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

Scattered To The Wind

Dawn, Kansas City International

Annie watched Joe as he moved through the early morning routine of conducting the pre-flight inspection of their Duke. After securing their two pups in the center seats of the Duke’s cabin she had seated herself at the copilots position. Joshua and Marie were quiet, in part because they were still a bit sleepy due to the early hour, in part because they, like their mother, could sense the tension in their father. The sun had just begun to rise above the horizon and Joe had not yet donned his Raybans for the flight. The three of them could see the tightness around his eyes and the set of his jaw that belied the otherwise impassive expression on his face. Joe was tired, he’d slept poorly the night before, and it showed to those who knew what to look for.

The good-byes had been cheerful enough. Somehow, Annie mused, Joe had managed to turn off that portion of his mind that dealt with his parents and got through the rest of the evening at Steve and Molly’s with no outward sign that anything was amiss. Neither the Latrans nor the Riggins said anything to their friends about Joe’s phone call. Tim had driven the van containing the Intermountain family; he and Janie, Matt and Angie, and Annie and Joe and their pups, back to the hotel just off I-35 near Kansas City International after the party at Steve and Molly’s broke up late that evening. Rick and Dakota and Randy and Melanie had followed in Dakota’s IROC Camaro.

Joe and Tim had conversed quietly in the front seats during the short trip, their conversation lost to the other occupants of the van. The rest of the furs on board were involved in an energetic discussion, the content of which was totally ignored by the marmot and the coyote. Upon arrival at the hotel Matt had wanted to buy everyone a drink in the bar before turning in, but Joe had politely declined, citing the need to get the pups to bed (which was true enough). He and Annie and their pups had split off from the rest of the Intermountain crew at that point and headed for their room.

Later that night Joe had become very quiet and introspective after the pups had gone to sleep. He and Annie had undressed and prepared for bed. She had lay beside him, watching the love of her life as he stared at the ceiling, blinking occasionally, his breathing deep and regular. Outwardly he was calm, appearing almost serene if you ignored his eyes. Hard memories from a long time ago battled behind those eyes, she could almost see them like movies playing across the screen of his soul.

Finally, around one AM, she had subtly but insistently competed with those memories for his attention. The third gentle kiss on his cheek had dragged him out of his reverie. He had stared at her for a moment before wrapping his arms around her, and then spent long succeeding minutes stroking her blonde hair gently with a paw, silently staring into her blue eyes. Which of them this activity was more therapeutic for was difficult to say.

"I love you," he finally whispered.

Annie picked herself up and gently swung a leg and an arm across Joe’s body to straddle him. She effectively pinned her husband to the mattress, not that he was resisting. In better circumstances this would have been the opening act in a night of lovemaking for them, as had been the case so many times past in their marriage. Tonight, however, she sensed that he needed comfort and compassion, not wild-fire passion. She stared down into his eyes, her expression softening to one of loving concern.

"Honey," she leaned down to kiss his nose briefly. "I will be with you. Whatever you need to face we’ll face together," the fox said solemnly.

The coyote beneath her sighed. She felt the tip of his tail brush against her leg in a single, half-hearted wag. He stared back up at her, his own expression assuming an odd combination of apprehension and love.

"Annie, it could be rough. It could be much worse than when you met them." His paw traced the edge of her ear down from the tip, crossed her cheek, and drifted to her throat and paused there. "And I might not be the Joe Latrans you know for a few hours."

Annie’s paw reached for the end of Joe’s muzzle, the claw of her pointer finger resting very gently on his nose. "I know Joe Latrans," she smiled. "And I recall that when we exchanged vows we promised each other that it would be ‘for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for ever’."

She could see Joe’s heart melting behind his eyes. She wriggled on his mid-section just enough to put a different look there, and then giggled softly. "Right?"

Joe’s paw moved from her throat to the back of her head, pulling her down for a kiss. Their lips met for several long seconds. It was a sweet, reassuring, loving but passionless kiss.

"Right," Joe agreed after they separated. He stared at her for a few moments, then added "Annie, I want to tell you something now."

