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Jet Ace

Jet Ace

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Jet Ace

Panjangnya:
187 pages
2 hours
Dirilis:
Jun 10, 2014
ISBN:
9781497633841
Format:
Buku

Deskripsi

He liked his jets fast and his women faster. Hotshot test pilot Barth was up against the unknown in the F-120 super jet, the Air Force's fastest plane ever; it had claimed the lives of two pilots already. How many women could Barth claim before his time was up? The tremendously talented Tedd Thomey brings Barth's world of steel nerves, warm women and life at the edge of the envelope to you with the afterburners on full. Don't get too close to this telling tale or the heat will burn your fingertips on this cutting-edge page-turner.

Dirilis:
Jun 10, 2014
ISBN:
9781497633841
Format:
Buku

Tentang penulis

Tedd Thomey was born in Montana. He has written several novels including And Dream of Evil, Killer in White, Jet Ace, and The Prodigy Plot. He has been awarded several journalism honors.

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Jet Ace - Tedd Thomey

Jet Ace

Tedd Thomey

For J. G. T.,
master mechanic

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter One

He had not slept well. He awoke with a headache, a minor roving pressure which reminded him that he should have followed his instincts the night before and refused that last Tequila Smash. For a few moments, through half closed eyes, he contemplated the soothing sand color of the bedroom wall. Then he rolled over and looked at the oval electric clock on the dresser.

It was late, nearly nine. By now, unless there had been another delay, McKie should be winging home after his semi-maximum structural with the F-120.

He decided there was no point in phoning the hangar. Thrusting the blankets aside, Barth walked to the bathroom.

At first, when he saw it, he thought it was a recurrence of the vertigo he’d experienced briefly back in 1950.

Barth shut his eyes, then opened them. It did not go away.

He stood motionless, feeling the tile floor cold against his bare feet, staring at it — the single word Schonewald which had been written in Palmolive soap across the mirror.

He had not seen the word or thought about it in years. He did not permit himself to be shaken by it. Nerves hardened by a decade and a half of high velocity flying maintained a good discipline.

Very slowly Barth took a towel from the chromium rack beside the washbowl. He studied the word, trying to recognize the handwriting, and then with firm strokes he wiped it off the mirror.

Stepping to the bathroom window, he checked the latch. Locked. He returned to the bedroom. The lower window was partly open but the screen was secured. He checked the apartments front door and the windows in the living room and kitchenette. All were locked. He strode back to the dresser, slid open the lowest drawer and pushed aside the laundered sports shirts. The Army .45 was still there, undisturbed. He examined his billfold where it lay on the dresser top. The money was intact; his ID cards untampered with.

Barth sat down on the bed and pushed his fingers through his short, dark hair. Schoenwalde. It probably had been on the mirror when he’d come in the night before. Tired, more than relaxed from all those Tequila Smashes, he hadn’t bothered switching on the light in the bathroom, but had stripped off his clothes and gone straight to bed.

Schonewald. It wasn’t a joke. It was put there for a good reason, by someone who wanted to give him a jolt. Someone with a peculiar sense of the dramatic. But who? And how had he gotten in?

Barth lit a cigarette and leaned against the hard bookcase headboard of the bed. His mind went swiftly back through the years, trying to pinpoint who among all the people he had known might have done it. It had to be someone who knew him very well.

The phone on the headboard rang abruptly, it’s insistent bell inches from his ear.

He snapped upright and then, annoyed at his reaction, forced himself to turn slowly and pick up the receiver.

It was Cobisky, the freshman engineering test pilot at Intercontinental, and his voice was strained and tight.

Something happened to the F-120, Cobisky said. We just got word from the desert!

Barth clamped his teeth together.

Bad? he said.

The whole damn tail came off!

Did McKie get out?

He ejected, but he’s hurt. They’re taking him to the hospital at Muroc.

I’ll be right over.

Barth hung up the phone and jammed his cigarette into the ashtray on the dresser. He pulled on slacks and a rust colored sports shirt and took his tweed sports jacket from the back of the chair. He was striding out the bedroom door when the phone rang again.

He thought it would be Cobisky with more information, but it wasn’t.

Hello, honey-bunch, Geraldine said. Did I wake you up?

No, Barth said. Sorry, but I won’t be able to meet you at the beach.

But it’s your day off — and you promised!

Something’s come up.

Won’t you even take one look at my new Bikini?

Sorry, Geraldine —

He hung up on her and left the apartment.

He drove his white Porsche fast, trying not to think about how McKie must have felt when the tail came off. He was lucky with the green lights along Manchester Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, making all except one. When he reached the plant, he slowed only slightly for the security guard at the outer gate. The two guards at the inner gate recognized him and passed him with a wave. He parked on the asphalt lot adjacent to the broad flank of the experimental hangar, and as he stepped from the car he heard a jet go by, moderately high. He did not need to look up at it; he knew by the deep rumbling tone that it was an F-120.

Climbing the metal stairway to the hangars mezzanine level, he went through the swinging doors into the pilots lounge. Thompson and Cobisky, wearing blue G-suits, were sitting on the table; he could tell by the lack of color in their faces that it wasn’t good. They were listening to the voice of the dispatcher on the intercom.

He’s got a broken back and internal injuries, the dispatcher said. I’ll let you know when he gets there.

The lounge became silent.

Thompson’s long legs swung forward and back, forward and back, under the table. He kept looking at the brown asphalt tile floor.

Cobisky went over to the hot plate where a Silex was simmering. He poured himself a cup of coffee and looked at Barth.

