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Cooper strained to open his eyes.  Around him, he could  hear gunfire, and shouting.  He could see three men dressed from head to toe in black running through the hole in the wall.  Two quickly moved toward Teresa, but the third approached him, and drew a .45, pointing it at Cooper.  “I’m gonna be famous.  I’ll probably get the Medal of Honor.” the man said.  Behind him, his two companions lifted Teresa off the floor.  One of them rasped “Forget him!  Help us with the General’s wife!”, but before he could respond, he jerked backward once, then twice, then a third time, and fell to the floor.  Cooper turned his head to see Agent Roy, crouching in the doorway, his gun smoking.  Agent Roy held his hand to his ear, and was clearly trying to get back up, but the sounds of the firefight outside intensified.  And after what seemed like an eternity, he slowly made his way across the two feet from the doorway to where Cooper was laying, watching the remaining intruders dragging Teresa out through the hole in the wall, to some unknown rendezvous.  He couldn’t determine the condition of her limp form, and wondered if she was alive or dead.  Agent Roy crouched over Cooper, assessing his condition, when he also jerked, once, and a growing bloom of crimson began expanding on the white shirt he wore under the black jacket.  Cooper said “Agent Roy, you’ve been hit.”

Agent Roy was gritting his teeth, and said “That’s not important right now.  We have to get you to a doctor.”

Cooper looked around for some help, and saw that Rick was back in the doorway.  Rick made his way over to Cooper and Agent Roy, and Cooper said “Get Roy out of here!  He’s been shot!”  Rick shook his head, and said “No  can do, buddy.  You’re the priority here.  And your fiancée’ would kill me if I didn’t get you to safety.”  Rick looked at Roy, who said “Get him out of here.  I’ll cover you.”

Rick started to drag Cooper to the back of the house as Agent Roy stood near the opening in the wall, and looked before firing a few shots out toward the fleeing invaders.  The sound of gunfire was tapering off, and Cooper watched as Rick dragged him down the hall, succumbing for a second time as a black hole opened beneath and swallowed him up.  The last thing he saw before darkness overtook him was a bullet tearing through Agent Roy, and the Mountie falling to the debris strewn floor.  All he could think was “NOOOOOOO!  Not for me!”

——————————————————————————————————————-

Cooper came to, with a medic checking his vitals, and Lise checking him out.  “Jake?” he whispered.

She stopped, took his hand and smiled.  “He’s safe.”

“Hell, he isn’t just safe.  He’s probably safer than he’s ever been.”  Rick said, with a grin.

“You’re friend hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for exaggeration,” said Lise “I did nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Don’t let her fool ya, buddy.  When one of the teams came in through the front door, she dispatched them all without batting an eye.  I don’t think they even had time to clap eyes on Jake.”

Cooper looked at Lise, uncertain if the tears he felt welling up were from what he’d just heard, or the goose egg on his head that was growing by the minute.  Still holding his hand, she brought it to her cheek,  tilted her head, and said “I wouldn’t…I couldn’t let them hurt Jake.  I couldn’t bear what that would do to you.”

Cooper turned his hand to stroke her cheek, more aware with each passing second of the screaming headache that radiated from the rising welt on his head.  “Where is he?”

“Safe.” she said quietly.  The visitors have gone, and no less than three teams are with him in the reinforced part of  the house.  “And Teresa?”  Lise’s smile faded.  Before she could respond, Rick said “She fell the same time you did, but she was closer to the blast.  I didn’t see a lot of blood when they took her away, but I couldn’t tell how badly  she was hurt…”

“Or if she was dead.”  Lise said flatly.

“Regardless, ” said Rick “I don’t think her visit was sanctioned.  The troops seemed more interested in getting her than they did you.”

“And Agent Roy?”

“He’s down, but the docs think he’ll make it.  I think those Newfoundlanders are almost as hard to kill as Texans.  He’ll be back.” Rick said with a smile.

“I want to know when he can have visitors.” Cooper said.

