The first chapter of my latest novel now available worldwide on Amazon.
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“Good morning, Karen.” I turned and saw the suave middle aged pilot approaching me, along with his co-pilot, strolling nonchalantly across the departure lounge.
“Ah, good morning Captain Anderson,” I replied, flashing him my sweetest smile. “A beautiful morning.”
“Yes, it is indeed,” he agreed. “Should be a good flight.”
I had been a stewardess for six years and I loved every minute of it. Having been drafted to work in munitions factories throughout the war years it was like a new life. I was able to travel, and in style.
I didn’t get paid a great deal but at twenty-nine years old, single and carefree, it didn’t matter. I was free!
I had almost been refused the position at my interview. I looked okay. Five feet and ten inches tall, slim and not too bad looking I thought. Short dark, wavy hair, high cheek bones accentuating my large dark brown eyes but my long slender fingers ended in rather ragged nails and dry skin due to the ravishes of the munitions and chemicals I had spent so long working with.
I was given a probationary period with the warning that if my hands didn’t improve in that time I was out!
I could never forget that first day in training school. I had arrived bright and early, dressed to kill.
I had taken hours with my make-up and wore my very best clothes and when I looked in the mirror I was quite satisfied that I could do no more.
When the other girls walked in I suddenly began to feel rather dowdy. They were all so beautiful and glamorous.
We all greeted each other and introduced ourselves but little more was said before the door opened once again and in strolled the most beautiful mature woman I had ever seen.
She was tall and slim, mid forties I guessed, blonde hair tied neatly behind her head with a bun clearly visible beneath her navy blue and red hat and showing off her flashing crystal blue eyes. The room fell silent as she walked directly to the desk at the front of the room and as she passed all eyes focussed on her immaculate uniform and confident walk.
At her desk, she stopped, turned on her heel and faced us, looking for a moment at each one of the ten of us fortunate candidates.
“Good morning, Ladies.” She spoke without a single smile, her face blank and professional. “I am Pamela Barnes, the chief stewardess at this training centre.”
She paused for a moment whilst, like children at a new school, we recited, “Good morning, Miss Barnes.”
“This is not school, ladies. I am married but you may call me Pamela.”
Again she paused as she allowed this announcement to sink in.
“Now, first, you will introduce yourselves to me. I would like you all to stand in front of your desks and, as I come to each of you, you will hold yourselves erect with your hands outstretched, palms facing downwards.”
I looked down at my dry, cracked skin and ragged nails and my heart dropped.
I was the third girl that she inspected and I was determined that my hands would not hold me back and, as she stepped in front of me, I straightened my back and pushed out my breasts, such as they were, held out my hands, palms down and said, “Karen Farmer, Pamela.” I gave the broadest smile I possibly could.
She stood expressionless and gazed at me.
“Hmm,” she said. “A good effort but you have a lot to learn about make-up and presentation. That, of course, is why we are here.”
The smile slipped very quickly away but I was not going to cave in at the first hurdle and I kept my face as expressionless as hers until she looked at my hands!
“Oh dear, oh dear. This will simply just not do. Tut tut tut.” She shook her head and turned away as the extremities of my lips began to take a definite southwards turn and I looked down at my hands.
Extremely disheartened, I allowed my hands to droop back to my sides but kept my back straight and chin up.
Moments later she was in front of me again and this time, she had in her hands, a pair of white cotton gloves with little lace cuffs. She handed them to me and I took them without a word.
“I cannot have my girls showing hands in such a terrible state,” she said, not angrily but not gently either. “I had been informed that you were coming so I had these gloves brought in. You will wear them at all times when on duty and in uniform. If I see you without them there will be no second chances. We have an image to maintain.”
I looked up at her and… did I really see… the feint sign of a smile at the edges of her eyes?
I allowed a smile to return to my lips as I said, softly, “Thank you, Pamela.”
“You are welcome,” she replied and moved on to the next girl.
I was fortunate that my hands had already begun to soften with the careful use of moisturisers and keeping my nails carefully trimmed.
