Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chapter 1 - Ranch


Jasper leaned back against the sun-warmed metal of the four by four with his arms folded on his chest, watching the little plane coming in to land on the grass airstrip.

Clients tended to fall into several categories on arrival. There were the grim, reserved ones. There were the angry ones, who varied from the sullen to the loudly ranting. There was the occasional one who couldn’t stop crying. And then there were the ones like Mason Dempsey, the man descending the steps of the plane and heading towards him. Used to actively looking for indicators from the moment a new client stepped onto their turf, Jasper assessed the first one as Mason gave him a confident smile that showed teeth, looked him straight in the eye, and stuck out his hand to shake. Taking the initiative away from Jasper and gripping hard enough to be painful. A dominant man, used to establishing control over his world, and exuding confidence from his open necked blue shirt to his dark, slightly shaggy hair and his highly fashionable and casually clipped little circle beard. He was about to get a sharp shock. Jasper gave him a pleasant smile, not reacting to the crushing grip or the challenge in the blue eyed stare.

“Hi Mason, welcome to Falls Chance ranch. I’m Jasper Blackwater, I’ll be in charge of your programme while you’re here. Go ahead and throw your bags in the jeep.”
“Well I guess I’ll take this one if you take that one.” Mason said pleasantly, picking up one of the two leather cases.

Jasper quietly ignored the bait and opened the driver’s door, taking a seat and putting the keys in the ignition. The plane was already taking off again; it roared down the grass strip and lifted off, and the sound of the engine quickly faded into the distance as the plane disappeared into the blue. He heard the thud of the two cases landing in the trunk of the jeep, then Mason got into the passenger seat, lounging back with one knee raised, apparently unconcerned that the plane had left or that he had no real idea where they were heading. Jasper started the engine and drove down the hill, half an eye on the man beside him. The black suit was crisp, casually worn and expensive, and despite being a business suit, it somehow had the look of biking leathers. There was no briefcase with the two leather cases. He was well groomed, solid, and an expensive cologne hung around him.

“So where we going?” Mason said beside him. The accent was Los Angeles but lazier, and faintly drawling.

“The house is down the hill here.”

“Many people in the programme right now?”

“You’re the only one.”

Mason wasn’t enjoying the brief responses to his questions; Jasper could see the irritation in his square jaw. They planned for their clients to arrive without much preparation. It helped them to be off balance, it brought the barriers down quicker and they had no time to arm themselves or to take control. He could see Mason sizing up the place as they drove into the yard and parked in the garage, and Jasper took one of the two cases from the trunk, leading the way through the front door. The house was cool compared to the warmth of the spring sunshine hitting the yard, and it was quiet as they were the only ones home. Mason dug his hands in his pockets and tipped back his head to take in the room around him, still with that nonchalantly confident expression, then mooched forward to take a look through the door of the kitchen.

“We’ll leave the cases here.” Jasper told him, taking the second case from him and standing them both by the door. “I’ll show you your room and then I’d like you to take a shower and change into working clothes. Everything you need will be upstairs, we supply it for you.” he added as Mason stooped to unzip a case. He got a pleasant smile in return but Mason didn’t stop unzipping.

“I’d like my shaving kit.”

“You’ll find everything you need upstairs.” Jasper repeated, quietly taking the case out of his hand. “I’ll go through your bags with you in a while.”

He got a casual kind of half shrug that said hey, you want to be funny about the cases you be my guest, and Mason straightened up, following him upstairs.

“You know this is kinda top of the range in working clothes where I come from?”

Jasper opened the door to the client bedroom, which like all the bedrooms was basic, and this one even more basic than most. The bed had a scarlet and gold patchwork quilt over it, and there was nothing else in the room but a chest of drawers and a window, with just enough room to walk between the chest and the bed.

“Not the best wear for a ranch. This will be your room, and mine’s the next room along here. You’ll find clothes in your size in the drawers, and the bathroom is that door there. Towels in the linen closet, help yourself to anything you need on the bathroom shelves. When did you last eat?”

“Breakfast in the hotel this morning.”

“I’ll make us some lunch.” Jasper gestured Mason ahead of him onto the landing. “But first I’d like you to take your shoes, jacket and tie off and I’ll check your weight.”

