My Flock

Chapter 11

I don't believe it, I made it to heaven! After all the shit I pulled when I was young? Unbelievable! I thought as my eyes began to focus and I looked around the plushly furnished bedroom. It took a minute or so to realize I wasn't inside the Pearly Gates, but in Adam's guest room, the one I had occupied for the last couple of nights.

Oh God, is that what you meant by paying my penitence? I wondered when I tried to pull the bed sheets off. Every muscle in my body expressed a very painful protest, but somehow I managed to slither out of bed. As painful as it was, my bladder threatening to explode overrode my rubbery legs objection to accepting any form of weight bearing, and I somehow managed to stagger to the bathroom.

I started to turn back and return to that wonderfully soft bed I had just abandoned as I approached the landing and looked down the seemingly miles long flight of stairs ahead of me, but the wonderful aroma of a coffee pot below made me press on, and somehow I managed to crawl downstairs.

"Good morning Christian!" Mary's bubbly voice painfully pierced my ears. "Adam and the boys are in the pool, I'll bring your coffee right out!" I grunted something and, after leaning on the door handle for a few seconds trying to gain the strength to press on, I crept outside.

Adam's cheery greeting made me shudder and wonder why everyone was yelling so loud, but I managed to sink into a lounger next to him. God Damn man, I have a worst hangover of my life, and your damn horse crippled every muscle in my body beyond repair, what are you so happy about? I wondered.

"Pop!" a high pitched voice added to my agony.

"Dad!" another chimed in, attacking my brain. Before I could recover from their piercing shrieks one, then another wet little body landed in my lap. At first I thought that was surely my death nail, that I'd soon be explaining my sins to Saint Peter, but the cool water dripping onto my thighs and lap, along with the cheek kisses and hugs I was getting seemed to absorb some of my pain.

"Ain't you gonna swim with us, please?" Johnny begged. He blushed slightly and looked over at Adam. "I mean aren't you going to?" he whined.

"Yeah, please?" Carl added as he squirmed around and molded his thin body to my chest and stomach.

"Ah, maybe later, maybe after coffee," I managed to grunt. "I'm a little stiff and sore, maybe, , ,"

"Doctor Pop said you get to ride Diablo from now on, will you teach me to ride her too?" Carl cut me off.

"Me too please? Ginger said that 'cause you're old and stuff, she might listen to you!" Johnny injected.

"Can we go with you to town, please? I have my allowance money sir! I mean Pop!" a voice I knew as Pieter's asked. Before I could look around another thin body pushed against my side and joined our snuggle.

"Shoo! Shoo, all of you! Let Mister Miller have his coffee!" Mary barked. I resisted the wonderful aroma of the coffee cup and enjoyed a quick snuggle from each of them before they darted away back into the pool.

"I thought you might want to sleep in a bit," Adam began, thankfully in a softer voice. "I wanted to thank you for rushing to help last night," he added, toasting his cup to me. "I'm sorry you missed all the excitement, but they are three absolutely beautiful foals, aren't they! I was surprised how well their mares accepted you!"

Okay, whatever, I thought. As hard as I tried, the last thing I remembered from last night was the bright Texas stars above me turning to plasma as Venus launched us both into hyperwarp, and what I was sure our doom. A healthy sip of coffee woke my brain up somewhat, but didn't seem to help my pain-ridden back and legs.

"I did want to talk to you, if I may," he continued. "I know how much you enjoy riding Venus, but she is nearing the time to drop her foal. I'd, well Steven and I would like you to start riding another horse, one more suited to your advanced skill level."

Skill level or survival instinct? Does it have brakes? And a kill switch, and headlights? I silently asked, trying to believe what he was saying.

"We bought her for the Ranch, but she's a little too, , , spirited for any of the kids to ride," he added. I had to shake my head to be sure I wasn't having a nightmare when he added, "I think she is perfect for you, she loves to run as much as you do, and she's almost as fast as Zeus."

I was trying to find a tactful way of telling that, if my back and legs ever recovered enough that I could walk to the pasture, it still would be a cold day in hell before I mounted another horse when the pool falling completely silent distracted me. When I looked over at first all the boys were standing motionless in the water, then an instant later all of them began scrambling to the bank like the water had suddenly started boiling or something.

About half of them were out of the water when the patio door opened. "Breakfast is ready!" Mary announced.

I thought at first Adam and I were going to have to put down a revolt as we finished eating when I announced to my clan we were going into town for a few minutes. That was until I announced we were going to go buy everyone jeans, then I thought we'd have to physically force them upstairs to change out of their speedos.

When they came back downstairs it was clear that, besides changing clothes, they had conducted a high level tactical planning session. They wasted no time in announcing their plan. Bobby, Mike, Timmy Jerry and my four Mouseketeers were going to be with me, while the others stayed behind with Adam.

I tried to challenge question their plan, asking Jeff if he wanted new jeans and reminding him it would be wise if he tried them on before buying them, but was quickly put in my place when Jerry shot his brother a pointedly disgusted look and informed me, "We are twins Dad, remember?"

