tagRomanceBy The Sea, Gently

By The Sea, Gently

byAdrian Leverkuhn©

I've known a few people that have had some passing luck pursuing love in the way -- perhaps -- a cheetah stalks then runs down a gazelle, and I've enjoyed watching friends' mad dashes through the urban landscape in about the same way you might enjoy watching a National Geographic special on, say, the Big Cats of the Serengeti. You see the cat slipping through tall grass, just on it's belly, then at the last possible moment both animals explode into a lethal sprints and the cat leaps, often catching it's prey mid-stride -- and usually by the throat. I've watched such affairs knowing full well the most likely outcome; these things are almost pre-ordained to leave one party ripped to shreds and the other in preening, bloody-faced glory, a sated look in the eye -- and always accompanied by darting, sidelong glances as the cat looks ahead to the next kill.

Who knows? Maybe there are a lot of people programmed to look for love that way, too -- people who look at love as a calculus between predator and prey. Love and marriage is, in this world I suppose, a kind of blood sport, and I'd assume that's why there are lots of lawyers in the world.

I was one of those oddballs growing up that never looked at relationships that way, by which I mean I didn't look on the idea of having multiple relationships serve as some kind of diversionary sport for my adolescent's ego. I had one girlfriend the last two years of high school, then another my last year of college -- punctuated by a near miss my junior year. After five years flying in the service I got on with a major carrier -- and I was 27 years on and had been with three or maybe four women by that point in my life.

The odd thing about all this is: I wasn't particularly concerned one way or the other about this state of affairs. Maybe because there was always this expectation that things would happen when the time was right. Love, sex, a long term relationship and all that other baggage -- would happen when it happened, so why worry about it?

Yet flying is a world unto it's own.

Due to seniority status, I spent my first year as a flight engineer in 722s, then as my carrier added 747s I transitioned to engineer status on the 742. A year later I made the jump to right seat -- and started flying from Washington Dulles to Heathrow, and that was in more than one way the end of my life as I knew it.

By that point, then almost thirty years into this thing called life, someone with more stripes on his shoulders than I pointed out that three or four girls in thirty years was a pretty dismal record of achievement. He has knocking back three or four girls a month and had a Cheshire Cat Shit-Eating Grin on his face after every layover in London and, well, all things considered, he made a big impression on me -- at the time, anyway.

About the only useful advice this guy ever passed along could be summed up thus: Don't Shit Where You Eat. Simply put, he meant: Don't go out with the flight attendants. They all talked, he told me, and they all compared notes, they were all invariably husband-hunters and at least half of what you did with them ended up in your personnel file -- sooner or later.

So of course I slipped off my high horse one rainy December morning after we'd cleared customs in London -- with the senior stewardess (this being before the whole Flight Attendant thing hit the lexicon) from our flight. She was cute as hell and from West Texas, about forty years young and just getting over her third husband.

Perhaps that should have been my first warning.

The disapproving glare from my captain really ought to have driven the point home, but my testosterone levels were stabilized so really, what the devil did I care?

Well, the woman was a wreck. An alcoholic with nymphomaniacal tendencies, I think that's probably how you could describe her, but in the end she didn't give me anything a two week course of penicillin couldn't take care of, and I resumed a fairly celibate routine for a few months -- after our flight surgeon's fairly straight-forward lecture on the casual benefits of latex. Later that spring, with head hung low -- I put in for the Logan-Frankfurt run -- thinking there was no way I could get in trouble in staid old Germany.

I guess the first time I strolled through the airport there, looking at sex shops offering every conceivable form of adult entertainment -- and all right there by the domestic arrivals concourse -- I figured out things aren't always what you expect them to be. I'll never forget walking to the dispatch office -- passing right by a place called Dr Mueller's Sex Shop -- thinking I'd walked right into an episode of The Twilight Zone. One of the captains I flew with told me you could get laid in there, too, and I was suitably impressed enough to give the place a wide berth as I walked past thereafter. Depending on logistics, we were as often as not billeted at the Marriott downtown, and of immediate interest to me were the obscene number of stewardesses -- from other carriers, mind you -- that bunked out there, too. About a month into flying in and out of Frankfurt I shared an elevator with a Qantas stew, and the girl really shook my world. We managed to get together frequently that spring and summer, and the whole thing was looking up -- then she simply disappeared, literally. In that age before email and texting and instant connection the whole thing was a jarring of my isolation, then I heard she was married, had a couple of kids and that, as they say, was that. I suppose I gave some thought to entering the priesthood after that, but to this day still can't reconcile my flagrant agnosticism with the deep spirituality I see in others.

