This is the serialization of my first mystery novel, Null_Pointer. It will be released on this blog every work day until it is complete. You may purchase the novel at Amazon, Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords or order it from any brick and mortar bookstore near you. Thank you for reading it and I hope you enjoy this free look at the book.
You can find all the chapters of this book by searching for the Null_Pointer Novel tag.
It was still dark out when Steve dropped them off at the hangar where Joshua kept his airplane. The stars were shinning in the sky. Dancia had put the handgun in her backpack so it was out of sight. She had the backpack hanging off her shoulder as she waited for Joshua to unlock the main hangar door.
Standing in the bitter cold she was already missing the warmth of Steve’s car. It was a long drive out to Nampa and the car had become real toasty. They stopped for breakfast at a drive-through McDonald’s just off the interstate. She was still finishing her coffee.
Joshua pulled open the lock and then started to slide the metal hangar doors open. Dancia pushed on one and it seemed to travel easier than the side that Joshua was pushing. Once the doors were open Dancia opened the passenger door of the shiny metal airplane and tossed in her backpack. She looked at how tiny the cockpit was and remembered that she really didn’t like flying in small planes.
Joshua untied the ropes that anchored the plane to the concrete floor of the hangar, letting them fall back towards the rear of the hangar so that they would not become entangled in the plane’s propeller. He started going over the pre-flight checklist in his head as he moved around the plane. He checked the tires and brakes, ran his hands over the trailing edge of the wing, testing the control surfaces. Then followed the leading edge back to the nose where the engine compartment was. He unlocked the lunch box latches and opened the cowling to check the oil level, holding a small Mag light to see what he was doing. He stuck his hand in the inlets, looking for bird’s nests or spider webs. Then he ran a hand over the single propeller blade, feeling for nicks or other imperfections. The plane was inside the hangar and probably didn’t need such a thorough looking over, but he did it anyway out of habit.
He got a thin plastic beaker out of the plane and used it to drain fuel out of the wing tanks to look for water. If there were water in the tanks it would show up at the drain points. The light blue tinted aviation gas in both tanks was not tainted with water. He moved down the fuselage checking for missing rivets, broken linkage and anything not where it should be. He moved the metal control surfaces of the horizontal stabilizer and checked the hinges on the curvy rudder.
Joshua’s grandfather had purchased the plane direct from the factory in Wichita Kansas back in 1946. He had been a fighter pilot in the Second World War and he used the little metal plane to run a flight school in McCall back in the early fifties. Joshua had every annual and maintenance record the plane had ever endured for its entire life. Some time in the mid-sixties his grandfather had it upgraded to a beefier electrical system and metal covered control surfaces. In the late seventies, he sold it to Joshua’s father to keep the plane in the family. Joshua’s father invested in a complete restoration in the mid-eighties and ever since Joshua had owned the plane he maintained it as carefully as he did his Porsche.
It was a classic two-seat airplane with rounded wings and tail and a shiny metal surface set off by a sky blue stripe that came off the nose and tapered to a point about half way to the tail on both sides. Joshua’s first trip in an airplane was in the friendly old bird. His grandfather had taken him for a ride when he was four and he promptly fell asleep. He was back on the ground before he woke up, thanks to his grandfather’s light touch on landings. It was the first of many flights and the birth of the aviation bug in Joshua’s heart.
Joshua let Dancia climb in to the cabin on the starboard side so she would at least be out of the cold. When he finished his pre-flight walk around, he pushed the plane out of the hangar and stopped it just clear of the doors. Then he slid the metal doors shut and locked them.
Inside the cramped cockpit he blew some hot air onto his hands to warm them up.
“I’ll have the heat on in a moment.”
He got out a check sheet and started moving controls and tapping instrument dials in preparation for cranking the engine. Finally, he opened the window and hollered outside. “Clear!”
The engine roared to life with little coercion from him. He let it idle for a few minutes as he put on his headset and adjusted the radios. There was a second headset that he urged Dancia to put on. Engine noise was such that if you wanted to actually talk with your passenger, you both had to wear headsets and use an intercom.
Eventually, he let go of the foot brakes and the Cessna 120 started moving down the taxi strip heading for the main runway. He clicked the microphone on the tower frequency to bring up the runway lights.
Dancia liked the colored lights; they distracted her from thinking about how small the plane was. At the end of the active runway, Joshua did an engine run-up to make sure it was working correctly and then throttled down. He made a sweep of the sky around the airport, looking for any traffic in the pattern. Seeing none, he pulled out onto the active after alerting the airport on the radio.
“Cessna two five two whiskey mike, departing Nampa Municipal on two-niner.”
No one responded because the tower was unmanned. He edged the little plane out on the active and pushed the throttle forward all the way. Gently letting off the brakes, the airplane roared down the runway. Dancia felt her heart race as they gained speed. They were not really going any faster than a car on the interstate.
The tail of the Cessna rose up first, and Joshua kept the plane level with a slight upward tilt as it gained enough speed for take off. Then he gently pulled back the control yoke and they left the surly bonds of Earth and soared into the clear morning sky.
In minutes they had climbed above the city of Nampa and were heading north by northwest towards the mountains. Joshua had made this trip so many times and in so many different weather conditions, he really didn’t have to think much about where he was going. There were familiar landmarks and little mining towns along the way, but mostly he followed Highway 55 which in turn followed the Payette River that wound its way through the mountains and high plateaus all the way to McCall.
At one point along the river he pointed down to a bend in the road beside the river and said. “That’s where my parents died.” He didn’t have to say any more, Dancia knew the story. One night a few months back they were hacking on Tripp’s movie database and he had told her about the death of his parents. How the family car had slipped off the icy road and fell upside down into the freezing river. How the police had determined that his parents became trapped inside the car even as he had managed to escape and they had drowned in the cold water of the river. It was a freak accident that claimed their lives as well as countless other lives over the years. Winter driving was not to be taken lightly by Joshua again. It was many years before he could drive to McCall by himself during the winter months. He usually flew there, as if soaring above the accident site protected him from seeing that bend in the road.
Dancia looked down at the white landscape and marveled at how pristine it all looked from the air. How untouched by the hand of man. She understood a little better now why he loved to fly. It kind of separated you from the immediacy of your day-to-day grind. It put some distance from the petty little concerns of everyday life and let you see the greater scheme of life that you were a part of.
They arrived over McCall about thirty minutes later. Stiff head winds had slowed their progress, but had not rocked them hard enough to make them feel uneasy. They circled over the lakeside resort town once, so that Joshua could enter the airport flight pattern from near the center of town. Joshua touched down with as much skill and grace as his grandfather had. They weaved their way back to the main row of airplanes and parked in front of another metal hangar.
It was much colder in McCall and there were snowdrifts all around. The concrete entrance to Joshua’s hangar had been plowed; the older, icy snow was still in piles at ether side of the hangar doors. He took out his keys and opened the lock. The metal doors slid much easier and he opened one side all the way. Inside was an old Jeep Wrangler with a hard top. He climbed inside and started it up, cranking the heater for Dancia.
He drove it out past the airplane and parked it. He moved open the left hangar door and together the two of them pushed and pulled the Cessna 120 into the hangar backwards. There was a winter storm coming in the next few days, and he wanted the antique airplane out of the elements.
Dancia got into the Jeep with her backpack and waited for him to tie down the airplane and secure the hangar. When he climbed into the driver’s seat, the Jeep was warmed up.
“Ok, let’s go,” he said with a smile. She nodded. It really had been a pleasant trip and she was thankful he had insisted they fly.
They drove through McCall and commented on how dead it was for the season. The locals were battening down the hatches and getting ready for the next winter storm. Joshua pulled the Jeep into the parking lot of the largest grocery store in town and they went inside to buy some perishables. He kept the cabin well stocked with canned goods but if they wanted fresh milk and vegetables they had to get them now.
The family cabin was nestled into a bend beside the Payette River not far from the airport. It was an A-frame cabin with two stories and was painted dark brown. The nearest cabin was a hundred feet away but there was no one home. The owners wintered in Arizona and only spent the summer months in McCall. There was still about six inches of snow around the property from the last storm, but it had melted off the porch.
Dancia got out of the Jeep and stood on solid ground. She looked up at the cabin and smiled. There was a simple, rustic charm to the place that she instantly liked. Joshua stepped up to the front door and unlocked it. Just inside the foyer was a snow room, a place to take off your boots and change out of your winter garb. There were fishing poles in a corner and floppy fishing hats on the coat rack. An old set of wooden skies was mounted on the wall. They had belonged to Joshua’s grandfather back in the 50’s when the cabin was first built.
“Go ahead and look around, I’ll bring in the groceries,” Joshua said, heading back out to the Jeep.
Dancia walked down the hall that led to the back of the cabin. There was a small bathroom and a bedroom complete with a queen sized bed and dressers. Everything looked like it had been there for ages and held hundreds of stories of family summers and winters spent there over the years. There were a bunch of framed family pictures on the wall, a monument to the cabin’s owners and the good times had by all over the years.
The kitchen was fully loaded with modern, burnt orange appliances from the 1970’s. There was a dining table and a open family room that housed a circular fireplace against the far wall. A staircase angled around and went upstairs to more bedrooms and a second bathroom. Dancia walked to the back of the main room and looked out the sliding glass door to the wooden deck outside. You could see the river just beyond a shallow backyard.
Joshua came in and set the groceries down on the island that separated the kitchen area from the family room. He started putting away the refrigerated items. Dancia came over to help and learned where he kept things like glasses, dishes and silverware.
They decided to make a pot of spaghetti for dinner and for lunch they would go out to My Father’s Place, a local burger joint that served huge traditional burgers and really tasty fries. Joshua figured he had enough food and DVDs to keep them entertained for the rest of the week. They hoped the police would be able to bring in Taggert by then.