Flying High

 

home / season six / episode five / act IV

   

Near Burrundie
Northern Territory, Australia

“Damn!” She stared out of the windshield in front of them for a moment. “Handing over.”

“Taking over,” Jarod responded automatically and placed both his hands on the yoke, his eyes running over the instruments as Lauren rose from her seat and walked to the back of the plane. Despite the closed door he could hear her take several deep breaths before she came back to her seat.

“I’m sorry, Jarod. It’s just that sometimes this job bloody well stinks.”

“It’s okay,” he replied softly, not looking at her. “I know the feeling.”

“Taking over.”

“Handing over.” He removed his hands from the yoke. “I hate to have to ask, but could you fill me in?”

Lauren sighed deeply. “We’re going to see a little girl called Henrietta Faraday. She’s got juvenile diabetes. And if we’re being called in then she’s a very sick girl indeed.”

“You know her well?”

“Yes, I know both she and her dad very well. She’s a gorgeous kid - you’ll love her. And as we’re taking her to Darwin you’ll get plenty of time to get to know her, provided she’s conscious.”

* * * * * * * * *

Station CD42
Northern Territory, Australia

“Hi, Dave.” Lauren jumped out of the plane without lowering the stairs and Jarod did the same. “How is she?”

“Bad, Dr. Taylor. You know that.” The man looked up. “Who’s this?”

“Jarod Shepherd. He’s filling in while Paul works at a hospital near Broken Hill.”

“I’m glad to meet you, Dr. Shepherd.”

Jarod returned the greeting, seeing the sadness in the man’s eyes and feeling immediately sorry for him. The three walked towards the house, in front of which Lauren had parked the plane. As they entered, a small girl on a sofa slowly raised her head, red curls lying limply on the pillow and pain evident on her face. Jarod glanced around the room and saw the official RFDS bag open on the floor.

“Hi, Dr. Taylor.”

Her voice was almost inaudible but Lauren forced a smile, walking over to kneel beside the child and reaching into the bag with practiced ease, pulling out the thermometer.

“Couldn’t go another month without seeing me, huh?”

“Nope.”

“Okay, sweetie. Just relax and keep that under your tongue for me.”

She picked up the girl’s wrist and rapidly timed her pulse before glancing up at Jarod and Dave. A small nod and the girl’s father left the room. She took the instrument from the girl’s mouth, looked at it, got up and walked over to her partner.

“Get the bed ready in the plane, will you? We’re definitely taking her with us today.”

She held up the thermometer so he could read it and as Jarod's mind instantly did the conversion his lips pursed into a soundless whistle. 42.7 degrees Celsius - 109 degrees Fahrenheit. This was indeed a very sick little girl.

* * * * * * * * *

Over Kakadu National Park
Northern Territory, Australia

“Jarod, are you okay up here?”

He glanced over his shoulder as she opened the door to the cockpit. “Fine.”

“How much longer?”

“ETA, twenty minutes.”

Lauren slipped into the seat beside him and he looked over as she put on the headphones and activated the radio.

“Tango Lima Foxtrot to Darwin Base Hospital. Can you read me Darwin? Over.”

“Loud and clear, Tango Lima Foxtrot. What’s up, Lauren? Over.”

“I’ve got Henrietta Faraday on board. Request an ambulance to meet us at the runway in ETA twenty minutes. Over.”

“Received, Tango Lima Foxtrot. Will do. Over and out.”

She looked over at him and half-removed the headphones. “If you don’t mind, I’ll land. Can you go back there and keep an eye on her?”

“Sure thing. Handing over.”

“Taking over.” She glanced up. “Thanks, Jarod.”

He smiled and went through the doorway, softly shutting the door behind him.

* * * * * * * * *

Darwin Airport
Northern Territory, Australia

They watched the ambulance pull away from beside the plane, lights and sirens alerting people to their hurry, and then Lauren sighed, turning to Jarod.

“I don’t know about you, but I could do with a drink. A big one. And we’ve still got some time while they refuel.”

“Sounds good.”

The two of them walked slowly toward the collection of buildings that made up Darwin Airport and Lauren led the way into the bar.

“Well, if it isn’t the Cough-Drop Deserter. What brings you into town?”

Lauren sat down on a stool at the bar, grinning. “You reckon, if I gave you a go, you might be able to guess for yourself, you great nong?”

The barman grinned back at her and began pulling the beer. “And you’ve even got yourself a new partner. Foreigner, too.”

Jarod stared. “How did you know?”

“The skin, the hair and the accent, mate. You work it out.”

He laughed and put two brimming glasses on the bar in front of them, shooting the woman a look of mock-hurt as she pretended to offer him money, before going to the far end of the bar where a group of men were discussing the cricket that was being shown on a television in the corner.

“Who’s winning?”

“Don’t ask stupid questions, Cough-Drop, you drongo. We are, of course.”

She laughed and continued to drink her beer.

He sipped at the lager, waiting for the same tastelessness he had experienced over the last few weeks every time he ate or drank something. Jarod was stunned, as the first mouthful of icy-cold beer slid down his throat, to find that he was actually getting the full flavor of the drink. Staring at the glass incredulously he enthusiastically took another sip, delighted to find that it wasn’t a one-time thing. His action meant that he missed the look Lauren shot in his direction and the smile on her face as she realized what was happening. Eventually Jarod turned to her, another part of his mind still being exercised by what he’d heard.

“You going to explain that to me?”

“What, you couldn’t work it all out for yourself? And I gave you such an extensive lesson in Strine, too. Oh that’s right, you fell asleep in the middle of it.” She grinned and drank a mouthful of the foaming ale.

“In what?” Over the rim of his glass, he stared at her.

“Strine. Short for Australian Slang.”

“And what did he call you?”

“The Cough-Drop Deserter. My nickname being Loz, that’s easily lengthened to Lozenge, which is what both Mark and Paul call me. It’s not a very big step from lozenge to cough drop. And, as you know, I haven’t been around here for nearly two months, hence ‘deserter.’” She grinned. “As for you being foreign, despite the fact that you’ve been here for nearly a week, you’re still pretty pale, at least by Top End standards.”

Jarod glanced around the bar at the darkly tanned, dusty patrons and was forced to agree with her.

“And what’s a… nong?”

Lauren tried not to laugh and nearly choked. “I love the way you say that! A nong is an idiot, a complete fool. One of our politicians said it in Parliament a few years ago and a lot of people picked it up. And a drongo’s the same.” She looked from her nearly empty glass to his half-one. “Get a move on. We want to get home before dark.”

* * * * * * * * *

RFDS Office, Katherine
Northern Territory, Australia

“Hey, Loz, you nearly missed the snake man!”

“What?!” She jumped down from the plane as Susie ran up. “Bruce is here again?”

“Yup. Get a wriggle on. We told him you were coming.” She turned and ran back to the building through the increasingly darkness as Lauren looked up.

“Hurry up, Jarod. This is one person you have to see.”

Raising an eyebrow, he jumped down after her. “Did Susie say ‘snake man?'”

“She did,” Lauren called over her shoulder. “Bruce is a lunatic - but a lot of fun!”

He hurried behind her into the building, stopping short as he saw a man standing in the foyer with a snake’s body, the diameter of which Jarod mentally calculated had to be at least five times the size of his wrist, draped around his neck.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Loz.”

“I should hope you would.”

Jarod noticed that both spoke softly and he saw that Lauren was cradling a long snake’s body in both hands as its head quietly began to investigate the inside of her shirt.

“Hey, stop it, Beauty. That tickles.” She looked over at Jarod, the hint of a smile on her face. “Can you give me a hand?”

“Applause, yeah. But I’m not putting so much as a finger anywhere near…”

“Oh, come on, Jarod. It’s a python. It won’t bite you.”

Not at all reassured, Jarod edged nervously closer, holding out both arms, onto which she slid the body of the fifteen-foot python before running her hand down its neck to retrieve the snake’s head from almost under her arm.

“Thanks.”

She took it back and let the python drape itself over her shoulders in the same way that the larger snake was around Bruce as Jarod looked on, wide-eyed.

“Does the Yank want to hold one?”

“It’s fine.” He raised both hands and took a step back. “I’ll just watch.”

“No, you won’t,” Lauren told him firmly. “Your Dad told me to immerse you in the local culture and this is good immersion.” She looked over at the other man. “Bruce, give him the diamond python.”

As the snake was draped over his arms, Jarod realized he had been too busy watching Lauren to properly feel the other reptile in his arms. He ran one hand along its body and was amazed to find that it was both cool and smooth, despite the scaly appearance of the skin. He now felt his earlier nervousness slowly being replaced by more familiar fascination at this new experience.

The snake man stood in front of him. “Don’t let it wrap itself completely around you or you could find yourself being a little too lovingly embraced, but otherwise just let it explore.”

Jarod nodded, feeling as the snake ran its forked tongue over his hand and grinning at the ticklish sensation, still trying to relax as the body of the reptile moved around him. As he kept one eye on the direction in which the snake’s head was traveling, Jarod recalled all of the information he had ever learned about this particular animal. As he became more used to the feel of the snake around him, Jarod looked up at the man who stood watching him.

“Have you been doing this long?”

“Twenty-three years. I breed them to farm the venom that can be made into antivenin so doctors like you can help people who are either stupid or unlucky enough to get bitten.”

“And have you ever been bitten?”

“By pythons, a lot. That usually isn’t a problem because their preferred method of killing their prey isn’t to inject it with enough toxin deadly enough to kill several fully-grown men. They far prefer to squeeze it to death. Not that it doesn’t hurt like buggery if they sink their teeth into you - you just know that you won’t die as a result of it. Usually.”

Bruce grinned in a way that Jarod couldn’t help thinking was more than a little foolhardy.

“I once got bitten by a western brown snake. Nasty little blighter. Hurt like the very devil, that one. Luckily I had a snakebite kit and a good friend handy.”

He eyed the American somewhat severely.

“And that’s a good piece of advice. Those two things in that order are what will save your life if you’re foolish enough to play with them.”

* * * * * * * * *

Lauren's Apartment, Katherine
Northern Territory, Australia

“You have weird friends.”

Lauren grinned from her seat opposite as they sat enjoying their midday break in the coolness of her apartment the following day.

“Bruce? I guess he is a little eccentric, but without him and other people like him, we’d never have managed to develop the wide range of antivenins that we’ve got in Australia today. If it weren’t for that, hundreds more people would have died of snakebite. Since the mid-eighties, though, when antivenins first became available, not many have.”

“But how can you… do that?” He gave a mock shudder and she grinned.

“The snakes we handled were ones he’s had since they hatched. They’re used to being touched, not that they don’t get a little nasty sometimes. But Bruce brings them to schools and places like that to teach the kids about them.”

“And the parents don’t mind?”

“Of course not. Out here, the kids have been living around snakes for their whole entire lives and a bit of knowledge can go a long way. About two years ago, one of my patients was a boy who’d been bitten by a death adder. He’d have been dead by the time we arrived, except that he and his friend knew what to do about bandaging the site and keeping calm. Both boys told me that Bruce had shown them when he visited their school.” Lauren gave a shrug, reaching over to pick up her glass “As I said, a little knowledge is a useful thing to have.”

“But… they wouldn’t eat people?”

Lauren grinned. “Well, a python is able to eventually consume an object of up to 68 kilos - 150 pounds.” She saw the alarm in his eyes and laughed. “But they don’t do it too often because of the energy required to swallow and digest something so large. Besides,” Lauren looked him up and down, a teasing light in her eyes. “You have got to weigh more than 68 kilos.”

* * * * * * * * *

Lauren put the plate down in front of him and took her seat opposite, watching Jarod eye the food that she had prepared for lunch.

“At least have a bit.”

“I… I’m not all that hungry.”

“Just try it.” Lauren picked up the salad servers to put some of the leafy green vegetables on her plate. “You don’t have to have much, but you’ve got to eat something.”

“Yes, Doctor,” he muttered and she laughed.

“If I hadn’t detected the faintest notes of sarcasm in there, I’d be pleased how easily persuadable you are.”

Smiling faintly, he cut off a piece of cold roast chicken and put it into his mouth. His eyes widened slightly as, the way it had in the bar, the full flavor seemed to hit him, and his next mouthful was a lot more enthusiastic. Looking up, he saw Lauren watching him with a small smile on her face and the grin widened.

“You knew, huh?”

“It was just a guess.”

“Uh huh.” He nodded skeptically and she laughed.

“If you don’t believe me, why ask?”

Without answering, he took up the salad servers and pointed to the crisp, green leaves.

“What’s this?”

“Lettuce.”

“Well, ‘let us’ try some then.”

She groaned, rolling her eyes. “I thought I escaped from puns like that when Paul went to Broken Hill.” Lauren watched him serve himself some of the salad and place several pieces of cheese on his plate. “At least there’s nothing you can say about that.”

Jarod eyed the package from which squares of cheese had been cut, attempting to suppress his amusement. “Gouda-ness me, I don’t know,” he replied as, his eyes twinkling, he glanced at her. “Maybe I can come up with something.”

* * * * * * * * *

RFDS Office, Katherine
Northern Territory, Australia

“Hey, Loz, you and the Yank coming to the barbie this evening?”

“Only if you’re not cooking, Joel,” Lauren teased from her desk as she wrote a report. “I like snags, not sticks of charcoal.”

“Oh, thanks,” he remarked, trying to sound offended. “Just because we had to think about calling the fire brigade last time…”

“We’ll both be there and I’ll take over if it seems like they’re flaming a little bit too enthusiastically.”

“I’ll bring the fire extinguisher,” Susie joked from the doorway.

“And I’ll hook up the pump from the pool,” Pete put in with a laugh. “Just to be on the safe side of course.”

“Are we swimming?”

“No, Loz, we’re walking on the water,” Joel commented drily. “It’s a skill we’ve all been working on while you were down south.”

“Just checking.” She glanced at Jarod. “You did bring bathers, right?”

He raised an eyebrow questioningly and she quickly amended her sentence.

“Swimming trunks of some description.”

“Yeah.”

“Good.” She scribbled the last word on the report, pushing it aside. “What time are we gathering there?”

“Six. Beer and snags provided. BYO everything else.”

* * * * * * * * *

Pete Tingay's house, Katherine
Northern Territory, Australia

Jarod could smell the cooking meat as they neared the house and looked over at Lauren. “So that’s a ‘barbie’, huh?”

“That’s right.” She laughed. “I should have bought you a Strine-American dictionary.”

“Oh, I’m managing.” He eyed the bags they were carrying. “Is this sort of thing usual?”

“Very. A backyard barbie - barbeque - is a great Aussie tradition.”

Jarod glanced at his watch. “So if we were meeting at six, why is it now seven and we’re still not there?”

“Another Australian tradition,” she laughed. “Being fashionably late. And I bet we won’t be the last people to arrive either.”

“I’m still curious - what’s a ‘snag?'”

“Another name for a sausage,” she told him with a grin. “And that, wrapped in a bit of white bread and slathered with tomato sauce is probably as close as we get to a national dish in Australia.”

“Seems like a funny sort of dish.”

“We’re a funny sort of country,” she told him laughingly. “But no funnier than you mob over there.”

“Thanks!” He tried to look offended but eventually grinned. “I guess that every country has its own quirks.”

She looked at him in mock-surprise. “How very deep and meaningful. Maybe you don’t deserve to be pushed into the pool, the way we were planning to, after all.”

