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.
And also with thanks to Casey and for use of the image.

The B Team is copyright © The Silver Coyote
2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007

19 September 2007

Heavy Metal


It had been a simple answer to a simple question. Perhaps he had been a tiny bit arrogant in his delivery, but that was certainly no reason to be in the position he now found himself in.

The young vole rubbed his jaw carefully. It hurt like hell, but he didn't think it was broken. Yet. If the huge puma standing over him hit him again, he'd most certainly be taking a trip to the hospital.

The fur who paid him had insisted that this would be nothing more than a routine check of records, a verification of history. How he had come to this point, with a deadly fur twice his size ready to beat him into confessing his knowledge, he had no idea. He was simply digging through old military records and using the Freedom of Information Act to try and uncover an aging and forgotten bit of recent history. It was mildly tedious, but anyfur could have done it. He had no special clearances and no special secrets to divulge. Here, in a darkened office in the bowels of the Pentagon in the middle of the night, he had begun to piece together that bit of history from information that, while buried in time, was still there for anyfur to find. Then this guy had showed up...

The puma leaned forward, his shoulders obscuring the supine fur's view of the single ceiling lamp and casting a dark shadow across his face and body. As if in slow motion one of his paws came forward and wrapped almost gently around the vole's neck and lifted. Within a couple seconds, before his victim even had time to yelp in pain, the puma was releasing his grip, setting him on his feet. The artificial grin on his muzzle was totally out of step with the dark pools of indifference that were his deep brown eyes. Yet in those eyes the vole saw a future, one he did not want to be a part of.

Lets try that again,” the puma's voice rumbled. “It's very simple, really.” Still grinning slightly, the larger fur gently brushed the vole's shoulders and upper arms, as a clothier might during a fitting, straightening out the wrinkles his cheap, casual clothing had incurred during his fall.

Eric knew what he was going to say before the words came. It was like a poorly made movie, but he was certain beyond doubt that the puma would mean every word of it.

He was doing nothing wrong. He had filled in all the requisition, security, and authorization forms, and had checked in as instructed with the uniformed duty furs upon entering the building. He had been escorted to this office by a sergeant and told not to leave, to instead call a certain extension when he was done so he could be met and escorted back to the outside world. He had been in this dark, quiet office for about half an hour now, looking through old records pulled from file cabinets in the room, and then this guy had showed up. The puma had looked out of place here, being dressed in a black suit with light blue shirt and red tie.

You answer my questions,” the puma rumbled calmly, pulling Eric out of his momentary reverie, “and follow my instructions, you can walk out of here. Pray I am not moved to alter the terms of our relationship.”

Eric gulped as the other fur lowered his paws to his side. The puma had greeted him by name and introduced himself as “Agent Jones” and had asked only one question. Eric's reply had elicited a flashing right across his jaw, knocking him sideways out of his chair and away from the desk he had been sitting at, crashing to the floor. Now the two of them stood eying each other over that desk, the vole warily rubbing his jaw, the puma stoically gazing at him.

All Eric had said was “That's none of your business,” and pow! Obviously, he reflected with momentary wry humor, that was the wrong answer, the wrong attitude to take with this fur.

Good,” the puma said gently, catching the flicker of a grin on the young vole's muzzle. “I see we understand each other.” Here the huge feline turned to sit on a corner of the desk, gesturing for Eric to retake his seat. Stooping briefly, the vole picked up the wooden chair and set it upright on the floor, and then seated himself in it.

Tell me, Eric, who is paying you to do this research.”

A lawyer,” Eric nodded. “From California. Harrison Clement the Third.”

The puma nodded. “We know of him. What does he want you to find?”

He wants me to research the military history of a pilot. Some fur named Latrans.”

What have you learned?”

Eric shrugged. “There's not much to know. He didn't serve in the armed forces. Apparently he did some contract work for the government, but there's very little information. Maybe the Department of the Interior, or maybe the CIA, I don't know. There's just not that much records material.”

Doesn't it seem odd to you that a lawyer in California is interested in the military background of a middle-aged fur from Colorado?”

Eric grinned. “Did I say he was from Colorado?”

Come, come,” Agent Jones replied with a grin of his own. “Even the most basic of information about Jose Ortiz Latrans would tell you his place of current residence. Let us not try and play each other, Eric.”

