“First Club Meeting”

The following Saturday at 9:00 am sharp, the gang met at their new clubhouse, Hangar 1. Grandpa Jimmy had the doors open and was standing next to the Shirley Ann holding a steaming cup of coffee.

“You can park your bikes over there,” said Jimmy. He pointed to the right, just inside the hangar, where he had set a worn rusty bike rack. “If you push the front wheel of your bike between those bars, it’ll stand up just fine.” It was long enough for way more than five bikes. “Maybe one of ya could sand it down and paint it up real nice.”

“I’ll do it,” said Ben.

“Who knows how to drive a riding a lawnmower?” asked Jimmy.

“I do,” said Willy. “My dad lets me drive ours.”

“Okay then, I take it you’re volunteerin’. The mower and the gas can are back in the corner by my workbench. I’ll join ya there and show ya how she works. There’s a weedeater somewhere too. Why don’t you grab that, Jold, and edge around the hangar while Willy’s mowing. ” 

Jold sighed, “Sure.” 

“Kate, I was wonderin’ if you and Tali would help me get some of the junk around here organized. And if ya could get a few layers of the dirt off those windows we would have a little more light in here.”

The gang had promised to help clean up but had no idea Jimmy was planning this.

“When you’re done with your jobs, the hangar’s yours for club business. You can hold your first meeting in the Shirley Ann, if ya want. There’s a cooler inside her with some cold drinks and a few ham and cheese sandwiches.”

By noon the chores were done. Kate and Tali were talking with Grandpa Jimmy next to the workbench when the guys joined them. Tali was holding a picture in her hand. A picture of Shirley Ann sitting at the end of a grass runway tucked in close to some tropical trees. It looked like a jungle. 

“What’s the story behind this picture Grandpa Jimmy?”

“If memory serves, that was taken in the fall of 1969. I was flying missions for Air America during the war in Vietnam. Any of you ever hear about that war?” he asked. 

“We learned a little about it in school,” said Kate. “I think my grandpa might have gone there when he was in the Navy.” 

“Well, we were really the CIA’s secret airline. You know, the Central Intelligence Agency.”

“Totally cool,” said Ben. “What was your mission?”

“We delivered weapons, mostly M-16 rifles and M-79 grenade launchers to friendlies in Cambodia. The military wasn’t supposed to fly there so they called on us to make the drop. Shirley Ann was good at getting into tight places with a heavy load. Didn’t need no pavement neither. That picture was taken after we unloaded, and everyone was gone. They didn’t much like getting their pictures taken, kind of dangerous for ‘em.”

“Did anyone shoot at you?” asked Kate.

“Not on that day.”

“What about these other pictures?” asked Tali.

“Oh… we’ll get to those one of these days, I need to head to town for a bit, so you all have fun. See ya later,”he said. Then he hopped in his truck a drove away. 

The gang looked at each other, they were all thinking the same thing. “Let’s go,” said Ben. They ran for the Shirley Ann and climbed in. Kate and Jold could stand up in the cabin, no problem, but the other three had to bend over a little to walk up the aisle without banging their head. There was enough seating for eight, not counting the pilot and co-pilot seats.

On the right side of the cabin, just behind the co-pilot was a kind of sofa. Looked like it had four seat belts stuffed between the not so cushy cushions. Sitting there, your back was to the windows. On the other side of the aisle, across from the sofa, were two captain’s chairs facing each other with a fold out, coffee stained table between them.

Farther back, just forward of the entry door, were two more captain’s chairs. They sat side by side, facing forward with the aisle in between. All were covered in faded green leather that matched the ugly pea green fabric lining the cabin. In the back hung a cargo net and tie down straps. That’s where the luggage and cargo were stored for flight and that’s where Jold spotted the cooler.   

He opened it and passed out the cold drinks as everyone climbed in and found a seat. Bandit would have to settle for slurping ice water from the bottom of the cooler in a paper cup. Ben and Kate sat in the captain’s chairs. Tali and Jold took a seat on the sofa and Willy climbed into the pilot’s seat where he immediately started pushing and pulling levers. 

“Awesome place for HQ,” said Ben. 

“What’s an HQ?” asked Jold.

“Means Headquarters…, I’m callin’ our first meeting. Hey, Willy, come on back here, we’re having a meeting.”

Willy reluctantly crawled out of the pilot seat and took a seat on the sofa. Tali was still holding the picture they had just talked about; it had captivated her. Ben stood up, turned and took two steps back to the door. He pulled it closed and pushed the lever down. It locked in place, airtight. “Can you believe this is our clubhouse?” said Ben as he returned to his seat. 

Bandit jumped on the sofa next to Jold and started growling as he stared out one of the windows. The windows suddenly fogged over. Willy tried to wipe one off with his shirttail, but the fog was on the outside of the window. Kate tried the same thing on the window next to her, same result.  

“This is weird,” said Kate.

“Yeah,” said Ben, “maybe I better open the door.”

He went back to the door, but the lever wouldn’t move. Willy joined him and they both pulled with all their might, but couldn’t budge it. Jold added one more set of arms and hands, no luck.  

“What’s up with this?” said Jold.

Before they could try again, the plane started shaking. It sounded like a motor was starting, then another. They scrambled back to their seats, faces pressed against the glass, desperately trying to see what was happening through the foggy windows. They could feel the plane moving. Their voices were soon drowned out by the sound of the motors as they throttled up. Faster and faster the Shirley Ann rolled, bouncing along the bumpy runway as she accelerated. “What’s happening?” asked Tali.

They all instinctively grabbed the sides of their seats and hung on. A few seconds later the bouncing and shaking stopped. It was like riding a bike on a potholed gravel road and then turning onto a newly paved street. The sound of the motors slowed to a steady purr. Bandit quit barking, curled up on the sofa next to Jold and closed his eyes. He seemed to know everything was going to be all right. 

“I think we’re flying,” said Ben. 

“No way,” said Willy. He turned toward the cockpit and looked at the gauges. Eyes as big as baseballs, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “The instruments are working,” he shouted, “It looks like we are flying about 150 miles an hour and I think we’re climbing. Is this really happening?”

“Grandpa Jimmy said this plane was magical, but gees,” said Ben. 

Tali had tears streaming down her cheeks. “I’m scared,” she whispered. Ben moved across the aisle and sat next to her.

“It’ll be okay Tali, trust me.”

“I’m not worried,” said Jold. “If anything were wrong, Bandit would let us know. He’s telepathic.” But his face didn’t reflect his words, he was scared too.

With the sound of a belch or maybe a backfire, the purr of the motors became eerily quiet. It felt like the plane was slowing down. By then, Willy was sitting in the pilot’s seat watching everything. The landing gear handle went to the down position all by itself. The two lights above the handle turned from red to green. It meant the landing gear was down and locked.

A few seconds later, the screech of tires, a bump and a bounce, and then another screech as she settled onto the runway. The Shirley Ann was back on the ground; she rolled to a stop as the motors shut down. Everything was quiet now. No one moved, they sat motionless like statues. Nor did anyone say a word, it wasn’t necessary. The looks on their faces of both astonishment and relief revealed their feelings. 

Bandit sat up, tail wagging, like he wanted to play. He jumped off the seat, ran straight to the cabin door and barked. The strange fog on the windows had cleared. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

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