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Chapter 76 – A Special Visitor for T.J.

 

While we’d half hoped Sunday would be a somewhat calmer day, we were quickly disabused of that notion by the ringing of the phone at eight in the morning.  Thanks to my eyes still being closed, as I reached for the phone to silence the early morning annoyance, I knocked it off the nightstand.  That stopped the incessant ringing, but I could still hear someone talking, so I finally opened my eyes and grabbed the receiver from the floor.

 

“What?” I moaned.

 

“Why the hell didn’t you tell us about Logan’s asshole of an uncle?” my dad screamed into my ear.

 

“Dad, take a freakin’ pill and chill out, would ya?” I retorted.  “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

 

“Of course, I do, but I’m guessing you don’t,” the old man chuckled.

 

“Exact time, no,” I grumbled, “but I do know it’s too early to deal with anything just yet.  Why don’t you call me back in an hour or so?  I promise I’ll be awake by then.”

 

“It eight o’clock, son, time to get your ass outta bed.  Hell, you shoulda been up for at least an hour by now,” Dad laughed.  “Now, back to my original question, why didn’t you call and tell us about your exciting day?”

 

“ ’Cause there was nothin’ to tell.  It happened, it’s over.  You’d have been proud of Logan, though.”

 

“We’re proud of all our grandsons, son.”

 

“I know, Dad.  Can I go back to sleep now?”

 

“Sure, you go right ahead.  I’ll call back later.”

 

“Thanks.”  I picked the phone back up, put it back on the nightstand and placed the receiver in its cradle.  I’d no sooner closed my eyes when I heard the bedroom door open and the boys stepped in.  “What do you munchkins want?” I grumbled.

 

“Food, Dad,” T.J. replied.

 

“Yeah, you need to get up and fix us breakfast,” Andy added.

 

“C’mon, old man, up and at ‘em,” Logan chipped in.

 

“All right, already, get on outta here, we’ll be there shortly.”  Seven giggling boys departed and I turned to wake Tom.  I found him wide awake with a smile on his face.  “What’re you so happy about?” I asked.

 

“Just happy to be alive, babe.  And to be wakin’ up every day in the same bed as you is just icing on the cake.”

 

“I love you, too, hon.  You ready to face the day?”

 

“Not really, but I don’t think we have much choice, do we?”

 

“Not with seven eating machines needing refueled, we don’t.”

 

We slowly climbed out of bed and made our way to the bathroom.  After taking care of our needs there, we aimed ourselves for the kitchen.  Checking the fridge for food options, we settled on cereal and pop tarts since there wasn’t much else to be found.  Tom and I agreed that a trip to the store was in order for later in the day.  Before we got to that trip, though, we had several phone calls to deal with. 

 

Once the boys had finished their breakfast and loaded their bowls into the dishwasher, Joey asked, “Hey, Dads, can we go outside to ride our bikes and play?”

 

“Sure thing, guys, go ahead,” I answered.  “We’re going to deal with a few things inside, then we’ll come out and join you.  Don’t go past the turn in the drive to the bus stop, though.”

 

“Why not,” Alex asked.

 

“There’s security guys roaming around, remember?” Tom replied.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Logan muttered.  “How long they gonna be ‘round?”

 

“Until Troy goes back home,” I answered.

 

“Guess that makes sense,” Logan agreed.

 

“There are also three guys at your farm, Logan,” Tom commented.

 

“Thanks, Pops.  I hadn’t thought ‘bout that, but with that loser in town, it’s pro’lly a good idea.”

 

“Go on and get out of here, guys.  And have some fun,” I said.  All seven promptly returned to their rooms to get dressed, then headed on out through the garage.  Tom and I settled into the living room to make our calls.  Tom called Derek first to see if he’d heard from Sebastian.

 

“Mornin’, Derek.  What’s the good word today?”

 

“Glad you called, Tom.  Gotta a couple things to pass on to you guys.  First, Sebastian performed the autopsy on Charlie Campbell yesterday afternoon.  And he was surprised at what he found.  He’s determined that Charlie most likely died due to a massive heart attack, then fell into the tractor’s PTO shaft.  He estimates the time of death to be about five-thirty to six.”

 

“He was awfully young to have had a heart attack, Derek,” I said.  “Is Sebastian sure of that?”

 

“He feels ninety-five percent certain of that cause.  Sebastian discovered some very severe arterial blockages in Charlie’s heart, one of them being totally closed off.  He’s pretty confident that Charlie was gone before his overalls got snagged and he was tossed around like a rag doll.  The other reason he believes that is the minimal amount of blood at the scene.  With the injuries he sustained, if Charlie’s heart was still beating, there should have been considerably more spatter or spray in the corner where he landed.  I know it sounds rather gruesome, but considering the options, it’s probably best it happened that way.  For Charlie, anyway.”

 

“Thanks for the info, Derek.  We’ll pass it on to Logan at some point.  What else did you have for us?” Tom asked.

 

“Well, I told you about the uncle rollin’ by the place yesterday afternoon.  Turns out it’s a good thing you had security there last night.  They caught what’s his name sneakin’ up towards the house after comin’ through the woods behind the farm.  He and his sons had made it all the way to the barn before they were spotted.  One of the cows made some noise that tipped the security guards something wasn’t quite right.”

 

“Geez, even animals don’t like those people,” I laughed.

 

“Nope.  Thanks to them, your security guys ran the three of them off.  I’d recommend you keep them on hand for a while.”

 

“We plan to, Derek,” Tom replied.  “Thanks for the update.”

 

“How’s Logan doing?” Derek inquired.

 

“ ‘Bout like you’d expect, I think,” I answered.  “He’s sad and mad at the same time.”

 

“Well you guys take good care of him.”

 

“You can be sure we will.  Thanks, Derek.”

 

I had to grab the phone book from the kitchen before we could make our next call.  After looking up the number I needed, I punched the speaker button and dialed the number.

 

“Delaney-McCullough funeral home.  How may I help you in your time of need?” a lady’s voice answered.

 

“Morning.  My name is Max Sanders.  The father of a friend of our sons died Friday night.  According to the young man, you handled his mother’s funeral about a year ago and we figured you should probably handle the arrangements for his father, too.”

 

“Could you tell me the deceased’s name, please?”

 

“Charlie Campbell.”

 

“Ah, yes.  I remember working with him when his wife passed.  I’m so sorry for his son’s loss.”

 

“Well, we don’t have a clue what needs to be done or when, so any help or directions you can provide us would be much appreciated.”

 

“That’s not a problem, sir.  We’re quite used to that.  People rarely plan ahead or think about such things until it’s too late.  If I remember correctly, Mr. Campbell made arrangements for his own services and interment when we handled Mrs. Campbell’s service.  Please give me a moment to check my records to ensure that’s the case.”  After about fifteen seconds, she returned to the call.  “Yes, sir, I have Mr. Campbell’s file now and he did, indeed, plan ahead for his own funeral.”

 

“Well, that’s a load off our minds,” I responded with a sigh.  “What do we need to do now?”

 

“Nothing, really.  We will, of course, have to pick up Mr. Campbell’s body from the coroner’s office and will take care of that task tomorrow morning.  Once we have his remains, we will begin preparations for his services.  We will need whatever clothing the son would like to use for his father.  They can be dropped off here at the funeral home any time tomorrow or Tuesday.”

 

“I think we can do that.  I can take Logan to his home tomorrow afternoon so he can pick out something from his dad’s closet.  Are there any specifics as to the type of clothing we should get?”

 

“Not really, sir.  I’ll leave that up to his son.”

 

“Then we should be able to bring that to you some time tomorrow afternoon.”

 

“That will be just fine.  Any other details we may need to discuss can be handled then.  We will do our best make this difficult time as easy as possible for all involved.”

 

“Thank you.  We’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

 

After hanging up the phone, I looked to Tom and asked, “Who’s next on the hit list?”

 

“The school, maybe.  I’m sure Logan won’t feel like going tomorrow.”

 

“Good idea, but we can call them in the morning.  I guess I’ll call Dad back and get that out of the way.”  I made the call and spent the next twenty minutes letting Mom and Dad know what we knew so far.  Mom said she’d call Lee a little later to bring them up to date.  With their assurances they’d keep all of us in their thoughts, we ended the call.  “Okay, anybody else?”

 

“The only other person I can think of that needs to be told is that Billings guy at the bank.  Since he’s the will’s executor and trustee for Logan, he’ll need to know what’s going on.  Especially with Troy up here.”

 

“You’re right.  I could wait until the morning to call him, though.  Right after calling the school.”

 

“You think Troy’s gonna wait that long to start stirring up trouble?”

 

“He sure hasn’t so far.  Give me the phone book, I’ll see if he’s listed.”  Tom handed it to me and after a quick search, located his number and placed the call.

 

 

The seven of us had been outside for a while, and Alex and I had already ridden our bikes while the others watched.  We decided to take a break and let a couple of the others take a turn.  Mike hopped on mine and took off down the drive towards the storage building.  Andy said he’d like to try but he’d never had a bike or learned to ride one.  T.J. volunteered to help him out and soon the two were working together in the grass so when Andy would fall, it wouldn’t hurt too much.  That left me, Alex, Logan and Damon to sit and watch them have fun.

 

Damon finally broke the silence when he asked, “Hey, dudes, can we talk ‘bout last night?”

 

“What about it?” Alex asked.

 

“Well, I have a friend at home, and we’ve done a few things with each other, but mostly just jerkin’ each other, ya know?  We never sucked each other before, even though I’ve thought about it.  I didn’t think he’d go for it, so I just let it slide.”

