Friday, September 18, 2015

Chapter 10 - Ranch



Jasper slung the bridle over his shoulder and led Gucci towards the gate of the corral. Mason, pouring the last bucket of water into the water trough, glanced up at him, and Jasper nodded at Moo, the big, placid chestnut who was grazing at the far end of the paddock.

“Bring Moo out into the yard too, we need to check her feet while we’re at it.”

He walked away with Gucci through the gate without a backward look, leaving Mason to consider the task for himself. He’d been talking Mason through grooming Moo most of the morning while he groomed Gucci alongside her and Mason’s wariness had gradually begun to dispel in touching and being around her. In the yard, he tethered Gucci to one of the rings on the wall of the barn, a discreet eye on Mason who hung the bucket on a gate post, and went directly to Moo. He did it in the same way he approached everyone: fast, head on, and Jasper saw Moo’s head go up, her body tense, and Mason hesitate and step back as she jerked away. The man’s face was somewhere between wary and irritated. 

“This horse does not like me, man”

“Come over here a minute.” Jasper went to the corral fence and Mason gave Moo another wary look and came to meet him.

“How did you approach her?” Jasper said mildly. Mason shrugged one big shoulder.

“I walked up to her. You can see she doesn’t like me, she acts like I’m a jerk.”

Riley would have had a succinct answer for that. Jasper answered it calmly, with patience for the man in front of him who had no idea how much he was giving away about himself. Horses were no respecter of rank or qualification, and Moo was one of their best teachers; her size in itself commanded respect and presented boundaries, she was patient and non confrontational, and she was quick to pick up on the mood of anyone who approached her.

“Do you like people in your face? If I strode up to you without a word and got in your face, what would you do?”

Mason winced, giving him a wry look. “... probably punch you out.”

Jasper nodded slowly, appreciating the honesty. “Horses have personal space too.”

Mason looked again at Moo, who had gone back to grazing. He still looked uncomfortable in jeans and riding boots, and he ran his palms down the sides of his jeans, wiping off sweat.

“I’m a people person. I’m a manager, I don’t have the skill set for animals, I’m not a cowboy.”

“People are animals.” Jasper opened the gate, coming to join him. “Try again. Think about what you’re doing.”

The man wasn’t stupid; none of their clients were. They could be poor at picking up on body language, could have immature or poor social communication skills, or have excellent people manipulation skills that meant squat to a horse, but they were thinkers and they were doers, and they were rarely quitters. Mason hesitated a moment, but he walked back to Moo, and this time it was at a slower pace, with less bustle or aggression in the stride, and he stopped a few feet from her, not barging into her space head on. Moo lifted her head and looked at him instead of retreating, and Jasper saw the same thing he’d seen many times in this corral; a man directly seeing in a large, intelligent animal, how his actions affected another being.

“Good.” Jasper said quietly. “She’s interested in you now.”

Mason put  up a hand – still slowly – to touch her neck, and Moo calmly went on chewing. Then Mason put his hand  up to her head collar. Moo let him take it, but stood where she was, still chewing, letting Mason pull on the rope with gradually less subtlety.

“See?” he said to Jasper, half joking, half chagrined.

“What are you doing to make her any more interested?” Jasper pointed out. “You’ve got to persuade her around to your way of thinking, she isn’t going to try figuring out what you want.”

“C’mon horse.” Mason clicked and shook the rope a little. “C’mon you big ..... move a foot. This way. One two, one two. Pick ‘em up.”

“Who are you talking to?” Jasper went back to Gucci, not looking round. “That’s for my benefit and thanks, I’m enjoying the comedy, but she doesn’t care.”

“You could show me how to do this?” Mason pulled again, not roughly on Moo’s rope, and Moo dug four large feet into the rough grass and went on chewing. “Ah man....”

Jasper, paying close attention to Gucci, took no notice, and let Mason discover for himself where irritation and anxiety got you with a horse who believed in doing no more work than she really had to. She had no doubt at all who was in charge; she was standing with her weight on her left hind hoof, the right hoof casually tilted, not budging. After a few minutes he came back to the corral where Mason was standing at the end of Moo’s rope, not having stalked away in impatience as he would a few weeks ago, but with no clear idea of what to do either.

“Take her rope nearer her head. Would you like being dragged from the far end of a rope? That’s it. Now talk to her, and walk forward. Try a little authority.”

Cautiously. Moo’s large size and her large hooves had made an obvious impression on Mason’s mind and there was no over confidence in the hand that edged up her rope.

“Come on girl. This way. Come on.”

“Move with authority, Mason.” Jasper said mildly, watching. “Quiet, calm, like you know what you’re doing, and she’ll show you if she’s going to work with you.”

Mason took a slightly firmer grasp on the rope and stepped forward, and this time Moo straightened up and placidly walked with him, lowering her head a little.

“Good.” Jasper opened the gate for them and watched Mason walk her across the yard. “Very good. Walk her down to the other gate and back, and then I’ll show you how to pick out her feet.”

Which didn’t need picking out, but would require Mason to handle and co operate with and communicate with Moo. After which he might be ready to try tacking her up and mounting her. Ready to take this slowly through the afternoon, and watching Mason walk with visible fluctuations in confidence down towards the gate with Moo padding beside him, Jasper cast a brief glance back towards the house with another intruding thought for Dale’s face and his voice last night, the resolve that Jasper knew came with a lot of fear. Dale invariably did what he said he would; he’d determined to talk to Paul and Jasper knew he would make himself, no matter how painful he found it.  


“This is something you’ve worked on for a long time.” he said gently to Dale, much later that day. “I think it’s something to celebrate that you see this in yourself and you want to tell us about it.”

‘Want’ was a slightly relative term. ‘Choked out with a lot of firm encouragement from Paul’ was probably more accurate. Dale and Paul were sitting on the porch swing in the growing darkness, a step further away into privacy as Mason, who was exhausted at the end of each day and still burning off stress and long term abuse of alcohol, had been in bed and asleep for almost an hour. Jasper was sitting on the porch rail. Flynn had taken one of the basket chairs with his arm loosely around Riley who was perched on the chair’s arm. There had been times when Dale was upset or in trouble that they’d had to cope with Riley getting defensive on his behalf and Flynn had placed himself strategically with an idea of what was coming, but Riley’s face was sober and compassionate as he listened; he had no difficulty understanding this at all.

“I’ve done it again and again.” Dale said rather thickly. “I hadn’t really thought about how much until I saw Mason doing it. It’s habit in small ways, which actually bothers me more than the serious times. And even in those incidents I wasn’t always open about it. I got Jas into difficulties up on Mustang Hill because I wouldn’t come back and say I’d felt something up there that scared the hell out of me.”

