My Flock

Chapter 20

Shit! That's one thing I didn't miss, I mumbled. Maybe it's a dream, MAKE IT GO AWAY! I prayed as I threw the covers over my head. Several seconds later I was pretty clear the buzzing monster disturbing my slumber was either a very bad nightmare or real, but that it was intent on interrupting the wonderful dream I was having about my long dead wife.

After it became clear the death threats, even the one finger messages I sent it from under the blankets weren't going to work I turned over and delivered a bone crushing blow to its snooze button. The punch seemed to be lethal as the monster fell silent, but not without a price; the sharp pain in my hand destroyed any hope of drifting back off to sleep much less resuming my dream.

"Hi Bunny," I mumbled at the furry little critter perched on my pillow, twitching his nose at me.

"You too Bandit, I missed you guys," I told the tiny tuft of hair showing out of the blankets next to me. "Have you grown?" I mumbled as I felt the little dog's warm body squirm against my chest and stomach.

I slid my hand under the covers and stroked his little head a couple of times. Wait, I was gone two days and my dog got braces? I asked myself as I felt the nylon straps going over the top of his head and around his neck. A warm tongue licking the back of my hand, still cupped around Bandit's, forced me to open both eyes, and try to focus them.

"How did I end up with a bunny, a puppy and a turkey in my bed?" I asked the still sleeping young body pushed against me. A kiss to his forehead earned me a groan, and an even tighter snuggle.

"Bastard!" I snarled when the plastic monster on my night stand again attacked my ears. My cursing, or my attack on the beast, earned a grunt then a sleepy giggle from the lump squished against me.

"You're suppose to be in your bed, not mine!" I tried. "School day, remember you sleep in YOUR bed?" won a hug and facebow pushed into my neck as the only response. I was trying to think of what to say next when a soft whimper distracted me.

"Hey Son, what's wrong?" I asked his forehead. The only response I received was a shrug.

My stomach intervened, demanding a caffeine fix. "Well, I bet some juice, or milk might wake a sleepy head up!" I suggested as I poked his ribs.

I didn't wait for an answer, threw the covers back, stood up and scooped him out of the bed. "Yeah, that sounds pretty empty, better do something about it!" I teased as I tapped on his flat stomach and started down the hall with him in my arms.

The griddle load of pancakes and sausage Dad was preparing distracted the lad as soon as we entered the kitchen, and whatever was bothering him seemed to be put on hold as his brief clad little body bounced between the stove and the tall glass of orange juice I poured him. He gave me a soft little giggle when I tucked a straw under his facebow, but downed all twelve ounces of the juice in one long slurp, and didn't hesitate when his grandfather sent him to get dressed for school, and 'help Bandit' wake up his brothers.

When I joined the boys at the breakfast table after showering and dressing for work Carl still seemed slightly withdrawn. I was relieved that whatever was wrong hadn't affected his appetite as I watched him wolf down a huge stack of pancakes and pile of sausage links, but he seemed to withdraw when the twins excitedly talked about getting to do some more jobs for me after school, and Bobby and Mike babbled about getting to go back to the ranch with their gramps.

Even my quips that we were 'bacheloring it' tonight, and teasing about how I was thinking about making hand made pizza tonight, which made the twins turn ashen with worry, didn't seem to draw him out of the discussion he seemed to be having with his plate.

Okay, something is definitely wrong, what to do? I asked myself when my declaration that I had never cooked pizza silenced the table, and seemingly the neighborhood, but earned no reaction from Carl. Hey, so what if I'm late to work, what are they going to do, fire me? I decided as I downed the last of my coffee.

I waited until his plate was almost empty before excusing myself and kissed everyone goodbye. I started into the entry hall, but turned back and asked the youngster to walk me out to my truck. He gave the serving platter, and his next helping of breakfast a longing glance, but shrugged and shuffled to the front door.

"Okay, what's wrong?" I tried as I picked him up and perched him on the tailgate of my truck. "Come on son, it's Dad, Pop, what is bothering you?" earned me a shrug and a small liver lipped frown.

"God Damn Turkey, your not getting ready to molt are you? You'd sunburn all your new feathers!" I tried. A pinch on his little bubble butt earned a shy smile. A couple of rib pokes got me a soft snicker.

"Are you really gonna come home with us?" he whimpered. "Tonight I mean, you not going to, , ," he drifted off without finishing. "Well, you gotta, , , well you and Jerry and Jeff gotta do all that stuff anyway," he told his shoes.

OUCH! I groaned. Smooth move, Exlax. I chastised myself. "I know things have been a little crazy, and Pop has been really busy, I'm sorry. As soon as we get moved and settled in everything will get back to normal." Foot in mouth disease, I groaned as I watched his face melt back into a frown.

"I know I haven't been paying enough attention to, , ," I paused as an idea flashed into my brain, as clearly as the magic lightbulb icon flashing above cartoon characters on TV. "To getting everything done we need to. I need some help, can I count on you to help me?" He shrugged, but didn't resist when I pulled his shoulder under my arm and hugged him.

"I want to move the Mooney from SAT to Twins Oaks," I continued. "But I need a right seat to fly with me, and, well I don't know when I'll have time to write a flight plan." I paused a second for effect before asking, "Can you help me out?"

I started to wonder if I had done the right thing as his eyes bounced off my face, up into the sky then out into space. "Ah, but Jerry, well and Jeff can, , ," he started to tell the morning sunrise.

"I didn't ask them to be my right, did I?" I cut him off. "And she hasn't been up in a couple of weeks and I need to be sure my hours are current, I think it would be wise to do an hour or so omni, maybe up to Bastrop, or Canyon, whatever. Can you write the flight plan? Will you fly right seat?"

