Saturday 24 March 2001 1842hrs EST, Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, Charlottesville, VA, (242342ZMar01)
Thanks to a tail wind Loren brought the Stearman into the landing pattern at Charlottesville some fifteen minutes ahead of schedule and judged her final approach so that she was able to flare out for a three point landing almost as soon as the yellow bi-plane crossed the runway threshold. Easing the throttle back to just above idling revolutions she let the airplane roll out down the length of the runway and then blipping the engine and pushing on the rudder pedals she taxied in characteristically weaving pattern back to Pop's hangar.
They were meet at the hangar door by Mike, one of Pop's boys, a forty-something former Air Force ground crewman, as most of Pop's crew were, who marshalled the Stearman practically to the hanger door before giving Loren the cut-out sign by drawing his hand across his throat. Loren turned the key in the ignition, sat back for an instant and closed her eyes before pushing her flying helmet up off her sweating forehead, and groaning, operated the quick release buckle on her seat harness before climbing out of the cockpit and down the wing into Harm's waiting arms. To her confusion, her legs threatened to buckle under her as her feet hit the asphalt, "Whooh!" she grinned, grateful for Harm's physical support, "What just happened?"
"Are you alright?" Harm interrupted, his face as well as his voice expressing his concern.
"Yeah... I think... My legs just went a bit wobbly, is all!" Loren said through her blushes.
"Oh... OK, you're probably just tired. Look, go get changed out of your flight gear while Mike," he indicated the grinning mechanic, "and I put Sarah to bed."
"Yeah... I think I will..." Loren agreed, "but not until I get my kiss!"
"Kiss, what kiss?"
"I get a kiss after every flight. Remember?" Loren challenged, her eyes alight with laughter.
"I don't remember seeing that in any contract," Harm demurred.
"It became an implicit clause as soon as we spent out second weekend here!" Loren explained.
"Oh... in that case, c'mere, you!" Harm scooped her up and kissed very thoroughly so that by the time he let her feet back on the floor Loren was feeling weak-kneed for a very different reason and her face was bright crimson, and glowed even more when she caught sight of Mike's grinning face, as he waited by the wing root to help Harm push the Stearman into the hangar.
With an angry kitten glare at Harm, Loren fled to the comfort and privacy of the makeshift changing room where she could repair the damage to her appearance and her feelings at the same time.
Saturday 24 March 2001 1905hrs EST, Parking Lot, the Boars Head Inn, Ednam Drive Charlottesville, VA, (250005ZMar01)
Loren glanced across at Harm as he applied the emergency brake, knocked the gear selector into 'Park' and finally turned the key in the ignition. "What now?" she queried.
"Shower, dinner, de-brief and bed – in any order you like." Harm offered.
"Well... the shower's definitely a first!" Loren said decisively, "Then... how about the de-brief and then dinner, and then we could think of something to pass the rest of the night... like sleep!"
Harm nodded, "Yep, sounds like a plan!"
Loren said nothing, but shot him an old-fashioned look, uncertain as to whether he was really agreeing to her idea or whether he was somehow, subtly, poking fun at her.
Still uncertain, she climbed down from the Lexus and waited for Harm to lock the vehicle, allowing him to slip his arm around her waist as they walked together through the hotel main door.
Saturday 24 March 2001 1952hrs EST, Residents' Lounge, the Boars Head Inn, Ednam Drive Charlottesville, VA, (250052ZMar01)
Harm's hair was still damply plastered to his head as he and Loren sat on one of the lounge's couches and spread the chart and Loren's notepad on the coffee table in front of them.
"OK," he began, "What went right and what went wrong with the flight?"
Loren frowned, not quite sue what Harm's point was, "Well... what went right was that we made it to Hagerstown and back, and roughly according to the flight plan you filed."
"We did... but what if I was to say to you. That what went wrong with the flight was that we made it to Hagerstown and back, roughly in accordance with my flight plan."
"I'm... I'm not sure what you mean..." Loren said after considering his words
"The key word in both our summations is 'roughly'," Harm explained. "Why didn't the flight go exactly according plan The visibility was good throughout, there were no mechanical problems, so what do you think might have happened. Remember we were slightly off plan even before we got to Staunton."
Loren pondered, "Yeah... I don't get it. I mean, I know I was off course, but I plotted the course on the map. I checked the headings and I double checked when I converted the map bearings to compass bearings... I kept an eye on the compass, and it was dead set on the heading I noted before take-off...so unless the compass needs re-calibrating, or whatever, I don't know..." she shrugged apologetically.
Harm smiled reassuringly, "Don't beat yourself up over it Loren. You flew the course as well as anyone could given the information you had. The one thing you didn't take into consideration at either the planning stage or during the flight itself was the wind!"
"Wind?" Loren asked on rising note.
"Yep, that was a pretty brisk norther blowing up at six thousand, and because you weren't aware of it, you failed to account for drift. Let me put it this way, while you thought you were flying straight ahead towards Staunton, you were actually skidding diagonally across the sky. You weren't sliding south too much, but enough so that you had to adjust before you turned north to Hagerstown/"
"Damn!" Loren was annoyed with herself, "We covered drift in ground school with Mike, too!"
Harm nodded, "Yeah, I thought you might have. Now, with this afternoon's experience behind you, what do you think you might do to prevent a recurrence?"
Loren shook her head disgustedly, "Get a full report from the weather gremlins before planning cross country flights! But how do you know how much to offset a course? I mean, if there's a wind blowing, that is pushing, against the side of the airplane, surely it will be different for each type. For example the Stearman is about the same length as Lieutenant MacKenzie's 'plane..."
"The Chipmunk," Harm supplied helpfully.
"Yeah, whatever," Loren snapped, "But the Stearman has a deeper fuselage than that Chipmunk, right? So it will drift more if both are flying the same direction at the same speed at the same altitude?"
"Yep, that's true. And unfortunately, only experience will teach you, in time, how much you need to adjust to compensate for drift. So... anything else that might have happened to make the flight less than perfect?"
"Uh... no... not that I can think of, but then again," she glowered at Harm, "I didn't set the flight up so I would fail!"
"No more did I," Harm grinned, "I set it up as an object lesson, and I'll bet a good dinner that it's one you won't forget in a hurry! And going back to my question, there was nothing else wrong with the flight; you did damn good. I'm proud of you!""
