The Man In Orange

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JULY 17

As Hughes waited for the taxi to arrive he stood in the lobby of the hotel, glancing around to see where Genevieve was. There was no sign of the petite brunette.

“Hey, Francis,” Hughes called the smart younger man he encountered on his first day.

“Mister Hughes, hello!” The concierge placed his phone on its cradle and briskly made his way over. “What can I do for you?”

“I was wondering if the young lady was working today? Jenna, I think her name was?”

Francis looked confused for just a moment and then smiled. “Ah, you must mean Genevieve! No, unfortunately she has had to take some leave, I believe a relative of hers has just passed away.”

Hughes tried not to make his disappointment too obvious. He smiled at the young man and thanked him.

“I hope you had a pleasant stay, Mister Hughes, please do come back!”

Hughes waved in reply as Francis returned to his little podium. “If I live long enough, I may,” he said under his breath.

“And about time too,” Hughes heard behind him, “some of us have work today.”

Hughes turned to see Bates standing next to his car, arms folded and tapping a foot. Hughes shook his head as he walked over to him. “I got enough of that from Richard last night.”

Bates raised his eyebrow. “So your dinner date was named Richard, was she?”

Hughes smiled. “How did you know?”

“I know people,” the big American shrugged. He motioned for Hughes’ luggage to be brought over to his vehicle. “I just knew it would happen, I have a sixth sense for these things.”

“Just shut up and drive, will you?” Hughes replied as he got into the big car.

#

The coffee was good – a much fuller flavour than last time, with just the right amount of cream, Hughes reflected as he looked out over the taxiways.

“So what now?” Bates asked, sipping at his own steaming mug and placing his newspaper on the table. “The Police are headed to Tatabjiyok this morning, I’ll be flying the brass out there myself. I’ll let them know all about the incident with that Davidson character and his Cub – hell, the evidence is all over the place out there.”

Hughes nodded. Handing back the rental car key had been very awkward. Fortunately he was able to charge the amount to compensate the company for their loss directly to THS. “I hope you can thank Mrs Brownstone for me for her help.”

Bates placed his mug on the table, shaking his head. “No can do. She had another heart attack and, well, she and her husband will be living it up upstairs,” he replied as he pointed to the clouds.

“You’re kidding me?!”

“No, see for yourself,” he replied, passing over the newspaper.

Hughes checked the index and went to the relevant page, his jaw dropping. He read in silence for a minute or so before speaking softly. “She was there….”

“Hmm?”

Hughes let the newspaper rest on his knees. “Genevieve.”

Bates chuckled. “Let her go, man, you’re out of here in an hour.”

“No, she was there at the hospital, remember?”

“Yeah. So?”

Hughes didn’t want to risk Bates mocking his dream of the night before, so just decided to go with the facts. “Remember how upset she was when we asked about Brownstone’s death?”

Bates slowly nodded as he began to understand.

“A bit more grief than you would expect a concierge to have for a mere guest, right?”

“Mistress?”

Hughes shuddered inwardly.

Bates saw his reaction. “I’m sorry, Max. It’s not like you would have been the first there anyway.”

“Frances – Mrs Brownstone – said he was practically married to the job, right? She never saw much of him during the week because he was here instead of at their home back east.”

“A man gets awful lonely when he’s away from his wife for too long…”

“Exactly. What are the odds that she was there when Charles and Davidson showed up asking about the chopper? Perhaps they offered to cut her a slice of the deal?”

Bates nodded. “Do you want me to –“

Hughes motioned for him to stay seated. “No, not yet. Let the cops sort out the hangar first. I’ll call from home when I think you should let them know. Perhaps mention to the coroner a post-mortem is in order for Mrs Brownstone.”

Bates drained his coffee. “What about Charles?”

Hughes handed his friend the newspaper and stood. “He’s in my patch. He’s my problem now.”

#

Hughes yawned as the big Boeing was manoeuvred into its parking space at Auckland International. As the flight attendant chirped her “welcome, thank you, enjoy” routine over the PA he stowed the magazine he had been reading and unlatched his belt. He looked out the window and chuckled as he saw it start to rain.

In the terminal Richard Hardy stood waiting, dressed in a tidy shirt-and-jeans combination that hid his ever-growing girth quite effectively. “Greetings, traveller,” he said as he extended his hand. “Nice to see you made it in one piece.”

Hughes nodded. “They tried, though.”

Hardy’s face clouded with worry. “Are you hungry? Do you want anything?”

“No, I’m fine, but if you do then don’t let me stop you.”

Hardy laughed. “Are you kidding? Airport food courts are tempting enough as it is. Come with me – do you have all your bags?”

Hughes shook his head. “Not yet.”

“Well go get them, then meet me at the bookshop.”

Within minutes Hughes had his luggage and found Hardy leafing through an aviation trade magazine.

“Have you finished your dreaming?” Hughes asked as he nodded at the lists of aircraft for sale, seeing Hardy’s eyes on an advert for second-hand helicopters.

“For now,” Hardy replied as he replaced the magazine on the rack. “Follow me and I’ll take you home.”

Hughes followed his friend through the airport to the exits, where a car was waiting. At the wheel was a young, familiar face.

