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Wings

By Randall West,2014-11-04 18:42
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Wings

    It was a time when the world was on the brink of war and the skies were filled with adventure

    WINGS

    A novel of daring, courage, and freedom

    PRAISE FORDANIELLE STEEL

“STEEL IS ONE OF THE BEST!”

    Los Angeles Times

    THE PLOTS OF DANIELLE STEELS NOVELS TWIST AND WEAVE AS INCREDIBLE STORIES UNFOLD TO THE GLEEAND DELIGHT OF HER ENORMOUS READING PUBLIC.”

    —United Press International

    “Ms. Steel's fans won't be disappointed!”

    The New York Times Book Review

    “Steel writes convincingly about universal human emotions.”

    Publishers Weekly

    “One of the world's most popular authors.”

    The Baton Rouge Sun

PRAISE FOR DANIELLE STEEL'SWINGS

    “THIS IS DANIELLE STEEL AT HER FINEST and shows a new elegance and style…. Her heroine isstrong and tough from the very beginning. Steel gives us a character of appeal and charm. [She]takes her love of planes and her ability to spin a web of romance and turns into aWINGS

    serious look at the growth of an industry.”

    Ocala Star Banner (Fla.)

    “A PAGE-TURNER FROM BEGINNING TO END! … [Steel] does a good job of capturing the intensepleasure flying brings to … men and … women.”

    Booklist

    “The narrative takes off, with a mix of colorful characters bringing the heady early days ofaviation to life. She knows how to make her writing fly to the top of the bestseller lists!”

    Publishers Weekly

    “YOU WILL ENJOY THIS BOOK. [Steel] refreshes you on some history in keeping with the settingof the novel.”

    Baton Rouge Advocate

A MAIN SELECTION OF

    THE LITERARY GUILD

    ANDTHE DOUBLEDAY BOOK CLUB

    Also by Danielle Steel

    THE HOUSE???? THE GIFT TOXIC BACHELORS???? ACCIDENT MIRACLE???? VANISHED IMPOSSIBLE???? MIXEDBLESSINGS ECHOES???? JEWELS SECOND CHANCE???? NO GREATERLOVE RANSOM???? HEARTBEAT SAFEHARBOUR???? MESSAGE FROM NA M JOHNNY ANGEL???? DADDY DATING GAME???? STAR ANSWERED PRAYERS???? ZOYA SUNSET IN ST. TROPEZ???? KALEIDOSCOPE THE COTTAGE???? FINE THINGS THE KISS???? WANDERLUST LEAP OF FAITH???? SECRETS LONE EAGLE???? FAMILY ALBUM JOURNEY???? FULL CIRCLE THE HOUSE ON HOPESTREET???? CHANGES THE WEDDING???? THURSTON HOUSE IRRESISTIBLE FORCES???? CROSSINGS GRANNY DAN???? ONCE IN A LIFETIME BITTERSWEET???? A PERFECT STRANGER MIRROR IMAGE???? REMEMBRANCE HISBRIGHT LIGHT:???? PALOMINO The Story of Nick Traina???? LOVE: POEMS THE KLONE AND I???? THERING THE LONG ROAD HOME???? LOVING THE GHOST???? TO LOVE AGAIN SPECIAL DELIVERY???? SUMMER'SEND THE RANCH???? SEASON OF PASSION SILENT HONOR???? THE PROMISE MALICE???? NOW AND FOREVER FIVE DAYS IN PARIS???? PASSION'S PROMISE LIGHTNING???? GOING HOME WINGS

    To the Ace of my hearty the pilot of my dreams the joy of my life ,the quiet place I go to in the dark of night the bright morning sun of my soul

    at dawn

    ….the bright shining star in my sky

    ,to my love

    ,to my heart

    ,to my all

    ,beloved Popeye

    ,with all my heart and love ,always

    ,Olive.

    1

    The road to O'Malley's Airport was a long, dusty thin trail that seemed to drift first left,then right, and loop lazily around the cornfields. The airport was a small dry patch of landnear Good Hope in McDonough County, a hundred and ninety miles southwest of Chicago. When PatO'Malley first saw it in the fall of 1918, those seventy-nine barren acres were the prettiestsight he had ever seen. No farmer in his right mind would have wanted them, and none had. Theland was dirt cheap, and Fat O'Malley paid for it with most of his savings. The rest went topurchase a beat-up little Curtiss Jenny, it was war surplus, a two-seater plane with dual

     two,controls, and he used it to teach flying to the rare visitor who could afford a lesson or

     fly a passenger Chicago now and then, or take small cargo loads to anywhere they had tototo

    be flown to.

