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|Chapter 24: Confrontations|
Felecia raced out from behind the sheltering fuselage of Flight Two with total disregard for the possibility that there were more snipers. Looking up, she swore under her breath as she spotted two bullet holes in the engine cowling. Fearing the worst, Felecia summoned the mechanic.
General Bradson and The Scar arrived at a run as the mechanic opened the inspection hatch and then delivered the bad news. “Looks like at least one hit the synchronization controller. I don’t know where the other one went. I’ll need to open the access plates all the way up to be sure,” the mechanic reported.
General Bradson checked his watch. The plan called for Flight Two to be airborne within twenty minutes. It could be delayed by several hours if need be, but doing so would require Flight Three to pass the point of no return before Flight Two was on the ground in Oman. Worse, every minute on the ground would expose the aircraft to further attacks.
Making a snap decision, General Bradson said, “There’s no time for a full repair and I doubt we have the parts. Once it’s airborne, this aircraft can fly on three engines if it has to. It’ll be taking off empty from Oman and it can do that on three engines too. Patch it up as best you can, just get it to hold together long enough for takeoff. Do it as fast as you can. We need to get the hell out of here fast, before we get attacked again. Even if they think the planes are disabled, they won’t delay for long. I want both planes off the ground inside of twenty minutes.” Turning to Felecia and The Scar, he said, “We can advance the schedule for Flight Three a little, and reduce its cruising speed to delay entry. We just lose the confirmation from Flight Two before the point of no return.”
Not happy at that bit of news, but seeing no alternative and knowing that The Scar would insist that the mission proceed no matter what, Felecia nodded her acquiescence.
The rival warlord had watched the smoke and assumed that the aircraft were disabled, meaning that he did not feel the need to commit his two remaining snipers. He’d heard the rapid bursts of gunfire and taken it as a sign that his first three snipers had been killed, but that was of little concern to him so long as they had accomplished their task.
Using a walkie-talkie, he signaled his main force; a hundred men in thirty vehicles. The vehicles, often referred to as ‘technicals’, were nothing more than pickup trucks mounting machine guns in the bed. A few vehicles, taking the point, also carried RPG teams. The warlord thought his force was more than capable of accomplishing the raid. They were stationed in his own territory, ten miles away. Five minutes after his command, they were on their way. Wilhelm’s plan had failed only in the fact that one plane was damaged. His intent had been only to avoid further sniper attacks, and in that, he had succeeded.
At Felecia’s insistence, The Scar sent Yuri up in the Otter. The Scar planned to use the small twin-engine aircraft for his own transportation to Sudan and was thus reluctant to risk it in any way.
Yuri’s report on the approximate size and composition of the approaching force was received less than ten minutes later. Felecia summed up the tactical picture succinctly. “We’re fucked if they catch us on the ground. The local warlord has his forces dispersed throughout the area. There’s no way he can concentrate in time. My men could take ‘em, even in a meeting engagement, but not before they get close enough to take out the planes.”
After radioing Yuri and ordering him to land immediately, The Scar said, “That leaves little option. They will be here in about fifteen minutes at their current rate of advance. We must be gone by the time they arrive.”
The mechanic, working frantically, had unbuttoned the access hatch in record time. The first bullet, he surmised, had impacted on a mounting strut and was of no real concern. The other one was another matter entirely. It was worse than he had feared; it had harmlessly nicked the synchronization controller’s case, but it had continued on to shatter the shaft connecting the engine to its starter motor. Given parts and time he could have repaired the damage, but now there was no chance. The mechanic gave his report while closing up the access hatch.
General Bradson dashed into the cockpit. Speaking to the three-man flight crew and their two jumpers, he said, “It’s just the starter shaft, so you’ll be fine. You only need all four engines for this takeoff. You can do the rest of the mission on three if you have to. Start your takeoff role with three engines. Windmill the prop, and let the airflow bring it up to ignition RPM. Lean it out a bit to avoid a fuel-rich turbine flameout, and then fire it up when you hit fifty knots, and that should be enough. Close her up and taxi out as soon as I’m off. See you in Oman. We’ll be taking off right behind you.” The crew was still nervous about the risks involved, but they knew about the approaching enemy force and preferred to take their chances trying to get in the air.
