The B Team

All characters that appear in this chapter of B-Team are my own except Billy "the Kid" Panelli, which is copyright © Tigermark 2003, see Fire On High at The Tiger's Den. This story is a continuation of the original four part "B-Team". My special thanks to Tigermark for his continued assistance, participation, and encouragement in the crafting of this story.

The B Team is copyright © The Silver Coyote


Lightning flickered in the sky on the other side of the thick glass windows as Joe entered the familiar lounge in the main terminal at Port Columbus International Airport. Rain gusted across the ramp and howled around the airliners parked out there, on the other side of the glass. Gazing across the darkened room Joe took in the assemblage of furs there. He could discern the haggard professionals killing time between connecting flights, the travelers patiently waiting for a vacation to start, a commercial aircrew relaxing at the end of a work day, and a casual visitor or two just passing through. And clustered around a large table towards the back of the room, a rather large contingent of Intermountain Charter employees.

Joe noticed another familiar figure as he made his way through the collected furs in the lounge. Randy Clarkson's girlfriend Melanie was waiting tables. She looked up at Joe from a nearby table and smiled, waving a paw towards the table he was already walking towards. Joe smiled and nodded towards her.

Several faces looked up as Joe approached, acknowledging his appearance. His crew was there, Steve Lupus, Rick Carter, and Slam Whiteline. His boss was also present, Matt Barstock grinned at him over the top of a beer mug, his Calico office manager Angie Rockwell sitting beside him sipping an iced tea. And surprise! Steve's fiancé Molly Lomax was here as well. Jerry Kitt, the master A&P, rounded out the contingent. There was one empty chair between Angie and Jerry, Joe worked his way around the table and took a seat.

Turning to address the Calico next to him, he said quietly "Thanks Angie. You really helped her out with your kind words."

Angie smiled at Joe and nodded. She had practically grabbed Joe in a choke hold as he had deplaned the Hercules with his crew. She had taken him by the paw, ignoring the questioning glances afforded them by the rest of Joe's crew, and purposefully strode directly to the office with him before he could even say hello. Once out of earshot of the younger furs she had briefly described Annie's telephone call and the vibes she had received from her during her conversation with his wife. She told him in no uncertain terms "Call her Joe. Do it now."

Joe had heard the strain in Annie's voice as she answered her PCS phone. "Joe! Honey... are you OK? What happened? Where are you?" Something else had come down the circuit with her voice, an electric feeling that had simultaneously conveyed terror and relief. That small jolt spoke to him, told him that somehow, through some female intuition of hers which he could neither understand nor be party to, she already knew that he and his guys had come close to death this day. It was like a scent on the wind between them. He had actually stared at his pawset momentarily, looking for a camera.

He couldn't lie to her, but he didn't want to scare her unnecessarily, either. The slight tremor in her voice indicated that she would not benefit from a blow-by-blow of their tour of the thunderstorm. Whatever was causing her alarm had already done enough to her state of mind. Joe sighed quietly.

"Annie, I love you," he started warmly. "I'm fine, I'm here in the office at Port Columbus. Angie grabbed me as I stepped off the transport and told me you wanted me to call you. We had a rough trip flying through a thunderstorm this afternoon over Indiana, and that made us a few minutes later than we expected here in Ohio, but we arrived here just fine, nobody hurt."

There was several seconds of silence in his pawset. He could hear her breathing, her respirations sounded a bit ragged, like she had been crying.

"Annie love, what's wrong?"

She sniffed once. "Joe," she whispered, "I thought I'd lost you. I had this cold feeling in my stomach, like ice, and I thought I heard your voice silenced." She drew a breath that caught in her throat. "Joe, I can't lose you." Her tone changed, becoming almost defiant. "I won't give you up to that company or that aircraft." Another sniff, her tone returning to that of fear. "You came close today, honey. Don't ask me to explain how I know, I can't tell you. I don't understand it. All I know is that for a while I felt like someone or some thing had ripped my soul from my body." Another ragged breath.

Joe was at a loss, touched by her emotion while awed by her perceptiveness. He didn't know how to calm his wife in her present state. "Annie, we're all fine. Don't worry, my love. Matt wants to meet with us for a few minutes before we turn in, but I'll be on my way home first thing in the morning." Joe paused, thinking. "Annie, are you alone?"

