Down at the LaFleur airport some time after midnight on the cold night of
February 16, 1983, a young kid was trying to make a phone call on the pay phone. The airport is in the meadows area of Northampton next to Route 91. It’s your standard country airport, a tar strip, a scattering of planes and hangars. In winter, it’s a desolate place. After hours, no one is around. A neighbor who usually walks around nights and keeps an eye on things was out of
town on vacation.
It all started with a wrong number and a payphone that wouldn’t return money. Bob was trying to call a friend, lost his money, got angry, and tore the phone off the wall of the hangar. He was a troubled kid, a shabby quiet loner from a rural background who hid behind a big bushy black beard. Someone who might have been a schizophrenic. Someone who brooded a lot about the state of the world, who had been hospitalized out at the Northampton State Hospital, and now was living at Northampton Lodgings, a brick building on Pleasant Street close to downtown, going to meetings, and taking his medication. Norma Rubeck, who managed the place in the days when the place was managed, told me he was a weird one. The graduates and drop-outs of Northampton’s mental institutions have always given our town a certain odd flavor. Just as many of the five college graduates stick around the area after graduation, so did many people from the Northampton State Hospital and the Veterans Medical Center in Leeds, which had a big in-patient and out-patient mental population.
A counselor who knew him told me that he hated the airport. Guys in his recovery program had talked about it and how the heroin and cocaine that was a big part of street life came through Lafleur on light planes flying in from the Martha’s Vineyard or further south. Staring down at the wreckage of the phone, he saw something glinting on the ground. A key, with a tag attached. On the tag was a woman’s name, and a plane registration number. Click here to read the story.