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A Patch of Sky, and A Dream

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**
"So, w'en do you leave?" The question was asked with an innocent look, not a hint of anything other than genuine curiosity. If you didn't know better, you'd think Goniff was just talking about Craig making a quick trip to the housegoods store.

"The end of next week, if the plan holds together," Craig answered, grateful he wasn't getting any blow-back over this sudden change in plans. He'd really not known what to expect. "For the first part, anyway. I'll call, let you know how things are going."

It was a little awkward, perhaps, and he was feeling a little guilty about leaving. But he assured himself he shouldn't, not really. Well, he hadn't anticipated this, certainly hadn't planned on it. The call from some old buddies had come straight out of the blue; he hadn't gone looking. So, yeah, it meant putting the idea of a consulting business on hold for awhile. But this kind of opportunity didn't come along very often, perhaps would never come along again. And it wasn't like he was abandoning all the other plans, abandoning Goniff, abandoning all of them. It was just for six months, well, a little more than that, but not a full year. That was as far as he'd been willing to think ahead.

Six months and he would get it out of his system. Hell, he might discover it wasn't all it was cracked up to be in the first place. He might even find out he didn't enjoy flying all that much, not when he was doing it on a daily basis. Of course, that made him pulling money for the buy-in for the proposed air freight business out of the start-up fund for his own consulting business, the business he and the guys had been planning on seem even more like cheating. Well, he would replace it, of course, though to what end, he wasn't sure anymore.

(Of course, he admitted, if only to himself, he MIGHT discover this was all he'd dreamed of when he was a kid reading books about flying, when he imagined himself in a crop duster flying loops and swirls through a summer sky. He remembered whispering it to himself "my own patch of sky - all mine, no one else around, just me, the plane, the sky and the sunshine!")

What he would do if that happened, if he decided this was what he really still wanted - his own patch of sky - well, he wasn't going to think about that, not now. Not yet. He had plenty of time, didn't he? And this first trip - it was only for a couple of weeks or so, just to get the lay of the land, so to speak. It was a relief when everyone just dropped the subject; he'd been dreading getting some serious opposition or pouting, but none of that happened; even Casino hadn't complained too much. Now he could focus on the opportunity that lay before him, the opportunity of living that dream he'd had for so very long.

 

**
They walked him out to the waiting rental car that the agency had sent over the evening before since Garrison had been reluctant to take the only vehicle the Cottages had.

"And you're sure you don't need me along, just to maybe - " Goniff stopped, not really thinking of anything he would be needed along FOR. (And believe me, he'd tried really hard to come up with something!) Two weeks now, another couple of sets of two week trips. Then, six months of Craig helping to set up a small private air freight line; six months of trying new planes, mapping out potential routes - six months of flying. No, Goniff knew he'd not be much help there - not like HE knew how to fly a plane.

(He'd suggested learning when the whole thing came up, maybe taking a crash course so he could go along to keep Craig company, but the entire crew at the Cottages had just about panicked at the idea. Seems they all thought that term 'crash course' was far too apt where HE was concerned. Well, nothing said just because he was a lousy driver that meant he'd not be any good at flying! Of course, Chief did have a good point; at least in a car or truck he could just steer off the road and take his foot off the gas if things started going too wrong. He'd done that more than a few times, but he doubted something like that would work too good in a plane, so maybe they were right.)

No, he couldn't fly, and it wasn't like there'd be any second-story work needed where Garrison was headed, and any of the sticky-fingers business would probably just cause Craig a world of grief. No, he wasn't needed, Goniff knew that, and found that smile was getting really hard to keep in place. Watching as the car pulled away, Garrison waving from behind the wheel, his heart sank - {"A couple a weeks, this time. The same another time or two. Then, six months. Maybe. Unless 'e decides 'e likes it so much - !"}

It was a grim, silent meal they sat down to that evening, at the Cottages, each of them lost in their own thoughts.

 

**
It was late, and the rental car had been acting up, so noisy that he'd left it at the pub so as not to wake anyone at the Cottages when he pulled in. Anyway, the walk, the night air would do him good, he thought.

It had been a busy few days, {"well, okay, more than a few, a lot more,"}, checking over the planes as they arrived, testing their manoeuvering abilities, how much speed he could get out of them, trying to match their written records with what he was finding upon physical examination. He'd talked to suppliers, potential clients, potential pilots and mechanics. He'd worked with Joe to set up the accounting and bookwork, with Curt to go over the various routes they were considering. He'd interviewed some prospective employees, weeding out those who just didn't feel right for one reason or another.

He'd even flown a few of the proposed routes, though he didn't intend to mention that. Oh, he might mention parts of it, the good ones anyway, but certainly not the malfunction with the engine one trip out, the close call that had almost kept him from returning at all. No, they didn't need to hear that.