Five minutes later, General Bradson watched from the pilot’s seat of Flight Three as the other aircraft began its takeoff roll. Biting his lip, he kept his eyes on the crippled engine, and held his breath until he saw it spool up.
The pilot of Flight Two, sweating heavily, saw the RPMs and exhaust temperature of the damaged engine rise. “Ignition,” he said, advancing the four throttles to max power as the heavily laden plane roared down the rough runway. As the plane neared rotation speed, he checked the engine one last time and pulled back on the yoke, easing the C-130 into ground effect. Violating standard procedure, he retracted the landing gear while still in ground effect, trying to gain every ounce of speed that he could. At one hundred knots, he pulled further back on the yoke, waiting the eternal seconds until the wallowing aircraft lumbered skyward.
General Bradson waited only until the dust cleared, and then advanced the throttles, only to yank them back and slam on the brakes as The Scar’s Otter wheeled onto the runway several hundred yards ahead and began its takeoff roll. Felecia allowed her feelings to show for an instant when she said, “Looks like our fearless leader wants to bug out first.”
Judging that the small aircraft had not kicked up too much dust and knowing that the far larger and heavier C-130 could handle the propwash and wingtip vortices from the smaller plane, General Bradson returned the throttles to maximum and resumed the takeoff before the Otter was off the ground.
Flight Three lumbered into the sky at near maximum takeoff weight. Following the same initial course as the other two C-130’s, General Bradson turned northeast, passing over Cape Guardafui – the tip of the Horn of Africa – and soared over the blue waters of the Indian Ocean fifteen minutes later, blending into a commercial air route.
Sitting on his hilltop and screaming obscenities into his radio, the enemy warlord watched with impotent rage as, one by one, his quarry receded into the sky. His two remaining snipers had been ordered in, but had not been able to get into range in time.
Operation Pandora was underway.
As she walked towards the main door, Helen remarked dryly to Barbra, “Jansen and Keith have no clue what they’ve unleashed.”
Barbra, glancing back at Jansen and Keith as they tried to talk Eric out of the pool, nodded in agreement. “Yeah, they’re in for a rough time, poor guys.”
Having had a great deal to drink, Helen was less concerned than she would have otherwise been. “I think they’ll keep him safe and prevent him from raising too much hell,” she said, and turned to leave. She walked a few paces, just enough to pass through the entryway door, and then came to a halt. “I can’t just go. I’ll circle around outside and keep an eye on them for a while. No need to make yourself miserable too, Hon, you go back to the rooms.
Barbra shook her head and took Helen’s arm. “I’ll stick with you. Let’s go watch hell rising,” she said, and together Barbra and Helen circled around, until they found a darkened gazebo on a terrace with a view of the pool a hundred yards away. Concealed by the darkness, they sat down to keep watch.
From the opposite side of the pool, Jansen yelled to Keith, “I think he just wants to play. Come on.” Jansen peeled off his soaked shirt and dived into the pool, launching a fierce splash attack in Eric’s direction. Eric, laughing as he ducked the barrage, returned fire as Keith watched from the pool deck, ready to intercept Eric if he made a run for it.
As the water fight wore on, Keith relaxed a little and settled into a chair to wait.
Eric, coming up for air after Jansen dunked him, grabbed hold of the side of the pool before saying with a grin, “Hey, how about letting me have some more tequila? I’m having a blast.”
Shaking his head, Keith replied, “No way, Helen made me get rid of it.” Keith was lying, but hoped that it was in a good cause.
“Okay, okay, whatever. How about some whiskey?” Eric asked, accompanied by his best puppy-dog eyes.
Jansen, pulling up to the pool edge beside Eric, gave him an appraising glance, and then said to Keith, “Helen didn’t say anything about other liquors, and we’ve seen Eric drink scotch before and he was fine. How about raiding the bar?”
With a laugh, and beginning to wonder if Helen’s dire warning was a gross exaggeration, Keith nodded. “Okay, I’ll play bartender. Come on.”
Keith slipped behind the bar as Jansen and Eric hauled themselves out of the water and padded over, taking adjoining barstools. Eric smiled and said to Jansen, “Think he knows which end of the bottle to open?”
Laughing, Keith set up three glasses, and poured them each a shot of scotch. Little time passed between downing the first and second round.
With a sudden thought to get Eric to a safer location, Jansen said, “Hey, let’s liberate the bottle and take it back to our suite before the hotel staff comes in and spoils our fun.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Eric readily agreed as he snatched up the bottle.
Eric walked a few feet away, towards where his shirt had fallen after he’s hurled it at Helen. Jansen said, “Hey Eric, grab mine for me, will ya?” Eric nodded, and after snatching up his own shirt circled around the pool to get Jansen’s. As soon as Eric was out of earshot, Jansen whispered to Keith, “He seems fine to me. Just to be safe though, one of us should stay halfway sober when we get back. You or me?”
Keith shrugged, “Me. I’ve had less to drink than you have. Yeah, I think he’s fine, and Helen was just yanking our chain a little.”
Eric returned, shirts in one hand and the bottle in the other, and said, “Okay, strippers, lets go.”
As one, and with a laugh, Jansen and Keith replied, “That’s exotic dancers, you ass.”
With a shared laugh, the three headed for the door.
Watching the three guys walk towards the suite, Helen turned to Barbra and said in stunned disbelief, “He was almost… human!”
Barbra nodded numbly. “Yeah, and it’s been almost an hour, so he’s probably past the worst of it. Holy shit…”
Arriving back at Jansen and Keith’s suite, Eric charged into the main room first with a cry of “Quarters!”
Setting up the glasses, Jansen checked his pocket, and found a U.S. quarter. Thus armed, they began the first round.
Eric, who didn’t really want to win, ended up taking the most shots. Jansen was not far behind with six shots. Bolstered by liquid courage, Jansen leaned into Eric’s bare shoulder with his own as he asked in a slightly slurred voice, “So, what’s the real deal with you and tequila? Helen made it sound like we’d just unleashed the devil, but you’re fine.”
His smile fading a little, Eric replied, “I just like to have fun, and tequila makes me pretty uninhibited. Sometimes I do stupid stuff.” With a sigh, Eric added, “I promised to quit drinking tequila after something happened back in Telluride. I fucked up, big time. I was wasted and misunderstood something Brandon said. I tried to make out with him and Chase nearly killed me. We’re only barely getting past that now, so that’s why I didn’t want them to know I’d had any tequila tonight.”
Jansen’s eyebrows shot up at the mention of Brandon, and the implications were not lost on him. He glanced over at his brother, but Keith returned his gaze and with a subtle shake of his head reminded Jansen that Helen had warned them not to trust anything Eric said when he’d been drinking tequila. Jansen didn’t dismiss the idea entirely, but deferred it for some future time.
Eric, with his gaze still on the floor, added, “I know I really fucked up. That’s why I meant it when I promised to stay away from tequila.”
Jansen gave Eric a friendly nudge with his shoulder before saying, “I didn’t mean to bring you down, man. Come on, it’s not the end of the world. We all do stuff we shouldn’t when we’re wasted. I’m sure Brandon and Chase know that, and hey, all you did tonight was have a water fight with me, and that would have been fine sober.”
Cheering up, Eric threw an arm across Jansen’s bare shoulders and said, “Thanks. Not just for saying that, but for tonight. You guys didn’t freak out on me like everybody else does. I just wanted to have fun, and we did. I think I get crazier when everyone stresses out.” Eric left his arm in place, and Jansen didn’t mind, pretending not to notice. It just felt right.
