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By Jeffrey Stephenson Jeffrey_Stephenson@comcast.net www.awdenterprises.com
Chapter 1 The willowy rider brought the exotic road bike back up to vertical after powering around the sharp corner, and shot away from the trees on the paved bike trail that now lay straight ahead. He wore the normal black biking shorts and a plain blue t-shirt, looking rather mundane compared to the typical rider on the popular trail. His middle-aged face bore day-old stubble, but the hair under his simple white helmet was still free of gray strands. Having expertly handled the curve he surprisingly didn't accelerate down the shallow slope of the straightaway that lie ahead. Instead he sat up, and took in the scenery. Flecks of reflected morning sunlight adorned the nearby glassy river, promising a pleasant day as he casually coasted down the path. He smiled, and dropped back down into his tucked position to power through the curves that followed the hundred or so yards of straightaway. Roger Dunn was a tall slender man, who owned a sporting goods shop. A shop, which, among other things, sold exotic custom built bicycles. He rode this trail twice a day, going to and from work. He no longer worried about his speed, or how long the ride took, but he loved to challenge the curves. He would lay the bike over until the pedal was only a hair's width from touching the pavement, and revel in the sense of speed, and the challenge of putting himself on the edge. This morning Roger felt unexplainably anxious. He had fretted over the feeling all morning, but put it off to having forgotten to turn off the workbench lights in his shop the evening before. That did nothing to assuage his inner tension, however. As this intangible strife continued to threaten his serenity the feeling became more like a nagging omen of looming peril than a forgotten task. He was determined not to let it destroy his
consciously reinforced contentment however. Eventually his ride brought him to the alley that ran behind his shop, and as he approached he noticed through the small rear window that the workbench lights were not on, and his anxiety flared absorbing all of his focus. Patricia Alba was a free spirited woman in her mid-thirties, with an uncommon strength of will, and a tendency to fixate her considerable energies on one project at a time. Her adventurous nature had led her into many an exciting predicament, and had been the ruin of most of her relationships. The men she had met to date had found it too difficult to keep up. Today however she had committed herself to a crucial mission, and drove her Alfa a little more aggressively than might have been prudent for the suburbanindustrial neighborhood she was hunting through. She was enjoying the fluttering of her almost shoulder length brunette hair as the open convertible sped along though, and ignored her conscience, which seemed to be trying to warn her that something ominous was impending. She was ignoring all of her inner feelings. She had recently lost her father, and for the last few weeks she had gone from one excruciating emotional episode to another, but today she was feeling some of her old drive and confidence, and she was intent on keeping those overworked emotions in check. As she passed the business that she was looking for, she noticed that both of the parking spaces in front were already occupied. She careened around the corner at the end of the block, and darted into the alley behind her objective. Roger had been staring at the shop window reluctant to accept that the antagonizing light was not the source of the anxious tingling on the back of his neck. He didn't notice the silver Alfa until it chirped its tires assertively entered the alley. Roger and Patricia noticed each other at the same moment, both applying prodigious brakes in a sudden panic. The result was that the bicycle’s front tire contacted the Alfa’s bumper causing Roger to precariously rotate up and over his bike’s suddenly immobile front wheel. For a second he thought he was going to fly right over the tiny sports car, but his momentum arrested itself just before he over centered his front wheel. In a frozen moment of time he sat two feet higher than usual balanced over his front wheel looking over the top of the windshield at the pretty pageboy brunette with hazel eyes behind the steering wheel. Patricia’s terror filled eyes quickly shifted from horror through embarrassment to a beguiling smile, and then she watched as Roger rode his bicycle back as its rear wheel returned to where it had left the ground. He balanced once again for a frozen moment, and then realized that his riding shoes were still clipped to the pedals. He tried frantically to get a foot loose and on the ground, but time was no longer moving slowly, and he plunged to the asphalt contacting on his shoulder first. His bare knee left a small patch of flesh on the pavement and he winced, more from the sting of the abrasion than the bruising of the impact. Patricia pulled the parking brake, and bolted upward leaning over her windshield frantically. Her mouth opened and closed, but her brain couldn’t supply an appropriate response. Once again, in a moment that felt devoid of time, Roger stared under the Alpha at the flash of tires passing on the street beyond. His body craved immobility, and he willingly granted it. The incident had robbed him of energy. His mind heeded his body’s message,
and he lay still allowing every muscle to relax until he verified that the various pains were not serious. Time became relevant again as his body stabilized and his mind rebooted. “Are you alright?” Patricia’s voice expressed her impatient concern. Roger was slow to respond, but finally rolled his head to look up over the hood of the small car. “Huh?” Patricia was already awkwardly standing, so she hinged her long, slender, bare legs around the steering wheel, and stepped out of the car ignoring the door. She scurried to the front, and peered across the bicycle at Roger’s still immobile body. “I said are you alright?” But there was humor and suspicion in her voice now. Her head swiveled around taking in her surroundings, the business, the bicycle, and Roger. Her eyes closed, her face transformed with a grimace, and she seemed to diminish in size as the humor drained from her expression. “Oh no! You’re Roger Dunn, aren’t you?” Roger turned his head to take in the woman. He noticed that she sported a golden tan on the skin not covered by the loose shorts and frilly partially buttoned blouse. “Ahh… yeah.” He grumbled as he disentangled himself from his bicycle, and slowly got to his feet. He flashed her an obviously insincere smile, and inspected his bicycle for damage. “You were going the wrong way you know.” She pointed with her thumb at the one-way sign over her shoulder. “Huh! Oh.” He lamely admitted the legitimacy of her statement with a curt nod, and pushed his bike to the rear door of his business, which was only a few feet away. He removed his slender camelback backpack and recovered his keys from its small pocket. He stubbornly refused to show the embarrassment he felt. For a non-injury spill, he had lay there far too long, and he had been in the wrong as well. He had not been watching where he was going, and going the wrong way in the one-way alley. He felt angry, but not with himself. He was angry with her for making him admit his errors. Something about her irritated him. He didn't know who she was, and he was sure that he didn't want to know. He couldn't decide what it was about her that incensed him, but she enflamed his emotions just the same. “I’m Patricia Alba, Trish.” She offered her hand with an ingratiating smile. “I wrote you a letter concerning Flights of Fancy”. Patricia was used to her beauty opening many doors. She didn't normally use it, but she did appreciate its typical effect. This time, however, her aura seemed not to have its usual effect. He looked at her hand, but both of his were full. “Flights a Fancy?” He muttered without recollection. He was subconsciously intent on not liking the person who had eclipsed his pleasant morning, despite her attractive, healthy appearance, and her friendly demeanor. “Yeah, We want you to compete in the hang gliding events.” She prompted, smiling and tilting her head.
“Ahh!" He nodded to himself. "I don’t compete.” He opened the door without looking at her. “Goodbye”. He ended the conversation, pushed his bicycle inside, and closed the door. Patricia was left standing in the alley wearing a quizzical expression, her hand still extended in greeting.. As soon as he turned on the lights he heard the unmistakable clatter of someone knocking on one of the large panes of glass that made up most of the front of his shop. He peered across the sparsely crowded display floor to see two men waiting for him at his business's front door. He waved and nodded, but hung his bicycle on a rack near the rear door first. “Morning Mark, Dan.” Roger greeted when he opened the door feeling some of his chipper outlook return. “Is it here?” Dan, a fairly unremarkable person in appearance was highly excited. He was an accomplished Hang glider pilot and could fly almost any type of aircraft, but preferred Hang gliders. He had hundreds of hours in conventional general-aviation aircraft, mostly Cessna 172s, and dozens of hours in sail planes. A few of years ago he had even taken up Paragliding, but his greatest satisfaction came from hang gliding. “Does it have the new sprogs?” “Dan, I just got here, and, as I told you Friday, the truck doesn’t arrive until ten.” Roger smiled at Dan’s enthusiasm for the new hang glider he had ordered three months before." Mark leaned against the counter, and quietly watched in amusement at Dan's lack of emotional restraint. Mark was a handsome man, and even at forty he still got plenty of opportunities with women. He had settled down, though, into the roll of family man and upstanding citizen of the community, except for every other weekend and the yearly week-long safari, which was dedicated to Hang gliding. A passion that, like Dan, he was sure would never die. The three of them drifted in, but as Roger was closing the door, it stopped short. He heard a light tapping on the glass, and turned to see Patricia smiling back. Roger didn’t try to hide his disappointment, as he walked back to the short glass display counter that held his antiquated cash register. “Who’s the babe?” Dan whispered. “No-one!” Roger slurred, trying to ignore her. "Mister Dunn, please, just give me a few minutes to explain." Patricia pleaded, following him across the open center of his store. "Please forget what happened in the alley. The only thing I need is you." She stopped suddenly realizing that her words hadn't come out quite as she had intended. "Huh!" Dan blurted wide-eyed. "I don't know Roger, you might want to listen to her. She sounds pretty desperate
to me." Mark flashed Patricia a friendly smile. "Hi I'm Mark, and that's Dan." He offered his hand. Patricia only hesitated for a moment, quickly forgetting her embarrassment and excusing his good-natured disparity. "Patricia Alba. Are you a hang glider pilot too?" "Yeah, Dan and I are both local flyers. Dan's here to pick up his new glider today.” "Yeah, if it ever gets here" Dan verbally jabbed at Roger. "Oh, I see." She cocked her eye at Dan's overly enthusiastic attitude toward his new toy. "Dan's always like that, just ignore him." Mark received a snide smirk from Dan for his banter. "Now what exactly is it you need Roger for?" "Wa..." She started. Roger interrupted before she could get anything out. "I won't do it, so you'll just have to find someone else." He was intentionally rude in his tone hoping to dismiss her quickly without his friends getting involved. Dan and Mark both froze, intently eyeing Roger after his rude and unfriendly retort. Mark blinked, and then turned to Patricia. She seemed only mildly embarrassed as she stood obviously re-evaluating Roger. Mark glanced back and forth between Patricia and Roger, realizing there had to be some kind of history between them. "What’s a matter, Rog?" Dan blurted into the silence. "You're nicer than that even to Ernie." Roger glanced around at the others, only just realizing how they might interpret his snapping at Patricia. "Sorry guys, but I want to make it clear that I'm not interested in listening to any of Miss Alba's high pressure tactics." Mark cocked his head back in reaction to the venom in Roger's tone. Then he turned to Patricia with a quizzical expression. "What are you trying to sell him?" "Nothing! I just want him to come and fly in the Flights of Fancy." Patricia's answer contained a hint of venom of its own, but it was overshadowed by concern, and her expression quickly softened. "Why won't you come?" She pleaded at Roger. Dan and Mark both smiled and nodded with sudden understanding. "Why don't you Rog? I've heard you say a couple of times that you wouldn't mind getting back into flying." Mark asked. Patricia's jaw dropped noticeably as she turned to Mark. "Back into flying!?" Mark couldn't stop a grin from spreading across his face. "Ahh, you assumed he was famous as a pilot, not as an author. Rog hasn't flown for, what Rog, seven years?" Patricia reached a hand out to the counter next to her for stability. She was visibly
shaken by Mark's revelation. "What am I going to do, I've ruined everything." She mumbled to herself. She felt dizzy, but there were no chairs in the showroom. She leaned across the counter cradling her head in her crossed arms, and hiding her face. "I've ruined everything." She couldn't stop the single hiccup, or the sobs that followed. Mark rushed to her side, but he didn't know this attractive woman, and felt a sudden discomfort with touching her, even to comfort her obviously intense depression. His hands hovered indecisively inches from her shoulders. He found himself in near panic over her sever distress. "He..." he glanced at Roger, who stood stiffly watching. "We..." He glanced at Dan. "I, I'm sorry." He finally vocalized. "Please don't cry." "But I have ruined everything." She sobbed into her arms. "I try," she gulped in a breath, "so hard, (gulp) but I always ruin everything." She continued to sob into her arms. Mark and Dan looked at each other helplessly, but their expressions turned negatively curious when they noticed Roger. His head was twisted askew, but his eyes bored into Patricia with what appeared to be intense loathing. How could he not feel sympathy for her obvious suffering? Mark shook his head. He could not appreciate Roger's angry attitude. He gently stretched his arm, and placed a hand on Patricia's shoulder. "There, there. Why don't you explain what's wrong." He shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe we can help." Patricia sniffled, rubbed a wrist under her nose, and glanced up at Mark. Then she rubbed the other wrist across her eyes clearing the tears. "I doubt it." Her voice lurched as her throat had not yet cleared itself of her vested emotions. "I convinced everyone that he was the only one for the job." She glanced at Roger, but his scowl only intensified, making her wince. She turned back to the confused Mark with eyes full of tears again. "I promised that I'd convince him." She blurted, and then buried her face in Marks shoulder, dampening his shirt with her tears. Mark had learned the hard way about false tears, but he was fairly certain that Patricia's were real. He moved his arms around without confidence, unsure how to comfort her. He glared at Roger, who glared right back. He was mystified by his friend's attitude toward this attractive and needy woman. Finally Mark tentatively patted Patricia's shoulder as if he were afraid to break her, or worse, intensify her crying. "What I don’t understand is what you said to Roger to get him so upset." She flashed her tear-filled questioning eyes at Roger, but he turned his back to her. "I just... asked him... to fly in... the Flights... of Fancy... Hang gliding... competition." She gulped and gasped through the statement trying in vane to stifle her sobbing. "Is that all?" Dan asked flashing an accusing glance toward Roger. Roger turned toward Patricia again, with accusing eyes of his own. Patricia shrank from his intense glare. "No." She stated meekly. Mark and Dan's intensely curious expressions insisted that she continue. "I also asked to use his name in our promotion."
"Oh!" Dan and Mark replied in unison. Her surprise at their reaction stopped her tears altogether. "What's wrong with that?" She said with a sniffle. Roger threw up his hands with exaggerated frustration, and then leaned against the back wall shaking his head. "Well..." Mark said adding a touch of amusement to his tone. "Roger's turned into a bit of a recluse over the last few years. He doesn't even advertise his business. He got more attention than he wanted when he wrote his book." "But his book?" She tilted her head in consternation. "His book's great." Dan offered. "Captured the essence of the sport in it, that's for sure." Mark added. "But, that was what, eight or nine years ago?" Roger stepped away from the wall taking a deep breath. "I'm tired of being talked about like I wasn't here." He stated intently. "I don't fly any more. I'm of no use to you. There are plenty of people with recognizable names you could pester. Even a couple that live in the area. Go hassle them and leave me alone." "But your book?" Patricia broke into tears again, and returned to Mark's shoulder. Dan and Mark shot accusing stares at Roger. "What?" Roger demanded. "You don't have to be so mean. She obviously has a problem." Mark vented at Roger, starting to side with Patricia. "Maybe there's something we could do to help." "Yeah!" Dan added supportively, and then, as an afterthought he added. "You could do a book signing or something Rog'." Mark looked down at Patricia hoping that Dan's simple suggestion might appease her. `She wiped her nose with her wrist again, and straightened. "No, I need him, as a pilot, to compete." She pointed at Roger, having regained her composure. "I'm sorry. I don't usually fall apart like this." She stared at her shoes for a moment. "It's just that my friends might loose their ranch, and I'm trying to help by setting up this festival to raise money to help with their debts, but I just keep screwing things up. I wish my Dad were still around, he'd know what to do." "Wait a minute." Mark blurted turning to Roger. "Why couldn't you do this for her? Dan and I would be more than happy to help, wouldn’t we Dan?" "Sure! I'd love to see you get back into flying." Dan nodded, supporting Mark's suggestion. "How much time before the competition?" Mark asked, brandishing a mischievous
grin. Patricia looked back at him with very wide eyes, stunned momentarily. "Oh! Um, almost two months." "He used to be pretty good." Mark conspired. "I'll bet we could have him ready in six or seven weeks." "Really?" Patricia questioned suspiciously eying Roger's slack-jawed silence. "Yeah, sure! He might not be as good as a regular competition pilot, but he'd be okay." Dan trumped in. "Hay, wait a minute. Don't I have any say in this?" A hint of nervousness flavored his tone as Roger glanced back and forth, noticing the conspiracy forming between Mark, Dan and Patricia. "Sure you do." Mark answered. "But consider that between Dan and I, we make up almost half of your sales. With that in mind, I think we could be very persuasive." "Hay, I know where this is going, but if I'm out flying with you two every day, what will happen to my business?" Roger stammered pathetically trying to regain the control he had felt only moments ago. "Jennifer can watch the shop. She's just sitting at home for the summer, and could use something to do." Mark quickly countered, offering his daughter's service. "But, I... I don’t..."Roger's confidence seemed shattered as he looked from Dan to Mark. Then he turned to Patricia with an intensity that caused her to step back and draw her hand to her mouth. "You! You..." "Careful." Mark cautioned Roger. "You're talking to our driver." "Huh?" Patricia started. "Huh?" Roger seconded. "Someone's going to have to take us up the hill till you've got your wings back enough to start towing again." Mark commented blandly. "And someone's gonna have to retrieve us when we fly cross country." Dan jumped in supporting Mark's strategy. "I'm not sure. I do have other responsibilities, things I, have to do." Patricia stammered. "See, she doesn't want it either." Roger inserted forcefully. "But I suppose I could schedule most of my stuff for mornings and keep my afternoons open for you." She pointed a teasing finger at Roger.
"Yeah!" Dan exclaimed. "You... You..." Roger made a quick menacing move toward Patricia. She jumped back and slid behind Mark, peeking over his shoulder. She flashed a tentative smile, but it quickly evaporated under Roger's threatening scrutiny. "If I'm not here I'll lose business. I could go broke in two months." Roger moaned. "You could win the prize money." Patricia offered meekly. "There's prize money?" Dan gushed. Patricia turned to Dan. "Oh yes. Ten thousand for first, four for second, and one for third." She smiled confidently. "I convinced a few good sponsors." She added proudly. "I'll bet that draws a few real competitors!" Dan added. "Yes, I have received eight confirmed entries from the twelve invitations I've sent out." She added sheepishly. The three friends could tell that she was holding something back. "So, who have you got coming?" Mark asked. "Thomas Fredrick, Greg Ashton, Henri Dupree, Elton Smiroli, Jerry Kline, and Marshall Otto." "You've got people coming from all over the world." Dan gushed again. "Didn't you invite anyone from the U.S.?" "I sent out four U. S. invitations. I haven't heard from Chris Emery. Maxwell Hurst declined because of injuries." "Yeah, that was a bad spill he took in Mexico." Mark shook his head at the thought of such a fearsome crash. "But who are the other two confirmed pilots, are they the two Americans?" "Well, yes, actually." Patricia stammered and turned her eyes toward Roger. "Oh!" Dan and Mark chorused. Mark had his head down in concentration, and suddenly jerked his attention to Patricia's eyes. "There's only one name missing from that list of who's who in hang gliding." "No!" Dan exclaimed. Patricia swallowed laboriously. "Ernest Banks." "Ernie!" Dan said, shocked with irony. "Well, there you go. You don't need me. You've got Ernest Banks!" The venom
had returned to Roger's tone. "But I do." She pleaded, and then slumped and added, "The only reason Mister Banks agreed was because I told him that you would compete." She muttered an afterthought. "I think you were the only reason any of them agreed." "That rat!" Dan blurted. "I'll bet he's just hoping for a chance to embarrass you." They all looked at Dan for a moment except Roger. His expression had turned inward to memories dominated by disdain. Mark grinned and turned to Roger. "How do you think it'd feel to embarrass him instead?" They all brightened as a gleam came to Roger’s eyes, overshadowing his hateful distain.
Chapter 2 "See, you still know what you're doin'" Dan yelled as he ran up to Roger. They were using a borrowed scooter-tow winch system, and an older training glider, to start Roger's reentry into flying. A couple of low and slow pulls with the winch had held him a few feet off the ground for a couple minutes each. Then they had decided to pull him up as high as the scooter could get him. It was still early, so the air was still smooth. The conditions, the tow systems line length and power, and Roger's less than aggressive attitude had yielded a tow of almost three hundred feet of altitude. It was enough to allow Roger to perform some stalls, a three hundred and sixty degree turn, and a wide sweeping approach to land not far from where he had started. Roger's first real flight was nearly perfect, and he sported an irrepressible grin, which tickled Dan. It'd been a long time since Dan had seen Roger grin like that. The smile faded only slightly when Roger faced Dan and said simply, "I'd forgotten." Dan smiled back and nodded. "Good to have you back among the really living." The significance of the comment took Roger back several years to a party filled with glider pilots. Someone had offered a toast. "To we who really live!" The toast had spawned conversations and arguments about life and its opportunities that had lasted all evening. The energy level was such that few there would ever forget that night. The fact that the gathering had followed an excellent day of flying had added kindling to the emotional energy of the night. Roger's smile deepened with the inner warmth he was feeling as he prepared for another tow. He was relieved that his friends had virtually forced him back into the sport. Some things had been missing from his life, and now he was reminded of one very significant thing that he had been existing without. Four more tows had completed the day. On the last tow Roger had managed to coax the glider to over six hundred feet above the ground. The flight had lasted almost twenty minutes as he had managed to find a couple of patches of light lift to prolong his ride. He
had subtly circled at just above a stall, working the lift quite well for someone who had been so long from the sport. Patricia had to clear up a few loose ends before she could free up her afternoons, so it was just the three of them and the scooter winch until Friday. Mark was hoping that would give Roger enough time to become more amenable toward Patricia. Frankly he was surprised that Roger didn't find her appealing. She might not be a rocket scientist, but she was far from feeble-minded, and she was also very attractive. He felt that she was just the kind of woman that would be good for Roger, not many could keep up with his subtle outlook and high-energy attitude. "A good start." Mark held up his soda in a toast. "Let's start a little later tomorrow. That'll give you more of chance to work thermals." "I've got an intermediate glider in the shop I want to fly tomorrow." Roger lifted his cup to acknowledge the toast. "It should be a little quicker, and it'll definitely have better performance and handling." Then he noticed his friends’ pleased and knowing expressions. "What?" "It's just great to have you back flying again." Mark replied. "I still don't know that this whole experience isn't going to ruin my life." Roger tilted his head and smirked. "But, I am having fun now." He relented with an incidious grin. "Friday we'll head up to Diablo," Mark stated, "and if all goes well we should drag out that new rigid wing you bought to sell." "The Streak!?" Roger sounded very apprehensive. "I don't know. That's a competition rigid wing. I've always flown flex-wings." "Trish said the competition will use Dragonflys to do the towing." Mark prompted. "They tow at about thirty-five or better. At those speeds flex-wings start getting a bit touchy, but rigid-wings are comfortable. It'll make the towing easier. Besides, most of the pros will be flying rigids." "Yeah, I think I did read somewhere that rigids were more stable for towing." Roger relented, still sounding a bit apprehensive. "But they're supposed to really eat up landing areas." "You'll just have to get used to it." Dan quipped. "I've seen Alan bring his down pretty quick. You've just got ta give 'em enough flaps." "You guys have a lot more confidence in me than I do." Roger stated shaking his head. "I remember how you used to fly." Mark offered. "If you put your mind to it you'll figure it out in time." Mark and Dan smiled with confidence in Roger's abilities, but Roger teetered between the apprehension of getting in over his head, and his pride in having such supportive friends. Roger found the next day that the intermediate glider did perform and handle better than the trainer, but it didn't tow as well on the scooter winch. Consequently the highest he managed to get on tow was a little over five hundred feet above the ground. That was enough, though, for him to find and turn within a well-defined thermal. That one thermal allowed him to gain almost two thousand more feet of altitude. Roger's exuberance swelled in his cheeks bringing an ear-to-ear grin to his face. "You sure cored that one." Mark's voice issued from the handheld two-meter
transceiver strapped to the shoulder pad of Roger's harness. Roger pressed the transmit button, fastened to his finger with Velcro, and responded enthusiastically. "That was cool. I rode it up to twenty-four five." "Stay up as long as you can. We'll secure the towline and winch, and we'll call it a day when you land." Mark encouraged. Roger managed to find more thermals, and stretched his flight out to a little over an hour. He was tickled with how quickly he was reacquiring his feel for finding and staying in the invisible and illusive rising bubbles of warm air that soaring pilots sought. Thermaling was not a natural skill for most people, and many hours went into missing the good ones before a pilot could confidently read the conditions, and actually use them to his advantage. It was a skill that could reward a person with some spectacular experiences, as well as incredible and rare vistas. Roger was slowly losing his battle with gravity, and would be landing soon. "We laid your glider bag out a few yards from the truck." Mark's voice announced at Roger's right ear. "Trish said spot landings were worth a third of the points in the competition, so you better start nailing it." "I can see it. Roger replied after glancing over toward the truck. "If you drop the glider you lose half your landing points, and if your knees touch you lose the rest." Mark prompted. "Yeah, I get it, don't wack!" Roger responded. Wack was a salute that some hang glider pilots used to acknowledge another pilots bad landing. Everyone always watched when someone landed, and if the pilot miss-timed their stall, and dropped the glider, the other pilots would yell WACK! Imitating the sound the glider's nose made when it slapped the ground. Roger lined up properly, executed a nice flare that brought the glider gently down on his shoulders after only two steps, but he came up short of landing on his bag by thirty feet. "You'll have to do better than that." Dan yelled as he ran to retrieve the glider bag. "It's not like I've never done anything like this before!" Patricia whined, but there was frustrated anger in her eyes. "Actually it is." Arthur Dunlap was not yet thirty, but his poise, and manner were that of a much older man. He was the epitome of that frightening prospect, the indignant bureaucrat. "But I've helped put on dozens of fly-ins with air shows and competitions. My father was--" "Your name is not on any of our records." Arthur interrupted, smiling as her jaw dropped. "Therefore you have no recognizable experience." Patricia's fists were balled in anger, and her teeth were gritted in frustration. If she said what she was feeling she was sure that the younger man before her would use it against her, and find a way to foul the fiesta’s plans even more. She slowly exhaled, and drew in a fresh breath to replace the one she had unknowingly held. "My father--" She started off in a composed tone. "Your father isn't here to vouch for you, and even if he were, he'd have to be directly involved before--" "Hello Patricia." A short graying man stepped up behind Arthur, and placed a fatherly hand on his shoulder. He flashed a quick wink at Patricia. "Art, you're needed in records.
