Chapter 4


A Little Bit Farther to the East        

As the first Administrator of NOAA ever to have her own plane, Gale tended toward breaking the mold of how things have always been done, which could either be embraced as an exciting refreshing change from the status quo filled with new adventures and vast untapped potential or not. It took Gale and Tripp a full six months to identify and fire the "nots" from the Administrator's office staff, get sued for firing them, rehire them, transfer them, and finally hire several new people all of whom had to be called "temporary special advisers" regardless of their roles, so as to give the outward appearance that nothing had changed.

Tripp knocked on the office door, still adjusting to the idea of a plane having an office door.

"Come in, Wally."

Tripp cringed. "Wally?"

"I'm trying it out," Gale responded.

"Do you have to? I'm pretty sure I was wedgied by someone calling me Wally in fifth grade." He shifted uncomfortably in the way only someone who has actually been wedgied can appreciate, despite the fact that the silk boxer shorts he was wearing would probably tear well before any wedging occurred, which led him down a mental path best not explored with your boss as 30,000 feet. He shifted uncomfortably again, but for a totally different reason.

"You could just call me Tripp like everyone else," he refocused.

"Can't do it," she stated matter-of-factly. "Was part of the hiring agreement."

"What agreement? You stole me from Mr. Franklin."

"Okay, well yes. More of a personal preference, than an actual agreement," she conceded. "What's up?"

"The hurricane hunter is almost to Carl. I thought you might want to listen in, since it's your first hurricane as Administrator," Tripp suggested.

"Definitely," Gale answered enthusiastically jumping out of her seat like a five-year-old who just heard the ice cream truck.
  
Off the coast of North Carolina, a tricked out Gulf Stream jet flew through the night buffeted by tropical force winds. The Hurricane Hunter was NOAA's newest jet--only three generations behind Gale's. Because society's obsession with standardized testing has beaten the imagination out of multiple generations, I will now describe for you the crew in minute detail:

Captain Warren "Speck" Thompson, is forty-four, six foot one, Caucasian and has brown hair, brown eyes and a small mole on his cheek, hence the nickname. He's a matter-of-fact pilot not known for buzzing towers or maliciously causing nausea in his crew. He drives his 2010 Volvo at or maybe two miles per hour over the speed limit. He's married to Tiffany, who is a lovely woman despite her name, which Speck is secretly embarrassed by, but he loves her without question. They have no children despite trying at 3:00 pm every third Wednesday of the month.

Lieutenant Charles "Buttercup" Benjamin, is thirty-two, five foot eleven, African American, dark-skinned with a shaved head and a lean athletic body. He's single, has profiles on every dating website in North America and believes a night spent alone is a waste of one's life. If Speck is by the book, Buttercup is the extraneous text a good editor would have removed well before publication. He believes there is no such thing as a short conversation and believes Twitter is a crime against humanity. He is gregarious, often unfocused, at times insolent, but would and, in fact did, walk into a flaming building to save a kitten--and that would be where the nickname comes from.

Dr. Theresa "Snowflake" Gomez, is thirty-five, five foot four, the product of a conjugal merger between Mexico and Sudan and, therefore, obviously, "Snowflake" to her colleagues. She's divorced, shares custody of her daughter with her ex-husband in an amicable fashion defined by mutual indifference. Snowflake has a Ph.D. in meteorology from Penn State and is working towards a second Ph.D. in psychology, because that's just the type of person she is.

Dr. Jebidiah Horatio "Pronoun" Sorrenstan, is twenty-eight, five foot seven, a skinny as Hell Kansas boy with an absent-minded professor personality better suited to a sixty eight year old retiree. For a nickname explanation, search Schoolhouse Rock pronouns. A lifelong weather junkie, Pronoun is a frequent contributor to the various online weather discussion groups, which double as his social life.

Tom, is an intern, so whatever.

"Folks, keep the language clean. We've got the Administrator listening in," Captain Speck announced through everyone's headphones.

