Paul shook his head lightly as he heard the voices coming toward him in a light wind. Seeing two figures out of the corner of his eye, he raised one finger to signal he'd be with them in a moment. Using both hands, he guided the plane in to a picture perfect landing near the fence, except that one wheel hopped into a gopher hole, and the plane tipped forward, its tail in the air.
Both persons by the fence clapped.
As he approached them, he saw that one was a little boy with excited eyes, and the other was a very attractive dark-haired woman who instantly made Paul feel awkward. "Thank you," he managed to stammer. He bowed slightly, as if he were in a ballet.
The woman and the boy laughed. She was tallish, with a nice figure. Her face attracted Paul the mostwell proportioned, with a small gently ski-ramped nose, a lush sweet mouth still hinting of the day's red lipstick, dark eyes full of intelligence and mirth, and a high intelligent forehead. Her cheeks were wide and soft and rounded, her jaw line more squarish. Actually, he thought as he walked closer, she was knitting-magazine pretty.
They shook hands, and she had a dry, firm grip. Her fingers were soft, as if they were plump, which they weren't.
"I'm really sorry we're bothering you, Mr.."
"Owens. Paul Owens. You're not bothering me at all."
"Call me Pete."
"My son Peter loves things like airplanes and model trains and all. He just couldn't resist coming over. I'm sorry."
Paul lifted Pete over the fence. "No problem, Mrs.."
"Kassner. I'm Marsha Kassner." She turned a little bit red. Her eyes followed her son in alarm as Paul set Pete down. The boy immediately ran over to the plane and started to pick it up. In the same moment, one of his fingers poked through the wing surface.
Marsha Kassner gasped.
Paul laughed quietly. "Easy, Pete."
The boy dropped the plane, hard, nose first, into the ground.
Marsha Kassner gasped again.
"It's okay," Paul said.
Pete sat by the plane, looking mortified. He looked at his mother for help, and at Paul to determine just how angry this new neighbor might be.
"I'll tell you what," Paul said. "For now, let me handle the plane. I'll teach you all about it as we go along, and pretty soon you'll be an expert. Okay?"
"I'll pay to get it fixed," Marsha Kassner said quickly. "Peter, you get over here right now!"
A tear dribbled down Pete's cheek as he hove himself upright.
"Easy does it," Paul said picking up the plane. "Tell you what. I have two of them. Mrs. Kassner, honest, it's nothing. I fix these things all the time. Let's get the other plane and I'll help you fly it for a few minutes." He took the wounded plane in both arms. "Wait here, okay?"
A few minutes later, Condor II circled in the air over the weeds.
Pete worked the controls, with Paul kneeling behind him, holding the box with the panel for him.
Marsha Kassner stood beside them, having stepped over the picket fence. She wore tight jeans, high tan suede boots, and a crisp cowboy shirt with pale, small blue checks. A nice looking lady, Paul thought; wow; ones like this were all taken; too bad.
"Easy," he told Pete. We don't want to crash in that tall grass.
"Why?" Pete asked.
"Because that's full of radar nodes."
"What?" Pete asked, and his mom laughed.
"Seriously," Paul told her. "I'm a radar specialist. I know" (he laughed suddenly) "I should cut the grass, and I guess now I will have to. I bring my work home with me."
"What's radar? What's a node?"
"I'll show you next time we see each other, maybe this weekend if I'm home and it's daylight."
"It's getting dark," Marsha Kassner said quickly, apparently taking it as a cue he wanted them to leave. Why did she keep doing that? He was enjoying himself. She smelled faintly of some citrusy perfume with violet and licorice in it or something.
"We'd better get home and let Mr. Owens put his plane away. I'm so sorry about the other one that he broke."
"No problem at all. I can dope that wing and have it fixed in no time."
Condor II came in to a smooth landing, guided by Paul. Marsha and her son clapped. She beamed. "That was magnificent."
He wanted to say something witty like "I'm generally thought of as magnificent" or maybe "that's as magnificent as I get, I'm afraid," but nothing came out.
He managed to stammer good-bye and shake Pete's hand as they left.
Thoughtfully, he rubbed his hand along the broken wing of Condor I. Funny how suddenly things happened. A stranger could come up and tear a hole in your wing or your heart and just not even realize what they'd done. For a few moments, he'd actually forgotten his Russian paper.