CHUCK - DAY ONE - Monday
My personal clock woke me early today. It was only 0515, but I had to be in San Francisco soon after mid-day to referee an inter-agency jurisdictional dispute. John Scott used to do all this himself, but Sam Nightfox tries not to get involved in this sort of thing. Bet I've got to thank the FBI Director for getting me involved!
I slid quietly out from between two warm bodies, and quickly did my morning thing (Shit, Shower, and Shave). No Tai-Chi today, I'm just off down to the patio for a first mug of strong coffee and a quick breakfast sandwich.
It was only 0545 as I walked in, and Steve was just turning the light on to let everyone know the day was beginning. He gripped my shoulder and putting down a steaming coffee mug, handed me a newspaper.
"Thanks, Brother!" I smiled at him.
The headline was a shocker! The Government planned to force early retirement on 'several dozen' aircrew and mechanics from the Armed Forces!
"This is terrible!" I said to Steve, waving the newspaper. He quickly read the first paragraph.
"I wish I could buy another twelve 737s so that we could employ some of these men," I remarked to him. "How are any of them going to get jobs, with the economy in the state that those idiot politicos in DC have let it get into?"
But I had to get on, and quickly finishing my breakfast, I hurried off to the airpark where my Citation X was already on the apron, with the engines warming up. I carefully went through all the checks, got clearance, and soon I was on my way at near my plane's maximum cruising speed and operating ceiling.
When everything had settled down, I sat watching the instruments and started thinking about last night.
I had been about to enter the bedroom, when Lisa gripped my arm to stop me. Think she's got a charter to Seattle in a G-5 today – hope there are no bad thunderstorms to hold us both up!
By the bed, Julie and Etta were trying to comfort Nancy (usually one of the calmest of my ladies) who was in a real state. She was almost hysterical, going on and on about the nightmares she kept having concerning the risks I take in my proper job, and what would happen to her and her kid if anything happened to Lisa and me? (Lisa too? Wow!). Poor girl, she'd watched the videos of our big shootout down at the Clothes Warehouse, and couldn't get the pictures out of her head!
I know they worry, but not to this extent ... Should I change my priorities? But that's a no-brainer, my new babies (I do so love picking them up, holding them, and kissing them!) and my family must always come first.
Yes - my jobs with the two Federal Law Enforcement Agencies are very important to me. I didn't want to leave the Marines, but I was forced to when I lost my leg ... Was I lucky to get a job so soon (bet these newly civilian aircrew and mechanics aren't so fortunate) first with the Employment Agency, then with the US Marshal's Service. I just got sucked in and one thing seemed to lead to another. I think I truly loved Bobbie ... It really hurt when she threw me over like that! Did I bury myself in my job to compensate for this? Yes, probably! Then John Scott promoting me and all that early responsibility - did it go to my head so that I got blinded as to where I was going? Yes, I suppose so, but is it now my first priority? No, not really, when I start thinking about it properly – this is the second time, or is it the third, I've been told to get lost, lie low, and stay under the wire! And it's for six months this time! Double Wow!
But now there are other, really well-trained and qualified people who can do the jobs I've been doing for the Marshal's and Secret Services.
I truly love flying and everything about aircraft. What a wonderful life this is! I am so lucky to be involved with Steve in CS&S. But I surely enjoy helping people too, and assisting them to stand on their own feet again – especially the Vets. My parents would definitely approve of this.
So what's my first priority? My family always – that most definitely; and everything about CS&S comes second ... Wish I could do something about those "about to be civilian" servicemen, though! What could I do?
Hey! Ben's been saying that if I could open some other businesses here in the States, I could funnel lots more money to charitable causes! THAT'S IT!! I mustn't just talk about it – I must seize every opportunity that comes up to employ more people, especially as many of these Vets that I can. Wow! It's another no-brainer - I can't lose on this one...
Oops! I'm almost there!
