye. "Iíll be coming back out here after weíre done," he explained. "It gets cold out in the hangar after dark, and it helps to have a place to warm up. After last night, I might be out here most of the night."
"What would keep you out here most of the night?" she asked. "Stargazing?"
"No," he said. "Rebuilding an airplane."
"Can I see?" she asked.
"Can if you want," he said. "Itís not much to look at right now."
He led her through a side door in the office and out into the little hangar, where he threw on the lights. Crowded into the little hangar were a couple of small planes: a yellow one she had seen flying over once, and the red, white, and black one Mr. Gravengood had taken her flying in years ago.
In the back of the hangar were what she recognized as pieces of a plane, a small, silver-colored one, sitting wingless against the back wall. One of the wings, a frame bare of fabric, sat leaning against the wall; the other was on a stand improvised out of scrap lumber, leading-edge down, with fabric spread over it. "Like I said, itís not much to look at," he said. She stood there looking for a moment before he went on, "Iíd like to get the telescope set up before it gets fully dark. We can come back in out of the wind until the stars are out."
She didnít have to go outside in the chill breeze to help him, but it was interesting to watch. She had not had a good look at the telescope in the darkness the night before, but now she could see it was smaller than she had imagined Ė only about two and a half feet long. It was mounted in kind of a box, which fitted to the top of a homemade tripod. It did not take him long to get it set up Ė only a few minutes Ė and then he fitted an eyepiece into the focuser, and another one into the finder.
The sun had been setting in the west in a colorful red ball just as Mark had picked her up; now the sky was aglow in colorful reds and oranges. "Thatís quite a sunset," she said.
"Yeah," he agreed. "Look at those mareís tails. Thereís going to be some weather coming our way." He took the telescope, looked in the finder, and scanned the sky off to the west. "Itís probably too early to see Mercury yet, and we might not see it with all those clouds." He kept looking for a few minutes, then said, "Well, I guess not yet. Letís get out of this wind."
Inside the cluttered, grimy airport office the space heater was making ticking noises and almost gave the impression of giving off some heat. At least it was out of the wind. Jackie sat down on the couch, while Mark sat in a battered kitchen chair. "Itís cold out there tonight," she said.
"Yeah, I donít like it much myself," he said. "Although, I will admit, there were many days in Vietnam I prayed to see another Spearfish Lake winter day."
"Thatís right, I heard you were in Vietnam, werenít you?" she responded. "Wasnít it horrible?"
"Jackie, you have no idea," he said, seriously. "I have never been so consistently, completely . . . " he was silent for a moment, and for an instant she thought perhaps he was reliving the agony of battle ". . . bored shitless in my life." That was almost the truth and ought to be good enough, he thought.
She giggled a little with relief. "I canít believe I spent eighteen months there," he went on. "I think I probably worked half an hour a week, and tried to look busy the rest of the time. I was in the 82nd Airborne, and youíd think I was out in the boonies all the time. Mostly, I installed and fixed phones in the division headquarters."
"I thought you only had to stay there a year," she said.
"Yeah," he replied, "But the NCO in charge of the phone section left about a month before I was going to and they didnít have a replacement for him. They offered me an extra stripe to stay on for another six months, so I said what the hell, you know? Two weeks after they gave me the stripe, an old sergeant showed up to take over the section, and after he got there, I did absolutely nothing for the rest of my time there. Except during Tet, back in í68, I never heard a shot fired in anger, except artillery in the distance."
"You were there that long ago?"
"I spent a year and a half in Germany afterwards," he explained. "I was just about as bored there, too. I donít mind working, but Iím not too good at just sitting around, doing nothing."
"What have you been doing with yourself since you got out last fall?" she asked.
"Mostly, Iíve been right out there in the hangar, rebuilding my plane," he said. "Every couple of weeks I go down to the unemployment office and pick up my check. How about you?" he added, trying to change the subject a little. "Have you been doing anything but waiting on tables?"
"No," she said, "I got real tired of sitting around after I graduated, until the job at Rickís came along. Itís not going to be for too much longer, just until Marjorie gets over having her baby. If I can get another job to hold me through the summer, I guess Iím going down to the community college in Camden next fall. But I donít know how itís going to work out."
