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The Leapling

by Nicholas Hall

Chapter 4

"Hard,' replied the Dodger.
'As nails,' added Charley Bates"
(Charles Dickens– Oliver Twist -10)

With a promise to hear more of this strange tale and, perhaps, sort out the adventure I encountered on during a simple search for housing, Aidan, my now boyfriend, lover, soul-mate, and I walked up the stairs to tuck into bed our new family of boys. How little did I know or expect, several weeks ago, how embroiled and part of all of this I'd become!

Sighing to myself, deciding to just go with the flow, happy I had a place to live, a man whom I loved dearly, a good job, and a family of boys we'd been given to love and care for (along with their mother and grandmother, two other "uncles" and one patron in the form of Avery), I rapped lightly on the door frame of Connie's room (as I referred to the room with Concepcion, Efrain, Julio, and Javier in it) and quietly announced our presence. I wanted to give the boys warning, given teen boys' raging hormones, to cease or at least pause, in what they might be doing to themselves, someone else, or on someone else, and entered the darkened room.

All was quiet and all were asleep, I thought until I approached the bed holding Connie and Julio. Connie sat up in the top bunk, leaned over, hinting he'd either like a kiss or hug goodnight or both. He got both! Because of his location and the position he was in as he bent over, my arms and hands, when hugging him, were low on his back and my hands encountered the tops of his butt cheeks. He was bare-assed naked!

Releasing him, I bent down to give Julio the same treatment and discovered he slept nude also! Our progress from Connie, Julio, Efrain, and Javier revealed all four of the teens preferred the same sleeping attire or lack of it. Aidan and I slept the same way, so who was I to say anything about the way they slept. With a soft goodnight from Aidan and me and receiving one in return, we stepped across the hall to Alex's room. Again a soft rap on the door alerted the boys they had company and we slipped into the room.

Manny in the top bunk, leaned over for a hug; again my hands ended up on bare, warm, boy butt-flesh. Hugging Alex, I noticed the same. A glance at Luis and Carlos revealed both were sound asleep. We tucked their sheets up around them, covering their nakedness as well, gave them a soft kiss on the forehead, a quiet goodnight, and went down the stairs to the living room.

"Boys all settled in for the night?" Chance asked.

We both nodded and sat on a couch. Avery walked in with a tray containing five Brandy Old-fashioned Sweets. I sipped mine carefully, inhaled deeply from the alcohol-laden drink, and was met with,

"I made them a little stronger than I usually do; thought you boys might need the extra fortification," Avery commented.

The four of us settled back, watched as Avery sat in his favorite chair, took one, then a second drink of his Brandy, before saying,

"If you remember, I'd told you about the death of my father, the partnership I formed with Rob in the purchasing of the notes on the farm, and my concerns for the number of farm failures around the country. Rob and Melissa left for his new post in Hawaii where he hoped things might be a little better for them. Auctions of the failed farms were being held because of the Great Depression and low commodity prices. Bankers were trying call back cash into the banks and the only way they knew how was to foreclose and sell the properties. I didn't think tightening up the money circulating was any solution and, later, under Roosevelt, I was right."

Times were hard, commodity prices were dropping like a large turd into an outside biffy, the weather was uncooperative, especially in the western part of the state and western United States, and money, actual cash, greenbacks, whatever, was in short supply. Very damned little of it was in circulation because people, banks, investment houses (what few there were left) were hoarding it! These weren't the only uncooperative and stressful situations I was bedeviled with! I made a trip to the local banker and after some very serious discussion, sorted out what other properties could be in danger of heading for the auction block. He was a bit hesitant in revealing these properties to me but, since Leo and I were one of his largest depositors, finally gave me a list. I think he was more fearful of Leo than me, but I didn't press the issue.

I convinced Leo to invest in these properties and any others I found worthy, since it wouldn't only keep these properties in production, retain people in our community which in turn would be good for our business, but investment was really a great way to "clean up" his money and invest it in legitimate businesses! My argument concerning "cleaning" up his money was the deciding factor as far as he was concerned. He didn't really say "yes" but he didn't say "no" either, just flipped his head toward the safe in the basement.

The difficulties came at the actual auction; farmers and businessmen banded together, protesting the sale, shouting, threatening, and generally trying to disrupt the auction and scare any potential buyers away. In some cases around the country it really developed into physical violence and was effective! I failed to succumb to threats of violence. Even though I was but nineteen years old, I was determined not to waver in my goals, stand up the best I could to those who wanted to drive me away, and my trump card, causing most to mutter and slowly step aside, was a pocket full of cash! It didn't shut them up or stop the threats, but it helped. All in all, the process was a pain in the ass!

A dramatic shift in attitude and my standing in the community occurred in late September on a Friday night. The weather was chilly enough there was cause to wear a light jacket; a jacket which concealed the two weapons I now carried! They'd become an integral part of my attire just as certainly as a pair of shoes. I'd leave the house every day with them secured in their holsters, attached to my body. Hard times make hard people!

