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 & 2004




Workout



Joe made a noise that sounded like a sigh coupled with a low growl, way back in his throat. He was unaware of doing this, his ears could not detect the quiet sound in his present environment. Annie would have recognized this sound immediately, she had heard him make it on more than one occasion during intimate moments. In a feline this would have been immediately identified as a purr, however Joe was anything but feline.

The sun was warm on his face, dazzling as it shown down from between the altocumulus clouds floating above him in the crystal clear sky. While the adrenaline was pumping and he was almost short of breath, Joe was calm and utterly at peace, a small smile on his muzzle. Behind his sunglasses his eyes were bright and alert. His ears were up and his nose twitched in anticipation.

Joe moved his right foot forward just a bit as he thought Stick back gently and... left! As the stick in his right paw went hard left the Bellanca Scout he was piloting responded by snap rolling to the left, the horizon quickly tilting to the right in Joe's field of view. Keep the nose on the horizon, he told himself. Forward a bit... As the horizon rotated around to the right a point of it remained fixed just ahead of the Scout's spinner. The sky and ground exchanged places in his windshield and his body floated "up" into his five point harness. Neutralize controls. Joe was suspended, upside down. He looked "up" through the plexiglas over his head at the surface of the earth, twenty five hundred feet "above" them, and then swung his head through a two hundred and seventy degree arc while scanning the upside down horizon.

Seeing no other aircraft in the area, Joe pulled the stick back towards his belt and the Scout responded by diving towards the ground. As they approached the vertical Joe retarded the throttle, looking up and ahead at the terrain below him. As the Scout continued to pull up past straight down and the horizon began to assume it's normal position in his windshield, Joe grunted and then growled loudly, trying to tighten his abdominal muscles to keep the blood from draining out of his upper torso. The G forces built at the bottom of the split S maneuver, but not to an uncomfortable or dangerous level. Joe was acutely aware of how, in some respects, this pullout was similar to the pullout he and Steve had made in The Bitch several days ago.

Once level Joe glanced up overhead and then scanned the horizon again for conflicting traffic. Far above he could see some big iron on it's way in to DIA, other than the big jets up high the sky seemed to be his alone. Joe advanced the throttle for climb power and the Scout began climbing back towards the altitude Joe had started at moments before. The sun was at his back now, he was headed east, into the Great Plains. They were southeast of the Denver class B airspace, very near the town of Elizabeth. Out here Joe was not as restricted in what altitudes he could fly at. His "box", an unofficial practice area used by several of the pilots in the area, extended from the surface up to about ten thousand feet, giving him at least three thousand feet of airspace to work in. Just now he was climbing back through eight thousand to start his next maneuver.

The Bellanca Scout was a small, single engine, high wing, two place, piston powered aerobatic trainer. Painted fabric covered a welded steel fuselage. The compliment of instrumentation and navigation equipment was basic and rudimentary, it was purely a VFR aircraft. The seating was tandem, one behind the other. There was a stick instead of a control yolk, and the throttle was on the left sidewall. A very different arrangement from most other aircraft Joe had flown, but it felt comfortable and familiar somehow. This was a pilot's aircraft. If the pilot didn't fly it there were no electronics to do it for him, the little trainer would more or less wander where the wind took it.

As he climbed back up to nine thousand five hundred feet, Joe reflected on the week gone by so far and grinned. Despite the fact that The Bitch was still hobbled at Port Columbus, things with Intermountain were barging right along. Tuesday's dinner discussion with Tim and Janie had gone well, Tim immediately buying into the plan to open a western base of operation for Intermountain Charter in the Denver area.

###

"Where are we supposed to get flight crew and ground support?" Tim had wanted to know.

The six of them were seated in a horseshoe - shaped booth at Don Miguels, the remnants of dinner scattered in the center of the table. Each adult fur had a margarita glass in front of them in some stage of depletion, the pups were working on sodas while they played with a video game they had brought along. Adult conversation is so boring, you know.

Joe and Annie's pups were in the middle of the horseshoe, the marmot and his cougar wife on one side, the fox and the coyote on the other.

Joe had sipped at his margarita before replying. "I'm not really sure about any of that yet. Matt seemed to feel that we could find second in command crew and office staff locally."

Tim just stared at Joe, knowing by the look on his face that Joe wasn't finished. After a moment's pause while he draped an arm around his wife Tim prompted with "And...?" Janie snuggled a bit into Tim's side as she listened intently.

