Substitute Dad

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

Chapter 40

The Long Road Home

Love at first sight. That's the only way I could describe what transpired between Brutus and the twins when they first met. Watching Brutus and the twins play and interact brought a smile to my face. Brutus looked like the happiest pup in the world as he chased after, wrestled with, and roughhoused with Matthew and Richard. For their part, the two little boys were absolutely enthralled with Brutus. The three of them together were like triplets.

"It's like there's three kids," Josh said almost seeming to read my mind.

"I was just thinking the same thing," I replied.

After dropping Andy off at the airport, we had hit the road and begun the drive back towards Port Aux Basques to catch the evening ferry back to Sydney, Nova Scotia.

While we were on the road I had to apologize. "Josh, I'm sorry, I forgot to show you fellows the place where Terry Fox started his Marathon of Hope while we were in St. John's."

"It's hard to believe that we covered all the miles from Thunder Bay to St. John's in three or four days and it took him half the summer to do that run." Josh said thoughtfully. "It's amazing the amount of money he raised and the annual runs in his honour just keep on adding to the cause."

"Did you know that's it's been over 400 million dollars that's been raised in his name for cancer research?" I asked.

"Wow! That's a lot of money." Richard exclaimed from the back seat.

"How far did he run?" Matthew asked.

"It was about five thousand kilometers. It took about 4-1/2 months," Josh answered. "You have to remember he did it with only one good leg and an artificial leg." Josh went on to explain to the twins what Terry's goal was with his run and why he had to quit the run because of the emergence of lung cancer that finally took his life later the following June. "He was a great young man and I think I'd like to be like him some day." Josh concluded.

I smiled to myself – nothing would please me more.

"Also boys," I added, "there are a lot of streets and highways, buildings and memorials erected in his honour. He has a mountain and a British Columbia Provincial Park named after him. They even put his image on the one-dollar Canadian coin in 2005. Like Josh said, very year in September, all around the world, there are Terry Fox runs to raise money for cancer research."

"Dad, maybe that's something I should do.... run in the Terry Fox run." Josh pondered.

"Hey it'd be OK by me Joshy, but let's see what your Mom says."

At the half-way point we had decided to stop to let Brutus and the twins stretch their legs. The small park had a leash-free zone and it was completely deserted. Brutus and the twins were able to run free and have some fun together.

"Brutus has really taken to the twins," I said.

"To him, they're like other puppies to play with," Josh replied.

We watched as Richard threw a Frisbee towards Matthew and laughed as Brutus jumped up and intercepted the flying disk. He then seemed to tease Matthew by standing still while the little boy approached to recover the Frisbee and then dodging him and taking off running with the Frisbee clutched between his teeth. Pretty soon both twins were laughing madly and chasing Brutus all over the park. Brutus eventually let them capture him and he surrendered the disk in order to repeat the whole process once again after the next toss.

"I think they'll sleep well tonight on the ship," I said.

"Thanks to Brutus!" Josh laughed.

The twins' laughing and giggling along with Brutus's happy barking was infectious.

"It's amazing how gentle he is with them," I observed. "See how he grabs their arms or legs in his mouth without hurting them?"

"He does that with me too when we roughhouse," Josh replied. "He doesn't bite down hard at all, but I'll bet he could bite hard if he needed to."

"Probably. German Shepherds have strong mouths and he's half German Shepherd."

"Chasing the Frisbee must be his retriever side," Josh chuckled.

"Hard to believe that we'll be home in a few days. I can't wait to get you into flight school and to get behind the controls again myself."

A few minutes later another car arrived at the dog park and a couple with a large, old English Sheep dog entered the park. Josh and I watched as Brutus, noticing the other dog, ran up to him to check him out before letting him get anywhere near "his" boys.

Brutus approached the big shaggy dog and the two canines sniffed each other out; evidently the other dog checked out as a friendly and soon he had joined Brutus and the twins in playing Frisbee.

"That's an adorable pup that you have there," The woman commented. "He's very protective of those boys. What kind of dog is he?"

"According to the vet, he's part Black Labrador Retriever and part German Shepherd," I replied.

Josh told the couple the story of how we came to adopt Brutus and Daisy.

"That's remarkable," the man said when Josh finished his story.

"Sad that people would do such a thing," the woman added. "We've had Charlie since he was a pup too."

"He's a beautiful dog," I said.

"He's a big friendly lug," the woman laughed. "He loves kids."

After a few minutes, Brutus and the twins tired Charlie out and he trotted over to see his owners and to greet Josh and I. He was quite a large dog with long shaggy fur that almost covered his eyes.

Josh knelt down and was rubbing Charlie's chest and the big dog really seemed to be enjoying it. "He's a big boy," Josh said.

"He weighs about a hundred pounds or so," the woman said.

"The vet said that Brutus will get to be about that big too," Josh replied.

We talked for a few more minutes and then it was time to leave. We had to head over to the docks and catch the ferry back to Nova Scotia.

After getting Brutus and the twins loaded into the Jeep, we headed back to Port Aux Basques. From there we'd catch the ferry back to Sydney. We had a hectic travel schedule ahead of us since we had to be home in days and we wanted to spend the final weekend of summer fishing with the twins.

