(C) 2014 Alma T.C. Boykin, All Rights Reserved.
Scales and Frequencies
“ . . . And that wraps up our late show here on WYRM, 660 AM. Thanks for listening and this is Mona McFee signing off. Stay tuned for Drako’s Dark-Roast, and I’ll be back at eight tomorrow evening. Remember, deer season starts on Friday, and please drive safely. The roads are slick tonight and they’re already piling up at the usual hill.” She counted down to one, then switched on the public-service announcements and two commercials. Mona took off her headphones and slid out of the booth as Drako eased in and took her place.
As he passed, he handed her a large cup of hot herbal tea. She gave him a thumbs-up and picked her way over his tail, waiting until the tip cleared the tape line on the floor before closing the door. After working at the station for two years, Drako no longer scared her, but she didn’t want to tick him off, either, in case some of the stories about his temper were true. Shutting his tail in the door would probably tick him off.
Drako, owner of the station’s equipment and the perpetual late-night DJ, settled his teleconverter onto his head and triple checked the mike and headphones. He watched the countdown and at one second, keyed the converter and mike. “Good evening, fellow friends of the night,” he began, half-growling in his deep baritone. “Welcome to Drako’s Dark-Roast, your all night dark music program, the show for shadows and shades. Tonight we have Nightwish’s new release, along with old favorites by Tartanic, Lacuna Coil, Bear McCreary, and a few very old melodies to keep your night moving. Let’s open the evening with ‘Sound of Sirius’ by Dog Star’s Revenge, and a little bit of Nox Arcana’s ‘Age of Empire.’ And for those of you out on the roads, the state just announced that Greene County 10 is closed because of a fallen tree and a wreck near the Emberville hill.”
Drako cued the music and leaned back, watching the computer screen to make certain that everything remained in place. He still cringed at the memory of the night he’d hit “shuffle” without realizing it. Well, he snorted, we certainly found out just how many people were listening. The phones had rung off the hook with people calling in to correct the playlist. Everything appeared to be in proper order tonight. Which was good, he thought, because he suspected that he and the tech on duty would have their hands and talons full before the sun rose. It felt like that kind of night, the sort that made him want to curl up in his lair with his latest electronic project and a big bowl of broth.
Drako glanced at the weather monitor and pinched his nostrils shut. Yuck. The forecast had predicted rain changing to snow, but the pink on the radar warned that ice had begun falling. He hated freezing rain. Drako tapped the floor with his tail tip and wondered if he should send the rest of the night staff home. No, it’s safer to keep them here. That’s why we have bunks. Caleb, the tech on call, waved a piece of paper at the window, then eased the pass-through up and slid the page in. Drako snagged it with a silver-black talon and read the announcement.
After the next song he stopped the music. “Ladies, gentlemen, hellspawn, fallen angels and anyone else out tonight, the Tennessee Highway Patrol has just closed I-40 and I-75 south and east of Nashville. If you are on the interstates, prepare to be diverted off at Nashville. If you are on the side roads, get ready for a long detour. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for everyone between the Mississippi and Shenandoah Rivers, and from what I can see on the radar, the rain is changing to ice. All you shades and shadows on the road tonight, take it easy out there. We’ll be back with ‘Infinite Ageless’ by Darker Shade of Midnight, then ‘Pavane for a Dead Princess,’ after this quick word from our sponsors.” Drako cued up the commercial and eased over to the door.
“Caleb, you have the generator ready?”
The stocky electronics tech and night manager gave a thumb up, and then threw the horns. “Ready to go, Drako. I’m not climbing the tower, though, not in this shit.”
“No you’re not. If it’s that bad, we’ll step down and take the hit if someone bitches.” He’d done his share of climbing broadcast towers, back in the day, and Drako couldn’t ask his crew to put themselves in that much danger. He had talons and could grip with all four feet and his tail. His techs, not so much.
