The Alphabet Challenge: “T” Story No. 1 of 3 — Thomas’s Promise

This is the 20th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS(link) post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “T“.

Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.

In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.

Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.

The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.

Here we go. Presented anonymously, the first of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “T” as submitted by its author.

Thomas’s Promise

Copyright 2020 — Gary Broxson

(3,280 words – approx. reading time: about 12 minutes based on 265 WPM)

“Did I tell you the one about…?”

“Yes!” George interrupted.

Thomas stopped chomping on his stubby, shredded cigar, the twinkle dimmed in his blue eyes.

George sighed, shook his head, and continued, “But I would love to hear it again.”

Not easily offended, Thomas reopened a couple of canned jokes, and they both laughed like they were newly minted comedic gold. Thus was the relationship between Thomas and George; the comic and the straight man, Abbot to Costello, a 69 year old kid, and a middle-age long-suffering adult.

“Time to preflight,” George announced, checking a text on his phone. “Boss wants us to be wheels up in 15 minutes.” Although Thomas was the senior pilot, the Boss always dealt directly with George, 25 years Thomas’s junior. Thomas didn’t mind this slight at all. He had a condition he called his polar personality; you either loved him or you hated him, and his Boss squarely resided on the icy continent of contempt. Attempts to break the glacial ice with the Boss never seemed to work, but Thomas was an experienced pilot and would have been difficult to replace.

When Thomas came out of the restroom belching and buckling his pants, George had already finished the preflight and the Boss was tapping his Louboutin boat shoes on the tarmac. “Sorry,” Thomas said to the duo, “shouldn’t have eaten that alphabet soup, had a massive vowel movement.” The boss didn’t laugh, only climbed the steps of the Hawker 2000, ducking his head as he boarded his private jet.

An hour later, tracing their way down the pecker-peninsula of Florida, as Thomas referred to it, George whispered to his copilot on the internal coms; “At least you weren’t consonant-pated.” Thomas sprayed a mouthful of lukewarm coffee onto the windscreen. He looked at his old friend as if seeing him for the first time.

“There’s hope for you yet, Padawan. That was so bad, it was almost good,” Thomas admired, dabbing at the spotted glass with a paper towel.

“I’m glad you liked it, old friend. I wanted to say it back at the ramp, but I also like keeping my job.”

“Good call, Rook,” Thomas said. “You don’t have tenure like I do.”

“That’s something I want to talk to you about, Tom.” There was now a serious tone in the earphones that unsettled Thomas. “We have been flying together for how long?”

“Twenty-two years!” Thomas replied like a quiz show contestant.

“Yes, it’s been twenty-two years, and you still call me ‘Rook’. I know you flew right seat with Orville Wright, but I’ve earned my dues too, and I like this job. Thomas, the Boss asked me to talk to you. You know I love you and you can do no wrong in my book. But he sees us as a couple, an odd couple like Felix and Oscar, a package, and he, well you know how he is…”

“You are rambling,” Thomas cut in, “The Boss is an asshole,” he mouthed into the headset microphone. He paused and looked at George and smiled, “But he’s our asshole.”

George turned to him and smiled back, happy he didn’t have to over-explain everything to his partner.

“So, what does the douche bag want now?”

“He’s a lawyer, so he wants a lot; your immortal soul for starters, then some add-ons like loyalty, commitment; you know…promises,” George explained.

“Promises, what kind of promises?” asked Thomas.

“Well, you know he’s big on punctuality,” George replied.

“George, for Chrissake, I had to take a dump back there. Have you seen the lavatory on this jet? I can’t squeeze my ample ass into that blue-juice coffin. I did the Boss a favor by leaving my vowels back in Hotlanta, believe me.”

“It’s not just this time;” George paused again, “it’s every time.” George looked Thomas directly in his eyes. “The last time we missed our departure window you were chatting it up with the lovely ladies at the FBO customer desk. The time before, you got stuck in line ordering BBQ at Southern Soul. The point is, it’s always something and the Boss is “ready to reevaluate our contracts” as he put it to me. He asked me to ask you, if I could get a couple promises from you, for the record but off the record,” George finished.

“Promises!” Thomas said it like a dirty word, staring beyond the windscreen into the night sky.

