Substitute Dad

© 2006 - 2010 By Scribe1971 (scribe1971@hotmail.com)

Chapter 27

What's With All the Shaving Cream?

"So what are we going to do tomorrow?" Josh asked. We had just left Ed's Rec Room after an evening of Bowling, Pool and an assortment of video games.

Bryan and I grinned at each other that earned us a questioning look from both boys.

"I figured that we'd hit Galaxyland first thing in the morning - after breakfast anyway; we wouldn't want you two eating machines to waste away!"

"Keep it up, we're going to get you sooner or later," Mark said slyly.

"Bring it on boys," Bryan said.

"Anyway, after lunch we have an appointment to attend to," I continued.

"An appointment?" Josh asked. "What kind of appointment?"

"Yeah, we have to go to a little place just north of here for a while," Bryan replied.

"But we're coming back, right?" Mark asked hopefully.

"Oh yeah," I chuckled. "How about we make a quick stop at the Wild West Shooting Centre and then retire to the room for the night and watch a movie?"

"YEAH!" Mark and Josh replied at once.

"Sure, why not?" Bryan added.

Dave warmly welcomed us when we walked in the door. "Hey guys, back for some more fun?" He asked.

"You bet!" I answered for all of us.

"What'll it be tonight?" He asked

"I've always wanted to try out a Smith and Wesson Model 29," I replied with a wink.

"A closet Dirty Harry, eh?" Dave chuckled. "It's one of our most popular guns. The recoil of the .44 Magnum surprises some people and they decide they don't like it. I doubt that you'll have any trouble with it. How about the young fellows?"

"How about the gun the police use?" Josh asked.

"That would be a .40 caliber Glock. It's similar to the Glock you fired this morning but it's more powerful."

"Sounds great Dave, how about you fix us up with one box of .44s and three .40s?"

Before long, we were all donning ear defenders and making our way onto the range. I was almost glad that I didn't live close enough to go shooting every day; it wasn't cheap and it was so much fun that it was addictive.

While Bryan and the boys began loading up magazines for the Glock, I prepared to fire the big .44 Magnum pistol for the first time. The model 29 should be familiar to any fan of Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" movies. He used it quite effectively to mow down record numbers of bad guys. It was also the gun that he used in the famous "Make my day" scene.

I lifted the heavy pistol, aimed it at the target and pulled the trigger. The recoil was quite a bit more severe than that of the .357 but it was manageable. The heavy .44 round also provided a very satisfying thud even with the ear defenders on. I fired the remaining five rounds and by the time I was done, my wrists were a little sore. I decided to take a break while Josh, Mark and Bryan took turns with the Glock.

We all had a laugh when Josh decided to get cute and tried to shoot a happy face into the target. The eyes were a bit out of alignment and the mouth was pretty crooked but it was a pretty good attempt. We also managed to get a bit of a laugh at Mark's expense. He decided to fire a few rounds in rapid fire and one of the ejected shell casings bounced off the wall, flew back at him and went down the back of his shirt collar.

"OOH, YIKES, HOT HOT HOT!" he chirped as he danced around and tried to retrieve the hot shell casing.

All of us, Dave included, roared with laughter. I was actually impressed that he remembered to set the pistol down before he tried to rectify his situation! Finally Bryan took mercy on him and reached down the back of his shirt and retrieved the spent casing.

Mark looked sheepishly at us, "You doofuses, that was hot!"

Half and hour later, 200 rounds had been expended and the four of us headed back to our room for a quiet evening.

"Can we get room service?" Josh asked.

"Are you kidding? You're hungry again?" I replied.

"I could eat something," Mark said.

"Oh to be 13 again," Bryan chuckled. "If I ate half of what you two little eating machines do, I'd blow up like a balloon!"

"You and me both," I added. "Sure Josh, you guys go ahead and get whatever you want."

"Oh goody, I wonder what their chicken wings are like," Josh mused as he licked his lips.

When we arrived back at the room, Josh and Mark went to work on ordering a feast of wings to sustain them until their morning feeding. Bryan and I were left to shake our heads as we listened to the quantity of food that they were ordering. It was actually a positive thing. It let us both know that they were a pair of healthy, happy boys and that was all either of us could hope for.

The four of us changed into shorts and t-shirts and stretched out on our beds. Josh and Mark busied themselves with their Gameboys while Bryan turned on the TV and scanned through the list of available on-demand titles. I raised an eyebrow as he clicked his way into the "Awesome 80s" section. I was about to say something when he winked at me and pointed to the screen.

