The Leapling

by Nicholas Hall

Chapter 14

"The hum of either army stilly sounds,
That the fix'd sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each others watch:
Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each battle sees the other's unber'd face:
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
Piercing the nights dull ear; and from their tents
The armorers, accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation."
(William Shakespeare, King Henry IV, chorus, l. 5)

Daylight, what little I could see of it from our bedroom window, obscured, dulled by the blinding, drifting wind-driven snow, winter's blasts rattling the windows, a harbinger of the cold one would encounter when venturing out of doors, did little to assuage my hopes for an end to the blizzard now wreaking havoc on our farmstead, home, and countryside! The outside noise of the storm concealed the sound of the big generator now supplying electrical power, as evidenced by the fact we had electric lights. A quick check of the phone only increased my concerns since they were still not operational, indicating lines still down and crews unable to brace the storm to repair them. It'd seem, in my mind, we'd have guests at least for one more night.

Given the situation, there were chores to be done and meals to plan for our guests. Looking at our bed, Carlos and Luis were still sound asleep, snuggled together in the middle of the bed, where they'd taken up occupancy during the night. Aiden, smiling at me as he slowly, carefully rolled out of bed in order to not awaken the boys, stepped up, wrapped his arms around me, and gave me a morning kiss. As much as we both would've liked to spend some time in passionate, heated love, this wasn't the time or the place, although I'm certain it would've presented no problems to our guests.

There was much to be done; Aiden needed to check, by radio, on the farm's operations, if he could! The cattle in the feed lots had shelter, but they'd need feed and water. The generators on each site should furnish the power needed, but he wanted to make certain Larry Blevins had staff at the yards and the same with the hog confinement operation. Don Meyer should have someone there as well. He was confident personnel were on duty but wanted to check it out. Our inventory of livestock this time of year was generally low because of the weather, but it still didn't mean we could neglect the critters.

He dressed warmly while I visited with Estele and Carissa, both already in the kitchen preparing for breakfast for our crowd of visitors. Aiden headed for the office through the tunnel to the storm cellar and used the rope line to guide him to the office. I insisted he take a hand-held radio with him just in case. I didn't need to lose him in the storm; finding Avery the night before was ordeal enough!

Carissa, Estele, and I discussed the menu for the day since, counting our guests and normal residents, we'd have a total of twenty-five to feed breakfast, noon dinner, and supper. Obviously, all meals would have to be served buffet style. The ladies decided they'd prepare several baked fruit streusels, bacon, sausage, juice (if we had enough), and perhaps scrambled eggs, again, if we had enough depending on what the hen house would yield this morning, and coffee, tea, and milk. They figured we had about enough milk to maybe get us through noon, but none after that until someone could get to town. Carissa had a sudden thought, scurried to the pantry and returned with a box of powdered milk.

"It's not the same as bottled, but the boys drank it more often than not before we moved here," she proclaimed. "We'll just mix it up and then add it to the store-bought we have in the refrigerator."

The ladies already planned on having goose for dinner, thinking it'd be a change from turkey or ham. Two geese were thawed in one of the refrigerators and with a double batch of dinner rolls, increasing the mashed potatoes, adding a couple more vegetables and salads, and topping it off with baked apple pie and perhaps a sheet cake, there'd be plenty to feed the group.

As we visited, Javier and Efrain, dressed, their eyes carrying the vestiges of sleep, wandered upstairs, yawning and stretching. They both gave their grandmother and aunt a kiss in greeting and one to me, on the lips, saying "Good Morning, Poppa Nelson."

"What are you two doing up so early?" Estele asked.

"We heard Uncle Aiden go through on his way to the office so we got up. Besides, there's chores to do," Javier explained, "so we decided to let the others sleep and get them done."

A strong gust of wind rattled the kitchen window, bringing a mischievous, knowing grin to Efrain's face.

"Bet you had company last night, right?"

I nodded, somewhat exasperated!

"Carlos and Luis don't like storms," he continued with a giggle.

One of these days I swear we're going to get a bed that is wide as the bedroom, the number of visitors we seem to attract!

"Dress warm," Carissa cautioned.

"Take a hand-held radio with you as well," I advised emphatically, "don't need you two getting lost."

They bundled up and trooped back down stairs to exit the house through the tunnel to the office and from there to the barn and chicken coop. I figured Aiden would check on them once they got to the office and left from there. The boys had a few head of cattle to feed and some hogs as well as feed, water, and gather eggs in the chicken house.