I hadn't noticed Johnny staring out the patio door until we started toward the front door. I was about to ask him if he wanted to stay and be with his four legged friends when he turned back toward us. "I told Ginger what's going on, take her with you and she'll explain it Diablo," he told Ronnie before rushing to join us.

Johnny assumed command of our 'mission' even before I reached the end of Adam's long drive way, telling me which way to turn to get back to the freeway. Although I tried to explain to him his dad had told me which store to go to, and that I knew exactly where it was, he almost reminded me of a talking version of the GPS system I had in my aircraft, even telling which lanes to change to as we approached San Antonio. I forced myself to clench the steering wheel tightly, instead of his thin neck, when he picked out our parking place for me.

As I expected the boys darted ahead of me when we entered the store, Johnny in the lead. I tried to ignore my sore legs' complaints and hastened my pace to catch up with them. Well, he is my kind of shopper! I snickered as they rushed directly to the boys' section and to a table of jeans, ignoring all the other displays and sale ads. For such a little rat, he does have some leadership qualities! I thought as he all but ignored the sales clerk trying to help them and supervised Jerry, then Carl and Timmy as they searched for their size, then sent them to the nearby fitting rooms. It took me a minute realize I was a couple of kids shy.

When I glanced around Pieter was browsing a display of the oversized western style belt buckles nearby that routinely covered about half of Adam's kids stomachs, Mike and Bobby were studying the store's floor tile twenty or so feet behind everyone else.

"Come on guys, go find your size," I suggested as I walked toward them. Mike gave me a bashful look as Bobby turned away from me. "Hurry, the line is getting longer and longer at the fitting rooms," I tried, gently cupping the back of their necks with my hand. My chest tightened when Mike looked up at me with an almost frightened look. "Two pair, and find a belt and buckle, and a couple of tee-shirts," I told them.

Mike glanced toward the other boys, back at me then slipped out of my grasp and scampered next to Johnny, but Bobby took a deep breath and started to twist out of my hand toward the front of the store.

"Don't you want some new jeans? You seemed to like wearing the ones you borrowed," earned just a slight shoulder shrug. "Did you want another kind, were they uncomfortable?" I asked, or risked as I pulled him against my stomach. I was pleased that he didn't resist, even leaned into me. "You can buy whatever you want," I softly told the top of his head.

"But, they are, , , well twenty-five dollars each," he whimpered. "And I only got, well," he paused, then stuffed his hand into the front of his shorts. "Ah, six dollars," he whined, holding out a wad of mushy paper pulp that looked a little like bills out. I had to turn away and take a deep breath as the almost visible fumes of sweat and boy floated up toward me.

"Put your money away, I'm buying," I gagged, trying to sound as friendly as possible, and hoping he didn't notice the drops from my watering eyes dripping on his head as what seemed like a green funk attached them. "Two pair, now go!" I added, pushing him toward Johnny. I managed to find a display shelf to lean against until my lungs drew in enough aroma free air that I could catch my breath, and my eyes focused again.

I had to look away and fight back tears a few minutes later as we started toward the stores' checkout registers. Bobby pushed his way under my arm and I looked down, he was holding is new prizes against his chest, clinging to them like treasures. Fuck what people might think, I decided as I leaned down, kissed his pixie little nose and pulled him into a cuddle. I'd pay twenty-five hundred a pair for another of those, I though as I enjoyed his happy high pitched giggle.

We were stuffing our packages into my already over crowded mini-van when a cell phone began chirping. Shit, this is as bad as at work! I thought as all of my charges pulled at their thin waist line and checked their phones.

Johnny plucked his off his hip and flashed me a slight grin as he folded it open. "Yeah, , , yeah what don't she understand? I told Erbe. . ." he stated to say into his phone . He flashed a couple of distressed looks down at his instrument for a few seconds before glancing at me, then the other kids. "That's NOT what I said!" he barked into the mouthpiece, his soprano voice as demanding as any thirteen-year-old world leaders could be. "Put her on, I want to talk to her, RIGHT NOW!" he demanded as he turned away from us.

Her? I asked myself. Her almost has to be Mary, or Cindy, and Johnny's not going to snap at them like that, I thought. I was trying to dismiss the other possibilities that came to mind, hoping I would wrap up my weekend at Adam's nut farm with some sanity, when Jerry pushed against me.

"Maybe we can go straight home, I mean to Johnny's house, we're not too hungry or nothing!" he asked.

"Please we gotta!" Johnny begged as he hopped into the van.

No one is ever going to believe this shit, I thought as I guided my overloaded mini-van onto the highway, asking her to give me every ounce of horsepower her mighty two liter engine could. And life use to be so simple! A few FBI agents chasing you across the country, a druggie or two carving on your arm. Is that what Dad always refers to as the Good Old Days? I wondered as I buried the van's accelerator pedal into the carpet and waited for my overloaded tortoise to lumber up to highway speed.

Whatever plot that was unfolding seemed to thicken as I turned into the gate to Adam's property and waited for it to open. Ginger and another horse were waiting at the gate, but just gave us a brief glance before galloping up the long drive, Ginger turning her long neck back toward us every few yards, somehow I got the impression she was glaring at me for not keeping up.