Something in the agent's grin, in his tone of voice, squelched the grin on the college student's muzzle. This agent wasn't here for Eric, he was here for the subject of his research. This wasn't about lawyers from California or law students making some extra money, this was about the pilot.

I'll tell you what, Eric. I'll let you leave tonight. I want you to go home to your girlfriend in your apartment in Kent Village. I want you to get in touch with the lawyer Clement and tell him there is no information of significance to be found regarding Mister Latrans. You will not allow him to dissuade you from your opinion with additional funding. Your research is done. Persuade him that there is nothing to find.”

The vole stared at the puma. “You know where I live?”

Smiling slightly, the puma nodded once. “You are in your second year at George Washington University, the Juris Doctor program. You're here tonight making a little extra money for yourself doing basic research. Your grades are fairly strong, your father in Pennsylvania is proud of you. Your little sister will graduate from Williamstown High this summer. You drive too fast, though. That little Accura has earned you three speeding citations since you moved here in 2004. And you should spend less of your valuable time in immoral chat rooms on the internet.” The puma shook his head disapprovingly.

For some reason the casual, every-day tone this little monologue was delivered in terrified Eric. How could this fur know so much about him?

The puma winked at him, his smile growing to take on faint traces of a sneer. “My apologies,” he said, rising from the desk, “for my attention-getting methods. I believe no permanent damage will be suffered.” Here Agent Jones gestured for Eric to also rise.

As Eric rose to his feet the agent continued. “Go home, Eric Sweeney. Give Brandy a kiss for me, make your report to the lawyer Clement, and then take her to dinner at that little bistro on the south side you two like so much. Ask her to wear that red blouse you bought her for her birthday.”

Eric shivered. This agent knew way too much about him to perceive his conversation as idle, hollow threats.

Call the desk,” the puma rumbled. “Tell them you're done, and ready to go.”

Eric reached with trembling fingers for the telephone while glancing at a notepad on the desk. Reading the numbers quickly, he dialed the extension the sergeant who escorted him here had told him to call. He looked up just in time to see the door closing behind Agent Jones. He was alone.

No, he corrected himself. He'd never feel alone again.


# # #


The subject of Eric Sweeney's research was sleeping soundly on top of a blanket on the cool floor in the hull of his ship. He was alone. He had not heard the soft ringing of the cellular telephone that had awakened the fur that had been sleeping next to him. That fur was even now walking briskly through the warm pre-dawn air of southern Arizona with a FAX in one paw. This ambulatory fur was not relishing awakening the skipper of The Bitch, not with the contents of this FAX in paw.

In his other paw Slam Whiteline carried a styrofoam cup of hot coffee. His thinking had been that Joe would want this. Scratch that... Joe would need this.

It was already seventy degrees at a bit past 0400. The air would be coolest, and hence provide the most lift, at their new scheduled departure time of 0530. They'd need all the help they could get.

Slam strode up to and opened the starboard side hatch of the C-130. Leaving it open, he climbed aboard and went forward in the cargo hold, towards where he had been sleeping. He had crashed with Joe in the hold after finding Lola quarters in the terminal late last night.

Slam placed the FAX between the cup and his finger in order to be able to remove a small Mag Lite from a pocket. Flicking it on, he found that the dim flood illumination was more than enough to locate his skipper sleeping on the floor. The inside of The Bitch's empty cargo hold was quite large, his footsteps echoed as he approached the sleeping coyote.

The hybrid paused momentarily, wishing he had some options. More than anything else he wanted to let his boss sleep. He didn't know why, but he knew that the coyote's temper had been growing shorter and shorter as this long mission progressed. The pilot should have been able to get at least another hour's sleep before being awakened. But then Matt had called the loadmaster with the news.

Slam moved his right foot forward, the toe of his boot gently tapping the sole of Joe's foot. Joe wore nothing save his denim jeans, and was laying on his back, one arm above his head and bent, so that his paw and lower arm barely touched the tips of his ears. His boots and the rest of his clothing lay in a small heap next to his waist, on the floor of the hold.

After three taps Slam spoke quietly. “Hey boss. Time to wake up.”

There was no response, no movement. Slam tried three more nudges, a bit stronger this time.

God dammit, Lola...” the coyote mumbled sleepily, irritably.

