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Turbulence, p.4

Turbulence, page 4

 

Turbulence
 


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  If their wild ride hadn’t scared her, he didn’t have a blessed hope of her choosing to stay behind while he flew off to find those scouts.

  He almost felt guilty for the trick he’d played, but it wasn’t as if he’d purposely endangered her life. He simply hadn’t given her the sedate Sunday-afternoon drive he gave unseasoned riders. Now that he knew she’d been having the thrill of her life, he wondered why she’d initially appeared so reluctant to climb on behind him.

  Whatever her reasons, he wanted to be angry at her for not reacting as he’d expected. How was he supposed to have known that her gasp in his ear as he sailed over a large dip in the road and her earthy grunt as they’d landed had been due to pure delight and not fear? She’d taken the less-than-ideal ride in stride, which was a completely different response from the one he might have gotten from his former girlfriends.

  He should have done a better job at connecting the dots. A woman who chose firefighting as a profession clearly wasn’t a woman who was satisfied with tame pursuits of knitting and cookie-baking. It wouldn’t surprise him if she rappeled off cliffs and hang glided over the Grand Canyon.

  While his revelation didn’t completely wipe out his reservations about taking her along, it was possible, just possible, that it might not be the horrible experience he’d envisioned.

  Another thought, even more profound than the one he’d just entertained, struck him…. Perhaps she was a rare breed of woman who was satisfied more with who a man was than with changing him into someone he was not.

  He quickly rejoined Dana, who was staring at his pride and joy, his Piper Cheyenne. “I’m going to call for clearance and then we’re taking off.”

  “Okay. Should I stow anything on board for you?”

  He could think of a few things, but none were appropriate to mention to a woman he barely knew. “Just yourself.”

  Before he could open the plane’s door, a small form came barreling out of his office on the far side of the hangar. “Micky! You’re here. I was hoping you’d come back.”

  Micky stared at the eleven-year-old towheaded boy who’d become a fixture in his hangar ever since Micky had given him a taste of flying six months ago as part of the Young Eagles flight program. “Sam, why in the name of good sense aren’t you at the school gym with everyone else?”

  Sam skidded to a stop a few feet away. “I came out to see if I could help you get ready for the hurricane. I missed you, though, so I decided to wait.”

  Micky inwardly groaned. Just what he needed. To worry about the boy’s safety on top of everything else. Not for the first time, Micky itched to shake some sense into the kid’s mother for not keeping closer tabs on him. How Sam had grown up to be as decent a child as he was with such an irresponsible parent was the big question.

  “How did you get here?” Micky asked, already suspecting the answer.

  “I rode my bike.”

  “You have to get back to town,” he said gently but firmly. With the wind picking up, pedal power wouldn’t be adequate, and a mental picture of Sam exposed to Damon’s fury sent a shudder down Micky’s spine. “Is your mom at home?”

  Sam shook his head, his shaggy hair flying with the motion. “Haven’t seen her since last night.”

  Micky didn’t want the boy to be alone any more than he wanted him in this empty hangar or in a deserted field with only cattle for company when the storm hit. If the meteorologists were correct, they still had several hours before Damon made landfall on the northeast side of Corpus Christi, but he didn’t want to think about what might happen if his gut was right and the hurricane hit on the southwest side instead. The change in direction might give them a little more time, but it would also move the brunt of the storm closer to Turning Point.

  Without hesitation, he dug in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone as he motioned Dana toward the door behind the right wing of his Piper. An instant later, he had Ruth on the other end.

  “This is Micky,” he told her as he shrugged off his wet slicker. “Sam Brewster is out here by himself. Send someone to drive out and pick him up.”

  To Ruth’s credit, she didn’t question his request. Then again, most everyone in town knew that Crystal Brewster wasn’t a candidate for a Mother of the Year award.

  “And deliver him where?” she asked.

  “To the school gym. Take him home first, though, so he can get his overnight stuff.”

  “I’ll pass the word on. Don’t worry, Micky, we’ll look after the boy.”

  “Good.” That was one worry off his shoulders. He ended the call and addressed Sam. “Until your ride pulls up, stick by the phone in my office.”

  “What for?”

  “If the wind picks up, it’s the safest place. And if no one has come for you in thirty minutes, ring Ruth again. Will you do that?”

  Sam nodded. “Sure. Whatever you say.”

  Knowing that they’d already lost a precious ten minutes in traveling from the fire department to his hangar, Micky strode toward the airplane door. Conscious of Sam trailing behind him like a puppy, he noticed, to his relief, that Dana had already disappeared inside.

  “You’ll be okay, won’t you, Micky?” The boy’s worry was obvious, which made Micky smile. The kids he knew didn’t think twice about the safety of adults, and to learn that Sam did, showed Micky that their friendship had grown closer than he’d expected.

  He tousled the boy’s hair. “I’ll be fine. We’ll be back before you know it. As soon as we are, I’ll catch up to you at the school.”

  “I’ll be waiting,” Sam promised.

  Micky climbed inside the plane, skipping several of the stairs before he tossed his slicker over a seat and faced Sam from inside the cockpit. “Before you leave, shut the hangar doors and padlock the fence, will you?”

  Sam’s chest puffed out. “You can count on me.”

  “Thanks, Sam. I know I can.” Micky flashed him a thumbs-up, then closed and secured the door. Within minutes, and after making sure that Sam had retreated to a safe watching distance, he placed his headset over his baseball cap and taxied out of the hangar.

  “He’s quite a kid,” Dana remarked from the copilot’s seat as they rolled onto the runway.

  Micky checked his gauges one more time and adjusted the speed of the windshield wipers. “He is.”

  “Fearless, too.”

  “More than he should be. I can’t believe he rode his bike out here.”

  “I’m surprised his parents let him.”

  “It’s just him and his mother. Unfortunately when she finds a new boyfriend, Sam gets lost in the shuffle.”

  “What a shame.”

  “It’s a crime,” he corrected.

  “Then the law and social services turn a blind eye?”

  “Technically, she’s squeaking by the legal letter of the law, but morally, it’s a different story. The boy is home alone more often than not, which to me is an accident waiting to happen.”

  “At least you can feel good about giving him a little of what he’s lacking.”

  “Yeah, I guess so.” He glanced over at her, making sure she was safely strapped in and wearing the headphones he’d provided. “Are you ready?”

  “As ready as I’ll ever be,” she answered.

  “Then let’s go.”

  Although the airport was officially closed to commercial traffic, he cleared his takeoff with local officials. Once the formalities were handled, he increased the engine speed until his plane quivered with the same restrained power as a horse at a starting gate. Noise roared to a fever pitch, the propellers whirred to a blur, and within seconds they were sailing down the tarmac. An instant later, they lifted off the ground.

  He drew a deep breath and felt a familiar sense of calm spread through him as he soared into the sky. He was in his element doing what he loved, and no matter the headaches and challenges of his business, he wouldn’t trade this for anything.

  SAM STOOD AT THE HANGAR door and watched Micky take off. If onl
y he’d been able to go with them instead of staying behind. Micky had always talked about how it relaxed him to be high in the sky and Sam had felt it, too, when Micky had taken him on short trips. Looking at the storm moving in, he could use some of that calm right now.

  For a minute, fear that Micky might not make it back before the wind got worse made his chest hurt. He didn’t know what he’d do if something happened to Micky. He was Sam’s best buddy, even though Sam knew that sometimes he was a pain in the neck with all the questions he asked.

  He didn’t think Micky minded, though. He was always willing to answer and explain and show Sam how to do stuff. Tinkering, was what Micky called it. Sam liked to tinker and he wanted to do everything perfect. As Micky said once, a man couldn’t be too careful with his plane.

  Sam watched the Piper become a speck in the sky. This time, the sense of being alone felt so strong that tears came to his eyes and a lump jumped into his throat. He brushed the tears away and swallowed hard, glad that his friends from school couldn’t see him crying like a sissy. It was just that when Micky was nearby, everything seemed okay, even if it wasn’t. Right now, with the storm coming, he’d feel a lot better if he was with Micky.

  Close the hangar and padlock the fence. Micky’s instructions popped into his head. Sam couldn’t do those jobs until his ride came and they left, but he wouldn’t forget. He didn’t want to disappoint his idol.

  He’d also make sure that he saved a space for Micky next to his at the school gym. With everyone staying there until the hurricane blew over, he wanted to be sure there would be room for Micky when he came back.

  Please God, don’t let anything happen to him.

  DANA’S EXPERIENCE with air travel had always been from the viewpoint of a passenger in the cabin. Sitting in one of the control seats and watching the mechanics involved in this technological feat was far more exhilarating. There was something special about feeling the plane lift off the ground and knowing that the pilot had unleashed the power to break the laws of gravity. Now she understood why flying lessons were so popular. Perhaps she’d check into taking them herself when she got home.

  Sensing that Micky was too occupied for small talk, Dana silently watched him at the controls. Every move he made, every glance he took, was graceful and unhurried, as if he was more at home here than at any other place in the world.

  Flying was obviously in his blood, just as firefighting was in hers. She’d always known she’d inherited whatever thrill-seeking genes nature had created and it was obvious that he had, too. Idly she wondered what hair-raising interests the kids of two people who thrived on excitement would have. Perhaps they’d become astronauts or deep-sea explorers….

  Feeling ridiculous at thinking along those lines, she smiled.

  “What’s so funny?” he asked.

  Realizing she couldn’t explain her goofy grin without either making his ego swell or giving him a heart attack from the horror of it all, she simply shrugged. “Nothing. I’m just enjoying myself.”

  Determined to avoid further prying, she changed the subject. “I heard you mention that you were flying VFR. Does that stand for Very Foolish and Risky?” She knew it didn’t, but hoped to lighten the mood. If they were going to work together for the next few hours, she’d rather the time pass smoothly.

  He laughed, a hearty sound that raised her own spirits.

  “It might seem that way today, but it’s shorthand for Visual Flight Rules,” he told her. “Pilots fly by two sets of regulations. VFR, which I just explained, or IFR, which is shorthand for Instrument Flight Rules. Under VFR, I control the altitude of the plane by relying on what I can see out the window.”

  “That’s it? It’s just a matter of what you can see?”

  “Actually it’s a little more complicated. Under VFR, I have to stay a certain distance away from clouds and remain in an area where the visibility meets the FAA’s minimum requirements. It’s then my responsibility to see and avoid other planes as well as obstructions like mountains, towers, or buildings.”

  A midair collision with a plane or a building didn’t sound like something she wanted to experience. She might like adventure, but she was also a stickler for safety.

  “Don’t worry,” he said as if he’d read her mind. “Airports are closed, so no one should be in this airspace except us. Even though we’re staying relatively close to the ground, where we’re going, there aren’t any mountains or tall buildings to worry about.”

  “Oh. How high are we?” The cars on the highway below appeared smaller than the Hot Wheels cars that her nephews owned.

  “About five hundred feet.”

  She was used to hearing the captain announce they were at thirty-five thousand feet, not a few hundred. “Isn’t that kind of low?”

  “Yeah, but with the rain, if we go any higher, we might miss the van.”

  “What about telephone poles and TV towers?”

  “We’ll have to watch for those, but if someone hasn’t moved them in the last day or two—” his grin revealed perfect white teeth “—I know exactly where they are.”

  His confidence was infectious. Although she relaxed, she silently vowed to stay alert. Two pairs of eyes were better than one. “And the rain won’t affect our flying?”

  “Not unless we fly into an absolute downpour. I hope to be back in Turning Point before that happens.”

  So did she. She leaned forward in her seat as she peered through the rain-streaked side window. “Any ideas on where to start looking?”

  “Mitch told me the group was from Laredo, which is southwest of Turning Point by a few hundred miles. I’d guess they were intending to get to Highway 44 and then hook up with 59. The question is, which little roads between here and 44 did they take?”

  “Then we have a lot of ground to cover.”

  “Unless the cell phone tower comes through with a fix on their position,” he agreed. “Keep your eyes peeled.”

  “I will.”

  For a few minutes, neither one spoke over the noise of the engine or the swoosh of the wipers. She wondered if this was an indication of how their partnership would be—he’d only speak unless spoken to—and decided that even if he was leery of her abilities, the two of them had nothing to gain by sitting in silence.

  “Out of curiosity,” she asked, “do you prefer being called Micky or Mick—or Flynn?”

  “Micky. Or Mick. Whichever you prefer.” He glanced down at his gauges before he continued. “So what happened after you gave the kid who called you ‘Red’ a bloody nose?”

  “I got suspended from fourth grade for two days. My arguments that I was only defending myself fell on deaf ears. Mrs. Pierson, our principal, spent the next twenty minutes discussing the finer points of acting like a young lady.”

  “You must have been a tomboy.”

  “I was. My parents’ favorite drill was to remind me that being a girl should never stop me from pursuing whatever career I wanted to pursue. So I took their advice and did all the things that interested me.”

  “Enlightened people.”

  She smiled fondly as she pictured them. Their DNA might not match hers, but no one except Tim and Helen Ivie would ever be Mom or Dad in her eyes. “They are. They’re both schoolteachers. Mom teaches sixth grade and Dad teaches high school biology.

  “By the way,” she continued. “I noticed you wear a Texas A&M baseball cap. I thought everyone around here wore cowboy hats.”

  “We do, but a headset isn’t exactly compatible with a Stetson. And this is my lucky cap. Can’t leave home without it!” he added cheerfully.

  Several small animals streaked across the ground below. “Coyotes?” she asked, determined to prove that she wasn’t completely ignorant.

  “Yeah. Probably looking for higher ground.”

  Once again, they lapsed into an easy silence as they each scanned the horizon on their side of the plane. Suddenly aware of the small confines of their cockpit and the way the inside condensation blocked th
e windows, Dana realized how cozy their environment had become.

  She indulged herself with a quick glance at her companion, noticing how well his jeans hugged his thighs and his Western-style shirt molded his shoulders.

  “How do your folks feel about you volunteering in the middle of a hurricane?” he asked.

  She widened a spot on her side window to see outside a little better. “Actually I have two sets of parents.” She shared the condensed version of her story.

  “I’ve read about strange things like that, but I’ve never known anyone who actually lived through it. It must have been tough.”

  “It was at first. I’m not proud of the way I handled things at the time, but I’ve adjusted for the most part.

  “As for coming here, everyone knew I’d set my heart on doing this, so they didn’t object too strenuously. Plus, most of them have learned by now that I’m happiest when I’m trying new things, seeing new places. I like to know what’s around the corner.”

  “Ah,” he said knowingly. “The-grass-is-always-greener syndrome?”

  She thought a moment. “I wouldn’t call it that. I don’t necessarily want what’s on the other side of the fence. I just like to see what it is and try it on for size.” Then, because the atmosphere seemed to inspire confidences, she added, “I also had some family issues to work through. It’s hard to do that when we live in a relatively small community. Physical distance seemed like a perfect solution.”

  Suddenly the plane dropped a good twenty feet, sending her stomach into her throat.

  “What was that?” she asked when she could speak again.

  “The wind’s picking up,” he said as he eyed his gauges. He pointed to the horizon. “See those clouds?”

  Dana looked at the dark, menacing band. “Yeah.”

  “Those are the feeder bands of the hurricane. It won’t be long before they’re swirling around us.”

  “But I thought the storm wasn’t due to hit for several more hours.”

 
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