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 image below is copyright © Danny Fritsche 2007, and is of a 1947 Luscombe 8F, N1185B. See his stuff at

The B Team is copyright © The Silver Coyote
2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009

15 March 2009



The wind whistled off the plains to the northeast, through the grasses and brush of the high plateau of eastern New Mexico and across the Rio Hondo, up into the canyons of the eastern slopes of the Sacramento Mountains. The sky overhead was cluttered with scattered cumulonimbus, the air unstable on the back side of the front that had passed through the day before. It hadn't been cold enough for snow, but it had been close. Far to the northeast, up in the upper Midwest and the Ohio River valley, it was snowing even now. But here, when the sun shone on a fur's back, it was almost comfortably warm.

Alert brown eyes watched as the tiny form passed abeam the numbers, heading south. Any moment now...


The sputtering buzz of the Luscombe's engine suddenly cut out, and after a moment the small tail-dragger dipped its port wing aggressively towards the runway. Highly polished aluminum skin with a painted blue stripe down each side of the fuselage glistened and sparkled in the morning sun, the small high-wing aircraft stood out in the sky like a neon sign on a stormy afternoon. As the little craft banked sharply towards the airport the wings seemed to glow in the sunlight between the clouds racing by overhead.

A “swoosh” announced a particularly strong gust blowing across the tall prairie grass the feline reclined in, ruffling his fur and whiskers as he lay in the tall grass, staring through his sunglasses up into the sky. He was dressed for cool weather, and his paws were thrust in his jacket pockets.

The small voice beside him grew impatient. “Dad?!”

Yes son?”

The smaller male, close by in the tall grass to his right, paused as they watched the Luscombe 8F, now descending steeply on a short base leg, drift quietly, almost silently across their field of view, descending towards the plains. Like his father, the smaller fur was clad in a jacket and jeans. This smaller fur was sitting up, however, looking at the older one earnestly.

Why are clouds white?”

The young striped tabby, a newly licensed private pilot, thought briefly about water vapor and sunlight, about air molecules and refraction and the composition of the sun. His ground school instruction in weather analysis came to him. He pondered the physics of global weather systems, of heat and wind and moisture. He considered the low pressure system that was even now racing east across the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, and struggled ever so briefly to form a technically correct answer for the seven year old next to him. Visions of isobar charts and satellite images passed briefly before his mind's eye, until the Luscombe banked erratically into its final approach.

The crosswind was strong. While the little plane was tracking straight on for the end of the runway, it appeared to be flying sideways, the nose of the aircraft pointing noticeably to the right of its course. It's wings rocked and the fuselage pitched in the gusty wind coming almost straight down the main runway at Roswell.

The father gave up. How do you explain meteorology to a seven year old?

Because they're clean...” the older tabby answered absently. “They are one of God's purest creations, kept clean because they never touch the ground...” the father's voice trailed off as the Luscombe, tacking a good ten degrees to starboard, floated overhead, dead centered on and tracking the extended centerline of the runway the pilot was about to land on.

Or us,” he finished, head turning to follow the Luscombe's descent.

They both heard a small chirp announcing the touchdown of the shiny tail-dragger they could no longer see for the tall grasses blocking their view. The wind sighed gently through the flora around them as they both stared up into the sky, each of them watching the clouds race by above.

What about the dark ones?” the younger tabby asked innocently.


# # #


Intermountain one five zero,” a slightly accented male voice growled, “current Roswell wind from zero one five at ten gusting fifteen knots, contact Roswell tower one eighteen point five or two three three point seven, good day.” The owner of the voice, a paunchy middle-aged hyena with thinning gray hair, reached for a cup of coffee at the top of his console.

There were five furs on duty at Roswell tower that morning. A supervisor, a tower controller, a ground / clearance delivery controller, the hyena that was the morning's approach / departure controller, and an aging dingo who was the meteorologist made up the morning shift at Roswell International Air Center. A male voice floated to their ears from the overhead speakers in the cab, ears which flicked as the tired voice filled their world, the owners taking note of the tone and speech patterns.

Crosswind from the port side at ten,” the voice said, “one eighteen point five for the tower, Icy one fifty. Catch you later.”

Eight Five Bravo, taxi back runway three five or monitor ground point niner,” a female cougar said brightly as she gazed below them, towards the southwest.

