Something seemed almost eerie as I parked Adam's Jaguar in front of his house. Ginger and several other horses were standing at the pasture fence, and didn't move except turning their heads to watch us drive up, and although I knew very little about horses, their expressions didn't look very happy. A glance at Adam's face confirmed everything was not right.
As we went inside I felt a mixture of confusion and concern as I looked around, and the tension in the air stuck me. Although both Adam's and my boys were wearing only Speedos their headgears, they were scattered about the family room and breakfast bar, all frown faced and pondering over writing tablets, only glancing up for a split second to glance at us. Carl's face brightened briefly as our eyes met, until Johnny touched his forearm and he turned his attention back to his tablet.
Mary flashed us a warm, welcoming smile before pointing toward the patio, clearly inviting us to join her outside as she started toward the bar. Okay, whatever!I thought as I noticed Buddy and Erbert laying next to the breakfast bar, exchanging downcast looks.
"Trouble in paradise?" Adam asked as we accepted a beer from her.
"Oh no, not at all," she answered, flashing a grand-motherly smile. "They thought they were going to eat breakfast in shifts, so they could monitor the maternity ward, but they all ate on time. I asked them each to write a short essay on the importance of nutrition, and following adult guidance about eating habits is all.
"Your boys are wonderful youngsters Mister Mill, , , Christian. Very spirited, but wonderful boys," she smiled at me, loving granny beaming from her face.
I started to declare all of them dead meat when she added, "They shouldn't be too much longer, I only asked for ten pages, single spaced, from each of them. I think I earned their attention when I informed them I do check spelling and grammar." Ouch! I bet you did get their attention! I thought.
"Cindy and Miguel are back from Brazil, and Jay and Ronnie are arriving late tonight," she told Adam. "Cindy insists everyone come to her house for supper. You agreed to bring a pot of beans and the potato salad, I'm cooking everything now." She disappeared into the house before Adam could answer.
"God Damn, I'm so sorry Adam, I can't believe they acted up. I'm going to take them home as soon as Mary lets them go," I groaned. So I can kill them, I silently added.
"No you're not, please," he retorted. "Trust me, Mary handled whatever happened appropriately, let it go at that. She got her point across, hell I sign her paycheck, and I'd think twice about crossing her! Let your guys enjoy their vacation."
I was considering how to answer when a big Hummer lumbering into the pasture toward the barn distracted me. "That's Steven, let's go see how our new arrival is doing," Adam told me.
We arrived at the barn just as Steven was climbing down from his big SUV. After exchanging amenities, and Steven and I reintroducing ourselves to each other, he gestured us into the barn suggesting we check on his newest patient.
The little horse, with his silky, short jet black coat, knobby knees, baby sized snout and face, standing next to his mother and clearly enjoying his mother's tongue groom caught me off guard. It captured my heart like something I'm sure Norman Rockwell would have given his soul to quill if he were still alive.
"God, what a beautiful pony," I gasp as I reached out to pet the pair. "I thought it was cute last night, but, this is like something off TV."
An arm somewhat harshly grabbed my shoulder and pulled me backwards before I realized what was happening. "Step back, slowly, very slowly," Adam said in a soft, but very demanding voice. Zoe's huge head completely filled my field of vision before Adam could continue, "Try to act relaxed, and back away. She's just being a protective Mom, but she can hurt you."
No shit! Hell, she's only a thousand pounds, give or take a few! I thought. The big mare was staring at me wide-eyed, and although I knew nothing about how to read a horse's facial expressions, her flared nostrils, pinned back ears and curled up lips, showing a set of teeth that would have made the most experienced orthodontist want to retire told me I was in trouble. What a way to die, I groaned, almost hoping for a quick kick or bite and instant death.
Oh shit what now? I wondered when Ginger pushed Zoe's face off to the side and glared at me.
"Oh, and Christian, he is a COLT, Arabian's don't have ponies." Adam said in a soft but pointed voice.
I don't care if he's a Colt, a Smith & Wesson, or a Glock, just get me out of here alive, I prayed. "He's a very pretty colt, I, , , I was just admiring him," I muttered, trying to keep the stutter out of my voice. "My twins were beautiful babies, but he's a, , , masterpiece. Zoe should be very proud." No, I'm not scared or anything, I'm spending my last few seconds of life complimenting a dumb animal instead of praying, I chastised myself.
Ginger's snort made me shiver, I was sure it was the beginning of their attack. To my surprise she pulled her head back and exchanged looks with Zoe for a split second. Zoe pushed Ginger's head out of the way and sniffed my face and shirt, then swung her big neck around and pushed her baby toward me, giving a soft whinny as she did.
"Well, I think you've been accepted!" Steven chuckled as the little horse sniffed my stomach and chest. "Yes, I believe so!" he added as the colt tried to suckle my nose.
Johnny burst into the barn an instant later, with Carl and the twins on his heels. "Wow! Thanks Ginger, Zoe! I told you he's nice!" he hooted as he darted toward us with his arms extended like reaching for a hug. "You're gonna like him, you will!" he proclaimed as he sidestepped Adam and I, jumped up and threw his arms around Zoe's neck.
"Tell her he's sorta city-fied, but he didn't mean anything. He's cool, well for a oldster," Jeff injected. When I turned to give him a dirty look a swarm of kids, and a couple more horses were lining up behind him.
"This had better be an emergency, or everyone of you are dead!" Mary's voice thundered. I felt as intimidated as I'm sure everyone else did as she stormed into the barn, her normally grand-motherly loving eyes glaring around like the Wicked Witch from 'The Wizard of Oz', her face as dark red as chilli bean juices dripping from the wooden cooking she was rather threateningly shaking in front of her. Something in her tone told me she wasn't just talking to the kids.