She looked curiously at him, letting her eyes ask the question.

"I want you to know now that I love you, I value your love above everything else in my life." He touched her cheek with a paw as she blushed ever so slightly. "The next forty eight hours are going to be tough for both of us, and our pups too. I beg your indulgence and patience and understanding as we move into the next couple of days. I don’t know what’s coming, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be nice. So before we start I want to apologize in advance for anything I might say or do, or not say or not do, that hurts you. My paws are going to be very full, and I need you to know that even if I forget to say so at the right times or often enough, I love you."

Annie took her husband’s paw from her cheek and kissed it. Holding the paw to her cheek, she stared at her husband beneath her. "I know that, Joe. God gave us to each other, it will take a lot more than an obstinate parent to get in between us."

She had wriggled down to lay next to him, her head on his chest, a paw on one shoulder. Sleep had taken her shortly thereafter. Joe listened to her deep, even breathing. He could also hear the faster, shorter respiration of his two children in the double bed across the room, also deep in sleep. For a moment Joe knew peace. He had derived enormous comfort from the brief discussion and reaffirmation he’d just shared with Annie, and the combination of that peace of mind and her physical closeness eventually relaxed him to the point of some fitful sleep.

For about four hours.

Now blinking in the early morning sun, Annie knew Joe was tired, she could see it in his actions and had heard it in his voice this morning. Sitting there in the cabin of the Duke, she suddenly bowed her head and said a short prayer for her coyote.

Lord, I lift up my husband to you this morning. Be with him, console him, be the rock for him that I cannot be. Help him get through this, grant him the patience and perseverance and wisdom that he will need to deal with all that is to come. Grant us a safe journey. She paused for a brief moment, and then added a plea on behalf of herself. Lord, protect my coyote. I don’t know what went on between Joe and his father. Welcome Pablo to your heavenly home, grant him the peace of heart that may somehow trickle down to the heart of my husband, such that these old wounds may be finally bound up and the pain put behind them. It serves no purpose now. Again Annie paused in reflection. Father God, you have blessed me with the best husband any female could ask for, and with the most wonderful children any parent could desire. For these and all the other blessings You have bestowed on Joe and I, I praise You and thank You. In the name of Your Son Jesus Christ, Amen.

Annie heard the cabin door behind her close with a muffled thump, and heard the latch rotating into it's locked position. She looked up quickly as Joe squeezed between the seats and settled himself into the pilots seat. He was ready to get things started. She was thankful she already wore her Oakley sunglasses so he wouldn’t see the tears that hovered in the corners of her eyes. She smiled bravely for him.

# # #

0800 MST, west Kansas

The King Air plowed along at Flight Level 210, it’s two occupants each locked in their own thoughts. High over western Kansas the conversation between Tim Riggins and his wife had hit a lull. The cougar gazed pensively out her window at Dodge City and the Arkansas River as they slipped by below. The marmot fiddled with his radio equipment for a few moments and then repeated a practiced scan of the instrument panel and the horizon outside. Satisfied that all was well with the flight, Tim looked at his wife once again.

"I guess there’s not much else we can do for them until they come home. We’ll just have to pray for them in the mean time, and be there for them when they return."

Janie nodded quietly, her face pensive, her eyes still on the terrain below. "I wish they would have let us take care of the pups for them."

"Joe and I talked about that," Tim replied. "He wanted them along to meet their grandmother, whatever the situation. He thinks they need to be there."

Janie turned to face her husband, nodding. "He’s probably right," she sighed. The tip of her tail flicked in concern behind her. "I just pray all goes well for them, and that nothing bad happens."

Tim stared at her for a moment. He didn’t need to ask what "bad things" she might be referring to. After last night’s conversation with Joe in the van he had a fairly clear picture of the situation that had existed between Joe and his parents. Joe and Annie’s eldest pup was nine years old, and little Joshua had never met his paternal grandparents.

"At this point all we can do is pray, Jan. Until they come home it’s the best we can do."

She nodded again, slowly, silently.

After a few miles had passed beneath the King Air’s wings she brightened a bit.

