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, 2005, 2006

Note: Saygee Five is one of several STARs (Standard Terminal Arrivals) for central Colorado. It is a published instrument approach which brings high and fast air traffic from the northeast into the complex of airports surrounding Denver, which includes Centennial Airport in Englewood.

16 March 2006

Saygee Five

The air in the middle flight levels was clear, the azure blue arching overhead and the bright ball of the sun hanging high in the southern sky. To the west the storm clouds built and billowed as they slid over the front range and sagged into the Great Plains, heading east. Snow was falling down there, all along the front range, but up here it was cold, clear, and peaceful. In every direction the sky was devoid of defect or disturbance, except for a tiny dot far to the east.

It buzzed quietly like a fly on a lazy summer day, maneuvering to and fro in the distance. If one chose to, one could slide effortlessly across this vast ocean of air towards that disturbance, simply to check it out.

Drawing closer, the buzz would become louder and take on a whining overtone. The bug would glint and glimmer in the sun as it turned, faint trails of gray following it, marking it's path through the thin, cold air. The dot began to take on form and substance. It appeared to be exercising in a particular portion of the ether.

Rushing still closer, the observer would note the bug's color and bulk. Angular and colored a dull, flat gray, parts of it's body pointed in different directions and moved in syncopation. It didn't flap it's wings. By the time one drew close enough to discern that the bug was in fact a machine of some sort the whining buzz was becoming quite loud.

Ever closer, the observer would notice that parts of the front of this machine were transparent. Careful observation would reveal movement within. The buzz had now become a howling roar, the rushing sound of this machine's passage through the air unmistakable. And high on the gray appendage pointing towards the stratosphere, an emblem of the American flag.

Were the observer able to approach the forward part of this flying avalanche of sound, right up to the transparent sections, they might observe the occupants within engaged in their industry. Three furs were there, all canids, two facing the view outside and one facing his panel in the rear. Of the two forward facing furs one wore sunglasses, the other squinted into the glare of the sun. All three of them wore headset boom-mic combinations.

The observer would note that the green eyes that stared out through the windshield into the empty sky ahead belonged to a fetching young female in a rather form-fitting olive-drab colored flight suit. Out here, just above the nose of this ungainly beast of the air, the noise was all-encompassing, shaking the very soul of any who might venture that close. Yet the pilot and her companions appeared quite relaxed within...

# # #

Joe Latrans smiled behind his closed eyes, enjoying the warmth that infused his body and soul. In spite of the recent loss of his father, all was right with his world. He couldn't really say that he missed his father, at least not the fur that had passed away recently. He missed the strong young officer that had raised him as a small pup, but he'd been missing that fur for thirty years, so the pain was not fresh and new.

The novelty of knowing that his father was gone was receding into recent memory. Except for the picture frame he had taken from his father's desk in California, the one that showed he and Annie and the pups on one side and The Bitch lifting off from a dirt runway on the other, there was no external evidence that the trip to California and his mother's side had ever happened. It was just as well. Joe had placed that small picture frame on his desk at Intermountain's office on Centennial Airport. He didn't really know why he had chosen that location over some spot at home, he just felt like it belonged there, near the aviation.

At the moment he was happy to be doing what he loved, enjoying the familiar, energizing sensations that surrounded him. She was solid and stable beneath him, a reassuring, encompassing presence that he knew would be happy to rock his world if only he asked with a caress. They were completely in tune with each other, each would respond to the other’s gentlest touch or sound, each comfortable with the other’s level of control in their relationship.

This was almost, but not quite, as good as being in the auburn-and-charcoal-furred arms of his lovely fox.

An ear twitched as Joe opened his eyes. These thoughts had flashed through his mind in the space of a slow blink.

The plains of eastern Colorado were hiding below them beneath a blanket of undercast cloud, fifteen thousand feet down. The sky up here, above the weather, was clear; the mid-day sun shone through the windows onto their fur, warming them. The outside air temperature was minus seventeen degrees centigrade, yet on the flight deck they enjoyed a comfortably cool environment. To the west and below them, below the cloud deck, a winter snowstorm was advancing across Colorado.

While technically flying as pilot in command, Joe was seated on the starboard side of the C-130’s flight deck. Behind him Steve Lupus occasionally scribbled a note or two about the flight characteristics and engine parameters of the Hercules on a clip board at the navigator's table. Steve was flying navigator for this mission, as well as filling the duties of flight engineer. Joe grinned a bit thinking about him. He and Steve had built a solid friendship as they racked up the hours in their logbooks together, flying this bellowing devil of a transport back and forth across the continent.

