CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Most of Julie’s worries were those typical of a woman left alone to

raise a three-year-old girl by herself while her husband spent months on

end at sea, risking his life every day. The presence of women on the

Jefferson hadn’t helped things, either. When he was still CO of the

Vipers, Coyote had usually flown with Cat Garrity as his RIO, and during

that last rotation home he’d made the mistake of telling Julie how much

he respected the woman as a naval flight officer. That, coupled with

some of the more lurid stories filtering back to the States through the

media–stories about sexual harassment cases and the goings-on among the

mixed crew–had raised all kinds of unfounded suspicions in Julie’s

mind. They were the sort of fears he could have allayed in seconds if

he’d just been there with her to show her how much he still loved her.

But that simply hadn’t been possible. When the Navy said go, you went;

he loved Julie, but he also had a career to consider. If the Navy had

wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one with your

seabag ran the old saw among enlisted men. Sex and saltwater don’t mix

was another.

Maybe, just maybe, his recent promotion would prove to be the first step

in putting his marriage back together again. In the meantime, though, it

was a letdown working on the CAG staff instead of flying with the

Vipers. Worst of all were the days like this when he had to watch one of

his old friends sit in the hot seat.

Grant double-checked to be sure the sign saying WOMEN was neither posted

by the hatch nor lying on the deck. There weren’t enough female enlisted

personnel to assign to watch the ready rooms on every shift when female

flight officers might need to change, so unlike the showers the ready

rooms functioned on an honor system, with the aviators taking turns. ..

except, of course, when there was a scramble and every man and woman had

to be suited up as fast as possible. The sign was a courtesy, used when

there was time to observe the niceties of civilized behavior.

So far there hadn’t been any deliberate violations of ready room

privacy, though there had been that one time when the sign had fallen

down and one of the men from the War Eagles had gotten an eyeful when he

went to suit up. Apparently, though, Cat Garrity had already finished

changing and was on her way to debriefing.

He heard Malibu talking as he entered the changing area. “Look, all I’m

saying is you’ve got to ease up on yourself,” the RIO was saying. “Quit

acting like the weight of the world’s on your shoulders.”

“Good advice,” Coyote said. Malibu was already in his khakis, hanging up

his flight suit in his locker. Batman was sitting nearby, still wearing

his own flight gear.

“Coyote!” Malibu said. His features broke into a grin. “What’re you

doing in here? Slumming?”

“Just making sure you two get your sorry asses up for debriefing,” Grant

said. He studied Blake for a moment. The RIO had been

uncharacteristically quiet lately, almost withdrawn, but he seemed more

animated now. Coyote suspected he was worried about how Batman was

dealing with his new role as CO of the Vipers. The two had been

inseparable friends for years, with a bond that sometimes seemed almost


“I’m on my way,” Malibu said. “The Bat here has a bad case of the


“I’ll get him over that.” Grant waited until Malibu had left before

turning to Wayne. “Bad time this morning, huh?”

Batman fumbled with the zipper of his suit as he replied. “There’s an

understatement,” he said. “Sort of like saying Krasilnikov’s a


“Look, I just got a report down from Ops,” Coyote told him. “Thought

you’d like to hear right away. The flight crew on that helo’s okay.

They’re pretty dinged up, but they got picked up by a Marine medevac and

flown out to the Guadalcanal. The word is they’ll be okay.”

Batman let out a long, slow sigh. “Thank. .. God.”

“You can also thank the Army pilot on that Black Hawk. He gentled his

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Categories: Keith Douglass