Want some?

Barth nodded. They haven’t got him to the hospital yet?

Not yet.

Cobisky poured a second cup, spilling a few drops which hissed when they hit the hot plate. Barth picked up the cup and took a sip. It was bitter coffee, murky black with an oil film from being heated too many times.

Any idea how it happened? he asked.

Nobody’s sure, Cobisky said. The guys in dispatch heard somebody on the radio from Edwards mention he was doing over Mach 2.2.

Barth performed a swift mental calculation. More than fifteen hundred miles an hour.

Are you kidding? he said. Mach 2.2? He glanced at Thompson for confirmation. He was only supposed to do a semi-maximum structural.

Thompson shrugged. He did the semi-maximum. Then he asked the old man for permission to do the maximum structural.

Thompson went over to the hot plate and poured himself a cup.

He got permission, he added.

The lines around Thompson’s mouth, as dark as if drawn with a pencil, had never looked deeper. From a pocket in his G-suit he drew a curved metal flask. Unscrewing the cap, he poured liquor into the coffee until the cup was brimming.

He looked up. How about you two?

He didn’t wait for a reply but approached Barth and Cobisky and poured a stiff shot into each of their cups.

Thanks, said Barth.

The Scotch made the coffee fairly decent and after an experimental sip Barth drained his cup. Thompson and Cobisky drained theirs. None of them spoke.

Barth went to the large green-tinted window above the leather divan and looked out at the six F-120s and the single XRB-79 parked in a perfect line on the concrete apron. Their sharply swept-back wings gleamed silver bright under the hot August sun. Heat waves glimmering up from the concrete distorted the long spear-shapes of the scarlet test booms which projected from their wing-tips. He turned around as the voice of the dispatcher came over the intercom again.

They just got him to the hospital, said the dispatcher. I’ll have more in a minute.

The lounge became silent again. Barth lit a cigarette.

The minute passed.

God damn it, said Cobisky, Why can’t they ever hurry? I’m —

The dispatchers voice cut in and this time it was less impersonal, almost gentle.

McKie didn’t make it. He hesitated. He was dead when they got him out of the stretcher —

Again, silence.

Chapter Two

Barth turned back to the window and for a long moment looked out at the line of F-120s. Cobisky cleared his throat as if he were going to speak, but he said nothing. The door to the lavatory slammed twice, once when Thompson opened it, letting it strike the metal wall, and again when it closed behind him.

Barth tried, but he couldn’t keep from thinking about McKie’s family — his wife Betty with her thin, tired face and her perpetual air of confusion. It had always seemed to him to be a deliberate confusion, a narcotic which kept her from being aware of McKie’s hazards. And their children. Two girls and two boys. One for each of the four years they’d been married. Barth shook his head slowly. But then, maybe it was just as well that test pilots were as prolific as rabbits; God allowed them so few years for reproduction.

From the lavatory came the sounds of Thompson being sick.

I’m going out to the apron, said Cobisky. Maybe they’ve got the oscillograph installed.

He went through the swinging doors, leaving Barth alone in the lounge.

Barth lit a second cigarette from the stub of the first one and crushed the stub to shreds in an ashtray. A bit of the thin white paper peeled away from the tobacco in the exact shape of a torn sweptback wing, and from it came a spiral of smoke. He prodded it with his finger, reshaping it until it was a cigarette butt again.

Thompson came out of the lavatory, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

Never tasted such rotten coffee, he said. Made me sick.

I know what you mean, said Barth.

"I’m shoving off to Vivian’s, said Thompson. You coming?"

Barth shook his head. A little later.

He waited until Thompson left. Then he sat at the metal desk in the corner of the lounge and with a slide rule and pencil reviewed the load McKie’s F-120 had carried, its speed and approximate altitude. He knew it was a waste of time. There was no way of arriving at exact figures until the reports were in from the photo recorder and oscillograph, provided there was enough left of the instruments to make reports. But he had to form some idea of what might have happened. The engineer in him demanded answers. He had believed in the F-120 from the moment he had first seen it on the drawing boards. He had flown the prototype and production line models scores of times and, except for the usual minor bugs in the hydraulics of the irreversible controls, it had been a smooth airplane all along.

From his rapidly moving pencil long lists of figures entwined across the paper, but in ten minutes he knew no more than when he’d started. On paper, the airplane should have carried the load, even at Mach 2.2. Allowing for more than 8.2 times the pull of gravity, it still should have stayed together.

As if the yellow pencil were responsible for the failure of his figures, he broke it in half and aimed the pieces at the wastebasket. Then he dropped his head to the desk, cradling his face on his arms. He felt exhausted, more exhausted than he’d been in years. He thought about McKie. Redheaded McKie, who always wore green sports shirts for luck. McKie, who’d earned two Navy Crosses — one for knocking down six Zeroes in World War II, and one for getting six MIGs over Korea. He deserved a third Navy Cross for what he’d tried to do this morning.

One of the phones on the desk rang. Barth let it ring half a dozen times before he answered it.

Hello, Barth? said Jeffer.

Chief Engineer Jeffer.

Yes, replied Barth.

Why weren’t you out at the north base this morning? Jeffer spoke loudly, trying to make his thin, nervous voice measure up to his title.

It’s my day off, Barth said.

You knew McKie was to do a semi-maximum structural, did you not?

Barth picked a plastic ruler up from the desk. Of course, I knew it.

Then, as senior test pilot, why weren’t you out at the north base?

It was only supposed to be a semi-maximum, said Barth. No reason for me to be there.

"You might

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