Responses to subjects brought up by this blog are welcome. I can be contacted by e-mailing me from my website.
Subjects this month: Married politeness, Bain’s fondest wish, Endangered species?, Tongue rollers and kissing, Nice letters, An adventure with Susie, Great quotes, Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW trilogy, Book reviews, Can tech civilization endure?, Status of America: beginning of a series in Bainstorming, Progress report, Excerpt from Space for Sale.
To my mind, the epitome of politeness in couples who have lived together a long time is stopping reading or whatever else you might be doing and paying attention when your other half says something. Of course love might have something to do with always being polite, too. :- )
In the beginning of this presidential election cycle I have a wish, not that it will ever happen but one can dream, can’t one? I wish we would elect a well-educated, well-read, mildly religious, moderately conservative housewife who has had kids, who is still married, who has participated in community and city affairs, who has worked in the economy at least some of the time and above all who is beholden to no pressure groups or money donors and will do what she believes is right regardless of what anyone else may think and regardless of how it might affect the next election. I believe that woman would make the finest president we could imagine. Don’t want much, do I? Well, I said one could dream.
I am all for keeping a species viable but I often think the Endangered Species Act sometimes goes too far without enough scientific evidence to back its declarations or whether preserving a particular species is even worthwhile. Specifically, is it man who is causing the species to decline or is it the natural decline and extinction of a species? That’s how evolution works. Species rise, flourish, decline and become extinct, making room for another species to fill the vacant niche. When I read about a species going on the endangered species list I always wonder: first, why is it endangered? The most often reason cited is habitat loss. Well and good, but I rarely hear why the habitat has been lost. Has man caused it or is it a natural process? If it’s a natural process, and unless it’s a very important species I’d say let it shift for itself. Second I wonder if the species is worth saving? It appears to me that the higher up the vertebrate ladder we go, the more the species deserves protection. Why? Sometimes it’s for no better reason than its warm and fuzzy. Third, I wonder how harmful or not it is and does that have anything to do with being protected. I can’t remember the last time a harmful species was put on the protected list. Maybe the Diamondback Rattler? And why was that? Because its numbers are declining. But wouldn’t other snakes move in on its habitat and serve the same function? No one tries to protect insects that eat a particular species of tree we cherish. What will happen to them when they kill all the trees? They’ll die out but that’s a different story. We don’t like them. There are all sorts of reasons some species are protected and others aren’t. Wild game, cattle and horses can break their legs by stepping in Prairie Dog holes but no one thinks about that. They are cute little fuzzies so they get protected. I’d really like to see a bit of common sense in all this. It’s fine to protect a species that’s truly useful but why protect one that’s not? A dam can fail to be built because some rare little minnow may become extinct when it’s probably on its way to extinction anyway and we lose all that clean power from the dam. See? Is it too much to ask for common sense to be used in government programs, this one in particular? Probably so.
Tongue Rollers & Kissing
Tongue rolling is an inherited dominant trait. Neither Betty nor I can roll our tongues since we inherited the recessive allele from each parent. What’s my point, you may ask? Well, I just happened to wonder the other day while Betty and I were kissing: do tongue rollers have more fun kissing than non-tongue rollers? While we certainly enjoy our kissing we’ll never know if tongue rollers have the capacity to enjoy the act even more. Or, I suppose we can take the opposite view: perhaps non-tongue rollers like us have more fun. In that case, we’re the winners. Of course we’ll never really know, but this little tidbit here is a good illustration of how some inherited traits can’t be changed by environment and how some people come out ahead, or get shorted in some things through the simple process of inherited genes. And of course the ability to roll our tongues or not may not make any difference one way or the other but we’ll never know, will we?
Occasionally I publish a letter from one of my readers. This one was a reply to an answer I sent the reader but was mostly for my wife Betty regarding her book, Articles, Muses and Favorite Diet-breaking Dessert Recipes (available at most ebook stores and in print at www.lulu.com under her name).
Thank you for the warm reply. I have several of your suggestions in the queue to read. I just bought a “Kindle” – it is almost… the greatest … thing.. ever… So, I am trying to find good things to put on it…
By the way… can you pass a note along to Betty? I bought her eBook from Double Dragon Publishing. It was the “Complete Works” – the one with essays, recipes, letters, etc.
I laughed out loud…. Oh my, it was funny, hearing about that first dinner party. I too, have had cooking disasters. My “greatest hits” include: Tossing dried spice into hot oil whilst stir-frying. This makes a mustard-gas like cloud. I had a “first date” with a dear girlfriend where I tried to impress her by cooking. We both ran for our lives, literally.
Boiling goldfish crackers in an effort to make a creative base for pasta sauce. This makes paste, not food. That was another mistake on my part. And there were many, many more.
But, I have never seen a reference to Eggs ala Golden Rod in print before. This made me wake up a bit. This is an old, old comfort-food favorite of mine. My mother made that for her two young boys, back when all we had was each other. She presented this simple dish with such flair; we had no clue that there was nothing possible to cook that had the caloric intake per dollar value that it does. With the pretty riced golden yolks on top, it sure seemed like an exotic dish to us when we were kids. And, I cook it sometimes, just to remember.