 

“Yeah, how’d you like that?” Joey asked with a smirk.

 

“Oh, my God, I never dreamed somethin’ could feel that good.  And when you started lickin’ my hole, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, Joey.”

 

“Speakin’ of that,” Alex began, “why’d you join us last night?  You haven’t done that since you and Josh said you’d only be with each other.”

 

“You want the truth?”

 

“You know I do,” Alex answered testily.

 

“Well, and don’t take this the wrong way, Damon, but I ain’t never seen a black kid’s dick before and I really wanted to see if you were any different from us.”

 

The four of us cracked up in laughter and Damon asked, “And?”

 

“You taste just like we do,” Joey answered amid more laughter.

 

“You taste pretty good, too, Joey,” Damon retorted while licking his lips.  “It still sucks that all three of you guys have bigger dicks than me, but I’ll get over it.”

 

“I done told you in the shower that you’ll get bigger, Damon, so quit obsessin’ over it,” Logan retorted.

 

“Yeah, I know, I just want somethin’ to start happenin’ down there.”

 

“Oh, there was plenty happenin’ there last night, dude,” Alex replied with a giggle.

 

“Don’t I know it?  With Logan lickin’ and nippin’ my nipples, Alex suckin’ my dick and balls, and Joey lickin’ my hole, I think I came four or five times.  And then, when Joey started to fuck my ass, I lost track.  God, I can’t wait until I can actually shoot.”

 

“Yeah, I really liked it when your dick was dancin’ in my mouth you little horndog,” Alex laughed as he punched Damon on the shoulder.  “You keep hangin’ with us, Damon, and it’ll happen,” Alex offered.

 

“Not that I’ve got enough to hang, but what makes you think it would be, knowin’ the fun I’m gonna have when I’m here?  I’ll be hard when Dad and I leave home, just thinkin’ ‘bout what’s gonna happen later.”

 

“We will be, too, dude,” Logan whispered.

 

 

“Hello?”

 

“Is this the John Billings who works at the bank in New Berlin?” I asked.

 

“Yes,” he answered warily.  “May I ask to whom I am speaking.”

 

“Mr. Billings, my name is Max Sanders.  I hate to be the one to give you bad news, but I think you should know that Charlie Campbell died Friday night.”

 

“Oh, dear, that’s such a shame.  But why are you calling me?  What’s your connection to Charlie?”

 

“Well, his son, Logan, has been living with us for several weeks as he and his dad tried to resolve some issues they were having.  And we took Logan out to the house yesterday to retrieve some items he wanted.  One of the things we picked up was a lockbox that contained Charlie’s will.”

 

“Have you read the will?  And does Logan know what’s in it?”

 

“The answer to both questions is yes.  That’s why I’m calling you.  I wanted to make sure you know you were named as both the executor of the will and Logan’s trustee.”

 

“Yes, I’m well aware of both stipulations since I discussed the matter at some length with Charlie.  He wanted to make sure I had no problems fulfilling either role before he had the will drawn up.”

 

“Do you know the specifics of Charlie’s wishes?”

 

“No, only generalities.  Charlie was still making some decisions when we talked about my involvement.”

 

“I know you’ll be reading it soon enough yourself but let me tell you what it says.”

 

“There’s no real need for that.  I’ll read the will in the morning and start setting it up to be probated.”

 

“No, you need to know what it says before tomorrow morning because we feel there’s going to be problems.  Charlie’s wishes were that the farm, home, equipment and livestock be held in trust for Logan until he turns twenty-one.  There is also a paragraph mentioning another son that was given up for adoption long ago, with Charlie’s hope he could be located and Logan would be willing to share his inheritance with him.”

 

“I haven’t heard anything that remotely sounds like a problem yet.”

 

“Another paragraph specifically states that Charlies brother Troy, Logan’s uncle, should receive nothing from the estate.  And he’s going to be the problem.”

 

“I see.  How unfortunate.  I will, of course, read the will first thing in the morning and place blocks on all the accounts held at the bank so that only Logan and myself have access to them.  That should prevent the brother from doing anything.”

 

“Thank you, Mr. Billings.  We just wanted you to be aware of any potential problems and see that you take the necessary steps to protect Logan’s interests.”

 

“I give you my word that I will do so, and I thank you for bringing this to my attention.  At some point, would it be possible for you bring Logan into the bank so that we may discuss this?”

 

“We can come by some time tomorrow afternoon, if that’s okay with you.”

 

“That would be fine.  And may I ask if Logan has made any funeral arrangements yet?”

 

“I talked to the funeral home just a few minutes ago and they’re prepared to follow the instructions Charlie left with them when he made the arrangements for his wife.  The only thing we don’t really have at the moment is a date, though I’m sure it will happen later this week.”

 

“I would expect so.  Please let me know when you have that settled as I would like to attend the service.  Charlie was a friend of mine and a good customer of the bank.”

 

“We’ll be sure to let you know.  Thanks for your time this morning.”

 

“No, thank you for taking care of Logan.  Please let him know how sorry I am for his loss and my family and I will be keeping him in our thoughts.  I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

 

We ended the call and I said, “Okay, that’s enough of that crap.  Let’s get out of the house for a little bit.”  With agreement from the big guy, we aimed for the bedroom to pull on some clothes and then headed outside to join the boys for some fun in the sun.  When we finally stepped out of the garage, Mike was riding a bike back from the turn to the bus shelter and it appeared as though T.J. was trying to help Andy learn how to balance on the other bike.  The other four were rolling around on the grass and laughing their butts off.

 

“What’s so funny, guys?” Tom asked as we drew closer to the mirthful group.

 

“Um, just a stupid joke, Pops,” Alex quickly answered as they all clammed up.

 

“Would this have anything to do with the giggles we heard from your room last night?” I asked.

 

“Maybe,” Logan drawled.  “Ya heard that, did ya?”

 

“We might not have x-ray vision to see through the walls and doors, Logan, but we aren’t deaf.”  Damon was hiding his face and thanks to his lighter skin tone, you could see he was blushing heavily.  “It’s okay, Damon, we know what our boys get up to …”

 

“Get up to,” Joey snickered.

 

“… and it’s nothin’ to be ashamed about.  As long as you agreed to whatever was going on.”

 

He lifted his head and shock filled his face.  “Wait, you know ‘bout that stuff and you’re cool with it?”

 

“Why wouldn’t we be?” Tom asked.  “A lot of other kids do the same things.”

 

“Yeah, but Mom says it’s wrong and even though I really like it, I feel bad ‘bout doin’ it.”

 

“Don’t, Damon.  What you guys do is perfectly natural and normal.  It’s all a part of growing up.  Tom and I both did it, and so did your dads.”

 

“You’re shittin’ me?”

 

“Nope, ask ‘em about it some time,” Tom chuckled.

 

“You can bet I will,” he said with an evil grin.

 

“It’s nice of you guys to let your brothers ride your bikes,” Tom commented.

 

“Well, it ain’t their fault they don’t have their own,” Joey retorted.

 

“Yeah, we hope you two can fix that problem on their birthdays,” Alex added with a giggle.

 

“Yeah, this ridin’ two at a time really stinks, Dads,” Logan continued.  “Next time we go out to the farm, we need to bring my bike back with us.  Least we’ll have three for us kids, then.”

 

“We’ll do that tomorrow, Logan,” I replied.

 

“Why we goin’ back out there already?”

 

“We need to pick up some clothes for your dad and drop them off at the funeral home.  Then we need to stop by the bank and talk to Mr. Billings.”

 

“Oh, okay, I guess,” he mumbled sadly.

 

“A couple more steps down that long road, buddy.”

 

“Yeah, I know.  Hope the road ends before we drive off the freakin’ cliff.”

 

“It will, I promise.”

 

Tom commented, “You know, I still haven’t seen any of the security people that are supposed to be around the house.  Have you?”

 

“Now that you mention it, no.  They’re either asleep at the wheel or really, really good at their jobs.”

 

“It had better be the second option,” Tom vented.

 

“Hey, Dads!” T.J. yelled as he and Andy came closer.  “Can we go for a walk and see that old cemetery?”  I shot him a look to let him know that was the last thing we should do today, and he slapped himself in the forehead when he realized his error.  “Oh, Logan, I’m so sorry.  I wasn’t thinkin’.”

 

“Don’t worry ‘bout it, dude.  ‘Sides, I’d kinda like to see it, too.”

 

“If you’re sure you’re up to it, Logan.”

 

“Yeah, I’m sure.  Might as well get used to it.”  With that, the bikes were parked back in the garage and we headed deeper into the property and the path that would take us there.  As we reached the line of trees that hides the storage building from the house, a man silently appeared in front of us, blocking our way.  His sudden materialization from out of nowhere startled all of us and we jumped backward several feet.

 

“Who the hell are you!?” I demanded.

 

“One of the roaming security detail.  Who are you?”

 

“I’m Max Sanders and this is my family.  Just where the hell’d you come from?”

 

“I’ve been in the trees most of the morning.  Been keepin’ an eye on the kids while they played, too.”  The stranger finally stepped closer and said, “My name’s Bruno.  Nice to meet you, Mr. Sanders.  Sorry if I scared you all just now.”

 

“That’s all right, I guess,” I muttered as my heart slowly returned to its normal rhythm.  “I was wonderin’ why we hadn’t seen anyone today.  Now I know.”

 

“Well, there’s another guy in the trees on the west side of the house, too.  And with the cleared space around the house, nobody was gonna get close without one of us seein’ them.  We’ve got you covered, sir.”

