The Pilot, the Witch, and the Hitman Part – 10


Christmas Singer


Gabe Wheeler ran up to Sam with a gift bag.

“Sam, all of us here at Crestwood appreciate you as a neighbor and admire your flying career. Jokes and all.” Gabe handed him the bag with a bottle of wine in it. “Here’s something special.” He faced the audience. “Maybe we should all take a break, have some refreshments and talk with Sam one-on-one; look closely at these wonderful pictures covering so many years. Also, remember everyone, please stick around, in a few minutes we have a lovely young lady who’s going to sing for us. When she finishes she promises to surprise us with another one of her talents.”

“What the hell, Gabe, you’re shutting me down?”

Almost everyone stood up and shuffled back toward the dessert table decorated in garland. A few paper turkeys left over from Thanksgiving were spread out along the back of the table.

“Sam, not everyone finds this kind of thing interesting,” Gabe quietly insisted. “I don’t know what’s worse: being duped with a clever pilot joke or some awful war story that would only upset everyone.”

More people rose from their seats and Sam’s moment was over. He placed a large hand on Gabe’s bony shoulder, saying, “I love ya, Gabe, but I’d like to wring your scrawny neck. I prepared for weeks. That joke, as you called it, was to break the ice. I had a real career for fifty years. Experiences I wanted to share. I was gonna stay until Monday, give one last hand to you jokers, but you’re on your own. I’m leaving tomorrow.” (more…)

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The Pilot, the Witch, and the Hitman Part – 09





Clear Night, New Moon


Sam looked around the room, noticed a few weak smiles from the seniors, but mostly felt a collective resistance at being trapped a few minutes longer. He thought of all the eager faces over the years that loved it when he launched into some flying story, seemingly off the cuff, grabbing the listeners’ attention, speaking with authority. Sometimes it was young pilots eager to ride along with Sam, or a good friend. Often it was a woman dazzled by Sam’s travels.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” Sam announced and the remaining chatter died quickly. A few seniors leaned forward. “Well, actually,” he paused, enjoying the silence, the attention. “Actually, it was a clear night with a new moon. I was out of Burke Lakefront airport headed back to Skyline Field. Lots of stars. But without the moon it was coal black except for city lights and the cars moving along the freeway.

“I was in Cessna’s little trainer, a two-seater, a fine airplane that taught a lot of pilots to fly over the years. And it was summer. Had it been winter with snow on the ground it would’ve been a better deal. You’ll see in a moment.”

A voice broke in.

“Snow would reflect the light and you’d see a lot better if you had to make an emergency landing,” a man stated confidently from the second row. Sam had forgotten the fella’s name but knew him as someone prompt and smart about his recycling.

“Damn,” Sam replied, “I thought this was my story.”

The man just smiled, pleased with himself.

“Try not to kill my punch line,” Sam added.

“Punch lines are for jokes,” Marge Holloway said loudly, and a few in the room snickered. (more…)

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The Pilot, the Witch, and the Hitman Part – 08


Christmas Party


Crestwood’s club house was full and everyone seated as Sam began talking of his boyhood love for flying. A few gossiped until hushed by a neighbor.

“Is that your wife?” Marge Holloway blurted, pointing at the top left corner of the photo board.

“That’s just a good-lookin’ woman who happened to be walking by,” Sam said, avoiding any further discussion by turning to the photo and examining it himself. It was Ruth standing alongside a twin-engine Cessna in front of an open hangar.

“I can’t see her very well.” Marge squinted, leaning forward in her seat. “You should blow it up so everyone could see it better. Maybe you should use a computer?”

“How the hell’s a computer gonna help?” her husband asked.

“They use computers for everything,” Marge retaliated. She cast a bleary eye on Sam and again she pointed. “Is that your boy, Bobby? I can see him better.”

Sam wasn’t five minutes into his presentation when the Holloways derailed him. Payback from the morning’s recycling fight? The other residents and guests, nearly fifty gathered, stared straight ahead or squirmed in their seats, anxious to get to the Christmas dessert table.

“Yes, Marge that’s Bobby. But for now how about everyone just listen,” he said, nailing the Holloways with a dark stare. He brushed the side of his head with his hand and glanced at the floor, a soothing gesture.

“When I’m done you can take a closer look,” he said matter-of-fact, having had dealt with rude pilots, flaky customers and bad weather forever. An old lady in the front row wasn’t going to distract him. He walked behind the easel and nimbly slid it forward a few inches with the grace of a man much younger helping a woman into her seat. (more…)

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The Pilot, the Witch, and the Hitman Part – 07




Late afternoon, weak sunlight unable to dissolve the shadows, Sam switched on a floor lamp and studied the two dozen aircraft pinned to a peg board leaning against the back of the couch. He checked his watch—two hours before his presentation and plenty of time to practice, get dressed, and load the car.