Joe's paw unconsciously sought Annie's under the table. "Well, some of the other guys may want to join us. Steve in particular. Y'know he's the C-130 jock in our outfit, he's got more hours in type than you, me, and Rick put together. He didn't say anything about the new deal, but I think he's a bit put out by it."

Tim scratched his ear absently with his free paw. "Why?"

Joe smiled. "Think about it, Timmy. He joined up with us straight out of the Air Force, where he had spent most of his time flying transports, C-130s amongst them. He was flying The Bitch for two years before I showed up on the scene. Now Matt's talking like the airframe Steve hired on to fly is being moved out from under him to come to us."

Tim nodded. "I guess I can see that." He paused, a paw gently stroking his wife's shoulder. "I tended to avoid that aircraft when he hired on." Tim got a distant look in his brown eyes as he thought back. "Who was that other fur, the fox, that used to fly The Bitch before Steve came on board?"

Joe shrugged as his eyebrows arched slightly. "That was before me," he said.

"I don't remember his name," Tim continued. "He was an older guy, about fifty or so when Steve came up. Steve took over The Bitch when he left. I didn't want anything to do with that beast, and still don't." Tim shook his head slowly as he grinned at Joe. "I don't understand what you guys see in her."

Annie spoke up. "It's the challenge. Joe just can't resist a difficult, temperamental female." She giggled, looking at Janie.

Joe laughed briefly, looking fondly at his wife. "It's true. I like 'em when they bite now and then."

That earned him a giggle from Janie and a light punch in the arm from his wife.

"Mom!" Joshua's playful voice piped up. "Stop picking on daddy!" He had looked up from the video game he and Maria were playing when Annie had giggled.

Annie looked at her pups, both of whom were looking at her with smiles on their small muzzles. She winked at them and smiled sweetly for them before returning her attention to the conversation at paw. They listened for a moment or two, and were then drawn back into their game, playing quietly.

"Anyway," Joe continued, "Steve thought it would be a good idea for all of us to get together in KC for a meal and a pow-wow. I don't know exactly what's on his mind, but he specifically mentioned you and I and he and Rick. I gather he's going to want to get a feel for how we feel about this new deal, and who wants to go where and fly what."

Tim appeared interested. "KC? At his place? All furs, ladies too?"

Joe nodded. "I expect Molly will be there, and unless I'm badly mistaken about things we're probably going to get to know Dakota a lot better, too."

Janie rubbed her paws together rapidly as a wide grin exposed a bare hint of fangs on her muzzle. "Hear that, Annie? Fresh blood!" The cougar's tail waved gently behind her, the tip just visible over her shoulder. She and the fox had both heard about Rick's new lady friend earlier in the evening.

Annie grinned at her friend, her own tail brushing the seat next to her a bit. "It never hurts to have a couple more voices of reason amongst all this testosterone, does it?" She gestured with a paw towards Timmy and her husband. Both she and Janie laughed at this while Joe and Tim chuckled.

After a moment's reprise Tim asked "What about Randy? Where's he fit in all this?"

"I don't know," Joe admitted. "Maybe he'll be there too. I hope he brings Melanie with him if he shows up, or he's going to catch some serious grief from the collected ladies for coming alone."

"Who's Melanie?" Janie and Annie asked in unison.

"See?" Joe asked Tim with a smile. "It's starting already."

Annie poked him in the ribs with an elbow. "Spill it, fly fox. Who's Melanie?"

Joe turned a bit in the booth to face his lovely Fox. "Melanie is a young tabby who works as a bargirl at the terminal lounge at Port Columbus. Randy took a liking to her the night of the fire flight, and apparently they've been seeing a lot of each other since then."

"Apparently?" Annie asked. "What's that mean?"

Joe gave her a mysterious look and then grinned. "Nobody's seen him for several weeks now. He checks in with Matt now and then, to hear Matt tell it, but none of the rest of us have seen him since that night." Joe sipped again from his margarita as Annie looked from him to Janie and back. "I get the feeling," Joe finished, "that he's been quite smitten with her."

"Oh?" Janie spoke up. "Why's that?"

Joe looked at his best friends. "I saw her the other night at the big meeting. When I asked her about Randy she blushed, and wouldn't say much."

"Blushed?" Janie asked with a note of glee. Looking at Annie she grinned that fang-hinting grin yet again. "Sounds like young love to me!"

Tim turned to look at his wife as he gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze. "What are you getting so excited about?"

She looked at him with that grin but refused to say more. Her eyes spoke volumes to him, though.

