I’m about 11,000 words in to the fifth book in the series and starting to catch up to where I thought I should be at this point. I thought I would have 21,000 now, but we’ve been dealing with four (count ’em four) automobile accidents, my sinus surgery and the start of radiation therapy for me as well as the usual thousand natural shocks that all our mortal flesh is heir to (or something like that). Be that as it may, I wanted to give you Faithful Readers a slice of Book Five. This is from the fifth chapter with the working title of “South of the Border.” I’ll change that because it is just a place holder, but I don’t know that may be at this point. I’ll keep you informed.
In December, 1959, Otto Kerchner’s pastor asks him to substitute for a hospitalized missionary pilot for two weeks and fly his regular route in Colombia along the Rio Meta on the border with Venezuala. Otto agrees, and with his friend Bob Donovan (his copilot during World War II), his mechanic and ace pitcher Luis Viera, and a young man from the missionary society named Jerome, they set off to the first stop. When Bob tried to land, matters become…interesting…Enjoy!
South of the Border
Otto glanced over at Bob who was attempting a landing north of El Loro on the Rio Casanare, and it looked very tricky. The FBO reported calm conditions, but when they made a low pass over the ramshackle building that served as a trading post and supply depot, from what Otto could tell from the right seat, it looked very tricky. They had both noticed tell-tale signs of higher water than expected, pushed by upstream winds. Neither of them had much experience with landing on choppy rivers. Bob took over after Otto had flown most of the mission so Otto let him have the landing.
“You want me to take this?” he asked.
“Nah, I got it.”
Not only was the river running high and fast, there was considerable debris that had washed in with the night’s rains. Otto saw branches of trees, small buildings, and even a couple of dead pigs and a bloated cow.
“Do you think we ought to abort?”
Bob shook his head. “Nah. We’re bingo on fuel and can’t reach any place else. This is it.”
“All right then. Everyone make sure your seat belts are good and tight.” In the rear view mirror, he saw Luis and Jerome cross themselves. If he had been Catholic, he might have done the same. On second thought, he wouldn’t. He had supreme confidence in Bob’s piloting skills, and didn’t want to do anything to rattle him.
“Call out any debris you see,” Bob muttered. “We’re going in!”
Bob flew upwind beside the river, about 400 feet up, then turned on the downwind leg. He positioned the Cessna along the middle of the water and lowered the big amphibian gradually toward the surface of the raging river. “Hang on guys!” he called. “Here we go!”
“Vaca al la derecha!” Luis exclaimed. Otto looked over to see the carcass float by two hundred feet below them.
“Tree branch dead ahead,” he said calmly.
“Got it. One hundred feet.”
“Chicken coop at two o’clock.”
“See it. Fifty feet. Keep your eyes open.”
“Wooden beam to eleven o’clock and closing fast.” As Otto said this, Bob chopped the throttle and the aircraft settled toward the water. With a tremendous metallic tearing sound, the beam speared the left pontoon. The Cessna slewed around, shuddered, and then wrenched free from the post and listed to starboard. Bob revved the engine, and they made a sort of crustacean sideways progress toward the dock, which looked like it had been through a hurricane recently and not been fixed. Four men ran from the trading post and clambered down the side of the, three of them with lines in hand, while the other carried a gaff about ten feet long. He reached over and put the hook around one of the starboard pontoon struts and pulled. As he slowly and carefully drew the airplane to the dock, his compadres lassoed various parts of the craft, pulled it to the dock and secured it. It looked to Otto that it wouldn’t be torn away by the river.
Otto was the first out the door. “¡Muchas gracias, becarios!” he exclaimed fervently. “Estamos en deuda!” The men smiled and laughed. One of them rattled off something in Spanish that Otto couldn’t follow. He turned to Luis and Jerome.
“He wants to know if you will do your trick with the airplane again,” Luis laughed. “They have not had such entertainment for a long time.”
“Tell him I’d be delighted to oblige,” Bob mumbled, “but I have an airplane THAT NEEDS TO BE FIXED!”
One of the men who had helped them spoke up. “Rodriego, who works on such things, is not here. He has gone up the river to visit his family. In any case, we are out of fuel for the welding torch. He can fix it, but he cannot do it without proper materials. Only God can create something out of nothing.” He crossed himself.
“When do you expect a delivery? And your name is?” Otto hesitated.
The man bowed from the waist. “I am Señor Carlos Blanco at your service, señor. And you are?”
Otto returned his bow. “I am Señor Otto Kerchner, and these are my amigos, Señor Donovan, Señor Viera and Señor Hernandez. We are happy to know you. So, when do you think the supplies will be delivered?”
Blanco shrugged. “It is hard to tell. Maybe mañana, maybe the day after. Only God knows.” He crossed himself again. “The man who drives the boat he is fond of the, how do you say, distilled spirits. Sometimes he is drunk for days. It just depends.”
“Is there a way we can get upriver?” Donovan looked thoroughly exasperated.
“Sì. I am the captain of the proud craft, the Santa Maria.” He crossed himself yet another time. I don’t see how this guy gets anything done, crossing himself all the time. Otto smiled.
“The sainted Virgin protects me and all those who are in my boat when we go on the river. There are many dangers, but you will be in safe hands with me. I am very trustworthy.”
Sounds like a sales pitch, Otto thought.
“I know what you are thinking, Señor. You are thinking I am going to charge you a big expensive price. Do not fear, mi amigo. I will charge a modest sum, payable in gold, American dollars or chickens. But I do not think you have bought any chickens. At least they could still fly!” He dissolved into helpless laughter. Donovan looked like he wanted to punch him.
“How much to take us upriver to the settlement at Tres Cascadas?”
“For you, my friend, only 500 American dollars.”
“We’ll give you 300.” Donovan frowned.
“Señor…I must feed my wife and my little family. But I like you, and I will take 450.”
“Señor, you are a man who knows how to bargain. I like that. 425.”
Blanco raised his eyes heavenward. “May the sainted Virgin help me deal with such a determined man. Four hundred.”
“Four hundred it is, then, hombre.” Bob stuck out his hand and Blanco shook it. Otto nearly laughed when Blanco crossed himself for what might have been the fiftieth time since they had landed.
“Very well, it will take me about an hour to prepare my humble craft. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy the hospitality of mi pobre restaurante. Come this way, por favor, and my nephew Julio will be happy to help you.”