Patient John Doe

Chapter 23

'Oh boy, not again!' I thought, as I staggered out of my bedroom the next morning. 'Well, turn about is fair play!' I told myself. Big Ronnie was perched on one of the breakfast bar stools, staring at the kitchen stove with a forlorn look. Mary was scurrying around the kitchen, slinging pans and bowls about. 'What on earth is she doing here?' I asked myself as I glanced at the clock, 'Seven thirty? What am I doing up?' I wondered as I stumbled toward the coffee pot.

"Good morning Adam!" Mary bubbled. "I didn't feel like eating alone, I hope you don't mind, but I thought I would make your breakfast for you!"

"Thanks, so much, but of course you will join us," I grumbled with all the enthusiasm my hangover could muster, before I staggered out onto the patio hoping for a quieter, or at least more gentle setting to wake up into.

All five kids were playing in the pool, still wearing the same Speedo's they had last night. Jay was sitting at the picnic table, nursing his own cup of coffee as he talked on his cell phone. He waved his cup up in a casual salute toward me as he continued to speak into his phone.

"Please hold for a second, Doctor Owens just joined me," he told his phone.

"Dad is flying back from Brazil. He is going to pick Steven and I up later, but I'd like to show him our new property. Would it be an imposition of we stopped by here on the way back to the airport?" he almost whispered, covering the microphone of his cell.

"No, not at all," I mumbled, more to my coffee cup than him. "No! Wait a minute!" I added as what he said found its way through my hangover. "No, not just to stop by, I'd like to show him the ranch, and have a late lunch, or early supper, we can put something on the pit."

"He is over the Yucatan right now," Jay told me after speaking into his cell for a few seconds. "I have to meet with Doctor Ebestein for a late breakfast, and I can pick Dad up after, would that be acceptable?"

"Is that Grande? Please I have to talk to him!" Steven interrupted, trying to grasp the phone for his uncle's hand. Jay's nasty glare, both at the boy and the gallon or so of water the lad had dripped on Jay made the boy back off. Steve blushed almost every color under the rainbow before his uncle handed him the cell phone. "YEAH! Grande's gonna come watch us ride and stuff, he's gonna! Maybe he's gonna ride, bad, totally BAD!!!"

I think the intensity of his uncle's glare at the back of his head made him turn back. "Ah, Grande is going to see your horses, and that I can ride them, I mean on them." He blushed several times as he looked at Jay, waiting for his uncle to ring off the phone. "But, I HAVE to get some Texas clothes first, I mean before Grande gets here, PLEASE! PLEASE Uncle Jay, I gotta! Ah, I must!"

"I think you should get back in the pool, before you dig yourself any deeper into your grave," I interjected. My boys picked up on my hint before either Jay or Steven did, and hustled their young friend back into the pool.

An hour or so later I had to snicker at the horses' dirty looks as our vehicles drove away from the ranch. Jay, off to his meeting with Doctor Ebestein, then to pick up his dad; Ronnie, the boys and I compressed into my Jaguar. I could see young Steven's face melt through the rear view mirror when I turned into the parking lot of a large single store advertising itself as a feed and ranch supply store. "But, are we, can we go to the mall, Doctor? Do I still get to buy my cowboy clothes?" he whimpered.

"If you want authentic western wear, this is the place," I answered. "I know George Strait shops here, so do a lot of rodeo stars." I let his brain wheels grind for a minute before adding, "You never know, we might get to see one of them!"

His face showed his lingering skepticism as we walked through the displays of yard tractors and gardening equipment. I'm sure he was beginning question my judgement even more as we walked down a fifty or so foot long aisle of saddles and tack. I was about to tell him the clothing section was just ahead when I noticed a display of horse blankets, the thick pad placed between a horse's skin and saddle to protect the animal's fur and skin.

"Here we are!" I proclaimed. I grabbed one of the thick, coarse blankets and popped it open, draping it over his bony shoulders before he could react. "What could be more cowboy than a wrangler wrapped up in his pony's blanket! Well, that was easy, let's go home," I added, turning back toward the exit.

"Yeah, perfect!" my Ronnie hooted. "Come on, you heard Dad!"

"Yeah, but he's to puny to ride, we'd never find a saddle that small," Junior giggled.

"Well, he don't got a bridle like you guys," Johnny's high pitched voice added. "Ouch! Dad, Junior hit me! DAD!!!"

When I turned around big Ronnie had a death grip on Junior's thin neck with his right hand, and had seized his younger namesake with his left hand, my Ronnie squirming to get to Junior. "Cool it boys, we are in public," I cautioned.

"He started it!" Junior cried, still back pedaling from my son.

"No, I started it, and it was a mistake on my part," I answered, grasping my still snarling Ronnie. "Behave young man," I snapped, trying to keep my voice low and my arm away from his teeth.

"He hit my brother!" my Ronnie growled at me. "I'm gonna kick your. . ."