    The Curtiss Jenny all but bankrupted him, but Oona, his pretty little redheaded wife of tenyears, was the only person he knew who didn't think he was completely crazy. She knew howdesperately he had always wanted to fly, ever since he'd seen his first plane on exhibition ata little airstrip in New Jersey. He'd worked two jobs to make enough money to pay for lessons,and he'd dragged her all the way to San Francisco to see the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in 1915,just so he could meet Lincoln Beachey. Beachey had taken Pat up in his plane with him, whichhad made it all the more painful for Pat when Beachey was killed two months later. Beachey hadjust made three breathtaking loops in his experimental plane when it happened.

    Pat had also met famed aviator Art Smith at the exhibition, and a battalion of other flyingfanatics like himself. They were a brotherhood of daredevils, most of whom preferred to flythan to do anything else. They only seemed to come to life when they were flying. They livedit, talked it, breathed it, dreamed it. They knew everything there was to know about all theintricacies of every flying machine ever built, and how best to fly it. They told tales andtraded advice, and the most minute bits of information about new planes, and old ones, andseemingly impossible mechanics. Not surprisingly, few of them were interested in anything butflying, nor managed to stay in jobs that had little or nothing to do with flying. And Pat wasalways in the thick of them, describing some incredible feat he'd seen, or some remarkableairplane that somehow managed to surpass the accomplishments of the last one. He always vowedthat he'd have his own plane one day, maybe even a fleet of them. His friends laughed at him,his relatives said he was daft. Only sweet, loving Oona believed him. She followed everythinghe said and did with total loyalty and adoration. And when their little daughters were born,Pat tried not to let her know how disappointed he was that none of them were sons, so as not tohurt her feelings.

    But no matter how much he loved his wife, Pat O'Malley was not a man to waste his time with hisdaughters. He was a man's man, a man of precision and great skill. And the money he had spenton flying lessons had paid off quickly. He was one of those pilots who knew instinctively howto fly almost every machine, and no one was surprised when he was one of the first Americans tovolunteer, even before the United States had entered the Great War. He fought with theLafayette Escadrille, and transferred into the 94th Aero Squadron when it was formed, flyingwith Eddie Rickenbacker as his commander.

    Those had been the exciting years. At thirty, he had been older than most of the other men,when he volunteered in 1916. Rickenbacker was older than many of the men too. He and Pat hadthat and their love for flying in common. And also like Rickenbacker, Pat O'Malley always knewwhat he was doing. He was tough and smart and sure, he took endless risks, and the men said hehad more guts than anyone in the squadron. They loved flying with him, and Rickenbacker hadsaid himself that Pat was one of the world's great pilots. He tried to encourage Pat to stickwith it after the war, there were frontiers to be explored, challenges to be met, new worlds todiscover.

    But Pat knew that, for him, that kind of flying was over. No matter how good a pilot he was,for him, the great years had come and gone. He had to take care of Oona and the girls now. Hewas thirty-two, at the war's end in 1918, and it was time to start thinking about his future.

    His father had died by then, and left him a tiny bit of money from his savings. Oona hadmanaged to put a little money aside for them too. And it was that money he took with him whenhe went to scout around the farmlands west of Chicago. One of the men he had flown with had

    farming.told him about land going dirt cheap out there, especially if it was unsuitable for And that's when it had all started.

    He had bought seventy-nine acres of miserable farmland, at a good price, and hand-painted thesign which still stood there eighteen years later. It said simply “O'Malley's Airport,” andin the past eighteen years, one of the l's and the y had all but faded.

    He'd bought the Curtiss Jenny with the last money he had left in 1918, and managed to bringOona and the girls out by Christmas. There was a small shack on the far edge, near a stream,shaded by some old trees. And that was where they lived, while he flew anyone who had the priceof a charter, and did frequent mail runs in the old Jenny. She was a reliable little plane, andhe saved every penny he could. By spring he was able to buy a de Havilland D.H.4.A, which heused to carry mail and cargo.