The reptile returned to the booth and put the mike and headset back on. He rocked out to ‘Infinite Ageless,’ playing air-drums with his tail and air-keyboard with his forefeet. Then he ran a quick check on the radar, wincing at the warning boxes and storm reports. Early-season ice storms always meant trouble, and this one looked like it was going to be memorable.
Two songs later, the light on his phone flashed. “Drako’s Dark-Roast,” he answered.
“Hi Drako, this is the Homeless Angel,” one of the long-haul night couriers that listened regularly. “Reddick Road’s blocked at Kelly’s Junction, both ways, tree down.”
“Reddick Road at Kelly’s, both ways, tree,” Drako read back. “I’ll pass the word. Thanks and be safe out there.”
“Wilco. I’m homeward bound.”
Drako read out the half-hour station ID, the official traffic news, and the called-in traffic reports. Then he opened the door as Caleb brought in a fifty-ounce mug of coffee. “You’ll need this, boss. And we’ll probably go to generator within the next hour. The transformers are starting to blow like popcorn out there. I’m already shedding building load.”
“Right. Just give me a minute warning if you can, so we don’t fry everything this time.” Caleb made a face and shut the door. It had been Drako who’d forgotten that one breaker, the last time. The phone flashed again and Drako answered it, taking quick notes. “Power lines down across Hedrick Road, and Rocky Creek’ starting to overflow the low water crossing; got it, thanks.”
Fifteen minutes later, Drako decided to send out the call. “All Dark Angels along Rocky Creek and Muddy Creek downstream of Henderson Ford, the water’s already ten foot high and risin’ so to speak. If you’ve got allies and incubi near the creeks, you might pass the word: the Corps is letting water out of the upstream reservoirs.” Or, translated into English, any listeners had better start moving stuff and calling their neighbors because there was going to be a flood. Caleb appeared at the window and held up four fingers. Four minutes to power shift. Drako gave him a thumb-talon up. “And in honor of the lovely weather, here’s ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ by request of my station manager. Prague Symphony Orchestra, Jan Ochenski conducting.” That gave Drako ten minutes to get everything shifted and switched before he needed to make the next station identification broadcast.
He felt more than heard the loud thumping of the big diesel generator firing up. Drako turned off everything but the computers and counted down. The equipment power lights dimmed, then brightened once more. Drako waited a minute before turning his secondary computer back on. He left the lights off, except for a safety light near the door and a low-voltage light by the pass-through window. The phone light flashed. “Drako’s Dark Roast.”
“Hi Drako, this is Officer Friendly,” a familiar voice said. Drako grinned at the Tennessee Highway Patrol sergeant’s nickname.
“Howdy Officer, I wasn’t there and I have witnesses. What can I do for you?”
“We’re closing highway 34 and 10, and Hedrick Road from Black’s Mill to the county line, both ways. We need people off the roads, and Sheriff Calhoun asks that unless they’ve got an honest-to-God someone’s dying emergency, have them call the day number, not nine-one-one.”
“Roger, Highways 34 and 10, Hedrick Road from Black’s Mill to county line, and use the day number for any alien sightings,” Drako repeated. “Anything else?”
He heard a hearty sigh. “Not at the moment, but I’m afraid to turn around and look at the screen. And thanks to the Dark Angels for calling in their observations. It’s a big help, but don’t tell them that. They’ll just get the big head.”
Drako snorted. “I’ll keep that in mind. Stay safe.”
“Wilco. You too.” Officer Friendly hung up and Drako made the announcement, adding, “Shades and shadows, don’t put yourself in harm’s way if you don’t have to. Next up, Leave’s Eyes and the midnight classic, Ozzy and Lita, ‘Close Your Eyes,’ followed by Illusion of Safety, Ramstein, and Blacker Shade of Black. Remember, your Uncle Drako loves you all.”
“Especially if you shower in salsa or mango chutney,” Caleb muttered as Drako passed him the empty coffee mug. He opened the door and got out of the way as Drako eased out of the booth for a quick leg stretch and nature break.
“I have never eaten a listener,” Drako reminded him with affronted dignity before stalking down the hall, the tip of his tail stuck up like the “Hawaiian peace sign.”
When he got back a few minutes later, a new pot of coffee steamed on the desk beside a list of call-ins and requests. Caleb had already vetoed three of the requests, including more Ramstein. Two by Iced Earth did get added to the list, along with “March of Mephisto” by Kamelot. Drako cued up the new single by Evenescence, and one from Corvus Cornax. If anyone calls the FCC because of sexually explicit lyrics in Provonçal, I’ll eat a box of vacuum tubes. Just for grins he added Leaves’ Eye’s black-metal version of “Scarborough Fair.” That would get him through the next hour, once he included the commercials and FCC announcements.
Around two-thirty, he heard a crack and thud from outside the building. Oh shit, I hope that wasn’t the tower or the generator. The lights stayed on, and he didn’t see any warning lights. Caleb, white faced, appeared ten minutes later and passed him a note. “Tree down across the parking lot entrance. I’m calling Mike and Molly and telling them not to come in unless they have chainsaws. Kelly will take their show.”
Drako frowned. That meant Kelly had spent the night. The last time she’d done that, she’d also had bruises on her face and arms that makeup didn’t cover. Damn it, if Laura is beating Kelly I’m going to gut that bitch, wife or not. Well, maybe Kelly just had not wanted to risk traveling in the weather. Drako had kept his muzzle shut the last time, but he would not tolerate one of his people being abused by their spouse or partner.
At three Caleb swapped the coffee for a bowl of beef broth. “Hey boss, just so you know, us and WNCO are the only stations in the quad counties still on the air. Expect more calls from Deputy Doughnut and Officer Friendly.”
“Everybody else is off?” That had never happened before.
Caleb pushed his ball cap back and smoothed his sandy stubble of hair. “Yes sir. The big TVA line went down near Chattanooga and the load shift dumped a bunch of people. Rolling brown-outs in effect for at least the next few hours. And it’s now snow.”
“That’s good,” Drako grunted. “Go nap.”
The next hours passed in a bit of a blur. The Dark Angels called in more reports of flooding and of downed power lines and trees. “Drako, this is Red Heart,” the son of the head of the local Red Cross. “Red Cross has set up in Farnam Junior High, and Third Baptist Church opened up if anyone needs a place to stay or a hot meal. The call for volunteers will go out after everything’s evaluated, so dad asks people to stay put until after 0700.”
“Got it, Red Heart, thanks. Be careful.”
Kelly appeared, too cheerful and awake by half, at six. “Goooood morning, Scales!” She caroled. “You can go count your treasure.”
“Mornin’ Kelly. Caleb says you stayed over?”
“Yes, sir. Laura moved out two days ago and with the weather forecast, I figured I’d be better off here than at the trailer if the weather frogs were right.”
That’s a relief. “Good call. Here’s the closure list, here’s the shelters, and this is yesterdays play list.”
She nodded and waited as he keyed the mike, “Ladies and gentlemen, shades, shadows and all Dark Angels, that’s it for Drako’s Dark Roast. Stay out of the sun and off the roads, and I’ll be back at midnight for another journey into the darkness.” Kelly backed out of the booth so he could get out, then darted in to arrange the chair and other things while the station ID and commercials played. Drako stretched his hind legs, then humped his back and stretched his shoulders and forelegs, much like an eight-foot-long cat. He shook all over and picked his way down to Caleb’s office. “You need help?”
“No, thanks.” Caleb had pulled on a yellow coat and rain hat. “Eric and Wooly Junior are on the way with chainsaws and more diesel. We should be able to go back on the grid by ten AM. ‘Night.”
“Mornin’. And get some rest yourself,” Drako ordered. He eased along the hall until he reached the half-hidden door at the end. He pulled out the appropriate key and unlocked it, then let himself into a long spiraling passage. He descended fifty feet below ground level to his lair, an old bomb shelter from the 1950s. He kept his horde of electronics gear down here. He made breakfast and devoured the half lamb, then curled up beside a pile of old electronics magazines and manuals for some sleep.