"You are going to calm down, and behave yourself, or wait in the car! Then sit in your room on restriction for a week!" He glared up at me, then at Junior, except for the silver tint from his braces his mouth and teeth showing a snarl as intense as Buddy had shown Jay. "Did you hear me, YOUNG MAN?" I added.

"Yes sir," he mumbled after a couple of seconds.

"Everyone chilled?" I asked, looking around the group. "Come on boys, let's not screw up what is going to be a fun day. Do I need to do something corny like make you shake hands?" All five of them blushed. "Let's go find Steven some clothes," I added, turning my Ronnie toward the clothing department.

I maintained my grip on my oldest for a couple of minutes as the other boys darted to the shelves of jeans. I could feel his neck and shoulder muscles relax as I led him around, and then his bony shoulder and chest push against my side. Junior and Mark spent a minute or so offering Steven a cram course in the Levi Stauss product line, to my surprise fairly knowledgeable about the advantage of 501's verses five oh whatever.

"But you gotta get the shrink ones!" Ronnie called to them. His face pleaded his apology and atonement as he rolled his miles deep hazel eyes up at me, displaying the sad puppy eyes he knew swallowed me. "And the low ones," he exclaimed as I released my grip on his neck and he darted to the other kids.

"You still want to become a parent?" I quipped at my guest as we watched the boys team up to choose Steven's new wardrobe, dashing around the children's section like preparing him to model at a New York fashion show, Junior and my Ronnie working together like a pair of professional fashion designers. When he just snickered as a response I added, "I'll trade all of them for a case of beer, we'll load them on your dad's plane as soon as it lands."

"It would take a case of beer a day to remain sane around them!" he grinned.

Two pair of jeans, a completely gawky western belt, a rodeo buckle that was almost as big as Steven's abdomen, and several western themed tee shirts later, our new cowboy seemed fully equipped. I was somewhat shocked when the other boys talked their guest out of looking at cowboy boots, rather bluntly informing him they were not 'cool'. I bought Johnny a pair of jeans like Steven's and the other boys a couple of tee shirts, and soon they were lugging their prizes across the parking lot toward my car.

I had just closed the trunk lid when Johnny pushed against me, looking up at me with the pleading expression his new brothers clearly had been training him in. "Ah, I don't ever get to spend my allowance or stuff. Maybe can I?"

I glanced at my watch, wanting to be sure to be back at the ranch before Jay and Miguel arrived, but something in his face told me that was of less importance. "Of course, it's your money, what did you want?" I ignored Steven and Junior tapping on the car window.

"Well, there was some of them blankets, like you put on Stevie," he began as his face brightened ever so slightly. "They got some more there, well, and there was one that would be awesome for Ginger. It was really pretty for her and I'll buy it for her, please Pop? I mean please Dad?"

I was just beginning to digest his request when he bent over and lifted his right leg, tugging at his Nike. When it didn't come off he grunted and gave a harsher pull, making him loose his balance. I was about to grab him before he fell when his right arm came up, grabbing my belt as he squirmed to keep from falling. 'God, did that happen?' I wondered in total disbelief as he pulled his shoe off and sat it on the car. `Did he not only use his paralyzed arm and hand, but in a coordinated action?'

"I got this much, please can I buy it for her?" he begged, handing me a small wad of currency from inside his shoe.

'Shit, this is indeed what everyone calls Sneaker Odor!' I thought as I tried to unfold the sweat soaked bills. My eyes started watering, I'm sure partly from what I had just observed regarding his recovery, partly because of the acid attacking them from the boy's money. I did manage to focus enough to tell he had handed me twenty-three, maybe twenty-five dollars.

"This might be enough, let's go look," I gasped, trying to keep from gagging as I waved the money behind me, hoping to temper its acidity at least a little. I ignored the other kids' complaints as big Ronnie and I marched them back inside.

The horse blanket Johnny wanted to buy would not only look great on his little filly, but was of excellent quality. It was deep red, with just enough golden, or strawberry golden threads woven into it to give a hint of Johnny's beautiful, angelic hair, along with a stripe going around its edge that was exactly the color of Ginger's saddle.

"You are right son, this is perfect for her," I told my new son. "But, it's my job to buy tack for the horses, I want to pay for it, okay?" I told him as I looked at the sixty-nine dollar price. "You guys want to pick one out?" I said toward my other sons.

"No, I want it to be from me! Please Doctor Pop? Its gonna be special and stuff!"

"We got some money, we. . ." my Ronnie began as he pushed under my other arm. I felt bad when I, meaning to put my fingers over his mouth to silence him almost gagged him to keep him from continuing. He recovered quickly, saying, "I don't think Zoe wants a new blanket, she'd get itchy and stuff! Hera too," he added, clearly for Mark.