 “When you feel vulnerable, you avoid.” Flynn said quietly, without criticism. “You want to be sure of what we see and what we’ll think, and have some control so you’re sure we’re not going to do something you can’t handle. You don’t like asking for much from us at all.”

“I do ask.....” Dale began rather lamely. Riley snorted and Paul gave him a wry look.

“Darling, for what? If you see one of us upset or in difficulties you’ll do anything to help, and you’re very good about remembering to ask our permission before you do things, but in yourself you’re very undemanding. In fact mostly you work on implying to me that you don’t need anything at all. You know I can’t remember any time you’ve said to me you were hungry? You might come and help me with dinner, but you don’t tell me you need to eat. You don’t like it if I ask you too directly what you want to eat, especially if it’s only you I’m making a meal for.”

“Which is avoidant. Which is what we’re talking about.” Flynn agreed. “Rules are ok, the personal ground isn’t.”

“And the more personal it gets....?” Riley gave Dale a look that was as amused as it was sympathetic. “Offer, yes. Co operate, no problem. Ask.... ? You’d think you were straight. Or a monk.”

“Look, isn’t there something I can read on this?” Dale appealed to him. “Just give me something I can study, like you did with the perfectionism-”

“You don’t need third hand information, you need practice in feeling and doing.” Jasper said calmly. “Studying this is another way of stepping back from it. I know you’re most comfortable when you’re reading and doing this in an academic way, but that to me is a warning sign we’re moving away from the problem, not towards it.”

“Hot and cold.” Paul said to Dale who winced.

“I still don’t get the relevance of what hot and cold has to do with any of this.”

“Most of your coping strategies are based on distracting yourself from and shutting down emotion.” Flynn said, and Riley rolled his eyes skyward.

“Oh no kidding, we get this. No one needs to ‘do’ anything, this is no kind of a problem. Dale, quit any distractions including obsessing on what you’re doing wrong and try trusting us; Top type people keep jumping right on the eye contact and the evasive stuff and the sarcasm and the mucking about just like you always do, and it’s going to be fine. We’re good at this.  I’m hungry.” He added to Paul, who nodded with a lot of understanding as to why Riley wanted sugar and a change of subject.

“There’s banana bread in the tin love, bring it out here and put the kettle on.”

Riley got up and stooped as he passed Dale to give him a rough, tackling hug from behind that hid both their faces for a moment. Dale sounded a little unsteady when Riley disappeared into the kitchen and cleared his throat.

“..... Yes. What he said. I’m sorry, I feel so bad about this. I haven’t tried hard enough, or I’ve let myself slip on things I know-”

“No, that isn’t true,” Flynn interrupted firmly. “That’s exactly what Riley’s saying. This is about you having reached a deeper level of understanding of something you already know and do.” He got up and came to the other side of the swing, sitting down beside Dale. “And he’s right; this is all about trust. You know how the kind of avoidant pattern happens that you’re struggling with? Usually when a child is upset or anxious, goes for comfort and gets rejected.”

Paul was watching Dale’s face and saw a flinch. Very brief, but definitely there.

“I am not,” he said with unsteady humour, and that was defensive too, “participating in any Freudian plots to blame everything on my mother. It is not going to get that pathetic.”

“Which is shattering,” Flynn went on quietly, taking no notice, “to the point that with enough repetition, that child stops taking the risk of looking for comfort or even the risk of showing a need for it. It’s based on experience of having been let down to the point of giving up. Does that fit with your experience of us?”

No. Never. Dale swallowed hard, dangerously close to the lump in his throat dissolving to something a lot less dignified. Saying this kind of thing, out loud, was like turning his guts inside out and every bit as painful, and being around people who talked about this kind of thing, bluntly and openly as if it was a normal thing, was still relatively new.  

“No. I do trust you, even if I’m not much damn good at showing it. Riley said after the mess with the fences that it was like I didn’t think anything you could do would be any good and it wasn’t even worth telling you.”

And that had hurt like all hell, because it was acutely and horribly true.

Flynn put a hand on the back of Dale’s neck where the muscles were tightest, rubbing at them gently.

“This is an old habit, based on old experience. You’re in a different situation now. What it comes down to is that it’s ok to trust us with how often you get anxious. It’s ok to tell us about things that might seem to you too trivial or irrational to be anxious about, and expect us not to let you down. And we can tell you over and over that it’s ok, but you’ve got to trust us enough to be willing to try it out a few times.”

Don’t touch me.

Dale’s shoulders were saying it clearly, hunching under Flynn’s hand on his neck in resistance of Flynn loosening the knot there. Paul watched Flynn put his hands one on either shoulder, grasping both firmly with an authority Dale always responded to.  

“Breathe. Put your shoulders down, open your hands.”


Elbows on his knees, head down, hands clenched tightly together and holding his breath as he often did when he was working on containing something, as if he was physically stooped over it to hold it down. Watching him, as he’d been watching Dale all day, it occurred to Paul again just how much energy Dale put into containing himself. Flynn waited, hands heavy enough on Dale’s shoulders to press against the tension, not forcing, but not giving up or backing off either, and after a minute, Dale finally let them sink down and his hands unknotted and let go of each other. It was where he’d been holding the emotion. As soon as he did it, the first choke burst out of him, and Flynn sat back in the swing, gently pulling Dale over and folding both arms tight around him. Jasper stood up from the porch rail and crouched in front of them, putting his hands on Dale’s hips and then a very gentle hand against his face. Paul leaned on Jasper’s shoulder to get up from the swing, with a lot of compassion and a firmly normal tone of voice, thinking Dale had probably taken all he could stand for one day.   

“I’m going to give Riley a hand, and then we need to think about going to bed.”

Jasper took his place on the swing, calm and very certain, and Dale was deeply attuned to Jasper. Paul saw it at times when Jasper simply reached for his hand and Dale folded up at his feet in the evening, or when they stood together for hours in the river, fishing in parallel comfortable silence. Jasper believed strongly in being prepared to break eggs to make omelettes, it was a powerful part of his philosophy and he was unafraid of mess and a believer in not protecting people from pain and difficulty to the point they were unable to learn from it. Support, yes; protect from; no. Paul helped Riley bring mugs of tea and plates of the banana bread out onto the porch, and while Riley looked at Dale with sympathy, it equally wasn’t with distress. Paul watched him sit near them with his back to the porch rails, calm in a way that only someone could be who didn’t harbour the slightest hesitation about melting down the way Dale was doing now.

