from Mustang Hill, chapter 11

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from Mustang Hill, chapter 11

Post by Ranger52899 on Sun Mar 13, 2016 11:27 am

 An early version of the beginning of chapter 11

 

 

The call from Jerry Banks came just before eight pm to confirm the Guatemalan ghost company. The call from Luath came as they were sitting down to breakfast. Flynn got to the phone first. In the last two days Dale had noticed that he and Jasper were making sure that they reached the phone ahead of anyone else, and Flynn answered it quietly, his voice lost at first in the clatter of people sitting down and Paul laying out china, but Jasper was watching him and went still, and Paul put dishes down to look at him, and Dale felt his stomach chill as the room went quiet, knowing Flynn too well to mistake the body language. Flynn’s voice was calm and steady, but his face was expressionless.

 

“- yes. When was that? And that’s been officially released?”

 

Riley was watching Flynn, his body as stiff as Flynn’s. Paul pulled out a chair and sat down, and Flynn put a hand on him, standing behind him, face expressionless.

 

“Stay there, I’ll come get you. Yes, neither of you need to be driving this morning. Ok.”

 

“What?” Riley demanded as he cut the connection. “Who was it?”

 

Jasper put both hands on his shoulders, and Riley glanced up and stopped. He’d gone white, Dale could see the colour gone from his face, which made his eyes look larger and darker than usual. Flynn sat down at the table and put his hand over Paul’s.

 

“That was Luath. There’s been some more DNA evidence found at Ground Zero. There may be one or more new identifications made in the next few days.”

 

There was another horrible silence, and then Riley slid over into the next chair along at the table and put his arms fiercely around Paul, whose eyes were wet and reddening. Paul twisted around to hold him, still sounding ridiculously calm, although there was a catch in his breathing.

 

“They’re going to come out here while they wait?”

 

“They got it unofficially confirmed through one of Luath’s contacts late last night, and Luath got them on a plane.” Flynn said quietly. “They’re at Cheyenne now, waiting for the connection for Jackson airport. I’ll go out and get them.”

 

Dale felt Jasper’s hand rub lightly over his back between his shoulder blades, and glanced up to see his face. He understood the look he was getting.

 

Are you all right?

 

Yes for pete’s sake I’m fine, why worry about me at a moment like this?

 

There was another long moment’s silence.

 

“It won’t be Rog.” Riley said angrily without letting go of Paul. “It never is, there’s over a thousand people there still unidentified, and even if they’ve found DNA it doesn’t mean they’ll be able to do anything with it. It’s pointless worrying about it.”

 

“Yes, you’re quite right.” Paul kissed the top of Riley’s head and got up, and Dale saw Flynn pass him a handkerchief and run a hand down his back. Paul wiped his face briskly and put bacon on the warming skillet on the stove. “Flynn sit down and eat, you’ll still make it to Jackson ahead of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No one really ate very much.

 

“This is no time for worrying about ‘grounding’ or anything else,” Dale said savagely under his breath to Jasper, following him out to the corral after Flynn took the four by four and headed into Jackson. “Ri’s too upset to do anything useful and you want to be near Paul. Stay here. I’ll do what needs doing.”

 

Which if he started with Bandit and crew, and then included the cattle and sheep herds on his way back, he could cover in a day. The education in animal management he’d received over the past year had been thorough and aimed to build confidence, he was more than capable of the basics. Jasper put a long arm in front of him to rest on the corral rail which effectively blocked his path, and turned to give him a long and steady look, which irrationally made Dale still angrier.


What? This is serious.”

“And your being grounded isn’t?”


 

There were times when he still thought cowboys were all insane. Dale gave Jasper a slow look, not following this in the slightest.

 

“Comparatively? No of course not!”

“To me, yes it is.” Jasper said simply. He transferred the hand from the fence to Dale’s shoulder, grasping with enough strength to make Dale look at him. “Don’t think that Flynn, or Luath or Darcy would see it any differently. I want you to take your journal and sit in the kitchen-”


 

That’s ridiculous!

 

And this isn’t any time to be making things harder for them Aden, shut your stupid mouth.