The thunder of the four Allison turbines was a comfort to them all. The Bitch flew perfectly, trimmed for paws-off stability. Everything was in exactly the middle of the green arcs. Jerry Kitt had done right by the Hercules, and she seemed happy to be back with her crew, back in the air.

Joe looked to his left. The fox-coyote hybrid seated in the left hand seat was holding her sunglasses before her face, gazing through them at the horizon, a trace of a smile on her muzzle. Satisfied that the lenses were clean, she stuffed a small cloth into a pocket on her flight suit with her left paw as the right paw placed the Raybans on her nose. The youthful face radiated delight. Her left paw returned to it's normal position, barely touching the control yolk of the transport, her right paw returned to rest in her lap. She looked quite relaxed and at ease, completely comfortable with her environment. She was dressed in an olive drab flight suit and leather boots, her hair tied in a pony tail, hanging down the back of her flight suit from beneath a service-worn ball cap. A logo on the cap’s front advertised Parnell Aviation Services, Saint George, Utah, the cap itself was slightly crushed on her head by the earphones she wore over it. A half-smile returned to Joe's muzzle. In all his days of flying he had never seen anyone fill a flight suit quite like Lola Baker did.

This was their second introductory flight with her. The first had been yesterday, with her in the right seat, gaining experience with The Bitch’s systems and flight characteristics. Joe and Steve had quickly come to appreciate the fact that Lola was no stranger to the likes of The Bitch, and was certainly no stranger to crew coordination. She had slipped easily into the practiced cadence and routine of the transport's flight deck, almost immediately seeming to have been part of the crew for years. Lola’s ratings and flight reviews had all checked out and were up to date, the FAA had responded quickly enough to Matt’s queries about her. She was, amongst other things, a bona-fide Herk driver. Today they had “tossed her the keys”, simply giving her a flight plan and letting her fly as commander. She had done an excellent job.

This would be the last orientation flight. Matt had stressed to Joe that Intermountain had work lined up, and that any more training or orienting that Lola might require would have to be done on the line while The Bitch earned her living. Fortunately, it seemed that this would not be an issue for any of the paws involved. Unfortunately, the other fly in the ointment had proved more elusive. The Airframe and Powerplant fur that Matt had thought was as good as signed on had gone to work for Southwest. Intermountain still had no maintenance team outside of Gunderson's in the west, and Matt was getting tired of Gunderson's fees. His furs did good work, but their fees were quite steep compared to having a fur of their own on the payroll.

Joe sighed briefly, pushing those thoughts out of his mind. Janie had placed ads in a couple of industry rags, and she and Angie Rockwell were leaning on Matt and Jerry as much as they could for help finding somefur. And soon, they all hoped... the western operation would go broke in a hurry paying Gunderson's for upkeep on a C-130.

Joe looked out the windshield, about twenty degrees right of the nose. According to their navigation computers the town of Akron and it’s general aviation airport should be out there, about ten miles off. All he could see was an undulating blanket of white cloud. To the east it was smooth and flat below them, but to the west it billowed above their altitude and completely obscured the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

His thoughts returned to their newest employee. Her resume was impressive, if somewhat familiar to Joe. Six years in the Air Force with TAC (the Tactical Airlift Command), the last two on detached duty flying from unspecified locations. While she had said nothing about those two years and provided no records other than the cryptic entries in her logbooks to document those days, Joe could almost smell “black ops” and “The Company” in those brief explanations. They were full of hours in C-130s, C-141s, C5s, and various smaller ships. After leaving the Air Force Lola had flown for two more years with the 146th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard out in California, much of her time there was in C-130s, mostly the H model.

She had served in the Gulf, Central Europe, the Arctic, East Asia, central Africa, half of the Canadian provinces, Central and South America, and most of the fifty states. The three thousand five hundred odd hours in her logbooks testified to her ability to fly and command a crew, nary a crash or forced landing was recorded. There were, however, several notations of aerial combat damage, lost engines, onboard fires, and one “aircraft abandoned by commander en route.”

Lola was twenty nine years old. Her entire adult life thus far seemed to have been focused tightly on flying transports. Her resume was totally devoid of anything not related to her flying career.

