Alan and Maeve were relieved that they had drawn a healthy number of figurative "bums in seats" for the band's first set. That, they finished off with a rendition of "Rosaleen Dhu". Maybe, as the libations flowed and people of various vehicular classes began to loosen up, they could finish off with some racier ballads as an encore - those that wouldn't bring up insurmountable "culture clash" issues. With Windlifter standing to one side of the stage and Pauline and Jammer to the other, they were well buffered from potentially boisterous audience members, though aircraft types tended to be more predictable and careful in their movements, safe enough for Maeve and Sylvie to occasionally move among them whenever an "audience participation" number came up.
It had been six years since the "blowup" and "crossover", but for many here, this was their first close-up encounter with a human. More than once, Maeve's observant eye had caught an airplane or 'copter making a discreet flehmen posture as they gave in to the temptation to analyze their first whiff of homo sapiens. You're not fooling anyone, sweetheart, she smiled slightly in amusement as a rookie SEAT from CALFIRE ducked away slightly, blushing as she tried to hide her lip curl behind the latte cups on a cafe table.
At last, she struck the last few bars on her mountain dulcimer and relaxed, shading her eyes slightly and smiling in response to the blinking lights, cheers and tire stamps. The loud easterners were nowhere to be seen in here -- there were other things on the minds of those "gentlemen". That also accounted for the absence of Bree and Juno, who normally would have been right among the first row of the audience. Instead, there were Dusty and Dipper, though the latter's sense of human boundaries had improved considerably over the last couple of days.
Maeve glanced back to Alan, Sylvie and Devon, "Back to the trailer?" she asked.
"Yeah." he nodded. He looked back to the audience. "That's it for this set, we'll be taking a break and we'll be back in fifteen minutes. Thanks, you're being a great audience."
A voice from back, from someone entering the "feeling good" zone, responded. "Got any limericks?" to the eye-rolls and groans of several others.
"Maybe after the second set." Alan winked as they stepped into Pauline's truckbed to get them safely back to the trailer. The skycrane followed behind like a great, taciturn Clydesdale; Maeve could feel his breath stirring her hair. In the farthest corner of the apron, the Coasties had positioned themselves to buffer the Canadian officer, who nibbled at blades of grass between wary glances at "Boston" and "New York". If one thought of helicopters as being somewhat doggish in their habits, the occasional nip of green stuff might actually make sense. If it kept her nerves settled, so much to the good.
Blade and Cabbie, and the rest of their cohorts had congregated in the area of the support trailer; anyone approaching would have to run their gauntlet. Maru was on a cell phone, talking urgently to someone he called "Grannie". Mr. Cheng hovered anxiously beside him. Dawn's sandy-haired head popped out of the back of the trailer as Pauline reached it and Maeve jumped down. "Myfanwy's still asleep." she said. "And Maru's talking to some old "medicine woman", she might have some herbs to help that girl over there."
"Oh." Maeve glanced back towards the tugs. "I kinda figured he's a little too old to have a living grandmother."
"OK, gotcha." Maru nodded. "Seeya in a bit, Gran, and thanks a bunch. Bye for now." He turned to Blade. "She's on her way. We need to get some water boiling for the tea, so it'll be all ready for her when she gets here."
"That's good." the Agusta mix's reply was semi-distracted as a yelp pierced the darkness, followed by a female voice with a razor-sharp edge. "You were already told twice, sir," Juno was on the verge of snarling. "Now haul your tails back to the other end of the apron and STAY THERE."
"That b**** BIT me!" the Bostonian, incensed, whirled about as Blade rolled over. Several ugly scratches scored the cop's nose, showing shiny bare skin in the glow of the exterior lights. "B**** scratched my new paint! She's gonna pay for that!"
Blade regarded the easterner sourly. "She wouldn't have, if you hadn't put your nose - AND your entire self - where it wasn't supposed to be. And like she said, you were already warned, repeatedly. We saw, we heard - you take it any further, we'll be happy to tell the whole story to the sheriff. We know the sheriff in these parts, gentlemen. Good luck selling it to her." The officer grimaced, but went silent. Those tooth-gouges would be smarting by now.
Maeve and Alan peered through a trailer window, watching this unfold. "Can't believe they're still being idiots out there."
"They're so juiced up I could smell it." Dawn scowled. "They're reeking. How do cops get away with that?"
Alan shut the trailer door. "Unlike firefighters, cops are VERY reluctant to tell on each other when they go bad - "the thin blue line" and all that. I knew enough 'roided-up a**holes when I was a police reservist. They're no different. Some people still think because they're far from home, they can act like drunken shriners. I had to work security for one of their conventions one time. Let me tell you, Worldcon at its wildest and wooliest had nothing on them."
"Oh really, love?" Maeve fell back on the couch. "What about all that lime jello in the hotel pool one year? And that poor devil who passed out in the con suite and woke up with a vacuum cleaner sucking his chest?" She leaned over to Dawn. "One of those stand-up models, with a light on the housing. Shining right in his face. He was at a scifi con, already weird enough. He gets drunk, passes out, wakes up with a bright light in his face and powerful suction on his chest. Of course he freaks out! Threw the vacuum cleaner right through a plate-glass window. On the tenth storey."
