Diana Devlin scanned the September night from the window of her Cessna 402 as the twin-engines purred. She enjoyed listening to the smooth and familiar motors. The mechanical music was like a fine symphony to her ears and part of her fastidious nature wanted to make sure nothing sounded amiss before she commanded her plane to cruise at 200 knots.
Her passengers seated themselves in four of the six seats and placed their equipment, paperwork, and white jackets on the available floor space. She smoothed a soft wisp of butterscotch hair away from her forehead and peered outside to the FAA control tower and fixed-base operator office at Standiford Field. She would be back home in Louisville by morning depending on how fast things moved once the transplant team disembarked in Birmingham. Not that she was in a hurry. She had made trips for organ retrieval before and liked the adrenaline rush, the pressure of the medical necessity, and the involvement in saving a recipient’s life.
Retrieving organs wasn’t even Diana’s main job. During weeks off from flying UPS cargo, she leased trips on her private plane. She planned on giving up flying UPS Boeing 757s by the time she turned fifty, in twelve more years, when her retirement assets would be dependable and flying would be at her discretion. She piloted her Cessna for sheer joy and exhilaration and charged handsomely for some excursions, but tonight’s trip, except to cover the cost of gas and landing fees, was charity. Her husband, Peter, was an anesthesiologist; they only partially depended on her full-time salary and didn’t need her extra-curricular income.
A passenger’s voice broke into Diana’s thoughts. “It would be allowed for me to sit there? Up front?”
Diana motioned to the right seat. “Go ahead. I’m pilot, co-pilot and crew. Seat’s empty.”
Sukhdev Bhagat planted his buttocks into the seat and sighed after arranging himself. He was a large man with pudgy cheeks, dull black hair, and sloping eyebrows. He unfastened his top shirt button and folded his white coat on his lap. He was one of the two main surgeons for the impending liver transplant, but his partner stayed at Samaritan Hospital while he headed to procure the donor liver. A senior surgical resident accompanied him as well as a United Network organ representative and a registered nurse.
Diana tuned the cockpit radio frequency to Louisville clearance. “Organ Life Zero One requesting clearance to Birmingham.”
A voice on the other end crisply responded, “Organ Life Zero One cleared to Birmingham as filed, climb and maintain ten thousand feet. Contact ground on 121.7 for taxi.”
“Roger,” Diana said. “Organ Life Zero One cleared to Birmingham as filed, climb and maintain ten thousand feet.” She looked at Dr. Bhagat and then craned her neck to see the passengers behind her. “Are all items secured and are you all buckled? And, are there any last minute questions regarding the emergency drill I gave you?”
“We are ready,” the thirty-five year old surgeon said. “Your briefing did not involve us learning brain surgery.” He faced the right window and lowered his voice. “Please, let us get this plane moving.”
Diana frowned but continued her eye contact with the other passengers. They nodded and she proceeded to switch frequencies as instructed.
“Ground, Organ Life Zero One is ready to taxi with information Alpha.”
“Organ Life Zero One cleared to taxi and hold short of Runway 17 Left via taxiway Echo,” said a voice from ground control.
Diana read back the taxi clearance, released the brakes, and headed for the runway. Her 20/20 vision gauged the small truck to the side of the plane to be far enough away from her right wing.
“Organ Life Zero One monitor tower on 124.2 for takeoff.”
“Roger that.” Diana set the brakes and completed the before-takeoff checklist.
“Organ Life Zero One ready?” queried a voice from the tower.
Diana viewed the panorama to her left - the 150 foot wide runway and the white runway lights stretching forward 200 feet apart like white-spotted dominoes in the dark.
“Tower, this is Organ Life Zero One ready for takeoff.”
“Organ Life Zero One. Maintain runway heading. You are cleared for takeoff on Runway 17 Left.”
Diana echoed the tower’s instructions, taxied onto the runway, and pushed the throttles forward. She quickly and methodically checked the engine instruments and the air speed indicator as the plane accelerated to takeoff speed.
Inside the unpressurized aircraft, her passengers remained quiet. The spotless white plane rolled forward. Diana’s pulse quickened along with her accelerating toy. Her ears keyed to the roar of the engines, her sharp eyes to what lay before her as well as the incandescence passing to the right and left.