 

“Glad to hear it.”

 

“Where, y’all headed?” Bruno asked.

 

“For a walk through the trees to the northeast corner of the property.”

 

“Yeah?  Hang on a minute while I call Tank to come with us.”  Bruno held his wrist to mouth and said, “Yo, T, need you on the east side of the house, pronto.  We’re goin’ for a little walk.”  He dropped his hand and said to us, “Be just a moment.”

 

“You really don’t need to go with us.”

 

“Yes, we do.  From what we heard out of the team at the farm, the man you’re worried about snuck through the woods and almost made it to the house out there last night.  We’re not taking any chances, Mr. Sanders.”

 

“Oh, all right,” I acquiesced. 

 

“You mean that bastard tried to pull some shit last night!?” Logan screamed. 

 

“He tried, young man,” Bruno answered, “but trust me, he failed.”  As we waited and watched, the man called Tank came charging around the back corner of the house and joined us on the driveway cutting through the trees.  When he finally stopped running, he wasn’t even breathing hard.

 

“What’s up, Bruno,” he asked.

 

“They’re goin’ for a walk through the woods to a corner of the property.  I’ll take point, you bring up the rear.  Eyes sharp, you hear me?”

 

“Eagle sharp, as always.  Lead the way.”

 

“Which way Mr. Sanders?” Bruno asked.

 

“That path is about seventy-five feet straight east,” I answered while pointing the direction to follow.

 

He turned to survey the tree line past the storage building and spotted the narrow gap created by the trail.  “Got it.  Stay close, men.”

 

With that, Bruno set a smooth pace as he led the way.  The boys seemed to be excited at the attention and the feeling of being on a military exercise, though they were quieter than what I expected they would be.  Since this was the only trail in this part of the property, I didn’t have to call out turns to Bruno as he followed the well-maintained path through the woods.  In just a few minutes, we turned the corner in the trail that led directly to the gate barring entrance to the graveyard.

 

“Wow, this is cool, Dad,” T.J. yelled as he broke ranks and sprinted to the gate, followed by the others.

 

Bruno turned to me and said, “T and I will take up positions outside.  Just let us know when you’re ready to move out.”

 

With a curt nod from me, the two guards placed themselves outside the fence on the east and west sides of the small plot while I approached the gate and pulled the key from my pocket.  With the gate unlocked, the boys quickly filtered inside and began to wander the grounds.  While Tom followed them around, I stayed close to the gate to remain out of their way.

 

A few minutes later, T.J. called out, “Hey, Dad, you know anything about these people?”

 

“No, why?”

 

“I got a kid here named Samuel who died when he was only fourteen.  I just wondered if you knew why he was so young.”

 

“Sorry, I can’t help you.  Judge Corgan may know, though.  What makes you so interested in him?” I asked with curiosity.

 

“Just a feeling he wasn’t too happy with his life.”  A few seconds later, T.J. blanched like he’d just seen a ghost as he jumped straight up, spun in mid-air and had his feet moving before he hit the ground.  When he did land, he ran as fast as he could towards the gate and he didn’t stop until he was fifteen feet outside the fence.  His reaction to whatever spooked him reminded me of Shaggy in the old Scooby Doo cartoons I used to watch when I was his age.

 

“What was that all about?” I asked as I walked over to him.

 

“I don’t know, somethin’ just gave me the willies and I wasn’t hangin’ ‘round to find out what.”

 

“It can be a little spooky here, for sure, but I’ve never felt anything like that before.”

 

“Well, you pro’lly wouldn’t ‘cause you don’t pick up shit like I do.  But trust me, somethin’s there.”

 

“I believe you, kiddo.  I’m learning very quickly to trust your instincts.”

 

“Then let’s get back to the house.  I don’t wanna be here no more,” T.J. whimpered in fear.  I pulled him into a hug and could feel he was trembling like a leaf.

 

“Sh-h-h, it’s okay, T.J.  Nothing here can hurt you.”

 

“I don’t know, Dad.  That kid is one pissed off dude.”

 

“Who, Logan?”

 

“Not Logan, ya goof, Sammy.  I don’t know what happened to him, but he’s really angry.  We got no business messin’ ‘round out here.”

 

“The others will be ready to head back in just another minute or two.  We’ll wait for them,” I said as calmly as I could, despite thinking we should heed T.J.’s feelings.

 

“That’s fine, but I ain’t goin’ back in there,” T.J. replied with conviction.

 

“No problem,” I said as I sat on the ground and leaned against a tree.  “C’mere, buddy.”  T.J. crawled in my lap and let me hold him until everyone was ready for the walk back to the house.  We sat together for several minutes before Tom and the others finally left the cemetery.

 

“Everything okay?” Tom asked.

 

“Not sure about that.  Would you relock the gate before we leave?” I said.

 

“Sure thing, be right back.”

 

As Tom turned to take care of that task and let Bruno know we were ready to go, Alex knelt next to T.J. who was still curled in my lap and said, “We felt it, too, dude.  Not like you did, but you’re right, there’s somethin’, or somebody, out here.”

 

“Thanks, Alex,” T.J. muttered.  “Not that I feel any better ‘bout it.”

 

Joey joined the conversation with, “We’re safe out here, bro.  Nothin’ to worry ‘bout, okay?”

 

“I hope so,” T.J. muttered.  Tom finally returned with Bruno and Tank in trail for the walk back through the woods.  Tank led the way this time with Bruno following along behind the parade.  I settled in line behind T.J. and watched as he scanned the woods around us, jumping nervously at every sound.  By the time we finally left the woods behind us, the poor kid was a wreck.

 

I moved next to him, took his hand in mine and asked, “Do you want to talk about it when we get to the house?”

 

“No! … Yeah. … I don’t know, maybe.”

 

I turned to Tom and waved my hand for him to come closer.  When he was beside me, I whispered, “I’m going to talk to T.J. and try to figure out what’s got him so spooked.  Can you entertain the others for a bit?”

 

“I’ll do my best, babe,” he answered quietly.

 

“Thanks.”  As we passed the storage building, Bruno silently slipped back into the trees and disappeared from view.  When we reached the house, Tank continued around the front to take his place on the other side while the rest of us entered through the garage.  The boys peeled off into their rooms to dispense with their clothes while Tom, T.J. and I continued down the hall and across the house.  When the three of us reached our bedroom, Tom turned into it while T.J. and I aimed for the study.  I closed the door behind us and we sat at the table where I’d met with LeVar, Rich and Stan the other night.

 

“Okay, T.J., what’ going on?” I asked to start our chat.

 

“I’m not real sure, Dad.  All I can really tell you is that Sammy is one pissed off dude.”

 

“Well think about it for a bit.  Tell me what you really felt while we were in the cemetery.”

 

T.J. closed his eyes and after a few moments said, “Well, I know he was too young to die naturally, and he does, too.  And I’m pretty sure he didn’t.”

 

“What makes you say that?  He died long before there were vaccinations or anything like that, so he could have been sick with chicken pox or mumps and had complications from those or any number of illnesses.”

 

“I don’t think so.  It felt like he was trying to talk to me, tell me what happened to him, but it’s like his voice was being choked off.”

 

“Well, that could have been caused by being sick, not being able to breathe.”

 

“Yeah, that’s it,” T.J. exclaimed as he lifted his head and opened his eyes.  “He sounded like I did when I cracked my rib on Joey’s knee, like he couldn’t catch his breath.”

 

“Do you think it’s possible he drowned?”

 

“No, he wasn’t underwater.  I feel like he was in a tree for some reason.”

 

“Well, that’s just bizarre.  I can’t imagine anything to do with a tree that would cause breathing problems.  Unless he fell out of it and got hurt.”

 

“Yeah, I guess that’s possible, but I still don’t think that fits with what I was feeling.  This is gonna sound real crazy to you, but I think he was killed.  By someone he knew.”

 

“I don’t know what to say to that, T.J.  We’re way outside the realm of my life experience.  I suppose we could call Judge Corgan and ask him if he knows anything about how Samuel died.”

 

“No, don’t do that.  I wanna figure this out on my own.  I know I’m gonna hear from Sammy again.  Don’t know when, but it’s gonna happen.”

 

“You’ll let us know when it does, won’t you?”

 

“Dang right, I will.  Like I said, this crap’s givin’ me the willies.  At least Alex and Joey said they felt it, too.  That means I ain’t goin’ crazy.  Maybe ‘tween the three of us, we can get some answers.”

 

“Sounds as good as any other plan, I guess.  We’ll just play it by ear, but you better tell us whatever’s going on, you hear me.”

 

“I will, Dad.  Thanks for not laughin’ at me and my stupid brain.”

 

“I wouldn’t dream of it, son.  And your brain isn’t stupid, not by a long shot.  Now, what say we rejoin the rest of the family and relax a bit?”

 

“Works for me.  I want to read more of that Spiderwick book I’m in the middle of.”  T.J. hopped out of his chair and came over to me, wrapping me in a hug and whispering, “I love you, Dad.”

 

“And I love you more, kiddo.  C’mon, let’s go.”  I wrapped his hand in mine as I left my chair and we headed out of the study.  I aimed for my bedroom and got undressed while T.J. followed along and did the same.  After we both used the bathroom, we finally turned for the living room to settle in for a while.  We found everyone else reading already and when T.J. returned from dropping his clothes in his room, he brought his book back with him. 

 

Tom was continuing to work on Huckleberry Finn with Mike and Andy, and Damon had picked one of the Spiderwick books to dive into, joining Alex and Joey on the loveseat.  Logan was still working on Ender’s Game and seemed to be enjoying it.  I’m sure that immersing yourself in a story of hope for the future was a welcome distraction of his more pressing problems of the day.

