“Cool Place for a Club House”

 

Mr. D. called the gang together and assigned each of them an area of the store. “Take your time,” he said. “Look under, around  and behind everything.”

They all headed to their assignments except Jold. Bandit had gone missing.

“Bandit, come.” No response. “Now where did that dog go?”

While the rest looked for the bracelet, Jold wandered the store calling for Bandit. When he reached the far side of the bedroom furniture department, there was Bandit. He was sprawled out on his belly next to a nightstand.

“Bandit, come.” He sat up, wagged his tail, but stayed where he was. “Stubborn dog,” Ben muttered. “Come Bandit!”

Bandit tilted his head to one side but didn’t move. Ben walked over to grab him by the collar. Bandit pulled away. He reached again for Bandit’s collar when he saw something sparkly out the corner of his eye. Behind the nightstand was a bracelet. He took a knee, then reached for the bracelet with one hand while patting Bandit on the head with the other. “Good boy Bandit.”

“Hey Kate,” yelled Jold. “Got your bracelet.”

Kate and the gang came running. “Is this it?” asked Jold. “Yes, it is,” she said with teary eyes as she placed it back on her wrist. “Where did you find it?”

“I didn’t, it was Bandit. I think he’s been here watching over it for ya. I told you he was telepathic.” He wasn’t quite sure what that had to do with finding the bracelet, but it seemed like a good explanation to him.

Kate dropped to her knees and gave Bandit a big hug. “Good dog,” she said as Bandit licked the tears from her cheeks.

“Mystery solved,” said Jold, “anyone hungry besides me?”

“Yea,” answered Tali.

Kate skipped to her dad’s office and held out her arm while smiling from ear to ear.

“I knew you would find it sweetie.”

“Everything’s back in the closet, can I take off with the gang now?”

“Sure, be home in time for supper.”

All five dashed for the bike rack near the front door. Kate’s dad had placed it there for customers, but mostly to keep the kid’s bikes out of the way. They hopped on and pedaled single file on their way to Burger King. Willy’s dad was the owner. Willy had convinced him that giving all five of them a Whopper and fries for lunch on Saturdays was a good thing. In return, they would do a few chores around the store. The gang didn’t know that Willy’s dad had secretly okayed this with the parents.

Ben kept checking his watch. He tapped the crystal, had it stopped? Nope, the second hand was still moving.

“Ben,” said Tali, “it’s only two, we’ll get there on time.”

Kate and Tali took their time eating. Jold volunteered to help speed them along by eating some of their fries. Kate slapped his hand away.

“Stay away from mine too,” said Tali, while covering her fries with both hands.

Finally, back on the bikes riding for the airport. Ben and Willy were up front. One glance at each other was enough. They stomped on the pedals. “First one to grab the padlock on the doors wins,” said Willy. They were side by side, bikes jerking left and right as they pedaled with all their might. Every speed bump and curb provided a little air. But there was one dirt mound just before the turn onto the dirt road to the airport that launched them. They flew three feet off the ground and landed twenty feet past the mound. Leaning hard, they circled around the hangar and headed straight for the heavy doors at top speed. No backing off now. Just before impact, they locked their back brakes and skidded around sideways to a perfect screeching stop. Only inches away, they both grabbed for the lock. The debate over who touched it first would go on. But their perfectly timed synchronized slide, that was a pro move that called for a fist bump.

The girls weren’t far behind. Jold and Bandit were bringing up the rear. Bandit had plenty of time to sniff the bushes. About the only time Jold arrived on time was when food was mentioned. He might even be early if a marshmallow roast was included.

“Good thing we hurried,” said Kate. “Only an hour and half till Grandpa Jimmy gets here.”

“Ha Ha,” said Ben.

They were all sitting on the ground, leaning back against the hangar when the pickup rolled up. Ben jumped up and trotted over to greet Grandpa Jimmy. He opened the creaky door for him, and Jimmy stepped out on the running board then down to the ground. Ben looked a little puzzled. Jimmy had the key in hand, but the truck was still running, kind of.