“How are you doing now?” Keith asked.
With a one-shouldered shrug, Eric replied, “I still feel the whiskey, but not the tequila. Right now I’m just drunk, same as you guys.”
Keith grinned. He’d only had a few shots, but as long as Eric was really okay, he was happy. He hoped that Eric was right.
Jansen, with Eric’s arm still across his bare shoulders, chuckled as he began the next round of quarters.
An hour later, after several more rounds and some drunken banter, Eric’s eyelids began to droop, and he leaned back and closed his eyes.
Jansen eased back, leaning into Eric, whose arm was still across his shoulders, and made himself comfortable. “I’ll stay with him. I think he’ll be okay, he’ll probably sleep for hours,” Jansen said.
Keith stood up and nodded. With a smile he said, “I’m going to crash. Just behave yourself, little brother.”
With a quiet, drunken chuckle, Jansen glanced at Eric’s bare chest and replied, “I’m tempted, but yeah, I’ll behave. G’night, Keither.”
The next morning, Jon, Brandon, and Chase arrived first for breakfast. Brandon and Chase hadn’t gotten a great deal of sleep, but not for any enjoyable reason. The mutterings and rumblings of Cumbre Vieja were an ever-present reminder of their predicament, and it had been a long and tiring day. The earthquake, tsunami, and volcanic eruption hadn’t helped. They had returned to their suite, tired and having had a great deal to drink. They did manage to make love one time, but their hopes of an all-night extravaganza had, per necessity, been deferred.
They all sat down, waiting for Helen and Barbra, and Jon grinned slyly as he asked in an innocent tone, “I’m just remembering what the minister said on the beach, pronouncing you guys husband and wife…”
“Yeah, I have a feeling we’ll never live that down,” Chase said with a laugh. “But look at the bright side; we can always blame Eric, because he set us up to be married on an erupting volcano.”
Brandon chuckled. “Blaming Eric is always a plan. Where is he, anyway? I wanted to rag on him that we’re stuck here and not on our way to France for our honeymoon.” Brandon glanced at Chase, seeing his eyes light up at the prospect. Neither of them really blamed Eric, but the opportunity to needle him was just too good to pass up. They both knew that he’d do the same to them.
Jon shrugged and said in a neutral tone, “I guess he’s with those strippers again. Eric and I usually hang out a lot, especially when we’re around alcohol and girls, but he hasn’t come by my suite to see me since I’ve been here.”
Chase’s head snapped around as he instantly recognized the signs of trouble. “He’s got some new friends plus a business deal, that’s all. You know how he is; he gets focused on something and he tunes out everything else.”
Jon nodded once. “Yeah, I heard about the strip club… Helen mentioned it. Eric didn’t.”
Deciding that the issue wasn’t going to go away, Chase said, “Just talk to Eric about it. I’m sure he just spaced it. This is Eric we’re talking about, remember? Anyway, have you gone over to see him at all?”
Jon let out a disgruntled snort, then a sigh. “Yeah, last night, after I walked back with you guys, I swung by his suite. No sign of him. I went back an hour later, then an hour after that, and he still wasn’t there. I guess he was too busy doing God knows what with those damn strippers.”
Finally picking up on what the real problem might be, Chase said, “As far as I know, they’re just friends. Just go talk to Eric.” Jon nodded again, and then shrugged, turning his attention to the menu. Brandon and Chase shared a glance, and began the first breakfast of their married life in an awkward silence.
Eric cracked open an eye to see Jansen’s face from just inches away. Not fully remembering all that had happened, and driven by the urgent demands of his bladder, Eric slipped his arm from its place across Jansen’s shoulders and headed for the bathroom.
Keith heard the noise of the door closing, so he got out of bed, pulled on his boxers, and padded out of his room as Eric emerged from the bathroom. Gazing into Eric’s bloodshot eyes, Keith asked in a whisper, “How you feeling?”