I had a small apartment in Boston by this point, and had enrolled in a continuing ed program at Harvard. Government, political science...that kind of fluff...and I did it more to kind of round out my life than to pursue a new career path. Flying is an all-consuming livelihood and there were times when I felt like I was trudging along making a very deep rut out of my life. Things were always too serious: study, prepare for SIM sessions and check-rides, study some more when the -300 series came out, Flight Standards Manuals always being revised and always requiring more study...more memorization...and soon I came to enjoy those odd nights over in Cambridge as a distraction, a way out of the rut. I truly wasn't a Harvard Undergrad (they're the academic thoroughbreds in that omniverse), but I enjoyed the vibe on campus and soon thought about going for my Master's.

My life was by that point about as dull as humanly imaginable, too. At least as boring as it seems to you right about now, yet I suppose in some sense that meant the cosmic tumblers were about to line up and let slip a world class dump all over my little world.

Little did I know.


Shortly after the -400 series came out I made captain, primarily because all the senior 743 captains wanted to transition to the newer model, and while that was going on someone had to fly the older models. With seven years and several thousand hours in type I guess the powers-that-be decided that was enough -- given the circumstances -- and a few months and several hundred hours of classroom time later I had four stripes on my boards. My bank account seemed a little healthier in the aftermath, but not a whole lot else changed.

Yet I decided to make Boston "home" during this period -- I never regretted the decision over the years -- and once the paychecks jumped I gave up my little apartment and bought a condo nearer to Cambridge -- and once again life began to slip into a comfortable, if newer rut. After a ten year run, I broke down and bought a "new" car, and I say new advisedly as it was an eighteen year old Porsche. I could look in the mirror and see gray hairs poking through too, looking for sunshine as it were, but that seemed the extent of the physical changes I'd gone through.

The particular summer morning when the feces hit the proverbial high speed fan, a mid-morning departure from Frankfurt for Logan, wasn't any different from the myriad others I'd flown as First Officer or Captain, and when I think back on that morning only one thing in particular stands out. Saddam Hussein had chosen that day to invade Kuwait, yet about the only relevance this had on my day was our pre-flight briefing, and the absolutely chaotic boarding process passengers had to endure. Security was so tight you'd have been excused for thinking Hitler had just invaded the Soviet Union -- again. Perhaps someone had had the bright idea that Saddam was going to march on Europe later that afternoon? In time for tea, perhaps?

Anyway, our 10:15 departure finally left the ramp about 13:30, and everyone aboard was fuming -- including a particular grumpy senator from Georgia who was then head of the Armed Services Committee. We left the ground about ten minutes after we pushed back, and climbed uneventfully over the Netherlands and Scotland before leveling out and cruising for North America.

Until, about halfway between Iceland and Greenland, we hit some severe Clear Air Turbulence. When a very nearly maxed out 747 gets pushed around you know for a fact you've hit some nasty air, and thank goodness meal service was over. Well, The Hunt For Red October had just started playing and because of world events most people were paying close attention to bumps in the sky that afternoon, yet most of them had their seat belts on. As bad as such turbulence seems, it rarely poses a threat to modern jet aircraft, yet to passengers not wearing seat belts such phenomena can be deadly. I say this pointedly as when it hit (or when we hit it) the three of us in the cockpit could hear a good deal of screaming aft and below. A few seconds later intercoms lit up, with the senior FA calling from downstairs in First Class, and reporting significant injuries aft. There were, she said, a couple of physicians working up a report and I rang off; we checked systems and structural integrity for the next few minutes -- until the intercom chimed again.