Loren blushed with pleasure at Harm's praise, but still warned him, "You really are piling up the score, Harm!"
"Score?" He asked blandly.
"Yeah, embarrassing me back at the hangar, and then tricking me over the drift, thing. I will get my pay back! Maybe not to day, maybe not tomorrow, but some day soon! And you are going to pay for dinner tonight!"
"I am, am I?" Harm smiled. "In that case, shall we?"
"Yes, let's!" Loren smiled in return, and standing held her hand out to Harm.
Saturday 24 March 2001 1942hrs EST, Restaurant, the Boars Head Inn, Ednam Drive Charlottesville, VA, (250042ZMar01)
Angela Williams looked across the table when she heard the clatter of a dropped fork, and saw her husband's face turn pale, "What's wrong honey?"
Bobbie Williams gulped, "Uh... they're here...again..."
"Who are 'they'?" Angela asked.
"C...Commander Rabb... and his fi...fiancée
Angela closed her eyes briefly, "Alright, if they see us, we acknowledge them – that's all. If not, then we pretend that we haven't seen them either!"
"You don't think I ought o go and apologise?"
"No, I don't think so, I know so!" Angela told her husband decisively.
"Um... well... it would certainly be less embarrassing..."
"Yes, it would. So eat your dinner, drink your wine, and let's get out of here. I didn't drive all this way to see you fidget in a dining chair all night!"
Harm had indeed seen Robert Williams and a woman he supposed to be his wife, but he was not in the slightest bit inclined to be sociable to the junior officer. In fact he had tried his best to put their last encounter out of his mind, and now to see the other man here was almost enough to put a damper on his evening. However, he had no wish to have Loren upset, so carefully ignoring the other couple, he seated Loren at their table and poured them both a glass of water while they waited for Sandie to bring them their menus.
"So... we've got a little over three months, and I haven't seen you stressing yet," Harm said lightly.
"What's there to stress about?" Loren asked, "You've booked the Church – the Episcopalian Church just around the corner from JAG, right?"
"But nothing. We're going small scale, right? Nothing extravagant, right again?"
"Yeah and yeah... but what about flowers, invitations, favours and... and... and all that other stuff?"
"You've chosen your best man, haven't you?"
"Yeah, Jack Keeter, but we're waiting to see if he can get leave for that weekend. What about your bridesmaids?"
"Bridesmaid, well, Maid of Honour, really – Carolyn."
"Yeah, she's the nearest thing I've got for a friend at JAG. I mean, We'll more or less have to invite the others; I'm not particularly fond of Harriet Sims, but you're their kid's Godfather, and Bud is your friend, so we'll invite them. Meg is a given..."
"Especially after that!" Loren blushed as she remembered just how much out of proportion she had blown that whole thing.
Harm nodded, and then said tentatively, "Mac? I know you two aren't exactly the best of friends but..."
Loren hesitated, "Yeah, but...If we're inviting all the other JAG officers, then it would be too pointed an insult not to invite her. And she has recently made peace overtures... I know this might sound a bit callous, but I think the beating she got might just have made her think she is not superwoman after all, and that she needs friends around he too. Face it Harm, for six, maybe seven years, she's had very little social interaction with anybody at JAG except you and the Roberts. That's all changing, and it's going to change even more. While she and you were together – even if only as a platonic couple – then the two of you could socialise with the Roberts on a more or less equal footing. Now you're not available to squire her around, she's the proverbial fifth wheel, and I've got a sneaking suspicion that she's beginning to realise that."
"Are you saying that I should stop being her friend?" Harm asked in surprise.
"No. No, I'm not. I will never try to tell you who you should have as a friend. I should hope that your friends will become my friends too, and if there are one or two among them that I really can't like, then I shall put myself in their way as little as possible, and try to be polite to them when I must meet them. But as far as Mac is concerned, unless she's gone on her TAD, then, yeah, we invite her too!""
Harm nodded, "That sounds fair. What about your friends, who do you want to invite?
Loren laughed, "Harm, I'm worse off than Mac, I don't have any friends at all! Apart from Carolyn, maybe, and hey, that's my fault!"
Harm winced inwardly, "You're opening up to people, Loren, but we still need to give 'em time. They'll come round!"
"You sound so very certain of that!" Loren said with a wistful sigh.
"I'm as certain of that, as I am that Sandie's on her way here with the menu!" Harm joked.
Loren looked over her shoulder and smiled as the young waitress approached the table and then did a double take and gasped, "Harm! Isn't that the guy who wanted to accuse you of fraternisation?"
"Yeah, it is. I spotted him earlier. But if he doesn't approach us, then I'm happy with that. I'm just going to pretend that we haven't seen them!"
Loren looked doubtful, "Running away? You?"
"Not running away, sweetheart, just getting a bit more picky about my friends and about what fights I choose!"
Loren looked at him sideways, "Yeah... riiiight!"
Harm's opportunity for a rejoinder was lost as Sandie stepped up to the table, "Good evening, folks. Your menus, shall In get you anything form the bar? A mineral water, perhaps?"
"Yes, thank you, that'll be good," Harm smiled.
Sandie left them the menus and with a smile turned away to head for the bar, to return some five minutes later.
"Are you ready to order?"
"Yeah, I'll have the smoked fish platter starter, followed by the vegetable risotto, please."
Harm nodded, "OK, I'll start with the mushroom and truffled herb salad, with the Aubergine and chick peas, and a side of wild rice for the entrée."
Sandie noted their choices, "Anything from the cellar?"
"Uh... we've got some pretty strong flavours here... so... how about the Muscadet?" Harm asked Loren.
Loren thought for a moment, "Yeah, OK, it's sharp enough to cut through.. yeah," she smiled up at Sandie, "The Muscadet it is, please..."
The Muscadet did go well with their meal choices, Loren in particular enjoying its crisp dryness as a counter to her smoked fish platter. The trout, and other fish were easily recognisable, but she looked in some doubt at what she'd been told was smoked eel until she took a cautious bite of it. Her face assumed an expression of bliss and she swallowed and said, "Oh Harm! This is... this is out of this world! You gotta try it!"