Around eleven o'clock that evening, I walked the bank bags, one from "Mudpuppy's" receipts for the last couple of days and the other, larger one Leo gave me from his recent trip to Chicago, to my pickup truck parked by the side of the restaurant. There were four people left inside "Mudpuppy's"; Leo, Sam (the bartender), the town marshal and his deputy. Our marshal usually stopped in around closing time, after making his rounds, to "check on how things were going" and to receive his free cup of coffee, well laced with Canadian whiskey, and the small "gift" for his family Leo made certain he received on weekly basis.

Mission accomplished, I was about to return to join the others when I noticed a late model four-door automobile pull up in front of the restaurant. Three men stepped out, dressed in suits, covered with open, long black dress coats. I stepped back into the shadows as they looked around, as if checking to see if anyone else was outside, seemed satisfied, evidently not noticing me, and proceeded to walk inside "Mudpuppy's".

Something just didn't seem right to me the way they were acting, so, after waiting just a minute or so, I hurried over, past the car quickly, observing it had Illinois license plates, to the building entrance! I grew more uneasy, took a deep breath, un-holstered the .410 pistol, gripped it in my right hand, un-holstered the .38 revolver, cocked it and gripped it in my left. Slowly, carefully, quietly, I pushed open the entrance door, and stepped inside.

The three had their backs to me, zeroing their attention on Leo, the marshal, and his deputy all seated at one table. The bartender was standing with his hands up behind the bar. If any of them noticed me come in, they made no acknowledgement.

I heard one of the men say, "Some of your associates aren't very happy with you, Leo, and think you've been holding out on them. They say it's going to stop, now!" and raised his hand gun!

The marshal shifted in his chair and the fatter of the three men pulled a double-barreled shotgun out from under his long coat, aimed it at the marshal and his deputy.

"Sit real still," he advised coldly, "or you'll join him!"

The third man drew a pistol and pointed it at the bartender.

From behind them, I said calmly, "I wouldn't do that if I were you!"

The two with the pistols quickly turned while the man with the shotgun kept it on the marshal and now Leo.

The fatter of the two sneered, "Shit, you're nothing but a fucking kid! What the fuck you think you're going to do to stop us, Little Boy?"

"Kill you!" I replied just as calmly, quickly raising my arms, pulling the trigger on the shotgun, the blast striking him in the head, shifting quickly to the second, squeezed off the second barrel, blowing a hole in his chest, and as the man with the shotgun turned, pumped three of the five bullets in the revolver into his chest and stomach.

The silence after the loud gunshots, was almost deafening, except for a couple of flops from one of the would-be assassins as his life flowed from him! The bartender poked his head up from behind the bar, but said nothing. The marshal, his deputy, and Leo sat silently at the table, while I reloaded both of my weapons. I stepped around the corpses, looked at the marshal and his deputy announcing coldly,

"What you saw tonight and what you'll tell the country sheriff when he gets here, is you two came in for a cup of coffee, three strangers came in and were going to rob the place. They held you at gunpoint and didn't see me come in the door. I called for them to drop their guns and when they refused, I shot them! Okay!" and tapped the barrel of the .410 on the table top.

They nodded and I turned to the bartender, "You understand the story?"

Christ, his head bobbed like a ditty pole with a catfish on the line, but his eyes never left those two guns I held in my hands!

"Oh, by the way," I said to the marshal, again slowly tapping the .410 on the table top, "while you're remembering to do things, I want all of the bullshit I've been taking in town and around the area when I'm at auctions to buy a farm, house, or business, and other places to come to a halt! Understand?" and again tapped the small shotgun barrel on the table!

I then turned to Leo, my lover and benefactor, still silent, watching me closely. I was pissed and he knew it!

"You tell your 'associates' to stay the fuck out of my town! I don't care how you do it, but I want no more of this shit in Morgan's Landing- understand? I may be a simple farm boy who was fucking good at shooting squirrels, but it ain't only squirrels I can shoot; I do rats and all other kinds of vermin as well!"

Leo said nothing to me, but continued to look at me in a strange way; a way that seemed to see me quite differently now than just ten minutes previously; a look of respect, a look which reflected the realization of the maturation of me beyond just someone to fuck!

I left the three of them, walked over to the bar, asked for a beer, took one sip, and turned back to the marshal,

"Call the coroner and the County Sheriff; tell them to get their asses up here and clean this shit out of 'Mudpuppy's'!"

I turned back to the bar and continued to enjoy my beer, knowing full well, by the time the roosters crowed in the morning light, everyone within any distance at all, would know from now on, not to fuck with Avery Morgan.

The results of the encounter with the three men and my dispatching them with such seeming ease, were both immediate and far reaching, destined to change my life and my position in the community, and my relationship with Leo! I left "Mudpuppy's" for home; I stewed and fretted the entire distance, not over the fact I'd so callously killed three men, rationalizing in my mind it was self-defense and defense of others, or the sort of precursory questioning I'd received from the county sheriff concerning my role in the incident. He treated me with great deference, once he heard the others tell their stories, almost as if I was a person he never ever wanted to cross, referring to me as "Mr. Morgan." Hell, he didn't even ask me why I came armed with a revolver and a shotgun pistol!