 

As I sat next to Tom, he had Mike and Andy continue reading while asking me, “What’s the scoop, babe?”

 

“It seems Samuel is reaching out to T.J.”

 

“What, the kid in the cemetery?” Tom flustered.

 

“Yep.  We’ve definitely reached spooky, hon,” I chuckled.

 

“The hell we have,” Tom chortled.  “We flew way past spooky some time ago.  We’re officially in the Twilight Zone, now.”

 

“Whatever,” I countered.  “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.”

 

“Gee, thanks, I feel so much better now.”

 

“Glad I could help you out,” I chuckled as I grabbed my book and started to read while Tom went back to helping Mike and Andy.  We’d been reading for about an hour or so when the drive sensor let us know someone was coming in.  After what happened yesterday when Bill and Estelle dropped by, we were expecting a phone call to verify whoever was here was welcome.  You can imagine our surprise when we heard car doors slam and the doorbell ring shortly thereafter.  With a mad scramble by all to duck for cover, I cautiously approached the door and chanced a peek through the glass to see who was here.

 

With relief, I called out, “False alarm, everyone!  It’s just Dylan and Malcom.”

 

Damon popped his head up over the back of the couch and asked, “What’re they doin’ here already?  I didn’t think they’d come pick me up ‘til about three or so.”

 

“Let’s find out,” I answered and opened the door.  “C’mon in, guys, make yourselves at home.”

 

“Thanks, Max, don’t mind if we do,” Dylan replied as he started to peel his shirt over his head.

 

Damon had joined me at the door, “Hey, Dad, hey, Poppy, you two are here early.”

 

“Well, we didn’t have anything else goin’ on, so we thought we’d drop by for a bit,” Dylan replied.

 

“How’s it hangin’, son,” Malcom queried.

 

“Da-a-a-a-d, I wish you quit askin’ that stupid question.  You know it’s too small to hang.”

 

“All in good time, young man.”

 

“Yeah, you keep sayin’ that, too.”

 

“I’m sorry, Damon, I’ll make a determined effort to stop, okay?”

 

“Thanks, Dad.”  The rest of the crew had joined us at the door and hugs and greetings were shared all around, as usual.  Once the full round had been completed, we headed for the living room to visit.

 

“So, Dylan, you ready to get to work?” Tom asked.

 

“You bet.  I’m looking forward to the change of pace.”

 

“Good, we’ve already got a couple things lined up for you to deal with.”

 

“Sounds good.  What’ve you got so far?”

 

“Well, first, we want you to check into increasing our security around here,” I answered.

 

“Yeah, I couldn’t help but notice Dirk at the end of the drive today.  He let me through since I’m the one who called him.”

 

“Well, yeah, but I don’t want to have to pay for twenty-four/seven guards.  We’re thinking about something more along the lines of fences and an automatic gate to control access.  We’ve had a few issues recently and we’d just like to get a better handle on it.”

 

“No problem there, what else ya got?”

 

“LeVar suggested we have a reflective film put on the glass in the house and pool shelter.”

 

“What the hell for?” Malcom asked.

 

“He thinks that with our lifestyle, we’d be better off to protect ourselves from some industrious paparazzi getting candid pictures of us in our natural habitat,” Tom replied with a chuckle.

 

“Ah, gotcha,” Dylan agreed.  “Yeah, I’ll do some checking on that, too.  ‘Specially since I’m gonna be here on a daily basis.  Don’t want any pictures of me in all my glory floatin’ around out there.”  We all enjoyed a good laugh at that.  “Got anything else lined up for me?”

 

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Tom answered.  “You and I will be going down to Missouri to investigate a man.  And once that’s done, we have to search for a kid.”

 

“That sounds interesting,” Dylan mused.  “Who we diggin’ into?”  We spent the next fifteen minutes telling Dylan and Malcom about our activities and discoveries of the past few days.  When we finally wound down, he turned to Logan and said, “Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing, Logan.  We’ll take good care of you.”

 

“Thanks, Uncle Dylan, I know you will.”

 

“How are you doing, Logan?” Malcom asked with concern.

 

“I’m okay, I think.  I always knew somethin’ bad could happen at any time.  Farmin’s a dangerous deal and most people don’t know that ‘cause they ain’t ‘round it.  But I been out to the barn with Daddy plenty o’ times and seen how dangerous all the ‘quipment can be.  He always made me stay way back from stuff so I wouldn’t get hurt.  I always worried ‘bout him bein’ out there by hisself, but he wouldn’t hire anyone to help out.  And now I got to bury him,” he added sadly.

 

“Well, if you ever want to talk about it, I’m here for ya, young man.”

 

“Thanks, Uncle Malcom, ‘ppreciate it.”

 

We spent the next couple of hours talking about a little bit of everything, though the boys got bored with the adults after a half hour and disappeared into the theater to watch a movie.  Around three-thirty, Dylan and Malcom decided it was time for them to get moving.  We didn’t argue the point with them since we hadn’t taken time to eat lunch yet and still had to do some shopping to replenish our food supplies.  While Malcom retrieved Damon from the theater, Dylan grabbed a couple bags from the pantry and stuffed all their clothes in it.  Damon was excited to learn they’d be driving back to Dylan’s house without being dressed.

 

“I can’t believe you guys are gonna do this in broad daylight,” Damon exclaimed in surprise.

 

“Well, buddy, I know how to get to my house using a lot of lesser-traveled back roads,” Dylan answered.

 

“Good, ‘cause if a cop stopped us, you two’d probably end up getting your asses arrested.  ‘Specially with me bein’ naked in the back seat,” Damon added with a little giggle.

 

“You’re probably right, son,” Malcom chortled.  “Hopefully, that won’t happen.”

 

After ten minutes of hugs and goodbyes, the trio finally headed to their car and pulled away.  After a quick discussion amongst us, we agreed that supper in town followed by a grocery run was sounding awfully good, so we separated for our bedrooms to get dressed to go out.  We reassembled in the garage five minutes later, then climbed in the car and headed out.  Tom gave a quick wave to Dirk at the end of the drive before I pulled onto the road and aimed the car for town and our meal out.

 

 

As we left Max’s drive, Damon gave a quick wave to Dirk before Dylan turned the direction that would let us take the back roads to town.  I turned around in my seat and asked, “So, Damon, did you guys have fun the past couple days?”

 

“We had a blast, Dad.  Those guys are all so cool to hang out with.  Thanks for lettin’ me stay with them.  How ‘bout you an’ Poppy, did you two have fun?” my son asked knowingly with a wide smile filling the lower half his face.

 

“Um, yeah, we did, Damon.  You are okay with that, aren’t you?”

 

“I gotta admit, I thought it was kinda weird when we talked about it in the shower that one night, but after what happened last night with Alex, Joey and Logan, I get it now.  ‘Sides, I know you two love each other a lot and you should be able to share that without me buttin’ in the middle of it.”

 

“Oh, really?” Dylan asked.  “Is whatever happened something you wanted to happen?”

 

“Oh, yeah.  I told you ‘bout some of the things my friend and I have done together.  Well, that doesn’t come anywhere close to what we did last night.  And I loved every second of it.”

 

“Well, as long as you four were in agreement and nobody forced anyone to do something they didn’t want to do, then you’re fine, son,” I replied.

 

“And you’re sure that doin’ that shit with them won’t make me gay?”

 

“Damon, you’ll be what you’re meant to be.  Whether it’s gay, straight or somewhere in between, as long as you’re happy and a willing participant, it’s nobody else’s place to judge.”

 

“Whew, that’s good to hear.  I mean, I really like this one girl in my class, but I really like doin’ those things with my friend and cousins, too.  And I’m pretty sure Nancy wouldn’t do none of that with me.”

 

Dylan snorted and said, “No, probably not, Damon.  It’s normal for all kids to explore their own bodies and indulge in some experimentation.  Most do it by themselves, but others will do so with their really good friends, just like you are.  Just don’t push too hard.”

 

“Yeah, that’s what I told Joey last night.  Oops, probably shouldn’t a said that.”

 

“Was Joey trying to get you to do something you didn’t want?” I asked.

 

“No!  That’s not the way I meant it.”

 

“Well, what did you mean?” Dylan asked.

 

“Oh, c’mon guys, I ain’t gonna talk ‘bout this with you two.”

 

“Son,” I started, “you know what Dylan and I do when we’re together, we’ve been pretty open about it.  The only reason to hide it is because you’re ashamed about it or you feel like you’ve done something wrong.”

 

“Well, it felt way too good to be wrong,” Damon muttered quietly.  “Yeah, okay, I hear ya.  If ya really wanna know, here goes.  The four of us spent close to an hour doin’ all kinds of shit, some of it I’ve thought about doin’ with my friend, but I just never felt like he’d want to do it, ya know?  But at one point, the three of ‘em were working me over pretty good and let me tell ya, I was fuckin’ floatin’.  Then Joey slipped a finger inside my butt and I lost it.  After a few minutes of that, he replaced his finger with his dick and started to really, well, you know.  I’ve never put anything up there before, but ohmigod, when he did that, it felt like I’d stuck my finger in a light socket.  Every nerve in my body was on fire and I tingled from the top o’ my head to the tips of my toes.  It was unreal and I never wanted it to stop.”

 

Dylan and I snickered lightly at Damon’s description of what he’d felt, and I finally commented, “Yep, that’s what it feels like, all right.  We’re glad you had fun, son.  And we’re glad you’re comfortable enough to talk about things like this with us.”