Harm was as reluctant as Loren, but he couldn't resist her appeal so, just as cautiously as she had tried it, he took a small portion on his fork and conveyed it to his mouth. He chewed tentatively and then as the flavour erupted on his palate, his eyes opened in surprise, and he nodded enthusiastically, "Oh wow! Yeah, that is special!"
Sandie served them with her usual calm, smiling efficiency, never intruding, but quick to spot empty plates which she removed without disrupting Harm and Loren's flow of conversation, which for the most part was still concentrated on arrangements for their wedding. The only point of disagreement being Loren's refusal to wear a wedding dress.
"It's not that I'm going to wear my Dress Whites," she stated, "I do want to look like a woman on my wedding day, but I am not going to end up looking like a meringue. A simple, off-white, maybe cream or ivory, dress, and a chaplet of forest flowers..." she paused as Harm smiled fondly.
"Yeah... you always were the forest flower type... It was one of the first thing I noticed about you, the way you always wore a perfume that smelled of flowers, but nothing too heavy."
"M'mm... I remember that bouquet you brought along on our first date... and then you packed the room here with forest flowers the night before we went up to your Grandmother's place. You know, looking back on that weekend, if you hadn't proposed after that floral display, I think I would have killed you!"
Harm looked startled until he detected the glint of amusement in her eyes, "OK, you got me!" he admitted.
"Yeah? Let me tell you something, mister; it ain't over yet, 'I have not yet begun to fight!'" Loren quipped.
Harm reached across the table and picked up her hand, and leaning forward he dropped a kiss on her knuckles, "Just as long as you don't give up the ship!"
"Oh, I don't think I'll do that, it's probably still salvageable!" Loren agreed smugly, retrieving her hand and returning her attention to her plate.
Saturday 24 March 2001 2005hrs EST, the Pacific Café and Grill, Pennsylvania AVE, SE, Washington DC, (250105ZMar01)
Raoul Hernandez lifted his eyes from the menu and stared across the table at his dinner companion, "How did we end up here?" he asked.
"Well, we wanted somewhere that was pretty handy, so we wouldn't have to trek clear across town, and we decided we wanted something more than pizza and suds, you wanted steak, and I wanted seafood, so we hit on this place so we both could get what we want," Julia replied with an innocent smile.
"No! That's not what I meant!" Raoul replied, and a hint of grim humour showed in his voice, "And you damn' well know it! What I meant is how come we're out having dinner together?"
"What, like on a date?" Julia asked.
"Yeah... uh... I mean no... I mean..."
"Oh Raoul, anybody would think you didn't want to be here with me," Julia gulped, her emerald eyes looking suspiciously moist to Raoul.
"Oh... no... I don't mean that... please, Lance... uh... Julia, don't cry." Raoul's words fell off his tongue in a tangle.
"So, you are happy to be here with me?" Julia asked, her face transformed from the picture of woe of a moment before into a dazzling smile.
"Dammit, Julia! Don't keep doing that to me!" Raoul complained. "Of course I enjoy being with you; I just don't understand how we... well..." he floundered to a stop and glared at her, "Why?"
"Well, yesterday afternoon, I asked you if you had any plans for the weekend, you said no, so I suggested we meet for a drink, and then you said it was the guy's place to do the inviting, so I told you to go ahead, and you did. You invited me out for dinner!" Julia said ingenuously.
"Oh..." Raoul Hernandez, the veteran USMC Sergeant had a sneaking suspicion that somewhere along the line he had been outmanoeuvred by the petite blonde smiling at him from the other side of the table.
He waited until the waitress had taken their orders, and then turned back to Julia, "So... why did you handle me so that I would invite you out?"
"Um... I don't think I did, well not on purpose. I invited you out for a beer because I like spending time with you...and I enjoyed the wet down when we danced together. You're a good man Raoul Hernandez, and there ain't that many around." She shrugged, "I like you, and I guess I'm a sucker for a man in uniform," she grinned.
Raoul shook his head, "Even when it's the same uniform you wear?"
"I wouldn't have it any other way!" she assured him.
Raoul studied Julia, "OK... I kinda like you too... but if we're on duty and you screw the pooch, I will chew your ass, same as I would any other Marine!"
"Like I said, I wouldn't have it any other way – and besides that would be on the job, not personal; a night out with someone I like is!"
Saturday 24 March 2001 2015hrs EST, the Good Stuff Eatery, Capitol Hill, Washington DC, (250115ZMar01)
"Are you sure your doctor said burgers were alright?" Sue asked for maybe the twelfth time that evening.
"M'mm..." Mac mumbled through a mouthful of the Colletti's Smokehouse Burger, loaded with Vermont Cheddar, Onion Rings and Chipotle sauce. Sue could only look on in amazement as Mac almost inhaled her second burger of the evening, together with its attendant side orders of fries and coleslaw.
"I realise you're just making up for lost time, but where the hell do you put it all? You're a little older than me, but you're just as slim, how the hell do you manage to eat like that, and keep your figure?"
Mac swallowed, wiped her lips with a paper napkin and smiled beatifically, "I just have a great metabolism!" she declared, "Besides this is the first solid food I've had in a month!"
"Great?" Sue echoed, "You mean damned incredible!"
"Yep, just lucky I guess," Mac retorted sticking a straw into her double thick extra chocolate milk shake, while Sue just shuddered.
Sunday 25 March 2001 0915hrs EDT, Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, Charlottesville, VA, (250135ZMar01)
"Morning Pop," Harm hailed him cheerfully as he and Loren walked out of the bright spring morning into the relative darkness of the Hangar.
"Morning," Pop grunted, he squinted at the couple, "What ya got in mind fer today?" he asked.
"Touch and go for a couple of hours this morning," Harm replied as Loren grimaced and groaned silently, "then some free practice this afternoon. A bit of playtime before we head back to DC!"
"Dunno as how folk kin live up there!" Pops commented before going on to ask, "Whut time did y'all git back last night?"
"A little before nineteen hundred, we had a tail wind all the way back from Hagerstown..."
"But a head wind all the way up, huh? So... I reckon she'll need refuelling afore you take her up again."
"I reckon that too, Pop." Harm agreed cheerfully.
"OK... go ahead and wait in the office while I get one of my boys to fill her up, he'p yourself to some coffee... it's fresh brewed, an' if you've gotten a mind to it, I've gotten your bill ready for you."
