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

Angels, Too, Have Wings

Jerry Kitt and Marco Petrone sat in the maintenance office at Intermountain Charter’s hangar at Port Columbus International. The final paperwork to return The Bitch to service was sitting on the desk between Jerry and the FAA Inspector, officially signed off and completed. Behind Jerry, visible through the window, The Bitch patiently waited in the hangar below.

Jerry had only known the FAA fur for a few months, but they had been getting to know each other better and better with the major airframe repairs and new aircraft acquisitions. It hadn’t taken them long to find some common ground, both the brown bear and the striped civet had worked rotor-wings in their younger days, the Army’s Hueys in particular. Marco had been a master sergeant in the United States Air Force serving in Europe during that time, Jerry had been a civilian employee contracted by the US Army in Georgia. As such, Jerry and Marco had begun to build forward from that common experience, sharing experiences and stories about themselves.

Marco leaned back in his chair as he faced Jerry across the bear’s desk. "Well," he smiled slightly, "looks like you’re good to go until the next thunderstorm your pilots fall into."

Jerry grinned a bit at that. "Thanks Marco." The bear leaned back in his own chair. "I know you rearranged a few things to get here as soon as you did, I appreciate that. Matt will, too."

"Tell that old dog to buy me a beer some time by way of saying thanks," the civet said as his smile grew. Leaning forward again while reaching to an inside pocket in his jacket, Marco extracted a cigar and held it towards Jerry.

The bear shook his head in the negative, saying "Thanks."

"You mind?" Marco asked.

"Naw, knock yourself out." Jerry didn’t smoke, and neither did his wife Sheryl, but whatever smell that the cigar might impart to his fur could not be worse than some of the smells he’d had to wash off after servicing the company aircraft. He would shower before spending the evening with his family anyway.

As Marco leaned back into his chair and produced a lighter they heard a phone ring once downstairs. As Marco flicked a flame from the lighter and commenced puffing his cigar to life, Jerry leaned forward to sweep together the paperwork for The Bitch and place it in a manila folder, placing the folder in a desk drawer. From this same drawer he removed a large piston, placing it open end up on the desktop. He motioned with a paw towards it, indicating to Marco that it was to be used as an ashtray. As the civet nodded the two males heard rapid footfalls on the stairs outside the office.

"Jerry!" Angie Rockwell’s urgent voice called from the stairwell. The calico suddenly burst through the door without knocking, breathing hard.

"Whatsa matter, Angie?" Jerry grinned.

"Somefur just called from the tower. Matt’s on approach with an engine fire!"

Jerry’s grin disappeared as he opened another drawer, grabbing a set of keys. Looking quickly up at Marco as he moved around the desk, he said "C’mon. This may interest you." The calico had already disappeared down the stairs, and Jerry was moving quickly to follow her.

"Where are we going?" the civet asked as he rose to follow Jerry.

"The runway," Jerry called over his shoulder as he dashed into the stairwell.

# # #

Joe leaned back into the old wooden chair. It’s straight back greeted his spine indifferently. The coyote felt like he was sitting against a stone wall. He sat at his father’s desk in the office of the small home his parents had purchased almost forty years ago when his father had accepted the Air Force liaison job at what was then Lockheed Burbank. The room was cold, like the rest of the house. It had stopped being a home for Joe too many years ago, and was now just another building.

Joe looked around at the photographs that hung from the walls. They told the story of a military pilot, tracing his father’s history from the end of the second world war through his honorable discharge after Viet Nam, and then continuing with recreational aviation up until very recently. Books about aviation lined the shelves of bookcases. A beautiful, hand-carved and hand-painted model of the F-86 Sabre sat atop it’s small steel stand in a corner of his desk.

The coyote’s undoing had been in the corner opposite the model. The folding picture frame he held in his paw had done him in. He had managed to keep a civil tone and clear mind about himself through the less than pleasant reunion with his mother, and had barely managed to keep his cool when she had gone out of her way to antagonize Annie in the presence of their pups.

