Disclaimer:  The following story is a work of fiction.  If you are offended by descriptions of homosexual acts or man/man relations, please exit this page.


Copyright 2009 by Tulsa Driller.  All rights reserved.

This is a story of men who have two common interests.  You will see that they love the land where they live and work, but it is also the story of young men who love other men and their coming of age in a culture of prejudice and misunderstanding.  It is a story, which deals with difficult and often disturbing issues but, nonetheless, issues which must be confronted in today's society.

This is a work of fiction and in no way draws on the lives of any specific person or persons.  Any similarity to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental.  This work is copyrighted© by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author.  It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.

PLEASE:  In a perfect world AIDS doesn't exist.  My characters have unprotected sex.  I hope you use proper precautions because I'd like you to be around to read the last chapter of this story.

Tales from the Ranch
Book 2, Chapter 16:  Who Fired that Shot?

Craig's cousin, Larry Thomas and his partner, Darin Weston, were discussing their trip to Williamsport to visit the relatives Larry hadn't had any contact with for several years, thanks to Larry's mother's meddling in everyone's affairs.  When he came out to his mother, she refused to have anything to do with him, telling him that he would "rot in hell".  Then when she told her sister (Craig's mother), that Larry was gay, she was upset that Doris and Frank accepted Craig for who he was and they urged her to reconsider her position; even encouraging her to contact the nearest PFlag chapter.  That fell on deaf ears.

At that point in time, Craig and Larry were just finishing college, looking for employment and had lost track of each other.  Letters from Doris to Larry's mother had been returned, marked "refused".  Of course, she had their phone number changed and the new one was unlisted.  Larry had maintained contact with his father, but he didn't tell his wife about that.

Darin, in his position of "Admissions Recruiter" for the School of Music at Centenary College in Shreveport, was able to schedule two interviews with potential students in Kilgore and Bryan, Texas.  The college always provided him with a car for his recruitment trips so he told his dean of their planned trip to Williamsport.  

"Don't worry about it.  Since the school is on break, it's not going to be needed here.  That way you can add a couple of extra days to your visit and won't have to drive one of your own cars."  Darin's boss was supportive of him and Larry and always saw to it that they both were a part of everything that went on in his department.

That evening they were looking at maps and planning their trip.  The first interview for Darin was with a high school senior from Kilgore, Texas who was studying organ.  Darin would meet with him and his parents, listen to him play a bit and then take the audition tape that had been prepared.  The tape and a copy of Darin's evaluation would then be given to the admissions committee in the School of Music.  They would determine placement, along with possible scholarships and other financial help the student might need.

The second interview would with a high school junior who wanted to major in percussion.  The family lived in Bryan, Texas.  Darin would be able to conduct that interview the same evening, making it possible for them to stay in Bryan that night, then have a chance to do some shopping in Austin the next morning.  Darin wanted to meet an old friend who taught American History at the University of Texas so they had made arrangements for the three of them to have lunch together.  That schedule would put them into Williamsport around 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon.

Craig had suggested that they check into their hotel, come to their condo for cocktails and visit before attending the Maundy Thursday mass with the family.  Afterward they would return to the condo for deli sandwiches and dessert.  This seemed to work for everyone and they would all have a chance to get reacquainted after an absence of almost 6 years.
* * * * *
Doris was starting to get concerned with the way their calendar was filling up.  With the completion of the house they were building a possible move in date was early in June.  In addition, Susan and Chuck's wedding was coming up on May 25th, the Saturday before Memorial Day.  Doris was concerned because it was possible that Dale and Craig's new home would also be completed in that same timeframe.  She and Frank needed to empty their home in Arlington, arrange for a moving company to pack what they were keeping, and then getting ready for a moving sale.  Also she and Frank would need to arrange for cosmetic work in the house, such as cleaning carpets and drapes, along with painting walls that were not covered with wallpaper.

Dale and Craig had assured her Joey and Forrest were available to go to Arlington with her and Frank to spend a week packing items and help empty the house of things they weren't keeping.  She needed to find a company who specialized in the sale of household goods and that they would be available for that task.  She wished she could clone herself because it was going to be a hectic summer for the entire family.
* * * * *
Immediately after arriving in his office at the Bar-W Ranch on Tuesday morning, Dale received a phone call from Thane Walters who was the foreman at the Morning Star Ranch.  He informed Dale that the fence on the west boundary had been cut again and that there were about a hundred cattle from the Diamond-R Ranch in the pasture belonging to the Morning Star Ranch and that several bales of hay had been scattered.  By having something to eat, the cattle would stay where they weren't supposed to be.