"Yikes." Dawn peered out the window again. She did not want to find out what a drunk with the size and weight of a chopper could do. Blade, nose wrinkled, herded the wayward ones back to the far end. His rotors were drawn back like a snaking stallion's ears, and his own teeth partially exposed, advertising that he also had a nasty set and could use them. It was not the first time Dawn had observed helicopters in a bad mood, but these two males were in a position where they had no excuse for not knowing better, and among wildland firefighters and SAR personnel who were far less tolerant of peer misconduct than was accepted in urban police culture.
"Ach..." a voice groaned from the trailer's forward bunkhouse section. "Are they still at it?"
"Yeah, still." Dawn answered as Jurgen emerged from the sleeping quarters. She would swear that man could fall fast asleep in the middle of an apocalypse. "Maru just called some local healer who'll whip something up for that Parsons girl."
"Good. good." the Austrian yawned. "I start to feel like I'm watching a hengstauftrieb with rotor blades thrown in."
"I don't think anyone else here was expecting it either." Maeve sighed. "Is Heathyr still asleep?"
"She is." Jurgen sat down. "But then she had a longer day. Not even that lot would wake her."
"Good thing." Dawn went to the trailer's small kitchen and poured out several glasses of lemonade for the band's song-parched throats. She wished they'd had sparkling seltzer water, to give a bit of fizz. Ash Mountain had carbonation for drinks; there was no such equipment at the camp. Once in a while, she was nostalgic for the taste of Coca-Cola, or even Fanta - "Nazi Juice", she'd heard others call it. True enough, Fanta had been developed by the company that held bottling rights for Coke in Germany once the war cut off business links and the syrup supply for the former. Even years after the blowup, odd bits of mental trivia would just bubble up from the subconscious levels, to be relived with varying degrees of bemusement or poignancy. She turned, to pass out the glasses...
...And froze, as shouts and growling rent the air outside. Shadows moved as Windlifter shifted outside, almost hugging the trailer with his body. Pauline moved to cover the other side. Out the window, she could see that one of the drunk cops had managed to get around Blade, but was confronted, again, by the coastguardswomen. Bree and Juno both had bared teeth now, but the appendix Agusta behind them was in full snarl. Blade was working to maintain control of the situation, with the two largest smoke jumpers covering his flanks. He wasn't showing teeth, but his eyes were locked onto the bad actors like a laser with an operating temperature of absolute zero. "Gentlemen," he intoned darkly, "I'm sure your respective mayors would absolutely enjoy being woken out of a sound sleep, by a long-distance call, to address this little issue we have at present. For the umpteenth time, YOU ARE NOT AMONG OTHER COPS HERE! Fire and rescue personnel don't tolerate this slag in their ranks. On top of that you've embarrassed yourselves in front of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Canadian Armed Forces, or representatives thereof. You've got one last chance. Go the hell over there," he jerked his nose in the direction of the other empty quarter on the apron, "And don't touch another damn drop of hi-grade as long as you're here. Or face the consequences."
As if on cue, a wail arose from the direction of the humans' trailer. There was an instinctive reaction from every female within earshot. For aircraft, "earshot" could be quite a distance, a quarter mile or more. A number of women surged out from the lodge, to engulf the warring parties in the wave front of a supernova of righteous indignation. At the leading edge was Dipper, all forty-three tons of her, eyes narrowed, flaps up, rudder lashing, back hunched, and hissing like a goose -- from a fixed-wing aircraft, this sound was only slightly less alarming than the full "battle snort" . Watching from inside, the humans braced themselves for that ripping-canvas sound.
But the air tanker didn't go quite that far.
"You two..." she rasped in a harsh vocal fry, "...have been acting like complete afts all night. You're stupid drunk, even hours after you were cut off, and so juiced up that one whiff of a girl in season turns you into heathens! And now -- you just made a baby cry! What do you have to say for yourselves?" This was followed by a more intense hiss, and the two choppers backed up as the other women started to register on them. That Bombardier, on Dipper's left... she loomed over them like Godzilla.
Blade backed off slightly. Even in the dark, his features betrayed a barely restrained... smirk. From behind him and the smoke jumpers, Cabbie and Maru looked on with an unmistakeable air of WISH-WE-HAD-POPCORN. The errant easterners were like deere caught in headlights before one of them squeaked out a response. "Uhhh... sorry?"
"You'd better be." Dipper advanced another six feet. "And say it to the lady you've been rude to all night as well." The cops stumbled through hasty, stammering supplications before retreating to the far corner where Blade had ordered them in the first place. Finally, a wide-eyed Dusty worked his way through the knot of females to blink at the scurrying helos, and at the emerald inferno in Dipper's eyes. As the Maker was his witness, he'd been among fighter jets and even in their worst mood, they were less scary.
In the trailer, Dawn was trying to soothe Myfanwy, but sucked sharply through her teeth at Dipper's mein. "That's the angriest she's been since we met her."
Maeve, however, seemed a little "elsewhere", dangling her three-quarters-empty glass in a "cogitating" mode. Ultimately, she pulled herself up and went to the fridge, to scan its contents for a second or two until she spied a pound of bacon in wax paper. Out it came, and a frying pan with it.
"What are you doing?" Dawn frowned slightly.
Maeve set the pan on the gas range. "We gotta calm things down here." To Dawn's puzzled expression, she added. "You already know how this smell works on them."
The girl's mouth formed an "Oh" as she nodded. Sylvia, from her spot at the far end of the couch, cackled. "Ooh, I always love watching one get their very first whiff."