I had to snicker when we returned to my car, but after several tries Johnny finally relinquished enough control of his new treasure to allow me to put into the car's trunk. Big Ronnie and I both received another shock when all the boys declined our offer to stop for a snack before returning to the ranch, but they all but demanded we rush home, in time to 'shrink' Steven's jeans before 'Grande', as all of them now referred to Miguel, arrived.

While Mary and I stuffed Steven and Johnny's new jeans into the cloths washer to 'Shrink', the boys rushed upstairs to change. It took a little convincing, but Johnny's ever empty stomach won out, and he reluctantly left Ginger's new blanket by the patio door while he joined the other boys as they inhaled a hundred pounds or so of fruit salad and whipped cream Mary had out for them. As they seemed to be winding down their feeding frenzy, I tactfully caught Johnny's attention, gesturing him into my study.

"I'm sorry sir, I didn't mean nothing or nothing, I didn't, I prom. . ." he told his shoes as I closed the door.

"No, you didn't, you are not in trouble son, come here, I am very proud of you!" I withdrew the molded wad of bills, his gym shoe odor announcing their dislike that I disturbed them. I pealed two dollars off the wad before offering him the rest. "I wanted to give you change, this is what is left from your allowance after you bought Ginger's blanket. And I wanted to tell you how proud of you I am, I love you Turkey!" I enjoyed the hug he leapt into for a minute or so until he started begging to go give his horse her new blanket. "I want to talk to Ronnie for a second first, okay?"

"Please Pop, don't, well he's chilled please don't, , ,"

"I won't, didn't I say I wanted to TALK to him? Go put your money away, and ask your brother to step in. Go!" I added, kissing his forehead.

Ronnie was white faced when he entered the room, almost crying. "Do you know where Johnny keeps his money?" I began. I received only a slight head nod telling me he did. "I expect you to keep this between us, never tell anyone about it, but when Johnny can't see, please put this with his money," I instructed.

He cautiously looked up enough to see the two wrinkled dollar bills I was holding out. He risk a quick glance at my face, then timidly accepted the bills. "Please keep it our secret, even to Junior and Mark," I added as I stood and wrapped my arm around his shoulder.

He took a couple of steps toward the door before stopping and looking up at me. "But, well, what about. . ."

"I respect Johnny more than I can express for loving Ginger enough to spend his money on her," I said, knowing I was not answering the question he began. "But I want him to use his money, all you guys to use your allowance for things YOU want, I buy the tack. Will you help me, please?" I gave him a gentle squeeze and walked out of the study before he could respond.

I was disappointed that I didn't get to see or tape the presentation ceremony, but shortly after Ginger and Johnny trotted out of the barn, the young filly prancing like a dancer, clearly showing off to the other horses.

I considered tying Steven up before he wore a path in my yard grass, running back and forth from the pasture to check on his clothes, but finally Mary appeared with a freshly folded stack of jeans. When Steven arrived five minutes later for what seemed to be his scheduled clothes drier check, he dug through the stack and darted upstairs with his prizes at lightning speed. I'm sure responding to him not returning to the pasture, my Ronnie and Junior appeared a couple minutes later, not even slowing down as they darted through the house and up the staircase. Mark and Johnny were not far behind, grabbing Johnny's new pants before joining the others.

Jay called his mate while the boys were still upstairs, saying he had picked up their dad and was en route to their new property. Almost as if they had eavesdropped on the conversation, boys quickly started appearing downstairs, begging to go and meet 'Grande'.

Steven was one of the last to come down the stairs, before Johnny did. I felt my jaw drop slightly as I looked him over, more an artwork than a real boy. His new Levi's fit like a glove on him. They hugged his hips, ending just below his bony pelvic bone, and being held firmly in place with his thick leather belt stretching the loops of his jeans. An all but skin tight, sky blue tee shirt, tucked tightly into his jeans showed off his flat, thin stomach and chest, form fitting over a couple of inches of his thin, golden bronze arms. As I scanned back down his wiry frame his midriff sucked in as he breathed, and his thick belt along with the huge belt buckle he was wearing remained stiffly stretched between his pelvis as his tee shirt sucked in, a gap appearing at the top of his pants down into his groin.

I had just noticed how perfectly the jeans contoured to his crotch and thin firm thighs, almost like they were stretch fabric when he turned around and leaned over, begging his uncle to go meet 'Grande'. My eyes bugged slightly as his firm little bubble butt pushed out, his butt crack showing, as he bent toward his uncle. The exact fit of his new jeans displayed the wide crack between his long thin legs, and their firm little muscles probably more invitingly than even spandex could.

Junior and my Ronnie, pushing against me begging to go, snapped me back. At first I said no, that the Sanchez were going to be busy, but both Steven and big Ronnie's looks made me reconsider. Johnny and Mark rushed into the room before I could think of an answer, and I almost gasp at the fit of Johnny's new jeans, displaying his beautiful body as wonderfully as did Steven's.

