tagNovels and NovellasBy Air Mail Ch.06

By Air Mail Ch.06


The strangers are headed off to check out another airfield in another small place.

As he drives through the long night, Terry's thinking about a lot of things, like oh ... just how lucky he is.

Try to bear in mind that the sums of money mentioned in this are in 1946 dollars. A buck went a whole lot farther than it does these days.

There's a sex scene in this that I actually "wrote around" a little on purpose. Given the people involved in it and that there are a few of them, I originally tried hard to write what happened in detail.

I hate to say it, but even for me as a writer, I had to struggle to keep my internal screen saver from coming on and if I had trouble, then I didn't want the reader to as well. I found that it's not bad if you use a little imagination since the discussions at that time are important to the characters and, because for what it is, it's more of a celebration than an orgy. I'll cover that off later. ~grin~

The vehicle in a lot of this is something you don't see anymore. One-ton panel trucks were popular as commercial vehicles then. The one in this is spacious and has seats that you can place in or take out, depending.



On a piece of two lane blacktop south of Cascade, Idaho.

Terry drove through the night thinking back to the events of a Saturday evening a while ago. He was the ...

Well, not really the last shining scion of a slowly-fallen southern family due to the circumstances, he supposed. But he knew that he was pretty much all that there was left.

He was the one who'd taken all that remained to try to make a small handful of lives better along with his own if he could. He was almost at the critical part of getting his venture together, if it could indeed be termed that. If they were successful, it would be the closing of a lot of circles, gates which now stood - as they had for years -open on long rusted hinges.

With the start of America's involvement in the war, Terry had seen what he thought might be an opportunity to get something of a better, more practical education - since he already knew that what his forebears had done forever was little more now than the last glimmer of the sun shining on what had gone before.

It had torn them all apart, but he'd gone to enlist and with the education that he'd been given along with what he already had, he'd succeeded in some measure.

Though he did have to survive basic training, the same as anyone. He'd felt some trepidation over it to begin with, but in the event, it had just been the same old thing where you had to establish yourself.

As he thought back to the day when he'd realized that he'd found the way forward, he remembered his time in basic training for a few moments.

He was just average, he guessed, or maybe a hair under that. But he was solid, quick, remarkably strong for his size and thanks to his growing up where he had and having to show enough people enough times that there just might be a little more to him than they were able to see, what they'd put him through in the beginning days of his army career had turned into more of a walk in the park.

Terry was a little underweight for the infantry the day that he showed up, but then, they didn't need to work any fat off of him in training like they did for a lot of guys. It didn't matter much anyway to Terry and the basic training for that was common so he'd had to endure it.

He remembered standing with everyone else, crowded together trying to read his new assignment along with the rest after everything had been posted up on the bulletin board on the barracks wall.

"Looks like somebody's seen that you're no dummy Terry," one man said though another man finished the thought a little differently - "even if you are from the backwoods of Alabama."

Terry smiled good-naturedly - just before he knocked the second man to the floor with one punch, just for old time's sake.

It would have started something if it had happened at the beginning of their time together, but now most of them knew that Terry would answer it every time - just usually in a more covert manner later on when it was unexpected.

He could live off the land better than most if he had to and he could read a trail well, no matter who or what had made it. He'd learned those things from running with the other boys where he'd grown up - the sons of the men who were the sons of the men who'd worked for his family long before.

He might have been right on the median height in his outfit, but he'd spent a little time in the stockade on a couple of occasions for having proved to a few of the bigger, louder types why it was best that he be left alone.

It was one thing to feel a little proud of the muscles that nature had given you. It was a thing to realize it as a boy grew up to be a man. Terry could understand that, though he tended to be quiet and that led some other, more brash young men to assume that he was fearful of them.

It was a little different if you'd gotten what muscles you had in the first place out of a need to work hard to stay alive and didn't pay them much mind as a result, unless they were hurting because they were a little sore and even then you never made a sound about it. Terry had grown up learning to hunt if he had to - indeed, do anything that he had to - if he had to. Where he was from, you looked at the cards you were dealt and you played them as best you could.