They didn't need to hear about a few other things, either, and he'd carefully gone over the list on the drive down - 'Things NOT To Mention'. He'd snorted in amusement, thinking how much that sounded like all that creative writing he'd done with the reports after their jobs for the military.

He walked up to the garden gate, stopped at the sound of gentle strumming of that guitar. {"Meghada. What is she doing out here so late?"} until he realized it wasn't Meghada. Recognizing that raspy voice, he smiled affectionately, then felt a wince of guilt.

He hadn't talked to Goniff since he'd left, except for that first call telling everyone he'd gotten there alright. Well, the next day the planes had started arriving, and things just got involved. Oh, he'd meant to call, but he'd been kept hopping, had a million things to do, people to talk to, and by the time he'd think of calling home, it was already late, and . . .

Well, actually he was still feeling a little awkward, and when he tried to sound out a supposed conversation in his mind, he just couldn't make it work. Especially when that couple of weeks somehow turned into three, then into four.

He stopped to listen, smiled again. Goniff didn't sing all that often, laughing and saying his voice just didn't suit all that many songs. Maybe, but the ones he did sing, Craig couldn't imagine anyone else doing them to suit his tastes any better. This one was a prime example, a song he'd heard Ciena sing a time or two, a ballad, a little sad, a little hopeful, all rolled up in one.

Then his own smile faded as he listened to that soft voice singing in the night, the words to the song. It was bad enough the first time through, once he realized. But on that last go-around, the repeat, when Goniff's voice had become even more raspy than usual, had actually cracked and then stopped on that line "and 'e loves 'is damned old rodeo as much as 'e loves me", then not sung, just whispered, so low Craig had to use every bit of listening power to hear - "no, that aint right - 'e loves that damned rodeo more, don't 'e now." Then the guitar faded out, and there was silence, one somehow tinged with just a trace of bitterness, of regret, like those words had been, and then the sound of the kitchen door opening and closing.

Craig knew he couldn't walk through that gate, not now; it would be awkward beyond words. He turned and made his way back to the pub, crawled back into the front seat of the noise-maker that had tried to jolt him apart on the trip, and drove up to the car park at the side of the place he called home. Plastering a smile on his face, he grabbed his case and went inside.

"Ei, look who's decided to come 'ome! Get 'ungry for a decent meal, Craig?" Goniff asked with a smirk, grabbing the whiskey bottle from the shelf, reaching for glasses at the same time. Then looking at the case in Garrison's hand, "or just run out of clean clothes? Drop in to use the telephone maybe?" he asked with an arch look. There was something, not really 'attitude' or 'tone', just the faintest hint of challenge in the words, the way the Englishman met Garrison's eyes.

"Something like that, Goniff. Or maybe I just got lonesome," Craig smiled. {"Well, I guess I had to expect some hard feelings; I really should have called."}

"What? No congenial company available up at that fancy-schmancy place?" came a rough voice from the hall. "Those old buddies of yours all get lockjaw or religion or something? All the dames move outta town?"

Garrison threw back his head and laughed. Some things never changed.

"A hanger with a few planes, an office in the back with metal desks, and single beds complete with mattresses stuffed with rocks, Casino - THAT'S as 'fancy-schmancy' as it gets. And no, Miles and Joe and the others are talking just fine, and last I looked, the local ladies were all still in residence. I just missed you all; that against the law?" {"Yes, some hard feelings there, as well, I think,"} that jovial reply not getting the expected laugh in return.

"No, Craig, not against the law, just somewhat surprising. We were only a phone call away, after all," Actor commented from where he leaned against the wall, his eyes still bleary, but amazingly pulled together. The man could still look the sharpest while coming out of a deep sleep of anyone Garrison had ever met; even that ascot under the smoking jacket was neatly tied and draped. There had been something just a little 'sharp' in that comment as well, Garrison noted.

Deciding to ignore the attitude, he glanced around.

"Where's Chief," Garrison asked, realizing there was one man missing. "And Meghada?"

"She took him along on a trip up to London; supposedly riding shotgun on some 'negotiation' with someone who ticked her off. Leastwise that's the story we got. Maybe she just got bored with the little Limey here and figured she'd give the kid a try. I mean, without you here to take up the slack, maybe she got a little itchy, but didn't want to rub Sticky-Fingers' nose in the fact. You know her, Miss Polite and Socially Correct At All Times."

Casino smirked over at Goniff as he presented that totally improbable reason for the two members of the household not being there, not to mention that hilariously inaccurate description of Meghada. That it WAS nonsense was evident by that snap of the dish towel that Goniff wielded with a bark of laughter.

"OW!" Casino yelped, grabbing at the dish towel, only to find it out of his reach once more.

"Day I need anyone taking up any 'slack' for me, that's just not going to 'appen. Thing is, Chiefy got a call; that new set of blades 'e'd ordered from Marek was done, so since 'Gaida was going to pick up the supply order, 'e rode along."

"Pick UP the supply order?" Garrison asked, taking a welcome sip of the whiskey Goniff had poured him. He glanced at the calendar posted on the wall; supplies should have come in several days ago, and they were usually delivered. At least that had been the arrangement. That the squares from the time he'd left to now were all marked with a big 'X' was something he tried to ignore, along with the fact that each square had a 'G?' in it, likeways with a line through it. No, the lack of contact had not gone unnoticed. Well, that really was too much to hope for.

Casino snorted in amusement.

"Something went all squirrely; order came, whole bunch of shit she hadn't asked for, none of what she had. New guy on the other end of the phone gave her a rough time, telling her she was nuts, reading off what HE says she'd ordered, telling her she couldn't 'go all female' and change her mind after she got the stuff, and hung up on her. She got just a little pissed, I think. So this morning she piled everything in the car and headed out to return everything and get what she needed AND to make a serious point about 'customer satisfaction'. Think Samier and Company might be looking for a new phone guy by now."

Garrison hmmmmph'd in amused agreement. "Probably."

"When you headed back? Or you decided to keep your feet on the ground for awhile?"

The question was casual, but somehow not, and surprisingly, came from Casino, not Actor or Goniff. It was odd, really, how little Garrison had heard from either of those two since he walked back in. In fact, Actor had turned and left without a word while Casino was still explaining the supply mixup.

{"Odder and odder. I can understand Goniff being miffed, but Actor?"}

It was odder still to find himself alone when he'd taken his shower and crawled in for the night. Yeah, he'd settled in his own rarely-used bedroom, somehow feeling awkward about heading into the room shared by Goniff and Meghada (and usually him), but still . . .

He lay there, waiting, listening, hearing movement in the next room, then silence, and finally, giving a huff of annoyance, got up and walked to the connecting door and opened it. Not hearing the greeting he'd hoped to, the invitation he'd more or less expected, he decided he'd had just about enough.

"There something you want to say, Goniff?" His voice came out a little crisp, more so than he'd intended perhaps. No, not the most diplomatic of ways to start a civilized conversation, but he was starting to feel a little put upon. Damn it, he'd MISSED the man! Didn't Goniff understand that??! Even if there were things Garrison needed to do, that didn't mean he didn't care, that what they had wasn't IMPORTANT to him!

"Nothing you're likely wanting to 'ear, Craig. Best go get a good night's sleep. 'Gaida and Chiefy should be back tomorrow. Imagine you 'ave all kinds of interesting things to be telling us all." That voice was far too quiet, too calm, far too detached for Garrison's comfort.

"Goniff, I know I didn't call . . ." he started, only to find himself cut off.

"No, you didn't, did you? Not once. Left us all wondering if maybe you'd crashed yourself in one of them airplanes or whether you were just too busy with your old friends to spare time for a three minute phone call. Well, you can tell us all about it tomorrow; sure it's all absolutely fascinating. Now, if you don't mind, 'ad a busy day, I did. Like to get some sleep."

There was no give to that voice in the darkness, and Craig, after standing there in shock for a few seconds, silently turned and closed that connecting door behind him.

If Goniff got any sleep, well, that was a lot more than Garrison could say the following morning.

 

**

"Ken won't be back. Should have known better than to bring him in in the first place," Joe groused. "All that talk about wanting to fly, about how there's nothing like steering one of them birds through an open sky! Yeah, shoulda figured he'd change his mind. Not like us, he isn't, not really, not where it counts!"

"He decided it wasn't for him?" Craig asked, accepting that bottle of beer that Miles handed to him, snagging a chair at the table at the same time.

"I think the 'little woman' decided it wasn't for him! Joe's right. Shoulda know better than bring him into the deal. Ken heard about your little mishap and turned all moody. Hell, Garrison, not like it's the first time one of us had a close call, it's not going to be the last either. Not like any of us ever figured on dying in bed! Shit, who wants to, anyway??!"

He snorted in derision, and the others, all ex-military, nodded in agreement.

Curt, another of the inner circle, laughed scornfully.

"Seems Ken had this notion of having it both ways. You know, flying, going new places, seeing new people, but still having the wife and family back home whenever he got bored with all that for a little bit. Going back, having a little family time, then when he got bored THERE, heading back to the skies.