I smiled when I saw the title he had selected. It was "Top Gun". I gave him a thumbs up over Josh's head and he pressed the button to start the movie.

"Hey guys, the movie's about to start," Bryan said.

"What movie did you get?" Mark asked.

"Top Gun," Bryan replied.

"Top Gun? Isn't that an old movie?" Josh asked.

"It is older than both of you, but it's a good movie. Besides, you might learn something useful," he said slyly.

"Useful? What are you two up to this time?" Josh asked cautiously.

"What makes you think we're up to something?" I asked.

"You're always up to something," Josh replied flatly.

"Ok, but we get to pick the next movie," Mark replied.

Given that we all shared pretty much the same taste in movies, I figured the boys would enjoy Top Gun and if any of us were still awake when it ended, we'd enjoy whatever title they selected. The truth was that Bryan was right. They could pickup some useful pointers for the coming Air Combat Canada experience. Of course, neither of them knew about that yet.

About half and hour into the movie, there was a knock at the door and the boy's wings had arrived. I had to admit that they smelled really good, and Bryan and I managed to snag a few of them without losing any fingers!

"Hey Mark, did you ever wonder what all those chickens will do without their wings?" Josh asked, using my old joke.

Mark just looked at him for a second before replying. "You've been hanging around your dad too much," he deadpanned. "You've become as nuts as he is."

"But you love us, right?"

"Damn right!" Mark replied.

By the time the movie ended, I was happy to see that it had the desired effect. Both boys were charged up with the idea of dog fights and aerial combat. I couldn't wait to see their reactions when they discovered what we had planned for the following afternoon.

"That was so cool," Mark enthused.

"Are missiles really that accurate?" Josh asked.

"Not really. There are countermeasures like chaff and flairs which can outsmart them and some older heat seekers used to frequently lock onto the sun! They cost a whole lot of money too. Most pilots only get to fire one or two per year in peacetime," I replied.

"Apparently after this movie came out, the number of people joining the navy and air force actually went up," Bryan said.

"Being a fighter pilot could be pretty cool," Mark said thoughtfully.

Josh and Mark took possession of the remote control and began searching for another movie. They ended up selecting a comedy called "Chain of Fools". It was one of those caper movies with an ensemble cast which included Elijah Wood as a soft-hearted, high school age hitman, Jeff Goldblum as a conman, Steve Zahn as a hapless barber, Selma Hayek as a police detective, David Cross as an insane Boy Scout troop leader, Tom Wilkinson as a crooked billionaire and Orlando Jones as a cross-dressing nurse. It was an utterly insane movie which bordered on slap-stick and we all got a good laugh out of it.

When the movie ended, we were all pretty much half asleep. With few words, we each took care of our nightly duties and then climbed into bed. Following a chorus of "good nights" we turned off the lights and settled in for the night. I rolled onto my side and reached out to set the digital alarm clock while Josh snuggled up against my back. I set the alarm to get us up by 8:00 AM to maximize our time at Galaxyland before heading off to Air Combat Canada.

I awoke the next morning to a strange sensation. I had a maddening itch on my nose and forehead. The alarm had still not gone off so I really didn't want to get up. I noticed that Josh was no longer cuddled up with me, which I thought was strange so I decided to get up and see what was going on. I reached up to scratch the maddening itch.

I heard Mark's giggle at the last fraction of a second but it was too late to do anything about it. Next thing I knew, my face was smeared in the large handful of shaving cream that had been deposited in my left hand. I sat up and opened my eyes to see Mark standing next to the bed with a feather in his hand and Josh standing behind him with a can of shaving cream. Both of them wore identical shit-eating grins.

"Gotcha!" they said in unison.

"I'll gotcha you," I said as I lunged at Mark. I caught him by surprise and pulled him down onto the bed with me, smearing his face with the shaving cream in the process. Mark laughed like mad as he struggled to get away. At that point Josh joined the fray.

"I'll help you bud," Josh said as he pounced on me.

If Josh had thought ahead, he would have put the can of shaving cream down. Unfortunately for him, he still held it in his hands as he landed on my back and began wrestling with me. It took me all of five seconds to get the can from him at which point, I grabbed the waistband of his briefs (neither he nor Mark had dressed before pulling their prank) and sprayed a large quantity of shaving cream inside them.

