It was a cold day, for the season. Tom, ambling over to the stiff office window, struggled against the stubborn frame to shut out the draft. Clouds purposefully scudded above in the mid-morning sky.
Briefly silhouetted against the entrance, Joe flashed across the room, disappearing into the side-office. A blast of fresh, chilled air filled the room, whipping up the dust.
Joe reappeared at the entrance to the small office, leaning coyly against the doorframe. A mischievous smile played around the corners of his mouth.
“Well, there is a bit of good news…”
“Oh, yeah? So, how come I get the feeling that it comes laden with a full tank of bad news, Joey?” For a fraction of a second, the smile disappeared from Joe’s face, only to reappear with added conviction.
“Right now – where we are – any smooth we get along with the rough represents an opportunity – a chance to move forward…” Joe paused, considering how best to continue. The particles of dust, pooling in the slow currents of air, slid inexorably towards the ground. “Yeah, move forward, even if – at first – that means taking a few steps back.”
Tom warmed to his brother’s attitude, immediately regretting his own negativity. At times, it was impossible not to be dragged along in the wake of Joe’s optimism.
“Sure,” Tom continued with amended warmth, “that’s right – what’s going on?”
“A private buyer has moved for one of our choppers – it’s a really fair price. Y’know, all things considered. I mean, it’s no secret – given the state of our affairs – and, well, it’s a fair price.”
Tom considered the situation, watching the final speckles of dirt – now barely visible through the cold shafts of lights – disappear into the mass of carpet. Harry Larkin, their father, had spent his life building up the fleet of helicopters at Highland Park. Each chopper had a role – a purpose – each was a core part of the business; selling even one represented a considerable blow. Tom nodded slowly in silent agreement; Joe continued.
“It’s not ideal, but, this’ll give us the quick injection of cash we need to tide us over. The last thing we need to do is start losing staff. This business was built upon the strength of its people.”
Craymer appeared at the entrance, wiping his hands clean with an old oil-stained rag. A distracted look played across his face as he interrupted.
“The bird’s ready boss, ready as she’ll ever be. That’s for sure. She’s fuelled up and good to go.”
He shuffled from left to right, caught momentarily in the awkward silence, shifting his gaze between the brothers and the torn-up rag in his hand. Joe turned to face him, flinching briefly as a stabbing pain shot through his spine, dismissing the maintenance man with a friendly authority.
“Thanks, Craymer. Oh, and inform Kelly that he should expect the buyer to arrive any time now.” Craymer winked and hopped away from the door, whistling to himself as he strode across the heliport.
“Wait… the Buyer? He’s coming here?”
Joe returned his attention to his brother.
“Ah, yeah, I was just getting to that. The buyer requested a test flight – seeing how the old lady handles. I said that wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, I was so confident he’d like her, I proposed that you’d personally fly him back to his compound in the bird.”
Tom stared back at his brother uncomfortably, acutely aware of the responsibility now placed upon his shoulders.
“Oh, c’mon you’ll be fine!” The wry smile reappeared on Joe’s face. “The guy seemed perfectly reasonable on the phone. I’ve got complete faith in you, Tom.”
A shrill buzz cut through the silence from the back office.
“That’ll be Kelly, the buyer must already be here. Look, just get your things together and meet us out front in five minutes.”
Joe gripped his brother’s shoulder briefly, turned, and headed out front. Tom stood alone. He could hear the rumble of a car approaching – suspension bouncing and gravel crackling as the vehicle turned into the heliport. He heard his brother’s confident voice break out into a warm salutation, fading into polite, inaudible chatter.
“Alright,” Tom said quietly to himself, with a half-confident resolve, “I can do this.”
Five minutes later, Tom appeared at the entrance of the office, and walked slowly across to the small group standing beside the chopper. His brother was talking to a tall, thin man, who turned his head towards Tom as he approached.
“… and this is my brother, Tom Larkin.”
The buyer turned his attention towards Tom. He had a gaunt yet strong face, which framed pale, sharp eyes.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Tom, I’m sure. My name is William Haydon – am I to understand that you will be my pilot today?”
The man spoke with an authority born of success; a stiff confidence verging upon arrogance.
“Sure, uh, yes, that’s right – give you a chance to see how the bird handles, sir.”
“Excellent, excellent. Please, let us waste no further time, then, and get straight to the business of flying.”
Tom shot a momentary glance towards his brother, and nodded in agreement to Haydon. “Sure, let’s, uh, get in the air.”
Tom and the buyer moved towards the helicopter, followed by Craymer.
“I’ll be heading up with you. I’ll be able to answer any technical questions you might have, Mr. Haydon. Any at all. Just let me know.” Craymer strode by the pair, opening up the rear compartment.
“Here, Mr Haydon, you should ride up front with Tom. You can get a better feel for the bird there. That’s for sure. Great view of the city, too.”
The group climbed aboard the chopper and Tom prepared the start-up sequence, recalling each step with mechanical precision. As chopper breathed orchestrally into life, Craymer chimed in from the cabin.
“She’s a real fine bird, Mr Haydon, real fine. These ones always are. That’s a fact. Top condition, too. Just Listen. You can already hear that she’ll be a pleasure to fly.”
