Him Who Made The Seven Stars
By Waddie Greywolf

Chapter 48

"Under your wheels, the hope of spring , mirage of loss, a few more things, you left your sorrow dangling – It hangs in air like a school cheer, complex notes inside the chords on every wall inflections carved, deep as lakes and dark as stars. Remember we were the volunteers. Courts knew this and nothing more; now it's my rights versus yours. ~ from "My rights versus yours" By The New Pornographers

Bubba went weak in his knees and almost fell. Jack grabbed him and helped him to a large overstuffed chair. The big cowboy was devastated his childhood friend, his best buddy, with whom he went to the Middle East and back again, could throw their close bond of friendship out the window like it meant nothing to him, only to appease or facilitate some scumbag like Clarence Womack in his never ending effort to suck, finagle, or extort money from any potential source – all in the name of self-righteousness. Bubba wondered if his own declaration of love for his buddy caused this betrayal. He did a quick mental calculation and decided Earl must have done the deed the day before Bubba laid his cards on the table. After that, he had the watchers protecting his place, and they never would have allowed Earl in his house, let alone the barns. Bubba couldn't fathom Earl could be so callous or insensitive to his feelings. He tried to convince himself there was more to his friend's motives than envy, greed, selfishness, or just plumb-dumb rock-headed stupidity, but the further Bubba separated himself from Earl and Womack's influence, the less he seemed to understand about them. The draw of the light from the Daniels family was too great, an overwhelming temptation, to ever return to the darkness of self-doubt and loathing he lived with for so long. Was Earl the caboose on the heavy train he pulled up a steep grade all those years?     

"You all right, Bubba?" Jack asked quietly.

"No, I ain't all right. I feel like I just done got both my legs shot out from under me. I'm hurt, and I'm angry," Bubba lamented.

"I'd say that's pretty normal under the circumstances," Jack said.

It took Bubba a few minutes to recover. "I'm half a mind to go over to the Hickson ranch, march into the bunkhouse, and tell Earl I forgot a couple of things. I'll make a thorough search, find my keys, his camera, and tell him I'll let him have his camera back when he gets the photos back from Womack," Bubba said in anger.

"No, that would be the worst thing you could do. Promise me you won't go over there in a fit of hurt and rage and do something you'll be sorry for later. If, for no other reason, for your Aunt Helen and me, Bubba; also, think about our link with the Daniels' family. You're now sitting on Billy's board of financial advisers, and they got your family money sit'n in their safe. In a way, when they accepted the responsibility for us, we done the same for them. Whatever we do or say, whatever actions we take reflect on them as well as us. Our link to them is important. You can't deny it, Bubba. I certainly don't. I take what they done for us seriously. I'm proud to be a part of their family, and I know damn well you are, too. Don't do nothing to fuck it up. Besides, we all love you, big Brother, and as family, we'll see you through this.

"Just let cooler heads prevail for the moment, and let us help guide you through it. I did some research and read through that folder of legal papers you brought me the first time you come to my office. Them barns is under federal protection should your late uncle, or now you, deem it necessary to ask their help in case of threat or emergency. One call to the nearest military base and there would be boots-on-the-ground out to your place until the problem is resolved. The mere entry into those barns without your permission is breaking federal laws, to say nothing about taking covert photos of Brad's inventions and passing them on to the likes of Womack, no matter his intentions," Jack said.

"Jesus! I's more afraid of the Feds than I am of Earl or Womack," Bubba said.

"And with our shabby excuse for government we got today, you have every reason to be, but that ain't the point, Bubba. We all fear them under our current circumstances. Earl, and certainly Womack, don't want to get involved with the Feds. We'll use the threat as a leverage – a heavy-handed threat, to get what we want," Jack explained.

"Then we don't have to get the Feds involved?" Bubba asked.

"No, not at all. Just consider it an ace-in-the-hole – like we got a bigger gun than they do. We can share it with the sheriff and Judge LaFleur to show we have reason to suspect Earl Hickson for the burglary of your house and taking pictures of your personal property left to you by your uncle. It just raises the importance a little from a common burglary and theft of property to a federal offense. These pictures, taken illegally, sent to me by Womack's lawyers, would stand as proof in any court they are part of a conspiracy to receive stolen goods. We can sue the law firm of Dewey, Cheetum, and Howe, as well as Womack. We won't have no problem getting a search warrant. We deliver it to Will Tate, and follow him and his deputies out to the Hickson place. If your stuff is there, the sheriff will find it, and we can take it from there," Jack said. "In the meantime, I'm hungry, and you promised to buy me lunch. We can hash it out over a good meal and stop by the sheriff's station to talk with Will. He might have some ideas. After all, we's part of a bigger family now," Jack added.

"Yeah, let's go. I'm feeling kinda empty myself. You promise to protect me from them monster geese out there?" Bubba asked.

"How fast can you run, Brother?" Jack asked and laughed.

"I'm fast enough, but I'm big and clumsy. One trip and I'm goose-food," Bubba lamented.

He got Jack laughing. "Don't worry they mind me – most of the time," he added under his breath.

"I heard that!" Bubba exclaimed and grinned.

The men left the house, but they no sooner got to the bottom of the steps when Satan and Matilda came around a corner and spied Bubba. They lowered their heads, spread their wings, hissed like the devil himself, and went into attack mode. Jack hollered at them to knock it off. Bubba was a guest, and they better get use to him or they could pack their bags and fly South for the winter. They stopped their bombing run but honked and hissed as they turned and walked away grumbling to each other like a retreating storm.

"It'll take them a while," Jack said.

"I hope they have babies. I want me a pair just like 'um," Bubba said and laughed nervously.  

* * * * * * *
Pete Breedlove looked into his bathroom mirror at his long-weekend growth of facial hair, and had to admit to himself, he looked scraggy. It was his habit not to shave from Friday through Monday morning, but he was a man who had a five o'clock shadow at one o'clock every day. With one extra day, he decided he was just plumb dirty and mean looking. He imagined himself as a bad-ass gunfighter from the turn of the previous century – a mean, ugly-faced gunfighter with a heart of gold who always fought on the side of the little man or a widow-woman with three young kids who was about to be thrown off their homestead by an evil land baron who wanted to buy up all the water rights to starve them out.

Pete noticed his beard and mustache was darker than it was in years, and it seemed to cover his more youthful looks from Billy and his family's physical enhancement. He decided not to shave. Maybe no one would notice. He would also make sure he pulled his big cowboy hat down tight so they wouldn't notice the silver streaks in his hair were gone. He got himself cleaned up and thought about one of his workmates, Leon Tollefson, who would come to work every day looking like he stepped out of a Western catalog, boots cleaned, clean Wranglers, and a nice Western shirt. By the end of the day, he would be more dirty than the rest of the hands combined.

When Leon came to work, it was to work, and he worked strong and steady all day. He pulled his weight and never expected anyone to do his job for him. Several of the other cowboys talked about him behind his back and made fun of his work ethic. Pete never did. In fact he found Leon an inspiration and worked just as hard to keep up with him. Pete and Leon became the two lead cowboys on the lot. Leon became Pete's inspiration to clean up his act and make sure he protected his job. Pete noticed Leon never missed a day of work unless he made arrangements ahead of time to take his dad to the VA hospital.

Pete liked and admired Leon a lot. He thought Leon was the epitome of what a cowboy should be from his square-jawed, hyper-masculine good looks, a flawless physique, to his strong, unflappable, stoic cowboy attitude. Leon was about six years older than Pete's boy Oatie and grew up in the small ranching community. He lived on a ranch with his dad near the small town of Kooksville, Texas. He attended Mason county schools, was a football hero of the small school's team, and one of Oatie Breedlove's idols. Leon inspired Oatie to play football and become the fine athlete he was.

Leon left home the day he graduated high school to serve in the Army in the Middle East. When he returned, he was a broken man and tried to make a go of being a rodeo cowboy as a bull rider and bulldogger, but he just wasn't good enough to make the big money. He lived a pretty rough life until he met an older cowboy who became a mentor for Leon. They left the rodeo behind and were hired as regular cowhands for one of the largest ranches in the country outside of Alpine, Texas. Leon was born to be a cowboy, and with his saddle buddy by his side, whom he loved more than life itself, he found his place in the sun. For a little under a decade, Leon lived his personal bliss, until his buddy was killed in a freak range accident.

After Leon lost his buddy, he wasn't the same. He worked for the outfit another year until his mother died, and Leon returned home for her funeral. His dad was getting up in years. The old man couldn't run their ranch anymore, and the place was going to ruin. His dad, Carl, begged Leon to come home, and he would turn the ranch over to him. Leon returned to Alpine, gave his straw-boss a two week notice so he could find another hand to replace him, packed his gear, and returned home. His dad got worse and more dependent on his boy. Leon couldn't work the ranch and take care of his old man, too. When the job came available at the feed lot, he jumped at the chance to have a steady income coming in to take care of him and his dad's basic needs. With his dad's social security, a small veteran's pension, and Leon's pay, they were barely making ends meet.

