My Flock

Chapter 9

I got another surprise as I rounded one of the several curves in the driveway. We were not entering a subdivision of homes as I thought; the only dwelling in sight was a two story house perched on to the top of a hill. Damn, that thing has to be at least a hundred-years old! I thought as I drove toward the sprawling home - its majestic balconies, grand entry door and windows like something out of one of Hollywood's movies about fabled nineteenth century Texas Cattle Barons. Okay, what's next? I asked myself when a couple of more riders appeared from behind a ridge behind Johnny, thundering toward us.

"That's not Zoe, she's too fat and stuff! That's, , , ah, , , I don't know!" Bobby challenged everyone, jerking the paper out of Jerry's grasp.

"Pop! Carl!" Johnny screamed as I parked our mini-van next to Adam's Jaguar. I felt a slight surge of panic as his fiery red steed planted its hoofs and skidded from full gallop to a stop seemingly less than a foot from the high wooden fence separating the field from the driveway. Johnny flew out of the saddle, over the horse's head, did a flip over the fence's top rail and landed on his already running feet as he hooted, "Yeah! You're here! Yeah, YEA!"

The little carrot top crashed into me so hard I fell back against our van to keep from falling down as he buried his head into my stomach and threw his arms around my beer belly to hug me. I stroked his thin back and enjoyed his cuddle for a few seconds before he squirmed, then turned sideways in my arms. I should have known, I chuckled when Erbert sprang out of Johnny's fanny pack into Bobby's arms, his tail wagging so hard I wondered if it wasn't a propeller.

Adam stepped out of the house and Pieter and Mark sprang off their mounts, over the fence and rushed to join us all at the same time. After another round of high-five's and hugs Adam, Mike and Bobby still glued to his sides, invited us inside.

"But, they gotta go meet everyone!" Johnny protested.

A loud horse neigh along with several loud snorts seemed to chime in agreement from across the fence. When I looked down toward the noise the cinnamon colored horse Johnny had been riding was pawing the dirt with one of her front hoofs as what seemed like a dozen larger horses, all lined up at the fence and staring at us.

Adam's nod seemed to be enough approval for both his kids and mine, and they all bolted toward the herd of horse flesh. They had run ten feet or so when Erbert jumped out of Bobby's arms and raced ahead toward the huge creatures, any one of their hoofs looked bigger than his entire body.

I couldn't help but stare after the boys when I noticed Johnny, Mark and Pieter's skin tight Levis and form fitting tee-shirts, their thin bodies and round little bubble butts accented so perfectly.

"Where are Ronnie and Junior?" Adam called after them.

"They went to Junior's place, then they're gonna go to the ranch!" Mark yelled back at us. He dove between the fence rails without waiting for a reply.

The Ranch? I wondered as I looked out at the open pasture land surrounding Adam's house, unfenced as far as the eye could see. What the hell do they call this?

The interior of Adam's home was even more impressive than the outside. As he showed me around its spacious rooms it was hard to tell if it had been renovated or perfectly maintained from the time it was built, what he said was one-hundred and twenty some years ago. The blend of highly polished hardwood floors and antique woodwork blended perfectly with the modern conveniences. I found myself staring in awe as I looked around his family room; his built in wet bar, something out of an old saloon fit perfectly with the semi-hidden home theater system, complete with what had to be a sixty-inch high definition wide screen TV and surround sound speakers concealed in the walls. I could almost picture Ben and Little Joe Cartwright riding in from the Ponderosa's range and flicking on a Harry Potter movie as I looked around.

This guy's been watching too many Dallas reruns, I thought as I was introduced to Mary, Adam's 'housekeeper' and the boys' 'nanny' - the perfect stereotype of a grand motherly, slightly robust Hispanic woman.

I was equally impressed when Adam escorted me onto his patio, complete with a huge rock barbeque pit and swimming pool. I was surveying the 'back pasture' as he called it, complete with several outbuildings that made it look like it was indeed a working ranch.

Well, they're seem comfortable, I hope they all can ride, I thought as I noticed several of the boys and even more horses around one of the buildings, every minute or so another horse walked out of the barn saddled. The smaller cinnamon horse Johnny had been riding when we arrived was standing just outside the barn, if I didn't know better I would have sworn she was coordinating the efforts, directing another of her four legged cohorts into the barn every so often.

"This is impressive, most impressive," I commented as Adam and I settle into a couple of loungers and I opened the beer Mary served me.

"It's my dream come true," Adam answered. "The boys love it too."

I'll bet they do! I thought as I watched the twins, then Carl, climbing onto huge horses who's shoulders were as tall as my boys. "How much land do you have?" I risked.

