No sleep came that Mangum night in the heat, in the humidity, and in the continued lack of an air mattress that actually held air. The son only rolled over every hour or so hoping for some semblance of sunlight through the screen of the tent, and when it finally came, he got up and dressed. He struck the tent and packed his gear, nearly completing his pre-flight inspection of the Dove before Ben Locklear drove up in an SUV and got out.
Ben had a long conversation with the son the night before when the son walked over to the north side of the airport and found Ben in his hangar working on a flatbed trailer he was in the process of modifying. He owned a C-150 and gave flight instruction at Mangum. In his off time, he put his quads on the flatbed and used them for hunting deer. Ben came out to the airport that morning for a lesson and to wish the son well on his journey through America. He was not pleased with what he saw on the flightline.
He told the son that Greer County used to have inmates from the prison system come out to clean up what others had left behind, and when the 4th of July event used to be held at the local stadium, that process worked well. At the airport, it did not, so they stopped doing it. Hardly anybody picked up after themselves. So naturally, the local pilots were upset with how Independence Day was celebrated in Mangum after the inmate system collapsed.
Ben gave the son a few bottles of water for the trip. Then he wished him the best and drove off to his hangar. Not long after, the son blasted out of Mangum and leveled off at 2,300 feet.
A short time later, only 15 miles southeast, he landed at Altus/Quartz Mountain Regional (KAXS) and taxied up to where a green-vested lineman waved him in. He needed fuel. He would have to wait a few minutes. A family was having their Bonanza towed out of the FBO hangar and topped off for a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Inside the FBO, the son used the restroom and made some coffee to put in his thermos for the trip ahead. It was a nice facility, but like all others of the variety with an included office and pilot supply store, there was no after hours access.
After filling up with Avgas, the son took off and flew directly south for 8 miles to avoid the neighboring Altus Air Force Base Class Delta. He then cranked hard to the port side and set a course east-southeast, climbing at one point to over 15,500 feet to clear a developing thunderstorm system. There was a gentle descent toward more oxygen-rich air after the cumulus hurdle, and he flew over mostly clear skies thereafter.
The son could feel a strong purposeful draw within as he neared the destination. It was as if the steady hum of the engine, the current of vibration coming from the propeller as it sliced sword-like in an invisible blur of onslaught and attack, had become more of a drum roll than cockpit noise. The flight that morning had felt like a preparation of sorts, a rallying cry tinged with a beckoning, a calling forward as if the arm of some courageous commander was lifted high within his heart, the head turned back toward his men, and in a wide sweeping arc had motioned the son and an unseen multitude of compatriots behind him toward an unseen enemy which, in the confidence of the day was certain to lie defeated on the field of battle. The nose of the Dove dropped as the power was pulled back, and the organic scent of lower altitudes began blowing through the vents.
Then the son was there on the ground. He felt an ambush of heat and humidity pouring unmercifully upon him as he slid open the canopy and taxied up to the FBO building. He shut down and looked over the nose. He sensed an army of unknowns behind the glass. He was at Vicksburg-Tallulah, Louisiana (TVR).
As he tabulated numbers and entered them in his log, a man came out of the building and walked up to the Dove. He was an African-American man in his forties with a heavy-set frame and a strong stride in his steps. He was soft-spoken, with a gentleness about the face that smiled without any effort on his part. "Do you need any fuel, sir?" he said.
"I do," the son replied as he unbuckled his harness, "but I think I'll wait a bit. At least until I unwind and cool down." The lineman nodded and smiled. "You'll be the first person I talk to when the time comes," said the son.
"Okay," said the lineman. He turned and boarded small fuel truck that was parked by the FBO, started it, and drove off down the flightline toward a series of large, corporate-size hangars.
The son climbed out of the plane and entered the FBO. There were no after-hours access panels on the doors, but a pilots lounge across from the office had a couch and chairs. Nobody else was in the building. There was a spaghetti western playing on a flat screen TV in the lounge. It was crisp and cool there in the lobby, and outside, the Dove sat alone and seemingly at-the-ready in the afternoon heat.
After using the restroom and filling up on water, the son ventured out again and wandered over toward the large hangars. There were a few WWII vintage aircraft parked out on the tarmac, including a P-51 Mustang and a T-6 Texan. They were part of the Southern Heritage Air Museum there at Vicksburg.