Thursday, May 28, 2009

Saving Time 1

by Bosephus

Cody Blade tromped on the gas as he ground gears. The small, red sports car screeched in hot reply, burning black rubber marks on the pristine driveway. The huge estate, virgin white against the green lawns, pillared itself three stories into the sky. Arched windows and doorways, domes and towers leading off to various wings, housed family memories for the Colson’s…but few cherished memories for Cody.

Damn them all, Cody thought, gripping the steering wheel with all the passion of a murderer, so intent upon the final resolve he drove with reckless abandon. Hot tears scorched his eyes as he strained to keep them clear and wide, blinking away his shame like a shuttered camera. Twenty-fucking-years old today, Cody thought, twenty-fucking- years of being nobody. Well, it’s twenty-fucking years too long.

He reached out a tentative hand towards the brown paper bag next to him on the butter-soft leather seat. This was one trip he had packed well for, one-way, non-stop, and straight to hell.

The red Jeep Cherokee took the curves easily. A decreasing speed limit assured Nate Berringer that he was within the limits of Turtle Town. Every time he saw the city sign, he laughed out loud at the memories. The Wild Bunch they had been called by their friends, but it was the moniker that gave them something to live up to, more so than a true description. It was Wild Bill who had first christened the cabin that day they had gotten so shit-faced drunk, Sam Zegler fell off the dock. All five of them, including Nate’s Uncle Jim, had ended up in the cold lake that day, so inebriated they couldn’t get Sam or each other up the banks. Nate had only been fifteen, but his Uncle Jim had let him have a few beers that one day….until his mother found out.

Nate shook his head as he held the wheel and slowed. The large, black Newfoundland that had been lying quietly beside him, sat up, intent and alert. A slowing vehicle meant a stop soon and that would mean a pee-run and some exploring. Bear loved to leave his indelible impression on all objects he came across; a dog’s one way of communicating with those that come after him. Nate often said that Bear felt it was his purpose on this earth to pee on everything in the state of Oregon.

He came to the four-way stop. The roads were clear. He accelerated and out of nowhere a small sport’s car cut in front of him. Nate slammed on the brakes throwing his arm out to catch Bear’s collar and keep the dog from being thrown to the floor. However, he couldn’t break in time to avoid hitting the smaller car. “Christ!” Nate said, as he saw the small car spin several times on the gravel and stop just short of a ditch.

Nate released his shoulder harness and giving Bear a quick check over, making sure he wasn’t hurt, he quietly reassured his best friend. “It’s okay, boy, stay.” Then he eased his six-foot four-inch frame out of the driver’s side and walked purposefully towards the red sports car.

The impact of the crash had knocked him against the driver’s side door. Thank God he was wearing his seatbelt or he would probably have gone through the windshield. As the fog lifted from his addled brain, he looked up with wide, green eyes. A man, a huge man, was walking towards him. A green plaid flannel shirt, jeans and worker’s boots only added to the formidableness of the figure. Cody stared into the face; the blue eyes were iced with anger and staring straight at him.

“Shit!” Cody said. Then realizing that the engine of the expensive sports car was still purring, he shifted gears spraying gravel out from behind him as he swerved along the edge of the road trying to gain purchase on pavement.

“HEY! WAIT!” He heard the large man shout, but Cody Blade, experienced avoidance artist, sped off into the mountains, leaving the large man frothing at the mouth.

"Damn, stupid kid," Nate ground out, spreading his legs and placing his hands on his hips in a stance of authority. A piercing moment and he saw the green eyes staring up at him through the glass, frightened into wide circles of doubt. There was red, too, and Nate bit his lower lip realizing the implications of that thick color. The boy was hurt.

A man of observations, a collector of data and impressions, he filed away the license plate number. If the car was stolen, the kid could be underage. Hell, Nate thought, he looked like he was about fifteen. Walking back to the Cherokee, he examined the front bumper where the sports car had clipped the much larger vehicle. Damage was minimal, but the sports car's hood had looked seriously primped.

