Mile High Club

“Sheila! You’ve forgotten your bag!”

Jen smiled. Hearing the Australian accent immediately lightened her mood. She looked around for someone named Sheila, but she was the only female nearby.She saw two tall, handsome, tanned men looking at her with big smiles on their faces.

“Excuse me!” the cutest one said. “Is this your bag?”

“Oh, it is thanks. Where did I leave it?”

“At that last counter.”

Her tired eyes became very shiny as she focused on the young men. “Thank you. My name is Jen,” she said and held out her hand.

Both men stood tall, relaxed, and self-assured.

“G’day I’m Brolga,” the cute one replied in a heart melting Australian accent. “I’m here with me mate Richard. We’re from Australia.”

“I can tell by your accent.” Things were looking better by the minute.

Brolga was three to four inches taller than she. He had a sharp shock of strawberry blonde hair and freckles sprinkled all over his face. Richard looked to be five-foot-nine. They wore heavy hiking boots and warm flannel shirts with Levi jeans.

“How yer going? I’m Richard,” stated the other fellow with the hat still perched on his head. That made Jen giggle. Richard had wine bottle corks dangling freely, happily, and haphazardly from the brim of his hat. The entire effect was comical. Every time he moved his head the corks would hesitate a moment before being yanked along with the movement of the cap.

“What are those corks for?” she asked afraid to call them dingle balls lest she offend the fellow.

“This here’s a cork hat. These corks here keep the flies and bugs away,” he replied matter-of-factly. He removed his hat as he straightened up to shake hands with Jen. He had black hair and was thinner than Brolga.

“Where are you headed, Jen?”

“Sydney for a month then Gatton. It's up north somewhere.”

“We’re going that way too; we should stay together. What seat are you in?”

“First class 3A. And you?”

“Cheap we’re in the tourist section 81 B and C I think…. Hmmm, let’s see, yep.”

“But we can still mingle, it’s a long flight,” Jen volunteered. She stayed to talk with them when the call came for first class passengers.

Brolga noticed. “Jen they’re calling first class, go get your seat we’ll mingle after take-off as you say.”

“What do you like to drink? I’ll order you one. They always ask me what I drink before I sit down, Brolga. What do you like?”

“Richard and I are taking a fancy to your California wines.”

“What type?”

“You mean red or white?”

She nodded.

“White, fruity white wine, Gewurztraminer.”

“I can do that. Take your time boarding. I’ll get you a glass.” She squeezed his hand before turning to queue up for First Class boarding.

Sure enough, she appeared in coach with two glasses of wine during the mild chaos of seating passengers.

“Thanks, Jen,” Brolga said.

“You’re welcome. I’ll see you later when things calm down.”

Jen dug into her bag to retrieve one of the sleeping pills Janie gave her. It would get her sleeping in ten minutes and keep her down for a few hours. She ordered a double gin and tonic and popped her pill.

Jen woke sometime in the middle of the night. The plane must have lurched her awake because the loudspeaker remained quiet. She looked outside. It was dark, nothing below but moonlit ocean. Beautiful, but very dull after the first few minutes. The flight attendants were resting, and most of the passengers were asleep.

She walked past the business class where guys in their suits were sleeping or working on their laptops.

In Second-Class she passed a couple playing cribbage. She walked to the back of the plane and there in seat 53C she came upon Brolga in a deep sleep. Richard was one seat over, and he too was asleep.

Smiling, she gently pushed on Brolga’s shoulder.n

“Oh! Hi there,” he yawned sleepily. “What’s up Jen?”

“Let’s go up to the lounge,” she suggested. “We can sit together there.”

He followed her up a stairway to the sitting area with a snack bar. Jen poured herself a coffee and Brolga popped a beer open.

“The hats, you guys wear, seem flimsy Brolga,” Jen said.

“Not so Sheila! They are much more useful than your cowboy hats, which need particular attention to keep them looking proper. These hats are called Barmah Oilskin Canvas Hats. They have chinstraps, so a gust of wind won’t send them flying down the plains as your cowboy hats do. They are also crushable. Here watch this.” Brolga pulled his hat from his back pocket put it on his head then took it off folded it and returned it to his pocket. “If an American cowboy hat got crushed this way the poor bloke would need to buy a new one next chance he got.”

“Okay, so what are the corks for?”

“To keep the flies away. You should know that Sheila. You look like a cowgirl with your boots and hat. I’m surprised your hats don’t have such conveniences.”

“We’re more into the image; our cowboys wear Resistol or ten-gallon hats, not floppy hats with used corks hanging from them. Why were you in the States, Brolga?”

“Richard and I went to see the cutting horse finals in Reno.”

“You run cattle? I thought Australia was known for its sheep. I didn’t realize you were beef eaters like us.”

“Richard and I are Jackaroos or were. Now we are boundary riders, but we keep up with our riding and roping. And you’re right about sheep. They are a big industry, but so is cattle-farming especially in the north, in Queensland. There are a handful of massive cattle stations up there. Sheep are more to the southeast. Now that Mad Cow Disease is in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, Australia is supplying beef to Japan, China, and South Korea."

“What is a boundary rider?”

“Richard and I are one of fourteen doggers. The Wild Dog Destruction Board pays us twenty-six thou a year for maintaining six-hundred kilometers of the fence, five days a week, all to keep the dingoes in Queensland and South Australia out of the grazing lands of the states west.

“Do you ride horses along the fence?”

“No. They started with camels, but there are roads now, so I take my Ute.”

“What is a Ute?”

“The Ute’s been Oz’s favorite truck since the 1930’s,” he said proudly. “Ford Motor Company designed an Australian utility vehicle, forty years before SUVs were popular in the States.”

“Why did you quit jack-a-rooing? Is that how you say it?”

“Money. The lifestyle’s the same, being out in the middle of nowhere. But this position comes with a three-bedroom cottage on the grid power. You have to BYO partner; it is quite empty out there. It's almost the same as working the cattle stations though. We just have more quid in our pockets, Richard and me, and we earn pensions being boundary riders.

“How long have you been doing this?”

“Five years for me, Richard is three. I’m thinking of moving on though. I’ve put in for a promotion. The Wild Dog Destruction Board is looking for a leading hand, the second in charge. It pays $37,281.”

“Well good luck with that.”

“Thanks. And it will allow me to stay in a place longer. What I’m looking to do is open up a wildlife rehabilitation center for ‘roos and other animals that need medical help.”

Another animal person. At least I'm consistent with the men I'm attracted to, Jen thought.

He followed her up a stairway to the sitting area with a snack bar. Jen poured herself a coffee and Brolga popped a beer open.

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