"He's here again," Dominic said around a mouthful of meatball submarine sandwich. Hot, thick red sauce oozed between his fingers. Fumbling for a napkin, he finally grabbed at the previous day's worksheet, licked his fingers clean and then wiped them on the worksheet.
"Dominic," Caitlin protested, swinging her feet off the desk and hooking the roll of paper towels expertly with one clean finger. She tossed the paper towels in the direction of the two men and Hawke snared them before they fell to the floor.
Hawke shook his head. It hardly mattered; yesterday's worksheet was about as full as today's, meaning it listed one or two preventative maintenance jobs, no charters, no classes, and no paying work. They'd completed all of the critical maintenance work the previous week, and had worked steadily through the necessary but non-urgent work. Two days prior, they'd completed the non-urgent work and had moved onto the optional and 'maybe it would be a good idea' type of jobs.
Santini Air had hit slumps before – Dominic took great pleasure in announcing that it was an 'up and down' business, usually to groans – but Hawke was hard pressed to remember the last bout of doldrums that had lasted this long.
It was bad enough that he'd even consider giving a flight lesson if necessary, definitely not his forte, but he'd have to fight Caitlin and Dominic for the opportunity.
He'd mentioned – just the once – the idea of soliciting Archangel for some work. The Firm had deep pockets and Briggs's budget alone was measured in the tens of millions; it might have been hard to justify hiring a charter helicopter with the extensive fleet of Bells at Archangel's disposal there, but Briggs would have come up with something.
The look on Dominic's face had reminded Hawke of a bull pawing the ground just before charging and goring this particular matador. Hawke had tuned out after the first ten reasons why Santini Air was not for sale to white-clad, paranoid, manipulative so-and-so's.
It hadn't even been Hawke's idea. It had been Caitlin's, but they both thought Dominic would take it better if it came from Hawke.
Hawke glanced lazily out the window, following the direction of Dom's waving arm. Yup, the old vagrant was back. The man looked too clean to be living on the streets but his presence at the Airfield day after day broadcast his lack of purpose or lack of facilities. At least the weather was temperate and the people at the Airfield generally kind. A few of the business owners had complained, Van Nuys Security had run the man off a handful of times, but the man had soon learned which business owners were a soft touch for a World War II veteran with no place to go, and he spent his days moving among those hangars.
Hawke turned his attention back to Dominic. Santini might put up a gruff exterior but his was one of the softest hearts Hawke had ever known, not that most of the people he'd known in his life had demonstrated they had a heart, tender or otherwise. Hawke gave it five, maybe ten minutes before Santini invited the old man in for coffee and a chat. Normally the chatter would have been distracting, in a bad way. Right now, Hawke was all in favor of some distraction.
"He got a name?"
Santini shrugged, finished his sandwich. "Yenya, Yevga, something Russian along those lines. He was in the Red Army! Imagine, him and me fighting in the same war, thousands of miles apart and now us both ending up here."
Hawke's lip quirked upward in a fond smile. He resisted the impulse to remind Dominic of how many millions of men and women had served in World War II, of the chances of someone near Dominic's age not serving in or affected by the war being far less than those who'd been in it.
He imagined, for a second, Dominic as a young man, flying for the U.S. Army Air Corps, being told that one day, forty years on, he would meet a Russian soldier at his business in California and could well understand Santini's amazement. Somewhere inside, Dominic was still that young pilot.
Hawke met Caitlin's eyes, saw a reflection of his affection for Santini and an equal willingness for something, anything, to break the monotony of waiting for a client.
The old man approached the open doorway of the hangar, looked in with a tentative smile that broadened widely as Dominic waved him on. Clad in a dark suit, charcoal probably thought Hawke couldn't quite tell with the man back lighted in the doorway, and a clean white shirt, he looked like any of the hundreds of immigrant grandfathers he'd seen in California's port cities.
"Yenya," Dominic called happily. "Come on in and meet one of the finest pilots in the world. Why if we'd had String flying for us in the War, we'd have made mincemeat of old Adolf in weeks instead of taking four years."
Hawke rolled his eyes at Caitlin, who stifled a laugh and began cleaning up the paper wrappings that remained from their lunch. She balled the wrappings and tossed it towards the wastepaper basket as Hawke leaned sideways his chair to block the shot.