Getting back behind the wheel, he reassured the large puppy. At ten month's old, Bear looked more like a grizzly than a huge dog. In a few more weeks he would be full grown and at 180 pounds, he would be quite impressive. Nate laughed out loud as he rubbed the scruff under the drooling dog's mouth. "If only they knew what a big baby you really are, ha, boy?"

Bear merely whimpered and tried to move his huge frame across the console that divided the bucket seats. Nate pushed him back, "No, I'm driving." Pushing down on the dog's neck, he repeated the remembered commands, "Sit." Bear immediately dropped down and panted excitedly. Once the car started moving towards the center of town, he was content to know he was going places, and settled happily back down with his head on his huge paws.

Cody's vision blurred, but he straightened the car and downshifted. No time to worry about the damage to the car as long as she still drove, he really didn't give a damn. He didn't really know where he was going, just up into the mountains. His dad, long-dead, had taken him one time up here. Memories pulled as his eyes teared. The cabin had been shared between Bill Blade and several of his old army buddies. It was one of the few times he had spent with his dad. With the memory of innocence, the childlike ability to pinpoint impressive objects, Cody focused on looking for Witches Nose. He remembered with clarity the rock formations that sheltered the road leading to the cabin. The one that looked like a witches nose, crooked and long, would mark the spot where he could finally find peace.

Nate drove the Cherokee in front of Turtle Town’s Sheriff department. He held the door as Bear lumbered down, hesitating as he hovered over the pavement. “Big Baby,” Nate laughed as he hooked a hand under the dog’s haunches and helped him to the pavement. The big pup was having a hard time jumping down from anything more than a foot off the ground. He no doubt still saw himself as the little guy, no more than five pounds that Nate had brought home wrapped in a blanket. Still forcing his huge bottom onto Nate’s lap in the evenings, he was turning into a lap dog that could crush bones.

Now he wiggled his butt enthusiastically ready for whatever adventure Nate had in store. Pulling the leash from the back seat, he hooked the yellow lead onto the bright yellow collar. This action only excited Bear all the more as he moved eagerly towards the first patch of grass, ready to christen the world.

Ben Bracken opened the door to his office. “Nate, son of a gun, what brings you out here in spring. Ain’t you got some book deals, those signings you’re always off to. Thought for sure I wouldn’t see your sorry ass up here until fall, same’s usual.” Bracken was a tall man, though he didn’t measure up to Nate in sheer muscle and bulk. Bracken had been in Uncle Jim’s unit in the Gulf War and he was the only other surviving member of the Wild Bunch, besides Uncle Jim and Gil Flanders.

“Nope, told my agent to cool the public appearances,” Nate said as he stood patiently waiting for Bear to finish peeing for the fourth time. “Got the kid, here,” Nate said, bending down to pat the large dog on the head. “Like staying home now.”

Bracken leaned back against the doorframe enjoying the warm spring air. It had been a cold hard winter and the tourist season didn't hit Turtle Town until mid-July and petered out with the last vestiges of hunting season just before Christmas. It was good seeing a new, albeit old-face, and catch up on some of the big city gossip.

"How's the pup doin?" Ben asked, remembering last fall when Nate had brought the totally wild and impish bundle of fur up to the mountain cabin for the first time.

"Almost cured him of his taste for fine wood, not completely, mind you," Nate laughed pulling on the rambunctious dog's leash to get him into the office. "Trying to teach him the difference now between tissue paper and starchy foods."

Both men chuckled as Ben reached down to welcome the pup. Bear was up on his hindquarters in no time, hugging Ben around the neck like a long, lost lover.

Cody knew that most of the cabins along Turtle Ridge were boarded up and shut down. Most folks didn't come to the mountains until the end of May for the first long Memorial day weekend. Besides, a few hours was all he needed for some reflection, some regrets, and moving on.