We'll come back for another one,” a different, younger voice said from the speakers. “Beautiful morning...”

The cougar picked up a pair of binoculars and trained them into the distance to the southwest. She found what she was looking for, a faint dark speck floating beneath the clouds about eight miles distant.

As she was registering the dark mass approaching them the tired voice again echoed in the cab, “Roswell tower, Icy one fifty is at Donley inbound, squawking VFR, field in sight, we'll take the visual.”

Eight Five Bravo,” the cougar said into her boom mic, “when you get there, hold short of taxiway Bravo, heavy traffic on final for runway three. Icy one five zero, Roswell tower, cleared to land runway three, wind from zero one five at twelve.”

Eight Five Bravo will hold short of Bravo,” the pilot of the taxiing Luscombe replied. There was a pause of a few seconds before the other voice replied, during which the faint spec in the distance to the southwest bloomed in white light. The approaching transport, now clearly below the bottom of the cloud deck, had turned on it's approach and landing lights.

Cleared to land runway three, wind from the port side at twelve, Icy one fifty,” the voice repeated. “It is a beautiful morning...” he added as an afterthought.


# # #


Look at the lights, dad!” the young tabby exclaimed excitedly.

The father studied the approaching twinkle in the bright morning sun. His ears canted towards the image he saw, and his acute aural senses detected a high-pitched whine. A smile came slowly to his muzzle as the shape grew in size and definition. No air carrier this, no shiny iron with paying customers in the back. The shape continued to grow larger as it approached, yet it maintained its dark gray coloring around the bright lights. As the noise increased from a murmur to something clearly discernible, and as the wingspan grew in their field of view, the smile on the senior tabby's muzzle grew into a grin. Here were furs doing the job he lusted after: Flying The Line.

The small voice was still excited, but now edged with uncertainty. “What is that, dad?”

The whine was growing ever louder. He could see the windshields in the nose now, see the sunlight reflecting off the propeller discs, see the flashing red strobe high on the vertical fin.

It's a transport, son. Kind of like a semi truck in the sky.”

A truck?”

It's like a truck. It carries stuff between cities like a truck, just faster. Much faster.”

What kind of stuff?”

Cargo. Freight. Things, not furs. Whatever they can stuff into it that somefur will pay them to move quickly from one place to another. They fly for days at a time, never seeing the same horizon twice.” The tabby sighed. “They're gypsies. The sky is their home.”

Coool ...”

They saw the landing gear come out, and as the elder tabby squinted his eyes in concentration he saw additional flaps deploy. Like a sled on greased rails the transport bore down out of the sky, directly towards them. Or so it seemed. The young pilot knew that the approach end of runway three was more than a hundred yards northeast of where he and his son lay in the tall grass, yet from this perspective it looked as if the transport would land on them.

As he thought this his son jumped up excitedly, dancing in the grass.

The noise!”

The father had to raise his voice above the sound of the approaching turbo-prop engines. “What?”

His son turned to him with an odd expression on his face and shouted “The noise!” As the tabby watched his son dance he recognized what he saw in his son's eyes, recognized the emotion that made him bounce around so. That feral gleam, the pent up energy, the barely concealed excitement. He had seen it in the eyes and on the faces of other young pilots at the Great Southwest flight school. Those guys hadn't bounced around like his seven year old was now bouncing, but the same level of excited, nervous, joyous energy was in their souls and eyes. His son, he suddenly realized, would also be a pilot one day.

The ground began to vibrate gently beneath his back, and he sat up to look more closely at his son. In his peripheral vision he saw the approaching transport, recognized it as a C-130 of some type, but could not tear his eyes off his son to watch it fly over. The young cub was positively dancing in the grass, paws held high above his head, a wide grin splitting his muzzle as he shouted incoherently at the top of his voice, his exclamations drowned out by the whining roar of the approaching transport. And in those few moments before the big iron thundered overhead and the hot, acrid exhaust washed down over them the father's heart almost burst with pride as his son danced and waved and shouted his joy to the crew of the transport, their two hearts as light and happy as the shining clouds above them, dancing in the sky.


# # #


Nice job, Joe,” a voice said behind him.

Sweet,” the coyote-fox to his right agreed.

Eight Five Bravo, cross taxiway Bravo, cleared for takeoff runway three five. Intermountain one five zero, roll out to the end of runway three and exit to the right at the old hot ramp, contact ground one two one point niner off the active.

Joe Latrans thumbed the transmit button on his control yolk. “Icy one fifty, rolling to the hot ramp, ground one two one point niner off the active.”

Lola Baker un-latched her harness and turned to face the coyote-mountain lion hybrid behind her at the navigator / flight engineer console. The young female smiled sweetly. “Kinda makes you wonder why we're here, doesn't it?” she drawled with that mild southern accent.

Slam Whiteline smiled in return. “Sorta.”

Joe grinned tiredly. “Whaddya mean, why are you here? Call the after-landing checklist.” He winked at his copilot.

Yes sir!” Lola said smartly, turning to face forward as she sought a checklist card from a pocket of her flightsuit. Withdrawing the list, she got immediately to business.

Flaps up.”

Joe sought the proper lever in the center panel between them. “Coming up.”

Transponder to standby,” Lola intoned as she made the proper keystrokes to their center instrument panel. “ATM and generator on.”

Slam climbed out of his seat and crouched behind and between the two pilots seats. “On,” he replied, touching switches in the overhead panel.

Bus tie switch?”

Tied,” Slam replied.

Radar and radome de-ice?”

Off and off,” Slam replied again, glancing back to his navigator / flight engineer panel.

Prop anti-ice?”


Wing and empennage anti-ice?”


Fuel panel?”


Crossfeed valves?”

Number two open, others closed,” Slam replied, moving aft to take his seat again. Manipulating switches at his own station he continued un-challenged. “GTC on, door switch open, control switch to start, run.”

Bleed air valve switch open,” Lola finished. “After landing checklists complete, skipper.” She glanced at Joe out of the corner of her eye, a tiny smile on her lips.

Joe nodded, his eyes squinting slightly behind his Raybans as a paw manipulated the tiller. “Copy after landing checklist complete.” He chuckled, the sound barely discernible on the intercom. “Now you know why you're here.”

Lola drew a sharp breath and made to strike her commanding officer on the arm with her left paw. The blow was more of a caress, however, her paw lingering near the base of his neck at his right shoulder. The action, and its meaning, was not lost on the fur behind them.

Get me ground control,” Joe said a bit gruffly.

Right away, sir,” the coyote-fox replied as her paw left his shoulder and again sought controls in the center panel.


# # #



Molly, it's Melanie. How are you this morning?”

Mel!” the skunk exclaimed happily. “How are you? How's Randy?”

The tabby grinned into her telephone pawset. “He's OK. He's flying daily in Colorado. He's happy.”

Molly Lomax thought about that for a moment. “What about you, Mel?”

The feline giggled happily. “We're gonna get a place in Colorado, Molly. I'm moving out there to be with him.”


In her apartment in Ohio Melanie nodded. “We made plans the day before yesterday.” She paused to inhale slowly, savoring the memory. “It was kinda my idea.”

Your idea?”

Yeah. I was kinda getting after him about being so far away, and it suddenly came to me. I told him to get his tail out on his first day off and find us a place to live. He's going to start this Saturday, and I'm going to fly out and meet him.”

The skunk smiled slowly as she applied a bit of eyeliner with her free paw. “So. Any other plans?”

The tone of the tabby's voice changed a bit. “Molly, I'm not trying to beat you and Steve to the altar. Your wedding is still first on the agenda, trust me.”

Mel, we can do a double ceremony if you want,” Molly said. “It's not a race.”

The feline laughed gently. “If it was I'd still be in the starting blocks. Randy and I still have a lot of things to put together before we take that step. No, I was thinking about...” Her laughter faded. “How well do you know Annie Latrans?”

The skunk put down her eyeliner pencil. “I'd met her a couple of times before our party the other night. Why?”

Do you think she was serious about us getting together? I mean, was she just saying that to be nice?”

Now it was the skunk's turn to smile as she nodded to her pawset. “Absolutely, honey. Annie wouldn't have made the invitation if she didn't want to get together.” She sought a can of Diet Pepsi on her vanity and took a quick sip. “Let me explain something to you, Mel. You're part of the crew now. You and Randy will be included in every gathering of the clan like we had here. You don't have much of a choice.”

