(The direct continuation of Cloud Shadows of Midnight)
By Atonia and Jo
Jo writing: Maximus, Caroline, Bud, Marie, Lachlan, Cort, Daisy, Ben, Mae, Rusty, George, Lucilla, Robin,
Jack Knife (Col. John Wales), Jeffrey, Julie, Javert, East, Egan, Jack Corbett, Zack, Jim, Nash, Charles, Steve, Monroe,
Dolly, Ardith, Parcher, Merry Men, Hank, O'Hara, Eve'lyn, Kate, Randolph, Sid, Sidda, Liz, Georgie, Glen, Noah, Glinda,
Muriel, Randolph Martin, Tom Golightly, Joshua Connor
Atonia writing: Terry, Dee, Alex, Linda, Jack, Tarwyn, John Biebe, Bethany, Max, Sophia, Dino, Anne, Hando, John
Cristofuoro, Richie, Cal, John Brennan, Colin, Andy, Ed, Nicholas, Arthur, Johnny, Jeff, Kim, Sean, Dennis, Mel,
Sandra, Carol, Dylan, Pat, Brenda, Kristen, Darren Lincoln, Stephen Maturin, Killick, Ray, Jor-El, Nan, Klara, Dennis,
Carlos, Dug, Ronny, Penny, Jannie, Jordan, Pearly, Jay Wilson, T. R. Holden
Nick ended the call and looked around the table. “I think he’s going to do it.”
Cal shook his head. “I find that hard to believe knowing Max.”
“He said yes?” Alex asked with a surprised look on his face.
“He said he had to think about it. So it wasn’t a NO.”
Kim stood up. “Nick, you’ve got some phone calls to make before we release this to the media.”
“Hold on a minute,” Nick put up a hand. “We’d better wait until Max thinks it over.”
Max was on his second glass of wine. He looked at Sophie and lifted his chin. “Johnny will hold this over me, Sophie. That is if he would agree.”
“Max, is this illegal?”
Max threw up his hands. “Illegal? Of course it is!”
“Are you sure you should get involved?”
“Common sense says I should deny all knowledge of Mayor Nick, Jor-El, and any of the others whose face popped up on the TV screen. I’m a banker, Sophie.” He sighed and set his glass down. “They are my brothers and therefore common sense has nothing to do with anything. When Colin walked out on that tarmac dressed as Superman, I totally lost what sense I had. We really have to think this through especially if I’m going to involve Johnny Vasari.” Max played with the stem of his glass for a moment and picked up his phone.
“Nick, this could get complicated. I think we need to have a face to face meeting.”
“We can drive out right now, Max.”
“Who is WE?”
“Alex, Cal, and Kim.”
“How did a nice guy like Alex get involved in this?”
“It was his idea, Max.”
Max rolled his eyes. “All right, I’m here.”
“We’re on our way.” Nick put the phone down and stood up. “I think we’ve got him. He wants a meeting so let’s go. Who’s driving?”
“I’ve got my car,” Cal said.
“I’m not riding in that!” Kim said, horrified at the thought of Cal’s trashy car.
“Linda’s car is here,” Alex said. "I need to tell her what’s in the works.”
“All right, but hurry.” Nick checked his watch and picked up his overcoat.
Nash had been thinking about East being killed and found it really upset him. As his house turned slowly round and round, he paced with it, going through all its rooms over and over. It made him feel entirely alone, East's being gone. On his 12th circuit, upon entering the living room yet once again, he saw a tall, slender form sitting on the window seat. Pausing, he stared at it, his lips parting, his heart speeding up.
"Aren't you going to say hello?" the form asked.
The form unfolded its long self and stood, smiling. "My God, Charles!"
Nash rushed across the room, grabbing Charles so hard he almost knocked him over.
"I'll take that as 'hello'," Charles grinned.
Holding tightly on to Charles' upper arms just in case he might disappear, Nash looked at his long-time best friend. "You came back."
"I came back."
"Didn't you want me to come back?"
"Oh, Charles, I wanted it so much!"
"That's why I came. You needed me."
Nash hugged Charles again. "I can't believe...wait...where did you go?"
