by John Little
A musher helps a man out of his elements
Jeanne smiled at Terry's soft voice. "Better. The paws are healing."
Bark whined and tried to chew her bandages.
"Bark! Stop it, girl." Bark whined more plaintively and got an ear rub from Jeanne for comfort.
"Goin' to town. Need anythin'?"
Jeanne got up and gave them a hug and a wink.
"Yeah yeah. Got it. Back by dinner."
She watched Terry go, savoring the sway of their hips. Bark whimpered. Jeanne turned, gave Bark the Eye. The big overgrown puppy put her chin back on folded paws, gently howled a husky moan, and returned a soulful look.
"Ok, girl. What do you want for lunch?" She squatted down and scratched Bark behind the left ear. Bark's leg quivered a bit.
"Those black-eyed peas, Jack?"
"Yep. Supply ship came in a couple days ago. Want some?"
Terry's eyes lit up. "Dozen cans."
"ooo-wee! Look at that fine piece of — "
Jack looked up at the big man coming in the door. "You want to shop my store, mister, you show a little respect."
" — workmanship! These pocket watches work, pardner?"
"Best watches north of Juneau. $50 each. You buying?"
"ooo-wee, pardner! They don't pay us pilots that much. Besides, I got what we call 'natural instincts'. Saved my a— sorry, ma'am — my fanny more times than I can count."
Jack sized up the big man. "You're Roy, the relief bush pilot, aren't you."
"Best pilot west of Pecos. I come up here to take care of things while Tommy is laid up."
"You and Tom acquainted?
"Half-brothers. Same mother. He's the younger." He cocked an eye toward Terry. "I don't think I've had the pleasure, ma'am?"
"No. You haven't." They turned back to Jack. "How much?"
"Let's see ... 3 dollars 2 bits. I'll put it on your account."
"Thanks." Terry grabbed their goods and walked out. Behind them they heard the cowboy, "ooo-wee, yes ma'am"
Jeanne heard Terry's sled team coming up the hill. She leaned out the window and watched her mate pull the team up, unhitch them, get them settled in the kennel, and feed them. By the time they were done, Jeanne had cleaned up her own team's harnesses and put them away in good order. She went over to Terry's sled and started unloading. Terry came up from behind and gave Jeanne a gentle pat. She turned around and they nuzzled a bit in the cold Arctic air.
"Feels like a cold front is moving down."
Jeanne pulled back a bit. "What happened?"
She looked at them and waited. Terry rolled their eyes and sighed.
"Met the relief bush pilot. At Jack's."
"What's he like?"
"Good ol' boy. From Texas."
That explains the attitude. "Everything ok?"
"Yeah. Was nothin'."
"I hate bush pilots. Tommy is ok, but those flying things aren't reliable up here. We're getting less and less paying milk runs and no one comes looking for us any more – until the weather shuts down those things."
Jeanne held on a little bit longer, but when Terry didn't respond much, she pulled back and grabbed some more grub from the sled.
"Yeah. Thought you'd like it."
Jeanne's eyes lit up.
They heard Sheriff Johnston's four-dog team come up the slope. Terry went out to meet him. Johnston was a likeable fella, but he never came up here in a storm like this for social calls.
Johnston braked the sled. "We got trouble. Doc sent some medical supplies up to Big Knife but the plane went down."
"They need the supplies, but they could have waited the storm out. Roy said he could fly the storm." The Sheriff saw the look in their eye. "Yah. So you've met him already, eh? We all thought it foolish, but he wouldn't hear it."
"Where?" Jeanne came out.
"Somewhere in Fool's Gold Gully. His radio is working. He says he is fine. But a rookie? In this storm?
"I'll get the team."
"No. Need a full team. Bark is your lead and she's down."
Tab was exhilarated. Terry was running them hard, and that meant Tab could run! The lead dog loved these kind of runs.
It took a couple hours to get to Fool's Gold, then another hour or so to find the downed pilot.
"ooo-wee! Am I lucky today! That was a nasty ride but I pulled her out of it and found a good spot to land! And now I get rescued by the Frost Queen. Will wonders never cease!"
They looked up at the plane, tail stuck in a tall fir. "There's a meadow. Just right of your tree."
"Well, now ain't we chatty. How do you propose to get me out of here, Queenie?"
"Sit. Strap in.
Roy glowered. "On that?! With you driving? Hell no, ma'am! Give me a horse and point me the direction home"
"Horses don't survive here. Dogs do."
"I ain't getting in that kiddie sleigh pulled by little dogs!"
They threw him a pair of snowshoes. "Not going far in those boots, cowboy." They paused, pulled out a pair of mucklucks and a blanket, tossed them, and pointed south straight over the top of the mountain.
"Wait! You ain't leaving me here! I'll freeze!"
"This is about the store, ain't it?"
"You don't want help; I'm not staying for you to get sense." Terry turned, the dogs tensed. They were ready to go.
"What do you want?! An apology? Fine, I'm sorry."
"I'm not the one 'wanting'."
"Wait!" He looked at the sled. "Is that contraption safe?"
They looked at his downed craft. "Safer than that."
Roy started to climb onboard. "Don't be such a bitchy hard-ass abou—"
"Hah!" Tab and the team leaped into action. Their passenger got dumped into a four-foot drift.
"Whoa!" They waited. He climbed out of the drift, cursed up a storm, but got on the sled.
"Ok ok, hold yer horses!"
"Dogs. These are dogs. Little dogs."