"Mommy?" Marie's little voice spoke softly.

Annie looked down at her daughter in time to see her yawn. "What, sweetie?" She knew what was coming and scooted a bit towards Joe, who moved his arm up on to the backrest behind her.

"I'm sleepy. Can I lay down?" Marie looked up to her mother with big blue eyes that drooped slightly.

"Sure, sweetie." Annie scooted a bit more. "Here, you can lay your head in mommy's lap."

The littlest coyfox at the table slid down in the booth and curled up into a little furry ball with her head in Annie's lap. Annie began to gently stroke the fur on the side of Marie's head as she returned her attention to the conversation ongoing.

"What about Matt?" Tim was asking. "Is he going to be there?"

"I don't know," Joe replied. "I don't know what his plans are."

That hadn't lasted long, however. Not twenty four hours elapsed before some of Matt's plans became known to him.

###

Joe was almost to his starting altitude again. He leveled off but maintained climb power, watching the airspeed increase to normal cruise speed. Once again he looked up through the plexiglas to the blue sky overhead, and then scanned the horizon around him. Seeing no traffic he tugged the stick back slightly as he cranked on hard right aileron, feet dancing lightly on the rudder peddals to maintain his spinner's position on the horizon. He worked the stick left and right, left and right, as he executed an eight point roll, ending right side up as he had started and only a hundred feet above his starting altitude.

Immediately finishing this he pushed the nose into a thirty degree dive and watched his airspeed build. As the needle touched the bottom of the yellow arc on his airspeed indicator he hauled back on the stick, taking the Bellanca into the vertical. Once pointed straight up he neutralized the controls and watched the horizon, trying to hold the trainer in the vertical without rolling or yawing. He also glanced quickly at his airspeed indicator now and then, monitoring it as his airspeed bleed off. As he approached his stall speed he began working the stick and rudder to maintain his position, pointed straight up, not turning or rotating.

Within moments he was literally hanging by the prop, and he used his controls liberally to hold position as the trainer began to slide backwards through the air it's own propeller had just chewed through. After he had back slid about fifty feet he simultaneously pulled the throttle to idle and kicked hard left rudder, snapping the trainer around to the left until he was suddenly pointed straight down. As soon as his attitude was stabilized in a vertical dive he pulled the stick back and flew comfortably out of the dive, bringing up throttle to cruise power. He ended the maneuver at almost exactly the same altitude he had been at when he started. He looked around again for traffic.

While not physically exerting, the concentration was causing Joe to sweat slightly. He exulted in the feeling. He was alive, in control, honing the skills he loved. This was absolutely the most fun a fur could have by himself.

He had heard Matt comment about that often. "Nothing," Matt liked to say, "can clean all the crap out of a fur's head like turning the world upside down now and then."

Matt wasn't always so clear and concise in his dialog. In fact, he had sounded quite befuddled yesterday when he had called...

###

Joe had looked up from his newspaper as the cordless phone began to ring. He had put down his coffee and winked at Annie across their breakfast table as he reached for the offending sound.

"Hello?"

"Joe. It's Matt"

Annie had been working with her laptop at the table, was in fact busy with a spreadsheet for the remodel contract she had negotiated in Arvada, but had looked up to him as he answered the phone. She sipped at her tea and went back to her spreadsheet as soon as she heard Joe's reply.

"Hey Matt, how's it going?"

"Good." Matt didn't waste much time with formalities and launched right into the subject at paw. "Me and Angie are flying out tomorrow in one of the Citations, we'll be landing at Centennial."

"Really?" Joe reached for his coffee. He could guess Matt's reason for making the trip, but figured he'd ask anyway. "What's the occasion?"

"We're coming out to talk to some people about sites for the new operation."

Annie looked up momentarily. She could hear the excitement growing in Joe's voice as he said "Oh? What have you decided on?" She gazed at him for a moment longer before returning her attention once again to her work.

In his apartment just outside the eastern edge of suburban Columbus Matt gently grabbed a feline paw that was doing it's best to distract him. "Uhh..." releasing the paw he jabbed a claw of his own into the ribs of the feline reclined on her back on the sofa, gazing up at him with her head in his lap. Angie jumped a bit and giggled. "We've narrowed it down to three," Matt said, free of his distractions for the moment. "Centennial, Buckley, or Jeffco."

