tagNon-EroticFinding Your Way Back

Finding Your Way Back


This is not a stroke piece. I had planned a modest grind or two but in the end deleted the sex because I felt it detracted from the story. There is love.

My story ideas tend to flow from a single memorable incident and then I expand that incident or encounter into a story---a fictional story. I sat down next to an icy blond whose name I don't recall, if I ever knew it, at a bar in Atlanta many years ago. I listened as a couple on business types tried to pick her up and laughed when she shot them down in flames. I'm pretty sure she didn't believe me when I told her I was a pilot; she torched me in short order. What follows is my fantasy of what might have been her story and what might have happened.

It's about overcoming---coming back from---something that happens in your life that almost kills you and fucks you up in the head just enough to dull your humanity. You can still function, even function at a very high level. You're not suicidal, not even depressed. It's as if the affect side of your brain---the feelings side---has just shut down because the pain of what you saw or experienced is too massive to deal with.

If you've ever been in or witnessed a serious auto accident---one in which people die, are dismembered, or you watched them die---you've felt it. A tornado ripping out every house around you---that'll do it. Watching people die or lose essential body parts in combat is a sure bet. If you are lucky, you mope through a few days or weeks and come out the other end reasonably whole again. If you're unlucky, you gradually slip into a death spiral from which there is no recovery. My character, Marty is somewhere in between, still functioning at a high level but dangerously close to slipping into that death spiral, because we can't live without affect---genuine, true emotions---for too long before it takes an irreversible toll.

This was only his second visit to this particular Atlanta watering hole. He'd been told it was a good pickup spot which college students did not frequent. He wasn't interested in fucking some college cunt. There was an open seat at the bar. He gave the bartender the high sign. His name was Bernie and they had chatted during his first visit a couple of nights earlier.

He always got carded even at twenty-six. He'd looked fourteen since he'd been fourteen. The barkeep had scrutinized his driver's license carefully. During a slow period the two men had chatted.

"Son, something about you says that you did a spell in Uncle Sam's employ. I'm Bernie." The two men had shaken hands.

"Wes. Wes Crandall. Right as rain, Bernie. U.S. Army, eight years."

"Lot of years to hang it up."

"It stopped being fun; if I didn't get out, it would have just gotten harder to do so every additional year."


"Twice. Helicopter pilot."

"Glad I missed that one. Made the last one, though---2/5 Marines. What are you into now?"

"A little charter work, bootlegging time with a couple of corporate guys, on call with a commuter flying twin Otters, giving flying lessons...trying to get on with the airlines."

"Any luck?"

"Bad timing. Pan Am just bellied up, Braniff is on the ropes and the word is things at Eastern aren't great. There are too many zoomies with lots of multi-engine turbofan time in front of me. I'm on a waiting list for whatever that's worth."

"How many hours have you got?"

"Over 6,000---80% of it is rotary wing. I got my Airline Transport Rating with the GI Bill. Got a degree in night school in the Army---have to have one of those to get on with the big boys."

"Haven't seen you in here before; what brought you into my bar?"

"Trying to get lucky."

"You're a good looking kid. You shouldn't have any problem in here. We got 'em. Shop girls, young professionals, business travelers, flight attendants---you pick. Most of 'em aren't looking for Mr. Right—just Mr. Right Now. I'll try to steer you straight."

"Appreciate it."

As he slipped on to the bar stool during his second visit he was aware of a woman sitting next to him on the left. Without being obvious and with a little help from the mirror behind the bar, he checked her out. She looked young; she was blond and pretty but also had a hard edge. She was taller than average with a leanness that on a man would have been considered wiry. She was some kind of athlete or worked out. The sleeveless blouse showed definite muscularity in her shoulders and arms. She didn't remotely acknowledge his arrival and Bernie had been too busy to chat.

He'd always hated this part: starting a conversation. As he sipped his drink, two guys sat down on her other side. A quick look told him they were young business types. He took an instant dislike to them without knowing them. He knew their type. They struck up a conversation with the tall, cool blond. She didn't seem interested, answering the queries in monosyllables if at all.

"My name's Brett and this is my good buddy Chad and you are..."

"Marty." She had answered without turning toward Brett.

