'The Gull in Flight'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Stephanie 'Stevie' Garroch, 34, and Kelly Humber, 32, are lovers, film producers, and part-owners of Redoubtable Films Inc, a 'B' film Poverty Row movie studio located in Hollywood and New York in the 1930's. They travel from Hollywood to New York in their private aircraft.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2020 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional; and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Caution:— There is some swearing in this story.

—O—

The aircraft, as it sat on the scratched oily concrete outside hangar D on the Hollywood Aerodrome, looked new because it was, virtually anyway. The Percival Gull monoplane had only arrived on station, curtesy of a Company courier pilot, two days previously; this being the first time the new owners, Stephanie Garroch and Kelly Humber, film Producers, had set eyes on it.

"Wow, I like it." Kelly always first to appreciate something, if she truly did so.

"Yeah, its got class, I'll give it that." Stephanie always a tad more cautious in her tastes.

"Supposed to be easier to fly than the old Puss." Kelly referring to their last aircraft, now sold on. "Longer range, higher speed—think I'm gon'na like it a lot."

"Should cut down our flights between Hollywood an' NY by, oh, meb'be a whole day."

"I'm up for that, lover." Kelly always a creature of home comforts. "Save my butt dying on me, like it usually did in the Puss, after six bloody days."

"Right, let's get into it, an' see how she turns out—you first, doll."

"Har, thanks muchly."

They walked on over the hot concrete to where the plane sat in solitary splendour as a mechanic, fiddled with something on the engine cowling.

"What's up, Frank?"

"Hi, Miss Drever." Frank Jenkins revealing himself, as he turned, to be a few inches taller than Kelly, loose limbed, and dark haired with a pleasant expression. "Just tightening a plug, is all. What d'ya think of the gal, then?"

"So, this's a Percival Gull, eh." Stephanie giving the machine a hard scrutiny. "How does it shape up, against the old Puss, then?"

"The Puss Moth's tubular steel framework's covered with a wood skin; this Gull's got an all wood frame an' fabric skin; lightens the weight so much it more'n doubles the range. Low-wing, o'course, as opposed t'the Puss's high-wing; which gives better viewing all round." Frank showing he had recently boned up on the technicalities. "A few other odds an' ends, but that's the main difference. Cruise speed one hundred and twenty-five, range seven hundred miles. Oh, it's ceiling's over sixteen thou', now; cruising height meb'be ten t'twelve."

Kelly was impressed, studying the small aircraft with even more excited attention than previously.

"Our old Puss had to be pushed to reach seventeen thou', on the rare occasions we went that high; much happier around ten to twelve." She mused on the differences, scratching her chin. "Cruise speed's a trifle more, sure enough. What did you say, about the range?"

"The Puss could do three hundred miles on one tank." Frank breaking out into a wide grin as he delivered the good news. "This here Gull can do over seven hundred, easy, on the same amount of gas."

Both women raised their eyebrows simultaneously; this fact being of some moment to them, considering how they meant to use the aircraft.

"Worked out a route plan, yet?" Kelly always on the alert for the things that mattered.

"Yeah." Frank pulled a sheet of crumpled paper from one of the pockets of his oil-stained dungaree overalls; the ladies leaning over his shoulder as he opened it out. "I reckon, taking each step as most of a six hour stint in the air, you could make Hollywood to NY in four hops."

"God, that'd really cut our journey time." Kelly, again, with an eye for what mattered.

"Yeah." Frank tilting his short-brimmed hat as he studied his figures. "So, Hollywood to El Paso, El Paso to Wichita, Wichita to Indianapolis, Indianapolis to NY, makes the whole thing."

The new aircraft's owners immediately saw the benefits of this new timetable.

"A four day journey, instead of six, hell." Kelly grinning almost in ecstasy at the thought.

"Yeah, one run a day." Stephanie nodding in agreement. "Jeez, it'll be like a holiday jaunt, instead of a major odyssey; can't complain about that, eh, Kel?"

"With you all the way, dear." Kelly now looking at the monoplane almost as if in love with it.

"You'd have t'be, angel; seein' we'll be in the same cabin t'gether."

"Oh, very funny."

—O—

The aircraft, once airborne under Kelly's control, showed its paces to the delighted new owners. It could climb a trifle faster than the old Puss Moth; it's engine was more powerful; it responded far more lightly to the pilot's touch; and, of course, on long hauls it had more than twice the range of the Puss Moth: all in all, the ladies were more than satisfied.

"Wonderful; just wonderful." Stephanie relaxing enough to actually enjoy herself, for once.

On one side the yellow-brown landscape lay toy-like beneath them; on the other the deep blue of the ocean gleamed with reflected sunlight, sparkling like a bath of gems. At the moment they were flying at a height of some five thousand feet, just enough to put the aircraft through its paces without overdue strain or worry.

"Handles like a toy; much easier than the Puss." Kelly getting into the swing of things. "Feel like I could take this beauty all the way to the East Coast in one long swoop."

"Dream on, baby, dream on." Stephanie pouring cold water on this fantasy. "We'll need all of four days; and that's includin' changing over mid-flight."