She had greeted her son coldly, formally, in Spanish, as he had expected. No one had met them at El Monte Airport, they had rented a car and driven to the elder Latrans home themselves. The war had started on the front porch before they even entered the house.

"Buenas tardes, José. Cómo esta usted?"

Maria was dry eyed, cool, and collected. She wore a black silk blouse with matching slacks, the ensemble hung loosely on her thin, erect frame. Her fur was gray with age, her hair meticulously groomed and combed back severely and close to her head in the style common to the elderly female coyotes of the southwest. Her ears were folded back, almost against her head, and her tail hung straight towards the floor. One might have mistaken her demeanor for sadness were it not for the fire in her old brown eyes and the slight curl to her lip as she spoke.

"Por qué usted los trajo?" she inquired with a low growl.

Joe’s expression did not change from that of a tired aviator, but the sound of his voice conveyed a warning to his mother as he answered her in English.

"Hi Mom. How are you holding up?"

"Por qué están aquí?" The gray coyote replied, looking directly at Annie.

Joe’s visage cracked a bit, revealing anger as his jaw set firmly and his own lip curled slightly. "Mom, we flew fifteen hundred miles at the drop of a hat because you called, the least you can do is be civil towards us." He looked at Annie for a moment and sighed. Facing his mother’s glare once again he continued. "I brought your grandpups to see you."

"Habría podido ahorrarse el apuro," the old female replied with a sour expression, glancing at the two small pups on her front porch. Lifting her gaze to Annie, a smile appeared briefly on Maria’s lips as she greeted her daughter-in-law. "Good afternoon, Sharon," she said in impeccable English.

Annie blinked, but other than that her expression did not change. Her jacket hid the fur rising on her shoulders. "Good afternoon, Maria. It’s a pleasure to see you again."

"Mom..." Joe growled a new, more obvious warning.

The elder coyote turned a sweet, disarming, and totally false smile to her son. "It’s her name, is it not? I am simply greeting her."

Annie dropped to her knees between her two pups. Confusion was plainly evident on their little faces. They did not understand who this old fur was, and why she was addressing their parents by odd names. Looking up into Maria’s eyes, Annie slowly and carefully explained to her children who’s porch they were standing on. She hugged her children closer to herself. "Joshua, Marie, this is your grandmother Maria, daddy’s mother."

"Hello," two small voices greeted Maria timidly.

The elder coyote glanced briefly towards the floor. "You may call me Mrs. Latrans," she said quietly. Looking back up to her son’s now flaming eyes as she backed into the doorway of her home, Maria said "You might as well come in."

Joe and Annie both took a deep breath and exchanged a brief look of support as Annie and the pups followed Maria into her home. Joe was last in, carefully shutting the door behind him. He knew from long ago that his mother disliked having the doors of her home open. She felt exposed and threatened when the world had access to her.

Annie remained standing in the comfortable living room as Maria settled herself on a sofa. The room was sparsely furnished, yet rich needlepoint tapestries hung from the walls. On an end table between two sofas set as a corner group she spied pictures, one of Pablo dressed in civilian clothes, another of some other coyote she didn’t recognize.

Her pups held her paws tightly in their own. They were not afraid, but knew by their little intuitions that they were on dangerous, unstable ground. They were uncharacteristically quiet and still, yet their curiosity kept their eyes in constant motion as they silently explored what parts of the home they could see.

The living room was fairly good sized. Two doorways opened off of it, one leading to a kitchen, the other into a hallway. The attached dining area held a table with chairs for six. At one end of the living room a small brick fireplace was covered by a screen, the mantle adorned with various knick-knacks. A wooden shelf unit took up another wall and contained, amongst lesser things, a television and entertainment center equipment including a small stereo and a DVD player. A third wall was mostly windows, overlooking a large front yard which contained two huge oak trees.

"Please, have a seat," Maria invited after a minute of silence had stretched between them and begun to become obviously uncomfortable.

