My Flock

Chapter 15

Yes! A perfect plan! I congratulated myself as I drove home from work the next evening and plotted the twins' punishment for their identity swap. Slow, painful, and a very agonizing path to death, how appropriate!

I glanced at my watch when I saw Dad's van in the driveway. Fantastic, they just got home, I can start right away! I grinned. Eight, maybe ten hours of continuous torture!

The house was frighteningly quiet when I stepped inside, not even the clatter of plates and silverware could be heard. Dad was alone in the kitchen, apparently getting something for supper out of the pantry. Damn, I grounded the twins, did Dad put everyone in their rooms? What now? I wondered.

"Where are the kids?" I asked.

"They all went to a friend's house."

"The twins? Dad, you know they are grounded!" I barked. "How could you let them, , ,"

"Calm down, something came up," he cut me off. "Do you remember Ken Hughes, the shortstop on Jerry and Jeff's ball team? They had a fire at their house last night, and a group of kids from school went over to help them clean up."

I was digesting his statement, and if was sufficient reason to release the twins from their punishment when he continued, "The Vice Principal called earlier." I was about to ask what the little shits get into now but he added, "The Hughes didn't have any insurance, and Mister Hughes is unemployed. He said the twins were the chief organizers of all this, they rallied a couple of dozen kids, even started a collection. He said they raised over a hundred dollars from lunch money and such, just today. I'm getting some canned good together, maybe it will help."

"Oh," I groaned. Well, I can always kill them later. I decided.

After I changed into a pair of shorts and tee-shirt I grabbed a beer and settled into my recliner to continue sorting through the pile of paperwork Cindy had given me. A few minutes, and what seemed like reams of paper, the front door opened. The stench of stale smoke and soot gave me a good idea of who it was before I turned to look.

"Hi Dad!" a very soiled Carl exclaimed from the entryway, immediately followed by a 'Hi Pop' from and equally dirty faced Mike. A thin brown haired boy I remembered from Little League practice was with them, and to my surprise everyone disappeared into the hall instead of rushing to give me the hug I expected to get.

I started to follow them down the hall, but turned and joined Dad in the kitchen. We chatted for five minutes or so before Carl came into the room and timidly looked at us.

"Hi Turkey!" I smiled, extending my arms toward him. I made a mental note to schedule extra bath time for everyone tonight when he pushed against me.

"Um, well, Pop, well, see, last night there was, well, ah" he stammered.

"Gramps told me about the fire, and I think it is wonderful that you guys are helping," I interrupted, hoping to relax him at least a little.

"Well, all of Ken's clothes and stuff are all screwed up and everthing, I mean they are sorta all stinky and wet and everthing, ah everything."

I wonder how you wash headgear straps, I thought as I rubbed his neck and felt the grime push under my fingernails. "Can we help, can he wear some of you guys clothes?" I tried, as much to help my son go where I was sure he was going more than anything.

"Well, he can Jerry and Jeff's fit most good, ah well." I bit my lip, I hadn't seen Carl this nervous since right after he came to us.

"I called them," he continued, holding out a stained piece of plastic I vaguely recognized as his week old cell phone. "And they said he can have some stuff, but, well they said I gotta ask you, sir." He took a deep breath and whimpered, "Please Pop, ah Dad, he can have some of my underwears and stuff, and we got some money and we can, , ,"

"Give Ken anything he needs, I'm more proud of you guys than I can say," I whimpered back, earning a grin from my well soiled little angel. He pushed against me for an instant and started out of my cuddle, but I pulled him back. "Please be sure he has enough clothes for, for a week at school. No old clothes, stuff like you we ask you wear to school, I'll replace everything you give him.

"You are in charge son, can you handle it?" earned me a wide smile and stinky neck hug before he darted away.

"Would you mind taking them to the mall after school tomorrow? You have my VISA, get them whatever they need, whatever they gave to the boy." I mumbled as I watched Carl disappear down the hall. "Anything they want."

"I thought the twins were grounded! Sentenced to death row!" Dad quipped, a little sinister snicker in his voice.

"That was before they ignored my restriction," I countered. I grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator and started back toward the front room and my recliner. "Now, they are sentenced to spending an afternoon shopping with a mean old Nanny." I added when I felt comfortable I could dodge whatever I was sure was about to be thrown at me.

When Dad returned from dropping off his care package to the Hughes a couple of hours later he had a van-load of worn out zombies in tow. After getting everyone scrubbed they snacked, but it didn't take long for me to figure out there was no hope of getting any homework done, and none of them objected to getting into bed.

After I tucked the already sleeping twins, then Bobby, Carl and Mike into bed a few minutes later I peeked back into the twins room, and without realizing it leaned against their door and enjoyed their innocent beauty for I'm not sure how long. I kissed their foreheads before reluctantly leaving them to enjoy the dreamland they were in, started down the hall, but turned back to Carl's room.

All three boys had migrated to the same bed and were a spaghetti bowl of long thin arms and legs as they cuddled together, even in the darkness their happy, refreshing faces gleamed at me.

Thanks God, I thought as I watched them sleep. Thanks for trusting me with these little guys, well for letting me. I started back toward the front room, but stopped off in my bathroom and washed my tear stained face. Thanks for trusting me with your future angels, I added as I dropped Visine into my bloodshot eyes.

I spent a few minutes trying to sort out Cindy's files before giving up. I started to go to bed, but stopped in the dining room and opened my small fire safe. After I took two-hundred dollars out of my emergency money I took a minute to write a note to the school's vice-principal, asking him to anonymously add the money to the twins collection to help the Hughes. I stuffed an envelope and left it out for Dad to drop off at school for me.

