Jaime drove us back to his office and we jumped in the Dodge and drove to Pat's place.
"Well I'll be damned, I was just going to call you," Pat hooted.
"Well, how about you join us for lunch at the café and we can catch up, but first I'd like to introduce my son, Brandon," I smiled.
“Nice to meet you Brandon. I'll go to lunch with you, but it's on me, I have a favor to ask,” Pat said cheerfully.
We all piled into the Dodge, and drove to the café under the old tower.
"So what's up Pat?" I asked as we waited for our orders.
"I have a restoration underway and it has the same Hughes modification that yours does. I wanted to see if you'd allow me to poach your bird for a while so I can make the templates I need. I would reskin the wings at my own expense and it will be a topnotch job," Pat declared.
"I don't see any problem with that, once you're done I may have you broker it for me. I just don't fly it as much and I'll have even less time with a new wife and our kids," I told him.
"You got married again?" Pat hooted, "I'll be damned, I never saw that coming."
"Neither did I Pat, but we haven't married yet, you will get an invitation when we sew up a date," I informed him.
"That's great Rob, really. I'm very happy for you."
I gave him some details about recent events and meeting Ally.
"Whoa Rob, that's a busy few weeks you've had," Pat cheered. "I hope you will all be happy together."
I told Pat to give me a call and we'd set up a date for him to come get the Waco Cabin Air. We drove back to the hangar and after Brandon got a tour of some of the finest aircraft of the 1930's, we headed out to visit Ed.
I received a text from Peter; they had a great trip and arrived home safe and sound.
Just south of the airport, along a cliff overlooking the ocean and beach below, were fifteen Arts & Crafts bungalows from the early twentieth century. I had purchased them when I was twenty-five, restored them and found renters that appreciated them for what they were. Some of my first tenants were still in residence. A developer had tried to buy them from me; when that didn't work he tried a public domain scheme but he couldn't sell a bunch of luxury condos to the city council. The homes are now protected as historic. There are very limited things that can be done to the properties so I haven't had any guff from the developer community for years.
Ed Pratt was one of my original renters. I had thought of him when I finished the restorations and gave him first pick. His house had burned down and he was living in an apartment and hated it. Ty was still the Undersheriff then and knew that I had the bungalows almost ready. He introduced me to Ed and we just went from there. Ed told me it was like being back in his childhood home. I had the first two furnished with period furniture as models and he loved it as is. So he was the first, followed by three architects and a few young couples. I made allowances for older tenants, making the porches wheelchair accessible both at front and rear doors. All the doorways were wide enough after restoration, I had to pick a middle ground between fanatical restoration and practical use.
"Good morning Ed, how are getting along these days?" I asked cheerfully.
"Oh, not too bad, who's this with you?"
I introduced Brandon and we exchanged pleasantries for a while. I could tell Ed had something on his mind, so I invited Brandon to check out the view from the back railing.
"What's on your mind Ed?" I asked.
"I'm going to have to give notice Rob, I can't stay here anymore. I wish I could but it just won't work,"
"Ed, if it's the rent I can fix that, or is it something else?" I probed.
"I'm losing my sight, I can still hear a pin drop but I couldn't see the damn thing to pick it up. Doc says I'll be completely blind in a year's time."
"I understand, I think. You want to move to a board and care while you can still see well enough to learn the terrain, is that it?"
"I always said you were smart. Rob I love it here, I'll miss it like crazy but I won't be able to see the breakers or the lightning storms. I spend most of my time listening to audio books and cleaning. I have to get a goddamn Uber to do my shopping or go to the doctor. I've been taking braille courses at the Community Center, Wally Cambridge drives me over. He's not all that much better off than I am, but he can still see to drive," Ed finished.
"I understand Ed, just tell me what I can do to help, have you picked out a place yet?" I asked feeling just a little up-ended. Ed had always been a tower of personal strength, it was difficult to view him as vulnerable.