Stella's having trouble finding something that you were supposed to have filed yesterday." When Arthur hesitated, clinching his teeth in his turn at frustrated anger, the man prompted him. "I'd hurry, she's in one of her moods." Arthur’s eyes widened at the prospect of having to face the senior woman's ire. He quickly nodded to the man, and trotted off without another glance at Patricia. "Hi, Ralph." Patricia greeted sweetly, relieved to see a friendly face. "I was sorry to hear about your dad." Ralph Bertram had worked with Patricia's father as the FAA representative on many of the flight related activities he had organized. Don Alba had been a respected figure in aviation circles. His wife, Patricia's mother, had died in a auto accident when Patricia was only seven years old. Patricia had spent a good portion of her youth helping her father with his many projects to support general aviation, and working on his treasure, a restored Cessna 195, originally manufactured in 1950. It was a big, old, tail dragger that never failed to impress, and draw enlightened eyes wherever they flew it. They had spent many hours flying around the country to various events. Patricia had not only grown up as a bit of a tomboy, but she was a competent pilot before she could drive. Becoming competent in the 195 was really saying something about her skills. Patricia looked down avoiding Ralph's eyes. Her dad had been gone nine months, but she still missed him, and got misty eyed whenever something reminded her of him. "Look Trish, I know that Art can get on a person's nerves, cause I work with him, but he's right about the new regs. I'll volunteer to be the site rep', that way you won't get saddled with someone like Art." Ralph offered. She looked up and smiled. "I'd like that, but the real problem is the extra insurance. We've stretched our budget to the limit already. I guess I'll have to find some more sponsors." She didn't sound very hopeful. Ralph leaned a little closer, and lowered his voice so that no one in the office would overhear. "Call on my son-in-law, Tim. He has a boat shop. Your festival has water sports too, right? I'm sure he'd like to do something with the jet skis he's into now." She nodded. Her reaction was enthusiastic but silent. She placed her hand over his to emphasize her gratitude for such a valuable lead. "I'll come back and see you as soon as I can cover the rest of the insurance." "I'll be lookin' for you, but remember there's a twenty-eight day deadline." He held up a hand and waved as she walked out. "Thanks again." She made a flirty backward wave over her shoulder as she left. Friday shortly after noon Mark stopped his sport utility vehicle with three gliders on the roof racks at the North gate to the Mount Diablo State Park. He flashed his pass to the ranger, and continued on. A few seconds later the two-meter radio mounted under the dashboard squawked loudly, and Mark instantly reached to turn the volume down. "K6CPLT, is anybody flyin' Diablo today? Over." Mark reached for the microphone, but before he could press the transmit button the radio squawked again. "K6CPLR. This is Russ, Gene and I just got to RDS tower, but I think we're going to head back to Juniper. It's too crossed for me up here." The radio immediately squawked again. "This is Mike. We're setting up at Juniper, it looks perfect here." "KC6QVM Kevin here, Jeff and I are just pulling up to the North gate. Sounds like
there's going to be a crowd today. I talked to Ernie last night. He's still in New Mexico, so we won't see him this weekend at all." "Hay Kevin, Brad here. We don't see you much around here anymore. What's the matter? Did ya break your Dragonfly again?" "No, we just had a hankering to foot launch, and it looked like it might be a good day." Mark didn't wait, and keyed in as soon as Kevin finished. "KC6QVO this is Mark. Dan, Roger, and I went through the North gate about two minutes ago." Mark let up on the transmit button, and glanced over his shoulder at Dan in the back seat. "Who do you think will catch it first?" Then he winked at Patricia in the front passenger seat. "Russ or Brad..."The radio squawked again before Dan could continue. "Roger Dunn?" The radio once again fell silent, and Mark grinned mischievously at Patricia. "Yep, the Sky King is flying again." Mark announced triumphantly. Roger rolled his eyes and smirked. Most of the names he had heard were old flyers, people he had flown with years ago. Most would want to know why he had changed his mind, and why it had taken so long. To his frustration he had no solid answer for either question. In his present frame of mind he couldn’t understand what had kept him away from something he had, and once again, felt so passionate about. Mark pulled into Mt. Diablo Park's Juniper campground, and drove through it to the far end, where he parked between two other vehicles laden with hang gliders. A crowd of pilots and drivers instantly gathered around them, mostly to verify that Roger really was there. Patricia enjoyed a smile of reassurance over their reaction to Roger. She now felt more confident about the man she had chosen. Her appraisal of him deepened even more as she eavesdropped on a few pilots explaining who the man they were making the fuss about was to newer pilots, spectators, and a park ranger who had stopped to watch for a moment. Roger silently shouldered his glider and marched it down to the top of a clearing on a nearby grassy knoll. It was the Juniper launch and setup area. He acknowledged old friends with a nod, there would be time to catch up later. He had to concentrate on what he was doing. The scooter towing flights might have given him back the feel for controlling the glider, but flying a mountain as challenging as Diablo was not for novices or the mentally unprepared. No one seemed affronted by his concentration. Most of the other pilots were consumed with assembling their own gliders. Mark laid his glider down an appropriate distance from Roger's so their wings could be unfolded without overlapping. He stopped and looked at the edge of the knoll where a piece of narrow tubing had been wedged between rocks to stand vertically. At its top a short plastic ribbon, or streamer, had been tied, as a telltale for reading the wind. It danced merrily in the gusty, but slowly building breeze. "It's starting to blow. Someone'll go soon." He commented to Roger. Roger nodded curtly, and picked up the nose of his still folded wing, and rolled it over so that it stood on its assembled control bar. He made a fuss of verifying that the thin cables, or flying wires as the pilots called them, that ran from the corners of the control bar to the nose were attached properly. He jerked in apprehension when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Nervous?" Mark asked, but he didn't wait for an answer. "You've flown here a hundred times." "The flyin' part I'm okay with." Roger answered taking a moment to survey the nearby terrain. "Landing at the thousand footer’s what concerns me." Mark smiled, and nodded. Then his expression turned deadly serious. "Don't, unless you have to!" He tilted his head. "If you get up at all you'll be able to make it to that field by the gate." Mark could see that he wasn't relieving Roger's anxiety at all. "If you fly like you did yesterday, you'll make it to Lime Ridge easily." "If." Roger replied, but he had relaxed somewhat. "I'll be all right. It’s good to have the jitters before a flight. It means I'm taking it seriously." "You'll be fine." Mark patted Roger on the shoulder again. "Oh look, Brad's going to launch." They both watched as Brad jockeyed his glider into place near the telltale. He balanced the glider on the bottom of its control bar, controlling the glider's nose attitude with one hand on the front wires near the nose. His other hand pulled loose the carabineer hooked on the front of his harness, and hooked it into the webbing loop that hung from the bottom center of the wing. His fingers nimbly twisted the safety lock on the carabineer until it was secure. He stepped forward, and tested that he was securely attached to the glider. Then he slid back and crouched in the triangle of the control bar, the hand controlling the glider's attitude smoothly shifted from the wires to a the vertical tube of the control bar. His other hand reached down and adjusted the settings on his instruments attached near a bottom corner of the control bar. He glanced over at the telltale, and then scanned the terrain before him. He looked for signs of wind on the nearby surfaces of the mountain. The telltale stood out straight, and he sensed the increase in wind and glanced at the telltale again. Obviously satisfied with the wind traces he could see and feel he squared himself in the glider's control bar, and lifted the glider balancing it on his shoulders. He tested the wind with the glider by raising the nose enough to allow it to lift off his shoulders and support itself. A moment later he leaned forward heavily and reached out with his left foot pushing the glider forward into the steady breeze. Two more running steps accelerated the glider enough for it to lift him away from the sloping surface. His feet darted back into the tail of his harness and out of the slipstream, increasing the gliders performance by reducing drag. All eyes were on him, and several pilots emerged from the cluster of partially assembled gliders to get a closer look. He climbed slowly, and quickly pulled his body to the left of the control bar. The glider responded quickly banking to the left. He allowed it to turn until he was almost paralleling the face of the steeply sloped terrain below him, and he continued to climb slowly as he crossed the face of the ridge. "Nice launch." Somebody muttered. The Juniper launch site was situated about half way up the mountain on the southwest side, which made it flyable on most days due to its relation to the prevailing winds. Brad's glider surged suddenly upward, and the he pulled himself as far as he could to the right of the control bar. The glider seemed to hesitate, resisting the turn, but it climbed even faster. The glider finally overcame the pressure of the stronger lift under the right wing, and slowly turned to fly back up the ridge, but he was almost fifty feet above where he had launched when he passed over the other pilots. He reversed his body
again, leveling the wings, and then centering himself. The glider flew out of whatever gust, or tiny thermal had lifted him and started slowly sinking. He was now less than twenty feet above where he had launched. He flew thirty or forty yards into the bowl shaped canyon to the right of launch, and got lifted again, but not as strongly. His control inputs were correspondingly more subtle, and he floated the glider around in a slow shallow turn that slid the glider slowly across the face of the ridge beside the launch area again. This time he was barely above the launch as he passed by. A few of the pilots groaned in disappointment, and walked back to finish assembling their gliders. Others watched diligently waiting to see if Brad would try to work any parts of the mountain other than what was near launch. He did experiment, letting the glider travel about two hundred yards to the left of launch this time, more than twice as far as he had gone the first time. He slowly climbed once again, but when he turned to pass in front of launch, he lost half of what he had gained. This time he was twenty feet above launch as he passed over. He made several more passes, slowly gaining a little each time until he seemed to settle at an average of about fifty feet above launch. You could hear pilots critique his flight from several quarters. "He flew right through that one." "Shouldn't ov’ let his turn carry him so far from the hill." "He's sure stickin' ta launch. Wish he'd go see if there's anything farther out."
Chapter 3 Brad eventually let his glider drift across the canyon to the right of launch, and only moments later two more gliders wove their way from the back through the twelve gliders in the setup area. These gliders looked different though, wider, sleeker, and more oblique. They were rigid wings, a step higher in performance above the delta wings, or flex wings that had become the standard of the sport. That performance came at a cost though. They had a slower response rate, meaning that the pilot had less time to react to gusts and surges, they typically weighed almost thirty percent more, making them more difficult to handle on the ground, and they cost two or three times what a state-of-the-art flex wing would. "Look, Kevin and Jeff are going." Dan said stepping away from his glider to point them out to Mark and Roger. "Those guys don't like to wait." Mark commented turning to watch them lift one wing then another weaving their way to launch. First one launched, then the other, only a minute or two apart. They both flew into the canyon to the right, and shot across to the ridge on the other side. They lost no altitude crossing, and started to climb as soon as they reached the other side. Within moments they were both making passes at that ridge more than fifty feet above Brad. One of them started to climb very quickly. He turned away from the mountain, into the wind, and continued to climb for several seconds. Then the glider banked steeply, and started to spiral up, continuing climbing just as fast as it had initially. Mark, Dan, and Roger heard a nearby pilot’s radio squawk. "Kevin, it’s out in front. Come and get it."
They looked up and watched as Jeff locked into the center of the thermal, climbing at more than two hundred feet per revolution. Kevin, in the other rigid wing turned and tracked into the same thermal two hundred feet under Jeff. With each revolution Kevin gained on Jeff until they were flying wingtip to wingtip more than a thousand feet above launch. Roger tore his eyes from the beautiful assent to study the other pilots. He was surprised to see some staring in slack-jawed wonder. It had been a masterful exhibition of flying skills, but should not be that uncommon an event at a flying site like Mt. Diablo. Mark spotted Roger's expression, and tried to explain. "Things have slowed down a bit up here from when you used to fly." "We're all gettin' older too ya know." Dan popped in supportively. "Kevin and Jeff aren't young!" Roger stated a little disappointed with what he was hearing. He looked up and spotted the two rigid wings still spiraling upward wingtip to wingtip growing smaller as they climbed aloft. He glanced around at the other pilots, and was amazed at how many wore stunned expressions as they watched, looking to Roger more like spectators than the eager pilots he had expected. His questioning eyes sought out Mark. "Its not like it used to be." Mark explained. "Remember how we used to stick together for hours after flying, and critique everyone's flight in detail, and analyzing the conditions. We got better with every flight because of that." He shrugged, and assumed an apologetic expression. "Nobody seems to have time for that anymore." Patricia walked up with a friendly smile. "That was beautiful!" She wistfully watched as the two rigid wings stopped turning and flew over the top of the mountain several hundred feet above the peak. Roger glanced at the gliders. Then he turned his attention to her. He furrowed his brow in a puzzled expression, and wondered why she suddenly looked so different. He shook the odd feeling off, and returned his view to the gliders in time to see them pass from view behind the mountain's peak. "Yes it was. That's what its all about, getting up and going somewhere." She cocked her head and rewarded him with a curious smile. "Did you used to get up and go much?" "Not that often." He replied nonchalantly as he picked up his bundle of aluminum batons and started sliding them one-by-one into their small pockets in the gliders sail. He realized that the tension between them was gone, or maybe just different, and he smiled back. "If a few of us decided in advance, and had an agreeable driver, we'd go, but flying XC, ah, cross country, can be pretty inconvenient. Sometimes you'd wait for hours in the sun with no shade before you'd get picked up. Or if you were really unlucky you might have to carry your equipment for a mile or so to get to the nearest road, but yeah, I've had a couple of hundred miler's, and dozens of flights over thirty miles." She could tell by the slow way he talked, and stared off into the distance once or twice that despite the inconveniences, the memories were fondly recalled. Within minutes of Kevin and Jeff's impressive climb and departure, there were three gliders lined up behind launch waiting for their turn. The first pilot knelt under his glider intently watching the available indicators to judge the conditions. He watched the telltale, Brad; who was still working the ridge on the other side of the canyon, and a pair of turkey vultures; who were below launch but steadily climbing. When the vultures were
less than a hundred feet below the pilot picked up his glider, checked the other indicators one more time, and then lunged forward into the building breeze. His third step never hit the ground. The glider surged upward at least twenty feet as he scrambled to lay down and get his feet into his harness. The vultures had drifted to the right into the canyon. The pilot turned to his right following the climbing birds. He managed to stay above them for only moments before they climbed above him instinctively manipulating their chosen bubble of rising air. The pilot circled a couple more times, but was starting to loose altitude. He stopped turning and flew across the canyon to join Brad. Before he was half way across the canyon another pilot launched. He flew to the left first as Brad had, and managed to come back twenty or thirty feet above launch. After two more passes he was fifty or sixty feet above launch, and flew back into the steeper walled canyon to the right. There were now three gliders contouring the faces of the mountain near launch, but none of them seemed able to get more than a hundred feet higher than launch. There were still more than half a dozen gliders being set up, and there were two more lined up at the launch waiting for the conditions to get a little stronger. Roger had finished setting up his glider, and was stuffing the gliders storage bags and pads into pockets in his harness, when a strong gust caused his glider to rock unexpectedly. He quickly pulled the raised wingtip down, so the glider couldn't be grabbed by the wind and tossed around. He noticed he wasn't the only pilot concernedly hanging onto his wing. He had seen unattended gliders snatched from the setup area and tossed against the side of the mountain, usually causing a great deal of damage. Roger turned toward launch in time to see the next pilot launch into the strong conditions. The glider was instantly flung to nearly a hundred feet above launch. The pilot held the glider straight, tracking out away from the mountain. Not until he had stopped climbing did he turn, but it was too late. The fast moving thermal had passed him by. Roger looked to the right and saw that two of the gliders were climbing. Not consistently, as Jeff and Kevin had, but they were now more than two hundred feet above the launch site. "Looks like it’s startin' to get good." Dan commented from a few feet away, still staying close to his glider in the gusty conditions. From that point on another glider launched every few minutes until only Mark, Dan, and Roger were left. Even a couple of paragliders had launched. Only one glider had gone down and landed. Most were well above launch, and two were circling several hundred feet above the top of the mountain. Roger slipped into his harness, and donned his helmet. "Dan could you give me a radio check?" "Sure." Dan reached over and pressed the transmit button on his radio. "Check, check, one two three." "That's good, thanks." Roger adjusted the radio's position slightly on the shoulder strap of his harness. "You know, you're going to have to get a cleaner harness." Mark said stepping up to Roger. "This one's got too much drag for competition." "Yeah, I was noticin' that hardly anyone was flying in these any more." Roger glanced down at his harness. It had hardly been used. He had bought it shortly before he had stopped flying. "Do you guys want me to meet you at that field you showed me on the way here, or
are you going to fly cross country?" Patricia asked. "Oh!" Mark dug into his pocket and pulled out a small ring of keys. "I should have given these to you a while ago." He passed the truck's keys to her. "Remember the time Roger launched with his keys in his pocket, and flew over launch and dropped them to his driver?" Dan chuckled at the memory. "I remember." Mark nodded. "I was still on launch, it was in the middle of winter, and the keys fell into the only bush in the area still choked with snow. My fingers were numb before we found them." Roger joined Dan chuckling. "I remember that." "Being stuck up here without the keys would not be good!" Patricia said protectively clutching the ring of keys. "Yeah especially if we couldn't get them back up here before the park closed." Dan jibed. Roger addressed Patricia's first question. "I'm going to get as high as I can, but I'm not going anywhere, so once we all get up, and you know you don't have to retrieve one of us at the thousand footer. You can head on down to the Lime Ridge LZ whenever you want, but the view's better from up here." "LZ?" Patricia wrinkled her nose in confusion. Mark put a hand on her shoulder from behind, and said. "Landing Zone." "Oh." She turned and rewarded Mark with an appreciative smile. "Then I'll meet you at the LZ. "Don't go anywhere just yet." Mark urged. "Whoever launches last might want some help." "Help?" Patricia asked nervously. "Yeah, in case we need a wire assist." Dan stated flatly. "Wire assist?" Patricia's nervousness re-asserted itself. "Yeah, if the wind picks up I might need some to help holding the glider down until I'm ready to take off." Dan added glibly. "I -- don't know about that." His casual tone hadn't eased her tension. "Don't worry about it." Mark reassured. "It's easy, and it’s not dangerous." "Yeah, we get wuffos to do it all the time." Dan kidded. "Wuffos?" Patricia's expression had relaxed back into confusion. "We do have our own jargon, don't we?" Mark commented. "Originally wuffos were people who bought the equipment, and showed up at the sites, but never really learned to fly. They could take off and land okay, but they never caught onto soaring. We don't get many of those here. The name was catchy though, and a lot of pilots and their regular drivers started calling anyone else a wuffo. Spectators, new drivers, park rangers, anyone liable to ask a wuffo question." Patricia put her hands defiantly on her hips, with a feeling she was being led on. "Okay, I'll bite what's a wuffo question?" "We're not teasing you." Roger reassured her as he completed his preflight inspection of his glider. "Other sports use the name wuffo too. I don't know where it originated from." Mark stepped up next to Patricia. "There are lots of wuffo questions, like what do you do when the wind quits." "That would just mean that you'd be less likely to find lift, right?" Patricia's puzzled
expression amused the three men. "She's no wuffo!" Dan flattered. "No, definitely not." Roger stated appreciatively. Patricia rewarded him with an embarrassed smile. "I'm not?" "No." Mark reassured. "Wuffos seem to think that a glider would fall out of the sky if the wind quit. They don't understand the concepts of airspeed, stalls, and such." "Oh!" Patricia was suddenly cognizant of the wuffo concept. "You ready to go?" Mark asked Roger. Roger took a deep breath, let out a subtle sigh, and nodded. "Yeah, I'm ready." He crouched down in front of the glider, and backed in under the wing between the upright tubes of the control bar. He set his shoulders into the apex of the triangle that the control bar formed, and lifted slowly straining to maintain the glider's balance in the inconsistent wind in the setup area. The glider had been setup with its wingtip into the wind to minimize the wind loads on the glider’s sail during setup. Now he had to turn the glider's nose into the wind, transforming it from an unwieldy plank into a lifting wing. A tricky maneuver sometimes, and Dan and Mark stood ready should the winds grab a hold of the glider, and try to wrench it away from him. A quick hand on the correct part of the wing would quickly re-stabilize it. Roger made the transition smoothly, but they could see him relax once it was completed. "You okay with the wind?" Mark was just confirming what he could see in Roger's posture. "Yeah, I'm fine. It’s been a while though." Roger glanced at Patricia. "Why don't you give me a wire assist anyway so Trish can see how it works." "Good idea." Mark answered stepping over in front of Roger, and placing one hand loosely around one of Roger's front flying wires near the nose. He turned to face Patricia. "If a gust picked the nose of the glider up Roger might not have enough control to pull the nose back down while he's walking up to launch. I can put a little pressure on the wire to keep the nose down, and it can't get away." He turned back to Roger. "Let's show her how it works. You lift the nose, and tell me when to help." Roger nodded, and slowly raised the nose until the glider lifted off of his shoulders, pushed upward by the wind. "Pull it down." Rodger uttered through gritted teeth. Mark pulled down on the wire, emphasizing his lack of effort, and the glider quickly settled back onto Roger's shoulders. "If you pull down too much, you could drive him to the ground. From this close to the nose it takes very little pressure to keep the nose down, and you only do it if he asks you to. He might be floating the glider intentionally. When he's ready to go, he'll tell me, and I'll just step out of his way so he can launch." "Okay let's go over to the launch." Roger directed Mark. They carefully walked down the gentle slope to the same area near the telltale that everyone else had used for launching. It was the point on the knoll where the slope started to get steeper. Mark stayed in front with a hand around the wire, but applied no pressure as Roger was able to manage the glider comfortably on his own. Roger set the glider down on its control bar, stepped forward, and deftly snagged the carabineer that would attach the harness to the glider in flight. He kept the carabineer clipped to the front of his harness until he was ready to fly. He secured it to the loop of webbing that hung down from the bottom of the wing. Then he stepped back through the control bar, and
made some adjustments to his instrument package. It beeped loudly, and he adjusted the volume down. It continued to beep occasionally, but much more softly. "Okay." Roger uttered, and picked up the glider. Mark stood directly in front of Roger and facing him. He held both hands up and cupped over the wires without touching them. Roger stood there feeling the wind blow across the wing. "What do ya think?" He asked Mark. Mark twisted his head around for a quick glance at the wind signs on the nearby terrain, and then glanced at the telltale. "Feels pretty good to me." Roger nodded, but hesitated for a moment. He took in a deep breath and shifted his feet a little. “Okay, I've got it." Mark jerked his hands away from the wires, crouched, and dodged under the wing to clear out of Rogers’s way. Patricia had taken a deep breath as soon as Mark had started to move, and she held it pensively waiting for Roger to sprint off the face of the hill, but Roger stood there watching something down the slope, subtly adjusting the angle of the wing as the wind tried to push it around. The wind had slackened off slightly. "Yeah, wait for it." Dan yelled from behind her. Mark stayed under the wing and ready in case he was needed. Roger suddenly leaned forward, Yelled, "Wahoo!" and was snatched upward by the wind that was deflected up by the mountain. As soon as he had launched the wind almost doubled, and the trees behind then shook furiously. He flew straight away from launch and continued to climb. At about fifty or sixty yards out he seemed to level off, and immediately turned to his right. He drifted in a slow wide turn that brought him back to directly over launch, and climbing hard once again. "Well, he still knows when to launch! That's for sure." Dan blurted as he clipped himself into his harness. "That was the best cycle so far." "He's already higher than most of the other flyers." Patricia gushed. She dropped the hand she had held to her forehead to shield her eyes from the sun while watching his westerly launch, and she turned to keep her eyes on Rogers easterly climb up the mountain. "He was always good with thermals." Mark said, dragging his harness over as Dan picked up his glider and moved over to launch. "You want a wire, Dan?" "Naa, I got it." "Roger didn't really need your help either did he?" Patricia glanced at Mark, and then turned back to watch Roger corkscrewing up the face of the mountain. "No that was for your benefit, incase Dan or I needed a help launching." Mark slipped his arms through the shoulder straps of his harness, and fastened its three buckles. Roger was little more than a dot in the sky above Mt. Diablo, and Patricia turned back to glance at Dan who was kneeling under his glider waiting for the next cycle of strong lift to start whipping through the trees below launch. She shifted her gaze to Mark as he pulled the heavy zipper on the front of his harness from his neck to his waist. The entire front of the harness was zippered from toe to neck. With the top zipped down his legs stuck out through the slit in the bottom half of the harness, leaving the bottom of the harness to stick out behind him like a huge blunt tail. "Your Harness is different from Rogers." She stated. "I've only had this one a couple of years. Roger's is about eleven or twelve years old."
"Doesn't he have a new one in his shop?" "Sure, several actually, but he's used to that harness, and we only want to make him have to adjust to one new thing at a time." Mark winked as he buckled his helmet's chinstrap. Then he pressed his right hand thumb and index finger together activating the transmit button on his radio. "Hey Roger, this is Mark. How high are you getting?" Mark glanced at Patricia's curious expression. He opened a pocket on the side of his harness, and pulled out his radio. Then he unplugged the wires that lead from it to his helmet. "...but I just found another one." Roger's voice suddenly issued from the radio's speaker. "Hey Roger could you say that again?" Mark asked. Patricia leaned in a little closer to better hear Roger’s comments. "I said, I got to fiftyeight in the first thermal, but I just found another one, and I'm almost to six thousand and still climbing. There's somebody over on the other peak, and he looks like he might be two or three hundred feet higher than me." Mark keyed the transmit button, and spoke into the radio. "Excellent, Dan and I will be up shortly." "Don't come up. The air is terrible." "Like I've never heard that one before." Mark smiled at Patricia again. "He's happy, really happy." Patricia grinned as she was overcome by a contented happy feeling of her own. "Oh, look. Dan is going." They watched Dan charge off the launch, but he didn't go up. He turned left and flew across the knoll, but still didn't climb. After he had turned and come back in front of launch he had lost at least twenty feet, and they looked down on the top of his sail as he flew by below. "Dan never developed a launch timing sense like Roger's." Mark commented shaking his head. "Is he going down to that scary little landing area we looked at on the way up. What did you call it, the thousand or something like that." Patricia's voice was tinged with concern. "No, he'll get up, he's just going to have to work for it." Mark answered. "Who just launched?" A new voice issued from Mark's radio. "That was Dan." Mark replied. "Well, tell him he's going the wrong way. The rest of us are going up." That comment brought fresh smiles to both Patricia and Mark. "Here you hold the radio, and come with me so I can hear too. I'll grab my glider, and take it to launch.” Mark pushed the tiny radio toward her. She followed him back to his glider, and watched as he turned it around into the wind. "Should I hold your wires like you did for Roger?" "No, it's pretty mellow right now, and once I get to launch I should be okay." He carefully walked the glider down to the bare dirt area where everyone else had launched. "Trish, could you hold the glider while I hook my radio back up? Just hold the wires near the nose, and keep the glider at this angle." He accepted the radio from her, but kept his neck seated in the apex of the control bar as he plugged the wires back into his radio, and put it back in the side pocket of his harness. "Thanks, I've got it now." She moved out of his way, and he surveyed the slope for signs of thermals rushing up the side of the
mountain. "Look Dan's caught one." Sure enough Dan was corkscrewing back up the slope toward them. "Oh my! He sure did get low, didn't he?" Patricia exclaimed. "That's why I fly with him. He's the perfect wind dummy." Mark picked up his glider in preparation for launch. "Wind dummy?" "I'll explain that one later. I've got to go now if I want to catch this thermal. Wahoo!" He sprinted off the launch, and flew straight over to Dan, only he got there about fifty feet higher than Dan, and he climbed directly above him. They both climbed at the same rate, and Mark managed to maintain his fifty-foot advantage. A short while later they had worked their way up to several hundred feet above the top of the mountain, and joined up with Roger. Patricia hiked back to the truck, and turned on its transceiver. "...sixty-six twice." "We only got to six in that one." It sounded like Mark "Yeah, I think we're in a bit of a lull right now." Patricia recognized Roger's voice. "Mark, was that you abusing Dan in that last thermal?" She didn't recognize that voice. "He's the ultimate wind dummy. He has a little glider with a mediocre sink rate, and always wants to launch first." Mark's voice answered. "Hay, I made it up here too." It was unmistakably Dan's petulant voice. "How low did you get?" A new voice queried. "Fifteen hundred." Dan answered. "Whoa! Well at least you'll have the best altitude gain for the day." Mark added. "Look Roger's found another one." The radio went silent, and Patricia turned up the volume, and walked back to the setup area about ten yards away. From there she could see the gliders above the peak. One was turning tight circles, and the rest were converging on his location. Patricia pulled out her trail mix, and a bottle of water. She found herself a parking barrier log that was partially shaded at the edge of the road, and watched the boys fly, while listening to their occasional comments over the truck's turned up radio. "Trish, this is Roger, I'm going to head out soon, and it'd be really nice if the ice chest was at the landing area when I landed." She sprinted over to the truck, grabbed the microphone, and pressed the transmit button. "Roger, I'm still at the launch site, but I'll go down right away." She blurted. "Okay, I'll hang around for a bit before I head out. With any luck well get there at the same time. You don't need to rush. It won't take you that long to get there." "I'll see you there." She chirped, feeling more confident and relaxed than she had in weeks. Roger had agreed to compete, and he was turning out to be as good a pilot as she'd originally assumed he was.
Patricia parked the truck and walked up the short curving dirt road to the gate in time to see Roger arrive over the landing zone at about three hundred feet above the barren hallow field that was their landing area. She ran back to the truck and snatched the small ice chest. When she got back he was down to a hundred feet, and lining up to land. She watched intently as he swooped down into the draw, well below her level at the gate. He flew almost directly toward her across the dry creek bed that was the low point in the middle of the dry weed-covered field, clearing it's banks by about thirty feet. She cocked her head in concern. To her it looked like he was going to fly into the hillside below her. He kicked his feet free of the bottom of his harness, and stuck his legs down and his shoulders up, rotating his body in preparation for landing. Just before he reached the upward sloping surface in front of him he pushed out on the control bar, and the glider climbed up the hill a few yards before depositing him gently on the slope. He landed comfortably with only five or ten yards to walk up to where the dirt road cut into the hillside from the gate. "You've done that before." She complimented as he walked up and set his glider down near the gate. "Yeah, but it's been a while. Oh good, you brought the ice chest." He unhooked his harness from the glider, and walked directly to the ice chest with his harness tail draped in one hand. Pulling out one of the juice drinks that he had packed he gulped down half of it instantly. Then he walked back to his glider with his drink in hand. "Here comes Dan." He pointed up toward the southeast. "That's probably Mark behind him." She looked in the direction he was pointing, and eventually spotted a glider about a half a mile away, and a moment later she spotted the second glider higher and even further away. Dan's landing was a little more interesting. He came in low, and had to try to extend his glide to clear the bank of the dry creek. Unfortunately he had no speed left to flare the glider as Roger had, and only managed to take one step before his glider fell on its nose in front of him stirring up a significant dust cloud, and making a recognizable impact sound. "Whack!" Roger yelled as soon as he saw that Dan had hurt nothing but his pride. "Whack!" They both heard Mark's taunt over Rogers’s radio. Roger pulled off his helmet, and squirmed out of his harness. "He'll be grumpy for a few minutes, but it was a good day, and he'll forget about that landing soon enough." Roger commented to Patricia. She watched wide-eyed as the dust settled around Dan. "He's okay?" "Yeah, he's okay. Probably put another hole in his nosecone though." Roger chuckled. He laid his harness in the dirt in front of his glider, and took another swallow of juice. He looked up at Mark, who was floating five hundred feet overhead. Then he scanned the sky toward the mountain eventually spotting two more gliders heading toward the landing area. "There's two more coming out." He said pointing toward the other gliders he had spotted. "Will they all land here?" Patricia wondered aloud as her gaze returned to Roger, who was now disassembling his glider. She craned her neck to look over the glider, and noticed that Dan had picked up his glider and was trudging up the shallow slope toward them. She was startled by the ripping noise that Roger made when he callously tore lose the Velcro that secured his glider's nosecone.