Concepcion and Monty came upstairs shortly after Efrain and Javier left. Monty's glasses were resting slightly skewed, probably from some serious snogging before they came up the stairs!

"Need some help?" Concepcion asked, volunteering Monty and himself for kitchen duty.

"Wash your hands, then get the buffet table ready for breakfast. I think we'll use those heavy paper plates we have in the pantry; it'll save us from doing a lot of dishes," Estele instructed.

While Concepcion and Monty worked getting things ready, I walked upstairs to wake the little boys and get them ready for the day. They were sound asleep when I walked into the bedroom, but a gentle touch to each roused them.

"Wash up, put some clean clothes on and come on down stairs," I said after giving each a kiss.

"But our clothes are in our room and Alex and Julio are in there!" Luis informed me, with hands on his hips.

"So?"

"What if they're, you know?" Carlos said eyes big as he touched thumb and forefinger of one hand together and jabbed the forefinger of the other hand in and out of the circle, making it evident he meant "fucking" but wasn't about to say it!

I feigned pondering his remarks for a moment and answered, "Apologize for the interruption, get your clothes, and as you leave tell them to carry on!"

Carlos and Luis, dressed and ready for the day, bounded down the stairs and skipped happy steps into the kitchen. Carlos grinned a mischievous grin and instead of saying anything on the situation in their room when they entered seeking clean clothes, simply made a circle with his finger and thumb and pumped another one in and out, leaving no doubt in my mind what was taking place!

Brent and Jeremy were first up the stairs from the family room, except for Javier and Efrain, and followed by Adam Bartels, Galin Beyer, and finally Gary North and Tyson James. Tyson had that "I've been totally and completely fucked" look about him, but seemed otherwise not the worse for wear. At my invitation, they all settled in the living room until I could call them for breakfast.

Alex, Beth, Andy Schaffer, and Paula Howard were next down the stairs from the bedrooms on the second level of the house. When I asked if Manny, Erica, Julio, and Megan were up, Alex smiled, leaned into me, whispering, "Manny and Julio are both 'up' and will be down shortly."

I didn't ask anymore of him or of the others when they finally joined our group. If smiles were gold, Manny and Julio were millionaires!

Javier, Efrain, and Aiden tromped in from the downstairs, done with office work and chores.

"You guys do the chores?" Alex asked, surprised he'd not been awakened to help,

"Yeah," Efrain answered. "We were awake and thought we'd let the rest of you sleep in."

Avery, smiling and happy to see all of the young people gathered around in the living room, gave them all a "good morning" and headed for the kitchen for his morning cup of coffee.

Estele shook her head watching him enjoy the brew, stating, "Honestly, Avery Morgan, I don't know how you can spend hours in a stuck truck in the middle of a blizzard and look like it was an everyday occurrence!"

"Clean living, Estele, clean living!"

The young people and adults ate well at breakfast and the teens were a great help in cleaning up. The weather service predicted the storm should diminish by midnight and I informed our guests they'd be here another night (smiles all around) and as soon as the roads were open the next day, we'd see them home, in the meantime, make themselves to home. There were enough games and things to do downstairs, among other activities, to keep them occupied. I announced New Year's Day dinner would be at two in the afternoon. Alex, Beth, Megan, and Julio volunteered to help Estele and Carissa with preparation and others quickly said they'd help too, if needed.

Aiden and I finally had an opportunity to discuss the situations at the cattle feed lots and hog confinements. I was relieved to hear Larry and Don, when hearing the ominous weather forecast, lined up cots to sleep on, food to eat, and asked for volunteers to help them handle the livestock during the storm. According to Aiden, all was well and as soon as the storm quit, the men would begin clearing the snow.

Outside, wind, snow, and cold enveloped our part of the world, presenting a hostile, unforgiving environment to any mortal being or beast caught up in it. By contrast, our home was warm, filled with the aromas of roast goose, fresh baked dinner rolls, apple and cherry pies, chocolate cake and inundated with the happy chatter, giggles, and laughter of happy people enjoying a dinner together. Granted, there weren't enough chairs at the table or table space for that matter, but there was plenty of room on the living room floor, the couch, and chairs, so it made no difference.

It was well after four o'clock by the time we finished our meal, cleaned up the dishes, and cooking utensils, before we settled down for another evening and night isolated from others and protected from the storm raging outside. Fortunately, we'd not lost the television signal over our antenna so there were several channels to choose from, as well as the many games available in the family room for the teens to entertain themselves.