 

“Well, I feel like I should talk to somebody ‘bout it, but it sure as hell ain’t gonna be mom.  She’d freakin’ kill all of us if she knew what I was doin’.”

 

“You’re probably right there, and we’re all too young to die,” I laughed.  “But I want to make sure you know you can talk to us about anything at any time, son.”

 

“Yeah, I know, Dad.”  In a sudden twist in direction, Damon asked, “So, have you two done anything ‘bout getting me away from Mom before she completely loses what little she’s got left of her mind?”

 

“Not yet, Damon,” Dylan answered, “but we will.  I’m startin’ work with Tom tomorrow and I’ll have him start checking things out while I deal with some of the projects he has for me.”

 

“That’s great, Poppy.  I hope y’all come up with somethin’ ‘cause she’s not gettin’ any better.”

 

“Don’t worry, Damon, we got your back.”

 

 

During our trip to town, we talked about where we wanted to go for our supper today.  After about five minutes of some very animated and on point discussion, the boys had somehow convinced Tom and me we needed to drive to Virden to have DiCarlo’s Pizza.  While I really wasn’t looking forward to the extra hour and a half detour to make it happen, I had to admit it sounded like a meal that would be hard to beat. 

 

When we arrived at DiCarlo’s, we discovered they were doing a buffet special tonight, so that’s what we selected.  That would let the boys pick whatever pizza they wanted from the selection available and Tom and I both enjoyed sampling some of the other pasta dishes along with a salad.  We did save some room for a couple of pieces of pizza, also, however.  While the pastas were delicious, we weren’t coming all this way and not get some of the best pizza around.

 

With our stomachs bulging and appetites temporarily sated, we crawled into the car for the thirty-minute drive to Springfield to take care of our grocery shopping.  On entering the store, Alex, Joey and Logan all grabbed carts to drive while T.J., Mike Andy grabbed items from the shelves and dropped them in the carts as we snaked our way through the aisles.  With all three carts loaded to overflowing, we headed for the checkouts and after paying for everything, loaded up the car and headed for home.

 

After waving to Dirk’s replacement at the end of the drive, we parked in the garage and began the process of unloading and putting away our food and other supplies for the week.  As we worked together to complete that chore, everyone agreed that a swim sounded like a good idea, so that’s what we did.  We’d been in the pool about twenty minutes when the drive sensor went off and shortly after that, the phone was ringing.  I jumped out of the pool, grabbed my towel and started to dry off as I headed inside to find out who was here.

 

Grabbing the phone in the living room, I answered with a simple, “Hello?”

 

“Mr. Sanders?  This is Ken at the end of your drive.  I’ve got a guy trying to come in that says he lives here now, but he’s not on my list of approved people.  He says his name is Ron Cain.  Should I let him through?”

 

“Yes, please.  We’d forgotten about him possibly showing up tonight.  And please add his name to the list.”

 

“Will do, sir.  Sorry to disturb you.”

 

“No worries, Ken.  Thanks.  Oh, and tell Ron to pull up to the garage.”

 

“I’ll pass it on, sir.  Have a good night.”

 

I headed down the hallway to open the big door behind the Shelby for Ron to come through as he unloaded his car, then waited for him to park on the drive.  He climbed out of his car, then reached into the back seat to grab a box to bring with him.

 

As he headed my direction, I called out, “Hey, Ron, how ya doin’?”

 

“Pretty good, Mr. Sanders,” he replied.  “I hope it’s okay I showed up tonight.”

 

“Just fine,” I answered as I stepped back so he could come inside.  “You need any help?”

 

“Nah, I don’t have that much I wanted to bring in tonight.  I figured I’d just get my clothes for now and leave the rest for tomorrow morning.  Though I guess I won’t be needin’ ‘em much, will I?” he added with a quick laugh.

 

“No, I guess not,” I agreed.

 

“So, where ‘m I headed with this stuff?”

 

“Middle door on your right is all yours.  We’re out in the pool, so when you’re done with what you want to bring in, come on out and join us.”

 

“You got it, Mr. Sanders.”

 

“Remember, Ron, It’s Max and Tom, none of this mister crap.”

 

“Sure thing, man, thanks.  I’ll be out shortly.”

 

I left Ron to his moving and returned outside.  As I slipped back into the pool and took my spot next to Tom, he asked, “Who’s here?”

 

“Ron showed up.  He’s unloading some stuff from his car, then he’ll come out to join us.”

 

“I wondered if he’d show up today or tomorrow.  Good thing we had the room ready for him.”

 

“Yep, though we should probably change the bed.  We neglected to take care of that yesterday after LeVar headed for home.”

 

“You’re right.  I didn’t even think about it.  We can always ask him when he joins us.  For all we know, he’ll like the idea of sleeping on the same sheets as LeVar.” 

 

I had to laugh at that thought.  The two of us continued to relax in our corner while the boys were playing in the shallow end, seeming to have great fun as usual.  Even Logan was enjoying himself despite how he must be feeling, and I had to remind myself yet again that this was just a temporary diversion for him.  Ten minutes later, Ron finally joined us and the sensational six-pack went ballistic when they saw him.

 

“Hey, Ron, how ya doin’!?” Alex yelled.

 

“Not too badly, dude.  How’re you guys?”

 

“Great,” they yelled together.

 

After dropping his towel on the table, Ron headed for the steps to get into the pool.  Tom and I almost warned him of what was sure to happen but decided to keep quiet and let events unfold naturally.  As soon as he was in the pool and had moved away from the steps, he was immediately surrounded by the sensational six-pack and they each greeted him with a welcoming hug.  Once the last hug was over, though, all hell broke loose as the boys began their assault in earnest.  Since the poor guy was wholly unprepared for the attack and the count was six to one against him, he was rapidly and unceremoniously dunked.  Ron was next seen sputtering for air as the boys were cheering loudly at their quick victory.

 

“Oh, I see how y’all are, six against one, huh?” Ron scowled as he surveyed the munchkins still surrounding him.

 

“Hey, we took it easy on ya, dude,” Joey countered.

 

“If that’s easy, I’d hate to see hard,” Ron joked.

 

“Oh, you will soon enough,” Alex giggled which earned a big laugh from all the boys.

 

“Well, we’ll see about that.  I’m gonna go relax and catch my breath with your dads now, okay?”

 

“Yeah, go ahead and pout, Ron.  We’re ready for a rematch any time,” Logan called out to Ron’s back as he headed our way.

 

When he finally reached us and settled in, he commented, “Phew, I wasn’t ready for that!  Are they always that wound for sound?”

 

“Pretty much,” Tom laughed.  “At least in the pool, they are.  We figure it tires them out pretty well so they get a good night’s sleep.”

 

“Yeah, well I will, too, after that mugging,” Ron laughed back.  “How ya doin’, Tom?”

 

“Fair to middlin’,” Tom replied.  “Glad you showed up tonight.”

 

“I figured I might as well, that way I can hit the ground runnin’ in the mornin’.”

 

“That works for us,” I agreed.  “You get everything you wanted inside?”

 

“For now, yeah.  Like I said, I’ll deal with the rest of it in the morning after those guys are off to school.  Do you want me to get the boys up in the morning and deal with their breakfast?”

 

“We’ll join you, Ron,” I answered, “just to give you a good idea of what you’ll be in for.  They’ve pretty much gotten in the rhythm of things, but some days, gettin’ ‘em awake and moving is like pulling teeth.”

 

“I bet.  When I was their age, I used to hate to get up in the morning.  And I only lived three blocks from the school, so I didn’t have to move nearly as early.  I can’t imagine the hassle of wakin’ up every day at six.  I bet that sucks.” 

 

“It wasn’t a lot of fun the first week or two, but we’ve pretty much gotten used to it,” Tom commented.  “That’ll change this fall, though, when the boys start doing their schoolwork at home.”

 

“That sounds cool for them.  Wish my mom and dad would have let me do that.  It woulda saved me a lot of shit dealin’ with the assholes who hated fags in high school.”

 

“Well, it not gonna be just our boys,” I said.  “We’re including a few of the boys’ friends and others we’re going to be helping, too.”

 

“What others,” Ron asked with surprise.

 

“Oh, we didn’t’ tell you, did we,” I chuckled.  “We’re gonna be building a bigger house so we can help other kids who need a break from their parents for whatever reason.”

 

“Jeesh, I haven’t really even started yet and can tell I’m gonna need a raise,” Ron chuckled. 

 

Tom and I joined him in that and Tom finally replied, “It won’t be that bad.  At least, we hope it won’t.”

 

“I’m just kiddin’ ya, guys.  I’ll be fine,” Ron responded.

 

“Well, I think it’s time to get the herd headed for bed.  Tomorrow morning’s not that far away.”  With agreement from Tom and Ron, we climbed from the pool and headed to grab our towels.  When the boys saw us, they used the steps and joined us in drying off.  “You six run through your showers and we’ll get a snack ready for ya.”

 

“Really, Dad, we know the drill.  You don’t have to remind us every night,” Alex moaned.

 

“Sorry, buddy, force of habit.  I’ll try to stop, okay?”

 

“I sure hope so, we’re not little kids anymore, ‘member,” Joey added with a giggle.

 

As we headed inside, the boys disappeared to their rooms to get their showers while Ron followed us to the kitchen to help us prepare their snacks.  And since we were in the kitchen, we gave Ron a quick run through of what was where so he wouldn’t have any trouble finding what he might be looking for.  Tonight’s snack was cookies and milk and we had everything ready to go when the boys came back from their showers.