That's a lot of driving for a social occasion...” Melanie said uncertainly.

Who said anything about driving?”

We can't afford to fly,” the feline retorted. “Not with me looking for work and him just starting out, still earning ratings and taking lessons.”

Molly Lomax giggled again. “You're not getting the message, Mel. You're part of a flying fraternity now. Think about it. Steve owns a little airplane he uses to fly to work and back in. Annie and Joe, they own a pretty good sized twin, they take their pups on vacations with it. Matt, any time he and Angie need to go somewhere they take one of the company jets. It's what we do.”

Melanie choked. “We can't afford an airplane, Molly!”

You don't need to, dear. If you and Randy are out in Colorado you'll easily be able to hitch a ride with Annie and Joe. Heck, Matt usually offers up an excuse for his guys to use company aircraft. You know, he'll tell Rick Carter to fly down to Fort Lauderdale for some silly thing or other, pretending he doesn't remember that his mom lives down there. It's how Matt does things.”



So when Annie invited us to go shopping with her for dresses and party ideas she was on the level?”

Absolutely. She knows that Steve and I can be in Colorado in two or three hours, and once she finds out that you'll be living practically next door, I think you'll find that you and Annie and Janie Riggins start doing a lot of stuff together.”

A warm feeling infused the tabby, like she had suddenly found family she had always heard rumors about but never actually met. At Steve and Molly's party that had turned into an engagement announcement she and “the girls”, Molly, Annie, Janie, Dakota, and Angie, had spent quite a bit of time talking about various things, and one of those things had been Annie Latrans' invitation to them to come out to Colorado for a 'girls weekend' of shopping, sightseeing, and partying. Melanie had been convinced that the fox had extended the invitation to be polite, had not really expected any of them to take her up on it. Apparently that was an incorrect assumption.

So we're going to look for dresses for us?”

Amongst other things, uh-huh.”

In Denver?”

Yes dear. And if what I hear about Annie is true, we'll be shopping 'til we drop, and then fortify ourselves and shop some more.”

Melanie had no sisters, and had never had a friend that would make any kind of a fuss over her like that. She giggled in uncertain anticipation. “That's... awesome.”

Molly sipped her soda again. “Nope, that's Intermountain. Angie told me that's why our males fly for Matt. It's not the airplanes, it's not the money, it's the family.”

So when are we going to meet Annie?”

Molly reached for her purse on the floor in front of the vanity she sat at. Without looking she scrabbled in it briefly and came up with her PDA. Turning it on, she said, “Well, what do you say we pick a couple of dates and then call Annie?”


# # #


What'll this thing lift, anyway?”

The skunk smiled beneath his mirrored sunglasses, casually resting his right paw on an empty beer keg that sat on a couple of pallets in the dust near his aircraft. “Pretty much whatever you can fit through the door, there,” he said easily, nodding to the Caravan's open cargo hatch.

The grizzled old chow in front of him wore overalls over a heavy flannel shirt, high boots, and a hard hat. In his scarred and partially furless left paw he held a covered coffee mug, steam rising slowly from the small opening to catch the bright sunlight that fell between the puffy cumulus clouds that floated above Belakai Mesa and overhead. His name was “Jack Lonnigan” according to the manifests that Randy handed to the crew that met him upon arrival, but everyone knew the foreman as “Driller.” He and a slovenly black rabbit that everyone called “Sludge” were the crew bosses on this drilling operation way out here in the middle of nowhere, high in the desert of northeast Arizona at the foot of Belakai Mesa.

This reverse circulation drilling is killing us now that we're in bedrock,” Driller grumbled as he removed the lid from his coffee cup. “Lost two more bits yesterday, and a mud pump this morning.” The old canine sipped from his coffee cup, a brief cloud of steam forming around the end of his nose as he exhaled into the cup. “I called the lead back in Kansas City, and he tells me he can have a pump and some bits at your hangar in thirty-six hours, but that he knows a guy up in Salt Lake that has 'em right now.” The chow stared at his reflection in Randy's sunglasses expectantly. “D'ya think you could fetch 'em from Salt Lake for us? We're suckin' sand here without that mud pump.”

Randy nodded cautiously. “We can sure try. You got information on how big these things are, and what they weigh?”

