Excerpt - Deadly Reckoning

Chapter 1

     When Chance Dawson saw the Cessna go down, he thought he was hallucinating. Maybe if the street hadn't been empty, he could have asked someone, "Did you see that? That plane disappeared from the horizon."
     But it was Labor Day weekend, which in Butte, Montana translated into the last decent opportunity to get out of town before the cold nights put an end to the short summer. The town was deserted.
     He had taken to the road on his aging Bianchi alone as the sun peeked over the East Ridge, the temperature a balmy thirty-eight degrees. Adrienne had snuggled under the covers, and begged off. "You are a handsome rogue," she said when he had tickled her feet. Kissing her all the way up her spine, he declared that her years in California had softened her. Then he ventured out for the twelve-mile ride around the town's perimeter unaccompanied.
     His chain busted at the top of Park Street, which was where he had propped his bicycle in front of the Marcus Daly statue, a tribute to the Copper King's long lost mining empire. He had begun to rummage for his chain tool when the drone of a plane in the distance distracted him, a single engine Cessna making a wide circle above Uptown. He recognized most of the local aircraft, but this one he didn't know. Some out-of-towner had stopped to refuel in Butte probably, and then do a little low-level sightseeing before continuing its journey.
     Maybe he would go flying later himself, he had thought. For sure, his bike ride was over. The chain tool was missing in action.
     Across the skyline, he had caught another glimpse of the Cessna just north of the Mother Lode Theater. The plane had seemed suspended in air—like the miniature models from the numerous bedroom ceilings of his childhood. Then with a sudden dip of the wing, the Cessna had careened downward and disappeared as quickly as a bleep on a radar screen.
     The faint wail of a siren interrupted his attempt to order events. He focused his attention on direction of the unfolding emergency. Then he broke into a trot eastward down Park Street, propelled by a mixture of apprehension and excitement. The anxiety of what every pilot had imagined consciously or in his nightmares—crashing his plane—gripped him. What if someone he knew was in that plane? What if it had come down hard?
     Another siren joined the first, and Chance looked around to see if anybody could give him a lift. Not a single car went by. Park Street might as well be in a ghost town.
He reached the Islamic Center, an adobe duplex recently acquired by the college's Arabic student group, and boosted the disabled bicycle over the wrought-iron fence that fronted the house, and tossed his helmet down next to it. He grabbed his digital camera from the seat bag and tried not to think of himself as an ambulance chaser as he raced down three long blocks of Park and turned south on Excelsior.
     His thoughts were already at the crash scene, not on the best route to get there—or where exactly "there" was. He turned east again onto Mercury, his heart thumping as he tried to figure out where the plane would have come down.
     He had heard nothing that sounded like he thought a plane crash should sound. Maybe the pilot had been able to ditch safely after all. He could have steered the plane down onto Washington or maybe Idaho Street. Either would provide a wide enough straightaway for a small plane to land—provided, of course, no unsuspecting traffic got in its way, and the pilot had the skill to maneuver the downward slope and stay under the utility wires.
     Mercury Street opened up into Chester Steele Park, and Chance welcomed the flat ball field. A gust of wind cooled his clammy cycling jersey as he ran diagonally across the outfield and then east again up Silver Street. The terrain rose in front of him but he ran easily, the upper floors of St. James Hospital visible to his right. At least if anyone was hurt, the emergency room was nearby.
     He crested the block, lined with aging miners' cottages and bungalows, as a fire engine sped by, heading south. Chance turned in the same direction, but didn't have to go far.
     A half block beyond, at the corner of Washington and Porphyry, the nightmare became reality. Regal with its red and gold trim, a shiny Cessna 180 rested upright, its nose buried in the splintered siding of a small, square house. The sight of the crash was surreal—like a cow atop a barn roof, or a pickup poking halfway through a billboard.

Marian at the Butte Archives

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