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Billy Coates

After a few glimpses of lights on the island and a few minutes of dead reckoning, he turned east and descended through the clouds and into the mist until the rotating beacon of Katama Airport came into view.

Billy Coates came over the beach at ninety miles per hour, seventy-five feet over the dunes. He pulled the throttles back and turned slightly to get the runway directly under the beams of his landing lights. When he was just above the grass, he held the nose up and gave a shot of power to slow his glide.


The grass runway was smooth and groomed and he rolled easily to the dark restaurant at the far end. When he turned around and cut the engines, a car which had been parked nearby with the lights off pulled alongside his wing.

Three men got out of the car. Two of them wore dark suits with narrow ties. The middle man of the trio was stumbling and the other two in suits held him up as they approached the right wing.

Billy never got out of the airplane. By the time he opened the door the men were up on the wing and shoving their charge into the back seat. Under the glow of the cabin dome light, Billy saw a good looking young man with a prominent brow and flowing hair.

The senator, he immediately knew. He’d never met the man, but everybody had seen him and the other members of the famous family around Cape Cod.

So that’s what this is about, Billy thought. The party must have gotten a little out of hand.

One of the men settled into the back seat with the senator while the other took the right seat up front.

“I’m Billy Coates.” He offered his hand to the middle-aged man at his side.

“Okay, let’s go,” the man said, ignoring Billy’s hand without introducing himself.

“Yeah,” Billy drawled as he recovered his hand. “Fasten your seatbelts, please.”

Billy started the engines and lined up with the runway. There wasn’t much wind, so he’d takeoff over the water. When he turned around to check on his important passenger, he saw the other man in the back seat putting a black pill into the senator’s mouth.

“How about we get a seatbelt around the senator?” Billy tried to be diplomatic.

“How about you just fly the damn airplane, kid. We’re fine back here.”

Yeah, Billy thought. If this takeoff goes wrong and we crash into the ocean, the seatbelts won’t make much difference. We’re dead either way, you arrogant prick.

He pushed the throttles forward and the Apache jostled along the grass runway. The dark ocean ahead offered no discernable horizon so Billy relied on the instruments right away, trusting the fates of all aboard to the spring-loaded needles and wobbly old gyroscopes of the gauges on his panel. By the time he had the airplane turned back towards Falmouth, they were above the haze and the clouds. The moon, when it rose above the cumulus, was new. Only a sliver of the orb was illuminated.

The man in the right seat leaned towards Billy to be heard over the engines.

“Where is Falmouth?”

“About ten miles on the nose,” Billy said.

“You’d better know what you’re doing,” the man growled.

“Yeah. You’ve got that right.”

Or what? Billy thought. You should have though of that before you got into my airplane on a foggy night and started issuing demands.

Billy caught a glimpse of the lighthouse at Nobska Point through the broken clouds and he pushed the nose down as he turned along the coast south of Falmouth. The lights of houses and roads vanished and then reappeared in patchy fog. The landing gear came down after he turned inland over Waquoit Bay and crossed Route 28. Then he turned left and pulled the throttles halfway back when the church steeple was under his left wing.

The runway lights at the far end came into view first, but its near end was masked by trees until the Apache was skimming over the branches.

Billy pulled the throttles all the way back and dropped the airplane onto the narrow airstrip. He had them stopped before they rolled past the hangar, just beyond mid-field. He pulled up to the office and there was a sudden silence when he shut down the engines.

“Let me get that,” Billy said when the man in the right seat hastily tugged at the door latch. He had almost broken the handle before Billy reached past him and easily released the door. Then the three passengers hustled out of the airplane.

A black Cadillac appeared from out of the shadows and the senator was shoved into the back seat. Billy was left standing next to the Apache at the deserted airport. Fog was rolling in over the trees.

“Remember our deal.” The man pointed at Billy as he got into the front seat of the Caddy. “This never happened.”

I don’t remember agreeing to that, Billy mused.

“Yeah. So who do I invoice for this flight?”

“It’s all set. You’ll be taken care of.”

I’ve heard that before, Billy thought. Most of us write our own checks, but the really rich guys have aides who never seem to get around to paying the bills.

And good luck getting in touch with these guys after their tail lights disappeared down the gravel road through the pines.

Excerpted from the novella  FLIGHT FROM KATAMA by D. S. Cooper

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