Assault Bitches From Hell

 

 

Lieutenant Anderson waited outside of the office of the
Chief of Staff for Destroyer Squadron Two. He had no
idea what the COS wanted, but he really didn’t care very
much. In ten days, very much against his will, he was
going to be a civilian. He planned to burn his uniforms
as soon as he could.

Captain Williams opened the door and said: “Come on in,
Mr. Anderson.” Anderson did so, he found an Army Colonel
sitting in a chair next to a table. A file folder lay on
the table. “Anderson, this is Col. Hampton. He wants to
discuss some matters with you.”

Col. Hampton stood up and shook hands. “Nice to meet
you, Lieutenant.” He turned his head and said: “Thanks,
Pete” to Capt. Williams, who left the office. “Have a
seat, son.”

Anderson sat down. He wanted to ask what this was all
about, but he kept quiet. Hampton looked at him and
nodded.

“All right. I’ve got something I’d like to discuss with
you, Sam, if you don’t mind.”

Anderson shrugged. “Talk all you want, Colonel, but why
should I listen?”

Hampton pulled a sheet of paper from the file. “You’re
due to be discharged on an ‘Other than Honourable’ basis
late next week. Your service record is an exemplary one.
After your first year, your fitness reports have been
straight ‘A’s, consistent recommendations for early
promotion. You went to Department Head School early, did
well. You’ve been the Engineer of a frigate for the last
sixteen months, your captain thought very highly of you.

“Then a security officer at the bank was matching up ATM
transactions with photographs. He saw that a woman was
using your card. Upon further investigation, it was
learned that you were the woman. You’re a transvestite,
so now you’re being discharged. Is that about it?”

Anderson had sat quietly throughout the entire
recitation. “Correct, sir. So what?”

“So this.” He handed the sheet of paper to Anderson.

Anderson read it. It was a standard Bureau of Naval
Personnel set of message orders, addressed to him,
discharging him on honourable conditions. Without a
word, Anderson stood up, went over to the desk and
dialled the AUTOVON number the officers’ order section
of BuPers in Washington. (It was a number all naval
officers know by heart.) In a few minutes, Anderson
learned that the orders were genuine, but not yet
active. They would be released when verified by an army
colonel named Hampton.

Anderson hung up the phone and returned to his seat. he
handed the orders back to Hampton and said: “Okay,
Colonel, I’m all ears.”

“First, I want you to read and sign this.” Hampton
handed a another piece of paper to Anderson. It was a
disclosure agreement; by signing it he agreed to keep
whatever was discussed to himself for the next 75 years.
The US Government was authorized to use any method they
deemed fit, not limited to legal methods, to make him
keep quiet.

Anderson looked up. “This could be interpreted to mean
you could have me shot if I talked.”

“That’s right. You won’t be able to discuss whatever we
talk about. Is it worth an honourable discharge to
listen?”

Anderson signed it. “You’re on, sir.”

Col. Hampton settled back in his seat. “I’m sure you’re
aware of the restrictions we have on assigning women to
combat duty. Most of the time, that’s not a problem. We
have assigned women to combat areas, even areas so hot
that they have to carry full combat gear. We can assign
them there because their weapons would be used for
defence. But we cannot assign them to any job where they
would have to use their weapons offensively. There are
some times when we need that capability. Then we run
smack up against the law.

“Now, I’m not talking about full-blown battlefield
missions. I’m referring to unconventional mission,
‘covert action’ if you will, where a woman would have a
distinct advantage. But we can’t use them.”

“So why not turn the job over to the CIA? Surely they
aren’t constrained by the same law,” Anderson pointed
out.

“No, they’re not. But we like to have our own capability
to mount such operations. The law doesn’t prohibit us
from using men, though.”

“Which is where I come in?”

“Exactly. We screen everyone being discharged for being
a transvestite or a transsexual. Those who have some
abilities suitable to our needs are approached for
further consideration. In other words, we still have a
place for you in the military if you want it.”

Anderson looked directly at Hampton. “I was outed six
weeks ago. They couldn’t get me off the ship fast
enough. Now you say you want me. Fine. What’s in it for
me?”

“A lot. You’ll be transferred to an army unit. While
there, you’ll receive your base pay plus a number of
special pays. If you stay in, you’ll be promoted at the
same rate you would have been before. If you decide to
leave before completion of the training program or are
found to be not what we need, you’ll get the honourable.
If you complete the training, then should you leave, you
will be treated like a reservist who did the full 20
years of drilling: At 62, you become a retiree with full
benefits.”

Anderson thought it over. “What’s the first step?”

“Go home right now. Do not return to this office, ever.
Pack an overnight bag with one change of clothing, your
pilot’s logbook, and a pair of sunglasses. You won’t
need anything else. Be at the general aviation terminal
at the Norfolk airport at 0700. A man will meet you and
put you on a flight. He’ll also take care of your car.”

“Sounds interesting. But why me?”

Hampton shrugged. “You have some abilities we need,
especially your flying experience.”

“Don’t you get pilots, too?”

“Not really. The Government has so much invested in
their training that they are quietly told to keep it
cool until their EAOS. Besides, they’re not into the
low, slow stuff.” Hampton stood up. “Thanks for
listening, Lieutenant.”

Anderson shook his hand and said nothing.

***

He was at the general aviation terminal at 6:45 the next
morning. Right on time, a man came up and asked if he
was Sam Anderson. When Anderson nodded, he motioned him
to follow. The man led him out to the ramp and pointed
to a Piper Navajo. “Get in that plane. Don’t talk to the
pilot. Let me have your keys.”

Anderson separated the keys for his car from his key
ring and handed them to him, then he walked to the
airplane. He climbed into the Piper and sat down in the
right-hand seat. The twin was configured to carry cargo,
there were only two seats. The pilot went back, shut the
door, took his seat, and started the engines. After a
few minutes to warm up the oil, they were soon climbing
into the sky over Tidewater Virginia.

The pilot levelled off at 8,500 feet, heading southwest.
Without a chart, Anderson had no way to know where they
were going. He did know they had flown for almost four
hours when the pilot started a descent into a small
airport. The field was located in a pine forest; it had
one runway that looked narrow and short. When they
landed, the pilot shut down both engines and pointed at
a car parked by a small line shack.

The inference was obvious, Anderson got out of the seat.
picked up his bag, and went over to the line shack. He
found a rest room, drained his bladder, then went out to
the car. A nice-looking woman was sitting behind the
wheel. She looked at him with mild interest and nodded
towards the passenger’s side door. Anderson opened the
back door, put his bag in, and got into the front. He
buckled up and they drove off.

She said nothing, and Anderson was damned if he was
going to say anything. He could figure out that they
were somewhere in Arkansas from the license plates on
the cars, but he didn’t recognize anything. He had never
been there before.

They pulled up in the parking lot of a small
professional building forty minutes later. The woman
pointed to the front door. Anderson got out. They want
to play it cool, he thought, so would I. He grabbed his
bag and went in without a word or a backwards glance.

There was another woman sitting at the reception desk in
the building. “Are you Sam Anderson,” she asked.

Finally, a voice. “Yes.”

“May I see your ID, please?” She held out her hand.
Anderson dug out his wallet and handed her his military
ID card. She glanced at it and handed it back. “Please
have a seat, the Doctor will be with you shortly.” She
turned away from him in dismissal.

Anderson went to the waiting area and soon found a
“Newsweek” that was current according to the AMA
guidelines– it was only seven months old. He leafed
through the magazine and some others for about a half-
hour, then the receptionist told him to go to Room Five.
He did so, then waited for another ten minutes.

A man in a white coat who appeared to be in his mid-40s
came into the room. “Sam Anderson? I’m Dr. McHenry. I’ll
be giving you your in-rocess physical this afternoon.”

“WHAT physical?”

“Oh, they didn’t tell you,” Dr. McHenry remarked. “The
first thing we do is give you a complete physical. Some
of it involves blood work, which is why we haven’t fed
you lunch. That and a few other tests are first up, then
you’ll get something to eat, followed by a lot of other
tests, then a dental exam. ”

“How long will this take?” Clearly Anderson was not at
all pleased about going through a physical. “I had one
two weeks ago.”

“That was, correct me if I’m wrong, a pre-separation
exam. That just makes sure all your major body parts are
attached. This one’s a little more intensive. We should
be done by nine or so.”

Nine tonight? Goddamn it, cursed Anderson to himself.
“Well, let’s get on with it.”

“All right. Strip to the waist and then come with me.”
Anderson did that.

The doctor led him to a room where he turned him over to
a nurse.

“Lie down here, please,” the nurse said. Anderson did
so. The nurse drew blood, filling several vials. Then
she smeared some clear goo on his chest ant attached the
sensor cups for an electrocardiogram. “Not bad,” she
pronounced as the strip unrolled from the machine. Looks
like you try to stay in shape.”

The rest of the exam was a forgettable ordeal of tests;
urine, stool, hand-eye coordination, a stress test, and
even a proctological exam. They took a break around four
and gave Anderson a bag of McJunk food from the Golden
Arches. Afterwards, he had to fill out an extremely
detailed medical and psychological history. That was
hard; the questionnaire mainly concerned transvestism
and transsexualism. It asked a lot of questions that he
hadn’t even thought of before.

The last ordeal was a dental exam. It was given by a
dentist who made the dentist Steve Martin played in “The
Little Shop of Horrors” seem like a compassionate soul.

The day ended at ten that night. A different nurse drove
him to a small motel. “There’s a restaurant across the
street. Tell them to put your meal on Peterboro, inc.
Don’t worry about the motel bill. Be ready to leave with
your gear at six-thirty.”

Anderson nodded and got out of the car. The clerk gave
him a key without asking any questions or giving him a
registration form. The room was a standard cheapie motel
room; two double beds, a telephone without a dial,
towels one could see through, a shower, and a TV set
bolted to the floor.

The restaurant wasn’t bad, but Anderson was too tired to
care much. He had a salad and soup, then went back to
the room. He called the desk and asked them to wake him
at 5:45.

It seemed as if the telephone rang fifteen minutes
later, but when Anderson looked at his watch, it was
quarter till six. Goddamn, this is like standing he
evening watch and then getting up at reveille, he
thought. He shaved, showered, and got dressed, then went
across to the restaurant for breakfast. The service was
quick, he was able to eat and get back to the motel
parking lot three minutes early. The same nurse who had
driven him to the motel drove him back to the clinic.

This time the receptionist directed him to another room.
It was brightly lit with a large mirror on one side.
Anderson had read enough mystery and espionage novels to
guess that the mirror was of the one-way kind. A fairly
comfortable chair faced the mirror. Next to the chair
was a stand with a speakerphone on top. He sat down in
the chair and waited.

He didn’t have to wait long. “Good morning, Lieutenant
Anderson,” said an electronically-disguised voice. “We
are going to ask you a series of questions this morning.
Please answer them as honestly as you can. Ready?”

“No. Who are you, and why this set-up?”

“There are four of us. We are going to talk with you
about a number of subjects. The reason for this setting
is so that you cannot tailor your responses to our
reactions. You can’t see us and the computer interface
will make all our voices sound the same with no
inflection. Ready?”

“Shoot.”

“When did you first crossdress?”

“When I was four or five.” And it went on from there.
What he had worn, what was his reactions, where did he
obtain feminine attire, reactions of family,
girlfriends. What was his feeling towards women. Each
response generated more questions. Anderson felt like a
limp rag by the time they took a break at nine. They
started up after twenty minutes and went to eleven-
thirty, punctuated by one head call. It was tough as
hell. He had to talk to a group of strangers about a
part of his life he had never shown anyone.

The session ended when another nurse came in and told
him to follow her. They left the building and got into a
car. The nurse swung through a fast-food’s drive-in
lane, she told Anderson to order his lunch. When they
drove off, she instructed him to eat it as they drove.
He just went with the flow.

They arrived at another airport twenty minutes later.
The nurse told him to go inside and ask for Carol.
Anderson got out and did that. Carol appeared to be in
her late 20s with brunette hair. She had on jeans,
Reeboks, and a t-shirt.

“You’re Sam Anderson, eh. Let me see your logbook.”
Anderson handed it over. She leafed through it, then
handed him a key on a keyring. “Go out and preflight the
blue Citabria, 64 echo.”

Anderson smiled at that, he went out and checked the
airplane over. It had been a while since he had flown a
7ECA, but he was current in Super Cubs, so he felt
confident. Carol came out when he finished and got into
the back seat, Anderson climbed into the front. They put
on headsets. “Can you hear me,” Carol asked.

“Yes.”

“Good. Start her up and let’s go. Unicom’s 122.7, head
out on 240 and climb to four thousand.”

Anderson pumped the throttle twice, cleared the prop,
and engaged the starter. The four-banger caught and
started, he held about 1,000 rpms while the oil warmed
up. When it was warm, he added power and taxied to the
runway. The taxiway was grass, he didn’t go very fast.
The runup was normal.

Time to go. Nobody was coming, so he swung onto the
runway, lined the nose up, and added power, feeding in
right rudder to counteract the engine’s torque. He held
a little forward stick to lift the tailwheel, then held
the tail low and let the airplane fly when she was ready
to.

The day was warm, the Citabria didn’t climb very
rapidly, but they soon were at 4,000 feet. “Do some
dutch rolls,” Carol said. Anderson banked the plane
left-right-left-right, using the rudder to keep it on a
straight course.

“Slow flight.” Anderson took the power off, slowed down,
then added power while holding the nose up. He was
mushing around on the edge of a stall.

“Turn 90 degrees to the left.” Anderson slowly turned.
“Now the right.” He was back on his original course.

“Power-off stall.” Anderson turned to ensure the area
was clear, then chopped the power and held the nose up.
He used rudder to keep the wings level, the airplane
shuddered and stalled. He lowered the nose, added full
power, and established a climb.

“Power-on stall.” He cleared the area, ensuring nobody
else was around. He cut the engine, slowed to 65, then
raised the nose and added full power. He brought the
nose up more and more until the airplane stalled,
dropping the nose. Anderson brought the nose down below
the horizon, built up airspeed, then established a
climb.

“Take us back.” Anderson turned around and flew back the
way he came, establishing a shallow descent. He found
the airport and entered the pattern. “Do some full-stall
touch and goes.” He flew the airplane around the
pattern, doing about four full-stall landings.

“Show me some wheel landings.” Those are harder,
Anderson had to flare out just above the runway and
touch the main wheels to the pavement, adding in forward
stick when the wheels touched. He bounced a couple, a
couple were greasers. After the fourth one, Carol told
him to taxi back in and shut down. They went into the
building, the nurse who had driven him there was
waiting. Carol wrote in his logbook that he had been
satisfactorily checked out in a 7ECA in 1.5 hours of
flying time. She handed him the logbook back without
comment, then Anderson followed the nurse back to the
car.

She drove him to the clinic again. This time, Col.
Hampton was in the office, dressed in civilian clothes.
He stood up and shook hands with Anderson.
“Congratulations, son. You passed the screening process.
Do you want in?”

“Sure.”

Hampton handed him a book of names for girl babies.
“First, you pick a name for yourself. It’d be easier if
you choose one that starts with an ‘S’.”

Anderson looked at the selection, sounding them in his
head. “How about ‘Sherry?'”

Hampton nodded. “Fine. Welcome aboard, Sherry.”

Anderson asked the logical question: “Now what?”

“We’ll handle this just like a standard set of permanent
orders,” the Colonel replied. He pulled the desk drawer
open and handed Anderson a piece of paper, it was
another set of BuPers message orders. When the standard
wording was translated, it read that Lt Anderson was to
be detached from his current duty station, take 30 days’
leave (known as “delrep” for “delay in reporting”) and
report to the military air terminal at McGuire Air Force
Base in civilian clothes; he was not to use his own
vehicle to get there. His personal effects (known as
“household goods” or “HHG”) were to be put in storage at
government expense for the duration of the orders. “You
won’t be stationed at McGuire,” Col. Hampton explained,
“That’s where we’ll be picking you up. Bring three days’
worth of clothes. The Commodore of DesRon 2 has already
written a detaching fitness report, you’ll sign it when
you get to where you’re going after your leave.

“So go home and get your personal life in order. Make
sure you’re parents know that you’re going to be out of
touch for a long time, it may be a few years before they
get to see you.” He handed Anderson a card. “They can
call this number in case of an emergency, but make damn
sure they understand that doesn’t include anything less
than imminent death. And make sure they know that you
may not be able to come back for any kind of emergency.
You can use the address on the card as a forwarding
address for your mail.”

“Where am I going?”

“You’ll know when you get there, Sherry. The same lady
who drove you here will take you back to your
transportation. See you in a month.”

Anderson left the room. Hampton watched him go and
sighed. He was getting to have too much time in this
assignment, he told himself. At first, he thought of the
program as a way to gain some use from worthless
deviates. But now, he knew that the men he recruited
were fine people, they simply had a different
orientation. Hampton now though that tossing them out
was a waste; now at least he could do something with
some of them.

The woman drove Anderson to a third airport, this one
was considerably larger than the other two and had a
control tower. This time, he was shown to a Sabrejet
bizjet that was painted in USAF colours. The jet took
him to Langely AFB. The same man who had taken his car
keys at the Norfolk airport handed them back to him.
Anderson found his car and went home.

It took four days to arrange for the movers to come and
take everything he couldn’t fit into his car. Then he
went home. The leave was less than satisfying; neither
one of his parents were supportive of his desire to stay
on active duty. Anderson visited his brother and left
him the car and his personal gear (including a fair
number of firearms). He did a little bit of travelling,
and presented himself to the military air terminal at
McGuire with two weeks’ worth of leave remaining.

The Air Force sergeant who was at the receiving desk
read Anderson’s orders and then checked a file. She told
Anderson to go check into the transient BOQ and stay
there; he’d be notified when his flight was called.
Anderson had taken MAC flights before, one normally has
to wait at the terminal for one’s name to move up the
waiting list. This treatment mystified him, but he just
did as she told him to.

The phone in his room rang a day and a half later.
Anderson switched on a light, picked it up and muttered
his name into the handset.

“Lieutenant Anderson? Master Sergeant Wilkes at the MAC
desk. Your flight leaves at 0430. A car will be at the Q
at 0410 to pick you up.”

“What time is it now?”

“A little after three, sir.”

“All right, thanks.” Anderson set the handset back into
the cradle. Fucking zoomies, scheduling a flight on the
rev watch. Oh, well. He rolled out of bed, shaved and
showered. The desk was open 24 hours, he was checked out
by four and waiting for his ride.

An airman came over to him. “Are you LT Anderson?”

“Yes.”

“May I see your ID, sir?” Anderson handed it to him. The
airman looked it over and handed it back. “Come with me,
sir.” He led the way to a “blue steelie,” Air Force
lingo for an issue sedan. Anderson got into the right-
side seat. He was a little surprised when the airman
passed by the MAC terminal and drove to a hangar after
passing a security check from the APs, who were wearing
woodland camo uniforms and carrying M-16A2s. The airman
drove out onto the ramp and up to an Air Force C-12,
their version of the Beech King Air. This one had seen
better days, it was set up as a cargo carrier (or “trash
hauler”), complete with a load of cargo. The pilot, a
woman in a USAF pilot’s jumpsuit with captain’s bars
waved him on board. Anderson stowed his bag between two
crates and settled into the right seat.

“You might want to put on that headset,” she said. “This
old beast can get pretty loud.”

Anderson did so, adjusting the headset to fit and the
boom mike to almost touch his mouth. “Can you hear me?”

“Sure can.” The pilot ran through the starting procedure
with the economy of motion born of great amounts of
practice. She soon had both PT-6 engines turning. She
received her IFR and taxi clearances, then taxied out to
the runway. They had to wait for the wake of a departing
C-5 to dissipate, then they were on their way.

The flight went to Wisconsin, Anderson guessed. He could
recognize Lake Michigan and he did his best to follow
along with the air traffic controllers working the
airplane. Dawn was breaking when the pilot started her
descent. There was nothing but woods, then he saw a
small town next to an airport. When they landed, he
looked with surprise at the collection of airplanes on
the ramp. He hadn’t seen so many tailwheel airplanes in
one place outside of an EAA fly-in; everything from a
few J-3s up to three Twin Beeches, a C-46 and two DC-3s.
There were a few tricycle- geared airplanes, but damn
few– a couple Cessna 172s, a Mooney, three Bonanzas and
a King Air. Everything was painted in civilian schemes,
complete with N-numbers.

It looked like a civil airport in Alaska, except the man
coming out to greet them had an assault rifle slung over
his shoulder. He told Anderson to go to the line shack,
then he started talking to the pilot about refuelling
the C-12 and unloading the cargo. Anderson trudged over
to the shack. A woman with a no- nonsense demeanour
asked for his ID. She compared the card to a list, then
handed it over. She stuck out her hand and said:
“Welcome to school, Sherry. I’m Doris Stackpole. I’ll be
your training coordinator while you’re here at the
school. Let’s get you situated. Come with me.” Doris led
the way out of the other end of the building.

“What is this place?”

“It’s a training facility for all sorts of students.
Some of the students are training for covert ops, some
are here above board. First rule is:

Don’t talk to anybody about who or what you are or what
you are here for.

Everything around here runs on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.
Understand?”

“Sure do.” They had walked across the road to a small
area of townhouses. Doris led the way to one of them and
opened the door with a key, which she gave Anderson.

“This is yours for the duration of your stay.” She
showed Anderson around. The townhouse was on two levels;
upstairs were two bedrooms and a bathroom, downstairs
was a kitchen, dining area, living room, a study
(complete with a computer with a 19″ screen) and a half-
bath. “You’re getting this place because it’s so close
to the field, most of your training is going to be in
flying.”

“Which of those planes will I be flying?”

Doris shrugged. “If you complete the course, all of
them.”

“Even the DC-3?”

“Yes, but you’ll have a few other things to worry
about.” Anderson didn’t like her grin, but he’d do a lot
to get a DC-3 type rating. Doris went to the door. “You
have an appointment. Bring your stuff, they’ll take it
and issue you what you need.”

Anderson followed along. They walked to a building
almost a half-mile away.

There they went into a room where Doris told him to
strip to his underwear. Anderson did, two women came in
and started measuring his body; one measured, the other
recorded. They traced the outlines of his hands and
feet. The real surprise was when they measured penis
size, both flaccid and erect. Anderson was embarrassed
at that, but the two were just doing their job and did
it. Afterwards, Doris gave him a pink terry-cloth robe
and told him to take his underwear off. She collected
all of his things and marched out of the room.

For the first time, Anderson was scared. He had no idea
where he was, had no money, no ID, and all he had was a
pink bathrobe.

Doris returned about forty minutes later with some
clothes. She handed him a pair of white cotton panties,
“I think you know how to wear them,” she said. Next was
a yellow and black t-shirt, a pair of white socks,
women’s blue jeans and a pair of Reebocks that were
white with pink trim. “Other clothes will be sent to
your apartment. Now, let’s go to medical.”

“Another physical?”

“Not like one you’ve ever had before.” This time, they
drove. Doris had the keys to a jeep-like vehicle that
ran on batteries. She drove to a hospital that was a
couple of miles away by road, although it was right
across the airfield.

Doris was somewhat right. It was a thorough physical;
but the difference came when they had Anderson lie down
for a whole-body CAT-scan. He almost freaked out; he had
to lie on a very small white tunnel while the machine
hammered and whirred. He could have sworn the thing was
going to grind him up. After the scan, Doris took him to
the cafeteria for lunch. The food was about the same as
any other hospital, barely edible.

The PA system paged Doris when they had almost finished.
She left the table to answer it, then returned. “C’mon,
Dr. Trotti will see you now. We’ll find out what he can
do for you.”

They finished quickly and left the cafeteria. Anderson
wanted to ask what was going to happen, but there were
other people around.

Dr. Trotti was in his late 40s. He shook hands and led
them into a darkened room. There was a screen on the
wall and an overhead projector that could project
computer images. “Sherry, my field is reconstructive
surgery, though maybe we should say constructive
surgery. Take a look at this.” He turned the screen on.

Anderson looked closely. The image was of a woman
wearing a tank top and a skirt that came to just above
the knee. Her breasts swelled the top and showed a
little cleavage. The skirt clung to nice hips. Her face
was not that of a raving beauty, but she had nice
cheekbones and didn’t look bad at all. “Who is she?”

“That’s you.”

“What?”

“Yes.” Dr. Trotti shifted to another screen. “This is
your skeletal structure..” He went into a lengthy
discussion of how they could modify Anderson’s skeletal
structure to make him look like a woman, followed by a
discourse of what plastic surgery techniques they could
use. Anderson felt the MEGO (for “Mine Eyes Glaze Over”)
factor kicking in. Adding pieces here, taking pieces out
there. It wasn’t his body, it was a biological erector
set.

After Trotti said his piece, Anderson asked the key
question: “How much of this is reversible?”

Dr. Trotti considered that. “Most of it is. We can
change everything back that required surgical
techniques. You are going to need a fair amount of
electrolysis for us to be able to accomplish what we
need to do. That isn’t reversible.” The doctor just
smiled. Almost everyone he had worked on asked that
question. He had done the reversal surgery on about five
percent of those he had worked on. But he didn’t say
anything.

“All right. When does the electrolysis start?”

“Right now,” Doris said. They said goodbye to the doctor
and went to another part of the hospital. There a nurse
injected a painkiller similar to novocaine inside his
mouth. She had him lie on a table, then after several
minutes, she started to work. Another nurse came in and
started on the other side of his face. Anderson could
hear the humming of the machines and the occasional
‘zap’ as a needle vaporised an oil pocket. The nurses
would wipe his face with an antiseptic every so often.
He was very tired and since he was feeling no pain, he
fell asleep.

They woke him up four hours later. His lower face was
wrapped in a cold mask, it had tubing through which a
chilled solution was circulating. When they took the
mask off, one of the nurses closely inspected his face.
“Not bad.” She gave him a tube of antiseptic ointment
and a small bottle of pain pills. “See you tomorrow,”
she said.

Anderson wanted to say something, but his face was numb.
Doris took him back to his townhouse. She showed him the
clothes hanging in the closet, mostly variations of what
he was wearing: jeans, different tops, several pairs of
running and aerobics shoes. There was an assortment of
unisex-athletic gear.

“You can get food by placing an order through your
computer, though you’ll have to cook it yourself unless
you order the microwavable dinners; I recommend them as
you won’t have a lot of time. The instructions are next
to it, it’s fairly self-evident. You can order any
books, tapes, CDs or videos the same way. The computer
also ties into the training database for unclassified
material; you’ll be taught how that works starting
tomorrow. Anything you order will be placed on the
living-room table, except for perishables which will be
put into your refrigerator or freezer. There are some
tapes by the VCR to start you off. I’ll be by tomorrow
at 0730. Any questions?”

Anderson made writing motions. Doris found a tablet and
a pen.

“Toothbrush? Razor,” he wrote.

“Toothbrush is upstairs in the bathroom. No razor, it’s
easier to work with longish hair. See you in the
morning.”

Anderson half-heartedly watched a video, then found a
chicken dinner in the freezer after his face denumbed
enough to eat it. He took a shower and rubbed the
ointment over the areas where the eletrolygists had
worked. He soon fell asleep wondering what tomorrow
would bring.

Tomorrow brought a lot of swelling. His upper lip was so
swollen that he had trouble drinking. The side of his
face where one of the electrolygists had worked was
swollen, too. This time they had him strip to his
underwear and four people were working on him; two on
the face and one on his legs. The worst part of the
procedure was when a doctor would come in and inject
lidocaine so the electrologists could proceed. Most of
the time he could see a TV, so they let him watch VCR
movies or cable.

This went on for almost two weeks, but by the time they
were done, he had no body hair other than that that a
woman had. They told him that they’d have to do it all
again in six weeks, but it would take less time then.
Well, he thought, maybe by six weeks the swelling would
go down.

They gave him a day off, then they started flight
training. Doris took him to a classroom next to the
airport. She turned him over to an instructor named
Craig, who proceeded to start teaching him how to fly by
instruments. Classroom work was in the morning,
simulator work in the afternoon.

This routine went on for three weeks. As Doris had
promised, all the course work was on a computer
database, so Anderson was able to work on the ratings in
the evening. The simulator gave way to an IFR-capable
Cessna 180;

Anderson became able to fly an approach to minimums and
follow up with a good landing. “It’s a lot harder in a
taildragger,” Craig explained.

***

By the end of the month, Anderson had an instrument
airplane rating and had passed the written exam for a
commercial pilot.

Things began to change a little in the second month.
Doris took Anderson to a hairdresser. Terri clucked with
disapproval at the military haircut. Anderson thought
his hair was long; it was longer than the uniform regs
allowed, but still short. Terri re-cut it into a
hairstyle that was short but fairly feminine. He looked
in the mirror, he thought he looked like a big dyke. She
looked at his nails. “Your nails are a mess. You need to
stop chewing them.” She painted them with a clear
liquid, then waited for the coating to dry. “Now chew on
them,” she said.

Anderson tried, the stuff tasted horrible. He spit out a
fragment of nail and said as much.

“That’s just the point. Take the bottle with you and put
a coat on your nails each morning. After a while, you
won’t even think of biting them.” Terri then pierced his
ears. “You’re about what, 26,” she asked.

Anderson nodded.

She pierced them twice more, so he had three gold studs
in each ear. “You’re young enough so that looks about
right,” she concluded. After a lecture on how to care
for the piercings, she took him over to a vanity table
and began showing him how to apply cosmetics,
indoctrinating him in the mysteries of foundations,
bases, power, lipstick, gloss, mascara, eye-shadow, and
cold cream. After she was done, she scrubbed it all off
and had him apply it, correcting him as he made
mistakes.

“That’s sort of the ‘full formal’ look,” she explained.
“It’s good for an evening out. But for daytime, it’s a
bit much…” She then showed him how to lightly apply
makeup for a look that was both enhanced and natural.
“You don’t want to wind up looking like the daughter of
Bozo the Clown and Tammy Faye Bakker.” Anderson left the
salon with that coating still applied.

That took the entire morning and then some. Anderson was
getting very hungry, so Doris dropped him back at the
townhouse. “See you in an hour,” she said. Anderson made
a couple of sandwiches and leafed through two aviation
magazines that had been dropped off. He also noticed
that “Cosmopolitan,” “Redbook,” and “YM” had been added
to the selection. He repaired the damage to his lipstick
by the time Doris returned.