“He didn’t want anything in writing; lawyers hate paper trails that lead back to them. But he wanted you to promise me…and him, that you would be on time from here on out.”

“That’s all? Be on time?” Thomas laughed, relieved, then removed the turd-like stogie from his mouth. “If it’s important to you Georgie, it’s important to me. I swear upon Emilia Earhart’s panties, which she left in my cockpit, that I will from this moment on, be on time for everything. Done!”

“Well, that was easy,” George replied, relieved. “As long as you are granting promises, can I ask another?”

“Just rub my Buddha belly, here George. I’ll make all your wishes come true.”

“Here’s my second wish, oh powerful Genie.” George said this with a concerned look in his eyes. “This one isn’t about our jobs; we are good pilots, we can always fly for another asshole or airline. This is about you and your health. Promise me that you will take care of yourself, old man. You know; eat right, exercise, get into a shape that doesn’t resemble a donut. Maybe lose 20 pounds of Oprah fat. I don’t want to fly with another copilot any time soon.”

White spots suddenly filled the windscreen; there were several dull thuds felt by both pilots. “Birds!” Thomas shouted, gripping the yoke. The starboard engine erupted just as a Rorschach blot of blood, bone, and feather splattered the windscreen. “Mayday! Mayday! Losing power…and altitude.”

George scanned the instruments. “Turbo two is down!”

As Pilot in Command (PIC), Thomas took the stick. “Tampa Tower, this is Hawker flight 977LC; we have an emergency; bird strike; engine flame out. Request immediate clearance for emergency landing on runway 16/34. How copy, over?”

George monitored the instruments as Thomas dealt with flight control. Knowing that his mike was on, Thomas knew he had a captive audience, even in this time of crisis. “Either we’ve hit a flock of seagulls off the coast of Florida or we’ve gone back in time and killed an 80’s hair band.”

After a brief pause for consideration by the flight control, the landing clearance was granted. Thomas eased the yoke back, countering the pitch and yaw of the flip-tip winglets. He dropped the landing gear, gaining drag and slowing airspeed, then expertly glided the crippled Hawker 2000 to a perfect landing, despite the loss of one of its two turbine engines.

“Are we there yet?” The Boss, wearing Jay-Z Beats headphones and silk pajamas, poked his head into the cockpit. Thomas turned and gave him the ubiquitous thumbs-up affirmative and a toothy, tobacco-stained grin. “A little bumpy,” the Boss mumbled as he disappeared back into the cabin.

“Don’t say a word,” Thomas whispered to George, putting finger to lips as the Boss dressed and exited the aircraft, climbing into an awaiting car.

“I’ve got to say at least three words for you and just a consonant and vowel for the Boss,” George said, as the limo with the Boss drove away, “’Fuck-ing awe-some land-ing!’ for you, and the Boss gets my middle finger and an ‘F U’.”

Thomas reached into his stash bag and pulled out two airplane bottles of Crown Royal. He passed one to George and they both toasted the sky gods for allowing them another day to defy Newton’s nemesis—gravity.

“I know the Boss comes to you for all the financial crap, George. Please, oh please, let me be in the room when you tell him he has to buy a new jet engine.” They both laughed as only survivors can.

After the single-shot survival celebration, the banter continued at a local country bar where boots-and-buckled Cowboys and Cowgirls line-danced to live music. “I just had a flashback, George,” Thomas announced, as he watched a rhinestone cowboy slide across the dance floor, both thumbs hooked in his front belt loops.

“I know where you are going with this Tom,” George said, wiping a mustache of beer foam from his lip. “Is this really the time to bring up the ‘dance’? That was a traditional Greek wedding dance, you know—the Kalamatiano.”

“That was the gayest dance I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen the Village People perform fellatio in a YMCA,” Thomas joked, and George chuckled. “No wonder your wife divorced you six months later,” Thomas added as an afterthought, leaving out the thought part.

George didn’t laugh at the punch line this time. He just lowered his head.

“Awe, come on George, as your best man at that big fat Greek wedding, even I could plainly see that your little baklava was just looking for a ticket out of goat country into the U S of A. Who can blame her? You grabbed that golden ticket yourself when you had the chance to go to flight school in Atlanta. She was just looking for her own short cut,” George finished, then added, “Too bad it broke your heart. Sorry, George. I just don’t know when to shut up.”