"No." She drew another breath, sounding a bit more calm. "Janie and Tim are here with me. Tim's playing video games with Joshua, and Janie and Marie are making popcorn in the fireplace."

Joe was relieved to hear that Annie had company. "Good, honey. May I talk to Tim for just a moment? Give me a minute with him, and then he'll give me back to you, OK?"

"Alright..." There was a few seconds pause. Joe could hear background noise getting louder in his pawset, could discern his son Joshua laughing and Tim Riggins' baritone voice. Then Annie was saying "Here's Tim."

"Joe. How's it going, my friend?"

"OK Timmy. Sorry you're in the middle of this. I don't know what happened, but Annie got a pretty good scare today, somehow."

Tim Riggins waited as Annie joined her pups and his wife at the hearth. "What happened Joe?" And before Joe could begin Tim added in a hushed voice. "And don't BS me Joe. I'm your best friend and a fellow pilot, I deserve better."

Joe was momentarily silent. Then he drew a long breath and quietly replied. "We almost bought it this afternoon, buddy. We were over four hundred knots, inverted, almost straight down. A good sized t-storm blossomed with us right in the middle of it. We lost an engine. Thank God we were empty."

Tim continued in his hushed voice. "Everyone OK?"

"Yeah. Steve and Rick are fine, Slam got a bump on the head. His harness was loose and he hit his head on the ceiling."


"Outside of number two packing up on us, no known problems." Then Joe suddenly recollected. "Oh yeah, we lost the radar. It's probably how we got into the mess in the first place. Center was vectoring us around cells, I guess they didn't see the one we flew into building. Our radar was totally OS for most of the flight."


"We noticed on approach to Columbus that it had started working again."

Timmy rubbed a paw over his muzzle. "Damn, Joe." He was silent for a few moments. "How did Annie know?"

"Beats me," Joe replied. That she knew was clear to Joe, beyond doubt, her behavior convinced him of that. But he couldn't explain it. "Uh, can I ask a favor, Tim?"

Tim smiled into the phone, anticipating Joe's request. "We're staying here tonight, Joe, no problem. The kids are fine, they think Annie's not feeling well. And she's doing OK Joe, really, for a female who's had the holy shit scared out of her."

Joe winced. "That bad, huh?"

Tim's tone was earnest as he nodded. "You know how long Annie and Janie have known each other. Jan said she's never seen Annie like this. Ever. Not even close." Annie was a strong, confident fox, a businessfur, a professional. It was unheard of for her to lose her cool.

"Damn." Joe pondered a moment. "Clairvoyance? Telepathy?" He felt like he was picking at straws, but had nothing else to offer.

"Whatever it is, Joe, you'd better love on this fox when you get home. She needs some serious comforting, and Janie and I can't offer her what she needs. She needs you." There was no banter or bluster in Tim's voice, Joe was getting the straight and level from him. Tim's voice increased in volume. "We'll be here with her tonight, no worries. You take care coming home. Here, she wants to talk to you, OK?"

"Thanks, Timmy. I owe you." It was heartfelt.

"Nah. See you tomorrow. Here's Annie."

She had become somewhat settled while Joe and Tim had been conversing. "Hi honey," she breathed into her phone.

"Hi love. Listen. Tim and Janie are going to stay the night. I'll be on my way as soon as I can get out of here in the morning. You just be cool and try to relax, all right?"

"All right, Joe." There was a moment's silence. "I'm sorry I'm being a pain," she began. "I..."

"You're not, Annie," Joe interrupted, and then paused himself to marshal his thoughts. "Look sweetheart, I can't explain what happened to you today, but you were on the money. I'll tell you the whole story when I get home. We'll talk about what happened to you, and we'll talk about what happened to me and my crew. For now you need to take it easy and relax. We're all fine, everybody else is over at the terminal with Matt."

"OK," she sighed.

"I'll be home around the usual time tomorrow afternoon."

"We'll meet you," Annie quickly interjected. "The kids and I will pick you up."

Joe smiled. "How are our pups? Are they all right?"

"They're fine, Joe. I managed to keep my feelings to myself, they're happy." Annie glanced back into the family room from the doorway to her kitchen long enough to see her friends and children. "They're eating popcorn and watching a DVD with Tim and Janie."