Walking into the back garden, Jarod saw his boss standing in front of a large brick structure with a black metal sheet, on which were cooking sausages and hamburger patties. A large red bottle of what he assumed was ketchup stood to one side, as well as several bags of bread. Lauren led the way over to him.

“Where should I stick the drinks?”

“In the Esky.”

Pete nodded at a brightly colored plastic box and Jarod watched Lauren open the lid to put in the bottles among the ice cubes and water. As she finished, Susie looked over from where she sat at the table among a group of people that Jarod had been introduced to the day before.

“Hey Loz, we’ve got the possible list of starters for the big one in November. Will you give us your deeply considered and presumably painfully accurate opinion on the winner for this year?”

As the woman laughed and went to join them, Jarod walked over to where Joel sat by the edge of the pool and pulled up a seat beside the wheelchair.

“What’s that about?” He nodded over to where the group was pointing at a list on a sheet of paper and the younger man laughed, his brown eyes twinkling.

“Ever heard of the Melbourne Cup?”

Jarod half-smiled. “Would it surprise you if I said ‘no?'”

“No.” Joel grinned. “It’s a horse-race held every first Tuesday in November, down south.”

“In Melbourne?”

“How did you guess?” The man laughed. “Exactly. If you’re still around then, I’m sure Loz’ll take you.”

“I’ll see,” he commented noncommittally. “So you’ve got a list of horses already?”

“Not officially, but the Spring Racing Carnival started a couple of weeks ago and people generally work out who’ll be running on the big day from that.”

“And why should Lauren know?”

Joel laughed. “Three years ago, they were doing that and she wandered over, put a finger on one of the names and said ‘that’s going to win.' Everybody just fell about laughing and then two weeks later…”

“It did.”

“Exactly. She’s done it every year. It’s freaky.”

“Maybe she’s psychic,” Jarod suggested with a smile.

“Only about horses,” Lauren remarked, coming up behind them and sitting down in front of Jarod so that her bare legs dangled in the water. “Or maybe just that race.”

About half an hour later, hearing a sudden shriek, Jarod turned from a discussion he was having with Susie about Australian versus American culture to see Lauren picked up from where she sat beside the pool. Grinning, he watched Pete pull off the woman’s sarong and, ignoring her shrieks and wriggling, he and the three others tossed her into the pool. The amusement in his eyes didn’t go unnoticed by the woman sitting beside him.

“This is a little different from what you’re used to, huh?”

“It certainly seems more casual,” Jarod responded carefully. “I can’t imagine anybody I’ve worked for in the States inviting their workers to their house for dinner and tossing them in the pool.”

“Jarod!”

He turned at the sound of his name to see Lauren with her arms resting on the terracotta tiles that surrounded the pool as water streamed from her hair. “Are you coming in, or will you just sit there like a bump on a log?”

“Sure.”

He slipped off the footwear Lauren had lent him - bizarrely called ‘thongs’ - and, peeling off his t-shirt, neatly dived over her head into the clear water. As he swam with powerful strokes along the bottom of the pool, Jarod couldn’t help enjoying the feeling of quick, smooth motion.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Joel pronounced loudly as Jarod broke the surface at the other end. “We have an expert.”

“We still beat the living daylights out of them in general though,” Susie commented from her seat, “even if they do have a few good swimmers.”

“And so we should,” Joel responded. “ I mean, any nation where the football players have to wear helmets…” He rolled his eyes and shook his head as if to suggest that the sentence wasn’t even worth finishing and Jarod glanced at Lauren questioningly as she swam up beside him.

“When we get back to Melbourne,” she promised, “I’ll take you to a footy game.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Should I be scared or grateful?”

“It’s contained mayhem,” Pete remarked from his seat on the edge of the pool. “And it’s more fun if you don’t understand the rules than if you do.”

“Just because you’ve never tried to,” Lauren responded quickly, her eyes full of laughter as she saw the group of men sneaking up behind the Aborigine. With a quick move, she grabbed Jarod's hand and pulled him away as, amid gales of laughter, their boss was pushed into the deep, blue water.

Go to Act V

 
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