"Hey that's cold," Josh squawked and struggled to free himself from the pile.

Mark saw his predicament and laughed loudly.

"You think that's funny, do you?" I asked as I did the same to him.

"Oh shit, that is cold!" he bellowed.

By that point, the sounds of the struggle had awakened Bryan. "What are you three looney-toons up to?" He asked as he sat up and stretched his arms.

I turned to look at him and my mouth dropped open. One of the boys, probably Josh, had either bought or brought clown paint and the two of them had done Bryan up like a demented version of Bozo the clown. I couldn't help myself and I burst out laughing along with the boys.

"What?" he asked, causing us to laugh even harder. "What's with all the shaving cream?"

"You might want to look in the mirror," I managed to gasp out between bouts of laughter.

Bryan climbed out of bed and walked to the mirror. He did a bit of a double take and then burst out laughing. "I'm going to get you two little twerps!"

"Tommy already got us," Mark said. "Look...he sprayed shaving cream down our underwear," Mark said as he squeezed the front of his briefs causing a large quantity of shaving cream to push out over the waistband.

"Doesn't that stuff have depilatory properties?" Bryan asked slyly.

"I don't know. It might," I said with a grin.

"What's depilatory mean?" Josh asked nervously.

"Not much, it just means that it's used for removing hair," Bryan replied.

Mark and Josh exchanged looks of horror before literally ripping off their briefs and madly wiping the shaving cream from their genitals. Bryan and I were literally in tears laughing at the pair of them.

"My pubes are fine," Josh said in a relieved tone.

"Mine too," Mark replied.

"We were just kidding guys, shaving cream doesn't have depilatory properties," I said before bursting out laughing again.

The boys looked relieved. "You can't even imagine the payback that we would have dreamed up if you had dissolved our pubes," Josh said with a smirk. He then lunged at me again and pinned me down. "You're lucky I love you," he said and kissed my forehead before jumping off and running to the shower.

"How are we going to get that junk off your face?" I asked Bryan. "You little monkeys didn't happen to bring along anything to get that stuff off with did you?" I asked Mark.

Mark got a real sheepish look on his face. "Uh, we kinda didn't think about that," he said. He looked a little nervous.

Bryan stood up and pulled him into a big hug to reassure him. "Don't worry about it bro, soap will do the trick."

"You're not mad?" Mark asked softly.

"No. It's kind of funny actually," Bryan replied and kissed Mark on the top of his head.

Mark looked relieved. "Josh said he did it to you once too," he said to me.

"He did. He got into his mom's makeup and made me look like a cheap hooker!"

"It sounds like your son is corrupting my brother," Bryan said with a laugh.

I took my turn in the shower after Josh finished and then the two of us did our teeth together in front of the mirror while Mark took his turn. Bryan went last. After his brother finished his shower, Mark went into the bathroom with him to help him clean the clown paint off his face.

"What are we really doing this afternoon?" Josh asked while we were alone. I was sitting on the bed flipping through the TV channels and he plunked himself down next to me and leaned his head on my shoulder.

"It's a surprise. Trust me, you'll love it," I told him.

"You're the best," Josh said and he wrapped his arms around me. "Dad, how are things with you and Bryan?"

"Pretty good, I'd say. We had a really good talk yesterday at the waterpark. Why do you ask?"

"I like Bryan a lot and Mark too. I'd love for us to be like a big family one day."

"Me too Joshy. You never know, it could happen when we move west in a few years."

The two of us had a bit of dad-son cuddle time while Mark and Bryan worked to make Bryan presentable. I knew I would never get tired of spending quiet time with Josh. He was growing up before my eyes but his appetite for physical contact was just as strong as ever. He had been starved for male affection throughout his life and it seemed as if he wanted to take every opportunity to make up for that. I certainly didn't mind. I had come from an affectionate family so it was natural to me. Even as kids, my brothers and I hugged each other, my mother often hugged us all, and before he died, my dad would frequently hug us kids. I remember that I used to love cuddling with him on the sofa and watching TV. I used to love the time I could spend alone with my dad and Josh was no different with me.

Finally, Mark and Bryan emerged from the bathroom. Bryan's face was a little red from all the scrubbing but there weren't any traces of the red, white, orange and green clown paint that the boys had plastered on his face.

"Are you guys ready for breakfast?" Josh asked.