He tossed it on the ground at the base of the control bar, and scanned the sky once again before wiping a bead of sweat from his brow. Patricia stepped closer and pointed at the glider turning overhead. "That's Mark, right?" She asked, pointing up. "Yeah." He nodded and glanced at her. "He'll be landing in a couple minutes." He suddenly felt awkwardly attracted to her, but his tongue felt tied and his brain only wanted to look. In a mild fit of embarrassment he marched purposefully to a wingtip and started pulling batons from the sail. His eyes were uncontrollable, and kept sweeping over to appreciate her graceful curves. "Ooh, look, here he comes!" Patricia waved a hand excitedly toward the landing area behind him. Roger turned, and was momentarily shocked at how close Mark was. Only a hundred feet away and less than ten feet above, Mark had already rotated his body into an upright position. At first Roger was concerned that he was about to be mowed down, but after tracking the glider for only a second he relaxed. Mark was going to pass to his right, but only slightly. Mark flew at the ground toward a point near Roger. His face was a mask of concentration, but everything was lining up perfectly, and a smile subconsciously crept across his face. Mark eased the nose up and made the glider contour the slope. He felt the glider start to get soft and unresponsive as the stall initiated, and he pushed forward on the control bar as far as he could reach pleased with the glider's responsive stop. His feet swung forward, and he dropped the remaining foot gently onto them without having to take a single step. The glider gently settled half a second later onto his shoulders. He looked to his right and his smile broadened. His wingtip was about six feet from Roger's and perfectly aligned. It was right where he wanted it. He set the glider down on the roadcut, stepped through the control bar, and unhooked his carabineer. "That was wonderful!" Patricia gushed. "Show off." Roger smirked, and continued pulling batons from his sail. "Rub it in!" Dan yelled from below them, only half way up the slope from where he had landed. Mark's grin was ear to ear when he acknowledged Patricia. "Sometimes you get lucky." He answered modestly. A few minutes later Dan and Mark and were pulling their gliders apart, nursing partially drained bottles from the ice chest as they worked. "Are you sure this time?" Dan bantered snidely. "I actually talked to the truck driver. He verified that he has your glider. He was in Porterville, that's where it ended up. He wanted to know if he could drop it off at seven o’clock to try and beat the bulk of the traffic coming into the city. He said something about trying to make Eureka by noon." Roger reassured. "How did it end up in Porterville?" There was hostility in Dan's voice, and he flashed a scowl at Mark who was snickering. Neither Roger nor Mark took Dan's anger personally. They knew it was not directed at them. It was just his frustration with his new glider being lost in shipping for almost a week. "Evidently there were two of them shipped at the same time. Yours, and one for one
of the Slick Rock pilots." Roger smiled and shook his head. "It sat in some drapery shop for two days before anyone realized it was in the wrong place." "So Jeff's brother had it?" Mark asked. "Yeah, trouble was he was working on some cabin up in the mountains, and didn't get back to his shop to find that he'd received two gliders instead of one. The girl who signed for the delivery didn't know any better, and didn't want to spoil his surprise." Roger explained. "So it was all just one big innocent mess?" Mark commented. "I'll be at your shop at seven." Dan said with intensity. "That's what I told the driver. Said he could deliver it onto your vehicle and you could sign for it." Roger watched Dan for a reaction. Dan's eyes bulged with surprise at Roger's response. "Wha... bu...you..." He stammered. "Of course I'll be there." Roger reassured, dropping his charade. Roger and Mark both chuckled at Dan's muddled expression and his understandable frustration. Dan stopped fondly stroking the wood-braced cardboard shipping box that held his new glider, and turned an insidious grin toward Roger. "Time to get that unaffordable super wing of yours out." Roger opened his mouth to comment, but only stared blankly. Dan didn't give him time to think up an excuse. "You've had three good flights off Juniper, and three good landings. You're ready." Roger meekly nodded. "Yeah, I suppose the sooner I get used to it the better." Dan's jaw dropped momentarily. He'd expected an argument from his friend. He thought he'd need to call in Mark for support. "Yeah, that's right." He stammered. Roger tilted his head toward the rack against the wall that held the new and used gliders that were for sale in his shop. "I suppose we should pull it off the rack and inspect it." Dan recovered from his surprise at Roger's agreeability, and let his enthusiasm flow unchecked. "Let's set it up, I've never seen one up close!" "It has over forty-two feet of span. It won't fit in here, but the parking lot won't fill up for an hour or so." "Okay, an I could set mine up too." Dan beamed with the face splitting smile of an out-of-control enthusiast. "Help me get it out of this box first. Then we can grab yours." They had just finished sliding Dan's glider free of its shipping container when Roger's phone rang. Roger glanced at the phone's display before answering. "Hi Mark. - Yes, we just unpacked it. - I agree. We were about to set it and the Streak up in the parking lot. No I haven't heard from her yet." The back door creaked open at that moment, and Patricia stuck her head in inquisitively. "Actually she just got here. - I understand, neither one of you have worked in almost two weeks. - Oh. - Okay. - See you at lunch then. Bye." Roger hung up the phone and turned to the door. "Morning Trish." "Morning Roger." Patricia smiled broadly and stepped in. Dan looked from Patricia to Roger and back again, and a pleased expression spread across his face. He approved of the chemistry he saw between them, and his smile suddenly broadened as he realized that neither of them were aware of it yet.
The next day, Friday, found the four of them once again on the Juniper launch of Mount Diablo. This time however, they shared the hill with only two paraglider pilots. This did not surprise them; first, when they checked the weather conditions the reports hadn't sounded promising, but what little wind there was, was from the right direction. Second, the day before had blown out, with winds too strong for hang gliders to handle comfortably or safely. And third, even dyed in the wool air junkies have to go to work sometime. They set up their gliders. Both Dan and Roger were looking at first flights in new gliders. Neither of them wanted to launch until conditions were near perfect. They did enjoy watching the Para-glider pilots, one, an expert, was helping a less experienced pilot. The expert laid out his sail to the left of where the hang gliders launched, and strapped on his harness. He stepped backward down the slope stretching out the lines that ran to his sail. He carefully selected certain strings from the confusion of lines and pulled. The light wind instantly caught the front edge of the sail, and stood it up into a wrinkly curved wall. He quickly checked that none of the lines were tangled. Satisfied, he stepped forward, releasing the tension on the lines, and the sail settled back onto the grass. He turned his head and looked at the telltale streamer to his left. Then he looked over his shoulder surveying the shrubs on the slope below him for signs of a stronger wind. Only moments later he smiled, having seen what he had hoped for. He stepped back putting just enough pressure on the lines to pull the leading edge of the sail up out of the grass. He watched the streamer for several seconds before he saw the vigorous activity in it that he had been waiting for. He leaned back hard into his harness and pulled up on the lines. The sail snapped and leapt off the ground pulling him up the hill two or three steps before he could stabilize it over his head. He studied the wing for only half a second, verifying that it was straight, full, and untangled. Then he snapped around to face down the hill, leaned forward hard, and drove his body into the wind. It was almost humorous to watch how much effort it took to power the big, parachute-like wing off the launch. As hard as he was trying to run he seemed to barely move. Then, as though someone had released the pressure that was holding him back, he shot forward and up. The paraglider flew at a much slower speed than a hang glider, and seemed to just float across the ridge. He laid back into his harness, and pulled the brake handles occasionally. Soon he drifted over launch with twenty feet to spare. He made another pass, but this time when he came back he allowed the glider to drift back behind where he had launched. He pulled down on both brake handles, and virtually stopped the glider over the ground. He let off on one handle until the glider lined up directly into the wind, and then leaned forward in his harness pulling both handles down. The glider settled depositing him gently almost exactly where he had started. He turned and walked quickly back up the hill, and the sail settled back into the grass above him. Patricia applauded. "That was wonderful!" It was the first spark of emotion she had shown all day. She had been especially quiet around Roger. Roger, Mark, and Dan joined in her ovation, acknowledging the masterful handling of the huge, but flimsy wing. "I just cringe every time I watch those wings crumple to the ground like that." Mark shrugged off an involuntary shiver. "I've seen them do that while flying too. And sometimes they fall quite a ways before they open up again." He shook his head and shivered once again.
"They fold up like that when they are flying?" Patricia gasped. "Not often, but yeah, sometimes." Roger offered. "Doesn't seem to bother the guys that fly um though. Ask Dan about them. He flies them sometimes." Roger turned to Mark. "That cycle didn't last very long. I hope it gets a little better. I know that this glider shouldn't have any trouble making it out to the LZ, but I'd like to spend a little time working the hill before I head out." "Yeah, I feel the same way." Dan sympathized. "We'll get what we get." Mark philosophized. "But at least we've got entertainment while we wait." The other Para-glider pilot had laid out his sail. He clumsily shook the tangles out of his lines, and tried to build his sail into a wall as his friend had, but only one side lifted, and it quickly slipped over the other side until the sail was upside down. He shook his head in frustration as his friend dragged the arrant wing tip back around to where it belonged. They listened as the friend told the pilot not to worry, it had happened to him dozens of times, and watched as the pilot did it again. Eventually he got the sail to pull up straight and hover over his head. For all the trouble he had getting the glider to inflate and come up properly, his launch was executed cleanly, aggressively, and without incident. All question of his proficiency was dismissed as they watched him make several passes in front of launch with well executed turns, and no loss of altitude in the light conditions. The expert launched a few minutes later, and the two gliders floated around in front of launch for several minutes before the winds lulled, causing the lift to reduce to an insufficient level to support the gliders. They slowly descended, working the face of the mountain with hopes of staying in the air long enough to last out the lull, and climb back up on the reasserting lift. It didn't work out that way though. They both landed on the small point below launch, known as the thousand footer landing area. Roger, Mark, and Dan waited on the conditions another twenty minutes before Roger couldn't take it anymore. "We haven't had a decent cycle since the para's went down." Roger complained. "I'm taking the next puff that blows up the hill." "Yeah, It's probably not going to get much better." Dan agreed. Mark shook is head and turned to Patricia. "Neither one of them ever had any patience on launch. I'm surprised they lasted this long." She rewarded him with an amused smile, and watched the other two pick up their gliders and turn them around. Roger was in front and stepped up to the launch while Dan parked his glider directly behind him. They both hooked into their gliders and knelt behind their control bars. Mark decided that Roger looked pensive and hesitant, and decided he should intercede. He walked in front of Roger's glider, and knelt in front of him. "You nervous?" He asked in as calming a voice as he could muster. "Not about flying the glider." Roger replied with obviously forced composure. He realized he wasn't fooling Mark. "I've done my homework, I know what to expect of this wing. I'd just hoped for good enough conditions to fly around for a while before I had to fly out and try to land this thing." Mark nodded. "Good. Nobody's in a hurry so take your time and wait for a good cycle. See you at the LZ." He stood, and turned to walk around the glider and out of the
way. "Mark." Roger said stopping him. “Thanks." Mark nodded with a warm smile, and then cleared out of Roger's way. Roger waited a couple more minutes, and then the telltale danced with added vitality indicating an increase in wind. A cycle was starting. Roger quickly stood and squared the broad new wing into the freshening breeze. He hesitated only a moment ensuring that the wing felt properly balanced. "Wahoo!" He yelled, leaned forward, and drove his legs as hard as he could, pushing the wing into the wind. The glider penetrated the stiffening breeze, and tracked smoothly and quickly away from launch. Roger didn't want to fly too far from the surface and stray out of the narrow lift band that he expected of a day with such light conditions. He reached back with his foot, and hooked the tail of his harness, simultaneously pulling the control bar to his left shoulder. A grin spread across his face as the glider responded more quickly than he had anticipated to his inputs. He was slicing across the slope beside the launch area and not going down. His grin broadened, but he was flying much faster than he needed to so he eased the control bar out a bit. He was regaled with a heavy stomach as the glider clawed upward bleeding off the extra speed. He decided to turn back before the extra speed was gone, and pulled the control bar to his right shoulder. He was tickled again with the quick response and minimal effort as the glider banked and turned almost instantly. He centered himself and pushed out the control bar to slow the glider even more as he passed across launch. His grin faded for a moment, not in concern, but in utter amazement. He was at least a hundred feet above launch. As he neared the canyon to the right of launch he eased the control bar in to put on a bit more speed to the jump across the canyon. He had decided that he would clear out and leave the dependable slope at launch for Dan to work alone. He was shocked at how quickly the glider accelerated without going down. His old glider would have been falling out of the sky at this speed, but this one felt very comfortable whizzing along at what felt very fast to him. It took only seconds to cross the canyon, and he'd lost virtually no altitude. He shook his head finally believing the hype he'd been fed about the wing's performance. He flew directly into a light thermal in front of the point on the other side of the canyon, and banked around in the light lift fully expecting to fall out of it before he could make a full circle, but to his surprise the glider flew a tight pirouette in the lift, and gained a few feet before he came around to his original heading. He allowed the glider to maintain it's bank and turn radius, and it seemed to center itself into the core of the thermal. He was slowly but comfortably climbing. "What a machine!" He heard himself say out loud. "Wow!" Dan uttered, and glanced at Mark and Patricia with disbelief. "All he's got to do now is figure out how to land it." Mark yelled so that Dan could hear. "What's he climbin' in? It's no stronger than when the paras were flyin'?" Dan yelled back. "Is the glider really that good?" Patricia asked. "It's the magic." Mark grinned impishly. "Magic?" She tilted her head slightly and squinted demanding a serious answer.
Mark took a deep breath preparing to explain his comment, but his eyes never left Roger and his feebly slow climb above the ridge. "Every once in a while it all comes together. The right pilot, at the right time, and the right wing." He made an exploding motion with his fingers. "Magic." She looked at mark, back at Roger's climb, and back at Mark. "You think he's got the magic?" There was a thrill in her voice. He glanced at her with a cocked eyebrow. "Oh yeah, by rights he should be sinking down toward the landing area, but he's five minutes into his first flight in that wing, and look at him. He's climbing up on lift that a bird would struggle to capture." He took a hard look at her. He suspected that she was part of the magic. His friend had been alone too long. Neither Dan nor Mark had been able to capitalize on the conditions that day as Roger had. He'd managed to gain several hundred feet, giving him some time to ring out the new wing and get thoroughly comfortable with it. Dan and Mark had both made their short flights, landing at the thousand footer. They arrived at the lower and larger landing area to find Roger almost finished folding up his glider. He wore an irrepressibly pleased expression on his face. "I can't believe this glider." He ranted barely in control of his exuberance. "Yeah, Sky King flies again." Dan kibitzed. "Oh." Roger realized he was barely controlling himself, and tried to defer. "How'd you like your glider? I noticed you had a nice landing." "Finally!" Mark cajoled. "It’s stiffer than my old glider, but definitely better performance." Dan leered at Mark, but answered Roger, glad for the chance to comment on his own new toy. "You feelin' more comfortable about the competition?" "Yeah, I actually feel like I might not make a total fool out of myself." Roger replied. "Good, I just hope someone beats that asshole Ernest Banks!" Patricia griped. The guys all stopped dead in their tracks and stared at her in shock. "I know he's your friend, but I don't like him." She apologized. They stared in silence for a moment, and then all three of them broke into laughter. Dan was the first to stop long enough to explain. "Ernie's a snob. We've never really cared for him, and he's got chip on his shoulder for Rog." "Oh! Well that explains a lot." She nodded with an expression of understanding. "Ah!" She gasped as Roger placed a hand on her shoulder. She hadn't noticed him approaching from behind. "What'd Ernie do to you?" Roger insisted with a menacing tone. Patricia turned demure, and stared at the ground. " He, he, ah, he insulted my friend Michelle, and propositioned me, practically in the same breath." She looked into Roger's eyes for a moment then back at the ground. "He's a toad." She hissed softly. "He thinks a lot of himself." Roger said squeezing her shoulder gently. "If you were half as harsh with him as you just sounded you probably won't have any more trouble with him." She dug in the ground with the toe of her tennis shoe. "Actually, I'm not sure I handled the situation well at all." When no one spoke she continued. "To get him to leave me alone I told him I was seeing someone. He said 'not Roger Dunn', like you were..."
She hesitated and glanced at Roger again. "I couldn't help myself, I said yes." Mark and Dan were barely suppressing their mirth at the frustrated tension between Patricia and Roger. Roger glared at Patricia, and she misinterpreted his expression, and tried to explain herself. "Well, we are seeing each other, sort of. I mean it was just a little white lie." She shrank from him fearing his response, but it wasn't what she'd expected. "Like I was what!?!" He scowled threateningly. Mark and Dan couldn't hold it in any longer, and they both burst into laughter. Poor Patricia didn't know what to think, between Roger's scowl and the guys’ laughter. "Finish folding your glider Roger. You know what Ernie's like." Mark finally broke the tension. He pulled Patricia aside, and spoke softly so that only she could hear. "Roger's not upset with you. He gets upset anytime he hears Ernie's name. There's some history between them. I doubt you could put them in a room together, and see them both walk out intact." Patricia's eyes darted back and forth between Mark and Roger, and her hands slowly rose to cover her mouth. "I didn't know." "There's only a handful of us that do. Most people assume that they are friends because they used to fly together." "But, what happened." "Don't know exactly. In fact, it was a long time before I realized the problem existed. There was a girl between them, Renee, but I don't think it was about her." Mark turned his gaze on Roger. "We've always avoided the subject, but in a couple of weeks those two will be crammed together in public." Mark wrapped his hand around Patricia's wrist, and squeezed until her eyes were on him again. "I suspect that Ernie's intent is to do his best to humiliate Roger. I know that Roger wouldn't mind doing a little humiliating of his own, but in a hang gliding competition... Ernie has the advantage. He's been competing for years. Roger's just started flying again." "Why is it I hurt the people I ca..." Patricia's eyes twitched nervously about. "I want to help." She finished her dropped statement. "He doesn't have to win, though, just compete. Maybe..." Mark cut her off. "No! He has to best Ernie. That's all that matters to him now." He studied her eyes for a second. "He likes you, ya know." "Huh?" Her eyes snapped into focus on Mark's eyes, and searched his expression intently. "You seem to like him too." He smiled at her coy response. "Don't interfere between him and Ernie. Let him do what he has to do. Ernie's no fool, but he's got a blind spot for Roger. To the best of my knowledge Ernie's never had the better flight when the two of them flew in the same air." Her eyes brightened for a moment. "The magic, Roger's got the magic!" "That won't matter." He shook his head at her questioning look. "Ernie's had it for some time. He's successfully competed world class for years." He stared at her with intent eyes to stress his next statement. "It's not just the competition that matters. Its everything." He could see that he had given her something to think about and left her to her thoughts.
Chapter 5 The next day was overcast and too windy to fly, so Patricia invited them to visit the Ranch where the competition would be held. She guided Roger onto the Byron highway going north from highway 4, and then turned onto a narrow country road. About a mile up the road they saw an intricate wrought iron gate permanently blocked open. Arching high over the opening were twofoot tall letters spelling 'Fancy Ranch'. A paved drive led into the ranch with a line of alternating juniper and palm trees on the left. The junipers were fifteen to twenty feet tall, but the palms were over thirty. On the right was a lush green evenly trimmed lawn that was over three hundred feet wide, and stretched to a four-foot tall hedgerow fence over a half a mile away. "That's the grass runway I was telling you about." Patricia narrated. "You could almost land a jet in here!" Dan gushed. "It's not that long." Patricia snickered. "But I had no problem landing my dad's plane here. It should be fine for towing hang gliders." "No doubt." Rodger agreed "Oh, I arranged for the tow planes to be here a couple days early for competitors to get some practice flights in the area." Patricia added. She had Roger follow the road through a gap in the trees. They passed between a large steel building, and a cornfield. Adjacent to the building was a paved apron, large enough to turn a big semi-truck with a long trailer around on. After the paved apron was a grape vineyard. The road formed a tee on the far end of the cornfield and vineyard. Patricia had Roger stop, and pointed to the left. "That way leads out to the main guest entrance, and see where the road T's again over there. That leads to Max's house, he owns the Ranch. I brought you in this way so you could see the airstrip though." "Pretty impressive." Mark offered. "Oh, you ain't seen nothing yet." Patricia retorted with a knowing smile. "Oh!" Roger squinted suspiciously at her. "Really, you'll see." She insisted, and pointed to the right. “That way." They continued on between the cornfield and a large olive orchard that flanked the house. Ahead, beyond the cornfield appeared a forest of oak trees. "They're trying to supplement the ranch's income by creating a low key resort area on the river with boating, camping, and other activities." The road contoured the corner of the olive grove, and continued east before turning south into the forest of native oaks. After about a hundred yards the road dumped out into a three acre oval shaped gravel-covered parking lot, overlooking a small floating marina and a wide boat ramp. Patricia guided them passed two pickups with empty boat trailers, and had Roger park beside an old Willys Jeep. The four vehicles were all that occupied the huge parking area. In front of the docks to one side of the Ramp were steps that led down the levy bank to the marina. "Angie's working in the marina today. I want to introduce her before we continue the tour." Patricia said with an unusually keen sparkle in her eyes, which lingered a moment on Dan. Then she bounded gaily down the steps to the docks. The boys all looked at each other with quizzical expressions. Roger shrugged his
shoulders, and raced down the steps after Patricia. Dan and Mark followed at a trot. All four of them arrived at the marina's entrance at the same time, and the boys followed Patricia inside. The interior was packed with sundries, food, and water sports equipment. Full shelves were everywhere, even across the windows. Snorkel, mask, and fins sets, suntan lotion, bobble heads, and other keepsakes obscured the view through the windows. Patricia went directly to the counter at the front, right hand corner, but there appeared to be no one at the register. "Angie?" She called, turning toward the back of the building. "Just a sec' Trish." The husky feminine voice seemed to emanate from the counter. The guys shared intrigued looks, while Patricia leaned over the counter, to see behind it. "What are you doing down there?" "I spilled a roll of dimes." Said the disembodied voice behind the counter. Patricia settled her forearms on the counter and leaned forward until her legs bumped the glass front of the counter's display case. "I brought Roger, Mark, and Dan out to see the ranch." "Oh!" Wavy golden blond hair and a pair of sparkling blue eyes peered over the counter to Patricia's left. "Hi." She announced briefly, and then the top of Angie's head disappeared behind the counter again. The guys could hear scuffling behind the counter from where they stood near the door. They watched Patricia stab her left arm behind the counter. "You missed one." "Thanks." Patricia pushed herself back away from the counter, and Angie rose into view. She was full figured, almost to the point of being plump, but still fit. She was almost a foot shorter than Patricia's five foot ten inches. Her long wavy blonde hair hung freely below her shoulders. Her skin was lightly tanned with a smattering of freckles on her cheeks. She wasn't movie star beautiful, but the phrase very cute readily came to mind. "Hi." Roger stepped forward and offered his hand. "I'm Roger." Angie's eyes widened, and she looked down. Both of her hands were clutching the front hem of her tee-shirt. She had pulled it up to form a makeshift pocket to hold the coins she had been collecting. She quickly rearranged the gathered edges of her shirt so that she could secure them with her left hand reached out with her right to accept Rogers, but when they shook nearly half of the coins slipped out one side and scattered across the floor. Angie's eyes rolled up in exasperation, and she shook her head in frustration, loosing a few more coins. "I'll help!" Dan offered excitedly, and raced around the end of the counter. Roger looked at Mark and raised his eyebrows. Mark replied with a knowing grin and a quick shake of his head. Dan was on the floor before Angie could react. She hastily dropped to the floor herself, but before she gathered any of the errant coins she gently placed a hand on Dan's forearm. "Thank you." She said with exaggerated appreciation. Both Mark and Roger shifted their suspicious expressions to Patricia accusingly. The slightest hint of a smile momentarily appeared on her lips, and then her eyes darted around guiltily avoiding theirs. At that moment the door opened, and a tall heavyset man eased in, announced by the tiny bell that hung over the door. He slipped around the others, and peered behind the
counter at Angie and Dan on their knees, scrambling for dimes. Occasionally, and apparently intentionally, they bumped heads. "Angie?" Angie's head jerked up with an unnatural snap. Her eyes grew wide, and her entire face turned as red as a beet, even her ears turned red. "Daddy!" She jumped to her feet with the quickness of a gymnast, and backed sheepishly into the corner. Her eyes darted apprehensively between the tall gray haired man and Dan, who had frozen on his knees. Her father turned his sternly inquisitive gaze from Angie to Dan. "Who's your friend Angela?" Dan grinned sheepishly, and stood offering his hand. "I'm Dan Sir, Dan McKinley." He answered without waiting for Angie to reply. "Max Henderson." Angie's father stated, accepting Dan's hand with the firm grip of one who has performed strenuous labor every day of their life. His lips parted in an accepting smile, and he turned to Patricia. "These the friends you're showin' around today?" "Yes Max, good morning." With effort she transformed her guilty grin into a welcoming smile, and pointed with her left hand. "This is Mark Hudson." "Mark." Max offered his hand. "Mister Henderson." Mark replied as they shook hands. Patricia shifted her attention to Roger. "And this is Roger Dunn." "Ah, the infamous pilot." Max scrutinized Roger before offering his hand. He watched Roger squirm under his steely gaze. "He don't look like anything special." Patricia stiffened at the minor insult, while Dan and Mark watched with apprehension. Roger's eyes hardened as he dropped his hand to his side after a brief shake with Max. "Looks can be deceiving." His eyes turned steely as he reassessed the heavier, but equally tall man before him Everyone’s eyes broadened at the terse reply. Max pulled his head back reassessed Roger as well. Finally a comfortable grin crossed his lips, and he planted a large hand on Rogers shoulder while addressing the girls. "At least he's got spirit." He gave Roger's shoulder a friendly squeeze. "Angela, You go show them around the ranch. I'll watch the store till lunch for ya. Take um out in the Chris-Craft. It hasn't been run for a few days." He slid behind Dan, and gave Angie a gentle shove. "Tell um about all our plans, and see what they think." He dropped to the floor, and started picking up dimes. Dan and Angie hit it off from the start, and were soon inseparable. With Dan hanging on every word, Angie explained how her father planned to expand the marina facilities some day. She led them around to the east side of the little bay that held the marina and docks, to examine the children’s park, and campgrounds that she and her father had built. Next she showed them part of the extensive mountain bike trail system that they were continually expanding. One trail wound around the park and passed the campground disappearing into the oak tree woods. They returned to the parking lot, and climbed into Roger's SUV. While Roger drove Angie narrated and gave directions from between Mark and Dan in the back seat. They drove back through the woods the way they had come in, and Angie told them how the olive trees had been planted in the late forties by her grandmother with money she had inherited from an uncle who had died in the war. Her
father had added the grapes in the seventies when he had returned from the Vietnam War. The corn was new. A friend who farmed nearby had talked her father into it. Angie got chuckles from them when she explained how her grandmother disapproved of the genetically engineered crop, and sarcastically referred to it as Franken-corn. She held clawed fingers over her head and snarled in imitation of Frankenstein’s monster. "That's the barn. Daddy’s work-shop's in there." Angie said as the modern steel building that they had passed on their way in came into view. "Behind it there's a bunkhouse, but nobody's lived there for a couple years. It's a bit of a mess, needs remodeling. Turn left at the end of the corn." Angie rattled off her statements like a machine-gun, barely taking time to breath. Roger almost missed the narrow gravel road that was barely wide enough for his vehicle. It was tightly sandwiched between the corn and the row of palm and juniper trees that flanking the airfield. After a while they spotted another steel building directly before them. Roger turned at the end of the cornfield to contour the building. Angie spoke in a solemn tone now. "That's Dad's hanger." "Oh?" Roger replied, hoping for an explanation for Angie's tone. But it was Patricia that answered. "Max had to sell his Piper twin a few months ago. He hasn't got over the loss yet." "Dad's still got the old Stearman he used to spray the crops with, but if he has to sell it too..." Angie couldn't finish that thought. "That old biplane and his Chris-craft are the last things Max has left to sell." Patricia finished for her distraught friend. "After that they loose the ranch." The look she gave Roger explained a lot. The reason she had originally been so pushy with Roger to get him involved in the hang gliding contest was part of a last ditch effort to save the ranch. Roger's throat swelled with humility. He felt ashamed for having been so difficult toward her selfless efforts. He wanted to say something, but his throat and mind both felt dry and empty. They drove around the corner of the hanger, and the gravel gave way to a cement apron in front of the hanger's big bi-fold door. The cement curled around the far end of the building and led out to the edge of the grass airfield. "Stop here." Angie said before they reached the end of the taxiway. "I'll show you the motorcycle track. A tall hedgerow separated the other side of the taxiway from a stand of woods, but there was a break, just wide enough to walk through directly opposite the back corner of the hanger. After taking a look at the dirt track with its jumps and banked turns they drove back to the parking lot, and made their way to a boathouse near the marina. The Chris-Craft was a beautiful old mahogany runabout with two seating wells; one in front of the engine compartment, and one behind. Angie climbed in behind the wheel, and fired the engine up. It started right away, but it sputtered for a bit before settling into an even purr. "Dan you untie the bow line." Angie pointed as she issued her orders. "Trish you get the line back there. Roger, you and Mark climb in the back there." They all did as directed, and a moment later the proud little boat backed out of the open end of the boathouse. Once clear Angie turned them around and eased out of the
bay and into the channel. She turned around and grinned at Mark, Roger, and Patricia sitting in the backseat. Then she jammed the throttle to the stop, surprising everyone with the acceleration. The Chris-Craft didn't jump out of the water like a light fiberglass boat its size might, but it did set them into their seats. It was heavy, and plowed a trench through the water, slowly climbing up to plane out and cruise at over forty miles per hour. She held to the center of the river on an easterly course. The levies on either side curved around to a Northerly heading maintaining the river's ninety yard width, and enforcing the river's path chosen many decades before. After a few minutes Angie backed off on the throttle, and turned the boat around. As they drifted she pointed west to a rooftop, only partially visible above the levy. "That's our house." she announced. "That's the olives." She said, pointing south of the house. “We’re lucky the water's so high this year. Some years you'd have to stand on the bow to see anything." The tops of the olive trees were barely visible. Angie eased the throttle forward, and brought the boat up to about half speed. Eventually taller oak trees replaced the comparatively diminutive olive trees, and the river curved around to the west again. "That's the campground up there." Angie pointed to the northwestern bank on their right. "I know it's hard to tell, but we're going downstream now. This water will eventually end up in San Francisco Bay. Head up the other way and you'd eventually reach Sacramento or Stockton." They passed the inlet that sheltered the marina, and its boat docks. Angie pointed north after the inlet. "There's a large pasture over there. That's where the competition's landings will be." "They won't be landing at the airfield?" Mark interrupted. "No." Patricia answered from between him and Roger. "The pasture is more spectator friendly. Its close to the parking, marina, camping, and playground." Tall oaks appeared beyond the levy as they drifted on. A woman on a mountain bike appeared on the levy, and waved at them. "Grandma!" Angie shouted, and brought the boat over to the bank. "Howdy younguns." The gray haired little old lady greeted from astride her bicycle. She looked tiny, shorter even than Angela. She wore a heavy man's work shirt, and a short floral skirt with snug black riding shorts protruding below its hem. She formed a curious spectacle. "Angela, you make sure your friends join us for dinner. I'm sure they'll be hungry after the chores your pa's got for them to do." She didn't wait for a reply, but put her feet on the pedals, and disappeared beyond the levy more quickly than her frail size and age might have suggested. "Sounds like we're staying for dinner." Dan broke the silent revere in the boat, barely containing his enthusiasm. "It is almost noon." Angie sounded apologetic. "I guess we should go see what Dad's got in mind." Mark, Dan and Roger were assigned the task of preparing the grassy field that would serve as the competition's landing area. They chalked up a series of concentric circles, with the center one only two feet in diameter. This would serve as the landing target for the hang gliding competition, with significant points being allotted for a competitor's accuracy. They also setup a restraining rope with pennants to keep spectators out of the
landing area, and helped unload aluminum bleachers borrowed from a local school. Their day's efforts culminated with helping Max erect a large tournament style scoreboard with two rows of vertically arranged card slots. On the left were slots for competitors name cards. There were slots for number cards on the right to denote the corresponding competitor's score. "Good work boys." Max nodded at the scoreboard. "We're about as ready as we can get with, what'd you call it, the L Z?" "It looks good." Roger complemented, scanning the field. "I can't imagine anyone complaining, It's as good a setup as I've ever seen." "I don't know." Dan commented. "If Ernie finds out you helped he'll find something wrong with it." The three of them shared a smile. "You boys don't like this Mister Banks? He's supposed to be the top competitor, right?" Max frowned, primarily at Roger. Roger seemed to draw into himself. He turned away and stared at the western horizon. Mark stepped over to Max, and slapped a hand on the older man's shoulder. "There's a bit of history between them, and none of us knows all of it." Mark spoke in hushed tones, and steered Max back toward the parking area and away from the withdrawn Roger. Max stopped suddenly, and looked intently into Mark's eyes. "There going to be trouble between them?" "It's not likely to get physical if that's what you mean." Mark assured. "Their aggressions will be channeled into beating each other in other ways." Max leaned back, and shifted his eyes from Mark to Roger. "So this Ernie guy holds a grudge too?" "Yeah." Mark admitted. "It's definitely a mutual animosity." "If it comes to blows in public, I'll throw them both out." "It won't. It's never gone deeper than snide comments." Mark continued to reassure. "They usually just want to get away from each other." Max shook his head, and turned away. "We better get the tools and equipment put up. Mom'll be expectin' us for dinner soon." "When I wrote the book?" Roger struggled to explain. "I was in a constant state of euphoria. Flying had consumed me. I flew almost every day that I wasn't working, and sometimes I'd cut work to fly. I felt compelled to explain it to someone... anyone... everyone!" Patricia and Angela stopped clearing the after dinner mess from the table, and sat immersed in Roger's trance-like state as he explained about his famous book. Mark nodded, remembering the time. Dan constantly glanced at Angie, barely repressing a grin whenever she looked back. Max and Fancy sat at the table and intently listened. "At first I just wanted to explain how it felt" Roger continued dreamily. "But, as the project grew I needed to explain more than just the feelings. I had to explain how we managed it. How it all worked. The more involved I got in details the more I felt compelled to encompass everything. The sources of the hardware, the histories of the pioneers, the design concepts, even where the people I interviewed thought the sport was going, or would end up. In the end so many people had been involved in one way or another, and were so interested to see the end result that I couldn't not finish it. I was
physically compelled to complete and publish even though I got stalled several times toward the end." He closed his eyes remembering that turmoil. "Mark helped me self publish." He nodded at Mark, who smiled back, deep in memories of his own. "Dan was there constantly checking on me. Making sure I ate, or went to work occasionally. My parents gave me the money to get the first five hundred copies printed." Roger's eyes glistened as memories and emotions started to overcome him. He hadn't talked about the book in years. "Those first five hundred copies lasted about two weeks." Mark took up the history. "We were all loaning out our copies because there weren't enough to go around. The requests kept coming in for more copies." "I remember getting offered thirty bucks for mine." Dan interjected. "Surely you made some money out of your book." Max commented. "In the end, a friend of a friend introduced me to an agent, who took care of the publishing, negotiating the contracts, and scheduling the few public appearances that the publishers insisted on. I made some money, and used it to setup my shop. I still get residuals, but they get smaller every year. They never were enough to live on." "Thank you for sharing your tale." Fancy smiled, glancing around the table. Patricia was moon-eyed over Roger, and Angie and Dan kept stealing glances at each other. Fancy stood, and placed a hand on Max's shoulder. "Come help me with the pie." Pie and coffee was served on the veranda. The elevated porch had a picturesque view of the lush and well maintained grounds surrounding the house. A gentle evening breeze carried the fragrance of the garden’s blooms. Max explained some of the history of the ranch, and how they were trying to save the family home from being chopped up into smaller parcels and sold off by eager developers. Clearing land for new crops meant giving up the facilities they had already developed, and the first thing to go would be the grass runway. Max was adamant about it though, his father had built that strip for him, and he wasn't going to give it up. "Besides," he lamented, "the income from new crops, even a quick crop like corn won't be established over night. It takes years for a new field to turn a profit" He went on to explain that their situation was too urgent to be resolved that way. They had started the campground years ago, and it had almost paid for itself already. They had added the boat ramps, marina, and parking area with the hopes that the added facilities would draw in enough customers to make a profit. Unfortunately they weren't the only ones in the area with that idea. "Resorts seem to be cropping up all over the delta." Max explained. "There's a mega resort being built only a few miles from here." "With the growing competition we decided we needed to find a niche, so we picked what we knew. Recreational aviation and boating." Angie added, consoling her distraught father with gentle hand on his arm. "Unfortunately we're out of money, and can't afford more than small local ads." Angie continued as her dad turned silent. "Trish donated her time and paid for the insurance and fees to put on the Flights of Fancy event. We're really hoping there'll be enough profit to keep us going for a while." The sun had set, the girls were cleaning up, and everyone was preparing to head their separate ways. Roger held Mark back and let the others pass ahead into the house. When they were alone he moved closer, and spoke softly. "Doesn't Alex Melton’s family
operate a travel company?" Mark looked confused. "The Alex Melton who owns Melton wings. The guy who built your glider?" "Yeah." Mark narrowed his eyes in concentration for a moment, and then suddenly they popped open with comprehension, and a huge smile tore across his lips. He knew where Roger's question was heading. He too had been effected by the statements about the financial wows of the Henderson family, and Fancy Ranch. "Yeah, they are. We should call them tonight." "Are you two coming?" Patricia's face appeared through the screen door, interrupting their impromptu conference. Mark held Roger back this time. "We should contact Alan too. I bet he'd be tickled to bring some boats down. He'd probably be willing to run some ads too." They were both enveloped in mischievous expressions as other promotional ideas blossomed in their minds.
