The Lawn Mower
I arrived back at the Barge House by 3 PM. Since I had plenty of time I decided what the hell it was time to bite the bullet. I had to go out to the grass airfield and face my fears.
When I got out there, I found three men setting the corner post for the hanger. Actually they were setting lines of posts and shoveling concrete into the holes. While I was uncovering the airplane they stopped to watch a few minutes, but were back to post setting posts before I got the plane ready to fly.
I found quickly that I wasn’t ready to fly after all. I needed a tug motor to set the plane in a position so that it could take off into the wind. I could have asked the men to move the plane but I was sure Margo would charge me for it, so I replaced the tarp.
I drove the red pickup to a pawn shop, which I had seen in town earlier. The reason it came to mind was that it had a small three wheeler off road vehicle on the sidewalk. It would do quite well, since the plane was light and rolled easily. I remembered that from the day the mechanic landed it and I helped roll it to where it sat at the moment.
I parked in front of the pawn shop, then entered. I had expected it to be dark and dreary and it didn’t disappoint me. “Good afternoon,” the middle aged man behind the counter said.
“Hi, I’m looking for something to tow a light airplane around on a grass runway. I don’t want to make ruts in the landing strip that would be bad business.”
“Yeah if you get a little throttle happy you could make a rut with an ATV for sure. How about a riding lawn mower or a lawn tractor?” he suggested.
I remembered the old men I had seen driving them on the sidewalk of County seat. They even drove them on the shoulders of the county roads. They must go five miles an hour at the most, but I wasn’t going to be in any hurry. “You know a riding lawn mower just might work fine,” I suggested. You got anything?”
“I got a 17hp lawn mower out there. It is designed to look like a lawn tractor but it’s really a mower. It sold new last year for over a thousand dollars, but the guy who pawned it never came back.” the man said getting a little more interested in me.
“So how much,” I asked.
“Seven hundred bucks and it’s yours,” he said.
“Prove it runs and I’ll give you five,” I countered.
“You have been watching TV. I tell you what I will do, I’ll start it for you and only charge you six hundred and fifty dollars,” he said.
“Okay, let’s see it and then hear it run,” I said. He had at least cleaned it off. I waited while he charged the battery. After a quick charge it started right up on the first try. I expected the battery to be dead the next time I tried it, but I bought it anyway. The man behind the counter and his handyman loaded into the truck.
Even though it was designed to look like a lawn tractor it was much to light to be a real lawn tractor. Wilson and I unloaded and locked it in the storage shed of the office building. When we finished we were both out of breath.
“Come on Wilson we can go get a hamburger on the Jefferson Island Pier, while you fill me in on the two dudes, who we have surveillance running,” I suggested.
“If you are buying, I’m willing to ruin my health,” he said.
“Sure I’m buying and sure you are eating something that is not grass trimmings,” I said. “So what do we know?”
“Not till after you feed me,” he said.
“You mean, I’m really going to have to feed you to get an answer to a question I’m paying you to answer?” I asked.
“Yes, you have to understand, I have the information you want. Once I share it, I lose whatever edge I have,” he said.
“Wilson, you have no edge,” I replied.
“Then I just won’t tell you,” he said.
“Then I won’t pay you,” I replied.
“Yes you will, you can’t do without me,” he said.
“Honey, I stopped paying Osborn, and she is one hell of a lot better looking than you,” was my reply.
“Okay, let’s get our food and go look at the water a while,” he suggested.
“Alright, I’ll get the food you find us a place to sit,” I suggested. It took about ten minutes for them to cook the burgers. They were efficient, but it still took time, since every order was cooked fresh. After I paid I found Wilson sitting almost at the end of the pier.
“Well you finally conquered your fear of water?” I asked.
“No but I figure I’m safer here than walking that board onto the barge,” Wilson said.
“Wilson you do realize that from the dock to the deck of the barge is only two steps, on a foot wide gangplank,” I said.
“I would feel better if you added another six inch wide board,” he said.
“Call someone tomorrow and get it done, if it bothers you that much,” I said.
“Good, I will call the woman who did the renovation for the office. She can make a real gangplank,” he said. I just shook my head and unwrapped the burger.
“So what do we know about Randy Ralph and Brian,” I asked.
“It looks as thought Ralph does some moonlighting with Brian.”