Annie moved quietly to a rocking chair in the corner of the room and seated herself. Her pups, bless them!, seated themselves at her feet on the floor, staying very close and very quiet.

Joe grabbed a wooden chair from the dining area and seated himself after placing the chair close to Annie and their pups. He stared at his mother for long moments, wanting to say something pleasant or comforting like "it’s good to be home," but knowing what a lie that would be in her ears as well as his own. In the end he sighed briefly and got to the business at paw.

"Have you made any decisions about what arrangements you would like to make for dad?"

"It’s already done," Maria replied.

"I had assumed you’d want a viewing, a service. You’ve decided when and where?"

"No, I’ve already taken care of your father. He’s over there." A paw gestured briefly towards the fireplace.

Joe glanced towards the wall and then back to his mother, not understanding. "What do you mean, he’s in a funeral home already?"

"Persiana pobre, que tontito!" Maria said. "No ve la caja?"

"Box?" Joe looked at the firebox, and then the mantle above it. A plain cardboard box was on the mantle to the left of the old clock at the center. Realization came quickly. The color rose beneath the fur of Joe’s face to match his rage.

"You had him cremated?" he growled ominously. "Why?"

Annie’s face paled behind her fur as she listened.

"It was faster and easier to deal with," Maria replied, as though discussing how to make a cake.

Joe’s blood boiled. "Tu eres una gran..." he choked, and then caught himself as he saw his own pups looking at him in his peripheral vision. He took a deep breath and waited, perhaps ten seconds, perhaps twenty. Exhaling slowly and working at maintaining a civil tone, he growled his next question quietly but venomously.

"Then why are we here?"

"You have an appointment at four this afternoon with my attorney to discuss the will. He’s expecting you." The elder coyote looked at the pilot as she picked up a small paper from the end table next to her. "Parece malo." She held the paper out towards him. "You should get some rest."

Joe ran a paw over his muzzle and then checked his watch. That gave them a little less than three hours. He realized he was being dismissed, and was only too happy to leave. Rising, he took the paper silently from his mother’s paw and read the attorney's name and address from it. Turning as he placed the business card in his shirt pocket, he held his free paw out to Annie. He smiled for her.

"We’re going."

Annie smiled for him in return as she took their pup’s paws in her own. The three stood as Joe dropped his paw to his side. The fox gazed calmly at Maria for some seconds, smiling politely. With sincerity she said "Good bye, Maria. I hope when we meet again it will be under much better circumstances."

The elder coyote's expression soured. Her answer dripped with finality. "Good bye, Sharon."

As Annie and her pups moved towards the door Joe remained standing, looking at his mother. He waited for the screen door to close behind Annie before he spoke.

"You should be thankful that you and dad raised me the way you did."

"Why is that?" Maria asked innocently.

Joe jerked a thumb over his shoulder towards the fireplace. His voice was a snarl in reply. "You should be in that box, and he should be here. Were it not for my own values, I would be happy to assist you now in making that trip."

Maria’s eyebrows arched in reply, she remained silent for a moment.

"I see associating with the lesser breeds has dulled your sense of respect and honor." The voice was icy. She stared at him for a few silent seconds, a small, cold smile spreading slowly across her muzzle. "Were it not for your father’s will, you wouldn’t be here at all."

The fire in Joe went out as if doused with water. His face went deadpan, his voice colorless and without emotion. "Good bye, mother."

"Buenas tardes, José."

# # #

A large group of furs were collected around the ramp in front of Intermountain’s hangar. Mixed amongst the casual onlookers were several members of the airport fire suppression team, the airport manager and his secretary, the flight crew of the object of their attention, Angie and Jerry, and Marco Petrone.

Fire retardant foam coated the outboard half of the port wing and number one engine nacelle of the aged C-130 parked on the ramp. A tug was hooked to her nose gear, she had been towed here after the fire team had declared her safe.

Matt was concluding a conversation with the airport manager and the captain of the fire team as Jerry spoke with Steve Lupus. Angie was dividing her attention between Jerry's conversation, which she was standing in the middle of, and the conversation Matt was embroiled in near the aircraft.

