..Sam P. Israel..

There Comes a Final Good Moment
to Every Last Good Time

A chapter from the book, Hostage Party.

One week later and thousands of miles away, pilot Tom Kaltrow was poised to enter the cockpit of his plane. He was an unusual person, Tom: a former scientist who took to flying only after getting barred from his chosen field. By now, he had put in fifteen years in the business, at no less than three airlines. He may not have been a "veteran" as Universal Airlines used the term, but he had surpassed nearly everyone else at the company in terms of his sheer hours aloft.

The fact was that Tom would have spent the full remainder of his life tucked inside an airplane cockpit if he could. He liked it inside -- at least that was what he told himself: that it was safe. Nor did his dedication go unnoticed by the airline's management; they also favored him for other reasons, including that Tom's evaluations were checked "no" for each of the categories that might have led to an increase in insurance premiums. He had no record of political affiliations -- yes they had taken to asking about such things; no extreme associations; nor unusual sexual orientation, prison, terrorist-tendenc(ies); drugs; unsuitable life style; suicide attempts; impractical hygiene...

They had no way of knowing that he hadn't been completely honest.

What mattered was that the only "bad" item marked "yes" was that he had been seeing a "shrink"; even then, it was only a doctor who had been retained by the airline itself as part of its "watch and wait" policy. UA's outside mental health professionals provided prophylactic counseling, mostly by telephone so as to be the least inconvenient, to its more high-strung pilots. To be safe, rather than sorry, they were charged with reporting the substance of their patients' confidences to UA management. What better a way was there to make sure that it didn't have any lunatics on its hands?

And yet, Tom's psychiatrist had reported nothing to indicate the problem he'd face aboard Flight 117 that night. In truth, the day had been proceeding apace -- up until now. He started with his physical exercises, followed by a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and a walk from his London hotel to Heathrow International. While it might have seemed odd to those that didn't know him that Tom wasn't traveling with any luggage, this was actually quite normal for him. For almost as long as he had been working as a pilot, Tom's possessions were limited to a toothbrush, bar of soap and a few other odds and ends that might fit within his jacket's pockets. He'd have his uniform cleaned and pressed at hotels every other night, pay his meager bills through hotel Internet services and order all his non-flight meals from room service.

To be sure, Tom was relatively free from worry when he pushed through the airport's revolving door. He couldn't help but smile when he saw parts of his face reflecting back at him from the aluminum on the door's frame. His eyes still had their trademark twinkle and his jaw still "deserves its very own name," as his one and only lover -- a person now deceased for over eight years -- had told him. Then, just before stepping into the airport, Tom inhaled the brisk late afternoon air -- another habit of his arising from being cooped up for long stretches at a time -- and could smell the Spring of 2000 to be close at hand.

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