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Turbulence, p.10

Turbulence, page 10

 

Turbulence
 


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  “Don’t you have a basement or a storm cellar?” Dana asked.

  “The water table is too high. Around here, we build a special room with concrete walls that are reinforced with steel. Granddad turned it into his poker room.” He grinned. “He and his cronies planned their parties around the weather forecast. His jar of winnings is in the room.”

  “They played for money?”

  He smiled. “Granddad always said that a man didn’t appreciate what didn’t cost him. He was right.”

  Before she could mull over that philosophy, the wind’s howl became an eerie shriek that sent a shiver down Dana’s spine. The conversation instantly died, along with the smiles on the boys’ faces.

  Micky’s concerned expression was the last thing she saw before the lights flickered, then left them in darkness.

  CHAPTER SIX

  THE DARKNESS WAS A RUDE awakening for Micky. In the cozy cabin, it had been easy for him to temporarily ignore Damon, but without electricity, it was impossible. And if he suffered a moment’s unease, he knew everyone else, especially Dana, probably felt the same.

  “Don’t panic.” Perhaps, since these were Boy Scouts, if he played up the high adventure concept, they wouldn’t be quite as spooked.

  He located the camping lantern he’d placed on the counter as a precaution, then flicked on the switch. Light shone on wide-eyed faces and he detected a measure of relief on all of them. There was something about being able to see that allowed people to handle their stress far better than if they sat in a pitch-black room.

  Micky raised his voice over the wind’s howl. “We wouldn’t have much of a story to tell if the electricity stayed on, now, would we? It’s all part of the excitement.”

  “Exactly,” Dana agreed as she stacked several bowls and carried them to the sink. “When you get home, your friends will be so impressed at how close you came to a real hurricane.”

  “My friends will be,” Josh said glumly. “But my folks won’t. They’ll never let me go on another field trip again.”

  “Is that why you were in Turning Point?” Micky asked. “On a field trip?”

  Will, his left arm and shoulder still swathed in gauze and a sling, glanced at his father. “A few friends of my dad’s live in Turning Point and we drove up to help them get ready for the storm. We covered windows with plywood, that sort of thing. Some of the guys in our troop needed service hours, so they came along. With all of us working, we did a lot in a short amount of time,” he boasted.

  “We left extra early this morning and took the back roads so we could get home before the weather got bad,” Eddie chimed in. “We would have, too, if those dumb steers hadn’t been in the middle of the road.”

  “I feel guilty that I didn’t take time to check on those poor creatures before we left,” Dana said wistfully. “They looked like they were out of their misery, but it would have been nice to be sure.”

  “Trust me,” Micky said. “They were.” And if they hadn’t been, he would have taken care of it.

  She shrugged. “I wonder if we could have done something for them if we’d gotten there a little earlier….”

  He wasn’t surprised that Dana seemed worried about a few animals. It seemed in her nature to care about anything sick or injured.

  “If Noah Arkin, our vet, had been with us, he couldn’t have changed the outcome,” Micky said. “I’d guess they were killed on impact.” Silence abruptly descended, as if everyone realized how fortunate they’d been not to share the steers’ fate.

  “Do you suppose our folks know where we are?” Eddie asked.

  “It’s hard to say,” Micky answered, thinking it highly unlikely but not willing to say so. Other than mentioning the possibility of landing at this location to the air traffic controller, no one knew for sure where they were.

  “If they call, Chief Kannon will tell them that we went to rescue you,” Dana assured them.

  “I was going to phone home after I got through to 911,” Eddie admitted, “but the battery died and I couldn’t. It was probably just as well. They couldn’t have done anything except freak out.”

  “Plus, we were sort of hoping we wouldn’t have to tell them at all,” Josh said.

  Considering their injuries, there wasn’t much chance of that, but Micky didn’t point out the obvious. Teenagers liked to believe that they were smart enough to pull the wool over their parents’ eyes.

  “The hospital in Alice will wonder where we are, won’t they?” Dana asked him.