Anyway, Thank you Betty, your book made my day. And I want to try each and every recipe. Thanks!
It’s letters like this that make writing worthwhile, huh Sweetie?
An adventure with Susie
A few days ago I was walking with Susie, our fat little short legged dachshund, on our private road when I saw something in the road ahead, not moving. I thought it was something that had fallen from a tree at first. When I got closer and I could see legs stretched out in front and a head back over body like deer sleep, or perhaps like a dead animal might lay. But the creature was real dark for a deer. I got still closer without it moving and began to think it was dead. When I moved up to about ten feet away, still thinking it was dead, I saw an ear twitch. I decided I better not come any closer and said “Hey!”. The damn biggest ol coyote I’ve ever seen got up, shook the dust off and strolled back into the woods. I was carrying my pistol and could easily have killed it if I’d wanted to. Hell it would have been easier to kill it than to miss as close as I was, even with a revolver! And Susie? She never heard or smelled a thing until it strolled off. Then she went howling along its back trail across the pasture! I laughed myself silly at her. And I’m still amazed it let me get so close. Honest, no more than ten feet away and it still didn’t move until I said “Hey!”. I really think I could have walked up and kicked it before it noticed me. I think it must have been after a flea or tick on its back and really intent on what it was doing. Now I’m wondering if I should have shot it. I was carrying my gun and certainly couldn’t have missed at that range. The reason I’m thinking that is because recently my brother and Betty’s sister have both lost small dogs to coyotes. Fat little Susie would probably make a tasty lunch. I guess the reason I didn’t shoot is because I was brought up not to kill wild animals unless there’s a purpose in it, like for food or because it’s dangerous. Betty and I talked about it and decided that Susie won. The coyote is on my list if I see it close to the house again.
“Congress is basically filled with demagogues and power mongers.”
Ron Paul, 12 term representative from the Galveston area of Texas and a Republican, on his colleagues in the House.
I agree. It’s nice to know at least one politician in Washington has the guts to speak the truth!
And another great quote by Milton Friedman, the Nobel award winning economist, paraphrased because I don’t remember the exact words.
“If the government was put in charge of the Sahara desert, shortly we would have a shortage of sand.”
Ain’t that the truth?
Robert J. Sawyer’s trilogy
Robert J. Sawyer’s trilogy, WWW: Wake, WWW: Watch and WWW: Wonder
is not listed with the other book reviews because I wanted it to stand out. There have been a number of novels about artificial intelligence (including my own Quanty) but this three-book series stands out because it is so well written and has such a remarkable protagonist, a formerly blind girl who, before she regains her sight “sees” the internet in a way no one else can. It is she who makes first contact with the web mind emerging from the ever-growing “mutant” packets loose in the worldwide web. She becomes Webmind’s special friend. Other characters include a Japanese inventor who devised the gadget that gave her sight, a Chinese dissident who inadvertently and unknowingly helps the web mind to wake up, a Chimpanzee/Bonobo hybrid chimp who can talk in sign language and many others in the wide-ranging books. The WWW series is by turns intriguing, captivating, exciting, stirring, moving and inspiring in the way it unfolds. I highly recommend this trilogy and it can be enjoyed by lovers of any genre or by anyone who simply loves good story-telling the way I do. I wish I could be reading it again for the first time.
This month I want to introduce you to a special book, Firestar, by Michael Flynn. It is the first book of a four book series. It is a book for dreamers, for those who want to see people from every walk of life reach for something greater than what they have now, whether it be the high school kids, the test pilots, the teachers, the engineers, the politicians, the entrepreneurs or all the others in this big long book. It also depicts those who are out for nothing and no one but themselves, others who have dreams but won’t make the effort to try. It has short-sighted politicians who want nothing but power for themselves and their party, businessmen and women who value profits and dividends over risk on marginal enterprises that might or might not create great fortunes. It has something for everyone. I can’t tell you how much I regret passing this book by so many times in favor of ones I haven’t enjoyed half as much. It is a bit dated now, but anyone who doesn’t keep up with the news or technology will hardly notice and those like me who do keep up don’t care because it is so insightful that it makes you yearn for a past that didn’t happen and for a future that still might, and ought to. You don’t have to be science-minded to like this book, nor a science fiction fan. There really isn’t much science in it. It is a book about people in all their variety but especially about one woman who dares dream big and will stop at very little to realize her dream, no matter the hurt as she is forced to stop being seen publicly with a man below her “station” in order to carry out her plans, or how much and for how long she must fight to realize a future that is bigger than herself, bigger than all of us. Read this book all the way through. You won’t regret it even if it is a bit slow in places because in others you’ll find yourself almost on the edge of your seat with apprehension over what will happen next. Don’t worry. The wait is worth it.
I read two more of Dennis Lehane’s private detective novels featuring Patrick Kenzie and his sometimes partner, Angela Gennaro. I’m usually not much for PI novels but these have made enjoyable reading and a nice break from more serious and longer novels.
