Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Growing Together
Book Six of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
2008, 2011

Chapter 4

As Skyhook sped north through the dark, a little more of the story was told. It turned out that sheer luck or, as the man in the co-pilot's seat would have said, the will of God, had been involved in a big way. Jon and Tanisha found out that this cowboy-looking guy was a master sergeant in the Air Force, well ahead of the average rank for his time in service, which gave some indication of his competency. He was the Public Information NCO at Keesler Air Force Base, and with the public information officer off base, the work of dealing with the press had fallen on him. From the moment he'd heard Jennlynn's name over the emergency radio channel he'd realized the shit was flying at high speed directly for the fan.

Well before Will managed to intervene to bring the press conference to a close he'd realized the need to get Jennlynn out of reach of the press. He hadn't been the one to call Mike Hanneman since he wasn't sure Mike would have remembered him, but he managed to talk the base commander into doing it on a "general-to-general" basis. He'd also figured he needed to get Jennlynn hidden off base as soon as possible before some higher-up in the Air Force public information system overruled him. Fortunately, Will had only recently come across a restaurant owned by a couple of women who had worked with Jennlynn for his grandmother. Will had driven Jennlynn, the missionary pilot Jeff Waldemer, and Mallory Fox, another former prostitute and ex-colleague of Jennlyn who had actually led the charge on the cockpit to retake the airplane from the hijackers. They'd spent the night with Claudia and Cindy at their home. Mallory was still there -- the plan was for her to stay there a couple days, then leave town in a rental car when the press realized Jennlynn had left the area.

Fortunately, Claudia's minivan hadn't drawn any attention as far as they could tell, so with a little bit of luck things were on track for the moment. "So, now what?" Jon asked.

"Good question," Jennlynn replied. "We're still working on it."

"I still think I had the best idea," Will said. "Let's just leave these two and Jeff off in Chicago and not even get off the plane. Then, we can have Mike get hold of Colonel Brockway and have him meet us in Flagstaff or somewheres with the 310. We can take that and fly it home, and no one will be the wiser."

"I'm still tempted to do it," Jennlynn sighed, "But I don't want to cave in on my responsibilities to the company, either. Jon is taking as big a risk in his own way as I am in going to Chicago. I still would like to give it a try, but if it doesn't work, then you're right, we ought to go home."

"I'm not so sure that's such a bright idea," Tanisha said. "The press is sure to have your condo staked out pretty well. Maybe not national press, but they'll be there as soon as someone spots you in Phoenix."

"No, not there," Jennlynn smiled. "We're not talking about my condo. Will means our home, which is a cabin out on the north part of the ranch where his folks live. There's a dry lake bed there that's solid enough to take the 310, even this time of year."

"Your home?" Jon said. "The two of you?"

"Will gave it to me for Christmas last year," Jennlynn explained. "Well, he gave it to us. Anymore, my place in Phoenix is only where I stay, not my home."

Holy shit, Jon thought, sure that Tanisha's thoughts were mirroring his exactly. This is serious between the two of them, it's been going on for a long time, and there's never been a hint of it that we've heard! Who would ever have dreamed . . .

"It's nothing special, really," Will said modestly. "Just a little cabin, but in a place that's kinda special to the both of us. It's where Miz Swift and I can go to be together and not have to give one goddamn what anyone else thinks but us. I think if we can just sit it out there for a couple weeks that the worst of this will blow over. Some publicity-hungry Hollywood starlet will flash her twat to the press or something, and no one will give a lusty crap about what happened yesterday."

"Will, there's nothing more I would like than to spend a couple weeks there with you. Maybe we could even have your folks run a couple horses out to us in a horse trailer so we could explore up in the hills a little or something. But at the same time, I don't want to think I have to live in fear of the press. That's why I told Stan I at least want to put in an appearance at the show. It ought to be pretty safe; it's a closed convention, after all. He told me to do what I wanted to do. I think I can go to the show, talk engineering, and just clam up and call security if any press shows up and starts getting obnoxious."

They talked it around for a little while, essentially getting nowhere, but in the course of the discussion Jon and Tanisha picked up a few more hints about Will and Jennlynn. From what they could put together, the two of them didn't see each other much but managed to get together once in a while for a few days to a few weeks, and the time spent together was pretty intense -- not so much the sex, but the sharing of each other. The wonder was that until now Jon and Tanisha had never had even a hint of what their friend had going on, and they doubted that Stan or anyone else did, either!

