When the son made it back to the Vicksburg-Tallulah airport that evening, there was another RV parked next to the Dove, an orange and white RV-7A. He realized there was no place to sleep indoors, so he began making preparations to set up a tent behind a row of pickups that were parked by the FBO. A padding of grass lay behind the tailgates of the trucks. He knew there was no way he could sleep in the impossible steam bath that was sweltering outdoors, but at least he would be able to lie down protected from the mosquitos, gnats, and blood-sucking flies that were already coming out in force at dusk. Heading out to the Dove for his gear, the son was met by a man driving a pickup on the flightline. It was Randy, the airport manager. He was a thin, gaunt man in his forties or fifties who appeared to be somewhat starved nutritionally but who spoke and moved his body in such a way as to suggest that his energy came from sources other than food. He had a cigarette burning in his hand and the smoke drifted lazily out of the truck cab.
"Is that your plane?" he asked. The son told him it was. He told him that he wanted to set up a tent outside the perimeter fence for the night and asked if it was okay.
"Do it," said Randy. He pointed his thumb to a mobile home right next to the FBO. There was a Jeep and riding mower, a small boat, and a great deal of clutter in the carport. "That there's my house," he said. "Let me know if you need somethin'. Right now I gotta go check the water level on a couple of ponds on the other side of the runway." He drove off and hit the gas hard across the tarmac and disappeared over a rise to the west.
The son set up the tent and cooked up a pot of dehydrated lasagna. He was eating it when Randy came back.
"You've got the place locked up," said the son. "I was needing to use the restroom and couldn't find one. Where is it?"
"There isn't one," said Randy.
"Really?" the son said, a little astonished. "You mean if somebody lands here in the middle of the night and has to take a dump, they have to do it on the tarmac? Where do you want me to go?"
The airport manager gave some thought to the son's question and looked out over the steering wheel to the flat emptiness beyond. Then he turned his head. "There's a back door to the building right over there," he said, pointing toward the carport of his house. "It isn't locked. You can go through there if you need to use the restroom."
"Thanks," said the son. "I appreciate that." The son looked over to the carport and saw two large cats on the front steps of the mobile home. "Looks like you've got a couple of friends," he said. "Who are they?"
"That there's Maximus, and the white one's name is Killer." Randy said they both pretty much kept to themselves, but if Maximus got to know a person, he'd warm up to him. The son had seen Maximus walking the tarmac earlier as he was setting up the tent. It was a big cat with candy stripes lacing down through a thick brown coat.
After eating, the son decided to go through the back door of the FBO to brush his teeth and clean up a bit after the long day in Vicksburg. He was met by the welcome chill of cool, clean, air conditioning as he walked in. After brushing his teeth, he checked the glassed-in door of the pilots lounge where the long leather couch was. It was very dark inside with the lights off, and the door was open. That was when the son realized just how tired he was.
The son quickly walked back outside and went to the tent for his pillow and sleeping bag. When he approached the back door of the FBO again, he came around the corner of the building and stopped. There was Randy, sitting on the front porch with Maximus and Killer, smoking a cigarette and looking down at his phone. The cats were looking right at the son, but Randy kept looking down.
The son stepped back behind the FBO building and went over to his tent. He had to do something about the bugs. He felt he was being eaten alive. He unzipped the flap and found the bottle of bug spray he had tucked away in a camping pouch. But even after covering himself with it, the high-pitched mosquito wings continued to needle him around the ears. He decided to walk out in the relative darkness of the tarmac and wait behind the cover of the Dove. Maybe there would not be so many blood-suckers out there, he thought.
He sat on the heat-soaked asphalt behind the left wing and waited for Randy to go to bed for the night. It was 11:30 before the son made a decision. He was going to get some sleep tonight one way or another. So he walked through the back door of the FBO and into the pilots lounge. In the darkness of the glassed-in room and in the cool of the air conditioning, the son slept for six hours before his alarm went off at 5:30 AM the next morning.
He wasted no time packing up. He took his pillow and sleeping bag and went out to the tent where everything outside was covered in dew. The tent itself was saturated with water as the son rolled it up and packed it tightly into its satchel.
After he put the camping gear back into the airplane, the son decided that, since he still had the keys to the Crown Victoria, he would drive into Tallulah for coffee and some fruit. It was after 7:00 AM when he got back, and Herm was there in the office. The son handed him the keys.
"Thanks for a great time in Vicksburg," said the son. "I appreciate the help, Herm."
"Yes, sir," said Herm, shaking the son's hand. "Be safe!" He was smiling the gentle, soft-spoken smile of contentment and inner peace.
As the son was completing his pre-flight, Randy came out of his house and walked up to the Dove. He wanted to know where the son was going next.
"East," he said. "Where exactly, I'm not sure." There was a fairly lengthy conversation about camping equipment, dry food, and airplanes, but the son eventually wished Randy the best, climbed into the Dove, cranked over, and departed. He struck a course through a heavy mist into the rising sun over the Mississippi River and the city of Vicksburg. Soon enough, the city of siege was behind him.
He flew a nearly perfect course east for two hours before a company of thunderstorms forced him to make slight diversions, first to the south, then to the north, and then the son began a descent.
The son headed at first for a town in Georgia named Baxley, but as he approached, he could see it would have been impossible to get in. A deluge blackened the horizon ahead and lightning was flashing before him. He quickly made one final diversion to Hazlehurst (AZE) and cut short the flight by only 17 miles. He was on the ground again after 2.5 hours of flight.
At the pumps, he got out of the airplane and walked over to the FBO building. The son was relieved to find an after-hours keypad entry system there, and stepping inside, he found a lot more.
There was a pilots lounge with a kitchenette, bathrooms, and a snooze room with a bed and shower. He decided to top off the Dove, push it over to the tie-downs and cover her up. The son had been asking for a place to rest after the last two nights without sleep, and he heard the father granting him his wish in the thunder that cracked and rumbled around him.
As he was finishing up with the tie-down, a large red pickup with a trailer attached came rolling in through the front gate. The driver pulled slowly up to the son and rolled down his window. "I'll bet you've already heard this before, but you've got a beautiful plane!"
"Not from you, I haven't," said the son. He introduced himself to the driver, a man in his early to mid-sixties whose name was Milton McDuffy. He offered to put the Dove in the large FBO hangar if the thunderstorms got really bad, and the son thanked him. Back inside, Milton showed him where the keys to the courtesy van were.
"You staying here tonight?" he asked.
"I was hoping to," said the son.
"There's fresh sheets and blankets in the chest of drawers. I think there's plenty of towels and such, too, if you need to take a shower."
It had been almost a week since he had taken one. Just the thought of taking a shower made the misery of the heat and bugs and humidity swirl away from him. He was grateful to have landed there, and remembering how the downpour over Baxley had developed so quickly when he was in the air, the son felt the father comforting him with the promise that he would be taken care of no matter the difficulties that might arise. The diversion to Hazlehurst seemed providential. So he ran with it.
After Milton left him there, the son picked up the keys to the courtesy van and headed into town. Something there was pulling on his heartstrings and he needed to see what it was.