“Probably before you can, if this delays our wedding.” Lise said with a smile, but Cooper could tell that the smile was covering something, but he couldn’t really suss it out through the flashes of pain in his head.

“We’re right behind you.” Lise said as the ambulance doors shut, and it sped away from the safe house under heavy escort.

Rick and Lise were discussing the previous evening when they  walked into the kitchen.  As they entered, Rick’s  teasing of Lise stopped in mid-sentence, as he saw the Mountie on the floor, and a woman he thought long dead standing next to the stove looking at her husband and her remaining son.  At the same time, both Rick and Cooper uttered the same question.  “Teresa?”

Teresa shifted her gaze, and responded “Rick.  And the lovely Major Phillips.  You have no idea how much I tried to get Cooper to sit down with a psychiatrist.  I guess I should have just hired a pretty one to seduce him.”  And with that barb, Teresa shifted her gaze back to Cooper and asked “What? No kiss for your long-lost wife? Or is the shock too great for you?”

Cooper’s mouth opened, shut, and then opened again.  He barely asked “How?” when Jake got up from the table and bolted to Lise, burying his head on her shoulder and hugging her for dear life.  Rick, sensing what his friend would ask if he were thinking clearly, stepped in front of Lise and Jake, putting himself between Teresa and the two of them.  Teresa turned to Rick again and said “I caution you against making any sudden moves, Rick.  I’m a great deal more…skilled than the last time you saw me.”

Rick looked to the Mountie on the floor, unable to tell if he was unconscious or dead, and said “Clearly.  What brings you back from the dead, and into our company?” he drawled.

“I had to see if the rumors were true, and my husband was still alive.  I thought he died in the woods years ago, along with you.  I was wrong about both of you.  And I heard his intended was quite attractive, but the stories don’t do you justice, Major.”

“I thought you were dead.” Cooper said to Teresa, in an almost whisper.  Teresa turned to Cooper and said “You were meant to.  It was my lover’s idea.  It allowed me to get away from you.  And then I was trained by some of his best men.  Shortly after I completed that training, word had come that you had been killed at that cabin in the Cascades, and my lover’s wife had an unfortunate…accident.  Tragic, actually, but it allowed the two of us to marry, and he went on to have a very successful career.  He’s a major-general now, and sometimes forgets that he wants me to be resourceful.  When I read the reports on you, I started to feel nostalgic.  I decided that I needed to come see you…and Jake, and try to convince you to come home.  I can make that happen.”

Cooper didn’t say a word.  His face spoke a thousand words about the emotions swirling inside him and competing for dominance over his spirit.  Lise watched, seeing him reveal a vulnerability that she had only previously guessed at, and feeling disappointed that she hadn’t connected with him as deeply as this phantom had, and couldn’t conjure a similar reaction in such a short period of time.

Cooper bowed his head, putting his right hand to his forehead before pushing it back through his hair.  He sighed, and said “Teresa…”, but the sound of thunder and a rain of glass and debris prevented him from finishing the statement.  As the blackness swallowed him, he felt only relief as he saw Rick push Jake and Lise towards the Mounties running down the hall towards the newly destroyed kitchen.

Cooper walked into the kitchen to find Jake eating cereal at the table, and watching a video on his tablet.  A plainclothes Mountie stood in the corner, hands folded in front of him, standing guard.  Jake looked up and said “Dad!”

Cooper sat down opposite the young man, and asked “So what did you do last night, buddy?”

Jake replied “I had pizza for dinner,  then I watched a video until Agent Roy said it was time for bed.”  His face soured at the last, before he put another spoonful of the cereal in his mouth.  “What did you do, Dad?”

Cooper smiled, and said “Rick, Lise, and I went to Dinner at the King’s residence.  He asked me to tell you he said hello, and he thinks he’ll have a new train to show you soon.”

Jake’s face broke out in a big grin.  “I like the King.” he said.

Cooper leaned forward and asked Jake “What do you remember about Mom, buddy?”

