Chapter Two - Disquiet
On any other day the return trip from the airport would have been a happy event. Andrew’s dad peppering the conversation with lighthearted quips and offering informed opinions of long-range weather forecasts. On occasions there would be time to stop at a roadside shed where $2 tossed into a tin would fetch a punnet of ripe strawberry’s or 6 ears of fresh corn; or there could be a quick swim at Fogarty’s Bend if it was warm enough; or a scramble up to the trig station on Windlock Hill where the view of Arkefield Valley inspired deep full breaths. But there were no thoughts of such things today. Andrew, his mother Deidre and uncle Colin were headed directly for the shelter of home.
Andrew watched his mother and uncle carefully from the back seat. He could see they were deep in their thoughts. He looked carefully for any signs that his recently hatched plan had been detected. He was reasonably satisfied that it hadn’t. Deidre sat upfront, still and quiet. Colin gripped the silence as tightly as he held the wheel; the 4 wheeler thrumming along the straight line of his forward gaze. Andrew wanted to relieve his mother of her sadness, but he knew that once he began to share his realisation the rest of his scheme would unravel. Although he hadn’t yet thought anything through, he knew he couldn’t risk it.
Hey mom, he said. It’ll work out, you’ll see, they’ll find him, someone will.
She touched his hand as it rested on her shoulder. Deidre had no words for her son; she was back at the search command centre. Half an hour earlier they’d been informed that the search for Mal Chesterman had been “officially called off”. For Deidre these words were the sounding of a death sentence she’d secretly dreaded for years. A pilot’s wife is never truly free of the lurking undertow that one day her husband will not return. She never tells any one of this, she never tells her husband; she dreads the telling will make it real. She fights the betrayal of her own beliefs but the undertow moves deliberately to take her down. However she knows she cannot succumb; the choice is clear, there’s her darling son of sixteen years and there is drowning.
Malcolm and Andrew were Deidre’s ‘boys’. She loved them both completely: her husband and best friend of more than twenty years and her darling Andrew. Malcolm and Deidre had wanted a big family but due to complications after Andrew was born Deidre was unable to have any more children. She knew on some level Malcolm was disappointed, although he’d never said a word and she’d never forced the subject. It’s not that they didn’t share most things – there were just some things that went unsaid and this was one of them.
Andrew was born on the 4th of July. And for as long as Deidre could remember Malcolm had referred to his only son as his little ‘fire-cracker’. He loved and admired Andrew and to watch them in earlier times you would swear they were best friends, not father and son. Recently however a distance had grown between them; it was nothing you could put your finger on. Malcolm put it down to the teenage years; Andrew considered it to be something to do with his father’s pre-occupation at work.
Colin pulled into the drive at 42 Excelsior Street; he left the motor running and came around to open the door for Deidre. He gave her a hug and said he’d be back after sunset to check on them. He’d speak to one or two of the local operators and see if he could commission a plane to go out and have a look himself. Although Colin was saying the right things, to Andrew it seemed he didn’t really have his heart in it. He couldn’t pick it, but something wasn’t right. His uncle didn’t really seem his old self, but then, did any of them?
As they went in, the dormant house filled with a new disquiet. But Andrew did not let the lingering emptiness tempt him into despondency. He had named his mission.
Andrew waited for his mother to settle before he opened the door to his father’s study. He wanted to compare the details of his father’s last flight with other flights to Mount Ismuss. He spent time looking through old logbooks and charts. He noted flight times and checked alternate routes that were taken when other destinations were included in the flight plans. Andrew placed a selection of his father’s maps covering 1000 square miles on the floor. He marked the coordinates last recorded by National Aviation and Maritime Safety. He drew the probable flight path across the maps. The terrain included a forested mountain range, a series of man-made reservoirs, land cleared for livestock farms and market gardens closer to the town of Arkefield. There were two arterial roads traversing the area and a highway connecting a string of townships with the city: Arkefield being the closest. One of the maps had been folded and handled more than the others. Andrew recognised the areas where his father had taken him many times into the bush for camping and hiking trips. Andrew was a keen student of the lore of bush craft and bush survival and his father had been an enthusiastic teacher. He studied the grid lines and the contours on the map, struggling to separate a memory from a clue.
Andrew went through everything he knew about his father’s last flight. He’d been on a regular trade operations flight to Mount Ismuss. He’d spent a day doing aerial surveying with some of the company’s geologists and after refueling at the mine’s airstrip had taken off at approx 4.00pm on the afternoon he disappeared. The flight was scheduled to take just over 2 hours and in that time he would cover approx 700 kilometers. Meaning he would have touched down sometime around 6.15pm that evening. As it was September that meant it would only just be getting dark at that time. Which meant most of the flight would have occurred in daylight. The weather that day had been mild with a 10 to 15 knot northwesterly breeze. Flying conditions were ideal. Andrew could find nothing unusual and no matter how many times he “worked the problem” no solution emerged.
It was not unheard of for a plane and pilot to go missing. But given the area of the search it was very unusual that no trace had been found. The paper had reported one theory; that Malcolm got into trouble and had attempted to ditch the plane in one of the reservoirs along the range. But given that no oil slick, wreckage or any sign had been discovered this seemed unlikely. Without a starting point Andrew was at a loss and was frustrated by the lack of clear direction. However as his father had reminded him many times he knew that successful execution of any endeavour, be it a hike, flight or mission was two thirds planning. He would have to override the urgency that coursed through him.
Andrew was as baffled as the authorities. The newspaper-clipping from yesterday’s paper read: The search and rescue effort covering 4,000 square miles of land, water and shoreline has revealed no trace of the missing plane. Given that the plane’s locator beacon had not been activated and no evidence exists of its whereabouts it now appears unlikely that it will be found.
Suddenly Andrew was aware that his mother was standing at the door. She’d been watching him for some time.
You won’t find him in the maps Andy, she said. He’s gone; your father’s gone.
Her words ate into his certainty. For a brief moment he wanted to defy her hopelessness: wanted to shout away the weight of her impenetrable sadness. He checked himself.
I have to keep hoping mom, he said.
There was silence between them. Each one looking into the other for the reprieve of understanding, but none came. The moment between them confirmed two things for Andrew: one, he had to stay true to the task he’d set himself; two, he would add to his mother’s grief once she discovered he was gone.
Chapter Three - Next Month in the November Issue
For Chapter One - Click Here