I’ve often noted how fiction writers like myself build on ideas from earlier authors. I re-read two of my favorite science fiction novels this month. The first, Brain Wave by Poul Anderson (one of the greats of science fiction) is one of the finest short SF novels I’ve ever read, and re-read. It depicts a natural phenomena originating at the core of our galaxy that speeds up some actions at a basic level and affects some processes such as the function of neurons and synapses in the brain, which in turn greatly increases intelligence. He carries the story to its logical conclusion, covering many aspects of our civilization. It was published in 1954 but so good that’s barely noticeable. The other, A Scourge of Screamers by Daniel Galouye (a much underappreciated SF author who didn’t write many books but did great original work) was published in 1968 and again depicts how a process originating at the center of our galaxy affects our brains and perception but in an entirely different way. I believe that Galouye must have read Anderson’s work or heard of it and devised his novel from ideas put forth in Anderson’s novel almost fifteen years earlier. That’s kind of like how a couple of ideas I’ve used in novels appeared later in works by other, better known writers. One book fertilizes others and such has been the case since fiction began, back in the days of the Greek Aristophanes and probably with story tellers back when language and abstract ideas first appeared.
Maybe this was my month for nostalgia because I re-read another old book, two short novels by L. Sprague deCamp, Divide and Rule and The Stolen Dormouse. Both novels are in the same book under the first title but both are fun little reads even though they were originally published back in 1939 and 1941! You can still find the used book and it’s possible it is out in ebook form by now.
I re-read one of my own books, one of the recent ones that just came out in its print edition, Space For Sale. It is the fifth book in the Williard Brothers series. Heck, all these best-selling authors of thrillers and suspense novels have nothing on me. I can write an adventure/suspense/thriller that stands up with the best of them when I’m writing about these crazy, politically incorrect brothers. In this book, they’ve finally hit the jackpot and now have more money that God and renewed youth to go with it. So what do they do now for fun? Build a spaceship, what else? But it seems there are some shadowy figures in the world that have kept a cap on space travel for decades, never letting it really get going in a way that will sustain humans and industry in space and explore the other planets in real spaceships. The Williard brothers aren’t known for letting adversary stand in their way, though. They set out to do what they said they would do even if it kills them--and it very well may. Fortunately one of the brother’s new girlfriends also has plenty of money and political power. With her and with the other women in their lives who can equal or better their own bravado, maybe they have a chance to achieve their goal. Maybe…if they’re fast on their feet and shoot straighter than the villains.
All Williard brothers books are stand alone novels, but they do progress in time, from the Vietnam war to somewhere around the present day in Space For Sale.
Tech civilization: Can it endure?
I wonder sometimes whether a technological civilization can endure? The earth is overpopulated and becoming more so. Non-replenishable resources like the rare earth elements we use in so much of our gadgets and computers are running low. Fossil fuels are getting harder and more expensive to find. The climate appears to be changing, making food sources unpredictable. The ocean is being fished out. There are simply too many people on this earth to go on and on like this. If technology and science can’t come up with answers to the coming crash, be it sudden or painfully slow, it will be awful and billions of people will die. The best solution, to my mind, is to concentrate on getting industry into space where it can harvest the practically inexhaustible sources of energy and raw materials there. It might be possible to sustain our civilization without resorting to space but it would take an awful lot of research and development of alternate energy and food sources, and even so I don’t presently see a way to replace all the materials we use now and are using up at a frightening rate. Besides, the R&D I’m seeing isn’t enough by magnitudes. Corporations are too dead set on bottom lines and paying dividends to think that far ahead. Betty and I won’t see the end of the predicament in our lifetime, but if solutions aren’t found our children or grandchildren will.
The first book of the Apertures trilogy is out in both ebook and print. I’ve turned the second book in for editing and it should be out sometime in August. And I’m now about 20,000 words along in the final book of the trilogy.
Now here’s a note for other authors: Once the final novel of the Apertures trilogy is published, I’m going to open the Apertures universe to other authors who would like to contribute short stories, novellas or novels set in the Apertures universe. The conditions are that I must vet the stories for consistency and that equitable financial arrangements can be agreed on. If enough short stories make it into print, I would also edit them into a full length book and again, contributors would be paid from the proceeds. Anyone who is interested may contact me from my web site.
Status of America: Introduction to a series
This is the beginning of a series I plan on writing, with one segment in each issue of Bainstorming. This issue I’m simply introducing it. Some of the subjects I’ll be covering, in no particular order, are education, our medical care system, our tax code, environment and environmental policies, energy, and a number of others that are constantly making the news these days.
First and foremost, let me state that life isn’t fair. Some of us get the breaks and some just get broken. Don’t believe me? Look around, beginning with your neighborhood, your town or city and your state. Take a good look at the nation and then the world. Look at the individuals and where they live and how much they earn and who their parents are. How much fairness do you see?
