Chapter 63

Not far above the rolling green countryside, there was a disturbingly loud boom that caused several of the more sensitive rudiments to send their cud on a far faster tour of their digestive tract than they had every planned. The fact that the boom occurred at around two and a half meters above the rolling green countryside certainly helped speed things along. And as Chris noted, fans apparently weren't the only target for high-speed projectile poop.

"Couldn't we have just taken a plane?" Sandra McCovey asked from the passenger seat. She sat, arms folded staring at the verdant plain filled with fleeing farm animals as Chris settled the Nissan down to ground level, occasional crackles of lingering shield energy flickering across the surface.

Sandra had long ago gotten used to the preferred method of long distance travel Boise's own superhero, The Grayhound, preferred, but had unsuccessfully tried to convince Chris that getting away would be good, and away meant away. No jacket, no gadgets, no hypersonic transportation, just the two of them, on vacation.

She'd obviously lost the argument.

"You brought your toys. I get to bring mine."Chris replied as the car rolled onto the narrow country road.

"My camera equipment are not toys." Sandra shot back, "unless you want me to show you the receipt again." Sandra opened the camera case and pulled out two items. One was her very expensive digital camera, the other was a folded, well kept receipt bearing Chris' signature and the last four digits of his credit card. He had bought it for her months ago as part of the cover story he had concocted for his parents. Sandra was grateful not only for the precision instrument and set of lenses, filters, and associated bags, but the lingering proof that it was Chris who had bought that equipment for times when he felt the need to complain about her bringing it along.

His original arguments for not traveling commercially had been that previous experience had told him that every time he left Boise, something horrible happened there. Something, that inevitably went even worse the longer he was away, and he wasn't about to let that happen again. Sandra knew full well the real reason. Chris was a cheap bastard who didn't want to spend the money on airfare and car rental if he didn't have to.

Sandra hated airports just as much as any other person who traveled for a living, but she had saved up tons of miles for first class, and at this point, it was more "principle" than anything else. Mostly since JB and the Furlong were still back in Boise and more than capable of keeping the town in control, provided the other three figured out a way to keep JB and Becky Sue from dawdling over each other.

"Chris, mind the sheep." Sandra said in calm tones milliseconds before Chris' battle trained reflexes caused the car to neatly swerve onto two wheels to avoid getting a woolly hood ornament. After several language expanding seconds she grabbed the mostly crumpled map from Chris' hand. "Give me the map, focus on driving and I'll let you know how to get to the UberAlles station."

Half an hour later, Chris jogged down the stairs of the Village Cheese and European MetaHuman Operations Outpost station, or as it was previously known before the EU, der Überkäse. Several years later, the cheese shop had moved out, and the renaming paperwork was still locked in committee.

"All set?" Sandra asked as Chris got back in. "Yep. Here's your passport back. Sorry I took longer."

"No big. What did they want to know?"

"Not much really. What we were doing here, how long we'd be staying, how to contact me in the case of an emergency, that sort of stuff."

"Didn't they ask all that stuff when we both were in there?"


"So... why did they keep you in there for another hour?"

Chris mumbled something while he started the engine.

"I'm sorry, hun, I think I missed that." Sandra said with a smile. "Did you say, 'they had to check on the car?'"

"Yes.", Chris snapped. "They had to pull up the maintenance record and armory configurations for this the car and spent the rest of the time asking me stupid questions about why I brought it here if I was on vacation."

Sandra smiled as she sat back into the chair.

Chris continued to fume as he pulled into the narrow street. "One guy from our neck of the woods shows up and makes a few new valleys and everyone after has to pay for it. I don't know who that 'Charles War' guy is, but if I ever meet up with him, I'm going to have a few words about his choice of transportation."

Sandra didn't need to say "I told you so." to get on Chris' nerves, so she simply giggled to herself and let the torment settle in.

"According to the map, we stay on this road for forty kilometers." Sandy said before sliding the map between the seats and grabbing her camera. She snapped a few more test pictures for future reference.

"So, Sandy, I'm confused. I thought your family was Scottish."

"We are." Sandy replied. "We just moved to Germany recently."

"Oh," Chris said. "how recently?"

Sandra took a few more pictures. "six or or seven hundred years ago."

"Seven hundred years?" Chris asked with a sizable note of surprise in his voice, "That's nearly a millennium!"

