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Steel Blues -- Alma

A reader asks for a preview with Alma in Steel Blues, the sequel to Lost Things. I'm happy to oblige! This is near the beginning of the book, when Henry Kershaw has agreed to sponsor Alma's team in The Great Passenger Derby, a coast to coast air race. Alma is making nice for reporters and guests at Henry's party the night before the race. This is also the first time Alma meets a real historical person who will be very important to her future later in the series, Jackie Cochran. We'll be seeing a lot more of Jackie in the sixth book, Invisible Wars!




If Henry's previous parties had been sumptuous, this one was over the top. Alma looked around the terrace over the swimming pool with something like dismay. Red Japanese lanterns hung in long ropes, reflecting like fat moons in the still surface of the pool. A full orchestra was playing under a pavilion across from the pool house, white tie and tails on every one. There was a bar at the other end serving up French champagne and everything stronger, while a crowd of women in gorgeous evening gowns and men in black tie mingled around the pool, on the terrace and lawn, and through the wide French doors into the house where a buffet was set up. Here and there the crowd was livened by the occasional strobes of flash powder going off -- reporters and their photographers snapping movie stars and aviators, sportsmen and executives.

Alma tugged nervously at the hem of her dress. It was India ink blue, spangled with stars, her best dress rescued from the wreck of the airship Independence two years ago, and it was the nicest dress she'd ever had. Compared to the ones she saw going by, she might as well have been wearing a sack.

"It's ok," Henry Kershaw said under his breath. "You look great." He took her elbow with an expansive and leonine smile. On her other side, Lewis looked as spooked as she did. Maybe more spooked. "I just want to introduce you to some people," he said, steering her through the crowd. "Aviation people. Our crowd."

Alma refrained from saying that somewhere in the last ten years Henry's crowd had diverged a lot from hers. They'd all been in the same lodge once, all stood pretty much as equals when Henry and Gil had both left the Army Signal Corps at the same time, Gil to start a little air passenger service in Colorado and Henry to start one in California. Alma and Mitch ran Gilchrist Aviation, and it was still a skin of the teeth operation. Meanwhile Henry ran a coast to coast mail and freight service and manufactured some of the best trimotor planes in the business, including the Terrier that was their entry in the air race. Apparently hobnobbing with Hollywood stars was now all in a day's work for Henry.

"You've got to meet this guy," Henry said, steering Alma around a white jacketed waiter, Lewis following along. He tapped a slight man with glasses on the shoulder. "Floyd! Glad you could make it, buddy!"

The other man turned around, champagne glass in hand, breaking off conversation with the pretty twenty-something brunette beside him. "Had to come take a look at the competition, Henry," he said with a grin, shaking Henry's hand. "My boys are going to lick yours, you know."

"Bah," Henry said good naturedly, pumping his hand. "Not with a Ford Trimotor, they won't! Why don't you put up a team flying your own plane instead of a Ford?"

"Because you can't land a sea plane in the desert?" The other man grinned. "The Catalina's going to be big, Henry. You wait a year or two. The Catalina is going to dominate the market for flying boats."

"But not much use in the desert," Henry agreed. "Floyd, I want you to meet my team captain. This is Alma Gilchrist — Alma Segura, she is now. She owns and operates the Terrier that's going to bring home the cup. Alma, this is Floyd Odlum."

"Pleased to meet you," he said.

"A pleasure to meet you too, Mr. Odlum," Alma said smoothly, hoping her nerves didn’t show on her face. She could have swatted Henry for not warning her. Floyd Odlum was the owner of Consolidated Aircraft, one of the biggest manufacturers in the country, and also a part owner of RKO Pictures. In aviation you didn't get much bigger.

Odlum looked her up and down with a smile that was distinctly appreciative. "Much prettier than my team captain! Call me Floyd."

"Floyd, then," Alma said, dragging Lewis to the fore. "This is my husband, Lewis Segura."

"Mr. Segura." More handshakes.

"Lewis won the DSC in France, and he'll be flying part of the race."

"Flying together then?" The brunette beside Odlum spoke up, her smile for Lewis quite genuine, her eyes on Alma's face. "I can't imagine anything better than sharing the skies."

Odlum put his arm around her waist. "This is Mrs. Cochran. Jackie flies too, don't you darling?"

The brunette nodded. "Yes, but I've never entered a race."

"Perhaps you will," Alma said. "We need more women in the air."

"That's what I think too.”." She lifted her chin, a surprisingly strong jawline on such a pretty face. "Are you going to win?"

"Yes," Alma said simply.

Odlum laughed. "Well, Henry, I'm glad to see your team has confidence."

"And I have confidence in them," Henry said smoothly. "There's no better team out there. Mitchell Sorley is the third member, and he's a genuine ace. Mark my words, they'll bring home the prize."

Odlum offered his hand again. "Well, good luck to you. May the best man win!"

"Or woman," Jackie said, and her eyes met Alma's with a smile.

Henry steered Alma off into the crowd again, Lewis trailing after silently. Alma hoped she didn't look as nervous as Lewis did. "Is she Odlum's wife?" Alma asked.

"His protégé." He managed not to put a sneer in it. "She worked in a hair salon in New York. No idea how Floyd ran into her, but now she's flying his planes and sharing his house." Henry shrugged. "You know I could care less about other people's domestic arrangements."

He'd certainly overlooked hers at various points, though Lewis bristled a little. He'd shared Alma's house and bed for months before they were married, and Henry hadn't said a word about them sharing a cabin on his airship. Of course he'd been possessed by a demon at the time, but he wouldn't have minded even if he hadn't been.

"Smile!"

Henry turned around, half pulling her around with him, a big smile on his face. "Hello boys."

The newspapermen grinned back. "How about a big smile for the paper, Mr. Kershaw? Is this your team?"

"Two of them," Henry said genially as Alma tried to plaster a smile on her face too. "This is Alma Gilchrist Segura and her husband, Lewis Segura, of Gilchrist Aviation. They'll be taking my Terrier to Miami and bringing home the prize."

"Smile!" one of them said, the flash going off blindingly enough that Alma saw spots. "Smile!"

"Where is Mitch anyway?" Lewis muttered.

"Hiding," Alma said under her breath.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
mari4212
Sep. 6th, 2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
Yay, the dress survived! I loved that dress from the first novel.

I love this glimpse of Alma. And the first conversation with Jackie was excellent. I can see how they'd become important to each other.
jo_graham
Sep. 6th, 2012 06:37 pm (UTC)
I said to Melissa, "Tell me the dress survives? Please? I love the dress," and so it did. I imagine they eventually got their luggage back from the Independence.

If there's one primary person responsible for there being women in the US Air Force, it's Jackie. Or rather it will be in eight years!
whatthefaith
Sep. 7th, 2012 01:59 pm (UTC)
Jackie Cochran was awesome :). Have you ever read "The Mercury 13: The True Story of 13 Women and the Dream of Space Flight" or "Promised the Moon" by Stephanie Nolen?
jo_graham
Sep. 9th, 2012 11:22 am (UTC)
I've read the first but not the second! Jackie Cochran is indeed awesome! And you can guess that Alma is going to become one of her pilots in the first bunch, for the ATA in Britain. Alma and the Hudson bomber....
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )