It was near midnight when Shaun locked up the house and went upstairs. He could see light escaping under L.L.’s bedroom door. He knocked lightly using the tip of his finger. He heard her padding to the door barefoot. She cracked it open about an inch.
“What is it, Shaun?”
“I wanted to thank you for all you did tonight. Tomorrow I’ll visit with Nicole to get her read on things.” He pushed against the door and took her in his arms once again. He kissed her quickly and stepped back in the hallway. “Goodnight, L.L. See you at breakfast.”
She was only wearing a big, white bath towel he discovered during the kiss. He felt her body next to his. When his hands touched her back, he wanted to get lost in her. He knew he needed to step back before she punched him. He was smiling as he opened his bedroom door.
He makes me crazy! I’m a trained officer. How does he sneak up on me? He’s like a damned cat, so fast and smooth! I knew not to open my door to him. I need to set some ground rules.
Shaun tossed his clothes across the foot board of his bed. He plopped down and folded his hands behind his head. He was energized. It would take him at least an hour to fall asleep. He could still taste her kiss. He thought of her wearing nothing but the towel. What would she have done if he had closed her door and pulled it to the floor? He imagined what she looked like without it. He wanted all of her, heart, mind and body. But he wanted her to offer herself to him, not push her into it. She would decide when it would happen.
She was in the middle of working her shampoo into a lather when Shaun flushed his toilet. Warm water instantly turned to ice.
She jumped to the corner to avoid the chilled water. “You bastard! I will get you back two fold for this!”
Shaun laid across his bed, hand over his mouth, using all his restraint to not laugh out loud. He knew he got her good. Her mind was focused on the events of the day. He caught her off guard once again.
Bonnie was busy in her kitchen as the family slowly gathered. Some wanted their first cup of coffee and others wanted juice. It did not take her long to put her foot down. She quickly ordered Shaun and Jake to take their coffee to the back porch. She had Melissa and Julie setting the table while Cindy, L.L., and Nicole pitched in following her directions.
James pulled up to the rear drive in an old, rusty Jeep without a top. He joined the men on the porch.
“Man, smells good! My mouth is watering!”
Jake yelled into the kitchen. “Can someone bring James a cup of coffee out here?”
Seconds later, Nicole pranced out with the cup in her hand. “Good morning, James. Are you hungry?”
“I’m starved! What are we having? It sure smells good whatever it is.”
“Bonnie has us teaming up this morning. It will be ready shortly. You’ll have your choice of several things, I assure you.” The men were soon joined by Sam Bass on the porch. He was armed with his own tall cup of coffee as Shaun introduced him to James.
Bonnie Whyte shouted through the screen door, “It’s ready y’all. Come on in while it’s still hot.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” James responded.
There was a small moment of awkwardness as each tried to figure out where to sit. L.L. was already in the chair next to where Shaun normally sat. On her other side were Melissa and Julie. Bonnie took her seat at the end by the door, opposite Jake. Cindy sat across from her girls leaving seats for Nicole and James between her and Jake. After the blessing, Bonnie started passing platters loaded with food down Cindy’s side. Shaun did the same and soon a production line of food was flowing counter clockwise around the table.
Bonnie watched James load his plate with sausage patties, bacon, biscuits, scrambled eggs, grits, butter, preserves and hash browns. The breakfast plates were large and James loaded his to the point food was almost falling off.
Skinny man looks like a bean pole. No way he can eat all that. His eyes are bigger than his belly. He better eat every bite. If he don’t, I will put him in his place for wasting my food. I know some kids in town who could use those leftovers.
The breakfast table conversation ranged from James’s flying lessons to mudding in the creek. Jake wanted to saddle a couple of the horses and go for a ride. Cindy was off this morning and excitedly announced she would love to ride with Jake.
“We have six horses in the stalls needing exercise. We will saddle them all and spend the morning riding. Perhaps I can sweet talk Bonnie to make us lunch to take with us. We can ride all morning, have a picnic at the river before ride home.
Bonnie spoke as she watched James out of the corner of her eye, “I will be happy to get y’all out of the house for the small price of throwing together a sack lunch.” Shaun leaned over a little and asked L.L. if she wanted to ride.
“Sure, I’ll be happy to tag along. I haven’t ridden in a while but I know how.” Jake’s next comment put big smiles on the faces of Melissa and Julie.
“I’ll ride with Julie and Shaun with Melissa! How about it girls?”
Their squeals echoed throughout the first story of the plantation. Neither of them had been on a horse.They asked dozens of questions to Shaun and Jake as James cleaned his plate. Bonnie stood and started clearing empty plates from the table. All the other women helped and the girls as well. As Bonnie reached for the platter of biscuits, James grabbed two and plopped them on his plate. She paused as he split them in half and poured cane syrup over them. She tried to hide her smile of approval as she spoke gruffly to him. With her bonnet of salt and pepper hair and her chin raised a notch higher than normal, she chose to call him Paxton rather than Doctor or James.
“Paxton, I have never seen any man eat as much as you and keep eating. You’re as skinny as a fence rail. Lord only knows where you put all that food you are shoveling in your mouth!”
“Bonnie, I never eat more than a piece of toast and a scrambled egg with coffee for breakfast. When I smelled this wonderful food from the back porch, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from indulging!” He grinned at her as he shoved another bit of syrup covered biscuit in his mouth.
“Well Paxton, I thank you for your compliments. I hope you don’t lose it while you and Sam here go off flying.”
“Me too, Miss Bonnie.”
Sam Bass stood from the table and stretched his back. “Bonnie, I ate almost as much as James. I’m in no mood to fly upside down this morning. We will circle around the sky for fun. I’ll let him learn to steer our little Super Cub like he does his car.”
Jake and Shaun saddled horses while the women changed into boots and hats. The ladies went back to the kitchen to give Bonnie a hand preparing the lunches. Bonnie would deliver the food and drinks to them by eleven.
Everyone rode off on horseback heading for the trails leading into the 300 acres of virgin timber forest between the river and the oxbow lake. Shaun was lead rider with Melissa snuggled in the saddle in front of him followed by L.L., Cindy and Jake who held Julie. The girls quickly fell in love with horses and were taught the proper use of the reins. Shaun loved these woods. He, Ray and his father spent many a morning still hunting rabbits as they traipsed through them. This is where he learned survival basics, how to take game for meals and cook on an open fire. He learned how to build shelters to stay warm and dry during wet Louisiana winter nights. The ride took him back in time. He recognized 200 year old trees and spotted the remains of a fort he and Ray built when they were eight and nine years old. He remembered camping in these woods on weekends after the first frost when snakes had gone into hibernation. He pointed the fort out to those who followed him. It was so beautiful and peaceful to enter the shade of the magnificent canopy of assorted trees. Wildlife flourished here. They saw squirrels, deer, turkey and a Red Fox as they meandered down the trails. Over the years, Jake and his workers kept the underbrush cleared away from the old trails. He knew they were forged centuries ago by the Caddo Indians. They were used as roads for wagons loaded with large, cotton bales carried to the river banks and loaded on steamboats bound for St. Louis and New Orleans. He knew his great grandfather had walked these paths many times. He felt a strong connection to the forest and to keep his family’s promise to never cut the timber. No one really knows how old the forest is. Years ago, members of the State Forestry Department asked permission to conduct a study of the land. The final report stated the woods were some of the oldest still standing in the state. The trails winding through sandy hills were sprinkled with large, red boulders protruding from the soil. Some were great places to use as a seat or resting spot while others were the size of an import car. Shaun and Ray were taught the stones were called Indian Rocks by locals. The label dated back to the days the land was purchased from the Indians by Frenchmen.
As they followed the trail, the scenery began to change from the pine hills and hardwood bottoms to a swampy low land. Cypress trees grew more abundantly in the areas near water. Most were shrouded in Spanish moss. The air grew thick and there was a prevalent scent of musky backwater. The slough was formed many years ago as the river crested and overtook the low land. A peaceful beaver pond spanning 20 acres came into sight as they halted. The men dismounted and softly planted the little girls on the ground. Shaun led them to a grassy point near the water’s edge and let all those present take in the view. He pointed across the pond to a pocket of water deep in the swamp.
“That area over there is called an alligator pocket. For as long as we can tell, it has been the nesting home of the gator population. You don’t ever want to walk along the bank over there. The mama gators are quite protective of their young. Otherwise you are safe for the most part.”
“What parts are otherwise?” L.L. asked.
“Well, this swamp has an abundance of fish, ducks, birds and beavers. In addition, it is the home of many water snakes including Cottonmouth Water Moccasins. When you are here, you need to look before you step. When you walk near logs laying on the ground, be careful. Snakes love to curl up under the edges of logs and wait for something to pass by so they can pounce Mostly they eat frogs, lizards and field mice. But if you step too close, they will hit you and try to sink their fangs into your ankles. So keep your eyes open at all times.”
Shaun searched the area slowly to make sure it was safe for everyone to take a seat on the fallen water oak tree.
“Drop your reins and let the horses free. They will not run off. They are thirsty and will want a drink.” Just as he said that, the horses slowly walked to the water and began to drink.
L.L. sat next to Shaun as a shaft of sunlight spotlighted her. Her light blonde hair glowed like a halo and her eye color changed to sky blue. It took Shaun’s breath as he recorded her features. If he was a painter, he would sketch this moment. He made a note to get a cell phone with a camera to capture her in the future. He would bring her back to this same spot. She smiled at him and it sent shock waves through his heart. He knew they were meant to be together.
L.L. studied him as she took in a deep breath. He was everything she could ever want in a man. She knew her relationship with Shaun could get complicated and hoped she would not be hurt in the process. She knew it was only a matter of time before they became lovers. This frightened her yet exhilarated her.
James had settled down during his first hour of training. He was given a small book to read and digest as Sam worked on the Cub’s log books. He learned the basics of flight, how an airplane actually lifts off the ground and what causes it to stay airborne. He quickly grasped the concept and finished reading the book.
Sam met him at the plane and told James to help push it out of the hangar. Sam led him through the pre-flight checklist showing him all the points on the plane to be checked. They sumped the fuel tanks and determined the plane was safe for flight.
James was placed in the front seat reserved for the pilot in command while Sam took the back seat. He was instructed how to set the instruments and start the engine, how to bring the RPMs up and perform the mag test.
They were now ready to taxi to the end of the grass strip. James was coached on using the foot controls and quickly learned how to kick the rudder and properly touch the brakes as they came into takeoff position.
Sam told him to slowly shove the throttle forward all the way to full. The responsive engine revved and the plane quickly rolled over the grass. He shoved the stick lightly forward and the rear wheel came off the deck. He could now see clearly over the front cowling and use the rudder to keep the track inline down the strip. The Cub broke free of the surface and they were airborne. Sam told him to climb at 2500 feet per minute and keep check on the altimeter. Soon they were 1500 feet above the ground.
He flew east and leveled off over the Red River. They left the Shreveport airspace and flew over the countryside where no other air traffic was present. Sam instructed him to climb to 8,000 feet and level off. For over an hour, he was introduced to steep climbs, turns and stalls. In no time, he was confident in handling the plane. He became one with the plane. It was an extension of him. Once the basic introduction was completed, they did touch-and-goes back at base. By the end of his first session, he was able to take off and land. At times, he bounced off the grass surface but soon got the feel of how to squeak into a proper landing. The smile on his face when they climbed out of the Cub was all the reward Sam needed. He knew James was hooked and would soon be a licensed pilot.
Bubba sat on a nasty bunk bed in the general population section of the Parish jail and listened to his cellmates. Most were common criminals. They were all in jail for petty crimes such as shoplifting, driving while under the influence of alcohol, possession of marijuana and various other things. He hated every second he was a prisoner. He had lived a life of freedom and enjoyed doing whatever he wanted when he chose. Now he was a criminal, locked in a cage like an animal with others. He felt he was better than them and did not belong here. Several of the other inmates tried to get to know him. When they approached him, he refused to respond to their questions. Instead, he rolled over on his bed, his back to them. Since he was a large man, they did not force the issue. Bubba sensed someone would eventually challenge his manhood. He heard stories that men in jail either remained men or broke down and became someone’s bitch. He knew he would need to make a stand and it would not be pretty. Several of the men were playing cards at the old, wooden picnic table and whispering to one another. They looked his way. He knew they were deciding a course of action. He would be tested.
The lights went out and everyone was ordered by the jailer to their bunks as he made his rounds. An hour passed. Most men had drifted off to sleep. A big, black guy eased down from the top bunk directly across the room from him. Bubba acted as if he was asleep. Two other men joined the first one. They stood by the table and whispered for a moment before the big guy slowly walked his way. Bubba knew he had to be strong. He quickly sat up and bounced to the floor with his back to his bed. He took a position at the corner of the foot of his bed protecting his back. He did not like to be backed in a corner but the corner would be his friend tonight. Without a word, the big man charged him swinging his fist directly at Bubba’s face. Bubba side stepped the blow and the man’s fist smashed directly into the concrete wall. Bones snapped on impact as Bubba rose to his toes and drove his fist deep into the big man’s stomach. The air in his lungs blasted out as Bubba used all his strength to drive his punch. As the big man was falling to the floor, Bubba was attacked by the other two men. They landed several blows to his head and body. Bubba was fighting for his life and his manhood. Everything he stood for was at stake. He would never be the lover of a man. He deflected a wild swing and landed his left fist to the nose of the second man. The sound of breaking bones gave him the confidence he needed to take the second one to the floor. With two on the floor moaning in pain, he shifted and was caught squarely on the jaw with a powerful blow by the third guy. He saw stars as he felt his teeth knocked loose. His knees trembled and almost failed. A flash of being sexually assaulted caused him to rally as he leaned into the corner as the man approached again. The guy had to step over the two men on the floor. He glanced down as he took one more step in Bubba’s direction. The glance was what Bubba needed. He used the wall like a spring board to launch himself. He tackled the guy driving him to the floor. He straddled the man, pinning down his arms with his knees and pounded his head from side to side.
The lights came on and several jailers rushed in the open cell area. They did not ask questions or ask who started the fight. They held large cans of mace and sprayed Bubba and the other three men sprawled on the floor. Bubba was blinded and went to the floor with his hands covering his eyes. The pepper spray burned his eyes. He had no choice but to close them. He was kicked in the ribs by two of the guards as he crawled underneath his bed to escape. A hand grabbed his foot and pulled him across the floor. Another grabbed his other ankle. He was being dragged down the aisle from the large cell. They shoved him in a shower room and turned on the cold water. He was soaked to the bone but at least he was free of his attackers. The water washed the burning pepper spray out of his eyes. He sat up and waited for it to end. In a few moments, the guards turned off the water and told him to get up. He was shoved down the hall and into a separate cell. The next morning he was given another set of orange coveralls to change.
The head jailer came to his cell to question him. He told how the three men had apparently planned to attack him.
The jailer confined him to an isolation cell for his own protection. This suited Bubba. He did not want to fight for his life each night in the general population area.
Lunch was served. It was fried bologna, pinto beans, greens and baked cornbread. Bubba sat at his little table and chowed down. It was hard for him to chew with his sore gums but he finished the meal. It was not like Cindy’s home cooking but it was filling.
He laid on his bunk and tried to sleep. It seemed that was all he did, eat and sleep. He closed his eyes and dreamed of how he ended up in jail and lost Cindy in the process. His head was clear now that he had not had a drink in several days. He was still angry at her and thought of ways to pay her back when he got out. He thought of L.L. and Bonnie Whyte. He blamed them for all of his problems. He thought of Shaun remembering him from school. He recalled the big hoopla that surrounded Shaun when he made it through SEAL training. Shaun was the hometown hero. Every single female wanted to hook up with him. He was born into a wealthy family, a silver spoon in his mouth. He thought he was special.
When I get out of here, they will all pay for what they have done to me starting with L.L. Jackson. I told Cindy to leave her alone. I told her to keep her distance from that bitch. She thinks she is hot stuff! Thinks that little gun and badge make her a big woman, one big enough to take on men. When I get out, I’ll take my time and catch her with her guard down. I’m going to teach her a few things. She is going to learn not to mess with me and I’m going to enjoy having my way with her. When I’m finished with her, she will be whimpering in the back seat of her little patrol car.
Cindy has an ass kicking coming too. She is well over due. If I had put my foot down long ago, things would be different now and we would still be together. I don’t want to get caught next time. I’m going to be a model prisoner and make trustee. When I get out, I’ll get me an alibi and cover my tracks. I’ll go to their little plantation and even the score late at night when they are all peacefully resting.
Bubba continued to work through his scheme until someone called his name.
“You have mail, Easterly! The old, bald guard tossed the large envelope through the serving door of his cell and quickly closed it. Bubba retrieved the large, official looking envelope. He saw the return address, Mortgage Department, Tri State Bank, Shreveport, LA.
He immediately knew the letter was from the company that held the loan on his farm. He also knew the contents would not be pleasant. He had not made a mortgage payment on his farm in a couple of months. He flipped the package over and realized the jailers had opened his mail before they passed it to him. This pissed him off tremendously. He ripped open the envelope and began to read.
Dear Mr. Easterly, We are notifying you that you are over 90 days delinquent on your monthly payments. We hereby inform you, unless you expedite your overdue payments to bring your account to a current status, we will have no option but to file for foreclosure on your loan. If we do not receive full payment within the next five business days, your property will be seized through the Parish Sheriff. Please call us immediately to let our office know your course of action. This is the third notice. It will be our last effort to settle this matter with you directly. If you fail to respond within the next five business days, we will turn over your account to our legal department for processing.
Bubba wadded up the letter in a tight ball and let it drop to the floor. He stomped it with his foot until it was flat pulp. He cursed Cindy and all those responsible for him being locked up. If he was out of jail, he could sell some timber on the land to settle the account. He wanted to make a phone call to his lawyer.
Paul King was a former police officer in Bossier City. He served 10 years on the streets at night while working his way through law school during the day. It was hard but he persevered and graduated. Now five years later, he enjoyed a successful practice as a partner with one of the most respected law offices in north Louisiana. His secretary relayed Bubba was holding on the line. Paul sipped his coffee as he looked at the blinking light. He had bailed Bubba out of his troubles many times over the years. He knew this would be yet another problem to deal with. Bubba still owed him legal fees from the last time Paul represented him. Bubba was arrested three months earlier for battery on an oil field worker at a beer joint on Black Lake. The fight, as best Paul could understand, resulted from a dispute over a football wager. Bubba welched on the bet and refused to pay. Several witnesses stated Bubba was sitting on a stool when the man he owed approached him and asked for his money. Bubba acted as if he had never met the guy and denied making the bet. Several of the customers vouched for the oil field guy and verified the bet was made in public. Bubba did not have the 500 bucks and tried to leave the bar without paying. The man stood in the doorway demanding his money. The fight ensued and both men were arrested. Bubba was sentenced to 30 days in jail which Paul was able to get suspended along with a $250 court fine. Bubba still owed him $1,500.
“Hello Bubba. How are they treating you in jail this time?”
“It sucks here, King. I want out!”
“You need a lawyer.”
“That’s why I’m calling you, King!”
“Before I agree to represent you, you need to settle our previous matter.”
“I will be happy to settle it. When can you come down here and meet with me?”
“Give me an hour, Bubba. I’ll be there.”
“Great! See you then.”
An hour later, Paul sat before Bubba in the visitors room with a deputy standing outside the door. The meeting lasted no more than fifteen minutes. Paul had Bubba sign a second mortgage on the farm to him. He was aware of the delinquent farm loan and was ready to settle the account for Bubba for a sizable fee. Bubba agreed to award Paul 10 acres of timber land for his services and settling the debt.
Bubba asked Paul to meet with Judge Clarke to arrange bond. Paul agreed and ended the meeting. Two hours later, Paul returned. The judge was in no mood to allow bail and was holding Bubba over for a special hearing the next morning.
Bubba had to offer another 10 acres of timber land to Paul and sign another promissory note before Paul agreed to represent him.
At 9:00 the next morning, Bubba was escorted into the old courtroom. His ankles were shackled and his hands cuffed in front of him as he was shoved in the oak chair before the bench. He turned and looked around the courtroom. He saw those responsible for his incarceration. He hated them. He gritted his teeth as he locked eyes with Shaun, L.L. Jackson, Bonnie and Jake. Cindy and Ray McVeigh walked in and took seats at the table to his left. She still had a little puffiness around her left eye. He regretted she was in court with her eye like this. He knew the judge would get on to him for popping her.
You wait bitch. I’ll close both of them when I get out. You’ll pay this time for the crap you are putting me through!
The bailiff abruptly stood to announce for all present to be quiet. Court was now in session.
Judge Clarke, wearing a traditional black robe, seated himself and struck his gavel.
“This court is now in session. You may present the scheduled case.”
Ray stood, greeting the judge, as he announced he was here to represent Cindy Easterly. Paul King stood representing Bubba.
“I’ll state for the record, I have read your briefs and reviewed the case file. You may be seated Mr. McVeigh. Now Mr. King, do you have any evidence to present to the court before I render my decision regarding Mr. Easterly’s restraining order violation?”
“No sir, but I would like to request the court set a reasonable bond for Mr. Easterly at this time.”
“Mr. King, I will speak directly to Mr. Easterly at this point. Please take your seat.”
“Mr. Easterly, please stand while I speak to you.”
Bubba looked at Cindy as he stood.
“Mr. Easterly, I must have failed to make myself clear on my previous ruling. I ordered you to avoid any contact with Mrs. Easterly, including the McVeigh home where I understand she now lives. Tell the court if you did in fact receive my order. Did you receive it, Mr. Easterly?”
“Your honor, I did receive it. I was handed the order by deputies who moved her things from our home. I only went that day to see my daughters. I did not mean to cause any trouble your honor.”
“Mr. Easterly, my order also directed you to stay away from your children during the 30 day cooling off period I set. Going to the McVeigh home violated the court order. Perhaps when I finish here today, you will understand the importance of obeying a court order Mr. Easterly. Mr. King, please stand beside your client.”
“Now, regarding your bail request, it is the ruling of this court that bail for Mr. Easterly is hereby denied. Furthermore, the defendant Mr. Easterly is hereby remanded to the Sheriff of Caddo Parish. It is the order of this court he be held in custody for no more than one year and will serve no less than six months as a parish inmate. At the end of the six months, I will review his case, and based on his behavior, I will decide at that point if the court is inclined to release him.”
“Mr. Easterly, violating the order of this court is a serious matter. This is why you will spend the next six months in jail. You will be given credit for the days you have been in jail to this point. However, if Mr. McVeigh decides to press charges against you for forcing yourself into his home, this court will not deny his rights to defend his home. If so, you may be charged with forcible entry of an inhabited dwelling and can face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of said offense. Now Mr. Easterly, do you understand the importance of obeying a court order in Caddo Parish, Louisiana?”
Bubba’s face was cherry red. He wanted to punch Ray McVeigh in the mouth and slap the old judge right out of his fancy chair. He knew when he was beat and here he stood beaten.
He swallowed before he opened his mouth. “Your honor, I do understand your order and I will be a good inmate during the time I will spend in jail. I would like to make one request in public?”
Bubba turned and looked directly at Jake. “Mr. McVeigh, I apologize to you and your family for barging into your home last week. I meant no harm to anyone. I wanted to see my little girls. I ask you to not press charges against me. I give you my word when I am released from jail, I will never set foot on your property again.” Bubba continued to look at Jake as he rose from the front bench.
“Bubba, I will not press charges against you this time but I want to give you my word as well. If you ever set foot on my property again, you will have to be carried off by others. I hope you believe what I say here, Bubba. It’s up to you now.”
Several unrelated people in the audience gasped and others openly laughed out loud.
The judge slammed his gavel on his desk several times as he raised his voice.
“There will be order in this court! If I hear another laugh or even a snicker, I will have each of you placed in the holding cell behind this court room and you will spend the night behind bars, Do I make myself clear?”
His eyes scanned the entire room as he watched and listened for a violator. No one challenged the judge.
The gavel sounded once more as the judge adjourned the court and left through a nearby door.
They all gathered in the lobby of the old courthouse to discuss the rulings of the court. Jake was standing next to L.L. when Judge Clarke’s bailiff approached him.
“Mr. McVeigh, Judge Clarke asked if you will come by his office before you leave.”
Jake nodded and followed the officer down the hallway.
“Jake, have a seat.”
“Good to see you too, Buck.”
“Cut the crap, Jake! You may be the father of a fine lawyer but you are still a fool when it comes to the law. What you did in my courtroom today was the stupidest thing I have ever seen you do. You all but threatened Easterly in public. In a state courtroom to boot! I hope for your sake Easterly keeps his word and stays off your place. If something ever happens to him, you’ll be the first suspect.”
“Buck, you’re right. I don’t know anything about the law. People can take my words and twist them any way they want. I want him to know if he ever comes back to my home, he will not walk away.”
“Jake, you should watch what you say!”
“I do watch what I say and I mean every word, Buck! If he ever comes to my place again, I will kill him! If he likes living, he better stay away from me and my family.”
“Jake, we have been friends for over 30 years. I have never seen you so aggressive. I don’t know what’s come over you.”
“I haven’t changed other than growing older. I love my family and Easterly has attacked Cindy for the last time. If he sets foot on the plantation again, I will see him as the aggressor and quickly defend my family. Cindy and her girls are part of my family now. I will not let any more harm come to them from anyone! If I have to go to jail, then fine. I will hire the best lawyer in town and Bubba will not be here to say a word about it.”
“Jake. another word of advice. You may encounter him in public when he gets out. Be careful not to push the matter. It could backfire on you.”
“You have my word, Buck.” They shook hands and parted.
Bonnie was busy in the kitchen preparing lunch after they returned home from court. She was softly singing as she stirred the pot of homemade soup she made that morning. The girls finished setting the table and helped make sandwiches with Cindy, L.L. and Nicole.
Jake asked the blessing and they dove into the meal.
He looked to Shaun and L.L., “I understand you all are planning an evening out. Tell me what you have up your sleeves tonight.”
“We are cooking steaks for the house and then plan to go out dancing.”
“Where are you getting your steaks?”
“Cush’s Grocery. Paul has the best aged beef in town as I recall.”
“That he does. He marinates and chills them for several days. They are never frozen. When you cook them, you can cut them with a fork. I love his twice baked potatoes, too.”
“Bonnie is doing the potatoes as a favor for us tonight. The girls are making the salad.”
After lunch, Shaun went to the old barn that had been part of the plantation for four generations. It stood next to the pecan grove and matched the decor of the old house built during the same period.
Shaun unlocked the two large rolling doors and flipped on the lights. He walked past several old pickup trucks collecting dust in rear of the structure. He pulled the old canvas tarp away and revealed the 1947 Harley Davidson motorcycle. Shaun’s grandfather purchased it all those years ago. Jake never wanted to ride it but kept it in the family because of its history.
The bright red and black paint was in mint condition. He unscrewed the gas cap and saw the tank was filled to the brim with motor oil to prevent the inside from collecting rust. The spark plug wires were cracked and the tires were completely dry rotted. He imagined his grandfather cruising along the back roads of Louisiana back in the day. He could almost hear the rumble of the twin exhaust pipes capped with brass cowbells on the tips. There was not a motorcycle on the road today that could match the distinct sound that came from this old bike. He sat on an old milk stool and studied the family jewel. During his spare time, he would restore it and ride the same roads his grandfather had traveled. He would pass the bike down to the next generations.
This thought took him to L.L. He could see them married with a passel of kids between them. He could see years of love and happiness lay before them. He wondered if she saw the same thing. She loved her career. He would never ask her to give it up to raise their children. He saw her working in her uniform during the day and spending time with their kids and him at night. He pictured them gathered around a Christmas tree opening presents near the fireplace. He only had one shot at fulfilling this dream. He respected her and wanted her with him for the rest of his life. It was meant to be.
He did not attend church regularly but prayed to his Lord several times a day. He knew God puts people in one’s life for a reason and L.L. was in his. He was not going to let anything or anyone stand between them. She was his dream for a wife. One day she would be his. He would give her all the love she desired. She already felt they were moving too fast. He would respect her feelings and be gentle and understanding. When she was ready, he would ask her to marry him.
The first pings of raindrops began to splatter on the rusty, tin roof. Soon a rhythm formed and it reminded him of music, slow and steady, beautiful and refreshing. God’s way of cleansing His earth. The smell of fresh rain drifted through the open doors. He watched dark gray curtains sweep across the old cotton fields that stood between the barn and the old house. He replaced the tarp and made a mental list of things he needed to start his restoration project. He was excited and wanted to keep it a secret from the other family members during the process. He could see them sitting on the back porch as he fired up the old Harley and rode it from the barn to the house. He would give each person, if they wanted, a ride down the dusty back roads of the plantation. L.L. would be the first to ride with her arms wrapped tightly around him, her chin nestled on his neck and the touch of her soft skin next to him. They would spend many hours together discovering the fun of having the wind in their face as they made sweet memories.
He needed to email his friends scattered around the world. For the next few hours, Shaun sat in the study and sent messages to all his close friends. He told them about meeting L.L. and how he was falling in love with her. He promised to let them know when he asked her to marry him. He would give plenty of notice of the wedding date so they could attend.
He used the computer to draft a list of parts needed to restore the Harley. It would take several days for the rare parts to be located and shipped to him.
L.L. stretched out on her bed and closed her eyes. The vision of Shaun was all she could see. He was standing on the back porch drinking a cup of coffee, his back to her. His broad shoulders were relaxed. She glanced at his jeans with him unaware she was looking at him through the screened door. The snug fit and his long legs made her blood surge. He was such a beautiful man. More than his appearance, it was his heart and mind that hooked her. She tried to keep from falling in love with him but her heart would not listen. There was a chance he would hurt her as she had been hurt before. She needed a clear picture of his intentions before they went any further. It would be hard for her to open up and to ask him to do the same but it must be done.
She knocked on his door. There was no answer. She went downstairs in search of him and found him sitting in the big, leather desk chair looking out the window as it rained. He was deep in thought. Where was his mind now? She knew he had problems. She heard him shout out in the middle of the night when he had nightmares. She wanted him to trust her, to tell her what was haunting him, If they were going to be a couple, they needed to trust each other.
When he heard the door close, he spun around and saw her standing there.
“Shaun, we need to talk. Please come over to the couch with me.”
He stood and failed to hide the smile on his face as they met.
“Don’t give me that little smile, Shaun! This is not what you think! We need to talk over a few things and now is the time and place. Sit.”
“Shaun, I have only been with one other man in my life while in college. I thought we were in love and would marry. He had other thoughts. I came away from the relationship hurt. I have not trusted anyone with my heart since. When you and I met, I felt a special chemistry but at the same time fear. I don’t want to fall in love and be hurt again. I can’t handle it. I need to know some things about you. Why do you have nightmares and shout out in the middle of the night? The walls are thin between our rooms. I have heard you several times. I feel it involves your combat history. I know this is personal but I know you well enough now to ask about them. You would never tell me so I’m asking. If we are going to be a couple, we have to trust each other. There can be no secrets between us if we are serious about making this work. I will share anything you want to know about me. I hope you will do the same. If not, we need not go any further.”
“I also want to know what your plan is for us. How do you really feel about me? Do you want me for casual sex? Or are you interested in being the man in my life? Are you willing to commit?”
“L.L., I have wanted this conversation with you for some time. I am grateful you had the courage to address this. I have never trusted anyone enough to tell them what happens to me when I sleep. I thought about telling you but found it difficult so bear with me because this is going to be hard.”
“I served over 12 years as a SEAL. Nine of those were in combat. I lost so many brothers over there. I loved them as a man will when his life depends on another. I knew their families, girlfriends, the cars they drove and their hobbies. I even knew of their nightmares and they knew mine. I can not bring them back and I often pray for strength to live on with my life. I feel guilty and ashamed. I lived and they died. I think what I could have done to save them if I had it to do over again. My mind drifts back in battle. It’s as real as the day it happened. Since I met you and I am home, the nightmares don’t occur every night. I hope, in time, I will get a complete night’s rest without these dreams haunting me. I had so many things to work through when I returned state side. I chose to take my time and hitchhike across the country to settle things along the way, but not everything resolved. The events come back and it upsets me. When I am awake, I can focus. At night when I am asleep, I have no control over them. You in my life gives me hope. You are foremost in my thoughts. This is the best I can do right now. I’m not ready to go to greater details yet. I hope this is enough for now because I can’t go any further.”
“I understand. It touches me you trust me.
“Good. Now, for the most important part.” He took a deep breath as he studied her. She was holding her breath.
“Breathe, L.L. and I will do the same,” as a small smile came to his lips.
She smiled back and inhaled.
“I love you, L.L. Jackson. I want you in my life. I plan to ask you to marry me one day soon but only when and if you are ready. I know you feel we are moving too fast. I am willing to take whatever time is needed to make this work. Don’t ask me how I know so soon. I just know God placed you in my life. I will not question Him on it. I want you as my wife, lover and mother of my children. I know your career is important to you and I will never ask you to give it up. I promise I will never hurt you or allow anyone else to hurt you. You set the pace. Take all the time you need. But know this, I am a man and I want to make love to you here and now. There is a fire burning inside me that almost hurts I want you so badly. When we are together, you will need to stop me.”
He ran his thumb over her lower lip as he leaned in and kissed her deeply and lovingly. She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back. When they broke away, he looked into her blue green eyes. She was on the verge of crying. He held her close and whispered gentle words of love in her ear.
When they opened the door, Jake and Nicole were standing in the hallway with their mouths open. After a moment’s hesitation, they walked in the study and sat in the matching leather, winged back chairs facing the couch. Jake cleared his throat before he spoke.
“I was thinking of tagging along when you pick up the steaks, Shaun. Mind if your old man comes with you?”
“Not at all, Dad. As a matter of fact, you can drive us in my new truck. You haven’t been in it yet.”
Nicole leaned forward and placed her elbows on her knees as she addressed L.L. “I was hoping you could spend a little time with me in the music room. It’s been so long since I danced. I need a refresher. You know all the current moves. I don’t want to embarrass myself with James tonight. Do you mind, L.L.?”
L.L. eased up from the couch and took Nicole’s hand. “Let’s practice while they go shopping. I could use the work out too. When we finish, we need to help Bonnie in the kitchen. I want to learn how she makes her twice baked potatoes.”
Jake fell in love with the new King Ranch 250. He commented on all the new conveniences as he drove north toward town. Shaun knew he eventually needed to tell his father of his intentions regarding L.L.
Paul Cush was the grandson of the founder of Cush’s Grocery. As long as Shaun could remember, Paul was behind the counter with his father and grandfather serving his friends. Paul never forgot a name or face. He had attended a high school across town from Shaun but they had many friends in common. When the bell attached to the front door of the store rang, Paul looked up from behind the meat counter. It took only a moment to recognize Shaun. He bolted from his position to meet them. He took Shaun’s hand as he welcomed his old friend home.
“Shaun, it’s been so long. How many years has it been?”
“Yes, it has, Paul. It’s been over two years since my last leave home.”
“It is great to see you! We need to get together for a beer sometime now that you are back.”
“Sure thing. We are having a little get together at the house tonight and I wanted to pick up some steaks.”
“Great, I have just what you need back here. Follow me to the cooler.” A short time later, Paul was wrapping the thick sliced, top sirloins in white butcher paper. He placed the steaks in a cardboard box and shoved them across the counter to Shaun. They continued to talk across the counter for a while longer as Shaun waited for Paul to write out the sales ticket.
“Well Paul, I have craved your steaks for years while I was away. It’s time for us to head home and fire up the grill. How much do I owe you?”
“They’re on the house, Shaun. It’s the least I can do for our hometown hero and my good friend. Don’t even think of paying me. If you do, I will be insulted. Call me when you want to have a beer. I want to hear about what you have been up to these last few years.”
“Thanks, Paul. I’ll call next week. We’ll shoot some pool and knock down a few long necks. What do you think?”
“Sounds good, Shaun. Give me a ring.”
Shaun was laying the steaks on the smoking grill when James drove up in his old Jeep. He was wearing a cowboy hat, jeans and a button down, western shirt. Shaun was in the same except for the hat. Nicole was watching for him from her upstairs bedroom window. She thought he looked so cool and laid-back. He walked to the ice chest and pulled out a long neck beer. He was sipping it when she came through the back door. She was wearing tight fitting jeans, boots and a western shirt with the tails tied in a knot near her waist. Her hair was pulled back in a long ponytail gathered with a ribbon.
James handed her a beer as he walked up the steps to give her a quick hug.
“You look great, Nicole. Ready to kick up your heels tonight?”
“You bet. L.L. and I practiced a little this afternoon. She taught me some new steps. I am looking forward to trying them out. Where are you and Shaun planning to take us?”
“We thought the Rocking Rodeo if it’s all right with you.”
“It’s been years since I’ve been there. I love that place or I did the last time I was there.”
Shaun spotted L.L. checking on the potatoes in the oven. She was wearing jeans and a burgundy colored V neck tee-shirt. Her hair was braided down her slender back. Her jeans were tucked in her boot tops. He stepped in the kitchen to get a platter for the steaks. He pecked her cheek with a quick kiss as he passed by. She wore perfume that reminded him of honeysuckle. His skin began to tingle.
Everyone gathered at the table and feasted on Cush’s marinated steaks, homemade salad and Bonnie’s twice baked potatoes. Most enjoyed a cold beer with their meal, but Bonnie and Jake chose iced tea.
They loaded up in Shaun’s truck and headed out for the club. The band was loud and the dance floor crowded. They found a table near the action and ordered drinks. Shaun pulled L.L. from her stool on to the dance floor. They joined the crowd in the two step as they maneuvered in a counter clockwise direction. James and Nicole fell in behind them. They danced for a good 30 minutes before retiring to their table. They laughed, drank, danced more and overall had a great time.
It still struck Nicole as strange that a doctor would have the strong, calloused hands of a carpenter or farmer. She felt something wonderful when they touched. He was kind and gentle but still tough and manly. She saw women checking him out. Some even bumped into him to get his attention or came to their table to ask for a dance. He was polite, smiled and responded he only danced with the lady he brought. He kept his eyes on her all evening. A rough looking cowboy wearing a ball cap asked Nicole for a dance. Before Nicole could reply, James told him she was only here to dance with him. The guy smiled and strolled to the next table.
Shaun and L.L. hardly missed a song. They meshed quickly. Every step they took was beautiful and in rhythm with each note. They swirled around the floor as if on ice. The last time Nicole saw her brother cavorting like this was at his high school prom. They were clearly having a great time dancing and laughing.
When Shaun and L.L. returned to the table, they were almost out of breath. Shaun was so energized he did not take his seat. He stood next to L.L. with his arm over her shoulder while he sipped his warm beer with his free hand.
The drunk cowboy stumbled into L.L. almost knocking her off her stool. Nicole saw Shaun rapidly go from happy-go-lucky to Shaun the SEAL. When the big brute stumbled into L.L., he almost fell to the floor. Shaun grabbed the guy to stop him from pushing L.L. from her stool and he kept the guy from falling to the floor. Shaun held him tightly by his shirt and shoulders. When he realized what happened, the cowboy smiled at L.L. and asked her to dance. She declined and turned toward Shaun. The guy reached for her with his right hand. Shaun intercepted his hand with his right and acted like they were shaking hands. Shaun pulled the guy to him and squeezed his hand.
“Hi there! Good to meet you tonight! No problem. Don’t worry about bumping into us. It was an accident. We understand completely! My name is Shaun. What did you say yours is?”
The drunk realized what Shaun was doing and squinted his eyes as his anger rose. Shaun saw it too and squeezed even harder. They locked eyes as both attempted to bring the other to his knees. The expression on the drunk’s face changed from anger to fear. He began to bend his knees and was about to drop to the floor when Shaun released most of the pressure on his hand. The guy exhaled a sigh of relief as he studied Shaun’s face. A small smile came to his. “Sorry for bumping into y’all, my friend.”
“Not a problem, friend. It was good to meet you. Take care and watch this slippery floor. Seems everyone is spilling beer on it tonight.” The drunk nodded and off he stumbled.
Shaun turned to his table guests and announced, “Time to go. He may come back to try his luck and bring a friend or two. We’re here to have fun and we have. Now it’s time to hit the road on a high note.”
As they drove through the countryside on the way home, Shaun asked the others if they wanted to have a beer by the oxbow lake before they called it a night. They all agreed. He pulled up to the back porch to retrieve the iced down beer.
He backed up to the pier, rolled down the windows, opened the doors, turned off the interior lights, cranked up the Hank Williams III CD and dropped the tailgate. They broke out another beer and strolled down the wooden pier out over the water. There was a slight breeze, enough to keep off the mosquitoes. The moon was almost full illuminating the earth like a giant streetlight. They sat at the end of the dock, slipped off their boots and dropped their feet into the dark, cool water. L.L. leaned against Shaun and thanked him for the great meal and a night out on the town dancing.
Nicole spoke, “Did y’all see the drunk guy with his ball cap turned backwards dancing the robot alone in the center of the floor? He was so drunk he couldn’t walk straight. But boy could he dance! It was hard not to enjoy his ability! I watched him ask several women for a dance and they all turned him down. Yet he seemed to have a good time. As we were leaving, I saw a lady join him on the floor. Apparently she did not realize how drunk he was. When he took her in his arms, he did not stumble or sway. He danced like he was as sober as a judge.”
“Takes all kinds, sweetie,” James said.
“Yes it does,” they all responded rolling with laughter. James stood and pulled up Nicole. They walked back to the truck, turned down the music and took seats on the tailgate. Shaun looked down at L.L. and kissed her forehead.
“Thank you for giving me the best evening, L.L. When I dance with you, I feel that is what I was born to do.”
“I feel the same, Shaun. I think I could dance all night with you.” Hank III was singing about getting rid of his drinking problem as Shaun stood and pulled her into his arms. “Well, we have music and the entire dance floor to ourselves.” They held each other tightly and moved to the beat. Heat rose between them. When the song ended, a fast country beat took its place. They continued to hold tightly and sway to the previous slow song. When they finished, he kissed her. When they broke free, she kissed his ear and whispered, “It’s been a great night. I need to get some sleep. Will you take us home now?”
He looked into her eyes and said, “Yes,I will,” as he gently pecked the tip of her nose. “I look forward to the night you tell me to take you home to our bed.”
“Well, then you have something to look forward to, Shaun McVeigh.”
“I do! Let’s go home, honey.”
James was kissing Nicole as Shaun and L.L. walked by. Shaun cleared his throat as they headed for the truck cab. “Time to go home you two. Do y’all want to ride home on the tailgate. I’ll take it slow and easy?”
“That would be fun!” Nicole exclaimed.
As he drove slowly down the gravel road, he spotted them kissing on the tailgate. Smiling he thought, who knows where it will take them? They may be married before L.L. and me. I have a good feeling about James. It’s strange I’m not worried about him like everyone else she has dated.
Shaun left them sitting on the tailgate as he escorted L.L. to her room. They kissed goodnight and she quickly shoved him off and closed her door. He did not hear the lock click. She trusts me. He turned and went to his room. He took a quick shower and hit the sack. He listened as L.L. showered on the other side of the wall. Apparently we called a truce for one night. She could have gotten me so I’ll oblige and do the same. He leaned over to the window. Randy and Nicole were still talking and kissing on the tailgate.
He rolled over and closed his eyes. She’s a grown, intelligent McVeigh woman who can handle herself. He said his prayers and drifted off to sleep. His last thoughts were of holding L.L. in his arms.
She knew he would cut off her hot water. She stood outside the shower wrapped in a big towel with her hand touching the shower stream. She waited and waited. He never flushed his toilet. She quietly closed the glass door and quickly showered. She was still holding her breath when she turn off the knobs. She smiled. She had not flushed her toilet while he showered so he returned the favor. She wore her big, white tee shirt as she slipped beneath the cotton sheets and closed her eyes. As always she began to pray. She lifted up Cindy and the girls, Jake and Bonnie, Ray and James, Nicole and Shaun. She prayed he would sleep peacefully tonight without bad dreams. She prayed for the men and women far away fighting for our country and for the men and women fighting here at home to keep our families and streets safe. She prayed God would lead her in the right path with Shaun. If they were falling in love, it would last for the rest of their lives. She drifted off thinking of kissing Shaun and holding him while she slept.
The light tapping on her door awakened her. She quickly sprang from her bed and rushed to the door. She opened it and there stood Shaun.
“What?” She whispered.
“Let’s go for a run before breakfast. What do you say?”
“OK, give me a sec. I’ll meet you on the back porch.” She closed the door and dressed in her running clothes. She eased the screen door closed and glanced at the clock on the stove. Five AM. Damn she thought. She wanted to sleep late. She rarely had the chance with her work schedule. On her days off, there always seemed to be a reason to get up early. She wanted to complain but knew an early morning run with him was something special.
They stretched as they walked to the gravel road.
“It’s three miles round trip to the lake and back. Let’s take it easy on the way out because neither of us have had a run lately. What do you say?”
“Sounds good to me. I need to log some miles and break a sweat.”
They started off at a walk and increased it to a slow jog. After the first mile, they got into a good running speed. They did not talk as they paced side by side. They let their minds clear and enjoyed the peaceful time before the sunrise. By the time they reached the lake, they were running an eight minute mile. Shaun turned and L.L. followed beside him. He picked up the pace and increased his speed. She stayed stride for stride with him. Her long legs gave her the ability to keep step. She was not breathing any harder than he was. He looked at her and she smiled back. He knew the look. She was game to speed up the pace, so he did. She matched his pace. With one mile to the house, she started easing out in front of him. He caught her and she increased her speed again. Once again he came up beside her. She launched into a full out run gaining several feet but soon he was right beside her again. She reached down deep and gave all she had. This time she held the lead by six feet. She could hear his footsteps behind her, matching each step. Her lips curved slightly upwards as she forced herself along. The house came into sight. He blasted by her with two hundred yards remaining. He was sitting on the back steps when she left the gravel road and walked across the grass.
He smiled as he spoke, “L.L., the men on my team would have fallen back much earlier. That last kick was my all out best. You have my utmost respect.”
“Well, I have outrun every man in our department. In school, I was the state champion. When I was at the Academy, I set the department record and I took first place in the Police Olympics. I’ve never been beaten until this morning. Not sure your respect is enough to comfort my ego.”
“Then how about this?” He took her in his arms and kissed her deeply.
“I know you, L.L. You would rather I run my best race than hold back and let you win so your ego would remain intact, right?”
“You are right, Shaun. I like that the only man to ever outrun me is you!” She pulled him into her arms and kissed him with hot passion. Then she pushed him aside and bolted up the steps into the house. He was hot on her heels when they encountered Bonnie in the kitchen.
“What in the world are you two crazy folks doing up and chasing one another like you have lost your minds? Never mind! I know you have lost your minds. It’s plain as the look on your faces. Stop running in my kitchen ‘fore I take a broom to you two! Go on now, both of you! Be quiet in this house, you hear. Decent folks ’round here are still sleeping. Don’t wake them. I mean it!”
Shaun pulled Bonnie in his arms and kissed her forehead before she could resist. She pushed him back drawing back her hand as if she would slap him. Instead she started laughing and cupped her hand over her mouth. “Now you get, boy! Don’t come back in here till I say breakfast is ready. You understand?”
“Yes ma’am, Bonnie. I do. I love you Bonnie Whyte. You know I do.”
“I know it, Shaun McVeigh. You think ’cause of it you can come running through my kitchen like a wild man?”
“Good. Now get!”
L.L. snickered all the way to her room. She thought of how Bonnie treated Shaun. There was a special love between those two. She learned from Jake and Nicole that Bonnie had been part of the family for over 30 years, before Shaun was born. No one ever spoke of the details. What was unspoken was more telling. L.L. wanted to learn all about their history.
She was almost finished rinsing off when Shaun flushed his toilet. She let out a loud squeal and jumped to the corner of the shower. She clearly heard Shaun laughing on the other side of the thin wall. She swore under her breath. This means war, Shaun McVeigh. When the warm water returned, she finished her shower and quickly toweled dry. She hurriedly dressed though her hair was still damp. She did not care. She patted it dry and tossed the towel across the back of the old rocking chair on her way out of the bedroom. She was mumbling under her breath as she once again encountered Bonnie in the kitchen.
L.L. pulled the large, plastic tea pitcher from the cabinet and shoveled several scoops of ice from the ice maker. Bonnie stood watching without a word. L.L. filled the pitcher with cold water from the sink. She went back upstairs and paused as she leaned her ear to his bedroom door. He was in the shower. She slowly turned the knob. He had locked his door, smart guy. She sat the ice water by the door and scurried to her room. Moments later she was working on the lock with her picks. It only took a few seconds to flip open the lock and enter his room. He was singing the Hank III song they danced to last night as she slipped into his bathroom. She leveraged the ice water in her right hand as she stood on her tip toes. She dumped the entire contents on his head. She heard him yell a few bad words as he was doused in ice water. She was gone in a flash. She re-locked his door and hurried to the kitchen.
She was sitting at the kitchen table reading the Times and enjoying her second cup of coffee when he strolled in as if nothing had happened. Bonnie placed his coffee on the table.
“John is joining us for breakfast this morning. He finally has a few days off.”
“Great, Bonnie! We spoke on the phone yesterday when he was between patients. I’m glad he is coming out to see us.”
They folded their hands and closed their eyes as John Whyte quietly approached the dining room. He heard Jake clear his throat. He froze in his tracks not wanting to disturb the prayer. When Jake finished, John stepped through the doorway.
“Good morning, y’all! Sorry I’m late. I overslept. I did a 36 hour shift then crashed and burned last night.”
Shaun jumped up and bolted around the table wrapping his arms around John and lifting him off his feet. John towered over Shaun. He stood 6’6” and was built like a linebacker. L.L. could picture him wearing the full football uniform.
“Set him down you fool. You’ll pull your back again and I will have to rub you down with horse liniment. I don’t have the time nor desire to put up with you in the house under my feet today, Shaun McVeigh!” Though her words came out harshly, her face betrayed her. The grin on her face spoke volumes. She was pleased to see her two favorite men holding one another like long lost brothers.
“Sit down, you two, and eat my breakfast while it’s hot!”
In unison they said, “Yes Ma’am.”
John took the seat between his mother and L.L. He offered his big hand as he introduced himself to her.
Shaun interrupted him. “L.L. Jackson, I want you to meet my other brother, Big John Whyte McVeigh!”
“Pleased to finally meet you in person, John. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“It’s good to meet you, Miss Jackson. I know of you, too. I spent several years in ER at the State hospital. I am friends with many paramedics and deputies. You are well respected in your network. As a physician, I do admire your work. I took the Hippocratic Oath but that is not to say I don’t recognize a dirtbag when I see one. I confess to enjoy patching them up knowing they are on their way to jail.”
“Enough, John,” Bonnie whispered. “We have children at the table, son.”
“Oh,” he looked at Melissa and Julie. “Sorry young ladies. I apologize.” He smiled and they giggled in return.
The men took their last cups of coffee to the back porch and visited while the women cleaned the kitchen.
The McVeigh family settled into a peaceful routine over the next few weeks. L.L. attended a self-defense refresher course at the parish academy and honed her skills. Part of the class was a week long fitness program. She ran three miles twice a day and set a new department record beating every man on the field. She re-qualified with her service weapon shooting a a perfect score of 300. She joined the ranks of few others in the department for shooting a perfect score for five consecutive years. Once again she stood alone. No other female deputy had ever gained this rating.
Jake mastered his skills on his PC and began to research the McVeigh family history. He joined an online genealogy network. For hours each day, he linked branches of his family together and the tree started taking shape.
Jake noticed every morning after breakfast, Shaun spent hours in the old barn. Knowing his son as he did, he knew it was something important. It was also up to Shaun when to share what occupied him. He also thought of the relationship of Shaun and L.L. and Nicole and Randy. Shaun was obviously deeply in love with L.L. who was head over heels for him. They would ask his blessing before long. He also thought of Cindy. It would be great if she could see Ray was falling for her. He made a mental note to talk to Bonnie about Cindy and Ray. He loved Melissa and Julie. If they married, he would be an instant grandfather. What a blessing that would be! He was happy with his life…and his plans. He and Bonnie went to the lake on a private picnic the first week Shaun was home to work out all the details. The kids thought he and Bonnie were old and out of touch. We will eventually reveal our master plan. Teach them all a lesson about the wisdom of old fogies.
L.L. and Shaun fell into a daily routine of rising before the crack of dawn for a workout. In addition to their morning races, they spent an hour in the hangar each day lifting weights and pounding the body and speed bags. Sometimes they donned helmets and sparred. Occasionally they wrestled. When Shaun pinned her to the mat, he kissed her until she almost lost her breath. When she pinned him, she gave it all back to him. He liked losing to her. It was a win-win either way. Several times Sam Bass and Jimmy Baker walked in while they were on the mat kissing.
They always said the same thing. “Do we need to get a bucket of ice to dump on y’all?”
When L.L. left for patrol each morning, she observed Shaun walking to the barn. She was curious but knew better than to ask. He would tell her when he wanted her to know.
One morning a delivery truck honked his horn at the front door. Bonnie signed and had the driver place the big boxes on the porch. She walked to the barn and knocked on the big doors. Shaun partly open the door. She tried to look around him. He had never kept secrets from her. Why now?
He quickly closed the door behind him and locked it. They walked back to the house together but Shaun was too fast for her to see the labels. He stacked them and away to the barn he went. She shook her head at that boy.
Shaun had completely disassembled the old Harley. The parts were laid out on two large workbenches. He drained the motor oil from the crank case. The oil was poured into the twin cylinders to keep the piston rings and valves from locking up. He removed the wheels and took off the old, dry rotted tires from the rims. He polished each spoke and greased all the bearings. He mounted the new, tubeless tires and added air. He rinsed the old oil from the gas tank and rebuilt the carburetor. New throttle, brake and clutch cables were installed. The frame was washed down and hand polished. He was making great progress and loved every minute of it.
James spent every evening with Nicole. They rode 4-wheelers, went fishing, and enjoyed long walks while holding hands. They went to movies, dinner and dancing or spent hours in one of the old porch swings drinking tea and talking. Everyone in the house noticed the obvious. They were in love but no one mentioned a word.
Melissa and Julie had bonded with Bonnie and were inseparable. Bonnie was firm but loving. She was often found at the kitchen table with the girls as they colored, sometimes they were sitting in her expansive lap. They kissed her cheeks and she hugged them. Bonnie always wanted girls but God gave her a big boy to raise. The girls needed her and she needed them. Her heart overflowed with love. She praised the Lord for all of her blessings, especially for Melissa and Julie. It reminded her of long ago when she sat with John and Shaun in her lap.
Bubba was a model prisoner. He obeyed every rule and was respected by the jailers. The past three days he worked on a cleanup crew on the back roads picking up trash along the ditches. He never complained and was given some of the better or easier tasks to perform. Today he was assigned to Hwy 1 South. During the noon break, he sat in the shade beneath the awning of the old, closed down mercantile store. He hated bologna. It was part of almost every meal. He leaned back on the front of the old building and closed his eyes. He daydreamed about being a free man again, able to come and go as he pleased. He had a little over four months more to serve. The patrol unit slowed to a stop next to the department transport van that carried him and the other inmates to and from the jail. He cracked open one eye enough to see L.L. step out of the car and greet her brother deputies assigned to the road crew. They laughed at something she said as they passed her a cold drink from the icebox. She turned her head in his direction after one of the deputies uttered something to her. She lowered her sunglasses down her nose an inch and looked directly at Bubba. He opened both eyes and gave her a little wave.
“Hello, Deputy Jackson. How is your day going?”
‘”It’s a great day, Bubba. I’ve been hearing good things about you. You made trustee in no time. I will pass this on to Judge Clarke to let him know how well things are going for you. You might be released sooner. Hang in there, Bubba. Cindy and the girls are doing well. I will tell her I saw you today.”
“Thanks, Deputy Jackson. That means a lot to me. When I get out, I’m probably going to sell the farm and move up to Arkansas. I have 50 acres on the White River and a camping trailer there. If I can sell the farm and give Cindy her share, I should have enough left over to build that little cabin I always wanted. I have cousins there who could use my help with their cows.”
“Bubba, sounds like a great plan. I will pass it on to the Judge and Cindy this afternoon.”
As she drove off, he reflected on her comments. Part of him wanted to pay her, and the rest of her clan, back for putting him in jail. However, being in jail and not drinking had given him clarity. If he paid them back, he would be arrested and spend years behind bars and not as a trustee. He hated jail. He decided then and there to forgive them and himself for what had happened. He realized he did not love Cindy and was never really close to the girls. He would focus on getting out of jail, selling the ranch, paying Cindy and doing the right thing. He needed a change in his life. Starting fresh in Arkansas would be it. He was first to his feet when the deputy in charge got out of the van and headed his way. He was first to put on his gloves, pick up his black trash bag and head back to the ditch. He knew they would help him get out early if he was willing to work hard and play by the rules. Words from scripture came to mind and he spoke them out loud, “And he said, it is finished.”
As Cindy drove up, she spotted Nicole and L.L. sitting on the front porch to watch the sun set like they did most days. She knew they were waiting for her with a bottle of wine. She parked the Cadillac in the bay and walked through the back door. She hugged Bonnie’s neck as she passed through the kitchen and kissed her daughters hello. She stooped to their level to allow them to show off their artwork. They gave her a run down on all they did today and she told them about her day. She promised the girls after supper they would pile up in her bed upstairs and watch a movie.
“Hi gals! How did your day go?”
“I ran into Bubba working on the road crew. When he gets out, he plans to sell the ranch and give you and your girls your share. He will then move up to Arkansas near the White River and build a cabin. He says he can help his cousins with their cattle.”
“Well, I’ll believe it when I see it. He loves that ranch but he is letting it slip away. I hope he means what he says. He has talked about going to Arkansas for years yet never took a step in that direction.”
Nicole spoke up. “Cindy, tell us what it’s like to work with my brother, Ray. Is he a slave driver like he was when we were kids? He always pushed so hard at everything he did.”
“He is a pleasure to work for. I thought his paperwork would be a disaster when I started. I tried to prepare myself for a total mess. I was pleasantly surprised to learn he is extremely organized. Most of his investments were on auto pilot. I only had to work with his broker to have a few accounts moved into a more profitable venue. He did a good job making payroll with the checking account. Only a couple of small mistakes. I was able to straighten them out within my first week. The books are now online so I have spare time to take on a few other clients. They bring boxes of their documents to the office and I start sorting things. I will have enough money soon to buy a car and get the girls some new clothes. I love working with Ray. We went to lunch today at Wild Wings and had a great time. It was the first time for us to do lunch. We both enjoyed the break.”
Nicole smiled and Cindy read her mind. “Stop right there, Nicole! I am not even divorced yet. Don’t go doing your little match thing with me. He is my boss and we get along well, end of story! Got it?”
“Sure Cindy, I understand. You will be divorced in a few months and he has never married. Anyone with half a brain would look at the potential. That’s all. I know you are just getting out of a bad relationship. I can’t blame you for not jumping in and setting yourself up for a rebound situation. I promise. I will not do my little match thing as you say.”
Cindy sat next to her and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you, Nicole, warts and all.”
“And I love you and all of your warts, too!”
“Now Nicole, let’s put the shoe on your foot and see if it fits. I want to know all about Dr. James Paxton.”
Nicole blushed and took a large drink of her wine. She looked at the setting sun and was silent for a long time.
“I will admit, to the two of you in the strictest of confidence. I need your words on this L.L., Cindy?”
“I give you my word,” L.L. said. “Me too,” responded Cindy.
“I admit I find him attractive, intelligent and a pleasure to spend time with. He is a good dancer and a great kisser. I don’t know how I feel about him just yet. We have a great time being exclusive. I know of his reputation and believe it is unfair. He has changed and is grounded now. His head is on straight and I am convinced he is no longer a player.”
They heard him as he slowed the Jeep on the highway to turn into the drive. James was wearing a ball cap as he drove his Jeep with the top off. He had on a clean, white tee shirt and jeans as he slid from the seat and headed their way.
“Well, lookie what I got! The three loveliest ladies in town sitting on the porch waiting for me. Doesn’t get any better than this!” His smile was wide as they joined in. He kissed each lady on the cheek and pulled Nicole from the swing to hug her and take her breath away with a kiss. He spun and went in the house before they could speak. He found Bonnie in the kitchen stirring gravy in a skillet. He hugged her and kissed her cheek. “Smells great, Bonnie. If you ever feel you are not appreciated here, give me a ring. I have a guest suite and a gourmet kitchen waiting for you at my home.”
“I’ll give it some thought, James, but I don’t think you could afford me. I may be out of your league.”
“Whatever your price, I will match or even raise it, Bonnie.”
“I may need to check your bloodline, James. You sound like Shaun McVeigh. Now get out of my kitchen and go find a pretty young gal to flirt with ’cause I’m too old. Besides you couldn’t handle me. Now scoot!”
He touched the tip of his index finger to the tip of her nose. “Who knows, Bonnie Whyte? You may be just my style.”
“Where is Shaun?”
“He’s been holed up in that old barn for weeks now. Started out spending the mornings there doing Lord knows what. Now he’s spending the entire day out there with the door locked.”
James headed for the barn. The doors were locked from the inside. He knocked and waited.
“Hey Shaun! It’s me James!”
A moment later Shaun opened the door. His hands were covered with grease and a smudge was on his face.
“What are you up to, Shaun?”
“It’s a surprise for the family. I won’t let any of them in to see what I’m doing. If you give your word, I will show you.”
“You have my word, buddy.”
“Come on in and check it out.” Shaun closed and locked the door behind them. “It’s in the back.”
James stood near the workbenches. He recognized the engine and gas tank of a vintage Harley Davidson motorcycle. He surveyed each piece of the bike. In the corner, he spotted the dry rotted tires and other discarded parts. The wheels sparkled with brand new tires mounted on them.
“What year is the bike, Shaun?”
“1947. My grandfather bought it new and rode if often back in the day. He passed it down to my Dad. He did not like to ride so he filled the engine and tanks with fresh oil to preserve it over 50 years ago. It only has 20,000 original miles. I started to strip down the paint and re-do it but when I went to the vintage web pages, I learned enthusiasts prefer the old bikes to remain original, not restored. I cleaned and did minor touch up to a couple of rusty spots on the bottom of the frame. Do you ride?”
“Yes, I do. I currently have two old bikes in my garage at home. One is a ’49 Harley my grandfather rode. My Dad was like Jake and never rode. He did not like to be on less than four wheels. By the time he gave it to me, it was in bad shape. Last winter on my off days, I tore it down to the bones and completely rebuilt it. I had only tinkered with cars and lawnmowers before that. I decided the best way to learn was to take it apart and put it back together again. The other bike is a ’40 Indian Chief. It was a one owner bike I found online. I bought it from an 89 year old tobacco farmer in Jacksonville, NC. He put 80,000 miles on it before he had the motor rebuilt. Since re-build it has logged 1,500 miles. They both run like champs. You’re right about the collectors. It’s best to keep them original. I was not able to with my ’49 but the Indian is all original. I take it you plan to get it back in running condition and roll it out one Sunday afternoon to surprise everyone?”
“Right you are. Dusting season it slowing down and I needed something to keep me busy. I ordered new tires, cables and several things from a dealer who still has original Harley parts in stock. However, there are a few things he does not have that I want to replace. The oil and gas tank caps are dented and the seals have gone bad. The front fender light is corroded and the lens is broken, same with the tail light. The chain and sprockets could be used but I see wear on them. While it’s torn down, I think now is a good time to replace them. I want it in perfect condition.”
“I may be able to help. When I did my ’49, I encountered the same problem with parts. I found a local guy with a big barn filled to the roof with classic Harley parts. He has several 40’s model bikes that all run. He has enough parts to complete 20 more. He travels with his job. I will call him tonight when I get home. I have his number in my address book but not in my cell phone.
“Man, that’s great! Call me regardless the hour. I will sleep better knowing I have a lead on these parts.”
“Will do. I’m going to go visit with Nicole for a while. I saw L.L. sitting with her on the porch. Want to have a beer and play Dominoes?”
“Thanks. A good friendly game of dominoes will be a great way to spend the evening. I need to clean up. See y’all at supper.”
L.L. had an early morning the next day with their routine workout and then on to patrol. She and Shaun called it a night and retired to their rooms. Nicole and Randy sat in the porch swing like they did most nights. Shaun laid his head on his pillow and lifted up his prayers.
It was after midnight when the text alert sounded on Shaun’s cell phone. The biker guy was in town. James would be by in the morning before patient visits to pick him up to go to the barn filled with old Harley parts.
Shaun and L.L. finished their morning workout, showered without tricks with the water and began their day. L.L. went to work while Shaun joined his father for coffee on the back porch. L.L. skipped breakfast with only a cup of coffee for the road. Bonnie was almost finished preparing breakfast when James rolled up in his sports car. He greeted Jake and Shaun and went to the kitchen for coffee.
“Good morning, Bonnie.”
“Morning, James. Are you joining us for breakfast?”
“If this an invitation, then yes ma’am.”
“It is, James. Since you seem to spend more time here than at your place, I find myself setting you a place at my table.”
“I believe I am putting on weight since I’ve started eating your cooking.”
“You could stand to put on 10 more pounds.”
After they finished eating, Shaun and James left for the bike barn in Bossier Parish. They talked about James’ lessons and old bikes on the way. They traveled several country roads. After many turns, they came to a wooden gate painted white. James turned onto the property. A 20’s era, two story wood-framed home sat down a gravel road. It had a fresh coat of paint matching the gate. A porch with yellow shutters spanned across the entire front of the home. James knocked on the front door and an attractive blonde in her 30’s answered.
“Good morning, Debbie. Is Glenn here?”
“Yes he is. You’ll find him in the barn out back. You’re welcome to come through the house or you can walk around outside.”
“We’ll go around, Deb. Thanks. Oh, by the way, this is Shaun.”
“Nice to meet you, Debbie.”
“Good to meet you too, Shaun. Guess y’all are here to talk bikes. Glenn is waiting for you. Would you like some coffee?”
“Yes. That would be great!”
“I’ll bring it out to the barn in a minute.”
They walked around the side of the house to the old unpainted barn. It had large doors rolled open on the lower floor and a loft with a service door. It included a beam and hay pulley attached to the large rough-cut timber. The sound of an air compressor could be heard as they entered the main area.
Glenn was at his workbench tinkering with something. His back was to them as they approached. James called his name. He turned holding an old carburetor in his hands. He smiled and shook James’ hand.
Shaun was caught off guard as Glenn looked at him.
“Hi, Glenn! I had no idea you were the one with the bikes.”
“Good to see you, Shaun. I have been on the road for weeks and just got home yesterday. I was planning to call to see if you wanted to meet for the beer you promised.”
“The offer still stands, along with a big steak,” he chuckled as he shook Glenn’s hand.
“How do you two know one another?”
“When I was hitchhiking, Glenn picked me up in Longview in his 18 wheeler and gave me a ride to Shreveport.”
“Man, this is a small world. I told Shaun about your collection. He is rebuilding his ’47 Harley and needs several parts, so here we are.”
Debbie walked in carrying a coffee tray. They each took a cup and visited a while. Shaun was awestruck as he looked around. Old Harley and Indian motorcycle parts were stacked from the floor to the ceiling. Several old bikes sat around the room. Most looked in working condition. Several were in various phases of work.
“How many bikes do you have that are rideable?”
“Oh, I think 8 or 10. Sometimes they need a little TLC to get them to fire up. I don’t have enough time to ride them regularly.” Glenn gave them a tour of the barn along with the history about the place. His grandfather was a collector and passed the hobby down to his son and then on to Glenn. Most of the running bikes were his. They sat at a little work table and continued their visit.
After Shaun told him about his ’47, Glenn began to rummage through several shelves for the requested parts. Soon he returned carrying everything Shaun required.
Shaun paid Glenn for the parts, realizing they were heavily discounted. He knew not to protest Glenn. They were having their second cup of coffee when Glenn quickly stood and hurried to an old, wooden filing cabinet. He opened the top drawer and searched for something. A moment later he announced, “Here it is!” He pulled out a book and returned to the table. “Take this with you, Shaun. It may help. It’s a mechanic’s handbook for your ’47 Harley.”
Before Shaun could offer to pay, Glenn shook his head and took another sip of coffee.
“I notice many of your old bikes have brass cowbells welded to the exhaust pipes. Why is that?”
“The old timers wanted a distinct sound back in the day. Someone discovered a cowbell attached to the pipes had a remarkable noise. Many of the old hands made the modifications. I love it! Nothing like it on the road today.”
“Here, let me show you.” Glenn went to an old Harley and kicked it a couple of times before it fired up. It rumbled to an idle before he cut it off. “This bike is all original with no bells.”
He walked to another bike and kicked it over. When it came to life, it had a great sound. Glenn revved the motor and let off the throttle. The pipes with cowbells racked off and cracked their eardrums. He smiled, “See?”
“My bike has bells. I can hardly wait to hear it run!”
“Both of mine do too and I love ’em!” James said.
They spent over an hour visiting and touring the place with Glenn. When it was time to leave, Glenn followed them to the front of the house as they loaded the parts.
“Glenn, when you have time, come by my place and check out my work. We will have those beers and the best steak in these parts.”
“Sounds like a deal, Shaun! How about tomorrow? I’ve got mowing and honey-do’s today.”
“Great! I’ll get the steaks and have them ready for the grill tomorrow evening.”
Shaun opened his door. As he was about to sit, his cell rang.