3 HOURS LATER. COLUMBIA, MISSOURI. 9 PM CENTRAL TIME. SUNDAY, MAY 10, 2026.

There wasn’t much of twilight left as Bambi came in to the field, but unlike so many of the places she flew the Stearman into and out of, Columbia had been a real airport, back before, though a small one, and there was so much room on a jetliner runway that the Stearman could practically have landed crossways. She taxied up to the hangar, shut down, and climbed out of the plane.

“Always a pleasure to have you here, ma’am,” the ground chief said. Bambi couldn’t quite remember her name, and it took her another moment to think, Right, I’m in Columbia, en route to Pueblo.

“Good to be down for the night,” Bambi said. “I’m pretty well ex-hausted. Can I just ask you to fit my plane out, and if there’s a carriage to the hotel—”

“We’ll have you there right away. You look pretty well worn-out, ma’am.”

She had to be awakened when the carriage came by, almost an hour later. The hotel was just an old religious-retreat facility near the airport, but the staff knew how she liked things, so when she staggered into the only room with a private bath, it was all set up, with the tub already filled with hot water and towel-covered board covering it. There was bread, meat, and cheese on the sideboard. She made up three sandwiches, stripped, ate while she soaked, toweled off, and fell asleep on top of the covers without setting an alarm.

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