“That makes sense. During the day Brian scouts for boats. He would also need to find a nearby spot where they can load them onto Ralph’s trailer.” I saw an empty trailer in Ralph’s drive way and wondered about an empty boat trailer.” Once a week or so, I expect that he and Ralph drive to the selected boat. He probably drops Brian off somewhere near by. Brian walks to the boat, unties it, floats it out a ways.”
Where he uses some dealer’s ring of master keys to start the engine,” Wilson said.
“Dealers key ring?” I asked. “I had no idea there was such a thing. But it does make sense for a boat mechanic who works on the new boats.”
“While he is scouting Brian makes sure one of his keys will fit. I expect that hardly anyone ever changes the locks on a boat’s ignition system. When Brian gets to where Ralph is waiting, they pull the boat onto the trailer. Ralph tows the boat to the shop,” I suggested.
“Before you ask I have no idea where it is,” Wilson said.
“We need a GPS tracker on his boat trailer. I should have done it when I was there. I would have if you had told me this earlier,” I suggested.
“Silvia, I didn’t know any of this,” Wilson said.
“We concluded it from one conversation between Brian and Ralph. That was recorded from Brian’s cloned cell phone,” Wilson added. “How sure are you of the detail?”
“Not sure at all it’s just a working theory. I am even less sure it has anything to do with our investigation,” I added. “I am sure I’m not going back to put a GPS on his boat trailer. You can track his cell phone.”
“It would be much easier to track him tonight with the cell phone. When we have a location you can plant a GPS target on his car,” Wilson suggested.
“I guess we could do that but it’s really dangerous to be seen hanging around him. You could plant it. He has never seen you,” I suggested.
“Okay I can do that,” Wilson suggested. “I’m going to the Railroad B&B when we get back to the dock.
“Okay, I’ll stay home and monitor him. Carry a target with you so you can leave from the bar to do your dirty work,” I suggested.
“You are really going to ask me to do this?” Wilson asked.
“Oh yes,” I replied.
The phone didn’t move all night. I wished I had dog then. I would have taken him for a walk by the house. I could always turn him loose and claim he ran to Randy Ralph’s drive. Alas no dog and no other reason to be in his drive marking his car. At midnight I called Wilson to tell him I was shutting down the system and going to bed. He told me to wait twenty minutes while he put everything on record to his backup site.
“That way I’ll be able to see if he moved after we went to bed,” Wilson said.
“Whatever,” I said. While I waited I used my burner laptop to visit a chatroom. I just chatted since I was in the office, not my bedroom.
I managed to sleep till 7 AM the next morning. I went for an hour’s run, since I was running late. I left Wilson a note. The note told him everything thing he needed to know, if the plane went down and I were lost. Yes I fully intended to fly my ultralight aircraft that morning.
Then I tried to load the riding mower but decided that I was going to need a wench to drag it up and down. Hell I thought I’d just leave it there in the hanger when it is finished. I can put a tarp over it and leave it on the field now, I thought.
I went back inside at nine and insisted that Wilson come out and help me load the tractor. Since we were both on the dock I removed the gangplank and used the two boards to run the mower into the back of the truck. I replace the Gangplank so that Wilson could get back to the barge/house to prepare for work.
I hoped the work crew was on site or at least left a board or two laying about. When I got to the site there was a full crew going like hell. I convinced a couple of them to off load the lawn mower for me. The crew took a break from erecting the metal trusses and metal roof to do it.
While they worked on the hanger, I used the lawn mower to drag the super light airplane onto the field. I poured 2.5 gallons of gas into the tank on top of the motor. I almost needed a step ladder to reach the gas tank but I managed. I was pretty sure that I was going to need a fuel pump to load it next time. It had been a real stretch to reach it. I could never have managed more than the 2.5 gallons.
The tank was on 14 when I checked it. Since that was about right I checked it off my checklist. I visually inspected the fuel line. It wasn’t leaking and that was a relief. I didn’t see any signs of an oil leak so that was good. I skipped the electric start, just so I could see that the emergency pull start was functional.
The centrifugal clutch allowed me to idle the motor without disconnecting everything. After a few minutes I was satisfied that the Honda engine was smooth. I checked the ailerons and the rudder. I also checked the flaps, since I might want to land the thing sometime, I made sure the flaps worked. They were the only way to lower the speed. Since those were the only controls on the little plane, I moved on to check the electronics. The engine had been warming up for some time.
The oil pressure and oil temperature gauges looked fine. So the moment of truth had arrived.
Edited by Walt