When the Lights Go Down in the City
“You really think you should call?”
“I just want to make sure everything is okay.”
“Ma has had some experience with children before, you know.”
“I know. Just humor me, okay.”
“Fine.” Sara dialed the Vecchio house and waited for someone to pick up.
“Franny! Hey, how’s my little one doing?”
“Hey, Sara. Hang on a minute. John, you owe me five bucks! I told you she would call!”
“That’s not funny!”
“Sorry, Sara. Caroline is fine. She’s being spoiled absolutely rotten, but she’s fine. You and Ben have fun and stop worrying.”
“Okay, thanks Fran. Goodnight.”
“Night, Sara. See you in a little while.” Ben rubbed his hand down Sara’s back as they walked down the street.
“Yeah. I just miss her. It’s been four weeks with her now and I can’t imagine being away from her.”
“I know.” The two of them smiled and walked down the street toward the Red Setter Restaurant.
“I’m starved, what about you?”
“I’m quite hungry, too. What are you going to order?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking pasta sounds good. I deserve something wonderful and fattening. It took everything I had to lose those twelve pounds.”
“You look fabulous by the way.”
“You are bias.”
“No I’m not. I saw that waiter looking at you.”
“He was probably looking at you.”
“You’re very welcome. Do you realize what next week is?”
“I do. I’m glad you remembered.”
“How could I forget one of the best days of my life.”
“One year. Can you believe we’ve been married that long?”
“It seems like just yesterday when I saw you for the first time.”
“It seems like a lifetime for me.” Sara got a far away look in her eyes as she remembered the first time she laid eyes on Benton Fraser.
“You looked so frightened and timid. Then you opened your mouth.” Ben laughed and Sara jolted back to reality.
“Hey! Ray was so sweet. He was hell bent on keeping me safe.”
“You were his friend. He always looks after his friends.” Sara felt her stomach lurch as she thought of Ray.
“I miss him.” Her voice was small and barely audible. Ben nodded his head.
“Me too.” Sara lifted her glass of water and waited for Ben to respond in kind.
“To our dear friend Ray. May God keep him in His care and bring him home to us soon.”
Ben and Sara had a content feeling that came with a good meal and better company. They strolled hand in hand down the street. Ben sighed and pulled Sara into his arms.
“I love you.”
“I love you.” They continued to walk slowly down the sidewalk when Sara’s cell phone rang.
“Sara Fraser…..What!!?? You have got to be kidding! I’m on my way.” Sara slammed the cover of her flip phone and swore under her breath.
“Sara, what’s wrong?”
“Call Ma and tell her we’re going to be late. Ray’s just been arrested for murder.”
~~~~Ray sat in interrogation room one. He shook his head to try to make sense of why he had been dragged from his apartment like some criminal. His ex-wife, Stella Kowalski leaned against the back wall while Huey and Welsh sat opposite him at the table.
“Detective, we have to ask you where you were this morning between 11 and 2.”
“It’s my day off. I had a late date with Natalie so I went home and crashed. I just got up when Huey came in and told me I had to come down here. What the hell is this all about?!” Ray stood up and started pacing around the small room.
“There’s been a murder.”
“So? What’s that got to do with me?”
“The eye witness gave us a description. When we put her with the sketch artist, they came up with this.” Welsh handed Ray the composite drawing. Ray’s face went pale as he handed the paper back to Welsh.
“Is this some kinda joke?”
“I wish that were the case, Detective. As you can see, the resemblance is uncanny. It’s you.”
“Hey, it’s not me. It may look like me, but it’s not me. Are you crazy?! Have you all lost your minds?! How can you think I murdered anyone?!”
Before anyone in the room could answer, Sara pushed her way through the door. Ben was barely a half of a step behind her.
“What’s this all about?”
“We’re going to have to press charges.” Sara turned and took a long hard look at Stella.
“What the hell are you thinking?”
“We have an eyewitness, no alibi.” Welsh stood up and cleared his throat.
“Before we get too involved in this, let’s assemble a line up.” Sara cast a wicked look toward Stella as she mentally cursed the woman out.
“Well, before this goes any further, Detective Vecchio has just lawyered up. So any further contact should be made through his attorney.” Stella leaned forward and asked,
“Who’s his counsel?”
“He’s got the best lawyer in the state.”
“Oh really? Who might that be?” Sara leaned forward on her fingertips across the table and stared at Stella. Her voiced seemed as hard as steel when she replied, “Me.”
Ray looked from his friend to his ex-wife then back to his friend. He opened his mouth to speak when he felt Ben’s hand on his shoulder and heard Sara say,
“My client has nothing more to say. If you have concrete evidence to place my client at the scene, I suggest you disclose it now. Otherwise, release him.”
“Let’s wait until the line up. Then we’ll see if there will be charges against ‘your client’ or not.”
“My client is a busy person. Either get to work or release him until you can pull your head out of your ass.” Ben cringed at Sara’s words while Ray sat stunned. He had never seen anyone talk to the Stella that way.
“Watch it counselor. No one talks to me that way.” Sara never blinked as she leaned forward and whispered to Stella.
“I just did.” Ben cleared his throat and Ray shifted in his chair.
“Perhaps I should see what information I can gather from Lt. Welsh.” Ben tugged on Sara’s arm in an attempt to pull her away from the look she was giving the DA.
“I don’t want you anywhere near this case, Constable.” Ben looked up startled at Stella. Sara stepped forward and stood toe to toe with her.
“I’m sorry, when did you start dictating the actions of my husband.”
“I know about how he goes about things. He has no business on this case.”
“Thank you for your opinion, Ms. Kowalski. I’ll be sure to file that motion under ‘I don’t really give a damn what you think’ for future reference. Now, either you substantiate your case against my client or we are walking out of here. You have fifteen minutes.” The room fell in to silence. Ray could hear his heart pounding in his ears. Sara gave Stella a look that dared her to speak. Ben walked over to the door and opened it in an effort to aid in Stella’s retreat. Without a word, she stormed out the door and down the hall.
~~~~Sara rubbed her hands over the back of her neck while Ben paced in the hall. Ray shifted nervously in the chair while they waited on Stella to assemble a line up.
“This is the biggest bunch of…..”
“Sara.” Ben knew the words out of Sara’s mouth were going to be less than acceptable.
“Ray, how can this be happening?”
“I have no idea.” Ray sighed heavily and rested his head in his hands.
“Have they informed you of any specifics in the case?”
“No, Frase. Huey brought me here and then Welsh and Stella started asking me where I’d been and then super-lawyer here came busting in. How’d you know I was here anyway?”
“Welsh called me when he sent Huey to pick you up.”
“At least he believes me.”
“We all believe you Ray. There has to be a logical explanation for all this.” Ben stopped pacing and took a seat next to Ray.
Everyone looked toward the door as Welsh called for Ray.
“Great. Let’s get this over with so I can go home.” Sara and Ben followed Ray down the hall. Ray was escorted to the line up while Sara and Ben went to wait in the bullpen.
“Take your time, Mrs. Taylor. Can you pick out the gunman?” Welsh had a worried look on his face while Stella stood beside the eyewitness.
“Number four.” Welsh physically jerked when she said the words. He tried to regain his composure before he pressed the intercom button to the line up.
“Number…ah….four. Step forward, please.” Ray looked around in disbelief when he heard his number called. “Step forward, please.”
Ray took a slow step forward and looked from side to side.
“Are you sure this is the man you saw?”
“Yes, that’s him. The blond man. He’s the one that shot that woman.” Welsh lowered his head as Stella thanked Mrs. Taylor and escorted her from the room.
“Damn.” Welsh wiped a hand over his face and sighed.
Huey looked on in shock. Stella returned to the small room and with a hardened look turned to Welsh.
~~~~Welsh left the small room and went to find Sara. This wasn’t going to be easy. He wanted to scream at the witness and strangle his DA. * Damn, what a day. Oh shit, there she is. *
Sara stood and stared at him for a few minutes. She walked quietly over to Ben and the two whispered back and forth until Ben walked over to Huey’s desk. Sara and Welsh watched Huey and Ben exit the bullpen and then Sara turned to face Welsh. He knew that look, and he knew he didn’t like it. Sara took a step forward. * Here it comes. *
“How in the livin’ hell can you arrest Ray!? Has everyone completely lost their minds?! This has to be some kinda cruel joke. I’m in the Bazaaro World, right?! This is crazy!”
“Sara, please calm down. You’re upsetting the criminals.”
“Not funny, Harding.”
“Look, they’re taking him down to booking. We’ll keep him in isolation tonight and hopefully we can get him in front of a judge first thing in the morning. You know I don’t like this anymore than you do.”
“I know. Maybe Ben and Huey will turn up something. I’m gonna go call Ma and then go sit with Ray for a while.”
“Do I need to give you a lift home after while?” Sara turned and smiled.
“Probably so. Ben and I took a cab here. I’ve got to pick up Caroline at the Vecchio’s on the way. Is that okay?”
“Sure. Let me know when you’re ready.”
Sara stood at the door of the holding cell and offered a small reassuring smile to Ray. “You okay?”
“I’ve been arrested for murder, I’m in a jail cell and I have to go to the bathroom. Yeah, I’m peachy.”
“This will all be over soon. Stella doesn’t have a case.”
“She’s got enough to charge me.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got a good lawyer and Ben is at the crime scene now.”
“Great. Maybe he can use his ‘Lick and Learn’ stuff and get me out of here.”
“That’s the plan. I’m gonna go sit down with Welsh and get the details of the case and I’ll come back here a little later, okay?”
“Yeah, fine.” Sara started to turn and walk away when Ray reached through the bars and grabbed her arm.
“Thanks.” Each of them smiled and Sara nodded her head.
“That’s what friends are for, right?”
Sara glared at Stella as she walked through the bullpen. She had to fight back the urge to reach out and grab the woman and throw her to the ground. *You may be taller than I am, but I know I could kick your little city ass. * Stella refused to look in Sara’s direction as she left the building. Sara knocked loudly on Lt. Welsh’s office door.
“Yeah!” Sara walked in and plopped down hard on the couch in his office.
“Did you get Mrs. Vecchio?”
“Yeah, She’s gonna watch Caroline till about 10:30. She’s feeding her now.” Sara sighed and rubbed her hand over the back of her neck. “Tell me about the case.”
Welsh leaned back in his chair and absently fidgeted with the stapler on his desk.
“The victim is an older woman, mid fifties. She was exiting the jewelry store on the corner of Fifth and Madison. From what we can piece together from the eye witnesses, a guy fitting Ray’s description came up behind her and tried to car jack her as she was getting into her car. She struggled and the guy shot her.”
“Did you find the gun?”
“Any prints left at the scene?”
“There was only a partial on the door frame of the car that didn’t appear to belong to the victim.”
“What was her name?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I hope Ben finds something.”
“I do too. I’ve got one of my best cops sitting in a cell downstairs. That doesn’t reflect well on the department.”
“I’m gonna go check on him and then I’ll need to go pick up Caroline.”
“Come get me when you’re ready to go.”
Ben and Huey stood on the corner of Fifth and Madison. Huey recreated the crime scene while Ben absorbed as much information as he could. Huey walked over to the spot where the victim’s car was parked.
“This is where she was shot, Fraser. The woman was standing beside her car and when she refused to unlock the door, he shot her and she fell here.” Ben bent down and rubbed his hand over the bloodstain on the concrete. Then he noticed a small smudge on the side of the victim’s car. Huey shook his head as Fraser rubbed his finger along the smudge and then stuck the finger to his tongue.
“Flour….and something else. A spice….oregano, I believe.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Has anyone touched the car since the shooting?”
“Well, the flour and oregano would have blown away once the car was driven so it had to be put here while the car was still parked. Now, judging by the position of the smudge it had to have come from the thigh area of whoever made it. That would suggest that it would be someone that perhaps worked around….”
“Work around what?”
“Or of course other Italian foods that involve flour and oregano.”
“So you think the guy works at an Italian restaurant? Do you know how many Italian restaurants there are in Chicago, Fraser?”
by the amount of the smudge it would have to had been somewhere in close
proximity to this area.” Fraser looked around and then started walking across
“Hey, Fraser! Where are you going?” Huey trotted behind Fraser until they both were standing in front of the Bank of America building’s ATM machine.
“You need some cash, Frase?”
“No, but perhaps…..yes, I think so. Could I use your cell phone please?”
“Sure. Now I know why Ray has a headache all the time.” Ben took the cell phone from Huey and dialed Sara’s number.
“Sara, we need to get the ATM video from the Bank of America ATM machine that’s located across the street from the jewelry store.” Huey stood and watched Fraser and waited for him to speak again. “Right. It should show us the crime taking place. Okay, We’ll see you in a few minutes.”
Fraser handed the phone back to Huey and started walking back to the car.
“Are we done?”
“Uh, yes. For now. Sara is on the phone now trying to obtain the tape.”
“I’d hate to be the bank guy that has to deal with her.”
“She is quite high strung today.”
“High strung?! I thought she was going to burn a hole through the DA. Not that anyone would mind.”
“She and Ms. Kowalski are not what one would call friends.”
“One can see that, Fraser. I’ll tell you this; we really miss Sara when it comes to the dealing with the DA’s office. She always handled everything in a way that you knew she wasn’t dicking you around. Stella is another story. Everything has to be a fight.”
“It wasn’t an easy decision for Sara to make. But, Caroline comes first.”
“I can respect that. I don’t have to like it all the time, but I can respect that.” The two of them drove back to the precinct and met with Sara.
“Don’t give me the run around. I need that tape and I need it now!” Sara’s knuckles were white from the tight grip she had on the receiver of the phone. “No, it can not wait until normal business hours. That tape is needed in a murder investigation. I’m standing in the Lieutenant’s office now. Perhaps I should discuss obstruction of justice charges with him.” Welsh cleared his throat and tried not to laugh as Sara screamed into the phone.
“Yes, thank you. I appreciate your cooperation. I expect to see you in an hour. Thank you for your time.” Sara smiled and hung up the phone. “Tape’s on its way.”
“I imagine he’s rushing right over.”
“If he knows what’s good for him he will.”
“You want me to inform Ms. Kowalski?”
“Please. I don’t even want to look at her. How can she act so smug? She just charged her ex-husband with murder.”
“She’s a piece of work.”
“Yeah, well, ‘work’ wasn’t the word I would have used.”
“I can only imagine.”
John held Caroline while Francesca heated a bottle. Taping of his new series had ended early today, so he welcomed the opportunity to spend some time with Francesca. Maria, Tony and the children had all gone out for pizza and a movie. Ma sat in the den and smiled happily to herself as John talked softly to Caroline.
“Hello, sweet pea. How’s my sweet girl? You’re such a pretty girl. You look like your Mommy. Yes you do.”
“You really think so?” John looked up and smiled at Francesca.
“Sure. You don’t think so?”
“I think she looks like Ben.”
“Well, a little. She has Ben’s eyes that’s for sure.”
“Her hair looks like it’s going to be dark like Ben’s too.”
“But you have to admit, she has Sara’s nose and mouth.” Francesca studied Caroline’s face.
“Yeah, I think you’re right. Well, there’s no mistaking whose child she is, that’s for sure.”
“She’s definitely Montgomery Fraser.” Francesca handed the bottle to John and then took a seat beside him. He tilted Caroline upright and started to feed her.
“I wonder what is going on?” Ma looked up and shrugged.
“Sara said there was a problem down at the station. Something about Ray and that she needed to get things straightened out. She said she would be here by 10:30.”
“I’m just worried, that’s all.”
“I’m sure she will tell us when she gets here.”
Welsh, Ben, Sara, Stella and Huey gathered in Welsh’s office. Sara pushed the ATM video into the VCR. She fast-forwarded to just before the time the crime took place.
“This should be about right. The clock in the corner says just before one.” Everyone watched anxiously as people came and went to the ATM. The jewelry store was clearly visible in the background.
“There! That’s the victim.” Ben and Sara leaned forward while Welsh pointed out Mrs. Simpkins. The five of them watched as a thin blond man approached her. He was wearing a tank top and what looked like cargo pants. The pants had white smudges all over them.
“See, flour. It appears that our criminal likes to wipe his hands on his pants.” All were shocked at the physical resemblance to Ray.
“Look, there! His right arm.” Sara leaned forward and stopped the tape. The frame wasn’t very clear but it was clear enough to show that the assailant did not have a tattoo on his arm.
“What’s the point of that.” Sara glared again at Stella.
“This man doesn’t have a tattoo on his upper right arm. Ray does. There’s no Champion logo here. Drop the charges.”
“I can’t do that. The resemblance is unmistakable. He could have covered it up with make up or something.”
“Are you insane?! Is this some personal vendetta?”
“I resent the accusation, Sara. Until you produce a murder weapon or the real killer, the charges stand.” Sara started to unleash a tirade of expletives on her when Ben gave her one of his famous looks. She crossed her arms and started the tape again.
Ben watched the tape with intensity. The resemblance was rather frightening, but Ray’s friends could tell it wasn’t him. The victim struggled and Ben noticed that the assailant was hit hard in the face with her purse. The gun fired and the woman slumped to the ground. The expression on the assailant’s face told everyone that he was just as shocked as anyone that the gun went off. He fled the scene heading down Fifth Street.
“Well, the tape needs to entered as evidence and sealed.” Sara’s tone was dry and dripping with loathing when she replied to Stella’s statement of the obvious.
“I believe I can recall the procedures, Stella. Thank you.”
“His bond hearing has been set for tomorrow morning at ten.”
“That’s fine. If we’re done here, I have a daughter that needs my attention.” Sara and Ben exited the room followed closely by Lt. Welsh.
“Sir, I would like to speak to Ray for a moment before we leave.”
“No problem Constable. I’ll be in my office when you are ready to leave.”
~~~~~“So what did you find out?” Ray leapt from the small cot in the holding cell and reached for the bars of the cell.
“Sara obtained a video tape from the ATM machine across the street. It shows the entire crime taking place. I have to tell you this Ray, the resemblance is uncanny.”
“Great. So if Stella can make the charges stick, I’m up the creek without a paddle.”
“Don’t worry. I have some ideas. We’re going to go pick up Caroline and then I’ll start, as you say, hunting down some leads.”
“You’re bond hearing is set for tomorrow at ten.”
“Greatness. This whole thing sucks.”
“Would you like me to call anyone for you? Your parents? Natalie?”
“Nah, It wouldn’t do anything but get everyone upset. Let’s see how this plays out first.”
“Understood. Goodnight, Ray.”
Sara was still in shock over the stupidity displayed by the DA’s office. As she and Ben rode to the Vecchio’s with Welsh, she was quite verbal in her opinion of Ms. Stella Kowalski.
“How could he even have married her?! She’s evil. Pure evil.”
“Sara, that’s a little harsh, don’t you think?”
Welsh chuckled. “Are you so sure about that Constable. You haven’t had to work with her.”
“See! She’s a bitch.” Before Ben could reprimand Sara, Welsh nodded his head in agreement.
They pulled into the Vecchio driveway and Welsh realized he didn’t have a carseat for Caroline.
“How are we going to get Caroline home with no seat?”
“Don’t worry, Leftenant. Ma has a seat in her car we can use. And if I’m not mistaken, Maria still has one from when Angelo was a baby. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
They all exited the car and walked quickly up the steps. Sara knocked lightly on the door. Ma had told her that this was their house now and they didn’t have to knock, but Sara’s upbringing wouldn’t allow her to barge into anyone’s home. John answered the door and Sara heard Caroline’s crying.
“She’s been crying for an hour. Even Ma is having trouble soothing her.”
“You can say that again.”
“I’m sorry. Let’s see what Ben can do.” Ben walked in a quick gait over to Francesca and took Caroline from her arms.
“Hey, sweetheart. What’s the matter, baby. Did you miss your Daddy?” Francesca could only smile at the loving tone she had never heard from Fraser. This was a side of him that none of them had seen yet. He was open with his emotions with Caroline.
Ben lifted Caroline high into the air and placed her across his shoulder. He began to walk and bounce around the room. Within minutes, Caroline’s cries were reduced to small whimpers. “That’s my girl. She just missed her Daddy. Isn’t that right, doodlebug?”
“Doodlebug?” Francesca wrinkled her nose up. Sara giggled and offered an explanation.
“That’s my fault. Doodlebug’s the nickname I gave her. It’s kinda stuck.”
“How nice for her.”
Ma walked down the stairs and smiled at Ben holding Caroline, then her face turned to one of concern.
“Sara, what’s wrong? What happened to Ray?” Welsh looked uncomfortable. He knew that they would blame him.
“He’s been arrested for murder. He’s in jail, Ma.”
“How can this be? Not our Raymond, he’s a nice boy. He would never do anything like this. Lt. Welsh, how can you arrest, Ray?”
“Well, I didn’t want to, but you see….”
“I know. Raymondo’s words are screaming in my head. ‘A cops gotta do what a cops gotta do, Ma.’” Ma raised her hands to the ceiling and said a silent pray for Ray as she rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much it.” Francesca was on her feet and toe to toe with Welsh.
“So go let him out!”
“I’m sorry Miss Vecchio. That’s not possible. District Attorney Kowalski will not drop the charges.”
“What?!” Ben turned to face Francesca and shook his head.
“Please don’t get Sara started again. I don’t want that kind of language used around our daughter.”
“Ben, you know I would never swear in front of my children.”
“Where Stella is concerned, I’m not so sure.”
“You have a point. You ready to go home?”
“Do you want a cup of coffee before you go?”
“No thanks Ma. We’ll just get the car seat out of your car and put it to Harding’s. I’ll bring it back tomorrow on my way to the hearing. Oh, that reminds me…..”
“You don’t even have to ask. I’ll be happy to watch my little angel for you.”
“Thanks Ma. You’re the best.”
~~~~~“Your Honor, my client is a police officer. The charges against him are based on circumstantial evidence at best.”
“So noted, Counselor. Bail is set at $500,000.” Ray stood in shock as the judge banged her gavel on the desk. Sara nudged him along and he walked stunned from the courtroom.
“How the hell am I gonna get $500,000?!”
“Come on Ray, bails been posted. Let’s go.” Ray leaned against the wall and sighed.
“How can this be happening?” Sara tugged on his arm again.
“Ray, Come on. Let’s go home. Bail’s been posted.” Ray turned and looked at her with confusion in his eyes.
“Ben posted it the minute it was set. Let’s go.”
“How did Fraser get $500,000?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No I am not kidding. What?! He has a cool 500 thou’ in the band of his hat?”
“Obviously you didn’t read all of the details of my FBI file when you took over Ray’s life. I’m sure it was included.”
“Nah, they didn’t give me anything like that.”
“See what?! How did Fraser post bail?”
“We’ll talk about it in the car.”
Ray followed Sara out of the courthouse and down to her Jeep.
He walked to her side of the car and held the door for her. He quickly settled into the passenger seat and buckled his seatbelt. He turned and looked at Sara with a look of curiosity and slight confusion.
“Okay, so tell me. What, are you and Fraser loaded or something?”
“You could say that.”
“Ray, I never discuss our finances with anyone. But, you are family now, so you have a right to know. Now, please don’t let this change anything between us. After all, it hasn’t been the smoothest of roads to begin with….”
“Yeah, yeah, spill it. How did Fraser post bail?”
“He wrote a check actually.”
“How?” Sara took a deep breath before turning in the seat to face Ray. She reached out and took his hand.
“Ray, take a deep breath.”
“Do it.” Ray took a deep breath and released it.
“Ben and I are worth approximately 4.2 million dollars. We had a great year in the market last year.” Ray just stared at her.
“What’s that? Say again.”
“Listen to me Ray, Ben and I are worth 4 million. It’s not something we talk about. The family knows some. My Ray knew everything. I hope this doesn’t make a difference to you.”
“Oh dear.” Sara started the car and pulled into traffic.
“I inherited some and invested some. I’m a lawyer, so I managed my money wisely. Ben and I live comfortably.”
“I’m taking you home.”
“That’s a good idea.”
“Have you eaten?”
“I think I ate yesterday.”
“That’s my point. Besides, you might skip on me.” Sara laughed and for the first time in a few days, she saw Ray smile. The two of them drove comfortably through the streets of Chicago, while Ben was working on clearing his best friend.
~~~~Ben stood in front of a small pizza shop three blocks from the crime scene. He rubbed his thumb over his eyebrow and stepped through the door. He quickly scanned the room and walked toward the kitchen area.
“Excuse me miss? Do you recognize this man?” Ben held the composite drawing up to the young waitress. She concentrated on the photo a few minutes and then looked up at Ben and smiled. “You want to order something?”
“No thank you. Do you recognize the man in the picture?”
“Yeah, that’s Darrin. I could get you a table.”
“No thank you. Darrin?”
“Darrin McClure. He worked here for a couple of weeks. He went to lunch yesterday and didn’t come back.”
“I see. Do you have an address?” The waitress looked at him like he was speaking Chinese. Then she smiled and leaned closer to him.
“I’ll give you my address.” Ben looked at her with confusion, then cleared his throat.
“Well, actually, I would prefer his address if you could give it to me.” She sighed and mumbled as she walked to the back room.
“The good looking one’s are always gay.” Ben rolled his eyes and followed her to the back. She flipped through a small book and scribbled an address on a Post it note for Ben.
“Thank you kindly.”
“Yeah, sure honey.” Ben exited the restaurant and walked briskly down the street toward the address he had been given.
Sara pulled up to the Vecchio house and she and Ray walked inside to pick up Caroline. Ray was greeted at the front door with hugs and questioning looks.