"Buckley? As in Air Force Base?" Joe was surprised. He'd never heard of a commercial outfit of any kind flying out of a military field. Maybe at some place like Yuma, where the Marine Corps and commercial operations shared a field, but never from an all-military strip. "How's that work?" Joe asked.

"Oh, you know..." Matt stalled. In truth he had an old service buddy who was now the second in command at Buckley, but nothing was definite. They had made plans to have a drink tomorrow afternoon and discuss things.

Joe grinned. He knew Matt well enough to know what that meant, he wasn't going to get anything else out of him about that. Changing the subject he asked "When will you be arriving?"

Matt made a choking sound into his pawset as Angie's paw found a new point of distraction. His voice quavered just a bit. "Ohh... probably around fifteen hundred or so..." He squirmed on his sofa as Angie bounced lightly, turning over.

Joe could hear scuffling in his pawset. His voice took on a new note of humor, causing Annie to look up again. "Matt, are you OK?"

More scuffling, followed by something that sounded for all the world like fabric ripping slowly, came from Joe's pawset. Joe grinned, exposing teeth. "Matt!"

"What?"

Joe suppressed a chuckle. He could barely detect purring in his pawset. "Um, have you guys lined up a place to stay out here?" Joe looked across the table at his wife, his facial expression asking the question without words. Annie nodded her assent, Matt and Angie were welcome to use the guest room in their home.

Meanwhile Matt was losing the battle to concentrate on this phone call. He exhaled loudly into his pawset and fought to keep track of his end of the conversation. Angie was slowly driving him crazy. "No... No! No, we don't have anyplace to stay yet, I figured... we'd... rent a car when we get in and figure something off... out."

Annie knew the look she saw on her husband's face. Somehow Joe could sense what was happening back in Columbus, and he silently mouthed "Angie's there." to Annie. She grinned back at him and rose from the table. After placing her empty tea mug on the counter she left the room.

"Matt, you guys are welcome to our guest room if you want it."

Matt didn't respond.

"Matt!"

"What!"

"I said you're welcome to our guest room if you want it." Joe's grin was threatening to hurt, it was so wide.

"Ah... yeah," Matt mumbled. "Yeah. That's it."

"What?"

Matt growled softly. "I'm sorry Joe. That'll be fine. How about I call you when we land, and Angie and I will take you and Annie and the pups out to dinner?"

"That'll be great, Matt..."

Matt sounded like he was having trouble breathing as he interrupted Joe in mid - sentence. "OK. Wonderful. We'll see you tomorrow afternoon. Bye' now!" And the circuit went dead.

Joe was still staring at his pawset, an amused expression on his face, when Annie re - entered the room. She wore a short terry-cloth robe tied loosely... very loosely, Joe noticed, at the waist. She wore nothing underneath the robe, that was certain. As she approached the table she held her paw out to him silently.

"What...?" Joe asked, the beginnings of a mischievous grin appearing on his own muzzle.

She gave him her best seductive gaze as she paused in front of him, still holding her paw out to him. In a husky voice she replied "Great minds thinking alike."

Why not? Joe thought, taking her paw as he stood up. The pups are in school...

###

Nine thousand five hundred feet. Joe banked the little Bellanca to the right, and presently the Rocky Mountains filled his windshield. He sat and stared at them momentarily. Outside of his pretty Maryland Red Fox, those mountains were the most awe inspiring thing he'd ever seen. In his mind nothing spoke more clearly or loudly to him of his Master's love and benevolence than the sight of those jagged peaks soaring even now above him, above fourteen thousand feet. Almost directly in front of him, in the middle distance, Mount Evans dominated the skyline, towering more than four thousand five hundred feet above his present altitude.

Joe shook his head briefly. It wasn't too smart to daydream about foxes and mountains while flying, especially right under the south approach to the DIA airspace. Pressing forward on the stick a bit, he left the throttle at climb power setting and nosed over to gain some speed. As the Bellanca gained speed in a shallow dive he did another scan of the horizon and glanced up to look above him. No traffic in sight.

Joe grinned again as the needle on the airspeed indicator hit the bottom of the yellow arc. He gently pulled the stick back into his stomach and the nose of the Bellanca leapt above the horizon. Within moments he saw the horizon coming down from above him in the windshield, he then centered the stick and retarded the throttle to cruise power. Once again he was suspended, upside down, in his harness. An aggressive application of right stick, coupled with a hint of forward pressure and a nudge of left rudder, caused the little aircraft to snap roll to the right.

