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

Storm Kings


The low pressure system that had swept across the Pacific Northwest and the Upper Midwest was now spinning it's way towards Lake Michigan from central Wisconsin. The associated cold front had strengthened as it rolled across the Upper Midwest, and the relatively mild cloud decks our furs had dealt with on their way west were now bona-fide storm cells in a line stretching from central Wisconsin through Illinois into Missouri and even far northern Arkansas. Icing conditions existed at the middle flight levels, and rain was falling in abundance across the front. It presented a nice wall for our boys and their not quite trusty steed to try and pick their way through.

The Bitch had climbed high initially, to catch what jet stream assistance she could across the Rocky Mountains. The boys had saved a little kerosene coming east, which would no doubt please Matt upon their return. They were empty, Matt had not been able to arrange any type of return load for them to help pay their way back. That was OK, they were still coming out of the trip with fat wallets courtesy the USDOE, even though they were light coming home to Ohio.

Steve was flying as pilot in command, Joe his second while Rick navigated. As there was no load Slam got a free ride with nothing to do. In typical USMC fashion he chose this excellent opportunity to catch up on his sleep. While each of his crewmates had been busy with phone calls to loved ones upon their arrival in Hanford, Slam had reviewed his social calendar and found it totally blank. Seizing the opportunity, he had gone out to explore the only towns of consequence in the vicinity, Richland and Pasco. He had returned to Matthias Field with just enough time to catch a shower before their departure time the next morning. He looked as if he'd been up all night, and grumbled about the proclivities of the locals. A particular tabby seemed to be occupying much of his attention as he vented.

"Stay away from those felines," Steve had commented as Slam finally hoisted himself up onto the flight deck. "Canids and felines…" Steve grinned and let the comment go unfinished as he flipped switches and set conditions for startup.

Hhmmph. Slam threw himself into the jump seat unceremoniously with a glance to each of his crewfurs. A yawn was all he offered in reply.

"Yeah," Rick piped up, grinning briefly at the large coyote that was their loadmaster before turning back to his work. "Keep it in the family like your pilot does." He was busily engaged in obtaining updated weather information with their MDT at the navigator's position.

Steve had glanced over his shoulder quickly and caught the quick grin Rick offered him as well. "OK, OK, I guess I deserved that." Steve's beautiful fiancé Molly was a member of genus mustelidae, a skunk. Grinning quickly at Rick, Steve had returned his attention to the pre-start checklist as he muttered "Still... felines?"

Slam had been asleep before they reached cruise altitude.

An unloaded Hercules can climb past 30,000 feet in the paws of a good pilot. Steve was an excellent pilot, but only took his crew to 27,000 to catch the east wind. The initial stages of the flight were in clear, smooth air. Those conditions persisted until they approached central Iowa. There ahead of them the trailing edge of the front towered above them, tops reaching up towards 40,000 feet. The weather radar showed no significant returns, however Steve elected to descend and pick their way around the cells others ahead of them had reported rather than fly near the anvils and cumulonimbus building in front of them.

The three of them had discussed the reported surface weather conditions and the pilot reports they were receiving via the MDT from the Fort Dodge Flight Service Station. The freezing level was high, around twenty thousand or so. PIREPs indicated fair passage in the mid teens, and they agreed upon a profile better suited to their aircraft and situation. Joe picked up his push to talk switch. "Minneapolis Center, Intermountain forty five requesting a descent."

Center sounded unhurried. In spite of being the middle of the day, traffic on the frequency was light. "Forty five, go ahead with your request."

"Minneapolis, Intermountain forty five would like to descend out of twenty seven thousand for fifteen thousand."

There was a pause as the center controller checked for conflicts before replying. When his voice finally sounded again in their headphones he sounded slightly bemused. "Forty Five, you guys are headed for Ohio?"