"That depends somewhat on how you look at it, but collectively we have a little over two-thousand acres." He paused to sip his beer before continuing, "I have title to about seven-hundred acres, but I'm also often accused of being the organizer of our little commune." he quipped as he reached behind his head and flicked his pony-tail.

He went on to explain that he had entered into what he called a 'Land Coop' with three of his colleagues from his medical group so that their lands were shared, along with a brother of one of the other docs who was a Veterinarian. It was starting to make some semblance of sense to me until he added, "The ranch occupies the rest of the land, but it's common access too."

Junior and Ronnie jumped off their horses and raced up from the pasture before I could ask any questions. Damn, is this the uniform around here? I wondered as I noticed their tight fitting jeans. They slowed slightly, flashed what seemed like a cursory smile at me, and darted inside without saying a word. Just like mine, I snickered a minute or so later when they staggered back onto the patio, overladen with snacks and huge drink glasses.

"Where is everyone?" Ronnie mumbled between bites.

"They went riding a few minutes ago," Adam replied. "They left about ten minutes ago so I don't know if you can find them or not, but they seemed to heading toward the ranch."

The youngsters' eyes bugged like Erbert's as they exchanged glances. They crammed the rest of their snacks into their mouths so fast I was sure they would gag as they jumped out of their chairs and started toward the pasture.

"Dishes! And headgear!" Adam barked after them.

Ronnie fired his dad a somewhat indignant look, but they snatched their cups and napkins up and rushed inside with them, racing back out of the house a second or so later, strapping themselves into their appliances as they sprinted across the patio.

"Guys, I want to show Mister Miller around, please saddle Zeus and, , , Venus," Adam called after them.

Ronnie almost tripped as he turned and glared at his dad. "But, we gotta go, we gotta, , ," he snarled. "I mean yes sir," he whimpered. They bolted to the gate without waiting for a response.

"I know where they are going!" Adam tittered. "Let me pack a couple of spare beers, and I'll show you around, I hope you ride," he told me as he started inside. I stared after him with a lost look for a second or so when he mumbled, "Hope your kids have suntan oil too," as he closed the door behind himself.

Yeah, twenty or thirty years ago I used to ride, on old rental nags at amusement parks that you don't even have to steer, or whatever you do with horses, I thought as we walked toward the pasture gate, and two massive hunks of horse-flesh impatiently glaring at us.

You wouldn't have a dirt bike, by chance, I thought as we entered the pasture and walked toward the two huge animals. Well, maybe a saddle with handle bars?I wondered as I looked over the big steeds, praying I didn't get the bigger one, his neck probably as wide as my beer belly. What the hell, at least I have good health insurance!

I fought off panic when he began strapping the pair of saddle bags on to the smaller of the two animals until he informed me, "Zeus insists on running for the first couple minutes when I ride him, this way the beer won't get shaken too badly." he told me, offering the reins for the smaller(?) steed.

He held its head harness as I nervously pulled myself into the saddle. "Venus is a really gentle ride, you'll like her," he told me as he stroked my ride's muscular neck.

"Walk her around for a little, I'll be right back," he told me as he released his pony-tail and swung into the other horse's saddle.

Before I could answer his steed took off in a full gallop, like it had been fired from an aircraft carrier's steam launch catapult. "Oh SHIT!" I screamed a split second later as Venus bolted after them.

Somehow I managed to grab the saddle before I flew off backwards as she accelerated faster than even the quickest drag racing motorcycles I had ridden a couple hundred years ago. What I was sure had to be raw survival instincts made my thighs and legs clamp around her saddle, squeezing her huge chest like a vice. God, where's the kill switch? I wondered as we thundered behind Adam and his beast. Fuck the kill switch, this God Damn thing has to have an ejection seat! Where's the lever? I thought as we accelerated toward what had to be Mach one.

"So, you do ride! I wish you would have said something if you wanted to gallop," Adam exclaimed when we finally slowed down and Venus caught up with he and Zeus a couple of minutes, that seemed to me like hours, later. I was still trying to get my eyes to focus again, and my rectum to release the suction it had on Venus' saddle when he added, "She's a great horse, but she's ten months pregnant and pretty slow right now."

Yeah, that's slow? I thought. It took several minutes, but one at a time I managed to convince my fingers to release their death grip on Venus' saddle, and my lungs to accept air again, as we rode up onto a ridge-line and Adam began his tour.

"There is my favorite place on earth, my little piece of heaven," he informed me as he pointed up at what had to be a hundred-foot cliff. "We'll ride up there while you're here, you'll love it."

I hope you mean on a bike, or maybe a jeep, I silently groaned. My fingers clamped back down on Venus' saddle in agreement.

"Jay and Ronnie live down there, along with their sons, Edwardo and Ruben," he told me, pointing down at another nineteenth century home, complete with a swimming pool behind it. A complement of outbuildings and corrals told me it too was a working ranch.