 

Jasper had felt him stiffen, and had stopped talking. He was waiting, watching Dale’s face, and Dale got control of himself and would have apologised, save that Jasper instead of reproaching, put an arm around his neck, pulled him close and held him, strongly enough not to let Dale pull away.  Body to body with him, against the familiarity of his chest, bonier than Flynn’s and with quieter hands and a habit of leaning his head against yours that was entirely Jasper and was deeply, saturatingly calming, Dale took another breath and felt a lot of the anger seep away. There was restraint in Jasper’s arms, certainly, but there was a containment to it, an understanding that held no reproach at all.

 

“We do not need you to be quiet and out of the way, or to free us up.” Jasper said in his ear. “I want you to take your journal into the kitchen, sit and think about this, and write out an explanation. Why you’re angry and why I’m making you angry. Do that for me.”

Because it’s –


 

“Because it feels bloody pointless and there are things I could do to practically help.” Dale muttered, and felt Jasper drop a kiss on his forehead.

 

“It’s not pointless, and it’s not that I don’t value your taking care of us. Think it through. This isn’t a crisis. Will you do that?”  

 

When Jasper spoke like that in your ear it was difficult to think about refusing him anything much. Dale found himself nodding unwillingly, calming down in spite of himself, and Jasper tightened his arms before he let go.

 

“I’ll be back for lunch. Luath and Darcy aren’t guests, and neither are you.”

 

What the heck did any of that mean to anyone normal?

 

Riley was pulling his jacket on outside the kitchen door, and gave Dale a look from under raised eyebrows.

 

“What?”

 

It sounded so childish and so petty. Dale fought for some seconds to put it into a more adult form.

 

“Jasper felt this morning would be best spent writing.”



Riley looked at him, then laughed and zipped his jacket to his chin.

 

“What did you try to talk him into?”

 

“I didn’t.” Dale protested. Riley shook his head.

 

“Yeah yeah. ‘Stand aside, I’ll do whatever needs doing today?’ ‘Women and children first’?”

 

“I told him there were more important things than being grounded,” Dale said, stung, “Not being a high school student.”
He saw Riley’s face change, darkening, and Riley brushed past him, down off the porch.



“You still don't get it, do you? It isn't a game you feel like playing, then stop when you don't, or when it's not convenient.  It just fucking is, and the sooner you realise that, the better off we'll be.” 

 

He stalked towards the corral and Dale stared after him, shaken. There was no question why Riley was sensitive this morning – no question at all – but that cut went very deep indeed, and it was one of the very few times he’d truly heard Riley swear.

 

“Dale.” Paul said behind him on the porch. It was obvious he’d heard. Paul’s eyes were sympathetic, and they were firm too.  

 

“Don’t you pay any attention to anything he says right now. It isn’t you he’s angry with, you’re just a safe target this morning.”

Many a true word was spoken in jest or snapped in an argument, and Riley’s opinion was usually acutely to the point. Mechanically, Dale got the journal and a pen and put both on the kitchen table, feeling horribly like a child in disgrace. A particularly stupid child.


 

And that’s the implication that you hurt Riley with, isn’t it? That you’re sneering at the lifestyle he lives by, that you essentially implied he- and Flynn and Roger, and anyone else here -  was wrong for thinking these things normal or appropriate- it is not bloody appropriate to keep a useful pair of hands sitting at a damn table writing irrelevant rubbish when practically, strategically, they’re needed on higher priorities!

 

And why do you bloody think Jasper asked it of you? To waste your time? Because you’re no damned help? Because it’s a power thing, you’re a lesser being, or your place isn’t to do anything useful, just to sit writing trite bullshit because he says so? Grow up Aden.  Riley’s right, you know a lot better than this.

 

Barely aware of Paul washing up, Dale steepled his hands and leaned his head against them.

 

I have multiple degrees. I’m capable of one hell of a lot more than sitting around writing schoolboy essays on nothing that really matters when Luath and Darcy are on a damn plane going through hell, and so is everyone else here. I could be doing something half way bloody useful.

 

Paul picked up the phone one handed when it rang, listened for a minute and nodded briskly.

 

“Yes, just a moment please. Dale, it’s Jerry Banks?”

 

Dale mutely held out a hand and Paul passed the phone over. Rubbing at a threatening headache behind his eyes, Dale got up and walked to stand at the kitchen door. Riley was alone in the corral, still tacking up Snickers. It appeared to be taking him a long time, and from what Dale could see that was largely because Riley was leaning against Snickers and not doing anything at all.

 

“Dale, there’s an update on the two Guatemalan companies,” Jerry Banks said in his ear. “I’ve been with the forensics team most of the night, taking apart the business plan while the team out in Guatemala do an audit on the books, and the board are flying out with their legal team for a meeting at noon today with us and the FBI. The FBI are planning to make their first arrests at the end of the meeting. Three more teams flew out last night to check up on suspicious entities in two other countries, I’m waiting to hear from them. I know you’re never interested in being in at the kill, but this is all your work. Can you join this meeting on conference call?”

 

There would be all hell going on in Jerry’s office suites right now. Dale knew it well, having pulled no few all nighters himself on cases like these. People would be slipping away for a five minute shave and another shot of caffeine, changing shirts and ties while they continued to prepare for the meeting, the cold blast of the a/c on high to get rid of the overnight stale smell of sweat, coffee, old food drying on plates and the artificial air fresheners.

 

The kitchen was quiet and warm, and smelled of fresh bread, and the yard was cold and fresh, and still. Pulling boots on one handed, Dale walked out onto the porch and jogged down the steps, heading towards the corral. Banks was still pouring data in his ear when he climbed the fence, ducked under Snickers’ nose and put an arm around Riley’s waist, turning him around. Riley transferred silently from Snickers’ neck to his, hanging on to him with enough strength to make breathing difficult. He was shuddering slightly. Dale held him tight, still aware of the information Banks was downloading at speed. From the sound of things he had at least a second call on hold, and probably a third.

 

“Jerry, I’ll check – I’ll consider checking – anything you want me to look over, but the bit I was interested in is done. Yes. Well if you want help to put together the legal dossier let me know. Good luck with the meeting.”

 

He snapped the phone shut, pocketed it and gave his full attention to Riley. Snickers was nosing at Riley’s back, nudging him, and finally Riley lifted his head and pushed Snickers’ invasive nose from out between them. His eyes were red and his breath was hitching slightly, but he managed something like a smile.

 

“Sorry. I’m sorry I bit your head off, I didn’t mean it.”

 

“Yes, you did.” Dale said without heat. “But it’s ok.”

 

He hadn’t let go of Riley’s hips, holding him still to look at his face searchingly enough that Riley’s eyes slid away.

 

“Stop it. I just convinced Paul I was fine to go do – something-”

 

Climb something. Swim something. He didn’t mean work. Dale ran the tips of his fingers gently over Riley’s cheek, knowing how it hit him and understanding it. Sometimes Riley needed to do it, to be alone somewhere, to have that fight against something inanimate, it wasn’t so different from the way Jasper wanted to be alone in the dark in open space, and he wouldn’t care about the chill of the water, except in Riley there was a restlessness to it. An itching need to burn off whatever was nagging at him.

 

On instinct, with suddenly more surety than he’d felt all morning, Dale slid both hands into Riley’s back pockets, pulled him closer and knew he’d got it right when Riley’s arms folded hard around his neck and Riley’s lean body almost ground against him from knee to neck he pressed so hard, and Dale found himself tightening his own hands to the strength Riley wanted. Snickers gave them another nudge and Riley let go of Dale’s neck long enough to grab his arm.

 

They climbed the corral fence and Dale broke into a jog with Riley leading him by the hand as far as the stables. Empty this morning, the boxes stood clean, lined and fresh, the stables were cool and smelled of straw, and Riley shut the heavy wooden door, latched it and switched on the heat lamp over the big loose box. It cast an orangey yellow glow over the thick bed of straw below, immediately radiating warmth that stretched as far as the flagstoned walkway. There he hesitated, with a delicacy and a protectiveness in it that Dale well understood, and Dale put an arm around him, turning Riley to face him and holding Riley’s jeaned hips again firmly in his hands while he reached for Riley’s mouth. He felt Riley gladly take that permission to let go. There were several rather confused minutes mixed up in straw which got everywhere, and denim, and Riley’s hands in his hair and the weight and hardness of Riley from mouth to ankles, then Riley struggled free long enough to pull down a saddle blanket which cushioned the straw somewhat, and his jacket and shirt came off and Dale sat up long enough to get rid of his own. The hands which he’d always seen be so deft and skilful with horses and any stock were just as skilled on him. It made Dale wonder with what little coherence he had left just what sort of education Riley had gained from Jasper, Flynn and Paul – Flynn had certainly enlarged his own education enormously over the past few months, where Dale knew it had been woefully lacking. He’d never had any complaints from the few who had experimented with his technical knowledge outside the office, but Flynn had widened his horizons before all recognition including the revelation that this could actually be a great deal of fun and not necessarily to be taken seriously, and there was a liveliness and a grace to Riley that was as enchanting as Riley himself was, to which Dale found himself responding wholeheartedly. Flynn had taught him too how very different this was with someone you loved, and how delightfully easy it could be. Riley’s skin was warm and soft as silk, and slim but solid muscles covered the curves of his shoulders, the planes of his chest and hips and the length of his long legs, with more trained weight than Dale knew he carried, and quite surprising flexibility. Where Flynn growled and made soft, deep and vibrant animal sounds when you really got him interested, Riley tended to laugh, although there was a need in the grasp of his hands and his urgency that said he wasn’t finding too much funny this morning and desperately needed something else to think about, please, right now. Dale bent his attention to distracting him and taking as long as possible about it – which with Riley in this mood took a good deal of skill – but Flynn’s teaching strategies were comprehensive and easily memorable, and Dale had always been a keen student.

 

He wasn’t quite sure of the time when he went back to the still open journal on the table, but he felt a good deal better and he’d left Riley without red eyes, with a much more genuine smile and some energy in his step as he went to finish tacking up Snickers. Dale put the phone on the kitchen counter with an apologetic smile at Paul, and Paul picked a strand of straw out of his hair without comment as he passed, handing it to him.

 

“Interesting phone call?”

 

“Riveting.” Dale gave him a look of straight faced earnestness that made Paul laugh, and sat down at the table in front of the journal. It was about half full now, and while looking at a blank page sometimes raised that feeling of frustration, he didn’t hate it. There was a lot of good sense in this book, a lot of rooting. At times he thought the book was more real evidence of who Dale Aden was than could be found anywhere else, up to and including in his head.

 

“I don’t want to do this.” he said frankly to Paul. Paul glanced back at him, floured to the wrists and making pastry.


“What are you doing, hon?”


 

“An essay on a set subject, courtesy of Jas. Subtitled by Riley as: What I Don’t Get This Week. Stop laughing, this is serious.”

 

Paul wrapped a ball of pastry in Clingfilm and put it in the fridge, going to wash his hands.

 

“And what don’t you get this week?”

 

“....what does Women and Children First mean?” Dale asked, thinking about it. “Apart from the obvious. I know the quote in context with the Titanic, but....?”


“It was an Edwardian joke, against the rather over the top chivalry of the age,” Paul took several packs out of the fridge and put a pan to warm on the stove top. “That you only had to shout the words ‘women and children’ and all good men completely lost their heads and started rushing about slaying metaphorical dragons. It works quite well on Flynn if you substitute the words ‘Riley’s late’.”


 

Or if you gave any evidence to Dale Aden of a crisis. Riley could be searingly to the point.

 

“What?” Paul asked gently. Dale sighed, propping both elbows on the table and steepling his hands.

 

“Riley said it to me this morning. After I rushed to Jasper telling him I’d take over all the work needing doing, he was to stay with you and Riley, and I could play at being grounded at a more convenient time for us all.”

 

“He didn’t go for it?”

 

Dale stifled a rather forlorn laugh. “He didn’t. He was very kind about it. This is exactly what you mean about skewed priorities, isn’t it? I’m used to doing, fast, bang, when things go wrong.”

 

“Which has bailed us out more than a few times.” Paul agreed. “What’s the difference?”

 

“Panic.” Dale leaned against his steepled hands, letting the breath go. “Get out of the way, I’ll fix everything. It’s as paternalistic as Riley says it is.”

 

“I’m positive he didn’t say that.” Paul deftly skinned an onion and chopped it, dropping it into the pan. “What did he say?”

 

“Effectively that I needed to realise this lifestyle wasn’t a game, I didn’t just get to do it when I was in the mood.”

Paul’s look towards him was tender enough that Dale found himself wincing.


 

“I don’t think that’s fair. You haven’t had much fun at all with the last nine months, they’ve been nonstop hard work for you.”

“Oh there’s been a lot of good bits too.” Dale picked up the pen, turning it over in his fingers. “But no. I’m not good at games. What he means is that as soon as I hit what I see is a big enough crisis, I think everything should give way to what’s most practical. I did it with the project when I thought I could handle the stress myself and not upset anyone. I did it the day Flynn told Riley and me to go off for the day during the harvest.”

“You’re very hard on yourself.” Paul turned over gently sizzling onion, watching him. “
I don’t think it’s that you don’t take us seriously enough. I think sometimes you take us much too seriously, you worry a lot about getting it right and doing as we expect of you. You do have a long ingrained habit of putting yourself and what you need to the back of your to do list when you’re under pressure, and I think there’s control in there too. You feel safe letting us set priorities until things go wrong.”


 

“You mean I only go along with your priorities if I agree with them.” Dale said bleakly. “That is it, isn’t it? It’s a control thing. And perfectionists are control addicts.”

“Honey no one is going around awarding medals for doing this.” Paul said firmly. “This is a relationship, not a grade school. Some of it too is that you don’t see any value in actions that don’t include the hard stuff. You don’t like doing anything you don’t see the point to; that’s a lot of the reason you don’t want to write this morning.”


 

“But I don’t see the point in sitting here when I could be making a difference to what Jas and Riley need to do this morning.” Dale said plaintively. “There is no way to make it look useful or practical or in any way – helpful..... Except that doesn’t matter, does it? Jas told me what he wanted me to do and that’s the end of it.”

 

“Smart cookie.” Paul approved, adding bacon to the onion. “Honey there is method in the madness. You might not understand what we ask but not understanding doesn’t make it purposeless.”
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Re: from Mustang Hill, chapter 11

Post by ocelotspots00 on Mon Mar 14, 2016 1:21 am

Just a quick note to say how much I appreciate you sharing these snippets with us.  It's fascinating, seeing you put the river of the first pass out there, and then carefully going back through, analyzing where words become wordiness, where the impact of a revelation is getting diluted and needs to be pulled to another location, when too much information too soon takes away a bit of the mystery that lets the reader inject themselves into the "why?" (such as what Luath was thinking, standing alone at the fence in the darkness).

Never let it be said that you're putting your stuff out there "unedited."
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Re: from Mustang Hill, chapter 11

Post by Chris Dangerfield on Tue Mar 15, 2016 11:48 am

ocelotspots00 wrote:Never let it be said that you're putting your stuff out there "unedited."
So well noted. I so agree. There is such finesse in all of the choices that make this body of work really one large Tome-of-Wonder. Where it is TRULY so much more than the sum of it's parts.
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Re: from Mustang Hill, chapter 11

Post by jkfan on Wed Mar 16, 2016 5:42 am

I've loved reading these pieces.  To me, they've enhanced parts of the story.  I don't have the writer's eye for good editing, I'm afraid.  I'm greedy - and I want to read every word. 

Thank you, Ranger, for sharing these with us.
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Dale and Riley

Post by joanne70 on Sun May 08, 2016 5:14 am

9/11 is such a difficult and emotion topic to write on. Memories rush back and overwelm so it can make for hard reading, This is an exception to the rule. The emotion is there but you know Luath and Darcy are going to be fully supported. You also know the five at the Ranch will look after each other at the same time. Jasper is such a Top Laughing Riley as always hit the nail on the head. Hot sex scene and how you can wrtie one like that without actually mentioning any body part is bewildering. I love that Flynn has extended Dale's knowledge Very Happy

Thank you.

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Re: from Mustang Hill, chapter 11

Post by Ranger52899 on Mon May 09, 2016 3:22 pm

Thank you Joanne, that's lovely to hear that you enjoyed it!
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Re: from Mustang Hill, chapter 11

Post by Blue Stocking on Fri Jun 02, 2017 7:07 pm

Soooo I think I missed this bit when it was posted.  I can just feel Dale's deep frustration and need to help.  Feeling useless is so hard when you think you could be doing so much.   Thanks so much again for sharing these.
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