    The government contracts he got to do mail runs were profitable, but they took him away fromhome a lot. Sometimes Oona had to manage the airport alone for him, as well as take care of thechildren. She'd learned how to fuel the planes, and take calls concerning their contracts orcharters. And more often than not, it was Oona flagging in someone's plane for them on thenarrow runway, while Pat was away on a flight, carrying mail, passengers, or cargo.

    They were usually startled to see that the person flagging them in was a pretty young womanwith red hair, particularly that first spring, when she was very obviously pregnant. She hadgotten especially big that time, and at first she'd thought it might be twins, but Pat knew forcertain that it wasn't twins. It was his life's dream … a son to fly planes with him, and helphim run the airport. This was the boy he had waited ten years for.

    Pat delivered the baby himself, in the little shack he had slowly begun to add on to. They hadtheir own bedroom by then, and the three girls were sharing the other room. There was a warm,cozy kitchen and a big spacious parlor. There was nothing fancy about the house where theylived, and they had brought few things with them. All of their efforts, and everything theyhad, had been sunk into the airport.

    Their fourth child had come easily on a warm spring night, in scarcely more than an hour, aftera long, peaceful walk, beside their neighbor's cornfield. He'd been talking to her about buyinganother airplane, and she'd been telling him about how excited the girls were about the newbaby. The girls were five, six, and eight by then, and to them it seemed more like a doll they

    were waiting for than a real brother or sister. Oona felt a little bit that way too, it hadbeen five years since she'd held a baby in her arms, and she was longing for this one toarrive. And it did, with a long, lusty wail, shortly before midnight. Oona gave a sharp crywhen she looked down at it and saw it for the first time, and then she burst into tears,knowing how disappointed Fat would be. It was not Pat's long-awaited son, it was another girl.A big, fat, beautiful nine-pound girl with big blue eyes, creamy skin, and hair as bright ascopper. But no matter how pretty she was, Oona knew only too well how badly he had wanted ason, and how devastated he was now not to have one.

    “Never mind, little one,” he said, watching her turn away from him, as he swaddled his newdaughter. She was a pretty one, probably the prettiest of all, but she wasn't the boy he hadplanned on. He touched his wife's cheek, and then pulled her chin around and forced her to look

    at him. “It's no matter, Oona. She's a healthy little girl. Shell be a joy to you one day.”

    “And what about you?” she asked miserably. “You can't run this place alone forever.” Helaughed at her concern, as the tears coursed down her cheeks. She was a good woman, and heloved her, and if they weren't destined to have sons, so be it. But there was still a littleache in his heart where the dream of a boy had been. And he didn't dare think that there wouldbe another. They had four children now, and even this mouth to feed would be hard for them. Hewasn't getting rich running his airport.

    “You'll just have to keep helping me fuel the planes, Oonie. That's the way it'll have tobe,” he teased, as he kissed her and left the room for a shot of whiskey. He had earned it.And as he stood looking up at the moon, after she and the baby had gone to sleep, he wonderedat the quirk of fate that had sent him four daughters and no sons. It didn't seem fair to him,but he wasn't a man to waste time worrying about what wasn't. He had an airport to run, and afamily to feed. And in the next six weeks, he was so busy, he scarcely had time to even see hisfamily, let alone mourn the son who had turned out to be a beautiful, healthy daughter.

    It seemed as though the next time he noticed her again, she had doubled in size, and Oona hadalready regained her girlish figure. He marveled at the resiliency of women. Six weeks before

     enormous. Now she lookedsoshe had been lumbering and vulnerable, so full of promise, and

    young and beautiful again, and the baby was already a fiery-tempered, little redheaded hellion.If her mother and sisters didn't tend her needs immediately, the entire state of Illinoisto

    and most of Iowa could hear it.

    “I'd say she's the loudest one of all, wouldn't you, m'dear?” Pat said one night, exhaustedfrom a long round-trip flight to Indiana. “She's got great lungs.” He grinned at his wifeover a shot of Irish whiskey.

    “It's been hot today, and she has a rash.” Oona always had an explanation as to why thechildren were out of sorts. Pat marveled at her seemingly endless patience. But she was equallypatient with him. She was one of those quiet people, who spoke little, saw much, and rarelysaid anything unkind to or about anyone. Their disagreements had been rare in nearly elevenyears of marriage. He had married her at seventeen, and she had been the ideal helpmate forhim. She had put up with all his oddities and peculiar plans, and his endless passion forflying.