Estele and Carissa assembled a table of light snacks and iced sodas for downstairs, anticipating all teens would be hungry within a half hour or so of eating. For whatever reason or how young people make decisions (how soon I forget), someone decided to have a dance! The entertainment center had all they needed so Brent and Jeremy volunteered to handle the music. A dance area was made, similar in size to the one at the fall party, by clearing away furniture and the dance began.

Avery, Estele, and Carissa heard the music and came down stairs to join us. As happen chance, a nice waltz was playing and without a word being said, Avery and Estele stepped out onto the dance floor and began to dance!

I'd not seen Avery dance before and by the expression on Aiden's face, neither had he. It was soon evident this was not the first time Avery or Estele ever danced. Avery and Estele were graceful, light on their feet, experienced dancers who followed each other's emotions and leads, almost as if they'd danced together all of their lives. Perplexed, I thought a moment and realized why wouldn't they become quickly acclimated to each other's style of dancing? Francisco was Estele's brother and there was no doubt now, watching Avery and Estele, Avery and Francisco danced with each other quite often when Francisco was alive.

Alex, standing nearby, arm around Beth pulling his love close to him, bent over, whispered something, and after she smiled and nodded her head, walked over to his mother, invited her to dance, and with a motherly kiss on his cheek, accepted. I was struck, at the moment, in the short time the family had been with us, how much Alex had grown, taking on the stature, height, and tone of a young man, not necessarily the gangling teen boy one often envisions, taller than his mother and every bit as graceful as her and as his grandmother.

As one song evolved into another, each of our boys took a turn with their grandmother, mother, or aunt, depending on who was doing the asking. Even Carlos and Luis stepped up to dance, although it was a little more awkward since they were somewhat smaller. Looking at them however, I decided it wouldn't be long until it wasn't the case. Aiden and I, choosing not to share, did step in and joined the dancing couples.

God, it felt so good to hold him close to me; feel his head against my shoulder, his warm breath puffing softly against my neck and ear, and feeling his trim, well-proportioned body up against mine as if there were no more perfect fit in the world. We were both hard as ten penny nails by the time the music stopped!

We took a break, more to cool our ardor since, had we continued in such an erotic embrace on the dance floor, I fear I would've steered him to a darkened portion of the family room, probably behind the bar ostensibly to minister to the needs of other, instead serving my own special needs and desired, slipping his pants down, waving my baton as a good conductor should, and directing it up into his warm, moist, welcoming music folder, and kept time with the music, hoping for a song ending with a crashing crescendo, for certainly I'd be doing the same!

Javier and Efrain continued to dance and we watched. If one were to ever wish to see two young people deeply in love, one only had to observe the two of them dancing. Holding Efrain as delicately as one hold a flower, beholding it's beauty, yet possessing it as a precious jewel, never to fade but glowing in the light of love, leading him gracefully, lightly, across the dance floor as a feather would drift and twirl in a slight breeze, their faces glowing with delight as they sought each other's eyes and lips, Javier could not have been more proud, loving, or protecting of Efrain and Efrain could never love any other except the man who held him in his embrace!

"I've said it before," Avery commented wistfully, "he's so much like my Francisco!"

"I never knew Francisco, but if he came anywhere close to our beloved Javier, he must have been quite a guy," I returned.

Estel and Carissa finally begged to be excused to retire for the day. They had at least one more meal to prepare for our guests and needed to sleep. It was a long day for them and they worked hard. I assured them Avery, Aiden, and I'd remain. A few minutes after the ladies left, Avery unlocked his office and invited Aiden and me in for a glass of wine.

"A nice red, please, Aiden." Avery asked and Aiden retrieved one from the wine cellar.

Each of us with a full glass in hand, about to savor our first taste, when Javier and Efrain poked their heads in the door and asked to join us. They each had a soda in their hand and thus didn't ask for any wine, although I'm certain Avery wouldn't have hesitated in offering them one. Javier was special to Avery and it was evident to me, he was being groomed for a special place in our future.

Savoring his first sip, after appreciating color of the liquid, testing the aroma, letting the delicate aromas of the wine articulate and tantalize his nose before easily taking a small sample two swirl about in his mouth and over the tongue, before allowing the delicious product, the fermented juice of a grape, to slip easily down his throat and into his stomach. Avery held the glass in front of him, eyes fixed on it and the contents, as if he was either inspecting it for clarity and color or examining the dark red liquid as some sort of rune; not a character as inscribed in stone in some ancient time, but as a mystery contained in the liquid waiting to be released in a voice heard only by him, sending him into a vision, bringing forth an apparition or reflecting back to him a phantasm, a mental representation of a real object, much like Snow White and the mirror! I watched carefully and try as I might, I could see no phantasmagoria, an exhibition of optical effect or illusion to lead him to the crux of his intended story through an offered beginning.