"OK, how about this?" Tanisha asked finally. "If the four of us can get off the plane in Chicago without getting noticed . . ."

"Five of us, we have to make arrangements for Jeff, too," Will pointed out.

"OK, the five of us," Tanisha said, and then pressed on with her idea. "If we can get off the plane into a rental car without being noticed, Mike can take off for Phoenix like he had the two of you aboard, and that'll keep Skyhook from being around to draw attention. The two of you can get a room under the names of Mr. and Mrs. Will Hoffman, and hide out there for a day or two. As far as that goes, Jon and I could get the room and the rental car in our names and with our credit cards. We can sort the bills out later. Jon and I will go ahead and do the show. It strikes me that if the press is going to look for you at the Lambdatron booth it will be today or maybe tomorrow. When they don't find you anywhere after a day or two, then you can show up at the booth."

"Might work," Will conceded. "Miz Swift and I could drop Jeff wherever he needs to go. But what happens if we get found out?"

"If you're lying low and not going near the show, you're not going to get found out for a day or two at a minimum," Jon said, liking his wife's idea, mostly because he had been thinking pretty much along the same lines. "In that time you could have Joe fly the 310 in here. That's not going to draw press attention like Skyhook. Mike was saying earlier that he wished he could have used the 310 rather than this thing. It's a lot more covert, but he didn't have the time. You could have Joe just hang around, or fly back commercial, however it works out. If it turns out we get through the show all right, then we can all fly back in the 310 and not have to deal with the airlines at all. If they're still pestering the people at Lambdatron, you can drop us at Flagstaff, and we could have someone drive us down to Phoenix, while the two of you go on to your little place out in the desert."

"I have to admit, that sounds like about the best of both worlds," Jennlynn said. "What do you think, Will?"

"Cain't see no holes in it right off," Will said after thinking it over for a moment. "A hotel room in Chicago ain't quite the same thing as our cabin in the desert, but it might work out all right if you feel you got to do that show at least a little."

"All right," Jennlynn smiled. "Let's give it a try." They talked about how to handle a few other details for a few minutes, then Jennlynn got up and went to the cockpit to coordinate things with Mike and make a few phone calls.

Soon, Jeff, the missionary, came back to take Jennlynn's place. "I realize we left in kind of a hurry," Will said, all trace of his Nevada cowboy accent and demeanor gone, his clothes the only indication remaining. "And I'm very sorry we didn't get the chance for introductions. Jeff, this is Jon and Tanisha Chladek. They work at Lambdatron with Miz Swift in Phoenix. Jon, Tanisha, this is Jeff Waldemer; he's a missionary bush pilot in Bolivia, and he was in the right seat of the Airbus when he and Jennlynn landed it yesterday."

"We heard your name mentioned," Tanisha said. "The two of you did a great job."

"It was Jennlynn who did the great job," Jeff told them. "I may be a pretty good bush pilot, but I was so far out of my league in the cockpit of that thing that I barely recognized it as being an airplane. She was the thorough professional pilot, and she landed that thing like she'd been doing it all her life. She is one cool customer, isn't she?"

"That she is," Jon agreed. "We've known her for years, and until a few minutes ago I thought we knew her about as well as anyone did. It turns out we were wrong about that, but it's not the first time we've guessed wrong about someone."

"It's all too easy to do, especially with someone like Miz Swift, who tends to be pretty private," Will nodded. "Did the two of you see the press conference yesterday?"

"No, we didn't," Jon admitted. "We got sidetracked with something else. I'm real sorry we missed it. From what we've been told, you really put some people in their places."

"Jeff here did one of the greatest jobs of facing down the press and making them feel about as low as a rattler's belly as I've ever seen," Will told them, showing that not all the Nevada cowboy was gone out of him. "If it weren't for the fact that I'm sure he's found his calling I'd say he missed it."

"I just said what I felt the Lord led me to say," Jeff replied modestly. "If there was any power there, it was God's, not mine."

"I thought it really put things into perspective," Will explained. "I haven't had a chance to watch much of the news, but I caught a few clips from the news conference so it's gotten at least some airing. It's probably not going to turn the tide, but it should temper things a little bit." He shook his head and continued, "I'm just not sure how things are going to work out in the long run, but I am sure this is something Miz Swift didn't want in her life. I'm just sure it's going to change it more than either of us wants it to."

