Mending Wounded Hearts

Chapter Twenty-Eight ***** Birds on the run

After a pleasant dinner of leftover barbecue we all retired to the media room and I introduced the boys to the Marx Brothers.

"What's wrong with the color?" Carter asked.

I explained black and white movies and it seemed to make him thoughtful.

Petes was already a fan of Groucho and Randy seemed to enjoy it too. Kelly thought Harpo and Chico were the best while Brandon loved the whole bunch. Groucho had always been my favorite because of the quick witted responses he would give. We watched part of a Star Wars movie and the boys were fading fast. Petes was the only one still alert enough to be of any assistance but we got them all headed to bed and I carried Carter up and tucked him in with Ally's help.

Ally and I turned in too, we lay there and talked for a while but soon I was talking to myself and I faded off to sleep.

When I woke Carter was squeezed in between us, I must have been dead to the world or I would have noticed his arrival. I left Ally and Carter sleeping and got dressed after a quick shower. Then I went down and started breakfast. The smell of the sausage and egg scramble raised the dead and I was surrounded by small zombies.

"Daddy, can I help you cook sometime?" Carter asked.

"Absolutely Carter, just let me know when you're ready and we'll get you started. How does that sound," I assured him.

That seemed to please him and he walked to the media room and sat with Kelly and Petes.

"Why does Daddy call you Petes?" Carter inquired.

"That's because when I was little it seemed to him that I was in two places at once. Like there were two of me so he started calling me Petes and it stuck," Peter explained.

"So Pete's you'll want to get packed so we can make your train. We have time it's not boarding until eleven fifteen," I advised.

"We did most of that last night but we need to finish up and bring our bags down. Do you have fresh sheets for the bed?" Petes asked.

"Don't worry about that, I'll deal with the bed, I have some other laundry to do," Brandon supplied.

"Thanks for letting us visit Rob, I really enjoyed it. Peter said you were cool but I had no idea what that meant until I met everyone here," Randy uttered quietly, he wrapped his arms around me and I returned the hug.

My phone rang after breakfast and Jerry Wilson was on the other end.

"Good news Rob, an archeological survey has found evidence of both European and Native settlements covering more than half the proposed development site. We're seeing a judge this morning to get an injunction to prevent any further development activity and there's a better than average chance we can get it declared a historical site," Jerry crowed.

"That's great news Jerry, we couldn't save the school but Schraeder is going to lose his ass over this," I cheered.

Jerry lives in the area affected by the development plans and he's a major league litigator. We had been friends for years and I bought the Lancia from him.

I was grinning broadly when Ally found me looking  at an email.

"What's that all about?" she asked, referring to the smile.

I relayed Jerry's news and she began to grin just as broadly.

"So if the judge grants the injunction he's pretty much toast  then, right?"

"Well I doubt he'll just roll over but his chances of getting any more investors are pretty slim. Especially if a certain video goes public at just the right time," I winked.

"That's wonderful, and there's something I read in a tiny article in the star, the school's board of regents are under a grand jury investigation for violating the terms of the charter. The family that originally set up the school specified that if the school failed that the land would cede to the county for educational purposes. It's time for those weasels to squirm now," Ally shared.

"Well it seems to me that an archeology and history park would be good use of public lands of that sort. Perhaps even recreations of the original settlements," I speculated.

"Well it's good news for the moment and I'm glad he's getting what he deserves," Ally declared.

I gave her a kiss and went to round up Petes and Randy, we needed to get going.

"Oh man look at that Peter, it's beautiful," Randy chirped.

"Yes it is, and we get to ride up the train station with the top down," Petes replied.

It was a very pretty car and it could outperform many of the early V-8's  of the fifties. The maroon body color, cordovan leather interior, Kelsey Hayes wire wheels and dark tan Hartz cloth top made it a strikingly beautiful machine. But the fun didn't stop there.

"Let me open the hood and you can see what makes it go," I told the boys.