"I think the people in the restaurant would be upset if I went down there with no clothes on Josh," Bryan replied with a grin causing Josh to blush.

"I meant AFTER you got dressed, dumbski," Josh retorted.

A few minutes later, we arrived at the restaurant in the hotel lobby. As soon as we were seated, the boys set upon the buffet and brought what looked like about half of it back to the table on their plates. As I watched them shovel in the bacon, eggs, sausage and toast, I was having visions of one or both of them getting sick on the rides that we were about to enjoy at the Galaxyland amusement park. I looked at Mark, who was wearing one of his favorite Hawaiian shirts and chuckled softly.

Mark looked up from his plate and eyed me questioningly. "What?" He asked.

"I was just thinking that all that food you guys are eating might end up making an encore appearance on the rides. It's ok though, with that shirt you're wearing, it's unlikely that anyone would notice!"

Bryan and Josh laughed while Mark blushed slightly and gave me a soft kick under the table. "I'll have to make sure that if I puke, I puke on you!"

With the bottomless pits at least temporary satisfied, we headed off to Galaxyland. Galaxyland is a surprisingly well appointed amusement park located right inside the mall. Among the thrill rides, is a looping rollercoaster that we rode several times. There is also a full motion simulator ride that simulates a flight on the space shuttle that we all thoroughly enjoyed.

Each turn on a thrill ride did not feature Bryan or me puking or chickening out, but the boys tried to up the ante. They tried to get us to eat and drink junk food from the various food stands and they even tried to prime the pump by engaging us in as many disgusting and stomach churning conversations as they could. They finally gave up in frustration.

We had only three hours to spend at Galaxyland and the time seemed to fly by. When it was time to leave, the boys were a little disappointed but they had an inkling that something major lay ahead.

"Can we come back here later?" Josh asked.

"Sure bud. We still have another day here before we head off to our next stop," I replied.

"Cool," he replied.

We all piled into the Jeep and I fired up the GPS and plotted a course to Air Combat Canada. It was located in a small private airfield north of the city and the GPS predicted that the drive would take 22 minutes. On the way, we went through a Wendy's drive through to grab some lunch.

"Guys, please be careful not to get anything on the seats and remember to take the trash out with you when we get to where we're going," I told Josh and Mark.

We were only a few minutes away from our destination when we passed a large billboard advertising Air Combat Canada. Josh caught sight of it.

"Did you guys see that? It looked pretty cool," Josh said enthusiastically.

"What was it?" Mark asked.

"It's called Air Combat Canada. It said you get to fly a fighter plane," Josh relied.

"I've heard of that place," Mark said.

"Would you like to go there sometime?" Bryan asked.

"Do bears shit in the woods?" Mark responded.

Following the directions of the GPS, I exited the highway and turned left on the first road. 30 seconds later, the voice from the GPS announced our arrival "Destination reached."

Both the boys looked out the window just in time to see two of the Extra 300 aircraft lift off the runway in tight formation. The two boys were staring out the windows when we passed the giant "Welcome to Air Combat Canada" sign a moment later.

For a moment, I was afraid that their enthusiastic reaction was going to blow out the windows on my Jeep.

"You guys are the best!" Josh crowed.

"Yeah, you rock," Mark chimed in.

I parked the Jeep and we all climbed out. To say the boys were excited and wound up would be a major understatement. They were literally flying as they grabbed Bryan and I by the hands and dragged us into the building. Both of them were talking at about a mile a minute.

The building is done up like a military base. The walls were covered with photographs of various fighter aircraft along with gun sight photos taken from their own fleet of Extra 300s. There were also portraits of pilots, past and present and score boards showing numbers of "kills" scored by leading Air Combat pilots.

The four of us were met by a man in a flight suit. "Welcome gentlemen. My name is Colonel Peter Lynch and I'm the commanding officer of Air Combat Canada. In just a few moments, I will give you a full briefing on what we have in store for you today. Before we do that, we have to get you gents into uniform. The locker room is right over there," he said pointing to a door off the lobby. "Inside, you'll each find an Air Combat Canada issued flight suit with your name embroidered on it. You will wear these flight suits during your visit with Air Combat Canada. At the end of they day, it's yours to keep as a souvenir. After you get changed, exit the locker room into the briefing room."