Joe counted two and a half revolutions of the horizon, noting with satisfaction as he returned to straight and level, right side up, that he had lost less than one hundred and fifty feet in the rolling maneuver. Once again he pressed the stick forward and waited for the speed to come up towards the bottom of the yellow arc. Then a bit of back pressure and some right stick and rudder, and he performed two complete barrel rolls as his altitude ebbed by five hundred feet.

At the bottom of that maneuver Joe pulled the power off and pulled the stick towards him once again, bringing the nose up. As the Bellanca's airspeed bled off and it approached a stall he continued to hold the stick all the way back. As the stall warning horn blared Joe kicked hard left rudder, and the trainer snapped into a spin to the left. Joe didn't bother to count turns, rather he watched his altimeter while continuing to hold full back stick. As his altitude approached seven thousand five hundred feet he centered the stick and rudder. The spin stopped immediately, and he then applied gentle back pressure on the stick. The nose began to rise, airspeed began to bleed off again, and he advanced the throttle to cruise power. As he once again attained straight and level flight the radio speaker above his head blared to life.

"Anybody in the Kiowa Box?" a flat, professional sounding voice asked.

Joe reached for his microphone, glancing to make sure that his electronics were set to transmit on the air to air frequency of one two two point seven five. He keyed his microphone. "Good morning, Bellanca eight eight two five tango, I'm about three west of Elbert at seventy five hundred turning northbound, I'll be exiting the box at this altitude heading for Jeffco."

After a second or two the flat voice greeted Joe. "Thanks friend, Pitts zero one fox zulu is over Elizabeth at ten thousand southbound, I have you in sight. We'll wait for you to exit the box before we begin."

Joe throttled up the Bellanca for high cruise speed while looking into the sky to the northeast of his position. He spied a bright red biplane high in the clear blue sky a few miles away at his two o'clock position. "Fox Zulu, I have you in sight. It's all yours. Have fun!"

"Thank you sir. Fox zulu." the voice replied.

Joe kept track of the biplane until it was at his four o'clock position heading away from him, and then made a final call on air to air. "Bellanca two five tango is clear of the Kiowa Box to the northwest." He heard two quick clicks of a transmitter in reply from the Pitts. Reaching to his only communications radio he dialed up Denver Approach Control on one two one point six and angled off towards Interstate twenty five. Just north of Castle Rock he crossed over the freeway and called in.

"Denver Approach, Bellanca eight eight two five tango, three north of Castle Rock at seventy five hundred, VFR to Jeffco, over."

Joe paused, waiting for the controller to call back. Even though this frequency was quiet, he knew that DIA was always busy, and that the controllers typically had multiple radio frequencies to monitor. Presently a feminine voice called back.

"Bellanca eight eight two five tango, squawk three zero zero six and ident."

Joe dialed up 3006 on his transponder, selected mode C, and pressed the ident button. After a few seconds had passed the voice called out to him again.

"Bellanca two five tango, radar contact four north of Castle Rock. Remain east of I twenty five and maintain present altitude until handed off to Jeffco Tower."

"Maintain seventy five hundred and remain east of I twenty five until handed off to Jeffco Tower, Bellanca two five tango"

Joe relaxed. He'd have a few minutes to enjoy the sights before he got busy.

Things were coming together. The dinner with Janie and Tim had gone well, as he'd expected. He and Annie would be meeting Angie and Matt later this afternoon, and perhaps by the end of the week they'd know where their new base of operations was going to be located.

They still had a long way to go. They had no aircraft yet. The Bitch was still down for the count, Cessna had told Matt the day after the meeting in Columbus that the new Caravan wouldn't be ready for at least another week or two, and nobody had yet heard from the refit shop near Chicago about the King Airs. They still had to find someone to run the office for them, and might have to possibly recruit some more airfurs for crew, depending on what came of the meeting in Kansas City at Steve's place. There were a lot of variables at play in this thing, but Joe was optimistic and excited. Their futures fairly glowed with promise.

Joe drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. God, it's good to be alive!

"Bellanca two five tango," the controller's voice jarred him from his reverie. "Contact Jeffco Tower on one one eight point six at Mile High Stadium, frequency change approved, good day."

"Thanks Denver, two five tango. See you later."

Joe thought of Annie and his pups. His smile softened a bit as he reflected on just how accurate his assessment of life really was. Then the pilot asserted itself, and he grabbed his checklist to prepare for landing. Mile High Stadium was less than a mile off the nose, he'd be calling the tower very soon. He needed to be ready.

 



To Chapter Fourteen: New Day Dawning.

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