"Hearing you almost ended up in a smoking pile made him rethink, Craig. Or maybe it was that bottle he downed after he got back from his own trip home that got him thinking. Started moaning about what 'poor Kitty' would do if he got killed, especially with them having the kid and all; what his dad would do about the business with no one to help. By the time he finished that bottle, he's half-crying, trying to write them both a 'good-bye' letter, even trying to figure out who his wife should marry once he's gone. What a sad-sack!

"By the time he pulls out of his hangover, he's decided maybe he wouldn't mind so much taking over his old man's hardware business after all. All of a sudden, he wants to die in bed at age a hundred, surrounded by kids and grandkids and great-grandkids instead of in a cloud of smoke and glory. Packed his bags, held out his hand for what was left of his buy-in, and was gone. Poor miserable bastard! Bet he comes crawling back in under six months, after all that 'regular business and family man' shit drives him up the wall!"

The four men around the table laughed, drank their beer, talked about how lame that was, especially for guys who'd spent the past few years in the heat of battle, knowing death was only a breath away.

So, maybe the others did 99% of the talking. And maybe Miles, Joe, Curt meant it. Whether Craig did, well, no one could have told different by his expression or his words. But then, he always DID know how to run a good con.

(He remembered, a little ruefully, that his sister Lynn had remarked on more than one occasion that he was pretty damned good at conning himself too. He had an uncomfortable feeling he might have been doing a little too much of that recently.)

 

**

Another close call and he was starting to wonder if ANY of those surplus planes Miles got such a good deal on were worth the powder to blow them up. Of course, he had to admit it wouldn't really take any powder - that last one had just about done the job all by itself when he'd taken it up to just a little over half-speed. Losing your landing gear that far up, especially when you weren't trying to land at the time, was just disheartening. Especially when you DID have a landing to look forward to, two hours out and now without an undercarriage.

{"Something else I'd better not mention when I call home,"} he admitted to himself. Well, at least he WAS calling home now, at least every few days. He glanced at his notebook, the calendar pasted to the inside front cover and winced at the last notation.

"Two weeks. Damn, I haven't called in two weeks??! I am going to get SO yelled at!"

Yes, he had been busy. Yes, he'd been a little banged up after that hard landing and his jaw not letting him enunciate his words like he needed to for talking clearly enough over the phone lines that no one would get suspicious. Still, not calling home seemed just, well, lame, at best.

He spared a thought for what would have happened if there had BEEN a call - but if the call Goniff and the others had gotten had been one telling them he'd gone down in that 'smoke and glory' the others had been so admiring of. Looking at his watch, he gritted his teeth and made his way over to the phone. So it was late. He had a feeling that was a lot better than not making the call at all. The eagerness with which he was greeted, that phone passing from one hand to another, that made him wish, just a little, (maybe a lot), that he was there with them, instead of in a small bare bedroom set up in the annex to the hanger. And the quiet conversation, just Goniff and him, after the others had wished him a good night, that made him wish it even more.

**
A new contract and they were celebrating; that contract ensured the cashflow enough to get CDMG and CO off the ground, literally and figuratively.

Garrison wasn't in quite the celebrating mood, he had to admit to himself, and not just because he was becoming almost unbearably homesick, as juvenile as he thought that was. No, part of his mood was because he was also uncomfortably suspicious about the intentions of that new client, the supposed cargo they'd be carrying. He'd argued against it, but Miles and the others were convinced it was a great opportunity, even if it was outside the geographic area they'd intended to cover. And the agreed-on price for each trip WAS sweet, he couldn't dispute that. But as for the rest??

{"Bogota, Colombia to Miami, Florida. Art reproductions, herbal remedies, and various other 'miscellaneous' things. Miami to Bogota - small farm equipment and tools, according to the proposed contract. Pickups at small, out of the way landing strips, a rotation of several different ones - deliveries to middle-of-nowhere podunk airfields. Why does that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up?"}. Actually, he knew damned well why; that early warning system he had built in had saved their lives more than once.

{"Fine thing that would be! You on the guys all the time about keeping straight, not getting into trouble, and them getting a call saying you've been arrested for smuggling!"}. Because he was pretty sure that was what was going to happen. Reading between the lines, he could picture those shipments - stolen artwork and drugs going into the States, guns heading back out again.

The only question was - was he going to turn them all in, those old buddies of his? Try to convince the guys once more to let the client go and stick to something more within safer boundaries? Or maybe just walk away, bail on the whole operation? One thing he was sure of, he needed more information before he made that decision.

Well, maybe not the last. He was already leaning in that direction; hell, had already made that decision. This wasn't the life for him. Never mind the others thinking the alternative was dull and dreary; right now, dull and dreary sounded damned good to him. That thought had drawn a reluctant laugh; after all, 'dull and dreary' just wasn't a real good description of life with Goniff and Meghada and the guys.

And thinking of that brought him full circle back to needing more information about the suspected skullduggery, and who better to go to than the experts on such matters?

He'd tried calling home that night, thinking to have Actor do a little quiet snooping among his multitude of sourcs, but didn't get an answer. That was jarring for some reason, hearing that phone ring and ring and ring til he finally gave up. He felt a little hurt, even, though considering how he'd neglected making those calls, he knew that was unreasonable.

{"Not like they should just be sitting there, waiting to hear from me,"} he thought uncomfortably. {"Especially when it took me getting suspicious about the operation to make me call now, after calling just two nights ago."} It almost made him laugh again, thinking he probably should send the prospective clients a thank-you note for forcing him to wake up and realize just what the hell he was giving up for that little patch of sky he'd been mooning over.

Miles stuck his head in the door, giving him a funny look. "A little late to be making calls, Craig. Something wrong?"

No, Miles hadn't missed Garrison's reaction to that proposed contract. Well, he always had been a sharp one. {"Probably wants to be sure I'm not pulling a fast one, maybe calling the police. Though what would I have for them anyway? 'See, officer, the hair on the back of my neck starting acting up.' Yeah, I can see that."}

Garrison gave him a wry smile, "was supposed to call home and got busy and forgot. Last time that happened, my ears were burning for hours!"

Miles frowned, not much liking the sound of that. "Call home? Didn't know you had anyone serious. You haven't mentioned anyone, anyway. You like Ken, another 'family man' with wife and kids?"

Frankly, no matter how much Garrison knew, how skilled he was, Miles wouldn't have involved him if he'd thought he was the 'settle down' kind. Hell, he wouldn't have involved Ken if he thought the man wasn't willing to ditch all that domestic shit. He didn't figure that was what it would take to build the kind of business he had in mind.

"Not exactly, but, yeah, there's someone waiting. At least, I hope so. Though if I keep forgetting to stay in touch, that could change. Heard a few words about it last time I walked in the door."

Well, he had, more than a few, from everyone at the Cottages, if in different tones and in differing levels of reproof.

And, he'd heard quite a few more from a thoroughly exasperated younger sister. Lynn had been exceedingly blunt with her opinion.

"I leave for a few weeks to attend a reunion, spend some time with friends back in the States, and YOU decide to run off and join the circus! Just like when you were ten!"

Yes, she had chewed him up one side and down the other, leaving not a square inch untouched, ending with a disgusted, "and frankly, I'm surprised they put up with you, Craig - Goniff and Meghada especially! Well, at least I hope you're calling them every night, letting them know you're alright, letting them know you're thinking about them, missing them! All the pampering and cosseting and petting they give you, and you go and do something as childish as this! Sometimes I just have to wonder . . ." By the time he'd hung up the phone, carefully avoiding telling her about his 'telephone-avoidance' record with those he'd left behind, he felt his ears had been blistered!

The next time he tried the call, he got someone - luckily the very someone he had hoped for. Even more in his favor, that someone had the information he was looking for, without having to dig around or ask anyone. Seems that 'client' had a certain reputation in certain circles, circles Actor still had contacts with, still heard tidbits of information on a regular basis. A discussion, a decision, and finally, in the wee hours, a weary but satisfied Garrison slid down to rescue what little was left of his night's sleep. After all, it looked like he was going to have a challenging day ahead of him.

**
It was a farewell drink, one occasioned by Garrison announcing his decision to leave. That was after he'd given them his opinion of their new client and the trouble they were walking into. They'd argued, but finally given way, admitting they too had a few qualms. Miles and the others had been surprised when Garrison had still made it clear that he was finished; they'd really thought he'd change his mind if they gave in on the subject. (Well, Curt gave in; Miles and Joe were figuring they'd just handle any of the special runs themselves, keep the other two out of the loop. Hell, the extra money was just too good to pass up!)

Still, Garrison seemed determined, and Joe pulled out the whiskey and the glasses and they were lifting one in a final toast when the door opened and in streamed five people, each with a determined look on their face. It was partly those stern faces that accounted for the sudden nervousness on the part of the partners, but possibly that warning talk from Garrison might have them slightly gun-shy.

"We do something for you?" Miles asked cautiously. If he hadn't been so focused on the newcomers, he'd have seen the look on Craig Garrison's face, a flash of amused gratification that disappeared as quickly as it appeared.

{"It's a good thing I already handed in my resignation, got my buy-in back, packed my bag; doubt anyone's going to give me enough time to handle that now."}.

Still, something inside made him want them to work for it, his acquiescence - wanted to see how they'd manage it. Yeah, Actor knew his intentions, but Craig had the feeling the others didn't, not yet.