Josh and Mark were grinning broadly as the four of us went into the locker room and found our flight suits. When Bryan had called in and booked our session, he'd given them our measurements and shoe sizes, so each of us received an olive drab flight suit and a pair of flight boots in our own size.

Each of the one-piece flight suits had our names embroidered over the left breast along with a pair of pilot wings. Canadian flags were sewn onto our left shoulders and there were Air Combat Canada crests sewn on the right. My suit and Mark's suit had blue epaulets while Bryan and Josh's had red.

"Why do we have different colours on our shoulders?" Josh asked.

"I guess maybe we've been split into two teams," I replied.

"I want to be on your team," Josh said.

"It's only for fun bud. Anyway, it's only fair that we're on separate teams. We have more flight experience than either Mark or Bryan," I said trying to reassure Josh.

"That makes sense," Josh said. "Let's kick some ass, Bryan!"

"You guys are going down," Mark retorted.

We quickly changed into our flight suits and then headed into the briefing room. We all looked pretty sharp and truly felt like fighter pilots. From a technical point of view, the flight suits were an unnecessary extravagance, but their value from an emotional point of view could not be counted. They somehow made the experience all the more real.

The front wall of the briefing room was covered with a chalkboard and a pull down movie screen. In the middle of the room, there was an AV cart containing a video projector. The rest of the room was filled with several rows of high backed chairs arranged facing the front of the room.

We took our seats as Colonel Lynch and three other men, also dressed in flight suits, entered the room.

"Gentlemen, welcome to your initial briefing. Once again, my name is Colonel Peter Lynch and I'm the commanding officer here. I served for 17 years as a fighter pilot in the Canadian Armed forces. I started flying CF-104 Starfighters and was in the first class of pilots trained on the CF-18s. I flew combat missions in Iraq in the 1991 'Desert Storm' conflict and in the Balkans in the late 90s. I'll let each of my pilots who will be flying with you introduce himself."

The first man, a tall muscular man with graying brown hair, stepped forward. "My name is Major Jason Roberts and I'm a retired Canadian Armed Forces fighter pilot. I flew CF-18s and flew combat missions in Kosovo. I also did a stint with the Snowbirds aerobatic team."

The next man, a tall black man, stepped forward. "My name is Major Andrew Jones and I served with the Canadian Armed Forces for 12 years as a CF-18 pilot. I flew bombing sorties in Iraq in 1991 and in Kosovo in 1998."

The third man, a short, stocky older man stepped forward. "My name is Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Graham and I'm a retired United States Air Force F-15 pilot. I flew combat missions in Iraq in 1991 and scored 2 air-to-air kills against Iraqi MiG fighters."

"Before we begin, do any of you have any flight experience?" Peter asked.

"I do. I'm a licensed private pilot with an aerobatic rating and about 200 hours of flying time under my belt," I answered.

"Outstanding. I'm assuming it's on Cessna or a Piper, right?" Peter asked.

"Yes sir. 172s and 152s," I replied.

"Good. The Extra is a little different. It's a tail dragger and it uses a variable pitch prop but the fundamentals are the same. I'm going to designate you Blue Leader and pair you with Major Jones. Does anyone else have any flight experience?"

"My Dad taught me some basic maneuvers and I've done some takeoffs," Josh replied.

"Well done. I'm going to designate you Red Leader and you'll be paired with Major Roberts. Mark, you're Blue 2 and you're paired with Colonel Graham. Bryan, you'll be designated Red 2 and you'll be flying with me. For the next couple of hours, we're going to go over everything you need to know to make your combat sortie a realistic, enjoyable, and above all else, safe experience. We have two goals here - safety and realism."

Over the next two and a half hours, we had the safety rules drilled into our heads and we were given some basic lessons in air combat maneuvers. Most of them were the same as or similar to aerobatic tricks that I already knew. We were also briefed on how the missions would play out. Our pilots would be in command and would do most of the flying. We would take over control of the aircraft at the start of the combat engagement and would fly the engagement. The pilots would be ready to take control in order to avoid accidents or in case of emergency. The pilots would also give advice and coaching to us as we flew.

We were going to fly two separate combat missions each. In the first engagement, we'd face off in a series of three one-on-one battles. In the second engagement, we'd square off in a series of three two-on-two battles.

We were also told that the whole experience would be video taped from the ground, from cockpit cameras and from gun sight cameras. We'd be provided with an edited video tape of all our sorties several weeks later and we made arrangements to obtain copies of the raw footage.

