Note: This story was dynamically reformatted for online reading convenience. BOOGER RED & COWBOY CHAPTER 5 By Waddie Greywolf Leon became my rock. We continued to work side by side. I opened my soul to Leon and poured my heart out to him. He would listen by the hour. He wouldn't say much, but I knew Leon was enjoying my new found strength to get it out, empty the trash, and confide in him. As my spirits began to rise, so did Leon's. I didn't just move into Leon's world. I kept my small apartment over the garage and would wait for him to invite me to his bed. I got invited quite often. I never passed up a chance to be with that big, mean looking cowboy. For someone as hard and mean looking as Leon, he could make the most understanding love and give me some of the best fucking's of my young life. When he got all that cock inside me, it was wonderful; it was medicinal;--- sure chased the screaming green meanies away. Leon didn't look upon fucking as just getting his rocks off. He didn't have much to say but when he got inside me he translated everything his mouth couldn't say into his fucking. When he finished, you were thoroughly convinced he loved and appreciated you for sharing your body with him. Hell, he didn't have to utter those precious three little words. You had his love on deposit further in your gut than any other man could put it. Even as big as he was, my ass felt cheated unless I managed to take him all. He always made sure I did. He knew my hunger. He felt my need. He gave me what I couldn't ask for. Master Sam and his two buddies took a run somewhere and later returned with the two giant men that visited with Big Red at my home in Mason. Big Jim and Master Beryl. They were to stay a couple of weeks with Master Walker and Xander. They had one more man with them I hadn't met before but whom I loved from the moment I met him. His name was Master Jeb. Master Jeb was the family's Dungeon Master. I didn't understand what the title implied but Master Walker explained he was responsible for the training and imprinting of most of the slaves within the family. Master Jeb was one of the finest looking middle aged men I ever saw. He had penetrating deep blue eyes, the kindest face, chiseled features of perfect proportions and a dark ruddy color that looked like he had a permanent tan. He wasn't as big as the two giants but he wasn't a small man, anywhere. Riding buddy with him was a fine looking smaller man who made my dick drool. In cowboy boots he probably cleared four foot seven. He could stand with his head nestled under my armpit. He wasn't just small, he was a perfectly formed little man with a body by God. His physical appearance was deceptive. His body was so developed he carried himself like he was as big or bigger than Big Jim or Beryl. His name was Wesley David Johnson. Once you got to know Wes you never thought about him being smaller than the rest of the men. Wes had the soul of a poet and the heart of a lion. It sounds like a dichotomy but Wes was one of the biggest men I ever met. Come to find out, he was Master Johnson's adopted son and nephew of one of the giants, Big Jim Johnson. Master Walker was Big Jim's older brother. I guess being raised in the land of giants one might tend to take on some of their characteristics. Wes came back from Nam about the same time I did, had a disastrous Master/slave relationship with a Master who wasn't a member of the family. Coupled with stress syndrome, his world, in many ways, was like mine; koyaanisqatsi: a world out of balance. A world out of control. It was an American Indian word Jim Redfeather taught me about depression and stress. Wes heard about me through Master Walker, Big Jim, Master Beryl, Red, Harley Boone, Master Sam, Bull and Charlie, and his dad. He wanted to meet me. Yet, he was afraid to meet me. I understood why. I didn't know if I could talk to anybody but Leon about what I went through. Leon was as stoic as the patterned walk of a silent druid and rarely commented. He just listened. That's not a complaint. Leon was perfect for me. When you empty your garbage the last thing you want is someone sifting through it. Once in a while he'd put his arms around me, gently kiss me on the forehead and that was his signal to me, 'Give it a rest. That's enough for a now. We'll pick up there later.' He never said the words but I always knew. He was right. I was trying to get too much out too quickly. It was like the damn broke or the flood gates opened and poor Leon was in the middle of the street in downtown Johnstown deluged by the flow. Leon acted like a gate keeper. Later, he would faithfully start me where I'd left off by asking a question. I knew he was letting me know he could listen for another spell. My flood waters of damned up pain seemed to be subsiding as I settled into a steady life and work at the ranch. (Leon later confided he didn't stop me because he was tired of listening. He stopped me because I would get so emotionally worked up he was concerned I'd hurt myself in some way.) I felt like part of the family to be put on the payroll and I began to work twice as hard to be worthy of their trust in me. It seemed through hard physical work I could keep the emotional hounds at bay, at lest for a while. Sometimes I became so engrossed and lost in my work I wouldn't know when to quit. Leon would take a pitch fork out of my hands and order me to the river. We spent some wonderful afternoons in the giant dinosaur tracks of the beautiful Paluxy river. Huge limestone foot prints you could step in and imagine the physical size of the creature who made it ninety-three to ninety-six million years ago. You could see the huge steps the animal took moving forward. You couldn't jump from one step to another. We measured them at fifteen to twenty feet per stride. It staggers the imagination the size of the beast that imprinted them in the mud all those years ago. And as Snoopy was quick to observe: "And we don't miss them a bit!" Master Johnson and Xander couldn't have been more loving and I began to share more with them. They couldn't believe some of the stories I told them. Most times when you did open up to people and told them the truth, they'd look at you like you were lying to them. We weren't. Wes hadn't opened up to his dad, his uncle nor Master Jeb about what went on over there. He didn't open up to anyone. He later confirmed my experiences to his dad and several other family members. Everyone wondered why the guys who returned couldn't talk about it. Why they couldn't get it out, kept it bottled up inside, would fold up like a telescope, turn, and run the other way rather than have to relive the horror and frustration by telling anyone what they went through. We didn't win. We left in defeat. Even before the final pullout in seventy- three every man who came home felt defeated. Wes and I came up with a description of the way we felt. We felt like a couple of two bit whores, not paid nearly enough to get fucked as hard as we did. Hell, they wouldn't let us win. Why? That doesn't make sense you say? It made a hell of a lot of 'cents' to the military industrial complex of our country. If you think politics and the voting public are in control of our country, you