"She shoots and she scores!" she said with satisfaction amidst Hawke's grudging shrug.
"Two points," he acknowledged. "Double or nothing?"
"Don't mind them, Yenya, come sit down."
Santini pushed past and cleared a space on his desk. He pulled a chair from the other side of the filing cabinet where it had been serving as a convenient spot to leave files, before the dearth of work caught them up on filing.
The old man smiled, somewhat shyly at Caitlin, gave her a quick bow of his head, and then another shy smile for Hawke.
"Yevgeniy Dzhamgerchinov," he said, extending his hand to Hawke. "Please call me Zhenya."
That name was a mouthful in any language and even though it sounded beautiful in the man's native Russian, Hawke wouldn't have dared to try to pronounce it. His attempt at the name would be embarrassing when contrasted to the old man's more than adequate use of English.
"Hawke," he answered, standing up, grasping the old man's hand and giving it a firm shake.
For a man who appeared to have a dozen or more years on Dominic, the man's grip was steady and not at all weak. Hawke met a clear blue-eyed gaze with one of his own, felt his face relax in a smile at the good humor he saw in the other man's face.
"Your English is pretty good," Hawke said, sitting back down and watching Santini fuss over the Russian, offering coffee, cream and sugar.
Zhenya raised his shoulders in a shrug, smiled. "I have, as you say, become acclimated, Americanized, I think." He accepted a cup of coffee from Santini. "Thank you, but no. Just as it is. No milk or sugar." He sipped at the coffee.
Hawke shifted, put his legs up on a box of parts that had come in earlier that morning that they hadn't yet put away. "How long you been in the States?" he asked, trying to quell his innate tendency to be suspicious of anyone new, anyone who showed interest around Santini Air. The suit had proved to be more of a faded black than charcoal on closer inspection and while clothes didn't always make the man, it was generally a clue to what he valued or what he could afford. Most of the spies Hawke had met during his life were underpaid and yet still dressed better than this white-haired old man.
"Oh, Zhenya's been here, what," Santini turned to look at the Russian, "five, ten years now?"
Zhenya nodded. "I came to America to look for my son." He shrugged. "It's a big country."
Hawke felt his suspicions ease for the moment, experienced instead a stirring of sympathy. He knew what it was like to look unsuccessfully for a family member, though Zhenya's son hadn't been left, hadn't been lost, in a war zone.
Hawke gave him a frank stare, curious. "You ever find him?" He regretted it instantly as the man's body shrunk into itself, his face closing off and his eyes seeing something other than the inside of the hangar. The body language alone announced that the search had ended unhappily.
"He died," Zhenya said, succinctly, and with a shudder, shook off the gloom that had pervaded him. "But that was years ago and I prefer to dwell on what is now."
"Sorry," Hawke said, meaning it.
Zhenya frowned, nodded. "Spasiba." He smiled. "Thank you."
Hawke suddenly realized that Caitlin hadn't been introduced to the Russian and he turned to look for her, frowning when he didn't see her.
"Excuse me," he said. "Nice meeting you, Zhenya."
Not waiting for a response, Hawke left the office as Santini began recollecting about events of May 1943. He strolled around the hangars, looking in the cockpits of the helicopters, under the fuselage and on top, near the rotors, without success.
"Caitlin?" he called tentatively, curious and puzzled.
Hawke followed the sounds of her voice through the main hangar doors. Turning to the left, he smiled at the sight of her sitting on the hood of her car, feet on the front bumper, head upturned to the sun, eyes partially closed; in jeans and a faded tee shirt, Caitlin looked the very picture of indolence.
"You're catching rays with that Irish skin?" he asked, doubt evident, wondering where her normal good sense had fled.
"Tell me this doesn't feel good," she challenged, without opening her eyes. "Come up here, sit down, and tell me that the sun on your face doesn't work its way down into your very bones." She sighed deeply. "I could never live in Alaska."
Hawke blinked at the non sequitur, but climbed on the hood the car nonetheless. He stretched his arms out, with a slight theatrical shake, and then lay back on the hood. Shoving his sunglasses into position, he inhaled deeply. "You know, I have lived in California all my life, Cait."