Shortly after we entered the highway, Josh tapped me lightly on the arm and pointed to the back seat. I glanced in the rear view mirror and smiled. Both Matthew and Richard were sound asleep belted into their seats and Brutus lay between them on his back with his head on Matthew's lap and his hind section on Richard's. He was sleeping as deeply as the twins were. I smiled at Josh and kept driving.

We arrived back at the ferry docks just in time and I was able to drive the Jeep right onto the big ship. The ship was pretty close to full being so close to the end of summer, but we had pre-booked our crossing. After parking the Jeep, Josh and I led the twins and Brutus up to the main deck. It was the first time that Richard and Matthew had been on a big ship and they loved every minute of it. We stood together on the deck and watched as the ship pulled away, officially beginning our long drive home.

It was nice to be heading home after our long journey, but there was also a touch of sadness that our adventure of a lifetime was coming to a close. We planned on driving fairly quickly back to Ontario and then stopping for the weekend at Rice Lake for a couple of days to fish with the twins. From there we'd head home.

We hadn't done much in our home province of Ontario, so we planned to spend some time over the next few weekends visiting sights such as Niagara Falls and visiting some of the attractions in Toronto including the CN Tower, the Science Centre, the Royal Ontario Museum and Queen's Park, the site of the Ontario provincial legislature.

"Do you guys want to get some dinner?" I asked Josh and the Twins.

"Yes please! I'm hungry," Matthew announced.

"Me too!" Richard added.

"Me three" Josh replied with a grin.

"Ok, let's take Brutus to the cabin and get him some of his puppy food and then we'll get some dinner," I said.

We headed to our cabin to drop off our overnight bags and set Brutus up with some of his toys, a bowl of water and some of his puppy kibble. We had no qualms about leaving Brutus to his own devices since he had proven time and time again to be a very well behaved pup when left alone.

"Are we going fishing at the same place as last time?" Richard asked as the four of us sat around a table eating our burgers and fries.

"No, this time we're going to a different lake. This one is called Rice Lake," I said.

"Does it have rice in it?" Matthew asked.

"No, I don't think so buddy," I chuckled. "It does have a lot of big fish though."

"Bigger than last time?" Matthew asked.

"Maybe. Last time we were catching trout. This time we're going after bass, walleye, and maybe even pike,"

"Those types of fish can get really big," Josh said and held his hands about two feet apart in front of his chest.

"Wow!" The twins said in unison.

After we finished eating, we headed back to the cabin. We got the twins into the pyjamas and turned on the small TV to watch a movie before turning in for the night. One of the stations that the ship made available was showing "Toy Story" which the twins thoroughly enjoyed even though they'd probably seen it about a dozen times before.

While the twins watched television, I fired up my laptop to work on my software project. Josh sat next to me and watched me work.

"That looks kind of complicated Dad," Josh said.

"It's not that complicated actually," I replied. "It's not hard at all if you have the necessary training and knowledge."

"How do you even know where to begin?" Josh asked.

"The first thing you need to do is come up with an object model."

"What's an object model?"

"Basically, it's a design that describes all the parts of the program you want to design. The parts are called objects and those objects have properties and they have methods and they're created from things called classes."

"That is complicated!" Josh chuckled.

"Not really," I said. "Think of it this way," I continued and I removed my watch and handed it to Josh. "Look at my watch and describe the main parts"

"We have a band, a watch face, hands, a frame, a crystal, all kinds of gears and stuff inside."

"Good. Think of the watch face. If the watch was a program, the watch face would be one of the objects. Describe the features of the watch face, those are its properties."

"It has numbers," Josh replied.

"Right. It also has some smaller dials on it too. Think about the hands."

"They move," Josh said.

"Right. Moving is a method. It's something the object does. There are some other properties there too. The hand has to know what type of hand it is, it has to know how fast to move and it has to know when to move."

"So basically, you have to think about all the things you want your program to do, figure out all the objects that you need to make that happen and then figure out all the methods you need to make those objects make the program work," Josh said.

"Exactly!" I said and gave his shoulders a squeeze – amazed that he caught onto the idea so quickly. "That's the very basics of Object Oriented Programming. Once you understand that, you just have to choose a programming language and learn the syntax."

"How many programming languages do you know?"

"I program in Visual Basic, C++, C# and Java and I know a few scripting languages such as HTML which is what web pages are made with, VB Script and JavaScript."

"How did you learn all those?" Josh asked.

"It wasn't that hard. I taught myself some of it and I learned the rest in school. Oh, and Bryan showed me a quick trick while we were in Calgary. Many aspects of the languages are very similar. Java, C# and Visual Basic are very similar and C++ has a lot of similarities to C#."

"Do you think I could learn how to program computers?"

"Son, I think you could do absolutely anything that you put your mind to. You are, bar none, the most amazing person I ever knew," I replied and pulled Josh into a hug.

"It's because you cared," Josh replied as he returned my hug.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Because you saw the real me back at camp. If we never met, I'd never have been able to do the amazing things that we've done together."

