Authors: Maddy Barone
Wolf’s Oath, After the Crash #3.25
Copyright © 2013, Maddy Barone
All rights reserved. No part of the publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, or otherwise, without the prior written consent of the author.
Edited by Kathie
Cover Art by Lyn Taylor
I dedicate this book to Shelley
because she emailed to ask me why Connie had changed her mind so quickly about Des. Well, Shelley, here’s the explanation. Hope you enjoy it!
As always, I have a number of readers to thank for reading through the raw manuscript and giving me their opinions on where it could be strengthened. Tamara
, Becky Littlefield, Shelly
, the Word Weavers, and Suzanna Medeiros gave me invaluable advice. Thank you!
Monday, December 29, 2064
In the hall on the second floor of the Plane Women’s House, two angry voices rose in argument.
“You said you would switch laundry duty with me!”
said. “So why aren’t you down in the laundry room, instead of up here?”
“I changed my mind, okay?” Liz snapped. “I’ve got a killer headache, and I want to take a nap.”
“You promised! You can’t just back out whenever you want to, you stupid cow.”
Connie Mondale, standing in the door of the apartment she shared with Kathy and Katie, gritted her teeth and counted to ten. Herding cats would be easy compared to handling a bunch of women. This was the third hissy fit she’d had to break up today, and it wasn’t even lunchtime. At least this one hadn’t descended into an actual cat fight. Yet.
As she entered the hall, both women turned and tried to outshout each other in their efforts to convince her why she was right, and the other wrong. A lesser woman might have gone back into her apartment, slammed the door, and let them fight it out. Connie wasn’t a lesser woman. She was a former Marine Corps pilot who had once flown combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, and held the lives of hundreds in her hands. She might be reduced to babysitting a bunch of undisciplined, whiney women, but she was, by God, going to enforce some sort of order around here.
She raised a hand to silence them. “Liz, you agreed to switch shifts with
“Yeah, but that was before Christmas, and I have a headache today!”
Connie kept her expression cool while she stared at the brunette. “Join the club. Tell Dixie I said you could have two aspirin, then get your ass down to the laundry room.”
Connie pretended not to hear Liz’s muttered, “Bitch!” In the Corps such a comment could have resulted in severe disciplinary action. Here, with no established organization of authority to back her, Connie thought it best to ignore such insults. She folded her arms and watched
enter her apartment and Liz stalk sullenly to the staircase at the end of the hall. She waited until Liz had stamped her way down the first few steps before following her. The ankle that had been broken in the plane crash two months ago didn’t like stairs, so Connie went down the steps one at a time, hand braced on the elaborately-carved banister. She could have fetched her cane from her apartment, but she told herself her ankle didn’t hurt that badly.
The staircase ended in the open foyer of the apartment building. Two men stood there, apparently waiting for her. She couldn’t dodge them, not that she would. Whatever meager backing she had for her authority came mostly from them. Faron Paulson was the sheriff of Kearney, Nebraska and Steve Herrick was the Public Works Director, or the equivalent thereof, in this post-apocalyptic world. They were responsible men and wouldn’t search her out to bother her with petty issues.
“What can I do for you?” she asked brusquely.
Steve Herrick smoothed a hand down his long, silvering, blond ponytail and cleared his throat. “Ah,” he began, then paused to shift his weight from foot to foot, his gaze dropping from hers to slide around the foyer. “We’ve gotten the rest of the old wallpaper down in the kitchen, and you should see the tile and woodwork we found under it. Really nice. That’s something you don’t see any more, that kind of Art Deco design.” He gave a little chuckle. “Well, I guess you saw it all the time before you crashed here, huh?”
Connie wasn’t even sure what Art Deco was. The cornerstone of this old apartment building had the name
and the date 1923 chiseled into it, so she guessed it was something from the Roaring Twenties. She hadn’t been born until 1977. Which made her either eighty-seven or thirty-seven, depending on whether you counted the years she missed when her plane jumped fifty years into the future. She liked to think of herself as a very youthful eighty-seven.