"Their father, Miguel, is a part-time resident, but travels a lot. "Miguel is in Brazil right now, Jay, Ronnie and their boys are in Virginia, but should be back I think tomorrow night." I guess seeing my curious expression he added, "Yes, Jay and Ronnie are a gay couple. They are also adopted brothers and now have adopted Ruben and Eddie."

As we rode he explained that Jay was another owner of the medical group he belonged to, as was Miguel, but semi-retired. I found myself dying to meet all of them as he told me how Miguel, years ago, had rescued Jay, Ronnie and another boy from being street hustlers in Brazil, and a few months ago they did the same for Ruben and Edwardo, now often known as Eddie.

I almost fell off my horse when he added, "Along with Pieter." I had trouble believing my ears as he went on to tell me how the happy, innocent little platinum haired guy, who looked more like a ten-year-old than his thirteen years; a boy I was rapidly growing to love had not only prostituted his body, but had worked in the international drug smuggling market, that the authorities in a couple of European countries would like to arrest him.

"Junior and Pieter live over there," he told me a mile or so later, pointing at a modern home. "Well, maybe I should say their parents and sister live there," he chuckled. "I would swear they live with me, and visit their parents once a week to pick up their allowance."

"You can't see it from here, but Miguel's other son, Steven and his family live over that hill," it told me as he pointed off in the distance. "They're not only good neighbors and friends, but Steven has a veterinary practice and full service animal hospital here on the commune, I mean coop."

I finally started to relax at least somewhat as we rode and chatted for the next several minutes. I even felt fairly safe when my big horse shifted her weight side to side and followed Zeus up a fairly steep hill.

"This is a very secret area of our land, I don't think we adults are supposed to know it exists," Adam told me in a lowered voice as we neared the hill's summit.

I just had time to take in a fairly large stock pond, and the several horses and kids around it below us, before I noticed Adam reaching over and digging into the saddle-bags he had strapped onto Venus earlier. To my surprise he pulled out a pair of binoculars instead of the beer cans I expected.

"Welcome to Lake Skinny Dip!" he tittered as he handed them to me.

I blushed, then had to bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud as I focused the optics and scanned the flock of kids frolicking around in the pond, as naked as the minute they were born.

"They're dead meat, I'm going to kill all of them, well mine," I commented. It was my turn to enjoy Adam's lost gaze for a few seconds until I added, "They know they are suppose to be wearing their headgears!"

"One of these days, when I feel really evil, I'm going to take them fishing down there," he snickered. "I can't wait to see their faces when they see how well fish bite on worms!"

'The Ranch' was anything but what I had expected. Instead of a complex of barns as I had expected, there was only one fairly small outbuilding at the edge of the complex with a modest size corral area next to it. Instead, there were three fairly large, modern homes scattered around a long circular drive along with a fourth one that was under construction. At the far end of the circle was another identical home, with a much larger copy of them next to it. Another large building was in the midst of being constructed off to the side.

My heart sank a little as Adam explained that it was a Boys' Ranch for needy youngsters - the conditions I had seem at Tim's shelter, along with articles I had read about the Spartan, uncaring institutional conditions endured in these places flooded my mind, as did the possibility that Bobby, even Mike, could end up suffering such a fate.

"I know it looks abandoned right now, but we have almost thirty residents so far, when we finish construction we will be able to house sixty boys." Adam interrupted my thoughts. "But we sent everyone to Dallas for spring break, they're going to Six Flags and such. I think they are going to a Texas Rangers ball game too, and just be tourists for the week."

The high security locks, ceramic tiled walls and one way mirrors I had seen when I rescued Bobby from Tim's 'home' must have shown in my face, at least to my Psychiatrist friend. "Yes, The Ranch is a bit different from most Children's Homes, Orphanages, whatever.

"About half of our boys attend school at Cornerstone Christian Academy, the same private school my boys do. The rest study under individual tutors until they are ready for Cornerstone."

I continued to be amazed as we rode back toward Adam's house and he filled me in on more details regarding The Ranch. It was originally established for kids, much like Pieter, who Adam and Miguel's group were rescuing from the streets of Brazil and bringing to the US for a chance at a new life.

It didn't take the organizers long to realize there were other kids, both abroad and in the US, that they could help, and now only about half the boys were from Brazil. It now was helping street kids, runaways and throwaways. no matter where they were from, to rebuild their lives. "We've established a lot of credibility with different agencies, and many of our referrals are for kids that need help dealing with their sexuality, or sexual orientation," he told me.

His cell phone rang before I could respond. From I'm sure a long trained reflex I reached for mine, and my stomach tightened into a knot when I found only the phone's belt clip on my side, no phone. Oh shit, I thought as I wondered if even Adam knew exactly where we had ridden during our five mile or so trek.