I really meant what I was saying to Josh. The kid was as sharp as a whip and he had a solid gold personality to back it up. I knew that Josh was going to go far and I was thankful to be along for the ride. Reflecting on the events of the summer, I'd watched Josh mature a great deal and through my dreams, I'd watched him begin to turn into the warm, compassionate, intelligent, and honourable man that I knew he would become.

By the time "Toy Story" ended, the twins were drifting off to sleep. We tucked them into one of the two bunks while Josh and I took the other. Brutus climbed up with us for a while and then moved over to join "his" twins on the second bunk. It was amazing watching the pup with the twins. They were inseparable.

We awoke bright and early the next morning just as the ship was docking in Nova Scotia. We washed up, dressed, packed up our gear, and then got in the Jeep to resume the westward drive. Our first stop was a nearby park to let Brutus relieve himself. He's hung on for so long without an accident.

Other than meal stops and the occasional rest and gas stops, we drove pretty steadily westward. Josh helped to keep the twins entertained with a never ending collection of camp songs and games.

We also played the Michel Thomas CDs to help us learn French. With Josh on board, we had our own teacher to help us out. Michel Thomas was renowned for his effective method of quickly teaching people another language. He urges you not to attempt to memorize, rather to try to absorb the words and learn them by habit. He also highlights similarities between English and French and demonstrated how a huge number of English words came from French words. He then teaches increasingly complex phrases and encourages you to keep stopping the CD and repeating the phrases out loud.

With Josh's help, the twins and I were actually doing a pretty good job of learning some basic French language skills. In fact, by the time we stopped to eat at a small roadside restaurant in Quebec, I felt comfortable enough to order our food in French and was able to have a very basic conversation with the waitress. Josh explained to her in his near flawless French that I was just learning. That certainly helped!

As always, Brutus was a source of entertainment. The twins thought it was absolutely hilarious when they got Brutus to roll over for a belly rub and he started doggy groaning and twitching his rear paw!

We spent a night in Montreal and took the twins to a really neat buffet restaurant located just across the street from the Big O. The restaurant is called Jardin Tiki (Tiki Garden). The restaurant is remarkably decorated like a something you'd expect to see on a Caribbean Island. There are palm trees and tropical plants all over the place and it's filled with tiki furniture. To top it all off, the staff all wore wild coloured Hawaiian shirts!

"Mark would love this!" Josh laughed.

Mark actually owned a couple of relatively tasteful Hawaiian shirts and liked to wear them with cargo shorts.

We all ate very well that night. I sat at the table and watched Josh help the twins prepare their own giant sundaes at the sundae bar. I had to smile at them. It was obvious that the twins absolutely adored Josh and really looked up to him. He was very much like a big brother to them and it was a role that Josh seemed to take to quite naturally. I could well imagine that he'd be a very good dad one day to some very lucky kids.

The next morning we pushed on once again and before we knew it, we were crossing the provincial boundary into Ontario. Naturally, the Michel Thomas CD was still playing. It seemed that we were able to actually start understanding each other in a French conversation, although Brutus was giving us some peculiar head tilts as we spoke in a language he didn't seem to recognize.

Rice Lake was only a couple of hours ahead and the twins were getting excited about the fishing trip that they were about to enjoy.

We were making excellent time and I was pleasantly surprised that the little guys were handling all the travel so well. They didn't complain about the long time on the road and seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience. Having a lovable puppy sharing their seat with them certainly helped and so did Josh who worked hard to keep them busy.

"Can we swim in the lake Uncle Tommy?" Richard asked.

"Sure. There's a nice beach right near the camp ground. It has a nice sandy bottom with no rocks or anything."

"Can Brutus swim with us?" Matthew asked.

"Brutus loves to swim," Josh replied. "He got to play in the ocean when we were in PEI."

"How are you holding up?" Josh asked a little while later.

"Not too bad. I'm a little tired, but I'm looking forward to getting out on the water," I replied.

"Me too," Josh said. "I've never been to Rice Lake, but a friend of mine went last summer. He said the fishing was amazing."

"It is. There's some big fish in that lake," I replied.

"We should take it easy tonight and get an early start in the morning," Josh suggested. "If you want to rest, I'll take the twins swimming."

"That would be nice bud," I replied.

We drove on and just before noon, we headed north from Highway 401 to the town of Harwood on the southwest shore of Rice Lake. Rice Lake is a relatively large lake. It is cigar shaped and located just south of the town of Peterborough. I had a lot of fond memories of the campground that we were heading too. Some of the best times of my childhood had been spent there with my Dad and my brothers. Even my Mom occasionally joined us on those trips.

This would be the first visit for both Josh and the twins. I knew it would not be the last. I wanted to make this place as special and memorable for them as it was for me. I looked forward to being able to come back with Bryan and Mark as well.

We stopped for lunch at a Burger King in Harwood and stocked up on some supplies for the weekend. Josh and I made sure to involve the twins in the grocery shopping to ensure that we bought foods that they'd enjoy eating.

The drive to the campground from Harwood was only about fifteen minutes. We were lucky to be arriving on Thursday afternoon since it meant that we would beat the Labour Day weekend crowds that were sure to arrive Friday evening. We had our choice of camp sites and we picked out a nice cozy site that was well surrounded by trees, located close to the bathroom facilities, the dock and the beach.

While Josh supervised the twins in unloading the camping gear and setting up the tent, I went back to the camp office and rented a motor boat and enough life jackets for all of us. I had them fill the gas tank and a spare tank, and purchased a quantity of worms to use as bait.

By the time I returned to the camp site, Josh and the twins had our tent set up, the boys were using a foot pump to inflate the air mattresses and Josh was busy setting up the camp stove and cooking area. I started to gather fishing gear when Josh approached me.

"You!" he commanded, "Sit down and relax. You've been driving all day and you need some rest."

I smiled at him. "Yes dear," I dead-panned in a way that would make Mark proud, then I reached out and hugged Josh. "Thanks bud. I love you."

"I love you too, now sit down, read your book and relax. Don't even think about turning on your computer or working or I'll hide the battery!" Josh said and directed me to a folding lawn chair that he had set up for me. An ice cold Coke was in the cup holder and the book that I'd been reading was sitting neatly on the opposite arm.

I did as I was told and I sat down and quickly lost myself in my book. Every so often I'd look up and examine the progress and I was impressed with how quickly Josh and the boys got everything setup.

I once again sat and watched Josh with singular affection as he cleared out the fire pit and taught the twins how to build a proper log cabin fire. The three boys carefully setup the logs and kindling so all we had to do that evening was light it.

Finally, with the campsite setup, everything was ready for us to prepare dinner and to have our nightly campfire, the four of us changed into our swim suits and with Brutus in tow, we headed to the beach.

Considering my leg injury I wasn't a half bad swimmer. Josh was a very strong swimmer and the twins did surprisingly well. They'd been taking swim lessons since they were infants and I had no worries about either of them in the water. The two of them were like fish.

We didn't actually do much swimming, we spent most of our time splashing around and throwing Brutus' Frisbee and watching him paddle out and retrieve it for us. Of course, I tired out much sooner than any of the boys and eventually made my way to the shore where I stretched out on a beach towel to get a bit of a tan.

After a while Josh joined me on the shore. I was lying on my back and Josh sat behind me with one leg down either side of me and began massaging my temples. I didn't have a headache, but it was one of the most relaxing things that I could ever imagine. I lay there and closed my eyes and just enjoyed his loving touch. After a while he moved down to my shoulders and worked more of his magic.

"Thanks bud," I said and opened my eyes to smile at Josh.

He smiled back and kept at it. "I wish Mark and Bryan were here," he said thoughtfully.

"Me too. Christmas will be here before we know it," I said.

Josh and I continued to sit there, watching the twins and Brutus play in the lake. After a while Brutus came out of the water, shook himself off and lay down with Josh and me. The twins stayed in the water. Matthew and Richard weren't all that competitive between themselves, but sometimes they challenged each other. This time they were competing to see who could hold their breath the longest under water. It was this little contest that led Brutus to once again amaze us.

Richard submerged himself completely under the water while Matthew stood counting. I guess Richard tried to push it a little too far and he came up splashing and sputtering. Before either Josh or I could even ask him if he was ok, Brutus jumped up, leapt into the water and paddled out to the twins. The water wasn't even over their heads, but when Brutus reached them, he gently took Richard's arm in his mouth and began paddling towards the shore with the little boy in tow.

Josh and I just looked at each other with amazement. Richard had never actually been in any danger, but Brutus wasn't taking any chances. He'd never been trained as a rescue dog, but some instinct in him spurred him to "save" Richard. It was one of the most amazing things that either of us had ever seen.

Richard was surprised by the whole thing, but he was a good sport. When he reached the shore, he bent down and hugged Brutus who madly licked his face. Richard giggled sweetly.

"That was amazing," I said.

"Really," Josh replied. "I've heard of dogs doing that before, but I've never seen it."

Matthew arrived at the waters edge laughing. "Brutus pulled Richard out of the water!" He giggled.

"I think he thought he was drowning and tried to save him," I replied.

We all told Brutus what a good boy he was and we all took turns petting him. Our rapidly growing pup amazed me with something new every day. As I watched him with the boys and with Josh, I knew he would grow to be quite the protector. I knew that Brutus, if ever faced with the situation to protect us, would willingly do whatever it took, even at the cost of his own life.

We headed back to the campsite and we all changed back into regular clothing. It was a perfect afternoon. The sun was up, it was warm, but not too hot, and there was a gentle breeze rustling the leaves in the trees. In short, the campground was heaven.

While Josh roughhoused and wrestled with the twins and Brutus, I began preparing dinner. We planned on having a relatively light dinner and then filling up on roasted hot dogs and marshmallows by the campfire later that evening. I fired up the Coleman stove and boiled a pot of water for some fresh corn on the cob and fired up the small gas hibachi that we had picked up on our travels, in order to grill up some nice burger patties that we'd picked up. I wanted to keep the food as basic as possible for the twins and we all loved BBQ burgers.

I made sure to grill up an extra beef patty for Brutus. We didn't give him a lot of table scraps, but we did treat him from time to time. I also cut a chunk of cheddar cheese from the block and cut it into small cubes. Brutus loved cheese and the small chunks would be easy for the twins to toss to him and get him to do his tricks. I figured that he'd definitely earned a special treat that afternoon.