Joe’s eyes swept the horizon, and then dropped to take in the displays of various CRTs and instruments in the panel. The radar was in targeting mode, painting several targets within a fifty-mile radius of their position, none of them close enough to worry about. The Bitch almost purred in mechanically harmonious contentment. It was a beautiful day for flying, in spite of the weather below.

Joe turned to look at his new pilot. Lola’s head was moving slightly as she scanned the horizon herself, and then her muzzle dipped slightly as she took in the instrument panel’s stories. She leaned forward and to her right slightly as she made an adjustment to the targeting radar, her paw deftly finding the particular adjustment she wanted in the maze of controls in the center panel. Her grin widened as she looked up into Joe’s eyes.

“Yes?” Her voice sounded slightly mechanical on the intercom, but Joe and Steve both could hear the amusement in it.

Joe smiled casually back to her. “We should probably head back,” he replied, almost ignoring the fact that the top quarter of her flight suit’s zipper was unzipped. He turned farther to his left to look back at Steve, who was sitting back in his own chair with a curiously humorous expression on his muzzle. The wolf’s eyes met his.

“What’s our vector to the IP for Denver Approach?”

“Byers VOR, two four two degrees,” Steve replied without shifting his gaze from Joe’s eyes. “Nav and comm are set, center is on two, approach on one. Nav on number one CRT.”

“Copy that, thanks Steve,” Lola’s voice said from slightly behind Joe’s shoulder. As Joe turned in his seat to face forward again Lola was already turning the yolk gently to the left, turning to the west. He was silent as the Hercules turned to the heading Steve had specified.

Once established on their new course, Lola turned to her new chief pilot and said “We’ve got a few moments before we have to begin our descent.”

Joe nodded as his right paw picked up a remote push to talk switch. “Denver Center, Intermountain one ten is turning to the west, returning to Centennial.”

A few seconds elapsed while their Center controller refreshed his information about their flight. Presently a young sounding male voice replied. “Intermountain one ten, Denver Center, proceed direct Byers VOR, cross Byers at sixteen thousand. Expect to contact Denver approach on one two seven point zero five at Byers. Information Papa is currently in effect at Centennial, landing runway three five right, skies obscured, measured ceiling eight hundred feet overcast, wind from three zero five at one four, visibility one mile in snow and fog, altimeter two niner seven six. Expect the Saygee Five arrival to the ILS for three five right. Confirm your squawk two seven zero four, ident, and say altitude leaving.”

Joe leaned forward with his left paw towards the transponder head in the panel as he keyed his mic. “Intermountain one ten is at flight level two zero zero, we’ll proceed direct Byers and cross at sixteen thousand, we’ll be looking to contact Denver Approach there.” Joe pressed the “Ident” button on the transponder head. “And we are identing two seven zero four.”

Lola’s right paw reached for the throttles and retarded them. The three furs on the flight deck felt the transport begin to sink as she trimmed the Hercules for a normal descent at 190 knots.

“Intermountain one ten, radar contact, flight level one niner five indicated, thank you.”

Joe placed his push to talk switch on an arm rest. They had a bit of time before they’d get busy, a brief time to chat casually before they worked at getting home. Joe gazed complacently towards the western horizon, towards the hidden mountains he loved, towards the fox he knew was waiting for him there. “Do you have any time in the King Airs?” he asked his pilot.

Lola continued to scan the horizon as she answered. “I flew the C-12s for a bit when I was stateside, mostly the F model when I was with the 146th Air Wing.”

Joe nodded, still looking at the sky and horizon. “You know we have a B-200, and also a Cessna Caravan.”

Lola nodded in reply. “I’ve never flown a Caravan.”

“Matt can probably sign you up for some simulator time if you’re interested, but you probably won’t need it. We’ve got all the airframe and systems manuals at the hangar. If you want, you’re more than welcome to check them out.”

Lola’s right paw nudged the throttles forward, and Joe glanced at his altimeter. Sixteen thousand, dead on the money. He looked across the panel, successfully ignoring Lola’s flight suit, towards the number one CRT and it’s navigation display. They were a pawful of miles east of Byers VOR. As he was looking at the display the Center controller called.

“Intermountain one ten, contact Denver Approach on one two seven point zero five, good day.”

Joe grabbed his push to talk switch. “Thanks Center, Intermountain one ten going to Denver Approach. See you later.”