"Well but it was ma'am!" Johnny declared, his voice even more soprano than usual. "Zoe was scared Pop was gonna hurt Hijo and was gonna kill Pop! And she, , ,"
"She don't know that Dad don't know what a pony is and stuff, he didn't mean to call him that! Tell her Dad!" Jerry cut Johnny off.
"Hi-ho? What?" Adam cut interrupted. "Hi-ho is not a proper name for a stallion from this blood-line, let's work on another name!" (In 'Tex-Mex, Texas dialect of the Mexican language, and somewhat in Spanish, the letter 'J' is pronounced as 'H')
"But, that's what Zoe said his name is! Hijo-Dios!" Johnny barked. "Ginger said so!" I relaxed slightly as both mares and the little colt fired death glares at my host instead of me.
"Hijo-Dios, Son-of-God," Mary gasped as she looked up at the barn's roof. "And he is the son of Zeus, how perfect!
"Come give me what you have written, put your writing supplies away, and you may go riding," she bubbled as she left the barn with what seemed like a girlish skip in her step. "And get into some Levis!" she barked at the flock of kids rushing ahead of her.
"Hi-ho?" Adam groaned. "If he matures as I hope, we can stud him for a thousand, maybe twelve-hundred a squirt, but as Hi-Ho? Why me Lord!"
"Don't feel too bad," Steven chuckled. "We spent almost eight grand, then learned Stevie's horse was named for an overgrown Mocking Bird! From one of Edgar Allen Poe's drug trips!" All three of us tried to ignore Raven and Ginger's nasty glares as Steven went back to examining his patient.
After Steven finished examining Zoe and Hijo, then looking over the other pregnant horses, I turned down Adam's offer to go riding. He quickly picked up on my hints that my sore legs and back would enjoy a couple hours in his swimming pool instead.
We had swam and relaxed an hour or so when Roberts stepped out of the house onto the deck, wearing swim trunks and a tee-shirt. "Well, you look comfortable," Adam quipped. "I take it things have calmed down at the practice!" he added, glancing at his watch.
"It's Friday, that's what we hired associates for, I told the young doctors handle it! You taught me well," he counted, offering a mock salute with his beer can. "Besides, I tried going home, but Cindy tried to put me to work! She's cooking for what, twenty?
"I don't know what you did to our computers, but everyone is still trying to believe it," he said toward me.
Oh shit, what's wrong now? What did I get myself into THIS time? I thought.
"Everything is so much faster, no one can believe it!" he exclaimed. "I resent the same email two times, they left so fast I was sure the server ate them instead of sending them!" he told Adam. "Remember waiting thirty minutes for the plotter to print out x-rays and MRIs? Would you believe five minutes or so? Have you had time to talk any more?"
"I'm glad I could help," I risked as I tried to ignore their gaze and think of a way to change the topic. Their silence told me that hadn't worked. "Your network has a lot of potential, I just corrected a few minor settings this morning. You really should consider finding a more, , , progressive service provider, I think you'd be amazed at what your enterprise can do." Oh shit, did I really say that? I silently cursed myself even as the words left my mouth.
"We have, we just have to recruit him," Roberts answered. His and Adam's faces made me wish I could eat my last words.
"Thanks, guys, but my job already keeps my plate full. . . And with the boys, it often overflows," I tried, but their faces told me it didn't work. "I'd be glad to look at your network again, I'm sure I can make some suggestions for when you look for another service company, I think I can tune it a little more at the same time," I offered.
"When?" they snapped in the perfect unison I thought only my twins could.
"Why not now? It's getting a little warm out here anyway, let's go look around a little, I offer my suggestions." I suggested, not completely referring to the weather.
They exchanged a couple of alarmed glances, and Adam seemed to be the first to recover. "My only concern is, well all three of us have beer on our breath, and the other Doctors in the group is still seeing patients. And, , , we'd end up in rush hour traffic."
"I had no intention to go back into town, I was going to use your computer, if you don't mind. Your server has Remote Control, so it can be maintained from another computer. I can do almost anything software from here, come on, I'll show you," I offered their lost faces.
"I think they offered us that, but it was far too expensive," Roberts mumbled as we entered Adam's study.
Damn, how far will these people go to take these guys to the cleaners? I wondered. "Carl, it's already there! It comes with your server software!"
I spent a minute or two checking the settings on Adam's computer, then the little server he had connected to the other computers in the house. "Advanced, , , whatever they are services your home systems too, don't they?" I asked. "The bastards locked you out of the same features here," I explained before he answered.
"Well, thanks for trying," Adam mumbled, his disappointment clearly showing.
"I didn't mean that we can't get around their games, actually that is the server at your practice you are looking at. I've always wanted to try my hand at hacking, I didn't know it was so easy!" I chuckled.
The two of them began acting more like excited teenagers than distinguished physicians as I made different corrections to their server's settings and explained what advantage, or new ability each provided. I was still a little amazed to learn from Roberts that most of what I had done was 'offered', of course at an extra charge, even though it was part of the software package they owned.
Damn, these two are hot to trot about all this! I snickered as I felt them breathing on the sides of my neck. Wait, guys, doctors or not, back off, I thought a second or so later when I felt something push against my cheek. I know that feeling, are Doctor Owens, or Doctor Roberts wearing braces? I asked myself as I realized it was a headgear's facebow pushing against my skin.
"Why are those spooler sizes so puny, that's stupid!" Jerry almost cried. "We got ours better than that, and we only got eighty gig!"
"Yeah, and look at the drive settings!" Jeff exclaimed as he pushed his way under my arm and perched himself on my lap. "I'd get a BIG FAT 'F' if I did that in class!"
I was shifting in my chair, trying to lessen the discomfort of Jeff's stiff jeans scratching my bare legs as he squirmed in my lap when Junior proclaimed,
"I'd get sent to the Headmaster, for Aggravated Dumb Ass!" I turned toward him in time to see his face turn ashen as he covered his mouth and he looked wide-eyed at his dad. "I mean, , , ah, , , well, that's what my teacher calls it when we're THAT stupid!" he whined.
