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Billy Coates

“Are you for the war,” was the question in 1969, “or against it?”

“I’m not for the war or against it,” Billy Coates would say. “I was in it.”

Now, Billy Coates is a fictional character, and not based on any one person. But I knew from the onset that the protagonist of Flight From Katama, which plays off pivotal events in 1969, would have to be a Vietnam veteran. The reason why has a lot to do with where I was living in the Seventies; Narragansett, Falmouth, Plymouth and Newport. Small seaside towns with a purpose, be it fishing or tourism or sailing. Towns where people were working hard. So the veterans therein (who were all older than myself) had simply come home and gone back to their labors. Perhaps in other places they might have donned their old fatigues and smoked pot and flashed peace signs to air the pain of blood spilled in vain, but the men that I knew had no time for all that.

So in Falmouth we have ex-door gunner Billy Coates, who used his GI Bill benefits to learn to fly, and who then found a wealthy sponsor for his charter flying business. He literally rubs elbows with the rich and famous when he flies them around Cape Cod and the Islands in his airplane, but he is not one of them. His best friend Ned Rogers is a cook in a seafood restaurant and Benedita Lopes, the high school girl whom he never quite connected with, is keeping the Cranberry Flying Service’s books for his silent partner.

When a seemingly small midnight favor — the flight from Katama — evolves into a momentous event, Billy finds himself standing at the confluence of wealth and politics. If he allows himself to be dawn into the media storm, his fifteen minutes of fame might lead to sudden riches. But at what cost to the course which he has charted for his own life?