Sunday, May 11, 2008

Against the Current by Christine London

Sideways rain blew across the windscreen, high intensity searchlights barely penetrated the gathering gloom and the ferocity of the storm threatened the survival of any imprisoned by its rage. Commander Grant Cooper pushed the collective gingerly, the nose of the H-65 Dolphin helicopter dipping beneath the traffic bed on the Golden Gate Bridge in a desperate search for survivors.

"There!" Lieutenant John Manning pointed a forefinger across the instrument panel into the sheeting rain.

"God damned crosswinds." Grant gritted his teeth as he struggled with the collective and the cyclic, trying to keep the pitch of the helicopter stable.

"Okay, Murphy. Time to hook up and earn your pay." John said into the microphone imbedded in his copilot's helmet. "There at two o'clock. He's getting fucking close to the piling."

"Bleedin' idiot. I'll never know what gets into people. Going out when the forecast is rain with gale force gusts. Much worse than this and we'd not be able to stay up." Grant's shoulders tensed and his gut tightened as he hyper-focused on maintaining the integrity of the copter.

John slid a glance toward his commanding officer, approbation warring with worry on his face. But then, this was a hell of a storm. It blew in off the Pacific like a lioness on wounded prey. "It's too windy for the basket. Murphy'll have to go it alone."

"I've got it," Grant calmly answered John's implicit concern.

"God, I love this job!" Murphy's voice came through the crew helmets. "Cowabunga!"

Grant knew the exclamation could mean only one thing. Murphy was out the cargo door, on his way to the frigid waters below. "Easy does it, Murph."

"Piece a cake, sir." The roar of the wind cutting under the bridge distorted Murphy's voice. "Keep it stable for me and I'll have this doofus inside before you can sing the National Anthem."

"Oh say can you see…" First class petty officer Sandy Richards sang out in accompaniment to her partner's descent. The team out of Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco had eighteen months in together. With Murphy as the rescue swimmer and Richards as the flight mech, they worked in tandem as one cohesive unit. Sandy operated the hoist, making sure Murph had a safe journey from copter to sea; Murphy, donned in dry suit, secured the victim's safety.

"It's a bit brisk out here, Commander. Water temp's gonna keep me from performing my husbandly duties for the next week."

"You just keep those jewels intact. I don't want to make any extra stops tonight." Grant kept his tone light, suppressing a shudder at the memory of losing a crewman at flight school in Alabama, where he was a Royal Navy exchange instructor for advanced flight training. It had been early in his two years there, well before transferring to finish his four-year commitment abroad as flight officer out of San Francisco. It hadn't happened on his watch, but the loss affected the entire class at Mobile. It always did. Every time a crewman was lost, it was as if a family member had passed. The cost of freedom.

Not the Department of Defense "freedom" preserved with soldiers and the use of brute force, but freedom of choice. In the case of this rescue, the choice to take a pleasure boat out on the bay at noon when everything looked calm; the freedom to ignore the responsibilities of a civilian sailor to monitor the weather. To believe yourself invincible to the whims of Mother Nature; the freedom to be arrogant and unwise.

From the lowliest petty officer to the Commandant, every member works to support the Coast Guard mission: Police of the Sea, to preserve life and limb on the waters. Grant's drive went further; he also represented her majesty's best of the best. As lead pilot, he was an integral part of the life and death mission assigned to Search and Rescue (SAR) units.

"Hey Sandy, I think that should be 'God save our gracious queen, our great and glorious Queen...'" Murphy's voice shivered through the noise of the storm. "Suppose the North Sea makes this weather look like a picnic, eh Commander?" His tone changed to one of solicitous authority as he addressed the victim in the water. "I'm a Coast Guard rescue swimmer and I'm here to help. I'll secure you, ma'am."

The sound of a woman's voice replying was barely audible. "But my boat…it's gonna…" The rest of her sentence was lost to the wind.

"Geez, that's a woman out there. What the hell…?" John's voice tensed with incredulity.

Grant kept his arms and eyes steady, performing the delicate balancing act of a helicopter pilot. Autorotation into the bay was bad; losing a blade, lethal. "Have you got her?" he barked into his helmet.

"…the land of the free…and the home of the brave." Murphy's voice was winded, the definite thud of bodily impact on the last word, changing 'brave' into something more like 'braumph'. Grant allowed himself a smile at Murph's song, the crew laughing at the inside joke that signaled mission accomplished. "We're aboard, sir."

Grant eased the cyclic forward and collective up. The helo responded, swooping across the frothy grey waters of the bay towards home.

* * * *

Grant pushed into the operations room inside the hanger. Petty Officer Kirk Dietrich reached to take the helmet from Grant's hand, "Welcome back, sir."