As she spoke Stephanie sat on the side-seat, slightly out of alignment beside the pilot; but there was ample room, by sliding her seat backwards, to change places with the pilot given some agility and nice handiwork.

"Shall we change?"

Nodding her agreement Kelly levelled out, made sure everything was running smoothly then, as Stephanie slid her seat back almost behind the pilot's, Kelly slid out to crouch in front of her. Stephanie then slipped quickly to the left past Kelly to slide smoothly into the pilot's position with effortless proficiency.

Stephanie now put the plane through its paces, getting to know its movements, strengths, and those small changes in speed, engine power, or tightness of turn that meant all to a pilot with years of know-how behind her.

"She's a beaut." She nodded happily, wriggling into a comfortable position in the rather narrow, not very comfortable seat. "Next time I'll bring a coupl'a soft cushions; this seat's hard as concrete."

"Good idea." Kelly grinning as she looked around the cabin interior; smelling the fresh aroma of new leather, engine oil, faint whiffs of fuel, and a curious perfumy odor she finally put down to the wood varnish of the aircraft's frame and the fabric skin's dope.

"OK, better take her down, now." Stephanie heaving a sigh. "We got lots of preparation before our flight t'NY on Thursday."

"Try'n land without bouncing too many times, lover."

"Har-har-har." Stephanie shaking her head sadly at such an asinine attempt at humor.

—O—

There was only one problem in flying a small civil aircraft from Hollywood, Los Angeles straight east—the Mountain Coastal Ranges, some 8.000 feet in height, which happened to be more or less in the way. Heading slightly south for El Paso, then swinging nor-east for Wichita much further inland, would allow the fliers to avoid the greater mass of these mountains; and so their route was set.

It was going to be a long flight, the longest on their journey; so they had decided to do what they had earlier done when flying the Puss Moth, switch pilots halfway. Much experience in struggling past each other in confined spaces had allowed Stephanie and Kelly to refine this acrobatic performance down to a fine art any circus performer would have been proud of. Now, in the rather tight confines of the Gull's cabin they still found it far less effort than in the Puss. At the moment they were already two hours into the first stage of their long flight, and were just settling down.

"Mountains on one side, desert and the ocean on the other—who wouldn't love this?" Kelly waxing sarcastic, as she maintained an altitude around 8,000 feet, though they were nowhere near anything approaching that height. "Barren rocky wastes on one side, barren desert wastes on the other—Hooray for America."

Recognising the first signs of a tiring pilot Stephanie inwardly sighed.

"I still got the taste of Frank's coffee in my mouth, from Hollywood airfield, an' you're complainin' already?" She groaned melodramatically. "The best o'four more days t'go—Oh, God!"

"Idiot."

Stephanie had been looking out the starboard side-window at the ground below, and now found something to distract her and, hopefully, her exasperated pilot.

"Say, I can see a sedan stopped at the edge of that country road, down there." She making most of it up as she went along. "Are those figures, people, beside it? Wonder if they need help? Shall we land an' offer them succor, an' water; an', oh, I don't know, sardine sandwiches? Nothing like a sardine sandwich, when you're lost in the desert."

Kelly glanced sideways, as much as her position allowed.

"Stevie, how in hell've you caught sunstroke up here, in this cabin?" She shook her brunette locks in mock distress. "Down there in the desert, where that mythical sedan of yours is, there I could believe it—but here?"

"OK, OK, don't get riled; only tryin' t'ease the tension, is all."

"Lady, if you want to see real tension, wait till I get really angry—then you'll see real tension, baby."

Taking the safe route, before things escalated, Stephanie kept a politic silence for the next ten minutes, then—

"Where are we now?"

Kelly continued staring through her front windscreen, as if not having heard—then sighed softly, in the key of C Minor.

"We ain't in Los Angeles anymore, baby, if that's what you mean."

Stephanie, a little at sea, glanced across trying to catch a glimpse of her pilot's features—which, in fact, told her nothing.

"What d'ya mean? I only asked where the hell we were, is all. Can't a gal ask where she is, of a mornin', anymore?"

Annoyed by this perpetual carping Kelly gave in.

"We're about two hundred and seventy miles south of LA, about three hundred and fifty still to go before El Paso,—OK?"

Instead of answering Stephanie took a long view out her side-window. Then she shifted position to glance past Kelly out the port side-window. Both, however, appeared to have given her the same result.

"Dam' flat desert to starboard, dam' hilly desert to port. In fact, desert every-bloody-where. Dam' desert."

"What're you complaining about?" Kelly snuffling sarcastically almost under her breath. "We're up here, in a comfy plane; the desert's down there, safely out'ta our way—what's t'complain about, sis?"