You just didn't waste a lot of time thinking it over.

The rest of his training hadn't been quite what he'd had in mind, since up to that point, he'd never even seen the things that he'd have to operate in his life. But it had taken Terry only a heartbeat to see the uses for the things.

Though he'd thought that he'd end up somewhere dodging bullets or worse, it hadn't happened. He'd not only gotten through everything that they'd thrown at him, he'd excelled beyond anyone's expectations. Considering that what he'd mastered was considered leading edge technology in a time long before the phrase had been coined, he'd been sent to the manufacturer to learn even more and he'd met the designer personally.

Then he'd come back to be an instructor, whereas most of the others there were civilians. His slow and careful way of speaking was just the thing to hear as you tried to master one of the most complex machines that man had invented to that point.

Pilots of fixed-wing aircraft had the benefit of built-in stability to rely on.

What Terry could fly as though it was an extension of himself had more control inputs than a regular airplane and there was no inherent stability to it - none at all. You needed to be on the thing every moment, using all of the controls, and to cause a change in any one of them meant that you had to adjust or correct in all of the others as you did it.

But Hell, he thought, you could fly sideways or even backward.

Terry wasn't a linebacker type. He would have been called good-looking if he ever thought of it and he never did. With reddish-blonde hair and a complexion that tanned well after a slight burn the first time, he'd made out well with a few of the girls back in his home town, but it hadn't been what he'd really wanted in retrospect. He'd wanted only one.

It had just been what they'd wanted, until they knew a little about him, since he carried the family curse of being attached to something rather unpopular in the current day and age - even if it hadn't been his choice to be born to it.

You see, once upon a time, Terry's family had owned a plantation.

With the abolition of slavery, it had fallen onto a long slow decline for a few rather obvious reasons. The crops had changed some as they'd had to, with the price of cotton no longer being what it once had been long ago.

Also, the switch from manual labor to very costly machinery hadn't gone well on balance long ago. There'd been a much smaller number of workers kept on for as long as possible out of long gratitude by the landholders for many years after slavery had been done away with, mostly because the landholders themselves had changed as the years had rolled past. It was still the same family, but their viewpoints had changed over the years with each successive generation to the point where there were no bosses who longed for the return of the old ways, only employers with a long history.

The owner when Terry had left to go into the army had been his maternal grandmother, Eunice Hatchett.

Born with the same drive to make something of the place again in the modern day as her father, she'd been doing that and slowly losing ground for all of her adult life. Many of her friends and (few) employees were the descendants of the slaves who had once worked the plantation long ago. She did her best to keep them employed and there was nobody more frugal with her slowly-dwindling fortune than Eunice. She wouldn't part with a dollar unless there was a good reason and even then, the likeness of old George Washington on each bill looked just a little red-eyed from crying after having been in her tight-fisted grip before she'd let it go.

She was the last of the line - almost. Well the last one worth speaking of in her time, especially once her older brother Todd had died of ... well, alcoholism, mostly, helped along by his recurrent and many bouts with the malaria which had coursed through his veins since long before he'd come home.

She'd taken up the task from her elderly father's failing hands, but she'd made one mistake, and that was to think that the handsome buck who'd come to court her wanted her for her looks and heart and to love her.

He'd been after her money, so it didn't last much longer than it took for Eunice to find herself running a huge farm while she was pregnant. She'd done her best to raise her daughter alone, but once the girl was about grown, she'd tried to find any job that placed her a little close to men since she was the female equivalent of her long-gone father.

Eunice's daughter wanted only to rope a man who might keep her and then she planned never to be near the old place where she'd grown up ever again.

But not before leaving Terry with Eunice when he was just a toddler.

And just when Eunice had faced the facts and taken on the job of raising Terry properly when he was two and a half, little Molly had landed on her doorstep - quite literally, since she was a foundling.

Eunice had taken one look at that little face and decided that somehow, she'd been given another chance to raise somebody right and that was what she did.

Since no one had heard from his mother in quite a while, Terry assumed that she'd done found her fool and he couldn't have cared less regardless. He'd only met her once afterward; back when he was ten or so. They'd looked at each other across the doorstep and Terry had called out to Eunice who the woman said that she was and could he close the door.

Eunice had said yes and so Terry closed the door - in his mother's face - and she was never spoken of between them again.

It wasn't like Eunice was an unattractive woman or anything - she'd been a fair looker in her day. She'd just never allowed anyone to sidetrack her again from her desire to try to restore the old place a little by turning it into a proper large and working farm. And if she couldn't do that, she reasoned, then she saw it as her job to hang onto it for as long as she could, since it still employed a few people.

But she did have a man friend. He was a lawyer and they were together for many years. They'd just never gotten married. Tom Wingham had done what he could so that the little baby girl who'd come to Eunice in a basket one night had a home and a proper mother who'd assumed legal guardianship over her and given that Eunice Hatchett was a well-known member of the old aristocracy in the area, it was done in the blink of an eye with the proper signatures of the relevant authorities.

Molly's background had always been a mystery to them all. Molly was so fair of skin and her hair shimmered over it's unfashionably long length, almost white-blonde. Her eyes were ice-blue and Eunice had often remarked that somehow, she'd been given some form of Nordic elf-girl to raise. Nobody even knew anyone in all of Talledega County who looked even a little bit like her. Without meaning to - since she rarely meant to - Molly was a dream walking who could cast a spell before you were even aware of it.

So Terry had a sister named Molly and they'd always been close.

Though it was a little more complicated than only that for a lot of reasons which made perfect sense to the parties involved.

Eunice had a brother who'd by his own admission, wasted much of his youth as well as a lot of the family's money traveling the world and seeking some form of adventure as a cure for being young, privileged and bored.

In a land known then as French Sudan, he'd spent a fair bit of time running guns to sell to a local warlord with aspirations and who was desperate to secure a larger piece of the pie, which was the same old story that was, and is, and probably always will be the backstory to what goes on in a lot of places around the globe.

They'd become good friends and that chieftain had saved his white-skinned friend's life multiple times.

But no matter what, the other players had been able to curry the favor of the French local government who sought an end to the inter-tribal hostilities, and the end when it came was quick.

The warlord had come to his friend to call in the favors which were owed, since the end was obvious to him. He'd brought the two small children of his two favorite wives and pleaded that they be gotten out of the mess and given better lives when the man went home. In exchange for Todd's word, the chieftain would provide the means to get to the three of them to the coast.

That was how the children, now renamed Judith and Isaiah, came to live and grow up at Hatchett Harrow. They looked a little different, having more aquiline noses and tending toward long, gently curling black hair, though only Judith wore hers that way.

It was a trait that they'd both gotten from their father as well as a few of his other facial features. They could both remember their mothers, but picturing their father's face gave them a little trouble until they'd begun to grow up and after that, they often sat together alone, staring into each others faces to remember their long-dead father and what he'd done for them.

But they weren't the last additions to Eunice Hatchett's "collection of mongrels" and she sometimes referred to them all affectionately.

Tom Wingham had been married before - just as Eunice had. In fact he'd had a son, who'd also married and that son - until the night that he and his wife were run off the bridge to end up in Logan Martin Lake on the way home from a trip to Pell City - had been the father of a four year-old girl who was being babysat that same evening by Eunice herself.

The young Tom Wingham Junior's wife had no known next of kin and so the frightened and forlorn little thing was taken in by Tom Wingham Senior.

But lawyers, Southern or otherwise, who have lived as bachelors for most of their adult lives can't put in the hours required to raise another young'un, especially alone. Luckily for all involved - especially Tom's little granddaughter, his girlfriend Eunice had the solution. The little girl came to stay with the Hatchetts and she grew to know and love her grandfather in that role, which was one that both of them felt comfortable with.

Her name, which she was quick to trot out whenever she had 'an official' chance - as she termed it, was Ruth-Ann Chantale LaFayette-Wingham. The hyphenated surname was coined by Eunice since, as she'd told Tom in explanation after having it changed at the child's request, "she sure didn't get anything else from her poor parents."

To Ruth-Ann herself, Eunice said that she'd agreed so that she'd always have something to remember her mother by.

And so Ruth-Ann became known as Ruthie to the others in the family and on some level always felt a little like a poor cousin - which she was in a way, though she was never treated any differently at all. It was just something which she carried within herself.

Sometimes, of course, children who feel a little ... 'second-best' tend to grow up having a front to present to the world, and Ruthie was no different. She always showed that front to the world at large, but she showed it only sometimes to her adoptive family and she never, ever showed it to Terry or Molly.

All of them had raised her, but Terry and Molly had taken up the largest roles for her and though she grew up idolizing the four of them, Ruthie lionized the oldest two.

For all of her childhood, she'd looked something like a loud, animated, red-topped mop, though she finished up looking like a real sweetheart. But that front remained oftentimes even so. She never grew more than 'five foot-nuthin', but Ruthie was a true Alabama cannonball to most people - the kind shot from loose cannons, since she sometimes came to regret her words now and then, though as she grew into a young lady, she'd learned how to be the silent and mysterious type when she wanted to be - that is, when she wasn't being just herself.

And which one of those that she was at any moment could sometime be a problem, though seldom for Ruthie. It confounded a lot of people at times, and it stemmed ...

Well, from a few things.

It stemmed from Ruthie being able to speak French well, though it was the sort of mastery which a child of her age at the time of her parents death could manage. Two years after taking her in, Tom had found a tutor and she'd been given lessons, though they always happened in one particular room unless she went for a walk with the woman teaching her as happened sometimes. The lessons had stopped when Ruthie turned fourteen , since the woman no longer wished to remain in Renfroe.

It stemmed from Tom Wingham's taking her into his office one day when she was about fourteen the week after the tutor had gone. It was late into the evening and he locked the outer door and guided her into one of the back offices in his practice - the same one where the lessons had been given. He even bolted the door to that room once they were inside and he produced a small case, not much larger than a thin attaché case by modern standards, though it was made of soft and supple leather.

"Something that's always bothered me, Ruth-Ann," he'd said, "My son never told me much about my daughter-in-law in response to my questions. Nobody knew where she came from and on one or two occasions, I've heard her speaking French.

Not the rough, backwater patois that the Cajuns speak, either. That's a type of peasant French dialect that's long gone now in old France itself. What I heard was what Madame Montclaire told me was pure Parisian French, the kind they sure don't speak here.

She wasn't aware that I'd overheard her either time, but she was muttering something to herself while she was trying to clean up a room in a bit of a hurry since I'd come to call one day and she wasn't expecting anyone. We passed a pleasant afternoon both times until Jeffrey came home from work and I took them out for a nice meal in a good place, since they were struggling so hard and all.

Ever since your parents died, I've been bothered by a few things more and more, so as I was getting you set up in your home there up at Hatchett Harrow, I cleaned out your parent's belonging with the help of one man that I've used for years when I needed answers that the law couldn't or wouldn't provide to me.

Now I know just enough to be even more curious."

He opened the case and Ruthie stared. There was a dark cloak of an indeterminate color and wrapped in it, there was a light breastplate of metal, just the one piece with some light straps and there were three thin, bladed weapons of a type whose purpose couldn't be immediately guessed, other than they were weapons. The longest one was too short to be even a child's fencing sword. There were other blades - a small selection of different sorts and there were two handwritten journals. The words in them were written in a thin, almost spidery feminine hand and as she stared, Tom placed a folder next to the case.

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