Dale thanked Thane for the information, telling him that he would be there later, probably around 10:30 and would have someone with him to help herd the cattle back to where they belonged and to help repair the fence.

Dale called the ranch house and when Bertha Wood answered the phone, he asked to speak to Marty, who came on the line immediately.

"Marty, I just had a call from Thane Walters."  He went on to inform him as to what was going on and told him that Wilford Sharpe seemed to have the Llano Sheriff's Department under his thumb.

"I'm well aware of that.  Old man Sharpe seems to have gone over the edge.  He's always been a thorn in everyone's side, but he's getting out of control.  I don't want you going up there to work alone, so take at least one of your men with you when you go to repair the fence.  I want you to take pistols and a rifle with you, too."
Dale didn't want to hear that.

"I'm going to call the Texas Rangers and talk to one of their officers since the fence-cutting incidents seem to be increasing and the local law enforcement claims we are outside their jurisdiction.  The Sheriff claims that Wilford Sharpe says we are trying to steal cattle belonging to the Diamond-R by cutting the fence and luring the cattle onto our property then driving them several miles onto Morning Star property where they can't be seen.  Their cattle aren't branded, but do have ear tattoos."

"You've got to be kidding?" Dale replied.  

"I wish I was, but just make sure you have your mobile phone with you and that it works.  I'll call the Texas Rangers and explain what is going on, so you will probably have a visit from someone from their office this morning.  You might check with Thane and find out how many times the fence has been cut in the last month."

"Okay," Dale said with reluctance in his voice.

"I'll be at home until mid afternoon so keep me informed as to what is going on... and good luck," Marty said.

"I will," Dale replied.  For the first time ever, he wasn't enjoying his job.

After a hurried meeting with the men who worked for him and making sure they knew what they were to accomplish today, Dale told them a bit about the problem of the stray cattle on Morning Star Ranch property and asked Lonnie Parke to go with him.  He told Lonnie what they needed in the way of tools and wire and asked him to load those items into the back of the Blazier while he fixed two large thermos bottles of water to take with them.

Of course, Dale having chosen to take Lonnie with him got Michael's attention.  He mumbled something to Pat about being passed over for promotion.  That wasn't Dale's intent as Lonnie's work for the day could easily be accomplished by the other young men.

Dale did tell the men that he had interviews scheduled for the full day on Wednesday and was expecting to hire at least 10 new men for his crew, most of which would be assigned to the Spur and Boots and Morning Star Ranches and would be living in the large bunkhouse on the Morning Star property.

With great reluctance, Dale unlocked the gun safe and took out a rifle and two gun belts with pistols along with extra clips of ammunition, after making sure that Lonnie knew how to use a pistol.

The drive over to Lone Grove gave Dale a chance to have an in-depth visit with Lonnie and to find out exactly how much he knew about ranching and the problems they were likely to encounter.  He gave him a thumbnail sketch of the two new pieces of property being added to the already large Bar-W Ranch.  By the time they arrived at their destination, Dale had decided that Lonnie was a person he could depend on to help keep things running smoothly at the two new properties.

The first stop was to talk with Thane Walters. They got out of the Blazer and walked up to the house where Thane lived.  The front door opened before Dale had a chance to knock and Thane stepped out onto the porch.

Dale greeted him and introduced Lonnie, then wanted to know, "How long has the fence-cutting incidents been going on?"

"Oh, it started about a month ago and never involved more than two or three head of cattle, then last week after the announcement that the Bar-W Ranch had bought our property, it started happening every night with the cuts getting larger and more cattle herded onto our property.  We made sure the cattle were back on Diamond-R property before closing the fence."

"You said about a hundred head of cattle are on our property this morning?"

"Yes, and this time there is about 50 feet of fence and posts that are missing entirely.  The steel posts were pulled and the wood posts were cut off at the ground with a chainsaw."

"They are playing for keeps, aren't they," Dale stated more than questioned.

