The motorcycle roared ahead terrifying one rider and delighting the other. Sydney tensed every muscle in her body locking herself onto Pack and the earsplitting machine. Pack marveled as he maneuvered the Indian with complete ease. His hands worked the throttle, gear shifter and brake lever without any hesitancy. He could feel Elmer’s presence and took comfort in his skill and control over the motorcycle. This is so easy, thought Pack. I could do this in my sleep. He let his eyes close.
Open your eyes, you fool! The scream exploded in Pack’s head. His eyes flicked open. You want to get yourself killed? Elmer demanded.
     “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”
We need each other. Always.
     Understanding flooded through Pack. Elmer needed Pack’s senses: his eyes and ears. He was Elmer’s connection to the physical world around them. And right now Pack needed Elmer’s skills and knowledge.
But who was he? Who was Mordun? He waited. But Elmer was silent. A nudge from behind alerted him to the dirt fire road up ahead.
     Pack formed the words silently in his head:
Take the dirt road on the left. He heard nothing in return from Elmer, but his hands slowed the motorcycle and his body leaned into the tight left hand turn.
     The fire road was hard packed, yet plenty of channels and potholes dug out by rain and weekend ATV warriors pitted its surface. The old motorcycle's hard, skinny tires bounced over the ruts and holes shaking the teens without mercy. Sydney felt her stomach lurch and nausea well up in her throat. Pack felt no queasiness, his senses completely focused on Elmer’s excitement as he pushed the bike faster.
     “Look out!” Pack screamed into the pounding air.
I see it, too. Just keep your eyes open!
     A rotted pine tree felled by a recent rainstorm rested across the road. Its sickly, mottled colored branches jabbed upwards like primitive spears. Pack loosened his grip on the throttle and applied pressure to the brake handle. But the bike charged on, his commands to his own hands completely ignored.
No. We must not slow down now!
     The fallen tree was twenty seconds away. Fear gripped Pack and he craved to shut his eyes tight. Summoning every ounce of willpower he locked his eyes open and focused on the road. He still felt Elmer’s confidence and enthusiasm.
Is this guy insane? Am I insane?
     The bike drifted far to the right. Pack saw an embankment rising along the edge of the road. Covered in tall grass it sloped up sharply before meeting the forest’s edge.
     “Yes, I see.” Pack hollered.
     The forest around them was a smear of brown and green blurred by speed as the motorcycle thundered forward. Sydney clamped her eyes shut and held a fierce grip on her friend. Don’t let us die, she prayed. The bike slid up the embankment, and with a sudden jerk, up into the air. Don’t let us die, she prayed.
     Pack rejoiced as the tree trunk passed inches beneath them. The landing rattled them both, but they hung on. Elmer’s spirits soared and laughter, both Elmer’s and his own, filled Pack’s head.
     A mile later Pack brought the bike to a halt in front of a single horizontal steel pole gate: the back entrance to Silverton Airfield. Sydney staggered off, fell to her knees and vomited. Pack pulled off his helmet and tossed it to the ground. He stood motionless, feeling helpless as he watched his friend heave. Shame washed through Pack. He had forgotten his friend in his own enjoyment of the awesome ride along the fire road. Pack sensed Elmer’s amusement over Sydney’s shaken nerves and anger sprang up within him. He focused his infuriated mind on the motorcycle champion and unleashed a cruel scolding. Pack’s head flinched as a cool sensation filtered through his consciousness. His rage dulled.
Friends before anger. Go to her now. Pack did not recognize the voice that drifted through his head.
     He gently touched Sydney’s shoulder. “Sorry about the rough ride. You alright?”
     “Yeah. Just need a couple of minutes.”
     Pack helped Sydney up and stepped her over to the side of the road away from the pool of vomit. Sydney sat, pulling a tissue from her pocket and wiping her mouth. She stared off into the woods.
     “Sorry, Pack. Sorry I let you down. I was just so piss-in-the-pants scared.”
     “What?” This made no sense. That’s trash, Pack thought. He had risked Sydney’s life, had forgotten about her while he reveled in the ride’s excitement. He could have killed his best friend, and
she’s apologizing. Tears welled up in his eyes. I’m such a jerk! Damn! I’m so stupid. These shoes….I’m going crazy. Pack was about to blurt his tangled fury when other words came.
     “Sydney,” Pack’s voice was easy and steady, “you have nothing to be sorry for. You did great. I am so proud of you for holding on. And I’m even prouder of you for trusting me. Your trust is the greatest gift. We’re best friends, Syd. What’s a little vomit between friends?”