"Didnít work out too well for me," he said. "I guess Iíd just sat in classrooms too long, and I was tired of it. Then, Mr. Corman, over at the phone company, suggested I join the Army and go to advanced phone systems school. I had to give up an extra year to get that, but it was worth it. Letís go out and see if we can find Mercury, again."
The sunset outside had lost a lot of its sheen. It was considerably darker now, and stars were beginning to come out overhead. It was considerably colder, too; the wind seemed to have picked up a bit. Interested as Jackie was in looking through the telescope, it was clear she wouldnít want to make a night of it, at least not this night.
After a few minutes searching, Mark spoke up, "Well, for what itís worth, thereís Mercury." He stepped away from the telescope, and she stepped up for a peek. All she could see was a bright, tiny dot in the eyepiece. She told him so.
"Thatís about all you ever can see, in a small telescope," he told her. "Itís not real large, and itís usually pretty close to the sun, so not many people have seen it at all. He looked around the sky. "Saturnís out," he said. "Itís a lot more interesting."
In but a few seconds, she was marveling at the sight of the ringed planet, tiny but sharp in the eyepiece. "Isnít that pretty," she said. "I mean, Iíve seen pictures of it, and all, but itís nothing like seeing the real thing. Itís so . . . real."
Mark stepped back from the telescope and let her study it as long as she wanted to. "Can you see the different colors in the rings?" he asked.
"Yes, theyíre very sharp."
"If you look carefully," he went on, "You can see the shadow of the rings on the surface."
"Why yes," she said. "Of course. You know, somehow, I never thought theyíd leave a shadow."
"Thereís a couple of little flecks of light in the field of view, too," he said. "The bright one is Titan, Saturnís largest moon. I donít know if the other one is a moon or a star."
"That is so neat . . . " she said, her voice trailing off as she continued to stare into the eyepiece. For an instant, she was standing at the porthole of an interplanetary spaceship, drawing close to Saturn after a long voyage from earth, the cold of space pressing in on them. But then, she realized she was still standing on the hangar apron of the Spearfish Lake Airport, looking through Markís telescope, and it wasnít the cold of interplanetary space making her teeth chatter in spite of her space/snowmobile suit; it was just the chill wind off of the lake.
"It really is cold out here tonight," he commented. "It isnít quite dark enough for M-31 yet, and weíve still got an hour or two for M-42. Why donít we see if the stove is putting out yet?"
It turned out to be a little warmer in the office; the heater was taking hold a little, and it was out of the miserable wind. "Thanks for showing me Saturn," she said, sitting down.
"I can spend hours looking at Saturn," he agreed. "I donít know how many hours Iíve spent looking at it since I built my telescope."
"You built it?" she asked.
"Back when I was in junior high. Ground the mirror, the whole shot."
"How do you grind a mirror?"
"Very patiently," he told her. "Itís very tedious, especially to grind a mirror with a real short focal length. You start with two pieces of glass and some grinding compound and spend hours and hours just grinding the curve into it. Then you have to polish it and figure it, and that takes hours and hours, too. I spent most of a winter at it, down in my basement, but itís amazing how accurately you can work. The curve of that mirror is accurate to within millionths of an inch."
"And you were . . . what? Thirteen, fourteen? Did you build the rest of the telescope, too?" she asked.
"Well, yes and no," he replied. "The tube is just a piece of irrigation pipe. Some of the other stuff, I built in the beginning, but over the years, Iíve replaced it with hardware Iíve bought. Iíve fiddled with my telescope for ten years, now. The mount is new, for example; I built it down in the basement this winter, when it was too cold to work on the Cessna." He looked out the grimy window and added, "We need to get back out there if we want to see M-31 tonight, and itís a sight you donít want to miss."
Jackie wasnít warmed all the way back up yet, but her curiosity was enough to propel her out the door. In a minute, Mark had the telescope pointed low in the west, and Jackie was again looking in the eyepiece. There was a bright spot at the center, and long, filmy extensions to either side. "What is it?" she asked "I can see itís a galaxy, but itís so much brighter than the Whirlpool, last night."
