Gary was finding eating with only one hand, especially his left one, to
be a bit awkward. True, it was just clear liquids, which could only
be considered ‘food’ for its nutrient value . . . but that Jell-O cup just
would not sit still!
“Need some help, sweetie?”
Startled, Gary dropped his spoon with a clatter as the offensive plastic
container skittered across the tray. He tried to catch it, only to
have the sudden motion send a flash of fire across his back. Biting
back a curse, he glanced up to see his mom reaching down to corner the elusive
“Let me get that, hon,” Lois chuckled. “You don’t have enough hands.”
She picked up the spoon and scooped out a dollop of the gelatin. “Say
Gary obediently opened his mouth and let her feed him the Jell-O.
“Thanks, Mom,” he murmured between bites.
“We have got to do something,” Lois sighed, “about this unholy attraction
you seem to have for hospitals, lately! When that Ms. Gannon called
me this morning and told me what happened . . . And poor Clay feels so guilty,
he’s been apologizing since I stepped off the plane! And did you see
his hands? That poor boy!”
“Mom,” Gary mumbled around a mouthful of gelatin, “we’re not . . . Never
mind,” he sighed. They were still having trouble convincing Polly
that they were no longer ‘boys,’ and she was younger than Lois! “Please
don’t take this wrong. I-I’m really glad to see you and all, but y-you
didn’t need to fly all the way out here . . . Wh-what I mean is . .
. Do you really trust Dad t-to take care of . . . things?”
“It’s not like I had a whole lot of choices, Gary,” his mother frowned.
“As soon as I heard you were hurt . . . Did you think I could just sit home
and wait for news bulletins? You’re my son. You’re lucky I could
talk him into staying behind. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been anyone
left to take care of . . . things.” She spooned another scoop of Jell-O
into his mouth. “I’ve been talking with Ms. Gannon.”
‘Uh-oh,’ Gary thought. ‘That doesn’t sound good.’ “Wh-what about?”
he ventured to ask.
“The . . . um, ’gentlemen’ . . . who did this to you,” she replied, grinning
at Gary’s relieved sigh. “After hearing some of her ideas, I’m beginning
to like her. Of course, most of what she wants to do to them is .
. . well, I just don’t think they’re physically possible! Can a person
live without that many vital organs? The neutering, however . . .”
“Mom!” Gary protested. “Please! I’m trying to eat here!”
He looked down at his empty tray and winced. “Sorta, anyway!”
“So, how are you feeling, hon?” Lois asked solicitously. “Are you
in a lot of pain?”
Gary stifled an involuntary comment as he remembered, too late, not to
shrug. “Only when I move,” he sighed. “I’ve been trying to do
as little of that as possible, I promise. H-how ‘bout you ‘n’ Dad?
I-is everything okay at home?”
“Well . . . yes,” was her hesitant reply. “I’ve had to ask Marion
Crumb to keep an eye on him. That man has absolutely no concept of danger!
I tell you, if he doesn’t stop rushing headlong into things . . .!
At least you try to plan ahead. He just goes charging in there as if
he’s Superman! Just last week he went into a bank holdup with a water
pistol! Well, I took my time posting bail that time, let me . . .”
Gary started to raise one hand to cut off her rapid patter, only to have
her stop anyway when the pain caused all the blood to drain from his face.
“I-I’m okay,” he gasped, squeezing his eyes shut until the fire in his
back had burned itself out. “Just . . . just moved too fast.
Y-you didn’t tell Crumb about . . . about the Paper?”
“Of course not, Gary!” Lois snorted daintily. “I told him that I
was worried that your father was having another ‘mid-life crisis.’
That he was doing foolish things to prove he still could. Which is
probably closer to the truth than he wants to admit! Anyway, Marion
is going to try to keep him out of trouble until we get back. I’ve
talked with your doctor and he thinks you should be able to travel in a
few days. I’ve already made our reservations and . . .”
Gingerly, Gary brought his hand up again. “Could you slow down? Please?”
he begged. “You’re talking faster than I can listen!”
“Oh! Oh dear!” Lois continued in a more subdued voice. “I’m
sorry. It’s just that . . . well, this is the first time I’ve visited
you in a hospital without having to wait for you to regain consciousness.
And it was such a relief to find out you hadn’t been within an ace of dying!
Not that it doesn’t tear me apart that you went through such a terrible ordeal
. . .!”
“M-Mom, I need to ask you some questions,” Gary finally spoke up, halting
her frenetic chatter. “I-I need to know some . . . some family history.
D-do you remember telling me about great-grandma Victoria? How she
was adopted by this family that took her in after her parents died?”
Lois fell silent as she searched her memory. “Ye-es,” she murmured
hesitantly. “She was taken in by the Millers, her grandparents’ neighbors.
Gary licked his lips nervously. This was it. The chance to
prove the tie-in with the Chandler ‘saga,’ as if he really needed proof.
“Did she ever tell you what her real parents names were?”
Biting her own lip in concentration, Lois finally had to shake her head.
“She refused to talk about them,” she sighed. “I think . . . I think
she hated them for dying when she was so young. Oh, when I told her
I was going to name my first-born Gary, after my favorite actor, Gary Cooper,
she was furious! Told me never to bring you near her if I did.
Well, that just made me even more determined than ever. No one was
going to tell me what to name my son!” She frowned at the recollection.
“I was never invited back to her house after that,” she sighed. “I
tried to reconcile with her before she died, when I was sixteen, but she
refused to speak to me. Wouldn’t even tell me why she hated that name
“W-wait!” Gary pleaded, holding his hand up once more. “She died
in ‘57? How old was she?”
“One Hundred and one,” Lois informed him proudly.
“I-I’m getting confused here,” Gary sighed. “Great-grandmother Victoria
was in her eighties when you were born? H-how old was she when Grandma
was born? She just turned ninety-five this year! And you told
me she was thirty-eight when you were born!”
Lois patted her son’s free hand gently as she explained things to him.
“Your Grandmother Jolene, my mother, was the youngest of twelve children,
only five of which lived to adulthood,” she told him sadly. “A flu
epidemic took three before the age of ten. Measles claimed two more,
and two died from small pox. Which was even more devastating to her
because she survived it when she was twelve. People tried to have a
lot of children back then, to help with the farm or family business, and
in hopes that some would survive to carry on the family name. Your
great-grandmother was forty-seven when my mother was born. Something
that was almost unheard of, even then.”
“Look, Mom,” Gary murmured anxiously. “This is real important to
me, right now. I need to know what her birth parents names were.
Can you think of anyplace it might be written down? Church records,
marriage certificates, birth records? Anything?”
“It’s that important to you?” she asked. When he nodded in tight-lipped
silence, Lois looked away with a sigh. “Well, I could try calling
cousin Henry‘s son, George, I suppose,” she told him. “He inherited
the family bible from Uncle Steven. He was the oldest surviving male.
I seem to recall that it was almost one hundred and fifty years old.
It was probably given to her parents as a wedding present. Surely that
would have their names inscribed in it somewhere.”
“Would you call him today, Mom?” Gary pleaded. “Please? I can’t
even begin to tell you how important this could be!”
“Well,” Lois replied, rising to go, “you’d better give it your best shot
when I get back. I smell a whopper of a story here, sweetie.”
“Wait! Where are you going?” Gary asked. “You can use this
phone, can’t you?”
“That’s okay, Gary,” she smiled grimly. “I don’t want you to hear
how I may have to talk to cousin George. That man can be such a jerk,
Lois returned half an hour later to find the tiny hospital room almost
too crowded for her to squeeze in. There were the two Cains, father
and son, the twins and Jake Evans, that Ms. Gannon who had such interesting
ideas on corporal punishment, and three people she had never seen before.
“Um, Mom, y-you know most of this crowd,” Gary stammered. “Th-this
is Alex Cahill, with the DA’s office in Dallas. The gentleman with
the badge is Cordell Walker of the Texas Rangers. And the other is
Sammo Law, assigned temporarily to the LAPD. Did I get all that right?”
“You did fine, Gary,” Alex chuckled. She stepped up and took Lois’s
hand in a firm grip. “It’s so nice to finally meet you. I’m
just sorry it had to be under these circumstances.”
“So am I,” Lois murmured. “Weren’t your people supposed to be watching
over my son?”
“That . . . was partly my fault,” Peter quickly spoke up. “It was
a kinda semi-rural area, and we couldn’t follow too close or take a chance
on scaring those . . . ‘gentlemen’ off. As soon as Polly called to
tell us that Gary was going out alone, we moved in. By that time, they
were loading him into the van.”
“I, also, was too late to be of assistance,” Kwai Chang apologized.
“I was so enthralled with the mystery he had presented me, that I . . .
let my guard down?”
Gary cautiously raised his hand to cut off the angry retort he could see
coming. “No one let anything happen,” he told her. “I was feeling
. . . I had to get out, Mom. I had to, or go crazy. So . . .
can we just be happy it’s over?”
“It ain’t over,” Clay grumbled dismally. “Not ‘til I see Jaggs Neff’s
cold dead body lowered into a hole and covered with six feet of Texas dirt.”
“All the same,” Gary sighed, “the danger is past, we’re all alive and well
. . . for the most part,” he added as every eye in the room turned his way.
“C’mon, guys! Help me out here! Aren’t you supposed to be cheering
me up?” Wincing as he shifted his position slightly, Gary turned to
his mother. “What did Cousin George say? Did he have it?”
Lois glanced around warily as she took the empty chair near the head of
the bed. “Well, I had to threaten a little blackmail,” she told him,
“but he finally dug it out. I was right. It was inscribed as a
wedding present from an older brother, I think. Anyway, someone tried
to scratch out the names, but I guess their heart wasn’t in it. He could
clearly read them as Gary Martin Chandler and Amanda Louise Beaumont.
They had five children who all lived to ripe old ages, but it only lists Grandmother
Victoria’s children and grandchildren. Funny thing, though. It
lists her parents birth dates, but not when they died.”
“They didn’t know,” Gary sighed. “Not exactly. You don’t happen
to know where the Chandler family cemetery is, do you?”
“Now how would I know that, dear,” Lois gently chided her son. “I
just found out we were related. Now, could someone please tell me what
this is all about?”
Chuckling, Peter Cain laid a hand on her shoulder. “Settle back,
Mrs. Hobson,” he told her. “This may take a while.”
“And that’s as much as we know,” Sammo concluded in his stilted English.
“When we retrieved your son from the ravine, he was unable to tell us much,
at first. Only that we would find the remains of your ancestress below
the place where he fell.” Turning to Gary, he added. “You were correct
about the body. It was almost directly below you, under about ten
feet of debris.”
“The forensics lab wants a sample of blood from each of you,” Walker told
the four cousins, “so they can do a DNA comparison.” He looked at
Gary and grinned. “Not you, though. We got plenty of yours from
“That’s small consolation,” Gary grumbled.
“Damn!” Buddy grumbled. “I knew there was gonna be needles involved
before this was over! Your doctor’s wantin’ to run some tests, too.
He told me just a bit ago that these tests would prove Clay and I were brothers.
I told him we already knew that,” he added with a nervous chuckle.
“Um, b-by the way, Gary. I, ahm, I called my folks and explained that
we wouldn’t be drivin’ down this week, what with you bein’ laid up, an’ all.
They, um, they said to tell you that, well . . . they’ll be here by mornin’.
They can’t wait to meet everyone!”
So why did he sound so nervous?
After a while, Cordell and Alex had to leave, saying something about wedding
preparations. Soon, the others started trickling out, on one pretext
or another, until it was just Gary, his mom, and Polly. Lois was finally
able to get the full story of the tech’s involvement in the whole affair.