We c'n find out,” Driller replied. “Third damn borehole on this parcel, and it's already cost us more'n the other two put together,” he added for effect.

Randy nodded again. “That sucks.”

The chow eyed him carefully over the brim of his cup as he took another gulp of the hot brew. “Ay, that it does,” he finally replied.

Get me some numbers on physical size and weight, and while you're doing that I'll call my boss and get clearance to fly up to Salt Lake and get it for you. Fair enough?”

The gray muzzle flickered in a brief grin. “Ay,” Driller replied again. “That'll do.”


# # #


Tim Riggins had borrowed a floor vacuum from the pretty young squirrel that was behind the counter at Choice Aviation, the new FBO on Cody's “Yellowstone Regional Airport.” Pretty quick after his charges had left in their rental SUV he had started cleaning the cabin of the King Air, starting with a good dusting and window cleaning, a check of the stocks in the refreshment and entertainment centers, and then moving into a good vacuuming with the borrowed equipment and the extension cord he found with the APU that was keeping the systems on board his aircraft powered up. He hadn't particularly noticed the sky slowly darkening outside as he worked, but after a couple of hours steady work was not surprised to hear the patter of light rain on the aluminum skin of his mount.

Thinking about the weather turning on him, the huge marmot coiled up the power cord on his borrowed appliance and set the vacuum on the seat closest to the cabin door. Returning to the flight deck, the marmot seated himself in the starboard seat and flipped on the avionics master switch. He waited patiently as the three multi-function displays in the King Air's panel powered up. Once they had illuminated and finished their power-on self test, Tim leaned forward and began pressing buttons and entering data. In short order he had a satellite image of the current weather situation for the northwestern United States on the display in the middle of the panel.

Ice,” he muttered to no one in particular.


# # #


The weasel was slight, thin and not terribly tall. Matt figured a decent sneeze would have blown him through the doorway of his office were it not for the heavy caliber pistol the fur pretended to conceal beneath his suit jacket. The fur wore a black suit with a light blue shirt, a black tie, and black wing tip shoes. He had displayed no identification, but the Labrador knew who he worked for. You could almost smell “gubmint” on him.

There was a number ten envelope on the desk practically under Matt's nose. He could smell the contents of that as well, it contained money. Cash. And lots of it.

That's a retainer,” the weasel said, smiling as he nodded towards the envelope. “It's to get your attention. We will contact you with details of when and where our first shipment is to be picked up, and where it needs to go. Those forms we sent your secretary are a cover, understand? An audit trail for those who need such things.” The smile faded. “Once you pick up that envelope, you're flying for Air America. There's no backing out. Copy?”

The canine badly wanted this deal, yet he was determined to protect his assets. “But they're my aircraft and my crews, right? You specify cargoes and destinations, but I specify aircraft and crews. If I don't like a particular operation I am free to decline. You don't run my operation, you copy?”

The weasel smiled again. “Of course. We're not in the air freight business, Mister Barstock. That's your job. Make sure your crews don't ask questions, make sure they can fly when we need them to fly, and we'll all get along like one big happy family. We're all on the same team, right?”

Matt Barstock snorted derisively, staring down the weasel. “I got family, thanks,” he growled. “We'll fly your shit, as long as it doesn't endanger my crews or aircraft. You play it straight with us about the cargoes, and we'll fly 'em wherever you ask us to. You try and fuck with us and you'll be carrying that shit across the border on your back.”

Now now,” the weasel said smoothly. “No need to be defensive, Mister Barstock. You've worked for us before. We know who we're dealing with.”

That's why I'm clarifying these things now,” Matt said sharply. “And because I have worked with you guys before, you can bet I'll be prepared to take whatever measures are necessary to protect myself, my business, and my crews. I know any paperwork between us isn't worth the ink it's signed with, and you know that I'll go the distance to protect what's mine.” The Labrador sat back in his chair slightly, glaring at the fur standing on the opposite side of his desk. “As long as we understand each other, then it's a deal.”

Done,” the weasel agreed.

Get out of my office then,” Matt growled. “Have your flunky call me when you're ready.”

Certainly. Good day, Mister Barstock.”

Beat it.”

