A Warrior’s Journey, Chapters 16-17

 

Chapter Sixteen

The bank was on the corner of a busy intersection. She was responsible for transporting the cash from the main building to the free-standing drive thru some 75 feet away. Every morning she pushed the cart loaded with 50,000 in U.S. currency to her station. At the end of each day, she pushed it back to the main vault. The security guard that always escorted her was off today. It was not the first time he failed to report for work. She felt uneasy.

She parked the money cart next to the door while digging for her keys. A white service van pulled next to her. The side doors swung open and three men wearing masks jumped out pointing their handguns at her. One grabbed her by the hair while screwing the tip of the gun barrel to her temple. She was ordered to sit on the floor of the outer  office. They told her if they saw her raise her head, they would kill her. She obeyed. The two bandits began grabbing bags of cash tossing them though the door of the van. It seemed like a lifetime but in reality it took less than 15 seconds for them to take all the cash and drive away.

When she heard the tires squeal as they made their getaway, she raised her head and pressed the alarm button beneath the service window. She observed the suspects turn right leaving the parking lot. She called the main branch to inform the bank president. The alarm notified the Shreveport Police of a bank robbery in progress. The phone rang and she quickly picked up the receiver. She did her best to describe the van and the four suspects, including the last direction they were seen heading.

When the Shreveport Police 911 broadcast went out, it also went to the sheriff’s department since their jurisdictions overlapped. L.L. was patrolling in her southern district. She was traveling down a dirt road near Wallace Lake near Ellerbee Road when the BOLO (be on the lookout) was announced. She pulled over to check her pump 12 gauge shotgun. The gun was fully loaded anchored to the dash mount. Taking the most direct route, she quickly made it to Hwy 1 then headed north toward town. She turned her scanner to S.P.D. to listen to the car to car traffic.

The first officers on the scene of the bank robbery confirmed the initial suspects and vehicle information. Four white males wearing ski masks armed with large caliber handguns last seen driving a white, full-size service van heading east on E. Kings Highway.

An off duty officer heading home from his shift in a marked unit was in the vicinity. He was on E. Kings at 70th some two miles south of the bank robbery. He pulled into a shopping center parking lot to watch the E. Kings traffic.

He soon spotted the van and radioed all other officers. He pulled on to E. Kings with several cars between him and the van. He could see in the back windows. The van was still occupied by the four suspects. He kept his distance as backup officers hurried to his location. The traffic light at 70th stopped the van behind several other motorists. Another marked unit appeared. This officer was traveling east of the intersection. As he approached, he slowed even though he had the green light. The suspects spotted him as he focused on them. Suddenly the van turned right jumping the curb on to the sidewalk. The units on scene turned on their red lights and sirens. The van charged along the sidewalk bouncing back on the street at the intersection. Going against the red light, it caused two other motorists to collide as they attempted to avoid the van. One of the cars rolled. The primary pursuit officer radioed for fire rescue units to respond to the crash. He fell in behind the van heading south on E. Kings with the second unit directly behind him.

A half mile later the van caught a green light at Bert Kouns continuing south bound. The primary officer gave regular updates about speed and direction of travel. They were doing almost 70 miles per hour when they came to the hairpin curve one block from where E. Kings connects with Hwy 1. The van careened on two wheels almost rolling over as it negotiated the tight turn. It bounced back to all four wheels sideswiping a northbound pickup truck. The side view mirrors exploded on impact. Glass and plastic parts sprayed across the pavement. The first officer behind the van could now see the license plate. He called the tag into his dispatcher.

The van was reported stolen that morning by a plumbing company in town. L.L. was traveling well over 100 miles per hour as she converged on the pursuit.

The van turned south on Hwy 1 heading in her direction. She informed her dispatcher she was switching her radio to S.P.D. as she was about to engage the suspects. She listened while the first officer finished his last report on the suspects. She then reported on their frequency. She was parked on the side of the road waiting near the city limit sign.

The van and pursuing S.P.D. units came into her mirror view. She flipped on her overhead lights and waited. When the van passed, she heard a pop. The rear window of her unit shattered.

“The bastards shot at me!”

She notified the S.P.D. officers the suspects shot her unit as they passed her. She fell in behind the second unit joining the pursuit. Soon the suspects and officers were several miles outside of town. Hwy 1 is a straight, four lane road. In town it has a grass median. Outside the city it changes to a two lane road with deep ditches on both sides. The KCS Railroad tracks run parallel to the road beyond the west ditch. The Red River Levee follows the road on the east side. The suspects had no choice but to continue southbound. As they passed the sign indicating the three way intersection of Hwy 1 and Ellerbee Road, the back windows of the van were shot out by the suspects as they fired on the officers. The primary officer slowed but kept a safe distance out of pistol range while continuing to pursue the suspects. The van slowed as it came to Ellerbee Road. As they attempted to take the turn at their high rate of speed, the van lost control and straddled the railroad tracks. Out of options, the driver of the van accelerated moving forward along the tracks.

The primary S.P.D. officer pulled onto the tracks to follow. He made about 20 feet of progress before coming to a halt on the tracks. The bottom of his car was snarled metal on metal. He was exiting his unit as L.L. ran past. The suspects in the van realized they were getting away. She heard one of them laugh as he fired his pistol at her. She dove to her belly and returned fire. She pumped five shots at the van. One of her shots took out the rear tire causing the rear axle to skid along the rails. The van lost most of its speed but was now a quarter of a mile from the officers. It continued to slowly wobble along leaving L.L. and the other officers behind. She jumped to her feet and yelled to the officers to call KCS to notify them about the van. She bolted to her unit and maneuvered back to Hwy 1. Grabbing her cell, she called Shaun to tell him what was happening.

“Well, hello baby!”

“Shaun, get back home right now! We’ve had a bank robbery in town. We chased the suspects to Ellerbee Road and the KCS tracks. They are slowly heading south toward the area of the plantation. They are between Ellerbee Road and Black Lake Road. We are setting up a road block at the next crossing.  When they see the block, they will likely bail from the van putting them within a mile of the farm. I’m swinging by to tell Jake and Bonnie to leave the house and head for town.”

“We are 15 minutes from the house. Can you wait there until we get back?”

“Yes, I can handle everything over the radio until you get home. Then I need to set up on the highway between the two crossings. Between town and my department, we have over 80 units rolling around the perimeter. Be safe but hurry!

Shaun told Glenn what was happening as he and James quickly got going. They blasted out of the yard spinning wheels. James knew what was at stake so he drove as fast and safely as possible.

When James hit Hwy 1 South, he let the hammer down on the Italian car. They were doing over 150 miles per hour when they flew by the marked police and sheriff units responding. L.L. alerted both departments of the yellow car responding to assist. They skidded to the front porch and bailed from the car. Jake, Bonnie, L.L., Sam and Jimmy were all standing near the front steps waiting. As Shaun walked passed L.L.’s unit, he noticed the rear window was out.

“What happened to your unit?”

“I was in place on the side of the road waiting for the van and S.P.D. officers. When the van passed, one of them shot out my back window.”

Shaun’s face froze. His color drained and his eyes turned cold and angry. “They could have hit you, L.L.”

“I know, Shaun. It was close. I will not deny it but don’t worry about me. I’m fine. When they were driving down the tracks, I loaded the back of their van with five rounds of double ought buck and shot out their rear tires. They were barely rolling when I left to come here.”

She could tell he wanted her to stay with him and his family for her own safety. He was struggling to keep from letting the words out of his mouth. His jaw flinched as he studied her.

“Be more careful, L.L. You hear me?!”

“I will, Shaun. You have my word.”

Shaun turned to his father, “Dad, I want you to take Bonnie and the girls to town. Stay with Ray until these bastards are caught.”

“Now, son.”

“No now, son. Dad! I need you to get them safely to town then I expect you back here to help. OK?”

“Ok.”

L.L. started back to the highway before Shaun could give another safety lecture. She knew he feared for her but it was part of the job. It was hard for him. She gave her word and planned to keep it.

Jake put Bonnie and the girls in the Cadillac and left for town. Shaun watched as they disappeared north on the highway. He looked to the sky and frowned as did James.

Sam approached. “Looks like a bad storm is heading our way. My guess, it will hit within the hour.”

The wind picked up as dark clouds drifted in over the plantation. The temperature dropped 10 degrees and the smell of ozone was prevalent.

Shaun went to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. He brought it to the others sitting on the front porch. They waited for the storm to hit. Thinking quietly to themselves, what if the suspects were able to get through the law enforcement perimeter?

Shaun stood and reached for the door, “Y’all come inside.”

He led them to the den and unlocked the gun cabinet. He handed each man an automatic pistol with ammo. He took out his AR-15 and loaded it. In addition, he took a 1911 Colt 45 with a shoulder holster and loaded it as well.

“If they know this area at all, they know the only way out is to cross the road and head this way to the river. If they go west, they hit Wallace Lake Swamp which is impossible for them to cross.”

They went back to the porch as the sky turned black and began to rain. The wind howled as the rain came down hard in diagonal sheets. The storm worked to the advantage of the suspects. Now would be the time to make the crossing. They were boxed in by the second road block at the south railroad crossing. Likely, they are now in the woods on foot.

“Be right back, y’all.” Shaun went inside and ran up the stairs to his room. He opened his closet to dig out his gear. He grabbed his knife, a backpack, first aid kit, spare battery for his cell phone, a flashlight, camouflage cream and his night vision equipment. He called Glenn Schach on his cell phone.

“Hey, Glenn. I may need a little help here at the house.” Shaun gave him the rundown. Glenn said he was rolling and would be there soon.

Glenn arrived in 20 minutes. Stepping from his truck, he looked ready for war. His face was painted. He wore dark green camo, a jungle hat and carried a sawed off 12 gauge with a flashlight attachment and pistol grip. A Glock 17 was strapped to his right leg just above his knee. Shaun greeted him as he pulled out his backpack.

Shaun flagged down Jake as he drove in the yard. “Dad, park the car in the garage. Glenn, follow him with your truck. James, take your car to the hangar. I want this place to look abandoned.”

“Glenn, come in through the back door. I will meet you in the kitchen. Sam, Jimmy, take positions in the front room with lights out and doors closed. Set the blinds so you can barely see out but they can’t see in. Now go, everybody!”

James, Jake and Glenn met Shaun in the kitchen. He had a large drawing pad and a couple of pencils from the art room. “Here is the house, roads, tracks, barn, hangar, garage, lake, creek, oxbow, swamp and river. To the south west of the house is a wooded section of old growth pines and oaks. It’s about 10 acres and thick as can be. For several hundred acres beyond the thicket are our cotton fields. If they cross the road, they will come here first. Sam and Jimmy are keeping a keen eye out. If the bastards come to the front of the house, Sam and Jimmy will let them force their way in. We will drop the first guy that enters. The others will then run back to the thicket or head for the river. If they head to the river, they don’t know how to avoid the swamp. Glenn and I will follow in that direction. If they run back to the thicket, I will notify L.L. Any questions?”

Jake patted Shaun’s shoulder. “Shaun, what do you want me and James to do?”

“If Sam and Jimmy shoot one of them, check on the guy. If he is not dead, try to save him. Charge your cell phones in case I call.”

Shaun went over the plan with Sam and Jimmy. Back in the kitchen, he loaded a couple of bottles of water in his pack then made sandwiches for everyone while they waited.

L.L. sat in her car with the wipers on high as strong wind gusts rocked her car. The suspects reportedly bailed from the van and were last seen running into the woods west of the tracks. Officers walked the tracks and took up a rear position 100 yards apart. The K-9 tracking dog alerted on the suspects’ trail going west toward Wallace Lake, away from the plantation. Shortly after noon, officers in an air boat on Wallace Lake spotted the suspects on the east end of the lake. The suspects turned back into the dark woods and disappeared.

L.L. knew they could not completely seal off such a large area. The lake was five miles from Hwy 1. The area between Ellerbee Road and Black Lake Road was separated by 4-5 miles. The suspects had plenty of woods to take cover but the roads were manned. Officers contacted all the neighbors in the area to alert them. Protection was provided at the homes of several elderly people for the duration.

The storm stalled over the area. The wind calmed but the rain continued to hammer hard. With the storm overhead and the sun out of sight, darkness closed in.

Officers on the perimeter signaled one another with their flashlights. Additional officers arrived and the perimeter tightened. Around midnight, the suspects crossed back over the railroad tracks and took shelter in a pine thicket to rest. It took them several hours of reckoning the perimeter line to find a small gap. With the rain and the pitch black night, they eased over the tracks again into the narrow strip of woods that stood between the tracks and the old highway.

They surveyed the highway. It would be more difficult now to cross. It took them three more hours to find what they needed, a small, unnamed creek full of water flowing east, the direction they wanted to go. A small bridge spanned the creek. The water was about a foot beneath the bottom. The suspects knew it would be dangerous but they were desperate and running out of options. One by one they eased into the moving water and drifted beneath the bridge to the other side of the road. They scurried up the bank into the thicket on the plantation property.

Shaun was catnapping and thinking. He was charged up and ready. He wondered if Sam and Jimmy would shoot one of the suspects. He went over his plan many times.  Hopefully the suspects would not be interested in getting into the house. They had guns and money, all they  needed was fresh transportation. He whispered to Sam and Jimmy to stay put and shoot if needed. “I will wait in the garage in case they try to take one of our vehicles.”

Glenn, Jake and James were still at the kitchen table in the blacked out room when Shaun eased by them to the back door. “I’m going to set up in the garage. Glenn, stay here and lend Sam and Jimmy some relief. I will trade places with you in a couple of hours unless something else happens.”

Shaun checked on the cars in the open air garage. Then he went to the hangar to check on James’ car and the two pickups owned by Sam and Jimmy.

One of the suspects was elected to talk his way through the front door into the house to get keys to a car. Another, a professional auto thief, went to the garage to hotwire a ride. He crossed the driveway on the north side out of Sam or Jimmy’s view. Shaun was not able to see him either. The other two suspects remained hidden in the woods in front of the house.

Shaun took a position near the side of the barn where he could see both the hangar and garage. He walked around the back of the barn staying out of sight of the house and the thicket. He leaned against the side of the barn while the roof’s overhang protected him from the blowing rain.

He thought he saw a shadow moving across the front yard. Due to the heavy rain, he was not certain.

Sam spotted him first. He whispered to Glenn and Jimmy. The suspect eased on to the front porch. He paused looking back to the woods. He lightly knocked on the door and waited. No one responded. The suspect knocked again much harder. No one responded. He knocked a third time and yelled through the door. “Hey folks! My car broke down out on the highway. I need to use your phone to call my brother to pick me up.” Still no one responded.

Suddenly, the Mercedes in the garage started. The driver quickly backed out and spun the tires heading for the front of the house. Shaun shot out of his position and ran toward the house. He knew the driver would stop to pick up his friends. The rain had picked up and was coming down in heavy sheets. As Shaun rounded the corner, he saw the car come to a halt near the horseshoe driveway. The man on the porch ran toward the waiting car. Shaun spotted the other two suspects come out of the wooded area making a break for the car. He drew the Colt firing at the car. He hit the rear passenger window. The driver floored it leaving his three friends behind. Muzzle blast erupted from the two men near the woods. Shaun took cover returning fire as the car turned onto the old highway.

The three suspects continued to lay down shots at Shaun who was firing back from the cover of the front porch steps. They disappeared in a full run on the north side of the house heading for the river. Glenn came out the front door and linked up with Shaun. They ran around the south side of the home parallel to the suspects. The suspects stayed on the gravel road giving their run everything they had. Shaun and Glenn faced the difficulty of running through wet, muddy plowed ground of the cotton fields. The suspects gained quite a distance before Shaun and Glenn worked their way to the road and continued the foot chase.

L.L. cursed the heavy rain. She thought of checking the weather forecast for any improvement come sunrise. She believed the suspects were contained between the railroad tracks and Wallace Lake. A car passed her location. The car was a silver Mercedes. When it was almost a mile past, it hit her. She needed to have it checked out.

She radioed the officers south of her describing the car. She asked someone to fall in behind it and run the tag.

A deputy called in the plate. The dispatcher informed the officer the car was a 2010 Mercedes registered to a J. McVeigh. L.L. pounded her steering wheel as she picked up the mic again. She called the deputy to inform him it was a stolen car. It was just taken from the McVeigh plantation.

She was suddenly torn. Should she go after the car and the suspects or check on her family. She started the engine and spun around heading for her home.

The deputy kept a safe distance from the stolen car until other units fell in behind him. He announced on the radio he would try to pull the car over. Seconds later he added the car was running from him heading into Desoto Parish. The dispatcher notified the Desoto Sheriff’s office and State Police.

The officer kept his mic keyed as he fought to stay on the road in the Crown Vic patrol unit. The Mercedes was heavier. It maneuvered the standing water in the ruts of the roadway to gain distance on the officers.

L.L. jumped out of her unit and ran to the front porch. “Jake, what happened?”

“One of them knocked on the front door while one went to the garage to hotwire my car. He drove around the house to pick up the others and Shaun intercepted them. He fired several shots at the car. The driver took off leaving his buddies behind. Shaun and Glenn are on foot chasing three of them toward the river. You need to get some officers here right away before they make it across the river.”

L.L. pulled out her talkie and turned up the volume. The primary pursuit officer was giving a blow by blow of his speed and direction of travel. In his excitement, he kept a death grip on the mic not releasing the key.  He was clearly having a hard time staying with the stolen car. L.L. was not able to call for help to the plantation.

She ran to her unit and drove in the direction of the river. The road ended at the lake. She stopped and listened to her radio. The car chase was on the outskirts of a small town called Mansfield. The primary officer continued to call out his speed and direction of travel. No one else was able to communicate. She turned down her radio and used her cell phone to call the station. She succinctly reported the events to the desk sergeant. The rain continued to fall. She was unable to hear or see anything. Shining her flashlight, she walked toward the river.

A sick feeling came over her as she thought of Shaun and Glenn running after three armed bank robbers. She knew the swamp stood between the lake and the river. The suspects did not know about the wagon trail but she did. She uttered a quick prayer as she ran for the wagon road. She pulled out the small tube that scoped from its position around the flashlight bulb. It shielded the beam of the light and could only be seen if pointed directly at someone. She aimed it at the ground in front of her next step. She slowed her pace as she slipped along the old wagon trail. The suspects likely ran directly into the swamp. She knew Shaun and Glenn would follow them. Her plan was to take the old road past the swamp and set up position where she suspected they would exit the swamp. That is, if Shaun and Glenn did not encounter them first. L.L. glanced at her watch. It was 3:00 AM. She settled on a location that offered a little cover from the rain and provided a good field of vision. She knelt beneath a giant sweet gum tree resting her back against the large trunk. She waited.

Shaun and Glenn lost the suspects when they entered the swamp. Shaun signaled for Glenn to come to him. He whispered his plan. They would fan out but not so far as to lose sight of one another. They would search for foot prints in the mud in a serpentine pattern. An hour passed before Glenn signaled Shaun. With his hands formed over his mouth, he mimicked a Dove call. Shaun spotted him through the forest.

“Here are some broken limbs and foot prints. See?”

The three suspects were traveling together tracking directly toward the river. The worst part of the swamp lay directly ahead. The suspects would need to slow down to feel their way.

“I am almost certain they do not have a light with them. This thing started in daylight. They planned to be long gone by nightfall. We can’t use our lights now. I have a set of starlight goggles. I will take the lead and follow the prints. You keep an eye out for them. Listen as best you can. Tap me on the back if you see or hear anything.”

It was slow going. Another hour passed. Shaun froze when he heard a snapping sound at two o’clock about 50 yards ahead. Directing their approach to the sound, an hour later they were still 50 yards behind the suspects now deep in the heart of the swamp.

“They are heading straight for the spot I hoped they would,” he told Glenn. “About 75 yards up is a boglike quicksand. The water gets chest deep and there is no way around it except back toward us. They will do their best to go through it.” Shaun moved on with Glenn following in his footsteps. They were both at home in the woods. Glenn, a big man, moved like a cat. Shaun could not hear his presence. Hopefully neither could the men they were tracking. The voice ahead of them caused them to freeze.

“I can’t see shit!”

“Shut your stinking trap and keep moving! The guy that shot at us is following us. He almost hit me when we were trying to get in the car. So shut up and keep moving!”

The three suspects were growing tired. Their nerves were shot. They had been in the woods walking, running and swimming for hours without food or water. Fear of being killed or captured was the only thing keeping them going. All three had been in prison and swore to never go back.

The leader was slowly going deeper in the water. Now up to his chest, the other two followed with caution. Ahead of him, the terrain rose slightly. The small bank of land was his goal. He reached to grab a limb when the first shot rang out. At first, he did not feel anything as his adrenaline peaked. A burning sensation he had never before experienced seared through his left, upper arm. He spun around and fired several rounds in the direction of the shot. He ducked. With his head just above the water line, he crawled up the slippery bank. His partners were still several feet from the bank when the shooting began. They were completely exposed and getting bogged down in the muddy water. He yelled for them to make it to the bank. As the last word slipped from his mouth, more shots were fired. The rounds struck the water near the two men still in the water. The leader laid behind a small log and returned fire. He was running low on ammo. He continued to yell for his partners to get out. One of the two went under the water, his hand grasping for anything to cling to. He felt something, his partner’s sleeve. He pulled with all his might and got his head back above the surface. The partner now slipped deeper into the muck. He was trapped. They struggled against one another. Shaun signaled for Glenn to move to their left for a better position of attack.

Glenn quickly moved 40 yards to the left of the three suspects. He spotted the leader and began continuous fire. Shaun eased to his right. The suspects were now caught in a cross fire. The leader jumped up and barreled into the thick woods running for the river leaving his comrades behind. The two men in the water were clinging to one another. They teetered on a log at the bottom of the swamp. One step in any direction, they would go under. They were trapped. With only their heads and extended arms above the surface, they fired in the general direction of the incoming shots. Both soon emptied their weapons. When Glenn and Shaun heard the slides of the two automatic pistols lock back, they knew the suspects were holding empty guns.

“Drop your weapons in the water now or we will blow your heads off!” Shaun yelled.

The suspects tried to make it to the far bank, a mistake on their part. Leaving the safety of the log, they stepped deeper into the bog. The more they struggled, the deeper they sunk into the thick mud. It was sucking them under. They would drown if they continued to fight the bog. The two tossed their guns into the water and screamed for Shaun to please help them.

Shaun yelled for Glenn to cover him. “If they try anything, shoot the bastards in the head! We will leave them for the gators.”

Glenn eased to within 10 paces of the suspects while Shaun approached from the other side. Shaun cut a long branch from a willow tree. “Grab the limb. I will pull you out. Don’t fight it or you will drown,” he yelled to the suspect closest to him. The man did as he was told and Shaun pulled him to the bank. The suspect was exhausted. He fell on his stomach completely out of breath. Shaun reached into his rear pants pocket and pulled out a long, thick zip-tie. He looped the tie around the suspect’s hands binding them behind his back. Shaun then extended the limb to the remaining suspect who appeared to be going under for the last time. He was too far from the bank. Shaun eased into the water and grabbed the man by his hair pulling him to the surface. Shaun felt Glenn’s strong hand grasp his shirt and drag him and the last suspect toward the bank.

L.L. jumped when she heard the first shot. She stood quickly and drew her Glock. The shots were sporadic about 100 yards directly in front of her. She pinched her nose and blew out a breath to clear her ears. She could not hear anything except the shooting in the distance. She stayed beneath the tree which offered somewhat of a rain shield. Also she could hear better not standing in the downpour.

She silently held her position and caught herself breathing too fast. She scanned the wooded area in front of her as she held her weapon with both hands in the ready position.

Suddenly she heard limbs breaking and heavy footsteps in the shallow water running in her direction. The splashing drew closer and she could hear a man breathing heavily. She spotted movement thought the thickness and slipped behind the tree for concealment. The man was going to run by her on her left.

She readied herself by bending her knees slightly and tightening her grip on her gun. As he rounded the tree, she swung both arms while holding the pistol in her hands and connected squarely to his head. The pistol struck him in the face breaking his nose and knocking him to the ground. Without a word, she handcuffed him with her knee planted in his back. He was semi-conscious as she searched him and his large backpack. Inside the backpack was large quantities of cash. She unloaded his pistol, shucked the rounds into her hand and shoved them into her pants pocket. She returned to her position listening for the other suspects but only heard her suspect wheezing and moaning. The rain slacked off as she continued to wait. She called Sgt. Stevens, who with other units, was staged at the oxbow lake. She informed him of her apprehension and she had not yet located Shaun or Glenn. He told her to stay in place as it was unknown if the last two suspects were in custody or still at large.

L.L. turned her talkie down low and listened as she leaned against the tree.

She knew Shaun had his cell phone with him but would have the ringer off while searching for the bank robbers. Her text was short and to the point. ‘Where are you? Are you OK?’

He responded in less than a minute. ‘East side of swamp. Two suspects in cuffs, third ran off heading to the river.’

‘I have him on the ground in cuffs on the old wagon trail east of the swamp. I heard shots in the swamp. Was that you?’

‘Yes, we’re fine. Working our way to the wagon trail. See you in a few.’

L.L. closed her eyes to keep the tears from coming. She gave thanks to the Lord for keeping Shaun and Glenn safe. Still leaning on the tree, she continued to look toward the swamp. Soon she heard them sloshing through the dark water. Glenn was leading the suspects with Shaun at the rear. Shaun ordered the men to sit on the ground next to her suspect. He walked to L.L. and took her in his arms. She trembled slightly and drew in a deep breath.

“I was so worried for you, Shaun,” she whispered in his ear. “I don’t know what I would do if I lost you!”

“I was worried about you, too. I know what I would do if I lost you. I would go crazy.” He kissed her gently and held her tightly for a moment longer.

It stopped raining and the sky cleared. The last stars were disappearing as the sun was about to rise. L.L.’s suspect looked at his friends. “Glad you made it out alive,” he said in a low voice. He saw Shaun holding L.L. in his arms. “Which one of you smacked me in the face?” he demanded.

Shaun leaned down to get a better look at his bloody face. “She smacked and handcuffed you, buddy. Now get to your feet. We are heading out of here.”

“You the one who shot me in my arm?”

“Yup. I was aiming for your head but you turned to run. Must have just grazed you. When a 45 makes real contact, you don’t walk, or in your case, run away.”

“It’s not bad but I need it bandaged.”

“When we get back to my house, I will have a doctor look at you. Stop talking and keep moving.”

When they came out of the woods by the lake, L.L. was astonished to see almost 100 officers forming a giant perimeter around the lake and swamp. She spotted Sgt. Stevens standing near the dock.

“Hey Sarge. Place these guys in separate units. This one has a minor gunshot wound to his arm. We have a doctor at the house who can look at him before he is transported to jail.”

The suspects were planted in the back seats of three nearby units. One of the officers present opened the backpack filled with cash. The backpack was placed in a large plastic bag sealed with evidence tape and locked in the truck of the prisoner transport unit.

Sgt. Stevens announced over the radio all the robbery suspects were now in custody. All officers except arresting officers and supervisors were to return to duty.

Shaun sat in the front seat of L.L.’s unit and Glenn rode with Stevens back to the house.

The yard around the house looked like a police convention. Units were parked all over. It was standing room only around the back porch. As L.L. and Shaun made their way through the kitchen, they stopped to visit with Jake. Everyone was relieved to learn the remaining suspects had been arrested and were being shipped to jail at that very moment. Glenn met the family before heading home wet and tired. He told Shaun he would be back tomorrow evening for the steak and beers.

Shaun and L.L. took quick showers and met with the case investigators in the den. They gave detailed statements on the arrest of the three suspects. They learned the Mercedes was totaled in a crash when the fourth suspect attempted to make a curve too fast. He was being treated at the State hospital in Shreveport where he would spend a few days in the hospital before going to jail. The suspects were known hardened criminals who had been in and out of the pen most of their adult lives.

The Sheriff of Caddo Parish was Steve Prator. He started his career at the Shreveport Police Department working his way up from patrolman, detective, supervisor and eventually Chief of Police. He retired and ran for his current position. He was elected in a landslide victory and had been re-elected a couple of times. He was the type of man you either love or hate. For the most part, he was revered as a hometown hero. As Chief of Police, he rode the streets with his officers and made numerous arrests on his own. He was well respected in law enforcement circles and the citizens of Caddo Parish were proud of him.

Prator was having a cup of coffee with Jake and his patrol commanders on the back porch when Shaun and L.L. walked out. L.L. greeted her boss and introduced Shaun.

“I’ve heard good things about you over the years, Shaun. Today tops it all. I am impressed with the way you and Glenn Schach tracked those men and took them into custody for us. Deputy Jackson did outstanding work as well. She is one of the better, if not the best, field officers we have on the department.” He turned to L.L. “I was aware of your applications for investigator over the last two years. I know how badly you want the position. I explained to my close friend, Sgt. Stevens, I made the decision to keep you on patrol because you are a great officer. I want my best on the front lines. You have worked hard and lead our department in many areas. You have trained and mentored many young officers. They reflect your professionalism. If you are still interested in becoming an investigator, the job is yours. You’ve more than paid your dues. Are you still interested?”

“Yes sir, I am.”

“Then effective one week from today, report to Major Wyche to begin your new duties as a major crimes investigator. Good luck, Jackson. I will not be surprised if you find you miss the streets.”

“I know I will, Sheriff. At this stage in my career, I want to investigate cases rather than respond and hand them over to others. I want to work cases all the way to the courtroom. Thank you.”

“Shaun, would you mind taking a walk with me? I have something I want to run by you in private.”

“Sure, I will.” Shaun hugged L.L. before he and Prator walked to the airstrip.

“Shaun, what are your plans now that you are home?”

“I have no specific plans. It’s a given I will help here on the farm. I want to get back to crop dusting and help my Dad run this place.”

“I sure could use a man like you, Shaun. You have a tremendous amount of training and experience. Please consider what I am about to offer. I would like to see you working with our department. You could instruct our officers at the academy and head up our S.R.T. unit.”

“S.R.T.?”

“Special Response Team. You would do things like you did this morning, tracking dangerous criminals and bringing them to justice. Or you could use your flying skills. We often fly search and rescue missions, especially since the lock and dams have increased the river activity tenfold. You’ve been through a rough night. Take time to consider my offer. Here is my card. My cell number is on the back. Call with your decision either way. Thank you again for all your help. I want to take you, Glenn Schach and Jackson to lunch one day next week. Give me a day’s notice and schedule with my secretary, Mrs. Pool. Take care, Shaun. I am looking forward to your call and lunch.”

Prator, L.L. and the commanders went to the front porch to meet with the news media. L.L. was recognized and took questions about the events that transpired. She gave a watered down recital of her accomplishments yet went into great detail about Shaun and Glenn’s involvement. She commended their work. Shaun was standing to the side of the porch as she pointed him out. The cameras and microphones rushed to him, He had no choice but to answer their questions. He looked through the crowd to see L.L. watching him with a big smile on her face.

She seemed to enjoy putting him on the spot in front of the media and the Sheriff. When the dust settled and the media crowd was gone, Bonnie instructed the family on the porch to join her at the table.

“Breakfast is ready, y’all. You know I don’t like folks to go around here on empty stomachs. Get your butts in there and eat while it’s hot!”

The entire family sat. After the blessing and everyone began to eat, Jake asked L.L. to tell about the bank robbery and arrest of the suspects.

She went into great detail beginning with the actual robbery, high speed chase and standoff. How she spent hours holding her position on the highway and spotting Jake’s car go by. Followed by the ensuing chase to Mansfield and the foot chase into the swamp.

She turned to Shaun. “Shaun,will tell you about his and Glenn’s part in the swamp.”

“It’s not really a big deal. I thought of the suspects wanting a car rather than trying to get into the house. We came close to missing them. The men we chased into the swamp were clearly city boys out of their comfort zone in the woods.” He skimmed through the events about the shootout and pulling the men from the quicksand.

They finished the meal and helped Bonnie clean the kitchen. When everything was done, Shaun asked Jake to take a walk with him.

They went to the hangar and got into the side by side ATV. Jake drove back to the lake where they sat talking.

“Dad, there are several things I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. First, I want to tell you I am in love with L.L. I plan to marry her as soon as she agrees. I knew the first moment I met her. My head was spinning the first few weeks. I know she loves me but she is taking her sweet time. I’m certain she will marry me. Nicole and James seem to be falling too but it’s not my place to tell you about them. Nicole will come to you when and if it’s right.”

“Shaun, I saw the chemistry between you and L.L. your first night home. I watched you these weeks struggle and try to resist. I must confess, Bonnie and I have been entertained by it all. We both could see where this was going. None of what you have said is a surprise. We’ve known all along.”

“I had a feeling you would know.”

“As Bonnie always says, we ain’t blind!”

They laughed thinking of how Bonnie had her way of saying things. Shaun loved her. She had always been there for him. He knew his life was better because of her. He would meet with her about this decision too.

“I was given a job offer by the Sheriff this morning. He wants me to join his department and conduct special training at the academy. Go to the field, track bad guys and fly one of their search and rescue planes. What do you think?”

“I like the Sheriff, always have, even from his S.P.D. Detective days. He’s a good man. You will have to make this decision on your own. You know you have my love and support. Take your time. Give it some thought, like you always do.”

“I used to pride myself in taking time to make clear and precise decisions unless I was in a fight somewhere around the world. But with L.L., I did not think. She took my heart the day we met. As to the offer, I will take my time. When I decide, you’ll be the first to know. L.L. and I are cooking steaks again tonight. We invited Glenn and Debbie. They should be here around six this evening.”

“I liked him right away. I am glad you called him yesterday. Sounds like you two made a pretty good team in the swamp.”

“Yes, he knows what he’s doing. I easily trusted him.”

“Back to you and L.L., I want your word on two things. First, I want y’all to live here on the plantation and help me run this place. Second, I want a house full of grandchildren. They will be raised as cousins with Melissa and Julie. So after the honeymoon is over get to work and fill up our house, got it?”