The kids seemed a little somber the next morning when I stepped into the kitchen. Nothing to worry about, I decided as I watched them inhale the mountain of pancakes, eggs and sausage on the table, and I wrote it off to them probably being tired from the work they had done yesterday. After I kissed everyone I was surprised when the twins abandoned their plates and followed me outside to my truck.

"Ah, Dad, we're sorry about what we did," Jerry whimpered.

"At the Dentist Sir, we really are," Jeff told my shoes. "We was wondering, Sir, ah how long are we grounded, Sir."

"Well, or maybe if we can start being grounded next week?" his twin pleaded, his voice as high pitched as Pieter's. "For as long as you want, sir."

Do I want to get into this right now? Should I let them off the hook, or let them stew today like I had planned? I wondered. "Is there a reason you ask?" I tried.

"Well, um, well," Jeff stammered.

"Well, Ronnie called," Jerry announced.

"And he invited us to spend the night at his ranch," Jeff injected.

I glanced at my watch, trying to think of a way to put this discussion off until tonight so I wouldn't be late to work, again.

"Well, Carl and all of us, and both nights, ah, , , all weekend sorta." Jerry corrected, giving his brother a quick glare. "He said Doctor Pop is gonna say it's okay and every, , ,"

"I meant Ronnie said it's okay, and, and that Doctor Pop is gonna invite you too!" Jeff exclaimed, loud enough to cover whatever his twin had finished his statement with. "I meant that's what he meant, Sir!" he added, giving Jerry a death glare.

"Oh, yeah, that's what I was going to say!" Jerry hooted. "Yeah and they think, I mean that Mary wants Gramps to come!"

I took a deep breath, and glanced back at my watch. "Is the bull shit that happened at Doctor Pratt's going to happen again?" earned me a pair of 'No sirs'. "I'm very proud of you, especially for what you are doing to help the Hughes. And I'll be honest, it saved your asses, both of them.

"If you promise me it will never happen again, or anything like it, you're off restriction. And yes, you may go to Adam's. To Doctor Owens."

They both threw their arms around me so tightly they partly cut my breath off before I could continue. "Dad HAS to go, I have a meeting I CAN'T be late for. I'll call Doctor Adams later and work out the details."

"But, well," Jerry whined.

"It's with a Three Star," I cut him off. "I HAVE to go!" I kissed the top of their head and somehow managed to pry out of their grip.

The memory of their happy faces and wide smiles made me glad my truck knew its way to work. I had just cleared the base's entry gate security when my cell phone rang. I need to talk to you anyway, I thought when I saw Adam's name on the caller ID.

"Hi Christian, I just have a minute I'm almost to the hospital and have to do my morning rounds," he began. "But Ronnie and Mark told me your boys called, and asked if they can spend the weekend with us. We would love to have them, why don't you and your dad come too, we probably need to work on a few things anyway."

My boys called? I asked myself. Jerry's statement earlier, 'He said Doctor Pop is gonna say its okay and everything', and the death glare his twin gave him rang back into my mind. We are both short on time, let it go, for now, I thought.

I accepted his invitation and we talked a minute or so, agreeing to meet at his practice Friday around noon so I could do some work on his network before we rang off. I wonder if he'd mind my using his mountain, well that hundred foot cliff for a few minutes. A few human sacrifices always help the soul! I thought. The sight of thin young bodies flying off the sheer summit excited me.

I had just parked and climbed out of my truck when the cell rang again. Yes Dear, Boss, I'm coming, our meeting doesn't start for, I glanced at my watch, Another ninety seconds! I quipped as I hastened my pace across the parking lot.

To my surprise Tim's name was on the caller ID, not my supervisor. "Sorry dude, but I'm late to a meeting, let me call you back," I announced after I pushed talk.

"It's Judy, Christian," her voice replied. "Timmy just got a call that I'm very worried about, and I can't find Tim, I'm frightened!" she exclaimed.

I looked down the hall at the three armed soldiers standing outside our conference room and realized our VIP was indeed waiting for me. Thirty seconds, I grunted at my watch.

"Someone called and said a Doctor Pop asked him to call because this doctor needs Timmy to come and help him do something with his ponies or whatever, you know how Timmy babbles. I though it was a woman, but they identified themself as 'Junior'. Do you know who this character is? He's not one of those internet predators is he? Is it safe to let Timmy go to school? Should I call the police? I know the horror stories, , ,"

"Doctor Pop is Doctor Adam Owens, it was his ranch Timmy and us visited last week. I HAVE to go Judy, I have a meeting. Call Dad, he can sort everything out. But I intended to take Timmy with us anyway, I mean ask if he can go with us. I have to go, but call my Dad." I rang off before she could reply.

Adam told Junior to call Timmy, Ronnie called the twins, 'he's gonna say it's okay', the twins called Ronnie to ask of they could come visit, I groaned. I smell a big, BIG rat! There's going to be one hell of a mess at the bottom of that cliff!

Now, what was this meeting about? I asked myself. I took a couple of deep breaths, checked my shirt tail, and forced a confident grin before I entered the conference room. You still have it kid! I chuckled as I ignored my supervisor's dirty look and glanced at the room's clock. Six, almost seven seconds early, what more could you people want!?!

After our meeting I was impressed about how quickly my successor had begun his new assignment. I spent a few minutes advising him on tasks I had always dealt with, answering my email and soon figured out I had nothing to do, my plate was clear for the day!

I managed to wade through all of Cindy's paperwork, even had time to call my new 'clients' and arrange visits to their practices Friday afternoon to survey their needs, and soon, except the case files Tim had dumped on me, I had caught up with all of the things I had been burdened with.

A little before two o'clock I said 'screw it' and announced I was going to work from home the rest of the day. "I didn't tell them what I'm going to work on!" I chuckled to my steering wheel as I left the base.

I was caught off guard when I stepped into the kitchen; Mike and Bobby were seated at the kitchen table, hunkered down over their workbooks. Dad's glare told me to chill, and I just tousled the stubble of hair on each of them, and grabbed a beer before slipping into my bedroom and changing into shorts and tee-shirt.

I started to go back and check on the boys, but remembered Dad's look, and booted the computer in my bedroom and began reviewing the contracts I had just signed and faxed back to Cindy. After about the third reading, I sorted through the paragraphs and set up a database to divide what was billable and non-billable work. Damn! I thought as I punched in the numbers for Adam's practice, the only one I had seen of the four. At one-fifty an hour!!!

My elation was short lived when I began reading the files Tim had given me. I pondered over the case files for a half hour or so before giving up, I was in way over my head, even Tim's comments in the files made absolutely no sense to me. 'Bipolar Related Orientation Disorder, the kid don't know the North Pole from the South? I asked myself. Tim wrote this shit? I thought, wondering when he had learned Greek, Latin or whatever foreign language he was writing about these kids in. Definitely time to talk to Cindy, or Adam, I hope I can still cancel my retirement, I groaned as hit 'Close' with my mouse.

I got body slammed by a very bubbly Mike when I walked back into the kitchen. After a warm hug he pushed his workbook up at me. "Look Pop, I only got two wrong!" he hooted.

I glanced around as I accepted his book and saw a very tense faced Bobby, staring nervously over Dad's shoulder as Dad studied a document.

"Fantastic!" I answered as I scanned Mike's math worksheet full of rather complicated arithmetic and what I thought were pre-algebra problems.

"And, look at my spelling test!" Mike all but demanded as he jerked the book out of my hand and frantically thumbed to another page.

"Yea! Thanks Gramps!" Bobby screamed before I could look at Mike's work. "Yeah, I know now! Thanks Gramps, I love you!" he screamed before throwing his arms around Dad's neck and planting a kiss on the old man's cheek.

Dad mumbled something I couldn't understand as he pulled the lad into a tight hug. Yeah sure you old fart, hugs are 'unmanly', I silently snickered as I watched Dad plant a kiss on the boy's forehead.

"Look Pop! I didn't get nothing wrong!" Bobby proclaimed as he pushed against my other hip, trying to push his workbook above Mike's.

"Fantastic!" I managed as I tried to hold onto both books and the Octopus like mass of skinny boy-flesh entangling me with out choking one or both of them.

"We have to go pickup the others from school, you two want go, or stay with your dad?" their grandfather interrupted. "I'm going to stop off for a Slurpy on the way home," he announced as he walked toward the front door.

Instantly I was alone in the kitchen holding a pair of workbooks. A second later Bobby pushed back under my arm. "How long do I get to live here?" he asked in a soprano voice. "Please, will you tell me again?" he whimpered into my rib cage.

I pulled him into a tight cuddle and chuckled, "Until you are, , , until you grow all your hair back out, then you go bald again like that old fart giving us dirty looks."

He stiffened for an instant, gave me a dirty look then a fresh hug and one of his trademark little grins before darting out of the house.

Tim rang the bell and burst into the house a minute or so after Dad and his ducklings left. "What's Bobby so fired up about? He's full of piss and vinegar today!" he asked as he got each of us a beer from the refrigerator. "He body blocked me and threw his arms around me in the middle of the street, told my belt buckle something I didn't catch and disappeared into Sam's van before I knew what happened!"

"He is, , , well he's having a Bobby attack," I mumbled. I turned and walked into the front room hoping to dry my eyes before my friend noticed their tears.

"I had lunch with Cindy today," he told me as we sat down. "She invited Judy and I to a barbeque Saturday, she said you are going to be there. Sounds like fun." His fun comment made me wonder a little.

"She said the cases I gave you have cleared legal, have you read them?" he asked before I could respond.

"I was going to go over them with Adam tomorrow. I'm still, well learning the ropes." I tried, hoping for a way out.

He took a long swallow of beer and stared out the window for a few seconds. "I need some help Christian," he told I guess my courtyard gate. "One of the boys is openly gay, the other has no idea of his sexual orientation. But I can't place them anywhere else except for last resort group homes. If we bullshit them into a family setting, they get kicked back to us as soon as the foster parents find, , , well I know the setting you are going to take over understands them."

Ouch, that I was going to take over, I silently groaned.

"Hey, thanks dude for inviting Timmy to go with you too," he continued. "He's been moping around with his old hound dog face all week. He won't talk to Judy or I about what's bothering him, but since he found out you and his buds are moving he has not been a happy camper."

Although I was still trying to digest his comment regarding the boys he wanted me to approve for placement, the back side of my brain snapped and tried a way out of that discussion. "Well, actually, I was going to talk to you, I want custody on the weekends," I teased.

"You got it! How about full custody, I've got the paperwork across the street!" he chuckled. "Just you sell mama, and let me know before you approach her, so I can leave the country!" We both had a good laugh, I'm sure Tim having the same vision I was of his wife's wrath, the entire neighborhood would be at risk.

"Hey, if you find a good moment see if he'll talk to you, maybe let him know he's not being abandoned." he asked.

Shortly Dad's van turned into the driveway, and an instant later the front room was full of excited kids, along with Binki and Bandit. As usual the tiny pets held their own as they competed for hugs and greetings. Timmy bounced over to his dad and gave him a hug then pushed into my side displaying a blinding ear-to-ear smile that made me wish I had my sunglasses on, even inside.

"Thanks Pop! I love you!" he giggled. Before I could answer his ears seemed to cock up and point toward the kitchen almost like Binki's do, and he darted away from me.

After the clatter of plates and silverware settled enough were we could talk again Dad surprised me, announcing that he was going go directly to Adam's ranch from picking the kids up from school, that I was 'welcome' to meet them there.

I pretty well shrugged his decision off until his well weathered face brightened almost as much as Timmy's had earlier and he added, "Mary is going to teach me how to make Pork and Chicken Chaaps, and I'm going to give her my secret Sour Cream Sauce recipe." As he left the room Tim and I could only glance at each other for an instant before we both had to turn away from the other before we burst into laughter.

I didn't pay much attention, and just glanced around to be sure everyone was wearing their headgear when I heard the boys go outside, I was sure to play, a few minutes later. What? I wondered a couple of seconds when I heard the door open.

When I turned Jerry and Mike were escorting Carl back into the house, each holding one of his elbows. Bobby and Timmy were behind them almost like a rear guard or something. When they rushed, almost hauled Carl down the hall I began to wonder, but assumed they were playing a game or whatever.

Jeff scanned the view from the front door carefully before he closed the door and rattled it like a night watchman. He blushed slightly when he saw me looking at him. "We, we decided to go pack and stuff for tomorrow, , , sir!" he announced, his voice rising in pitch with each word.

'Sir'? Alert, what's going on? an alarm went off in my head. "Jeff!" I barked.

He glanced at the front door, then down the hall and finally at my shoes. "Well, ah, well, there's a cop down the street, ah I mean a policeman," he stammered. "He's got a car stopped and stuff."

No, please God, not again! I prayed. I took a swallow of beer to try to calm the gut wrenching knot quickly tightening in my gut as I waited to hear about the latest 'Carl Attack'..

"He didn't do nothing or nothing, but we decided maybe Carl should, well um, we should get our stuff ready! For tomorrow! Sir!" Jeff continued.

"Is the officer okay," Tim risked.

"So far. I mean yes sir," the lad whimpered. He glanced back at the closed door and added, "Well, I better go, ah pack my stuff sir, sirs," and was gone before we had a chance to react.

I have GOT to get that boy out of circulation, while we still have a judicial system! I thought. Maybe I better study up on the poles, and whatever the North and South one have to do with raising kids!

The first part of my Friday went better than I could have asked. Before I left the house I couldn't help but snicker when Timmy showed up for breakfast, his backpack and book bag sitting next to the front door, his headgear next to him on the kitchen table as he ate.

I managed to finish everything I needed to at the base by about ten o'clock and was out the door, two hours earlier than I expected. I debated how I wanted to use my extra time as I left the parking lot before opening my cell phone. The first of my new 'clients' had no problem with my bumping up our appointment to evaluate their system, and twenty minutes later I was a little nervously walking into what looked like a very upscale Sports Medicine clinic. Here we go, I groaned before introducing myself to their receptionist.

The computer system for their practice was in as sad a condition as was Adam and Robert's Clinic when I first encountered it. I made a few changes, mainly to allow me off-site access, and did an evaluation as to what needed to be done. You're learning quick! I chuckled as I sorted what work was included in the contract and what was billable hours.

It wasn't until I met with their Senior Partner, a Doctor Ebestein, that I snapped to who I was dealing with - I had seen this elderly Doctor on several TV programs ranging from ESPN and CNN to the local sportscasts, THE doctor to the sports stars. Although this time it was a little impromptu, I fell back on my experience briefing three and four star Generals and outlined what I felt his computer system needed, including what I estimated would require forty or fifty billable hours.

Even with my years of dealing with high level expenditures for the military, I wasn't prepared for his response; he handed me an already written five-thousand dollar check as my retainer, and offered to cut another to prepay for the improvements I had suggested.

I sat in my truck for a minute or so, glancing at the envelope next to me and wondering if it was real until I remembered I was due at Adam's clinic shortly. Thankfully my truck was understanding and did most of the driving and I pulled into their parking lot a few minutes ahead of schedule.

"Good morning!" Roberts voice echoed into their little server closet right after I sat down. He dropped an envelope on the server's keyboard and said, "Here, this is for you. I'm two patients behind, but Adam and I are going to lunch in about a half an hour, hope you'll join us." he was gone before I could turn around.

Yeah, how to deal with this? I asked myself as I read the retainer check inside the envelope - Another five grand.

Adam picked at his food and said nothing for several seconds after I outlined my concerns about the case files, and that I felt I had taken on more than I could handle regarding the Director's job. I knew I had put him in a bad position, hinting at resigning even before I had started the job and began to wish I could have worded my departure more gently.

"Yes, I understand, I'm afraid things aren't working as we had hoped." he finally said.

Well, this job didn't last long, I thought as I digested his expression.

"I'm afraid, well," he began, but stopped and took a long drink of his iced tea.

Oh Well! I knew better! I groaned.

"I'm afraid most of this is my fault, our fault, the transition is getting a bit taxing. Usually, I review the psychological and sociological part of a candidate's background, and make my recommendations to the Director.

"You shouldn't have had to worry with those admissions until I have done that, but expanding to two campuses, and the demands of my practice this week screwed things up. I'm just out of time right now!" he exclaimed.

"Adam, I'm a computer tech, I'm over my head with all of this shit. I don't know anything about those files I'm suppose to read! Bipolar, syndromes and shit. Maybe it might be better if we bailed out of this Director thing and, , ,"

"Not!" he barked. His usually understanding face was much harder than I ever had seen it. "You know kids, you know how to help them, especially our type of kids. They know they can trust you the minute they meet you. That is why I, we hired you. I don't expect you to be a Psychologist, or try to be one. You have a gift, all we ask of you it to use it.

"Give me until the Board meeting tomorrow, I intend to make some changes to help both campuses, and directors. Please Christian, give me that!"

"Give our kids that, please," Roberts added. "Adam and I have been talking, please give us until tomorrow."

Something in both their faces told me to ignore my best judgement, at least for tonight. Shit, with Tim's visit tomorrow, and now this, things won't be boring! I snickered.

I was still digesting our lunch conversation when I arrived at the third practice I had contracted with, but it didn't take me long to realize things could work well for me; another five K retainer check, commitment for a major Operating System upgrade and other billable upgrades. I started to feel good about my day again; even if I wasn't destined to be a Director of Adam's Boys' Ranch, I might be able to make a living after civil service.

I felt so upbeat I wasn't sure my feet were touching the ground as I walked out of the fourth and final medical office I had to visit. I had still another five grand retainer check in my hand, and a commitment for at least thirty billable hours as soon as I could perform them, many more in the short term future. And, quick trip home to change clothes and it was the weekend!

My elation was short lived. As I started across the parking lot toward my truck I glanced at the expressway and my heart sank. The southbound lanes, the direction I had to go to get both home and to Adam's land and begin the weekend, was a parking lot. The access road was no better, cars and trucks moving at what seemed five or ten feet an hour, even the feeder roads leading to the expressway were backed up; I was trapped.

After cursing whatever asshole had crashed, stalled whatever somewhere up the road I considered my options. I could sit in my truck and get some work done until I used up my laptop battery, walk around and find a bar, or stare at the traffic jam.

When I spotted a bar in a strip shopping center across the feeder road from the Doctor's office, I locked my laptop in the truck and started that way. What the hell, you haven't looked in years, a little window shopping, dreaming, won't hurt, I told myself, when saw a Harley Davidson dealership in the same strip center.

I felt like I had entered the Pearly Gates of Heaven the instant I stepped into the showroom. The smell of a dozen or so new Hogs struck me like compressed air being blown into my nose, the sight of that much beauty made me a little dizzy.

I was attracted to a Sportster, then to a lower sitting Fat Boy bike when a salesman attacked. Thankfully the young man either accepted my explanation that I was just looking and not going to buy, or picked up on my sticker-shocked face as I glanced at some of the price tags and backed off, leaving me to fondle his stable of beauties.

After ten minutes or so I started back toward the door, trying to decide if I wanted to go to the bar, or back to my truck and risk relieving my boiling loins in the truck cab, when I saw a bike parked in the back of the showroom. I stared at it for several seconds wondering if I was dreaming.

It was a newer, more streamlined clone of the last Hog I had built and ridden. Mine was an old Harley forty-five, a retired police bike, that I had rebuilt and customized, then had to sell to pay bills, years and years ago. The low rider rake we used to call hard-tailing, the extended fork angle of her front tire we used to call springers, even her paint and trim were almost identical. As I shuffled over to pet her I felt twenty years younger.

"A great bike, one of our line of Dyna Low Riders, what the old salt hard core bikers used to custom build," the salesman's voice interrupted me right after I began caressing her handgrips and teardrop tank. "But with twin cam, fifteen hundred cc engine, Sequential Fuel Injection, Kavlar drive and thirteen spoke alloy wheels. Oh, and raked to thirty-two degrees. What the old salts wished they could do."

This kid isn't too dumb, I thought.

"We have it back here until our boss decides what to do with it," he continued as he polished the instrument cluster on her gas tank. "It only has thirty-four miles on it, but it's a repo of sorts, already registered with the state and we can't sell it as new."

"She's beautiful," I whimpered. I tried to be discreet as I stroked her side-covers with my fingers, a spot my old bike always enjoyed getting petted.

"Yes, she is that," the young man answered. He flashed a slight grin and pushed a button on her right handgrip, bringing her engine to life.

I groaned at the hot-flash that fired through my groin as I felt as much as listened to her deep, bass exhaust as only a well built Hog could offer. When he pulled her throttle open and she proudly proclaimed her power, then cackled back to an idle with the perfectly tuned exhaust that we used to spend days and days adjusting exhaust baffles to sound like, I involuntarily put my hand over the crotch of my pants, hoping to cover any wet spot that might appear.

"I'm sure my manager would entertain any reasonable offer," the salesman said as he shut the engine off.

Yeah sure, I groaned as I looked at the price sticker Discounted from five dollars short of sixteen thousand to thirteen thousand. "Thanks, but I was just, looking," I groaned as I staggered toward the door.

The traffic jam on the expressway didn't look much better than before as I leaned against the side of the building and tried to catch my breath. I called Dad to tell him about the delay, and asked him to toss the backpack with my clothes in it into the van, that I would try to meet him and the boys at Adam's as soon as I could, before wandering down the sidewalk to the bar I had spotted earlier.

