"Marshal Hickok, Marshal Driscoll told me about the girls at your ranch," Charlotte told me, as we turned onto the New Mexico Air Guard ramp at Kirtland in Albuquerque.
Then Tony let out a long whistle while looking out the window. A row of F-16's came into view.
"Hey Lotte! They have F-16's here!" Tony told his sister excitedly. "Hey Marshal Hickok. Could you get us a closer look?"
"Well not today," I told him as I stood up. "But I think I can get it okayed for this week sometime."
"Okay," he replied.
"Why not now?" Lotte asked me.
"So the other kids can see them as well," I told her. "They haven't been here yet."
"Oh," she replied.
"That's cool," Tony told his sister queuing for the door.
"Do they have any lady pilots?" Lotte asked taking a spot behind Tony. "I'ld really like to meet one."
"Does the squadron Commander count?" I asked Lotte. Her face lite up like a Christmas tree.
"Really?" she asked. I had to smile.
"Really," I answered.
"Hey Billy. They brought the bus," Bob told us as he stepped out. But then Bob turned a little green and stepped back in.
"What is it Bob?' Jessie asked.
"I forgot to tell Jean I had been shot," Bob barely muttered.
"It was a little crazy that night," I told him. "They did give you some pain meds."
"Yeah Bob," Shawn added. "That was bound to make you a little fuzzy."
"So lie and say I thought I did?" Bob asked.
"Oh! Hell no!," I told him. "Tell her the truth. That you realized that you hadn't told her."
"I hope she'll be satisfied with that," Bob told us. By then our bags were being unloaded.
"Not at first," I told him. "But eventually." Bob just stared at me.
"Well I had better go first," Bob said. "Better to get it over with."
Jean saw the sling right off and ran to Bob. She hugged Bob then drew him out to arms length.
"Robert Taylor Driscoll!" Jean said in a tone. Bob knew he was in trouble.
"I'm sorry. I forgot to tell you," Bob apologized, as Charlie and Daniel walked up.
"Are you fine?" she finally asked him.
Meanwhile Dante slide under my arm. Kissing me on the cheek, then.
"Is Bob okay?' he asked as he kissed my cheek again.
"I'm fine everyone," Bob announced as he heard Dante. "But Charlie and I will have matching scar."
"COOL!" the boys chorused. But Jean gave them the eye. "Sorry."
"Jean," I said, drawing her attention. "He's home safe." Jean huffed at that.
"Yeah Jean," Jessie said trying to help. "We had a few others get hurt as well."
"Bob do you promise to tell me and not hide something like this again?" she asked him.
"I promise," He told her. "And I promise I wasn't trying to hide this from you."
Then Jimmy walked up to us. He had a split lip, a black eye, and other cuts and bruises. Maybe even a few broke or cracked ribs.
"JIMMY! Who did this to you?" a shocked Andrew asked him.
"I don't know," Jimmy told us as Andrew grabbed him gingerly for a hug. "They were wearing masks and coveralls."
"They beat him up on campus," Dante told us.
"Both the city and campus police are involved," Jimmy told us. "They brought the FBI in because of the hate crime aspect."
"What's that?" Jessie asked him.
"Things they said. Like "Burn in hell fag'," Jimmy answered. "And, 'Homosexuality's a sin'."
"Who's the FBI agent handling it?' I asked them.
"A Special agent John Hoover," Dante told us. "Do you know him? Is he good?" I had to smile.
"John's old school FBI in many ways," I told them. "He'll work hard till he solves it."
"Does there seem to be a link to the Church of God's Light?" Shawn asked them. As we got our bags.
"Not at the moment," Dante told us. "Solomon Lovegood and his group were on camera in the cafeteria."
"For now we'll let the locals and FBI handle it," I said as much to ease fears as to give orders. I could see the looks on Jessie and Shawn's face.
"Hey guys. We have a celebration to get to," Dante told us.
"And Antonio and Charlotte are the guests of honor."
"We would rather go to grandpa's ranch," Tony told us.
"Well your cousins have been staying with the other kids at our place," Dante told them. "They really want to see you."
"Is that because Mattie has a new boyfriend named Jeff?" Lotte asked with a smile.
"Well he does have a boyfriend," Jimmy told her with a smile. "But you'll have fun with these kids."