Eventually Jennlynn came back to the cabin and asked Will to go up front with Mike for a few minutes. "All right, I think we've got it worked out," she announced as she sat in the seat he'd left. "We're going into Midway. Mike thinks there'll be less chance of someone looking for us there at this hour. Jon, you and Tanisha are going to be renting the car. The rest of us will just stay on the plane till you get it. We already have a suite reserved in your name in a hotel just up the street from the convention, so you're going to have to check us in. Don't scream when you see the charge, either. Even I think it's gouging, but we'll straighten it out later."

"We'll make it work," Jon told her.

"Good enough," the tall, dark-haired woman replied. "Jeff, after Tanisha and Jon get registered, they're going to be getting tight on time, so we'll drop them off at the convention hotel and take you where you have to go. Will that work all right?"

"Sure, but it's a drive out in the country, though."

"No problem," she smiled. "Will and I are going to have the day to kill anyway. You'll have to be on your own after that, but I don't think it's going to be you the press will be looking for."

"Probably not," he agreed, "Although I didn't really want to have to deal with reporters lying in wait like I would have had to if we'd flown into O'Hare with the rest of the people from the airliner. Jennlynn, I'm not going to be shy about what happened, but I'm not going to make a circus out of it, either."

"That'll be fine," she nodded. "Look, one thing, all three of you. You people and Mike are the only ones besides Shirley and her family who know about Will and me. I'd really appreciate it for his sake if you didn't say anything about us to anyone. Will is in the Air Force, and it could be a little hard on him if a story about us got out, especially now, if you know what I mean. Jon, Tanisha, that means nothing at Lambdatron, either. As far as I know, Stan doesn't even know about Will and me."

"Sure, Jennlynn," Tanisha said sympathetically. "We can keep quiet, you know that."

"I figured you could," she said. "Look, I don't know where this thing with Will and me is going if it's going anywhere at all, but for years he's been the only man I've been comfortable enough with to let my hair down and be me. Whatever happens, I don't want to lose that."

"We'll keep it quiet," Jon agreed. "It's just so astonishing to think you have a boyfriend, or whatever he is. We didn't think that would ever happen."

"I didn't either," Jennlynn admitted. "And the amazing thing is it just sort of happened. Will is a super nice guy and he's not much like he seems on the surface. Look, maybe we can have a room service dinner sometime this week so you can get to know him a little better."

"Sure, we'd love that," Tanisha grinned. "I've thought for years that I'd like to meet the man you could fall for. I really doubted one could exist."

"I was beginning to doubt it myself," Jennlynn sighed. "In fact, I still can't quite believe it."

With everything they had to do, Jon and Tanisha didn't have any extra time when they walked into the large banquet room in the hotel where the convention displays were located, but they made it there in time. They had to hunt around a bit, since the Lambdatron booth was not prominent, but they soon found it.

Angela was just putting the finishing touches on the display. "Well, there you are!" she exclaimed when she saw them. "I was beginning to wonder if someone was going to show up or what."

Angela Morton was a familiar face around Lambdatron. One of only a few non-engineering shareholders in the company, she was generally regarded as being a big part of the glue that held Lambdatron together. Technically she was the receptionist, but she was much more than that -- the rather matronly woman was Stan's babysitter and utility infielder. Most people around the company figured when Stan was looking for someone non-technical to do something a little unusual, her position at the front desk usually meant she didn't have something heavy in both hands. Since Lambdatron only did a handful of shows like the one in Chicago each year, there was no point in having someone fill the position of show coordinator full time, so Angela was the person who had been tagged to do the job. And she was good at it. She was the one who had designed the show booth, made arrangements to get it to the site and set up, and dealt with all the little details of handling the show so engineers like Jon, Tanisha, and Jennlynn could concentrate on talking engineering with whoever came by.

Lambdatron was organized a lot differently than other companies, reflecting some weird ideas Stan and his co-founders had had back in their hippie days when they set the company up. Among a good many other things, engineers at Lambdatron weren't just supposed to sit back at their computers and do their thing -- they were also part of the sales and customer service teams. It was generally accepted that the shows were almost, but not quite, a waste of time. Only perhaps a tenth of one percent of the people they expected to see at a show ever had the potential to become a customer, but sometimes that tiny fraction of people could result in a lot of business. For this reason, Stan counted it important that when customers stopped by a Lambdatron booth, they knew they would be talking to an engineer who knew what they were talking about, rather than a salesman who only had the slightest inkling of what was going on and what the potential of an idea might be. Most engineers like Jon, Tanisha, and Jennlynn understood his logic, and, though they thought the shows were a pain in the neck, as shareholders they could see how their presence was valuable to the company.