“Ray, dear, what is this all about? Why have they arrested you?”
“I’m not sure, Ma. It’s just a case of mistaken identity.”
“This is all just ridiculous.”
“I think so.”
“Did you have any trouble with the bail hearing?” Maria walked into the den carrying Caroline as Angelo trotted along behind her.
“Nah, Sara here pretty much made me out to be the model citizen.”
“Sara, what are you going to do now?”
“Well, the three of us are going home and see if we can catch up with Ben. He’s trying to track down a lead on the guy who really killed that woman. I’m going to file a few motions that will set Stella into a running fit while Ray helps me watch Caroline.”
“You can leave her here.”
“Thanks Ma, but I paid a lot of money for this babysitter. I think I’ll make good use of him.” Ray chuckled slightly as Maria laughed and handed Caroline to Sara.
“You got rooked.”
“I think you’re right.”
Sara buckled Caroline in her car seat and the three of them were on their way back to Sara’s apartment.
“Everything. The bail, representing me, believing me. I can’t ever repay you, you know.”
“You’ll just have to work it off then.”
“I’ll be babysitting till the munchkin is 21.”
“Does that include my lawyer’s fees?”
Ray turned and looked at her as she grinned and tried not to laugh. Ray leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
“If you weren’t Fraser’s old lady, I’d kiss ya on the mouth.”
“Are you threatenin’ me?!” The two of them laughed as they pulled through the stoplight.
“I hope Fraser finds something.” The tone of their conversation turned serious and both of them knew that the whole situation was serious.
“He will. He has to.”
~~~~“Who is it?”
“Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.” Ben listened intently at the door. He heard the sounds of someone moving quickly through the apartment.
Ben started at a full run down the dingy apartment building hallway. He leapt down the steps three at a time. He exited the front door and turned the corner. He saw a glimpse of a man running around the corner. He followed and pursued the man through the streets of Chicago. He leapt over a group of trashcans, landing expertly on his feet. He scaled an eight-foot fence and continued the chase. Even though he was starting to get winded, he knew he had to keep going. The man in front of him was the only person that could clear his friend’s name. He pushed on over a small fence and then up a fire escape. Higher and higher the two of them went until they were running along the rooftops of the city. Ben was closing the gap. He was in arms length of him now. He took one strong step and leapt into the air. Tackling the man to the ground, he grabbed the man’s arms and pulled them behind the man’s back.
“Darrin McClure I presume.”
“You some kinda cop?”
“Am I under arrest?”
“Not at the moment, but I foresee it in your future.”
“My God, he looks just like him.” Sara stared through the two-way mirror at the man Ben had just brought in.”
“Well, there are differences. But from a distance, he does bear a striking resemblance.”
“Striking? Try, kick-in-the-head-look-alike.”
“Well, this man’s eyes are brown. Ray’s are blue. This gentleman has a larger nose than Ray. Then there is the obvious, no tattoo. The missing tooth is also a factor.”
“Yeah, that’s something. Has Stella been notified?”
“Yes, Welsh said she’s on her way.”
“Good.” Ben caught the look on Sara’s face and took her by the hand.
“Sara, I do hope you will conduct yourself in a professional manner.”
“Don’t I always?”
“Telling the District Attorney that you will file her motions under ‘I don’t really give a damn’ is not acting professional.”
“It is in America. I don’t know how you do things in Canada.” Sara winked and walked over to where Ray was sitting.
“Hey, Sara. Stella here yet?”
“Not yet. Have you talked to Natalie?”
“Yeah, I called her a little while ago. Her shift ends at midnight.”
“What did she have to say about all this.”
“Do you really want to know? It involved several profane phrases that I’ve never heard before regarding my ex-wife.”
“That’s why she’s my friend.” Sara grinned and patted Ray on the shoulder. She turned to go back to where Ben was standing and saw Stella enter the bullpen and head toward the interrogation room.
“Where is he? Has he been read his rights?” Ben looked her in the face and pulled at his collar.
“Yes, Detective Huey has read the suspect his Miranda Rights. The search warrant has been issued and carried out. The murder weapon was found in the suspects apartment and his prints match the partial prints on the victims car.”
“That’s all you have to say? ‘I see’?” Ben turned to face Sara as she was staring a hole through Stella.
“Your services are no longer needed here counselor. Perhaps you’re needed somewhere to change a diaper.” Sara took a step forward and Ben immediately put his arm in front of her.
“Sara. Perhaps we should go.”
“You should apologize to him.”
“Why? For doing my job?”
“No, for not having the confidence and trust in him like you should have.”
“That’s none of your concern.”
“He’s my friend. That makes it my concern.”
“You think you’re that special don’t you?”
“I’m special because of the way I treat the people around me. You’re a bitch for that same reason.” Ben couldn’t believe the words that Sara had just spoken. He looked around to see that Welsh, Huey and Ray were all witness to the exchange. Stella looked mad enough to chew nails. Sara on the other hand seemed calm and content. Ray stepped up and put a hand on Sara’s shoulder.
“Hey, it’s okay, Sara. Some things never change, eh Stella?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Are the charges dropped or what?”
Stella could only nod her head and give Ray a look that only he understood. He turned and smiled at Sara.
“There, you get yer bail money back and now we can go home.”
“Sure Ray. We’re ready whenever you are.”
Ray sat on the couch in his apartment with his head in his hands. His own wife, ex-wife anyway, thought he was capable of murder. *How can she think that? Am I really that bad a person? Is it so impossible for someone to have faith in me to not screw up?* A voice inside his head reminded him of the two people that did believe in him. *Ben and Sara. * A small smile tugged at his lips at the thought of Ben writing out a $500,000 check to post his bail. He tilted his head back on the couch and sighed. * Vecchio, you sure know how to pick good friends. * His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. He rose slowly and wondered who would be calling unannounced.
“Yeah, hold your horses.” He opened the door and smiled. “Hey you. What are you doing here this early?”
“I got Dr. Baker to cover for me. I wanted to see how my little criminal was doing.”
“Watch it. The charges have been dropped, thank you very much.”
“I know. Sara called me. Why didn’t you?”
“Sorry, I was just sitting here….uh….thinkin’ bout stuff.”
“You okay?” Pulling Natalie in his arms, Ray nuzzled her neck.
“Yeah, I’m great, now.” Ray chuckled as she started to giggle.
“Hey, cut that out. I’m here in an official capacity.”
“Sara told me to check you over and make sure you haven’t been traumatized by this whole horrible ordeal. That, and she told me to take you to dinner so you would eat a meal instead of smarties and coffee.”
“Sara’s bossy.” Ray teased as he led Natalie to the couch.
“She’s worried about you.”
“You’re her friend.”
“Yeah, that I am.”
“So, should we go out or order in? You decide.” Ray leaned over and began to trail kisses down her neck. “Order in, it is. I’ll phone us in some Chinese.”
“Mmm, sounds good.”
“What do you want?”
“I meant to eat.”
“So did I.” Ray captured her mouth in his own before she had a chance to react. He gently slid his tongue along her lower lip. She sank into his embrace as she succumbed to his kisses. As much as she wanted to stay in this position, she knew where it would lead. She and Ray had only been dating for little over a month and she wasn’t ready for what he had in mind. Natalie really liked Ray and she was determined not to screw this relationship up. She had had enough experience with that to last a lifetime. Ray was special and she wanted to be sure he felt the same. Pulling away and trying to catch her breath, she smiled.
“Ray, let’s go eat.” Ray smiled and nodded. He had to respect her. She was all class. Even though he wanted to pick her up and carry her to his bed, she wasn’t that kind of a girl. To him, she was special. The more time they spent together, the more he liked her. When he was with her, he actually felt special. He felt like he could accomplish anything. His thoughts flashed back to this afternoon and Stella. She had been so cold toward him and uncaring. Ray knew that it was the guilt that made her act the way she did, but it didn’t make things any easier on him.
~~~~“Are you sure you want to drive?” Sara sat on the floor, while Ben leaned back in his recliner with Caroline asleep on his stomach.
“Sure, Caroline would be miserable on a plane and the trip would be fun if we drove.”
“You never took many road trips as a child, did you? Don’t answer. It was a rhetorical question.”
“I could ask Turnbull if he would like to join us.”
“That’s a good idea. I know he and Debi have been talking about getting together.”
“Well, I don’t know why he wouldn’t go with us. Fourth of July on the farm sounds like fun to me.”
“You’ll like it. Fireworks and barbecues. We can go swimming at the lake.”
“I know you father is looking forward to it.”
“Yeah, when I talked to him yesterday, he asked me three times if we had made plans to come for vacation.”
“He misses you.”
“He misses all of us. Hey! Let’s take Ray with us too!” Sara smiled up at Ben as if she had just stumbled across the answers to the universe.
“You act as if he’s a sweater you decided to pack. What if Ray doesn’t want to go to the farm on vacation?”
“I’ll ask him. I bet I can talk him into it.”
“Farm? What? Nah, if I leave the city I get this weird skin condition.”
“You are so full of crap.” Sara rolled her eyes at Ray.
“Ray, the farm is really beautiful. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to join us? You may actually enjoy yourself.”
would you want me along on your family vacation?”
“You’re Uncle Ray. Why wouldn’t we want you on our family vacation?” Sara looked him straight in the face and Ray couldn’t say no to those big green eyes. He would never admit it to her, but he was thrilled they asked him and wouldn’t miss going with them for anything in the world.
“Turnbull’s going too. We are driving.”
“It will be easier on everyone if we drive this trip. Besides, it will give us all a chance to see the country.”
“Great.” Sara wasn’t fooled by Ray’s sarcasm. She could see that he was happy and she knew that they would have a good time.
“Dress like summer. And when I say summer, I mean summer. It’s 98 degrees back home in July. And bring some trunks.”
“Swim trunks. We’ll go swimming at the lake.”
“Swimmin’ in a lake? That’s asking for some kinda plague, isn’t it?”
“In Chicago maybe, but not in Rock Hill. You’ll like the farm. Trust me.”
“Riiight. Why do I feel like I’m gonna be walkin’ into an episode of the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’?”
“Oh shut up Ray. Natalie’s invited if you would like her to go.”
“Thanks, I’ll ask her.”
“Be packed and ready on Thursday. We’ll pick you up.”
“How are all of us going to fit in your Jeep?” Sara looked at Ben and smiled at Ray’s question.
“Yes, dear, how are all of us going to fit in my Jeep?”
“I told you I have secured us transportation. We will all be riding in comfort. I can assure you of that.”
Ben walked into the Consulate humming a song Sara was singing to Caroline when he left the house. Turnbull and Meg were in the hall discussing the finer points of dusting the ceiling in the Queen’s Bedroom.
“Good morning, Constable Fraser.”
“Good morning, Sir. Good morning, Constable Turnbull. I’m glad I caught you this morning. Have you spoken to Debi lately?”
“Yes, we chatted on the phone last night.” A large grin spread across his face when he spoke of Debi.
“Have you made plans for the Fourth of July weekend? Sara, Caroline, Ray and I are planning on driving down to the farm on vacation. I’m aware that you have two weeks scheduled and wondered if you would like to accompany us?” Meg took a step back as the large man squealed with delight. She shook her head and laughed as Turnbull engulfed Fraser in a hug and nodded his acceptance. Fraser then turned to Meg and saw the look on her face. * Oh dear. Does the inspector feel left out? What would Sara do? *
“Sir, have you made plans for your holiday?”
“Me, well, I…..” Meg would never admit to spending another long weekend at home alone to her junior officer, even if he was her friend.
“The farm is lovely this time of year. You mentioned having the Consulate closed for repairs and painting. This would be a good excuse for a two week vacation.” Meg felt a lump twist in her throat. She didn’t know what to do at first, the thought of spending a vacation on a farm with friends strangely appealed to her, but these were her junior officers. It may be deemed inappropriate for her to take such a trip. Before she could finish her internal argument with herself, she heard the words fall from her lips.
“That sounds like a good idea, Constable.” Ben smiled and Turnbull clapped his hands.
“You’ll have a good time. We all will.”
“How will we be traveling?”
“I’ve secured us transportation. I’ll pick each of you up Thursday morning. Pack for very warm weather. Sara says the temperature can be quite warm in July. She also says to bring swimming attire.”
“Very well, I’ll make the arrangements through Ottawa for the repairs and painting. I’m sure Ovitz can handle the supervision.” Turnbull and Ben nodded their heads in agreement. Meg smiled slightly and then turned to face Ben.
“Dismissed. Turnbull, don’t you have work to do.” Each left in separate directions. Ben went in his office to call Sara. Turnbull went to retrieve his cleaning supplies and Meg went to her office to figure out how she accepted an invitation to spend two weeks with her two junior constables.
~~~~Sara had packed everything she thought they would need for two weeks away from home. Ben shook his head at the amount of luggage setting next to the front door when he and Dief left to pick up the vehicle he rented to take to South Carolina. He pulled into the parking garage forty-five minutes later and went up stairs to see if Sara and Caroline were ready to go.
“Hey, have we got everything?”
“I think so. Are we going to have room for everyone’s luggage?” Ben smiled and nodded.
“That won’t be a problem.”
“Great. Ernie said he would help us with the bags. Let’s go.” Ben buzzed downstairs and Ernie was at the front door in a matter of minutes. Ben handed him a large suitcase and then hoisted up two more for himself. Sara carried Caroline, a backpack full of snacks and water, a diaper bag and her purse. As soon as they left the elevator at the parking garage, Sara shook her head.
“I knew it.” Ben just smiled and pushed the remote for the back hatch to open on the van he had rented. Ernie whistled and grinned at Ben.
“Wow, that’s a real nice van.”
“Thank you kindly. It seats eight. It has a television and VCR, too. Look up front Sara. There is a small refrigerator.” Sara couldn’t help but smile at Ben’s enthusiasm.
“We’re definitely riding in style. Will you go get the car seat from the jeep?”
“Sure. Be right back.” Ben walked two spaces down and removed Caroline’s cars seat from the Jeep and secured it in the middle seat of the van. Ernie had the last of the luggage stowed in the back and Sara had the backpack and her purse between the two front seats. Sara placed Caroline is the car seat and settled into the passenger side. Ben checked all around the vehicle and waved to Ernie.
“See you in two weeks. Thanks for looking after things for us.”
“Have a safe trip. Have fun.” Ben sat straight in the driver’s seat and adjusted his mirrors one last time. Dief made himself comfortable in the seat in the rear of the van.
“Are you ready?”
“Ready. Let’s go get the others. I called Ray, so he should be ready when we get there. But, we better pick him up last just in case.”
“Good idea. I’m sure Turnbull and Meg will be ready.”
Turnbull greeted them on the front stoop of his small apartment building. His excitement at seeing Debi was evident on his face. He quickly placed his suitcase in the rear of the van and took a seat next to Caroline’s car seat.
“Good morning, Constable Fraser. Good morning Sara. I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to accompany you on your vacation.”
“Turnbull, it’s not necessary for you to call me Constable Fraser. We’re on vacation.”
“Yes, sir.” Sara grinned as Turnbull started playing with Caroline. She cooed and gurgled at his faces.
“On to Meg’s!” Sara was just as excited as Turnbull when it came to going home. She missed her family. And summertime down south was the best in her opinion. Ben even had a permanent smile on his face as he drove to Meg’s apartment.
Turnbull and Ben exited the van in front of Meg’s apartment. Turnbull bounded up the steps followed by Ben. Before either of them could ring the buzzer the door release snapped and allowed them to enter. Meg’s front door was open and she was gathering her purse and a small carrying case when the two of them arrived at her door. Ben noticed one large suitcase by the door and began carrying it down stairs.
“Good morning, Meg. Do you have everything you need.”
“Sir, allow me to carry your other bags for you.”
“Thank you, Turnbull. I think I have everything Ben. Sara made sure I knew what type of clothing to bring.”
“Then shall we go?”
“Uh…yes, one second.” Meg placed her purse on the edge of the couch and walked down the hall. She returned a few moments later and retrieved her purse again. By this time Ben had returned and waited with Turnbull in her front hall.
“Do either of you need to use the facilities before we start our trip?” A blush crept over each man’s cheeks as they shook their heads in reply.
“Well then, let’s go.” The three of them left the apartment and gathered around the back of the van. Ben happily pushed the remote control for the side door. Meg and Turnbull climbed in the van and settled into the large seats.
“Good morning Sara. Good morning, Caroline. How are both of you this morning?”
“We’re both fine, Meg. How are you? Are you ready for a road trip?’
“Ready as I’ll ever be. Where’s Ray and the girl he’s dating?”
“We’re on our way to Ray’s now, but Natalie can’t make it. She couldn’t get off work.”
“That’s a shame.”
“Is everyone ready?” Ben smiled and waited for everyone to fasten their seatbelts before starting the engine.
“Ray’s the last stop and then it’s on to greener pastures!” Ben and Meg rolled their eyes playfully at Sara who was giggling in the front seat.
Meg and Turnbull remained in the van while Sara and Ben went up to Ray’s apartment. Sara needed to go to the restroom one last time before they hit the road. Ben knocked on the door and waited for Ray to answer. Sara could here Ray talking to someone inside. Ben waited patiently, which seemed to annoy Sara. She grasped the doorknob and turned it. She smiled up at Ben when she realized it was unlocked.
“Sara, that’s rude.”
“So is keeping us waiting.” She opened the door and walked in to find a suitcase and a backpack by the door and Ray lying on his back on the couch talking on the phone.
“Yeah, Nat. I’ll miss you too. I really wish you were going with me.” Ray grinned up at Sara as she swatted the side of his foot on the way to his bathroom. Ben gathered his things and carried them down to the van.
“I know. It should be really fun. Sara and Ben are here now. Yeah, I’ll call you when I get there.” Sara stood at the end of his couch with her hands on Ray’s feet. She pulled on each foot and mouthed, “Let’s go.” Ray poked her in the stomach with his left foot.
“Well, I need to go. Sara’s buggin’ the piss out of me. Yeah, I love you too. See you in two weeks. Bye.” Sara started making kissing noises and puckering her lips at Ray. He hung up the phone and leapt off the couch and grabbed her around the waist.
“You think you’re cute don’t you?!”
“Stop! I’ll make my husband beat you up!” Ray lifted her off her feet and carried her to the front door.
“He’d never do that and you know it. Why am I going with you people anyway? I must be out of my mind.” Ray set Sara down on the kitchen counter near the door before checking to see if he had left anything behind.
“You’re going with us because you love us.”
“You sure bout that?”
“Yeah, well I guess.” Sara hopped off the counter and opened the front door.
“Let’s go. We’ve got to get on the road.”
“I’m comin’. Turn that light off and we’ll be ready to rock.” Sara flipped the lights off in the kitchen and she and Ray headed down stairs to the street. Ray started laughing when he saw the dark blue van Ben had rented.
“Fraser, you are such a yuppy.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“A van? You had to rent a van.”
“It’s very comfortable Ray. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the ride.”
“A van. Geez, what a …..hey, is that a Playstation?! This thing’s got a Playstation, a TV and a VCR!” Ben started laughing as he settled into the driver’s seat once again.
“Is everyone ready?”
“Pitter Patter, let’s get at ‘er!”
With that, they were on their way.
~~~~“You know I’m gonna kick yer ass.” Ray grinned at Meg as he held the game controller in his hand. Caroline was sleeping soundly between Meg and Ray and Turnbull and Dief were in the back seat watching the scenery go by.
“That’s highly unlikely detective. The game is called NHL 2000. That’s hockey, for you Americans.”
“Yeah, yeah. Can it and hit start. Let’s get this beatin’ over with.” Sara and Ben grinned at one another as Meg leaned forward and pressed the start button on the Playstation.
“Just remember, no screaming. My child doesn’t need to be jolted awake by you two lunatics.”
“I assure you I won’t be yelling.” Meg grinned over at Ray as she gripped her controller.
“No yellin’. Right. What team?”
“Figures. I’m the Wings.” The game started and Sara glanced back to see Ray’s face take on an intense look of concentration. Turnbull watched the game with intensity as Meg blocked Ray’s attempt at a goal.
“You’re going to have to do better than that, Detective.”
Turnbull watched in delight as a small grin spread across Meg’s lips as she worked the controller. He knew what was about to happen and he waited with anticipation on the reaction. The announcer in the game screamed out the one word that made Ray curse under his breath.
‘That’s one, Detective.”
“Shut up.” Ray gave her a playful glare and the two of them continued the game. Ben sighed contently as he drove. He started to reflect on the events of the past year. He took his eyes off the road for a moment to glance at the woman sitting next to him. Some days he couldn’t figure out how he went from being completely alone to having a wife, child and more family and friends he could ever imagine. He was blessed and he was thankful. Sara caught the look on his face. It was one of joy and contentment. She reached across the seat and put her hand on his leg as he drove. She leaned over and whispered in his ear.
“I love you.” Sara was more than surprised when Ben replied to her in a voice so strong and clear that everyone in the van could hear him.
“I love you Sara.”
Sara turned quickly to see Caroline burst into tears and Ray shrink into the van
“You did it, you fix it.” Ray looked at Sara in horror and then looked at Caroline.
“Yep. And you better hurry. She hates being scared like that.” Ray started to rub Caroline’s head and rub his fingers across her hands.
“Shhhhh. It’s okay. It’s okay. Stop cryin’. Meg was just cheatin’ at the game, that’s all.” Ray looked up from Caroline in time to duck. Meg had aim at his forehead and planned to thump a rather large knot in the middle of it.
“Am I gonna have to separate you two?” Meg laughed slightly as Turnbull began to giggle. Caroline calmed her crying as Ray started to hum to her.
“How much longer?”
“We’ve only been on the road for an hour.”
“Ugh, It’s going to be a long trip.”
~~~~“Hey, Frase. How long does it take to get to Rock Hill, again?”
“Approximately twelve hours Ray.”
“How long are you gonna drive?”
“I’ll probably drive another two hours. Then you or Turnbull can relieve me.”
“Greatness. I hate riding. I’d rather drive. Besides, you drive too slow.”
“I’m going the speed limit Ray.”
“That’s my point.”
Ben and Sara slept in the back seat while Dief and Turnbull snoozed in the middle seats. Ray and Meg remained awake and kept each other company during Ray’s turn to drive.
“So how did she talk you into coming?”
“It was Fraser that asked, actually. He and Turnbull were discussing Debi and before I knew it I had accepted his invitation to join them.”
“That tends to happen around those two.”
“You really should slow down.”
“I’m making great time.” Meg rolled her eyes at Ray’s comment.
“If you get a ticket, you know Sara will make fun of you the entire trip.” Ray looked over at Meg and then glanced in the rear view mirror at Sara and Fraser snuggled together sleeping next to Caroline. He then turned back to Meg.
“Think about it. Sara will have a field day if you get a ticket.” Ray’s shoulder’s slumped slightly as he eased his foot back from the accelerator.
“You think we’re gonna like it on the farm?”
“Turnbull and I were only there for an evening and a day for the wedding. From what I saw it was a beautiful place. The ‘farm’ as they like to call it, was a large cattle ranch.”
“Her father raises Angus Cattle. Turnbull told me that he owns one of the largest ranches in the South East.”
“I don’t know cattle from corn beef. I have a feelin’ I’m gonna be way outta my element.”
“Don’t worry Detective. I’m sure we’ll all have a pleasant time.” *God I hope so. How in this world did I wind up in a conversion van with Ray Vecchio, Turnbull, the Fraser family and a deaf wolf. I must be completely insane. *
Sara snuggled close to Ben in the back seat of the van. He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled him close to his chest.
“She’s still asleep. Let’s hope we don’t have another crying fit for a while.” Ben closed his eyes and nodded. “You didn’t get much sleep last night. What were you thinking about?” Sara’s voice was barely a whisper. Ben opened his eyes to find her soft green eyes staring up at him.
“I was just thinking about Caroline, you, our family and friends.” Sara leaned up and kissed him gently on the lips.
“Don’t worry, Ben. He’s going to come home to us.” Ben pulled back slightly as he stared into her eyes. Sara rubbed her hand along his cheek and smiled.
“Shhh, I love you. I know when you’re upset and I know when you are thinking about Ray. You don’t have to breakdown into a fit of tears like I do, for me to tell when something’s wrong, Ben Fraser. I just wish you had come to me. I’ll listen, you know.” Ben pulled her into an embrace and kissed the top of her forehead.
“I know you will. I’m just not used to having someone to talk to all the time, remember.”
“Well, I’m not going anywhere and I know Ray will come back to us soon.”
Ray pulled into a large gas station and everyone piled out of the van. Meg, Sara and Caroline went inside while Turnbull pumped gas. Ben stretched his large frame and waited for Sara and Caroline to return from the restroom. He smiled slightly as Meg exited the store with a handful of snacks and a six pack of soft drinks.
“I thought we could use something to munch on.” She saw the smile on Ben’s face and the look of slight shock on everyone else’s. At first she was hesitant to release her guard, but these people were her friends and she felt it was time to act in kind.
“Anybody else need to go before we leave?” Ray yelled his question as he walked across the parking lot into the store. Sara and Caroline were still waiting in line for the bathroom as Ray entered the store.
“A church bus pulled in on the other side. I’m waiting on them. There’s about eight people in there.”
“Well, I’ll go and then you and Caroline can use the men’s.”
“Sounds fine to me.” Ray grinned. Stella would have freaked out at the mention of using the men’s room. He remembered the horrified look she gave him at even suggesting such a thing. Sara didn’t even blink.
Ray exited the restroom to see Sara and Caroline still waiting.
“All clear. I’ll watch the door for you.”
“Great. I’ve got to change Caroline too. So we’ll be a few minutes.”
“No problem.” Ray stood outside the door and waited. A large burly man came toward him. He stopped in front of Ray and looked down at the blond detective.
“Uh, sorry there pal. It’s occupied right now.”
“I thought it had more than one stall.”
“Yeah well, it’s full. It will just be a minute.”
“But, I need to go.”
“Hey, listen pal. It’s occupiedo. Comprendo? Tie a knot in it.” The large man glared at Ray, he was just about to reach out and remove him from his path when the door opened and Sara came out holding Caroline.
“We’re done. It’s all yours.” Sara smiled sweetly at the man. She knew he was about to tear Ray apart. The man smiled and looked down at the petite brunette and the sweet little baby she was holding.
“Why didn’t you just say your wife was in there. My wife hates it when the ladies room is full.” Sara giggled as the man walked past a stunned Ray and waved sweetly at Caroline.
“C’mon Ray. Let’s go before you really get in trouble.”
“Hey, I was just doin’ you a favor.”
“Nah, you’re the smart one. I’m just pretty.”
Turnbull was behind the wheel and adjusting the mirrors while Sara, Caroline and Ray walked through the parking lot. Sara handed Caroline to Ben and waited on Ray to climb into the back seat.
“Where do you want to sit?”
“I’ll sit up front with Ren. You and Meg can sit on either side of Caroline.” Dief jumped into the back seat and stretched out next to Ray. Meg helped Ben strap Caroline into the car seat and Sara settled into the passenger seat next to Ren.
“Is everyone ready to proceed?”
“Just drive already.”
“Then we’re off.”
~~~~~“Are you excited about seeing Deb-I?” Ren smiled as he kept his eyes on the road.
“Very.” Sara had taken her sandals off the minute they climbed into the van. She propped her bare feet up on the dash as Turnbull drove.
“You and she make a cute couple.”
“Thank you. I really like spending time with her.”
“So, do you think it will get serious between you two?” Ben leaned forward and tapped Sara on the shoulder.
“Perhaps we would all enjoy listening to some music. Why don’t you turn the radio on.”
“Sara.” Sara knew the look Ben was now giving her. She stuck her tongue out at him and clicked on the radio. Turnbull looked up in the rearview mirror and made eye contact with Ben. The look shared between the two said volumes. Sara caught the look as well. She knew she was being nosy, but Ren and Debi were her friends. She wanted to see them happy. Sara turned slightly in the seat and smiled at Ben. She knew how to get him back. As the country song started into the chorus Sara started to sing.
“Somebody’s gonna give you a lesson in leavin’. Somebody’s gonna give back what you been been givin’ and I hope that I’m around, to watch ‘em knock you down.”
Dief whined and Ben grinned knowingly at Sara. Sara was a lot of things, but a singer was not one of them. Meg made a pained face as Ren simply joined along in her singing. Ray never moved from his reclined position in the back seat. He simply screamed at the top of his lungs.
“Good God, shut her up!” Caroline raised her arms and pumped them up and down to the music.
“See, my child loves my singing.”
“Only your child could love your singing.” In a drippy sing-song voice, Sara replied.
“Bite me Ray.” She giggled and then she and Ren continued to serenade the group.
“You’re the kinda man, a woman thinks she can cha-a-ange. But the only thing changin’ is my way a-thinkin’ an I’m thinkin’ that maybe some da-a-ay….”
well, we might as well join them.” Ben nodded to Meg and the two of them
“Somebody’s gonna give you lesson in leavin’. Somebody’s gonna leave you with your heart a-burnin’ and no way to put it out. Baby, there ain’t no doubt.”
“Oh Christ! You people are killin’ me.” Ray turned to Dief and reached out and scratched his ears. “I bet you’re glad your deaf.” Dief whined his reply and rested his head on the arm of the seat. Turnbull smiled as they all sang while driving down the highway.
~~~~“How much further?” Ray shifted in the back seat while he whined.
“Another three hours. I thought we’d stop for supper soon.” Sara smiled over at Ben as he played with Caroline.
“Where do you think we should eat?” Turnbull looked in the rearview mirror as he drove.
“Let’s not get drive-thru this time. Let’s stop some where and sit down and eat.” Sara and Ben nodded at Meg’s suggestion.
“There’s a Cracker Barrel up ahead.”
“Oh, yeah. Stop there. That’s good.” Turnbull guided the van down the off ramp and pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant.
“This is so good.” Ray shoveled another spoonful of hashbrown casserole into his mouth. Sara feed Caroline a bottle as she ate sporadically from her plate. Turnbull and Ben decided to order breakfast and were enjoying the real maple syrup on their pancakes.
Meg was surprised at how good the biscuits were. Sara looked around at all the faces seated around the table. She smiled to herself as Ben was sharing a story with them. These were the people they loved most in the world. She smiled down at Caroline and closed her eyes. Ben stopped his story and looked over at Sara. He placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Sweetheart, are you okay?” Sara looked up slightly startled.
“I’m okay.” Ben smiled as Sara offered him a small grin and a glance around the table.
“Just being thankful?”
“Yeah. I hope everyone has a good time. I just want to relax and enjoy our vacation.”
“I’m sure we’ll find something to entertain ourselves with.” Ray grinned and took a sip of Coke. Meg leaned forward with a questioning look.
“Sara, I noticed you didn’t pack any of Caroline’s things. Won’t she need her portable crib?”
“The minute she was born, Daddy went out and bought everything she would need to stay at his house. He put a crib and a changing table in my old room. There’s a highchair in the kitchen. She’s gonna be so ruint.” Ben laughed at Sara’s accent. Ray looked up startled.
“What the hell was that?!”
“What?” Sara looked around and then looked at Ben. “What?”
“Ray, as you know Sara’s accent tends to surface in tense situations. But, it really gets thick when she goes home.”
“I’m not even aware of it.”
“You sound like Ellie Mae.”
~~~~After a large and satisfying meal, the travelers once again settled into the large van Ben had rented for the trip. Ben took over driving. Turnbull sat beside him in the passenger seat while Sara and Ray sat on either side of Caroline. Meg stretched out in the back seat and absently rubbed Dief’s ears as they rode down the highway. Everyone was quiet and contently listening to the radio when Ray felt a sharp punch to the arm.
“Hey! What was that for?!” Sara didn’t even bother to look innocent.
“What?” Ray rubbed his bicep and glared at Sara.
“Punch buggy. A Volkswagen Beetle bug car. Punch buggy, you moron.”
“Fraser, you gonna let yer wife talk to me like that.”
“Ray, I think you’ve known Sara long enough to know that I don’t control her actions or her tongue.”
“Yeah, well, maybe you oughtta.”
“It’s just a game Ray.”
“You hit me in the arm.”
“Like it really hurt. Suck it up.”
“You’d probably cry.” Ben pointed out the window while looking in the rearview mirror. Sara took another punch at Ray’s arm.
“Cut that shit out.”
“Don’t curse in front of my child. So help me, if her first words involve profanity I’m gonna kick your….”
“Sara.” Ben issued a warning look that Sara quickly heeded.
“Yeah, you and what army?” Ray poked Sara in the side until she started laughing uncontrollably.
“Stop! Stop! You’re going to make me wet my pants.”
“Fraser said you always threaten that. I want to see you do it.”
“STOP!!” Meg reached over the seat and began tickling Ray’s sides as he assaulted Sara’s.
“Let’s see how you like it.”
“Hey! Stop it! Stop it!” Ben and Turnbull grinned at the sight of the three grown people in a tickle fight in the back of the van.
“If you stop, I’ll stop!”
“Am I going to have to pull this car over?”
“Oh shut up!” Ben laughed and shook his head as he drove.
“Okay! Truce! I quit. I quit.” Ray released Sara and Meg released Ray. The three of them sat back in their seats and tried to catch their breath.
“You wanna watch a movie?”
“Ben what did you bring? Anything good?”
“I brought some of your tapes. Look in that backpack under the seat.” Sara pulled the backpack open and grinned.
“You are so great. I love you!” Sara pulled her copy of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ from the backpack and pushed it in the VCR.
“Oh Gawd! You can’t be serious!”
“It’s my favorite.”
“Let’s watch something else. We only have about three hours left. Let’s watch something with a car chase in it.”
“I’m with Sara. Let’s watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’.”
“Sorry, Ray. Meg and I out vote you.”
“What about Fraser and Turnbull? They should get a vote.” Turnbull turned in the seat and grinned.
“I rather enjoy Judy Garland.”
“You suck.” Ray’s words were softened by the grin on his face. Sara pushed play on the VCR and sat back in the seat. Her eyes were that of a small child as she watched the black and white images on the screen.
“You’re not gonna start singin’ are you?”
“Shhhh.” Ray sat back in his seat and watched the movie with them. Ben and Turnbull sat contently in the front seats and watched the scenery go by in the darkness.
“What time is it?” Ray yawned and stretched in the seat. He rubbed the top of Caroline’s head and gave her a kiss on the nose.
“It’s about nine. We’re just on the other side of Blacksburg.” Sara smiled as Ben answered his question.
“We’re only forty-five minutes away. I better call daddy and let him know.” Ben reached between the seat and retrieved the cell phone for Sara. She dialed the number waited for her father to answer.
“Hey, Daddy. We’re in Blacksburg……No sir, we’ve eaten…..That sounds good, though….Okay, I’ll tell him…..yes sir…..I love you too.”
“Is he excited?” Ben grinned as he looked in the rearview mirror at Sara.
“Yeah, he said if Debi didn’t calm down she was gonna hose her down with the hose pipe.” Turnbull’s cheeks stained bright red as Ben and Meg laughed.
“Hose pipe?” Ray made a face at Sara.
“I believe she is referring to a garden hose, Ray.”
“Does everybody talk like that?”
“Yep. We all do. Just stick close to Ben. He’ll translate.”
“Great. Why do I feel and headache comin’ on?”
“Oh shut up. You’ll love it.”
“Right. Like a bullet through the brain.”
~~~~Debi saw the headlights first and ran out on the front porch.
Jacky followed Mr. Montgomery out the door and waited for the van to pull up the driveway. Ben pulled into Sara’s parking spot and opened the side door for her to get out. In her bare feet, she ran up the porch and into her father’s arms.
“Baby Girl! It’s so good to see you. Look at you! You get prettier ever’ time I see you.”
Ray and Turnbull unloaded the luggage while Ben carried Caroline. Meg gathered the small bags they kept up front and joined Sara on the porch. Debi bounded down the steps into the arms of Turnbull. Sara smiled at the affection they displayed. Meg felt oddly out of place as the two of them hugged and kissed in the driveway. Jack was hugging Sara while Mr. Montgomery had engulfed Ben in a hug. Ray saw Meg’s discomfort and walked up beside her on the porch.
“We’re in an episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie.” Meg laughed slightly and gave him a thankful look.
“Let’s get all you youngin’s in the house. Deb-I made a pot of coffee for anyone who would like some. Ben, the tea’s in the kettle.”
“Thank you kindly, Jack.”
“Now, hand over that grandbaby of mine.”
The group made their way into the house. Mr. Montgomery cooed at Caroline as they all walked into the kitchen.
“I know you children are tired, so we can catch up in the morning if you like. Meg, you’re in the downstairs guestroom. Ray, you’re bunkin’ in the extra bed in Jacky’s room. The guest bedroom upstairs has been redecorated.”
“What?” Sara gave her father a confused look.
“Daddy made it into a nursery.”
“I thought Caroline was going to just sleep in a crib in our room.”
“Nonsense. My little Caroline needs a room of her own.” Jack Montgomery smiled and made a goofy face at Caroline as he talked. Sara nudged Ben in the ribs and grinned at Debi.
“Where’s Ren going to sleep, Daddy?” Debi shot her the stink eye, while Turnbull turned the color of scarlet. Mr. Montgomery looked up and gave Debi and stern fatherly look.
“I’ve been informed that he will be staying in the guest room at Deb-I’s.”
“Yeah right.” Jacky couldn’t help but adding his two cents to the conversation. He and Sara laughed at Debi. Debi chose that moment to wish everyone goodnight.
“We’ll see you in the morning. Call us when breakfast is ready.” She tugged on Turnbull’s arm and he followed behind her.
“Good evening, everyone. See you in the morning.” Meg could barely make out the sound of his giggling as they walked down the driveway to Debi’s car.
“Sleep sounds pretty good to me. I’m beat.” Ray slouched in the chair with a cup of coffee in his hand.
“Come on Meg. I’ll show you the guest room.” Sara and Meg stood and were about to leave the kitchen when Ben stopped them.
“Sir, a word to the wise, rise early if you want hot water. Sara takes long showers.”
“Thank you kindly, Constable. I’ll remember that.”
“It’s true Sara.”
“Shut up Jacky.” Before Sara had a chance to run, Jacky ran over and grabbed her by the arms and lifted her in the air. As she screamed and kicked, Meg looked on in shock. She then turned to Ben and Ray who didn’t even seem to notice. Ben saw her look and offered some advice.
“Don’t worry Meg, eventually you get used to it.”
~~~“Is Caroline down for the night?” Ben leaned on his elbow across the end of the bed as he flipped through the TV channels. Sara walked in to the room and started to pull off her shorts.
“Yeah, she’s sound asleep.”
“Sara, you left the door open.” Sara was just about to pull off her shorts when Ray walked down the hall.
“Hey! There’s people walking out here!”
“Sorry. I wouldn’t want to offend you with my nakedness.” Ben rolled his eyes as Sara grabbed one of Ben’s t-shirts and a pair of gym shorts and went to the bathroom down the hall.
“The bug asleep?”
“Yes, hopefully she’s down for the night.” Ray collapsed in the chair next to the bed and started watching TV with Fraser.
“He said somethin’ bout checkin’ on the cattle or somethin’. He should be back soon.”
“Daddy said he had a cow about to calf.” Ray and Ben looked up from the TV as Sara walked into the room.
“Huh?” Sara flopped down on the end of the bed next to Ben and propped her feet up on Ray’s knee.
“A momma cow is about to give birth to a baby cow.” Ben grinned as Ray nodded.
“So what’s your brother gonna do?”
“He’s a vet. He’s going to make sure she can deliver okay.”
“I thought nature did all that stuff.”
“Sometimes nature needs a little help. Hey, where’s Dief?” Meg appeared at the door and answered her question.
“He’s in the nursery. He finally left me alone after I gave him the last of the snacks I had purchased at the gas station.”
“Hey, c’mon in. Have a seat.” Sara grinned at Meg and motioned for her to sit next to her and Ben on the bed. Meg looked around the room at the three of them sitting so comfortably together. Her training told her to refuse the request and politely remove herself from the situation. But, her heart told her to pile in and have a seat. Ben smiled to himself when Meg took a seat on the floor near the foot of the bed.
“Aren’t you people tired?”
“I’m quite fatigued.”
“Then why aren’t we trying to get some sleep?” Sara smiled and leaned over Ben’s side so she could face Meg.
“Because we’re on vacation.”
Jacky came lumbering down the hall en route to his bedroom when he saw Sara’s light on in her room. He stood in the doorway and smiled at the four sleeping people sprawled out in the room. Ben and Sara were snuggled together lengthwise on the bed. Sara still had one foot resting on Ray’s knee as he slumped to the side in the chair. Meg was curled up with a pillow and blanket on the floor. It was already one in the morning, so he thought he should at least get Meg and Ray to their respective bedrooms. He walked quietly over to Meg and shook her lightly.
“Meg. Meg, you really should get off this hard floor.” Meg looked up bleary eyed and for a moment she couldn’t remember where she was.
“Yeah, you want me to help you downstairs?” Meg staggered to her feet and walked slowly downstairs to her assigned room.
Jacky nudged Ray in the shoulder.
“Ray, c’mon. You need to go to bed.”
“I am in bed.”
“No, you’re in a chair.”
“C’mon, get up.” Ray’s slender frame was easily hoisted to its feet by Jacky. He walked him across the hall and deposited him in the bed next to the window. Jacky slipped out of his boots and went to take a shower. Ray was sound asleep before Jacky left the room.
~~~~Ray woke up to the sound of country music. He looked around the room and tried to remember how he got there. Jacky’s bed was made and the door was cracked slightly. He pulled the sheet back and realized he was still in his jeans and t-shirt from last night. He stumbled toward the door and caught Ben walking down the hall toward the bathroom.
“Good morning Ray.”
“What’s that noise?”
“That would be….Alan Jackson. Unfortunately, Sara beat you to the shower.”
“She’s not singing again is she?” Ben laughed easily and shook his head.
“Not this time. She’ll be out in a minute. Grab a shower and come down stairs. Breakfast is almost ready.”
“I hope you’re hungry.” Ben padded off down the hall and disappeared into the nursery. Ray stood in the hall and rubbed the sleep from his eyes with one hand and his stomach with the other. Sara opened the bathroom door and allowed the sound of the radio to engulf them.
“I’m done. You better get a shower quick or breakfast will be gone.”
“I see we’re still a little ray of sunshine in the mornings.”
“That’s Natalie’s job.” Sara laughed as she walked down the hall into the nursery. Ray went back into his room and retrieved his shaving kit and a change of clothes. The first thing he did upon entering the bathroom was cut Sara’s radio off. He stood under the lukewarm water for a few minutes until he was awake enough to complete the task of bathing. He cursed under his breath as he started to shiver from the now freezing water streaming down his back. When he arrived downstairs, he was greeted with the smell of bacon and eggs. Turnbull and Debi had already arrived and fixed a plate. Ben was feeding Caroline, while Sara fixed plates for the two of them. Jacky was finishing the last of his milk and was heading out the door to check on the herd. Mr. Montgomery was standing near the stove pouring Meg a cup of coffee.
“Morning Ray. Come fix you a plate.” Sara motioned with a turn of her head toward the stove as she carried two plates back to the table for her and Ben.
“Coffee.” Ray wasn’t what one would call a morning person. Sara leapt to her feet and ran upstairs.
“Wait a minute!” Everyone looked at her with confusion when she walked back into the kitchen carrying a small grocery bag. She nonchalantly handed the bag to Ray as she returned to her seat at the table. Ray opened the bag and smiled at the two-week supply of Smarties.
“They don’t sell them down here.” Ray took a box from the bag and poured the contents into a large coffee mug. On his way to the stove, he leaned down and kissed Sara on the top of the head.
“Hey, I’m tryin’ to eat here.” Sara playfully taunted Ray.
~~~“So what are the plans of the day?” Ben looked around the table as all eyes settled on Sara for an answer.
“What are you all lookin’ at me for? When did I become the cruise director?” Mr. Montgomery rose to his feet and held his hands out for Ben to hand him Caroline.
“You children plan a full day. I’m going to spend the day with my grandbaby.”
“Daddy are you sure?”
“We’ll be fine. I’ve raised two children. I think I can handle this little one for the say. You children go and have a good time. Jacky put up a new rope at the lake.”
“Really? That sounds great.” Debi smiled over at Ren as she thought about the sight of him in his bathing suit.
“So you want to go to the lake? We could pack a lunch.” Sara looked around the table for approval.
“That sounds like a relaxing day.” Meg smiled as she finished her juice.
“I still think swimmin’ in a lake is just askin’ for trouble.”
“You’ll love it Ray. I promise. Let’s go get changed.”
Debi and Ren went to Debi’s, while Sara radioed Jacky on the walkie-talkie they always carried on the farm so he could join them after he checked on the herd. She then went upstairs to put on her bathing suit.
“Why don’t you wear the two piece one?” Sara lowered her head slightly and tried to ignore Ben’s question. “Sara?” With a loud sigh she knew he wasn’t going to let it go.
“I’m a mother now, I think I better stick with the one piece.” She tried to seem happy and upbeat in her answer to him, but Ben was not fooled.
“Sara. Tell me the truth.”
“Sara, why don’t you want to wear the bikini? It looks great on you.”
“To you maybe.”
“What do you mean?” Sara pulled off her shirt and stood in front of the mirror. She traced her finger along the circular scar on her side.
“Sara, these are our friends. They are aware of your gunshot wound. There is no reason to be self conscious.” Sara lowered her head and turned away from the mirror. Ben could tell that the gunshot wound left more than just a physical scar.
“It’s been almost two years since you were shot, sweetheart. Besides, you look great in the two piece.” Ben took her by the wrist and pulled her to him. He nuzzled her neck as he trailed his fingers along her sides.
“I don’t know.”
“If I have to wear a bathing suit and I’m sure you will take every opportunity to remark on how pale you think I am, then you should wear the bikini to make it up to me.”
“You play dirty, Constable.”
“Later.” An evil grin parted his lips as he looked at the shocked expression on Sara’s face.
“I’ll take you up on that.” Ben walked over to her dresser and removed the bright orange bikini and handed it to Sara.
“But, I hadn’t worn this in a couple of years. I don’t even know if it will fit.”
“I’m sure it will.” Ben gave her a small smile as he slipped out of his jeans and into his navy blue swimsuit. Sara couldn’t help but stare at his muscular form as he pulled the shorts over his thighs.
“It’s not polite to stare.”
“You’re very handsome.”
“Thank you kindly. Are you going to get dressed? The others will be waiting on us.” Sara walked past him and playfully swatted his bottom as she unbuttoned her shorts. She quickly changed into the bright orange bikini and pulled one of Ben’s shirts on over it. She opened the bedroom door in time to see Ray exit his room in a white Van Halen t-shirt and a pair of dark green swim shorts.
“Sexy.” Sara smirked at Ray’s very pale legs and then she noticed his eyes trailing up her legs and settling on her stomach. The shirt she wore was unbuttoned and allowed him to see her scar. She pulled the shirt closed and lowered her eyes. Ray could tell she was uncomfortable and wanted to make her feel at ease.
“Lookin’ good yourself.” Sara didn’t say anything and Ray could tell she was uncertain. He leaned towards her and whispered in her ear.
“I know about the gunshot wound. We all have scars, Sara. Some people can see, some they can’t. You look great. Don’t worry about it.”
“Thanks Ray.” Ben walked up behind them and placed an arm on Sara’s waist. He offered Ray a grateful smile.
The three of them walked down stairs and waited on Meg. Sara took it upon herself to see what was taking her so long. She knocked on the guestroom door and Meg called for her to come in. Sara saw Meg standing in front of the mirror fixing her hair.
“I’m just putting my hair in a ponytail. I’ll be done in a minute.”
“No hurry. We’re still waiting on Deb-I and Ren. You got your suit on?”
“Yes, it’s under my clothes. You’re not wearing shoes?”
“I never wear shoes when I’m home. I hate being confined.”
“I see. What are we going to pack for lunch?”
“I thought we’d make some sandwiches and take a cooler.”
“That sounds fine. Let’s go. I’m ready.”
Sara and Meg started making the sandwiches while Ben and Ray packed the cooler with bottles of water and snack foods. Debi and Ren pulled into the drive and Sara heard Debi crank up a four wheeler.
“Ben, will you and Ray go get two more four wheelers? We can all ride double. I’ll strap the cooler to the back of ours and Meg, you and Ray can carry the towels.” Mr. Montgomery walked into the kitchen with Caroline secured to his chest in a baby carrier.
“What in the world are you doin’?” Sara tried to control her giggles.
“I bought this down at the store the other day. It’s like a little papoose. See, she’s snuggled close to me, but my arms are still free.”
“Clever.” Sara grinned at Ben who was trying not to laugh.
“I think you’ve adjusted well to this Grandpa gig.”
“Yeah, I’m handling it pretty well. Take the radios with you incase we need you.”
“I’m a step ahead of you. We have number 12 and 15 with us. We’re on channel two.” Sara placed the last sandwich in the cooler and closed the lid. She and Meg walked out on the porch and waited for Ben and Ray to return.
Ren smiled as Debi wrapped her arms tightly around his waist as they rode across the pasture behind Ben and Sara. Ray followed behind with Meg hanging on to his waist for dear life.
“Would you slow down! You’re not used to one of these things. You’re going to kill us!” Ray just grinned and drove faster. For some strange reason, the thought of Meg Thatcher freaked out appealed to him.
~~~~The path along the edge of the pasture opened up to reveal the lake house where Ben and Sara were married. The lake was beautiful as a slight breeze rippled the water. Sara and Debi stowed the food in the small refrigerator inside the lake house while Ben retrieved the large black inner tubes from the back room of the house.
“This place is great!” Ray looked around the small lake house.
“We like it.” Sara smiled as she put the last of the sandwiches in the refrigerator. “You ready to hit the lake?”
“Sure!” Debi answered a little to quickly which caused Sara to laugh out loud.
Everyone walked down the small dirt path to the lake edge.
“The water is shallow here near this edge, but it drops off to about 30 feet in the middle and over to the right.” Sara and Ben held hands as they waded into the cool water. Meg and Ray stood back and watched as Debi pulled Turnbull by the hand towards the water.
“Okay, Meg. What do you think?” Ray looked at Meg with uncertain eyes.
“They seemed to be having a good time. It apparently won’t kill us right away.”
“Well, let’s give it a try.” Meg and Ray waded slowly into the water until they were waist deep. Sara and Ben were already up to their necks.
“There’s something slimy on my foot!”
“It’s just grass or something, Ray. Don’t be a baby.” Ray took a few more steps forward while Meg stood her ground. She adjusted her straps on her red one-piece swimsuit and looked around tentatively.