"I bought this car from Roy Britt, he was a friend of our old undersheriff. After WWII he got into hot rodding big time and designed speed equipment for guys like Edelbrock, Lee's and Evans. This engine started as a 230 cubic inch flat head six, Roy started by designing a new domed head and pistons to match, Then he came up with a dual carb intake and a cast dual exhaust header system. Later on he came up with a design to convert it to overhead valves but it proved unreliable so he went back to the original set up and upped the size of the valves and machined the ports. Last time anyone checked this engine displaces 245 cubic inches and puts out 165 horsepower. That's three more than the stock 265 Chevy V-8. That's just the engine, it has a two speed rear end that has a range for acceleration and one for the road plus an overdrive behind the transmission. With the advantage in gearing Roy used to clean house on Fords, Chevy's and even early Hemis from Dodge," I explained.

I opened the trunk so that the boys could load their bags and I went back inside.

"Hey Brandon, how about you leave the laundry for later and come up to Carpinteria with Petes, Randy and me, you and I can have some quiet time together on the way back," I suggested.

"Do I have time to change?"

"Sure, just make it fairly quick," I requested and Brandon rushed up the stairs.

I found Ally and let her know about the change.

Pete's and Randy decided to sit in back and Brandon joined me in the front seat.

We cruised through downtown Ojai eliciting waves from people I knew and some that just liked the car. We waved back to all of them and soon we were on the 33 and then the 101. I was able to demonstrate the legs the old girl had and the boys were impressed by the acceleration.

Brandon and I walked Petes and Randy to the platform and the train was right on time. Hugs were exchanged and the two boys boarded the train and took seats on the ocean side of the train. We waited until the train left the station and walked back to the car. People were clustered around the Dodge when we returned. They cleared off pretty quickly when we opened the doors and got ready to go.

"Brandon, I'm going to introduce you to a couple of people today. The first is a friend that did the wing and fuselage mods to my Commander, his name is Pat Corran and we've been friends for years. I think you'll find it interesting," I enticed.

"Sounds cool, who is the other one?" Brandon asked.

"His name is Ed Pratt, he lives near the airport, he was the head of Ventura county's homicide squad in the fifties and sixties. He survived D-Day with his Ranger battalion and kept the Soviets at bay once they reached Berlin. He's a tough old bird and fun to talk to," I shared.

"Dad, do you think I could be a professional chef?"

"I don't see why not, just don't ever let me catch you acting like that Gordon Ramsay asshole. It's a wonder none of those people have cut his throat," I observed.

"Oh Dad , you know that's all for the cameras, he couldn't really act like that without people suing him constantly," Brandon assured me.

"I'm not so sure, but what you say is plausible and it explains why he's still alive," I speculated.

Brandon just laughed.

After the short drive in light midday traffic we arrived in Goleta and I drove straight to the airport. I slid in my keycard, punched my code and we passed through the gate. I spoke with a deputy, showed my ID and drove to hangar 39 which housed a plane I couldn't fly out of Santa Paula. Although single pilot rated I would never undertake a  trip with passengers with just myself at the controls. Since the plane wasn't scheduled to fly that day I planned to give Brandon a tour. A group of my friends joined forces to buy the plane since none of us need a jet full time. We offset the upkeep by allowing the jet to be used by a charter service. They also coordinate the use of the plane by our group so that there are no conflicts with availability. A lot of the time it's the five of us that travel to another city for business reasons.

I slid in my card and punched in my number, the hangar doors began to part and opened all the way after a minute or two. I was surprised to find an empty hangar.

I called Shirley Porter who generally runs the charter company and asked if anything had changed since our last conversation.

"No Rob, the aircraft isn't scheduled to fly anywhere until next Friday, are you saying it's not in hangar 39?"

"That's what I'm saying, can you punch up the GPS and get a location?"

"I'm doing that as we speak Rob," Shirley informed me.

After a short delay Shirley told me the aircraft was in Texas east of a town called Matador.

