A Crowdsourced Novel
Read it here – Say what comes next.
The aircraft radio crackled in Frank’s headset, “Three-Six-Victor, do you copy?”
Frank keyed the mike. “Three-six Victor. Negative 140 knots. Request vectors to Joliet.” He knew Midway got busy in bad weather. The heat of the city kept the ceiling high and everybody declared it as an alternate. Control would be happy to get him out of the way.
“Three-Six-Victor, new heading Two-Two-Zero. Maintain altitude.” Frank obeyed, gently bringing the bucking airplane around in the jarring turbulence of the storm.
Over the intercom: “Listen to me, Roya, I don’t want to go to Midway. I don’t know how much fuel we’ve got and Joliet’s close. But it’s a non-precision approach and this weather’s really bad. That’s on the negative side. On the other hand, the VOR is only 6 miles from the airport so we’ll probably come close to the runway. That’s on the positive side. There’s not much tall and hard stuff to hit and that’s in our favor. Runway 13 is long enough for a sloppy landing with lots of grass on both sides and that’s in our favor, too. But we gotta see the runway to land on it and I’ll have to bust minimums to do that. It’s dangerous. It’s illegal. There’s no tower there watching us, so I won’t get my wrist slapped, but if I make a mistake, we’ll be dead. You willing to chance it?”
Roya crossed her arms and grabbed her shoulders with her fingertips. She closed her eyes. “Uomo Grasso’s goons are waiting at Midway. If we land here, we’re dead. I want to meet that bastard on my own terms.”
“Good girl. I’ve been to Joliet a few times. It’s a quiet little place. Lots of abandoned tie-downs growing cobwebs. Runway needs paint. If we manage to put it down in this weather, we’ll be the only ones there.”
She planted a kiss on his neck. Frank’s skin tingled and he felt a new confidence.
* * *
The fingerprints of Tony Ferragamo, alias Frank Speck, didn’t match the prints on the murder weapon. Those prints belonged to Frank Smith—a real Frank Smith. Agent Harris ran a thick hand across his face. Both these suspects had service backgrounds—one a grunt in the Air Force, the other a pilot. Their faces looked alike. Why did an Air Force pilot shoot a truck driver? What was coming off here?
He decided to let local law enforcement hunt down Smith while his boys took on Ferragamo. So many Smiths in the country. Let the locals deal with that.
* * *
Tony Ferragamo, alias Frank Speck, alias Frank Smith answered his cell phone. “Yeah?”
“It’s Bill.” His contact at the FAA. “That Cessna is bound for Chicago Midway.” The connection went dead.
It would take Tony four hours to drive to Midway. The plane was probably on the ground. Uomo Grasso would already have them. Tony had a lot of connections in Chi-Town. He knew it like the back of his hand. And he knew where to find Uomo Grasso, that fat SOB.
* * *
Frank counted the time on his watch and pushed it down to 300 feet before he broke out of the clouds. He made it a quarter mile visibility in heavy rain, but the runway lights glowed through the gloom at his right as he flew past the runway. Missed it. He made a tight circle around the strip and planted it on the ground. Roya let out a cheer as he switched off the radios and taxied to the rows of planes in the grass. “We’ll tie it down as if it belongs here. With luck, nobody will spot these two bodies for days.” He popped his door and scrambled out, sheltered from the driving rain by the wing.
Frank waited until Roya finally climbed out of the plane. Her bulging purse hung from her shoulder.
“You go through their pockets, too?”
She smiled. “Let’s go.”
“First I want to tie this thing down. That way it might not get spotted so fast.”
By the time they reached the parking area, Frank was soaked right through his suit. He shivered. Looked at Roya. Looked again—a long look.
She glared back at him. “I told you to keep your eyes on business.” She slowly slipped a long flat piece of steel from the waistband of her jeans—a Slim Jim. She slipped it between the window and door of a new-looking red car with black racing stripes.
“Don’t you want something more inconspicuous?”
She tossed her head, then finger-combed wet hair from her face. “I always wanted a Mustang. Don’t you want a Mustang, Frank?”
She climbed behind the wheel and he took his place in the passenger seat. Within seconds she had the car started, then faced him. “Where’s a hotel?”
“There’s one three miles down the road. Turn left here.”
In less than five minutes, Roya pulled up to the entrance. “Here’s one of their credit cards. Check us in, Frank. I’ll wait here.”
Frank glanced at the card. “Luigi Gastroni.” Remarkable—he’d picked that name as a joke. At the desk, he handed the card to a boy who took a hard look at Frank’s wet, filthy suit. “We only got one room. Queen.”
“I need two rooms and laundry.”
The boy tapped computer keys and turned back to Frank. “Sorry mister, Gastroni. Laundry’s no problem but just one queen left. I gotta take an impression of your credit card.”
At the room Frank inserted the key card in the slot and pushed the door open. “Should I carry you across the threshold or what?”
“We’re not staying—just getting cleaned up. She walked into the bathroom and in a few seconds tossed her clothes out the door in a wet heap. ”See if they can get these things clean and dry—and do your suit. You look awful.”
“Give me a towel—and a ten spot.” He made the phone call then stripped to the skin and wrapped the towel around his waist. When the maid knocked, he handed her the pile of laundry. “How long?”
“Four hours, maybe five,” she said in a Spanish accent.
Frank handed her the ten-dollar bill. “For you. One hour. Okay?”
She nodded and he closed the door and switched on the TV, cycling through channels till he found the news. Roya was taking a long time in the bathroom and suddenly Frank saw his face on the screen. He leaned forward to focus on the report.
“A manhunt is underway at this hour for Frank Smith for the deaths of two men. Smith was last seen in the St. Louis area. Patrick Murphy was found shot by the quarry road, execution style…”
Frank switched off the set and buried his face in his hands, sick to his stomach. He’d never clear himself of that shooting at the quarry, even though he was innocent. Not now. Not after he actually killed a man with his bare hands. Frank had the training but in the war, killing had been distant–from the cockpit of a jet. The image of Roya strangling the giant made him sick, but much worse was the feeling in his own fingers of the life draining out of Luigi. He felt like crying but the tears would not come.
He heard the bathroom door open, felt Roya stroking his hair. He looked up to see her wrapped in a towel and opened his mouth to speak but no words came.
Roya smiled. “So, am I safe with a wanted man? A fugitive from justice?” She sat on the bed. “How long for the laundry?”
She ran a hand across the surface of the covers. “That gives us some time.”
Frank closed his mouth, bit his lip. He stood and paced the floor.
Roya grinned. “Bad habits, those, Frank. Do you bite your nails, too? Actually, I suppose now’s the time to start. The police will get you if the mob doesn’t first. Hey, I might get arrested for aiding a felon! Yes, I really should get rid of you, Frank.” She broke into a long laugh.
Frank walked into the shower and turned the water to full cold.
HOW TO PLAY–This is an interactive story based on Nate’s game in my novel. You get to say what comes next:
1.) KEEP IT SHORT – It’s easy to play Nate’s game. Just enter your idea as a comment like, “their jeep drives off a cliff.” Don’t worry about form—just suggest the next step in the story. I’ll pick one, write it, and post it as a scene in serial form.
2.) KEEP IT CLEAN – I hold the veto pen. Since this is an experiment, I get to add rules as we go along. In general, if it wouldn’t fly in an old 60’s Bond movie, then it’s out.
3.) SHARE – Your posts are a precious gift to me. Maybe you’ll help write my next novel. If so, I’ll list your name as a contributor. If not, then we’ll just have a great time. I take you at your word that all ideas are your original thoughts. No criticism. No arguments. No lawsuits allowed. Let’s have some fun.