ANCHORAGE — Wednesday 08:15
Duncan checked the mileage readout on the number one inertial navigation system. Anchorage was two hundred nautical miles away, and they were at 35,000 thousand feet. He did the mental calculations automatically: multiply altitude in thousands by three to get distance in nautical miles to let down. The letdown point should be one hundred and five nautical miles, but they were battling a headwind, and Anchorage was using runway six right, which meant approach control would take them beyond the airport before setting up a turn to the final approach. One hundred and five would be a little too much.
“We'll start down ninety out,” he said to his first officer. “I'm going to get my tea. Your airplane.” Duncan moved his seat back, rose, and started for the galley in the back of the upper deck. “You guys want anything?” he asked of both the first officer and the Flight Engineer. The flight engineer requested a coffee, the first officer wanted nothing.
Duncan reached the galley and found the hot water pot nearly empty. He filled it and plugged it in. One hundred and ten nautical to go before letdown, seven and a half miles a minute groundspeed in the headwind, he had fourteen minutes before he wanted to be back in the seat. The water would take five to heat.
He felt good to be back in the air, and knowing this trip sequence would be his last flying for some time made him relish it all the more. He had been surprised when ACI's crew scheduling office had called him Tuesday morning. He had phoned them the day before and told them he was ready to fly, but it was unusual to have them react so quickly. Pilots were normally scheduled at least seventy-two hours in advance, but the company occasionally ran short of reserve crews. Sam Devlin didn't like paying for adequate reserves.
Crew scheduling had asked Duncan if he would go to New York and captain an early morning flight out of JFK on Wednesday. Knowing he always said yes to their requests, the scheduler had already made his travel arrangements. He had rushed to get packed and had driven the fifty minutes to the Eugene Airport barely in time to make the flights they had booked ,He arrived at JFK just in time to get the required legal rest before the four a.m. show time.
The seven hour cargo flight from JFK to Anchorage had gone normally. Besides the crew, there was one jumpseater aboard. FAA regulations permitted pilots of one airline to occupy the cockpit jumpseats aboard another airline's aircraft, subject to the Captain's discretion. Air Cargo International's pilots rarely lived where they were based. They depended on the jumpseats of other carrier's aircraft for their commute. Reciprocity was the rule, and ACI welcomed jumpseaters from other airlines. Duncan never denied a ride to a fellow pilot. If more jumpseaters showed up than there were jumpseats, he conveniently forgot to show the extras on the paperwork. They had to sit on the floor. That was illegal, but everybody got a ride.
The one jumpseater aboard this leg had presented himself moments before departure. His credentials showed him to be a pilot for a small commuter airline unknown to Duncan. The man was quiet and kept to himself. Most commuter pilots preferred to sit in the jumpseat right behind the Captain and stayed forward in the cockpit through most of the flight, wanting to view the operation of an airplane so much larger than those they flew. This commuter pilot had gone to the rear of the upper deck and stayed there. Perhaps he was tired, Duncan had thought, but the man had been wide awake every time Duncan had gone back to piss.
“We'll start down in about ten minutes. You want tea or coffee?” Duncan asked the jumpseater, thinking the man had appeared to be looking Duncan's way.
“No ... thank you, no.”
“I always have a cup of tea before the approach, a little caffeine to get the system going after these long legs. That's one advantage to your kind of flying, lots of short legs. Takeoffs and landings, that's where the fun is.” Duncan found only one tea bag, and it wasn't the brand they usually stocked. Making a mental note to tell the ground crew to restock the galley, he put the bag in the cup and poured hot water over it. “Our average leg length is seven and a half hours. What's average in your operation?”
“I never figured it,” he said, starting to rummage in his bag. “Probably just a couple of hours.” He took out a paperback and started to read.
Duncan looked at him for a few moments, but the jumpseater remained glued to his book. Must be an unusual operation, Duncan thought. When he had flown commuters, his average leg length had been forty minutes. Duncan made the flight engineer's coffee and returned to the cockpit with it and his cup of tea, sipping it as he walked. Whatever the brand was, he didn't like the it; there was a hint of bitterness.
The landing was a greaser; even Duncan was pleased with himself. They parked on the Anchorage ramp at position 10 and ran the parking checklist. Duncan signed the flight log, each crew member stowed his personal equipment in his flight bag, and they left the cockpit. Duncan noticed the jumpseater had already left the upper deck. He didn't like that. It was customary for jumpseaters to come forward and thank the crew for the ride, and Duncan believed in observing the common courtesies. He would say as much to the man as they were all taken to the operations area in the crew van.