"Why don't you take my car, more room than in your loaner?" I more gasped than asked my guest. 'Time to go back to the Feed Store, I'm opening a charge account there!' I told myself.

"Can we ride? I mean the horses? Come on Uncle Ronnie, you know how and Grande would freak!" Steven begged, pushing his tightly clad backside out further as he pushed against his uncle.

"Yeah, it would be BAD!" my Ronnie chimed in.

"Please Uncle Ronnie, please? I mean Mister Ronnie," Johnny added, red faced.

"Uncle Ronnie feels great, well sounds better," big Ronnie responded, glancing at me as an afterthought.

"I've a gate key," I said, hoping to insure they were not going fence jumping again. After a couple of seconds Ronnie seemed to decide. "Can, , , Uncle Ronnie ride Hera?" I asked Mark. "You guys go saddle whoever Mark wants to ride, Uncle Ronnie will join you as soon as he changes. "Anyone but Zeus!" I barked as they started toward the door. Ronnie, Junior, please wait a minute, I need to speak to you!" I managed to add before they got away.

My house guest gave me an uncertain look, but disappeared upstairs. "Mister Sanchez, well, Uncle Ronnie is a neophyte rider, I mean a, he's not used to galloping and racing, can you guys take good care of him?" I told my tight-faced detainees. "I know you like to have fun, but I want someone riding with him, at HIS pace. Can I rely on you?" I got such a slight nod from my two young statues I wouldn't have noticed it if their facebows, extending further away from their faces hadn't moved. "Oh, here's the gate key, be sure and lock it back," I told my oldest son.

"Your face was priceless, but I have never seen Steve look so good too," Ronnie commented when he came back downstairs. From his face I knew I had been caught, both by him and by me. He was out the door before I could answer.

'Yeah well,' I thought as I watched them ride away, my Ronnie leading the way like a trail boss.

The next few days, the majority of the week was no less than a whirlwind. Ronnie settled the deal on his new restaurant and left for Virginia Tuesday morning. When Johnny and I finished with the Orthodontist's consultation meeting Wednesday afternoon and rushed back to the ranch in time for his riding lesson, I had another e-mail from Virginia. Ronnie and his 'Transition Team' were going to arrive in town Friday morning to assume control of the local restaurant, and that the title search and other formalities regarding their property had been completed.

He also asked if I knew of any sources for horses, if so his brother might join him for the weekend to 'shop' for them. "Only eight mares to start with," I read. I snickered as I read his next line; "We would like Zeus to get started as soon as possible, we hope he won't mind." 'A stallion adding eight new ladies to his harem, I'll have to ask him to check his social calender, see if he can fit in them, , , I mean fit them in,' I told my computer monitor.

'Well, we Texans are known for our hospitality!' I thought, as I sent him a reply saying how much we were looking forward to seeing everyone. I started to get ready for my next patient, but looked back at my at my docked laptop. 'I wonder who else might con his way into visiting?' I laughed. 'I think I'll keep this visit as a surprise,' I decided, as I answered my own question.

Via my e-mail they approved enough of Billy-Ray's renovation plan for their property for him to begin work, as he had on Mary's apartment, gently bragging that he was able to run two crews. After spending an hour or so a day scanning and e-mailing Billy-Ray's proposals and changes to Virginia, and printing out the Sanchez' answers, I set up a new e-mail account for our contractor, and ended up assigning my Ronnie to monitor and relay it to Billy-Ray.

Toward the end of the week Jay e-mailed me, informing me his license to practice medicine in Texas had been approved, and had finalized a coordination with Ebestein's clinic. He would be traveling to San Antonio periodically to perform his revolutionary nerve bundle repair surgery. 'Yeah go for it roomie!' I thought as I read that he also would be training my Medical School apartment-mate in the procedure. Their first procedure was scheduled for next week, a 13-year-old pole vaulter.

Doctor John and I happened to cross paths Friday in the cafeteria line at the hospital, he stepped into the cashier's line right behind me. We chatted for a few seconds as we crept toward the cash register. I filled him in or Johnny's progress, and congratulated him on his new opportunity with Jay, teasing him how, considering his new income potential, he should buy my lunch.

A few seconds later I opened my wallet to pay for my meal, only to be attacked by really nauseous vapors as they rushed into my, and everyone near's nose. I'm not sure if the mold around the one dollar bills, or the reek of teenager foot odor made me snap, but I was sure my sins from the past had come back to haunt me as I withdrew the two one-dollar bills from my wallet. As my eyes cleared enough to focus I was sure they were the bills I had instructed my oldest son to sneak back into Johnny's allowance stash.

"It must be nice, clearly you do not open your wallet often!" John teased as we walked toward a table. I blushed as I told him where I was sure the mildewed money came from, and how mystified I was how it ended up in my possession, again. 'This is going to be interesting,' I thought.

