Home > Hidden Heart (Search and Rescue #4)

Hidden Heart (Search and Rescue #4)
Author: Amy Lane

 

Rescuer

 

 

“SPENCER, my darling,” Elsie said, both of them fighting for control of the reconditioned Black Hawk they were currently flying at nearly five-hundred feet above the flooded valley in the heart of the Oregon wilderness.

“Yes, Elsie, my love?” Spencer’s biceps ached from fighting with the fucking stick. God, the storm that had started this mess was fierce, and something about the water pouring from the reservoir up in the mountains through a cracked dam into this formerly happy little valley was stirring up air currents like Niagara fucking falls.

“Next time Glen says, ‘Hey, we should maybe throw ourselves into danger to help people who are too stupid to live somewhere civilized,’ what are we going to say?”

Spencer grunted and yanked the helicopter a little lower. Yes, lower. They’d answered a radio call for a group of teenagers who’d been delivering supplies to people without power in the Oregon woods when the storm hit. All it had taken was a tree forcing a semi off the road, and the dam that protected the little valley had been wrecked enough to flood the already saturated area in record time.

Spencer wasn’t sure what shape the group had been in when Glen had relayed the distress call, saying the youth group was out there and needed help. By the time Spencer and Elsie had arrived at the area Glen had indicated, most of the land was underwater—and so were any houses and SUVs they might have passed as they flew. Essentially, they were looking for a group of people with the brains to get somewhere high and the balls to climb on top of a roof.

And they were hoping—hoping mightily—that everybody was all right.

“I don’t know, Else,” Spencer muttered, keeping his eyes on his gauges. The storm that had saturated the ground and filled the dam and knocked down the tree was still raging. If the wind got any worse, they were going to have to pack it in. “What are we going to say the next time Glen asks us to help in a search and rescue, when that is technically part of our job description?”

“We’re going to say hell yeah, ’cause there they are!” Elsie crowed.

Spencer stared in horror. “That is not the roof of a house!”

“Yeah, well, whatever it is, you need to hover the copter, buddy boy. I need to lower the rope.”

Balls and brains indeed. Whomever it was—teenagers mostly, from what Glen had told them—they’d found a large wooden platform of some sort. It could have been a porch, perhaps? Whatever it was, it was currently tethered to one of the many, many trees in the woods by what appeared to be a garden hose. The tree, which was an oak of some sort, not one of the taller pine or redwood trees, was going to be under the waterline soon, the raft would either be adrift or submerged, and the little party of people standing on top of it, waving their arms at the helicopter, might be lost.

“Check to see if they need a basket,” Spencer told her, shouting to be heard over the buffeting of the howling winds and the blades of the chopper. They both had headsets and helmets on—you didn’t take off in conditions like these and not gear up completely—but the background sound was still fierce. “And goddammit, Colonel, you don’t get to go!”

Colonel whined, straining against the short lead that Spencer had clipped in the space between his and Elsie’s seats. Glen had given his permission for a lead ring to be bolted to the floor of his precious helicopter just for Colonel. Once Spencer had found a place to live that let him keep dogs, he and the giant German shepherd mix weren’t separated often, and Glen Echo, one of the two men behind Gecko Inc., an airfreight/search-and-rescue firm, seemed to recognize that.

Of course, Glen’s brother had been the one to give Spencer the dog, so maybe he felt a tad responsible for the giant pain in the ass being part of Spencer’s entourage now.

Elsie patted Colonel on her way to the cargo/passenger compartment. She clipped her safety harness to a carabiner on the frame of the helicopter before she opened the side door and lowered the cable with the rescue harness to the group of people on the makeshift platform. The water was still rising, and the tree was a leaf and a branch from going all the way under and taking the brave little raft with it. Shit was getting dire.

This was normally a four-person job: one person to operate the crane, two people to help the rescues into the helicopter, and one person to keep the bird in the air. Elsie was going to do the job of three workers, and Spencer had one job to do while she was operating the powerful little crane—keep their bird from getting blown out of the sky.

It was harder than it should have been.

They were supposed to be in the safety zone, far away from winds blasting stronger than forty knots, but what was hitting them now—and hitting them hard—had to be well above fifty.

“Fuck!” Elsie shouted as a particularly hard gust shook the aircraft. “Spence, you gotta hold tight. I got a guy coming up.”

Glen and Damien had warned them they’d be undermanned. Had asked, seriously, if they wanted to wait for another chopper, because this was dangerous and ill-advised. But the nearest search-and-rescue chopper with a full complement of crew was a good three hours out, and judging by the way the water levels in the valley were rising, anyone stuck on the roof of a house did not have that long.

The storms that had hit this heavily wooded area off the Oregon coast had come back-to-back, but the second one had been expected to ride a wave of high pressure to Washington and not hit land here. Gecko Inc. had been hired by a local businessman to fly supplies in to the locals and assist any way they could. Glen and Damien had flown in using one of the firm’s cargo planes and landed just outside of Portland on a tiny private airstrip. While they’d been distributing much-needed supplies, the next storm had blown in with stunning ferocity, and then the semi had hit the tree and the shit had hit the fan.

Glen and Damien—up to their eyeballs in bailing people out of flooded houses in a borrowed skiff—had radioed Spencer and Elsie, who had finished their own delivery to a similarly flooded area a little north. The Black Hawk was more maneuverable, and it had the crane and the rescue harness and basket. Spencer and Elsie had been on for getting people unstuck from high places, and this was their absolutely last rescue before they had to go back and refuel.

But it wasn’t looking good. The dam must have crumbled in its entirety because the water was still rising, dwarfing whatever course the river through the valley provided, and this little valley was about to be a lake of its own.

But those people—Spencer counted five—did not have help coming from any other quarter.

“How’s it going?” he hollered.

“We got one!” Elsie cried, and Spencer felt the slight pull as the newcomer was hoisted up on the electric crane. The thing had a lot of torque—it had to, in order to haul full-grown humans, sometimes two at a time, into the passenger space of the helicopter—but God, it went slow.

“Hopefully he’ll give you some help when he gets up.”

Elsie grunted. “Uhm, I don’t think so.”

A moment later, Spencer heard Elsie talking sweetly to someone as she unhooked the harness and got their evacuee settled on one of the lush seats in the adapted Black Hawk. Her words had a lot of soft sounds and the words, “You’re fine, dear,” so Spencer assumed the first person she’d rescued had been someone’s grandmother.

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