One of the docs was a little concerned about a possible neck injury, and she was almost certain it was "a big deal" -- and in the front office world I lived in "possible neck injury" is one of the few incidents that necessitates what is euphemistically called "critical command decision making skills." In plain talk, that means "the buck stops here" -- with "here" being the chump with four stripes on his shoulder boards. I decided to go down and take a look around, but told my FO to enter Keflavik's coordinates in the INS -- "just in case."

Winding down the stairs to First, the first thing that hit was the stench. As in feces and vomit. The smell permeated the entire aircraft, and this was a first for me so I was a little out of sorts, wondered if we'd blown a holding tank. But no, as soon as I walked back through business to coach it was like Linda Blair had reprised her role in The Exorcist and blown beets all over everything, and near the aft heads there was a woman kneeling over a young girl on the floor, and she looked up at me as I approached and stood.

"I'm Dr Simmons," the woman said, holding out her hand. "Thanks for coming down."

"Captain Patterson. What've you got?"

"Possible C2 involvement, some jumpy cardiac rhythms and a couple of deep lacerations."

"That's a pretty good cut on your forehead," I said. "Anyone looked at it?"

She shook her head. "Minor league."

"Okay, we're about forty minutes from Keflavik, a little over an hour from Thule, and over two to St Johns. Any preference?"

"Iceland, by all means."

"Do you need anything down here before I head back?"

"No, we've got her neck secured as best we can. So, you think about an hour?"

"The airport is well outside of Reykjavík, not quite a half hour by road to the hospital. Should I call for a medevac helicopter?"

She nodded her head, but remained quiet -- and I understood. I went to the intercom and called the cockpit, told the FO to radio our intentions and execute the turn for Iceland, then walked back through the cabin to First and grabbed a Coke, and from there back upstairs to the office.

We were on the ground just long enough to offload the girl and refuel, maybe an hour all told, then we took-off and resumed the flight, and I wouldn't have thought any more about the event if I hadn't 'run into' the physician after we arrived in Boston. She was in Business Class and the lacerations on her scalp and forehead were giving her trouble, according to the cabin FA when she reported by intercom, yet now she had a bad headache, particularly around the orbit of her right eye. We were taxiing to E Terminal so I called Ground and advised them to send paramedics to our gate, and as soon as we were shut down at the gate I went aft to check on her. We cleared her cabin first to get the paramedics and their gear in, and by the time I got the cabin they had the doc taped down on their board and were about to carry her off.

"Ah, there you are," Simmons said when she saw me. "Sorry for the bother."

I shook my head. "No apologies necessary, Doctor, just hope you feel better soon."

"Sorry to ask, but could you check on me before you leave the airport?"

I didn't know what to say. "Uh, sure. That won't be a problem."

"You see, my son is with me and I might need a little help..."

"We have personnel for..."

"No, Captain, I'd prefer you come. I hope that's not an imposition, but it would mean a lot to me."

"Cap, we need to go now. We'll be in the infirmary, inside Customs on the lower floor," one of the paramedics said as they lifted the woman and carried her away, and I went back up to the 'pit and started on all the additional paperwork this would require. About a half hour passed until I was able to head down to Customs, and I went directly to the little infirmary there, telling my FO to carry our paperwork to dispatch after he cleared customs.

Another physician was finishing up with her when I arrived, and while he wanted to transport her she begged off, telling him I would take her into town, or to Mass Gen if he really thought it necessary.

And I saw her son then, sitting in an out of the way chair along a far wall -- looking like his world had just come crashing down around his ears. Arms crossed, feet dangling six inches off the floor, face down and fingers fidgeting, he was maybe eight years old...if that. It wasn't hard to figure out he was doing his best not to cry, either, just as it was equally clear his mother was doing all she could not to frighten him any more than he already was. Not quite knowing what else to do, I went over and sat next to him, and I'm not sure which of us was the most exasperated.

Simmons finished up with the other physician (or was it the other way around?) and accepted the offered wheelchair, and a Customs Officer was summoned. He wheeled her out to the official concourse and cleared us in, and a SkyCap helped us to the taxi line and got our bags loaded. She reeled off an address on Louisburg Square to the cabbie, and away we went. It was not quite dark when we arrived, and she asked me to come up, see that she made it in without trouble.