Slam arched an eyebrow in surprise. Many thoughts flashed quickly through his head, the last one warning him that whatever was going on, it was none of his business until it affected the missions. What Joe chose to do with his own time was none of his concern, although it bothered the loadmaster that... well... the pilot was married.

It's Slam, Boss. You need to wake up. There's been a change to our mission profile.”

What?” The coyote was instantly awake and sitting up indian-style in the dark. “A change? What do you mean? What time is it?”

Oh four hundred.” Slam replied. “Matt called. We've got an addition to our manifest. It's gonna add to our workload.”


There's gonna be a truck here any minute from Davis-Monathan. The ramp mech Matt wanted is going to be on it. We're taking that and our original contract cargo out this morning. We'll refuel at Roswell before making it to Dallas Fort Worth, then we drop the mech at Columbus, then over to Tinker for a pickup, then into DC.”

Joe's muzzle faced the floor as he briefly rubbed the back of his head. “Holy shit,” he muttered. “That's a long day.” He glanced up at Slam. “You run the numbers?” Joe was asking if his loadmaster had computed the ship's weight and balance, including fuel load, for the additional cargo.

They could hear the sound of a truck engine coming from the open hatch back towards the tail of the aircraft. Neither fur glanced aft.

Not completely,” Slam confessed. “But I know the combined weight of our cargoes.”

The coyote stared at him.

Thirty seven thousand, six hundred pounds.”

In the flashlight illumination Slam saw Joe's eyes widen. Holding out the styrofoam cup, he said “I brought you some coffee. Matt's FAX with the numbers is with it.”

Joe accepted both. “Thanks, Slam.” He sipped the coffee to test it's temperature, and then took a large gulp of it.

Hot enough?”

Yeah, fine.” Joe took another gulp, leaving the cup about half full. “Thanks.” The coyote examined the FAX sheet briefly. “We need to get someplace where we can grind the numbers. We're gonna have to limit our fuel load to compensate for the overload. I'll need to know how much fuel we can carry, calculate airspeed numbers, figure what our range will be, and what our options are in case we hit bad weather.” Joe grinned slightly. “Roswell, you say?”

Slam nodded in the dim light. “Yep. Matt said he figures we'll have enough fuel to make it there with comfortable reserves.”

Joe Latrans chuckled. “That's easy to say when you're sitting on your tail in an overstuffed chair in your office. Where can we go to do a preflight briefing and make sure we know what the old dog is talking about?” Joe sipped from his coffee again. “Where's Lola?”

She's sleeping in an office in the terminal. There's a pilot's lounge down the hall from it, has a wall chart, a PC, and some phones. We can go there.”

Joe grabbed his shirt from the small jumble of gear next to him. “Good,” he said, pulling the shirt over his head. “Remind me to charge my cellphone while we're briefing.”

Hey!” a voice called from aft. “Anybody home?”

Joe reached for his boots. “The heathens are among us,” he said quietly, chuckling again. “Go see what they want. I'll meet you in the lounge in ten minutes.”

OK, Joe.” Slam switched off his Mag Lite and turned to head aft, towards the starboard side hatch. The skipper seemed to be in good spirits in spite of how early it was. He hoped that would hold true through the day. It would indeed be a long one.


# # #


She hadn't been able to sleep again. But maybe for a different reason. She was mildly apprehensive at her ex-husband's reappearance in her life after all these years, and that apprehension had been built upon with the new knowledge that apparently her sister had known he was coming. But the concern was offset by Rachel's presence, by the knowledge that her older sister had come all the way out here to protect her. That made the former Sharon Winning feel warm and safe inside, and caused Annie Latrans to smile a bit as she dialed her cellphone.

She had been right about Maria. The long evening's conversation with her sister and her best friend, which had concluded less than an hour ago, had shed a lot of light on the situation Annie now faced. After confessing the sins of her youth to her sister Annie was not surprised when Rachel got up from her chair and gestured assertively for her to arise as well. Expecting a heated rebuke, Annie broke down in tears when her sister's ears had wilted and she held her arms wide, whispering “Oh Sissy...” They had embraced in a long, tight hug, Rachel murmuring “I love you, it's all right” over and over while Annie's tears stained the shoulder of her blouse. They stood like that for quite some time, and when they finally separated after Rachel's brief kiss to Annie's cheek they both noticed that Janie had tears in her eyes as well.