"The Pines Lodge in Montecito, it's well staffed and all my research tells me that's the place. I'll be moving in next month. Just my clothes and my personals. I'll leave the bed frame, it matches the rest of the furniture. The mattress will be picked up by the management company. There’s a couple things I could use your help with. I want you to take my guns with you today, they're just my old M-1, my .45 and the Lugers. I'll keep the old Airweight just in case. I've been practicing with a blindfold. I can hit whatever I hear. Anyway, there's the matter of my car. I don't want some shitbird yanking the engine to build something else. I want you to take it. You can keep it or pass it on to somebody who will recognize it for what it is.
Ed was referring to his 1964 Ford Police-Package Galaxy. When he retired, he bought the car from the county and the Sheriff okayed the deal. As far as I knew, it was still equipped as it was when Ed retired. It had a 390 engine with two four barrel carbs and it streaked like a blue flame.
"I think I can deal with that; if it's drivable, I'll get somebody to ferry me up here and drive it back. How do you feel about the Sheriff's museum taking it into the collection?"
"Well, it's not my first choice, I'd prefer it to go to someone who will take it to car shows and let people see it."
"I can see your point, whoever ends up with it I will make sure it's treated with respect."
"That's why I'm asking you to take care of that. I may as well tell you now, you are mentioned in my will. I'm leaving you all my old case files and military stuff, my books, correspondence, all that crap. I have a youngster that is helping me organize all that stuff and I've been working on a biography of my time in homicide and some of the bigger cases we had. Plenty of war stories too. The kid is working on a degree in history and his professor is an old friend. Once I get it published, you'll get a signed copy if I'm still alive to sign anything," Ed laughed.
"Anything you need Ed, I'll make it happen. Who's going to do the moving?"
"The property manager has a crew, I just need to deal with my personals, watches, Ruth's old jewelry, that kind of stuff. I'd like my Ranger stuff to go to the museum at Ft. Bragg. I still have my class A's. Took them off and never wore them again. Ruthie wouldn't let me get rid of them; she always was smarter than me," Ed reflected.
We chatted a bit longer and he told me the guns were all cased up in his study. Brandon was in awe of the militaria on the walls of that room.
On the drive home, I guess I was a bit quiet.
"You okay, Dad?" Brandon asked, jarring me from my thoughts.
"I'm sorry, Son, this was supposed to be a fun trip for the both of us. We'll have to try it again soon."
"It's okay, Dad, I enjoyed being with you and helping with the video. Those old planes were really something too.
"I'm glad the day wasn't a total loss. You can come back with me to get Ed's car, it is really something special," I suggested.
"That would be cool, Dad."
We were just approaching Emma Wood Beach when my phone rang. I handed it to Brandon and he answered it while I pulled to the side.
"It's Paul Corelli," Brandon told me as he handed over the phone.
"Hey Paul, what did you find out?"
"Sorry Rob, the plane was there in Matador; Homeland got involved and brought in two teams from OKC . The suspects put up a fight. There was something in the airplane that didn't like bullets and it blew up. I'm sorry Rob, I wasn't expecting that," Paul apologized.
"Feel sorry for the insurance company, not me. Anybody left to interrogate?" I asked.
"Two, they don't speak English or Spanish though," Paul told me.
“Probably Pashto, maybe Farsi or Arabic. I saw something on the video. Just a gesture, but I've seen it used in conjunction with "Inshallah" then they tap their heart area. After I saw that, I was pretty sure it wasn't Cartel bullshit. Those guys might run but usually they just take the arrest and boogie after they make bail. Cartels just look at it as the cost of doing business. I doubt if Homeland will tell you much more than that, if anything."
"That's pretty much the way I see it, you could have done really good in the Bureau Rob, you definitely have the head for it," Paul pumped me a bit.
"Not my kind of thing, I'm more of an Andy Taylor than a J. Edgar. Besides they have these ridiculous rules about showing up for work and stuff," I chuckled.