'Yes, finally, it's the WEEKEND!' I told my big cat's steering wheel as the whitewashed fence of my ranch came into sight. I gave the gate a dirty look as it seemed to take an extra second or so to open, but felt the tension drain out of my shoulders and neck as I accelerated a bit faster than normal up my drive.

'Who the hell is this?" I asked myself as I stopped next to a bright red Hummer, complete with temporary buyer licence plates, parked in front of my house. Mary's car and Cindy's Suburban were also there, and Billy-Ray's old truck was parked next to the house. "That thing's not a car, it's a bus!' I thought as I looked at the station wagon style SUV, no trunk but another row of seats in the rear. I shrugged my shoulders and went inside, assuming it belonged to one of Billy-Ray's workers.

The house was unusually quiet, especially for my house. When I entered the family room Cindy and Mary were both standing by the kitchen stove talking quietly. Buddy hopped off the couch and ran to greet me, but didn't yelp with joy as he always does when one of us get home. 'Oh boy, what now?' I thought as I glanced into my study. Johnny glanced up from his work and just gave me a very brief grin before turning back to the papers before him.

Mary clearly was expecting me, and retrieved my afternoon beer from the kitchen instead of the bar. I tool a swig and was deciding how to ask what was going wrong, what the newest batch of trouble was, when Mary turned away. "Are you finished?" she asked, looking at her watch.

"Yes ma'am," Johnny answered, his alto voice seemed normal, almost happy. He was standing at the study door looking at us as I turned.

"Very good, really excellent, eight minutes to spare," Mary answered.

He broke into a huge smile and bolted across the room, crashing against me as he brought his arm up and hugged me. "Hi Po. . . Dad! Cool your home early!" I kissed the top of his head and rubbed his back and shoulders, holding on to him and enjoying his cuddle.

"One more and we are done," Mary injected, brushing the back of his hair. "Would you like to get something to drink before you begin?"

"No Ma'am, I want to finish!" he told my shirt. "I have to go take another test, okay? I mean may I?" he asked, looking up at my face. `May I? Did my former street rat say may I?' I asked myself. "Please, I am finished for today after," he added, his eyes widening.

My nod was all he needed, and after he gave my another quick hug he rushed back into the study. I'm sure my lost face gave my thoughts away, and Cindy leaned over to my ear. "She's good, she is damn good!" she whispered.

"Achievement Tests, Cornerstone provided them," Mary told me when she joined us a minute or so later. "I have to score the last two, but look at this," she added as she brought her laptop's screen to life.

"God Damn!" I blurted out before realizing it as I read the results. "Excuse my language, but are you sure? I mean this is unbeli, , , astonishing!" I stumbled out of my mouth. All his scores had risen well over a grade level, most of them one and a half or more from the battery of test he had taken at Hill Country only a month or so ago. His math skills were so close to sixth-grade level, less than a year behind where he should be. "Christ, he is right with Mark in math and reading!" I exclaimed, trying to keep my excited voice at low volume.

"He is a very hard worker, he is really hungry to learn," Mary answered.

"And I wonder who's motivating him?" I countered. "Saint Mary's Academy," I teased. Without realizing it I kissed her on the cheek as I excused myself to change clothes.

After changing I stepped back and met with Billy-Ray for a few, reviewing his progress on both Mary's new apartment and the Sanchez house. He was about to leave for the day when a thin body slipped under my arm. "Wanta go riding Pop?" it asked before I could look down at my little carrot top's happy face.

"Thanks Pumpkin, but I have to meet with, , ," I stopped in mid-sentence as his face started to melt. "Only if I get to ride Zeus," I answered, squeezing his skinny frame against me. "Let's go change," I suggested looking down at both our shorts. "I'll race you to the barn!" He was off like a flash of light.

Zeus surprised me, instead of demanding to break into a full gallop like he always does to begin our ride, he trotted and occasionally galloped a few yards, clearly allowing Ginger's short legs to keep up with him. I found myself wondering if he was being careful not to embarrass the young filly. The other horses were close behind, but the further from the house we rode the further they drifted back, I'm sure knowing their boys would be home soon, probably listening for the school van.

"Come on, I know where I want to go," I told Johnny. "Let's go to the high country!" I told both him and Zeus as I turned my big stallion toward my mountain. 'Yes, it worked,' I thought as I watched the other animals turn back toward the barn.

Zeus continued to amaze me as we climbed. He speeded up each of the steep inclines we climbed, like he was enjoying the exercise, but kept looking back to make sure Ginger and her rider were keeping up.

"Wow, it's SO pretty here!" Johnny hooted as we rode across the summit. "Its just so awesome. I didn't know kids could go places like this, and we do all the time!"

"Welcome to God's country, Son," I answered, as awestruck as he was.

"Look at all the stuff at Doctor Jay's house!" he exclaimed.

"I think that is going to be their pool," I answered, following his gaze to a couple of back-hoes and other equipment ripping up the earth behind their house.

I absently mindedly answered him as he asked two or three times if they were indeed having a swimming pool installed, that there would actually be two swimming pools in South Texas now, as I climbed off my steed and walked toward the mystery black cloth I had spotted waving in the breeze the last time I had been to the summit.

I had just begun running my fingers through the rag when Johnny almost screamed, "Pop! No, please, that's Zoe's!" A wet nose almost pushed me over as its cinnamon haired owner pushed her head between me and the cloth. "Please Dad, Ginger said it is, Zoe is gonna be TOTALLY PISSED!" her rider cried.

Zeus forced his huge head between Ginger and I before I could answer. From his almost flat ears, and the angry snarl I could partially see as he glared at the other horse, it was clear he wasn't offering any foreplay toward her.

"Down boy, it's okay," I told my steed stroking his neck. "Johnny, dismount, NOW!" I growled, trying to keep my voice as calm as possible. "Down Zeus, chill, please chill," I whispered to my protector.

Ginger gave me a death glare as I grasped her bridle, hoping I could control her long enough for my son to climb down to safety, and turned her face toward mine.

"I'm not going to hurt your prize, Zoe's prize," I told her. "Behave yourself young lady," I cautioned. Her scowl softened to a hateful stare. "I love the victory flag you guys have here, I just want to retrieve a couple of people things from it, I promise I won't hurt it," I added.

She continued to stare at me, but her ears seemed to relax slightly, at least not so tightly pinned against her neck. "Johnny, did she understand me?" I risked. She tried to turn her head back toward her boy. "Relax girl, you too Zeus," I offered in a soft voice before I risked holding Ginger's bridle with one only hand.

"She said okay, but she's scared, please don't hurt her!" Johnny answered grasping her reins as he stepped in front of her.

"I won't hurt you girl, I promise." Hoping my judgement was accurate I let go of Ginger's bridle and turned toward the sacred fabric. 'Holy shit! Zoe didn't bite this guy, she pants'ed him!' I thought as I frisked the garment. It was almost a full pair of trousers, split at the zipper in front and leg seams. Both the hip pockets were there as was one of the front pockets. All his belt loops had been broken, it was clear the only thing he was left wearing, or had fallen onto the pasture, was a piece of cloth covering the front of one leg.

I found the all important wallet, along with a set of keys from the front pocket, along with several pieces of Double-Bubble chewing gum. "See, this is all I wanted," I told Ginger as I offered the items for her inspection. She carefully sniffed each of my hands before looking back at the rag hanging off the tree. "I consider it a prize too, I hope it stays here a long time," I told her as I made sure it wouldn't blow away from the branches it was attached to.

'Did I really counsel a horse, and justify my actions to her?' I asked myself as she turned away, tucking her head under my son's arm. `Did she understand me, accept my explanation?' I wondered as she seemed to confer with Johnny. 'Fuck, did I buy a horse ranch, or a nut farm?' I thought.

I gathered Zeus's reins, and Johnny was already back in Ginger's saddle when I turned back toward them. "She said she's sorry sir, she really is sir," he exclaimed, his voice now soprano. I bit my lip, hoping I wasn't losing it, when Ginger gave me a sad look confirming her rider's statement.

"She's a great horse, I'm not mad," I answered. I grabbed her bridle again and pulled her head against my cheek. "I'm not, okay girl?" She pushed her snout against me as an answer.

The pasture seemed full of riders as we descended back toward it. Junior, my other two sons and Cindy galloping about. `Damn, it is the weekend!' I thought as I noticed Mary, riding Venus, following behind at a slower pace.

"I thought it was going to take all of them to help climb up, but my fat just balances me," she giggled as I rode up next to her. She gave me a bubbly smile that, except for her gray hair, made her face look like a silly teenager as she prodded her mount to follow behind the others.

"Get ready, get set, , ," I heard Junior's alto voice yelling. When I turned toward the voice all the horses were lined up about twenty yards away, all their riders leaning forward with tense faces, I don't think anyone had noticed Johnny's and my return.

"Want to have some fun?" I asked my big stallion as I released my ponytail. "Chill until we get in front of Mary," I told him.

"Go!" Junior yelled. The line of racers bolted into a gallop, everyone crouching forward in their saddles as if they were leaving the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. Zeus followed the cue as if he was in line next to the others, to my surprise galloping at a moderate pace as he ran toward Mary and Venus.

"Okay boy, take'm," I said as I lay my head against his neck. The big Arabian launched into a full sprint almost like he had turned on an after-burner. 'Fucking showoff,' I thought as he slightly changed course several times, galloping right next to each of the other horses as he passed them. Junior and Ronnie were in the lead, neck in neck as we came up behind them.

"Oh shit," I mumbled as it became clear we were going to go between them. When we were about ten feet behind the big mares, I felt Zeus lower his head slightly and somehow fire off another burst of speed, streaking between them with less than a yard of clearance on each side.

"Dad!" Ronnie cried as everyone slowed their animals. "That was mean!"

"Yeah Pop, you scared the SHIT out of me!" Junior shrieked. His face quickly turned from an excited expression to a terrorized one as he put his hand in front of his facebow and looked around, I'm sure for his mother. "I'm sorry sir, please, she'll. . ."

"Good Lord Adam, no wonder you don't want the boys riding him!" his mother's voice interrupted from behind. "What's wrong son, you look like you have seen a ghost?" she asked her ashen faced son. She rode past him and next to me. "Have you made any puppies for me yet?" she asked my mount as she patted his thick neck.

"Walk your horses, cool them down," I said, giving Junior a small grin. He blushed and prodded his mount as he turned it away from us.

"So, it was his foul mouth that got him into trouble that afternoon," Cindy commented as we turned began riding back toward the house, the boys ahead of us. I'm sure my lost look prompted her to continue. "When he came home looking guilty, right after he started coming here. He had an identical look." I remembered Junior's excited outburst about Mark and Ronnie's new computers, how many weeks, months or years ago.

"The glare you gave him did more than either Carl or I could have washing his mouth out and grounding him for a year. Like I asked last weekend, do whatever you want with my son, just keep doing what you are doing!"

Hoping to change the subject, I pulled the wallet I had just recovered out of my pocket. "Oh, I recovered this," I told her. I opened it and was about to hand it to her when I glanced at the FBI identification card. "This is too funny, beyond belief!" I mumbled as I read it: `Dilbert Decker' `Special Agent/Advanced Criminal Intelligence Specialist'

"Isn't there a web-site for classic Oxymorons?" I snickered as I handed it to her.

"You should meet him!" she laughed. "That's one of the few ID photos I've ever seen that improve someone's appearance!" She slowed down, falling behind me. When I turned my head back to see why she was studying Zeus' rump. "You were correct though, Zeus could have used it as a fake identification, he would have just had to walk backwards!" she snickered.

"Dad, someone's here!" a high pitched voice yelled.

"That must be Ronnie, and probably his brother," I told Cindy as we noticed a car turning into the entry gate to my ranch. "Yeah, come on, this might be fun to watch," I added, prodding Zeus into a trot as the gate began opening, whoever it was had an access code.

"Who's that? How'd they get in?" Mark asked as the boys galloped to join us.

It wasn't until we were almost to the pasture fence in front of my house, and the car turned off the drive and slowed, that I noticed the red Hummer was still parked next to my Jaguar.

"Dude!" Ronnie hooted as the car stopped and Steve and his older father climbed out.

"And Grande!" Mark chimed in as both of them and Junior dove out of their saddles, over the six foot high fence and rushed toward our guests.

I almost died when Johnny yelled "YEAH!" and flew off of Ginger's back over the fence. He rolled over head over heals before springing up and dashing toward our guest, limping only slightly more than his usually harmless difference in his gait.

Cindy and I chose to step off our saddles onto the fence, and climb down the other side. When I looked back Mary had already prodded Venus toward the back gate. "Well, she's riding on her own!' I thought as I walked to greet my guests.

I shook Miguel, Steven and Ronnie's hands and greeted them and was about to ask about their trip when a wiry little figure, dressed as the perfect Drug Store Cowboy, wearing skin tight jeans and an equally tight Dallas Cowboys tee shirt emerged from the mass hug of kids and pushed against my arm. "Hi Pop! I mean Doctor Owens!"

"Hi Turkey, what happened to just Pop!" I snickered as I hugged Steven Junior. "Well, I see you dressed for your visit!" I teased.

"We cant get him out of them!" his dad proclaimed. "At least he finally wears a cap correctly!" he added, pulling his son's cap bill down over the boys eyes.

"DAD!!!!" Steve cried. "My hair!"

"Here, Dad, let me help," I quipped, pulling the cap off Steve's head. "Yes, much better!" I teased as I tousled the lad's head, completely destroying his carefully styled spiked hair. "Now you look like a cowboy!" I teased, stuffing his hat crookedly back on his pointy head.

"Come on, let's go riding!" my Ronnie proclaimed, pushing into Steve and my hug. No one waited for permission before darting back toward the pasture.

"NO ONE on Zeus!" I yelled behind them as they sprang back over the fence. Steve climbed onto Cindy's horse and the boys galloped away, the only horse less than completely happy was my stallion, who gave me a couple of nasty glares before trotting off to watch his harem, and his boys.

"That is a huge animal!" Steven said. "They are all impressive, but that is a splendid piece of horse-flesh. How big is he?"

"Right at seventeen hands, I think about twelve hundred fifty pounds, about ninety percent muscle the way he can run," I answered. "Let's go inside, I'll introduce you later," I suggested, trying to distract the Veterinarian side of him to join the weekend side of everyone else's mood.

As everyone settled onto the patio deck, I finally learned where the mystery Hummer came from. Jay and Ronnie had purchased it over the internet, to use while they were at in the Texas hill country. "That is actually why I came out today," Cindy blushed, "I have Power of Attorney, and had to sign for it."

"We would like to park it here until our house is liveable," Ronnie continued for her. "Of course, you are welcome to drive it." `Thanks, but I've never driven an 18 wheeler,' I silently snickered.

Roberts and I made everyone drinks while Cindy filled them in on her progress. I was a little disappointed when I stepped back onto the patio and heard Ronnie announce they could only stay a few minutes, then wanted to go check on their land, and check into their hotel.

"Why are you staying in a hotel?" I interrupted. "I just presumed you would be staying here!"

"No, we couldn't impose," Ronnie answered.

"Impose my ass, I've got an entire second story of unused bedrooms, I didn't spend all that money on furniture for them to sit vacant!" I countered. "Besides, if I can con you'all into using them, maybe you will dust that furniture, save Mary some work!" I quipped, cutting Ronnie off before he could reply. "At least for tonight. It would be much more convenient, we can get an early start to visit my breeder tomorrow."

"Damn, look at him! He's only been on a horse a few times!" Steven interrupted, leaning so far toward the pasture I thought he was going to fall out of his chase lounge. Everyone fell silent as we watched his son and the other boys gallop at full speed, Steve keeping up with everyone else, spurring Cindy's horse to run faster.

"Well, I would bet at least one of you will be spending the night here!" I quipped.

It took a little convincing, but they agreed to stay, even Cindy and Carl agreeing. At first I was a little surprised that Ronnie, after spending the better part of the day organizing his transition team at the restaurant, was free all weekend. "I would like to visit before we leave, but, perhaps undercover," he said. `This might be interesting,' I thought when he asked me to make reservations, in my name for everyone Sunday afternoon. "Request a private dining area. Of course it's on the company, but please be sure not to use our name," he cautioned me.

We talked a few more minutes before Mary joined us, walking back from the pasture much slower than her normal gait. "Lovely animals," she mumbled as she very gently settled into one of the deck chairs. "I must do that again, , , in a year or so," she added.

The rest of the afternoon and evening went well. We let Mary enjoy the nap she had settled into while the Sanchez' went to visit their new ranch, and Carl, Cindy and I prepared supper. Big Ronnie and Steven went riding for a few minutes when they returned to my house, Miguel walked down with them but declined to ride. I ignored the boys complaints about having to groom the horses before they washed up to eat, but after reminding them we needed to get an early start, and that we were going to a breeding ranch, they agreed.

As the boys cleared the supper dishes and we told a still worn out Mary goodnight, all of the adults drifted to their newly assigned bedrooms to change into shorts or swimming trunks, while the kids reluctantly went to take their baths. I jumped into a pair of trunks and made two pitchers of Margaretta before my guests began drifting back onto the deck.

Everyone relaxed for a few minutes, making small talk mostly, as we drifted in and out of the pool. Steven had just climbed out of the water and started back toward the drink cart when he stopped in mid-step, almost staring at the patio door. "So that's their burrow!" he snickered.

I too snickered as I followed his gaze. A steady stream of Speedo clad kids, almost like army ants, were ferrying loads of blankets, comforters and pillows into the middle of the family room, a scene I had seen many times. "Yeah, they have it perfected to an art-form, budding engineers," I commented.

"There is Mister Baggy-shorts!" big Ronnie quipped toward his brother as what had been a mass of pillows with long thin legs dropped its cargo, and Stevie's face and tight body appeared, covered only by a size or so too small Speedo.

"I have to threaten him with his life before he pulls his pants up over his knees!" Steven tittered.

"Welcome to my nut-farm!" I snickered as the boys darted out of the house and into the pool. `Welcome to heaven, to my heaven.' I thought as I watched my unique collection of little angels frolic in my pool, the bright Texas moon reflecting off their wet skin and hair, highlighting their beauty as if a master artist choreographed the moment.

"Welcome to my small piece of heaven," I told my guests before I realized I had said it.

"No, thank you my friend, for allowing us to see at least a small part of it," Miguel's voice snapped me back. He pushed a fresh drink into my hand as I looked up at him. "Thank you for allowing us to join at least a part of your heaven on earth, and including my grandson into it," he told me as he clicked his glass against mine.

To Be Continued…

Notes from the Author:

There was an error in Chapter 22, and I sent a revision to Nifty asking them to correct it. Nothing earthshaking, actually regarding the cost of horses back from Chapter 7, but I wanted to the readership know if it appears different than from the last chapter, why. Like I say nothing major, but it was pointed out to me in several e-mails I have received (hey, it's nice to know people are still paying attention!) Thanks to those that brought the error to light.