"Yeah, but you know how it is. Move to a new neighborhood, introduce yourself to the neighbors, find the good schools, found a few towns, and raise a castle or two. It just takes time to settle in. I'm guessing it's finally starting to feel like home."

"Sandy, look, I'm willing to say that after that many generations, it's pretty safe not to mark down 'Scottish' on the census forms."

"Maybe, but Da wouldn't hear of that. Oh, and whatever you do, don't bring that up in front of him. He's a stubborn old goat. Harmless, but once he gets his mind set on something, it's nearly impossible to get him to change it."

"Who's Da?"

"Family Patriarch, I guess. Seems like he's just been around forever. Ooh, we gotta come back here some morning when the sun's about to come up. I don't think 'Da' is his proper name, but it's what we've all called him."

Chris tried to murk through that. "So, he's like, your grandfather or something?"

"No, my grandfather died when I was six. Da was around before then. I remember him coming to see us when we turned four. It was a pretty big deal for everyone. Come to think of it, he looked pretty old back then too. Like I said, he's a stubborn old ox."

They drove on in silence for a while longer.

"So, Sandy, you've never been to the family homestead?"

"Nope, but ever since last winter I've really, really wanted to come. I just wish the other two could be here, but they're both busy now." Sandy reached over and gave Chris' hand a gentle squeeze. "Thanks, again, for everything."

Chris didn't say anything. He simply replied by giving one of her fingers a gentle squeeze in return. Sandy never referred to Chris as her boyfriend or really anything other than a very good friend. It wasn't the sort of deeply romantic relationship she had imagined herself getting into, but it was by far the strongest one she'd ever known.

"I think that's the place." Chris lifted a finger to point to a stately looking mansion perched on a small hillock. The sun's rays shown brilliantly against the alabaster as the cloud shadows accented the home's grandeur. "It's about the right distance."

Sandra smiled, imagining the wealth of history that awaited her, the warm family ties she'd yearned to make.

Chris pulled the car off the main road and through the grand gates. A faint hint of freshly manicured grass and lush flowers filled the car. Sandra breathed the sweet fragrances in and felt the warm sun against her skin.

The car pulled up to the steps of the mansion. Sandra threw the door open and quickly headed up the steps. Half way up the front door opened and a distinguished looking gentleman in a dark suit stepped out quicky. "Guten Tag." the man called out, "Mag ich Ihnen helfen?"

Sandra realized that she really didn't know much German (other than the few words her mother had said when throwing things at her father) and didn't expect to have to speak it. She smiled brightly, extended a hand and introduced herself. "Hi! I'm Sandra. Sandra McCovey."

The man sniffed and in a somewhat annoyed tone pointed back down the road. "So. Es ist die folgende Straße rüber." He turned and headed back toward the door mumbling, "Uhr heraus für die Schafe."

Sandra still smiled and had her hand out when the man slammed the door closed, declaring a decided end to the conversation.

She heard Chris walk up from behind her. "I take it this isn't the place?"

"No." Sandra said, trying not to let the anger build in her voice, "it's not. He said that we should try the other road."

"Other road?" Chris said with a note of surprise. I didn't see another..."

"So, the other road it is." Sandra said as she breezed back to the car. Chris couldn't help but notice it was the same sort of light breeze that one felt in the eye of a class five hurricane. He debated getting back in the car or seeing if the homeowner would offer sanctuary before slumping his shoulders and walking back to the car.

At least he had his body armor on.

On the third pass they finally noticed the sight gap in the low stone wall that allowed the careful examiner to see the grass covered ruts that lead through the paddock. Chris pulled over and noticed one of the etched stones had "McCo" chiseled on it's side, the other half having broken off long ago. Chris eased the car into the ruts and prayed that the clearance wouldn't suddenly jump an inch or two. He would have preferred driving out of the ruts, but considering how difficult it was to actually see them, he decided to let the car drive itself.

They crept through the meadow swaying to the occasional jostle as the tires met with a log or larger rock. A thick stew of silence permeated the interior of the car, and the dark, early evening shadows accented by the thick cove of trees they drove through only added to the suddenly darker mood.

When they cleared the far side of the grove, Chris stopped the car.

"What's the matter?" Sandra asked.

"If you were in a better mood, or if JB were here, I'd probably make some crack about not being in a rut anymore. I can't tell if we're still on that road. Let me get out and see if I can spot anything." Chris got out and started looking walking through the knee deep grasses looking for anything that could be a road. At least the scenery was pretty in this part of the valley, but she wasn't interested in taking pictures.