As well as her attempts to keep Gary in one piece. Although, Polly
carefully skirted the issue of their ‘link.’
“He’s been goin’ through some rough times,” Polly told her. “Almost
as bad as last year. And we found another cousin. Peter Keith
Blessing is his full name. I have his address if you want it.”
“That’ll be great,” Lois said. “I can just see all the faces at the
family reunion, next May! Cousin Henry will have a fit! Oh!
And you absolutely have to tell them about great-grandfather Gary and great-grandmother
Amanda. How they were torn apart by a cruel, uncaring fate, dying
so young, and so far apart! Only to be reunited by their great great
grandchild so that they could spend eternity together! That has to
be the most romantic story that anyone in our family has ever come up with!
It certainly beats the one your Aunt Ruth keeps telling about how she met
her first husband in Paris during ‘The War.’ You know,” Lois added
thoughtfully, “she never has said which war. I think . . .”
“M-mom,” Gary stammered. “I can’t tell that part! They’ll think
“Not if you tell them it came to you in a dream,” she sighed, her eyes
taking on a ‘dreamy’ look of their own. “They appeared, two radiant
spirits, vowing their undying love for each other, as you were fighting
your way back to consciousness! They had but one request. That
their earthly remains be exhumed, and returned to their family plot so that
they could never be separated again!”
Gary gave his mother an amused look of mock concern. “You’ve been
reading those Harlequin romances again, haven’t you?”
“Oh, you!” Lois giggled, giving his hand a gentle slap. “I’m in a
good mood. Don’t spoil it, mister!”
“You know,” Polly mused, “if we all put our heads together, we could write
this up as fiction and pitch it to one of those romance publishers.
I bet it’ll sell like hotcakes.”
“If you mean the whole story,” Lois grinned, “it’ll have to be either action,
fantasy, or science fiction. We could change all the names, and divide
the more traumatic events among all four boys. No one would buy all
of this happening to just one of them! I mean, honestly, we have to
at least make it remotely feasible!”
“What?” Gary exclaimed. “You don’t believe me?”
“Of course, I believe you, sweetie!” Lois replied earnestly. “But
that’s only because I know you! You’d never make up something so fantastic.
If anyone else had come to me with a story like that, I would’ve been looking
around for the nearest mental hospital. Or a movie crew.”
Gary didn’t know how to answer that, so he wisely said nothing.
“I can’t wait to meet Buddy’s parents tomorrow,” Lois continued.
“I’ve been wondering how they came to adopt him. Was it through the
state? Or was it through some confederate of the people who stole
him? Why did they finally tell him he was adopted, and when?
Some kids go almost their whole lives without being told. And why
on earth did they saddle him with that name!”
Glancing at her watch, Polly saw that visiting hours were about to end.
“For the answer to these and many other fascinating questions, Bat-fans,”
she quipped, “tune in tomorrow. Same Bat-time. Same Bat-channel.
It’s time for us to call it a night and let our patient get some rest.
Good night, sweetie. We’ll be back in right after breakfast.”
Taking a protesting Lois by the arm, she led her toward the door.
“C’mon, hon,” she insisted. “The last thing he needs, right now, is
someone else watching over him. He’s already feeling like a caged
“But . . . he needs . . .”
“To be left alone,” Polly told her.
“What if . . .?”
“No. The worst is over,” the tech reminded her. “All the bad
guys are in jail. He’s perfectly safe.”
“I can’t just leave him all alone!”
Polly heaved a sigh of frustration as she turned to look at Gary.
“Polly’s right on this one, Mom,” he grinned. “I’ll be fine.
“Are you sure?”
“Goodnight, Mom!” he sighed. Then, giving her a tired grin, he added,
“I love you, too.”
Early the next morning, Gary was having to submit to his mother feeding
him again. The doctor had upgraded him to soft solids, so he was allowed
his choice of oatmeal or eggs with toast. Gary was never big on oatmeal.
“You don’t have to do this, Mo-umph!”
“Well, you can’t manage with just one hand,” Lois told him as she prepared
another forkful of eggs. “Until they unstrap that arm, you’re just
going to have to get used to it. After we’re through, the nurses need
to give you a bath and change your bandages. We want to you to look
nice when Buddy’s adoptive parents get here.” She gently stroked his
heavily stubbled cheek. “You need a shave, too. I’ll do that,
if you like.”
“Th-that’d be nice, Mom,” Gary stammered, a slow flush coloring him to
his hairline. “Y-you’re not gonna help with the bath, are you?”
“Of course not, dear,” Lois chuckled. “I’ll leave that to the nurses.”
She fed him another bite of eggs, a mischievous gleam in her eyes.
“They’re drawing lots right now. Winner gets the honors.”
She hadn’t thought her son’s face could get any redder, under the circumstances.
She was wrong. Gary lay his head back with a low, whimpering groan.
“God!” he sighed, frustrated. “I just wanna be able to take care
of these things myself! I’m not a baby anymore!”
“I’m just teasing, hon,” Lois giggled. “After hearing them talk about
you yesterday, I couldn’t resist. I’m so sorry.”
“Very funny, Mom,” Gary grumbled. “You haven’t seen some of the looks
I’ve been getting. Like they’re sizing me up for the slaughter.”
“Umph! N-not to change the subject,” Lois chuckled, “but . . .”
“Oh, please!” Gary interjected. “L-let’s do change the subject!”
“Okay, okay!” his mother laughed. “Have you seen the twins or Jake
this morning? Ranger Walker was looking for them. Clay needs
to give a deposition against this Neff fella, and they all need to go over
their statements. Ms. Gannon, too.”
“I don’t know about the others,” Gary murmured thoughtfully, “but Buddy
is probably on his way to the airport to pick up his parents.”
“Oh, good! I was hoping to meet them before we . . .”
There was a tentative knock on the door. Before Lois had a chance
to answer, it was pushed open by a pleasant faced couple in their early sixties.
“Excuse me,” the woman said as she spied Lois. “We were told our
son might be . . .” She paused in mid-sentence, her eyes growing wide
in shock as she spied the figure on the bed. “Oh, my Lord!” she gasped,
running into the room and throwing her arms around Gary. “My poah
baby! No one said you were injured! Oh, Beauregard! Child,
where does it hurt?”
“No! Don’t!” Gary protested, trying to bring his good arm up to fend
her off. He was just a split second too slow.
“No!” Lois screamed, halting the man in his tracks. “Don’t touch
his . . . back!”
Too late. The moment the woman yanked him forward, into a bear hug,
Gary had to bite his lip to keep from screaming! As it was, a choked
whimper alerted the woman to his acute discomfort. Startled, she loosened
her hold on Gary, only to find Lois tugging at the hands pressed against
his back! The white faced young man clutched at the sleeve of her jacket
with a spastic grip, his face
pressed against her shoulder so tight, she could feel his jaw muscles clenching,
as shudders ran through his body!
“Oh, God!” he whispered in a trembling voice. “Oh, Lord! D-don’t
ever . . . d-do that . . . again! I-I’m n-not B-Buddy!” he gasped.
“What are you sayin’, child?” the woman asked, leaning back to give him
a concerned look. “Did you hit yo’ah head? Of course yo’ah my
Beauregard! Don’t you think I’d know the child I raised from a baby?”
“Trust me, sweetie,” Lois growled, prying her hands away from Gary’s back,
“not this time. This is my son, Gary Hobson. Let go, dear.
That’s a good boy,” she added as she went to work loosening his fingers
from the strange woman‘s sleeve. “Can you lay back?”
“No,” he gasped. “Hurts.”
Reaching for the call button, Lois rang for the nurse. While they
waited for her appearance, Lois gently eased onto the bed and pulled Gary
close, careful not to touch his back. With a soft groan, he lay his
head on her shoulder, trying to breathe through the pain.
“Just what is going on heah,” the man asked. “Why doesn’t our boy
Keeping one hand to the back of Gary’s head, the other on the arm clamped
about her waist, Lois turned her head just enough to glare at the confused
“What part of ‘he’s not Buddy’ are you having trouble with?” she snapped.
“This is my son, Gary Hobson. He and Buddy are cousins. Buddy
is on his way to the airport to meet your flight.”
“We took an earlier . . . Oh, my Lord!” the man gasped. “Oh, my deah
Lord! I must apologize for this horrible misunderstanding! When
we got the call from Buddy, saying that he wouldn’t be comin’ home after
all, we jumped on the first flight out of Houston. We checked at his
hotel, and they said we might find him heah. Then, when we . . . Wheah
are my manners? My name is Nathaniel Jackson. This is my wife,
“Lois Hobson,” Gary’s mom mumbled by way of introduction. She was
gently rocking Gary as spasms of pain wracked his body. “You’ve met
my son Gary,” she added dryly. “Please don’t touch his back. The
sick bast- . . . individuals who kidnapped him tried to take all the hide
off of it with a rusty chain. You might want to call the airport and
see if they can find Buddy. I’m sure he’s getting worried by now.”
“Oh, deah,” Evangeline murmured, stroking Gary’s hair. “Child, I’m
so sorry. If I had known . . . Bless yoah soul. We just came
rushin’ over, thinkin’ he was hurt. But the nurses at the desk said
that he was just visitin’ someone. Then, when we saw you . . . the
resemblance is uncanny! Oh! I don’t know what to make of any
“S’okay,” Gary grunted. “N-nat’ral m-mistake. No . . . no harm
done.” He released his grip on his mother, taking a cautious breath.
“I-it’s not so bad . . . now,” he told her. “I-I’m okay.” He
looked up at Buddy’s adoptive parents as Lois wiped beads of sweat from his
forehead. “If you think . . . think this is . . . confusing, w-wait
‘til th-the others . . . g-get here.”
Buddy pulled the RV up as close to the main entrance as he could.
Putting the big vehicle into ‘park,’ he turned in his seat to look at his
passengers. “Ya’ll go on in,” he told them. “I’m gonna check in
at the motel an’ see if they left a message.”
“Good idea,” Jake murmured. He gave a long, slow stretch as he tried
to ease the kink in his back from sitting too long. “They must’ve
had to catch a later flight.” He turned to help Clay up from his seat.
The rodeo star was having trouble unfastening his seatbelt with his injured
hands. “Let me get that.”
“Thanks,” Clay mumbled as Jake helped him to his feet. “I’m startin’
t’ see what Gary means about feelin’ helpless. This is kinda pitiful.”
“I can see that,” Jake chuckled. “Sorry. I just wish you’d
left a little for the rest of us. You really messed up that guys face!
You want me to go to the clinic with you?”
“Nah,” Clay shrugged. “I can make it fine. I just have to pick
up a copy of my records. Tell Gary I’ll be along in a little bit.”
“Sure thing.” Jake parted company with Clay in the lobby. As
the cowboy headed off to find the Health Information Services office, the
banker took the elevator up to Gary’s floor. The moment the doors
slid open he strode briskly toward his cousin’s room. That bit of
information still threw him. Imagine finding a whole family he’d never
known existed! The amazing resemblance had been incredible enough.
To learn that they truly were related . . .! How would Joan react
to suddenly learning that there were not just three other men that looked
like him, but five!
Jake was still going over the possible scenarios in his mind when he entered
the waiting area. There was Gary’s mom. She was talking with
an elderly couple in their early sixties. There was a petite, slender
woman with silver-gray hair, and a tall, raw-boned man with a thick shock
of white hair. The instant Lois spotted him, she smiled and waved him
over. The others turned to see who she was smiling at. Instantly,
the tiny woman jumped up and, with a hushed cry of “Beauregard!” rushed over
to a startled Jake and threw her arms around him!