"This reminds me," he began, referring to the weather and not the wine, "of the winter of '44. Although probably not as severe as '36, it still wasn't a good winter, the winter of '44! We were in the midst of the terrible war with devastation wreaked on both the European Continent and in the Pacific Theatre. While our troops in the Pacific fought against fanatical bands of enemy soldiers, committed to die for their country and their Emperor, suffered from the heat, infestations of nasty insects, the debilitation of tropical diseases, death, and torture if captured, our troops on the Continent were suffering from bone-chilling cold, wading in snow up to their arses, suffering hideous wounds from a desperate enemy who had little else to lose if the truth of their "Thousand Year Reich" were to be found out, lack of food, supplies, ammunition, and the incessant bombardment of enemy planes, guns, coupled with hailstorms of bullets of major proportions, death, and, like their comrades in the Pacific, torture and ill treatment if captured."


It was a time of rationing and sacrifice at home as well, although the sacrifice many families made had little to do with food or resources; their sacrifices lay in caskets in foreign lands or transported home to lay in rest with their friends or families deep beneath the soil of the land they paid the ultimate price to defend. To compare a family's sacrifice on this Continent to another, where both gave their loved ones, would be ignominious, immeasurable since the sacrifice was so deeply personal to each on different levels!

There were shortages, in this time of rationing, of fuel, food, tires, clothing, equipment, and a myriad of other items, including manpower! Every healthy, eligible young man was taken into service (albeit there were some who for one reason or the other were "exempted," perhaps to serve in different ways) leaving a dearth of workers to build, reap, sow, and service items and people on the home front, for "home front" it was, as all gave their hearts, hands, and spirit to the war effort, all in order to bring it to an end and their loved ones home sooner! Women and young people entered the work force to fill the gap left by the war.


"No," he said softly in his telling of the story, "it wasn't the best of times, but certainly not as bad as it could have been or was for others."

Morgan's Landing was fortunate, as many small towns who relied on the resources at hand, to have the river to supply fish, local farms and gardens to provide the needed produce, vegetables, and fruit for families to live. Those who didn't have those resources available in Morgan's Landing were provided them by Avery Morgan, who felt it wasn't only his civic duty to provide, but his obligation to do so; this was his home, his community, his people! The school lunch program continued to have adequate supplies of protein and vegetables for their lunches, church suppers could feed those without a decent meal, and fire departments had adequate fuel and equipment to do their job.

Items such as flour, sugar, salt, coffee, gasoline, tires, and other rationed items needed for the war effort were sometimes hard to come by, but a word to Avery and they often would almost "magically" appear, if needed for some community or humanitarian project! "Mudpuppy's" stayed open, serving an ample, but simple menu relying on beef, pork, chicken, and lamb raised on Avery's farms and processed in the local locker plant run by Avery's brother and his family.

The one item they really were short of, especially at planting and harvest time, was adequate help. Many of the young men who ordinarily would work the farms were gone and many of the young women either volunteered for service or were working in the cities filling the gaps in factories and other places. Locally, housewives, young people, and older people worked part-time, away from their homes, to help out!

Avery reached out to old friends in faraway cities to assist him in procuring help. Some lasted quite some time, while others found the work distasteful, too hard, or for several other reasons not satisfactory, and were gone. Young teen city boys either liked the country life and adapted to it well or said, "fuck it" and left after a week or so!

"It was a busy year," Avery reflected, "in 1944 and going into 1945. War material production was high even in spite of shortages in metal and other materials, but the people I knew well, felt the war was winding down and would end soon. The Japanese Fleet was pretty much destroyed, the Allies had a strong foothold in Europe, and the Mediterranean was fairly secured. At the time I thought it was who had the most soldiers alive would be the victors. I don't think I was too far wrong, given the number of people killed!"

Chance, according to Avery, worked his butt off during those war years, especially as he grew older, not only on the farm but "Mudpuppy's" as well. He helped his Grandmother Morgan organize paper and scrap metal drives, spent hours, along with other young people, pounding metal cans flat so they could be used to save metals for war use; and, using the same young people, harvested the abundance of hickory nuts, walnuts, and pecans in the bottom land woods along the river, fished and gave their catches to those who needed them, helped at church and community suppers, and any other activities he saw a need.

