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The Finest in Crime and Suspense Short Fiction

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Among the Long Shadows
by Vicki Weisfeld

Hector’s grumbling came through his closed front door loud and clear before he even flipped on the porch light. “Why so early, Bree?”

“Oooh. I see you missed your beauty sleep,” I said. Hector hoisted his bag of camera equipment over a shoulder as we headed to my car, parked at the curb, engine running.

“It’s still dark, woman,” he huffed.

I popped the trunk, and he stashed the gear.

“Surprise for you on the seat,” I said. I’d sprung for his favorite takeout breakfast. Nothing soothes like high-density calories.

“You stopped at Mustang Donuts?” Hector climbed into the car, deeply inhaling the aroma of coffee floating from the takeout bags. He peered inside. “The Tuesday special! Breakfast burritos, a bag of—” he counted “—six mixed, and, ahhhhh, this!” He place a large coffee in the console cupholder. “For a Chinese gal, you sure know your breakfasts.”

I’m Japanese-American, and Hector knows it. In the nine months I’d been a reporter for the Sweetwater Register, we’d become a team, even though I barely come up to his shoulder, and he’s not tall. In his eyes, I’m a foreigner, being from California, and he keeps his Tejano front and center. “We’re the real Texans,” he’d say, by which he sort of explained his good-natured efforts to keep me in my place.

“Those crullers have my name on them,” I said.

The WASP World War II Museum is only about five miles out of town at Avenger Field, so Hector got down to business. “Remind me? Until I finish this coffee, I’m half asleep.” He peeled down the wrapper on a burrito.

I took my right hand off the steering wheel and panned a wide arc across the windshield. “The way I see it, the museum’s planes are facing east. You’ll take pictures just at sunrise, deep blue sky behind, long shadows stretching across the tarmac. ‘Dawn of an era’—that feeling.”

“Tell me you’re not actually saying that.” His voice was muffled by a big bite of eggs, chorizo, and tortilla.

“Your pictures will say it for me. I checked the planes’ position last night. Perfect. The museum director moved them out for us. She’s so excited about her new exhibit that she’ll do anything to help.”

Two weeks ago, I had trouble talking him into this assignment. “I don’t give a damn about a bunch of white hombres,” he’d said.

“Wrong gender of WASPs.”

“Bugs then.”

“Nope. The WASP Museum honors the women pilots who flew military aircraft during World War II. They trained right here at Avenger Field. You don’t know that?”

“Women pilots? In wartime?”

“Noncombat. They flew planes from factories to air bases. They tested planes. They towed empty planes so anti-aircraft gunners could practice. Stuff like that. Got shot in their feet a lot too.”


Hector was skeptical of anything that even vaguely smacked of feminism. He tolerated me after he realized I didn’t expect special treatment. Plus, he’d grudgingly admired the photos I took of Sweetwater’s Rattlesnake Roundup last March, my first week on the job. That particular assignment was the city editor’s trial-by-fire for new employees. Not everyone passed.

“Yeah, well,” I continued, “so when the war was winding down, the powers that be decided the WASP program wasn’t needed anymore, and they were deactivated in December, 1944. It took years before women had a role in military aviation again. This new exhibit is to remind people it isn’t over after all.”

A big banner stretched across the museum’s driveway: “Women in the Air: Still Flying High.” Underneath, in jaunty script, “Exhibit Opening 12/12/12.” I stopped my car next to the guard shack. When no one appeared, I tapped the horn. A silhouette inside jolted upright, and a bleary-eyed man came to the doorway, steadying himself on the splintered wood frame.

“Brianna Yamato, Sweetwater Register. Ms. Dunbar knows we’re coming.”

“Mornin’,” he said. He retrieved a clipboard and blinked at it. “Mighty early. Park over yonder.” He waved an arm toward a few marked-out spaces and resettled into his chair. The rolling gate slowly squealed open. I drove inside.

Hector and I walked across the wide concrete apron in front of the hangar to two parked airplanes. “Kinda small,” Hector said.

“Trainers. The PT in their names stands for Primary Trainers.”

“You’re just a fact magnet.”

He looked disconsolately to the east, where the sky was still black. “Plenty of time to set up. Coulda slept another hour.” He retrieved a rolling ladder parked behind the planes—the kind topped with a platform that mechanics use—and pulled it around. “Yeah. This’ll work.”

I sat on a thick concrete bollard near the planes and ate a burrito. The bag of mixed donuts was surprisingly light. Somehow, Hector had eaten four of them, but he had left my crullers.

“You’re not going to climb up on the wings like the pilots do?” I asked.

“Wing walking’s tomorrow.” He made his way up the ladder. “Want me to shoot from this end, biplane in the foreground and empty fields behind, or from where you can see the hangar in the background, where it says Avenger Field?”

“Which is better?”

“We can get those long shadows you want either way. From this side the emphasis is on the planes.”

“This side then.”

Dawn was only hinting at its arrival as Hector took test shots. He was all set when the sun’s first beams hit the planes head-on.

Bueno,” he said after about ten minutes of shooting, a couple of pictures at each stage of fast-lightening sky. The sun gleamed off the forward edge of the biplane’s wings and the glass canopy of the second plane. He scrolled through the pictures. “Got it.”

I opened my notebook. Over a thousand women had trained at Avenger Field on planes of different types. They flew sixty million miles to support the war effort, and thirty-eight of them died doing it. Far above, a few glittering contrails crossed the sky. What a sense of freedom—and purpose—flying must have given those women!

Hector repositioned the ladder next to the second plane, a spiffy maize and blue Fairchild PT-19 with added canopy. I identified it for Hector from my notes, adding, “The biplane is a Boeing Stearman PT-17. Mostly crop-dusters now.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen ’em spraying.” Hector checked his angles. The high drone of a light airplane came from the far end of a runway, headed straight toward us. Seemingly at the last minute, it rose and passed overhead. Avenger Field waking up for the day.

Peering through the viewfinder, Hector chuckled. Then he dropped the camera, its strap saving it from tumbling to the ground. “Ayee!” He grabbed it again, took a few pictures, and ran down the ladder. . . .

Read the exciting conclusion in this month’s issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2024. Among the Long Shadows by Vicki Weisfeld

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