"Galaxies donít get any better than that," he told her. "Thatís the Andromeda Galaxy. Itís more than two billion light-years away, and just a little bigger than our own galaxy. Itís practically a next-door neighbor. The only galaxies closer are diddly-squat little things."
"I can see some lighter and darker areas. What are they, spiral arms?"
"You picked them right out. Study the field. Do you see anything else?"
Jackie looked through the telescope again, then said, "Oh, thereís another galaxy, right below it. Itís smaller. And, thereís another one, right close in."
"Congratulations," he smiled. "You have just discovered M-32 and M-110."
"I canít make out much detail," she said. "Theyíre just faint, fuzzy spots."
"You canít make much out, even in a large telescope," he told her. She stood studying the view, oblivious to the chill, biting wind. Mark had shown M-31 and other sights in the sky to people over the years, but no one he had ever introduced to the telescopic sky had ever shown the intense interest this girl had.
"Let me show you everybodyís favorite," he said when she stood back upright. He moved the telescope to the left and up a little. "Now, where weíre going to look is Orion. You know Orion?"
"The rectangle of stars over there?" she pointed off in the west.
"Sure enough," he said. "You see the three bright stars crosswise, right in the middle? Thereís another row of three fainter stars perpendicular to them."
"The belt and the sword," she said. "Dad taught me."
"You got it. Weíre going to look at the middle star of the sword." He bent over the telescopeís finder and centered it, then offered the main eyepiece to her.
"Oh, wow," she said. "What is it?"
"M-42. Itís a star-forming region. You see right in the middle there, that little group of four stars? Theyíre very young, still getting going, almost. Those are called the Trapezium."
"But what is the whole cloud?" she asked, looking at the glowing tendrils and clouds that filled the whole field of the eyepiece.
He smiled. The area was his favorite, too. "The whole region is called the Orion Nebula. Itís a tremendous cloud of gas and dust, light years across. Itís lighted by the starlight of the stars you see. And the view in the telescope doesnít do it justice. Now, in color photographs, itís really spectacular."
Mark wasnít as heavily dressed as he had been the night before Ė after all, he had intended to spend most of the evening in the hangar, with frequent warm-up breaks because his hands got cold. "I suppose weíd better get out of the wind for a few minutes," he said after a while.
The old space heater had taken a lot of the chill out of the office, and warming up in there no longer seemed quite as futile. It was relaxing to be in out of the wind, and they fell to talking. "You know more about the sky than most people," he told her. "Most people know the Big Dipper, if they know anything about the sky at all."
"Dad taught me," she said. "We spent a lot of time together before he married Sarah. We used to go camping and fishing every chance we got. We still go some. It was a lot of fun to sit around the campfire, out along the Spearfish River, and heíd show me the sky, and talk about the constellations. We had a little book, and we both learned a lot of the constellations. One summer we took a pair of binoculars out camping, and we looked at the Milky Way down in Sagittarius a lot. That was really nice."
"With a good pair of binoculars, it can be downright awesome," he agreed. "It may be the best way to see it."
"I wish now weíd done it more. Maybe weíd have gotten a telescope and I wouldnít have had to have waited all this time to see some of the things youíve shown me tonight. But then, it was just something to do, and Dad was always trying to find something new for us to do."
Mark nodded his head. "Why was that?" he asked, and then instantly wished heíd not asked the question. After all, he remembered why.
"It was right after my mother had to go away," Jackie said. "I was still pretty young, but Dad knew we had a lot to put behind us."
"Did he teach you how to fly-fish?" Mark asked, trying to change the flow of the subject, without sounding like he was doing it. Although he didnít know the details, he did know that Jackieís mother had been in the state mental sanatorium down in Camden for more than a decade, and he suspected there was more pain in Jackieís statement than he wanted to know about.
"He showed me how, but I guess I was still a little young," Jackie said. "I never really learned to enjoy it, but we fished with bait and spinning gear a lot, and I still like to fish. Dad and I still try to get out a few nights a summer though, to go camping and go fishing, and I still enjoy my time out in the woods with him."