are painfully naive. Money, power, more money, and greed are in control of our country and foreign policy. Does the name Enron ring a bell? Even today, Howdy Doody Bush, is only a puppet. A mere figurehead for the controlling interest. Vietnam was the worst run, dirty little war the U.S. ever got itself into. Their policies cost me three of the most beautiful men I could ever hope to love. There's been enough time passed that a new generation has come along that has no concept of Vietnam. The time is ripe for it to happen all over again. The moment I met Wes, there was an understanding that passed between us and I knew I had to take away some of his pain. I also knew I had to have him. I'd always been pretty passive when it came to sex but not because I didn't want to take the lead. Except for Buck, the men I'd gone with were older, mature men who never considered asking if I had a preference. To them I was trained as a slave and there was no question, I was there for one purpose, to pleasure them. I was expected to get fucked. That's not a complaint. I loved being a slave to every one of those men and I tried to do my best for them. I was younger by twenty to thirty years than some of them; however, after I returned from Nam and ran into them again, they knew, slave or not, I'd become my own man. I'd been burnished by the fires of hell. I wasn't going to take shit off nobody. In some ways that made me all the more desirable and a greater treasure to them. Wes was the first man to spark a need within me to gently, firmly, but lovingly take responsibility for the guidance, at least in part, of another man's life. Wes and I instinctively knew he was to become my catcher. I needed to unload my cowboy dick into his tight little body, front and rear. I didn't look on it as feminizing Wes for a boost to my masculine ego. It was a need my subconscious was carefully taught by some strong, powerful men who loved me. It was man-sex as my uncle instructed me. He never suggested I was to become his woman substitute. I was his cowboy who caught his seed in my ass, drank his piss and sucked his, tart, white, thick, ropey cowboy come from his big, beautiful dick. So it was with my need for Wes. It was an epiphany of sorts I somehow found amusing. It wasn't sifting through the shit I'd been through in Nam that suddenly transformed me into something else. It was my need for Wes. That day, I reached out to Wes, started a chain reaction within me. I found myself being reborn to life. At least I wasn't emotionally immobile; I was moving. It didn't matter whether I was moving up or down, I told myself, but by God, I was moving. I was crawling on my hands and knees toward the light. If I could stand and run for a few paces, I'd try. At the end of a long tunnel there was a glimmer of light. A hope for recovery might be possible, but above all that day, I became my own man. My Uncle Bud introduced me to man-sex because I asked him to. He taught me to be a slave to a man because I begged him to. He poured his love into me unconditionally. By the end of my first year experiencing man-sex, begging my uncle to train me as a slave, I was ready to have sex and love demanded from me by a Master. Uncle Bud was right. I couldn't have chosen a better Master who would firmly demand and fulfill any slave's need to serve another man, than Booger Red. Master Red allowed no question in my mind when I was with him the best sex and the most love I could provide for him would not only be expected but demanded of me. He also expected his slave to enjoy serving him and love him unconditionally; otherwise, Master Red would continue to ride solo as he did for years. To serve him was to love him. Any scoot bum could buy a slave to bond and service him but to know the joy of having a slave serve you because of a sense of unconditional love rather than bond was Red's deepest need. He wouldn't settle for less. Why should he? He didn't have to. As ugly as folks joked about Red's looks he had an animal sex appeal about him that torqued most slave's teats he came in contact with. Sounds like a tall order for any slave to fill but Red's masculine personality was so powerful his strength and resolve made his demands easy for his slave to fulfill. There was never any guess work nor confusion what Master Red expected of his slave. As long as his slave met those parameters he could be happy and content he was serving his Master well, he was needed, appreciated, and above all, he was loved. When Buck came along I wanted to please him anyway I could. Buck felt the same for me. I was Buck's only sex partner in his short life. He offered to catch for me and I turned him down. Being inexperienced in man-sex, Buck was at a crossroads and would've gone either way depending on the needs of a partner that patiently brought him along. I needed to be his 'cowboy' like I was to my uncle. It seemed like a natural transition and Buck loved me enough he wanted to be that for me. Besides, Buck was a natural stallion who only needed to find his grazing pasture. My first lesson for him was to teach him my ass was his home, his stall. I needed only to catch for him. As time went on, I began to see us establishing distinct roles. He became my strong protector. He slowly began to take over as sexual leader and with more experience, the better he became. I noticed he began to enjoy demanding little things from me I was only too happy to provide. I would encourage him further and support him taking the lead. I built his self confidence by complementing him on his performance and bragging to White and Twissleman what an animal I chose. It never failed to get a smug, self-satisfied smile on his face and a mean fuck thrown in me that night. I was training Buck to become a demanding but considerate Master. Hell, he never once failed to get me off while he was getting his. We had it down to an art form, a science. Once in a great while Buck would order me to shut up, lay back and relax, he was gonna' suck me off. He enjoyed it and I learned to relax and let him. Afterwards he would rave about how great Cowboy's come tasted and could we bottle it? Buck became a man through his love for me. He loved me enough, he wanted to become what I needed and he succeeded beyond either of our expectations. Over time everyone in the platoon began to notice a change in Buck. He became more mature. He took on an aura of self awareness and seriousness of purpose the other men looked up to. Through his simple but grounded faith he took on a glow in the joy of loving and being loved. He grew up before his buddy's eyes and would astound the three of us with an insight we completely overlooked. When we discussed his change he would always tell me in the simplest of terms his love for me brought it all about. He told me he came to experience love for God because of his love for me. He said I taught him about unconditional love. Aside from the horrible place we found ourselves, he felt his soul was at peace and our love sustained him from day to day. His unconditional love came to sustain not only his three buddies but our entire platoon. Buck became the cool, calm, collected brains of the 'cowboys.' Twissleman was our heart. My