"He seemed to go a mile a minute," Avery said. "As if by working hard, he'd be so busy he'd not be thinking of what happened to his parents or his best friend Tommy Watanabe. He sorely missed his best friend! I tried several times to find out, but even with my connections, I came to a dead-end each time."

Chance wasn't only active in the community, he also had a busy little pecker! With all of the new boys moving in and out, plus those who stayed for a longer period of time, Chance just had to see if they "measured up!" Many a night found him settled deep in the warmth of one of his housemates.

Avery paused when we heard a soft knock on the office door. Concepcion poked his head in and inquired if he and Monty could join our group. Avery quickly welcomed them and they, quickly followed by Carlos and Luis, settled on the floor, whereas Carlos and Luis settled on our laps; Luis on mine and Carlos on Aiden's.

"Although we all were hopeful for an end to the war, we weren't prepared for the tragedy befalling our nation April 12, 1945! The President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt died! Fortunately, our Constitution provides the Vice-President succeed him, so Harry Truman became our President. Mourn we did, but the war demanded we press on! Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered May 8, 1945."

There was great celebration on that day; "Mudpuppy's" offered free beer, church bells proclaimed victory, people cheered, walked the streets, sang in jubilation, and hugged each other! Not all were crying tears of joy, however! Those who lost sons, husbands, daughters, wives, fathers, brothers, sisters, and other relatives cried tears of great sorrow!

Chance had a glimmer of hope he'd soon be reunited with Tommy since the war in the Pacific seemed to be drawing to a close as well. However, word began to filter out into the open of terrible atrocities committed by the two major aggressors! Word of death marches, firing squads, torture, and prisoner of war camp brutality caused him to more and more concerned for Tommy's welfare.

"We learned a new word, a word sending terror through many and revulsion to many more – genocide! We learned, as our troops liberated parts of Europe, of concentration camps where hundreds of thousands men, women, and children were killed because of their religion or ethnicity, as well as mental or physical defects. It was horrible, unforgiving, showing us the beast side of man as a vicious animal!"

"He asked me, several times; Uncle Avery, do you suppose they sent him and his family back to Japan because they were Japanese? Or maybe they were sent someplace far away and the Japs killed them or tortured them? Or maybe our own government put them in prisons or camps and are treating them the same way? Some of the guys I met after the attack were real assholes!"

"There was little I could do or say to reassure him!"

Avery took another deep breath, "Truman ordered the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, killing many thousands in just two big blasts, and forced Japan to surrender! Radiation poisoning took many more lives as well as time moved on."

"We celebrated again and I hoped for the last time. It came to me, only governments think they won; it's the people who lose- everything! War leaves death, destruction, poverty, and hopelessness! Surely, I thought at the time, man wouldn't be so foolish to do this again. Chance was getting closer and closer to draft age and I couldn't think I'd ever exist without him should something happen."

Avery sat quietly, his eyes misting over as he reminisced over times past. The silence in the office was disturbed only by the soft snores of Carlos and Luis, asleep on our laps, and the louder snores of Monty snuggled up to Concepcion's chest, safe and secure in Concepcion's arms.

Softly, I said, "Avery, we need to get some boys to bed!" and Aiden and I, along with Concepcion and Monty, who awakened when I spoke, left Avery in his office and headed to bed.

The weather forecasters were correct, the wind diminished and the snow came to a halt shortly after we put the little boys to bed. The next morning and the rest of the day was spent clearing snow from the lot in front of the house, the lane to the country highway, the feed lot, and access to the barns. Telephone and electric service, at least to our area, was restored shortly after lunch and we bid our guests goodbye.

Thinking back, it wasn't all that bad, at least the young people didn't think so! I thought I'd catch hell from Megan's family concerning her stay at our place during the storm, but surprisingly, I didn't! Either they were unconcerned, which I doubt, since her brother was with her (really not "with" her since he had about five inches of himself buried between Jeremy's lovely buns pumping fast and furious or vice-versa) or they felt there was adequate adult chaperones. At least Megan came home free of child (remember the pill?) but well stretched since our boys could be considered "much better than average in length and girth" and Julio was no exception!

The remainder of the winter and well into spring could be considered relatively uneventful, attending school, doing chores, and working. Alex, Concepcion, Julio, Javier, and Efrain all would be graduating in another year so they spent time pouring through college catalogs, trying to find universities offering what they were interested in and still relatively cheap to attend. Avery stepped in advising the boys not to worry about costs, which they would anyway, he'd make certain they received the education they wanted and needed. I knew the boys all valued an education, but I began to realize the importance they placed on post-high school and university degrees. To them, it was the Holy Grail of education and something they felt was important not only to them personally, but to "their people" and it was so understandable to the rest of us.