Some of us are born with a silver spoon in our mouths, to wealthy parents who can provide us with all of life’s necessities and many of its luxuries. Others are born in into poverty, where our parents, if we know who both of them are, have to struggle just to put food on the table and clothes on our backs and don’t always succeed at that. The person with an IQ of 100 has to study like hell just to get a passing grade in school while the person in the next seat may have an IQ of 140 and breeze through school without breaking a sweat. There are guys who grow up to be handsome and muscular while others turn out puny and plain. And some women are pretty and curvy while others have faces that would stop a clock and are flat as a board. Life isn’t fair. Hell, the universe isn’t fair. It’s just completely and implacably impartial, with some of us hitting the jackpot and others forever doomed to penury. That’s the way it is and always has been and pleas to the various and sundry Gods we subscribe to aren’t going to change a thing.
Some nations, like the United States, have a lot going for them. A bountiful land, mineral wealth, a democratic government (of sorts), very little real poverty despite what we’re told and best of all, a land of opportunity where its citizens can better ourselves. Other countries, such as Bangladesh, for instance, are crowed shoulder to shoulder almost. Its industries are sweatshops paying workers barely enough to keep skin and bones together for twelve hour work days. Most of the population are peons, depending on monsoon rains for their succor, and very little of it even when the rains come on time and don’t flood half the country.
How about race? If you’re born black in the United States and elsewhere you automatically start off with a strike against you, no matter that some of the pundits claim it doesn’t matter and that good work and education will put you right up there with the white person driving a Cadillac. Bullshit. It doesn’t work like that and if you’re even halfway honest you know it doesn’t.
Should I go on or have I made my point? Want to carry it a little further? Some people live to be a hundred and never have a sick day until they die. Others get leukemia and die before they’re grown. Some persons never suffer even a broken bone. Others get run over by a drunken driver and are paralyzed for life.
See? Life isn’t fair and it never has been and never will be.
So what do we do about it? Well, we can work to try to sort of even things out, as much as possible, and by this I don’t mean redistribution of wealth or giving some groups breaks and not others, or socialism or communism or a hundred other wacky ideas to make us all equal that never worked and never will. No, I mean providing the conditions that will give us all a chance to make our lives better and also to care for those who can’t care for themselves for one reason or the other. After that it’s up to the individual, not the government. And to provide those conditions, I’m going to explain how I believe things ought to be, in no particular order.
Probably you’re now at the stage of asking yourself Who is this guy? What the heck does he know about all this stuff? Where does he get off telling us how things ought to be?
Okay, I’ll answer your questions. I’m just an average guy, getting toward becoming an old man now so I do have a little life experience. Also, I believe most Americans probably fit into the same mold I do, within the first standard deviation of the bell shaped curve. No, forget the jargon. Let me put it this way. Eliminate the very rich, the very poor, the crooks, the illegal immigrants, and above all the politicians and lawyers, and what’s left is where you’ll find the majority of citizens of these United States of America. We may differ on some things but we pretty much agree on most of how the country ought to function. We want to be able to go to work, pay a fair share of taxes, be protected from crooks and thieves by honest policemen, support a military sufficient to protect the country, go to a church of our choice or not go, just as it pleases us and on the whole, not be bothered by a bunch of idiots in Washington who think they know more about what’s good for us than we do. Now if that doesn’t answer your questions go read another book by a far right kook or a bleeding heart far left radical and let them tell you how to run your lives. I don’t intend to. I’m just going to tell you how I think things ought to be but aren’t.
Oh yeah. Don’t expect me to try being politically correct in this series. I hate political correctness. If I want to talk about short people I’ll call them short, not vertically challenged. Illegal aliens are not undocumented residents. When I say a person hasn’t got much worldly wealth or possessions I won’t say he or she is economically marginalized. I’ll say they’re poor. And I’ll call a person in a wheelchair handicapped, not physically challenged and if I’m pissed off I’ll say so, not that I’m satisfaction deprived. Political correctness can go jump in a lake so far as I’m concerned. Be warned.
And a final note: I’m not unconcerned or unwilling to pay taxes to help those who truly need help, like the disabled or victims of circumstances beyond their control, such as flood or hurricanes, or the elderly who are no longer able to work but unable to pay the horrendous costs of modern health care. I just don’t believe in the government trying to be all things to all people but without the means to pay for it without disabling the brightest economy, the freest nation and the most innovative people the world has ever known.
Next: Our Crazy Medical Care System.
Excerpt From Space For Sale
The two attendants unloaded a golf cart for them to get around on. Before climbing in, Jerry took a survey of the surroundings to get his bearings.
“Which end of the plat is this?” he asked the man who was getting into the driver’s seat of the cart.
“This is the big end. It has the highest ground, the most vegetation and the greatest land area.”
Jerry nodded. He knew very well which end of the plat they were on. He had asked the question purposefully and the answer gave him a wealth of information. Why should a low level assistant, essentially no more than a steward, know so much? He helped Maria into the cart then got in the front seat by the driver. Jerry no longer wondered how the driver knew so much about the area, but he was somewhat disconcerted at the speed with which the shadowy adversary of manned space travel had moved. Hell, the man sounded like a walking geography book as he spouted off historical and geographical data of the land they were going to buy. Now all he needed was to see what the next move would be. “Okay, let’s go. Don’t forget the rum. Oh yeah, go back and get my rifle. There may be rattlers out here. And let the girl come along.”