"I’m going to get a job!" she said with muted excitement.

Tim smiled as he turned his attention from the horizon back to her. "Really? What brought that on?" He was mildly puzzled. There financial picture was stable and reasonably secure, Janie wanted for little, why did she want a job?

Janie flipped a bit of her brown hair from her forehead. "Well," she paused, choosing her thoughts carefully. Suddenly the words came thick and fast. "You need the help, Tim. The company is growing quickly. Right now Angie has her paws full trying to get a second office up and running while continuing to run the main office in Columbus. There’s nobody out here in Denver to set up an office, hire staff, answer phones, coordinate charters, do the book-keeping, pay the receipts..." The cougar paused, grinning. "Matt wants me to come to work for Intermountain, running the Denver office."

Tim smiled. Without having any clues or even knowing why, he’d been expecting this.

"When did you have time to talk about this?" he inquired.

"On the trip to the hotel last night," Janie started. "No," she corrected herself, "actually at Steve and Molly’s last night. Annie and Molly and Angie and I were discussing it after dinner. Then, on the ride last night, you and Joe looked like you were deep in a heart to heart up front, and Angie just broached the subject to Matt out of the blue, and it went from there."

"When do you start?"

Janie nodded slightly, smiling. "Last night, I think."

"Well hot damn!" Tim exulted. "We’re going to have to celebrate when we get home!" A brown eye winked at the cougar.

"Oh?" The tail behind the cougar flipped a bit more energetically, and her nose twitched in anticipation. "What did you have in mind, my aviator love?"

The marmot laughed gently as the Colorado state line drifted under their wings.

# # #

0930 CST, Joint Cargo Ramp, Kansas City International

"This is not the right way to start the day," Matt grumbled loudly, staring at Intermountain’s newest, and apparently leakiest, airframe. There was a heavy- link steel chain wrapped and padlocked around the propeller hub of the C-130’s number two engine, large red flags attached to it fluttered in the slight morning breeze.

Steve peeled a piece of paper from the crew entry door of the Hercules and read the message scrawled upon it briefly.

"Hey Matt, check this out."

The Labrador tore his attention away from the hulk’s number two prop and looked at his fellow pilot.

"It’s from ‘Airport Management’," Steve elaborated. "Seems they expect to be compensated for four hundred pounds of absorbent and some labor time to spread it."

Matt made a noise that sounded like a combination of a choke and a chuckle. "Really?" The color rose in the skin beneath the fur of his muzzle. "Really! Well..." Matt stepped up to Steve’s position beside the crew door and snapped the sheet of paper from the wolf’s paw. "We’ll see the Hell about that!" The Labrador scanned the sheet briefly and then looked around the general area until his brown eyes settled on an office complex overlooking the Joint Cargo Ramp.

"Start the preflight," he growled. "Check the fluids in all four turbines." Matt started off in a trot for the office building, calling "I’ll be right back" over his shoulder.

Somebody’s ass is gonna be on fire real soon, Steve guessed as he grabbed his flight bag and opened the crew door of the Hercules to begin his morning’s work. The wolf chuckled to himself as he mounted the steps to the flight deck.

# # #

Many miles to the west Duke 807 Sierra Charlie bored through clear air at Flight Level 240. The bright sunlight shone into the cabin, warming the fox and her coyote husband as they sped west. In the center seats behind them two little coyfox pups slept soundly, the drone of the engines working it’s magic on them.

She couldn’t see his eyes behind the Raybans, but the rest of his face looked calm, perhaps even happy. A small, tight smile creased his muzzle, his ears were erect, he gave every indication of being relaxed and at ease.

Annie unbuckled the belts that restrained her. Lifting herself partially out of her seat, she turned to face Joe while simultaneously folding her left leg under her behind. As she settled, her luxurious tail wrapped around her waist, the tip resting on his right thigh. Her left paw sought the side of his face to touch his jaw briefly by way of gaining his attention.

"How are you doing?" she asked as his head turned towards her.

She heard his mechanical sounding sigh in the headphones she wore. "I’m fine, Annie. A little tired, but no problems." He patted her thigh briefly in reassurance.