Chapter 6 Roger met with Mark after he dropped off Patricia. Their lingering kiss might have led to something more, but it seemed that she had a nagging errand she could not put off either. Roger was as relieved as he was disappointed. He had other things on his mind, things that needed to be initiated quickly. They called Alan first. Alan Dourghty owned a pleasure boat dealership, and it took little to excite him about the event. He offered to run a big advertisement in the Chronicle highlighting the event, and mention it in his daily radio ads in exchange for two reserved slips at the marina and a reserved section of the main dock, but he would pay for a stall in the venders area. They promised to bring Patricia by the dealership the next morning to finalize the agreement, feeling sure that she would be amenable to the added promotion. Next they called Alex Melton, and were not surprised to hear that he had heard nothing about the Flights of Fancy event. After listening to their descriptions of the facilities and activities, he agreed to approach his brother about sending someone to review the resort. He surprised them with his enthusiasm for Roger flying his glider design in the competition, especially against Ernie, who flew a German built glider. Both Mark and Roger had felt certain that Alex would be apprehensive about being represented by a pilot who had so little current time flying, and virtually no competition experience. It seemed however, that Alex also had high regard for Roger's abilities. He promised to attend, and display new gliders, and equipment, and requested that contracts be sent to him immediately to arrange for his demonstration pilots, and booth space. They promised to have Patricia get back to him first thing in the morning. "I can't believe our luck, we're two for two." Roger gushed. "Actually we're three for two. Don't forget Alex's brother's supposed to send somebody." Mark added. "Should we call Ron Gray?" Roger sounded apprehensive. "The worst he can do is say no."
"I don't know, I might be more worried if he said yes." "He can be a handful sometimes." Mark held the phone out to Roger. "Can you imagine what he'd be like if he found out from someone else that you were competing against Ernie?" "You’re right, he'd be hurt. Think he'll come all the way from Utah?" They both nodded, knowing that nothing would keep their old friend away. The next morning Patricia was barely able to control herself when Roger and Mark told her what they had been up to that night. She kissed Roger, kissed Mark, and then kissed Roger again this time with a hard lasting kiss. Roger and Mark sat by while she talked to Alex, and promised to FAX the contract forms immediately. She excitedly informed them that Alex's brother was going to fly his whole family to the event, and camp in the campground. Alex also wanted to avail himself and his crew of the campground, and had reserved two deluxe sites for motor homes, and two adjoining tent sites. Patricia was very excited. "Did you know that Alex's brother Dean is a travel agent in Los Angeles, and he caters to recreational pilots. He said he'd been looking for a destination in this area. This is all so wonderful." She kissed Roger again. "I can't wait to tell Angie." "Let's go see Alan first. I think you'll have more good news to share." Mark prompted. "I know Max Henderson!" Alan barked. "Tried to buy his old Chris-Craft once. I'm glad he didn't part with it. He's the kind of guy who deserves a classic like that. In fact, if there's any left I'd like to reserve a couple of campsites. Have you got any trailer sites close to the docks?" Patricia's smile slumped slightly. "I'm sorry, but all of the sites with hookups are on the other side of the campground." Alan shrugged. "Oh well, better take the trailer sites anyway. Darleen won't sleep in a tent any more, and we can't get the kids to come if we don't bring a TV." Patricia's smile became as wide as Roger had ever seen it as she cheerfully answered. "I'll make sure you get two of our nicest sites." "Sounds like a heap-o-fun. Can't wait to see Roger competin'. You say Ernie's flyin' too, that should be an interestin' match up." Alan gave Roger a friendly clap on the back. "I hope you kick his butt!" He turned to Patricia, and extended his hand. "We got a deal then. We'll be there a day early to setup." Patricia shook his hand, and turned to leave, but turned back. "You asked earlier about fuel. I'm Sorry, but I've had trouble trying to arrange that, but I'll have a map posted at the marina that shows the closest places..." Alan held up a hand. "I can arrange for fuel if you'd like." "You could?" "Sure that's easy, but they'll need to tie the fuel-barge to the end of the dock." Alan said questioningly. "How big is the barge?" Patricia asked with a hint of apprehension. "Thirty-six by fourteen. They can tie up five boats at a time, but they can only pump two."
"I don't know. We might have to remove a section of dock to get it to fit." "Not a problem. They'll show up three days early to help reconfigure things, and you'll get five percent of the receipts." Alan smiled and winked. "I can call Jose right now and set it up if ya want." Patricia held out her hands in bewilderment. "That, sounds... wonderful." Roger's flights were becoming more and more impressive. One flight was well over a hundred miles, but flying for distance didn't concern him near as much as the out and return flight. The two flights on which he had tried to come back were both failures. When he tried to penetrate the winds and fly a westerly heading, he had managed to stay in there air, but he was barely able to cover any distance before the sun got to low to heat the earth and create the thermals that made the flights possible. "I can fly any direction but west." Roger lamented. He had just finished a three and a half hour flight. It had only taken him an hour to fly to the outskirts of the city of Stockton, but he had spent the next two and a half hours trying to fly back to the ranch, and had covered less than half of the distance before the thermals had shut down. When the thermals had ended the wind had died off significantly, and in the final fifteen-minute glide to the ground he had covered almost as much ground as in the previous two hours. "This glider really penetrates the wind good, but when I start coring a thermal to get back the altitude I lost on glide the wind blows the thermal back almost to where I started from." Mark and Dan had both flown to Stockton too, and had experienced the same frustration. They had landed an hour and a half earlier than Roger, and had covered less than four miles of the return distance of almost thirty. Patricia had picked them up and parked them under Roger as he battled the distressingly obstructive winds. "The way you've been flying, if you can't do it I doubt anybody can" Dan exclaimed, sharing in the frustration after Roger had landed. Roger looked at the others, and then hung his head and silently berated himself for a moment. For the past two months everything had been all about him. He felt undeserving of such good friends. He looked up with an infectious smile. "Dinner's on me. It was a good day, wasn't it?" "I'll say!" Dan agreed. "That was one of my best flights ever!" "It was fun flying out with you." Mark commented. "But you sure left us behind when we turned into the wind." "I am the only one of us flying a rigid wing!" Roger chuckled with his reply. "That's a big advantage, and it really shows up when you turn into the wind." The next day was Friday, one week before the start of competition. Many of the competitors were showing up to get a few days of practice in the area before the competition. Ernie was one of them. His entourage included his own tow-plane and pilot, two huge motor homes, two chase vehicles, and two backup gliders. His crew consisted of two drivers, a mechanic, a tow-pilot, and his girlfriend, who evidently was a European fashion model. They made a significant impression. The size and opulence of his camping area seemed to be matched only by his ego. Within five minutes of arriving he had managed to snub Angie, Max, and all three of the people the Henderson’s had haired to manage the campground. His politeness seemed reserved only for Patricia.
"Monique wanted to know what you used to get that wonderful tone on your legs?" Ernie asked eyeing Patricia intently. Patricia glanced down at her legs, and then shot Ernie a mystified expression. "When I remember to, I rub a little sun block on them." "She won't like hearing that. She was sure you had some wonder cream you used." He laughed in a way that showed that he wasn't really amused, but knew that it was socially prudent to do so. "Is Roger around?" He asked. "No, but he should be here fairly soon." She looked away evasively. "He isn't staying in the campground?" Ernie's tone was a little too arrogant for Patricia, and she had to bite her tongue to hold in a retort. "No, not yet anyway." She quickly turned and marched away before he could say anything else. She would have been embarrassed to admit that she knew almost nothing about Rogers plans. Their conversations had barely breached that subject. "She zeemed eager to leave." A deeply sensual voice commented from behind. Ernie glanced over his shoulder at his girlfriend, Monique, and smiled. She was impeccably dressed in a cream colored pantsuit made of fabric so light that it was almost transparent. It was the kind of outfit that most women would be too timid to ware, but it was comfortable in the stifling summer heat of California's San Joaquin Valley. "Yes." Ernie considered Patricia as she walked away. "She may be a difficult pawn to play." Monique playfully reached up and tickled his earlobe. "You an your devious strategies." She bantered, in her discernable French accent. "You know what to do when Roger shows?" "Yes, yes. I know what zo do." She answered in a bored tone. "When she iz watching, and he does not know she iz, I will témpt ém." She frowned, and hung from his shoulder, twisting around and leaning so her face was below his. "Are you zure? Maybe zhiz time we could skip zhe intrigue and have zome normal fun. Zheze people zeem nize." He reached around her waist, grabbed her hip, and pulled. He managed to spin her around so she ended up standing upright beside him with a startled expression on her face. "Just leave the thinking to me." She swung her fist around intending to give him a jab to the belly, but he was ready, and easily batted her strike away. She snorted at his arrogant wink, and stormed off to their motor home. "Yes, Miss Alba." He whispered to himself. "Before we're through your father will be turning in his grave." He turned and shouted at his camp. "Archie go fire up the tug. I want some air time." His command stirred instant activity. Archie, his tow-pilot grabbed his flight bag, tossed it in one of the bright red Dodge Magnums that served as their chase vehicles, and climbed into the passenger seat. A moment later Heinrich, the mechanic jumped into a back seat, and the driver started the engine and rushed them off to the airstrip. Heinrich trotted over to the Dragonfly tow-plane, and inspected its big Rotax 912 engine. Archie helped remove Ernie's glider from the chase car's racks. Once the glider was on the ground he trotted over to the Dragonfly, and started his preflight walk around. Their performance was a well-rehearsed routine that produced a minimum of waiting for Ernie. Their all-business attitude and efficient haste was impressive to watch. When Ernie arrived in the second Magnum with the two back-up gliders on its racks. The first glider was assembled, the towline was laid out, and the tow plane was warmed
up and ready to go. Of all the competition hang glider pilots in the world, Ernie's was the most impressive show. Ernie did a cursory preflight of his glider, checking the things that concerned him. He knew that his crew knew what they were doing, and if they ever did screw up they would be out of their well-paying, relatively easy job in a heart beat. Ernie trusted the fear factor most, and frequently reminded them of how easily they could be replaced. Satisfied with the condition of the glider. He unzipped a bag and pulled out his instrument console, a streamlined composite case that housed his variometer and GPS. It was a marvelous package of useful instruments condensed into a unit half the size of a paperback book. He turned it on, and waited for it to warm up, and determine where it was. It beeped it's readiness, and he walked over and strapped it onto the glider's control bar. Next he retrieved a small handheld 2-meter transceiver, turned it on, and keyed the microphone button. "How's my signal?" He asked. His pilot's voice came back immediately. "Read you loud and clear, Boss." Ernie laid the radio on the ground, and removed an elaborately striped gold on red harness, slipped into it, and fastened the buckles. He pulled out a helmet that was painted to match the harness, and strapped it on. He picked up the radio, unzipped a pocket on the front of his harness, pulled out a small wireless jack, and plugged it into the radio. "Still hear me okay?" "Clear as a bell boss." Ernie nodded at the pilot, acknowledging the system's flawless performance. He pulled a pair of light gloves from the empty harness bag, and kicked it toward the car. Ernie's glider sat in a three-wheeled cart with the towline draped over the base tube of the control bar. He stepped over the base tube, and hunched while he attached his harness to the hang strap protruding from the bottom of the glider's wing. Then he snatched the small carabineer on the end of the towline and snapped onto the tow-bridal attached to his harness. He laid down in the harness and checked it for comfort and movement. He slipped on his gloves, and nodded at the crewman who had assembled the glider. "Take up the slack." He announced. "Takin' up the slack." He heard through the speakers in his helmet. The open fuselage tow-plane edged forward a few feet, and the towline grew taut. Ernie looked at his crewman who was holding his wing tip at a level position. The crewman scanned the area, checked the windsock, and then nodded. "Hit it." Ernie ordered, and took a deep breath. The tow-plane's engine roared, and it leapt forward. There was a moment's lag as the towline stretched to it's limit. The towline pulled Ernie's harness and body forward, but he held the control bar firmly forcing the glider and cart to move with him. Within seconds he had enough speed to fly, and pushed forward slightly on his control bar, releasing the string curled into his fingers that kept the cart under his glider. Roger stopped at the end of the airstrip on his way into the ranch, noticing that a glider was being towed aloft. He pulled over, put his truck in park, and watched. The airplane surged toward him a moment before he heard the engine's roar. The towline pulled tight, and the glider surged forward with the crewman running along keeping the wings level for the first few feet. The glider jumped up about thirty feet, the cart bounced
and rolled only a short way after its release. The glider held at thirty feet, expertly waiting for the tow-plane to leave the ground. Then the two climbed together with the glider holding only slightly above the tow-plane's height at the end of the two hundred foot towline. Roger watched as they flew directly over him. Already they were over three hundred feet up. Roger craned his neck out the window to look up as the pair made a large climbing circle around the airstrip. At what Roger guessed was three thousand feet the glider suddenly turned left, away from the right-hand turn in which they had been climbing. Glider and tow-plane were now heading in opposite directions. In unison, both aircraft pulled into steep dives. A few seconds later, once again in unison, they pulled up hard into vertical climbs. At precisely the same moment both aircraft turned vertically over a wingtip performing opposing wingovers. It was too perfect to be anything other than a choreographed, and practiced maneuver. They pulled out of their steep dives heading directly toward each other. At the last second they both turned right. The glider slowed, and floated off to the west, into the wind. The tow plane did another wingover, and entered a spiral dive that it held all the way down to the air strip, pulling out only in time to make an abrupt landing. It was Ernie's signature tow release, and it never failed to impress. It certainly impressed Roger, as he tried to swallow the hard knot in his throat. He suddenly realized the caliber of competition he was in. He didn't know for sure, but his gut told him that the glider pilot was Ernie. He pulled his head back into his vehicle, and drove on to the parking area to meet Patricia. After parking in the lot, Roger scanned the surroundings for Patricia. She wasn't in the large adjacent field that had been chalk lined and roped off as the competition landing area. He looked down at the marina docks, where a crew was securing the fuel barge to the end of a recently shortened dock. She wasn't there. He turned to scan the campgrounds and found a strikingly beautiful woman in an expensive and revealing sheer jumpsuit approaching him. His eyes were instantly glued to her. He tried to look away, but she waved at him and flashed a welcoming smile. He considered looking behind to see who the smile was meant for, but she had mesmerized him. She walked directly up to him, placed her hands on his arms just below the shoulders, rocked up onto her toes, and tenderly kissed both of his cheeks. Before she settled down off her toes she looked into his eyes with a questioning gaze. Roger managed a weak smile. He didn't care what had prompted her to such familiarity. He was locked in her spell and nothing else mattered. He stood mute and smiling like an idiot. "Masseur Dunn, I have heard zo much about you, and your book was zo enchanting." Monique was using her thickest accent, one she usually reserved for seduction. "My name iz Monique DeSaurre. Please call me Monique." She offered her hand. Roger was slow responding. He hesitated looking down at the odd angle of her wrist with a quizzical expression, but accepted her hand in a gentle grip, and widened his smile slightly. "You can call me Roger." He offered lamely. "Zo zweet." She leaned forward wrapping her arms around him, and pressing her ample breasts hard against his chest. Roger hesitated, but still hugged her back, lost in the moment. "Ooh! I can zee why Erná iz worried by you." She whispered in response to his hug.
She seemed content to hold herself close to him, but Roger pushed her back by her shoulders so he could see her eyes. "You know Erná, uh Ernie? Ernie Banks?" "Oui, I came here wiz hém." She leaned back and smiled. "Ta ta Rojair, we meet again zoon, huh." She turned and strode back to the campground with her hips swaying flirtatiously. "I see you've met Monique." Patricia's stern sounding voice broke the spell. "Oh, Trish, hi!" He stuttered, and jerked himself around to face her. He suddenly felt very self-conscious. "Smooth." She chastised. "Her and your old friend Ernie have been making quite a stir around here. I'd be hard pressed to find someone who'd bother to attend his wake. Don't get me started on what a phony she is. Did she use that please-seduce-me accent on you." Roger's eyes widened and he felt an uncontrollable urge to swallow. The hint of guilt still clouded his eyes. "I guess so!" Patricia made a 'humph' sound that expressed her disappointment. Roger suddenly smiled. She was jealous. She noticed the change in his expression and squinted at him. "What?" She barked acquiescingly. He threw his arm around her shoulders, and steered her toward the marina. "Come on, I need to get a bottle of water to put in my harness." He noticed that her eyes still held a suspicious tint. "Do me a favor, okay?" "What?" She was still a bit stiff and suspicious, but submitted to his steering. "The next time you see her come after me, please come and rescue me. That girl is down-right embarrassing." He loved seeing Patricia smile, but he couldn't help taunting her. "Exciting, but embarrassing." She jabbed an elbow into his ribs, but a moment later she was snuggled into his side and clutching the hand that was draped over her shoulder. They were still together when Roger went to the airstrip to get an afternoon tow two hours later. She sat on the grass kibitzing while he setup his glider. She gave him a friendly peck on the cheek and handed him his helmet after he had slipped into his shiny new red harness.