Gears seemed to grind in his little head for a couple of seconds. "Ah, ah yes sir!" he told the neighbor's rooftops. "Can Mike, well and Bobby, well and I guess the twins and everyone are gonna go?"

"Thanks for thinking of them, that's very nice of you." I answered. "But I had planned on taking my bike to the airport, and I'm not too sure we could get everyone on her." I fought to keep a straight face before adding, "Guess it's just you and me, can you handle that?

"I've got to go to work, but will you write a flight plan? SAT to, I think its identifier code is T94 but look it up. And an hour of cruising, or two, where ever you want. Can we go up Wednesday after school?"

Now, I just hope I can get hangar space at Twin Oaks on this short a notice! I thought as I watched him brighten to as happy a face as the day I adopted him.

"SAT to T94 yeah I can! Ah, yes sir!" he proclaimed. He hopped down from the tailgate and surveyed me for an instant. "Can I do the fuel calculations too? I mean should I sir?" My nod seemed to be enough of an answer and his pixie face brightened like a new penney, then developed an impish grin.

"Oh, and weight calculations!" he proclaimed. "Me, at ninety pounds and, , ," he looked me up and down again. "Three hundred pounds for you, yes sir!" He darted back into the house before I could grab him.

"Hundred eighty pounds, BOY!" I called after him. Oh shit, if he files a flight plan for a twenty mile hop between FBO's I'm dead meat with the FAA, I groaned at my front door.

I was two or three blocks from the house when my cell phone rang. What now? I groaned when I checked the Caller ID and saw Pepe's picture. 0655 hours, five minutes to seven? What now Lord? I wondered.

"Good morning Colonel Pop!" his beautiful voice bubbled, I couldn't help but wonder how anyone could sound that cheery this time of the morning. "May I give you the morning report sir?"

Thankfully everyone was accounted for, was already awake and preparing for their school day. "Are you coming to see us today, Sir?" he almost begged.

"I, I have some commitments in town this afternoon," I answered. The silence on the line told me that wasn't the answer he was looking for. "But, you have your meeting with, with Colonel Gramps, about the flag pole after school, so you will be busy too. Will you have time to call me with an afternoon report, after school? I'll probably be out to see you tomorrow, will you tell Diablo?" I tried.

"Yes Sir!" he all but screamed into my ear. What kind of balancing act have I gotten myself into? I asked myself after we rang off.

For the first time since I took over as Network Administrator on base work was actually boring. Except for the half hour or so I spent working with my successor on a few issues, I spent my morning calling some of the people I had worked with over the years to announce my retirement, and wandering the halls wishing for something to do. By lunch I was pinching myself to keep from falling asleep, and announced I was going home to 'archive' my e-mails and such.

Yes, this is the life, I told my beer can a couple of hours later. I had spent a few minutes organizing the files on my laptop that I wanted to archive onto my home computer before I turned the government laptop in when I left my old job, then checked on my new clients and completed several projects for them, all while sitting in my recliner with my laptop perched on my thighs. Damn! I thought as I updated the twins' database. In a little over an hour I had billed out more than what would be a day's pay working for the Feds, and between the boys work yesterday and what I had done today had earned what would have been a weeks' pay, and I had another twenty plus hours in new work orders.

I was in the middle of outlining the projects I wanted Junior and the twins to work on during the week when the doorbell chimed, and before I could push 'save' the front door burst open.

"What, they saw their chance and fired your ugly ass?" I called out without bothering to turn around. The refrigerator door slamming closed, and a second later something cold being pushed against my neck was the only answer I got.

"I wish! But almost!" Tim boomed. He took a long swallow of beer and proclaimed, "I'm out of that hell hole by the end of the week!"

"What happened?" I risked.

His evil grin caught my undivided attention. "Headquarters in Austin was, well, surprised, and the Director was pissed when I told them I was history." He held his beer out as a loose toast before continuing, "Until I told them where I was going, and that I would be in charge of evaluating prospective new placements.

"Shit spreads quick, I had to get the hell out of there. My phone was OD'ing on all the calls I was getting from workers I met once, ten years ago!" I felt somewhat relieved, then concerned as he explained how CPS had worked so well with him regarding his new job, and how anxious they were to begin placing with us ASAP.

My stomach tightened somewhat when he offered me a file folder and continued, "Hey dude, I was wondering if you can help me out."

"Tim, well, don't you think we should start work out there before we start accepting kids?" I asked, trying to keep from groaning. I stared at the folder he was now holding under my nose for a instant before accepting it.

"Judy and I had a long talk last night. Well, and if she gets new furniture, I think I should something, can you hook me up with your salesman? Maybe if you can get me a deal like you did she might go it."

"You have GOT to be shitting me!" I gasped as I opened the folder full of printouts of different new Hogs.

"I was thinking a Sportster, or maybe a Fatboy, but I can't spend too much money or she'll never okay it."

"You really think you can, , ," I had to stop in mid-sentence to keep from laughing. I sat my laptop on a nearby table and snickered, "I'll call him, but only if I can be a fly on the wall when you ask her. No, beg her!"

"Hey dude, I wear the pants in my family!" he proclaimed with his best deep biker voice.

"Pants or panties?" I quipped before I realized it. I managed to twist enough to the side that his big fist slammed into the recliner instead of my triceps.

"I'm gonna put your running lights out!" he boomed. "Right AFTER you call your salesman. And I get you a fresh beer!" he added as he held my cordless phone out. He jerked the folder out of my hand and pulled a printout from it. "Here's their number!"

Tim was out the door a less than second after he rang off with the salesman. Do I know someone in Military Intelligence well enough to get his house bugged? I have GOT to hear that conversation! I chuckled as I listened to his truck tires squeal as he sped away.

The boys were all business when they got home from school. All I got were quick hugs from them before they disappeared into their bedrooms to change clothes, and the twins began reviewing the projects I had outlined for them while they raided the refrigerator, even carrying their stack of sandwiches into the front room, and eating as they started work.

Carl's liver lipped frown began to show itself when he realized he had been beaten to the punch regarding computer time until I suggested he use the computer in my bedroom. He bolted down the hall like his feet were on fire, but I felt better when he reappeared a couple seconds later, grabbed three or four more sandwiches to toss on his snack plate, and again disappeared.

The house, especially the front room, was a flurry of activity for the next hour or so. Jerry and Jeff reminded me of one of the crisis management teams we used at work, taking turns with one of them on the keyboard while the other burned up the cell phone airwaves, coordinating with Junior and at the same time verifying his brother's work and making suggestions. I had to snicker as I watched them stuff chips and bites of their sandwiches under their headgears between keystrokes.

I was busy checking my laptop for files I wanted to keep when I felt a presence next to me. "Can you check this Pop?" Carl's high pitched voice almost begged. When I looked up he was leaning against my recliner offering out what had to be a half-inch of printouts, complete with an empty plate perched on top.

"You didn't save me anything?" I teased as I accepted the papers and handed him back the plate. "Oh, yes you did!" I tittered as I scraped the load of mayonnaise, relish and what looked like corn chips off his facebow. "Thanks!" made him turn several shades of red as I licked my fingers. "If you'll get me a fresh beer to wash that down, we'll go over this."

He flashed an embarrassed grin and bolted out of the room. I just had time to sat my laptop aside when he reappeared. He's going to make a great pilot. Even under extremely high stress situations, he keeps his priorities in order! I snickered as I he set my beer, along with what had to be a thirty-two ounce glass of milk on the end table and crawled into my lap.

I was beyond surprised, better put shocked, at what he had prepared, I doubted the crew of Air Force One prepared such detailed flight plans for trans-Atlantic, multi-nation sorties carrying the President. Besides the basics like aircraft identifier and number of souls onboard, he had prepared some really advanced fuel use and weight calculations, he even had done weight distribution requirements to balance the craft like the a cargo 747 driver would, even though my little Mooney would be empty save the two of us and my ten pound flight-case.

And he's got twenty, maybe thirty hours logged? I asked myself as I scanned the three or four pages of predicted weather patterns, even possible cross-wind predictions at both airports, emergency alternative landing locations, then the list of other scheduled flights that might be in the air, twenty to forty thousand feet above us.

"This is, amazing, fantastic!" I commented. I reached over and started to pick up my beer, but handed him his milk glass before downing a swallow of my can. "You did wonderfully!" I proclaimed, earning me a soft giggle. When I glanced at him he had sucked about half of his huge glass through its straw in one gulp.

"Yeah, cool!" a young voice rang from behind my recliner.

I just had time to glance around and see Jerry looking over my shoulder before another, identical voice announced, "Go bro! But it's Twin OAKS, not Twin Oak." I looked away, cursing myself that I hadn't kept the twins busy, and that I hadn't told them I was taking Carl up without them.

"Dad, we need some more assignments, we're done," Jerry, I think unknowingly, rescued me.

"No guys, if you've already finished you did a good day's work. And it's a beautiful day, you guys go outside and play." I answered. "You too, I'll finish reviewing this and give it back to you," I told Carl as I took his now empty glass away from him.

"No arguments!" I snapped over their objections. "Dad has to start supper." I tried.

"Yeah, whatever. Carl, go get the soccer ball." Jerry ordered.

"Go on, you're the runt!" Jeff barked. Carl gave me a questioning look, but crawled out of the recliner and shuffled out of the room.

Oh boy. caught! I groaned as the twins perched on my recliner's arms. "Guys, I haven't, well I didn't mean to exclude you, but, , , well I, , ,"

"Thanks Dad!" Jerry began, cutting me off.

"He's been sorta freaked, sorta," his twin added.

"He's been scared you, well, about everything going on some and stuff. It's cool your gonna, , ,"

He fell silent as I pulled them off the armrests into a hug. "Thanks guys, you don't mind? That I'm going up without you?" I gasped. Their return hugs answered for them.

"Come on!" Carl screeched from behind us. Both the twins sprang out of my chair as a response.

"You want to get your ass kicked again!" Jerry hooted.

"We gotta talk to Mrs Young, Dad's gonna screw up the pizza!" Jeff added before I could react. I turned around to nail them, especially Jerry for his language, but when I saw how affectionately the twins had their little brother nestled between them as they guided him out the door, I didn't have the heart.

Screw up the pizza? What this kid?, I chuckled a few minutes later as I walked into the kitchen. I've been a single parent for, how many years now, and I can't handle a pizza supper? I snickered as I picked up the phone.

The boys didn't disappoint me a few minutes later when a rickety old car rattled to a stop in front of the house. The poor delivery boy made it fifteen or twenty feet into my yard before they saw the bright red warming bags he was carrying, and pounced on him like an attacking army. I had the good sense not to get in their way as they bolted toward the house carrying stacks of cardboard boxes, and rushed to see if the high school kid they left behind was okay.

The poor kid was leaning against a tree with a dazed look on his face, but after I paid him, gave him a healthy tip and helped him pick up the empty warming bags that were scattered around the yard he managed to limp back to his junker.

After wading through the sea of boxes and glasses I somehow managed to find a couple of uneaten slices, and it wasn't until I looked around for another that I got the feeling something was out of the ordinary. A closer scan of the feeding frenzy going on around me confirmed my suspicions, when I saw an extra headgear on the table, and a couple of brief glimpses of a skinny shoulder hiding behind one of the open boxtops.

"Hi Timmy," I tittered. "Does your mother know where you are?" I somehow got out without laughing.

The kitchen, for mealtime, fell frighteningly silent for an instant. "Ah, we invited him, was that okay? We, , ," Carl began.

"He means we invited him because you taught us it's impolite to, , , to leave someone without, , , inviting them!" Jerry cut him off in a loud voice. He cut his twin a worried glance before adding, "That's what you taught us, sir."

"Yeah sir, I mean Dad!" Jeff proclaimed. "We were right weren't, I mean, we were very proud of Carl for remembering!"

"Thanks for inviting me sir!" Timmy mumbled. "Ah, thank you Pop this is good!" When I looked over he was cautiously peeking around the boxtop, his face as red as the tomato sauce on the slice of pie he was devouring. I started to suggest he call his mother, but decided that, judging from the amount of sauce on his hands, I'd have to run my cordless phone through the dishwasher to get it clean if he got anywhere near it. Somehow I wasn't too surprised when a few minutes after we finished eating when Timmy announced he had to go home, that his mother would have supper ready soon.

Our evening was pleasantly quiet. Dad was extremely impressed with the boys he met regarding the flag pole. He snickered as he relayed how they had tried for a huge 'Garrison Flag' that was something like twenty-feet tall and thirty-six feet long, and required a hundred-foot plus flag staff, but that they had already downloaded sources and specifications for a more reasonablely sized setup. Cindy happened to be on campus and made arrangements for the contractors that were building the new gym to begin the concrete work needed, such that everything would be ready by the first of the week.

Pepe called with his 'evening report' while the boys were doing their homework. At first I was disappointed when he informed me that he could not see me tomorrow as he had to stay after school and 'do extra work' that he had forgotten he had to do, but when he repeatedly sobbingly apologized, and told me all the ways he had tried to get of them, I began to worry. After we rang off I mentally reviewed our conversation for several minutes, then called Adam.

"No, he's not in any trouble, quiet the contrary. By the way, he absolutely worships you, he was waiting on my doorstep when I got home from work, and was willing to sacrifice his future to keep his meeting with you." Adam told me after I filled him in. I had a little trouble believing my ears as he went on to explain that the boy was taking a series of what he called 'equivalency challenges' to bypass class-work and earn credit for college courses, but had begged to skip or reschedule the tests to meet with me.

As soon as I'm rich and famous, I'm going to redesign your worthless ass, I groaned the next morning as I delivered a harsh punch to my bedside monster. A computerized version, maybe a robot that gently massages my back and neck until I wake up. I wished. Yes, with warm, soft fur, I chuckled as Bandit snuggled against me. I began to worry a little when Binki didn't join our cuddle, until I turned over to give the beast's snooze button another thrust.

"Hi Turkey, hi Bunny," I mumbled at the thin shadow sitting in a chair next to my bed. "What'cha doing up so early?" I tried. Pulling the blankets back just slightly seemed to be enough of an invitation, and Carl, wearing nothing but his briefs and headgear sprang out of the chair and into bed, stuffing Binki between us before he squirmed against me.

"Well, you leave too early and stuff, and I sorta had an idea," he whimpered into my armpit.

Stay in bed and cuddle all day? I'm game! I tittered to myself as I felt his warm, soft body mold itself against mine.

"There's a, well, at Fredericksburg they got a place that sells barbeque and stuff at the airport, at the FBO. T82 sir," he began, his voice an octave or so higher than usual. "And, I got a lot of allowance saved up and stuff, well and, , ," he pushed his facebow into my ribs and didn't finish his sentence.

A 'hundred-dollar hamburger', I snickered, remembering the common excuse among private pilots about spending big bucks to take their aircraft up for short hops, justifying their trip and expense by grabbing a sandwich during their sortie. I stroked his thin back for a minute or so, trying to wake up and enjoying his cuddle.

"Yeah, I've been there, it's a nice place, they have some German sausage that is out of this world, and some great barbeque," I replied. "But, I don't think it would be a good place for us to go." I paused for a second or so, that earned me a gasp, then a whimper. "They have great food, but I don't think they serve carrots, and I'm sure they don't have bird seed on the menu." I added.

He stiffened in my arms, and an instant later I was fairly sure I saw a puff of smoke come out from under the covers. "Pop! You're mean!" reverberated into my chest.

"Fredericksburg is a great idea, but leave your money home, Dad's going to buy," I snickered. "After we eat, you go start our pre-flight and I'll pay the tab." earned me a hug.

"But, Dad has to get ready for work, wrap your arms around my neck, tight!" I told him. Damn, he getting big! I thought as I struggled to scoop him up, but the aroma of the coffee pot gave me the strength to carry him down the hall and perch him on the kitchen counter.

Pepe's 'morning report' turned out to be the most exciting part of my workday. Except for reading e-mails congratulating me on my retirement, I couldn't find anything to do. By about ten o'clock I had enough of standing around, and slipped out to my truck, booted my laptop and did some work for several of my new clients until my battery died. Screw it, no one is going to miss me anyway, I decided as I left the base.

It didn't take me long to realize how crippled I was without my laptop when I visited one of my clients onsite, and made my next stop Adam's practice. After plugging my little computer in to recharge I began several updates I wanted to perform on their server. I had worked for twenty minutes or so when I felt another presence in their tiny server closet.

"Well, look at this, a real live computer tech!" Roberts teased.

"I didn't know such a critter existed, the only computer people that ever came here until now were salesman," Adam chimed in.

"Maybe if we feed him he'll stick around for awhile, or follow us home!" Roberts tittered.

"Hey, thanks! I'll buy, anywhere you want to eat, you name the place!" I answered. "I can expense it out, and bill your practice for it!"

"Well, he's a quick learner, but no, we'll buy." Roberts groaned.

I was a little surprised when we left for lunch a half-hour or so later, instead of driving somewhere to what I expected to be an upscale dining event with a couple of clearly wealthy professionals, we walked down the street to a little mom and pop Mexican food café specializing in nintey-nine cent tacos.

Most of our conversation was nothing more than general discussion. They told me Diablo was going nuts, demanding Mike and Bobby's undivided attention when they and my Dad had been out to the ranch, even sulking around when the other horses were ridden and she wasn't.

I was impressed at how well Dad seemed to be relating to the boys at Sonhos Dourados, but tried to ignore Adam's subtle complaints about Mary disappearing when she knew the old man was around. I snickered when they suggested putting Dad on the payroll.

"I don't think you need to pay him anything, the old buzzard is having the time of his life. Besides, I do his taxes, he has to fight to keep his income from cutting back his Social Security checks," I told them. I couldn't keep from smiling as I thought about how the past few months had cracked his thick, salty shell, and his attitude regarding showing his emotions and affections.

I almost choked on my taco when they gave me more details regarding the examinations Pepe was about to take. "Cindy learned of an AMA (American Medical Association) program, and we have been working on this awhile," Roberts told me. "But, if the youngster does well enough on these tests, he might be able to bypass the rest of his Pre-Med college curriculum, and enter Medical School this summer, or fall."

"We have UTSA (University of Texas at San Antonio) Health Science Center onboard, and it's possible he could become a medical student at sixteen years old, get to hang M.D. after his name while still in his teens!" Adam beamed.

"Hell, before his voice cracks!" Roberts quipped. "He'll make a great surgeon!" he beamed.

"Psychiatrist!" Adam snapped. "Or, maybe Geriatrics, to treat you old farts!" he paused for an instant, looked Roberts in the eye and chuckled, "I bet he's looking forward to getting even with the old fart that gives him a shot in the butt every week." Thankfully, the conversation drifted on to other topics before they killed each other.

I spent another hour or so working on their network after lunch, and waiting for my laptop to charge before slipping away. I did get roped into meeting them at Cornerstone Academy the next day to meet their administrators before I became the full time Director next week. Having been to a few school lunches at the twins school when they were younger I shuddered when he suggested we join the kids in the school's cafeteria for the noon meal, but agreed.

I made a quick visit to another of my new clients, mainly because their clinic was near the airport, then dropped my flight-case off and asked my FBO to service my little Mooney for tomorrow before heading to Sonhos Dourados.

Ah, Dad, I thought you were home-schooling Bobby and Mike, I thought when I saw his van, and Mary's car parked next to our future home and the boys in the pool.. After I parked my truck I didn't have time to close the driver's door before a loud series of whinnies and neighs rang from the pasture fence.

"Okay girl, I'll be there soon!" I yelled, earning an angry snort from Diablo's indignant face. Oh great, I groaned when Ginger trotted next to her, firing a death stare at me. The bug eyed rat darting under the fence toward me told me I was stuck, and I started down toward the gate.

Diablo buried her huge head in my chest as warmly as any hug I had gotten from the boys as soon as I walked through the gate, and let out a series of soft snorts as I stroked her neck and ears. "I know you want to go for a ride, but I don't have your saddle, I think it's still at Adams," I told her a minute later.

"Yeah, I'll pet you in a minute," I snapped at Erbert when he started jumping up and down and barking.

He fired me a dirty look, barked a few times and ran a few feet away from us before turning around and barked again. What the hell? I asked myself when Ginger nudged my shoulder and Diablo broke our embrace. The next thing I knew I was being pushed by two horses behind the little rat toward an out building nearby, several more horses closing in on us as we walked.

Yeah well, I groaned when I opened the building's door and discovered it was a tack room. A glance behind me at the now five or so big hunks of horseflesh behind me told me I wasn't going to get out of it, and picked out one of the saddles and a bridle. When I again turned around Diablo was standing sideways in front of the door, back in her swimsuit model pose.

Somehow I managed to saddle her, working around Ginger's big head inspecting my every move, and after a little adjustment fitted the bridle onto Diablo's big head. Oops! I thought as I swung into the saddle and realized the saddle's stirrups were adjusted for one of the kids, that my knees were about waist level like a racing jockey. I was about to climb back down when the big steed let out a loud whinny and bolted away, accelerating to mach three like a rocket sled.

I'm not sure if it was my raw survival instincts kicking in, or the massive suction cup my rectum had formed on the saddle saved me, but somehow I managed to stay on her for the next ten minutes, that seemed like ten years, until she began to slow. Yes, there is hope! I prayed as she slowed to a trot.

I managed to take a couple of breaths and was about to pull her to a stop so I could adjust the stirrups when she let out a loud snort. No God, please no! I groaned as I followed her gaze and saw Zeus, and another who I was fairly sure was Zoe, both of them unsaddled, galloping toward us. Ginger and Zoe's foal were right behind racing to keep up.

Wait Girl, let me off and you'll do better! I tried to transmit to her brain as the three big animals broke into a horse race. Please God, just take me quickly, painlessly, I prayed to my contorted knees as we approached warp speed.

At first I thought we had galloped through the Pearly Gates and that I had arrived in Heaven when I felt my big steed slow down, and heard the angel like cheers and laughter of young voices. It took several tries, but I finally convinced my eyes to open enough to risk a quick peek into my new, eternal home. All I could manage was a groan when my eyes focused enough that I could see it was Mike and Bobby, standing next to my Dad and Cindy, not angels greeting me.

"Damn-it Son, that's NOT one of you God Damn crotch rockets!" Dad barked in his harshest command voice. "How could you abuse such a beautiful animal like that, she's drowning in her own sweat, and completely out of breath!" he snarled as he stroked Diablo's nose.

"Yeah Pop! Can I ride her! Please?" Mike pleaded.

"Me next, I get to ride her next!" Bobby proclaimed as he rushed forward and hugged my big steed's front leg.

"Not now, the poor animal needs to rest, boys," Dad answered for me. He fired another dirty look at me before adding, "Why don't you guys go brush her, maybe she'll understand not all humans are animal abusers."

I don't EVEN believe this, I groaned as I looked down and saw Diablo cuddling her big snout against Dad's shirt, Mike hugging her other front leg. Somehow I managed to fall off her, and after a few staggering attempts to keep from falling down regained my balance.

"You didn't find her saddle?" Cindy asked. "Adam moved it over here yesterday so you'd have it, it was right next to the one you used!"

What did we do to piss you off, God? My cramping knees silently asked the sky above. Why me Lord? I groaned.

Traitor! I tried to mentally broadcast to my steed as I watched the boys lead her away toward the outbuilding like a little puppy.

Thankfully there was some beer in our new refrigerator and I downed a couple of them while Cindy and I reviewed a few matters about the ranch and its residents. Even though Dad seemed to chill out I was very glad to get out of there, hopefully to find a place to hide for a while, a half hour later.

"Yeah well, three more days," I mumbled when my buzzing beast interrupted my slumber the next morning. Well, we had an excellent evening, I told myself as I laid back onto my pillow after punching the monster's snooze button. Yes, the good life is near.

The evening had gone well. The twins and Junior had billed out a little over twenty hours with my two only spending a couple of hours time working; Everyone still had plenty of time to play, do homework and decompress. The extra effort even seemed to take some of the twins objection to going to bed away, and all five boys seemed to be sound asleep before I had time to turn their bedroom lights off after tucking them in.

"Yeah little buddy, not long and I'm going be around a bunch more," I whispered to Bandit as he began tongue kissing my face. "Where's Binki?" I asked, still sleepy enough to expect an answer.

The buzzing beast answered for him as it began still another attack. I delivered a thrust that shook the night stand, but begrudgingly sat up. "Tomorrow night, I'm bringing a hammer to bed, I'm going to fix your ass good Friday morning!" I told it.

An instant later I heard a soft giggle from the hall. "And what are you doing up so early again, Turkey?" I asked the shadow peering in my bedroom from the hall. "And, what's this, stealing my favorite bunny before our morning snuggle?" I tittered as I stumbled over and pulled Carl's thin frame against me. A kiss on his, then Binki's forehead earned me another giggle along with a soft oink as we started down the hall toward the kitchen.

Somehow I managed to reach around the skinny little body pushed against my stomach and pour my much needed caffeine fix out of the pot without spilling any on my two little friends.

"Are we still gonna get to go fly today? Please? I was afraid you'd leave and stuff, well, or forget," he whimpered as I sat down at the kitchen table and he crawled into my lap. He's learning, quick! I thought when I noticed a cup of hot chocolate on the table.

I couldn't resist stroking his bare chest for a few seconds. "Well, I don't know, not dressed like that!" I teased. I reached down and cupped his bare thigh.

"But, your not dressed too!" he retorted - all I was wearing was my briefs, he was dressed in his and his headgear. "Do we get to ride your motorcycle too?" he begged, squirming his butt further into my lap. A couple of assurances, and offers to start cooking breakfast later he rushed back down the hall to dress and wake his brothers.

As tempting as it was to take my Hog to work I thought better of the idea, it might not be the best way to meet the staff at Cornerstone. By the time I convinced Carl that I would indeed change vehicles before our great airborne adventure I had decided it would have been easier to return home and get my truck before lunch, but managed to get away from the house such that I would only be a few minutes late to work.

None to my surprise my cell phone rang shortly after I left the house. He's been busy! I chuckled when I saw an updated picture of Pepe's smiling face on my caller ID. His 'morning report' was routine, everyone accounted for, he told me two of 'his' boys had gotten low grades on some schoolwork, but assured me he could help them.

"Are you going to come see us today?" he asked. "At Sonhos Dourados? After school, maybe we can go ride the horses, Sir? Pop?" he more whimpered then asked.

I bit my lip, I could picture his wonderful face. "I can't make it out there after school, I have a commitment. But, we will see each other soon, I promise," I answered.

He was silent for a second or so before I heard either a sniffle or a sob over the phone. "Yes sir" he whined. "But, please Colonel, , , um Pop, I, I mean we, , ,"

"We will get together soon, maybe sooner than you think," I reassured him. I was tempted to tell him I would be at his school for lunch, but didn't. Much sooner than you think, I snickered as we rang off and I punched Adam's phone number in.

Work was nothing short of an exercise in boredom, and I bailed out after a couple of hours, deciding to go work from home.

I got what felt like the shock of my life when I walked into the house. Not only my recliner, my throne and sanctuary. was gone from the front room, but all of the furniture was! Our TV and the boy's computer was there, but the rest of our home theater equipment, even the couch and end tables were missing. I fought off panic as I looked around the house and realized it had been selectively stripped of its contents. Whoever the thieves were they had time to pick and choose what they wanted; our deep freeze, yard equipment, even my tools were gone from the garage, but my brand new Hog was untouched.

Shit, a thief with a heart? I wondered as I looked around the kitchen; most of our cookware and dishes had been stolen, but whoever it was had left behind our microwave, some silverware and a stack of paper plates. An old, bald headed thief! With two buzz cut little helpers! I chuckled as I realized what was going on, phase one of our move. Thanks God, I thought when I opened the refrigerator and verified that they had left an ample supply of beer behind. I went back into the front room and gave the empty spot where my beloved recliner should have been a nasty glare before retiring to my bedroom computer and beginning work.

Cornerstone impressed me the instant I saw the campus, it looked more like a resort or country club than a school. As I looked for the Administration Building, where I was supposed to meet Adam and Roberts, the openness not only of the landscaping between the many buildings scattered about, but the structures themselves looked, just inviting. After a little searching I saw Adam's Jaguar and parked near it.

Our meeting with the Headmaster and his staff went well, they and I got to know each other a bit, and they gave me a C.D. that had the school's policies and student handbook on it, along with some contact numbers. Ten minutes later I accepted the Headmaster's invitation to take a tour of the campus before lunch.

I was a little surprised to see three familiar young faces sitting in the outer office, displaying forlorn expressions as blue as their uniform shorts. When they saw us all three of their mouths fell agape, and an instant later their chins seemed to start to melt down onto their chests.

"If that isn't a set of guilty looks, I've never seen one," Adam whispered to us, a little louder than I thought he should have.

"Junior, what have you gotten into THIS time?" Roberts half snarled.

Adam adding, "Ronnie, Pepe? What's going on here?" made all of their shoulders sag to the bottom of their thin chests.

"I, we was told to report to the Headmaster, , , sir." Junior whimpered, tears welling in his eyes. "We were told to sir," he told his shoes.

"I didn't do it, Dad," Ronnie whined, "I didn't! I'm being good, well trying to be!" Pepe made an effort to look up at us, his eyes stopping about chest level before dropping back down to stare at the floor.

"Yes, I asked that you report here," the Headmaster announced. A glance at his face while he paused made me wonder if he wasn't enjoying himself.

"I didn't do it sir! It was, , ," Junior started to cry more than say. He turned crimson and took a deep breath, then whimpered, "I didn't come right away, do that, , ," he stammered. "It was my teacher, she made me finish my assignment." His face said volumes as he risk a glance up and flashed a nervous grin, the stainless steel braces on his teeth even seemed to blush red.

The silence in the office was deafening for a couple of seconds as the adults exchanged glances. The Headmaster finally broke the silence. "I called you lads here to ask you to give Mister Miller a tour of our school." He took a deep breath, then added, "Please meet us in the lunch room in, about twenty minutes."

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing as the other men disappeared into the Headmaster's office, all three of them with one of their hands over their mouths, clearly to hide their grins.

The boys recovered quickly once we left what I'm sure they considered 'the hot zone', the Headmaster's office suite. Pepe surprised me right a minute or so later when he threw his arms around me and gave me a long, warm hug then stayed glued to my side with his arm around the back of my waist as we walked, seemingly completely unconcerned about showing affection to an adult around his passing schoolmates.

I was even more impressed as we walked through the different buildings, the classrooms were at least as modern as the state-of-the-art ones on base that the Army had dumped big bucks into. The class sizes were very small, but what impressed me more than anything was that every room I visited had a covey of young boys in it enjoying themselves as they learned, their teachers grinning and having as good a time as the students.

Lunch was equally impressive. Adam, Roberts and the Headmaster met us outside the cafeteria building, and to my surprise we fell into line with the students. I enjoyed a multitude of waves and 'Hi Pop's' from Johnny, Mark and a couple of dozen young faces from the ranch. The serving line was like a Wyatt's Cafeteria, offering everything from Chef's Salads and Roast Beef with all the sides to Hot Dogs.

"Will you please sit at my table, please?" Pepe all but begged as we filled our trays. 'His table' turned out to be somewhere in the middle of the lunch room, with a couple dozen boys that seemed to be about fourteen to older teens, a few of which I recognized from Sonhos Dourados, many I did not. Adam, Roberts, even the Headmaster seated themselves at other tables among batches of hungry boys.

Our conversation during our meal impressed, better put excited me. After having to endure a barrage of questions about my motorcycle, my airplane and the wars I had(n't) been in working for the Army, the conversation drifted to several different topics. Even as they learned I was the new director of the children's home Pepe and some of the others with us were placed the kids with 'normal' families took it in stride, the only responses were half joking hints toward being invited out to Sonhos Dourados.

It didn't take me long to figure out that their lunch period was ending a few minutes later when the cafeteria began emptying.

"I must return to class Sir. Thanks, Pop, for coming and, and for being a neat Pop!" Pepe informed me. Before I could answer he gave me another warm hug, in front of several dozen other teenagers, and rushed off. I enjoyed several smiles, happy waves and a couple more quick hugs from a few of our boys as they rushed back to class.

How soon can I get my boys into that school? I asked the steering wheel as I drove home. Right after I get my Goddamn recliner back! I groaned.

Later that afternoon I followed Dad to school and parked my bike right behind his van, ignoring the dirty looks from the other parents and school security as we waited for classes to be let out. Carl was absolutely priceless a few minutes later as he followed the twins out of the school building toward the van. The instant he saw my Hog he slammed his backpack against Jerry so hard I thought he was going to knock him over, and bolted toward me so fast I wondered if a rocket had been ignited to propel him. He didn't slow down in the least as he approached, and slammed into my chest so hard he I wondered if I would end up with a bruise.

"Be still!" I chastised him as I wrestled to pull his helmet over his head and fastened his chin strap. "Climb on, and hold onto my waist, TIGHT!" I cautioned him as I mounted my bike he climbed on behind me.

I'm not sure if the wonderful little guy snuggled against my back, purring like a happy kitten, or the thousand or so eyes staring at us made me do it, but I worked the throttle and slipped my big ride's clutch as I slowly maneuvered through the crowded parking lot, maximizing that deep, thundering exhaust sound only a Harley Davidson can produce. Screw it! I decide as soon as I lef the parking lot and was sure the road ahead was clear, and dropped the hammer, launching us from about five-miles-an-hour to about fifty in about ten feet.

I began to worry if I had frightened him as I pulled into our FBO, and he was still glued to my back, but as soon as I killed the engine he hopped off.

"That was TOTALLY awesome!" he hooted. He hugged my Hog's handlebars for an instant, then exclaimed, "Will you teach me to fly it too?"

He was gone at an Olympic class sprint toward my aircraft before I could answer. I started to call him back, but realized it would be a futile attempt. Well, I guess we'll stow his helmet in the aircraft, I decided as I followed behind.

Our pre-flight inspection of the aircraft was fairly routine considering that my young right seat was constantly underfoot, I only tripped over him a dozen or so times. He did cooperate when I sent him to the cockpit to activate the planes running lights and electronics so I could check them, a wide silver grin almost blinding me every time I looked up at the windows.

After doing my final 'walk-around', walking around the aircraft one last time to be sure everything was okay, I was about to climb onto the wing and enter the cockpit when he bolted out the plane's door and leapt onto the tarmac. Okay, whatever, I groaned as he began his own walk-around, stretching to his tip-toes to move the flaps and ailerons and inspect the propellor, his face as serious as a 747's Captain. Nice touch! I snickered as I watched him kick each of the tires.

"Is she flight worthy?" I tittered as he hopped back on the wing next to me and followed me into the cabin. As soon as he buckled himself in and I checked his restraints I assumed my well practiced position, my left hand on my thigh a couple inches from the control yoke, my right hand on my knee ready to take control of the critical controls between us and told him, "Light her up, wake me when we have landed in Fredericksburg."

Although his face was as tight as a guitar sting he taxied us out, and performed a perfect takeoff, he didn't even seem to react to the Air Traffic Controllers calling him 'Ma'am' as he communicated with them.

I waited a minute or so after we cleared the airport's traffic pattern, and he had leveled off at a thousand-feet altitude before dropping my little surprise on him. "Inform ATC we are going on local CFR, suspend your flight plan. Go to seven-hundred feet and change course to zero-one five degrees magnetic." I told him.

He flashed a nervous grin, more to the instrument panel than to me. After giving the steering yoke a worried glance, he pushed the radio transmit button on it. "Mooney thirty-two Charlie San Antonio, request altitude change to seven-zero-zero feet, course change to zero-one-five magnetic under VFR." he whined in a soprano voice.

"San Antonio thirty-two Charlie, you are approved for seven-hundred feet, now flying VFR. Please notify this controller before resuming your flight plan Ma'am." the radio crackled. He gritted his teeth, then banked us into our new course.

"Very well done, Ma'am!" I quipped as he leveled the plane, earning me a nasty glare.

"Recognize where we are?" I asked a few of minutes later.

"Wow! Cool!" he hooted as he looked down. "Look, there's Doctor Pop's house, and the mountain, and everything!

"I have the aircraft," I told him, deciding to give him a chance to look around.

"Oh, , , ah yeah, you have the aircraft," he blushed, I'm sure remembering flight protocol.

What the hell, I snickered when I noticed a group of horses and kids at what I was sure was 'Lake Skinny Dip'. I banked the aircraft into a tight an hundred-eighty degree turn, at the same time going to wide open throttle and climbing in altitude as fast as I dared. I bet flying a dive bomber would have been fun! I chuckled as I pushed the yoke forward and dove directly at the lake.

Keep it legal fool, a little voice rang from the back of my mind. I sighed, but pulled her out of my dive just in time to level off at five-hundred feet, the legal minimum. I couldn't resist pushing the engine's fuel injection controller to full rich, and changing the propeller to full pitch; I'm sure on the ground my little single engine propeller plane sounded like a B-52 bomber as I buzzed the youngsters below, tilting the winds side to side as I did. Got'cha! I chuckled as a couple of the horses began bucking, and a covey of boys bolted into the water.

Carl let out an excited squeal, "Yea Dad, that was awesome! Do it aga, , ," he started to hoot, but then fell silent. When I glanced over most of the color had drained from his face. "I, ah, I didn't know anyone swam there, that's gotta be the kids from the, the other ranch, the new one," he whimpered.

"Wow, I didn't know they had a small red horse too!" I couldn't resist, fighting like hell to keep the smirk off my face. I wondered if I had gone too far as he turned so ashen I worried his heart had stopped beating. I dismissed the idea of making another pass over them.

"Lay a course for Fredericksburg and resume your flight plan," I risk. "You have the aircraft." He stared at me for a couple of seconds until I repeated, "You have the aircraft Carl. Please read back my instructions."

"Ah," he gasp. "I, , , I have the aircraft." After he slowly grasp his steering yoke I assumed my normal 'at ready' position, making sure my hands were very near my yoke, and the center controls.

I was about to let him off the hook, thinking I had pushed him too hard as he surveyed the instrument panel, then the entire cockpit with saucer sized eyes. Yeah kid! I silently cheered when he reached out and began punching buttons on the aircraft's GPS panel.

"Mooney three-two Charlie San Antonio, requesting to resume my flight plan, two-eight- zero degrees at, , , FL one." he transmitted a few seconds later.

"San Antonio three-two Charlie, cleared for one-thousand feet, two-eighty degrees magnetic. I have reopened your flight plan for T84 ma'am," the radio answered, earning the panel speaker a dirty look from my young right seat.

"I guess you were right, those boys must have been from the other ranch." I said as he began his climb and course change. "All of those boys were wearing matching swim suits, like a swim team. They looked like tan, or skin colored suits, you guys don't have any like that, do you?"

The aircraft shuddering like we had hit a huge turbulence wave was his only answer.

To Be Continued…