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Authors: Shirley Jump

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BOOK: Really Something
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Chapter 8

“Mr. H.?” Wally Messerschmitt stuck his head into Duncan's office on Monday morning, his face as flushed as a marathoner's. Every time Duncan saw him, the twenty-year-old kid brimmed with eagerness. His reed-thin body practically quivered, making his spiked red hair dance. “I have the forecast ready. Do you want it now? I hope it's accurate. I mean, I'm still learning all that software.” Wally thumbed in the direction of the Doppler radar. “Man, there is a lot to learn for this job. I don't know how you do it.”

Duncan chuckled a little. “I, ah, don't know how I do it either.”

“Gosh, Mr. H., you make it look so easy. I mean, you just pop that forecast right out. Bada-boom, bada-bing. I hope I'm half that good when I'm doing the weather myself someday. That is, if I survive being an intern.”

“You'll do great. You're smart, Wally. And you have a genuine quality about you. Viewers like that, particularly in Tempest.” Over the past five years, Wally's continual, quick study had amazed Duncan—and saved Duncan's ass more than once. But Wally only had two weeks left in his internship.

Which would leave the entire forecast in the hands of the not-so-capable Duncan Henry and the even less capable but more accurate Mr. Magic 8 Ball.

“Do you think you could help me study the Doppler software later?” Wally asked. “I took one of those courses, you know the kind NOAA offers? But, geez, it's pretty complicated.”

Complicated was the Sunday
New York Times
crossword puzzle. Complicated was a Mensa test. Those two combined, with a couple of quantum physics equations thrown in for good measure—that was the Doppler software.

Duncan kept as much distance between it and himself as possible. He already had his hands full with his Magic 8 Ball and its triangle of twenty possible answers.

Not to mention the growing triangular mess of his own personal life. Meeting Allie Dean had added one more complication at a time when he definitely didn't need complications.

In the early days of his weather job, he'd signed up for a few classes through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's local offices. They held regular seminars to help weather forecasters stay current, or add to their resume. But always, when Duncan had attended one, some emergency had come up with Katie. He'd ended up leaving early, absorbing only the lecture gravy—and none of the meat.

“I hate to bother you because I know you're pretty busy.” Wally's face nearly matched his red hair. “If you could sit with me, just while I go through it”—he hastened to add, his hands waving exclamation points—“to let me know if I get off on the wrong track—”

“Wally, I really don't have—”

“Don't say no, Mr. H.
Please.
” Earnest appeal took over Wally's ambitious face. “You're the only one who's ever taken any time with me.” Wally scowled. “That Elvin at Eleven has no patience at all.”

Duncan bit back a chuckle at the reference to the evening weatherman, known for his posturing and not much else. Steve had tried getting rid of him several times, but the station owner liked Elvin and thought the late night forecaster had “Willard Scott appeal.” Either way, Duncan suspected most of the Willard Scott audience was snoozing well before the eleven o'clock broadcast. Even if they weren't, Elvin's deadpan delivery and lack of a Smucker's smile undoubtedly worked better than a handful of Ambien.


Please
, Mr. H.?”

“All right.” Duncan rose and exited his office. Maybe in going over the software with Wally, Duncan would learn a thing or two. Or ten.

And be distracted from his thoughts of Allie Dean. He hadn't gotten much done today anyway, because every time he looked at his computer or tried to sort through the paperwork on his desk, he saw her. Thought of her.

Of what had almost transpired at the farmhouse—until his real life had intruded once again.

Wally nearly bounded over to the WTMT-TV weather station, a bank of eight computers, each running different forecasting tools. The center computer held the Doppler software, the crowning glory of WTMT-TV's state-of-the-art weather delivery system. Wally looked at it, reverence clear in his eyes, nearly salivating on the screen.

“Why don't you sit there?” Duncan gestured to the chair in front of the screen. To the right, a monitor ran a continual radar image, sweeping every few seconds over the Tempest area. Nothing but clear skies, not so much as a drop of rain, though Duncan could see a green squiggle wending its way in from the west.

Wally slipped into the chair, wriggling it closer to the laminate counter. Mouse in hand, he clicked through different screens, taking notes on the pad beside him. “This is just so cool. I love this program.”

“Why don't you, ah, tell me what you're doing as you do it,” Duncan said as the screens whipped by in a confusing array of data. “You know, kind of a verbal rehashing.”

“Good idea, Mr. H.” Wally tapped the screen. “I'm reading the beam values at different radii from the radar, then checking the wind shear within the beam value. Like this.” Wally demonstrated with a few mouse movements, chattering the whole time about the wonders of the program, using words like radial velocity and spectrum-width data. Duncan nodded as if he understood, but the majority of it whizzed past his brain. No stopping at Go, no paying two hundred brain cells into the clueless-weatherman head.

“So, when a tornado springs up,” Wally said, “we can tell right away.”

“Because we'd see the path,” Duncan replied, interjecting what little he remembered from his classes and what he'd picked up over the years. The knowledge was there, in the back of his mind, but standing on it felt about as reliable as quicksand. So he stuck to the basics, shying away from anything too concrete. “Storms like that can gather strength and go from nothing to something pretty damned serious in a hurry.”

“You ever experience one, Mr. Henry?”

“One what?”

“A tornado.”

Duncan shook his head, grateful for that one bit of luck. “You know Indiana—tornadoes are as plentiful as corn in the summer. But Tempest has been lucky. No twisters have touched down here in fifteen years.” And with any luck it wouldn't while he was at the weather helm. By the time he pieced together the stream of data the Doppler software was spitting out, the red zone would already be here—and Tempest would be reduced to rubble.

“Geez, a tornado would be so cool. I hope we get one someday. I mean, not a big one. I don't want to see people get hurt or anything, but still, I'd love to be here when it happens.”