Johnny bailed out of the van even before I had come to a complete stop in front of the house and broke into a dead run, Jerry and a couple of other of the boys right behind. What the hell is going on? I asked myself as I watched them, dart down to the fence. I could tell Johnny was really pushing, his limp surely more pronounced than I think I had ever seen it, but he was sprinting faster than Jerry and Timmy despite their longer legs.

"Go on, I'll get the packages into the house," I told Carl, Bobby and the others as they started after their friends then turned back and cast me frightened looks. Johnny and the two horses had just disappeared behind Adam's house as I ignored my still very sore back's objections and struggled toward the door with a double armload of sacks.

Adam and Mary were standing side by side staring out the patio when I staggered into the family room. "What's going on? Is anything wrong?" I asked as I dropped my cargo on their couch..

"I'm not sure, a family dispute of some sort," Adam somewhat chuckled. "A family problem within the herd," I corrected himself.

"I don't know either, but it must be serious, here comes Zoe!" Mary added.

"Damn, it must be! And with Ho Ho, that's unbelievable! " Adam exclaimed after he glanced back toward the pasture for a second.

"Hijo, Doctor!" Mary barked. "He's a beautiful boy!"

"Ha Ha, Hi-ho, whatever! The first animal born on from my herd is what most breeders only dream of, a high value stud property, and I get to market it with a name from He Haw, or Saturday Night Live." he quipped.

I guess seeing my lost, concerned face he continued, "Zoe is the herd's Alpha mare, their matriarch if you will. But it's all but impossible she would risk coming out of maternity leave and bring her colt out of the safety of the paddock, much less the barn this early!"

"Pow-wow time," Mary injected, making us turn back to the pasture.

I'm beginning to think this is a scene from Saturday Night Live, or maybe another flashback, I thought as I looked back at the pasture. Zoe, Zeus, Ginger and a couple of other horses had formed into a semi-circle in front of Johnny and Ronnie, all of them staring intently at Johnny; Something that at first reminded me of the National Football League referee conferences I had seen on TV. All the other boys except Junior and Mark were lined up behind Johnny and Ronnie, Junior and Mark were standing off to the side of the formation with Hijo between them, suckling on Junior then Mark's thumb.

Well, maybe more like an offensive huddle? Or a command conference before the General's go into battle? I wondered as wondered as we watched Johnny point at one, then another horse, even turning to his two legged audience behind him. I'm losing it, after all these years, I told myself as Zoe, then Zeus stepped forward and glared at one, then another horse, even getting a couple of head nods from some of them.

"I can't wait to hear about this adventure!" Mary tittered as she stepped away from the door. "But I think I better begin a high energy lunch, with extra large portions!" she chuckled. "Oh, what did you buy?" she added as she looked into the boys packages. "I'll get these washed right away," she added, gathering them up.

More boys and horses had joined the Summit-On-the-Pasture when I looked back outside. I really hate to do this but, they need to get their headgear time in, I better catch them before they get away, I thought. I started to step outside and yell at them, but remembered their new cell phones and pulled mine off my hip.

When I glanced back toward the pasture to decide who to call Jeff was staring, maybe better put scowling at the house. An instant later Jerry fired his twin a dirty look then rushed over to Johnny. Okay, this might be good! I told myself as Jeff and Junior broke away from the group and sprinted up the hill.

"What's going on, is anything wrong?" Adam asked as the two of them burst into the room and rushed to the breakfast bar."

"Nothing! We just forgot our headgears!" Jeff slurred as both of them frantically stuffed their facebows into their mouths. "We didn't wanta get in any trouble or, , ,"

"He meant we wanted to be sure we got all our wear time in!" Junior cut him off. "So our teeth get all straight and stuff," he panted as he ran around the room, gathering up different sets of high-dollar, precision fitted facebows and traction straps like they were so much scrap doomed for the trash heap.

"With the horses, Junior!" Adam countered. "What's going on, they love you guys but don't get in over your heads, they are big animals and can hurt you," he declared in a stronger voice than I think I had ever heard him use toward kids.

"Nothing Sir! We were just gonna go riding! Well go riding and play, ah take care of the babies!" Junior answered, flashing another of his Alfalfa smiles. "But, please Doctor Pop!" he exclaimed.

I could have sworn I saw his cowlick pushing against his headgear straps as he held out a tangled mess of stainless steel facebows and nylon strapping he was carrying, more like they were wrinkled dirty laundry than orthodontic appliances, before adding, "Please, we gotta go! Everyone's waiting for their headgears, and, , , if they don't get them quick, , , ah, their teeth might not get straight and stuff!" They both bolted out the door before either Adam or I could recover enough to respond.

Adam and I exchanged lost looks for a split second. "Saddle Zeus! And Diablo!" he barked out the patio door. "I think we might need them," he moaned as he walked back into the room.