    Later that week, it was one of those airless hot days in June, when the baby had fussed allnight, and Pat had had to get up at the crack of dawn for a quick trip to Chicago. Thatafternoon when he got home, he found that he'd have to leave again in two hours on anunscheduled mail run. It was hard times and he couldn't afford to turn any work down. It was aday when he'd wished more than ever that there had been someone there to help him, but therewere few men he'd have trusted with his precious planes, none he'd seen recently, and certainlynone of the men who'd applied for work there since he'd opened the airport.

    “Got any planes to charter, mister?” a voice growled at him, as Pat pored over his log, andwent through the papers on his desk. He was about to explain, as he always did, that they couldrent him, but not his planes. And then he looked across the desk and grinned in amazement.

    “You sonofabitch.” Pat smiled delightedly at a fresh-faced kid with a broad smile, and athatch of dark hair hanging into his blue eyes. It was a face he knew well, and had come tolove in their turbulent time together in the 94th Aero Squadron. “What's a matter, kid, can'tafford a haircut?” Nick Galvin had thick straight black hair, and the striking good looks ofthe blue-eyed, black-haired Irish. Nick had been almost like a son to Pat, when he'd flown forhim. He had enlisted at seventeen, and was only a year older than that now, but he had becomeone of the squadron's outstanding pilots, and one of Pit's most trusted men. He'd been shotdown twice by the Germans, and both times managed to come in, with a crippled engine, making adead stick landing and somehow saving both himself and the plane. The men in the squadron hadcalled him “Stick” after that, but Pit called him “son” most of the time. He couldn't helpwondering if, now that his latest child had turned out to be yet another girl, this was the sonhe so desperately wanted.

    “What are you doing here?” Pat asked, leaning back in his chair, and grinning at the boy whohad defied death almost as often as he had.

    “Checking up on old friends. I wanted to see if you'd gotten fat and lazy. Is that your deHavilland out there?”

    “It is. Bought that instead of shoes for my kids last year.”

    “Your wife must have loved that,” Nick grinned, and Pat was reminded of all the girls inFrance who had pined for him. Nick Calvin was a good-looking lad, with a very persuasive mannerwith the ladies. He had done well for himself in Europe. He told most of them he was twenty-five or twenty-six, and they always seemed to believe him.

    Oona had met him once, in New York, after the war, and she had thought him charming. She'dsaid, blushing, that she thought he was exceptionally handsome. His looks certainly outshonePit's, but there was something appealing and solid about the older man that made up for a lackof Hollywood movie-star looks. Pat was a fine-looking man, with light brown hair, warm browneyes, and an Irish smile that had won Oona's heart. But Nick had the kind of looks that madeyoung girls' hearts melt.

    “Has Oona gotten smart and left you yet? I figured she would pretty quick after you broughther out here,” Nick said casually, and let himself into the chair across from Pat's desk, ashe lit a cigarette, and his old friend laughed and shook his head in answer.

    “I kind of thought she might too, to tell you the truth. But she hasn't, don't ask me why.When I brought her out here, we lived in a shack my grandfather wouldn't have put his cows in,and I wouldn't have been able to buy her a newspaper if she'd wanted one, which she didn't.Thank Cod. She's one hell of an amazing woman.” He'd always said that about her during thewar, and Nick had thought as much too when he'd met her. His own parents were dead, and he hadno family at all. He had just been floating around since the war ended, getting short-term jobshere and there at various small airports. At eighteen, he had no place to go, nowhere to be,and no one to go home to. Pat had always felt a little sorry for Nick when the men talked abouttheir families. Nick had no sisters or brothers, and his parents had died when he was fourteen.He'd been in a state orphanage until he'd enlisted. The war had changed everything for him, andhe had loved it. But now there was nowhere for him to go home to.

    “How are the kids?” Nick had been sweet with them when he met them. He loved kids, and he'dseen plenty in the orphanage. He had always been the one to take care of the younger children,read them stories at night, tell them wild tales, and hold them in the middle of the night,when they woke up, crying for their mothers.

