SPLASH  LANDING

by

Richard Paul Smyers

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Middle of May, 1937, Louie’s Island

 

     Back and forth.  Up and down.  To and fro.  From the door of Louie’s to the dock and back again, Baloo paced like a first-time father in the waiting room of a maternity ward.  As he turned from the door and started back to the dock on another round, Louie came out and walked over to where Kit Cloudkicker sat on a crate, leaning against a knapsack.  Wiley Pole and several other pilots were standing there as well, watching the one-bear parade.

     Louie nodded to Kit.  “So, how’s it going, short stuff?”

     “He hasn’t stopped once…not since she left,” Kit replied.

     “Yeah,” Wiley remarked.  “I’ve been checkin’ his time, an’ he’s takin’ about nine seconds, each way.”

     ‘Airplane’ Jane, one of the pilots, said, “I make it an average of nine-point-two seconds for the last ten times.”

     Clementine, a close friend of Wildcat’s, shook her head.  “I reckon he’s gonna wear a groove in the ground pretty soon.”

     Wildcat looked up from the game of jacks he was playing with Molly.  “He shouldn’t worry about the Sea Duck.  It’s all span an’ spic…I checked it over real good.”

     “I win!” Molly said happily, and the mechanic turned back to the game with a surprised smile.

     “Woo-eee, you beat me, Molly-cat.”  Wildcat scratched his head.  “Now, don’t go away…lemme try this again…”

     Baloo pivoted at the door and went back toward the dock again, oblivious to what the others were saying.

     “Oh, man, I ain’t never seen ol’ Baloo get bent outta shape like this before!  Not that he’s ever been in shape to start with.”  Louie turned to the lady hippo.  “How ‘bout you, Lady Jane?”

     She grinned.  “Nope.  But this isn’t just ‘cause he’s worried, Louie.  It’s something Baloo can’t do anything about except wait.  That’s why his controls are locked up!”

     As he came back toward the door, Baloo began to mutter to himself.  Molly looked up from her game, sighed, and remarked, “There he goes again.”

     “Man, what’s takin’ so long?” Baloo moaned.  “I never shoulda done it!  What if somethin’ goes wrong?  I could lose her, just like that!”  Without missing a turn or a step, the pilot glanced at the crate where Kit sat.  “Kit?  How long has it been?”

     “Fifty-six minutes, Papa Bear,” the young cub replied, with an air of infinite patience in his voice.

     “And thirty-five seconds,” Jane add, in the same world-weary tone.

     “Two minutes since the last time you asked!” Molly finished.

     Clementine shook her head.  “You could set your watch by him.”

     Baloo had reached the dock again, but instead of turning around, he stopped and scanned the tropical skies.

     “Kit?  Do ya hear it?”  Everyone fell silent and strained their ears to pick up any sound.  Then Kit jumped down from his box and ran over to Baloo.

     “That’s her, Papa Bear!  She’s coming in!”

     Molly and Wildcat got up, the jacks forgotten, and joined the others.  Clementine produced a Khandak camera, uncovered the lens and checked the shutter speed.

     For a minute or so the little group scanned in all directions, until Baloo pointed to the south, where a twin-engined yellow seaplane was heading toward the island.  As they watched, the plane set up a landing pattern, dropped lower, and turned into the wind.  Clementine began snapping pictures as the Sea Duck slowly settled until its hull and wing-tip floats kissed the ocean surface in as smooth a landing as anyone could ask for.

     “Hah!  See that, Baloo?”  Jane gave him a friendly thump on the back.  “I told you so, you old hedge-hopper!”

     “She ain’t docked yet,” Baloo muttered.  He kept watching the Sea Duck as it slowed and then taxied up to the seaplane pier, coming to a stop only a few feet upwind.  The slight breeze gently pushed the plane against the old tires and bundles of rope that served as cushions, and some of Louie’s staff quickly made it fast with mooring lines.  The engines whirred down into silence.

     When the seaplane touched down, Kit had pulled a folded cloth out of the knapsack, while Wildcat picked up two poles that lay beside the crates.  With Molly’s help they quickly fastened the ends of the cloth to the poles, and then hurried down the dock.  In the meantime, Louie, Baloo and the others all walked down to the Sea Duck.  As they arrived at the plane the side door swung open and Rebecca Cunningham stepped out, wearing a pilot’s helmet and flight jacket, and looking very pleased with herself.