Tom finished his start-up sequence, double-checking each procedure, feeling the watchful eye of Haydon evaluating his every move from the co-pilot’s seat. His forehead burned and his palms began to loosen with a nervous heat.
“Ok, Tom, let’s take her, up, show Mr Haydon here what she’s capable of. Would you just listen to that engine – it’s a symphony, isn’t it?”
Tom announced his intention to fly, double-checking his instruments, before slowly lifting the bird into the air. The dense clouds had partially broken up, casting thick shafts of light down onto Elliott Bay. To the north, the Needle was becoming clearer; downtown was still cast in a weak, unseasonable gloom.
“You have a very well positioned Heliport, Mr Larkin.” Through the onboard comms, Haydon raised his voice above the increased hum of the engine. “Very well positioned, indeed.”
“Thanks, yeah, Highland Park’s been in the family since the late 70′s. Dad took it from no more than a warehouse to what it is today.”
“Yes, your father. I was sorry to hear of his passing.”
“You knew my father?”
“Certainly, he was a well-respected man – a very ‘traditional’ man. Anyone with the slightest understanding of the aviation business knew of Harry Larkin.”
“And you know about the business, sir?”
“I know enough, Mr Larkin. Let us proceed to my compound.”
Tom navigated a course north-east, passing over the water to Downtown, heading towards Haydon’s private compound.
“How is this economy treating your business, Mr Larkin?” Haydon turned his gaze away from the panorama to inspect Tom’s face.
“Times are tough for everyone, sir. We get by.”
“I see, and your brother, Joe, he cannot fly any more, as I understand.”
“Seems like you understand a great many things, sir.” Tom shifted defensively in his seat, stealing a quick glance over at his passenger.
“His accident was widely reported, you see; I simply mean to ask after your brother’s health – I trust that his convalescence proceeds well.”
“Yes, thank you, Mr Haydon. He is recovering well.” Tom disliked answering questions about Joe. They made him feel uneasy; they reminded him of how close he’d come to losing his brother. Tom attempted to shift the conversation away from his brother’s physical and mental state.
“The economy isn’t in great shape, certainly. This tanker disaster’s done nothing to improve the mood in the city, either.”
A flash of discomfort now shot across Haydon’s face, and he took his time to formulate his response. Below, office windows in Downtown Seattle winked in the weak light as they moved out towards the suburbs.
“Yes. It is a terrible business – a great tragedy, indeed. Impossible to forecast; shortly to be resolved, we all pray.”
The rhythmic beat of the helicopter filled the silence as they closed in upon the buyer’s helipad. The sizeable compound was becoming clearer; a large villa set away from an extensive storage area, a short, private road connecting the two. Craymer asked the question sitting at the forefront of Tom’s mind.
“So, how’d'ya enjoy the flight, Mr Haydon? She’s a real beauty, huh? The beat of this engine – the blades – it’s… it’s poetic, right?”
“Yes, it is a fine machine. A classic by anyone’s judgement.”
Tom prickled with sharp relief, cut with a bitter edge.
“You would like to discuss an arrangement, sir?” Tom carefully picked around the topic, not wanting to reveal the business’ financial desperation, or his emotional attachment to the helicopter, and all it represented to his family.
“Most certainly, gentleman. Touch us down and we shall come to terms – without need to battle the noise of the engine.”
Tom gently touched the helicopter down in the centre of Haydon’s compound. Large enough from the air, on the ground it was a formidable size, with several other helicopters visible within two modern hangars. No more than 300 meters away, a large estate was in view between avenues of trees. Tom completed his shut-down procedures as a car approached the pad, pulling up to patiently await the arrival of Mr Haydon.
“Gentlemen, I thank you. It was an enjoyable flight. I would be pleased to accept the sum I discussed with your brother.”
Tom shifted his weight from right to left; he had no idea how much his brother had agreed upon. Joe was handling the business side of things now – throwing all his efforts into it. Tom felt a shade of embarrassment touch his complexion, a prickly heat returning to his palms.
“Certainly, Mr Haydon. It’s a fair price, after all.”
Haydon stretched out a long arm, shaking Tom and Craymer by the hand in turn.
“Then it is settled. I can arrange for a driver to take you back to your heliport. I insist.”
“No, sir, thank you, but, that won’t be necessary. We’re able to make our own way back.”
Craymer shot Tom a sharp glance, knowing full well that they had made no arrangements to return. He didn’t relish the thought of getting public transport back, particularly as the clouds were beginning to roll more heavily across the sky. Haydon studied Tom carefully, pausing briefly before picking his response.
“Certainly, certainly. My staff will be able to direct you towards the main entrance. It has been a pleasure doing business with you, Mr Larkin. Good day to you both.”
Haydon turned and entered the waiting car, nodding to the driver as it pulled away in the direction of the estate. Craymer turned his face towards Tom, the pair standing in silence as the car sped away. The first drops of rain of a storm that would mask Seattle for the whole afternoon began to fall. Tom knowingly avoided Craymer’s stare.
“Not a word, Craymer. Not a word.”