He had to give them credit for effort. The two were pouring on the charm and not getting a hell of a lot of encouragement back. Wes would have long since gotten the message and moved on to greener pastures. As their attempts at bar seduction became more creative, Wes had to smile. If it actually worked, he'd have to remember some of the patter.

"So, Marty, what do you do for fun?"

"Sky dive."

"Really? Wow! Chad and I...we've gone sky diving a few times."

Uh, oh! That was bullshit and if Wes knew it---so did the ice cold blond named Marty.

"What kind of chute do you use, Chad?"

She had spit out the co-conspirator's first name. He began to stumble. She threw some more parachutist specific technical crap at them and they knew they had made a fatal mistake.

"The only friggin' thing you two weenies have ever jumped out of is your bed. I teach sky diving, dick wads. If you'd like to learn how to jump out of airplanes, come by South Lake Airpark any Saturday or Sunday; I'll be there. Just ask for Marty."

The two young junior executives moved away with their tails between their legs. Wes couldn't keep from laughing. She noted, turned toward him and prepared to cut off her third dick of the evening.

"What's so funny? Don't tell me! You're into sports parachuting too?"

"No, ma'am. Nothing would convince me to jump out of a perfectly good airplane."

"Don't knock it if you haven't tried it."

"I've looked over my head and seen a parachute once in my life."

"I thought you had never sky dived."

"I haven't. And the airplane in question wasn't 'perfectly good' anymore. It was falling apart. I ejected."

"Now I suppose you're going to tell me you're an airline pilot."

"Nope. I'd like to be, always wanted to be---plan to be."

"That'd be as soon as you take flying lessons?"

"Funny! I give flying lessons. I'm an instructor pilot, do a little charter work, some corporate left seat, part time with a commuter outfit."

"Bernie! Are you sure you carded this kid? He doesn't look twenty-one to me." Bernie waved her off. She turned her attention back to Wes.

"I suppose you're going to tell me you have your own airplane and you'd be happy to take me up so I can jump out?"

"I do have my own airplane---Cessna 172---but I'm not certified to drop jumpers."

"What---daddy bought it for you?"

"I won it playing Bingo."

"That's creative!"

"I'm dead serious. The Officer's Club at Fort Rucker used to have these mega-prizes. It would take months before anyone won them. A big fancy Cadillac one time, a Winnebago on another occasion and, since it's an aviation post, a fully instrumented 172. It was the only time I'd played. I had to pay the taxes on it---which damn near cleaned out my savings."

"That story is too unbelievable for anyone to make up." She was smiling. That was progress. "Let's try this again. I'm Marty."

"Wes." He said, shaking her hand. Her grip was not remotely feminine.

"Air Force---Military Police, one hitch."

"Army, eight years."

"Almost a lifer."

"Got out before I started acting like one."



"I did a tour at the Danang Airbase."

"I've been there."

"Are you from Atlanta, Wes?"

"Nope. It was the first big city north of Enterprise, Alabama."

"I'm a transplant too. My last military duty station was South of here. Drove north until I hit the first big city. Got a job. Can't say I love it here."

"I can't argue with that."

"Where's your airplane parked, Wes?"

"Small world. South Lake."

"I've been thinking about taking flying lessons. Are you any good? How many hours do you have? What's it going to cost me?"

"I'm good. I've got over 6,000 hours. The first lesson is free and I'm competitive."

"Were you serious when you said you weren't interested in leaning to sky dive? And did you really eject? I didn't know the Army had any aircraft with ejection seats."

"Only one---the OV-1---and they're phasing it out. I was a test pilot for three years down at Fort Rucker. I got in a flat spin---intentionally---in an OV-1D. It's a single pilot aircraft with dual controls in some configurations with an observer in the right seat. I didn't have an observer that day. We were testing its flat spin characteristics---trying to determine how much altitude it took to get it out of the spin. We'd already lost a senior test pilot and an observer on a previous test. They didn't eject. I did. It scared the shit out of me---more than anything that happened in two tours in Vietnam."

"How much altitude does it take?"