Joe and Steve glanced at each other. "Affirmative, Center, Intermountain forty five is bound for Port Columbus." The controller had to know this, they had filed their IFR flight plan that morning at Matthias before taking off, and so far had flown as filed.

There was a lengthy pause, and then "OK, Intermountain forty five come right to one three five degrees, descend and maintain one five thousand. I'm painting significant weather returns at your present twelve o'clock position, we're going to take you around 'em."

Now Joe and Steve exchanged glances again as Steve banked the Hercules to the right. Their on-board weather radar showed nothing ahead. "Stormscope?" Joe asked, referring to the instrument that detected and depicted lightning activity in the skies ahead.

"Widely scattered, mostly to the north," Steve responded, looking at a smaller instrument between the number one MFD and the radar display. He rolled out of the bank onto their new heading of 135 degrees and retarded the throttles, beginning a two thousand foot per minute descent. "Try targeting," he said, asking Joe to switch the radar from weather to targeting mode.

Joe flipped a couple of switches and adjusted range for suitable response. No returns were visible on the radar display. Joe adjusted azimuth, but it made no difference. He switched the radar back to weather mode. "Nothing," he muttered into his boom mic.

"Well, well, well," Steve said sarcastically. "Just the kind of equipment failure you want to have when you're about to bust through a cold front. Better advise Center."

Joe nodded. "Minneapolis Center, be advised Intermountain forty five is experiencing equipment malfunctions with our weather radar."

At his console the center controller, a jack rabbit in his early thirties, nodded as he reached for his coffee. "Thought so," he muttered before taking a sip. Keying his own microphone he replied "Intermountain forty five, center copies. We'll try and steer you clear of the worst of it. Maintain one three five until further notice, expect one one zero in five minutes." He had just steered them away from a significant cell in which an MD-80 had just reported mild to moderate turbulence at twenty five thousand.


And so it had started. They had come down to fifteen thousand and jinked around quite a bit over Illinois, at one point heading one ninety degrees to avoid a growing line of cells near Champaign. The heavy iron overhead fared no better, they could hear the commercials requesting diversions as high as thirty seven thousand for weather avoidance. At one point while they were near Indianapolis a 737 skipper had called Indianapolis Center requesting an "immediate release to a lower altitude" from his cruise at thirty three thousand. His voice was somewhat garbled in his initial transmissions, as though he were experiencing rapid changes of significant G load, yet he refused to term his conditions as anything more than "moderate." The intuitive center controller had cleared him unrestricted to twenty thousand, the 737 skipper reported in the clear moments later at twenty eight thousand and climbing back to his originally assigned flight level.

Steve shook his head on the darkened flight deck of The Bitch. Their weather radar screen was absolutely clear, he suspected it would be totally useless. As Steve discussed the futility of using their own weather radar with Joe, Rick remained busy at his position uploading the latest PIREPs from Terre Haute Flight Service Station and triple-checking his navigation equipment. The MFDs worked perfectly, displaying weather information uploaded from the FSS for his pilots. Unfortunately, there was a delay of approximately twenty five minutes between capture of the data on the surface and it's uplink time, which made it interesting but not very useful in a real time situation. The three of them were able to extrapolate a lot, projecting where cells might be based on where they had been. It kept all hands busy. Steve was flying, Rick sought and displayed weather information, and he and Joe did their own "forecasting" on the fly while Joe handled communications with Center.

Rain drummed against the skin of the Hercules and smeared across the windshields. Light turbulence buffeted them occasionally. The outside light intensity changed constantly as they flew into and out of cloud.

"Intermountain forty five, contact Indianapolis Center on one two zero point six five, good day."

Joe glanced at the number three MFD. They were being handed off to another area controller as they approached Muncie. "Intermountain forty five, going to Indianapolis Center on one two zero point six five, see ya later." He reached forward to the radio stack on the panel between he and Steve and rotated some knobs until 120.650 appeared in a display, then pressed a button to swap the frequency into the active state.