  “If they’re worried, they’ll call the airport and someone will tell them we diverted to Beeville.”

  “But won’t that hospital send out an alarm if we don’t arrive there, either?”

  “It’ll be hours before anyone figures out we’re missing, and by then, we’ll be on our way again.” At least, he hoped they’d be back in the air.

  A loud crack, then a crash sounded nearby.

  Dana jumped, her eyes wide. “What was that?”

  Micky straightened from his perch against the counter. “I’m guessing a tree,” he said calmly. “It’s time to head to the game room for the duration.”

  “What about the dishes?” Eddie asked.

  “No KP duty tonight. Without power, we can’t pump water into the house. We’ll leave ’em until morning.” He passed out two more flashlights. “Don’t be pokey, but don’t lose your heads and rush around. Let’s not give Dana more injuries to treat.”

  In spite of his admonition, the boys scraped their chairs against the floor in their scramble to gather their belongings.

  When the kitchen had cleared except for the three adults, Micky addressed Clay. “I set up a cot for you, in case you’re ready to lie down again.”

  Clay smiled weakly. “I am.”

  “I’ll help you,” Dana offered.

  While she accompanied Clay to his safe spot for the next few hours, Micky carried in the gallons of bottled water he kept for emergencies. The buckets they’d filled would be used in the toilet tank, so they could still use those facilities.

  He watched Dana help Clay onto his cot, then recheck his vital signs. It was obvious from the expression on Clay’s face that he thought the sun rose and set on his temporary nurse.

  Micky never thought he’d be jealous of an injured man, but he was. He wanted to feel her cool hand against his brow, to receive her full attention along with a smile meant only for him.

  Irritated at himself for his adolescent reaction, he returned to the kitchen to clear off the table. Dana followed a few minutes later.

  “Should we light a few candles in case we have to walk through the house later?” she asked.

  “Too risky,” Micky said. “I have a few more battery-powered camping lanterns that’ll work better and be safer.”

  “Mind you, I’m not complaining, but I would have thought you Texans would have emergency generators.”

  “Some do,” he admitted. “A lot don’t, because they’re a luxury item. For starters, storing the gas is a problem. Who wants large quantities of flammable liquid sitting around? And for another, gasoline goes bad if you don’t use it. Plus, I’m only here about once a month, so I can’t justify the expense for an item that I probably wouldn’t ever use. So like any true Texan—” he winked “—I tough it out.”

  She laughed. “You guys really think you’re a cut above the rest of us.”

  “Aren’t we?” he asked innocently, knowing that she’d come to expect his claims of superiority and no longer took offense at them. He couldn’t explain it, but there was something about this great state that made a man’s chest swell with pride.

  Once again, she chuckled. “If you say so.” She pointed to the lamp. “We certainly timed our lunch just right. We’re lucky we were able to have something hot to eat after going all day without.”

  “As hungry as the boys were, they would have gobbled down everything cold,” he said. “They practically licked their bowls clean.”

  “I’m surprised you had
enough food if this is only your hideaway.”

  “I keep my freezer stocked for my spur-of-the-moment layovers. I also eat out of cans a lot.” Which, now that he thought about it, said quite a bit about his life. He couldn’t remember his last completely home-cooked meal.

  “So I don’t have to remind the boys to eat their fresh vegetables?”

  “Not this trip.”

  While Dana went to check on the boys’ progress, Micky realized what he’d said. Not this trip. Although he used his cabin as a place to get away from the heavy flying schedule he’d created for himself, he’d never felt an urge to share his private retreat with a guest before.

  A female guest, he corrected. Now that Dana was here, he wanted her all to himself. No Boy Scouts, no Clay Ewing. Just he and Dana waiting out the storm. Alone.

  He smiled as he pictured the scene. Dana’s hair spread across her shoulders as it was now, miles and miles of her smooth tanned skin illuminated by the battery lamp’s glow, her long arms and legs wrapped around his waist—

  “Hey, Micky.” Josh hobbled past with Pete’s help. “Do you have any crackers or anything? For later?”