Doris showed up carrying two purses, one of them was for
Anderson. She showed him what cosmetics to carry, enough
for field repairs. He looked at the wallet, it had a
Wisconsin driver’s license in the name of Sherry
Anderson, complete with photograph and signature. There
was also a VISA and American Express credit cards, a
pilot’s license (private, instrument airplane), medical
certificate and a radiotelephone permit in Sherry’s
name. There was also $52.47 in cash.

“All those are legal,” Doris said. “Anyone who checks
with the DMV or the FAA will find Sherry Anderson
listed. Give me your logbooks.”

Anderson went to find them and handed them over.

“You’ll get these back in a while. Now we have an
appointment with a voice coach. You really need help
there, Sherry.”

“I know I sound like a man, but why do you say that?”

They left the townhouse as Doris explained: “Appearances
are very important for a man who is passing himself off
as a woman. What someone first perceives is the way they
are going to think of you, 99% of the time. If they see
a woman, then they are going to think ‘woman’ even if
your voice is a tad low. But in your case, the first
contact a lot of people are going to have with you is
over an air plane’s radio. So your voice has to convey
that you are a woman.

“You might say we are going into phase two of your
training here.”

“Which is?”

“Female training. You’re going to take deportment
lessons. We aren’t going to teach you how to act like a
woman. An act can fail under stress. So we are going to
teach you to BE a woman. There will be sessions with
image consultants, the voice coach, and some time out in
the real world. You’re going to start spending some time
with a therapist to ensure that we aren’t overloading
you. She’ll also help you sort out your feelings about
who you are and what we are training you. Feel free to
talk with her about anything, ok?”

“Sure. Will I still be flying?”

“Oh, yes. You have a LOT more training to go through.”

The voice coaching was simple. The first session took
just fifteen minutes. The coach showed Anderson how to
raise his voice slightly through humming and gave him a
tape-recorder to practice with.

The therapist was next. Her name was Janet, she
explained that the process was to talk things out. She
would have him explain his life to her. The process was
like peeling an onion, one removes one layer at a time.

Anderson digested that. “But there’s nothing distinct
about the center of an onion,” he remarked. “How do you
know when you get there?”

“When there’s nothing else left. You’ll know it, and so
will I. We’ll start on your next visit.”

Doris was waiting in the therapist’s outer office.
“What’s next on the schedule,” Anderson asked.

“We’re going to get you some new clothes.” They rode the
electric jeep to a clothing store. There the saleslady
first fitted Anderson with a bra and a set of breast
prothesis. She had him try on a number of different
bras, then camisoles and slips. After that, she brought
in a navy hounds-tooth suit with a white blouse which
she had him try on. Then she fitted him with a pair of
black leather pumps with 3″ heels. Finally, she led him
over to a three-sided mirror.

Anderson’s jaw dropped. Gazing back at him in the mirror
was an attractive young businesswoman. He ran his hands
down the side of the skirt, feeling the smooth material.
He smiled and the woman in the mirror smiled back. What
he didn’t see was the satisfied grins Doris and the
saleslady gave each other. He wasn’t sure how long he
stood there, entranced at his image in the mirror. He
felt something click inside himself, and from then on
knew that the female pronouns were the right ones. It
just felt right. It was a moment that Sherry would
remember as long as she lived. She would later say it
felt like she had been reborn.

They spent a lot of time assembling a wardrobe; dresses,
skirts, tops, casual wear, coats, shoes, and a couple of
pairs of boots. Doris picked out a few things to take
back with them, the saleslady promised the rest would be
delivered.

Doris helped Sherry put her clothes away when they
returned to the townhouse. “Tomorrow you start on your
commercial pilot’s license,” she said. “Just be at the
flight school by 0730. You’ll do your training in the
Bonanza, since you’ll need to use a complex airplane for
the exam. Wear the jeans and the sneaks for your flight
training. I’ll let you know each afternoon what is
planned for the next day so you can choose the proper
attire. If I don’t see you, I’ll leave a note in your
email.

“The other thing is, you need to start on a physical
training program. Some of that will come later, but I
want you to start running each afternoon. That is to be
the only activity where you aren’t to wear the
artificial breasts. Start today.”

“Okay.” Sherry changed into a t-shirt and shorts, then
went out for a run. It was a brief run, she hadn’t been
running for a few months. But she knew from past
experience that the wind would come back quickly.

***

Sherry was at the flight school on time. If Craig had
any thoughts about her changed appearance, he kept them
to himself.

The instructor thought she was a little weak on slow
flight and stalls. “I think you’re afraid of them, so
let’s change the syllabus a bit,” he said. Sherry found
herself in the front seat of a Bellanca Decathlon; they
went through stalls, spins, and some basic aerobatics.
She had to use a Sic-Sack on a couple of occasions, but
soon she was doing loops, rolls, and inverted flight.
Craig had her do inverted stalls and spins, then he let
her take the Decathlon up when she had some free time.

Sherry had the time of her life in the Decathlon. Craig
chewed her ass out for making a low inverted pass down
the runway one afternoon, but she didn’t mind.

For most of the non-flying days, Doris had her wear more
lady-like attire. She got used to moving around in
dresses, skirts, and high heels. She lost her purse a
few times the first week, but soon carrying one became
automatic.

The therapy was easier than she thought it would be.
Sherry trusted Janet and opened up to her completely.
They met three times a week, then scaled back to twice a
week. Janet wanted to make sure that the training wasn’t
taking Sherry down a road she didn’t want to go. But
what she saw was a young woman who was full of life.
Sherry was finally doing everything she had wanted to
do.

The deportment classes (to use Doris’s term) were more
like aerobics. The instructor’s name was Sharon, she
worked to teach Sherry to loosen up and move more
fluidly, not to shamble along like a male. They were
tiring at first, but also fun. Sherry was keeping up her
running, she was now doing over four miles a day. The
town (she thought of it as that) has several running
courses laid out along the roads, complete with mileage
markers. Sherry’s goal was to run three laps around the
airport, a distance of over eight miles.

The coursework was changing constantly. After a series
of lessons on clothing and accessories, Sherry started a
basic cooking course. Doris pointed out that most women
knew how to do more than fry hamburgers and eggs, which
about the extent of Sherry’s kitchen skills. So she
learned how to cook and how to select items from the
supermarket. Sherry privately didn’t think much of this
phase of her training. It seemed like a lot of effort to
spend so much time preparing a meal that normally didn’t
take anywhere near as long to eat. Lord Sandwich knew
what he was doing, she concluded.

The big treat came after Sherry passed her commercial
pilot’s check ride. Doris and Janet treated her to a
trip to Chicago for three days of R&R. They took the
Bonanza, Sherry flew them to Meig’s Field right
downtown. They went shopping on Michigan Avenue and in
Watertower Place. The highpoint was a theatre night,
including a fantastic dinner afterwards. Sherry was
sorry to leave Chicago, even though she logged some good
instrument time, including a NDB approach to their home
base.

Sherry started working with Craig on her multi-engine
rating in the Twin Beech the next day, including a
session on the care and feeding of radial engines. “You
can’t overprime a radial,” Craig admonished. She learned
about engines that measured their oil levens in gallons,
not quarts. Learning to taxi a multi-engined taildragger
was a little bit of a challenge.

While Sherry was being introduced to the fun of engine-
out drills, a conference was underway concerning her
progress. Col. Hampton had flown in, he met with Janet,
Doris, and Dr. Trotti. “How’s our boy doing,” was his
first question.

Janet smiled. “She’s a woman, Colonel, and she’s doing
fine.”

“Explain.”

“Frankly, I don’t think Sherry’s a transvestite. I think
she’s a transsexual, although she really hasn’t admitted
it to herself. The majority of TVs we get here aren’t
content to go full-time dressed up. They find some way
of visibly asserting their masculinity. The TSs
assimilate completely. Sherry has shown no signs of not
wanting to be a woman. No covert strength exercises, or
anything like that.

“Her adjustment to female living has been remarkable,
although I don’t think she should consider making a
living as a chef.” That comment earned a laugh from
Doris.

Col. Hampton mulled that over. “How’s the flying
coming?”

Doris fielded that. “Craig says she’s doing well. She
may not be a natural at it, but she is working very hard
at it.”

“So what’s the next step in her training?”

“She’s started multi-engine work. Once she gets her
multi ticket, then we are going to get her rated in DC-
3s and C-46s, along with turboprops so she has some
turbine time. After that, then it may be time to send
her out living full-time as a pilot to build up her
flight time.”

“What about tradecraft?”

“We’ll start weapons training next week, along with
escape and evasion, surveillance and counter-
surveillance techniques, and the usual stuff,” Doris
said.

“What about her femininity?”

“I think it’s time to see if she wants to start
hormones,” Janet replied. If she agrees and sticks with
it for the next few months, then it may be advisable to
consider some non-genital reassignment surgery.”

“Face and voice,” he asked

“Yes. I’d say if she is to go that route, we do the
surgery before she goes out for learning how to live on
her own as a woman.”

“All right,” Col Hampton concluded. “Call the airport
and have Sherry brought here for a discussion about
hormones with you and you alone. We’ll wait up in
Trotti’s office.”

Sherry came to Janet’s office looking an absolute mess.
She was sweating from the effort of conducting the dead
engine exercises. “This is a little out of the
ordinary,” Sherry said. “What’s up?”

“I’ve been reviewing your progress here, Sherry. You are
turning out to be a fine young woman. When I or anyone
else looks at you, we’d be hard-pressed to believe that
you are really a man. How do you feel about it?”

Sherry was taken a little aback. “I guess I feel good
about it. When I get dressed and look in the mirror, I
see me. It’s hard for me to realize that I am a man,
too.”

“Do you want to go back to being Sam?”

“What? But Colonel Hampton said-”

I know what he said,” Janet interrupted. “What has been
done is easily changeable. Even if you have no facial
hair, all you’d need to do is get a crewcut, change
clothes, take out your earrings, and everyone would
assume you are a man. But now you’re at a decision
point.

“For what I am going to say now, I do not want an
answer. Promise me you won’t say a word to me until
tomorrow morning or later if you need the time. All
right?”

Sherry nodded.

“This is the choice: You can go down the impersonation
road with facial surgery and breast implants. It’ll fool
most of the people. When you’re done, Dr. Trotti can
make you look almost the way you look now. Not quite,
but almost.

“The other option is more permanent. Instead of
implants, you’d start hormones. We’ll schedule you for
voice surgery, your voice will be higher forever. The
facial surgery will be more extensive. And finally, if
you make it that far, you’d go through sexual
reassignment surgery. At that point, you’d be as female
as chemistry, training, and surgery can make you.

“It’s your choice. Go home and think it over.”

Sherry nodded solemnly and left. She thought about it
quite a lot. She thought about how she had never quite
fit in as a man and how everything felt so right now.
She had a few drinks in thinking it over, too.

Sherry was wearing a pink suit and was waiting in
Janet’s outer office when Janet came to work the next
day. “Come on in, Sherry,” Janet said. They sat down and
Janet didn’t say anything.

Sherry took a deep breath and smiled. “I want it to be
permanent. When can we start?”

Janet looked solemn. Inside she felt joyous, but kept a
professional demeanour. She opened a drawer and handed
her a piece of paper. “Take this to the pharmacy,
they’ll fill the order. Follow the instructions exactly,
Sherry. Ok?”

“Sure, Janet.”

Janet stood up and hugged Sherry. “Welcome to the other
side, Sherry.”

Sherry went to the pharmacy and had the prescription
filled. The prescription called for taking Premarin and
Aldactone. The pills had to be taken with food and had
to be taken at approximately the same time each day. The
pharmacist gave her a lengthy brochure about what to
expect while taking hormones.

She read that once she got back to the townhouse. Mood
swings, weepiness, long-term risks of cancer; it was
heartening to realize that no women in her family had
ever developed breast cancer. No time like the present,
so she fixed a sandwich and took her first pills. It was
almost a disappointment that nothing happened right
away. She logged onto a commercial database and read the
information files about the drugs. Aldactone, an anti-
androgen, was widely used in the rest of the world but
was not approved for use by the FDA. Must be one of the
benefits of the Feds, they can get away with ignoring
their own rules.

The ringing of the telephone startled her. In over two
months, she hadn’t had one incoming phone call. She
picked up the handset and said hello.

“Sherry, it’s Doris. Change into jeans, a sweatshirt,
and sneakers. I’ll be over in twenty minutes to pick you
up.” The line went dead as Doris hung up without
awaiting a reply.

‘Christ, what a bitch!’ Sherry thought as she went
upstairs to change. It can’t be a flying day, there’s no
need to drive to the field. Well, going with the flow
has worked so far. She was ready at the appointed time.

Doris drove up in a Jeep, a real gasoline-powered one.
Sherry hopped in and asked what’s up.

“Another phase of your training,” she replied. “You
start gun class today.” Doris drove to a site several
miles away, it was a rectangular building with a large
earthen berm behind it. Doris handed Sherry the keys to
the Jeep. “I’ll catch a ride back, drive back when
you’re done. Go to the office and tell them your name,
they’ll take it from there.”

Sherry did as Doris told her to. The office had three
men lounging around who looked like midwestern “good-ole
boys,” complete with flannel shirts and yellow work
boots. When she said her name, a tall man in his late
40s stood up and said: “Yeah, I’ve been waiting for you.
My name’s Keith. Let’s go.” Sherry followed him out of
the office. He led the way down the corridor to a set of
stairs, then down a flight to the basement. They went to
a heavy door, he opened it and threw a set of wall
switches. The front of the room lit up and the whine of
a powerful ventilation fan started. They were in an
indoor pistol range. It had three firing points and
appeared to be a 25-yard range. Each firing point had a
target holder that moved back and forth by an electric
motor.

“You ever do any handgun shooting,” Keith asked.

“Some.”

“What do you shoot?”

“.45 Colt auto.”

Keith grunted, then went to a wall cabinet. He pulled
out some targets, tape, shooting glasses, and two pairs
of large ear protectors. Then he unlocked another
cabinet and handed Sherry a Colt Gold Cup .45. Sherry
immediately pulled the slide back and locked it. “Ok, so
you may know what you’re doing,” Keith admitted. He hung
a 25-yard rapid-fire target on the frame and ran it down
to the far end of the range. Then he handed Sherry a box
of cartridges, two empty magazines, and waved her to the
firing point.

Sherry stepped up to the position. She dry-fired the
pistol several times to get a feel for the trigger; it
was a lot lighter and crisper than an issue service
weapon. She locked the slide back, set the pistol on the
counter, and loaded five rounds into a magazine.

Sherry said: “Put on your hearing protection, please.”
She then put the glasses on and the earmuffs over them.
She shifted her body as she picked up the pistol and
magazine so her left foot was ahead of her right one.
She inserted the magazine into the well of the pistol
and slipped off the slide release, which allowed the
slide to run forward and chamber a round.

She held the pistol in her right hand with her left hand
forming a cup in which the right hand rested as if she
was catching it. Her left elbow was bent almost 90
degrees, the right elbow was straight. Breath deep, let
a little out, squeeeeezeee…BLAM! Sherry fired four
more times, then Keith stepped up and brought the target
up.

“Not bad,” he said. Sherry had hit the x-ring once, the
ten ring twice, the nine once, and the seven ring. 46×1.
She felt pretty good about it.

Keith poured cold water all over her joy. “But that
means nothing. Nobody’s going to allow you to settle
into a Weaver stance and calmly snap off five rounds at
them. And for damn sure you won’t find a Gold Cup lying
around. But at least you know which end of a pistol does
what.”

So Sherry started practical pistol training. That was a
nice euphemism for learning how to kill someone with a
pistol. “First thing is this,” Keith said: “A pistol’s a
defensive weapon. It’s what you use to stop someone from
doing harm to you or someone else. If you’re going to
set out to kill someone, then use a better weapon with
more killing power and range.”

***

Over the next few weeks, Sherry learned how to shoot
competently with almost every conceivable handgun. The
training took place on a firing range that was a mock-
town with pop-up or swinging targets. She had to learn
to shoot with one hand, the wrong hand, and both hands.
Keith taught her how to draw from waist, shoulder, and
leg holsters. For one phase of the schooling, she had to
wear a suit, heels, and draw from a purse. It sure felt
strange to Sherry to walk though the training range in a
navy pinstripe “dress for success” suit, career pumps,
and whip out a .380 automatic to drill a imitation
scumbag.

Combat training was held using guns firing paintballs.
These were often painful as the paint pellets were fired
from regular firearms (rather than the paintball guns),
but the training impact of being shot was of value.

The flying continues as before. Sherry passed her multi-
engine flight test. She was put on the roster for the
air-charter outfit based at the airport; soon she was
flying the Twin Beech and the Navajo on cargo runs. To
her amusement, she even flew some men to the same
southern airport where she had been taken for her
medical examination. When the schedule called for her to
make a night run, her other training was adjusted to
accommodate the flight. She was building time in the
classic method used by aspiring commercial pilots.

The therapy continued, too. Janet acted more like a
close confidant than a distant professional, which
resulted in Sherry’s opening up completely. Janet also
reviewed the surveillance reports on Sherry for any
discrepancies, including the tapes made by the
microcameras in Sherry’s townhouse. She was coming along
fine.

Sherry had continuing appointments with the electrolysis
team, normally every six weeks. They went after
follicles that were dormant during the initial process
along with the ones that had survived. The first repeat
session took four days, then the time dwindled after
that. They were nothing that she regarded as fun.

The ground training shifted focus somewhat. The
curriculum moved from handguns to shoulder weapons:
rifles and shotguns. Sherry found she had a talent with
a rifle, she could “dope” the wind and normally hit a
target at six hundred yards. The shotgun was easy for
her, it was a reactive weapon where the rifle was
normally a deliberate one. Sherry really didn’t like the
high- powered rifles too much, they kicked fiercely. But
anything smaller than a .30-06 was almost fun.

As firearms training tapered off, they started her on
unarmed training. This had little in common with the
theology of martial arts, it was raw street survival
training. A few sessions were held with Sherry wearing
“street clothes,” dresses, skirts, heels. Those sessions
often resulted in the clothes being totalled, but they
were replaceable.

One session was nighttime training. Sherry had to walk
down the street. Most of the people would pass her by,
but one was supposed to attack. When the attack came,
Sherry spun out of the attacker’s grip and pulled a
snub-nosed .38 from under her jacket. She levelled the
pistol at the attacker and fired three times, the
instructor staggered back in shock as three paint
pellets smashed into his chest. The lights came on as
the two looked at each other, the other people on the
street had all dived for cover when the shots rang out.
The trainer rubbed the impact sites and said:

“Very good. If you have a weapon, the hand-to-hand moves
are for fools. But that’s not the goal of this training,
so don’t bring it again.” His voice sounded harsh, but
he was trying hard not to smile.

Sherry had a medical appointment the next day. Dr Trotti
and one of his parters, Dr. Pamela Levinson, gave her
another complete physical. It lasted most of the day,
Sherry just put up with the routine. She hated being
poked and prodded, but that was the way the medical
profession worked, especially if one was in the service
of Uncle Sam.

The two doctors saw her after the exam. “How are you
doing, my dear,” Trotti asked.

“Fine.”

“Any complaints?”

“No.”

“Are you noticing any soreness around your nipples,”
asked Levinson.

“Some,” admitted Sherry. “The literature the pharmacy
gave me said to expect that.”

Both doctors nodded, then Trotti shifted gears. “I want
you to go to the blood bank and have them extract a pint
of blood, then another one in four weeks. That will
provide a ready source in case we need it.”

“For what?”

“Surgery,” he said. “In two months, we’re going to take
you in and reshape your face to a more feminine
appearance. At the same time, the day before actually,
Dr. Levinson will do the vocal surgery. You’ll be out of
action for a while after that, but we’ll make sure
you’re still learning something.”

Sherry nodded, not wanting to speak. Her mind was filled
with a conflict; she wanted to have the facial surgery,
but she also didn’t want anybody cutting her with a
sharp object. The doctors asked some other questions,
but Sherry answered them rather abruptly. When the
interview ended, she went to the blood bank and they
drew a pint for deposit on her account. They told her to
drink plenty of fluids and not to fly for 24 hours. She
called the field and had them take her off the schedule.

Janet had noticed Sherry’s hesitancy at the pre-surgery
meeting, she dropped by after work with a bottle of
white wine and some munchies. Sherry was a little amazed
and a little peeved that Janet hadn’t called; the
townhouse looked like an exercise in “Living With
Chaos.” But she found a couple of semi-clean glasses and
a plate for the food. After the bottle was opened,
Sherry opened the discussion: “I assume you didn’t stop
by just for a visit.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Sherry said with sarcasm dripping
like molten steel. “You’ve never said anything like
‘let’s do lunch,’ but two hours after a discussion about
surgery, here you are, booze in hand.”

“In some way’s you’re still a man,” Janet said with a
wry smile. “Most women wouldn’t go that quickly to the
heart of the matter. They’d have opened with some
pleasantries and eventually worked around to the point.”

“Or they might try altering the subject. Answer the damn
question.”

“All right,” Janet sighed. “You seemed uncomfortable
with the idea of surgery. What bothers you, the idea of
changing your appearance?”

“No,” Sherry said emphatically. “Nothing like that. It’s
more like I don’t like the idea of being operated on.”

“Have you ever had an operation?”

“Nope, nothing more serious than removing wisdom teeth.
I’ve never been knocked out, not even accidentally.”

“And the idea bothers you,” Janet probed.

“People sometimes don’t wake up afterwards.”

Janet smiled. At least it wasn’t a matter of Sherry not
being convinced that the operation wasn’t necessary. She
spent a lot of time trying to calm Sherry’s jitters.

Sherry wasn’t too convinced, but she was reassured that
there were other things in life more risky that she had
done. Then Sherry asked a question Janet wasn’t prepared
for: “When are you going to remove my testicles?”

“Why?”

“I did some reading on hormones in the database. The
writers all seem to believe that female hormones work
better if they’re not fighting male hormones. You could
also lower the dosage level of both drugs and reduce the
risks from side effects.”

Janet looked very serious. “But if that’s done, you’d
never be able to father a child. And there is no way to
reverse that operation, even superglue wouldn’t work.”

Sherry stood up and stripped to the waist. “Do I look
like a man? I am a woman-” she said that with
considerable emphasis “-but I still have some extra
parts. I want that taken care of as soon as I can.”

Janet motioned to Sherry to put her clothes back on;
Sherry complied. Sherry’s breasts were starting to bud,
her body looked like one that might belong to a six-foot
tall twelve year old. “We can’t do all that, not right
away.”

“Why not?”

“You know about the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care?”
Sherry nodded. “Well,” Janet continued, “we are really
violating them somewhat in your case. There is an
overriding interest that classifies as ‘national
security,’ we’ve compressed a lot of the time factors.
But we still won’t do the final reassignment surgery
without some form of Real Life Test.

“You are going to have to live and work as a woman for a
while before we consider you for final surgery. When it
comes time, we will have you operated on by the best
there is.”

“You mean-” Sherry held her tongue when Janet held her
finger to her lips.

“I think we know who that is. There are people who help
out the Government on a volunteer basis, but under the
strictest security. You won’t meet the surgeon, at least
not when you’re conscious. But we have to satisfy a
minimum of the Standards before you can undergo SRS.”

“Hmm. And I don’t suppose you have any specifics in mind
for a Real Life Test?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. You’ll get a job with an air
cargo service, flying night runs for a check-delivery
service. That’ll also build your logbook up. It’s really
a double-barrelled test: we’ll see if you can survive on
your own as a woman and if you can be a competent
professional pilot.”

Sherry nodded. By this time the wine was gone and they
both were feeling tired. Janet made her exit, Sherry
washed up and went to bed.

Doris called Sherry at 5am and told her to be ready for
flying at six and to bring changes of clothing for three
days. Sherry grunted something unintelligible into the
phone and got up. She went over to the field at six; to
her surprise she was handed a completed flight plan to
Mojave, California and the keys to the Twin Beech. Go
with the flow, she figured, she was airborne by 6:30.

The plan had her overnighting in Cheyenne, then on to
California. The FBO at the Cheyenne airport gave her a
ride to a local Holiday Inn. Sherry had dinner in the
restaurant and went to bed. She grabbed a cab to the
airport the next morning and completed the trip to
Mojave.

Of all the possibilities that she anticipated, what
happened didn’t occur to her. She was met at the airport
and immediately loaded onto a Marine C-12 en route to
the Twenty-Nine Palms Marine base. Four instructors met
her for a course in desert survival. Over the next seven
days, they showed her how to survive in the desert with
the materials and equipment she’d likely have if she had
to crash-land in one. Water was the key, they
emphasised. without water, you die. With water, then one
might survive.

The detail that convinced her that someone was really
planning her training ahead was that the instructors had
a week’s supply of her hormone pills.

Sherry really enjoyed the hot shower she took after the
week was over. But they didn’t keep her at 29 Palms; she
was flown to San Diego and put onto a C-141 to Panama.
Once there, she got to repeat the whole process in a
jungle. The struggle there was almost the opposite; too
much water and trying to keep dry. There were more
poisonous snakes in the jungle than she ever dreamed of,
and bugs galore. Sherry wasn’t too sure which she hated
more, bugs or snakes.

Week three found her in Colorado, this time the focus
was on mountain survival. By this time Sherry was
wondering if she’d survive survival training. The
survival training was followed up by a cram course in
land navigation; the final exam was a three-day trek to
a pickup point. They made it clear to her that they
would only look for her at the pickup point, she had to
get there or reach civilization on her own. She made it
to the pickup point with three hours to spare.

After she showered and changed into a fresh set of
clothes, one of the instructors took her to a restaurant
for a graduation dinner. Sherry had no trouble finishing
a 16-oz prime rib, the largest steak she had eaten in
years. It was about the best she ever remembered, too.
The night was memorable if only for the fact that it was
the first time since she passed through Cheyenne that
she slept indoors in a bed with clean sheets.

Sherry caught a commercial flight to Madison, Wisconsin
the next day. Craig met her at the airport, the two flew
back to the home base in the Bonanza. The Twin Beech was
on the field when they arrived. She had no idea who
retrieved it, but she knew better than to ask.

Doris had left a note on her door; Sherry was glad to
learn she had the next two days off. She slept for most
of it. When she stepped on the bathroom scale, she was
shocked to learn that she had lost 25 pounds during the
rigourous training. None of her new wardrobe fit, she
wore sweats and pulled the drawstring tight. It would
probably be a temporary loss.

Doris had left a note in Sherry’s mailbox that told her
to report to the airport after her two days’ off. When
Sherry did, she found herself sitting through a ground
school for a DC-3 type rating. The school took three
days (a DC-3’s not very complicated). After that, it was
time to fly. Sherry had to adjust to the height of the –
3’s flight deck, everything else she had flown before
would have crashed if flared at the height of the old
Douglas airliner. Flying the plane took some work,
powered controls hadn’t been in use when Charles
Lindberg wrote the requirements that the airplane was
designed to meet.

It took about ten hours of flight time for Sherry to
feel comfortable in both the left and right seats of the
DC-3. The flight test was routine, she soon had a new
license with a DC-3 type rating.

Then they did it all over again, but this time for a DC-
3T; a DC-3 that has had the piston radial engines
removed and modified for PT6 turboprops. That training
went fairly rapidly since Sherry was already familiar
with PT6 engines.

***

After three weeks, Sherry had regained ten pounds. She
had obtained some new clothes that fit her smaller body,
but not many as she figured she’d eventually regain the
weight. They scheduled a few brush-up training sessions
in unarmed and armed defence to break up the routine of
flying. Then Doris told her to pack a few bags, she was
moving away for awhile. Sherry wondered what had
happened to the planned surgery, but she didn’t ask.

The two of them drove a late model Honda Civic to
Chicago. Doris explained on the way down that they had
to reschedule the operations for three or four weeks
later, so they were taking the extra time to put Sherry
to work. Some of her stuff was already in an apartment
not very far from Midway Airport. Sherry was about to
fly as a “freight dog” for the next month. Doris handed
over her logs. Sherry looked at them, all her logbooks
had been rewritten so that every entry was for Sherry
Anderson. The signatures of all the flight instructors
looked genuine, the older logbooks looked as worn as the
originals had.

They drove right to Midway, where they found the offices
of BryanAir. Doris gave her the keys to the Honda,
kissed her goodbye, and caught a cab for O’Hare. Out of
curiosity, Sherry opened the glove box and looked at the
car’s registration. She wasn’t surprised to see it was
registered in her name.

Sherry went into the offices and asked for the chief
pilot. The chief pilot, Sheila Mueller, looked over
Sherry’s logs and asked her some technical questions
about various aircraft, mostly twins. After the
interview, she said: “Let’s go. There’s a Beech out
there, 7DR, preflight it.”

Sherry went out and checked the airplane over. 7DR was a
working cargo airplane, but she noticed that the engines
appeared to be in fine shape. All the fluid levels were
right, As she finished, Sheila came out with two
headsets and a portable intercom. She waved Sherry into
the left seat and Sheila took the right. After they
wired the intercom, push-to-talk switches, and the
headsets, Sherry asked: “Where to?”

“Get her started, then tell Clearance Delivery that we
are going VFR to the lake practice area.”

Sherry started the engines, then obtained departure
instructions and a transponder squawk from Clearance
Delivery. When the oil was warm enough for taxiing, she
called Ground Control and was cleared to taxi to the
active runway. At takeoff, the tower had her fly the
runway heading to 2,000 feet before turning towards Lake
Michigan. Once there, Sheila ran her through some
engine-out drills, including an engine-out ILS approach
to Midway. It took almost an hour before Sheila was
satisfied and they landed.

They removed the headphones with a contented sigh,
accompanied by the whining of the gyros spinning down.
“Be here at nine tomorrow night,” Sheila said. “You’ll
be flying a load of checks between here and Minneapolis.
The flight planning’s already done, we’ve been on this
route for years. So just show up then, you’ll check the
weather and go.”

“Ok,” Sherry said. Inwardly she was thrilled. It was
what she had wanted ever since she was a boy, to work as
a pilot.