“We need to think about how Dale and Ri want to handle this between themselves.” Jasper said calmly. “Riley’s as entitled as the rest of us to call Dale on this kind of behaviour if he sees it, but I don’t think he’s going to want to handle it the way the three of us would.”

“We don’t need to think about it because I’m just going to tell one of you if it’s something I’m worried about.” Riley said frankly through a mouthful of cake. “Sorry Dale, but I will. I’ve kind of got that one figured by now.”

“You know I agree with you.” Dale was still gulping, but he drew away from Flynn, looking a little calmer and his voice as soft and even as it always was. “If I didn’t think it needed to be dealt with I wouldn’t have said anything.”

“Which is fine with the big things but we’re talking about the small things.” Jasper took a plate from Paul with a slice of the banana bread on it, holding it where Flynn and Dale could help themselves. “Picking up on the details, and you’re going to need all of us to be consistent and persistent if we’re going to be any help. You’re accountable to Riley too.”

“I’m not telling him to sit or follow me around,” Riley said emphatically, “If he didn’t laugh, I would. Er, pot? This is kettle. Pick a corner.”

“You can challenge him,” Paul said , taking his mug and plate to Flynn’s vacated chair. “And you need to in the same way we would, you often tell us what to look for.”

“And if you think we’d do more than challenge, you can ask Dale to tell one of us.” Flynn added. “You know you can trust him to do it. Although I think for a while Dale needs to be with one of the three of us.”

“Yes, back to stage one.” Dale said lightly, which did not quite cover the bleakness of failure in his voice. “Again.”

“No, not at all, you are not a client and you’re not in any trouble, so stop it.” Paul told him firmly. “When you’re having a hard time we want you close around us.”

Dale glanced at him, flushing a little darker, and Paul thought he wasn’t sure whether he found that thought more attractive or alarming.

“Which reminds me.” Jasper rocked the swing slowly, feet against the boards which made it creak softly. “I think we’re about ready to start on the next stage with Mason. Everything we need him to be doing at this point he’s doing. He follows instructions most of the time, he’s doing what I ask with supervision to make sure it’s done right, he’s started to talk about why he’s here and what he’s here to do, and health wise he’s doing a lot better. He’s sleeping well, eating well, we’ve seen some genuine testing and working through with us, and he’s done enough well the last few days to understand having earned some privileges. I got him up on Moo for an hour this afternoon and he was making some progress with her.”

The change of subject lifted some of the tension, for which Dale looked more than ready and deeply grateful.  

“I haven’t seen anything to make me disagree.” Flynn glanced at Dale, who raised his eyebrows at him.  

“You think I’d know?”

“I’d think you’re very qualified to know.” Paul pointed out. “I agree. He’s following the routine well, after that fight with Jas the other day I’d say we’re seeing some honest thinking through of what’s happening.”

“And he’s doing ok with his chores.” Riley added. “Did we have a mention of a named person on his admission paperwork?”

“His mother as his next of kin in Los Angeles.” Paul said, reflecting. “He stayed in regular contact with her, and the paperwork said she knew where he was.”

“Want me to sound her out?” Flynn said to Jasper, who nodded.

“A lot of our clients come with someone named as important for them to stay in touch with,” Paul said to Dale. “Definitely a wife or partner, and children if there are any. Sometimes parents, siblings, other family, or a close friend so long as they’re not work related. At about this stage if they have that link with someone, we start encouraging them to make contact by letter if they haven’t yet wanted to. One letter sent and received a week, from each person. The limit means clients tend to put some thought into their letter and the letters tend to be a lot more precious because contact is rationed. People tend to be a lot more communicative on paper than they usually are face to face or by phone.”

Paul put a lot of value into writing letters himself; they went out regularly from the house here to other family members on several different continents and letters arrived just as regularly at this house from those people: it was part of what held the bond so strong between them. Dale had joined him in writing regularly to Ash and Gerry, and more recently to Luath and to Tom, realising with Paul the difference it made when you put the thought into what you wrote to someone, and took the time to sit and read their reply, often several times.

“A lot of clients tend to have screwed up relationships because of work or other issues at the point they come here.” Riley said candidly, finishing the last crumbs of cake. “The letters tend to help straighten things out because it makes them really talk, but we always check the person out and sound them out first. Needs to be someone supportive and willing to help, and they need to agree to stick with our rules. That’s usually the same person we invite to visit later on, the idea is when the client goes home there’s someone who knows how we’ve been working with them and is there to give some support.”

There was no way that could not make Dale think of the fact he’d come to them with no one but colleagues named for him, in particular Jerry Banks, who had been part of the workplace they’d been shielding him from. Paul was painfully aware of it. The Westminster chimes from the clock in the family room struck ten, and Flynn put a hand on Dale’s back.

“Then we’ve got no worries about letting Mason move on a little. Go up and get ready for bed. You too Ri. Take your tea with you.”

Dale never argued, it was one of those things he just did, quietly, and it wasn’t the kind of ‘good’ that sometimes made Paul’s hackles rise; Dale had a serious appreciation for those kind of orders that gave him stability and made him feel cared for, which came from years of living alone and relying entirely on himself. Riley grimaced, but got up, and Paul kissed both of them, Riley who was as calm as Jasper was, and Dale who despite all his normal poise, was still not breathing evenly, which was heartbreaking. Particularly as they so rarely ever saw him openly upset.

When they’d gone inside, Jasper held his hand out to Paul, and Paul took it and let Jasper pull him up and draw him down between himself and Flynn on the swing. Jasper’s arm wrapped around his waist, and Flynn leaned on his knees to sip tea, which bulked his shoulders even further under his shirt.

“He’s let out a lot today. He’s going to need a very gentle few days.”

They weren’t unused to their clients occasionally coming to them with forms of post traumatic stress or talking through traumatic memory with all the stress it came with and the body chemistry it called up; no few of their clients had dealt with numerous highly charged and traumatic incidents in their careers. They were experienced in the aftermath it could involve and supporting clients through it, and just the fact that Flynn thought he needed to mention it to them made Paul glance at him, picking up on the warning.

“What’s different?”

Flynn gave him an even look over the rim of his cup.

“These are family secrets he’s starting to tell us. All kinds of loyalties involved, deep stuff, different ballgame. It’s taken him several days to work himself up  to the point of being able to get it out to you.”

“He got out of bed in a state of armed combat,” Paul leaned back against the swing, tipping his head back to see the first stars overhead. “Scared stiff, and hating it. At one point I told him to stop arguing using the phrase ‘not another word’, and he kept his mouth shut and signed what he thought of me.”

Flynn choked into his tea and Jasper laughed. Paul smiled, but wryly.

“So we had a little chat about that, and that put him over the edge. Which I think is probably what he was trying to achieve. I’ve seen him push you to the point of making him open up and talk before now when he knew he couldn’t do it by himself.”

“He started all this off because he was ready to.” Flynn sat back and dropped a hand on Paul’s knee, squeezing. “You’ve got to feel in a very secure place to be ready to open up this kind of crap, deal with it and get rid of it. You know how motivated Dale is. If we give him time and keep doing what we’re doing, he’ll sort it out for himself, thoroughly.”

“Like a quarterback going for a touchdown.” Paul said dryly. “Yes. But you’re saying this is probably not done yet, and that it’s fragile ground.”

Flynn nodded, still drinking tea.  

“Why don’t you let me or Flynn have him tomorrow and take a few hours break?” Jasper suggested gently. Paul shook his head.

“No, I’m fine, I’ve got energy to burn. And that’s different for me. When he’s been spinning out before I’ve had no idea what to do for him, what I tried to do didn’t reach him and it’s been like chasing a tornado, but I get this. He’s opened the door, it’s been his choice. I can see it, I know what to do and I can see it works, and we do connect. Really connect. I can see the effort he’s making and how much he wants to do it, and I’m happy to climb mountains or do anything else it takes if it means we keep on connecting like this. The only hard thing about it is wishing I could make it easier for him. ”

“He seems to believe you can.” Jasper said mildly. “He trusted you with a major confidence for no other reason than he wanted to share it with you. For Dale, it doesn’t get much more significant. We ought to be celebrating.”

“Well I’d like to celebrate with a flight out to the UK for a quiet word with his mother.” Paul said darkly. “That woman that does not ever want to run across me when she’s alone. It makes me madder still that Dale doesn’t seem to expect anything more of her. He’s got nothing but sympathy for her.”

Flynn collected up the empty mugs and stretched until his shoulders cracked, getting up off the swing.

“He would do. It’s going to be an intrinsic part of this.”

“How?” Paul demanded. Flynn gave him a mild shrug that said he had a good idea of how, but wasn’t going into detail.

“We’ll see when we get to it. But we know he’s protective of people. Maybe that’s something he inherited from her; we don’t know. Whatever it is, I agree with Jas. Dale’s slaying dragons for you.”

Paul got up too, taking the mugs from Flynn and picking up the empty plates. “I look at Dale and I think what normal person wouldn’t be beyond proud to say he was their son? What more could you possibly ask for? He’s a good man. And when I’m done explaining that to Mrs Aden as was, I’ll come home via your parents’ station and give the same lecture to your father.”

Flynn caught Jasper’s eye and glanced briefly skywards as Paul disappeared into the kitchen, and Jasper smiled, pulling the keys out of his pocket.

“I’ll lock up, you go. Dale needs the company tonight.”

Jasper would see that Paul had the same, and that hard work or not, some attention would be given to restoring Paul’s resources. It was unspoken but there. Flynn hooked an arm around his neck and kissed him, and followed Paul inside.


He walked for a while, unhurriedly through the long grass which whipped softly around the legs of his jeans and was mixed with the wild flowers that grew near the river. There was an immense peace as there always was to being out here alone. The path led from the pasture into the woods where the sunlight dappled down through the trees, near to the place where the steam engine lay half buried in a bank between the trees, then without warning the path opened out into the main street of Three Traders. And that seemed ok too. There was no one in sight, but the saloon door was open and Dale walked slowly up the steps, aware that a phone was ringing.

That woke him. He turned over to push the covers back, disturbing Flynn who stirred in the darkness beside him.  


“The phone’s ringing.” Dale headed for the landing, startled as since they’d had Mason in the house the phone had either been kept on silent or turned off, and anyone who didn’t know was likely to be convinced they didn’t have one. Moving quickly before it disturbed anyone else, Dale followed the shrill ringing down the landing to Paul’s room, easing the half open door to let himself in. The phone lay on Paul’s dressing table and Dale picked it up and pressed the silence button to stop the sound, unsure of whether to kill the call or to answer it. Jasper sat up in bed and Paul sleepily raised up beside him, and Flynn put an arm over Dale’s chest to gently take the phone, his voice soft.

“It’s ok, you were dreaming, kid. It’s turned off.”

“But it was just ringing, we heard it!” Dale began and Flynn turned the phone over to show him.

“I didn’t hear anything. Look.”

The phone was unmistakeably turned off.

Jasper got out of bed and held out a hand for it before Dale thought of anything sensible to say, and Flynn handed it over, watching Jasper turn it on and key for messages. Paul put the nightstand light on and blinking slightly they watched Jasper sit down on the end of the bed and listen.

“Call from Luath,” he said after a minute, not sounding particularly perturbed. “Less than two minutes ago. Gerry’s done a bolt from Seattle.”

“You’re kidding?” Paul demanded. Jasper listened to the rest of the message and handed the phone to Paul.

“Gerry left on a plane from Seattle airport a little after midnight and the airport say he’s headed for Corpus Christi, Texas.”

“Wade.” Paul said grimly. “He’s on his way to Wade. What on earth set him off? Is he all right? What happened?”

“Something to do with an employee at the gallery, Luath didn’t say any more. He’s in a hotel in Indianapolis on some kind of conference and he’s trying to find the fastest flight out to Corpus Christi now. He rang to ask us for back up.”

“Ash isn’t trying to follow from Seattle?”

Jasper shook his head. “Gerry’s got a connection at Dallas and Ash wants to be at home in case Gerry calms down and calls, or turns around when he gets there.”

“I can probably get to Texas quicker than Ash anyway.” Flynn said shortly. “I’ll go. Paul, give Luath a ring and tell him I’ll take the first flight I can find out of Jackson.”

“That’s going to take hours.” Pulling himself together and long experienced with finding fast ways to get half way around the globe in response to a crisis, never mind across a few states, Dale gently took the phone out of Paul’s hand. He dialled a number from memory and Paul got up, going to shut the door to defend Mason and Riley from the sound and the electric light. Whoever Dale rang answered the phone quickly, and Dale’s voice slipped into the cheerfully professional one Paul recognised from his business calls.

“Hello, this is Dale Aden from A.N.Z., account number Sierra 75737 November Romeo 12. Thank you.  I need two emergency flights pronto please.”

Paul raised his eyebrows steeply at Flynn who folded his arms, waiting. Whoever Dale was speaking to answered quickly, and Dale looked up at them.

“One from Indianapolis airport, and the other from Falls Chance Ranch near Jackson, Wyoming. You’ll find the flight co ordinates under my name, you’ve flown in and out of here before. Both flights to Corpus Christi airport and on standby to return, destinations to be confirmed. Yes. Thank you, I’ll wait.”

Flynn gave him a nod and went to get dressed.

“About an hour, a plane’s on its way out here.” Dale said, following him into their room a few minutes later. Flynn hadn’t turned the light on, and was dressing in front of the window in the thin moonlight. “Luath’s heading out for Indianapolis airport now, you’ll be at Corpus Christi within about forty minutes of each other. Paul says come and have breakfast.”

“It’s one o clock in the morning.” Flynn tucked his shirt into his jeans and shouldered into a sweater. “There’s no point in eating breakfast at this hour.”

“Well you can go and tell him that?” Dale said dryly. Flynn gave him a brief smile and put an arm around his waist to kiss him as he passed, giving him a close and crushing hug that said a great deal.  

“Thank you. Put some socks and a sweater on before you come downstairs.”

The four of them ate toast and hot chocolate at the kitchen table while Paul talked to Ash, who answered the phone with a speed that gave away his worry even if his voice was calm.

“Gerry fired someone at the gallery,” Paul said when he put the phone down, “Without telling him, which meant Gerry would be doing his own job and this other person’s too. I know Ash has been working on Gerry for a while to reduce his hours and delegate but how that equated to Gerry running off to an airport I don’t know. Ash doesn’t think Wade has any idea Gerry’s headed in his direction. I don’t know why he chose Wade anyway, why didn’t he come to us?”

Flynn snorted. “For the same reason he didn’t go to Theo or Luath or James. He knows what we’d say to him and he doesn’t want to hear it. Brat. We’ll get to Corpus Christi ahead of him, Wade shouldn’t have to know anything about it.”

“At his age, Gerry turning up on his doorstep unannounced and in floods of tears and tantrums is the last thing he needs.” Paul said a little anxiously. “Although he’s going to be livid if he realises we’ve been that close by and not visited.”

“I’d rather he was livid after the fact than scared in the middle of the night, or climbing up and down those stairs when he’s half asleep.” Flynn glanced at his watch and got up. “Time to get up to the landing strip and get the lights on before the plane starts wondering where it’s supposed to land.”

Dale got up with him to the get the keys to one of the four by fours and was gently forestalled by Jasper, who took them out of his hand.  

“I’ll drive him up there, you need to go back to bed.”

“Flynn, you’d better go up and say goodbye to Riley,” Paul said as Flynn picked up a jacket. Flynn snorted, shouldering in to it.

“Why? He’s the one person Gerry hasn’t yet managed to wreck a night’s sleep for or get upset. I’m not disturbing him for no good reason at this hour. I’ll be back by tonight.”

“He isn’t going to like it.” Paul warned. Flynn zipped the jacket and gave Paul a brief kiss, heading out of the door.

“He’ll live, and he’ll get a few more hours rest without worrying. This is only a bloody drama, not a crisis.”

Dale followed him out onto the privacy of the dark porch where Flynn pulled him close and opened his jacket, wrapping it around Dale. In the cover of darkness, with Flynn’s arms around him and Flynn’s breath on his face, Dale shut his eyes, hating the tone in his voice enough to say it almost under his breath.

“It would make more sense for me to go with you. I know the airline.”

“Which is a roundabout way of saying you want to come with me. Why?” Flynn said in his ear, and squeezed when Dale didn’t answer him. “Hey.”

“Because I don’t want to be here alone with Paul.” Dale muttered. “Which is ridiculous,”

Flynn pulled him closer. “Look at me.”

Dale lifted his eyes with difficulty. Flynn’s eyes weren’t critical or finding this funny, but they definitely meant business and they saw straight through him.  

“Why don’t you want to?”

That was a horrible question. Dale twisted unsuccessfully to get out of Flynn’s arms.

“No. I don’t mean it, and you haven’t got time for this.”

Flynn freed one hand and swatted him, firmly enough to make him stand still.

“I’ll decide when we’re done talking; not you. I’m waiting.”

Dale shut his teeth and pressed his forehead hard against Flynn’s chest.

“...I told you all far too much last night, especially Paul, which was a very bad idea, it scares the hell out of me, he knows way too much and I don’t want to face another day of it.”

‘Don’t want to’, not ‘can’t’. Flynn held on to him, deeply appreciating the determination and the brutal honesty in the admittance.


“You never give up, do you?” Dale shoved against him without much force and without rocking Flynn an inch, and Flynn swallowed on a brief snort of laughter before it disturbed the horses in the corral or Riley and Mason sleeping upstairs.

“You’ve got no idea, kid. Try.”

“....I don’t like that you’re going.” Dale muttered it, head still down against Flynn’s chest. “You need to and I want you to, Gerry shouldn’t be alone and I’m sorry, I love that you don’t think twice about it and it’s how it should be-”

“I know this isn’t a good time,” Flynn interrupted quietly. “And I know you need me too. I’m going to be gone twenty four hours, if that. No, stop talking and listen to me.” he added, feeling Dale breathe in to protest he was perfectly competent to manage as long as was necessary. Dale stayed inflated but kept his mouth shut and Flynn swayed slowly, holding him closely enough to make him feel it and talking quietly against his ear. “Just listen to me. You’re safe here with the others, you know you’re safe with Paul, and it’s going to be ok. I’m going to call as soon as I get to Texas and let you know what’s happening and when I’ll be back, and I’m going to make this as fast as I can. Don’t argue, tell me if you heard that.”

He wasn’t asking if he had said it loud enough.

“Yes.” Dale said unwillingly.

“I want you to promise me you’ll stay here with Paul. And answer me properly.”

Without evasion or sarcasm or anything else that meant shrugging off what he was saying without having to listen to it or let it in.

“....... yes sir.”

“Good. This is going to be all right.” Flynn nudged up his face and kissed him, deeply and thoroughly enough to block out the wind chill coming across the yard, and anything else but him, at least for a moment. Jasper was waiting in the doorway and Dale made himself let go of Flynn like a grown up and stand back, watching him walk away with Jasper towards the garage.

Paul was watching too in the doorway, his arms folded. Dale glanced back at him, reading his face as the jeep drove quietly out onto the grass track that led the mile or two up to the airstrip and out of sight, then went quietly to guide Paul into the warmth of the kitchen, closing the door behind them.

“Paul, I’ll clear this up, sit down and finish your tea.”

“It can wait until morning.” Paul picked up his half empty mug and topped it with hot water from the kettle, then held out a hand to Dale. “Honey leave it, it’s more important to get some sleep. We’re not going to hear anything for a good few hours. Go on, say it, I can see you thinking it.”

“Leaving that mess is like fingernails down a blackboard.” Dale said wryly. Paul smiled and turned out the light, taking Dale’s hand firmly.

“Yes, to me too, and we’re still leaving it because the gremlins won’t get us. Come on.”

The teasing was gentle and it helped. Walking with him, Dale said it cautiously, not wanting to worry Paul any further.

“Is this a pattern of Gerry’s?”

“...........Unfortunately, yes. Kind of.” Paul sounded rather tired and definitely worried. “Which is why we’re all being fairly calm about it. There are reasons. He’s got a flair for drama and for panicking, I know you saw him bolt here from Seattle last spring, and I’ve known him stomp off to Theo and Bear when he’s angry enough, they’re only a couple of hours away by car and he and Ash spend a lot of time with them anyway, but this kind of running away – it’s an old habit and he hasn’t done it in quite a while.”

“What kind of event might have led to that?”

It was that kind of quiet, problem solving logic that made Dale sound a lot like Philip sometimes, and Paul, who was someone who thought and felt best in words, found it deeply calming in a crisis, as much as the gentle pressure of Dale’s hand around his as they walked upstairs.

“It’ll be something more than just a disagreement over the gallery, but it won’t be anything awful, don’t worry.  He and Ash won’t have had any kind of fight. He and Ash aren’t ‘fight’ kind of people at all, Gerry hates loud voices and rows and Ash isn’t exactly the hair triggered temper type. They’ve always tended to go more for writing things down, structured discussions when they hit a disagreement, because that’s how Ash thinks anyway and it takes the heat out of it for Gerry.” Paul tugged on Dale’s hand as they reached the landing. “Come on in with me. Yes, I am going to insist, you’re not going to take care of me until I get distracted enough to leave you alone. And yes, I do have a nasty, cynical mind.”

That was so very far from the truth that Dale shook his head, amusement colouring at least some of very mixed feelings about Flynn on the landing strip in the dark a couple of miles away, waiting for a plane, and Ash in Seattle, having a miserable night of high anxiety, and Gerry, no doubt equally miserable, somewhere on a plane and by himself. And Paul. Right here. Who probably wouldn’t have insisted like this a few weeks ago. Who probably would have gone no further than to send him back to bed, who might at the most have sat with him for a few minutes to talk, but Paul didn’t hesitate tonight. There was a confidence and an intimacy in his grasp that was new, and he turned the light off, shook the covers out over them both and settled back, holding out an arm to Dale.

“Come on, come over here and look like you belong. You can make my life hell for it all day tomorrow if you want, but come here anyway.”

“I’m not that horrible.” Dale pulled the pillows straight behind him and lay back beside Paul, who shook his head.

“Nice try.”

“You’re as bad as Jasper on the quiet.” Dale complained, but without much heat. Paul went on waiting, arm still open to him, and Dale sighed and shifted over inside it, settling with his head against Paul’s shoulder. It had been cold outside; Paul’s warmth was very welcome and Dale found himself instinctively moulding closer to him, burying himself in the deep comfort of being held when he let it in.

“I don’t think you’re horrible at all.” Paul said, hugging him. “I’m actually thinking thank goodness we have you and that you can hear calls and know where to find us planes in the middle of the night when we wouldn’t have a clue, and I’m trying not to think about what that’s likely to cost.”

“They’ll charge it to my account and that’s no kind of problem. I left all the various accounts I had intact when I left A.N.Z., I had no idea which were going to be useful and which weren’t, and so far several have been.” Dale was quiet for a moment, some of his mind on where the two planes were headed right now, and a lot of the rest of it not wanting to talk or think at all beyond how it felt to lie here, like this. And to feel a lot of the internal clamour die away.

“Are you expecting Gerry to come back here with Flynn?”

“It’s going to depend on what they decide when they’ve had a chance to talk.” Paul settled deeper into the pillows behind him, and Dale felt him deliberately relax, settling himself to be able to sleep and drawing Dale down with him. “It’s going to be a few hours before we hear anything.”


Expecting to fight his way through business flights and tourists on arrival at Corpus Christi airport, Flynn was startled to find himself met on the tarmac by a smiling woman in uniform who led him from the small chartered plane on which he had been the sole passenger, to a quiet entryway and a lounge decidedly more comfortable and empty than most people ever got to see in airports. The sole other occupier of the VIP lounge was Luath, roughly dressed in an open necked shirt with the tie hanging loose and a rather crumpled charcoal grey business suit, sitting on a deep couch with a cup of coffee cradled between his big hands. He put it on the tray set in front of him at the sight of Flynn and got up to give him an engulfing hug.

“Hey. Dale thought of everything, I’ve just been told both planes are waiting on the tarmac for a decision on where we want to go next, and apparently that’s no kind of problem. I want to know who he knows that he can make this ‘no problem’. If I tried I’d hit a whole world of no.”

“When’s Gerry’s plane due?” Flynn returned the hug hard, aware that Luath was talking slightly too fast and it spoke of anxiety as much as a man staying awake on caffeine. “And what are you drinking that rubbish for?”

“To stay awake. Keep the lectures for your clients. I’ve been up all night.” Luath let him go and rubbed his eyes. “Gerry’s plane lands in about forty minutes, gate seven, the airport staff told me to bring him back here and let them know what we’re planning to do, and they’ll start negotiating flight plans. I’m going to strangle Gerry when I get my hands on him, I’m getting too old for this. I need to go shave and try to look respectable. If Philip saw me right now..”

“He’d what?” Flynn picked up the coffee pot, sniffed it and grimaced, and put it down to pick up a bottle of water from the tray. Luath ran his hands over his head to smooth his very close cropped hair.

“... well I know exactly how he’d look at me. Do you feel as guilty as I do?”

“Guilty?” Flynn gave him a direct look over the edge of the water bottle. “No? We were all creeping around the house and whispering this morning because we like it.”

Luath grinned and disappeared into the bathroom. Not so very long ago, they’d have been doing everything they could to discreetly carry out a mission like this without attracting Philip’s attention, partly to avoid worrying him, but mostly if they were honest because solving problems amongst themselves saved the current miscreant from having his misdeeds come to Philip’s attention. It rarely worked, but Philip had been good at pretending to look the other way.

Flynn drank water and walked off the stiffness of the flight. It was approaching five am, the sun was starting to come up on the tarmac outside and planes were taxiing in and out in their well spaced order. Luath reappeared in a fresh shirt, looking less rumpled and more awake, and balled up his used shirt, pushing it into the small hand case beside his coat.

“I only packed for an overnight stay, I was planning to head back to New York this morning. Let’s go find this gate.”

“Have you got any idea what triggered Gerry?” Flynn followed him into a long hallway, where the main lounges were signposted. Luath shook his head.

“Ash said he knew what this was about and it wasn’t a disaster. I don’t think he was planning to go into details without Gerry’s permission, but you know Ash, he doesn’t get excited no matter what happens. If Rog had ever stormed out on me and got on a plane I’d have been needing gin and valium.”

“Rog wouldn’t have stormed anywhere, he didn’t know how.” Flynn stopped underneath another selection of signs. “Gate seven. This way.”

They stood for a while, watching the steady stream of passengers walk through the gate, before they saw a familiar figure, carrying nothing but a small rucksack, in need of a shave and his hair as rumpled as his clothes. He had been walking with a tight, determined stride, but he stopped dead at the sight of the two of them standing side by side at the gate and waiting for him, Flynn with his arms folded, Luath leaning against the wall, and his eyes went wide with shock, and then with growing outrage.

No! What are you doing here? How did you-”

“How about we don’t make a scene in public?” Luath held out a hand for the rucksack. “Let’s go somewhere we can talk.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you!” Gerry yanked away from Luath and Luath put a large hand on his shoulder which stopped him dead, his deep voice quiet, but very definite.

“Gerald. I’ve been up all night. Ash is frantic, Flynn’s left a houseful of people who lost a night’s sleep worrying about you, this is a really bad time to tick off either of us and if you shriek like that we’re going to be explaining ourselves to a security guard.”

“I didn’t ask for you to be here!” Gerry swung the rucksack up between them, trying to shake Luath’s hand away, his voice getting higher which was starting to attract attention from the other passersby. “Ash had no right telling you anything! I can go where I damn well want, I don’t need your permission and I don’t need the heavy mob!”

“Hello to you too. Are you all right?” Flynn took no notice of the defensive rucksack and put a hand behind Gerry’s neck, discreetly dropping a kiss on his forehead. That was all it took. Gerry shivered all over, then put both arms tightly around his waist and Flynn hugged him as Gerry dissolved into tears.  

“Ok. It’s ok. Let’s go somewhere quieter and we’ll straighten this out.”

            In the privacy of the VIP lounge, Gerry was still shivering and hiccupping twenty minutes later, Luath’s jacket around his shoulders and a cup of tea between his hands. Seated on the table where he could watch both Gerry and Luath as they talked – or rather as Luath talked, and coaxed and did his best to prise open Gerry’s shell- Flynn thought Gerry looked tired and fragile, and his soft eyes refilled with tears every time Luath guided the rather one sided conversation beyond anything but the immediate here and now.

“Can’t you just tell me what was so bad you left Seattle?” Luath asked at one point and Gerry responded immediately and indignantly,

“I did not leave Ash! He knows I didn’t! And don’t any of you dare blame him either!”

“I’ve known Ash for twenty years,” Luath pointed out, “And I know he’s known since the day he met you that if he ever did anything wrong to you he’d have the whole bunch of us to deal with, so I’m not likely to blame him for anything. But you haven’t run like this in years, and I’m worried about it. Gerry, if there’s something you need help with you need to tell us.”

Gerry ducked his head and didn’t answer, and Flynn watched Luath, who had known Gerry a lot longer than he had and was of his generation, try to approach it from at least two more angles before he intervened, saying matter of factly,

“All right, if you don’t want to talk about why, then we can leave that for later. What’s important right now is deciding what we’re going to do about getting out of this airport. Ash needs to know you’re safe and with us, and he has a right to be involved in the discussion on what you do next.”

“I don’t want to talk to him!” Gerry said in a panic. Luath gave Flynn a look that said he was prepared for this to get difficult, and drew out his phone.

“That part’s tough, Ger. You’re married to the man, he’s scared stiff about where you are, and it’s a bit late to worry about what he’s going to say to you.”

Gerry curled up in his chair like a hedgehog, and Luath dialled. The phone was obviously answered immediately, and anxiously judging by the calm tone that Ash’s deep, chocolate voice assumed.

“Ash it’s me, we’ve got him. He’s fine. He’s tearful and tired, but he’s all right.”

He listened to whatever Ash said for a few seconds, then held the phone out to Gerry, giving him a hard look and ignoring Gerry’s imploring one until Gerry swallowed and very unwillingly put out a hand to accept the phone. He said nothing at all when he put the phone to his ear, but whatever he heard reduced him instantly to tears. He didn’t take the phone away though, and Flynn, watching his face and his body language for clues, saw nothing frightened or angry in his body language. Sad, yes. Panicked, yes. But this was Gerry in a state rather than Gerry with anything desperately wrong, and if Flynn was any judge, whatever Ash was saying to him right now was comforting and helping a lot more than he and Luath were. It was a while and Gerry still hadn’t answered much when he finally managed a very shaky “Ok,” and handed the phone to Flynn, noticeably calmer.

“He wants to talk to you.”

“Hi Ash.” Flynn got up, eyes on the tarmac outside. Ash sounded tired too but deeply relieved.

“Thank you so much. Flynn, I can hear he’s in no state to fly anywhere alone-”

“That’s not going to be a problem, don’t worry.” Flynn interrupted quietly. “Luath’s able to go with him back to Seattle or wait with him here for you, or I can take him with me to Wyoming, whichever the two of you want.”

“We can’t possibly haul Luath out to Seattle.” Ash said heavily, “It’s bad enough we’ve dragged the two of you all over the mid west. Since I think this is probably a convoluted way of Gerry getting himself to Wyoming anyway, please can you take him home with you? I’ll organise work to manage a few days without me this morning and get the first flight out I can.”

“No problem, we’ll call you when we get there.”

“Thanks.” Ash took another breath, and Flynn could hear him both thinking and calming down from several very long hours of worrying. “Can I talk to Gerry again please?”

Flynn handed the phone back to Gerry, and Luath got up, having got the gist of the conversation.

“I’ll find the staff here and organise a flight plan, and I’ll come with you. If you’ve got a client, you’re going to need another pair of hands to keep the work covered while we sort this out.”

That was part of it. Another and much bigger part was that Luath would never walk away from Gerry in a state like this until he was convinced that whatever was going on with him was sorted out. Flynn waited, an eye on Gerry who was sniffling but listening to whatever Ash was saying, and at least now occasionally making murmuring sounds that sounded like agreement.

“Ok.” He said unsteadily. “I will. Mmn.” A moment more and then much more plaintively, “Oh don’t go yet...”

No, there wasn’t much of a problem there. Flynn put a hand out to hold Gerry’s, and let Ash deal with it, and while Gerry sounded distinctly closer to tears, a moment later he mumbled something that sounded remarkably like “I love you” and ended the call. Flynn sat with him a moment more, still holding his hand while Gerry pulled himself together, then drew him gently to his feet. 

“Come wash your face and clean up.”

By the time Luath came to find them with news that they could board and wait on the plane while the technicalities were sorted out, Gerry looked calmer and more coherent, although he was stunned by the small jet on the tarmac. The wide cream leather reclining armchairs in the small private jet were considerably more comfortable than the average passenger seat in a plane, and he looked around in amazement at the small, blue carpeted cabin as Luath stowed his bag under one of the seats.

“What’s this?”

“Another of Dale’s incredibly good ideas.” Luath said dryly. “At a guess,” he added more quietly to Flynn as Gerry explored the eight seater cabin where several of the chairs were set around a table as well as some laid out where people could recline and sleep, “Dale’s got at least one Corporate jet company well trained to drop everything and find him a plane whenever they hear his name. I’ve flown on a lot of chartered flights over the years and I’ve never been able to call on planes with no notice and no set flight plan. Which doesn’t surprise me, I’ve seen Dale in action mode. Is he working at the moment?”

“No. He wanted to be around to help while Jas was working with Mason.”

A steward came into the cabin to explain that a flight plan was agreed and they were now only waiting for a takeoff slot, and Flynn got up.

“I need to call him and let the others know what’s going on.”

The phone was in an almost separate part of the cabin and Flynn leaned there, dialling rapidly. Paul answered directly after the first ring, and Flynn spoke quietly, turning his back on the main cabin.

“Hey, it’s me. We’ve got Gerry, he’s ok, and I’m bringing him and Luath back with me, we’re waiting for a takeoff slot out of Corpus Christi. I’m guessing we’ll be there in around four hours. Ash is working on finding a flight out as soon as he can.”  

“Any more idea what’s wrong?” Paul said apprehensively.

“Not yet. He spoke to Ash on the phone and it looks to me more like a bid for help and attention than trying to get away from anything. He looks in need of a good night’s sleep but nothing worse.”

Paul let go a breath of relief. “Oh thank God for that.”

“How are you?”

“Riley’s not talking to you but he, Mason and Jasper are out doing the stock work. Dale’s not happy with me about leaving them to it, but we’re working on it.”

Flynn grunted, unsurprised. “Don’t let him talk you around. Luath and I will be back by lunchtime, we’ll help with whatever Jas and Ri can’t get around to, that isn’t something you or Dale need to worry about. Is Dale there?”

“I’m not letting him go anywhere, don’t worry. Hang on.”

Paul passed the phone over and Dale’s voice took over the line, contained and even in the tone that said everything Flynn needed to know in two short words.  

“Good morning.”

“Hey.” Flynn said softly. “I’m at Corpus Christi, Luath and I met up with Gerry as he came off his plane, we’ve spoken to Ash and decided we’re bringing Gerry back with us while Ash finds a flight out. I’ll be home in around four hours. How are you doing?”

“Do not say ‘fine’.” Paul’s voice said firmly in the background. Dale sounded more than slightly sardonic.

“We are getting by. Thank you. I haven’t as yet taken off for a run, or knocked any bookcases over, or required a strait jacket.”

“So you see we’re all about the positives.” Paul said cheerfully.

This morning, the positives would be fragile things. Flynn straightened up, speaking gently as the plane engines started up. “I think we might have a take-off slot. Dale, I’m going to be home by lunchtime. Stay with Paul and I’ll see you soon.”

“I will, I promise.”

It was a sincere promise, and Flynn swallowed on a sharp bolt of tenderness for the sincerity and what it meant, with no means in a narrow aircraft hallway to express it.

“Keep breathing, kid, you’re doing good. I love you, I won’t be long.”

“He ok?” Luath asked quietly when Flynn came back to the group of chairs around the table. Gerry had taken the one next to Luath and had curled up in it, eyes closed. Flynn took the seat opposite him.

“Yes. This is the first client he’s seen come through, it’s taking the lid off a few more things for him, but that’s good.”

“Reminds me of something from that paper you wrote the beginning of last year. ‘Male Therapists treating Male Clients’.” Luath sipped water, eyes on Flynn. “Men tend not to admit to problems or seek help for themselves until they’re in serious crisis, so once in crisis you’re in no hurry to rush them to a resolution.”

Flynn gave him a candid shrug. “If it’s taken your guy thirty five years to get himself unglued to the point he’s going to be receptive and motivated, you might as well help him make the ungluing worth his while. There’s no need to make this clinical, Dale’s just jettisoning a lot of emotional crap he knows he doesn’t need any more.”

Luath had seen other men go through that, himself included and Flynn in particular, and Philip had had a gift for giving men a safe space to be in while they did it.

“What about this train that Paul and Dale wrote to us about?” Gerry said without opening his eyes. “Did you find out any more?”

Luath raised his eyebrows at Flynn, who sat back in his chair as the stewardess came to ask them to fasten their seatbelts while the plane taxied out and took off.

“David appears to have known something about a train robbery in Three Traders during the prohibition era. Dale and Ri found over five hundred bottles of moonshine stashed on our land in some kind of bricked up tunnel or siding-”

“What?” Luath said sharply. “Where did they find that?”

Flynn gave him a straight look.

“They were walking in the woods, and I think at least in part, Dale was looking for a way to cheer Ri up. So Dale said oh look, there’s an earthworks from a railway cut and immediately located a way in, and Riley said great, here’s a rope, follow me. I found them both underground and neither of them had thought twice about it. And this is along with a ghost story that seems to have been constructed to keep people away from a bootlegging racket.”

“The bootleggers were using the train?”

“We have no idea.” Flynn said dryly. “We know the train was robbed, but not of what. We know there was a moonshine racket and supposedly a gang known in three states that was operating out of the town with the saloon keeper, and we know where a large stash of moonshine is, and that’s about it.”

“And a guy painted with phosphorus to glow in the dark and look like a ghost, and scare the train into stopping at the right point on the track to be robbed.” Gerry said sleepily.

“Seriously?” Luath said, startled.

“Seriously.” Flynn looked out of the window as the plane began to move, rolling slowly towards the runway. “We found the army jacket. Or rather the army jacket blew up, we identified what was left of it.”

Luath shook his head, bracing himself slightly as the plane turned and the engines gunned in earnest in preparation for takeoff.

“There are times I really wonder why I moved to New York.”

~ * ~

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2015

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