"Can't suffer you ASMer's looking after everything. I do appreciate it, though." As he gave up the helmet, he flashed a dimpled smile. Air Survival Man Dietrich was charged with maintaining the myriad of equipment necessary for Search and Rescue air operations.

"So no snafu's this trip, sir?"

Grant rotated his shoulders, trying to release the knots built up in his muscles. His thighs felt like he'd just completed a marathon and he wobbled a bit on his feet. "Miraculously, not even an injury."

"That's why you're back so quick. No stops at S.F General tonight."

"No. Not to say we shouldn't be takin' the woman in for other evaluation. She must be a real nutter."

"A taco short of a combo plate?"

Grant lowered his chin, shooting a look that encapsulated "duh".

"So where've you stashed her?" Dietrich queried.

"I expect she's in the women's head at the moment, getting sorted out."

"You got Petty Officer Richards with her then?"

"Yeah. She'll get her into a dry flight suit to save her from any further threat of hypothermia. At least she was bright enough to have donned a wet suit before being tossed into the bay. Wouldn't surprise me to hear that the jib had knocked her in."

"Lifevest?"

"Yes. It seems our victim had at least portions of her logical brain still functioning properly." Grant peeled off his dry suit, and reached into the locker for his civvies.

"So who is she?"

"Don't know. Haven't laid eyes on her yet. I asked Sandy to escort her to my office for an interview. Have to hear what she has to say…for my report."

"Of course, sir." The corners of Dietrich's mouth hiked into a knowing smirk.

Grant cocked his head, momentarily questioning, then realized the inference. "Don't worry…I'll be fair."

Dietrich pursed his lips and returned his focus to the personal locator beacons he seemed to have a sudden inordinate interest in examining.

Opening his mouth to respond, Grant caught himself. That was just what Dietrich would be expecting. Taking the offense in his defense. Not worth the effort. Dietrich was a great bloke, but not an officer. He didn't need to be involved in the regulations governing the paperwork required after each mission. Grant was getting just a bit tired of the 'good natured' ribbing he received from his fellow pilots. Now it seemed to be filtering into the enlisted ranks. Shit. All he needed was for the support staff to think he was tight assed. He shook his head. Better that than losing the respect of command. Grant yanked on the top of his tube sock, carefully folding it down to form a neat cuff. He blew out an unconscious puff of air.

"Do you need anything else commander?"

He looked into Dietrich's face. "No, nothing," he said with an edge of irritation. Hearing the strain in his voice, he quickly added, "Thank you Petty Officer." That didn't sound much better, but at least it maintained professional respect.

Dietrich left, leaving Grant alone. He tucked the tails of his crisp white shirt into the sharply creased kaki trousers. "Watch the gig line," the voice of D.I. Blankenship from basic training echoed in his memory. "No Irish pennants." Demerits off for any uniform deviations, no anomalies allowed. Every aspect of the uniform squared away and meeting standards. The steely glare of Blankenship's grey eyes pierced Grant as if it was yesterday. Never so much as a nose hair out of place, his English Drill instructor had been the bane of his company's existence.

"Good man," Grant said under his breath as he appraised his uniform in the sliver of mirror on the door. Buttons, belt buckle, fly all in alignment, check. Shirtfront smooth, he scrolled a circumspect eye down to his shoes. A line of caked mud was wedged between sole and topside. He leaned over and pried it loose with a flick of his thumbnail. Swiping a soft rag from the shelf of his locker, he wiped the crease and folded the cloth back into a square. As he laid it carefully on the shelf, his mind wandered to a more domestic version of the same scene, almost a year ago.

"People don't fold their jockey shorts in squares, Grant," Julie giggled as she toweled her hair, peering over his shoulder into the chest of drawers. "I mean, just look at that," she gazed into the cedar lining of his underwear drawer. "They look like rows of little soldiers, or some teenager's teeth just after the braces came off.

"Well, now you're talkin' about socks, lass. Let's not mix chalk and cheese." He braced his hands on the top of the dresser as she put her arms around his waist, her cheek resting on his back.

"I won't make you do a single push up, and I forgot my white gloves." Her voice was muffled, but the mirth was clear. She squeezed, then continued on her way to the kitchen.

Eyeing her retreating form in the mirror above the dresser, he slipped the last of the y-fronts into place and closed the drawer. Beads of water still glistened across her shoulder blades, refulgent with the yellow light of the night table's lamp. One corkscrew tendril of hair flirted with her neck, escaped from the knot haphazardly twisted at her crown, held in place with an ebony chopstick. Her hips swayed in that curious combination of little girl enthusiasm and womanly allure that only Julie seemed to possess. He pushed away from the dresser and bolted after her.

