We kept flying and seeing nothing. It was almost dark. We were in trouble.
Just then one of the passengers called out.
“Wait! Wait, what’s that? Is that . . . it is! A ship!” he said.
I looked out his side and he was right. There was a long, dark line just below the horizon. It had to be a tanker.
Moses saw it too. He banked due west toward the ship.
“Oliver! Get up here with some paper!” Moses yelled back to me.
I hustled up to the cockpit with my notebook and a pencil.
“Write this down,” Moses said. “Off course. Almost out of fuel. Please point to nearest land. If more than few miles we need to ditch.”
I had been writing it down word for word. My hand trembled as I wrote the last part.
“Now, find a bottle,” Moses said.
Most days we had Coca-Colas on board. But not today. There was only one place I could think of to get a bottle. I hustled back to the rear, opened the box Moses had smuggled aboard, and took out the first bottle I touched. Then I ran back up to the cockpit and handed the bottle to Moses.
“Bacardi,” he said as he looked at the bottle. “It had to be Bacardi.”
He unlatched his window and opened the bottle. He took a quick swig then stuck his arm out and emptied the booze into the ocean. Then he took the note and rolled it up and crammed it in the bottle.
He made a pass over the tanker. I could see guys on the deck of the ship looking up, not knowing what to make of all this. Then we made a big loop and came back over the ship from its stern. We had dropped to about a hundred feet.
“Cross your fingers, boys,” Moses said.
He dropped the bottle just as a wave hit the ship. The bottle bounced on the deck and rolled toward the edge. A guy reached out to grab it but was too slow. The bottle rolled and dropped into the water.
“Shitty shitbags,” Moses said. “Get me another piece of paper!”
“Another bottle too?” I asked.
“No, something that won’t roll off!” he answered.
Angel had an idea. He ran to the back of the plane and came back with a canvas pouch from his toolkit.
“For my ratchets,” Angel said.
I scribbled out another note. We crammed in into the bag and handed it to Moses.
“Too light, gonna blow away,” he said.
I scanned the cockpit for anything we could use. The flare pistol was in a box between the seats. I opened the box and took out a few shells and dropped them in the bag.
“Good enough,” Moses said as he took the bag from me. “We don’t have much time.”
I looked at the fuel gauge. It was on empty.
He looped back over the ship and dropped the bag. The bag fell open when it hit the deck and two of the shells rolled toward a hatch. The guys on the deck realized what was going on and grabbed them before they fell in the hold. In hindsight it was probably not the smartest idea to drop live ammunition on an oil tanker.
They got the note from the bag and read it. They looked up at us just as I heard the first engine start to sputter.
“Too late!” Moses yelled. “Get ’em ready!”
In the passenger cabin our two guests had looks of horror on their faces. There was another sputter. Out the window I saw the left prop stop.
“Back! Get to the back of the plane!” I said to the passengers as we started to list.
They got to their feet and stumbled back. When they got to the rear I showed them how to stand.
“Put your arms up here, like this,” I said to them. “And spread your legs. One of you in front, one in back.”
We were losing altitude quick. Our pitch was steep.
Angel came back and he and I assumed the same positions as the passengers. I looked out the windows and could see the dark waters coming closer.
I closed my eyes to say a prayer. Then I heard a “coo.”
The pigeon! He was in a cage behind the copilot’s seat, just in front of my radio equipment.
As much as I hated those flying demons I couldn’t let one of them go down trapped like that. Next thing I knew I was moving forward.
I kept one hand on the ceiling to brace myself and used my other hand to push the chairs out of my way. When I got to the front I fell to my knees and started to open the cage.
“What the hell you doin’?” Moses shouted from the cockpit when he saw me. “Go! GO!”
But I had come this far. I was fast on the cage and scooped the pigeon up. Only then did I think about what I would do next.
I staggered forward into the cockpit, keeping a firm grip on the pigeon.
“You damn fool!” Moses yelled. “Get back there!”
I leaned over the copilot’s seat and got a hand on the window and somehow was able to get it open. Then I reached out and stuffed that damn bird through the window.
Right away he flapped his wings. The pigeon looked at me for a brief second then rose out of sight as the airplane dropped.
I turned to see a wall of water rushing up at me.
We hit. Then all went black.
We tracked a decent road and about a half hour later I saw spires rising in the distance. Lindbergh pulled out a map and then banked us a bit toward the south. We spotted the landing strip.
There had to be five hundred people waiting for us.
They were scattered all over the landing strip. Some were holding up signs. I could even see a band.
Lindbergh was bringing us down and as he did he was looking at all of the commotion and just shaking his head.
“Ridiculous,” he said. “I’m tempted to fly us somewhere else.”
He made a low pass across the field. Kids on bicycles tried to match our speed, looking up at us and laughing and waving.
Lindbergh was leaning out his window, waving them off with his hand.
“GET BACK!” he yelled. “BACK, BACK! VAMANOS! VAMANOS!”
I did the same out my side.
“FARTHER AWAY!” I yelled. “GIVE US ROOM!”
There were some confused looks below but they got the drift. I saw a few mothers run out to grab their kids.
We flew over the strip and continued another mile. Then we made a wide turn over an old cemetery and came back in. Lindbergh lowered the landing gear and we were coming in fine. Then a gust of wind kicked up.
The Thirty-Eight felt like it was being lifted up by the big man himself. I could feel my stomach rise into my throat.
Lindbergh pushed down on the wheel, hard. The nose came down fast. I caught a glimpse of the crowd and then I just saw ground. The snout of the plane plowed into the dirt.
It happened fast. But Lindbergh knew what to do. He reversed the props and cranked the wheel hard to one side.
We stopped. I took a breath. I turned to Lindbergh. He was exhaling, hands still gripped tight around the wheel.
“Everyone okay?” he asked.
I turned back and the doctors both had eyes as wide as the moon.
“That’s one way to end the trip, I suppose,” Doctor Kidder said when he was able to talk.
Only now did I could see how close we had come to the crowd. If Lindbergh hadn’t reacted the way he had we would have plowed right into them.
Lindbergh unbuckled, opened his door, and stood up. There was a great roar from the crowd and I heard the first strains of “Yankee Doodle.”
Lindbergh looked back at me.
“There are no words that can express how much I hate that damn song,” he said. Then he climbed down into the clutches of the crowd.
“A tangle of long green vines and thirsty brown roots ringed the hole. They hung down as if a rancher had dug a hole for a fencepost,” he said. “The sun was low and there was no direct light. But there was enough that we could see the swallows and the bats and the dragonflies fluttering about. The garbled hoot of the swallows bounced off the rugged walls of the cave. I began to feel at peace.”
“Stop it, please,” I said. “I hate when you do that. And I don’t see any bats up there.”
“Oliver was complaining again,” Ernie went on. “I had hoped the wine would have kicked in by now. But we were still waiting, and the waiting was the hardest part.”
“Oh, stuff it.”
“He remained blind to the bats circling overhead, flitting like shadows amongst the stalagmites.”
“Those are stalactites, not stalagmites, and those are birds, not bats,” I said. “Jeez, I thought you were smart.”
“And then a beautiful woman came into the picture,” he said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Look,” Ernie said.
He pointed a finger toward the lip of the giant hole. Way up there, standing near the edge, was a woman. And she did look beautiful.
She was wearing a striped bathing suit, one of those new ones with no sleeves or legs. I was trying to get a better look at her face when she raised both arms up over her head.
“Lord have mercy,” Ernie said. “She’s gonna jump.”
She did not jump, so much as dive. She launched herself forward and sliced through the air and came down in a part of the pool where the water was darker and deeper.