vision and hearing was better than excellent and I could spot and hear things the others didn't seem to. I became the eyes and ears of the 'cowboys' and strange as it may sound, White became our conscience. Even out of the depths of hell itself there was joy to be found. We made our on brand of down home fun and expressions of joy. The four of us had a funny thing we'd do if we secured an area or we learned we were going back for a rest period. Every cowboy at one time or another learns how to do a 'buck and wing.' It's a none too complicated dance step, arms bent, with a flailing of the elbows, and done with great enthusiasm. The other men in the platoon referred to it as the 'cowboy dance' but they'd make sure they were all there to watch us crazy fools make bigger fools of ourselves. We didn't care. We were buckaroos. One of us, usually Rowley, would yell at the top of his voice, "buck and wing!" and we'd be off. We all memorized the John Denver song, "Thank God, I'm a country boy." We'd sing it as loud as we could as we danced to it. Slowly, one by one, the other's in the platoon began to learn the 'cowboy dance' and didn't want to be left out of the merriment. It was a great tension release and we would all laugh until we hurt afterwards. The officers would stand and watch, then laugh their ass's off at us. * * * * * * * * * * Buck's soul became imprinted on mine and mine on his. Because he wanted to care for me Buck learned to love unconditionally and that included being demanding of your partner if that's what he needed. He became that love for me. I've never fully gotten over him, even today, thirty years later. I hope I never do. When I hear the word 'love' a picture flashes in my mind of Buck getting ready to mount his favorite roping pony to practice with his dad. I never would have suspected a mean looking, hard ass, determined cowboy would one day come to define the word 'love' for me. I still have an old western shirt of his that was never washed. It's tattered and yellowed from age. His dad was going to give the shirt and a pair of his old, brown, western, work boots to a charity thrift store. I asked if I could have them. The boots are two sizes too large for me but I've kept them for years. I still have them. I can lay in bed and smell him in that old shirt, pull on that old pair of his boots with no socks. My feet swim around in them. I know I can't fill his big boots. I don't try, but my feet feel at home inside them. I feel him, his old shirt and his boots wrapping around my soul and once again I can feel the body of the cowboy I loved laying gently on top of me. I can imagine him fucking me again, starting his climb up the hill, rooting deep within my ass with his big, thick, cowboy dick; me, urging him on, telling him to ride his pony harder, meaner, get us there on time; not to stop nor slow down. Faster! Harder! Oh God, Buck! Ride that damn thing, Cowboy, go for it! Then for a few, fleeting moments I know he's with me, surrounding me, on top of me, in me, loving me, caring for me, giving me the good, hot, cowboy fucking he knows I need and I'm begging him for. 'Take us home, Cowboy.' I whisper lovingly to him as I once again feel him emptying himself deep within me. I shoot over my head to splat on the head board every time. Afterward, I lay there, alone, spent, somewhat ashamed of my foolishness and cry once more, not for what I lost but for dreams that might have been, that should have been. I morn for my empty hole, my empty arms and my heart which had a major chunk ripped out and left behind in a stinking rice patty halfway 'round the world. Still, I'm grateful for his old shirt and his boots that has brought him back to me so many times. I know he probably watches me every time and laughs his ass off at me trying to recapture even a few moments of our love. I can imagine him, Twissleman, and White, their arms around each other, cowboy hats pushed back on their heads, standing there laughing at me. "Can you believe this guy?" I hear them say. Let 'em laugh! At least Buck knows I haven't stopped loving him all these years; that I haven't stopped needing him. I know, God will let us be together again someday, on down the road. God doesn't care if two men love each other. It's only little men that cling to words written by sexually repressed sheep herders over two thousand years ago who are blinded to compassion and won't try to understand a greater picture of love. They condemn and persecute anyone the social conscience of our society allows them to. I suppose we've made some progress. Fortunately, witch burning is still frowned upon in most states. I was introduced to Wes and took his hand. I looked into his eyes. Wes looked into mine. We saw into each other's souls, and we knew we visited the same place in hell. It shattered our collective calm to once again look upon the landscape of evil. The very dwelling place of the demon himself. I pulled him to me to surround him with my love and understanding. We were in each other's arms crying our guts out and for once I was the comforter. I stopped crawling, rose to my feet, and took one giant step toward the light. I was beginning to heal. I was able to put aside my pain to reach out to Wes. "There, there, Darlin,' it's gonna' be all right. We got through it, Sweet baby. It wasn't our fault. It cost us but we're here; you and me. Let it go, my brother, let it out, and share with me. Feel my love, be with me, lean on me, let me be strong for you. Let me help you empty your garbage;---dump your trash. Let me hold your pain awhile so you may heal. Give it to your cowboy, let him take it away from you." Wes melted into my arms; just what I wanted and needed him to do. We don't really start to heal until we reach out to someone else that's hurting and say, "Here, take my hand. I may not know all the answers but together, somehow, today, perhaps tomorrow, or maybe the next day, we'll find the way. God will help us. Lean on me and together we'll lean on him." Everyone who witnessed our meeting was taken aback. Several were genuinely concerned. Everyone but Walker. They didn't expect us to walk away without a word; my arm around Wes. Several mouths dropped open. I heard concerned whispers and comments behind us. I heard Master Walker's voice, "No, no! Let 'em go! They'll be all right. They need each other right now. I trust Cowboy, he knows what he's doing." Master Walker was as wise as his heart was big. I took Wes to my favorite spot on the river to point out the dinosaur tracks, to be alone and be close to him. We sat under the shade of a huge cypress tree, and I held him as his head rested against my chest. He let more out, emptied some of his trash, collapsed against my heart, and crashed. We sat there talking, making love, crying, talking, making more love until the sun went down and Master Walker came to find us. "They don't know, do they, Cowboy?" "They can't, little Brother. Unless we tell 'em and I'm no poster boy. I haven't got a whole hell of a lot out myself. Then when I do tell them they look at me like I'm over exaggerating or worse, making it all up." "Would you love me, Cowboy?" this perfect little man asked me shyly as if he were unworthy. There