We sat around the picnic table and ate our dinner while Brutus munched his kibble near our feet. By the time we were done eating, his patty had cooled off enough for him to eat.

"Are we going to catch some big fish tomorrow Uncle Tommy?" Matthew asked.

"I hope so kiddo," I replied.

"Me too!" Richard added.

"We're going for different kinds of fish this time aren't we?" Josh asked.

"Yeah. There aren't too many trout in this lake, but there are lots of largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, pike and even the odd musky," I replied.

"What's a mushy?" Richard asked.

"It's a mus-KEY," Josh corrected with a laugh. "It's a real big fish."

"I want to catch a muskie," Matthew announced causing us all to laugh.

"Some muskie and even pike can get as big as you guys," I said.

"WOW!" Matthew and Richard said together.

"Do you guys want to try to catch some frogs tonight?" Josh asked.

"Oh yeah, there's plenty of them around here. Just wait until it starts to get dark later and you'll hear them," I added.

"Yeah, let's catch some froggies," Richard agreed.

Josh leaned over and whispered to me, "I was going to suggest that we use them for bait, but I don't think the twins would think much of that idea!"

I grinned at him, "I don't think they'd like that either. Best we stick to worms and maybe lures."

When we finished eating, I went and got Brutus' beef patty. "Brutus!" I called. "Come." Brutus who had been tormenting a couple of treed squirrels came running right over. I placed the beef patty in his bowl and placed it in front of him. His tail immediately started wagging like mad and he attacked that beef patty like it was the last one on the planet. It took him all of about thirty seconds to wolf it down.

While he ate the meat, I got the small handful of cheese cubes and divided them amongst us. When Brutus was done eating the meat, we all took turns tossing cubes of cheese to him or getting him to do his growing repertoire of tricks. The twins through his "play dead" routine was absolutely hilarious.

It didn't take us long to clean up from supper. Since I'd done the cooking, Josh supervised the twins in clearing the table and washing the dishes. While setting up camp earlier, he'd taken the water jug to the hand pump and filled it up, so we had plenty on hand to complete the clean up.

Just as I had predicted, the frogs began croaking right about sunset. I got the video camera out while Josh gathered flashlights and organized Brutus and the twins for an evening of frog catching.

It was actually quite amazing how many frogs there were. Just off shore, there were a bunch of reeds and they congregated around there. Some of them were actually hopping around in the grass. We all got a huge laugh out of watching Brutus. He'd never encountered frogs before, and every once in a while, one would jump up near him. He'd jump right along with it and bark like mad. He didn't quite know what to make of these small jumping creatures. He tried following them from time to time and occasionally tried to sniff them out. Of course that made them jump and set Brutus off again with the barking.

Josh and the twins all managed to capture, examine and then release a few small frogs. Josh even managed to get his hands of a really large bullfrog but the slimy creature managed to escape his clutches with very little effort. I think they all got the most enjoyment of watching Brutus play with the frogs.

Before it got too dark, we returned to the campsite and got the fire going. Josh and the twins had done a bang up job of setting the fire and it wasn't long after I lit it that we had a roaring bonfire. The fire was large enough to keep the remnants of the mosquito populations at bay.

We spent the next couple of hours telling ghost stories and telling the twins about our adventures on the road as we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. We didn't want to stay up too late since we had planned to get an early start the next morning. Getting the twins to sleep wasn't a problem. The excitement of the day, not to mention the early morning start, had worn them out. By around 9:30, Josh and I tucked each of them into their matching Power Rangers sleeping bags. Brutus decided to remain in the tent with the twins while Josh and I returned to the camp fire to relax and have some dad-son time.

I sat down on the top of the picnic table with my feet resting on the bench and Josh sat on the bench between my knees. We sat and watched the glowing red coals in the base of the fire pit.

"This is a neat place," Josh whispered.

"I love it here," I said. "My dad used to bring us here a lot. This was our favourite camp site. We were lucky to get it."

"The twins are having a ball."

"You're a significant factor on that count," I replied, giving his shoulders a squeeze. "You're like their big brother."

"Teaching them stuff kind of makes me feel like you must feel when you teach me stuff," Josh said. "I like that feeling."

"Same here kiddo," I said tenderly.

We sat out there chit-chatting for another half an hour before we decided to douse the fire and then turn in for the night. Our plan was to get up at about 5:30, warm up some of the remaining breakfast IMP rations then get the twins up, dressed and fed. We wanted to be on the lake by around 6:30 AM.

We crawled into the tent and into our sleeping bags. I kissed Josh briefly on the forehead. "Goodnight son," I whispered.

"Goodnight dad," he replied with a warm smile on his face.

I set the alarm on my watch and within minutes, I was sound asleep.

The next morning was quite hectic, but we managed to get everyone dressed, fed, and loaded into the boat on time. The twins were enthusiastic about the idea of eating army food and they downed the sausage and hash brown IMPs in record time.

With everyone securely fastened into their life jackets, Josh cast off the lines holding us in place at the dock and we motored out towards our first fishing hole of the morning. The place that I'd picked out was one that I'd remembered as being a real honey-hole for smallmouth bass. It was a small area along the south shore of the lake only ten minutes from the dock. The lake bottom was rocky and dropped off quickly into a pool that was approximately 12 feet deep. Smallies tended to gather there and feed off crayfish and minnows.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much action there was. Josh and I helped the twins get their lines setup. They carefully watched as I instructed Matthew how to bait his hook with a worm. While I was doing that, Richard was doing his hook, following me step by step.

Then Josh and I tended to our bait and before either of us could get our own lines in the water, Matthew yelled "WOW!" He had a bite and was reeling him in. A second "Wow" from Richard and he too was pulling one into the boat. Both of the twins were giggling while they watched me remove the hook from their nice small mouth bass.

Each fish weighed in at about two pounds and would make for a delicious dinner that evening. Before we attached the fish to our stringer, we took a picture of the two smiling twins holding up their fish. We spent the better part of two hours in that spot and by the time we decided to move along, we had a total of six bass between two and three pounds on our stringer. The twins were ecstatic!

From there we decided to head to another location further up the shore which would provide ample opportunities for catching large mouth bass. Largemouth bass prefer warmer water and tend to hang around weed beds. The area that we were heading to was much shallower, the water would be warmer, and in this cove there was a pretty thick weed bed along the sandy bottom.

Along the way to our second fishing hole, Josh and I decided to troll for some northern pike. Pike are ferocious predators and will strike violently at any flashy lure. Josh decided to try a Canadian Wobbler while I tried a Silver Spoon. I carefully balanced my fishing rod as I steered the boat. We were going much slower than we normally would. The twins played with Brutus and marvelled at some of the wildlife that we saw along the shore.

We hadn't been trolling for more than a few minutes when Josh's fishing rod lurched suddenly.

"I think I've got one!" He announced excitedly.

I stopped the motor and began to quickly reel in my line.

Josh was tugging on his fishing rod to counter the drag as the big fish pulled out line by the yard. He was reeling furiously. "This is big," Josh exclaimed as he worked the fish.

The twins were getting excited as they watched intently for any sign of Josh's fish.

"Keep playing him bud," I said. "Remember you only has 12 pound test line on that reel." We were using fairly light line since we were primarily going after bass. If Josh didn't let the fish take line when it needed to, the line might break.

Josh fought the fish for about ten minutes and when it was about thirty yards from the boat, it broke the surface. The unmistakable sleek green body of a northern pike launched into the air and then crashed back into the water with a splash.

"That's a big fish," a wide-eyed Matthew exclaimed.

"How much do you think he weighs?" Richard asked.

"From the looks of it, I'd say ten to twelve pounds," I replied.

"He's a fighter," a tired sounding Josh added.

As Josh continued to fight the fish, I readied the landing net.

"You guys keep Brutus back while I net the fish," I said to Richard and Matthew.

I leaned down as Josh brought the now exhausted fish along side the boat and I scooped it neatly into the landing net. I hefted the fish into the boat and it began to flop around like mad. That started Brutus barking like mad.

"Holy cow! Look at the size of it!" Josh said excitedly.

I put my foot on the fish just behind its head and reached into it's large toothy mouth with a pair of pliers to remove the hook. With the hook removed, I grabbed the large fish by the gills, attached the fish scale to its mouth, and lifted it up. I handed the scale with the attached fish to Josh.

"How much does it weigh?" I asked.

Josh looked at the scale. "Wow! It says twelve pounds, nine ounces. I've never caught a fish this big before!"

The big pike was just about 36 inches long making it almost as tall as the twins if it were to stand on its tail.

"That's huge!" Richard enthused.

"I think that means that Josh has the biggest fish so far," I said with a chuckle.

I took a really nice picture of a smiling Josh proudly holding up his fish. We also took a funny photograph of the twins standing together holding up the huge pike. Finally, we had it on our stringer and we were on our way to the largemouth fishing area. It wasn't even lunchtime and we'd already had a very successful day of fishing.

We spent the next couple of hours fishing for large mouth and we had just about as much luck with them as we had with the smallies. Richard even caught a good-sized three-pound pike that had evidently been cruising the weed bed looking for smaller bass or perch to eat. Matthew and I also managed to hook into a couple of nice walleye. Walleye are amongst the very best eating fish and we planned on cooking them up for dinner that night.

Around noon, we pulled ashore on a small island not far from shore. It gave us a chance to stretch our legs and gave Brutus a chance to do his business. We lit a small fire and cleaned and cooked some of the bass that we'd caught that morning. There are few things in the world that tastes as good as a shore lunch of freshly caught fish and we all ate until we were full. We even gave Brutus some of the fish to try and he wolfed it right down.

After we cleaned up from our lunch, we headed back out onto the lake and spent the rest of the afternoon fishing in a variety of different places. By the time we returned to the docks at around supper time, we had quite a load of fish. Josh and I cleaned and filleted them while the twins played with Brutus. Josh toyed with the idea of having his pike stuffed and mounted, but decided to fillet it out instead. The campground that we were staying at had a large freezer for campers to store their catch in, so aside from the walleye fillets that we intended to have for dinner, we froze the bulk of our catch.

After our delectable dinner and clean-up; roasted marshmallows for dessert; that night went pretty much the same as the night before. We were in bed and off to sleep fairly early after a nice campfire.

The next morning we were once again out on the lake adding to our stockpile of fish. The twins loved every moment of it and so did Josh and me. The twins never failed to bring a smile to our faces. Saturday was going to be our last fishing day. We planned on sleeping in on Sunday morning and heading home after lunch time. We wanted to be sure that we had one day to relax and unwind before we had to be back at school.

Saturday fishing went just as well as the previous day. There were more people out on the lake, but it wasn't overly crowded. The real excitement came just after lunch. We were trolling back to our favourite small-mouth fishing hole when it happened.

I'd brought along a couple of extra rods which we'd re-lined with heavier line for pike fishing. Josh and I started using those rods when we were trolling after he caught the monster pike. Josh was driving the boat at time and suddenly I felt a singly solid tug on my line. Other than that first tug, it felt like dead weight.

"Hey Josh, stop the boat. I think I've snagged a log or something."

I was using what had been my father's "lucky lure" and I didn't want to risk losing it. As Josh shut down the motor, I began to reel in my line. Whatever was on the other end of the line was heavy, but it was allowing me to reel it in – at least at first it was.

I had maybe reeled in twenty yards of line when suddenly the drag on my reel started screaming as dozens of yards of line was suddenly pulled out.

"Hey Dad, logs don't move like that!" Josh laughed.

"What is it? Jaws?" A wide eyed Matthew asked.

"I don't know, but it's big, heavy, and very strong," I replied.

I tugged back on the rod and began reeling, but the fish just kept pulling more and more line.

"Josh, start the motor and put it in reverse. We have to follow this fish before I run out of line. Just take it real easy."

"Ok," Josh replied and did as I had asked.

As soon as the boat began following the direction of the fish, I was able to begin reeling it back it. Every once in a while it would go on another tear and run out on me, but I managed to keep ahead. I fought the fish for more than twenty minutes when my phone began to ring.

"Can someone grab that for me please?" I asked.

Richard unhooked my cell phone from my belt and answered it.

"Hello?" He said. "Hi daddy!"

"We're having lots of fun. We caught lots of fish. Josh caught a real big one." Richard went on.

"He's here, but he can't come to the phone. He's catching jaws," Richard told his dad. "Yes he's here too," Richard said a minute later. "Here you go," he continued and handed the phone to Josh.

"Hi James," Josh said with a grin. "I don't think it's exactly jaws, but Dad sure has a heck of a big fish on the line."

After listening for a moment Josh continued, "We'll be home tomorrow afternoon. I'll let him know."

After giving Matthew a chance to talk to his dad, Josh hung up and replaced the phone on my belt. "He just wanted to confirm what time we'll be home tomorrow and he said good luck with the fish."

I continued an exhausting fight with the fish for another ten minutes before we got our first look at it. About thirty yards from the boat, the head of the monster broke water. It had a gaping mouth with visible teeth and a brown/green colouring to it. It was obviously a very large muskie.

"I think that's a muskie," I said.

"It's huge whatever it is," Josh replied. "I bet that's more than thirty pounds."

"Thirty pounds!!??" Matthew exclaimed. "That's a lot."

"We might have trouble getting that one in the net," I replied. "Josh, you might have to bonk him in the head with something when I get him close to the boat."

"What should I use?" he asked.

"Grab a paddle," I said and pointed to one of the paddles that were placed in the boat for emergency use. "Get him in the net as best you can and then bonk him hard on the head to stun him."

"Ok, I'll try," Josh replied.

A couple of minutes later, Josh got the massive fish in the net with about 1/3rd of the length sticking out. He handed me the net and I hefted the big fish clear of the water while Josh smacked it on the head with the paddle. The fish immediately stopped struggling and with Josh's help, I managed to lift it into the boat.

When we got our first look at it out of the water, we saw that it was much bigger than we'd imagined. It was indeed a muskie and after we removed the hook from it's mouth and measured it, it turned out to be 46 inches long and it weighed in at a remarkable 58 pounds. I had to strain to lift it for a picture.

"That IS jaws," Richard exclaimed. "Look at his big teeth."

"They're huge!" Matthew agreed. "Fish like that can't get us when we swim in the lake, can they?"

"No, muskies don't bother with people!" I said, "One this size would eat ducks and other unsuspecting birds from time to time though."

Brutus, who had enjoyed examining the other fish that we'd caught didn't quite know what to make of the monster that I'd just reeled in. The fish was bigger than he was and he preferred to keep his distance.

"You've got to get this one stuffed," Josh said.

"For sure," I replied. "I've never caught anything this big before."

We headed in to shore and we immediately took the big muskie to the camp office. The older gentleman who ran the camp was a taxidermist and I wanted to get him to stuff and mount the fish for me. The appearance of such a massive fish caused quite the stir. People who were shopping in the little general store along with those who were around the docks all crowded around to look at the massive fish and hear how I caught it.

That evening we had a feast. Given that it was our last night on the road, we cooked up all the remaining fresh food except for the fish and the stuff that we intended to have for breakfast and lunch the next day. All of us were completely stuffed by the time we hit our sleeping bags and turned in.