Pete knew bits and pieces of Leon's background from talk around the town, but he never got close enough to the big cowboy to discuss it personally. The other cowboys were not so charitable, and without any solid confirmation claimed Leon was a cowboy's cowboy like Pete's boy Oatie. Pete didn't know whether it was true or not. He really didn't give a shit. He learned his lesson the hard way, and refused to make the same mistake with Leon he did with Oatie. Pete lost all interest in reveal or anything to do with faith in myths. He went back to the cowboy way and decided he would live the rest of his life that way. Leon was all man as far as Pete was concerned, and if he had a hitch in his get-along or put the giddy in giddy-up, it didn't bother him in the least.

Leon would walk to his truck everyday for lunch, let his tailgate down, raise the back of his camper shell, and eat his lunch he prepared and brought in a large cooler. Not often, but once in a while, Pete would ask if he could join Leon to eat lunch together. Leon never said 'no' and seemed to enjoy Pete's company. Their conversations were usually casual without much talk about their personal lives. Leon was not unaware of Pete's track record with his family and avoided bringing up the subject. He knew the loss of his two sons was heartbreaking for Pete.

Nobody paid much attention to Pete that morning. One of the men, a big loudmouthed cowboy named 'Sweed,' asked him if he was on a diet; he looked like he lost weight. Pete said he wasn't on no diet, but he gave up drinking and was trying to eat healthier. He noticed he was losing his beer gut. Pete no sooner got the words out when he caught Leon looking at him and studying him. Pete watched a wry smile cross the big cowboy's face, and he knew in an instant, Leon knew something. When noon came and the straw-boss called for the men to break for lunch, Pete asked Leon if he might join him on his tailgate.

"Sure, Mr. Breedlove, glad to have your company," Leon replied.

They walked over to Leon's truck, and Pete brought his lunch pail with his sandwich and coffee. They sat and ate for a few minutes. Pete could see Leon looking at him occasionally and smiling to himself. Finally Pete caught him and looked him in the eye, "What?" Pete asked and grinned.

Leon broke up laughing, and he rarely laughed. "Them other men knew some'um was different about you, but they didn't look beyond the surface. You look twenty years younger than you did last week. Your hair is one solid color, and it ain't been dyed. Your skin ain't pocked marked from acne scars, the mole is gone from behind your right ear, and them crow's feet are gone from your eyes. Hell, you look five years younger than me," Leon allowed quietly.

"I don't know. I just woke up like 'at this morning," Pete said lamely.

"Bullshit! You's either an alien in Pete Breedlove's body, or you been mess'n around over to the Daniels' ranch," Leon said firmly.

"What do you know about the Daniels' ranch, Leon?" Pete asked.

"Rumors, personal observations, and what my two watchers tell me what look out for my dad while I'm working. They make sure he takes his meds, eats his lunch, and don't let him wander off the property. I feed them and several daddy long-legs. One Saturday afternoon, I ran naked with my biggest watcher and some of the daddy long-legs. We followed the river down to the shores of the Daniels' place. We sat on the limestone banks while we watched and listened to some of the best dang music I done ever heard – ever' thing from highbrow classical to down-home country. I seen old Elmer Breedlove, old Vox Humana, and old Buster Tate dancing a cowboy jig together like they's teenagers. Them men had one foot in the grave less than a month ago. Now you come to work try'n to disguise your appearance by not shaving. You don't never come to work looking so grizzly. Hell, Pete, I ain't shit'n ya' none, you look five years younger than me. I ain't no rocket scientist, but I ain't no fool neither," Leon declared. Pete chuckled to himself, lowered his head, and blushed. "I'll bet you ain't blushed like that in years, neither," Leon nailed Pete to the barn door with his final barb and laughed. He got Pete laughing with him.

"I can't say nothing, Leon, except you certainly ain't no fool. I can tell you this much, my family done gimme' a second chance, and I spent a wonderful weekend with ma' dad, my future step-dad, Vox Humana, my boy and his husband-to-be, Jethro Quince, over to the Daniels' ranch – and I got you to thank for it, Cowboy," Pete said sincerely.

"Me? Why me, Mr. Breedlove?" Leon asked surprised.

"You and me come to work here within weeks of each other. You was here two weeks 'afore me. I began to watch you and your work ethic. I started to pattern myself after you. I give up drinking so's I could feel good and fresh ever' day for work. Being older, I had to or I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with you, and I might lose my job. I needed this job. It was my last chance to turn myself around. We's going on our fifth year working together the first of June, and I just thought you should know how much I appreciate you as a cowboy and a friend," Pete said.

Leon sat for a minute, pulled his clean bandanna from his hip pocket, and wiped his eyes. "That's about the best dang thing any man's ever told me except the time my partner told me he loved me," Leon said and wiped away a couple more tears.

"Was he your first, Son?" Pete asked.

"He was my only, Mr. Breedlove," Leon replied and shed a few more tears. "I thought you's dead-set against cowboy love, sir," Leon said.

"When I's a younger man I weren't agin it. I did what I wanted, but I believed in the cowboy way. I believed you should never judge a man until you walk a mile in his boots. Then I got married to a harridan disguised as a woman who was a 'true believer' what bought into all that myth and superstition God-loves-us-and-Jesus-is-my-running-buddy garbage. To keep peace in the family, I found myself getting caught up in it like a mindless cluster-fuck, knowing full-well I was going against my deepest internal feelings about sex and our place on this planet as a greater part of the universe. When I tuned my back on my boy, it liked ta' done tore my guts out. I knew what I's doing werent' right, but I done it anyway. Hell, I done sowed my wild oats as a young man, and I was condemning my son for the same damn things I done. It was then I learn't first-hand what the word 'hypocrite' meant. I ain't got me no excuse. I was emotionally lazy, and I took the coward's way out.

"May them Ancients forgive me, it was just easier to reject my boy than it was standing up to my Jesus-jump'n bible-thump'n wife and making excuses for him. As I looked at the situation at the time, to confront Janice with the truth, I had to admit my own personal flaws or weaknesses. I just couldn't bring myself to admit it to my homophobic, foam'n-at-the-mouth queer-hate'n spouse that her husband was a mite less than a solid rock of masculine fortitude. I was, after all, the son of the great bull of the hill country, a well known paragon of unquestioned masculinity. Thankfully, my dad was a much wiser man than me. Elmer took Oatie in as his own and became the father to my boy I was always afraid to be. I never knew until I divorced Janice, my old man was an all-round cowpoke, and there was more to his nickname,'The bull of the hill country,' than met the eye. Under Elmer's wing, Oatie flourished and achieved great things.

"I never could figure out how my boy persevered and accomplished all them things after we done what we did to him. The average man would have caved, throw'd up his hands, tucked his tail between his legs, and went off on his own to live his life. Then one day, in conversation with my dad, it come to me: the big bull, my own dad, was butt-fuck'n my boy and having him service his big cock to keep Oatie stable, happy, and on-track. Elmer became Oatie's bull and master, and he still is today. I guaran-damn-tee-ya' Oatie don't take a shit unless he get's his bull's approval," Pete declared and got a laugh out of Leon.   

"I finally had it with Janice and her bullshit religion when she caused me to lose my other son and my ranch I worked so hard to keep. I lost it to my boy for unpaid vet bills she let accumulate and never told me about. She handled all the money. I just thought she was paying our bills. She was paying everybody but Oatie. She thought since our boy had a hitch in his git-along and it was against her religion, she didn't have to pay Oatie a penny. It was her way of punishing Oatie for some'um he didn't have no choice about. By refusing to pay his bills she was telling him he was worthless. She gambled he wouldn't do nothing about it. She said he owed her that much and more for giving birth to a pre-vert. She told me Oatie should be grateful she even allowed him on our property. Them were her exact words, Cowboy, I shit you not," Pete said with remorse.

"Unfortunately for her, the law didn't share her narrow minded view of life. She lost her gamble, and I lost ever' thing. I knew Oatie wouldn't do nothing like 'at to me. We never talked about it, but I was sure my boy still loved and respected me; howsomever, I also knew how strong my pa could be, and he had complete control over Oatie. I went to Elmer and begged forgiveness. I asked him to give me some time to pay off my debt to Oatie, but he turned his back on me like I done my boy. Today, when I think back on it, I c'ain't say's I blame him none. He told me Oatie begged him to give me time to pay it off, but my own dear-old-dad put his big boot down and refused. Now, I look back, I realize it was for the best. Elmer knew I'd probably dump Janice, and he hated her with a passion. It's what I did. I divorced her, and I ain't sorry I done it. After she ran my other boy off, I come to see the light of truth, and trust me, Son, h'it ain't in religion," Pete declared. The men sat quietly eating their lunch for a while. "Does your dad know about yore' druthers, Leon?" Pete asked quietly.

"I only brought my partner home with me one Christmas, but we slept in separate rooms. Later, when I took time off from the ranch to get myself together after he was killed, I went home for a couple of weeks. While I was grieving for my mate, dad accused me of being a mule what was a man's man, and I wouldn't never give him no grand-kids. I didn't respond, because it hurt me so bad – not for what he said, but for his lack of compassion. I never said a word to him, but my ma sure did. I just packed my bags, kissed my mom goodbye, walked out the door, threw my shit in the back of my truck, drove to the ranch, and went back to work. I never contacted him again after that until he called the ranch to tell me my ma was dying. Funny, though, after mom died, he didn't have no problem asking his 'mule' to come home and help him take care of the ranch. It didn't take me long to realize it weren't only to take care of the ranch, but him as well. I think he knows he hurt me pretty bad from his comment. It's never been the same between us since. He's made a couple of clumsy attempts to make it up to me, but we ain't never really talked about it," Leon said.