When it was finally time to man our planes, we were all hyped up and ready to go. "Good luck and stay safe guys," I said as we walked towards the parked aircraft.

"You too Dad," Josh replied and we hugged briefly.

When we arrived at the planes, our pilots were already there. The Extra features two seats in tandem. The instructor pilot sits in the back with the student in the front. I climbed in and did up my harness as Major Jones closed and latched the canopy.

"Want to take us up?" he asked.

"Sure. I've never handled a plane with this kind of power before but it should be a piece of cake," I replied.

"It is. I'll handle the prop pitch and the throttle from back here. You handle the stick. Wait for the tail to lift off and then just pull back gently."

"Roger that."

Ten minutes later we were all airborne at an altitude of 8,000 feet. I was amazed at the power and the maneuverability of the Extra 300. It was way beyond that of the Cessna. It was a compact, propeller driven aircraft, but it had the feel of a jet. We lined up for the first engagement. In the first series of battles, I'd go head to head against Josh, and Mark would go up against his brother.

We started head-to-head at a range of some 5 km. I spotted Josh's plane on the horizon and pulled back slightly on the stick and began to climb slowly as we rapidly closed the distance. When Josh was about 500 meters ahead of me, he saw that I was climbing and pulled into a sharp climb to meet me. Because he was climbing rapidly, he was bleeding velocity and I used that to my advantage. I rolled the plane onto its back and pulled into a Split-S turn which put me right on his tail. Josh, seeing that I was on his tail, rolled hard to the right to try to shake me off. I followed him through the snap-roll and activated my gun sights. He jinked furiously left and right but it was too late. I pulled the trigger and heard the "kill tone" in my headset and saw the trail of smoke streaming from the tail of Josh's plane.

"Nicely done Dad, but I'll get you next time," Josh said over the radio our pilots took over and positioned us for the second run.

I caught the end of Mark and Bryan's battle as we prepared to start our second run. Mark pulled a really gutsy loop and got Bryan from above. I smiled as I heard his excited shout over the radio.

I was not at all surprised when Josh and I started our second run and noticed that he had learned a lot. He didn't make the same mistake this time. There was probably some coaching from his pilot and I knew Josh, being as smart as he was, would never make the same mistakes twice. This time, as we closed the gap, he pulled into a slight climb and came at me in such a way that put the sun in my eyes. Not being able to get a good fix on him, I pulled back hard on the stick into a right Immelman turn. The Immelman is a good maneuver to quickly change direction and dump speed. It was a risk. If Josh caught onto what I was doing, he could position himself perfectly behind me for a kill shot. Not surprisingly, he did catch it, and he rolled his plane inverted and executed a half loop that placed him right on my tail.

"Damn! This kid's smart," Major Jones remarked.

"He's spent a whole lot of time playing Falcon combat simulator on his computer and I think he learned a lot from it," I replied.

"No kidding!"

I had only seconds to get out of the way or Josh would shoot me down so I tried a high-low yo-yo maneuver which is designed to use an opponent's speed advantage against him. I pulled up hard and Major Jones throttled back which rapidly closed the gap between my plane and Josh's. At the same time, I executed a series of snap rolls to try to throw him off. Not expecting that, Josh flew past me and when I recovered from the snap-rolls, I was on his tail. Ten seconds later, his plane was once again trailing smoke.

"That was amazing bud," I said to him over the radio.

This time, Bryan managed to get Mark to even their match, one round each.

For our final one-on-one engagement, Josh was right on the ball. This time, he went right at me at full throttle. My choice was to go for a high speed-snap shot or take evasive action. I chose to evade. I banked hard to the right and began a shallow dive. Josh pulled his plane into a sharp climb and executed a half loop putting him on my tail. I leveled out and broke hard to the left. Josh broke to the right and executed an immediate Immelman turn which kept him right on my tail. I executed a series of barrel rolls but he followed me through every one of them and I couldn't shake him. I was about to try another series of snap rolls when an alarm sounded in my headset and my heads up display flashed red. Josh had won that one.

"Gotcha!" Josh hollered over the radio.

"You did good bud," I replied.

It was time for our two-on-two engagements. Mark, who had managed to get Bryan twice, was lined up off my right wing. "Ok Mark, here's what we'll do. Stay close to me until I tell you to break. When I yell break, I want you to turn hard to the right. I'll turn to the left. We want to reform going in the opposite direction, hopefully on their tail."

