My Flock

Chapter 13

I was about half way through sorting the mountain of snail mail I had received while away when Dad stepped into the room. Oh Lord, I thought as I looked him over - His 'Farmer Brown' Dickie Jeans, old Army combat boots and denim long sleeve shirt were a cover photo from the 'Hog Farmer's Weekly' magazine if such a periodical ever existed. Why me Lord, I groaned as I surveyed his battered excuse for a straw western style hat, complete with the remains of a few fly fishing baits hanging on its brim.

"Ah, Dad, , , these people have a home in the country, they don't live in, well, you probably would be more comfortable in just casual clothes," I tried.

"I've been out in the hill country Son," he countered. "Nothing but Cactus plants and Mesquite thorns, and I don't need a sunburn. Or snakebit!"

I gasp as he pulled his shirt up and exposed the handgrip of his pistol. And this was my idea, I groaned. "I think you have the wrong idea, I, the boys and I have spent most of the week in shorts and flip-flops, why don't you get in some comfortable slacks and shirt, and some deck shoes like you wear here at home. Bring your jeans and boots along, it just takes a second to change," I suggested.

He gave a dirty look, but started out of the room. Damn, how many million times did he send me away to dress to HIS standards when I was a kid, and now what am I doing? I thought.

"Oh here, you might want to glance at these," he said as he stepped back into the room. "Something you need to take care of next week."

Wow! I gasped as I scanned the papers. One was a photocopy of a certified check made out to me, for Carl's share of the reward money. I had all but forgotten about it in the flurry of activity over the past week. 'Two million, four-hundred-eighty thousand. . .' I stared at for several seconds.

The stack also contained trust proposals for Carl's money, and investment proposals for the both his and my reward funds. Holy Shit! I gasp as I scanned Carl's paperwork. Dad's investment advisor had put to gather a plan that would at least double the boy's money by the time he turned eighteen, grow even faster if we held it until he was twenty-one, which I had in mind anyway.

"You need to do something about that tomorrow," Dad suggested as he stepped back into the room a couple of minutes later. "From what Goldstein suggests, think about how much money that boy is losing each day."

"Right away Colonel Miller-stein," I teased. Thankfully he had changed into a pair of comfortable looking khaki slacks and light weight shirt. Damn, I should have brought the camera, I snickered when I noticed one of the boys old backpacks over his shoulder.

Dad's usually expressionless face was priceless when I turned off the road and began entering the code into Adam's entry gate. The whitewashed wooden fences and well groomed pastures, along with several horses frolicking in the front pasture had the same effect on him as it did on me and my boys the first time we saw it.

Okay, whatever! I thought as Diablo appeared just outside the fence separating the driveway from the pasture.

Without thinking I lowered my window and yelled, "Hi girl!" out the window, causing her to kick up her heels and neigh, and Dad to give me a strange look. "A friend of mine," I told Dad, earning a look I hadn't seen in years and years, clearly asking, 'You been smoking those drugs again boy?'

"This is beautiful, are you sure we're not in Kentucky?" he gasp as Adam's huge, century old house came into view. "I haven't seen a spread like this since we were stationed at Fort Knox!"

Spread? I wondered, although proper Texas slang, the expression coming from my father made me wonder how many old John Wayne movies he had mentally reviewed during our drive.

Mary greeted us with open arms, but the atmosphere was more tense than I had expected when I introduced Dad to Adam. I could feel Dad's eyes as he surveyed our host, and then his eyes locked on the young physician's ponytail. His very reserved acknowledgment of Adam's greeting, repeatedly referring to him as Doctor Owens worried me.

"Thank you Colonel, but please Sir, call me Adam. I insist."

"Thank you, Doctor, you may call me Sam," Dad told the man's hair.

"Where are the boys?" I tried, hoping to break at least some of the tension.

"I'm sure they went riding, , ," Adam began to answer, glancing between Dad and I.

"They went to Junior's house," Mary cut him off. "Cindy bought a new refrigerator that is supposed to be delivered this morning, and they were going to go see if they could help, , , install it." she tittered with a knowing grin.

"And my grandsons?" Dad asked. "Well, it won't take long for them to empty the old one!" he chuckled.

"With my tribe helping, she won't have anything left to put in the new one!" Adam tittered.

"They went through a mess of sandwiches and chips before they left, two bags of chips and three loaves of bread," Mary injected.

"But, that was, almost an hour ago, I heard them ride out." Adam responded as he looked at his watch.

"Whoever this Cindy is, I'll bet she's going to spend all afternoon at the grocery store," Dad snickered.

"Perhaps we better invite them over for supper, Adam," Mary suggested. She let everyone's chuckles and quips settle before adding, "Oh, and it is a beautiful refrigerator, Cindy showed me the sale ad. It's huge, has really innovative shelving and storage, much better than the overcrowded box I somehow make do with, , , Doctor."

I had to look away as my host's face melted. I was trying to think of something to say, a way to help him out and sidetrack the conversation when Dad said, "Yes, I know that feeling. Somehow I manage to stack everything on top of the other in our little ice chest too."

"Well, I still have the sale ad, would you like to see it Sam?" Mary bubbled.

Adam and I exchanged nauseous glances as the two seniors walked away, both of them grinning like Canary eating Cats.

"It's too early, but the way this day is shaping up, Yes I would," I groaned. Adam didn't hesitate and crawled behind the bar.

Dad was relaxed and fairly cordial when he and Mary joined us on the patio a few minutes later, chatting with Adam and I, but Mary and Dad spent most of their time talking to each other.

Soon he and Mary were carrying on like long lost friends trying to catch up on old news. I was a little surprised that Mary relaxed in one of the patio's loungers and joined into our light conversation, completely out of character compared to what I had seen of her through our week long visit.

"I hope you will forgive me, but I have to attend a short meeting regarding the new campus in a few minutes," Adam announced a few minutes later. "Why don't we go see the Director's residence and the Ranch, my meeting is at the Admin Building." he suggested.

"Do you ride, Sam?" he asked Dad. "As expert a rider as Christian is, I'm sure he's been riding since his childhood, did you teach him?"

Seeing Dad's bewildered face I quickly tried to think of a tactful way of bailing him out of the question, along with myself out of Adam's statement. Oh boy, I thought as Dad's face started to tighten into his salty look and he again surveyed our host's long hair.

"No, I don't." Dad grumbled. "I was forced to when I was stationed in German, the first time during the occupation, but haven't been on one since.

"But that was before gangs and outlaws took them over," he half snarled.

It took me a couple of seconds to snap to what he was talking about. "Ah, I think Adam means horses, not motorcycles, Dad. Thanks, but I think Dad and I will take the van and meet you," I suggested. Adam seemed to accept my idea and excused himself to change clothes.

"What is he talking about?" Dad questioned as much with his eyes as his voice. "You don't know how to ride a horse, you used to get nervous when we'd take the kids to Brackenridge Park's stables, and those were worn out plow horses."

"You're not even going believe what he meant! I've aged so much in a couple of days I thought I'd be as old as you by now, " I chuckled. "I'll tell you in the van, while we drive," I suggested when Adam stepped back onto the patio. Yeah well, I groaned as I glanced out at the pasture and saw a couple of huge horse heads staring at me.

"Did he actually think he was going to get me onto one of this things?" Dad all but gasped as we watched Adam and Zeus launch into what had to be Mach three a minute later. "You said my grandsons went riding? Just what exactly are they riding?" he barked.

The way his jaw tightened, so harshly I was afraid he was going to crush his dentures, told me my face answered his question. When Mary declined to ride with us, stating she had some work to do, I had to snicker, but also felt sorry for Dad as I watched his disappointed, all but crushed face, but managed to get him into the van.

Even before I finished outlining my adventures on Venus and Diablo, and Adam's mis-interpretation, I began regretting my honesty, or openness. Somehow I managed to bite my tongue and concentrate on driving as I endured Dad's almost roaring laughter and his teases about how the only time he had ever seen me frightened was the time, he painfully even added times, that I faced a Juvenile Court Judge and tried to dodge reform school.

Thankfully the drive leading to the boys' ranch came into view and distracted him, letting me off the hook at least for the present. I was a little surprised to see groups of teens and older boys scattered around the campus, some of them playing soccer, all of them seemingly having a great time.

Adam was waiting for us outside the Director's Residence along with another man Adam introduced as the current director. We chatted for a minute or so before going into the house. Dad was as impressed as I had been the day before as we toured the spacious home. This is my Blood and Guts, Old Salt Army Colonel Father? I wondered as I watched him all but fondle the range, double ovens and other appliances built into the house's huge kitchen.

I had to cover my mouth to hide my gasp when he, after carefully inspecting the kitchen's large center island and he commented, "This is at least as impressive as Mary's kitchen."

"Let me show you the barbeque pit," Adam offered. Chef Wolfgang Miller? I chuckled at Dad's face.

It was my turn to bug my eyes as we stepped onto the large patio deck, the pool Jerry had told me about was not only much larger than I had expected, but was being enjoyed by a dozen or so youngsters, all clad in Speedos - I couldn't help asking myself if Speedos were issued uniforms in the hill country.

"We allow the boys to use the Director's pool until our new one is completed," Adam informed us. Don't get in any rush, I thought as I looked over the sea tightly stretched Spandex, covering a dozen or so teenage bubble butts.

A pair of high pitched voices yelling 'Dad, Gramps!' and 'Pop!' distracted us before Dad or I could respond. Okay, whatever! I chuckled as my Mouseketeers leapt out of the pool and rushed toward us.

Johnny, Pieter and Mark pushed their thin wet bodies into a tight hug against me as Carl lunged toward Dad, then slowed tucked himself under Dad's arm and looked up at him with a wide, almost blinding grin.

"Hi Gramps! Neat you're here!" he bubbled. He squirmed around under Dad's forearm for a second or so then threw his arms around his grandfather's waist and buried his face in the old man's stomach.

"Hi to you too," Dad hooted. He stroked the boy's shoulder a couple of times before turning and pulling the youngster into a tight hug and kissing the top of his head. They enjoyed each other's cuddle for the better part of a minute before Dad asked, "And who are your friends, may I meet them?"

"Oh, Yes Sir," Carl whined. He twisted around to face us, his body never losing contact with his granddad's as he did. "Um, Gramps, ah, well these are my friends," he began as he nervously pushed his back and shoulders into Dad's torso. "This is Johnny, and Mark, and Pieter."

He shot me a frightened look before continuing, "Um, this is my gramps, I mean my granddad, ah, Colonel Gramps. I mean Mister Miller, well, ah, Colonel Miller, Colonel Gramps Miller."

Dad fired a slight frown down at the back of Carl's head, but pulled the lad a little more tightly against him as he said, "Gramps. Please call me Gramps, everyone does." He smiled ever so slightly and poked Carl in the ribs adding, "Even my favorite little rat."

"Hi sir," Johnny whimpered. He leaned away from me and caught a small furry ball that sprang up in front of us before adding, "And this is Erbert, sir."

Dad's face was priceless, I'm sure all but identical to mine in Orlando, as he looked at the bug-eyed rat/dog. Oh shit, I thought as a distinctive horse neigh rang from behind the house. Welcome to Adam's Nut Ranch Dad, I hope you're ready for all this, I groaned.

"Where are your brothers, everyone else? They didn't want to swim?" I risked, not sure if I wanted to hear the answer.

"They are, ah I mean they are riding," Mark began to answer.

"Well but Diablo told Ginger you were back and stuff," Johnny continued.

"And Jerry and Jeff said you were coming here, they thought Gramps was with you," Carl injected.

"And Diablo is kinda scared, she said you wouldn't go pet her or ride her or nothing! Sir!" Johnny told my forearm.

"Is he your dog?" Dad's voice snapped me back from the horror scenarios I was beginning to imagine. Johnny nodded as an answer, and Dad reached down and stroked the little rat's head and neck for a few seconds before lifting him out of Johnny's grasp.

"Well, he' a good looking dog, is he a Miniature or a Teacup?" he asked. "Perfect markings, and a very healthy pup!" he announced as he tucked the rat under his neck.

Oh Shit, I thought as I followed everyone back through the house and absorbed Erbert's 'See! Got'ya!' expression as he glared at me over Dad's shoulder.

Life seemed to go even further downhill as we left the house. Ginger and several other horses were watching us from the pasture fence, it didn't take me long to notice a big burnt brown, now saddled animal staring at me. Dad's not going to even believe this, but, I guess he'll used to it! I chuckled.

The boys walked with us for a couple of minutes before excusing themselves, saying they were going back to the pool to change back into their riding clothes.

We were almost finished showing Dad around the rest of the campus when two riders galloped up to the fence and joined us. I felt a little of his doubt as Dad surveyed Cindy and her husband, both of them wearing very well worn jeans, Cindy in a halter top and Carl in a faded tee-shirt. We chatted for a few seconds before Adam, his Director and the Roberts excused themselves to attend their meeting.

" Hired help, I presume." Dad sneered as they made their way up the hill toward the Administrative building. "And the little redhead, what happened to that boy? Shit he looks like someone carved him up for practice!" he continued before I could answer.

"They are sort of hired help," I answered. "Cindy is an attorney, she takes care of all the boys' legal needs, internationally actually. Carl is a heart surgeon, and one of the Doctors that made all this possible."

I paused while he glanced up the hill at our hosts. "Actually, Carl is responsible for most of Johnny's scars." Dad swung around and glared at me before I could continue. "Do you remember from a few months ago, all the news stories about two boys being shot by their father, then buried alive?

"Johnny is the boy that survived. Adam and Carl were the doctors that saved his life, performing emergency surgery on him. After he began to recover Adam adopted him."

His face all but boiled with rage, a degree of anger I had rarely seem since he retired from the Army. After several seconds a tear seemed to begin to well in each of his eyes. "I remember that story, it made me ill."

"Adam also adopted Mark, the little golden blond you met, and his brother Ronnie. By the way, Carl and Cindy adopted the silver blond boy, the one that looks so young. He used to be a street kid in, Brazil or Columbia I don't remember, but they and Adam went to South America to rescue him.

"I know you are trying to get along with Adam, but let your guard down Dad, they are good people. Quit judging them by their dress, or hair length."

"It shows?" he mumbled. "When he began talking about having boys our's ages, and no wife around, I just presumed, , , well you know that kind of lifestyle."

"Did the hair have anything to do with it?" I couldn't resist. I felt a little bad when his face turned to a hurt expression instead of the angry one I expected. "Hey, if I retire and move out here, I might grow my hair out!" I teased.

His nostrils flared for an instant, then he developed a slightly evil grin. "I think that would be an excellent idea son!" he chuckled. "If you grow it long enough, maybe you could even cover that BIG bald spot!"

I gave him a one finger wave, but let it drop when I saw my Mouseketeers, and several other boys running toward us.

"Jerry called and we gotta, well he said for us to meet them, ah him," Carl announced. "Can we go?" he asked as he pushed under my arm.

"Where's your dog?" Dad asked. When I looked over he had Johnny tucked tightly against his side with his arm around the boy's thin shoulder. "Okay, he looks comfortable!" Dad hooted when Erbert pushed his head out of Johnny's fanny pack. Dad reached up and stroked Johnny's hair a few times, then scratched the lad's neck right below his headgear strap.

"You take good care of your master, he's a very special boy," he told the bug eyed rat.

Johnny blushed slightly and pushed into Dad's hug for a second, flashing a bright smile. He glanced toward the pasture for a second, then toward me. "But, Pop, will you ride Diablo, please? You haven't even told her hi, she's scared and stuff!"

I looked around at the mass of pleading faces staring at me. Oh well, I groaned. "Dad, do you think you can find your way back to Adam's house, I have a little business to attend to."

I felt Carl squirm against me. When I looked down he had a very thoughtful, but slightly evil look on his face. "Well, or I'll drive Gramps van, and he can ride my horse!" he all but giggled. "No one's around or nothing!" he offered.

"Thanks, son, but I think we better wait a few years," I chucked. "Besides, you've never driven a car, , , have you?"

Oh boy, is there something I don't know? I thought as I watched his eyes lock onto Dad's.

"Thanks, I'll make do fine," Dad said, extending his free arm toward the boy.

I'm not sure if the gleam in Dad's eyes, or the overly exaggerated liver lipped frown Carl flashed, his lower lip completely covering his facebow, that worried me more as my youngest bolted out from under my arm and tucked himself behind his grandfather's hip.

"Would you like to meet Ginger, I mean my horse Mister Gramps, ah I mean Gramps?" Johnny bubbled, his face causing me more concern.

"I'd love to!" Dad bubbled. He tucked Johnny under one arm, Carl under the other and shuffled off toward the pasture at a speed that would make even Olympic class almost eighty-year-old sprinters proud. Maybe some things are better left to the unknown, I groaned as I tucked Pieter and Mark under my arms and followed behind.

Dad was surprisingly comfortable and confident as he met the herd of animals waiting for us, petting and inspecting each horse as it sniffed him up and down. I stared in disbelief a couple of minutes later when the boys announced they were leaving and he pulled Carl and Johnny into still another hug. He kissed each boy on the top of the head, then popped them on the backside shooing them to their mounts.

Dad passing out hugs twice in one day, and kissing a boy he's known for an hour or so? Well, kissing a boy at all? Its got to be something in the water! I snickered.

"What happened to that bastard," Dad asked I guess the ridge-top as we watched they boys gallop away. "The worthless son-of-a-bitch that shot that boy, did they catch him?" he added a second later.

"I don't know, Adam might," I answered.

"If they haven't I might, I'd like to speak with that mother, , , I'll meet you back at Owens' house," he snarled, and walked away before I could respond.

Diablo amazed me as we started to Adam's house, staying in a gentle walk almost as if she knew I had a lot on my mind that I wanted to think about. A little later it took me a several minutes to realize that she had stopped walking, and when I snapped out of my trance she was standing on the peak of a fairly high ridge with one of the most majestic views I had ever seen.

"Thanks girl," I said before I realized it. I stroked her huge neck for the better part of a minute as I absorbed the beauty of my view before suggesting, "Let's go home."

She let out a soft whinny and began trotting down the hill, kicking a little prance into her step after a few yards. What the hell, I know what she wants, and I'm ready for a cold one, I thought.

I dug my fingernails into her saddle, took a deep breath, and said, "Go for it, let's go home."

Her reaction was as instantaneous as pulling the lanyard on a cannon. She bucked her hooves slightly and bolted into what seemed like ballistic speed in two or three steps.

I was a little surprised when Zeus turned away from the fence and greeted us as we landed. They need to put flaps, no air brakes on these damn things, I groaned as Diablo taxied in. I hugged Diablo's big snout and gasp "Thanks girl," before stumbling through the gate and prayed to get my sea legs back before I got to the house.

"You two look like you've been having fun!" Adam tittered as I stepped onto the patio. He and Dad were laboring over the barbeque pit; I was a little shocked to see Dad wearing a baggy pair of walking shorts and polo shirt . "As long as you've been running her, do you think she needs to be cooled down?"

Roberts stuck a very welcome beer can in my hand. "We were considering sending out the cavalry, we've been here over an hour!" he said.

"I wish you'd ride Zeus, you two are perfect for each other!" Adam injected.

"We were walking around, and talking, I mean, ah, enjoying the scenery. We only galloped five minutes or so." The evil gleam in Dad's eye told me to try for a new topic quickly, before he came up with one of his cutting comments. "Where's Cindy?" I tried.

"She had to run to town," Roberts answered. "She had to go to the store, we were running short of a few things for tomorrow's breakfast."

Thank you Doctor Roberts! I beamed when Adam and Dad choked on their half swallowed swigs of beer. "Oh, Mary said you bought a new fridge and my boys went over to help change them out, I hope they were helpful!" I prompted, hoping for the best.

"Oh, completely!" Roberts chuckled. "Between all of the kids, I was amazed at how quickly they emptied our old one for us!"

I felt a little sorry for Dad as I watched him try to catch his breath, bowl over in laughter and stumble inside, clutching his stomach and shaking his head.

After I changed into my trunks Adam, Roberts and I relaxed in the pool for a few minutes, enjoying a beer and idle chat. Adam and I were complaining about having to go back to work tomorrow when Cindy burst onto the patio carrying a couple of fairly large plastic containers.

"Shrimp rings, they were on sale so I picked some up while I was in town, come and get it!" she bubbled as she spread them out on a table and opened them.

Yes! I thought as I looked over the clear plastic circular platters. The outside diameter of each was packed with probably three dozen medium sized peeled and cooked shrimp, the inner part of the circle was sectioned off and full of tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and what looked like crab salad. Mary was right behind with a tray of crackers and fresh drinks for everyone.

"Perfect choice honey, this is exactly what I needed!" Roberts told his wife, holding up a sauce covered shrimp as a salute.

"Enjoy, but eat fast!" Adam quipped as he stuffed two or three of the little treats into his mouth. When I followed his gaze and saw the herd of horses charging at us like the Devil's own posse I knew what he meant by his comment.

I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for the dead crustaceans and think back to the numerous programs about sharks and their feverish feeding habits as I watched the boys devour everything on the table, I was a little surprised the empty plastic trays survived.

I hadn't noticed that Mary had left until she stepped back onto the patio a minute or so later, carrying another container of shrimp. I was considering going to her rescue when she raised the platter high over her head.

"Back! I mean it, these are for the adults!" she barked. She showed what I considered remarkable courage as she stared them down for a second before adding, "There are club sandwiches and chips on the bar for you."

A well built house, I guess they really don't build them like they used to! I thought as the doorsill bulged out under the pressure of all dozen or so boys bursting through it at the same instant.

We made small talk for the next couple of minutes, Mary joining Adam and even Dad in teasing Cindy about her sudden trip to town while everyone enjoyed the last tray of shrimp.

I wondered if Cindy was looking to change subjects, to save any more embarrassment when she asked, "Did you get a chance to fill Christian, and Sam in on our meeting?"

After her husband told her they had not she began what seemed somewhat like a planned presentation, if I hadn't been looking at her I would have sworn when she paused between phrases she was looking at her notes instead of popping another shrimp in her mouth or taking a drink from her glass as I saw her do.

The cleanup and renovations for their new campus were already contracted for, and to begin tomorrow morning, and take about three weeks. They had 'sorted' the current residents, to my surprise, not only by country of origin and background, but by ongoing relationships between the boys. The majority of the current residents would move to the new campus and for the present only two of the cottages at the old facility would be occupied, each with only about six residents to start with.

I felt a knot form in my gut when she added, "By summer the fourth cottage on Christian's campus will be complete, and we intend to have all cottages filled to capacity before school starts this fall.

"With only a dozen or so kids, of course plus Mike and Bobby, you will have plenty of time to settle in, and get your computer support business established." she said directly toward me.

"And, if it helps, we are willing to offer you a three year contract as Director," Adam injected.

"Also, our administrative staff will help process, and expedite your Civil Service retirement, I have done some research and we can handle about seventy-five percent of the paperwork, and BS," Cindy offered. "We can begin processing tomorrow."

I swallowed so hard I thought I would bruise my throat, then an even longer swallow of beer as I glanced at all the faces staring into the cage, I began to feel trapped, a glance at Dad didn't even help.

Relief came in a very unexpected way when the patio door burst open and our herd of kids rushed outside, all of them again wearing Speedos. Most of the boys dashed across the patio and dove into the pool. The twins turned back toward us as soon as they hit the water and gave us almost knowing smiles as Bobby and Mike surrounded Dad's chair.

Mike flashed a nervous smile and Bobby showed one of his pencil grins as they leaned against the old man's elbows. "Hi Gramps," Mike whimpered.

"Hi sir," Bobby whined as he leaned even more onto Dad's arm, his thin grin stretching even closer toward his ears.

Dad looked them over for an instant before pulling his arms up and wrapped them around their thin waists. "Hello boys. But, what happened to you two?" he all but grunted.

Both boys faces melted as they stared at him. He seemed to enjoy letting them suffer for a second, then reached up and rubbed the stubble of hair beginning to regrow on their scalps.

"I was so proud of you two, and your PROPER haircuts, just like mine," he proclaimed as he reached up and rubbed his bald head. "And now look at you, a couple of long hairs!"

Both of their mouths fell agape as they color drained from their faces. I was starting to worry that he was pushing them too hard when his face muscles tightening, then his lips beginning to twitch as he fought of a smile gave him away. Mike was the first to pick up on the old man's expression.

"Gramps!" the youngster hooted. He began giggling and collapsed into the lounger and buried his face into Dad's leathery neck.

Bobby flashed another of his trademark thin little grins, that quickly expanded into a wide smile, even showing some teeth as Dad pulled him into a tight hug, chuckling so hard his stomach reminded me of Santa's belly jiggling 'like a bowl full of jelly'. This is going to be an interesting day! I thought as he rubbed the youngsters shoulders and kissed the top of their heads.

"Gramps, we get to come here and live here! isn't it neat! " Bobby told Dad's shoulder.

"Well, but they, well Jerry said maybe you are gonna too!" Mike continued.

"Will you, please? Please Gramps!" Bobby mumbled something into Dad's ear I couldn't understand.

Dad leaned back in his lounger and pulled the boys into a still tighter cuddle. He looked down at them for an instant then out toward the pasture, and magnificent view from Adam's patio for several seconds, his jaw, then his eyes and face tightening as he did. He cupped Bobby and Mike's forearms for a second, looking them over as intently as he just had the scenery out in the field.

"You two go swim with everyone for a few minutes, I want to talk to your dad, I mean to Pop," he told them. "No, one of you go inside and bring me my bag, then go swim. My, bookbag you call them, now go." he added, pushing them out of his chair.

"If you'll excuse me, I'm going to see if Mary needs any help with our meal," Adam said as he climbed out of his chase lounge.

"Yes, let's go see if we can help," Cindy told her husband.

"Remain seated, this involves you too son. I mean Doctor," Dad told Adam. "All of you," he informed the Roberts. The authoritian, military command voice tone of his comment frightened me. What were we about to get into this time? I groaned.

Dad continued, "Excuse me, please Adam," it didn't make my host or I feel any more comfortable with what was coming.

Adam and I exchanged worried glances as Dad accepted his backpack from Bobby and rifled through it, withdrawing a folder of papers. I wanted to hug Mike to death as he set fresh beers in front of each of us before rushing behind Bobby to the pool and the other kids.

"Christian, I think you are being offered a fantastic opportunity out here, actually that we all are. An opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime." He glanced at the Roberts, Adam and I, then the pool full of hyperactive boys and finally back at the pasture.

"However, I have a problem with your proposal." made my throat tighten. "Tim came over to the house several times while you were away, and I also met with Helen Cruz twice. We came to the same conclusion, and they provided more than sufficient supporting evidence to justify our judgment."

I could almost see his silver eagles back on his shirt collar, and his leather 'MP' armband back around his left arm; I somehow wondered how quickly his clothes would turn into an Army uniform and his big Colt 45 would appear under his arm.

"Before I was aware of this developing situation, I took the liberty of having these prepared," he continued, handing me the papers he had retrieved from his pack. "I didn't begin construction because it is your property, but I will pay for it if we choose this route."

I did a double take as I shuffled through the folder, a complete set of plans for adding another bedroom onto my house, along with expanding the kitchen and family room, even a contract with a well known local builder, ready to be dated and signed.

"But, if you choose to accept these good people's offer, and we move out here that would probably be the better option."

He turned to look at me, his eyes all but drilling holes in my skull. "However, the only acceptable course of action is to have Bobby and Mike placed in your custody. Either out here, and in our home, or in town, they will become members of our family." he declared, his expression as hard as I had ever seen it.

"I know you are free, white and twenty-one son, I gave up on telling you what to do years ago, but I will tolerate nothing less. Choose your course of action, and make it happen." he commanded.

He struggled out of his lounger and started toward the pool, but turned back. "Please excuse me, I am going to go enjoy my grandsons, all five of them." he proclaimed.

Our world seemed to stand still as everyone watched him gingerly climb down the steps into Adam's pool and sit down, the boys rushing to him.

"Please forgive my dad," I groaned. "As he gets older, he gets more and more, , , indecisive." I downed the last of my beer, then told the empty can, "When he was younger, in his prime, he sometimes was a little, , , demanding."

Mary's hand setting a fresh beer in front of me snapped me back a minute or so later. "Please understand, old people like Sam and I have our Senior moments," she smiled. Her warm, grand-motherly expression felt relaxing and reassuring until she added, "I count more than five grandsons, probably about a dozen. For now."

"Well! We know your dad's position, are you onboard? I'm ready to get started as soon as you are!" Cindy smiled. I'm not sure what, but something in her face clearly showed her lawyer side.

"I'd like to, do a little thinking," I answered. "If you don't mind, I would like to go riding for few minutes," I added before I realized it. I didn't wait for an answer, climbed out of my lounger and started toward the pasture.

"No Christian," Adam called after me. I started to pretend not to hear him and keep walking until he continued, "You might want to change, unless jockey rash turns you on!"

I blushed as I looked down at my swim trunks and flip-flop sandals and turned back to the house. After I changed clothes and grabbed a fresh beer from Adam's bar I stopped at the patio door and stared at the pool for several seconds. Dad was perched on what I guessed had to be the bottom step talking to the kids with Johnny and Carl perched on each side; it was impossible to tell who's face was happier, and who's grin was wider, Dad's or the boys.

"Have you ever seen your father more blithe, more full of life?" Mary's voice rang from next to me. When I glanced toward her she was staring at the pool as intently as I had been.

"Please consider your options very carefully son, excuse me Mister Miller. The future, and happiness, of not just your children are in your hands, and remember your father probably won't be with you much longer than your boys. We will be eating in about an hour, I'll call you."

I turned to answer her, but she had disappeared, I guess back into the kitchen.

After I slipped past the boys unnoticed, I was thrilled that at least Diablo was cheery, the only thing on her mind was getting ridden again. I couldn't help but chuckle as she pranced away from the other horses, I could almost picture her hooting 'see, I get to go for a ride, and you don't!'

We wandered for ten minutes or so as I enjoyed the peaceful tranquility and beauty, and I tried make some sense of everything going on. She had stopped on top of a small ridge seemingly waiting for me to tell her where to go when Adam's huge mountain caught my attention.

"Do you know how to get up there?" I asked the back of her big head. Great, there's nothing wrong with you, you are asking a dumb horse for directions! I groaned.

To my surprise she let out a short neigh and trotted across the pasture toward a rather steep trail at the base of the mountain. Yeah dumb ass, you had to ask! I silently chastised myself as she began scaling inclines that made the mule trails going down into the Grand Canyon look like expressway on-ramps. Although most of my attention was devoted to trying to keep my death grip on her saddle, I was amazed at how effortlessly she pulled her huge body, along with my somewhat overweight backside up ledges and inclines that I wasn't sure if I would have been able to scale on foot. What the hell, if I make up there alive, maybe there will be a good place to dive off of, I thought.

"Oh my God, this cannot be real!" I gasp aloud as my steed pranced across what was clearly the mountain's summit.

The view was absolutely breathtaking in every direction, the only comparison I could think of was low level flights in my aircraft. The houses of everyone I had met were visible, as were the creeks and rivers in what seemed like the south half of Texas. San Antonio's distant skyline was clear, I could even make out the tiny, but distinctive shape of one of its landmarks, the Tower of the America's.

"Look girl, that's Canyon Dam, and that's got to be Devil's Backbone!" I told my mount before I realized it.

Great show fool, you have to ride this thing down that cliff, and you're showing her her dad's spine? I groaned. Her soft snort made me wonder just how much of what I had said she had understood.

I stroked her big neck for a second and said, "Sorry Diablo, I'm not myself, I am trying to sort some things out." No, you're not yourself, you are not only talking to a dumb animal, but apologizing to it! I groaned.

I'm not sure how long I sat astride my big mount, stared out at the panorama below me and tried to sort out the quagmire I felt myself to be in, before Diablo shifted her weight. As I snapped back to reality I saw her ears jerk upright and aim all but directly behind us. I started to turn and look behind me, but she spun around with what I thought was amazing agility, lowed both her head and ears and stared at the back ridge of the summit.

Great, what now! I thought. I felt my stomach knot as I remembered there were bobcats, wild dogs, even mountain lions in this part of Texas, not to mention some huge rattlesnakes. I was trying to convince myself even the biggest snake wouldn't try to attack and eat a thousand pound horse, much less its rider, when a TV news article I had seen a few months ago flashed into my mind. Was it in East Texas or here that hey were reporting bear sightings? I asked myself, not sure if I wanted to know the answer, at least right now.

A couple of muffled noises from beyond the ridge made Diablo seemingly very cautiously take a step, then another forward. That answers that! I decided. IF I get off this God Damn mountain alive, there is NO WAY I'll expose my sons to this kind of danger! Shit, I'll take them somewhere safe, like Biker Bars!

Another sound prompted Diablo to take several steps toward the ridge, and my rectum suck up so tight it would have crushed a soda straw. Great, this demon is going in for the attack, and I'm stuck on top of her! I groaned. Screw this, I'll take a good gang fight, even a terrorist attack any day. Something I can handle!

I had to do a double-take to believe my eyes a second or so later when Adam topped the ridge on his big stallion. "I am very sorry if I disturbed you, or your thoughts," he began as our horses exchanged nose rubs and snorts.

His face tightened somewhat, then his jaw before he continued, "I should have informed you, but I insist that we only visit up here at least with one other person, preferably in groups. It is a little too dangerous for even the most experienced to ride alone."

I knew it! I thought as I scanned the brush for Mountain Lions and horse eating Bears.

"This trail's incline is extremely steep and rocky, if a horse lost its footing it, and its rider might be stuck without being able to call for help.

"But, I'm glad you found my little piece of heaven," he continued as he swung off his mount, released and shook out his long ponytail then dug two beer cans out of its ice filled saddle bag. "You and I think a lot alike, I come here to make my major decisions too. Want to talk, or just vent?" he added after I climbed off of Diablo and took a long swallow of beer.

I scanned the brush behind us for any of my imaginary horse-eating rattlesnakes or bears, then the wonderfully tranquil view below us, then took a very long swallow of beer. "I know what the logical, normal choice would be for most people." I began. "What you guys are offering is pretty well the offer of a lifetime.

"But, I guess I am not as self-confident as I thought I was, or I have lived in the cushy civil service world too long. As much as I want to accept your offer, I'm, well, I guess I'm not sure I have the guts to."

"Is that a yes, or a no," he asked.

"That's an I can't make up my mind," I mumbled.

"This is a hypothetical, NOT a real request, but IF you had to answer right now, what would your answer be?"

I studied his face, then the panorama below us for a second or so, and didn't argue when he stuffed another beer into my hand. I tried to ignore Zeus and Diablo's stares and turned back toward the cliff, and view.

"If I had to decide right now, I guess I'd, , ,"

Adam twisting around and very pointedly pushing his hand in front of my face, clearly to silence me cut my answer short. Oh God, what NOW? I thought as he ever so carefully crept toward a batch of brush a few yards from us. Shit, whatever beast it is its between me and the way down, I groaned. My fears heightened as I watched my ride and Adam's fall in behind my host, covering his flank.

I thought I was going to jump out of my skin when he snarled, "Ginger, get your ASS out of there and back to the house, NOW!

"You try that again and I'll lock your happy ass in the corral until you are old and gray!" he howled as the small red horse bolted over the ridge, the stirrups and straps of her empty saddle flapping like wings as she ran.

"Nosy little bitch," Adam complained as he turned back toward me.

"Are you sure she didn't have a rider?" I gasped. "I didn't think she went anywhere without Johnny!" God, what if the little guy is stuck up her? I wondered.

"She's also a spy," he groaned. "I'm sure Johnny sent her up here." He took a drink from his can then continued, "What were you going to say?"

I glanced at Ginger's dust cloud, then our two overgrown pets staring at me for a second. "I think," was all I could get out before I began snickering, then grasped my stomach to control my chuckle enough to be able to talk. "I think, , , this is as nutty a nut ranch as you said it was! And you are the head nutcase!"

To Be Continued…