The B Team



Please note that the character of Zig Zag is copyright Max Blackrabbit, and the character of James Sheppard is copyright James Bruner. All other characters are mine, steal them if you must. This story is a work of speculative fiction based upon certain events occurring in chapters 54 and 63 of Zig Zag the Story, copyright James Bruner. In no way should this story be considered canonical to Zig Zag the Story. Hell, it's just not that good...!

The B Team is copyright The Silver Coyote
2003, 2005


 

Some guys have all the luck


Graphic courtesy Scott J. Gager and the C-130 Hercules Headquarters.

 

 

"Thank God they fixed the A/C in this pig," Steve grumbled as they commenced yet another orbit in their holding pattern. "When we flew this last time it was hot as Hell for most of the trip." Steve tugged at the sun visor in front of him above the windshield, repositioning it.

They had been holding at 10,000 feet near Springfield, Ohio for almost fifteen minutes now. Some computer glitch at Indianapolis Center had mucked up the flow of traffic into Port Columbus, as well as most other airports in the greater Columbus area, since 1500 hours or so. Of course, the heavies with the big company names got preferential treatment from the air traffic controllers, the big commercial jets usually slid right on in without delay. The freight haulers and charter outfits got what was left over in the approach sequence, which usually meant that they got stuck somewhere waiting for a break in the sequence stream.

So it was that Steve Lupus and Joe Latrans found themselves that afternoon in an old Lockheed C-130, a four engine turbo-prop transport of military lineage. The C-130, otherwise known as the Hercules, was favored by the crews who flew them for its legendary ability to lift heavy loads into and out of airstrips, vacant lots, and just about any other opening big enough for the family Cessna to get in to. Their particular mount this evening had been dubbed "the Bitch" by the pilots who flew her, with something akin to grudging affection, for she rarely completed a mission without having some system, device, or part fail. Last trip out the air conditioning system on the flight deck had failed before they reached cruise altitude on a climbout from Phoenix. By the time they got in to Columbus that evening Joe figured that they had lost ten pounds each in sweat. But Motorola paid handsomely for the heavy, classified machinery they had needed to have delivered that day to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and the crew got a bonus, so it sort of worked out for the best.

The sun slid slowly across the windshield as Steve turned westbound once again into the inbound leg of their pattern, towards the navigation aid known as the Springfield VORTAC, co-located on Springfield's airport. Joe was on the company telephone, a radio-telephone device that connected him to their dispatch center at Port Columbus Airport. The chatter from the communications radio was a continuous buzz in Steve's headphones, drowning out Joe's conversation; Steve was casually monitoring the traffic talking to and working with the Port Columbus Approach controller.

"American four forty heavy, maintain one eight zero knots, contact Columbus Tower on one three two point seven at Arlig, expect runway one zero right visual approach. Caution heavy traffic four miles at your one o'clock position moving north, a Boeing seven three seven heavy for one zero left, he'll be crossing your path for that approach."

"OK, American four forty has the seven thirty seven in sight, we'll contact the Tower on one three two point seven at Arlig, see ya later."

The approach controller hardly seemed to stop for breath. "Delta 21 heavy, turn right, intercept the ILS for runway one zero left, when established on the ILS contact Columbus Tower on one three two point seven at Grens. Traffic now three and a half miles at your nine o'clock position moving aft, a Boeing seven five seven on the approach for one zero right, he has you in sight. Expect one zero left visual approach."

A thick Texas twang filled Steve's headphones. "Thank ya'll, Delta twenty one has the fifty seven in sight. We'll holler at Columbus Tower on one three two point seven when established. See ya!"

The afternoon was dragging on; they'd been airborne since 1300 on a cargo flight from Colorado Springs. The charter for classified equipment had been ordered by the TSA and had been loaded by military personnel. Their company made good money as an executive charter operation, but occasionally they were approached by the feds or the military for secure transportation of classified cargo. That's when the big money started to roll, and the call went out for Steve and Joe, the only pilots rated on the C-130 on the Intermountain employee roster. Virtually all of Intermountain's pilots were rated in the Lear 55, the Cessna Citations, and the Gulfstream G-III and G-IV the company owned. But most of the other pilots, arguably using good sense, had avoided getting checked out in the four engine turbo-prop war horse.

"Columbus, United seven oh six with you out of fifteen thousand on the approach."