Matt stared at the envelope for a good five minutes after the weasel left. Flying for the CIA was never easy, rarely fun, and always lucrative. If his crewfurs found out what they'd be transporting across international boundaries in the middle of the night without benefit of the proper clearances and manifests they might very well refuse to have anything to do with it. And he wouldn't blame them. Most of them were ethical furs of conviction.

But they could make a years pay in a few weeks. And what fur didn't have pups to put through school, or a girlfriend or two to keep happy, or gambling debts to pay off? Hell, we all can use the cash, he thought. Twenty five grand a hop could buy a lot of forgiveness and forgetfulness on a three or four fur crew, and the dough he and Angie could rake in would cover any airframe maintenance he might have for the duration of the contract, all corporate expenses, and leave them enough left over to take that two-week cruise she was always going on about.

But would they fly? Could he scrape enough crewfurs together to get two C-130s airborne on regular schedules? Would they agree to it, once they knew who the customer was? He wouldn't lie to them about it, so they'd be making that decision right up front.

Rick would pass, he was sure. And so would AJ. Randy and Slam would probably sign up, being the young studs they were. He wasn't sure about Tim Riggins, and was clueless about Lola Baker. The only guys he was absolutely sure about were Jerry and Joe. They would go. It would be familiar territory for Joe, and Jerry was no stranger to covert operations either ...

Matt picked up the envelope and turned it over in his paws. It was not sealed, and he opened it just enough to confirm that it was jammed full of thousand dollar bills before tossing it back to the desktop before him.

Once you're in, there's no getting out. He grinned humorlessly. It was the backside to their cherished first in, last out motto.


# # #


The sound of the engines was still in his ears, it always took a couple of hours for them to recover from the din.

The engines on their Conquest were still cooling out there on the ramp. The flight from Jackson Hole had been difficult with the weather enroute, but the approach to Jeffco had been routine. This one had been cargo, no passengers. “Pax,” Jake called them.

Joe liked cargo. Always had. No complaints about bad landings or rough weather. No cabin crew whining about schedules. Just firewall the throttles and make some money, that was the name of the game. And that was what Jake asked of him.

Jake Meyers ran a little charter outfit out of Jeffco, and had hired Joe to fly with him. Jake was getting on for a cargo hauler, pushing sixty. The vole had plenty of gray around his muzzle and more logbooks than a fur could count. He admitted to not having any idea how many hours he had. “Stopped counting after thirty thousand,” he'd say. The Cessna Conquest, an old Piper Navajo, and a non-airworthy Douglas C-47 made up Jake's fleet. Not an impressive roster, but Joe didn't care. He flew quietly under the radar. That was enough.

So they'd been sitting in this little nondescript joint on the airport. It was a great place to get a beer and a burger after a flight, to hang out with your flying buddies while unwinding from the day's activities. And that was exactly what he and Jake had been doing, he working on a Budweiser and a cheeseburger while Jake nursed a Coors and some hot wings. They talked about flying, of course, about routes and aircraft and who the worst controllers were and where fuel was the cheapest. And because they were both single they occasionally discussed the various females they encountered on the job.

Jake was particularly enamored of a little gray squirrel that worked the counter at Flo's, the eatery on Jeffco that catered mostly to aircrew and the furs who worked for the local industries in Broomfield, so femmes were often a topic of conversation between the vole and his young coyote copilot. Jake had been married and divorced twice. “Females ...” he'd say. “Can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em.”

At the age of twenty six Joe had seen his share of femmes and female companionship. Most of his relationships had been short term and he had no current interests. Since high school there hadn't been much commitment in his life to anything but flying. The only constants in his life had been having a pawful of throttles and an uncanny ability to extricate himself from unpleasant, unlucky, or untenable situations. It was this ability to land on his feet, as it were, that had brought him to Colorado.

Joe's life in California had come to an end. There was nothing back there for him except a lot of pain and memories, most of them bad, some of them recent. Joe's last official act in California had been the purchase of a Beechcraft B60 Duke, one of the last ever built, and he had flown it that day to Jeffco with a duffel bag full of all his earthly possessions, looking for a new beginning west of Denver on the front range.

He still didn't know why he had chosen this place to put down. Once east of Las Vegas he didn't even have a flight plan, he'd just cruised up past Monument Valley and kept going towards, and then past, those mountains. Call it providence. Two days after his arrival he had signed a lease with the county for a reasonably large hangar for the Duke, out on the east end of the airport, and had been pushing his shiny airframe into it when this older vole had approached. Jake had recognized him for a pilot with experience based on the aircraft he flew, and within minutes of striking up a conversation with the coyote had offered him a job working for his charter outfit.

And Joe had accepted without knowing what he'd be flying, or what would be in it, or where he would be going. It didn't matter. He'd be flying, putting some distance between him and the pain he left behind, staying out of the limelight he avoided like the plague.

They were dressed almost exactly alike, the old vole and his young canid counterpart. Each wore boots and denim jeans, and the de rigueur A2 leather jacket. Joe wore a bright red western cut shirt beneath his jacket, while Jake preferred a brown pullover with horizontal stripes. While Joe's head was uncovered, Jake wore an old ball cap, crushed from years of headphones resting upon its crown. Joe had never seen him without that cap, and suspected it hid the fact that Jake's fur was thinning badly on top. Jake was thin to the point of looking malnourished, while Joe looked like he could stand to pass on a burger or two. Jake stood five foot nine, and Joe outweighed him by at least seventy five pounds standing six foot one.

Jake had been in full discourse as Joe looked out the window at the mountains of the front range, the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. The coyote loved mountains. About the only thing he missed from his life in southern California was the mountains that he had played in and above there. But he wasn't doing without. The Rockies were majestic, it was true, but west and southwest of where he sat were the truly awesome peaks of the Collegiate Range and the San Juans, begging exploration from above and on the surface. Joe would have to buy himself a Jeep someday.

“I wuz down t' A-B-Q t'other day at Kirtland,” Jake said around a mouthful of hot wings. “Had me a meal at dis place jus' off base ...” The old pilot took a long pull from his beer. “There's a honey workin' there you might take a fancy to, if yuh like felines. Cain't be more'n twenny or so,” he continued, putting his beer down and holding his paws up in front of his chest, “an' out t' here. A fur could get a good night's sleep there ...”

Joe wasn't listening. It wasn't that he had a problem with felines, far from it. But he was more captivated by the mountains outside, by the late afternoon sun that shone down between the clouds that hovered above the peaks of the front range. It was a beautiful end to an early spring day, cool and crisp, with a fresh dusting of snow on the crests above.

His lifestyle had precluded anything that looked like a long term relationship with anyone. Since he'd been old enough to fly he had been running away, trying to escape first the pain of family, then the pursuit of authority, and finally the shame of what he had done in those dark skies above Central and South America. He'd lost track of the number of females he'd bedded along the way, but had never once ever felt like he'd been in love with anything except the powerful engines that had propelled him across the globe, the massive wings that had supported his dreams.

But his dreams were nebulous. He knew they had something to do with being happy, and perhaps with sharing his life with someone special. But the first twenty-six years, while exciting and profitable and yes, fun, had been anything but happy.

The coyote with the dark muzzle pondered this as he stared at the mountains while his employer droned on happily. “Y'know, Carol's got a cousin thass not much older'n you. If y'like squirrels, o'course. I've met her a couple a times, she's ...”

The vole started suddenly and then reached into his pocket for a pager. Removing the offending device that was buzzing and vibrating noisily, he stopped his monologue to examine the display through squinted eyes. “Max,” he pronounced, referring to the mechanic that was trying to make the round engines on his C-47 live again. “I gotta find a phone.”

“Sure,” Joe said absently as his boss slid out of the booth across from him. The coyote watched the older fur shuffle across the restaurant towards the main entrance. He knew that there was a pay phone on the other side of that doorway, outside.

Pushing the remains of his burger towards the center of the table, Joe picked up his bottle and polished off his beer, and then motioned towards the squirrel behind the counter for another.

Halfway through that second beer his life changed forever. The most gorgeous red fox he had ever seen walked through the same door that old vole had exited through a few minutes before. She was a bit less than five and a half feet tall with shoulder length strawberry blond hair. She wore a royal blue blazer over a cream colored silk blouse and a matching royal blue skirt that was just long enough to be business-like, but certainly short enough to display some awesome legs. Three inch spike heels that exactly matched the charcoal fur of her lower legs rounded out the ensemble. She had a purse over a shoulder that matched her heels, and carried a black leather portfolio in one paw. With the other paw she removed her sunglasses to reveal the most aqua-blue eyes any fur had the right to possess.