Several times he cleared his throat and began, not really satisfied with any opening. Arms wide, he announced to the quiet living room—“I know where it all ends, but how to begin?” He studied the red and white Taylorcraft, near the center of the board, the beating heart of flying, the plane his wife had liked best.

Sam may have forgotten their first ride together if it wasn’t for Gracie retelling it to their children and friends over the years. “We were right above the tree tops–so beautiful. And you know how your father can talk. Well, he talked the whole time we flew, pointing out lakes, people’s houses, roads, even our church where we were married.”

His heart sank thinking of his wife. “Gracie, you know I just need a good opening. God, I could talk forever after that.” She would have sat quietly listening to him. She adored him.

He walked to the center of the room and eyed each plane, now a ghost, and to Sam ghosts were mooches, always wanting something else, never satisfied, and surely never grateful. A man that could live several hundred years would be rid of his ghosts by his hundredth birthday, Sam thought. Mistakes made, lessons learned, and the ghosts of one’s past would evaporate, like morning fog before the rising sun. (more…)

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The Pilot, the Witch, and the Hitman Part – 06


Great Legs


Sam, punched in Ruth’s number.

“Has ‘Scrooge’ been around?” he asked.

“Ran into him at the grocery store last night. I was hoping he found someone else to annoy.”

“I should just fly down.

“Sam, don’t worry about me. I’ve handled him every year. Drive your car down.”

“I want him to see my mug when he opens the door.”

“Just get here safely.”

“Things have changed. I plan to leave a few days early; probably Monday after the recycling’s picked up … if that works with your schedule.

“Sure. What happened?”

“They fired me, Ruth. The board says I’m pushing people around too much. Maybe I’ll leave this weekend—or tonight, pack the car and just head out. I don’t mind driving in the dark—”

“Sam you got your presentation. You’ve been working on it for weeks.”

“My heart’s not in it.”

“Finish it, Sam. You need to stick close to earth, selling cars instead of planes, hanging out with this old broad in Florida.”

“That’s that psyche part of you—reading my mind again.”

“You mean psychic, Sam. I’m not that either, just an old practicing Catholic who got lucky with great legs and good skin.” (more…)

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The Pilot, the Witch, and the Hitman Part – 05


The Witch


A fine mist dampened Ruth’s face as she handled a large head of broccoli looking for defects. Unable to find any brown spots, she leaned into the mist. The stinging coldness surprised her and she jumped back and hit a standalone basket of lemons, knocking a few onto the floor. No one else was around and she bent over slowly, hand on the cart, and picked them up, saying a Hail Mary that her back wouldn’t be sore tomorrow morning getting out of bed. She slid her hand down the side of her face. Her skin felt cleansed.

“I could always use some help,” she said quietly to herself. “Maybe Publix should include facials in their produce section.” Actually, at sixty-five, her face might not launch ships anymore, but it did make men of all ages stop, leer and admire, like the one Ruth saw standing near the oranges.

She set the head of broccoli in the cart, knowing that even if she had a few extra pounds around the middle, her legs had remained shapely. Without hose, she wore a skirt cut slightly above the knee and her thin sweater hid bare arms which she thought were getting fat.

When she returned the man’s stare he immediately looked away. “Men,” she mused, “shy and lustful.” Defiantly, she drove her cart right toward the gawker, who was ready to run. (more…)

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The Pilot, the Witch, and the Hitman Part – 04


Another Chance


The hit had been arranged months ago through Phil Germano, Caesar’s contact. Phil met Caesar planeside and together they entered the small general aviation terminal at the West Palm Beach airport. Slightly hunched over, Phil led.

“I’ve got an office upstairs. Let’s go,” he said, pointing a crooked finger at an open door.

Phil had a large formless nose, narrow face and playful eyes. He enjoyed bragging about what he knew, especially with a long-standing employee like Caesar. Hershey had stolen from several of Frank Luzzatto’s operations during the eighties. A Florida boss, originally from Cleveland, Luzzatto withheld his revenge due to a decade-long battle with the IRS that utilized Hershey’s skills. All that changed when Luzzatto’s grandson graduated in 1990 from Harvard at the top of his class and would introduce his grandfather to plenty of new talent. As 2000 neared, Luzzatto was ready to act. Not only the theft, but Hershey’s knowledge of his operations could eventually hurt his grandson’s chance for elected office. Besides, Frank liked to occasionally clean house. (more…)

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The Pilot, the Witch, and the Hitman – Part 03


The Hitman


Caesar never could understand why people jumped up immediately when the captain turned off the seatbelt sign at the gate. He watched an elderly couple frantically pull at their bags in the overhead bin, crowding the aisle with other passengers. No one’s going anywhere fast, he thought. They should take their time and file out nicely: front to back. Above him a child drooled on his mother’s shoulder and then lunged at him, laughing. Caesar attempted an understanding smile but only got a nervous glance from the young mother.

After deplaning and finding his car in a parking lot alongside Hartsfield airport, he checked all the gear provided by his employer: I.D., Walther P22 with silencer, room key and beret. He stared at the beret. Though it matched his dark blue suit, he decided not to wear it, feeling safe in his disguise—thick salt-and-pepper mustache and an uninspiring gray wig that made him look like the old man he was. Of average height, barrel-chested with thick arms, Caesar’s large chin gave his meaty face a menacing look.

In his suit and golf shirt Caesar climbed the steps to a side entrance of the Concourse Hotel. He waded through a swarm of teenage girls going to their rooms and allowed them to board the first two elevators before taking the next one with a handful of businessmen, flushed with drinks and dinner, not paying any attention to the old Italian guy in a dark suit. On the twelfth floor he got out and found the room and shoved the plastic key into the slot. No cleaning ladies were nearby and he saw only one hotel guest, across the atrium, leaving his room at the same time Caesar opened the door.

The hotel kept an electronic record of entry and exit for each room and would know someone had entered the room before the guest did. But with cameras only at the front lobby, there would be no other record of Caesar’s visit.


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The Pilot, the Witch, and the Hitman – Part 02


The Holloways


Sam stood for a few minutes at the end of the sidewalk surveying Crestwood’s orderly layout of homes and condos on half acre lots. Once a dairy farm, the medium to large homes sat on land that dipped and climbed toward the winter sky.

Many residents had appreciated Sam’s attention to detail and his sermons on better living through recycling. Though in retrospect the men usually wanted to hear war stories and a few of the elderly ladies wanted to seduce Sam. He wasn’t always comfortable with the female attention, wishing for a gal a bit spryer. Ruth Peyton fit the bill, but she lived in Florida and Sam traveled there only twice a year.

Weak sunlight poked through a passing snow shower. The cold didn’t touch him, an angry heart pounded beneath his coat and flannel shirt. He tried to remember the song about being young at heart, a much more preferable mood, but it was anger that warmed him and muddled his thoughts.

He started down the sidewalk and all of Crestwood looked like a Christmas card to him, yet it didn’t make him smile. Before he slumped further, he decided on a pot of coffee when he got back to his place. Gloveless, hands at his sides, he passed homes outfitted with wreaths and lights and big red bows on the mailboxes. Crossing the intersection he noticed a large blue bin at the curb of Marge and Ray Holloway’s yard. He shook his head and aimed for their house.

He used the bell and Marge answered the door looking old and frail.


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The Pilot, the Witch, and the Hitman – Part 01



In the summer months before 9/11, my co-pilot told me of a World War Two veteran who had disappeared the past winter in a small Cessna over the Atlantic. The man, Sam Messina, had taken off from a Florida airport and, most likely, had stolen the plane. My copilot knew Sam and was receiving firsthand accounts from the veteran’s son, who still maintained his dad’s business in aircraft sales along with his brother.

The co-pilot and I were paired for several long tours that summer and spent much of our time reviewing the stories, contacting other pilots—aviation being a small community—and learning about the lives of several very passionate people.

Sam Messina dreamt of living forever, believing that scientists were close in achieving that medical victory. But when Sam was fired from his neighborhood post as recycling czar, he took the next best route to immortality—a road trip to Florida with a beautiful young woman. However, in West Palm Beach, his lover of many years, Ruth Peyton, was praying for another kind of “eternity,” while an aging hitman, caring only for the ‘here and now,’ was plotting to finally snare Ruth, the woman of his dreams.

By autumn my notes had turned into a narrative, and my co-pilot had hunted down a recording of Sam giving a talk on his aviation years at a Christmas party. After listening to Sam’s voice, and reflecting on the collision of lives, I shaped the dramatic sequence of events with dialogue. We both agreed to call it The Pilot, the Witch and the Hitman.



The Pilot


On Friday morning Sam Messina faced off with Crestwood Estates four-member board. He knew Gabe, the others were acquaintances Sam ignored or traded a hard look for their smug ones. At six feet tall, Sam was bald except for a ring of thin white hair around the temples. His granddaughter had begged him to shave the remaining hairs and get an earring, but he preferred the adult look that had accompanied him for decades of successful aircraft sales.


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