This story is longer than I had originally envisioned, the characters seemed to begin having real lives. I have shortened this down a lot, but it's a project I intend to complete into a novel so if I continue this story with other chapters it's because the characters are asking me to, not because I want to bore you, ok?
Shelle's eyes never left either of the screens in front of her. The reflection of her face stared back at her, as the bright blips on both screens moved as she directed. Just after her thirty third birthday, she stood 5'4" with a pugnacious attitude, spiky brunette hair and contrasting gray-green eyes, which changed to various hues in between as her moods changed, they tended to repose in a narrow-eyed stare, most of the time, especially at work. A wireless Motorola headset covered her smallish ears. The attached mike masked her mouth, which was large and mobile, but lipstick free. Her face was devoid of any cosmetic what so ever. In addition, except for a single helix piercing, a few purposely-mismatched studs and stars along the conch, ending in a solitary diamond stud in the lobe of her right ear; that was hidden by her headset, she sported no jewelry. She wore a three sizes too big, loose fitting, androgynous gray golf shirt, that gave any observer no clue to the size or shape of her 34B sports bra bound bust, and baggy shape-concealing cargo pants with a multitude of patch pockets. Her feet were thrust into black leather Nike cross trainers. A masculine black-faced Rolex GMT Master with a stainless steel bracelet was slung around her left wrist. It was not an ornament but functional. Her voice, when she spoke was low pitched and controlled, almost an affectation. As she spoke her ringless fingers danced across the keyboard beneath her screens. The fingers themselves were slim and tapered; nails expertly manicured but excessively short.
"Okay, Victor Foxtrot, reduce altitude by two thousand meters. Your approach is set for fifteen hundred meters on a heading of 350 degrees Tango, and you are cleared for an emergency landing on runway 19. We have one hundred percent cloud cover at a ceiling of approximately one five zero zero, and sixty percent visibility. There is light snow, and wind, force two to three, gusting, from the Nor-Nor West. The runway lights are flashing red and alternate yellow, and emergency crews are standing by. Good luck" she spoke into her headset to the pilot four miles out of Pearson International Airport with a computer malfunction aboard his aircraft. It had made it impossible to plug his ship into Pearson's ACP (Air Controllers Program), and let the computers land the giant Boing 747 D automatically. Add in that it had been snowing for forty-eight hours straight, it was not going to be a simple touchdown, it was going to be a bump and grind, and took total concentration. Perspiration beaded her forehead and seeped from her pits, Her skin shone, as she directed the plane with its two hundred odd passengers to safety.
"Roger that Tower, this is Victor Foxtrot, coming round to heading of 350 degrees Tango, and altitude reducing to one five zero zero, I am cleared for approach, on runway 19, I see the lights, thank you Tower. I am reducing power and making final approach, wheels down and locked! I have all greens on my panel! I owe you, Tower. Victor Foxtrot, out." The pilot responded to her, as his large passenger jet banked gracefully, and slid from the air onto the designated runway, followed by a cavalcade of fire engines and emergency vehicles.
Less than an hour before her shift should have ended, Victor Foxtrot had radioed in from somewhere over the American Midwest informing Air Traffic Control that their onboard computer was malfunctioning and that the rest of the flight and landing at Toronto's Pearson International would be manual, hands on, with no computer aids. As shift supervisor she had taken the information to the Air Controller Administrator, who had told her that Victor Foxtrot was hers, "Just get the bird down safely", was his only instruction.
Shelle looked at the clock above her station and cursed under her breath, she was late, she was so fucking late, that it wasn't worth even phoning to apologize. Shit, shit, shit! Two hours ago, she should have been sitting at a restaurant, having dinner with Marnie, discussing their future. She had finally gotten the bird down safely, but, Marnie would be impossible to deal with now, she knew. She hit Marnie's number on her cell, and was immediately transferred to voicemail. She stuffed her things and Iridium Motorola cellular phone, into a bag, while pulling the headset from her head, grabbed and zippered up her parka, and headed out the door to the car park, and ignored the congratulatory pats on her back, from her co-workers on shift.