Alex and Julio, having spent so much time with Chance and Tommy were definitely interested in food service, especially restaurant and supper clubs, anticipating coming back here and working "Mudpuppy's." Chance and Tommy wanted them here and planned on them taking over the business someday. Alex wanted to major in Business Management and Julio desired a degree in Business Marketing. Javier was set on a law degree and Efrain the same; Javier – trial law and general, Efrain – corporate law with finance a specialty. Concepcion was interested in Science, specifically Horticulture.

Avery decided, at this point, if the boys all wanted to attend the same university, specifically the University of Iowa at Iowa City, he'd purchase a large home in the area so they all could live together and, if the girl friends attended the same university, they could "visit."

Concepcion, however, had a different problem; Monty was younger and would be in school for at two more years before graduating. Concepcion didn't want to leave him so was pondering sitting out of university studies until Monty and he could room together. Monty's dad, Dr. Haynes solved the problem by offering to have Concepcion live with them and commute daily across the river to the university where he taught. The program in science was great there and it'd work out fine! Avery made it even better when he said he'd supply a company truck for Concepcion to use.

The only blip in the spring came around Prom time. The school may have become very sensitive to racial and religious issues, but the school rules didn't condone same sex couples! Oh, officials knew it was a fact, but community values, promoted by some right-wing conservatives, thought otherwise! As a result, tickets for the prom were either singles or couples, heterosexual only! Rather than make a fuss, our gay boys went to the dance as singles, stayed a little while to watch the crowning of the king and queen and the grand march and then came to "Mudpuppy's" where Chance, Tommy, Aiden, Avery, and I had a dance band hired and a dinner in the downstairs banquet room! As Avery put it so diplomatically when referring to school policy, "fuck-em!"

Before we knew it, school was out for the summer and we really got busy! Aiden and I worked together as we did the summer before and the boys worked fields, livestock, "Mudpuppy's," and any other Bend in the River enterprises. The one exception was Manny, along with loving Erica, he really loved working with livestock and spent his time in the feedlots, sales arenas, and general management, learning the ropes and loving it! He preferred cattle, but hogs were fine as well. "As long as the critters have four legs and can walk into the truck," he once said.

Fourth of July started out has had last year's including the parade through the downtown. "Mudpuppy's" and "Bend in the River" sponsored an entry with all of our boys, including Carlos and Luis, attired in brightly colored and highly decorated Vaqueros, with big sombreros perched jauntily on their heads, astride magnificent horses saddled and bridled with elegantly silver inlaid saddles and bridles. Avery came through again in obtaining horses and costumes.

Ahead of them, pulled by a "Bend in the River" pickup, was a goose-neck flatbed trailer with a Mariachi band strumming and singing songs of the Mexican and Mexican-American communities. Behind the boys, riding in a rented convertible, driven by Chance with Tommy in the passenger seat, sitting on the top of the back seat, was a waving smiling Avery Morgan.

Every now and then, our part of the parade would slow so Carlos and Luis could drop back, lean over from horseback, accept envelopes from Avery, and at his direction, hand out the envelope containing a gift certificate to "Mudpuppy's" to various people in the crowd. There were four exceptions, however; those four envelopes contained a gift certificate for a half of beef, butchered and processed courtesy of "Bend in the River." Those envelopes went to families he knew would need, desire, and appreciate the gift.

After the parade and the boys changed clothes, we had our family picnic and later in the evening we all gathered, except for Chance and Tommy who worked "Mudpuppy's" since it was extremely busy, near the park on the river bank to watch the fireworks. When the fireworks ended, Avery, Aiden, Javier, and I were visiting, while Efrain wandered off to one of the portable toilets off on one of the side streets. Julio, Megan, Alex, and Beth were sitting on some park benches visiting, and Carlos and Luis had been given strict orders to stay together before they left us to wander about themselves. Concepcion and Monty were a short distance away talking to some friends of theirs as well.

Our conversation was interrupted by Carlos and Luis screaming in Spanish,

"El Jefe; come quick! Some bad guys are beating up Efrain!"

The mention of Efrain's name and the cry for help spurred immediate action by Javier as he quickly sprinted in the direction Carlos and Luis were pointing! They fell in behind him, shouting directions in Spanish and cries for help from the others! Aiden and I joined in the chase and were joined by Concepcion and Monty who zoomed past us. There was enough light from a rising full moon, street lights, and ambient lighting from store fronts to reveal five men near the porta-potties, two holding Efrain while two were pummeling him. The fifth man was standing nearby waiting his turn.