Jake’s face clouded, and he looked back to his tablet.  “She wasn’t around much, and you two used to fight.  A LOT.”

Cooper squirmed at the memory, as he silently wondered just how much the young man really picked up on, and never expressed.

“Jake…how do you feel about Lise?”

Jake’s face lit up again.  “I like her.  She’s nice, and she knows a lot about trains.”

“How would you feel if she was around all the time?”

Jake looked at Cooper for a minute, then asked “What do you mean?”

“I’ve asked her to marry me, and she said “Yes.””

Jake looked at Cooper with an expressionless face, then asked “So she’ll be…my Mom?”

Cooper inhaled slowly, and said “No.  Your Mom was your Mom.  Lise can be like your Mom…if you want her to be.”

Jake looked at his cereal, and appeared to think it over for a minute, before saying “I think I might like that.”

Cooper smiled, and gave his son a hug, which the young man enthusiastically returned.

An icy voice shattered the moment as it said “I don’t know how I feel about that.”

Upon hearing it, Cooper immediately turned toward the voice, and for the second time in six months, saw a ghost standing in the kitchen of the safehouse.

1. I get it. Really, I do.
As a conservative, the idea that Trump could be the GOP nominee is terrible. Hell, as a human being, I find this idea repugnant. But honestly, the question for me is “When the media and the Left (BIRM) have taken their best shots at Mr. Hell Toupee, and he and his followers (I’d say supporters, but in truth, I’m not seeing much to differentiate them from Obama followers, and we all know why we use that word to describe them) have just laughed them off and doubled down, to great applause, what does National Review believe that this will accomplish?” At best, this is an exercise in preaching to the choir; and at worst, it makes as much impact as a fart in a hurricane.

2. Principles matter.
People like me are glad to see that some people who identify as Republicans are now on board with this idea have decided to join the rest of us. Perhaps if a few more self-identified Republicans had been as vocal on this point when those elected in 2008 and 2010 declined to fight the fights that matter, the fights we elected them to fight, regardless of their assessments of success in doing so, then we wouldn’t be facing the apparent possibility of a Trump candidacy, let alone the horror of a Trump nomination. Instead, usual suspects continued to support the Marquis of Queensberry Rules and the Imperial Rules of Engagement, and rendered all their talk hollow and cheap to a frustrated electorate. So when the party and its institutions point out that Trump’s prior statements and actions don’t square with his current ones, they fail to recognize that they are the pot calling the kettle black for most Americans, and most bitterly to those who until this latest election season, trusted them.

3. Endorsements of Trump from the likes of Bob Dole and Trent Lott don’t help. Seriously, the next party flunky who jabbers about the “unacceptability” of someone with principles, who has walked the walk, and demonstrated an understanding of the Trumanism “If you want a friend in D.C., buy a dog.” while extolling Trump’s “electability” should be given his or her walking papers. The mere utterance of the word by someone with Republican credentials is taken as confirmation that the label matters more to them than the content, that the win matters more than policy, and that is why “electability” has given us sterling candidates, like Romney, McCain, and Dole, whose great success in Presidential elections gives credence to this concept and the priority that the party put on it.

4. Condescension doesn’t work.

You can say that people don’t know the issues and don’t know what they are doing, and in many cases, you’d be right. But are those people going to listen to anything you say after that? Probably not.

Progressive philosophy and dogged determination have done much to dumb our neighbors down. There is no immediate miracle to reverse this. But what you can do is engage individuals and respectfully challenge their assumptions and conclusions, and when you win them with patience and a dogged determination all your own, they will do the same.

5. We are in a scary place right now…
…and the impossible choice between and inveterate liar with no regard for the lives of people who selflessly dedicate their lives for this country, self-proclaimed socialist who promises to make everything “free”, including things government has no business providing to anyone, while at the same time acknowledging that those “free” things have an enormous cost on one side, and on the other, an egotistical, brash narcissist who, like the man he seeks to succeed, also has no understanding of the limitations imposed on the Executive branch of government, by design, is frightening. Especially when this man’s exaggerated sense of self-worth impairs his ability to thoughtfully reflect on the actions of others and respond in a manner which is best for the country, rather in a fashion that would best assuage his outsized ego.