He parked the battered up sports car along the side of the road, off into the greenery so no passing resident would be suspicious. He knew he wouldn't be missed and he doubted Faber Colson would report the car stolen, too much bad publicity for the family name, the good, solid, self-righteous Colson name.

Grabbing for the small brown paper bag, he patted the dashboard, "Bye," he said sadly to the small car he loved so much. It was his mother's and the only thing left him. Faber Colson had seen to it that his one bastard grandchild would get nothing.

Tears welled in his eyes as he realized this was a parting for more than a time or two, this was a parting beyond words or emotions and he quickly sealed himself off. There was no hurting when he shut down, the switch so easily flipped now that resolve wired his lines.

Hugging the bag to his chest, the treasure valued above all else now, he started through the thick foliage. His dad used to come up here, meet with his old army buddies. His dad had been in the Gulf War, a decorated war hero. The one time he had come up here when he was ten, his dad on leave from his career of military life, had been one of the happiest times of his life. Several of the men in his unit had pooled together to buy a cabin retreat in the mountains and Wild Bill Blade had finally talked Cody's mom into letting him come for a long weekend. Cody remembered the large man swinging him around like a fighter plane, buzzing and giggling as they made like airplanes. He remembered the feeling like a man remembers fire when he's left out in the snow. It was the most wonderful thing he could imagine now.

The other men who had spent that long weekend with Bill Blade and his son were different, too. Not like the men he knew from his mom's family, the stoic, well dressed, men who didn't like messing their hair or walking in the rain. Men who couldn't even open doors for themselves, without someone there to offer assistance, totally beneath such mundane tasks. These men wore flannel shirts, swore up a storm and drank themselves silly, always loud and boisterous, yet never cold and detached. Cody felt more love among those men than he had ever felt among his grandfather and cousins and half-brothers.

He trudged through the thick leaves, tripping occasionally on the twisted vines and roots that protruded from the ground. Climbing higher all the time, he angled along the ravine, known as Turtle Ridge. The cabin was situated on the top of the ridge; it's back porch outcropping over the steep drop-off. Cody remembered the stern warnings he had gotten from those men that day about staying away from the railing.

Finally the foliage thinned and he came upon an open space. There just up ahead the cabin stood, quiet and empty. The shades were pulled down, the front door closed tightly. Cody went around the side and picking up a small rock, he smashed the window breaking glass. The crystal tinkle as the small flecks hit the hard wood floor was like a symphony in the quiet late afternoon. There was a solid quality to the sound, like a knell ringing in a true and worthy purpose. Cody Blade was ready to die.

Nate left the town just before dusk. Loaded with supplies, groceries, steaks for the freezer, dog food and beer, he put his headlights on as he started the long climb up the steep and curving road towards the cabin. Ben had accepted his invite for dinner the coming weekend, and Nate made sure he had plenty of food and beer for the occasion. Ben Bracken took the license number down, but since their computer had been off line since Monday, he didn’t promise Nate an answer until the following week.

“This ain’t Portland, Nathaniel, this here be the boonies,” Ben had reminded him in exaggerated hick talk.

He needed time to formulate the plot for his next book and it had been like pulling teeth from his weary and ravaged brain. Finally admitting once and for all that he was gay, that his sexual preferences were not the accepted norm, he needed time away from people. Bear had been a blessing. The unconditional love of the big pup, the warm furry body that crawled in bed with Nate at night, the greetings of long separations when Nate left for five minutes, all refreshed and revitalized his aching heart. He needed love right now…to give as well as receive. It was a hard and lonely time for self-acceptance.

Talking incessantly to the huge mutt, sitting happily in the seat next to him, ears cocked, drool and spittle hanging from his low jowls, made Nate feel good. The dog was always eager for conversation and hung on Nate’s every word as though he mouthed the wisdom of Socrates or Plato. In Bear’s world, Nate reigned, spoke with tongues, and produced food….Nate was god.