“See ya…”

Lola patiently waited for Joe to finish tuning his radio equipment. As he looked up from the panel she was smiling at him.

“Approach checklist,” she said in her soft drawl, trying not to laugh at the effect her voice had on him.

# # #

Janie Riggins fidgeted at her desk, trying to ascertain why the latest optical disk drive would not mount and present itself for use by Intermountain's server in the back room. The old one had dismounted cleanly with their latest backups, but this new optical disk wouldn't mount for love or money. She tapped a few keys, calling a diagnostic for the drive system.

“Excuse me,” an accented male voice purred, causing her to almost jump out of her skin. She had not heard anyone enter the office. Being a cougar, she was normally almost impossible to sneak up upon, a fact her husband well knew. Yet as she glanced up to see a short, squat fox with odd markings standing before her she was mildly annoyed by the fact that he had managed to not only enter the office but walk right up to her desk with her totally unaware.

She put on her best professional persona. “Good afternoon, welcome to Intermountain Charter. How may I help you?”

The visitor grinned. She had covered it well, but he knew he had gotten the drop on her. He held out a paw to the cougar.

“My name is Toshiro Tanuki. I am with Sony Pictures here in Denver.”

“Good afternoon, Mr. Tanuki,” Janie smiled as she took his black paw and shook it briefly. “My name is Janice Riggins. What can Intermountain do for you?”

“A pleasure, Miss Riggins,” the odd-looking canid replied.

Janie gestured at a chair near the corner of her desk. “Please, Mr. Tanuki, have a seat.”

She studied her new customer as he pulled the chair towards the center of her desk and seated himself. He was not terribly short, maybe five foot six, but was round in a cuddly sort of way, with a short but fluffy tail of light brown. Very little of the rest of his fur was visible as he wore a business suit, but the fur of his head was a similar light brown, with dark black hair cut close to his head between his small ears. Quite prominent were the large patches of dark fur under his eyes, which were close-spaced just above the bridge of his narrow nose. The twinkle in his eyes caused Janie to smile a bit.

The canid smiled in return as he settled in his chair.

“May I offer you something to drink, Mr. Tanuki? Water, coffee, a soda?”

“Oh, thank you, but no,” the canid replied in his accented voice. He crossed his legs at his ankles and leaned back a bit into the chair. “My employer wishes to make a movie in the mountains of the northern Rockies, perhaps in Wyoming or Montana. I would like to charter an aircraft to take three of my associates and I to several locations in those two states over the next several weeks.”

Janie blinked. “You want to charter an aircraft and crew for several weeks?”

Toshiro Tanuki smiled. “No, Miss Riggins. I wish to make several charters over the next few weeks. Some may be only for a day, some for a weekend. I may be transporting as many as six furs, never less than four. Is this something you can do for us?”

“Certainly, Mr. Tanuki, ” Janie replied. “We have several aircraft and crew that may suit your needs. Depending on your destinations and scheduling, you may prefer the business jets or you may prefer the turboprop aircraft, which can access much smaller airfields. Do you have a list of destinations? Perhaps we could decide which of our aircraft best suits your needs.”

Mr. Tanuki produced a folded piece of paper from within his suit jacket and handed it to the cougar. “It is all there, Miss Riggins. Dates, locations, and durations.”

Janie unfolded the paper and studied it, a smile growing on her muzzle. Matt would be pleased.

# # #

Matt Barstock was a lot of things, but at this moment pleased wasn't one of them. He sighed, wiping his paws on his overalls unconsciously.

“What's all this mean in plain English, Jerry?”

The brown bear turned to look at his boss. Sweat disfigured the lay of the fur on his brow, and he held a large flashlight in one paw. Jerry Kitt rumbled, clearing his throat. It was an unhappy sound.

“This amount of corrosion, here, means a teardown. New stringers, skin, ramp mechs, and a lot of time.”

“How much time?”

The brown bear shrugged. “If Victor can get us the parts we need for the ramp mech, maybe four weeks. Six tops.”

“On top of the engine and the other stuff?”

The bear grinned slightly. The list of jobs had been long, but he had subbed out some of the work and a large complement of furs had been laboring on Numbers. He'd called in a few markers and had committed himself to future, as yet unplanned projects of other furs, and as a result was just barely managing to keep his boss from coming completely unglued about how long it was taking to get Intermountain's newest transport up into the air.