At the end of that six months, I stood proudly in line with the other girls to be presented with my ‘wings’, a large S attached to an outstretched wing woven from golden thread against a black background, by the airline’s training director.
Pamela Barnes complimented me on my appearance and how well I had done to reach the strict standard that the airline demanded. As she paused before me whilst the director presented the next girl’s wings, Pamela leaned forwards and whispered, “Congratulations and very well done. I knew you could do it.” For the first time, she smiled.
So, here I was, six short years later, walking across the concrete apron with two very suave and handsome pilots towards a gleaming silver Douglas DC-3, flashing and glinting in the hot summer sun. The Airline’s name was in red above the windows with two red parallel lines before and after, giving an impression of speed, ===Trans Europe Airways ===.
This was not the first time I had crewed the DC-3, in fact, I spent most of my time with them. They were not as fast and as glamorous as the Comet which was just coming into service, nor as quiet as the viscounts but they were small, carried less passengers and I was the only stewardess on board so I felt as though I was in charge, which, technically I suppose, I was.
I quickly built a rapport with the pilots. We tended to circulate in small groups and I soon got to know most of them but not many of the other stewardesses as we more often worked alone.
As I followed behind, I watched the pilots climb the short stair which was built into the back of the bottom hinged door. Once they were on board I followed them in and began my checks.
There wasn’t much to do, the aircraft had been cleaned and prepared by the ground staff so I walked up the steep aisle to the front, checking seat belts and antimacassars as I went. There were just twenty-four seats on this particular aeroplane, twin rows to the left and single to the right. Some of the later aircraft had thirty two seats, two either side, but this was one of the airlines premier flights and the larger, more comfortable seats had been retained.
The door to the cockpit was open and I tapped on it before entering. The pilots were busy with their pre-flight checks.
“All is ready in the cabin, Captain. Are you ready to embark the passengers?” I asked.
Captain Anderson answered without turning away from his checks.
“Thank you, Karen. Yes, you may bring them aboard now. I am just going to do the walk round outside and by that time we should be ready to leave.”
I returned to the door and, after checking and straightening some of the window curtains, waved towards the terminal. Shortly afterwards the door opened and a stream of passengers filed out.
I stood beside the bottom of the air-stair and greeted each one as they boarded.
“Good morning, Sir, Good morning, Madam,” I smiled warmly as I greeted them.
The seats were clearly marked and it didn’t take long for each of them to find their allocated seat, take off their outerwear, place their small bags, coats and jackets, in the rack above and settle down for the four hour flight to Marseilles.
No sooner was everyone settled that captain Anderson re-entered the cabin having completed his checks and helped me to pull up the door and secure it.
I followed him along the aisle, checking that all my passengers were comfortable and had their seat belts fastened then returned to my seat at the rear of the cabin, fastening my own belt.
Moments later I heard the right engine wheeze once, twice, a crackle from the exhausts and a puff of smoke and the fourteen cylinder twin radial Pratt and Whitney engine burst into life, settling into a gentle growl whilst the left engine went through the same process.
We sat for a moment and then the engine note increased to an even roar from either side and, with a slight jolt, Captain Anderson released the brakes and we began to move from the apron towards the taxiway and, ultimately, the runway.
The taxiway was a little bumpy as we moved along it and, before the runway, the aeroplane came to a gentle halt. For a moment, the engines revved and the airframe vibrated. I knew from experience that the pilots were checking the engines before take-off and, once again as I expected, the brakes came off and we rolled forwards onto the long runway.
Outside, the sun flashed on the fast spinning propellers as the engine roar reached a crescendo and we began to move.
Faster and faster we went, the tail lifting and the cabin floor becoming level and finally we left the ground. An almost imperceptible whirr and clunk as the wheels retracted and we were up, flying, climbing towards the sun as it reflected off the gleaming silver wings.
It didn’t take long to reach cruising level. The DC-3 was not pressurised so didn’t fly high, and I was able to remove my belt and begin the service my passengers had paid for.