After a few weeks of constant night flying, the thrill
wore off. A couple of men in some of the airports she
had stopped at had made passes at her. One rough jerk
had even grabbed her by the shoulder. He had taken his
hand away when Sherry coldly advised him to do so “if
you want to retain the use of it.” Most of the flying
was in Twin Beeches, the rest of the time was spent in
Piper Navajos. None of them had weather radar or flight
directors, but all had enough avionics so that the
flights could be made if something broke. The only
reason the airplanes had autopilots was because it saved
fuel to use them.

Sherry noticed that a fair number of the freight pilots
for the different carriers were women. All of them (male
and female) wore fairly grubby clothes, normally blue
jeans and heavy shirts to keep the chill out when the
heaters failed to operate. Only a few of the women wore
any hint of cosmetics. Their favourite scent was 100LL
aviation fuel, seasoned with Phillips 20W-50 oil and a
dash of hydraulic fluid. Flying was the favourite topic,
though the women often moaned about how hard it was to
have a relationship with a man when the women worked
nights. They confined such complaints to times when no
men were present. Sherry was logging over 30 hours of
flying each week, all night cross-country multi time.

She didn’t learn much about the area around her
apartment, for all she wanted to do when she was there
was sleep. Some of it she saw when she went out for a
run, it didn’t impress her any. The skirts, dresses, and
heels in the closet stayed there.

It was supposed to be for a few weeks, but Doris called
and told Sherry to stay put. Sherry flew night freight
for three months. Her pay from the freight line was
deposited into her savings account, she was also still
receiving her pay as a Lieutenant (O-3) with eight
years’ seniority. The apartment was paid for by her
government living allowance, Sherry figured she was
socking away a mint. As it stood with the hours she was
working, she didn’t come close to spending her flying
pay, much less her military pay. If this kept up for
awhile, she could pay for SRS herself.

Sherry consoled herself that when the time came to
leave, she had just as much notice as she’d been getting
all along. Doris showed up and had her pack two
suitcases. The rest, Doris said, would be taken care of.
They drove the little Honda to a major hospital in
Chicago, where Doris checked Sherry in. After dropping
the bags in a room, they went to an office. Sherry
wasn’t the least bit surprised to find Dr. Trotti there.
“You ready,” he asked.

“For what?”

“We’re going to do a makeover on you. But instead of
cosmetics, we’ll do it beneath your skin. I’ve scheduled
you for tomorrow. We have some tests to run.”

Sherry put her foot down. “I’ve had it.” She turned and
glared at Doris.

“I’m tired of being treated as a piece of meat who just
does as she’s told. It stops now, damn it. I want to
know what is going to happen now, and what is going to
happen next. Or the deal is off.”

Doris started to say “You can’t mean–” when Trotti
waved her to silence.

Trotti and Sherry stared at each other. “I think she
means that, Doris.”

Sherry nodded her head.

“All right. All right,” Dr Trotti sighed. He pulled a
group of photographs from an envelope on the desk. “This
is what we’re going to do–” he outlined a procedure
that focused mainly on the face. They wanted to reshape
her jaw, trim her nose, pare down her adam’s apple, and
tighten her vocal chords. “We’ll do the vocal chord work
first, because we need you alert. You have to speak
while it’s going on so we can tune your voice. Then
after that, we’ll give you a general anaesthesia and do
the rest of the procedure.”

Sherry frowned. “I’ve been on hormones all this time.
Isn’t it good practice to stop taking them prior to
surgery?”

Trotti smiled with a little embarrassment. “Actually,
you’ve been off them

for the last three weeks–”

“‘Three weeks’?!” Sherry yelled the question. “You
bastards have known this all along and haven’t bothered
to tell me?” Her hands raised slightly and she clenched
her fists as if she wanted to rip Trotti’s throat out.
Trotti saw her rage and took a half- step backwards
without even realizing he had done so. Sherry pivoted,
seeing some movement from the corner of her eye. Doris
had opened her purse and had her hand inside. Sherry
stared at her. The stare said ‘go ahead, make a move,’
but Doris, her face white, slowly pulled her empty hand
out of the bag.

Doris slowly unslung the purse and placed it on a table,
then took two steps away from it. Doris was good, she
thought she’d be able to take Sherry, but that wasn’t
the object of the exercise. They had a lot of time and
money invested in Sherry Anderson. Doris wasn’t willing
to toss that away, nor did she want to have to explain
to her superiors why she had killed Sherry. The thought
that Sherry just might have taken her didn’t even enter
her mind.

Sherry breathed deeply and relaxed. She knew how close
she had been to going over the edge. “So, what happens
afterwards?”

Doris also let out a sigh. “After the operations, you’ll
recuperate here for a week. Then we’ll take you back to
the base. You won’t be ready for flying or anything else
for at least six weeks, maybe twice that. So we’ll teach
you other things, classroom work.”

“Such as?”

“Languages. You have to learn the language of the area
you’ll be operating in.”

“What language?”

Doris smiled and shook her head. “Not everyone you’ll
come in contact with here is cleared to know. We don’t
need you babbling about it under an-esthesia.”

Sherry nodded. “I can live with that. So let’s get
started.”

Trotti called an orderly who showed Sherry to a hospital
room. Sherry dumped her gear and then followed the
orderly for an examination. Blood tests, X-rays, dental
exams, EKG; it all was a familiar bore. The voice
surgeon peered down her throat, but his manner was
abstract. She knew a lot of doctors acted this way, so
she didn’t take it personally.

***

That evening they gave her an enema and restricted her
diet. The orderlies woke her at five the next morning
for a shower, then gave her breakfast and a sedative.
Sherry was awake but foggy when they wheeled her up for
the voice surgery. She vaguely remembered being given a
lot of local anesthetic before the surgery. It was not
as comfortable as a dental exam, what with the doctor
sticking a bunch of hardware down her throat. But it
didn’t hurt.

After that little ordeal, a nurse gave her another shot
and Sherry went into dreamland. When she woke up, her
throat and face hurt. A big sign in front of her ordered
her not to talk, but to push the button if she felt in
pain. A nurse came in and showed her how to use the
self-medication machine to obtain painkillers. Sherry
did that and fell back asleep.

The next time she woke up, she noticed the IV drip and
felt the catheter. Oh, well, she thought. The sign was
still there. She pushed the button. A floor nurse came
by with a menu and a pencil; Sherry circled her choices.
‘Oh boy, hospital food,’ she thought.

A doctor came in to check vital signs; Sherry knew she
was a doctor because the doctors all wore business
clothing under their white coats. The doctor explained
that Sherry had to be silent as much as possible for the
next two weeks. Then she told her how that the
operations appeared to be successful. The doctor held up
a mirror. Sherry thought she looked as if she had just
gone ten rounds with Evander Holyfield, but the doctor
explained the swelling was normal.

The IV was removed that afternoon, the catheter the next
morning. Three days later, Doris, Janet and a third
woman showed up to take Sherry back home. They had a
small RV so Sherry could lie down for the trip if she
wanted to. She wanted to.

Sherry got two weeks’ off. She felt she didn’t need that
much time, but Doris explained that she would need her
voice for the language training. Sherry spent the time
catching up on her pleasure reading, watching movies she
had missed and playing with the computer. She tried
running after a week and could barely go two blocks. The
surgery and the long hours of flying had taken a lot out
of her, she realized. She also tried out her new voice.
It was still a little low, but it was a feminine
lowness. Twice she relaxed by taking a Jeep to the
firing range and shooting a few weapons. One of the
instructors gave her a treat and let her fire a M2 .50
caliber heavy machine gun, the good old “Ma Deuce.” 65
years old and still the best HMG in the world, he said.

Dr. Trotti and a throat specialist (who pointedly was
not introduced) gave her a medical exam before
permitting her to start classes. The verdict was good,
so Sherry started language courses the next week (and
also resumed taking the hormones). The course work was a
twelve hour immersion, with little homework at first.
Sherry was learning two languages at once, Spanish and
Portuguese. She didn’t think she was being prepped for a
mission in the Iberian Peninsula, so that meant she was
going to go to South America. They told her that they
weren’t concerned about making her appear to be a
native, that she was going as an American. But it always
helps to know the language. Sherry concluded that the
mission wasn’t set so deep in the bush that she needed
to know any of the local Indian dialects.

The language training lasted for three months. Sherry
might not have been able to discuss quarks and other
sub-atomic particles in the two languages, but she knew
enough to get around and survive. They taught her a lot
of aircraft-nomenclature in both languages (which made
sense).

She resumed flying six weeks after the surgery. It felt
good to fling the Decathlon around the sky, then she
settled down and became current again in the cargo
aircraft. The self-defence and weapons training started
up again as the language instruction petered out. Some
of the sessions were taught in the two languages, so
Sherry learned how to discuss weapons in the tongues.

Doris dropped by one afternoon. She told Sherry that
after the training had ended, that she’d be going to
another freight line to build up more flight time, but
this time she’d be flying a DC-3. Sherry looked forward
to that.

But what Sherry loved best was what she saw when she
looked in the mirror and what she heard when she spoke.
What she saw and what she heard was a woman. She told
Janet that more and more, she wanted to finish the
course and get rid of the last vestiges of maleness
hanging between her legs. Janet just smiled and
counselled patience. Sherry was patient, but she wanted
to finish the course and resume the rest of her life.

She overlooked that “Payback Time” was coming, too.

Sherry found herself in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The
routine was simplicity itself: She would fly as co-pilot
for a DC-3 to Madison, Janesville, Rockford, IL and into
Midway, . At each point, part of the cargo would be
loaded on so that when they arrived in Chicago they
normally had a full load. The cargo (which was in
containers) would be transferred to a cargo jet and
taken to the national sorting center. Christa Welles
(the DC-3’s Captain) and Sherry would try to catch a few
winks in the female bunkroom until the outbound cargo
was delivered. Then they would fly the DC-3 back to La
Crosse.

Sherry, who had grown up reading the stories of Ernest
Gann, was in high heaven. Ok, so they were using VORs
and loran, not low-freqency ranges, but it didn’t take
much imagination on her part to believe they were flying
AM-21. She could see why the old airline pilots loved
the DC-3; easy to fly, easy to land, and about as
forgiving a taildragger as was ever made.

Christa didn’t see it that way, but she was a short-
timer. In three weeks she would be going to United’s new
pilot school. In baseball terms, she had made it to “the
show.” United had sent her some advance course material
and she was spending every bit of free time studying it.

Sherry’s other studies weren’t neglected. She had a
subscription to two weekly newsmagazines in Portuguese
and Spanish. The school called her twice a week for
progress reports and to gently quiz her on current
events. The calls were made in one or the other
languages. A case officer dropped by every three weeks;
again the discussions weren’t in English.

When Christa left, Sherry was promoted to the left seat
of the DC-3. Another woman took over the co-pilot slot.
Sherry flew as a DC-3 captain for six months. It seemed
to her as if things were going very slowly, but there
was a reason to it. The program that was training her
incurred no major costs while Sherry was flying the
cargo planes. While her military pay was continuing, the
money for that came from the Navy. As far as they were
concerned, Sherry was an asset that was in safe-keeping.
Sherry was living on her flying pay. Her military pay
kept accumulating in a combination money market and
mutual fund account.

Doris called her one morning and told her to stop taking
the hormones, that there would be more surgery in three
weeks. Sherry asked what surgery, but Doris wouldn’t
tell her. Sherry sighed at all the “need to know”
bullshit, but that’s the way they did things.

Right on time, Doris showed up three weeks later at the
La Crosse airport as Sherry came back from a cargo run.
There was a new pilot for the -3, Doris led Sherry to a
Gulfstream III that had its cabin windows covered over.
“Where are we going,” Sherry asked.

Doris led the way onto the jet and closed the door. She
knocked on the cockpit door (also shut) and then sat
down. Janet was there, too. “We are going for the final
surgery,” Doris said. She nodded to Janet.

Janet pulled out a briefcase as the jet taxied to the
active runway. “We have a lot of material to go over,
first. Read these, and sign at the bottom where the ‘x’
is if you agree. We’ll countersign.”

Sherry started to read. Most of it was legalese about
the risks of sexual reassignment surgery. There was a
lengthy consent form and a very stark explanation that
the surgery was not reversible with any current or
foreseen technique. She barely noticed the takeoff roll
and climbout as she waded through the forms. There were
a few she had to reread to make sure she understood
them. But there was no question in her mind that this
was what she wanted. Each time she signed a document,
Doris and Janet would countersign it and Doris would
notarise it.

Finally, she finished the last form. She handed it to
Janet, who signed it.

Doris used the embossing stamp and signed it. “Now
what,” Sherry asked.

“Any last minute qualms,” inquired Janet.

“About being operated on? Yes. About why? No.”

“All right,” Janet sighed. “Just sit back and enjoy the
ride. You’ll find some books in the bin next to your
right knee.” Janet was relieved. She had to ask Sherry
that question out of professional duty, but nobody
wanted her to back out. A likely mission was on the
planning table and there was no one better qualified
than Sherry for it.

Sherry found a Portuguese version of Louis L’amour’s
“The Sacketts.” It was easy reading.

The jet landed and taxied into a hangar. Sherry wasn’t
allowed to leave the airplane until the hangar doors
were shut. The three women then got into a limousine
with blackened windows that was in the hangar. Even the
license plate was covered up. The limo went to a
hospital; they got out in an empty parking garage. Two
orderlies waited with a gurney. They had Sherry lie on
it, then they strapped her in. One orderly covered her
to the neck with a blanket, the other wrapped a bandage
around her eyes.

They wheeled her up to a private room. As she expected,
the windows were opaque. Doris showed her that the TV
set worked, although it only had generic cable stations
on it, nothing that would identify the city or state
they were in. Sherry unpacked and settled in.

What Sherry wanted to do now was sleep, but that was not
to be. Two different doctors came by to do a physical
examination, followed by another doctor who identified
himself as the anesthesiologist. All three wore surgical
greens and masks, presumably to minimize any chances of
Sherry identifying them.

The dinner was light, it was followed by one nurse who
gave Sherry an enema (which was no fun as Sherry wasn’t
into water sports), and another who shaved her pubic
area. Finally a third nurse came by, woke her up, and
gave her a sleeping pill.

An orderly woke her up early the next morning and gave
her a shot to make her drowsy. “Great, just what I
needed,” Sherry thought and she went to sleep again. She
thought she remembered somebody talking to her in the
OR, but she wasn’t sure.

The next thing she knew is that she woke up with a
burning sensation in her groin. Sherry groped for the
call button, a nurse came in and gave her a shot. She
went back to sleep.

Sherry was confined to bed for five days, although she
felt strong enough to get up after three. One of the
doctors told her it was “because you’re in great shape,
young lady” and ordered her to stay in bed anyway.
Sherry whiled away the time watching CNN and HBO. Doris
and Janet visited every day, they brought her copies of
the NY Times. That meant nothing, as Sherry knew the
paper was distributed nationally.

When they let her out of bed, Sherry started to get some
exercise walking up and down the hall. She was surprised
to see that most of the rooms were empty. The others had
closed doors, they only let her go out when the other
patients were out of sight.

She was in the hospital for ten days. The return trip
was made the same way, except this time the airplane was
a Lear 31 and the flight ended at the training base.
There Sherry recuperated for a few weeks and did
whatever she felt like. To her joy, one of the airplanes
on the flight line was a Stearman; she arranged for a
checkout and flew the big biplane as much as she could.
There was a T-28 on the line; Sherry checked out in it
but didn’t fly it very much. To her, it wasn’t as much
fun as the biplane.

They ran her through a series of refresher courses–
language, defence, and flying. The emphasis in the
flying was in terrain following and rough-field
operations. Sherry was also given extensive training in
loran, omega, and GPS navigation systems. Loran was
familiar, but they ran her through it anyway. Omega sets
in aircraft were rare to start with and hardly anyone
still used them, but on the off-chance that one would be
there, she had to learn it. GPS (Global Positioning
Satellites) was the latest system, supposedly accurate
to less than 50 meters in three dimensions.

After Sherry was checked by a team of doctors and judged
to have recovered, she went back to La Crosse and
resumed flying the DC-3 on the cargo runs. Doris told
her that “completely recovered” didn’t mean that all the
scars had healed. They wanted time for the scars from
the surgery to fade before making a final evaluation of
Sherry’s fitness for a mission.

Her co-pilot was an average-sized woman named Julia
Waldowski. Julia and Sherry became pretty good friends,
hard to avoid when one spends five days a week flying
together. After verifying that Julia knew what she was
about, Sherry let her fly the alternate legs of the
runs. There wasn’t much to it. If the weather was good
enough, they’d fly VFR to avoid the delays caused by the
ATC system.

Julia was a bit of an exercise nut. While most of the
other pilots were trying to catch a little sleep between
the inbound and outbound legs, she would go for a run
around the cargo area. One night she forgot to pack any
deodorant, so she asked Sherry if there was any in her
bag (almost all the pilots had a small bag with a change
of clothing and toiletries in case they were weathered
in). Sherry was asleep and mumbled something like “sure”
and went back to sleep.

The return flight was in good weather; they cancelled
IFR and flew out of Midway VFR. Sherry flew the leg and
noticed that Julia was being really quiet.

“Did you hurt yourself running tonight,” she asked.

“No, it was a good five miles.”

“Then what’s wrong?” Sherry glanced over, although it
wasn’t necessary to look with the headsets and the
intercom.

Julia was silent for a minute, then said: “When I
borrowed your deodorant, I found a dilator in your bag.”

That rang a few bells in Sherry’s mind. Most people
would have called it a ‘dildo,’ but she called it a
‘dilator.’ “Okay. So?”

“‘So?’ We’ve been flying together for a few months now.
I mean,” Julia stopped, at a loss for words. She reached
for her purse and took her wallet out. She drew a photo
from one of the plastic pockets and handed it to Sherry.
She then put her hand on the control wheel. “I have the
airplane.”

“Your airplane,” Sherry replied. She pulled a small
flashlight out and shielded the light, then she looked
at the photo. The picture showed Julia standing next to
a taller woman, one who was almost half a foot taller.
She was pretty good looking, though, and appeared to be
about the same age as Julia. There was some slight
resemblance between the two women, especially in the way
a slight smile was on their lips. Sherry put away the
flashlight, handed the photo back, and said: “I have the
airplane.”

“Your airplane.”

“Who is she?”

Julia was putting the photo back into her wallet.
“That’s Michelle, my big sister.”

In more ways than one, Sherry thought. “How much older
is she?”

“Depends on how you look at it. She’s either three years
older than I am or she’s 23 years younger.”

Sherry did some quick figuring; she knew Julia was 25,
so Michelle was 28..uh, oh. “Spell it out.”

“She was born as Michael. She had a sexual reassignment
operation two years ago. Most people wouldn’t know it to
look at her. But when she travels, she had a dilator in
her suitcase; she uses it to make sure her vagina stays
open. Her dilator looks just like yours.”

Sherry made a note of that; she’d better replace the
damn thing with a regular dildo. It’d be better to have
someone assume she was just weird. “How do you feel
about having a sister who’s a transsexual?”

Julia made a noncommittal gesture in the dim red light
of the Doug’s cockpit. She looked out to the right,
where the headlights of the cars on I-90 were visible.
“Michael never fit in as a boy. I think I knew he wanted
to be a girl a long time ago. She’s a big woman, now,
but she’s very happy. Michelle has a sort of inner peace
that most people don’t. I think it comes from knowing
that she has done what she needed to do.

“I don’t know, it’s strange sometimes. But when I’m
around her, I forget sometimes that she used to be a he.
My parents aren’t very happy, but they’ve realized that
it was the best thing.”

Sherry tuned the number 1 navcom to the Rockford tower
frequency, 118.3 mHz.

The tower was closed, so she listened to see if anyone
else was in the area. Nobody was there, so she tried
calling Hartzog on their frequency to find which way the
windsock was pointing. The lineman looked out the door
and let her know. She pulled back on the throttles
slightly and started a shallow descent, then switched
back to the tower frequency.

Julia didn’t let it drop. “When did you have your
surgery?”

“You’re making a pretty big assumption, aren’t you?”

“No, I don’t think so. Even for a tall woman, you have
large hands and feet. Whoever worked on you did an
excellent job; there’s no scarring from the tracheal
shave. I can see a few pockmarks that probably came from
electrolysis, but everyone else is going to assume
they’re acne scars.”

Sherry sighed. “A few months ago. I came back from
recovery when we started flying together.”

“Does the line know?” Julia was referring to the cargo
airline.

“No. How would they? They don’t do physicals, my
paperwork all says ‘female.'”

“How did you get the time off?”

“I put in for a leave of absence without pay.”

“Does the FAA know? How did you get a medical?”

Sherry smiled slightly. She announced her position over
the radio, then answered Julia. “There are ways. The FAA
knows all about me. It’s not exactly an unknown thing
for them to see. Karen Ulane did us a big favour.”

“I guess so. That was too bad, though,” Julia commented,
referring to the crash that killed Ulane.

“Yeah. Gear down.”

Julia pushed the lever down. “Coming down…down and
locked.”

“Tailwheel locked.”

“Tailwheel locked.”

Sherry pulled the throttles back. “Flaps ten.”

“Flaps ten. Mixture to full rich.”

“Full rich.” She pushed the prop controls forward,
ensuring they’d be set if she had to go-around. Nobody
else was in the pattern, Sherry flew a tight approach
with minimal power. When she knew she had the field
made, she called for full flaps. She landed the DC-3 a
little tail low, then let the tail settle. One the tail
was down, Sherry moved the control column all the way
back to hold it. She unlocked the tailwheel once they
had slowed to taxi speed.

Julia commented. “Michelle’ll be so thrilled to know.”

“Julia, don’t tell her. Please.”

Julia looked over. “You’re on of the ones who want to
disappear afterwards, then.”

“Yes. Please don’t tell anyone.”

“Okay, Sherry.”

They didn’t talk much for the rest of the flight.

Julia did ask Sherry a couple days later if she wanted
to get together for dinner and some drinks on Saturday
night. Sherry didn’t have any plans, so she agreed. “You
have any ideas,” she asked.

Julia shrugged. “There’s a decent Chinese place not too
far away from the field. We can go there.”

“Sounds good. What should we wear?”

“I’m tired of wearing pants all the time,” Julia
declared. “I’m going to dress up a little.”

“Ok by me. Where should we meet?”

“We both live near the field, so let’s meet in the line
parking lot at seven.”

“Sure. See you then.”

They were both there at seven. That may have been a
little surprising to a casual observer, but both women
were pilots and were used to showing up on time. Julia
was wearing a dark floral print dress that was flowing
and came to just below the knee. The dress apparently
was made of rayon, tan hose, and black pumps with 3″
heels. Sherry had a black knee-length dress with a polo
shirt type of collar. She also had on black pumps but
with a little lower heel. They decided to take Sherry’s
Honda; that way Julia didn’t have to clean off the
passenger seat of her Tercel.

There was a wait for the restaurant, but not much of
one. They shared food, like most people do when they’re
eating Chinese, and giggled over the fortune cookies.
Sherry’s said “You are about to take a long journey.”

Julia knew a nice lounge not very far away. Over a
couple drinks, the two women talked; mainly about
flying. Like most pilots, they used their hands a lot.
The bartender listened in as much as he could, he seemed
fascinated by two women discussing aviation in a way
that only pilots could. They did switch to diet soda
after the second drink; neither one wanted to risk a
drunken- driving beef. (The FAA’s been going after
pilots who drink and drive.)

The crowd had lessed out, it was getting late, so they
left the bar. Two men followed them out, ambling behind
them as their heels clicked faster across the parking
lot. Sherry fished her keys out and had them in her hand
when the two men caught up to them.

One of them grabbed Sherry by the right wrist from
behind. “What’s your hurry, little lady,” he asked in a
tone that chilled Sherry to the core.

The other one had grabbed Julia. “We only want to party
a little. Come with us, you won’t get hurt and we’ll
show you a real good time.” Both men laughed.

Sherry exploded into motion. She pivoted and drove her
left fist into the man’s midsection with all the power
she could muster. The breath whooshed out of his lungs,
he let go of her wrist and started to double over.
Sherry pulled back, then swung the edge of her right
fist into his nose, smashing it to a bloody ruin. She
wasn’t finished, but he was when she kicked his left
kneecap out of alignment. He fell to the pavement a
bleeding groaning ruin.

The goon holding Julia was frozen in shock as he gaped
at his devastated friend. He came alert when he heard a
metallic clicking; he looked up and saw Sherry pointing
a small black automatic pistol at his head. From her
stance and her expression, he knew he was very close to
dying.

“Let her go,” Sherry commanded. The man did so
instantly. “Put your hands on top of your head. You move
without me telling you to and you’re a dead man. Julia,
get the phone from my car.” Julia did. “Dial this
number-” Sherry told her what number “- come around on
my left side and hand it to me.”

Julia did as she was told; she was almost as stunned as
the man who Sherry had the gun on. Sherry took the phone
and when it was answered, explained the situation. She
was told to stay where she was. She handed the phone
back to Julia, who took it and stood there uncertainly.

A police car with no lights drove up three minutes
later. It stopped so that the headlights illuminated the
scene. The cop got out and came over. His pistol was
drawn, but wasn’t aimed at anyone. “You Anderson,” he
asked.

“Yes.”

“Ok.” He holstered the gun, grabbed the guy standing up
and tossed him against the Honda. “Assume the position,
asshole.” The man did. The cop frisked and cuffed him,
then he marched him over to the cruiser and threw him in
the back seat. Sherry put her pistol away, the cop came
back and frisked and cuffed the guy on the ground with a
heavy-duty cable tie. Sherry helped him drag the man to
the cruiser and stuffed him in next to his buddy. The
cop said: “We’ll be in touch” to Sherry and drove away
with the two would-be rapists.

Julia was still a little dazed. Sherry walked her over
to the passenger’s side of the car and helped her get
in. Sherry walked back around and got in. She looked
over at Julia. “Are you all right?”

“I’ve never seen anything like that. It was so quick.
All of a sudden he was on the ground and you had a gun.”

Sherry nodded, but didn’t say anything.

“Where did you learn do do that?”

“I was taught. Where and why, I can’t tell you.”

“Were you in the service before-”

“Yes.” Sherry let Julia draw her own conclusions, even
though she knew they’d be the wrong ones.

“And the gun. I grew up in Chicago. The only guns I’ve
ever seen belonged to the cops. Is it yours?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have a permit for it?”

Sherry nodded.

“Do you carry it with you all the time?”

“I can’t answer that. I will say I carry it when I need
to.”

Julia looked over at her. “Why did you have it tonight?”

“I needed to, evidently.”

Julia sighed. “I think I want to go home.” Sherry drove
her back to the airport and parked next to Julia’s car.
Julia got out without saying a word; Sherry stayed there
until Julia had started to drive away.

Sherry sighed. She didn’t know what would happen now,
but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

Sherry was not very surprised when she reported for work
on Monday afternoon and found a new copilot assigned to
her run. She went over to the desk and asked where Julia
was.

The dispatcher shrugged. “She called in sick, said she
wasn’t feeling very well.”

“Any idea when she’ll be back,” Sherry asked.

No, but I wouldn’t worry about it if I was you,” he
replied. “She also asked to be assigned to another run.”

“She say why?”

“‘Personal reasons’ she said. Your new guy is Jeff
McCreary. His last job was working as a CFI.”

“Has he had much taildragger time?”

Pete rummaged through his desk and found a folder.
“Let’s see here.. he instructed in Citabrias and did
some banner towing with them. He has a fresh type rating
in the -3. 800 hours total, 75 multi. This is his second
flying job.”

Sherry didn’t complain. She didn’t have a lot more hours
than that, although she did have considerably more
multi-engine time. The thought of looking up Julia came
to her, but she discarded it. If that’s what she wanted,
then Sherry would honour it.

Jeff wasn’t the best looking guy Sherry had ever seen;
his nose looked as if he had used it to stop a few fast-
moving objects. He didn’t talk much, either. But he knew
how to fly and Sherry was soon swapping legs with him.

This went on for a few weeks. Jeff was nothing if not
correct with Sherry; no conversation beyond the business
at hand, not even an invitation to eat together on the
turn-around. Sherry wondered what was wrong, but she
suspected that Julia had talked and the word had spread.

In a way, she was relieved when an envelope came from
Doris. Inside was a clipping from “Flight Careers
Digest” for an airline and charter outfit that operated
in Central and northern South America. They were looking
for pilots with experience in heavy piston-engined cargo
airplanes; the smallest airplane type listed was the DC-
3. Pilots with time in C-46s, DC-4s, -6s, -7s and C-97s
were highly desirable, as were ones with competency in
Spanish and/or Portuguese. Since the line operated
aircraft with U.S. registration, only pilots with FAA
issued licenses would be considered.

There was no note included with the clipping, but one
didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what
had to be done. Sherry sent her resume off the next day.

The airline sent a letter back asking her to come to
Miami for an interview. She got some time off, then set
up an appointment. Getting there was tiring, but it
didn’t cost anything. She rode the jumpseat of the DC-3
to Chicago, then she rode a 727 to Memphis. They offered
her a tour of the sorting facility, Sherry asked for a
raincheck for her return trip.

The final leg was a DC-10 direct to Miami. The crew was
a mixed one in that the pilot and flight engineer were
from the cargo carrier, while the co-pilot came from
Flying Lion; an international air-cargo company that had
been swallowed up. They had some idea why Sherry would
be nutty enough to go to Miami in July, but they didn’t
ask.

The interview was scheduled for 4pm at AirSouth’s
offices at Miami International. Sherry had learned from
the cargo crew of a motel that offered day rates for
flight crews. She checked into the Motel at six and left
a two o’clock wakeup call.

It was hot when the call came. Sherry took a shower and
got dressed, with the sound of the TV set for background
noise. At one point she heard the sound of a large
radial-engined aircraft taking off and went to the wind;
she saw a Boeing C-97 climbing out. She had never seen
one before. Oh, well.

She got dressed in a pink suit with a white short-
sleeved top, white hose and white pumps. Since she was
leaving the room, she took her luggage with her. Sherry
had lunch in the motel restaurant before calling a cab
to the interview. She was at the offices fifteen minutes
early.