A cold beer, and change of atmosphere, helped me focus away from the big Hog. The thought that I had twenty-thousand dollars in checks in my truck made my mind drift back toward what looked like the future. Thirty, maybe more hours a week, billed at a hundred-fifty an hour, just this month! I told my glass. The majority of that the twins, or Junior can do from home, a fantastic learning experience, and if I paid them, ten dollars an hour, , , that's almost as much an hour as their weekly allowance is!

After glancing out at the still jammed expressway I ran a few more math calculations against my second beer. Even without the Director's job and salary, which still I wasn't too sure was going to work out, things looked very promising. The commitments I had under contract, and retirement and dividend income I had I could easily pay the bills and take care of my boys.

When I peeked outside and saw vehicles actually starting to move on the expressway I decided against a third round and left the bar. I took a minute to let my eyes adjust to the bright sunlight and was about to start back across the feeder road to my truck when the deep crackle of a big bike caught my attention. I took a deep breath when I looked down the strip center and saw the same salesman I had spoken with standing outside the Harley dealership, next to the bike I had lusted over a few minutes ago. I felt a little trapped when he flashed me a warm grin and racked her exhaust pipes, but couldn't resist walking over and to give her handlebars, maybe her side-covers a final grope.

"I've been told to take her, it, to the used bike lot," the salesman said. "It's really a shame, once its goes back there she loses all of her warranty and everything." His sad eyes reminded me of something, but I couldn't place what as he climbed off the bike. "My manager would entertain almost any offer, and with a full factory warranty." He leaned the still idling bike toward me.

Yeah, if I had the money to make one, I groaned, but balanced her and enjoyed the concert of her deep cackling exhaust. Damn! I thought when just a slight quiver of her throttle sparked her to life, a wonderful sound I hadn't heard, or felt in many, many years.

"Want to take her for a ride? We have a track behind the building," the young man offered.

As much as his face told me he was much more of a con man than I had thought, I straddled her. It only took a split second for my loins to heat up so much I thought I was going to explode in my pants as I settled into her low, plush leather seat and her engine gently massaged my crotch. Another rack of the throttle grip and I was a vibrant, horny twenty-year-old again.

"I am sure I can get my manager to agree to almost anything reasonable. We have excellent financing, if you have a job I bet I could get you approved, and something you can afford."

Something I can afford, would a thousand work? I thought. "I'll give you nine," my body said before I realized it.

His face told me dream on, but he recovered quickly. "I'll toss it out to the boss," he smiled as he shut the bike down. "What about down payment, , , well let me go see my manager." he mumbled and went inside before I could answer.

God, she is nothing less than a dream come true, I thought as I squirmed into her wonderfully comfortable seat and enjoyed the feel of her soft leather handgrips. Wrong handlebars, but I can live with that, I dreamed.

"We could let it go for eleven, and if you don't have any major blemishes on your credit, probably give you a hundred percent financing with low monthly payments, and take it, her home tonight!" the young salesman's voice snapped me back.

"Nine-five," a voice rang out. It took me a few seconds to realize it was mine, and I added, "And green stuff, well plastic cash on my American Express. You get your money tonight." You fucking fool! I groaned. "But, I would need my truck delivered to my house, and two helmets. And a full tank of gas."

Ten minutes later I somehow pried my credit card out of my wallet, signed the last of the title and registration paperwork and was standing next to my new toy. An omen, I thought as I looked out at the now normally flowing traffic on the expressway. I STILL don't believe I did this! I groaned as I straddled her and fumbled with my shoe looking for the kick-starter.

"Excuse me sir, but they have electric starters now," the salesman informed me, dollar signs still flashing in his eyes.

I knew that, I groaned, and steered my big Hog toward the street before I made an bigger fool out of myself.

It only took a couple of minutes to get my 'sea legs' back, and as I entered the expressway I felt like I was back on an old friend like I had ridden God only knows how miles and how many years ago. I resisted the urge to drop the hammer and head toward the hill country, and fairly well behaved myself as I rode her home.

After thanking the men for delivering my truck to the house, I went into the garage to find a couple of bungee cords, strapped my laptop case down to the buddy seat behind me and lit up my new lover.

She seemed to know her way to the freeway, and out of town. I still don't believe I'm doing this! I thought as I extended my legs to her highway pegs, leaned back and watched her speedometer climb.

Five kids, about to lose your job, and screw up the new one you had lined up, and you are sitting on a NEW Hog! You're fucking stupid! I groaned as I leaned through the turns on the narrow road to Adam's land.

I had entered my access code and was waiting for the gate to open when what seemed like a big shadow distracted me. "Hi, it's me," I offered to Zeus' angry face.

He can't hear me above these exhausts, I thought as the big animal reared back on his back legs and very threateningly waved his front hooves at me. I'm glad that's a tall fence, I just hope tall enough! I prayed as I idled my new girlfriend up the long driveway, Zeus right next to me on the other side of the fence giving me death stares.

Diablo was waiting at the pasture fence when I parked next to Adam's Jaguar. "Hi girl!" earned me an excited whinny from her, and another dirty look from Zeus.

Instead of going to the house I walked down to the pasture fence. After getting a warm snout rub and soft snort from Diablo as I petted her, Zeus stepped up to the fence and gave me then the motorcycle what seemed like a questioning look.

"She won't hurt you, or anyone," I told the big stallion. "Oh, and it is a she, something you might want to think about!" I tittered, wondering if I was really joking with a horse.

He gave me what I was sure a lost look, cast another gaze at my bike and let out a long neigh. Welcome back to the nut ranch! I chuckled as I grabbed my laptop and walked to the door to Adam's house.