“Yes, sir.” The steward climbed out and hurried back to the still open cabin door. He called inside to his female counterpart, who looked none too happy to be going away from the aircraft. “Aretha, bring the ice and glasses. Hand me the rum and the gentleman’s rifle.” He turned back toward Jerry. “And sir, you might want to leave your jacket in the plane; it will get very hot by noon.”
“That’s okay; I’ll wear it,” Jerry said casually. What with all the shooting and mayhem resulting from their last trip to the Caribbean, he liked to keep his little S&W automatic handy. It fit perfectly into the reinforced pocket of his jean jacket. And judging from Brandy’s surreptitious wink, the rifle might come in handy, too.
Brandy repositioned herself in one of the plush passenger’s seats of the plane and removed a sheaf of papers from her briefcase. She ignored the lone attendant remaining as he attempted small talk, but did notice that he showed no reluctance to break contact and return to the front of the passenger compartment when she declined to speak.
Brandy gave him a few minutes, then replaced the papers. She got up and headed forward.
“Uh, Miss, Captain Fortuno doesn’t like to be disturbed when he’s in the cabin,” the attendant warned.
Brandy eyed him critically. “You know, I think you’re mistaken. The captain needs to be disturbed. You wait here.”
“Miss, I can’t allow—urk!”
The poor man made the fatal mistake of allowing Brandy to get too close to him. Her stunning good looks belied the fact that she was a master of marital arts, with a specialty in close up work designed to overpower far heavier and stronger opponents.
“Damn,” she exclaimed, lowering the man’s limp body to the deck. Just as she was grappling with him, the cough of engines firing induced her to hurry, to the man’s detriment. He wasn’t dead yet, but she could see he soon would be. A broken neck doesn’t leave much room for argument. She left him laying and hurried toward the cabin, pulling out her little concealed automatic as she went. As she pushed the door open, she saw the captain fiddling with the controls while talking to someone with the earphones. He didn’t notice her make her way inside. Brandy went up to him and yanked the earphone away, not being gentle about it.
“Hey! What—oh Goddamn!” He tried to rise from the seat, reach for his concealed pistol and push Brandy away all at the same time.
Brandy chopped at Fortumo’s hand, knocking the pistol away, but she made a rare mistake by underestimating the pilot. He was stronger than he looked and was no slouch at hand to hand combat himself. As she was backing up to cover him with her pistol, he sprang forward so quickly that when she tried to shoot him, the shot was deflected. Not that she wanted to kill him, since he was the only pilot on board, but he forced her into it. She’d been aiming for the arm reaching inside his jacket. The bullet only creased his neck, making a harmless furrow.
Fortumo grappled with her, managing to keep her pistol aimed away from him, but that limited his own range of action. Brandy kneed him in the groin but he turned away from most of the blow, then used his powerful arm muscles twist her wrist and shake the gun from her grasp.
It had been a long time since Brandy had allowed herself to get caught at such a disadvantage. She kicked and writhed in his grasp, using head butts and elbows and knees. They impacted his muscled body with solid thumps, slowing Fortumo down but not stopping him.
A sudden movement of their intertwined bodies in the close confines of the cabin sent them tumbling against the door to the pilot’s compartment, still standing ajar. The edge of it hit Fortumo in the temple. The door banged all the way open and both of them tumbled out into the passenger section. Their bodies separated as they fell, but both of them were back on their feet instantly, catlike in their quickness.
Fortumo grimaced like a Saturday night wrestler and closed in, poised to kill.
By then, Brandy realized she was facing an opponent every bit as skilled as she was at unarmed combat—and he was much bigger and stronger. To her, that meant the best defense was an all-out offense. She leaped onto a seat and from there to the top of its backrest and launched herself at Fortumo while he was still trying to figure out what she was up to. Their bodies met with a sound like a pair of boxers both working out on the same heavy bag.
Fortumo fell backward onto another seat under the impetus of Brandy’s weight and forward momentum, then screamed as she got a fingernail into his eye, but as she was rolling free, he managed to hook her ankle and make her trip. She jerked out of his way just in time as he launched himself from the seat, leading with his feet. One of his heels caught her in the ribs. Brandy knew better than to try getting back upright while she was at a disadvantage. Instead, she slithered forward on her elbows to meet his second charge and launched a hard kick to the groin. This one connected solidly.
Fortumo grunted with pain but he was no lightweight. All the blow did was slow him down. He came on, but by then, Brandy was up on her knees. She dodged a kick and grabbed his leg as he swiveled, holding him up long enough to deliver a balled fist to the kidney. He stumbled off, giving her time to regain her feet, but then he attacked again, using his height and weight and reach to advantage. Brandy was forced back into the cabin under the flurry of blows, to where the fight had begun.