The young banker would never have believed that such slender arms could
hold such strength! Caught off guard by the tiny woman’s enthusiasm,
he hadn’t had time to get a breath in. Then she proceeded to squeeze
what little he had out!
“Air!” he wheezed, trying to pry her arms loose. “N-need air!”
Hurt and confused by this lukewarm reaction from the man she had thought
to be her son, Mrs. Jackson released her hold, taking a step back.
“Child,” she whimpered, “you never used to be this . . . cold! What’s
wrong? Aren’t you happy to see yoah family?”
“Ma’am,” Jake sighed, “I’m never that happy to see my own family, let alone
someone else’s.” He gingerly probed his ribs to see if they were intact.
“I take it that you’re Buddy’s mom and dad?”
Now she was totally flustered! “Y-yoah not . . .?” Evangeline stammered.
“But you look so much like . . . Oh deah, I don’t know what to think!
If yoah not my Beauregard, then who are you?”
“Jake Evans,” the young banker replied. “From Chicago. I’m
sorry to have been so brusque a moment ago,” he apologized, taking her hand
and, emulating Gary with Ellie, gently kissed her fingers. “You kinda
scared my manners right out the window.”
“Well,” Mrs. Jackson giggled, “you seem to have enticed them back, young
man. Apology accepted. Oh my,” she sighed, suddenly serious
again. “This is evah so confusin’! First that poah Mr. Hobson
that I so thoughtlessly . . . Now you! I do wish he’d warned us what
“Mother,” Mr. Jackson chuckled, coming up behind his wife, “the moment
the boy told you he was gonna be stuck in Dallas for a while, you dropped
the phone and started callin’ airlines. He nevah had a chance to tell
us!” Turning to Jake, he quickly introduced himself and his wife.
“This is amazing’,” he added in an awed voice. “The resemblance between
you boys is absolutely uncanny! Ya’ll must be havin’ the time of yoah
lives confusin’ folks.”
Jake couldn’t help a slight grimace. “I’m afraid it hasn’t been much
fun for Gary,” he sighed. “The guys who put him here were actually
after someone else who looks just like . . .”
Turning, Jake saw Clay rounding the corner into the waiting area.
Startled by the loud cry, the cowboy looked over his shoulder to see if his
brother had come up behind him. This left him a little off balance for
Mrs. Jackson’s frontal assault. Jake had to bite back a grin as he
caught the confused look on Clay’s face when the tiny woman almost squeezed
the breath out of him! Before he could say anything, she sprang back
and began fussing over his injuries!
“My poah baby!” she exclaimed, taking his bandaged right hand in hers.
“Oh, child, how did this happen? You poah thing! Come have a
seat. Oh, my poah Beauregard!”
As soon she mentioned that name, Clay’s glazed look turned to one of dawning
comprehension. “You must be Buddy’s mother,” he said with a tired
grin. He wrapped his good arm around her and kissed her cheek.
“I’m glad to finally meet you. I’m Clay Treyton, his twin brother.”
Stunned, Mrs. Jackson stepped back to take a more careful look at the young
man before her. The only difference she could see between him and
her son was a tiny scar on the right side of his upper lip. And she
had to look close to find that! Confused, she looked from Clay, to
Jake, and then to Lois. Her senses kept telling her that each of these
young men were her son, but they kept telling her differently!
Her mind reeling, Evangeline turned toward that oh so familiar voice, to
spy that much beloved face . . . again. Sensory overload. With
a sigh, her eyes rolled up . . . and down she went.
Buddy had come rushing into the waiting area at a pace just under a run.
‘Oh, Lord!’ he thought to himself. ‘Please let me get there before
Momma does some . . . thing . . .’
He had seen Lois sitting on one of the armchairs, a cup of hot coffee in
one hand, watching as his mother realized her mistake . . . for the third
time. Jake was standing off to one side, evidently trying to explain
everything to Buddy’s father. ‘Maybe they haven’t seen Gary, yet,’
“Momma? Daddy?” he said quietly, hoping to avoid a scene. He
should’ve known better.
The look in his mother’s eyes was all the warning he needed. That
dazed, glassy-eyed look that said it had all been too much, too fast.
Leaping forward, Buddy caught her as she slumped over in a dead faint.
Clay was there, too, concern written all over his face as they eased her to
the floor. The ward clerk, who had seen her collapse, rushed forward
with an ammonia capsule. She cracked it under his mother’s nose, releasing
the acrid fumes. ‘Lord!’ he thought. ‘A few whiffs of that could
rouse a dead moose!’ It certainly did the trick for his mother.
“B-Beauregard?” she stammered hesitantly. “Y-you are my Beauregard,
“Yes, Momma,” he sighed. “But, please, don’t call me that in public!
It’s Buddy, remember?”
With a relieved sigh, she let him help her to her feet, clinging to him
“This has been the most astoundin’ day,” she murmured. “I came rushin’
up heah because my boy tells me he might not be home foah Christmas, and
what do I find? He’s in the hospital, but that’s not him. He
comes walkin’ in, but that’s still not him. Then he’s got a broken
arm, but that’s not him either! How many of you did you find, boy?”
Confused, Buddy looked to Lois for clarification.
“We’ve just been getting acquainted while the nurses give Gary his bath,”
Lois explained. “He’s had a slight . . . setback,” she added, careful
not to glance at Mrs. Jackson. “Then the others started trailing in
and . . .” She held her palms up in a helpless shrug.
Buddy winced as his mind filled in the blanks. “She hugged him,”
he sighed, “didn’t she? One her world famous clinches. Momma,
Daddy, why couldn’t ya’ll just wait for me?”
“Why, Beauregard!” Mrs. Jackson simpered. “When you called to say
you weren’t comin’, of course we had to come right away!”
With a sigh, Buddy wrapped his arms around her and pulled the tiny woman
into a warm embrace.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “It’s just that Gary’s been through so
much. I wanted to warn you about what kinda shape he was in.”
Relaxing his hold, Buddy leaned back a little to look his adoptive mother
in the eyes. “Did they tell you about the others?”
“What others?” Evangeline asked, brows knit in a puzzled frown.
Buddy gave Lois a questioning look. She just shook her head in reply.
Sitting his mother back down beside his father, Buddy gingerly seated himself
on one of the chairs opposite them.
“I found my birth family,” he told them, trying to keep his voice steady.
“Clay, here, is my twin brother. I also have twin half-brothers and
two half-sisters. But the people in that wreck weren‘t my real birth
parents. They stole me from my birth-momma the day I was born.
Now, I haven’t had a chance to check into this yet, but it might mean that
I was never legally your son.” He held both hands up to quiet their
sudden protests. “I said legally!” he reminded them. “In every
other way that matters, nothing has changed between us.” He reached
out and took each of them by the hand. “You raised me, and loved me,”
he told them. “That’s somethin’ that cain’t be set aside by one crack
of the gavel. Regardless of what the law might say, I’m still your
Impulsively, the elderly couple stood and pulled their son into another
rib-cracking embrace. “Air!” Buddy gasped after a few seconds.
Laughing, they stepped back, only to have Buddy give them each a quick
peck on the cheek. Taking advantage of the relaxed atmosphere, he
told them about finding Gary, Clay, and Jake. He saw no sense in bringing
up the other two, Kyle Chandler and Peter Blessing. Buddy did bring
them up-to-date on the events since that first auspicious meeting.
By the time he was finished, the nurses had emerged from giving Gary his
“We had to sedate him, I’m afraid,” one nurse reported. “He was in
a great deal of pain.”
“How long before I can see him?” Lois asked. She didn’t have to ask
why he was hurting, but it took a great deal of effort not to give Mrs.
Jackson a scathing glare.
“It should wear off in about an hour or so,” the nurse assured her.
“Why don’t you all take a little break and come back after lunch?”
Disappointed, Lois still managed a gracious smile and a ’thank you,’ as
she led the exodus back to the elevator. Behind her, she could hear
Buddy talking to his parents. Ever since learning his real name, she
had wondered how long it would be before he broached this particular subject.
“There’s just one more thing I need to mention,” he told them, sounding
a little uncertain. “I was thinkin’ that, since my birth-momma went
to all the trouble of comin’ up with a name for me . . . would you mind if
. . .I mean, I know how fond you were of your great-granddaddy, but . . .”
“You nevah did like that name,” Nathaniel sighed, “did you, son?”
“It’s a proud name, Daddy,” Buddy hastened to assure him. “And I
was thrilled to hear all the stories about him, but that name got the livin’
crap beat outta me for years! Why do you think I keep insistin’ on
bein’ called Buddy? And I still wanna be called that. It’s comfortable
and I’m used to it. Like a pair of old slippers. I just want
the name my birth-momma chose for me to be my legal name. Jeffrey Steven
Jackson. I-it’s just . . . this is the only way I have left to feel
close to her. Can you understand that?”
“Of course we can,” Evangeline sighed, snuggling closer to her son.
“Jeffrey Steven,” she mused. “My oldest brother is named Jeffrey.
And yoah granddaddy was Steven James Jackson. I think they’d be thrilled.
Don’t you, Nathaniel?”
There was no mistaking the edge in her voice. “Of course they would,
deah” Mr. Jackson quickly agreed. Now, if he could just convince his
An hour later, Lois returned alone. Buddy had gone back to the hotel
to get his parents checked in. Clay and Jake were at the local precinct,
going over their statements with Ranger Walker and Alex Cahill. Peter
Cain and his father were having lunch with Sammo Law. That left Lois
with a little more time, alone, with her son. Pausing to give a gentle
tap on his door, she eased it open just a crack. Peering cautiously
around the edge, she saw Gary sitting up in the bed. That book with
his great-great-grandparents’ picture on the cover lay open on his lap as
he gazed solemnly out the window.
“C’mon in, Mom,” he murmured. “I’m awake.”
“Are you feeling any better, sweetie?” Lois Hobson asked as she eased into
the room. “How’s your back?”
“Still sore,” he told her, his mouth flickering into a tired smile.
“Too doped up to care, though. Gotta watch that.” Looking down
at the book, his smile faded. “They loved each other so much, and
they died so far apart. So . . . alone.”
“That was a long time ago, honey,” she replied softly, taking a seat by
his bed. “Almost five generations have passed since then.”
Gary shook his head slowly as he ran a hand over the features of his ancestors.
“Not for them,” he murmured softly. “Or for me. That was more
than a dream, Mom. I lived the last few days of his life. I
. . . I felt . . . everything. His loneliness, the empty ache inside
of him at being separated from the people he loved more than life itself.
The pain of his injuries was nothing next to the pain in his heart!”
Tears trickled down his pale cheeks as he heaved a weary sigh. “Dying
was . . . it should’ve been a release. F-from the sadness, and the
emptiness, but it wasn’t. It was just the beginning of an endless torment
when he couldn’t find the others on ’the other side.’ He’d hoped that,
someday, they’d all be together again. He wanted Canfield to tell them
that. And that he loved them with all his heart.”
“I’m sure they knew that, Gary,” Lois began.
“No,” Gary sighed. “They didn’t. Don’t you remember how your
grandmother shut you out when you told her what you wanted to name your
first child? She loathed him, Mom. Hated him so much she tried
to wipe his memory completely out of her mind. The others probably
felt the same way. He deserved better than that, Mom. He was
a hero in every sense of the word. He could’ve said no to that Ranger,
but the idea of some outlaw murdering children . . . well, it sickened him.
Especially when he had no idea what kind of torment his own children were
being subjected to. Or if they were even still alive. How could
he possibly have said no and still lived with himself?”
“Could you have said no?” his mother asked. “Knowing how it ended,
would you still do it?”
Gary took his time answering her pointed question. Could he have
endured the torment meted out to his ancestor? True, he had just survived
a similar experience, but he hadn’t been quite so alone as Captain Chandler.
He’d had friends and family actively looking for him, caring for him.
His great-great-grandfather had paused in a search that meant everything
to him in order to make things safe for people he didn’t even know.
Could he have done the same?
“I-I honestly don’t know, Mom,” he sighed, unable to meet her eyes.
“Knowing that I could die is one thing. Knowing that I will die if
I do something . . . that’s something else. Something like that . .
. I think it’d be worth the risk. I just don’t know if I have that
kind of courage.” He failed to mention that he had already faced that
situation once. At a time that he was not sure he wanted to continue
living. To his mind, that made it an entirely different matter.
Smiling sadly, Lois stood to pull her son into a careful embrace.
“It took more courage to answer that question honestly,” she told him, “than
it would to face those guns. Anyone can say ‘Of course! How
can you even ask?’ Then, when it comes time to put up or shut up,
they find all kinds of excuses why they can’t. You don’t make excuses.
You just say ‘We’ll see.’ Trouble is, you always seem to find your
courage just in time to get seriously hurt. I don’t want to outlive
you, sweetie,” she added. “I want you to sing sad songs at my funeral.”
Pulling back a little, Gary gave his mom a doubtful look. “You really
don’t want me to sing, do you?” he asked. “The last time, someone
started shooting. Remember?”
“Ooo, good point,” Lois teased. “Maybe you should just leave the
singing to the choir.”
Some time later, they heard a tentative knock on the door. Turning,
Lois saw the woman who had saved her son’s life in the aftermath of that
ill-fated concert. She was peering cautiously around the edge of the
“Just wanted to be sure you were awake, sweetie,” Polly murmured as she
eased in. Stepping closer to the bed, she eyed her young friend with
concern. “They said they had to sedate you earlier. You okay,
“Just fine,” Gary assured her. “Still a little woozy from the medication,
though. Don’t expect all my answers to make sense for a while.”
Polly turned her head for a moment, biting back the obvious reply.
She was determined to behave while his mother was present. Taking
a seat next to Mrs. Hobson, she gave Gary’s hand a gentle pat. Noticing
the book in his hands, her mischievous grin turned into a worried frown.
“You still broodin’ over what happened to your great-great-granddaddy?”
she asked. “And that missin’ saddle?”
“Some,” Gary admitted. “I know the odds of that particular saddle
surviving more than a hundred and thirty years i-is remote at best.
Still . . .”
“You want to look for it,” Polly nodded in understanding. “I may
know some people back home that can help. They’re part of one of those
Civil War Re-creational societies. Perhaps Ranger Walker knows of
something similar in Texas.”
“Or Mr. Cain and his son,” Lois murmured. “He seems to know about
old things. Maybe they can help.”
Gary nodded thoughtfully, suddenly seeing that it might not be such an
impossible task after all. Mention of the Cain’s, however, reminded
him of something the younger Shaolin had mentioned to him just the day before.
“Speaking of Peter,” he mused, “he said that you . . . that you could .
. . feel . . . wh-what they were . . . I mean the . . . Y-you were the first
one out the door when they . . . when they took me.”
Polly squirmed uncomfortably as Gary hit on the one subject she was loathe
to discuss. It had never been easy for her to even admit to such a
‘gift.’ Nor had it ever kicked in as strong as it had between her and
the young barkeep.
“It’s a . . . somethin’ I’ve had since I was a child,” she shrugged.
“I always knew when my sister or brothers were in trouble. Physical
danger, that is. My sister was in other sorts of trouble all the time.
And boys . . . never mind. Anyway, as I left home, I found that this
. . . gift, if you want to call it that, extended to certain people I liked.
Close friends and such.”
“Boyfriends?” Lois teased.
“Never had one o’ those,” Polly shrugged. “Girlfriends, either.
Not in that sense, anyway. It was just something that . . . well,
never happened. And I don’t go in for the current attitude toward
casual . . . relationships. I’m an old-fashioned kinda gal. Anyway,
as I was sayin’, this . . . talent only kicked in with certain people.
A girl friend in the school I attended for radiology, a young man I tutored
in physics, a few others since then. But that was as far as it went.
Just a vague . . . feeling that they needed my help. Then you come
along. That first time Jaggs’s men worked you over, I knew you were
in trouble, and a general idea of where to find you. Just like at the
concert that night. But I could only feel a tiny glimmer of the pain
you had to endure. I guess bein’ in such close proximity over the last
several days has strengthened the . . . the link because I could feel it
every time the sorry sonova . . . every time he hit you. And it riled
me to no end. I guess I kinda took it out on the two we caught.”
“I’ll say!” Gary chuckled. “Walker said they couldn’t talk fast enough
once you got to work. Did you really threaten to pull that guy’s beard
“I didn’t threaten anything,” Polly replied grimly. “You were being
tortured by a man who had every intention of killing you, sweetie.
It was a promise of what I would do if they didn’t talk. I just figured
we didn’t have time to pussyfoot around. As it turned out, we barely
got there in time. When I saw you go over that bluff . . .”
She paused as a shudder ran through her stocky frame. “I had no idea
what was on the other side. Clay had the prior claim on Neff, so I
had to settle for turning one of the others into a soprano. He’ll
be singing in the boys choir for a while.”
“Good for you!” Lois laughed. “I’m glad you were there to do the
honors. Are you still . . . linked with the others you mentioned?
The friend from school and that young man?”
Polly shook her head sadly. “My friend died of ovarian cancer before
we ever graduated,” she sighed. “The young man, once he got married
and started a family, it began to fade. I think it’s still there,
though. I felt a sharp pain in my left leg a few years ago, and a
strong urge to call him. Turned out he’d been in a car accident that
same day and was in surgery to get a pin put into his left tibia. His wife
was actually glad to hear from me. They didn’t have any other family
close by and talkin’ to me distracted her from worryin’ so much.”
“S-so that means,” Gary stammered uncertainly, “that you and I . . .?”
“Try not to get hurt so much in the future,” Polly responded with a tired
smile. “I’m gettin’ old, sweetie, and tend to get a little cranky
when I’m in pain. Besides, it’s hard to tell the difference between
you and arthritis, sometimes.”
The day finally came when the doctor pronounced Gary well enough to be
released from the hospital. His right arm was still supported by a
sling, rather than a shoulder immobilizer, due to the damage to his back
and ribs. The doctor, who had settled for an in-depth family history
and a copy of the DNA results obtained by the Medical Examiner, cautioned
his patient extensively about keeping the stitches clean and dry, and seeing
his regular doctor back home.
“Barring complications,” he added, “you should be able to have them all
removed in less than a week.”
“Good,” Gary murmured. He held still as Buddy eased the sleeve of
a clean cotton t-shirt over his injured arm. Gingerly, he put his left
arm through the other sleeve, then let his cousin work it over his head
and down to cover the network of stitches that crisscrossed his back.
This was finally accomplished with a minimum of hissing and only a few muffled
curses. Then came the outer shirt, his favorite blue flannel one.
Last was the sling for his right arm, which he had been assured would only
be necessary for another week or so. By the time he was dressed, Gary
had to sit back down, exhausted. If just getting dressed was such
a chore, how would he manage the Paper? With a murmured ‘thank you,’
to his cousin, Gary looked up at the doctor. “You’ve all been very
kind,” he said. “Thank you. Any word on . . . on the man who
“In spite of his injuries,” the doctor sighed, “the state is going ahead
with the execution in two weeks. That was all the delay they would
grant him. Under normal circumstances, I’d be one of the first to raise
a protest. Once word got out as to what he had done to you, however,
even his so-called ‘friends‘ are steering clear of him. The man is
worse than an animal. He chooses to be evil! He’s been gloating
to anyone with the stomach to listen that he had you begging and pleading
like a whipped cur.”
“That’s a lie,” Gary responded, amazed that his voice was so calm.
“I screamed, cursed, and passed out a lot, but I never begged.” He
closed his eyes as a shudder ran through his battered frame. “It was
close, though. Real close.”
With a sigh, Gary let Buddy help him to his feet. It was almost time
to go. His mother and Peter Cain would be flying back with him, as
would Jake and Polly . The latter two had jobs to get back to.
Still . . .
“I want to see him,” Gary murmured as they stepped into the hall.
Jake, Polly, Lois, the Jacksons and Clay all turned to him with puzzled looks
of concern. Only the two Shaolin and the Ranger seemed to know what
he meant. “Neff,” he elaborated. “I want to see him. Talk
“Are you sure that’s such a good idea?” Lois asked uncertainly. She
stepped forward, taking Gary’s good hand in hers and looking up into his
mud puddle green eyes. Eyes that turned to lock onto hers; full of
pain, fear, and determination. “After what he did to you?”
“That’s why, Mom,” Gary told her. “I have to face him or have this
haunting me for the rest of my life. I . . . I have to look him in
the eye and let him know he hasn’t broken me. Beaten, yes. Within
an inch of my life. Broken, not in this lifetime. D-do you understand?
If I don’t . . . then he will break me, even from the grave. I-I’ll
see that face in my nightmares, feel . . . feel the chains . . .”
He glanced away with a sigh. “I have to know that I can face him,
or I’ll be running away from this . . . forever.”
“He was moved to the prison infirmary two days ago,” Walker told him kindly.
“His jaw is wired back together and he’s able to talk so you can understand
him, but Clay worked him over pretty good. His face is a mess.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Gary replied grimly. “I still want to see him.”
Impulsively, Lois stood on tip-toe to plant a quick kiss on her son’s cheek.
Leaning her head against his shoulder, she murmured, “And you were worried
about finding your courage.”
It took some persuasion on Walker’s part, and some assistance from his
fiancée, but permission was finally given for Gary and Clay to see
the doomed man the next day. Neff had been moved into his cell on death
row. Less than two weeks remained until he was to be taken to a room
with a bed, video cameras, and a bank of equipment. He would be strapped
to the bed, an IV would be started, and he would receive a series of injections.
For the killer, it would be like going to sleep. Or so Gary had been
Standing there, outside the cell, he had his doubts. In his memory,
and his nightmares, he could still feel the way another killer’s heart had
beat against his. The way it had raced in fear as he felt Death’s
icy touch. The way it had stuttered . . . and stopped. No, Gary
was already much too familiar with the mechanics of death to think it would
be as humane as some claimed. He stood there, silently staring at
the battered countenance of the man who had tormented him.
“Whaddaya want?” Neff growled as he stared at them through the bars.
“Come t’ gloat? Well, get your fill, punk,” he chuckled. “I’ll
take your screams to my grave, to keep me warm.”
“Where you’re going,” Gary sighed, “I doubt you’ll need them. But
you’re welcome to them.” He turned to his cousin. “I’ve seen enough.
Startled and confused, Neff jumped up and grabbed the bars.
“Wait!” he shouted, halting them in mid turn. “That’s it? You
just came here to look at me and leave? No questions or curses?
Gary turned back to look at the puzzled killer. “I just needed to
know that I could still feel something besides fear and hate,” he replied
softly. “I look at you, and all I can feel is pity. You’ve never
felt a decent, honest emotion in your life, have you? Pain and rage
is all you’ve ever shown because it’s all you know. I don’t know what
happened to make you this way, Neff, but I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.
I’m sorry. I wish your life could’ve been different.” Having said
that, he turned to lead his equally puzzled cousin away.
“Come back here!” Jaggs Neff shouted, rattling the bars in his fury.
“I’m not through with you! Get your f----in’ a-- back here!
I don’t want your f----in’ pity! You hear me? Get back here!”
But Gary never looked back or slowed his step. He had his answers.
Neff had not managed to beat him after all. Physically, yes.
And he would bear the scars from that beating for the rest of his life.
Spiritually was another matter. Gary was relieved that he could still
feel something akin to sympathy for the creature screaming profanities at
them as they passed through the checkpoint and rejoined Peter and Cordell.
Glancing over at a silent bank of monitors, he could see Neff still raging
at the empty air.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this angry,” the guard was saying in
awe. “He’s actually foaming at the mouth! What did you say to
“Nothing much,” Gary murmured. He looked at the others, his face
full of sympathy and sorrow. “We’d better hurry or I’ll miss my plane.”
“But, what did you say?” the guard asked again.
“He did the absolute worst thing you can do to someone like Jaggs,” Clay
told them, fixing his cousin with a speculative, respectful gaze.
“He forgave him.”
A few hours later, at the airport, Gary and his mom were saying goodbye
to the twins. Because of the more stringent security, Buddy and Clay
were unable to accompany them to the gate.
“You two drive carefully,” Lois cautioned them. “You still have plenty
of time before the reunion, so there’s no rush.”
“Besides,” Gary chuckled, “Dad’ll have a fit if you wreck the RV before
he has a chance to drive it. Where are you going from here?”
“Abilene,” Clay replied, giving Lois one more hug. “There’s a rodeo
up there next week and I’m entered. Buddy’s wanted to see me in action
again, seein’ as how I got scratched from the Finals And Peter‘s Dad
said he‘s never been to a rodeo before . . .”
“Sorry about that,” Gary winced. Clay had been disqualified because
of a deep gash he’d received catching the thugs who had attacked Gary in
Las Vegas. “Come to think of it, we never got to watch you ride, at
“We’ll have to correct that the next time we take one of theses little
trips,” Clay promised. He looked over to where Peter, Jake, and Polly
had already made it through the metal detectors. He chuckled at the
face the disgruntled tech made as she pulled off her shoes. “Polly
and Jake, too.”
“Hey!” Lois exclaimed, giving him a good-natured slap on the shoulder.
“What about me? Don’t I rate in this little reunion?”
“Sure, Mom,” Gary smiled. “We can even let Dad do the driving.”
“Rats!” she murmured. “I forgot about that. Someone has to
stay behind, don’t they?”
“’Fraid so,” Gary nodded. “Tell you what, you guys go next time,
then I’ll take a turn. Deal?”
“Deal,” his mom agreed. She waved at their three traveling companions,
who were putting their shoes back on. “We really need to go, now,
fellas. Buddy, you look after your brother. Clay, ditto.
Come back to us safe and sound. Ooo, I can’t wait ‘til the reunion!
We are gonna blow their collective minds!”
“I can hardly wait,” Buddy chuckled. “If my agent calls, tell him
I’ll be callin’ in a coupla days an’ not to worry.”
“Why would he be calling us?” Gary asked suspiciously. His eyes narrowed
almost to slits as his cousin refused to meet his gaze. “You guys
haven’t given up on that record deal, have you.” It was not a question.
“He’s been after me to work on you,” Buddy sighed. “I’ve tried to
tell ‘im it was no good, but he’s stubborn. It’s what makes him such
a good agent.”
“You and Clay have the same voice,” Gary reasoned. “Why don’t one
of you try singing? Clay wouldn’t be the first rodeo star to hit the
stage! Or you the first songwriter to record his own songs! Give
it a try.”
“Sorry, cuz,” Buddy chuckled. “We may have the same voice, but we
don’t have the same ‘voice.’ if you get my meanin’. My voice keeps breakin’,
and Clay can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Nope. You’re the ‘talent’
in the family, like it or not.”
“Definitely ‘not,’” Gary murmured to his mother’s amusement. He glanced
over at the line going through security. There were only a few left
ahead of them. “We gotta go, Mom. We don’t want them leaving
The twins beat a hasty retreat so that the Hobson’s could begin the process
of being ‘cleared.’ They had no problems until it came time for one
of the guards to pat them down. The moment his hand touched Gary’s
back a shock of pain ran through him that almost brought him to his knees!
Lois and Polly were there instantly, as were the two men. They quickly
explained about Gary’s injury, lifting his shirts just enough to show the
bandages. Polly gently peeled the lower edge of this back to reveal
the stitches. Gary endured all this with quiet stoicism. And
gritted teeth. Pale and shaking by the time it was over, he had to
let Jake remove his shoes and put them back on once the guards were through
Finally, they were allowed to proceed to their gate just as their flight
was called. A few minutes later, Gary sank into his seat with a weary
sigh. He had another bad moment when he first leaned back into the
leather seats, but the pain eventually eased. Take off, though, was
another matter. Jake helped him fasten his seatbelt before taking his
own seat across the aisle. Turning his head slightly, Gary gave his
mother a hesitant smile.
“I’ll be okay,” he assured her. “Once we’re in the air, it won’t
be so bad.”
“Tell me that without turning white as a sheet,” Lois murmured, “and I
might believe you. Oh, sweetie! I’m so sorry! We should’ve
let the twins drive us back! I never considered what this would be
like for you!”
“Honestly, Mom,” Gary told her, “I’m fine. Take off and landing will
be the worst. Everything else will be fine.”
His prediction proved correct . . . in a way. As the acceleration
pushed Gary’s back gently, but firmly against the seat, he very quietly passed
out from the pain. The rest of the trip he spent stretched out in the
first class lounge. He barely uttered a whimper when they loaded him
into the ambulance at O’Hare.
“I think you’ve set a new record, this time,” Dr. Luca Kovac murmured as
he withdrew another suture. “I don’t believe I have ever seen so much
damage to one person without a war or major disaster being involved.
And you were on vacation?”
“Th-that’s the way it started out,” Gary admitted, trying not to hiss at
the odd sensation he felt as each stitch was removed. “The g-guys
felt that hssst! um, that I needed a break. Figuratively speaking
The swarthy physician chuckled as he caught the double meaning. “Remind
me to keep abreast of your travel plans,” he joked, “and to always go the
other way. Hold still. This one is stuck to a clot. It
may hurt a little.”
As Dr. Kovac tugged at the stubborn suture, Gary sucked in a deep breath,
letting it out slowly. “It did,” he grunted. “How many more you gonna
“Gary,” the doctor sighed, “you have more than two hundred very tiny stitches
back here, holding closed at least nine very deep gashes. Perhaps
you would be more comfortable lying down. You are going to be here
for quite some time.”
Gary was glad Peter had offered to cover the Paper that day. It was
promising to be a long one.
Gary looked at the chart in his hand in satisfied amazement. He had
been working on this, with help from his mom and Marissa, ever since they
got back. It had given him something to do on those days when he had
been hurting too bad to move around much. Jake had managed to pry
some information from his family, too. Although the banker had claimed
it was like pulling teeth. From a very cranky tiger. With a
bad attitude. It had taken time to track them down, but Dusty and Kyle
Chandler had also been more than willing to help where they could.
Both men had been just as amazed as Gary to learn that they were related.
Dusty had been more than a little chagrined to know that he was kin to Buddy
Jackson, though. True, the singer no longer bore the man a grudge,
but he still found the songwriter to be a little irritating at times.
Gary was tempted to reveal Buddy’s given name to the singer, but decided
against it. Dusty would probably laugh himself sick.
Gary rolled the family tree chart up carefully, inserting it into a mailing
tube for safekeeping. He intended to take it to a reputable printer
as soon as possible to have copies made. It would cost him a small
fortune, but he wanted to hand them out at the family reunion. It clearly
showed their lineage beginning with the union of Gary Martin Chandler to
Amanda Louise Beaumont. Eventually, he hoped to trace their ancestry
even further, but, for now, this was as far as he needed to go.
He looked at the mailing tube, and its contents with understandable pride.
This would go a long way toward healing the wound left by Captain Chandler’s
exclusion from the family history. He couldn’t help but think the
couple would be pleased.
“The reunion is when?” Gary asked incredulously. “You can’t be serious!
Th-that’s on a Monday this year! Don’t a lot of these people have
kids that have to be in school?”
“Most of them are out by the 16th,” Lois shrugged. “The rest decided
to take their children out a week early. They’re coming a very long
way, honey,” she reminded him. “Some from as far away as California.
You can’t expect them to just stop by for one day and fly right back.
This is going to be a week long affair.”
“But the 20th!” Gary moaned. “Mom, you . . . you know what day that
is! Y-you can’t expect me to be smiling a-and meeting a bunch o-of
strangers with that hanging over me!” He paced restlessly back and
forth between his bed and the sofa. “Th-that’s the day wh-when the
. . . the flashbacks are the worst. Mom, I’ll be a basket case all
Lois stepped in front of her son, bringing him up short as she placed both
hands on his shoulders. She could feel the tension practically radiating
from him like the heat from a furnace, but there was nothing she could do.
The plans had all been made by others over her objections.
“It’s still over five months away,” she reminded him. “You may be
able to get a handle on it before then. Please, son. You have
to try. You can’t go through the rest of your life being afraid of one
Looking away with a sigh and a rapid nod of his head, Gary tried to swallow
his doubts. He knew she was right. He had to get control of
his fears. Especially as they could eventually interfere with his
‘errands.’ He was even dreading Christmas this year, although he couldn’t
“I-I’ll be okay,” he sighed. “I will. Honest. It’s just
. . . things have been so crazy, lately, we still have Marissa’s wedding
coming up in six weeks, the twins will be up here with the RV in April, I
still haven’t got a clue where to find that saddle, and . . . and I-I’m beginning
to wonder if . . .if I’m not losing my mind. I mean, I-I’ve been ‘possessed’
twice now. No séances or trances necessary, except to talk
with whoever’s taken up residence since the last spirit vacated. I-I
need to know if this is gonna be a regular thing or if great-great-grandpa
was the last one.” He plopped down on the sofa, burying his face in
his hands. “I-it’s not that I’m not grateful for the chance to help,
or that . . . that I wasn’t fascinated by the . . . the insight into his
life. It’s . . . when do I get a life? Why do I have to go around
solving everybody else’s problems with no time to work on my own?”
Gary burst through the doors of the EL the instant they slid open.
His wet shoes still squished as he took the stairs as fast as he dared.
It had taken longer than he’d planned to stop the mugging in Grant Park,
which had almost made him too late to save the child falling through the
ice covering a large pond, which now put him behind on his next errand.
One of the older, more historic homes on the Westside was about to burn to
the ground, taking its owner and his entire family with it!
Smoke was already pouring out of a window somewhere in the back when Gary
came barreling around the corner, almost skidding on the icy sidewalk!
His breath was rasping painfully and his lungs were on fire from the frenzied
exertion. Hefting the fire extinguisher he had carried all the way
from McGinty’s, he used it to break open the front door. He burst in
on a veritable museum of Civil War memorabilia! Stunned, he froze for
a second of open-mouthed amazement.
There were framed photographs that had to date back as far as the early
years of the war. Display cases held matched braces of pistols, sabers,
rifles, and uniforms. One held an array of medals and insignia of rank.
On a short, waist high rail, obviously made as a display stand, was a modestly
ornate saddle that, even to Gary’s untrained eye, was of excellent quality.
A tinkle of broken glass recalled Gary back to his purpose. He dashed
through a rear door, following his nose to the source of the smoke.
In a back room, with only one window cracked open for ventilation, Gary
found a middle-aged man and two teenaged boys draped over a table upon which
lay a couple of old rifles and a set of dueling pistols. A woman and
little girl were slumped in a corner. They had evidently been preparing
another display when they had all been overcome by the same sickly sweet
fumes that were already beginning to affect Gary.
He aimed the fire extinguisher at the smoldering debris in the corner opposite
the woman and child, quickly smothering the fire before it could become
more than a breathing hazard. He then flung open all the windows,
letting the frigid January air clear the smoke and fumes from the room.
One by one, he carried or dragged the five victims into the front of the
house. The woman and little girl were already stirring by the time
Gary had transferred the last of them to safety. Apparently, the fumes
weren’t poisonous, just soporific.
Exhausted, Gary sank to the floor and rested his head and arms on his knees.
His lungs were burning, each breath a fiery torture. He wasn’t sure,
but he thought he might have inhaled some water when he he’d pulled the
little boy from the frozen pond. Running around in twenty degree weather
in sopping wet clothing hadn’t been such a good idea, either. Now
his insides were on fire, and his outside was freezing. Still, he had
enough presence of mind to pick up the phone and dial 911 before he was seized
with a coughing fit that still had him breathless by the time the ambulance
The paramedics entered hurriedly, wearing air tanks and facemasks, unsure
of what they were dealing with. They started for Gary, who shook his
head and pointed to the woman and child.
“Them first,” he croaked. “B-be right <cough> right behind
With a nod, one paramedic scooped up the little girl, while the other lifted
the mother onto his shoulders. Gary grabbed one of the boys under
his arms and headed for the door. He had to stop twice to get his
breath, but he had the teenager stretched out on the lawn, wrapped in a
thermal blanket, by the time the last two were rescued. One of the
medics tried to get Gary to lie down, intending to work on him first, but
he again waved them off. He couldn’t refuse, however, when they pressed
an oxygen mask over his face. It was so hard to breathe!
A second ambulance arrived, along with another team of medics. In
short order, the family was sitting up, explaining what had happened.
Apparently, a new solvent they were trying had proven more potent than they
had expected, and more subtle. They had all passed out within seconds
of each other. The fire was, as yet, unexplained.
“Who <cough> who called you?” the father, Charles Sanford, asked
as he was being escorted to the second ambulance. His wife and two
youngest children were already on their way to the ER.
“Mr. Hobson,” the paramedic, Barbara, replied. “Careful, this step
is a little icy.” She pointed with her chin to the blanket wrapped
figure being loaded into a third ambulance.
“He doesn’t look in very good shape,” Sanford murmured hoarsely.
“Is he allergic to the fumes? Or did he inhale the smoke?”
“Smoke, I think,” Barb sighed. “We’ll know for sure after the doctors
check him out.”
“You’re a lucky man, Mr. Sanford,” Dr. Malucci commented with a ready smile.
“No lingering effects from those fumes, or the smoke.” He checked over the
chart in his hands, making a few notes. “We’d like to keep all of
you overnight to be sure, but I don’t think you’ll end up with anything
worse than a bad headache.”
“Wh-what about . . . the guy who pulled us out,” Charles Sanford rasped.
“That Mr. Hobson. He looked pretty bad off.”
“You mean Gary,” the slim blonde physician replied distractedly.
He shook his head with a sigh. “He’s gonna be with us a little longer,
it seems. I’ll see that you and your family are given adjoining rooms,
sir. When you’re feeling better, I’ll let you talk with his folks.”
“Please,” Sanford nodded. “I’d really like a chance to thank him
in person, though.”
As the young physician turned away, he muttered something that sent a chill
through his patient. A chill that had nothing to do with the temperature
of the room. Charles Sanford could have sworn that the doctor had
said, “I hope you get that chance.”
Trina Sanford tucked her daughter in before stepping next door to check
on her sons. Both beds were empty. Why was she not surprised?
Keeping track of those two was making her old before her time! They
weren’t in the room assigned to her and Charles, either. For that
matter, neither was Charles! She covered her face with both hands
and heaved a martyred sigh. Men! She had a pretty good idea
where they had gone. All she had to do was find out where he was!
“Could you tell me where I might find Mr. Gary Hobson’s room?” she asked
the ward clerk a moment later. “I think my husband and sons have gone
to pay him a visit.”
Flashing her an understanding smile, the clerk pulled up the census on
her computer. What she saw quickly replaced her smile with a concerned
“I don’t think they’ll have much success,” she remarked dryly. “Mr.
Hobson is in ICU. Only immediate family is allowed to see the patients.”
“And you think that’s going to stop them?”
Sure enough, Trina found them being forcibly escorted from the Unit.
Her youngest, Lamont, was the most vocal of the three, loudly proclaiming
that they just wanted to ‘see the guy!’
“At this moment,” the nurse told them quietly, “he won’t even know you’re
there. He’s running a very high fever and having difficulty breathing.
Just trying to talk would exhaust him.”
“You let those other two in,” Jeremy, the older son, grumbled.
“They are his parents,” was her patient reply. “They’ve been through
something like this on more than one occasion and they play by the rules.
When they come out, I’ll send them to see you, but you cannot see him until
he’s out of danger. Have I made myself clear?”
“Can we just peek in at him?” Trina asked, taking pity on her men folk.
“We won’t try to disturb him, but we don’t even know what he looks like.
We should know that much, at least, don‘t you think? I mean, he did
save our lives.”
The nurse thought it over a moment, then asked them to wait one moment.
She disappeared through the door, only to reappear a few minutes later,
beckoning them to follow her. She led them to an observation window,
which looked in on a grim scene. A petite blonde woman and a man with
salt and pepper gray hair were sitting on either side of the bed where a
dark-haired man lay. A monitor above the head of his bed quietly counted
his heart rate and oxygen levels as he feebly tossed from side to side in
a fevered delirium. The woman took a cloth from a basin of water and,
after wringing out the excess, used it to bathe the sweat from his flushed
features. Even from where she stood, Trina could see the lines of strain
around the woman’s mouth, and the gleam of tears in her eyes. The man
simply looked tired and grim. He murmured something to his wife, laying
a comforting hand on her arm as he spoke.
Trina couldn’t help but notice how handsome the young man was, even in
his current condition. There was something familiar about him, but
she couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was.
“He looks like that guy in one of your pictures, dad,” Jeremy murmured
softly. “The one with Averell?”
“Naw,” Lamont shook his head dismissively. “You mean the one with
Bedford. I definitely remember this guy wearing Rebel gray.”
“Un-uh, Union blue,” Jeremy insisted stubbornly.
“Gray,” Lamont stated, crossing his arms.
“Blue.” Jeremy sounded equally positive.
“Gray,” Lamont growled.
“That’s enough, boys,” Charles stated, turning the boys back toward the
door of the Unit. “We don’t need to start the Civil War all over again.
We’ll just look at the pictures tomorrow as soon as we get home. Now,
let’s keep our word, and let the man get his rest. From the look of
things, he really needs it.”
Trina had to agree. As she followed the three males toward the door,
she spared another glance at the feverish patient. In her mind flashed
a slide show of some of the pictures in their vast collection. Without
actually having the photographs in her hands, she couldn’t be sure, but
there was a possibility that both boys were right.
The moment they got home, both boys headed straight for the picture gallery.
Minutes later, they were comparing the two pictures.
“This is so weird,” Lamont murmured, studying first one photograph, then
the other. He turned the one he held over to check the history written
on the back in a half-faded, spidery scrawl. “Ft. Harker, June 6th
1863. That’s in Alabama.”
“This one was taken in Greenbriar, Virginia,” Jeremy read from his picture.
“It’s dated two days before, by a different photographer. There’s
no way it’s the same guy! But look at ‘em! They could be twins!
Does it give names on yours?”
“Let’s see,” Lamont mused. “Going from left to right . . . Lieutenant
Charles Main, out of Georgia.”
“This is Lieutenant Gary Chandler, from the Ohio regiment,” Jeremy read.
“This is super weird!” He walked over to where the saddle rested on
its stand. Turning it to the light, he looked closely at the metal
plate on the back of the cantle, which was unusually thick for a saddle of
that era. “This is mega super weird!” he whispered.
“They could be twins,” their father admitted, astonished, still staring
at the pictures. “This is incredible! And they could both be the
same man who saved us yesterday!”
“Dad,” Jeremy spoke up, looking up from his inspection of the saddle.
“We have got to find out more about this guy!”
“We will,” Charles Sanford murmured. “First thing in the morning,
I’m taking these back to the hospital with me. If he’s not able to talk,
I’ll talk to his parents. One way or the other, I’m gonna find out
what’s going on.”
True to his word, Charles Sanford returned to Cook County Hospital the
next day, along with his two sons. They were armed with the two pictures
and loaded with questions. They found Mr. and Mrs. Hobson, taking
a short break in the waiting area. Now that Gary was out of the unit,
the nurses had threatened to sedate them if they didn’t get some rest.
Charles quickly introduced himself and his sons, then got right to the point.
“I hate to disturb you,” Charles murmured as he took a seat across from
them, “but we’ve . . . well, we’ve run across an odd series of coincidences
involving your son.”
It was hard not to notice the sudden look of wariness that passed between
the couple as they turned to face their visitors with bewildered smiles.
“I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Lois Hobson replied
a little too smoothly.
As Charles Sanford launched into the discovery of the pictures, Jeremy
gave his younger brother a gentle nudge in the ribs. Once he had Lamont’s
attention, he tilted his head toward the door. No one ever accused
Lamont of being slow on the uptake. With a quick glance to be sure
no one was paying attention to them, both boys slipped through the door and
behind a nearby linen cart. They waited until there was only one person
at the desk. While Lamont distracted the nurse, Jeremy stole a quick
glance at the census printout on her desk. When he had the information
they needed, he signaled his younger brother with a jerk of his chin down
the hall. As long as they knew they were being observed, the boys moved
past their objective. The instant the nurse turned her head, they
dashed back and slipped soundlessly through the door to Gary Hobson’s room.
The man they had seen thrashing feverishly in the Unit just two nights
before now seemed to be in a little better health. At least he seemed
more restful. His breathing did not seem as labored as it had, and
his color was a little better although he was still unusually pale, and
had a nasal canula feeding him oxygen. At that moment, he was mumbling
disjointedly in a semi-doze.
As Lamont watched the door, Jeremy began his interrogation. He set
a tiny, micro cassette recorder on the nightstand next to the head of the
bed and turned it on before giving the man a gentle shake.
“Mr. Hobson?” Jeremy whispered, slipping into the seat next to the head
of the bed. “Gary Hobson?”
“Umm?” Gary murmured drowsily. “Wh-who . . .?”
Jeremy quickly introduced himself and his brother to the semiconscious
man. “Mr. Hobson,” he went on, “Does the name Charles Main mean anything
to you? An ancestor maybe?”
“Dunno,” was the half-mumbled response. “S’ f’miliar, but . . . dunno.
“What about Gary Chandler?” Jeremy persisted. “Captain Gary Chandler.”
“Good man,” Gary murmured in a barely audible voice. “Sad.
“Why do you say that?” Jeremy asked. “What was so sad about him?”
“Hero,” was the barely audible response. “No one . . . no one knew.
Died . . . so far from . . . from home. So . . . so alone.”
Bit by bit Jeremy coerced the whole story from the semiconscious man.
At some point, the boys could never pin down the exact moment, his voice
took on an odd tone. He longer talked in the third person, but in the
first. Not ‘he’ did such and such, but ‘I’ did. He spoke of details
that were only to be found in the old diaries that had once held the picture
of Chandler and Averell. How Averell had coached the younger officer
in how to infiltrate behind enemy lines. Other details, such as how
Averell’s wife had taken the young Lieutenant’s spouse in hand when they
were expecting their second child.
“This is awesome!” Lamont murmured breathlessly, so wrapped up in what
he was hearing that he forgot he was supposed to be watching the door.
“You boys are in so much trouble,” a voice growled behind him, “I don’t
even want to think about it! I told you that we were not going to disturb
Mr. Hobson. Not until he was well enough to handle visitors.
You two . . .”
“But, Dad,” Jeremy spoke up excitedly, slipping the tape recorder into
his pocket, “he’s the great great grandson of the guy in the picture with
Averell! This is so cool! It’s . . . it’s like the past coming
to life! He knows so much about Captain Chandler! About his
family, how he lived, and died! We’d never been able to . . .”
“If you two don’t leave this room right now,” Sanford told them in a no
nonsense tone, “what you won’t be able to do is sit down for a week.
You are so grounded it’s pathetic!”
“But, Dad!” Lamont groaned. “He was about to . . .”
“Get some rest,” their father finished, jerking his thumb toward the door.
With a simultaneous sigh of resignation, the boys headed for the door.
When their father used that tone, they knew it was no use arguing.
They had lost before they’d started. Jeremy turned to give Gary a half-hearted
wave. To his surprise, Gary returned that gesture with an understanding
“S’okay,” the patient murmured. “They weren’t bothering me.”
His voice seemed stronger than it had a moment before, but he was obviously
not out of the woods just yet. “They just caught me sorta . . . in
“Gary’s doing much better than he was last night,” Bernie assured them.
“The docs say he should be able to go home in a few days, if all goes well.
Another week of taking it easy, he’ll be as good as new.”
“Like that’s gonna happen!” Lois snorted daintily. “Between the bar
and . . . and everything, he won’t have time to ‘take it easy.’ What
with the plans for the reunion in May, the ’Family Tree’ he’s been working
on for the past month, and ironing out the details on that foundation they’ve
started, it’s no wonder this hit him so hard! He’s even been pitching
in to help with Marissa’s wedding arrangements! ‘Take it easy,’ my
She was already by his side, pressing the back of her fingers to his pale
cheek and adjusting his covers. Evidently, she was satisfied with his appearance,
flashing him a relieved smile as she took the seat Jeremy had just vacated.
Gary waved a hand to indicate a couple of chairs on the other side of the
“Please?” he murmured softly. “M-maybe you can help me with something.”
“If we can,” Charles replied, sliding into one of the chairs. “We
owe you a lot more than a few answers, though.”
“You just don’t know how important this is to me,” Gary assured him.
“Y-you guys are sorta . . . sorta experts on the Civil War ‘n’ that stuff.
I s-saw some of your collection. I . . . w-we’ve been looking for
something that belonged to Captain Chandler. A saddle with a-a dedication
plate on the cantle. I w-was wondering if . . . if you’d ever run
across anything like that?”
“As a matter of fact,” Charles murmured thoughtfully, shooting his two
sons a speculative glance, “I have one that fits that description.
You may’ve seen it in my front room the other day.”
“I-I did,” Gary nodded, a hopeful gleam in his red-rimmed eyes. “Th-there
wasn’t time for a-a closer look, though, under . . . under the circumstances.”
His tone clearly said that he’d had more important things to attend to at
the time. “Do . . . do you think I could just . . . just get a closer
look at it? Or would you be willing to . . . to sell it? Y-you
can name your price and I-I’ll pay it! It’s just . . . I can’t even
b-begin to tell you how important this is! Please?”
Sanford looked up to meet the excited gazes of his two sons. Something
passed between the three of them, one of those flashes of communication
that can only happen in a closely-knit family, and he knew they were all
in agreement. Wordlessly, he fished out his car keys and tossed them
to his oldest son. “Drive careful,” was all he said.
“We’ll be right back,” Jeremy assured him. He and his brother practically
flew from the room.
Gary spent the intervening time learning all he could about how the saddle
had come to be in the Sanford collection. They had picked it up a
little over three years before at an estate auction. The previous
owner had been an avid collector of unique tack and harnessing, keeping
everything in excellent repair. The modestly ornamented saddle had
been the pride of his collection.
“It’s really remarkable workmanship,” Charles Sanford continued.
“Especially for the times. What’s always puzzled me is, why are the
seat and the cantle so thick? Yet, it’s not much heavier than a regular
saddle of that time. It’s almost like it’s hollow, but saddles aren’t
made that way. They have to be solid to support the weight of the
rider and stand up to the abuses of the trail.”
“This one is special,” Lois remarked mysteriously. “From what little
we were able to learn, it was a gift from the men of his unit. It
was in gratitude for leading them out of a prison camp behind enemy lines.
Evidently, he risked his life, and was badly wounded for his actions.
As a result, he was recaptured later, but never revealed where his men were
hiding. They were a small unit of green, inexperienced boys.
Before being conscripted, most of them had never fired a rifle at anything
more hostile than wild game. Captain Chandler wasn’t much older, himself,
but he took his rank and responsibility very seriously,” she added, a note
of pride in her voice. “Anyway, he spent the next few months in a
hospital, recovering from his injuries and an illness of some kind.
By the time he was pronounced fit for duty, the war was over. In gratitude
for what he had gone through for them, his men had that saddle specially
made by one of the finest harness makers they could find, giving it to him
on the day he was released.”
“That jibes pretty well with one of the diaries we have that mention him
by name,” Sanford nodded. “We’ve been trying to piece together something
of his life ever since we first heard of him. You see, I’ve always
tried to look at the war, not just from a strategic view, but through the
eyes of the men and women most closely involved. The ones that had
to bear the day-to-day grind of just staying alive. The more we learned
about Chandler, the more intrigued we became. He just didn’t seem the
type to be a career soldier. He took a personal interest in the lives
of his subordinates, often going to bat for them if they got into trouble.
We’ve only been able to find a couple of his diaries, and they dealt mostly
with someone he was searching for about six years after the war.”
Charles Sanford looked up as the two boys returned with their bulky burden.
Anxiously, Gary levered himself up straighter in bed as they sat the jet
black, silver trimmed saddle on his tray table and slid it before him.
“We owe you a lot more than this,” Sanford told him solemnly. “You
saved my home, my collection and, more importantly, my family. If
there’s ever anything else you need . . .”
But Gary wasn’t listening. He was already turning the saddle so that
he could read the gleaming silver plate on the back of the cantle.
It had evidently been polished many times, as some of the engraving had worn
down to illegibility.
“This is it!” he murmured excitedly. “This is . . . ‘Presented this
day, April 12th 1865, to Capt. Gary M. Chandler, in deepest gratitude for
his courage and bravery against overwhelming odds, and for our very lives.’
I can’t make out this last part, but it looks like something ‘Ohio Regiment.’
This is . . .” He paused, trying to smother a ragged cough before
he continued. “I can’t let you just give this to me!” he added hoarsely.
“This is . . . It’s priceless! To me, anyway.”
“Nothing is priceless,” Sanford shrugged, looking over at his sons.
“Except what you risked for us. My whole collection, the work of a
lifetime, wouldn’t have meant a thing if I’d lost even one of my family.
That’s a debt that I’ll never be able to repay.”
“Thank you,” Bernie said. “I have to tell you that I’m only on the
fringes of all this. Gary and Lois got started on this kick while
he was in a hospital in, what was it? Lubbock? Yeah, Lubbock,
Texas. He’s been obsessed with finding this saddle ever since they
got back last month.”
“Not just me,” Gary murmured, his trembling hands probing around the plate.
“He wanted me to find this. A secret compartment, or something.
I just have to find . . . here!” He depressed a concealed catch and
the plate popped forward a scant millimeter. Casting his mom a grin
of triumph, Gary pried at the panel with a fingernail, pulling it the rest
of the way open.
“Whoa!” Lamont said breathlessly. “Mega super cool! To the
max! A secret compartment. James West stuff, for sure!”
Gary flashed him an excited grin before turning back to his task.
Inside, there seemed to a thick mass of cotton or wool filling the tiny opening
so completely that nothing else could possibly be in there. Gary gently
plucked away at this padding until he could see the edge of what looked
like a flat box less than an inch deep and about six inches wide.
So near his goal, Gary found that his hands wouldn’t quit shaking.
He wiped suddenly sweaty palms on his gown before working the fingers of
one hand into the narrow opening to work the box loose. When he at
last had the prize free of its confinement, Gary held it a moment, caressing
the dark wood reverently, before giving it to his mother.
“Don’t you want to open it?” she asked in a near whisper. “I mean,
you’ve been drug through the ringer for this.”
“You’re mixing metaphors again, Mom,” Gary rasped, a tiny grin flickering
across his weary features. “M-my hands are shakin’ too bad.
I’m afraid I’ll drop it.”
“Oh,” Lois murmured in understanding. Turning the slim container
in her hands, she looked for the seam dividing top and bottom. Wiggling
a nail into the almost invisible slit, she pried the two halves apart.
These she held out to her son without looking inside.
“He was your ancestor, too,” Gary said, looking from the box to her face
“You were the one he talked to,” Lois gently reminded him. “And you
were the one who almost died at the hands of that monster, Jaggs Neff.
You’ve earned the right, son.” She held the pieces out to him again.
“Go ahead. Look inside.”
Wordlessly, Gary took the box, his hands shaking as much with eagerness
as illness. He laid the top of the box aside without another glance.
In the bottom half lay a strip of ribbon and an ornate bronze star.
He stared at it as if he held the Holy Grail. Licking suddenly dry
lips, he handed the box to Sanford.
“Wh-what kinda medal . . . is that?” he asked. “C-can you tell?”
“It’s a Congressional Medal of Honor,” Sanford murmured in awe. “For
gallantry above and beyond the call. A lot of these were given out
during the Civil War, but they weren’t given lightly.”
“How many were pinned on by President Lincoln himself,” Lamont muttered
softly, staring inside the lid of the box. His voice held a soft note
of awe and reverence, as he handed the lid to his dad.
Sanford looked at the object inside the cover and his face lost all its
color. For a moment, he even forgot to breathe. This time, his
hand was the one trembling as he carefully plucked a black and white photograph
from inside and held it up for inspection. It clearly showed Captain
Gary Chandler standing at attention, his left arm still in a sling, as a tall,
angular man with a thick shock of dark hair and a dark beard pinned something
onto the breast of his uniform.
“Oh, my God,” Sanford whispered. “It is Lincoln! This is incredible!”
He turned the picture over to read aloud the notation on the back.
“Jeremy, call the doctors. I’m about to have a heart attack.
I can’t believe we’ve had a genuine Matthew Brady photograph of President
Abraham Lincoln in our possession for the last three years, and didn’t know
it.” He squinted his eyes to peer a little closer at the figures in
the photo. For a moment, it looked as if he truly were having a heart
He handed the prize back to his sons, wordlessly pointing to something
in the background.
“What is it?” Lois asked. “Is it a fake?”
“No,” Sanford quickly assured her in a strained squeak. “N-not a
fake. OhmiGod! Um, look at the wall behind Captain Chandler.
Th-there’s a calendar that clearly . . . Hoo boy! It, um, it clearly
shows the year and the date this picture was taken.”
Lois took the photo from the two boys, who now looked a little green.
As she found the spot Mr. Sanford had described, and read the date, her
eyes grew wide in shock. Bernie’s face took on a similar look of stunned
amazement as he, too, caught the significance of the date. Finally,
the photo was placed into Gary’s hands.