An hour later it was cross-over time. This delicate operation, defined down to a fine art in their old Puss Moth, became something of an unexpected drama in the Gull; even though they had already done it safely once, on their earlier evaluation flight two days previously. Although there was a certain amount of free space to allow for the maneouvre the ladies' somehow found themselves in a mess. Wriggling to her right the tight belt on Kelly's short leather jacket got caught up in a fold of the abandoned safety-belt attached to the pilot's seat. Having slid her seat backwards slightly in preparation, Stephanie managed to lodge her right flat-shoe heel in the edge of a small metal strut running between the rear and front of the cabin. Each trying unsuccessfully to free themselves, whilst also attempting to move forward in their respective directions, all hell ensued as, caught individually, they became entangled with each other, too. The Gull, as if awaiting this splendid chance, took matters into its own hands.

"Jee-sus, what the hell're you doin', woman?" Kelly sprawled half-over the pilot's seat, but in entirely the wrong direction.

"Me? Fer f-ck's sake get out'ta my way, gal. What in hell're you doin'?" Stephanie as much entangled as her partner. "Jee-sus, the plane!"

The plane, indeed, seizing this opportune moment had set out towards pastures new; to be precise, those 8,000 feet below but now approaching the inmates of the aircraft at a rate of knots almost beyond computation.

"Jee-sus, get back in that dam' seat, Kel, an' get us out'ta this."

Kelly, attempting just this maneouvre, found herself between two seas.

"I am,—I can't. I mean—Jee-sus!"

Another twenty seconds or so—feeling to the two occupants of the rapidly descending aircraft more like two hours—finally found Kelly back in her pilot's position. Grasping the stick she went into emergency recovery mode, accompanied by as fine a spread of expletives as an LA taxi-driver would have been proud of. At last, groaning loudly as if herding a bunch of unruly Clydesdale horses, she brought the plane back onto an even keel.

"God-a'mighty!"

"Easy for you to say." Kelly recovering some of her normal high spirits, after the drama was over. "Look at me, I have t'fly this demon from Hell. Why'd you let it do that?"

Stephanie was struck dumb with astonishment at this remark.

"Me? Me?" She leaned across, being now back on her side-seat, to grab Kelly's jacket collar. "Me? You're the bloody pilot."

"Stop throttling me, will you?" Kelly wriggling her neck free. "Lem'me see what the hell I'm doing here. OK, we're back on the level but, lem'me see, yeah, we're down to four thousand feet; we'll need to gain height again, it being needed if we wan'na land at El Paso, and not head on into one of the surrounding mountains. Get me, babe?"

"Yeah, I get ya, just fly the bloody plane, gal."

"Hu-umph, lady saves lives by flying a plane like a heroine, an' all she gets in return is carping grumps."

"Fly the dam' plane."

"OK, OK, Jeez!"

—O—

Ten minutes later, tempers having cooled, the women finally changed places; this time slowly and carefully, like nannies' taking their mistresses' babies' prams for a stroll in the Park. After this change-over had been completed with all due delicacy things returned to more or less normal. As they flew on all that could be seen on the ground was a scrubby brown-tinted desert landscape, both to port and starboard.

"You can feel the extra power." Stephanie getting used to her new toy.

"Yeah, the bigger engine makes a difference." Kelly settling herself on the side-seat, then changing the subject entirely. "I could do with a nap round about now, you know?"

"Why don't ya?" Stephanie going along with this plan. "It'll be another three and a half hours before we reach El Paso."

As Kelly made herself comfortable Stephanie occupied herself taking note of the dials, meters, and switches on the dashboard and on her left and right sides, making herself aware of the layout of the controls. There were, in reality, only some eight dials; with the compass on its gimbals at knee-height just under the lower edge of the control panel, close behind the stick-control. All-in-all it still being a comparatively straight-forward aircraft to fly.

Just under four hours later on finally reaching their first staging-post, Stephanie took the plane over the surrounding sandy wastes, descending in a wide loop to land at the local airfield; an action she brought-off with grace and silky smoothness—Kelly not waking-up till the plane had taxied to a halt in front of hangar 3.

"What? What? We here?"

"We're certainly somewhere, ducks." Stephanie grinning widely as she finished switching things off. "Let's hope it's El Paso, Texas, an' not Seven Wells, Minnesota, population three, an' a donkey."

"Har-har-har."

As pre-arranged beforehand their personal mechanic was waiting on the concrete by the hangar, ready to take command of the Gull before Stephanie and Kelly went off to their motel room.

"Hi'ya Marty, how's things?"

"Fine, Miss Humber." The mechanic smiling at both, wiping his hands on his overalls preparatory to taking a much closer interest in the new aircraft. "Fine lookin' plane, ladies'."

"Sure is, Marty." Stephanie backing his appraisal with her personal experience. "Flies like a dream. You OK to take charge of it, now?"

"Yeah, I'll get the tractor an' haul it in the hangar." Marty nodded with professional understanding. "Give the engine the once-over, oil her up, an' what-not. She'll be good as new when you come back in the morning. Say, didn't know these Limey planes were sold over here."

"Oh, we bought it kind'a second-hand." Kelly ready and willing to tell the tale. "A rich Limey brought it over by cargo-ship, in pieces. The plane, I mean, not the ship, ha-ha. But he found he didn't like it; flying it, that is, in American situations, so we took it off his hands, at half-price."

"You made a good deal there, ma'am. I'll get on with refueling her, then."