I think by this point even I was beginning to think there was something unusual going on; putting aside the blow to her head, it almost felt like I was being played. Yet the simple fact of the matter was this: from what I'd learned in my few years around town -- There Are No Players On Louisburg Square. If Boston has one address that reeks of Very Old Money, it's this place, and hers was by far the biggest, most Old Money address I could see in the flickering gaslight.

The cabbie helped me with our bags and I paid him off, then helped her up the steps. She opened the ancient door, all polished black enamel and gleaming brass, and led me into another world. Her world, obviously, but not quite the world I imagined a physician being able to afford. So, I wondered, will I find her parents here, or a very wealthy, very pissed off husband?

But no...that didn't add up either. Why not call them from the airport?

So...why was I here?

Her boy asked to be excused and walked upstairs, disappearing quietly, sullenly. Exit stage right, other things on his mind.

"Excuse me for a moment, would you?" she said after he was out of sight, then she walked to a telephone on an elegant mahogany table just off the entry, dialed a number and waited. Then...

"This is Doctor Simmons. Do I have any urgent calls?"


"Alright. Who's on call tonight?"


"Okay, would you give him a call, ask that he call me at home, and as soon as possible. Yes. Thank you."

Then she turned to me. "Would you help me to the living room please?"

Like a knew which one of these tombs was her living room? Still, she guided me to an ornate, classically proportioned room -- ten foot ceilings, crown moldings a foot thick -- and over to a small sofa by a row of windows that looked out on the square. Nothing out the windows but dense foliage shimmering in gaslight, a few Mercedes parked below -- then a telephone on a table by the sofa rang and she picked it.

"Ely, yes, hello. No, not so well. Ben and I were flying home from Hungary this morning and our plane hit turbulence..."


"It was on the news? Really? Now, isn't that something?"


"I'm afraid I took a hit -- to the face. Yes, that's right, I think I may have an orbital fracture." Long pause. "Yes, by an intern, out at the airport, but I'm home now and wondered if you could swing by and take a look, give me your opinion."

Long silence.

"Yes, I've a friend here. I can get him to take me over if you think it necessary. Okay. You too. Bye-bye." She hung up the phone and looked at me closely now. "I'm sorry, but I've been assuming you had no other plans this evening?"

I shrugged. "I'm just a little in the dark here. Wouldn't mind..." But I stopped talking when she put her hand to her face and moaned. "Are you alright?"

"Frankly, I'm not sure. Light's bothering me more than it should."

"I hope you don't mind me asking, but what kind of physician are you?"

"Neurosurgeon, on staff at Mass Gen." She was whispering now. "Could you look at my eyes, please. Are the pupils equal in size?"

I came and looked. "No, they're not. The right is huge, seems fixed."

"Damn," she sighed. "Well, Ely will be here in a few minutes."

"What about your son? Is there someone I should call?"

She shook her head. "No. There's no one."

"Could I get you some water? Anything?"

"No, better not just yet. Look, I hate to ask, but I think I'm going to the ER. Could you...oh, heavens, I don't even know how to ask, but someone will need to stay with Ben. I usually have a sitter I can call, but she's on vacation with her family this month."

"Dr Simmons, this isn't a good idea. You don't know me, and neither does your son..."

"I watched you today, Captain Patterson. I know the type of man you are. Besides, you two could talk airplanes...Ben loves airplanes."

Yup, I was at a loss for words, yet believe it or not there are procedures for this sort of thing so I asked if I could use her telephone, called our dispatch office and explained the situation. Five minutes later someone was en route, and about the time I got off the phone Simmons' partner arrived. He looked her over -- then me, and my uniform -- and we walked her down to his double-parked car, and there he told me he'd call me here as soon as he knew something.

So, this day had started off like just about any other day, yet had rapidly turned into something completely unexpected -- and was now unsettling, as well. I shouldn't have gotten involved yet suddenly I was knee deep in a potentially litigious situation -- and -- if I bowed out now that might only complicate matters more.

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byAdrian Leverkuhn© 35 comments/ 28377 views/ 46 favorites

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