"That they are, and the Sheriff's Department won't even let us file a complaint, they claim that anything east of our property line is outside their jurisdiction," Thane said.

"Marty is going to call the Texas Rangers, so they may want to talk to you sometime this morning.  I sure don't like what is going on, but this is now Bar-W land and they are the ones who are trespassing," Dale said, mainly to try to bolster his own spirits.

"I don't have everything I need to close up the fence after we get the cattle back onto Diamond-R property.  I don't have any fence posts, an auger to dig holes or enough wire.  I thought this was going to be a small repair, like before."

"Not a problem.  Everything you need is on the back of the pickup over there.  One of you can take it with you when you go to the property line," Thane told them.

Dale thought for a moment, then asked, "Could you check up on us sometime later this morning?  I almost feel like we're walking into some kind of ambush."

"Sure, I don't have anything else to do, but Hans told me that the sale was finalized and you would be handling everything from now on."

"He's right about that, I just didn't expect to be confronted with cattle rustling the first dash out of the box.  I was hoping to work up toward it," Dale grinned wirily.  

"You'll do fine, but I will check up on you a little later this morning," Thane told the men, giving Dale a key for the pickup and shaking hands with both of them.

Dale got back into the Blazer while Lonnie walked toward the pickup with the Morning Star logo on the doors and tailgate.  He followed the Blazer down the road to the pasture where they would be working.

About three miles later, Dale slowed to cross the culvert leading into the pasture where the cattle had been driven.  He could see the herd about a half mile away.  He stopped, got out to open the gate and then waved Lonnie to enter.  He then moved the Blazer through the gate, stopping and closing it.  After getting back into his vehicle, he led the way to the open fence.  The men parked and Dale met Lonnie between the two vehicles.  

"Let's use the two trucks to block the cattle and herd them to the opening in the fence.  Then we can string a couple of wires to keep them from straying back while we set posts and make permanent repairs," Dale said.

"That works for me," Lonnie said.  He wished they had a couple of herd dogs with them to help out, but decided that it shouldn't be too much of a job to get the cattle moving to where they belonged.

Before they started, Dale checked his mobile phone.  The phone showed that signal strength was marginal.  `Geeze, just what we need,' he thought, hoping for the best.

He and Lonnie started in moving cattle, some of which were spooked by their presence.  It took them about 45 minutes to get the cattle where they belonged, mainly because either Dale or Lonnie was used to herding cattle.

It didn't take them very long to string a couple of strands of barbed wire into place, hoping the cattle didn't bother them.  Dale checked and quickly determined that they needed to set about 15 posts so he and Lonnie got the gas-powered posthole auger from the bed of the pickup.  The noise from the motor further spooked the cattle and they moved away from the noise on their own.  It didn't take them much over an hour to dig the necessary holes and put posts at each hole, ready to line them up and tamp dirt back into the holes.

Dale was congratulating himself when he heard the sound of approaching hoofs.  He looked to his left and saw four men on horseback, waving rifles, making lots of noise, yelling and sounding drunk, riding up to where they were working.

"Hey Faggots," came the unwelcome greeting from an old man.  The other three men started laughing, firing their rifles into the air and making obscene remarks directed to Lonnie and himself.  Two of the men aimed their rifles and shot two tires on each of their vehicles, causing them all to laugh harder.  Dale was looking around.  There was no place to take cover.  

"Hey Faggots," came the crackly voice again.  "How're ya gonna get home with two flat tires on each of yer trucks?" the old man wheezed, almost sounding like he was gasping for his breath.  The other three men fired into the air again, bring on more laughter.  The cattle moved on up the fence line as the sound of the rifles spooked them even more.

Dale was stupefied.  He looked at Lonnie and could tell he was scared, also.  He pulled the mobile phone from its holster on his belt, not really knowing who to try to call.

"Won't dew ya no good to call the law.  This here's property is outside their jurisdiction," the old man wheezed.  "They won't be comin to help ya."

Dale punched in the numbers for the Bar-W Ranch, praying that there was enough signal to complete his call and that at least Mrs. Woods was available to answer the phone.  He was lucky, Marty was home and he hurriedly told him what was happening, having to repeat several times because the signal was breaking up.