She studied him for a few minutes, watching him fly. At this altitude, flying IFR, traffic was almost non-existent and radio chatter was at a minimum. In spite of all the electronics on board, however, Joe chose to hand fly the Duke, ignoring the available services of the autopilot.

"Can I ask you a question, Joe?"

Her husband looked directly at her. She could feel his eyes staring at hers even though she could not see them. His expression was perfectly neutral, an unusual state for his normally expressive face.

"Anything, Annie."

The fox smiled hesitantly. "What did you say to Maria?"

Joe continued to stare at her for a moment before he turned his gaze to the panel before him. After a few seconds scan of the flight and navigation instruments he looked up to the horizon. High cirrus clouds, looking like bright white feathers, dotted the horizon to the northwest, otherwise the sky was perfectly clear, the thin haze layer ended far below them. Visibility up here had to be a hundred miles plus.

The coyote sighed again briefly before finally asking. "You mean in Spanish?"

Annie nodded slowly, encouragingly. She was rewarded when a small grin appeared on Joe’s muzzle.

"I told her to shut up and sit on her hands so she couldn’t cause any trouble."

Annie couldn’t help but grin back at him as she removed her sunglasses and arched an eyebrow, sharing in his humor.

"It’s an old expression from when I was a kid," he explained, his grin fading. "I used to hear it a lot."

Annie’s heartstrings went taught. "I’m sorry, Joe. I shouldn’t be asking you personal questions." Her relationship with Joe was built on what and who they were when they met, and neither she nor the coyote that had become her second husband had ever expressed any interest in who or what the other had been before they met. In point of fact, while each knew of the other's family, neither was particularly involved with old family. Instead Joe and Annie harbored an unspoken "us versus the world" attitude and focused on each other and their two adorable pups. They couldn't care less about anything the other might have been involved with prior to that wonderful day at Jeffco when they first met, almost eighteen years ago.

He saw the look on her face, read the emotions that flashed in her eyes. His expression changed in an instant to one of concern for her. "No, Annie, I’m sorry."

She looked at him, and he saw the unspoken question in her facial expression.

Joe engaged the Duke’s autopilot in track mode. They were flying Victor Airway 210 as they tracked inbound to the Tuba City VORTAC in northern Arizona far ahead. Satisfying himself that all was in order with the flight, his right paw sought Annie’s left as he turned his full attention on her. Without preamble his history spilled forth, efficiently, concisely, never before heard by her.

"Honey, you know I’ve been a pilot all my life." He swallowed briefly and continued. "As a child I got along great with my parents. They treated me well, I did fairly well in school, and they were loving and supportive. Everything was fine until I started taking flying lessons at age fourteen."


"My dad was career Air Force. He naturally assumed that my mom loved aviation when they met and married, and she played along at first, but she didn’t. She hated flying, she was terrified of it. She was looking for a career officer, somefur that would move up quickly and become a leader of furs. My dad didn't give a damn about any of that, all he wanted to do was fly. She spent almost forty years talking my dad out of the skies. Every flight of every year she was critical, challenging him to find some other way to make a living. She got a little bit better about things when he took a desk job in his final years with the Air Force, but even after he retired and continued to fly recreationally she had none of it. She bitched and whined and complained after every hour that went into his log books."

As Annie squeezed his paw gently Joe quickly glanced at the horizon before continuing.

"All this was unknown to me until I came home and told them that I had taken a job at the local airport as a linefur. I told them that I was being paid in flight time instead of money. My dad was overjoyed. My mom went ballistic. She chewed me up one side and down the other for almost half an hour and then sent me outside while she and my dad went at it." Joe paused, the memory still vivid in his mind. "None of us ate dinner that night," he recalled quietly. "Around nine PM my dad came out to the garage to tell me that he supported my training, and that I was not to pay any attention to my mom. She would be fine, he said."

