Monday, December 13, 2010

Phantom Train, Chapter Two, Part One

Begin with the beginning.

Chapter Two

The Desert Rose

By the time the executive jet had left the busy New York metro airspace, Traynor got up to relieve the pilot. While he was not able to pilot any plane or ship ever built — like his old friend Nick Parker — his capabilities were more than sufficient for this small private jet. For Traynor, there was hardly a better place to relax, think, and make plans than behind the controls of an aircraft. He sure loved this one. It was a nifty little invention with a 370-knot cruise speed at a range of around 1,300 nautical miles, depending on payload and wind. He had to smile as he thought that a new Eclipse jet cost less than most used turboprops. At the same time, it was more economical to operate than most single piston engine planes and all multi-engine piston and turboprop aircraft — let alone other jets.

The aluminum fuselage had been assembled using the innovative friction stir welding process, eliminating more than sixty percent of those expensive rivets. In addition, the engines of the Eclipse were equipped with the revolutionary PhostrEx fire suppression system — more effective, lighter, and cheaper to maintain than conventional Halon-based systems. For the first time in aviation history, there was a fully equipped private jet at an affordable price. First American Corporation had replaced the light executive aircraft division of the "First American Air Force" with a fleet of Eclipse jets when they had become available a few years before.

Its ability to take off and land on short runways gave the Eclipse access to virtually every airport, even those closed to other jets. Needless to say, that was ideal for a company like Zenith Mine, operating out of a hole in the wall like Jinxville. In all, the flight took seven hours and a stopover in St. Louis. It was late afternoon local time when the Eclipse touched down in Arizona. The pilot, having taken over from Traynor, brought the plane to a stop in front of the tiny terminal building — rather a large shed. When Traynor got off the plane, he was able to read the large neon letters on the roof of the small building. They spelled: "Jinxville International Airport."

"Ah, great… They just forgot to add a line below: 'Welcome to April Fools County,' " Traynor muttered so loud that McGinnis behind him overheard it.

"Well, Red Feather County, actually. You'll see that folks in these parts acquired a… certain sense of grim humor due to local history," McGinnis replied with a sly grin.

"OK, do you think it will take long to clear customs and passport formalities at this… international hub?" joked Traynor.

"Just walk around that shed to the parking lot. The black Navigator's mine."

When McGinnis turned the ignition key, the radio of the SUV started playing. As he steered the Lincoln to the exit of the small parking lot, the music stopped. The announcer remarked in a good-natured voice, "Hi, you're listening to KJNX Radio…"

Traynor closed his eyes. "They're pushing it a bit…"

It was just a short drive into town. Jinxville looked like the typical small country town to Traynor. A couple of supermarkets, gas stations, motels, restaurants, and other businesses lined the street. Most of them occupied single-story buildings with large neon signs and billboards. The vast parking lot in front of the local Wal-Mart was nearly deserted.

McGinnis pointed at an oncoming U-Haul truck. "Damn, there goes another one."

In the distance rose mountains with steep rock formations. The cloudy blue sky over the downtown skyline was punctuated by a few tall office buildings, most of them with brick facades, dating from the early twentieth century. However, most of them were not taller than the dome of the porticoed courthouse, whose square constituted the center of the town. Courthouse Square consisted of a band shell filled with old leaves and surrounded by some sickly trees and dry yellowish-brown grass that looked like it had been a lawn in some distant past.

McGinnis pointed out an abandoned construction site. The concrete foundations of a high rise were in place, but nothing above ground. Some heavy equipment was sitting around, but there was no one at work. "Supposed to be our new headquarters building. Thirty stories — tallest building in town. Would have been great. Now work's been halted — we need all men we can get at the mine. Who knows if we'll ever be able to complete it."

Read on…

Or buy the full story.

No comments: