Blizzard

Blizzard

H.W. Buzz Bernard

February 2015 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-935

Everyone laugh at what southerns call a "snowstorm."

No one's laughing this time.

 
Our PriceUS$14.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

A freakish combination of weather elements surpasses even the experts’ predictions. Suddenly much of the upper South is covered in several feet of snow. There’s never been a storm like this in the region before. Never in recorded history.

For Atlanta executive J.C. Riggins, the storm is only one of the killers he’ll have to face.

In a desperate bid to save his job, his company, and quite possibly his young son’s life, Riggins must transport a defense contract to North Carolina. The deadline can’t be missed. With airports and roads closed, Riggins sets out in an SUV through a stunned countryside where no one can help him if trouble happens. Which it does, the moment a dangerous criminal joins him for the ride.

H.W. "Buzz" Bernard is an Air Force veteran and retired Weather Channel meteorologist. His 2010 hurricane thriller, Eyewall, became a number one bestseller in ebook. Visit him at buzzbernard.com.


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Excerpt

Chapter One

Failure

American-International Systems Solutions, Inc. (AISSI)

North Metro Atlanta, Georgia

Wednesday morning, December 28

JONATHAN CARLTON Riggins, J.C. to his friends and family, stepped out of the elevator on the tenth floor of corporate headquar­ters. He checked his watch. Eight a.m. Right on time. He stopped at the desk of the CEO’s assistant, Mary Hawthorne.

"Good morning, Mary. Hope you had a pleasant Christmas.”

She nodded but didn’t return the greeting. In fact, she appeared strangely dour.

"FedEx should be here around ten o’clock to pick up the pro­posal,” J.C. said, deciding not to probe into Mary’s personal feelings. "Eight copies. Mr. Billingsly will sign them out—”

"He’d like to see you.” Something flashed in her eyes. A warning. A prophetess bearing a dire message.

Her tacit alert seemed so palpable J.C. actually glanced behind him, wondering if someone dressed as the Grim Reaper might be creeping up unseen.

"I just need to stop by corporate communications first—”

"Now,” she said, her voice low. "He wants to see you now.”

J.C.’s gut churned. The holiday bonhomie and sense of vocational optimism he’d harbored just seconds before fled like helium from a pricked balloon. Adding to his sudden angst, the smell of blackened toast and scorched eggs drifted in from the executive dining room three doors down. The term "burnt offerings” crossed his mind.

He tried to imagine what could have gone wrong, for surely some­thing must have. He wasn’t misreading the foreboding implicit in Mary’s demeanor. At yesterday’s final review, the wrap-up prior to the most important proposal in the company’s history being shipped out, everything had seemed in order. The meeting had been brief and smooth. No gremlins lurking in a forest, no trolls hiding beneath a bridge.

All that remained was to print and bind the proposal documents and put them in the hands of FedEx who would deliver them to Rampart Aerospace & Defense Corporation in Durham, North Carolina, by the end of the day, a step ahead of an impending winter storm that had everyone on edge. It seemed as though the Southeast, in the over-the-top words of a major TV network, faced a once-in-a-millennium monster. A shutdown blizzard expected to cripple the region for a week, maybe two.

What had he missed?

He rapped on the door of Cyrus Billingsly, the CEO.

"Enter.” A curt command from a retired Air Force major general.

J.C. stepped into Billingsly’s lair. The man still appeared every bit a flag officer with his close-cropped gray hair, chiseled features, and la­ser-like gaze. While J.C. didn’t mark him as a hard ass, he knew him to be demanding and blunt.

Billingsly didn’t look up from a document he appeared to be study­ing. After a minute or so, he did. His gaze, something that could have withered a granite monolith, fell on J.C. with almost tangible inten­sity.

"Do you know how fucking pissed I am?” Billingsly said. His voice rumbled with volcanic undertones. His face, twisted into a mask of barely contained rage, gleamed lava-flow red.

J.C. had never heard the CEO use profanity before, so "fucking” became an immediate marker of the depth of the man’s fury. J.C. chose not to respond to the question, understanding it didn’t demand an answer. A wave of nausea swept over him. The strength in his legs failed, the muscles and tendons holding him upright deteriorating to a rubbery state. He grabbed the desk for support. Something cataclysmic had happened. On his watch. Under his leadership. His responsibility.

"Yesterday I was briefed everything was fine,” Billingsly said. "Last night, I decided to make one final sweep through the proposal.” He slid a stack of papers toward J.C. and raised his voice. "You just cost this company a billion-dollar project. A billion fucking dollars! Damn it to hell, J.C.! Damn it to hell!”

J.C. reached toward the papers, trying to camouflage the tremor in his hand.

"It’s the test data,” Billingsly snapped. "Here we are, the only com­pany in the bidding with a working HDIRLLTAS”—he pro­nounced it hy-derl-tis—"a virtual shoo-in to win the job, and instead of entering working-model test results into the proposal, we entered the prototype evaluations. Two-year-old data. I know the differences are subtle, but when it comes to highlighting the effectiveness of the system, they’re deal-breakers. Shit.” He pounded his fist onto his mahog­any desk with such force J.C. thought the CEO might have shattered the bones in his hand.

J.C. read the title on the top sheet in the stack of papers: TEST RE­SULTS: HIGH-DEFINITION, LOW-LIGHT TARGET ACQUI­SITION SYSTEM (HDIRLLTAS). The system, a high-tech blend of night vision technology and infrared detection capabilities, had under­gone extensive modifications over the past two years. From a barely functional prototype, it had been crafted into a state-of-the-art, reliable, ruggedized military system. No other corporation, at least as far as AISSI’s corporate intelligence could discern, had one. It was to have been the company’s golden egg, the key to Fort Knox, their own Saudi oilfield. But now?

His hand visibly shaking, J.C. leafed through the papers.

"Don’t bother,” Billingsly said, his voice coated with rage. "I dou­ble checked, triple checked. It’s not obvious, at least not until you drill down into the data, but it doesn’t support our efficacy claims.”

"We can fix it,” J.C. said, his voice wavering and feeble.

"Sure we can,” Billingsly said, his words derisive. "In case it es­caped your notice, that data ripples through virtually every damn sec­tion of the document. Tech specs. Functional design. Applications. Maintenance. By the time we repair the damage, it’ll be midnight.”

"FedEx can still—”

"I already checked. They don’t expect to be operating tomorrow. If the weather guessers are right, much of the Southeast may be non-op tomorrow. And Friday.”

"Maybe they’re wrong.”

"Maybe pigs will fly, too,” Billingsly snapped.

"Look, I’ll talk to Rampart,” J.C. said, his words hesitant, irreso­lute, "and see if they’ll make an exception and let us email the docu­ment.”

"Not a chance. You know how acutely sensitive the data is.” Billingsly shook his head. "I don’t believe it. I just don’t fucking believe it. I trusted you. A billion-dollar opportunity. You assured me things were under control. No potholes in the road, you said. Jesus.” He bur­ied his head in his hands.

"Sir, let’s at least try—”

"Shut up. Just shut up and get out. Pack your stuff. I want you out of this building in an hour. HR has your termination papers.”

Another ripple of nausea coursed through J.C. A stream of bile erupted into his esophagus. He turned, made a desperate grab for a waste can, and vomited.

Dispassionate, Billingsly watched. "Same way I feel,” he said. He nodded at the waste can J.C. held. "Take it with you when you leave.”

Back in his own office, J.C. leaned over the foul-smelling waste can and loosed another volley of his barely digested breakfast. He wiped his mouth with a paper towel and shoved the can into a corner with his foot. He sat in his chair, stared blankly at a wall adorned with family photos and framed awards, and waited for his stomach and breathing to regain a state of relative normality. It took several minutes.

He attempted to analyze what had gone wrong, how his career had come to such a sudden and mortifying end. Somehow, as proposal manager, he’d lost control of the effort and allowed the corporate ship to founder on the rocks. A week ago, everything had seemed on course, smooth sailing ahead.

A Week Earlier

American-International Systems Solutions, Inc.