No, what really pissed me off and at the same time saddened me, was Leo! He sat there like a fucking mute, never said one word to me or acknowledged my presence verbally. He just looked at me, his eyes tracking every movement I made whenever I walked around or just stood still! I saved his life and he didn't even say "thank you!"

I killed three people for him and he didn't even say a simple "thanks!" How fucked up is that?

It's a terrible thing to do, take a human life! I felt it deep into my very soul and the closer I got to home, the more it burrowed into my mind! Alright, they were sent to execute Leo; they were killers, but there were still three dead people who'll never see another morning watching the mist raise from the river; hear flights of geese sounding their call as they give in to instinct and migrate; hear the trilling sounds of a meadow lark in the pasture or; feel a hug or a kiss from their wife or their children. What was left of those three men would be interred in a casket in the ground, forever!

Leo never said, "I'm sorry, Avery, for bringing this mess to our town, our house, our business"; he didn't say to me, "Avery, don't worry, I'll take care of this and make it right!" Nope, not one fucking word!

I decided to wait up for him and, at the very least, share a drink and express how I felt, thinking that alone might bring me some relief, even if he didn't say "thank you!" I fixed a brandy with water, sat down in a living room chair, and waited, anticipating he shouldn't be too far behind me.

I fixed a second brandy and water and still no Leo.

I checked the telephone and found it was working; another brandy and water and still no Leo.

I feel asleep in the chair and woke as the early morning sun flashed penetrating rays of light into my closed eyes. Now, I wasn't only mad, but worried! What if something happened to him? What would I do? This was his house, his money, and some of the properties we held were in joint ownership. I had access to all of his bank accounts and investments, but what if someone challenged me, questioning my rights to those, what then? I was full of "what if's" and needed to sort them all out!

Trudging upstairs to our room, I showered, put on clean clothes, and went to the kitchen for my breakfast. While drinking my second cup of coffee, I decided then and there I needed to make certain the doubts I pondered were erased by me taking control over my own life, my finances, and my future! Leo and I needed to have a heart to heart talk, a very serious talk.

With a certain amount of confidence and satisfaction, I cleaned up my breakfast dishes, secured my weapons to my belt, slipped on a jacket, walked out to the truck, and brought in the two bank bags I'd inadvertently left in the truck overnight. I'd deposit most of the receipts, but not all, from "Mudpuppy's" on Monday, but out of curiosity, I decided to count the contents of the bag Leo gave me. I'd not done this before, but it was time I did.

Counting out a little over $16,300 in mostly large denomination bills, sorting through a small bag of gold coins, and laying out several jewel-encrusted pendants, rings, and necklaces on the table, I slowly shook my head in wonderment! Never had I realized the type of money and wealth Leo was dealing in! I should've known since there always seemed to be plenty of money available and he never objected when I wished to spend it. I returned everything to the bag and carried it to the safe in the basement, where it joined several others.

It was almost noon when I drove up in front of "Mudpuppy's." A large crowd of, what I assumed were curiosity seekers, were gathered at and near the front entrance. I doubted very much if they were here to partake of a meal. I thought it might be a problem for me to enter, but when I approached the front entrance, the crowd parted before me like the waters of the sea before Moses' raised staff! Other than "Mr. Morgan" or "Sir" from various persons in way of greeting as I passed, little else was said.

The daytime bartender was there, along with the two cooks and the three woman who served as my wait staff, standing near the bar, looking at me and then outside. I asked if Leo was here, and the bartender handed me an envelope as he shook his head "no." The note inside said simply, "Avery, I'll be gone for a while. Watch your back! Leo." That was it in its entirety; no indication where he was going or how long he'd be gone. Of course, I'd known better during the time we'd been together to ask too many questions. Asking too many could get you in trouble, or as I now realized, dead!

I looked around the interior of "Mudpuppy's" and noticed there were only a couple of older gentlemen there drinking coffee, watching me, wondering what I was going to do or say. Their aged, experienced eyes not only expressed their concerns, their curiosity, but of deep questioning, yearning, and trust. This, their eyes, the place, and what occurred the night before, and the crowd out front was a pivotal moment in my life, a time when I had to choose; a time, as one sage put it, "either lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way!" Standing there, I realized as I entered the building through the gathered people, I'd been addressed as "Mr. Morgan," not "Avery" or "Avery Morgan," but " Mr. Morgan." I learned later, people, especially the older ones, referred to me as "Young Mr. Morgan." Those people gathered in front of "Mudpuppy's" weren't merely curiosity seekers, but waiting, wanting me to act! The impact of the responsibility now resting on my shoulders was almost overwhelming, but not quite. I'd faced adversity before, sought refuge when I thought none was there, gained hope when there appeared to be nothing, sought sustenance of body and spirit and found it, and now I must offer the same to my people, those who waited out front; if I didn't in these hard times, now times of violence, who would?