She took no notice of the slushy snow or legal speed limit as she sped her Jeep Cherokee away from the airport and towards the city on the freeway, brushing her unruly spiked hair with her fingers while looking into the rearview mirror and ignoring the dark circles around her eyes. In her heart she knew Marnie would have left the restaurant and gone home to their apartment, by now. That she would find Marnie in bed crying or so pissed off that she'd end up sleeping on the sofa in the living room, but she had to make the effort to get to the restaurant and empty table, if only to satisfy herself, that she could say, she had made the effort.
It was close to eleven, almost three hours late, when she found a parking spot near the rather pretentious Provincial French Restaurant that Marnie fancied. The Maitre D spotted her as soon as she entered, his nose rose instantly, Shelle knew trouble when she saw it, and this was trouble. He cut a path like Moses parting the waters, as he bore down on her, holding out a piece of paper, the sneer not disguised, his mustached upper lip actually quivered as he handed her Marnie's note written on the bottom of a bill. There were just two words scratched almost right through the paper, succinctly "Fuck You"
There is no accent for getting the insult across, quiet like the French, "She said you would pay." He said ambiguously," It is $193.25, less, of course, the obligatory gratuity." He held out his hand.
The apartment was cold and in darkness. Shelle flicked on the hall light and called "Marnie, its me honey, I'm sorry I didn't make the restaurant, come on I'll make it up to you, baby, hey I'm sorry."
There was no answer. She walked to the bedroom, expecting it to be locked, it wasn't. She opened the door, the bed was bare. Marnie's closet was open, and stripped. The drawers on Marnie's side of the bed had been pulled out, half used and empty bottles of perfume and make up and potions were scattered and strewn over the dresser. Written across the mirror in twelve inch crimson lipstick letters was a message, "I am not coming back, its over!!!"
Shelle knew in her heart that it had been over for some time. All they ever did was fight or have make up sex, there were no moments of contentment together, in between, any more. No happiness. She knew, as well, that it was her fault, her career as an Air Traffic Controller had the highest break-up and divorce rate, double than any other profession in the country. Marnie just couldn't cope with the excuses, the broken appointments, the long hours Shelle worked, and the stress that filled her. It came with the job.
It might have taken five months to coax a straight, albeit bi-curious, Marnie into her lesbian bed, but it had taken five years to drive her away. Oh my God! She glanced at the calendar on the wall. There was a red ring around the 20th. Five years to the day, it was their five-year anniversary tonight. Fuck, fuck, fuck!
She flopped belly first onto the bed and cried, heart wrenching sobs wracked her lean frame, Marnie, oh sweet Lord, she had loved her so, her softness, her smile, the way she laughed, the way she depended on her and made sure to include her in all her decisions, and doings. Even her pride in manicuring nails, the sweet submissiveness, and now she was gone, gone, gone! Sleep came later, a dreamless state, face down, on the damp uncovered pillow that recharged her depleted body, but not her soul.
A persistent, annoying buzzing came through the fog, again, for the umteenth this time. Shelle opened a red sleep encrusted eye and looked at her watch as she reached for the phone. Shit it was 11:00! She had overslept! She fumbled with the receiver and mumbled, "Marnie, where are you, honey?"
The voice that answered was not Marnie's. It wasn't even female, "Er, is this Miss Michelle Campbell, I am addressing?" A male voice asked, the accent Caribbean not Canadian.
Shelle sat up and held the receiver closer, "Yah," she replied, before automatically corrected herself, "Yes, this is Shelle Campbell" she said
"Um, Miss Campbell this is Sergeant Hamilton of The Island's Police Force. Your stepmother and I have being trying to contact you for the last three hours. We are phoning with very unfortunate news, your father met with an accident while driving, and I am very sorry to inform you, he is dead." The lilting voice said.
'Shelle sat on the bed, knees under her chin clutching the phone, "Huh? Dad, dead?" she repeated, "What? How?" She asked.
"We are investigating, Miss Campbell, please accept my condolences, your father and stepmother are dear friends of mine, he will be sorely missed by many on the Islands. If there is anything I can do, please do not hesitate to ask."
'Shelle sat gripping the telephone "I'm on my way." She said, unable to speak further.
The phone at her father's house seemed to be permanently busy; she'd just have to arrive without telling her stepmother she was coming. It took until later in the afternoon to organize a leave of absence at work and buy an airline ticket to Miami, and a connection to the Islands, on her Visa. Once on the Main Island she would go to her father's home on the South Island either by ferryboat or by seaplane.