Cody walked around the cabin in the twilight hour, the leaden hour of a weight far heavier than night. Emptying the brown paper bag on the coffee table in the small living room, he eyed his weapons of demise. A handgun, stolen from Faber Colson’s office drawer, sleeping pills from his Mom’s bathroom, a straight razor from his half-brother, Derek…so many choices. “What shall it be?” he asked himself aloud, “so many choices, so many exit signs.”

He looked at the straight razor. Fill a bathtub with warm water and leisurely soak, a few of the sleeping pills, a nice easy cut on each wrist and he sunk into sleep, easy, relaxed...gone. No, he thought, the razor looked sharp and he didn’t relish pressing hard enough to cut the skin….he shivered involuntarily.

The gun…open his mouth…so quick and easy…yes..that would be best. In the mouth, straight up towards the back of the head, no chance of being resuscitated and left in a vegetative state. That would work best.

Picking up the gun, he walked out onto the back terrace overlooking the deep ravine. Standing at the railing, he looked down at the gorge below. Hell, he thought, I can always jump if worse comes to worse…just lean back on the rail and let go.

Images of shattered bones banging off the side of the steep descent had him pull quickly back. He took the lounger nearest the door and pushed it closer to the rail. Sitting down he pulled his legs up onto the long chair and laid his head back. Just a short time to watch the sun set over behind the mountaintop and it would be bedtime, one last time. He was tired, so exhausted. Thinking strained him. The slow depression after his mother’s death six-months ago had been insidiously progressive. Faber Colson had tolerated his presence in the house until this morning. The blow up was long-overdue and everything Colson told him, he already knew. No money, no family support, he was not a Colson, but Susan Colson’s one mistake in life. The fact that he finally acknowledged he was gay, only brought the expulsion sooner than later.

Nate parked the truck and allowed the big dog to run free in front of the cabin. Bear ran happily about sniffing and peeing and sniffing some more. He seemed intent on the side of the cabin and Nate had to holler for him in a “I mean business, mister” tone before he finally came penitently back to his side, all wiggles and smiles, like he was only joshing. Nate couldn’t help but ruffle the big head and forgive, the child in Bear was a determined, relentless little cuss, and too damned cute to stay mad at.

As he found the key under the flowerpot on the side rail, he opened the door. Bear charged in, raced right past the living room and straight out the opened door wall onto the dark terrace overlooking the ravine.

Tears welled in the green eyes; Cody picked up the gun. Feeling nothing for so long, not tasting food, not wanting anything, finding no joy in life or anything it had to offer, he couldn’t understand this remarkable show of sentimentality over his final moments. He brushed a weary hand against his cheek and looked at the gun. “I’m sorry, Mom, but you left. He didn’t want me around. Said I disgusted him. It hurts, “ Cody said as the river flowed in a great stream down his face. Opening his mouth, he closed his eyes and brought the gun up….

A large, heavy, breathing machine knocked full force against him. The gun fell to the deck as he tried to brace himself. He was under a waterfall of some sort. No, there was fur…lots of thick fur and hot breath and he felt himself toppling with the chair as he tried to push the huge grizzly…for sure it was a grizzly off of him.

Nate raced out after Bear in a panic. Fearful the big, stupid mutt would take a leap over the rail he reached the deck just in time to see the dog veer right and jump up on the lounger. Something heavy hit the deck and skidded to a stop near Nate’s foot. It was a gun. Reaching down and picking it up, Nate saw the lounger topple sideways away from him. A blond head was the only discerning feature in the twilight as one hundred plus pounds of puppy took down the intruder.

Reaching down he pulled the collar issuing commands, “Bear, sit, stay,” but the puppy had not mastered these commands when a new plaything was introduced. Nate pulled back on the huge dog as the victim started skootching backwards on his butt, finally stopping against the outer wall of the cabin. Nate saw the red eyes, the large bruise alongside the head, the stained cheeks, and at first he thought it was drool from Bear. Then the green eyes connected with his blue and Nate never saw such a look of utter dejection and despair. A quick assessment of the situation and acknowledgment surely crested in his eyes. The boy, no more than a few years past his teens, immediately realized the threat to his plans. He scrambled to his feet and started to put a leg over the railing.

Nate released Bear’s collar and grabbed the boy’s arm. A right hook almost grazed his chin, but Nate was experienced in physical combat and he ducked, spun and draped a hard arm under the boy’s chin pulling him back against his solidly, muscled chest.

“Stop it,” Nate ground out in the kid’s ear. “Just stop it, right now.”

Cody was desperate. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. He wanted to die…quietly, without struggle and fanfare, just slip away into peace. It just wasn’t fair. With a determination bred of hopelessness, he tried to elbow Nate in the ribs. The reply to such a wasted effort was merely a good shaking and a tightening around his neck and waste.

“I said ENOUGH!” Holding the boy firmly, the small figure didn’t weigh much, he practically had the kid’s feet off the ground as he waltzed him backwards towards the sliding doors. “Bear, come.” The unusual, dancing duet and their mascot, slowly returned to the inside of the cabin. Nate slammed the door wall shut and locked it.

Holding his prize, he spun the boy around and slammed him hard down onto the sofa. Standing with his legs spread wide, his arms on his hips, he looked like a huge Viking daring his captor to do battle. Cody accepted the challenge and jumped up only to be slammed back down again.

Rising again, he raised a fist to strike only to have it blocked. He stamped his foot in frustration and biting down hard on his lower lip he looked into the blue eyes filled with anger and confusion. There was something there, one small spec of concern that was enough to do him in. He burst out into a storm of emotion and collapsed against the large chest.

Nate was taken by surprise, he knew this was an attempted suicide, but when he saw the kid break down, he felt something inside of him snap. It was like twine holding a fragile ornament, almost crying out at the loss of such a beautiful thing. He pulled the figure in close and sitting down on the sofa pulled the smaller man onto his lap.

“Why? Why did you stop me?”

“I didn’t. Bear did…I always do what the pup says,” Nate said, rubbing the boy’s back. “He’s taken a liking to you. I guess he thinks you’re worth saving.”

This epiphany only made Cody cry all the harder. Nate wrapped his solid strength around the boy and pulled him in close. No one should feel so alone, so desperate at this young age that they would rather put a bullet in their brain than continue living. Unconsciously he kissed the top of the spiked hair protruding out in all directions.

Bear, getting distraught himself by events, sat in front of Nate and the boy on the hard wood floors. His big butt polished the wood as he eagerly wagged his tail, looking unsure of the situation.

"You're getting Bear all upset," Nate said, trying to lighten the boy's spirits. At first there was nothing from the youth, he merely grabbed hold of Nate's flannel shirt and cried harder. However, Nate noticed a slight turning of the golden head and the boy peeked one red and swollen eye out at the dog.

Bear got the sign and moved closer, sticking his cold, wet nose, his drooling jowls into the boy's face. Then Nate heard one of the most beautiful sounds he could ever remember hearing, the boy was laughing. Reaching out a tentative hand he touched the thick dome that housed one of the most fiendish dog brains in the world and patted him gently.

"He's big, " the boy laughed some more.

"Yeah, he's that among a whole monkey in a barrel kind of other things, too."

"What's your name?"


"Cody what?" Nate pushed.

"Just Cody," the boy held firm.

"Well, I'm Nate Berringer, that there is Bear. You, Just Cody, are in a heap of trouble, but we'll deal with it later. Right now, I need to get my supplies out of the truck "I need to get my supplies out of the truck. It's getting dark and I need to start getting this place heated for the night. Are you okay? Can you come with me?" Nate looked down at the green eyes as the boy pulled away and sat up. Wiping his eyes with his hands, he looked so lost and confused, Nate was worried. Once out of sight, the boy might try something foolish again, like jumping down into the ravine. "I won't leave you alone. I quite frankly don't trust you and we have some talking to do, but I need to get dinner started and get this place heated. Besides, if I don't feed Bear soon, he's apt to eat the cabin. Can you stick by me?"

"I'm okay," Cody said, but he didn't sound all that sure even to his own ears. Nate saw his eyes focus on the coffe table. An array of colored bottles and pills, a straight razor, a brown paper bag empty and crumpled…no doubt the kid’s luggage, Nate thought.

"Well, I'm not and when I say I want you with me, I want you with me." The man's voice now changed, it wasn't the gentle voice of his rescuer, now it was the voice of a man used to giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed.

"I'll help you. It's the least I can do, I guess, if I'm supposed to be grateful." The last was said somewhat surly as the boy tried to stand.

Nate, not liking the tone or the attitude, pulled the boy back down onto his lap, hard.

"An attitude like that, boy, just pushed all trust out the door. Remember that, when I seem a bit unfair." The blue eyes narrowed slightly, and then Nate pushed him off his lap and stood up. Taking the gun from behind his waistband, he opened the chamber and dropped the shells into the palm of his hand. Walking over to the door wall, he opened it wide enough to get his hand out. He threw the bullets high and wide and Cody watched as they caught the last of the sunlight and dropped to the ravine below. Then Nate bundled up the pills and razor and taking a key from his back pocket, he unlocked the middle drawer of the old desk in the corner and stuffed the assortment in, relocking the drawer.

It didn’t take the two men, working in sync, long to get all the supplies out of the jeep and stored away in the cupboards and larder. Nate figured the steaks would serve for a quick supper and baked potatoes. He had planned on barbecuing them on the terrace as he watched the last remnants of daylight ease behind the mountain rim, but with the kid’s fragile mind, he nixed that idea and opted for the broiler in the well-equipped kitchen.

“Wash you hands, good and clean,” Nate said as he indicated the kitchen sink. “You can prepare the salad.”

“I ain’t hungry,” the boy said.

“I don’t care if you’re hungry or not. I need help and you’re not starving yourself anymore than putting any bullets through your head. Wash up, now.” Nate stated these as facts to the boy, as he realized a few minutes later or perhaps if Bear hadn’t been so eager to find out the scent he picked up, this boy might be long gone by now. It was best he set the tone of their relationship, for the twenty-four hours or so they would be in each other’s company. He was in charge, period.

He narrowed his gaze at the boy as he seasoned the steaks. Noting his appearance for the first time, he saw the expensive cut of his tailored slacks, the mint green sweater that set off the green eyes, and the shoes of expensive Italian leather. Then it dawned on him like a sudden break in the clouds on a copper penny, this was the kid in the expensive sports car who had hit and run. Nate opened his mouth to comment, to lay into the kid for his careless, irresponsible driving, but the boy decided to do as he was told.

He broke eye contact with Nate and walked over to the sink. Washing his hands, he looked out the small cabin window over the sink. “This your cabin?”

Deciding now was not the time to reem the kid out, he nodded his head in approval. “Yes and no. My uncle and some of his Desert Storm army buddies bought the place about ten years ago…actually right before they shipped out to the war. Now there’s only three left, my Uncle Jim and Gil and Ben, the sheriff of Turtle Town. Uncle Jim let’s me stay here every fall until the first of the year.”

“Ain’t the fall, in case you read your calendar wrong,” the boy said snippily.

“You mad at me, yourself, or the world in general?” Nate asked, as he wiped his hands on the kitchen towel.

“Fuckin pissed at you right now, mister,” Cody said angrily, but he kept his back turned to Nate as he washed the lettuce in the colander and began shredding it with his hands.

Nate put the steaks on the broiler tray and shoved them under the hot flame. Rising he walked over to Cody and towered over the smaller man coming close up behind, almost touching.