"Try calling your number every minute or so," Adam suggested, handing me his phone. "The horses have extremely sensitive hearing, they might hear it ring. Watch Venus' ears when you do, she'll point at least one of them to anything she hears."

His ray of hope was short-lived though, when I dialed my number it rang only an abbreviated ring before switching to my voice-mail, telling me the phone was either turned off or not working. Yeah well, maybe we'll get lucky, I told myself as we started back to the house. Well, it is a couple years old, maybe it's time for an upgrade anyway, I tried to convince myself.

The herd of saddled horses grazing next to the pasture fence told us the boys were already back from their 'ride' as we approached the house a few minutes later. I staggered against the fence for a minute or so after dismounting, trying to convince my legs to work again after what seemed like days in the saddle, before trudging up the hill behind Adam.

"I wonder who's the most sunburned, and where?" I chuckled to Adam when I saw the flock of speedo clad kids playing around the pool.

"I wonder where Johnny is," he answered. "Ginger's not here, she's never far from him," he added, I'm sure from my curious look.

We received an even warmer welcome than I was used to getting at home as we stepped onto the patio. Several of the boys pushed their thin, wet bodies against Adam and I giving us hugs before Ronnie relieved Adam of his saddle bags, and Junior appeared with two fresh beers. I took a long swallow off of mine and started inside to follow Adam's suggestion we change into trunks and join the boys in the pool.

I felt a twinge of concern when I started inside and saw Carl and Johnny all but cowering in a corner of the deck, nervously trying to put their headgears on. Guilty conscience? Did they see us spying on them? I wondered as I noticed Carl's red thighs and hips, the sunburn area continuing under his speedos.

I almost ran into Jeff before I saw him blocking my path inside. "Ah, , , well, , , ah, maybe if we can, , , well, , , tell you, about something?" he stammered.

"Cant it wait until I change? I'm really sweaty and hot," I asked. Are they really going to confess to skinny dipping? Is someone burned worse than I thought? I wondered.

A whimper from Johnny, and Carl's ghost white, frightened animal face, a face I had hoped I would never see again told me to sit down. Oh shit, I don't like this, at all, I thought as Jerry and Junior ushered Johnny and Carl toward me, both of my little Mouseketeers staring at the deck, their arms folded behind them; they reminded me of condemned prisoners being escorted to the gallows.

"Hi guys, what's up?" I risked after a few seconds of silence. A couple of tears rolling down Johnny's beautiful, freckled face was the only response I received.

Johnny shot Junior, then Ronnie a frightened look when Junior prompted him with his elbow. "Um, we sorta screwed up, well ah maybe Ginger and us did, , , well." He paused and gave Ronnie a frightened look, then continued, "Jerry and Jeff said you won't be as mad if we tell you sir," his voice as high pitched as an opera star's . "I mean we, , , um wanted to, , ,"

"Ginger didn't do nothing, I was riding her, it was my fault, you can't be mad at her." Carl cried, his eyes welling as much as Johnny's.

"They didn't mean to Dad, they didn't!" Jerry added.

After a second or so he prompted Johnny, who took a deep breath and withdrew his hand from behind his back, holding a crumpled piece of plastic out toward me.

It took me a second to snap that he was holding the remains of my cell phone. What had been an almost one-inch wide flip-phone was now about one-eight-inch thick, mangled pieces of IC chips and buttons showing out the sides of its carcass like bloody body parts.

"Ginger sorta stepped on it sir," Johnny whimpered.

"Well, a little is all," Carl whined. "Just with one paw, , , Sir." he threw in as an afterthought.

Just a little, I quipped to myself. What are the odds, how many thousand acres out here, and, , , well, my luck!

"Well, at least I know what happened to it," I started to reach out to accept the remains, but pulled back when Johnny cowered against his brother and threw his hands up, covering his face. Carl let out a frightened whimper a the same time.

"I not going to hit you Son, I'd never do anything like that," I tried. I very slowly reached out and wrapped my hand around Johnny's hip. "I'm not even mad guys," I added as I cupped Carl's waist with my other hand. "Hey, if anyone screwed up I did, I'm the one that dropped it!

"But more importantly, I'm not going to hurt you, please don't be afraid of me." I waited a second or so then very gently pulled the two of them toward me. I stroked both of their thin backs a few times before adding, "I'm not mad at anyone, no one is in any trouble, I promise."

I could feel some of the tension drain out of their bodies as Johnny studied my face for two or three seconds. "What about Ginger? She didn't mean to I promise she didn't, and she's really, really sorry and stuff," Johnny whined.

"I'm not mad at Ginger either, she's a nice horse." Failing a response I added, "I promise Ginger isn't going to get in any trouble."

I was quickly rewarded for my comment with a thin freckle laden body melting against me and an instant later a pair of youngsters perching themselves on my thighs. I enjoyed their cuddle for a few seconds before I realized Johnny was staring intently down toward the pasture, toward Adam's barn.

Is this shit real? I asked myself a minute or so later when a cinnamon colored horse head peered out from the barn's doorway. It looked nervously at the patio, then the other horses several times, then very slowly stalked out into the sunlight toward the other horses.

"Ginger thinks you're neat," my carrot topped lapful almost whispered as he leaned against me. "She said she's sorry, well still, sir."

Only a shrink's kid! I thought. What the hell. "I do have one thing to ask of Ginger," I began. I wondered if I was seeing things when the small mare stopped almost in mid-stride and looked, more stared up at the patio. I felt Johnny's back stiffen before I could continue, "The next time Ginger wants to use my cell phone, I hope she will take her horseshoe off before she dials."

This cant be real! I thought when Ginger cocked her head sideways, just like Carl does when I catch him off guard and confuse him. Maybe, if I quit drinking, the flashbacks will end? I wondered when I glanced down, not only Carl but Johnny had Carl's movie class lost expression and head angle.

"Got'cha!" I hooted as I poked both boys in the ribs. "You too!" I said toward the pasture before I realized I had. I only managed a quick glance at Ginger's indignant glare before I was surrounded by giggling kids.

I enjoyed the boys cuddle for a couple of minutes until the lure of the pool's cool, refreshing water got to me. "Tell you what," I said mostly to Johnny. "Let me change and cool off in the pool for a few minutes, then will you help me pick out a new phone? We'll borrow your dad's computer and see what we can find online." His wide, almost blinding grin told me he had recovered.

The trip upstairs to change showed me another downside of horseback riding. God, I wonder what I'm going to feel like tomorrow, I groaned as my leg muscles painfully objected to the climb. After rinsing some of the sweat and horse aroma off in the shower I slipped into a pair of trunks and used the land phone in the bedroom I was using to call my cell phone number, checking for messages and changing my voice mail message before starting back to the pool. Shit, I wonder if I'll be alive tomorrow, I wondered as muscles I had forgotten I had objected even more violently to the trip back downstairs.

A few minutes in the water, and a few beers, seemed to appease my body somewhat. I was about to suggest Johnny and I go inside and phone shop when a couple of the other boys started talking about going for another ride, and before I could invite Johnny they were all rushing inside to change clothes. Damn, a little different than the neighbor kids, skintight speedos, and equally tight jeans, I though when they rushed back outside, everyone but my boys again wearing almost form-fitting Levis.

It wasn't until they darted across the patio toward the pasture a couple minutes later that I noticed Erbert, as he and a huge black Labrador Retriever, that I later learned was Buddy, took off chasing the boys. Yeah sure, I thought when Adam informed me Buddy was still growing, that he 'only' weighed eighty-five pounds.

My search for a new cell phone was quicker and easier than I had expected. After I logged onto my provider's website, I immediately fell in love with the first instrument I looked at - a combination phone and PDA, complete with color display, camera and even a built in GPS. A little more money than I intended to spend, but perfect, even just slightly heavier and larger than my old one. What the hell, I have a little extra money to spend, I thought as I ordered it.

Their delivery options was just as helpful. I quickly selected to have the phone activated, charged and waiting for me to pick it up at a local store the next morning. I switched over to make sure I didn't need to make any changes to my service plan so that everything on the new phone would work when one of their promotional ads caught my attention. What the hell, spending money is one of my favorite hobbies! I chuckled as I modified my order.

"Impressive!" Adam commented when I showed him the promotion a minute later. "Sprint is our provider too, when you are finished let me on there for a minute!" he asked.

The rest of the afternoon went by quickly. Adam and Mary served a wonderful supper, Adam barbequing several huge racks of ribs along with some sausage while Mary prepared a huge selection of side dishes and desserts, which everyone attacked with a vengeance, especially our eleven young eating machines.

I had intended to return to town after supper, mostly because I didn't want to impose on my new friend's hospitality, and was about to announce I would be leaving soon when my host sat a glass in front of me. Oh well, I guess I will accept his invitation, I decided as I noticed its salted rim.

Our busy day and long trip caught up with everyone including the kids shortly after supper, and shortly after Adam and I settled back on the patio to work on his huge pitcher of Margaritas the boys began building another of their nests in the family room. When I stepped inside a few minutes later they had started a movie playing, but were snuggled into their little groups, all of them sound asleep. I couldn't resist kissing everyone's forehead and tucking everyone in on my way back to the patio. What the hell, no one will know, I chuckled as I kissed Buddy, then Erbert's noses.