“Yeah.”
Not.
Duncan didn't want to be the one in charge when a tornado came calling. The Magic 8 Ball didn't have a triangle for H
OLY
S
HIT
: H
ERE
C
OMES A
S
PIRALING
C
ONE OF
D
ESTRUCTION
.

“What's this thing again?” Wally pointed to a screen that referred to “backscattering convariance matrix.”

“Uh, that's complicated,” Duncan said. “We'll get into it another time.”

Wally spun on the stool and looked at Duncan. “But Mr. H., it's storm season. If I don't know about this stuff, how can I help you?”

The kid had been pressuring Duncan for months to spend a full day going over everything in more depth. Hell, Duncan should be asking Wally to do that for
him.
But the intern, like all of Tempest, believed Duncan was some kind of weather god, and all because of that damned toy. Five minutes into explaining and it'd be clear Mr. Magic 8 Ball should be the one on the credits, not Duncan. “You know plenty, Wally. Don't worry about it.”

“But, but—”

“Wally, I said I don't have time for this. God, you're like a terrier with a rawhide. Let it go for today, will you?” Duncan said, harsher than he'd intended. “I have a damned forecast to put together.”

The look of admiration dimmed in Wally's eyes. He spun out of the chair.

“Aw, Wally, I'm sorry.” But the intern had already shrugged into his IU jacket and started heading for the door.

In the end, the Wizard of Oz had been exposed as a fraud. Duncan knew it was just a matter of time before someone peeked behind the curtain and saw that he was all an illusion, too.

 

Allie stood on the wide verandah of Duncan Henry's palatial downtown house, trying to get up the nerve to knock. An hour ago, she'd gotten a figure from Jerry—bartering with the stingy producer like a used-car dealer, practically begging him for an extra few thousand.

“I didn't get to where I am by throwing money around, Sugar-pie,” he'd said. “I got it by being a tight-fisted greedy SOB. People respect that shit in the land of milk and honey.” He took a drag off a cigarette, then exhaled. “You going to get that location sewed up today, or do I have to send in Scotty to finesse the deal?”

“Scotty couldn't finesse a tree.”

“You got that right.” Jerry laughed. “Scotty's about as smooth as a whale in a fishbowl. But he's got experience, Sugar-pie, and he knows how to get people to sign on the dotted line.”

“I'll get it done,” Allie promised. “Jerry, I need—”

“Good. Make it happen.” He'd hung up, e-mailed the contract to her—or more likely had the new PA e-mail the contract—with another dire warning about the unemployment line if she screwed up.

Allie drew in a breath, then raised her hand to knock on the door.

“You one of those people selling magazines out the back of their car? To pay for your college trip to Germany or some other hooey?”

Allie turned. Earl Hickey, Tempest's mailman for as long as Allie could remember, stood on the sidewalk beside his rusty pickup. The truck idled hard, shaking like a go-go dancer.

“No, no magazines. I'm here to see Duncan.”

Earl tipped back his John Deere cap, revealing blue eyes so light, they looked gray. He studied her, a scowl etched into a face as lined as a wet napkin. “You're an outie, aren't you?”

“Outie?”

“Out-of-towner. They come here, get a kick out of watchin' the corn grow or pickin' pumpkins, and then they complain about the lack of ‘services,' like they expect Tempest to be some kind of mini New York City.”

Bad memories were one thing that never died in Tempest. When John Henry had bought and promptly bankrupted—the state's largest tire factory it had made national news for a day or two, drawing in reporters from the major networks, giving Tempest its moment in the sun. Driving locals, especially Earl, crazy with the overrun of “outies.” Earl had complained up a storm, sitting in Margie's diner, holding court until the hubbub subsided and something else caught the NBC peacock's attention.

Allie wasn't surprised Earl didn't recognize her. He'd shoved the mail into the Gray family's bent, beaten mailbox faster than a ten-year-old swiping a pack of Doublemint at the 7-Eleven. He'd never been much for conversing—only complaining, as her dad liked to say.

“I'm not here to watch the corn. Just a little…business. That's all,” Allie said.

“Well, good.” He harrumphed, studied her some more, his eyes squinted against the sun. “Name's Earl. Earl Hickey. You need something—something beside your mail”—he held up the stack meant for Duncan's house—“you come see Earl. I also own the tire shop at the end of Main.” He glanced back at her Taurus. “I'll give you a deal on some steel-belted radials. Good for long-distance travel. Should you be going back to where you came from.” He arched a brow in question.

“I'm all set, thank you,” she said firmly. “That's a rental anyway.”

“Glad to hear it. Last thing I need is another house on my route. People movin' in, buildin' property where there weren't any before. Messes up the whole science of mail delivery. Tempest is just fine the way it is. We don't need any kind of population explosion.” He eyed her, as if she meant to pop out a set of quintuplets.

“I assure you, I'm here for business only with Duncan.” Yeah, good luck sticking with that, her hormones chided.

He plodded up the steps, brushing past her to slide the mail into the slot, stepping back and waiting for it to hit the floor inside with a soft thud. “I ain't going to ask what you want with Duncan. But you keep one thing in mind. That boy and his sister have had a spate of bad luck.” Earl didn't elaborate, just glanced at the top floor of the house, let out a sigh, then turned sharp eyes on her. “I don't pass the sins of the father down onto the son, but that boy, he's been carrying the Henry load on his shoulders for years. Gave up his whole life to do it. Ain't many people like that in the world. Duncan's a good man and speakin' as a representative of the people of Tempest, I'll tell you we won't stand by and see anyone messing with him.” Once again, Earl raised his gaze to the upper floors of the Henry house. “Or any of the other Henrys.” Then he left, puttering down the road, stuffing envelopes into streetside mailboxes.

BOOK: Really Something
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