"Came to collect w'at's ours," came from the small Cockney in the lead, his arms crossed defiantly over his wiry chest.

{"I think he's taking after Meghada and her family more and more. That was about as NON-subtle as it could get!"} Garrison thought, wanting very much to laugh at that sheer defiant determination on Goniff's face.

"Yours?" Miles asked. Now he really was nevous; that new client HAD given him a very nice advance.

Goniff jerked his chin towards Garrison. "'Im. Been gone long enough, 'e 'as. Time 'e got back 'ome where 'e should be."

The tall man in the rear coughed gently. "Gentlemen, we need a word with Craig, if you don't mind. Personal business, you understand."

Miles frowned, "you okay with that Craig? We can chase them outta here if you give the word."

"No, no, Miles. It's fine. I doubt this will take long," Garrison assured them, nodding suggestively toward the back office with its solid metal door.

Miles and the others exchanged a puzzled look, then shrugged and went to the back office and closed the door.

Garrison coughed back a laugh at the sheer stubborn determination on Goniff's face.

"What, Goniff? No bricks? I don't see any bricks; I kinda expected one, you know. I'm a little hurt."

Goniff scowled at him, obviously not appreciating that note of levity.

"A brick upside the 'ead is too simple for you, Craig. Works for a simple problem, right enough. That's why it works with Casino, getting 'im to see reason. Don't get any simpler than Casino."

That got a yelp of offended protest from Casino, quickly hushed by Chief and Actor.

Goniff didn't even bother to turn that scowl on Casino, just kept glaring at Garrison as he continued his train of thought.

"You, now, you're complicated. And complicated takes a lot more than a brick. 'Sides, don't need one," came with an arrogant toss of that blond head. "Got something better than a ruddy brick for bringing you around!," he uttered with a firm nod. "Learned it from you in the first place, even!"

"Oh?" Garrison replied in a taunting manner. (He was enjoying this far too much, would probably pay for that teasing later, but he figured it was worth it.) "What, you got one of your 'brilliant ideas' on what would make me change my mind?"

{"Oh, yeah. This is good!"} as Garrison watched the determined man stalking toward him, head slightly tilted forward almost as if he was going to ram him. The others were hanging back, Actor, Chief and Casino close to the entrance, Meghada a lot closer to Goniff, but obviously letting Goniff take point.

"That's exactly w'at 'appened. Thought about w'at you were saying, about that dream of yours - a plane, a patch of sky, sunshine. Think your mistake was thinking you 'ad to go off somew'ere to get all that. See, 'Gaida and me were talking, and seems to us you're not seeing things straight.

"But, being's it's you, figure you won't see it that way, not without some persuading. Figured it all out, I did, just like with the cons we ran during the war. Figured out w'at you might call the bait, 'ow to give you w'at you keep thinking you need, like we'd do with a mark. Then, figured out 'ow to spring it, the trap. Decided a nice pincer movement, like we did in Cairo that time, that'd do the trick!"

Garrison was impressed; how ever, WHAT EVER, Goniff had come up with, obviously he'd put a lot of thought and effort behind it. {"Of course, outlining the bait, the trap, to the 'mark' is rather unconventional, but then, that's Goniff for you."}

He waited in eager anticipation for whatever his pickpocket had come up with. He was going to go along, whatever it was, of course, let himself be persuaded; he'd already made up his mind there, but still, his curiosity was killing him!

Chief glanced down at the bags sitting by the door, saw the name plate and gave one of his rare smiles. Jabbing his elbow in Casino's ribs, he jerked his head, directing the safe cracker's attention to the proof that Garrison had been leaving on his own, without their intervention. Actor saw, but only saw confirmation of what he had already gathered from that phone call. Still, he lifted one questioning brow at Garrison, getting that tiny nod in return. Actor let a smile trickle over his face as he watched in amusement.

Casino started to break in. {"Hell, no sense going through whatever rigamarole the little Limey has in mind, not if Garrison is already headed back!"}. Actor and Chief saw, each quickly slapping a hand over their team mate's mouth, shaking their heads in a very firm 'NO!' Casino started to push away, argue, but then shrugged. He had to admit, this could be amusing as hell. Well, when you got Goniff all wound up, it sometimes turned out that way.

"What did you figure out, Goniff? How do you figure I can live that dream? Come on, give it your best shot, convince me," Garrison challenged, his jaw jutting forward just a little, easing back to rest one hip on the metal desk.

He risked a quick glance at Meghada, saw her appraising look in return, the slow release of the tension she had been wearing since she walked in. Obviously Actor hadn't filled her in on Garrison's decision any more than he had the others. Interesting that she seemed to pick up on his decision now, was fulfilling her supporting role still, but already comfortably assured of the outcome.