"Well, I won't say that I've particularly got a mind to it, but if the bill is ready, then yeah, let's get it settled!"
"Yeah, go on ahead, I'll be with you in a minute!"
Loren declined the offer of Pop's purple poison, saying that she'd rather keep the memory of the Boar's Head's breakfast coffee for as long as she could, and opted to take the time to change into her flying clothes. She returned to the office just as Pop finished swiping Harm's credit card through the old-fashioned manual press he favoured over more modern devices.
"So, Pop," Harm was saying as he entered the office, "Taking into account today's likely hours, she's due for her twenty four service, and renewed FAA certificate of Airworthiness. Do all the routine servicing, but call in if there's any problems, OK?"
Pop nodded, "Yep, shouldn't be though. She's a good old gal, an' you pay to keep her straightened up and flying right, so it's up to me to make sure she does!"
"Hey, I do my bit too!" Harm protested half laughingly.
"Waal, you used to," Pop drawled, "but your hands-on time has taken a knock back this last coupla months!"
Harm looked at the older man, "You're right..." he admitted as he realised that he had been having so much fun teaching Loren that he'd kept the Stearman in the air for every minute he could, rather than spend time with it on the ground. "But, she's flying for two, now Pop!"
The old man's face creased into a grin as he glanced over at the now-blushing Loren, "Yeah, I reckon she is at that!" he chuckled, then as a knock came at the door, he turned towards, "Yeah?"
One of the 'boys' stuck his head round the edge of the door, "The Stearman's all gassed up, boss!"
"Thanks Richie," Harm said getting to his feet, "You ready, Loren?"
"As ready as I'll ever be!" she smiled, although traces of red still showed in her cheeks, and nodding a farewell to Pop she turned and walked with Harm out of the office into the hangar and then out on to the apron.
Loren automatically started her walk-round, visually check the fabric of the port wing for any tears, testing the tension on the flying and landing wires, and checking the play on the control surfaces before squatting by the side of the engine looking for leaks, and checking the condition of pipes, lines and hoses as well as looking carefully at unions, seals and gaskets. Satisfied with what she'd seen she rose from her crouch and walked around the front of the 'plane checking the two bladed airscrew for any signs of chips or stress lines that might indicate a potential failure, before moving on the starboard wing and eventually on to the tailplane where once again she checked the amount of free play in rudder and elevators.
"Pre-flight check complete!" she told Harm who had carefully stood back, watching her progress, but far enough away so that she wouldn't have the feeling he was second guessing her. His face creased in a smile of approval, he walked forward, tugging on his helmet as he did so, "OK, then, up with you, and let's get this show into the air!"
Loren, however stood her ground, reaching fir his hands. He stopped, a questioning look on his face as he let her take both of his hands in hers while she looked up at him. "Harm, are you getting broody?" she asked him.
"Huh? No, not at all, why?"
"Well, we both want kids, but for myself just not yet, I'd kinda like to get used to there being the two of us before introducing a little stranger into the mix, and..."
"Hey, are you still not used to there being two of us?" he asked softly.
"Yeah, I am. I am, but... I'd kinda like a honeymoon period after the wedding... but if you really want to start a family straight off, then I guess that's something I... we... could look at."
"I'm not in that much of a hurry, sweetheart, but why bring this up now? I though we'd settled it on Friday?"
"Well... it was you asking on Friday was I pregnant... and then just now there was all that 'flying for two', and I guess I kinda wondered whether it was some sort of Freudian slip, and you were getting impatient..."
"No, not me! Like I said when we first got engaged and talked about having kids, it's your body, and your timetable. I'm fine with that!"
Loren nodded, and then bit her lip, "This is going to sound so bad, but I really do want to wait until after we're married. Before I get pregnant again, I need to know that the father is going to be there with me every step of the way!"
Harm looked thunderstruck, "Loren, I will be with you every step of the way through any and all pregnancies and child rearing, even if we do decide to have that football team after all!"
"Oh!" Loren blushed even as she chuckled, "That is definitely not going to happen!" and then she sobered again, "Harm, I know here," she laid her hand on her breast, that you would never desert me, but I still need to feel it up here!" she tapped the side of her head.
Harm smiled, noting the twist and the slight emphasis she'd placed on the verbs in her last sentence, "I think I get it," he said, "and I can wait for as long as it takes for you to be ready!"
"You sure?" Loren queried, desperate for confirmation.
"I'm sure about waiting for you to decide you want babies, I'm not sure about waiting for you to haul your six up into that front cockpit!" he grinned.
"Aye, aye, sir!" Loren grinned back at him as her heart soared free, and gave him the grossest caricature of a salute that he had ever seen.
Loren scrambled up onto the wing, but as she threw her leg over the cockpit rim she turned her head and saw Harm still on the ground and grinning appreciatively at her. Once again blushing bright red, she finished seating herself in the cockpit, and adjusted her helmet and headset. Craning her neck she could just see that Harm had donned his helmet, and fuming with embarrassment, she flipped the radio switch to the 'on' position.
Harm heard the crackle in his ears as Loren's voice rang loud and clear, "You pervert! I've just figured out why you always wait for me to emplane first! You just like drooling at my butt!"
Before Harm could reply, there was a second's worth of static as a microphone pressel switch was held down, "Unknown callsign, this is Charlottesville Tower, be advised that you are on broadcast and not intercom. Repeat, you are on broadcast not intercom!"
There was an instantaneous click in Harm's ears and then Loren's voice in a suffocated giggle, "Oh, crap! I didn't... I mean did they hear..."
"Yep, I reckon so," Harm replied fighting to keep the laughter out of his voice. "You'd best let me handle the tower from here on in. Just start her up, please!"
Loren hastily completed her pre-flight instrument checks and started the engine, which gave its customary two coughs and then roared into life, its bellow reduced to a rumble as Loren altered the settings. Harm thumbed his radio switch back to 'Broadcast'
"Hello Charlottesville Tower, this is Stearman November Six. Advising of change to flight plan. No longer require touch and go, am now heading for Western Manoeuvre Area for individual aerobatics, over."
"Roger November Six, amendment to flight plan noted."
"Thank you Tower, November Six requesting clearance to taxi to runway one niner five, over."
"Roger, go ahead, November Six. Advise when you are at threshold, over."
Harm flipped the switch back to intercom, "You got that, Loren?"