Again Joe paused, the Raybans staring blankly at his wife. "Maria wanted me to go to college, become a doctor, a lawyer, a businessfur... anything but a pilot. She blamed my father for my career choice." Joe shuddered ever so slightly at the memories that blasted through his mind. "He had scratches, Annie. All over his arms, one side of his face... his shirt was ripped and shredded on his chest, there was blood on it. She tore the Hell out of him. Just before I moved to Colorado he showed me the scars on his chest. He took stitches..." Joe paused again, trying unsuccessfully once again to forget that scene, erase it from his mind’s eye. "He said it was the worst fight they had ever had."

"Oh, Joe," Annie almost sobbed in shock and sorrow. "I’m so sorry I made you relive that for me. It must have been awful!"

"There’s more," he smiled sardonically. "I soloed at sixteen. My dad assumed that I’d enlist in the Air Force and try to get appointed to the Academy, and was already pulling strings with his old friends to see if that could be made to happen. By the time I finished high school I had logged almost three hundred hours and received my CFI rating. When I turned eighteen I went to work as a Certified Flight Instructor for a pint-sized fixed base operator out of El Monte Airport in the LA basin." The coyote sighed briefly and stared at the floor momentarily. Then he seemed to recall his surroundings, and performed a brief panel scan and a rather detailed scan of the horizon outside. After almost half a minute of silence he looked back to the fox at his side, taking her paws in his.

"Maria disowned me the day I started at CalWestern, my eighteenth birthday. She and I have met only once since then, the time I introduced you to her before Joshua was born. Until last night I hadn’t spoken to her since."

Much to his surprise Joe watched as a single tear formed in Annie’s left eye and began to roll slowly down the fur of her cheek. He used the back of his right paw to gently wipe it away, not mussing a single hair in the process. "Too much, Annie? I’ll stop if you want me to."

The fox shook her head quickly. "Tell me if you want to. I’ll carry the load with you, my love."

He smiled briefly at her as his short saga began to wind towards a conclusion. "The day after my eighteenth birthday I got a studio apartment near the airport and moved out of my folks house. Two weeks after that I had lunch with my dad during a lull between instruction flights. He was all excited because one of his former classmates was the CO out at Norton Air Force Base, and he had apparently talked this fur into recommending me for appointment to the Air Force Academy."

Once again Joe glanced at the panel and the horizon, and then snorted briefly in derision. "I told him I wasn’t interested in the United States Air Force," he said to Annie. "I told him I was already flying, and that was what I wanted to do. He said I was crazy to blow a chance like this, I reiterated my position. We argued back and forth for almost thirty minutes until the restaurant manager asked us to leave. Apparently we were disturbing the other patrons. I walked back to CalWestern to meet with my next student. He followed me, arguing, cajoling, threatening, criticizing, complaining..."

Joe squeezed his wife’s paws in his. "By the time my student showed up he’d worn himself out. ‘You think about this,’ he said. ‘You’ll see that I’m right.’" Joe grinned without humor. "I didn’t. We met two or three more times in the next year or so, always for a repeat performance. When I got my commercial and multi-engine ratings CalWestern put me on their little freight-hauling operation flying a Navajo. Shortly after that was my last meeting with Pablo. It ended up with him calling me all sorts of nasty stuff, saying he didn’t raise a son to fly cases of fake vomit novelties out of Taipei. He stormed out of my apartment. I haven’t seen him since, although I’ve spoken to him maybe half a dozen times since then."

"Oh, my..." was all Annie could think to say. Then, in a very gentle voice layered in love she asked "So you’ve basically been parentless since you became an adult?"

Joe nodded. "The last time I spoke to Pablo was when I called him the night Marie was born. He congratulated me and asked for a picture. Remember the one I took the day her eyes opened? I sent him a copy of that. It was my last communication with him."

She watched him for long moments as he repeated his well-worn flight deck routine, scanning the panel and then taking in the view outside. After a bit he turned to her with a concluding thought.

"You know, I did wind up flying for the Government for a while, but I was never able to tell him about that. As far as I know he never found out about it."

Annie’s curiosity was aroused by this last bit. "You served in the Air Force, finally? Wouldn’t Pablo reconcile with you?"

A guarded tone appeared in Joe's voice. "I didn’t fly for the Air Force."

