Jean-Marc and I lost touch once more after our escapades in East Africa. Occasionally I would end up in the places he had been, and I would be approached by someone or another as to his whereabouts. I didn’t know, of course. By then, we were both traveling hither and yon to the far-flung outposts of the helicopter world, involved in fire fighting or exploration or construction and sent wherever the company saw fit to dispatch us.
It was during one of those assignments that I learned Jean-Marc had been killed while flying in the mountains. I didn’t get all of the details right away, of course, but eventually they trickled down to me via phone calls to the company and to various people I knew in the business. He didn’t stand a chance, and ended up smacking the ground with a substantial thud. I did learn one thing though, and that was that young Bill had been his swamper on that job.
Years later I decided that I needed something different to maintain my sanity, and so I retired from flying and got myself tied to a desk, still involved in aviation, but finished with active flying. Occasionally I’d see one or two of the old crew who came to town to do a job, or someone who was passing though and wanted to touch base and talk about old times. And then, to my complete surprise, a half-dozen of them showed up on a charter headed west. The charter flight had stopped for fuel, so they all wandered across the field to my office to kill some time.
Bill was one of them, standing in the background. Finally he walked up and we shook hands. To my complete surprise and discomfort I noticed that he was wearing Jean-Marc’s ring. Without blinking an eye, I now sized him up for the man that he was: a thief; a liar; and finally, a grave-robber.
I wondered. Did he take the ring off of a dead man’s hand? Or had he merely put it in his pocket when he collected Jean-Marc’s personal effects?
The former would be no surprise to me, and the latter is unlikely, since I later learned that Bill was the first man to get to the accident site.