The rain was still coming down by the time Tom and Craymer returned to Highland Park heliport. Their journey had been a combination of public transport; it had not been a comfortable one – sitting, for the most part, in a sodden, sullen, silence. Craymer nodded towards Tom as he left his side, seeking the shelter of one of the large hangers.
“Alright, it was good flying with you today. You’re a steady hand, Tom, that’s a fact.”
Craymer disappeared behind a corrugated metal door, as Tom walked slowly across to the office. A dim light met him as he stepped through the entrance, his brother sitting alone in front of a small desk, illuminated by a battered old lamp. In front of him, beside a stubby tan medicine bottle, lay a black leather-bound book, worn at the edges. Joe hadn’t heard his brother enter the room, and flinched slightly when Tom announced his presence.
“So, that’s the deal done. The buyer accepted the price you’d both agreed upon.” Joe looked back at his brother, distractedly.
“That’s good. Good news – a fair price. Um, how, uh, how did you find the flight?”
“Fine. The flight was fine – a real smooth ride.” Tom spoke with a warmth in his voice; he could tell Joe was suffering. “There’s nothing like a little VIP transport, Joe.”
“No – I mean – yeah, nothing like it. Actually, it reminded me of operations back in South Asia.” Joe cast a quick glance down at the scrap book, his eyes focusing briefly upon the open page. “That’s why I dug this old thing out.” Joe squinted down towards the desk, a half-embarrassed smile disappearing from his mouth.
“Sure, sure… heck, I can only – I can’t even – imagine.” Tom stood awkwardly a few paces from his brother.
“I’ve never really talked about the campaign with you, have I?” The brothers were close, but Joe hadn’t opened up to Tom since he returned from South Asia. Everything he knew about what happened out there, Tom had pieced together from reports online or in the local paper. While he was still alive, Joe had confided somewhat in their father, but for the most part, had kept himself to himself, writing occasionally in the scrapbook now sitting in front of him.
“I guess not, Joe. I’ve never wanted to pry – I respect your privacy – but, I’d certainly be, y’know, open to finding out a little more about your experience over there.”
“It struck me today, Tom. I wasn’t expecting it, but it really struck me. I miss the flying. I really do miss it.”
“It’s a kick in the teeth, Joe. You were a great pilot – better than I could ever hope to be.”
“Ah, come on, Tombo! Don’t kid yourself; you’ve got the same feel for these birds as I do – as dad did.” A colour had returned to Joe’s voice; it wasn’t empty as it had been just moments before.
“It was the first real action we’d seen out there. You could tell things were just beginning to heat up a little, y’know?” Joe idly picked at the edge of the book, gently biting his lower lip between sentences. “We listened to the news; some of the older guys were pretty well informed about the situation, too…”