"What do you these days besides work?" he asked.
"Not a heck of a lot," she said. "I donít particularly care for television, so I spend a good part of my time at the library. Iíve looked for work more permanent than Rickís, something where Iím not on my feet all the time. But, jobs are hard to find this time of year."
"I know," he said. "At least thatís something I donít have to worry about."
"Whyís that?" she wanted to know.
"Well, back when I was thinking about going into the Army, Mr. Corman told me if I learned everything the Army could teach me about phone repair, then come and see him after I got out. Well, I did, and I kept in touch with him every time I came home on leave. He sent me special study materials, so I could learn something about civilian systems. I had a long talk with him when I got out and heís promised me Bruce Frybargerís job when he retires."
"How long is that going to be?"
"Heís looking to retire in time for deer season, next year. Mr. Corman said it would be the first opening he had unless someone dropped dead on him." Mark shrugged. "Itís a little longer off than I had hoped, but Iíll make it work out. The thing is, I know if I wait just a little while, Iíll have a good job I can work at as long as I want to. Itís worth the wait."
Jackie smiled, as it was an enviable position to be in; she wished she had something as good going for her. "So what do you do? Spend all your time out here, working on your plane?"
"Not all of it," he said, "But a lot of it. Itís taking me longer to get it done than Iíd hoped. When I originally got it, Iíd hoped to be pretty well done with it by now but I ought to know that things never go that smoothly. By busting my butt, Iím only a couple of weeks behind schedule, but I think itís going to get worse before I get done with the rib stitching."
"Yeah, I have to sew the fabric to the wings. Each stitch has to be knotted shut with a special knot, and the knot has to be right, or the inspector wonít buy off on it. Iíve had to do most of it by myself. Dad has helped a little, but his fingers are getting all full of arthritis, so thereís a limit to how much he can help. Itís just damn slow working by myself."
"I keep having to run back and forth around the wing, about four times for each stitch, sometimes more. Itís taking me five minutes to a stitch, and thereís several hundred stitches. And, working out in the hangar, I can only work so long before my hands get too cold to tie that stupid seine knot."
She shook her head and stretched; some of the cold was coming out, now. "I guess I feel a little guilty," she said. "Iíve been keeping you from doing something you want to do."
"Donít feel guilty," he said. "I like looking at the sky and showing it off, too."
"Well, thanks for showing me, anyway. Is there anything I can do to help repay you?"
He smiled. "If you donít mind being bored, I could use an extra set of hands stitching for a little while. Itís not difficult, but like grinding a mirror, itís just tedious."
He led her into the hangar and turned on the lights near the wing. A large sewing needle hung on some heavy, stringlike thread from the wing. "It looks real straight forward," he explained. "Itís not."
Starting the needle was easy, but it had to be guided blindly through the thickness of the wing, to come out right next to the rib, at exactly the right place, on the other side. A strong light shining through the fabric of the wing helped, but the trick was to run the point of the needle through the wing fabric on the far side, then judge how far off from the proper place it was, then make adjustments. Then, the needle had to be guided back through the wing, with the same problem, and the seine knot tied off before moving on to the next stitch.
It soon became clear to Jackie that Mark had been optimistic; while the job wouldnít be too bad near the trailing edge of the wing, in the center it might take a dozen trips back and forth around the wing for a single person to make one stitch.
Mark dragged a shop stool over for her to sit on, and while their conversation continued, the pace slowed down a lot, since the friendly discussion was interspersed with a lot of directions on how to move the needle. "Left a little . . . the other way . . . now up just a hair . . . now push it through . . . OK, Iíve got it," she would say, pulling the needle and the string through; then starting the return stitch at the proper place, he would give her similar instructions. Finally, once he had pulled the needle back through, it still took him a couple minutes to knot the stitch off and go on to the next one. It was tedious, and although out of the biting wind, Jackie soon found out it was cold enough to see her breath in the hangar. At least she could wear gloves; Mark mostly tried to make do without, sticking his hands in his pockets or over the light bulb to warm them. Even then, they could only go so long before they had to retreat to the warmth of the space heater in the office.