"Money has just ruined you, hasn't it?" Paul laughed.
"It has certainly tried, Paul. Thanks for the update, Can you send me a report to give the insurance people once Homeland comes up with a story. I doubt they can cover up a fire fight and explosion not to mention all the smoke. When they declare that it's drug activity, maybe you can get me a copy, I laughed.
"You got it Rob, meanwhile you can give the insurance people my name and number," Paul offered.
"Thanks Paul, I'll need to let Jaime know that he'll need to come up with a tactic to counter the fly in-fly out plane thieves," I relayed.
"Yeah, I understand. I don't know what he could have done. He might have ended up with a fire fight on his hands in a busy airport," Paul speculated.
We disconnected after a bit more chat and just as I was about to put the car in gear, a CHP car pulled in behind me and lit the overheads.
"Good afternoon, Sir, is everything alright? The patrol officer asked.
"Yes, quite good actually. I stopped to take an important call. The 52 Dodge didn't come with Bluetooth," I said cheerfully.
"May I see your license and proof of insurance, Sir?" She asked.
Absolutely, it's in my inside pocket, I'm a peace officer and I'm armed."
I pulled out my ID case and she checked the badge and my credentials and decided she didn't need to see anything else.
"Sorry for the inconvenience, Sir, just a matter of officer safety. I thought you might have broken down."
"No need to apologize, you did exactly as I would have done."
At that moment, a trucker blasted past us in the number one lane doing seventy or better. The patrol officer ran back to her car and took off after the trucker.
"Well, that was interesting wasn't it?" I asked Brandon.
"What a weird day. What did the FBI guy have to say?" he replied.
"Homeland sent in a couple of strike teams to arrest the thieves, a firefight ensued and the airplane was destroyed. So now, the insurance company will start looking for ways to weasel out of paying. It's just what they do," I told Brandon.
"That sucks, they shouldn't be able to do that."
"I agree Son, they just hate it when the gamble doesn't pay off for them. They can't refuse to pay the claim, there's way too much documentation. We took steps above and beyond to prevent theft and to effect recovery. You wouldn't believe some of the things they tried to stick in the policy," I shared.
We made the rest of the trip without interruption and arrived home just in time for dinner.
"Hi, Sweetheart, how were things down here?" I asked Ally as I kissed her hello.
"Mostly quiet, a little silly at times with the three boys bouncing around like monkeys. They're all sacked out in front of the TV if you would like to see them," She told me.
"How do you like having two extra boys to wrangle?" I inquired.
"It's interesting, I'll say that. But they're good boys and I love them. How were things up north?" she asked.
"Have a seat and I'll tell you, it's been quite a day."
I explained about the Jet and walked her through the partnership and the events that led up to its destruction. Then I told her about Ed and his past and what he was facing. She stood and walked behind me and began massaging my neck which I hadn't realized was very tight. Her hands were like magic and I could feel the stress melting away.
"You are really good at that, thanks, Babe," I told her.
"I have a roast in the oven for dinner and I'll draft Brandon to give me a hand with the vegetables and such. I'm really kind of enjoying this domestic thing," she grinned.
I stood and kissed her for quite a while then went back out and unloaded the car. I placed the rifles and pistols in my block house. I had built it to house my own gun collection. The block house resembled a shed for storing equipment but it was very secure with alarms and countermeasures built in. It could be monitored remotely if I was traveling.
I uncased the Garand, I had held it and even shot it several times before but I always enjoyed looking at it. This one was special, Ed told me he had gone through at least six M-1's during his time in Europe. One he lost in a parachute jump, another stopped a bullet that shattered the wooden stock. He had worn out the rifling or the action on a couple.