“The rebuilds on three and four are complete, two will be done by tomorrow evening. One is on the wing, and we'll be turning it over by the end of the day.” Jerry had handled the turbine work personally, and would gamble his job on their reliability. “Rick's working on the avionics suite, but much of the hardware has been removed for bench work. All that's on board right now is basic VFR capability, but it's enough to take a few laps around the pattern to test the engines.”

“What about the wing box?”

“We've got the mod kit on order from Lockheed Martin. They're telling us it'll drop ship within a week, but unless we want to send The Bitch out to Georgia to fetch the kit, surface freight will add a few days to the turn-around.”

Matt grumbled quietly as he scratched his chin. “And the rest?”

“Munks Machine took care of the hydraulics for us, and they've already been signed off on. Rick found a guy in Idaho with the inverters we needed below deck, and he subbed that job to a local electrician and signed off on that work as well.”

“So if it weren't for this corrosion at the ramp...”

“...we'd be ready to go by the first of the month.” Jerry finished for him.

Matt sighed again, muttering. He stared at the corroded area at the forward edge of the ramp inside the old Hercules' cargo bay. As Jerry patiently waited for his boss' next question they heard footsteps approaching, and the Labrador and the brown bear turned to look down the lowered ramp to the hangar floor.

Angie Rockwell held a large mug of steaming coffee in each paw, and flicked her tail in greeting as she stepped onto the ramp.

A grin suddenly plastered itself on Jerry's large muzzle and he turned to face his boss.

The Labrador wasn't paying attention. “Hi kiddo,” he greeted his girlfriend and office manager.

“Hi yourself,” the calico replied, handing him a mug and standing beside him as she handed the other mug to the brown bear. “Hi Jerry.”

“Hi Angie. Thanks.” Jerry sipped the coffee and nodded approvingly.

Matt sipped his own coffee, glancing at Jerry over the top of his cup. The bear was shaking his head.

“What?” the Labrador asked as he lowered his cup.

“Somefur...” Jerry sipped his coffee a second time, “is gonna take this lady away from us if you're not careful.”

Matt's expression mixed humor and a small amount of surprise. “What are you sayin'?”

Jerry was deadpan. “You know what I'm sayin'.”

The Labrador inched closer to his calico love and quietly placed an arm about her waist. She momentarily went rigid with uncertainty, and then relaxed into his side.

“What kind of money are we talkin' about here?” Matt asked his chief mechanic, motioning with his coffee cup to the ramp mechanism.

Angie smiled quietly.

# # #

Annie Latrans glanced at the clock on her desk next to the picture of Joe and their pups. He would be down soon, and then he would call her. She wanted to be at the airport when he arrived, to maximize their time together.

The red fox looked at the spreadsheet on her LCD display and growled quietly. This bid was going to be tough. The specifications for tile and marble were tight, the customer was very discerning and wanted nothing but the best. She was having difficulty finding suppliers for some of the higher quality pieces. And the steelwork...

Joshua and Marie were at school watching the latest "Wallace and Grommit" movie, part of a regular twice-weekly after-school program. She and Joe wouldn't need to pick them up until five thirty, at least. The staff usually had some small snacks after the movie and was prepared to stay until past six in the evening if necessary. That gave she and Joe enough time to find someplace to share a glass of wine and chat a bit before they needed to pick them up.

Annie sighed as she realized that she was staring at the picture of Joe and the pups again. Her mind was not on her work this afternoon. She played idly with a few strands of hair at her shoulder as her mind wandered. She wondered where Joe was at that moment, and what he was doing.

There was a gentle tap as one of the doors opened into her office. A young, squirrelly face glanced around the edge of the door at her.

"Would you like some fresh coffee, boss?" Hannah Yager held a shiny, stainless-steel pot out in front of her as she leaned into the room.

Annie paused, her tail wagging briefly as she considered. She looked at Clark's desk, mildly surprised to see it vacant. He had been there a while ago.

"No, thank you Hannah." She gestured with a paw towards the empty desk. "You might find Clark and see if he wants some."

The squirrel smiled. "He's down the hall in the server closet." She rolled her eyes at the ceiling. "Lord knows what he's doing, I didn't understand a word of it. Something about teewuns and gates and wireless routes, I don't know."

Annie grinned briefly, nodding, her gaze drifting again to the picture.

