Chapter 1

A lot had happened these last few years for me. Going back home held mixed emotions for me. Dad had left mother, as man of the house I took the only real option open to a seventeen year old, 'Uncle Sam'.

$178.76 a month would not seem like much to many people, but in the West Virginia mountains it allowed mom to live a comfortable life when combined with Social Security and food stamps. I also got something from that decision, experience and confidence.

The two years went fast. One thing I did not need very much skills training, which was learning how to shoot, or more accurately, how to kill.

There were many things promised if he would re enlist. An old Sgt. had told me that with my skills, I could make a lot of money working 'off book' sort of speaking, and for people who were looking for a few men who could keep their mouth shut and complete the mission.

I was not too convinced that was the way to go until the old man handed me an envelope with an address, a phone number and $10,000. It was more money than I had ever seen or held in my entire life. That was now almost 3 years ago. I took the money, called that number and never looked back. The first thing I did was head home, handed Mama most of the money and told her to now try to enjoy life a little more. For me, the $10-15,000 I received each month would create a nest egg I could not get anywhere else. Rocco, my team leader, had advised me to bank the tax free money and keep any options open by living and staying at one of the safe houses they kept. Everything would be considered an operating expense, in exchange, the team would provide me more choices of assignments.

When I was informed my mother was ill, I expected there would not be any sympathy or understanding from the team. I was wrong. When Rocco sat me down, asked a few specific questions and several personal questions, I had never expected the big man to just nod his head, hand me an envelope and tell me I had 90 days 'hardship' time coming. $90,000 was in the envelope. "Take care of her buddy, leave everything 'ship shape' then come back, we will have plenty of work for you."

He had heard the group he was in, 'took care of their own'. He also had heard that the fees and rewards received were a lot more than their monthly paychecks amounted to. He now felt he knew what that extra was being used for. He never really cared, the monies he got, room and board and 'special' proceeds like this was an intelligent way to run an organization. He wondered if death or disability might also warrant something.

One of the guys drove me to the airport. We had a number, business address and mail/email located in the states. Almost all our assignments were elsewhere and one learned several languages over time, if not from the assignments then from the various team members.

We had French, Russian, Check, German, Thai, Laotian and a few Nordic troops, mostly shooters.

I landed at Dulles, got a rental car, a nice Mitsubishi that seemed to ride far better than I expected. National had a no mile fee option and that seemed the right choice for me. It was a tossup to fly to Ohio or PA then drive to West Virginia. I drove instead from Dulles. It was getting late but I wanted to get home.

On the way, just ahead, I saw an old battered pick-em-up truck. The bonnet was up and although one of the parking lights were on, it did not look like it was going anywhere. When we were not on assignment, it was SOP to be 'naked', especially in some countries that were 'phobic' about guns. Knowing better but since this was so close to home, I stopped to help.

A leggy blond, short shirt, revealing tank top and bare feet got out. I listened to her comments about the 'Damn truck' dying then it hit me, she was Laura, my neighbor Laura. We had gone to school together.

"Hi stretch, long time no see! You need help?"

"Robbie, Robbie Slaughter? Heard you left a while back! You here for your Mama?"

"Yep! Sort of didn't hear much other than she was ill!"

"Robbie, she got real sick. Sis and I tried to see to her, even stayed with her towards the end. Doc Wilson came around and we even drove her up to the hospital in Evansville. She didn't last long though. They never said what she had but whatever they gave her worked, she did not seem to have a lot of pain. She gave me some things to give to you as well as a bunch of papers and a lockbox of sorts. Your Mama was a good woman Robbie and when you left we all made sure she always had help and some company. Cindy and Rachel went over there to study and make sure she ate and had food. We may not have a lot up here Robbie but we take care of our own."

Where had I heard that before.

"Laura, I thank you. I never knew she was feeling poorly. I tried to send her money when Daddy left us. I guess I should have stayed closer."