"Okeydokey," Mark replied.

Sure enough, just as the four planes converged, I yelled, "break!" into the radio and Mark swerved to the right while I went left. As I expected, Josh and Bryan also broke away from each other and went after us separately. Mark banked around and after a few seconds managed to pick off his brother. Josh proved a lot more difficult. He rolled in and went after Mark. Before I could get into position, he had picked him off, leaving just the two of us to fight it out. It was another wild and tight turning fight and in the end, Josh evened the score between the two of us; two kills each.

On our second two-on-two run, Mark and Bryan stayed together. Mark and I had planned to try to get above them and then swoop down, but Bryan managed to pick me off with a very lucky snap-shot during the high speed pass. Mark did his best to carry on the fight and managed to get Josh but eventually Bryan took him out.

The final run proved to be the most dramatic. Once again, we started head-to-head. "Mark, here's what we're going to do," I said over the radio and began explaining our plan of attack. Throughout the battles, we used two frequencies - one was for blue team and the other for red. We could switch to each others frequencies after the fight was over but not during the battle, which meant that we could plan amongst ourselves without the other team overhearing.

"Do you think you can handle that, bud?" I asked Mark when I had finished explaining what I wanted him to do.

"I think so. Colonel Graham says it's a ballsy move and he'll help me do it."

We nosed down into a slight dive as we closed in on Bryan and Josh. They saw us diving and began to climb, this time they stuck together. As soon as they began their climb, Mark broke to the right and I broke to the left. Bryan and Josh, seeing us break performed a tandem Split-S thinking that they would come around and wind up on one of our tails. They didn't expect what we did next. A split second after they performed their turns, Mark an I reversed ourselves and performed a scissors maneuver and crossed paths putting each of us into a high energy horizontal loop. Before Josh and Bryan knew it, we were on their tails. Within seconds, I took Bryan out leaving Josh to take on Mark and me.

Josh went vertical in an attempt to gain altitude and to dump speed. He was hoping that we'd overshoot him but instead, we reversed again and came out on his tail. He then nosed his plane over into a steep dive and tried to out run us. We stayed right with him. He tried a series of barrel and snap rolls to try to shake us but we pressed the attack. Josh, getting desperate, tried a Hail Mary maneuver and executed a near perfect Immelman catching Mark off guard. He took out Mark, once again leaving the two of us.

Josh was behind me but in a poor firing position, so I began a Cuban eight maneuver to try to throw him off and to pick up some velocity. He started to take the bait and then realized what I was doing and pulled out at the last second. I rolled hard to the right and tried to get my nose on him, but he jinked out of the way. I found myself behind him, but we were twisting and turning so much that I couldn't get a shot off.

I decided to kick it up a notch and try a tricky shot. Josh was banking hard to the right with me on his tail. I did a very rapid reversal and threw my plane into a 3G turn to the left. Josh continued his hard right turn thinking that I was behind him. I caught him by complete surprise when suddenly I passed in front of him at a range of some 300 meters and got him with a high deflection shot.

"OUTSTANDING!" Colonel Lynch shouted over the radio. "That was some of the best dog fighting that I've ever seen. Way to go boys."

The pilots took control of the aircraft and formed us up for landing. One at a time, we touched down on the runway and taxied to the tarmac. We had been in the air for about an hour and it had been quite a workout. All those high G maneuvers had been quite a strain and we all badly needed to hit the showers. Our flight suits were soaked with sweat.

I was a little wobbly on my legs when I got out of the plane and shook hands with Major Jones. Josh came running right over to me and jumped up into my arms.

"That was amazing Dad," he said excitedly. "You were amazing. I can't believe you got me on that last one."

"Joshy, I'm a pilot and you got me as often as I got you. You were awesome."

"I'll second that," Colonel Lynch said as he came up behind us.

I set Josh down on his feet and he turned to face Colonel Lynch. "Thanks for everything sir; that was incredible."

"It was my pleasure son. I've never seen anyone who isn't a licensed pilot do that amazingly well up there." He looked at me and continued. "Josh is a remarkable young man and you should be very proud of him."

"Believe me, I am." I said with a grin.

Bryan arrived at that moment with Mark in tow. Both of them wore 1000 watt grins on their faces.

"Damn that was a lucky shot on that second sortie," I said. "I can't believe you took me out with that one."