"OK, see ya."

Round the side of the hangar the Ford model AA 1.5 ton flatbed truck belonging to Redoubtable Films Inc., awaited its owners appearance. Originally a bright blue the cab and hood had weathered to a dingy grey, though still in good condition. Stephanie having flown the last stage in the Gull, Kelly sat behind the wheel for the short run out to the Harrigan Motel where their pre-ordered room awaited the tired aviators. They had made this run on many occasions in the past, so knew exactly what was required, as did the owners of the motel. Kelly rolled the truck up to the door of cabin eleven, Miss Gerard was there with the key, and ten minutes later the ladies were settled-in as if having lived there all their lives.

—O—

"Where's the soap?"

"On the side of the basin, ain't it?"

Kelly, wholly in a state of nature, scanned the small bathroom unavailingly.

"No, it isn't."

"Well, look around, must be there som'mers."

Kelly sighed softly; so much for lovers ready to spring to a girl's help at a moment's notice.

"Ah, got it—in the cabinet by the door."

"Well, hurry up; I wan'na bath, too, ya know."

"God, I ain't got my toe wet, yet." Kelly groaning loudly over the sound of the hot-water tap at full flow. "Gim'me a chance."

"Iiirph."

While Stephanie waited her turn in the tub she relaxed on the sofa, idly scanning the local news-rag, The El Paso Daily Scout. The front page was almost entirely given up to the present City Hall election shenanigans; which offered juicy, fruity, and entirely tasteless exposés of the high and mighty doing things, allegedly, of a very down-to-earth nature—not all with members of the opposite sex or same race. Stephanie settled in for a good ration of the news that wasn't news; but, golly, was dam' entertaining all the same.

"He didn't! God, seems he might'a. She never! Good Grief, if she did she's out'ta the game, first strike. What's this? He couldn't of—no, surely even he wouldn't a'done that, with him, there?" She read on compulsively. "God, he did! I'll be dam'med. El Paso's a dam' hotbed o'scandal, sordidness, an' downright moral nastiness across the board. Better not let Kel see this; she'll only wan'na up stakes an' come t'live here, is all."

"Stevie!"

"What? I'm reading the news here, babe; hurry up."

"Stevie!"

"God! What?"

"Where's the towel?"

This remark irritated Stephanie no end; after all, what had Kel's towel to do with her?

"Who cares?"

A pause ensued, while the bathing beauty absorbed this unhelpful answer to her over-riding need.

"Stevie! Where the dam's my towel? And make it snappy, lady."

"God!"

Stephanie, pushed beyond endurance, rose, flung the newspaper on the floor and stalked into the bathroom, now filled with steam thick as a morning smog in San Fran.

"First thing, where the hell are ya?"

"In the tub, you idiot."

"An' what's that white fluffy thing lyin' folded on the shelf behind your head?"

Kelly squirmed around, water splashing everywhere, to get a closer look behind her reclining form.

"Oh, great; well done, dear. You can go back to your newspaper now."

"Aa-uurth."

Ten minutes later Kelly sashayed into the living-room, wrapped in a mid-blue ankle length cotton robe, rubbing her short brunette hair with the offending towel.

"God, I needed that. I pulled the plug, darling. You can go an' splash around to your heart's content, now. I'm easy."

"Thanks mightily, I'm sure. Another towel somewhere's?"

"Couldn't say,—probably."

Resigned to the inevitable Stephanie spent the next five minutes searching the room and bedroom, before discovering another towel at the back of the bedroom wardrobe. Having kept a pithy comment on the use of lovers who had no sense of comradeship towards their better half's to herself, Stephanie took control of the bathroom, twisted the hot tap, and spent the time in waiting for the tub to fill by disrobing, throwing her clothes higglety-pigglety on the wooden-backed chair. Then, the glorious delight of sinking softly and slowly into the warm water and floral-scented soapy suds.

"Aa-aah! God, at last. Sweet."

—O—

The next morning, sharp at 10.00am, the ladies' were on the dry and dusty grey concrete of El Paso's airfield once more, raring to continue their odyssey.

"How's she doin', Marty?"

"All shipshape, Miss Garroch." Marty wiping his hands with an oily rag which did nothing at all in the cleansing line, it being more of a re-distribution process. "Fueled, oiled, water in the tank, bit of a wash-down—all ready t'go, Miss."

Fifteen minutes later they were airborne once again, another long flight ahead of them, though marginally shorter than their first stage.

"How far t'Wichita?"

Nodding at her partner's question Kelly, comfortably ensconced beside her pilot, unfolded her map and set-to doing the navigator thing.

"Wait—wait—er, is this—no—no, er—"

"Fer God's sake!"

"OK-OK, gim'me a chance, this dam' map's pretty much all desert." Kelly firing back ruthlessly. "OK, got it—let's see-OK—"

"God!"

"What's with the impatience; we've only just started—another five hours to go, you know—calm down, dear."

"Jeez! How far?"

"OK-OK, I'm on it. Six hundred and sixty miles—well, six hundred and sixty-one, if you want to be exactly exact." Kelly sensing the chance for a speck of sarcastic back-chat. "Do you want to be exactly exact, lover?"

