Jason Heatherly, the staunch, no-nonsense, mission-comes-first, do as I say, Irian Jaya director of Prayer on a Wing, sat over a late lunch. He reviewed supply requests of the remotely located missionaries and flight records of the Tiom-based pilots while his lunch cooled. He was responsible for what he called customer satisfaction, with the customer being the missionaries. He took pride in his keen ability to handle such an immense logistical duty. This one man operation was, for his predecessors, a complex affair.
When he had first arrived eighteen months before, Jason had had no time to transition into the job. The man who had run the show had had to return stateside unexpectedly. For a week, Steve Millican had temporarily hung up his wings to supervise the operations. Finally, the prayers of the community had been answered when Daryl flew in with mail and a replacement director. Out of the passenger side of the red and white plane unfolded a thirty-five-year-old tall and lanky Jason. His serious deep set eyes and quick stride had let everyone know his intent to take charge, much to Steve’s relief.
Steve walked in, interrupting Jason’s thoughts. He had given some of Steve’s flights to the other pilots cutting his schedule gradually so Steve could train the incoming pilot.
“I’m a free man, Jason,” Steve announced with relief. “Most of my routes are handed over so now all we need is the new guy.”
Jason looked up from his working lunch, smiled, and motioned for his blond-haired friend to join him. “Great to hear that. Mr. Braddham should be here any day now,” he said, studying his partner’s ruddy face for a reaction. “I’ve been going over the support requests and flight statistics and things seem to be running smoothly except for this.” He handed Steve a report one of the missionaries filled out earlier.
“This must be what Marta told me about. She said that some of the people in her village were having trouble with someone men digging and blasting in the mountains,” Steve said.
“Water running off the hills is dirty with a coppery appearance. She thinks someone who is up to no good up there may be contaminating it. She also says some of the village hunting parties have been shoved around for “trespassing” in the ‘white demons’ area. Sometimes the livestock is stolen, and the superstitious ones are complaining about the wildlife disappearing.” Steve got up to get coffee.
“Why haven’t you told me?” Jason demanded.
“Actually the trouble started a few weeks ago, and then suddenly there was no further mention. Maybe it has stopped. I’ll check with Marta the next time I fly down.”
“Nonetheless, I’m going to give the authorities a heads-up on this one,” Jason warned.
The radio in the control room crackled to life as Daryl informed them of her arrival.
Steve and Jason walked out to the runway and watched as the red and white plane set up for an approach. The sun was to their backs and painted long shadows and orange hues onto the pale canvas of runway. As the plane neared, the drone of the engine quieted as Daryl pulled the throttle back precisely where the plane would glide to a landing.
Dozens of people, excited about receiving mail, filed out from schoolrooms where they taught English lessons and Bible classes. Some carried books, others Bibles, and some of the kitchen staff wore aprons.
The Cessna drifted softly to a landing. “After shutting down, the two front doors opened and the occupants came out and spent a few seconds stretching the kinks out while cargo was unloaded.
“I guess he’s early,” Steve said.
Jeffrey W. Bennett, is the author of Commitment-A Novel and other non-fiction books, novels and periodicals.