Actually, Matt looked like he wasn't doing much talking. Both he and the captain of the fire team seemed to be devoting most of their energies to listening to the airport manager. Even as she watched, the wolverine was wagging a claw under Matt's nose. While Angie couldn't hear what was being said, the expressions on the faces of Matt and the captain told her that Matt was getting an earful about something.

Marco Petrone leaned over and whispered in Angie's ear while watching the same conversation taking place near the transport. "Looks like Matt's getting an earful."

Angie nodded. She knew Matt was a big dog, and could take care of his own problems. She tuned in to the conversation going on around her.

"It was nothing, no big deal," Steve was saying. "We had a fire alarm on number one west of Dayton, we killed the fuel feed, feathered, and pulled the bottles. We wouldn’t have said anything at all except the alarm light wouldn’t go out."

Jerry looked skeptical. "Look," said Steve, placing a paw on the bear’s shoulder, "we had no smoke in trail. No high temps. Everything was cool except for the alarm. Matt thought it would be a good idea for us to advise approach, that’s all."

"And that’s why the foam?" Jerry asked with annoyance. "C’mon Steve, somefur must have seen something..."

The wolf rolled his shoulders. "What can I tell you, Jerry? Ask them!" He motioned with a paw towards the fire crew, who was now boarding their four axle truck to return to their station.

Instead, Jerry waited as Matt Barstock broke away from his impromptu meeting with the airport manager and began to walk towards them. The Labrador looked tired and frustrated. After almost ten years working for him, Jerry had learned to read Matt’s expressions pretty well. Jerry took a deep breath as he waited.

Matt held an arm up, pointer finger on his paw aimed squarely at Jerry’s nose as he approached.

"Don’t you say a damn word to me," Matt said in mock gruffness, smiling wearily. "All you need to know is that its here, it’s ours, and it needs to be put on the line." He stopped in front of the calico, his expression softening as he turned his attentions to her. "Hi kiddo."

"Hi yourself," Angie purred, smiling back. While their relationship had become more relaxed in public recently, she wasn’t ready to go with the full-on public displays of affection just yet. She stuffed her paws in her jeans pockets as her smile widened into a grin.

Matt shrugged imperceptibly and turned towards the bear once again. Jerry grinned at Matt as well as he extended a paw of his own. The two males shook warmly as Jerry said "Welcome home boss." Nodding towards the aircraft behind Matt he added "Had a little trouble getting through the woods on your way to grandma’s house?"

"Nothing unusual for this outfit," Matt replied as he looked at the civet. "Hey Marco, how're you doing?"

"Fine, Matt. Your other 130 is ready to go."

"Great!" Matt laughed tiredly. "Now Jerry can give this piece of shit his undivided attention."

"Looks like she’ll need it, too," Marco replied. "What happened?"

Matt sighed, glancing quickly at Angie. Her ears were up, she was listening carefully. His smile, while not disappearing, faded somewhat as he looked back to the civet.

"Off the record?"

The civet nodded. "Of course, Matt."

"We had an in flight fire on number one. Steve and I shut it down per the checklists and gave it both bottles. The alarm didn’t cancel. I saw no smoke, so we reported the situation to approach control and proceeded inbound without declaring an emergency. Somewhere around the outer marker I saw smoke in trail, we notified approach, they called out the trucks." Matt looked again at his calico love. "That’s it. No big deal."

Jerry shot a hairy eyeball towards Steve, who rolled his shoulders again.

"Hey, I didn’t see the smoke. Number one is on the port side outboard, I was sitting on the starboard side." It was weak, Steve knew, but he was just trying to play things close to the vest to cover for his boss.

"Yeah, yeah," Jerry said, trying to sound gruff but not carrying it off well. More than anything else he had been scared, in fear for the lives of his friends. He sighed quietly, and then motioned with a paw towards the company van parked a few yards away. "What do you say we head over to the office and finish this discussion there?" He knew that once the pilots were comfortable with the proper libations at paw the whole story would come out.