     “Hurray for Mommy!” Molly shouted, as Kit and Wildcat raised the poles and spread out the cloth above their heads.  On it were painted the words ‘Congratulations, New Pilot!’

     “Smile, Rebecca!”  Clementine raised her camera and snapped another picture: CLICK!

     “Howdy, Rebecca!”  Louie’s greeting was echoed by the others.

     “Nice landing, Ma’am!”

     “Sweet and smooth, Rebecca!” said Jane.

     “I’ve never seen a better landing.”

     “How did it go, Miz Cunningham?”

     “No trouble at all, Kit.  And, as one lady pilot to another—thank you, Jane.”

     Jane smiled happily.  “Well, hey, we female flyers have to stick together, you know.”

     “It looked just fine to me, Rebecca!  ‘Picture’ perfect,” Clementine added.  CLICK!

     Only Baloo had remained silent, and he was now looking from Rebecca to the Sea Duck and back again.

     “Is…is everything okay, Beckers?  Did ya have any kinda trouble?  Are ya…uh, is my baby all right?”

     “Everything is just fine, Baloo,” said Rebecca smugly.  “The Sea Duck doesn’t have a mark on it that wasn’t there before.  I told you I could fly it solo.  After all, I’ve got my pilot’s license, instrument rating and transport certificate now.”

     Rebecca admired the sign that Kit and Wildcat were still holding.  Then she gave her daughter a hug and kissed Kit on the cheek.  Removing her flight jacket and helmet, she folded them neatly and laid them down on a crate.  Meanwhile, Baloo went inside the Sea Duck to inspect ‘his baby,’ while everyone waited to see what he would say when he came out again.  After a short time, Baloo emerged from the plane and stepped back onto the dock.

     “Well…everything looks okay, Becky.  I guess ya do know how ta fly the Duck,” he grudgingly added.  Rebecca beamed with pride at his reluctant praise.

     “I hope you’re convinced now, buster,” she told him.  “So…?”  Rebecca’s question hung in the air, waiting for Baloo’s answer.

     “Uh, so what?” he replied, avoiding eye contact with her.

     “Well, aren’t you going to say it?”  Rebecca folded her arms and looked at Baloo with an expression that clearly said ‘I’m waiting!’

     CLICK!  Clementine took another picture.

     “Well…?” said Kit and Molly.

     “Well…?” echoed Louie and Wiley.

     “Well…?” Wildcat, Clementine and Jane repeated.

     Baloo looked at the other pilots…at Louie…at Molly and Kit…at Wildcat and Clementine…then back at the Sea Duck…and finally, turned to face Rebecca.

     “Okay, Becky…umm…ahh…ya really are a pilot.”

     CLICK!

     And…?” Rebecca prompted him.

     “Ahh…umm…” Baloo rubbed the back of his neck, and gazed skyward.  Oh, man, he desperately thought, where’s an air pirate attack when ya need one?

     And…?” Jane, Clementine and Molly chorused.

     Baloo gave a heavy sigh, and spoke as though the words were being pulled out of him by a winch.  “And…you can handle the Sea Duck…all by yourself.”

     “YES!”  Rebecca leaped joyfully, raising her arms and clasping her hands together above her head like a winning prizefighter.

     CLICK!  There was a series of cheers and whistles from Jane and the other pilots, and Louie stepped forward to give her a ‘high-four’ with both hands.

     Rebecca beamed at the crowd, and exchanged a ‘thumbs up’ gesture with Kit.  She’d been waiting for this moment for a long time!

     “Well, c’mon, ladies and gents!” called Louie.  “I’d say that this calls for a really bodacious celebration!  And I happen to know just the place for it.”  He waved toward the door of his restaurant/nightclub and bowed.

     They all started walking up the pier, but Wiley held up a hand to block Rebecca’s way.

     “Hold on, Miz Cunningham!  Now that you’re really a pilot, there’s a certain ceremony which must be performed.  Bear a hand, Jane!”

     “Okay, Wiley!”  Jane stepped behind Rebecca and grasped her shoulders, while Wiley bent down and grabbed her ankles.  Together they picked up a very surprised Rebecca and stepped to the edge of the dock.

     “Hey, what is this?!”

     The two pilots swung Rebecca over the edge of the dock and back.  As they did, they also began to count.

     “One…”

     “Jane, Wiley, put me down!”

     “Two…”

     “Come on, now!”

     “THREE!”  Jane and Wiley tossed Rebecca into the bay!

     “YIPE!” Rebecca squealed as she dropped six feet into the water with a splash.  A moment later she came up, spluttering.