was no doubt in my mind Wes was asking for my unconditional love which didn't include barriers nor boundaries but would exist by itself, unto itself. "I do, I will, and we'll be fine. Your cowboy will take care of you. Trust me." I meant it. "I ain't asking for forever, Billy." "I know, Wes, I know, and I understand." I said to him gently. He turned his head to mine and we kissed. Not a passionate kiss of lovers but a gentle kiss of brothers that needed to share the warmth of each others bodies and souls. Wes needed someone to show him attention. He was an empty vessel who needed filling. He deeply needed love and understanding to let him know he was worthy to receive. He was running on empty for too long. Together, we found a purpose to recreate within ourselves the need to go on living. We needed to hear our hearts tell the other, life was worth the living, we could grow stronger, the pain may never fully go away but it will become bearable, and perhaps manageable in time. I needed to spill my life force, what was left of my soul into him and he needed to receive me; for it's only in giving of ourselves that more grows to replace that which is given. Give blood and your body works hard to replace it within twenty four hours; so it is with your psyche. Give of yourself and your psyche works to make you stronger, replacing ten fold, that which was given. As we lay there in the dark with the sound of the river, male bobwhites calling to their mates, and the occasional katydid singing through it's wings, we gently made love one last time. We'd been quiet for a long while enjoying the sounds of the evening and each other. We heard the heavy sounds of a huge pair of boots approaching from behind. It was Wes's dad, Master Walker. He slowly dropped to his knees and looked at the two of us clinging to each other like two children lost in the night. I could see tears forming in his eyes. "My children---" was all he said as he opened his enormous arms for us to come to him. Wes and I scrambled to him. He enfolded both of us with his big caring arms as we once again cried our hearts out. Master Walker soothed and comforted us with kisses and petting. Being in Walker's big arms was like being in the arms of God himself. Wes and I later learned he wouldn't let anyone come to check on us but himself. He, alone, knew the time. The old man knew what he was doing and who would be the person Wes and I would most want to find us. The three of us shared something wonderful at that moment that has no meaning if you tried to translate it into words. It was a moment unto it's self, unique in the continuum of the universe. I've always loved Master Walker for that simple gesture of understanding. Wes and I spoke of that moment many times over the years and we would always get tears in our eyes. We couldn't have loved him more. He was all ready Wes's champion and he became mine as well. We were his boys. I was fortunate to have Leon, Master Walker, Xander and my family to care for me. Then, too, I was in steady communication with Dan Yates whom I had come to love almost as much as my dad. He wrote me the most poignant letters and I replied with an openness I never experienced in writing anyone before. We were becoming close. He was coming to visit the Johnson Ranch in July for a week and we would be together. I was looking forward to it. While Wes was visiting I had plenty of opportunity to get to know the two giants and Master Jeb better. Wes was living with Big Jim and Master Jeb. They rescued him from a Mexican brothel where any man with twenty pesos could get a piece of gringo, boy butt. Big Jim and Master Jeb found him naked, chained to a wall sitting on a eight inch wide, long wooden bench that a man could sit on and fuck him from the rear. They got the owner drunk, cut his chains with bolt cutters and rescued Wes. They were currently trying to nurse Wes back to health. I think I was the only person Wes ever told the story about how he ended up in that whore house. The man who was Wes's Master sold him to the brothel for fifty bucks. I won't write about it because the party involved might not live too long if he were found. Suffice to say it was no one remotely associated with the Mc Innis family clan. Wes was considering entering slave training under Master Jeb and Big Jim. He wanted desperately to become a slave to a good Master. I gave serious thought about applying for the position myself. I would have loved to become his Master and taken care of him; however, I sensed that Wes needed more than a good ole cowboy for a Master. Wes needed a Master who was in a little better shape mentally and emotionally than I was at the time. I would have given into Wes's honest but considerable pain and spoiled him. That's not what Wes needed. Wes needed a strict, jack-boot disciplinarian, no nonsense kind of owner. Wes wasn't a bad man who needed a lot of correcting. He was so badly mistreated most his life and conditioned to think poorly of himself he needed someone strong enough to redirect his thinking toward a more positive self image. He needed a man who would grab him up by the short hairs and demand he think and do things his way until they became Wes's way. Think that's wrong? What do think parents do everyday to children they need to set straight? How do you think they de-program kids that have fallen victim to a mind altering cult? Do I even need to mention the Marines? They build men, you know? Tough love? That's right! You think the way I tell you to think until I'm satisfied you can think for yourself the way I want you to think. Ex-Marines were the easiest to train as slaves and quickest to bond with their Masters. They made fine slaves for their owners. It came natural to them never to question an order given by their Master. That's not a statement of condemnation for such practices. On the contrary, this type of conditioning or imprinting can create good results. It's certainly not meant as a slam against the Marine Corps. I admire them as the elite of our military and any man should be proud to be or have been a Marine. It's merely an observation, an example of a means to accomplish a goal with similar results. After getting to know Master Jeb, I felt sure he had just the man in mind for Wes, and he did, too. The perfect Master for Wes. An ex-marine D.I. now a motor patrol officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. Master Walker and Xander had another pool party cook out the following weekend. Leon and I came together. I was seeing a lot of Wes but knew I had to tend to a love who had sustained me to this point. I wasn't about to lose my rock. I remembered the words from Uncle Bud's letter, "We don't replace nor abandon old loves that have sustained us, we only add to them." I explained the situation to Wes. I was to him, who Leon was to me. There was no need for jealously nor feelings of rejection. I had obligations I fostered before he came and I wouldn't neglect them. Surprisingly, he seemed to gain strength from my resolve. If I wasn't going to abandon another love for him then I wouldn't abandon his love either. Wes understood and knew we would have more time together. It was tough on him because Leon and I looked