Steve was relaxed but attentive in the mildly rough air. The autopilot was doing a good job of maintaining heading and altitude, but he kept his vigilance, none the less.

Joe listened to chatter on the new frequency for over a minute before hearing a break and keying up. "Indianapolis Center, Intermountain forty five is with you on one two zero point six five."

The civet working the Muncie area control for Indianapolis Center was a busy young lady this afternoon. The initial front had just passed through Muncie and had been quite strong. One flight on approach had diverted, another had missed in very rough air and aborted to try again. Departures were seeking deviations practically from the moment they got gear up. She had opened a soda over an hour ago and had only had time for one quick sip. "Intermountain forty five, Indianapolis Center, come left to zero four five degrees for weather avoidance. Maintain one five thousand. Rockland one oh five, turn left come to two eight zero, climb and maintain six thousand. Expect higher in two minutes."

"Rockland one oh five," they heard the skipper of a regional flight call, "two eight zero and hold at six thousand." The skipper sounded unhappy.

The Hercules was banking left as Steve dialed up the heading bug on the autopilot to forty five degrees. The buffet of the light turbulence increased in frequency but not strength, feeling not unlike driving on a rough road. The radio chatter continued unabated.

Suddenly they broke out into clear air between pillars of cloud. The sky above was covered by a band of high thin cloud, the ground below was hidden by turgid, billowing cumulus. They were on a little, isolated island of clear sky surrounded by cloud and storm on all fronts. The intensity of the turbulence increased perceptibly.

"United two seventy, come right to one two zero, rejoin victor seventy six."

"United two seventy turning to one two zero, rejoin victor seventy six. It's been a good ride at flight level three five zero."

The civet smiled. Everybody was working together this afternoon, each pilot letting those in trail know of his status. The controllers in turn passed this information around to others coming into the area. So far there had been no major problems in spite of the string of cells marching across eastern Indiana. She reached for her warm soda as she called once again.

"Intermountain forty five, come right to zero nine zero, we're going to get you guys back toward Port Columbus."

On the flight deck of The Bitch Joe keyed his mic as Steve dialed in the new heading and the Hercules banked to the right. "Zero nine zero for Intermountain forty five." As he unkeyed they flew into a wall of cloud, and the flight deck went dark again.

It came without warning and felt like a bomb going off. There was a hefty kick in the backside for each of them as they sank into their seats, the airframe groaned, and in the time it took Steve and Joe to focus on the panel they had gained twenty five hundred feet. The Vertical Speed Indicator was pegged off scale. Before any of them could say a word the bottom fell out, and the Hercules went skidding sideways to the left towards the ground. Joe's eyes were torn from the altimeter as his body floated up against his harness, by the time he reacquired it in his vision they were down to thirteen thousand and descending quickly.

Almost simultaneously Rick said "Woah, baby!", Steve grunted an expletive, and Slam awoke with a shout of "What the Hell?" as his head hit the ceiling. Slam's loosely fit five point harness had allowed his body just enough vertical movement to hit the ceiling hard.

"Altitude!" Joe prompted, lunging for the yolk as Steve did likewise. "Get her up, we're descending!"

"I got it," Steve replied, gripping the yolk with his left paw while stabbing at at the autopilot disconnect button with his right. As he was doing this the next solid kick in the behind sent them skittering up almost five thousand feet. Steve grunted again as they sank into their seats. "Get Center," he growled. "Tell 'em we need out of this shit." As he spoke the left wing of the Hercules dipped, and suddenly they were shot down out of a cannon sideways. Joe felt the roll continue and looked across the panel again. The artificial horizon was showing a sixty degree left bank, Steve was applying hefty amounts of right aileron to no apparent avail. The altimeter unwound.

As Joe keyed his mic the control input suddenly took authority and just like that they were snap rolling to the right. The Allison turboprops screamed in protest as the altimeter unwound. Glancing to the airspeed indicator Joe's jaw froze before he could make his call. Four hundred knots!