Thursday morning, December 22

J.C. SAT AT AN aircraft carrier-sized conference table in the executive meeting room of AISSI, a half-dozen key members of his proposal team flanking him on both sides. As team chief and Vice President of Systems Development, he carried the burden of heading the effort to put together the proposal to Rampart Aerospace & Defense.

If AISSI won the job—and there was every indication they had the inside track against a score of other companies—it would mean a billion-dollar project. A billion dollars. The company would move from being a minnow in the systems development world to being a whale.

The team members engaged in idle chatter, much of it centered on rumors of a major winter storm targeting Atlanta, sipped coffee, and nibbled on stale bagels and frosted doughnuts while they awaited the arrival of Cyrus Billingsly. J.C. knew Billingsly had called the meet­ing to make certain everything remained on track as the proposal’s deliv­ery date, December 30th, neared. With only eight days remaining, and Christmas in the mix, they had definitely entered the "no screw ups zone.”

Jan Darleena, tasked with overseeing the Operational Applications section of the document, leaned close to J.C. "Do you think The Gen­eral will be in a jolly mood?”

J.C. dabbed at his mouth with a stained paper napkin. "Is he ever?”

"It’s three days until Christmas.”

"My question stands.”

Chastened by the reminder their boss wasn’t exactly a hail-fellow-well-met or "one of them,” Jan wrinkled her nose and slumped back in her chair. She folded her arms across her stomach, resting them on the front of a wooly black and white sweater adorned with leaping rein­deer, and stared straight ahead.

J.C. patted her shoulder. "Don’t worry. Everything’s on schedule. I’ve reviewed all the sections. We’re in excellent shape. No lumps of coal in our Christmas stockings.”

The door to the conference room popped open. Cyrus Billingsly strode in followed by a rush of chilly air from an adjacent corridor. "Seats,” he announced, though no one was standing.

J.C. understood old habits were difficult to break. Billingsly hadn’t quite been able to take the stars off his collar, hadn’t fully made the transition from military commander to civilian boss even after two years. When an Air Force two-star entered a briefing room, everyone stood until ordered to sit. Not here, not at AISSI, where employees worked in blue jeans and tee-shirts, at least during the warmer months, and called managers by their first names.

Billingsly lowered himself into a chair opposite of J.C. and his staff, flipped open the cover of an iPad, and tapped the screen. He looked up and spoke. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I sup­pose I don’t need to reiterate this, but the future of this company is riding on the work you’re doing.”

J.C. resisted an urge to roll his eyes. No, Billingsly didn’t need to re­iterate that, but just did. Everyone in AISSI, as professionals, knew very well what the proposal meant. It was the sort of opportunity on which careers and major corporations were built. It was, to be trite, an opening that comes along once in a lifetime.

The meeting went smoothly and quickly. Each member of the pro­posal team tendered a status report. Nothing seemed amiss.

At the close of the meeting, Billingsly snapped his iPad cover shut. "It sounds as if we’re in excellent shape. But I want to make abso­lutely, dead-center certain this document goes out the door on December 28th. That gives us two-day’s grace before it needs to be in Durham.” He stood. "I don’t want to get sandbagged by this so-called superstorm the media is screwing itself into the ceiling over. I under­stand it’s probably the usual uber-hype, and that we’ll end up with just a few raggedy-ass snow flurries, but I don’t want to take any chances. This document is far too important for us to risk getting Little-Big-Horned by the weather.”

He started to move toward the exit, but stopped.

"One more thing,” he said, "just so we’re clear. I know it sounds as if we’re golden on this, so it’s probably an unneeded warning, but I’m a guy who has zero tolerance for screw ups. If someone fumbles the ball, steps on his poncho, gets her tit caught in the ringer, don’t ex­pect absolution from me. What you can expect is that your next job will be stocking shelves in Walmart... if you’re lucky. But like I say, it’s probably an unneeded warning. Merry Christmas.”

"Tit caught in ringer?” Jan mouthed to J.C., a smirk creeping across her face.

Billingsly executed a sharp pivot and strode from the room.


 

 

Chapter Two

Conflict

The Natural Environment Television Network (NE-TV)

Atlanta, Georgia

Thursday morning, December 22

SINCE NO ONE could pronounce Tomasz Przybyszewski’s last name, he simply went by Tom Priz. He stood as his immediate supe­rior, Sophie Lyons, the executive vice president of Operational Pro­gramming at the Natural Environment Television Network entered his cramped office. In her two-inch heels, she stood only a couple of inches shorter than his six foot one.

He understood it to be socially insensitive—she was, after all, his boss—but he often found himself appraising her more as a woman—well, to be honest, a sexual fantasy—than a network executive. Today, she looked particularly attractive with her raven hair pulled into a French braid and an Armani Collezioni business suit flattering her fig­ure. In her early forties, a few years younger than Tom, the first faint signs of aging had crept onto her face: a trace of crow’s feet near her eyes and thin threads of worry lines creasing her forehead. These early assaults by middle age had met their match; they’d been whipped into submission by her fair skin, subtle aquiline nose, and, he guessed, in­tense workouts at the gym.

He found himself attracted to her not only because of her physi­cal assets, but because she came across as smart and authoritative, as well. Still, despite the fact she’d risen through the ranks in a rough and tumble business world, he sensed that underneath her frequent hard-shell bluster lay a certain vulnerability. Perhaps a lack of a "significant other” in her life? He didn’t know, but he did know that on occasion their gazes had locked, albeit ever so briefly, with an intensity that hinted at something beyond a casual interest in one another.

More than once, Tom had found himself, after an encounter with Sophie, sitting at his desk attempting to camouflage a woody and hop­ing fervently she wouldn’t flounce into his office for one last word. There probably wouldn’t be anything to hide this morning. Her intense blue eyes radiated welding-light intensity, a far cry from anything sex­ual. Tom decided he’d better sit and motioned for her to do the same.

She glanced at the chair he’d gestured toward, essentially an ad hoc table littered with meteorological journals, research papers, and National Geographics, and declined. "This won’t take long.” She clenched her lips as if sucking on a pipe.

Tom wondered if he should be looking for a foxhole. She wasn’t re­ferred to, at least behind her back, as "Her Highness, the Lyoness,” a play on her last name, for nothing.

"Network Chief of Meteorology,” Sophie said, "that’s what you are?”

A rhetorical question? She seemed to be waiting for an answer, so Tom decided it wasn’t. "Unless I’ve just been demoted,” he said.

"Don’t tempt me.”

"Where the hell is this coming from?” Tom said, his voice firm but defensive. "Why am I suddenly on your shit list?”

A rising tide of red enveloped her face, a reflection of anger held barely in check. "Because I don’t want to get taken to the cleaners by some other private forecasting outfit on this winter storm,” she snapped.

"What winter storm?” He realized his tone of voice had risen in sharpness proportional to hers.

"The one that’s all over Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere, and a gaggle of TV talk shows. Rumors of a foot of snow in Atlanta.”

"Jesus, Sophie, it’s a fantasycast.”

"A what?”

He rose from his chair, removed the stack of papers and maga­zines from the other chair, and told Sophie to sit. This time she did.

Tom stared out his window for a moment at the traffic edging along I-285 at ice floe speed through a cold, gray dawn. "Fantasycast,” he said. He returned to his chair. "That’s what forecasters call a numer­ical model forecast of a major weather event eight or ten days in the future. It rarely happens. It’s a fantasy.”

"You said rarely. Meaning every once in a while one of your fanta­sycasts, as you call them, must hit the nail on the head?”

Tom tapped his forefinger on his desk to emphasize a point he wished to make. "The skill of longer-range predictions diminishes to virtually zero after about six or seven days.” Tap, tap, tap. "The storm mongers right now are hyping a blizzard, I think I heard that term used, based on a two hundred forty-hour forecast. Absurd.”

"There’s talk of a foot of snow in Atlanta.”

"Oh, sure. When was the last time you saw a foot of snow in Atlanta?”

She remained silent.

"When do you think the last time was that Atlanta had a foot of snow?”

"Superstorm 1993?”

Tom had to admit, she at least had awareness of significant histori­cal weather happenings. "No. Some of the northern suburbs might have picked up ten inches in that storm, but officially, Atlanta had only a little over four inches.”

"So when was the last time we had a foot?”

"Never.”

"Really?”

"In January 1940 the city had an eight-inch storm. Well, a tad more than eight inches, but we’ve never come close to a foot.”

"So what are people seeing that’s got them bouncing off the walls?” The crimson had drained from her face. She appeared ready to listen to reason.

"One of the models we look at regularly is showing the evolution of a storm very similar to Superstorm ’93—”

"Whoa, whoa,” Sophie interjected. "So we’re just gonna sit on our thumbs and ignore that? I don’t think so. If there’s even a remote—”

"Let me finish, Sophie. Please.”

She exhaled audibly. "Yeah, okay. Convince me NE-TV shouldn’t be all over this.” She sat back, crossed her legs—shapely legs, he noted—and brushed a strand of hair from her forehead.

Outside, the wind had picked up. A skeletal bush tapped against the office window. "I mentioned earlier that forecast models beyond about a week have very little skill. So what forecasters like to look at instead is an ensemble forecast.”

"Which is?”

"In simplest terms, it’s an average of a bunch of individual model runs, each using slightly different initial conditions. In other words, the parameters going into each iteration of the model run are tweaked slightly to account for our uncertainty about what’s really going on in the atmosphere.”

"You mean you don’t know?” Her words bore a slightly accu­satory tone.

"Not with pinpoint, one-hundred-percent accuracy. I mean, what if a storm system far out over the Pacific Ocean is actually stronger than our limited observations in that region suggest? What if a cold air dump over China isn’t quite so cold as we were led to believe? What if the jet stream over the Himalayas is blowing at two hundred knots in­stead of one eighty?”

"Your profession comes with built-in excuses, doesn’t it?”

He glared at her but held his tongue.

"Relax, Tom. I’m yanking your chain. Go on about ensembles.”

He drew a slow breath and continued. "Well, for instance, with the European model, or Euro as we call it, fifty different runs are gener­ated every twelve hours. The average of those runs beyond about five or six days turns out to have more validity than the primary forecast generated by what’s known as the operational or deterministic run.”

She nodded. "Okay. So what does the ensemble average suggest is coming up next week?”

"A modest snowstorm, maybe for Tennessee.”

"And the... what did you call it?”

"The operational run?”

"Yeah. What’s it showing that’s giving everybody—well, everybody but you—wet dreams?”

He drummed his fingers on his desk, suddenly thinking about wet dreams, Sophie, and what to say next. He wondered if her choice of words, "wet dreams,” had been deliberate, meant to titillate him. Or was she just being the slightly bawdy, "one-of-boys” boss she liked to portray herself as?

He found himself unable to focus, unable to articulate a response, her nocturnal emission reference catching him off guard. Though both divorced, they’d maintained their relationship at a strictly professional level. He supposed her remark wasn’t out of bounds—it’s something guys often said—yet he’d on occasion wondered if there might not be a reciprocal attraction. After all, she had a way of standing tantalizingly close to him during their talks, though that could be just her style.

"Tom?” she said, snapping him back to the moment, back to her question.

He blinked. "You mean, if you took its forecast literally?”

She hung her head in mock dismay. "Am I not speaking clearly?”

"It’s nothing cast in concrete, Sophie. Haven’t you heard anything I’ve said?” He struggled to keep a civil tone, stood, and faced her. "It would be irresponsible to go on the air a week in advance and trumpet something like what the operational model implies is coming.”

"Which is?” she said. "Look, I want to be leading the charge on this, not eating someone else’s dust.” She stood and approached him, moving close enough for him to inhale the heady sweetness of her co­logne and sense the heat radiating from her body.

His resolve faltered, but he opted for a last-ditch stand. "We can’t go on the air like Chicken Little and scream ‘The sky is falling.’ If we do, I’ll guarantee you that within twenty-four hours every grocery store in the metro area, every Lowe’s, every Home Depot, will have shelves that look like they’ve been attacked by piranhas.”

"Oh, for shit’s sake. All you have to do is mention flurries in Atlanta and that happens. Well, except for 2014 when an inch or two was forecast and everybody went to work instead of Kroger. Then every­body left work at the same time when the snow started, and the city crashed and burned. Anyhow, I don’t want to become known as the network that blew the biggest winter storm in Southern history. Give me something to work with.”

"I’m trying to give you a little sage advice. I understand you don’t want the reputation of blowing a forecast for a major storm, but I’m trying to keep us from becoming the outfit that cried wolf when all that was out there was a fuzzy puppy.”

"Cute, Tom.” She moved even closer to him, the cool freshness of her breath a curious counterpoint to the warmth of her nearness.

He stood his ground.

"Tell me what the model suggests,” she whispered.

"Is that an order?”

She waited, not responding.

"Then I’ll take it as a command.” He paused, then forged ahead. "Perhaps as much as ten inches of snow and forty miles per hour winds.”

"My God,” she said, stepping back from him, her voice harsh. "You expected the network to sit on that?”

"Emphasis on perhaps, not ten inches,” he snapped.

"Tom, maybe you need to consider a new line of work. Something where you can find shelter in ivory towers behind ivy-draped walls.” She turned, exited his office, shut the door.

"Thank you, Your Highness... the Lyoness,” he said to the closed door. He sank into his chair, attempting to analyze Sophie’s words, trying to divine if his job had just been threatened.

His door reopened. Sophie reappeared. "I’m not over-the-hill yet. My hearing is fine.” She backed out and shut the door once more, this time with particular firmness.

He sat staring at the closed door, wondering if he’d just managed to punch his ticket for a pink slip. He knew Sophie to be quick and smart and not liking to be second-guessed, but she’d never seemed vin­dictive. All he’d been doing was standing his professional ground. Still, he decided he’d probably ventured into a minefield and should move forward with extreme care.

The idea of beating the drums for a major snow dump on North Georgia a week in advance seemed meteorologically irresponsible. But he realized Sophie viewed things through the prism of a broadcast net­work and thus saw most things in terms of headlines and hooks. That shouldn’t absolve her from exercising a modicum of circumspection, especially when it came to sounding an alarm for an event that occurs about as often as a rabbi appearing in a mosque.

Time for a visit to Gandalf. Tom stood, peeked out his office door to make sure Sophie wasn’t lying in wait for him, then walked toward the forecast center, a glass-enclosed anteroom just off the production area. A half-dozen workstations for forecasters occupied the back wall of the center. Usually only two or three of the positions were filled, and today proved no exception.

A large-screen HD TV exhibited a series of the latest forecast maps out through forty-eight hours. The maps displayed both meteoro­logical features, such as highs and lows and fronts, and sensi­ble weather, like rain, wind, and snow.

An elderly gentleman sporting an "old man’s belly,” unruly white hair, and a shaggy beard, thus the Gandalf moniker, sat at the far end of the room scratching with a pencil at something antiquated—a paper copy of a weather map. The nameplate on top of his computer pro­claimed: Alfred R. Tillman, Special Consultant. As Tom approached, he looked up.

His clear gray eyes sparkled through tiny round spectacles. A bulb­ous nose threaded with blue veins suggested he’d perhaps been close friends with the Daniels or Beam family in the past.

"Morning, Al,” Tom said.

"Jesus, kid, I hope you come bearing Celebrex.”

"Arthritis acting up?”

"I should have moved to Tucson when Maggie wanted us to, a few years back.”

"You still could, you know.”

"Not much point now... now that she’s gone. It just seems like too much effort.” He kneaded his left shoulder with his right hand.

Tom sat in a chair adjacent to Al and scooted close to him. "Maybe you’ll find a new lady in your life someday.”

Al issued a phlegmy laugh. "I hate to break this to you, but I’m old. Not to tarnish anyone’s rosy outlook for the Golden Years, but you reach a stage in your life where a good dump is better than a good hump.”

"Well now, there’s something to look forward to.”

"Yeah,” Al growled, "that, and the fact that things which should be soft get hard like arteries, and things which used to get hard—”

Tom cut him off. "Stop right there, or I may commit suicide be­fore I’m Medicare-eligible.”

"Might not be a bad idea.” Al arched his back, a careful move­ment, and groaned. "Did I mention arthritis?”

"Maybe there’s a storm coming,” Tom said. "My ex used to say that every time her joint pains flared up.”

Al narrowed his gaze at Tom. "A storm? Ah, I’ll bet Her Highness paid you a visit. Added some extra octane to your testosterone, did she?”

Tom laughed. "After she got through with me, even Viagra wouldn’t have given me a lift.”

"So, I’m assuming she was on the warpath, beating her snow tom-tom and getting ready to scalp the first person who doesn’t kowtow to her ‘let’s-get-a-blizzard-warning-on-the-air-right-now’ party line?”

"Something like that. Look, I’d like your opinion on what’s brew­ing. I warned her we could be crying wolf if we blow the air raid siren now. What’s your take on things? Dog sleds and mukluks for the Deep South?” He placed his hands in a prayerful position under his chin and bowed toward Al. "Lay some wisdom on me, O meteorological Maharishi.”

"Real wisdom? I’m still waiting. I think what passes for sagacity in us old farts is just the fact we become less stupid. Whaddaya wanna know?”

"Maybe how not to grow old.”

Al chuckled, but it morphed into a cough, stirring up something watery deep in his lungs.

"Look, put yourself in my shoes for a moment,” Tom continued. "What would you argue should be the network’s position on this storm... alleged storm?”

Al wiped his mouth with a handkerchief and stuffed it into his pants pocket. "When I was on active duty with the Air Force, we had a saying, and this, my friend, is genuine wisdom: ‘Never pass up a chance to keep your mouth shut.’”

Tom considered the old man’s words. "Sooo”—he drew out the word—"what you’re saying is we go on the air and just ignore all the chatter about the possibility of a historic Southern snowstorm? Don’t even reference it?”

"Exactly. At least for now. You know as well as I do that at this range the models are going to be bouncing back and forth like a Ping-Pong ball with every run. Every twelve hours they’ll spit out a new solu­tion. Big storm. Little storm. Big storm. Wait, no storm.”

Tom cracked his knuckles. "But, if it comes to fruition?”

"We will have figured things out long before then. Look, we wait until we’re certain, as certain as we ever can be in this business, then we play up whatever the forecast ends up being; like it was the Second Coming. It’s win-win for the network.”

"How so?”

"If what’s flying around in cyberspace now turns out to be the usual model make-believe, then we come out looking really good and remind everyone it wasn’t us crying wolf. If, on the other hand, a block­buster does materialize, we jump on it when we’re sure and fore­cast the hell out of it. Everyone will have forgotten we weren’t out there baying at the moon like all the others a week in advance. People have short, non-discriminatory memories.”

"Beautiful theory.”

Al spun on his chair like a little kid. "It is, isn’t it?” He sounded pleased with himself. He braked his spin. "But it’s not gonna happen, is it?”

"Her Highness has spoken.”

Al sighed. "Must be tough.”

"What?”

"Having to kowtow to a woman who isn’t even your wife.”

"Bite me, Al.”

Al choked out a laugh. "Okay, maybe you’ll be right. Then you can lord it over her. On the other hand, if you’re not, maybe somewhere in the world a village is short an idiot, and you’ll still be able to find a job.” Al grinned, a geriatric Cheshire Cat.

Tom tipped his head back and stared at the ceiling. "Thanks for your encouragement.”

"Look, junior, if you’re gonna have your ass run out of town on a rail, it might as well be by a chick in a tight pantsuit, right?”

"Good night, old man.” Tom stood and departed.


 

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November 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-339-9

They’ll pay him a fortune to find a killer tornado for their movie.

He knows the risks all too well, but he never imagined just how dangerous the perfect storm could be.


 

Our Price: US$14.95

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