He purchased this particular rifle after his return, you could spend five dollars and get a hell of a nice weapon. This one was rare though. It had been manufactured by Winchester instead of the Springfield armory. For whatever reason it was never shipped overseas. It was in beautiful condition; Ed had cherished this rifle and was very picky about who handled it. I placed it in a rack with other WWII rifles I had collected. Next I opened the small pistol case that contained two 1911A1 .45's. One was made by Remington Rand, the typewriter company and the other was from Union Switch and Signal, both were rare examples of wartime production. It was a reminder of how the entire country had turned its production capacity to fighting the war.
The other two cases contained nineteen of the finest Luger pistol examples I had ever seen. The pistols ranged from early production straight strap examples to wartime DWM and Mauser production. One exceptional example was a 1916 model taken from a haughty German officer by Ed. The capture papers proved that he brought it home with thirteen other Lugers and a couple of P38's. I had purchased the Walthers from him because he didn't care for them. Of the five Lugers he had purchased himself, one was a 1906 American Eagle in 7.65. Although the cartridge was underpowered for the Luger action, the craftsmanship of the pistols was exquisite.
It was an amazing collection and I would hold on to them until Ed told me how he wanted to dispose of them.
I put the pistols in one of the safes and locked up, setting the alarm as I left.
With the Dodge put away, I decided to go to my office and inform Jaime and my partners of the fate of our aircraft.
"Jaime, have you spoken with Paul yet?" I inquired.
"Yes Rob, I'm sorry it ended up that way. I'm going to get with airport management and get all unattended vehicles locked in a compound under guard. We were able to see the perps drive a stolen airport van up to their plane and tracked it to your hangar. Some of the cases looked like they contained weapons. If we had discovered them it might have cost me some of my guys."
"Don't sweat it, Jaime. Those guys don't care where their rounds go and they might have struck a passing commercial if they started shooting. I'm really convinced that all aircraft should have a GPS transponder that can't be shut down," I proposed.
"I agree, but I am sorry about the way things turned out though," Jaime consoled.
"Thanks, Jaime, my next call is to the partners. That won't be fun. It's all down to the insurance at this point," I said.
"Well, good luck on that. I hope they don't try to short you."
I contacted my partners and Shirley Porter by group text and asked them to join me in a conference call.
"Gentlemen, I've added Shirley to the call because she runs the charter service that has been keeping the jet busy when we don't need it. So here's what I know. The aircraft was stolen from the hangar by a crew that flew in and swiped an airport van and broke into the hangar. They changed the tail number and logged a phony flight plan. Thanks to the GPS system, we tracked it to a field in Texas and that's where Homeland security got involved.” “They brought in two strike teams and tried to effect an arrest. The suspects responded with automatic weapons and during the firefight, the aircraft was destroyed. We expect that Homeland or the FBI will issue a statement that drug traffickers took the aircraft to move drugs or cash. Any questions?"
"So, what's next?" Jerry Bagnold queried.
"Simple, we report the loss to the insurance company, and thanks to Leonard's eagle eye, this situation should be covered for full replacement value. Leonard can you comment on that?" I asked.
"Yes, I believe you're right Rob, the insurance company wanted to exclude acts of terrorism or organized crime as regards loss or damage but our lawyer pointed out that it wasn't a legal exclusion. They consulted their attorneys and acquiesced but then tried to back door it in the next contract. At the time, we only had forty percent equity and the bank specified the insurance agency. Things have changed and I suggest we tell Fidelity to get stuffed and contract with a more square dealing company. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the bank had a financial interest in Fidelity Pacific from the get go," Leonard Peavey spoke up.
There was a brief outburst as everyone spoke at once, mostly in support of Leonard's idea.
Phil Ainstree spoke up. "Rob, you have experience in this field, how much credence do you assign to the drug traffic story."
"None whatsoever Phil, but I'd be speculating. I encourage you all to go along since there may be tactical reasons for putting that story out there. Are we clear on that? We don't want anything like that associated with us so we are just victims in this incident."
All six partners and Sherry agreed and I answered a few more questions. With that behind me, I had the rest of the night to attend to my family.