Javier grabbed a metal garbage can lid as he sped past a dumpster area; Carlos and Luis paused long enough to snag a couple of short lengths of two by four's from a scrap heap and continued the chase toward the group of miscreants!

The garbage can lid became a deadly and effective weapon in Javier's hands as he bashed one assailant across the back of his head, splitting the scalp, fountaining blood, and collapsing the thug in mid punch. Javier pivoted his attack, smashing the lid into the open-mouthed face of the other puncher, knocking out several teeth and dropping him as well, before centering his attack on the two holding Efrain! Again, swinging the lid, careened one to the ground as Carlos and Luis began cudgeling the other with their two by fours! Asshole number five was pounced upon by Concepcion and Monty and the fight was on as the first down were now starting to get up and Manny, Alex, and Julio appeared from the dark and entered the fray!

It didn't last long once reinforcements arrived! Javier was pounding the man he's seen attacking Efrain, hitting as if he meant to kill him; I really think he did mean to! Javier stopped when I shouted at him in Spanish!

By this time, I could hear sirens sounding and the pounding of feet coming from behind me. Keith Morgan and a town cop were running toward us! Avery, almost out of breath, was just ahead of them. Nearing us, Avery held up his hand and said calmly to Keith, "It's all taken care of, no need to rush!"

"Who started this?" shouted another deputy, just arriving on the scene, ordering Keith to arrest the lot of them.

I started to protest but my words were muted when I saw Javier sitting on the ground sobbing loudly for me to help, Efrain's bloody head in his lap!

"You're going to arrest those five bastards," Avery declared, "only after you call an ambulance for Efrain!"

"I'll decide what to do," snarled the deputy, who evidently thought he was in charge!

"You'll shit first!" Avery said vehemently. "Get the fucking ambulance or you'll spend the rest of your career, if you have one, wiping shitty asses in the jail infirmary!"

Keith was already on the radio calling for backup, multiple ambulances, and requests for any first responders or EMT's in the immediate vicinity available to assist!

Aiden and I attended, as best we could, to Efrain and attempting to calm Javier. When I heard someone shout, "Dammit, let us through," I looked up and saw our boys, battered as they were, had formed a cordon around us, keeping anyone else away. Our boys looked fierce, protective, and ready to do battle! The two most menacing, at least to the person shouting to get through, was Carlos and Luis standing with their cudgels hefted like baseball bats, ready to hit a homerun on someone's head!

"Let, them in," I shouted, "They're medical help!"

Avery insisted Efrain be attended to and transported ("Fuck those other bastards," he so adroitly stated") to the Regional Medical Center when the first ambulance arrived while Aiden and I rounded up our boys and hustled them to our sides. They were fairly well bruised and bleeding and we wanted them examined as well, no matter how much the one deputy persisted in demanding the boys be interviewed before leaving the scene.

I faced him with anger boiling over on my face, "No way in hell will you talk to them unless their attorney is present. Try it before a doctor examines them and you, as well as the county, will be facing one of the biggest fucking lawsuits you've ever seen!"

Avery, after notifying Chance and Tommy to locate Estele and Carissa, to tell them what happened, and bring them to the Medical Center, rode with me Carlos, Luis, and a very quiet Javier. Aiden drove Alex's truck with Alex, Julio, Manny, Concepcion, and Monty as passengers.

I pulled up in the Emergency Entrance parking lot and Javier said, as a statement of fact, "If Efrain dies, so do they!" and made no further comment!

Efrain was already in one of the trauma rooms and people were scurrying in and out of it. I informed the lady at the reception desk I had eight other boys, although less injured, needing medical attention. A physician's assistant was summoned and he began a triage of the boys and determined, another PA and he, along with a nurse, could handle the injuries. Some of the boys might require a stitch or two to the most grievous cuts, but bandages and antiseptic would take care of most of them.

The boys were being treated when I heard the call go out over the cellphone and speaker system for more help in the ER. The other two ambulances were approaching with more patients. According to the radio transmission from one ambulance, there were two in it needing immediate attention from a trauma team! I was willing to bet the two of them had an imprint of a garbage can lid somewhere on their scalp or face.

Carlos and Luis, treatment for bruises, minor cuts, and a couple of black eyes completed, decided they needed to use the restrooms. Avery and Javier were waiting outside the trauma room where Efrain was being treated and Aiden and I were waiting near the trauma room where Alex and Manny were being treated, while the others waited their turn. I heard Carlos shout, "El Jefe!" and Luis said loudly, "no comprender" and another distastefully familiar voice reply, "For Christ's sake, they don't even speak English!"