After a few moments of silence, before the lack of conversation became uncomfortable, Hannah dipped her head a bit and backed into the hallway with her coffee pot, saying "Well, I'll go find Clark."

"Thanks, Hannah."

The red fox stared at the image of her husband for long moments after the door shut behind the squirrel. In her mind's eye she saw that old coyote again, the curl of the lip, the fire in the old brown eyes. She shuddered slightly.

I'm getting nowhere with this, she thought to herself. In spite of her promise to her best friend, Annie had yet to sit down with Joe and discuss the greater implications of what it was to be the red fox formerly known as Sharon Winning.

"I'll fix that," she said aloud to the empty room. She pulled her small leather briefcase from beneath her desk and placed it on the desktop, opening it. She swept a paw across her blotter, gathering all the documents concerning the Telluride bid, and placed them in the briefcase. She next tapped a few keys on her keyboard, saving the spreadsheet to a thumb drive, and then logged out of her computer. Leaning down towards her PC chassis under the desk, she removed the thumb drive from it's USB port and placed the drive in her briefcase as well, snapping the lid closed afterwards. Design By Fox would wait. She had important things to deal with.

# # #

The Great Dane smiled slowly, listening. The voice in his pawset purred quietly, relating information that was rapidly becoming worth much more than he had paid for it.

“You're sure of this?”

The purr vocalized assent.

Harrison Clement the Third's smile grew to a grin, the tips of his fangs showing in a somewhat fearful manner. The expression on his muzzle, the glint in his eyes, was enough to make any right-thinking fur question the ethics of all lawyers, especially this particular one.

“You have served me well. There will be a bonus in it for you.”

“Thank you, sir,” the purr said.

“I will be in touch. Good day.”

Harrison hung up his phone and leaned back in his overstuffed leather chair. The rich old hag would be well pleased, indeed. He could stomach a few more dinners and the evening's slobberings if it meant a line on her resources. Once he had become aware of what the old fighter pilot had left her, his interest in her had ratcheted up considerably. And then she had approached him asking a favor, a little research, well funded. How could he refuse?

Harrison chuckled. Why refuse? With that kind of cash within easy arms reach, what was to refuse?

# # #

The snow coated the fur of his back and drifted between his ears. The kaht, a grubby-looking, greenish-brown mess of a tom-kaht with slanted yellow eyes, sat motionless in the tall grass at the approach end of three five right, the longest runway at Centennial. His eyes glinted in synchronization with the flashing strobes of the approach lights. In spite of the early hour it was almost dark. The storm clouds, thick overhead, blotted out much of the afternoon light. Snow continued to drift out of the sky.

It was quiet out here. Few aircraft were out and about, and that was fine because he was concerned only for one in particular.

Jules had no way of knowing it, but the runway visual range was down to a quarter mile. The snow was light, but it was mixed with a light, patchy fog that drifted from west to east across the runway. But he wasn't looking in that direction anyway. He was staring south, up the glideslope he couldn't see, into the gloom.


And on the flight deck of The Bitch, Lola and Joe and Steve waited as well. Lola had her paws full, one on the yolk and the other on the throttles as she concentrated on her Instrument Landing System display, keeping the localizer and glideslope indications of her ILS centered in a cross. As she paw-flew the Hercules through the storm towards the runway ahead and below, Joe stared out the windshield anticipating some visual contact with the ground or, hopefully, the runway. Steve was calling out the altitude in fifty foot increments as they descended through seven thousand feet. The surface was eleven hundred feet below them.

“Three miles to the middle marker,” Joe muttered.

Lola nodded silently.

“Sixty nine fifty,” Steve intoned quietly on the intercom.

The gloom flickered to Joe's right, and he glanced towards his side windows in time to see a blurry patch of terrain skate away in the mist. As he opened his mouth to comment about them getting close he suddenly saw the ground.

“Six thousand nine hundred.”

“Surface contact,” Joe called, “stay on the ILS, Lola.” Joe stared ahead. The runway was still not visible. But as he looked he thought he saw something familiar. Flashing.

“Sixty eight fifty.”

Lola made small corrections to the aircraft attitude and power settings, struggling to keep the needles of the ILS centered. The air was mildly rough in the storm this close to the ground, and the Hercules was trying to bounce above and below the invisible, electronic radio signal that was the glideslope they were riding down to the runway. The localizer told them whether they were left or right of centerline, and the glideslope told them whether they were too high or too low. She nudged the throttles a bit as she noted a one dot deflection of her glideslope indication above the center. They were a bit low.