  Micky grinned. “You must have the hollow-leg syndrome.”

  Josh’s smile became sheepish. “That’s what my mom says, too.”

  “I’ll see what I can find,” he promised.

  Eager for news of any kind, he turned on his portable radio. The static was horrible and he only caught a few words here and there, but it made him feel better to know that the radio station was still on the air. Things couldn’t be too bad, yet. And he didn’t need a disc jockey to tell him of Damon’s arrival. The wind’s shriek did that all by itself.

  The next fifteen minutes passed quickly as he carried in more jugs of water, some of Courtney’s snacks—which she stored in the freezer, a tin of crackers, a couple of sleeping bags and a pile of blankets. Accommodations might not be the fanciest, but they were comfortable.

  He met Dana, who’d come out of the bedrooms with an armload of pillows. “Do we have everything?”

  “I hope so,” she said fervently.

  With that, he ushered her into the safe room and closed the door. Immediately the wind’s fierce howl dropped several decibels.

  “I was afraid I’d have to listen to that shriek all night long,” Dana confessed. “I’m glad we won’t.”

  “What do we do now?” Will asked.

  “Sleep?” Micky suggested hopefully.

  The boys scoffed in unison. “Too early.”

  “There are magazines in the end table and a Monopoly game,” he pointed out. “Playing cards are in the drawer.”

  “I’m sure I’ll be outvoted,” Dana interrupted, “but I’d really like to know a little about you guys since we’re going to be living in each other’s laps for a while.”

  “What do you want to know?” Eddie asked.

  “Whatever you’d like to share. It doesn’t have to be much, but maybe you could tell Micky and me something about your family, or your favorite sport or hobby.”

  “Good idea,” Micky said. He figured it wouldn’t hurt to know a little more about his guests than their names and the fact they were Boy Scouts. More important, he wanted to know about Dana. “Who wants to go first?”

  Eddie pushed his glasses up his nose, then started his recitation. By the time they’d gone around the room, Micky had learned that Eddie was thirteen and loved planes and computers. Fourteen-year-old Josh Houston had two younger sisters and followed college basketball with religious fervor. At fifteen, Pete Shepherd had already broken several swim records on his high school team. Will Ewing was also fifteen and lived with his accountant father after his parents’ divorce. He liked horses and hoped to be a veterinarian.

  The best news Micky heard was that Clay Ewing was forty-eight. He was about fifteen years too old for Dana, although from the way he looked at her as if she was his ministering angel, Clay obviously didn’t agree.

  “I’m thirty-two,” Dana began, “but I’ve been a firefighter for ten years and lived in California all my life. I love water sports of all kinds.”

  Micky could easily imagine her balanced gracefully on a surfboard as she rode the waves or jet skied across the bay in a skimpy bathing suit, her long hair flying in the breeze. How had she slipped out of some lucky fellow’s grasp for this long? Or had she?

  His answer came with Will’s next question. “Are you married, engaged or seeing someone special?”

  She smiled. “No to all of the above.”

  “Why not?”

  Micky could have sworn that she made an effort not to look in his direction. “Why is anyone single?” she asked lightly. “I haven’t met the right guy yet.”

  He leaned back in his chair and relaxed, inordinately pleased by her announcement. It would take a special man not to feel threatened by such an independent woman, or become jealous because she was constantly surrounded by men.

  On the other hand, perhaps she was looking for something else in her Mr. Right—something that said he was interested in the long haul and not a short joyride.

  Which meant that he was out of the running before he got in the game. Since he was a competitive soul, the idea irked him.

  “Don’t forget,” Eddie said when all eyes focused on Micky for his turn at the getting-to-know-you game. “You’re going to tell us about flying.”

  Micky dragged his thoughts out of the quicksand they’d fallen in. “Anything in particular?” he asked.

  “Everything.”