“Why is that necessary?” Mason said warily. Jasper took the scales out of the linen closet, setting them on the landing.

“Standard practice. A lot of our clients have issues around food. Shoes and jacket please?”

Mason took them off fairly slowly, but he stepped up onto the scales without argument. He stood about six foot tall and was a squarely built man with solid shoulders and chest. Jasper made a note of the reading, which went with the distinctly soggy midriff under the jacket and the jowls and bags under his eyes. None of their clients ever looked well on arrival, just some worse than others.

“Did I pass?” he said jocularly when he stepped down. Jasper pocketed the note and pencil and stooped to pick up the scales, aware the man wanted an answer, and not giving him one.

“Thank you. Go ahead and take your shower, put your used clothes in the laundry hamper and come downstairs when you’re done. We all help with laundry and housework chores, don’t worry, people will make clear to you what they’d like you to do. Leave your shoes up here, we’re a working ranch and since it’s not possible to keep shoes clean we don’t wear them in the house.”

The man took his time and his movements upstairs were leisurely; this was a guy used to establishing control and having things happen on his terms. Jasper had a plate of sandwiches on the table for him and a glass of water when the man came into the kitchen, looking distinctly less executive or comfortable in jeans and a plain sweatshirt. His shower had been a brief one, his hair was barely damp and combed, but while some clients came to them in dire need of the basic care of washing and changing clothes, the main purpose of a shower and changing clothes was symbolic; it helped establish the transition, the getting rid of baggage. A fresh start. It was also often a shock to their clients that the supplies in the bathroom were only the basic essentials for people to be clean: no hair gels or any of the other products they were very used to. Mason grimaced at the sight of the glass of water and the plain sandwich.

“Hey can I get a coffee? It’s been a long morning.”

“Not here.” Jasper said pleasantly. “We don’t stock it, too many clients are caffeine addicts. There’s tea, milk or juice if you prefer?”

“Water’s ok I guess.” Mason declined to accept the offered seat and stood, arms folded, surveying the kitchen. Jasper sat down, indicating the chair across from him.

“Take a seat.”

Mason sat, unwillingly enough to make it clear he wasn’t comfortable with taking instructions.

“I’ll go through the terms of your stay here.” Jasper said calmly, without ceremony. “You’re here because your corporate has put you on probation as a result of your personnel issues-”

“Hey, now that was a load of bull-” Mason began, and Jasper shook his head, speaking quietly but cutting him off.

“I’m not debating it, that’s the reason you came here. Passing our exit criteria is your corporate’s criteria for you keeping your job. You’re going to be here until you’ve made the progress you need to make and we agree you’re ready to leave. It’s going to be largely up to you as to how long that takes.”

Mason raised his hands palm outward, lounging back in his chair, apparently surrendering his argument with good grace.

“Ok, you’re the boss, I guess I’ll get with the programme.”

“While you’re here,” Jasper went on in the same tone, “You’ll be working on the ranch along with us, and you’ll do the chores assigned to you. You’ll follow our schedule, and it’s a rigid one. You’re going to be getting up early, going to bed early, and leading a pretty disciplined life for the next few weeks, particularly at first. Privileges and freedoms get earned here. You're also going to be expected to obey the ranch rules. They're simple and we all follow the same kind of household discipline that’s common in ranch families. One: assigned chores get completed properly, promptly and without argument. Two: we treat each other with respect and consideration, and that includes not using bad language. Three: you're free to use the public rooms of the house, which is the kitchen, the family room and the bathrooms, but all other rooms and buildings are entered by invitation only. Four: you comply fully with instructions and the programme laid down for you. We do enforce those rules and there are consequences for breaking them. Those consequences can involve writing assignments, extra chores or loss of privileges. We also use corporal punishment occasionally if we feel it's warranted, again in the same way considered normal in a family out here. We use the same programme for all our clients coming in, all of whom have some or all of the problems you have, and we have good success rates."

The man’s eyebrows had risen steeply through that speech which they made to every client, but he made no comment for a moment, then gave Jasper a rather dark look.

“Welcome to rehab, huh?”

“If that’s how you’d like to think of it.” Jasper told him, “Yes. Any questions you’d like to ask me?”

“None at all. Guess I can just - go with the flow.”

The L.A. drawl was even slower and the surfing gesture of his hand was slightly sarcastic. Jasper nodded.

“Eat your lunch then and I’ll go through your cases. While you’re here, you’ll have no contact with anyone from your Corporation, and you won’t be working for them in any way. Weekly written letters to family are acceptable if you give me the addresses and I check them out first. I understand you keep regular contact with your mother and sister.”

“Jeez, don’t convicts get more rights than that?” Mason demanded. It sounded jovial but Jasper didn’t smile.

“You’ve got a lot of work to do here and we want your mind on it. Mason, we only eat at mealtimes, so if you want to eat before dinner you need to eat now.”

“Well I guess I’m not so hungry.” Mason said dryly. He hadn’t touched the sandwich.

“Sure?” Jasper asked him. Mason nodded and Jasper got up, dropping the sandwich into the bin and putting the plate in the sink. He was aware the man behind him was slightly shocked. Obviously room service was a lot more accommodating where he came from.

“Cases.” Jasper said, collecting both from the hall and swinging one up onto the table. “I’m going to search these and you for substances and items we don’t allow here, and then we’ll put these into storage. You’ll get them back when you leave.”

The knack with this was to do it fast and matter of factly enough that the clients had no time to get upset. Jasper opened the lid of the first case and sorted through it with experienced hands, lifting out items and stacking them to one side. Clothes which he checked the pockets of. Shoes, which he tipped up and checked the toes of, books which he flicked rapidly through the pages of, and once everything was out, he checked the lining and interior of the case. One water bottle which he set aside, and which Mason absently picked up, fiddling with while he watched. Jasper replaced everything but the books in the case, shut it and put the second case on the table. This case yielded more clothes, a small silver hip flask in the pocket of a suit which Jasper set aside, an iPod also set aside, and a wash kit, which Jasper opened, flicking through. He removed the bottle of shampoo and mouthwash, standing both alongside the iPod and flask before he locked the case. He then turned his attention to Mason, voice brisk but calm.

“Lift your arms for me. I’m going to check your pockets and do a pat down search.”

Mason rolled his eyes skywards but held out his arms and Jasper rapidly ran his hands over the sleeves of the sweatshirt, the breast pocket from which he collected a cell phone, the hip pocket of the jeans from where he collected a Blackberry, and the back pocket from where he collected a wallet. All of these he set on the table. He ran his hands swiftly down the seams of the jeans and inside the waistband, then gently took the bottle of water from Mason’s hand and unscrewed the top, sniffing briefly. Mason met his eyes and grimaced.

“Yeah, ok...., I-”

“Vodka?” Jasper set the bottle on the draining board with the cap still off, and checked the hip flask, also full, which he stood beside the water. The mouthwash bottle contained mouthwash, but the shampoo bottle was immaculately clean and also contained vodka. Mason’s face was now a dull, dark red behind his beard.

“We don’t allow alcohol on the ranch.” Jasper told him levelly, taking the shampoo bottle to the sink and upending it. Mason started to say something as the vodka poured down the drain, then stopped and stood silently while Jasper emptied the vodka from the other two bottles.
He rinsed out the bottles when they were empty, closed them and returned them to the case.

“There is no alcohol anywhere here and no store within twenty five miles. I’m going to confiscate your phone, iPod, blackberry and wallet, and they’ll go into the safe until you leave.”

“I need the blackberry and the iPod.” Mason said shortly. “They’re just for games and music, I don’t need to use the email or the phone-”

“We don’t allow them here.” Jasper said firmly. “Take your earring out please, and put it in your wallet. The books you can keep in your room. How long have you had a drink problem?”

“I don’t.” Mason protested. “It just is easier carrying around the brand I like without glass bottles which smash in luggage holds-”

“Putting vodka in shampoo bottles is not a usually a good sign.” Jasper shut the second case. “Earring please.”

“Why do I need to take that out? It’s just a stud.”

“No jewellery other than watches and wedding bands.”

Like the plain, simple clothes, it was part of removing all masks and shields, reducing a man down to his actual identity. Mason removed the earring and stood sullenly, watching while Jasper locked his belongings away, which they did in full sight of clients to reassure them that their belongings would be respectfully treated and safe.

