Read A ruling passion : a novel Online

Authors: Judith Michael

Tags: #Reporters and reporting, #Love stories

A ruling passion : a novel

BOOK: A ruling passion : a novel

This book made available by the Internet Archive.

for Rebecca, Tsabel, Daniel and Levi the new generation

^ —.

Chapter 1

alerie heard the small cough in the plane's engine and turned from her view of the forest three thousand feet below to look at Carlton, beside her in the pilot's seat. He was scowling. "Did you hear diat?"

"What?" He glanced at her, his scowl deepening. "Hear what?" "The engine coughed."

"I didn't hear it. Could be some condensation in the gas line." He flicked switches on the instrument panel to turn on the fuel pumps, then withdrew again into his own thoughts. "Are you sure? It didn't sound like it."

"Since when are you a pilot?" he said impatiently. "Everything's fine. The plane checked out when we flew up here and that was only four days ago."

"Well, if it's not the plane, what is it? What's wrong, Carl? You've barely said a word since we left: this morning; you rushed us out to fly home, three days before we planned to, and you won't tell me why."

"I said you and the others could stay; you didn't have to come with me. I didn't even want you."

"I know," she said wryly. **Why do you diink I insisted on coming? Are you running off to some mysterious woman I should know about?"

He muttered something she could not make out above the engine noise.

'Well, whafs a litde silence between friends?" she murmured and turned away from him. Behind her, their friends Alex and Betsy Tarrant were talking together, occasionally trying to draw out the third passenger, a young woman named Lilith Grace, who seemed lost in her own world, gazing out the window or sitting perfectly still, with her eyes closed. Left to herself, Valerie looked at her faint reflection in the cockpit window against the dull gray sky. Her heavy tawny hair and hazel eyes beneath dark brows were like a transparent picture through which she saw the hilis and valleys of the Adirondack forest, its dense, dark-green pines mounded with snow. She looked at herself critically. Not bad for thirty-three. Too good to sit back and smile agreeably while her husband fooled around with— The engine coughed again. And then it stopped. One wing dipped toward the earth.

They were all thrown sideways against their seat belts. Betsy Tarrant screamed.

Carlton was hunched forward. "Hold on—" he said, but at that moment the other engine went out. The noise stopped as if a knife had cut across it. In the sudden awftil silence, the plane began to lose altitude. "Christ... both of—"

"Carl!" shouted Alex Tarrant. Betsy was screeching.

"... can't be fuel... had plenty..."

Valerie gripped her hands, watching him.

He leaned down, turning the fiiel selectors to switch tanks, then straightened up and tried to restart the engines. When nothing happened, a look of incredulity flashed across his face. "What the ftick..."

"Help!" Betsy was screaming. "Do something!"

Carlton leaned forward again, his hands shaking, and trimmed the plane for a glide. The only sound was the rush of the wind past their wings as the plane swept over the forest, dropping five hundred feet a minute. Once in the glide, he tried again to start the engines. "Start,

you mothers... come on, come on Fucking son of a bitch

Start.'' He tried again, his body straining forward as if he could push the engines to life. "Shit!" he exploded after a few minutes. "Must have flooded the bastards; how the hell they'll start in time now..."

Valerie saw panic in his eyes. Betsy was screaming; Alex cursed in a

low shaking voice. Lilith Grace had not made a sound.

"Radio," Carlton muttered. "No, no time. Later—on the ground...

"Listen," he shouted, 'Sve're going to land it. There's a lake up ahead..." His voice shook. "Put your heads down, arms over your heads... .Everybody do it!" He was turning off the hiel and electrical systems, except for the battery, which would give them full flaps for landing.

"There's a road!" Valerie cried, but it swept away beneath them. They dropped lower, the treetops racing past. Half a minute later the trees gave way and they were over the snow-covered expanse of a frozen lake. "This is it!" Carlton shouted. "Hold on!"

Valerie hunched her body as the plane plowed into the deep snow. She had braced for a crash, but instead there was an eerie silence. The light plane skimmed through the powdery snow with a steady hiss, making its own blizzard. Inside, no one made a sound; they were rigid with fear. It seemed they would go on that way forever, a terrifying skid into the eternity of that white blizzard, but then the plane reached the far bank. It plowed into the pine forest, shearing off the wing and fuselage beside Carlton, and at last came to a shuddering stop. The sound of the crash reverberated in the still forest and slowly faded away. Silence enveloped them.

"Alex?" Betsy whimpered. "Valerie.> Carl.? I hurt. My head hurts..." "Wait," Alex said. "I can't do anything..." There was no sound from Lilith Grace.

Valerie flexed her arms and legs. Her neck ached and her muscles felt wrenched, but she could move. I'm all right, she thought, and felt a rush of wild exhilaration. Fm dive; I made it; Fm all ri^ht. "Hey, pilot," she said, turning to Carlton. "That was a terrific—" Her words ended in a scream. "Carl!"

He was slumped forward and lying half out of the plane, held by his seat belt over the jagged opening where the metal had been torn away. "Oh, God, no, no," she breathed. She tore open her seat belt and leaned over him. His head was covered with blood; blood ran over his closed eyes. "Carl!" she cried. "Carl!" She smelled smoke.