  Eddie’s enthusiasm reminded him of Sam’s. “I was a kid when I flew for the first time. My dad had a plane that we used to check his cattle, but he sold it a few years later.” He smiled, remembering how he’d sulked in his room for days afterward. “Anyway, after high school, I went into the military and flew cargo planes.”

  “What made you like flying so much?” Eddie asked.

  “For a few pilots, it’s no different than driving a car—they fly because it’s the fastest way to get from one place to another. For others of us, it’s in the blood. John Gillespie Magee, Jr.’s poem has a line about touching the face of God, and he was so right. There’s nothing like breaking the laws of gravity and soaring higher than an eagle.”

  Sex came close, but he couldn’t mention that to a bunch of impressionable teenagers, even though they probably knew more about the subject than he thought they did.

  Instead he regaled them with tales from his military experiences, editing them for their young ears.

  “So why did you leave?” Eddie asked. “And why aren’t you a pilot for a big airline?”

  “I wanted to fly according to my schedule, not someone else’s,” he admitted. “So I saved my money, and now the bank and I own the plane.”

  “Girls like to hang around jet jocks, don’t they?” From the expression on Pete’s face, Micky couldn’t tell if he did or didn’t like the idea.

  Conscious of Dana’s interest, he answered carefully. “Yes, they do.”

  “Do you have a girlfriend back home?” Eddie asked.

  “Just Maggie May. My plane. Keeping her in the air is like having two full-time jobs.”

  He glanced at Dana, but couldn’t read anything in her impassive expression. He would have given his favorite socket wrench to know what she was thinking.

  Will broke in. “Is it true that all pilots belong to the Mile High Club?”

  Micky nearly choked. “Where did you hear that?”

  “I don’t remember. But do you?”

  “Do you know what the Mile High Club is?”

  “Sure. It’s a club for people who’ve flown a mile above ground. Right?” Will glanced over at his father for confirmation.

  Clay sat up on his cot and chuckled. “Not quite.”

  “Then what is it?”

  “I’ll tell you later.”

  “But I want to know, too,” Eddie begged.

  Eddie’s attitude painfully reminded Micky of Sam once again…and of Mi
cky’s broken promise. Granted, it wasn’t as though he purposely hadn’t returned to Turning Point, but he’d given his word and he knew Sam was counting on it.

  Feeling the need to escape, however briefly, Micky stood. “While Clay’s explaining, I’m going to see what’s happening outside.”

  Before anyone had time to protest, he fled the room, wishing he could escape his thoughts as easily.

  DANA HAD SEEN SOMETHING painful cross Micky’s face. For whatever reason, he’d rather risk his safety than sit here a minute longer. Hating for him to be alone to fight whatever demons had suddenly attacked, she rose.

  “I’m sure you guys would rather discuss this without me, so I’ll step outside.” Before anyone could protest, she slipped out the door and found Micky staring through the small kitchen window.

  “What’s the verdict?” she asked above the wind’s racket.

  “It’s a night not fit for man or beast.” He motioned toward the game room and grinned. “Was the topic getting a little too hot for you?”

  “It seemed appropriate to leave.”

  He nodded. “I’m going to take another turn through the house before I go back.”

  “I’ll tag along.”

  He raised an eyebrow. “Afraid I’ll get lost?”

  She shrugged. “Two pairs of eyes are better than one. And if I’m going to be sitting in there for the next however many hours, I’d like to stretch my legs as much as I can.”

  “Suit yourself.”

  She accompanied him as he walked through the house, training his flashlight beam on the windows and doors before he stopped for one final sweep of the picture window. He clicked off the switch, then glanced outside.

  Dana peered over his shoulder, but darkness and rain made it impossible to see past the porch. “You’re probably not standing in the safest place.”

  “I suppose not.”

  “Does everything seem okay out there?”

  He nodded.

  “You’re worried, aren’t you?”

  He shrugged nonchalantly. “We’re about to feel winds that can carry a truck into the next county or drive a piece of hay into a two-by-four. Anyone who isn’t worried right now is a darn fool.”

 
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