As I rounded a corner in the Gazebo's main concourse I saw the overhead sign I was searching for, 'Administrative Offices'. I tried to calm myself as I rushed toward it, trying to force my stomach back down out of my throat and panic from my mind.
"Pop, POP!" Carl's high pitched voice rang into my ears. "POP!" It repeated as I slowed my pace looking around.
Mike and Carl rushed to me, their faces as pale as I'm sure mine was. They both slammed against me circling their arms around my waist. I hugged them briefly and somewhat instinctively kissed each of them on the top of their heads.
"What's wrong pop?" Carl asked. "Why do the cops want you? Why do they keep calling you!"
"I don't know let's go find out." I said rather forcefully, tucking them under my arms as I pressed on. "Where are Timmy and the twins I thought you guys were together." I asked.
"They went cruisin' a little ago I don't know where they went. Did they do something?" Carl asked.
"What if there's a war! Maybe they gotta get you to go take care of the computer ranch Carl said you got!" Mike suggested.
Without thinking I checked my cell phone for messages as we arrived at the glass doors, before realizing how ridiculous his statement was. I reached for the handle when Carl pulled back almost slipping out from under my grasp.
"Well are the cops after me, well or Mike and me?" Whimpered Carl. Mike stiffened his shoes sticking to the floor like suction cups.
"No one's after you guys, come on." I replied hoping I was correct, that Carl hadn't added a platoon or so of policemen to his tally. "Come on guys, I'm sorry but everyone is GOING to stay together until I find out what is going on, you two ARE going with me."
"Sorry guys, but that's an order, let's go." I added, pulling them tightly against me.
I relaxed ever so slightly when we entered the Security Office. Timmy was sitting in a chair in the reception area, seemingly doing well excepting his frightened face. Before I could move toward him a uniformed officer approached me.
"Mr. Miller?" he asked. Before I could respond he asked me to follow him into an inter office. Directing Carl and Mike to stay with Timmy I followed him.
I looked away and closed my eyes briefly, wondering what I was getting into as I entered the office. The twins were sitting beside each other in front of a desk occupied by a less than friendly looking security guard. Each boy only briefly glanced at me before returning their stare to the floor tiles in front of them.
"Mr. Miller? Are these two youngsters yours sir?" The guard asked. When I acknowledged he continued "I am Captain Royce. We detained them because they were being mischievous disturbing our guests." He claimed, pointing at several items on his desk.
He went on to explain that the twins had purchased the items, an 'invisible leash' (a starched dog leash and collar, fashioned to appear as if the holder was walking an invisible dog on the end of it) and a squirt can that looked like a soda can but actually was a water pistol, from a souvenir shop.
They then walked up one of the mall's guests. One of them would hold the stiffened leash near their victim's leg while the sprayed their prey's ankle with water. As soon as the unsuspecting tourist felt the dampness one of them would yell 'NO, BAD DOG! BAD DOG!'
"Is this true?" I asked the twins. Both meekly nodded yes.
"It was just a joke!" Jeff whimpered.
"We received reports from five people, and from their descriptions the boys were very easy to find." The guard almost snickered, a 'what a couple of dumb asses' look on his face.
"Gee, I wonder why." I quipped, causing them to blush. "Was the other boy, the one in the lobby involved?" I asked the guard. Getting his assurance Timmy had not, that he followed them into the office asking about his friends, I asked what happens next.
"We aren't going to press any charges or anything. They told us you were in the mall with them and I wanted to release them to you, its in your hands now." Royce replied.
"Let's go." I ordered after thanking the guard for his consideration. The twins started toward the door then looked over at the leash and squirt gun. "Captain, I'm sure you have needy kids come here, could you see to it a couple of them enjoy the boys' toys."
I could tell from their concerned looks that Timmy had filled Carl and Mike in on the twins' escapades. My initial intent as we silently left the office area was to end the outing immediately, mainly so I could get the twins home and kill them. I looked back a couple of times to be sure everyone was behind me as we walked toward the exit and noticed disappointment blending with concern on my three innocent charges faces. I thought about the recent events for a minute before opening my cell phone, making a quick call as we walked.
"You two are going home, gramps is on the way to pick you up." I informed the twins as we approached the exit gate. "I have to escort them outside and wait for gramps." I continued to the other boys, pointing at my admission bracelet. "You guys go grab a couple of rides or something. Meet me at the food court in twenty minutes, I'll buy ice cream for everyone."
My comments got much more reaction than I could have imagined. The twins stiffened like boards, I think probably more from missing out on getting ice cream than from being sent home. Timmy's face almost melted in relief I'm sure realizing he was indeed off the hook and would not be turned over to his dad by an angry neighbor.
Carl and Mike exchanged glances, their faces changing almost in unison from confusion to relief and back again. They shifted their gazes several times between my face and each other's before I reiterated my request, tousling their hair. I had started to turn toward the exit when Carl took a cautious step toward me.
"You're not mad?" He asked almost whispering. He gently touched my forearm and pulled back as if testing to see if it was safe. "I mean mad at us? We don't gotta go get, well, punished?" He jerked nervously when I slipped my hand over his shoulder.
"Yeah, I'm probably mad at you too." I said, causing his muscles to visibly tense. "I just have to figure out what I'm mad at you for, any suggestions?" His face almost oscillated between concern and his classic lost look. "Oh, I know, I saw you sticking your nose up at the Shark Snot Pizza, now your in BIG trouble!" His face locked into his Hollywood class lost look, his neck cocking to the side. "Maybe you better get out of here before I can think of something else!" I added, popping him on the butt. He started away but turned back.
"You're weird! Ah you're weird sir!" He whined, hugging my forearm. He dodged my second swipe at his backside as he rushed off.
"You two are restricted to your room, you are go directly there when you get home. No TV, no music, phone or computer, understand? I'll decide how to deal with this tonight or tomorrow." I told the twins as we waited outside the mall for my dad.
"We're sorry sir!" Jerry told his shoes.
"We are dad! But they didn't catch us really, we were just walking and they busted us for nothing." Jeff added.
"Let's see now." I responded. "How many pairs of identical twins, both wearing car bumpers on their faces and carrying a dog leash and squirt gun do you think cruise the Gazebo at any given time? Not real swift boys, besides you admitted you did it."
Dad drove up interrupting our conversation. They started toward his car before Jeff looked up at me asking how long they were grounded.
"Get comfortable in your room boys, you might be in there awhile."
None to my surprise everyone was waiting for me at the food court entrance. From Mike's teasing I was sure Carl or Timmy had informed him of Carl and my inside joke about Shark Snot. Much to Carl's embarrassment Mike even asked me if they had 'Snot' flavored ice cream, earning him a death stare from Carl. When I suggested Mike try the 'Chunky Caramel" topping as substitute I earned my first really earnest 'Up yours dad!' glare from my new son. He cut Mike an equally evil scowl before ordering a Chocolate cone.
We walked the Gazebo for two hours or so, riding several rides, before visiting the gift shop. I bought each boy a tee shirt along with a pair of key bobs for Mike to give to his parents. We were walking across the parking lot toward the van when I noticed Carl shying away from everyone, seemingly deep in thought. I gave Timmy the van keys asking him and Mike to go ahead and unlock the doors. He glanced back at Carl and understood, encouraging Mike to go ahead with him.
"What's wrong son?" I asked, pulling Carl under my arm. He resisted briefly before leaning into me and taking a couple of timid steps. Ignoring his two or three claims that nothing was wrong I prodded him further.
"What are you gonna do to Jeff and Jerry?" He whimpered, more to my belt buckle the me. "Please pop, please don't, , , well please not while Mike's here." He added, a couple of his tears dripping onto my shirt.
I slowed my pace trying to figure out what he was so upset about, what had caused him to revert to the frightened, almost paranoid kid that he had been before the New Year. The tighter he pressed against me the more concerned I became.
"Please don't what?" I asked. Getting no reply I added "The twins screwed up, what they did was wrong, do you agree?" Getting no response I continued "I am going to punish, , , well discipline them for misbehaving, you don't think I should? What's wrong son?"
"Nothing sir just please don't, well nothing sir" He added, pushing us toward the van. Even with several tries I couldn't get any response out of him.
Carl was very quiet during the drive home. Mike, Timmy and I talked a little about the evening, but I could feel a tension in the van. As I turned into my driveway Tim crossed the street. Saying he had talked to my dad he asked what had happened and what Timmy's involvement was. Timmy's lanky arms and legs wobbled briefly, almost like a string puppet when I informed Tim his son's behavior was admirable, but he quickly recovered shining a proud silver 'See dad!' grin at his dad.
"Call me. I know you need to deal with the twins right now, but we need to talk tonight." Tim told me before tucking Timmy under his shoulder and leading the lad home. His salty expression expressed his concern.
"Interesting afternoon!" Said Dad, greeting me by stuffing a beer into my hand as we walked into the house. "You have a pair of embarrassed boys to deal with, but they've been good. I haven't heard a peep from them."
"They'll keep." I responded as Carl and Mike carried their souvenirs to Carl's bedroom. "I'll deal with them in a little later, it will be good for them to stew a while. They didn't do anything that bad, in a way I'm impressed with their inventiveness."
"It had to take both of them to dream up a stunt like that!" Dad snickered after I filled him on the details.
"A day or so on room restriction should get my point across, they've done worse!" I replied.
"Not that I ever have, but this latest antic leaves no doubt who is their dad! Like what your mother said so may times, What goes around comes around!" He snipped, a slightly vengeful gleam in his eyes. I was in the middle of giving Dad a one finger salute when Carl and Mike appeared from the hall, now wearing only gym shorts.
I suggested Carl and Mike get a snack, then take their showers. They only looked slightly disappointed when I said I wanted them in bed at a reasonable time, that we had a busy day tomorrow. A dozen or so cookies and half gallon of milk later they started back toward Carl's room. Their eyes were starting to show their tiredness, the several miles we walked today made a soft bed feel inviting to everyone including me.
Dad excused himself right behind the boys, going into his bedroom to watch some TV. I relaxed in the kitchen for a minute or so and was about to go have a 'chat' with the twins when Carl walked back into the room. He carefully surveyed me before rather timidly walking to me, staring at my knees.
"What's wrong turkey?" I asked, extending my hand toward him. He redirected his gaze at my feet saying nothing. "I know you, I know when something's wrong son, please talk to me." I asked. "Come on son, what's on your mind?" I again asked after a pause.
"What are you gonna do to Jeff and Jerry? Are you gonna, , , ?" He asked. His voice climbed to an even higher pitch as he added. "PLEASE don't pop, well please don't while Mike's here. PLEASE wait till he's gone home. Mike thinks you're neat and he's still sorta scared a lot too. Please pop, can he go home before you, , ,?" He fell silent without finishing his thought.
"What's wrong son, please don't what? What are you afraid I'm going to do? Remember me, pop, the dad you said you could talk to?" I asked, this time my voice whimpering slightly. "The pop you trust?" I added after failing to get a response for several seconds. "Talk to me son, I love you!" I tried, lifting him into my lap. "I don't hurt kids too, remember me?"
I tried to analyze, or interrupt, his request as I further extended my arm, wrapping it around the back of his narrow waist. He offered no resistance as I drew him next to me. Was he asking I show Mike a 'Father Knows Best' or 'Leave it to Beaver' facade, where no one has to pay consequences for their actions and everyone rides arm in arm happily off into the Hollywood sunset?
"I'm going to punish the twins not Mike!" I exclaimed. "I know Mike is a guest and you want him to have a good time, but how is disciplining Jeff and Jerry going to ruin the good time you and he are having?"
"Well they made you mad I saw it." He replied after a pause. "Your gonna, well you gotta whip them, but PLEASE don't till Mike goes ho. . . , well please don't let Mike hear he'd get totally freaked again!" He begged.
My stomach bounced off my rectum, ricocheting against my Adam's apple as I recalled the first time Carl thought he was to be punished. His urine soaked pants that predawn morning in my bedroom replayed in my head as vividly as if it was happening again.
The words from his FBI interview, 'His wire sir. He hit me with that wire!' rang into my thoughts as clearly as they did that day in Colorado. I fought back the urge to vomit as the image of him pulling up his sweater. Carl showing Stan he had been beaten on the same thin, soft back I was now caressing came to me as a flashback. I downed the rest of my beer mostly to force the rush of bile back away from my throat.
"I'm not going to whip anyone son. I'm not going to hit anyone, I promise that I won't. I going to punish the twins for their poor behavior but I'm not mad at them, they are my sons just like you are!" I replied. His questioning look made me quickly review his last statement.
"I was a little mad when we went to the security office, I was angry that the twins interrupted our evening. I was angry about that, not directly at them." I tried as a stumble at an explanation. "I'm going to pun, , , discipline the twins for their, , , poor judgment but I'm not mad at them, I still love them just as much as I love you."
"But you had to go talk to the cops, they coulda put you in jail!" He countered after analyzing my face briefly. "My old dad would have killed me if I got him around. . ."
"I'm not your old dad." I interrupted somewhat authoritatively. "The reason I was so worried when we went to the security office was that I was afraid one of you guys had been hurt or, whatever. The police have no reason to arr, , , to put me in jail." He seemed to relax slightly in my arms.
"How do you think I should deal with the twins?" I asked. The question worked well, as I had hoped his face changed from one of fear to deep thought.
"Ah, , , maybe they should say they are sorry?" He more asked than suggested, leaning tighter against me. "I don't know, I'm still a kid. I just get punished is all!"
"Do you think saying 'I'm sorry' is enough?" I asked. He ever so slightly turned his head side to side before burying it under my neck. "Do you want to know what their punishment is going to be?" I asked. I could feel his fragile little body tighten against me before he whimpered something to my collar bone I could not understand. I waited a few seconds for more of a reply.
"The twins are going to be room grounded, at least until we get back from taking Mike home." I began. "If they're good they probably will be restricted from their music and from TV until the end of the month. Probably no computer except for homework too."
He continued to lean into our hug for a few seconds, I could almost feel gears grinding in his little head. Suddenly he pulled away wrapping his arms round my chest before leaning back against me pulling himself tightly into a hug. I pulled his thin waist tighter against me, stroking his shoulders with my other had for three or four minutes, wishing I could absorb his pain and fear out of this beautiful little boy into my fingers and hands.
"That's all your gonna do to them?" He asked almost in a whisper.
Accepting my nod as an answer he tightened his snuggle for a second or so before climbing off my lap. I gently slapped his butt suggesting he get in the shower and to bed. He took five or six steps toward the hall before turning back to me.
"Well but how's Mike gonna get home?" He asked. "If the twins don't get to go who's gonna fly, is he still gonna get to ride in the our airplane? I mean your airplane sir."
"Shit I don't know!" I proclaimed. "I think I remember how to fly, but its been a long time since I flew solo." I mucked a concerned look.
I was about to continue when I saw the reflection of white cloth in the hall. I watched for a few seconds until I saw it again, this time what I was sure was a lanky boy's briefs hiding in the shadows.
"I guess I have to find someone to fly right seat, any ideas?" I asked. Carl blushed, looking at the floor. "What about you Mike, any ideas?" I asked the hallway shadow.
After several seconds a very red faced lad slowly shuffled into the kitchen. He glanced between Carl and I giving us a very sheepish grin.
"Ah, a spy in our midst!" I commented, gesturing him toward us. "Come on, I won't bite. Maybe you two are kin, a pair of nosy turkeys." I added. I reached around his thin back wrapping my hand around his long skinny arm and pulling him next to me.
"I'm sorry sir I was just,, , ," He began.
"I'm kidding son, I'm not mad okay?" I interrupted. "Ah, squeaky clean." I commented, lightly tickling his tight stomach to relax him.
"Well you didn't really forget how to fly, did you?" He whimpered. I snickered and was about to reassure him I was kidding when his sheepish grin turned slightly more impish. "Well I could just stay here till the twins can fly again!"
"I think I can manage." I replied. "Besides, I got a good right." I added, pulling Carl back against me. "I'm sorry the twins got themselves into trouble, but I bet the three of us are going to have a good time tomorrow. Well if we can wake up, we need to get this turkey scrubbed" poking Carl I added "and both of you tucked in, let's go."
I walked them down the hall, one under each arm. Carl went into the bathroom as I ushered Mike into Carl's room, telling him I would be in to tuck both of them under the covers soon. He started into the room but turned back to me.
"You're a neat pop." He declared, throwing his arms around my waist. "I love you pop!" He continued, pressing his head into my chest.
"I love you too." I replied without thinking. I rubbed his back for a few seconds before shoeing him toward the bed.
My chat with the twins went better than I could have expected. They were both staring out the window when I came into their bedroom, their faces showed they were clearly awaiting their doom. I only informed them they were on room restriction until I returned from taking Mike home, that we would talk again then. I could tell they were crushed at the idea of my aircraft leaving the ground without them aboard, but they were equally relieved their punishment was not going to be harsher. Ten minutes later I got a kiss on the cheek from each of them as I tucked them into their beds.
When I heard Carl leaving the bathroom I went back into his room. He was just climbing into bed as I entered, Mike seemed asleep already. Deciding not to disturb him I tucked Carl in to bed kissing him on the forehead before walking around the bed to Mike's side. I was rearranging the blankets over his shoulders when he looked up at me with a wonderfully happy face.
"Sleep good turkey, promise?" I suggested, stroking his bangs. I enjoyed his sweet innocent smile for a few seconds after he muttered something before kissing him on the forehead.
After he closed his eyes again I started out of the room but stopped at the door. I turned back around and stood for probably five minutes these two wonderful little angels sleep. I started back into the kitchen but stopped in my bathroom. 'What kind of sub-human deviance would make someone do anything to hurt fantastic little guys like them.' I asked, I guess the sink, as I washed the tear stains from my face.
I decided to get into bed early too. I went back into the kitchen to turn the lights off when I remembered Tim's request. I considered ignoring it but called him. Not offering me any option he informed me he would be right over. He was in the kitchen about a minute after my hanging up the phone.
As usual he grabbed a couple of beers from the refrigerator. When I declined the one he offered me stating I had to fly tomorrow he sat the unopened can in front of me, opening his.
"My worker that deals with Mike's case and I have been working regarding his, well the concerns about his relationship with his parents, the situation as you and I talked about." He began. "My worker is doing well with the parents in most regards, well but not all.
"I'm not sure how well things are going to play out here, Jack is still playing his Red Neck Willie act in some areas. I've talked to him two times myself and I think he's trying to work with us, but," He took a long swig of beer. "There is new problem to deal with. Open your beer!
"I think you're going to need it." He added when I again declined.
"One of the other kids involved in all this tested positive for HIV. My worker found out Friday and informed me this morning."
I looked over at the clock. I had a couple of hours before FAA regulations required me not to drink. I bit my lip and popped the can open.
"They want help and I hope things will soon get much better for the boy at home. Still, I know this is going to go over like a fart at a funeral." He continued. "All the kids were tested when they were recovered, but now they will have to retested. Actually tested periodically for a long time.
"We need your help." He added, fetching two more beers from the refrigerator. "Feel them out while you're there dude. I need to know if what we did today helped, especially Jack. I need to know if he's going to accept Mike. Not the AIDS part, the problems from yesterday."
I digested what he had told me for several seconds, trying to connect the dots regarding the HIV development at the same time. As this sunk in I unthinkingly downed most of my beer. I agreed saying I'd call him as soon as I got home tomorrow.
"If you have any concerns call me while you are there. My people have been told to stay available." He requested.
"You are not considering, , ,"
"Removing him?" he interrupted me. "Only if I have to, but I WILL make sure he is safe and in a nurturing setting."
"Can you? He is with his parents, wouldn't that take an act of God?"
"They might have conceived him, but I until we are sure he is being well enough cared for to release him, I still own Mike." He explained.
I finished my beer as I tried to digest his request. From his statement he was clearly suggesting I could directly, well immediately effect Mike's home setting, something I was not too comfortable with, was not qualified to do.
"I know I'm dumping a load on you, but I trust you." He said, pushing the other beer in front of me. "Hey dude, anyone that can keep those two twin rats alive for this long knows how to be a parent! The way you turned Carl around, you should teach kid-raising in grad school."
"Yeah, what about Carl." I more stated than asked. I stared at my beer can for several seconds I guess asking it for the strength to continue. "Carl and Mike have had sex with each other."
"Yeah." Was his only response. We stared at each other for probably a minute or two.
"What, well, what, , ," I began, unsure how to continue.
"I don't know." He answered. "There are a lot of things to consider." He added after a long pause. "We know pretty well all the kids were forced to, to sleep with each other at one time or another. The dick heads we so kind as to document it on video. F***, there's still plenty of proof bouncing around the internet!" He growled. We both emptied our beer cans before he continued. This time I fetched more beer.
"When was who infected, before or after who was with who. When was, who with , , with Carl or Mike. It's the classic example of when you sleep with someone you sleep with the world." He stood up, walking to the patio door. He stared out at the darkness for several seconds before continuing. "Remember when we used to ride, remember racing our hogs title for titles? Remember the old winner takes all poker games, your bike's title in the pot?
"You were pretty good, you never lost a bike did you? You always have been lucky, when you sat down to the cards I pretty well expected you to walk away with enough smoke to hold us a week at the least." He almost snickered. I didn't answer. "Well this hand is gonna last about ten years, how's your luck holding?"
"Too late to call for a new deck." I answered. "What are the odds?"
"Just like poker, wait and see what the next card brings." He told the darkness outside my door.
When I awoke I regretted the last three or four beers I had drank last night as Tim and I continued to talk. Something I rarely do, I pushed the 'eight hours between the bottle and the throttle' rule almost to the minute. Binki showed no sympathy as he sat on my pillow and watched me crawl out of bed, his twitching nose almost seemed to be laughing at me.
I crawled down the hall to the sacred coffee pot and stared at the microwave's clock until my morning fix of caffeine began to take effect '7:00. Why do I get up at such a God awful hour' I asked the ever blinking colon of my early morning companion. The better part of a cup later I drifted back down the hall to check on the boys.
The twins were far away in dreamland, probably not having moved since I tucked them in. Mike was also still sound asleep, but no sign of Carl! My eyes to jerked to his bedroom window but it was closed and intact. When he wasn't in the boys' bathroom I began to panic, rushing back down the hall. I verified he wasn't in my bed wondering in case I was so sleepy I had not noticed him. I was rushing to check the front and back doors when the computer screen in the family room caught my attention, a narrow body complete with headgear straps in front of it.
As I stepped into the room I could see he was flying a sortie on the flight simulator program. The instrument panel the monitor showed clearly a simulation of my Mooney. Instead of the room's surround sound speakers he was wearing headphones, somehow intertwined with his headgear straps. I started to ask him what he was doing on he computer so early, but his straight tense posture made me wait.
I went back into the kitchen and after pouring another cup of coffee debated for a minute or so how to react. He wasn't suppose to be on the computer this time of day, or actually no time of day without permission. I was sure what he was doing, practicing for what I was sure to him his all important task later today, being my right seat while Mike watched.
I had about decided to act ignorant of what he was doing, maybe make some noise to let him know I was in the kitchen, when my dark side perverted my thinking. A sip of coffee later my plot was finalized, his fate sealed. For the rest of the cup of coffee I quietly practiced imitating the robotic sound of the flight simulator's audio until I felt comfortable.
I quietly stepped back into the family room. I was thrilled that my timing could not have been more perfect, he was beginning an approach to an airport. Softly kneeling behind his chair I found the volume knob for his headset carefully turning it to mute.
"Mooney three two Charlie, turn right to heading three nine four." I mimicked the simulator's robot voice into his ear. He stiffened to the unexpected ATC command.
"Mooney three two Charlie turning to three nine, , ," He began to respond. He stiffened even more, his head jerking between the computer screen and simulator yoke. "To three nine four? I mean three two Charlie repeat?" He asked, his voice going to soprano. (There are only 360 degrees on a directional compass, the course direction I was assigning was impossible)
"Mooney three two Charlie, ATC. You are directed to correct your course to three nine four degrees magnetic. Please comply IMMEDIATELY Ma'am!" I mimicked in my best robotic voice. He leaned forward touching the area of the computer monitor that depicted the aircraft's directional compass. I could almost feel gears grinding inside his little head as cocked his head into his classic lost look angle. I expected any second to see saw dust puff out his ears.
"Mooney three, , ," I tried to broadcast only to screw it up by snickering, unable to control myself.
"POP!!!" He shrieked. He looked back at the computer monitor in time to realize he was doomed to crash. "You're MEAN!" He yelled.
"But I got'ya!" I more giggled than spoke. Ignoring his angry face I said "Come on Captain Turkey, I'll buy you a tall cup of hot chocolate." Before he could answer I carried him into the kitchen. Ignoring his angry face I plopped at the table and started his cocoa.
I wasn't very surprised when Mike appeared in the kitchen shortly after I began cracking eggs for scrambling. He was much, too much like the other two 14 year olds in my house, the twins currently restricted to their room. Did he hear me whipping the eggs against the bowl, or smell them as I cracked their shells open? I decided not to venture any further that way and started frying bacon.
After I made sure Bandit and Binki were with us I ignored what I am all but sure was scratching sounds on a door as I finished preparing breakfast. The twins were far less than pleased with the tray I delivered to their room, but I did manage to get out with all ten fingers intact.
I grinned as I watched Carl making a show out of clipping his Base ID Badge, making sure Mike saw it. When Mike scanned it Carl was quick to point out the bold letters 'VIP' at the top of it. All the way to work he told Mike about the huge 'computer ranch' we were about to tour. The more he talked the more excited Mike became. After correcting him several times it was a 'server farm' I gave up, by the time I turned of the highway toward the base he was referring to it as a 'server ranch' which I decided was good enough.
By coincidence the base was having an Operational Readiness Exercise (ORE); a drill during which the base is closed down with high security, all critical activities heavily guarded and everyone entering having to present their identification card at the entry gate. During these exercises vehicles are also chosen at random to be searched, and I drew the short straw. One of the several Military Policemen (MP) motioned my truck to the search area as we approached.
I was used to the drills and was completely legal taking the boys on base but became concerned as the boys looked around wide eyed at the twenty or so soldiers conducting the operation. All of them were in full battle dress and wearing handguns. Many of them were also armed with M-16 rifles, holding these at ready.
"Everyone please exit the vehicle. I need to see your ID card sir." A leather faced MP Sergeant requested.
"You guys climb out my door, okay?" I suggested to the boys, wanting to keep them near me in case they got too scared.
I did my best to look in my wallet for my ID card with one eye while watching my young charges with the other. They seem to be doing well, watching as a couple more MP's searched my truck. The Sergeant looked over both side of my card. He held it out to comparing the picture on it to my face before handing it back to me. I looked down to put it away when his hand, reaching toward the boys caught my eye. I looked over just in time to see Carl holding his badge out.
Although I am sure he knew it was a courtesy badge, not worth the paper it was written on, he accepted it. He inspected it as carefully as he did mine even verifying Carl's picture before handing it back to the boy. As soon as Carl took the card the man snapped smartly to attention.
"Thank you sir." He barked at Carl, giving the lad a crisp military salute. I dropped my jaw when the salty warrior turned to me and winked his eye at me. "Cute kids, I have one about their age." He whispered as he walked past. My eyes rolled back in my head as I watched Carl very pompously strutted back to my truck, glaring back at Mike and I as if commanding us to follow.
My staff flocked around Carl as soon as they saw him. Soon Mike was a co-celebrity, everyone asking Carl questions about his trip and meeting Mike. I did manage to drag a few of them away long enough to get a quick update on our operational status. I checked in with my supervisor. We reviewed a few matters she had questions about before I excused myself, explaining I was leaving town soon but wanted to show Carl's friend our operation.
The boys were polishing off the fourth or fifth round of cookies and snacks all the ladies offered when I found them again. They had eaten their way though most of the building so we went directly to the computer room. As I expected during an ORE there were two MP's guarding the entrance to the server room, both armed with M-16s.
As the Network Administrator I was one of probably three people that could authorize or escort guests into the server room during an ORE. After securing a visitor pass for Mike the boys proudly presented their badges. To my surprise they were not at all intimated by the guards as they verified my credentials and then the boys'. Reminding them they had to stay close to me I entered my code into the security lock and guided them into the server room.
Mike seemed a little timid about going much further when another MP confronted us just inside the door, one of four in the room. I put my arm around his shoulder to reassure him, but when I turned back to Carl he was already in front of the stern faced soldier proudly presenting his ID Badge and metallic smile. Mike pulled away from me, lining up next to his friend and offering his badge.
I'm not sure who was more excited as we walked among the rows of large server racks, Carl or Mike. Several of my staff took time to say hi to Carl and meet Mike, a few of them teasing Carl about his braces and headgear. It was disappointing that the boys could not touch any of the equipment because of our alert status, but one of my staff saved that part of the day.
"Do you have e-mail?" He asked Mike. After I nodded it was okay Mike told the technician his e-mail address. "Do you know what the Pentagon is?" Mike acknowledged he did. "Have you ever gotten a letter from the Pentagon? Check your mail when you get home!" Mike was told.
I enjoyed watching Mike as we entered the airport. He was riding between Carl and I in the front seat of my truck. He stretched his thin neck almost as if he was a Whooping Crane, pushing against Carl then me trying not to miss anything. We didn't have any luggage excepting Mike's backpack so I parked outside on the ramp. I hadn't noticed Carl had changed badges, now wearing his Line Badge, until we started toward my plane.
"You gotta stay with pop or me out here so they don't bust you." He informed Mike, proudly pointing at his card.
It probably took an extra half hour to do my pre-flight check of the aircraft with a nosy kid under each arm. Carl did surprisingly well when I sent him into the cockpit, operating the lighting systems, flaps control surfaces and other controls as well as the twins could. I had just started my final walk around of the craft when he then Mike bailed off the wing joining me, I think they inspected our steed closer than I.
I helped Mike strap into his seat restraints as Carl brought to life the aircraft's electronics. After checking Carl's harness, tightening his shoulder straps to my satisfaction I strapped myself in.
"Well?" I asked after waiting for a minute or so. "Are we going flying anytime today?"
He cast me a frightened look. Getting no response he timidly flashed his gaze between me and the control panel. His beautiful blue eyes got deeper as he stared at me the second time.
"Taxi us out, you can do it turkey!" I added. "I think you can handle the take off, want to try?"
He stared at me then the cockpit a couple of times before reaching down and starting the engine. I monitored the instrumentation, almost as carefully as Carl, as as he began slowly steering us down the taxiway to the runway. He very professionally ignored ATC addressing him as 'Ma'am', as well as Mike's giggles, cutting Mike angry glares as he turned onto the runway.
He gave me another nervous glance when ATC cleared us for takeoff. I gave him a reassuring nod as I discreetly grasp my yoke with my left hand, and as I had done with the twins countless times placed my right hand on my lower thigh only a few inches from the aircraft's other critical controls. He flashed me an almost blinding silver smile before bringing our engine to full power and launching us down the ramp.
"Dude!!! Dude, TOTALLY AWESOME!" Mike howled as Carl left the airport behind, banking perfectly onto our course and leveling off at altitude. Even through my sunglasses I had to squint as Carl broke an almost ear to ear wide silver smile beaming with pride. "This is SO TOTALLY BAD! Your BAD DUDE!" Mike shrieked, jerking against his seat harness.
Shortly after I told Mike he could release his safety harness I started to regret it. He immediately leaned between the front seats. He looked over the instruments for several seconds before beginning the thousand questions routine. As he pointed at this gauge then that knob asking what each did he seemed to levitate forward with each question. He reminded me of Carl's flight to Houston, but I didn't have Jerry in the back seat to pull Mike back.
I turned my attention to Mike for a second, reminding him not to lean too far over the controls and not to touch anything. When I turned back and checked my our status Carl had drifted several degrees off course and lost some altitude. He was devoting more attention to answering Mike's questions than piloting the craft. He quickly corrected when I pointed out his error and offered no argument when I suggested he set the autopilot.
"What does that do?" Mike asked in a high pitched curious voice. I look down to see his hand on the lever controlling the wing flaps.
"It makes the airplane crash if you move it." I replied. His bony fingers instantly disappeared from the center console.
I waited several minutes to make sure things had calmed down before calling the Snyder's on my cell phone. As arranged they agreed to meet us at the airport, stating my timing was perfect.
Carl made a textbook landing. I had my hand on my yoke but didn't have to make even the slightest correction. He turned bright red when Mike giggled at ATC referring to him as 'Ma'am' but didn't take even a look back toward Mike as he taxied the aircraft to the FBO.
After Carl powered down our craft I turned in my seat to make sure Mike didn't have any trouble releasing his seat restraints. He looking motionless out the window still strapped in. Following his gaze I saw Mary and Jack standing next to their car in the parking lot.
"He looks pissed again." Mike almost whispered when I touched his knee to get his attention.
"I don't think so, let's go find out." I suggested.. He hesitated for a second before slowing slipping out of his harness.
'Well, here we go!' I told myself as I walked toward the parking lot, a turkey under each arm.
To Be Continued…