"Fire!" Alex shouted. "Christ, I can't move— Val, help me!" "Valerie!" He and Betsy were shouting at her. Their voices rang through the white silence. Smoke came from the engine on the plane's remaining wing.

Out. Get out. Get everyone out. She shivered in the icy air that filled

the plane. "Just a minute, Alex." She fought her way down the narrow aisle. The plane was tilted to the left, where the wing had sheared off, and she struggled to get past the twisted seats and over Betsy's legs, slipping on sections of the Sunday newspaper and debris that had flown about the cabin. She glanced at Lilith Grace, who lay pale and deathlike in her seat, her eyes closed. In a minute; not yet. She reached past her to the coats and jackets they had piled there before taking off, and pulled on her ftill-length sable coat and the ftir-lined leather gloves she found in the pocket. / need help with Carl; I don't know if I can get him out alone. Alex. Have to get Alex out, and then...

She squeezed through the narrow aisle to Alex, sitting behind Carl, and frantically tugged at the bent metal that pinned him in. It tore her gloves and she clenched her teeth as blood oozed through the rips, but she went on; Alex was helping her with his good hand, and in a minute he shouted, "Okay!" and pulled his legs free.

"Me!" cried Betsy, in the seat across the aisle from him. "What about me?"

"First Carl," Valerie said. "Alex, I need your help."

"If I can Christ, Val, I can't move my arm..."

"Get to the ground," she said. "I'll push him out to you."

"Right." He went to the door at the back. "Can't get to it; she's in the way," he said. "Get her out..."

"Damn it!" Valerie went to Alex, who was pushing Lilith's slumped form away so he could unlatch the door. The tilt of the plane brought the door almost to ground level and he stepped out while Valerie unfastened the girl's seat belt. "I'm going to push her out," she said. Alex held out his good arm as they eased Lilith through the door. She fell the last few inches, landing face down in the snow.

"She's okay," Alex said as he turned her over. He wiped snow from her face. "Go on, get Carl." He dragged Lilith a few feet with his one arm, then walked along the outside of the plane as Valerie moved up the aisle to Carlton. She released his seat belt, and when Alex stood on the other side of the gaping hole in the cockpit she threw her sable coat over the jagged edge and swung Carlton's legs over it. Slowly she rolled his body to Alex, but he could not hold him with one arm and they both fell. Valerie cried out and threw herself from the plane to help them. In the trampled snow, churned-up pine needles were slippery, and she staggered as she helped Alex to his feet.

"Can't carry him," Alex said. "PuU him..."

"Come on." Taking Carlton by the hands, they dragged him through hip-deep snow, stumbling beneath his dead weight, slipping

and getting up, to a tree a good distance from the plane. Valerie held him while Alex packed down a wide circle in the snow, and they leaned him, half sitting, against the trunk.

"Help me!" screamed Betsy. On the far side of the plane, the engine had burst into flames. Flames engulfed the wing and the ground below where fuel had spilled. Valerie ran back, Alex just behind her, dodging the ripped trees that lay at crazy angles, and the small pieces of luggage that had been thrown from the storage bins in the wings and torn open by the impact; their clothes were flung everywhere. Slipping in the snow, her wool pants soaked and clinging to her legs, Valerie reached the plane and began to climb in.

She's £fone. The empty space beside the plane registered in her mind and she looked down. Lilith Grace was gone. Valerie stared at the trampled snow. "Where did she go?" she asked Alex. "Did you see her.>"

"Hurry up!" Betsy cried. "The wing's on fire!" With one more bewildered look at the empty space in the snow, Valerie climbed all the way into the plane. Alex followed and they began to pull at a twisted seat back that pinned Betsy down.

"Hurry up!" Betsy shrilled. "We're going to blow up! Valerie, do something! I can't move my leg! And Alex can't carry me and you're not strong enough!"

"Then I'll just have to scare the hell out of you." Valerie leaned against one of the bent seats, taking ragged breaths. "Fm sick of you thinking only about you. Fll help you if you shut up and move your ass, otherwise you're on your own and you can burn with the plane for all I care. Come on, we're in a hurry."

Betsy was staring at her. "You're crazy. Help me!" She began to push the seat clamping her down.

Valerie and Alex bent over her and in a short time had her free. Valerie's hands were freezing, sticky with blood inside her leather gloves, and she could barely work her fingers. "You'll have to make it back on your own," she said to them, so tired she sounded indifferent "FU be right there."

She grabbed the suitcases and coats in the back of the plane and threw them out, then collected the sections of the Sunday newspaper and a first-aid kit from the cockpit, and carried them to the small group under the trees. They were silent, lying or sitting in the space of packed-down, bloody snow. Valerie knelt beside Carlton. "He's alive," Alex said. "But unconscious." "Alive," Valerie breathed. His head wound was still bleeding and

she pressed her scarf against it, to stop the flow. At that minute the plane exploded.

A huge whoosh, like the leading edge of a tornado, burst to the skies and they felt a rush of hot wind. "My God!" said Alex, awed by the spectacle. The sound rocked the forest, echoing in the trees. Bits of burning debris fell around them, and frantically they stamped them out. "Your coat!" Betsy cried, grabbing a flaming ember from Valerie's sable as Valerie snatched another from Betsy's hair. The noise faded. Awed, they watched the burning pyre. "We just made it," Alex said. "Barely made it..."

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