Something thudded in the chest of Joe Latrans, and he realized it was his heart expressing itself. It wasn't lust. He knew what that felt like, but this feeling was totally foreign to him.

He tried not to openly stare at her as she spoke briefly to the waitress that approached her. The waitress gestured, and the fox then followed her a short distance to a small bar table near the window facing the runway. Seating herself at one of the two bar stools at this table, she again spoke quietly to the waitress, who after a few moments scurried off towards the bar. The fox proceeded to lay her portfolio on the table and open it, extracting some plans on eleven by seventeen inch sheets of vellum, a yellow legal pad, and a pen.

The coyote realized he was holding his breath and exhaled slowly. This female exuded class. It was obvious without being overpowering, subtly wrapped up with her appearance and demeanor. She was already deep into whatever work she had at paw, oblivious to the goings on in the restaurant. Not that the place was jammed with customers, it was in fact almost devoid of clientèle at the moment. But it wouldn't have mattered. The fox chewed lightly on the end of her pen as she contemplated whatever it was her paperwork told her, lost in concentration.

Joe shook his head sadly, and then stopped suddenly. Sadly? Why did he feel that emotion? He'd had enough of that already ...

He looked again at the fox, who was receiving a wine glass full of some golden-colored beverage from the waitress. As Joe watched her take a demure little sip he understood a couple of things. First, he was quite taken with this vision of angelic delight that confronted him. And second, he knew he was too much the devil's spawn to ever have a chance with her.

Wondering about his sanity as he finished his second beer, the coyote got up to go find his boss. He dropped a twenty on the table to cover the meals and drinks the two pilots had consumed, jammed the wallet into his back pocket, and began to head for the door.

Approaching her table he noticed some sheets of vellum slip unnoticed to the floor from her work. Before he could tell himself not to, he had altered course to pass just behind her and pick them up. Her scent was light and pleasant, mixed with a hint of some unidentifiable perfume, and her fluffy tail was amazing. It was mostly auburn, but dusted with charcoal along the top and tipped in the whitest of white fur, like snow. Straightening along side of her, he held the plans out towards her.

“I'm sorry to disturb you, but you dropped these on the floor.”

Those blue eyes looked into his own, and the world just stopped.

He saw just a hint of a smile play at the corners of her muzzle, and noticed for the first time how delicious her lips appeared.

Delicious? What the hell ... he thought. He was on virgin territory and knew it. His heart was feeling things he'd never felt as he stared into those eyes.

“Oh ... why, thank you. Thank you so much,” she said as a charcoal gray paw took the plans from his.

“My pleasure,” he replied, still losing himself in those eyes. He was holding his breath again.

After some unmeasurable time those wonderful eyes blinked, and their owner giggled. “My name is Annie,” she said in a soft voice that sounded melodic to him. “Annie Winning.” She tossed her plans to the tabletop and turned on her seat to face him, that charcoal paw extended.

“Joe,” the pilot gulped abruptly as he held his paw out and took hers in a gentle shake. “Joe Latrans.” Her fur felt like silk, her paw was warm, and she showed no resistance to nor reluctance about his pawshake.

“Joe,” she repeated slowly as Joe's head filled with a rushing sound. Her smile widened, exposing the tips of her fangs, and Joe Latrans suddenly knew he was in love.

“Joe,” she repeated again, the noise growing strident and raspy.

He nodded.

“Joe. You need to wake up.”

What? The noise had changed to a dull whining roar, and he must have misunderstood her.

“C'mon Joe ...”

The eyes of a much older Joe Latrans snapped open and locked onto those belonging to Lola Baker, whose nose was maybe three inches from his own. The other pilot smiled at him, enjoying the moment.

The dream and memories shattered in an instant, and the professional asserted itself. “Who the hell is flying the plane?” he demanded as he scrambled up from the deck he'd been sleeping on.

“Relax,” the coy-fox hybrid grinned. “We're on autopilot and Slam is minding the store.” She followed her aircraft commander as he almost vaulted towards the gangway that lead to the flight deck of the C-130, muttering as he went.

“We're about fifty miles out from DFW,” she called after him.

To Chapter Thirty:
Give Me Fuel, Give Me Fire, Give Me That Which I Desire

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