The B Team



All characters that appear in this chapter of B-Team are my own. 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
2003




The New Deal

There was an iridescence in the blue-black sky, a barely perceptible fuzzy glow that could easily have been attributed to the moon, had there been one. The big coyote stood at the rail, staring up to the stars above the horizon in the west, sharp and brittle looking in the cold thin air high above the Rocky Mountains. His blue eyes were wide in wonder, as they always were at moments like this when he contemplated the cosmos. His nose wiggled slightly as he inhaled the cold air and evaluated the faint scents it brought to him, causing his whiskers to twitch. His tail wagged slowly, the only outward indication of the inner peace he felt.

A flicker in his peripheral vision caught his attention. Looking a bit to the north he saw the flashing strobe and navigation lights of a high-flying aircraft up in the flight levels, headed west. There was enough starlight to see the contrails the aircraft left. A small smile lifted the corners of the coyote's muzzle. Somefur up there was really enjoying the ride and the view.

A red fox entered the bedroom behind him from the master bath. The cold outside air caused her to shiver slightly. She stopped a couple of steps into the room, her own blue eyes watched the coyote as he stood there on the balcony, paws on the rail, face raised to the sky. She gazed lovingly at him for a few moments, not wishing to disturb whatever reverie it was he might be in. As her tail began to swish slowly from side to side she saw one of his ears rotate slightly towards her, and knew she had been found out anyway.

The fox's voice was almost like a purr as she smiled. "Feel like singing to the sky?" she teased gently.

The big coyote exhaled slowly, his breath condensing into visible vapor in front of him, hanging in the still air. He stood there a moment more, watching the lights of that high, far-flung aircraft until they passed over the mountainous horizon. Dropping his paws from the rail, he turned slowly to face the red fox. He wore a happy, relaxed expression as he shook his head in the negative.

Annie smiled at her husband as she crossed their bedroom to the door that opened onto the hallway. Closing it, she turned to face him. They stood there for perhaps a quarter minute, just looking at each other. Joe leaned casually against the rail of the balcony. He was still dressed in his jeans and shirt from the flight home, but his leather A2 jacket and boots were already in their walk-in closet across the room. He crossed his arms over his chest as he watched her.

She placed one paw on a hip, while the other hung at her side as she regarded him momentarily. She stood just inside the room in her short evening robe, her strawberry blond hair falling freely to and below her shoulders. Her auburn fur shone softly, as she was fresh from a bath and the fur dryer. Her fur caught the soft candlelight in the room, competing in it's own way with the soft sparkle of the diamond that hung by a small gold necklace at the base of her throat. Annie's expressive blue eyes told her husband much, even though her mouth never moved. Her ears were up, and she wore a happily curious expression as her tail moved very slowly from side to side.

She moved towards him slowly, her hips swaying slightly as she moved. "You're a quiet one tonight." Her smile carried a note of seductiveness.

Joe considered his words. "It's been an... unusual... weekend, my love. So many things have happened."

They had come home directly from Jeffco. Joe had grilled them a quick dinner of hamburgers and hotdogs, which the pups had thoroughly enjoyed. He and Annie had intentionally avoided discussing the latest aerial adventure while their pups were awake. By nine PM both Josh and Marie, after exhausting themselves playing with their flashlights and chasing each other in the backyard for almost an hour, had ended their day curled up on the sofa in the big family room with them. They had fallen asleep while Joe and Annie enjoyed a glass of Chardonnay and light conversation while Annie's fine fire crackled and flickered in their fireplace. While Annie had drawn and taken her bath, Joe had put the pups to bed and called their best friends on the phone.

"Hello?" the feline voice had come down the line into Joe's ear.

"Hi Janie."

"Hi Joe," Janie greeted him warmly, "how are my best friends doing?"

She was inquiring mostly about Annie, he knew, and that was good. His wife had been best friends with the cougar since long before Joe had ever been in the picture.

"We're fine, Janie. Annie's taking a bath. She's back to her old self, from what I can see and sense."

Janie didn't reply immediately, and Joe waited patiently, knowing she was in thought.

"Joe, she was terrified yesterday..."

