Against the Current
Grant Cooper is England 's finest. He's on a four-year tour of duty as an exchange flight officer to the United States Coast Guard. Always the man in control, he's the model of the perfect Search And Rescue pilot.
It's not command that Julie MacKinnon fancies. She dumped him once in protest. After all, there are enough constraints in her life as an emergency room nurse and volunteer Coast Guard Auxiliary crew woman. When fate throws the two back together in the middle of a heart pounding emergency, will Grant be able to put the requirements of his position aside long enough to save his crew and their love?
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."
"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."