"Robbie, don't you go blaming yourself. Your Mama was so proud of you. Whatever money you sent must have been enough because she never complained, nor did she seem to be in need for anything. As I said the girls made sure she always had someone to talk to and went over couple days a week. She came over every holiday too. Could you give me a ride home? Kevin is working tonight. He is a Deputy now and as soon as we can save up to get a place or Cindy and Rachel move out, we are getting married. I am guardian for them for a while yet, Cindy is 16 and Rachel 14 so they will probably find somebody soon. I'll call Kevin when I get home. Cindy can make you dinner while Rach fixes up your house for you."

"Sure Laura, I really appreciate everything you and the girls have been doing."

We pulled into the driveway of Laura's home. I was right next door. Two girls ran out. These must be Cindy and Rachel but I did not remember them. If they looked like they did now, I surely would have. What a difference, 4 or 5 years made for a teen. I had to take a gulp or two. Laura looked at me and giggled. "Maybe they'll find someone sooner than I thought."

"Huh" I mumbled, just staring at the two girls bouncing towards me.

"Sis, you brought us a present, and it's not even our birthday!"

Laura went inside the house to call Kevin I guess. Each of the lovelies took an arm and started to pull me towards the house. I heard, Laura. "Easy you hussy's, that's Robbie our next door neighbor. Ellen was his Mama. Cindy make him some dinner, Rach go next door and get his bed ready."

I think I heard her say, "she'd be ready for him as soon as gets there." Wonder what she meant by that?

As Cindy was feeding me Kevin drove up. Laura gave him a hug and a kiss. I had a few ideas then. That phrase, 'We take care of our own' kept playing in my mind.

I ate but really did not notice Cindy holding my hand and leading me to my house. I thought I heard giggling though. When we entered, four hands undressed me and pulled me under the duvet into the bed, I must have been asleep before my head hit the pillow. I woke the next morning to the smell of coffee, real coffee and the sound of bacon frying. Not quite certain about all the details but I did see a goddess sitting on the bed just looking at me. "He's up Cin." I had to check a few more times to see if she was real.

It might have been more pleasant if I did not have to use the bathroom so badly now. That morning might have been more sedate too if I were dressed of if that angel on my bed wore more than that see thru top.

"Does our little boy need any help this morning Robbie?"

"Oh man!' I thought. If she was only 14 I now feared what the 16 year old was like. Rachel held up a robe. She held it up. I heard her say. "Here Robbie, eat then we'll get you a shower. We promised Ellen that we would be here for you whenever you came home. We take care of our own Robbie."

There it was again. Everything just seemed to go black. Tears streamed from my eyes. When I woke up, my head rested on a lap and another set of hands were rubbing my eyes and face with a cool wash cloth while another hand kept stroking my temples. A soft voice kept whispering that everything was going to be okay.

My guilt for leaving, Mom dying, suffering who knew what and all alone. Then I remembered, she had not been alone. The phrase, 'We take care of our own' became like a mantra now.

A glass of water, the juice seemed to appear at my lips. I must have been dreaming but seemed to remember the feel of soft lips on my face interspaced with warm salty tears. I was asleep now, dreaming that I had died too and everything was going to be fine.

When I woke up, it was daylight still. The room was my old room. The window was broken, covered with a plastic sheet. Dust, dirt, leaves and some old yellowed bed sheets were tucked away in the corner. Those on which I now lay were fresh smelling and clean.

I heard again. "He's up!" This time Laura, Cindy and Rachel all walked in. I pulled the duvet up a bit higher. I still had no clothes on.

"Robbie, if your doing that for sake of the girls, it's too late. They have been washing, caring for your needs and seen you were taken care of in every manner all day and night yesterday, and if I know my sisters it was done with love not lust Robbie. Frankly I'm a little worried, if Kevin finds out he may want to marry both of them and not me. Damn boy, it was like lions protecting cubs, they did not want to leave your side."

By the look on their faces, I just knew now those were not all dreams after all.

Getting back to the living, I had suddenly seem to have gained two sidekicks. Laura came in one day with a box, some papers and items, things mom had given her to give to me I guessed.