     Sydney smiled. “You’re being gross.” She picked up a stone and tossed it across the road. “It was that cake, you know.”
     “I know.”
     “Let’s go find out what we can about Mrs. Wamdoffer.”
     “You want to leave the bike here and walk?”
     “Hell no. Get on.”
     Pack grabbed his helmet and they mounted the motorcycle. Just before he came down on the starter Pack silently whispered a thank you to the elderly soldier who had appeared to him and given him just the right words. Pack knew he was a man that understood friendship and fear. But what was he doing in his head?
     The roar of the high-compression engine in a low-winged airplane racing down the runway masked the banging of the motorcycle’s exhaust. Silverton Airfield had been cut out of the forest sixty years ago and was the home of the Copper Clouds Flying Club.
     Hangars, most built of wood and looking much like large backyard sheds, lined the service tarmac that ran parallel to the runway. Located at the airfield’s midpoint where the main access road from the highway emptied into the parking lot was the Club’s headquarters building which housed the airport’s administrative office. From a bright yellow room with windows providing an unobstructed view of the airfield, flying club volunteers kept watchful eyes on the runway and the surrounding skies. They monitored the radio and furnished information and clearances to visiting and local pilots. A second room in back provided space for club meetings and where pilots plotted out their flight plans. Vending machines offering drinks and snacks lined the south wall.
     Pack motored slowly down the service road. He and Sydney weren’t sure what they were looking for but they scanned for any sign of Mrs. Wamdoffer. They circled through the parking lot and continued along the service road next to the runway. Sydney tapped his helmet. A little too hard, Pack thought.
     “Take it easy.”
     “Check it out.” Sydney pointed to the last hangar at the far end of the runway. Situated apart from the other structures a modern steel building painted black with red trim supported on its roof a sign spelling out “Memmer Air”.
     Pack braked to a stop and shut down the engine. They dismounted and stood staring at the black hangar. Pack spoke just above a whisper.
     “Shall we take a look?”
     “You think Byron’s there?”
     “There’s no car out front.”
     “Could be inside.” Sydney looked down and kicked at the ground.
     “I’m scared, too, Syd.”
     “You’re scared? I just got some crappy gum on my sneaker.” Sydney gave her sneaker sole a look and was satisfied she’d scraped most of it off. “Let’s head around back and see if there’s a window.” Pack nodded and Sydney walked off. They found no window, only a steel door with an oversized mail slot. Sydney knelt down and pushed in the slot’s cover. Pack kept watch.
     “What do you see?” He whispered.
     Sydney stood up. “It’s empty. There’re workbenches and tools and stuff and the lights are on, but there’s no airplane.”
     “Did you see the car?”
     “Not in there.”
     Pack shrugged. “Come on. Guess we’re too late to learn anything here.” The words were hardly out of his mouth when he heard the sigh and mumbling. “What?”
     “Don’t whine at me. I told you there’s no car or plane in there.”
     “Not you, Syd.” Pack tilted his head and Sydney understood. He closed his eyes and spoke into his mind:
What are you saying? The mumbled, slurred words returned. Pack couldn’t make them out and he felt his own frustration flare up. Speak up or shut up!
     A fifty-eight year old man in a dark rumpled suit and badly in need of a shave crystallized into view. He held a well-worn fedora loosely in his left hand. His eyes were watery and red-rimmed. The kind of guy who’s scary to a kid, pathetic to a twenty-something year old, and a reminder to someone who has lived to middle age that a tiny twist of fate is all that may separate them. His mouth was spread slightly in an amused smile. A sour smell wafted through Pack’s mind.
You don’t have to shout, boy. Now listen: You’ve got to work at getting information. Look everywhere. Ask questions. There’s always something to learn. Understand?
You’re drunk?
Maybe I am. But at least I’m not piss-head stupid! Pack felt a flash of anger but wasn’t sure whose rage was filling him: his own or this disheveled drunk’s. He tried to steady the whirl of emotions. Who are you? Pack probed. The man jerked a bottle to his mouth and his image faded. Much of the anger drained away. An alcoholic haze lingered and then intensified. Pack searched to understand. What is that feeling? In the pit of my stomach? In the back of my throat?
     Suddenly aware Pack concentrated and focused his mind to pull back the drunkard. He reappeared grumpily.
I appreciate your advice, Pack hissed, but keep your drink cravings out of my body. You understand that, asshole?
     His words came slowly and more clearly,
Learn from mistakes, don’t imitate them. He vanished.