“We’re going to eat first. I think an empty stomach makes a man surly and boorish. Then we’re going to sit ourselves down and talk. I’ll warn you now. I don’t favor language like that. I don’t like attitude when I’m trying to help someone. Meet me half way, we’ll be fine. Piss me off and you’ll know it.”

Nate watched as the boy shivered and flinched, no doubt catching the breath upon his neck. Choosing silence as his best route, he merely nodded his head and continued with his chore.

Dinner was a generally courteous conversation that centered around Bear, the cabin, and the beautiful mountains around them. Oftentimes, Nate would catch Cody chewing his steak, staring off into space ruminating over some thought. His face would tighten and his eyes tear and a visible lump could be seen in his throat. Nate discreetly handed over a piece of the tender meat to Bear, who sat eagerly by, hoping for a careless diner to get sloppy. Then Cody would swallow and take a huge sip of Cola, since Nate refused him a beer until he could prove he was twenty-one.

After the meal, Nate was satisfied the boy had put away at least half his steak. He chopped the remainder up for the dog and mixed it with his dry food. Bear lay down in front of his plate, his huge paws on either side, burying his muzzle in the savory treat.

Nate washed the dishes and set Cody to the drying. The boy looked a little better having eaten. Color had returned to his face and, though still hollow-eyed, he seemed more alert, less detached from his surroundings.

“Now, I think you and I had best have that talk.” Nate put his arm on the boy and led him into the next room, over to the sofa.

As the neared the leather couch, Cody shook off the hold and turned hostile. “I don’t owe you nothing, I’d best just be on my way.” He turned to leave and Nate grabbed his shoulders roughly, spun him around and slammed him back into the thick cushions.

“You’re not going anywhere, not tonight and maybe not tomorrow. You’re guilty of hit and run. Sheriff Bracken don’t take kindly to rich young fools showing off their skills on these roads. Too easy to skid off the side of the mountain. Unless,” Nate paused, “you stole that car.”

“I didn’t steal no car. It’s my mom’s….well, er, it was hers,” Cody bit his lower lip.

“Tell me about it, son,” Nate said as he sat down and put a comforting hand on Cody’s knee.

The young man knocked it off, pushed Nate back and stood up. “I ain’t your fucking son! I ain’t nothing to no one right about now. No one cares about me. So don’t play the fucking, shit-faced savior to me. I don’t need it. I don’t need anyone.”

Nate rose angrily, but the youth saw it coming. Raising his right hand, he hit Nate full force in the jaw. Nate spun back, totally caught off guard and grabbed for his bruised jaw.

Cody took off towards the cabin door, but forgetting he would have to clear the kitchen first, he was knocked backwards by a very excited ball of fur. Bear ran head on into him and slammed him back on the seat of his pants.

Before he could remove the huge dog from atop him, Nate was standing tall and dangerously close. Pulling the dog off of the truculent boy, Nate reached down and grabbed Cody’s shirt collar.

“Time you and I established a few things,” Nate said as he hauled the frightened boy back towards the sofa.

As they slow-waltzed towards the couch, Nate shook the boy. “Undo your belt.”

“Hell, no,” Cody replied, as he tried to land a kick to Nate’s shin. Twisting him back against his chest, Nate held him firmly with a forearm under his chin. Using his free hand, he undid the belt and ripping the button off the expensive trousers he heard them unzip against the strain of his large hand.

“NO! Please don’t. Please, please don’t rape me,” the boy cried out as Nate half carried him to the sofa.

“I’m not going to rape you,” Nate ground out angrily, disgusted with how this kid thought. “How old are you, anyway?” Now they stood near the sofa, Nate almost resting his chin on Cody’s shoulder, waiting for an answer.

“Twenty-fucking years old today. Happy Birthday to me.” Cody slammed the heel of his expensive Italian shoes down hard on Nate’s instep.

