Dare to Return
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Against the vivid red and orange flames of Atlanta burning, Scarlet stood indignantly with her fists on her hips, watching a distant Tiger Moth plane fly out of her life.
"Gone With The Wings", the posters title proclaimed.
The mounted poster hung against an otherwise empty wall. The opposite wall was dominated by a clock with a five foot diameter. The hands of the clock were old propeller wings, and they both lay over the "1" mounted directly onto the wall.
Between the two walls lay a wide cool expanse of dark green linoleum, redolent with wax and good care. Two thirds of the room was divided by an old-fashioned wooden shop counter, complete with flap and swing door, and behind the counter stood an eclectic collection of battered tin, steel and wood office furniture. Against one wall stood a scarred student desk, holding up an impressive array of state-of-the-art electronic radio equipment.
At one desk sat a man as old and knocked-about as the chair he slouched in. He was hunched over a newspaper, his chin resting on both fists. The pose was a familiar one. Vivien shook her head. "Some things never change, do they?"
The grizzled head behind the chipped counter jerked up, and the crinkled eyes focused on her, then widened. "Vivvy! Vivien Galloway ... my little vixen." Morris jumped to his feet, and pushed aside the counter flap and crossed to where she stood by the door. "Come here and give me a hug, you gorgeous creature."
Laughing, Vivien threw her arms around him, feeling bubbles of delight well up inside. Even if nothing else good came of it, her return to Geraldton would be worth it just for this moment. Morris was -- had been -- dear to her.
She stepped back and they both began talking at once, tripping over each others words, laughing at each other, and trying to sort out who would talk first, babbling inanities. Finally they both became silent, smiling at each other.
Abruptly, Morriss craggy face fell, shadowing as if the sun had slipped behind a cloud. "Hells bells," he said softly. "Dont tell me youre the relief pilot they sent us?"
Vivien frowned. "No." She looked over Morriss shoulder, through the large observation window to where a five-seater helicopter sat on the helipad, the rotors bowed forlornly. It was a Gazelle. "Youre waiting for a pilot?"
Morris nodded and swore softly under his breath. "The damned man is late, and weve got a situation on our hands..."
"So whats new?" Vivien asked with a smile. "I cant ever remember stepping in here when there wasnt something happening. Is time critical?"
He nodded again. "Everyones at lunch, Im left to run the radio and suddenly all hell breaks loose. Harbour Authoritys got a lost catamaran. Its probably got caught up in the trade winds and blown out to sea. They want us to go out and spot the damn thing before the people on it flip it trying to run against the wind."
Vivien nodded. "Ill go up and spot it for you," she said, heading for the counter flap.
"You know Gazelles, then?" Morris asked calmly.
Vivien grinned at him over her shoulder. "I own one," she said, which was virtually true, although her bank still had a huge slice of interest in it.
Morris grinned back, and crossed to the counter and reached over it for a key ring hooked on the peg board at the end of the counter. "Theyve been out of sight for about thirty minutes now, so theyll be well north. Can you remember your land marks?"
"Its only been seven years, Morris," she chided, reaching for the key ring he held out.
"Ill take those keys, thank you," said a new, quiet voice.
They both turned towards the front door and the voice. Just inside the slowly-shutting glass door stood a tall man, with blue-black hair. His black eyes were the most dominant feature, tending -- as they were now -- to stare without wavering or compromise. Sharp cheekbones marked the vertical plane of his cheeks, and the smooth olive skin covered a square jaw every bit as daunting as the eyes.
He was staring at Vivien, his gaze boring into her. The stare of a panther. Vivien had locked gazes with a black panther at the zoo, once, and this mans stare was every bit as intimidating as that one. There wasnt a skerrick of compassion in his eyes.
"Hello, Paul," she said softly, trying to still her heart as it fluttered under the impact of surprise. Get a grip, she told herself. Shed known she was going to see him sooner or later. It was just that hed sneaked up on her, as she had done with Morris.
Paul folded the sunglasses in his hand and slid them into the breast pocket of the charcoal gray jacket of his suit. "Vivien," he acknowledged. His voice was still quiet. It was a cold quietness, not born of reticence, but remoteness. She could sense steel behind the calm countenance, the still body and squared shoulders. Well, she hadnt expected him to fall all over her. Anger was just about what she deserved.
Copyright Tracy Cooper-Posey © 1999
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