Chapter 7 Roger took a short tow, pinning off at fifteen hundred feet. He had felt strong lift twice during this tow and decided that he could work his way up from there. Within three minutes he was locked into the core of an energetic thermal that kept trying to push him out into the surrounding sink, but he quickly attuned himself to the choppy air and kept his glider right where he wanted it. At thirty seven hundred feet the thermal broke up. He pointed the glider northeast, released the flaps, and pulled in on the control bar. The glider increased its speed as soon as the flaps flattened out behind the wing, but when he pulled the bar in it shot off like a cheetah after a gazelle. In five minutes he had covered more than three miles. He eased the control bar out, and slowed the glider down. Only moments later he felt
the wing shudder accompanied by a feeling of heaviness, a thermal pilot's euphoria. He had flown into the middle of a big one. He pulled himself to the right, and held his body as far to that side as he could push it in an attempt to make the glider turn quickly and stay in the thermal. As soon as the glider was banked up steeply he reached to the corner of the control bar and pulled the line that engaged the flaps. He cleated it off with the flaps at one third on. The glider slowed, and became more responsive to his roll, or turn inputs. As the glider curved around in its upward spiral it suddenly surged upward even more quickly. The stronger lift lasted only a couple seconds, and about a third of the way around a full circle. He kept the glider steeply banked until just before coming around to where he had hit the surge before, and then eased the glider into a larger diameter circle forcing the glider to fly into the core of the lift. He glanced at his variometer. It indicated just less than two hundred and fifty feet per minute of climb. The glider surged upward again. He allowed it a moment to penetrate further into the core, and then pulled himself all the way to the right again. It was a glorious feeling as he made his glider tightly core the center of the strongest lift, and he rocketed upward. A glance at the variometer revealed he was climbing at an exciting four hundred and sixty feet per minute. The turbulence in the thermal's core constantly pushed at him from different directions, as if the thermal had a mind to eject him from its sacred lift. Roger was grinning now, and responding instantly to every pressure on his wing, being careful not to over-react, and set himself up to be unable to respond to the next change of pressure in time. The result would be what some thermal pilots called going over the falls. One wing of the glider would stall and fall under the pilot. Then the nose would drop into a near vertical dive, frequently requiring fifty or a hundred feet to recover. Sometimes it was enough to drop the glider out the bottom of the thermal. That wasn't going to happen to Roger. He had the feel of this thermal, and he was taking it all the way to its top. He would ride it till it ran out of energy, somewhat like breaking a wild bronco. Most thermals mellow as they climb, and this one was no exception. Roger was able to relax after a while, and make larger flatter circles. He wondered if he had risen to the top of the thermal already. Another quick glance, and his instruments indicated that he was climbing through thirty eight hundred feet. He was already a hundred feet above the altitude he reached in the last thermal. The climb rate kept reducing, so he decided to leave the thermal as soon as his climb rate dropped under one hundred feet per minute. A visage of intensity settled over his face. It wasn't long before the variometer was indicating less than one hundred feet per minute of climb. He reached over and uncleated the flap string, returning the flaps to zero deflection, and the glider's speed increased slightly. As he came around to a southerly heading he pushed the control bar gently to the right, allowing the spoilers to level the wing. It was an effortless maneuver compared to the body shifting turns he had used to enter the thermal. He pulled the bar in again and accelerated away from the dying thermal. He had timed his exit to near perfection. The thermal was breaking up, and the downdrafts and sink associated with the outer edges of a thermal were negligible. He pulled in a little further, and the wind whistled around his ears. He knew he was going fast, faster than he would normally push a flex-wing, but he couldn't be sure how fast, not having an airspeed indicator. He shook his head, his grin expanded, and he reveled in amazement at the gliders performance. He was going incredibly fast for a hang glider, but
he was not diving out of the sky. Even at this speed the glider was delivering a respectable glide angle. He held his speed as he flew past Fancy Ranch continuing south. At almost a mile and a half away he doubted that anyone there could see him, but from almost three thousand feet he could see the entire facility. He held his speed until he had dropped below two thousand feet. Then he eased the bar out and the glider climbed as it bled off the excess speed. He looked back at the ranch and guessed that he was almost two miles beyond. "Ernie would know exactly how far and how fast he had gone." He muttered to himself. Ernie would be flying with state-of-the-art electronics. He would have a GPS equipped variometer with an accurately calibrated airspeed indicator. It would calculate the best speed to fly, and how far he could glide from his current position, it could probably even tell him where the nearest restaurant was. The glider surged upward as it entered another thermal. Roger dismissed his caustic mood, and concentrated on finding the thermal's core. Twenty minutes later he was screaming back toward Fancy Ranch from almost four thousand feet, with the bar pulled back as far as he thought he could get away with. Flying almost directly into a headwind he was not covering ground as quickly as he had on the last leg of his mini triangle course, but with his altitude he would make it back to the ranch easily. "Get out of the way damn-it! I don't want to loose him." Ernie snarled. The crewman dropped to his knees, and crawled away from the swiveling path of the enormous tripod-mounted camera lens. Monique threw up her hands, and headed for the ladder to climb off the roof of the motor home. She'd had enough of Ernie's foul mood. "Give me his speed and altitude again." Ernie demanded as he concentrated on holding the glider in the center of the camera's frame. "His current ground speed calculates to fifty four, and he's at thirty four hundred feet." Another crewman answered. He was pointing a strange device in the same direction as the camera. The device looked like an oversized gun, as if it were designed to shoot out coup cans. "Find out what the winds aloft are." Ernie ordered. "Winds aloft for four thousand are... holy, uh, twenty-nine." The crewman's voice was filled with shock. "His airspeed's over eighty. I've only clocked you that fast once." The comment earned him a nasty scowl from Ernie. "Fifty-six on the first leg, seventy-one on the second, and eighty-three on this one." Ernie nodded his head. Then he refocused his attention on the camera's shaded LCD display keeping Roger in the center of the frame. "He's still learning the glider." He muttered to himself. "What's that?" The crewman asked. "Huh, oh nothing." Ernie replied absent-mindedly. "Ron, take over the camera. I'm going inside." He waited until Ron was next to him before releasing the camera. "Holler if he does anything unexpected." He said as he cautiously climbed down the ladder deep in contemplation. Roger arrived at the ranch with almost fifteen hundred feet of altitude. He pushed the bar out until the glider was standing on its tail. It flew straight up, but slowed rapidly. Just before it stalled he pulled the bar back in. The glider lethargically responded narrowly avoiding the stall. With the nose now pointing down the glider quickly accelerated. He
eased the bar back out until the glider was flying at a fast, but comfortable speed. He guessed the speed was about forty, but it was actually closer to fifty. He pushed the bar to the left, and eased in a bit. The glider entered a slipping turn, and by the time he had turned one hundred and eighty degrees he had lost four hundred feet. Three more turns like it, and he was ready to set up an approach to land. He glanced at the windsock. It danced back and forth, but predominately it pointed southeast. That meant his approach would be over the marina. He flew out over the river at three hundred and fifty feet, did two steep banked three-sixty's, leveled out and flew over the marina. He pushed out and slowed the glider down, pulled the string and set his flaps at about half. He floated over the bleachers with about twenty feet of altitude, and wondered if he would make it to the target, over eighty yards away. He reset the flaps to one third, and unzipped his harness. He didn't drop his legs down though. He felt any increase in drag might keep him from making it to the target. The glider swept across the field, the control bar less than two feet above the short grass. A grin of confidence creased his face. He knew he had it. He eased the bar out slightly raising the glider a couple of feet, and pivoted his body upright, dropping his legs and reaching up to grab the down tubes of the control bar. He reached his upright position just as the glider crossed the outer ring of the target. Fifty feet to go, he could feel the glider tremble, it was about to stall. He waited as long as he could. If he waited too long and let the glider stall on its own the nose would pitch over and slam Roger and his glider into the ground. As he reached the ten-foot ring he knew he couldn't wait any longer. He pushed out on the down tubes smoothly and evenly as far as he could reach. The nose arced up, and the glider rose a couple of feet, but then it quit flying and fell. When the glider's nose rose it quit going forward and Roger's legs swung forward like a pendulum. He hit squarely on both feet, and the glider settled gently onto his shoulders, a near perfect landing. Roger closed his eyes for a moment, and then looked down at his feet. "Crap!" He swore. His toes were two inches from the edge of the two-foot center circle of the target. "What's wrong?" Dan shouted, running up from behind Roger. Roger didn't move, he just stood there looking down at the gap between his feet and the target. When Dan arrived at his side, and repeated his question, Roger glanced at him, and then back at his feet. "Look at that!" Dan looked down at Roger’s feet, and burst out laughing, and couldn't stop for almost a minute. "You should be tickled. That's the closest anyone's come all day. Ernie was half way to the ten foot circle, and that was the best until you landed!" Dan finally elaborated. "Great landing, impressive flight. I think Ernie was filming the whole thing." Mark greeted when he arrived a moment later. "Ernie filmed my flight?" Roger's eyebrows lowered. "Really?" "Sure looked that way." Mark added, and Dan nodded in support. "Hi Roger, your flight sure impressed a lot of people." Patricia said spooking Roger. She had arrived from a different direction than the guys, and Roger hadn't noticed her approach. "Why don't you fold that thing up so we can go get some dinner." "Hi Trish. A bit early for dinner isn't it?" Roger finally set the glider down, balancing it on its control bar. Dan and Mark were forced to crouch with him as the wing came down on top of them. "It's a quarter to six, and I've never seen you get your gear put away in less than a half
an hour." Patricia quipped. "If I don't get away from here for a while I'll explode." "We can't have that. I'll have to see if I can impress you with how fast I can bag my gear." Roger lifted the glider and turned it around causing Dan and Mark to scurry out of his way. He tried to run the glider over to the edge of the grass near the parking lot, but the breeze hitting the back of the glider made controlling it difficult, and he ended up having to stop and rebalance it several times.. Fifteen minutes later they were tying the bagged glider onto his racks. "You cheated." Patricia accused. "You just threw your harness and stuff in the back." She had been keeping an eye on her watch as she sat on a nearby log timing his effort. "I thought you were in a hurry. I can pull it out and bag it proper." He teased. "That's okay." She jumped up from the log and gave Roger a friendly peck on the cheek. "Thank you for hurrying." She suddenly shuddered. "Quick we've gotta leave now, go, go, go!" She quickly slipped into his front passenger seat, and slid down until only the top of her head showed. "What was that about?" Roger asked, mystified. Dan tilted his head, using it to point. "Ernie's coming over." Roger knew if he looked he'd be committed, so he kept his eyes down as he walked around the back of his vehicle, climbed into the drivers seat, and started the engine as quickly as he could. "We'll follow you." Dan said as he marched toward his own vehicle. Roger started to back away from the retaining rope at the edge of the parking lot when he heard someone slap his fender. He immediately stopped. "Oh no." Patricia grumbled. Roger noted her unhappy expression, and then rolled down his window to speak to Ernie, who stood with a wolfish grin on his face. "Hello Ernie." There was no emotion in the greeting. "Impressive flight Roger old boy. How fast were you going?" "Couldn't say, but that last leg felt pretty fast." Roger replied "No airspeed indicator?" Ernie actually sounded surprised. "No GPS either." Roger shrugged. Ernie considered the statement a moment, and then acknowledged Patricia. "Miss Alba, how are you?" "Hungry." Patricia snapped. Ernie was surprised by the snarled retort, but decided to ignore it. "Tomorrow's the big day, your first competition isn't it?" "Yeah, but I'm not really here for the competition. I'm just here to help Trish and her friends." Roger reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. Patricia's eyes widened momentarily, but a sweet smile formed on her lips and spread to her eyes. "If you don't mind, I was just taking her to dinner." Roger put the car back in gear, causing it to nudge slightly. "See you both tomorrow morning at the pilot's briefing, then." "See you then." Roger rolled up his window and drove off, not caring if Ernie thought he was being rude. "Did you really mean that?" Patricia asked. "Mean what?"
"That you were just flying for me, I mean us." "Sure, of course. I'd love a chance to show up Ernie, but I'm not dense enough to think I could win a competition filled with world-class pilots. It didn't start out that way." Roger shot her an embarrassed smile. "At first I didn't even like you, but a lot has changed the last two months." Patricia sat demurely with her hands in her lap. "So, what cha want to eat." "Chinese, I've been thinking about Orange Chicken all day." "Gotta love a woman who knows what she wants." Roger said. "Call Mark, and tell them we're going to Fats." Patricia's cheeks reddened at his flippant comment. The word 'love' seemed to ring in her ears, but then the rest of his comment registered. "Not the Fats?" "No, not the Fats. Chow Fat Chinese in Concord. It's better, you don't need to make a reservation or get dressed up. We used to go there after flying all the time." "Your conversation did not last long." Monique teased. "No, quite brief, but I did learn two useful things." Ernie replied, ignoring her sarcasm. "Oh?" "Yes, he flies with a vario and altimeter only, so he won't be able to use the GPS and airspeed to perfect his technique." Ernie snatched her hand and pulled her around him, like an exotic dance move. "And, you, my dear, are going to have to change your strategy slightly." "Oh?" "There are deep feelings between Miss Alba, and Mister Dunn. They haven't expressed them yet, but they are there." "Ah, amore, it can be wonderful." She said with a sigh, her eyes glazing over. "And useful too." Ernie snickered with a menacing gleam in his eyes. "Here's what I want you to do." He threw an arm over her shoulders, and herded her across the parking area as he explained. Patricia's eyes narrowed and shifted nervously as Roger drove them off the main roads, and into a tiny and poorly maintained parking lot that fronted a small building in dire need of fresh paint. There was a large, old, painted sign that covered everything above the center glass door, and adjacent plate glass windows. The only reassuring point was that the parking lot was almost full. Just as Roger opened the restaurant door, Dan pulled into the lot. He waved, and continued inside. When they entered a petite blonde woman with slender arms bobbed up and down waving energetically from a corner booth. Roger nodded, waved, and guided Patricia toward her. "That's Rachel, Mark's wife." Patricia glanced back at him with an expression of concern. She had heard them talking about Rachel, and it seemed that she tried to control everything around her. She had also herd that Rachel had tried to set Roger up with women several times. She feared that she would be severely scrutinized by Rachel. Roger smiled. "Don't worry. She rarely bites."
"Very funny." "You must be Trish." Rachel stretched over the table offering her hand. "Hi Rachel. The boys have told me a lot about you." Patricia smiled sincerely. "I'll bet they have!" Rachel eyed Roger suspiciously. "Hi honey!" Mark stopped short when he saw his wife's suspicious expression. "Been talkin' about me, have ya?" A smile crept across Mark's face. "Ah course I have, I talk about ya all the time Sweetheart." "Hi, Rachel." Dan greeted. Rachel virtually melted at her husband's comment, and had to clear her throat before greeting Dan. "Hi Dan." But her visage quickly shifted back to suspicion as she turned to Patricia. "And just what have they been sayin' bout me?" Patricia opened her mouth, but couldn't find appropriate words. "Hey you guys." A tall burly Hispanic man wearing an apron and a small chef's hat greeted them. "Roger!" He offered his hand. "I aint seen you in years." "Yeah, its been a while." Roger accepted the offered hand with a firm grasp. "Mark was tellin' me you're flyin' again, an you're in some competition out in the delta." Roger smiled and nodded. "It seems my life has shifted gears again." "Well, welcome back to the fast lane, amigo." "Thanks Albert." "Albert? I thought were getting Chinese." Patricia asked in an air of confusion. Albert hunched over, squinted his eyes, and cuffed his hands. "Ah, you likey Chinese, that verly okay. Chow Fat makey special today, shlimp chow mien, olange chicken, and moo-gu-gi-pan." Chuckles erupted around the table, but the whole restaurant reacted. It seemed that many were waiting to hear Albert's Chinese impression. "I've been thinking of orange chicken all day." Patricia's soft words betrayed her embarrassment. "Ah, you in luck. Chow fat olange chicken best in ho woro. I put you down for large order." A voice erupted from the far corner of the restaurant. "Tell her, Albert." Albert turned around and took a bow. Several people applauded. "Okay, what's everybody else want?" Albert addressed them, abandoning his posture and accent. "Hey, Roger, I just made a killer lasagna. I seem to remember you liking lasagna." "Aw-man, I missed out on the lasagna." The voice from the far corner erupted again, followed by laughter through the restaurant. Albert took the rest of their orders, and scurried back to his kitchen. "Sorry about that. Its sort of an initiation thing here." Roger soothed Patricia. Patricia was already over her embarrassment. "Why does Albert have a Chinese restaurant? A Chinese restaurant that serves lasagna." "Signs are expensive." Roger replied. "Evidently he sunk everything he had into buying the place, but that became part of its charm." "And his patrons enjoy watching him perform his alter ego?" Patricia suggested. Roger shrugged and nodded. Rachel had been watching their exchange very closely, and decided that this was her
moment to intercede. "Well Miss Alba, what exactly are your intentions with our Roger. He's not just anybody you know." The reactions around the table were varied. Mark closed his eyes, and let his chin drop to his chest. Dan sunk his fingers into the edge of the table. She ignored them and leering at Patricia. Roger's eyes bulged out almost as big as teacups, and his jaw dropped. For a moment he froze in that state. Patricia studied the short woman on the other side of the table. "Yes, I had noticed." She put a hand on Roger's arm. "Could you let me out, I need to powder my nose." Roger's expression returned to a more normal state as he slid out of the booth. Before moving Patricia gave Rachel a significant look. "Let me out too, honey." Rachel prompted a second later. "You think they'll be okay?" Roger asked after the girls had gone. "I sure hope so. I'm really hungry." Dan replied glibly. When Patricia and Rachel returned to the table several minutes later all three men stared at them expectantly. "Roger." Patricia acknowledged blandly. "Boys." Rachel added in the same tone, and then the women glanced at each other, and started giggling. It appeared that the women had reached some sort of understanding, but the men were too apprehensive to pursue it.
Chapter 8 Patricia was ecstatic, her face reflected a dreamy contented relief. It was Friday morning, the first day of her three-day event, and there was a steady flow of patrons coming through the gate. Regardless of how anything else went, the Hendersons would be able to keep Fancy Ranch. It looked like the campground would fill up before noon. Many of the booths in the bazaar were already handling a steady flow of customers. The bazaar was located on the levy, between the parking lot and the marina. The area offered an excellent view of the landing field, and the water sports near the marina. Three balloonists had setup on the North end of the landing field, and were offering tethered rides until the winds picked up. She could hear boats on the river pulling water-skiers and wake-boarders in between blasts from the balloonist's propane fueled burners. "You did a good job." Max placed his big hand on her shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze. "I never expected to see this many people here, and its only Friday." She turned to him, and moisture made her eyes glisten. "We've had so much help." "Yep. You were dead on about that Roger. If it weren't for him I doubt this brainstorm of yours would've worked." "Roger." She muttered absentmindedly. Suddenly her eyes drew into intense focus. "The pilot's briefing! I'm going to be late." She bolted toward the briefing tent on the edge of the landing field. Max smiled and shook his head as he watched Patricia run off muttering to herself. "And here she is now." Mark announced to the pilots as Patricia rushed in. "Thanks Mark." She gasped, out of breath from her dash through the bazaar to the
briefing tent. "Sorry I'm late everyone." She opened her tattered and worn leather binder, and flipped it open to her briefing section. The binder was one of her most treasured possessions. Her father had carried it for years, using it for the same purpose that she now did. It was his primary organizing tool for the aviation events he had orchestrated. "I have a lot to cover, and I know that you already know most of this, but please bear with me. This briefing will be broken into four parts: weather, Notems-pireps-warnings, no-fly no-land areas, and the day's tasks." Patricia cleared her throat, and nodded at Ed the FAA representative, who sat quietly monitoring the briefing from the far corner. "I will answer questions at the end of each part, so please don't interrupt me with questions until I call for them." She cleared her throat again. "The weather is, of course, playing games with us. Predicted conditions are weak, but the winds are also predicted to be weak. The winds in the afternoon can be our biggest detriment, but today that won't be a concern. Surface winds should not exceed ten miles per hour. That means long takeoff rolls, and hot landings. Please compensate. The inversion should be under three thousand feet, and even at four thousand feet the winds aloft are only supposed to be twelve. The high temperature for today is predicted to be ninety-six. Make sure to adequately hydrate. The packets Mark handed out as you arrived have a sheet that lists all of the details of today’s weather forecast." Several pilots shuffled papers looking for the report. "Alright, are there any questions about the weather?" She scanned the pilots, but there were no questions. A quick glance at Roger distracted her, and she had to steal a moment by clearing her throat again. "Alright, there are no notices or warnings for this area, but forty-two miles southwest, in the hills, there is a military air exercise involving para-drop practice. I doubt that will have any effect on today’s activities. Any questions about notices, reports, or warnings?" Once again there were no questions, but this time Patricia had anticipated the lack of response. "Okay, you all have a copy of this chart in your packets." Patricia waved a hand at a three-foot square blow-up of a chart of the area, which sat on an easel nearby. It had several red tinted areas, and a couple areas with red stripes. "The red areas are do not land areas. Please avoid flying over them below five hundred feet also. The striped areas are no fly zones." She turned away from the chart, and displayed a stern look for her audience. "Violation of either rule constitutes immediate disqualification from the competition." She gave a quick nod to the other official representative. He was representing the United Stated Hang and Paragliding Association. "If, for any reason, this chart changes you will be notified at the following briefing. The master chart will be on display here at all times for official referral." She paused and glanced around at the occupants of the crowded tent. "Any questions about the no-fly, no-land chart?" A hand rose near the center of the crowd, and Patricia nodded acknowledgement. "What if its an emergency?" A pilot queried. "The rule will stand. I advise you not to allow yourself to get into an emergency situation." She made the statement with such authority that there was no rebuttal. Roger was impressed. Patricia seemed to have total control over a group that was known to be somewhat unruly. He caught her eye, smiled, and added a nod of approval. She smiled back with noticeably reddened cheeks, but returned to her task immediately. "That brings us to today’s task. "After some debate we have decided to call
today an open distance day. Your object is to fly as far from here as possible. Each pilot has registered their chase team, but today those teams will be supplemented with appointees, who will have official radios to keep us informed of each pilot’s progress, and to verify the validity of the pilots claim. With today's conditions we don't expect anyone to get more than about thirty miles, so it should be a fairly short task. The appointees have been given instructions, and are tasked primarily with verifying their pilot's safe landing. There will be landing points awarded, so don't crash down wind just to get an extra fifty yards." The room erupted in chuckles. "The launch window opens at eleven-thirty, and closes at two. A computer has randomly assigned a starting order, which will only be referenced if two pilots want to start at the same time. If two pilots end up with the same points for the day the pilot who launched earlier will receive an extra point to break any ties. Remember that if conditions change significantly, the task could either be called or changed." Patricia grabbed a white flag with a red 'B' on it. "If something comes up that requires an immediate re-briefing, this flag will be flown at the airstrip, and the landing area. Also remember that there is going to be a fair bit of free flying. There are three dealers here demoing gliders, so there should almost always be non-competing gliders flying in the area. Everyone who flies is being told that competition pilots have the right-of-way, but don't take for granted that you will be given that right-of-way." She took a deep breath after forcing out a lot of facts very quickly. "Questions?" "I didn't get numbers for my sail." "Yeah, me neither. What gives?" Patricia smiled shrewdly. "Oh we're very high tech here. We've got special minitransmitters that we will attach to your wing tip to identify you." She reached into a pocket and pulled out something that looked like a quarter with two tiny antennas angling out of either side. "One of these will be programmed with your information. Every official will be carrying one of these." She reached into a pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a cellular phone. "With these we can not only tell who you are, but where you are." There was some oohing and aahing over the new gizmos. "Not only that, but we will be renting simple versions of these to spectators, and they will be able to read your stats and ID, just by pointing their receivers at you." "That's cool!" Ernie waved his hand in the air, but didn't wait to be recognized before asking his question. "Where did you get these mini electronic wonders?" There was a condescending tone in his voice, as though he were surprised she could afford anything fancier than numbers duct taped to the bottom of the wing. Patricia ignored his tone. She had decided that was the best way to deal with Ernie's attitude. "Tom brought them from the USHPA. The manufacturer lent them to him with the hope of generating some sales." "If they work, they probably will sell." "We've already tested them, and they seem to work just fine. The spectator's units will only receive signals within three or four miles, but these..." She held up her receiver. "Received a signal at thirty miles with both units on the ground." "Wow!" "Thirty miles on the ground? Really?" The USHPA representative Tom stood to address them. "The manufacturer's rep said
that they could get signals from fifty miles under optimal conditions, but they were quite reliable at twenty-five or thirty. The transmitters are priced at about fifty dollars each, the full function receivers are about three hundred each, and the spectator receivers go for seventy-five." Tom took his seat again. "Are there any other questions?" Patricia asked. "Will there be an up to the minute conditions reports available?" "Oh yes, sorry about not mentioning that. Bernice will be handling that here in this tent. Stand up Bernice." A cute, young, brunet eagerly stood from behind Patricia, and received a mixed, but appreciative acknowledgement from the crowd. "Settle down guys. Bernice is studying meteorology at college. She has been briefed on the information you need and will be able to supply any information about the weather that you need, including soaring indexes." "Excellent!" "Any more questions?" Ernie spoke up once again using a belittling tone. "What if the transmitter falls off our glider?" "I assure that won't happen. We've been provided with a very reliable attaching system." "You're not going to put a hole in my sail are you?" Ernie gripped. "Give it a break Ern." "You don't need to worry mister Banks. We won't damage your glider in any way." Patricia droned. "Okay then, if that's it we'll end the briefing. Please fly safely and we'll all have a fun time." Roger waited for Patricia in front of the briefing tent, but before she finished Monique slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow and gently turned him around. "Rogaire, I mus talk wéth you." "Monique?" Roger's voice only revealed a hint of the emotions he was feeling. Her presence was only part of his confusion. Her eyes were moist, and slightly red. Her eyes seemed to bore into his pleadingly, and her hand slid up and down his bicep slowly. She seemed to be searching for words as she hesitated. Several people stared at the scene she was making, but Roger was so consumed by her sensual contact and her needy appearance that he didn't notice anyone else. With his back to the tent he could not see that Patricia was ignoring Tom, and staring daggers at he and Monique. "Please you muss help me, you áir the only one who can." Monique pulled at his arm, and coaxed him off into the parking area. She led him to his own vehicle, took hold of both of his arms, and leaned back against it, throwing her head back in apparent torment. The low cut chiffon blouse she wore and her posture made her breasts very conspicuous, and Roger found it impossible to ignore her swelling sensuality. He knew this was wrong, but his mind was having trouble focusing. All of his senses were pulling his attention to her. With an impressive force of will he turned his head back toward the briefing tent, and Patricia. He felt Monique's hands clamp over his ears and turn his head back to her. "You wéll help me, won't you?" "Ah, well, I guess. What do ya need?" Roger was leery of Monique's intentions, but
the word 'no' would not cross his tongue for some reason. "Oh, you are zo zweet." She pulled his head down, and kissed him, but it wasn't the friendly peck Roger would have expected from someone who was merely an acquaintance. She locked her lips to his, stepped into him, and slid her arms around his neck to engage him more intensely. It took several seconds for Roger to come to his senses, and push her away. "What the..." "It was just a létle késs. You zaid you would help." She paused a moment savoring his confusion. "Erná was watching. Maybe he wél notice me more now." Roger looked around, and sure enough Ernie was standing just outside the briefing tent with a mischievous grin. He tilted his head to his right, and then looked in that direction. Roger noticed Patricia’s back as she stomped around the corner with clinched fists. He closed his eyes and winced. He realized he had been had. "We should do zis again zome time, no? au revoire cherry." Roger didn't even acknowledge Monique. He leaned forward and lurched into a trot, chasing after Patricia. "Very good, Monique. You should have seen her jaw drop, and his expression when he ran by. He'll have trouble concentrating today, I'm sure." Ernie gloated. "Oui, It was quite a késs." Monique replied distractedly. Ernie turned and stared at her. His brow slowly furrowed as he took in her unfocused gaze. He opened his mouth with the intent of chastising her. But her eye's suddenly focused. She scrutinized his expression for a split second, and then turned and marched purposefully toward the campground with nothing more than a, "Humph," for him. Ernie watched her for a moment. He shot a quick glance in the direction Roger had gone, and as he turned to watch Monique's diminishing head bobbing through the crowd. "Oh hell!" He sneered, and bounded off after Monique realizing that his scheme may very well have backfired. Roger found Patricia behind the briefing tent watching a couple of pilots standing in the landing zone's target, and pointing out obstacles and landmarks. "I..." She held up her hand to stop him, but she did not look at him. "You don't need to explain anything." "I sure feel like I do! The last thing I want, is to upset you." He blurted. Those words brought her head around. Her eyes were wide but moist, and there was a quivering hint of a smile on her lips. "It wasn't me. Ernie set her on me. Trying to psych me out or something." He rambled quickly in a pleading tone. Her eyes bored into his for a moment. Then she lurched at him wrapping her arms around him and burrying her face in his shoulder. "I know. I don't know why I got upset." He slipped his hand up and out of her arm-locking embrace, and slid in under her chin. He pulled her face back so that they could look into each other's eyes again. "I think I know why." Her lips quivered into a smile again, and their faces moved together again and locked like magnets.
The throaty hum of the idling ultra-light airplane's engine echoed unnoticed in the back of Roger's mind. A look to his right revealed Dan smiling back from his wingtip. A swivel of his head found Mark stationed at his other wingtip. He tried to shrug off the surrealistic fog that threatened to eclipse his mind. Butterflies in his stomach brought back memories of previous endeavors in a pleasing euphoria. He tucked his feet into the bottom of his harness, and wriggled into a comfortable position. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly the clarity of mind he required for the moment returned and he focused on the present. He gripped the rope in his fingers that kept the cart in place under him. He stared forward the taut towline that stretched from the release-bridle attached to his harness to the aircraft idling at its other end. This was it his first competition flight. Four pilots had been towed up already, and one of them had already landed. Another looked like he would be landing soon, but one was climbing. Roger looked at Mark and nodded. "I'm ready. Give him the signal to go." He shouted to make sure he was heard. Mark nodded back, and turned toward the tow-pilot, who was twisted around in his seat watching them. Mark made a large circle with his left arm, and the pilot turned back to face forward. Mark and Dan each placed a hand under their respective wing tip, and leaned forward preparing to run. They all heard the tow-plane's engine rev up, and tensed in anticipation. Roger felt the towline stretch, and pull on his harness. He stiffened his arms to keep from being pulled through the control-bar, and very quickly he and the glider shot off racing across the grass. He held tightly to the cart's rope, and it, he, and the glider rolled forward as one. His concentration focused on controlling the glider through the quick transition from ground roll to flight, he was unable to see Mark and Dan's feeble attempt to keep up while they kept his wings level for the crucial first few feet. After covering about fifty feet in just over two seconds he could feel the glider pulling him upward. He pulled in slightly on the control-bar to keep the glider from ballooning up, and getting too high above the tow plane. He felt his control over his glider solidify as his airspeed increased, and released the rope that kept the cart under his control-bar. it fell away and disappeared behind him. His concentration focused on the tow-plane now. It was important to stay in the correct position behind it. If he strayed too far from directly behind the plane, the tow-pilot's job got harder, and could cause serious problems. Roger liked to position himself so that the tow-plane's wing appeared to sit on or slightly below the horizon. They climbed out quickly, and soon the danger of moving so fast so close to the ground was no longer a concern. Roger reached back and pulled the string that would zip up the bottom of his harness, but he felt the string tighten around his leg. He gritted his teeth in anger, but quickly relaxed. He would just have to straight it out after he released the towline. The tow was disappointingly smooth. The turbulence associated with lift seemed to be completely missing. Roger glanced frequently at his altimeter as they climbed quickly. Today's tow was to twenty-five hundred feet, and the tow pilot would have no qualms about towing him right back to the ground if he didn't release the towline promptly. At twenty-three hundred feet the tow plane suddenly climbed rapidly and was above him. He pushed out slightly to catch up and match the plane's new climb rate. As soon as he had caught up he pulled in and accelerated taking some pressure off the towline. He reached out and pulled the release collar on his tow-bridal, and the glider instantly slowed
as the towline shot away. He banked quickly to turn the glider and look for the lift they had just flown through. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the tow-plane roll over on its side, drop into a vertical dive heading back to the airstrip to set up for another tow. Roger quickly found the unimpressive thermal, and eventually locked into its weak core. It was time to straighten out his harness. After several attempts to wriggle his leg free of the string he gave up. He didn't want to let go of the glider to free the string and take a chance on loosing the thermal. He decided to wait until he topped out the lift and went on straight glide before using his hands to free his leg and finally seal up his harness. He rode the thermal to twenty-eight hundred feet before it broke up. He aimed the glider downwind, and let it go. He bent around and fished the arrant string around his foot, but in the middle of a contortion the wire that led from his radio's headset stretched, and the tiny earphone wire filament broke. Totally unaware of the failure he zipped up his harness and continued downwind in search of another thermal. The whole process of freeing the tangled zipper string had taken several minutes, mostly due to Roger's unfamiliarity with his new harness. Roger was not one for idle chatter on the radio while he was flying, so it was not surprising that he didn't notice the silence of his radio until he tried to contact Mark. Eventually he started checking the radio to see if it was working. He knew that one of the standard things to try with a silent radio was unplugging the headset jack. This time he heard the familiar tone when he keyed it up. "KC6QVO, Mark, this is Roger. You hear me?" "KC6QVM, I read you Rog. How come you didn't answer me before?" "I think my headset's screwed up, I just unplugged it." "That would explain all that wind noise we're hearing." "Why'd you call me before?" "I was trying to find out why you were going so far east. Everyone else was staying on the west side of the valley." "Well, I had my harness zipper string wrapped around my leg when I launched. It took me a while to untangle myself, and I wasn't paying much attention to my course. I suppose I'm way behind the others now." "Actually it looks like you lucked out again. The only other pilot who's covered as much terrain as you is Ernie, and I estimate that he's less than a mile further than you." "No!?!" A more energetic voice erupted from the radio's speaker. Dan had obviously taken over the microphone. "No kidding dude, and the last I heard he was only topping at twenty-five hundred. You look higher than that to us." "I'm at twenty-nine now, but my last thermal took me to thirty four. The further I go the higher the thermals take me. The first one went to twenty-eight, the second one to thirty-one, and the last one was thirty-four." "What ever you're doing, its working. I suspect that Ernie will head east when his people tell him what you just said, but that will put him over islands, and there are no roads through there. His crew will have to haul buns to run down to the next bridge, and catch up to him." "You never know, he might fly into better air if he keeps going south." Roger cringed as soon as he realized what he had said over the open frequency radio. "You know it might be wise to keep your best advice to your self, knucklehead." Dan
bantered. "Well, I never was too good at talking and thinking at the same time. Besides, Ernie's a local pilot too. He knows how the valley works. Oh heck, I'm going silent for a while." "We'll keep you in sight, and stay as close as we can." Dan laid the microphone on his lap and shook his head. "I can't believe he said that over the radio." He said to Mark, who was driving. "I don't know, Ernie's got a big decision to make now." Mark replied, deep in thought. "The pressure's on him. Roger seems to have the advantage." "Yeah, can you believe this? Rog may actually win the first task. I know he's good an all, but look at the guys he's flyin' against." Dan shook his head again. "I've learned not to under estimate the man. Ernie obviously isn't taking him for granted." Roger forced Ernie out of his mind and concentrated on the task at hand, finding another thermal.
Chapter 9 Roger had been in the air for an hour and a half, and he figured that he had covered about sixty miles. The thing that amazed him the most was that it had been so easy. For a day with supposedly poor conditions he was getting a great flight. He remembered listening to Thomas, one of the other competitors, talking about a flight where he out flew Ernie. He had commented on how strange it felt. Everything he had tried had worked that day, but he had been the only pilot who hadn't had to struggle to eek more than a short ride back to the ground. Roger was a good pilot, and he'd had his share of getting the best flight of the day, but this felt totally different. It felt almost like an unseen destiny was guiding him. His left wing rose suddenly, and he immediately pulled the control bar to the right. The glider responded quickly, and turned into the lift. He wrapped around the tiny and week thermal's core, and started slowly climbing again. He swiveled his head around and looked up at the sleek wing. An uncontrollable grin spread across his face. He loved the way this glider flew for him. It felt so right, like a natural extension of his body, like his fingertips were out in the fringes of the wing instead of right in front of his shoulders. He shook his head, and his expression turned serious again. 'Why he had stayed away from the sport for so long?' This time the thermal took him up to thirty-three hundred feet, and it took almost half an hour for it to get him there. Roger felt it was too early for conditions to be dieing off, but that was what seemed to be happening. Perhaps he had flown out of the air mass that had been treating him so well. He smiled at the thought of Ernie getting here and finding the conditions were no better than where he had come from. Roger's level of contentment was constantly rising. Unless he unknowingly broke a rule he would be at least in second place.
Roger checked his instruments. He was down to fifteen hundred feet. He'd been flying for almost three hours, and was still less than a hundred miles from the ranch. "KC6QVM, Roger, this is Mark." "Hey Mark." "You're getting kind of low. You thinking of landing?" "I may have to. I haven't felt any lift for a while." "You're about two miles short of the hundred mile mark. You should easily fly that far with the altitude you've got. We don't know what's happened to Ernie, but I wouldn't worry about him. You've had a great flight considering the conditions." "Yeah, if I snag another thermal I'll keep going, but it kind'a feels like the day's played itself out to me. I'll probably be looking for a convenient place to land pretty soon." "We're less than a mile behind you, so we'll be there when you decide to land. The closest restricted zone is twelve miles away, and you're not heading toward it, so pick whatever looks comfy." "Oh my god!" Dan exclaimed. "I don’t believe it!" "What?" Mark was surprised by Dan's startled behavior. "It's Ernie! I see Ernie." Dan pointed off to their right. Mark couldn't see anything, but he had to concentrate on driving. "Where?" "He's less than a mile west of Rog, and I can't tell who's higher" Mark grabbed the microphone. "Roger, Dan's spotted Ernie." "Really, where is he?" "Here I'll let him tell you." "Hey Rog, Ernie's west of you, less than a mile. Looks like you're both about the same altitude." There was almost a minute of silence before Roger responded. "I see him. Looks like he might be a little higher than me." "Damn!" Dan exclaimed. "How'd he get here?" "He's good, I'll give him that." Roger commented. "Tell Roger not to push it. It's more important to make a safe landing." Mark insisted. "Yes it is." The contest judge spoke up from the back seat. It was only the third time he had spoken since they had left the ranch. Dan and Mark both glanced over their shoulders at him. "Hey Rog, don't get too competitive. The landing's important, its worth points too." Dan spoke into the microphone. "Yeah, I'd already made that decision." Roger kept glancing over at Ernie, but their respective positions didn't change. They both appeared to be on final glide. Less than a fiftty feet separated their altitudes. Despite what Roger had said he was making every effort to extend his glide. Ernie's glider had a slightly superior sink rate, and Rogers had noticeably superior handling, but they were rated dead even on glide performance. The only advantage Roger might have in this situation was that his glider's superior handling would allow him to make his final turn back into the wind at a lower altitude. The difference would only grant him a hundred feet at most. He knew that Ernie would not play it safe, despite his glider's poor handling
he would still take it right down to the deck before he made his turn to land nearly negating Roger's possible advantage. Roger stopped breathing for a moment, Ernie's nose had dropped. He had flown into a down draft. It was a fluke, but it had given Roger a slight altitude advantage. That coupled with his handling meant he would probably have a slightly longer flight. Then he spotted it, and his heart sunk. A tall line of trees was in his path. If he couldn't clear it he would lose his advantage. He checked, and sure enough the tree line didn't extend far enough to interfere with Ernie. "You going to be able to clear those trees?" He heard Dan ask over the radio. "I don't know. It's going to be close." Roger replied. "The wind's died down so you won't have to worry about rotors. If it was blowin' you'd want to clear them by a couple hundred feet so you wouldn't have to land right behind them in crappy air." Dan sounded excited. "Yeah, I know. If nothing changes, I think I'll clear them." Roger had forgotten about Ernie for a moment. He chanced a look. He was shocked to see him slip past the end of the tree line. Ernie couldn't be more than a hundred feet above the ground, and he was still going. Roger looked back just in time to realize that he wasn't going to clear the trees without blasting through the wispy tops. He considered it for a fraction of a second before deciding it wasn't worth it. Besides, Ernie could easily have pushed himself too low, and blow his landing. He banked his glider, turning just in front of the one hundred and fifty foot tall eucalyptus trees. He paralleled them with his wingtip only twenty feet from them. He felt a cushion in the air. The light breeze was being deflected up in front of the trees. In a stronger wind he might have used the tree line to climb enough to fly further on, but not today. He spotted Mark and Dan parked between the trees as he flew over the road, and turned to land beside it. He couldn't see the point in flying further down the line just to gain a couple hundred feet of distance. That wouldn't make any difference in his score. The wind was so light that he had to run out several steps, but he brought the control bar down gently onto his shoulders, and stood there for a moment staring out at the terrain he had just flown over. He released an unnoticed sigh, and set the glider down. He unhooked his harness, walked over and looked back down the road at Mark and Dan, who were just turning the truck around to come and park beside him. "Nice landing." Dan called as Mark pulled the truck off the side of the road. "Did you see Ernie's?" Roger called back, busy climbing out of his harness. "Yes, and unfortunately it was quite impressive." "I still got second. Can't complain about that." Roger said as he lifted his harness over the barbed wire fence and dropping it for Dan to retrieve. "Damn. Dan could you turn my radio off, I forgot again." "No problem." Dan replied, and fished inside the harness to find the radio. "Whoa, you're gonna have to replaced this headset. The wire is all messed up." He said holding the badly stretched wire up for everyone to see. "Yeah, it looks pretty FUBARed to me." Roger chuckled at Dan's disguised vulgarity. "I may have to fly without one tomorrow. You guys have different brands, so I can't borrow yours, and we can't get back to town in time to get a new one today." "I'll make some phone calls, and see if I can't find one for you." Mark offered waving
his cell phone. "Thanks Mark." Roger looked up and down the road. "Where's Ernie's crew?" Everyone stopped and looked at each other. Dan finally broke the silence with wide eyes and excitement in his tone. "They can't verify his landing, and Al didn't see it, he was still in the truck." Al scowled at Dan. Roger stopped where he was, and turned back toward Dan. "I won't win that way. You guys will confirm his landing. And as soon as you get me something to drink, I want you to drive back there and offer him something." "Knowing Ernie, he'll hate you for the gesture." Mark commented. "Yeah, there's always a silver lining, isn't there." Roger turned walked back to his glider, and all three men smiled after him with respect. "Hay, wait a minute!" Dan barked. "That means I've got to walk all the way over to where he landed, and he didn't land anywhere near the road. It's gotta be me too, doesn't it. It's always me." Dan grossed to himself carrying Rogers’s harness to the back of the vehicle to pack it away for him. Dan stumbled back across the last few yards of the recently plowed field with a mystified look on his face. He put his hands on the top strand of the rusty barbed wire fence, and stared vacantly toward Mark. "He was..." He faltered, trying to think of the most appropriate word, and finally seemed to settle on one by default. "Nice. He actually apologized for me having to walk so far!" Dan's eyes finally focused on Mark, but his expression pleaded for an explanation. "That doesn't sound like Ernie." Mark offered, lost for a more resolving response. He shook his head, trying to dismiss the surprise of what Dan had said. "Climb over the fence so we can get back to Roger and Al. I heard from Ernie's crew. They're still ten or fifteen minutes away." Dan quickly dismissed the enigma of Ernie, and carefully climbed through the fence. "I'm sure, he'll be, back, to his, grumpy, normal, self, soon enough." Roger grunted and panted as he struggled to pass the awkward twenty foot long, one hundred and five pound, bagged up glider over the fence. Mark and Dan each grabbed an end, and carried the glider over to the truck, and set it on the racks. Roger placed a hand top of a fence post, took one step back, and then sprang forward, leapt up, scissored his legs over the fence, and landed neatly on the other side. "You're the only guy I know who still does that." Mark commented. "That's probably because I'm the only guy you know who hasn't caught himself on the fence doing it." Roger sniped. "Yet." Mark amended. "I guess I'm just happy because I'm in second place." "Yeah, and Ernie had to bust his ass to beat you!" Dan chirped in from the back of the truck. "Not bad, considering you've only been flyin’ again for two months." They were tying Roger's glider to the racks when Ernie's crew pulled up. Dan leaned in their window and told them where to find Ernie, and they zipped off to retrieve him. "I told them that we would verify Ernie's landing, and they said Ernie'd already told em we would" Dan was obviously troubled by the statement. "He was right wasn't he?" Roger stated with a mater-of-fact tone.
"You don't think it was a bit presumptuous?" Mark asked. "Its Ernie, he's always been..." Roger struggled for a moment, and then shrugged deciding to use Mark's word. "Presumptuous." "Maybe so, but I think we should have made him stew for a while before we let him know we were going to be so generous." Dan slurred. Al shook his head dismissively. He seemed to be getting used to Dan's attitude toward Ernie. "You really don't like him do you." "Who Ernie?" Dan chuckled "You have to spend time with him to really appreciate how nasty he can be." "We all learned to fly together." Mark added, "Ernie never felt like enough was enough. He always had to have the most he could get no mater who it hurt, and one day it was us that he abused to get what he wanted." "Mostly it was Roger that got burned," Dan interjected, "but we all felt abused." Roger cleared his throat, and the others fell silence. "Rog doesn't like to dwell on that bit of ancient history, water under the bridge, or what ever you want to call it." Dan offered quietly out of earshot of Roger. They rode in silence for a while until Al spoke up. "Have you ever written any other books?" He asked Roger. "No the one was enough. I'd probably have been better off if I'd never written the first one." Roger turned and stared out the window of the truck, not interested in conversation involving Ernie or his book. Patricia was entranced listening to the final stages of Rogers flight. "He crossed the tree line before you? He was lower than you, right?" "Yes, and right after that I realized that I couldn't clear the trees." Roger droned, exaggerating his staged disappointment. "Oh no!" She held her hands over her mouth. They hadn't told her that Ernie had flown farther yet. "Yep! I turned and landed beside the road." Roger shrugged. "It was a sweet landing." Dan augmented. "Ernie couldn't have flown a quarter mile farther, than Rog either." "That puts you in second place." Patricia stated adamantly after a short hesitation. "Roger I'm so proud of you!" She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him with fierce intensity. "Who'd of thunk it two months ago." Dan teased. Roger had been in a good mood, but his grin broadened as he looked at his friends. "Have I thanked you guys yet for forcing me into this?" "You're welcome." Mark replied simply, and Patricia hugged him again. "I don't know about anyone else, but I'm sure I'm getting as much out of this as you are." Dan gushed. "I've got to meet world class pilots that I've only read about, I've had a two month flying vacation, and one of my oldest and best friends is flyin' again. This's been better than Christmas!" Mark, Roger, and Patricia turned a bit solemn, and nodded agreement with Dan's sentiments. The last two months had been a unique experience for them all. "Look at them." Dan sneered, and nodded at two of Ernie's crew who were mingling with other crews nearby. "They're makin' sure everyone hears that Ernie beat you."
"Lighten-up Dan." Roger chuckled, placing a friendly hand on his friend's shoulder. "He did beat me, and he pulled off an amazing flight to do it. If you need a bit of consolation though, remember that he's been flying competition for almost ten years, and we've only been at it for two months. It's us everyone’s watching too, not Ernie. If it weren't for you three I'd be in my shop sulking instead of being out here having the time of my life." He put his other hand on Patricia's shoulder. "I don't have to win this contest. The fact that I've made Ernie sweat is all the reward I need. He hasn't shown his face since he got back. I'm pretty sure things aren't going the way he'd planned. He probably expected to embarrass the heck out of me, and thanks to you guys I've got nothing to be ashamed of." Smiles of camaraderie burst over them, and for the moment even Dan no longer felt angry toward Ernie. "Is anyone else hungry?" Mark asked. "Starved!" Roger answered. "Me too!" Dan added. "How soon can you get away?" Roger asked Patricia. "I'm feeling like going to Fat's." "I'll be back in five minutes." She rushed off into the tent. "I guess she’s hungry too." Roger commented. "Maybe you embarrassed her with that heavy-duty dose of gratitude you just laid on us." Mark offered good-naturedly. "I had to do something to mellow Dan out. He looked like he was having a happy fit." Roger kibitzed, and they all laughed.
Chapter 10 "Mr. Banks is in first place with one hundred points. Mr. Dunn is in second place with ninety-nine points. Both pilots flew one hundred and one miles, but Mr. Banks went nine hundred feet farther. In third place is Mr. Kline with seventy-eight points." Patricia was somewhat surprised at the silence that greeted her announcement. She had expected more of a reaction, but she continued on after only a brief hesitation. "All the scores will be posted on the bulletin board at the end of this meeting. Today's task is for the spectators, its duration and spot landing. We polled several of you about what to expect today, and came up with a two-hour cap on duration. If you manage to stay up for two hours you will receive the maximum of fifty duration points. Four easily visible pylons have been erected three-quarters of a mile from the landing area, one north, one south, one east, and one west. You are required to stay inside the square defined by these pylons. Minor infractions will only cost you half of your duration points per occurrence, so you basically get one accidental cross over before you lose all of your duration points. A minor infraction is where a pilot crosses over a line and crosses right back inside without being outside of the duration flying square for more than ten seconds." She hesitated a moment. She knew her next statement would surprise many of them. "Half of today's points will be awarded for your landing. In your folders is a sheet explaining how your landings will be judged. Let's go over that now." She flipped a sheet over on an easel that was standing near her to reveal a blown-up picture of a hang glider being flared to land. It was a head on shot with the pilot's arms
fully extended, the glider pointed skyward, and the pilot's eyes trained on the ground before him. The picture showed a textbook perfect landing. "Half of your landing points will be based on the, traditional, distance from the spot. Videos will be shot of each landing, and the frames depicting the stall," she pointed at the picture on the easel, "and when the glider comes to a complete stop, will be used to determine the remainder of your points." This time there was a definite rumbling from the pilots and crews. Many concerned oohs, aahs, and whoas were uttered. "Points will be awarded for how level your wings are, how centered your body is in the control bar, and how high the glider is above the ground, the lower the better." She pointed at the picture with each statement. "Each step you take deducts ten points. Dropping the glider on the control bar deducts twenty points, and letting the nose hit the ground costs thirty." Someone in the back yelled, "Whack!" Several people laughed, but the room returned to quiet very quickly. "Yes, well, there is one more thing. Anyone not clearing the landing area promptly will have fifty points deducted from their score. We don't want anyone costing the next pilot his points by being in the way." Patricia scanned her audience looking for signs of dissension or disagreement, but they all seemed satisfied if not impressed. "I guess that's it, any questions before we adjourn?" "Who's judging the landings?" Ernie asked with insinuation in his voice. Patricia rolled her eyes so quickly that only Roger, Mark, and Dan noticed. "Sorry, I should have covered that. Ralph Bertram, our FAA rep' has agreed to judge, Tom Butler, our USHPA rep has also agreed to judge, and Sgt. Ronald Wexler, of Fish and Game will complete our panel. Both Tom and Ronald are experienced hang glider pilots, and Ed flew as a novice several years ago, but his understanding of aviation through his work with the FAA and being a general aviation pilot makes him a more than acceptable choice." She stared intently at Ernie, challenging him to refute her selection of judges. Ernie nodded submissively, obviously finding on flaws with her choices. Roger reached forward and pulled the small aluminum tube of his tow bridal's release. The sudden decrease in thrust was only a momentary sensation. He watched the towline almost magically disappear as it snapped forward trailing behind the tow plane. There were already a dozen other gliders up and soaring the sky above the ranch. Roger smiled. He'd always enjoyed flying in a crowd of competent pilots. It was a very special type of social communion. The conditions were light, but strong enough that only one pilot had gone down already. He banked slightly, and flew toward a glider near him that was climbing. Moments later he had slid into the other pilots core only fifty feet lower. Within moments the two gliders were dancing the thermal's core like a gyrating young couple enjoying a festive waltz. Slowly the two continued to climb, and soon another glider had swooped into the lift beneath them. Roger scanned the immediate sky, and saw three more gliders tracking in to join them. It would soon get crowded in their humble thermal of rising warm air. Flying in a small thermal with one other glider was fun. You had two consuming concepts to involve you; keeping your proximity to the other glider comfortable, while adjusting your circles to keep your glider centered on the thermal's core. Add four more gliders, competitively
trying to occupy that same space, and things would quickly become intense. Roger mixed it up with the crowd for a while, but after the second close brush with another glider, he decided to leave and hunt for his own thermal. He checked his altimeter as he tracked away from the still slowly rising gaggle. He was at twenty-two hundred feet. Seven hundred feet above the altitude he had released from tow at. A few minutes later he was beginning to wonder if he had made a strategic mistake. He was back down to fifteen hundred feet again, and the gaggle was over a thousand feet higher. He watched the tow plane, with a glider in tow, climbing up below him. They were at about eight hundred feet when the tow plane surged upward. It had flown into a thermal, and not just the typical weak little thermals they had been finding today. Roger counted six seconds of climb before the plane flew out of the thermal and settled into a normal climb rate again. Roger watched the glider follow through the lift without releasing. Roger was surprised, but assumed that the pilot didn't want to release from the climbing tow-plane that close to the ground. Roger flew to the space where he expected to find the rising thermal, but after almost two minutes he was wondering if he had misread the size and location of the thermal, wondering if it was just wishful thinking or his imagination that had made the lift seem so substantial. His wondering ended instantly as his left wing was forced brutally upward, leaving the glider steeply banked before Roger knew what had happened. His wide-eyed shock quickly transformed into tenacious intent. Nature had flung the gauntlet into his face, as if to taunt him by asking, 'are you good enough to catch this one?' Within a minute he had proven that he was. Glancing at his variometer revealed that he was indeed climbing as quickly as it felt. He scanned the sky as he swept around the rowdy thermal's core. There was only one other glider close enough to catch this thermal, Ernie! Five minutes later Roger and Ernie were wingtip to wingtip struggling to maintain their positions in the unfriendly core. They quickly climbed through thirty-two hundred feet, leaving the gaggle in the other thermal below. The thermal topped out at thirty-four hundred feet, and when Roger and Ernie floated off in their separate directions, they both noticed that the other gliders were all hunting thermals at a much lower level. Half an hour later there were only six gliders still clinging to the sky. Roger had been airborne for over an hour, but Ernie had been towed up almost ten minutes before him, and Ernie was the only other pilot he was concerned with. Fifteen minutes later Roger, Ernie, and one other pilot were circling the landing area like water circling a drain. They were the only pilots still aloft. Five minutes later it was just Ernie and Roger, but Roger was at least fifty feet higher, and they were less than two hundred feet above the ground. Ernie's slightly superior sink rate wasn't enough to make up for Roger's altitude advantage, and he set up his approach to land first. His landing looked good to Roger as he set up his own approach, but he had touched down almost ten feet from the target's center, which gave Roger a small window of hope. Ernie's flight would be a couple of minutes longer, but Roger new he could make up for that with a better landing. He pulled in slightly, concentrating on the spot in the center of the landing target. A little extra speed might cost him a few seconds in the air, but it would improve the handling of the glider, and a perfect landing was his only hope for winning the day’s event. Ernie picked up his glider, and walked across Roger’s approach path, and then apparently changed his mind and reversed direction, re-crossing Roger’s path as he
moved his glider finally out of Roger’s way. Roger knew it was nothing more than a weak attempt to disrupt his concentration, and he dismissed the ire he initially felt from Ernie’s ploy, and honed his concentration on the spot where he intended to land. He bent his right knee, pushing it downward, verifying that he had unzipped the harness, and could drop his legs at the precisely needed moment. The determination in his eyes spread across his entire body. He clenched his teeth, his fingers on the control bar, and his toes in the tail of the harness. He swooped across the parking lot almost exactly as he had on Thursday’s practice flight. He’d come up a couple feet short then. He needed at least as good a landing today. He liked the way everything felt. He was in good position, with good speed. The wind was smooth, light, and steady, meaning there would be no gust to push his glider out of position. He crossed the bleachers, and jetted across the grass toward the target. He stiffened his knees. He could not drop his legs too soon or he would come up short again. It was going to be very close. He forced himself to hold his legs up a second longer. Then he smoothly rotated his body into a vertical position, carefully switching his hands, one at a time, from the base tube of the control bar to the down tubes. It only took a second, but the maneuver was crucial, and it felt like an eternity to Roger. If he misplaced a hand, or allowed his body to sway out of position the glider would respond, and no longer be in proper alignment with the target. His feet flashed passed the outer circle and he pushed out hard on the control bar. The glider’s speed was almost spent, and it tried to respond to the increased angle of attack by climbing, but there wasn’t enough stored momentum left, and the glider stalled. The nose continued to rise, as the tail settled, and the sharp decrease in speed caused Roger’s body to swing forward. All the time his eyes locked in concentration on the center of the target. With great satisfaction he saw his shoes swing into the picture and plant firmly, only a few inches from the point of his concentration. The glider settled heavily onto his shoulders, but he maintained its balance. He grinned. It had felt very good. He shot a look at his right wingtip, making sure only to move his head. It was hovering a foot above the grass. He carefully and slowly looked at the other tip. It was a mirror image of the first. He had done it. His landing was as perfect as any he had ever made . Suddenly the sounds in his ears registered in his brain. He was receiving an enthusiast ovation. Mark and Dan raced in under his wings, and clapped him heartily on the back. “Incredible!” Mark said between pants. “You nailed it!” Dan congratulated. “It sure felt good.” Roger replied. “Ernie’s form was pretty good too, but he didn’t nail the spot like you.” Dan gushed. “I think you beat him. Everybody was sayin’ if you got a perfect landing you would!” Roger had already realized that fact, but hearing someone else say it felt like vindication, vindication for wanting it so badly. Dan moved his head next to Rogers. “I think Trish had tears in her eyes.” Roger looked at Dan quizzically, but didn’t comment. “Why don’t you unhook, and let me carry your glider for you.” Mark inserted, grimacing at Dan. “What?” Dan snapped with a hurt expression, followed by a dismissive grin. "I can't go!" Patricia insisted. She had repeated herself three times, and was on the
verge of being upset with Roger's persistence. She had no choice. She had a publicity meeting this evening where she was supposed to introduce Flight’s of Fancy’s staff and officials to local businessmen, politicians, and community representatives. She had tried to talk him into going, but Roger had already made plans with his friends, having no interested in attending a dinner where Ernie was a featured speaker. "I could meet you after." Roger only grunted as he turned and marched away. Mark and Dan both shrugged sympathetically. "See you tomorrow." Mark offered before turning to follow Roger through the mire of parked vehicles. Patricia silently watched the three of them weave their way across the lot. "He never was very good at socializing." Ernie's voice wrenched her back to her duties. She flashed him an unfriendly sneer before hurrying back into the tent. Roger felt hollow. He was disappointed with himself, but not enough to change his mind. He knew Ernie was taunting him. He had to ignore Ernie, hard as that might be. Any other response was a loss. His only chance for peace of mind was to fly his best, respect Patricia, and never acknowledge Ernie's psychological tactics. He started his truck, and made his way through the parking area, glancing several times in his mirror hoping to get a sight of Patricia. His cell phone chirped, and he touched a button on his earpiece. "Yeah?" "Hi Roger. It's Mark. My wife just called, an I've got to go home. Dan's comin' with me, cause I need his help. Ahh… I guess that means you’re on your own. Sorry to bale out on you, but we've got no choice. Its an emergency.” “Oh… Ah, that’s okay Mark. I need to go in to the shop anyway. I’ve barely been there in the last few weeks. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” “Okay, I guess we'll see you in the morning.” Regret and trepidation flowed from Mark's voice in Roger’s earpiece, but it hardly consoled him. Roger tapped his headset again disconnecting the call. “Great!” His sarcastic tone shocked him. “So much for a celebration. Maybe I should spend some time in the shop.” He muttered to himself feeling quite dejected. Roger was standing at his counter eating a taco and reviewing the notes that Jennifer had left for him when he heard a tapping at his business’s front door. He looked up to see who it was, and choked. He coughed a couple of times, and then composed himself. His spasm brought a smile of amusement to Monique's dimly lit face. "Rogaire, come, let me én!" Her muffled voice drifted eerily across the quiet room. Roger scanned the glass front of his business, but she was alone in the late evening’s darkness. Anxiety made him tremble. She was trouble and he knew it, but he didn't feel that he could just leave her out there. He trudged toward the door, fumbling for the keys in his pocket. "Evening Monique." He inhospitably cracked the door and stuck his head in the gap. "What are you doing here?" She leaned back slightly, but only momentarily allowed her smile to fade. "Erná had to speak tonight, but é said you might be lonely alzo. Zo I came and find you." She smiled warmly. Roger suddenly felt guilty. He opened the door and let her in, even though he knew it
was probably a mistake. "Would you like to go get some coffee?" "Oh oui, it took a long time to find you, and I 'ave not eaten." Roger was surprised. She actually sounded pleased with his suggestion. He was also relieved. His shop was a great place to come at night to think or get things done, but the quiet and solitude of this place was too disarming to share with someone like Monique. "There's a nice place not too far from here. Too far to walk though, you'll have to follow me in your car." "Petáire dropped me, é only stayed long enough to see éf you let me én." "Oh... Well, I’ll lock up, and we can go." Roger felt like he was tripping over his tongue as he stumbled through his statement. He bagged the remains of his dinner, and tossed it in the dumpster in the alley after locking the doors. Monique followed silently as he walked around the dumpster to his truck. “You flew well today. You make Erná nervous.” She smiled, and touched his forearm. “He does not know what zo expect from you.” He glanced at her fingers on his arm, and was relieved when she slid them off after only a moment. He merely nodded in response, intentionally not making eye contact. “Erná was quite rude to me when I asked him to take me on zome of zhe carnival rides.” She commented in a sulking tone. “You would take Patrécia if she asked, wouldn’t you?” Her hand was back on his arm again. “Ah… I, ah… yeah I suppose so.” He stuttered. “She hasn’t asked though.” “You should offáir. I know she would like ét.” Her hand slid back into her lap, and she watched the road as they drove on in silence. Roger sipped at his coffee as he watched Monique heartily chewing on a bite of chicken from her dinner salad. They sat at a small table in the center of the nearly deserted café. The evening was not going as he had expected. He was actually enjoying her company. In fact he had a tiny pang of guilt over that. She had told him how she had loved to attend carnivals when she was a girl growing up outside of Paris, and how much it had disappointed her when Ernie had refused her simple request. She had even tried to talk him into some of the other activities, like the jet skies, or waterskiing, but he would not be distracted by her. As Roger drove her back to the ranch they regaled each other with tales from their not so different childhood experiences. When he dropped her off in front of the motor home she gave him a gentle peck on the cheek. “I wésh you luck tomorrow.” Then she slid out of his truck and into the dark shadow beside the motor home.
Out and Return
Chapter 11 Roger didn't just feel good, he felt great. The day was bright and sunny with a light breeze. It looked like perfect flying weather. He had survived his encounter with Monique last night unscathed. In fact he was still a little confused by her behavior. She hadn't tried to play with his head at all. She had just been friendly. He had seen Patricia briefly this morning, and she was in a good mood too. It seemed like the beginning of a perfect day.