Annie looked quizzically at the east wall of her kitchen, ears up, her tail wagging slowly. "How'd you know?"

Joe grinned as he faced the west wall of Intermountain's office, his own tail wagging a bit. "You females don't have the market on intuition, you know."

Joe could hear Annie calming down. Her voice was more firm, she was sounding more and more like the strong, confident fox he knew so well.

"Well, I'm expected at this meeting Matt's called," Joe said, not wanting to end the call. "I love you, Annie."

"I love you too, Joe. Please be careful coming home."

"I will, honey. See you tomorrow afternoon."

"Good night, lover."



"How is she taking things?" Angie asked, pulling Joe from his reverie into the here and now.

Joe looked at the Calico's brown eyes. "Not well. I think she's got some sort of telepathy or something working. She's had the Hell scared out of her today."

"Worse than you?" Angie asked with a knowing look.

Joe stared at her for a moment. He wanted to say something reassuring and strong, but couldn't make the bravado happen. "Hard to say..." he replied carefully after a few seconds. He looked up as Melanie approached the table.

"Hi... um, hi, Joe." Melanie smiled, slightly embarrassed. She had never introduced herself, but she knew of Joe from stories Randy had related, one especially about an on-board fire.

Joe held out a paw. "Hi Melanie. Nice to see you again." She took his paw and they shook warmly. "How's Randy? We haven't seen much of him lately." Joe grinned slyly.

She actually blushed! Lord, thought Joe, she is young!"

To her credit she returned a sly grin of her own and refused to even answer his question. "Can I get you something to drink, Joe?" Her tail wagged slowly behind her.

"Tienes Dos Equis?" Joe asked, smiling.

"Sí," she replied, her own smile growing larger. "Con sal y... uh... cómo se dicen 'lime'?"

"Cal?" Joe replied. "No, solamente la cerveza, gracias." He winked at her. "Su espanol es muy buena, chica!"

Melanie grinned. "Gracias, caballero!" She winked back and then turned and walked away, weaving between patrons as she made her way quickly towards the bar.

Angie nudged Joe in the ribs. "So, flyfox, an interesting day, eh?"

Making a play at levity, Joe assumed an air of superiority which he would have been able to carry off had it not been for his silly grin. "Ma'am, I am not a fox. My beautiful wife is a fox, the prettiest one God ever made. I am a coyote, and you'll not find a better pilot in this room."

Several sets of eyes roved across the table to meet Joe's gaze, belonging to Steve, Rick, Slam, Matt, and Jerry. To a fur they all grinned back at him as if to say "Yeah, riiight..."

Joe nodded to them, and then lowered his voice as he turned to Angie, his expression becoming serious. In a low voice he said "I've never been so scared in all my life."

Angie had worked around pilots all her life. Her father had flown a P-47 over Europe in 1944 and '45. Her brother was a captain for a major airline. Her sister owned an FBO on Long Beach Airport out in California. She had been up to her brown eyes in aviation since her eyes had opened, and she had never heard those words spoken with more sincerity. She stared into his eyes for long moments, wondering what they had seen that day. Upon reflection she decided she'd just as soon not know.

"Go home to her Joe, just as soon as you can."

"Count on it."


In typical fashion Matt had conducted his business meeting over alcoholic beverages of choice that evening. Some interesting fecal material collided with the local rotary oscillators. First off came the announcement that the Gulfstream G-III had been sold. The deal was done, delivery would take place as soon as the monies had changed hands and the various inspections and title searches had been conducted. The buyer was a businessfur of note in the east. His own aircrew would pick up the aircraft. Also mentioned was the Lear 55's being for sale, a deal was expected to be in hand for that by the end of the month.

"We're gonna get another Cessna 208 and a couple of King Airs. The 208 we'll buy new, the King Airs are coming from a re-fit shop in Chicago." Matt drained his beer. "Our fancy iron has turned into fancy overhead, folks. Oddly enough the Caravan and the Hercules are the most profitable birds on the line. We're breaking even with the G-IV right now, and as long as we can hold on to that contract with Airborne we can keep the Citations viable, but the rest of the speed birds are looking real thin in the skin."

