Disclaimer: These characters and original scenario belong to the copyright holders. I'm just getting them off the shelf to visit with them for a while. This story is set about forty-five years after "Blackjack" and twenty-three years after my story, "A Delayed Triumph."

There are a number of original characters, because the characters have had children, and some have had children of their own. String and Cait's brood consists of four children: Le Van, a physicist; daughter Jeanne, a Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter pilot, who is married to Basilio Santos, son of Joachim Santos from the episode, "Bite of the Jackal"; son, Patrick, a family practice physician; and the youngest, another son, Daniel Dominic. Le and his wife, Sherri, a veterinarian, have two children, Tiffany and Michael. Jeanny has two children. Patrick and his partner are planning to adopt a child. Dominic has been gone for nearly twenty years, having died not long before his 100th birthday.

Dedication: Absent Friends.


The Condor Passes

Daniel Dominic Hawke tuned the Stradivarious cello that his father gave him when he began his concert career. He had hesitated to accept it, knowing how much his father loved it, but String assured him that the good cello Danny had used in college would be sufficient for him, now that the Eagle Lake String Quartet had disbanded. The Strad was a precious gift. Danny felt close to his father whenever he played it.

He checked his reflection in the dressing room mirror. The black turtleneck, dark gray jacket and matching slacks complemented his tall, slender build, light red hair, and blue eyes. He had never liked formal wear when he performed.

He set the cello back in its stand and went through the meditation exercises he used to calm his pre-concert jitters. In a few minutes he would walk behind the closed curtain to place the cello in its stand on stage. It was the last concert on this tour.

There was a knock on the door. He preferred not to be disturbed in the half-hour window before a performance. "Can this wait?" he asked.

His manager said, through the door, "It's your mother. She says it's important."

He opened the door. He noticed that his scalp prickled. He said, "Thanks, Greg," as he took the phone. Leaning against the door frame, he said into the phone, "Mom?"

Caitlin Hawke's voice sounded very strange. She said, "Danny, your father passed away a little while ago."

He sat down heavily by the cello. "What happened?"

"He went out to the porch with the dog to watch the sunset. After about a half hour, the dog started howling and I went out to see what was going on, and String was on the bench leaning against the cabin wall. His eyes were closed and he wasn't breathing. I put him on the porch floor and did CPR, ran in and called the paramedics, and went back to him. They arrived in fifteen minutes and worked on him for a good half hour, but they couldn't bring him back."

Danny took a deep breath. "Mom, how are you doing?"

She dodged the question. "Patrick , Jeanny, and Le are here, and their families. Patrick signed the death certificate. We took a few pictures of String before the paramedics took him away. Danny, he looked very peaceful. They said it must have been very fast. Patrick said he thought he didn't suffer."

Danny tried to find words past his closed throat. Finally he said, "Mom, I'll try to find a flight home tonight or tomorrow. But this evening, I'll play Dad's cello." He took a deep breath. "Put Patrick on, will you?"

There was a pause, then his brother's deep voice. "Hi ya, Danny. Are you okay?"

"Not really. How's Mom?"

"She holding up. But I'm going to try to carry the burden for a while. She always did, and it's our turn."

"Thanks for being there. Oh, God, Patrick." It took him a moment to regain his composure. "How are Le and Jeanny doing?"

"Not good. Not good. You'll see when you get here."

"Well, I'll let you know when I'm coming in. Put Mom back on."

Another pause. "Danny," she said.

Daniel said, "Momma, I'll be there as soon as I can get there. You take care."

"Safe trip. Love you."

"Love you." He heard the phone disconnect. Greg waited, standing outside his door. "My father died this evening. I'm going to try to get through the concert tonight, but if you could announce a short delay, I need to pull myself together. Tell Felicity, so she doesn't sit alone at the piano. Would you find me a flight home after the concert or early tomorrow? I'll take the cello so please book a seat next to me for it."

Greg Majewski, his manager and friend since they were music majors together in college, hugged him. "I'm sorry, Dan. Your father was a great guy. I loved it when we all played music together up at the lake. I'll get you a flight. Felicity and I will drive the van home. At least we don't have to cancel any performances."

"Yeah, but we were going to play tourist here. I'm sorry you two have to cut your vacation short."

"Your Dad was my friend, too. It should take about a day to get home, driving straight through. Well, let me know when you're ready." He shut the door gently.

Danny stared at it, suddenly unsure what to do. He pulled out his pocket phone and called his fiancé. She picked up on the third ring. "Hey, Dan," she said, with her beautiful low voice. "Aren't you due to be on stage?"

"Kayla."

"What's wrong, Danny?"

He swallowed. "My Dad passed away this evening. My Mom called. Greg is trying to find me a flight after the concert or tomorrow."

"Oh, no." There was a long pause, then, "I'm so sorry, Dan. Let me know when you're coming in, so I can pick you up."

"Thanks. Kayla, I can't believe it." He started pacing, tears choking him but afraid to let them start, afraid he couldn't stop them. "He seemed frail to me, when I was home two months ago. When I hugged him good-bye, it struck me, he just seemed, well, frail. But he was eighty-four." He stopped pacing. "I'm okay. I've got to go to work. Those people out there paid for a ticket. This is Colorado Springs. Some of them traveled a long way to get here. Love you."

"Love you. See you soon." She clicked off.

Danny thought of so many of his father's loved ones and friends, gone before him: Grandpa Dominic, almost twenty years before, the loss devastating to Stringfellow Hawke despite Dom's very long and very full life; the loss of Michael Coldsmith-Briggs ten years past; and Uncle Saint John, only two years ago. Danny smiled as he remembered something Grandpa Dom had told him, about when his father and Dom were in the hospital following the bombing at Santini Air. Dom recalled that he had said to String, "Looks like we dodged the big one." Well, they had dodged it for many years after that, despite close calls on Airwolf, despite his father's narrow escape in Afghanistan, and despite his father's bout with cancer. The thought of his mother, alone now, nearly doubled him over with grief.

Danny took a deep breath and opened the door. Greg was waiting for him. "I called Kayla. She'll pick me up at the airport, so if you could let her know when I'm coming in. Well, we owe those folks a concert, so let's give 'em a concert." He ran a finger under his collar. "Do I look all right?"

Greg stepped back and looked at him. "You look shell-shocked, but I know you better than the audience does." He patted Danny on the back. "You look a lot like your Dad tonight."

"Thank you. That means a lot to me." Danny picked up the cello and bow and headed for the stage.

When the curtains parted, Daniel Dominic Hawke waited for the applause to die down. He left the cello in its stand for a moment and walked to the microphone at the side of the stage. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I'm sorry for this short delay. We will perform the concert you have come for, and we are grateful for your patience." He stopped to scan the full house. "My father, Stringfellow Hawke, passed away this evening. He was a pilot, an astronaut, and a musician. Most of all, he was a wonderful, loving father to four children and four grandchildren, and the heart and soul of a large circle of family and friends. He and my mother were married nearly fifty years. All of us, my mother, my brothers and sister, we all are musicians and we all are pilots. My father played this Stradivarius for decades in the Eagle Lake String Quartet. It was his gift to me, and I dedicate this concert to him. Dad, I know you are watching. I love you, Dad." Danny sat down and settled the cello between his knees. He nodded to Felicity, who played the opening chords of the first piece. Danny played in a way that he had never played before, playing his heart out to his father.