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Turbulence, p.17

Turbulence, page 17

 

Turbulence
 


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  “Both.”

  “Once I realized that it would increase my chances of getting the job I wanted in the military, I busted my,” he paused as if he’d decided to censor himself, “my buns to get it. So if our presence will encourage those guys to go for the gold, then I’ve done my job.”

  For a man who supposedly steered clear of responsibility, he certainly cared a lot about others. “You’re really a nice man,” she told him.

  “Of course I am,” he agreed. “All you had to do was ask me.”

  “Modest, too, I see.”

  “Hey,” he protested mildly as he steered her through the entrance to stand near the curb. “If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?”

  He had a point. She glanced at the parking lot across the way. “Now what?”

  “Your chariot awaits.”

  “No kidding?”

  “Sure. While you were with the boys and their families, I called my friend at the airport. He’s sending a car to take us to the finest steak house in town. I don’t know about you, but those sandwiches at three o’clock are wearing off.”

  “I wouldn’t mind a nice dinner, but shouldn’t we be heading back to Turning Point?”

  “Eventually,” he said. “We have to eat, anyway, so we may as well eat here in Beeville.”

  “It’s not that I don’t want to,” she said slowly, “but can we try to get in touch with Mitch first?”

  “If you insist.” She half expected him to go back inside the hospital to the telephone kiosk, but he pulled his cell phone off his belt and began punching in numbers. “Whether we get through or not, we’ll fly back to Turning Point after dinner. I heard the weather there is clearing, and it will be easier to check my airport hangar for storm damage while we still have light.”

  Dana waited while he placed the call. To her surprise, and clearly Micky’s as well, he got through to Ruth.

  “We’re in Beeville, safe and sound,” he told the secretary. “How are things there?”

  Dana eavesdropped shamelessly on his side of the conversation, especially after he announced, “Ruth’s patching me through to Mitch.”

  Suddenly his eyes grew intent and he listened with a grave expression. Dana feared bad news.

  “Okay,” he finally said. “We’ll be there shortly.”

  As he snapped his phone closed, Dana couldn’t contain herself. “What did he say? What’s wrong?”

  Micky’s expression sent fear through her heart. “We’ve had a change in plans. We’re going back now.”

  “Why?” she demanded.

  Micky’s voice was quiet. “We have to get back because the school nurse is the only medical person in town.”

  The only…? “But there were four of us,” she protested.

  “Mitch sent every one of the Courage Bay people out yesterday. We’re the first ones he’s heard from since the hurricane hit.”

  The thought of losing any of her friends from Courage Bay was too horrible to contemplate. “Maybe they holed up like we did and just can’t check in.”

  “Maybe,” he said.

  Something in his tone warned her that there was more to the story than he was telling. “What else did he say?”

  His nod was brief. “There’s a strong possibility that the nurse—”

  “Cheryl?” she interrupted.

  “Yeah. Cheryl.” He hesitated. “When Mitch spoke to her last, she was on a bridge near Hansen’s farm.”

  “So?”

  “The bridge collapsed.”

  Dana almost couldn’t bear to ask. “And?”

  He hesitated. “She may have drowned.”

  MICKY WATCHED DISBELIEF, then horror cross Dana’s features. “I’m sorry,” he said, wanting to take her in his arms.

  “I don’t believe it,” she said flatly.

  “I’m sorry,” he repeated.

  She shook her head and stepped away from him. “No. It isn’t possible. She couldn’t have died. Maybe she just swam downstream.”

  “Maybe.” It seemed cruel to point out that not even the strongest swimmer would likely survive a storm-tossed river powerful enough to take out a bridge.

  “Maybe someone saw her and fished her out.”

  “Maybe,” he said again. Hope was a powerful emotion and he refused to take that away from Dana, even though he knew how unforgiving flooded rivers were. Not to mention all the other hazards the nurse could have encountered. Like snakes.

  Yup. Ignorance was bliss.

  “What about Nate and Dr. Sherwood?” She snapped her fingers as if she’d just thought of something. “Didn’t Mitch’s daughter go with Nate? How are they?”

  He shook his head. “No word from them, either. Which is why Mitch asked us to come back ASAP.”

  “Then what are we waiting for?” she asked crossly.

  “Our ride.” He pointed to the black, mud-spattered truck that had just pulled up to the curb.

  The drive to the airport passed by in silence. Dana clearly wasn’t in the mood for conversation, and neither was Micky. Dana wasn’t the only one with missing friends. Their sheriff, Jesse Boone, was with Dr. Sherwood, and if neither had checked in yet…. It didn’t bear thinking about. As for Mitch, Micky couldn’t imagine what personal hell the chief was going through as he worried about his own daughter. If he was in the chief’s shoes, he’d be going crazy.

  Texas weather could be harsh, but the people of Turning Point came from hardy stock. If there was a way to survive, Micky felt certain his friends would have found it. Unfortunately the key word was “if.”

  His takeoff was as flawless as the seven o’clock sky. He was glad; Dana deserved an uneventful flight after the last two harrowing ones.

  “It’s hard to believe that just a few hours ago, the weather was completely different,” she commented as she stared through the windows.

  At least she was talking, he thought to himself. “That’s how these storms behave,” he told her. “They move in, and then all of a sudden, poof! They’re gone. If it weren’t for the destruction they leave behind, we wouldn’t know one had come through.”

  She nodded. “Are we close enough to fly over your grandfather’s house? To see if it’s still in one piece?”

  He’d thought about doing the same thing, but because he knew Dana was worried about her friends, he’d planned to take the fastest route to Turning Point instead. Since she’d suggested it, a quick fly-by would only cost them a few minutes.

  “It’s a little out of our way,” he said, “but we should still arrive well before anyone has a chance to wonder where we are.”

  He changed his course slightly and soon they were within sight of his property.

  “How does it look?” she asked.

  “Pretty good,” he said with relief. “I didn’t think the place had suffered too much damage, but we were too busy and the weather too nasty to really give it a good once over before we left this morning.” He banked Maggie May for a second pass. “From here, it looks like mostly tree damage.”

  “And your hangar doesn’t have as much as a dent.”

  “Of course not,” he boasted. “All that quality workmanship paid off.”

  She chuckled. “I’d say so.”

  He changed course again, and before long, they were taxiing down Turning Point’s runway toward his airport hangar. The sign, Flynn Charter Service, was crooked, but that could be fixed easily enough. So could the chain-link fence that kept out public vehicles and allowed only authorized access to the runways. At first glance, this area seemed to have come through relatively unscathed.

  “We’ll take my Explorer back to town,” he mentioned as he parked his plane.

  “What’s wrong with the motorcycle?”

  “Can’t carry the medical kit,” he pointed out. “We should restock it in case Mitch sends us on another search-and-rescue mission.”

  “Good idea.”

  “If Sam left his bike, I want to take that to him, too.”

  They took a m
ore northerly route into town. “Mitch said the south and southwest parts of the county are flooded,” Micky informed her.

  “Is that where Hansen’s bridge is?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Did he send anyone to look for Cheryl and the others?”

  “I don’t know,” he answered honestly, although he doubted it. With the roads inaccessible, search teams wouldn’t have gotten far, but he decided to let Mitch break that particular bit of news to her.

  Organized chaos ruled the command post. Before they got too far inside the building, he saw the chief’s secretary coming toward them.

  “Thank goodness you’re back.” A harried Ruth hugged Micky. “Once the worst of the storm was over, this place turned into a zoo.”

  “Any word from the missing?” he asked for Dana’s benefit.

  Ruth shook her head as she gave Dana an apologetic glance. “Sorry. But we’re not giving up yet.” She winked at Micky. “Texans are tough old birds.”

  “Speaking of tough birds, where’s Mitch?”

  “He’s here at the first-aid station. Everyone else is at the high school gym, along with the evacuees from Corpus Christi who got this far.”

  “Is the power back on?”

  She shook her head. “Those with portable generators have electricity, but Mitch won’t let the utility companies restore service until they check and double-check everything. There are power lines down on the east side, so he’s being extra careful.”

  “What about phones?”

  “Only the cell phones are working and they’re sporadic.” She patted the walkie-talkie on her hip. “Which is why we’re depending on these. By the way, Sam’s been asking about you every hour on the hour, so I’ll call over to the school and let him know you’re back. Unless you’d like to run over there and let him see you in person.”

  Micky grinned. “Thanks, Ruth. I will.”

  Heavy footsteps clicked on the tile floor. “Here comes the chief,” Ruth said. “I know his step anywhere.” She turned to walk away, then stopped in her tracks. “Before I forget, there’s food in the meeting room in case you’re hungry. It isn’t much—sandwiches and coffee—but help yourself.”

  “We will,” he promised, already looking forward to diving into a few dozen sandwiches. But when he noticed the lines of worry bracketing Mitch’s mouth and the haunted look in his eyes, food suddenly became the last thing on his mind.

  Being the professional that he was, the chief smiled at them and clasped Micky’s, then Dana’s hand warmly.

  “You two are a sight for sore eyes,” he said simply.

  “It’s good to be back,” Dana replied. “What’s the damage report?”

  “It’s bad, but not as bad as it could be,” he admitted. “There are a lot of signs down, roofs blown off and trees uprooted in town, plus the flooding, but I’ve seen worse. There’s greater damage closer to the coast. The street lights are out, so driving through town is a nightmare. The police and a few sheriff’s deputies are directing traffic through the major intersections.”

  “Any injuries?” Dana asked.

  “Some,” he admitted, running a hand through his graying hair. “Most are minor. Cuts, sprains and a few smashed fingers. The worst case is a fellow who just came to the first-aid station a little bit ago, complaining of chest pain after he loaded tree limbs on his truck. Right now, you’re the best person we have to check him out.”

  “Any word from Dr. Sherwood?”

  “Not from her or anyone else. If anyone needs a doctor, we’ll evac ’em to Alice.”

  “Is Florence Templeton around?” Micky asked. He turned to Dana to explain. “Flo is the school nurse. Has been for the last forty years and is close to retirement.”

  “Yes,” Mitch answered, “but she’s out on a call right now. When she returns, she’ll work with you two.” He turned to Micky. “I want you to be Dana’s partner at the medical station until further notice.”

  While Micky was delighted to remained paired with Dana and help her in whatever capacity he could, he’d rather look for the missing people. From Dana’s wrinkled brow, she obviously felt the same way.

  Aware of the question on her mind, Micky asked, “Shouldn’t we be searching for Dana’s colleagues? With my plane, we could cover a lot of ground.”

  “You could,” Mitch agreed, “but I can’t afford to send you and Dana on a wild-goose chase when I have people a few feet away who need her help.”

  “But—” He started to protest, then bit back his objection. Mitch’s own daughter hadn’t called in, but the chief had obviously put the needs of the community first.

  “I understand how you feel, Dana,” Mitch said, as if he knew Micky had merely been her mouthpiece, “But there’s a good chance they’re fine. I’m holding on to that thought and you should, too.”

  She nodded, although Micky could tell from the tension in her body that she’d rather do something more proactive than simply wait.

  “Now,” the chief’s voice turned brusque, “y’all get on down the hall to the people waiting for medical attention. Let me know if the condition of that fellow with the chest pain changes.”

  “I will.”

  Micky accompanied her to their triage area. “Mitch is right,” he said to fill the silence between them. “They’re probably fine.”

  “I’m sure they are.”

  An urge to wipe the worry off her face struck him. “Maybe if things settle down in the next hour, the chief will let us sneak away to search for them before it gets too dark.”

  Her face lit up. “Do you think so?”

  He shrugged. “He might. Meanwhile, I’ll scrounge something for us to eat. My stomach is pressing against my backbone.”