like we fit as a couple. We dressed alike. When I was with Leon I was more quiet, reserved and leaned on his silent strength. We flowed back and forth with each other without a word spoken. It was obvious to everyone around us we had the strongest of unspoken bonds. Hell, we melded into each other so much we didn't have to speak to know what the other was thinking. Master Walker reassured Wes, of all people, his cowboy would never desert him. Wes and I developed a truly unconditional love for each other that has lasted for years. We can be apart for months and when we find ourselves together again, it's like we pick up the conversation of our lives right where we left off. Our love for each other is a great comfort for both. Leon was also understanding to a fault. He knew I had to give to Wes to regain a certain portion of myself. He gained from giving to me; from being patient enough to listen, he grew measurably. He was even able to express it to me. That evening at dinner the topic of conversations ranged widely except for Nam. No one ventured there for Wes's and my sake. It was just as well. Things were getting worse over there and neither of us wanted to hear about it. Wes still had someone over there he loved and so did I. He had some guy who was a bronze star winner by the name of Beau who had rescued him and six other guys from a temporary VC-POW holding camp. I still had Jim Redfeather over there. I didn't want to know what was going on but I prayed for my friend each night. I began to correspond with Jim. I apologized for not answering his letters before and tried to explain what a mess I was when I returned. He wrote back he understood and only had four months to go on his last hitch. It was a wonderful dinner party and everyone enjoyed themselves. I became quite fond of the two straight men, Bull and Charlie, but found them as transparent as the rest of the family clan. They were in love with each other but kept up a straight facade for fear of losing the other in disgust. They didn't find man-sex their brothers practiced the least disgusting but were so afraid of discovering it for, and admitting it to themselves. It was a constant source of amusement to the family. It was an unspoken law in the family, no one was to joke nor kid them about their obvious attraction to each other. Master Beryl was the author of that law. He believed if they were to come together it had to be their decision. I came to love and respect Master Beryl and his opinions. He was, after all, the recognized clan leader and for good reason. He was a simple yet highly intelligent man who had an innate sense of right and wrong and was not afraid to stand up for what he believed. I admired and trusted him but that wasn't why I came to love him. It was because of his painfully, wickedly funny sense of humor. As dinner progressed the men began to talk about bikes and riding. "How 'bout you, Cowboy? Ever thought about getting a bike?" Big Jim asked. "Yes, Sir, Master Jim, but I don't know how to ride." "Hell, Son," said Bull, "I've seen what you can do on horseback. You can damn sure learn to ride a bike. A hand full of lessons from us and you're on the road." "I'd love to have one." I heard myself say as Leon looked at me funny. "Would you guys teach me to ride?" "Sure!" said Big Beryl, "I'll teach you myself or any of these guys would be willing to help. Hell, we'll all teach you. When do you wanna' get one? We could ride you in to the Harley dealer in Ft. Worth. Charlie can ride buddy with Bull; he can ride it back for you and we'll teach you here. How does that sound?" "Well, I'll have to arrange financing from my account. It may take several days." "No, it won't!" said Master Walker. "One phone call to my bank in Ft. Worth and your check'll be covered, no matter the amount. Besides, you probably have enough in undrawn wages to cover it. You ain't drawn but twenty bucks since you been on the payroll." "Well, if Master Walker will let me off tomorrow, I'll do it. I've admired your bikes. I'd like to learn to ride but don't they make a smaller bike?" They all laughed. Almost everyone made pilgrimage to the Harley dealer in Ft. Worth except Leon. He stayed behind to take care of the ranch. I picked out a beautiful Sportster model that wasn't as big as the full dress hogs but it was what I wanted. I didn't want to wrestle one of those big machines. With Master Walker there to guarantee my check there was no problem and Charlie rode it back to the ranch. I rode buddy with Master Sam. He really knew how to ride a bike and I envied his smooth way of handling his. I paid attention to his shifting with his feet and thought I could master that. It proved harder than it looked. It was like learning a new way of locomotion; like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. It had a hand operated clutch as well as hand brakes and a foot break. However, you shifted with your foot. With a few lessons from Master Jeb and Master Sam I was doing pretty well. Leon watched like a mother hen who just hatched a gaggle of baby geese. They took to the water immediately and couldn't quite figure out why momma was standing on the bank, nervously clucking, when they were having so much fun? He was worried but watched with a proud eye. Later that evening we lay together, talked quietly about a few things but Leon was more quiet than usual. "You look good on that bike, Cowboy." "Thank you, Sir, I'm enjoying learning to ride." "That bike's gonna' take you away from me." "Maybe, for a while, but I'll be back." "Hope so." was all Leon replied. I knew he was worried. He formed a strong attachment and didn't want to give it up. I also knew he wouldn't force an issue. If I had to go he'd be the first to hold me and wish me well. He was that kind of man. He lived his life learning never to expect anything, be thankful for the small joys that came his way and above all, know when to let go. After I'd learned to ride fairly well Master Sam asked if I wanted to take a couple days run some place? "How far is Fredrick, Oklahoma from here, Master Sam?" "About a good days ride, I'd say." "Can we ride there. I have someone I need to visit." "The next day we sat out for Fredrick, Oklahoma. Wes, Master Sam, Bull, Charlie, Big Jim and Master Beryl. Master Jeb stayed behind at the ranch. Wes rode buddy with Big Jim. Master Sam was right. It took us about six hours of steady travel to get there and we stayed the night in a local camp ground. The next morning I inquired at the local sheriff's station where the cemetery was and where Ken White might be buried. The deputy sheriff took one look at me and hung his head. "Your Ken's buddy from Nam. The one he called 'Cowboy'?" "Yes, Sir, I am." I hung my head as I spoke to him. "C'mon, Son. I'll take you to him." The deputy sheriff was Ken White's older brother Stan. We followed him to the local cemetery and he took us to a mounded grave that was still fresh. When we got there, I noticed a couple of our group were missing. Big Jim and Wes must have gotten lost. I slowly walked up to Ken's grave and couldn't go a step further. There on the headstone was a picture of the four of us in our western clothes with our arms thrown around each