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“You can’t trust her.  It’s a trap.”  Rick spat, shaking his head.

Lise looked at him, and retorted “Of course it’s a trap.  But if she has information on what the States are likely to do next, I think we have to proceed.”

“Has it ever occurred to you that she wants to kill you?  I mean, you are sleeping with her husband, and her son has clearly grown attached to you.”  Rick asked, trying to not let the concern he felt creep into his voice.

“Why Colonel,  I didn’t realize that you cared.” Lise said sarcastically.

Rick shifted his weight on his feet, a cloud rolling over his face before he growled in a low voice “If something happened to you…I don’t want to see Cooper or Jake go through that.  Ever.  You have been great for them both, and Cooper deserves that happiness.  I’ve never seen a man endure so much to finally achieve it.  He’s my friend, and I don’t want to see him hollowed out with grief over losing you, and the effect it would have on Jake.”  He looked down at the floor, clearly disturbed that he’d said this much, and maybe a little angry that she could draw it out of him to begin with.

Lise quietly contemplated him for a few minutes before asking “Colonel…Rick…how long have you been married?”

“I’ve never mentioned that I’m ma…”

“You didn’t have to.  Remember what I do for a living.”

A smirk twisted Rick’s expression.

“So you’re just messin’ with me for fun?”

“Hardly.”

“Did he tell you?”

“Cooper?  Oh no.  I’ve never asked him anything about you, and he’s volunteered very little.  But when I see you two together, I know you’ve known each other a long time, and that you both trust each other, which is a big deal, because neither of you are “trusting souls”.  But I watch you sometimes, and I’ve listened to what you’ve said about me and him, and I know that you’re married.”

Rick looked at Lise and said “Yeah.  She’s my second wife.  And after the crap I went through with the first, I never thought I’d get married again.  I think it worked so well because I fell in love with her brain first.”

Lise smiled, but didn’t say anything.

Rick shifted again and said “When I see Cooper with you, I see him relaxed.  I can see you  care, probably more than you ever meant to, and I see that the two of you can just be.  You don’t have to be talking.  You don’t have to be doing anything specific, you can just be together and enjoy each other’s company without saying anything at all.  That’s a good thing.  Maybe the only thing.  And he needs that.”

“What the hell, Old Man?” came Cooper’s voice in a hoarse croak.  “She’s MY hot shrink.  Get your own, dammit.”

Lise and Rick looked towards the bed in the center of the room, where Cooper sat grinning, squinting through narrowed eyes clearly pained by the antiseptic fluorescent lights humming overhead.

Rick stepped toward Cooper and asked “How much did you hear, Hoss?”

Cooper turned his head slightly to face his friend and said “Enough.”

Rick’s face asked the question that remained locked behind his lips.  “Yes, Old Man.  I think Nick was scared to death of you while you were cooking the bacon at the party at Mack and Kat’s house.  Does that answer your question?” Cooper said quietly.

Rick let out a chuckle and nodded.

Cooper’s smile faded.  “Good.  Because I think Lise is right.  If Teresa has even a hint of what they are planning, we need to find out what it is.”

Lise stepped to the opposite side of Cooper’s bed, and quietly took his left hand into hers.  She found herself unable to put into words all the feelings she had for this man, but realized when his eyes met hers that she didn’t have to, because she had said it all without saying a word.

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Lise froze, trying to decide what to do next.  “Don’t bother with the elevator,” Teresa said, anticipating one course of action.  “It will not work again until I want it to.”  She stepped out of the darkness, into the light spilling out from the open elevator door.

Teresa looked at Lise with a combination of haughtiness and grudging respect.  “If I wanted to hurt you, that would have already happened.” she stated flatly.  “And if I wanted you dead, you would have never seen it coming.”

Lise stood quietly, weighing the truth of these words, but not knowing why they had been spoken in the first place, before deciding to let Teresa keep talking without any interruption.

“You really are quite beautiful.  Certainly not a fashion model, or the normal ideal of beauty, but you are beautiful.” Teresa said while walking around Lise, who was standing quietly.  “I can certainly see what my husband sees in you.” She said, pausing while looking at Lise’s backside.