But the discourtesy was a minor thing. The leg had gone well; the trip sequence had gotten off to a good start. Coming down the airstairs, Duncan felt great. He would run before resting instead of after.
Duncan looked for the commuter pilot as they piled their luggage into the back of the van. There was no luggage for him, and he was not in the van.
“We had a jumpseater. Where is he?” Duncan asked.
“He was out of the door as soon as we opened it,” the operations agent said. “He had a friend with a ramp pass. They drove off. Just as well, we won't have to drop him off at ops before heading for the hospital. You boys have been picked for a random drug test.”
The words were said as Duncan was opening the crew van's right front door. It was a fine, warm day in Anchorage, unusual for the place and for that late in the summer. The door's window had been rolled down. He turned and leaned over the door's open window. The air was without pollution. He could see the Chugach Mountains rising in back of the city. How could he have missed it? He should have seen it coming. He had been enjoying being back to flying, and he had let down his guard.
“You okay, Captain?” the operations agent asked.
“I left something on the aircraft, back in a minute.” Duncan dashed up the airstairs to the main deck and then up the ladder to the upper deck. The cleaners weren't there yet. He bent down into the large plastic bag still filled with trash from the flight. The used tea bag should be on top ... but it wasn't. He sorted through the top layer of trash, but the tea bag was gone. He straightened and made a visual check of the rest of the upper deck, not knowing what he was looking for, but hoping to see something unusual. There was nothing.
He had started to leave when the red box registered in his mind, and he turned back to the galley. There, sitting in the usual place, was a red Lipton Tea box where there had been only a single tea bag earlier. Duncan stepped over to the galley and checked the box; it was half full. He silently cursed the jumpseater. You son-of-bitch, where did you have this hidden when I was looking for it?
The ride to the hospital was a short one; Duncan spent it considering his situation and the range of possible responses. That he had been dosed with something was certain. He felt good, but that was no clue; all of the illegal drugs made you feel good. He felt like running; he was energetic. That indicated a stimulant, not a depressant. Cocaine and methamphetamine were stimulants. His mind went over what he knew and what he had read over the last week in his research and made the connection. The tea had had a hint of bitterness. Cocaine was bitter to the taste. So, a probable dose of cocaine. It fit; his performance during the approach and landing had been superb, and cocaine in small doses enhanced performance. He had read that factory workers used it to maintain alertness before it was made illegal.
What to do now?Duncan knew that Air Cargo International's policy was that if he refused to take a drug test, he would be fired. But if he tested positive, not only would he be fired, but the FAA would revoke his medical certification. It would take a few days for the test results to come back, he could at least finish the trip, but the cost would be the loss of his medical. At that moment he realized he had made his last flight for Air Cargo International. Keep your options open as long as possible. Keep going over things. Looking for the solution you can't see.
Duncan had been through the drill before. He considered the procedure silly. If they wanted to make sure it was his undiluted piss going into the container why not just watch him pee? But the procedure was designed to protect the sensibilities of the modest. Duncan had never been accused of being modest.
The nurse led him into the restroom and instructed him to wash his hands, which he did. After he dried them, she checked to make sure there was nothing under his fingernails that could compromise the integrity of the test. Next she poured blue dye in the toilet, dye that would show up in the sample container if he used toilet water to dilute the sample. Finally, she taped the faucet outlets with red tape that, once on, couldn't be removed without it breaking into small pieces. When she reentered the room after he had given the sample, she would check the tape to see if the tap water had been run, and she would immediately take the temperature of the urine sample to ensure it did come from within Duncan's body.
The nurse handed Duncan the sample container after taping the faucets. He didn't take it.
“Have you ever heard of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States?” he asked.
The nurse eyed him suspiciously.
“The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. I consider this unreasonable. You have no probable cause.”
“Captain, I know you people don't like these tests. I think they're pretty silly myself, but I just follow the rules.”
“What about the Fifth Amendment? You know, the one that prohibits requiring an individual to testify against himself. Doesn't this amount to possibly testifying against oneself?”
“I've heard about the Fifth Amendment several times. Take the container and fill it, Captain.”
Duncan took a cab from the hospital to the Sheraton Hotel. Air Cargo International used the Hilton to house its crews. The Hilton was in the central part of downtown along with the other major hotels, except for the Sheraton, which was nearly a mile east of the others. He reasoned that the jumpseater wouldn't stay in an area where he might encounter his target accidentally. Duncan believed the man to be an agent, maybe CIA, maybe DEA, maybe a private contractor. It didn't matter much which; he had done his job.
