- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
When I walked down to the mailbox Thursday afternoon, I saw my neighbor trying to horse a big, oddly-shaped box out of the back seat of her tiny car and went to see if I could help. It was one of those 'you-assemble-it' wood shelving units that weighed about fifty pounds.
"It's a late ... Christmas present," she puffed, "From me ... to me. Got tired ... of all the loose junk ... in the laundry room."
I shrugged. "Only two days late. Still counts."
She grinned and breathlessly echoed, "Yeah! Still counts."
We freed the box from the car and I carried it into her house for her, then I continued on to my mailbox, listening to the sound of a helicopter approaching from the south.
Helicopters above Spring Hill aren't unusual; there's an airport twelve miles east of me and the Sheriff's birds seem to run half their training flights over my end of town, so a chopper flapping by overhead doesn't usually rate much attention.
But something was subtly wrong about the sound of this one. The slap of its blades identified it as one of the Bell 'UH' series. I looked up. It wasn't military; it was white with red stripes and some kind of logo painted on the side and the name 'Westco Industries'.
Almost hidden by the slapping sound of the rotor blades was a smaller sound I'd heard maybe twice before and many years ago. It was a kind of whizzing, whining sound with occasional 'ping' noises that means a tail rotor's about to crap out.
Calling up my board, I headed upstairs as I called my flitter down. As I neared the chopper, the whining noise changed pitch and became almost painful to hear.
Individual blades of the tail rotor becamediscernible briefly as the rotor's spin slowed to almost nothing, but didn't quite stop. The bird's tail started swinging toward me, but stopped when the rotor blades became a blur again.
They seemed to spin properly for several seconds, then I heard a snapping sound from within the tail boom. The tail rotor appeared to spin freely and slow down and the bird's tail again began turning toward me.
"Flitter," I said, "Grab that chopper's tail and act as a tail rotor, please, then patch my implant into their commo. I'll have a word with the pilot before he kills the engine."
As the helicopter's spin stopped, I moved my board just ahead of the bird and waved as I said, "Hi, guys. My flitter's got your tail. Keep the power on and find a spot to land."
The two guys in the bird stared at me as I clicked off and slid away from the bird rather than discuss the matter. An animated discussion took place between them, then the pilot began their descent toward a large retention pond.
They aren't 'ponds', really. They're just manicured landscape indentations of various sizes that serve to collect street runoff and let it soak into Florida's rather porous ground. Between rainstorms, most of the 'ponds' are just oddly-shaped fields between buildings or other types of properties.
As soon as the chopper's weight had settled onto its skids and its engine slowed to idle, I said, "Good work as usual, flitter. Thanks."
The flitter, also as usual, made no response to my compliment and returned to its parking place twenty miles up. The pilots climbed out of their crippled bird and I headed back to the house.
I'd made a fresh coffee and gone into the living room to wait for the authorities to contact me when my phone rang four times, stopped ringing, then rang four times again.
Keying my implant to conjure up a blank field screen, I linked it into my phone line and answered, "Hi, there. You've got me."
"It's Detective Greer, Ed. We're being recorded, okay?"
"Yeah, sure. What's the official view on how the day's going around town?"
"Well, it's going pretty well for a couple of helicopter pilots," he said, "Why didn't you stick around?"
Sipping my coffee, I replied, "Stick around for what? The flitter did all the work and I'm not a chopper mechanic."
"Maybe not, but you were involved in the incident. Someone's bound to ask why you were up there."
I almost laughed. 'Someone's bound to ask ... ', just as if he wasn't the one asking during a taped call.
"I heard the chopper coming. It didn't sound right, so I headed up there on the board. I was going to follow them until they landed and mention it, but things didn't work out that way. At least now I won't have to try to convince anyone there may be a problem with the bird."
Greer laughed, "No, that doesn't seem likely. Anything to add? Like how you managed to keep the chopper from spinning out of control?"
"The flitter held their tail steady when the rotor quit."
There was another pause before Greer said, "Flitters are public knowledge now, Ed. Why didn't you stick around?"
"Just didn't. It's not my thing."