There was a brief pause in radio chatter while the approach controller looked for his reference information for United 706. "United seven oh six heavy, good afternoon, radar contact forty one west, negative traffic at this time. Slow to one eight zero knots, expect the visual approach for one zero right."

"Slowing to one eight zero and looking for the visual to one zero right, United seven oh six."

"Cactus forty three, Columbus Approach..." And so the chatter went, and had been going all afternoon. For almost twenty minutes now they had been turning slowly in their racetrack pattern east of Springfield VORTAC. They waited patiently to hear their radio call and take their turn in the approach sequence. Meanwhile Joe chatted with the company dispatcher, one of his headphone's earpieces up on the side of his head, the telephone pawset to his ear. There wasn't much for Joe to do while Steve was flying the pattern, so while Joe talked he unconsciously reviewed his navigation displays for proper settings, glanced at the engine instruments, and scanned the horizon for conflicting traffic. The anvil of a thunderstorm was on the horizon in the south, scattered cirrus was overhead to the west and north. No traffic in sight. It was, all in all, a good day.

Flying today as second in command, Joe was a rather average looking coyote at first glance. A forty three year old native of southern California, he was larger than the average coyote and a bit on the big, broad shouldered side thanks to his father's mother, a German Shepherd. The rest of his ancestry was pure southwestern coyote, straight out of the deserts of Sonora and the old Arizona Territory. His blue eyes, from the Shepherd clan, conveyed an intelligent love of life. He wore his silvering hair short and tended to smile a lot in a relaxed sort of way. He'd been flying for almost thirty years, professionally for close to twenty. Joe was married to Annie, a red fox from the Maryland area, and they currently called Englewood, Colorado home.

Sitting in the command pilot's seat to Joe's left was Steve, a thirty two year old gray wolf from Wyoming. He had atypical coloring, with almost black fur everywhere except his belly and paws, where the color faded to a greyish brown. His family had been in the mountains of Montana and Wyoming for as long as anyone could remember. Steve learned to fly C-130s in the Air Force and had come to Intermountain Charter when he'd mustered out. He'd been with the company about eight years. He had golden eyes, short hair, and a build that seemed designed to attract the attention of the opposite sex. Steve was living with a beautiful skunk named Molly, they shared a condo in a suburb of Kansas City.

Behind them, laying on a short bunk against the bulkhead behind the navigator's position and snoring like a buzz saw, was "Randy" Andy Clarkson. Randy, the best loadmaster ever to come out of the USMC, proclaimed himself the most notorious lady's fur in central Ohio. Randy was a skunk of twenty six years, short of stature but brawny enough to muscle any cargo where it needed to go. He could balance a load so well that a crewman walking from one end of their aircraft to the other would throw it out of trim in flight. He wore glasses and grew his hair long, and seemed to own no wearing apparel other than the olive green flight suits and steel-toed boots he always seemed to have on. He was always smiling and was always ready to tell a good joke or spin the latest yarn about his activities with the female fur population. The crews always enjoyed having him aboard.

Rounding out this afternoon's complement was twenty year old lance corporal "Slam" Whiteline, another coyote, from the Navajo Nation in Arizona. "Slam" got the routine guard duty of classified loads en route to Ohio, and had become somewhat well known to the Intermountain operation. "Slam" got his nickname from his second-favorite pastime, drinking. Rumor had it that he had originally got that nickname from one of his lady friends for over-indulging in his most favorite pastime, but none of the rest of the Intermountain crews had ever had the nerve to ask him if that was true or not. "Slam" was one eighth mountain lion, and was absolutely huge. Taller, wider, and stronger than anyone Randy, Steve, or Joe had ever seen, his appearance belied his gentle nature. His fur was a golden color, his brown eyes stared calmly at you while he spoke. His smile was quick and easy. He was, however, all Marine, and nobody, but nobody, ever messed with "Slam".

Slam was sitting on the jumpseat behind Steve, facing the opposite side of the flight deck, looking absently out the windows behind Joe's head. The aircraft was banking to the left again, turning back eastbound away from Springfield. All Slam could see at the moment was blue sky and clouds.

Joe turned to reach the shelf below his right arm, hanging up the telephone style pawset of the dispatch radio there next to the paratroop controls. He turned to his left in his seat, a twinkle in his eyes advertising a story in his head that needed to be told. He lowered the mis-placed earpad back over his ear and repositioned his boom microphone at the corner of his mouth.