"It's not definitive. It depends on the conditions---and the pilot. What we put in the book was, if you're still spinning at 10,000 feet, pull the curtain. The spin just gets tighter and the centrifugal force jams you to one side of the seat. The Gs build; you probably won't be able to reach the overhead ring---no titanium face curtain to deflect all the flying plastic. You'll have to pull the one between your legs. You'll go through the overhead canopy bent. You won't have enough forward airspeed to clear the tail. If the triple-tail doesn't cut you in half, you're back probably broke when the Martin-Baker seat went off. You might even be blind from plastic shards that got sucked up under your visor. Blind and paralyzed---or dead."

"When did you eject?"

"The sink rate was something in excess of 10,000 feet a minute and building. I almost made the decision too late. I pulled the lever between my legs at 10,000 give or take...couldn't reach the overhead. I'd gotten as straight as I could. X-rays showed some spinal compression fractures but they told me they'd heal since I was young and healthy---but I wasn't supposed to fly an airplane with an ejection seat for a few years---if ever. I apologize! I haven't talked about that aspect of my life to anyone since right after it happened. I didn't mean to bore you with old war stories."

"It wasn't boring at all! Thank you for sharing it with me. This place is filled with poseurs. My spider sense tells me you're not one of those. How old are you, Wes?"

"A month shy of twenty-seven. You?"

"Almost a year shy of twenty-seven. You look a lot younger."

"Story of my life---so do you."

"After you ejected---when you were coming down---what were you feeling?"

"I was checking for body parts; my face was bleeding---so was my foot---broke a couple of toes. My back hurt like hell but I could move all my limbs. Once I knew I was alive and reasonably in one piece, I started thinking about how much it was going to hurt when I landed---praying I didn't do something irreversible to my back. Trying to remember ejection seat training...terrified I was going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. Beginning to have doubts about the typical young pilot's belief in his own immortality."

"That does not sound like fun. Well, if you ever decide to get back on the horse---parachuting, I mean---look me up. I've got over a thousand jumps---and I'm a damn good instructor. Nice meeting you, Wes! Maybe we'll run into each other in here or at South Lake. I had a long day. I'm heading for the barn." She touched his arm as she stood up to leave. Things had slowed a little at the bar and Bernie walked over to chat.

"I promised to steer you right, Wes. Sorry I got tied up. I'm pretty sure Marty is not the girl you're looking for. I've never seen her leave with anyone---and she talked to you longer than I've ever seen her talk to anyone. She's a pretty woman but she's hard!"

"It didn't start out real well, but I thought we were getting somewhere as time went on."

"I've chatted with Marty a few times, Wes, the old former military thing. She joined up on her eighteenth birthday. I got the distinct sense that there wasn't a happy home life in her past and she joined the Air Force to get away from something. Her line of work doesn't help her prospects."

"Her line of work?"

"She's a cop. She's worked undercover. Used to work vice---her apparent youth was evidently an asset. She passed the sergeant's exam on the first try and while being a female in today's world probably didn't hurt...I've got some friends in the local PD. They tell me she's a damn good cop. Any one of them would be proud to be her partner---it wasn't that way when she started."

"Sounds like there's a story here, Bernie."

"There is---and I don't have time to tell it. Wes, are you trying to get lucky tonight or just hanging out?"

"I'm not very good at this whole bar scene pickup thing, Bernie---why?"

"I want you to meet someone. He's former Navy but I don't hold it against him. Son, you got more out of Marty than I've ever seen anyone get before. She actually had a conversation with you. I like her; she's good people---but she's not in here looking to get picked up. This place is close to work and we have more than a few cops who stop in here on the way home. I'm not suggesting you take a shot at her---because I'm pretty sure it'd be an uphill climb. But your eyes say she got to you---you're not the first. Want to know more?"

"Sure. Yeah. I'd like that."

Bernie went down to the other end of the bar and spoke to a man whom Wes judged to be a couple of decades older than he was. The man ambled over and took the seat beside Wes. Bernie made the introductions. He was a cop named George Carr. After getting to know each other, George ventured into the topic of Marty...Marty Simms.