At first, all he had eyes for were the figures making up the subject of
the photograph. Three men. President Lincoln in a three-quarter
profile in the act of pinning what appeared to be a medal onto his great-great
grandsire’s chest. Next to, and slightly behind President Lincoln, was
a general that Gary couldn’t identify. Finally, he spotted the calendar
in question . . . and understood why Charles Sanford had gone into shock.
“April 14th,” Gary rasped hoarsely, “1865. The day he was assassinated.
The same . . . same date that was on the letter. A-a letter of commendation.
She said they were given to him . . . together. That . . . I can’t
keep this,” he said in a strained whisper, quickly handing the picture back
to the collector. “M-make me a-a copy, please, a-and you keep this.
Take care of it. No way can I rob you of s-something this . . . I-I
can’t . . .”
“You can’t refuse it,” Sanford replied with a wistful sigh. “This
rightfully belongs to your family, Gary. It’s a part of your history.
Almost all the photographs we have are reproductions. Something this
. . . this priceless . . . I dunno.”
“W-we don’t have the . . . the means to take care of . . . of something
this . . . fragile,” Gary replied hesitantly. “This belongs in a museum.”
He bit his lip as he tried to force his tired mind to work. “The American
History Museum? W-would they have the means to . . . to preserve this
properly? A-and to make copies? I-I’ve been having copies made
of everything we’ve found so far. T-to give out at the reunion.
He’s a piece of our family history that was . . . He wasn’t just forgotten.
He was ostracized! And it w-wasn’t even his fault!”
“Calm down, sweetie,” Lois cautioned. “You’ll work yourself into
a relapse. Your father and I will take care of everything. You
just work on getting better.” She lowered the head of the bed against
his protests that he wasn’t tired. Even the Sanford boys could see
that he was near exhaustion. Lois forced her son to lie back, pulling
the covers back up almost to his shoulders.
“I’m not a child, Mom,” he protested weakly. “I’m thirty-six years
“You’re also less than a day out of Intensive care,” she reminded him.
“Go back to sleep, hon. I’ll call the museum and see what sort of
accommodation we can come to about housing our little collection.
And of getting about a hundred or so copies made,” she added hurriedly as
he started to say something.
Gary sank back with a sigh of defeat. “I guess you’re right,” he
murmured. He rubbed a hand over his face as a wave of fatigue washed
over him. “You, um, you’ll . . . never mind. I can’t remember
what I wanted to say. Oh! The twins. Th-they need to know
that we found it. And Jake. Call Jake first. He’ll know
how to get in touch with them. A-and . . .”
“I’ll take care of it,” Lois assured him. “Sleep! Don’t make
me go looking for that nurse with the ice water sponge bath.”
Gary flashed her a tired grin. “That would be a real eye-opener,”
he chuckled. “I’ll be good, Mom. I promise.”
A moment later, she and Bernie were escorting the Sanfords out of the room,
when Lois spotted a familiar figure strolling down the hall toward them.
“Peter!” Lois said with a welcome smile. “How’d everything go?”
“Pretty smooth,” the young Shaolin shrugged. “How’s he doing today?
“He still has trouble breathing,” Bernie replied. “And he tires easy,
but he’s feeling a lot better than yesterday.” He quickly introduced
Mr. Sanford and his sons. “ Any word from your dad and the twins?”
“They made a detour for a rodeo in Albuquerque,” he chuckled. “Then
Buddy has to meet with his agent in Oklahoma City. That guy still
wants to sign Gary to a record deal. Was he really that good?”
“I have no idea.” Bernie grinned. “He wouldn’t let us anywhere near
the place. Claimed it was too dangerous. Everyone we talked
to said he was doing great ‘til the shooting started.”
Charles Sanford and his sons listened in with growing confusion.
Lois, seeing their puzzled looks, explained about the ill-fated concert
Gary had participated in a few months before. She left out all of
the more . . . bizarre circumstances, which didn’t detract from the main
event at all as far as the boys were concerned.
“And you thought all the action was in rock ‘n’ roll,” their father chuckled.
As the boys excitedly plied Lois and Bernie for details of the events leading
up to that disastrous concert, Charles Sanford noticed a very familiar face
approaching them down the hall. His eyes widened as he looked from
the door to the other man and back again. Stunned, he tapped Jeremy
on the shoulder.
“Yes, Dad?” the teenager asked, turning to face his father. As he
did, he too spotted the man coming down the hall wearing a dark business suit
and striped tie. “Oh, my Lord,” he whispered. He nudged his brother
in the ribs.
By that time, the newcomer had gotten within speaking distance, so that
when Lamont turned, he was face to face with Jake Evans.
“Hi,” the banker greeted him with a ready smile before turning to Lois
and Bernie. “How’s he doing today? Is he up to having visitors?”
“He’s resting right now,” Lois replied, “but I think he’ll want to see
you. He’s got something he wants to show you. But first, let
me introduce you to Charles Sanford and his sons, Jeremy and Lamont.
This is one of Gary’s cousins, Jake Evans.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Jake returned, shaking their hands. “Have
you known Gary long?”
“W-we just met the other day,” Charles murmured distractedly. “My
God! The resemblance is incredible! This is absolutely amazing!”
“Strictly Twilight Zone!” Jeremy agreed. “You guys could be clones!”
“I’m afraid Gary has a few more scars than I do,” Jake chuckled.
He glanced at Lois as he tilted his head toward the door to Gary’s room.
“Are you sure it’s okay?”
“He’ll be very disappointed if you don’t,” she told him. “Go ahead.
You, too, Peter. He’ll be thrilled to see you both. Just don’t
keep him up long. He’s had an exhausting day.”
“Just in and out,” Jake promised. He nodded at the Sanfords as he
put his hand to the door. “Nice to’ve met you,” he said with an infectious
Everyone waited breathlessly, anxious to hear their reaction to Gary’s
recent acquisitions. They were rewarded with a muffled cry of, “Great
God! Do you know what you have here?”
Lois stepped back with a satisfied smile. “I think that went rather
well,” she told her husband. “Don’t you? It’s about time, Gary
got to share something good with his new family.”
“Why do I get the feeling,” Charles Sanford murmured, “that what we’ve
heard so far is nothing compared to what you haven’t told us?”
Gary was finally released a few days later with instructions to remain
in bed for at least another three days, and to ease back into his daily
“Don’t rush things,” the doctor told him. “Stress weakens the immune
system and can lead you right into a relapse. And pneumonia is usually
harder to shake under those circumstances.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Gary sighed as he buttoned his shirt. “That’s
easier said than done, though. There’s that reunion coming up in a
few months. I’ve been given the joyous assignment of reserving one
of the parks, and catering the picnic lunch, and entertainment, etc.
Before that is my partner’s wedding, where I’m giving the bride away.
So I’m closely involved with those arrangements. And there’s . . .”
“Whoa!” the doctor chuckled. “Slow down! No wonder you got
sick! Do you ever sleep?”
Caught off guard, Gary had to pause as his mind shifted gears. “Sleep?”
he mused, only half jokingly. “Sleep. Ya know, I think
I’ve heard that word before, but I’m not sure what it means. Let me
look it up and I’ll get back to you.”
“Well, get busy on that research, then,” the doctor smiled grimly, “and
make it top priority. Otherwise you will be ‘getting back’ to me.
In an ambulance.”
Gary winced as his attempt at humor came back at him. “I, um, I get
your point,” he murmured. “I’ll be good.”
“I don’t see how you did it alone for so long,” Peter sighed as he plopped
down next to Gary on the sofa a few days later. “That damned thing
changes almost constantly. Two traffic fatalities turned into four
because I stopped the wrong car, and had to track the other bozo down to
stop him. I stopped the bank robbery but almost got the guard killed.
Kermit kept the skateboarder from falling into the manhole, but a lady on
inline skates almost took his place. Do you have eyes in the back of
your head or something? How do you keep all this stuff straight?”
“I-I just do,” Gary shrugged. “The choices aren’t always easy, and
I don’t always make the right one, either. I’ve always just . . .
done the best I could. People still die sometimes, in spite of my
best efforts. I-it took me a while, but I’ve had to learn to accept
that and move on. I can’t quit just because it’s hard, or no matter
how much it hurts to fail. And it hurts,” he sighed. “Oh, man.
January finally turned into February, and preparations for Marissa and
Emmett’s wedding began to heat up. Gary had the catering handled by
McGinty’s head chef, Dave. To have contracted it out would’ve been
an insult to a loyal employee. Lois got together with Marissa’s and
Emmett’s mothers to decide on the final details in the decorations, while
Gary handled the purchase of the floral arrangements and renting the reception
hall. The pastor of Marissa’s church was more than happy to perform
the ceremony. The finishing touch, though, was when Carlos baked a
beautiful three tiered wedding cake decorated in the same color scheme as
At last, the big day arrived.
Marissa smoothed the front of her gown with shaky hands. For the
first time in ages, she wished that she could see. Just to be sure it looked
as everyone told her it did. She ran her hands over the gold necklace
that lay flat against her throat. It was a wedding gift from Gary.
The something ‘new.’ Lois had provided a pair of antique gold earrings.
Something ‘borrowed‘ and ‘old.’ Her own mother had fastened a sapphire
bracelet around her trembling arm. The ‘blue.’ She was ready.
So why was she still shaking?
“You look beautiful, dear,” Mrs. Clark sniffed. “Too lovely for words.”
Wiping a tear from her eye, she glanced at her watch. “It’s almost
time. I’d better take my seat.”
“Wait, Momma,” Marissa pleaded, clutching her mother’s arm. “I-I’m
not ready! S-something’s missing? Gary! Is Gary here?
Oh, God! Something’s happened to . . . to hold him up. H-he
won’t make it in time! He could be hurt . . .”
“Hush, child,” Mrs. Clark smiled. “He’s waiting right outside
this door. You just have a bad case of cold feet, is all. Now,
I’m going to my seat, and your escort will come in when it’s time.”
She paused to adjust her daughter’s hat. “You are a vision, child,”
she sighed. “God grant you the happiness you deserve.”
“Thank you, Momma,” Marissa responded tearfully. “Y-you’re right.
I’ll be fine. Go on, now.”
A few minutes later, her entourage filed out, leaving Marissa to wait on
“Wow,” Gary exclaimed softly as he opened the door. “Emmett’s lucky
his best man is a med student.”
“Why is that?” the sightless bride asked with a puzzled frown.
“When he sees you, he’s gonna forget how to breathe,” Gary elaborated.
“You are gorgeous!”
Marissa smiled at the compliment, instantly feeling more at ease.
Of all the people there, she knew Gary would not say things just to flatter
her. On this one day, she’d wanted to look her absolute best.
Now she knew that she had succeeded.
Gary took her right hand and placed it on his left arm. He could
feel her tremors starting to diminish. “You’re gonna be fine,” he
told her. “Emmett Brown is gonna take one look at you and fall in
love all over again. He won’t be able to help himself. Of course,
if he doesn’t, you and I can just slip off . . .”
“Stop it,” Marissa giggled, her smile widening at his implied suggestion.
“You’ll meet the right woman someday, and she’ll take your breath away.
Then I’ll get to sit back with a smug grin and say ‘I told you so.’
And you’ll sit around, grumbling and growling when I do.”
“Yeah, right,” Gary chuckled, leading her toward the door. “From
your mouth to God’s ear. I just think He has other plans for me.”
As the music swelled and they began their stately march down the aisle,
Marissa had to admit that Gary could be right. This time.
Email the author: Polgana54@cs.com
Back Home to McGinty's
Stories by Title
Stories by Author