Chris continued to try and find anything resembling the road, a house, or any other item that might indicate that they weren't mired into a meadow.

"Ah'd note that if the two of ye are after mah sheep, ye'd need a biggah car." A voice said from behind them. Sandra roused herself from her thoughts and tried to make out who the speaker was from the rear view mirror. She leaned out to look after an unsuccessful second or two.

The thick Scottish brogue was oddly familiar, one she hadn't heard in years. "Da?"

He stood bookended by two largish sheep, dressed in a deeply faded kilt, and a tweed jacket that had long ago seen far worse times. Beneath a battered walking hat his craiged and weathered face showed little emotion, except for his eyes, which were sharp and clear. He held a shepherd's crook at the ready and smoked a small ornate wooden pipe and the odd brownish blue smoke hung above the man like a small thunderhead.

He hadn't changed in nearly thirty years.

Sandra threw the door open, "Da!" she cried and ran to the old man. He stood his ground and waited for her to come. "Da! It's me..."

"Aye, Girvanna, welcome home."

Sandra giggled at the nickname Da had christened her with since the day she was born. She turned and called out into the meadow. "Chris! Chris, I.."

"Och, lass, there be no need for such noise", The old man chided her, in a low voice. He tapped one of the sheep with the end of his crook, "Go get the young man, Callen."

The sheep disappeared as a dark gray streak against the grasses. Within seconds Chris' angry protests could be heard as it returned dragging him by his pantleg. The sheep let go several feet away from Da and Sandra before resuming his place.

Chris rolled to his feet. "That's it! You're Mutton! Ow!" He held his head where a small rock had just recently bounced off. "What did you do tha..." Chris cut his fury off when he saw Sandra standing with her arm around the old man.

"Chris, this is Da. Da, this is my boss, Mr. Chris Reid."

Chris did not smile at first, instead he continued to rub the fresh sore spot on his scalp while flexing the muscles in his leg. Eventually his proper upbringing got the better of him, and he extended his hand. "Uhm. It's a pleasure to meet you." Chris lied.

The old man took Chris' hand and showed that his grip was as far from frail as the rest of him appeared to be. "Aye. I'm Gaffer. Gaffer McCovee of the clan McCovee. I suppose the reason ye be here is that ye spoke to Von Harnstoffkopf and he told ye to take the old road, eh?"

Chris had no idea what the owner's name was, so he simply nodded.

"Bloody typical, that. Family moves in one weekend and after two hundred years they think they own the place." Gaffer started walking toward the car. "Well, let's see if I can get ye to the house without ye becomin' part of the scenery. Best get in ye carriage and do try to keep up."

Chris did as he was told, but also had a hard time keeping up. The old man was far more spry than he seemed to want to let on, and more than one gate proved to be just wide enough to let them pass. Soon enough, though they were on a dirt road that lead from some low sheds to the front of the main house.

The true home of clan McCovey was not as grand as the last house, but had an unmistakable charm that was infectious. A well kept garden edged by roses held it's own just beyond the range of a spreading chestnut that may as well have been as old as the Clan's homestead. The building itself was a classic thatched roof cottage that would have been far more comfortable in the Scottish Highlands than the more formal grounds Chris and Sandra had seen before, but in it's own way, it was twice as welcoming. The cottage could easily hold a dozen rooms, and had twice as many windows looking across the grounds.

Gaffer and his ovine escort stood beside a path lined with bright daisies. Chris noticed then that Gaffer was barefoot, his feet twice as leathery as his completion. Chris was fairly certain that the old man could walk across glass and never even notice.

Chris brought the car to a stop and then raced to the back to make sure that he was the one to get the bags this time. Gaffer, however, made no such overture, but simply stood his ground, smoke curling from his pipe.

"Sandra!" A woman with a slight German accent called excitedly as she opened the door.

"Aunt Bea!" Sandra called and ran up to meet her. Bea was in her mid seventies and her apron told that she had spent most of the day in the kitchen. The two women immediately fell into conversation about the journey and how was this one and had they brought pictures of that one's baby girl, and the myriad of bits of conversation that raced about them like bees around a hive.

Chris grabbed as much of the luggage as he could from the back before starting toward the door.