 

“So, Ron, how ya doin’ with the bein’ naked and all?” T.J. asked after he had mounted his stool.

 

“So far, so good,” he chuckled.  “Ain’t had nothin’ pop up I needed to hide.  Not yet, anyway.”

 

“You will,” Alex giggled.

 

“Yeah, happens to all of us,” Joey added.

 

“Sure does,” Logan agreed.

 

“ ‘Specially when T.J. and Mike are helpin’ me with my problem,” Andy commented.  “Ain’t nothin’ I can think ‘bout to keep it from gettin’ hard.”

 

“Oh, don’t lie, you like it when we do that,” Mike retorted.

 

“Never said I didn’t like it, dude,” Andy laughed.

 

“Are they always this open about stuff?” Ron asked.

 

“They might as well be, Ron,” Tom replied.  “Between everyone being nude most of the time and Alex, T.J., and Joey’s abilities to rifle minds, there’s really nothing like a secret around here.”

 

“I guess not,” Ron laughed.

 

“Okay, guys, hit the head, brush teeth and into bed,” Tom said

 

“We’re goin’, Pops,” Alex replied.

 

“See ya in the mornin’, Ron,” T.J. called out as the herd left the kitchen.

 

“You too, Dads,” Joey added with a giggle.

 

As the sensational six-pack disappeared, the three of us took care of the minor snack mess.  With dishwasher ready to go, Tom and I followed along behind the boys while Ron settled in the living room.  After tucking the boys in, we joined Ron and after lighting a fire, got comfortable so we could let our help know what was expected.

 

“Okay, Ron, you sure you’re ready for this?” I asked.

 

“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t, Max,” he laughed.  “Really, how hard can it be?”

 

“You don’t want to know the answer to that one, Ron,” Tom chuckled.  “Oh, we need you to sign the CA.  Let me grab it from my office.”

 

While Tom retrieved that, I said, “It shouldn’t be too rough for ya.  We’re all in the habit of keepin’ things picked up, so there shouldn’t be a whole lot of cleaning.  I think the worst thing will be the laundry.  Even though we don’t wear anything at home, as long as we have to go out, we still have dirty clothes, towels and sheets.  We normally try to deal with all that on the weekends so we don’t have to worry about it through the week, but you’re welcome to set up whatever schedule you want.”  Tom had returned and handed the confidentiality agreement to Ron for him to read and sign.  After flipping through the document, he signed it with the pen Tom gave him and then handed it back.

 

“Any problems with that,” Tom asked.

 

“Nope.  Seems reasonable enough.  If I were in your situation, I’d have the same thing, especially with the lifestyle you guys have.  I especially like the fact there’s nothin’ in there about losing body parts and getting fed to wolves,” Ron chuckled.  “So, any special instructions you have for me?”

 

“First,” Tom started, “my office is off limits.  With the work I’m doing, I have to follow some very stringent privacy rules.  I’ll let you deal with the cleaning of it, but only when I’m in there.  When I’m not working, the door is locked to keep prying eyes out.”

 

“No sweat, Tom.  Anything else?”

 

“I think we mentioned this when we talked originally, but I’m going to reiterate it now,” I said.  “If you find a door closed, you need to knock and wait for an answer before entering the room.  You never know what might be happening on the other side of that door and the knock is fair warning that someone is coming in.  We all follow that rule and will do the same if your door is closed.”

 

“Fair enough,” Ron agreed.

 

The phone rang to interrupt our conversation and Tom punched the speaker button before answering with, “Hello?”

 

“Hey, is this Tom or Max?” a younger voice asked.

 

“It’s both of us since we’re on speaker,” Tom answered.

 

“Hey, it’s Harry.  How you guys doin’?”

 

“We’re fine, Harry.  The big question is how’re you?”

 

“I couldn’t be better since I finally got to come home today.”

 

“That’s great news and we’re glad you called to let us know,” I replied with cheer filling my voice.  “The boys will be happy to hear the news.”

 

“Can’t be any happier than I am, man.  I’m just glad I can sleep in my own damn bed again.  That shitty hospital bed was really killin’ my back.  And they just don’t believe in lettin’ a person sleep, either.”

 

“Well, they have to check on people to make sure they’re okay.”

 

“Yeah, I know, but you’d think they could figure out how to do that with wakin’ ya up.”

 

“So, really, Harry, what’d your doctors tell you,” Tom asked.

 

“Well, my brain didn’t turn to mush, though I don’t really remember much of what happened.  They said I may never remember it all.  And the fracture will probably take six to eight weeks to heal up.  Until that happens, though, I’m supposed to stay home and take it easy.  No school, no sports, nothin’.  Looks like I won’t be moving on to tenth grade with the rest of my class, and that really sucks.”

 

“Won’t the school do anything to help you finish the year?” I asked with concern.

 

“Mom checked into that on Friday and they said they don’t have enough money left in their budget to supply me with home-schooling for the rest of the year.”

 

“Well, that’s ridiculous,” I vented.  “Aren’t they required by state law to do so?”

 

“Mom sure thought so, but they say not any longer.  But hey, that’s enough of that crap.  I just wanted to call to let you know I was home and to thank you guys for helpin’ out the way you have.  Mom told me you were gonna pay for the hospital and all.  That really means a lot to us.  Nobody’s ever offered to help us with anything before.”

 

“No worries, Harry.  We’re glad we could do it.  We hope you continue to get better and don’t have any setbacks or problems.”

 

“Me, too, man.  I’m just gonna do ‘xactly what the doc says, nothin’.  To hell with school.  Who needs it, anyway?”

 

“You do, Harry,” Tom interrupted.  “If you had someone come in to help with your schooling, would you do it so you can stay with the rest of your class?”

 

“Hell yeah.  I don’t wanna have to take this year all over just to get credit  the last two months.”

 

“That’s what I hoped you’d say,” Tom replied.  “Look, you hang in there and keep us updated on how you’re doin’.”

 

“Harry, Max again.  The boys would like us to come up and see you, make sure you’re doin’ okay.  When do you think you’ll be up for a visit?”

 

“Is tomorrow too soon,” he laughed.  “No, seriously, probably not until this weekend at the earliest.  And if I do what Mom wants, the weekend after would be better.  For her anyway.  She’s gonna be workin’ some doubles the next couple weeks to make up for the time she missed last week.  She’s still hopin’ they don’t fire her.  Buncha heartless bastards, they are.”

 

“Tell her don’t worry about it,” I replied.  “We’ll see you in a couple weeks then.  Take it easy, buddy.”

 

“I will, don’t worry.  Thanks again for everything.  Talk to you guys later.”

 

After ending the call, Tom and I looked at each other and Tom asked, “You makin’ the call in the mornin’ or am I?”

 

“I will.  I’ll call Steve and see if he can help us fix Harry’s school problem.”

 

“Good, I was hopin’ you’d say that,” Tom agreed.

 

“Uh, ‘scuse me guys, but who the hell is Harry?  You got another kid I didn’t know about?” Ron asked in confusion.

 

“No, nothing like that, Ron,” I answered with a laugh.  “He’s just a kid we met in Chicago last weekend and he needs some help.”

 

“I gathered that, but why are you involved?”

 

“We went to the aquarium and because a few of the boys got a little carried away with somethin’, his dad hurt Harry pretty badly.  Since our guys kinda instigated the whole thing, we’re takin’ care of his hospital bill and now we’re going to arrange for a tutor for him so he can finish out the school year.”

 

“Damn, you two are somethin’ else.  Where the hell were you when I was goin’ through shit?”

 

“I was hidin’ out here in the woods and Tom was hidin’ with the police.”

 

“Just my bad timing, then.  Anybody else you helpin’ out I should know about?”

 

“Well, Logan, obviously, but now, much more than before.”

 

“Why, what’s happened?”

 

“His dad was killed in an accident on their farm Friday night.”

 

“Is that why he seemed a bit off-kilter tonight compared to the others?”

 

“Probably.  He’ll be staying here through the funeral, at least, but after that, we’re not sure.”

 

“No doubt he wants to stay with you guys.”

 

“He does, but his dad’s will may not allow it.  According to that, he supposed to go live with his uncle.”

 

“Well, that sucks,” Ron moaned.  “For Logan’s sake, I hope you’ll be able to fix that.”

 

“We do, too,” Tom agreed.  “Oh, by the way, we didn’t change the sheets on your bed after it was used last.  Do you want clean sheets?”

 

“Depends,” Ron grinned.  “Who would I be sleepin’ with?”

 

“LeVar Burton.”

 

“Who the hell’s that?”

 

“Never mind,” I laughed.  “If you want clean ones, you’ll find spare sets in the laundry room down the hall, middle door on the right.”

 

“I’m sure I’ll be fine for the night and can change ‘em tomorrow while I’m bringin’ my other stuff in.”

 

“Okay, then,” I agreed.  “I don’t know ‘bout you two, but I’m ready to get some sleep.  You comin’, hon?”

 

“Not yet, but with a little luck, I will be later,” Tom chuckled.

 

“TMI, dudes,” Ron said while plugging his ears with his fingers.

 

“See you in the morning then, Ron.  Get a good night’s sleep.”

 

“Night to you guys, too.”

 

We went our separate ways and were soon climbing in the shower to wash off the pool.  With both of us cleaned up and dried off, we slipped under the covers and cuddled together in the middle of the bed.  After sharing a good night kiss and an ‘I love you’, we fell asleep.  My sleep was filled with weird dreams about Samuel and T.J., and even more disturbing dreams about Logan living with his uncle.  By the time the alarm went off and announced the beginning of a new day, I was more than ready for the night to be over.  I forced myself out of bed, hit the john and headed across the house.  My first stop was to get Ron rolling along.

 

I knocked on Ron’s door and waited a moment to see if he was going to answer.  When I heard nothing from within, I popped the door open and stepped inside his room, finding him much like the twins and Logan usually are in the morning, covers kicked off and stiff as a board.  I must have not been paying attention last night, but I quickly realized that a fine specimen of youthful manhood had just joined our family.  From the six-pack abs to the well-toned arms and legs, it was quite obvious that Ron spent more time in the gym than most guys.  The additional fact he was as hairless and smooth as a newborn baby only added to the complete package.  And speaking of packages, it was easy to see that Ron was a grower and not a shower.  The eight inches of tumescence hovering over his groin and stretching to reach his navel dispelled any doubts about the three-inch flaccid member I’d seen last night.

 

After staring much longer than I should have, I finally remembered we had to get the boys moving, so I shook Ron’s shoulder to wake him.  As he slowly came to life, he realized he was exposed and reached for the covers.

 

“Don’t freak out, Ron,” I said calmly.  “This might be the first time I’ve seen you hard, but I guarantee it won’t be the last.”

 

“Oh, hey, Mr. Sand…, uh, Max.  That time already?”

 

“Yep, let’s get movin’.  Time for you to start earning your pay,” I chuckled.

 

“Right behind you, man.  Just let me hit the john real quick.”

 

“No problem.  I’ll get the twins and Logan movin’ while you tackle the other three.  Once all the munchkins are moving, meet me in the kitchen.”  I moved on to wake my three this morning and found the regular pretzel I’d become used to finding.  I shook Joey’s shoulder and once his eyes were open, told him it was time to roll out.  He started waking the other two while I headed back across the house to wake Tom.  Luckily, I found him in the kitchen and he had the first pot of coffee going for us already. 

 

Ron joined us shortly, poured himself a cup and as he leaned against the counter to face us, asked, “So what’s for breakfast?”

 

“Whatever you decide you want to fix, buddy,” Tom answered.

 

“Throwin’ me into the deep end right off, are you?”

 

“Training by fire I like to call it,” Tom chuckled.

 

“Well, where’s the fire?” Ron asked in confusion.

 

“In the eyes of the six ravenous ragamuffins lined up behind you,” I laughed.  Ron turned and jumped in surprise at finding the boys lined up on their stools, glaring hungrily at him.

 

“Mornin’ dudelets, how does cereal and toast sound this mornin’?” he asked nervously.  “Just to make it easy on my first day?”

 

“No way, José,” Joey protested.  “We all want steak and eggs for breakfast.  Alex and me want our steaks medium well with scrambled eggs, Logan wants his rare and over easy, T.J. medium rare and sunny side up, and Mike and Andy want medium with poached.”

 

“Um, okay, I guess I can do that,” Ron muttered in disbelief at the request.  Five seconds later, all six cracked up in laughter at Ron’s reaction and Alex almost fell off his stool he was laughing so hard.  On discovering he’d just been punked, a visibly relieved Ron let go a huge sigh of relief and added, “You little stinkers.  What’s the big idea givin’ me a heart attack this early in the morning?”

 

“Just makin’ sure you’re awake, dude,” Alex laughed.  “We’re fine with cereal and toast.”

 

“But ya better get a move on ‘cause we’re runnin’ outta time,” Logan added.

 

Ron turned around and pulled the cereal, bowls and spoons from their cabinets, then lined them up on the counter in front of the boys.  Next, six glasses joined the bowls in a separate line.  After filling each bowl with the boys’ choice of cereal, he grabbed the gallon of milk from the fridge.  In one smooth movement, he tipped the jug over and carefully added milk to each bowl by allowing the milk to hover over each bowl for just a moment.  He then performed the same bit of magic with the glasses before putting the milk away.  Amazingly, not a drop was spilled on the counter in the process.

 

“That was cool, Ron,” Mike enthused.

 

“How’d you learn to do that?” Andy asked.

 

“I spent six months tending bar last year,” Ron smiled.  “I learned more than a few tricks during that time.  Y’all still want toast?”  With agreement from all, the toaster was pulled out, along with the bread, jelly, honey, cinnamon sugar and butter, and soon enough, each of the munchkins had some toast to go with their cereal.  When the feeding frenzy was over, the boys headed to their bedrooms to get dressed and ready to go.  As soon as they disappeared, Ron cleaned up the kitchen, loaded the dishwasher and then followed behind the boys to get ready to run them out to the end of the drive.

 

During their breakfast, Tom and I had leaned against a counter and watched as Ron took care of business.  When he’d gone to get dressed, I looked at Tom and commented, “I think we picked the right guy.”

 

“Without a doubt,” Tom agreed.  “Hiring him was good idea.  I’m glad I thought of it,” he added with a chuckle and evil smirk.

 

“So, it was all your idea, huh?  I guess it was you who proposed to me, then.”

 

“That’s the way I remember it and if anybody tells you otherwise, they’re lyin’,” Tom laughed.

 

“Whatever,” I muttered as I smacked the back of his head.  “So, when’s Dylan showin’ up?” I asked.

 

“Not a clue, we never talked about it.  Could be any time.  What’re you planning on doin’ today?”

 

“I’m gonna spend part of the morning with Ron, make sure he knows where everything is and what’s expected of him.  Might even help him finish unloading his car.”

 

“And what’s after that?”

 

“Back to the book for a while, I guess.  Then, this afternoon, I need to take Logan out to the farm to get some things followed by stops at the funeral home and bank.”

 

“Is he goin’ to school this morning?”

 

“I didn’t think to ask.  Guess we’ll find out in just a minute.”

 

Ron and the boys returned and Ron asked, “Hey, can I use your car to run them out?  Mine’s not big enough to hold ‘em all.”

 

“Sure, Ron, let me grab a fob for the Flex.”  I turned for the bedroom and returned a minute later, handing the device to Ron.  “Why don’t you just leave this in the cup holder when you come back, that way there’s always one with the car.  We’ll get a key rack in the garage for all the vehicle’s keys and fobs so anyone can move a car without carrying all those keys all the time.

 

“Good thinkin’, Max.  Guess we’ll get out of here then.  Be back in a few minutes.”

 

“Y’all aren’t goin’ anywhere until we get our hugs,” Tom commanded.  The two of us knelt down and gratefully accepted our morning hugs with the guys, reminding them to be good and learn something new today.

 

As I shared my hug with Logan, I asked, “Are you sure you’re up to going today?”

 

“Yeah, I’m okay, Dad.  I’d just as soon be there ‘stead of mopin’ ‘round here all day.”

 

“Okay.  I’ll come pick you up after lunch so we can deal with a few things this afternoon.”

 

“Yeah, all right,” he muttered sadly.

 

As Logan moved on to give his hug to Tom, the twins took his place for my hug with them.  Since they had put their heads on each side of mine, I whispered in their ears, “I want you guys to keep an eye on Logan today, please.  He may need some help.”  Both gave me a quick nod of agreement before we broke up and they turned to follow the others to the garage.  With them on the way, I turned to call the school while Tom headed to his office to get started on his day.

 

“This is Gloria, how may I help you?” miss perky and cheerful answered.

 

“Good morning, Gloria, Max Sanders.”

 

“Oh, good morning, Mr. Sanders, what’s up today?”

 

“Well, I’m calling to let you know that Logan Campbell’s dad died Friday night and I need to pick up Logan after lunch to take care of a few details this afternoon.”

 

“Oh, my, how awful.  I can’t believe he’d come to school today.”

 

“He said he’d be okay, but if anything happens, let me know and I’ll come get him whenever.  Whatever day is selected for the funeral, all of our boys will be out that day so they can attend with Logan.”

 

“That’s not a problem, sir.  We’ll keep an eye on things here.”

 

“Thanks, Gloria.  See you later.”

 

As I hung up the phone, I heard Ron coming back in from the garage so I headed across the house to meet him.  Just before he turned into his room, I called down the hall, “Hey, Ron, come find me when you’re ready, I’d like to chat a bit and then give you the full tour.”

 

“Be right there, Max.”   Thirty seconds later, Ron joined me and asked, “What’s up?”

 

“First, do you need any help bringing your other things in from the car?  Tom and I will be happy help.”

 

“Nah, I don’t have that much to deal with.”

 

“Okay, moving on, then.  You did well with breakfast.  Especially since the rugrats were givin’ you a bit of a hard time.”

 

“It was all in good fun, Max.  I shoulda known they were pullin’ my leg with the steak ‘n’ eggs thing.”

 

“Glad to hear it.  Seems like you’ve got the kitchen pretty well handled, but you might want to spend some time goin’ through all the cabinets, drawers and pantry just to make sure you know where everything is.  As for general cleaning, you can set up whatever schedule you want.  We’d like to see the house done at least once a week, but it doesn’t have to all be done in one day.  But whatever you want to do is fine with us.  The one thing that’s really important is the towels on all the chairs and couches in the house, those should be dealt with every Wednesday and Sunday.”

 

“I was gonna ask about those.  It seems silly to have all this nice leather furniture and then cover it up with these ugly white towels.”

 

“That’s simply a nudist thing, Ron.  It wouldn’t be very hygienic to sit directly on the leather, especially with five or more kids floatin’ around who may not be very diligent in properly cleaning themselves after going to the bathroom.  That’s one of the reasons I usually take care of that particular bathroom visit at night just before my shower.  That way, in the morning, I’m about as clean as I can be.”