In the box was some money I had given her, her wedding ring and a note for me. I took the note, then handed the box to Laura telling her it was for her wedding. She and Kevin should hurry up before he found out about her sister. That I was keeping them now that I had found them. I never knew it might have been prophetic.

Laura cried. It was a simple ring, maybe not even a real diamond, knowing my dad. Laura held it up, called out to the girls and continued to cry. She ran to the phone and called Kevin.

While we waited, I thought, 'What the Hell, in for a penny.'

When Kevin showed up.(We did not have much crime here.) Laura nearly knocked him over when she jumped on him, shouting and holding up the ring. "Look what Robbie gave us." then handed him the box.

His eyes got quite big, he watered up, saying that "we could not take all this!"

"Yes we can. You single days are over buster, as soon as we find someplace to live. I'm not letting my sisters get close to you now."

This seemed to work out perfectly.

"I started my practiced speech. "Laura and Kevin would you both do me a huge favour?"

"Well Robbie, what other damage you plan on doing? Isn't hog tying me to this gal enough for one day?" He was kidding, I think, since he held up the box of money and winked at me, a huge smile on his face.

"I have to leave again. I'll pay my respects, go into town and settle up anything mom had owed and see John about anything I need to do.(John was the lawyer in town.) I hate to ask, but would Cindy and Rachel be old enough and Okay to just move in and take over my house? I have no idea when I will be back or ever. If I, for some reason don't or can't be back in 5 years, see John in town. The house and some things go to the girls and there will be something for you and Kevin too."

Those damn tears again, this time followed by a hug and kiss while poor Kevin just looked dazed. 'Why?" Laura asked.

I now readily answered. "Because, we take care of our own and you four are all I have to worry about." Kevin wanted to know more. I took him aside and just told him that I was not a criminal and was not breaking any US laws. Hell, I figured some of our assignments were being funded by Uncle Sam even.

I got a nod from Laura and another kiss. "Let me tell the girls Robbie, if you do they will tear your clothes off and never let you leave. I suspect you may have started something with those two you will have to work out eventually, yourself. She was correct. Eventually.

I did the best and worst thing that day. I asked Cindy and Rachel to go into town with me. Why? I knew why, but did not want to admit it, especially to myself. I was in love with them, both of them and I had just really met them a few days ago. It just happened. I knew I had to leave soon or I never would. I decided they would be my reason to come back some day. Alive I hoped. Even if they then had their own lives and loves, I could always pretend I had something to come back to. I had seen too many of those who went crazy, were KIA or cost the lives of some good men in their quest to die. I needed something if I was ever to not be like them.

"Thank you Robbie. Sis told us about everything you have done for her and Kevin. They are going to see how much it will cost to get the truck fixed up. Jeb is going to tow it in today."

I knew Jeb well. We had all gone to school together. Jeb would want to keep anything he could running, no matter how much repairs were needed. I figured we had another stop to make in town.

We saw John. He expressed his sympathy. It seems mom had arranged for him to clear up anything she still might owe in the event of her death. John told me what was left, agreed to change title to the house and was a little amazed when I asked him to put it in Cindy's and Rachel's name. No problem he said and had me sign some papers. I asked him to draw up a will for me to sign before I left. Again, he seemed to almost want to say something before agreeing, after he wrote down what I wanted. Besides my heirs, I wanted an endowment for one full scholarship for someone in town, anyone Laura, Kevin, Cindy and Rachel would agree upon.

The bank was next. Cindy and Rachel did not have a clue what they were signing, nor the amounts they now were joint owners of.

Lunch was next. Mille ran a diner and everyone who was anyone came there for lunch. It did not matter what you wore or what you wanted, if you got to sit down you were served whatever Millie was cooking that day. It was always great and you ate as much as you wanted. Millie, herself, came over and expressed her sympathy about mom.

Sam's Cars was next. It was simple. I asked the girls what kind of car I should get for around here. I got that look that only a cute girl can give. "Dummy, you need a truck or a 4 WD here!" So that is what we got. I had Sam title the 2 year old Ram power wagon in Laura's name. I wrote him a check with a message for Laura to just give Jeb that old truck. The Ram was hers now.