“Yes sir. I think I can handle both requests. I just need to convince L.L. Jackson to marry me and have a house full of babies.”

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

During the following weeks, Shaun continued to re-build the old Harley and L.L. settled in as a criminal investigator. Shaun was almost finished with assembly except for the seat. When it was designed, it was custom built for two people. It lacked the padding and the chrome wraparound seat guard that appeared on many of the old Harleys. It was an aftermarket part but Shaun liked the look. He asked Glenn to locate one for him. James came by almost every evening to spend time with him. He offered recommendations as they talked about the day the bike would roll out of the barn. They planned their first ride. The day Shaun unveiled it, James would bring his old Harley to give rides along with Shaun.

The Sheriff gave L.L. her gold badge and the keys to a new unmarked unit. L.L. assisted other investigators with their cases. She helped interview victims, witnesses and suspects. She responded to several shooting calls and one large business burglary case. Her first assigned case was a series of cattle thefts. The large folder contained several theft reports from cattle ranchers in the parish. It is strange cattle rustling still exists in modern times. Not only did the crime still exist, it was a costly theft. She totaled the offenses. The thefts were over a quarter of a million dollars. She had a new but tiny office where someone was always walking in to tell her about other major crimes and asking her opinions on the cases.

She liked being included in these discussions. It was interesting and made her feel part of the unit. She attempted to read the entire case file from beginning to end but there were always distractions, other investigators, phone ringing or her pager. Going to court was part of her daily routine. Investigators were summonsed to court for all felonious charges. They testified in preliminary hearings, motions to suppress evidence and grand jury hearings. Hearsay testimony was admissible in all cases except actual court trials.

The assistant district attorneys looked to the investigators to compile all the reports placing the files in large, organized binders in chronological order. Investigators, not deputies, were requested to be on hand during all early case proceedings. So L.L. took her cattle theft case files home to study after hours.

Shaun and L.L. never missed their early morning workout sessions. They ran five miles every morning before sunrise and worked out in the hangar with free weights or sparred. Shaun would not tell her the degree of martial arts he had mastered. He was at least a third degree black belt in karate and displayed skills in Tae Kwon Do. He could wrestle and out box her.  She had never landed a solid blow or pinned him to the mat unless he allowed it. She felt his firearms skills were probably better also. The indoor range was closed on weekends. She arranged for access and was approved by her commander to bring Shaun along for shooting practice.

She flipped on the overhead lights when they entered. Shaun was impressed with the building and its accommodations. The 30 separate shooting stalls were each equipped with folding door and window type panels along with push button controls to send out and retrieve the target units.

L.L. brought her 12 gauge riot shotgun, her back up 38 caliber hammerless air-weight and her Glock 40 caliber automatic. Shaun brought his Colt 1911 45 caliber automatic and a special 12 gauge type assault weapon.

For over an hour, they shot bull’s eye targets at a distance of 25 feet. When they brought the targets back, L.L. could not believe her eyes. The center X ring of his target was shot out. The single hole where the X had been in his target was smaller than a ping pong ball in diameter. L.L.’s was the size of a tennis ball.

She read the clipboard describing each combat shooting position they would try. Each position specified the number of rounds and seconds one had to accomplish it. He nodded his head and they began.

He was much faster getting his rounds off. She knew his accuracy must be suffering yet when she looked at his target, he was still shooting a ping pong size hole in the suspect’s forehead. Her shot group had grown to the size of a softball.

He pulled out his shot gun and loaded it.

“Does your department bounce bullets?”

“Never heard the term. What are you talking about?”

“You know, bouncing bullets, ricochets.”

“No, we don’t do that in our training. How would bouncing bullets help an officer in the field?”

“Say you are in a shootout with suspects protected behind a parked car, tractor, or some other type vehicle. They are taking pot shots at you. You can’t return a good shot. You bounce your rounds at them to take them out.”

“You will have to show me what you’re talking about. I don’t understand.”

Shaun pulled out a large cardboard target and walked to the end of the range. He sat the target on the floor, leaned it against the impact wall and returned to the stalls. He placed a new target on the frame stapling another target lower on the first one, about two feet from the floor. He pushed the button sending the target to the back of the range. The suspended target blocked all of the target on the floor except a two by two foot square area on the floor.

He raised his shotgun to his shoulder aiming at the floor about 10 feet from his location in line with the target.

L.L. saw where he was aiming and thought he would blast a hole in the concrete floor when he fired. She took a step back and pushed a door panel closed looking around the corner as he fired. The buckshot struck the floor and the target on the back wall exploded. Shaun confirmed his shotgun was unloaded as he laid it on the shooting bench.

They walked to the back of the range to inspect his shot. The target on the floor had 10 buckshot holes in it. The suspended target had none.

“When you fire at any angle less than 90 degrees in line with your target or suspect, the rounds bounce off the floor or ground and rise less than 18 inches. If you are trying to take out a shooter on the other side of a car, you shoot just short of the car and let the rounds go underneath bouncing your bullets under the car and hitting the suspects. It will take their feet out from under them. Once they are on the ground, you send another shot and take them out for good.”

L.L. was astonished. She wanted to try it. They walked back to the shooting stalls and she blasted the target.

It was like he told her. If the target had been a man shooting at her from behind a car, she could take him down.

“You can do it with any gun, pistol or shotgun, slug or buckshot, does not matter. If you were in an alley and the buildings are made of brick or concrete blocks, you can bounce the rounds off the walls. You can actually shoot around a corner and hit your suspect.” She excitedly grasped the concept. They spent over an hour cleaning their weapons before having lunch and returning to the plantation.

On the way home, he asked if she wanted to see a movie and have dinner out tonight.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been on a date. What do you think?”

“I would love to see the new Borne release and I sure could stand some TexMex tonight.”

“Great! We’ll plan on six o’clock. I will check the listings and we will do both.”

“Then you have a date, Mr. McVeigh.”

Shaun went to the study when they returned to email his network. He paused thinking of each of his friends scattered around the world. He lifted them in special prayer. They put their lives on the line for this country and need everyone’s prayers.

He daydreamed about L.L. They had been on several dates and things were heating up. Sure he wanted to make love to her but he promised himself he would not push the issue. It was up to her when they gave each other the ultimate gift of making love. He often dreamed of being with her. His heart and body burned with desire. He knew he could not hold off much longer. Her voice was tender, sultry, articulate, intelligent and so, so sexy. He loved watching her when she was unaware. Her body moved with such grace. He liked the way her lips rose when something pleasant came to her mind. He wanted to kiss the tiny corners of her mouth and devour her. When she passed his way, her scent lingered. He consumed and savored her.

He was excited to know a great future lay ahead for them, a lifetime of love and happiness. Sometimes their eyes locked when they glanced across the room. They were alone in their world even when others were present. She would smile that knowing smile of hers. It made his heart swell to almost bursting. They knew each other so well, They could communicate without saying a word. It was exhilarating!

He leaned back in the old leather chair and closed his eyes. Not planning to fall asleep, he tumbled deep into the darkness of slumber.

She took a warm, soaking bath and shaved her legs while relaxing in the old, deep claw foot tub. She folded a thick towel as a pillow beneath her head and closed her eyes. She loved the way her life was going. She had finally been promoted and knew she would be a great investigator. She loved living with her Irish family and falling in love with the man she knew she would be with the rest of her life. She pictured them holding hands at the lake, running together before sunrise and sitting by a roaring fire on Christmas Eve. She wondered how their children would look and about their personalities, a mixture of her and Shaun. She would give Jake the grandchildren he wanted and make all their dreams come true.

She tingled as she imagined Shaun making love to her. It would be special, tender and all consuming. It had taken all her strength to not surrender to him but each day her defenses were crumbling. Mixed emotions coursed through her as she felt his body merging with hers. She had to stop this. Her head was swimming. Things were awakening in her body she knew should be saved for him. She opened her eyes, forced herself out of the dream and out of the tub. Touching her body with the towel, while she felt Shaun holding her, almost took her over the edge. She took a deep breath and cleared her mind.

He was sleeping leaned back in the chair. She wished she had her cell to capture this moment to cherish for years to come. He was so special to her. He wanted her and needed her. She would risk everything for him. He would not disappoint her. It would be great. To hell with worry. He’s mine and I am his. This is a done deal, Shaun. Now is the time.

She padded to him and laid her lips to his like a butterfly. A smile came to them as his arms pulled her into his lap. He was warm from sleep. His arms comforted her. She trusted him with everything, including her heart.

“Shaun, I can’t wait any longer. I need you. I want you. I want you to make love to me this very moment. I wanted to wait until we married but I can’t stand it any longer. Please, Shaun, now.”

He did not speak a word. He rose from the chair with her wrapped in his powerful arms and carried her to his room. With the heel of his boot, he slammed the door closed.

He laid her on his bed and bent to kiss her. When they broke away, he recorded this moment for all time. He pulled the blinds, cutting off the sun rays washing over his large bed. She sat up and pulled his hips to her. She pulled his tee shirt over his head and ran her hands over his chest. Leaning in, she kissed him and suckled him until he trembled. She unbuttoned his jeans pulling down the zipper ever so slowly. His breath caught as he watched her. She was so open, confident and determined. It was right. It was the fulfillment of their dreams. She then stood next to him.

“Let’s take our time, please, Shaun. I have thought of this moment for a long time. I want this to be everything I dreamed. Let me undress you. Then I want you to undress me, but slowly.”

She slid her thumbs down his narrow hips and caught the bands of his shorts and jeans. Looking deep in his eyes, she pushed them to the floor. She pulled him to her helping him step out of his clothes. Her hands explored his entire body. Without the slightest modesty, she discovered every secret of him. His body was as beautiful as she fantasized it would be. She saw several scars from combat wounds. She touched them and kissed them. They too were beautiful. She felt his heart beating beneath her touches. She listened to his breath catch as she planted soft kisses and nibbled his sensitive areas.

His hands slowly grasped her tee shirt hem. He pull it up watching her eyes widen with excitement as it was off and tossed to the floor. He pulled her to his body wrapping his arms around her. Their lips met and their skin touched in places they yearned for. Her warm breasts bulged against his hard chest. She felt them touching the light dusting of his chest hairs. It caused something warm deep inside her, something that told her mind  her body was preparing for her man.

His hands washed heat over her back as they wandered down making the slow journey to her hips. He paused and looked deep in her eyes. He turned the back of his hands to her stomach using the tips of his fingers to lightly scrape over her skin. She drew in a quick, shallow breath as he inserted his fingers into the front of her sweatpants. He saw flashes of desire in her blue green eyes as his fingers traveled to her tender places. The draw strings fell apart and her pants slid to the floor. His blood pulsed as he reached his desired destination. Her skin was softer than he imagined. He rolled his hands over placing his palms to her belly. He let them trace gently over her. Slowly his fingers searched and probed. With his right hand stroking between her legs, his left flipped the clasp on her bra. The black, lace cups slid from her lovely breasts. With reverenced appreciation, he pulled the straps from her shoulders allowing it to fall to their feet.

They embraced for the first time letting their bodies meld together. They knew how special this moment was and determined to cherish it to the fullest. He pulled the pins from her hair letting it tumble down her shoulders and back.

Using his forearm behind her knees and the other to support her back, he lifted her off her feet and stepped to the large bed gently laying her down. He too was without modesty as he stood amazed at her beauty. Her creamy skin surpassed his dreams. With her hair spread across the pillow, her breasts swelled and called out to him. He leaned in taking them in his hands, guiding them and caressing them until her sensitive nipples rose to his mouth. He touched the tip of his tongue to them drawing them into his mouth. Their eyes locked as he suckled them until she pulled him to her. Chills ran through her body as sensations she had never felt before washed over her.

He was concerned he was too heavy to lay on top of her so he rolled to his side as she rolled to hers. His hands explored every part of her lovely body causing his blood to surge like a steaming river. She eased her hands down to grasp him in the most natural way he had experienced. They felt so comfortable and open like they had been together forever. They seemed to know one another so well yet this was their first time. He throbbed and pulsed in her hands as she slid her tongue deep into his mouth. With his touch, he found places in her she did not know existed. She arched her back welcoming, inviting, and demanding him to take all of her.

Their kisses grew hotter as their bodies pulled them deeper into the depths of passion and tenderness. When they became one, they went over the edge together holding hands. They kissed and fell deep into the swirling tide as their release came over them. It flowed with more power than they had ever experienced.

Breathless, covered in sweat, hair sticking to skin they stayed together and drifted away in slumber.

Shadows fell before the sun disappeared on the horizon. Hours passed and neither of them moved. His hand followed the curves of her back and lower. He would never get enough of her but he would spend his life loving and pleasing her. This fire will never go out. It engulfs me. I need her like I need my next breath. I will never be able to live without her beside me.

She moved slightly as she pulled her hair from her eyes. She was still lying on top of him. They were still together. He had taken her, taken everything within her. It exhausted her completely. They kissed and made love again.

Her legs were wobbling as she walked to the shower with him at her side. They pampered and loved on one another for almost an hour. New discoveries were made, Love came once again. They tossed the towels to the floor and hurried back to bed.

Bonnie was buttering the hot, breakfast biscuits when Shaun eased down in the old kitchen chair. She turned and gave him an all knowing look but said not a word. She poured his cup full and slid it to him. After she placed the biscuits in the warmer she spoke.

“Come here to me, Shaun.”

He stood and walked to her. She smiled her warm, loving smile and wrapped him in her arms as she had done his entire life.

“Now, Shaun. You now I ain’t blind. Never have been when it comes to you and John. I know you’re grown up and have been for years. But in my mind, you are still that little boy I helped raise. I hope your head is clear. You will not be hurt or hurt L.L. Can you tell me if you love her?”

“Yes, Bonnie. I do with all my heart. She is all I want in life.”