Angie looked at Matt with curiosity. He suddenly looked tired, bordering on haggard. She quietly slipped up beside him as the group headed for the van and tucked her paw within his, saying not a word.

"This conversation," Matt growled, "had better include something cold to drink..."

# # #

The trip to the attorney’s office had been even less pleasant for Joe. Fortunately, Annie and her pups were spared the brunt of Maria’s vitriolic conversation, having remained in the reception area of the attorney’s office complex. Maria’s very first comment to Joe had been "Gracias por dejar ésos afuera." She was baiting him, he knew, but he did not rise to it. He kept his cool. Maria had then introduced him to Harrison Clement the Third, her attorney, as "Mr. José Latrans, who was once my son." It got worse. While the meeting lasted barely thirty minutes, Joe was exhausted by the time it was over.

The will was typical of his father. There were no last minute thoughts or reflections upon life from Pablo, no final confessions, apologies, or accusations. It held forth no bits of wisdom or rhetoric, it simply detailed that all Pablo’s worldly possessions go to Maria except for a footlocker in his office containing mementos of his military career. That was for Joe. The will was just an "open and shut" case of disposition of assets to the surviving spouse. Nice and neat.

"I’d be obliged if you would remove that foot locker from my home as soon as possible. Harrison will grant you access." Maria’s smile did nothing to disguise the commanding tone in her voice, nor could it detract from the veiled look of disdain in her eyes.

Harrison Clement withdrew a single key from his middle desk drawer and placed it on the outer edge of the desk, closest to Joe. With a detached smile he said "Whenever you’re ready, help yourself. Leave the key in the home when you’re finished."

Joe looked at his mother. For too many years she had not recognized him as her son. Any time he had attempted to rebuild some sort of relationship with her, she had ruthlessly squashed his efforts. The only time she had met Annie before this afternoon she had been cold and insular to the point of being rude, not only to him but to her as well. Still Joe loved his mother, even after all these years he missed the female who had raised him as a small pup. He had always hoped that some day she would put aside her differences with him and become a grandmother to his pups.

"Mom," Joe ventured quietly, "will you be there with me when I get dad’s stuff?" He had hoped to spend even a couple of minutes quietly with her.

By way of a response the elder coyote rose from her overstuffed leather chair and moved across the attorney’s office to stand behind Harrison Clement the Third. She placed her paws on the wide shoulders of the Great Dane and began to gently knead them. The attorney’s ears wilted slightly and his eyes drifted out of focus for a brief moment as he sank back gently into his chair, enjoying her ministrations. Joe’s mother leaned forward a bit and kissed the top of Harrison’s head, directly between his ears, and then looked up to the fur she would not call son.

"I cannot fathom any reason why I should want to do that." As the shock and disappointment registered in Joe’s eyes she turned her gaze to the attorney’s now upturned face. Her tone of voice lost all it’s iciness and disdain as she spoke to Harrison. "Darling, would you please take me to dinner?" It was as if Joe had suddenly dematerialized.

There’s no reason for us to stay, thought Joe. I have no family in California. He rose wordlessly and, as the other two furs in the room watched with equal silence, fetched the key from the desktop. As he crossed the room towards the door her voice followed him, full of venom and warning.

"If you take anything else I shall have you hunted down and prosecuted!"

He heard her giggle as the door shut behind him.

# # #

The hangar was quiet save for the occasional pop or click from the still cooling engines of the King Air. The Caravan had been pushed into a corner so the King Air could occupy the center of the large hangar. There was still room for Joe's Duke when they returned from California, whenever that might be. Outside the hangar, on the other side of the closed doors, the sun was setting behind the Rocky Mountains. Nighttime was advancing on Centennial Airport.

An occasional gust of a breeze would rattle the mechanisms in the ventilators on the roof and cause the large doors to bump gently into each other. As the light faded and the temperature continued to drop, the breeze increased in strength, and the quiet mechanical chatter became more commonplace. This was totally lost on the two souls in the hangar.

