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Steel Blues -- Preparations

I thought I'd share a little piece from early in Steel Blues, the sequel to Lost Things, in which they prepare the Terrier for a coast to coast air race....

The California sun was warm though it was only March, and Lewis took his jacket off the moment he got in the hangar. The good thing about working on the Terrier in Henry's hangar was that it was top-notch. There was every piece of equipment you might want, and all of it was good and worked right. Also, since Kershaw had built the Terrier, there was no making do with parts intended for a Fokker or a Ford. Everything was factory sharp, just what the boss ordered.

The bad thing was that there were always people hanging around. Henry had a shop manager, one of his senior mechanics. A bunch of his designers worked out of this hangar. And he had a full crew all the time, tending to a couple of other planes either pre or post production. The Gilchrist Terrier that was going to be in the air race was a source of pride to everybody, and being alone with the plane was like trying to court a girl before her quinceañera. Alma had concluded that while a big robed ritual to bless the plane might be preferable, it was not going to happen. The magic was going to have to be in the paint job itself, in the repainting of the sigil on the Terrier's tail, rather than in a working that accompanied it.

Alma and Mitch were already in the hangar, the sleeves of Alma's mannish shirt rolled up to her elbows as she stood by Mitch surveying the basic job. Henry's guys had put the first coat on, solid white from nose to tail, and Lewis had to admit it looked good. A lot better than bare metal, anyway, which was what they'd had. The wing tips had also been painted, a bright medium blue that Lewis frowned at. It would change the profile of the plane against the sky, make it harder to identify.

Apparently Mitch had been saying the same thing, because as Lewis walked up Alma replied, "Yeah, but we're not worried about friendly fire! A little confusion might be good for us."

Mitch put his hands on his hips. "It's pretty. I'm just saying that it will make us look like a smaller plane. It's going to make us look like one of the Fords from a distance."

"Does that matter?" Alma asked.

"Consolidated's colors are blue and white too," Mitch said.

"They've got red on the tail," Lewis said, joining them. "You can tell us apart."

Jerry came around the other side of the plane, pushing his glasses back on his nose. "I've got it drawn out and ready," he said, waving a piece of paper at Lewis. "Do you think you can do this?"

Lewis took the paper and studied the design. It was a circle cut into four parts by an equal-armed cross in the center, like a compass or a Templar cross. An outer ring around the outside sported 'Gilchrist Aviation' around the top of the circle and 'Ps 22 16-17' around the bottom, all rendered in the same celestial blue as the wing tips. "I can in that size," he said. "It's big enough. What, about 36 inches across there on the tail?"

"Sounds good," Alma said.

Lewis eyeballed it. "So the letters are a couple of inches tall. Sure. I can do that with a fine brush."

"It's the Sixth Pentacle of Jupiter," Jerry said in a low voice so it wouldn't carry to shop employees. "It serveth for protection from all earthly dangers, regarding it each day devoutly thou shalt not perish."

"Sounds good to me," Mitch said. "I like not perishing."

"I'll keep that in mind," Lewis said. "I'll need a big compass or calipers or something to trace the circle onto the plane."

"Fortunately I have one of those," Jerry said, his eyes amused. "Vital equipment for the modern magician."

"Ok," Lewis said. "Let's have a look."

The wind blew in through the hangar door, tinted with scents of a spring evening, lifting Lewis' hair off his brow and teasing the edges of the flaps as though the Terrier yearned for the sky. Not a terrier, Lewis thought. One of Diana's greyhounds, born to run. She was ready to stretch her wings over the whole continent.

And she would. Pacific to Atlantic, over mountains and deserts and plains and bayous, over cities rising hopefully toward the sky. Celestial blue, the color of ocean. Lewis carefully traced the circle, going clockwise around with the paintbrush. Pacific to Atlantic, we will be safe. We will be safe under heaven.

The cross was simple, broader brush strokes, clean lines. He'd seen it on airplanes before, not so different from the cross on the Luftstreitkrafte planes he'd fought against in France, only enclosed in the circle and without concave curvature to the arms, a compass that could never waver. A compass. Wherever they wandered, the Terrier would bring them home.

Celestial blue, the color of sky.

"That looks real nice," Mitch said, looking up.

"Thanks," Lewis said.

Jerry didn't speak, just nodded, not wanting to interrupt.

Gilchrist Aviation across the top of the circle, Alma's name at least as he'd known it, his family now. Lord protect us, Lewis thought, filling in the letters carefully with the smallest brush, the oldest prayer. Lord, protect my family.

Celestial blue, the color of the Virgin's robe, the color of prayer.

And the verse last. "They pierced my hands and feet. I may tell all my bones." A funny thing to paint on an airplane, he'd thought at first, but it made sense now. No matter what travail, no matter what sorrow, grace never wavered. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…." Lewis had walked through that valley. He'd been there more than once, but there was always morning on the other side. This was morning. This was bright day, everything he could reasonably ask for out of life -- flying and friends and a bride who loved him, who he loved heart and soul. He hadn't thought he could love Al more, but he did, every day that he woke up and saw her open her eyes and look at him.

Celestial blue for Alma's eyes. Celestial blue for love.

Love carry us, and love bring us home safe.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 6th, 2012 03:57 pm (UTC)
This is just beautiful. I love the ritual structure underlying Lewis' thoughts/intention as he goes. It may be freeform, but it's all there.
Aug. 6th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It is freeform, but yes, it's all there, everything he needs.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )