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Turbulence, p.5

Turbulence, page 5

 

Turbulence
 


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“Yeah, well, forecasters aren’t perfect. Damon is obviously moving according to its own timetable.”

  “But…” She bit her lip, hesitant to ask more questions, but extremely eager to understand this force of nature better than she did.

  “But what?”

  “Damon’s predicted to hit miles from Turning Point, so it shouldn’t affect this area that much, should it?”

  “I’d bet it’s going to strike a lot closer to us than anyone initially thought. And even if it doesn’t, we’re still going to see a lot of rain. The flooding the chief talked about is ninety-nine percent guaranteed, not a remote possibility.”

  She’d dealt with flooding before. It always amazed her that people thought they were safe in their cars during a flood. “He also talked about making sure the liquor stores in the area are closed. Why worry about those businesses and not the others?” she asked as she scanned the terrain for anything that resembled a minivan.

  “Well, now,” he drawled, “before and after the storm, everyone’s busy getting ready or cleaning up. During is the problem. When the winds get above fifty miles an hour or so, people don’t go outside. As the speed picks up, there’s usually no electricity, which means no television, no air-conditioning, no lights. With nothing to do but sit and wait, some people drink.”

  “But that’s so dangerous,” she protested. “I’d think everyone would want to have their wits about them.”

  “So would I,” he agreed, “but you work in emergency services. Not everyone makes good choices.”

  She recalled some of her own harrowing rescue attempts involving people under the influence. “True, but don’t Texans have more common sense than anyone else in the country?” she asked, feigning innocence.

  He chuckled, as if he’d realized she was simply turning the tables back on him. “They do. They just don’t exercise it all the time.”

  She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right.”

  Once again the plane dropped in the sky. Dana knew without asking that their window of opportunity was starting to close.

  “They’re not in this quadrant,” Micky said as he banked the plane. “We’ll head south.”

  “What if we don’t find them there?” she asked, dreading his answer. The idea of turning back without locating these people was too horrible to dwell upon.

  “We keep looking.” He glanced at her. “We won’t go back until we do.”

  She nodded, satisfied that they wouldn’t give up, although she had a mental picture of them as an aluminum can being juggled in the air by an unseen hand. To focus her mind on something less harrowing, she talked while she trained her gaze on the ground.

  “How long have you been in the charter business?”

  “About five years,” he replied as his gaze darted between his gauges and the area they were searching.

  “Was it a family business?”

  He shook his head. “Nope. My father was a rancher. He raised cattle and horses.”

  She noted his use of the past tense, but let it slide for now. “If you grew up with livestock, how did you get into flying?”

  “Dad used a plane to check his spread, but he sold it when I was a kid. After high school, I did a stint in the military and flew cargo planes. A couple of hitches in the Air Force later, I decided to be my own boss and make my own rules.”

  “What sort of charters do you take?”

  “My plane carries six people comfortably, seven if they’re small, so I can fly anyone wherever they want to go. At times, I simply deliver cargo up and down the coast.”

  “Never a dull moment.”

  “That’s for sure.”

  Wondering if the spot she was seeing was the missing van or simply a speck on the window, she rubbed at the fog. “Micky,” she began tentatively, “do you see that area to our right? About two o’clock?”

  He squinted to look in the direction she’d indicated. “Let’s move in closer.”

  He adjusted his course to close the distance. As they flew over the spot she’d pointed out, Dana’s heart pounded with excitement. Below them, a silver van lay on its side in a water-filled ditch. Two white-faced steers were sprawled nearby. “We found them!” she exclaimed.

  CHAPTER THREE

  MICKY COULDN’T DENY his own sense of relief at finding the van. Locating it had taken longer than he’d initially hoped, and from the look of the clouds, it soon wouldn’t be safe to be in the air.

  He banked his Piper to the right and flew away from the scene in a large circle.

  “What are you doing?” Dana asked in dismay.

  “Getting ready to land.”

  “Where? The next county?”

  “This is a plane, not a helicopter,” he returned as he straightened once again and aligned his aircraft parallel to the road in order to use it as his runway.

  She leaned forward to peer through the windshield. “What’s wrong with the field next to the van?”

  “Too wet,” he commented, switching his gaze back and forth from his gauges to his objective. “We’d plow a furrow in this guy’s pasture that we couldn’t get out of without a tractor.”

  “I see.” Then, after a brief pause, she added, “Do we have to land at all? Can’t we just call in their position and wait for an ambulance?”

  “A vehicle can’t get here. Several of the roads in this area are close to being flooded. Or didn’t you notice?”

  “No, I didn’t,” she said in a small voice. “But we’re really not too far from Turning Point, are we?”

  “Not if you count distance as the crow flies. With all the twists and turns as this stretch follows the river, not to mention the detours because of the flooded areas, it would take an hour and half for a four-wheel drive to get here.”

  “I see.”

  “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine.” He glanced at her. “Where did you think we’d land?”

  She shrugged. “I never thought about it.”

  “Then don’t now,” he suggested.

  “I won’t.”

  Conscious of the menacing clouds and the gusts buffeting them, he lowered his landing gear and made his approach.

  He had no problem touching down, and only hoped that when they took off again, the wind speed and direction would cooperate. Those concerns, however, would have to come later. For now, they had to concentrate on removing the victims and treating their injuries.

  “Couldn’t we get closer to them?” she asked, frowning as he braked to a stop.

  “Do you see that curve in the road ahead?” At her nod, he added, “I need enough room to take off before we get to that point. Or did you expect me to pull alongside the wreck?” he asked, already guessing her answer.

  Her skin turned a faint shade of pink. “Well, maybe not right next to it, but certainly a lot closer than we are.”

  He estimated they had at least several hundred yards to go on foot. “I know it’s not ideal, but there isn’t any place for me to turn around so we can take off the way we landed.” The wind would also be a factor, but he wasn’t going to waste his breath on a flying lesson now.

  “Whoever can’t make it to the plane under their own power gets carried,” he said shortly, watching her reaction.

  To her credit, she simply nodded as she unhooked her seat belt. “Chief Kannon said several of the boys might have broken bones, so we’ll take the splints and backboard with our kit.”

  The power had subtly shifted. Dana had taken charge of the medical aspect, which was just fine with him. He would have done the best he could without her, but he was more than willing to defer to her superior training.

  “Let me out first so I can collect our gear.” He squeezed himself through the cockpit doorway into the cabin. In the tail, he opened several storage compartments and removed all of the items she’d requested.

  A minute later, with his slicker covering him from head to ankle once again, he lowered the stairs and descended.

  Rain pelted them and he raised his voice so the wind woul
dn’t completely carry away his words. “I hope those boys are wearing more than their shirtsleeves.”

  Dana passed him the backboard and splints. Although technically she was still inside the plane, raindrops dotted her yellow slicker, as well. “I’ll second that. Do you have extra blankets?”

  “In the bench compartment behind you.”

  “Good.” She climbed down, hunching her shoulders against the rain as she carried the medical kit. As soon as she’d cleared the stairs, he closed the door and set off in the direction of the van. He didn’t like the looks of the sky and they couldn’t get back in the air soon enough to suit him.

  DANA DETERMINEDLY KEPT PACE with her partner. No matter what it took, she would not give him any cause for complaint. The sandy road was relatively smooth and damp enough for her to leave boot tracks, but not so wet her feet became mired. With more rain on the way, she wondered at what point it would saturate this country road or, worse yet, wash off the sand and leave only mud behind.

  She mentally crossed her fingers that it wouldn’t happen before they were ready to leave.

  Intent on the van now fifty yards ahead, she stumbled over a rock. Between the heavy case and the elements, she lost her balance and went down on her right knee.

  “Damn!” She could feel the moisture soak into her regulation navy blue trousers.

  Micky, who had a few feet on her because of his longer stride, stopped and turned around. “Are you okay?”

  Dana waved him on as she rose. “Yeah. Just keep going.”

  He didn’t. He waited for her to catch up, then reached for her kit. “Take the backboard,” he said. “I’ll swap it for the drug box.”

  She hung on to the handle. Never would she let it be said that she couldn’t carry the tools of her trade herself. “I can manage,” she insisted. “We’re almost there, anyway.”

  He shrugged, then strode on. Meanwhile, Dana mentally ran through the possibilities of what she might encounter. “Do we have a radio to call the station for medical instructions?”

  “In the plane. Don’t forget my cell phone.” He patted his hip. “Provided we can get a signal.”

  She hoped they wouldn’t need either one.

  Her first full glimpse of the scene wasn’t as encouraging from the ground as it had been from the air. She stood on the road, silently echoing Micky’s swear word.

  The van was lying on the driver’s side in a ditch filled with about two feet of water, thanks to the overflowing ranch pond twenty feet away. The edge of the roof rested against the upward incline of the ditch, leaving the right-hand passenger windows exposed. Its front end was crushed and the rear door was blocked by a stone fence post that had tipped to a drunken angle. The entire length of the vehicle was dented in, as if it had rolled several times before coming to a stop.

  She could see its underbelly far better than the top or the sides, and occasionally, the van rocked gently in its precarious position.

  “We have to tell the boys to stop moving,” she said. “The van doesn’t appear too stable. I’m afraid the slightest motion will send it tumbling.”

  He nodded. “I’ll get my rope. It won’t be strong enough to hold indefinitely, but it’s better than nothing.”

  “It’s worth a try.”

  He dropped his cargo on the road and turned back toward the plane as she gingerly worked her way down the incline. “Watch your step,” he warned over his shoulder.

  “I’ll be careful. I’m not dressed for swimming.”

  “Swimming isn’t the problem. The cottonmouths are.”

  She froze. “Snakes?”

  “Yeah. You know those reptiles that slither along and are poisonous?”

  Her throat became dry and she couldn’t swallow. Snakes. Mitch had talked about them, called them water moccasins, if she remembered correctly. She hoped she didn’t meet one. Spiders, rodents, and other small creatures didn’t bother her, but snakes were a completely different story.

  “Uh, Micky,” she began, studying the water for a telltale ripple or anything skimming along the surface. She didn’t know what would be worse…actually seeing one swim away or not seeing one at all. She prayed for the latter, because then she wouldn’t worry about it having a buddy or two. “What do they look like?”

  “They’re a dark color—mostly black—and usually swim with their heads out of the water. If you see one, let it go by.”

  “Well, jeez. There’s a newsflash.” She hid her fear behind sarcasm.

  “All I’m saying is not to do anything foolish, like throw rocks. They don’t scare.”

  They might not but she did, Dana thought as she willed her heart to stop pounding.

  “If you don’t bother them, they’ll leave you alone,” he added.

  Antagonizing a snake of any kind wasn’t high on her list of activities. “Is that a guarantee?” He could tell her all sorts of tall tales about Texas, but when it came to snakes, she wanted him to be a bona-fide expert.

  He changed directions to approach her. “Why don’t you get the rope and I’ll figure out what to do with the van?”

  “No.” She was emphatic. He’d never consider her a professional if she couldn’t handle crossing a water-filled ditch because of the possibility of a few snakes. And what were the odds of a poisonous snake being in this particular spot at this particular moment? Surely they were low, but she crossed her fingers anyway. The trick, she was certain, was simply to stay out of the water. Or at least wade in and out as fast as possible.

  “Get the rope,” she ordered. “I’ll be fine.”

  “Are you sure?”

  No. “Yes, but you won’t hurt my feelings if you hurry.”