"Christian, sometimes I all but wish I was your age, as close to retirement as you are," Adam groaned. "By the time I can think about retirement, that little pirate will be in his fourth, maybe fifth term in the Oval Office, and probably have not only total control of our economy, but my retirement funds!" he tittered as he handed me a beer.

"I wonder if that's his Vice President running next to him," I chuckled. "What the hell is going on down there?"

"They are being boys! And Junior is a sweet boy, leave him alone! Devious little devil, but sweet." Mary snickered from the kitchen.

The pasture was a furry of activity when we looked again. Zoe was wandering back toward the barn trying to deal with Hijo trying to get a snack from her udder and keep him out of the way of the numerous, now saddled, horses being spat out of the structure at what seemed like production line speed. Buddy and a tiny figure were standing in front of the barn door almost like traffic cops, directing each horse one way or the other.

Jeff and Junior had just reached the barn when all the boys rushed out of the barn. After everyone strapped themselves into their headgear Johnny scooped Erbert up and stuffed him into his fanny pack as Junior and the twins mounted their steeds. As soon as Johnny climbed into Ginger's saddle she bolted away in a full gallop, the twins and Junior's mounts right behind.

"I think it might be an interesting afternoon," Adam moaned.

I couldn't help but wonder if his horses heard him as Zeus cut off the other saddled horses from following the others, and Zoe stuck her head back out of the barn and let out a couple of loud neighs.

"But, I'm going swimming, we probably have a few minutes before hell breaks loose, too badly," he said. "Keep a pair of jeans handy," he suggested as the other boys rushed into the barn.

Jeans my ass! If we have to climb onto another one of those beasts today someone's going to be VERY sorry! my sore legs threatened as I painfully started up the stairs. I'm not sure if Adam's caution or my legs complaints made me roll a pair of shoes inside a pair of long pants before I struggled back down to the family room.

What the hell, I hope I'm not imposing, I thought as I stepped behind the bar and grabbed a fresh beer out of its little refrigerator. I had just opened it when the patio door opened and Carl and Mark rushed in, Bobby and Mike right behind. Bobby, Mike and Carl scanned the room for a second or then looked at me with lost, somewhat frightened faces.

"Hi guys! What's up?" I tried.

"I kinda wanted to wear my new pants," Carl answered.

"They are in the washer," Mary answered from behind the breakfast bar. "Wait another hour or so."

All four boys faces had just started to melt when Adam emerged from his bedroom. "Hey guys, you're not riding?" he asked.

"No sir," Mark whispered as he turned back toward the door.

"Is something wrong, the horses seem to be upset?"

"We just came up so Carl and them can change their jeans sir," Pieter all but cut Adam off as he followed Mark toward the door, my three right behind.

"Would SOMEONE mind telling me what is going on?" Adam somewhat asked, more so demanded. "Where did Johnny and the other's go, what are all the horses so upset about?" The youngsters froze for a second or so, then turned back toward us.

"Ah, well, , , I wanted to put on my new Levis! That's all Sir!" Carl told the carpet then the patio door.

"Mark! Pieter! Would someone care to tell me what is going on, with the horses? Now, Please!" Adam snarled.

Mark and Pieter backed away from Adam toward me as Mike and Bobby exchanged looks. Carl scanned the room again and pushed against my side.

"Ah, well, ah, , , they went to find Diablo," Mark stammered. "That's all."

Adam flashed a lost look at me, then his son. "I think there's more to it than that, what was the great war council about? Come on, I know you guys, if you're not riding with everyone else something heavy is going on."

Mark and Pieter stared at each other for a couple of seconds as they both shifted their feet nervously. "Well, ah, we think she ran away, Diablo did. Well Ginger told Johnny she did." Pieter whimpered.

"And Ronnie and them couldn't find her forever this morning, then when they saw her she ran from them." Mark continued. He shifted his feet and gave the patio door a longing look before adding, "Ginger got to talk to her for a minute, but she ran away from her and said she's not coming back."

Damn, what imaginations! I thought as I bit my lip to keep from laughing. Put all these guys together they could write a block buster movie.

Adam caught me completely off guard when he asked, "Do you know why she is distraught? I mean what she is mad about?" I got another shock when I looked across the room, his face showed genuine concern, along with the professionalism I had seen when he helped Mike in Orlando.

"Ah, she don't think no one likes her," Mark told the carpet.

"No one ever wants to ride her because they think she's ugly, and now the other horses tease her," Pieter injected. "That's what she told Ginger."

"And someone told her a grownup's gonna ride her from now on and she's afraid Pop's gonna be mean to her and stuff," Mark told my shoes.

"But he won't! Will you?" Carl exclaimed as he squirmed closer to me and pushing his head into my chest.

"What is going on now? I think it be wise for me to intercede," Adam said, his face much more sincere than I expected. "I mean, should I go and try to help?"

"No! Please Dad don't!" Mark screeched.

"Please don't Doctor Pop! Zoe said if too many people go she's going to get even more scared, she even told Zeus not to go!" Pieter took over. "She told Ginger and Johnny what to say to her and told everyone to stay here."