The engines were still idling from Fortumo’s aborted takeoff, where he had intended to strand them while another plane brought a squad of enforcers to capture them and force them to reveal everything they knew of the plans for spaceflight. Brandy didn’t know much about flying but she did know what a throttle looked like. She caught sight of them from the corner of her eye. With little to lose, she shoved both of them forward enough to get the plane moving, hoping an unstable craft might even the odds. The sudden jolt of the craft caught Fortumo by surprise. He fell against the pilot’s seat, giving Brandy enough room to launch herself toward the pistol she had knocked out of Fortumo’s hand earlier. She got her hands on it just in time to swivel and see him coming up with her gun in his hand. They had swapped weapons.
For a moment they stared, both guns pointing lethally at each other.
“You shoot, I’ll shoot, we both die,” Brandy said. She grinned as if the whole thing had been a game. Her adrenalin charged body kept her from feeling her bruises.
Fortumo grinned gamely back. A little rivulet of blood trickled from the corner of his wounded eye. “A Mexican standoff, looks like.” His hand moved surreptitiously toward the throttles. He was standing in such a position that they were concealed from Brandy by the backrest of the co-pilot’s seat and the jet was still moving slowly from Brandy’s previous touch to the throttles.
The sound of the engines spooling up alerted Jerry. It also alerted the attendant, who suddenly realized he might be left behind. Jerry saw the driver moving in the seat next to him. He swiveled, with the butt of his rifle coming up and around in a vicious arc. It connected with the man’s head, making a loud cracking noise and disposing of him as effectively as emptying a clip of steel jacked slugs into his chest would have.
“Maria—watch that bitch!” Jerry shouted. He had no time to monitor the other steward because he saw the jet had begun to move, leaving a small trail of dust behind it. He raised the rifle and took careful aim. It was a long shot but there was little choice. If the plane left without them, he figured some more rude characters would be back soon. Besides, if he let anything happen to Brandy, Jason might empty a clip of slugs into him, and she was alone on the plane with the pilot and the big burly attendant.
The recoil of the M-16 thumped against his shoulder in the old familiar pattern as he fired in bursts of three at the starboard engine, trying to disable it and at the same time avoid hitting anywhere near the fuel tank. He emptied the clip and rammed the spare in place. If it didn’t do the job they were out of luck. He heard noises of a struggle behind him but paid no attention, trusting Maria to keep the woman busy. He shot up the clip and was relieved to see the engine began smoking. It clattered erratically for a moment, then died, leaving the other going. The plane began moving in a wide lazy arc that would eventually turn into a circle.
“Beech! I keel you!”
Maria’s enraged voice came to him over the ringing in his ears from the gunshots. He turned just in time to avoid the maddened stewardess who broke free from Maria and tried to jab him with a needle attached to a syringe. He avoided her rush and grabbed the hand holding the syringe. He used brute force to keep it away from him while pulling out his pistol. The stewardess had been attempting to get her feet in a position to kick him in the cramped front seats of the cart. Her kick missed and hit something on the dash of the little cart that killed its motor, then she suddenly stopped struggling at the sight of the pistol in his hand.
“Drop the syringe,” Jerry ordered. As soon as she did so, he handed the pistol back to Maria. “Guard her! We gotta get to the plane!” He fiddled futilely with the cart controls for a moment then gave up. He jumped from the cart and began running, not looking back. Ahead, he saw the jet run into a small boulder, causing it to change direction and began coming back their way. Only then did he turn and see if Maria and the stewardess were following. Maria was. The stew was laying in a pool of blood thirty yards back. He hadn’t even heard the shot.
“What happened?” Jerry asked, breathing heavily from the struggle and trying to speak while running.
“I say I keel her and I do. Beech!” She handed him back his pistol.
Jerry stopped moving, deciding to save his strength since the plane was still coming toward them. He suddenly realized he had intended to attack the moving plane with no weapon on him except his pocket knife. “Why didn’t you use your own gun when she first attacked you?” He shouted above the whistling whine of the jet.
“I have no time, then I forget. Then I see the medicine she have and I must save you.”
“Thanks! But why did you kill her just then?”
“She no go fast enough. Besides, I say I keel her, you remember?” She shouted back, grinning now that the action was temporarily over.
“I remember, babe. Now let’s rescue Brandy.” The plane was still moving. He didn’t know whether the pilot had spotted them or not. Hell, he didn’t even know how he’d get inside with the plane moving and the access door closed, but he’d worry about that part of it when the time came, as it shortly would. You can always find a way, he thought, gritting his teeth in anticipation.
“Weren’t Jerry or Brandy supposed to have checked in by now?” Williard asked. He tilted his glass of rum and coke to his mouth and drained a third of it.
“Damn straight they should have,” Jason said. He frowned and replenished his drink. Rum helped a man think, or so Jerry always said. He hadn’t disputed the fact in years.
“Let me try again.” Terry picked up her phone and dialed Brandy’s number. She listened for a moment and put it back in her shirt pocket. “Still no answer.”
“Brandy told me cell phones can be jammed with no problem at all, but hell, if that’s what was wrong, she’d just tear up the joint, wherever she was.”
“They’re supposed to be looking at that property out west,” Williard said. “And Jerry hasn’t checked in either.”
“Maybe we better go see about them,” Terry suggested.
