Airplanista Aviation Magazine Feature Story: Book excerpt: A Silver Ring by Nathan Carriker

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This aviation magazine article was originally published in the July, 2011 issue of Airplanista Magazine. You can view the original story in our digital aviation magazine here.

By Nathan Carriker

After successfully handling a “two-bottle” engine fire shortly after takeoff, second-generation pilot and regional airline captain Paul Prator is “debriefing” with his copilot in the hotel bar when he strikes up a game of foosball with a beguiling young lady. The first woman ever on Cleveland’s Fire Department and only granddaughter of its haughty old Chief, headstrong Christina Lawton puts the shy pilot with a chip on his shoulder instantly, oddly, at ease.

“Cut me some slack, I’ve had kind of a rough day,” Paul said while trying to nonchalantly rise to the oddly formidable challenge of getting two quarters into the foosball table’s coin slots.

“Oh, yeah? So what exactly do you do anyway, if you don’t really repair dartboards?”
“Nothing quite so important, really. I’m a pilot.”

“You mean, like, airplanes?” Christina burst out laughing at what she’d call the ‘bimbosity’ of her question, covering her mouth and closing her eyes as she hung and shook her head. After a moment, she looked back at him, uncovered her mouth and held up the hand that had been covering it, saying, “Ok, now you’re probably wondering if I’m drunk—or secretly blonde!”

“I can think of one way to prove that one,” he mumbled with a ventriloquist’s smirk.

“No, that’s a fair question, really. There’s balloon pilots, helicopter pilots, even guys who drive boats call themselves pilots, but we fight that when we can. You ready?”

She nodded, and Paul dropped the ball through the chute in the middle of the table.

“So, who do you fly for? Are you one of those guys that fly executives around in Learjets, or in the Air Force, or what?” Christy had the ball well into his side of the table, and was maneuvering for a shot.

“I fly for a commuter airline, you might have heard of them, BlueSky Airlines.” Paul’s right hand was making his goalkeeper pace in his box, his defense still in their positions under his left, awaiting a chance to steal the ball.

“I’ve heard of them, but I thought you had to be older to do that, I mean, no offense or anything, but how did you get that job at your age, or are you way older than you look?” She flicked her left hand, and one of her attack figures slammed the ball to Paul’s goal, but it glanced off the side of his goalkeeper’s foot.

“How old do I look?” His defense passed to his midfield.

“I’m not answering that.” She smiled, coy again. “But am I wrong about thinking you’re young for an airline pilot?” Christy’s own midfield tipped Paul’s wayward pass, and she passed it to her attack.

“No, I am young, but I’ve had a few breaks, and I knew what I wanted to do since I was a little kid.” Paul’s defense and goalkeeper were getting fidgety as Christy’s attack maneuvered for another shot.

“Were you ever in the Air Force, or Navy or something, because, I mean, well there I go again.”
She started to lose the ball again, realized it, and fired off a quick and dirty kick that her relatives even heard hit the back of the goal box. She’d taken an early lead.

“You don’t have to join the military to become a pilot, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
She could have been stone deaf and still known—she’d hit a nerve.

“I would have loved to, but I started wearing glasses in 4th grade, so obviously I could never handle an F-14.” He pointed at his eyes, “Contacts. I’m ‘living a lie’.” Sarcasm ran like blood down his chin.

“So I did the next best thing, and now I’m kind of glad I did, because I’ll get hired at a big airline like Universal years earlier this way and be a captain by the time they can even hire a guy my age who’s in the military now. Then we’ll see who can fly and who can’t.

He finally noticed how Christy was hunkered down, waiting for the storm to pass.

I’m 23, by the way.”

Paul wasn’t a habitual liar, and it surprised him that he was would stoop to exaggerating his dim career prospects to her, just to help his case. What the hell was he so ashamed of? He’d just saved almost two dozen lives in his little “puddlejumper.”

“Wow. Well, that’s cool. But, you might want to stop talking so much and concentrate on your game, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“Really? Ok, why don’t you serve, smart-ass, and tell me your life story while I tie this thing up, unless you don’t think you’ll have time.”

She held the ball up before serving it, chiding him, “Oh, I think I’ll have pllllenty of time.”
Paul made a face he usually reserved for his sister and hadn’t used since junior high.

“Well, I’m a firefighter, like them. Only, hopefully, not much like them.” Christina dropped the ball into the chute, and fought to gain control of it, but it angled quickly to Paul’s midfield, and he swung hard for a goal immediately but was stopped by one of Christy’s unattended defense.

“I tooold you,” she almost sang. Paul thought he’d never heard those three words sound so damned good.

“So, you’re a pilot. I always wondered how people get started doing that.” Christy dribbled the ball between two of her defense, waiting for Paul to start talking again.

“I hear that a lot. In my case, I think I was just made for it. Except for the nearsightedness, anyway. That was a pretty short life story, by the way. It’s almost as if you need me to do all the talking to score on me.”

Christy passed the ball straight from her defense to her attack, saying nothing in response.
“I don’t remember ever not loving airplanes, which is what my dad says, too. I think it’s just in our blood.”

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