Thomas poured himself another beer from a shared pitcher and considered his next move. “I really and truly loved that crazy gay Greek knee-slapping dance of yours. I would be forever honored if you performed it at my funeral.”

“Your funeral?” George asked, snapping out of his funk. “Are you okay?” he asked with real concern in his voice.

“No, no, no; not today, George. Don’t start pulling the gold fillings out of my teeth just yet. If I hold to all my new promises of living right and exercising, lose 20 pounds—and I will; I just might gain a few extra ticks on my Timex. So now it’s your turn to promise me that you’ll do that silly dance at my funeral when the time comes. It would get such a great laugh and will lighten the mood, and you of all people know that’s all I’ve ever lived for.”

“Okay, I’ll do it,” George replied, perhaps still fueled by the waning adrenaline surge from the emergency landing and a tad of Dutch courage from the ensuing libations. “I’ll do the Kalamatiano at your funeral,” George declared, slamming down his empty mug. “But I’ll need one more thing from you to make it square. I know I’ve already asked a lot of you, my friend,” George enumerated: “To be on time, to lose some weight and get in shape; a less round shape. But there’s one more thing, and it has nothing to do with us, this one’s just about me.”

“It’s okay to be a selfish bastard,” Thomas joked. “Our Boss has made a grand living out of it.”

“You know I love America, but I still love-love my native country, Greece. And if there is any way possible, when my time comes and you are still an able pilot, I implore you to have my ashes spread over Athens.” George was serious, he held up an empty pitcher for an obligatory toast.

“George, I don’t like the sound of this. I’ve never been implored before; that sounds like a rectal exam. You, my friend, are still full of piss and vinegar, and maybe a little too much brew right now. You work out and eat greener than a Koala bear; you will live forever. I’m 69, and holding desperately onto this hilarious age as long as I can. Partly because I get to make 8th grade jokes about it, but mostly because it’s not 70. And think about it; it won’t be nearly as funny or sexually suggestive at 96, trust me.”

George just looked at his friend and said simply, “I don’t have anyone else.” Memories of his ex-wife brought water to his eyes. “You are the only friend that could fulfill this wish. Promise me you’ll spread my ashes over Athens.”

“Promises, promises,” Thomas mumbled as he drained his pitcher and slammed it into the one George held up. “Why not? In for a penny, in for 20 pounds, in for a skyjacking; odds are with me that it will never happen anyway.” The deal was done over the clanging of two empty plastic pitchers in a very loud Cowboy bar; an unbreakable contract was forged.


Six months later…

“…So the teacher said, Do you think you’re stupid, Little Johnny? And Little Johnny said, No, ma’am, but I hate to see you standing there all by yourself.” Thomas laughed heartily at his own joke the way he always did, punctuating it with a wet smoker’s cough. He looked across the cockpit to see if his copilot, George Pappadapalos, was equally amused. No George. The smile on Thomas’s face twisted from confusion to clarity. Perhaps he was still in that death stage known as that river in Egypt, he thought—Denial. Thomas and George had been flying together for 23 years, but now the unthinkable had happened and Thomas was flying solo.

This particular sortie was logged in as an Angel Flight, a cost-free trip to ostensibly provide medical or personal care for those that could not otherwise afford a private chartered aircraft, a great tax write-off for the Boss. But there were no donor kidneys or even kids with cancer on this bird, only a brushed steel urn containing George’s ashes.

George, the once hyper-healthy Greek, had collapsed on a tennis court in Atlanta just a week ago, perhaps trying to overly impress his newest lady friend. Massive coronary the doctors pronounced. “Heart exploded like a tomato in a microwave,” said the Fulton County coroner. But George suspected the true source of the heart break.

“I’m sorry, George. I know how much you hate those ‘Little Johnny’ jokes. But they always made you smile. You were my best audience,” Thomas sighed. “My only audience.” Thomas tipped back another miniature Crown Royal bottle then reached across the console and caressed the cold silver urn in the copilot’s seat. He wondered at its shape, why it looked and felt so much like a little league trophy. “This is your participation award, Georgie Boy,” he chuckled to himself. “Thank you for playing life. You win a one-way flight and I lose a good friend.” In a quaking voice, he trailed, “It should have been me.”