Gale's voice soon followed. "Just pretend I'm not here."

"Won't be difficult, ma'am. You are not, in fact, here. And we're pretty busy at the moment," Speck replied. Did I mention he's a pretty literal guy.

"Don't mind him, ma'am," Lieutenant Buttercup interjected. "We're happy to have you along for the ride. Nice to know someone at headquarters cares."

Doctors Snowflake and Pronoun pantomimed various acts of lips interacting with asses, which just goes to show maturity and excessive amounts of education are often inversely related.

The plane shook violently, such that if this were a commercial airline flight to say Cleveland out of New York, passengers would be texting last words to loved ones and flight attendants would be cursing every order of red wine. For the crew of this particular Gulf Stream, it was simply an indication to get back to work.

"We're through the eye wall," announced Captain Speck.
"No, we're not" countered Snow.

"Dr. Flake, I assure you having flown twenty seven of these missions, logging thousands of flight hours and having graduated from THE United States Air Force Academy, that we are through the eye wall," counter-countered Captain Speck.

Not wanting to get in the middle of a good argument, but also compelled by the righteous indignation of scientific fact, Dr. Pronoun felt compelled to say, "I think the eye wall might be a little bit farther to the East. What's it look like out the window?"

Tom, the intern, went pale.

Whoa. Out the window? The meteorological equivalent of a "your mama" joke. The Gulf Stream was NOAA's technological marvel, packed with the latest monitoring equipment, radar, ultra-wideband access to the up-to-the-minute modeling and a supercomputer. The last thing anyone needed to do was look out the window, dismissively referred to as "nowcasting." Any idiot could look out a window. Captain Speck looked out the window.

"Shit."

Gale pressed the mute button. "Um."

Tripp responded, "I was thinking the same thing."

The Captain recovered quickly. "We are right where we are supposed to be according to the readings we got thirty minutes ago. Are you telling me this son-of-bitch turned left without asking?"

Snowflake and Pronoun typed feverishly while talking acronyms with their colleagues on the ground. Speck and Buttercup flew onward through what was most assuredly not the eye of a hurricane. Tom interned really intently.

Finally, after some uncomfortable finger pointing and ass covering, it was determined that the plane was exactly where it was supposed to be, but Carl was not. This discovery was a relief to the Captain, but concerning for the eastern seaboard of the United States.

********************
  
The rain pelted the front windshield of the pickup as it inched along I-95 North towards Washington. Kayla lay across the back seat of the large cab watching the water cascade down the side window. Sleep was impossible with the endless staccato of rain drops on the roof. She turned her attention to her father and Jason, the driver of the truck who had miraculously rescued them from the side of the road twenty five miles earlier.

"Seriously, man, I can't thank you enough for stopping. We'd be out to sea if you hadn't come by," Maurice said for at least the fifth time (the thank you part, not the out to sea part. That was new).

"Dude, really, no problem. Glad to have the company. Just can't believe this storm. A little rain near Richmond and then clear to DC is what they said this morning. Talk about getting it wrong. This is biblical, epic." Jason was a big fan of the Bible, religion and the adjectives that come with them. He was headed back to his family in Washington after helping to build a house in North Carolina--a house which unbeknownst to Jason and despite his more than adequate craftsmanship now featured a large oak tree laying across the living room and a large oak tree-shaped hole in the roof.

"Sounds like those people out on the coast have it the worst," Maurice noted. "No warning or anything."

"Yeah. Like Job they are. Just getting pummeled for no reason," Jason added. "There's gonna be a lot of dead floating around down there, I bet."

"Hey," Maurice hissed glancing back at Kayla, as if she hadn't been listening to the radio news reports for the past hour. She knew it was bad. To take her mind off floating dead people, she watched the rain on the window make winding rivers across the glass and wondered who the guy was that told everyone hurricane Carl was going to turn harmlessly out to sea.


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