After the trio spent some time reigning in their emotions a bit, Rachel began to relate to the red fox and the cougar the detail of what she had learned from her security chief at General-Teradyne. The older red fox's voice grew stronger as she related suspicions about the lawyer and his possible client. While conversing, her PDA had started chirping, indicating reception of a message. Rachel had retrieved the device from her purse. After scanning it for a few moments, she had looked up to her younger sister.

My Los Angeles office confirms that Maria Latrans has retained the legal services of Harrison Clement the Third in the settling of the estate of Pablo Latrans.” She had worn an unpleasant expression, ears erect, her muzzle set in disapproval, her green eyes ablaze. “Furthermore, they believe that the relationship between them is not limited to the estate settlement.”

The younger fox hadn't completely understood. “What else are they working on?”

Rachel grimaced. “According to the GT security chief out there, each other.” She read a bit more, her facial expression becoming even more sour. “It seems the lawyer is quite her junior in age.”

How old is Maria?” Janie asked Annie.

Her early seventies, I think,” Annie replied quietly. “I don't understand...”

Let me explain it to you,” her sister interrupted, still reading from her wireless PDA. “Pablo Latrans' estimated worth at the time of his death was two point two million in investments and assets, not including their home or his Air Force pension.”

Annie and Janie had both blinked. “That explains that,” the cougar commented.

Indeed.” Rachel replied.

What?” Annie asked, still not understanding.

Put simply, dear,” Rachel said, addressing her sister, “your mother-in-law is sleeping with her lawyer. He's after her money.”

The two red foxes had stared at each other. Then Annie exchanged glances with Janie using the same expression she'd employed with her sister. Shock and disbelief.

That's... incredible.”

Here's another little tidbit for you,” Rachel said, returning her eyes to her PDA screen. “The CIA may be involved.”

What?!” the other two exclaimed.

The older red fox nodded. “My security chief in DC says that one of the lawyer's flunkies was scared off earlier this evening by a fur in black at the Pentagon.”

What does that have to do with me?” Annie wondered.

It doesn't,” Rachel said with a note of wonder in her voice. “The flunky, a law student at GW, was doing some research on the military history of a pilot, one Jose Ortiz Latrans.”

Joe didn't fly for the military,” Annie stated matter-of-factly.

Indeed,” Rachel had said yet again. “That is what the fur in black persuaded the flunky to understand.”

The three had kicked this around a bit, and decided that it was an erroneous dead-end on the lawyers part. The conversation had returned to Dax and old times, and as the atmosphere relaxed in the Latrans home they had focused on more pleasant aspects of the old days. By evening's end all three of the females were reasonably relaxed and happy, given the day's events.

And now Annie was sitting up in bed as the eastern horizon grew light, listening to the recorded greeting of Joe's cellphone. “Hey, this is Joe. I'm not able to take your call right now. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks...” Annie waited patiently for the beep.

Hi sweetheart,” she exhaled into her pawset. “I just wanted to check in with you and see how you are doing. I know that you're on a very tight schedule, and that you're probably too tired to call me at the end of the day. And that's OK, lover. You can call me any time it's convenient for you to do so, at any hour. I just want to hear your voice.”

She paused for a breath, thinking about family and friends. “The pups are fine. They miss you, but understand that you're working. They want to see you and hear your voice as badly as I do. Janie is here taking good care of us, and Timmy is gone with the movie crew in Wyoming. I have so much news to tell you about!”

First off, Rachel is here. And she didn't come for a casual visit. She came to warn me that my ex husband, Dax, the fur I told you about, was coming out here to find me. Unfortunately, he beat her here by about ten minutes. You should have seen it, Joe. Janie answered the door when he arrived. I thought she was going to kill him, really and truly. I've never seen her that angry, that furious. And Timmy, he looked more calm, but he was just as upset. But before they could do anything to him, Rachel arrived and beat the tar out of him. She clobbered him in the head with a metal briefcase and then kicked him in the gut a couple of times while he was down. Then she pulled a knife on him.”

Annie giggled at the memory. “She didn't get a chance to use it. Dax took off like his tail was on fire. I don't think we'll be seeing him again.”