"And Jerry and Jeff are gonna tell her about Pop, that he won't hurt her or stuff," Mark continued. "And they can understand Ginger and Erbert like Johnny can, and, , , well, please don't!"

"Sounds like a plan," Adam responded. "Let me know if I can help. I'm going swimming, anyone else?" he said as he stood, kissed Mark and Pieter on the top of their heads and went onto the patio.

I felt the wind currents, even inside Adam's house, tousle my hair when Mary announced, "I'm going to make a Root Beer Float, anyone else want one?"

Damn, if they are that good, maybe I should try one! I thought a second or so later as I stepped outside and saw Timmy, Ronnie even Buddy charging toward the door. Thankfully I was able to step to the side before I was stampeded as they rushed toward the kitchen.


"Well, they found her!" Adam's voice rudely disturbed the wonderful slumber I had been enjoying floating in his pool, the back of my head anchoring my against its deck. My neck somewhat begrudgingly accepted my command to lean forward in time to see several mounted horses and an unsaddled one trotting toward the house.

"Come on, let's go see how everything worked out," he suggested as he climbed out of the water. I was trying to think of a tactful way of telling him I had no interest in meeting his emotionally disturbed mare when he added, "It's important she meets you, not just for her but for the boys. I'm very proud of how maturely they dealt with this whole situation, we have to reinforce their efforts" Some in his expression told me he had at least partially picked up on my thoughts.

A little begrudgingly I crawled out of the pool, ignored my legs complaints as I put on my sandals, grabbed my tee-shirt and accepted a fresh beer from my host.

"I should tell you I misjudged Diablo, she's not as spirited as I thought, as I told you earlier," he began as he walked, I crept down the hill praying my legs wouldn't fail me, or go on strike. "Think of her as, well as a shy teenager, please be gentle with her until she learns to trust you."

Until SHE trusts ME? I silently gasp. Unless there is an owner's manual and a safety inspection sticker on her, , ,

"I hope you take this in the spirit I offer it," he interrupted my thought. "But I'd appreciate it if you didn't push her as hard as you did Venus, at least at first." I guess he mis-read my lost expression as I tried to believe what I had just heard, and he added, "You are welcome to take Zeus out for a run anytime, I know both of you would enjoy yourselves."

That's not a shy teenager, it's a furry, four-legged skyscraper! I thought as I looked over the huge animal on the other side of the fence. It was almost as tall as Zeus and had leg and neck muscles that would make world class weight-lifters turn green with jealousy. I'll talk to her, but there is no way in hell I'm getting on that thing. I promised my legs and back.

"Dad! Pop!" Johnny hooted as he bailed off of Ginger and ran toward the gate. "Come on Pop you gotta meet Diablo!"

"Yeah, come on Dad she's neat!" the twins chimed in as they jumped off their steeds and petted the burnt brown goliath staring through the fence rails at me. Either her massive head, or her huge, threateningly large black eyes somehow brought my slight knowledge of Tex-Mex to life and I realized what her name meant in Spanish, 'Devil'.

"Come on Dad!" Carl's high pitched voice rang from behind me. Before I had to turn one pair of small hands, then several more began pushing me into the pasture as Johnny grasped my hand and all but dragged me through the gate.

"Wow! You're pretty!" Carl proclaimed as he bolted in front of me and jumped up trying to reach the monster's neck. I almost had a heart attack when the beast flashed a snarl of huge, very threatening teeth, turned her massive neck and pushed her head against my youngest son's chest. "Yeah! She likes me!" Carl screeched as he threw his arms out and hugged her snout.

"Remember, be gentle with her, she is very traumatized, just look at her," Adam whispered in my ear as the other boys hugged and petted her, Ginger pushing her snout into the celebration.

A loud, almost ear piercing whinny interrupted their little party, making Ginger and Diablo shutter.

"Oh shi, , , ah uh oh," Johnny groaned as I followed everyone's eyes to the barn.

Oh shit might have been a better way of putting it, I thought when I saw Zeus standing next to Zoe and Hijo, all three of them about half way out the barn door, both the older horses casting nasty stares at us. And I should be drifting around Orlando, a sane parent, I thought as Johnny, Ronnie, Ginger and Diablo slithered toward the barn, and what they seemed to know as their demise.

"Thanks Pop they fit perfect!" Bobby exclaimed as he pushed his thin body against me. "Ah I mean Mister, , , ah well I mean POP!" he hooted as he ran his hands over the thighs of his new, skin tight Levis.

"Yeah, they feel really neat and everything!" Carl's excited voice chimed in as he pushed against my other hip.

After I made sure the big devil I had been trying to protect myself from was far enough a way to risk looking around I had to chuckle at the sea of bubble butts and lathe little bodies, accented so perfectly in their hip hugging western jeans, their wide leather belts highlighting their bony hips and thin waists that were surrounding me. Better than those damn baggy shorts they used to wear! I thought.

"Yea! Look!!!" Mark cut my thoughts off.

"See I told you it was gonna be cool!" Jeff added as they looked toward the barn and cheered.

