Crunching through fourth gear, Joe Larkin navigated the ’94 Ranger towards Highland Park Heliport. The radio babbled above the hum of the engine and the drum of the rain upon the thin roof.
“… and finally, the battle surrounding the Xiamijn cargo spill rumbled on today. Fierce exchanges took place between police and activists, amid a series of meetings between Vrana Corp representatives and state officials, seeking to quickly resolve the ongoing disaster.”
Tom sat quietly in the passenger seat beside his brother, idly toying with the electric window, picking at the cheap plastic switch. A heavy sky cast dull light across the Delridge suburbs, staring sullenly back through the glass.
“… with the spill of hazardous material containers showing no sign of improvement, local groups have called upon the international conglomerate to do more to prevent damage to both small businesses and wildlife in the area. I’m Don Kinsley, those were the headlines on the hour.”
Joe, reaching across to dim the incessant chatter, cast a thoughtful glance across his silent brother.
“You’re awful quiet, Tom…” The car rumbled inexorably along the road; grit kicked up occasionally, punctuating the silence. “Hey, Tommy… c’mon, bro’, we’re almost here.”
Joe was a young guy; he looked no older and no younger than thirty. He had a strong face that framed a quick smile. To look at him, you wouldn’t immediately tell that he was almost always in physical pain.
“Look, man, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Seriously. Without you, we’d be dead already – dead in the water.”
Tom looked back across at his brother. He could always tell when Joe was hiding the pain. There was a darkness behind his eyes – a deep pain that wasn’t there before the accident.
“We’ve got one last chance, y’know?” Joe continued, returning his stare to the road. “We’ve got to seize it – we owe it to dad; this business was his life – it’s our future.”
Tom studied his brother closely, trying to gauge his state of mind. He was right, of course, the business was on its knees; they were haemorrhaging money.
“‘Tom Larkin: helicopter pilot’”, Tom announced, the tag-line to a Hollywood blockbuster. “I’m not so sure, Joey, d’ya think that has a ring to it? Is that really gonna fly..?”
Joe gripped the wheel tightly. His knuckles turned white as the blood rushed away from the surface of his skin. The rain began to beat down upon the battered pick-up more intensely.
“It’s fine. I like it just fine.” Joe wasn’t in the mood; Tom quickly shifted his tone.
“Look, I’m sorry – I don’t mean to be an ass. For what it’s worth, it’s just – it’s a lot of pressure. You were the one like dad – always around the choppers – you lived and breathed it.”
Joe loosened his grip on the wheel, slowing the truck down as the brothers approached a junction.
“I only ever wanted to fly – but that’s not what’s important right now. I’ve accepted that it’s not an option anymore.”
Joe accelerated away from the junction, pulling a left up towards Hamilton. In the back, loose components slid noisily into each other.
“We’ve got one or two weeks left, tops. You’ll be fine. We’ll take on some simple jobs. Ease you in. We’re gonna to get through this, Tom. Together. You know that.”
The heliport was coming into view; the Seattle skyline barely visible in the distance. On a good day, you could see for miles: Downtown, the Needle, Cove, right out across the Puget Sound and beyond. Joe’s faith always lifted Tom, but he knew well enough that it wouldn’t be easy.
“Yeah, you’re right Joe – I know you’re right – we just need make it through this and we’re set.”
Slowing down as they approached their destination, Joe raised a hand to the window in greeting to an old acquaintance, the pedestrian waiving a friendly response in return. Larkin Aviation had been in the area for decades, a legacy of their father’s achievement. Slowing down, Joe steered the truck into the Heliport. To the right, standing by one of the looming hangers, a small group awaited their arrival.
The rain began to ease off as Joe introduced Tom to the team.
“Tom, this is Paul Kelly. He handles security for us; actually, he’s handled most of the goings-on here since dad …” Kelly stepped forward with purpose, punctuating the sentence left hanging in the grey mid-afternoon air.
“Nice to formally meet you, son. It’s ‘Kelly’ – call me ‘Kelly’.” A stocky man in his late fifties, Kelly was an old hand. A long-retired police detective, he still had a sharp eye and a crushing cynicism, cut with a wry humour.
“I knew your father for years, son. He was a great man – and your brother here, too.” Kelly shook Tom by the hand, a firm kind of handshake. Kelly knew as well as anybody else that times were tough at Larkin Aviation. “I remember when you were just a kid, Tom, running around the hangars with your brother – causing me no end of trouble!”
Tom vaguely recollected his childhood experiences of the heliport. The long summers spent with his brother – trying to find or make whatever fun they could to pass the time while their father was working. Tom had left that life behind him, moving away to college, while his brother lived and worked with the business between his responsibilities in the Army. Things had changed now.
“And this is Andrew”, Joe continued, “he’s our maintenance manager – Craymer here must know as much about these birds as anyone I’ve ever met”.
Andrew Craymer was a surprisingly young man, no more than twenty-five, by Tom’s impression. An awkward frame, Craymer had a spiky way about him, as if he was always freshly tweaked from a strong coffee.
“Hey, yeah, oh, it’s sure great to meet you, Tom. That’s a fact. We’ve been looking forward to it; we gotta get things moving around here. Your brother speaks very highly of you. Very highly.”
“Uh, thanks, guys, it’s… it’s good to finally be here. You’re right – we have a lot of work to do.”
Tom, instantly forgetting everyone’s name, shook hands with the mechanic and turned to his brother. The final drops of rain drummed lightly on the roof of the large sheet-metal hangar.
“Where do we begin, Joey? How are we going to dig ourselves out of this one?” A quick smile flashed across Joe’s face. Craymer had it right, now his brother was here, things could start moving forward.
“First things first – we need to bring you up to speed, Tom. I’ve arranged for an instructor to come and brush up your skills. Dad must have worked with this guy for decades – I just have to make the call, or… we can get straight down to business.”
Above the group, a fresh line of heavy-set clouds were rolling in from the west, occluding the weak beams of sunlight. Zipping up his jacket, Tom smiled at his brother, and looked across at Kelly and Craymer.
“Thanks, guys. Let’s see what we can do.”