Adventures of Charlie Air

Chapter One

Charlie felt the wind ripple through his wavy chestnut hair as the plane leaned to circle around the large cornfield. His father sat behind him in the open section of the crop dusting plane, guiding them through the clear air with his steady hand.  He tilted his head back to look at the wisps of clouds in the, seemingly endless, Midwestern sky.  As far back as Charlie could remember in his eight short years, he had accompanied his dad on his crop dusting flights.  He spent the rides lost in the clouds, enjoying the sensation, just as he was doing now. 

                As his young eyes searched the sky for a new shape in the misty, puffy masses above him, the plane veered sharply.  Charlie whipped his head around to look at his father, surprised that such capable hands had just made a mistake.  Upon seeing his father slumped in his seat, Charlie jumped into action.  Taking a hold of the controls, he took a deep breath.  At eight years old, the importance of watching his father closely every time he worked on the plane just dawned on him.  If they were going to see each other alive again, he would have to fly and land the aircraft. 

                The young girl sat on her swing set looking up into the sky.  She saw one of the small planes that would fly over the neighbor’s field, and fixed her eyes upon it, waiting to see the pilot let go of the rain of fertilizer that would make the corn grow.  She grew confused as the plane passed over the field without performing its normal duties.  The plane was tilting side to side in a slightly wild motion, and then dipped suddenly, disappearing behind a small group of trees in the middle of the fields.  She took off running toward the small tree covered area. 

                When she arrived, out of breath, and fully expecting to see mangled plane wreckage, she saw the plane sitting in the field with its propellers puttering a stop.  Many others must have been looking at the sky around the same time, as there was a crowd converging upon the plane.  She saw a young boy, slightly younger than herself, being lifted from the plane. For a single instant, their eyes locked, the boy looking surprisingly calm considering the situation.  Then his attention turned to the man being lifted from the back of the plane, a man she assumed to be his father.  She turned and ran back through the fields, assuming that her mother would be worried about her by now.

                It later appeared in the papers that the boy, identified as being Charlie Air, age 8, had successfully flown and landed his father’s crop dusting plane after his father had fainted, due to being diabetic and low on insulin.  Charlie’s name continued to appear in the paper for years to come, for various feats in flying at a young age, eventually accumulating in helping to invent some of the most innovative flying machinery in the modern age.  That young girl never forgot him, and followed his work her whole life, knowing that one day she would meet him again.

Chapter Two

The oranges and blues of the morning light began to spread over the light pavement on the airfield, and as Charlie lifted the chopper off of the ground, he took in the broad western landscape.  The mountains in Nevada rose majestically from their bases, but as the chopper ascended, they began to look like small ant hills, and the sky took over.  The clouds soaked in the orange rose glow of the light, and Charlie felt like he was in an Indian painting, one that transported the viewer into a much simpler world.

                As Charlie landed the chopper, he noticed that the private jet was receiving the necessary maintenance needed before flight.  He wondered what kind of clients he would be flying today.  Las Vegas had its share of characters, the richest of whom he often flew to exotic locations around the world.  Today would be a short flight, as the clients were not interested in leaving the states, but going to wine country in California.  He had made flights to the lush landscape before and was prepared to have a very colorful trip back.  Extensive wine tastings often loosened up even the most demure of clients, leading to charismatic behavior and often, shocking romantic interludes.  His discretion in these types of behaviors was the primary reason that his luxurious jet was procured so frequently. 

                The young woman looked out the small window within the aircraft and caught sight of the man walking across the airfield.  He had just exited a gleaming helicopter, which he had landed flawlessly.  He strode confidently across the runway, his dark, wavy chestnut hair ruffling in the slight breeze that had stirred up the Nevada air.  He was younger than she had expected of such an experienced, coveted pilot, as he couldn’t have been a day over 35.  He had a casual style, with a buttoned up collared shirt, open at the neck, which was just tight enough to tell that he not only flew, but frequented the gym as well.  His sunglasses hid his eyes, but not his chiseled tan jawbone.  From her research, she knew that he was single, which she now found surprising after looking at the man. 

                Charlie entered the jet and took a look into the passenger area, which was capable of holding eight people in the lush leather chairs that he had picked out himself.  He was surprised to see that there was only one woman on the flight, a stunning redhead with green eyes.  “Hello ma’am, I am Charlie Air, your pilot for today.  Are you still waiting for the rest of your party to arrive?” he asked with a slight feeling of confusion, as they were supposed to depart soon.  “I am the party, my name is Charlotte.  It is so nice to meet you!” the woman replied, and smiled at his look of surprise.   “Oh, I apologize.  I was not aware that I had only one passenger today.  We will be taking off shortly, let me know if there is anything that I can get for you.” Charlie turned into the cockpit to prepare for the flight, all the while wondering what was going on.  Private jets are extraordinarily expensive, especially for his services, and it is almost unheard of for someone to procure the jet for a single personal use.  This was highly unusual, and his senses were telling him that there was something questionable going on here, but he just wasn’t sure what it was.  He dismissed these thoughts, deciding that the flight would end up telling the tale.