During the cab ride, Duncan stowed his captain's hat, uniform coat, and shoulder epaulets in his luggage and donned a light jacket. Anchorage was a small town, and an airline captain registering at a hotel other than that used by his airline would be noticed. He also pulled a small pair of binoculars from his flight bag and slipped them in one of the jacket pockets.
Not wanting to be locatable for the time being, Duncan used an alias to register at the Sheraton and paid cash for one night. While filling out the registration slip, he put the binoculars on the counter.
“The guy sitting beside me on the flight here left these binoculars on his seat. He was out of the airplane too fast, and I didn't see him at the baggage return. He mentioned staying at a hotel but didn't say which one. He probably would have checked in half an hour or so ago.” Duncan went on to describe the jumpseater to the desk clerk.
“I don't recall anyone fitting that description,” the clerk said.
“Any chance someone else checked him in?”
“No, I've handled all check-ins this morning. We don't have many in the morning. You're only the third.”
Duncan thanked him, grabbed the binoculars, and went to his room. In the room, he took from his luggage one of the four bottles of different vitamins he regularly took. Selecting the smallest bottle, he emptied the tablets into one of the others, combining their contents. Filling the empty bottle with water, he capped and shook it. It didn't leak. Uncapping it, he rinsed it out three times with hot water, dried it, urinated in it, and recapped it. Stowing the urine sample in his luggage, he completed the change to street clothes and immediately took a cab to the airport.
He knew the chance of finding the jumpseater was small. Though Duncan considered himself to be a lucky man, a successful search was too much to hope for, but he had to try. He would watch all departing flights for the rest of the day ... and he would call Sam Devlin.
Duncan spent the time between departing flights calling all the lodgings listed in the Anchorage yellow pages. At each call he asked for the name the jumpseater had used for the flight; it had been recorded on the log sheet Duncan had signed. When told no one by the name had checked in, he then said that he might have the name wrong, but maybe the initials were right. Following that he would supply the description and use the binocular story. None of the calls produced a lead.
Approximately every hour Duncan placed a call to Sam Devlin. The first four calls were the same. Mr. Devlin was not available at the moment. Was there a number he could call when he became available? Duncan said each time that he would call back.
On the fifth call, Duncan was transferred to the Vice-President of Legal Affairs.
“Am I speaking to Duncan Harris?” the man asked.
“You are, put Sam Devlin on the line.”
“Mr. Devlin is unavailable. I have been authorized to inform you that your employment with Air Cargo International was terminated as of noon today. A registered letter to that effect is in the mail to the address listed for you on our records. You are hereby ordered to remand your Air Cargo International flight crew identification card, your company credit cards, and company supplied manuals immediately. Air Cargo International does not employ drug addicts, Mr. Harris. Your refusal to submit to a drug test indicates, in our opinion, that you have a serious drug abuse problem. We suggest you seek help. Good day, Mr. Harris.”
The man hung up without waiting for Duncan to respond.
The last flight departed at ten p.m. Duncan's efforts to locate the man who doped him had failed. He returned to his hotel room and lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling. He had spent a good part of his life in hotel rooms, but he had never felt so alone in one as he did this night ... and so defeated. Throughout his life his father had always been there for him when he lost battles, and, after he met Ellie, the cure for loneliness was only a phone call away. Today he had lost badly, and his father was gone. He was lonelier than he had ever been, and Ellie was gone. And the people who had taken his family had now taken his job and possibly his career. It would be hard to find another flying job with his last employer reporting they had fired him for drug abuse.
Duncan had worked for Air Cargo International longer than for any other employer, and as a professional, he had given them his all. He knew better than to expect loyalty in return from a company run by Sam Devlin, but the curtness and manner of his dismissal outraged him. In his mind he envisioned a roll of toilet paper. He pulled on the end, unrolling it slowly. The first perforated segment had DEA written on it in large letters. The second segment had CIA in equally large letters. And the third had Air Cargo International. The letters were smaller; they had to be to fit. He re-envisioned the third segment. It said ACI—in large letters.
Duncan rose, swinging his legs off the bed, and faced the large dresser mirror opposite him. One of those mirrors that he used to enjoy so much in his bachelor days. The face that stared back was no longer the face of those days, but he was a bachelor again, that is, if a widower was considered a bachelor. He shook off the thought and stood. Quit feeling sorry for yourself and get busy. You know what to do with toilet paper.
He looked at the phone in the room, decided against using it, and left the hotel searching for a pay phone. He found one two blocks away. While dialing the number, he thought it ironic that he who had known so many women before meeting Ellie was now calling two gays for comfort as well as to help plan a way to use this mess to his advantage.
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