Joe nodded as his expression became serious. "I know, Janie. We haven't talked about that yet, we wanted to wait for the pups to fall asleep before we got into that conversation."

"Ah..." Janie agreed.

"I called to ask a favor," Joe continued. "Can you and Tim get together with us sometime in the next two or three days? I'd like to see you, and believe it or not I have some business to discuss with Tim."

Janie laughed. "When do you two," she giggled, "ever not talk about flying?"

Joe smiled in return. "I know, I know. But this isn't flying. It's the business of flying. It won't take long, but I have some info I need to pass on to the two of you in the near future."

"Both of us?" Janie smiled. "How mysterious. Let me see..." Janie paused as she looked at the desk calendar next to their telephone. "Tim doesn't have anything scheduled until next week. He's supposed to fly out to Miami with Rick on the G-IV a week from tomorrow." Janie pondered her own schedule briefly. "How about Tuesday?"

Knowing that his aircraft would be off line for a few weeks at least, and knowing that he was as yet unscheduled in any other aircraft, Joe immediately replied "That'll be fine, Janie. How about we come and pick you up, and head over to Don Miguel's?"

"Joe," Janie said in mock admonishment, "you know what a weakness I have for strawberry margaritas."

"Intelligence I plan to exploit, if your husband isn't nearby," Joe teased.

Janie laughed briefly. "You're incorrigible!"

"So I've been told," Joe replied with a chuckle. "OK then, six o'clock?"

Janie scribbled a notation on their calendar. "Sounds good, Joe. We'll see you then!" She paused, becoming serious. "Joe?"

"Yeah?"

"Talk to her. Comfort her. She..." Janie stopped a moment in thought, her voice becoming low and quiet in her sudden earnestness. "Joe, she was convinced you were gone. Be her rock. Let her know you'll always be there for her."

Joe ruminated on this for a moment, the humor departing from his own voice. "Jan, you're the best friend any fur could have. I'm indebted to you and Tim for what you've done for Annie and I, not only yesterday but since I came to know you all those years ago. You guys are the best."

"You're sweet, Joe."

He smiled, the tease coming back. "Eh, maybe so, maybe not. But I love you guys all the same."

"Thanks Joe." Janie inhaled, changing moods. "So, we'll see you Tuesday. If you get here a few minutes early we can have a drink here before we head out. Sound good?"

"That works for me, kiddo. We'll see you then."

"I'll let Tim know. You tell Annie I said hello, and we'll see you in a couple of days.

"Good deal, Janie. Thanks. Bye now."

"Good night, Joe."

###

Annie stopped near the center of the room and sat on a small sofa at the foot of their bed. She looked at her husband from beneath lowered eyelashes, smiling coyly. "Get in here, you nut, it's cold outside." She patted the cushion next to her with a charcoal colored paw.

Joe entered the room from their balcony, closing the sliding glass door behind him. He moved across the room to where his wife sat and, minding both their tails, sat beside her. He put his arm around her shoulders as she snuggled up to him. They were silent for a few moments, each simply enjoying the closeness of the other.

Annie turned her head, her nose almost touching the side of Joe's muzzle. She waited until he turned his head to face her.

"Do you feel like talking?" she asked softly.

"Do you?" Joe asked, his paw gently stroking the fur of her neck.

She sighed as she looked down to her own paws in her lap. After a couple of seconds she looked back up to his eyes. "I need to know," she said simply.

Joe exhaled slowly. He'd been simultaneously looking forward to and fearing the onset of this conversation. "Well," he began slowly, "basically it comes down to the fact that a thunderstorm tried to kill us." And Joe proceeded to describe the basic structure of thunderstorms, with emphasis on the vertical movement of air and moisture within. He described in some detail the way this rapidly moving air affects the flight of any aircraft, and how the massive high speed columns of air within a thunderstorm can rip wings from transports and light planes alike.

He described the failure of their weather radar and how Air Traffic Control had diverted them all over the Illinois map evading storm cells. He told her about Rick's valiant efforts to keep them updated with weather data that was almost half an hour old.