"Who is this Jeff guy anyway?" Tony asked.
"He's our cousin," Charlie told him. "You can tell Jeff and Mattie are in love."
"Yeah," Daniel said. "Jeff and Mattie are staying the rest of the summer."
"Something I need to know?" Bob asked Jean.
"Yeah. Is there something I need to know?" I asked Dante. "Do we have a summer camp going?"
"Can we fill you two in back at the ranch?" Jean asked us a little perturbed.
"Sure," Bob told her.
"Sounds good to me," I said following suite.
"And Billy Hickok! Dante only did what you would of done . Had you been here," Jean said scolding me.
"Yes he did," I said as we loaded up.
On the way home the boys filled us in on what we had missed. Mattie and Jeff's antics. Dante and Charlie's PT. Somewhere in there I fell asleep. Bob and Jessie must have explained that I hadn't slept well while in Chicago.
"We're home," Dante whispered in my ear. I stretched and kissed him.
As I got off the bus I was swarmed. Bass, Amelia, Peter, and Kevin grabbed me. Nearly taking me off my feet.
"Hey! What about Bob, Jessie, and Shawn?" I asked them.
"We're glad they're back too," Peter told us. We laughed. "But we're really glad you're back"
"Dante really missed you!" Dante promptly kissed me.
"It's okay Peter," Bob told him. "Billy's only messing with you."
"Just one question before we unload?" I asked them. "Who took care of Dante while I was gone?"
"All of us uncle Bill," Bass told me. "But we had help from his mom. She was in charge."
"Yes they did," Dante confirmed for me.
"We took turns keeping an eye on him," Peter informed me. "Boy was it hard sometimes." I looked suspiciously at Dante. But he did his best innocent act.
By then everyone was there. We had to get our cloths inside. We dropped them in the laundry room. We had Jessie and Shawn wash their clothes first. And Dante asked them to stay the weekend. I tried to head for our bedroom, but Dante stopped me.
"Oh No! you don't," Dante said with a grin. "There's one more you need to go see before you lay down. So come on."
"Who do I need to see?" I asked him. But Dante took my hand and led me to the upper corral.
But when I got there I could hear Zeb. He was dancing and nickering in the nearest corner.
"Hey Big Man," I said as l scratched his jaw. "I missed you too."
As I hugged him. Spot and Blue Water came over for their turn. But Zeb was keeping me for himself. He put his head on my shoulder. Dante and the boys laughed.
But finally I got to them all. Zeb didn't exactly like that. Until I gave out carrots, and he got his first.
"He's been like that since I had to drive the Wrangler one day," Dante told me. I looked at him wondering why.
"It's easier to drive right now," Dante said defensively.
"It's fine," I told him. Then I grabbed and kissed him. "But tell me next time."
Dante and I made our was slowly up to the patio. The boys charged up ahead of us. As we sat down, Amelia made her way out to us.
"Supper's in an hour," she told us. "So go take a nap!"
"She boss you around while I was gone?" I asked Dante.
"Not just her," Dante told me, as we got up. So we each kissed a cheek of hers. Then we went into our bedroom.
I laid down with Dante next to me. The first time in nearly a month. He kissed my cheek and I fell asleep.
I woke to the sound of guitars and singing out on the patio. I stretched and sat up. Looking at Dante and he guessed my question.
"It's some of the kids," Dante told me. "We got started because of Charlie and my PT."
"Of course Daniel plays as does Angel," Dante added. "Some of the other kids are learning now and sing along."
"Amelia and Cheryl play a mean fiddle."
"You mean violin," I said correcting him.
"No Uncle Billy!" Amelia said correcting me from the door. She had heard us from the patio.
"He means fiddle. That's a country violin."
"And Cheryl's learning to play fiddle."
"A violin is for classical music," Cheryl added. "A fiddle is for country."
"At least that's what my teacher says," Amelia said.
"Dad plays Banjo and Mandolin," Dante told me. "All we need are drums and a Piano."
"Well let's go listen to some music," I told Dante with a kiss.
"You two!" Amelia said with a smile and the shake of her head. So we went outside.
It turned out that the patio was perfectly placed for them to play. The house and the hill amplified the music perfectly. As we stepped out. Daniel and Angel were playing and singing about love. Everyone was listening to them.
