Somehow, Starr Ann's party plans fell together just right. The house was filling up with women who hit the doorway taking in deep, appreciative whiffs of Starr Ann's cooking and talking fast. What great weather! Have Lane and Amanda shown up yet? Wow, Bates is getting big, no wait, he isn't!
Most of The Posse and all of the Saloon Ladies were there, when Lane and Amanda came walking in looking, well, they were aglow. Heh. People started kissing and hugging them and Amanda was eating it up, but Lane gets a little tight when the affection starts to flow, so she scooped up Bates and told him how handsome he looked in his new "Don't Watch Me Poop" sweater. I got him the bright yellow one with royal blue lettering.
Anyway, this party was already rocking when Lori came swooping in looking cowgirly, yes, but also decidedly piratical. She was leading a contingent from Th'Mound and declared, "This here's Cap'n Dyke's Advanced Plunderin' Party! Prepare to be prepared to be plundered!"
Dang, she was serious. She and the Crew started unloading supplies and Lori personally brought a bottle of Jose Cuervo over to me and asked how I liked it. I said straight, lime no salt. She had two whole shots in me before I knew what was happening. But, heh, it was party time.
Starr Ann was in her glory! Jodie was helping her put out the food, and The Posse just kept complimenting her on just about everything. And Lane really did look happy. She really did.
Right about when everybody got quiet so Sandwriter could read a farewell poem, Lane swung into the dining room, laughing and glancing around, saying, "Where's my Bates Boy?"
FRoG said last time she saw him, he was snapping at one of the pirates.
TripleSecs spoke up and said, "That was me he bit." She was rubbing her ankle a little. "But after that, I saw him walking out the side door, looking all businesslike."
Lane smiled, but kinda rushed to the side door. She was back in a few seconds, looking pretty panicky. "I don't see him!"
Well, right as our all-out search started up, Cap'n Dyke came riding in on Plunder. She stopped next to me, where I was searching some bushes, and said, "Now, Ye didn't think a few Tons o'Ice would be keepin' Me from th'Party, did Ye?"
She studied me kinda hard while I was telling her about Bates being lost. "Me Margo, how much Advance Plunderin' has Me APP accomplished?"
I showed her the tequila bottle Lori had been helping me with, and said, "This much, but that's beside the point! Bates really is lost."
Everything started happening real fast. Starr Ann came running out to tell us Lane had a great idea. She found the card from that animal communicator, Simone, and was on the phone with her right then. We all went inside to get the word.
Bottom line from Simone was that everybody who Bates knows well should fan out, searching and calling his name. Everybody else should get busy printing up flyers and getting them posted all over the place. So, Lori led the poster brigade and Starr Ann, Amanda and I were about to go out calling for Bates, when Lane called us back.
Lane was still on the phone. She said, "Simone has him!" Then she listened a minute, and said, "A man picked Bates up and drove off with him...blue truck...Bates is showing Simone a man's hairy arms as he was being carried...now he's showing her an eagle...no, a hawk on the man's wrist...Simone says maybe a tattoo..."
Starr Ann and I said at the same second, "Randy Sneed!"
We raced for the barn and Starr Ann beat me by a mile, probably because of the tequila. She was already on Oatmeal when Cap'n Dyke intercepted me, saying, "Pop up here, Me Poppet. Ye be seemin' just a Mite Tipsy for ridin' Trickster."
Plunder's one fast steed! We got to Randy's front porch a few hops ahead of Starr Ann. The Cap'n and I reached the door and were about to pound on it, when Starr Ann pushed past us and just opened the thing. Not a lot of locked doors around here. Anyway, there Randy was, standing in his living room smirking.
Starr Ann said, 'Where's the puppy?"
Randy said, "Now I didn't go and wreck your little queer party, did I?"
One second Randy Sneed was grinning his face off and the next he was slamming against the wall with a dagger grazing his throat and a real-life Cap'n Dyke growl happening about four inches from his face.
Cap'n said, "Now ye'll be tellin' Me Mighty Heart Rustler where ye've put th'Puppy."
Real shaky, Randy said, "In that bathroom just the other side of the hall."
Starr Ann threw the door open and came right back out cuddling little Bates, letting him settle against her cleavage the way he loves to do.
Randy said, "I wasn't gonna hurt anything. Just a little joke. You know how I like to joke, right Margo? Right Starr Ann?"
Lane and Amanda came flying through the door and all four of us just wallowed in the relief of being able to touch Bates. Finally, we looked up and saw that Randy was still nailed into place.
I said, "Might as well let him go, Cap'n."
"Not so fast, Me Magnificent." Cap'n Dyke rammed Randy into the wall a little harder and said, "Will One o'ye be checkin' t'See if th'Wee Lad was provided with a bowl o'Water?" She bared her teeth at Randy. "That'll be th'Measure that decides yer Fate, Me Coward." Then she smiled real nice like.
Starr Ann peeked into the bathroom. "Guess you can let him live, Cap'n. There's a big bowl of water and a coupla treats on the floor in there."
I truly think Cap'n was disappointed to hear that. But she turned Randy loose and we all rode home together.
It was the middle of the night by the time everybody got back and the food wasn't exactly in its prime, but none of that mattered much. About four in the morning, Lane got a call. It was from Simone, and they talked for over an hour. After that, Lane's whole demeanor was changed. She was real calm. Seemed real confident. And she started hugging us and telling us she loved us.
Since the night was long gone, and Lane and Amanda had to be on their plane at eight, the whole Posse and all the Saloon Ladies went to the airport to see them off with us.
The very last thing Lane said before leaving was something she whispered to Bates. We couldn't hear what she said, but the puppy who never whines whined the whole time Lane and Amanda were walking away from us toward the plane.
And here's that farewell poem Sandwriter never did get around to reciting:
learning to fly
i think you're daft
to join the army
sans the draft
in times of peace
it seems ok
and war game play
but war, in countries
far from home
where 'er you roam
but girls must do
what girls must do
and maybe this
is right for you
here at home
we anxious wait
for your return
which will be great
do your duty
protect your heart
from war's vile spell
and gentle days
our love goes with you