                As he lifted the plane off of the runway, he took in the clouds which were now white and endless.  The sun was up in the sky, and as the plane ascended, he began to relax.  He had always felt much more comfortable in the sky than he had on the ground.  As he, and the mysterious woman behind him, floated above the sea of clouds and sky, he thought of what was below him.  Nevada’s landscape was hidden below the pillows of condensation, but when he was in the sky he could have been anywhere, and he could picture dipping below the cloudy sea and seeing the endless corn fields of his childhood.  He thought a lot about his childhood while in the air, and today was no exception.  Flying was tied to that time in every explicable way, making it hard to distance it too far from his memory.  His mind briefly flitted to the very first memory of flying, sitting in his fathers lap in a small crop dusting plane, giggling as his dad dipped and swooped, giving him the full experience.  Even at such a young age, he was addicted to the adrenaline rush that he experienced while being in the air.  That adrenaline came in handy during many of the memories after that day.  As thoughts started to drift into the darker memories that he tried to keep buried, he was snapped back into reality by a presence touching his shoulder.  “May I?” Charlotte asked, gesturing to the seat next to him.

                As the woman sat down and crossed her long slim legs while smoothing out her designer dress.  Charlie tried to formulate some questions that might reveal something as to the nature of this mysterious woman and why she was alone on his flight.  Just as he parted his lips to speak, she beat him to the punch.  “So, how does a man as young as yourself acquire all of these fun toys?” she asked, referring to the chopper and the jet.  Charlie smiled and winked at her, “Just lucky I guess”.  The wink drew her gaze to his ice blue eyes, which had a depth that was both alluring and haunting.  She was drawn to the haunting aspect, as that was the reason she was on this flight.

Chapter 3

                Charlie began his decent into the popular California wine country, where the rich would often come to tour the numerous vineyards, and sample the luxurious wines that they produce.   He planned on letting the lovely redhead off of the flight, and then taking a much needed rest day at one of the bed and breakfasts that dotted the country side.  He had been very busy the past few weeks, and a night of relaxation was just what he needed to rejuvenate both mind and body.  His attention turned once again to the woman on the plane.  She had returned to her seat an hour ago in order to catch up on some paperwork.  She had seemed curiously preoccupied while in the cockpit, and he wondered what had put her in such a state of deep thought. 

                Charlie landed the plane on the private runway with such a finesse, Charlotte did not even awake from her catnap.  She had returned to her seat with the full intention of finishing up some paperwork, but had begun to doze off.  She drifted off into a peaceful slumber, the first that she had been able to achieve in a long time.  She was lulled by the gentle floating of the plane, as well as a feeling of safety, a feeling that seemed to be so elusive nowadays.  She was dreaming of gentle fingers pushing a loose strand of her hair behind her ear….she jerked awake as she realized that the fingers were real, and they belonged to Charlie Air.  As her sleepy vision came into focus, she found herself staring into those blue eyes again. 

                “I didn’t mean to startle you”, said Charlie.  She was sleeping so soundly, he had not wanted to shake her awake.  A loose red tendril was drifting across her lips, and he could not resist the urge to tuck it behind her ear.  He immediately regretted it when she awoke in such a panic.  Why was she so jumpy?  He could not understand why a woman with such a confident air about her was startled by the smallest of movements.  “We have arrived at your destination, may I escort you off of the aircraft?” He extended his arm to help her from her seat.   

     While entering through the door of the small terminal, Charlie could not contain his curiosity about this woman.  He wanted to know more, and decided to ask her to dinner. When Charlie turned to relay the request to his passenger, he was surprised to find that she was no longer right behind him.  They had taken a corner in the hall, maybe she fell behind.  Charlie backtracked down the wide corridor and peeked around the corner, fully expecting her to be lagging behind, possibly taking a phone call, or touching up her bright red lipstick.  There was only an older gentleman mopping the floor.  “Did you happen to see a young woman come through here?” Charlie asked the man.  The man responded that the woman had just taken the door that led back to the airfield.  Why would she go back outside?  An airfield can be dangerous if the person does not know what they are doing.  He was holding her carry on, so he knew that she couldn’t have forgotten anything on the plane.  What the hell was going on here?