"We were beginning to wonder if we'd make it ourselves," Jon admitted. "That turned into more of a trip than we expected when Stan called us last night."

"I take it our girl got out of the Deep South all right?" Angela asked, pointedly talking around using Jennlynn's name.

"Mike referred to it as a 'successful hot-zone extraction,'" Tanisha replied. "She may show up here sometime, but not today."

"I knew it was up to her, but Stan didn't have any idea of what she'd decided," Angela shrugged. "He said if the subject came up here, to say as little about it as possible. This is supposed to be a show that's limited to society members, but the security doesn't seem very good to me. We talked it over and he's supposed to try to arrange for some extra security, but nobody has shown up yet."

"He said something about that last night," Jon responded. "Things were kind of in a rush, though."

"I don't think we need to worry a great deal about it," Angela said. "As far as I know, nothing was mentioned last night to indicate she was coming here. Maybe someone might put two and two together, but it may take a while for anyone to do it if it happens at all. If someone does show up here, well, Tanisha, neither you nor I look much like her."

"That's true," Tanisha giggled. Trust Angela to get right to the bottom of things! "We may get some questions from customers, but that's another issue entirely."

"I'll tell you what, I'd rather be back at the office than here today," Angela said, a grin on her face. "That's where the zoo is going to be this morning."

"Don't tell me we've got some poor little temp sitting at the front desk," Jon smiled.

"No, Stan is smarter than that," Angela laughed. "Just for fun, Stan decided to let Griz be the receptionist this morning. I doubt there are going to be many reporters trying to bully him."

"Hell, I'd pay to see that!" Jon laughed. Griz -- his real name was Jim Geletzke -- was about as unlikely looking an engineer as Jennlynn, but he was just as brilliant if not more so. He was as black as Tanisha, stood about six-five, weighed around 280, and had been an all-conference defensive back at Georgia Tech before Jon and Tanisha's time. He wasn't any less intimidating now than he'd been on the football field.

"I would, too," Angela laughed. "The worst of this should all be over within a few days, and then we can get back to business. Who knows, maybe it might bring us a little attention that we can turn into something good."

"We can hope," Tanisha agreed.

As it turned out, the incident did in fact draw some extra attention to the Lambdatron booth, but little of it was directed specifically at Jennlynn, other than numerous questions, of "Isn't this the outfit where that gal works who landed the airliner down in Biloxi yesterday?" When approached like that Jon and Tanisha did admit it was -- and to their surprise, they got a lot of comments like, "Good job!" and "Say thanks to her from me, would you?"

There were a few people who tried to probe the question a little deeper, but all Jon, Tanisha, or Angela would say is, "We're not supposed to say anything more than the fact that Jennlynn is one of our most senior, trusted, and effective employees. The management was aware of her thoroughly legal off-time activities when she was hired several years ago, and the management has always respected the right of their employees to pursue their own off-time activities."

But such instances were relatively minor. This was, after all, a convention of a professional society, and the general thrust of questions ran to the professional side of things. There was considerably more discussion of the sorts of things that the company did, the way Lambdatron could assist customers in their specialized research and development needs, especially in the area of computer/machine interfaces, as well as in other areas. Jon and Tanisha did have to say that several of the projects the company was involved with were classified with the government, but there were private projects that were held under equally close security. In fact, the discussion often ran to a fairly well known project the company was involved with, robotically controlled fork trucks for use in warehouses. It was a project that was largely completed, at least as far as Lambdatron's part in the research and development was concerned, but there were still tweaks and adjustments that had to be made for specific situations, and those often got kicked back to Lambdatron from the actual manufacturer. In a crowd like that, there were always people who were looking for a less expensive, innovative solution to a knotty problem, and some of those discussions looked like they might lead to future business.

Jon's and Tanisha's backs and feet were getting a little tired by the time things closed down in the late afternoon -- not to mention just plain being tired after their short night the night before -- but the day's activities mostly left them with a feeling of satisfaction. After all, it was mostly what they had come to the convention for, and what they'd hoped to get out of it. If any reporters had come by to ask probing questions, the security at the door had handled it without their knowledge.

Best of all, at least as far as Jon was concerned, Pete Chladek hadn't been one of the people to stop by the booth to jaw for a while.

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To be continued . . .

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