The voice was low and quiet, more of a soft growl than speech. "What put this idea in your head?"

The cougar giggled softly into her husband's chest, wiggling her nose against the tickling his fur made against it. She could hear his heart beating in the quiet darkness as she lay her head on his chest.

The marmot could feel her tail flicking gently against his legs beneath the quilt that covered them. His paw, which had been resting gently on her shoulder, began to slowly trace a line down her back, towards her tail.

They were in the passenger cabin of the King Air. The club seating in the forward section had been put to a use probably not foreseen by it's designers. Clothing lay strewn about the cabin, and body heat had maintained a comfortable, if slightly musky environment. They had been occupied with each other for almost an hour.

She picked her head up and gazed into his brown eyes. Tim slowly caressed his wife’s bottom with a free paw as he gently kissed her. When they parted he was smiling.

"So...?" he prompted.

Janie giggled again. "Not what, but who?"

Uncertainty flitted across Tim’s face briefly, and suddenly his eyes locked with hers as realization came to him. He grinned. "Annie."

The cougar nodded, smiling impishly.

Tim exhaled slowly. "You two do find the most interesting topics of conversation sometimes," he said.

She nodded again as her right paw trailed an expressed claw slowly up his torso to the base of his neck. "Airlines have their mile high clubs, Intermountain has their hangar parties," she whispered into his ear.

Tim nodded slowly, trying to ignore the sensations her claw caused while concentrating on what his paw was doing. "What better way to celebrate a new job that on the premises?" he mused.

The cougar sighed as she placed her paw behind his shoulder and pulled him towards her.

"I don’t know about you," she said in a muted purr, "but I don’t think we’re done partying yet."

"Wah hoo!" her husband replied happily.

# # #

He had left Annie and his pups at a restaurant a few blocks away. He would pick up the locker, join them for dinner, and they would get some rest at the hotel by the airport before returning home tomorrow.

Joe sighed unsteadily, staring at the photographs in the frame he still held like a paperback book in his paw. There were two of them, one on each side of the hinged frames, each very recent. How did he get these? he wondered. There were no other photographs on his father’s desktop, not even of his mother.

Joe examined the frames again. The picture on the left showed the four of them, he, Annie, Joshua, and Marie. It was taken on an airport somewhere, probably Jeffco, because he could see their Duke in the background. Annie held Joshua by a paw as they walked, and had her other arm around Joe’s waist. Joe carried Marie in his right arm, his left encircling Annie’s waist. Judging from the apparent age of the pups the picture couldn’t have been more than six months old. Smiles were in abundance, it looked like the end of a happy family outing, judging from the low angle of the sunlight that illuminated their fur in a warm glow.

The picture on the right was harder to date, and harder to come by. It clearly showed he and Steve Lupus standing next to the nose of the Bitch, clad in boots, jeans, and their A-2s. There was no background to speak of, he had no way of telling when or where the photo was taken. The gray cast of the light and the long shadows indicated either an early morning or a cold climate.

Carefully flipping the conjoined frames over, Joe used a claw to slide the cardboard backing holding the picture of he and Steve in place down and out of the frame. His intent was to find a date for the images, his motivation simple curiosity. He got much more than he bargained for.

On the flip side of the picture of he and Steve Joe saw what he was looking for. His father’s clear, crisp printing had recorded the pertinent information carefully in black ink:
Palmdale AF Plant 42
13 March 2003

Underneath this, in pencil, his father had later added C-130E owned and operated by Intermountain Charter, Columbus, Ohio.

Joe remembered that flight. It was the last time he had flown to California, quite some time ago. A military contract, they had flown parts and supplies from Air Force Plant 42 to Bogota, Colombia, in support of classified operations conducted there by the DEA and CIA. While he remembered this he absently flipped the cardboard backing from the frame over in his paw. His eyes caught another photograph stuck to the reverse side.