Ignoring this idle impertinence with all the grace of Marie Antoinette on one of her more nose-in-the-air days Stephanie jiggled the stick, glanced out her port side-window, acknowledged privately her partner was right about there only being desert, or at least flat grassland, in all directions below, and settled back for a long stint.

But the peace and quiet in the small cabin didn't last long.

"Say, thought it was all desert, according to this map." Kelly waking up to reality a trifle late. "But looking out here it's all grass. Grass, as far as the eye can see; and seeing we're at, what is it, four thousand feet, I can see a dam' long way."

"So what?" Stephanie having no interest in her partner's burblings.

"Only saying; never knew there was so much grass in the country's all." Kelly, realising her audience was inattentive to put it kindly, wrinkled her nose and settled back into silence once more.

Flying at a constant altitude, at a constant speed, in a constant direction, in calm weather, can finally play tricks on a pilot's eyes, as well as mind. Such, an hour later, was the case with Stephanie.

"What's up, Stevie?"

"What? Wha' d'ya mean? I'm flying easy; have been since leaving El Paso."

"No you ain't." Kelly quite clear on this point. "We were at a nice four thousand; but now you've been gradually descending for the last ten minutes. We're at three thousand now, and still going down."

Stephanie, curious at her partner's mumblings, condescended to look at her altimeter and gasped at the reading.

"Jee-sus! How'd we get this low? I've been flying even for the last hour, certain."

Kelly, an experienced pilot herself, had figured out the problem, however.

"You're in a repeating pattern, lover." This was somewhat technical, but its physical effect was all to see. "Those square, and some circular grass fields down there—all over the whole visible landscape, in fact—are making you think you're higher than we are. You're over-compensating by gradually descending. It's an illusion; we need to get back to four thousand quick as you like. Do you want to change places? Take a break for half an hour? I think you should."

Never one to disregard kindly advice, especially when offered by the one she loved, Stephanie nodded silently. Five minutes later they had changed places and Stephanie was slumped in the side-seat, trying to assess her internal state.

"Close your eyes for a while, lover." Kelly settling behind the stick, taking note of the instrument readings. "You'll feel better in half an hour."

"Figure I will, ducks." Stephanie, still somewhat agitated by her near miss with a dangerous situation, nodded acknowledgment, pushing a small cushion under her head. "Gim'me a call in thirty, OK?"

"Sure thing, lover."

—O—

Five hours later, after a midway change of pilots as planned—Stephanie having fully recovered from her earlier escapade—they were in the final approach to Wichita, Kansas; they having made sure no more illusions of ground distance would occur over the highly geometrical nature of the landscape below by climbing to seven thousand feet and establishing, by frequent glances at the altimeter, they stayed there.

"At least we don't need to bother about nearby mountains or hills; it's flat as a pancake for miles in every direction." Stephanie, back on the side-seat again, nodding satisfactorily. "Figure even you can land here, babe."

"Very funny." Kelly letting this one go, considering the last few hours. "Right, here it is, Wichita Grand International Airport—hang on to your hat."

"Clown, it's a grass strip, an' a coupl'a sheds." Stephanie having none of this foolishness. "International Airport, that's all my eye an' Betty Martin."

"Who knows what the future might bring?" Kelly looking perhaps too far into the same.

"Har—Wichita? Don't make me laugh—just land the dam' plane, lady."

An hour later saw the intrepid explorers in yet another motel, this time the Golden Mine of that ilk; where they went through the same course of action echoed back in El Paso, with only minor variations to the main theme.

The atmosphere in the tiny bathroom was thick as a London pea soup fog; Kelly liking her baths to be hot and steamy, in the wholly physical sense.

"Stevie!"

"What the hell!"

"Stevie!"

"Yeah, I hear ya. What?"

"Where's the soap?"

Sighing crossly Stephanie laid down the copy of the Wichita Daily News which had engrossed her attention for the last ten minutes; duty calling, not merely in the metaphysical sense.

"Jeez—soap?,—at the side o'the bath, surely."

She opened the bathroom door and nearly reeled back at the hot sticky steam cloud which hit her in the face like a warm wet towel.

"God A'mighty! Could ya get it any hotter in here. Like the g-dd-m ante-chamber t'you know where. What?"

Kelly, lying full-length in the bath—but, sadly, mostly concealed by the foamy suds she had whipped-up via some very floral-scented bath salts—waved a wet arm in the air, splashing her inamorata across her front in doing so.

"I forgot to look, dear. Be nice, and take a gander round the joint, will you?"

"God!" Stephanie grabbing the large towel hanging on a hook to try to dry her wet blouse and face. "Any wetter an' I may as well join ya. D'ya mind keeping your hands t'yourself, OK?"

"The soap, darling." Kelly never losing sight of the important details.

"God!"

But, carried forward by simple love, Stephanie took a short trip round the bathroom, eyeing all the likely corners where a bar of soap might be hiding from its lawful duties in time of need. Then she turned to give the inmate of the bath itself a studied look.