"Finally the odds caught up with us," he said. He relived the terror of those moments inside the storm cell for her as best he could. She could almost see in her mind's eye the inverted horizon on the other side of their windshields as their Hercules had been violently thrown upside-down out of the bottom of that maturing cell. Her arms flexed involuntarily as he described the effort he and Steve Lupus had both expended pulling the Hercules out of it's dive.

Joe ended his description by relating Jerry's information about the wing spar being bent. "In just about any other aircraft we'd have been done for." Joe admitted with a note of wonder in his voice. "God was certainly watching out for us yesterday."

Annie absorbed all this without comment. While her expression was neutral, her paws were balled in fists, and Joe could see the smoldering fear in her eyes.

"Never again," Joe said, "will I ever depend on ATC to lead me through a line of storm cells. We should have turned west to clear air and put down somewhere until we could get the radar fixed, or until we were sure that the storm line was east of Ohio." Joe stroked her neck fur again, and then ran his paw gently up into her hair. "Each of us had a case of 'get home-itis', I suppose. We all wanted to get back to Ohio so badly that we intentionally overlooked a couple of obvious failures that contributed directly to what happened."

Joe stopped, looking tenderly at his wife. Her gaze had fallen again to her paws in her lap. Joe took a deep breath and exhaled before speaking again.

"Too much information, Annie?"

She looked up, her blue eyes locking on his. "I'm glad you told me everything. It confirms what happened to me. I needed to know."

"What did happen to you?"

She sighed slightly. "When you and Steve were fighting that storm, probably about the time you thought you were going to loose the ship, something happened to me." Joe took her paws in his, an encouraging look in his eyes.

"I can't describe how. All I know is what I felt. I was talking to Janie about something, and suddenly I heard your voice. And as soon as I realized it was you I was hearing, your voice was gone, cut off in mid-sentence like a disconnected phone call. At that very moment it felt like my entire soul turned to ice." She winced at the memory. "I was terrified. I was absolutely certain, without having any idea how or why, that you were dead." Annie's eyes suddenly welled up, and a tear rolled down across her cheek. She sniffed slightly as she reached up with a paw towards her eye.

"Here," Joe said as he rose from the sofa. "Let me get you a tissue." He hurried into the bathroom, to return a moment later with a box of tissues. Removing one and handing it to her, he sat down quietly next to her with the box in his paws. Annie dabbed briefly at her eyes and cheeks.

"Janie," the red fox paused in recollection, "God bless her, she knew exactly what was happening to me. She kept a level head and talked me through the drive home, and helped with the kids while we waited for you to call and for Timmy to show up." She smiled through her tears. "We have the best friends in the world," she whispered.

Joe nodded slowly. "We do."

Annie took a deep breath. "I don't know what it is, Joe. Telepathy? Clairvoyance? Some sort of cosmic connection?" She looked steadily at him as another tear trickled down her cheek. "You are my life, Joe. What happens to you happens to me, whether we're separated by inches or hundreds of miles." She dropped the tissue in her lap and suddenly wrapped her arms tightly around Joe's body, burying her nose in his chest. She sobbed once as Joe cradled her gently in his own arms, and then they just sat there like that, he gently holding her while her body shook as she relived her fear, her grip on him as though she would never let go.

After a couple minutes she stopped shaking and drew a ragged breath as she leaned back a bit, not releasing him but relaxing her hold on him. Her breath was hot on his cheek as she whispered to him. "I can't explain it. It just is." She suddenly gripped his arms tightly with her paws, shaking him ever so slightly, the terror ablaze in her eyes.

"Don't ever," she said firmly, "ever do that to me again. I love you too much to lose you that way." Once again her arms went around him and her nose went to his chest. He stroked her hair and the fur of her shoulders as she worked the fear out of her system. She continued to shake, and occasionally sobbed quietly into his fur.

By the time the front of his shirt was beginning to feel damp she began to settle down. He waited quietly while she regained her composure, murmuring reassurances in her ear occasionally as he continued to caress her shoulders.

Finally Annie sat back on the sofa and just stared at him, played out. Her eyes had a hollow look to them, but her composure had returned.

Joe was heartbroken at the thought of what he had put her through. He mentally cursed himself for taking such chances with his wife's safety and well being. As he chastised himself silently a notion struck him. He took her paws in his own as he looked into her now red-rimmed eyes.

"Annie, do you think I should quit flying?"

###

Monday

A cream-colored paw grabbed for the ringing phone. The gruff, rumbling voice conveyed the owner's displeasure at being awakened with his monosyllabic greeting. "Yeah?"

Jerry Kitt's level, business-like tone greeted Matt Barstock's gruffness. "Mornin' boss. Ready for the initial report?"

"Christ." Matt grumbled as he rolled onto his back. "What the Hell time is it, Jerry? Don't you bears ever sleep?" Matt held his forearm above his head and squinted at it for a few seconds before he realized that all he could see was black fur. His watch was on the dresser across the room where he had left it the night before.

"It's almost oh seven hundred," Jerry replied, correctly guessing the state of his boss' mental acuity at the moment. "You want to call me back after you've had some coffee?"

Matt thought a moment. "Nah. Give me the brief synopsis, and I'll be over there to discuss details after I've had some breakfast."

Jerry sat back in his chair in Intermountain Charter's small maintenance office inside their hangar on Port Columbus International Airport. Through his office window he could see their C-130, looking disheveled with so many of her inspection panels and access hatches open or removed. While he couldn't see it from his current vantage point, he also knew that most of the aluminum skin of the port wing outboard of the number one nacelle had been removed as well. He and Jake had been working since late Sunday morning to inspect the Hercules and prepare her for the rework that was certainly coming.

"Well the good news is that the wing box is fine. A few pieces of over- stressed hardware swapped out and we're good to go. And the radar..."

In three words Matt told Jerry to do something with the radar that was probably physically impossible, or at least would have been quite painful. "What about the spar, Jerry?"

Jerry sighed. "Up two point eight degrees sixteen inches outboard of the number one nacelle, down point seven degrees twenty one inches in from the tip. The skin is already off the wing outboard of number one, we'll be ready to remove the damaged portion of the spar by noon."

Matt absorbed this information silently. Presently he said. "OK. I'm gonna have some coffee while I call Victor in Arizona and see what I can scare up in mothballs. Be ready with part numbers for me when I get in. I should be there about ten or so. I'll talk to you then about the radar, and the throttle cable, and the fin, and whatever else you scare up between now and then." Matt paused, thinking as his brain cleared of sleep induced fuzz. "Jerry, when'd you sleep last?"

"Uuhhh..."

"I thought so," Matt replied. "Soon as we talk I'm having Angie take you home to Sheryl. Take the rest of today off and catch up on your sleep, OK?"

"Thanks, boss."

"See you in a while." Matt rolled over onto his stomach to hang up the phone.

A feline voice purred beside Matt. "Sounds like I'd better make us both some coffee, huh?"

Matt turned his head to face Angie. "Sorry kitten." He smiled ruefully. "These are going to be 'all hands' days around here until we get that Bitch back in the air." A cream colored paw brushed a bit of hair from her eyes and then disappeared beneath the sheets.

As his paw sought it's target Angie propped her head up on a paw of her own, holding her other paw in the air a few inches from Matt's nose. "Don't even think about it, big dog," she grinned evilly at him as she expressed the claws of her free paw. "Time enough for that later, we've got work to do."

"Aarrr...," Matt growled almost playfully as he held both paws up in the clear. "A slave driver you are, my Calico love."

"Right. Get a shower while I make breakfast, and I'll get one while you eat. We can make that ten o'clock meet if one of us doesn't get too distracted." Giggling slightly, Angie tossed back the covers and rolled quickly away from him, seeming to spin in mid-air before landing on her feet on the floor. She wore absolutely nothing save for the grin on her muzzle.

"C'mon, big dog! Let's go!"

Matt grinned at her as he sat up. "You'll get yours later..."

"Promises, promises..." she teased, donning a robe as she headed for the kitchen of Matt's apartment.

###

In Colorado the sun was still below the horizon, although the sky was getting light with the dawn.

Joe and Annie were still awake. Immediately following Joe's question to Annie about his quitting flying she had burst out in tears anew, and it had taken him some time to figure out why.

"You would do that for me?" she had asked incredulously once the tears had abated somewhat.