My early start, and a really fast aircraft, combined with some surprising tailwinds and no jetstream, mean I'm arriving hours early. I usually land at Oakland, but it's closed today due to the usual San Francisco fog, so I'm being diverted to a small airfield that's in clear air out to the east of the city, up a valley off State Route 24.
The same thing happened to me last time I came here. Why don't they move everything out here? This airpark, it's called Spring Field, is a small general aviation operation that has certainly seen better days. The runways and perimeter tracks are weedy, some hangars and buildings are pretty dilapidated and need repair, but they are welcoming and deal efficiently with visiting aircraft, or so I've found in the past.
I was directed to park in front a couple of prosperous looking hangars with large signs advertising S F Aircraft Sales. After I'd shut down, a modern fuel tanker arrived, and while I was filling the Citation's tanks, an old man with a crooked grin strolled over.
"Good Morning!" He began. "Welcome to Spring Field – we're always happy to see S&S aircraft here! I'm Bill Bates, by the way, the proprietor of that excellent outfit behind me!"
"Hi, I'm Chuck Johnson," I replied.
"Nice aircraft! But I see you are now CS&S – are you the 'C'? I've known Sue and Steve for years. Indeed, I sold Sue her first airplane, and Steve put in the hours to regain his pilot's license from this very field. But I heard Sue lost my 208, then bought a B200 instead.
"I know John Truant too. I've helped him buy a number of your aircraft. Come in and have some coffee!"
We walked into the nearest hangar, and over to an office at the side. It was full of aircraft - business must be slow, I thought.
First, I used my cell to call Glenn Mitchell, the local Marshal's Service Station Chief, and asked for a car to collect me from the airfield.
"Yes, I know I'm early ... But why don't you need me until later this afternoon? Your colleague over at the Bureau has a reputation of being crusty, but why the change ... Oh! His Director phoned, did he ... Well, I suppose even he can reconsider! I'm out at Spring Field on SR 24 – I'll stay here and try not to buy any aircraft from my host here!"
Luckily, Bill had no objections to me staying.
We talked about the state of the economy in general, and the aircraft industry in particular. I commented about the announcement in that day's newspapers about the military aircrew and mechanics who were being discharged early by the Government, and how I really wished I could do something for them.
I remarked on the number of aircraft in the hangar. Bill explained that he got most of them very cheaply – everyone wanted to sell aircraft, but few wanted to buy and what with the high costs of keeping the airfield running, he sometimes dreamed of moving to Hawaii and getting a part-time job selling the odd aircraft there. He commented that he had heard that CS&S Air Charter was one of the few really successful outfits around, then paused looking thoughtful.
"Would you and CS&S be interested in buying a few helicopters?" Bill asked. "I was offered some a couple of days ago, but I don't deal in those things myself. A local consortium that's made up of three engineering companies formed a joint company some time ago to provide air services for executives and engineers travelling between all their sites. However, one of them has lost a large Government contract and they now want to dissolve the partnership.
"There's another possible prospect that might interest you too. A local airfreight and aircraft maintenance outfit has recently gone into bankruptcy. The Judge has already sold all the aircraft except for two crappy old 737s that nobody wants, and he's selling off all the stores and equipment at auction in a couple of day's time. They've tried to keep the profitable maintenance division going, because it's got about 6-7 really fine mechanics and some good longer term contracts. However, the creditors have got impatient and are tired of waiting.
I thought for a minute and then got out my cell. When Steve answered, I said.
"Hi. This is Chuck! I'm at that airpark outside San Francisco, talking to Bill Bates who I think you know! OK, I'll pass on your best wishes! He's been telling me about two interesting prospects."
Briefly, I told Steve what they were.
"I think you should get on up here this afternoon," I went on. "Bring John and Jimmy with you too.
"No! Better still, you'd better bring Tank – it's more in his field. If you use your new Citation, you should be here soon after four? Good, see you then!"
I turned to Bill smiling.
"Well, thanks for the leads, would you like to have supper with us tonight?
"Yes, thank you. It would be good to meet Steve again,"
Bill again smiled his crooked smile.
