Adventures of Cookie the Stray, Chapter 23
Rusty and the dogs could hear pings as small objects struck the above ground vent. Nicole trembled on the bed she and Cookie shared as they listened to the storm howl above them. With each impact, the dogs lifted their ears trying to make sense of the noise.
A loud crash echoed down the stairwell, followed by the sound of glass breaking. The noise brought Rusty upright on the small cot. He spun the dial on the weather radio hoping to find a working station. His patience paid off as the static turned into the baritone voice of a solemn announcer.
“Sources on the ground in Colleyville report that the wind has subsided after wreaking heavy damage to the surrounding area. Three people have been transported to the hospital with minor cuts and abrasions after their mobile home was lifted off its foundation and thrown sixty feet across the road into a field. We’ll have an update on their condition momentarily. Several houses and outbuildings have been completely leveled with neighboring homes and structures left intact. There are no reported fatalities as the storm makes its way northeast.”
With that bit of good news, Rusty returned to the cot and drifted off to sleep comforted by the calming effect of four snoring dogs.
The helicopter flew over the crash site again, this time circling closer for a better look. The flames that had sprouted from the engines were nearly out thanks to the onslaught of the pouring rain. The pilot saw little damage to the fuselage other than it was upside down.
A different passenger awaiting the arrival of the Beechcraft had reported that his pilot was long overdue. With the storm subsiding, he expected the flight schedule to resume.
“I paid good money for this private plane and I expect better service,” he told the guy in charge of the tiny airstrip.
“I’ll do some checking,” he told the passenger that stared at the large clock on the hanger wall, then, at his own watch.
Only two employees staffed the small control tower of the regional airport. The manager phoned the senior of the two controllers and confirmed that Beechcraft Twin King Flight 180 was overdue by an hour and forty-five minutes. No contact had been made to confirm their approach. He hung up and called one of the off duty helicopter pilots out of the breakroom. “Bud, I need you to do a fly-by on this flight plan.” He handed the helicopter pilot a print out.
With the winds abated and the worst of the storm over, the helicopter pilot had followed the coordinates shown on the report. As he scanned the featureless mountainside, his radio crackled with news. A commercial pilot on a parallel flight high above the mountain spotted a flashing beacon and a stream of black smoke rising from what appeared to be a downed craft. The self-contained mechanical rotating beacon continued to send out pulses that reflected through the dense fog.
The upside down Beechcraft lay at an awkward angle near the precipice on the north side cliff. Inside the upturned plane, Jeb, dangling from his seat drifted in and out of consciousness. In one lucid moment he thought he heard the rhythmic beat of a helicopter rotor. Straining to see out through the webbed cracks of the portal, his hopes were dashed as the chopper’s noise grew faint as it flew off into the distance.
“This isn’t going to be easy,” the helicopter pilot radioed in to base. “There’s no clean place to set down near the wreck. One false move by the rescue party could send the craft careening into the gorge."
“Await further instructions pilot,” the dispatcher instructed. “Return to base.”
“Roger that,” he answered.
Eleanor popped the last tray of biscuits into the old wood burning oven. The rest of the meal was already cooked. Containers of scrambled eggs, grits, bacon and a jug of orange juice were already packed into the wicker picnic basket she’d brought upstairs from the basement once the storm passed. Lining the inside of the basket, a red and white checkered tablecloth enclosed plastic plates, cups, and silverware topped off by the food.
“Just waiting on the biscuits to be done,” she told Queenie, Jeff and Dolly as she filled an enormous thermos with hot coffee. “They probably have a coffee maker at the station, but there’s no telling if they have power.” The dogs watched from their beds in the corner of the kitchen where they’d already become a welcome part of Eleanor’s morning routine. She was particularly fond of little Jeff whose shyness and gentle nature made him all the more appealing.
“I’ll be springing your mom from the pokey this morning whether the Sheriff likes it or not," she reassured them. “I’m going to bring her back home with me. You’ll see.” With that, she pulled the crisp, golden brown biscuits out of the oven and popped them into a napkin-lined basket. She broke one into three pieces and passed them out to the dogs. “Just enough room in there for these cathead biscuits,” she said, pleased with her organization skills. Queenie tipped her head at the mention of cats. Eleanor tucked the tablecloth neatly down over the containers and closed the lid of the picnic basket.
“Whew, that’s heavy,” she said, grunting as she carried it to the front door. “I’ll be back in no time at all. You guys be good, okay?”
It had been quiet for some time when Rusty finally climbed the stairs and unlatched the storm door. He gave it a tentative push and was pleased to find the kitchen intact. The shattering noise they’d heard earlier was a tree that fell over and crashed into the front room window.
“Looks like that will need some attention,” he told the dogs as they followed him around the house. He yanked on the front door which was still sticking and let the dogs outside to take care of business. “We were fortunate,” he said smiling into the watered down sunlight of a brand new day. “Nothing’s broken that I can’t fix.”
He followed the dogs a distance down the trail, each of them keeping him within visual range on their treks. Rusty reached the huge structure of the barn. It looked no worse for the storm despite tree limbs and debris scattered around in front of the enormous sliding door.
Inside, the sheer size of the hand hewn timbers gave him a new appreciation for those 19th century builders who’d raised the structure. Carved into the crossbeam over the door was a date: 1855. Rusty imagined what the building could tell him about times gone by, of Civil War, drought, floods, good harvests and lean years. The dogs followed him inside, snooping around in the drifts of hay remaining on the dirt floor. His imagination churned at the possibilities and uses for the structure.
He took a detailed tour around the farm assessing damages to the pecan grove and repairs needed for the farmhouse and the barn and came up with a plan he hoped Eleanor would accept.
And, as always in the quiet of the morning, his thoughts drifted to Connie. He wondered if there was any chance she and her dogs would want the kind of life he envisioned out here. First things first, he was determined to spend whatever it took of his savings to bail her out of jail and find her an attorney. He looked around to make sure no one else was around, then, headed toward the old oak tree where his secret savings lay buried beneath its roots.
© 2018 Peg Cole