Anger, righteous anger, and a willingness that no mainstream Republican demonstrated to actually talk about issues unfiltered by the restrictions of euphemism and fear of offending anyone brought us to this point. We can talk all day long about how anger doesn’t win elections, but 2008 and 2010 are proof that this is wrong. Because of this, and the excuses and failure yielded by the trust placed in the party after the last two elections, the talk about anger not working will fall on deaf ears, closed by the empty past rhetoric of “electability” and “compromise” from suits festooned with the party label.

Until the party publicly declares ownership of this disaster, it won’t regain any credibility with anyone. And the longer we go on without this admission of responsibility, the more likely it is that we really will have to hold our noses and choose the least onerous choice on a menu of excrement, and if that happens, we will remember the people most responsible for this for a long, long, long time.

Lise stood in the doorway of the bathroom, moving her left hand slightly in the light spilling out over her shoulder  into the bedroom, wanting to hate herself for her “girly” fascination with the ring on her finger, but unable to stop the smile from forming on her face as she watched the facets of the sapphire glitter and glow in the soft yellow light of the bathroom fixtures.

A soft chuckle from the bed caused her to look up at Cooper, and ask “And just what are YOU laughing at, mister?”

Without missing a beat, Cooper said “I’m not laughing, I’m chuckling, and you should probably not pay me any mind.”

Her right eyebrow arched as her left eye narrowed, as she playfully asked “And why is that?”

“Because I am not ashamed to admit that I am distracted right now.”

“And what would have you so distracted that I shouldn’t pay attention to your behavior?”

He smiled broadly and replied “Because that mischievous look and that ring are the only things you’re wearing at the moment.”

She walked the few paces to the bed where she pulled the sheet back and said “Let’s see how distracted you are,” before stopping and hoping that in the low light, Cooper couldn’t see the flush she felt coming to her cheeks.  “Oh,” she exclaimed, regaining some of her composure.  “Now I’M distracted, and I think we should do something about that.” she said as she climbed into the bed and pulled the covers up over both of them.

——————————————————————————

An hour and half later, Lise felt sleep coming for her as she spooned Cooper’s reclining form, and was thinking that she should get a few hours sleep before waking him up again when she realized that although his breathing was measured and shallow, he was not asleep.  She opened her eyes and saw that him staring into somewhere that was a million miles away from the warm bed and her warmer embrace.

“Penny for your thoughts?” she asked pensively.  If he heard her, he gave no indication of it.  She raised her head from his chest, and her voice with it.  “Yoo hoo!  Earth to Cooper!”

His eyes remained on the unseen as he almost absent-mindedly said “Sorry.”  She waited for a further explanation that didn’t come, before the question in her eyes came tumbling out of her mouth.  “Sorry for what?”

He turned and his eyes came into focus on her face.  “Sorry, I was just thinking that I have to talk to Jake about this…about us…tomorrow.”

“Oh.” she replied.  “Do you think we should do it together?”

“No,” he said.  “I should do it.”

“Do you think it will be a problem?” she asked.

“I don’t know if “problem” is the right word.  He likes you,probably more than even Rick, and I don’t think he’ll object to you being around a lot more.  It’s just that it’s been just him and I for so long.  While this…youRick.. have kind of “expanded” his circle, I’m just not sure what his reaction will be.”

Lise reflected on their first meeting, and how Cooper was clearly protective of the young man, but not stiflingly so, and how obviously the young man relied on Cooper in a number of unsaid ways.  The surveillance footage from the few weeks prior to contact showed an unusually strong bond between the father and the son, but not one that was completely unexpected considering the life they had lived since fleeing their home.

“Is it his mother?” Lise asked.

Cooper didn’t answer right away.  “I really don’t know,” he finally said.  “We have never really discussed her.  I suppose under other circumstances, it might be unusual that she left one morning, we never saw her again, and the issue of her has never once come up, but on the other hand, I think even he understood that she was never coming back…that nothing would bring her back.  And it isn’t like you would be taking her place, at least not in any way that he would recognize.  I guess I’m just afraid of the questions he might ask, because I’m not sure how I’ll answer them, or even if I want to answer them.  But I have to be the one to do it.  It will probably be fine, but I guess it’s more about my fears about what he might ask than how he will actually react.”

Lise climbed on top of Cooper, leaned forward, and kissed him slowly, before drawing back and saying “I think that he’s been damn lucky to have you looking out for him, and that you will find the right words to help him deal with any questions he might have.”  Then she kissed him again, and again, as once more, Cooper felt the now familiar stirrings urging him to lose himself in the love of this woman whom he couldn’t imagine his life without now.
——————————————————————————–

Three hours later, he slowly and gently pulled away from Lise’s slumbering body, and quietly got dressed before heading down to the kitchen, where he knew he would find Jake eating breakfast.

16

Cooper and Lise walked behind the King as he entered the Library, stopping just inside the doorway, as the King announced “I’ve just been informed that dinner is served, but before we adjourn to the dining room, I have some good news to announce.  Commander Wilson has asked Major Philips to marry him, and she wisely and enthusiastically accepted.  I hope that you will all join me in toasting to the happy couple this evening, and that you will all join with me in congratulating them.”

Most of the men and women assembled in the room pressed forward to offer handshakes and congratulations.  Cooper tried to pay proper attention to the various words of encouragement, but felt swept up in the evening’s events, finally settling on the vain hope that he was not grinning like a fool in the onslaught of well-wishes.  The dinner was magnificent.  Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, two or three salads, gravy, creamed peas, and corn that was impossibly good, given the latitude and current relations with the south.  He sipped the wine at random intervals, but focused more on the water, sensing that the night was far from over.  Several toasts were called, over a pear brandy that was too sweet for Cooper’s tastes.  Lise was by his side, but frequently engaged in conversation by the Medical Corps Captain she had been speaking to earlier.  In a moment when the captain was otherwise engaged in conversation, she fumbled under the table for Cooper’s hand, and upon finding it, squeezed hard to get his attention from the King, who was regaling the front off the table with a story about a long-past dinner with his late Mother.  Cooper turned in her direction, just as she whispered in his ear “What did the two of you talk about?  What is going on here?”

Cooper pursed his lips, then whispered back “I’ll tell you later…just to do it proper justice.  But he was very adamant that any “lapse” in your judgment and integrity was his fault, and he couldn’t and wouldn’t punish either of us for it.”

Just then the King erupted with laughter, causing Cooper to turn his head back in the sovereign’s direction.  Lise looked down at the table, struck dumb at the turn of events before it really dawned on her that she was going to get to stay with this man who had come to occupy so many of her thoughts.  As she thought about how they spent the morning, she could feel her cheeks flush again, as she thought to herself “I hope he doesn’t think he’s sleeping alone tonight.  Actually, I hope he doesn’t think he’s sleeping at all.” and let a small smile come to her face at the last.  Under the table, she squeezed his hand again, more gently this time, and tried to send her intent through her eyes as he turned to her again and smiled, before adding a remark to the conversation taking place to his left.

———————————————————————————————————————————

As Cooper, Lise, and Rick were taking their leave for the evening, the King thanked them for coming, then said “Gentlemen, I need to speak to this young lady for just one moment.  She will join you in the car presently.”

After Cooper and Rick left the room, the King looked at Lise and said “I know you’re worried about your career.  You shouldn’t be.  Yes, you violated rules and a professional code of conduct…and I let that happen.  I asked Cooper to convey that message from you, but this night was as frantic for him as it was for you, and when I thought more about it, I realized that you should probably hear this from me.”  He could see that she was searching for words, and decided not to give her a chance, opting instead to continue with his royal deference, and add to the joy of the evening.

