and he never tired of looking at her. She smiled as she spoke into the microphone and she waved for him to keep his eyes on the outside of the plane. He glanced down at the sectional chart clipped to his leg. Their approach was taking them through a Military Operations Area, marked on the chart with a magenta border. Flying was permitted in the MOA, but it still made him slightly nervous. He peered through the windshield, scanning the sky in segments, looking for military traffic.

He felt a small hand on his shoulder. “Dad, Dad, turn around.”

Mitchell twisted around to see his son Jamie holding their camcorder. The red light was on showing that Jamie was filming. Mitchell grinned and gave his son a thumbs-up. “Jim Mitchell, the fearless pilot,” he laughed and Jamie giggled. The boy panned to the right. “Mom,” he said, and Sandra looked over her shoulder.

“Don’t use all the tape,” she chided. “Save it till we get closer to Vegas.”

“Oh Mom, don’t say stuff like that, it gets recorded,” Jamie moaned. He switched the camcorder off. “Now I’ll have to rewind it.” He sighed in the way that only a child can sigh and pouted. “I bet Scorsese never had this trouble,” he said.

Sandra leaned back and ruffled his hair. He jerked away, refusing to be mollified. At eight years old he was getting to the “I don’t want to be touched” stage, Sandra realised with a twinge of regret.

“I see the wind-sock,” said Sandra, and Mitchell squinted, looking for the orange sock which would give him an accurate indication of the ground-level wind direction. He couldn’t see it. His wife’s eyesight was much better than Mitchell’s, who was no longer allowed to fly without his correcting lenses. Another sign of old age creeping up on him, he thought ruefully. Mitchell reduced power and took the Cessna down to one thousand feet above the ground and joined the traffic pattern at the single runway. They were the only plane in the area and they were soon on the ground, taxiing up to a refuelling station.

Jamie filmed the plane being refuelled and then wandered off to get a canned drink from a vending machine. Mitchell put his hands on his hips and surveyed the sky overhead.

Jamie returned with his Coke. He took the camcorder out of the Cessna. “Okay, I want a shot of the two of you together at the front of the plane,” said the boy, and he showed his parents where he wanted them to stand.

“Our son, the movie director,” said Mitchell.

“It’ll be a great loss to the real estate industry that he doesn’t follow in his father’s footsteps,” said Sandra, smiling to show that she was joking. Real estate had given them an enviable lifestyle, even if Mitchell had to admit that it wasn’t the most exciting of careers and that people tended to avoid him at parties. She stood close to him and he slipped his arm around her waist. Mitchell held his head high to conceal his growing bald spot and double chin from the camcorder, and sucked in his stomach.

Jamie panned across from the fuel pumps until his parents were in the centre of the viewfinder. They waved and grinned. He switched the camcorder off and climbed into the back seat of the Cessna while his father walked around the plane and checked the fuel tanks. Sandra told her son to put on a pullover. The weather in Phoenix had been unseasonably warm but the forecast had been for cold winds to the north.

Mitchell soon had the small plane up in the air. He headed west, his VOR tuned to the Needles beacon in Havasu Lake National Wildlife Refuge from where he planned to fly up to Vegas. There was little in the way of landmarks to navigate by once he’d flown over Highway 93, so he had to rely on his VOR. He would have preferred to fly at a slightly higher altitude, but Jamie kept insisting that they fly low so that he could look at the scenery, even if it was just sand, rocks and the many-armed cacti which stood like guardsmen on parade.

“Hey, Dad, what’s that down there?” Jamie pointed down to the left.

Mitchell turned to look where his son was pointing but couldn’t see anything. “What is it, Jamie?” he asked.

“There’s someone down there. Cars in the desert, and some other stuff. Can we look?”

Mitchell squinted behind his sunglasses. The darkened lenses were prescription but lately he was finding they weren’t as good at correcting his long-distance vision as they used to be. He checked his fuel gauges and saw that he had plenty to spare. With the VOR equipment there was no chance of getting lost, and it was supposed to be a vacation. “I guess so, son,” he said, and put the Cessna into a slow, turning descent.

“Is this a good idea?” Sandra asked through his headset.

“We’ve plenty of time,” said Mitchell. “And we’re on a VFR flight plan, we can play around if we want.”

“There!” Jamie shouted. “I think they’re making a movie.” He switched his camcorder on and began filming out of the side window.

“What is it?” asked Sandra. She was sitting on the right-hand side of the plane and her husband was blocking her view.

“I can’t see,” said Mitchell, putting the Cessna into a steep turn so that the ground whirled underneath him. The altimeter span as he took the plane down to two thousand feet.

“There are two towers down there, the sort they put cameras on,” said Jamie excitedly. “I can’t see what they’re doing, though. I bet they’re making a movie. This is cool. I wonder who the director is?”

Mitchell peered out of the cockpit. Far below he could see a wood and metal structure, about fifty feet high. It looked like scaffolding, and he could make out a figure on top of it. Chains or ropes tethered the structure to the ground. About half a mile away were a group of men standing on the ground in a line. Mitchell frowned. The figures were standing too still, and there was something awkward about the way they held their arms. They weren’t cacti, but they weren’t human, either. He levelled the plane off and pointed out the figures to his wife.

“They look like robots,” she said.

“Or dummies,” he agreed.

“There are real people over there, see?” She pointed to another group of figures standing several hundred feet away.

“I see them,” said Mitchell.

“Let’s go down lower, Dad,” said Jamie, still filming. “It might be someone famous.”

“That might not be a good idea, Jamie,” said his mother, twisting around in her seat. “They might not want a plane buzzing overhead.”

“Just one pass, Mom,” implored Jamie. “Please.”

“Jim, what do you think?” she asked her husband.

“One quick look wouldn’t hurt,” said Mitchell. “I must admit I’m a bit curious myself. They’re miles from anywhere.”

“Looks like I’m outvoted then,” said Sandra.

Mitchell circled slowly as he lost height and levelled off at five hundred feet above the ground, several miles away from the two towers. Jamie trained the camcorder on the desert below. They flew around an isolated butte which rose majestically from the ground as if it had been pushed up from below. Jamie took the viewfinder away from his face and peered at the rocky outcrop. “There’s someone on top of the hill,” he said. He put the camcorder back to his eye and zoomed in on the butte. “He’s lying down. . I think he’s got a gun, Dad.”

“Are you sure?”

The Cessna had flown by the hill and Jamie couldn’t see the man any more. “I don’t know, I think so.”

“There wouldn’t be hunters out here, surely,” said Sandra, the concern obvious in her voice.

“Nothing to shoot at except lizards,” said Mitchell. “Okay, Jamie, keep your eyes open, we’re only going to do this once. Shout if you see Steven Spielberg, okay?” He cut back on the power and slowed the Cessna’s airspeed until they were at eighty knots. Jamie panned across the activity below, zooming in on the three people on the ground and then tracking across to the two towers. Sandra shaded her eyes with her hands and peered down.

“Jamie, can you see what the men are doing on the towers?” she said. “They’re not cameras they’re holding, are they?”

Jamie concentrated his camcorder on the tower closest to the small plane. It was about half a mile away and seemed to be made of metal scaffolding and planks. “No, Mom,” he said, “they’re guns.”


“Yeah, like the guy had back on the hill.”

Sandra turned to her husband. “Jim, I don’t like this, let’s go.”

“You think maybe we should report it?” Mitchell asked.

“I don’t know, I just think we should go. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“Okay, honey, no problem.” Mitchell pushed the throttle full in and pulled back on the control wheel and

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