"Hey guys," he spoke in a normal tone of voice. Steve, Joe, and Slam all wore headphones with boom mics, and they were all connected by intercom. The ambient noise level on the flight deck was just short of painful, what with the horrendous noise the four turbo-prop engines created, mixing with the creaking of the old airframe and the noise of the slipstream. Using the intercom and headphones made conversation easy and comfortable. "You know how Rick and Timmy got that charter job with the Gee Four down to Tennessee?"

Steve looked at Joe out of the corner of his eyes. "Yeah, what of it?"

"You'll never guess who their passenger was." Joe grinned, waiting.

Slam leaned forward in his chair, ears forward, his brown eyes peering intently at Joe.

Randy snored and snuffled a bit, rolling over in his bunk.

"What if I told you that their manifest included a certain tiger-striped skunk?" Joe wondered aloud, turning briefly to glance out of the windshield and side windows on his side, looking for traffic in the skies ahead.

Steve returned to scanning the horizon for traffic, his expression blank. He had no idea what Joe was driving at.

Slam, on the other hand, was already making a connection. His tail twitched with interest, his eyebrows had risen up his forehead until his facial expression practically screamed astonishment. Joe almost laughed out loud at him when he turned towards the center of the flight deck again and noticed Slam's expression.

"Would this individual be a resident of Columbus?" Slam inquired.

"Yep," Joe replied.

"A business owner in the city?"

"Correct again," Joe grinned.

"No way! How'd they manage to score that duty?" Slam's expression now mixed amazement and envy.

"You could have worded that better, Slam," Joe admonished, trying again not to laugh. He resumed his panel scan, looking for incorrect indications.

"What the Hell are you two on about?" Steve asked with mild annoyance while looking out his side window.

"Ever hear of Zig Zag?" Slam asked.

"Sure..." Steve replied casually. "So what? Who with military experience hasn't seen her stuff once or twice?" Steve was concentrating on flying and wasn't devoting much of his attention to the conversation. "When I was stationed at Elmendorf we used to watch her stuff all the time. It beat throwing snowballs in the dark."

"Steve," Joe interjected, "she was on the passenger manifest of Rick and Timmy's flight down to Knoxville last week. She was one of two. The job was chartered by some mucky muck owner of a computer business in Columbus."

"Zig Zag was on that flight?" Steve asked, understanding dawning on his face.

"Whoa," Slam exhaled. "I'd like to meet her!"

"Amen," Joe echoed.

Steve snorted, and then began laughing loudly. "Welcome to the 'B Team', boys," he finally managed to say as the laughter subsided. "You'll never catch anybody like her in this crate or with a flight crew like us. I mean, look at Randy there..." Steve motioned over his right shoulder with his paw, "look at Joe here, look at us. We're hardly the types of guys in the hot iron bird to escort movie stars. No pretty uniforms with epaulettes here, no fancy leather flight bags." Steve turned briefly to look at Slam out of the corner of his eye. "Don't get your hopes up, my canid friend."

Joe looked absently at the leather A2 jacket Steve wore. Like his own, it was scuffed and scarred and betrayed years of use by its appearance. Along with their pullover shirts and denim jeans, they looked every bit the working- class aviators, not the Hollywood-style appearance they put on when flying passengers around in the fancy business jets. "Thanks for raining on my parade, buddy," Joe groused, punching Steve on the arm lightly. "I just thought you might want to know about that, and when they're returning."

"Returning?" Steve asked as his ears attempted to flick forward beneath his earpads. "To Columbus?" His tail thumped against his seat frame once or twice.

"Yeah..." Joe allowed.

When?" Slam demanded.

"Tonight," Joe said, feeling like he was giving them a gift. "They're en route now. Dispatch says they should be placed in the approach sequence..." Joe glanced at his watch, "within twenty to thirty minutes if all goes well. They're working through the MOA right now." Joe turned forward and began to scan the horizon for traffic.

Steve turned forward as well. The next turn of the holding pattern was coming up, and he was getting ready for it. He admonished his crew with mock sternness, trying to hide the humor he felt. "Don't get your hopes up, furs. We'll be out here chasing our tails long after Miss Zig Zag has disembarked and taken the limo home. The closest you'll get to her is the great stories Rick and Timmy will have to share with us over beers later."

"Damn the luck," Slam grumbled, slouching in his jumpseat. His gaze returned to the windows aft of Joe's head.

"Yeah. A pity," Joe agreed, reviewing yet again the settings on his navigation equipment. He pressed a button on the GPS receiver, calling the moving map display for he and Steve, anticipating their clearance.

 



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