Steve spoke up. "Sounds to me like we're gonna be flying a lot more non - sentient manifests."

"Correct," Matt replied as he waved a big paw overhead to get Melanie's attention. "Competition in executive charter is getting real hot around here." Matt's gaze drifted over to and locked on Joe's face for a moment or two. Joe had a mental flash of a tiger striped T-38.

"Yet at the same time our cargo business is booming. I've got customers calling for aircraft and crews I don't have to spare. I think we ought to concentrate on that while the opportunity presents itself." A shadow fell across Matt's beer mug, he looked up.

Melanie was staring down at him with a smile. "You rang, master?"

Matt waved a paw casually around the table. "Get these folks whatever it is they need."

Joe's crew stuck with beers, as did he and Matt. Molly asked for a club soda with a lime twist, Angie opted for another iced tea. Jerry held two fingers together horizontally, indicating how much Clan MacGregor scotch he wished to be served. Melanie made eye contact with each, smiling as she nodded, ending with Joe. She headed off towards the bar again.

Then Matt dropped the bomb.

"Listen up folks, it gets real from here on."

Conversation died as all eyes drifted towards him. When he was sure of everyone's attention he continued. "We're expanding. Fully half of our calls for cargo ops are coming from west of the Mississippi. As I mentioned earlier, executive transport is not healthy these days, but our air cargo ops have tripled within the past year, and seventy five percent of that growth has been in the west. We are getting a huge volume of calls for military and utility operations. At current contact rate, Angie and I have projected enough business to keep the Hercules, a King Air, and a Caravan busy out west."

Matt paused to let that sink in. Nobody moved.

"We're going to establish a field office in the Denver area. Maybe Centenial, maybe DIA, I'm not sure yet. Angie is looking into facility availability and cost out there. I want to put the C-130 out there, with a B-200 and a 208. I foresee very little executive charter out there, we're just gonna have a pack of air freight dogs hanging around out west."

Joe and Steve both shot knowing looks at Rick, who smiled sheepishly.

"I know this is sudden, and I want to make sure you all understand that nothing is set in stone, so whatever your reaction to what you hear tonight understand that this is a very fluid situation right now. I have an objective in Colorado, but have made no staffing decisions. However…" Ears pricked up on all hands. "Joe, I'd like you and Tim to consider being chief pilots in the west."

Joe sat back quickly, caught completely by surprise. At this moment Melanie arrived with the next round and began placing new drinks in front of everyone. As she busied herself, smiling graciously and making polite conversation while working, the business conversation paused. Joe took the opportunity to briefly consider what he thought he had just heard.

A new office! A new base! In his own front yard! No more cross country flying just to get to work. More time with Annie and the pups! Joe's tail began to wag involuntarily, thumping against his chair.

Annie… His tail stopped. He wondered how she was doing at that moment.

Jerry leaned in close. "Sounds like you’re in, buddy," he said while patting Joe on the back.


Five rounds and two hours later the meeting had begun breaking up. Nothing else of note had been presented pertaining to business expansion, and lots of time had been killed with non-business related conversations which Matt highly encouraged. Matt's theory was that the more his staff played and socialized together the better they would work together as a team, a notion that Intermountain's operations bore out well.

It was getting on in the evening, and the air crew had begun to evidence this with multiple yawns and glassy, vacant stares. First to wander off was Slam, though he sought not sleep but female companionship, and he didn't have to go far. He was even now comfortably ensconced at a small table at the other end of the room with a stunning, blond haired civet, sharing a drink and table conversation with an eye, no doubt, toward other activities later in the evening.

Meanwhile Jerry had received a cell phone call and excused himself from the table. In his absence Molly Lomax had scooted over a chair to sit next to Joe.

"Hi Joe, nice to see you again." She smiled as he turned to face her.

Joe had only met Molly once before, at a company shindig several weeks ago. In fact, he recollected, it had been only a week or two before the fire flight in The Bitch. Matt had grilled up some yellowtail flown in on the G-IV with Rick and Timmy from San Diego with a corporate customer, and the whole operation had feasted. Steve and Joe laid over half a day from their operation, a grunt run full of hardware for a local utility in Indiana. Molly had been there to pick Steve up and go home to Kansas City with him.