AirSouth didn’t look like it spent much money on office
furnishings. The place had linoleum floors that were
probably old when C-97s were being made. The lighting
was industrial-strength fluorescent bulbs. The offices
were in a very large room, privacy was obtained by green
metal partitions with wavy glass translucent panels. The
receptionist was a girl in her late teens who was
wearing a sundress and had reddish heavily-permed hair
set off by large gold hoop earrings. She told Sherry to
take a seat. Sherry found one that didn’t look to be too
filthy and waited.

The girl sent her on back twenty minutes later to meet
Phil, the Chief Pilot. Phil appeared to be in his late
fifties. He had an office that was in the open area,
though he had more space than the other areas she saw.
On the way back, Sherry didn’t see any enclosed offices.
The place was exactly what it looked like, a converted
aircraft hangar. Noise coming from the back showed that
not all of the hangar had been converted, she could hear
air tools and a clang as something metallic hit the
concrete floor. Phil’s office (not too surprisingly) was
decorated with photos of Phil and airplanes. In one
photo, he was standing in front of a C-119 that had Air
America lettering.

Sherry saw that Phil had seen her looking at the photos.
“I’ve never heard anybody say anything good about the –
119.”

Phil gestured her to a seat by the desk. “You won’t from
me, either. So you think you want to fly for us.”

“Yes.”

He shook his head. “It’s not a job for a nice lady.”

“Hardly anybody calls me a ‘lady,’ let alone ‘nice.’ I
can take care of myself.”

Phil seemed to be amused at that. He rummaged in his top
right desk drawer, pulled out a pistol and tossed it on
the desk. “Recognize that?”

Sherry glanced at it, then looked back at Phil. “Taurus
9mm.”

“Know how to strip it?”

“Yep.”

Phil waved his hand at it. Sherry picked it up, dropped
the magazine out, and cleared the chamber. “Silvertips,”
she muttered. In a matter of seconds she had the pistol
stripped. She held the barrel up to the light. “You
could clean it once in a while.” she then reassembled
the weapon.

“Think you put it back together right,” Phil asked.

Sherry glared at him. She picked up the magazine,
slammed it home, racked the slide and aimed the pistol
towards the roof.

“No, I believe you,” he yelled. Sherry lowered the
hammer, then she dropped the magazine out and slid the
round that had been in the chamber into the magazine.
“Let me see your logbooks.”

Sherry handed him the logs and the interview went fairly
normally after that. Phil would occasionally switch into
Spanish, continue the conversation for a few minutes,
then abruptly shift back to English. After about fifteen
minutes he said: “Contingent on a flight test, you’re
hired. Starting pay is 35K, including full medical with
furnished housing provided and meal allowances. You’ll
be working out of Rio, so your pay is exempt from
Federal taxes. We’ll set up a bank account for you in
Grand Cayman so the Brazilians won’t tax you, either.
How does that sound?”

“Sounds good to me. When’s the test?”

“I’d do it now, but I don’t think you’d want to do it in
that nice suit.”

“I’ve got other clothes in my bag out front.”

Phil stood up. “In that case, let’s do it.” He pointed
back towards a door in the rear. “Just go out that door
after you’ve changed. Paula will show you where the
ladies’ room is.” Phil turned and headed out towards the
rear door.

Sherry retrieved her stuff and changed into jeans,
Reeboks, and a black t-shirt. Phil was standing next to
an AirSouth DC-3. He told her to start a pre-flight,
then stopped her after five minutes when he saw she knew
what she was doing. They climbed into the airplane, shut
the door, and went to the cockpit. Phil waved Sherry to
the left seat, he sat in the right. The two soon had the
engines warming up. Sherry was glad to see that AirSouth
had an intercom system and headsets.

“Okay, what we’ll do is go to Taimiami and shoot some
landings,” Phil said. He left it up to Sherry to talk to
Clearance Delivery, Ground Control and the tower, though
he did help her navigate around the taxiways. Taimiami
(also known as Kendall to avoid confusion with Miami
International) is about ten miles from Miami, so it was
a quick hop.

The flight test was more fun than work. Phil did pull
the power back at one point and had Sherry do a power-
off landing from the downwind. She touched the mains
down just beyond the numbers and tried not to show her
pleasure. They then went out over the Everglades for
some engine-out work. Phil then told her to contact
approach and they went back to Miami International.

After the engines were shut down, they removed their
headsets. Phil rubbed the top of his scalp and remarked:
“You can fly her, all right. Be back here at nine four
weeks from Friday. I’d suggest you put most of your
stuff in storage. Paula will give you a list of what we
recommend you bring with you. Most everything else
you’ll need you can get there. All right?” He stuck out
his hand.

Sherry shook it. “Sure.” She followed Phil out of the
airplane and back into the offices. He led the way back
to the front.

Phil rapped on Paula’s desk to attract her attention
from the magazine she was engrossed in. “Sherry’s hired.
Have her fill out the personnel forms and give her the
orientation package.” He turned to Sherry. “See you in a
month.”

“I’ll be here. Thanks for the job.”

Phil smiled. “Hold off on the thanks until you’ve been
here awhile. Have a good flight back.”

Paula pulled out a file drawer and handed Sherry some
papers. One was a fairly standard employment
application, there was an I-9 form, and a designation
for a life insurance beneficiary. Sherry took a pen from
her bag and started filling out the forms. Paula was a
little surprised when Sherry produced her passport to
satisfy the I-9 form. The life insurance policy was for
one hundred thousand. Sherry split the designation
between her parents and IFGE. Paula didn’t ask who IFGE
was. Sherry had never been a member of IFGE, but she had
heard of them and she almost grinned when she thought of
the reaction they would have. The last thing Paula
handed her was the orientation package.

Sherry read though some of it while waiting to hop the
cargo flight to Memphis. The listing of what to bring
was fairly comprehensive: six pairs of lightweight long-
sleeved trousers (khaki preferred), four pairs of
tropical/jungle boots (broken in), two pairs of heavy
insulated trousers that would fit over the khaki ones,
two pairs of winter hiking boots, six short-sleeved
shirts, three heavy long-sleeved shirts (flannel
recommended), a dark- coloured sweatshirt, utility knife
(sheath-type), three pairs of sunglasses, lightweight
and winter gloves suitable for flying. They would
furnish winter parkas.

They also recommended three pairs of jeans, six light
blouses, a few lightweight skirts, two dresses (knee-
length or lower), and two pairs of black pumps. That was
followed by a recommendation to bring a “suitable
sidearm,” one capable of stopping an adversary. They
strongly recommended automatic pistols that were
corrosion resistant. She had some ideas, but planned to
bounce them off Keith before she chose a weapon to
bring.

It was after seven when Sherry got out of the AirSouth
hangar. Phil was leaving and he gave her a ride to the
ramp area for the overnight package lines. Sherry’s luck
held, the flight to Memphis was still loading, or more
accurately, the Caravan from Key West was still
unloading. There was room on the DC-10, too.

This time she took them up on the tour of the sorting
facility. It was an amazing sight, packages being
transported at high speed along a vast network of
conveyor belts. Laser barcode readers scanned each
package, which was shifted from conveyor to conveyor as
the code and flight routing demanded. There was a full-
time PR staffer whose job it was to show VIPs around.
Since there weren’t any such august visitors that night,
she was showing Sherry and a few new freight dogs the
operation. Sherry asked her if the routing computer
could handle flight delays and equipment breakdowns.

“Absolutely,” the lady said. “The schedule is uploaded
into the computers each day and updated as need be. We
also have scanners that compute the cube of each package
and record its weight, that feeds into the flight
planning for each plane. We have weight-and-balance data
for every plane we regularly use, along with sample data
for any planes we may lease or rent.”

“So if somebody shows up with a Martin 404 for the
Christmas rush,” asked a female pilot.

“Then we pull the data file for the 404s. Watch,” the
tour guide said. She used a terminal to call up the
sample sheet for a Martin 404. “We have a data form that
all our subcontractors have to fill out so we get the
specific information on their aircraft. Once that’s in,
then we only update it if needed. As you can see here,
we’ve had 16 Martin 404s on file besides the generic
one.

Sherry took another look at the pilot who asked the
question. She was about 6’3” and had a fairly heavy
build. Her features and voice were feminine, but her
hands were large enough to easily wrap around a heavy
pistol’s stock. Her feet were at a minimum 12WW. She
caught Sherry looking, her slight smile said “I know
what I am and I know what you are.” Neither one of them
exchanged a word the entire time.

The guide continued her spiel from the point where she
was interrupted:

“Now the computer data from the packages is used to
compute each aircraft’s loading. If we either go over
wight or ‘cube out’ in that we have more packages than
will fit in the aircraft, the computer makes any
alternate routes that it can or alerts the dispatchers.
Depending on the time of the year and volume, we have
backup aircraft available at various points in the
system.”

There was enough time to grab a quick snack after the
tour before the airplane to Chicago was ready to leave.
The departure itself was something to watch, dozens of
airplanes leaving just minutes apart. The controllers
had it down to a science, the lighter aircraft left
before the heaviest ones so that nobody had to wait for
a wake turbulence hold. A handful of Caravans and Twin
Beeches left first, followed by Falcon 20s, DC-9s, 727s,
a DC-8, the DC-10s, and finally the 747s working the
international routes. Rush hour at two am.

Sherry was back at her home airport at the time she was
accustomed to arriving. Pete greeted her as she walked
though the door from the flight line: “Did you get the
job?”

Sherry tried not to show her surprise. “And what makes
you think I went looking for a job?”

Pete smiled and spread his hands wide. “There are some
pilots who like the life of a small charter outfit, but
not many. Most want the big bucks and prestige of
airline flying. Besides, you went to Miami for one day.
That’s a long trip for a day trip. So, did you get the
job and with whom?”

“Yep, with AirSouth.”

“AirSouth?” Pete’s eyebrows rose at that.

“You know them?”

“Rumours, only rumours. They do a lot of Central and
South American charter work for the Feds, especially DoD
and some other lesser known outfits.” He paused for a
second. “You might consider them a successor to Air
America. You’ll do some hard flying with them. You can
use my typewriter over there if you want to type up a
resignation letter. Two weeks is standard, we can get
someone in here by then.”

Sherry just laughed and went behind the desk. The letter
didn’t take very long to write. She gave it to Pete, who
slotted it in the Chief Pilot’s box. Then she went home
to take a long shower and get some sleep. When she woke
in the afternoon, she called Doris to report on her new
job. Doris asked her to stop by on her way to Miami if
she had the time. The conversation could have been that
of two women who’ve known each other for years.

Pete handed her a note when she checked in for work. The
note was from the Chief Pilot and all it said was “See
me when you report in.” That was now, so she tossed the
note and went to his office. Sherry knocked on the door
and opened it.

John Schiff was the Chief Pilot, and he was a good one.
The company had hired him away from American. He, like
Sherry, loved the DC-3. His salary wasn’t as high as
American had paid him, but it wasn’t shabby, either. He
got to fly as much as he wanted to (40-60hrs a month)
and when he went to sleep each day, it was in his own
bed. He looked up at the knock. “Come on in, Sherry.
Have a seat.”

“You wanted to see me, boss?”

He held up her resignation letter. “Kind of bare-bones.
I haven’t lost another good pilot to the majors?”

Sherry shook her head. “Not hardly. AirSouth.”

John sat back in surprise. “You’re going to work for
Phil MacDonough? That old bastard.” He shook his head
and almost laughed.

“You know him?”

“Yeah. He and I flew for Air America in the early ’60s.
I got out of that sort of flying, he never did. It can
get into your blood if you let it.

“Sherry, the hardest and most satisfying flying I ever
did was for them.

We used to fly instrument approaches to villages just by
time and distance. What we would do is fly alongside a
mountain and set the altimeter, then we’d drop into the
clouds and break out over a village in a valley. We’d
drop the cargo, then climb back out though the cloud
layer. No beacons, let alone an ILS. No rules, either.
All that counted was if you got the job done safely. If
you didn’t,” he shrugged a shrug that any pilot would
have understood.

He looked out the window and watched a Cessna 421 taxi
by. “It was a different kind of flying. If Mac’s
involved with it now, then it still is. There’s a
certain high from adrenaline, of sticking your head in a
dangerous place and coming out alive. It’s almost a
macho thing. A lot of men go through it, I suppose,
which is why a lot of us get killed doing stupid things
like BASE jumping. I don’t know if I’m making sense to
you, or even to myself.

“Few women get caught up in that sort of thing, but some
do. Maybe you’re one, Sherry. Damn few women go around
armed, either, for that matter.”

Sherry froze when he said that. “What do you know about
that?”

John shrugged. “Julia told me about your dinner together
when she requested another captain. We’ve done a lot of
work over the years for the cops at all levels. I was
able to verify that the incident happened and that you
have a legal right to carry that pistol anywhere except
maybe the Oval Office.”

“And now,” Sherry asked.

John shrugged. “Now, nothing. Somebody went to a lot of
trouble to get that permit for you. Someone with that
much pull might also be able to make some trouble for
me, which is why I didn’t ask you not to carry the
piece.” He sighed, and looked out the window again. He
must have made a decision, because he swung back and
looked squarely at Sherry. “Do you know why I hired
you?”

“No.”

“I was sort of asked to by the FAA. Your resume was in a
pile on my desk one day when a Flight Standards
inspector came by for a chat about a problem with the
maintenance paperwork. While we were talking and I was
trying to figure out how much the penalty was going to
cost me, he asked if I had any interesting resumes; he
gave me some line about they were looking for a couple
of check pilots and had a hard time finding ones who
were interested in applying to work for the government.

“So I said sure and handed him the stack. He read
through them and then handed me yours. He said ‘You
shouldn’t let this one get away from you.’ You were
qualified for the job, Sherry, but so were a lot of
other pilots. I told him I’d call you in for an
interview. He said good, and then told me he didn’t see
a problem with the paperwork that couldn’t be fixed and
he’d let me know if any action would be taken. After I
offered you the job, I called him up and told him I had
hired you. He said fine and in an ‘oh, by the way’ tone
of voice told me no enforcement action was going to be
taken against us.”

“I don’t expect you to confirm any of this, but like I
said, I’ve been around the covert action game. I suspect
they’re grooming you for something down in Central or
South America. Just take one piece of advice from me and
watch your back. I saw them spend a lot of resources to
train people for missions that while successful, got
almost everyone killed. As long as the mission is a
success, they don’t care about the people involved. I’m
sure they’ve spent a lot of time and money training you,
but don’t be surprised if they try to sacrifice you for
something you don’t want to die for.”

John stood up and stuck his hand out. “You’re a good
pilot, Sherry. When whatever you’re doing down there
ends, if you want to, you can come back here with no
questions asked.”

Sherry almost broke down over that unexpected bit of
kindness. She managed to choke out a “thank you,” shook
hands, and made it to her car before she started to cry.
After she had her cry, she went back into the freight
terminal and washed her face in the ladies’ room. Then
she went back to the dispatchers office and started
reviewing the weather and flight plan for the evening’s
run.

John’s caution stuck with her. She visited a lawyer and
updated her will. She also purchased a small back-up
pistol in a private sale (so it couldn’t be traced to
her easily) and practised with it at a range in a forest
preserve until she felt somewhat comfortable with it.

She bought a Glock .45 though a regular dealer after she
found one who was willing to let her test-fire different
weapons. Sherry was a fan of the old GI .45, but she was
willing to recognize a better weapon when one came
along. The dealer first tried to persuade her to buy a
9mm, but he stopped when he realized that she knew what
she was about. Sherry purchased five spare magazines.
She intended to take her Government Model Colt along as
a backup weapon in case something happened to the Glock.

After some thought, Sherry sat down and wrote out
everything that had happened to her since the day she
was called into the Chief of Staff’s office at Destroyer
Squadron Two. She had a photographer take some pictures
of her, both portrait and full length. She then used a
Polaroid camera with a self-timer to take some nude
shots, those went into a special envelope.

Sherry found some old photographs of her before all this
started; photos of her on a deployment to the
Mediterranean and some that were taken at Suffolk
Airport when she had taken a few skydiving lessons. She
laughed at the thought of using a female pronoun for the
male photos, but the English language was never set up
to deal with changing one’s gender. When she looked at
the photos, she knew they were of her, but it was also
like looking at the photos of a relative. It was getting
harder to realize that she was once a man, even harder
to understand how she could have survived for so long as
one. Sherry knew she’d rather die than have to go back
to living as a man.

Sherry then went to a private investigative service. She
had them fingerprint her and draw up a notarized
statement that said that the fingerprints belonged to
one Sherry Anderson and listed her passport number,
Wisconsin driver’s license number, Social Security card
and pilot’s license as supporting documents.

All the mysteries and espionage novels she had read now
came to good use.

Sherry knew that sometimes bodies can be identified by
dental remains only. She went to a dentist for a
checkup, which included a full set of bitewing X-rays.
Sherry put the name and address of the dentist into the
package she was drawing up.

Once the package was done, she went to the lawyer and
made arrangements for the package to be sent to her
parents by a bonded courier if she didn’t make contact
with the lawyer for a period of two years. Sherry knew
she was violating every rule in the book, but she also
wanted somebody to know she had existed. The lawyer
scrupulously avoided asking any questions concerning the
contents of the package.

Putting everything down on paper had made her think. She
had obeyed her orders not to have any contact with her
relatives. Her parents must still be under the
impression that their son Sam was on a special mission
for the government. That was true, but how would they
react when the mission was over and they found out that
their son was now their daughter? Her father was very
well- connected politically, would he raise a big stink?
Sherry couldn’t believe that this line of reasoning
hadn’t occurred to someone. She didn’t want to back out
of the mission, but she wanted to be reasonably sure
that if someone tried to cross her that they wouldn’t
get away with it.

Sherry also got her affairs in order; she made sure her
shots were up to date and arranged to put what she
didn’t need to take with her into storage. Since the car
was titled to her, she sold it with the new owner taking
delivery at the airport the day she left. Doris was
pissed at first, they had paid for the car, but she
realised that the more Sherry did that was above-board,
the better it was. Doris didn’t ask for the money from
the sale and Sherry didn’t offer to give it to her.

She also had a lot of reading to do, AirSouth had sent
her their operations manual, along with their flight
manuals for the DC-3 and DC-4. The DC-3 was was
familiar. The DC-4 wasn’t too bad, it was more complex
than the -3, especially the hydraulic systems. Unlike
the airlines in the US and Europe, AirSouth used
mechanics as flight engineers rather than junior pilots.
Sherry guessed they did that because their cargo planes
often flew into fields where mechanics qualified to work
on them were unavailable. Partial confirmation came from
the list of required tools and spare parts; the -3 had
two complete cylinder assemblies, the -4 carried three.

There were a few airports that the line required armed
guards to be part of the crew, that idea filled Sherry
with some qualms. There were procedures for carrying
dangerous cargo, including explosives. Much of the area
wasn’t well served (if at all) by roads or railroads;
the choices were mules, boats (if near a navigable
river) or air. If one needed a shipment in less than a
few weeks, air was the only choice.

Many of the airports had little or no equipment for
instrument approaches. Control towers were nonexistent,
except in the airports that served major cities. Most of
the communication was carried out on the company high-
frequency bands. Navigation was by dead reckoning,
although Loran and GPS sets were being installed on most
of the line’s airplanes.

There were even procedures for carrying large amounts of
currency if bribes were foreseen, and for obtaining
reimbursement for any emergency bribes. There was a list
of highly placed civilian, police, and military
officials at each airport (or the local town) to contact
in case of any problems, the implication was that they
were on some sort of retainer. There was a list of bank
officials in each city that would advance cash to the
crew captains who were on their authorization list.
There were listings of doctors, pharmacists, hospitals,
and lawyers who were known to be competent.

The overall picture was that AirSouth was a professional
operation that operated in far less than ideal
situations. It was comforting for Sherry to know that
they seemed to have their act together.

Sherry flew for the cargo line for three more weeks.
Most of that time was spent with a new-hire copilot who
would soon fly with Sherry’s replacement. Sherry didn’t
talk very much with him, she spent most of her free time
studying the Airsouth manuals. At one point she
remembered her first days with the carrier and the
captain she first flew with, Christa Welles, spent her
free time reading United Airlines manuals.

Her last day was uneventful. She flew her run, then
turned in her charts and approach plates, flight
planning stuff, security pass and the keys to her locker
and the terminal door. Then she just went home.

Two days later, the movers showed up and packed her
furnishings and extra clothes for storage. Sherry
forestalled any raiding of her stuff by giving the
movers her liquor. She took the four pistols and their
accoutrements. The telephone company had showed some
unusual efficiency and shut her phone off that morning,
she called the man who had agreed to buy her car. Then
she went by his house, picked him up, and drove to the
airport. At the passenger terminal she signed the title
over to him and he gave her the money in cash. They both
made sure she hadn’t left anything in the car, then she
handed over the keys and carried her bags into the
terminal.

She had to check her luggage because of the pistols. The
agent shrugged when she told her of the weapons,
apparently armed people going to Miami wasn’t an unusual
occurrence. The routing was a slow one: a Short 360 to
O’Hare, a 727 to Atlanta and a MD-80 to Miami
International.

There was nothing special about the flights. Sherry did
discover that the flight attendants ignored her (and the
other female passengers). The female FAs gave most of
their attention to the businessmen, as did the male FAs.
It didn’t bother her, she wanted to be fairly anonymous.
She bought the latest “November Man” paperback in O’Hare
and read that. After so many hours in the left seat of a
DC-3, Sherry found that flying as a passenger was a
little unsettling.

She checked into the same motel at Miami that she had
used when she came down for the interview. AirSouth had
some permanent rooms at another motel that they would
put her up in when she reported in the next day, they
used them for flight crews that were laying over. The
major maintenance checks were done at Miami, the lesser
ones were done in the bases in Central and South
America. Sometimes the crews had to wait awhile for a
plane to be ready to take back. They did fly cargo to
Miami, so the run wasn’t a non-revenue one. And, as
Sherry was soon to find out, some of the flights that
were planned into and out of Miami diverted to Homestead
AFB to pick up and discharge cargo that the government
didn’t want inspected by Customs.

All Sherry did that night was watch a forgettable movie
on the in-room cable channel and get some sleep. In the
morning, she went for a brief run (it was still fairly
cool) and get dressed in a pair of the khaki trousers, a
white long-sleeved shirt and jungle boots that AirSouth
used as a quasi-uniform. A taxi dropped her off at the
offices ten minutes before her scheduled show time.

Paula gave her a set of keys for a motel room that was a
five- minute walk from the offices and told her she
could leave her luggage behind the desk for the day.
Phil welcomed her and a male pilot to the line, then sat
them down for some written exams covering the operations
manual and the flight manuals for the aircraft they were
going to fly. He explained that the tests were pre-
school tests to see how much they knew and what they
would need to brush up on. Sherry had the most trouble
with the weather sections (as usual).

Phil graded the tests, then called Sherry in for an oral
exam on the DC-3. He and another pilot quizzed her for
an hour until they were satisfied that she knew the
airplane. Phil told her she had passed the -3 section,
but she had to go to school for the -4 since she had no
time in the airplane. The school took a week, she was
the only student. The course skipped over the areas that
the testing showed she knew and concentrated on the
areas she was weak on.

Unlike jets, there are no -4 simulators, so Sherry did
her flight training in the air. Engine-out drills
required a lot of rudder at first, she quickly learned
to be aggressive with the trim knobs if she wanted to
avoid becoming exhausted. The DC-4 showed its parentage,
it was a ponderous beast that was actually easy to fly.
Sherry learned quickly and had an oral exam and a
checkride with a designated examiner, she passed and
became the proud owner of a DC-4 type rating.

That was followed by a brush-up session on AirSouth’s
flight procedures, paperwork procedures, and security.
Phil had a pistol instructor take her over to range to
check her skills with a handgun. It didn’t take too long
for the instructor (“call me Sam”) to see she knew how
to punch holes in paper, then they went next door to a
combat simulation range. It was a standard pop-up target
range, followed by a house-clearing drill.

Afterwards, the instructor came over to Sherry, who had
stripped the Glock and was cleaning it. “You’re pretty
good with a handgun.”

“Thanks.”

“How are you with long guns?”

Sherry glanced at him. “As good as I need to be.”

“Ever shoot in competition?”

“No, never had time for those games.”

Sam saw that Sherry had no intention of giving him any
information, so he just said: “If you ever have the
time, you ought to consider it” and left her alone to
finish cleaning the Glock.

That, as it turned out, was the last step in the
training program. Two days later, Sherry was in the
right seat of a DC-4 on a cargo run to El Salvador. They
dropped off a load of something that was picked up by
army trucks, refuelled the airplane and caught some
sleep.

“Always refuel as soon as you can,” advised Captain
O’Keene. “That lessens the chance of somebody doing
something to your fuel system. I like to leave with full
tanks from places like this.”

***

The next morning the DC-4 was loaded with cargo
manifested to San Paulo, Brazil. The manifest read
“miscellaneous machine parts.” Sherry figured that it
was in her best interest to accept the manifest on face
value and not to ask too many questions. The Captain let
her shoot the landing into San Paulo. She didn’t botch
it, but it wasn’t as good as she knew she’d be able to
do with more time in the type. Nobody was surprised when
they were directed to taxi to a remote corner of the
airport. An armed platoon of soldiers surrounded the
cargo plane, they had two jeeps with .50cal machine guns
for fire support. Thirty minutes later, a convoy of
Brazilian Army trucks showed up to unload the cargo, the
convoy also had an armed escort. They insisted that the
crew stay on the flight deck until the convoy had
departed. Only then did O’Keene tell the flight engineer
to start the two inboard engines. He taxied over to the
AirSouth base. The engineer shut the engines down,
O’Keene and Sherry sat there for a minute as the gyros
spun down.

O’Keene turned in his seat and smiled at Sherry.
“Welcome to the line,” he said.

They went into the terminal where O’Keene introduced
Sherry to everyone. Bill Trudeau was the local agent, he
told Sherry that she would continue to fly with O’Keene
for the present time. “That way you’ll learn both our
procedures and the DC-4,” he explained. “Now grab your
gear, a van is outside waiting to take you and the
others to the compound.”

Sherry got her stuff and went outside. There were five
flight crewmen sitting in a van along with a driver.
Sherry humped her luggage into the back, then climbed
in. Her butt was barely in the seat next to O’Keene when
the driver threw the van into gear and roared off. “When
did Emerson Fittipaldi start driving vans,” she
muttered.

O’Keene laughed. “Get used to it. You’re in ‘macho land’
now. They all drive like that.”

Sherry snorted. Terrific. Life among the macho. She
remembered reading somewhere that Brazilian husbands who
killed unfaithful wives weren’t prosecuted for the
killing. The traffic was heavy, people seemed to drive
based on a mixture of bravery and the Law of the Bigger
Vehicle. The van driver efficiently pushed his way into
a lane thronged with small cars, only giving way to a
large truck.

The compound was three miles or so from the field. It
was a series of two-story buildings surrounded by a high
wall that was apparently sheathed in stucco. The top of
the wall was rounded, Sherry could see light glinting
from it. They had set glass fragments into the top to
deter intruders. The gate was a heavy iron one,
protected by concrete barriers that forced any vehicle
to slow down. Just before the gate was a large metal
plate, it could either be a rising barricade or a
dropping one. Two men were on guard duty, both were
toting Uzi submachine guns. Sherry looked at the men
critically, they appeared to be somewhat sloppy-looking.
She didn’t take that to be a good sign.

When the van stopped, O’Keene told her to grab her stuff
and follow him. He didn’t offer to help, he had his own
gear to lug. A woman in her early 20s was at a desk in
the entry hall. She gave Sherry a key without comment.

Sherry looked at the key and O’Keene. “What is this
place?”

“It used to be a resort, it went under some years back.
There’re four airlines that use this for their crews.
The other three use it as a transient base. We’re the
only ones who live here full-time. C’mon.”

Sherry followed O’Keene to a corridor that branched from
the main hall. He showed her where her room was and told
her he’d meet her in the entry hall in ten minutes for a
tour. Sherry dumped her bags next to the bed and found
the john. It was clean, at least. The place gave an air
of genteel shabbiness, something like old money which
had run out. A loud rumble of a jet taking off showed
why the place didn’t make it as a commercial
establishment. It was too noisy.

O’Keene was waiting in the hall. “Ok, let’s show you
around.” The tour didn’t take too long. The dining hall
was a 24-hour operation. Meals were served at scheduled
times, but there was a cook on duty continuously for
late arrivals and early departures. “You might have to
wake her up at 3am,” O’Keene said, “And don’t be
surprised if she’s got one of the guards in the sack
with her.” There was an entertainment room that had a
large TV and a VCR with a lot of tapes. “You can borrow
the tapes to run in your room, if you want, but please
try to bring them back.” Sherry noted that there was a
selection of porno tapes in the lot. Great, stuck in a
guarded hotel with a bunch of horny pilots. O’Keene
showed her a workout room that had two Universal
machines, three stationary bikes, and a large selection
of free weights. The last thing he showed her was the
bar, also open 24hrs. “Sometimes when you get back from
a flight you need a drink. And it doesn’t matter if it’s
7:30am.” They ended up back in the entry hall. O’Keene
showed her a small store that sold toiletries, candy
bars, tobacco products, music tapes and books. Something
like a ship’s store, Sherry thought.

The final stop was a garage with a dozen cars. “We use
them more than the other lines,” O’Keene explained. He
showed her the procedures for signing out and returning
the cars. The cost of running the cars was shared by the
airlines. They paid for any gas pumped at the complex,
the user paid for any bought on the road. The trick was
to bring it back with just enough gas to make it into
the garage, O’Keene told her. The cars were elderly
Opels and VWs, cars least likely to be stolen. There
were two armoured and polished BMWs that were used to go
to places where arriving in style was important. These
cars used men from the guard force as drivers.

O’Keene invited Sherry to join him for dinner. While she
felt a little funny about that, she saw no graceful way
to decline. They went to the dining hall. The food was
served cafeteria-style. Sherry realized that elegance
and cargo flying were oxymoron. This wasn’t United
Airlines or even UPS. From what she could see, the
pilots were a mixture of men who liked this kind of
flying and would do it as long as they good, adventurers
looking for some excitement, and those who wanted to fly
for a major airline and were trying to get some
significant experience.