  She smiled. “Mine, too.”

  Micky strode toward the room Ruth had indicated, chafing at the thought of being grounded when he was impatient to be in the air. With luck, he could convince Mitch to let them run a quick search pattern before the sun set. Until then, searching for sandwiches was the best he could do.

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAFING AT HER ASSIGNMENT, yet knowing that orders were orders, Dana found her way to her destination. By whatever name it was called—triage area or first-aid station—it looked remarkably like so many other disaster posts she’d encountered over the years. People were lying on cots or on the floor, sitting on chairs. A few paced, as if they needed to channel their nervous energy into some form of activity.

  Her work would be cut out for her.

  A gray-haired Red Cross volunteer who admitted to taking a first aid course a few months earlier updated Dana on her patients.

  “Bill Thompson is the worst of the lot,” the woman reported softly. “He’s resting, but his color doesn’t look good to me.”

  Dana had noticed the man’s ashen face and privately agreed. After a quick introduction to Bill and his wife, June, she began her assessment.

  “I’m feeling chipper right now,” the sixty-year-old assured her. “You should be saving this bed for someone worse off.”

  “If someone more ill than you are comes in, we’ll boot you out of it,” Dana said with a smile. “Until then, I’m going to run an EKG strip. We’ll know what to expect after we get a good picture of what your heart is doing.”

  “I don’t suppose you’ll let me go until you do.”

  “Even if she will, I won’t,” his wife declared. “You’re staying here if I have to sit on you myself.”

  “Now, Mother,” he said mildly as he winked at Dana. “We’re getting too old for such shenanigans.”

  “I want us to get a little older, too, so just lie there and stop fussing,” she answered in a tart voice.

  “You heard the boss, missy. I can’t go nowhere until you give me the go-ahead.”

  Dana watched the tracing, not surprised to see a slightly irregular heartbeat with a few extra spikes.

  Immediately she called the E.R. at Alice and explained the situation.

  “Transport as so
on as possible,” the doctor instructed.

  “That could be a problem.” She wondered what provisions Mitch had made to evacuate patients, and if he expected her to accompany the individual or remain here.

  “We’ll send a chopper,” the doctor said.

  “Perfect,” Dana replied.

  She addressed Bill and his wife. “It’s probably nothing serious, but the doctor in Alice would like to see you as a precaution.”

  Bill nodded. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

  “How soon can we leave?” his wife asked.

  “As soon as the helicopter arrives,” Dana said.

  Over the next two hours, she made steady progress with the patients and sent Bill on his helicopter ride. At one point, she saw Sam. He was accompanying Micky like a shadow, as if now that they were reunited, the boy didn’t intend to let Micky out of his sight.

  Micky had hugged the boy and joked with him, giving Sam his full attention. It was obvious how great Micky was with kids. While she understood his worry about having time to devote to a wife or children, she also knew that in the hours he did share with them, they would have his full attention.

  A man who’d closed his pickup door on his finger came in with his hand wrapped in a cloth, and Dana forgot all about Sam and Micky. Forty-five minutes later, she’d emptied the room and sank onto a chair, exhausted.

  “Tired?” Micky asked as he came up behind her and kneaded her shoulders.

  “Very.”

  “How was the sandwich we brought you earlier?”

  “Great. I could use another piece of that chocolate cake, though.”

  “I’ve already set one aside with your name on it, along with another treat.”

  “A treat? I can’t wait.” She glanced at the window and noticed the light had faded. “Is it dark outside?”

  “Afraid so.”

  “Then we can’t fly, can we?”

  “I can fly,” he said. “We just won’t be able to see anything.”

  “Damn.”

  She wanted to vent her frustration with more than a curse word, but even that was better than doing something ridiculous like crying. Micky probably wouldn’t mind if she shed a few tears, but working with men through the years had taught her to bury such feelings and deal with them in her own manner when she was alone. Still, she couldn’t stop a lump from forming in her throat.

 
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