She was a beautiful young mephit, and Joe was discovering that this part of the country was notorious for raising beautiful young mephits. The Ohio Valley seemed to abound with them.

"Hi Molly. Nice to see you again." Joe held his paw out to her, and she took it briefly.

"I hear your wife had a little scare today," Molly said carefully.

Joe looked closely at her, spending a few moments looking into her hazel eyes while wondering how she had come by this information. Angie, he thought. Molly sat straight, ears up, striped tail still, and stared back at him. When he didn't make an immediate reply she blushed slightly and started to apologize for her intrusion.

"I'm sorry Joe, I know it's none of my business." She leaned forward slightly, bringing her nose within a few inches of his and lowering her voice. "But I need to know something. I felt something today, too. I was suddenly scared for no reason, with an empty feeling inside of me." Her right paw sought his left arm. "Does that sound like what your wife experienced?"

Joe nodded wordlessly.

"What is that?" she asked nervously. "It scared me quite a bit, actually. I jumped in my car and drove here to find Steve. I hadn't been planning on doing that, he was going to hop a red-eye regional jump seat home later tonight. I surprised him by being here."

Joe drew a breath before replying. "I don't know, Molly." He smiled slightly. "Annie and I have been married a lot of years, and we're very connected in ways I can't describe or make sense of. She knew I was in trouble today, and it seems you had a similar intuition about Steve." Joe suddenly winked at her as a grin spread across his muzzle. "I think the experts call it love."

Molly sat back suddenly, a comically confused look on her face for the briefest of moments, before she laughed out loud.

"Thanks, Joe. That put things in perspective." She grinned at him as she looked up and over his shoulder.

Joe felt a familiar paw on his shoulder. "And how is it that you're entertaining my fiancé?" Steve's voice rumbled quietly in his ear.

Joe didn't turn to look at him, smiling himself. "I couldn't help myself," he replied.

Steve held his other paw out to the skunk, she rose to take it.

"Are we going?" she asked.

The gray wolf nodded. "I'm beat." He looked at Joe. "It has been a day, to say the least." The paw on Joe's shoulder lifted as Steve moved around to stand before him. He held the paw out to Joe. "Thanks, amigo."

"De nada," Joe smiled, shaking the wolf's paw firmly. "Anytime."

"I'll call you on Monday. We've got some stuff to hash out about this Colorado idea. I think you and Timmy and Rick and I need to get together and compare notes." Steve let his paw drop to his side, the other still held Molly's.

"I'd like that. Maybe we can all meet in KC for a change, huh?"

"Sure. That's great." Steve stared at Joe for a second or two. "Thanks again, partner. I'll fly with you, anytime, anywhere."

Joe couldn't help but catch the meaning. That wild grin of his, that Steve hadn't seen since the meeting with the T-38 in Knoxville, lit up Joe's face. Could it have only been yesterday morning?

It was enough of a good bye. Steve tossed a casual salute Joe's way as he turned his pretty skunk towards the door.


Another round gone. The party had dwindled to Joe, Jerry, Matt, and Angie. Jerry had his cell phone to his ear again, and Matt was beginning to discourse on another subject of interest to Joe: Billy the Kid Panelli. Angie sat between Joe and Matt, an amused look on her face as she watched Joe listen to Matt's story.

Joe grinned to himself. Matt was definitely in story-telling mode, one arm around Angie, the other paw gripping a mug.

"We graduated the Academy in '69," Matt was saying. "He was considerably higher up the list than I was, I think he finished nineteenth in our class. Me..." Matt glanced down to the table. "I wasn't up in those flight levels." He sipped from his mug and looked up to Joe.

"We went through primary and upgrade together. That tiger could fly! I never could keep up with him. And he was always letting me know that, too. Every check, every hop, I was always getting some "helpful feedback" from him. He was always on my tail about something like a bad case of fleas."

Matt paused, reminiscing. "You know, that crazy bastard once flew up along side me between cloud decks, inverted, and gave me such a ration on the radio that he talked me into rolling my T-38 inverted. He actually got me thinking I had been upside down all along." A sad smile creased Matt's muzzle. "We caught Hell for that."

"What happened?" Joe asked gently.