“I see ya brought your friends.”

“Yep, sure did, but, uh, how is your truck still running?”

“She’s old, got a hot spot in a couple of cylinders and it just keeps firing fur a while. It’ll quit soon.”

The gang gather round and Ben introduced them. Jimmy greeted each one with a handshake. Ben grinned and tried not to laugh, he hadn’t warned Willy or Jold about the vice grip; men and boys only, of course. He was easier with the girls.

Jimmy fumbled with his keys. “Oh, here it is. Now you boys help me push. Been a long time since these doors were fully opened. Take ‘em all the way to the stops?”

Tali joined up with Ben to push the left door while Kate, Jold and Willy pushed the right one. Wasn’t as easy as it looked, the tracks were a bit rusty.

Light filled the hangar. It was even more awesome than Ben had remembered. And there it was, the old Beech 18. Even after years of neglect and dust, its aluminum skin shimmered in the sunlight. The tires were flat and there was a tear in the skin just under the belly.

“How did that hole in the bottom of the plane get there?” asked Willy.

“It was a one-wheel landing, only one main landing gear would come down. The right wheel was stuck in the up position. Landed easy on the left, then held her level as long as I could. When she ran out of air speed the right wing dropped. The prop hit the ground which destroyed the prop and the crank shaft in the engine. Had to jack it up to get the wheel down. Towed it to the hangar, pulled the bad engine and it’s been sittin’ there ever since.”

“Were you scared?” Tali asked.

“Na, things happened pretty fast, didn’t have time to get scared.”

Willy was standing on the step of the 18, peeking inside. He turned, “Can I get in?”

“Sure.”

Willy didn’t hurry. He memorized every detail of this vintage old bird. When he got to the cockpit, he scanned each instrument, gauge and dial before taking a seat. Between his legs, under the front edge of the seat, he felt a lever. He figured that allowed the seat to move forward like a car. He was right, he pulled up and slid close enough to reach the controls.

Kate and Tali wandered to the back of the hangar. Kate had  spotted pictures hanging above the work bench. There must have been a hundred. Most of them included Grandpa Jimmy, but he was much younger. Some were in color and some black and white, but all were covered with dust. Tali found an old rag on the bench. One by one she took each picture down, dusted it off and then rehung it. Never crossed her mind to ask permission. Just seemed like the right thing to do. “I would love to hear the stories behind these pictures,” she said to Kate.

“Jimmy,” said Ben. “I have a question for you.”

“Okay.”

“Would it be alright if we used your hangar for our club house?”

Before Grandpa Jimmy could answer, Jold spoke up. “Ya see, Mr. Jimmy, we’re all members of a really awesome club. Might be the best sixth grade club ever. If you were to let us use this hangar, our awesome members would fix it up for ya. Sweep, clean, paint, wash windows, mow the grass, pull the weeds, make the plane shine like a new penny and…”

“Slow down young fella, ” said Jimmy, “and give me a minute to think. Don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone say that many words without takin’ a breath.” He scratched his head, then looked Jold and Ben in the eye. “I might be willin, it could sure use some cleanin. How often would you need to use it?”

“Saturdays, for sure, more if you would let us,” said Ben.

“Well, you would have to  get your parent’s permission, no question about that.”

“No problem,” said Jold.

Willy was still sitting in the cockpit messing with the controls when the rest of the gang joined him. He had read a lot about being a drone pilot, so he knew what most of the levers and gauges were for. Kate sat in the right seat of the cockpit and the other three crowded as far forward as they could. They all listened while Willy explained what he thought everything did. The gang considered him the expert when it came to all things that fly.

Grandpa Jimmy was standing on the floor by the cabin door listening. To his surprise Willy was mostly right. “Hey guys,” he said, “gotta get goin’.”

“So, it’s okay if ya want to use the hangar, I’ll open her up on Saturdays to begin with. But, I gotta hear from your parents first. May not be as easy as ya think Jold, they don’t know nothin’ about me.”

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