Sherry had a salad, O’Keene had a steak. He ate with
decent manners, some others in the room could have made
a living doing animal impersonations. O’Keene had a
funny sense of humour, though she realized that he was
trying to impart some wisdom to her. He was at home in a
DC-4 and, like most conversations when pilots are
talking, the discussion shifted to flying. O’Keene had a
lot of time in Douglas piston-engined airplanes, as well
as the Curtiss Commando.

They went to the bar after dinner. Neither one had
anything alcoholic to drink, they had a flight scheduled
for the next day. The bar was a little rowdy, some of
the men were well on the way to being fully liquored up.
O’Keene shook his head ruefully. “Some of these guys fly
for lines that don’t fall under FAA jurisdiction. They
don’t follow the ‘no drinking 8 hours before a flight’
rule.”

“More like ‘no drinking within 8 feet of an airplane?”

“That’s about it,” he nodded. “It doesn’t happen too
often, but there has been some trouble in here. There
was a shooting a few years ago. When it starts to get
loud, I’ll leave.”

Some yelling made Sherry wince. “Like now?”

“Like now.” They got up and started going towards the
door. A group of four men near the bar turned around.
They eyed Sherry and one of the men moved to block their
path.

“You’re new here, ain’tcha,” he asked.

Great opening line. “Mister, you’re in my way,” Sherry
said. She sensed that O’Keene was going to say
something, she turned her head slightly and shot him a
glance– stay clear.

“Aw, I just want to have a drink with you. Maybe we can
go somewhere.” His buddies snickered at that.

“Please move,” Sherry said emphatically. She noticed the
bartender had slid down along the bar so he was behind
the other three. His hands were out of sight.

She moved forward to go by the drunk. He grabbed her by
the arm. “What’s your hurry?”

Sherry looked at him coldly. “Let go of my arm or I’ll
break yours.”

He laughed. She broke his arm. He slid to the floor and
cradled his broken forearm. One of his buddies tried to
pull a weapon, the bartender smashed a black truncheon
into his upper arm. The pistol dropped to the floor from
his nerveless fingers.

Sherry picked the gun up and handed it to the bartender.
“Nice move,” she said in Portuguese.

He smiled. “You did that nicely. Always a pleasure to
watch a pro at work,” he replied. The two other men saw
to their injured friend.

O’Keene was silent until he and Sherry had left the bar.
Then he laughed a little. “And to think I was worried
about having to watch out for you.”

Sherry was a little worried. “Is there going to be any
problems from this?”

O’Keene considered that, then shook his head. “I don’t
think so. There were plenty of witnesses. But it
wouldn’t hurt to watch your back for the next few days.”

Sherry nodded. She planned to do that anyway. They said
good night and went to their rooms. Sherry took a close
look at the door of her room. There was no safety chain
to prevent anyone with a key from entering, but she was
able to prop a chair under the doorknob. Even if that
didn’t stop somebody from entering, the noise of the
chair sliding or falling would wake her up. That and
having a loaded .45 made her first night’s sleep in
Brazil restful.

***

The morning wakeup call was at 5:15. She showered and
made her way down to the cafeteria with a bag containing
three days’ worth of clothes, the Glock, and her backup
gun. O’Keene introduced her to the flight engineer, an
wiry mechanic named Peter Schiff. Schiff didn’t say
much, he seemed to be more interested in his plate of
scrambled eggs and hash browns. Sherry found some warm
oatmeal, toast and fruit. O’Keene was devouring a
breakfast similar to Schiff’s. She though it would be a
minor miracle if neither one died of a heart attack on
the ride to the base.

The ride to the cargo base was uneventful. Apparently
hardly anyone was awake at 6:30. Once there, Schiff went
to the DC-4 assigned to the trip and started a pre-
flight. Sherry and O’Keene went into the office and
began their preparations; checking the weather, reading
any new Notices to Airmen, and checking the route. One
part of the trip skirted a military operational area,
O’Keene told her to watch for funny stuff from the Air
Force jets. They liked to run intercepts on the cargo
planes. A C-46 had crashed a few years ago when it
collided with a F-5, only the fighter pilot survived.

Bill Trudeau sent word that he wanted to see Sherry. He
welcomed her to the line, and asked some questions about
her prior experience. Sherry answered them, figuring he
wanted to get to know a new pilot assigned to his base.
When he picked up a pen from his desk and started
fiddling with it, she knew there was another reason for
the discussion.

Trudeau finally looked up. “What happened at the Q bar
last night? I heard you had a little trouble.”

Sherry looked back at him. “No trouble.”

“That’s not what I heard. I heard you broke some guy’s
arm.”

Sherry felt a surge of anger. “He grabbed me and
wouldn’t let go. I told him to let go or I’d break his
arm.”

Trudeau sighed. Why do I always get the nut cases here,
he mused. Aloud he said: “There wasn’t another way to
handle it, a less-” he cast about for words.

“-masculine way?” Sherry finished the question.

“If you like.”

“No, there wasn’t. I’m here to fly, not to be a sex toy
for a bunch of horny freight dogs. I don’t want to spend
my off-duty time fending off pilots looking for some
stray pussy.” Sherry saw Trudeau was discomfited by her
choice of words, she thought so much the better. “I saw
it as an opportunity to send a very strong message that
they’d better not fuck around with me.”

“I see. And suppose somebody tries to be a little more
persistent?”

“You mean if someone tries to rape me?”

Trudeau nodded. He did seem to prefer to put things in
an oblique manner.

Sherry shrugged. “Then somebody’s going to die, and I’ll
do my damnedest to make sure it’s him. Or them.”

Trudeau didn’t bat an eye, but inside he recoiled. She
was very serious, he realized. The way she said it, so
matter-of-factly, made him wonder who she had killed
before. She didn’t say it as speculation, she said it as
an established fact. He thought he’d better get the word
out for everyone to stay away from this broad. “Well, I
don’t think you have much to worry about,” he said with
a smile on his face. “Welcome to Brazil.” He stood up
and stuck his hand out.

Sherry took it. “Thank you for the nice welcome,” she
said. She left and found O’Keene looking over some
weather reports.

“What did Trudeau want?”

“He just wanted to say hello.”

He grunted in contempt. “Don’t worry about him. He’s the
idiot cousin of one of the principal stockholders.
Phil’s the guy you work for. If he’s happy with your
flying, that’s all that counts around here.

“Now today’s run is a shipment of drilling parts to
Caracas. You’ve ever been there?”

“No.”

“Okay..” O’Keene then filled her in on the procedures
they followed for a flight to Caracas. It was fairly
straight- forward, with much of the flight being flown
according to GPS waypoints. There wasn’t much in the way
of instrument navaids outside of the approach into the
airport. After they double- checked the manifest,
weight-and-balance figures, and the fuel load, they went
outside for a walk-around the DC-4. O’Keene showed her
things to look for, mostly to keep the FE honest.
“Schiff expects you to check his work, and he’ll be
mortified if you find something amiss, but we’ll all be
dead if you miss something he did.”

They went to the flight deck and settled in. “Ok, Pete,
start them up,” O’Keene said.

“Starting one.” Schiff primed number one engine (the one
furthest out on the left wing), hit the starter, and
turned the magnetos on after the fourth blade had swung
past. Blue smoke poured out of the exhaust and the
engine coughed into life, then settled down into a dull
roar. He went though the same procedure until all four
engines were running. Sherry then turned on the radios
and warmed them up. She took a sheet with the GPS
waypoints and punched them into the GPS set. The GPS
readout checked with the sign posted on the cargo
terminal’s wall. There was a slight difference that was
due to the airplane being a hundred feet away from the
building.

O’Keene contacted Clearance Delivery and received their
flight clearance and permission to contact Ground
Control. He didn’t do that until Schiff indicated that
the engines were warm enough for taxiing. The DC-4
taxied to the active runway, following well behind a
747. A DC-4 isn’t a small airplane, but it’s dwarfed by
a jumbo. Schiff checked the magnetos of each engine
during the trip to the runway. He was soon satisfied
with the engines and so informed O’Keene.

They had to wait for the wake turbulence of the
departing 747 to dissipate before they were allowed to
roll onto the runway. O’Keene made sure the propeller
controls were all the way forward, then he smoothly
brought the throttles up. Schiff watched the engine
gauges for any sign of problems, Sherry called out the
airspeed numbers. When she called “V1,” they were
committed to the takeoff even if an engine failed. “VR,”
O’Keene eased the wheel back and rotated the nose of the
airplane. Sherry called “V2,” the airplane left the
ground.

“Gear up,” O’Keene ordered.

“Gear up,” repeated Sherry as she moved the selector
lever up. “Coming up…three green, gear is up.” O’Keene
then ordered the flaps up, Sherry complied as she
switched from the tower frequency to departure control.
Schiff set the engines for climb power, he would work
the engine controls until the airplane was on approach
to Caracas when the pilot flying the approach would take
over. He had to keep the engine logs and manage the fuel
system, tasks performed by computer on the latest
jetliners.

O’Keene satisfied himself that everything was operating
normally, then he set the autopilot and linked it to the
navigation system. He wouldn’t touch the wheel again
until they were approaching Caracas.

The DC-4 had a minimum crew of three; pilot, co-pilot
and flight engineer. That was down from the five man
crew in the ’40s, when they also carried a radio
operator who had to be proficient at Morse code and a
navigator who had to shoot sun or star fixes to navigate
across the oceans. The navigator’s position was made
obsolete by advances in both aircraft and ground-based
navigation systems, let alone the satellites used by the
GPS and GLONASS systems. The radio operator’s job was
made redundant when tunable radios were replaced by
crystal-controlled sets, now the radios are digital
readout and microchip-controlled. Morse code is only
used to identify navigation aids, the only people who
transmit Morse code from aircraft are ham radio
operators and some special military uses.

The latest airliners have only two pilots and the second
one is there for safety and relief for food and head
calls. Many of them have an “autothrottles” and
“autoland,” all the pilot has to do after takeoff is
taxi the airplane after it lands, which is why the
“terror in the sky” novels have virtually disappeared.

The trip itself was nothing special. Sherry kept track
of their position on her charts to guard against a
failure of the navigation systems. She couldn’t see any
reliable features to use for part of the trip, but
O’Keene pointed out landmarks he was familiar with.
Sherry would learn them as well in time.

As things would have it, the two-day out-and-back trip
to Caracas developed into a ten-day multi-leg flight
covering a good deal of Central and South America. That
was a little unusual, but not unknown in the freight
business. Sherry washed out her underwear each night in
the sink of whatever hotel they were staying at (often
one that was one step above a fleabag in status). The
standard drill was to wash clothes in the hotel and take
the damp stuff (since it rarely dried overnight) aboard
the airplane and hang it from a line in the back of the
cockpit or the front of the cargo cabin. O’Keene did
most of the flying, but he did let Sherry have a couple
legs into airports he felt comfortable letting someone
who had never seen them land the airplane.

They had three days off upon their return. All Sherry
wanted to do for the first two days was sleep in the
same bed for two nights in a row and wear clothes that
hadn’t been washed in a sink. But her logbook was
getting filled. She tried not to wonder when she would
really have to earn her pay.

Sherry spent the next few months flying cargo runs all
over the region. She normally flew as co-pilot on DC-4s,
most of the time O’Keene was the pilot. There were times
she flew with other captains and there were some
memorable trips in DC-3s into airfields that at first
glance were too short. The runs, as far as she could
tell, were always legitimate, or at least had the
backing of the local authorities. Sometimes she saw
smaller twin-engined airplanes that had obviously had
new registration numbers applied. It was rare to see the
same airplane more than twice. It didn’t take a rocket
scientist to figure out that those airplanes were being
used to support the drug trade.

The weather changes were atrocious. One day they would
be flying into a jungle strip; the heat and humidity
were so bad that takeoffs and landings were done at dawn
before the temperature robbed much of the lift from the
wings. Another day they would be at an airport in the
high mountains were the crews used oxygen before takeoff
and the nights were bitterly cold. Many of the pilots
took massive doses of vitamin C, along with the anti-
malarial pills.

The living in some of the villages alongside the
airports and landing strips was hard. Life was cheap.
Sherry saw two men in a bar draw their pistols and shoot
at each other, it was a lot like a movie western except
for the facts that the guns were automatics and the
ammunition was real. The winner resumed his drinking
while the loser was dragged outside, leaving a smear of
blood on the rough wood floor from his wounds and the
gunsmoke drifted out of the windows. Nobody seemed to
know why the fight occurred or care very much. No police
ever showed up.

Sherry tried to see what sights she could in the little
time she could get away. Often all she saw of famous
tourist attractions were the views from the windows of
the cargo planes. And there was little of that to see as
she was busy during departures and arrivals. O’Keene did
swing by the famous statue of Jesus overlooking Rio de
Janeiro so Sherry could see it. She was a little more
successful in getting to know a little about San Paulo
when there was time after resting from a cargo run.

Sherry lived that way until one evening when a stranger
sat down next to her in the BOQ bar. He seemed pleasant
enough and Sherry and he were soon talking about flying.
Then he said: “Can you tell me about flying into VT41?”

Inwardly Sherry stiffened up. “Yeah, you make your
downwind over the river and watch the hill and the
powerlines if you’re landing to the north.”

The stranger nodded, then resumed the small talk. After
a few minutes he paid for his drinks and left. Sherry
gave him five minutes and then left. He was hanging
around in the lobby, Sherry followed him at a distance
to the garage. It was a little dark, her right hand was
resting on her waist close to her .380. He had lit a
cigarette, Sherry could see the glow of the coal as he
drew on it. There didn’t seem to be anyone else around,
but Sherry kept her eyes open.

“I always thought the ‘sign and countersign’ stuff was a
crock,” Sherry commented.

“You mean like ‘the raven croaks at dawn,'” he replied
with a touch of amusement.

“Yeah.”

“It has its uses. You have a flight in two days that’s
supposed to RON in San Salvador.”

Sherry nodded.

“There’s a bar not too far from the airport called ‘The
Busted Prop.’ Your run should arrive at 1900. Be at the
bar by 0630 the next morning with your passport and in
clothing suitable for flying a bush plane.”

Sherry repeated it back. “And then what?”

“Order a ginger ale. A white man in his early ’40s will
sit down two seats away. He’ll ask you if you’re a pilot
and where you’re from. You’ll know it’s your man when he
comments about the steep hills around Montpelier’s
airport.”

Sherry shook her head. “They aren’t that bad.”

“That’s how you’ll know. He’ll take you to a small strip
outside of the city. Your passenger will be there.
You’re flying a Maule with long-range tanks to the east
coast of Honduras. The Maule has a programmable GPS that
can run an autopilot. Your contact will have a cassette
for the GPS with the nav program and the charts you’ll
need in case the GPS or the autopilot goes down. But if
they don’t, all you do is fly to the first waypoint and
engage the autopilot. It’s a three-axis job, so this’ll
be a piece of cake.

“The weather should be lots of low clouds. The GPS
course is a low one, below radar coverage and in the
clouds. Neither the Salvadorans nor the Hondurans have
the stuff to track you assuming you don’t turn your
transponder on. You have a gun?”

“Yes.”

The man shook his head. “You won’t need one, so don’t
bring it.”

Sherry absorbed that instruction without comment.
“Anything else?”

“No.”

Sherry said nothing else, she just drifted out of the
garage. Her thoughts were in a whirl. She wanted to know
why she had to fly this man, but she figured she might
be able to find out later. The no-gun instruction
bothered her. She might be a greenhorn at this, but she
thought that if someone insisted that she should go
unarmed, that was a damn good reason to pack one along.

***

Two days later, she was in the bar at the appointed
time, drinking a ginger ale. She had on a light khaki
jacket that went down to the wide part of her hips,
khaki trousers and jungle boots. Like a lot of people
there, she had a wide-brimmed hat. No purse, her effects
were in the jacket pockets. She figured they knew about
her Glock .45, it was back in her room in San Paulo. The
little .380 was in a holster on her lower leg and the
Government .45 rested in a shoulder holster under her
left arm, two spare magazines were under her right arm.
She also carried her passport, a small folding knife, a
waterproof match case that also had a small compass,
some loose cartridges for both pistols, a bottle of DEET
bug repellent, and a supply of her hormone pills.

The contact man did his job and soon they were in an old
Ford sedan heading out of town. The Maule was resting as
promised on a grass strip hacked out of the jungle. The
contact man gave her a folder containing a cassette of
the type used to update GPS and Loran sets and a bunch
of VFR charts. The folder also held three flashlights
with red lenses, one of them had a cord so the
flashlight could be strung around the neck. he dropped
her off at the airplane and took off back for town.

Sherry, not knowing what else to do, pre-flighted the
Maule. With the long-range tanks, Sherry estimated they
had 700 miles of range. She turned the master switch on,
turned on the GPS set, and loaded the cassette. The
program was there, just as he had said. She shut the GPS
down and killed the master.

The back of the Maule had a survival kit containing a
lot of water, very useful for these climes. There was
food, a first-aid kit, and some medical supplies. What
she was most worried about was whether or not somebody
would show up. It must have been at least ten miles back
to town.

Two hours later a woman showed up. She was Latino
looking, about 5’6″ and dressed very much like Sherry.
They went through the sign-countersign stuff, then the
woman looked up and down Sherry. “They didn’t tell me
you’re a woman,” she said.

Sherry shrugged. “They didn’t tell me anything about
you. Shall we go?”

The woman’s reply was interrupted by a Jeep driving onto
the airstrip at high speed. There were two men in the
jeep, the one in the passenger’s side was standing up
and waving a rifle around. The woman glanced at Sherry.
Sherry shook her head: “We’d never get it started in
time.”

The jeep pulled up in front of the Maule. The passenger
covered the two women with his M-16, the driver got out,
looking very angry. He came over to the smaller woman.
“Ah, Angel, you left without saying goodbye. I wanted so
much to say goodbye.”

She didn’t say anything, he slapped her and grabbed her
by the wrist and started to drag her back towards the
jeep. Sherry remained motionless. As they neared the
jeep, Angel fell sobbing to the ground. The man let go
of her wrist and stood over her, laughing. “One last
time, eh?” he sneered and started to unbelt his
trousers.

He got his pants down and Angel kicked him in the groin
as if the Superbowl depended on it. The guard, who was
watching anyway, swung his rifle around. He dropped the
weapon as a .45 slug tore into his chest and exited next
to his spine, Sherry had moved very quickly when she saw
the chance. The would-be rapist was trying to get up,
Angel moved behind him and efficiently slit his throat,
she then did the same to the guard who was dying anyway.

Sherry stood there in shock, holding the pistol. Angel
looked up. “First time?”

Sherry nodded.

“Ok, start the jeep and move it out of the way.” Sherry
still stood there.

“NOW, BITCH,” she yelled.

Sherry unfroze, applied the safety, holstered the
pistol, and moved the jeep. Angel dragged the dead man
away, took a gunbelt from him that held a 9mm and
magazines, then the two of them got into the Maule.
Sherry moved the mixture control to “rich,” pumped the
throttle, turned on the master switch, magnetos, and
engaged the starter. The engine caught, Sherry switched
on the GPS set and the autopilot. Within a minute, the
set had a fix and Sherry taxied to the end of the strip.

Sherry flew to the first waypoint and engaged the
autopilot. Now all she had to do was manage the fuel and
work the throttle and prop controls for climbs and
descents. They were soon in the clouds. The charts
didn’t have a course line on them, so she gave up trying
to keep track of their position.

Angel leaned over and said loudly: “You moved very well
for a newbie.”

Sherry passed on the comment. “What was that all about?”

Angel shrugged. “You ever heard of the Arena Party?”
When she saw Sherry nod, she continued. “I was the
mistress of one of the top lieutenants. I was passing
information about the party to the CIA.”

“I thought the CIA was cooperating with Arena.”

“So did a lot of people, and they did to some extent.
But Arena never trusted the CIA, or vice versa. Arena
had some plans to derail the peace talks and the accord,
but the Salvadoran government always foiled them. Or the
guerrillas did.”

“And they isolated it to you?”

Angel nodded. “They watched a number of people, I fucked
up and they caught me. The only thing that kept me alive
was that my boyfriend refused to believe it.”

“Does he believe it now?”

“He did, that was him back at the airport.”

Sherry nodded. Maules are loud without an intercom and
headsets, neither of which this one had. The autopilot
made some turns and a couple altitude changes. They were
still in the clouds.

The clouds started to lift, Sherry could see a mountain
range ahead. The autopilot flew the Maule towards the
hills. It didn’t command a climb.

“Oh, shit,” yelled Sherry.

“What’s wrong?”

“They’re trying to kill us. Hang on.” Sherry let the
autopilot fly as close as she dared, then she hit the
kill switch for the autopilot, switched the master off,
and wrenched the Maule around in a high-G turn.

Angel’s eyes were wide as she stared at the rocks. “What
the fuck is going on?”

Sherry got the airplane level ed out. “The autopilot was
programmed to fly into the mountains. I shut the
electrical system off in case they have a transponder
beacon wired in.” She paused for a few seconds. “I was
told not to bring a gun with me.”

Angel nodded. “So if they didn’t get me before I got to
the strip or at the airplane, then the crash would kill
me. Real cute.”

Cute wasn’t the word for it. Twenty miles away a King
Air with a modified collision avoidance system was
flying circles at 11,000 feet. The TCAS worked by
interrogating transponder beacons. Two men behind the
pilot watched the display intently. When the contact
warning light went out, one of them picked up a
microphone and said: “Angels fly in heaven.” The two men
looked at each other and smiled. The one on the left
told the pilot to take the airplane back to San
Salvador.

“What do we do now,” Angel asked.

“Let me figure out where we are,” replied Sherry. She
trimmed the Maule so it would hold altitude in a turn,
then banked it about 15 degrees. Every so often she
brought the bank back as the airplane tried to level
itself. Behind their route of flight she could see just
flatlands, so they were at the first significant range
of hills. It was a work of a couple minutes to draw a
rough course line on the chart. “We’re about here,”
Sherry said, showing Angel the chart. “You have any
ideas where we should go?”

Angel studied the chart, then pointed at a river. “Can
you take us there?

There’s an airstrip that was used by the Contras and the
smugglers.”

Sherry looked at it. “It’d be easy with the GPS, harder
without it. What the hell.” She turned the airplane
south to follow along the ridge line. It took a couple
of missteps, but Sherry found the strip. Sherry made a
low pass to check the conditions, the strip was rough
but appeared to be all right. The length seemed good,
she climbed up and executed a standard approach. The
landing wasn’t very smooth, but neither was the strip.
Angel directed her to taxi over to one side. There some
small openings were carved out of the surrounding
jungle, but the interlocking limbs of the trees created
some hangars that made the spot almost invisible from
the air. A Cessna 170 was there, apparently unattended.
Sherry taxied as close as she could to the brush
hangars, then pulled the mixture out and shut the
magnetos off.

The two women got out and managed to push the Maule into
one of the openings. Sherry sat down on one of the
mainwheel tires and looked at Angel. “Now what?”

“Now we wait. Some people should be along soon.”

Sherry nodded. She fished out the .45 and removed the
magazine. She took a loose round from her pocket and
slid it into the magazine to replace the one she had
fired in San Salvador, then she put the magazine back
into the pistol and the pistol back into the holster.
“These people who are going to come, are they friends of
yours?”

Angel smiled. “Let’s hope so.”

“Sure,” Sherry said sourly. She got up and went over to
the trees. Peeing in the woods was the only time Sherry
wished she had the plumbing she had been born with. When
she came back, she asked: “You know if there’s any water
or food around here?”

Angel shrugged. “I’m not sure. Anyway, we won’t be here
long.”

Sherry tried relaxing, but she couldn’t sit still. There
were some bugs around, she shared the repellent with
Angel. she kept replaying the scene at San Salvador in
her mind. Of one thing she was sure, she had been used
as a way to kill Angel. They didn’t want her to bring a
gun, she was sure that if she hadn’t the two of them
would have been killed by Angel’s ex-lover. “Kill or be
killed” was more than a phrase to Sherry now.

If the clouds hadn’t lifted enough, they’d have hit the
mountainside. Even if someone had found the wreckage, it
would have been classified as an accident: “Pilot
continued VFR flight into adverse weather conditions.”
Somebody went to a lot of trouble to do this. If she got
out of this alive, she was going to do her damnedest to
make sure somebody paid for it.

They waited about two hours. Sherry at one point went
over and inspected the Cessna 170. It was an old
airplane (they went out of production in 1955), and the
paint and interior were both ratty. The engine appeared
to be sound and the tires were good. What grease points
she could see showed evidence of lubrication. She almost
suggested that they steal the 170 and go somewhere, but
this was Angel’s turf. Besides, she had no idea where to
go.

Six men came out of the jungle on the far side of the
airstrip. They were dressed in green fatigues and
carrying Eastern Bloc variants of AK rifles, Sherry
wasn’t familiar enough with the different AK producers
to tell which nation had made them. Their rifles were
slung in “patrol style,” across the body at waist level.
Sherry drew her pistol and held it down along her leg.
She knew her chances with a handgun against half a dozen
men with automatic rifles were poor, but that’s better
than no chance at all. Angel had shortened the pistol
belt she had taken from her dead lover and was wearing
it. She didn’t draw her weapon.

The leading man stopped about twenty feet away. He
smiled slightly and spoke in Spanish. “Hello, Angel. It
appears that the reports of your death have been greatly
exaggerated.” He grinned like someone who had been
waiting years to use that phrase.

“Hello, Marco. News travels fast,” Angel observed.

He nodded. “The Arena pigs are upset that you killed
Julio, but not too much. I think they might have
executed him anyway for poor judgement. Your North
American friends are saying you died in a plane crash in
the mountains.”

Angel grinned. “That’s the airplane and this is the
pilot.”

Marco looked at Sherry and then at the Maule. “They set
it up to destroy a beautiful airplane like that and even
one of their own women. Such a waste. How did they
intend for it to kill you?”

Angel raised her hands slightly, palms up. “I don’t
really understand it. You’d have to ask her.”

Marco looked at Sherry and spoke in English. “I
understand they set you up to die with Angel in a crash.
How did they intend for this to work?”

“Do you fly?”

“Yes. I fly the Cessna.”

“They installed a GPS set in the Maule that fed inputs
to a three-axis autopilot. What they intended to happen
was that we would fly in the clouds and right into a
mountain. The clouds lifted and I saw the mountains
coming. I killed the autopilot and the master switch.”

“How did you know to land here?”

“Angel did.”

“I see.” He switched back to Spanish. “Luck rides with
you still. What is it you want from me?”

“Transportation out of here, and some supplies.”

“I see.” He thought about it. “What do you have to offer
in return?”

Angel gestured towards the Maule. “An airplane that’s a
lot newer than yours. I understand they can carry more
cargo and even use shorter runways than that Cessna.”

One of the other men spat. “That’s no bargain,” he
objected.

Marco glanced over at him. “You have something to say,
Jesus?”

“I say we have them and their airplane already. That
gringa may have a pistol, but she can’t shoot all six of
us.”

Sherry whipped up the .45 and fired, shooting Jesus in
the sternum. He was on his way to see his namesake
before his body stopped twitching. “Anybody want to say
‘she can’t shoot all five of us?'” She spoke in Spanish.
Nobody moved besides some involuntary flinching at the
sound of the shot.

Marco knelt down to check the body. He touched his
fingers to Jesus’s neck and then shook his head. “Dead.
He fought the rightists for nine years and dies because
he can’t keep his stupid mouth under control.” He stood
up and looked at one of the others. “Strip his gear.
We’ll send some others back to bury him.” The man
removed the combat harness and the rifle from Jesus’s
corpse. The harness held a six-magazine pouch, a first
aid kit, and three canteens of water. When the man
finished stripping the body, Marco said:

“Give them to the woman. She killed him, she can at
least carry his equipment.”

Sherry took the gear, then laid the rifle down while she
donned the harness. The straps and the belt didn’t need
too much adjusting. It didn’t ride comfortably against
her chest, whoever had designed the harness had not
envisioned it being worn by a woman. There was little
likelihood that she could draw her pistol with the
harness on, but she didn’t think she’d need a pistol if
she had an AK. She checked the weapon, it was loaded.
She slung the rifle in the same manner as the others.

Marco looked at her solemnly. “I see you know the AKM.
Very well. Let’s go. Hernandez, take the point. Chico,
second; the North American, third;

Angel, you’re fourth; then me, Roberto and Francisco,
you bring up the rear.

You understand five meter spacing, Gringa?”

“My name is Sherry, not Gringa.”

“All right, Cheri,” he pronounced it in the French
manner, “Try not to kill everything you see. It’s an
hour and a half to the base. Hernandez, move out.”

Hernandez set a fairly quick pace. From his speed, it
was clear that the guerrillas didn’t expect any
government forces to be in the area. Sherry knew under
the terms of the accord that they were in guerilla-
controlled territory. The spacing was more out of habit,
Marco appeared to be a disciplined commander. There were
some questions she wanted to ask, but she suspected that
Marco would be fairly strict on noise discipline. Every
combat harness appeared to be worn in such a way that
metal-on-metal contact was prevented. Sherry and Angel
made the most noise of any of them while walking, but
not much more than the men.

It was a hard trek, mostly uphill. The camp was well-
hidden with rude structures concealed under large trees.
Sherry suspected she could fly right over it and not see
it unless she knew it was there. It probably was well-
visible to special optics and surveillance films, but
those aren’t used in an attack. The siting made an air
assault impractical, the only way to attack it (other
than bombing) would be uphill through the heavily-
forested terrain. It would not be a low-casualty
endeavour for an attacker.

Marco called over a man as soon as they entered the
camp, he told him to take a full patrol and go to the
airstrip to bury Jesus. The man didn’t ask what had
happened, he rounded up twenty guerrillas and left in
fifteen minutes. There were over two hundred people in
the camp, most of them men. The women appeared to be
evenly divided between support personnel (they called
them “camp followers” in earlier eras) and fighters. A
dozen children, maybe more, were running around.

Angel saw Sherry looking at the children, three of whom
had come over and were checking Sherry out. “This was an
advance camp for the FNLN during the war,” Angel
explained in English. “There weren’t any children here
the last time I visited. They stayed in the bases closer
to the border.”

Sherry unslung the AK and found a tree to sit against.
“You really were feeding information to both the
Americans and the guerrillas. How did you manage to stay
alive?”