The red fox sighed quietly. “You know how well connected Rachel is at General-Teradyne. She's hooked up really well with the corporate security furs there, and they've been checking in to some things. It seems that Maria's lawyer, that fur you saw that night we were in Los Angeles? He's been paying furs to find out about us. GT's security forces were alerted when the lawyer, or one of his stooges, started asking questions of the company. That's how Rachel found out about all of this, how she found out Dax was looking for me. That lawyer, he tipped Dax to where we live now. He's the one who dug Dax up and fed him information about me. He's the one who uncovered all that junk about my former life and gave the information to Maria. He's the one who's been asking questions about both of us, not only here in Colorado but even more so in DC.”

She was speaking quickly, and knew it. She drew a deep breath to calm down. “But I'm OK with it, Joe, because I love you and trust that love. I've told you what there is to know about me. And if you're OK with it, then there's nothing that can be done to us. Maria has no leverage on us.”

Annie paused again. “Honey, I'm sorry I burdened you with my past. It really is irrelevant, what Maria knows or doesn't know is not in any way important to me. I just want to make sure that the future holds no unpleasant surprises for you, I want you to know that I am yours and always will be, and that my love for you is pure and eternal even though I made some bad choices and bad mistakes when I was young. Now my only concern is you, our pups, and our marriage. Nothing else matters to me, Joe.”

The red fox exhaled slowly. “Come home to me, Joe. Fly safely. Te quiero, mi coyote.”

Annie carefully closed her cellphone and placed it on her nightstand. She lay back on her pillows, and after a few moments rolled onto her side, facing the balcony of her bedroom. The drapes had not been drawn, and outside she could see stars above the dark, massive bulk of the front range, the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. Her last memory before sleep took her was of the barest amount of detail visible in that mass, canyons and crests, in the feeble light of early dawn.

The red fox smiled.


# # #


Did you get ahold of Joe?”

Matt Barstock leaned back in his chair and fixed his gaze upon the trim Calico that stood on the other side of his desk. He shook his head slowly.

I called Slam. Figured I'd let the pilots sleep as long as they could.”

That was thoughtful of you,” Angie Rockwell replied. She picked up an empty coffee mug from the Labrador's desk. Glancing inside of the mug, her gaze returned to meet that of the canine across the desk from her. A faintly lascivious smile came to her muzzle. “Want some more?”

The canine grinned, reclining even further in his chair. “You asking about coffee?”

The feline grinned back, the tip of her tail twitching behind her in amusement. The sight caused the old dog's tail to wag briefly beneath his chair.

Can you handle anything else right now?”

Matt chuckled. “Hell, half of Jerry's crew is sleeping up here on the upper level, and the other half is working on Numbers as we speak. It's not like we'd get any privacy.”

That hasn't stopped you before,” Angie giggled, changing her stance so that a hip was thrust slightly forward and to one side. She wore denim jeans and a cotton work shirt, nothing spectacular, but even so that stance sent messages to her lover.

Matt paused for only a moment, enjoying the view, before leaning forward to reply. “Tell you what,” he said, rising from his chair. “Damon's opened a few minutes ago, and Max and Erma's will be open by the time we can get over to the terminal.” Angie put the coffee cup down as Matt crossed the room to a coat rack and removed jackets for the both of them. “Why don't we go get some breakfast while we wait for the Bitch to get going. Rick and AJ won't be here until 0800 anyway, and Simon isn't going to get back until this afternoon.”

As he passed her wrap to her, Angie commented “This company flies on it's stomachs.”

Matt moved to briefly embrace and kiss her, patting her behind briefly in the process.

Amongst other things,” he chuckled.

The couple turned for the door of his office.


# # #


Randy Clarkson was just sitting down to some coffee of his own when his phone rang. Yawning, the skunk picked up his coffee cup and crossed his small studio apartment to where the ringing phone beckoned.

Randy,” he said sleepily.

Hi lover,” a purring voice greeted him.

The skunk smiled, standing there in his boxers. “Hi Kitten. How are you?”

Better now that I hear your voice,” the tabby replied. She was still in her bed in Ohio. “Are you flying today?”

Yep,” Randy said absently, visualizing his fiancée.

She smiled, waiting for him to elaborate. When he didn't, she prompted “Same place?”

Yep,” Randy replied again.

Again she waited. Then: “What's with the one-syllable answers? What are you doing?”