"Who did you serve with?"

"Not the military," Joe said evasively.

Annie sensed his hesitancy without understanding it’s motivation, and let it drop. It didn't matter to her, didn't change who Joe was. She stared out her window. Far below the red sandstone mesas and spires of Monument Valley crept beneath the Duke’s wing. The high desert was beautiful in the mid-morning light.

Joe returned his attention to the flight at paw. Annie ruminated over what she’d just heard. No wonder he spoke to her the way he did last night! She hadn’t had a clue about any of this. Joe had always been a loving husband and father who, for some reason, never discussed his childhood or parents much. She had never thought to ask detailed questions. Come to think of it, I haven’t shared much about my past with him, either, Annie thought. She had a skeleton or two of her own.

807 Sierra Charlie continued to fly westbound, unmolested, in the smooth air far above the Arizona desert. Far ahead the east end of the Grand Canyon was just becoming visible on the horizon. Los Angeles was only a couple of hours away.

# # #

1115 CST, Kansas City International

"How on earth did you get those maintenance furs to let loose of us?" Steve asked as the Hercules trundled south towards the departure end of runway one left at Kansas City International.

Matt’s face was deadpan as he stared out the port side windshield. "Our CO, a certain General Blodgett, was highly displeased with the delay those furs were applying to our departure."

Steve’s looked like he thought that his boss had lost his mind. "CO? General Blodgett?" The wolf shook his head. "What the Hell are you talking about, Matt?"

At this an evil grin spread across the grizzled Labrador’s face as he glanced at his copilot. "I phoned Rick with my cellphone and just ad-libbed. I spoke loudly so the maintenance crews and their boss would hear me, and said ‘General Blodgett sir, we’re having a bit of a problem with the civilians here at KCI!’"

Steve grinned back, gesturing for Matt to continue. "And..."

"I put Rick on the phone with their boss, and he spun some yarn about a CIA operation and how they were interfering with it, and before I knew what was happening, they drove me back out to the Herk and removed their lock." Matt laughed as the Hercules rolled up to the hold line at the end of the runway and braked to a stop.

"Incredible," Steve muttered as he picked up his remote push to talk switch. Pressing the button, he advised the tower controller of their intentions. "International tower, Intermountain one zero one holding at runway one left for VFR departure to the east.

"Intermountain one zero one, taxi into position runway one left, you are cleared for takeoff."

As Matt advanced the throttles of the aged C-130 Steve pressed his remote push-to- talk switch again. "Intermountain one zero one is into position runway one left."

Matt swung the transport into position and aligned it with the runway center stripe, then brought the Hercules to a complete stop. While the transport looked ragged and service worn, the loud, high pitched whine of the Allison turboprops bespoke health in the power end of things.

"Maximum effort," Matt said, grinning as he advanced the throttles for takeoff power while holding the brakes. The four Allison turbines screamed in response, the sound music to the two furs, and the transport quivered and jittered like a living entity eager for the hunt. Matt and Steve both carefully scanned the power instruments in their panels. Seeing no anomalies, Matt released the brakes and their ship leapt forward.

Nine hundred and fifty feet later Matt hauled back on the yolk and deck of the unloaded Hercules’ tilted up to a forty degree angle. The Labrador and the wolf saw nothing but deep blue in the windshield ahead as the Hercules threw herself into the sky, screaming like the castrated hounds of Hell. Matt gave a thumbs up, indicating gear up to his copilot. Hydraulics whined, and the furs felt the thump of the nose gear retracting into the well beneath their feet. With fully five thousand feet of runway still ahead of them the transport passed through one thousand feet above ground level.

"Yah-hoo!" Steve hollered on the intercom. The grin on Matt's face seemed to get even wider. Steve's mind flashed on that grin, and it suddenly occurred to him that he had seen a very similar grin on Joe's muzzle recently.

"Bring the flaps in five degrees every twenty seconds," Matt requested. Steve began to milk up the flaps.