    ‘They're fine.” Pat hesitated, but only for a moment. “We had another one last month.Another girl. Big one this time. Thought it might be a boy, but it wasn't.” He tried not tosound disappointed but Nick could hear it in his voice, and he understood it

    “Looks like you'll just have to teach your girls to fly eventually, huh, Ace?” he teased, andPat rolled his eyes in obvious revulsion. Pat had never been impressed by even the mostextraordinary female fliers.

    “Not likely, son. What about you? What are you flying these days?”

    “Egg crates. War junk. Anything I can lay my hands on. There's a lot of war surplus hangingaround, and a lot of guys wanting jobs flying them. I've kind of been hanging around theairports. You got anyone working with you here?” he asked anxiously, hoping that he didn't.

    Pat shook his head, watching him, wondering if this was a sign, or merely a coincidence, orjust a brief visit. Nick was still very young. And he had raised a lot of hell during wartime.He loved taking chances, coming in by the skin of his teeth. He was hard on planes. And harderon himself. Nick Galvin had nothing to lose and no one to live for. Pat had everything he ownedin those planes, and he couldn't afford to lose them, no matter how much he liked the boy orwanted to help him.

    “You still like taking chances like you used to?” Pat had almost killed him once afterwatching him come in too close to the ground under a cloud bank in a storm. He'd wanted toshake him till his teeth rattled, but he was so damn relieved Nick had survived that he endedup shouting right in his face. It was inhuman to take the chances he did. But it was what hadmade him great. In wartime. But in peacetime who could afford his bravado? Planes were tooexpensive to play with.

    “I only take chances when I have to, Ace.” Nick loved Pat. He admired him more than any manhe had ever known or flown with.

    “And when you don't have to, Stick? You still like to play?” The two men's eyes met and held.Nick knew what he was asking. He didn't want to lie to him, he still liked raising hell, stillloved the danger of it, playing and taking chances, but he had a lot of respect for Pat, and hewouldn't have done anything to hurt him. He had grown up that much. And he was more careful nowthat he was flying other people's planes. He still loved the thrills, but not enough to want tojeopardize Pat's future. Nick had come here, all the way from New York, on the last dollar hehad to see if there was a chance that Pat could use him.

    “I can behave myself if I have to,” he said quietly, his ice blue eyes never leaving Pat'skindly brown ones. There was something boyish and endearing about Nick, and yet at the sametime he was a man. And once they had almost been brothers. Neither one of them could forgetthat time. It was a bond that would never change, and they both knew that.

    “If you don't behave, I'll drop you out of the Jenny at ten thousand feet without thinkingtwice. You know that, don't you?” Pat said sternly. “I'm not going to have anyone destroyingwhat I'm trying to do here.” He sighed then. “But I have to be honest, there's almost toomuch work for one man. And there's going to be entirely too much for one, and maybe even two,if these mail contracts keep coming in the way they have. I never seem to stop flying anymore.

    to do some of these runs, but they're rough,I can't catch up with myself. I could use a man

    and long. Lots of bad weather sometimes, especially in the winter. And no one gives a damn. Noone wants to hear how hard it is. The mail's got to get there. And then there's all the rest ofit, the cargo, the passengers, the short runs here and there, the thrill seekers who just wantto go up and look down, the occasional lesson.”

    “Sounds like you've got your hands full.” Nick grinned at him. He loved every word of what hewas hearing. This was what he had come for. That and his memories of the Ace. Nick needed a jobdesperately. And Fat was happy to have him.

    “This isn't a game here. It's a serious business I'm trying to run, and one day I want to putO'Malley's Airport on the map. But,” Pat explained, “it'll never happen if you knock out allmy planes, Nick, or even one. I've got everything riding on those two out there, and this patchof dry land with the sign you saw when you drove in here.” Nick nodded, fully understandingeverything he said, and loving him more than ever. There was something about flying men, theyhad a bond like no one else. It was something only they understood, a bond of honor like noother.

    “Do you want me to fly some of the long hauls for you? You could spend more time here withOona and the kids. And I could do the night stuff maybe. I could start with those and see whatyou think,” Nick asked him nervously. He was desperate for a job with him, and scared he mightnot get it. But there was no way Pat O'Malley wasn't going to hire him. He just wanted to besure Nick understood the ground rules. He would have done anything for him. Given him a home, ajob, adopted him if he had to.