"Hay dude, how was your evening?" Roger turned his head and nodded at Dan. "Interesting." "Interesting?" Dan's tone was loaded with curiosity. "Yeah, interesting." Roger repeated. "Well that explains it..." Dan was about to work up a roasting taunt, but Roger interrupted. "I took Monique to dinner." "Huh?" Dan's jaw dropped, and his head shot back and forth between Mark and Roger. "Does Patricia know?" Mark asked nonchalantly. " I haven’t had the chance to tell her yet." "Oh!" Mark’s eyes grew wider and suspicious. "Think she’ll be okay with it?" Dan interjected. "Yeah, its not as though anything happened. We just had dinner and talked." Roger betrayed none of the curiosity he felt about Monique's behavior, and no hint of concern about Patricia finding out. “I hope you're right.” Mark tried to mask his foreboding with a knowing grin. Roger took notice, and suddenly became concerned. “You think she’ll think I was fooling around with Monique?” Until that moment the possibility had seemed remote. “You think I shouldn’t tell her?” “You’ve got to tell her!” Mark interjected. “Huh?" Dan had been about to advise deception, but changed his tack quickly after Mark's insistence. "You know Ernie’ll bring it up.” Dan added hesitantly, not sure if he was supporting Mark properly. He smiled with relief when Mark nodded in agreement. Roger stood in silence for a moment. “I better go fi… Hell!” Dan and Mark followed Roger’s line of sight to see Patricia, Ernie, and Monique in conversation, and instantly knew. “Too late dude, time to grovel.” Dan stated shaking his head. Mark grabbed Roger’s arm. “Just be honest. It always turns out better in the end.” They all saw Patricia turn a frosty glare on Roger, and then turn and walk off in the other direction. “Ouch!” Dan blurted, and received a scowl from Mark. Roger seemed to fold in on himself. His eyes pleaded at Monique for some sort of explanation, but she turned away to address Ernie. "It's a few minutes before the briefing. I'm going for a walk." He trudged off without waiting for a reply. Dan started after him. "I'm sure sh..." "We've got something better to do." Mark said restraining Dan by the shoulder. "Trish?" Dan responded quickly. "Yeah, come on." "No!" Patricia blurted. "He dumped me last night so he could fool around with that French floozy. I don't ever want to see him again." "But..." Dan tried to explain, but Patricia was unwilling to listen. She turned and bolted around the corner of the tent. "Well, that went well." Dan ranted factiously. "This is not good.” Mark muttered.
"Yeah, Roger won't be able to concentrate. He'll probably do terrible today." "Don’t be a dolt. The contest's not what's important." "Huh?" Mark shook his head in frustration. "How long did Roger mope around avoiding everyone and everything that didn't involve his shop? Patricia's the best thing that ever happened to him, and this could be the end of that." "Oh yeah, I, I wasn't thinking." Dan lowered his head, and then jerked it back up. "Is Rog going to fly?" "Yes, I think so. He said he was going to the briefing. In fact we need to make sure he does. If he doesn't it'll definitely be over between them." Mark twisted his head the way he often did when he was working something out in his mind. Suddenly his head shot up and a smile creased his lips. "I've got a plan. You'll have to drive for Roger alone today." He threw an arm over Dan's shoulder, and led him toward Roger's truck. Roger sat in the briefing tent between Dan and Mark. Patricia was not giving the briefing, and that seemed to depress Roger even more. He barely registered the words being spoken from the podium. He knew what he needed to know. Today's task was an out-and-return flight with the turn point just short of Stockton. If the wind blew, as it often did, it would be a difficult task. Ernie paid very little attention to the briefing either. His attention was focused on Roger, and a maniacal grin expressed his victorious mood. His crew seemed pleased also. Evidently when the boss was happy everyone was happy. "Unfortunately, it looks like the wind will be up this afternoon, so on the return leg of your flights you'll be battling a significant head wind. Any questions?" The briefing broke up, and Mark and Dan ushered Roger to his vehicle, and drove him to the airstrip. He set up his glider slowly without his usual zeal. "You think I'll ever see her again?" He asked Mark. "I can almost guarantee it. She just needs time to realize that you're not the kind of guy Ernie says you are." "Ernie!" Roger sneered the name with true loathing. "I'd like to pour sugar in his tank, or something." "There's a better way to get him." Mark patted Roger on the shoulder. "Yeah, If I could beat him, it'd definitely ruin his day." "True enough. Keep your head and fly your best." Roger looked Mark directly in the eye. "Thanks Mark." "Not a problem." Mark held up his palm. "Brothers of the wing." Roger smiled, and slapped his hand onto Marks, and gripped it. "Brothers of the wing." Rogers’s movements were a little crisper after that, and his eyes were no longer trained on the ground. Roger was towed up eighth out of the twelve pilots still competing, right after Ernie. He pulled the release on his towline, and watched the tow-plane roll and dive back toward the field. He scanned the sky for Ernie, but he was already gone. He had released in light lift, and gingerly formed his circles around the small core. He rose as he drifted eastward on the wind. Roger did well finding thermals as needed, and
continued to make headway without getting too low. He had only seen one other glider since launch, but he had not been able to catch up to it. The turn-point pylon was twentyseven miles from the ranch, and he guessed that he was now less than ten miles from it. Roger scanned his instruments as he topped out in a thermal, and realized that he was as high as he had been today, and with the strong tail wind he felt he should easily make it to the turn-point. "Time to get pointy." He muttered to himself. He reset his flaps, and pulled his arms into his side placing his hands directly under his shoulders on the control bar's base tube. He eased the bar in slightly and the glider accelerated. It was only a couple of minutes later that he spotted the first glider heading toward him. He quickly spotted two more not far behind. They had already rounded the pylon and were on their way back to the ranch. The second was Ernie. When they passed, Ernie barely moving over the ground as he fought the head wind. Roger estimated that he was at least five miles from the turn-point. That meant that Ernie had at least a ten-mile advantage on a fifty-four mile race. Even allowing for the fact that he would close up as he raced over the ground flying down wind, Ernie would still be six or seven miles ahead. His chances of making that up were almost non-existent. He flew with intensity however, determined to give it his best shot, and not just give up. A few minutes later he spotted the pylon, and flew directly for it. As he rounded the turn-point though, he realized the futility of his situation. After screaming along with an average ground speed approaching sixty miles per hour, he suddenly felt like he could get out and walk faster than he was penetrating through the daunting head wind. He could not even see Ernie or the other leaders, but on the ground, within a mile of the pylon he spotted five of the competition gliders. Up ahead he could see specks of white amidst strong wind lines that adorned a nearby pond. Catching a thermal now and gaining precious altitude would mean drifting with the wind, and loosing even more precious headway. Roger’s spirit broke. He would never catch Ernie, he was almost broke from not having worked at his shop in weeks, and worst of all Patricia was never going to talk to him again. His straining eyes stopped staring forward, and glassed over. Even the glider seemed to stop penetrating, and start loosing ground. In the middle of this gloom he surprised himself with a weak smile. The pressure was off. Nothing mattered anymore, and he was, he glanced at his altimeter, twenty-two hundred feet over the valley floor on a beautiful day. He noticed off to his left, a ways to the south, a line of beautiful puffy white cumulus clouds. With a little luck he could make it there. It had been a while since he had cored a thermal up to cloud-base. With no hesitation he turned more than ninety degrees away from the competition's course back to the ranch, and tracked southward, toward a more fun type of challenge. “Rog, where are you going?” Dan fumbled the microphone frantically. “Hay Dan. I decided to go cloud hopping.” “But, the contest?” Dan sounded confused. “Yeah, but look at those clouds. Have you ever seen a more perfect street?” “But Rog, the other guys are pulling away from you. You’ll never catch up if you go there.” Dan was panicked, and it came through loud and clear in his voice. “That’s okay Dan. Why don’t you head back to the ranch and enjoy the carnival with Angie. Who knows, maybe I’ll make it back to the ranch eventually and I won’t need a
ride.” “But Rog, the competition, you can’t give up!” “Yeah, I can. I’m switching the radio off, I’ll see you later.” “But Rog, you can’t.” Dan waited, but there was no response. “Damn!” Dan deflated, realizing that it was over. Leaning against the door of Roger’s truck where he had parked near the pylon. He reached in the window and let the microphone fall to the floorboard. He watched sullenly as Roger and his glider slowly diminished to the south. “What’s the matter Dan? You look depressed.” Angie asked. She had been one of the judges manning the turn-point pylon. Dan lifted a limp finger and pointed toward Roger. “He’s giving up.” She felt sympathy for the depression in his tone. “I’m sorry.” She almost winced at the look of loss in his eyes. “Can I ride with you?” She was pleased to see a spark kindle in those eyes when he glanced at her. “There aren’t any more gliders, so the guys are dismantling the pylon before they head back to the ranch, and I was hopping to get out of that menial task.” Dan’s eyes drifted back and forth between Angie and the speck that Roger had become, and then just as Roger had, he surrendered to the pleasure and forgot the agony and stress. “Sure, want to go back and try that waterslide the carnival set up?” “Sounds like fun, but what about Roger?” “He’s a big boy. He’ll call if he needs a ride.” “Look Trish, you can’t really believe that he’d shun you to be with Monique.” Mark pleaded for Patricia’s attention. She kept moving away from him, feigning to diligently perform one empty task after another, but he could tell she was listening. Weakening under his relentless attack. He had been dogging her all day, and it was now almost two o’clock in the afternoon. He decided it was time to change tack and try a bit of psychology. “You know Roger well enough. He’s afraid of women!” He saw her hesitate, and knew he was on the right track. “Can you imagine him trying to seduce a tart like her?” Then he saw a wisp of a smile creep over her lips before she turned, but this time she didn’t move away. “She got herself dumped off at his shop in the middle of the night, and rather than let her in where they’d be alone he took her out to a restaurant.” Patricia turned and stared into his eyes. Her lips quivered, but no sound came out. Mark reveled in her response, and pressed on. “Do you know what he was like before he met you? He hadn’t had a date in five years. He was a virtual hermit, always either working in his shop or riding to and from it. And he always rode alone. But now…” Mark shrugged and relaxed. He could see by her eyes that he had finally gotten to her. “He’s been more active, more excited, and happier than I’ve seen him in years. He’s like a new man, and it’s all because of you. I know he cares for you, you’ve just got to give him a chance.” Patricia stumbled forward and threw her arms around Mark's neck and buried her face in his shoulder. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a jerk.” Her muffled voice issued from his shirt. “But he’s never told me that he cares.” “No, he wouldn’t. He’s a bit callous that way.” Mark looked around suddenly selfconscious of the attention that they were attracting in the briefing tent. “Could we go somewhere else and talk.” She glanced around and quickly composed herself, but before they could move, the
still very wet Dan and Angie approached. “You guys have gotta try that water slide!” Dam trumpeted. “Dan? where’s Roger?” Mark stammered with astonishment at seeing his unexpected friend. “Oh yeah.” Dan blanched. “I forgot to tell you.” He looked to Angie for support, but she only shrugged. “Tell what?” Patricia sounded very concerned. “Is he alright?” “Oh, I’m sure he’s fine.” Angie assured taking Patricia’s hand. “Yeah, he was fine the last we saw him.” Dan added. “Maybe you better tell us what did happen.” Mark insisted. “Well, he knid’a gave up on the contest.” “What?” Mark looked incensed. “Yeah, he was the last one to round the pylon, and he couldn’t even see the others, so he just gave up.” “And you just left him out there?” Mark looked fit to be tied. “No, He’s still flying. At least I think he is.” Dan concentrated for a moment, and then shrugged. "He spotted this cloud street to the south, and decided to go see if he could get up to cloud base. He was still pretty high when he turned off his radio and left. He told me to go have fun at the carnival.” Mark and Patricia both stood in silence with slack jaws. Patricia responded first, surprising everyone. “Men!” She marched off spurned once again. “I ought to…” Mark leered at Dan. "What'd I do?" "I'd just got her to forgive Roger. She was ready to give him a big hug, even if he came in last! Then you showed up, and opened your big mouth." Mark blew out a deep breath, and relaxed. "Sorry, you couldn't have known." "I've kept the radio on in case he calls. I didn't know what else to do." Dan stared at his feet. "Guess I should have called ya, but I kind of got sidetracked." He glanced at Angie, and she favored him with a conniving smile. Mark noticed their conspiratorial behavior. "I can see that." He shook his head dismissively. "You two go and have fun. I'm going to keep working on Trish." He turned to follow her, but added a parting statement over his shoulder. "Call me if you hear from Roger." "Course. Good luck!" Roger had struggled and worked every puff he had flown through heading south. He was low, only six hundred feet above the ground, but he was finally under the cloud street. He pulled on a little more flaps, configuring the glider to optimize any lift he encountered. He headed for a large plowed field with high-tension power lines crossing it. Roger had always had good luck finding thermals over the substantial high-voltage wires. The air over the field felt buoyant, but crossing the field brought him down to less than five hundred feet. He allowed the glider to drift, not fighting the currents in the air that tugged at it. His variometer chirped intermittently, and he knew that a big thermal was going to breaking loose from the ground somewhere nearby. He continued to drift over the power lines. His variometer was sounding off more frequently now, but he was
still dropping, and almost down to four hundred feet. Much lower and he would be able to hear the high-voltage electricity humming through the bulky wires. He didn’t want to be that close. “Yeah! There you are!” Roger shouted. The nose of his glider had jerked up in a powerful thermal, and he had barely been quick enough pulling it back down in time to avoid a stall. He had flown straight into the center of the thermal’s core, his wings having remained level. He waited as the glider climbed and accelerated, listening to the euphoric wine of his variometer. “Long enough.” He stated after five seconds of climbing straight forward. He gently pulled the glider into a right turn, but almost immediately the left wing fell. The glider carved to the left despite his efforts. Too low to get more than one second chance, he reversed himself and pushed the control bar to the right, and eased it forward. The glider snapped around quickly one hundred and eighty degrees. He barely had time to level the wings before entering the thermal’s core again. This time the left wing was pulled up. “Oh no you don’t.” He said fighting his wings back to level. He counted to three, and initiated another left turn, but he had been too slow. Once again he fell out the other side of the thermal and into the vengeful sink that surrounded it. He banked the glider harder to the left, fighting the thermal’s efforts to keep him out. A quick glance at the ground told him he hadn’t lost any altitude, but if he didn’t stay in the core this time he was afraid that he would fall below it. At this altitude that would probably mean the end of his flight. He knew where it was now though, and as rowdy as this thermal was, it was big enough to stay in, and he intended to ride it all the way to the base of the puffy white heavens above. “I’ve got ya now.” Roger looked at his variometer and altimeter for the first time since encountering the undulating core. The glider was dialed into the core now, and he was climbing fast. The altimeter said he had already passed eight hundred feet, and the variometer kept increasing its indicated rate of climb. Two hundred twenty feet per minute, two hundred eighty, three forty, four hundred, five hundred, six hundred, seven hundred feet per minute flashed across the gauge. “Woooo! Awesome.” The ground fell away at an incredible rate as he corkscrewed his way toward the awaiting cloud. The variometer topped out at eight hundred and twenty feet per minute as he climbed through eighteen hundred feet. Then it settled and fluctuated between two hundred sixty and three hundred feet per minute of climb. He had clawed his way up from the thermal’s bottom, through the heart of the core to its top. As the thermal climbed toward the cloud, it settled and became less rowdy. He dragged his sleeve across his brow to clear the sweat that was threatening to drip into his eyes. Roger looked up at the cloud above him and guessed that he was about half way there. His altimeter read thirty two hundred, so he estimated that the bottom of the cloud would be at about sixty-five hundred feet. “I’m, going, to get, co-old.” He congratulated himself in a childish singsong tone. The bottom of the cloud was approaching, and he knew that he wasn’t supposed to, but he intended to penetrate it. It had been a while since he had grayed out in a cloud. He was constantly looking up at the impending cloud. The last few minutes in the thermal had been as simple as riding a merry-go-round. As long as he circled under the cloud, he climbed, but as he approached the forming mists the thermal was developing a few kicks again. It was nothing frightening, just a reminder that he was transitioning from
one air mass to another, and boundaries were almost always active. As he had anticipated the mists started to fill in beneath him. At first it was barely noticeable, but it constantly thickened. He glanced at his variometer, to verify that his climb rate was accelerating, almost five hundred feet per minute now. It happened suddenly, the details of the ground below vanished in the gray mist. "That's high enough." The instant the ground had vanished he pulled the control bar back passed his shoulders. The glider kicked and bucked as it sped through the minor turbulence in the base of the cloud. It dove and accelerated quickly with the result that he only lost sight of the ground for two or three seconds. He adjusted the pitch angle of the glider studiously to maintain as close to the bottom of the cloud as possible. He wasn’t concerned with what direction he was going. He would fly straight until he was no longer beneath the cloud. He anticipated only a few more seconds of battling the suck beneath the cloud before clearing its edge. As sometimes happens the edge of the cloud held the strongest suction of all. Before he realized it he grayed out again. His variometer went from a constant warbling to an almost silent high-pitched wine. It was pegged, all nines, that was over a thousand feet a minute. The turbulence had kicked up also. He took a deep breath, pulled in a little harder, and tried to keep the glider flying straight and level. He was just about to get concerned when he shot out the side of the cloud. A moment later the turbulence was gone, and he was streaking away from the cloud in smooth mellow air. He glanced back at the puffy white blob behind him and smiled. Roger had climbed over five hundred feet above the base of the cloud, and he now realized that he was very cold. His altimeter verified why. He was at seventy-two hundred feet. He slowed the glider, and looked down to try and determine where he was. He had exited the west side of the cloud, and was still heading west. The next cloud in the street was a little north of a westward heading. He banked the glider slightly, and aimed for its center. He configured the glider for a speed glide, and pulled back on the control bar again until the wind pressure from the speed was squeezing around his glasses and bringing tears to his eyes. He reached the cloud in only a few minutes, and entered its shadow at sixty-one hundred feet. He was within five hundred feet of its base. He barreled through the sucking lift under the cloud. A couple minutes later he was out in the clear again, and there was another cloud about two miles ahead. Roger was swelling with excitement. He had cloud hopped before, but never in a wing like this. He could barely keep from laughing out loud, and his occasional shivers only heightened his exuberance. Moments later he flew under the third cloud. This time he eased out on the control bar, and let the glider's built up speed carry him back up toward the bottom of the cloud. When he had first eased out, the altimeter read fifty-one hundred feet. The glider's momentum and the lift under the cloud brought him back up to sixty-two hundred feet before he flew passed the far edge of the cloud. He pulled the glider into another shallow dive toward the next cloud in the street. Roger was amazed at how fast he was covering ground considering he was flying into the wind. "The wind must be slower up here." He muttered to himself. He flew his saw-toothed pattern of climbing under the cloud and diving between them as he passed a few more clouds. He was just about to dive away from another cloud when he noticed that the costal mountains were getting close. He was almost directly south of Fancy Ranch. His eyes widened as he realized what he had done.
Chapter 12 "Dan, you listening?" The sputtering voice erupted from Dan's pocket. "Dan you there, its Roger." Dan fumbled to pull the small handheld radio from the pocket of his snug jeans. "Rog, this is Dan, where are you?" "First, tell me where Ernie is. Has he made it to the ranch yet?" "No, nobody's made it yet." Dan puffed with elation and shock at finally hearing from Roger, plus the effort of scrambling to retrieve the radio had him short of breath. "I'll run over to the tent, and find out for ya, hang on." "Dan, I'm back in the race. That cloud street worked out, and I'm at fifty-five hundred feet about six miles south of the ranch. I've got a light quartering head wind, but from this altitude I'll easily make it there." "What's that mean?" Angie prompted. "In a minute Angie." Dan held up a hand to stall her. "Are you serious?" He said into the radio. Dan turned to Angie. "We've got to get to the briefing tent pronto." She nodded and followed closely, caught up in Dan's excitement. "Yeah, I made it to the street. I got up. I hopped clouds, and I'm here." "Damn, that’s *#\*ing amazing" "Hay watch your language. This is a competition, and these calls are being monitored." "Sorry." Dan was panting heavily by the time he forced his way through the crowd and into the tent. He stopped short, and Angie bumped into him. "You see Trish?" She scanned the interior of the huge tent, and then pointed. "There." She grabbed his hand and dragged him along behind her across the crowded tent. "Look nothing's changed. He was depressed. Mostly because of you." Mark pleaded on. He had been following her around working on her sympathy in the hope of rereconciling her toward Roger. She held up her hand to stop him. "Alright, if he comes to me and wants to apologize, I'll listen." "That's all I wanted to hear. I kno..." "Hay, how far out's Ernie?" Dan blurted as soon as he was close enough for them to hear him over the conversation noise in the tent. "What dif..." Patricia started. "Rog got up in that cloud street, an he's almost here. WHERE’s Ernie." Dan demanded, too excited to be quelled, even by Angie's restraining hand on his shoulder. "What?" Mark gushed. "Rog flew that cloud street. He's at five grand, and he wants to know if he can beat Ernie?" Silence greeted Dan's remark. The crowd suddenly pressed in, and excitement mushroomed beyond the tent as word passed from mouth to mouth. Patricia's lips moved in silence for a moment. Then she turned and pushed her way
over to the monitor's table. "What was your last report on Ernie Banks?" The aide held up a note, and the tent fell silent. "He's in the lead by almost a mile, three miles out, at about twenty-six hundred feet. That was a few minutes ago." The silence lasted only a moment longer. When it all registered in the minds of those close enough to hear, they turned and relayed the obvious conclusion. One glider was close, but not high enough to throw caution to the wind and rush to the landing target. The other was farther, but high enough to abandon caution. It could be a very close race, and it was down to the archrivals of Ernie Banks and Roger Dunn. Ernie had a strong track record of winning competitions. It was the pro against the fledgling, the incumbent against the underdog, but the underdog was running his race down hill. The rumble of speculation spread through the crowd and across the grounds. A very exciting race was about to bring two determined competitors to a clash in the final moments of their dash to the finish. “My God! He could win. He could still beat Ernie!” Patricia stood with her arms limp at her side trying to comprehend the enormity of the situation. She suddenly turned on Dan and grabbed his shoulders in her hands. “How long ago did you talk to him. Where is he now?” Dan turned all thumbs, barely able to contain his fervor, and dropped the radio on the floor. “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Patricia exclaimed, squatting in the pressure of the pressing crowd and snatching his radio. “Roger this is Trish. What's your current position?” “Hi sweetheart. I’m sorry I upset you. I never wanted that.” “Roger! Now is not the time. The race is more important.” “No its not. Nothing is more important to me than you.” The crowd grew silent after several hushing sounds, and pressed in even closer in an attempt to hear the now very personal conversation. “Really?” Patricia's eyes turned limpid, and for her the crowd disappeared. “I should have said so a lot sooner. It really tore me up when I thought I'd lost you.” “Really?” “Really. Oh by the way, I’m about four miles out and just dropped through forty-five hundred feet. Now will someone please tell me where Ernie is?” “Oh yes, of course!” Patricia beamed with pleasure. “As of a few minutes ago…” She snatched the note from the monitoring officer at the table. “He was three miles out and at twenty-six hundred feet.” “Somehow I knew it was going to be close. I guess we’ll soon see. I should be there in a few minutes.” The crowd started pouring out the sides of the tent as everyone tried to be the first to spot the converging gliders. As if on cue, the steady winds that had plagued the competition petered out to a light and gentle breeze. “Look there to the east!” someone shouted, and several pointing fingers rose as a glider was spotted. It was Ernie, less than a mile away and maybe six hundred feet up. The real surprise was the other two gliders not far behind him, and somewhat higher. “Over there, to the south!” Another shout rose from the crowd, and fingers pointed out over the marina and across the river. Angie clutched Patricia’s arm. “They’re all going to be landing at the same time.” “Uh ooh! This could get dicey.” Dan labored to swallow. Patricia quickly advised Roger. "Roger, its not just Ernie. There are two others right
behind him." "I see them. I'm too high to get in front of them. Make sure Ernie knows I'll be right behind him." "I'll make sure he knows he'll loose half his points if he doesn't get out of your way. "Talk to you after I land. For the next few of minutes I'll be flying too fast to do anything but hang on." Ernie was obviously not flying flat out. He had to maintain a moderate speed to make his glide stretch to the landing area. Consequently the two gliders on his tail were catching up as they traded their superior altitude for extra speed. No one could tell who would get there first. Each had a chance to win. If both Ernie and Roger were disqualified for today’s task, the other two pilots would take first and second, or third and fourth if only one of the leaders fouled out. Otherwise they were battling for the third place prize. With four gliders all vying to land at the same place at the same time, anything could happen. The PA system blared this information to the highly stimulated crowd. There were only a handful of people out of the massive crowd who weren't watching the approaching gliders as the crucial moment neared. Roger flashed directly over the crowd at less than four hundred feet going so fast that his glider was making a shrill whistle as it literally screamed through the air. He banked and curved around to line up behind the others. He was still higher, and faster than the others, and quickly pulled into position above and behind Ernie. The other two pilots were taking their positions on either side of Ernie. As the spectators watched the gliders formed a nearly perfect diamond shape with Ernie on the bottom and Roger on the top. Roger and Ernie both knew that the difference in their times on the flight would amount to no more than a few points. As before it was their landings that would decide the contest. Ernie had an advantage being in front. Being lower also gave him the right of way. But he was very low, and was flying slower than the others to ensure that he would make it to the target. There were those who were guessing that he might come up short. Roger was pulling up on Ernie fast, too fast. Then an idea burst suddenly in his brain. Today had been a day of taking chances, and they had paid off well for him. He had never tried what he was thinking of, but he was definitely in a picture perfect place to pull it off. It took less than a second to mull over the consequences, risks, and rewards. “What the hell!” He mumbled holding the control bar, and in diving straight at Ernie. “What the…” Dan blurted. “Is he going to hit him?” Angie fidgeted, digging her fingernails into Dan’s bicep. “No, He’s going to try to beat him to the target!” Mark gushed. “Can he?” Patricia sounded very tense. “We’ll have to watch and see.” Mark shook his head, but wore an enthusiastic smile. Roger’s glider passed so close to Ernie’s that many in the crowd winced. He passed him just as they got to the parking lot. Ernie’s glider took a little hop as he flew through Roger’s wake turbulence, but it only surprised him, and didn't affect his glide. Roger held his glider in its dive until he was skimming inches above the antennas of the cars parked in the lot. He unzipped his harness, and lowered his legs as he cleared the last car. Quickly pulled full flaps, smartly adjusted his pitch to keep the glider as close to the ground as possible. He rotated himself upright and spread his arms and legs to create
as much drag as possible. The glider was decelerating quickly, but he wasn’t sure it was enough. He was approaching the target much more quickly than usual, too quickly. “I’ll bet he Barn Door’s it!” Dan was leaning forward, and holding onto an imaginary control bar in front of him. “Barn door?” Patricia and Angie chorused. “Just before he gets to the target he’ll snap the bar out as quickly as he can, and try to break the flow of air over the wing. Turn the glider into a vertical breaking force. If he does it quickly enough the glider won't climb.” Mark explained, and no sooner than he had finished saying it, it happened. There was a sudden in-suck of air throughout the crowd. The stopping force was so abrupt that Roger’s feet flew out in front of him, putting him in a sitting position. But his momentum continued to carry him forward, and he had just enough time to get his feet back under him before he dropped. “Only one thing could have made that more perfect.” Dan said in awe. “Yeah, if he had both feet hit the spot!” Angie added. “Move Roger move. Get out of the way!” But Mark’s encouragement was unnecessary. As soon as he had come to a complete stop Roger took off in a dead run floating his glider over his head. He had no idea where the other gliders were, and he wasn’t about stop and take a look. He ran more than fifty yards before, in exhaustion, he tripped, dropped the glider on its nose, and slid to a stop. He turned his head and sighted down his prone body in time to see two gliders settle onto their pilot’s shoulders almost simultaneously. The brief space between their wingtips was directly over the target's center spot. Then he noticed at the far end of the field Ernie’s glider sat with its nose down, much like Roger’s. Roger chuckled, Ernie had barely made it to the field. He was more than fifty yards from the target. “They’ll be talking about this one for a while.” Roger muttered to himself, dropped his head, and just lay there catching his breath. He chuckled to himself, stopped, shook his head, and then chuckled again. "Rog, you did it." Dan shouted as he sprinted up. “As long as they don't disqualify you for buzzing Ernie." Roger looked up at Dan, but only continued to chuckle. Angie arrived a moment later. "That was incredible. I heard one of the other pilots say that was damn hard to do with a rigid wing." "Yeah I'd say incredible was the right word." Mark added as he too arrived. Roger looked around, and his smile slipped away. "Where's Trish?" Mark dropped to a knee beside him. "You okay, you haven't moved?" "I'm just drained. Where's Trish?" He insisted. "She was just about to run over here when Ernie's crew showed up entering an official complaint about your landing approach. I had to hold her back. She was ready to rip their heads off." "No kidding?" Roger smiled again. "Sounds like she's forgiven me." "All she needed was to hear you say you cared." "Uhoo!" Dan blurted. Everyone looked at Dan and he added. "There's a mob headin’ this way, and they don't look happy."