Steve's left paw wrestled with the yolk, his right full of throttles pressing them toward the panel for all he was worth, all the while concentrating on his flight instruments. "Up, baby, c'mon..." he muttered. Straight and level was impossible at the moment, he was concentrating on maintaining control and conserving what altitude they had left to them. Steve grunted against the G forces as the Hercules felt like it was trying to move in three directions at once. "Joe!... Get us... a... heading... out of this!"


The civet stared at the arrow on her display representing Intermountain forty five. The Mode C readout of their altitude had deviated several thousand feet in the past twenty seconds. She was momentarily confused by this, the weather returns on her tube showed them to be in a light rain shower. As their altitude readout decremented rapidly from 10,000 she also saw a westbound target approaching Intermountain from the east and below. A metallic taste rose in her throat at the same time her computers began flashing a potential collision warning on her main screen.

"Rockland one oh five, make immediate right turn to three six zero, maintain six thousand. Expedite your turn and speed, please."

The Rockland skipper looked to his second in command with a "What now?" look in his eye as he banked sharply to the right and throttled up for high cruise. As their Beechcraft 1900 rolled wings level heading due north they flew into some moderate turbulence.


"Ten thousand!" Joe called. The Bitch was twenty degrees nose up, the Allisons roaring at full military power, and they were still descending at twenty five hundred feet per minute. They'd be a headline in less than four minutes.

Before Steve could testily reply "I know," there was a boom and they all sank deep in their seats. Joe and Steve stared incredulously at their flight instruments, Steve yanking the throttles back as the VSI pegged upscale again and the altimeter wound rapidly back towards, and then past, their original cruising altitude of fifteen thousand. Both Steve and Joe began to see tunnel vision, the first indication of the onset of GLOC, or G-force induced Loss Of Consciousness. Instinctively they both growled, tightening their abdominals to keep blood in their heads.

"Indianapolis, Intermountain forty..." Another pounding crash from above and the Hercules skidded down and away to the right like a free falling elevator. "... five, severe turbulence..." Another slug from the right, the wing coming up and over. "... request any heading..." Steve advancing the throttles again to maximum power as the yolk went far right and back into their guts. "... to clear air."

The civet couldn't believe her eyes. The Intermountain target had deviated almost ten thousand feet in less than a minute. What heading he was on was anybody's guess, at this point. She studied her weather returns for maybe two seconds and called out to them. "Intermountain forty five, clear skies to the northeast, turn zero four five if able. Negative traffic."

There was no reply.


It was a calm and sunny afternoon in Colorado. Annie and Janie were sitting on the edge of small park in the foothills west of Arvada, watching Annie's kids play on a nearby playground. Despite the sun it was cool, the front that had gone through yesterday had left plenty of cold, unstable air in it's wake. Annie and Janie both wore light jackets, the air temperature was just shy of sixty degrees.

Annie looked warmly at her friend. "Thanks for coming with me today, Jan."

Annie had needed to come to Arvada to walk through a house her company was bidding on and meet the owners. She had called Janie with the intention of making a day of it. They had rounded up the kids and taken Annie's STS to the house for Annie's meeting with her customers. Afterwards they had taken a lunch at Vinnie's on the west side, and had wound up here in the early afternoon.

The cougar that was Annie's best friend smiled and nodded. "I love watching your kids play." The little coyfoxes were chasing each other and a couple of feline playmates around in the playground as she spoke, laughing and giggling. Janie and Tim had no kits of their own, and it wasn't from lack of trying. Something about the marmot - cougar mix wasn't meshing. Twenty years of marriage and they were childless.

It had been a topic of many long, heart to heart conversations between the cougar and the red fox. While not pleased with her status as a would be mother, Janie had reconciled herself with what appeared to be her destiny, and doted on the Latrans pups by way of assuaging her motherhood instincts. While Annie had a sister of her own in Maryland, she felt closer to Janie than any other fur except Joe.