But why would Steve and Faron waylay her now to talk about the progress made on the building repairs? That could wait for their weekly meeting on Saturday morning.
Faron cut Steve a stern glance. “That’s not what we wanted to speak to you about. It’s personal. Could we go somewhere private to discuss it?”
Connie was mystified by the wave of red creeping up his neck. “Sure. Let’s just step into my office.”
Neither man seemed to catch the irony in her voice. They followed her into the little room just off the foyer, which might have been where residents of the building collected their mail once. Back in the day, this apartment building must have been meant to house the well-to-do of Kearney. The exterior of the old building was mellow brick, with a fancy bit of stonework above each window and an entry flanked by crouching stone lions. Every time Connie passed them she felt a glimmer of kinship with them. The lions were now broken and worn, but still standing. Although the place was rundown, the interior showed signs of former elegance. Even in this small room were signs of former glory. The brass fronts of the mailboxes were now black with the tarnish of age and the small tiles which made a red, white and black geometric pattern on the floor were broken, but Connie could imagine what it must have looked like. There were no windows in the small room, so they left the door open to give them a little light. Connie took the stool behind the crudely made desk, and they took their usual seats from when they had their weekly security and building maintenance meeting.
The men waited for her to begin. Connie rubbed her cold-reddened hands together before stuffing them under her armpits. “You have no idea,” she remarked, “how much I wish someone would re-invent electricity and central heating.”
“The next stove that becomes available is yours,” Steve promised, but faltered when Faron shot him a glare.
Wood-burning stoves were the height of heating technology fifty years after terrorists had nuked the world back to the Stone Age. She wished she had such advanced technology in her icebox of a bedroom. “No, the next one needs to go to Dixie and Jodi, so the girls being counseled can be comfortable.” She paused to fix Steve with a hard stare. “That’s not what you wanted to talk about.”
Faron leaned forward on his stool. “No. I’d like your permission to marry Donna Morgan.”
“What?” Connie felt cold air kiss her teeth when her mouth dropped open. “Why are you asking
“She doesn’t have her father or brothers here to give me permission,” Faron began.
“You don’t need anyone’s permission!” Connie’s ankle gave a vicious twinge when she began to leap to her feet. She carefully settled her weight back on the stool. “Donna can decide for herself who she wants to marry. And I thought you pretty much had it settled already. I mean, didn’t you take her out to the den for Christmas to meet your mom?”
“It wasn’t official then,” Faron told her. “Now it is. I’d like to marry Donna Morgan.”
“Okay, but you still don’t need my permission.”
Steve shook his head. “We want to do this right. You’re in charge of the women here, so you’re the one to ask.”
This must be what goggling felt like. Yes, Connie was pretty sure she was goggling at them. She blinked to force her eyeballs back into their sockets and flexed her jaw to be sure it was still hinged to the rest of her face. “You
, marry Donna?”
Steve’s weathered face darkened further with a flush. “No! I want Melinda.”
These two men, one in his mid-fifties and the other in his early forties, were asking her to give them permission to marry women older than she was. It was one of the most surreal experiences she’d had in the past two months, and she’d had a lot of surreal experiences since the plane she’d co-piloted had jumped fifty years into the future, and crashed.
“Really, you don’t need to ask me. It’s up to Donna and Melinda.”
Faron’s round face turned stubborn. “We need your permission. You’re the one who stepped up to be in charge.”
Somebody had to. As first officer of the plane, and only surviving crewmember, she had taken charge after the crash. Afterward, when the women were rescued and brought here, it seemed logical for her to continue. She’d just had no idea what she was getting herself into. Commanding Marines was a hell of a lot easier. They understood the chain of command and the need for discipline, and they didn’t bicker over who should get which sweater from the donation box. She scrubbed a cold hand over her face.
“Okay, fine. If Melinda and Donna are interested in marrying you, you have my permission.”
Faron and Steve’s faces beamed as they enthusiastically thanked her and hurried out of the room to go find the objects of their affections. Connie stayed on her stool, elbows on the desk, forehead in her hands. Okay, now she was officially freaked out. Again. Maybe she should set up a chart in her room where she could keep track of all the crazy things she’d had to deal with since the crash, and add to it as things happened.