"To be honest with you, I pulled the trigger by mistake! I was all tensed up and I just pushed the button," Bryan laughed.

"And you, Mark. You did damned good up there."

"I loved it. I think I know what I want to do now when I grow up. I want to join the Armed Forces and fly fighter planes," Mark said proudly.

Colonel Graham, who had approached as we chatted, patted him on the back. "You have the makings of a good fighter pilot Mark. Go for it. In fact, you might even want to consider joining Air Cadets and getting some experience."

Colonel Graham took a few minutes to explain the Air Cadet program to Mark and Bryan and by the time he was done, Mark had made up his mind. He was going to sign up as soon as he got back to Calgary.

The four of us hit the showers and changed back into our civies. We bagged up the sweat soaked flight suits and made a mental note to make sure we washed them that evening back at the hotel.

When we emerged from the locker room into the lobby, there was a crowd of people watching the raw video footage of that last engagement. It looked like most of the staff of Air Combat Canada was there watching it. When they saw us come into the room, they all broke into applause. Colonel Lynch clapped us all on the back and congratulated us once again. He promised to have the footage sent to us by the time we got home.

All the stress and strain of the high G maneuvers had given me a headache. Josh sensed it right away after we left the building and began walking to the Jeep.

"Are you ok Dad?" He asked.

"Yeah, I think the excitement got to me. I have a bit of a headache coming on," I replied wanly.

"Want me to drive?" Bryan asked as he placed a hand on my shoulder.

"Sure. That would be great," I answered and handed him the keys.

Josh pushed me into the back seat which was a new experience for me. I'd never been in the back seat of my Jeep before; at least not when it was moving. Mark climbed into the passenger seat next to his brother and Josh climbed in next to me. He reached over and pulled me down so that my head was in his lap and he began to deeply and firmly massage my temples. The relief was almost instant and I soon fell fast asleep.

Next thing I knew, Josh was gently shaking my shoulder and trying to wake me up.

"Dad, we're back at the hotel. Time to get up," he said softly.

I opened my eyes and gingerly sat up. The headache was mostly gone, but it felt as if it could come back pretty quickly if I wasn't careful.

"You ok there Tom?" Bryan asked with concern in his voice.

"Yeah, I'm going to be fine," I replied.

"He gets these headaches sometimes, but not as bad as before his operation," Josh said.

"I'm glad you don't get them very often, but I wish you didn't get them at all," Bryan replied.

"Same here," Josh and I said in unison.

Bryan helped me out of the Jeep and then the three of them took up positions around me as we walked through the hotel lobby and made our way up to the room.

Once in the room, I flopped down on the bed. Josh climb up after me and cuddled for a moment before resuming his massage. Once again, his loving ministrations had me relaxed and feeling better in no time at all.

"Thanks Josh," I said warmly. "I love you kiddo,"

"I know. I love you too," he replied and leaned down to rest his forehead against mine so that our noses were also touching. We stayed that way, looking into each others eyes for a few minutes.

"It's just about time for dinner," Bryan said. "Do you feel like eating anything?"

"Not really. I just need to relax. You guys go ahead and eat," I said.

"I'm not going anywhere without you," Josh said firmly.

"Then I think we'll all stay here and order room service," Bryan said.

"Let's get wings again," Mark suggested.

"Joshy, would you mind going to the Jeep and getting my pills? They're in the small bag under the driver's seat," I said softly to Josh.

"Of course," Josh replied and Bryan immediately handed him the keys to the Jeep.

"I'll go with you," Mark said.

The boys headed down to get my medication from the Jeep, leaving Bryan and I in the room.

"You sure you're ok Tom?" Bryan asked. "I'm a little more than concerned."

"I'm fine Bryan. You're starting to sound like Josh," I said with a chuckle.

"That's because, like Josh, I'm starting to really love you," Bryan replied firmly. He sat on the edge of the bed and took over where Josh left off and began to massage my temples.

"Bryan, it's happening to me too. I'm beginning to really love you," I replied seriously, then with a grin, "but I don't want to be your Dad!"

Bryon smiled. "I'm glad your sense of humour is part of the package!" He leaned down and kissed my forehead as the boys re-entered the room.

With his usual deadpan expression, Mark said, "Will you two get a room."

Bryan and I giggled, and then laughed, knowing that in time, our love would deepen further. Right now, Josh and Mark were more important than we were.


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