                As Charlie re-entered the airfield, he saw Charlotte, but she was not alone.  She was being led by the arm, roughly, by a stocky blonde man.  She was pulling fiercely, but judging by the muscles bulging from his black t-shirt, she was not making much headway.  Charlie noticed that they were on a straight path to a small aircraft that was preparing to take off on the runway.  The airfield was loud enough that the blond man never heard Charlie running up behind him.  By the time that the bulging man heard any footsteps and turned around, he was receiving a smart, quick uppercut to the jaw.  Charlotte’s arm came free as the man hit the pavement hard, and did not stand back up.  The pilot of the small aircraft witnessed this, and immediately began to taxi down the runway.  Charlotte, stunned, stood staring up at the man before her, her mouth slightly agape.  Charlie simply smiled down at her and said, “I think you missed your flight”. 

   Charlotte helped Charlie drag the large man off of the runway, as planes were coming and going, and he might get run over.  Charlotte was not opposed this, however, Charlie wanted to talk to the man when he awoke in hopes of receiving some type of clue as to what was happening.  When the man was safely placed in the shade of the cement overhang of the building, Charlie turned to the only other person who may be able to shed some light on the situation…Charlotte.  He turned to the beautiful woman before him, and fixed her with an intense probing look.  She immediately averted her eyes.  She had not been ready for this moment of revelation, not yet.  The brute laying under that overhang had forced her hand.  Damn him!

   “Okay”, said Charlotte, relenting to the look Charlie was giving her.  She could tell that he would not be backing off this.  “I will tell you why I was on your flight, which is in direct correlation to what just happened, but I need to use the ladies room first.”  Charlie opened his mouth to object, but then noticed that she was a little scraped up from the scuffle, and she had bruises beginning to surface on her arms.  She was looking him right in the eyes at this point, and he did not see any signs of deception.  With a sigh he consented.  “Please be quick about it, and meet me right back here.  We definitely need to hash some things out”.  She could tell by his tone that he was not playing around, but she was comforted when he gave her and easy smile as she headed toward the door. 

                After Charlotte entered the terminal, Charlie turned his attention to the man on the ground.  He had to be on steroids, as his arms were bulging out well past a natural size.  Charlie expected him to be waking up any minute, and was becoming concerned that he had not begun stirring already.  He knelt down and placed his fingers on the man’s neck, checking his pulse.  Thank goodness, he thought.  The man’s pulse was fine, he would just have a massive headache when he woke up.  Charlie frisked the man, knowing that when he woke up he would be piping mad, and he didn’t want to encounter any weapons that this, soon to be furious, man might have in his possession.  In frisking the man, he felt something odd and flat strapped to his chest.  Upon lifting the black shirt, a chest strap was holding a file folder.  He confiscated the folder, and stood up.  Charlie found himself looking at pictures of an attractive older man.  Many of the pictures were hard to make out, as they were grainy, obviously taken during surveillance.  But one…one caught his eye.  It was a color photo, taken close up.  Charlie, looked up as Charlotte re-entered the runway area, and found himself staring into an identical pair of deep green eyes as the man in the photo.

Chapter 4

                Charlotte fixed her eyes on the photo that Charlie had in his hand.  She had been practicing what she would say to him as she had cleaned herself up in the bathroom.  Her scrapes were only superficial, and she didn’t even notice the pain due to the adrenaline rush.  She needed to tell Charlie the truth, but in a delicate way that wasn’t going to make him bolt.  If he bolted, all that she had gone through will have been for nothing.  She needed him in order to get not only her life back, but her father’s as well. 

                Charlie stood up slowly, fixing Charlotte with a stare that contained both incredulity and curiosity.  “Come on, we will notify security of this guy on the tarmac so they can come pick him up and then we will go grab a coffee”, Charlie said.  He began walking briskly into the terminal, and Charlotte had no choice but to trot behind him in order to keep up.    After notifying a security guard that there was an unidentified man down on the airfield, they proceeded to hail a cab to a local coffee shop.  When they had settled into a private table in the back, Charlie sat back, crossed his arms, and gestured calmly to Charlotte to begin telling her story. 

                Charlotte drew a deep breath and began.  “I just want to tell you, that I am sorry.  I never meant for things to go this way”.  She held back her tears, and picked up a napkin from the table in order to fix the makeup around her eyes, which was beginning to smudge.  “I have met you before.  I lived on the farm adjacent to the farm that you and your father used to dust.  I was there the day you landed the plane.  I was 7 years old”.  Charlie looked at her in disbelief and began scanning his memory.  He remembered the pretty young red haired girl, the one he had focused on when he exited the plane that day.  He remembered feeling a connection to her that day.  He could not believe that she had stood out in all the chaos that was happening around him.  When he had looked again, she was gone.