  He grinned. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be back before you have a chance to miss me.”

  Thirty minutes ago, she would have scoffed at the idea of missing him. Now, he was still within seeing distance and already she felt his absence.

  Determined to forge ahead before her fear redoubled, she took one last look at the water, then carefully inched her way down the incline. Deciding she wasn’t brave enough to walk through the water, she jumped across to the other side at the narrowest spot. As soon as her feet touched the grassy bank, she scrambled to the top of the ditch and peered through the windows.

  Flashing her widest and most reassuring smile at the boys, whose own faces brightened at her arrival, she gave them a thumbs-up sign. “We’ll have you out of there before long,” she called. “Can you open the doors?”

  “They’re stuck,” one dark-haired teen told her. “We tried.”

  “What about the back?”

  “The post is in the way.”

  “Okay.” She moved toward the front of the vehicle to peer at the victims there. Another teenager, probably fifteen, was lying sideways, still strapped into his seat, the air bag deflated around him. The driver, a man in his forties with streaks of blood on his face, remained behind the wheel. Idly she wondered why his air bag hadn’t engaged, then decided to solve the mystery at a later date.

  “Hold on while we work on a plan,” she called to them. “How are you two doing?”

  “My shoulder hurts,” the youth reported.

  “And what about you?” she asked the older man.

  “I’m okay, I think.” He gingerly touched the cut on his forehead. “The boys tell me I passed out for a few minutes. Other than a headache, I’m fine.”

  “We’ll take you to a hospital,” she soothed. “Sit tight for a little while longer, okay?”

  Dana surveyed the damage as she carefully traversed the length of the van again. She couldn’t reach the passenger side doors unless she crawled on top of the vehicle, and that wasn’t an option until she’d stabilized it first. For now, her best hope was to unblock the rear door. If she applied the right amount of pressure, the soggy ground might give up its hold on the stone leaning against their exit. She braced herself and pushed.

  The post didn’t budge.

  She tried again, grunting from her ex
ertion. No joy.

  “Damn,” she blurted irritably as she straightened.

  “Problems?” Micky dropped an assortment of tools and lifted the length of coiled rope off his shoulder.

  “The post won’t budge. This is the only door that isn’t banged up, so if we can get rid of this, we should be in business.”

  “Let me try.” He leaned into the task, but the post only moved a fraction of an inch.

  He stared up at her. “How about a hand here, Red?”

  Dana glared at him before she added her strength to his. “I…thought…we…agreed…. Don’t…call…me…Red,” she huffed.

  “Sorry,” he said, unrepentant.

  In the next instant, the ground yielded to their strength and the huge stone toppled. She allowed herself a brief mental pat on the back at their success, but this was only the first of many obstacles and it was too soon to rest on their laurels. With the van in such a precarious position, moving everyone to the plane was the next big challenge. No one seemed to be in critical condition at the moment and she wanted them to stay that way.

  “Before we do anything else, we have to secure the van so it doesn’t flip over when the boys move around,” she mentioned.

  Micky nodded. “Here, hold this.” He handed one end of the rope to her, then tied a hitch knot to the luggage rack on top of the vehicle. As soon as he’d tugged on it and deemed it strong enough to hold, he took Dana’s end and wrapped it around a stone fence post standing a few feet away.

  “We should also block the wheels,” she told him. “The post we just knocked over should work.”

  He followed her instructions without argument. After a lot of pushing and pulling, they positioned the long rock to her satisfaction.

  Dana tried the rear door latch. It moved, but didn’t release.

  “Damn,” she exclaimed.

  “The frame’s bent,” Micky told her.

  “We could break a window, I suppose.” Even if they did, she didn’t know how they’d lift the two people in the front of the vehicle over three rows of seats.

  “Try prying the door open.”

  “Okay.” She grabbed the crowbar off the ground, but before she could insert the end into the space around the door, he stole it out of her hand.

 
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