I've got my eyes closed,” Randy admitted. “I'm thinking about you.”

I'll bet you're half asleep, standing there in your underwear, with a cup of coffee in your other paw.”

I am not!” Randy muttered, putting the coffee cup down on the table the telephone base was on.

When do you have to leave for the airport?”

Not for a while yet. I've still got to get a shower and get my flight plan put together.” Randy yawned again. “What are you doing?”

Enjoying the luxury of this huge bed,” Melanie's voice purred. “It's quite large, you know.”

Yes, I can remember...” Randy's voice trailed off.

I'm certainly looking forward to having your furry tail share it with me again soon.”

Randy's reply was more of a hum than anything else. “Mmm hmmm...” He slid slowly into a bean bag wedged in the corner next to the phone table and closed his eyes again.

So I'm just laying here, wearing nothing at all, and wondering how you're doing finding us a place to live.”


Yep.” She giggled.

That's not fair, Kitten.”

Yep.” Another giggle.

Randy sighed as he put his coffee cup on the floor. “You're a bad influence on me...”

I am?” she asked innocently. “Whatever do you mean?”


# # #


She looked rested, but there was something different about her eyes. Joe studied the fox-coyote hybrid briefly. The cues were there, but you had to look for them. Stress. Tension. Belied by the set of her eyes. He could tell.

They were in the pilot's lounge in the terminal at Gateway Airport, sitting at the end of a table. Joe sat facing the length of the rectangular table, with Lola on his left and Slam on his right. Each of them had a small pile of paperwork in front of them, their portion of the duties for the upcoming flight. Flight cases and duffel bags were piled around them on the floor.

Lola was shuffling through some charts and approach plates, but even as she sought that which she searched for her eyes drifted up to make contact with those gray eyes belonging to her skipper. She almost immediately dropped her gaze, but not before a very slight smile came to her muzzle.

Joe's gaze shifted from the young femme to his left and drifted to the large mass of coyote – mountain lion hybrid seated across the table from his second in command. Slam Whiteline had been fussing with load charts, manifests, and a laptop for most of the time the three of them had been together. At this moment the loadmaster was unconsciously sucking on the eraser end of a pencil as his own gaze shifted back and forth between his loading charts and his laptop. As the coyote – shepherd hybrid watched him, the loadmaster's attention shifted up from his work and their eyes locked.

It is what it is,” Slam said quietly.

Joe Latrans smiled a bit ruefully. “What else could I expect? I'll bet Matt fudged the numbers on these manifests just enough to make it look like a milk run.”

Slam shook his head slowly. “This ain't no milk run, boss. Our fuel will be limited, and we'll be within a foot of the aft CG limit.”

Any aircraft, no matter how large or small, has a center of gravity, a balance point. About this point there is an envelope, a fore-to-aft range that the balance point can move through, past which the aircraft rapidly becomes impossible to control and hence will not fly. This balance point moves fore or aft as the aircraft is loaded with passengers, crew, cargo, and fuel. Slam's comment was telling Joe that The Bitch would be quite tail-heavy on liftoff, and that because of the cargo they hauled and their rate of fuel burn and how that fuel burn would further affect their center of gravity, their range would be limited. Slam was painting his pilots into a corner before they even approached their mount.

You'll need to be making transfers between the wing tanks, you won't be able to carry anything in the fuselage tanks.”

A chill of anticipation ran up Joe's spine and into his shoulders. “And because of the weight, nothing in the pylon tanks, right?”

Slam nodded. “Sorry Joe.”



“Got anything to add to our merry little morning?”

Lola pawed a thumb drive and flipped it across the table at Slam, who caught it deftly while arching eyebrow. “Our flight plan, including the nav setups. The latest weather briefing is on that, as well as our network source for real time data once airborne.” The fox-coyote hybrid winked briefly at the loadmaster with her left eye, beyond her skipper's view.

Slam shook his head slightly with a fixed, non-committal expression on his muzzle. “I'll upload this as soon as we start preflight.”

Joe picked up the styrofoam cup in front of him and polished off his third cup of coffee. It was almost 0500. “Well gang,” he said cheerfully, a grin splitting his muzzle, “what do you say we go and show 'em how it's done?”