Angel sat down next to her. “It was a balancing act. The
Americans didn’t want the FNLN to come to power, but
they didn’t want D’Aubisson’s people in even more. They
wanted enough information to get to the FNLN to ensure
the rightists couldn’t come to power, but not enough so
the leftists would win.”

“And how did the FNLN take all this?”

“They saw things in a similar vein. They wanted more
information, but they didn’t want the rightists in
either.”

Sherry looked puzzled. “Correct me if I’m wrong here,
but didn’t Christiani, an Arena candidate, win the
elections in ’89?”

“Arena did, but not the ultra-right faction. By then
even the leadership of Arena had realized that they
couldn’t kill everybody who disagreed with them. The
American Congress was fed up with the war and Reagan
wasn’t there to make them approve the aid. Besides, the
Soviets were obviously in collapse, the Nicaraguans were
too, so there was little support on the other side for
supporting the war.”

“Yet an Arena president successfully concluded peace
talks.”

Angel nodded. “Just as it took Nixon to open China.”

Sherry smiled. “Old Vulcan proverb.”

“What?”

“Never mind. So now what happens?”

“I’ll try to convince Marco to give us some
transportation out of the country. What you need to do
is to keep quiet and not start any trouble for us.”

“And if trouble finds us?”

Angel grinned. “We’ve done all right so far.”

They sat there for a while. Angel was happy to, her feet
hurt. Sherry’s did too, but she was more exhausted by
the events of the day. She wondered how angry O’Keene
was when she didn’t show for the afternoon flight, or if
she’d ever be able to resume working as a pilot again.
Then she laughed to herself, the first thing was to make
it out of here alive and intact. after that, she could
worry about the rest of her life.

A man in fatigues came by thirty minutes later. “Marco
wants to see you two,” he said.

They stood up, Sherry re-slung the AK, and they followed
him to a tent. Marco was sitting in a four-sided tent
with the sides rolled up for ventilation. He sat behind
a table that was serving as a desk, it was well-laden
with papers. A high-frequency radio with a cassette deck
was sitting on another table. Sherry guessed it was a
compression system, where the messages are recorded and
then transmitted in a very high-speed burst.

Marco gestured towards a corner of the tent with a pen.
“You can take off the rifle and the harness and leave it
there.” Sherry did so gratefully. As she did, Marco
talked to Angel. “I’ve talked to my commander, he is
inclined to assist you. Your motives for helping us in
the past may not have been the same as ours, but the
results were beneficial to our cause. We are not
ungrateful and don’t seek to kill our friends,” he added
pointedly.

Angel nodded in thanks. “I am grateful for your help,
Commander.”

Marco nodded. “Cheri, you’ve helped a valued friend, so
we will help you to escape with her. We will not seek
retribution for the death of Jesus. You did not know
him, and he didn’t know you. It was an unfortunate
incident. While you are here with Angel, you are under
the protection of the FNLN. However, Jesus had many
friends. They have been ordered not to seek revenge. I
cannot guarantee your safety should you return to El
Salvador. Understand?”

“Understood, and you have my thanks, sir,” Sherry
replied.

“Good. Now, as to your departure, the arrangements are
being made. As you suggested, Angel, we will accept the
Maule in payment.”

Sherry spoke up: “If I were you, I’d check it for a
transponder bug.”

Marco looked puzzled. “What is that?”

“It’s a transponder that has been secretly wired into an
airplane. When the master is on, it’s on. It has it’s
own code, so anybody with a radar or a transponder
interrogator can track it.”

“You think one was installed in the Maule?”

Sherry shrugged. “I don’t know, but it makes sense to
me. If the transponder return ceased at the place we
were supposed to hit the mountain, that’d be a pretty
good indicator of a crash, don’t you think?

“And I’d like to remove the programming card from the
GPS before we go.”

Marco smiled. “So if you get the chance for some
payback, you will take it.”

Sherry’s face took on a hard set. “Somebody’s going to
pay for this.”

Marco looked thoughtful. He thought that he didn’t want
to have this gringa mad at him. She looked capable of
doing some serious damage to anyone who made her mad.
“I’m sure we can arrange that.” He looked outside of the
tent and called to a woman out there. “Eva, take our
guests to a spare tent. Arrange for them to have food,
some clean clothes and to wash up.”

Both women thanked him for his courtesy and followed Eva
to a tent. Eva told them to wait there, she’d return as
soon as things were arranged. She was back promptly and
led them to the cook tent. Lunch was some form of stew
and tortillas washed down with a local beer. It was very
good, and Sherry said as much. After they ate (Sherry
ate more than Angel), Eva took them to a tent that was a
supply issue point. Another woman looked them over
critically and gave them each two sets of fatigues, four
sets of OD t-shirts, white cotton underwear, and socks.
They took the clothes with them to a tent that had three
large tubs of hot water.

The two women were left alone to disrobe and take a
bath. Angel looked at Sherry when she saw her take the
.380 from her left leg, but she didn’t comment. Both
women kept their pistols nearby when they were soaking
in the tubs. Angel told Sherry that the third tub was
for rinsing after washing, so there would not be a soap
film in their bodies. She also said that it was
essential to be completely dry before dressing in order
to prevent a fungal attack. There was even a box of bath
powder. Luxuries start creeping in once the fighting
stops. Sherry put the shoulder holster on under the
fatigue shirt. Angel wore her pistol belt.

Eva took their dirty clothes from them once they left
the tent. She told them that they’d be washed so they’d
have them to wear when they left. While in the camp,
they’d have the issue fatigues.

After that, they were left to their own devices. they
walked around the camp. Sherry noted they had a
hospital, a school, an armoury with a repair shop and a
small firing range behind it. All the comforts of home.
Nobody hindered them or asked what they were doing.
Angel was greeted by a number of the guerrillas as a
friend, they were far more reserved with Sherry. Sherry
realized that there was most likely some resentment over
the death of Jesus.

One boy who was about age six came up and stared at
Sherry. Sherry squatted down and said hello.

The boy continued to stare at her. “Did you really shoot
Jesus with a pistol?”

“Yes.”

“He had a Kalashnikov. He was very good with it. The
others had them, too.”

Sherry nodded. She felt a little uncomfortable in the
boy’s frank stare.

If she was from Mars that there would be less amazement.

“You must be very brave for a woman,” the boy said and
then ran off.

“Or very stupid,” Sherry muttered to herself as she
stood up.

Angel had heard her. “You may be right. Marco said
there’d be no trouble, but don’t count on it. I’d stay
away from the rifle range if I was you.”

Sherry nodded. It sounded like good advice to her. They
wandered around some more and found a tent that was a
small library. Most of the books available ran to
marxist-Leninist propaganda, but there were some newer
works about the principles of democracy and about
capitalism and market economies. The books that were the
most used were romance-type fiction. Romance works were
popular among men, too. They each took a book and went
back to their tent. Sherry laid down on the cot to read
and was soon asleep. The day’s tension had finally
caught up with her.

***

At the evening meal, Sherry noticed that the guerrillas
were very friendly towards Angel, but treated her with a
reserve bordering on hostility. She mentally shrugged
and accepted it. Marco had said that Jesus had fought
for nine years. He had to have had many friends among
these people. It was expecting too much that they
welcome the person who had killed him with open arms.

Sherry spent her time perusing the books in the library,
including some of the political propaganda. She thought
it’d make sense to try and understand the viewpoints of
her hosts. Angel did some reading, but she spent most of
her time visiting friends and catching up on old times.
Sherry overheard some of the conversations, it seemed
that a lot of the mutual friends were dead. The war must
have taken a horrific toll on the country.

Marco summoned them two days later. “Good news, we have
arranged for you to leave,” he greeted them.

Angel smiled widely. “When do we leave, and how?”

“You’re going to fly to San Jose. The Cessna is legally
based there, so you’ll fly it there for maintenance. The
cover story is that Cheri is a ferry pilot. You do have
the right licenses for doing that sort of work, I
assume?” When he saw Sherry nod, he continued: “Once
there, you take a commercial flight to Los Angeles. You
have passports?”

Sherry said yes, Angel said no. Marco thought for a
minute, then summoned one of his assistants. He told her
to take Angel and get a Canadian passport for her. “We
have the blanks for it, you see.”

Sherry watched them leave, then turned to Marco. “Do you
mind if I ask a question?”

“I’ll answer if I can,” he said with some caution.

“How does a FNLN officer come to have his own airplane?”

“It was originally my father’s. He taught me to fly it
when I was fourteen. When he died, it was left to my
brother and me. My brother joined the FNLN very early.
The rightists confiscated our land in retaliation. I
flew the Cessna to San Jose before those pigs could get
their hands on it. Now that the war is over, I’ve flown
it back.”

Sherry mulled that over for a few seconds. “But you’re
going to let me take it? There’s a good chance that if
something goes wrong with your plan that it might be
destroyed.”

Marco sighed. “I know. It’s the only thing left I have
that belonged to my father, but there comes a time to
let go, I think. I’ll give you a number in San Jose to
call if you have to land it somewhere else. If you do
crash it, I’ll just have to console myself with that
fine Maule.” He smiled at the thought.

“And what of your brother?”

“He was killed six years ago.”

Sherry didn’t say anything, she couldn’t thing of what
words would be good ones. So she asked simply: “When do
we leave?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“How were the arrangements made?”

Marco pointed to the HF radio in the corner. Sherry
nodded and inside started to worry. She didn’t know
where the encryption equipment came from, but she
doubted very much if it was unbreakable by somebody who
wanted to. Furthermore, she had no idea what the
internal security of the FNLN was like. Those who had
tried to kill her and Angel might now know they had
failed and that the two knew that their deaths were
desirable. This was not a good situation.

Marco pointedly picked up some papers. Sherry took the
hint and left, lost in thought. Angel trusted these
people, so Sherry wasn’t sure she could confide in her.
Flying into the San Jose airport might very well be as
foolish as sticking one’s neck into a noose.

The one thing Sherry was sure of as the day dragged on
was that there was something in the wind. If the camp’s
population was reserved towards her before, they were
downright icy now. At one point she ducked into the
ladies’ latrine and pulled her .45 from its holster.
Sherry normally carried the weapon with a round in the
chamber and the hammer down. She eased the hammer back
and slipped the safety on. She’d feel better either with
a shotgun or when she was gone from the camp.

Her instincts weren’t failing her. An hour after supper
a group of men approached her. Two of them had AKs in
their hands. Sherry started to draw her pistol, both men
put the rifles to their shoulders and aimed them at her,
she could clearly hear the loud metallic sound of the
two selector levers going into the “full auto” notch.
She let her hand fall empty to her side, the two men
warily lowered their weapons.

They stopped about ten meters away. One of them said
loudly: “We want to talk with you, Gringa.”

Sherry stood up. “I can hear you.”

“You killed our friend, we have come to exact a price
for your deed.”

Sherry sized them up. A dozen men, two with AKs, five
were carrying what looked like long nightsticks. “I see.
It takes a dozen men with two Kalashnikovs to handle one
woman. What big strong men your mothers raised. I’ll
wager they must be very proud of your courage,” she said
with considerable sarcasm.

The sarcasm wasn’t lost on the men. The leader took one
of the nightsticks and tossed it so it landed at
Sherry’s feet. “You can have a chance, Gringa. Pick up
the stick.”

Sherry did so. She felt its balance and mentally
shrugged. Sometimes there’s no way out. “All right.
Which one of you illegitimate offspring of a diseased
whore has the balls to fight a woman? Who wants to try
first?” She held the stick in a two- handed grip as if
it was a broadsword (or a tennis racket).

The speaker’s face darkened with rage and he charged,
holding his stick raised high over his head in a two-
handed grip. His intention was obvious, he intended to
try an overhand smash and crush her skull. As he swung
the stick, Sherry raised hers so it was angled across
her body to the left and she stepped quickly to the
left. His stick hit hers and she swept the blow aside.
He had put too much energy into the attack, she rammed
the end of her stick into his midsection, then swept it
against his head as he folded up. He dropped to the
ground, stunned. The entire fight had taken a few
seconds.

Sherry rolled her shoulders. “I think I am warmed up,
now. Which one of you pig-fuckers wants to go next?”

“‘Pig-fuckers,'” one of the men exclaimed.

Sherry nodded. “Surely that’s all you can have, for
there isn’t a woman on the planet who would go to bed
with any of you of her free will.”

The next man came forward with a warier attack. He
slashed at her face, Sherry blocked it and countered
with a strike at his head which he blocked. They rapidly
exchanged blows, all of them were blocked or diverted by
the other. Sherry swung one and changed her aim point at
the last moment, he was not able to lower his guard
quickly enough and her stick smashed into the side of
his knee. He knew he was at a disadvantage, he dropped
his stick and retreated.

Sherry’s breathing was coming at a faster rate. The man
had had a lot of power behind his attack and she wasn’t
as strong as she had been back when testosterone coursed
through her endocrine system. By now a crowd had
gathered, attracted by the sounds of the fighting. Money
was changing hands as bets were placed. This fight was
turning into a public amusement in a place where any
entertainment was a rare event.

Now two men stepped in to attack. Sherry moved to the
left and attacked that man. She squatted beneath his
blow and rammed the end of her stick into his groin,
then swept the stick up to block a vertical strike from
the other man. She shifted position, then had her legs
knocked out from under her by the man she had hit in the
groin, for her blow hadn’t hit where she wanted it to.
The other man stepped up and raised his stick to strike
as if he was splitting a log.

Sherry tried to scramble out of the way and guard
herself, but she knew there wasn’t much hope of making
it. The man was about to bring his stick down on her
when he (and most of the others) hit the ground as an AK
was fired in full-auto. They looked up after the burst
and saw Marco standing there, holding a smoking rifle.
He was not in the least bit amused.

“I gave orders that the Gringa was not to be harmed. Now
I see several of my soldiers trying to beat her with
sticks.” He looked over the crowd, most of whom refused
to meet his glare. He focused on one man. “Carlo! You
knew my orders. Why did you not stop this?”

Carlo looked down at his feet, then met Marco’s accusing
eyes. “I have no excuse, sir. She seemed to be doing
very well at defending herself.”

“For which you had better count yourself lucky. If she
had been injured by this, I would have shot the senior
man here. Which would have been you.”

One of the men with a stick, who had not stepped into
the fray, challenged Marco: “She killed one of our
comrades. We have never let something like this go
unanswered until now.”

Marco shifted his glare to him. “And what do you have to
say about this, Frederico?”

Frederico met his stare. “I say the prospect of peace
has made you soft. You are not tough enough to be a
fighting leader anymore. I say you hide behind the
orders of the high command and are more interested in
saving your worthless hide.”

The rage in Marco’s face was obvious, but his voice was
controlled. “You think I’m soft? We shall see.” He
grabbed a soldier standing near him and whispered in his
ear. The man ran off and came back two minutes later
with two machetes. Marco took the machetes from the man
and handed him the rifle. “Soft, you say. I say you are
a gutless slug.” Marco tossed the machete at the man’s
feet. “Pick it up, let us see the colour of your
intestines.”

Frederico picked up the machete, the crowd moved back to
give the two men plenty of room. By now virtually every
soul in the camp was watching the fight. The two circled
each other, holding the long knives in a guard position
and looking for any apparent weaknesses. Fencing with a
machete was a dangerous game, for if the opponents blade
slid down there was no guard on the handle to prevent
one’s hand from being cut. They exchanged three blows,
the metallic ringing of the machetes filled the air.
Nobody uttered any cheers for either man, it could be
dangerous to voice support for the loser.

Sherry squatted down, obviously tired. Her hand was near
her leg where the .380 was concealed. She figured her
life was forfeit if Marco lost, so she’d at least pay
him back for his hospitality by killing Frederico if he
won.

There was another series of exchanges, Marco had a thin
trickle of blood down his left forearm. Frederico saw
the blood and redoubled his attack. He made two serious
errors, he stepped in too closely and swung his blade
back too far for a blow. Marco swept his knife across
Frederico’s stomach. The slash wasn’t too deep, but
Frederico lowered his arm from the pain and the
surprise. Marco didn’t miss his chance, he swung his
machete at Frederico’s neck and connected with a meaty
chunk. The blade stuck in the vertebrae and Marco let go
of the handle, but it didn’t matter very much. Frederico
sank to the ground and died as his blood stained the
jungle ground.

Marco strode over to the soldier he had handed his rifle
to and snatched it back. He spun around and surveyed the
crowd. “Does anybody else here want to question my
orders.”

Sounds of “No, sir” and “No, Commander” were heard.

“Good. Disperse and go about your business. Lieutenant
Braga!”

“Sir!” The man who Marco had upbraided snapped to
attention.

“Take a dozen men. You and a sergeant of your choosing
will each command six of them. You will provide security
for the Gringa. She will leave here unharmed and
unmolested or I will bury you and the sergeant. Is that
clear?”

“Yes, Sir!” The fear in the man’s face was clear. He
knew that if any harm came to Sherry, Marco would carry
out his threat. He quickly found a sergeant and ordered
him to gather a detail. In fifteen minutes the sergeant
had a dozen armed soldiers, including three women. The
sergeant divided them up into two shifts and left with
his six to get some rest.

Braga came over to Sherry. “Miss, it would make security
easier if you stayed in your quarters as much as
possible. I have no authority to restrict your
movements, but please consider my difficulties in
keeping you safe.”

Sherry agreed. The only times she left the tent for the
rest of the day were to go to the latrine. Braga
provided some extra candles so she’d have enough light
to read, but she wasn’t used to reading by candlelight
and turned in fairly early. Angel was not considered to
be at risk so she wasn’t provided with an escort.

A messenger woke them at four am. She gave them the
clothes that they had been wearing when they arrived and
told them to get dressed, have breakfast, and meet Marco
at his tent by five. Sherry was still tired from the
festivities of the night before. Angel apparently had
gotten in late and was barely awake when they went to
see Marco.

He was waiting for them. A Coleman lantern illuminated
his tent, he had a air navigation chart spread out on
the table. Sherry noted that Marco was carrying a pistol
now. “It’s time for you to go, and I won’t be sorry.” He
handed her the chart and a flight-plan form. “The
courses are plotted, the compass courses and times are
on the flight plan. I have no way to verify winds aloft
for you.”

Sherry took the papers and looked them over. Better to
be ask now than in the air. “It seems straight-forward
enough. Thank you, Commander.”

Marco bowed his head slightly. “You’re welcome. Keep in
mind what I told you when you arrived. Have a good
flight.” He looked at Braga. “Take them to the airstrip,
stay there until they depart in the Cessna.”

Braga nodded and led them out. The walk was easier this
time. It was mostly downhill and Sherry wasn’t carrying
a combat load and a rifle. There was just enough light
to walk by at the start of the trip. This time it took a
little over an hour to walk to the airstrip.

The wind was calm. Sherry found a rag to wipe the dew
from the Cessna’s windshield and began her pre-flight.
She was very careful to look for contaminants in the
fuel. In a shack she found some cases of aircraft engine
oil and some tools. Braga was impatient, but Sherry
ignored him. She drained the oil out of the engine,
safety-wired the drain shut, and refilled the crankcase
with fresh oil. The written words of an ancient aviator
sounded in her head, one who almost came to grief while
flying in this part of the world.

The control cables all worked the way they were supposed
to. She opened a few inspection ports and found nothing,
It took her an hour before she was satisfied that the
airplane was indeed safe to fly. Whoever had stocked the
parts shack had thoughtfully supplied some waterless
cleaner which Sherry used to remove the grease and oil
from her hands. Checking to see the magnetos were off,
she pulled the propeller though six blades, then she
gestured to Angel to get in.

The drill was the same: mixture full rich, mags on, pump
the throttle twice, and engage the starter. The
Continental O-300 caught on the second blade. Sherry
idled the engine at 900 rpm until the new oil was warm.
Then she applied power and taxied to the end of the
strip. A quick mag check at low power, one notch of
flaps, and she applied power, not rapidly to avoid
sucking debris into the propeller blades, but not slowly
either as there wasn’t a lot of room on this runway. The
Cessna bounced on the rough ground and then slipped into
the air. Sherry climbed to about 500 feet and retracted
the flaps. She turned the airplane to a little west of
south and took up her first course to San Jose.

Sherry stayed as low as she dared to. The 170 had barely
enough instruments to be considered airworthy, just a
wet compass, an altimeter, and an airspeed indicator.
There was a communications radio but no navigation gear
besides the compass. The compass at least had a valid
compensation card. Lindberg had better equipment over
sixty years ago.

The plotted course was fairly direct. That was a good
thing, because Sherry was a little concerned if they had
enough fuel to make it to San Jose. She wasn’t too
concerned about being spotted, the air defence system
commanders in El Salvador weren’t too concerned about
unknown aircraft leaving and they didn’t have a very
good system, either. Picking up a small Cessna flying
low was not a simple task. Nicaragua’s military was in
shambles and Costa Rica didn’t have an air force. Others
weren’t likely to interfere; they might be drug
smugglers and people who bothered smugglers tended to
contract bad cases of bullet wounds.

Angel tried talking over the noise of the O-300, but she
soon gave it up. If anything, this airplane was noisier
than the Maule for much of the interior insulation had
been removed. Then she started to turn green from the
turbulence as the ground warmed up. Sherry knew they
could find smoother air if she climbed, but that didn’t
seem to be a good idea. Somebody had thoughtfully left
some plastic bags in the chart pockets. Angel used one
of those to upload her breakfast. After she tied the
neck of the bag shut, Sherry opened a window and threw
the bag out over the jungle below.

Sherry was feeling a little uncomfortable, but it had
nothing to do with the turbulence. She turned left 90
degrees, held it for a minute and turned back on course.
Ten minutes later she repeated the maneuver to the
right. Ah, she thought.

“I think we have a slight problem,” she yelled in
Angel’s ear.

Angel instantly had a worried expression. “We’re not
going to crash?”

“Probably not. But I think somebody’s following us.”

“You sure?”

“Hard to say. There is another aircraft behind us, seven
or ten miles back.”

“What kind? Is it the military?”

“Can’t say. Might be.”

“Can we outrun them?”

Sherry shook her head. “Not unless they’re in a smaller
airplane than this one, which isn’t too likely.” She
looked at the chart, then found a valley that might work
not too far off her course. She turned slightly to
intercept the valley. Once over it, she descended
sharply and flew down it very low. After a few minutes,
she turned sharply and headed back up the valley, again
at a low level. If she was right, they should be there
right about….now.

Seconds later a Cessna O-2 spotter plane came into the
valley. The pilot had to pull up abruptly to avoid
hitting the 170. Sherry turned in his blind spot and
flew out of the valley to the west. She had no hope of
outrunning an O-2 (the military version of a Cessna
Skymaster, the twin with fore and aft propellers), but
at least she could make it harder for him. She hoped he
wasn’t armed as some nations had fitted machineguns to
their O-2s.

The O-2 took up position off Sherry’s left quarter at
about five hundred yards. The pilot knew that there was
no point in trying to stay hidden and Sherry knew she
couldn’t shake the O-2. So they flew off towards San
Jose in loose formation. Sherry thought that the O-2
couldn’t have come from Nicaragua, they had mainly
ComBloc equipment. That left El Salvador, Honduras,
Costa Rica and Panama. She wished somebody had given her
some information on who had what.

Angel leaned over. “What are we going to do? When we
land, they’ll have us.”

“Maybe not. Keep your seatbelt pulled tight. If I see a
place to land, I’m going to.”

They were coming up on the outskirts of San Jose. They
flew over farms and industrial areas. None of it
appealed to Sherry, she needed an open area close enough
in so they could stand a chance of disappearing before
whoever was working with the O-2 could react.

There! Sherry saw a park that had several soccer fields
next to one another. There didn’t seem to be anyone on
the fields. It was just big enough to land in. Whether
or not the Cessna could be flown out was not her
problem. They came up abreast of the park, Sherry
chopped the power and dropped the flaps. She flew a
tight pattern and had full flaps dropped on final. She
landed the Cessna right at the edge of the park and held
the wheel all the way back as she pushed on the brakes
as hard as she dared. It still looked like she was going
to run out of room, she pushed the left brake and
executed a controlled ground-loop. The landing gear held
and the wingtip didn’t dig in, but it wasn’t her idea of
fun.

“Let’s go,” she yelled to Angel. Sherry yanked the
mixture control back, shut the mags and master off and
had her door open before the prop stopped spinning.
There was a loud roar as the O-2 buzzed the field,
Sherry was betting the pilot wouldn’t try to land.
Several cars had stopped alongside the road, Angel and
Sherry ran up to one and asked the driver to take them
into the city for a very generous fee. Once in town,
they had the driver stop and switched to a cab after the
car was out of sight. They did that three times.

Neither one of them said anything in the cabs. Angel led
the way to a safe-house she knew about that was run by
some people she trusted. The couple who lived there let
them in without comment. Once they had sat down and
relaxed with a cold beer, the woman opened the
discussion. Nobody used any names. “You are in serious
trouble, my friend. A squad from El Salvador is here,
looking for you. We heard they were waiting at the
airport.”

Angel smiled. “We landed somewhere else. Maybe Marco can
get his airplane back. How long has the squad been
here?”

“Two days.”

“What kind of squad,” asked Sherry.

“A death squad,” the man said. “They aren’t here for a
pleasure visit.”

“And if they keep the airport covered, we are in
trouble,” Angel mused.

“There’s no easy way out other than flying.”

“Can’t we take a bus,” asked Sherry.

The woman frowned. “How hard do you think it’s going to
be to find you? You must be 180cm tall, all they have to
do is put the word out and everyone will be looking for
a tall Gringa trying to leave the country.”

“So we don’t give them what they’re looking for,” Sherry
said.

“I don’t understand,” Angel and the woman said almost
simultaneously.

“You have a pen and paper,” Sherry asked. The woman gave
her a pad and a pen. Sherry rapidly wrote down a
shopping list and handed it to the woman. “Can you get
this stuff?”

The woman looked at the list and smiled. “Very good.
It’ll take me two hours. What size shoes do you wear?”

Sherry said a 43, Angel said she took a 36.

“Two hours. I’ll be back.” She grabbed her handbag and
left.

Sherry looked at the man. “While she’s gone, do you have
a place where we can get cleaned up?”

“Certainly.” He showed them to a bedroom that had an
attached bath. Angel went first, then Sherry. It was a
real luxury to be able to take a normal bath after the
makeshift ones at the FNLN camp.

Sherry was soaking when Angel came into the bathroom.
Nice bod, Sherry thought. “So, you want to tell me what
you have in mind,” Angel asked.

“Easy enough. They’re looking for two women, one latino
and one anglo who look like they came in from the
jungle. So let them look. If they see us, that’s not
what they’ll see. The woman’s buying some clothes and
some grooming stuff. We’re going to change the way we
look.”

Angel nodded. “All right, what is she getting me?”

“A nice full skirt, so you can move if you need to, a
decent blouse, and some low-heeled pumps.”

“And what is she getting you?”

“Jeans, a work shirt, and a hat if she can find them
used, along with some Ace bandages and a hair clipper.”

“What?” Angel looked confused.

Sherry sat up in the tub. “Look, she said that they’re
looking for a 180cm tall woman. So we let them. I’ll
wrap the bandages around my chest and cut my hair back.
With any luck, I’ll look somewhat like a man. They won’t
be looking for a couple. Then we try and find a way out
of here.”

Angel looked a little shocked. “You’d cut your hair
really short?”

Sherry stood up and reached for a towel. “It’ll grow
back if we make it. If we don’t make it, it won’t matter
very much.” She looked at Angel. Her hair was waist-
length. “It’d help if you cut your hair, too.”

Angel’s eyes grew wide. She was proud of her hair. “How
short?”

Sherry shrugged. “To your shoulders, maybe a bit
shorter.”

“No!”

“Do it. It’ll add to our chances of surviving. Like I
said, if we live, it will grow back,” Sherry urged.

“And if we don’t, so what,” sighed Angel. “All right.”

The woman soon returned with the stuff. She and Angel
cut Sherry’s hair so that it was just longer than
military length, then the woman trimmed Angel’s locks to
her shoulder. Sherry used baby powder on her chest to
cut down on the chafing, then wound the bandages as
tight as she could. She then put on the clothes, and
stuffed a sock into her underwear to create a bulge. She
looked in the mirror, with the hat it just might work.
The shirt was loose enough to cover the .45, too.

Angel got dressed in a flowing cotton skirt and a white
frilly blouse with black leather low heels. The woman
gave Angel a handbag that swallowed up her 9mm quite
nicely. Then the woman and the man drove Angel and
Sherry around the city. As he explained, the big problem
was going to be going though emigration at the airport.
He had no fake passports to give them to get past that
point and both Angel and Sherry assumed that the death
squad was monitoring passport control.

“Let’s drive around the airport,” Sherry suggested.

The man looked over his shoulder. “Why?”

“I don’t know, I’m just making this up as I go along.
Maybe something will occur to me.”

He turned the car at the next street.

“I don’t think we are going to find an airplane we can
steal that will reach the States,” Angel said.

Sherry shrugged. “Never know until we check it out.”

They did. Sherry saw a DC-7 that might work, but that’s
a damn hard airplane to even try to fly single-pilot and
she had no inkling how the fuel system worked. It’d be
embarrassing to crash in the hills with a bunch of full
tanks, if even the tanks were full She looked up as a
helicopter passed overhead. It was a US Navy SH-3.

“Where did that helicopter come from?”

The woman replied: “Your navy is trying to track the
cocaine smugglers, there is a bunch of ships about fifty
miles out to sea.”

“Including an aircraft carrier?”

“I am not sure.”

Sherry was thinking hard. “Can you find out? Also try to
find out if the helicopters come at a certain time.”

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”

Sherry nodded. “Good. Let’s go back to where the small
airplanes are parked.” They did. This time Sherry got
out of the car and walked around. Nobody challenged her.
She checked out the hangars and came back to the car
almost an hour later. She got in smiling.

Angel looked at her. “You have a way?”

Sherry kept smiling. “I think so. There’s an airplane in
one of the hangars that can be landed on an aircraft
carrier. If the helicopters keep a schedule, then we
just borrow the airplane and follow the helicopter back
to the carrier and then land.”

Angle looked aghast. “Simple plan. And what of the
fighter jets on the carrier? Surely you don’t think they
might object to your landing a strange airplane on their
ship? You just think they’ll let you fly up and land?
And how are you going to take off from here? You think
the control tower’s going to let you just steal somebody
else’s airplane like that?” She snapped her fingers for
emphasis. “Such a plan.”