"Yeah Dad! She likes you she said you can ride her! Yeah! Yea too cool!" Jerry hooted.

Oh SHIT! I groaned as I watched Diablo bounce out of the barn, dancing around and showing off her saddle as she pranced toward us, Ginger and Zeus right behind her.

"Yeah Dad!" Jeff added as he pushed under my arm. I thought about trying to escape out the pasture gate, but was surrounded by a herd of kids before I could.

"Well, thanks guys but, but I can't right now!" I tried. "Hey, all I am wearing is my swim trunks and sandals!"

"Here Pop! I brought these!" Junior countered as he pushed the rolled up jeans and shoes I, now regrettably, had carried downstairs. If one kills a future President, before he is one, is it still an assassination? my fingers asked his skinny neck as I thought about how much I would enjoy strangling the life out of him.

"Guys, maybe later, I, ah," I began, trying desperately to think of a good excuse.

"Just remember she's still unstable, please be gentle with her," Adam said in a soft voice. His words early this morning rang back; 'Loves to run, too much for any of the kids to handle'. Oh Lord, is someone going tell her to be GENTLE with me? I prayed.

I didn't get to wait for an answer to my prayer long, a huge horse head filled my field of vision before I could get a reply.

"Here Dad," one of the twins voice distracted me. When I looked down Jerry was holding my jeans open for me to step into, then an instant later two little bodies pushed against me. Oh shit, I thought as I felt someone lifting one of my legs. Oh God, what a way to die, I thought as I was dressed by what had to be a dozen little hands.

I began to accept that my fate was sealed when I looked up from my little army of valets, Diablo was standing sideways a couple of feet in front of me, her saddle's stirrup just a step away. I had let out a long sigh of resignation, what I was sure was one of my final breaths when a thin body pushed against my side and threw his arms around my beer belly.

"She understands, Pop, Erbert told her and she promises to be good," Johnny whispered as he looked up at me with a thin smile.

"She promised she won't run or anything unless you tell her," Jeff added as he pushed against my other hip.

"But, Erbert sorta wanted to ride too," Jerry said as he pushed me toward Diablo from behind.

What happened to the simple life? A pair of telepathic teenage twins, an empathic bunny and a thirteen-year-old retired porn star slash cop-magnet was a piece of cake to deal with! I wondered as I glanced between Erbert and Diablo's knowing, almost identical grins. I'm losing it, I really am! I decided as I noticed Ginger's knowing look.

Well, at least make it quick and painless, please God, I silently begged as I half climbed, half was hoisted into Diablo's saddle. What the hell, I'm half way to heaven, I just hope I get to stay up there! I thought as I looked down from my lofty perch.

I don't even believe this, I told myself when Jeff handed Erbert up to me. I let the bug-eyed little rat squirmed his butt between my legs and perch his front paws on the saddle horn, then looked around. Okay, where's the clutch, the throttle? I teased myself. Thanks, do you want to drive? I snickered as I looked down and saw Erbert holding Diablo's reins in his mouth, glaring at me as if saying 'Well?'

Our ride went much better than I could have hoped for. Diablo even seemed a little tentative at first, but after a minute or so perked her ears, stuck her huge head high in the air and began almost strutting as we walked among the boys and their mounts. I ignored my back's objection and chuckled when we neared a group of unsaddled horses and she began prancing like a show horse.

Adam rode with us for a couple of minutes before either he, or Zeus, seemed not to be able to handle it anymore and turned away. Oh shit, here we go, I thought when his big steed launched into a full gallop, everyone but my Mouseketeers taking out after Zeus. The Mouseketeers had to fairly harshly rein their animals in to keep them from chasing after the others, but to my surprise Diablo just wiggled her haunches and kept walking.

"We'll try that later girl, I promise," I told her before I realized it, which earned me a happy neigh from my mount.

"Look! There's Mom and Dad!" Pieter announced a few minutes later. I again was surprised when I followed his gaze and saw two mounted riders running toward us.

"Well, I had heard you are an accomplished rider, but I am truly impressed!" Cindy began as they joined us. "Until now Adam and I have been the only ones that can control her, and I can't make her walk for very long!"

"She's a wonderful horse," I answered. "A real pleasure to ride!" I added as I petted her huge neck and tried to ignore Erbert's 'you are so full of it!' glare.

"I think she is doing great, you two make a good pair," Adam said as he joined our group. "The other guys went exploring," he said toward the Mouseketeers.

Although the boys seemed a little fidgety as we rode and chatted they were fairly relaxed, seeming to enjoy telling Carl and Cindy about the new foals and their great adventure watching them come into the world.

My Carl was showing off his new 'uniform' (jeans) when his cell phone rang. His eyes widened, then he broke into an blinding grin as he grunted into his phone for a few seconds. Johnny's phone rang while Carl was talking, and after he listened to the instrument for a split second I found myself wishing I had worn sunglasses as his mouth developed a wide, almost evil smile.

As they rang off their facial expressions told me exactly what they wanted. "Go on guys, go ride with your buds, I'll be fine," I offered.

