Chapter 1

The Trip


I'd kept the number of people travelling to as few as I thought I could get away with, but it still looks like we've all but taken over the Truth or Consequences Municipal Airport. Since I'm in New Mexico to look at puppies I'd no chance of getting away to do this without taking along my three girlfriends or my six adopted daughters, along with the three young women involved in their care. I think myself lucky to keep the security team to look after us down to twenty-one guards.

The airport is a good sized one, but it's not a regional hub; so it's not large enough to have much in the way of the permanent facilities and services you get used to seeing at larger airports. The few locals here are watching us with care. But the bulk of people at the airport are over having a look at Ryū while it's being serviced. It's not often they get to see such a large plane come in here, or one that looks so nice.

The flight down was faster than expected, so we're early. We've come from Maryland and beat the local transport here. Andre is on his mobile phone checking up on the bus and cars organised as our local transport. While waiting we've spread out a bit, with the security staff further out. I smile at how appropriate the transport is. Sharon had organised what she could, and I now see she's organised a school bus for us plus two cars - one to ride in front and one behind. Andre starts to speak into the phone. I wave at him while pointing at the approach road. He turns, and smiles at the fast approaching bus and two cars; he hangs up after telling them they've just arrived at the airport.

Once the vehicles are on hand it takes a few minutes for the team bomb expert and mechanic to inspect and pass them as safe for us to use. The girls are first to load while three guards get in each of the cars. The local drivers have been checked out and approved through John, so we're letting them drive. Everyone is soon loaded up except Lia, Brian, and I.

We're waiting for the Meadows Mountain Kennels representative to arrive, we'll ride with him while he shows us the way to the kennels. Another few minutes and an old four door pick-up with the MMK logo on it arrives. It stops near us and a man gets out. He matches the photo I was sent of the man to expect.

Smiling, I walk over, hold out my hand, and ask, "Frank Phillips?" He nods. "I'm Al Adams, come to look over the dogs."

He smiles and he shakes my hand, saying, "Morning, Mister Adams. We expected someone a bit older looking." We've a short chat, then he leads us to the vehicle. A Border Collie is sitting on the front passenger seat. Frank reaches in and scratches the dog's ears, and he says, "Meet Pick Up."

I smile while I hold my hand out for the dog to sniff it. He gives my hand a good sniff and a lick as a greeting, then I reach further and scratch him behind the ears before letting Lia and Brian do the same.

Frank walks around to get behind the wheel while I open the back door for Lia to get in as Brian walks around to get in behind the driver. I smile when Pick Up moves from the front seat to the back as I close the door behind Lia. He sits between the two in the back while watching us all. I get in the front passenger seat and belt up, so do Lia and Brian. Frank's got a cheeky grin when he starts the engine. No sooner does the engine start than Pick Up barks, sits up, and places a paw on Frank's shoulder. He turns and smiles at the dog, "OK, Pick Up, I'll put my belt on." When he does the dog settles back down on the seat. "Miss, there's a couple of straps back there, will you please clip them to Pick Up's harness?" Lia does, and the dog rests his head on her thigh. It appears he's happy to relax with everyone now belted up properly.

Putting the truck into gear Frank heads out, followed by one of the cars, the bus, and the other car, with a safe travel space between each vehicle. Frank watches the mirror while they fall in line, and smiles.

I grin at him, "I tried to get away by myself, but too many people found out why I was coming down here. So I had no choice; my six adopted daughters and three girlfriends just had to come to see the puppies, and that meant suitable security staff." He glances at me. "Hey, I had to fight like hell to keep the numbers this low. Look right." He does, and I can tell when he sees Ryū because his head jerks back around to look at me. I nod, "Yes, that big blue plane is my private jet we came down in."

I let him stew on that for a moment. I half turn in the seat and look at the dog on the back seat, saying, "That was a nice demonstration of the dog's intelligence." Frank gives me a quick glance while Pick Up looks up at me with a smile. "I saw you grin when you started the car without putting a belt on. Also, since you knew Pick Up had to be belted up and hadn't said anything, it was very obvious." Frank nods, and Pick Up nods as well. Lia reaches down and scratches him behind the ears. This causes him to lean sideways and lie more on her leg. He seems happy with the situation.

Following that Frank starts to talk about the dogs, how intelligent they are, and how useful they are in many tasks; once they're trained for the task. We chat about the dogs for quite a while as we drive south.

The airport is some miles north of the town on Interstate 25, and where we're going is in the mountains off to the west, we'll turn off the I-25 a few miles south of Williamsburg. It's not that long a drive, but it's not a quick dash to the local shops, either.


We're some miles south of Williamsburg and travelling along at the posted speed limit when the car in front of us (a much older pick-up with a large load of gear in the back) makes a sudden pull to the right. As it does I see a long black strip fly off to the right. The truck in front hits the dirt shoulder. The front wheel digs in. It starts to spin on that corner. The back chases around to pass the front as it angles right a lot more. Frank is busy braking hard and keeping this truck on the road.

The couple of cars that had gotten between us and our main group pass us while I pull out my radio to call the security detail. I click the radio to transmit just when the driver of the truck in front loses his fight to control the pick-up. It goes into a roll over the front corner. Holding the transmit button down, I say, "All, Prime. Emergency stop. Medical check all passengers in the wreck. Spread out, check for people thrown out." I get three confirmations while all the drivers start to brake.

All four of our vehicles stop at the same time, but at different points along the road. We're just a bit in front of where the wreck has come to a halt. It's back upright, but it's very battered. I can see blood on the windscreen. The two front passengers are moving a little. I pull out my phone and hit a speed dial national number, they answer. I say, "Area Prime, declaring Valkyrie! I two five just south of Williamsburg, New Mexico. Car wreck, injuries unknown. More will follow." Frank gives me an odd look as I talk. I don't blame him; it must sound odd to him.

"Area Prime, Vampire Base, acknowledge Valkyrie. I two five just south of Williamsburg, New Mexico, injuries unknown at this time. Launching. Smoke please."

"Vampire Base, Area Prime. Will smoke on sight."

I smile at the benefits of proper planning. When I made the decision to make this trip I let Vampire know, and they deployed a bird to the local hospital, arriving yesterday. It's now headed this way at top speed.

We all get out and head for the wreck while most of my people get out of the bus and cars. Some stay at the bus to keep the youngest girls safe and away from the wreck, while the rest spread out and start to walk along the path the pick-up took when it left the road.

We're almost to the wreck when one of the guards calls Victor over, he's our travelling medic for today. He races over to where the guard is standing, I can just make out it's Nadia; she doesn't look happy, or well. Victor drops to his knees beside her, does something, gets something out of his pack, and does something more. My radio comes alive on the second frequency it's set to monitor; "Hawk Four, Area Ground, burn a hole, burn a hole. Baby with serious injuries after being ejected from the vehicle. Over."

"Area Ground, Hawk Four, prepare a hot drop L Z by you and a proper one nearby. Over."

"Hawk Four, Area Ground. Affirmative, on the spot hot drop L Z; proper L Z as close as possible. Out." He continues to work on the child while he speaks to Nadia. She leaves him and goes to speak to four other guards, three move back to the vehicles. They've the bus and cars move to block out an area on the flat road shoulder. Nadia and the other guard set up near Victor - both release smoke canisters, one red and one green.

We reach the wreck and start to check the people. Brian and Frank are first aid trained, so they start doing what they can for the driver and front passenger while Lia and I check the two kids in the back seat. All are injured to some extent, but none seem life threatening to us, despite the blood. On hearing the chopper approach I look up.

On seeing the manoeuvre being done, I think, 'My God, they can't be serious.' But they are, and they do it. I watch when the helicopter comes in at high speed with his nose down at a sharp angle while aiming for the smoke. At what I think is the last possible split second the pilot pulls up to a horizontal position just a foot off the ground and he spins the bird to be side on. When the helicopter comes to a halt the two people standing on the skids and holding onto something inside the cabin let go of what they're holding and are propelled from the skid in a dive. Going into a shoulder roll on the ground, the two pop up and race the last metre to Victor while three more jump out with bags of gear.

With the medical team unloaded the helicopter rises up and moves over to where there's yellow smoke near the vehicles. The helicopter takes care when it settles to the ground. The pilot sits there with blades idling, ready for a quick exit if needed.

The combat medical team doctor takes over from Victor and the rest set out their field theatre. Victor gets up and comes to the vehicle. Sirens of emergency vehicles arrive, and some turn off. I look up, to see two state police cars and a local sheriff's deputy car stop on the shoulder above us. With them are two ambulances. One of the ambulance drivers gets out and checks the ground. He hops back in and drives down to the wreck. The professionals are here, so I head up to the road.

There's nothing I can do to help the injured now, so I leave them to the care of the trained medical helpers and see what else I can do to help out. Approaching the law enforcement trio, I call out, "OK, who has to know what happened here?" I grin when all three put their hands up. "What is this, a race to see who can get back to the station and do the paperwork first?" They all grin. A few minutes talk, and I learn this part of the road has a confusing jurisdictional history and no one seems to be able to sort it out; or is interested in doing so.

Shrugging, I tell them, "The pick-up I rode in was behind that truck. We'd been slowly creeping up on it for about fifteen minutes. We were doing the posted limit and the difference in speed couldn't have been more than a couple of miles per hour. Anyway, back there, just back from where the bus is stopped, the pick-up's front right went down and it jerked to the right. A long strip of something black went off into the grass on the right. I suspect the tyre blew out. The driver fought for control, but lost it when the back caught up with the front just after the rim went into the softer shoulder. The car went into a roll and ended up where it is. We stopped to help. I called in my emergency medical team. They're the ones at work on the injured right now."

The sheriff's deputy looks up at my mention of the medical team. I wonder why that's important to him. They take down what I say and add my identification details. One trooper and the deputy go to speak with Frank. The other trooper goes to the road and waves the traffic on.

A little later the local Sheriff and a State Police van pull up together, the drivers get out and have a talk while they approach the two taking statements. Another talk, and the Sheriff waves at the scene as the trooper from the van starts taking photos. The Sheriff walks up to me, "Well, son, I gather you saw it all!" I nod. "Care to show me where you think the tyre ended up, no one else saw it." I nod, and we head back down the road. While we walk along the shoulder I keep an eye on the brush for the odd looking tree I saw just before the tyre blew.

A few minutes and about half a mile back we're level with the tree, "Sheriff, the pick-up was about level with this tree when what I think is the tyre tread took off at a sharp angle."

He nods, "OK, let's check to see if there's anything around here that may have been involved." We check the road for a hundred yards or so back, but can't see anything beyond a gouge in the road just near where I said the trouble started, and a gouge where I think the rim first hit the road a few yards further along. We back up from the rim gouge and look out at the grass on the side of the road. This stretch of road has a nice wide stretch of grass beside it and the grass angles down towards where the trees and bushes are.

We stand and take our time to look over the area. After a moment I spot what looks like a section of grass not upright. I point it out to the Sheriff, he nods, and we back up along the shoulder until we've a line up with it at about the angle I said I saw it take off at. Now we can see another patch like it a bit further out. We move until they're lined up. He says, "Stand here for a moment, please, son!" I nod while he walks back to the road, he keeps looking over his shoulder to make sure he's lined up with me and the patches. He looks at the road, and nods. Pulling out the microphone to his personal radio he speaks into it. A moment later one of the several state troopers down at the wreck hops in a car and comes up to us. He parks on the road just back from where the Sheriff is standing, and puts on his lights.

The Sheriff comes back to me, "That funny gouge in the road's about two feet before where those two patches line up. If something tore up the tyre, that would be about where it did it." I nod.

Together we start to walk along what I think is the line the tyre took. We find the first patch, and it looks like something came through here fast, hit the ground, and took off again. The distance to the next patch is less. Again with the third. By the time we reach the fifth patch they're a lot closer together and the fifth has almost a full tyre retread lying in it. The Sheriff squats down and has a long look at it.

"Son, give me your thoughts on how long this has been here!"

I look around, the grass is still very damp, yet the face up side of the rubber is bone dry. "Sheriff, by the look of the wet grass and the dry rubber, I'd say it can't have been here too long, since the dew hasn't settled on it. When did it last rain around here?"

He grins, "A drizzle, an hour ago." We both stand and walk around the tyre, as we don't want to disturb it before the crime scene people have a look and get their photos. As I near the far end I spot something glinting in the sun. I lean closer, then point it out to the Sheriff. He has a close look, and swears. "Someone's going to be in big trouble. That's a caltrop made to disable large animals. There's no way that should be around here. Thanks, son. No one else saw this go flying and we were about ready to write this off as driver error, but this is now a felony assault of some sort; either criminal negligence or attempted murder."

"I don't envy you trying to find who did it, Sheriff. Just before that car went sideways we'd all been passed by another car. It was a grey sedan of some sort, but I can't tell you anything more than that. Nor do I know if they dropped it or were just lucky to miss it."

He nods, "This makes three things I have to thank you for." I give him a sharp look. "First, seeing the tyre going. Second, having that hot bird handy. The baby would've been dead before they got to hospital, but the doctor's field operation saved her life. I absolutely hate the reports on deaths, especially those of small kids. Third, I was near the hospital yesterday when I got a call to go meet someone. Your doctor, Captain Porter, is known to one of my deputies. The deputy was there when the Captain dropped in during the middle of a fire-fight and did field surgery to save my son's life. I finally got a chance to thank him."

Not much I can say to any of that. So I simply shrug and give him a wry smile. "My deputy and I are trying to work out why someone so young pays for such top level medical support!" This is more a question than statement.

"Sheriff, how do you feel when you have to go to a house and tell a person their husband, wife, daughter, or son who works for you just died in the line of duty?"

He goes a bit pale, "Like shit, son, like shit."

"I've a lot of security staff who're ready put their bodies between me and attackers. If they get hurt doing so, then top medical help quick to hand may save them and keep me from having to make a visit like that. I'm thankful I've not yet had to make a visit like that, and I'm prepared to do what I can so I don't have to make such a visit. I'm rich enough to afford it, so I have it. This is the second time I've used the helicopter medical service, and the second time it's made the difference between life and death. To my mind, the first time repaid my costs and efforts for a lifetime of fees for the service."

He nods, "Yeah, I see what you mean."

"Sheriff, that pick-up's a wreck now. Who's the best local mob to get a suitable replacement pick-up for the family from?"

He gives me a long stare, smiles, pulls out his mobile phone, and punches numbers. It rings, they answer, "Hey, Hank, remember Julio Hernandez?" He waits, "Yeah, him! Know that fancy new economical to run pick-up truck you got in that he was looking at?" A reply, "Yeah, that one! How long for you to do it up with every safety device known to man, put in top car seats for each of his kids, and a quality canopy on it?" Another pause. "Then get it done, get it registered to Julio with a year's full insurance." A long pause while listening. "No, he didn't win the lottery or rob a bank. He and his family are on their way to hospital. Their truck's a write off. But I'm standing beside the Fairy Godmother who's going to buy that off you for him. So make sure it's tricked out and at the discounted starting price you've had on it of late."

He hangs up, and I raise my eyebrows at him. "You're obviously very rich, you care about people, and you ask about a new pick-up for him. I can add up, son."

I grin, "Yes, you can. The only thing I'd have done different was to check if they had a colour Julio liked." He smiles.

The Sheriff looks around, and finds a big stick nearby while he says, "He liked the colour of that truck, that's why he was looking at it." He puts the stick in the ground near the tyre, making a good marker for it. We walk back to the state trooper. The Sheriff tells him about the caltrop in the tyre and to keep an eye on it. He nods, and heads towards the tyre. We chat while we make our way to the wreck. He tells the officers conducting the investigation what we found, neither likes what we tell them.

I look around. All the medical people except Victor have left, so have the injured and the ambulances. I'm told they're on their way to Truth or Consequences, the Sierra Vista Hospital. The scene of crime fellow is just finishing up at the truck when the Sheriff tells him about what we found. He heads up there to document and collect the evidence there.

When we walk back to the road the Sheriff's phone rings, he listens, and says, "Put temporary tags on it, bring out to where I am on I two five. Julio's truck's here, so you can grab the plates and papers while we transfer his gear. Bring the invoice with you so I can check it out."

Andre, Lia, and Frank join us while the Sheriff's talking. Andre looks at me, and says, "I'll bet you just bought the guy a new pick-up! Right?" I nod. He shakes his head real slow, turns around, and yells. "Don't bother getting back on the bus yet. Go back to where the truck lost control, form a line, and start searching. We've got to collect everything that got tossed out of the truck, a replacement's on its way out to collect it." We all laugh when my group of bodyguards shake fists at me while they smile and they head back to the start of the search area.

The Sheriff grins, "I see they all know you well, and aren't surprised by this." I grin when I nod in reply.

It takes about twenty minutes to check the area and make sure we get everything. It takes fifteen minutes for the new pick-up to arrive. So by the time the Sheriff and two state troopers have moved everything from in the old truck to the new truck all the thrown gear has been loaded as well, and Lia has arranged a wireless electronic payment of the invoice.

One funny thing about the clean-up is the tow truck operators. Three turn up and start to discuss who gets the job. This is about five minutes before the new pick-up arrives. The Sheriff walks over and tells them who was involved and that the whole family has been taken to hospital. Two of them swear about wasting fuel coming out to it. The other just shrugs, and says, "Well, Sheriff, it looks like I got another job on the hopeful cuff." The Sheriff nods.

After the other two are out of sight the Sheriff calls me over, "Son, part of the clean-up is to have that old wreck taken out of here. The cost to haul it from here to town is about a hundred bucks. Bob White here is the only tow truck operator who'll do jobs for the Mexicans without making them pay up front. I know he has about twenty jobs he's done he's still waiting on payment for, but that don't stop him doing the right thing by them and the county."

I smile and I get the message, the Sheriff likes this guy and the way he operates. I do too. I hold my hand out, and say, "Hi, Bob, I'm Al. Got a business card with you?" He shakes hands and hands me a card from his shirt pocket. I pull out my wallet and slip the card in when I pull out five one hundred dollar notes and hand them over, "I think this job's worth five hundred today. So write up the job as being five hundred bucks to take this out of here and get rid of it. Maybe one of the schools would like it as a shop project." I hand Bob and the Sheriff a REBS card each, "These people will help out with materials cost if it's a school shop job to end up as a community help project."

A very stunned Bob looks at the Sheriff, who says, "I think you've got a work sheet and receipt to make out, Bob. Don't be holding the man up. He's got business to get on with." A few minutes later the new pick-up is on hand, I've got the receipt, and Bob is moving his truck over to where the wreck is. He waits until it's cleared out before he loads it up. He even helps to clear it out; he hooks up a spare battery to turn the CD player on and get the loaded CD's out of the wreck to put in the new pick-up. Bob is very happy and waves to us when he drives off, so does Hank.

My people are loading up the bus and cars while the Sheriff and I walk back to Frank's pick-up. The Sheriff says, "I thought I'd get to you by ordering the extras for the pick-up, but you really floored me by paying him five hundred bucks."

I smile, "I can easily afford it, and that may make the difference of a meal for him. Since he helps others, I'll help him. That card I gave you! That's for REBS, the Robyn Evans Benevolent Society. If you know of anyone who needs help of any sort, call REBS. They'll look into it and help out if it's not a scam." He nods while I get in the car. A few more minutes and we're on our way again.

About forty minutes later we're pulling up at our destination. I want to look at some dogs for the new estate, and elsewhere.

The Kennels

The owner, Maggie Meadows, greets us when we pull up in front of the main house. She has a wry smile as she glances at the bus and two cars. The cars spread out and the guards get out while the bus pulls up behind the pick-up. Only one guard manages to get off the bus before the six girls are off and racing up to us. When they get out of the bus the guards spread out around us while the young women I brought to ride herd on the girls walk fast to catch up with their charges. I smile when I notice a lot of adult dogs spread around the yard keeping an eye on us.

Frank grins while he watches me looking at the dogs and smiling, he says, "We had a talk on the way here. He wants people dogs to protect people, not territory. Smart ones that can be trained to do guard work as well as animal herding, watchdogs, and rescue work in the forest. Not necessary for all the dogs to be trained in all those skills." She smiles and nods at him. "There was an accident just in front of us on the I twenty-five. Truck went off the road. We stopped to help out. The pick-up looked familiar, but I didn't catch whose it was." She nods at his telling her why the delay in arrival.

I add, "The Sheriff said it was Julio Hernandez and his family."

Maggie is a bit shocked, she turns to one of her staff, "Steve, go tell Diego his brother's in the hospital. Car accident. Tell him to take the field pick-up if his car's not working yet." The man nods, and races off. She turns back, "Nothing serious, I hope!"

"I don't know, but the Sheriff said the baby was the only serious injury, so I don't think so. All were stable when they left the site for the hospital." Both Maggie and Frank nod.

"OK, how many dogs are you interested in, Al?"

I glance around the girls standing around me, "A lot more than when I first started looking." All smile. "Look, before we get to the nuts and bolts, I've no choice now, I've to get this lot a bunch of puppies. So let's go get that organised. I hope you've enough that are old enough to leave their dams." I get a nod and big smile in reply. "OK, this is how I want it done. I want us all to gather in a circle sitting on the ground with the puppies in a large cage in the middle of the circle. Each puppy is to be lifted out one by one and introduced to all in the circle for a quick pet, then back to the cage after being introduced to us all. While this goes on we'll chat. After all the puppies have been introduced to everyone I want them released from the cage. I want to see who they make their own way to." They give me odd looks, and Maggie smiles.

Five minutes later we're in a large yard area sitting in a huge half circle; my girls, those looking after them, my girlfriends, and a few of the guards who said they'd like a puppy when I asked them if any of them wanted one. I'm in the middle of the half circle and the other guards are all well back. The flat side of the 'D' we make is made up of some large kennels and yards with six bitches and their puppies in them. Maggie first introduces the bitches to those in the circle, then does the same with the puppies. Each dog is given a short petting by all of us. With the introductions over Maggie and five staff open the gates to the yards to let the puppies out.

I find it very interesting to watch what happens next. I tell everyone to sit absolutely still unless Maggie or I tell them to do otherwise. The puppies surge out of their smaller yards into the bigger one. Some of them start to explore the bigger yard. A few look about them, while several run straight to someone. One small pup heads my way, only to be bowled over by two larger pups from another bitch when they all head for me at a run. Each of the pups that goes straight for people reaches them and licks them. At a nod from Maggie or I they pick the pups up and cuddle them in their laps.

Each is happy with the pup which selects them. When the girls end up with a pup I direct them to move back outside the yard. As they do one of the staff takes the girls to the other end of the little yards the bitches are in and explains to the bitch the girls like their pups and want to keep them, asking if they may. The bitches eye the girls and nod. I think it's a nice touch, however it's organised. Some of the pups that did a little exploring are soon seeking out people too. It's not long before all thirty one of us in the circle have a pup in our laps. Lia and a couple of my staff have two, so do two guards, and I've three; that's thirty-eight pups in all. That leaves only the seven who chose to inspect the yard as not ending up with one of my group. Maggie lets them run around in the yard while the rest of us get approved by the mothers.

At my request a few of us end up with large aprons with pockets the pups sit in with their heads sticking out. It's hard to carry and cuddle two pups at once, let alone three. All the pups and their new owners seem very happy with the choices.

Maggie walks up, "I've not seen anyone do that before. You let the pups decide who they go to, why?"

"I knew my people would be happy with any pup, so I let the puppies select the person they found they liked the most. Some years ago I'd a neighbour who got a pup for his daughter. She loved it, but the pup bonded with her younger brother and would always favour the brother over her. After a while seeing 'her' pup going around with her brother was very upsetting for her. Lucky for all her mother found a way to resolve the situation with a nice pony." Maggie nods at the start and laughs at the end.

I continue, "Now, about how many dogs. I figure over the next few months I'll need a couple of hundred dogs." Her eyes go very wide. "I'd also heard you may be interested in selling all of your breeding stock and breeder's licence. If that's true, I'd like to buy you out and move the operation to my home compound. I'm not after the land or buildings, except where they're needed for the dogs and can be shifted. If need be, I'll buy it all and put what I don't take up for sale through a local agent so you get a clean finish." She stops and looks at me for a moment, then goes to talk to Frank.

After a while the two come back to me, and she says, "Look, that's a very good offer. Just a couple of related things need to be sorted out. The staff; I don't want to leave them without work, if I can avoid it. I'd hoped to have someone buy me out and continue here, using my staff."

"I'll need staff and am prepared to pay the costs of shifting them to work for me at home in the north, if they'll go. I know nothing about running an operation like this. I'll need a good manager and staff."

She shakes her head, "One of the reasons I was looking to close up shop is I hurt my leg some years back and can't get around as good as I'd like. For two years I've had a manger. He put in notice as he and his family have to go back East to look after his mother-in-law. She's in some fancy hospital back there and has to stay real close to it. So he's looking for work up that way, as they need to be near her to help her."

"Call him over and let's talk turkey, or dogs in this case."

With a grin she yells out to a man a hundred yards away "Hey, Eduardo, come here." He walks over to us, "This young feller wants to buy the operation and needs a manager, he..."

Eduard interrupts her, "I told you, missus, I've got to leave and go up north for Rosa's momma. I can't stay around here and..."

I interrupt him, "Shut up and let the lady talk." He goes to speak again, so I simply put my hand over his mouth. "I said 'shut up.' Let her talk before you give a wrong answer to a question you haven't even heard. Understand?" He nods, so I let him go.

Maggie smiles, "As I was saying. This feller's buying the operation and wants a manager to run it for him on his home property which is in Maryland. Are you interested in moving to work for him there? If you'd kept your trap shut I may have been able to get him to pay hardship to you for going to the cold country, now I can't."

A very sorry Eduard gives her a wry grin, "Sorry, Boss, I made the wrong assumption. Maryland's the right state, we've got to be near Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, because that's where she's at."

"I'm moving the operation to my home compound just outside of Frederick, Maryland, about an hour's drive from Baltimore. I think that might be a good location for you." He smiles, and nods. "Good, now I need to see how many more of the staff will move north. If I can hire them here before I leave, then I'll pay to move them. I also provide all my staff with good housing in the compound." This gets a vigorous nod and smile. "I'll need to have someone design and supervise the construction of a facility there too. I'll probably end up with a couple of hundred or so dogs as guard dogs for the compound and residence. The breeding and training program will need to take that into account as well. I've two large apartment complexes for staff in the compound, and people can choose between living there or having something built at the kennels for them. My aim is to have a facility to breed and train the dogs I need, and then breed and train more for sale to others."

He grins, "I get to design the layout?" My turn to nod. "Let me go and tell the wife and the other staff. I think they'll all want to go work for you, if what you say is true."

"My security guards here all work for me in Maryland. They can tell you what the apartment housing is like, because they live in it." He smiles and he dashes off to collar a few guards for some talks before heading to the other staff to recruit them for me. I turn to Maggie, "Julio Hernandez; his pick-up looked like he was moving house! Do you know anything about that?"

"The farm he worked on as a senior supervisor of livestock got sold. The new owner, he doesn't like or employ 'Spics, ' as he calls them. So he sacked Julio and the four best staff he has. Since they all lived on the farm he gave them a week to get off. Julio was coming down here to live with his brother until he got a new job." I nod while I think on this.


Frank looks at Maggie, "Another problem is Frank here," she says, "I let him run his horses, for free, on the part of the property I don't use now. He needs to do something with the horses, can you help there and allow him to stay on for free. He's got some bad ex-wife trouble and has next to no money." I turn and look at Frank.

He shrugs, and says, "Shortly after my ex and I split I met Maggie just after her husband died in an accident. He ran cattle on the rest of the spread and she knows nothing about them. We sold off the cattle. I had an agreement with the ex on property, but she got remarried and has hired herself a real shyster lawyer. Every time I get more than a grand in the bank he finds out about it, somehow, and they put in a claim on the money. I wouldn't have minded, except none of the money goes to my daughters because the ex spends all she gets on herself. When I fight the claims the money goes up in smoke on the legal fees. My daughters have found out and told me the campaign isn't to get her money, it's to keep me broke; the bitch! I've got a fortune in horses here, but there's no point in selling any. I'm waiting until my girls are old enough I can safely give the horses to them so they can sell them and keep the money. Anything they get before the youngest is twenty-one ends up in the bitch's bank account. I've got to hold out another seven years, somehow. The deal I have is I keep giving away some of the foals to the locals in exchange for things and Maggie lets me live here." I nod all through this.

Maggie speaks up again, "My two sons don't want the property, just the money from its sale after I die. I know if Frank's still here when I go they'll just kick him off without a care. That's what a good college education can do for you, it turns nice kids into money grubbers."

"Maggie, I'm sure I can work something out. Once I buy you out, what will you do?"

She grins, "Stay with Frank. He's my man now."

While I think I pet the pups in the apron, I smile and I think about things here plus something Randy and Bryce had told me a while back.

After a few minutes of getting my hands licked I turn to Frank, "Let's go look at these horses first. How many do you have?"

"Ten stallions and fifty mares which are top breeding stock and are kept as the core of the herd. Fifteen other stallions and sixty mares I'd sell if I could. Plus around forty foals and colts. If I sold the herd, as a group, to another breeder I'd get about half a million for them. That's my life's work and my girls' inheritance."

We walk around the back of a large barn, to see a few paddocks of horses; with all my girls lined up at the rail watching the horses while they pet their pups. I stop, turn around, and lead them back behind the barn. They follow, but give me a funny look. Shaking my head I pull out my phone and call Randy, he answers, "Hey, Randy, how quick can you draw up papers for a new company and incorporate it?"

"About two hours. I've got five shelf companies and the basic papers for them ready to go once you tell me what you need. After our little business conference last week I thought you may be needing some."

I look at Frank, "Those looked like Walers to me, are they?"

He's surprised by the question, and he nods, "Yes, how did you know? It's because they're uncommon over here I can't do much with them as a herd."

I smile at him, "Randy, the new company is to have an initial value of one million dollars with shares at a dollar each. I'll put up fifty-five percent as cash and Frank Phillips will put up his forty-five percent as pedigree horses. The company will breed, train, and sell horses, they'll specialise in the pedigree of Australian Stock Horse known as a Waler. The operation will be run from a facility to be built on my estate and they'll pay a reasonable rent for the land. The papers of incorporation need to note several years will be needed to establish this new business. To ensure the business has a good chance to get established and grow the partners are not to withdraw any equity or profits for seven years; all profits to be rolled back in during this period. If either party sells out or hands on their shares that rule is to apply to the new owners and the deed of sale or gift is to note the clause. I want this tied up tighter than a fish's arse. Frank has a bitchy ex who's doing all she can to see he stays broke. She can't do anything to the horses until he sells them; he's not selling them, but swapping them for shares. I want to make sure she can't get a fixed court to steal them from him. This is all he has to leave his daughters."

Randy thinks for a few minutes. "Al, I think I can do this if I do it a little differently." I turn the volume up and hold it away from my ear so Frank can listen in. "I'll incorporate the company with some ironclad clauses I know the courts have previously approved. They'll hold all the way up to the Supreme Court. The first is for all profits of the first six years to go back into improving and expanding the business. Second is none of the initial shareholders can sell or pass on their shares, except to the other existing shareholders for that period; in the case of death the shares may be bequeathed to blood heirs on the same terms that apply to the initial shareholder. Third is shareholders may be employed by the company, but only at the industry pay rates for the work they do. If no set rate, they're to be paid the industry average for the region. They must keep records of attendance and work done. Fourth, the percentage of profits to be paid out after the sixth full year of operation is to be agreed by the shareholders at the end of the year when the amount of pre-distribution profit is known. How does that sound? Think that may protect the investment?"

I look at Frank, he grins as he nods. I smile, and say, "Do it." I hang up after saying goodbye. "Once I saw all the girls looking at the horses I just knew I wasn't getting out of here without buying a lot. So the issue became how to protect you while I do it." They both laugh. "Now I need a manager to run that operation as well as plan the stables etc."

I look at Frank when I say the last, he smiles and holds out his hand. While we shake on the deal, he says, "My girls live in Gettysburg. Is it OK for them to come visit and take a ride?"

I nod, and ask, "Won't the ex get upset with them visiting you?"

"Only if she learns that's where I am. They can ask for permission to go riding at this operation at Frederick they just found out has the type of horses they like to ride. If I don't tell her I've moved from here she'll never know. I can set up a mail redirection with ease."

We're laughing when we walk back around the corner of the barn. On hearing the noise of our laughter the girls all turn and look our way. Sarah walks over, looks up at me, and flutters her eyelids while she asks, "Daddy, can I have a horse as well, please?" She speaks in that lilting tone young girls use when wheedling something out of their parents.

I glance at both Maggie and Frank, "Listen to her!" I declare. "The ink isn't dry yet on the permanent adoption application, and she's already trying to wrap me around her little finger." I look up to see a whole row of girls and young women batting their eyelids at me. "You have to learn how to look after and train your pups before you take on the care of any other animals." They all lose their smiles while they nod. "But, in the meantime, there's no reason why you can't go riding on any of the horses in the new horse breeding company I just formed and is moving to be based in our compound." The smiles return, much bigger.

Turning to Maggie I ask, "The other people who worked with Julio and also got sacked; can you have someone contact them and see if they want jobs working with horses in Frederick, Maryland? The new boss will pay to shift them there. I'll also pay for short term accommodation here while we're getting organised there." She smiles, and nods before heading off to speak to another member of her staff.

She spends a long time talking to the man. She returns, saying, "Two of Esteban's nephews are involved, so he'll get hold of them. What's this I hear about a Fairy Godmother buying Julio a brand new pick-up?"

I try to look innocent while Frank turns and looks at me, saying, "I thought the Sheriff organised that truck just to come and get their gear. But you bought it to replace the one that was totalled, didn't you?"

I shrug my shoulders while I nod. They laugh at my embarrassment.

The Return

Naturally, before we can leave we have to stock up on snacks and something to keep the pups safe and happy while in transit to home. The Truth or Consequences Municipal Airport is a daylight operations only facility, so I left very early to allow us lots of time on the ground here. It's just going on lunchtime when we pack up and leave MMK with a bunch of happy people and pups. Maggie is letting us keep the pup aprons, and each new pup owner has papers detailing the care and feeding of their pups.

After we agree I'll buy the property as well we both get our lawyers involved. They'll sort the rest out with proper valuations etc. As a good faith payment, and to pay for the pups, I've Lia transfer ten thousand dollars to Maggie's account; making her almost as happy as I made Lia when I got her authority codes on my main business bank accounts so she can help me. I do think she's starting to work out well, now she's over her girlish behaviour that caused trouble last year.

We pack up and head out. Since we know where we're going Brian, Lia, and I ride in the bus. We go to Truth and Consequences for lunch, and to check how things are at the hospital. It's not all that long before we get a few stares when people watch the school bus pull up near the Bar-B-Que on Broadway for some good hot local food. As it's meal time they can understand people pulling up, but a school bus on a Saturday is a bit much for some who know there's no local activity for it today.

There's space to sit outside to eat, so it's no problem to keep the pups on hand while we have lunch. Apart from finding something on the menu that's also on the list of what we're allowed to feed the pups at this stage in their development. This is a real issue because the pups like the smell of the BBQ ribs etc. we're eating.

We're almost finished eating when the Sheriff's car pulls up behind the bus and he gets out. He walks over while we finish our lunch, eyes roaming up and down the line of people with pups. He sits down at my table, and says, "Well, I see you had a busy morning! How many pups did you buy?"

I grin back, "The lot. Bought the whole operation. I'm moving it and the staff north to my place in Frederick, Maryland; along with a bunch of horses that belong to a new business I'm the senior partner in." He's surprised. "Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

"I'd like to ask a favour. My wife is a nurse at the hospital. She tells me the baby will be better off if we can get her to Johns Hopkins to be treated by a top doctor they have. However, the family doesn't have any health insurance. The state health system won't cover anything except life threatening treatment, and the girl's life isn't in any danger now. I was hoping you might foot the bill, since you care about people."

I look over to where Victor is sitting. Like all the rest he's watching to see what's happening. I get his attention and signal him over. He has two tables to walk, and soon joins us. "Victor, get hold of Doctor Porter. Find out what he knows about the current status and welfare of the people from this morning's wreck, please. I'm told it's thought the baby would do better at Johns Hopkins. I want his opinion; and ask if he can travel with us on the plane to provide care in transit. Find out if the rest of the family would be better going there too. I want a briefing when we get to the hospital." He nods, pulls out his phone, and calls Porter while he walks away. I turn to the sheriff, "I've bought out both Maggie and Frank, and hired all their staff. I'm sure one of the staff will be happy to drive Julio's new truck up for him."

He smiles, nods, and says, "Will you have enough space on your plane for the extras?"

I grin, "Plenty, I flew down in my private jet; an Airbus A three one eight converted to carry eighty in luxury, cut back from over a hundred and twenty in basic airline conditions." He looks stunned. "You may want to check with Eduardo and Frank, see if they've enough staff to look after the horses and dogs. If they need more and you know of any suitable people who need the work and don't mind moving up to Frederick, Maryland, they can hire them before I have to move them north. When the move occurs in the next few months I'll pay for the moving costs of all my employed staff." He smiles, and nods again. I'm sure he knows of some people who'll be happy to move with the work for a chance of a real job, especially with me paying the shift costs.

A few minutes later we all mount up and drive to the hospital. On arrival I get a report from Doctor Porter, and I go talk with the hospital administrators. An hour later, after I pay for the treatment to date and the cost of the help needed to shift the patients to the airport, we're leaving the hospital. The Sheriff leads the convoy north to the airport - our bus, two ambulances, and two cars.

Twenty minutes after arriving at the airport all are settled in and we're on the runway on our way home via Martin State Airport in Baltimore County. Basil, my senior pilot, figures it's the best one of the airports near Johns Hopkins we can land at; the others are larger with a much higher traffic flow, which means a longer waiting pattern. Also, there should be less traffic on the roads between Martin State and Johns Hopkins. He turns out to be right. We get an almost quick in and out at Martin State. After the injured disembark to ride ambulances to the hospital under Doctor Porter's watchful eye it's a short hop home for the rest of us.

Our usual buses are at the airport. The arrival at home is organised mayhem. Lia phoned Sharon and organised for her to get the dog beds, accessories, and food the new pup owners need. The training won't start for a few weeks. Some of the professionals will be here by then, to show us how to do it. The pups do take a lot of care at this stage.

Life moves on while school, business, and caring for my family take up most of my day. I spend some of the spare time getting ready to return to Chaos.

I was told to take a two week break before returning to Chaos, as I need time for my body to adjust for the time distortion effect. Mac is sure I'll get used to it and be up to weekly visits in the near future, but should take two week breaks between visits for the first few visits. I don't mind, because it gives me a bit more time to get ready for the next few trips.

The dogs, horses, and several other projects are part of my future Chaos visit preparations.

For the rest of this story, you need to Log In or Register

Story tagged with:
Drama / Violence / War / Military / Workplace / Science Fiction / Aliens / AI / Young Adult /