"I'll call the Texas Rangers.  Just stay cool and don't try to argue with them.  It'll just make it worse," Marty counseled as he broke the connection and dialed another number.

Two of the men got off their horses and made short work of pulling up the fence posts that were ready to become hangers for the new wire to be strung.  The third one of the thugs was still holding his rifle, sitting next to his boss.

Unbeknownst to Dale and Lonnie, Thane Walters was behind them, observing and pulling out his own mobile phone.  He made a call to the Texas Rangers station in the next county.

"Hey Faggots, maybe the next time ya won't get in any big sweat to try to keep my cows out of a pasture that's rightfully mine."  The two goons that were on foot, shot out the other two tires on the vehicles Dale and Lonnie were driving.  Laughing hysterically, they remounted their horses and the four men raced back in the direction they came from, yelling "Goodbye Faggots!!"

"What are we supposed to do now?" Lonnie questioned.  At the same time the men heard another set of hoofs approaching.  It was Thane Walters.

As he rode up the men heard the sound of a helicopter approaching at a rapid rate.  It circled tightly and landed on the other side of the trucks.  Three uniformed men exited the craft with weapons at the ready before the rotors quit turning.  The pilot stayed in his seat.

The leader approached Dale, Lonnie and Thane carefully.  Dale started to put his arms up when the Ranger barked an order for the men to lower their pistols.  He inspected the flat tires on the two vehicles, and then walked toward Dale.  "I'm Captain Marvin Brown, he stated, holding out his hand.

Dale shook his hand.  "Dale Richards, manager of the Bar-W Ranch.  This is Thane Walters, who has been the foreman at the Morning Star Ranch and this is Lonnie Parke, who works for me at the Bar-W."  They shook hands all around and Thane got off his horse before greeting Captain Brown.

Captain Brown introduced the other two men as Ranger Bradshaw and Ranger Hoyle, who nodded but didn't offer to shake hands.

"We saw four men on horseback heading west.  Are they the ones who did this?" he asked.

Dale told him what had happened and Thane confirmed that it was Wilford Sharpe and three men who worked for him.  As Dale related his story, the two younger Rangers started digging in the dirt and soon had unearthed the 8 bullets that had been shot into the tires.  They were put into a plastic bag for evidence.

When Dale ended his story, Captain Brown spoke up.  "We will go visit Wilford Sharpe.  He, of course, will deny everything but with the fence being cut and the posts being pulled and cut, this has become a felony.  You say that none of the cattle are branded?" he questioned.

"That's right, no brands, but ear tattoos," Dale told him, Thane agreeing.

"Does the Morning Star have any cattle in this area?"

"No, the closest cattle are four miles and two fenced pastures away.  Besides, all of the cattle belonging to the Morning Star are Black Angus and the cattle belonging to the Diamond-R are Herefords.  There is no way the two herds could be confused with each other."  

Everyone laughed.  Dale hadn't thought about that as the cattle weren't his direct operation.  That was Sam Jealso's bailiwick.

"As you know, the sale of the Morning Star and Spur and Boots Ranches to the Bar-W Ranch has just been completed.  I'm still learning how this ranch operates and what needs to be done, but I can assure you that my plans for this pasture have just changed.  As soon as I can get the men and equipment up here, the ground is going to be plowed and allowed to remain fallow this year."

Captain Brown spoke up.  "We are aware of the problems with the Llano Sheriff's Department and this will become a matter between that department and the Texas Attorney General's office.  They cannot refuse to come over here because this land is in their county and they have to be responsible.  Since they aren't, legal action will be taken against them."

Dale wasn't sure that the Llano Sheriff's Department would be responsible, but it sounded that he might not have to worry about it.

"Now, let me call a tire company over in Lone Grove and get a mobile tire repair truck over here to get you going again.  Have the bill sent to the Bar-W Ranch, but don't pay it.  Forward a copy to me and the Texas Rangers will collect the money from Wilford Sharpe.  Here's my card and don't hesitate to call me whenever you see something strange going on.  If you want to submit a bill for fence repair, I'll be glad to present that for payment, also."

Dale and Thane each took one of his cards and gave Captain Brown a couple of theirs, too.

The Captain shook hands with the men and the three of them returned to the helicopter.  As soon as the door was shut, the pilot started the engine and powered up.  Within less than 45 seconds the copter was in the air and headed west.

"Thanks for coming to check on us, Thane," Dale said.  "I've never encountered anything like this before – and hope that I don't again.  Lonnie and Thane agreed.  "You don't argue with someone when they have a gun in their hand," Dale added.

"No, and that old man sure has a twisted sense of what's right and wrong, too," Thane said.  "He just gets a little crazier all the time.  He has lots of money and if he had bought these two ranches, he wouldn't have ever done anything with them.  He runs several hundred head of cattle, but raises only enough crops to feed them.  He hasn't been able to hire good help for years because he treats them all badly and most get drunk on Saturday night and end up in jail for their own safety," Thane told them, adding, "Nobody else will hire anybody who ever worked for the Diamond-R.

"Well, standing around talking about this isn't getting anything done.  I need to call Marty and let him know what happened so I'll do that while you get the fence posts ready to reset.  It's lunch time now and I don't want to go off and leave the fence open."

Lonnie laughed.  "As if we could go anywhere right now anyway."

Dale realized what he had said.  "All the more reason to get this done.  I hope we don't have to wait on that tire truck all afternoon."

"I'll help you guys, I don't have anything else to do today," Thane told Dale.

"You don't have to, but that would be great.  I'll see to it that you are paid for your time," Dale told him.

"No need to do that, you need help and I'm available."

Dale called Marty to let him know they were okay, but that Sharpe's men had shot out eight tires on the two pickups.  Marty was relieved the ordeal was over and told Dale he was getting ready to leave to take care of some business, but to call him when he got back to the ranch later in the afternoon.

As they were getting the posts ready to reset, the truck from Paden-Cummings Tire Company drove up to where they were working.  Two men got out and approached the three men who were working on the fence.

"Looks like old man Sharpe's boys did a number on you didn't they?" one of the men said.

Dale stepped away to shake hands with the man.  "Dale Richard's, I'm manager of the
Bar-W Ranch."  He slipped off his work gloves and pulled a business card out of his pocket, handing it to the man who introduced himself as Tommy Young.

"Several of Wilford's men were in the restaurant this morning, bragging about cutting the fence and taking the posts out.  That old man just keeps getting meaner and meaner all the time."

"Well, he was here this morning on horseback with three of his goons and they shot out the tires on our trucks.  He may think it's funny, but we didn't."  Dale was bitter, but was glad to hear of the bragging that went on in the restaurant.  If everyone hated old man Sharpe, it might be easy to come up with witnesses to the conversation.

The three men were making good progress on resetting the fence posts and stringing the first piece of barbed wire, nailing it to the posts after stretching the wire taut.  They had to put extra bracing on the existing posts on either end of the opening since the new posts were set in loose dirt.

Tommy approached Dale with one of the tires they were patching.  The bullet had gone out through a hole right in the area between the tread and the sidewall.  "I can patch this, but I need to warn you that the tire needs to be replaced as it's going to be hard to get a good seal and it makes the tire unreliable.  It could easily blow from being driven on the rough ground of the pastures."

Dale looked at the tire, which was off the truck that belonged to the Morning Star Ranch.  "Do you have tires like this in stock?" he questioned.  

"Yeah, it's a standard size and tread.  I can call the shop if you want."

"This truck will stay here at the Morning Star, I'll just have one of our workers bring it to you in the next day or two and you can replace it," Dale told him.

"Okay, just wanted to make you aware of it.  I'll put it on the right rear and mark the invoice that it's to be replaced."

"Thanks," Dale told him, returning to the fence repair.

They were just finishing the fence repair when Tommy walked up again.  He had a delivery slip in his hand and wanted the billing information.  Dale gave it to him, explaining what Captain Brown had told him about paying it.

"Not a problem.  The old man may be crazy, but he does pay his bills," Tommy told him.  Dale signed the ticket after having filled in the billing information and handed the ticket box back to him.  He looked at his watch.  It was 3:30.  The fence was secure and the cattle had moved up the pasture about a half mile.

Thane said that he would open the gate for them and would meet them at his house, so Dale and Lonnie followed him and left the farm truck at Thane's place.  Dale told him that he hoped this was the last of the fence problem.

"It may be.  He was probably just trying to see if he could rattle you.  He found out that he can't and you've spoiled his fun.  I think he's just lonely and this was a way to call attention to himself," Thane told the men.

They shook hands and got into Dale's Blazer.

"We might as well go back to Burnet for something to eat.  I don't want to go into Lone Grove today and there isn't much choice at Bluffton.  At least there is a Burger King and a couple of other fast food places at Burnet.  I'm certainly hungry and this is Tuesday night.  Joey has a baseball game which means we won't eat until that is over and then the team usually want to go out for pizza," Dale said.

"Who's Joey?" Lonnie questioned.

Dale figured he might as well be truthful since Lonnie worked for him and he was considering giving him more responsibility.  He said, "Craig and I have two adopted sons.  Joey is actually my half-brother but wanted me to adopt him.  Forrest is Craig's adopted son.  Both boys are honors students in high school.  Forrest is 17 and Joey will soon be 15," Dale proudly said.

"Who's Craig?" Lonnie then asked.

"Oh, I forget that you are new to the Bar-W operation.  Craig is my life-partner.  We had a commitment ceremony a little over a month ago," he proudly said.  It's not legally binding because Texas doesn't recognize same-sex marriages, but we do have the blessing of the church and our priest has a ceremony for that type of union."

"So, you're telling me that you are queer and that's why old man Sharpe was yelling "Faggots" at us?" Lonnie asked.

Dale didn't like the tone of Lonnie's voice.  "In the first place, I don't like the word `queer', the correct word is `gay' and I have no idea if that was the reason old man Sharpe was calling us `faggots' today or not.  But, to answer your question, I love another man and that doesn't seem to bother most people, although there are a few who have tried to cause us problems."

Lonnie was quiet, digesting what he had been told, not wanting to believe what his boss had revealed to him.  His first reaction was one of disgust, but Dale seemed like a regular guy.  He'd never hit on any of the guys as far as he knew, but he liked Dale and he needed a job, even one where a crazy old man and three loony guys rode around on horseback shooting guns.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to come out that way.  You're a super boss and I like working for you, except for the guns today.  I'd just never guessed that you are the way you are... and I guess that it doesn't really make any difference as long as you don't hit on me.  That would make me very uncomfortable," Lonnie told him.

"You don't have to worry about that.  Craig is my man and we hope to grow old together.  You would like him, too.  In fact you'll get to meet him soon as he's an architect and will be designing the new office building for the Bar-W operations."

"I think I've seen him out here.  Isn't he the good-looking blond guy with the short hair?" Lonnie questioned.

Dale was tickled by the fact that Lonnie thought Craig was "good-looking".  `That was a little gay,' he thought.

"Yeah, he comes out to the ranch quite a bit.  He also designed the crew quarters where you fellows live.

"Well, where do you live?" Lonnie was curious.

"Right now the four of us live on the 5th floor of the Carriage House Condos, but we are building a new house on the small farm we purchased last winter.  It's about 6 miles northeast of Williamsport and we hope to be able to move in, probably in June," Dale proudly said.

"Look, I'm sorry I said what I did.  I didn't have a good marriage.  My ex-wife had all kinds of problems with depression and she left me without saying anything.  The only thing that bothers me about the whole thing is that I didn't know enough to demand that she get counseling for the problem.  I came home from work one evening and everything that belonged to her was gone.  I have to give her credit, she didn't clean out the bank account or take anything that wasn't hers."

"I remember you telling me that when I interviewed you.  I'm sorry you had to go through that," Dale replied.

"I guess it sounds like you are happily married and I'm not.  I'm not condemning you for what you are.  I guess I wasn't prepared for what you've told me and I'm sorry I sounded hostile.  You are a great boss and I like working for you and the Bar-W."  Lonnie was nervous and repeating himself.

Dale was relieved.  They were approaching Burnet.  "Any place sound better to you than the others?" Dale questioned.

Lonnie could see a Burger King, McDonalds, Sonic and Taco Bell ahead.  "I like Burger King better than the other places, if that's okay with you."

"Sure, that works for me," Dale told him.  He put on the turn signal to turn in.  "Let's eat inside, I really need to pee and wash my hands, too."

"Okay by me," Lonnie agreed.

"Lunch is on the Bar-W today, so order whatever you want and I'll pay for it," Dale told him.

"You don't have to do that, I'd have to eat anyway."

"Well, today is different.  I wondered at one point if the tires were just the first round of the shootings today.  Consider lunch as hazard pay," Dale laughed.

They ordered their meals, Dale paid the tab and they settled down to eat.  It was 5:15 by the time they arrived back at the Bar-W.  Dale parked in his usual spot in front of the office.  Pat and Mike had already signed their time sheets and left.  Vince and Coby were just finishing up washing out their thermos bottles and signing their time sheets.

"How was the trip to the Morning Star Ranch?  The fence repair must have been substantial," Vince said, more to make conversation than anything.  

Dale picked up Lonnie's time sheet and filled in the hours for him, giving him a couple hours of overtime and initialed it.

"Yeah, it was a very substantial amount of work.  They took out about 50 feet of fence and either pulled or sawed off fence posts."  That statement didn't get any reaction, so Dale continued.  "It makes it harder to work when you have to dodge bullets, too."

"What???" the two men replied, voices almost together.

"You can tell them about our day, Lonnie, I need to get to Joey's baseball game so I can root for the home team.  Lock the office doors when you leave and I'll see all of you in the morning."  Dale got back into the Blazer and drove toward the baseball field at Fillmore High School.  The game was just ready to start as he joined Craig, Forrest, and a couple of others in the bleachers.  Then he remembered that he hadn't called Marty, but also hadn't seen his car in the garage.  He pulled out his phone and punched in the number for the Bar-W Ranch.  Mrs. Wood answered the phone and told Dale that Marty wasn't home, so Dale left a message for him to call him at home about 9 o'clock.
* * * * *
The baseball game was with Fillmore High School of Williamsport and held at the Patriot's ball diamond.  Dale gave Craig's shoulder a squeeze as he started to sit down beside him.  He greeted Frank and Doris and the others sitting in the area.

"Missed hearing from you today," Craig said.  "Everything okay?"

"That depends on whatever definition we use for `okay'," Dale told him.  "But it's okay now.  I'll tell you about the day when we get home.  That way I only have to tell the story once."

Craig smiled at him.  "You make it sound mysterious."

"No mystery about it, but I'll tell the story when everyone can hear it at the same time."  He put his left arm around Craig and squeezed him again.  `Gosh, it's good to be back with my family,' he thought.

The two high school teams were pretty evenly matched, the scoreboard showing the team from Davy Crocket ahead, then the Bumble Bees from Fillmore being ahead at the end of the next inning.  Joey came to bat with two men on base.  He knocked a home run out of the ball park and that was the end of the game as far as the score.  Joey's team scored one more run and the team from Fillmore was unable to put a man on base again.

When they went to the Pizza Parlor for something to eat after the game, Dale noticed that Bryce was in an exuberant mood that he had never seen before.  Craig started to pick up the ticket when Bryce wanted to pay his part.  He thought that was unusual because it was just assumed that Bryce didn't have any money.  Then Craig remembered that his mother was in a rehabilitation clinic in San Antonio and his father, General Barnett, was now responsible for Bryce and his brothers.  He told Bryce to put his money away and save it for something for himself.  Bryce was proud to finally be able to pay his own way, but put the money back in his pocket, thanking Craig and Dale profusely.
* * * * *
Dale asked Frank and Doris to come to the condo at the Carriage House as he had a story to tell about his day, so the six of them made themselves comfortable in the living room.  

Dale started into the story of his day and it seemed like he was peppered with questions at the end of every sentence.  Finally he said, "Let me finish the story and then we'll play 20 questions."  It got quiet and he resumed his tale, this time without having to explain things as before.  Shock would be the best way to describe everyone's reaction and then the questions started again.

As the story and questions were running down, the phone rang.  Forrest answered it and told Dale that it was Marty calling.  He was thankful for the reprieve of questions from his family.

"Hi Marty," Dale said.  Marty replied and explained that he had just gotten home in time to have a late dinner with Chris and that it had been a long day for him, also.  Dale explained the activities of the day.  Marty told him that he had talked to the family attorneys and that he was going to get a court order to keep old man Sharpe away from what was now Bar-W Ranch property.  He expected the court order to be served on Thursday morning.

"What happens if it's just his men who bother us?" Dale wanted to know.

