Consciousness forces itself upon me with a rude blinding of sunlight and the whir of a propeller.
“Plane’s ready. Let’s move, Evie.”
I know the voice belongs to Kyle, but my disconnected mind is still scrambling to find orientation.
Strong hands grip my arms, punishing in their forcefulness to move me. The forward motion twists my gut as the toes of my boots drag over the weeds poking through the asphalt.
“Work with me here.” Kyle’s calm tone is at odds with the urgency in his gait. “That thing is right behind us.”
I pick up my feet and match his strides. “An aphid?”
“No, the Pillsbury dough boy.” He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, an aphid.”
A small plane waits in the field ahead. We close the distance and Kyle shoves me through the open door. The hunchbacked creature on his heels swings a mutated claw. As I reach for a dagger on my arm sheath, Kyle throws an elbow, pivots his hips, and drives a black dress shoe into the aphid’s driveling mandible. It stumbles back.
He leaps into the pilot seat and slams the door.
I catch the headset he tosses me and smile. “Tight kick.”
His lips seem to be fighting his own smile. If he let it go, I know it would melt my insides into a puddle of needy goo. Instead, he yells over the drone of the propeller, “Buckle up.”
The plane plows through the open field, past the steady flow of aphids surging from the woods, and speeds along the crumbling airstrip. I rock in my seat willing the airplane to go faster and become airborne. Kyle’s eyes gleam, a hint of a smile on his face. I can tell he’s in his element. Like he lives for these moments.
Once in the air, he rolls his shoulders and adjusts his headset. “Can you hear me?”
“Yup. What now?”
“I’m needed back at our corporate offices in Houston.” His smile falls away. “We’ve had another accident.”
Doesn’t surprise me. He’s an important guy, especially now that his tenacity and investigative skills have proven him to be an invaluable asset to Omega Airlines, the NTSB and the FBI. “Will Lori Almond be assisting you there?”
His gorgeous eyes soften at the mention of the NTSB’s Assistant IIC. “I wish. I could use the short fiery investigator with the awesome butt”—he blushes, swallows—“who attempts to keep me out of trouble.” The glee falls from his face. “No. This accident doesn’t warrant the NTSB’s involvement.”
“Tell me about Ms Almond. What is it about her that puts that look on your face?”
“You mean besides the fact I can talk to her about anything and know she’ll listen and not judge me for my thoughts? Or, the way her eyes light up when I make light of something? Or, the fact she’s a calming influence whenever things seem to be going to shit?” A sigh escapes him. “Not much. She’s a pain in the ass.” His lips stretch to suppress the grin trying poke through.
“Between your aviation knowledge and Lori’s fact-finding expertise, you guys make a great team. You seem to enjoy this line of work. Do you miss spending your days in the instructor seat of a simulator?”
“No. I love being shot at, getting into fights, or wondering who’s trying to kill me.” He rolls his eyes. “Being a sim instructor is rewarding and easy work. There are days I miss the carefree life. But it becomes monotonous after awhile.”
“I know the Omega Airlines investigation was dangerous with all the industry legalities and corrupt agendas, but what did you like best about your role in it?”
His face brightens. “You mean besides the sex?”
Studying the instrument panel, he fiddles with the power setting making me think that’s all he has to say on the subject. There was only one sex scene in The Cover-Up, and it wasn’t explicit. I worry the poor guy thinks that’s the impassioned sex some of us want to read about.
Eyes on the distant horizon, he says, “I hate it when people of influence feel they can get away with corruption. So, I like that Lori and I managed to imprison those that belong there.”
“You’re a passionate guy, Kyle, and I worried about everything you endured. Especially when it became personal. How did you keep your shit together?”
“By squeezing my buttocks.”
I can see why Lori rolled her eyes so much in the book. Can I get a straight answer out of this guy?
Fiddling with the throttle again, his amusement falls away. “When it became personal, I think it’s human nature to dwell on the immediacy of the moment. Similar to what you did at the beginning of Dead of Eve when your children died and you sought refuge in your bed. My training as a pilot has taught me to look past the compelling doom and focus on an outcome.”
“What about the toll it put on your family? Would you risk that again?”
“Are you kidding? Talk about a story to tell your friends.”
Turning away and staring at the passing ground below us, I wonder if that’s all he has to say. I’ve come to realize his humor is an attempt to cover-up the caring individual beneath.
“As with so many past decisions, I wish I could go back and change them.” He shrugs. “If a similar situation happened again in the future, I hope I’d take different precautions.”
Silence settles between us. I’m poking at painful memories and need to lay off. I make a show of looking around the small cabin. “When does the inflight beverage service arrive? I could use a stiff one.”
He cocks an eyebrow. “After the little slip of my hand earlier, that’s good to hear. But this will have to do.” He reaches into the seatback pocket of my seat and withdraws a flask.
There’s that charming smile. I bet he has women from the NTSB, the FAA and the FBI lined up to investigate him intimately, which reminds me… “Special Agent Samantha Rankin permitted you some leeway in The Cover-Up. I think her motivation to have you close to the investigation wasn’t necessarily a professional one.” I waggle my brows. “What do you think?”
“Rankin? She’s attractive, but a little too serious for my taste.” A faraway look crosses his face. “Although, it’d be interesting to see how she acted if we used her handcuffs for…other purposes.”
He shifts in his seat. Focus, Evie. Not everything is about sex. “What can you tell me about your next job?”
“Omega had an aircraft go off the end of a runway on landing. At first, it appears it was the crew rushing to land before an approaching thunderstorm. But I think there’s more to it than that. I’m finding resistance at Omega to discover what that is.”
“In lieu of your recent adventure, will you be packing a weapon going forward?”
“Evie, Evie, Evie. Just because Joel’s mantra was ‘Side-arm, carbine, shotgun, vest’ doesn’t mean the rest of us live in the same world you do. You have to remember, hopping on an airline and going somewhere is as natural for me as you hopping in your jeep to get a pack of smokes prior to the outbreak. The TSA, thankfully, is anal about weapons on board flights.”
“How about your self-defense skills? You’ve proven yourself in hand-to-hand combat on numerous occasions, but do you have any plans for continuing your training in the martial arts?”
“Yes, I’m learning Jeet Kune Do and how to defend myself against multiple attackers.”
The engine sputters then resumes operation. Kyle fusses with the engine controls. Then a deadening quiet except for the passing slipstream greeting us. Too damn quiet. My heartbeat tripled its tempo. “What’s wrong?”
“The apocalyptic gas I put in the tanks is contaminated. The engine has quit.”
The plane dips and my stomach catapults to my throat. “We should find somewhere to land.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
No doubt anywhere we touch down will be teeming with aphids.
My seat jerks through vibrations. Then I see it. A terribly clichéd mountain top emerges through the clouds and we’re heading right for it. “Kyle!”
“I see it. We’re good.”
The clouds disperse. The mountain grows taller, closer. A flock of birds take flight from trees. Kyle seems to be struggling with the steering. Sweat beads on his forehead.
“Abort,” I croak around the lump in my throat.
“We’ll clear it.”
Metal groans. The mountainside landscape fills the windshield. My pulse roars in my ears.
“Abort! Dammit! Abort!”
Dana Griffin is a Boeing 737 pilot for a U.S. Airline. He lives in Kentucky with his wife and two four legged children some people call dogs. When not flying, he’s working on another Kyle and Lori story that follows The Cover-Up. You can follow him at www.dana-griffin.com/