“Kinda bleary. I think I’m going back to my place and crash for the rest of the morning. How about you?” Eric whispered.
Smiling sleepily, Keith replied, “I’m fine. I think you and Jansen will have the hangovers today.”
Nodding slowly, Eric glanced back at Jansen before remarking absently, surprising even himself with his candor, “He looks like an angel when he’s asleep… Okay, see you guys later.”
Eric returned to his suite, crawled into bed, and was back asleep within minutes.
Later, Keith was again awakened by the noise of the plumbing, and trundled out to find his brother making coffee, or trying to. With a chuckle, Keith said, “I’ll make it, Janse.”
Jansen sat down in the living room, cradling his tender head, and asked, “Where’s Eric?”
“He went back to his suite to go to bed. He’s about as bad as you are, I think.”
Jansen waited a few seconds before asking, “What about what he said last night, about trying to make out with Brandon.”
Keith had known that question was coming, but to hear it so soon left him little doubt what his brother was thinking. Keith handed his brother a mug of coffee, and with his own in hand sat down beside him before replying, “I know what you’re thinking. Sorry to put out that particular fire, but Helen warned us not to believe anything he says when he’s been drinking tequila. There’s also the age old question; what’s the difference between a gay guy and a straight guy?” After pausing for a few moments, Keith answered his own question. “A six pack. So even if he did, it might not mean what you think. Remember, he’s got one hell of a rep when it comes to women. According to the tabloids, he’s known for one-night stands, in threesomes and foursomes, but always with women.”
Jansen sighed, but wasn’t quite willing to concede the point. “Yeah, those tabloids also say a lot about space aliens and what Elvis is up to lately, plus one of the things they said about Eric once was that he was dead, so they’re sure a reliable source, right? So maybe he’s bi, at least a little.”
Giving a sigh of his own, not wanting his brother to get his hopes up and then have them crushed, Keith replied, “Maybe, but maybe he isn’t. Yeah, if you get him drunk enough maybe he’d play around with you, but then when he sobers up he might freak out. Then we’ve lost both a good friend and our club deal. Janse, just do us both a favor; make sure he’s sober if anything starts to happen. If he’s sober, there’s a good chance it’s real, but even then, make sure he’s not just looking for a one-time thing. We both know what that would do to you.”
“Yeah, as if I could forget,” Jansen scowled, remembering high school, and the first guy he’d ever slept with. That relationship had seemed fine, for all of a week, until they’d had sex. Then, the other guy had made it clear that he was just looking for fun, no strings, and no repeats. It had hurt Jansen, badly enough that he’d never told anyone but Keith.
Keith had that event on his mind as well, and that was why he didn’t want to see his brother hurt in the same way again.
Eric crawled out of bed and took a fast shower, well aware that he was late for lunch.
Racing into the restaurant, he plopped himself into a chair next to Jon and across from his mother. Eric felt better than he had when he returned to his suite that morning, but his head was still slightly tender, and his eyes were just bloodshot enough for Jon to notice.
“Have fun partying last night?” Jon asked in a casual tone.
Eric began to answer, until he sensed that his brother’s question was anything but offhand. Not sure what was wrong, but certain that something was, Eric chose his words with care. Not wanting to mention the tequila in front of Brandon and Chase, Eric told Jon, “I just had a few drinks with Jansen and Keith. I need to talk to you about something after lunch.” He hoped that Jon would take the hint.
Brandon, who was talking to Jane, heard Eric’s words. Well aware of Jon’s feelings, and fearing that he’d say something he’d regret, Brandon jumped in before Jon could reply and said, “Hey Eric, your volcano has us stuck here. They say it’ll be three days before they can clear the ash off the runway.”
Thankful for the interruption, Eric grinned as he replied, “Since when is it my volcano?”
Brandon shrugged. “You booked us on it. Besides, it reminds me of you… unpredictable and volatile.”
“Shove it, Brandon,” Eric said with a laugh.
