The story will be featured on the Amber Quill home page https://www.amberquill.com and on the Amber Quill author's blog at https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=18545575#allposts
Here is one more little snippet excerpt to whet your appetite, the first meeting of Blaine and Daz.
Blaine brought the plane in and set it down. It settled so lightly he wouldn’t have broken a china plate. He smiled to himself. Still got the touch, ole man. A plane is like a good horse, a good dog, a good lover. Responds to the right handling, every damn time.
At first he’d thought he’d miss the sheer power of the military jets he used to fly, but this old prop plane was the sweetest bird he’d ever flown. Even though it might not be as fast or capable of busting the sound barrier in a flash of balls-to-the-wall full military power, he could thread it through a canyon and counter crosswinds and unexpected updrafts at minimal altitudes no jet could maintain for long.
As he climbed down, Mike Morrissey, his second-in-command, came running to meet him. “Hey, I know you want to get in another run today, maybe two, but there’s somebody you need to talk to. Although I could be wrong, I think this is big…maybe the break we’ve been looking for on these fires. You know, the arson angle and who and why.”
Blaine glanced at his watch. “I can give it thirty minutes. That’s about how long it’ll take the crew to refuel and reload the bird. No more than that. While news is great, getting this fire out is greater. Though I’m not sure I buy the official ‘fifty percent contained,’ bullshit, we’re starting to get a handle on it and stopping the rapid advance. A few more runs will make a big difference.”
He matched Mike’s fast pace across to the big hangar, more intrigued than he wanted to be, much more than he’d admit. Yeah, they’d had suspicions and had even glimpsed some inexplicable activity on the ground at times. For some reason, the powers that be were not interested in hearing any wild theories, maybe not any theories at all. It was as if the government wanted to attribute it all to the drought and global climate change and let it go at that.
It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the shadowy interior of the hangar after being out in the bright sky all morning. Then he saw and recognized the man who waited in the lounge area, the man who jumped up and almost ran across to greet him.
“You! I know who you are—that freelance muckraking ‘investigative reporter.’ Haven’t my people told you to get the hell out of here and stay out? If they haven’t, I’m going to tell you myself and make sure you get the word.”
“B-b-b-ut, Mr.—er—Major Darby, you’re the man of the hour. You’re flying tricky drops and missions that have to be as fraught with danger as any you completed in the Middle East. You’re a hero twice over.”
“What I did in the Middle East is fucking irrelevant, and there’s no new dirt to be dug there, Reporter Contreras. I don’t have anything to say to you. Whatever you told Mike here to get him to let you in, I’m not buying. None of it.”
Mike held up a cautioning hand. “No, Blaine, hang on. Hear him out. He admits it may be an iffy lead, but he’s got a line on some sightings of trespassers in the forest who damn well are not Mexican nationals, people carrying stuff that appeared to be chemicals and electronic equipment and speaking some language that sure as shit isn’t Spanish.”
He turned to the reporter. “Tell him. Show him the pictures.”
“Let me get a soda and something to eat,” Blaine muttered. “Then I’ll sit and listen—for twenty minutes, not a second longer.”
“I’ll get it,” Mike volunteered. “Sit and start listening.”
More tired than he cared to admit, Blaine dropped into a chair. The young Latino snagged another and turned it to face him. He began talking at once, speaking so fast
Blaine could not get a
word in edgewise.
“I talked to a couple of guys two days ago, guys who live up in the hills. They may be growing pot for all I know. Still, they know the forest and the canyons up there. I can’t doubt that for a minute. They’ve seen stuff, watched and listened. When they’ve tried to tell the border patrol and the forest service, no one will listen, so one of them tracked me down. Right now, though there’s not too much proof. for some reason I believe them. We’ve got terrorists setting fires. I’d bet my life on that. I need you to help me prove it.”
He paused to gulp a fast breath and charged right on. “Mr. Morrissey told me you’d both seen things that didn’t look right. Ms. Cahill, too. You aren’t flying those fast jets, thousands of feet up in the air…you’re coming in low and slow over those fires and the smoke doesn’t always hide the ground.”
Mike returned and set a sandwich and a cola in front of Blaine, sliding into yet another chair by the beat-up table.
“That’s Captain Cahill; she’s still Air National Guard.” Blaine knew it was controversial to have a female pilot in his crew, at least among the old-timers. He didn’t care. Margie Cahill was one of the best. He’d welcome her as a wingman any day of the year. In fact, she had flown beside him in the Middle East, and he’d been proud and happy to hire her last summer when she came off active duty. Every one of his employees was former military, and most of them had served with him.
The young reporter had the grace to nod and accept the mild rebuke. Maybe he wasn’t a total lost cause after all. Blaine’s thoughts jerked back to the issue at hand as the Latino went on.
“What I’m asking –and I know it’s almost over the top—is to ride along with one of you and observe for myself…see what you all see.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Blaine saw Mike stiffen as a shock wave swept over his face. Over the top wasn’t even close. However, he didn’t blurt out a categorical denial. He thought about it for all of thirty seconds, if not more. The reporter squirmed in his chair like a kindergartner needing to go pee.
Blaine could see in his
eyes the eagerness coupled with raw fear that he’d gone way too far too fast.
“It’s completely against rules and policy,” he began. “The forest service would freak out. They can’t fire my ass or pull my contract because they can’t afford to with planes like mine at a premium while two other fleets are grounded for mechanical issues, but they’ll chew me a new one. Still, I own my planes outright and insure them and my company for damn near everything. If you’d sign a waiver releasing us from any liability if something goes wrong, I might consider it. You won’t fly with anyone else on my crew, though. I wouldn’t put that onus on another pilot.”
“Oh, man; oh wow. That’s like awesome.” For a breath, the reporter’s demeanor was fifteen years younger, like a kid meeting his rock star hero or sports idol. “I mean I really appreciate it. This could let me break my biggest story ever. I swear, I’ll do absolutely and exactly what you tell me to do. You’ll hardly know I’m there.”
Blaine gave him a tolerant half-smile. “Yeah, and the moon is made of blue cheese.” He shook his head before he went on, yet it wasn’t a negative gesture. He held up a cautioning hand. “Not today and not tomorrow. We’re at a critical point on containing this blaze, and I’ll be making some real risky maneuvers. Possibly the next fire. It’s a bit less dangerous when I make the first recon flight or two to size things up.”