"Kel?"

"Yeah, found it?"

"Sure have, ducks."

"Well, hand it over; some of us need to wash the dirt off—quick as you like, lover."

"Kel?"

Sensing something out of the ordinary Kelly pushed her back up against the rear of the bath, to get a clearer view of her partner standing over her, like the Statue of Liberty over the Harbor.

"What's up, lady? Thought you said you'd found the dam' soap?"

For reply Stephanie bent slowly forward, extending her hand across the width of the bath and the soapsuds to the wide side shelf running alongside the wall there. In a small porcelain dish she picked up something pearly-white and rectangular, waving it front of her companion's moisture-beaded face.

"Kel, darling; love of my life, but God knows why, if this here ain't a bar of soap then the world's comin' to an end, is all. Sitting on the shelf in easy reach of any ordinary sensible intelligent clear-headed dame who wanted it; but you, lady—God! Bet ya has trouble walkin' an' chewin' gum at the same time, don't ya? Here, take your dam' soap; now can I get back t'the Wichita News, any time soon?"

Feeling that, helpful as her lover had definitely been, some level of salutary discipline was sadly needed in the circumstances, Kelly took the offered bar of soap with one hand while jerking her other arm out of the bath at full speed, this time thoroughly swamping her lover's face and clothes in warm water from head to waist.

"Hee-hee-hee!"

"Aa-aargh, that's it!"

Incensed by this regal disdain for her helpfulness Stephanie, now wholly disregarding her own state, grabbed the offending bare arm of her attacker, bending down to administer condign punishment. A punishment, curiously, that instead of eliciting squeals of pain or anger, filled the steamy bathroom with a series of giggles and shrieks of delight. The exact details of precisely how this transformation was brought about may well be left to the imagination, than given the mercilessly glaring light of publicity; some things being, by their very nature, entirely private activities.

"Ee-oowch—can't believe you did that, lover!"

"Hu-uur!"

—O—

The third stage of the ladies' epic journey,—from Wichita, Kansas to Indianapolis, Indiana,—was the shortest of the whole flight, but by no means the easiest. The intervening terrain below, across the entire stage, being mostly flat farmland or forest with no large mountain ranges, all the fliers' needed to do was pick a comfortable altitude and speed and keep both constant; but of course Kelly, she taking the first spell as pilot, had to needlessly nit-pick at the details.

"What's the top speed for this thing? One forty-five? I'm only saying we might, at least, try for one-forty? What's to lose?"

Stephanie on the other hand, ensconced on her tight uncomfortable side-seat not quite in line with her companion, was having none of it.

"One twenty-five's good enough for me, ducks. I ain't got any relish t'equal the record-breakers; this's only a little homely jaunt from one place t'another, is all. We ain't tryin' t'cross the Atlantic; at least, I hope you're not; we ain't got enough gas."

"Har-dy-har-har, lady o'my heart."

"So there."

Five minutes of silence, then the pilot could contain herself no longer.

"And here we are, flying so low I can read the print on the newspaper that man's reading sitting on the back of that open truck down there; what is it?, four thou' below? Why can't you let me take this beautiful bird up into the clouds—say ten thou'?"

"Because there ain't no mountains high enough, ter annoy us, that is, for the whole journey to Indianapolis, is why." Stephanie sure of her position vis-à-vis altitude concerns. "Four thou's nice an' comfy, an' four thou's where we're stayin', gal; so bite on it."

"Rr-rrph."

But after a few more minutes, as in all classic idylls, reality kicked-in at the most unwanted moment.

Ra-aaor—Ra-aar.

Before either Kelly or Stephanie could react two biplanes had dropped out of nowhere to align themselves only some ten yards from each wingtip.

"What the hell!"

"Looks like the dam' Air Corps." Stephanie putting into words what was obvious to the eye.

"Bright blue fuselages, and yellow wings and tail?" Kelly made a rude noise. "Couldn't be anything other than the dam' American Air Corps, lover. What do they want, do you suppose?"

"If I was telepathic I'd tell ya, my beauty."

"Ho-ho."

As quickly as they had appeared the two open cockpit aircraft rolled away out of sight; their duty, whatever it may have been, obviously done.

"Well, that was entertaining."

"Bully for the Air Corps." Stephanie waxing somewhat more sarcastic than the event warranted. "Always there when ya need 'em; an' often when ya don't, too."

Kelly, not being a fool, kept a politic silence; concentrating on flying the Gull in a respectable and lawful manner, just in case.

—O—

The terrain surrounding Indianapolis, Indiana, was mostly flat grassland, ideal for cattle, sheep, goats, and others of their kin. No particularly high mountain ranges and a nice grass airfield on the outskirts of the main conurbation. So easy and quiet, indeed, was everything that Stephanie on landing managed to bounce the machine three times before rolling to a halt. So obvious was this amateur accident that the airfield's red fire engine thought it useful to turn up; enquiring heads of the firefighters hanging from every window with interested expressions under their helmets.

"You OK, bust—er, lady?"