"How long have people been gathering out front?" I asked to no one in particular.

One of the older gentlemen set down his coffee cup and answered, "They've been coming here since just after dawn, when the news started circulating around town about what you did last night!"

I thanked him, nodding my head, approving my own mental decision, turned to the "Mudpuppy's" staff and asked, "Have we enough flour and other ingredients to make a large amount of pancakes and enough syrup as well?"

I was assured we did and plenty of coffee as well.

"Then get ready to feed everyone outside and those others who join them," and walked outside. I started to raise my hands in a gesture for people to quiet down, but found no need too! Their attention was riveted on me, again I saw expectation and hope on their faces.

"Folks," I began, "we had a terrible incident in our town, when those who'd do us harm were thwarted and dispatched, but all is well now and well it'll stay; you have my word! These hard times make not only hard people, drawing out the worst of those among us, but can and should draw us together as family, friends, and neighbors to defeat those who'd see us defeated and survive those who'd see us perish! We have to help each other, sharing what we have, and be thankful for it, however little or much. Our new beginning, my new beginning, starts today with a free pancake feed, sharing with you my thanks for what could've been a tragedy for us instead of victory for the thugs that entered our town last night. As soon as the cooks and staff are ready, I ask you to line up and enjoy a pancake meal as our guests. Welcome to "Mudpuppy's!"

I walked back inside, located a table where I could not only see the river I loved, but keep careful watch over the entrance door and the rest of the dining and bar area.

We fed people most of the afternoon and the atmosphere changed from somber to celebratory, joy and optimism reflected on young and old alike. When the wait staff became overwhelmed, people stepped up to help; when the dishes piled up faster than they could be washed, others gathered around to clean them.

I watched from my table, accepting humbly, the thanks people made as they finished their meals and departed and watched our little community work together! The pancake dinner event, became a yearly event, held each September to celebrate the harvest, the end of summer, and the community. It also awakened me to the increased need people had in Morgan's Landing for hope and leadership! I needed to be that leader and use my resources to help those less fortunate or in need. In the long run, it would not only bolster our attitudes but assist in growing our economic fortunes as well.

I later wrote Rob relaying my reactions and what I was going to do, wondering how people could accept me as their leader; a person who some treated derisively because of my life style, who I lived with, and perhaps my age! He assured me all people want and need leadership, but sometimes chose the wrong kind, the kind that destroys rather than builds. He reminded me "heavy the head that wears the crown" and good leadership is hard work, off-times setting aside the leaders personal goals and wants for the good of those he or she leads.

One of the last people to enjoy pancakes that day was Momma! She filled her plate and coffee cup, walked over to my table, sat down across from me, and began to enjoy her meal. I waited patiently while she savored several bites of pancake and enjoyed a couple of sips of her coffee.

"Hi, Momma!"

"Hello, Avery," she answered with a warm, welcoming smile and tone to her voice. "Are you okay, after what happened?"

I nodded I was!

"People are saying you're some sort of hero, doing what you did!" She said with a great deal of pride.

"I killed three men, Momma," I replied softly, my voice shaking ever so slightly!

"Yes, you did, but I'd rather they be dead than you; you have so much to offer and I'm so proud of you and so is our town!"

"Momma, you know who and what I am and what I've done; how can you honestly say that? Daddy never really accepted me after I moved in with Leo and neither did some of the people who live here. I'm nineteen years old and now they treat me like I'm one of the wisest and most powerful men in the area!"

She paused, thinking about what I said and how to respond; "Avery, I don't agree with some aspects of your life, but I can accept that. It's unfortunate your father either couldn't or wouldn't, but that's water under the bridge now, God rest his soul! I do know you're my son; a son who doesn't shirk from his responsibilities; a son who didn't have to step in and take over the family obligations while making certain his Momma, brothers, and sister and their families have a place to live but he did; a son who has been trying to help the community during these hard times and have been given little credit for it. No, Avery, I'm proud of you and I want to help. What do you want me to do?"

We sat, mother and son, and visited until the dinner hour. During the time we spent at my "office" table, we discussed having a couple of soup suppers each week at one of the local churches, a community turkey dinner around Thanksgiving, if we could find the birds and get enough people to help, a "feather party" after New Year's where turkeys, ducks, geese, and chickens are raffled off with the proceeds going toward school supplies for the children living in our school district, and quilting bees, used clothing drives and distribution, food baskets for families in need. There were many things Momma could think of the people in our town needed and, when I asked, committed herself to head up a committed to organize and schedule the events.

"Oh, yes," she replied enthusiastically, "I've been hunting for something to do ever since Mildred and Jim moved in with their family. Don't get me wrong, I love them, but they do everything I used to do, so there seems to be little to occupy my time."

She was so excited, now having a purpose in her life, a life without her husband, but a life devoted to others just as much as she was to him. I finally slowed her down, saying, "Momma, I need some help at home. Do you know of any young men or nephews of mine who would want to work? I've been accumulating more cattle and hogs from some of the places I've bought. Any suggestions? They'd live at my house; there's plenty of room."

She raised her eyebrows skeptically!

I hastened to point out to her not to worry, neither Leo nor I'd touch them sexually, adding, "I'll pay well, plus room and board!"

She thought a moment before responding.

"Your nephew, Levi, Elizabeth's oldest is fifteen and they could use a little extra cash, then there's Tony Lewis, he's seventeen and his brother Michael age fifteen, their folks are struggling, and Carl Yates, he's fifteen. His momma goes to my church. I can talk to these boys' parents if you want me too."

A week later Tony Lewis and Levi Blevins moved into the bedroom, next to the bathroom, down the hall from mine. Michael Lewis and Carl Yates, I decided would work part-time on weekends or as needed, and would occupy the bedroom across the hall from Tony and Levi if they needed to stay overnight. It was Levi who christened the farm with its name; Bend in the River Farms. He seemed to get confused with his directions sometimes here. I asked him why and he replied, "It's that damned bend in the river that throws me off. The river doesn't flow north to south; it sorta flows northeast to southwest."

Leo didn't return home until mid-December, almost two months since he left after the shooting. It's not as if we didn't keep in contact, because we did, either by telephone, depending on connections, and by mail. I kept him informed on how things were going, the hiring of extra help, Momma's activities, how people in town were now treating me, and how much I missed him! His answers always said how much he missed me as well, but didn't include any of his activities. Oh, once in a while he'd mention he'd traveled various places, but didn't say why, and not too much else, except to encourage me to continue making some sound investments in property and put them in both our names. He did mention he'd had dinner with a lawyer friend of his, someone he'd not seen for a number of years.

When he appeared at "Mudpuppy's" late on a Monday afternoon, I was seated at my "office" table and didn't see him walking toward me as I finished my visit with the local banker. I stood to shake the banker's hand, after discussing giving each child at school a shiny silver dollar for Christmas, and expressed how much I looked forward to continue working with him and noticed Leo standing there! I was shocked by his appearance! Leo was haggard looking, wan, giving every outward appearance of having been or was very, very ill!

"My god," I exclaimed, "Leo, what's happened to you?"

"Avery, can you get away?" he asked softly, "I'd like to go home; we can talk there!"

It wasn't only cold, but spitting snow as my pickup truck and his sedan drove home. We'd had several small snowfalls to this point, but nothing large enough to constitute a "snow storm!" I figured this winter would be like most, cold, snowy, and some wind. We parked our vehicles in the garage next to the house and when Leo climbed out of his car, I noticed he looked really, really tired. He struggled to bring a suitcase with him, but didn't argue when I relieved him of the burden.

"There's more," he advised, "another suitcase in the back seat and some stuff in the trunk that needs to go downstairs."

"I'll come back, Leo, once I get you settled in the house."

Entering the house, warm with wood and coal heat, snug from winter's brashness, and filled with the aroma of something good in the oven, he looked around the kitchen, stepped into the living room, smiled, saying, "It's good to be home!"

I helped him with his top coat and when he wanted his suit coat removed and when I did, I couldn't help but notice the twin .45 caliber pistols tucked in shoulder holsters. I looked at them, wondering if he wanted them removed and he shook his head "no." I helped him to his chair and inquired if he wanted a brandy and was answered with a smile. I wasn't worried about him being cold since one of the boys usually stoked up the furnace before going out to do chores. They had chickens to feed and eggs to gather as well as feeding the cattle and the hogs.

While he enjoyed his brandy, I made a couple of trips to his car retrieving his other suitcase and the three heavy valises in the trunk. With the boys around now, I had to get these downstairs quickly and locked up in the room in the basement where we kept the safe and I used as an office. Back upstairs, I fixed myself a brandy, went into the living room, pulled up a chair facing Leo and asked,

"What's up Leo?"

Leo took a deep breath and with a look on his face I'd not seen before, said, "Avery, you know I love you very much and I'm afraid I didn't show it as often as I should've nor was I as faithful to you as you were to me, but I just couldn't seem to resist fucking a young boy when I found the opportunity! It hit me the night those three bastards came to kill me; you stepped in and saved my life! I realized then, I'd always thought you were the one who needed me, but I was wrong! I needed you more and failed to realize it or appreciate it! At that very moment, when faced with immediate death, I saw you quite differently and realized I'd failed you!"

Leo grew very quiet, pensive before choking out, stifling sobs and tears, "Avery, my love, I have a cancer; a really, really bad one!"

My heart sank, my feet began to do a nervous tap dance on the floor, and a chill swept through my body, unable to assimilate immediately what he said! Trying to find some conciliation or bright spot for our future, I stuttered to say something.

"The doctor said it can be cut out and cured, right?

"I saw several doctors and every one of them told me there's not a chance in hell I'd beat this! Best estimates for me is living another six to eight months."