Annie nodded in turn, looking at her friend. Janie's husband was still working on their patio, and had declined their invitation to come along. The huge marmot had winked at Annie, saying "She'll kill me if I don't get this finished by this weekend."

The park was relatively empty due to the cool weather. Annie's two pups and the two kits were the only occupants of the playground. The kits belonged to a couple of young Russian Blues sitting across the playground from them. They appeared to be engaged in deep conversation with each other and not paying too much attention to what else was going on around them.

"Look at them," Janie said quietly with a small smile. "You'd think there was no one else in the world but them." The cats were sitting arms around each other, staring dreamily into each other's eyes as they spoke softly to each other.

Annie grinned playfully. "Do you get the feeling we might be witnessing the initial stages of the creation of the next sibling?"

Janie laughed quietly as she sat back on the bench she and Annie shared. She stared at the sky for a moment. "Did you hear from Joe this morning?"

Annie sighed, watching her pups. "Yes, they were off before 9AM our time. He called me as they were starting engines." She turned to her friend with a wistful expression. "He'll be home tomorrow afternoon."

"You miss him, don't you? Even after all these years, you still don't like being away from him for more than a little while, do you?" Janie smiled in understanding. "I'm the same way with Tim. I hate it when he's gone overnight. The money's good, but I still don't like it."

Annie nodded again, her expression becoming serious. "I don't like him being away at all. I want him home at night. Our furs make good money with Intermountain Charter, but what good is that if you can't enjoy spending it with them?"

Now Janie sighed in frustration. "I know. I have this same conversation with myself every time I see them fly away." She looked at the grass beneath her feet momentarily. "Don't they understand how we feel?"

Her friend's sudden change of attitude concerned Annie. "Are you and Tim OK? Is something wrong?"

Janie's head jerked up quickly and turned to look at Annie. Their eyes met. "No. We're fine, Annie. I just want him home with me when the sun goes down. I don't want to have to ask him what state he's calling from, or when he thinks he might get home." A tear hovered in the corner of Janie's right eye.

Annie wrapped her arms around her friend in a hug. "I know exactly how you feel." She held Janie for a moment and then leaned back, a smile on her face as she worked to remain dry-eyed. "My God, Jan, you've been married longer than me! Look at us, sitting around here feeling sorry for ourselves. We've..."

A chill ran up Janie's spine as she looked at her friend. Annie had stopped in mid - sentence, her skin paling beneath her fur. As her eyes suddenly defocused Annie stopped breathing and tilted her head slightly. Her paws moved to cover her stomach.

"Annie. Are you feeling ill? What's wrong?"

Her eyes snapped back into crystal clear focus as Annie suddenly stood up and called her children. "Joshua! Marie! Come on, kids!" She motioned with her arm as they looked up, and they began trotting towards her. Before they came within earshot Annie turned to her friend. Terror danced in her eyes as, in a hushed whisper full of fear, she said "I don't know what's wrong. But something is. Very wrong. Lets go home."


The Bitch was nose up, roaring and clawing for altitude. The windshield was full of dark gray nothing, the flight instruments told the horrifying story they could not see for themselves. Six thousand feet, wings past vertical in a bank to the left, the turboprops trying to tear themselves from wings that could not fly. Around them a rapidly building cell was trying to eat them alive.

Steve had all the right aileron he could find cranked on, yet they would not roll right. As he opened his mouth to ask Joe for help on the yolk, a hammer blow from the left pushed them sideways and down. The flight instruments blurred in response. As the altimeter shot down past five thousand they suddenly saw ground above them in the windshield, turning rapidly to the left. Steve hauled back on the throttles and waited for the horizon to rotate around to where it ought to be. As the sky appeared high above them in the windshield Steve centered the yolk and pulled it back towards him, and Joe was right there, pulling with him. The rotation stopped and the nose began to rise.