Feeling embarrassed beyond endurance Stephanie merely nodded; then when a firefighter climbed out his vehicle and ambled over she finally slid her side-window open to engage in conversation.

"Just a little hard landin's all. No sweat."

"From where we saw ya come in it looked mighty like, fer a moment, you were about t'take a nose-dive right in'ta the grass." The man, in his forties and clearly of great experience in the matter, spat sideways and nodded knowingly to himself. "Saw it happen a'fore; you were lucky, an' no mistake. Got much experience flying these new monoplanes, have ya? Don't recognise this type."

Having clambered out the off-side of the plane Kelly came round the nose to stand by the man, something very like a smirk embracing her features.

"Don't worry, bouncy landings' are her specialty." She carrying on this outrageous slander with the air of an innocent. "I'm the expert; she's the learner—but I'll have her shipshape and Bristol fashion in another two or three flights. Thanks, anyway."

As the man returned to his engine, shaking his head to his compatriots watching there, Stephanie regained the capability of speech, leaning out the window to engage with her paramour.

"Figure I know what state o'mind Bonnie Parker of late memory must'a had—battery, blood, an' the necessity o'gettin' even at all costs, some spiteful." She bared teeth in something not anywhere near a gentle smile. "You wan'na not sleep on the bare floorboards this comin' evenin', baby, you're gon'na have'ta come up with some mighty extensive accommodatin' turns a'fore I thinks you're really as sorry as ya ought'a be, lady."

"Oh, come off it, Stevie." Kelly not in the least concerned by this threat. "Everyone an' their Uncle knows you haven't a spiteful muscle in your entire body. Half an hour from now, you'll be so kissy-kissy Mata Hari'd be jealous, and you know it."

Stumped at the first hurdle with her pretence at being hard Stephanie gave up with a grunt. Then something else arrived to take their minds off Stephanie's somewhat dodgy landing.

"Hi-ya, ladies'."

The woman so addressing them came up from the distant airfield main office. She was young, medium height, light brown hair in long curling waves to her shoulders, and a round face at the moment beautified by a wide friendly grin.

"Patrice Edwards; your new second-rank star, ready, willing, and here on the stroke of, whatever time it is." Her speech had a soft Mid-Western tone to go with her free and easy attitude. "Saw your landing—bit dramatic, I thought. You do that often? Hope you're a bit more, I don't know, smooth when you take me t'NY. Had a good flight so far?"

Stephanie looked at Kelly, who returned the compliment; then Stephanie pulled her head back into the privacy of the cabin, leaving her comrade to take care of the help.

"Yeah, don't worry; just one of those things, is all." Kelly making up whatever apologies came to mind. "She's, Stephanie that is, a great pilot; it's just this new plane takes a bit of getting used to, after biplanes. You got all your gear? Hope you haven't brought much, not much space for luggage on the Gull, you know."

"Just a coupl'a handbags an' a small suitcase." Patrice gazed at the aircraft as Stephanie came round the nose to join them. "Ain't never been in a monoplane before. In fact, I've only ever flown twice before—in a biplane."

"You'll enjoy the comfort of this Gull, then." Stephanie having regained her high spirits. "Nice to have you on the payroll, Patrice. Lookin' forward to the movie, in NY?"

"Yeah, can't wait." Patrice grinning even wider than previously. "Only ever been to NY as a young kid, to Coney Island for a few days a long time ago. Suppose it's changed since then."

"When was then, then?" Kelly always up for the gossip.

"Oh, must be all of ten years ago, now—ancient history, you know."

As both Kelly and Stephanie had started out in movies in the good old silent era; when hardly anyone knew how to operate a movie camera, and many audiences paid with empty pop bottles, the ladies' gazed at each other again; this time sympathetically.

"Yeah, Time sure does fly by when ya ain't lookin', don't it."

Stephanie's words were delivered in a tone Patrice didn't take note of; but which Kelly easily recognised as that of the Blues reflecting on remembrances of times long past.

"Come on, we've already arranged for a couple of rooms at a nearby hotel." Kelly taking Patrice's arm as the trio made for the border of the airfield. "Look, Stevie, here comes Charlie, to see to the plane."

"You two go on ahead." Stephanie slowing down to meet the approaching mechanic. "I wan'na take a quick shufti at the engine; see it didn't take umbrage at my landing, won't be far behind ya."

"OK, come on, Patrice." Kelly smiling broadly as she aimed the new young actress in the direction of the main office. "I'll sign the incoming-book, then we'll be free to grab the Redoubtable Films truck that's awaiting us. We'll be huddled-up in our hotel rooms like bugs in a rug by the time Stevie shows up. At least we'll all be able to have a slap-up meal in the hotel restaurant, later. I'm looking forward to that."

"Sounds great. Any idea of what the menu's got to offer?"

"I'm having roast chicken an' asparagus; you an' Stevie can make your own choice; it being Liberty Hall, and all."

"Ha!"

