Man of My Dreams, p.1part #3 of Manly Series Series
MAN OF MY DREAMS
The Manly Series
MAN OF MY DREAMS
THE MANLY SERIES
To David, my Scottish friend living in Germany.
Without you, this book might not have been written.
All the books in this series are stand-alones, not sequels, but since they’re all about the same family, familiar characters will appear.
A toe crawling up my leg interrupts my REM cycle. When a hand finds my stick shift, I come to complete consciousness.
“Mmmm, baby, that’s good.” I flex my hips like I’m buried deep in pussy. The hand tightens, and my morning wood combusts.
I welcome waking up to a friendly grope, more than happy to oblige my partner with another orgasm or two. In fact, I roll over to show my gratitude. But a glimpse of the hotel’s digital clock tells me I need to get a move on.
I have bigger and better things to do. It’s not polite to keep a movie set waiting.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” I say, depositing a peck on what I think is a cheek buried under swarms of bedhead. “Raincheck?”
It’s a nice way to wrap up a one-night stand. Makes everybody feel warm and happy about the choices they made the night before. Nobody but me has to know I’ll never follow up. What’s the point? I don’t have anything to offer beyond one night.
Feminine moans and mutters follow as I climb out of bed. I love that sound. It usually signals fun and games. But I need to get my head into today’s flight. The room’s paid ‘til noon, so I’d just as soon she stay put and out of my way for now.
Heading to the shower, I gather the evidence of last night’s activities. One of the most awkward moments in my life was when Mom took me aside to have her version of “the talk,” where she impressed upon me the need to use condoms, and that she expected me to get rid of them properly, because no one should have to come in contact with my bodily fluids if they don’t want to. After all, she said, if I was old enough to have sex, I was old enough to clean up after myself.
So, on my way to the bathroom, and in the shower, I make Mom proud and take care of those pesky bodily fluids. All while mentally walking through the steps of what I have ahead of me at work.
Today’s shoot is going to be fun. A chase scene with planes. It’s the big scene, the final one for us on this gig. My good friend, Greg Mooney, and I get to scream across the sky, pulling every daredevil stunt we know for the cameras. We choreographed it yesterday. Some of the moves are tricky, and the wind patterns off the nearby mountains complicate them even more, but Moon and I are pros. We don’t take unnecessary chances. Well, unless you count the mere fact that we’re test pilots who fly stunts on the side.
You only live once, isn’t that what they say? I’m single, totally unattached, nobody depending on me. So now’s the time to take some risks. Get the thrills out of my system. At twenty-nine, I don’t have a lot of wild and crazy years left.
My razor glides smoothly through the shaving cream I smeared all over my lower face. I use electric back in the States, but abroad, it’s too complicated for me to deal with different electrical systems. Besides, there’s something visceral about pulling cool steel across your jaw and hearing the rasp of stubble being chopped away. It reminds me of when my father took me to the barber for my first shave. A rite of passage. A step from childhood into the manly world.
My family worries that I’ll be one of those sad sacks who never grows up. It’s true that I’ll never save marriages, like my brother, Leo. And I’ll never help others amass fortunes, like my brother, Tony. Even my baby brother, Jack, is carving out a name for himself in the construction industry. I don’t have sage advice to share, unless it’s about how to please pussy or fly a plane like nobody’s business.
Not exactly stellar entries on a CV.
Oh, and I can charm birds out of trees. Well, not literally. More like panties off a different kind of limb. Another essential skill my family worries about. They joke they’re glad I directed my skill at something other than con-artistry. Or used-car salesmanship.
Finished washing up, I towel my hair, zip into my flight suit, and pack my overnight bag. Sleeping Beauty is still down for the count, so I grab my helmet and tiptoe out the door. At the desk, I finalize the bill and leave a wake-up call message for her.
After all, running out on a girl while she’s still asleep is heartless enough. No need to kick her out of bed without a heads-up, right?
The cab drops me off at the private airstrip rented out for the day by the studio. It’s in the middle of nowhere, a clearing in the heavy pine forests creeping up the craggy German Alps that hover like skyscrapers.
My compatriot, helmet under his arm, sips from a Styrofoam cup, watching my approach. “You look like shit, Stallion,” he calls out, using my call sign. The front of my helmet is plastered with a horse rampant—reared up on its back legs, a very masculine portion of its anatomy jutting like a sword. The guys in flight school thought they’d pull a prank by decorating my helmet while I was in an alcohol stupor after a party one night. When I woke up, I had two choices: beat the shit out of them, or own the prank.
I wear the helmet—and name—proudly.
BFF Moon. Girls may have Best Friends Forever, but Moon and I are Best Flying Friends. I grin at him. “Get me some of whatever you’re drinking.”
He smirks and jerks a thumb at the craft service table. “I ain’t your lackey. You snooze, you lose. Tough night last night? Or should I say this morning?”
“Ha, ha. Says the man whose eyes are so red they could shoot laser beams.” I fill a cup from the big communal urn and grab a pastry. The coffee’s not particularly good, but it’s hot and bracing in the cold morning breeze. The pastry tastes like cardboard, so after one bite, I pitch it in a trash bin and pick up a big, doughy pretzel instead.
Moon grimaces. “It’s the damn edelweiss. I didn’t know it bloomed in March.”
“It doesn’t. It’s a summer flower.” The pretzel tastes better, but sticks to the roof of my mouth. I wash it down with a gulp of java-wash.
“Humph. I knew it.”
“Yeah, so now what’s your excuse for those alien eyes?”
His shoulders scrunch up near his ears. “Too much dunkles Bier?”
I laugh and clap him on one big, burly shoulder. “That sounds more like it. You fly better soused anyway.” He knows I’m teasing. He never drinks before a flight.
His dark eyes dance. “Piss on you, asswipe.”
“Just sayin’.” My grin matches his.
We sip in comradely silence for a few minutes, watching the hustle-bustle around us. We’re at the foot of the Alps, it’s a gloriously sunny day, and I’m itching to get upstairs for a better look around.
“You staying here tonight?” Moon asks.
“Nah, I’m heading over to Munich, take a few days while I’m in Europe. You?”
“Back to the States for me
As much fun as we have flying around the globe, Moon never stays on the road for long. It’s what took him out of the Air Force at the end of our first tour. He’s always been a family man. I guess I can understand it, with that sweet wife and those two cute kids.
“So that explains the red eyes. You’ve been crying over missing your wife.”
“You really are pushing it…friend.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I sneer, with an eye-roll thrown in for good measure.
A production assistant flits our way, bundled in parka and boots like he’s ready to climb the Matterhorn. “You boys ready for your scene? The director’s almost got things set up. Better head over to the planes and check things out. Here’s your weather data and flight plans. We’re really looking forward to some fancy flying.”
Moon and I exchange a look. How many times have we heard that tired line? Like we’re paid six figures to fly straight and level? “We’ve gotcha covered,” I say.
Moon’s helmet has purple and gold stripes, sprinkled with stars and a white moon. I throw away the rest of my breakfast and don my red helmet with its obscene black stallion. We trudge over to our planes, pulling on our gloves, checking last-minute details with each other.
“Go over to wardrobe for your flight gear,” the PA says.
Moon shakes his head. “I wear my gear.”
“But you have to dress for the role,” the PA gasps.
There’s an entire psychology behind flying, and this guy has no idea how insistent Moon is about his helmet. “That’s what film editing is for. I wear my gear, or I don’t fly.” His face is as round as the orb he’s named for, and just as rocky-looking at the moment.
The rattled film hand casts beseeching eyes to me, but I shrug. No way am I getting between a man and his superstition. That shit’s sacrosanct.
“Fine,” the man huffs. “But you’ll have to let them fit your helmets with cameras.”
We’re used to that. Moon nods once, and we head over to the tent the PA points at.
Wish I hadn’t had that coffee. The excitement buzzing through my system gives me all the energy I need.
Moon’s professional monotone fills my headphones. “Making the first pass.”
Our faces go stern for the role, like we’re heading into battle, and we take our AV-8B Harriers on a lazy flight path along the base of the Alps, letting the on-board cameras capture footage that will later be edited to look like there’s more action going on. It’s good we don’t have a long shoot today—clouds are beginning to block the sun, and before the afternoon’s out, we’ll end up with rain.
I’d like to do our stunt in one take, if possible. “Everything good here. You?”
“Yep. Moving into position.”
Moon breaks off from our tandem flight to double back so we can come at each other in our mock aerial combat scene. He rolls to the right, sleek and shiny, sunlight glinting off the metal body of his jet. I fly on ahead a distance, then come around in a slow turn. The Harrier’s flight is so smooth, I relax into the bank, the calm filling my awareness like a meditation. My breathing regulates and muscles loosen. I’m ready.
As practiced, Moon comes straight for me, and at the last minute, darts toward the mountains. I close the gap and turn sharply, chasing after him. We get lots of good footage flying up and down, shadowing the foothills into the mountains.
“Ready to fire.” I press a button and blanks flash from my guns like I’m trying to shoot him down. He barrel rolls sideways, dodging the fake bullets. Lord, I love this shit. I do a fancy little maneuver that gets me even closer to his tail.
“Shit, man, I hit the brakes, you’re toast,” he drawls into the com.
“Yeah, you wish. I can read your moves like you’re a debutante at her first dance.”
“We’ll see, pretty boy.”
He tips up on his left wing, then curls in between two mountains. We didn’t practice that, exactly, but I wasn’t lying when I said I could read his moves. I flip so I’m flying on my right wing tip, and we go belly-to-belly through the mountain pass. It’s a shot that should make the director orgasm, it’s so beautiful.
Moon laughs with joy. “Fuck, that’s brilliant!”
We frolic in our multi-million-dollar machines like porpoises playing in the surf, updrafts carrying us up and down, in and out of the mountains, shot after gorgeous shot, all running like clockwork. If everything continues this smooth, we’ll wrap up early.
The last bit is coming up, close to a forest of trees covering a mountainside. We chose this location yesterday because of the clear, blue lake at the edge of the forest. Someday, I want to hike through this area, ending with a dip in that crystalline lake.
Suddenly, the plane in front of me slips to the left. “Moon?”
“Air pocket. Careful.”
His flight straightens, and we continue the chase. Flying around trees has its own challenges—air currents are affected, and there’s always the possibility of startling birds and sucking them into the engines. Engines don’t like birds. Bad things happen when engines and birds collide. And as close to the trees as Moon’s flying, he could have problems with the little chickadees.
He dips in so near, a few treetops sway from his engine wash. “Dial it back, hotdog,” I say. “Stay away from the trees. Let the editors do their magic.”
“Roger. My controls aren’t responding right. Let’s finish up and head back.”
No. My breath hitches. That’s not how we fly. “Negative. Abort.”
But Moon flies beyond the forest to a clearing before taking his Harrier vertical. “Let’s finish the stunt on our way back.”
I don’t like this idea at all. Sure, we have to fly back, and it would be nice to complete our stunt, but we don’t need to put any more demands on his plane. “Just fly straight, man. Be safe.”
“It was a false alarm. Everything’s fine now. Let’s finish this.”
Planes rented out to Hollywood are older, decommissioned. Even with the best mechanics around, the pressure of aerobatic maneuvers on top of thousands of hours of flight stress metal and circuitry. Besides which, the old Marine jets are notorious for having the highest accident rate of any military aircraft.
Clouds roll in over the mountain tops. We won’t have good weather for much longer. Finishing the shoot now makes the most sense, but not at the expense of my fellow pilot and friend.
“Commence tumble,” Moon announces while I’m still debating. It’s what we practiced, and at least we’re heading in the direction of the airstrip. A heat mirage shimmies from his jet engine as he throttles up the power. He pulls into a steep climb, and I chase him. G-force is like a giant hand smashing me back against my seat. The weight on my arms is like wearing lead sleeves. It forces every ounce of strength I possess to hold my position, giving him room for the challenging maneuver. I ease back slightly as we reach the peak of the climb and roll the planes into the dive. Blue sky is replaced with the green and grey of the mountains as they start to rush at us .
My stomach tries to push itself into my throat as the up-thrust turns to down. I swallow, my ears popping. We are in perfect position.
“Check your speed Moon, altitude good.”
“Roger, easing off…”
I bank slightly right, dip the nose steeper, and then ease back power as we enter phase one of the stunt.
Tail over nose, Moon somersaults toward the ground. The pines and bare rock rush at me as I follow him down in straight flight. The first tumble complete, Moon continues his rotations. He comes out of the second tumble too fast and loses too much altitude.
“Ease back Moon, you’re too hot…”
He takes the final tumble, and then he’s supposed to straighten out over the trees.
But he doesn’t pull out. His speed is too great for the airfoils to gain back full control in his self-made air void. The Harrier overcompensates.
Helpless above him, my heart’s squeezed by an unseen hand. My mouth goes dry, and I will Moon’s jet to pull up. The wings waggle as he fights the spinning craft. The engine heat shimmers disappear as he drops power to regain control and then reappear when he applies full power in a last ditch effort. His nose is coming up. But flying upside down over the forest, descending too fast and too steep.
“Roll!” I yell into my mask. “Moon!”
“I can’t pull it out, Mick. I’m losing her.”
He never calls me Mick. I hate that he’s calling me Mick. “You’re too low, Moon. You gotta—”
“I’m not going to make it. I need to punch out. See ya on the ground.”
“No, Moon! You’re too low!” The tumbles must have disoriented him. “Barrel roll, now, and pull up!”
“Tell Nina I love—”
The explosion of his canopy ripping away drowns out the rest. The pilot seat ejects. Moon’s catapulted into the trees. His shoot pops, billows like a ghost, caught in wavering branches. A fireball erupts as the Harrier buries itself in the Earth.
Moon! Did he get clear?
Damn this smoke! Where’s his canopy?
I’m too close, craning my neck to see what happened to Moon. My plane’s caught by the maelstrom of thrust, mountain wind, and fire. It jerks the controls right out of my hands. I go into a flat spin, no power to pull out.
And, in a flash, I realize I’m going down, too.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday!” I shout into my mic.
A deafening explosion rips through the air, compressing all around it into a black, endless void. The darkness is pulsing, living, breathing, swallowing everything in all directions like a black hole from the deepest reaches of the frozen, sterile heavens. Its lethal cold sweeps and spirals around me, attempting to suck me into the unearthly vacuum along with everything else.
Suddenly, the endless void is torn, punctured by fire. At first, only tiny yellow tendrils dance and lick their way into one bottom corner of the blackness. But soon, a raging inferno of angry red and orange joins the yellow flames in their greedy consumption of the oppressive void. A hellish struggle waged between eternally opposing forces, alternately freezing and scorching everything in proximity.