"I was her training officer when she came on board a little over four years ago. None of us were very happy with the whole 'equal opportunity' thing and some of the younger guys did and said some things that were wrong. Anyone who worked with her back then knew she was different. She'd been a military cop for almost four years and been to Vietnam. She'd seen some nasty shit over there. She won a Bronze Star with V for her actions when sappers got inside the air base in Danang. She was tough---mentality and physically. She had good law enforcement instincts. She was head and shoulders above any probationary officer I'd ever worked with.

"She was one tough, gritty undercover officer. She got into some bad shit and got her self out of it. The other guys began to realize that you could depend on her. They started to accept her. Any doubts vanished nine months ago---right before I recommended her for sergeant. Son, I don't know what you know about law enforcement. I've been a cop for twenty years. I've drawn my weapon a half a dozen times and fired it twice. I've shot someone once---and he lived.

"Marty was assigned to a felony warrant team along with cops from other agencies---feds, state and local. It was all crap---politicians just trying to show how well we were all cooperating. They'd even called the press to cover the damn thing. I don't know what happened. I've always believed that one of the reporters tipped off the people we were serving. They were ready, they were armed and there were two feds down before the good guys even returned fire. The police vehicles were caught in a cross fire. Marty wasn't even supposed to serve the warrant---it was a fed deal and they didn't really want our help. She was supposed to stay in the car.

"She saw it unfolding and tried to get the feds in the lead car to abort but they thought they knew more than she did. She called for backup from us, the local PD. We knew Marty; we sent every officer we had. Marty is former military; she knows her away around a shotgun and an AR15. She got out of the car, sought cover and concealment and found herself a shooting position. And then she just started picking those bastards off. She'd nailed four of then before they even knew it---there were a dozen. The other cops were down, under-armed and generally ineffective.

"They started to converge on her position; she stood up and took out two more of them with the twelve gage. She took two rounds in her vest. She moved to the fed car, dragging one of the wounded cops on the ground with her. She took out two more at close range with the pump-action. One of the state cops finally got his shit together and started putting down suppressive fire. Marty took a hit in the thigh.

"Our first cars came up the street from both directions and the bad guys realized they were screwed and decided to go out in a blaze of glory. Marty took out one more with the AR after pulling a second cop to cover behind one of the cars. Ballistics indicated that she took the tenth—the fucking tenth---down with her side arm before the reinforcements nailed the last two. I was the first one to get to her. She was lying on her side there on the ground, blood dripping out of her leg in spite of her attempt to tie it off. She had her side arm in one hand while trying to give mouth to mouth to one of the downed cops. Eight LE personnel wounded, with two critically so. We cleared the EMTs in. I wanted her to wait for a stretcher. Not Marty. She was going to walk out of there if it killed her.

"It was all on tape from multiple cameras---the press---and the ballistics confirmed it. One of the feds died---the other wounded all survived. The press and the black reverends tried to get everyone riled up with charges of "excessive force." It didn't fly. There were black cops and white cops bleeding in the street that day. The community review board saw it the same way. She was decorated multiple times---even got a medal from the president. She'd already taken the sergeant's exam and maxed it. She made sergeant a month later."

"That's a remarkable saga."

"That it is but I told it to you to make a point."


"Wes, Marty is just as good a cop today as she was that day but something's missing. It's not her instincts or her skills. Somehow that day changed her---hardened her...took away her sense of humor...her humanity. It's as if she's some kind of robot. She does the job and still does it well but she's like a machine. I don't like her that way; I don't think it's healthy."

"Why tell me? We just met and it didn't go all that well."

"Maybe not, maybe so. But you made her smile and it has been too damn long since anybody made Marty smile. I was watching from the other end of the bar. You just had the longest conversation with Marty Simms that anyone has had since nine months ago. What were you talking about?"

"I told her a true story about a day when I knew I was going to die...or worse. I hadn't planned on it; I've never really talked about it before...it just came out."

"Son of a bitch! She's seen the department shrinks---which is mandatory---and we've tried but none of us have ever been through anything like that. Maybe you struck a nerve...a good nerve."

Saturday morning Wes had two flight lessons scheduled. Neither of the students showed any real promise. They both just thought it would be cool to learn how to fly. The money barely paid the cost of owning, parking, fueling, maintaining and insuring the Cessna. He had a couple of hours before his next student. The later one already had a private license and was going for an instrument ticket. She was a damn good student and a competent pilot.

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