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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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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