A slight chuckle accompanied the tower controller’s voice in their headphones as she craned her neck to look up out the tower cab windows at the transport. "Intermountain one zero one, contact departure control on one three two point nine five when you get to the end of the runway, they’ll be expecting you."

"Thank you ma’am," Steve replied, "one three two point nine five for Intermountain one zero one at the north perimeter."

Steve turned some knobs in the old radio stack in the center panel until 132.95 appeared in the mechanical display window of their number two radio. Looking down through the side windows Steve observed the Federal Express ramp slipping by about two thousand feet below. He flipped a switch in the radio panel, selecting the number two radio transmitter.

"International Departure, Intermountain one zero one is with you at the north perimeter."

A pleasant male voice replied. "Mornin’ Intermountain one oh one, radar contact half mile north of runway one nine right. Turn left three three zero degrees, climb and maintain five thousand. Expect turn on course in two minutes. Ah..." the radio unkeyed at the controller’s end momentarily. "You’re VFR eastbound... expect climb to seven thousand five hundred within five minutes of on course turn."

Matt banked the Hercules to the left, watching as the gyro compass turned towards a course of 330 degrees.

"Roger International, Intermountain one zero one to three three zero degrees, climb and maintain five thousand."

"Quite a show you furs put on this morning."

Steve and Matt grinned to each other like a couple of teenagers that had just won a street drag race. "Thanks, we had fun."

The controller got back to business. "Copy that. American thirteen twenty six, good morning, fly the Wildcat Two departure, turn right to two five seven degrees for Kentin, climb and maintain eighteen thousand."

Steve and Matt heard the American Airlines flight acknowledge his call.

Before too long Matt was retarding the throttles and leveling at five thousand. As he finished trimming the C-130 for level flight the controller called to them.

"Intermountain one oh one, turn right to zero eight five degrees, climb and maintain seven thousand five hundred. When we get you to the east of Jaydog we’ll release you to VFR navigation."

Steve nodded as he keyed his transmitter. "Cool. Thanks, International, Intermountain one zero one to zero eight five degrees, climb and maintain seven thousand five hundred."

Matt advanced the throttles and the Hercules surged forward into her climb as he banked the transport to the east.

"International Departure, Arrow seven four one India X-ray is with you on one three two point nine five."

They both recognized Rick’s smooth, professional voice.

Dakota and Angie had left early that morning, driving back to Columbus in Dakota’s IROC Camaro. Meanwhile, Rick was flying Steve’s Cherokee Arrow to Port Columbus so Steve would have a way to get home. Molly accompanied him in the small, single engine, retractable gear Piper, and Randy and Melanie would no doubt be coming along in the P-210 in a little bit. The plan called for all of the Columbus crew to gather for an early dinner at Port Columbus, then Molly and Steve would return home to Kansas City in the Arrow that evening.

"Good morning Arrow one India X-ray," the departure controller called. "Radar contact two north of Kansas City International, maintain runway heading, climb and maintain four thousand, expect vectors within two minutes."

"Arrow one India X-ray maintaining zero one zero, climb and maintain four thousand. Good show, B Team."

The controller’s voice had a note of perplexity to it. "Say again one India X-ray?"

The Labrador and the wolf on the flight deck of the Hercules exchanged knowing glances as Rick’s voice came from their headphones. "One India X-ray was greeting my fellow crewfurs in the C-130 that departed ahead of me."

There was a pause as the controller digested this bit of information. "Indeed," he finally replied. "They put on a good show." The controller unkeyed for a few seconds and then came back on the air again. "Intermountain one oh one, I see you will easily outrun your fellow in trail. You are leaving my service area to the east, radar services terminated, squawk one two zero zero, you are cleared for normal navigation. Have a pleasant day."

Steve and Matt both smiled in the sunlight streaming into the Hercules’ flight deck through the overhead windows, relaxing. Between them they probably had twelve thousand hours of stick time in the transport, and they felt quite at home in the old bird. "Roger International," Steve replied, "one two zero zero is the squawk and we are clear of your area. See ya later!"

The maligned and weary looking Hercules droned east towards her formal reunion with her stablemate at her new home in Columbus, Ohio.


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