other, cowboy hats pushed to the back of our heads, with the biggest damn smiles. A picture that someone took of us in Mason that final week before we shipped off for Nam. It was sealed in a hard plastic and was embossed as part of the head stone. I fell to my knees beside Ken's grave and started crying. His brother knelt beside me and put his arm around me and cried with me. The next thing I knew I was being handed some flowers. Wes and Big Jim stopped and bought a small handful of flowers at a local shopping mart. Then cars and trucks started arriving from everywhere. His brother had his secretary call his family and they wanted to come pay their respects. It was almost more than I could bear but I got through it with Wes's help. I was getting stronger. Ken's brother and family wouldn't have anything but the seven of us stay for dinner. We even stayed in their barn for the night. I think they were surprised a bunch of rough looking bikers could be so well mannered and considerate. They fell in love with the lot of us. They didn't want us to go the next day. I shared with his family what a hero Ken was and what he meant to me, Buck, Rowley and my family. They all beamed with pride. It seems Ken wrote home extensively about the four of us and how much he thought of us. His mother read me part of one of his letters. "Mom, I'm gonna' make it. I know I'll be coming home. I have three buddies and we look out for each other. Here, they call us 'the cowboys.' Two are from Texas and the other is from Tucson. I've written you about them before. They're wonderful friends and I love them, Mom. Billy Gunn, the one we call 'Cowboy,' who I stayed a week in Mason with his family before returning to boot camp, is one of the finest men I've ever known. I spent that week rodeoing with my other two friends and his family. I will remember that week forever. It was one of the best times of my life." We said our goodbyes the next morning. I asked Ken's brother to drive me back to the cemetery one last time by ourselves while my buddies were having breakfast at the local diner. He was more than glad to go with me. We drove out to the cemetery, parked his sheriff's car and walked to Ken's grave. Once again we knelt and cried together. I ask if I could be alone for a minute. He understood and walked back to his car to wait for me. "Ken, my friend, I loved you so much I had to come say 'goodbye.' I remember watching as my uncle led you away. I knew from that silly smile on your face it wasn't hard for you to follow him." I laughed with tears streaming down my face thinking of how much Ken White admired my Uncle Bud. "Thank you for saving me. I couldn't come to thank you sooner 'cause I missed you, Rowley, and Buck so Goddamn much. I'm getting better, Ken. I have to tell Rowley and Buck 'goodbye.' I'll tell Rowley how much you loved him and how much we loved him, too. You chose well, my friend, you chose well. He was a damn fine, good looking man with a heart of gold with the soul of a hero to boot. Without question, he loved you and set you above all others. You have a wonderful family, Ken, and they love you so much. I know you can hear what I'm saying because I know you're here. I know in my heart what you'd want me to tell Rowley but you're probably standing here with him, Buck and my Uncle Bud laughing at my sorry ass for being so sentimental. Well, if so, just remember, I have to be here without the four people I loved most in my life. I love you, Little Brother; I always will. We'll be together again, on down the road. I won't say 'goodbye.' Hell, I can't tell you goodbye, Ken. On down the road, Cowboy." I cried once more and then returned to Stan's car. He understood my silence but before we arrived at the diner he spoke. "Billy," he paused for a long minute to choke back the tears, "I want to thank you for coming to say goodbye to my little brother. You can't know what it's meant to my family. To tell them the story of his saving your life means the world to them. He was a hero. We thank God you made it back and would be thoughtful enough to come to us. God bless you, Son." I shed my last tears in Stan White's arms then joined my friends. We left after I had a bite to eat and we made it back to the Johnson Ranch late that afternoon. I was in much better spirits as I went to Leon to tell him of my trip. He was happy for me and noted I seemed stronger. "I have to go to Bandera to visit Rowley and then to Tucson to visit Buck. I know it's important for me to say my goodbyes." "I think maybe you're right, Cowboy. You seem stronger and your head's clearer since you went to say goodbye to your buddy Ken. Wish I could go with you." "Come, go with me, Leon. I'll buy you a bike. Ride with me, be with me." "You need to do this by yourself, Cowboy. I'm here if you need me. You've helped me as much as I've helped you over the last six months but if it's meant to be for you to return, you will. You know how I feel about you, I'll always be here for you." I knew he was right but I also knew I had to go. Maybe it was the taste of being on the open road with several good men who loved me and loved to ride. They were different people on the road. They were more relaxed. Nothing seemed to bother them. If someone was in need of a helping hand they stopped and did what they could. I soon found out I was different on the road as well. I became more relaxed. My brain was in neutral most of the time I was on the bike. I didn't worry about things so much. I was too busy riding the bike and observing the scenery. While I wasn't looking forward to the pain of saying goodbye to Rowley and Buck, I felt like, just maybe, I could do it. It was something I had to do. It was early June our group set out for Bandera, Texas. They were going back to the Los Angeles area, but they were going to accompany me to Bandera, Mason, then on to Tucson. I called Dan Yates before I left, and warned him to expect a band of rough looking bikers. I assured him they were all good men. The ride to Bandera was wonderful. Master Sam and Bull knew the back roads through Texas few traveled. We wove through the small towns and some of the prettiest country in Texas. Portions of the central Texas area can be flat and uninteresting, but the hill country around San Antonio is beautiful. Bandera is right in the heart of the hill country. There isn't one hell of a lot there. You take a low ride through the Guadalupe River bottom of Hunt, Texas and before you know it you're in Bandera. About the only claim to fame is a concrete slab where the locals gather on Saturday nights to county and western dance. The place is called 'Crowders.' Everyone comes; families, singles and couples from all over the area. Puckemup trucks, a few cars, horse back, and buggies; anyway they can get there. Bring your own bottle but don't expect to hold on to it. If it's in a brown, paper bag you're just expected to take a swig and pass it on. It'll be passed from hand to hand all the way 'round the wooden benches everyone sits on to watch the dancers. You won't miss it. Another bag, someone else brought, will come along, be passed to you, so's you can take another pull. Every grown man was expected to bring at least a pint in his