Adam and I were enjoying the star-filled Texas night sky a couple of hours later, and debating if we should make another pitcher or call it a night, when we heard a commotion inside.

"Dad, Pop! Zoe is sick! She won't get up or nothing!" Johnny cried as he burst through the patio door. "Please Dad, she's in the barn and won't get up or nothing, Ginger said so!" he declared as he grabbed his dad's hand and tried to jerk Adam out of his chaise lounge.

"Please Dad she is, you gotta come quick!" Jerry added as he grabbed one of my shoulders and tried to lift me from my chair.

"Yeah Dad, she is, she said so!" Jeff proclaimed, yanking on my other hand like it was a rope.

I was still trying to figure out what was going on when Adam barked, "Shoes, boys, everyone! And Junior, Jeff, go put some shorts on!" The youngsters were rushing back into the house before I realized that two of them were, except for their headgears, stark naked.

It didn't take long to figure out something was amiss as we rushed down to the barn. What had to be well over a dozen horses were grouped next to the barn's entry door, staring inside. Adam's big stallion, Zeus, was pacing in front of the barn door firing Ginger and a larger horse, clearly the gate guards, nasty looks as he glanced inside.

The situation looked even worse as I followed Adam and the kids into the barn. A huge black horse was laying on its side in one of the stalls, grunting and kicking her legs into the air, I was sure she was dying.

"She's okay, but you're about to become a daddy!" Adam announced as he pushed Ronnie toward the stricken animal's head.

"Oh, , , Oh Shit!" Ronnie cried. He dove next to his horse, stroked her big head for a few seconds then tried to lift it. Mark and Junior rushed over and helped lift the animal's huge head and laid it across Ronnie's his lap as he sat in the hay. "Breath Zoe, breath deep," he told the big mare.

"Sorry son, but horses don't do Lamaze births," Adam quipped. When I looked up at him he was wearing shoulder length plastic gloves and bending down next to the horse's rear end. "Mark, take my cell phone off my belt and call Uncle Steven. He's on the speed dial." he ordered.

"Breath fast, pant like a dog, deep," Ronnie told his big friend, his voice at least an octave higher than his normal alto voice.

Fuck, where is my camcorder? I asked myself when Buddy and Erbert lined up in front of the big mare, their tongues hanging out as they panted like they had just finished a mile run.

"Damn, Steven said their labor didn't last long, here she comes!" Adam said. When I looked back in his direction I could see what clearly was a pair of small hooves and forelegs protruding from the mare's rear end. "Good girl, you're doing fine," Adam reassured a small pair of nostrils, then a long snout appeared.

"Gross!" Junior scowled. "That's sick!"

"Cool!" Carl countered as we watched Adam tear a thin membrane away from the foal's snout and gently clear its nose.

"Pant, Zoe, pant!" Ronnie cried as he stuck his tongue out from under his headgear and started huffing and puffing like he was trying to breath for his horse.

"Oh my God! It can't be!" Adam exclaimed as he guided the little creatures's back legs out of the womb. He busied himself checking the little pony over for several seconds as we all stared at him, I don't think anyone in the barn had any blood in their ghost white faces.

I'm not sure if the silence, or the wave of tension stuck him, but he looked up at us as the little horse struggled onto its chest. "It's a colt! The first foal born here is a colt!" he proclaimed. I'm sure seeing at least my lost face he added, "A, , , a stallion! A boy!" "And from Zoe and Zeus, you have a VERY valuable animal here," he said toward Ronnie.

"DAD!" Ronnie snapped as he put his hands over Zoe's ears. "He's NOT an ANIMAL! HE'S A HORSE!" "He didn't mean it, he didn't!" he whispered to our new mother.

I hadn't noticed that Ginger was standing directly behind us until she let out a loud whinny and trotted out of the barn. We heard her neigh, then snort a couple of times, immediately followed by a resounding round of neighs from the other horses.

I got a little worried that someone would get hurt a second or so later when Zoe began struggling to her feet, and most of the boys rushed around her to help. Somehow no one got kicked by her unsteady hoofs, and they all but lifted her to her feet.

"Dad! I found Uncle Steven!" Mark hooted. "He's coming and he said to tell you to put on some BO gloves and if he don't get here in time he'll talk, , , you, , , through, , ," he stopped in mid-sentence. "I missed it! That's not fair, I missed it!" he screamed as he stared at the new arrival.

"It's OB gloves son, but tell him to slow down, everything is fine."

"But I didn't get to watch or nothing!" Johnny complained, giving his dad and the colt a dirty glare.

When I realized the person on the other end of Adam's cell phone was probably racing down some dark country road I plucked the phone from Johnny's hand informed the caller the delivery was over, and everything was fine.