Scooping her from her feet, the towel so carefully wrapped about her loosened as he cradled her against his chest. His bleached jockeys strained under the massive hard-on suffered at the sight of her, the scent of her, the feel of her soft and warm in his arms.

He fused his mouth to hers. The remnants of a small chuckle still vibrated through her. Molten desire surged through him. It coiled like a clock spring in his gut, spreading heated honey through his chest, so thick and sweet he thought he'd suffocate.

Get her to the bed before you lose all higher brain functions, his internal voice shouted. His legs pistoned toward the bedroom. The consuming kiss was broken as his shoulder caught the doorjamb. "Ooooff." The force of the impact pushed air from his lungs, now deep in demand from his need. There must have been pain, but the morphine of her presence numbed him to everything but her. Three more strides and he lowered her to the cool cotton of the sheets. Eyes capturing hers, the dark green of her cravings reflected in the deep pool of her gaze. The naughty curl of her lips taunted him. He stripped his jockeys off in record time. Wearing a sabertooth's smile, he climbed on the bed, straddling her like a carnivore ready to pounce. He thought he'd explode if he weren't inside her in the next two minutes. Tearing his eyes from her, he opened the drawer of the nightstand, scooped a handful of condoms out and set them on the beech wood surface.

"Feeling ambitious?" Her voice drew his gaze back. She smirked like the proverbial Cheshire cat, perched on her elbows and staring up at him. He tore open the foil packet and rolled the latex down in one smooth action. Looking back, he dove to her neck, exposed in all its tender sweetness as she dropped her head back. He bit along the column of her windpipe to the sensitive meeting of neck and shoulder, then across the wing of her collarbone. Self control shredding with each passing second, he grabbed the shells of her hipbones, fingers pressing into soft silken flesh. Her pleasure, his reason echoed through the lust clouded pathways of his brain. Slow down! He dropped his eyes lower, taking in the gap as the towel split from her breast to the top of her luscious thigh. He hooked the hem with a finger and tore the terry cloth to the side. Why did he always seem to forget the fantastic curve of her perfect margarita sized breasts? Jaysus, if they weren't the most spectacular feature of womanhood, this woman in particular. He dove for the beaded nipple and took it into his mouth. Flicking it with his tongue, drawing it into firm suction between gentle teeth. His hand drifted to the other, favoring it with a rolling action between thumb and forefingers.

He felt her arc into him, hips lifting from the bed, soft moans escaping her lips as she shifted under him. He slid a finger over her clit, slick with arousal and she gasped. If he wasn't beyond ready, she certainly was. Two, then three fingers slid easily into her, finding the bundle of nerves that made her writhe. She parted her legs in wanton invitation as he positioned himself in the 'v' thus created.

"That's it," his voice rasping like sandpaper. He grasped the curve of her hips once more, aligned the head of his cock with her slit and called her name. She opened her eyes, dark with arousal and he latched onto her gaze as he pushed into her. She gasped, hips again rising to meet his. His head bumped against the entrance of her womb as he gritted his teeth in the surge of pleasure the tightness and heat of her brought, enveloping him in feral necessity. She followed his lead, pulling upwards on her hips and pressed against him. Their pubic bones met and he retracted, plunging back into her in smooth strokes until he feared he'd lose his mind. His thighs shook as he pumped. She met him in rhythm, arching her pelvis higher and higher.

She turned her head into the pillow and smothered a scream as he felt her contract around him. The spring unwound in a flood of release, beginning at the base of his spine and radiating through his body like the trembling of the earth in a great quake. Consumed in the aftershocks, he barely noticed the rumbling of his own voice as he climaxed off the Richter scale. Like a bicyclist thrown clear of an accident, he blanked out in sheer ecstasy. Breath ragged, chest heaving, he fought to regain composure. He drew her into the crook of his arm as he reached to cup her face. Forehead beaded with perspiration, she opened her eyes and looked at him through a foggy gaze. He watched her face transformed from the hard angles of desire into the soft, almost peaceful expression of satiation. "God, Grant," she exhaled in deep satisfaction.

Still panting, he drew his forehead to hers. "Every time is amazing. Unbelievable."

"Yeah," she agreed.

"Why is that?" he asked rhetorically, as much to himself as to her.

She raised her chin and smiled soft and drowsy.

Grant's cell phone broke their duet of shallow gasps, breaking the serenity of the moment. Climbing from the tangled sheets, Grant extricated himself from her side. Bringing his eyes to focus on the small screen of his phone, he scooped it from the nightstand. Air Ops. Shit. That could mean only one thing. They needed him. Wedging the phone between shoulder and ear, he pressed the answer button and headed for the shower.