“OW! SHIT! Damn brat, I guess you really do need this.” Then Nate sat down pulling the struggling figure face down across his lap.

Pulling the grey slacks down, Nate hooked his hand in the waistband of the silk boxers. They slid easily down and joined the pants around the kids thrashing ankles. Nate secured him firmly in place by placing a steel banded forearm down across the small of his back. Easing him firmly in against his tautly muscled stomach, he raised his right leg up a bit, presenting the white-mounded buttocks up for their punishment.

As though realizing for the first time the true intent for his disrobing, Cody howled out in indignation. “NO! You can’t be serious. I’m fucking twenty. You can’t be serious.”

“When was the last time you were spanked?” Nate asked him, holding him firmly in place, while he rested his right hand on the clenching cheeks.

“When I was nine, just that one time…never again,” Cody said it like it was a fact that Nate wouldn’t dare refute.

“Seems once wasn’t enough by my measure.” Then Nate raised his huge hand and began to slap the soft flesh in a pattern of harshly resounding strikes.

“Ow, NO! Stop! Please, don’t!” Cody soon pushed reason aside as he realized there was a purpose and intent to the hard hand. Wiggling his butt, he tried to arch his back, only to be pressed more firmly down. Every movement seemed to raise his butt higher in the air and expose new virgin flesh to the determined hand.

Nate spanked him with a firm commitment to break the boy down. He needed to have him melt, give up his defensive attitude and accept his help and guidance, at least until he figured out what to do with the boy. It was his experience from his own disciplinarian, Uncle Jim, that a sound, well-deserved punishment did wonders to open up the soul, release pent-up guilt and expose a raw and fresh spirit to be nurtured carefully by a loving, but firm hand.

He allowed his large palm free-reign, striking hard the soon-reddened flesh, hot and furiously expressive as the whitened handprint soon eased into the shades of pink then red. Cody howled and kicked sending his pants and boxers off into the corner. Bear ran off to investigate the seemingly independent garments, but returned quickly, concern evident in the large, expressive eyes.

Nate realized if the dog did indeed spend more time with the boy and took an even greater liking to him, he would most definitely have to lock the dog away when Cody needed disciplining. Shocked by the long-term commitment of this train of thought, Nate merely funneled his theories into more determined spanks.

“This should show you, Cody, that someone does care about you. Cares about the foul language you use, cares about your obnoxious attitude, cares about your cavalier attitude towards your own health and welfare, and definitely is concerned about straightening out your sorry ass.” Nate looked around for a paddle of some sort, but there was nothing in the room to even serve the purpose. He’d need a good solid oak paddle down the road. Stop it, Nate reprimanded himself. Where the hell were these long-term plans coming from?

When Nate was satisfied with the job he did, he pulled the boy up and sat him down next to him on the sofa. A low, aching groan escaped the quivering lips as Cody's bottom touched the leather. His body shook with small shudders and Nate reached a hand back to the far side of the sofa and pulled down the afghan used for decoration. He draped it over the boy’s bare legs.

Putting his arm around the boy, he pushed the thick wisps of hair back off the large forehead. Sure enough, a large gash, now caked with blood. "Damnit," Nate said, anger returning to fill his soul, "you could have a concussion."

The young man shook his head, tears still streaming down his face, soft hiccupping sounds escaping his lips as he tried to contain himself. "No, I'm fine."

"Why?" Nate asked, gentling his voice once again. Perhaps some honey would be necessary to trap this particular fly.

"Because," Cody started, knowing exactly what Nate was asking, "I'm dead inside."

Realizing the depth of pain and despair this boy was feeling, Nate decided not to push him further tonight. In the morning, he would use his cell phone and call Ben. Perhaps the computer would be fixed or he could call the plate into another station and they could determine the identity of this boy.

Only thing Nate Berringer knew tonight was that he wanted this boy safe and sound and securely nestled next to him. No improper thoughts filled his head at this point, save a need to protect and straighten out the lost traveler.

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