"Would you be interested in buying an airfield and a few aircraft, as well?" He joked!
I phoned the hotel where I usually stayed, and after I'd booked rooms for myself and my companions, I also arranged for a good table in the restaurant.
"Are you serious about helping out of work ex-service air mechanics?" Bill asked when I cut the call. When I nodded, he continued. "My old friend Jack's son, young Billy, is a Naval Petty Officer First Class air mechanic (PO1, it's called. I think) who was discharged a couple of months ago. He also has five friends in the same boat – I've got Billy working down in my workshops here. He's not certified on most civilian aircraft, but he's good and really should be a chief mechanic somewhere. I wish I could employ the other five as well, but it's a struggle finding enough work for the men I already have!
"If I could find some planes that needed doing up, would you be interested in employing the boys to do the work?"
I thought about Bill's proposal. Yes! If it was possible, this is just what I'd like to do!
"Why, yes - I think so!" I replied, grinning. "How would we go about doing it?"
The crooked smile appeared again on Bill's face.
He picked up the phone and dialled a number.
"Hi! Willie," he began. "You told me last evening about a man who just sits outside his hangar full of aircraft, but can't pay his bills. Is he there today, and do you think he would listen to an offer? So he's there now? Good, I've got a customer here who'd like to talk to him. We'll come over in about half an hour and come and talk to you afterwards.
Bill explained that Willie ran a small GA airfield a few miles away.
"Now to try the idea out on young Billie," he said, calling the maintenance hangar and asking his chief there to send Billy up to talk to him.
Five minutes later, an overalled man in his late thirties entered. I liked him immediately. Bill explained what we were discussing; that the idea might not work, and asked if Billie thought his out-of-work friends would be interested if it did go ahead.
Billy did not hesitate. "Where do we go?" He asked
The three of us got into Bill's Suburban, and drove over to the field owned by his friend, Will Carstairs.
Willie met us a short distance from where a dejected looking man sat on an old bench outside the closed doors of a hangar.
"This is one of my old customers, Chuck Johnson from CS&S over in Tampa," Bill introduced us. "You know Young Billie, Jake Matthews' son?"
"Hi, Billie, long time no see! Pleased to meet you, Sir!" Willie said, as he shook everyone's hands.
He led us over to where the man was sitting. He didn't look up as we approached – just continued staring at the ground.
"Hey! Leroy," Willie began. "This is Bill Bates from over at Spring Field with a customer. They are going to buy your aircraft so you can feed yourself and pay my bills!"
The man slowly looked up, and I noticed a gleam appear in his formerly dull eyes.
"Ha! They can have the lot for 150,000 Dollars cash, and good riddance," Leroy said. "I'll be out of here! Take a look, Mister."
He gestured to the personnel door behind him, then slumped back into his reverie.
Leading the way, Willie pushed the door open and went inside, closely followed by the three of us.
I could hardly believe my eyes at what I saw in front of me!
There was a bunch of Beech T-36s – I counted seven. Except for being more than a bit dusty, they all seemed ready to fly with the logbooks resting on the left seats. But that was not all we found. At the back were three Cessna 208s – one with the engine out of the plane on a stand beside the wing, while the others were totally in pieces as if a complete teardown was in progress.
Young Billie was looking at everything closely.
"Well, what do you think?" I asked him.
"Can't be definite," Billie started. "But everything that should be there seems like it is! But at 150 Grand, you can afford a lot of new parts. I and the lads can do it, easy!"
I turned to Willie.
"But this is outrageous - it's a steal at that price!" I objected. "That poor man's obviously mentally ill. It looks to me that he's likely suffering from depression, and should be in a hospital ward!"
Willie shook his head in disagreement.
"Yes, you're probably right about the depression, but he's broke and couldn't pay for treatment even if they'd take him. These planes are his and completely clear of any debt, I checked – they're the only assets he has to sell and pay his bills. It would be a kindness to do it..."
I looked around, while young Billie looked at me expectantly.