"Yeah, hold onto your hat!" With that Loren knocked off the brakes and advanced the throttle until the Stearman started to roll along the taxi-way. As usual Loren was forced to make the bi-plane weave from side to side so that she could see what lay ahead in their path, and again it was with a feeling of relief and an awareness of sweat trickling down between her breasts and shoulder blade that she brought the airplane to a quivering halt at the runway's threshold.
Harm flipped back to broadcast, "Charlottesville Tower, this is Stearman November Six, holding at threshold one niner five, requesting clearance for take off and transit to Western Manoeuvre Area."
"Stearman November Six, hold at threshold, repeat, hold at threshold. You have a second airplane on final approach to runway one niner five!"
"Roger, Tower." Harm replied, and then craned his neck to watch the other airplane, a Cessna Corvalis, pass low overhead and then land, with a triple puff of smoke from its tricycle landing gear, some hundred or so yard up the runway, decelerating to taxiing speed.
A crackle in his headset brought his attention back matters in hand, "Hello November Six, this is Charlottesville Tower, you are now cleared for take off and transit to Western Manoeuvre Area. Be advised that there is one other aircraft operating over the Western Manoeuvre Area, over."
"November Six, Roger. One other aircraft over WMA. Out."
Harm flipped his microphone switch to intercom, "Did you hear that Loren?"
"Yep, sure did!"
"OK, take us up to Angels five and then steer two seven seven four"
"Angels five and two seven four, aye!" Loren acknowledge and nudged open the throttle, while the engine's sound changed, growing louder and allowing the Stearman to roll at ever increasing speed down the runway until its wings bit the air and the veteran bi-plane rose into the sky.
Loren stayed on her heading of zero one five until the Stearman reached the desired altitude of five thousand feet, at which point she brought the airplane round in a forty five degree bank and settled on the new heading of two seven four.
"Change of plan, Loren," Harm said over the intercom, "We're going to have some playtime, so... take her up to Angel eight..."
"Angels eight, aye!" Loren acknowledged, opening the throttle, and pulling back gently on the stick. At eight thousand feet she levelled off.
"OK, try a falling leaf, to leaf starboard... and level off at Angels two!"
"Falling leaf to starboard, level off at Angels two, aye!" Already Loren was calculating the loss of altitude for each phase of the manouevre, and decided on fifteen hundred feet, that would give four alternating side slips. Applying stick and rudder she let the Stearman slide away and down to her right, transitioning directly to a port side slip as the altimeter passed through six thousand five hundred feet, and slipping back to starboard t five thousand feet, alternating the side slips until, sweating slightly, she centralised stick and rudder at two thousand feet, still flying on a westward heading.
"Bravo zulu!" Harm chortled. He had been watching his instruments all the way down, and although Loren had allowed a little yaw to develop at five thousand feet, she had swiftly corrected and was now only one degree off course. By anybody's standards that was highly accurate flying for a novice pilot in any airplane, especially one with such rudimentary instrumentation as the Stearman.
"Take us back up to Angels eight, in a nice wide climbing turn; give yourself a chance to get your breath back," Harm added shrewdly, having a pretty good idea of the nervous tension that Loren must be experiencing.
"Angels eight, aye!" Loren replied, resisting the temptation to pull her helmet off and wipe her forehead. That had been exhilarating. A bit scary, but exhilarating, and she wouldn't mind the opportunity to do it again!
As the bi-plane passed through five thousand feet, a flicker of movement caught her eye, "Harm! Bogey at two o'clock low!" she said urgently as she identified the flash of movement as the second airplane they had been warned was over the Western Manouevre Area.
Harm looked in the direction Loren had given, but his view down and forward was blocked by the lower plane. "Increase the turn to port!" he commanded.
"Turn to port, aye!" Loren confirmed, applying greater pressure on the stick.
As the angle opened, Harm grunted with satisfaction, his experienced aviator's eye had easily picked up the movement, and a flash of yellow helped in his identification of the stranger. "It's the Chipmunk!" he told Loren, "The one belonging to Mac's cousin!"
"Yeah... OK... but it looks like she's climbing to join us!" Loren said with a trace of nervousness in her voice.
"It's OK, we're at least three thousand feet above her; carry on up to Angels eight, and then steer a nice wide left-handed circle, so if she is climbing to our altitude, she can see exactly what we're doing, that way neither of us will surprise the other."
"Up to Angels eight then a wide circle to port, aye." Loren responded. She had never flown in close proximity to another airplane and had no wish to find out the hard way how things could go wrong. She knew that formation flying was an accepted military practice, but with two aircraft so mismatched as the Stearman and the Chipmunk, she didn't have the faintest idea of what the protocol should be. Hence it was with a feeling of relief that once they had reached eight thousand feet and she had started her wide circle she heard Harm's voice in her headset, "Loren, I am taking control!"
"Roger, you are taking control," Lorn confirmed with a sense of relief.
"I have control!" Harm said, although his grip on the stick, evidenced by the firming of the stick in her own hand was ample confirmation.
"You have control!" Lorn confirmed letting go of the stick and removing he feet from the rudder pedals.
Harm had kept his eye on the Chipmunk throughout its ascent, and the realisation that Sue MacKenzie was intent on forming with the Stearman had prompted his decision. He was, of course, unaware of Loren's misgivings, but he knew she had no experience in flying with other aircraft and he knew how quickly things could go wrong under those circumstances.
As the Chipmunk drew alongside, about one hundred feet distant off his starboard beam, he glanced across the space that divided them to see two heads inside the greenhouse style cockpit canopy, although it took a classic double-take for him to realise that the face in the front seat was Sue MacKenzie, but the face in the rear seat was that of Mac!
He badly wanted to tell Sue to sheer off, that she was too close, but by doing so he would alert the tower that she might be in violation of FAA regulations by operating too close to another aircraft in flight. Before he could resolve the dilemma he heard Sue's voice in his headset, "Hello Stearman November Six, this Chipmunk Uniform Sierra Alpha, switch to Channel one four, please."
"November Six, roger, out."
Harm switched from then public channel to the more private alternative channel, "This is November Six."
"Hey, do you want to play follow my leader?" Sue asked, and Harm could hear the mischief in her voice.
"If you can keep up with me for the next five minutes, OK, but I have a novice pilot on board, we should be practicing basic manoeuvres!"