The three furs gathered their paperwork and stuffed various flight cases with the mess, gathered up gear bags and the last coffee of the morning, and filed towards the door leading to the ramp. Joe led the way towards the ramp, head high, eyes alight, that grin still in place.


# # #


“Wow,” the voice rumbled in the cougar's ear. “Sounds like Rachel got the low down on Maria and her boyfriend.”

Janie Riggins snuggled back into the fresh sheets and stared at the ceiling of the guest bedroom in the Latrans home in Englewood, thinking about her husband far away in the mountains of Wyoming. “And still no one has heard from Joe,” she ventured.

“I heard from Angie this morning that they had a last-minute cargo dumped on them.” On the ramp at Jackson Hole Airport Tim Riggins looked at his watch. “They ought to be getting airborne any minute. Matt added the ramp mechanism for Numbers to their manifest coming east. They'll be really heavy to Dallas Fort Worth, it'll require a refueling stop in New Mexico. Then they head to Columbus to deliver the stuff for Matt and Jerry, then they're over to Oklahoma for a pickup, and finally into DC late tonight.”

“Oh my God,” Janie said quietly. “That's a long day.”

“Tell me about it. Matt was surprised that Joe accepted the mission without question or comment. He knows he's been pushing The Bitch and her crew pretty hard the past few days.”

Janie nodded. “What about you? What are you doing today?”

Timmy chuckled, the pleasant rumble warming his wife beneath her comforter. “That starlet apparently raised all kinds of fuss last night with the fur that hired us. I had a drink at Jedediah's with one of his security goons. Turns out...”

“Who's Jedediah?” Janie wanted to know.

“Jedediah's is the hotel here on the airport. They have a full restaurant and bar. It's where Sony is putting me up while they're in town.”


“Anyway, this security fur speaks excellent English. He wanted to know where I work out, what kind of program I was on, that kind of stuff. And then, while he drank his second beer, he told me about Miss Chiyoko and the fit she threw. Seems she wanted to see Yellowstone, and Mister Tanuki had other plans.” That same warm rumble came down the phone circuit to Janie's ear. “I gather some furniture got broken.”

“Oh my...” Janie grinned. “So when do you depart for Yellowstone?”

Again Tim Riggins chuckled quietly. “I'm ready to fly out to Cody as soon as they get here.” He was quiet for a moment. “How'd you know that's what we'd be doing?”

Janie giggled. “It's a girl thing.”


# # #


Lola Baker took a deep breath as she stared at the male next to her. He was still grinning, his gray eyes glittering. She could sense the presence of the other male behind her as well, knew that while a bit more nervous than their skipper, Slam was also eager to get into the air. The deck beneath their booted feet trembled and rocked gently, the sensation almost overpowered by the high pitched, screaming roar that enveloped them. Ten thousand four hundred feet of runway three zero left stretched before them. Four Allison turbines at ninety five percent rated power howled, telling the world of their intent.

Icy one fifty, Gateway tower, cleared takeoff three zero left, wind from three two zero at seven.”

Joe Latrans appeared to have not heard the voice in his earphones. He was staring at the indicating instrumentation, the “steam gages” next to the central multi-function display in their instrument panel. The MFD also displayed parameters for the four howling turbo-prop engines. He carefully studied the torque numbers for all four engines.


Looking up to the coyote – fox hybrid, the aircraft commander slipped his Raybans down onto the bridge of his nose with a smile. “Lets roll,” he said quietly as his right paw advanced the throttles for full military power. His head turned to take in the view on the other side of the windscreen as the transport began to bellow it's way down the runway.

Call the numbers.”

She was sluggish, The Bitch was. Almost nineteen tons tied down in her belly certainly made a difference in her performance. Lola glanced for what seemed to be the hundredth time at the little card clipped to her yoke. It contained the airspeeds critical to takeoff, climb, and cruise.

Five thousand feet down the runway the airspeed indications crept to the first number.

Vee one,” Lola said clearly, telling Joe that they were now committed to takeoff, there wasn't enough runway left to safely abort.

Twenty five hundred feet later Joe muttered “Well?”

Lola stared at their airspeed. Ten knots to go to rotation speed. “Standby...”

Joe watched the end of the runway as it sped towards them. Almost two miles long, this runway was suddenly looking very small and short. “Lola...”