Marnie did not answer her cell, either, all Shelle got was Marnie's damn voice mail, nor were her parents very forthcoming as to their daughter's whereabouts. None of their friends were very helpful either, Marnie had polarized most of their friends and was intent, and it seemed to punish her with a stony silence. 'Shelle left messages for Marnie on her cell and with whoever she could, before stuffing her toothbrush and toiletries into a bag, with a small suitcase of clothes and underwear, and headed out to the airport.
The high winged Cessna 185 Skywagon was fitted with floats and banked gently as the pilot eased the yoke and lifted the nose, the vibration and drone inside the small cockpit altered perceptibly as the pilot flicked various toggle switches in front of him, The short flight had become an education when the handsome suntanned pilot, complete with "Raybans" and floral shirt, khaki shorts and Magnum moustache, had learned one of his passengers was a bono fide Air Traffic Controller from a busy airport. He insisted she sit up front in the co-pilot's seat, handed her the only other set of headphones aboard and chatted to her the entire flight. The other two passengers were subject to shouting or gesturing to be understood the entire twenty minutes they were in the air.
"The '185' was never designed to take off from the sea." He said sagely, "So I do everything I can to protect my plane from corrosion. The engine does not purge its bearings cleanly at sea level; it needs to be re-lubricated after every flight. I remounted all my radios and navigation instruments in polystyrene so they wont get wet if there is a little water spraying about." He chuckled as the small plane touched down almost effortlessly, about half a mile from the shore; the pilot spoke briefly to some aviation authority on the radio, before completing the instruction session. The little plane taxied toward a wooden jetty, "Amazingly similar to landing with wheels, isn't it?" He asked. "Except you have no brakes, of course, so we taxi with full UP elevators. If you chop throttle to slow idle, the plane will point into the wind, see? If you advance throttle about 4 clicks, it establishes a steep angle on the bow wave and heads off downwind, like this." He demonstrated, as the plane turned after splashing down lightly onto the sea surface and turned towards a wooden sided concrete jetty about a mile from where they had touched down. The float's rudders work with the stick, but are pretty ineffectual in my opinion. "In between those throttle settings, you can crosswind taxi while steering with throttle instead, like I'm doing now, but I'm careful to hold the upwind wing down with the aileron, it makes it much tidier. The only other difference from being on a runway is that it's bloody inconvenient to walk out to your plane if some damn fool unties it and it drifts off, unless, of course, they are about to establish a religion in your name." He said with a grin as the floats expertly nudged the white painted tires along the wood of the jetty without leaving so much as a smudge of rubber on the paintwork. The sounds of the seagulls and surf filled the void left by the engine after the magneto was earthed and all the toggles were flicked off. "Enjoy your stay on our Islands, thank you for flying Islands Aviation," he concluded as 'Shelle climbed out of the plane and onto the jetty.
Shelle stepped ashore and waited until the pilot handed her, her luggage. She slung the bag and hoisted her case while walking towards the end of the jetty. The biggest blackest man she had ever seen blocked her way. Karl Hamilton was around 50 years old, gray beginning to seep into his short hair. He stood at least 6'10" tall, and weighed around 300 pounds, none of it fat. He was in official uniform, starched crisp khakis and baseball cap complete with gold police badge. Gold chevrons denoting his rank shone on his massive biceps.
"Miss Campbell?" He asked barring her way with one huge arm.
"Yes I'm Shelle Campbell." She answered.
"Karl Hamilton, I spoke to you this morning on the phone," he greeted, "if you follow me, pointing to a police vehicle, I'll drive you." He said without waiting for an answer. He turned and lifted her suitcase from her hand and walked to the official Range Rover parked strategically at the end of the jetty. Shelle followed the black giant to his car, and watched as he placed her case in the back seat and opened the passenger door for her.
Shelle's parents had been divorced for about twenty years; her mother remained a bitter alimony dependant divorcee in Toronto, while her father chose to live in the Caribbean, and had settled on South Island and remarried a woman nearly twenty years his junior. Shelle had shuttled alone to and from the Islands for vacations with her dad since her twelfth birthday. She had last seen her dad just before Marnie had moved in with her, five years ago. She had often wished that she and Marnie had visited her dad and vacationed at his beautifully situated villa on the beach of Leeward Cove. Tears welled in her eyes; well it was too late now!