With an 'uh-huh' grunt, Greer said, "Well, I can't keep your name out of reports, so you may get a call."
I chuckled and said, "No problem. I have an answering machine," and Greer laughed again.
"Okay," he said, "If that's how you want it." I heard him tell someone, "Just a minute, Larry," then he said, "Gotta go, Ed. Drop by as soon as you can and make a formal report. Anybody here can take it. I'll call if I have any other questions. Later."
He disconnected. I let the screen disappear as I took another sip of coffee and headed out the front door. The phone rang again and I waited to see if it was Greer again. It wasn't; it kept ringing until the machine answered. I continued on my way outside.
My implant pinged with Selena's datapad pattern. Keying up another blank field screen, I sat on the plastic porch bench and answered, "Hi, there. Long time between chats, ma'am."
Grinning, she shot back, "Right back at you, mister. Especially since you don't even need a pad to make a call."
Hm. Her stiffly cheery expression didn't seem real. Hair and makeup 'just so', outfit semi-formal, big black chair framing her shoulders. She was obviously at work, and Selena had never, ever taken her datapad out of the house before.
I asked, "What's the problem, Sel?"
Her gaze narrowed.
"Why does there have to be a problem?"
"You're calling from work, milady. On your pad, no less. You never--that's 'never'--took your pad out of the house way back when, so chances are this call's pretty important."
Rolling her eyes, she replied, "You make it sound like years. It's only been a few months."
I shrugged. "Nine months and some change. Back to the question. What's the problem?"
Selena seemed to hunt for some words.
"Ah ... well, actually ... I'm about to ask you for a favor, Ed. A big favor. The biggest ever. A huge favor."
Uh-oh. Only one thing put that kind of stress on her, but it had been months ... Was her mother taking a new interest in getting her married off and knocked up?
Looking as hesitant as possible, I replied, "That big, huh? Well, geez, lady, maybe I ought to take some time to prepare myself. Can I call you back in a week or so?"
The gold pen Sel was holding began to waggle rapidly back and forth as she drew a breath and said, "Don't make me have to drive all the way down there and hit you."
"At least it would get you here, wouldn't it?"
She slumped and sighed, "Not this week or next, it wouldn't. I'm swamped here. Ed, it's my aunt Jessie. I need some help with her."
Jessie. Well, hell. She was the almost-mother who'd been Joanie's proxy in her mission to generally interfere in our lives and break us up way back when. I let Selena see and hear my reluctance.
"Um ... Exactly what kind of help, ma'am? You remember how Joanie and Jessie teamed up to make damned sure you couldn't go to London with me? Seems to me she might not be all that keen on seeing me again."
Chewing her lower lip, Selena replied, "Oh, hell, Ed. She's been so damned difficult since her divorce and the holidays made things worse. Last month she rented out her house and came to stay with me for a while and it's been one long ordeal. I ... I just ... I don't know what to do, Ed! It's ... She's..."
Her lower lip trembled as she tried and failed to finish her sentence. I was somewhat shocked to realize that my strong, self-reliant Selena was actually on the verge of tears, but while my heart went out to her, the matter involved her aunt.
Selena looked as if she expected me to make some sort of response, so I ventured, "She's making you a little nuts, huh?"
Glancing both ways as if someone might overhear her in her office, Selena clenched both fists and managed to maintain her pleading look as she hissed through gritted teeth, "Yes!"
She took a deep breath, pounded her fists on the edge of her desk, and continued, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh, God! Half the time I want to kill her! I don't know what the hell to do, Ed!"
I chuckled, "Well, you could come right out and ask her how long she intends to stay. Soon, I mean; like, maybe even before you begin to sound desperate, y'know?"
Selena's gaze turned positively mean. I raised my hands as if to keep her from hitting me and tried to look apologetic.
"Sorry!" I yelped, "I couldn't help it! You know she hates me, Sel. I hope you weren't thinking of trying to use me to help her find ... uh, other interests. Or something along those lines. Wouldn't ... um ... whosis be able to find her something to do? He's from Tallahassee; he knows the place fairly well."
Posted July 16, 2010
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