Chapter Seven Old Man Howler
Friday, 17 July 2020
Earth, Jupiter, Saturn 9*
/// Intersperse this with stuff earlier?
It had been a quiet week . . . Which gave Hugh too much time to think.
He kicked himself mentally. Again. How he had managed, at the height of his frustrating summer, to pick Delphi Hyde, out of the random assortment of casual drivers doing all sorts of minor things wrong, he had no idea. Pure bad luck. And instead of being just someone driving through, she was not just a pretty young woman. No, she was Sophia's niece. He'd picked on Alastair Hyde's granddaughter. The man that had given him a job when he was at his most desperate. Who'd somehow managed to find the time on a dairy's schedule for him to attend college part time. Who'd given him advice for dealing with his brothers, and shown him how to budget and keep financial records. He hadn't recognized the car, so he'd thought he'd nab an out-of-tower for a minor infraction because his nose was out of joint.
He shortened the reins. Tall Boy shifted back to on duty, from lounging, and a simple shift of his weight sent the tall bay prowling down the street. He eyed the crowd. Nice and peaceful. Thank god Reilly Creek wasn't at some "nexus point" on the "ley lines." All the nonsense about the Grand Allignment had the nut jobs and underemployed former flower children showing up for End of the World celebrations. What there was to celebrate was hard to say, but some police forces were going to have a very busy summer. Locally, half the federal park rangers and park police had been pulled to cover Lassen, Shasta, Yosemite and several other "special" areas.
"Poor sods. End of the World Love-fests."
"Ha!" Old Man Howler peeked around the corner of a house and shook his head at him. "It's more complicated than that. Beginnings are ends, too. But giving birth hurts, least that what the women say. Just gotta keep spinning the wheel, you know?"
"Umm, no. I don't think I do. If you're taking the kids out of here tonight, don't you think you should get started?"
"Nah. Gotta couple days before it gets bad. An that way the kiddy cops don't hunt me down and lecture me about the kids missing school again. Gonna be all over town, this time. I can feel it. Not enough magic, here. I warned the coyotes to run away, but they're just like people. Too curious for their own good."
"Oh dear. Now we have coyotes mixed up in the Mayan calendar was wrong and there's a comet you can see with binoculars."
"Yeah. Laugh about it. You'll see." Howler glowered at him and turned away. A gust of wind picked up dust from the dry street, and the old man fled like he expected the whirlwind to attack.
Hugh closed his eyes to keep dust from blowing into them, coughed a bit and blinked suddenly watery eyes that distorted everything into smeared shapes, apocalyptic ruins and ghostly figures. Dry leaves and grass became whispers and invisible footsteps. The wind died down and he wiped his eyes. California's fall rains had been sparse this year. He hoped the rain would come soon, and snow to the mountains. He's much rather see the usual winter greening than a world so dry he'd hallucinate over it.
The shadow flitted the length of the plane, so fast Del's eyes could barely follow it.
Must be a short in the wiring. Del clutched the arms of her seat as the plane dropped though another air pocket. "I could learn to dislike flying."
The old man beside her cackled a bit. "What I hate worst is not being in control. Dammit, I flew in Vietnam, I just hate being a passenger, now." His head twitched around as mist blew through the plane and the temperature dropped.
"Their cabin pressure seems to be having issues . . . except my ears didn't . . . " Del hunched her shoulders. "I could definitely learn to dislike flying."
The old man sat back, looking disturbed. "Yeah."
Del decided to ignore the problem after all, it wasn't a problem with the flying part of the airplane. She finished pretzels and coke and tried to sleep. Woke up falling. People screaming and grabbing for support . . . the plane found thicker air and started doing more flying than falling. The fasten seat belt sign dinged. No kidding.
Del eyed the chaos in the cabin. Not too many people had been out of their seats, one lady was clutching her wrist, and man limped past. Books, magazines, and phones were fished out of wherever they'd flown or slid. Her stuff was all put up, no problem. People started settling down.
"Third bad flight in a row! I swear . . . " She looked out the window. The almost-full moon above, shone down on mountains, gleamed off the snow still clinging to the highest peaks. Not many lights, down there. She craned her head, looking forward and back . . . There's a road, headlights . . . Interstate Eighty? We're losing altitude, dropping down into the valley, we'll be landing in fifteen, twenty minutes.
Movement caught her eye, birds, big ones, a flock half seen in the moonlight, flying west, with the plane fast overtaking them. Are we low enough for geese? No, those must be those cranes, long necks and legs . . .
And suddenly there was one right there, flapping in the turbulence, ugly scaled head, twisting, gone.
"What kind of bird was that!" Her seat mate leaned into her space.
"I don't know, it . . . "
A bare glimpse in the wing lights of another bird . . . sucked into the engine.
The engine spat flame, the plane lurched, shivered. Kept flying. No more flames.
"We have three engines, we can fly just fineeee . . . !" The plane dropped again. Flew. Shaking.
Del clutched her chair arms. Felt dizzy, and realized she was hyperventilating. Made herself let go with one hand and cup the other over her mouth, tried to stop panting. Leaned close to looked out the window. No lights . . . wait, there were some up ahead. A wisp of clouds, the plane quivered, jumped a little. Tilted and turned. Straightened, tilted the other way. Testing controls? Getting onto a fast track to land?
More birds . . . far enough away to not be a problem, weird in the moonlight, like a vee of pterodactyls. Don't be stupid, they're geese.
The plane dropped, flew, the ride smoothed out . . . "I see lights down there, now. Can't be too far to the airport." A quavery frightened voice from the seat behind her.