Matt inhaled slowly. "One of the primary instructors happened to be in the area and saw us in close formation inverted. He ratted us out to our CO, and we got hammered. Billy's numbers could carry him through it," again Matt looked at the tabletop, "mine couldn't." Matt sighed. "Billy went on to the F-4H, my new ride became the C-130. I transitioned to the C-141, and went two tours with MATS before mustering out."

Joe just looked at him, and Matt stared back. Suddenly Matt's arm around Angie tightened a bit.

"That single incident patterned my life from that day forward. Ever since then I've been flying transports for somefur, somewhere. I flew Gooney Birds over the jungles of Central America for The Company. I flew DC-8s for Monroe Air. I flew copilot on NASA's 747 shuttle hauler for a while. I flew DC-6s for Shell Oil over the Persian Gulf. I've got almost forty five thousand hours of command time," Matt's paw left the handle of his beer mug, "and not one of them," Matt's fist hit the tabletop, "is in any type of single engine fighter!"

Matt and Joe simultaneously took a gulp of beer. Joe had never heard Matt discuss any of his history or personal life to any extent before. And while neither of them had ever said anything to anyone, it had been and was becoming more and more obvious that Matt and Angie were much more than business partners.

Matt put his mug down. "Yeah," he sighed wistfully, "that little stunt sure changed my life. All I ever wanted to do, since I was a kid, was fly fighters for the United States Air Force." Matt ceased speaking, staring at the wall opposite him.

In the ensuing silence they all heard Jerry quietly say "Holy shit!" into his phone. Three sets of eyes turned to the brown bear that was their Airframe & Powerplant mechanic. Jerry was looking at the tabletop, the claw of his right paw tracing imagined diagrams on the tabletop before him. "How much?"

He listened intently for a few seconds. "OK. Get the skin off and schedule an IA for the first thing in the morning. I'll talk to Matt." Another pause. "OK Jake. Thanks. Uh-huh. Later." Jerry terminated his call and placed the phone in his vest pocket.

Matt glared at him. "Why am I thinking that had something to do with the Hercules?"

"'Cause it did," Jerry replied without humor.

Matt gestured for him to elaborate.

"I was having Jake do a visual inspection based on the descriptions Joe and Steve gave us of their flight. Jake noticed some wrinkling of the skin outboard of number one nacelle."

"Holy Christ." Matt muttered. "How bad?"

"Preliminary guess? The main spar is deflected up about a degree and a half, starting about a foot outboard of the nacelle. Jake also found loose and stressed hardware in the wing box, and we think that's what caused the cables for the number two throttle control to separate."

Thank you God! Joe was beginning to realize just how close he and his furs had come to death today.

"What about the radar?" Matt wanted to know.

Jerry nodded. "Jake called Rick Arnett, he'll be out first thing tomorrow to check it out. Jake said it's passing all it's internal diagnostics."

Joe shook his head in disgust.

"As an afterthought, the cap on the vertical fin separated in flight. The topmost foot or so is gone."

Matt ruminated on this for almost a full minute, during which time Joe sipped his beer and Jerry tossed off his two fingers of scotch.

"OK," Matt said finally. "I've got some markers out at Davis-Monathan that I can call in, and some friends in Mojave that owe me, too. Find out what we need and I'll see what we can scavenge from the mothball fleet. The key word here is 'speed', Jerry. That Hercules needs to be back in the air ASAP. It's making more money for us than any other three airframes we own or will own. I want that Bitch back on the line as soon as we can get it."

"Jake's gonna get the IA out tomorrow morning, boss. I'll be here at dawn to help with the inspection and the forms. As soon as we know exactly what we're talking about, I'll have the parts list on your desk."

Matt nodded as Jerry turned his head to Joe. "That Bitch is a tough old bird," he said without smiling. "If you'd have tangled with that cell in almost any other aircraft they'd be looking for you guys with shovels and a bag right now."

Thank you God! Joe repeated again in his mind as a chill ran up his spine. Suddenly a vision of Annie appeared in his mind's eye, and he wanted more than anything else to be holding her in his arms, safely in their home in Colorado. As the image faded he found himself looking at Angie, who's brown eyes were staring back at him with a knowing look as her head nodded slowly.

"Go home, Joe." She said quietly.


To Chapter Eleven: Goin'Home.

Back to The B Team Table of Contents

Back to the Stories Page

Back to The Range