It was the big Pioneer Day Celebration at school. Everyone was dressed in jeans and cowboy gear or long dresses and sun bonnets. Jamie kept twirling her dress and Mark was enjoying playing with his two friends Cody and Todd. Kate was relieved that Mark had finally started acting like what she thought a boy should. Jamie on the other hand was pure joy.
Eric was trying to hold Jamie’s hand while they walked through the classrooms and looked at the various displays. The students had been divided up into one room schools and had done appropriate lessons. This year, the theme was Ranch Life. Jamie had just given Eric a taste of the home made butter Kelly’s class had made when he made a funny face. Kate figured that he was teasing Jamie. However, Eric made a beeline for Kate.
“Kate, I think we have company,” he said softly in her ear.
“What do you mean?” She was puzzled by his reaction and the grip on her arm.
“Take a whiff of the air,” he said as he looked around.
Kate did as requested. Jamie was playing with another little girl, so she wasn’t distracted. Without trying to seem as if she were inhaling the whole room, she slowly turned. Coming from the door, was an acrid almost rancid odor. Looking out the door, she saw Sargent O’Hare, dressed in casual clothes. “Shit,” she said under her breath.
“I take it you can see our skunk.” Eric said trying to move out of line of sight of the door.
“Yes, and its the same one who was in my office. What on earth is he doing here?”
“Still hunting. Is there a back way out of this classroom?”
“Yes. See the toilets over there?” she pointed to her left. “They connect to the next classroom.”
“Ok. I want you to go out and walk in front of our skunk, and make sure you turn his head to the front of the hall. I’ll go out through the library and meet you outside.”
“I’ll see what I can find out and see you in a bit. If we leave too early, the kids will throw a fit.”
“Understood. See you in a bit.” Eric moved off through the class as Kate left the room. Luckily, Jamie had traipsed off with Bess and Sophie.
Kate took a deep breath and headed towards O’Hare. She was trying to think of what busy body she could ask about him when she ran right into him. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” she said as she looked up at his face. “Why, Sargent O’Hare. What a surprise to see you here. I’m so sorry to run into you literally.” She turned him away from the classroom Eric was due to exit.
“Ms? ” O’Hare started.
“Ratcovich. Kate Ratcovich. We met at the shelter downtown a month or so ago.”
“Oh yes. I remember now,” he said, taking her lead.
“Well, what are you doing up here at Pioneer Days? This is rather a local event, and we don’t get many outsiders.” She smiled sweetly.
“I…um, read about it in the papers, and my wife and I are looking to move down here. Looking at all the little schools and such.”
“Oh. Is your wife with you tonight?”
“No. She couldn’t come, but I brought some of the boys from Ft. Kit with me. They have families too that like smaller communities.”
“Oh.” Kate looked around casually, wondering just who the ‘boys’ were. “Well, don’t forget the hospitality room. There are all sorts of refreshments there. The whole school contributes, as it is a real family atmosphere up here. Everyone knows everyone. Shall we find your boys and get them some cake and punch?”
O’Hare looked around, trying to decide whether this woman was just a pest or sincere. “There they are.” He pointing at two tall men and a shorter one in uniform standing by the front door. “Clarke, Degus, Hart, come over here. I’d like you to meet Mrs. Ratcovich.”
They came over and shook her hand in far too firm a grip to be friendly. O’Hare introduced each one, and they all walked into the hospitality room where the men got some food.
“So, what brings you up here ma’am?” Clarke asked.
“Oh, I have children who go to this school.”
“Boys or girls?” he continued.
Well, I’ve had four sons through here, and have one more as well as a daughter here at the moment. My youngest son is in fourth grade and my sweetie girl is in first grade.
“Why ma’am, you look far too young to have six children,” Hart said.
“Thanks. Two of mine are probably just about your age. And to be honest, I started young.” She smiled. The confusion on their faces was worth the effort.
O’Hare gave her a look she wasn’t totally certain of. Like he was trying to puzzle something out. She wondered just how much checking up on her he had done. “Granted, it took two husbands. I sort of wore out one,” she said with a grin and a wink.
O’Hare actually blushed. “Oh ma’am, certainly not.”
“Yes, indeed. We country lasses are a hardy bunch. Rough on our menfolk.”
” We sure are,” said Mrs. Maes as she walked up behind Kate and gave her a hug. “Who are these handsome men you’re talking to?”
“Oh. Lara Maes, this is Sargent O’Hare, and his boys as he calls them, Clarke, Hart and Degus. You’ll have to forgive me, I don’t know their ranks.”
Lara shook the preferred hands and then gave Kate another hug. “Tyree wants to know if Mark can spend the night. I think there was some discussion of midnight calf roping and other nefarious boy games.”
“That’s fine by me. Last time I saw Mark he was in the gym.”
“I’ll find him and return him by Sunday if that’s okay.”
“Oh yes. A weekend on the ranch would do him good!” Kate said. “Oh would it be good. That took care of the boy.” she thought. Now what to do with Jamie.
“Ma’am, we need to be moving on. It’s a bit of a drive back to Ft. Kit.”
“Yes, it is. Hope you men enjoyed what you saw of our school and think about moving up here.”