"I'll bet they do if we put the squeeze on the little shits!" responded another voice.

It brought Aiden and me to our feet, but cautioned the other boys to stay put, and headed in the direction of the hallway leading to the restrooms!

Carlos and Luis, arms crossed, defiant in their stance, fierce facial expressions, faced two men; one the deputy from the fight scene and another in a suit coat! The man in the suit was reaching forward to grab Luis when I intervened.

"I wouldn't touch that boy if I were you!"

He turned, looked at me, asking, "Who the hell do think you are? Are you related?"

"No!"

"Then I'd advise you to stay where you are or I'll charge you with interfering with an officer or obstruction of justice!"

"He's not, but I am, Mr. High and Mighty Gringo with a badge!" Estele snarled as she, Chance, Tommy, and Carissa dashed across the reception area, "so back off away from my grandchildren!"

Of course the other boys didn't stay where I asked them to and joined us, so I told Concepcion to get Avery and to Carlos and Luis, "You say nothing but your name and age until Uncle Avery has an attorney for you; you go nowhere with these men as well."

Things began to happen rapidly after Estele's confrontation with the two law enforcement officers. Three men in suits walked in the door and were quickly joined by Avery, Chance, and Tommy. The men identified themselves as attorneys representing the boys and named all nine, including Efrain. Another man, dressed in a suit but with a badge and a gun on his belt, joined us as well. Chance and Aiden greeted him with "Hi, Cuz" and the cops acknowledged him as "Sheriff!" He promptly dismissed those two to interview the five accused of assaulting Efrain, explaining he, along with his Chief Deputy, would handle the interviews with the boys.

Avery was a busy boy on his two-way radio on the way here!

A doctor appeared and asked if there was a relative of Efrain's present. Javier just about went crazy until the doctor explained Efrain's injuries were serious enough to require surgery and someone needed to sign the permission papers. It didn't relieve Javier's anxiety much, but at least Efrain was still alive! Estele quickly signed the papers and she, Carissa, Javier, Aiden, and I followed the doctor.

Javier asked to see Efrain, the doctor hesitated until I explained the important it was for him to see his "cousin" since he'd been the one who rescued him from the attackers!

"Only for a moment, since he's heavily sedated, and we need to get him to surgery."

It was all Javier really asked; just to see Efrain and touch him! Efrain didn't look all that healthy laying on the gurney. There were tubes and needles and bags attached to him and his facial injuries were not pleasant to see, but Javier leaned over him, kissed him, and said softly in his ear,

"I love you so much Efrain; you are my life, my forever! Without out you I am nothing! Don't die on me; I need you!"

With that, Efrain was hustled off to surgery.

We headed to the surgical waiting room and settled in for a long night! Aiden and I settled on a couch and Javier, looking alone and frightened, snuggled in between us. His heart ached and would've willingly taken Efrain's place. Javier felt guilty for not getting there quicker and preventing injury to Efrain, but even with our reassurance he did all he could, it did little to convince him.

Avery, Chance, Tommy, and the others soon joined us. The waiting room was quiet except for a few sniffles and soft sobs from Luis, feeling so sad because of what happened to Efrain. He soon scooted over, climbed on Javier's lap, and pulled Javier's arms around him.

Avery broke the silence.

"Javier, I think I know how you feel, although not quite the same. A feeling of guilt is a feeling of guilt and it's hard to shake, even if it's not deserved! I thought when World War Two ended, I'd have to stop worrying since Chance was too young to be drafted, but that all changed June 25, 1950."

"Troops from North Korea crossed the 38 th Parallel and attacked the South and Truman, then President, sent our military to assist the South."

The United Nations Security Council authorized a UN force to defend the South and the Chinese responded by sending a massive military force to aid North Korea. Chance, now eighteen, was caught up in the draft and sent to Korea. With his multi-lingual language skills, he was in high demand and placed in an intelligence unit.

"I should've done more to keep him out," Avery lamented, "but Chance would have none of it, so he went, and I worried!"

Worry he should; while in Korea, on the way to a front line camp to interrogate two captured Chinese officers, Chance's jeep was hit by an artillery or mortar round, the driver and two other soldiers were killed and Chance was severely wounded.

"By the time I was notified, he'd been treated in a MASH unit and flown to Japan for further surgery. I was on the next available flight to Japan, fearful I'd lose my so…..uh, nephew!"

"You mean 'son' don't you?" Chance interjected.

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