Jess leans back on the grassy bank and watches his children splash and giggle in the little stream. At first he worried about bringing them here, so far from the ocean, but they’ve taken to land life like, well, fish to water. Or sea horses to a grotto. As long as there are rivers, ponds, streams and the underground sea, they’ll be happy, to Jess’s unending relief.
If only Mera were still with them. He can still see her grace in Garth’s movements, and her beauty in the fiery blaze of Tula’s hair. Jess swallows. Do they still miss her? Do they even remember her? He must make certain they remember her.
“Daddy, look! Look, Daddy!”
The twins have joined hands and made a circle of their arms. Trout vault through the makeshift hoop at their mental command. One does a flip as it flies through the air. That will be Tula’s doing; she likes to show off.
Jess laughs at the performance. They remember. They remember what she taught them. His heart swells with love for his children. Problems go away for awhile, as the world shrinks to a narrow stream, confused but obedient fish, and a father’s pride in his offspring.
The SUV reaches the end of the dirt track and shudders to a stop. The Ewing kids pile out: Hannibal from behind the wheel, followed by Mary and Bo. They’re wearing identical Rams football jerseys: fightin’ 56, their daddy’s number.
For a few moments they stare silently at the craggy, tree-covered mountains. This was the last place they saw their daddy alive. He’d been bighorn for a week and was wary of them. Hannibal had shifted and tried to drive him back to the car, but all Jock’s dementia-fogged mind saw was a rival ram. After weathering half a dozen charges Hannibal backed off and let him go. His tracks led into the mountains and never came out again.
Hannibal looks at those mountains now, and breathes in the crisp, pine-tangy air. If one has to go, he can’t think of a more beautiful place. His brother Bo comes up beside him. Mary stands between them, an arm around each.
Finally Hannibal speaks. “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy,” he says softly. Then, to Bo, “You got it?”
“You betcha. And I’m keeping it.”
“In your dreams.”
They break and circle warily. For years Father’s Day ended with this ritual, and they see no reason to discontinue it just because Jock is gone. Bo launches the football. Hannibal dives for it, but Mary intercepts, and the game is on.
Dante shows his grandpa to a table at the Pleasure Club, and orders the waiter to serve him hand and paw. “Anything he wants,” Dante says. “Or anyone.” He winks.
Vernon Hancock, the Old Gray Guy, winks back. You’re not supposed to play favorites, especially when you’re the alpha, but he always favored Dante over all the pups and grandpups. He can see his beloved Sylvette in Dante’s eyes. Pup has brains, too, and a huge heart. Where the dog-damn had that come from? He sure hadn’t got it from Damien.
Vernon nods toward the red wolf she gyrating up on the stage. “She available?”
“Not while she’s working. Anyway, word is she’s got a boyfriend. A big white tiger. I mean big. Maybe you don’t want to mess with him.”
“I know who you mean. Okay, I’ll let her alone.” It suits his plans to have Sergei forget about him. So far only Dante knows who he is and that he’s back in Talbot’s Peak. That’s the way the Old Gray Guy wants it … for now.
The waiter becomes Vernon’s personal beta. Tasty meat appetizers are brought to him, and his mug remains full. A steady stream of comely she-wolves just happens to pass by his table. Not all are hired help. Shes appreciate experience and power in their alphas. A wolf doesn’t make it to Vernon’s age without acquiring both, as the shes are well aware.
He nods to a handsome she-wolf. She willingly takes his hand. He judges her to be in her mid- to late thirties. He appreciates experience too. “Want to help an old dog learn new tricks?” he says with a leer.
“You’re not so old,” she says, “and I bet you’re tricky.” She leads him toward the back and the rooms reserved there.
This is shaping up into the best Father’s Day the Old Gray Guy’s enjoyed in a good long time. No wonder Dante’s always been his favorite.
Shere Khan is rich. Not only in material wealth, although he has that in abundance. He owns a wealth greater than all the gold in creation. He has sons.
He watches them gather in the garden below. His progeny, his army, his pride. Are they aware of his scrutiny? Are they plotting against him? A good son knows to stay at least one step ahead of his sire. He cracks open the window to listen.
Tasman stands before his gathered brothers. Not surprisingly, he’s targeted Guri. “I sent you to spy on the reporter, mark his movements.” He brandishes an oversized paperback. “Instead I find you in the town square, reading this.”
Ravi, the lickspittle, takes up position a half-step behind Tasman. He reads the book’s cover. “Spider-Man?”
“You want me to learn the ways of the humans,” Guri says to Tasman. “This is what passes for heroes among them. These are their gods.”
Ravi squints at the paperback. “This is a god to the humans? A scrawny youth in a carnival costume?”
“Sanjay told me to read it.”
“I did not,” Sanjay protests. “I recommended Superman. Superman is the prototype of a human hero-god.”
“Superman is boring. He can do anything. Where’s the challenge when you’re so powerful you can never fail? Spider-Man is a screw-up. Except with the females. His girlfriend is hot.”
“How is he a spider-man?” Ravi wants to know. “I see only four limbs. Where are the other four limbs?”
“I don’t care about limbs,” Tasman snaps. “I care about the movements of the nosy wolf reporter. What did you learn, Guri?”
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
“I meant about the reporter!”
“Oh, him. He’s besotted with some she-cat from the pleasure club. They went to the movies. They hardly touched their popcorn. If he’s digging into Father’s business, I’ve seen no evidence of it.”
“Not with your nose buried in comic books, no. Continue your surveillance.” He tucks the paperback under his arm. “I will keep this. For study.”
“I will study it when you’re done,” Sanjay says. “To better understand the humans.”
Ravi sniffs. “I will wait for the movie.”
“Would you like to see it?” Guri says. “I’ve got it on Blu-Ray. I like the second one best. The man with the octopus arms. He reminds me of Uncle Rajah.”
Ravi snarls and stalks away. Guri and Sanjay go inside, talking earnestly of something called a Justice League. Tasman shakes his head.
Shere Khan massages his forehead, where a headache has sprouted. I pray for sons, he thinks, and I am given these. Which god did I offend, and in which life? Vishnu help us all.
To all the dads and those with dads, happy Father’s Day!