It was near the 2:00 PM show time and I foolishly asked Cindy and Rachel if they wanted to see a movie or go shopping at a mall. I wanted to hit myself in the head the second those words left my mouth. You will never ever guess what their answer was! Nope, they screamed, "SHOPPING" like it was the universal female activity. Well for them maybe it was more than that. We drove to the Charlestown Mall. It must have been their first mall since they looked dumbfounded. "Ladies, guess what?"

"What?" they echoed.

"You have 3 hours to shop before we have to check in here and get ready for our date."

It was just a spur of the moment decision when I saw the sign for a 5-Star Ritz-Carlton here. Laura was going to kill me. No, maybe not. I think she knew me, knew her sisters and saw that I was hopelessly in love with both of them. No she would not be angry, jealous maybe.

I extended my arms to both of them. Walked into the exclusive Halston store and asked if the young ladies could be completely outfitted, with hair and nails done in 3 hours. To call me at the Ritz-Carlton. I handed the girl my card, a Amex card and told here we needed a good restaurant too for say 7:30 or so. I told her to try to keep things close to $5,000. Turning to leave, I added, $5,000 each. I went to check in to the hotel after calling Laura. Her reaction was simply, that she had expected I would just whisk them away a lot longer. Was I sure I would only be overnight with those two. Now I was confused. I wondered just who was fooling whom. I wanted Cindy and Rachel to remember this trip for the rest of my life, my life, because I did not expect to ever come back alive.

It was not a suite, but it was concierge service and we had a hot tub. I extended my stay another day when I saw the set up. Then I remembered. Da!, jeans and a polo shirt was not proper attire. I needed a suit and tie. Shoes too.

I just about had returned, finished shaving and stuffing myself into new shoes when the telephone rang. The ladies were ready.

I finished dressing and went down to fetch them. The store was close to the hotel. I did not know that guests of the hotel received a discount at the store.

I walked in looking around for Cindy and Rachel. The girl who waited on me approached. She asked me how they looked. Again I looked around and gave a puzzled look.

Her name was Gail. She took me by the shoulders, squared me to the right then pointed to two women who might have been movie stars or models.

"I took the liberty of checking your card and with the hotel Mr. Slaughter. We generally do not do this for a new customer, but when the girls started talking to me, my heart melted. They were just as amazed as I was what you were doing for them. When I asked if they were Okay, if you had kidnapped them or forced them in any way, they just started laughing. "Your funny!" they said to me. They only wished they might stay with you forever, they said. Then they told me what you had done for their sister and her fiancé. I called our head office and got something approved. A jewelry set for each gown will be loaned to them for this evening. You will have to return them before you leave. Mr. Halston himself had made these gowns for display but they fit your girls and are his gift to you. The rest of their things will be sent to your room. Go on your 'date' with them now, dinner has been arranged and a car is waiting. Here is your Amex. It is not often that we here may get to help change someone's life. I think these two lives have already been changed.

When he got closer to the girls he had to stop short. They raced up to him and just held him crying their eyes out. He heard, "I did not finish their makeup yet, just knew this would happen. Men. Now you will just have to wait till my masterpieces are finished." She led one girl then the other to seats where they were swarmed over while she supervised. The girls walked over with two men who held cases in hand. "Here, sign for these. Be careful tonight each set is insured for $100,000. George and Rudy will escort you to dinner, dancing and back to the hotel. Your on your own then on, They can take the jewelry back and I have a feeling these two will really want to thank you for tonight later. It was not much I could even say. I took her hand and placed $1,000 in it. "My thanks for everything!" I said.

She gave me a wicked smile, saying that I still did not realize just how lucky I was, or would be.

That car was waiting. Strange to call a limousine a car though. It took us not to dinner though, but to the Civic Centre, amidst lights, a red carpet and throngs of people. Flashes, lights and escorts surrounded us all as we got out and went inside. George just patted my shoulder saying 'not to sweat it', it was all normal. He handed me an envelope. "Give then to whoever introduces you later on."