From the far end of the table, Jane yelled, “Eric, language!” Allowing herself a smile, relieved to feel accepted by her sons, Jane’s face clouded slightly as she asked, “Any news on that volcano? Are we really safe here?”
Helen fielded the answer. “According to both the front desk and what I’ve been able to find out on my own, we’re safe. The expectation is for some more ash venting, followed by lava flows. It’s quiet at the moment, just smoking a little, but they are expecting more events like the one yesterday. We’re very close here, but the wind is pushing the ash to the north and east. I considered moving us to the north end of the island, but they’ve got ashfall. In any case, I couldn’t find any vacancies. Apparently, a lot of people live just east of the volcano and they all had the same idea. I have some feelers out, looking for a private residence that we can rent, but so far nothing, not at any price. The phone system is only sporadically usable, and seems to be getting worse. We’re also without internet service for the time being.”
Trying to sound only casually interested, Eric asked, “What about our planes? Did they get out okay or are they still at the airport?”
“Still there. They’re fine as long as they don’t try to move. According to what I heard, the ash is only dangerous to running engines. The pilots are staying near the airport, and they said they’ve got five inches of ash on the ground,” Helen replied.
“What about leaving by boat or helicopter?” Eric asked, as he made plans to pay the pilots a visit and ask about General Bradson.
Helen shrugged. “The tsunami that chased us off the beach yesterday damaged the only port on this side of the island. It also wrecked or damaged quite a few boats. They’re ferrying people who want to leave off from the north, but there’s a huge waiting list. I’ve looked into chartering a helicopter but so far no luck; the news media seem to have snapped up most of what few were available. I’m sure I can work out something, but we’re probably going to be here for a few days. If the volcano gets worse than they predict, we’ll have to drive north and take our chances on finding somewhere to stay. But for now, I think sticking it out here is our best option.”
One word Helen had said was of particular concern to Jane, so she repeated it as a question, “Lava?”
“Yes, but it shouldn’t bother us here. According to the front desk, it’s like water in the sense that it flows downhill. The slope above us has a slight bulge, so any flows in our direction should divert to the north or south, seeking the easiest route to the sea,” Helen replied, remembering something she’d read that morning and deciding not to broach the subject of pyroclastic flows.
Eric, with no such sense of tact, jumped in to say, “Mom, last year on our first tour, we played in Naples. We got to see Mount Vesuvius in the distance. Naples lives with the volcanoes every day – there’s one even closer than Vesuvius. There’s even an island nearby, Stromboli, that’s a lot smaller than this one, and their volcano has been active almost non-stop for almost two thousand years, but there are still two villages on the island.”
Recognizing Eric’s words for what they were – an attempt to downplay the risk – Jane crossed her arms before replying, “Last year, your father and I went on a Caribbean cruise. One of the stops was the island of Martinique. We took one of the shore excursions, and went to the city of Saint Pierre. Interesting place. It’s a small town now, but in 1902 it was a city of thirty thousand, the capital of the island. Then Mount Pelé erupted, and there were only two survivors from the entire city. It was wiped out in seconds by a red-hot cloud of pumice and ash, which hit at four hundred miles an hour. Would you care to guess how close Pelé is to that city? Four miles. Half what we are from the crater of this one here.”
Feeling decidedly on the spot, Eric said, “But they say this is a different kind of volcano, and doesn’t erupt that way.”
With her nerves getting to her – she had a deep-seated fear of fire – Jane said, “Experts aren’t always right. Many volcano experts died because they guessed wrong about Mount Saint Helens. Oh, you mentioned Naples. I went to Pompeii once, when I was younger. It was a Roman city, buried by an eruption in the first century. I’ve walked its cobblestone streets. You can still see the wheel ruts in the pavement and frescos on some of the walls. It’s so well preserved… but what sticks in my mind at the moment is what I saw in the center of town. They have an area with a covered roof, containing all manner of preserved things. When the burning ash and pumice fell, it buried things, which then rotted and left voids. When the voids were found, they filled them with plaster. Therefore, you can see what a Roman loaf of bread looked like. But there are casts of people who died writhing in agony. I still have photos of Mount Vesuvius, taken from the main square in Pompeii. It's over five miles away. So, please don’t tell me how safe we are, here on the side of an erupting volcano that some say might fall into the sea and take half the island with it. Experts can be wrong. I know I haven’t been much of a mother to you boys, but I want you all to be safe and happy. I want us all to live long enough to be a family again. I think we should leave.”