It was a very warm night and we all ended up sleeping on top of our sleeping bags rather than inside them. As usual, Brutus curled up between the twins. We got a really adorable photo of the two little guys each with an arm around Brutus. Josh and I curled up together on our sleeping bags and fell asleep quite quickly.

The next morning we headed for the washroom and thoroughly washed ourselves. I explained that we didn't want to arrive home all fishy smelling – their folks would never forgive me. We had a hearty breakfast and then began to take down the camp. We took our time packing our gear and loading it into the Jeep. We left the Coleman stove and the camp pots and pans out in order to heat up some lunch IMPs before we left for home. I checked at the camp office and prepaid the taxidermist and shipping costs for the muskie I'd caught.

It had been a really good weekend which capped off a summer long adventure that had exceeded even my wildest expectations. The twins were happy and looking forward to seeing their parents, and Josh and I were also looking forward to being home again for the first time in two months.

By around one PM, we hit the road again and drove the final two hours of our trip – Toronto at last. Our neighbourhood was just as we had left it and it was a treat to see the old usual sights once again. I turned onto our street and as we approached the house, we noticed all the cars parked on the street near the house. It took us a minute to recognize that the vehicles mostly belonged to friends and family members and there was even a CityTV News truck there awaiting our arrival.

Hung across the front of the garage was a banner: "Welcome Home Heroes!"

The twins immediate ran to their parents as soon as I parked the Jeep with Brutus right on their heels.

"Salut m'man! Salut p'pa! Vous devriez avoir vu tous les poissons que nous avons pêchés!" Matthew said hugging James.

[Hi Mommy! Hi Daddy! You should have seen all the fish we caught!"]

"What did you say?" James exclaimed laughing.

"It's French Daddy," Richard giggled as he hugged Anne, "We learned it while we were driving through Quebec!"

James looked at me and winked. "You're something else Tom!"

I laughed. "It was all Josh's doing. He bought the CD. I guess it worked!"

Josh ran to his mom and I was soon engulfed by my relatives as well. Just about everyone we knew was there to welcome us home. The house was full of people including a large number of Josh's friends. Susan and my mother had prepared a huge spread of finger foods and they had even baked a huge welcome home cake.

Once the initial shock and excitement calmed down a bit, Andy took me by the arm. "Tom, I have someone for you to meet." He led me to a man standing in the corner of the living room with a can of coke in his hand. For a second, I thought I was about to be introduced to none other than the actor Morgan Freeman.

"Professor Markinson, this is my brother Tom," Andy said by way of introduction. "Tom, this is Professor Markinson. He's one of my law professors and he's your lawyer on the wrongful death case."

"It's an honour to meet you Tom," Professor Markinson said and extended his hand.

"It's an honour to meet you sir," I replied. "Thank you so much for your assistance."

"Never mind the sir stuff, call me David. I'm glad to help. This case is a travesty and I'm glad to do my part."

After talking to David about the validity of the case for a while, I made my way to Susan.

"Looks like we made it back in one piece," I chuckled. "Do you think Brutus will fit in?"

"Tom, he's a beautiful pup and he's sure attached to the boys. Of course he'll fit in." Although Brutus was confused with all the people around, he stayed in good humour sticking close to the twins, Josh, or me.

I called him over to me. "Hey Brutus, com'ere fella." Right away he was over to me looking up. I bent down to his level and pointed to Susan. I said, "Susan."

Susan bent down beside me and ruffled the fur behind his ear. "Hi Brutus," she said smiling. "I think you're going to like your new home here." Right away Brutus wagged his tail and gave Susan a lick on the face before trotting off into the crowd to find Josh.

"Once things settle down this evening and he knows you're the lady of the house," I said, "I think you'll find that he's quite protective of the people around him. He's very quick to recognize the order of the pack."

"Yes, I guess I will feel safer here with him around. Tom, I think Josh grew a couple of inches over the summer." She laughed, "Come to think of it, I think he grew a lot more than just in height. He seems more mature in many ways than he was at the beginning of the summer."

"Believe me Susan, with all the experiences we've had with the people of this country, he has. We've got a whole lot of video and pictures to show you. This summer was the adventure of a lifetime and quite an education for both of us."

"I'll bet it was. I'm glad you boys are home. I really missed both of you."

Just then the doorbell rang and a second later James called, "Tom! Josh! There's someone at the door for you."

Josh and I glanced at each other and then headed to the doorway. As soon as we saw who it was, we both broke into a run. Standing on the front porch were Bryan and Mark. In a flash, we were in a big four-way hug.

"I... I don't believe it!" I said laughing. "How.... what are you guys doing here?"

"We heard about this little shindig and we just needed to be here. We have to go home tomorrow, but we weren't going to miss this for the world," Bryan replied.

"It's great to see you guys again," Mark said.

"Ditto," Josh replied.

"I really didn't know how much I missed you until I saw you standing here." I said looking at Bryan.

Bryan grinned and winked. "Ditto Tom. Ditto," he replied with his hand on my shoulder.

Josh and I led Bryan and Mark into the house to join the festivities. Once again our entire extended family was together. 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder'? You betcha - we were one family again!

The afternoon and evening would pass, but throughout it all, I wouldn't be able to quit smiling. It felt so good to be home.


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