"It's not time yet!" Steve growled in a whisper to the windshield before them. The turbulence that had punished them suddenly abated below the clouds. Lightning flashed off to the left, rain poured down on them. The nose continued to rise. Four thousand feet, three hundred seventy five knots.

They became aware of a high pitched whine from all around them. The airframe buffeted and skittered like a terrified child.

"Gently, cousin," Joe cautioned. Fear nibbled at the back of his mind as they danced on the edge of the airframe's abilities to carry the load. More back stick might fail a wing or stabilizer fin, and it'd be all over for them.

"I got it," Steve replied.

Forty five degrees down. Thirty five hundred feet. Three hundred fifty knots.

"Hold on, baby," Steve whispered as they pulled together. There was a groan from their left, coming from somewhere within the airframe.

Thirty degrees down, Three thousand feet, three hundred twenty knots.

"Easy..." Joe cautioned again.

Fifteen degrees, twenty five hundred feet. Two hundred seventy five knots.

"We got it, buddy." Joe said quietly. "He's not gonna get us today."

The Bitch attained level attitude with less than a thousand feet separating her belly from the farmland below. As the horizon assumed it's normal position in their windshields, all four furs on the flight deck heaved sighs of relief. They were safe for the moment.

"Ow!" Slam exclaimed, gingerly rubbing his head. There followed a barrage of USMC issue expletives which, generally translated, meant "that hurt."

With an audible "whew!" Rick loosened his harness enough to lean over and pick up the laptop from under his boots on the floor. He reconnected it to the cables feeding The Bitch's internal systems and pressed the "on" button. He was surprised to see it light up and begin it's boot up sequence.

The air was reasonably smooth, light turbulence buffeted them gently. Steve ran a paw over his brow and sighed again. "Thanks be to Christ," he said quietly.

"Amen," Joe croaked. His mouth was dry. He licked his lips and attempted to swallow, succeeding after a second attempt. He grabbed his push to talk switch. "Indianapolis Center, Intermountain forty five."


The civet was startled. Intermountain forty five's radar return was gone. What had been a rain shower scant minutes ago was now painted on her display as a moderate, developing thunderstorm. It had evolved in a matter of minutes around the C-130.

"Intermountain forty five, are you guys all right?" The civet had dropped most of her normal radio protocol. She was surprised to hear from them, to say the least. Their radio signal had been weak and noisy. Their last descent before contact was lost had been over ten thousand feet per minute, according to her computers.


Joe turned to face his crewmates behind him momentarily. "Are you guys all right?"

Rick and Slam both nodded. There was a noticable bump on Slam's head just inboard of his right ear.

Joe turned his attention back to the outside world on the other side of the windshield. "Center, forty five is level at one thousand eight hundred feet, we're unsure of our exact position, I believe we're southwest of Muncie at this time." Joe sighed quietly once again as he unkeyed. He glanced at Steve and nodded silently.

Steve nodded back as he advanced the throttles for a slow climb. At the change in sound the ears of both pilots pricked up and rotated, Steve and Joe both looked at the engine instruments in the panel. They weren't out of the woods yet. While the throttle for number two was up with the rest, the turbine was at idle power. Steve turned to the window on his left.

"It's feathering," he said aloud. "What the Hell!"

"What, we haven't had enough to deal with?" Joe asked in frustration.

"Intermountain forty five, say status and intentions," the controller called.

Gingerly Steve retarded the throttle for number two and advanced it again. Nothing happened. He advanced the throttle for number one to try and compensate for the lost engine on the port wing and began to crank in rudder and aileron trim to help hold their direction. "I've heard of this," he said.

"Heard of what?" Joe asked. As he looked at his pilot Joe became aware of two other sets of eyes hovering over their shoulders.

"We lost number two?" Rick asked.

"Yeah," Steve replied calmly. "Herkies have this problem with throttle cables sometimes. They separate for whatever reason, and the turbine goes to idle and the prop feathers. I've heard about a couple that were lost because of this."