“By now, you are undoubtedly wondering why I brought you here.  Believe it or not, I still love my husband, and my remaining son.” Lise couldn’t conceal the slight flinch at the mention of Jake.  Teresa’s eyes seemed to sparkle a bit more at this involuntary tell.  “You needn’t worry.  I didn’t come to get either one back.  Not really.  I know there is too much water under those bridges to safely cross them again, even if I could get either one of them to trust me enough to do so.  Actually, I’m glad for the three of you.  I can tell how happy Cooper is with you.  He might never say it out loud, but his body language with you says all there is to say about that.  And Jake.  He trusts you.  I’m guessing that the two of them are the most truly relaxed and at peace that they have been in years.”

Lise felt her angry growing, and could take no more. “Only if you don’t count the nightmares.  They are less frequent, if you don’t count when Rick showed up, but they both still dream about Evan.”

Teresa’s face clouded as anger filled her eyes, and her mouth contorted into a snarl.  “Evan.  He didn’t have to die.  I had already guaranteed his safety, and Jake’s.  But then Cooper ran, and took them with him.  And then Rick showed up, and spoiled the raid.  You don’t know the whole story.  You only know what happened.  I miss him.  I miss all of them.”  Both women were silent for a few moments.

When she spoke again, her words were calm and measured.  “I heard that they were alive.  I wasn’t sure I believed it, but I knew I had to see for myself.  I left myself think that maybe I could bring him home…that I could bring them both home.  And then they came for me.   They actually thought they could keep me, and so they were careless, and discussed their plans in front of me.”

Teresa paused for a few seconds, before taking a tangent.  “I saw how you defended Jake.  I couldn’t have done better myself.  Thank you.”

Taking another moment, Teresa recomposed herself, and said “They’re planning on coming for him.  They won’t be subtle.  They WILL come in force.  I know the details.  I will share them, but…”

Lise looked at Teresa “But what, exactly?”

Teresa turned and looked Lise in the eye and said “But I want asylum.  I want a place here.  Things are about blow up completely, and I think they don’t care who gets hurt now.”

Lise silently analyzed what she had just heard, trying to figure out if she believed any of it, and if she could afford to pretend that she could afford to not try to learn more.

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Lise was tense.  The elevator ride seemed to be taking longer than usual, and she hated hospitals.  The artificial light, the antiseptic smell, and the worry.  It had been almost a month, and Cooper remained in a coma.  Lise was tired, and had come back to the hospital despite having left only a few hours earlier, because worry prevented her from sleeping.  When she walked past the detail outside the room, and saw Cooper laying there, with his friend Rick talking to him about a party they had both attended many years before in Texas.  Rick looked up at Lise, and asked “What are you doing here?  You need to get some rest.”

Lise smiled, and “I couldn’t sleep.  Besides, I like to hear some of these stories about the two of you when you were both younger.”

Rick shifted slightly in his chair and said “It was a long time ago, with friends, most of whom are long dead. Just an old guy reminiscing with a friend.  But I swear, when I talked about how Fred was giving me the eye, and how Cooper told him that there was nothing to worry about as long as you could hear me talking, but it was time to worry when I got silent, I swear he smiled just a little bit.”

Lise paused, silently thankful for the friendship this man had with Cooper.  Rick couldn’t ignore the concern she  was concealing with her smile and said “Seriously, Lise.  You look dead on your feet, and this is no place to get any rest, now is it, Agent Roy?”  The agent, sitting quietly in a chair in the other corner nodded slightly and said, “No Colonel, it is not.”  Although Roy was still recovering from his wounds, and not yet cleared to return to duty, he insisted on spending as much time in Cooper’s room as possible as soon as he was able to walk.

Knowing that he was right, and not wanting to give him the satisfaction of letting him know, Lise debated with herself before saying “Ok, Rick.  I guess you’re right.”

Rick got up out of his chair, ad said “I’ll walk you to the elevator.”

The two walked out of the room, and when out earshot of the detail, Rick asked in a hushed tone “How’s Jake?”

Lise frowned, and replied “Better.  It was a big shock for him, and he is still trying to process it.  Having Cooper unable to communicate with him isn’t helping.”

Rick nodded.  “For what its worth, Jake trusts you, and I think he loves you too.  That has to help when you talk with him.”

Lise said “Only so much.  Deep traumas in both these men, and they both lead right back to her.  I’ll be back tomorrow morning.  Make Roy go to bed in an hour.”

The elevator door shut, leaving Lise alone with the hum of the elevator and the sound of her own thoughts.  When the elevator reached the ground floor, it didn’t stop, continuing to the sub-basement, where it chimed, and the door opened to a dark view punctuated by clutter and a silhouette.  Teresa’s voice said “Major.  Do come in.  It’s time you and I had a long talk about my men.”

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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