ALL I MAY BE OR HAVE BEEN BEFORE
"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is a society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar;
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal."
-----From Lord Byron's "Childe Harold"
By Atonia and Jo
Jo writing Maximus, Caroline, Bud, Marie, Lachlan, Cort, Daisy, Ben, Mae, Rusty, Holli, Canfield, Melanie
Atonia writing Terry, Dee, Alex, Linda, Jack, Tarwyn, John, Bethany, Max, Sophia, Dino, Anne
Bud gripped the steering wheel as he drove as fast as he dared, wishing he had a siren. Once in a while he hit the wheel with the flat of his hand. Fuck, fuck, fuck it all!! Something had happened to Max. He could feel it in his bones. Why in hell would he walk off alone? He wanted to throttle his brother for stupidity at the same time he was worried sick about him.
“He took one of the little carts to go and talk to the foreman. There was a question about something. Carlos says the cart is where he must have left it.” Sophie was beside her self now. She was very afraid for Max. “Bud, you must find him.”
Taking two of his security men with him, Bud, guided by Carlos, began following where it was most likely Max had gone after he left his car.
“Fool!” Bud kept muttering under his breath. “God damn fuckin’ fool!” His stomach was clenched in dread he would find Max dead somewhere.
They passed the line of old storerooms. There was one more, off a little by itself and looking sort of like some ancient ruin with the way the old stones were slanted and the amount of growth on and around it. There was a wooden door, padlocked with a new lock. Bud held his breath, his gun tight in his grip.
“Max!” he called. “It’s Bud! You in there, Max?”
“BUD!” Max croaked and got himself off the floor.
“Go to the back wall, over to the side, Max. I’m going to shoot the lock.”
Two bullets later and he ripped the remnants of the lock away, shouldering open the door, unable at first to see anything in the dim light.
Max fell into Bud’s arms. He’d never been so glad to see that LA cop in his life. “G…get me out of here.”
Bud half-dragged Max out into the sunlight, overwhelmed for a moment to find his brother alive. Then that got somewhat submerged in anger. “What the fuck did you think you were doing, Max, walking off alone? DID you think? You ignored everything I told you, did exactly what I asked you not to do! You not only didn’t take security with you, you didn’t even let anyone know where the fuck you were going!!”
He almost felt like belting Max one but he was too glad he was ok.
“ARE you ok? Are you hurt? Did you see who locked you in there?” He was kind of patting down Max’s arms, looking for injuries.
Max’s eyes blazed. “Someone hit me on the head and pushed me in there. I’m on my own bloody fucking property with ‘security’, according to you. So how did this arse get on my property?” He let out a breath, knowing in his heart that it wasn’t Bud’s fault but his own that he ended up in the stone hut. “I’ll tell you one thing, that’s the last time that bastard is going to lock me into a dark room. I’ll kill the sonovabitch!”
He started to walk away, remembered his phone and went towards the back of the hut.
“What are you doing now, Max?” Bud asked, exasperated with Max’s attitude.
“Looking for my phone. It’s been ringing on and off for hours.”
He found it and came back around the building, looking a little sheepish. “Sorry I yelled at you, Bud. I’m all over frustrated with this whole thing.” He turned and gestured toward the construction crew visible at the end of the row of storage buildings. “I didn’t think it would be a problem to walk this far. There are people in sight. Evidently I was wrong,” He looked down at his phone and then pocketed it. “Thanks for looking for me.” He felt of the back of his head where a sizable egg had formed. Dried blood matted his hair. “I’m…all right except for a lump on the head.”
“Here, let me see.” Bud went behind him, parting Max’s hair. “This needs cleaning up. Were you knocked out? I’m taking you to Canfield if you were.”
“No, I didn’t go out. Felt kind of queasy for a moment but kept to my feet. Bud, this has to stop. I can’t even go about my business here. The way I see it, I need to go to Miami and confront this maniac and…maybe beat the shite out of him. That’s what I’d really like to do.”