"Not the point," she argued, calmly. "We take it for granted, one beautiful day after another. Flying here, flying there, never just appreciating."
Wondering if his normally sane friend had taken a mental vacation, Hawke stayed silent. Caitlin was normally so reasonable, so utterly practical, that if anyone had earned a vacation from reality, it was she. He might even grant that there was a benefit to slow times, if it hadn't been for his worry about Dominic's finances. Breathe, he ordered himself, just breathe.
He tried focusing on his breathing, tried tuning out Caitlin's steady in-out breaths, heard the laughter of Santini and Zhenya drift out from the hangar, heard the squeal of a sticky wheel on the equipment cart at the hangar down the row, heard the approaching sound of rotors. Robinson R22, he decided – someone was giving flight lessons, just not Santini Air.
"He's a little sad, isn't he?" Caitlin asked quietly.
Relieved at a break from forced idleness, Hawke sat up. "Yeah," he said, hard put to find the words to describe Zhenya. The old man had seemed fairly well balanced, not consumed with sadness for his son. On the other hand, he did seem a bit aimless, as if learning that his son had died had left him without a goal. "That why you left?"
Caitlin continued with a deep breath in through her nose, a slow exhale out through her mouth. "I suppose. There's just something about him that makes me sad."
Hawke raised an eyebrow. Zhenya sad was one thing; Caitlin sad was a different matter entirely. He waited, wondering what Caitlin wanted him to say, if he was supposed to encourage her to tell him why Zhenya saddened her, not entirely sure he wanted to know why.
"He left his country to come to the United States to find his son. Lord knows how long he looked and then, to find that his son was dead!"
Hawke grimaced now, fairly sure now of the parallel that Caitlin was drawing and not liking where the conversation was heading. He tried to decide whether it was better to confront the issue head on or dodge it, waited a minute too long in deciding.
"Not the same thing as St. John at all," he interrupted, now annoyed, the warm, drowsy feel of sunbathing entirely dispersed.
Caitlin sat up, shielded her eyes from the sun with her hand, and scrunched her nose. "What makes you think I was talking about St. John?"
Hawke shook his head, slid down from the hood of the car. "You think I'm going to be haunting air fields when I'm 70?"
She titled her head, looked thoughtful. "I wonder if his son was a pilot. You think that's why he hangs around here?"
"Damned if I know," Hawke said, turning away, heading back towards the hangar and suddenly reluctant to go there either. He stopped, stuck between two places, neither of which he wanted to be. A strong desire for the lake, for the wind, the eagle and the peace and quiet of his cabin swept down upon him and he almost staggered from the need.
"You're heading home now, aren't you?" Caitlin asked, her voice cautious and a little forlorn. "I am sorry, I didn't meant to upset you." She slipped up to him as quietly as a whisper. "I wasn't talking about St. John but I can see why you thought I might be. You know, the missing and searching, and kind of not sure of what to do with yourself."
Hawke crooked an eyebrow. For someone who hadn't planned on talking about his missing brother, she was doing a good job of connecting all the dots between his brother and Zhenya's son, or more unsettling, between him and Zhenya. He shook off her tentative hand on his forearm.
"It's dead here. I've got work to do at the cabin. Tell Dom I'll see him tomorrow."
Still scowling, he headed for his helicopter. Preoccupied and thoughts directed darkly inward, he flew home automatically, forgoing his normal enjoyment of the close knit pine trees, the lacks of houses, the absence of any type of mechanized transport save his own, the blessed solitude that he craved as his lungs craved oxygen.
Tet's happy thumps on the landing pad drew a half-hearted smile, gone as quickly as the dog scampered away to allow his master's landing.
In the cabin, he was drawn first to his cello, and then abandoning it, went to his extensive collection of record albums, almost entirely classical. He'd alphabetized the collection more than a few times, but his favorites always ended up grouped together in the section nearest to his stereo equipment. This time, he hunted through the volumes until he reached the latter end of the alphabet: Tchaikovsky Piano Concertos, Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D, finally the symphonies. He placed Symphony Number 5 on the turntable, lifted the needle onto it and felt the dark music spill out gradually, haunting, bleak and as dark as his mood.
He'd split wood later.