hip pocket. No one got too drunk, but once in a while there was a fight. They always took it away from the dance floor, away from the women and children. The men would all gather and someone would referee to make sure the idiots didn't kill each other. Most times they took a couple good hits on each other, spilled their testosterone, and spend the rest of the evening crying in each others arms about what good friends they were and what they meant to each other. Everyone would have a good laugh and head back to the dance. We arrived and asked directions at the local store for the cemetery. I bought a bunch of flowers, and asked Wes to carry them for me. As I was paying for them the little woman at the check out counter wore a name badge on her uniform top that read: 'Twissleman.' She saw me read her name tag, saw one damn, involuntary tear run down my cheek as I paid her for the flowers. She heard me ask the manager for directions to the cemetery. "You're Billy Gunn, 'the Cowboy', ain't cha'? she asked. I could barely manage an affirmative nod. "I'm Betty Bob, Rowley's little sister." She barely got the words out. She came rushing out from behind the counter, arms open wide, hugged and kissed me as we cried in each others arms. "Oh God, Billy! He answered my prayers. You did come. Thank you, Billy, thank you." she cried. "I had to, Betty Bob. Your brother was one of the finest men I've ever known and I loved him dearly. I had to come tell him goodbye and tell your family what a hero he was to save my life." "Mr. Warren!" she yelled to her Boss. "Would you take over for me, please? I'm showing these men to my brothers grave." The small man nodded and took over checking out. "I won't be back today, Mr. Warren." she told him. He simply nodded understanding. She made a couple of phone calls, and we no sooner got to Rowley's grave than fifteen pickemup trucks and cars arrived at the small cemetery. I knelt at Rowley's grave and placed the flowers I bought on top. There on his head stone was the same damn picture that was on Ken's headstone. The four cowboys standing in front of the corral fence with their arms around each other in my home town of Mason. It was a shock for me to see all four faces looking like they knew what I was doing and were having a ball watching me. It broke my heart while at the same time made me feel so damn good. I suddenly knew what the term 'sweet sorrow' meant. I knew those three assholes were there laughing their ass's off at me breaking down over Twissleman's grave. I could actually feel and smell them as each knelt and put an arm around me. I didn't give a shit. It was for me and Rowley's family I was there, not them. It was a warm, still day, and all of a sudden this small, cold wind came blowing across the graves. It surrounded Betty Bob and I in a small vortex that sent chills up our backs. I looked at her, smiled knowingly and winked as I put my arm around her shoulder. Her eyes were big as saucers. She knew, she felt it too. It was them. They passed right through us, letting us know they were there. Betty Bob looked at me, opened her mouth, stopped, turned her head to one side, turned back to me and spoke in a whisper. "It's Rowley! I can smell him. I can feel him, Cowboy." "Your right, Little Sister. I can smell his aftershave." her eyes got real big again. "How did you know to call me 'Little Sister'?" "I never knew your real name, Betty Bob. Anytime Rowley talked about you, and he did a lot. It was Little Sister this and Little Sister that." "Thanks Billy." Rowley's baby sister shared that experience with only me. In that moment of high strangeness, we bonded as friends. The Twissleman family gathered but respectfully maintained their distance. Betty Bob was the only one to kneel and pray with me. We said a prayer. When we got up she took me by the arm and introduced me to every brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, uncle, aunt, grandmother, grandfather of Rowley Twissleman. There were quite a few close friends of his there as well. Damn, he had a large family, and his dad was an older version of Rowley. I cried as I hugged Rowley's dad. "Damn, Mr. Twissleman, you look so much like your son it's almost like I was holding Rowley in my arms again." The rock hard, older cowboy broke down in my arms. I cried too, but I did my best to comfort him. "Your son was one of the finest men it's ever been my good fortune to call my friend, Mr. Twissleman. He was a true American hero. He saved my sorry life, Sir. I had to come, say my goodbyes and tell you and his family what he meant to me and my family. I would have come sooner, but I had to do some healing myself first. "We're so glad you did, Son. Come, you and your friends. Stay a spell with us, have dinner, stay the night if you can. We'd love to have you. You're welcome here. We have lots of room. If nothing else we have a huge barn." He laughed. "Wouldn't be the first barn any of us stayed in Mr. Twissleman." We both laughed as we walked arm in arm to the trucks and bikes. We paraded all the way to the Twissleman ranch which was on the other side of the Guadalupe river. We had to cross a low water damn to get up to their place. They also had a big sign on the road running through Bandera pointing to the road up to their ranch: 'Rodeo Friendly.' There was a beautiful natural rock house, well kept barn and out buildings. It was obvious the Twissleman's were serious ranchers. Most of the folks went to their homes but soon returned to the Twissleman ranch with more food and drink than you can imagine. I tried to tell some of the guys the hospitality of rodeo folks, but I don't think they believed me. When they saw the food that was spread out over six big picnic tables, their eyes got really big. They couldn't believe it. That evening Rowley's considerable family gathered and I told them what happened. They had no idea as the government didn't give much information to the families. I was a first hand observer and told them everything as it went down; from us telling the Lieutenant we were walking into a trap, Rowley and Ken trying to get to Buck and I to help us, them getting shot, throwing their bodies on top of Buck's and mine to protect us, all the way to rising up out of my body and talking to them; to my Uncle Bud dying the night before and going to Jim Redfeather in a dream, Jim calling my name out on the battlefield; how my uncle and Buck told me I had to live; Uncle Bud taking them with him to show them the way; how Rowley told me to tell his dad how much he loved him. The big man was reduced to sobs. There wasn't a dry eye in the house including my buddies. Big Jim and Beryl never heard my story before and were both reduced to tears. Even Rowley's three big, quiet brothers were holding each other and crying. I left nothing out. I answered every question as best I could. Of course, I never mentioned anything about Rowley and Ken's relationship, but while I was having my fourth piece of pie or cake, I can't remember, Betty Bob and I were talking. "Rowley and I were real close, Billy." "I know, Betty Bob. I can feel it. Hell, he talked about you all the time. He loved his 'Little Sister.' He loved you dearly, Betty Bob." She wiped