“My jet can do it pretty fast, and Jason’s is being serviced. I’ll just need to have mine refueled right quick, and I can call ahead for that.”
“Hell, why not?” Jason said. “We’re not doing anything else right now are we?”
“Let’s get going,” Williard said. His senses were telling him something was amiss.
“Goddamnit!” Fortumo cursed as the starboard engine suddenly quit. He took his hand away from the throttles. No use trying to gain advantage by unbalancing the bitch with a sudden surge of power now. They weren’t going anywhere, and he dared not take his eyes away from her to look out and see what had happened to the engine. Besides, if they stayed as they were, his assistant might overpower the other hick. It wouldn’t take much for Athena to get her syringe of juice into him and his little Mexican slut. Anything might happen. And wasn’t the broad here favoring her side and one arm from where he had landed blows? Maybe he had gotten to her kidney. His own was damn sure hurting. Who would have thought a broad looking like a goddamn movie star could hold her own with him in a stand up fight?
“You’re fucked now, aren’t you?” Brandy said as the jet slowed, moving now from just one idling engine. It hurt to talk but she damn sure wasn’t going to let this bastard know it.
“Hell with you. I’ve got reinforcements coming. You may as well surrender.”
“Balls. I’d rather drink cobra venom. You’re the one who ought to lay down your gun. Don’t you know the other two brothers will hunt you to the ends of the earth if anything happens to me or Jerry? Or to Maria, for that matter.”
Fortumo shook his head. “You don’t know my boss.”
“You don’t know the Williard brothers.”
It was still a standoff, and Brandy felt herself getting weaker. The bastard had really given her a pounding. Too bad she couldn’t have ruined both his eyes. She doubted he’d ever see again out of the one she had gotten a fingernail into. She had to give the bastard credit, though. He hadn’t let it stop him, or even slow him down much.
Jerry matched speeds with the slowly moving plane while running, coming in next to the idled engine to avoid the hot jetwash from the one still working. He looked up at the engine he had fired at and was pleased to see almost all his shots had hit, even from so far away. Now how to get into this sumbitch?
He saw the outline of the rear cargo door but it almost certainly had a lock that kicked in when it closed. That left only one thing he could think of.
He aimed his pistol at the rear passenger door lock and fired carefully, one, two, three times as he trotted along beside the jet. The latch disintegrated and the door came open suddenly, hitting him squarely on his head. He felt himself falling and grabbed for the door. He caught hold of the edge of it, holding on by the ruined lock on the outside and an intact handle on the inside. The door waved in the wind, swinging out then in, each time banging him into the side of the plane. He felt himself getting dizzy from the blows. His grip was weakening. He took a deep breath and on the swing back toward the plane he heaved his legs up with all his strength and let go. His felt his body moving forward, knowing he’d hit his face in the sand if he missed.
He landed just inside, on the corrugated rug, giving him barely enough of a grip to crawl on into the plane.
The first thing he saw was the body of the attendant who had remained behind. He felt for his gun and patted an empty pocket. It had fallen out during the wild gyrations of hanging onto the door and being battered against the hull of the plane. He shrugged mentally and stood up, looking for some kind of weapon. The only thing he could find was a nearly full bottle of Bacardi Light. Better than nothing. Once armed with the bottle, he became aware of voices from the cabin and saw the door was open. He could see the pilot, pointing a pistol at someone concealed from sight by the doorframe. It had to be Brandy. He stared at the bottle of rum in his hand, trying to transmogrify it into a gun. When that didn’t work, he shifted the bottle in his hand so that he was holding it by the neck and began moving toward the cabin.
Fortumo saw Jerry from the corner of his eye. He took a step back, still covering Brandy with his pistol.
Jerry yelled and threw the bottle just as Fortumo decided to try for him with a snapshot and hope he could do it quickly enough to surprise Brandy and get her covered again before she realized what he had done. The bottle coming toward him from out of nowhere spoiled his aim. His shot missed and the bottle smashed him in the face, driving him to his knees among the broken shards of the bottle, but he held onto his gun, still not giving up.
Brandy had no choice because everything happened so quickly and she had no idea whether it was Jerry who had thrown the bottle or not. When Fortumo again swung the gun toward her, she fired before he could get it around. The shot took him just above one eyebrow, making a neat entry wound but spraying the cabin with blood and bone as it exited.
At the same time, Jerry rushed toward the cabin after throwing the bottle, then pulled up at the door as he saw Fortumo’s head explode.
Brandy took a step forward, ready for anything. When she saw Jerry, she sighed and collapsed in the copilot’s seat, wincing from all her bruises.
“Hey, you hurt, Brandy?” Jerry asked.
“Not where it counts, and not as bad as this bastard. Have you given up guns and started fighting with rum now?”
“Naw, but it’ll do in a pinch. It was a damn fool stunt but it was all I had.” A look of consternation suddenly appeared on his face as he saw the broken glass amid a puddle of blood and rum. “Damn it to hell! Now what are we going to drink until the gang gets here?”
Jason, Williard and Terry were in the air when Jason’s phone rang. He spoke for a few minutes, then turned to his brother.