"OK – I'll do it!" I decided. "Billie, I'll pay your mates the same hourly rate as you're getting now, while you'll get an extra five dollars for watching the job! We'd better get the T-36s out of here, but first – where's the nearest bank?"
"One moment," Bill interrupted. "This hangar's a darn sight in better condition than any of my empty ones. You'd do better to take over the lease here, and pay Leroy's back rent!"
Willie led the way out.
"This man is going to get you your money now, Leroy! Until he comes back, why don't you go over to the kiosk and get yourself fed?"
He gave the man five bucks, then led the three of us over to his office.
"Just a moment," he said. "I've got something here that might interest you too."
He rummaged in a drawer, and pulled out a piece of paper with a phone number on it.
"Yesterday," he explained. "A young Pastor came in. He's inherited a bunch of old planes from his granddad, and wants to dispose of them so he can put a new roof on his Church! You never know, it could be a complete waste of time, but ... Let me ring him and see if you could go see them."
He talked for a few minutes then hung up.
"I think you may be in luck. He says there are four aircraft in a tin barn at his granddad's old farm out Livermore way. Apparently two are twin-engined and one's a helicopter! While you are getting the money, why doesn't young Billie here go out and have a look – the man's there at this moment."
So that is what we did. I gave Billie my cell number and a hundred dollar bill to pay for his petrol, and he rushed off as if on a treasure hunt.
Bill drove me to a bank where I withdrew the money using one of my magic American Express cards, then we went back to pay Leroy his money. The last we saw of him, he was walking over to the gate with almost a spring in his step. He never looked back...
Willie was pleased to get his back rent, and promised us all the help he could give us as he handed me some sets of keys. I also agreed an initial month's lease on the hangar.
Back at Spring Field, Bill was in the middle of showing me round the airpark when young Billie phoned. He sounded quite excited.
"You'll never guess what I've found here," he quickly said. "There are four planes, and although they've obviously been here some time, they seem to have been well maintained until recently. The man here says that they were his granddad's pride and joy!
"Would you believe it – two are C-2A Grumman Greyhounds. They're the later Model R, but haven't been through their SLEP rebuilds. I've done plenty of those and can do it for you – I'm certified on these planes. The other fixed-wing is a little Lake amphibian - the LA-270 model SeaFury with the anti-corrosion finish. The helicopter is a useful little Schweizer 330 trainer. I know nothing about those, but it looks OK.
"Can I tell the man that you are interesting in dealing, and will get an appraisal? He's a mite anxious!"
"Yes, tell him we're interested and will get back to him," I told him. "That'll probably be tomorrow. Meanwhile, you'd better get back here."
While Bill was getting his books out and starting to look up numbers on the aircraft, my cell sounded. It was Glenn Mitchell again.
"I think we got this nonsense all settled," he said. "It seems the Homeland Security Director must have spoken to her Station Chief here, as he was very cooperative this morning. Most people have heard what you did with a similar situation down in Texas that time – nobody wants a repeat of that here!
"Sorry to get you all the way out here for nothing! However my colleague over at the Bureau wants to meet with you. Can you please do that? It would be really useful for us – if you can make it, here at the Station at 10:00 tomorrow would be best for us? You could get straight off home afterwards!"
I agreed to this and ended the call. Well, my time hadn't been wasted, but I wasn't going to tell the man that! Humm! I've forgotten to get Leroy's aircraft checked out – so I'd better send their serial numbers to Wanda in the morning. Willie says they're OK, but I'd better double check.
Later, while we were waiting for Steve's Citation to land, I was chatting to young Billy about the four aircraft he'd found out at the farm. They would have to take the wings off and bring them out on a low loader, he said – but then, he'd done that before too!
He'd noticed that the two eyes painted below the windshield on my plane seemed to watch you wherever you went, and he said he found this fascinating. When Steve's plane taxied up and Billie saw the different cartoons painted all over it, he went over and was soon laughing at each one. Tank, recognising a fellow mechanic, went over to talk to him, and was soon explaining who some of the characters were! After that Billie told him all about his exciting day, and it wasn't long before they were in Billie's car going over to see Leroy's ten aircraft. Before they left, Tank asked which hotel we were booked into, and said he would meet us there.