It was on one of those warming breaks by the oil burner when she asked, "Why not just wait for the weather to warm up to do this?"
"I want to be done before the weather breaks," he told her. "The clock is running."
"I donít understand," she said.
Mark mentally flipped a nickel. His parents, of course, knew what he had in mind, but he hadnít told anyone else, not that it mattered. If it didnít work out, he didnít want to look like a fool. But then, no one else had quite asked what his hurry was, either, and it couldnít hurt to tell Jackie. "I want to fly out of here, just as soon as the weather gets a little nicer. Iíve got a trip Iíve been wanting to take."
"A long trip?" she asked.
"Yeah, I guess a long trip," he said, "While I still can. If I donít do it before I start work for the phone company, I wonít ever have the chance again, and this is something Iíve dreamed about for years."
"Where are you going?" she asked conversationally.
"Nowhere in particular," he said. "Just around. Thereís a few things Iíd like to see, a few places Iíd like to go, a few things Iíd like to do. But mostly, I just want to go and see whatís on the other side of the mountain."
Jackie smiled. "Wow, that could be quite a trip!" she said. "What are some of the things you want to do and see?"
"Oh, nothing very special," he said. "Go to Stellafane Ė thatís a big star party in July in Vermont. Go to the Texas Star Party in May. Iím planning on taking the telescope with me. Iíll take my backpack, too; there are a few places I want to go backpacking, like in the Wind River Range in Wyoming, maybe in the Colorado high country, too. And thereís places I just want to see out the window of the plane, places like the Grand Canyon. I donít have the money to put a lot of radio in this bird, so Iíll pretty much stay away from big cities. I plan on camping by the plane, sleeping under the wing most of the time, and I donít want to waste any good camping weather. I want to be on the way by the middle of next month, end of the month at the latest."
Over the next hour or so, Mark told Jackie of his plans for the trip, and how it had come about. It had come to him in the Army telephone school, at a post in New Jersey. It had been a long school, and a couple of times he had come back to Spearfish Lake on leave. Flying in an airliner into Camden, he had looked out of the window and realized there was a lot more to the country than just the little part he knew. He realized there was a good chance he was going to go to Vietnam to fight for his country, and he felt heíd like to know more about it.
Mark had grown up, of course, on stories of flying. They included plenty of stories of the old barnstorming days, half a century before, when World War I veterans had flown around the country in their decrepit Jennies, landing in cow pastures, sleeping under the wing, taking people for rides at five dollars a head just to keep their sagging airplanes in the air. Mark had met a few pilots who had been barnstormers back in the era. While they all said it was no way to make a living, it had been a heck of a lot of fun when they were young.
Mark had not hated his time in Vietnam, but had found it desperately boring, the only thing that had kept boredom from overwhelming him was the thoughts of what he might do once he got out of the Army. Since he liked backpacking, he gave some thought to hiking the Appalachian Trail, but there were other things he also wanted to do. Besides, he couldnít take his telescope along on the trail. Finally, he realized what he wanted to do most was relive a little of those barnstorming days the old Jenny pilots still yarned about.
"Jackie," he said at one point while he was tying a knot, "It gave my life a focus, and there were times it was the only thing that kept me going. For pretty close to three years Ė more than that, now Ė itís kept me going. This trip is all I worked towards. I smoke maybe a pack of cigarettes every two weeks; I had a couple of beers on payday. I can eat nearly anything, and donít mind if I miss a meal now and then, so I could survive the Army mess halls, and virtually every cent I made I put in the bank so I could make this trip . . . OK, the knotís done; the needleís coming through to you again."
Part of the reason he had extended his tour in Vietnam had been the extra combat pay he could bank, especially with the extra stripe on his sleeve. He had been willing to extend his tour again, except by that time he had not flown a plane in eighteen months, and he was getting worried about how rusty he was getting. Over a long leave at home he got a lot of practice in and his skills back to where he wanted them, flying his dadís old Stinson. He had hoped to be stationed somewhere in the States, where he could keep his skills current, but had been sent to Germany; two days before he left, he took his checkride for his commercial pilot license. He spent another eighteen months in Germany, managing to travel some while spending little, but hoping his piloting skills hadnít deteriorated too much.