"The court order will cover anyone associated with the Diamond-R Ranch and if it's violated, they could serve jail time and a bond could not be posted."

"Let's hope that's the last of it," Dale said, but feeling that this was just the first chapter of on-going problems between the two ranches.

He thanked Marty for calling him back, telling him that he wanted to talk more about this when Marty had the time.  Marty agreed as there were a number of other issues in the sales contracts he needed to discuss with Dale.
* * * * *
Later Dale and Craig were lying in bed.  They both just wanted to cuddle and have assurance the other was there.  Dale's thoughts ran to the experience with Wilford Sharpe and his gang of goons.  Craig couldn't help but think about Dale's job being hazardous and what kind of situation the other
would be in if something should happen to either of them.  

They each realized that a visit to their attorney needed to happen.  He could make sure they were covered for about any situation that might arise.  Amazingly, sleep came easy for both of them and they awoke the next morning still curled in each other's arms.
* * * * *
The crops crew decided to chip in and order an extra large pizza from Tony D's to be delivered.  The men hadn't yet worked out a routine as to how household expenses should be divided up.  None of the men could do much in the kitchen except to heat things up, so there were no community groceries.  They did, however, heed Dale's warning about keeping the house clean.

They each had a stash of beer in the refrigerator in the basement so were sitting in the common room drinking beer and half-watching the evening newscast.

Lonnie spoke up.  "I had a very interesting day, one I hope I don't experience again."

Michael asked, "What happened?"

Lonnie started his story about the fence repair, tires being shot out, a visit from the Texas Rangers and how the situation was resolved.

The other men were aghast that something like that could happen and had all kinds of questions and thinking that they didn't want to be involved in work in that area of the ranch, but knew their jobs were going to require working wherever needed.

By the time the pizza and salads were delivered, they had pretty much exhausted that subject.  Then Lonnie sprung the other bit of news.

"I found out something else this afternoon, too.  I have a hard time believing it."  Pat wanted another beer and so did everyone else so he went to the basement to bring everyone a bottle of the cold,  golden liquid.

"What else happened?" Coby wanted to know.

Just wait a minute until Pat gets back.  I need something to wet my throat," Lonnie replied as Pat came back up the stairs.  As soon as the beers were opened, Lonnie started on the second story.

"Do any of you guys know that our boss is queer?" he asked.

The looks on the faces of the other men was priceless.

"Yeah, I do," Coby said.  He and his boyfriend got married to each other about a month ago.  But I think the proper word is `gay'," he said.

At that time, Michael and Pat had a "Kodak moment".  They had heard some rumors, but chose to ignore them.

Vince didn't have anything to add, except an "Oh shit!  You're kidding, right?"

"No, not kidding.  He's very proud of it and he and this Craig fellow have adopted two high school boys.  Their priest even performed a marriage ceremony for them."

This brought about a lot of discussion.  Pat and Michael kept quiet, just listening.  They were scared that the fact they had sexual relations would be found out.

Coby said, "I don't have a problem with it.  Dale is one of the nicest men I've ever known and I know a person who works for their computer company who thinks they are the best bosses he's ever had.  They pay well and treat their employees a lot better than many places.  That store is growing, too."

"I've heard that, too," Vince said, backing up his statement.

"He told me that the Williamson family knows and have no problem with Dale being gay and they attended his wedding, too," Coby said.

"Well, regardless, I'd vote for him if he was running for office.  He's honest, works hard, treats all of us well and has a great sense of humor.  He's number one in my book," Vince said.

That was the end of the discussion among the men.  It was a non-issue.  However, Pat and Michael were scared that they would be found out, not knowing that Dale and Craig already knew about their gay relationship.  Had they known that fact, they might have slept better that night.
* * * * *
Edited by BoxerDude

* * * * *
Author's Note:  I appreciated all of the emails you sent regarding Chapter 15.  It's great to know that so many of you are continuing to enjoy the story.  I enjoyed hearing all of your comments, but there were just too many to answer.

I've gotten relocated back to my adopted city of Tulsa and wonder why I was ever lured away from here to begin with.  

My special thanks for proofreading help to David (BoxerDude) who has taken his valuable time to question some of the things I've written about and come up with a better way of saying it.  Any comments are appreciated and you can reach me at TulsaAuthor@hotmail.com.  

Thanks, David.