"Annie!" Joe had looked at her with a certain amount of wonder. "Sweetheart, there's nothing I wouldn't do for you."

"I could never ask that of you, Joe. It's your life!"

"No," he replied firmly. "You are my life. Planes come and go, jobs come and go, but you are the center of my world. Everything else is secondary."

Her response to this had been somewhat unexpected, perhaps for her as well as him. She had kissed him. Not just a buss on the cheek, either, but one of those "there's no tomorrow" type kisses that's guaranteed to start fires burning.

And burn they did, for several hours. There was no conversation, at least of the verbal type, just the raw, pure, sexual joy of two furs who are so deeply in love that words fail in their ability to convey the emotion. All the feelings that Joe and Annie couldn't find the words to describe to each other were expressed clearly and eloquently to each other through the actions of their bodies.

Shortly before dawn Joe had found himself staring at the ceiling, his wife's head on his shoulder, her paw tracing lazy circles on his chest while he tried to catch his breath. One of his paws caressed her bushy tail gently, the other would rise up sporadically from his side to tease her paw that was tracing circles.

They had been almost six hours without speaking a word to each other, yet they each felt completely in tune with the other.

Annie tilted her head back slightly. Joe heard her mumble something into his neck.

Patting her bottom, he asked her to repeat what she had said.

"You have to fly," she said quietly.

"No...," he began.

"Yes!" she replied emphatically, almost angrily as she leaned her head back a bit more to look at his eyes. "What are you going to do? Drive a truck? Work in a hardware store?" She suddenly sat up on the bed, absolutely mindless of the fact that she was completely naked, and fixed him with her gaze. "Joe, you are a pilot. A damn good one by all I've seen and heard. You're never happier than when you've got the sky in your eyes and a pawful of throttles. I could never take that away from you."

Joe was, as always, quite distracted by her gorgeous figure. It took an effort of will for him to stay on track with her conversation. Yet somewhere in between his ears something was paying careful attention to her words, even as his eyes roved over her auburn furred body.

"Annie..."

"No!" She smiled at his apparent confusion, noticing his distracted look. "Listen, my love. I don't have a problem with what you do. In fact, I love what you do. I love the trips we take with the kids in SC. How many pups their age go to Disneyland for the weekend in their own airplane? How many of their school friends have seen the Grand Canyon from the air? Or Yellowstone? Or the Great Smokies? Or New York? You have given Joshua and Marie all that, and thousands of great memories in between. And you have given me that confident, strong coyote I love in the process. Flying is more than what you do. It's who you are, and that makes us, you and I, what we are."

She reached up to his face with a paw, touching a cheek, an ear, tracing the line of his lower jaw down to his chin. His eyes followed her movements quietly, he knew there was more to come.

"Joe, I'm not good with words sometimes, and this is one of them. Hear this, and try and understand what my heart is saying." She kissed his cheek briefly, and then clutched her closed fist to her chest above her heart as she spoke. "I want you to fly, I need you to fly. I need the coyote with the sky in his eyes. I need the confidence that coyote has, his ability to command the horizon as he commands my destiny. I would sooner cut my own heart from my chest than take that away from you."

Joe was moved beyond speech again, but with a different emotion. Ever so gently he placed a paw on the back of her head, rising to her face as he pulled her towards him. His kiss told her that he had understood perfectly.

After a few minutes of emotional intimacy had passed between them, she placed her paws gently on his shoulders. He looked longingly into her eyes as she lifted her head up to look in his eyes.

"What is it, my love?"

Annie looked down at her husband, a distant look in her eyes. "Something Janie said the other day about Tim and flying. I think the thing she dislikes the most about him flying is what I have come to have trouble with, too."

Joe's expression became worried. "What's that?"

She smiled at him. "She hates him being away overnight. She hates it when he calls, telling her where he is and when he might be home. She wants him at home with her at the end of the day, not on some sleazy bed in some far-off motel with a pawset in his ear, telling her how much he loves her through two thousand miles of telephone wire."

Joe stared at her, his mouth open slightly. At any other time Annie would have interpreted this as an invitation for more of what they had spent most of the night doing, but the look in his eye told her that his brain was elsewhere.