“And go where?” Helen asked, slightly irked at having her authority challenged.
“Off this damn island,” Jane snapped, her hands beginning to tremble.
Nodding, Helen said, “I happen to agree with you. I’m working on it.”
With the stress getting to her, Jane replied sharply, “Then I suggest you work faster, and get back to it immediately. Your job is to protect my boys, not sit here lunching with your girlfriend.” Jane delivered the last word levelly, as an accusation. She’d heard and seen enough to discern the relationship between Helen and Barbra, and part of her mind wondered if they were responsible for the path Chase had taken.
Around the table, faces paled as the four members of Instinct braced themselves for an eruption far greater than anything a mere volcano could deliver.
Before Mount Saint Helen could erupt, Eric jumped in to say, “Whoa, Mom. Look, Helen is trying to get us out of here. There’s no reason to get on her case.”
“Besides,” Jon added, “Helen has been here for us. She’s been the only one who has, since you and Dad cut us off. We all consider her family. I’ll also point out that it was her efforts that got you here. You owe her an apology.” Chase nodded in agreement, but Brandon, feeling that it wasn’t wise to get involved, showed no reaction.
Jane wrestled with her conflicting feelings of anger, jealousy, and fear. She was afraid, both of the volcano, and at a deeper level, of what her presence here would do to her marriage. The idea of losing her husband and being alone frightened her more than she cared to admit, even to herself. She hadn’t spoken to JT at all since before leaving Idaho, and every passing day made the phone call that she knew she must make all the more dreaded. She was still coming to terms with the fact that she had likely made a choice between her husband and her sons, and thus Helen’s role as their de facto parent was, at a deep and visceral level, felt to be a threat.
It had hurt, seeing her boys treat their manager like a parent; a role she felt was her own. The pain was made sharper by the knowledge that it was her own actions that had led to it. In a moment of honesty, Jane realized that her words, motivated in part by fear, had been intended to attempt to assert her presumed authority over Helen. The fact that all she’d accomplished was the opposite, grated. Being pointedly reminded that Helen had arranged the reunion caused Jane a pang of guilt, as did the fact that all she’d succeeded in doing was align her own sons against her, yet again.
Jane took a deep breath before saying in a dignified, sincere voice, “I’m sorry, Helen. Please excuse my uncalled-for outburst. I know I owe you a debt I can never repay. I’m afraid; I admit that freely. I fear for us all. Every time the mountain makes so much as a sound, I cringe inside.”
Jim, sitting with Linda at an adjoining table, turned around to say, “Linda and I are worried too. We all are. We’ll do the best we can. Helen had me arrange for some vehicles, just in case we need to get out fast. I’ve got ‘em. We’re working on it, believe me.” The big biker gave Jane his best reassuring smile. He’d also achieved his primary goal: giving Helen a few moments to simmer down.
Relaxing her vice-like grip on the table’s edge, Helen struggled to reign in her temper. Her logical mind forgave Jane for her outburst, but Helen’s rage still struggled for release. With a calm that she did not feel, Helen said, “Apology accepted. We’re all on edge. We're trying, believe me. Still and all, we are most likely safe here. This volcano has never, in thousands of years and dozens of eruptions produced the kind of devastation that would put us at immediate risk. Can it happen? Yes, I’m sure it can. It is just unlikely. However, I assure you I’ll get us out of here just as soon as I can.”
© 2009 C James
Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading, support and advice, and for putting up with me.
Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.
A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick for his advice.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.