We are in Captain Stillman’s double-wide mobile home. Unlike the hanger where he stores and repairs his planes, the place is prickly clean. While he’s brewing coffee for us, I use the bathroom. Green and white striped towels on racks are perfectly aligned. Shaving cream and a battery-powered razor are in a leather kit. Tooth brush in a holder. Colgate toothpaste in a cup. I peek into his bedroom. A King-sized bed made up to military specifications. A dark blue navy blanket tucked so tight a dime would bounce. Captain Stillman comes up behind me.
“What are you snooping for?”
JW: Who cleans this place?
CS: I do. You finding fault with anything?
JW: No, not all, sir. Tell me how you start your day?
CS: I roll out of bed at 4:30.a.m. start a pot of coffee, do fifty and fifty, shower, shave, regular stuff. I have breakfast and head over the hanger.
JW: What is fifty and fifty?
CS: Fifty sit ups, fifty push ups.
JW: What about other kinds of exercise? Do you run?
CS: Frowning: I fly. Running is stupid. Run to the corner and run back. What does that achieve?
JW: Good heart rate, healthy—
C: My heart rate is just fine. Thank you.
JW: Are you in a bad mood?
CS: I’m in a good mood, I’m always in a good mood.
JW: In The Reluctant Hero you didn’t appear to be in a good mood.
CS: Abigail Tynan who runs that foundling home set me up. Lied through her false teeth. Next thing I know I’m saddled with a social worker and five kids. Not regular kids, either. Fat, blind, crippled, crazy and wild. I was doing her a favor.
JW: Abigail paid you.
CS: Not enough for what she put me through. As soon as that dang ice lake melted my plane sank to the bottom! It was all I could do to salvage the Pratt and Whitney engines.
JW: I see. What’s the trait you most deplore in yourself?
CS: Am I supposed to have one?
JW: Well, in The Reluctant Hero we got a hint you might be a softie behind your rough exterior.
CS: Nope. No way. I’m hard as stone. I was just doin’ what had to be done to get us out of there alive.
JW: Really? You seemed attracted to Rebecca Hollis.
CS: It was the situation. That’s all I’m saying about that.
JW: Moving on. What is the quality you most like in a man?
CS: That he knows when to keep his mouth shut.
JW: What is the quality you most like in a woman?
CS: That she knows when to keep her mouth shut.
JW: So you don’t see any difference between the quality of a man and a of woman?
CS: I’m not stupid enough to step in that sink hole.
JW: The newspapers and magazines said you were heroic.
CS: Nope. Those folks just wrote that stuff to sell papers.
JW: Do you have a hero in real life?
CS: John Wayne.
JW: But, he’s dead.
CS: See, that’s the thing. All heroes are dead.
JW: Last question. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
CS: My shirt. I spilled coffee on it.
The door opened and a tall, attractive teenager stepped in. His hair was dark and long, threaded through a leather throng decorated with beads and a feather. The Indian boy, Santee, the oldest of the orphans: “Plane’s ready, Cap. Luggage and everybody is aboard.”
JW: Are you flying somewhere?
Santee: Galveston, Texas. The Shriner’s Hospital there fixed Molly’s feet. Rebecca said she’s in a casts up to her thighs, but we can push her around. Then we’re flying to Orlando to Disney and Sea World.
Captain Stillman sighed the sigh of a put upon man, grabbed a worn leather flight jacket off the back of a kitchen chair and ushered me out into the early mist of a soft June morning.
JW: Captain Stillman, one more question: What is your current state of mind?
Santee, as tall as the pilot, patted his shoulder, glanced at me behind the Captain’s back and winked.