"Lost?" Rick asked, a nervous edge to his voice. "Is an engine out on one of these that serious?"

Steve smiled to the view outside as the center controller called again. He ignored the radio along with the rest of the crew. The radio would wait while they figured out their course of action. "It's a big problem if you've just cleaned up your gear on takeoff and you're loaded down with cargo. We're OK, 'cause we're empty. We've got power to spare for normal conditions." He glanced quickly at Joe. "We might as well shut it down to stop the windmilling. Get us the shutdown checklist."

As Joe reached for the required sheet he asked "We're gonna be OK on three?"

If we didn't break anything else we should be fine."

"How's she feel?" Joe asked.

Steve made some gentle movements with the yolk, and they felt the aircraft respond predictably.

"Seems OK." Steve looked around at the terrain below them. "Where the Hell are we?" Steve looked at the altimeter winding up past twenty five hundred. "Ask center if we can hold at five thousand, and get us a course the Hell away from that line of cells and towards Port Columbus."


Annie and Janie and the kids returned to the Latrans home from Arvada in record time. Annie hadn't said much on the trip home, and as soon as they arrived she had headed straight for the telephone in her kitchen to call Intermountain's office in Ohio.

The phone was picked up on the second ring. "Intermountain Charter, this is Angie. How may I help you?"

"Hi Angie, this is Annie Latrans." In her haste Annie didn't waste too much time with formalities. "Have Joe and the boys arrived yet?"

Angie could hear the concern in the fox's voice. She'd never met Annie, and to her recollection had never spoken with her before. "Hello Mrs. Latrans. No, they last checked in about forty five minutes ago, we're expecting them in less than thirty minutes."

Annie chewed her lower lip for a moment. It was unlike her to be chasing her husband down in this way, but that agonizing steel blade of fear that had knifed into her stomach a little while ago was still there, twisting slowly. She had never experienced anything like this feeling before, a cold touch of death in her soul, and she knew that the feeling wouldn't go away until she heard Joe's voice. She paused a moment more to take a breath and control her tone of voice.

"I don't believe we've met, Angie. My name is Annie, and I'm pleased to make your acquaintance."

Angie smiled. "Likewise, Annie, I'm pleased to meet you." Angie was a very perceptive feline in her late forties, she had a feeling she knew why Annie was calling. "They should be back very soon, they're probably already on approach. Would you like me to have him call you when he gets in?"

"Would you please?" Annie replied with a bit of urgency. "Have Joe call me as soon as he arrives? There's no emergency here, I just need to talk to him as soon as possible."

Angie smiled. "Certainly, Annie. I'll tell him you called as soon as he walks through the door."

Annie sighed, partly from frustration at not being able to talk to Joe yet, partly in relief brought on by Angie's calm demeanor. "Thank you, Angie. Have a good afternoon."

"You to! And don't worry, you'll be hearing from them before you know it."

"Thanks, Angie. Good bye." Annie hung up the phone and turned to her friend. Her expression told Janie all she needed to know. She looked pale, frightened. "I'm sorry Janie. I don't know what's come over me, I'm not normally like this."

Janie recognized that look. Annie had helped her deal with the same emotions for the same reasons. She moved closer to hug her friend. "I know, sweetheart. It's OK," she said quietly into Annie's ear. "Tim and I are here for you. Don't worry. Everything is going to be all right."

Having said that Janie backed up a step. "Go to your children. Be strong for them, Annie. I'm going to call Tim, and we're staying here with you until Joe checks in, OK?"

Annie could only nod as she turned to check on her children. Two steps towards the family room she paused and looked back over her shoulder. "Jan?"

Janie looked up from the telephone.

There was a tear in Annie's eye. "I love you. Thanks."


"Intermountain forty five, contact Columbus Approach on one two five point nine five, they're expecting you. Good luck, guys." The civet picked up her warm, half-empty soda can and quickly gulped down the contents.