“C’mon, Meg. Just dive right in.” Sara called from the deep in of the lake. She and Ben were swimming to the small platform in the center of the lake.
They all turned to hear the sound of a four-wheeler coming over the hill. Jacky pulled up next to a large tree on the lake edge. He pulled his shoes off and threw them towards the lake house. He pulled his shirt over his head and grinned at Sara while he pulled a large rope from one of the branches of the tree.
“Oh no! Ben move!” Before Sara or Ben could swim out of the way, Jacky jumped into the air and with movements perfected over the years, grabbed the rope and swung out over the water. He released the rope and did a perfect cannonball two feet away from Sara. As water drenched her face and hair, Jacky surfaced and surveyed his handy work.
“You suck!” Sara coughed and spit the water from her mouth as Jacky laughed.
“You want to go next? I’ll piggy back ya?”
Sara smiled brightly as she and Jacky swam toward shore. Ben and the others watched and laughed as Jacky pulled the rope toward them. Sara jumped on his back and then Jacky leapt into the air again to grab the top half of the rope. The two of them hit the water screaming with laughter.
“You two are nuts!” Ray shook his head and laughed as Jacky surfaced again. Concern washed over Ben’s face when Sara didn’t surface with him. Jacky knew what that meant from years of living with a sister like Sara. He looked around and feigned concern, trying not to show the others his tight grip on the waistband of his shorts.
“OH DE….” Ben disappeared under the water. Everyone looked around shocked except for Debi and Jacky. Ben surfaced with the deepest shade of red staining his cheeks. Sara surfaced about twenty feet away.
“What’s the matter Frase?” Ray’s question went unanswered as Ben turned to stare at Sara.
“Give them back.” His voice was stern, but he couldn’t hide the hint of laughter.
“Come and get ‘em.”
“Sara. I mean it.” Ben made sure he was submerged as far as he could go without actually drowning.
“Oooo, I’m scared. Come get ‘em if you want ‘em.” Ben inched his way toward Sara, but she swam further away from him.
“Sara, when I catch you…..”
“You’re gonna what?”
“Well you have to catch me first.” Before Sara finished her sentence, Ben disappeared beneath the surface of the water. One thing Sara failed to realize was that Ben was an excellent swimmer as well. She tread water as she looked around for air bubbles.
“Where’d he go?”
She started to dread ever messing with Ben when her fears were realized. The others watched as Ben quietly surfaced behind her. Before she could react, Ben had her by the waist and pulled her under.
“Aaacck!” Sara surfaced in Ben’s arms. He held his bathing suit in one hand and Sara in the other.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Sara giggled and squirmed.
“Oh, you’re going to be sorry alright.” Ben’s eyes sparkled as he playfully taunted Sara.
“He’s gonna git yer ass now, Sara.”
“Jacky help me!”
“Uh-uh, little sister. You are on your own.”
“Yeah right. Drown ‘er, Fraser.” Ben smiled as he slipped back into his swimsuit. Sara marveled at how he never released her from his grasp as he did it. She then felt herself being lifted in the air and hoisted over Ben’s head. As she screamed and howled, Ben threw her into the water once again. Sara surfaced laughing so hard she thought she would cry. Ben swam quickly over to her and lifted her up again.
“No! Not again! I’m gonna drown!”
“Not likely.” Sara seemed to hang in the air for a moment before hitting the water in a large slash. She surfaced with her hair hanging in her face and a mouth full of water.
“Okay! Okay! I’m sorry!” Ben swam over to her again and engulfed her in his arms. The two of them bobbed up and down in the water while Sara softly whispered apologies through her slight giggles.
Jack Montgomery lifted Caroline from the edge of the bed and smiled at the new outfit he had bought her. It took him a few minutes to manipulate the tiny buttons with his large hands, but he managed to dress Caroline with relative ease. He had seen the little outfit in a store window and couldn’t pass it up. Caroline now had her own pair of denim overalls, a little white t-shirt and a pink and green plaid sun hat. Mr. Montgomery talked to Caroline as they left the house and stepped out onto the porch.
“Are you ready to go, Doodlebug? This is your first time on the farm and around here, you have to earn your keep. So we have to check things out.” He opened the door to his old pickup and strapped Caroline into the new car seat he had bought last week. He even went by the car dealership and requested any special buckles he needed to make sure the seat was as safe as possible.
“You ready, Doodlebug? Let’s go.” The old engine turned over with a sputter and a hum. The radio was playing an old Hank Williams song as they rode through the side fence and into the west pasture toward the barn.
~~~~Ray and Meg each floated in a large inner tube while Ben and Sara rested in the sun on the platform in the middle of the lake. Ren and Debi bobbed up and down in the water as the two of them floated along kissing as if no one were around. Jacky sprawled out along the bank underneath the rope tree and watched Dief run through the field as he chased rabbits. This is what Sara had wanted, the family together, relaxing and having a good time. She sighed contently as she propped her head up on Ben’s stomach.
“That sounds like the sound of happiness.”
“It is, Ben. It truly is.”
“I wonder what Caroline is putting your father through.”
“She’s probably got him wrapped tightly around her finger by now. I’m going to give them another hour and them I’m going to radio and make sure they’re doing all right.”
“Sounds good to me. Look.” Ben nodded to Ray and winked at Sara.
“He’s having a ball, isn’t he? For someone who is gonna catch some kinda plague from the lake, he sure is lovin’ it.” Ben started to chuckle. Not only at Sara’s comment but the accent at which it had been delivered.
“You can tell you are home.”
“I know, I know. I sound like Reba McEntire.” Ben rubbed his finger down her elbow as he smiled.
“I love it.”
“What else do you love?” The birds gently sang overhead as the ripples of the water lapped at the edge of the platform.
“I wish we could stay here forever.”
“Do you want to move back home?”
“No I don’t mean it that way. I wish we all could just stay at this lake and feel this content forever.”
“I know. It’s beautiful here.”
“It’s beautiful wherever you are.” Sara tilted her head and smiled up at Ben as he rubbed his fingers along her forehead.
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
“Hey there Jack. Whatcha got there? Have ya hired a new foreman for the ranch?” Mr. Montgomery beamed with pride as his oldest and dearest friend leaned in the window of the old truck and gently tickled Caroline. Pace Martin had worked on the ranch for over twenty years. Jack Montgomery trusted him with his life and the life of his children. Pace and his wife had watched Sara and Jacky grow up and now watched the newest member of the family win their hearts.
“She’s a sweetheart, huh Pace?”
“She’s a real darlin’ Jack. I know you’re real proud.”
“She’s gonna be somethin’ that’s for sure.” Pace stood back away from the door as the other hands on the ranch gathered around and cooed over Caroline. Something about a little baby made the hardest looking men turn to old softies.
“She’s a cutie, yes sirree. A real cutie. Jack you got yourself one pretty grandbaby.”
“Jack, what are you gonna do if this one acts like her Momma?” They all laughed and shared looks while Mr. Montgomery adjusted Caroline’s little sun hat.
“I’ll let HER daddy worry about that.” The men erupted in laughter once again and Caroline bounced her feet up and down in the car seat.
“Let’s hope her daddy doesn’t have to go get this one out of a mud hole in the middle of the night.”
“I doubt this one will have the chance to take her Daddy’s pick-up through Cylers Pond on a dare.” Pace smiled as he recalled the memory of Jacky timidly knocking on his door at two in the morning begging that he wouldn’t call his father. He knew his daddy would want to hang Sara up by his toes once he found out his truck was sunk to the headlights with her sitting on the hood determined to wait it out.
“You never did get the mud stain out of the seat.”
Jack patted the seat and pointed to the faded shade of red the muddy waters of Cylers pond had left.
“God help Ben.”
~~~~“What didcha fix?” Jacky leaned over Sara’s shoulder as she laid the sandwiches out on the table in the lake house.
“We’ve got ham, bologna, and egg salad. Which one do you want?”
“Did you bring Doritos or chips?”
“Both.” Everyone had gathered around the table as Sara and Jacky discussed lunch.
“I’ll have the egg salad then. You made it, right?”
“Yeah, I made it last night. The Doritos are in that bag over on the bench. Ben, I brought Dief some meatloaf Daddy had in the fridge. Do you want ham or what?”
“Ham’s fine, thank you.” Everyone sifted through the mound of plastic wrapped sandwiches and settled around the table for lunch. Sara and Jacky sat side by side and unwrapped their egg salad sandwiches. A grin spread across Jacky’s face as he removed the top slice of bread from his sandwich and reached for the Doritos. He took a large handful of Doritos and then held the bag out to Sara. Both of them were unaware that all eyes at the table were now on them. Ben sat and looked perplexed at the preparation Jacky and Sara were going through in order to eat an egg salad sandwich. Sara and Jacky had each removed the top slice of bread from their sandwich and were now arranging Doritos on the egg salad as if it were some type of intricate puzzle. Once the surface of the sandwich was covered, they replaced the bread and then smashed the sandwich with the palm of their hand. The slight sound of crunching Doritos peaked Ben’s interest. *What are they doing? That really seems disgusting. * Jacky smiled over at Sara as she lifted the sandwich to her mouth and took an enormous bite. Jacky took an equally large bite from his sandwich and allowed a moan of pleasure to resonate from within his throat.
“That is disguting.”
“You just don’t know good when you see it Ray.”
“How can you eat that?”
“It’s our favorite.” Sara smiled over at Jacky as he polished off the last bite of his sandwich.
“Sara made these for us after Momma died. We practically lived off egg salad and Doritos sandwiches. It’s the only thing she knew how to make at first. So if Daddy was out in the pasture and you got hungry, this was about our only option.” Ben smiled at the memory Jacky was sharing of Sara’s childhood. He knew what it was like to have to learn to adapt after losing a parent.
“You want a bite?” Sara thrust her half-eaten sandwich in Ray’s face. He quickly backed away and turned up his nose.
“God no! If it smells like it tastes, you people are sick!” Everyone laughed comfortably and finished lunch. Following age-old advice that had been burned into each person’s head as a child, they each took a seat on the ground near the water’s edge and watched the ducks.
“Thirty minutes.” Sara and Debi giggled at the memory of Mr. Montgomery’s subtle warning every time they went swimming. Jacky stretched out on the grass and soaked up the afternoon sun. Debi and Turnbull walked around the pasture next to the lake while Meg admired the view. * Good lord, look at the body on that boy. That’s right Margaret, he is just a boy. He’s only 26 at the very most. He’s Sara’s little brother. You shouldn’t be looking at him. But there’s nothing wrong with admiring the human form. Look at that form. I’ve heard people remark about ‘big, strapping country boys’ before, but who knew I’d meet the poster boy. Stop it! This is totally inappropriate for an Inspector of the RCMP.* At that moment, Jacky stood and stretched his arms high above his head. His sandy brown hair was sun bleached and wind blown. When he stretched to his length, he exposed the darkest of tan lines at the waist of his shorts. * Dear God! He’s marvelous.* Sara cleared her throat and cast a broad smile at Meg. *Dammit * Meg schooled her features and looked at Sara. Oblivious to Meg’s momentary admiration, Jacky swaggered off to the side of the lake house to retrieve another inner tube. Sara leaned across Ben’s chest and smiled at Meg.
“I really don’t…..”
“Buuuusteeed.” Ben looked from his wife and then to Meg. Whatever Sara was taunting her about, sure seemed to irritate her.
“Surely you don’t think…..”
“Shut up Sara.” Meg allowed a small smile as Sara leaned into Ben’s shoulder and laughed.
~~~“Daddy, this is Sara. Come in, Daddy.” Sara held the walkie-talkie in her hand and waited for her father to answer.
“We’re fine baby-girl. Quit worryin’.” Ben shook his head and laughed at the face Sara was making to the walkie-talkie.
“You sure you don’t need me to come back and take care of her?”
“I believe I still remember how to care for a child. Relax and have fun today. Doodlebug and I are trying to get some work done.” Sara held the unit away from her face and turned to Ben.
“Work?” The sound of her father’s voice boomed over the radio again.
“Be home by 6 children. We’re going to the fish camp for supper.”
“Sounds good. Bye Daddy.” Ben took the walkie-talkie from Sara and returned it to her back-pack.
“See, everything is fine.”
“What kinda work could he be doing with a four month old baby?”
“With your father, there is no tellin’.” Sara turned around in astonishment.
“What did you say?”
“I said when it comes to your father, there is no telling what he can do.” Sara grinned and thumped her finger on his chest.
“That’s not what you said or how you said it. You said ‘tellin’.”
“I said no such thing.”
“I heard ya Frase. You sounded like a hick.” Ray chuckled as he walked by them and waded in the cool water at the edge of the lake.
“I really think you miss heard me.”
“I’m sorry Fraser. Sara is correct. You did assume her vernacular.” Meg assumed her Inspector tone as she agreed with Sara.
“I’m gonna make a southern boy outta you yet.”