"Ye can leave the bags in the guest room t' the right and join me here, if ye like. I've learned it best to let the women alone until they've learned to breath while they speak." He took a draft of his pipe and sat upon a large well-aged stump that was surrounded by a small wall. Chris wasn't sure what the old man was smoking, but it was definitely not tobacco. "I promise that the lads and I will not be making your head swim."

Chris entered the cottage and was roundly greeted by Bea. He never managed to get anything other than a few short grunts of communication in between the constant flow of discourse that filled the room. He dropped the bags off, took the proffered cup of tea and headed outside to join the old man and the far quieter stump.

"A good choice" the old man said when Chris approached. "Such nattering tends to boggle the mind." the old man lapsed into silence and continued to stare across the grass.

"Mr. Reid. If I may, please pass along my thanks to Hydrogen Guy."

Chris had often seen spit-takes on TV but never knew he was capable of producing one until that moment. Anger welled up inside of him as he turned back toward the cottage. He had told Sandra that no one was to know that he was a superhero. It's why he kept a secret identity.

Gaffer's crook rested against his chest, checking his path.

"Girvan-- Sandra hasn't mentioned a thing about ye activities, Mr. Reid. I dare say She's kept ye secret better than ye."

Chris looked down at the old man suspiciously and silently cursed for not having a proper assortment of weapons to deal with a villain. If he moved quickly enough he might be able to neutralize the sheep.

"One doesn't get to be my age and not learn a few things along the way, Mr. Reid. I am no threat to ye and know that ye are no threat to us. If ye were, rest assured that we wouldn't be having this conversation. I merely asked you to thank an associate for tending to a task." He removed the crook and took another slow draft from his pipe.

Gaffer chuckled to himself. "Funny, that. I expect he'd not even know what I was thanking him for."

The wind rustled the leaves of the chestnut.

"All the better I suppose." Gaffer finished his thought.

"Should I ask how you know?" Chris asked.

"One winter, when I was a younger man, I chanced to meet three men. They were brave, hardy souls who without exception were the greatest curse ever placed upon the ground. Still, they managed to help our family with a most unfortunate incident, one that I fear became a great deal more unfortunate much later. Your friend helped solve the problem again, much as he did once before."

Chris was lost in the old man's ramblings.

"I've made it a point to keep an eye out for those three, and see where the fates would take them over the years. I dare say that they've turned out both better and far worse than I ever imagined. T'was only natural that they once again find each other. And, quite frankly, Girvanna wouldn't shut up about ye, Callen."

Chris was now even more confused. Gaffer had called Sandra "Girvanna" before, but who was "Callen"? And what did this have to do with three guys this geezer must have met in the ice age and why is the ground starting to moo and I swear that woodchuck is dancing the Macarena.

Chris shook his head to clear it then took a few steps away from the old man's smoke. Now he recognized the loopy old guy's stash. He hadn't smelled that since college when some of the agro guys on his floor got back from New Mexico. Chris took a hard gulp of the tea and let the searing pain of the scalding liquid bring back his consciousness. Great, the old croak's getting fried. No wonder he's not allowed in the house.

"Ach, enough of the history lesson, Callen." The geezer snapped. "What be yer intentions toward me daughter?"

"Intentions?" Chris choked over the burning flesh that once was his voice box. "Sandra is my employ-OW!"

The old man was deadly with that crook. No wonder the sheep were so well trained.

"I'm old, lad, but far from stupid. Why do ye think she brought ye out here? Are ye still that dense Callen?"

"Chris, my name is Chris".

"Aye, so it is Callen, but ye not answered me question, na have ye?" THOK!

"OW- look old man, I'm just here because she insisted that we get away from work and so that she could visit family. She really wanted to do that after this winter for some-OW!" Chris had tried to dodge that blow. He resolved he needed to train harder."Will you please stop hitting me with that damn sta-- OW!"

"Watch ye tongue."

Chris took a breath. "Would you please stop hitting me with that staff, sir."

Gaffer finally shot Chris a glance, it was an odd mix of anger, and... amusement.

"Well, now.", the old man chuckled, "I had no idea you spoke Gaelic."

Chris, knew full well he was lost once again. Gaffer patted the stump, inviting Chris to sit next to him. Chris debated it, but realized that if he was sitting next to the old man, Gaffer wouldn't be able to strike quite as quickly or easily.

Chris took the offered seat, and took another sip of his tea.

"If that were true, Callen, then why do you have that ring in ye pocket?"

Chris was becoming an expert at spit takes.

Well, that came out of the blue

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