CHAPTER 1 – DEEP FREEZE
The North Atlantic, 1961
“We got trouble.”
The words jarred Henry Bristol from his sleep. He looked up at the weathered face of the pilot. “What?”
“I said we got trouble.” Chewing on a cigar, the pilot leaned over the makeshift seat in the back of the cargo bay where Bristol sat. “See that engine out there?”
Bristol glared out the window of the old DC-4. A black patch of oil streaked across the wing like a bloody wound.
“Pressure’s dropping like a brick and we got a blizzard down there. Got to turn around.”
“No!” Bristol’s eyes widened. He was suddenly wide awake. “I already paid you. You assured me this plane could make it with no problem. I can’t go back! Don’t you understand?” His voice rose in pitch almost to the point of cracking.
“I think you’re the one that don’t understand. We can’t make it on three engines with a payload this heavy. Got to turn around and find a place to put her down for repairs. Our best bet’s Godthab, Greenland. Get the oil leak fixed—day or two at the most.”
As the pilot turned, Bristol stood and grabbed him by the shoulder. “No! You must keep going.” He was almost a foot shorter than the burly pilot and immediately realized his bad judgment.
The pilot balled his fist in Bristol’s face. “Don’t force me to explain it again, little man. Remember, you’re not even supposed to be on this plane. Now park it and shut up.” He shoved Bristol back into the seat, turned, and made his way between the large wooden crates until he disappeared into the cockpit.
Bristol felt the plane bank. There was no going back. As far as the world he left behind was concerned, he was dead. Dead and buried. He had to convince the pilot to change his mind. Maybe he could appeal to the man’s greed. His foot nudged the duffel bag under his seat—so full of cash he could almost smell it.
He stood and pulled his coat around him. There was hardly any heat—another thing that annoyed him. Jumpy by nature, he looked around his surroundings with darting eyes, magnified through the thick lenses of wire rimmed glasses. Determined, he maneuvered past the rows of crates until he stood at the cockpit door. How much should he offer? What did it matter? He had to do whatever it took. Opening the door, he stepped inside.
The only other person on board was the copilot, a skinny man with beady eyes and a scraggly beard. He busied himself at the controls as the pilot turned to Bristol. “I told you to stay put.”
Bristol took a hesitant step forward. “I’ll pay you twice what we agreed.”
“We’re losing a hundred feet per minute.” The copilot’s voice was anxious.
“How can that be?” The pilot scanned the array of instruments. “What the hell’s going on?”
“It’s number two.” The copilot pointed to a set of dials.
“All right, triple the price.”
“Shut up!” the pilot yelled.
Bristol started to make another offer but the words never came. The DC-4 vibrated violently followed by a loud bang and the shriek of ripping metal.
“Oxygen!” the pilot called out and grabbed his mask. He turned to Bristol and pointed to an extra mask hanging over the vacant navigator’s position. “Put it on.”
Bristol grabbed the oxygen mask and shoved it to his face. The plane’s nose dropped, and he saw the churning expanse of storm clouds ahead. “What happened?” His voice was muffled behind the thick rubber.
“Propeller blade,” the pilot shouted. “Ripped off number two. Must have torn through the fuselage. We’ve lost cabin pressure.” He shut down number two engine then keyed his microphone. “Mayday! Mayday! Godthab tower, this is Arctic Air Cargo 101. We’ve lost cabin pressure and two engines. Request emergency instructions. Godthab tower, do you read?”
“Nothing but static!” the copilot said while he adjusted the knobs and dials of the radio transmitter. “We’re not getting through.”
“Keep giving out our position,” the pilot ordered as the plane plummeted into the clouds.
Like bouncing off a wall the DC-4 bucked and pitched, sending Bristol to the floor. He hit his head and felt blood flow down his face.
The tremors worsened as the pilot struggled with the controls. “I can’t turn her, rudder’s frozen. Propeller must have severed the cables.” He ripped his mask off when the altitude needle passed the ten-thousand-foot mark. The plane tossed and rocked as it continued its steady drop into the belly of the storm.
“Get back to your seat and strap in,” the pilot shouted to Bristol.
He turned to start back when the plane shook again. This time, he thought it would rip apart. Thrown forward, he smashed into one of the large wooden crates that filled the cargo bay. His head and shoulder struck with a crack, burning pain shot through his arm. Blood flowed into his eyes. He heard the wind scream across the jagged slash in the fuselage. Groping his way to his seat he swiped the blood from his forehead on his sleeve and grabbed the duffel bag.
When the plane broke through the clouds, Bristol glared out the window and saw what he thought were lights of a small town passing underneath. As quickly as they appeared, they were gone, replaced by a dense shroud of swirling white.
The DC-4 leveled off as if it were about to land. The pilot must see a place to put the plane down, Bristol thought. A cautious feeling of relief swept over him. Had the pilot heard the offer of more money? No. Too much noise and confusion. Bristol looked out the window again. For a precious few seconds a break in the storm revealed what looked like a vast colorless ocean with row upon row of giant waves frozen in place, stretching off to the horizon. What kind of nightmarish scene was this? Were his eyes playing tricks? Had the bump on his head caused him to hallucinate?
There was a rumble—must be the landing gear dropping into place. They were going to land! Bristol pressed his cheek against the cold window trying to see what lay ahead. The strange landscape rushed by—the white ocean got closer. Once they landed, he figured they could wait for the storm to pass then make their way back to the town. He would find a place to stay while the plane was repaired. A few days at the most, the pilot had said. A small price to pay for committing the perfect crime and getting away with murder. A reassuring smile crossed Bristol’s lips. Strapping himself in, he wrapped his arms around the duffel bag, holding his breath.
Like a specter appearing out of a nightmare, Arctic Air Cargo 101 swooped down and glided in across the top of the Greenland ice cap. The driving wind of the season’s worst blizzard had built up huge banks of tightly packed snow and ice. The instant the plane’s front gear bit into the white powder, the nose rammed into a snow bank and the impact crushed the cockpit killing the pilot and copilot. Bristol’s seat ripped from the floor. Still strapped in, he flew forward and collided with one of the cargo crates.
The old DC-4 groaned and shrieked as the snow swallowed it, the sounds of its agony nearly smothered by the roar of the blizzard. When only the tip of the tail stuck above the snowfield, the ripping and tearing finally stopped.
Dizzy and numb, Henry Bristol opened his eyes. In the fading glow of the cargo bay lights, all was finally calm and quiet—the howling of the storm now distant and muffled. He told himself that it was only a matter of time before a search party would come. He had always been a patient man. This time would be no different. Steam drifted up from the wound on his head as he hugged the bag and waited.
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THORPE’S CANDLE, © 2017 by Joe Moore