Mary greeted me only a few seconds after I rang their door bell. "We were starting to get worried about you!" she bubbled as I followed her into their den and she took my laptop bag.

"Hi kiddo!" Dad's voice exclaimed from the kitchen. When I followed his voice his face had one of the most relaxed expressions I think I had ever seen, and he was giving me a casual salute with the spatula in his hand, but turned back to whatever he was cooking.

"All the boys, except Doctor Owens and Doctor Roberts, are out riding," Mary informed me and the beer she pushed into my hand. "Doctor, , , Adam has been expecting you," she declared as she somewhere between guided me and shoved me out the patio door.

"Christian, we were talking about you, it's great you could make it! We were starting to get worried about you!" Adam proclaimed. I took a drink of beer to help my tightening throat when not just Adam and Roberts were staring at me, but Cindy.

I started to question where the Roberts came from until I glanced down toward the pasture and saw Diablo and Zeus staring up at us, along with a couple of saddled horses.

"I, ah, encountered a traffic jam," I answered, deciding to make my new toy known later. I glanced at Adam's inviting pool, trying to think of a tactful way to excuse myself to change. and swindle a swimming invitation.

"We've been discussing the concern you brought up over lunch today," Adam said, to my disappointment pointing toward one of the loungers as he did.

"As I said, I have an idea that, , ," a loud, somewhat angry neigh from the pasture fence cut him off. Diablo pawed the dirt with one of her front hooves and let out a loud snort.

"Well, someone out here likes you!" Adam chuckled.

"I wonder if she knows you own her now," Cindy tittered.

"Anyway, what we had in mind is, , ," a loud whinny, followed immediately by a long neigh again interrupted our host. Zeus cocked up on his back legs and shadow boxed with his huge front hooves, while Diablo kicked her back legs up and again pawed the ground.

"I think you better ride them before they tear down the fence and come after you!" Cindy chuckled. "We'll go saddle them while you two change," she offered.

Yeah well, I thought as we watched both horses turn and prance toward the barn. I gave the pool another wishful glance and followed Adam inside.

I was glad to see Adam's full saddlebag, sweating with condensation over his shoulder as we walked down the hill. Yes Dear, I see! I quipped as Diablo posed at different angles, clearly showing off her saddle as we walked toward the horses. She let out a soft whinny and turned sideways, offering her saddle's stirrup like valet parking as I approached.

"Where's your fan club?" I asked her when I noticed there were only four horses in sight, far from the herd I was used to seeing around the barn.

"Should we show him?" Cindy snickered as she mounted her steed.

"They are his kids now!" Roberts quipped.

"He's been there, but, he hasn't seen it at full capacity!" Adam snickered as he swung into Zeus' saddle. The big stallion launched into warp three before anyone could respond.

Diablo let out a long, slow breath and her spine shivered like one of my squirming kids getting a back-rub when I climbed into her saddle. She trotted, then pranced like a show horse in the direction Adam and Zeus had gone for several yards and let out a soft whinny. Whatever I guess, I thought as I dug my fingers into her saddle and took what I hope wasn't my final deep breath.

"Go for it girl," I all but whimpered. Me and my big mouth! I groaned as my neck jerked back and I felt what had to be her afterburner kick in.

After what seemed like a hundred or so miles, and several near-death experiences, she seemed to have had her run, and settled into a gentle walk next to Zeus. Thankfully Cindy and her husband joined us a minute or so later complete with the magic saddle bag and a fresh beer for everyone.

"Feel better?" Adam asked as he reached over and stroked Diablo's neck. "She's missed you," he said toward me. "She hasn't let anyone, even me, ride her all week."

"She wouldn't even let us saddle her, she broke a heavy lead rope when Adam tried," Cindy added. Diablo pranced a few steps as an answer.

"What I started to tell you back at the house," Adam began. He snickered and looked back to Diablo and said, "IF we can talk now, people talk?" He closed his eyes and shook his head when my ride gave him a rather indignant snort.

"With the new campus, and the number of kids we are soon going to serve, we need to reorganize, and make some mid-course corrections regarding our staff positions," Cindy injected.

Hey, this might be easy, I'm going to get fired before I can quit! Before I'm hired almost! I thought.

"We are considering bringing in another professional level person," Adam continued.

A couple of high pitched giggles ringing out of nowhere distracted me. After taking a second to try and get my bearings, and I recognized a ridge I had seem before. "Lake Skinny, , , the Lake?" I risk.

"And your flock, most of your new charges," Cindy giggled almost like a teenage girl.

"You might want this," Adam added, pushing a fresh beer into my hand.

Yeah, I think I might, I thought as I popped the beer open and guided my steed to the top of the ridge. I took a long swig and grinned as I looked down at the sea of naked boys swimming and wading as carefree as if they were in the Garden of Eden in the pond below us. Several horse foals were playing with them as what had to be almost three dozen horses stood on the bank and watched.

Johnny's fire engine red hair caught my attention as he bounced around. It took me a few seconds to find Timmy and my boys. "Well, that's a switch!" I chuckled as Junior and Timmy waded out of the water, hand in hand.

"This has become somewhat of a Friday afternoon tradition," Adam began in a quiet voice. "Of course all underground; us establishment grownup types don't know anything about it, but besides our sons that is probably seventy-five percent of our residents down there."

Damn! I chuckled as I looked at the thirty or forty boy-butts bouncing around the pond.

"We're going to have to buy more horses soon, maybe you would be a good person to take on that task, just be sure they are all swimmers." Adam said in a quiet voice. "We better go before we are noticed," he added before I could think of an answer.

"Now, IF we don't have another interruption," he tittered as we joined the Roberts.

"We want to hire an additional staff member, to work between the two campuses," Cindy continued. "For now we'll call the position, Social Services Coordinator, but titles are, well, just words on a business card."

"He would report to you and the other director and be responsible for some of the day-to-day counseling needs with the boys, as well as reviewing and qualifying new residents, taking a lot of work off of my shoulders," Adam added.

"And be liaison with CPS, and the other social service agencies we deal with, freeing some of my time, and free you up to do what we want you to do, work with our kids," Cindy injected. "We have all but decided on a candidate, but have a couple of questions.

"The easy one's first," she continued over her husband's voice, who started to say something. "I know how close you and Tim Young are to each other, how would you feel about being his supervisor? How do you think he would feel about working for you?"

I had to grab Diablo's saddle horn to keep my balance as her questions sunk in. I don't think Tim has really ever 'worked' for anyone, he is indeed a free spirit! I silently chuckled. He just fools people into thinking he is doing what they tell him.

"How do you think he would feel about moving?" Adam injected.

"I don't see any problem working with Tim, I think we could work very well together." I answered. "But, Tim has a very high ranking position with CPS, along with at least as much seniority. I'm not sure, actually I doubt he'd consider moving out of that position."

"I meant moving his family out here," Adam replied. "Once we find the candidate we want we have no problem offering what it takes to recruit him, but we do like to have our key staff on campus."

"We had in mind to ask him to move into one of the empty cottages on your campus for a couple of months while we build a house for him, probably next to your new one," Cindy continued.

"IF we make the offer," her husband cut her off. "I , or we, do have one concern about Mister Young," he fired off, giving his wife a dirty look. "We know Mister Young used to be associated with, with motorcycle gangs, the Hell's Angels or whatever."

His statement caught me completely off guard and I glanced at Adam. I was sure Adam knew I too was an old biker, and his upset glare, aimed at Roberts, told me there might be some trouble in paradise.

"All of those motorcycle nuts are known to be rather homophile, or at the least red neck," Roberts continued. I had to grab the saddle horn again, this time as Diablo stumbled slightly when he added, "I'm not sure I'm ready to trust one of those types around our youngsters."

I couldn't help wondering if my horse was thinking the same thing I was as she twisted her ears completely around to point at me, and I thought of the big Hog parked in Adam's driveway.

I could feel the tension like a vise tightening around all of us, even in the openness of the pasture as everyone digested Roberts outburst; even the horses stood motionless.

Cindy seemed to at least somewhat recover first. "Carl, we talked about this, and your comment was completely out of line!" she snarled.

"I think it is important enough to bring out into the open," her husband retorted. "We are dealing with the future of many boys here, and I don't want to, , ,"

"Banditos," I cut him off. "Tim never was a Hell's Angel, but both us are members of the Banditos Motorcycle club. I still have my colors, I'm sure Tim does too."

I paused and took a deep breath, trying to resist the urge to nail Roberts to the cross as I wanted to do, so badly. My years of dealing with bigots at the base paid off and I gave him a harsh stare instead of punching him out. I started to tell him off, but knew better than to start.

"Well, at least we cleared the air, before anyone made any mistakes that cant be reversed," I managed.

I ignored Cindy and Adam's pleas and rode to the top of the ridge overlooking Lake Skinny Dip. "Jerry, Jeff! All of my boys, get dressed, we're going home!" I yelled out. "Right now boys, you have five minutes!

"Let's go back to the house girl," I told Diablo. I was so pissed I just leaned into the wind as she bolted into what I was sure was at least Mach 2 airspeed. When she quit accelerating and settled into what seemed like a constant speed I found myself looking around her mane for her throttle, to be sure it was wide open.

Zeus skidded to a stop at the pasture gate a second or so behind Diablo. "Christian, wait a minute, let's talk, please," Adam gasped, both of us trying to catch our breath.

I started to continue through the gate, but turned around and leaned against it. "Carl was completely out of line," he panted. Diablo gently pushed me with her big snout away from the gate a little and gave me a sad look.

"That's not the environment I expected I was joining," I said. "What does prejudice mean? I'm sorry Adam, but this just isn't going to work."

We both turned back toward the pasture when the thunder of hooves distracted us, and I'm sure both of us did a double take at the huge herd of horse-flesh charging toward us like Custer's Army.

Mark dove off his still running steed into his surprised dad's arms as Junior dove off and pushed against Adam. Johnny, Carl and Pieter instantly surrounded my waist with their long arms and pushed against my stomach and hips.

I had to blink a couple of times to believe what my eyes were reporting, and the thirty plus kids staring at us, many of them barefoot and pulling shirts over their necks and chests.

"Please Pop, we wanta talk to you!" Johnny whimpered. He gave Jeff a questioning glance, but accepted his bottom headgear strap, wrapped it around his thin neck and hooked it to his facebow before continuing, "PLEASE! Ginger said that Diablo said that," he stopped in mid-sentence as Erbert climbed out of the youngster's fanny pack and painfully clawed his way up our torsos.

"Would you guys excuse us for a minute?" Roberts voice interrupted. "It doesn't look much like an Olive branch, but the best I could do on short notice," he said as he held a small cedar twig out toward me.

I started to turn away, but when I did the blinding stare of what felt like at least a million eyes drilling into my skull, and the sea of young boys, their horses right behind them waiting for my next move.

Ouch, I groaned. And I could have retired like normal people do! 'Welcome to Walmart, would you like a basket?' I practiced.

To Be Continued…