All four of their steeds instantly bolted away from us. Ginger ran a few yards before turning back so quickly I was sure she would fall, but a split second later was right next to Diablo and I. Johnny flashed me another grin as he scooped Erbert off my saddle and stuffed him into his fanny pack. Ginger started to turn away, but turned back and looked at Diablo for an instant. Both animals let out a soft snort before Ginger dashed away, galloping to catch up with the others.

"I know where they are going!" Adam chuckled.

"I'm still tempted to invite a few of my girlfriends out to go riding, and swoop down on them. Their faces would be priceless!" Cindy giggled.

"If you ever get your daughter to start riding, bring some of her friends out and let them!" Carl chimed in.

"Everyone recharge their camcorders first! Can you imagine that footage on America's Funniest Home Videos!" Adam hooted. "The entire segment would be dedicated to shrinking worms!"

"Adam, there IS a lady present!" Carl roared, flashing his wife a teasing look as he grabbed his stomach.

"Where? Oh, I'm sorry! Cover your ears, Diablo!" Adam caterwauled. "Go, boy quick!" he tittered as he leaned into his big stallion's saddle and galloped away, Cindy hot on his trail.

Diablo bucked ever so slightly as Carl prodded his mount to chase after them, but ran a couple of steps and slowed down to a moderate trot. "Go on girl, have fun, but just be careful with this old man," I begged as I locked a hand onto her saddle and flicked her reins. What the hell, at least it will be a quick death, I thought as we went what I was sure was supersonic speed across the pasture.

This place is a nut farm! I thought a few minutes later when Cindy and Carl began peeling off her clothes on the patio. Yeah well, why not, I thought as I realized she was wearing a bathing suit under her riding clothes. I tossed my jeans on the deck and was in the water right behind her.

We relaxed in the pool's refreshing water for a half hour or so, until Mary brought out a tray of fresh drinks and snacks. This is the life! I told myself as I joined everyone in Adam's comfortable loungers and began snacking; my once sore legs and back even seemed to be enjoying themselves.

"We have a proposition we would like you to entertain," Cindy began between nibbles on some chips. "Will you listen to my entire proposal, then at least consider it?"

Oh boy, here we go again, I groaned. Getting propositioned, been there done that! I chuckled. I guess my lack of response suggested my agreement, and she reached down and opened a saddle bag I hadn't noticed until now.

"Please give us ten minutes Christian," Adam injected. This bastard is learning to read me too, I thought as I glanced at him. But, ten minutes, whatever, I decided.

"We want you to join our organization," Cindy began before I could answer. "Everything Miguel offered, regarding computers, is still valid, here is a contract the officers of Carl and Adam's medical group have already signed," she said, offering me a document.

"I have commitments from two of the three other groups Miguel had offered last night, the third has verbally agreed.

"I hope you don't mind, but I did a little research into your Civil Service Retirement plan, and from your age and years of service you can retire Monday morning with a very comfortable annuity, and even more when in your sixties," she continued, handing me small stack of paper from her saddle bag.

"We couldn't be too open last night, as all the details had not been worked out, but we can now," Carl added. "We are going to begin operating two boys' ranches. We are going to move most of the boys from Brazil and other countries to our new project and dedicate the old Ranch to area boys that need help."

"You are the perfect choice as the Director of the home for area kids," Adam chimed in.

"It pays fifty-thousand a year and full benefits, including a rent free six bedroom house," Cindy carried on their pitch.

"And tuition free enrollment for all three, or five of your boys in Cornerstone Academy," her husband injected.

"Wait guys, thanks for your interest, and I am honored by your offer, but I don't know anything about running a children's home, ranch, whatever you want to call it." I replied. "From what little I do know I think those folks have to be licensed, and meet some qualifications."

"We have a staff that performs all the administrative matters, bookkeeping and such," Cindy countered. "Most of your job would entail supervising the house parents, and of course working with the kids."

"You have the skill set that is the most important for the job, you can work with troubled kids. Even kids that are challenged regarding their sexuality," Adam began. "What you've done for Carl, how much you have helped Mike and Bobby in the short time you have been in their lives is all the qualification we need."

"You also passed our character check with flying colors," Cindy added. I'm seeing my somewhat indignant face she blushed slightly, and flashed a warm smile. "Despite his immature, innocent appearance my youngest is a seasoned street kid, there are very, very few adults he trusts, and they have to earn that trust. What Adam calls well-defended.

"For Pieter to so completely let his guard down, and warm up to you so quickly, qualifies you for Sainthood around here." she said.

"Please at least give it some thought Christian," Adam took over. "You would have time to perform the computer services we need, and build your business if you wish. This is also the perfect environment to raise your sons, and they love it out here. But, most importantly, you would be able to help a lot of kids, just like you have Carl, and Mike and Bobby."

"And our boys," Mary's voice rang from behind me. "They worship the ground you walk on Christian. Whenever any of them are near you their faces glow like new pennies," she said as she sat out another round of drinks.

Wow, I thought as I looked out at Adam's pasture and its tranquil, absolutely beautiful view. It took me a second to snap that the only sound I had heard other than our conversation for the past few minutes was an occasional bird singing.

