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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Almost Heaven

We were in Aspen, Colorado, waiting for the passengers. From a bench alongside the FBO I watched the planes come and go and peacefully stared at the sunlit rocks and green mountainside. When my twenty-something co-pilot approached, wagging his head, pained look of bewilderment, I knew one of mankind’s sins had gotten hold of him. We occasionally argued politics but recently I had taken a more passive approach, letting him rant, asking a question or two, and then watch him bite into fresh new material and not let go. Hands on his hips, he started complaining about our dependency on oil as he scanned a full ramp of corporate jets. I reminded him that he flew a plane that guzzled more fuel on a two-hour flight than most people would burn in a year driving. But he was uninterested in facts. He looked at the mountain across the runway and told me about his aunt who recently died of cancer.

“She was in hospice. And at first, when I went to visit her, I didn’t know what to say. Our family’s not very religious and it seemed hypocritical to read from the Bible or anything like that. So I started talking about anything—family members, my job, and then I felt like sharing some of my ideas with her. Growing up, we visited her in Florida, where she lived. But we just did family stuff. I never told her what I thought about anything. So I started with the environment, saying that it was a shame we still had the gasoline engine. But that a new day was coming when not only cars, but even planes would be powered by the sun. She smiled a lot. She couldn’t really talk anymore, too weak.”

I kept quiet. I saw his aunt in the next world driving an electric car, passing fields of windmills and solar panels creating good clean energy for heaven’s populace.

He crossed his arms and spoke to the mountains, “Too much greed, I told her. And she’d nod her head in agreement. That meant a lot to me.”

I thought he was finished, when he started again.

“When my aunt was near the end I read to her from a preventative health book. Sound a little weird?”

I shook my head no. I wanted to hear the rest of the story.

“In this book there’re several prayers that you say before dinner. I thought it was appropriate to say a prayer, nothing Christian, of course.”

“Of course,” I replied.

“The prayer gives thanks to the earth for all her blessings and asks that the food we consume nourish our bodies and our souls. We’ve got to give people hope,” he finished, satisfied with his good deed.

I didn’t respond, watching the wind sock alongside the runway shift directions one hundred and eighty degrees, not unusual in a box-canyon airport: one way in, one way out.

“Anything we need to do before the passengers arrive?” my partner asked.

“Yeah, have the line crew put a quart of oil in each engine.”

For a moment he looked troubled.

“Don’t forget,” I said, “the oil’s synthetic.”

He laughed good-naturedly. “That’s a start.”

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Of Blood and Brothers: Library Journal Review by Douglas Lord


blood Perfect 289s | Books for DudesHelms, E  Michael. Of Blood and Brothers:Book One. Koehler. 2013.

Helms, E. Michael. Of Blood and Brothers: Book Two. Koehler. Mar. 2014.

This superbly enjoyable historical fiction features a simple and quite skilfully written story centered on family, the Civil War, and lost love. In 1927 Northern Florida, rookie reporter Calvin Hogue stumbles upon the two elderly Malburn brothers, who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War. It’s easy to get the two talking, but not together. Daniel, the older brother, and Elijah don’t speak to each other, but each tells Hogue his life’s story over the course of many meetings that the reporter dutifully transcribes into a weekly newspaper series. The two ended up on opposite sides inadvertently when young Elijah was captured and forced to work for the North as a scout. He eventually, and reluctantly, led a raid on his home valley of Econfina. The books chronicle seven intense years, from battles in Georgia to Reconstruction in Florida. The genuine, homespun voices Helms uses for the brothers (e.g., “Laying there under that hot sun I soon got powerful thirsty”) work perfectly as they potently recount harrowing battlefield experiences (e.g., “A yell went up like the bowels of Hell had busted open and ten thousand screaming demons was set loose”) and tell of sadnesses—including both falling for the same girl. The chronicle continues into the 1870s after Daniel returns home on foot from a Northern POW camp and Elijah is branded by some as a traitor. The young, excitable Hogue is also a well-drawn character; he coughs through sips of offered moonshine and obsesses about honoring the two brothers with the “whole story.” Helms’s steady intensity and pace keep the three narratives on track with little frittering away of precious pages. Both books are quick and pleasurable reads. VERDICT Helms’s (Proud Bastards) fiction carries the ring of truth.

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Book Talk: Elegant ‘American Sky’ tome chronicles flight adventures, by Barbara McIntyre, Akron Beacon Journal —April 27, 2014

American Sky: Good Landings and Other Flying Adventures is the story of how Ravenna resident Fred Tribuzzo has “made grooves in the heavens” in his life as a professional pilot, beginning in 1981 as a flight instructor at Miller Field in Alliance and advancing to fly a Boeing 737 for a private jet company.

Although music fans may recognize his name as a former bass player for the popular Kent-based Numbers Band, Tribuzzo, also has expanded his resume to literary agent and promoter. Writing with elegance and maturity, he tells of the “unending view of America” and the world he enjoys from 30,000 feet.

For an early assignment delivering bank checks, Tribuzzo flew from frozen Cleveland to Pittsburgh to Buffalo, back and forth, several times a night, with a failing heater. Most later assignments were more comfortable, involving flying businessmen and families to meetings and vacation destinations, learning from everyone he meets. Throughout, Tribuzzo maintains a special relationship with his mentor, a World War II veteran who challenges and encourages him.

American Sky (264 pages, softcover) costs $16.95 from Koehlerbooks. Fred Tribuzzo will appear at a pancake breakfast at the MAPS Air Museum, 2260 International Parkway, North Canton, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today. The $8 cost includes museum admission. Tribuzzo also will appear at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Barnes & Noble, 198 Crocker Park Blvd., Westlake.

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Test Pilots: from American Sky

I always believed the early test pilots had the Mercury and Apollo astronauts beat. You see, space travel was empty to me, like the vacuum it operated in. (more…)

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American Sky Breaks Cloud Cover: Review by Chantal Berendsen, at Runway Girl Network

Growing up, I always looked forward to my dad’s stories. Over fresh baked cookies and tea or steaks, he’d pull back the curtain on the mystical pilot’s world just long enough for me to snatch a glimpse. Even now, older and with plenty of boarding passes in my pocket, the pilot’s world and my father’s stories from the cockpit are the stuff of legend for me—high altitude sunlight gleaming off the gold thread on his uniform, the warm smell of leather and plastic, static-y, almost coded transmissions always delivered in the same casual, unaffected monotonous drawl. (more…)

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