"Keep up with that old lady? No problem," Sue laughed.
"OK, you said it!" Harm grinned, and immediately pushing the throttle all the way forward, he half rolled to port and put the Stearman into as near a vertical dive as he he could. Keeping an eye on his ASI so that he wouldn't exceed the maximum safe speed, he allowed the Stearman to dive ever faster towards the ground. "Thumbing the radio switch back to intercom, he said to Loren, "You alright?"
"Yeah! But what are you up to?"
"Teaching a Jarhead not to mess with best! Hold on tight!" he responded.
Harm's actions had taken Sue by surprise and she lost a few vital seconds before she managed to react. Copying his manoeuvre she half rolled and dived the Chipmunk, muttering "Damn cocky shyster Squid, thinks he can fly, huh!"
It took Mac another couple of seconds to sort out the intercom switch and although she heard Sue's imprecations she was too slow to stop her cousin from taking up the challenge, "Sue! He's also a combat aviator! Didn't you see his wings at JAG?"
"Oh crap! What does he fly?"
"Oh... double crap! Well too late to back out now!" Sue declared as the Chipmunk built up its airspeed.
Harm watched the speed build to the safe maximum before he pulled back hard on the stick, trading speed for height as the Stearman climbed.
"Hah!" Gottim!" Sue gritted between her teeth, confident that the Chipmunk's rate of climb was greater than that of the Stearman.
Harm waited until the bi-plane was halfway through a loop and completed inverted, when he half-rolled off the top of the loop in an Immelman turn that brought him back into a dive and as he zoomed again, onto the Chipmunk's tail.
"Where'd he go?" Sue yelled in frustration.
As she did so, she heard crackle in her head 'phones and then groaned in consternation as Harm borrowed a sound effect from the 'Battle of Britain' movie, "Takka takka takka takka," he chanted, simulating the sound of machine-gun fire.
"Oh, hell!" Sue groaned in mortification, "You sneaky shyster!"
"All part of the service!" Harm grinned as he eased the Stearman alongside the Chipmunk, "Some of us have got work to do right now, but if you want to come out and play again with the big boys, you're welcome any time! Changing frequency, out!" Harm said, just a trifle maliciously, as he knew that doing so would prevent Sue from answering him.
"Oooh!" The marine lieutenant groaned in frustration.
Mac was torn between sympathy for her cousin, a touch of schadenfreude and a feeling of pride in her partner's skill. "I warned you. He's good!" she said trying to keep some sympathy in her voice.
"Yeah," Sue laughed, "You did – but you kinda left it a bit late!"
Harm in the meantime had peeled off and climbed back up to eight thousand feet and levelled off. He retuned the radio and then flipping back to intercom he asked Loren, "You OK up front?"
"Oh, wow! Yeah... still getting my breath back, though."
"OK... do you want to relax or do you want to take control?"
"I am taking control!" Loren affirmed.
"You are taking control, aye!" Harm responded.
"I have control!" Loren told Harm, although again he could feel her take the stick in her grasp.
"You have control!" Harm agreed letting go of the stick. "Now let's take a pause and get our breath back. Do you know where you are?"
Loren looked over the side of the cockpit, "Yeah, I think so... I think I recognise that finger of woodland extending to the east!"
"OK, fly heading three sixty for five minutes, then make a ninety degree turn to starboard. Fly zero niner zero for five minutes and then turn onto two two five, and see how near you can get us back to our starting point!"
Loren jotted down the various headings on the pad taped to her right thigh, and then made a tight circle, banking well beyond forty five degrees as she confirmed her position relative to the ground, and then as the bi-plane's nose pointed north, she straightened up into level flight on her set course. He brain was furiously active, this was, she was sure another test,. There was still a brisk northerly wind blowing, so she determined that instead of steering zero nine zero after the turn to starboard, she would fly on a course of zero eight seven, and similarly she would steer two two eight on the final leg. Letting the north wind drift her back onto her true course.
Harm sat back to enjoy the ride, and also to keep a close eye on the compass repeater. He had deliberately set a course that would expose the Stearman to drift and he wanted to see if Loren had firstly picked up on that, and secondly to see what corrective action, if any she took. There was no telling, of course, on the first leg which took them almost directly into the wind, but as soon as he turned onto her new course and Harm saw that it was north of east, he smiled to himself. Once again Loren had absorbed a vital lesson, and had applied it on her own initiative. Of course the variation in heading might have been pure bad flying on her part, but when five minutes later she again adjusted her heading to fly slightly 'uphill' of her true course his smile became even wider. Yep, once might have been an error, but twice was, to his mind, proof that she had corrected her flight headings to compensate for that wind.
"OK... Well done!" he enthused as they circled over the spit of woodland that Loren had earlier identified as a landmark. "Now, a spin to starboard and recovery, then back up to eight thousand and then a spin recovery to port. Remember PARE: Power, Ailerons, Rudder, Elevator! Got it?"
"Yeah, got it!" Loren replied, but not without a slight rise in nervous tension. Dropping the starboard wing, she let the Stearman yaw and the nose drop With the lower wing stalled the yaw developd into the spin and muttering her way through the mantra, she applied each stage in its turn to come out into a shallow dive but flying straight ahead.
"OK, Loren! Well done! Now back up to Angels eight and a spin to port!"
Once again Loren ran through the mantra and once again the bi-planed recovered, almost effortlessly from the spin, levelling out at six thousand feet.
Harm kept an eye on both the clock and the fuel gauge,a nd after a few more manouevres, testing Loren's memory of the various control movements he bit his lip and debated whether or not to take her through one final, new manoeuvre for the day, but decided in the interests of safety this was one that was best talked through and prepared for on the ground, rather than to have it sprung on her in mid-air. "OK Loren, take us home! We're running a tad low on gas!"
"OK," Loren replied without argument. Harm was cutting the flight a bit short, but truth to tell, the reaction to the successive adrenalin rushes, from the manoeuvres she had performed and the mock dogfight with the Chipmunk, short-lived though it had been had taken their effect and she was feeling a bit tired.