Tears formed in my eyes, my heart was breaking, my lover was on a downhill journey to the grave and there's nothing I could do to stop it, no one to shoot to keep them from killing him; I was helpless in the face of this threat! I stepped to him, wrapped my arms around him, sobbing my sorrow, feeling his pain, wanting him to stay forever, and castigating myself for being angry when he was gone! I couldn't help but notice how thin he'd become as I held him.

Leo hugged me back, saying, "See here now, Avery, we have much to talk about; your future and what to do with everything. We can't waste time or tears, can we?"

We were interrupted by Tony and Levi thumping in the back door into the kitchen, commiserating about how "fucking cold" it was outside, as Tony so adroitly put it. They fussed about in the kitchen, removing and hanging up their coats and hats. I heard Levi say, "I think Uncle Avery is home, here's his coat," and they both walked into the living room, seeking me. They found me alright, but there was another person with me. Tony didn't have a clue who it was, but his eyes, as well as Levi's, were focused not on Leo's face, but on the twin .45 caliber semi-automatic pistols tucked securely in each holster under his arm pits!

Levi, quick as wink, once he'd eyed up the guns, said in greeting, "Hi, Uncle Avery; Uncle Leo," and stepped forward.

"Uncle Leo," he said carefully, "This is Tony Lewis, he works here with me," and turning to Tony said, "Tony this is Leo Palmer, my Uncle Avery's partner."

"Mr. Palmer," Tony greeted, extending his hand, but keeping his eyes on the pistols!

Leo accepted it and sniffed up in the air, "Pleased to meet you Tony, but, not that I'm displeased but whatever you're cooking has more of my attention right now."

The ice broken, both boys laughed, with Tony answering, "You're close, but no cigar! Its oven roasted stew with baking powder biscuits Mrs. Yates fixed earlier today. I just put it in the oven when we came home from school."

"I'll set the table in the dining room while you two clean up," I volunteered.

Levi informed me they had about four dozen eggs to clean first, counting the ones from the morning and now.

"When we put these in the cave," he said, "it'll make about seven dozen. You want to take them to town either to sell or use at "Mudpuppy's?"

"While you're at it," Tony added, "that steer we've been fattening is ready to be butchered, along with those two hogs we marked."

There was a Holstein steer I wanted butchered for use at "Mudpuppy's" and one of the two hogs for pork chops, bacon, ham, spare ribs, and breakfast sausage. The other hog I wanted butchered and ground up into sausage for the school to use in their food program. The lard would be rendered from both hogs and used at "Mudpuppy's" and the school. If there was an excess of hamburger from the beef, that'd go to the school as well. The beef shanks, neck bones, tongue, and heart would be used by Momma and her group for a soup supper or beef and noodles meal during the week. Nothing on either animal would go to waste, all would be used, even the liver when "Mudpuppy's" had a liver and onion special.

The boys scooted upstairs to get cleaned up and I leaned over to Leo, "Want some supper?"

"It smells mighty good," he said with a sigh. "I'm pretty tired of restaurant food."

He looked around as we walked to the dining room, smiled, and said again, "It's nice to be home!"

I put a pot of coffee on the stove as I hustled around setting the table. Leo sat at the dining room table, visiting casually with me as I did. The boys, freshly scrubbed, and hungry joined us and it didn't take long for them to make short work of the stew and biscuits. Each wanted a cup of hot coffee when they finished so Leo and I joined them as we sat around the table.

The boys were curious about what was going on, but it was Levi who asked, "Home for a spell, Uncle Leo?"

He nodded, saying confidently, "I'm here to stay, boys!"

Tony, Levi, and I did up the dishes while Leo sat at the kitchen table visiting as we did. The conversation was light, mainly about how the farm was doing, school, community, and just things in general. The boys realized, as we visited, this was to be Leo's last stop, his final home, on a journey that none of us really wanted to contemplate! When we were done, the boys excused themselves to go to their room to do their homework and listen to the radio before turning in for the night.

Leo and I remained downstairs. Once the boys were gone, he walked over to his suit coat and produced a thick, legal-sized envelope and handed it to me.

"I visited an attorney friend of mine and had my will prepared. Hold on to this copy; he has the original. Everything I own, property, investments, cash, clothes; you name it, all goes to you!"

I started to protest, thinking he certainly must have some family somewhere, but he stilled my comments by saying,

"End of discussion! Since you're not twenty-one now and probably won't be when I die, there may be some obstacles, but my lawyer and I have decided there's a way around them."

We spent the better part of the next two hours talking about surmounting those obstacles and my future. I must admit, what they proposed was ingenious and would work, if I could get the cooperation we needed. I was pretty certain I could! We thrashed over the economy, the pending legislation concerning the repeal of prohibition and what Iowa might do when it'd be repealed, the worsening political situation in the world and ramifications here at home. We grew tired and went to bed, with full knowledge our discussions were not over. Leo had come to respect my judgement and anticipated, after thinking things over, I'd have some very clear and workable thoughts on my own concerning preparing for an uncertain future.

I made arrangements for Doc Gibson, our local M.D., to stop by once a week to check on Leo and renew his pain medication prescriptions and a private nurse to check in twice a week as well. Mrs. Yates agreed to work a few more hours to help out with the cooking, cleaning, and being available when I went to town to "Mudpuppy's" or had to check on how our properties were doing and Leo didn't feel like riding along!

In January, cards and letters started pouring in from school children thanking us for the silver dollars for Christmas. The gift of each dollar had been accompanied by a note which read, "Merry Christmas; the value and worth of an education is greater when you work hard and finish school. Learn and earn. Your friends at Mudpuppy's and Bend in the River Farm- Leo Palmer and Avery Morgan."

Leo delighted in reading the cards and began the herculean task of sending a small, personal answer to each child. The task kept him busy well into February. His condition continued to deteriorate and writing the notes to school children not only occupied him, but gave him great joy!

Our greatest joy came in the form of a telegram on March 2, 1932.

"Avery stop Beautiful baby boy stop Feb.29. stop. Looks like a miniature you at that age stop Robert Avery Morgan stop seven pounds three ounces stop Melissa and baby fine stop

Love stop Robert."

Robert Avery Morgan, my nephew, a Leap Year's Baby!

Avery stopped, stood, and stretched his arms up high in the air, giving one the impression he was reaching for the stars, failing this time, but determined the next to touch each and every one.

"Boys," yawned, "I'm an old man and I'm tired; we all got a busy day tomorrow."

Dropping his arms, his right pant leg seemed to hang up on some obstacle hidden under it, a protrusion above his right ankle, a short way up the outside of his calf. The very tip of, what appeared to me to be, a small, leather holster became visible. If the others noticed, they failed to comment, perhaps something they were aware of and accustomed to seeing. To me, it was sort of like seeing a horse stallion's cock, fully extended and hard, drawing my eyes in fascination and wonderment, holding my attention, seeing, yet not really believing, but knowing at the same time it was real!

Avery turned and walked back to his bedroom!

"He never told us how he came to speak Spanish!" I commiserated softly to no one in particular.

"Perhaps another time," offered Chance as he too, stood. "I learned a few things tonight I didn't know before and I've lived with him most of my life. Maybe he just didn't want to overwhelm us!"

Avery was correct; it was late and Aidan and I had eight boys to take clothes shopping in the morning so we excused ourselves and went upstairs to our room. Dropping my clothes on a chair, entering our bed in my usual state of undress, I watched as Aidan's nude form followed me, cuddling up against me, nakedness pressing nakedness, arousing me as only this beautiful, lean, warm, and loving man could!

"You're hard!" Aidan said as he clasped my shaft in his hand and began slowly sliding my foreskin back and forth across the frenulum and glans of my twitching, sensitive, and eager cock!

"Hard as a ten-penny spike!" I groaned, longing to roll him over on his back and assume my favorite position. As I pulled him into my arms, slipped one leg in between his in preparation for our joining, I suddenly stopped!

"What's the matter, Nelson?" he whispered in exasperation, wondering why I stopped, agitated I'd cease going where he wanted me to go.

"Somebody's coming into the room!"

Aidan stiffened, well one part of him softened just as quickly as the same part of me did, held his breath, and turned his head toward the door. As he did, I slowly, quietly rolled over on my back, and looked toward the door as well. There was just enough light from the security light in the farmyard shining through the window for us to watch the door open, close, and the shadowy figure of a boy start to walk toward the bed. The closer he came, the more evident he was just as naked as we were, until there was no doubt, as his legs rested up against the edge of the mattress, his fleshy maleness dangling over two large balls, between his legs!

"Oh, oh!" I exclaimed in whisper.

"Oh, oh, what?" Aidan hissed in return, fearful to speak above a whisper as well, really not knowing what to expect or what was going to happen!

"Oh, oh as in, I think it's Javier!"

"What the fuck's he doing in here?

"I think he's sleep walking!"


"I think I know; one of my little brothers used to do this," and climbed out of bed.

"What are you going to do to him?" pleaded Aidan, I guess concerned for both of us; Javier for what might happen to him, as Aidan knew full well from experience, and for me wondering why I'd forsake him for a teen boy!

Sensing his concern and apprehension, I leaned over, gave him a kiss of reassurance, announcing, "I'm taking him to the bathroom; he just has to piss and must be confused."

Putting my arm around Javier, I felt him lean into me, as I led him to our bathroom. I stood him in front of the toilet and when he didn't raise his hands to point his pecker at the pot, I stepped around behind him, reached around front, clasp his velvety soft teen cock in my hand, pulled back the foreskin to make certain he didn't make like a shower head and paint the toilet in it's entirely, and told him drain his hose which he proceeded to do! My god, he pissed like a race horse!

All that water running out of him, spurred my own urge, but I held it until he was done. Shaking his cock to rid it of any lingering drops, I moved him aside and told him to wait for me, intending to take him back to his room when I finished! Relief was flooding out of the end of my own cock, when he left.