—O—

The Percival Gull was built to carry a pilot and two passengers; one of whom might be titled the co-pilot; the third person sitting on a single-seat to the rear. Boarding, therefore, had to go to a strict routine; the pilot squeezed into their forward seat, the passenger crawled across the folded down co-pilot's seat to reach their single seat on the port side, then the co-pilot folded back the rear of their seat and sat thereon—this being off-set to both the pilot and passenger. It could be said the passenger sat behind the pilot, though at some distance, the co-pilot in-between though sitting off to the right of both. All this in a small cabin which, on being experienced, allowed those therein to understand exactly how sardines in a can felt.

An hour into the last leg of the long journey Patrice, probably through boredom, started asking questions.

"What's our flight-plan? I don't know how long we'll be in the air, either?"

"Oh, it's a six hundred and forty mile odd trip." Kelly always happy to share technical details with anyone within range. "Just over five hours; Stevie and I'll be changing places halfway; so don't be concerned when we start the gymnastic display, we know what we're doing. Don't we, lady?"

"Ho-ho, take no note of the co-pilot, Patrice, she's an amateur."

"Anyways," Kelly ignoring stray jibes from the gods. "we'll overfly Columbus, Ohio, then fly south of Pittsburgh; heading some north of east. After that it'll be a straight run over the Pennsylvania forests to NY."

"Do we have to fly high? Any big mountains in the way?"

"Nah, nothing to take note of." Kelly reassured the tyro passenger in quiet tones. "We're at six thou' right now; when I take over from Stevie I'll gain height to eight thou'; that'll keep us right till we reach Newark airfield."

"Some way's out'ta the city, ain't it?"

"We'll have a Redoubtable Films truck on hand, ready for our convenience." Kelly knowing this through having made the arrangements in person over the telephone some three days earlier. "We'll all be in NY, in comfortable hotel rooms, before you can sneeze, after landing."

Another hour passed, it now being within half an hour of the pilots' switch-over; then something happened consequent to their approaching busier airspace than usual.

Rwaaa-aaaor.

Out of nowhere, there only being a light dusting of small clouds sailing along a thousand feet above the Gull, a large biplane zoomed across the monoplane's bows, apparently within a hundred yards of them. As quickly as it had appeared it disappeared once more, leaving the occupants of the Gull in a state of shock, fear, and anxiety.

"What the f-ck!" Kelly nearly staggered into silence.

"F-ck!" Stephanie immediately taking evading action by violently side-slipping the plane to port.

"Aaa-gh!" From Patrice, who was simply scared witless by the unexpected incident.

A minute later Stephanie had righted the aircraft, regained her former height, and was headed back on course; consulting the compass on its gimballed stand at knee height under the lower edge of the control panel, just behind the stick control.

"What was it? Where'd it come from?" Patrice having regained control of herself.

"Looked big enough t'be a bloody Handley-Page Forty-Two." Stephanie giving her opinion based on the one second view she had managed to glimpse of the intruder.

"Something like, certainly." Kelly backing up her pilot's opinion, with her own. "They must'a been dam' blind, on board."

"What're we going to do?" Patrice still all a'quiver.

"Nothing—nothing to do." Kelly shrugging disconsolately. "Did we get a clear identification? No, we didn't. Did we get its number? No, we didn't. Do we know which company it belongs to? No, we dam' well don't. End result—no further action, far as the authorities'll tell us."

"Well, that's a fat lot'ta good, I must say." Patrice outraged by real life.

"Huh!" Stephanie shuffling about to get back into at least a suggestion of comfort on her small hard seat. "Welcome to commercial flying in the good ol' US of A, darling."

—O—

The airfield at Newark, on landing, was relatively quiet; allowing Stephanie and Kelly to go through the usual official necessities quicker than normal. Half an hour after handing the Gull over to the capable hands of a tested group of mechanics hired by the Studio the three ladies sat in the smoothly curved stylish four door Ford sedan rented by the New York office of Redoubtable Films for the use and comfort of those of its employees who mattered. Just over an hour after this all three arrived at the Donnington Regal Hotel, in downtown Manhattan, where rooms awaited their presence. Later, after a wash and brush-up for all concerned—Kelly managing this time to take a bath unhindered by extraneous problems—they all met in the luxurious dining-saloon, attended by waiters in uniform.

"What'cha feel like chewin' on, darlin'?" Stephanie addressing her other half with a light fancy.

"Hah! Roast duck, asparagus, an' mashed potatoes." Kelly knowing exactly what she most required of life at this particular moment.

"You, Patrice?"

"Think I'll have a steak, easy done, an' French fries."

"A classic." Stephanie grinning widely. "What's on the wine list, ducks?"

Kelly pored over this most important matter with frowning brow.

"Come on, hurry it up; they'll be closing soon."

"Huurph, stand back and gim'me a chance." Kelly not put out in the least by her partner's antics. "OK, the Reisling looks good; you OK for the Reisling, Patrice?"

"Not being a connoisseur I'll take anything, as long as it's wet an' alcoholic."

"Ha-ha, a lady after my own heart." Stephanie tickled pink by this light-hearted outlook on life. "OK, Kel, grab that waiter before he passes by; let's get this show on the road."

"Gawd."

The End

—O—

The next 'Redoubtable Films' story will be along shortly.

—OOO—