Turning onto an easterly heading, Loren headed back for Charlottesville and was more than happy when ten minutes later the familiar shape of the airfield appeared in the angle between the fuselage and the lower port wing. Loren nodded with satisfaction and thumbed her pressel switch, "Hello Charlottesville Tower, this is Stearman November Six, approaching from Western Manoeuvre Area range five miles, altitude Angels six, requesting landing instructions.
"Charlottesville Tower, descend to Angels four and join the landing circuit descending to Angel one five at threshold to runway one niner five, call for clearance when on final approach. Over."
"November Six, roger. Starting descent to Angels four now!"
The final approach and landing were without incident and the Stearman almost floated down in a smooth three-point landing theta Harm and Loren barely felt. Once again though, Loren was more than happy, to blip the engine, clearing each of its cylinders as the bi-plane rolled to a stop outside Pop's hangar. It was no good, she just did not enjoy taxiing the airplane, but she was damned if she was going to ask Harm to do it for her. It was all part of learning to fly, and overall it was the most fun she'd ever had, 'Well, outside the bedroom!' she reminded herself.
Unfastening her seat harness she clambered out of the cockpit and slid down the lower wing to land as per usual in Harm's arms. Clasping her hands around his neck she lifted her face for his kiss, and breaking their lip lock after some few seconds, she smiled up at him as he said, "You know, that's a sight that never gets old! Much as I do like watching your six when you climb into the cockpit, I really prefer it when I see you sliding down that wing towards me!"
"I'd say that was pretty evident!" the familiar voice made them both jump and loose their hold on each other.
"Mac!" Harm greeted her, "I thought I recognised your face up there! But... but..." his brain finally caught up with his eyes, "When did you..." he made a vague gesture towards his jaw.
"Oh... Yesterday morning. I went to see Commander Pike on Friday and bullied him, so he took the wires out and the cast off my arm early yesterday morning. Then Bud and Harriet spent the morning moving me back to my apartment. So once I was settled, I 'phoned Sue, and we went out to dinner last night and she invited me to go flying with her today."
"Dinner, hey?" Harm queried.
"Yeah, first solid food in a month! It was fabulous!"
"Beltway Burgers?" Harm asked despairingly.
"No, actually it wasn't!" Sue interrupted as she walked out from the office. "Good morning Commander, ma'am," she inclined her head in Loren's direction.
"'Morning , Sue," Harm answered as Loren smiled in the Marine's direction, "But we don't use ranks out here, do we Loren, Mac?"
"No, that's true," Loren replied, "Isn't it, Mac?"
Mac looked a bit taken aback, but as it had been her to first try and break the ice by calling Loren by her first name back at JAG, she could hardly complain. "No... that's true... after all," she turned to her cousin, "You don't want to be calling me ma'am, and if you call me by my name then it would be just too strange to call Harm 'sir' and Loren, 'ma'am'..."
That wasn't quite what Harm had meant, but if rationalising the situation in that manner made it easier for Mac to cope, then he was happy to go along with it.
"I don't know about you three, but I was beginning to feel the chill up there... so I'm all for getting outside of some coffee. Has Pop gone home for his lunch, yet?"
"Yeah, he left about ten minutes ago," Sue said. "He saw you taxiing back towards the hangar, muttered something about damn Navy aviators, and off he went grumbling!"
Yeah, he would!" Harm grinned, "But he doesn't mean anything, his bark's much worse than his bite. And anyway, I think he's just jealous of me; I reckon he's got a bit of a thing for Loren!" he finished with a gleam in his eye as he looked down at Loren.
"He has no such thing! He just likes me 'cos I'm polite to him and don't tease him about his age." Loren denied calmly, refusing for once to rise to the bait.
"Gee, ya think?" Harm answered as the MacKenzie cousins burst out into laughter.
The three women took station around Pop's desk while Harm took a disgusted look at the low level of the coffee in the carafe, and having checked the top drawer of the filing cabinet for more coffee and fresh filter papers took the carafe out towards what passed for athe hangar's kithen returning in few minutes with the carafe rinsed out and refilled with fresh water. He set the machine to brewing, and took his place at the table as Loren, having watched Mac inhale three of Pop's tuna and mayonnaise sandwiches without blinking an eye, asked "So how does it feel to be able to eat again?"
"Bliss, pure bliss," Mac smiled, "Even Tuna and mayo tastes good!"
Sue shook her head, "Even after last night?"
"Even after last night," Mac agreed affably.
"So where did you two girls go to eat last night, if it wasn't Beltway Burgers?" Harm asked as he reached for a sandwich.
"Oh... a place on Capitol Hill, the Good Stuff Eatery," Sue replied, "and I've got to admit, their Burgers were to die for!"
"Ha!" Harm exclaimed in triumph, "Not 'Beltway Burgers' indeed! I knew it!"
"Yeah, alright, flyboy! So I had a burger..." a raised eyebrow from Sue made her hastily amend her confession, "or two. I would really have liked to go for a steak, but Commander Pike vetoed that, and," she added virtuously, "he specifically said that burgers were OK, so I was only following medical advice!"
Harm looked at her for a second, before his face split into a huge grin, "I would loved to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation!" he observed as Sue and Loren both giggled to themselves.
"Oh Harm!" Mac protested, "He did! Honestly!"
"I'm sure he did, Mac," Harm replied soothingly, "But I'd have loved to witness just how you handled him into making that recommendation!"
There was just enough of the truth in Harm's accusation to bring the colour to Mac's cheeks, "Well, OK... I did use a bit of sophistry, but he'd just banned anything that might need vigorous chewing until I'd got some strength back into my jaw muscles, so I wouldn't stress the jaw fractures, and I asked if ground beef was OK, and he said yes..."
Sue was about to join in with the teasing when she decided instead to support her cousin, who wasn't defending herself with any degree of conviction . "So what's so bad about burgers anyway?" she demanded of Harm.
"Well... I'm against eating red meat on principle, and very rarely eat chicken or pork. But I do eat fish, so I'm not entirely a vegetarian, but burgers..." he shook his head, "there's just so much grease and fat in them... Ground beef is usually made with the fatty off-cuts, and then when it's formed into patties it's fried in more fat..."
"Not so much at the Good Stuff," Sue rebutted him, "the burgers there are broiled over charcoal and lose a lot of their fat content in the cooking..."
"Yeah, just like the way Bud grills burgers – including your bean-burgers – when he and Harriet have a cook out!" Mac joined in.