We were seated at a table tight up front. Dinner at Millie's was never like this and I wondered what the girls were thinking by now. I would have liked to say the food was great, but, Millie's was better.

It was time for something. A man rose up and started speaking. He announce several names even I recognized. He then started enumerating some huge sums of money mostly corporations that were international in nature. It was a charity event and several children's organizations were named.

The host then started, "Now we are honored to have several individuals here tonight or their representatives with contributions. He began naming them. When Rob Slaughter sounded I almost chocked. Cindy pushed me up. Our host walked over. Representing Halston Enterprises, is Rob Slaughter and If I asked him is either one of these beautiful ladies was Mrs. Slaughter, I wonder what he would say. In my mind I had wanted to say that mom was dead. I remembered the envelope and I think he saw the look on my face in answer to his crude comment. I handed him the envelope. I sat down, held now by both girls. He opened it and stated, head moving now up and down. "Halston Enterprises had donated $10 million dollars in memory of Mrs. E Slaughter."

I guess the red face he now had made up some for his rude comment. Tears came again to me, also now wondering just Who? and How? such a wonderful tribute to mom was taking place. The rest of the event and the entire evening were done on autopilot. When we got back to the hotel, went up to the room, George took both cases back and handed me another envelope. I opened it.

"Dear Mr. Slaughter, I hope you and the girls enjoyed your 'date'. They are just exquisite creatures and deserve anything and everything you may give them. They love you, I hope you know and do not just have a crush. Do not hurt them. If you or they ever need anything just let me know. Those girls think you are a special person, so do I.

Your friend,

Judy Halston."

When George left, I turned to the girls. They were standing, shocked, just staring around the room. Their eyes focused on the hot tub. I pointed right, told them they had the master bedroom, the whirlpool bath and anything they wanted or needed just call the concierge and it would be brought to them. I would be in the bedroom on the left. That we were staying another day and would go back to the mall again. I had to sort of push them in to their bedroom. It had been a long day. It had been a memorable day for me too, thanks to Judy.

I took a shower, it became a cold shower as I heard the girls giggling and splashing in the hot tub. That was one nice thing about the hotel, they did everything a guest might need or even want. Sure the rates were high, but so was the grade of comfort and service.

I fell asleep to the sounds of laughter.

I awoke to the sound of someone calling my name. Without thinking I jumped out of bed and bounded out to the adjoining room. Cindy just put her hand to her mouth stifling a laugh while Rachel just stared wide eyed at me. In her very finest imitation, she asked, 'do you have something in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me." Oh my, you don't have pockets, do you.

Yep, we were all naked and there was no doubt if I was glad to see them or not. Cindy defused the awkwardness. "Nope nothing has changed since the other night so climb in and talk with us, we have something to say."

The hot tub was big enough for a dozen people, so we each maintained a modicum of decency, if any naked person could do that. I figured it was no different than jumping into the pond back home and far less intimate than when they had watched over me. If only I might remember more. 'Oh well!' I thought.

"Rob. I know you may think we are silly little girls, well not so little really, but both of us are in love with you. When Sis asked us if we wanted to live next door, even if you were not there we almost died we were so happy. After tonight, how you treated us and made us feel things we never felt before we had to see how you felt. We told Sis, then Judy earlier today that we were in love with you. She warned us that love was a two way street so we just wanted to tell you how we felt and hope you care for us a little."

"Nope, sorry girls, I do not care for you a little ... I love you both. You mean more to me than you could possibly imagine, but I need to be certain that both of you know a few things about me before you hitch your horses to my wagon."

Now I really wanted another cold shower as two crying women attacked me. Why women cried whether happy or sad was one of those great mysteries a man would never understand.

I mentioned that in a few minutes we would all be joining the 'prune' family. The girls had been lying with their heads on my chest for over two hours. Each of us thinking, perhaps on the events of these past few days. One thought kept me honest about this possible relationship, or two, and that was the question if it was fair to claim the love of someone so young. Would any such relationship last, especially in light of how I lived.

That I wondered about.

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