    ‘The night runs might be a start. Even though”— he looked ruefully at his young friend.There were fourteen years separating them, but the war had long since dissolved the differencesbetween them—” some nights that's the most restful place to be. If that new baby of oursdoesn't start sleeping nights pretty soon, I'm going to start dosing her with whiskey. Oonasays it's a heat rash, but I swear it's the red hair and the disposition that goes with it.Oona's the only redhead I've ever known with those quiet, gentle ways. This one is a reallittle hellion.” But despite his complaints, Pat seemed taken with her, and for the most part,he'd gotten over his disappointment about not having a son. Particularly now that Nick washere. His arrival was just the godsend he had prayed for.

    “What's her name?” Nick looked amused. From the moment he'd laid eyes on them, he'd lovedtheir family, and everything about them.

    “Cassandra Maureen. We call her Cassie.” He glanced at his watch then. “I'll take you overto the house, and you can have dinner with Oona and the girls. I've got to be back out here at

    five-thirty.” He looked apologetic then. “And you'll have to find a place to stay in town.There are some rooms to rent at old Mrs. Wilson's, but I don't have a place for you to stayhere, except a cot in the hangar where I keep the jenny.”

    “That would do for now. Hell, it's warm enough. I don't care if I sleep on the runway.”

    “There's an old shower out back, and a bathroom here, but this is a little primitive,” Patsaid hesitantly, and Nick grinned as he shrugged his shoulders.

    “So's my budget, until you start paying me.”

    “You can sleep on our couch, if Oona doesn't mind. She's got a soft spot for you anyway,always telling me how handsome you are, and how lucky the girls are with a lad like you. I'msure she won't mind having you on the couch, till you're ready to rent a room at Mrs.Wilson's.”

    But he never had done either. He had moved into the hangar immediately, and a month later he'dbuilt himself a little shack of his own. It was barely more than a lean-to, but it was bigenough for him. It was tidy and clean, and he spent every spare moment he had in the air,flying for Pat, and helping him to build his business.

    By the following spring they were able to buy another plane, a Handley Page. It had a longerrange than either the de Havilland or the Jenny, and it could carry more passengers and cargo.Nick spent most of his time flying it, while Pat stayed closer to home, did the short runs, andran the airport. The arrangement worked perfectly for both of them. It was as though everythingthey touched turned to magic. The business went beautifully. Their reputation spread rapidlythrough the Midwest. The word that two hotshot flying aces were operating out of Good Hopeseemed to reach everyone who mattered. They handled cargo, passengers, lessons, mail, andwithin a very reasonable time, began turning over a fairly respectable profit.

    And then the ultimate bit of luck occurred. Thirteen months after Cassie was born, ChristopherPatrick O'Malley appeared, a tiny, wizened, screaming, scrawny little infant. But a loveliersight his parents had never seen, and his four sisters stared at his unfamiliar anatomy in

    utter amazement. The second coming could have made no greater stir than the arrival ofChristopher Patrick O'Malley at O'Malley's Airport.

    A large blue banner was flown, and every pilot who came through for a month was handed a cigarby the beaming father. He'd been worth waiting for. Almost twelve years of marriage, andfinally he had his dream, a son to fly his planes and run his airport.

    “Guess I might as well pack up and leave,” Nick said mock glumly the day after Chris wasborn. He had just taken an order for a huge shipment of cargo to be delivered to the West Coastby Sunday. It was the biggest job they'd had so far, and a real victory for them.

    “What do you mean, leave?” Pat asked, with a terrible hangover from celebrating the birth ofhis son, and a look of panic. “What the hell does that mean?”

    “Well, I figured now that Chris is here, my days are numbered.” Nick was grinning at him. Hewas happy for both of them about the baby, and thrilled to be Chris's godfather. But the onewho had stolen his heart from the first moment he'd laid eyes on her was Cassie. She was justwhat Pat had said she was from the very first, a little monster, and everything everyone hadever said about a redhead. And Nick adored her. Sometimes he almost felt as though she were hisbaby sister. He couldn't have loved her more if she were his own child.

    “Yeah, your days are numbered,” Pat growled at him, “for about another fifty years. So getoff your lazy behind, Nick Galvin, and check out the mail they just dumped out there on ourrunway.”