I couldn't really just pinch it off, so I had to wait until the tank was dry! I thought I heard Aidan muttering something and as soon as I stepped into our room, I saw Javier, sound asleep, lying next to Aidan.

"What'll we do now?" Aidan whispered hoarsely, the yard light illuminated his eyes, wide, white showing, panic apparent, but restrained- somewhat, fearful of moving, a naked teen boy, warm, and comfortable, nestled in our bed!

"Well, not what we planned to do, that's for certain!"

Hesitating a minute, shrugging my shoulders, sighed, "I don't know about you, but I'm going to try to get some sleep."

I crawled into bed and no sooner done so when Javier scooted up next to me, raised his head, smiled a little, and crawled up on top of me, just like I was his own private, overstuffed, naked pillow! His head pillowed on my chest, Javier kind of wiggled a bit to get comfortable and was sound asleep!

"Oh my god!" I heard Aidan exclaim hoarsely. "Why's he doing that?"

"I think, it's because we're probably the only adult male figure he, his brother, and cousins have had in their lives recently. They've been through a great deal, I think, and not all of it pleasant! The boys have lived a vagabond life, some abandoned by parents, some lost a mother through death, and all of them lost their grandfather. Javier and the rest of our boys just want some security, something or someone to hold on to, give then an anchor in life; in part, that's what I think!"

Our bedroom door opened again and another naked boy came in!

"We're going to have to get a bigger bed!" commiserated a muttering Aidan.

"Oh, El Jefe," whispered Efrain apologetically, "I'm so sorry; usually I hear him when he wakes!"

"No problem, Efrain."

"He doesn't do it very often, but sometimes if he gets upset or has a lot on his mind or is in a strange place or has to piss…….."

"Its okay, Efrain; he's fine and I don't mind!" I said trying to reassure him and calm him down. He was upset and I thought, at first, it was because he failed in what he thought was his responsibility.

"I'll take him back now, okay, El Jefe?"

"He can stay a while; let's let him rest."

"Yeah, but he really likes me to settle him down!"

I was going to suggest he could go back to bed and I'd bring Javier in to their bedroom when he trotted around the end of the bed to Aidan's side, lifted the covers and crawled across Aidan to be with Javier!

"Oh-----my--------g—o—d!" wheezed Aidan as he inhaled, sucking his stomach in tight as Efrain slithered across his tummy, bare flesh on bare flesh, a velvety soft teenage penis dragging a trail just below Aidan's navel and about two inches above his own adult cock!

Efrain moved next to me so his body was up against mine and Javier's, rested his head on my shoulder, his face just inches from Javier's. Resting just a moment, he then carefully, delicately moved a strand of Javier's hair hanging over his sleeping, peaceful face. It was done with the attention of a lover rather than a cousin! As he did he commented softly, more to himself than to me,

"Isn't he just the most beautiful person you ever did see?"

Moving an arm from around Javier, I pulled Efrain into a close hug, holding him tight.

"You're beautiful also, Efrain, along with the other boys, but I'm afraid I'm far too attracted to your Uncle Aidan, so why don't I just leave loving Javier up to you, okay?"

Clearly Efrain was in love with Javier! I thought he might be shy or embarrassed by what I said, but he wasn't!

"I do love him so, El Jefe! When he's not around, it's like part of me is missing or I'm lost in a big corn field and can't find my way out without him! I panic when he sleep walks, afraid something might happen to him. Usually, I bring him back to my bed and hold him until I go to sleep."

Aidan raised up on an elbow, leaned toward us, saying, "I know how you feel, Efrain¸ I feel the same way toward Nelson, El Jefe, to you. You do when you love someone so much!"

Efrain was quiet; I thought he was asleep, but he wasn't.

"El Jefe," he asked softly, "some people think the way Javier and I love each other and what we do is wrong—because, you know we're cousins; is it?"

I thought a second before responding, "Those same people think it's wrong Uncle Aidan and I love each other and Uncle Chance and Uncle Tommy love each other and what we do, sharing our love, but we don't care! Who we love and how we love is our business and not theirs! Do any of your cousins, your brother, your aunt, or grandmother know and care?"

"No, they don't care; they all know it and its okay but we really keep it quiet outside the family! There's guys out there who'd beat the shit out of us otherwise; especially if we're alone, but not with my brother or my cousins around."

Javier, evidently aroused from his sleep by Efrain's voice, raised his head, gave me a perplexed look, turned his head, saw Efrain, and his smile bespoke volumes as he quickly shuffled his body from me to Efrain, his weight settling on top of him, putting Efrain on his back, and wrapped his arms around him. Javier nuzzled his head into the crook of Efrain's neck and nodded when Efrain told him they had to go back to their own room now.

I was starting to move to make room for them to crawl out my side, but they both left the same way Efrain came into the bed.

"Oh------sh----i—i----i---t!" gasped Aidan, again sucking his stomach in tight as naked cock followed naked cock dragging a trail across his nether regions.

After they left the room, he muttered, "We're definitely going to get a bigger bed!"

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