Now, at a motion from Goniff, Meghada stepped obediently forward to stand just a little to the pickpocket's left and presented the first part of the 'bait'.

"That patch of sky you were wanting - there's a very nice patch over the garden, you know. Shows up every day, Craig, without fail, and there's even that grassy bit where a person, where YOU, can stretch out and watch it for as long as you like," she reminded him.

Goniff eagerly added, "and the sunshine, it shows up more often there than in many places I've been." He looked over at Meghada, nodding encouragingly for her to deliver what he figured was the piece de resistance, as they said.

She smiled knowingly, "and brother Ian says anytime you feel the need to be behind the controls of a plane, he'd be more than pleased for you to take one of his birds out, maybe even join him on one of his delivery runs. You know he has several in his stable, different kinds. You might find it amusing, enough to satisfy that need."

Garrison frowned slightly, pretending to think about that 'bait', but still making a show of reluctance.

"Alright, so it all sounds a little tempting, I admit. So, let's say I take the bait. Then what?"

Goniff threw his shoulders back proudly, "THEN, we put the pincer movement into play! First the left side . . ." and he motioned to Meghada once again.

Garrison looked at her apprehensively as she slowly moved forward, a slight grin playing at her lips at his obvious nervousness. He slowly stood up, feeling he'd better be standing square on his feet for whatever she had in mind.

What she had in mind was a re-enactment of that little show they'd put on for the hotshot from HQ, the one that had so horrified Major Richards with its blatant sensuality. {"No, I think she STARTED with that, then upped the ante one hell of a lot,"} he thought, with the tiny portion of his brain still capable of thought. {"I think my socks are smoldering,"}, really tempted to look down to see if he could see smoke.

She stepped back, cocked her head to one side, one brow raised in anticipation, waiting for his response.

He licked his lips, cleared his throat, and then nodded carefully.

"Yes, I can see how that would be effective. That was the left, you say, Goniff?"

"That's right. Well, no, that WAS the left. THIS is the right," and the slender Englishman took the spot Meghada had just vacated.

And it was a moment Garrison would treasure forever - that imperious glare from those blue eyes, the strong hand that had him by the back of the neck, bending his head down and forward as those familiar lips claimed his without mercy, declaring to one and all that this was HIS, and Garrison had damned well better remember that!

When it was over, when Goniff stepped away, Garrison caught his breath, licked his lips and swallowed heavily, cleared his throat noisily. {"Yes, I'm pretty sure the socks are a dead loss, maybe the shoes too!"}

He turned and walked to the rear door, opened it and nodded to Miles and the others.

"Ah, right. Miles, Joe, Curt - guess this is goodbye. And, thanks, for everything. I really mean that. But, you were right. This is no life for a family man."

He looked back at the sound of laughing congratulatory voices coming from the front office.

"Have to be going now. Seems like the family is getting a little impatient."

The eager look on Garrison's face was obviously real, enough Miles and others couldn't doubt his sincerity, although they were curious as hell about what had happened to change a slightly-reluctant withdrawal to one so energetic and smile-worthy.

Well, all except Curt, who had been at the crack of the door, listening for all he was worth, peering at the thin view he could get. Whether he would share with the others, he hadn't decided yet. Though maybe he'd made another decision; he'd think about it overnight, just to be sure, but yeah, maybe Garrison wasn't such a dummy after all.

**
Several weeks later, the garden at The Cottages:

Craig stretched in the warm sunshine, shifting position to get even more comfortable on that quilt laid out on the lush grassy patch. He didn't even bother to open his eyes at the sound of approaching footsteps; it simply felt too good to lay there and enjoy.

"Here, I thought you might like this," came an amused voice. Craig slowly opened his eyes, sat up and extended his hand for the glass of iced tea being held out to him.

"Thanks," he said, taking a grateful sip.

"Mind if I join you?" Actor asked.

"My dream is at your command - at least this part of it," he grinned, welcoming Actor with a wide sweep of his arm, though carefully limiting that offer to the grassy spot with its patch of open sky and warm sunshine.

"Yes, very nice, I must admit," Actor acknowledged, taking a cooling drink from his own glass, glancing up and around at the peaceful scene.

Garrison squinted over at him. "I've been meaning to ask. You didn't tell Goniff, Meghada and the others about my deciding to give it up, come back home that next day after we spoke. Why? Why let them show up without knowing?"

Actor threw back his head and laughed. "I simply could not resist! Goniff had come up with this 'brilliant idea' for giving you everything you said you were looking for - everything and much more, and he was quite specific, I assure you! - and I simply had to see your face! I am only relieved your partners were agreeable to stepping into the next room; I shudder to even imagine what their reaction would have been. I assure you, Craig, if I had not been privy to your decision, I would never have allowed, even encouraged . . ."

His voice trailed off as he noted the sheepish grin on Garrison's face. Frowning in disbelief, he just had to ask.

"Craig?? If you hadn't already determined to return here, if Goniff had proceeded with that ridiculous 'con', what WOULD you have done? I thought I knew, thought I knew your reaction, knew how angry, how annoyed, certainly embarrassed you would have been. But now - I must admit you have me curious."

Garrison laughed out loud at the expression on the con man's face.

"Actor, how could I have resisted? He, along with Meghada, offered me everything I've ever wanted, ever dreamed of having, and Ian and his planes were only a tiny part of that. Yes, if I hadn't already made the decision, what they offered me, that would have done the trick. I'm not THAT stubborn about admitting I screwed up. At least, I HOPE I'm smart enough not to cut off my own nose to spite my face.

"And before you laugh at his 'brilliant ideas', you might consider some of the ones he's had in the past, including getting you on the list of 'Guest Lecturers' for most of the primary universities in England, Gil with his room that reminded him so much of his home when he was growing up. Never mind Casino and his garlic festival, Chief and his ceiling! While his ideas can seem overly-simplistic at times, at the heart they show an almost-frightening understanding of the other person - not just what is on the surface, but at their very core. Understanding, sympathy, and a degree of empathy and caring that you won't come across too often. And as for his ability to run a con?"

Garrison shook his head and laughed. "Just think about how long it took us to figure out just how much of that 'simple, naive, slightly-dense little pickpocket' personna of his was, if not a total load of bull, then highly-exaggerated."

"Still, that 'pincer movement', did you not find that embarrassing, with your erstwhile partners in the next room?"

"Embarrassing, Actor? They almost melted my socks off, between the two of them! There wasn't a lot of room left for embarrassment, not with everything else I was feeling!" Craig admitted.

Actor stared, then shook his head. "Sometimes I must stand with Casino on this. You know - sheesh, you guys! What IS it with you??"

"Well, whatever IT is, Actor, I wouldn't trade it for my own air freight company or an entire fleet of airplanes," Craig said with some satisfaction, draining the last from that glass and setting it aside.

"Ah, that brings me to another subject, or at least a related one. I just heard - C&D Air Freight is no more. It would seem the remaining of the last two partners - Miles Cumberland - was killed in a crash while trying to elude the Colombian air forces. The crash site contained the remains of several crates of contraband weapons."

Garrison squinted over at Actor. "C&D? Not CDM? And Miles. What about Joe Donner and Curt Macon?"

"Joe Donner met his end prior, when the recipients of a shipment of drugs decided he had been helping himself to an unacceptable percentage of the shipments. Curt Macon left the partnership the day after you did. It appears your decision awoke something in him, enough to make him rethink his own future."

There was silence, then a deep inhalation of breath. "Miles talked about us all going out in smoke and glory, about that being better than dying in bed at age a hundred, surrounded by kids and grandkids and more. Hope they both still felt that way when it went down."

"Now, Craig, about our OWN business. While you were gone, we came up with various ideas to consider, as you might recall. We have not pressed, thinking you needed some time, but perhaps, after you finish enjoying your sunshine, we might spend some time in the office?"

"Maybe, probably, but probably quite a bit later, Actor," Garrison said, watching as Meghada and Goniff came through the garden gate, arms full of their spoils from the fresh market in the next town over. Both sent over a warm smile, Goniff adding a sly wink and a wicked waggle of his brows to up the ante. "I think I'd better help Meghada and Goniff inside."

Actor shook his head and sighed, watching as Craig bounded to his feet and headed after the two, eagerness marking his every move.

"At this rate, Craig, you are going to need to start ordering new socks by the gross!"

That comment got only a rueful laugh of agreement as the kitchen door closed behind the trio.

{"Ah, well. As a fate, there are certainly worse,"} Actor thought to himself, thinking once again of Miles Cumberland and Joe Donner.

{"Far, far worse."}

 

Lyrics to:
*Someday Soon" as written and sung by Ian Tyson

There's a young man that I know
He's just turned twenty-one
Comes from down in southern Colorado
Just out of the service and looking for his fun
Someday Soon, going with him, someday Soon

My parents can not stand him
'cause he works the rodeo
They say he's not your kind, He'll leave you crying
I will follow him right down the toughest row to hoe
Someday soon, going with him, someday soon

When he visits me, my pa ain't got one good word to say
Got a hunch he was as wild back in his early days

So, blow you old blue northern
Blow him back to me
He's likely riding back from California

Loves his damn ole rodeo as much as he loves me
Someday soon, going with him, someday soon
Someday soon, going with him, someday soon