Every competition official, and many of the competitor's crewmembers were marching toward Roger's nosed in glider. They seemed to be carrying on a heated debate as they approached. "So much for enjoying the moment." Roger finally scrambled to his knees and unhooked his harness from the glider. He grabbed the top of the control bar, and pulled it back onto his shoulders. Lifting the glider he turned it crosswise to the light winds. Mark, Angie, and Dan had to scramble to keep from being mowed down by the twisting wing. Roger set his glider with the tail down, and stepped through to inspect the nose for damage. By the time he had verified that the nose had not suffered from its light impact the approaching mob had arrived. Ralph Bertram , the FAA representative stepped up to Roger. "Mister Dunn, We would like to hear your version of what happened when you passed Mister Banks so closely on final approach." Roger inspected the crowd before answering, and found everyone intently awaiting his answer. "Well..." Roger hesitated, pointed his open palm toward Ernie, "Mister Banks told me that he had never seen the bottom of my sail in flight. I figured that might be the last chance I'd have to show it to him." It was a typical glider pilot's slur. Ernie had inferred that he was the better pilot and was always higher. Many of the pilots and crew-members broke up with laughter at Roger's response, but Mister Bertram was not amused. "Mister Dunn, Mister Banks has lodged a formal complaint against you. If you cannot satisfactorily explain your actions we will have no choice but to disqualify you." Roger looked down for a moment collecting his thoughts, and everyone silently awaited his reply. "Fine." He turned to look at Ernie. He found his adversary somewhat the worse for wear. His chin was scratched, both of his pant knees were torn and his scraped knees showed through. His defiantly placed hands on his hips showed bloody knuckles. "Mister Banks can have his money. I imagine he needs it more than I do. The way he lives it'll only last him a little while." Roger flashed a smile at Monique. "You were never in any risk when I flew by you, and you know it! I beat you by out flying you,” he glared at Ernie, “and I get to live with that for the rest of my life." The two antagonists stared fiercely into each other's eyes. Patricia quickly stepped between them facing Roger. "It doesn't matter what they decide." She nodded her head toward Ralph, the FAA representative. "As far as I'm concerned you flew best." “Hear, hear!” Someone shouted, and a general cheer rose from the crowd. “Well I guess we know what public opinion is.” Ralph Bertram interjected. “Miss Alba, if we could pry you away, we officials should meet in private and make our decisions. This could take a while.” Roger smiled seeing Patricia so torn between duty and desire. “I still have to put my equipment away.” He gave her a quick kiss, and squeezed her hand. “We’ll have all night.” She beamed an ecstatic smile at him and danced off leading the other officials to the Marina’s office, and privacy from the crowd. "I've got a proposition for you." A friendly hand clamped onto Roger's shoulder. Roger turned to find Alex Melton beside him. "Hi Alex, you sure build a nice glider." Alex's friendly smile expanded as the crowd pressed in to try and catch Roger's every word. "Thanks to you there are a lot of people who agree with that. I've already sold a
dozen gliders here, and I bet I sell a dozen more before I leave. What I would like to propose to you is that you let me sell this glider." Alex proudly pointed at Roger's glider. "I don't think so." Roger lamented with an expression of dread. It would not have seemed possible a moment earlier, but Alex's smile grew even wider in response to Roger's testimonial in front of this attentive crowd. "Hear me out. I will give you two Streaks in exchange for this one. One to replace this one, and one that's custom built for you, with a personalized sail, and a matching harness and helmet." "But I won't have anything to fly for..." Roger started. Alex held up a hand. "Your new glider will be expedited. I promise you you'll have it in three weeks." "Three weeks?" "Three weeks." Alex promised. "Wow! I had to wait months for my new glider." Dan grossed. "I guess you should have ordered a Streak." Roger mused. Alex clamped on to Roger's shoulder, and gave it a friendly squeeze and shake. "Roger, you're the best salesman I've ever had." "Mister Dunn, Mister Dunn." A girl in her twenties squeezed through the crowd with a notepad in her hand. "I'd like to interview you for..." Roger cut her off with a raised hand. "I'm not doing any interviews, but I will make a statement." The crowd grew quiet in anticipation of Roger's statement. The girl pensively held her pen to her pad. Roger scanned the crowd before he spoke, and noticed Ernie skulking away with clinched fists. His crew following closely behind, but Monique waited at the edge of the crowd. She smiled warmly when his eyes fell on her. "This has been the best time I have ever had in my entire life. It would never have happened if I didn't have the best friends in the entire world." He turned to Alex. "Alex, Thanks, but I don't want a fancy glider." Roger watched Alex's smile fade before continuing. "Just send me a plain white glider just like this one, and a plain black harness." Alex's smile flashed back, and he offered his hand. "Deal." Roger clamped an arm over Dan, and Mark's shoulders, and steered them away from the crowd. "I need your help guys. This is already getting out of hand." He whispered, and glanced at the clamoring crowd. "Dan, could you get my truck and meet me where the road exits the parking area." Dan nodded enthusiastically, and roger rewarded him with a nodding smile. "Mark, please find Trish, and tell her that I'll be waiting for her at the Henderson's" "Sure, but what about the awards ceremony?" Mark asked hesitantly. "They're going to disqualify me for that buzzing Ernie on approach." Roger continued before Mark could complain. "I got what I wanted, I beat Ernie. It doesn't matter about the awards." "It might matter to Trish!" Dan interjected. They both stared at Dan in awe for a moment before Mark commented. "The little guy hits the nail on the head once in a while." "Yeah, he does." Angie affirmed as she slid under Dan's arm, and joined the private conference. "Trish will want you there even if they do disqualify you. Why don't you go hide at the house, and we'll send Mark to get you when its time."
Dan and Mark nodded agreement, but Roger looked afronted. "Who's hiding?" They all stared at him with dead-pan expressions, and he stole a glance at the crowd desperately awaiting his attention. He swallowed the suddenly forming lump in his throat. "Okay, I want to hide. Will you help me?" Roger unbuckled his harness and handed it to Dan, who sprinted away around the edge of the crowd. Mark and Angie followed at a more sedate rate, headed for the marina. Roger drew himself up and presented himself to his thronging admirers. "Roger, are you going to compete in the World Cup?" "No. I think I just want to fly for fun from now on." There was an obvious display of disappointment from the crowd. "Do you think they'll disqualify you?" "I don't know. I suppose some people would feel what I did was dangerous, but four gliders trying to land at the same place at the same time would be dangerous too." "Yeah!" "I agree!" "I hope they consider that." "Yeah!" Roger smiled at their support. "It doesn't matter to me. I did my best, and that's what competition is all about." "Oh, that's good!" The girl with the notepad cooed. Then she reddened when everybody looked at her. "You don't want the money?" "Yeah, there's ten thousand dollars for first place." Roger shook his head. "I'd love to have that money, but I had other motivations that drove me to win." "Would Miss Alba be one of those?" The girl with the notepad asked. Roger merely smiled. "I'll take the money if they say I've earned it, but I'm not going to prostrate myself for it. " "Would you prostrate yourself for her?" The girl questioned again. Roger stared sternly at her. "No interview!" Then he addressed the crowd in general with a smile. "Thank you all for coming. Have a great time, and come back again. Fancy Ranch is a wonderful place." Roger turned and jogged off toward Dan waiting for him in his truck. The girl with the notepad received several scowls as if it were her fault that Roger had left. She reddened again and backed away. A few people trotted after Roger in hopes of striking up another conversation, but he slipped into his passenger seat, and Dan drove them away.
Chapter 13 "They kicked me out." Patricia looked distraught, and somewhat offended. "Said it wouldn't be appropriate to have someone as biased as me involved in the judging." Mark smiled broadly. "I see. You don't think you're biased?" "I..." Patricia hesitated, her eyes widening for a moment. Then her expression turned
coy. "I guess maybe I am." "Yes, I'd say you were." After watching her smirk in response he continued. "Why don't we go see the root of your frustration? He's waiting at Angie’s." Patricia merely smiled meekly and nodded approval, turning coy again. Roger sat on the front steps of the house sipping at a glass of lemonade. He stood as soon as he heard the car approaching on the gravel road. When he saw it was Patricia driving her little Alpha he set his glass on the stoop and walked with a quick gate out to the driveway. She made a fast approach with a hasty stop, barely bothering to turn the car off before jumping out and throwing herself at Roger. They embraced each other tightly, and shared an energetic kiss. Mark cleared his throat loudly as he climbed out of Patricia's Alpha. "Get a room." He mumbled just loud enough for them to hear. Patricia dropped her face onto Roger's shoulder. A moment later she bared a reddened cheek and one eye to glance at Mark. Roger, however, flashed a proud smile. "What's the word?" "We don't know." Mark replied. "They kicked me out, said I was biased." Patricia said as though her feelings were still hurt. "I should hope so!" Roger squeezed her to him. "I suppose you're going to make me go to the awards ceremony?" "Yes you are!" Patricia pulled away and placed her hands sternly on her hips. "I figured as much. Normally I wouldn't ya know, but for you..." Roger stepped forward, took her right hand and pressed it between his, "I'll do it for you." Her defiant expression evaporated, and she seemed on the verge of tears when Roger smothered her with another hug. She melted into his arms and hugged him back. "Hay, you're back already?" Angie blurted stepping out the front door with Dan following directly behind. "Have they decided already?" Patricia held herself close to Roger, but tilted her head away. "No, they kicked me out." She stated again, only this time she stated it in a mater-of-fact tone. "They said she might be biased." Mark offered with a smug grin. "No!" Dan kibitzed, and received an elbow in his ribs for his taunt. "What?" He flashed a hurt look at Angie. "Show a little sensitivity!" Angie berated. Patricia reddened, and shrank into Roger's embrace. "But look at them, everybody knows she'd be biased." Dan pressed on, and received another jab in the ribs. He stepped back leaving a significant space between himself and Angie, stifling his desire to say 'what' again. Patricia gave Roger a gentle peck on the cheek, and then made her way through the crowd, around the side of the briefing tent, and out of sight. Roger glanced nervously around at the gathered crowd, many of them had their eyes trained on him. There were at least two hundred thronged around the tent, and probably three or four times that many more milling around the still active carnival and bazaar. Roger noticed a couple making their way toward them. "Hi Greg." Roger offered his hand.
The short muscular man wore a red floral Hawaiian shirt and tan shorts. He accepted Roger's hand and pumped it energetically. He spoke to Roger with a Cockney accent. "Hi Roger, This is me wife, Millie." Greg turned to his wife. "Millie this is Roger Dunn." "I'm very pleased to meet you Mrs. Ashton." Roger offered his hand to her as well. She wore a flattering floral shift that nearly matched her husband's shirt. Her reply came in a very proper English accent that reminded Roger of British royalty. "Mister Dunn." She briefly clasped Roger's hand in her own, before assuming a rather stiff posture. Despite her stance her face wore a friendly expression, and her eyes danced with energy. "My husband and I have been following your campaign closely, and I must say that after having read your book, which I found to be an incredible text, you have unexpectedly exceeded our expectations." Roger stared dumbfounded for a moment before realizing that he had been paid a compliment. "Ah, thank you." "A right good show Dunn." Greg added. "An this crowd, I don remember ever seeing a crowd stick around like this for the fliers results. An this place is rad! Millie and I had great fun on the rides, and shoppin' at that open market. Wha’d ja call et, oh ya, a bazaar. Great fun." Greg's accent had run rampant in his enthusiasm. His wife eyed him accusingly. "Yes, we certainly hope that we will be invited to attend again next year." "Yeah, that's righ!" Greg added. "Hay Elton, Jerry." Greg waved his hand at Jerry Kline, and Elton Smiroli who were also headed their way. The two pilots approached sporting festive smiles. "Hi Greg, Roger how's it going? Hay there Dan, Mark." Dan immediately grew a huge grin. "Hi Jerry." Dan could barely contain his joy at being included in a group that contained three famous world-class hang glider pilots. "Prego dudes." Elton scanned the congregation around the tent. "Can you believe dis crowd." His accent was slight, but he was obviously Italian. "Roger! Word was, you might not è-show." "Surprising what a guy will do for a girl." Mark offered at Roger's silence. They all smiled and nodded. "So, Miss Patricia has captured your fancy." Millie taunted Roger. "You wouldn't of shown? Hum. Well, don't care what anyone else'll say. I say you won this bleedin' meet!" Greg received another leering stare from his wife. "Leave me be woman. I'm wid me pals." Millie looked a bit affronted, but reframed from commenting. "Sure hope they do this again, lots to do, beautiful country. Best time I've had at a meet in a long time." Jerry stated taking a deep breath and releasing a satisfied sigh. "I thought you were Greek. You don't sound Greek." Roger interjected. "I was born and raised in Nevada, near Reno. I spent a couple of years in Athens while I was in the Air Force, and decided to stay. You guys ever get over that way I'll show you some great flyin' and some incredible people." "I'd like that." Roger replied with the foggy expression of contemplation. "Me too!" Dan offered. Jerry smiled, extracted his wallet from a pocket, and pulled out three cards. He passed one each to Mark, Dan, and Roger. "Give me a call. Oh look, here comes Ernie." Ernie marched willfully toward the large tent with a stern expression. His crew
followed dutifully behind, but Monique was conspicuously absent. Ernie walked up to Marshall Otto, and Thomas Fredrick, who were talking near the edge of the crowd with a group of admiring pilots listening intently. He offered his hand, and shook with both men, passing a few words. Then the three of took in the amassing crowd with appreciative headshakes. The ceremony was scheduled to start soon, and spectators were filing in to the area from the marina, carnival and bazaar. Soon Ernie's group was lost in the press of anxious onlookers. "Rogaire." Roger turned to find Monique at his side. She was flushed, and one cheek was dark red. She wore blue jeans, tennis shoes, and a baggy gray t-shirt with Lead Zeppelin stenciled on it. It was not her usual chic appearance. She smiled, but immediately grimaced, and put a hand to her red cheek. It took Roger only a moment to put two and two together. "Did he hit you?" There was serious ire in his tone as he swiveled glaring in Ernie's direction. Before he could move she restrained him with a hand on his wrist. The other members of the group were aghast as they too caught on to the source of her reddened cheek, especially Millie, who offered a consoling hand. Monique offered a meek lopsided smile to the others, but addressed Roger. "I am okay. Please do nuzhing." She clasped Roger's restrained hand between her two hands as everyone watched. "I came to zhank you and azk a favor of Patricia. She iz not here?" Monique scanned the area briefly. "She's in the Tent with the Judges." Roger offered. "Ah, perhaps after ze ceremony." Monique dismissed that thought. "You were zo nice last night. It zeems that no one wantz zo just talk with me. It was zo... refreshing." Roger noticed an approving smile form on Millie's face as his eyes wandered, having trouble remaining on Monique's limpid visage. "You're, ah, welcome." Roger's cheeks flushed as he noticed that everyone in the area was silently watching them. She brightened and offered her lopsided smile again. "I wanted zo tell you, and Patricia, that I was going zo become a... what was ze word... ah, loc al." "A local?" Roger questioned with a comically quizzical expression. Her smile broadened at the face he made, and she winced at the pain it brought to her offended cheek. "There iz an agency én Zan Franzisco zat has made me an offer, an I have decided zo accept." She tilted her head in apologetic embarrassment. "I like ét here, and I like ze people. Zo warm and fréndly." "That's great, but I think I'll let you tell Patricia." Roger heard both Dan and Mark chuckle behind him. "Excuse me everyone." They heard Patricia's voice echo from the loud speakers. "Excuse me, but due to the number of interested spectators we are moving the awards ceremony to the bleachers. The dais is being assembled now and will be ready shortly. Thank you." When he glanced over Roger was surprised to see four men in news-crew uniforms setting up microphones on a podium. Two massive tripod mounted cameras had been setup in front of the bleachers. Roger turned pale feeling once again that things were getting out of hand.
"You Californian's sure know how to throw a party!" Greg barked, and laughed at Roger's sudden paleness. "Com-on hero. Let's go find some good seats." He had his wife in one hand and Roger in the other muscling his way through the crowd. Millie quickly grabbed Monique's wrist and dragged her along. "Come along dear. I won't sit with these brutes by my self." "Righto, let's keep this flock together." Greg shouted back at the others. They managed to get to the bleachers before all of the seats were taken, and find enough space to sit together. Monique insisted that she not sit next to Roger, because it might upset Patricia. It looked to Roger like there were many times more people than seats. "Do you ever get used to this kind of attention?" Roger asked Jerry who was sitting beside him. Jerry caught his breath in a cough, and barely supressed a laugh. "This is new to me Roger. The only time I've ever mixed it with a crowd this size was when we did an exhibition for the Olympics in Athens. I think the only reason we had so many people there was because it was one of the few things they could do for free." Roger shook his head, and released a hissing breath of mild frustration. "See her." Jerry pointed out the girl with the notepad who had tried to interview Roger earlier. She now wore a newscaster’s blazer, and she had done something with her hair. "I caught her on the evening news the other night. She was playing up the rivalry between you and Ernie. Called it a David and Goliath scenario." Roger cringed. He hadn't been watching the news. "Oh." Roger had grown comfortable with his anonymity, and feared a repeat of the catastrophes he had suffered after his book had been published. "Lighten up Roger. Fame rarely lasts, and most people miss it when its gone." Jerry nudged Roger with his elbow. He had correctly assumed Roger's mood. "I'll bet this boosts your book sales. She mentioned your book in her newscast." Jerry nodded toward the newscaster, who was now holding a microphone and speaking to one of the cameras. She waved a hand at the bleachers, and the camera panned the crowd. Then she pointed toward the group of pilots that Ernie sat with, and the camera focused there. Ernie straightened his posture, and smiled. A moment later she pointed directly at Roger. The camera turned to him, and he suffered a minor anxiety attack. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. He pushed his horror aside, and managed a feeble smile, but unlike Ernie, Roger tried to diminish himself, and become less noticeable. The girl looked at him and continued to talk into the microphone. Roger waited and hoped intently, but the camera stayed focused on him. "Welcome ladies and Gentlemen to the Flights of Fancy hang gliding awards ceremony. My name is Patricia Alba, and I have been your Hostess for this event." Patricia's voice boomed out over the loudspeakers. She had stepped up to the podium. Somehow she had found time to change clothes and do her hair. She looked lovely and radiant, and she sported a broad welcoming smile. The audience greeted her with an enthusiastic round of applause. Roger hissed out the breath he had been holding when the camera spun around to focus on Patricia. He heard Jerry chuckle, and then elbow him in the ribs again.
Unlike Roger, Patricia seemed to enjoy the limelight. Her smile broadened as all attention was directed toward her. "We have had a wonderful and exciting event. If you agree please give a warm round of applause for all of the people who made this possible." Patricia raised her hands and then waved them at the panel seated behind the podium. Her already broad smile turned into an open laugh of joy as the audience erupted with a boisterous round of cheers and applause. The salute of appreciation lasted almost two minutes. She waved her hands above her head. "Please, please." Eventually the crowd settled down. "That was wonderful, and we appreciate it very much. Now I would like to introduce you to the terrific people that you just paid such a fantastic tribute to. Alan Dourghty of Dourghty Marine and Tim Simmons of Bay Side Water Sports for most of the water activities." There was a brief round of applause. Bishop Amusement Rides for the carnival, and that wonderful water slide." More applause. "Maxwell, Anglia, and Fancy Henderson for providing this wonderful venue, Fancy Ranch." The applause and cheers nearly doubled this time. "From the Federal Aviation Administration Ralph Bertram, who doubled as one of our hang gliding judges." More applause. "Tom Butler of the United Sates Hang and Paragliding Association, also one of our hang gliding judges." More applause. "Also one of the hang gliding judges Sgt. Ronald Wexler of the California department of Fish and Game." More applause. "And our incredible group of international hang gliding contestants. Gentlemen, as I call your name please come forward and stand behind our honored judges." She waved an open palm sweeping in the three men seated in the center of the row of seats behind her. "From Germany Marshall Otto!" Marshall rose from his seat in the bleachers, and pumped his arms over head. The crowd responded with a resounding cheer, and the people seated below him slid apart clearing a path. He made his way forward, and stood behind the judges. The cheering decreased as he assumed his position. "From Italy Elton Smiroli!" The crowd performed similarly for Elton, and he walked forward waving an arm. "From Greece Jerry Kline!" Jerry elbowed Roger. "Your girlfriend sure knows how to stir up a crowd. This makes the World Cup seem like small time." Jerry made his way forward waving first one arm and then the other. "From France Henri Dupree!" Patricia continued to announce the competitors to an almost embarrassing response from the crowd, until only three were left. "From England Greg Ashton." Greg leaned over to Roger, and spoke loudly so Roger could hear him over the crowd. "I'll be right offended if I'm not invited next year. I don't remember having this much fun at a meet before." He kissed Millie, and a wink at Monique before leaving. "From the bay area, the top ranked hang glider pilot in the world Earnest Banks!" Roger could tell that Patricia had held back some of her enthusiasm while announcing Ernie, but it didn't deter the crowd from delivering it's largest response since Patricia's opening statements. Ernie stepped forward wearing only a curt smile, and bowed to the audience before joining the other pilots. Millie leaned over and spoke into Roger's ear. "That's the most sedate performance I've ever seen of him." Roger was surprised by the statement, and checked her face for some hidden
meaning. Her expression was one of amused interest, and revealed nothing to Roger. He couldn't tell if she had meant that Ernie was concerned, angry, embarrassed, or just feeling ill. "And last, also from the bay area, and competing in his first sanctioned hang gliding competition, Roger Dunn!!!" Patricia had announced Roger with more enthusiasm than anyone else, and applauded herself as he stood. The crowd exploded once again, but this time the din was almost unbearable. He received the most enthusiastic tribute yet. Roger swallowed the rising lump in his throat, and plucked up his courage. His instincts were ready to drive him in a mad dash for seclusion, but Patricia's warm smile and beckoning eyes encouraged him. Roger rose and smiled, waving an arm in recognition of the tribute. It would not have seemed possible, bit the volume of the audience's tribute rose several decibels in response. Roger's face turned ashen for a moment, and he marched up to join his fellow competitors. The noise slowly died as Patricia raised her arms and patted the air over her head calling for order. "Thank you all for your magnificent enthusiasm." Patricia cleared her throat. "At this time I would also like to thank the two news crews that are providing coverage of these events." She waved at one of the cameras. "Channel Three from Sacramento!" The crowd responded with a mild ovation, and the camera turned and panned the audience. "Channel ten from San Francisco!" Patricia waved at the other camera. The crowd continued turning its attention on the other camera, and it also panned them. "As I am sure most of you are aware we have had a very exciting competition, with a serious contention for first place between our two local pilots Ernest Banks and Roger Dunn." The crowd responded to Patricia's statement with a brief roar of acknowledgement. "Mister Banks lead the first day by one point over Mister Dunn. The second day found our heroes tied with near perfect scores." The crowd remained respectfully silent as Patricia recapped the competition. "But at least four of our international competitors were within striking distance of the leaders this morning. At the start of the final day of competition Greg Ashton trailed the leaders by only thirty seven points." The crowd applauded respectfully, and Greg waved at them. "Jerry Kline trailed him by only five points." More applause, and Jerry waved as Greg had. "Henri Dupree and Elton Smiroli trailed him by only two points." More applause. "I can't begin to tell you how exciting its been for those of us who verified pilot performances, and counted points." Patricia pointed to her crew, who were knotted together standing beside the bleachers. She applauded them, and the crowd joined her. "And for our judges," she waved at the three men seated behind her, "who determined the points awarded or penalized for each pilot's performance." The audience responded emphatically for the judges. "Mostly these three men were concerned with judging the pilots landings, and we did see some exciting and masterful landings, didn't we?" An anonymous voice from the audience yelled out. "Yay Roger!" The crowd erupted again and the other pilots stepped aside, isolating Roger, and they applauded along with the crowd. The audience mellowed, and Greg slapped a large paw on Roger's back, sporting a
wolfish grin. Roger winced at the blow, but smiled back. He was caught up in a fervor that he would just as soon not be the focus of, but he forced himself to relax and keep smiling. Patricia noticed his change of posture, and smiled warmly at him before turning to address the cameras and crowd again. "The scores as of the end of the competition." These words brought nearly complete silence from the anxious audience. "The points awarded for each pilot's flight," Patricia hesitated, adding to the suspense. "Earnest Banks had the best time and received one hundred points." She pointed a flat palm at Ernie. Ernie stepped forward with a now confident smile, and raised his arm. The audience responded with applause. "Greg Ashton had the second best time and received ninety-nine points." Greg stepped forward and raised his arm as Ernie had, and Ernie stepped back. Greg also received a respectful ovation. "The third best time was achieved by Elton Smiroli. Elton received ninety-eight points." Greg and Elton stepped back and forward respectively, and the crowd applauded again. "The next two pilots had achieved identical times for their flights, and received ninety-four points each. Jerry Kline." Jerry stepped up and received his tribute. "And flying his own rather unorthodox course, Roger Du..." Once again the audience exploded cutting Patricia off before she could finish. The ovation grew, and those seated in the bleachers stood. Roger shook his head, smiled with a tint of red on his cheeks, and stepped forward acknowledging the appreciation expressed by the spectators. Patricia waited allowing the crowd to eventually settle down again. "Henri Dupree also managed to complete the course, and received eighty-eight points." Henri stepped forward and received his applause. "This makes the current standings, Ernest Banks in first place, Roger Dunn in second, and we have a tie for third place between Greg Ashton and Elton Smiroli. Jerry Kline trails them by only two points. Ladies and gentlemen this is so exciting, because, depending on the judges decisions on the final landings of this contest any one of these five pilots could win this competition!" There was a moment of hesitation as the revelation sunk in. Then the audience exploded again, but it was a brief ovation this time. Patricia held up an envelope, and the audience quickly quieted. "These are the judges final point awards." She turned and nodded at the judges. Ripping the end of the envelope off she slid the single folded piece of paper out. Her hand rose slowly to her mouth as she silently read. "Roger Dunn has been penalized thirty points for flying unnecessarily close to Ernest Banks on their approach to land." The audience responded with an in-sucking of air, and a soft rumble as scattered comments were passed between them. "Jerry Kline and Greg Ashton were both awarded one hundred points for their safe and accurate landings abreast of the target's center spot." Patricia smiled and waved at Greg and Jerry. She carefully controlled her expression from that point on, in order not to give away what she had read.
The audience gave another standing ovation for the two pilots who had flanked Roger and Ernie on that spectacular approach and landing. "Elton Smiroli receives ninety-six landing points. He performed a flawless landing, but touched down four feet short of the center spot." The audience responded with more applause. The cameramen were getting a workout as the swiveled their cameras, catching closeups of the pilots, Patricia's presentation, and audience reactions. Each crew’s newscaster stood close by their camera adding comments to the proceedings. "Ernest Banks received two landing points for making it into the designated landing area." The crowd rumbled again. "Roger Dunn received ninety-six points. Four points being deducted for the reckless speed of his approach." The crowd rumbled some more. Patricia pulled a plaque from within the podium. "The third place pilot, receiving one thousand dollars for his performance is Jerry Kline." Patricia beckoned Jerry to the podium, and presented him with his plaque. The crowd offered a resounding ovation. "The second place pilot, receiving four thousand dollars is." Patricia looked around at the audience barely able to contain herself. "Greg Ashton!" Greg was rewarded with an ovation of his own as he stepped up to Patricia and received his own plaque, but a rumble of speculation spread over the crowd, as many were able to perform the final calculations in their heads. Patricia had to shout to be heard over the commotion. "The winner of the first Flights of Fancy hang gliding competition, receiving ten thousand dollars, Roger Dunn!" Several of the other pilots patted Roger on the back, and he made his way up to Patricia. She handed him his plaque amidst the near deafening roar of the crowd. He offered his hand to shake hers as Greg and Jerry had. Patricia glanced down at his offered hand, and then leaped forward throwing her arms around his neck and kissing his cheek. She returned to the podium a moment later with her own cheeks as red as beets. "Ladies and gentlemen, our winners." Very few people heard Patricia's words over the enthusiastic clamor of the crowd. Greg, who stood in the center of the three pilots held his finished wood plaque with its engraved brass panel over his head for the audience to see. Jerry and Roger followed suit, holding their awards aloft as well, and the crowd roared on. Roger grabbed Patricia's elbow as she exited the tent, and spun her into its shadow. "Oh... Roger? Roger! You won, oh, you won!" She hugged and kissed him energetically. "I thought I'd have to pry you away from your adoring fans, or the news crews." She teased. "Greg and Jerry created a distraction so I could slip away." "Do you think that's fair? Those people want to be close to you. What you did was so incredible!" She was fairly certain what his feelings were, but she was curious to hear him express them. "I was very, very lucky." Roger stated emphatically, not surprising Patricia. "And what I want, is to be close to you."
"Oh I like hearing that." She purred, and kissed him again. "Good, because I have a friend who offered me the use of his timeshare vacation, and I was wondering how you would feel about a honeymoon in Cabbo." He pulled nonchalantly at a lock of her hair that had slipped over her jaw. "Whawa?" "If you don't like Mexico, there's lots of places in the U.S. we could go." He still toyed with her errant lock of hair, avoiding her eyes. "You want to marry me?!" "I suppose we could just go no the honeymoon, but I guess I'm a bit old fashioned. I thought we might get married first." He finally looked into her eyes, but feigned shock at her supposed suggestion of impropriety. "Don't you want to get married first?" "Oh, you! Can't you do anything the way other people do?" She pounded her fist on his chest with a mask of frustration. Her expression suddenly grew very serious. "I want a big wedding!" Roger smiled warmly, and then his face slipped into a mischievous grin. "That's your deal. I'm taking care of the honeymoon." "Oooh, be serious." She pouted. "This is important to me." "You're not going to make me wear some silly outfit, are you?" She rubbed her hand on his chest, and her eyes glazed over. "Oooh, you'll look really good in a tux'."
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