"What's next?" Charlie asked as acting director when they finished.
"How about a fiddle in the band?" Amelia said getting her violin out. "Uncle Billy needs convinced."
"Now wait a minute," I said defensively. "I was taken by surprise."
"Seems we've been missing out," Bob told me.
"It sure looks that way," I replied sitting down.
"Well I hate to take Melly's thunder," Kevin said from the kitchen door. "But dinner's ready."
"Well then after dinner, and the dishes are done," I said with a smile. "Okay Amelia?"
"That suites me Uncle Billy," Amelia said putting her violin, I mean fiddle away."
We went into the kitchen and formed a line. Filled our plates and went outside. Corn beard and Spring rolls were in baskets on the tables. We all sat down one or two at a time and waited.
"May I say grace tonight?" I asked after everyone was seated.
"Well Billy I was going to say a special grace tonight," Charlie told me. I smiled at him.
"Then by all means Charlie," I told him. "Go right ahead."
"Thank you Billy."
"Bless us O Lord, and these Thy Gifts, Which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ our Lord. And thank for the return of dad and our friends safely. Well almost. Amen," Charlie said leading the prayer..
"Amen," we all said. Some of us chuckling at look on Bob's face.
"Almost?' Bob asked hi eldest.
"Well you did get shot dad," Charlie pointed out.
"Yes! He did," Jean said with a glare at Bob.
"Fair enough," Bob finally said.
"Well I wonder where he gets it from?" Bob asked.
"Yes. I wonder too," Jean said. But then she smiled and kissed his cheek.
"So you forgive me?" Bob asked hopefully. Jean smiled and kissed him again.
"One day," she told him. Causing some of us to laugh again.
When dinner was done we praised Kevin and Amelia for the food they prepared. Then Ethan followed by Linzie stepped out of the kitchen.
Bass and Amelia sprang up and ran to their mother. They hugged and kissed her. Dante and I hugged and kissed her.
"Partner," I said as I hugged her.
"Thank you for what you did partner," Linzie whispered in my ear. All the while tears flowing down her cheeks.
"Momma!" Amelia yelped seeing the tears.
"It's okay baby," Linzie told her daughter. "They're tears of joy."
"Come on people," Alice said taking charge. '"We have dishes to get inside and wash."
"Come on Melly," Kevin said. "Let's get your mom and my dad a plate."
"Kevin you two fix them but keep them warm for us," Ethan told his son. "Director Graff and I need to talk to some people."
"Okay dad," Kevin said. "We'll get them ready and set them in the oven."
"Marshals Hickok, Driscoll, And Holmes. Would you join us Dante, Jimmy, and Andrew?" Linzie asked.
"Shawn if you'll join us too?" Then she led the way to my office.
"What is it Linzie?" I asked once the door was closed.
"Andrew would you sit down please?" Linzie asked.
"Linzie! What is it?" Andrew asked. But Jimmy guided him down onto the loveseat in my office.
"Andrew I was just informed that there were attempts on Eric, Sanchez, and Isabella," she told him. "Eric and Sanchez have minor injuries."
"But Isabella took on three assailants. Two of which are dead. The third is in critical condition, and is not going to make it."
You could see Jimmy tighten his grip on Andrew.
"Isabella?" Andrew asked.
Linzie just shook her head. She sat down next to Andrew. Putting her arm around him as well.
"Do you want me to tell your grandchildren?' Linzi asked him.
"Thank you no Linzie," Andrew told her. "I have this to do."
"No Andrew. We have to tell them," Jimmy said as he kissed Andrew.
"I love you," Andrew told Jimmy.
"Andrew. You know we have your back," Bob told him. "More importantly, the kids will be there for your grandkids."
"I talked to my kids therapist," Ethan told him. "She's coming out to check on my kids tomorrow. She's there for you if you want her."
Andrew sat there for a few minutes. Taking it all in. Then Jimmy kissed his cheek again.
"Andrew?' Jimmy asked. "Are you ready?"
"How about we do this out on the patio," I suggested.
"Yes. That would be good," Andrew said. " Thank you all for the support."
"Take another minute," Dante said. "I'll get the kids together on the patio first."
"That sounds good Dante," Andrew said. Then he hugged Jimmy as we went out.