While he was in Vietnam, he had done what he could do to research the trip. He did not have access to a good library in Vietnam, but he wrote letters Ė mail was free from Vietnam Ė and ordered catalogues and brochures, and dreamed a lot. Research was a little easier in Germany, and he had compiled a list of things he wanted to see and places to hike. For three years, he had been compiling a list of things to take with him, adding and deleting and agonizing, mostly over the weight. It was good therapy, if nothing else; he could always pull out his list and go over it once again, feeling he was working toward the trip that had become such an obsessive goal to him.
It was clear from the beginning that he needed to take his own plane, not his dadís Stinson Ė his dad wouldnít like to be without it for six months or a year or whatever it took to work this trip out of his system. As a result, during his last months in the Army in Germany, he had subscribed to a paper called Trade-A-Plane. It was full of nothing but aircraft classified and display ads. As soon as Trade-A-Plane showed up at mail call, three times a month, Mark was lost to the world, studying prices of airplanes, studying what was available. By this time, he had about seven thousand dollars in the bank but wanted to save as much of it for the trip as he could, so he shopped hard for a bargain.
Thus it was that when the Army turned him loose at Fort Dix, New Jersey, the November before, the first phone call he made was not home, but to a number in Indiana, and the first airline ticket he bought, still in uniform so he could fly military rate, was to Indianapolis, rather than to Camden.
Three days after that flight, he was back in Indiana, driving a borrowed pickup truck and towing a flatbed trailer. He had already decided a Cessna 140 was about what he was looking for, and it was a case of finding one at a good price. The one he found had recently had the engine overhauled, and Mark knew enough about aircraft engines to know it was probably sound; it started easily and ran cleanly.
That was the good part. The plane had fabric that needed redoing before it had weathered a hailstorm a couple of months before; the fabric on the wings now hung in shreds. The owner had already put more money into it than he wanted to, and now had a wife with a baby on the way; he asked $2000 for the bird, a good price. Even so, Mark managed to beat him down to $1800, and got him to throw in the materials to redo the wings at that price. He was satisfied with the deal.
Once he had the plane in the hangar at Spearfish Lake, Mark flew the Stinson down to Lordston and got Ken Sawyer, the local tractor and aircraft mechanic, to fly back up with him to see what else the bird needed. Beyond the fabric replacement, Sawyer gave Mark a long list of work that needed to be done.
"Iíve chipped away at the list all winter," Mark told Jackie. "There were other things that had to be done, too. The interior looked like someone had been raising goats in it, so I had to redo it. Iíve got the fuselage about ready to put back together and then give it a buffing and polishing. I can do the fuselage work while weíre doping and painting the wings. I put off working on the wings in hopes it might warm up some, and I guess it is better than it was in January. . . OK, the knotís done; the needleís coming through again."
Jackie looked back over what they had done; while she had been pulling the story out of him, they had made a lot of progress, although there was still a lot of wing, plus the other wing, to go. But then, theyíd been at it a while. "Hey," she asked. "What time is it getting to be? I have to get up and go to work at five, tomorrow morning."
Mark looked at his watch. "Iíd better get you home, then," he said. "You might be able to get five hours sleep."
"Itís midnight?" she asked as Mark again tied a seine knot. "Where did the time go?"
A little more . . . there. "Time flies when youíre having fun," Mark smirked. "I hope I didnít bore you too much." He put down the needle and stood up.
On the opposite side of the wing, Jackie stood up, too, and looked across at him. "I did have fun," she told him as he reached to turn out a light. "Itís been fun talking to you and fun working on this with you. And, thanks for showing me M-31 and M-42 and Saturn and all the others, earlier. I really enjoyed it."
"Well, youíve been a big help tonight," he said. "I appreciate that. Weíve done more in a couple of hours than I could get done in a day by myself. Any time you feel like helping out again, youíre welcome."
They went out through the office, and Mark started to take the telescope down and put it in the Fordís trunk; it had stayed set up all the time they had been inside. "Didnít you forget to turn the heater off?" she asked.
"No," he said. "Iíll come back out here after I take you home."