I began at the front and worked backwards.
“Good morning Sir, Madam,” I said to the first couple, both elderly and holding each others hands. “Can I get you a drink, something to eat?”
They both looked up and smiled, shaking their heads simultaneously and replying, “No thank you.”
I continued on in this manner, first to my right then the single seat on my left and alternating thus until I reached the rear row. Some passengers had a drink, some food and others both.
When I reached the last row there were two mature business men seated together, very smartly dressed in expensive suits, poring over some important looking documents.
They had asked for whisky so I poured them one each and, as I leaned over to place the drink on the little pull down table in front of the gentleman nearest the window, I felt a warm hand on my leg, slowly moving up the inside of my leg towards the top of my sheer stocking, under my skirt.
I froze momentarily. Not from fear but anger. I was used to this now. Horny men just having to touch me because my uniform turned them on. It didn’t happen every day but often enough for it to be extremely irritating.
I took a deep breath, placed the glass on the table and straightened up. The hand had now reached the lacy top of my stocking and I turned to admonish the man in the single seat behind. The hand pulled quickly away as I swung round, my face showing the anger I felt but I stopped and looked in surprise at the beautiful woman who was sitting there. I was stunned! I had never been molested by a woman before and certainly not one as smart and attractive as her!
A shiver ran down my spine and such a weird feeling came over me. The anger had vanished as quickly as it had begun and all of a sudden I felt a kind of tingle, something I had never felt before. I didn’t understand it.
“May I get you something?” I asked, rather weakly.
The woman smiled but didn’t answer straight away so I continued, to avoid an awkward silence.
“Is there something you would like?” The answer I received was as unexpected as the initial touch.
“You,” she whispered. I almost dropped the tray I was holding but before I could react she said a little more loudly, “Yes, a gin and tonic please,” and all the time her smouldering almond eyes held mine, unblinking.
It took all the will power I had to tear myself away from her gaze and, turning slowly away, I walked to the galley to get her drink.
Once out of her sight, I leaned against the buffet bar for a moment. I felt really odd but I had to be professional so I took a deep breath and stood up straight.
The drink prepared, I placed it on the small tray and turned to face the cabin. I could just see the top of her head over the seat back, her jet black hair gleaming in the dull light.
My feet didn’t want to move but I forced them and, once more at her side, I placed the small coaster on the table she had pulled down and placed the glass upon it.
“Your drink, Madam,” I said as professionally as I could then gasped and jumped as I felt her hand touch the back of my knee.
“Jemima,” she said.
“Jemima,” I repeated. “Is there anything else?” I felt the pressure increase on my leg as she smiled but shook her head gently.
“I will be just behind you if you want anything,” I replied and after a moments pause as she held my gaze once more. I tore myself away and returned to my duties in the galley.
From time to time I looked down the cabin to check whether anyone required my attention. A young man wanted a drink, a woman wanted a tissue and as the flight continued, I was kept busy.
Each time I passed that rear single seat, Jemima watched me intensely and I was getting more and more self conscious. Whenever I served her she found a way to touch me. Nothing as much as that first time but contact, however small was like an electric shock to me. I placed a glass in front of her and she touched my hand. I jumped. I took away her empty glass and her knee would somehow touch mine. I jumped.
Two hours into the flight and I was struggling. I couldn’t breathe and my heart was beating like a drum. I couldn’t control it but worse, I didn’t understand it. I was normally so controlled, in control. This was my aeroplane, I was in charge, I was the stewardess but now, one of my passengers was distracting me and I was scared.
For a moment, no-one required my attention so I went into the galley and took out the manifest and looked at the final name on the list.
Seat twenty-five. Mrs. Jemima Rana.
I pondered her name. It sounded Indian. That would explain her beautiful hair and deep brown almond shaped eyes but she had no hint of an accent and she didn’t seem as eastern as I would have expected. She was certainly not dressed in the style of the east. She wore a white fitted blouse and dark grey, above the knee, pencil skirt. I had noticed a matching jacket in the overhead rack above her.
