by Michael E. Lloyd
Chapter 12: Thinking Big
part 2 of 2
‘So, where are we going?’
‘You’ll find out soon enough.’
Maelene kept her eyes skinned for their particular tour bus among the many that were arriving and departing all the time. But the busy and immaculately dressed hotel doorman beat her to it, of course. He was not going to miss his next one-dollar tip.
‘Party of two for the Grand Canyon Flight? This way sir, madam ...’
Toni’s face lit up.
‘Wow! Oh, thank you, honey!’
It took the driver quite a while to pick up many more passengers down the full length of the Strip.
‘Must be a big plane, Maelene.’
‘Nope. Several small ones. Very special!’
* * *
The formalities had all been completed, and at last their bus had crossed the tarmac and stopped at the end of a tidy line of light aeroplanes of different shapes and sizes.
‘So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Henderson Executive Airport. These are your airplanes for today, and this is Grant, the Captain of the first one. He’ll be looking after you four folks right up front here. Have a great trip!’
As they climbed aboard the six-seater Cessna 207 — rather more spacious than the tiny plane he’d flown in with Sal a fortnight earlier — Toni briefly wondered if he should tell the pilot that he now knew roughly how to make an emergency landing. But he thought better of it, especially since he really wanted to sit next to Maelene, and chat and share the fun with her all the way.
So Lucia took the co-pilot’s seat instead, but nobody knew it, and her presence made no difference whatsoever to the Captain’s already carefully executed weight and balance calculations.
And Quo and the Chief were also greatly looking forward to this unexpected jaunt.
* * *
None of the passengers had realised how noisy it would be once the single large engine was running at high power. All four of them had headsets which were providing a combination of running commentaries interspersed with music, and that was fine; but when they took them off to try and talk, it proved near-impossible. So they all gave up on conversation, sat back, and contented themselves with regular smiles and animated gestures to indicate their delight and amazement at everything they were seeing.
They flew past Henderson and Boulder City, and soon appreciated the full extent of the huge, artificially created Lake Mead. But then they left that relatively low land behind, and Toni could see from the altimeter that they were still in a continuous climb.
The rock faces were getting closer, taller and simply more glorious with every minute ... and redder, too, as red as the mighty Colorado River, which had created all of this and yet, as their height continued to increase, was growing ever slimmer and seemingly insignificant far below.
They did not level off until reaching well over 7000 feet above sea level, and soon after that they passed only yards — or so it felt — above the final, tallest ragged wall of rock ahead of them.
And then, suddenly, they were inside the bowl of the stupendous Grand Canyon, surrounded by sliced-off pyramids and proud near-sphinxes infinitely more real than those fashioned by Ancient Egypt, let alone by Modern Vegas.
Toni’s camera fingers were trigger-happy for many minutes, and Maelene’s too were almost as busy. They both knew that later words would not be good enough to capture these very special moments. But when they finally emerged from the immensity of the Canyon, and their friendly pilot had set course back to the airfield, they relaxed again, and smiled across to each other in confirmation of many shared but unspoken thoughts.
A few moments later, the older man sitting behind them gently nudged his wife, smiled just as happily to her, and then pointed lightly ahead. For the first time in several days, Toni Murano and Maelene Bay were holding hands like teenagers again.
The return leg now took them right over the immense Lake Mead, and then finally on to the astounding Hoover Dam which had given it life. That mighty barrier seemed, like everything else from such a height, so very, very small ... but their thinking caps were firmly on, and they could clearly gauge its immensity from the toy-town dimensions of the patently huge structures at its base and all around.
Far too soon — though later they would realise the flight had lasted almost ninety minutes — they were looking again at Henderson out of the right-hand windows, and beyond it the conundrum of Las Vegas, reaching as ever for the unattainable skies.
And then they turned onto the final approach to Runway 17.
Their pilot was delighted to round things off by taking two nice snaps of Toni and Maelene standing together on the tarmac in front of the plane. That would surely bump up his tip by a few dollars more. And Toni did not fail him.
‘Thanks for a great trip, Grant ... and a very smooth landing, especially in that gusty crosswind!’
‘Hey, sounds like you fly too, sir!’
‘Only once before. No, don’t ask ...’
* * *
They were soon on the bus for the run back in to Las Vegas, both immersed in their silent thoughts. Toni’s were torn between the unique beauty of what they had just experienced, and his usual anticipation of some further exciting experiences back at the hotel. But he suddenly realised that Maelene was looking far less comfortable with hers.
‘Wasn’t that incredible, honey?’
‘Yeah. Glorious ... amazing ...’
‘Hey, are you OK?’
‘Yeah. Just feeling angry.’
‘No, idiot. With everybody.’
‘Because of what we’re doing to this planet. Why can’t we just let it be, and leave things to happen naturally, like in the Canyon?’
‘What are you getting at now, Maelene?’
‘Oh, just little things like greenhouse gases and the global warming they’re causing. Like whale-hunting and coral-reef erosion. Like the way gold mines are polluting rivers. Like wholesale deforestation. Like interfering with natural drainage processes in lowlands, just so we can have bigger cities. Like ...’
‘Why do you have to put such a damper on this wonderful day!’
‘Typical! Just like everyone else! You don’t want to face up to the reality, in case it spoils the party. Well, I reckon the party’s nearly over, sunshine!’
‘OK, supposing you’re right ... how are you planning to fix it?’
‘Don’t know yet. I’ll keep writing my songs. But I reckon sooner or later some politician better do something useful for once and take a stand on all of it. Maybe I should be part of making that happen ...’
‘I think I understand, honey. But it’s difficult, you know ...’
‘I really do think you could try a bit harder ...’
She was weeping now, and the unworldly Toni was once more shaking his head and mildly despairing of these strange, female beings. But then he took hold of her hand again, and squeezed it very gently, and that seemed to help a little.
They stayed silent for the rest of the journey back to the hotel, and as soon as they entered their room Maelene curled up alone on the bed and fell quickly asleep. Toni took all the hints, and simply let her be.
He went down to the café for a late solo sandwich, and remembered to pick up another one for his lovely lady. Then he visited the hotel shop, bought a small book on global warming, and crept back into their room to read it while she slept on.
* * *
‘Ah, you’re awake! Feeling a bit better?’
‘Yes, thanks. Oh, my favourite sandwich! What a nice surprise!’
‘Not as nice as the one you gave me this morning! Nor the one I’d like to give you tonight ...’
‘You’ll have to work for that, sunshine! So, what are you reading?’ ... ‘Hey, you’ve started work already! Good boy! You deserve a little kiss — once I’ve eaten this ...’
Two hours later, they decided to have a small, final fling at the gaming tables of Las Vegas, before their very early departure the next morning for the delights of Chicago’s Midway Airport.
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2008 by Michael E. Lloyd