I stopped to see a weeping willow
cryin' on his pillow
Maybe he's crying for me
and as the skies turn gloomy
Night winds whisper to me
I'm lonesome as I can be
– Patsy Cline (Walking After Midnight)
Rick returned to the supply closet and stunned the security guard one more time. Another ten minutes would probably be enough time to get out and get his mission accomplished. It was already past midnight and into February third – his birthday, in a little over eleven hundred years or so. He made his way back just in time to hear JP Richardson say, “Just lemme get another real big hit, sugar. I got all sorts o’ irons in the fire, you know. I’m thinkin’ big, of course – the Big Bopper can’t help but to think big – but it’ll all happen in good time, know what I’m sayin’? There is no need to rush perfection, sweet thing.”
A real roadie came over, “We’re just about all packed up,” he said.
“I thought you said you fellas was almost done quite a while ago,” JP said to Rick.
“I guess we’ve got different definitions of the word almost,” Rick said.
“Wanna come see us off, darlin’s?” JP asked, “We’re goin’ to Mason City to take off, yanno.”
“It’s awful cold out there,” Complained the blonde.
“I’ll keep you warm,” JP grabbed a handful of her bottom and squeezed. She squealed, “You, too, son,” he came close to Rick and whispered, “Now, son, I realize now that you don’t work for the tour, and that’s all right. I won’t give you a hard time or nothin’, long as you take care of the girls and don’t take a souvenir, all right?”
“Understood, Mr. Richardson. And, and thank you, sir.”
“There,” JP said a lot louder, “It’s all settled. And this feller here –“
“Ritchie, he, he’s gonna take you fine ladies home tonight, after we have departed.”
The women walked on ahead, and JP stopped for a second to admire them, “Lord, have mercy. Don’t say I don’t do nothin’ for ya, son. Just don’t name no kids after me.”
“Uh, no, sir.”
Before leaving the arena, Bob Hale, a local disc jockey who’d been covering the concert, came over, “I guess you fellas are goin’,” he said, “The tour must go on, eh?”
Waylon shook his hand and said, “I guess so. Pity there’s not enough seats on the plane for everyone.”
Ritchie said, “Yeah, that bus is freezing. I don’t wanna get Buddy’s cold.”
“Why don’t you take the plane instead o’ me, Ritchie?” Waylon asked.
“No, it’s okay,” Replied Valens.
“No, really, Ritchie. I’m here to make you look good. I can’t exactly do that if two of you got bad colds.”
“No, no, I’m no big star,” Ritchie said.
“C’mon. I insist,” Waylon said.
“Why don’t you flip a coin, fellas?” asked Hale, producing a quarter.
“Are you sure that’s fair?” asked the brunette, frowning slightly.
“It sure looks like coin of the realm to me, darlin’,” JP said, inspecting Hale’s quarter and biting it just to be sure.
Hale flipped it, “Call it, Ritchie.”
“Heads it is,” Hale said, showing everyone.
“It looks like you’re ridin’ in style with us, Ritchie. Uh, sorry, Waylon,” JP said.
“No worries,” he said, “Man, I hate flyin’ anyway.”
“I know what you mean,” said the brunette.
They crowded into a car driven by the Surf Ballroom’s manager. It was girls on laps – not a bad thing, so far as Rick and JP were concerned – as the car made its way through the Iowa foul winter weather.
The Mason City airstrip was tiny, better suited to small pleasure craft and maybe even tiny military scout planes. The craft itself was a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza. It was larger than the HG Wells from the outside, but the Wells had quantum mechanical tricks up its proverbial sleeve. Due to slight adjustments in the size of electron orbits, and the barest crunching of space in molecules, the Wells, from its interior, was larger than its exterior – about three times as large or so, than it had any reasonable right to be. These tricks were far from being invented – a good half a millennium away and more – and so the single engine plane not only looked small, it was small.
To try to keep himself warm, Rick helped the roadies get the tour’s musical equipment onto the tiny craft. The Iowa night was cold and it was snowing, hard as the wind blew sideways and whistled through the uneven stubble of nearby cornfields.
“This weather is so horrible,” Complained the brunette, her teeth chattering, “I shoulda stayed in bed.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” JP said, and winked at her wickedly. She smiled back at him invitingly.
Buddy got on the plane first and sneezed two times. He turned around for a moment. The girls waved at him and he waved back, a weary gesture for a man tired beyond his twenty-two years. Ritchie got on the plane next. Holly went back to the doorway when he saw Ritchie, “Hey, I thought Waylon was flyin’.”
“Nope, I won the coin toss,” Ritchie said, “It’s my lucky day, I think.”
Holly stood at the tiny plane’s door and laughed and yelled out to Waylon, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up.”
Waylon grinned and replied, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”
Rick cringed at that statement, trying not to let anyone see his reaction.
Waylon came over and stood near the blonde and the Surf Ballroom manager, as Rick stood next to the brunette, who shook and said, “It’s so very, very cold.”
“Oh, uh, sure,” Rick put an arm around her as she shivered a little bit more in the February weather.
“Mr. Jennings,” the brunette said to Waylon, “did Mr. Hale give you that quarter by chance?”
“Yes, he, uh, he did. Uh, here, you can have it, Miss,” he said, as the little plane took off and into a blizzard, tail light rising.
There was a snap and a bang, and the plane tumbled, diagonally, wing over wing, and crashed into a nearby cornfield. A ball of flame erupted almost immediately and Rick found himself holding both the blonde and the brunette as they sobbed.
I go out walkin'
out in the moonlight
Just hoping you may be
Searching for me
– Patsy Cline (Walking After Midnight)