Sherry held her hands palms up. “So it’s not perfect.
But once we get out to the carrier, we are on American
territory. The death squads can’t touch us.”

“And if they don’t let us land?”

“Then we’ll ditch the airplane next to one of the ships.
They’ll rescue us with a boat or a helicopter. Either
way, once we’re aboard we’re safe.”

Angel looked at her as if she was crazy. The couple
drove them back to the safe house.

Some discreet questioning yielded a lot of information.
The helicopters, usually SH-3s, but sometimes CH-46s
came very day, often two or three. They arrived at 1300
and left at 1630. The times were set to allow them to
offload cargo, mail and passengers for a flight to Los
Angeles and to pick up any of the items being sent to
the fleet offshore. The ships were 50 to 100 nautical
miles offshore, they were using the E-2 radar airplanes
to track air traffic over Central America. Occasionally
an escort ship would pull into San Jose for a brief
visit, but there wasn’t one due for over a week. Sherry
preferred the idea of trying to board a ship in port,
but the time they’d have to wait was too long and the
pier would probably be watched very closely by the death
squad.

They also learned that another team was due in the next
day to look for them. Nobody liked that idea very much.
So if the weather was good, they would go for getting
out tomorrow afternoon.

The woman cooked up dinner. While she was doing so, the
man asked: “What kind of pistols are you carrying?”

“She has a .45 and I have a 9mm,” Angel answered.

He shrugged. “I think I can do better than that for you.
We’ll check out my stock after dinner.”

They did. He had a wide selection of special-purpose
weapons in a hidden room in the basement. “These might
be of some use,” he said and pulled out a box. He handed
a pistol to Sherry. The weapon was a GI Colt .45 with a
suppressor mounted. The sights on the slide had been
built up so they could be of some use. He handed another
one to Angel. “If you have to deal with the death
squads, it might help you if there was less noise
around.” He led them into an adjoining room where there
was a target set up twenty feet away. He gave them some
ear plugs. “The silencers don’t kill all the sound,
they’ll still be pretty loud in a room this size. But
outdoors, they won’t attract any attention.”

He gave them some ammunition, they both fired a few
shots to get the feel. Nobody wanted to do more, the
room wasn’t well ventilated and the fumes from the shots
were pretty bad. As the man had predicted, the guns were
loud in the room, but nowhere near as loud as an
unsuppressed shot.

“Thank you,” Sherry said formally. “Can I offer you my
weapon in exchange?”

“Is it traceable to you?”

Sherry nodded. “Then keep it.”

Angel offered hers. “This one was Julio’s. I assume it
can be traced to him.”

The man took it and smiled. “I think we can have some
fun with it. Why don’t you go get some sleep? I’ll clean
up the guns and we can make any further plans we need to
in the morning.”

“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Sherry said.

It would be an understatement to say that Sherry was
glad to unwrap the Ace bandages that were restraining
her breasts. Those who complained about a tight girdle
had nothing on her. The safe house had an old bathtub,
which meant it was big enough to accommodate her large
frame. For many years she had taken showers, baths now
seemed luxurious. Her skin was red from the wrappings.
She hoped that tomorrow would be the last day she’d have
to endure wearing them.

As Sherry soaked, she had to admit there were a couple
things about being a man that she missed. Nobody had
paid any attention to her when she had poked around the
hangars that afternoon. She doubted if a woman would
have been unnoticed. She didn’t think about somebody
trying to violate her, make a pass, or voice lewd
suggestions. But no way did she want to go back.

The man dropped the pistols off about an hour later.
Sherry stripped hers to check it out. She was most
interested in seeing that the firing pin hadn’t been
altered in any way. When she pushed on the back of the
pin, it protruded from the slide the proper amount. She
couldn’t figure out how to check the ammunition just
yet. Everybody seemed to be on the level, but she’d sure
hate to draw down on somebody and hear the dull click of
a misfire.

Angel seemed somewhat antsy, but Sherry didn’t feel like
talking. So much depended on the airplane she had
scouted out. It appeared to be airworthy, but if it
wasn’t, they might not get a second chance. It was the
only way she could think of to get out of the country
and into another one without having to show a passport.

Neither one of them slept very well that night. They
were both awake by six the next morning, even though
there was little they could do until that afternoon. The
woman of the safehouse had purchased some newspapers
which both Sherry and Angel read from beginning to end.
The TV set was droning in the corner of the living room
and nobody was paying attention to it.

Sherry asked for a box of ammunition and went into the
basement. There she fired the silenced .45 and reassured
herself that the pistol still worked and that the
cartridges hadn’t been tampered with. The man offered to
clean it, but she declined. One way or another, she
didn’t plan on having the weapon much longer than the
length of the day.

Noon was approaching. Sherry went upstairs and wound the
Ace bandages around her breasts, wincing at the squashed
feeling they gave her. The woman had some dark
theatrical makeup which Sherry used to create a beard
shadow. If her life didn’t depend so much on the
illusion she was trying to project, she’d think this was
really funny in an ironic way. ‘Well, Sam,’ she thought,
‘it’s time to do your stuff one last time.’ As she
prepared herself, Angel was getting dressed in her
outfit. Sherry sighed. It’s showtime.

The woman stayed behind this time. The man drove them to
a cafe near the airport. Two SH-3s arrived right on
time. Good old Naval Air. Near 2pm, Sherry nodded
slightly to the man. he paid the bill and they went to
the car. He drove them down to the field.

Security at this end of the airport was almost
nonexistent, they drove right onto the airport and down
the rows of hangars. The man pulled in behind one three
hangars down. Sherry and Angel sat there for a few
minutes as they watched for any movement. Things looked
good. Sherry and Angel got out of the car and moved down
the back of the hangars. Sherry winced at the sound of
Angel’s shoes on the pavement.

The hangar door was unlocked. They went in, Sherry
closed the door behind them. It was fairly dark inside.
Angel looked around. “So where is the airplane that you
will fly us to the carrier in,” she asked.

“The big one with the round engine,” Sherry replied. The
“big airplane with the round engine” was a T-28 that had
fairly faded paint. What it had that had attracted
Sherry’s interest was a tailhook. Sherry planned to land
the airplane on the carrier rather than try jumping out
or ditching. She hadn’t done any of the three, but
landing on a carrier seemed the best bet. At least the
risk of drowning was less.

Sherry’s pre-flight inspection was as thorough as she
dared to make it. The T-28 thankfully had an intercom
and headsets. Sherry seated Angel in the back and showed
her how the seatbelts worked and how the canopy worked
if they had to ditch. The T-28 didn’t have any life
vests, she found some in an Aero Commander that was also
in the hangar. The one fortunate thing here was that the
T-28 was at the front of the hangar, they wouldn’t have
to move other airplanes to get it out.

Time was slipping by. They wrestled the hangar doors
opened, then used an old converted garden tractor to tug
the T-28 out onto the taxiway. They had just finished
putting the tug back when Sherry saw some movement out
of the corner of her eye. A man had a gun out and was
aiming it at her. Sherry went for her silenced .45 and
knew in her soul she’d never make it. There was no cover
to duck behind, either. A muffled bark came from behind
her, the man fell backwards. Angel had gotten her gun
out first.

“Let’s go now,” Angel screeched. Sherry turned to run
for the airplane when two more men came from around the
hangar. Angel nailed one, the second one fired a shot
that seemed very loud compared to Angel’s shots. Sherry
gasped and fell in pain as the bullet hit her in the
side. She retained her hold on the pistol and rolled,
then fired from the ground at her attacker. She shot him
four times.

Nobody else showed up. Angel helped Sherry up. “How
badly are you hurt,” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Sherry said, feeling the pain lance
through her. “Help me get my shirt off.” Angel did so.
The bullet had cut a deep groove in her left side about
an inch below her breasts and apparently smashed at
least one rib. It was bleeding freely. Sherry had Angel
remove the ace bandage from her breasts and wrap it
around her torso over the bullet wound. “Help me get
into the cockpit,” Sherry said.

Angel looked at her. “Can you fly like this?”

Sherry gestured at the three bodies lying on the
taxiway. “You want to stay around and explain to the
police what happened here?”

Angel shook her head and helped Sherry get into the
front cockpit, then she got into the back. Sherry
experimented, it hurt to move her left arm but most of
the time she wouldn’t have to, the T-28 was flown with a
military stick used by the right hand. Out of habit, she
turned on the master switch and then turned on the pre-
oiler. After five minutes of running the electric oil
pump, she primed the hell out of the engine and hit the
starter. One, two, three, four, she switched the
magnetos on and the big radial rumbled into life. She
found the avionics master and turned the radio on to
ground control to monitor what was going on.

When the SH-3s called in for their clearances, Sherry
taxied the T-28 down the row of hangars to the far end
of the taxiway. She listened on the radio, switching
frequencies with the SH-3s. She couldn’t hear their side
of the conversations as they had military VHF radios,
but she could hear the controllers talking to them as
their radios transmitted on both VHF and UHF channels.

The SH-3s passed overhead. Sherry said “Here we go” into
the intercom and pushed the propeller control forward,
then the throttle. The roar of the radial echoed from
the hangars as the T- 28 thundered down the taxiway. The
first sight the tower had was the T-28 rising over the
roofline of the hangars. Sherry raised the landing gear
and the flaps and turned to angle away from the SH-3s.
The tower crew called frantically on the radio, Sherry
ignored them. She wanted to laugh, but it hurt to even
think about it.

Sherry stayed low for several miles, keeping her eye on
the helicopters. When they were almost too far to see,
she advanced the throttle and flew an intercepting
course. The angle was shallow enough that they shouldn’t
see her. She flew a curved path at the end to bring the
T-28 behind the SH-3s at about one hundred feet. With
any luck the men on the air-search radars would have
their primary target gain a little low and they might
not pick her up until she was a lot closer. She set a
radio to the emergency (or guard) frequency of 121.5
MHz. Sherry knew the standard drill was to try to
establish contact on that frequency.

What Sherry didn’t know was that she had been tracked
almost from takeoff by an E-2C Hawkeye, the naval
version of AWACS. That caused a quick rush on the
carrier to launch the Combat Air Patrol fighters, they
had been sitting in Alert-15 as no real need for them
was foreseen. The flight deck crews ran through the
drill at a fast speed and both F-14s were launched in
just over ten minutes.

Sherry did see the F-14s coming her way, though. As she
watched, their wings swept forward and the flaps and
slats deployed to enable the fighters to slow to her
speed. She pressed the push- to-talk button and said:
“Good afternoon, boys.”

“Tango Two Eight, identify yourself and state your
intentions.”

Sherry read the registration number of the T-28 and
added: “Pilot is Anderson, Lieutenant, US Navy, Sierra
Sierra November [she read her social security number],
state approximately three plus zero zero, two souls on
board, one wounded. Intentions are to land your home
plate.”

To say her transmission raised a fuss on the carrier was
an understatement. The carrier group commander, Rear
Admiral Carter, turned to his Chief of Staff, he ordered
a secure radio link to the Commander of the Bureau of
Personnel, priority flash. He then took command of the
air warfare picture away from the cruiser who was
running it. He ordered the F-14s to escort the T-28 and
have it circle around the carrier at a ten mile radius.
The lead F-14 relayed the command on 121.5, RADM Carter
heard Sherry reply:

“Roger, but don’t fuck around too much. I took a round
back there and I’m bleeding.” By now every ship and its
captain in the battle group had 121.5 turned up.

The COS handed Admiral Carter the satellite secure radio
handset. He keyed the set and said “BuPers, this is
ComCarGru Seven, over.” (ComCarGru Seven = Commander,
Carrier Group Seven)

The admiral at BuPers didn’t have a radio set. He had to
use a secure telephone to a communications station. To
let the tech at the commsta know he wanted to talk, he
would start his transmission by saying “one two three,
three two one.” What Carter heard was “Two one,
ComCarGru Seven, this is BuPers himself, over.” The
‘himself’ let Carter know that the admiral in charge was
on the line. They weren’t used to getting such high-
priority calls and the admiral was very curious what was
going on.

Carter keyed the handset and waited for the
synchronisation tone to stop. “This is ComCarGru Seven
himself. We have an interesting situation developing.”
He relayed a quick sketch of the situation and
Anderson’s service number. “Request you verify such an
officer’s existence, over.”

“Three two one, this is Bupers. Roger, wait, out.” It
took five minutes to pull a microfiche copy of
Anderson’s service record and rush it up to the boss.
His aide pooped it in a viewer, the admiral quickly read
it. He picked up the telephone: “One two three, three
two one, Comcargru Seven, this is Bupers, over.”

Carter had bet his COS a coke it would take fifteen
minutes to get an answer. The COS didn’t bother to hide
his grin. “ComCarGru Seven, roger, over.” Everybody in
flag plot gathered around to hear the information.

“Two one, this is BuPers. Name and number are verified.
Officer is Samuel Anderson, surface warfare. Did his
first tour on Dahlgren, boiler officer and gunnery
officer. Fitreps top 1%. Graduated destroyer school (he
gave a date and class number). Assigned to Alwyn as
Engineer. How copy so far, over.”

“Copy all, continue, over.”

“Three two one. Here’s where it gets strange. Anderson
served fifteen months on Alwyn, then abruptly
transferred to DIA..” (Defense Intelligence Agency)
“..classified program. Cover fitreps state ‘performing
duties assigned’ and give top marks. Anderson selected
to lieutenant commander, promoted two months ago. No
information on DIA work available, over.”

“Roger, copy all. If I can, will send ‘personal for’ to
you when I get this sorted out. No further traffic,
over.”

“Two one, BuPers, roger, out.”

Carter put the headset down, then looked at the
carrier’s captain, who had come into flag plot when he
was told what was going on. “Captain, please get on the
1MC..” (shipwide PA system) “..and see if there’s
anybody on board who served with Anderson.”

The captain nodded and did so. In a few minutes, the
carrier’s Main Propulsion Assistant, Lieutenant
Dumphrey, was standing in flag plot as the admiral told
him what was going on. “I want you to ask this person
some questions and try to determine if that’s Anderson
up there.”

“Aye aye, sir.” The Admiral handed him a handset. “Tango
Two Eight, this is ComCarGru Seven.”

“Tango Two Eight.”

“Anderson, this is Bill Dumphrey. How’re you doing?”

“Been a long time, Bill. I’ve been better. Caught a
round back in San Jose. They going to let me land this
beast?” Sherry let go of the mike button and spit in her
hand. The saliva was tinged with blood.

“I need to ask a few questions, first.”

“Don’t stretch it out. I’m coughing up blood.”

“How do you light a torch?”

“With a Zippo lighter.”

“Which safety do you set first?”

“Superheater.”

“What’s a Jones class frigate?”

“No such thing. Jones was that jackass who sat behind
you at Destroyer School.”

Dumphrey ran through about a dozen more questions, then
turned to Admiral Carter. “That doesn’t sound like
Anderson, Admiral, but he sure knows enough about
Anderson to be him.”

Carter nodded. “Did you know Anderson could fly?”

“Yes, sir. He was in the base flying club. He seemed to
be pretty good.”

“Ok, son, thanks.” He picked up the handset. “Two eight,
ComCargru Seven.”

“Two eight.”

“You carrier qualified in T-28s?”

“No, don’t have much choice, though.”

“Can you bail out or ditch?”

“Negative. No parachutes. Life jackets of unknown
quality. Passenger unfamiliar with emergency egress, not
too sure I can survive a ditching, either.”

“Landing on a carrier isn’t a piece of cake, either.”

“Maybe not, but it’s the best choice I have. Request
permission to come aboard, sir.”

“Roger, permission granted. Stand by.” Carter said to no
one in particular:

“Set flight quarters, prepare to recover a T-28. And
make damn sure the crash crews and the corpsmen are
ready.”

Sherry looked down at the carrier and saw it turn to
align the wind with the angle deck. About fucking time,
she thought.

“Two eight, this is Paddles.” (Paddles was the term for
the Landing Signals Officer, the one who had final
control of the landing of all airplanes. The term
derived from the old days when the LSO used hand paddles
to signal the landing airplanes.)

“Two eight.”

“I want you to fly an upwind over me at one thousand.
Slow, drop your gear and hook, and fly a standard
pattern. Don’t think of the deck as moving, think of it
as being stationary with a strong headwind. Keep the
meatball in the center of the mirror. When you land, go
to full power in case you miss a wire. Got that?”

“Roger.” Sherry told Angel: “They’re going to let us
land. Make sure your harness is as tight as you can make
it, you’ll hit it hard when we land.”

“Ok, all set.” Angel was terrified, but she kept quiet.
Sherry broke away from the F-14s and turned towards the
carrier. She throttled back somewhat and pushed the nose
down. She flew over the carrier, pulled the throttle
back, pushed the propeller control to the stops, and
dropped the landing gear and the tailhook. Three green
for the gear and one for the hook. She turned to a
crosswind, then to a downwind. When the carrier looked
right, she throttled back more and started the approach.
The flaps went down on the base leg.

She almost turned final astern of the carrier, then
realized that she had to turn for the angle of the
flight deck, not the stern of the ship.

“A little low, add power, bring her up onto the glide
slope,” Paddles commanded.

Sherry did that and quickly adjusted to the guidance of
the mirror landing system. She had to keep the ball in
the center of the mirror.

“On slope, looking good. Keep her coming.”

Sherry didn’t acknowledge the advice, she flew the
airplane. A little high, reduce power and ease the nose
down. She was approaching the deck, she flared but
didn’t try to kill all of the sink rate. The landing
gear slammed into the deck, Sherry rammed the throttle
forward as she was thrown against the harness when the
tailhook caught the number four wire. She screamed in
pain and greyed out, but retained enough composure to
pull the throttle back. Her vision returned, she saw
people gesturing madly for her to raise the tailhook and
taxi away from the landing area. Sherry followed the
directions of the plane director. When he motioned for
her to cut the engine, she pulled the mixture out, shut
off the master and flicked the mag switches off when the
prop stopped turning. She remembered popping the canopy
latch, but nothing after that.

There was a large group of people out on the observation
areas when Sherry made her approach. Word had gotten out
that somebody who was not carrier-qualified was going to
try to land a T-28. Her approach was a little unsteady,
but nothing really unusual. The T- 28 slammed into the
deck in the “controlled crash” that was a carrier
landing. Admiral Carter muttered “Not bad, son” when he
saw the hook grab the number four wire. The prop blades
were still spinning to a stop when the medical team
climbed onto the wing. They lifted Sherry out of the
cockpit and laid her in a Stokes litter. A doctor
quickly checked her over and then they lifted the litter
and hustled her to sickbay. Other flight deck crewmen
helped Angel out of the rear seat. She was taken to a
stateroom and initially held incommunicado, although she
was given magazines to read. Lunch was brought to her.

The hospital crew had been told their patient was a
wounded man, they were a little surprised to find he was
a she, but figured that the staff had screwed up again.
They prepped Sherry for surgery and ran her into the OR.
The carrier had a Naval Investigative Service agent
embarked, he went through the pockets of Sherry’s
clothes and brought the contents up to flag country.

Admiral Carter was having lunch with his COS, the ship’s
captain, and the commander of the air wing. The NIS
agent handed him Sherry’s passport without comment.
Carter took it and opened it to the photo. “What the
Christ is going on,” he said and handed the passport to
the COS, who looked at it and passed it to the other two
officers. BuPers had faxed Anderson’s service record,
which included a photo. Carter took the photo and
compared it to the passport. He noted that the birthdays
were identical.

The COS was looking over his shoulder. “Could it be his
twin sister?”

Carter shrugged. “No mention of a sister on his Page
Two.” (A “page two” is the record of emergency
information.) He looked at the agent. “As soon as she’s
out of surgery, pull a set of prints and fax them to
NIS, op immediate priority.”

“Yes, sir,” the agent replied. “She was also heavily
armed. She had three pistols on her person, one of them
is a silenced .45 that has been fired very recently. Her
passenger has a Canadian passport that identifies her as
Angel Henandez. she also had a silenced .45 that was
recently fired.”

Carter rolled his eyes. “This smells like the sort of
covert crap that North was up to his ears in. Get the
prints off as soon as you can.”

The agent nodded and left. Carter took a message blank
and rapidly wrote a message, pausing a few times to
refer to different pieces of paper, then handed it to
his COS. “What do you think of this, Ray?”

The COS took the message. It was an update to the oprep
(operational report) the admiral had sent off when
Sherry first asked to land. The update gave more
details, such that the pilot was a woman, her passport
number, and that both occupants of the airplane were
armed. It listed the registration and serial number of
the T-28. What caught the COS’s attention was the
classification: SECRET SI NOFORN WINTEL (SI = special
intelligence NOFORN = do not distribute to foreign
nationals WINTEL= warning, intelligence sources and
methods). “Why the classification, Admiral?”

“I don’t want this one being handed about to everyone in
the offices. Something funny is going on here and we had
best keep a lid on until we figure out just what the
story is.”

The COS called radio central for a messenger. When the
sailor arrived, he handed over the message form and
ordered that the typed copy be brought back for
proofreading.

Things got going ashore once the messages arrived. NIS
agents checked the FBI files and found only a card for
Sherry Anderson. No card existed for Samuel Anderson,
even though he had to have been fingerprinted several
times. Another agent went to the Bureau of Vital
Statistics in Sherry’s home state and found a birth
certificate for her in the files. Though the old
registers listed Sam’s birth, no birth certificate
existed for him. The old registers didn’t have a listing
for Sherry.

One of the senior agents in Suitland, MD (NIS HQ) noted
that one of Sam’s hobbies was shooting. He also noted
that Sam had been stationed in South Carolina. Since the
agent knew that SC required fingerprinting of out-of-
state military who buy pistols, he dispatched an agent
to check with South Carolina’s Law Enforcement Division
(what they call the state cops). Sure enough, there were
two fingerprint cards in SLED’s files. The agent faxed
one of the cards to Suitland.

When the agent there compared the two, he smiled with
some satisfaction.

Whoever had done all this work was smart, but nothing
beats legwork.

Bureaucracy can move very quickly when there is a need
to. Admiral Carter had a summary of the findings so far
in his hand when Sherry regained consciousness in sick
bay. While he wanted to start asking questions, he
waited until the doctor said it was ok to go and talk to
her.

Like most post-surgical patients, Sherry looked awful.
She had a catheter and a drain from the surgical site
and two IV bottles going into one drip. Her eyes were
open and registering her surroundings. Her first thought
was “I can’t be dead, I hurt too damn much.”

Carter came into sick bay. Sherry saw him and
instinctively tried to come to attention. “At ease,
Anderson,” Carter said. he had his doubts about
everything until he saw her try to snap to. That told
him she had been in the service for a long time. “How’re
you feeling, Commander?”

“I’ve been better, sir. Did you say ‘commander?'”

Carter nodded. “You were promoted to lieutenant
commander effective two months ago. If you are feeling
up to it, I have some questions to ask.”

Sherry smiled weakly. “I’ll bet you do, Admiral.”

Carter turned his head slightly and motioned. Sailors
brought in recording gear, both audio and a video camera
and set them up. A stenographer brought a chair in and
sat down. Sherry had closed her eyes while the preps
were going on. Microphones were placed to pick up their
words. Both Sherry and the admiral spoke for a sound
level check.

Carter started the recording. “This recording was made
on (he gave the date) in the sick bay of the USS Ranger.
I am Rear Admiral Thomas Carter, United States Navy. I
am interrogating, please state your name, rank, social
security number and designator.”

“Anderson, Sherry P. Lieutenant Commander, United States
Navy. (She cited a social security number) with a
designator of 1110.”

“Are you the same officer who is known to the Bureau of
Naval Personnel as Samuel P. Anderson with the same
social security number and designator?”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“The last official knowledge the Navy has of you was
that you were abruptly transferred from the Alwyn.
Yesterday you landed aboard the USS Ranger in a T-28
registered in Costa Rica that was presumably stolen. You
were flying the aircraft and had a passenger identified
as Angel Hernandez who was carrying a stolen Canadian
passport. Both of you were armed; among the weapons were
two suppressed .45 automatics that had been recently
fired. Is this a true summation?”

“Yes, sir, it is.”

Carter nodded. “Let’s go back to the Alwyn. I want you
to tell me in as much detail as you can what transpired
from then until now. As you are recovering from surgery,
we will recess and reconvene as you desire.”

Over the next four days, Sherry did just that. The
sessions were first fairly short, then lengthened as she
regained her stamina. As much as she could, she named
every name she could and gave details of places. Each
day a copy of the tapes was sent to Washington. To
preclude any problems in customs, they were flown
directly from the carrier to San Diego by C-3s. Couriers
then took military flights to Andrews Air Force Base.
Suitland was a short drive from Andrews.

The GPS cassette was taken to the manufacturer. They had
no difficulty in extracting the course programmed in. A
check with the Defense Mapping Agency confirmed that the
course and altitude would have resulted in a crash.

NIS agents fanned out over the country to verify her
story. The survival training, the training base,
employment records, all were as Sherry said. There were
some discrepancies in the details, but nobody can
remember everything perfectly. Sherry had carried her
latest pilot’s logbook with her, the entries were
verified at the airports where it was possible to do so.

One of the return flights to the Ranger brought some
agents who wanted to ask more questions. When they
showed some of Sherry’s testimony to Angel, she told her
story and her view of what had happened. The same flight
brought some uniforms for Sherry, wash khakis and
underwear. In five days she was starting to move around
the ship a little. The steepness of the ladders were
tough, yet she kept at it.

By now the investigation was being run by the Navy’s
Inspector General and the chief of Naval Intelligence.
They took a very dim view of someone sending one of
their people on what amounted to an unknown suicide
mission. The NIS found a lot of resistance to their
inquiries at the training base, until they showed up
with some subpoenas and a US Marshal. The first person
who refused them access was arrested by the Marshal;
everyone else fell into line and showed the agents what
they wanted to see.

It was like unravelling a sweater. Each lead led to
others. By the time Sherry had been on the Ranger for
two weeks, the NIS had found that a group of DIA people
were recruiting TVs and TSs for clandestine missions
that had a very low survival rate. Eighty had been
recruited before Sherry, of whom only nine were either
alive or not in a foreign prison. The six who were in
prison were released by paying substantial bribes (not
all of which involved money).

Bureaucracies never learn a simple lesson: destroy the
files. The other intelligence agencies seized on the
case as a way to shut down the operations of a group of
cowboys they had long despised. Six people were in the
training pipeline, two of whom had completed SRS. They
were all offered discharges with considerable severance
pay. The four who hadn’t had surgery were given enough
money to easily complete the process if they chose to.

While the other agencies were able to shut the operation
down, nobody ever proved any significant illegal
activities on the part of those running it. All the
funds were accounted for. They had forged a lot of
official records, but every intelligence agency does
that at one time or another. Nobody was interested in
making that a crime.

Sherry didn’t see Angel again. She was quietly loaded
onto a C-3 one night and flown to San Diego. Once there,
she was debriefed by a team of agents. When the briefing
was done, she was placed in the Witness Protection
Program and was never heard from again.

Sherry rapidly gained her strength back. The carrier’s
engineer wanted her to grade some training exercises,
but Admiral Carter vetoed that proposal. So she spent
her time roaming around the ship, and found that
wherever she went she was welcome. Part of her welcome
was because she was friendly, part of it was because she
was the only woman on a ship of six thousand men. She
made a point of visiting the main machinery spaces as
the engineers on a carrier are rarely recognized by
outsiders for the hard work they do.

Admiral Carter called Sherry to his cabin the night
before the Ranger returned to San Diego. He offered her
coffee, then asked the steward to leave.

“Sherry, we have a slight problem,” the admiral said.

“How so, sir?”

“As you know, the law prohibits women serving on
warships. But what we have in you is a woman who has
served on two combatants. There’s no way to disguise
that in your service record. We can change the names on
the fitreps (fitness reports, the grading form for
officer evaluations), but we can’t change the duty
assignments you’ve had. Anybody who looks at your record
will know that something’s seriously wrong.

“Now you may not know this, but under OPNAVINST (Chief
of Naval Operations Instruction) 1630 transsexualism is
a cause for immediate discharge.”

Sherry interrupted. “I’m aware of that regulation, sir.”

Carter nodded. “However, you weren’t discharged when it
became known you were a transsexual. You were allowed to
stay in and the surgery was performed at government
expense. A barely competent lawyer could argue that such
funding meant that your transsexualism was acceptable to
the service.

“On the other hand, we have the matter of the stolen T-
28 and the killings at the San Jose airport. We could
link you to the shootings and the theft of the airplane,
but that could create some real embarrassment for the
government. So what I’m offering you is a three-part
deal. Are you interested?”

“I’m listening, Admiral.”

“First we deal with the criminal charges. I’ll hold
Admiral’s Mast and find you not guilty of theft,
possession of various weapons without proper
authorization, and murder. Once I clear you of those
charges, you can’t be tried again.

“Second, if you’ll resign your commission, I am
authorized to offer you a severance bonus of one hundred
thousand dollars, tax free.

“Third, we have been in contact with the cargo carrier
you flew for in Wisconsin. They are willing to take you
back if you can show them an honourable discharge, which
you will be given as part of the deal. That’s the
package.” He sat back in his chair and waited for her
response.

It took Sherry three seconds to say yes. Admiral’s Mast
was held in thirty minutes, with her being cleared of
all the charges. Sherry was given a military ID card so
she could check into the BOQ upon arrival at San Diego.
The arrangement was that she had three days to buy a
small wardrobe of clothes, then she would be discharged.

The T-28 was unloaded under cover of darkness at San
Diego. The elderly radios in the T-28 were replaced with
top of the line ones with a selection of avionics from
drug-smuggler’s airplanes. The engine was overhauled,
hydraulic systems refurbished, and the airplane was
repainted. The T-28’s owner had lost a tired airplane,
what he got back was one that was in show condition, so
he was very happy.

Sherry made her way back to Madison, Wisconsin, and
resumed flying DC-3s on night cargo runs. As for what
happened after that, well, that’s the subject of another
story.

***

He was smiling as always. The grin was a superior one,
of a man who knew he had the advantage and wasn’t
hesitant in letting you know.

He was fast, very fast. He had his pistol out and aimed
before she had hers clear of the holster. She tried to
bring the nose of the .45 to bear, but her brain was
screaming that it was too late, way too late. He shook
his head slightly and squeezed the trigger….

The alarm woke her bolt upright. In spite of the heat of
the midsummer day, Sherry was shivering. The dream was
coming more frequently. She thought it was some delayed
reaction to her Central American adventure, but who knew
for sure?

One thing was certain, there was nobody she could talk
to about it. The repercussions from her unexpected
survival had torn part of the DIA apart. Nothing ever
hit the papers, except a brief mention of a drug-related
shootout at the San Jose airport. The training center
had been shaken up, a lot of the people in the
clandestine section that had recruited Sherry were
shunted off to dead-end jobs to await retirement or were
forcibly retired. The psychologists who were in the
section certainly wouldn’t want to see her again. Any
other shrink would probably think she was crazy when she
told the story. Best to just hope the dreams go away.

Whatever a shrink might think, it had all happened. She
knew that every month when $1,500 (adjusted periodically
for inflation) was deposited in her investment account.
If that wasn’t enough, there was the Colt Commander that
was in her handbag or on her body, along with the
credentials that allowed her to carry it anywhere she
desired.

Sherry threw the sheet off her body and went to the
bathroom to take a shower and relieve herself. While she
showered, she thought about the reunion with her
parents. They weren’t exactly overjoyed to find their
son was now a woman. They wouldn’t have believed the
story she told if it wasn’t for Rear Admiral Carter. He
had an intelligence officer go with Sherry and confirm
her story. Her father hadn’t said anything, he just left
the room after the explanations had been given. Her
mother asked for her address and phone number and said
that they’d call, but to give them time. That was six
months ago. They hadn’t called or written, so Sherry
figured that they had made their decision.

Enough. She had to be at the base in two hours to get
ready for her flight. The uniform was a lot simpler than
the crews of the major airlines had to wear, just a
white shirt with epaulets (four stripes to indicate she
was a captain), black trousers and flat lace-up shoes.
She was thankful she didn’t have to wear a jacket, a
stupid-looking hat or makeup. The cargo containers
wouldn’t have been impressed, anyway.

She grabbed an overnight bag (in case they got stuck),
her flight bag, handbag, and she was out the door.
Sherry started her Honda and drove the fifteen miles to
LaCrosse airport. It was easy enough to live a lot
closer, but Sherry relished the time it took to drive,
except in the winter. The drive was easy and there
wasn’t any problem parking at the cargo terminal. Sherry
clipped on her security badge and went inside.

The flight was the same as it was yesterday and since
she had returned. Sherry and Tony, the co-pilot, would
fly a DC-3 from LaCrosse to Madison, then on to
Rockford, Illinois and finally to Midway Airport in
Chicago. At each stop they’d receive a load of cargo.
The cargo would be shifted at MDW to a cargo jet and
taken to a sorting facility in Tennessee. Then the jet
would return to MDW and they’d fly the DC-3 back to RFD,
MSN, and home to LSE. They would fly IFR down to ensure
sequencing into the Chicago Terminal Control Area. If
the weather was good, they’d cancel IFR after leaving
the TCA and fly VFR back. The cargo volume was growing,
there was some discussion recently of shifting the
routes around so that RFD would be picked up by another
route and the present route would start at Minneapolis.
Nothing was certain so far.

The weather wasn’t unusual, a chance of scattered
thunderstorms but otherwise a fine night. The projected
cargo weight wasn’t a concern to Sherry, the cargo
containers generally cubed out first (meaning they were
full but not overweight).

Tony was preflighting the DC-3. After he finished,
Sherry went out and spot-checked his work. While she
often varied what she looked at, most often she
inspected the exhaust stacks for cracks as a cracked
stack could cause an in-flight fire. This particular
airframe was over fifty years old. Airline captains have
to retire at age 60, it was a good bet that DC-3s would
be earning their keep well past that age.

Every manufacturer since 1946 has tried to make an
“airplane that is as good as a DC-3.” While others have
replaced DC-3s in airline work, the DC-3 still flies
even as the airplanes that succeeded them have been
retired to museums or scrapped. The DC-3 gave Douglas a
reputation for quality that lasted until the DC-10
debased it.

Sherry was fond of the DC-3. She liked the solidity of
the airplane and flying it on the same route every time.
Her recent adventure in South America had given her her
fill of excitement for a good while. As others left the
cargo airline to pursue careers with the majors,
Sherry’s seniority crept up. Her life was boring, and
she liked it that way.

She clambered up into the cockpit, Tony followed
immediately afterwards. Even with the side windows open
it was hot in there. Sherry wadded up two yellow foam
earplugs and inserted them. Tony didn’t use earplugs
yet, but she bet he would as soon as the hearing loss
started showing up. Outside of the airplane two
mechanics were walking the propellers, turning the
engines over by hand to remove any oil from the bottom
cylinders. They finished and it was time.

Engine start: Sherry primed the right engine several
times and engaged the starter. She counted the propeller
blades passing the cockpit, when the fifteenth one
appeared she switched the magnetos on. The engine caught
with the satisfying rumble of a 1,200 horsepower radial.
Tony switched on the radios and set them up while Sherry
busied herself starting the left engine. They now had
their headsets on and were using the intercom for their
checklist recitations.

It took several minutes for the oil temperatures to rise
enough to permit taxiing out. Ground control had their
IFR clearance: “Cleared as filed” as usual with an
expected climb to 5,000’ ten minutes after takeoff.

The wind was up, a fact that made taxiing the DC-3 an
art. Sherry locked the tailwheel every time she could to
help keep the airplane on the yellow line. The tail was
very susceptible to acting as a weathervane, Sherry used
differential power to counter the wind’s effects.

She ran the engines up at the end of the taxiway. That
made life a little interesting for a Piper Warrior’s
pilot who taxied a little too closely behind the DC-3.
The other pilot may have expected the DC-3 to swing
across the taxiway for runup as did smaller airplanes,
but the DC-3 was too big to do that without the risk of
wiping out a taxiway light.

The tower granted takeoff clearance, Sherry taxied out
onto the runway and rolled forward enough to ensure the
tailwheel was straight. She locked the tailwheel and
added power. When the airspeed indicator showed 40
knots, she raised the tail and brought the airplane to a
level attitude. Tony called the airspeeds, at the V2
speed of 84 knots, Sherry rotated (bringing the nose up)
and the DC-3 stately left the runway. She called for the
flaps to be brought up before reaching the limit speed.

“Gear up.” Tony reached down and unlocked the mechanical
latch, then he moved the gear handle to “up.” The green
light went out, Sherry and Tony looked out their
respective windows to confirm that the gear was up. Tony
moved the gear lever into the neutral position, where
hydraulic system pressure held the wheels up.

The tower handed the flight off to Minneapolis Center,
all routine. Sherry was flying the leg, Tony worked the
radios. Minneapolis handed them off to Chicago Center,
who in turn passed them along to Madison Approach
Control, and then to the tower. Somebody in a Cessna 182
was making a complete hash of an instrument approach to
Madison, the controllers kept trying to straighten him
out and meanwhile kept the scheduled flights and the
general traffic (at least the ones who did know what
they were about) flowing evenly.

The cargo container was loaded with all the efficiency
that the air freight company was richly famous for. The
differences in starting this time were that Tony only
had to roll six propeller blades before engaging the
mags and that he flew to Rockford with Sherry handling
the other cockpit chores. The cargo loading drill was
completed in the usual amount of time and they taxied
out for the leg to Midway.

There was nothing memorable about the leg into Midway.
The controllers did an efficient job sequencing the
slower cargo aircraft in amongst the passenger jets.
They were parked on the cargo line in order of
departure, the slowest and smallest airplanes would
leave first so that none of them had to hold for wake
turbulence from the previous departure.

Sherry shut the engines down. It was cooler on the ramp
here now that the sun had set. She and Tony went into
ops to check on their load and to arrange fuel. It was
all very routine.

Or it was until they were walking down a corridor to the
cafeteria. A man in a suit came up and said: “Captain
Anderson? His tone of voice was of one who knew who he
was addressing. When Sherry nodded, he continued:

“Would you come with me, please, there are some matters
to discuss.” He flashed an FBI badge in a way that Tony
couldn’t see it.

“All right,” Sherry said. To Tony: “I’ll catch up to you
later.” He shrugged and went on to find some chow. After
he went around a corner, Sherry asked to see the
credentials again. The agent showed them. Peter
Garrison. “Am I under arrest, Mr. Garrison?”

He smiled. “No, just the opposite. We may be able to
help you. Just come with me and I’ll explain it all to
you.”

“Ok, it’s your nickel.” Garrison led the way to a set of
office and opened the door. He went in first, Sherry
followed. There was a man sitting in a chair in the
office. It was Keith, the firearms instructor from the
training center.

Keith stood up and extended his hand. “‘Lo, Sherry, it’s
been awhile.”

Sherry shook his hand. “Yup. I assume with the FBI agent
here that this isn’t a social visit?”

Garrison indicated they should sit in a conference area.
It had four chairs around a small table. There were some
file folders lying there. “You come right to the point,
Ms. Anderson. Do you know this man?” He extracted a
photo from the top file and handed it to her.

Sherry studied it for several seconds. “He looks like
someone I’ve seen around the center, but I didn’t have
anything to do with him.”

“His name is Jack Gullenswan, and he was at the center
when you were. What he was doing is immaterial, but it
was cancelled when your case blew up. He holds you
responsible for it and he’s apparently going to act on
his beliefs.”

Sherry looked at the agent wit some destain. “You want
to translate that into English?”

Keith answered. “Jack’s going to try to kill you.”

Sherry chewed on that. “What does he know?”

“Not a hell of a lot,” said Garrison. “He probably knows
where you live and what you do, all of that’s easy to
learn. He doesn’t know your history or what skills you
have.”

“I see. What’s his area of expertise?”

Garrison looked at Keith. Keith took the hint, he handed
Sherry a folder. “He’s a sniper, a long-range rifleman.
He’s damn good, capable of hitting a target on the first
shot at 800 meters. Other than that, he has some
moderate skill at other weapons and unarmed combat.”

“Does he have a weapon?”

Garrison nodded. “He recently purchased a Ruger rifle,
chambered for .300 Winchester Magnum. He also bought an
8-power scope. He had the sight mounted and he’s been to
a rifle range for sighting-in and practice.”

“And?”

Keith sighed. “And he’s good with it. The range goes to
500 meters, he uses every damn inch. He bought some top-
quality bullets and he’s making his own loads. We don’t
know what he’s shooting, but he is grouping sub-MOA,
sometimes within .5.”

Sherry was impressed. That meant Gullenswan could keep
his shot groups inside a 2-1/2″ circle at a quarter-
mile. It was some shooting. “Is he still working for the
government?”

“No, he resigned from the civil service two months ago,”
answered Garrison. “Before you ask, we’re keeping an eye
on him, but that’s all we can do. He hasn’t broken any
laws and if he’s careful, he won’t.”

Not until he actually fires at me, thought Sherry. She
gestured at the file. “Can I have a copy of this?”

Garrison nodded. “You can have most of it. I’ll FedEx a
package to you.”

Isn’t that convenient, Sherry thought. She stood up.
“Thanks for the information, Agent Garrison.” They shook
hands. She turned to Keith. “If you’re up around
LaCrosse anytime, stop by.”

“Sure will.”

Sherry left the office and went to the cafeteria. Tony
was at a table with a few other pilots, he was working
at a large serving of the “special of the night.” She
shuddered, how he was able to eat as much as he did and
not put on weight was a mystery. She joined the line and
picked up a bowl of soup and a salad. Tonly looked at
her with some curiosity when she sat down but he said
nothing.

Sherry mulled over the meeting all the way back to
LaCrosse. She thought a lot of her house and how to make
it hard for Gullenswan to get to her. Covering the
windows was a first step, then she’d have to figure out
how to minimize her exposure to the outside in other
ways. The area across the street form her home was open
country with some hills. If she wanted to shoot someone
in her home, that’d be the place to do it. Even better,
people sometimes used the land for target shooting, a
gunshot wouldn’t be a cause for alarm.

It was apparent that whatever the FBI wanted, they
weren’t going to do anything to Gullenswan until he
broke the law. If she wanted to stay alive, it was up to
her to think of how to do it.

Sherry found a tape measure as soon as she came home.
She measured her windows and made a run to a drapery
store. The saleslady seemed a little puzzled at Sherry’s
insistence that the curtains be light-tight, but a
sale’s a sale. Sherry also bought all the mounting
hardware she needed to hang them on the windows that
weren’t already set up for curtains. It took her two
days to hang them all. Then she turned the lights on in
her house and went outside at night. She made
adjustments in different ones until she was satisfied
that nobody could see into her house.

That necessitated other changes. She had to buy grow
lights so her plants wouldn’t die. The air was stuffy,
so she rigged frames to hold the curtains away from the
open windows and yet not allow them to blow open. If she
didn’t work at night and sleep in the day it might have
been a little too much, as it was it was like living in
a cave.

She studied the material Garrison had sent to her.
Outsied of telling in detail what a good shot Gullenswan
was, it didn’t help much. The FBI had a loose
surveillance on Gullenswan, so she knew he wasn’t
around. That gave her a little time, she went to a
sporting goods store and bought an inexpensive 8-power
riflescope. She then started to cover the ground all
around her house, looking at the house through the
‘scope. What she was trying to do was to determine where
the best places to use for shooting at her house.

A noise startled her on one of her surveys, she turned
around to see a 6-point whitetail buck. She didn’t move,
the deer looked her over but didn’t run off. Sherry
shifted, the deer ran off, his tail up. Sherry smiled,
now she knew why Gullenswan hadn’t shown up yet. He was
waiting for hunting season. Nobody’d question why
someone was out with a rifle then, nobody’d think
anything of a shot or two.

***

It took several days, but Sherry soon had a rough map of
possible shooting positions. One of them was what she’d
choose, it had a clear view of the front and side doors
from a slight rise. The range was about 400 yards. She
then walked around to find a position that covered it
and as many of the other areas as she could. Her plan
was gelling as she walked around: She would get into
position before Gullenswan did. Once he showed up and
she was satisfied that he was gunning for her, then she
would follow the old Code of the West: Do Unto Others
Before They Do You.

What she needed was a sniper-grade rifle. She had the
money but didn’t have the time needed to put one
together and test it out. So she called Keith and
outlined her plan. He listened, said it sounded
reasonable to him, and that he’d be in LaCrosse the day
after tomorrow when she returned from her cargo run.

Keith showed up at the appointed time with a long silver
rifle case and a smaller bag. Sherry showed him to an
empty office, he laid the case on the desk and popped
the latches. Sherry said “wow” in appreciation. Keith
lifted the rifle out and handed it to her. It was an M-
21 sniper rifle, a highly accurate M-14 with a
Leatherwood scope. The sight itself was the heart of the
rifle, it adjusted the elevation for the drop of the
bullet. The case contained several hundred rounds of
ammunition and spare magazines.

Keith cleared his throat. “I know you won’t be engaging
in any firefights, but you might want to go do some
practising.”

Sherry smiled. “It’s a beauty.” Then she turned serious.
“I think I know what Gullenswan’s plan is.” She outlined
her belief that he’d be in the area during whitetail
season and try to shoot her then.

Keith listened and nodded. “It makes sense. I’m guessing
that you plan to be able to stop him?”

Sherry nodded. “From what I know the police can’t do a
damn thing until he breaks the law. And if what I’m
suspecting is right, he won’t until he shoots. That’s
too late to do my ass any good.”

“True, but don’t forget that he’s a better shot with a
rifle than you are, and he has a rifle capable of longer
range than you’ll be able to use the M-21 effectively.
It’ll shoot accurately out to 900 yards, but you’d be
kidding yourself if you try to go much over 400. And if
you miss your first shot, he might nail you.

“And one other thing: Get a good pair of binoculars for
spotting. Don’t use the riflescope for anything except
target acquisition. If you use a riflescope for
spotting, someone else might see that as an unfriendly
act and react accordingly.”

“Good idea,” Sherry said.

Sherry started spending some time at a rifle range.
After she verified the sight’s settings and became
familiar with the rifle, she stopped using the bench
rest and began practising other shooting positions,
especially prone and kneeling. Standing wasn’t going to
be much use to her, but she did shoot it enough to know
how. The rifle had a Harris bipod which added to the
weight but made prone shooting a lot easier.

One conclusion she reached was that estrogen had cut
into her strength quite a bit. No doubt that Sam
wouldn’t have had anywhere near as much trouble handling
the weight of a loaded M-21. She regretted briefly that
Keith hadn’t given her a AR-15A2HB to save a few pounds.
But she didn’t expect to be humping the boonies with the
M-21 if things worked according to her plan.

The FBI watch on Gullenswan was able to tip her off when
he began his trip towards LaCrosse. Sherry then went
into her plan. She drove her car to the airport and made
sure she was seen boarding a commercial flight to
Chicago. This flight stopped at Madison (like her cargo
run), where she slipped off the airplane. a trusted
friend met her at the airport and drove her back to
LaCrosse with the arrival planned for 3am. The last part
of the drive to her house and away were done with the
lights off. Sherry changed into her fighting clothes
grabbed her gear: rifle, equipment, shelter half,
clothing, food, and water. She then donned a pair of
night-vision goggles and headed for her position.

It was cold at night and Sherry was thankful her gear
was up to it. She was set in a natural depression near
the top of a hill about 800 yards from her house, it
covered several of the shooting positions she had
scouted out. Now it was a matter of waiting.

Whitetail season started the next day, sporadic gunfire
could he heard as soon as the sun came up and legal
shooting commenced. Sherry checked out every movement
she could see, a fair number of hunters were either
stand-hunting or still-hunting. Most of them had on
blaze-orange coats and hats, which made spotting them
easier. A couple looked like Gullenswan but none of them
appeared to be doing anything else than deer hunting.
She did see one hunter shoot a 4-point buck two hours
into opening day, the deer ran about 50 yards and
collapsed. It was a well-placed shot. The hunter field-
dressed the deer and dragged it out to the road.

She saw him on the third day, or thought she had. Sherry
was using the night-vision goggles and saw someone pick
their way towards one of the shooting positions at 5am.
She tried to see him through the riflescope but it was
too damn dark. The man settled in, then she couldn’t see
him. Damn, she thought, I’m just going to have to wait
for daylight.

Now she had to keep very quiet, for it was dead calm. If
she made any noise she’d have to assume that whoever it
was there would hear her. While the dedicated hunters
tried to be in their stands before dawn, few were in the
woods this early.

Dawn brought a major disappointment, she couldn’t see
the man, not very well at least. There was enough to say
that someone was there, she could occasionally see some
movement. But she couldn’t see who was there, not enough
to make a positive ID. Sherry wasn’t about to shoot
someone just for being in a suspicious place. She’d just
have to wait. Maybe when he left his stand.

The problem there was that he didn’t leave that night.
Sherry wanted to move so she’d have a better view of the
hunter, but she didn’t trust her woodsman skills enough
to move and carry her gear without making any noise,
certainly not in the dark. This was going to get old
very fast, and she was playing his game.

***

The next morning brought no change in the situation. Any
doubts that it was Gullenswan there vanished when a ten-
point buck walked by less than 100 yards from his
position. That was a large deer, any legitimate hunter
would have shot at it. But the hunter there didn’t. Now
Sherry was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was
her intended killer, but the same problem remained: she
couldn’t see a decent target through the riflescope. If
Gullenswan was a good as they said he was, then she had
to connect on the first try.

Sherry was right: It was Gullenswan down there. He had
spotted her car in the employee’s parking lot at the
cargo terminal, so he figured that she was on a run. He
knew that she flew night runs and got back soon after
dawn. His plan was to use the first morning as a dry
run, to make sure that the position was a good one and
he could acquire the target. But now it was the second
morning and there was no sign of the target.

Something had to be wrong, but he didn’t believe that
she had been spooked. A private detective had done a bit
of surveillance a few weeks ago, nothing was unusual
then. He wished that he had the resources of the
official jobs for this one, rather than the unofficial
contacts that were paying for him now.

He watched his surroundings for awhile. As far as he
could tell, there was no surveillance. Few cars drove
by, but they didn’t stop or slow down. They weren’t the
same cars, either. What air traffic flew overhead was
clearly going to the LaCrosse airport. He didn’t see any
sign of anyone around him watching, but he knew that
meant little if the watcher was good.

Maybe her airplane had broken down somewhere else. The
only DC-3s he had seen recently were in latin America
and he wasn’t impressed by their reliability. For now,
he’d wait this out. He had adequate supplies for a few
days and the weather, while cold at night, wasn’t
anywhere near as bad as some other jobs he had been on.
Certainly nothing like the Baltics in February.

***

Nothing happened for two days. Then one afternoon, both
Gullenswan’s and Sherry’s attention were drawn to her
house. A car slowed down and stopped at the mailbox. Two
riflescopes were trained on it. It was her car. Sherry
watched as a woman got out, pulled the mail out, and got
back into the car. Sherry recognized her, it was Marsha
Frye, the maintenance librarian. What the hell was she
doing, Sherry wondered.

Gullenswan wasn’t wondering. The woman was driving the
target’s car. She was the right height and hair colour.
Marsha got back into the car before he decided to fire.
She drove into the driveway and shut the car off. Marsha
picked up the mail and walked around the front of the
car towards the back door. he had a few seconds and he
used them; he fired when she was about four feet from
the side of the house.

Sherry jumped when she heard the shot. Through the
‘scope on her rifle she saw Marsha’s arms go flying,
scattering the accumulated mail everywhere. Marsha
collapsed, her momentum and the bullet caused her to
fall towards the house. All Sherry could see in her
‘scope was Marsha’s body from the waist down. She wasn’t
moving.

Sherry stifled the urge to run down, all that would do
is get her killed. She cursed her lack of foresight in
not bringing a cellular phone, that way she could stay
concealed and call for help. Her only option was to wait
and hope that if Marsha wasn’t dead, that she didn’t die
from inattention.

From Gullenswan’s view, all he could see of his target
was her legs. Nothing moved for twenty minutes, so he
got up and started to make his way towards the target to
verify the kill. He was very alert for any sounds or
changes. He didn’t think that he was under surveillance,
the police wouldn’t have let someone lie there shot. It
was more a force of habit than anything conscious.

Sherry saw him break cover. He moved through an area
that was fairly thick with trees and brush, she tracked
him, adjusting her ‘scope to compensate for the changes
in range. There was no wind, she was thankful for that.
If he didn’t come to a clear area, she’d shoot him when
he crossed the road to the house.

Gullenswan was moving slowly. Sherry kept her breathing
regular to control any excitement which could throw her
shot off. She knew that she’d only get one chance with
him. If she missed, then she’d be playing his game. And
he was a master.

The cover was lessening. She took up the slack on the
trigger, adding pressure as the sight was on, holding if
it wasn’t or if Gullenswan wasn’t clear. Just like a
range, she thought. Keep a good sight picture….WHAM!

Gullenswan felt the bullet hit him before he heard the
shot. The impact staggered him, but he stayed on his
feet and tried to run for cover. Who the fuck could that
be, a corner of his mind wondered.

Sherry reacted and fired again. This time she saw him go
down, losing control of his rifle, which landed several
feet away. She watched for five minutes, then she broke
cover. She didn’t move as slowly as Gullenswan. She
checked him out from several feet away. His eyes were
open and had an opaque look to them that she had seen on
dead deer. Just to be sure she took the bolt from his
rifle and threw it as far as she could, the rifle she
flung in another direction.

Now she was running to the house. A semi blew its horn
in annoyance as she cut in front of it. She slid to a
stop and checked Marsha, she was still breathing. Sherry
bolted into the house and called Keith’s emergency
number. Whoever took the call said he’d get help there,
she was to sit tight.

Help came quickly, a helicopter from the local trauma
center landed across the road in ten minutes. By then
Sherry had taken some Saran Wrap and used it to seal
Marsha’s chest wound, then she covered her with a few
blankets and held her hand.

The EMTs had Marsha on the helicopter in less than a
minute. Sherry didn’t think to tell them about
Gullenswan until the helicopter was over a mile away.

She did tell the cops who showed up, one checked him and
said he was dead, but they called for an ambulance
anyway. They asked her where the man’s gun was, it took
them an hour to find it and longer to find the bolt. The
cops wanted to know if he had shot marsha, but were
distinctly uninterested in who had shot Gullenswan. Her
rifle was still lying on the walk next to where Marsha
had been. Nobody even picked it up to check if it had
been fired.

Somebody had things pretty well arranged.

As soon as the cops left, Sherry picked up the scattered
mail and her rifle. She went inside and took a long,
luxurious bath, enjoying the feel of the water taking
away the accumulated filth and stink of living outside
for several days. When she was done, she let the water
run down the drain, then she took a shower to remove any
film that was on her body.

Next she took care of the rifle, breaking it down and
cleaning the bore and the chamber. It was indeed a fine
rifle and it had done its part. Then she got dressed to
go to the hospital. She remembered a lesson a man had
once given her: the staff’ll treat you better if you
look as though you’re on a similar level professionally.
So she wore her navy blue suit and a white blouse, her
interview suit, along with medium-height navy pumps.
Most interview suits, however, didn’t conceal a snub-
nosed .38 as hers did.

She could see some bloodstains on the sidewalk when she
went out to her car. Those would have to be cleaned, but
she wasn’t relishing the job. Marsha was an innocent in
the incident, it was unfair that she had to suffer for
it. Sherry had felt a little bad about her first two
kills, especially the second man, but she had no twinge
at all about killing Gullenswan. If anything, she wished
he had suffered a little more.

The drive didn’t take very long, about thirty minutes.
Sherry found a space in the vistor’s lot and went into
the main entrance. The volunteer on the front desk, an
elderly woman in her early 70s, used a computer terminal
to ascertain that Marsha Frye was in the operating room,
she directed Sherry to the appropriate waiting area.

Sherry didn’t make it there, not just yet. A woman with
an FBI badge intercepted her and steered her to an
office suite. Sherry took Keith’s presence there as
validation that the people were who they said they were.

Keith came over, touched her on the shoulder, and said:
“Nice shooting for a girl.” He said it in such a way
that Sherry could take no offence. Sherry just smiled.
“I’d like to introduce Patricia Altan, the agent who
brought you here, Justin Hagar of the DIA and Terri
Schiller of the CIA.”

Sherry nodded. “Ok, what’s up?” What now, she thought.
She found a place to sit.

Schiller took the floor. “What we need to do is several
things. First, we need to conduct a debriefing. Then we
need to go over a cover story that’ll hold water. After
that, we need to discuss some other loose ends.”

First, the debriefing. They had Sherry tell them the
whole chain of events, from when she left her apartment
to go to Madison until she came to the hospital. As
could be expected, different details emerged as they
went over it until they were satisfied that Sherry told
everything she knew. Hagar seemed to be a little
skeptical of her unwillingness to fire until she was
positive it was Gullenswan, but Altan finally mentioned
that if she had shot the wrong person that they couldn’t
have covered for her.

The second issue was the cover story. Like any good lie,
it had to be as close to the truth as possible. The
final version was that Sherry had taken off for Madison
on a short vacation. She had run into a friend and since
neither one was having much fun, they came home. Her
friend had dropped her off at her house and Sherry just
vegged out for a few days. Sherry had finally called
Marsha and asked her to bring her car by, Marsha did so
and was hit by a stray round from a hunter. Sherry had
not heard the car arrive so she was unaware that Marsha
had been shot for at least a half-hour.

Sherry wasn’t too enthusiastic about it. As she put it:
“The cops and the paramedics saw me. Most people don’t
wait inside their home for a visitor wearing camouflage
clothing and carrying a sniper rifle. Hell, if they were
ten feet away, they probably could smell me.”

Hagar thought about it. “Yeah, we may be getting too
detailed on the story. Let’s just say she was hit by a
stray bullet fired by a hunter. That’s close enough as
we all know that Gullenswan wasn’t trying to kill her
personally. If she survives, then there won’t be a lot
of press interest anyway.”

“Fine,” Sherry said with little enthusiasm. It sounded
weak to her, but then again, people getting hit by stray
rounds wasn’t exactly front-page news this time of year.

“Ok,” Schiller said. “That takes part of the immediate
problem. Now, what do we do to preclude a repeat?”

“What are you talking about a ‘repeat,'” Sherry asked
somewhat stridently. “How many vengeful snipers do you
have out there, for God’s sake?” She looked right at
Hagar.

“I suppose I’d better explain what’s going on.”

“Damn right,” muttered Sherry.

“What we have,” he began, “is a group of people who have
manipulated the programs to benefit themselves. In plain
language, they used the system to make a lot of money.
The people who run black programs have a wide range of
latitude to get the job done. They don’t have a lot of
oversight, because any outside auditor would have to be
read into the program and know the whole scope of it. So
in effect we mainly hope the people running the programs
don’t get too greedy.

“That didn’t happen with the program you were in. Some
people decided to steal everything they could. We were
becoming suspicious and were working to catch them when
you showed up on that aircraft carrier. Then we quickly
shut everything down and went after the profiteers.”

“So where do I fit in now, and why did Gullenswan want
to kill me?”

“As I said, you were the reason we shut them down.
Gullenswan had a finger in the pie, so he wasn’t too
happy.”

“How much did he take out of it?”

Hagar looked a little discomfited. “He was a minor
player in the different scams, we figure he netted about
two-fifty over three years.”

“‘Two-fifty’ what?”

“Thousand.”

“Not bad. I take it there were others who did far
better?”

“Yes.”

“Do they hold me responsible for screwing up their
action?”

“Hard to say. We really don’t know.”

“How were they taking money out of the program?”

“I don’t see where you have a need to know that.”

Sherry shook her head. “You didn’t answer my second
question, either:

Where do I fit in. So I think you need me for something,
otherwise most of you wouldn’t be here. I’m not one of
your operatives, I’m just a private citizen. If you want
me in on this, then tell me the story. Otherwise I’m
out. Understand?”

Nobody said anything. Sherry nodded, stood up, and
started for the door.

She didn’t look back as she left the office.

The receptionist at the waiting room told Sherry that
Marsha was still in the OR. Sherry knew something about
survival rates, so she took that as a hopeful sign, she
settled in for a long wait.