"Oh, I've been around," Charles shrugged.
"I haven't seen you in a long time."
"I know. But here I am. You got any beer in the 'fridge?"
"Of course I have beer." He let go of Charles. "Come on."
"Coming," Charles said, his voice happy.
Linda stared open mouthed at Alex who’d just been telling her how they intended to explain the alien invasion and what happened at the airport. “You’re kidding me, Alex.”
“Nope, not kidding at all, doll. I mean, we gotta tell ‘em something. Nick’s already being pressured to make a statement and he can’t very well tell the truth.”
“When has Nick ever told the truth? Alex, this is crazy. Somebody’s going to get into trouble over this and trouble tends to spread around once it starts.”
“Look, there’s Jor-El, who’s saved our asses more than once. He was all over the TV screen. There’s Colin in his red cape, there’s Richie and Big Jack and, of all people, Pearly was also seen. So somebody’s got to come up with an explanation for this. NASA has clammed up. You know at first they were making some statements and then it all went silent. Colin’s got a business to run and he’s not lookin’ to advertise a Superman tow service. Richie, the public defender for the city…you know this could get right into our business, all of us. People start comparing A & B and come up with the same facial features then what?”
Linda stared off into space. “We’ve never been this exposed before.”
“That’s right and you know who else saw all that went down today? That sleezy fellow we were warned about, Percival whatshisname.”
“All right, all right. Go talk to Max.” She fished in her bag for her keys. “Just don’t forget where I am…though I could call Dennis to come and get me. He’s at the house.”
“Call Dennis because I don’t know how long this is going to take.” Alex kissed her and took her keys.
After Maximus was sure Caroline and Angel were settled in the house, he walked up to the barn with Hank, accompanied by Marcus, and saddled Mackenzie, his chestnut. He had a driving need to ride around the property, to see with his own eyes if everything were still as it had been. Hank wanted to see, too, so the three of them set out across the big pasture toward the distant woods.
"Looks the same," Hank observed after about an hour's riding. "Can't find nothing different."
"The same, yes, but moved by miles." It bothered him that there was something around that was powerful enough to do such a thing. He felt a sudden need to check the little family graveyard. It was there as well and he was relieved to see it. After that they curved further, riding through more woods, coming upon the area where Robin's tree houses had been. That, too, was the same. He kept going, coming down the long slope that led to Ben's largest pasture. Yes, there was Outlaw's Roost atop its hill. Well, he might as well go home, he decided. But as he turned and rode back up the slope, crossing the stream where they'd found who they thought was Zack but turned out to be Rusty, all the way he felt somehow unsettled.
Aubrey returned to Ashgrove with his family and people. Stephen dropped Killick off and drove over to the ranch. Everything seemed to be in order. It was getting late and he decided not to do a visual inspection. That could wait until morning. Right now he wanted to just be home without fear of some impending disaster hanging over his head.
Tarwyn went upstairs with the twins. They needed feeding and changing. Nan went to the kitchen to see what she could put together for a late meal.
In his den, Jack settled on the leather sofa and picked up his violin. In a moment he was walking around the room tuning his instrument and finally settled on something to play. It was his way of unwinding and finding a place of peace within himself. The day had been a roller coaster of emotions.
East answered the ringing house phone.
"It's me, Jack," Young Jack said.
"Hullo there, Jack."
"I, uh, well, I just wanted to check and make sure it's still ok for me to bring my stuff over in the morning."
"Ok? Sure it's ok, Jack. Need any help?"
"Nah, I don't have much. Mostly just my clothes. Does, um, how does Rusty, I mean, you think for sure he won't mind?" He'd seen how upset Rusty looked when he'd left Cort's.
"You want me to ask?"
"Ah, would you? I think it would set my mind at ease."
Carrying the phone, East went in search of Rusty, finding him on the back patio, staring at the pool. "I got Jack here on the phone. He wants to know if it's all right with you if he moves in."
Rusty closed his eyes a moment then took the phone from East. "Jack, Rusty here. Of course you're welcome here. That's been the plan, hasn't it?" He was thinking the diversion of it might help take his mind off things he really didn't want to be thinking about.
"I, well, you're sure"
"Jack, you'll fit right in and you're one of the easiest people to get along with I know."
"Ok, then. I don't have to anymore, you know, since Cort's is closer to Ranger than your place but I just kinda thought..."
"Might be good for you, Jack. Might be good for all of us."
John Biebe looked in the rearview mirror at Richie, who was being awfully quiet on the ride home. “Are you sure you’re all right, Richie?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Once the adrenalin stops pumping there’s always a slowdown.”
“It sure must have been pumping today. What caused you to join the fight at the airport?”
“Insanity,” Richie smiled. “I don’t know really. It looked like Jor-El was doing all he could and everybody else was just standing around watching. I’m a Marine, you know.”
“Yeah, I’m familiar with your background. You and Alex both are Marines. So you got up close and personal with the aliens. Did you see Zod?”
“Sure did. I watched Jor-El trying to talk to him and then Big Jack just blasted him and it was over.”
“Big Jack killed him?”
“Oh, yeah. I think Jor-El and Zod had a past history. It was a complicated thing.”
John pulled into the parking lot of Richie’s building. “If you need anything, Richie…”
“I know, I may need a ride to the airport tomorrow to pick up my vehicle. It’s in the K&R parking lot.”
“Let me know when you’re ready.” John waited until he was in his building before pulling away.
“He’s a brave fellow, John,” Beth said.
“Thin line between brave and crazy,” John replied.
Percival had overheard some of the family talking as they'd exited the hospital. What? None of them were dead and they were now closer to the city? That didn't make sense. How could they be closer to the city, lands, houses, livestock, people? But he'd definitely heard that said. He went out into the parking lot, intending to drive that way to see what he could see. If he could discover what had happened, then his book would be even more exciting. But Jor-El on television. That had to have definitively blown any cover these people were trying to maintain around themselves. He had to admit to a certain curiosity as just how they might attempt to explain the whole airport scenario away.
Max turned on the lights in the dining room. It was a seldom-used room but would suit for tonight’s meeting. He brought his laptop in and connected it to an outlet, fired it up and checked his Skype settings. Checking his watch he figured the time difference in California and placed a call to Johnny.
“Hello, Johnny, happy new year.”
“Max, I was just watching the news. Was that some of your tribe I saw on TV?”
“Um, some of them. Look, I’ve got some people coming in a few minutes. Would you stand by your computer for a bit? We may have need of your services.”
“Now you’ve got my attention. What services?”
“Um, I’ll let you know. Thanks.” Max ended the call before he spilt the beans too soon.
When Percival got to the edge of the area he'd heard mentioned, he pulled off the side of the road and just stared. Everything was the same. Nothing had moved. No...wait. Hadn't he heard Lachlan say his airfield was two hours west of town? He knew he'd heard that. But...but...his head felt really confused. It was right here and nothing else had ever been here. What had Lachlan meant? Maybe he'd just been trying to throw him off the trail? That must be it.
A squad car pulled up behind him and a cop got out, walking up to his window, which he rolled down. "You having trouble, mister?"
"No, I...I...um...officer, has this area always been like this?"
"Been like what?"
"Here. Has this area always been right here, that big Victorian down there and the smaller one beside it, the big barn across the lane?"
The cop looked down the lane. "Big one, yes, and the barn, but the smaller one just got moved out thisaway not all that long ago. That what you mean?"
That wasn't what Percival meant at all. "You've not noticed any change, in anything, aside from that?"
"Change? Not sure what you mean. I come by here just to make sure things are ok, been doing it for years now. This is just like it's always been."
"Thank you for taking care of that," Blue said.
"I know you wouldn't want Glinda's peace disturbed by a curious public. No one but those in the family and their workers will have any idea the westlands has not always been right where it is."
"I don't like that man."
"I know. I'm watching him."
Kim looked around the grounds once Cal parked Linda’s car. “Wow, nice place he’s got here. Must have cost a pretty penny.”
Alex ignored him. There was something about Kim that made him want to smack the smirk off his face. Tonight was not the time. They were all adults trying to solve a problem. Cal helped him manage the stairs. “Thanks, brother.”
Max opened the door. “Good evening gentlemen and I use that term loosely.”
Nick smiled. “Thanks for having us over tonight. The sooner we make some decisions here the better for all of us.”
Once they were all settled around the table with a drink in front of them Max looked around the table. “All right, give me your best pitch.”
Nick decided to be spokesperson for the group and laid out their ideas.
Cal chimed in. “Unless you’ve got a better idea, Max. This is what we all agreed to and from the standpoint of the paper, I think it would fly. There are going to be a lot of unhappy people in this city and surrounding county. So, we really need some kind of carrot for the stick, you know.”
“Carrot for the stick, ha, ha. I think you can forget that. If I had been on that highway with my wife and kids trying to save their lives from invading aliens I’d not be too happy to hear it was all a joke.”
“Obviously we can’t put out a statement like that,” Kim said. “But if it was a movie being shot here and the chance that local citizens might be tapped for background then we might have a chance.”
Alex rubbed his chin. “As for our brothers caught on film, they might be hired actors. Not everyone’s face was seen on screen. We saw Pearly running but his face was never shown. Also most of the time Superman had his back to the fence where all the media had gathered. Richie and Big Jack were clearly visible, if I remember correctly, but again…actors.”
“Well, I happen to know someone in the business. It’s Johnny Vasari, Sophie’s brother. He’s a producer of music videos and short films. Some of you may remember him.”
“Wasn’t he a druggie?” Alex asked.
“He was but he’s clean now. I had him locked up for awhile in rehab. He’s rather a slimeball but he may be useful.”
"Jack, there's nothin' for you to feel guilty about," Cort smiled. "We love havin' you here an' you'll always be welcome, but I understand why it could be good for you to be over there at Rusty's with East an' the others."
"It's just I don't...I don't want to appear ungrateful for all you've done for me."
"You don't appear that way at all. You're the youngest of us all an' it's time for you to stretch your wings. I want the best for you, Jack, an' right now it sounds like that's the best."
"I'm a little nervous about starting Ranger."
"I know that's a big deal, Jack, but you're a capable man an' I have faith in you. Be good to have another lawyer in the family. We seem to get in a lot of trouble."
"I've been meaning to ask, Cort, what was here before, um, us?"
"You mean this spot we've been moved to? Well, there was a big tract of empty land here near the airport, mostly fallow fields 'n woodlands. I heard some rumors of a developer maybe havin' some intentions toward it but we didn't get set down atop anybody else's house."
"How will we explain why the westlands all the sudden is where it is?"
"I've got to do some thinkin' on that, Jack, talk with Lachlan an' Maximus an' Ben. I don't see how it won't cause a dustup."
"Not to mention Jor-El at the airport. So many questions and so few answers."
Alex was beginning to have second thoughts. “Max, how much is this going to cost? You start involving a Hollywood producer and things could get out of hand.”
“It’s already out of hand. The reason I’m even thinking about bringing him in is that it may throw some weight behind your scheme. Nick walks into the Gov’s office and tells him it was all a movie scene and he may be prosecuted for something they find on the law books about fraud and public endangerment. If you think we’re on the brink of exposure now, just wait until something like that hits the newsroom.”
“He’s right,” Cal said. “Bringing in this Vasari will allow us to shrink to the background.”
“At least out of the limelight,” Kim added.
“How do we proceed?” Nick asked. “I don’t think we can drag this out, Max.”
“I’ve already contacted Johnny. I’ll bring him up on Skype.” Max turned back to his computer.
"Someone mention the airport?" Lachlan asked, coming in from the connective hall.
"How's it goin' to affect you, Lachlan, now that your airstrip is so close to the big airport?"
"Well, the purpose of the airstrip is different from the airport, you know. It's mostly a place to keep the jet and to give lessons in the Canary."
"All that effort to move Georgette's house way out here," Jack grinned, "and something just ups and moves it most of the way back."
"No new foundation, no big truck. Sure was a lot more efficient."
Cort slid his fingers through the top of his hair. "An' goin' into the city's not such a big deal anymore. Can't say I'm sorry about that. Be a whole lot easier now to see family more often."
"Angel can see the twins more and then there'll be John and Bud's new kids," Jack put in.
"An' Glinda's closer to Glen."
"That bother you, Cort?" Jack asked.
"I guess not. Can't think of any reason it should. Just, you know, seems a bit overboard, if you know what I mean."
Max turned his computer around and introduced his brothers to
Johnny then turned it back so that he was facing him. “All right, here’s the
deal. What’s the possibility of claiming today’s alien invasion and the big
fight at the airport was part of a movie? Say, background shooting for some
super power movie that’s in the works?”
“Em, and you want to do this because?”
“To avoid exposure of our family. There were several brothers shown on network news stations, photos were taken, local and national, even international filming. Jor-El is in a situation, though he obviously doesn’t realize how serious this could be.” Max watched Johnny light a thin cigar. He was obviously in his apartment.
“I would need some footage. Did any of you happen to record the airport fiasco?”
“I think I can get it,” Cal said. “I know a cameraman who was at the airport. He’s with the local TV station.”
“Excellent. I can try and come up with some footage myself. It could be edited and sliced and diced to look authentic, do some dubbing, add some music background. I can do it, I can make a decent trailer out of it. But of course there’s no movie.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Nick said, “as long as it looks like a movie.”
“Who will you be showing it to, Nick?”
“The governor, possibly others.”
“Whoa, this could get serious.”
“We are serious,” Max said. “Will you do it?”
“Yes, I’m in. I’ll do it. Now we need to talk about expenses,” Johnny smiled.
Max covered his eyes.
Big Jack was awake and had removed his oxygen mask. He'd expected he'd be in a field hospital tent but this place was all gidgets and gadgets he had no name for. And where was that pretty lady doctor? He wanted her to come back.
A student nurse came shyly in. Jack's eyes widened a bit. "Little gal, what are you doing in a place like this?"
"Doing? Why, I...I'm supposed to check your vitals."
"My vitals?" Jack smiled broadly. "I'm about as vital as a man can get. You're a little young to be checking on things like that, aren't you? Does your Daddy know you're here?"
"Ah, yes, yes, he knows."
"And he approves? He doesn't mind you watching men get their legs cut off, getting their innards stuffed back inside?"
"Happens in battle, little one. Happens a lot."
Just then Ardith came back in and Jack's eyes lit up. "What happens a lot?" she asked.
"Inn...innards stuff...stuffed," the student nurse stammered.
Ardith rested a palm on Jack's stomach and pressed a little. "You seem fairly well stuffed, Colonel."
"My innards are in place, pretty lady, but they're about to set up a howl because they're empty."
"So, you're feeling better, I take it."
"There a supply wagon somewhere about?"
"There's a well-staffed kitchen, Colonel. You can sit up now, I think, and I'll have something sent in for you. Millie, you can go now. I've got this handled."
Millie left and Jack cocked a brow. "And what do you intend on handling, pretty lady?"
Ardith couldn't help herself. She laughed. Jack looked offended.
"Oh, Jack, you are just so very, very...Jack."
He narrowed his eyes. "And what, may I ask, does that mean?"
"You are adorably lecherous."
"Lech...you think I'm..."
"I know it, Jack, and so do you. But you were also a hero today and I'm proud of what you did."
"It was a noble charge," he smiled, nodding.
"Yes, it was. You charged right in and helped save the day. I understand you killed General Zod yourself."
"Zod? Was he one of the Russian commanders?"
"Russian? Jack, you know he was an alien. You were aboard his vessel. What's Russia got to do with it?"
Jack licked a lip. "Were we not fighting the Russian army?"
Ardith sucked in a breath, beginning to understand. "Jack, where are you?"
"I am here...obviously."
"Jack, you're in Texas, not the Crimea."
"You didn't have enough air to breathe for a while. I think you've gotten confused as a result."
"Madam, I do not get confused."
She smiled and rested a hand on his shoulder. "It's all right, Jack. Why don't you lie back and rest until the food comes? I'll have Doctor Canfield come back with me and we can have a little talk about where...and when...you are."
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