    “Yes, sir … Ace, sir … your honor … your excellence …”

    “Oh, never mind the blarney!” Pat shouted at his back, as he poured himself a cup of blackcoffee and Nick ran out to the runway to meet with the pilot before he took off again. Nick hadbeen just what Pat had hoped from the first, a godsend. And there had been no funny stuff inthe past year. He'd taken his share of chances flying in bad weather the previous winter, and

    they both made their share of forced landings and emergency repairs. But there was nothingreally outrageous that Pat could complain about, nothing Nick did he wouldn't have donehimself, nothing that truly jeopardized one of Pat's precious airplanes. And Nick loved thoseplanes as much as Pat did. And the truth was, having Nick there had really allowed Pat to buildup his business.

    And that was just what they had continued to do for the next seventeen years. The years had

     than their planes taking off from the four meticulously kept runways attasterrushed past them

    O'Malley's Airport. They had built three of them in the form of a triangle, and the fourth,running north/south, bisected it, which meant that they could land in almost any wind, andnever had to close the airport due to problems with planes blocking one of their runways. Theyhad a fleet of ten planes now too. Nick had actually bought two of them himself, and the restwere Pat's. Nick only worked for him, but Pat had always been generous with him. The two werefast friends after long years of working together, and building up the airport. He'd asked Nickto become partners with him more than once, but Nick always said he didn't want the headachesthat went with it. He liked being a hired hand, as he put it, although everyone knew that heand Pat O'Malley moved as one, and to cross one was to risk death at the hands of the other.Pat O'Malley was a special man, and Nick loved him as a father, brother, friend. He loved hischildren as he would his own. He loved everything about him.

    But other than Pat's, families and relationships were generally not Nick's strong suit. He hadmarried once in 1922, at twenty-one. It had lasted all of six months, and his eighteen-year-oldbride had gone running back to her parents in Nebraska. Nick had met her on a mail route lateone night, in the town's only restaurant, which was owned by her mother and father.

    The only thing she had hated more than Illinois was everything that had anything to do withflying. She got sick every time Nick took her up, she cried every time she saw a plane, and shewhined every time he left to go fly one. It was definitely not the match for him, and the onlyone more relieved than his bride when her parents came to pick her up was Nick himself. He hadnever been more miserable in his life, and he had vowed never to let it happen again. There hadbeen women since, a number of them, but Nick always kept quiet about what he did. There hadbeen rumors about him and a married woman in another town, but no one was ever quite sure ifthey were true or not, and Nick never even said anything to Pat. From his striking boyish goodlooks, he had become a handsome man, but no one ever knew his business. The women in his lifewere never obvious. There was nothing anyone could talk about, except how hard he worked, orhow much time he spent with the O'Malleys. He still spent most of his spare time with them andtheir kids. He was like an uncle to them. And Oona had long since given up trying to fix him upwith any of her friends. She had even tried to start something between him and her youngestsister when she'd come out to visit years before, she was pretty and young and a widow. But ithad been obvious for years that Nick Calvin was not interested in marriage. Nick was interestedin airplanes, and not much more, except the O'Malleys, and an occasional quiet affair. He livedalone, he worked hard, and he minded his own business.

    “He deserves so much better than that,” Oona had complained to Pat for years.

    “What makes you think that marriage is so much better?” Pat had teased, but no matter howconvinced she was of what would be good for him, even Oona no longer broached it with Nick. Shehad given up. At thirty-five, he was happy as he was, and too busy to give much time andattention to a wife and kids. Most days, he spent fifteen or sixteen hours a day at Fat'sairport. And the only other person there as much as Bat and Nick was Cassie.

    She was seventeen by then, and for most of her life Cassie had been a fixture at the airport.She could fuel almost any plane, signal a plane in, and prepare them for takeoff. She cared forthe runways, cleaned the hangars, hosed down the planes, and spent every spare moment she hadhanging out with the pilots. She knew the engines and the workings of every plane they had. Andshe had an uncanny sense of what ailed them. There was no detail too small, too intricate, toocomplicated to escape her attention. She noticed everything about every plane, and couldprobably have described almost everything in the air with her eyes closed. She was remarkablein many ways, and Pat had to fight with her most of the time to make her go home to help her

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