The drive from the harbor to her dad's house was in silence; she was overcome with emotion and quiet grateful to the huge policeman's kindness, and silence. The Range Rover stopped just before a sharp bend; the railing had been bent, buckled and torn from its posts, surf pounded at the rocky shore line at least one hundred feet below them.
"Your father's car went over the cliff here," he said. "He had been with Kim when she locked up the bar at about 2:00am. She swears that he had, maximum, two beers to drink all night, but at least four glasses of plain cola, while playing dominoes with his usual cronies and waiting for closing time. He had been at the yacht basin all afternoon and early evening getting their new boat ready, since she needed her car the following morning to do some early shopping for the bar, and your father had wanted to sleep in after a hard days work in the sun, they had gone home in separate cars, she left him in front of the bar, he never got home, what puzzles me, is that its true, what she said, he had not recently consumed any alcohol, his blood had zero alcohol content, but his clothes were soaked in Rum". He continued. "You will also note a lack of skid marks." He added as an afterthought.
"Dad is, I mean, was, an Amstel Lager or J&B man, Rum was too harsh for his educated palate, he always said." She said, as they looked over the cliff." Who is Kim? A new girlfriend? What happened to Ria?" She asked. "One more thing, how did you know I was on that flight?" She added as an afterthought.
Karl Hamilton's grin was cold and relentless. "Nothing or nobody moves on the Islands and I don't know about it." He answered. "Kim is Ria's sister." He answered slowly, "At first, when Kim arrived here I was worried, Like Maria she is South African, but, ex military, if you can believe that. She ran with a bad crowd though, doing 'blow' and 'ganja' and xtc, heaven knows what else, crewing drug boats for Miles Harris. Not that I could prove anything against her or Mister Harris of course, he keeps his nose very clean around here." He shrugged.
He continued "Your father, bailed her out, after I arrested her for 'possession'. All this happened about four years ago, she was an addict by then, and a total mess. Your father and Ria worked a miracle with her, from that day on," he continued, "she turned her life around, thanks to them, they saw her through detox and rehab, she worked for them, after that, eventually taking over management of the bar, from Ria. It gave Ria and your father more time together. Last month Kim and your father successfully outbid Harris at an auction for a confiscated 65' drug running sailboat. Tricked him they did. Now that was something. I have never seen Harris more peeved." They drove the rest of the way in silence.
Her father's house looked the same as when she had last visited. Perhaps the terraced bougainvillea was more lush, the lawn greener, it was beautiful and tranquil, Shelle tried not to cry as the huge policeman followed her to the front door. No home on the Islands need lock their door, her dad had always bragged, she opened the front door. Dressed in a simple blouse and blue jeans, Ria met her there; she hadn't aged, she still had magnificent natural blonde hair, so long she could sit on it, add incredibly long legs, a girlishly slim waist and large thrusting 36D breasts that defied gravity. When she was younger Shelle remembered she had been a model, and still beautiful, even at forty-five. Her face was blotchy, her eyes were red from tears, and obviously the loss of her father had affected her step-mom very deeply. Ria enfolded her in a tearful hug. She and Ria were mother/daughter, close, but their love for her father had brought them to a point of closeness, while not exactly blood family, made them more than just comfortable in each other's company, unlike her real mother, Ria seemed to understand about Shelle's sexuality. She had made her father see that Shelle was still, Shelle: The same person he had held seconds after she had been born; the same little person he had tickled and made ridiculously funny faces at; taken to school the first day; kissed scraped knees and booboos, and brushed her hair, watched her skate and play soccer, grounded when she missed a curfew and a million other things dads do for, and with, their kids. Shelle was forever grateful to Ria for that.
While the women were embracing the large policeman put Shelle's case on the front door step but did not enter, Ria smiled at him. "Care for some tea, Karl, I have a fresh pot brewing? Everybody has been so kind; there must be a ton of food to eat if you are hungry, Shelle? Everybody we know had dropped off food for us. " She said looking first to Karl, then Shelle, her voice was melodic, the accent precise and Polo Club English sounding, the vowels were flatter however, South Africans were often mistaken for Brits.