She glanced up when Kathy poked her head around the door. “You okay?” the older woman asked.
“Oh, sure. For someone who herds cats and gives grown men permission to marry grown women, I’m dandy.”
Kathy gave a no-nonsense shake of her head. She was close to sixty years old, a full-bodied, sensible sort of woman, whose thick, short, brown hair was showing a half inch of gray at the roots. Connie raised a hand to brush through her own white-blond asymmetrical bob. One side came just to her earlobe and the other side hung a few inches below her jaw. The once-chic style was looking a bit ragged these days; she was well past her usual appointment for a trim. But her hair wasn’t her biggest concern right now.
Kathy made a beckoning gesture at her. “Well, come on over to the kitchen. It’s warm there. And you can see what the walls look like without that nasty wallpaper.”
Warm sounded like paradise. Not on the same level as a Caribbean cruise, maybe, but close. Connie followed Kathy through the foyer to the Big Room, where Faron sat with Donna near one of the stoves, and Steve leaned close to Melinda beside another stove. It wasn’t young love, but they gazed into one another’s eyes like shy teenagers from the ’50s. It was almost embarrassing. Connie quickened her steps to hurry past them into the kitchen at the back of the house.
The kitchen was large and spacious. It still had two of its windows intact, so it had more natural light than most rooms. Why an apartment building had a large open room and a kitchen Connie didn’t know, but it worked well for their purposes. In the spring, the women planned to open a restaurant to support themselves. They couldn’t live off the charity of the mayor of Kearney forever. With so many men living here and no other eateries, the restaurant was just about guaranteed to make a good profit.
Connie scanned the walls. Steve was right, the big square tiles set in a Greek key pattern along the top of the walls brightened the room, and the woodwork below was beautiful. Or it would have been, if it were cleaned up and polished. The men of Kearney who volunteered their time to renovate the place would probably get started on that soon. She noticed someone had hung the oversized calendar one of the women had hand drawn back on the newly bare wall.
Today was Monday, December 29, 2064. In the square that marked today was the work schedule. The rosters for laundry, cleaning, and cooking were plainly listed there. Connie saw
name neatly crossed out and Liz’s written below it.
Kathy stopped too. “It’s been exactly two months, hasn’t it?” she asked quietly. “The plane took off on October 29.”
“Yeah.” While she stared blindly at the calendar, Connie’s mind drifted back to that day. Takeoff had been textbook perfect and the first two hours of the flight had been routine. Don Wheeler, the captain, was telling her about the necklace he’d bought for his wife’s birthday when everything went to hell. The vertical wind shear they hit was so strong it disabled the plane. Inexplicably, all engines failed simultaneously. Like all pilots, she and Don had trained for every emergency imaginable and they worked calmly and quickly to retake control of the plane. Nothing had worked. The plane had screamed a metallic protest under the stress of air pressure, and finally had come down to earth in a barely-controlled crash that killed the rest of the crew and too many of the passengers. If only…
Connie shook her head wearily. It never did her any good to review the sequence of events from that morning, so she shoved the memory away. Besides, it just made her headache worse.
Kathy leaned closer to speak in a low voice. “You should stop blaming yourself. You and the captain did everything you could.”
“Not enough.” Connie heard the bleakness in her voice. “Too many died.”
“You’re not being fair to yourself. Some of us did survive.”
Connie’s laugh came out of her throat like cheese scraped over a grater. “Yeah. Thirty-one out of a hundred and fifty-two.”
Kathy squeezed her forearm. “That’s thirty-one who still have lives. Probably more would have died if you hadn’t fought so hard to save us. If we hadn’t gotten help from the Lakota, more would have been lost. God was looking out for us. The Lakota nursed us through, and they brought us here to Kearney.” She raised her voice to cut off any disagreement Connie might want to make, but Connie was silent. “Mayor Madison set this building aside for us so we’d have a place to live. We have big adjustments to make, I know, but we’re alive and safe.”