a tear from her eye. "Rowley didn't care much for girls, Billy. You don't either." she tossed off matter of factly. "I love you, Betty Bob." I said sincerely. She giggled and leaned against me. "You know what I mean, silly." I smiled and nodded. "Was my brother happy with Ken White, Billy?" She could have blown me away. I never thought in my wildest imaginings that sweet little woman would ask me such a penetrating question. "More than you can know, Betty Bob. They planned to spend their lives together with Buck Yates and me. We were a team. We couldn't imagine being far from each other the rest of our lives. We four were going to rodeo until we were older, buy adjacent ranches and teach young kids to rodeo." "I know." she said quietly. "He wrote me all about it. I'll make copies of his letters and forward them, now I have an address; you'll see. He didn't come right out and speak of his love for Ken but I knew my brother. We had no secrets from each other. We never fought as we were growing up. He was my protector, my strong right arm. When my days were the darkest and I felt alone, I knew there was one person I could always run to for strength, who would listen unconditionally; a source of such unquestioning love whatever problem I might have, Rowley could shrink it to it's proper size. I could lean on him if I needed help or someone hurt my feelings. Even if I was bored with no one to play with and felt alone, Rowley would stop what he was doing and see to my needs. He would soon have me laughing and giggling. He'd chase my blahs away. There was a love that passed between us few brothers and sisters share. I almost shut down when they told us he'd been killed. When they brought him home; the funeral and all almost killed me. I went into deep depression, but I'm better now. You're coming has helped me more than you'll ever know. We heard rumors there was one survivor out of the four cowboys, but we didn't know if it was you or Buck. I knew all along it was you and told my family so. They weren't so sure. I prayed night after night God would send you to us. Then when I saw you look at my name badge, that one tear gave you away. I heard Rowley's voice clear as day whisper in my ear, 'That's Billy, Little Sister, help him, you'll love him.' My big brother was usually right and he was this time, too. I do love you, Billy." Betty Bob got tears in her eyes again. I reached over and pulled her to me to hold her. "I believe you, Little Sister, I saw the look on your face and knew, just as we did this afternoon when the three of them let us know they were there with us." "They were there, weren't they, Billy?" "You felt 'em, same's me." "Do me a favor, Billy." "Anything, Sweetheart." "Don't stop calling me, Little Sister. That's all Rowley called me all my life. If he called me Betty Bob it was 'cause he was irritated at me for something. He never stayed mad at me for long because he had too much love in his big heart. I was always his, Little Sister. I miss hearing someone call me that, and I'd be proud for you to." "I all ready think of you that way, Betty Bob so not to worry. You'll always be my, Little Sister." I kissed her on the cheek, and she kissed me to seal the agreement. Rowley smiled, put his big arms around Ken and Buck, as they watched two people they loved find comfort in each other. The next morning, after a huge ranch breakfast, we thanked everyone for the wonderful time and hospitality. My biker buddies were humbled by their hospitality and couldn't thank the Twissleman's enough. Rowley's three brothers, Toller, Brank, and Morgan, who were pretty big boys, were impressed with the two giants and their gentle graciousness. We were invited back individually or together. "Mr. Twissleman, I'm gonna' stop back by the cemetery on my way out of town. I need to say goodbye by myself." He nodded understanding as a tear ran down his cheek. He held out his arms for me one last time. "I ain't a' gonna' let cha' go, Son, until you promise me you'll come back and visit again." "I promise, Mr. Twissleman. Whether you folks like it or not you've got another family member." "Awh, hell, Son! We're proud to have you as a member of our family. We love you, Billy." The old man bussed a kiss behind my ear and let me go. Mrs. Twissleman was next. She wouldn't let me go either until I promised her I'd return to visit again. She gave me a big kiss. "Little Sister, you wanna' stop by with me?" "No, Billy, you need to go by yourself, just as all of us have at one time or other, snuck off by ourselves to visit his grave so we could be alone with him. You need that, too." Betty Bob hugged and kissed me goodbye and also wouldn't let me go 'til I promised faithfully to come back soon. I promised again. We left and I headed to the graveyard. My buddies were going to go on ahead and wait for me at a small roadside park just outside of town. I pulled into the cemetery and parked my bike. It was a beautiful morning. I walked slowly to Rowley's grave. It wasn't as hard for me as it was the first time. I had the love of friends, his family and Little Sister in my heart. I stopped and knelt at the foot of the big man's grave. "Thanks, Rowley." Was all I could muster for a moment. Then I became strong again. I had to get it out. "I loved you, Brother. Still do. Thanks for your love, Rowley, and your wonderful family. I now know what made you such a fine man and why I loved you so much. Most of all, thanks for sharing your Little Sister with me. She's a treasure. I've come to love her, too. Tell everybody over there I love them, and I feel them closer each day. I also know from this visit none of you have truly left me. You're in my heart each day. It won't make it so hard to visit Buck. It'll be hard, but I'll have his dad. We'll help each other. I went to visit Ken and his family. I tried but I couldn't tell the little shit goodbye." I laughed. "You know, if I couldn't tell him goodbye, I sure as hell can't tell you. On down the road, Cowboy. On down the road. We'll have those adjacent ranches yet, you wait and see. Thanks for saving my life, Brother." I cried one last time standing there looking at the picture of the four of us and another small gust of wind brushed my cheek. It was a still day and no leaves on any of the trees were moving. I walked slowly back to my bike and I heard Rowley's voice call my name. I turned, smiled, waved goodbye in the general direction as if I could see my old friend; the 'heart' of the cowboys. I took off on my bike with a full heart. All the things that happened may simply have been coincidence or tricks of the mind. Maybe they were, I didn't know. I didn't care. I knew in my heart they weren't coincidences. They were very real to me, and since I was the only one for which it mattered, it worked for me. At that moment in time, that's all that mattered in the universe. If I wanted them to be real, they were. I didn't need to convince anyone else with solid, scientific proof or paranormal 'mumbo-jumbo.' Was it coincidence that the warmth of the sun made the first two cells of life divide? What made fatuous sunbeams toil, to break Earth's sleep at all? End of Chapter 5~Booger Red & Cowboy Copyright 2003 Waddie Greywolf