Hot Sand and Cold Blood

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                                                                  Chapter  1

     The battered old Boeing 707 gradually lost altitude as the pilot attempted a crosswind final approach onto the main runway at the Beirut Airport.  The captain slipped the nose slightly into the hot, sand filled winds until the airplane corrected onto the runway’s centerline, and then holding that position, descended until the main gear made a less than smooth contact with the asphalt.  The tires announced their protest at the hard landing with a loud squeal, punctuated by a short burst of bluish-white smoke.

    The giant cargo plane continued speeding down the runway as the pilot applied brakes and reverse engine thrust, slowing the winged juggernaut to a point where it could be steered off the runway and taxied over to the loading ramps next to the main terminal.  After finding the numbered parking space the tower controller had assigned Mid-East Oil flight 521, the pilot applied brakes one final time, bringing the weather beaten flying machine to a halt.

     The old bird was the second 707 to roll out of the Boeing plant at Seattle, Washington some eighteen years previously.  Shortly after that, United Airlines had purchased the aircraft, painted it with their colors and put it to work hauling passengers.  Two years ago Mid-East Oil Inc, bought the plane, gutted it out except for a few seats then pressed it into less glamorous service – ferrying oilrig equipment.

     Lance Ryder currently occupied a window seat just aft of the port wing. He sat stoically looking out through the Plexiglas window, peering at a metal patch that covered a hole in the wing.  He’d noticed that a couple of the rivets had popped loose during the flight over from Frankfurt and decided that maybe he should mention it to the pilot or maybe the first officer.

     He stood, walked forward toward the cockpit door and was just about to reach for the handle when he saw it turn.  To avoid being tapped by the door as it opened he stepped back and waited for the person to enter.

     The door opened and a tall thin man appeared before him wearing a soiled tan uniform of sorts, complete with short-pants, knee socks. The three stripes on his shoulder boards identified him as the first-officer or co-pilot.  His name was Pierce Wellington and Ryder had met him when he came onboard in Germany.

     He smiled and speaking with a clipped English accent mused, “Oh, Mister Ryder, you shouldn’t stand so close to the door, might get your nose bumped, ol’ boy.”

     “I was just coming forward to let you know there’s a patch coming loose on your wing,” Ryder announced casually.

     “Yes, I know, the company should give us hazardous duty pay and parachutes to fly these ol’ buckets.” The tired looking co-pilot was about to facetiously expound further on the ills of the job, when someone gave him a slight shove from behind, forcing him to take a couple of awkward steps forward.

     A woman who looked to be somewhere around thirty years old was now standing in the doorway. She was wearing a similar colored uniform, except that it was clean and sported four stripes at the shoulders, indicating that she was the aircraft captain.  Even in the old ragtag cotton uniform, it was obvious at first glance that the word Goddess had been coined for one such as her.  Short reddish-auburn hair and beautiful heart-shaped face accented the woman’s perfectly sculptured body, although the current grimace of impatience she displayed temporarily detracted from her overall beauty.

     She glanced at Wellington with a look that conveyed indifference; her voice filled with tired stress she lamented, “Wellington, I don’t give-a-damn’ if you stay onboard this four-engine trash hauler and bullshit all day, but at least get the hell out of the way and let me pass.  I’m tired, hot, and I need a shower.”

     In deference to her rank Wellington took a step back and politely said, “Sorry, Lisa. By the way, this is Mister Ryder, the passenger we picked up in Frankfurt. I think you were already up in the cockpit running through pre-flight checks when Ryder came onboard.” Wellington glanced at Ryder, and then added, “Mr. Ryder, this is Captain Lisa Anne Nickels, Mid-East’s chief pilot.”

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