"How did you get to know them watchers and daddy long-legs, Son?" Pete asked.

"I fed them behind my dad's back since I's a young boy. My dad said they's the reincarnated spirits of dead Indians what would suck your soul out of your body and kill you. I believed him, until one day I misjudged how far it was across the river and tried to swim it. I got a cramp in my leg in deep water, and knew I weren't gonna' make it. I started hollering for help and was about to go under for the last time when a giant furry hand grabbed me under my arm, pulled me up to his stinky chest, and wouldn't let me go until he was sure I was safe. He held me to his breast, squeezed out some milk, and ordered me to suck his teat. I weren't about to argue with the the giant beast. Hell, he held my head in one hand like it was a baseball. I sucked and he fed me the most wonderful milk. I couldn't get enough, it relaxed me, and made my cramps go away. I been drinking watcher milk ever' since. My group of watchers go to the Daniels' ranch to get milked once't a week, and they give them several kinds of fresh fruits as a thank-you treat.

"From that day on, them big critters looked out for me and protected me. I could go anywhere on our ranch and do anything I pleased. I knew I was always being looked after and watched. When I got lonely, I could go and be with them for a while. They treated me like I was special to them. I got the love from them I never got from my parents. When I returned to the ranch, I started to feed and take care of them again. When I needed to take this job, I was gonna' have to put my old man in that home in Brady, but they come to me and volunteered to baby-sit him for me. They ain't never let me down. I can always depend on my dad being fed his lunch I make for him, they see to it he takes his meds, and he's safe at home when I come in ever' e'nin," Leon said.

"Damnation! I'm sure learning a lot these days, Leon. Since I decided not to be a dick-head and changed my attitudes, I got a flood of new information come to me. I had no idea you knew about watchers and daddy long-legs," Pete said.

"You's the first man I ever done told about my life with them huge peaceful critters. Who would believe me but you?" Leon asked.

"You's right about that, Cowboy. Thanks for sharing with me, Son," Pete said.

"You gonna' share wiff' me how-come you's twenty years younger, Mr. Breedlove?" Leon asked.

"Can I ask my dad, the bull, about it first, Son?" Pete asked.

"Sure. I understand. No problem. I would expect you to, 'cause it's the cowboy way. It's the right thing to do," Leon said.

The cowboys finished lunch, went back to work, and worked the rest of the day without a word about their conversation. The work day sailed by for Pete because he and Leon established a beach-head which created a strong bond of friendship between them. They knew something the other men didn't, and their lives were fuller for sharing themselves with each other.

The next morning the men were having coffee. Pete and Leon were by themselves, and Pete spoke quietly, "Lunch today? Yore' tailgate?" he asked.

"Sure, glad to have you join me. Brought along some extra watcher's milk for you," Pete replied and smiled.

"The bull of the hill country contacted Master Billy, and he done gimme' permission to answer your questions as best I can, Son," Pete said and smiled.

"I'll look forward to it, Mr. Breedlove," Leon said.

"Since I look younger than you, do you think you could drop the 'Mr. Breedlove' and call me 'Pete,' Son?" Pete asked quietly and grinned.

"As long as you don't stop calling me 'son,' Pete," Leon replied.

"It's a deal, Son!" Pete exclaimed, and they shook on it.
At lunch that day, Pete told Leon everything he witnessed from his family growing wings like angels and being able to do miraculous things for others, to the yearly 'close-caldron' smack-down of a blue giant and his mate, a giant green Ork. Leon was stunned and amazed, but he never accused Pete of lying or exaggerating. He never spoke of becoming a part of the Daniels' experience, but Pete knew the big cowboy never would. He was a true man of the West and believed in the cowboy way. He wasn't one to ask for more than he had. Pete wasn't worried about it. He figured correctly, if a man as good-hearted as Leon seemed to be, who lived in harmony with and provided for a couple of watchers and a few daddy long-legs to look after his dad, it was only a matter of time before Leon came to Billy Daniels' attention. If Elmer told Billy why Pete wanted to tell his work buddy about his weekend, he reckoned Billy probably already knew. Elmer knew the Tollefson family and admired young Leon for years.

* * * * * * *
Jack and Bubba arrived at the Willow Creek Restaurant just a little before noon and saw Will Tate pull up in his patrol car. "You feel like buying the sheriff lunch, Cowboy?" Jack asked.

"Hell, yes, let's ask him," Bubba replied.

They invited Will to join them, and the men sat down at a table way in the back of the huge barn-like building. The waitress came and took their orders, and they began to talk. They told Will everything. Will didn't seem too surprised. "I done figured it was Earl Hickson what tore up your house. The tracks were too fresh not to be his. When you look at a lot of tire tracks you get to know old ones from fresh. Do you think he took anything from them barns?" Will asked.

"There was one rifle, a 30-06 missing from my uncle's glass cabinet in the barn," Bubba replied, "Earl always wanted a 30-06 but never could afford one," he added.

"Do you have the serial number for the gun?" Will asked.

"I'm sure I do some'ers, but Uncle Brad had brass butt-plates installed on every gun, what has his name, address, and social security number engraved on the underside of the plate. All you gotta' do is take a penknife, remove the two small brads, and look underneath," Bubba said.

"Good to know. You don't need to get a search warrant from the judge, Jack. I got half a dozen in a file folder with his signature already on them in case I need one in an emergency. He trusts my judgment. He took a long weekend after attending the smack-down, and I think they's suppose to take Cody out to see Billy this afternoon for another treatment. I'll get my secretary to fill in the form and we can drive out to the Hickson place together. Whatever you do, Bubba, don't let your temper flair. Let me and Jack do our jobs. I guarantee you, if he's guilty, our sudden appearance will put the fear of a vengeful God in Earl Hickson. If I'm correct, he's only got one more arrest to go to be sent up for life or sold into slavery. A lot will depend on you, but let me and Jack do all the talking. I ain't trying to be mean when I tell you to keep your mouth shut. Do you understand, Son?" Will asked.

"Yes, sir. If it's true, I ain't got nothing to say to him no ways," Bubba replied.

Bubba picked up the check and left a healthy tip for the waitress. The men left the restaurant and Jack and Bubba followed the sheriff around the square to his office.

"Ain't that a little unusual for the sheriff to have signed warrants by our county judge?" Bubba asked Jack.

"Not in our new restructured government. If our sheriff was anyone else but Will Tate, I would worry, but I don't think Will would ever purposely abuse his station. Besides, wouldn't you trust a man what saved your grandson's life?" Jack asked.

"Damn right I would," Bubba said.

Will brought the men into his office, completed the form, and had Jack and Bubba sign it. They made copies for everyone, and Mrs. Stark, the station's secretary, made up a folder and filed it away.

"C'moan Deputy Andy and Deputy Stan. You men take the patrol Jeep in case we arrest Mr. Hickson. Bubba, you and Jack will ride with me. Jack, bring along that folder what says them barns is under the protection of the government. Don't know's we'll need it, but just in case," the sheriff said. They left the station with Deputies Andy and Stan following in the Jeep. They pulled into the Hickson ranch compound and up in front of the bunkhouse. It was still early morning and Earl wasn't out of bed yet. They woke him up as the big men stomped up the wood steps in their heavy boots and onto the porch. Will opened the door and hollered, "Mr. Hickson, it's Sheriff Tate, we need to talk with you," he said.

Earl sat up in bed and reached for his Wranglers. The men stood just inside the door and waited for him to dress. "What's this about, Sheriff?" Earl asked. He didn't see Bubba and Jack McCormack on the front porch until he stood and his blood ran cold. He knew he'd been found out.

"Finish dressing, and we'll talk, Son," Will said in a conversational tone.
Earl pulled on his boots last and stood to face the men.

"We got a warrant to search your place for evidence you broke into Mr. Kirkendall's house ransacked it, found an extra set of keys to his uncle's barns, let yourself in, and took pictures of their private property. You gave them pictures to Clarence Womack so's he might find some way to have Mr. Kirkendall's legacy inventoried and a value set on it in an attempt to extort a portion of his inheritance. There's more, but I won't go into it right now. If we search your place and don't find nothing, there ain't no need to tell you the rest right now. So if you will stand aside, me and my deputies will do our job," the sheriff said.

Earl turned white as a sheet. At first he didn't say anything, but then he demanded to see the warrant. Will showed Earl the original and handed him a photocopy. Earl didn't say a word as the sheriff and his men began to go through his limited belongings. They immediately found Bubba's set of keys in one the the small drawers on top of his dresser and Earl's camera in the other. Deputy Andy turned on the camera and browsed through the pictures. "Everyone of them pitchers is here, Sheriff Tate," he said.

"These the set of keys you been missing, Bubba?" Will held them up for Bubba who was still standing with Jack on the front porch.

"That's them, Sheriff," Bubba replied.

They went through Earl's closet and found three guns with brass butt-plates. They found the 30-06, a 30-30, and a 12 gauge double-barrel shotgun. The sheriff took out his penknife and removed the brass plate on the 30-06. He looked on the back, and saw the name Brad Kirkendall, his address, phone number, and social security number neatly engraved on the back. He showed it to Earl. Earl's face lost all color.

"Do I need to remove the plate on these other two guns, Mr. Hickson, or do they belong to Mr. Kirkendall as well?" Will asked quietly.

"Naw, no need, Sheriff. They's Mr. Kirkendall's guns," Earl replied.

Will arrested Earl, read him his Miranda rights, handcuffed him, and told his deputies to take him to their Jeep. Earl wouldn't even look at Bubba as he walked out. Jack warned Bubba not to exchange words with him. There would be time for that later. If Bubba wanted, Jack was sure Will would allow him to visit and speak with Earl in private. Before they left, the Sheriff, Bubba, and Jack walked up to the ranch house and knocked on the door. Earl's mother slowly came to the door in her walker. She looked stunned when she saw the sheriff. "Oh my God!" she exclaimed, "What's my boy done now?" she asked.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Hickson, but I had to arrest Earl this morning on charges he broke into Mr. Kirkendall's house, ransacked it, stole his property, and either sold or gave Clarence Womack pictures of the inside of the late Mr. Brad Kirkendall's barns to force his nephew, Bubba, to have an assessment made of his inheritance to extract a percentage for himself. Unfortunately, for your son, Mr. Kirkendall's barns are under federal protection laws. The minute he stepped inside those barns he was committing a federal offense. Furthermore, he stole Bubba's keys to gain entrance and three of his uncle's guns. Since Earl has two strikes against him already, I don't expect him to walk away from these charges, ma'am. If he can't afford a lawyer to represent him, he will have a court appointed attorney assigned to him," Will said.

"Oh my God!" she said again, "What am I to do? My boy is all I got to take care of me. It's your fault, Bubba. I knew the minute you decided to leave and go back to your uncle's ranch, Earl would go off the deep-end and do something crazy. He's depended on you all these years, and you let him down. How could you do this to your brother? You could have come and talked with me. The three of us could work this out together. You didn't have to go and get the law involved," she wailed.

"It's unfair of you to even think that way, Erna Mae. I tried to talk some sense into Earl, but he refused to listen. He's so damn caught up in religion and got his head so far up Clarence Womack's butt he can't see the light of day. There ain't no reasoning with Earl. He's got his mind made up whatever that bible thump'n ass-hat clown tells him to do, he does it. You ain't got much room to talk, Erna Mae. I watched you closely all these years. You taught Earl to be a taker and give very little in return. I got tired of supporting him and you without so much as a thank you. Never once't, in all these years, did you or him ever thank me for anything I ever done for you people. When you simmer down and come down off yore' high-horse, gimme' a call, I'll come back over here, and we can talk. I'll do my best to help you, but remember this, I won't hear another word about what Earl done being my fault. Do you understand, woman!" Bubba said firmly.

Mrs. Hickson didn't answer but shook her head she acknowledged what Bubba said.

Will and Jack chatted on the way back to town, but Bubba was mostly quiet. He would answer a question if Will or Jack asked, but they could tell he was torn up inside. He was full of conflicting feelings.

"What's your next move, Jack," Will asked their legal eagle.

"What do you think about filling out another one of them search warrants to confiscate any documents Womack has as stolen property? Arrest him and throw his ass in jail along with Earl. If you're caught with stolen property you're still libel under the law whether you knew it was stolen or not. Earl might testify Womack talked him into committing a crime against his close friend, and he might be found guilty of collusion. Either way, let's let the judge determine Womack's intentions, and decide his guilt or innocence," Jack said.

Will started laughing and got Bubba laughing with him. "Damn, I like the way you think, Cowboy!" Will exclaimed, "I been wanting to get that oily little bastard on some charge for a good while. He does all kinds of underhanded shit to people in our community you men ain't even heard about, but he always manages to stay within a hair's breadth of breaking the law. You've had experience with him, Bubba. You know how he operates. He put you men up to trying to take pictures of the Daniels' place, and there ain't no doubt in my mind he done the same to Earl to get him to take them pictures. I would testify knowledge of Womack's influence in that situation," the sheriff said, "Hell, yes! We'll put Earl in a cell and go after Womack, but I'll make sure they's separated. We'll put Earl in the comfortable cell in the back we call the 'celebrity suite' where he can watch TV and talk with the deputies. We'll put Womack in our cold cell and let him stew for a while," Will declared, "You think Billy and his staff should know about this?" he asked.

"It couldn't hurt none. Many of his slaves are qualified attorneys and several of them will be taking the Texas bar exams this quarter," Jack said.

"What do you think, Bubba?" Jack asked.

"Of course we should tell 'um, they's family. They share with us. We share with them," Bubba replied, "Besides, in this small community, they's gonna' know about Earl and Womack's arrest within the hour. They's gonna' wanna' know what's going on, and I ain't hold'n nothing back from my family," he added.

"Amen to that, Brother!" Will agreed.   
"I could send an e-mail to Womack's attorneys this afternoon, and include a copy of the federal protection act covering Brad Kirkendall's legacy to his nephew with an order for them to cease and desist any legal proceedings against my client immediately. I can point out they're in possession of pictures taken illegally by one of Womack's more reactionary church members who ransacked Bubba's house. He stole an extra set of keys to gain illegal entry. He and Womack are in jail until the judge can hold a hearing to determine their guilt or innocence. I can demand they return all documents in their possession given them by Womack, and if they ain't in our possession within twenty-four hours, I will turn the matter over to Homeland Security," Jack said.

"Jesus! I'm glad you's on my side, Brother," Bubba said and grinned.  

"Me, too, Bubba," Will agreed, and they shared a laugh, "I wouldn't want Homeland Security coming any wheres near me," he added.

"Me neither," Bubba agreed, "Them spooks ain't to be messed with," he added, "We really gonna' get them involved, Brother?" Bubba asked Jack.

"Not if I can help it, Bubba, but like Teddy Roosevelt said, 'Speak softly and carry a big stick.' If the threat of Homeland Security ain't enough to make them low-life shysters shake in their boots, they ain't human," Jack replied.

The men returned to the station created another warrant for Womack and headed out to his home next to the church. Jack asked Will if he and Bubba should stay behind and find something else to do. "And miss out on the fun? I should say not. Bubba's the victim, and you's his representative. Just do like you done at the Hickson place. Observe but don't comment," the sheriff said, "Who knows, I might need you men as witnesses to Womack's reaction. He could claim we mistreated him, were impolite, rough with him, or anything he thinks he might get away with to sway the judge to his favor. I don't plan to give him the chance," Will added.

The men arrived and walked to the porch. Will rang the doorbell and Mrs. Womack answered the door. "Howdy, ma'am," Will said taking off his hat and the rest of the men followed suit, "would you please tell your husband, the sheriff is here and wishes to speak with him?" Will asked.

"Yes, won't you men come in, wait in the living room, and I get him," she invited.

The sheriff, his two deputies, and the two cowboys walked into the living room of the comfortable parsonage and stood with their hats in their hands waiting. Mrs. Womack returned in a moment followed by her husband. Clarence Womack saw everyone and quickly put two and two together. He turned a whiter shade of pale and almost pissed his pants, but he wasn't about to be intimidated by the authority of a tin-badge or the two big cowboys. "Ah, Sheriff Tate, Deputy Andy, Deputy Stan, Mr. McCormack, and Mr. Kirkendall, welcome to our humble home. What can I do for you gentlemen, today?" he asked unctuously.

"I have a warrant signed by the county judge to search your home or church office for stolen property, Mr. Womack," Will said without nuance.

"I don't understand. What property are you talking about? I don't know anything about any stolen property, Sheriff," Womack said like an innocent lamb.

"Attorney McCormack received some documents from your attorneys with pictures of the inside of the barns on Bubba Kirkendall's property, Mr. Womack. Those photos were taken illegally by Earl Hickson and are classified as stolen property. We have reason to believe Mr. Hickson broke into Mr. Kirkendall's home, ransacked it until he found an extra set of keys for the barns. He also stole several guns from Mr. Kirkendall's home. We are here to confiscate his stolen property and take you to jail, sir," Will said.

"You can't do that! You have no right to put me in jail. I didn't know them pictures were taken illegally. You can't charge me with any wrong doing!" Womack said indignantly.

"Ah, but I can, sir. Under the law, you can be held accountable for receipt of stolen property whether you know it's stolen or not, Mr. Womack. Furthermore, Mr. McCormack is Mr. Kirkendall's attorney and has documents issued by the federal government stating them barns on the Kirkendall property are under federal protection and jurisdiction. Mr. Hickson not only broke local laws, he broke federal laws the minute he stepped inside them barns. He can be charged with a federal crime, and you may face charges of collusion; howsomever, that ain't my call. I'll let the judge decide. Now, I'm here to do the job the people of this county elected me to do. We can make this simple, or we can do it the hard way. Honestly, I'd much prefer the easy way, but if you insist we stand ready to accommodate you should you chose to be difficult. You give us the documents we're here to collect, come with us peacefully, or we will handcuff you and make a thorough search of your home on our own," Will said quietly.

"You won't get away with this. I'll have your job for this, Sheriff Tate! You can't do this to the most important spiritual leader in this community and not expect consequences," Womack said with considerable anger.

"Just doing ma' job, Preacher. You do yours, and I'll do mine. When you don't do your job above-board and honestly, that's when the law steps in and reminds you, you must play the game like everyone else in our community or suffer your own consequences. I'll put the quality of my work product up against yours any day of the week, or if you don't think I'm doing a good job, you might consider running against me for sheriff next time. Either way, I won't be the one facing a federal judge for being in possession of stolen property. I don't need to know the how and the wherefore of them documents. I'll let you explain your part in all this to Judge LaFleur," Will said firmly.   
Womack grumbled and complained, but led the men to his office. He found the file folder, "There! Satisfied?" Womack barked as threw it on the desk toward Will.

"Not completely. We have Mr. Hickson's camera with the original pictures. How did you download them to print out copies?" Will asked.

"Earl brought the camera here with his attachment, and we downloaded them into my computer," Womack said.

"Unplug it and box it up, Men. We're taking it, too. Are there any other copies of these documents, Mr. Womack?" Will asked in a voice that said Womack better tell him the truth.

"No, you have all of them," Clarence replied.

Will walked around Womack's desk and pulled out his file drawer from which the preacher retrieved the folder. Will thumbed through the files until he saw one labeled "extra pictures" and pulled it out. Sure enough, there were several extra pictures of each shot Earl took. "Ah, Clarence, if you beat this rap, you might wanna' take a brush-up course in your religion. As I understand it, you can go to hell for lying the same as you can for stealing," Will said in disgust.

"I just forgot about those!" Womack exclaimed.

"I'm sure you did. As the Church Lady might say, 'How convenient!'" Will replied, "It's my duty to remind you, if there are other copies or mitigating factors regarding your association with Mr. Hickson in this matter and you lie to me, you can be charged with additional crimes," he added.

"There are no others," Womack declared.  

Will read Womack his Miranda rights, handcuffed him, and gave instructions to his deputies to place Womack in the cell next to the office, and he was not allowed to see or talk with Earl Hickson. The men drove back to the sheriff's station and the deputies took Womack across the street to the old jail. They no sooner got to the jail when Jack's cell phone rang. He saw it was Elmer Breedlove calling and smiled.

"Hey, Master Bull, what's up?" Jack asked.

"We's wondering the same thing, Jack," Elmer replied and laughed.

"Damn, Bubba said word would get around within an hour, and he weren't wrong," Jack said. He went on to tell Elmer everything that happened since they returned from Retikki Prime. Elmer was astounded.

"Hell, we go away for an hour and all hell breaks loose," Elmer declared and laughed, "Look, I done got word from the Daniels to gather at their place for supper. Ms. Kate just called Buster and Everett to bring Will. Bubba must be devastated," he said.

"He's a bit shaken up about it, but we'll be there. I got to take Bubba back to his place, and we can stop on the way. The only other thing I have to do is stop by my office and send an e-mail to Womack's attorneys giving them a deadline to return the documents he sent them. We'll see you there, Master Bull," Jack said and they disconnected.

After a cup of coffee, Jack and Bubba thanked the sheriff and his men, told Will they would see him later with his family at the Daniels for supper, and left to go to Jack's office.

"Did you get anything in the mail from Womack's lawyers, Bubba?" Jack asked.

"I ain't had time to go by the post office, Jack. I been with you since I got back," Bubba replied.

"We'll drive by. I need to check my mail anyway," Jack said.

Bubba received the same set of documents as Jack, and they drove to Jack's office. Jack sent a well worded e-mail telling Womack's lawyers to cease and desist immediately and return all copies of any documents they received within twenty-four hours, or he would turn the matter over to Homeland Security. They spent the rest of the afternoon at Bubba's place. Bubba got a call from Hoss at the furniture store in Brady asking if they could make another delivery of furniture that afternoon. Bubba told him they would be there until six when they had to leave to have supper with neighbors.

"Will your brother be there, sir?" Hoss asked.

"Yes, he's here with me now. I'll rope and hog-tie him to make sure he don't get away," Bubba replied and laughed.

"You's a good man, Mr. Kirkendall," Hoss said, laughed, and disconnected.   

Bubba returned to the kitchen where Jack was explaining to Helen, Brute, and the other five watchers about their day. Bubba had a big grin on his face. "The furniture store delivery man called – I can't remember his name – and asked if they could make another delivery this afternoon. I told him we'd be here until six," Bubba teased Jack.

"Hoss, called?" Jack asked with some excitement.

"Yeah! That's his name! I remember now," Bubba said, "He asked if ma' little brother would be here, and I told him I would make sure you didn't make a run for it," Bubba teased.

Everyone laughed at Bubba's joke. Jack just got a big grin on his face. "You're so mean to me, Bubba," Jack said in mock hurt.

"No, I ain't. I meant it! I told him, you even look like you's gonna' make for the door, and I'll rope and hog-tie you, little Brother," Bubba declared.

"And for another good look at that big cowboy, I'd let you," Jack declared, and they shared a laugh.

* * * * * * *
Big Hoss and the same assistant arrived about four o'clock, and it didn't take them long to off-load the furniture. They didn't say 'no' when Bubba offered them a cup of coffee. Helen was still visiting the big house telling Jack more of the wonderful things they saw and did on Retikki Prime, and since the delivery men saw the watchers the time before, Bubba told Brute he didn't need to disappear. While the men still found him interesting, they were impressed he was a gentle beast, and weren't intimidated by him. Besides, Brute was not what Hoss was interested in. He stayed as close to Jack as he could get without jumping his bones. He wanted to stay longer, but they had one more stop to make before they returned the truck to the store in Brady. Hoss and his man left after checking with Bubba when would be the best time for another delivery later in the week or the following week. Bubba couldn't give him a definite time, but told Hoss to call the evening before he planned a delivery, and he would let him know his schedule for the next day. He was going to have a skeleton-crew of his new cowboys over to get started on his bunkhouse.

It was getting late and time for Jack, Bubba, and his family to drive over to the Daniels' ranch for supper. Helen wouldn't eat, but she enjoyed visiting and looked forward to seeing Roz again. Jack asked to use Bubba's computer for a minute to check his e-mails. It only took him a minute to navigate to his e-mail page and saw he had a reply from Dewey, Cheetum, and Howe. He opened it and couldn't believe what he was reading. The e-mail was formal but snide suggesting Jack was a small town attorney and not quite up-to-speed with modern law. They assured him they were convinced their client had a strong case against Mr. Kirkendall and they made a demand for Mr. Womack to be released from jail immediately. If not, they were keeping in touch with his family and would be in Mason to represent Pastor Womack at his hearing. Furthermore, they had no intentions of returning any documents provided them by their client. It was their policy to keep copies of all documents on file no matter judgment in the case.

Jack was so angry he had to sit for a moment to get himself together and allow himself to calm down. He asked Bubba to turn on his printer for him, and he did. He quickly printed out a couple of copies and handed one to Bubba for him to read. Bubba was as stunned as Jack, but looked over Jack's shoulder at the e-mail he was typing in reply. It was short and to the point. "Dear Sirs, while I'm sure you must have good reason to assume a small town lawyer isn't as competent as you more cosmopolitan attorneys, I therefore bow to your greater expertise. It is unfortunate you choose not to return the stolen documents. You leave me no other alternative than to turn the matter over to Homeland Security and I will do so immediately. Good luck with that. Please let me know how it works out for you," and signed it, Jack McCormack, Esquire, The Hill Country Bumpkin, Attorney-at-law.

Bubba laughed. "Y'ain't no country bumpkin, Brother," Bubba said, "You really gonna' sic the Feds on 'um?" he asked.

"Probably not, but we'll wait and see," Jack said as he hit the send-button with his center finger like a ballet dancer making a Grand Jete' out of an inverted 'bird' gesture. Bubba laughed at his brother's nonsense. Bubba decided Jack had a well developed sense of the absurd. He trusted Jack to do the right thing, and he didn't question his motives.

* * * * * * *
The invited guests for supper were the Breedloves, the Tate contingency, and Kirkendalls, with Bubba, Jack, Helen, and Brute. You can bet the conversation that evening was lively. Jack and Will didn't have time during the day to discuss with Bubba what he learned or witnessed on Retikki Prime. The stories began to pour out of the different folks about the wonders they witnessed and observed, and the intensive teaching sessions they attended which outlined and discussed in depth about every known economic situation one might imagine; those which worked and those which didn't. Those which didn't were complete failures. The current economic condition on Earth was at the top of the list of grand-fails in its final days, slowly dying, gasping for breath, riding the braying austerity jackass to the grave, before the wealthiest one percent made the final fateful mistake of cutting off its oxygen supply – metaphorically speaking, that would be a more equal flow of cash. Money goes up the chain like the supply of moisture and nutrients from the roots of a tree to the highest branches. The more healthy and widespread the roots, the better the tree gets fed. It never flows in the opposite direction. It never comes down. No beggar has ever been able to live from the crumbs which might happen to fall from a rich man's table. Trickle down theory and supply side voodoo economics was the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the American public. Austerity was the second. 

"Okay, we can hear more about you good folks' adventures on Retikki Prime a little later. I'm about to bust a gut from curiosity about what went on in town today. I wanna' know how and why Earl Hickson and Clarence Womack wound up in jail," Billy said.

Bubba giggled like a school boy with a secret, and Jack laughed at him. Will spoke up, "It's Jack and Bubba's story. I'll let them tell it," he said forking another bit of salad.

Bubba nodded to Jack and he began to tell the story from when he opened his mail that morning. Jack proved to be a masterful story teller. He was thorough and accurate down to the smallest conversation. He would defer to Bubba or Will when he needed a break. They would pick up the story and add their thoughts and observations about the day. The rest of the family were transfixed, hanging on their every word. Jack came down to the very last detail of printing out the response to his e-mail from the attorneys representing Womack. He pulled his copy from his shirt pocket and read it so everyone could hear. His audience was as stunned as Jack and Bubba were at the hubris and insulting tone of the e-mail.

"Yeah, but you should a' read the short but funny e-mail Jack sent back to 'um. He told them they left him no option but to turn the matter over to the Feds," Bubba said and laughed.

"Is that your plan, Jack?" Billy asked.

"I just made the threat. I told Bubba we should carry a big stick, but that don't mean we have to use it. I would really hate to get the Feds involved. They can be a major pain in the butt, and once they get their hooks in you, you can't never get rid of them," Jack lamented, "Our government is run by one percent of the population, and they would only use Mr. Kirkendall's scientific breakthroughs for their financial gain or suppress them if they conflicted with some outdated cash-cow they're still milking. It's my opinion we should avoid them at all costs, even if it means pulling back from sticking it to Womack, if it might compromise our position. Why share what's in them barns with the top-heavy government we got now, when our family can use Brad Kirkendall's discoveries and inventions for our own advancement and possible protection?" Jack said strongly.

"Maybe we won't have to compromise anything, Master Jack," Cowboy Andy spoke up, and several of Billy's staff agreed with him, "Would you and Master Billy consider turning the matter over to us and let us handle it for you? We were grilled night and day in covert-ops and clandestine operations for a month and a half on Retikki Prime, and after we complete our mission, if you ain't satisfied with our results, we won't never volunteer for another project. I think we're up to it. I have full faith in my fellow team-mates. We won't tell you much about what or how we'll go about accomplishing what needs to be done for purposes of plausible deniablility. If you're ever questioned, you can claim you don't know nothing about it, and you will be telling the truth. All we need is their complete names, any personal addresses and phone numbers you might have for them, the same information for their offices, and we will take it from there," he said.  
"When can this be accomplished, Andy?" Billy asked.

Andy looked directly at Helen Kirkendall and nodded for her to answer.

"Would tomorrow night be too soon, Master Billy?" Helen asked.

"Not at all, if you folks think you can leave a clean slate with no trace back to us," Billy said, "You up with it, Jack?" he asked.

"Sure. I'd like to see what our people can do. I'll get you the information you need right after supper," Jack said, "I'd like to see them shysters taken down a peg or two," he added.

"Oh, I think we can do better than that, Master Jack," Andy said and grinned wickedly. The rest of Billy's staff agreed with him and laughed. Jack suddenly felt very sorry for the law firm of Dewey, Cheetum, and Howe.

* * * * * * *
Everyone was sympathetic and full of empathy for Bubba. Not only for the scare of having a potential financially draining spurious law suit hanging over his head, but also for having been betrayed by his boyhood friend and close companion. They allowed religion will do that to a person. The Breedloves, in particular, agreed. Bubba never felt like he had solid family until that night, but his emotionally conflicting day was not without some comfort. He talked, laughed, exchanged ideas and humor with everyone like they were his close relatives whom he could trust and love without fear. With Earl and his mother, it was like a cold, never ending landfill that could never be filled. Still, he had a nagging hurt in the back of his mind and a great need to resolve it; however, seeing his buddy thrown into jail didn't ease his pain a whit – it only added to his growing conundrum.

Jack and Bubba went off to Billy's staff's temporary offices in one of the larger two bedroom apartments on the third floor. They were wowed by their organized working area. Nothing was out of place, and it looked like what Jack and Bubba decided was a 'war-room' for them to work. To Bubba and Jack's surprise, their leader or head coordinator was their Aunt Helen. It seemed the powers on Retikki Prime were so impressed with Helen's growth and potential, they put her in charge of Master Billy's planning, coordinating, and financial team. Helen never forgot even the most minute detail, she could actively interface with any computer, and much more. She was seated at the biggest desk like a queen bee with her workers gathered around feeding her bits of information like royal jelly and receiving output and suggestions from her. Together they reminded Bubba and Jack of a hive-mind planning their fall harvest of a great field of sweet clover.

Jack gave Aunt Helen the folder he created for the correspondence he received from the firm of Dewey, Cheetum, and Howe. With limited information, Aunt Helen and Billy's team took it from there. Within an hour they probably knew more about each man than the federal government did. They were thorough and bull dogs at sniffing out information which might prove important to their mission. Jack knew his way around a computer, but some of the programs and tools they were using were way beyond him. Billy called Bubba and Jack away from what became known as the 'Synergy-room' and took them back downstairs for dessert, coffee, and more conversation. Before they left, they said 'goodbye' to Aunt Helen. "With your permission, Nephew, I'd like to remain here this evening. They will need me to coordinate this operation. We will be working around the clock until we accomplish our goal. The more time we have, the more successful and secure our mission will be," Helen said.

"Of course you may stay here tonight. I have a feeling you will be busy and have lots of company. I'm proud of you Aunt Helen. Jack and I will check in with you later. Have a good productive evening," Bubba said, gave her a quick hug, and a kiss on her cheek.

Jack and Bubba left and returned to the kitchen. They sat down to a delicious plate of hot apple cobbler with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top.

"Do we know anything about when Earl and Clarence might be brought before the judge?" Billy asked.

"We won't know anything until the judge comes to his office tomorrow. We know Womack's wife has contacted his attorneys in Austin, but there ain't much they can do until Judge LaFleur comes to the court house. I'm bet'n he won't allow Womack bail. If he made that concession for Womack, it might look bad for the judge if he didn't extend the same for Earl; however, Earl's already done got two strikes against him," Will said.

"A lot will depend on what impact our team makes on Womack's attorneys," Jack said, "I ain't real sure Womack can wiggle his way out of this one. He could possibly do time," Jack said.

"That wouldn't stress me out none," Billy said. Everyone smiled and agreed.

"On the other hand," Jack continued, "the judge could be swayed by public opinion and let him off on jail time and probation," he added.

"That sounds more likely to me," Nathan said and several of the older cowboys agreed with him.  

"Either way, hopefully, it will take him down a notch or two," Jack said.

"Ain't very likely," Tron said without nuance.

"I agree, Ramrod," Billy said in frustration.

The family talked some more about the wonders of Retikki Prime and their experiences. It made Jack long for the day he might get to visit another world. The evening came to an end and Bubba, Jack, and Brute departed for Bubba's place. The Breedloves and Tates left right behind them. After Bubba and Jack got back to the Kirkendall ranch, they parted and Jack returned to his ranch. Bubba got ready for bed and Brute insisted he bathe his master with his tongue. Bubba wasn't much in the mood, but he humored his beast. It didn't take long for Bubba to be swept up in his beast's dedicated passion to take care of his bairn. When Brute finished, Bubba was so relaxed his emotional safeguards were swept away by Brute's affection and need to serve his master, the big cowboy broke down and cried himself to sleep in Brute's big furry arms. (Yes, Virginia, even the biggest, roughest, toughest cowboys sometime need to let it all out in the arms of someone they love.)

* * * * * * *  
Judge LaFleur sat down with his court clerk over coffee the next morning and went over his schedule for the week. He already knew about the two arrests the sheriff and his deputies made the previous day. The preacher's wife tried to call him at his home to demand he release her husband immediately, but the old judge's wife was a bull-dog at not allowing anyone to get through to him unless it was someone, with whom, he wanted to talk. He wouldn't have signed blank warrants for the sheriff if he didn't feel he could trust Will Tate's judgment, and his trust in the sheriff wasn't garnered overnight. It took years working together and cultivating mutual respect for each other. The judge was satisfied if Will Tate didn't have a damn good reason for his actions, he never would have used the warrants in the first place. Besides, even the old judge wasn't without some horse sense and developed a distaste for Womack's hyper-evangelistic showboating and questionable money grubbing tactics bordering on extortion. The first date the judge would have a block of time open to hold public hearings for Earl and Womack's arrests would be Wednesday of the following week. LaFleur thought a week in jail just might be what Womack needed to wake him up to the reality, his God might not come to the rescue of a preacher when he was working at the devil's exercises. Womack was livid when he learned he wouldn't be getting special treatment because of his imagined 'exalted-position' within the community.

Earl, on the other hand, was in no hurry for a hearing. He could have cared less. He was being fed pretty good and got to watch as much TV as he wanted. The deputies gave him the remote and let him choose what he wanted to watch. He figured it was going to be bad for him, but probably not as bad as what he might suffer if Womack told what he knew. At least this way, Womack was sitting in the other cell facing charges, and Earl didn't feel alone in the boat. Still, there was the chance Womack might rat him out and Earl might take a heavier hit; however, he was hoping Womack's credibility in the eyes of the judge would be weakened. Perhaps, it would make the little two-bit charlatan look like he was seeking revenge for being nailed for his collusion with Earl to gain secret information about Bubba's legacy for his benefit – the old hand-in-the-cookie-jar set up. Earl laughed to himself. He carefully set the trap, and the greedy fat-ass little son-of-a-bitch jumped on the bone like a hungry dog.

