THE SOUND OF SILENCE
Richard Paul Smyers
and its characters are the property of Buena Vista/Walt Disney Co. and are used
No profits are being made.
“Aw, come on, Beckers…”
“Absolutely not, Baloo!”
“No, we are not stopping at Louie’s on this trip!” Rebecca glared across the Sea Duck’s cockpit at the pilot with her ‘I’m the boss, and you work for me, buster!’ expression.
“But we’re less’n fifteen minutes from Louie’s right now…ain’t we, Kit?” Baloo added, looking over his right shoulder at his navigator.
Kit checked his map, and flipped a mental coin before he answered. “Actually, Papa Bear, we’ll be closest to Louie’s island in about five minutes…but it would take us another half an hour to get there, from that point.”
“Hah!” Rebecca crowed, and smugly folded her arms.
Baloo opened his mouth, hesitated, closed it again, and then said, “Thanks…I think.”
Molly looked up from where she sat behind the pilot seat. “I wanna stop at Louie’s, Mommy.”
Kit made a shushing motion with one hand, but it was too late. Rebecca turned to the left and looked back toward her daughter.
“I know you do, Pumpkin, but it’s getting late, and Mommy needs to be at the office tomorrow.” Rebecca added a comforting tone in her voice and went on. “We can visit Louie’s another time.”
Molly settled back in her seat with a grumpy expression. ‘Another time’…she knew what that meant!
The Sea Duck droned along with a silent cockpit for five minutes. Then, without so much as a single sputter or a backfire, both engines quit cold! The cargo plane gave a slight shudder, and the propellers changed from shimmering discs to blurred blades, getting more distinct every second as they wound down to visibility.
“Baloo, what are you up to?” Rebecca snapped.
“Up to? What’cha mean?”
“Come on, engines don’t fail together like that!” Rebecca gazed sternly at her pilot. “What did you do, cut the switches?”
“I ain’t done nothin’, Beckers!” he protested. “Honest!”
“Uhhh…Papa Bear, a little airspeed, okay?” At Kit’s words, both Rebecca and Baloo started in surprise. Still in flight attitude, and without power, the Sea Duck was on the edge of a stall. Baloo quickly set up a glide, while Rebecca scanned the instruments critically, noting each reading. Engine rpm…low, and dropping. Oil temperature… cooling. Oil pressure…almost zero. Then she realized that this was a genuine in-flight emergency, and definitely no joke.
The cylinder head temperature gauges were dropping fast, as the engines got as cold as a Thembrian well-digger’s feet. That could only mean that both engines had completely quit!
“Kit, I’ll need our exact position in one minute!” Rebecca snapped, as she picked up the microphone and checked the radio frequency. “Hello, Sea Duck calling Louie’s! Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is an emergency! Come in, Louie, come in!”
Baloo was nursing the controls, using every trick he knew to hold on to altitude and keep the seaplane in the air. At the same time he was turning knobs, pushing switches and muttering to the Sea Duck as if it was a sick friend. “Come on, baby, don’t let me down! What’s wrong with ya?”
“That’s right, Louie, we’ve lost both engines and are going to land in the sea,” Rebecca spoke into the microphone. “Our position is…” she glanced over her shoulder at Kit, and he passed her a slip of paper with the information written on it. Rebecca gave Louie the data and added, “…we’re heading straight toward your island, and I’ll give you a call before we touch down.” She poked Baloo in the ribs and pointed. The pilot looked back at her and nodded at the compass; the Sea Duck was already on course for Louie’s island. “Can anybody come out and get us?”
The answer came through the cockpit speaker, which couldn’t completely hide the concern in Louie’s usually cheerful voice.
“Mary Lamb is here ¾ she says she’ll come, Miz Cunningham. Should be out there in ‘bout an hour or less.”
“We’ll be waiting,” Rebecca answered, in a cheerful tone that she felt sounded terribly false.
While Baloo nursed the plane, milking every yard of glide that he could, Kit began to worry. Papa Bear wouldn’t pull dangerous tricks with Molly and Miz Cunningham on board, he thought. What could make both engines quit, just like that…?
Molly’s voice piped up, loud and clear. “Why don’t you start the engines again?”
Kit looked at Molly; Baloo and Rebecca stared at each other. Then they all realized what the most likely reason for a double engine failure had to be.
“Fuel!” all three shouted.
“I’ve got it, Baloo,” Rebecca snapped, as she grabbed the control yoke. “You start the engines!”
Kit bounced out of his seat and jumped to the fuel-tank selector panel. He twisted valves for a moment and then reported, “Direct feed, both engines!”
Baloo’s hands danced over the engine controls as he raced through the ‘engine start’ sequence. Okay...boost pump on...priming one...starting one! The left engine’s starter whined briefly, the engine coughed, sputtered, and burst into a roar of power. Immediately the Sea Duck tried to yaw sharply, thanks to the unbalanced thrust.
Rebecca checked the swing, and gave a gentle pull back on the yoke. The seaplane’s nose rose slightly, while the altimeter slowed its steady downward progress, and then stopped.
Baloo primed the right engine and then hit the starter. Number two sneezed a wad of blue smoke, cleared its throat, and fired up beautifully.
“Airspeed 105 and level flight!” Rebecca called out.
Molly grinned broadly at Kit, while Baloo and Rebecca exchanged looks of relief.
“All right, Baloo, you take it.” Rebecca leaned back in her seat, holding one hand in the other, and wondering if she should faint, cry or just simply shake for five minutes. No, she decided, there’s no time for that now.
“Ahh, Kit, what’s the course to Louie’s from here?” Rebecca asked, in a slightly shaky voice.
“We’re on it, Miz Cunningham,” Kit answered. “And the course for Cape Suzette is-”
“Never mind.” She gave a small sigh of relief. “Hold this course, Baloo. We’re going to stop at Louie’s.”
“Hurray!” Molly cheered, and gave her favorite doll a hug.
The radio speaker crackled with an incoming message.
“Hello, Sea Duck? Are you still up? What’s goin’ on, Miz Cunningham?”
“I’d better cancel that Mayday,” Rebecca remarked, and picked up the microphone. She explained the situation to Louie, and told him they were going to stop at his island to have their engines checked.
“We should be there in…Kit, what’s our flight time?”
“We’re about twenty-five minutes out, Miz Cunningham.”
Rebecca relayed this to Louie.
“Bodacious! Hey!” Louie had to turn away from his microphone, but they could still hear him. “Somebody go catch Mary Lamb before she takes off. Tell ‘er to skip it!”
Baloo looked a bit surprise, as well as pleased. “I thought ya said we gotta get home right away, Becky?”
“It can wait, Baloo. We’re going to find out why the fuel cut off like that before we head for Cape Suzette.” She looked at the pilot very soberly. “A crash landing at sea is not my idea of an efficient way to run an air service.”
“Yeah…” Baloo considered. “Somethin’ like that can spoil yer whole day!”
* * *
A bit over an hour later, sitting at a corner table in Louie’s place, Rebecca felt that her nerves had finally settled down. Kit had gone out to the plane to see if Louie’s mechanics were having any luck finding out what was wrong with the Sea Duck. Molly was enjoying one of Louie’s ice cream concoctions, while Baloo stood at the counter with Louie, listening to the small band that was playing on the stage. It was obvious that both her pilot and her daughter were relaxed and happy.
Which is more than I can say for myself! she thought.
“Say, Louie, when did ya get the new band?” Baloo nodded at the stage, where five young gorillas and an elephant were playing free-style jazz.
“They got stuck here last week when their cash ran out,” Louie answered. “They wanna get to Cape Suzette an’ try to make the big time, so I gave ‘em a gig for a month. They call themselves ‘The Jungle Jivers.’ Ya like ‘em, Cuz?”
“Oh, yeah!” Baloo was swaying to the music, a blissful look on his face. “That is one craaaazy beat!” He began to hum along with the music, and when one of the gorillas started to vocalize, Baloo joined in.
Sha-bee-doo, sha-bee-dah, sha-bah-dee.
“Miz Cunningham?” Rebecca turned in her chair to find Kit and Louie’s head mechanic standing beside her.
“They found the problem,” Kit explained, and told her what it was. When the band finished their number they got Baloo away from the dance floor and told him about it. He was just as surprised as Rebecca had been.
“That’s right,” said Kit. “Flying with the tanks on crossfeed all the time, instead of switching back and forth from crossfeed to direct feed, sludge built up and plugged the transfer valves.”
“But Wildcat cleaned out the tanks an’ gas lines a month ago!” Baloo protested. “An’ the Duck has never had trouble like this before.”
Rebecca looked thoughtful. “Where have you refueled in the past month?”
Baloo began running over the gasoline receipts in his mind. “Just at regular airports… no place strange.”
“Was there anything different about refueling at any regular airport, then?” she continued.
“Lemme see…only unusual thing was at the airport on Zaphod Island. They were cleanin’ their storage tanks, an’ had a gas truck to handle planes when we was there,” Baloo frowned in thought.
“The truck had just come back from getting refilled, Miz Cunningham,” Kit added. “Remember, Baloo?”
“Yeah, that’s right, Kit,” the pilot nodded. “Say! If the tank where they filled the truck had somethin’ it shouldn’t have in it…”
“…and they were in a hurry to get back to the airport,” Kit continued.
“…they mighta forgot to filter the gas,” Louie finished.
“Well, when we get home I will file a complaint about it!” Rebecca began to get angry. “People’s lives depend on clean aviation fuel, and that airport should have been more careful.” She frowned in thought for a moment. “What’s more, Baloo, from now on you will carry a filter in the Sea Duck, and use it whenever you have to buy fuel away from Cape Suzette.”
“Okay, Becky, I can have Wildcat put somethin’ together to keep the gas clean.”
“No real harm done, Miz Cunningham,” said Louie. “The boys’ll have the tanks and fuel lines flushed clean in an hour. In the meantime, relax, have a Fungo-fruit Fizzy, an’ enjoy the band.”
“Yeah, they got a real beat an’ a great sound, Beckers.” Baloo began to dance as the Jungle Jivers struck up another tune. “Man! Just listen to that tusker on the trumpet…”
As Baloo move back on to the dance floor, Rebecca gave a sigh. If you can’t lick ‘em... she thought, and walked over to where Molly was finishing her ice cream. “Having a nice time, Pumpkin?” she asked.
Molly nodded and grinned around her spoon.
…join ‘em, Rebecca finished mentally. She waved Kit over to the table, and ordered something for him and for herself. Say what you could about life with Baloo around, she reflected, it was never dull!