Her make up was immaculate, not overdone and not a single hair out of place.
I had noticed that she wore two rings on the third finger of her left hand. One appeared to be a plain wedding band which I guessed, due to its silver colour, was white gold next to a matching solitaire containing a large but discretely mounted diamond. It didn’t look brash but definitely expensive!
This woman just screamed style and taste. The more I stared at her name on the list the more I wanted to know about her.
Suddenly a voice coughed exaggeratedly and I almost jumped out of my skin and dropped the manifest onto the galley floor.
At the curtain was the co-pilot, First officer Higgins.
“Sorry, Karen, I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said. “Are you all right?”
“Oh Crumbs, yes. Sorry, Bob, I was miles away.” The adrenalin was rushing through my veins and arteries and it took me a moment to regain my composure.
“Are you sure you are okay,” he repeated. “There is nothing wrong I hope.”
I swallowed and took a deep breath, willing myself to act normal.
“No, nothing wrong,” I half lied. “I just didn’t hear you arrive. Can I get you something?”
“I just came back for some coffee. You haven’t been up yet.” He still looked a little concerned.
“Oh bother. I’m so sorry, Bob, I have been a little busy. This lot have been quite demanding today.”
“Not to worry,” he said with a cheery smile. “I will take some back with me.”
“Nooo, don’t be silly,” I said, smiling, some of my confidence returning with the much needed distraction. “I will make some fresh and bring it up to you.”
“Okay, thanks.” He went to leave then stopped and turned back, frowning.
“You are sure nothing’s wrong?” he asked again. I smiled.
“No, nothing’s wrong,” I said, “But thanks for asking. I’ll be up in a minute or two,” and, once again, I was alone.
All thoughts of the mysterious Mrs. Rana were dismissed as I busied myself with the task of brewing fresh coffee. When it was ready I filled two cups and placed them on saucers on a small tray along with a small jug of milk and a bowl of sugar. Then I placed a teaspoon on each of the saucers. Finally, I put some biscuits onto a small plate and onto the tray.
Holding the tray firmly I walked through the cabin and purposely didn’t look at the beautiful woman in seat twenty-five.
At the front of the cabin, holding the tray on one hand, I knocked on the cockpit door, opened it and slipped inside.
“Hello stranger,” the voice from the right hand seat.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Captain but I have been rather busy.”
Captain Eric Anderson turned round in his seat to face me.
“Don’t worry, Karen, I am just teasing.” He took the steaming cup and saucer from me. “Bob told me you were. He also said he startled you.”
“Hmm, yes, he did!” I pursed my lips in mock annoyance.
“I did apologise,” Bob Donnelly chimed in from the left as he took his cup from my outstretched hand. He paused whilst we both held the saucer. “I must say, though, it is not like you to be so easily surprised.”
“No, well!” I released the saucer. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“What were you reading?”
“Oh, just the manifest.” I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable.
“Really? Someone caught your eye have they?” The question came from the pilot.
“No they haven’t!” I feigned indignance, hoping they didn’t ask anything else.
“Sorry, just joking,” he replied.
“Yes, well, don’t be so cheeky!” I allowed a smile and looked out through the small windscreen.
One of the things I loved about my job was the view. The ground looked so small and today there were no clouds. We were flying over France and far below us I could see fields, trees and tiny houses and towns. It was like flying over a map, wonderful.
“How are we doing for time?” I asked, more for something to say.
Bob looked at his instruments.
“Not bad,” he said. “Bit of a head wind but pretty much on time.”
“That is good then, down in time for tea.”
“Should be,” was the reply.
“Okay, enjoy your coffee.” I returned to the cabin and closed the door behind me.
Half way down the cabin, an elderly man stopped me.
“I was just wondering,” he said as I stopped, “Why is there no seat numbered thirteen?”
“Ah,” I winked at him. “That would be very unlucky.”
I walked back to the rear and past seat twenty-five but didn’t even notice it was unoccupied…