Meanwhile, Steve and John were greeting Bill like the old friend he was. He agreed to drop us off at the hotel on his way to shower and change clothes. The four of us would meet in an hour so that we could eat early.
Before I had my shower, I rang home and had to visit with all my ladies. After asking them to kiss the babies for me, I rang off and immediately rang Lisa up in Seattle. Like me, she had had a good flight and was really interested in what we have been doing here.
Over supper in the restaurant, Steve and John spent some time telling Bill about all the developments in CS&S, then Bill went on to tell us about the consortium. They apparently have six machines in the Club configuration – two of the Bell 206-L4s, and two each of the 407s, and 429s. They also have a couple of Bell 412s that are used for general duties. The consortium's manager had come to him trying to sell these.
Bill also said that we were unlikely to be interested in the bankrupt company's two remaining 737s, as he had unfortunately heard that they were now derelicts. This was a pity as all that company's aircraft had been well maintained.
They talked about the 737-700s that CS&S had just acquired, and Steve had to explain about the proposed Hawaiian golf tours concept. He had just gone on to say that they were going to need a West Coast base or bases, when the tone on my cell sounded.
It was Glenn Mitchell again, wanting to know if I had heard about the big airline takedown in LA that the DEA Agents and our Deputies there were carrying out that very evening. He ended by jokingly suggesting that I postpone our meeting tomorrow morning and get down to LA fast, because he reckoned I might pick up some profitable deals in view of my recent rough treatment.
So I phoned Jesse Nicholls, the LA Station Chief, on his cell.
"Hi! Jesse! How are you doing?" I started. "I hear you and some friends are very busy tonight?"
"How the devil did you hear about this so quickly?" Jesse answered. "We've got the owner of Halcyon Airlines, Bertram Ramsey, dead to rights on both money laundering and using some of his cabin crew to bring drugs in from Mexico. The man has stupidly used money from a known drug cartel's bank account to buy all his aircraft, and we're seizing each one as it lands!
"The FAA is already all over me, almost ordering me to get the planes flying again! If you can come down here in the morning, you might just be the answer to an old man's prayers!"
After I'd put my cell down, I looked at Steve.
"It sounds as if we ought to go to LA in the morning!"
When Jesse mentioned the name Halcyon, old Bill got quite excited.
"Halcyon is, or rather, was one of the most reputable and profitable operations on the West Coast," he explained. "They have over a hundred employees in two divisions. I think one has a couple of the big Bombardier CRJ-900LRs, plus two of the smaller Dash 700ERs.
"No – sorry, I'm wrong! They have four of those big Embraer machines, two are new 195s, and the others are older 190s – I think they're all the long-range type too. They use them to fly holiday makers down to Cancun on a long-term contract with an LA Tour Operator – it's Horizon Holidays, I believe.
"The other division uses about eight Bombardier Dash-8s (all Q-400s, I think) and six DHC – 6 Twin Otters, to operate well established feeder routes between many of the larger Californian towns. No wonder the FAA is going berserk!"
After some discussion, it was decided that I would fly Steve down to LA first thing in my Citation. John and Tank would keep the other one and go first to see if John could do a quick, cheap deal buying up all the stores and equipment before the auction, while Tank would talk to the employees to see if any of them were worth hiring.
I gave John one of my American Express cards to use if he was successful. He was then to agree Bill's aircraft appraisal figures and use the card to get a certified cheque for the Pastor. Bill invited the two of them to go round to S F Sales for a sandwich lunch. He also promised to arrange for them to meet the consortium's helicopter manager in the afternoon. Before he went off home to bed, Bill repeated his joke about having a few aircraft for sale, and we might like to buy these too! John had better see what he has.
Edited by Pepere'
Gently Massaged by Dualwriter