After I ended the call I was surprised to see our new arrival was already standing up. He was wobbling like a drunken sailor on his long, unsteady legs, but stumbling toward his mother. "Well, he's going to fit right in around here," I quipped as he stretched his long neck and snout out under Zoe's body, looking for his first meal.

After Steven arrived and began examining Zoe and her colt, Adam and I spent the next twenty minutes or so trying to shoot down the boys arguments that they HAD to spend the night in the barn.

I had to turn away to keep from cracking up when Adam tried his last argument, that they didn't have enough sleeping bags for everyone, and Johnny very indignantly countered, "Dad! Cowboys DON'T use sleeping bags!" After a couple of death threats if anyone went into Zoe's stall we relented.

"One down, six to go. Good boy, keep it up!" Adam told Zeus as we started back toward the house. My eyes bugged when he told me he had six more mares due to foal anytime now, four more due later in the summer.

It took my eyes, and brain, a minute or two to focus and realize where I was when I woke up the next morning. No more Tequila, damn sure no more Mescal! I decided as I tried to calm my throbbing hangover. God, no more horses, I added as I struggled out of bed and tried to ignore my sore legs and back.

After painfully crawling down the stairs and staggering into the kitchen, I poured myself a cup of coffee and savored its wonderful aroma, without even sipping it for a few seconds before glancing out the kitchen window. Well, five of six, or nine of eleven, I thought as I counted the kids splashing in the pool. I wonder where the others are, I thought as I looked toward the barn.

"What's their number? I want to talk to these, people, NOW!" Adam's voice thundered from behind me. "The kind of money we are paying them, and we're down until Monday so they can go to some God Damn conference! Bull Shit!" he snarled as I followed his voice into his study.

"Good morning," I risked to let him know I had stepped into the study.

He fired me a dirty look as a response before picking up the handset of his desk phone again. He punched the keypad three or four time before pausing and slamming the handset back into its cradle. "I'm sorry, not a good morning. I didn't mean to lash out at you.

"We have a very serious problem at the practice, my medical group," he told the phone more than me. "Our entire computer system is down and vacation or not, I have to go see if I can help." he told me. "I can't believe this is happening! They can't access patient records, email, even, even appointments! And the, , , the Bastards we pay good money to are all at a conference, they said they can help sometime Monday!" he snarled. "Advanced Network Services. Service my ASS!"

"Ouch, you don't have a backup system?" I asked. Poor wording, I thought as I fended off his glare. "Like I had told you, I work in computers, is there any way I can help?" I tried.

"Thanks, Christian," he mumbled. "Thanks, but we have a very sophisticated computer system, we have about thirty computers and such. It's more complicated than you could imagine."

"I am System Administrator for a six-thousand plus workstation network, along with four-thousand or so printers, scanners and 'such'. If I can help I'll be glad to try." I countered.

Five minutes later we were out the door, just taking time to tell Mary what was going on. I had wanted to follow him so I could run some errands while in town, but ended up riding with Adam. It didn't take me long to begin to wonder if I had made the right decision, as soon as he turned onto the expressway's access road he pushed his Jaguar's accelerator pedal to the floor, and the speedometer crossed a hundred miles-per-hour while he was still on the entry ramp.

It only took a couple of minutes to determine the network's problem was an easily fixed problem with their server, and just another minute or so to learn how much cooperation, or lack of it, we could expect from his service company. No one at the medical practice had the password needed to access the server, and the service provider absolutely refused to release one, even chewing Adam out over the phone for allowing someone other than their technicians to touch 'their server'.

After helping to peel Adam off the ceiling and asking a few questions, I learned that their Office Manager at least had 'Account Operator' rights (she could add users to the network, or remove them). Using her account and a hacking technique I actually had only been trained to detect and block, I managed to sneak into the server and change the Administrator password.

"Good God, what a mess," I unthinkingly mumbled as I checked the servers settings; a statement I immediately regretted as I watched Adam go back into orbit, his forehead so tense his shoulder length hair seemed to stretch against its pony-tail as it tried to stick straight out. "Let me release all these expired leases, and that will get you back online. We'll worry about the rest of it later," I tried. ('leases' are how a network server keeps track of current computers on line).

" The lease expired? We own this shit!" Adam thundered so loudly I'm sure his overfull waiting room heard him. When I turned around, and was about to explain what I meant, I discovered fifteen or twenty doctors, nurses and others standing behind me, all crowed into the closet sized server room.

"Okay, you're up, have everyone log off and log back in," I announced a few keystrokes later. "And reboot your networked, , ," I paused for an instant when I heard a series of grunts and thumps as everyone tried to squeeze out the server room's door at the same time. "Printers," I told the empty room.

