Saturday, October 13, 2012

Plane shot down

Beth invited Lohbado to spend two weeks at a small house overlooking the sea. Beth gave him the key. She said she’d join him in two days. Lohbado looked forward to a little solitude and relaxation. 

The relaxation didn’t last for long. After he parked his car in a small flat area at the top of the cliffs and prepared to take his coffee down to the beach, two planes appeared, one medium sized, one small. The larger plane shot at the small, twin engine plane. A wing exploded. A man shot upwards. A parachute opened. The fighter plane fired a second time. The small plane burst into a ball of orange and vanished into the sea. Lohbado gazed at the spot where the plane went down. The water gently swelled and left no trace. Small waves washed up on the beach. 

Lohbado watched the parachutist land in a potato field. The parachutist got up and removed the harness. From a distance, he appeared to be fine. The man started walking towards the small house where Lohbado was staying. Lohbado got in his car and drove to the house. He waved to the man and waited on the veranda. The man swayed back and forth in a beige jump suit, utility belt and quilted vest with bulging pockets. He trudged through knee high growth of potato plants and on to the red gravel road leading up to the house. His trousers were tucked into a pair of heavy black boots. A chin strap kept his black canvas hat from blowing away in the morning sea breeze.

His name was Smokey Roach, obviously an alias. Lohbado was careful to not ask questions that might piss him off. The man looked dazed and irritated, his system still reeling from the shock of narrow escape. His eyes were narrow slits, his forehead a mess of diagonal lines. Broken teeth showed in a grimace across his tight jaw.

“Call me Roach,” he said, once he was seated on a deck chair on the veranda facing the ocean, “It’s got one syllable. Smokey has two. One syllable is easier than two.”

Lohbado gazed at Roach’s face and tried not to gawk at the tattoos on the back of his neck and hands. Each finger had a tattooed symbol. His body was screaming with messages. He could take off his clothes to put his life history on display. His entire body was likely covered in tattoos.

“Those assholes just murdered five men,” said Roach, “Five people died over a little delivery of Pink Helpers. We’re not even talking about hard stuff. Pink Helpers, that’s old lady poof. They provide a cushion to help you along on those bad days when you need a little escape from the school of hard knocks. God knows why I got spared. I did nothing to deserve life. In fact, I’ve been provoking the devil for years. I guess the devil’s not interested in my soul.”

“I’m surprised anyone survived,” said Lohbado, “I saw the whole thing. The wing shattered. Two seconds later, it went down in a ball of fire.”

“Yeah, it’s amazing. The eject actually worked,” said Roach, taking a vial of pills from his vest pocket, “You want any muscle relaxants? I’d like a glass of water.”

Lohbado went to the kitchen and filled a glass from the kitchen faucet. Roach popped the pills and offered some to Lohbado. Lohbado shook his head. It was too early in the day. He needed uppers, not downers. He gazed over the potato fields and at the ocean beyond the cliffs, where five bodies and a plane disappeared.

“I’m sure glad the eject worked,” said Roach, “Otherwise, I’d be lying next to my buddies at the bottom of the ocean. This war on drugs is a total disaster. Too many people are getting killed for nothing. They should just legalize drugs. But I guess drugs are a sin. That’s why some people are willing to cause so much destruction to make it difficult to medicate yourself.”

He shoved the empty glass at Lohbado. He refilled it at the kitchen sink. The pills seemed to be working fast. When Lohbado handed him the water, Roach’s face was starting to relax. Lohbado could see into Roach’s ashy grey eyes. His cheeks sagged back into position. Roach gulped down the water and sighed. Lohbado refilled it a third time. Roach took off his black canvas hat, wiped the sweat from his brow and pushed his long greasy black and grey hair behind his ears.

“I wasn’t even supposed to be on that flight,” continued Roach, replacing his hat, “At the last minute, Stevie got arrested outside a gas station. I got the call when Susie was in the middle of telling me we need to communicate. I end up being the butt plug for two assholes. Susie has the satisfaction of yelling at me to get out of her house. Max shouts boo and I have to jump in and take Stevie’s place on a drug run, which we all knew was doomed. The small potato flights are decoys, to distract attention from big deals. Tons of cocaine flies out of Dingbat every day. 

"Authorities don’t dare touch Dingbat Operation. The Dingbat family made huge financial contributions to the Minister of Regulation. The authorities let big planes through. They go after small fry. It’s luck in numbers. One out of every fifty small planes is going to get stopped. You’re taking a one in fifty chance every time you get on a Twin Otter. That keeps the military happy. They get to pop a few pimples. It saves face, makes them look good, as if they’re making progress. I just feel bad for my buddies, a real tragedy. There were six people on that plane.”

Lohbado made boiled eggs, toast and a fresh pot of coffee for Roach. While they had breakfast, a police car and fire rescue truck, plus a few neighbours from down the road drove to the cliffs to have a look. Lohbado didn’t know anybody. A white pickup truck raced by the house. He was glad nobody stopped to ask him if he’d seen anything.

After breakfast, he drove Roach into town, where he could make a few calls. Roach said it was ok to leave him at the Lumpies Donuts. Watson would be there in an hour. Roach wouldn’t mind having an hour to himself, to sort things out in his head. Lohbado was only too happy to get back to his routine. Even with the muscle relaxants, Roach was pretty intense. It gave Lohbado a headache, not to mention the horror of what he’d just witnessed. Roach thanked Lohbado. They parted on good terms. Lohbado left Roach alone, so he could reflect on the death of his friends and the shock of a close encounter with death.  

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