"H'mph, OK I'll give you a pass on that one then, Mac. But..." his eyes twinkled shrewdly, "Are their chocolate milk shakes as good as the ones from Beltway?"
"No! Of course not! No way!" the three women chorused.
Harm blinked and then looked sorrowfully at Loren, "Et tu Brute?" he demanded.
"When it comes to defending Beltway's double thick chocolate ice-cream milk shakes, you bet your ass!" Loren declared.
Harm shook his head and rising from the table he went to the coffee machine where he poured four mugs of coffee, "I don't know how any of you will like this," he warned, "but if it's too strong, or too weak..." he looked at the two Marines, "Then you should have made it yourself!"
"It might come as a bit of shock, Sue," Mac stage-whispered, "But it's not too bad... once you get used to the squid way of making coffee..."
Sue grinned and accepted a mug from Harm, "I'm sure it's fine! Thank you."
Loren too nodded her thanks, but then took a cautious sip, "It... it is a bit on the strong side," she told Harm, "but it's much better than Pop's over-brewed version!"
"Well, I won't claim it's too strong, " Sue said trying for a middle path, not fully aware of the situation between Harm and Mac, but with the growing realisation that there was some sort of history between them, "but it is definitely an improvement on the purple sludge!"
"Yeah, not too bad, Squid!" even Mac conceded, before she changed the subject, "The Admiral's away all week, isn't he, Harm?"
"Yeah, he's fishing somewhere in the wilds of New Mexico, but he reckons to be back in the office a week from tomorrow."
"So... it might work, then, Sue," Mac said.
"Yeah... let me look into it and I'll get back to you by mid-week!"
"Plans, Mac?" Loren asked lightly.
"Yeah, Sue has offered to fly us down to Fort Sill to meet her parents." Mac looked a bit embarrassed, "Uh... you may have wondered why I never mentioned having family?" She saw the answer on Harm and Loren's faces, "Well the simple fact is that I never knew I had any!" She saw the look of surprise on their faces, "Harm, you know what my dad was like, well he had a huge fight with his brother, that's Sue's dad, and then just shut him out. He never mentioned him at home, see... so..."
"But what's this got to do with the Admiral?" Loren asked.
Both Mac and Harm looked at her, "Keep this to yourself please Loren. I didn't get a pass on all the crap that happened last month. As soon as the situation is cleared up with Mic, I'm going to be getting orders for a six month TAD to an LHD somewhere in the farthest reaches of the ocean as SJA, so I can benefit from the contact with 'more squared away' Corps Officers."
Loren winced, "I knew about the TAD thing, but ouch!"
"Yeah. So I'm kinda on probation until then. I shall be handing over my duties as Chief of Staff..."
"Oh, no!" Harm gasped.
"I don't know who's getting the job, but you are the senior officer that's going to be left at JAG, so you are the logical choice." Mac pointed out.
"Mac, I'll hate that!" Harm nearly whined.
"Yeah, and maybe the Admiral will take that into consideration, " Mac offered, "But I wouldn't bank on it! But... back to my travel to Fort Sill, I'm not exactly his flavour of the month, so I don't whether the Admiral will let me take leave!"
"Don't see why not... I'm pretty sure you've rehabilitated yourself to a degree, with all the LSO scut work you've been signing off, and how much accumulated leave have you got on the books anyway?"
"Just like you I suspect, all maxed out on that!" Mac confirmed, "Sixty days, it's been like that for three years now!"
"Well that's got to be in your favour?" Loren asked.
"Well, maybe... but enough about me and my troubles, talking won't fix them, not at this stage! But I think Sue has a bone to pick with you..."
"Oh...?" Harm raised his eyebrows.
"Yeah, what sort of sneaky shyster trick was that you pulled out there? I had you bang to rights, was just waiting for you come over the top of the loop and you'd have swum down straight into my sights – if I'd had any! So what was that?"
"Not a shyster trick at all. It was a perfectly legitimate manoeuvre dating back to WW One, invented by a German flier, Max Immelman, it's rarely taught any more because in modern air fighting a pilot loses too much speed, relatively speaking, in the climb and the inverted portion, and is a sitting duck for AIM's. In fact, to quote my old instructor at Top Gun..."
"You were at Top Gun?" Sue looked so dismayed that the other three were forced to laugh.
"Yeah, I was," Ham confessed and he looked at Sue with real mischief in his eyes, "But as our instructor told us, the combat Immelman was going out of favour as early as nineteen eighteen, as airplanes were becoming more powerful and able to climb up to the Immelman performing airplane before it could fully execute the manoeuvre. In fact," Harm's expression became far too innocent, "It was reckoned by that date that it would only work against pilots of vastly inferior skill."
There was an instant of shocked silence before Mac and Loren exploded into protest, "Harm!" they then both stopped to allow the other to begin a harangue, but both were forestalled by Sue's laughter, and sat looking at her in bemusement.
"Oh," she said eventually, mopping her eyes with a lump of cotton waste, "I should... I really should have seen that coming! I saw the grin beginning, but I was just too slow off the mark – again! No. don't worry, I asked for that both out there and in here. But I won't underestimate you again, Mister Rabb!"
"No, I don't 'spect that you will, Harm agreed with a smile. "But now, we do have some work to do. Sue, it was nice meeting you again, both times! Mac, I'll see you at JAG in the morning. Oh, and don't forget I'm acting JAG this week, so don't be late!"
Mac's face was a picture of consternation, she had in fact allowed that little snippet of information to slip right past her, and she was so confounded by her missing that news that she let Harm completely slide on his absurd dig at her timekeeping.
Once on the apron, Loren turned to Harm, "That was cruel, if anybody's known for their perfect time keeping it's Mac!" she mock scolded him.
"Yeah it was a bit on the cruel side," Harm admitted, "but it was fun! Now get aboard, will you. I reckon a couple of hours, circuits and bumps and then we can head for home."
"Aye, aye, sir!" Loren grinned, with another rendition of her caricature salute.
Harm waited until she was almost in the cockpit, before he called her name. Loren stopped with one leg over the coaming and had to bend slightly in order to look past her own shoulder at Harm, "Yes?" she asked.
"Oh, just to let you know, that you've still got a very cute six!" Harm grinned.
Loren's "Ooooh!" of frustration wasn't quite audible in DC.