“What’s wrong with having an iPod? It’s just music, I like to listen to music.”

“We want your full attention on what you’re doing without distractions while you’re here, and we value space away from technology.”

And clear knowledge of what was going in to a client’s brain, what they were using to construct their reality, and what messages they were focusing on. Many of their clients had no concept of how over stimulated they were, or of the impact of the messages they bombarded themselves with via music, radio, tv, computer, email and myriad other ways.

“What is this, the dark ages?” Mason mumbled behind him.

Jasper pocketed the keys and led him back to the kitchen, taking an item down from the kitchen cupboard and tossing it across to Mason. Mason caught it with a little fumbling and scowled as he recognised a breathalyser.

“Oh man, are you serious?”

“Yes.” Jasper came to him and turned it on. “Blow into the tube.”

Mason glared but after a few mutters and glances at the dial, did as he was asked. Jasper took it from him when the display lit up.

“Point ten. So at least two drinks this morning.”

“I had a couple on the plane, I don’t like flying.” Mason said, shrugging. “A lot of people don’t.”

Jasper indicated the line of tiles, turning the breathalyser off.

“Walk along that line for me.”

“Oh brother...” Mason put out his arms and with exaggerated courtesy walked along the line. He was pretty steady, and he’d managed a fairly co-ordinated catch of the breathalyser when it was thrown to him. Which meant he was pretty used to alcohol, most likely cushioning himself with it. There had been nothing in the report from Renford Corporate about a drink problem, which likely meant no one was aware of it, which suggested a man not actually drunk but not often completely sober. Jasper put the breathalyser away and took one of the electrolyte packets down from Paul’s extensive first aid kit on the bottom shelf of the cupboard, mixing it with water and putting the filled glass on the table in front of Mason.

“That’s an electrolyte powder a pharmacy would sell you for an upset stomach. It’ll help get your body chemistry together and avoid a hangover when the alcohol in your system wears off. This,” he put the two pills down next to the glass, “is librium and thiamine which we give to every client we take in with a drink problem. It helps ward off the effects of going cold turkey.”

“I don’t have a drink problem!” Mason protested.

“Since I’m interested in you getting through the next few days without a hangover, I’m going with the evidence that you do.” Jasper said bluntly. “You don’t have to take these but I’ve worked with plenty of clients sobering up, and I can tell you from experience that you’ll be more comfortable if you do.”

He got a glare, but Mason swiped up the pills and swallowed them, washing them down with the electrolyte drink which drew a grimace from him as he drained the glass and set it back on the table.

“Ok. Now what? Now you’ve read me the you’ve been a bad boy speech and taken my stuff, do I get some time to take a look around? Take a book out on the porch?”

“This isn’t a hotel and you’re not a guest here. Our clients don’t get free time, you’ll be involved in some kind of structured activity all your waking hours until you’ve earned a higher level of freedom.” Jasper handed him back the glass. “Wash that up and we’ll make a start on the work outside.”

Mason didn’t look as if he felt comfortable in tennis shoes, and while he shouldered into the new fleece jacket Jasper gave him, he was openly scowling now and he didn’t do it willingly. Jasper opened the stable door, taking out the big, hard broom.

“Take this, dry sweep out the hallway here, then fill the bucket with water from the tap outside and scrub the stones down. It should take you three buckets over this floor to scrub it down, and another three to rinse off, sweep the water out into the yard. I’ll be out here if you need me.”

“Hey, I’m a CEO, man.” Mason said, raising his hands. “Chief Exec. I don’t know what your usual clients are like, but I don’t do stuff like cleaning stables.”

“While you’re here, yes you do.” Jasper said matter of factly. He leaned the broom against the wall and walked towards the corral, aware of Mason watching him, shocked and annoyed. Refusing to work was a relatively common first step for clients, and this first chore was mostly safe exercise for a man who needed to start working the alcohol out of his system.

He took no further notice of what Mason did while he took a head collar to Gucci, led her into the yard and tethered her to the barn, got what he needed and started to groom her. He heard several mutters and oaths from the doorway of the stable. Mason appeared to be talking to himself but when Jasper changed sides on Gucci and glanced over, Mason was leaning against the doorway of the stable, hands in his pockets, shoulders against the door post, obviously not moving and not intending to move. Jasper went on grooming Gucci and taking no notice. After a while, Mason sat down on the red earth of the yard, propping his elbows on his knees.