     The strong pull for a drink of whiskey was also gone. Pack opened his eyes and looked at Sydney.
     “How long was I ….. out of it?”
     “About ten seconds. Learn anything?”
     “I think I have an alcoholic cop or private detective living in my head. Told me we’ve got to keep looking, and start asking questions. He called me piss-head stupid.”
     Sydney laughed. “Well, sometimes you are.”
     “He freaked me, Syd. It feels like he’s part of me. Or I’m part of him. I don’t know what to think, but I sure don’t want to end up like him.” Pack stared down at the shoes.
     “You want to take them off?”
     “Not yet. Come on. Let’s go be private eyes.”
     “I’m with you, piss-head.”
     They parked the motorcycle alongside the administrative building and walked around to the front door. Sydney directed Pack’s attention to a metal sign advertising cold drinks inside.
     “If anyone asks what we’re doing in there, we’ll say we’re getting something to drink.”
     “Do you have any money?”
     “Not a penny. But they don’t know that.”
     Packed rolled his eyes and pulled the door open. Inside, a table fan swept back and forth cooling a chubby man seated at a control console stacked with radio equipment and a monitor displaying wind direction and speed. He was writing in a three ring binder with enough concentration that he didn’t notice when Pack walked in. Pack was wondering what to say to interrupt him when the slamming of the screen door behind Sydney solved that problem.
     “We’ve got to get that fixed.” The man looked up and passed friendly eyes over the two of them.
     “Sorry about that.”
     “Can I help you?”
     Pack barely sounded a syllable before Sydney blurted, “We came in to get something to drink.”
     “She’s thirsty.” Pack cut in. “We’ve been hoping to meet our neighbor here, Mrs. Wamdoffer. Maybe you saw her? She’s a tall old lady. Blond hair, light violet dress.”
     “I’m afraid you’ve missed her. She left about an hour ago.”
     “Did she fly out?”
     “I thought she was going to. She was waiting here while the Memmer Air plane was being prep’ed. But after a talk with Balford Memmer, he flew out alone and she left with his assistant.”
     “You know him?
     “Sure. He’s friends with Mrs. Wamdoffer. Did you happen to hear what she was discussing with Mr. Memmer?”
     From the back room the sounds of a vending machine in use reminded Sydney that she really was thirsty, and hungry too.
     “Nope. I don’t remember hearing a thing. I don’t listen where I don’t belong.”
     Pack reached into his pocket, and lowered his voice, “Maybe a stick of gum and a nickel will jog your memory.” Sydney was shocked when Pack drew out his bribe. Pack, too, was shocked.
What am I saying? A familiar voice filled his head. Shit kid, that’s all you’ve got in your pocket! How’d you expect to get fatso to spill what he knows? You want to work him over? He’s hiding something, kid.
     No working over! You think he knows more?
 I know he does.
     A rumbling laughter shook its owner who leaned back in his chair making no effort to restrain his merriment. He yanked out a handkerchief from his pant’s back pocket and wiped tears from his eyes.
     “You’re a hoot, kid. I needed a good laugh.” Pack and Sydney stared as he collected himself and caught his breath. “I didn’t hear what the old woman and Memmer were saying. But I did hear Memmer tell that lug Byron to be back here by five to pick him up. Then Memmer flew off and Byron drove away with your friend in that monster black SUV.”
     “Here.” Pack reached forward with the gum and nickel.
     “Keep it, kid.”
     “Thanks. We’ll be going now.”
     “Thought your friend was thirsty.” He dug a couple of bills and a handful of change out of a pocket. “Here, get yourselves something to drink and bring me back a chocolate bar. The one with almonds.”
     Sydney let the money fall into her hand. “Thanks, mister.”
     “Call me Bobby.”
     “I’m Sydney, this is my friend, Pack.”
     “Pleased to meet you. Now go get my chocolate bar.” Bobby raised his chin toward an open door. “In there.”
     Sydney zipped into the back room straight to the vending machines and selected a lemon lime soda. It tumbled into the bin at the bottom. Pack followed more casually.
     “Pack, you want orange?”
    “Sure. Hey, this is ancient.” Pack stood before a vending machine that had been new in 1964. Behind a sheet of glass metal racks displayed candies and gums. The printed price labels were faded and written over by hand with more modern, higher prices. Under the bottom edge of the glass a chrome handle jutted out beneath each item. Pack had never seen this type of vending machine before, but it was obvious how it worked. A sharp pain in the back of his head made him turn around. Pack had to admit: he was piss-head stupid.
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