“G’day, Bossman,” Patrick Gray greeted him.

Hughes’ face broke into a smile at the sight of the young pilot. “G’day, Pat! What are you doing here?”

“I’m your chauffeur, of course,” he replied, looking to Hardy.

“Don’t tell me we’re driving all the way home?” Hughes replied, looking at the nice, but slightly beaten-up vehicle.

Hardy laughed. “No, hop in and you’ll find out.”

As Gray navigated the roads south out of Auckland Hardy explained. “Pat here is wanting to get a Squirrel rating, so I suggested he come and collect you as a way of building hours. IDS is at Ardmore awaiting your arrival.”

Hughes smiled. He was hoping to avoid yet another aerial bus ride, so this was a welcome surprise. And he was always happy to assist younger pilots in their quest for more hours. “Sounds a good plan to me.”

“And I’ve already checked, there are no Super Cubs over at Ardmore to harass you today,” Hardy remarked with a wicked grin.

#

The flight south was smooth, which was fortunate as Hughes was exhausted. He hadn’t slept properly in days and, to Hardy’s surprise, decided to pass up his offer of sitting beside Gray in the cockpit, instead stretching out to sleep on the wide bench seat in the back. He woke just as they neared Tangikea, when Gray made his five mile positioning call.

“And Sleeping Beauty awakens,” Hardy taunted over the intercom as he saw Hughes stretch. “You were out like a light, my man.”

Hughes nodded, strapping himself in for landing. “That was some good flying there, Patrick.”

“How do you know it was good if you were asleep?” Gray asked.

Hardy answered for him. “Your boss back there never sleeps in a chopper if someone else is flying.”

“So, it’s a compliment,” Gray thought aloud, “rather than an insult?”

“You could say that,” Hughes replied as he adjusted his belt.

The landing gear of the Squirrel gently touched the wet tarmac at Tangikea just as the clouds parted. Evidently it had been very poor weather that morning. Hughes and Hardy disembarked before Gray had shut down the engine, and the pair made for the warmth of the office.

“Welcome back, Max!” Marie Newhart called, rising from her desk with a coffee in hand for her returning boss. “How was the trip?”

“Terrible,” he replied, reaching for the cup, but Newhart pulled it out of his reach.

“Don’t tell Patrick that, he’ll be crushed! He really looks up to you.”

“What? No, his flying was excellent, smoothest ride I’ve ever had in a Squirrel. I thought you meant the jumbo ride.”

“Oh,” she replied, sheepishly handing over the coffee before returning to work.

“My office?” Hardy suggested while Hughes took a sip.

“Mm,” he nodded in agreement, “good idea.”

Hardy shut the door behind him. He opened one of his windows to dissipate the condensation fogging the big window. “The service for Sandy is being held at Saint Joseph’s tomorrow at three,” he said as he sat down.

“I’ll be there,” Hughes replied.

“What’s on your mind?”

Hughes recited Sandy’s story of her late husband in Fiordland and the mysterious American pilot. “So it makes sense that Charles wanted her out of the way.”

Hardy nodded sadly. “Poor woman. Never hurt anyone.”

“It’s tragic all right,” Hughes agreed, “but if I’ve learnt anything in all this it’s that we can’t afford to get emotional. A wise man once told me to keep hold of my feelings,” he winked at his friend.

Hardy smiled slightly, but still looked upset. “Paul, Brownstone, Sandy, who’s next?”

“He hasn’t got me yet.”

Hardy snorted. “’Yet’. I love your optimism.”

Hughes shrugged. “God knows he’s tried. I think it was me he expected to crash in the Robbie, not Paul. It makes a lot more sense to knock me off than some young bloke he knows nothing about.”

“That’s a good point.”
“And all that stuff with Davidson….he must’ve called Charles right after I left and told him I was snooping around.” He sat back in his chair and linked his hands before him. “Not to mention Mrs Brownstone.”

Hardy raised his eyebrow.

“Just as we were leaving the hospital we bumped into the concierge from my hotel, and then later that day Mrs Brownstone kicks the bucket.”

“Ah yes, the lovely Miss Bloch,” Hardy remarked.

Hughes rolled his eyes. “Let me guess: Lachie?”

Hardy nodded emphatically.

“Anyway, we think it may have been her who pushed Brownstone over the edge, perhaps threatened him with telling his wife of their affair unless he surrendered the helicopter to Charles and Davidson. But he was so worried about his wife finding out that he jumped.”

“Poor bastard.”

“I’ve got no sympathy for a cheater,” Hughes replied darkly.

Hardy nodded. “Sorry, Max. It’s just, this whole situation.”

“I know. So now, the body count is rising thanks to this guy, and Lachie has the Vancouver PD scouring Charles’ hangar.”

Hardy swung around slowly in his chair to face out the window.

“You alright over there?”

“I’m worried, Max. I don’t want Lou to get caught up in this.”

“She won’t, Rich. Nothing will give me greater pleasure than seeing him behind bars, without anyone else getting hurt.”

Hardy swung round again, his face clouded with concern. “I hope so, Max, and not just for your sake.”


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