“And is she in love with you?”

“Yes.” But the answer did not come from his lips but from L.L.’s as she stood in the doorway. “I do love him, Bonnie. He is all I want in my life.”

“Good! It took you two hard heads long enough to see it! When will you young’uns learn, you are not the first ones in this world to walk this path? Jake and your Mama walked it when they were about your ages. So did I, with John senior. Plain as day y’all. It sure is. Now take your coffee out back and give me some room to work!”

L.L. wiped the single tear from Bonnie’s cheek as she pulled her into a tight hug. “Bonnie, I love you! Thank you for who you are!”

“Well, I don’t always show it but I love you and that boy like you are my own blood. Now go to your man and enjoy the sunrise while I fix your breakfast. Y’all skipped supper last night and I know you’re starving.”

“Were we the topic of discussion for y’all last night over dinner?”

“We all noticed you two were absent but no one said a word. The girls asked a few questions but Cindy quickly changed the subject.”

Shaun was in the old swing leaning back watching the first rays of sun break on the horizon. In the distance south of the plantation, he heard a rooster crow calling out the morning. He looked to the pecan grove and saw several dark shadows skipping along the branches and tree trunks. The little, gray squirrels were already harvesting their winter foods.

L.L. eased in next to him and patted his leg as she smiled.

“Seems the entire family knows what we were up to yesterday afternoon and last night. I’m a little uncomfortable how to handle the looks and any questions that come up.”

“You are part of this family. I assure you no one will be out of bounds. The girls may present a little problem but I’m sure you and Cindy can handle it.”

“I am glad we skipped our workout this morning. My legs are still wobbling and I’m a little sore in places I have never been sore.”

“I’m sorry I am the reason for your discomfort, L.L.”

“The discomfort makes me think of what caused it. I must say, it puts a big smile on my face. I have no regrets. Do you?”

“None. Never, I want you in my bed from now on, L.L.”

“Well, I’m sorry. What happened last night will not be a nightly experience. I’m not ready to move in your room and will not be for some time. We need to pace ourselves. There is so much we still need to learn about each other.”

“Ok, L.L. But know I will be doing everything in my power to change your mind!”

She leaned over and kissed him as she said, “I would expect nothing less from you.”

Soon everyone was eating breakfast and planning their day. Shaun was relieved no one mentioned their absence from dinner the evening before. He did notice a slight frown on his father’s face after he finished the blessing but nothing was said.

Near the end of the meal, James tapped on the back screened door and strolled in the dining room.

“I’m sorry to interrupt y’all. I thought you would be finished by the time I got here. I have a flying lesson with Sam this morning. Nicole patted his empty chair next to her.

“Sit down, James. Have something to eat.” She stood and went in the kitchen with Bonnie trailing her. Bonnie always prepared more than needed in case someone joined them. In no time, she had eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy on his plate. Nicole brought him a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee.

Sam came in and helped himself to a cup of coffee and took a seat at the table.

Jake asked, “What type of air work are you planning for our boy, Sam?”

“We need to practice stalls and spin recoveries a few more times before he is ready to be cut loose. We will also do practice takeoffs and landings.”

James and Sam headed to the hangar, performed the pre-flight checks on the Super Cub and took off.

As the dining room table was being cleared, Jake asked Shaun to go with him to check on the cows in the back pasture.

They rode the side by side across the fields and stopped at the gate. The 40 Black Angus cows and bulls were grazing on the new winter rye Jake planted a month earlier.

“They look good. I’m going to move them to the feed lots next to the barn for a few days. Think I’ll do it tomorrow. Could use you help.”

“Just tell me when and I will.”

“Shaun, I want to make myself very clear about you and L.L. I know y’all are in love. I have known it from the start. I only ask that you conduct yourself appropriately with little ones in our home. Cindy handled their questions easily but I am a little concerned. I don’t expect you to cool things at this point in your relationship but I do ask you to be a little more discrete. Once everyone is bedded down at night is better than how things worked out yesterday afternoon and evening.”

“I promise I will not cause any more concern for our family, especially for Melissa and Julie. I plan to ask L.L. to marry me very soon. We have had conversations about it. I just haven’t officially asked. I know her answer but I want to properly ask her.”

“I’m overjoyed for both of you. I love that gal so much and I am so proud of you! She is a special lady. I know y’all will be happy together. Now, tell me what you think of Nicole and her Dr. James.”

“James is a great guy. We saw the sparks fly the day James and Nicole met. L.L. and I gave them the space to get to know each other and they hit the ground running. We have been on several double dates with them. He treats her with the respect you and I expect. He doesn’t miss a day coming here to see her. She almost breaks her neck looking to the driveway when she hears a car pull in from the highway. He was a little wild a few years back but has his head on straight now and loves Nicole. I’m sure it will not be long before she has an engagement ring on her finger.”

“I agree. When it comes to young couples, I can handle you and L.L. slipping off together if you know what I mean. But when it comes to my baby girl, it drives me crazy. I know that sounds chauvinistic and double standard but I can’t help feeling this way.”

“Dad, they are both intelligent adults heading down the road to matrimony. I know it is hard for you being her father. Take a step back and remember who you were when you met Mom.”

“You’re right, son. It’s hard for me. I will respect and trust them to do what is right.”

James and Sam spent over an hour doing stalls and spin recoveries along the river. Back at the landing strip, they did several landings and takeoffs. Sam gave James one more order as they leveled off from the last takeoff.

“James, I want you to learn an important lesson this morning. Sometimes things happen, mechanical things like airplanes breakdown, sometimes during flight. If this happens to you flying along fat, dumb and happy, I want you to walk away rather than be carried away. We are going to simulate engine failure and the landing strip does not exist. Pretend the engine goes out and you have to put her down. It’s been raining and the fields are wet and muddy. If you attempt to land in one of the cotton fields, we would flip upon touch down. If the engine failed, what would you do right now?” Sam pulled the throttle all the way back and the engine began to idle.

“Now land it, James. Your engine just went out.”

They were 1,000 feet above the ground. James quickly looked out to Highway 1. Several cars were on the road. He could not land there. He turned and looked at the long, gravel farm road running beside the house to the lake. It was over a mile long, narrow with gravel ruts. The main gear wheels would match the ruts easily but the tail wheel would have to ride the grass ridge between the ruts. He lined up the approach watching for electrical lines. They would only have one shot so he focused hard as he looked at the altimeter. They needed to lose altitude and quickly. He pulled up the nose and crossed the controls shoving the left rudder pedal to the floor. They lost airspeed and altitude rapidly. In seconds, they were landing on the road. About 20 feet above the road, James kicked the plane straight and leveled out. He held the nose up and they lightly touched the main gear to the ruts. The tail came down to the grass. James made adjustments using the rudder pedals while pulling the stick all the way back. They came to a safe stop. Sam smiled.

“Well done, James. Always remember. Every moment you are flying be in search of a landing area in case of engine failure. Now taxi us to the hangar and let’s call it a day.”

 

 

 

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