The Aircraft in the Story
Julius owns a Piper Navajo that he uses to connect with his clients in Texas, Louisiana and beyond. It is a capable, twin-engine aircraft that offers a great combination of speed, safety and economy. Of course, it is no match for the Pilatus, but it serves the needs of Julius and his family very well.
"The Navajo sat proudly on its tripod of struts waiting for its commander. This was the part that played to Julius’ ego. He loved the thought of being in command of his faithful bird. After all, it was not his term; it was the term the FAA used to designate the warm body, generally in the left seat, behind the controls, whether truly in command or not. But, nevertheless, Julius liked to be pilot in command. He loved the freedom of flying and being in command was just one of the perks that contrasted the general patina of his daily life."
The Pilatus aircraft is fast, sleek and expensive. Made in Switzerland it is one of the most sought after airplanes for medium distance business use. The Pratt and Whitney (Canada) turbine engine provides lots of power and smooth operation at high altitudes.
"Julius paused for a moment, his face turning serious. “Say, we seem to have a new aircraft in here today. Quite a beauty. Any idea who owns it?”
Pierre shrugged his shoulders lightly, “Not sure, really. It landed early this morning and I assume it’s someone doing business at the mill. Although now that you mention it, I didn’t see anyone leave the terminal—but I’ve been fairly busy this morning so I may simply have missed them.”"
Julius filed his flight plan to Lone Star Executive Airport which is near Houston. As you can see this area is very busy with airports everywhere and complex airspace all around the city. The airport has since been named Conroe North Houston Regional Airport.
"Julius responded, “Good afternoon, this is November Seven Three One Papa Tango, Piper Navajo looking to fly between Springhill – Kilo Sierra Papa Hotel—and Lone Star Exec—Kilo Charlie Xray Oscar—this afternoon leaving at twenty fifteen Zulu, IFR, about one hour ten en route. I have the current and forecast weather for the trip, the local AWOS and the published TFR’s and would like to file a flight plan.” The rapid-fire conversation continued as he gave the step-by-step information required by the ICAO flight plan."
Fish 'N Fly Airport
This was Julius' first choice for landing. He considered it to be a safe place and much too small to land a larger aircraft. However he had second thoughts as he recalled the trees at the end of the runway and the uncertain condition of the surface.
"He had to get his bird on the ground somewhere that would be out of the way, unobserved and unobservable. He had chosen the old fishing haunt, Fish-N-Fly, which had an airstrip. It was barely long enough and the runway was like a tunnel through the trees, at least at the northwest end, but it would have to do. In his mind he brought up an image of the lodge and its surrounding area. He had never flown into the lodge but had looked down the runway once when he was there fishing. A clearer picture of the runway began to form in his mind and, if he recalled correctly, the runway was oil-sprayed dirt, polka-dotted with clumps of grass. And that was almost 10 years ago."
Cyprus River Airport
Having jettisoned his decision to attempt a landing at Fish 'N Fly Julius decided on Cyprus River. It was close enough to where he wanted to go and it would have facilities that Fish 'N Fly would not. It also had a longer runway and the northeast end was not obscured by trees. And most important of all the runway would not be long enough to land a Pilatus aircraft.
"His eyes fell on Cyprus River, just a bit west of Fly-N-Fish. There was no tower and it was a public use airport so it would likely be better maintained. It was close enough to get him to the place where he planned to disappear. The chart indicated that it had a 3200 foot runway which would make for a tricky landing for the Navajo but if he guided it skillfully his bird could land and stop in that distance."
Harrison County Airport
This Harrison County Airport is a large regional airfield that can accommodate a wide variety of aircraft. The Pilatus would have to land here and the occupants would need to drive to their destination.
"Vladimir’s mood immediately brightened. He ordered Yakov to look up the Cypress River airport and see if the runway was long enough for them to land. After a brief rustling of pages Yakov shouted into the headset microphone to be certain Vladimir heard him over the whine of the engine, “In an emergency, yes, but I wouldn’t chance it.” Vladimir shouted back, “This is an emergency! What do you mean in an emergency? Can we get in or not?” Yakov swallowed hard and said, “No, we can’t risk it.” “Then find me another airport, Yakov,” barked Vladimir. Yakov scanned the chart and said, “Then it has to be Harrison County, runway length 5000.”"
The Roads Around Caddo Lake
From the Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area east to the state line there are a series of county roads on which Julius makes an effort to evade his pursuers. I travelled these roads when I visited the area and they are unique in many ways.
Just a quick note about the roads around Caddo Lake. Much of the initial research on this area of Texas was done using Google Maps and other mapping sources. I mistook a gas line (the line on the map to the right between Route 9 going east-north-east to the State Line) for a county road and made that not-so-much-of-a-road part of the action. Rather than change the story I just created a new Texas roadway and named it county road 2611. It is a work of fiction after all.
"He turned a sharp left on route 9 heading north toward the water. All three occupants of the Lincoln were intent on the foliage and farms along the road. They could see the bayou glinting ahead when they saw the sign for Swanson Landing Rd. Vladimir skidded the car around the corner, the left front wheel almost leaving the edge of the gravel road. He stabilized the Lincoln and drove east once again, slowing a little. He had never driven on a road quite like this before. The road was originally paved with black asphalt but had been patched every 50 feet or so with 50 feet of white concrete—or perhaps it was the other way around, he couldn’t really tell. Neither the original surface nor the patches were in good shape with local red clay frequently bleeding through. The constant flashing under the car of white, then black, then white, then black, reminded him of driving across a chess board and it became mesmerizing."
Marshall is a lovely small town in Texas. The central core of the town has many historic buildings whose architecture is stunning. The fringes of the town are modernized and have all the expected modern conveniences for shopping and dining.
The Parks Hospital for Children is a figment of my imagination as is the interior of the Sheriff's office and the various funeral homes referenced in the story. The old part of town where Yakov is arrested (you'll have to read the story to find out who he is) is representative of the old industrial section of Marshall, but no attempt was made to be accurate in its description.
The Weisman & Co. mercantile is a real place serving real lunches. The pictures to the left and right show the old-world grandeur of the mercantile building. Click here to view the Weisman site.
"Julius looked around, soaking up the ambiance of the old mercantile. The various patterns in the embossing of the tin ceiling tiles reflected what would likely have once been different departments within the store but now, stripped of its original purpose, simply provided a variety that was pleasing to the eye. The polished walnut of the grand, central staircase was breath-taking as it curved graciously, spilling onto the mezzanine that stretched full-width across perhaps a fifth of the back of the store. The walnut continued in the wainscoting that skirted the mezzanine and enclosed the staircase, attractively sculpted into panels of varying sizes and orientation."