Bud rubbed his hand almost viciously across his chin, squeezing his eyes tightly closed a moment, trying to contain himself. Then he sucked in a long, long breath and blew it out before he finally spoke. “Max, you want to commit suicide, brother, then you go do that very thing. I know you’re angry. You have every right to be, but you have got to get your head screwed on fuckin’ straight and you’ve got to do it now.” He paused, licking his lower lip. “Luis is surrounded, and I mean surrounded, by lowlife creeps of the worst sort. You couldn’t even begin to get close to him. He’d love it if you tried because then you’d be stone cold dead and he’d have what he wants. You want to give him that satisfaction?”
Max stared at him a moment. “No, I want him to have no satisfaction in this life at all.” He started to run a hand through is hair and winced when he touched the bump on his head. “What can I do, Bud? There must be something.”
“I’m trying everything I know, Max, from my end, but with organized crime it can be really hard to trace what a single man is doing. I’m going to let the FBI know what happened here today but, even though I know it’s a pain in the ass, you yourself have got not to do what you did today. Obviously you were far enough away from the construction workers, who are busy doing their jobs, that no one saw what you wandered into. Whoever did this, whacked you and pushed you in there, could just as easily have shoved a knife in your ribs or wrapped a wire around your neck. When I heard no one could find you, Max, I was really afraid that’s what had happened.”
Bud rubbed a hand over his short hair. “Look, let’s get you back to the house and cleaned up. Sophie’s ready to tear the wallpaper off the walls she’s so upset. Italian women are not especially well known for remaining calm.”
Max grinned, “I have never known her to be calm except when she’s sleeping. I expect you’ll get a hero’s welcome for finding me.”
And he did get a hero’s welcome. Sophie flung her arms around Bud and kissed both cheeks. “I love you, Bud! You are so good. I knew you would find him.” Sophie reached for Max’s hand. “You are so dirty. Where have you been?”
“He’s got a bonk on the noggin needs tending to, Sophie,” Bud explained. “I’ll leave you two to that. I’m going back out and check around that storeroom, see if I can find any clues.” He grinned, “Detective stuff, you know.”
Max shook his hand. “Thanks again, Bud.”
Linda already called ahead and let Dennis know she was coming home a day earlier. He’d get Maria to the house and make sure a guest room was ready for Anne. But Linda could hardly wait to interrogate Anne. She began as soon as she was on the road with her.
“Anne, what have you done?”
“Done? I don’t know that I have done anything.”
“I have never seen Jack so flustered.”
“Oh, well, it was a moment. A moment in time, you know.”
“No, I don’t know. Dino is like a brother to him and might as well be one to Terry. Why did you try him?”
“I don’t know, Linda. It was a good thing, I thought. It would have been.”
“It wouldn’t have been a good thing for Dino. How do you feel about him anyway?”
“I care for him very much. I love him.”
“It seems to me if you love someone you don’t go about trying to seduce their friends or family members.”
“Well, I am in trouble.”
“You don’t seem to care, if I may say so.”
“What does it matter? Nothing happened. Nothing ever happens to me. I am like an extra guest that no one expected to be at dinner. I can do nothing, I contribute nothing to anyone. You all have your lives and you go about in your cars. I am in that house, that condo, all day long unless I walk to the shops. So much I do not know and cannot understand. I have a book called a dictionary and I must look up words if I try to read. Dino says I must read to understand this world. Well…it is too much sometimes. I have nothing of my own except the clothes that the women bought for me and some things Dino has bought me. I can’t…it’s….” she covered her mouth.
“You’re not happy with your life, are you?”
“No, I am not. The life I left was far worse but this is…I am lost here so many times.”
“I’m going to be honest with you, Anne. It’s not convenient for you to stay with me right now but I think you need it. So, I’m going to make it work out. You need an education and I’m not just talking about school. You know animals, so I’m sure there will be things you can do at the ranch. In the meantime, we’ll see if we can find some hidden talent that you might have. I have two friends that are coming this weekend to stay. One is Doctor Canfield, whom you know and the other is a woman named Melanie that I met at the gallery. She’s a sculptor; she makes things like little statues and sells them.” Linda glanced over at her, “And I don’t expect you to make a move on our dear doctor.”
Once she was at the ranch, Linda called Melanie. “Hi, Melanie, I wanted you to know that I’ve come out to the ranch a day early so if you can possibly get away tomorrow some time, we can have a girls’ night. I’ve got another friend here named Anne DuBois and on Saturday, my good friend and family doctor is coming out. So it’s looking to be a good weekend.”
“Tomorrow? Yes, I can rearrange my days off, Linda. It really sounds nice, being out at your ranch.”
Melanie smiled after she hung up. This would be a good weekend. She could feel it in her bones.
Lachlan had gotten the SusieBelle painted yellow. “Like the sunshine,” he pointed out to Cort, who was standing beside him, looking at it.
“It’s very…open,” Cort said quietly.
“That’s the point, Cortland, ol’ man!” Lachlan grinned, slapping him on the back. “Ever want to reach out and grab a handful of cloud?”
“I never really thought of it, Lachlan.” Cort had flown a few times, even in a helicopter the night they had to flee after NanoCorp was blown up, but it was never something he’d been fond of. He remembered all too well his first flight in the NanoCorp corporate jet from eastern Europe all the way to Bozeman, Montana. When it had taken off it, well, it hadn’t been all that pleasant a feeling. Now, against his better judgment and only because the idea seemed to make Lachlan so happy, he was going to let himself be taken up in a rather fragile-looking slice of sunshine.
“Why does it have two sets of wings?” he asked.
“That way, if one set falls off, you’ve got a spare.” When Cort’s eyes widened, he laughed. “Nah, Cort, it has to do with the lift of the plane, the flow of the air.”
He handed Cort a leather helmet and goggles and they got into the plane, Cort in the front seat, as the man piloting sat in the rear.
“How can you see where you’re going?” Cort called back.
“Don’t need to. Fly by the seat of my pants!”
Cort moaned slightly, clamping his mouth shut as Lachlan taxied down the spanking brand new airstrip. This would be the first take off from it and he was as happy as the proverbial lark, probably more.
He circled low over the trees in a wide arc then passed over Cort’s house. Daisy was in the yard with Welland and Cookie and he waved down at them. Cort was trying not to look down, however. Lachlan had told the others when he’d be flying and as he went over the pink house, he waggled his wings, quite unnerving his passenger, and buzzed low enough that Marcus ran along, barking up at him. Ben and Mae had come over to Maximus’ as he didn’t want his pregnant alpaca disturbed, but he enjoyed looking up at the yellow plane.
“Damn, just look at that there thing. I ain’t never flown an’ I ain’t all that sure I want to, but it sure does look like our flyboy’s havin’ hisself a high ol’ time.”
Then Lachlan went into a steep climb, deliberately heading for a large, puffy cloud. “Cloud alert!” he called up to Cort. “Reach out a hand and grab some!”
To Cort it was like suddenly coming out of the clear sky into a fog and the mist brushed wetly past his uncovered lower face. He did release one hand from the death grip it had on the edge of his seat and let the cloud trail through his fingers.
“Woo hoo!” Lachlan whooped, diving out of the cloud.
Cort was pressed hard back in his seat and he closed his eyes, his lips moving in a silent novena.
Lachlan had promised it wouldn’t be a lengthy flight and before long he was setting the plane gently down on the runway. When the plane had stopped, he leaned forward, clamping a hand on Cort’s shoulder. “You still alive up there?”
“I’ll have to check an’ get back to you.”
Tarwyn pulled up in the drive with the trunk of her car full of groceries. Jack bounded out the back door to carry everything in for her.
“Why, thank you, Captain,” she smiled up at him.
He didn’t leave the kitchen once everything was on the counter tops. Tarwyn began putting things away, fridge stuff first, fruit into a bowl.
“Um, Anne is gone.”
“I saw her before I left.” Tarwyn turned around, raising her brows.
“Yes, well, um, Linda came and got her and took her out to the ranch. She might be more comfortable there. It’s…larger.”
Tarwyn looked at him a little oddly. “Larger? Was that the problem here? It was too small? I hope she’ll be happier out there. I tried, Jack, I tried to bring her out but she…I don’t know.”
“You did, yes, she’s an…odd one. Um, do you need some help?”
“Putting away groceries? Ah, no.” He’d never offered such a thing before. She turned back around, reaching into cupboards and back and forth to the pantry.
Jack’s eyes were watching her bottom encased in tight jeans, the line of her back when she reached up, the roundness of her breasts.
“Uh, excuse me.” Tarwyn looked at him, trying to get to the vegetable bin. She saw something in his eyes and smiled a little. He caught her when she straightened up and pulled her against him.
“I love you, lovely lady.”
“I love you, too, lovely man.”
His hands slipped under her top and up her back. “I can be such a fool sometimes.” He said it under his breath and began kissing her neck. She put her arms around his waist and grabbed his behind.
“All right, what brought this on? I’m not letting go until you spill.”
“You, you brought it on. By being who you are and for loving me when I don’t always deserve it.”
She kissed him. “Are we going to bed?”
“I think we’d better, madam.”
Holli had taken a long nap but Rusty never left her side. It had gotten through to him, finally totally gotten through to him what she meant to him. He thought for a while it had, but when he’d gone out to his place, something had been disturbed again. Perhaps because it was all so new and because there was so very much of all of it to deal with. And what of Holli? She’d given up everything, risked even that he might stop loving her, so she could save his life. And he wasn’t sure he loved her for…that?
She woke to find him still there, lying beside her, fingering her hair. “You didn’t go,” she whispered.
“I didn’t want to go. I wanted to be here with my wife.”
“I really do. I can hardly wait until you’re well enough to go home to our new house. It’s going to be wonderful living there with you. It’s everything I ever dreamed of in a house but it’s nothing without you sharing it with me.”
“I want to…do that…be there with you.”
“It’ll be good, Holli, really, really good. And you can sit on a chaise on the back patio by the pool and I’ll bring Jasmine up to see you. I bet she misses you.”
“I miss her. She…she’s so right for Raja. What foals they’ll make. Can’t you just picture them?”
That made her think about something and in a few minutes when Canfield came by she asked, “My insides, Doctor…”
“What about them, Holli? They’re all repaired and doing fine.”
“My…my…where babies grow…is it…damaged?”
“No, Holli, your uterus and ovaries weren’t hurt at all.”
Rusty bit a lip. He hadn’t thought of that. “She, Holli, she can have babies?”
“I don’t see why not. I checked her out really well and she looks perfectly normal in every way. Not tomorrow, however. She needs a bit more recovery time,” he smiled.
Rusty looked at Holli. “You can have babies.”
“I might need a little help.”
Dee lay down on the bed with Terry. He’d been asleep for about an hour and he woke up when she lay down.
“Have a good nap?”
“I slept.” He rolled over on his back and rubbed his eyes. “Is it night?”
“No, still daylight. I just pulled the draperies. “You’ve never been one to take naps in the daytime.”
“I do now.” He turned over, facing her. “I’m not…not the man I was. I know it and you must know it, too. I’m trying, Nolia, but I can’t get there.”
“Honey, it hasn’t even been a week yet. Give it time. We’ve got time. After what you’ve been through I wouldn’t expect you to bounce back right away.” She cupped his cheek in her hand and ran it down his arm. He caught her fingers in his.
“You’ll have to be patient with me.”
“You know I will be. You’re all I’ve got. You’re the most important thing in the world to me. I love you more than anything”
“I should be making love to you right now.” He dropped her fingers, turned onto his back again and laid his arm across his eyes. “I can’t even do that.”
“Do you want me to…?” She ran her hand down his body and touched him. He didn’t respond to her touch.
A sob caught in his throat.
“Don’t, Terry, don’t. It’s all right. In time…time, darling…time.”
Bud had a talk with all his security men. They all knew what had happened today and he said, “Mr. Skinner could have been killed. Whenever he leaves the house for any reason, I expect one of you to be at his side the entire time and I do mean the entire time. He seemed to think it was safe to wander down toward that storage hut. Obviously it wasn’t. He’s not to wander like that again without one of you wandering with him, gun at the ready.”
This whole thing was so fucked. Uncle Louis could have an army of goons lurking around. He wasn’t even sure why the one today hadn’t just killed Max. It would have been easy enough. If he didn’t want his life, what did he want?
Max was drying his hair with a towel and Sophie was sitting on the bed. “Max, you could have been killed today.”
“I don’t know what to do. This is my fault. He’s my uncle.”
“As far as I know, Sophie, your blood is not tainted. His is. I should have killed him when I had the chance in Tuscany.”
“You tried to choke him to death. Well, if you had succeeded then he would be gone but there would be others, maybe worse, after you for killing him.”
“Why didn’t you tell he was the mob? I took an instant dislike to him the first time I met him. It went downhill from there. I might have avoided him.”
“I didn’t know! You think we sat around the table and talked about this? He was a businessman. That is all I knew about him when I was growing up.”
“I’m not blaming you, sweetheart.”
“Come here and let me look at your head. There is blood on the towel.” Sophie parted his hair carefully. “Ah, you might need a stitch in that. You’ve opened it up again.”
“It will stop bleeding in a bit. Sophie, we have a real problem here.”
“Yes, I know we do. It all could have been avoided, you know.”
Max turned around and looked at her. “You mean down the aisle and ‘I do’?”
“Why are you so against marriage?”
“I don’t like being manipulated. I won’t be manipulated into anything. My parents were married and what memories I have of that are not good. They squabbled all the time, loudly. Uncle Henry was the only respite I had from it and he never married.”
“You think he was happy? You said yourself that he died loveless.”
“We’re squabbling already and we aren’t married. Can you imagine?” Max rounded his eyes. “I love you, Sophie. A legal document is not going to make me love you more.”
“Maybe not, but it might keep you alive.”
Cort had driven home and was sitting on a rock wall with a glass of sweet tea watching Cookie poking his nose at a toad. He needed some quiet time after his flight. He’d done it the once and hoped that would satisfy Lachlan. He could see how if you were used to it, were good at it like Lachlan was, you could enjoy yourself, but he hadn’t enjoyed himself at all. It was simply unnatural to him to be that high up off the ground. He’d adjusted to cars just fine, but they were earth-bound things. Truth be told, he was much happier on a horse than any other mode of transportation. That was what he was used to, what he was good at.
Out here in Daisy’s garden it was peaceful. She, Caroline and he had made a nice water feature last fall, with a small waterfall cascading over rocks to a little koi pond. He closed his eyes, enjoying the sound of the water. A child of the desert, he understood the Muslim belief that heaven would be a place of fountains and streams. He was glad Daisy had wanted to make the little waterfall and pond, bringing the sound of the water near the house. They’d arranged for it to be on the side of the house their bedroom windows overlooked and now that the weather was warmer, he liked to go to sleep to the sound of it.
Daisy came around the side of the house, Welland on her hip, sitting near him. “You’re still a little pale,” she observed.
“Have you ever been up in one of those things?” he asked.
“No. I imagine it’s very different from being inside a jet.”
“Nothin’ similar at all. It’s all right there, right in your face, all of it, the wind, the moisture in the clouds. I guess it does give you more the feelin’ of what flyin’s all about, but it’s just so…open.”
“You made Lachlan happy, though.”
“That’s what it was all about,” he sighed, “an’ I’m glad I went for that. I could tell it meant a lot to him.”
It had, indeed, meant a lot to Lachlan, who was right then sitting cross-legged on the ground, his eyes roaming over the SusieBelle. He hadn’t felt so connected to who he’d been in his movie, not ever, not until today. Part of it was hard because it was all gone, but he’d known heartache there, too. Was love always like that? Did you fall in love, want to be with someone, only to lose them? He’d been in love twice, lost both of them. Looking up, he decided now he’d be in love with the sky.
Jack and Tarwyn had changed into comfortable lounging clothes for the rest of the evening. There was something nice about being alone in your house and not feeling obligated to dress. Tarwyn went to finish putting away her shopping and make something for dinner. Jack went into his room and found his phone on his desk.
“Lachlan? This is Jack. I wonder if you might be available to fly the jet to Maine on Saturday? Tarwyn and I are going to do a bit of house hunting on the coast. I believe the closest airport is in Portland but you’d know more about that than I. If so, we’d like to book a flight.”
“Customers? I actually have…customers? Wow! Yeah, Portland would be where you’d want to fly into. I can make arrangements for Saturday. Jet’s still at the city airport so we’ll fly out of there. How long are you staying? Was wondering if I should fly home and come back for you. What are you thinking?”
“Should only take a couple of days. We would be ready to return on Monday, perhaps even Sunday if all goes well.”
“I may stay then. I’ve never seen the coast of Maine. Might do some hiking along there while you two do your house hunting. Lot less fuel than two round trips from Texas.” He paused a minute, the words ‘house hunting’ finally sinking in. “Hey, big brother, you thinking of moving to Maine, leaving Texas?”
“No, looking for somewhere to berth my ship, somewhere out of the hurricane zone. Before I purchased it, it used to spend its summers in Camden, Maine so I thought to look for a second home there.”
“Sounds a lot safer for the ship, Jack. I’ve been trying to make my new hangar as hurricane-proof as I can. It’s not usually as bad in here as it is at the coast, but that blow we had late last fall was enough to convince me I need to keep my planes safe.”
“Yes…at least you’d have time to fly them out beforehand, I, on the other hand, would be hard put to sail out of the Gulf should the storm approach. We’ll be ready to go about eight in the morning if that suits you. Get with Tarwyn for the fare. I look forward to the flight, Lachlan.” That last bit was not exactly true. He did not look forward to flying, an unnatural thing to do. However, he’d survived the trip to New Orleans and so he would again.
Bud had called the local police out where Max lived and also talked to the city department, updating them on what had happened with Max today. His city connection said he’d let the FBI know right away. Marie was still at work so he stopped by John’s, possibly because he was so used to sharing such things with his partner.
“So that’s where we’re at with this, John…basically nowhere. Max is so fuckin’ hard to keep safe. I can’t believe he’d think it was all right to wander off like he did after what I told him. Being attacked like that right there on his own property, though, I’m hoping will teach him to be more careful.”
“I don’t know about that. You know how hard-headed he can be. Tell him he can’t do something and he’ll find a way to get around it. I’m thinking, though, about his attack, Bud. What if the asshole that attacked him was part of the construction crew, or at least came in with them? This is a little different from the spider thing. This time they caused bodily harm and Max ought to go to the hospital and get himself checked out just so there’s a record of it, you know? I believe I’d be checking out the guys that were working there when it happened. Who was missing, that kinda thing. Your guys would know if anybody else came onto the property but they might not have counted the construction crew. Maybe one of the guys decided to go take a piss or something while Max was down there.”
Beth was folding clothes but could hear the two brothers discussing Max and his attack. She paused and let out a breath. It sure sounded to her like the Bud and John detective agency was back in business. Maybe it was a good thing because John sure needed something to do. And maybe it would be okay, if they could keep themselves out of trouble and out of the hospital.
“I think you may be onto something there, John. I knew I needed my partner with me. Not that we get paid or anything but we’re fuckin’ rollin’ in dough. It’s more I need something to do, you know, especially with Marie still wanting to do her nursing.”
He got out his phone and called the construction boss, a man he trusted, and asked him to poke around, see what he could find out. He also called Carlos, telling him the same thing, hoping it would help him keep an eye out. Then he called the head of his security men and had a long talk with him. He didn’t call Max.