     After she surfaced, Wiley called out, “Welcome to the club, Miz Cunningham!  You are now a full-fledged member of the airplane pilots of the world!”

     “In that case,” Rebecca laughed, “suppose one of you pilots help this pilot out of the water.”

     “You’re in, Rebecca,” Jane grinned, as she promptly tossed the new pilot a rope, and began hauling her back to the dock.  “The same thing’s happened to every pilot here… including me.”

     Baloo smiled at the memory of that particular ‘first flight dunking.’  “Hey, it was my pleasure, Jane.”  Then his smile became an impish grin.

     “Ya know, Louie, I always thought that Becky was all wet…”

     “I heard that, Baloo!” Rebecca called as she hoisted herself onto the dock.

     Wildcat leaned down and spoke to Molly in a low voice.  “So, what’d ya think, Molly-cat?  Betcha never thought you could take a bath with your clothes on, eh?”  The little cub, who had watched the whole thing with delight, shook her head.

     “Can I take a bath like that, too, Mommy?  It looks like fun!”

     Back on the dock and wiping the water from her face, Rebecca replied, “I don’t think so, Pumpkin.  This bath is special.  You’ll have to wait until you get your own wings, when you’re sixteen.”

     “Awwww…that’ll take forever!  I’m only five now!”

     Rebecca glanced at Kit for a moment, and then smiled at her daughter.  “Oh, don’t worry about it, honey.  Remember, your birthday’s coming up in a couple of weeks.  And besides, it won’t be long before Kit will get his wings.  When he does, you can help us give him a bath!”

     “YEAH!!”  Molly gazed at Kit, and her face lit up with a wickedly impish expression of anticipation and delight.

     “Uhhhh…now, wait a minute…” Kit stuttered.

     Baloo chuckled and patted his navigator on the shoulder.  “Now ya know what ya got ta look forward to, Li’l Britches.”

     Kit smiled weakly.  “Uh-huh.  Wet clothes…and a dry towel!”

     “Speaking of which,” said Rebecca, as she wrung out her hair, “who’s got a towel for me?  And I certainly need some dry clothes…”

     She stopped as Jane snapped her fingers and said, “Oops!  I knew we forgot something.”

     “Say…you did bring along a change of clothes for me, didn’t you?”

     Wildcat looked puzzled.  “Was I supposed to do that, Baloo?  Isn’t Miz Cunningham kinda old to be changed?”

     “Didn’t you?!”  Rebecca looked at Kit, Molly and Baloo in succession, and got only wide-eyed stares in return.

     “Hold that pose, Rebecca!”

     “Clementine, you take one more picture and you’re going to be eating that camera!” Rebecca warned.

     CLICK!

     “Clem, I’ll take an eight-by-ten glossy of that one!” said Louie.  He glanced at Rebecca’s face, which was a picture of dismay.  “It’ll look real good, framed an’ on the wall of my place, Rebecca.”  He gazed at her thoughtfully.  “You know, drippin’ wet you look kinda…”

     “Louie, don’t you dare!!” Rebecca thundered, and then tried to shake some more water from her arms.

     “Guys!” she wailed, as the puddle at her feet grew larger.  “Come on, this isn’t funny!”

     Molly began to giggle, and Kit grinned broadly.  “Relax, Miz Cunningham, we’ve got it all covered.”  He pulled a travel bag out of a crate and handed it to her.  “Here’s everything you need: towel, clothes, underwear, comb, hairbrush and makeup kit.”

     Rebecca’s eyes widened with dismay.  Underwear?  You mean, you…went through my…”

     “Mrs. Axelby helped us, Mommy,” said Molly, referring to a retired but very active lady who often baby-sat her.

     “Thank heaven for small favors,” Rebecca muttered as she opened the bag and pulled out a fluffy bath towel.  She gave a sigh of relief, and started drying her face and hair.  “Why, thank you, kids!  It looks like you thought of everything.”

     “Say, folks, I invited everybody in for a celebration, an’ nobody’s movin’!” Louie complained.  “How about it, now?”

     “Great idea, Louie,” said Rebecca.  “Krakatoa Specials for everybody!  I’m buying!”

     There was a general cheer, and everyone headed toward the nightclub, with Rebecca and Louie in the lead.  He grinned up at her, as she finished toweling herself.

     “All except yours, Ace,” Louie chuckled.  “That one’s on the house.  You’ve earned it!”

 

 

THE END

 

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