"...on the Line of Position 157‐337, will repeat this message on 6210 KCS. Wait listening on 6210 KCS…” Amelia paused, collected herself. Tired and frightened was no reason to sound like a silly little girl. “…we are running north and south." Amelia signed off, replacing the radio. Squinting against the ocean's shifting morning-sun glare, she looked for a steady dark spot that might be Howland Island.
Over the drone of the Electa's engines, there wasn't much point in conversation. If Fred saw something, he'd make it known, and until then she had no intention of jogging his elbow. Amelia glanced down at the gauges instead. No good news there.
Sorry, GP, she thought, as the empty minutes crept on over the empty sea. Might have to reschedule next month's bash. The clouds beyond the Electa's nose cast deceptive shadows on the glittering, deadly water. Here might be an island, there might be land, or over there...
Or, over there.
Amelia jerked the navigator's line, pointed out the cockpit to the steady dark spot half-mired in cloud shadows. Fred twisted around until he could follow along her pointing gesture, blinked, and nodded.
Weight lifted off her heart as she banked the Electra toward the atoll that might still be in her reach.
It wasn’t Howland Island.
It also wasn’t – quite – in the Electra’s flight plan.
"Well, Fred, we - oof!" Gasping, Amelia dropped another crate of salvaged goods on under the scrubby trees. On the other side of the piles of wood, metal, rubber, and cloth, Fred Noonan looked up from what had been the backup radio. “This is what I found, including the rope,” Amelia finished, finding a seat in the shade-dappled sand. “Worth taking another look, d’you think?”
Fred smothered a yawn. “This time of day, probably better to take a nap, wait out the heat. Plane’s not going anywhere, neither are we.”
“Radio?” she asked.
“Still busted. We’ll have to fire up an engine to use the primary.”
Damn and damn. She leaned back against the crate, closed her eyes.
“Get some sleep,” Fred continued. “It’s not long to noon - doesn’t take two to shoot the sun. Take a look at that wreck on the reef after it cools off a bit. You wanted a break, here it is.”
“Hell of a way to get a vacation,” she retorted, but didn’t open her eyes.
Fred Noonan and I started the day like most days: fishing for our breakfast. Coconut milk is fine and well to slake a thirst. We found we liked something more substantial for our meals, when we could get it. It was my day to check the nets on the atoll inlet, and Fred’s to take the fishing rods to the south side. Which is how he came to see the ship riding outside the reef, and a boat of fellows making their way to the shore.
“Well who are you then?” they asked, when they had made their way ashore.
“I’m Fred Noonan and I’ve been on this island for more than a year,” he said, “with my flying partner Amelia Earhart for company.”
We’d survived a year and seven months on Gardner Island by our wits and ingenuity. Later, people said Fred and I stayed so long to avoid our spouses, but I’ll have you know that’s not right. Fred never ended a day without mentioning how much he missed his wife. And if we’d really wished to avoid GP and Mary, we would have taken up the British on their kindly offer to leave us on Gardner to sit out the fight they saw coming. But that wasn’t Fred’s way and it’s not mine.
Crossing the Pacific in 1937 had been a technical challenge, a problem of fuel and equipment. Permissions from governments had been a far cry from Amelia’s biggest challenge. Ringing in 1939 in a British consulate, sipping bubbly in a hubbub and crush bent on seeing the Aviator Earhart, had forced her to rethink those problems.
War, the crush had muttered, swirling drinks and bad news, when they weren’t asking about crabs and coconut milk. War. Japan. Germany. War.
It wasn’t on them yet, but just the downdrafts ahead of the storm of war had made for some choppy flying on the last leg of a long, long round-the-world flight.
We’re going by plane, she had argued. Fred and GP had backed her up, GP by telegram and letter. Sounds a lot better than limping home on a steamer. We started this in the air, we go home the same way.
And here she was, stepping onto the John Rodgers tarmac from a Lockheed 14. Honolulu’s humid tropical air wrapped her in sweat as she squinted into the full afternoon sun and a small horde of cheering newsies.
She grinned and waved for the cameras, not answering their cheers yet. In front were GP - GP! Perhaps absence did make the heart grow fonder - and a woman who had to be Fred’s wife.
Amelia ran into her husband’s embrace, the newsies’ clicking shutters drowning out her footsteps. Whatever was happening in the world, she wanted to be part of it. Getting back in the air started on this tarmac.
More welcome than the newsies were the friends flying in as they heard the news.
“Why, Amelia dear, you – “ even in the dim bar, Fay and Betty both looked at a loss.
Amelia grinned. “Oh, say it. When I looked in a mirror, I know my first thought was, ‘well, Ms. Earhart, how much of yourself did you leave on that island?’ “
Fay shook her head, but Betty laughed. “If you can joke about it, you must be feeling better. Let’s get you something cool before barraging you with questions.”
“Me!” Amelia said, “Well, this goes both ways, ladies. I want to hear all about what I’ve missed during my little vacation.”
There was nearly two years to catch up on – children, politics, husbands, planes – with Fay and Betty doing most of the talking. But not all of it.
“…and if seeing all of this in the papers isn’t enough, I’m sure someone will want a book and a speaking tour out of it,” Fay finished.
Amelia detested speaking tours. Still, she had to admit to her friends, “Depending on how the money looks, they might get it.” She took another sip of her drink. “I’d rather be in the air, but the Aviator Earhart is paid by the public Miss Earhart.”
“Let’s see what we can do,” Betty said. “There may be some possibilities coming up… keep looking to the sky, and keep an ear to the ground.”
Earhart’s sensational return “from the dead” captured the public’s imagination. British surveyors’ discovery of two castaways, marooned on a tropical atoll – their unlikely escape from war-torn Pacific waters - Earhart’s recuperation in the Los Angeles of Eugene Vidal and the truth behind rumors of a torrid affair – Earhart’s struggles with her health as the war effort took its toll on her – all told in Ms. Earhart’s own words!
Eugene had offered his spacious study for the interview, and Amelia had shamelessly taken him up on it. With the windows open, she could imagine there was a breath of wind in the hot room.
The Los Angeles late morning sun wasn’t the only hot air in the room, sadly. Amelia tried to ignore the headache from a sinusitis flare-up and focus on her guest.
"…with the tenth anniversary of the crash coming up.” the young woman was still talking. “We’ll be delighted to do all the tedious parts. All Mr. Putnam asks is an outline for m- for one of our junior writers, and all of us at the publishing house would be perfectly happy to send you the last draft, for edits and accuracy.”
“Accuracy” was a bit of a sore topic, what with the crashing end of the last book deal GP was a splendid fellow in many ways, but not always the best at knowing when to sit back and let honest facts do the talking. Or honest men and women other than Miss Amelia Earhart. Looking back, it had only been the war effort that had gotten her back at work in the air.
“How did you get picked for this, dear?” Amelia asked finally. “Not everyone would come in person to sweet-talk someone into a little writing.”
The girl – goodness, any feminine thing under 30 looked like a girl to her these days – perked up, face and eyes shining. “I’ve admired your flying all my life, Ms Earhart. I saved my pennies for weeks when I heard The Fun of It had been published. When Mr. Putnam’s assistant said they were looking for someone to gho- ah, help you write your book, I just had to jump at the chance to meet you.”
Sometimes, Amelia wished she had stayed on that island. Fred had been pretty good company, and the palm-trees didn’t pry.
“When my father said I couldn’t fly, I told myself, Ms. Earhart flew, and you make it sound so delightful in For the Fun of It.”
That got her attention. “You’re a pilot?”
The girl flushed. “I’m just taking lessons at the airfield right now. My girlfriends weren't so keen, but they drove me down to the airfield and I paid my license fees and I did. Fly, I mean. The first time I went up just after sunrise…” she trailed off.
Amelia felt herself softening. For her, there was still nothing in the world like flying. And it seemed this young lady had been bitten by the same bug. “Maybe I can come up with something. But tell me more. Who’s teaching you? How many hours are you getting in?”
The cover might need to look sensational, but with the right material… well, maybe something good would come of this book after all.