Jack Montgomery held Caroline’s back against his chest and perched her on his arm. They stood at the side fence and looked out at the large herd of cattle.
“These are Black Angus cattle. Aren’t they pretty? Look at that one over there. She’s going to have a calf anytime now.” Caroline cooed and gurgled in response to her Grandaddy’s comments. He laughed and then sighed at the joy he felt with his grandbaby in his arms. The cows slowly grazed as the afternoon sun warmed their faces.
“We’re going to have chickens fight one another?”
Sara rolled her eyes and shook her head at Ben’s question. Then she realized Meg was equally confused.
“I can’t believe you never heard of it! Chicken fightin’ in water is where I get on your back and Meg gets on Jacky’s and Debi on Ren’s. Then we try to knock each other off. The last couple standing, wins.”
“Oh it’s a large time.” Sara grinned as she rose to her feet.
“What about Ray?” Ren looked solemnly over at Ray lounging in the grass beside Dief.
“What about Ray?” Ray’s voice was muffled from lying on his side.
“Who’s going to partner with you?”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine right where I’m at. Besides, I know how to chicken fight. I’d kick all of yer butts.”
“Fine, then you can face off with the winner.”
Sara waded into the water. The others followed until they were about chest deep. Ray and Dief watched with amusement as the women climbed on top of the men’s shoulders. Sara and Debi were a bit startled at Meg’s seriousness in the game. Each took great delight in ganging up on her and Jacky. Sara grabbed one arm and Debi grabbed the other. With the precision of years of practice, they toppled her into the water. Ben and Turnbull started to get concerned about the two women in mortal combat on their shoulders until the two women erupted into a fit of giggles. Debi had a height advantage over Sara, but Sara made up for it with her quickness. Sara finally managed a leg hold on Debi and toppled her backwards. Sara and Ben were enjoying their victory too much to notice Ray slipping up behind them. He reached up and grabbed Sara by the waist and pulled her off of Fraser’s shoulders.
Sara and Ray both went under the water with a tremendous splash. Ben turned around to see water splashing in every direction. He and Turnbull stood and laughed and waited to see who would surface first. Both men were startled to see Sara spring from the water and go flying through the air. She hit the water screaming something profane as Ray surfaced and wiped the water from his face.
“That should get ‘er good and pissed for a while.”
“You know you’re asking for trouble.” Ben shook his head and laughed as Sara surfaced. She coughed and sputtered more profanity toward Ray as he laughed at her. She tried to stay angry but she was having too much fun. She directed a wicked grin his way as she disappeared under water.
“Oh shit!” Ray grabbed the waist of his swimsuit and started to head for the bank. Turnbull and Ben decided it would be a good idea to maintain a tight hold on their swimwear as well. Jacky had managed to make it out of the water in time and wondered if Sara would submarine Ray.
“You’re in for it now, Ray! She might not getcha now, but she’ll getcha!” Ray looked smugly over at Jacky as he taunted him from the bank.
“Yer, skinny-ass sister don’t scare me.” Before he could complete his thought he felt something brush across his leg. He tried not to show his concern to the others. Ben noticed the subtle glint of panic in his eye before it quickly disappeared.
“Shit!” Ray felt something slimy and very much alive being thrust into his shorts. He tried to grab Sara’s arm as she swam away from him, but only managed to lose his balance and fall headfirst into the water. He wiggled and jumped until he was safely on the bank. Thrusting both hands in the front of his swim trunks he pulled out a very large frog.
“Sara, you are so dead!” Sara surfaced behind Ben and stuck her tongue out at him as everyone laughed. Ben took Sara’s waist and pulled her to him.
Jacky noticed the time and shouted for everyone to come to the lake house.
“It’s almost five. We have to be ready to eat by six!”
“Where are we going to eat?”
“You’ll like it Meg. It’s called the Mayflower. Best fish camp in town.”
As the weary and relaxed friends sloshed out of the lake and into the lake house, Jack Montgomery carried his granddaughter into the house.
“Let’s get some of that dust washed off of you little bug. We’re all going out to eat tonight. The whole town’s gonna see what a beautiful little grandbaby I have. Yes you are. You are the most beautiful little girl in the world.” He gently kissed Caroline on the forehead as he removed her little denim overalls. He checked the time and noted that he would have just enough time to give Caroline a bath and get her dressed for supper. He would be able to take a shower when Sara and Ben returned to the house. Caroline’s bare feet bounced up and down as Mr. Montgomery spoke. He had put a new pair of little white booties on her feet, but she was more like her mother than he had first realized. The minute the two of them hit the front yard, Caroline had managed to shed both booties. Mr. Montgomery replaced them the first three times she kicked them off, but soon gave up. He smiled down at the booties lying on the dresser. “Just like her momma.”
~~~~“I can’t believe I ate so much.” Ray collapsed on the couch holding his stomach. He cringed when Sara bounced toward him and landed on the couch beside him.
“It was good though.”
“Be still! You’re gonna make me puke!” Ray leaned into Sara’s shoulder as he poked her side. Ben laughed at Sara and Ray as he held the door for Meg. Meg had jumped at the opportunity to remove Caroline from her car seat and carry her in the house. Jacky stretched and rubbed his stomach as he walked through the house and into the kitchen.
“Man, that was good! I haven’t had shrimp that good in a long time.”
“Where are you going, son?”
“I’m gonna go check on my heifer. She’s due any time. I’ll probably sit up with her tonight to make sure she’s doing alright.”
“Take a radio and holler if you need anything.”
“I will.” Jacky pulled a ball cap from the top of the refrigerator and slid it on top of his head while he strolled out the backdoor. Ben had taken a seat next to Sara on the couch, while Meg rocked Caroline in her arms. The group had dropped Debi and Turnbull off on the way home. Sara took that opportunity to share an evil look with Debi. As Mr. Montgomery flipped the television on, Sara snuggled close to Ben and wrapped her arms around his muscular forearm.
“Today was fun.” Ben leaned over and nuzzled her hair with his nose.
“I know. Today goes down as one of my best days. Daddy, did you and ‘Bug have a good time?”
Jack Montgomery smiled as he reflected on his day with Caroline. “We had a fine time, indeed.”
“Well, it’s time for our little Doodlebug to go to bed. She’s had a busy day.” Sara rose to take Caroline upstairs to the nursery. The look in Meg’s eyes said volumes. Sara smiled down at her as she lifted Caroline from her arms.
“You need one of these.” Meg smiled at Sara’s statement.
“I need a husband first.”
“A mere technicality these days.” Sara climbed the stairs and walked into the nursery with her daughter. She took a seat in the large rocking chair her father had bought and began gently rocking Caroline. The sound of her soft singing filled the hallway as Caroline drifted off to sleep.
“What are you children planning for tomorrow?” Ben looked away from the television to answer Mr. Montgomery.
“I’m not really sure. Perhaps we’ll go shopping around town. Meg and Ray haven’t seen much of the town, yet.”
“Well, Ben, this isn’t Chicago. There’s not a lot to see.”
“Yeah, we’re in the land of Barney Fife, right?” Ray laughed at his own joke as Ben looked at him with an innocent expression.
“I believe Barney Fife was in the town of Mayberry which is modeled after Mt. Airy. Mt. Airy is a small town in northern North Carolina.”
“Jesus, Fraser, forget it. I’m gonna die I’m so full.”
“You were the one that ordered the sampler plate.” Meg shook her head at the site of Ray leaning on one elbow on the end of the couch still rubbing his stomach.
“Yes, Ray. Mr. Montgomery did warn you about the large portions.”
“Large isn’t the word.”
“Then why did you eat all of it?” Ray looked at Meg like she had just asked the dumbest question known to man.
“Because it was good.”
“Oh can it.” They all settled comfortably in the living room and watched the news and weather. Ben heard Sara’s footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Is she asleep?”
“For now. She’s been fed, changed, rocked, sung to and kissed all over her little face. Let’s see how long it lasts.” Sara smacked Ray on the side of the leg so he would move over and allow her to sit back down. She took her place beside Ben and pulled her legs to her chest.
“A little.” Ray looked at her and Ben as if they were nuts.
“Cold! It’s freakin’ 100 degrees here. How can you be cold?!” Sara reached out and held her icy fingers to his neck.
“Hey! You need to see a doctor.”
“I always get cold. Daddy and Jacky have to the air conditioner on ‘Frozen Tundra’ in order to sleep at night.”
“It seems comfortable to me.” Sara rolled her eyes.
“You’re from Canada, Meg.” Ben draped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her close.
“Would you like me to go get you a blanket or have Dief sit on your feet?” Dief let out a small whine and trotted upstairs to the nursery. That was his cue to leave before he became an oversized foot warmer.
“Daddy, I’m gonna need some help!” Jacky’s voice screamed through all the radio’s in the charger bank. Mr. Montgomery was the first to grab one of the units.
“What’s the matter, Jacky?”
“She’s in labor. It looks like she’s having some trouble. I think it’s a breech. I’m gonna need some help.” From experience, Sara jumped off the couch and pulled a set of keys from the key hook in the kitchen.
“Meg can you….”
“I’ll watch her. She’ll be fine.”
“Thanks, Daddy I’m on my way.” Sara grabbed a walkie-talkie and ran out the backdoor before Ben could offer his help. He and Ray were now on their feet waiting for instructions when Mr. Montgomery radioed Jacky again.
“Sara’s on her way with the tractor. We’ll see you in about five.”
“Hurry!” Mr. Montgomery pulled his hat on his head and motioned for Ben and Ray.
“We’ll take the four wheeler’s over to the back pasture. Sara will meet us there. Follow me. Jacky will tell you what to do when you get there.” As they walked through the kitchen, Jack handed them each a large flashlight and a four-wheeler key.
~~~~Ben crested the small hill in the pasture to see a large cow on its side while Jacky stood over her and tried to calm her. The thick night air was almost suffocating. August in the South could be miserable at times. This was one of those times. Ben was used to animals, Ray was not. He looked ahead of Fraser and saw a large cow lying on the ground.
“What am I supposed to do about that?”
The four wheeler’s slid to a halt and Mr. Montgomery was the first to reach Jacky. Ben and Ray were by his side in a matter of seconds.
“How is she?”
“She’s having a hard time. It’s breech. There’s no way I can turn it. I’m gonna have to deliver it butt first!” The anxiety in Jacky’s voice was evident as he began to take off his t-shirt and knelt down next to the rear of the cow. Ben looked from the strong rugged face of Mr. Montgomery to the pale sweating face of Ray.
“Ray, are you all right?”
“No, I’m not all right. I’m standing in the middle of a cow pasture, ankle deep in mud. At least I hope it’s mud and obviously they think I can some how help in this situation.” Before Ben could respond, everyone turned to face the set of headlights that crested the small rise. Ben could barely make out the small form of his wife sitting atop an old Ford 2500 tractor.
Sara headed toward them and then turned the tractor sharply to the left. She swiveled in the seat and focused her gaze on Jacky. Ben stood and watched with amazement and pride as Sara drove the tractor. Jacky raised his hand in the air as Sara’s signal to start backing the tractor toward them. Ben watched as neither of them said a word. Sara eased the tractor back and then Jacky closed his hand into a fist. Sara immediately stopped the tractor and applied the brake. She leapt off the back of the tractor and sloshed through the wet grass and mud toward Jacky.
“You ready?” Jacky turned to Sara and then looked back toward the bellowing cow.
“Just about. Daddy, I’ll need you and Ben to hold her while I get a hold of the calf. Ray, you stay back here with me. I’m gonna need you to help me with the calf.”
“What?! I don’t know anythin’ about birthin’ no cows. It was bad enough with yer sister.”
“It’s gonna be fine Ray. Just be there when I need you.” Jacky’s tone was one of determination and worry. Mr. Montgomery wrapped his arms tightly around the cow’s neck and motioned for Ben to do the same.
“She’s scared and in a lot of pain. We’ve got to keep her from hurting herself and us. So hold on tight and don’t let her pin you to the ground.” Ben took a tight hold around the cow’s neck as Mr. Montgomery began rubbing the head and ears of the beast as he talked.
“It’s alright, girl. Easy now. Jacky’s gonna deliver that baby of yours real soon. You’ll be up and around in no time. Easy there.”
Ray stood and stared as Sara ran to the back of the tractor and grabbed one end of a rope and pulled over to Jacky. Then Jacky did something that nearly made Ray lose his supper.
“Hold on Daddy! Here we go!” With a call of warning, Jacky put his arm in an orifice that Ray thought no one should ever put their arm in. As the cow bellowed, Ray cursed.
“Oh damn! What are you doing?! My God!”
“Easy girl! Easy, I’ve got the back hooves. Sara, get ready! Ray grab the end of that rope and be ready when I need it.” Ray stood and started at him like he was crazy until Sara walked by him and shoved the rope in his hands.
“If we don’t help her, we could lose them both.” Ray nodded and watched Sara climb back on the tractor.