Del looked . . . yes, the normal lights of the valley. Sacramento was right there, and the airport . . . The plane shivered, jolted as it slowed . . . below patches of light vanished, leaving a jigsaw of lit areas. "They're having power outages down there. What's wrong?"
"You'd think one crisis at a time would be sufficient, wouldn't you?" Her neighbor had a death grip of his own, despite his forced calm speech.
There were at least two babies crying, a kid carrying on at the top of his voice, someone praying. Del strained to hear an announcement ". . . may need to wait for two other planes in worse condition . . . "
"We're circling?" Her neighbor sounded shocked.
Del swallowed. "We've only lost one engine, got three left. Everything else seems to be fine . . . " She peeked out the window. Plenty of lights below.
The plane tilted abruptly, she spotted the runway lights as the plane lined up with them.
"Cabin attendants prepare for landing . . . "
"That was quick."
Del nodded. "I hope it was because the other planes got down quickly, not . . . anything more disastrous."
" . . . steering and landing gear are normal, no need to take any further precautions, we will be deplaning normally . . . "
The wheels touched down, the plane slowed . . . turned and trundled toward the terminal. Del tried to make all her tense muscles relax. And suddenly she just wanted to melt into a limp puddle. "I am going to have a tough time getting back on a plane in four days."
In theory, as the head of the Traffic Division, Hugh could pretty much set his own hours. But as a member of a small police force, that didn't work in practice. He had his own quota of hours to clock in a squad car handing out tickets and responding to calls, and behind the desk taking reports. Keeping the PD's four horses exercised was on his own time.
When he was on the day shift, he watched homes for burglary, when he was on the late shift he watched the restaurants and late closing businesses for loiterers that might be thinking about robbery. And on the graveyard shift he watched the back doors of the businesses. And always, he handed out speeding tickets.
"I can do it." He drove the squad car past the high school at the speed limit, dropping down to twenty in the school zone. High school seniors, some with their own expensive cars and others with dad's hand-me-downs all slowed and drove ever-so-carefully, at least while he was in sight. Two miles down the road, he turned around and drove back northward. In another squad car, George grinned and held his nose, driving the other direction. Not his favorite part of the job either, but whatever it took to get these kids through their first two years of driving intact was worth it. Once that slug of traffic had worked its way through town, it was quitting time for a number of businesses, creating a second slowdown through town. Hugh cruised slowly, spotted a slowly walking man. Carl Bergman. Damn. Huge cut around through a couple of alleys, grabbed the radio and called the Chief. He walked around the back corner of the Malcolm building in time to see Bergman accost two women leaving the building.
"Gimme your purses, now!"
Hugh walked right up behind him, and had Bergman’s arm—shoved in a pocket as if holding a gun—twisted well to the side and then up behind his back before the man realized he was there.
"Look Ma, no gun." Hugh leaned on the man to control the thrashing and pulled the young man's other hand behind his back. He slipped on the handcuffs.
"Wow. Who says there's never a cop around when you need one." The younger blonde blurted out.
The older blonde rolled her eyes. "You won't say that when you have to take time off to appear in court."
Hugh grinned wryly. "More likely they'll just do a plea bargain and save everyone a lot of bother."
The Chief pulled his squad car up and shook his head. "I don't know how you spot them."
"This guy was a perfect example of a man moving just fast enough to avoid 'loitering with intent.' Criminals aren't smart enough to not look pretty obvious."
The man blinked watery eyes. "I gotta get money for my car payment."
The Chief shook his head. "Get a job. Stop drinking and smoking. This will be number two for you, Bergman. You may get off easy again, but this'll be the last time."
They split the usual tedious tasks, the reading of right's, a search for other weapons , the taking of the would-be-victim's names and contact information. The Chief transported him, and Hugh filed all the paperwork, let a public defender in to talk to the man, arraigned him, and transported him to the County Jail to await bail or trial.
Then it was back out for the restaurant traffic. He spotted Harold Jackson heading for his car and stopped to check his sobriety, and make sure his friend was doing the driving. Midnight came, and he turned in the car, drove home and crashed until the alarm went off at nine, even if it was his day off.
Breakfast and then horses to exercise.
A chalk board was kept up to date on when they'd been ridden.
"I hope you want some exercise. You lot are falling behind." Bev walked up behind him.
"No kidding. And if they get out of shape they'll be getting hurt and or sore." Tall Boy was the most behind, not ridden all week. Hugh saddled him up and headed for the river.
They warmed up walking, stopped for a drink from the river. The pure snow melt was cold and clear. He'd never gotten sick drinking it as a kid, and wasn't about to stop drinking it now. He remounted and trotted up some hills for conditioning. He followed some recent tire marks and found signs of a party last weekend. At least this group cleaned up after themselves. Rustling in the brush turned out to be some loose goats. The big mottled tan buck shook his horns at him but ran back into the brush, raising a shimmering cloud of dust. Hugh circled to herd them, but they'd found someplace to disappear to. He let Tall Boy gallop on the main trail and work up a good sweat, then they walked and trotted home. He switched to Jimbo, and headed back out.
He could exercise Buck and Vivi the next two days, if no one else had gotten out here. He really ought to lay a guilt trip on Juan and Sandy; they and the Chief would be riding the horses during the Thanksgiving Day Parade and traffic control on the Friday after, the Gold Rush Days in December and any other time they needed a mounted presence.
He left a note at the feed store about the goats, but no one seemed to be missing them.