Wake up, stupid! the seldom used, rational side of my brain chimed in. You've got a good job, almost ready to retire very young, and you're going to start over?

"Thanks guys, I am really honored by your offer," I began. I enjoyed another glance at the rolling land below Adam's house that seemed to go on forever as I continued, "But I don't, , ," Diablo's piercing eyes distracted me.

"But, I'd have to think about it. And, and I'd have to talk to my Dad, and of course my boys," I all but mumbled, as much to Diablo as to the others.

"Of course, thanks for at least considering our offer!" Adam answered. "But if you come onboard we'll throw her in as a signing bonus!" he tittered. When I glanced over he too was staring at the big brown mare.

I drifted in and out of reality and conversation with my host and everyone else for the next couple of hours, trying to consider my options. Little battles seem to erupt within my brain; You have a secure job, stupid! Do the math stupid! Four contracts at thirty K, plus fifty K salary, plus your retirement annuity, and your reward money?

What about Dad? He's bumping eighty, you're going to move him, and the boys out in the boondocks an hour from a hospital? What about four Doctors as next door neighbors?

Your house is paid for, you're established in the neighorhood, what about it? Lease it out stupid! Gramps makes about five-hundred a month on his old house!

I barely noticed Adam loading the barbeque pit with meat, but couldn't help but notice the horse-mounted posse thundering across the pasture toward us about ten minutes later, something out of one of John Wayne's best western movies.

Well we know where we rate! I snickered as the boys rushed up the hill and surrounded the pit for a minute or so, then grinned at me and the other adults before rushing inside. Oh well, it was worth the wait! I told myself a couple of minutes later when my now speedo clad Mouseketeers slammed into a group hug with me, then all but carried me into the pool.

Everyone, the adults as much a the boys, pigged out on the delicious burgers and side dishes Cindy and Mary served a few minutes later, and although I groaned I didn't argue when a huge slice of pecan pie, topped with an equally large scoop of ice cream was sat in front of me.

Bad timing, fool, I thought a minute or so later when Adam brought up the fact that tomorrow was the last day of vacation, it was back to school and work Monday morning. Better you than me, I thought as he absorbed the kids' death glares, even my dirty look.

I was trying to think of a comment, even a snide remark to break the tension when Bobby, pushed his less than half eaten pie away and slipped out of his chair distracting me. He started to all but crawl away from the table, but turned back.

"My I be excused?" he sobbed. My appetite also waned as I looked at his ashen white face, tears running off his pixie little face and soaking his tee-shirt. He bolted out the patio door before anyone could recover enough to answer.

"Excuse me," I groaned to the others and rushed outside behind him. Thanks Adam! What to do now? I asked myself as I began jogging toward the fence to catch him.

"Bobby!" I think Jerry's high pitched voice screeched from behind me.

Let me handle this! Go back inside, everyone! I forced into my thoughts as I forced my still slightly sore legs into a full run. But stay close by son, please! I thought, praying his, or his twin's telepathic antennas were working.

Bobby was trying to pull his thin little body into an uncooperative horse's saddle when I caught up with him in the pasture.

"Come here son, what's wrong?" I tried, that just made him give me a frightened look and run into the middle of the herd.

Oh shit! I groaned as I looked at the dozen or so huge animals that seemed to be forming a protective guard between him and I. Fuck it, I decided, and pushed my way between them, somewhat praying for a quick, lethal kick to my head if it had to be.

Bobby was hopping around, trying to jump into another horse's saddle as the animal backed away from him when I entered what felt like the Lion's den of ancient Rome.

"Calm down son, what's wrong?" was rewarded by a panic stricken glare from his frightened face before he made a desperate leap toward another saddle's stirrup. "Come here, please son! Bobby, please tell me what's wrong!" I cried.

He was glancing at me, then around at the ring of horses surrounding us when Ginger planted her snout against his back and shoved him toward me. He stumbled several feet before regaining his balance, started to run but was quickly cut off by Diablo. Just when I was sure he was going to completely freak out Ginger splashed a drenching tongue kiss over his face and gently nudged him toward me.

"Hey Bobby, it's Pop! Chill, tell me what's wrong!" I tried as I wrapped my arm around his shoulder, just making him stiffen more. "Are you worried about next week?" I asked, hoping he would open up at least a little. He seemed to relax ever so slightly as I stroked his back and shoulder for what had to be two or three minutes.

"I had a fun time, Sir, thank you for taking me Sir," he whimpered. A few seconds massaging his steel ridged neck muscles seemed to calm him a little more. I was beginning to think I was making some progress until he continued, "Are you gonna put me back in there tomorrow? Please, maybe if I can, well just till, please Sir, it's like jail, do I gotta go back there?"

I had to look away and take several deep breaths hoping I could manage to move enough air over my vocal chords to answer.

Oh Shit, I thought as I notice the sea of huge eyes, attached to a whole herd of even bigger Arabian horses staring at me and waiting for my answer.

To Be Continued…