This is the hand of Providence! It has to be! Joe thought. Suddenly he laughed.

Annie giggled in return. "What's so funny?"

Joe laughed yet again. "Matt's New Deal," he sputtered.

"Matt?" Annie looked confused but happy. "Why is your boss a topic of conversation in our bed?"

Joe suddenly sat up next to his wife. He took her paw in his. His voice was full of excitement when he spoke.

"I didn't tell you about the meeting! It seemed sort of ancillary to all the other stuff we needed to discuss." A grin broke across his muzzle.

"The meeting?" Annie asked, unable to resist a small grin of her own.

"Annie, listen. Intermountain is expanding it's operation. The C-130 has generated vast amounts of new cargo business, most of it in the west. Matt wants to send the C-130 and a couple of other aircraft out here to Colorado." Joe nodded as the implication of this registered in Annie's eyes, which widened.

"Matt wants to open an office here in the Denver area. And he wants Timmy and I to be chief pilots for him out here."

Annie's ears were straight up in excitement, her tail wagged energetically. "Does this mean what I think it means?"

"It sure does. No more flying to work! No more additional days commuting to and from jobs. Our fleet will be right here in our own front yard, and all our crews and staff will be local. Jerry and Sheryl Kitt may even move out here to join us. In fact..."

It was as far as Joe got before Annie's lips found his one more time. She wiggled and squirmed as she kissed him, the excitement and happiness in her heart making it impossible for her to be still. After a minute or so Annie decided that Joe should be allowed to breathe.

She laughed at the slightly dazed look on his face. "That's the best news I've had in a long time!" she squealed.

Joe moved his jaw slightly from side to side as if to see if it still worked. "I guess so..." he smiled briefly in return.

A realization suddenly invaded her thoughts. "This is what you meant by 'a day to remember' when you gave me this diamond!" Her paw reached to her throat, fingering the diamond that hung there on it's gold necklace.

Joe nodded. "I bought it in Columbus the morning I came home. It's not anything fancy, but it's pretty on you, and I wanted us to have something to remember the day Intermountain came west."

"Intermountain goes wherever you go," Annie said proudly. "And you're full of baloney about this diamond, coyote mine. I took a look at this last night. This is a G color VVS stone, about three quarters of a carat." Her expression softened. "I've never had anyone give me a gift of this quality."

Joe's paw found her face, touching the fur just below her eye very gently as he stared into those blue eyes he loved. "Maybe no one else has ever valued you as highly and as completely as I do."

She smiled that dazzling smile that had melted his heart all those years ago. She spent several seconds just staring back into his eyes. Then her expression suddenly turned conspiratorial as another thought took her. "Joe! Does Tim even know about this yet?"

He shook his head. "Nope. While you were taking a bath last night I called them and spoke to Janie. We're going over there tomorrow evening to pick them up and head on over to Don Miguel's. I figured I'd spring it on him over a margarita."

Annie grinned. "You," she placed a claw ever so gently on the tip of his nose, "would make a great boss."

Joe stared at her, his blue eyes twinkling. "I have a good boss. And a perfect wife."

Annie's paws found his shoulders again and pushed gently, guiding him back to the mattress. Her expression softened as she stared down into his eyes. "Since the day we met you have treated me better than any fur ever has. You're always the gentlefur. When I need a knight to save me mine is there with wings and thunder. You're strong, confident, stable, a wonderful father to our pups..." Annie sighed, running out of words. "I love you, Joe. With all my heart."

Joe reached up to take her shoulders in his own paws. With very little persuasion he guided her head down close to his, the rest of her body following. Their kiss was passionate, starting fires anew.

She giggled into his ear. "We're never going to get any sleep..."

"So?" Joe asked, more than a little bit distracted. "You've got something else to do today?" he teased, caressing the spot where her tail joined her backside.

The love in her eyes told him more than her words, but each reinforced the other. "No...," she shook her head playfully. "There's no place I'd rather be than right here with you."

Joe's paws found her hips as he kissed her again. She saw the sky in his eyes, felt the fire in his soul, and knew in her heart that all was well.

 



To Chapter Thirteen: Workout.

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