The Hawker 2000 screamed across the night sky holding altitude at 42,000 feet. Thomas bit the tip off a Cohiba cigar and lit it up. Between puffs, he said, “The Boss would shit kittens if he found out I was smoking stogies in his jet, George.” He exhaled a huge plume of smoke onto the silent urn. “You always said these things would kill me, and I held my promise of not smoking, up until now….” He drew in deeply and the cigar tip crimsoned,” I guess I’m free of our agreement now,” Thomas said to himself.

The white smoke coalesced in the copilot’s seat, seemed to take form, human form, George form. “And that belly of yours. When’s the baby due, butterball?”

Thomas removed his glasses, squinted into the fumes and wondered if the curry chicken he’d eaten at the wake was under-cooked. The smoky George apparition was wearing something akin to a celestial Tuxedo, like the white one he had worn at his wedding, Thomas recalled. He, it, pecked at the controls with a phantom finger and turned back to Thomas. “We’re flying awfully high, Tom. Are we going where I think we’re going?”

“George, is it you, really you?”

“It’s me, Thomas. You know you can’t fly this bird without me.” Thomas heard the voice in his head; the specter of George just roiled within the dense smoke.

“Why George, why you? I’m gonna be seventy soon. You’ve got…had…so many good years left. Why you?”

“Remember that old Marine quote you would drag out every time we got a crappy flight assignment? Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die. You told me you had that tattooed on your ass, and you always tried to get me to proofread it.” The smoky George seemed to smile at this memory. “We’ve all got to die,” Thomas. “But you, old friend, you know what you’ve got to do now—you promised.”

Thomas crushed out his cigar. “Yes. I remember. We made a pact after we survived that bird strike engine failure over Tampa. I promised to be on time, live right, and to spread your ashes over Athens and you promised to dance at my funeral. Looks like you copped out on your bargain. I sure wanted you to do that Katmandu dance in front of my many mourners. Would have been a hoot!”

“George, I’ve got to be honest with you. Now that you are dead, and might try to haunt me.” Thomas cracked another mini Crown bottle cap and drained the 1.7 ounce serving in one gulp. “Sure, I promised to be on time for everything after our talk, but the truth is I was late for your funeral. The Preacher and the Pallbearers were pissed, but I got to thinking. You have used this lame death excuse to be late for every flight we had scheduled this week. So, I forgive you and that makes us even on the punctuality point.”

Thomas popped open a panel and proceeded to untangled a drop-down oxygen mask. He fitted the mask over his chubby cheeks, then lowered the plastic cup below his chin. He then retrieved the Judge revolver he kept in his stash bag in case of imagined skyjackers or alien pirates of the Bermuda Triangle.

“George,” he said, spinning the cylinder of the handgun, ensuring it was fully loaded with .45 caliber rounds and an optional .410 shotgun shell, “there’s more. Yes, I lost 20 pounds as we agreed. But then I found 25. Yes, I started going to the gym for a while. Then I started going to McDonald’s instead, but the kid at the drive-thru, his name was Jim; I saw it on his nameplate. So I kinda sorta lied to you every time you asked if I had been to the gym.”

“You see, I’ve not been entirely honest with you, but now I feel so much better having gotten all that off my conscience. I just need you to forgive me, and not haunt me, and we can move on.”

The apparition spoke again inside Thomas’s mind, “Tom, I understand and I knew all along. You don’t need my forgiveness. You were just being you; it was silly of me to try to change you after all these years. But if you really need my forgiveness, so be it, I forgive you.”

Thomas replaced the mask over his mouth and nose, raised The Judge and shot a clean hole through smoky George’s face and the copilot’s window. Cockpit alarms warned and wailed as Thomas unscrewed the lid on the urn. Smoky George was instantly pulled through the half-inch bullet hole and his ashes followed like a ghostly miasma of silvery gnats.

“One last joke for you, George,” Thomas said, smiling into the plastic mask. “Your ashes are now scattered over Athens… Georgia. Greece is just too damn far to fly in a jacked jet. But we’ll have a good laugh about this one day, Georgie Boy. One day real soon.”

The End

If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE(link) and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.

If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:

Trust (link)

The Trail (link)

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