“Brandy said their phones had been jammed by a gadget in the plane they chartered. She found it and also said to get some body bags ready.”
“Wonder why?” Williard said. “Just because we seem to leave a trail of corpses behind us every time we go to the Caribbean is no reason to ask for body bags in Arizona.”
“She says she’ll tell us when we get there and that the pilot was an imposter.
“I take it the pilot is one of the bodies?”
“I didn’t ask. We’ll be there in a couple of hours anyway.”
Terry chuckled. “Whatever she wants body bags for, she’ll have to do without. They aren’t part of the normal supplies I carry in my plane.”
Williard shook his head in mock exasperation. “After hanging around with me for better than thirty years, she still doesn’t carry body bags. What am I going to do with her?”
“We don’t usually stay around bodies long enough to dispose of them, big boy. But if it’ll make you happy, I’ll put a few down for the next flight.”
“One of these days we gotta start asking questions first and shooting second,” Williard said after they arrived, eyeing the carnage in the jet and glancing toward the area where buzzards were already busy with the stewardess’ corpse.
“I’m for that,” Brandy said, wincing from her numerous bruises. “Questioning bad guys is much more productive when they’re still alive. You know what? I think someone doesn’t want us starting a space program.”
Williard grinned. “Too bad for them. And speaking of, I think we better warn Tailhook and Brad to be on the lookout. If whoever the fuck is trying to spoil our fun can’t get to us, they’ll probably try for them.”
“I’ll call while you guys clean up the area; I’m too damn banged up to be dragging bodies around. Man, that guy was good.”
Terry and Williard stayed inside the plane with Brandy and Jason and began wrapping the two bodies with cargo blankets, while Jerry and Maria remained outside to do the same with that body and bring it back.
Williard listened with half an ear to Brandy talking on her phone as he and Terry worked.
“Uh huh, Tailhoook. We took care of three of them here. I think this was a spur of the moment thing, someone taking advantage of a situation when they thought they had a chance to get to us. This pilot probably disposed of the real one and took over the plane. They were going to maroon us and send back others to pick us up and see what we knew.”
She paused a moment then continued. “Uh huh, that’s why I’m calling. We’ll be back home by morning. Whatever you’re doing, drop it and head for Dallas. We’re all going to get together and see if we can get a little more depth into what’s going on.”
Brandy smiled at Tailhook’s curses coming from the phone. Obviously he had been having a good time and wasn’t pleased about having to break it off. Suddenly her smile faded and she began frowning.
“You moved in with her? And you just met? Uh oh, I don’t like this. Don’t tell her where you’re going; just say you have to go. We’ll talk to you in Dallas. Be careful, you hear?”
Brandy put away her phone.
“You sound agitated,” Williard said as he fastened the blanket over Fortumo’s corpse.
“I am. Tailhook didn’t seem worried about someone trying to whack us, but he was pissed about having to stop whatever he was doing with the woman he moved in with. And that’s a woman he just met, by the way.”
Williard began washing his hands, leaving the door to the head open. “That sounds like Tailhook.”
“Yeah, but I don’t like how it happened so quickly.”
“Hell, babe, we hitched up kind of suddenly, didn’t we?” Jason put in. “So did Jim and Terry, for that matter.”
Brandy forced a grin, remembering how Jason had grabbed her in the middle of a firefight and brawl, thrown her over his shoulder and fought his way clear. “Yeah, but I don’t think Tailhook’s near as good a judge of women as you are. And that’s not all I was talking about. Whoever or whatever wants to stop us is working awfully damn fast.” She shrugged. “Well, I warned him; now we’ll see.”
“Here’s Jerry,” Williard said. He and Jason reached down and hauled the stewardess’ body aboard.
A little later, with all of them back in Terry’s plane, they watched while she moved them a little distance from the chartered jet.
Williard took out a RPG he had providentially brought along, aimed carefully, and fired, aiming for the fuel tank of the other plane. The fireball that blossomed from it seconds later was very satisfactory. The remains would soon be covered with drifting sand. If not, he figured they could bulldoze it under as soon as construction of the spaceport was begun.
Brandy was already on the phone to the charter owner, negotiating an exorbitant price for the ashes of the jet. Part of the price would pay for silence.
“Done,” she said. “Now let’s dump these bodies way out in the desert on the way home, someplace they’ll never be found.”
“That ought to give someone food for thought, huh?” Williard said.
Brandy nodded. “That’s a perfect way to scare hell out of your enemies. Have some of them disappear and never be heard from again.”
“I guarantee they’ll never be found,” Jerry said. “Rather than a desert, let’s drop them in a canyon in the Blue Range Wilderness. It’s not far.”
The others nodded. That was an even better idea than leaving them in the desert.
“I’d really like to know who it is that doesn’t want manned space flight to get off the ground,” Williard remarked.
“I’m sure they’ll be calling on us again before long,” Brandy said with a wry grin. “They didn’t worry too much about the shuttle, knowing it was just for near earth flight, and a boondoggled mess to begin with. We’ve already let it be known we’re serious. That’s going to bring them out of the woodwork.”