* * * * * * *
Claude Dewey got the Womack papers out of the fancy wood file cabinet and made a phone call to the Mason County court clerk to inquire about the firm's client. He found out the judge didn't have time to look at the case and wouldn't until probably Thursday or Friday at which time he would set bail for Mr. Womack. Until that time Mr. Womack would remain in jail. Dewey thanked the clerk and disconnected. It was not unusual for small towns to be slower than molasses on a cold winter's day to get anything done. He called it 'cowboy time.' A cowboy will tell you he'll do something for you and he will – eventually, but it will be in his own good time. Claude Dewey grew up in just such a small community and knew about cowboy time. He reviewed the last e-mail exchange between his partner, Dan Howe, and the small town attorney. Claude noted the attached federal protection document attached, and his blood ran cold. It looked pretty damn legitimate to Claude and wondered how stupid his partner could be to refuse to dump the case.

With Dan Howe's refusal to even consider the document was like lighting the fuse to a bomb which potentially might blow up in their face. He quickly thumbed through the contents of the pictures, and they looked like inventions with one flying disk machine which was years ahead of its time, and he could only imagine the total worth -- to say nothing of the stunning works of art. Claude taught his partners to pander to small time semi-legal hustlers who put the screws to people in such a manner it was to their advantage to pay them off rather than pay huge sums to fight them. They lived quite comfortably sucking the souls out of others whose only crime was trusting a highly top-heavy unregulated legal system. As he returned the Womack folder to the file cabinet, he made a mental note to talk with Dan Wednesday morning about the case, urge him to reconsider returning the documents, and dropping Womack as a client altogether. He didn't care to deal with Homeland Security. He heard stories. He knew they could be ruthless.

* * * * * * *
Bubba drove by the sheriff's office the next afternoon and asked Will if he could have his permission to visit Earl and take him a double patty belly-buster with cheese, fries, and a vanilla shake from the Dairy Queen. He explained it was a peace offering, and he wasn't trying to kill his brother with a nickel-note heart attack. Will laughed and told him he was free to visit Earl anytime he wanted as long as his jailers were on duty. If it was after hours, just go to the back door and knock. Bubba walked across the street to the old stone two story jail. They never used the second story, but extended the back with a more modern lean-to affair for the comfort of the jailers and their one 'guest' cell they sometime referred to as the 'celebrity suite.' It was the only jail cell in Texas with its own private bathroom with shower.

Bubba saw Earl dressed in his prisoner garb what looked like a pair of black and gray striped pajamas and wearing a pair of dollar store house shoes. Earl looked up and saw Bubba walk in and greet the jailers with two big sacks from the Dairy Queen in his hands. He asked if he could have supper with his brother. They already knew he was coming and waved him back to Earl's cell. It wasn't even locked. Earl opened the cell door and grinned at Bubba. "What chu' doing here, Bubba?" Earl asked almost like a challenge with just a soupηon of joy from the surprise.

"I don't give a shit what you done! Goddamn it, you's still my little brother, and I don't want you to starve to death. Besides, I wanna' make damn sure it's me what gets to throw the switch on the electric chair and fry yore' sweet ass to make you go bye-bye," Bubba said and grinned. He got a laugh out of Earl. Bubba held out both sacks, "They's both the same. You can take yore' pick so's you know one ain't poisoned. You just gotta' remember, the flagon with the dragon is the brew what is true," he said and laughed.

Earl took one. "Thanks, Brother, your heart always was bigger than yore' brain. Even if you had straw for brains, and were in your right mind, you shouldn't be here right now after what I done," Earl lamented, and they sat down to overload their systems on chemicals and carcinogens. Bubba thought Mel Brooks might possibly make a hit Broadway tune out of the concept.    

They ate and chatted casually. "Will you look after my mom, Bubba?" Earl asked.

"We went wiff' the sheriff and talked with her for few minutes. She was upset and blamed me for ever' thing," Bubba said.

"T'weren't your fault, Brother," Earl said without nuance about to eat a french fry.

"I told her I'd try to help her, but I didn't wanna' hear no more talk about it being my fault. I told her I'd give her some time to simmer down and after I talked with you, I'd come by and see what we can work out," Bubba said.

"I'd appreciate it, Bubba. She'd do better under your care than mine. At this point, I don't care about myself, but I do care about my mom. She weren't right to accuse you of my deeds or problems, Brother. I'm sorry for her words," Earl said with quiet contrition.

"I promise, I'll do my best to take care of Erna Mae no matter the outcome, Brother," Bubba said.

"I know you will. You would without me asking. It's just the kind of man you are, Bubba. You were right about them things you said about me and my mom. When you ain't never had very much you come to count on the kindness of your friends and neighbors. I guess we got lulled into a mindset of expecting it, and that ain't right," Earl said.

"Would it do any good for me to ask why you done what you done?" Bubba asked.

"Naw, I don't think so. I done it. I ain't real proud of myself, but I ain't gonna' deny it when I go before the judge. I'm gonna' tell him the truth," Earl said.

"As dumb as I can be sometimes, didn't you think I would eventually put two and two together?" Bubba asked.

"I knew you would. I's count'n on it," Earl said and grinned, "I took four of your uncles guns. I knew you'd discover they's gone sooner or later," he added.

"Four? They only found three in your closet," Bubba said surprised.

"That's 'cause I sold the fourth one, a handgun, to Womack for thirty-five bucks. I told him I stole it from your house, and he said he didn't care where it came from; your loss was his gain. It had one a them brass plates on it, too. He said he wanted it for his wife," Earl said and grinned.

"Wait a minute. I'm beginning to see a pattern here," Bubba said, "I think I underestimated you, Brother," he added.

"Maybe. Maybe not. I ain't real sure myself," Earl replied and grinned sheepishly.

"Are they feeding you good, Brother?" Bubba asked.

"Are you kidding? It's better food than I's get'n at home. You know my mom can't cook worth a tinker's dam. Hell, they fed me a good breakfast this morning. I had a nice sandwich for lunch with some homemade German potato salad. It was damn good, too. Better'n we get over to the Willow Creek. I won't need supper after this belly-buster. I'll tell 'um to let Clarence have my supper. Thanks for the treat, Bubba, and your visit," Earl said.

"You gonna' tell me the truth about what's going on, Earl?" Bubba asked.

"Womack's been blackmailing me, Bubba," Earl said.

"How?" Bubba asked surprised.

Earl went on to tell Bubba about the great job he had in Belton after they got back from the Middle East which he quit and came home suddenly. "Remember our old buddy, Erin Mascaro?" Earl asked.

"Yeah, you got a medal for saving his life," Bubba replied.

"Remember I told you I bought a sweet little used car and was doing well, but I didn't have it when I come home?" Earl asked.

"Yeah, you told me you sold it before you left," Bubba said.

"I didn't. It's on the bottom of Lake Belton," Earl said. He went on to tell Bubba how their buddy was drunk, pulled a gun on Earl and threatened to shoot him if he didn't drive through a package liquor store in Killeen. Earl did what Erin told him, and he robbed the place. After Erin sobered up, he let Earl go, but they were looking for Earl's car because they suspected the driver was an accomplice to the robbery. Earl ditched the car in Lake Belton and hitch-hiked back home where he laid-low until the smoke cleared and memories lapsed. His dad was still alive at the time, and Earl never left the ranch for a year. Somehow, Womack found out and told Earl he went to see Erin in prison. He told Earl the man said he would sign an affidavit he lied in court and Earl really was an accomplice in the crime. "Womack's been threatening me ever since. He told me unless I got something on you so's he could suck money out of your inheritance he was going to send a letter to the sheriff of Killeen and the state attorney general. First he was after Billy Daniels, but when your uncle died he smelled inheritance, and took after you like a heat-seeking missile. I didn't want to do it, but I didn't know what else to do, Bubba," Earl lamented.

"So you set him up to take a fall," Bubba said like he put the final piece together in his puzzled mind.

"Pretty much, Brother. I knew them barns was under the protection of the federal government, and I took a chance they probably still were. I remember your uncle talking with us about it. Remember, we saw them feds come out a number of times to check on his shit? After the regime change, they pretty much forgot about him, but I knew they were still considered off-limits to anyone who weren't suppose to be in there. I figured, if I could make Womack look bad and his honesty came into question, he might think twice before he lied about my part in the liquor-store heist in Killeen," Earl explained.

"Have you talked with Erin?" Bubba asked.

"No, I's afraid to. I didn't know if they might still be on the lookout for me," Earl said, "I heard Erin refused to give them the name of the man what was driving the car. He said the guy was innocent. He held a gun on him and told him he would kill him if he refused to do what he told him. It seems strange he agreed to change his story, especially since I saved his damn life," Earl added.

"It does, indeed, Brother," Bubba said like he was musing, "What now, Earl," he asked.

"I just don't give a damn no more, Bubba. I think I done seen the light of day about religion and what it can do to a man. I don't care if I burn forever in hell, I don't wanna' be like Womack. If I have to go to prison for life or become a slave, I don't care, but I wanted to do something to bite him in his fat ass so's he wouldn't get off scot-free," Earl said disgusted.

After a bit more conversation, Bubba decided it was time to go and said his 'good-byes' to Earl and the jailers. He walked back over to the sheriff's office and found Will starting to close up shop for the evening. After some chat about his visit with Earl, Bubba asked Will how long a warrant was viable?

"Thirty days, Cowboy. Why do you ask?" Will asked.

"Earl just told me there were four guns he took from my place, and he sold a hand gun to Womack for his wife to keep around the house in case anyone tried to break in. He said he told Womack he stole it from my property, but the preacher said he didn't care; my loss was his gain," Bubba said.

Will got a blank look on his face. "That's tangible evidence, and he didn't say nothing about no hand gun. Damn, that little bastard, you heard me stand there and tell him if he didn't tell me the truth, he could be brought up on more charges. That's blatant withholding of evidence. If there's anything Judge LaFleur hates it's a liar. This will not go well for the spiritual leader of our community," Will lamented in mock concern, "If Earl testifies he told Womack he stole it from you, his ass is grass. You got time? Let's run over there and ask Mrs. Womack about it. If he told her it was stolen, he's in deep shit up to his eyeballs," Will allowed.

The sheriff, his deputies, and Bubba jumped into Will's patrol car and drove to the parsonage. Mrs. Womack answered the door. She looked puzzled. "What can I do for you men?" she asked.

"We need to come in and take another look around, Mrs. Womack. The search warrant I gave your husband yesterday is good for thirty days. We're looking for a small handgun Mr. Womack bought for you from Earl Hickson. Do you know where it is, ma'am?" Will asked.

"Why, yes, it's in my sewing room. I don't know why he bought it. He paid Earl thirty-five dollars for it, but I won't ever use it. I'm afraid of guns, Sheriff," she said.

"Did Pastor Womack say anything about it being stolen, Mrs. Womack?" Will asked.

"No, he said Bubba gave it to Earl, and the poor young man needed money, so Clarance, being the wonderful Christian man he is, wanted to help him out and bought it from him," she replied.

"Can you show us to your sewing room, and we'll be happy to remove it for you, ma'am," Will said like he was doing her a public service.

"Yes, of course, Sheriff, right this way," she said.

The four men followed her, she opened a drawer in her sewing cabinet, and there was the .35 caliber hand gun with a small brass plate on the bottom. Will took his pen, put it through the trigger guide, retrieved a plastic bag from his back pocket, asked Bubba to hold it open, and dropped the gun inside. They thanked Mrs. Womack graciously for her time, apologized for disturbing her, and returned to the station. Will told his deputies and Bubba to keep their mouths shut around Womack about finding the hand gun. He would take that up separately with the judge.

Bubba couldn't wait to call Jack and tell him the latest news. "You got plans for supper, Brother?" Bubba asked over his cell phone.

"I's just gonna' open a can of something and get to bed early. Tonight's gonna' be the night Billy's posse is gonna' do their thing, and I wanna' be fresh in the morning to find out how it comes out," Jack said.

"Screw opening a can! I'm in town. I'll drive over, brave them Kamikaze gooses to gather you, and take you to supper over to Nacho Mamas. Yore' chassis looks like it could use a good grease job. It might loosen that tight little asshole of yorn and stop the squeak when you fart. I'll fill you in on some interesting things what happened today," Bubba said.

"Squeaking farts can be embarrassing. Okay, smooth talker, I'll shelve the can, and be ready when you get here. I'll be waiting on the porch in case Satan and Matilda decide to go into def-con exterminate mode," Jack said and laughed.

They went to dinner and Jack was floored by Bubba's conversation with Earl and discovering the other gun. "It don't look good for Clarence, but you never know what kind of deal his shyster attorneys might try. I've seen men walk away from worse; especially, if it's a first-time offense. He could get off with a stern warning and probation," Jack allowed, "You seem in better spirits this evening. Are you comfortable with Earl's explanation?" he asked.

"I been so confused and hurt I didn't know what to think. It was the first time I talked with Earl since we went to breakfast together a week ago, and I threw my cards on the table. I didn't know what I expected, but I thought it might have something to do with my being honest with him. I feel better he didn't let my honesty bother him much," Bubba replied. Bubba went on to tell Jack Earl's story of their buddy Erin Mascaro and his unfortunate decision to rob a drive through liquor store in Killeen. Jack sat spellbound by Bubba's latest revelation. He began to change his mind about Earl Hickson and could understand why Bubba seemed somewhat relieved.

"A trip to Huntsville to talk with Mr. Mascaro couldn't do no harm, Bubba. He could either confirm Womack's story or shoot him down," Jack said, "Either way, at least we'll have more information to work with," he added.

"Would you go with me, Brother?" Bubba asked.

"You couldn't talk me out of it, Bubba," Jack said and grinned, "I ain't had this much fun in years, and thanks to you, I'm feeling young enough to take on the challenge," he added.   

"And one other thing – and I wouldn't expect no proto boner, neither – I'd pay your standard rate as an attorney – " Bubba didn't finish his sentence.

"You want me to represent Earl Hickson?" Jack asked amazed.

"Yeah," Bubba replied sheepishly.

"I won't say 'no,' Bubba, but lemme' think about it. Let's give it a little time. We'll talk some more. Depending on our family's success or failure with them three attorneys in Austin and Judge LeFleur's opinion, it just might change the picture some. I don't know if LeFleur would allow me to represent Earl since he knows I think on you as family. Since he's come to think on you and me as part of his extended family, he's gonna' have a tough time remaining objective. He would have ample reason to recuse himself, but I doubt he will. Small town judges develop tough hides and not much influences them one way or t'other. There's a little thing in law called conflict of interest – in other words my close association with you might sway my thoughts about Earl, and I couldn't represent him honestly without prejudice," Jack explained, "You's coming from your gut, Bubba, and you're allowing your love for Earl to overlook what he done to you. That's a conflict of interest. Law tries to work from reason. There ain't no doubt, sometimes it fails miserably, but until we get a better system, it's all we got to work with," he added.
"Okay, I understand, but keep it in mind. I won't bring it up again, but the offer is open if you see yore' way clear to represent him," Bubba said.

"If the possibility arose, would you want him for your slave, Bubba?" Jack asked.

"No! Absolutely not! I wouldn't even consider it," Bubba replied firmly, "I refuse to place ma'self in that position. I'd be like a fat lady what works in a doughnut factory. I wouldn't mind if he was to become one of Billy Daniels' punishment slaves. In fact, if Billy would accept him, I'd buy Earl and give him to Billy. I could see him regularly and know he's being well cared for. Earl might have a rough time with it at first, but he's always been a tight-ass about ever' thing anyway. Like old Orville, it just might broaden his horizons a mite -- so to speak," Bubba said and grinned.   

"It might make Earl wake up and learn to take responsibility for his actions and himself," Jack said.

"I believe in miracles," Bubba said, and the cowboys shared a laugh.

Bubba asked the mature waitress for a goose-bag to go. The poor lady had no idea what Bubba was talking about, but she was used to cowboys. Nothing would surprise her anymore. Bubba bagged up the scraps of meat and fat from their steak picado, extra bread, and tortillas left on the table. He was bound and determined he was going to win-over them two devil geese, Satan and Matilda. He drove Jack back to his ranch and got out of the truck. From far away, here they come -- half running, half flying -- in attack mode, but they stopped dead in their tracks when they saw Bubba pull bread from his bag and offer it to them. He began to break it into smaller pieces and toss it to them. They looked at each other like, what the fuck? As if they read each other's minds, they ran to Bubba in a fast waddle and made gaggling sounds as they accepted and gobbled up his treats. One brick set in place does not a highway make; however, Bubba paid his toll for that evening, and they allowed he might not be so bad after all. They would take his generosity under consideration.

* * * * * * *
Wednesday morning early, Claude Dewey got a wake up call from his firm's secretary. "Hello, Mr. Dewey, this is Ester calling. I think you better call your partners and get down to your offices as soon as you can," she said.

"What is it, Ester? What's going on?" Dewey asked.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, sir. You must see for yourself," she said and disconnected before Claude could ask anymore questions. He called his partners to meet him at the office as soon as possible; something big was up, but the secretary wouldn't tell him. They agreed to meet him there. When they arrived the secretary was waiting outside on a bench under a tree. They walked with her to the office. Dewey opened the door, and they walked into an empty space. There was nothing in any of the three main offices or the reception area. Desks, files, chairs, pictures, framed diplomas, potted plants, even the carpets were gone. The only thing left was a single envelope with the names, Dewey, Cheetum, and Howe neatly written on the front. Inside was a letter on Homeland Security stationary: Dear Sirs, You were duly warned you were dealing with a Federal Protection case, yet you chose to ignore it. Any attempts to investigate this seizure of information will be met with equally swift retribution. It was signed by the head of Homeland Security.

End of Chapter 48 ~ Him Who Made The Seven Stars
Copyright ~ © ~ 2013 ~ Waddie Greywolf
All Rights Reserved~
Mail to: waddiebear@yahoo.com
WC = 15898

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