I monitored the server, along with the hubs and switches hooked up to it, for a couple of minutes until a mass of flashing green and yellow lights told me they were indeed up and running.

There is a God! I told myself a few seconds later when I discovered a coffee pot down the hall.

Adam and a somewhat distinguished looking man were waiting for me when I returned to the tiny server room. "Christian, this is Doctor Carl Roberts, Junior and Pieter's dad, and my colleague," Adam began. "Carl, may I introduce Mister Miller, our savior."

After we shook hands and introduced ourselves by our first names Roberts seemed to get right to the point of our meeting, asking, "What happened, how long will your fix work?"

I took a deep breath, then a long sip of coffee as I tried to decide how to answer, how far I wanted to get involved with their problem. Be tactful, it's not your network, a little voice, from my years as a civil servant told me. These guys are getting screwed, blued and tattooed, another little voice countered. Fuck tact, my biker side chimed in.

"Your network is, , , isn't maintained like most are, at least in my experience." I risked. Their silence, and intent looks, told me to continue. "What crashed your network was, well very poor programming. In my opinion." How far do I go, I trust Adam, but, , , I asked myself. I felt my neck tighten as I poked around the server's activity logs.

"Gentleman, you are running Windows Advanced Server 2000, twenty-first century technology, but it is programed like NT, 1985 technology!" "My twins could manage an enterprise better than this, and they're fourteen!" I let slip out.

The situation regarding their network seemed to go from bad to worse as we talked. I discovered that their server had paged the service company, warning that a crash was about to happen, but nothing was done. Although I knew others could be paged, emailed, or even phoned about the impending crash.

I had to re-read the schedule of fees their service company charged a couple of times before I believed it. "Off-site Network Access, one- hundred dollars a month, per computer? Shit, that's a simple firewall setting!" I blurted. "Internet alerts for enterprise problems, you already have it, they have it locked out!" Oops, why did you say that? I asked myself.

"We'd like you to take over administering our network." Roberts told me.

"We're paying about twenty-five thousand a year right now, but name your price," Adam added.

"Twenty-five? Thousand?" I gasped. "Shit, this thing should take five, maybe ten hours a month to maintain! You guys really are getting screwed!"

"We'll pay you the going rate, hundred-fifty an hour to clean this thing up, then anything within reason to maintain it." Roberts offered. I would have sworn his fingers were itching to pull the pen out of his shirt pocket.

"Above twenty-five thousand that is, we'll go two-hundred an hour if needed," Adam injected.

Wait girls, I make just over fourty dollars an hour! I thought. My stomach, I'm not sure if from our skipping breakfast or from stress, added a rather loud growl to the discussion. "Well, for now, I'll accept a couple of breakfast tacos as payment for services rendered!" I suggested. Thank God they accepted, and they escorted me down the street to a cafe.

After we ate I felt a little guilty, but accepted Adam's invitation to use his Jaguar to run my errands while he stayed at his practice to help them catch up from their eventful morning. My stop at the cell phone store was both short and productive, picking up both Adam and my orders, along with finally having a phone back on my hip. Damn, not too many years ago, I would have hated wearing one, now I'm lost if I don't have one! I am getting old! I thought as I made sure my new phone worked.

Despite Dad's teasing about what I was driving, and Binki and Bandit's disappointment that their boys were not with me, my visit home was mostly upbeat. Dad had outdone himself about remodeling Carl's room, except that he had installed two pair of bunk beds. I tried to ignore his gaze, and who they might be meant for. His investment counselor had left packets offering suggestions investing both Carl and my reward money, which looked very promising at first glance. I invited him to join us at Adam's ranch, at least for the night, but he seemed so content and relaxed in his empty nest I didn't push.

I felt the soft, plush leather seats and interior of Adam's Jaguar absorb my body, somewhat my mind, as I drove back toward his office. Damn, these guys are ripping off users, at one-fifty an hour for shit Jerry and Jeff could do better? I thought. I make fourty, maybe fifty an hour for the same shit, , , no, for risking my life too, boom goes the terrorist! They love computer networks!

I was a little surprised to see Adam pacing outside his office as I pulled into the parking lot. "Let's go home!" he all but demanded as he jumped the passenger seat. "Great, you got them, did you check them?" he asked as he dug into the boxes in the back seat.

"Christian, you do know this is a Jaguar," he snapped me back a minute or so later. I just had time to snap back from my thoughts and noticed I was on the expressway before he continued, "It has a six speed transmission, and you are still in third gear! Get to driving, I want to see everyone's faces!"

What the hell, I told myself as I glanced down and noticed I as only doing seventy miles-per-hour. Hey, I've got a pilot's licence, what the hell! I thought as I buried the throttle pedal into the car's lush carpet.

To Be Continued…