"Okay Shirley, no need to panic just yet. Can you check the charts and see if there's a field with sufficient runway to land the 850, I'll contact the rest of the group and see if they had an emergency," I cautioned.

I sent a group text to my partners and received replies within five minutes. None of them had taken the aircraft or authorized anyone else to do so. I was pretty confident about that but I needed to check first.

I spoke with Shirley and asked her to send me the GPS I.D.# and the last coordinates.

My next call was to the FBI, I asked for agent Paul Correlli and he picked up right away.

"Hey Rob, how are you these days? I'll presume this is business since you didn't call my mobile."

"I'm doing great personally but yeah, this is business, we seem to be one Hawker 850 short in the hangar in Goleta."

"I see, and you've checked with all authorized parties or you wouldn't be calling me. Do you have anything that will help us chase it down?" Paul asked.

"Yes, I have the location, GPS coordinates and the transponder code for the GPS system. I'll text all that to your mobile right now. GPS shows it's southeast of Amarillo near Matador Texas," I informed him.

"When was the last authorized flight?"  Paul inquired.

"A week ago Sunday morning, to Seattle and back, one of our partners used it with a hired crew. I'll send you their contact info as soon as I retrieve it."

"Thanks Rob, as you may know, theft of private jets has been on the upswing and it may be an empty shell or worse. Alternatively it may be waiting for a buyer in another country. We find a lot of them in Columbia and Venezuela, sorry I can't offer more hope," Paul told me candidly.

"I knew what I was looking at when I realized it wasn't an authorized flight. I guessed my next step is airport security and getting the video surveillance records pulled up. They were my next call.

"I'll get an agent in Amarillo to get an overflight of the GPS location as a starter and we'll let you know what we see. Let me know what you get with the video. I hope we can get together again soon, Trish asked about you not long ago," Paul related.

"Well a lot has been happening, we should meet for dinner at Van Nuys or something , we can catch up then," I suggested.

"That sounds good Rob….you know if anybody but you called about a missing ten mil plus bird and acted as calm as you, I'd be suspicious. You just never seem to get riled about much."

"Oh I'm plenty pissed off, it just doesn't help to get hysterical about anything."

"Yeah I know Rob, I'm sorry they picked you and your partners but at least you took steps to aid in recovery. You'd be surprised how many multimillion dollar aircraft lack something as useful as GPS," Paul shared.

"Yeah, I'll never understand the logic behind that. The insurance companies should just make it a requirement. I have them on all my planes. Whoever took our plane probably flew in, Gate security here is tight, it's a sally port gate and you have to speak with a deputy before you can get through the second gate," I supplied.

"Well Brandon, our day just took a detour, I'm sorry son, the whole idea of bringing you along was to spend time together and meet a few people that I thought you might enjoy seeing. Let's get over to security and see if we can get a look at the video and get a few more details for the FBI eh?"

"It's okay Rob, I just like being with you no matter what we're doing. Maybe I can help you scan the video. Does the GPS show the time it left the hangar?"

"You bet, Friday at 11:16 p.m., it spent twenty minutes on the pad in front of the door and then rolled to the taxi way. I don't know if they got a clearance or just scampered off, so I'll have to check with terminal control."

I rang a bell and was buzzed into the lobby of airport security. It was run by Santa Barbara county sheriff's department.

I held up my ID, "Good morning, is Jaime Portola in this morning, I'm Rob Mc Kenna if he asks."

The deputy nodded and picked up the phone and spoke briefly. A few seconds later a door swung open and Lieutenant Jaime Portola greeted me with a handshake and a smile.

"Rob, what brings you to our humble little bean patch?" Jaime inquired.

"I'm afraid it's business, we've had a Jet  go missing out of 39. Our GPS data says it left here about 11:45 Friday night. I've confirmed that there were no authorized flights and I've already been onto the FBI."

"Damn, that's the second jet we've lost here in six months. We think they're flying in and making off with them but the last one didn't have GPS so we had to search every minute of video. You mentioned GPS do you have a location?" Jaime asked.

"Yes but before we talk much further, I want to introduce my son Brandon, I was planning on letting him get a look at the cockpit but there's nothing to look at."

"Nice to meet you Brandon, is Rob treating you good?" Jaime grinned.

"He sure is, I'm really happy with him and my new family," Brandon beamed.

"Something you're not telling me Rob?"

"Lots, I'll get you caught up in a while but let's get a look at the video and see if we can catch them entering the hangar."

"Let's take a unit, it's in the controlled access area, do you need a gun locker?"

"No I locked it in my car, it should be safe there."

"Well then, follow me gentlemen, we need to get a VIP badge for Brandon and we'll head over to the TCA," Jaime beckoned.

"TCA?" Brandon asked me.

"Terminal control area, it's the heavily controlled area of the terminal and ramps for commercial traffic," I explained.

"Got it," Brandon smiled.

The older Tahoe was pretty beat up, but the airport security people weren't expected to be involved in pursuits or even leave the airport in the marked units. As long as it drove and stopped reliably not much more was needed.

We arrived at a small squat building off one of the taxi ways on the commercial side of the airport. It was the hub of the airport surveillance system, they monitored the ground and proximity sensors along the perimeter fences as well as the video cameras that caught every angle.

The three of us were ushered into a viewing room and given access to the archives. It was an elegantly simple system but very comprehensive. We just needed a date, time and a starting location.

We cued up the tape to 11:16 the previous Friday and watched as the big white and blue Hawker rolled out of the hangar pulled by the small ATV from the hangar. We watched the ATV jerk to a stop so suddenly the driver banged his head on the bars, this was due to the pilot braking the aircraft because once moving it could push the ATV all over the place.

"We never entered the hangar or touched anything, we should get a couple lab guys to see if there's any DNA evidence on that ATV," I suggested.

"I'll get a team headed this way, it will probably mean detectives and brass though," Jaime grimaced.

"Yeah a ten mill bird going missing will do that. But the FBI is already on it and I should hear something back in a couple of hours," I grinned.

"Rob, what was the tail number on your plane?" Brandon asked.

"N308TC why?" I supplied.

"Look, this one reads N388BB and look at the first eight, it looks weird to me." Brandon directed.

"Good eyes son, they've modified the zero and completely replaced the two letters at the end. Now we know how they flew out of here without raising a stink. We can get onto ATC and find out how they filed the flight plan, probably a phony online account," I reasoned.

"Brandon, let's scroll back and see if we can figure out when they arrived, and how they gained access," Jaime suggested.

I called Paul with the updated info and he told me that he expected to hear from an agent that was headed west from Oklahoma City. The field was an uncontrolled private strip mostly used by skydivers and crop dusters. Technically it wasn't long enough for the Hawker but it could be done.

It only took Brandon five minutes to spot the arrival of the crew that had run off with the aircraft. Six men piled out of a van, and one had a device to fake out the card reader. Once the doors were open a few feet the alarm was disarmed and they were able to drive the van inside. Jaime pointed out that it was an airport based van, probably appropriated from its parking area.

"Good work Brandon, I'll mark those times and we'll get the video enhanced and get to the FBI, they can get the info from ATC and do the tracking," Jaime observed.

"It's their show now, we better get out of here before your brass arrives and asks how a teenage civilian was given access to the video system," I suggested.

"Yeah, you're right. Let me have the tech save us a copy of the video from Friday. You can have your contact at FBI call me and I'll get him a copy sent secure," Jaime offered.

"Oh I think you know him, Paul Corelli he was on that ID theft task force with us," I supplied.

"Oh yeah, I'll send it straight to him and give him a call," Jaime replied.

"Well if you'll run us back to the car I'll go over and see a friend onsite, Pat Corran, do you know him?" I asked.

"The Waco king, I sure do, he's got some beautiful airplanes In those hangars."