A Seedy Dive - Short Story
9th August 2014
“… and another one of whatever this guy is drinking.”
I was startled from my personal reveries…
I say ‘reveries’. What I really mean is my musings re: underpants and the lack-there-of on cartoon animals.
What ever they were I was startled from them by a tall fellow decked out like some sort of military bookkeeper.
“Thanks.” I muttered, then, upon hearing how unenthused I sounded, tried again.
“Thanks so much”, I verbally oversteered.
I tried to reel myself in so that I sounded a little more like a normal human being, though in hindsight it may not have been necessary being that he was the guy in the charcoal three piece buying a complete stranger a welcome pint of Stella Artois.
“Celebrating something?” I asked.
His head nodded with self-satisfaction looking not unlike a recently vacated rocking chair.
“I just closed a big case and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.”
“A case? You an MP?”
“Military police? No. I work for the commercial air carriers. I’m a safety investigator.”
“So what was the case?”
He bit his bottom lip with his top teeth and sucked air in under the pretence of deciding whether he should say or not. We both knew what was coming but there’s always a dance to this type of thing.
“Okay. Totally off the record, but here’s what happened. When you’re flying anything the size of a 737 or bigger there are certain limitations for what you’re allowed to do to them. If you pitch it forward further than 8%, or bank it further than 18% it’s got to be sent through to our office for review.”
“What happens if it goes beyond those limits?” I asked.
“Nothing. The tolerance on these things is amazing, but the passengers get freaked out. Anyhow, back in 2006 a pilot by the name of Jones has an incident. Wind sheer. We’re good at avoiding them these days but not perfect. Anyway, they’re on approach in an airbus 747 and a microburst pops out of nowhere and the whole jet drops 400 feet in a matter of seconds. He’s got plenty of space but it gives everyone a nice scare including the stewardesses. If you’re in turbulence and you want to know whether to panic or not, watch the face of the flight crew. If they don’t panic, then you don’t need to either. If they scream...”
He raised his thick eyebrows like his face was the castle that protected the joke and he was allowing me inside.
“So the plane was okay?”
“Yeah. He recovered almost immediately. Dropped the bird dead centre on the tarmac. We took a look and radar indicated it was definitely a microburst. Case closed.”
“It doesn’t end there” I surmised from his eager grin.
“Well spotted. Less than a year later we’ve got another incident with the same model of plane. Airbus 747. LAX to Miami. Thirty minutes before descent the entire plane drops into a dive. Ten degree pitch. The pilot pulls it out of the dive. Plane lands. Everyone is shaken but otherwise fine. My guys come in and can’t find the problem. We go over it with a fine toothed comb. The plane is fine. I submit my report. It goes down as an aberration.”
“I’m just getting started”, he takes a mouthful of scotch.
“Two years later it happens again. Plane drops, the pilot recovers. A handful of minor injuries and one thing linking them all together."
“Jones. He’s the pilot on all three incidents.”
“Is that normal?”
“Lord no. I mean, statistically there has to be one pilot that this happens to. His buddies started calling him Horseshoe.”
I cocked my head.
“Because he was unlucky” he clarified.
I was under the impression that horseshoes were lucky rather than the reverse but I let him continue.
“It happens a fourth time and we get him into the simulator. We’ve ruled out mechanical fault so it must be a problem with the pilot. But he aces every issue we throw at him. Jones has over 12000 hours under his belt. He knows what he’s doing. It’s not mechanical and it’s not pilot error."
“So what did you do?”
"I looked at the logs and Jones does a lot of cargo runs. He’s never had an incident running cargo. I then go through the logs and find the co-pilots. The first guy, he backs up the story. Micro-burst. The second guy can’t help. He was in the bathroom while this all happened. So was the third. And the fourth.”
“They were ALL in the bathroom?”
“Each time. Jones was alone every time the problem occurred. What does that make you think?”
“I think he’s doing something he shouldn’t be when his co-pilot is absent”
“That’s what I figured, so I get special permission to rig his flight decks with a camera. It takes a while. Two more incidents but in cabins that didn’t have the hidden cameras. Finally I get him.”
He smiled a wide grin like a labrador locked in a biscuit factory.
“He was doing it on purpose”, he whispered.
“You ever been in a bad landing?”
“Yeah,” I said “I landed in a bad storm in New Orleans once."
“You remember what happened when the wheels hit the ground?”
“We bounced around a bit and one of the overhead bins jumped open dropping backpacks and duty free booze all over the floor.”
“Did anyone clap?”
“YEAH! Everyone burst into applause. People even cheered.”
“I confronted Jones and he sits there and looks shifty. He lowers his eyes like he can’t even bare to say it, but then he says, real quiet, that he always wanted to be a comedian. I can’t figure out where he’s headed so I just keep my mouth shut. He says he’s never got a round of applause like that first time he landed the jet after the microburst.”
The pieces dropped into place.
“He wanted acclaim?”
“And the best way to do that was to force the jet into an emergency situation and then save them all”.
“That’s what the judge said. He’s been suspended and received a massive fine. And you know the worst part? It was a closed court, so I didn’t get one pat on the back.”
He smiled a wry smile and took another mouthful from his glass. I put my beer down and gave him a slow, sincere round of applause. He looked up startled and chuckled. He finished his Scotch and gave me a wink.
“Thanks. That means a lot.”
He patted me on the shoulder and made his way to the exit.
“Thanks for the beer” I called after him.
“Another?” asked the bartender.
"This guy just told me an amazing story" I responded.
“Did you applaud him at the end of it?”
I looked at him in confusion.
“They always do that” he scoffed, and poured me another beer.
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