I'm not sure who earned a dirtier look from Roberts, Junior for his language or me for my chuckle, as the doctor glared at us. Adam earned a true death stare a second later when he snickered, "Cornerstone Christian Academy! You are still on the Board of Directors, aren't you, Doctor? 'Aggravated Dumb Ass', that offense is listed in the Student Handbook, isn't it?" he teased more than asked.
"Fix their spooler settings, but you can't do the drive settings until they close tonight," I interceded, I'm not sure if to save Junior from his dad's wrath, or Roberts from Adam's heckling.
I gave the boys several more minor settings I wanted them to correct before slipping Jeff off my lap and standing up. "I'm going to go collect my fee, or the first installment of it," I said as I started out of the room.
"Christian, are you sure that's safe, what they are doing? There are patient records on that computer!" Adam more pleaded than asked as he followed me toward the bar.
"They won't hurt anything," I reassured him. "They might not have the sense to poor piss out of a boot, with the directions on the heel, but for their age they are very computer savvy, I wonder if more so than your service provider." Why did I say that? I asked myself.
"At Junior's age I don't think he has the snap to fill that boot, but when it comes to the internet, or computers, he is very sharp," Roberts quipped. "Christian, we need to talk. What you have done just today is amazing, we want you to take over our computer system. Name your price."
Adam grabbed a beer before adding, "Seriously, Christian, you have shown us we are getting screwed by our current provider, we want you to, , ,"
"Dad!" Jerry's alto voice interrupted him. "Doctor Pop is getting, I mean Doctor Owens is getting a My Eye file and it's flagged urgent!"
"It's Mire Eye stupid," Jeff challenged. "And it's a big file! From, , ,"
"It's an MRI." Junior corrected. He ignored the twins dirty looks and added, "It's from Baptist Hospital, and marked Stat and Urgent Read."
"Shit! So much for vacation, I knew I should have stayed incognito!" Adam groaned. "I ordered it on one of my patients this morning, but if the results are back this soon, something is very wrong.
"God Damn it! But, if they sent it to me instead of one of the on-call physician, it's not good." he snarled as he tossed his almost full beer can into the bar's sink. "Thank God for breath spray. Please excuse me Christian, but I have to go back to town and read this."
"But, it's here, sir," Junior told us.
"No, son, the email message is here, but I can't get MRI's at home," Adam challenged as he started toward his bedroom, peeling his shirt off. "But thanks for telling me."
"Adam, I think you better come look at this," Roberts injected as he peered into the study door. "Now!" he barked as his colleague rushed out of the room.
"Carl, this could be critical, a repeat overdose patient. I suspect edema from her inter-cerebral-spinal fluids. I don't even know what the little shit has taken, but, , ," Adam yelled from his bedroom.
"Now DOCTOR!" Roberts cut him off, his voice as clearly issuing an order.
"God Damn-IT CARL!" I felt my jaw drop slightly agape an instant later when my host stumbled back into the family room, wearing one shoe and holding the fly of his shorts closed with one hand as he tried to pull them back up over his butt with the other. "Holy Shit!" he gasped as he rushed toward his computer. "Is the entire series here, I can read it from here?"
His cell phone rang as he sat down. "Yes, I know, I just received it, I'm scanning the slides now," he told the handset a second later. "I'm at home!" he added as he clicked through what looked like several dozen small x-rays, Roberts pushing the boys off to the side as he crowded behind his partner and studied the images.
"No, , , but you are close, , , look at slides two-thirty-eight through two-fifty, upper left quadrant. . . Confirmed, edema in the frontal lobe. . ." He moused around the images for a minute or so longer before saying, "No, you were right, but go with three more milligram, IV, then a seven milligram per liter drip. . . Yes, another scan in three hours, we should be out of the woods by then."
He put his hand over his phone's mouthpiece and looked around toward me. "Can you do this again? Can I get another of these here?"
"You can do anything from here you can do from work," I assured him.
He glanced at his monitor, then back toward me a couple of times before putting his phone back to his ear. "Of course! Call me and I'll be glad to read them with you!" he all but boasted.
"Considering he's only a few months out of school, he's a brilliant young physician, he just doesn't understand today's technology!" he proclaimed as he stood up.
Even with the boys giggles I don't think he realized his shorts had fallen down onto his knees then around his ankles as he stood, until he started out of the room and tripped on them.
"Doctor Pop, PUT ON SOME, , , SHORTS!" Junior screeched, his voice sounding as taunting as his young face looked. He giggled and bolted out of the room without waiting for a response, the twins right behind.
I started to call Jeff and Jerry back, but was caught off guard when I noticed what they were wearing. Both of them had almost new, but clearly one or two sizes too small jeans on. Not only were they too short, but absolutely skin tight fitting, more like panty hose than pants, even stretching the seams of the heavy denim like the thread was about to break.
"Boys! Jerry, Jeff, I want to talk to you for a minute," I managed as the last of their bubble butts disappeared into the family room. "You're not in any trouble, I just want to talk to you, actually I have something for you," I added as they sheepishly reappeared on the other side of the doorway. Okay, whatever, I thought as I noticed the huge belt western style buckles covering what seemed like half their flat, thin stomachs. They CAN'T be comfortable! I told myself as I noticed how completely form-fitting the crotch of their jeans were.
An instant later Junior appeared behind them, trying a miserable attempt at sheathing his lanky body behind the twin shields, probably two or three inches shorter than he was.
"You too Junior, where are your brothers? I mean the other boys?" Adam injected.
"Ah, , ," Jeff mumbled. The upper strap of his headgear moved slightly, I would have sworn I saw his sibling's antenna appear out of his golden hair and push the strap aside.
"They're playing with, , , I mean ah, , , taking care of the new horse," Jerry finished the answer.
"Yeah, we're, , , we're suppose to get carrots, we gotta go sir!" Junior added. "Sirs!" he tried, slinking even lower behind his protectors.
"Ask them to come up to the house," Adam instructed. "We won't be long, , ,"
"Please sir, I was teasing, I'm sorry," Junior whimpered, just the top of his head showing.
"And they didn't do nothing, , , I mean anything sir," Jeff whined.
"No one is in any trouble guys, we have something for you," I answered.
"Please do as your parents ask, I have something for you too," Mary's voice rang in from the other room.
"Yes Ma'am!" all three of them answered in perfect unison.
Damn, this lady IS good! What power does she have? I snickered as the boys rushed out the patio door. I should have known, I thought as I followed Adam and Roberts out of Adam's study and noticed the huge platter of cookies sitting on the breakfast bar.
"Lord, how can they run, much less be comfortable in those pants? If that's the fashion, I guess time to go shopping tomorrow!" I quipped as we watched the twins sprint toward the pasture gate.
"If they, , , passed gas, they'd tear their socks, the only thing they are wearing that has any stretch left! But yes, that is the fashion here!" Mary chuckled as she went back into the kitchen.
"They are clearly into puberty," Adam commented. "But if they can wear those pants much further into it than I had expected. If their balls had dropped they couldn't, , ," he blushed and turned away from Roberts and I.
"So that's how you determine patient maturity!" Roberts hooted, spilling a little of his beer as he chuckled. "Damn, leave it to the shrinks, we Pediatric Cardiologists invest thousands of dollars in tests to evaluate our patients maturity level, and shrinks use the crunch method!" he hooted. I carefully disappeared upstairs, not wanting to witness the blood bath I knew was coming.
A sea of frightened, almost petrified faces scattered around the carpet in Adam's family room greeted me when I returned from my bedroom a couple of minutes later, even Buddy and Erbert seemed to be staring at me as they sat motionless.
"What, you didn't save me any?" I teased as I sat the packages I had picked up in town earlier down and looked at the empty cookie platter sitting on a coffee table. "Well, thanks, you saved me a taste!" I teased as I reached down, plucked a chocolate chip off of Johnny's facebow and popped it into my mouth.
Everyone squirmed nervously as they glanced at each other, discreetly pointing out each other's milk moustaches and cookie stained facebows as I sat down next to Adam and Roberts on what was clearly the 'Adult Seating Only' couch. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing when Buddy leaned down and licked a small spot of chocolate from Erbert's snout. Shit, should we have included them? I asked myself.
A glance at Adam, then Roberts, told me this was my show, or presentation. "This was Doctor Owens' idea, but we have something for you guys," I began. "Now, this is a VERY serious responsibility, but one we think you can handle." I added as Adam reached into the packages and began passing out the little cardboard boxes in it. "We have to talk about some rules before you start using, , ," a boxtop, then a blast of styrofoam snowflakes hitting my face distracted me.
"Wow!", "Dude, this un, , ,", "God, it is, IT IS! It is, it is, it IS!!" and many more high pitched hoots cut me off before I could continue, opened boxes, plastic bags and what seemed like a winter wonderland of styrofoam filling Adam's den like Christmas morning in one of those shakeup little glass displays.
"But, guys, we have to talk about a few, , ," I tried, but finished only able to groan "rules" as Carl painfully landed in my lap, all but crushing my upper legs and groin.
I thought I was going to die, or somewhat hoped I would quickly, when Mark sprang from what had to be ten-feet or so in the air and landed on my other thigh. "What's your number!?!?" he hooted to Carl. "Thanks Pop, I love you sooooo much!" he exclaimed as he buried his face into my neck.
"I did too, I did! Ask Erbert!" Johnny screeched before I could respond to Mark, his voice so high pitched it all but pierced everyone's ears. His face blushed so bright red his freckles disappeared as he looked around. "Ginger don't believe me!" he proclaimed as he scrambled to his feet, Erbert already trying to claw a way through the patio door. "I did get one, see!" he screamed toward the pasture as the two of them raced outside.
"Well, I guess we can talk about the rules later," I groaned as several other boys raced out behind Johnny.
"Very well done, I'm impressed at how well you can control a meeting!" Adam teased. I glanced in his direction just in time to catch the beer can he had tossed at me.
"Gee, thanks so much for your help!" I countered. "Well, let them calm down, I'm glad I have plenty of extra minutes on my, , ,"
"What's wrong Son, does it work?" Roberts cut me off.
I followed his gaze to the patio door, and Pieter's frightened face. "Come here guys, all three of you," I added when I noticed Mike and Bobby sheathing themselves behind their friend.
Pieter studied the carpet as he slowly shuffled across the room, with Mike and Bobby right behind, their expressions and mannerisms a perfect imitation of naughty English schoolboys in old movies reporting to their headmaster for punishment.
Pieter risked a couple of quick glances at me, then told his new cell phone,"Thank you, Sir." He glanced to his dad then back to me for a split second before he lowered his eyes and added, "Thank you very much sir, but I know this is very expensive, and I cannot accept it from you, sir."
"Yeah, thanks sir, me too," Bobby whimpered as all three boys held their new prizes out to me.
"Hold on a minute," Roberts injected. "I bought your phone, yours and Juniors, and one for your sister. Doctor Owens bought Mark and Johnny', Mister Miller picked them up for us. You got excited and ran off before we could tell you that."
"And Doctor Owens and I each bought a spare phone. We want you guys to use them while you are here, or at my home until, , , everything gets settled," I added. I pushed Bobby's hand away, refusing to take his phone and before I realized it added, "But, plan on that being your phone number for a long time."
"You too, Son," Adam told Mike.
The three of them exchanged lost glances for probably a second before Pieter sprang forward and threw his arms around his dad's neck. Mike bounced into Adam's lap as Bobby pushed between my legs and buried his face under my chin. "Thanks Mist, , , thanks Pop!" he cried, reaching around my chest and hugging me.
"You are very welcome, very, very welcome," I gasp, pulling him against me and stroking his thin neck and shoulders. I had to blink a couple of times to clear my vision before adding, "You just have to promise to enjoy it." I didn't realize I had kissed the top of his head until he pulled his head away and looked up into my eyes.
He flashed me one of his pencil thin grins, that quickly spread into a wide smile. "I lov, , , I mean you're very nice, Pop!" he whined before pushing his face against my chest and giving me another warm hug.
"I'm not sure what this is going to cost me, but I just got paid back for every penny of it," I mumbled a minute or so later as the three boys bounced outside and raced toward the pasture. I had to wipe my eyes and take a deep breath before I could continue.
"I think that is the first time I saw him really smile, even at Disney, but it's damn sure the first time he returned a hug. The first time I've ever seen him, , ," I had to look away and hold my breath unable to continue.
The room was frighteningly silent for a minute or so until my new cell phone's ring made all three of us jump. More from reflex than anything else I jerked it off my hip to view the caller ID.
"But, I think it's going to be a long afternoon," I groaned as I stared at the head-shot picture of a smiling cinnamon colored horse.
"Wait a minute," Adam commented a couple of minutes later. I had to scratch my head as he turned his phone's display toward Roberts and I. The snapshot was of Zoe and her colt, but with what seemed like all eleven boys crowded around the two animals.
"Who's taking the picture?" Adam asked.
"Are you sure you want to know?" Roberts snickered. The three of us exchanged worried glances, and Adam closed his phone and put it back on his hip.
I was a little relieved a couple of hours later that my boys had shed their denim pantyhose for their own jeans as the kids drifted back downstairs after cleaning up to go to the Roberts dinner party. What, I've got four Mouseketeers now? I snickered as Johnny, Mark, Carl and Pieter walked into the family room together wearing mouse-ears; everyone but Pieter's tucked under their headgear straps. Hell yeah, those cell phones were worth every penny! I thought as they pushed into a four way snuggle against me.
"Four of you now!" I tittered. "But, maybe we should talk to Dad about getting Pieter wired up, so he'd, , ,"
I stopped in mid-sentence when Pieter stiffened like a board and pulled away from me. Oops, I thought as his normally happy, baby face glared up at me with a frighteningly threatening scowl, clearly saying, Don't even f***'n try! I opened my mouth to tell him I was teasing, but he glanced at Mark, then Johnny and turned a little red as he flashed me a clearly artificial happy look and buried his face back into my stomach.
"Um, we was, well we were wondering, , , well we love you Dad!" Carl somewhat stammered.
"Yeah we do Pop, a bunch, we do!" Pieter added, Johnny and Mark pushed more tightly against me as if adding their agreement.
Carl let out a somewhat painful grunt before continuing, "Ah, can we spend the night at Pieter and Junior's house?"
"We do it all the time, and it's cool, and all the old, ah, , , I mean parents said it's okay if you do Sir! I mean Pop!" Johnny chimed in, propping his chin on my beer belly as he looked up at me with a tear-wrenching, pleading look.
"The old whats?" Adam barked. I thought all four of my cuddles had turned to stone as he stepped out of his bedroom. "I didn't agree to anything!"
The room instantly turned so silent I thought I could hear car engines on the expressway, three or four miles away, as all the boys stared at Adam.
Junior seemed to be the first to recover, or first to be able to move enough air through his lungs to speak. "Ah, he meant, , , he meant older, , , I mean well he meant parents, cause they are older than us, sir!" he stammered. "I mean he meant, ah, , , older and wiser Sir! I mean Doctor Pop!" he tried, his voice oscillating between tenor and soprano with every syllable.
I had to look away to keep from bursting into laughter as I looked over at their ashen pale spokesman. Junior looked in every way an almost perfect mixture of Alfalfa from the old 'Spanky and Our Gang' movies, and at the same time a highly polished fourteen-year veteran Washington politician instead of a fourteen-year-old boy. I almost waited for his jeans and tee-shirt to magically transform into Alfalfa's trademark high-water schoolboy suit, and for a cowlick to pop out from under his headgear straps.
"Johnny's sort of young and stuff, so he don't say things just right some, , , sir!" our little politician proclaimed as he lovingly wrapped his arm around Johnny, and flashed me an almost blinding smile.
"Please Dad, Doctor Pop?" the twins whined in their usual perfect harmony.
"Please, PLEASE?" Carl whimpered, flashing me not only a world class set of sad puppy eyes, but a huge liver lipped frown, all but making his facebow disappear.
When he turned toward Adam and stuck his lower lip out further than I thought possible, so far out I started to grab him before it overbalanced him.
From Adam's face he and I both realized we had been outdone, again. "You know better than to pull this bull-shit, never again!" Adam barked. "But, yes you may, everyone pack a change of clothes for tomorrow morning," he ordered.
"Yes Sir!" Mike answered as he and Bobby carried two backpacks into the room. Oh well, I thought as Adam and I exchanged defeated glances.
Why did we all bathe, groom and put on fresh clothes to climb onto these things? I asked myself as we all walked down toward the pasture a few minutes later. Dirt bikes don't smell like sweaty leather, hell my mini-van is air conditioned. And, they have brakes! I thought as I felt Venus' eyes looking me over. Oh well, I groaned as I stuffed my new cell phone into the very bottom of my pants pocket.
"Remember your Pon, , , ah, your with, ah, child, you don't want to run, or anything to, well, , , we have to think about the little one!" I tried, patting Venus' bulging stomach. That didn't work! I thought as the big mare pushed against me, I could almost feel her saying 'Shut up and get on!'
Thankfully the horses, or the riders that knew where their throttles were, seemed happy with walking and trotting all the way to the Roberts house.
Hell, if he's so comfortable what am I so worried about? I asked myself when I noticed Erbert balanced on Ginger's saddle, his haunches propped in Johnny's crotch and his front paws perched on the saddle horn - the little bug-eyed rat reminded me of Puff The Magic Dragon from folk-rock fame as he proudly looked around and surveyed his fleet of kids and horses.
After a few minutes I felt a little pride in my riding ability, even risking a death grip on Venus' saddle with just one hand instead of both, and holding the little leather straps that ran from each side of her mouth with the other; It seemed to work for everyone else, so I risked it.
What's so hard about this? And I was worried about being beer buzzed too much to ride? I asked myself as I trotted my happy stead in the middle of the other animals. Why didn't I snap earlier? Hell, just hold these little leather straps in two fingers and enjoy the ride, these things are better than handle bars!
In the time it took me to struggle out of Venus' saddle and regain my 'sea legs' the boys had already dashed up to the Roberts house and said their hellos, and passed Adam and I on their way back to the pasture and their mounts.
Why on earth did we make them bathe and put on fresh cloths for this dinner party so they could reinfect themselves with 'Horse-du-jour' thirty minutes later? I asked myself as I smiled at their happy giggles and howls, blending with the serious of neighs and excited snorts from the pasture. Strange bunch, I've never had a bike glare at me that way! I snickered as I noticed Venus giving me a pleading look.
Cindy and Carl Roberts home was a wonderfully done twenty-first century adaptation of the large, comfortable Texas ranch house I'm sure whoever the nineteenth century designer Adam's home would have dreamed of creating if he were alive today. Its airy, spacious living area complete with vaulted ceilings and huge windows made me wonder if the house was orientated to its heavenly beautiful panorama of the hill country, or if somehow they had rearranged this part of what had to be God's Country for their personal viewing.
I had a minor flashback, from right after Carl came to live with us as I stared out their family room windows. Movie Kids? I wondered. I guess it's my turn to wonder if people really live like this!
"Christian, I'd like you to meet my wife Cindy, and one of my colleagues Doctor Sanchez," a distant voice rang into my ear. I just had time to shake my head slightly, trying to snap back when Roberts added, "Christian?"
"Welcome to our home, please make yourself comfortable!" Cindy bubbled.
"Ah, thank you, God, your view is, breathtaking," I stammered, hoping my face didn't look a embarrassed as I felt.
"I am Miguel, it's an honor to meet you," a distinguished, elderly man said, offering his hand. "I have been following today's events, and please accept my personal thanks for what you have done for our medical group, much more importantly Adam's patient, we are deeply in your debt."
Oh shit, not again, I silently groaned. Let this shit die, please! "I'm glad I could help, I know what a hardship network crashes cause. Cindy, you home, you view is wonderful!" I tried, hoping it would change the subject.
"It's much more than that," Adam said, thankfully thrusting a beer into my hand. "By allowing me to read that MRI almost immediately from home, instead of having to drive to town before I could, very well might have been a saving grace for my patient. I doubt it would have been life threatening, but in all probability you prevented a youngster from suffering some brain damage."
I was trying to think of a polite way to excuse myself, maybe even to go ride Venus, when he added, "Oh God, the followup MRI I forgot! I have to get home, immediately!" he proclaimed. "I'm sorry Cindy, I'll be back 'ASAP'," he groaned, more toward his beer than his hostess.
"You said the Roberts have broadband like you, just have it sent here," I suggested. Oh shit, you and your big mouth, I thought.
It only took a minute or so to change the settings on Roberts notebook so he could access the server at their office, despite the half dozen or so wide-eyed adults staring over my shoulder, and soon everyone was relaxing on the patio. Thankfully our conversation drifted away to other topics, Adam and I filling everyone one on about our meeting and adventures in Orlando, and Miguel sharing what sounded like some challenging adventures from his, I learned later, latest trip to Brazil.
Although their lifestyles were very different than mine, clearly both more affluent and hectic than mine as one, then another answered their phones I felt more and more relaxed as I got to know everyone; even though they were as busy taking care of business while away from work as I was when on duty they seemed to very relaxed as they did.
I couldn't help thinking, It must be nice! When Steven joined us a few minutes later, announcing his wife would be unable to join us, that she was finalizing a land purchase.
"Yes, I just talked to her." Miguel commented. "Four hundred acres abutting our lands, ten cabins, support buildings and even two-hundred feet of river front!" he tooted. "And I know Angels do not steal, but she did this parcel! Just forty-five minutes before they would have foreclosed on the old owners, and now we own a second ranch for our even more boys, and for an unbelievable price!"
"And I WONDER where she learned all this, these diabolic ways!" Steven tittered.
"Heaven forbid, not from her foster parent! Not the most honorable Doctor, , ," Adam began, but was cut off by his cell phone's ring.
My phone vibrating from its hiding place, still safely buried deep in my hip pocket distracted me from their light-hearted dueling. Whatever, we definitely have to set time aside to talk about the rules! I told myself as looked at my new phone; what I expected to be a text line displaying the caller ID information was instead a portrait of a seemingly happy faced horse.
"Hi Dad! Look up, look what we found!" Carl's happy voice rang into my ear. "Up at Doctor Pop's mountain!" he hooted. "Up here, look at your phone!" he exclaimed.
I was still trying to digest the new picture displayed on my new phone, a tiny house, or what looked like a house or building viewed from a thousand feet or so above from my aircraft's cockpit, when a hand turned my phone to the side slightly.
"They are over there, at the top of the ridge," Adam chuckled, pointing at what seemed to be a mile high sheer cliff, the same mountain that made my rectum suck wind about climbing it just a day or so earlier. After I blinked, then squinted my eyes I could see the sun reflecting off of several bright silver objects at the top of the cliff.
I fought off the urge to panic, trying to think of a gentle way to talk them away from the edge, and what I was sure was the most hazardous spot my sons had ever gotten into, hoping my heart didn't fail until I knew they were safe.
I was about to risk saying something into my phone, even if it was the wrong thing, when Cindy's voice echoed out the patio door and distracted me. "Supper in ten minutes, would someone let the boys know?" she announced.
When I glanced back up at the cliff's edge a split second later it was empty. Although the thunder of pounding hoofs drowned out Carl's words beyond understanding, something told me I needn't bother to tell them to come eat.
I started to relax somewhat a few minutes later when I saw a cloud of dust, then a herd of horses galloping toward the house. That was short-lived however as I realized several of the animals were still racing at full speed and getting dangerously close to the high fence separating the pasture from the Roberts yard.
Just as I had feared the twins and Carl joined Junior and Adam's boys in the little trick I had seen them perform before, springing over the head of their still running mount and doing a handspring over the fences top rail.
Jerry fared fairly well, landing on his feet and stumbling a few steps before catching his balance and racing toward the house. Carl and Jeff weren't so lucky and both of them skidded across the dirt as they violently tumbled head over heels, reminding me of one of those high speed snow ski racers on TV taking a horrible fall - the kind of fall where they always rush a helicopter in to carry away the racer's crumpled remains.
I had just climbed out of my chair when both boys struggled to their feet. I could hardly believe it when they both took off sprinting to catch up with their friends, although Carl seemed to have a slight limp he appeared to be gaining on his brother as they ran.
Well, at least someone has some sense! I thought as I looked back to the fence and saw Bobby and Mike appear from behind the sea of horseflesh and jog toward the gate. I wonder, would anyone notice if I kept those two and dropped Carl and the twins off at Tim's shelter? I asked myself as I watched them carefully latch the gate and run toward the house.
As friendly and warm, almost parental, as Miguel's expression was, I felt a little claustrophobic when he invited me to join him on the Roberts patio after we finished supper. I had to bite my lip softly to keep from pulling away when Adam gently grasp one of my elbows and prodded me outside, Roberts cupping the other. Oh shit, what now, I asked myself when Cindy joined us and she sat several filled cocktail glasses on a nearby table.
I had mixed emotions as Miguel handed me a glass and asked me to walk with him. He and I were clearly from very different cultures, his clearly much more sophisticated than mine, but something about him made me think of my dad, that he was as trustworthy as Dad has always been.
"Baileys on the rocks, my favorite drink," he began, offering his glass as a loose toast. "I wanted to thank you personally for helping Adam, and our practice. You not only provided us, but at least one of our patients a great service."
Oh boy, not again, I thought, trying to think of a way to fast-track the conversation in another direction. "This is wonderful, excellent!" I commented as I sipped my creamy drink, I wasn't sure if it was a mixed drink or a liqueur.
"How long have you been in Civil Service? From your position, I think I may presume most of your professional life." he continued before I could say any more.
"About, well about thirty years, a few months more."
"A very noble career, supporting our armed forces must be a great honor," he cut me off, offering his glass up before taking a sip. "Forgive me if I am being intrusive, but do you track job opportunities comparable to yours in the private sector?"
"No, not really, I have too much time invested in Civil Service, I'm too close to retirement," I answered, trying to suppress my urge to tell him to butt out, something in his face told me not to.
"I presume you are earning, seventy, maybe ninety thousand a year?"
I opened my mouth to indeed tell him to butt out, but he again cut me off. "Christian, the private sector, especially the medical community, pays people with your skill level up to about two-hundred-thousand a year for what you do, or did this morning. Please hear me out," he asked, or from his fatherly expression, demanded.
"You suggested it should take about five, maybe ten hours a week to maintain our practice's system." He seemed to blush slightly before continuing, "Well you told Adam or Carl that, or I heard you did, I don't remember."
He glanced away, and seemed to recover slightly before continuing, "Whatever, I will, well we will pay you thirty-thousand a year for basic service, one-fifty an hour for any additional work, and we are willing to sign the contract tonight."
I was just beginning to digest everything he had said when he added, "I have talked to some of my colleagues, and know of three other medical groups that are currently using ANS, that would hire you, at the same rates or better. Think about it Christian, at least consider what we are offering," he said as he downed the last of his drink.
I tried to digest what he was suggesting, if I had heard him correctly, as I put my glass to my lips. Is this guy for real? I wondered. Thirty thousand times four, for part time work. Plus retirement, I could collect at least fifty percent of my pay if I retired tomorrow, plus interest from the reward fund, equals, , ,
Something in the back of my head, or from the years and years of dealing with Top Secret data at work, slapped me back to reality. I hadn't talked to Adam, Roberts, or anyone else about the number of hours it would take to maintain their network. The twins weren't even anywhere nearby when I had the thought, that I could recall.
No, not even, I groaned as I looked out toward the pasture and saw Ginger staring at me. Oh Shit, I thought as she flashed me a knowing grin.
"I'm ready for another drink," Miguel's voice snapped me back. "I try to limit myself to two Bailey's a day, but certainly enjoy those," he added as he turned back toward Roberts house.
We walked in silence most of the way back to the house. Even though it was probably common to him, I think the beauty and tranquility only a Texas hill country sunset could offer intoxicated both of us even more than the several drinks we had enjoyed.
We were almost back to the house when a happy squeal interrupted our tranquility. "Be home by dark!" Cindy's voice made me look toward the house, then follow with my eyes the flock of happy kids racing toward their four legged friends.
"You could work part time, and spend a lot more time with those little guys, or build your business as much as you choose. I understand much of what you do can be done from anywhere, as you did earlier?" Miguel more declared than asked. "As in from home?
"You offer something that would take you very far in the business world, honesty," he added, turning to face me. "I hope you will consider what I am suggesting, although I have only known you a few hours I would be willing to guarantee your success, I'll bankroll you while you get started if need be.
"How would you like to live out here, in our little piece of heaven," he continued as he turned back toward the pasture. "How would you like those youngsters get to live out here, out of the city commotion and influences?" he asked the flock of boys galloping their steeds into the setting sun more than me.
"I'm not prepared to talk any details until a few things are settled, but I'd like you to be a part of our organization, and I assure you I can make it worth your while," he said.
"But, as much as I love Bailey's on the rocks, those half melted rocks taste terrible!" he proclaimed as he slung the remains of his drink on the ground and started toward the Roberts' house.
I held back from the mixed drinks everyone else was enjoying, choosing to slowly nurse on a beer and hoping I could stay sober enough not to fall off of Venus; something I had often done years ago when I found myself in a biker bar hoping I had the coordination to balance my Hog and remind it that it knew its way home.
Adam's cell phone ring snapped me back to reality. I didn't pay much attention at first, until I heard him bark, "Alright! You, Junior and the twins may, but I want everyone else back here, NOW! And take Buddy with you!
"If they don't like it everyone goes back to our house, and is room grounded!" he snarled into his phone a few seconds later.
He paused, pulled his phone away from his ear and gave it a nasty glare before adding, "You four get what you need and call me before you leave the house. And everyone else back here now!"
"Give them an inch, and they want a mile!" he snapped at us as he put his phone back on his hip. "The little, , , they forgot a game cartridge, and of course the world will end if they don't get to play it tonight. I gave in and said the older boys could go back to my house to retrieve it.
"I hope you don't mind, I included your twins, but safety is in numbers," he said toward me. Yeah well, I thought. Should you have gone with age, or brains? I silently chuckled.
The younger boys were cute when they joined us on the patio a few minutes later, after slinking up from the pasture. All of them seemingly risk glances around, even Carl and Johnny's faces clearly were wondering how much trouble they were in, how dead we were going to kill them.
"Hi guys, thanks for coming so quickly!" Adam tried, offering his arms toward them.
"Do we gotta groom everyone right now? Ginger said she wants to wait till, well, the other horses get here," Johnny asked, his eyes darting between his dad's and mine. "And we weren't being bad or, , ,"
"You have ridden them pretty hard all day, I think they should graze a few minutes before you unsaddle them." Steven cut him off.
"And maybe you guys should start getting the den ready for your sleep-over, you know where the spare linen is Sweety," Cindy injected as she pulled a very red faced Pieter into a loose hug. "Hurry, and you'll have time to jump in the hot tub later!"
"Someone get out the popcorn popper, and make sure there's enough sodas chilled," Roberts suggested.
"You must develop a plan, team work!" Miguel rang in, "You prepare for your party while your elder brothers are on their mission!"
I would have given a year's pay to have had my camcorder ready as all of them flashed lost looks at us, and at each other, I know I read 'we're not dead?' from Carl's face.
"Yes sir!" Johnny hooted, leaping into his dad's lap. I quickly found myself with a lapful of not only Carl, but Bobby and Pieter as they giggled and rushed between us, giving us hugs and cheek kisses.
"Come on, we must go to work, quickly!" Pieter proclaimed as he sprang out of my lap and rushed toward the door. "Yeah Mom, and Dad, I mean thank you Ma'am and Sir, well sirs!"
At first I freaked when Cindy threw something at her son, but snickered when I realized a half melted ice cube from her drink bounced off her son's back as he disappeared inside.
Everyone relaxed, recovering from the crushed groins and sore thighs from the boys hug attack for the next few minutes, all of us snickering at the frenzy of activity clearly going on inside. I had just risked popping another beer open when the patio door burst open.
"Dad!!! Dad, Doctor Steven, you gotta come, quick!" Johnny screamed as he rushed toward us. A flock of boys bolted out of the house right behind him, darted past us and sprinted toward the pasture.
"Dad, it's Zrephia, you gotta come quick! She's, , , well she's like, , ," the little carrot top screeched as he grabbed his dad's arm and tried to pull Adam out of his chair, spilling beer over both of them. "Her, and Ritus too!" he screamed as Pieter tried to push Steven upright, his face as panic stricken as Johnny's.
"Come on, qui, , ," Johnny started to say, but froze and stared out at the pasture. At first I thought Steven's ringing cell phone distracted him until he exclaimed, "Oh shit, are you sure?" His bony shoulders tensed like a weight lifter's an instant later. "And maybe Raven! She feels weird too!" he screeched. "Zoe said so, she told Ginger you and GOTTA COME NOW!!!"
"Three, tonight, OH SHIT is right!" Steven exclaimed. "That was Junior, one has already laid down, the other two are pacing and trying to! Time to go to work Adam!" he yelled as he bolted out of his chair and sprinted toward the pasture.
"If you want to ride with us come NOW, Christian!" Adam ordered as he tossed his glass aside and ran into the darkness, Johnny on his heals, trying to keep up.
"Go ahead, I'll, , , catch up later," I groaned. Like, when the taxicab gets here to drive back to your house, I silently added.
I hope they are right! I prayed a few minutes as I stumbled toward the pasture gate, trying to convince myself that Miguel's, even Cindy and her husband's assurances Venus knew her way home, and would be an easy ride, were believable.
"Thanks for waiting for me!" I tried as I stumbled toward the big mare, hoping we were still friends and rehearsing the gentle, two fingered grasp of her reins that had worked so well earlier. Shit, I forgot about that, where's the headlight switch? I wondered as I looked the big beast over, trying to build up the nerve to climb into her saddle.
"You do know the way home, don't you?" I asked her. Time to go home, or quit drinking, you're not just talking to horses, but expecting an answer! I told myself. She didn't do that! Did she? I wondered as she flashed me a reassuring expression.
"Remember, you have to take it easy, remember your, , , baby!" I suggested as I climbed into her saddle.
"Oh Shit! What a way to die, will they ever find my body?" I gasp as she bolted into a full gallop and I locked an all limb death grip onto her saddle, the bright Texas stars flashing above me like from a Startrek movie as she went into hyperwarp.
To Be Continued…