“Mason.” Jasper said quietly, pausing in grooming Gucci. “You’re going to need to finish the task I gave you.”

“You know what you can do with that load of bull?” Mason said dryly. “You know who I am? I came here for help, not to clean out fuckin’ stables.”

“This is help, give it time.” Jasper went back to brushing Gucci’s neck with long, vigorous strokes. “You need to get up and make a start.”

“Yeah? Or what you gonna do?” Mason challenged.

Jasper gave him a steady look over Gucci’s back. “You can quit any time you want to. But if you do, you lose your job, and you believe that because you made the choice to come out here and give this a try.”

He watched Mason think, the man’s brow creased with a mixture of what Jasper thought was frustration, anger and confusion. Most of their clients came to them having spent the previous few days going through hell, arrived with their defences high, and reached this point quickly, often within an hour or two. They were usually people who liked to cut to the chase, and they weren’t people used to giving in easily.

“You have a serious problem on your hands.” Jasper said gently and straight forwardly. “Your board of directors thinks you have a serious problem. But it’s clear they think too that you’re a valuable asset, and someone worth their considerable effort and money to help if they can. You don’t look like a quitter to me.”

He held the man’s eye for a long time, letting him look and see he was in earnest. Finally Mason dropped his eyes, muttering, sounding sullen but more sincere.

“Yeah ok, I want to keep my job.”

“I want you to keep your job too.” Jasper said quietly. “If you let us, I promise you we’re going to find a way to help you sort this out. Step one is that you have to trust us, and do what we ask you to do.”

“You’re kidding me!” Mason said hotly. Jasper shook his head, still holding his eyes.

“No. I’m not.”

“Ah I don’t believe this.” Mason said bitterly, hesitating, but after moment’s thought he
grabbed up the brush and stalked away, and a moment later, Jasper heard the sound of rough, angry sweeping start in the stable hallway.

It took Mason a long time to get through the six buckets of water, and he muttered, kicked things and paused often to stretch his back and rest. Eventually Jasper came to stand and watch, talking him through the last stages of brushing out the water, then shut up the stable and barn and walked back with him to the kitchen.

“Shoes off, put them by the door, and wash your hands, there’s a bathroom just through there.” he said as they came inside. “Usually we shower and change clothes as soon as we come in from work.”

“Who else lives here?” Mason sounded surly but he left the door open as he washed his hands at the bathroom sink, watching Jasper wash his at the kitchen sink.

“There’s five of us.” Jasper told him. “The other four are in town this afternoon, they won’t be back until late. You’ll get to meet them at breakfast tomorrow.”

“Not other clients?”

“No, they all live and work here.”

Mason dried off his hands and came into the kitchen, giving Jasper a faintly and unwillingly sheepish look that reminded Jasper of a small boy used to wangling his own way.

“I’m starving.”

“I told you we ate at mealtimes only.” Jasper pointed out, filling the kettle.

“Oh come on, you can’t be serious!” Mason protested.

“I’m serious.”

“A cookie. Something!”

“Dinner will be in about an hour.” Jasper poured two mugs of tea and handed one to Mason. “Until then, come sit in the family room with me and tell me about yourself.”


Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2015 


Karen said...

It's great to see another book begun -- thank you =)

UnicorntreebooksBoss said...

it's wonderful - thank you for more Jake and Tom, and the new client looks like that's going to be interesting too - be interesting to see Dale interact.
Thanks R&R you are the best :0)

marymayhem said...

thankyou for continuing the saga.You really brightened up my day.

Rhiannan said...

Love this!! I'd just finished the first three when this one popped up. I'm so excited to get to know this new client and see how he affects the lives of the other five and everything. :0)

Anonymous said...

So glad the saga continues. More Tom and Jake,and someone new at the Ranch. Jasper has his work cut out for him.

nocturnal08 said...

Love this beginning. Toms is almost my favorite. :)

Anonymous said...

Tom writing to Dale who would of being able to make an indent of the prickly Tom who is really not so prickly Tom and Jake are my favorite couple. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single book and have become captivated by this family of beautiful men Thank you.