“Six thousand eight hundred.”

Joe continued to stare ahead. Were those actually the approach lights he saw flashing, or was he simply seeing what he longed to see? Joe looked out his side window. Straight down, snow covered streets and homes rushed by in the mist.

“Sixty seven fifty.”

“Confirm flaps twenty and gear down and locked,” Lola commanded, still concentrating on the ILS display.

Joe looked at the indications in the panel quickly and replied “Flaps twenty degrees, three greens.”



“Six thousand seven hundred.”

He was seeing the lights flashing. He couldn't see the individual lights yet, but he definitely had the strobes in the mist. As he stared ahead a soft beeping started in their earphones. The middle marker, a radio beacon and part of the Instrument Landing System ground equipment, was coming up.

“Belts?” Lola asked. “Everyone strapped down?”

Even though they had each already checked several times, paws went to their harnesses and gave tugs.

Joe blinked as his paw returned to his lap. There they were!

“I've got the roll bars and the approach lights. Stand by...”

“Sixty six fifty.”

A visual indicating lamp for the middle marker began to flicker in the instrument panel.

“Stand by...” Joe said slowly.

Lola bit her tongue lightly in concentration, the tip just visible between her teeth. The C-130 bucked slightly in the crosswind from the left, and her paw caressed the throttles as her feet danced lightly on the rudder pedals, trying to hold a constant rate of descent while maintaining her position on the glideslope.

“Six thousand six hundred, Lola. Five hundred feet to go.” Steve was reminding his pilot that the minimum descent altitude for an ILS approach to this runway was, as they all knew, six thousand and eighty three feet above sea level.

“Stand by...” Joe muttered again.

A black mass floated out of the mist towards them.

“I've got the runway!” Joe exulted. “Transition!”

Lola's green eyes flicked up to the windshield. Sure enough, not more than a mile off, the end of runway three five right hove into view in the gloom. The approach lights beckoned. The runway lights began to appear.

They were home. Lola grinned in relief.

“Your wife's a pretty lady, Joe.”

# # #

He recognized the lights that suddenly appeared above him in the south. Two in the nose, one on each wing, the red strobe high on the fin he couldn't even see yet. But even if he'd been blind he'd have recognized the sound.

The dark mass thundered overhead, and the kaht turned his head to follow the aircraft as it descended the last few feet towards the runway. Hot turbine exhaust brushed down onto the snow covering Jules' back. He watched the lights of The Bitch recede, heard the squeal and chirp of tires hitting the concrete, and stood stiffly as the roar of beta thrust wafted through the snow to his ears. His tail flicked in relief. His crew was home.

As Lola Baker angled the C-130 towards A9, the mid-field high-speed taxiway off the east side of the runway, Jules began to make his way through the snow towards Intermountain's hangar on Centennial. At that same moment Jerry Kitt was climbing wearily into his car in Columbus, anticipating a hot shower and some time with his family. The test of the new number one Allison turbine had been a smashing success. His joy was not in his work, however. He had declined an invitation to share a Chinese dinner with Matt and Angie in favor of hurrying home to Sheryl and their cubs.

And over in Englewood Annie was seating herself behind the wheel of Joe's Jeep CJ-7. It made much more sense to drive this in the snow than her STS. She started the engine and selected some tunes from an old Journey CD before putting the Jeep in gear and leaving the parking lot of Design By Fox. She pointed the Jeep away from the mountains, taking East Hampden towards I-25, towards Centennial Airport.

Out in California Harrison Clement the Third made another phone call to set up his evening. And out in Maryland a red fox was hanging up his own telephone, perplexed beyond belief.

In the office of Intermountain Charter's western operation Janie Riggins shook the proffered paw of Toshiro Tanuki. “I will have our chief pilot call you to discuss scheduling and flight times, Mr. Tanuki. Thank you for choosing Intermountain Charter.”

“It has been a pleasure, Miss Riggins. I hope to see you again soon.”

And in Intermountain Charter's main hangar at Port Columbus, Numbers waited quietly. She was a patient old bird, confident that she would soon be back in the air.

To Chapter 22: Miles To Go Before I Weep

Back to The B Team Table of Contents

Back to the Stories Page

Back to The Range