                “Why would that be in any way significant to what happened today?” Charlie asked.  While the information was interesting, it still did not shed any light on the current situation.  Charlotte took a deep breath, “It is significant, because that day when you were 8 years old was not an accident.  You were being groomed, groomed to be the man that you turned into today.  My father was not a farmer, and your farmer was not a crop duster, that is just what they did while pursuing other, more……secretive occupations”.  She waited for reaction.  She fully expected him to blow up or laugh at her, but he simply leaned back in his chair and slowly sipped his coffee, never taking his eyes off of her face.

                “And how was I being groomed exactly?  Are you telling me that my father gave himself a diabetic attack that day?” he asked.  He did not ask in a condescending way, he simply asked like he wanted to know the answer.  “Your father did not have diabetes” Charlotte revealed.  “He faked it.  It was your test.  It was the test to see if you had learned what he had taught you, and the catalyst in the choosing of your future career.  How could you deny becoming what you became after you were plastered all over the news as a prodigy?  The incident was carefully planned, and executed.”

                Charlie absorbed this information.  “When you say covert affairs? What does that mean?” Charlotte smiled.  He was curious, not angry.  This was going much better than she had expected.  “Our fathers had worked together in the military.  They began in plane maintenance.  Both then moved on to weapons systems within the planes. After leaving the military, they moved to the Midwest to work together on aerial inventions.  Their goal was to contract with the government.  But things began to go badly.  They were attracting the wrong kind of attention, from the wrong kind of people.  They were concerned for the safety of their children.  They were concerned for us.”  With this statement her voice broke, and she smiled sadly.  She continued, “Do you remember the day your father died?” Charlie looked down into his coffee cup.  “Yes.  They told me at school.  I was 10 years old.” Charlie pushed his coffee away.  It was a memory that he did not care to think about. 

                Charlotte felt for Charlie.  She put her hand on his.  He let her.  “You were able to stay in your house though, weren’t you?” He had been allowed to stay in the house.  His aunt had come to stay with him, and help him through the high profile life that he had inherited as a prodigy.  But he had spent most of his time in the barn, working on his father’s planes.  It made him feel close to him.  “In the garage, you would find plans would you not?  Plans for plane inventions?” Charlotte asked.  “Do you think it was a coincidence that you kept finding them? Hidden in odd places as you got older?”  Charlie looked up, feeling that he knew where she was going with this. 

                “Are you saying that I did not come up with the inventions myself? Are you saying that I was set up?” Charlie asked.  “You weren’t set up per say…” said Charlotte.  “More like given the tools to succeed.  The plans would not have come to fruition if you did not have the ability to interpret and make them.  Your father just had enough insight to see that he had an extraordinary boy standing in front of him.”  Charlie leaned back in his chair.  She could tell that he was systematically processing the facts that she had given him.  “So, there is still one large missing piece,” said Charlie, leaning forward in his chair and folding his hands slowly on the table in front of him, “Who was hiding the plans in the garage?”

                 “Charlie…my father is in danger…and so is yours”.  When she said this she looked right in his eyes.  He drew in a sharp breath.  He did not see any deception in her eyes, but he had a hard time believing what she was telling him.  “Please, Charlie” she begged.  “Please help me find them.” 

                Charlie stood up from his seat abruptly.  Charlotte jumped from hers, afraid that he was about to bolt on her.  He did not turn away from her, however, but grabbed her by the elbow and led her into the back of the coffee shop.   She did not resist, but she grew concerned that she had set something off in him, some sort of snap that was making him act irrationally.  What if he hurt her?  They had reached the short hallway that led to the restrooms.  Charlie pushed her into the ladies room and then followed, bolting the door behind them.  

                “Please don’t be upset…” Charlotte began.  Charlie turned toward her gave her a small smile.  “I am not upset.  I just thought that it might be better if we avoid our blonde, muscle-bound friend for the moment.  He was walking down the sidewalk like he might enter the coffee shop.  If I were him, I would still be pretty upset about getting knocked out in the terminal and having my intended cargo stolen from me.”  Charlie still had his hand on her elbow, and Charlotte realized that she really didn’t mind.  It made her feel safe, and she was pleased to see that he was so aware of his surroundings.  Those instincts were probably going to be crucial in the events to come.  It was really up to Charlie how this operation was going to go.  He just didn’t know it yet.