“Yes, we did. Its a very nice school. Sorry we didn’t get to meet your husband,” O’Hare said.
“So am I. Don’t know where he went off to. Oh well. Perhaps another time,” Kate said with a smile she didn’t feel. She watched them leave the school and felt a sigh of relief escape her. Now she had to find Jamie and get home. Hopefully without being followed. Four of them. There had been at least four of them watching. She wondered just what they had seen. Playing the evening through her head, she realized that she hadn’t seen them until O’Hare had pointed them out. Damn. Hopefully they hadn’t seen Eric and her together. Or, if they did, they didn’t realize that he was with her.
Nina came up to Kate and after greetings and a hug, she just started to talk when Sophie and Jamie came barreling up to them.
“Can we? Can we? Huh? Huh? Can we please?” they said in chorus.
“Can you what?” Kate asked.
“Sophie and I want ta spend the night at her house an Nina-Moma says yes! Will you say yes? Please? Please? Please, Kate-Mommie?” Jamie babbled at light speed.
Kate blinked, looked at Nina. “Is this alright with you?”
“Of course. Sophie and Jamie get along so well. Can she stay till Sunday?”
“If it’s alright with you.”
“Oh sure. See you on Sunday then,” Nina finished and walked off with two skipping girls.
Kate was rather surprised. She’d come to the school with two kids and a mate and now didn’t know if she’d even have Eric in the car. She said her goodbyes and headed outside. The parking lot wass odd, with only the front area lit. She’d parked way down on one side. As she walked, she sniffed the air. No acrid scent, but a dry one that didn’t fit in. Looking around, she saw what she thought she was looking for. Degus was sitting on the tailgate of a sedan with a flat tire.
“Hello, looks like your buddies left you in the lurch,” Kate said as she started to walk by.
“Yeah. I drove down by myself as I’m headed off on leave for a few days. Went to look in the trunk, and I’ve got a spare, but no jack.”
“Ah. I’ve got one you are welcome to use.”
“Thank you ma’am. Wouldn’t want to delay you and the hubby getting the kids home though.”
“Well, it looks like I’ve got the weekend off. Both kids off to spend time with friends, and now only a husband to find. He’s probably off looking at someone’s 4-H sheep or some silly cow. My car is over here.”
They walked towards her car when the interior of the car started to growl and bark. Large canine teeth showed in the back half of the Subaru.
“Oh damn. I forgot that Max was in the car,” Kate said with a bit of surprise in her voice. “He’s a little over protective of me. If you just back off, I’ll get the jack.”
Degus nodded and backed away from the vehicle which was still vibrating from the noise. Kate slowly opened the back hatch and grabbed the huge dog by the scruff of the neck.
“Max, heel. Max, lay down.” She pushed him off to one side. Max finally gave in and laid down, nose pointing at Degus and growling low. Kate got the jack and cross wrench, and just barely closed the tail gate so it didn’t latch. She winked at ‘Max’ as she did it. She hoped he understood.
“Here you go sir.”
Thanks. I would have been sitting out here for hours if you hadn’t been so kind.”
“Oh no. Any of these farmers would have been glad to give you a hand. Some of them might even have lent you a jack.”
Degus quickly changed the tire and handed back the jack. Thanking Kate, he got in his car and drove off. Kate walked back to her Subaru, lifted the tail gate and stuffed it back in where it belonged. The dome light was off, and the interior was pitch black.
“Max? What on earth made you call me Max?” Eric asked perplexed.
“Well, I always wanted to name a dog Max, and I didn’t expect to see you in the car let alone shifted. So, that was just what popped out. Granted, I didn’t expect to see Degus there either. He was waiting, wasn’t he?”
“Yes. I watched him and his buddies deflate his tire. Didn’t think anyone was around. They knew which one was your car too. Being able to lay in the ditch unseen was a real advantage. I had just gotten back into the car when you started out into the parking lot.”
“Damn. Now of course, they know I have one big mean dog. Is that going to be a problem?”
“No. None of that bunch was with any unit I was in. So none of them should know about me. Those that did wouldn’t talk.
Kate got in the car and they headed down the mountains into town. “So, what next? I know that they weren’t here for what they said. They weren’t looking at schools. O’Hare and company were hunting you.”
“Yes, I know. And I am afraid that I’m going to have to take care of them,” Eric said in a low voice.
“Eric, I don’t like the sound of your voice. What are you planning?”
“I think I’m going to pay a visit to Sarge and his buddies.”A midnight visit, in about five or six days.”
Kate thought about it. The moon was full in just about that time frame. Oh… “Eric, you wouldn’t,”
“Eat them? No. I don’t want indigestion. However, being a wolf will make it easier to sneak into the barracks. Plus, Degus there is just about my size. I can sneak in, grab his uniform, put some scare on those boys, leave the clothes and sneak back out. The MP’s will be looking for a man in uniform, not a dog or coyote.”
“It still gives me the creeps Eric.”
“Yes, but do we want these boys on our doorsteps again?”
“No. Am I driving you up there?”
“No. I’ll borrow Zach’s junker.”
“Ok.” Kate dropped the subject while they finished driving home.