Her calculations, taking into account their weight, center of gravity, the air temperature, the calculated density altitude, the runway surface, length, and slope, had yielded a takeoff run of eight thousand seven hundred feet. Now passing nine thousand feet Lola's eyes began to grow in apprehension as she stared at the airspeed indications. “Stand by...”

The center stripe was a blur. The buildings on the other side of the fence at the end of the runway were looming larger and larger by the moment. The Bitch wallowed and shivered, wishing for freedom, and Joe Latrans licked his lips as the C-130 thundered like a locomotive towards the end of the runway, towards the fence and buildings that would spell her death and destruction.


Lola took a slow breath, staring at the needles, willing them to advance their last fraction of an arc. “Rotate!”

At 0532 Mountain Standard Time, with fully eight hundred feet of usable runway left, the aging C-130E that was the hopes of Intermountain Charter screamed into the sky above Mesa, Arizona, trailing a single veil of oily gray exhaust from her right wing.

Gear up,” Joe said casually, flashing a thumbs up to his second in command.

Coming in,” Lola replied, reaching for the gear selector.

We did it,” Slam said quietly on the intercom.

The commander nodded, his grin fading slightly. “We did.”

Icy one fifty, contact Phoenix Departure Control on one two four point nine passing through two thousand. Have a good morning.”

Lola placed a thumb to her control yolk and keyed her push-to-talk switch there. “One two four point nine for Icy one fifty passing through two thousand. Good morning.”


# # #


And as The B Team staggered its way into the already warm air above the awakening city of Phoenix, so was Cessna two zero eight Fox Delta climbing away from Centennial in Colorado with a very happy skunk at the controls. And way up north Tim Riggins was spinning up the port side turbine of the western team's King Air B-200 while his passengers settled in for the quick trip over the mountains to Cody. As fate would have it, clear skies arched over all of them.

And in Los Angeles, as yet another shiny new 777 slid down the long arrival towards LAX, a tired looking Great Dane scratched his head as he held a pawset to his ear. His expression radiated displeasure. It was still dark outside, but if he didn't clean up this business soon he'd be greeting the new day in yesterday's suit.

You're certain of this?”

Oh yeah, he was terrified. I couldn't bribe him back there with a ten pound bag of cocaine. He kept repeating The bitch is alive and well over and over, and refused any inducement whatsoever. God knows I tried...”

What about the father?”

What about him? He doesn't care one way or the other. No leverage there.”

Harrison Clement the Third sighed. “What's the deal?”

The usual for surveillance. Two fifty.”

It'll be in your account by nightfall.”

Thanks. Let me know...”

Harrison broke the connection and immediately re-dialed his phone. He heard ringing in his pawset. Presently a sleepy voice asked “Hello?”

Eric, how are you?”

Er... good morning, Mister Clement. What may I do for you?”

Mister Hardy tells me that you were unable to locate any records of significance about the subject of my inquiry.”

In his apartment in Kent Village Eric Sweeney rolled away from his deeply sleeping girlfriend and swung his feet to the floor next to his bed.

That's right, sir. Other than some very basic references to some contract work he did for the federal government, there is nothing.”

No Air Force?”

No sir.”

Nothing like the CIA or anything like that?”


I find that hard to believe, Eric.”

The vole took a deep breath. “I'm sorry sir, but there's not much I can tell you, unless you just want me to give you lies for cash.”

What were the basic references?”

He did some contract work for the US Forest Service.”

The lawyer barked in humorless laughter. “He was a ranger? I'll bet that's on the level.”

No, he flew fire bombers for a few weeks. Only worked one actual fire, most of the time he was just ferrying aircraft for a contractor to the USFS.”

The lawyer could no longer contain his irritation. “That's hardly worth the money you're being paid, Eric.”

The vole surprised himself almost as much as the lawyer with his response. “I don't give a damn whether you think it's worth the money I haven't seen yet or not, Mister Clement. That's the way it is, take it or leave it. I don't give a shit if you pay me or not.”

The line went dead in Harrison's ear. He slowly replaced the pawset on the phone base. It rang before he could return his paw to his desktop.

He glanced at the caller ID and recognized the number belonging to Maria Latrans.

The Hell with that,” the lawyer muttered. Instead of answering the phone he opened a bottom desk drawer and removed a bottle of scotch.



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