"Thanks Indy, appreciate your help. Forty five is going to Columbus on one two five point nine five. See ya later."

The remaining flight was proving to be a non-event by comparison, even down one turbine. They had left the storm line behind them at Dayton and were flying in relatively clear air east of the front. They were now northeast of Port Columbus, getting ready to commence their three-engined approach. Joe dialed up the approach control frequency on the number two radio and flipped it over into the active display.

As he was doing this Rick was setting up the navigation equipment and MFDs for their approach. He leaned forward and tapped Steve on the elbow. "Your ILS is on MFD number one and number one VOR head. Moving map on MFD number three."

Steve nodded his thanks as Joe reached for his push to talk switch.

"Columbus approach, Intermountain forty five is with you three west of Appleton VORTAC with Oscar."

The response was immediate, apparently they were waiting. "Intermountain forty five, Columbus approach, cross Appleton at four thousand, expect ILS runway two eight left. Heading off Appleton will be two two four degrees. Negative traffic at this time."

Joe smiled. Somebody had cleaned house for them. Apparently word of their adventure was spreading. "Thanks Columbus, cross Appleton at four thousand, two two four degrees off the VORTAC and we'll be looking for the ILS for two eight left. Intermountain forty five."

"Approach checklist," Steve called.

"Forty five, say engine status."

Joe and Steve exchanged glances for what seemed to be the hundredth time in the past hour. "No change, Columbus," Joe replied. "Number two is still OS."

"Would you like to request the equipment?" Approach was asking if they wanted the crash trucks to be standing by.

Steve smiled ruefully. "Haven't we been to this party before?"

Joe laughed along with Slam, Rick smiled knowingly.

"Negative, Columbus, thanks. Forty five." Joe reached for the checklist and he and Steve began the challenge and response routine. In short order approach flaps were deployed and the ship was rigged for final.

They looked out at the horizon, the storm line already visible in the distance to the west of Port Columbus. The storm would reach them before they left the airport this evening. For now, however, the air seemed smooth, the wind relatively light.

"Hey, check out the radar," Rick exclaimed. Joe and Steve glanced to the center of the panel.

"What a piece of work," Steve commented.

"Piece of junk, you mean," Joe replied.

The weather radar was working perfectly now, painting good returns from the storm system ahead of them. Joe reached to the controls and switched to targeting mode. Several returns illuminated the display, no doubt showing other aircraft in the Columbus area. Joe switched back to weather mode and the storm returns reappeared.

"Huh," was all he could think to offer.

The C-130 droned on towards Port Columbus on it's three working turbines. Soon the localizer and glideslope indications began to come alive, and Steve began to bank right into the final approach as the identifier for the Sumie outer marker sounded in their headphones.

"Intermountain forty five, contact Columbus tower on one three two point seven. Welcome home, furs."

It did not escape the attention of Steve and Joe that there was no traffic in the area. Indeed other traffic in the area was either holding nearby or working the north runway at Port Columbus. They had the big runway all to themselves.

"Columbus tower, Intermountain forty five at Sumie with the field in sight, we'll take the visual."

"Intermountain forty five, welcome home, gentlefurs. You are cleared to land at your discretion. Traffic a Hawker on two mile final for two eight right. Wind variable from three four zero at ten.

Steve and Joe ran down the final approach checklist, smiling to themselves as the gear deployed without trouble. As they coasted down final over the middle marker Steve faced Joe momentarily and grinned. "I could almost get used to this."

Joe chuckled all the way to the runway along with the rest of the furs on the flight deck. The nose came up, they seemed to almost hover for just a split second, and then the mains kissed the asphalt ever so gently. As they rolled out on the two-mile stretch of asphalt lightning flickered on the horizon in the west.

The boys had survived another mission with The Bitch and lived to tell about it.


To Chapter Ten: Intuition.

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