This photograph showed the Bitch lifting off from a dirt runway somewhere, huge clouds of dust rising in her wake as she grabbed for altitude. In the background Joe could see low scrub-covered hills. This could have been anywhere, from the American southwest to the deserts of sub-equatorial Africa. Joe peeled away the photo from the cardboard backing to look for his father’s customary notation.

What he found was simple in it’s elegant anonymity. My son, doing what he does best.

Joe hung his head as his vision blurred, his eyes growing damp. He rubbed his eyes with a paw, taking several deep breaths. It took long minutes for him to muster an interest in what lay on the flip side of the other frame’s image.

As he removed the cardboard backing from behind the picture of he and Annie and the pups a small, folded piece of paper came free and fell to the desktop. The back side of the picture of he and Annie and the pups was as informative as the first picture:
Jeffco, Denver, Colorado
12 April 2004
My son, my daughter in law, and my grand-pups.

Again Joe paused, although his eyes remained dry, to calm himself. After a few moments of inner contemplation he reached for the folded yellow piece of paper that had fallen to the desktop. Unfolding it, he smoothed out the creases of the page before beginning to read it. Again it was his father’s careful printing, black ink on the yellow legal page.

15 August 2004

José, you are the only one who would have any interest in what is in this small picture frame, I would bet that it is you who discovered this.

I have not got much time left. A matter of weeks, the doctors say, perhaps months. Degenerative heart valves, the doctor says. Not much they can do without lots of money that I’m not willing to take away from your mother, just to buy a few more weeks of time in a hospital for myself. It seems selfish.

Son, I know our lives have been jacked up since that day long ago, and I am sincerely sorry for that. I failed to see the future you had in mind for yourself, like a selfish brute I figured that my plans were the best for you. I realize now that you were right, and more importantly than that I realize what a chip off the old block you really are. You and I, all we need from life is clear air, strong wings, a powerful engine, and the love of a good lady. It doesn’t matter who’s logo is on the fuselage, it doesn’t matter who signs the paychecks. What matters is that we fly.

I have respected your desire to build your life unassisted by me, and I want you to know that I am truly proud of the fine pilot and fine family fur you have become. I am sorry that the situation with your mother has prevented me from being a fixture in your pup’s lives. I have loved them from afar, they are such precious things. You and Annie have done a wonderful job raising them so far. Please tell her how proud I am of the two of you, and of my grandpups.

Know one thing, son. I’ve accomplished much in my life, contributed to causes great and small. I’ve made some significant contributions to my country, and made some huge mistakes personally along the way. But now that my trip is almost complete, I realize something that you need to know. My best accomplishment in life, the glittering jewel in my crown that furs might remember me by, is you. You are the best thing that has ever happened to this old fur, the best thing I’ve ever given this world. I know I’ve made it very difficult for you to believe that, and for that I must beg the forgiveness of our God, and you.

My greatest regret leaving this life is that I never got to know your wonderful wife and my wonderful grandpups. Please son, if you choose to say anything about me to them, tell them this. I loved you all dearly in my far removed silence, and I look forward to the day when we will all meet at the feet of our Lord. What a glorious day that will be!

So goodbye, José. Do what you can with your mother, but don’t let her get to Annie or your pups. I know that your relationship with her has been even more distant and painful than the one you had with me. I won’t tell you how to deal with that, but I will advise you to take care of what’s important to you. That beautiful fox you live with deserves 100% of your loyalty, it would be wasted on your mother. Good luck.

Fly high, fly far, and fly happy, my son. I will always be there with you, on your wing.


Joe carefully folded up the paper and put it in a shirt pocket, and then carefully re-assembled the photographs and the picture frames. After placing the frames in the footlocker and latching the lid closed, Joe did something he had not done since his decision to leave California over twenty five years ago. He hung his head and quietly wept for some time, letting go of thirty years of pain, regret, frustration, anger, and finally, loss.


To Chapter Nineteen: Black Velvet.

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