“I am also withdrawing the electronic surveillance from Cooper’s bedroom and bathroom.  I know all I need to know, and that is that the two of you belong to together.  While the world around is chaos and tumult, I expect happiness for the two of you.  You both deserve it, and frankly, we all could use more examples of this in our lives.  But you should go now.  They are waiting, and I suspect that neither you or Cooper will be sleeping much tonight.”  He allowed himself a knowing smile as she said “Yes.  Thank You, Your Highness.” and hurried to the waiting car.

—————————————————————————————————————————
As the car door shut, Rick Gearheart started to chuckle quietly.  Cooper, sitting opposite him, suspected he knew the  source of his friend’s amusement, but decided to bite anyway.  “What’s so funny, Old Man?”

Rick shook his head. “You’re the only guy I know who gets invited to his own shotgun marriage in the same day he has sex with the bride to be.”

Cooper searched for a witty retort, but all he could come up with was “Hey, I’m just a guest here.”

Both of them smiled in the silence.

As they could Lise approach the car, Cooper said quietly “Besides, I think I’m actually getting a good deal here.”

Rick suppressed a laugh as Lise sat down next to Cooper, turned to him, and said “I’m ready to go home.”  Her eyes said considerably more when they met Coopers’, however, and he realized that she was going to thoroughly interrogate him when the two were alone behind closed doors later.

As the car pulled away from the residence, the thought sprang into Cooper’s head “How am I going to tell Jake about this?”

 

15

Cooper Wilson took a deep breath, and wondered if he could still get a drink before he went in to see Lise.  “Probably not,” he thought “I’m sure they’re holding dinner so the King can make the announcement.”

He walked in, and saw Lise talking with a Medical Corps Captain, and instantly realized that this was going to be far easier than he’d allowed himself to imagine.  She turned her head and saw Cooper smiling in the doorway.  She excused herself and walked across the room to where he stood, grinning at her like an idiot.  “Are you ok?” she asked.  “C’mon, ” he said, taking her hand and pulling her down the hall.  “Why?” she asked, “What’s wrong?”

He opened the door to the study, and pulled her in.

“I don’t think we’re supposed to be here.” she said, looking around nervously.  Cooper was looking down and fumbling in his pocket.  “It will be fine, Lise.” he said, followed by an “A-ha!”

As he knelt down and took her left hand into his hands, she brought her right hand to her mouth.  “Lise Philips, I can’t promise that a life together will always be a bed of roses, and I’m afraid I don’t have many prospects, but I would be honored if you did me the honor of being my wife for however long that life together might be.”  Unable to speak, she nodded her assent, eventually squeaking out a “Yes!  Absolutely!” He slipped a band of white gold, with a half-carat marquis-cut sapphire, bordered on either side by a quarter-carat princess cut diamond on to her ring finger and stood before her.

When she finally tore her gaze away from the ring, he took her in his arms, kissing her passionately. When their lips parted, she rubbed her cheek against his and whispered in his ear “Don’t have many prospects…HA!”

“Is everything alright in here?”  The King’s voice interrupted their quiet embrace.  Lise jumped away from Cooper, smoothing out her jacket, and skirt, and blushing as she said “Yes, Your Highness.”  Cooper tried not to laugh as he watched his wife-to-be squirming in the presence of the King.  “Is that true, Cooper?  Is everything “alright” in here?”  Cooper laughed as he smiled at Lise and replied “Yes, Your Highness.  You were right.”

“Of course I was right!” the King exclaimed, sporting his own smile at Lise’s confusion and discomfort.  “Miss Philips, I intend for us all to be toasting to your nuptials and your happiness many times this evening.  And although it will be short notice, I expect an invite to the wedding you’ll be having later this week.”

At the last, she turned to Cooper with a questioning look, and he muttered “Later.” through a smile…the only response he would offer at this time.  Her nervousness about their future melted away, only to be replaced with a million questions and little prospect of a chance for answers for hours.

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