 

“Ah, gotcha.  Makes perfect sense once you explain it like that.  Now, should I keep track of my hours when I’m doing stuff, and if so, how do you want me to do it?”

 

“Don’t worry about that.  We plan to pay you for eight hours a day, even though we know you won’t come close to that most days.  But, with gettin’ up early and dealing with the boys in the morning, it’s worth extra to us if it means we can sleep in a bit later.  And there’ll be times when you might be working into the evening or night.  Say, if we’re having guests or something like that.  Tom and I can deal with our own lunches if you don’t want to do it.”

 

“Look, Max, I appreciate the thought, but if you’re gonna pay me for eight hours, then I need to work as much as I can so you get your money’s worth.  I ain’t here for a free ride, ya know?”

 

“We know that, Ron, but this isn’t the White House or some showplace, it’s our home.  And it’s your home now, too.  It doesn’t have to be perfect all the time, and we don’t expect you to follow us around and pick up every little thing we may leave behind us.  But we also don’t want to be lazy about it either.  If you see any of us aren’t keeping up our end of helping keep things neat, let us know.”

 

“I just knew this was gonna be a sweet gig,” Ron smiled.  “Thanks for thinkin’ of me.”

 

“No problem.  Would you like to see the rest of the house, now?  You didn’t get to see too much of it when you were here a few months ago.”

 

“Sure, that’d be cool.”

 

“Well, follow me,” I replied as I stood up and led the way to the theater.  Next was our bedroom and study, after which, we headed across the house to see Tom’s office, the laundry room, bathroom, bedrooms and garage.  When we returned to the living room, I said, “Well, that’s everything I can think of at the moment.  You have any questions?”

 

“Not really, Max.  It’s pretty straight-forward.  Do you guys pick up the boys after the bus drops ‘em off?”

 

“We have been, but since it’s warmed up, they’ve been walking to the house.  So, for the rest of the school year, you should only have to deal with that if it’s raining.”

 

“Cool, I’ll be happy to do it.  Well, if that’s all you got at the moment, I might as well finish unloading my car and get my bed changed.  What time do you guys eat lunch?”

 

“Usually around twelve to twelve-thirty, and normally something light and simple.”

 

“I’ll have it ready to go at twelve-fifteen, then.  See ya in a bit.”  With that, Ron headed down the hallway.  He hadn’t gone too far when he turned around and came back to ask, “Oh, where do you want me to park my car once it’s empty?”

 

“You’ll mostly be using the Flex for everything, but I’ll see if we can put Tom’s car in the storage building and free up a space inside for yours.”

 

“You don’t have to do that, man.”

 

“I’m sure Tom won’t mind.  He usually likes to take the Shelby anyway.  Oh, and I almost forgot, there’s a couple of security guards here at the house so you’ll probably want to have a pair of shorts on when you go out.”

 

“Well, that just sucks,” Ron chuckled.  “I’m really getting used to bein’ nude already.  Kinda enjoyin’ the freedom.”

 

“It’s your call.  If you don’t care, I sure as hell don’t.”  Ron headed for the garage again and I stopped in Tom’s office before heading to my own.  “Question for ya big buy.”

 

“Hit me, babe.”

 

“Do you have a problem with movin’ your car out to the storage building so Ron can have that spot in the garage for his?”

 

“Works for me.  I’d rather drive the Shelby anyway.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that.  I think you’ve used it more than I have the past couple of months.  Somehow, I don’t think that’s very fair.  Maybe I’ll get you one of those little electric Smart cars, just so I can have my Shelby back.”

 

“Yeah, I guess you could do that.  Or, you could always get me my own Shelby,” Tom grinned evilly in reply.

 

“Now, why the hell would I want to do that?” I asked mockingly.

 

“ ‘Cause you love me.  And so you can have yours back, too.”

 

“Well, you’re right, I do love you, but I’m not sure it’s worth your own Shelby.  No, I think the Smart car is just about right,” I laughed.  Just as Ron came back in the house with an armload of his stuff, the drive sensor dinged and interrupted our conversation.  I was expecting Dylan had arrived as I headed to the front door and peeking through the glass, was surprised to see Bob’s truck pulling in the drive to deliver Dylan’s desk.  “Shorts, guys!” I called out.  “Bob’s here.”

 

As Tom and I headed to our room to cover up, he commented, “I forgot I included Bob’s and Bill’s names on the list of approved people I gave to Dirk Saturday since I knew they were both coming today.”

 

“Glad you thought of them because I’d obviously forgotten,” I replied.  “We should probably grab keys to rearrange vehicles and make it easier for Bob to deal with the desk.  Why don’t you get yours and we can have Ron move it to the storage building.”

 

“You got it.”

 

Properly covered for our guest, we headed back across the house and into the garage.  Ron was already moving his car and Tom hopped in the Shelby to get it out of Bob’s way, also.  With a cleared path, Bob backed his truck to the open door and he, Terry and Travis climbed out.

 

“Mornin’, Bob, how’re you this fine Monday morning?”

 

“We’re great.  You ready for a desk?”

 

“Yep, and we’ll get out of your way since you brought the big guns with ya,” Tom answered.

 

“I’m just here to supervise, today.  Terry and Travis are doing all the work,” Bob grinned.  The two got busy and in fifteen minutes, Dylan’s desk was in place and ready to use.  While they took care of that task, Bob followed me to my study so I could write a check to pay for everything he’d built for us in the past couple of months.  With payment in hand, Bob, Terry and Travis climbed back in the truck and disappeared down the drive with a wave out the truck’s window.

 

While Tom and Ron rearranged cars again, I headed back inside so I could get back to work on my book.  Once the cars were dealt with, including moving Tom’s to the storage building, Ron parked in the garage to finish his unloading and Tom went back to workin on his reports for Carol.  Thirty minutes later, Dylan finally put in his appearance with apologies for being so late.

 

“Sorry I wasn’t here earlier, Tom, but I was calling some of the fence guys I know from home.  I have two who are interested in the job and they’ll be here this afternoon about two so I can show them what we want.”

 

“That’s great, Dylan.  We’ll feel a lot better with that taken care of.  What about the window tinting?”

 

“Yep, called a couple places ‘bout that, too.  One’s comin’ about three today and another at ten tomorrow morning.  What’s next, boss?” Dylan asked with a wry grin.

 

“Now, there’s a switch, me bein’ your boss,” Tom laughed.  “It’ll take a while to get used to that.  I’m finishing up a couple of reports for Carol and Anna.  Pull your chair over and you can see what we need to do for them.”  The two spent the next couple of hours filling in the forms Carol had sent for Tom to use and sending the final reports on their way with the click of a button in Outlook.  Tom told me later that he’d had to be a bit creative on Mr. & Mrs. WitSec’s report, but he was pretty sure he got the point across without divulging too much.  He expected to be receiving a call from Carol or Anna about that particular report, but he’d cross that bridge when and if necessary.

 

Promptly at twelve-fifteen, Ron announced over the phones that lunch was ready whenever we were.  As I left the study to meet everyone in the kitchen, Tom and Dylan were leaving their office to do the same.  I didn’t know what Ron had prepared for our meal, but it smelled wonderful and my mouth was salivating as I stepped into the kitchen.

 

“God, that smells good.”

 

“Thanks, Max,” Ron replied.  “It’s nothing major, really.  Just glazed pork chops with mashed taters and gravy, along with a salad.  Hope you guys like it.”

 

“If it tastes as good as it smells, I’m sure we will.  You need any help?” I replied through the drool about to drip from my lower lip.

 

“Nope, it’s all on the table, so dig in.”  I wasted no more time and staked my claim to a spot at the table.  Ron followed me, and Tom and Dylan weren’t far behind.

 

“Hey, you must me Dylan,” Ron greeted as the big man took the chair next to him.

 

“That’s me,” Dylan replied.  “I’m guessing you’re Ron.  I’ve seen you a few times at the gym.”

 

That’s where I know you from.  I knew you looked familiar, but I couldn’t figure out from where.”

 

“Thanks for fixin’ lunch for us, man.  This looks and smells great.”

 

“Well, y’all quit wastin’ time yakkin’ and chow down,” Ron prodded us.

 

Without any further delay, we followed Ron’s instructions.  And after the first bite, we were all happy to have done so as everything was delicious.  With appreciative moans of delight from all of us, the food disappeared from our plates so quickly, you’d have thought the boys were here.  After all the plates and salad bowls were empty, we started to help Ron with the cleanup.

 

“No way, guys, I got this.  Y’all go back to your work.”

 

“We don’t mind helpin’, Ron.  We always do with the boys.  They take care of the plates, bowls and other stuff that goes in the dishwasher while Tom and I take care of the rest.”

 

“Yeah, but you ain’t payin’ them like you are me.”

 

“All right, if you insist,” I gave in.

 

“That was delicious, Ron, thanks for fixin’ it,” Tom offered.  “What kind of glaze was on the chops?”

 

“A little orange juice, a little apple juice and a fair amount of honey.  It’s something I learned from mom and have always liked.  Thought you guys might like it, too.  Guess I was right,” he added with a chortle.

 

“Well, you learned your lesson well.  You keep cookin’ lunches like that for us and we’re gonna have to enlarge the workout area in the gym at the new house so we can all use it.”

 

“Oh, I won’t spoil you rotten every day, so don’t get too used to it,” Ron laughed.  “You just wait for supper, though.  I’m hoping the boys like my choice since it’s already cookin’.”

 

“What is it?” I asked.

 

“You’ll find out at supper, Max.  I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.”

 

“Well, okay, then.”  I turned to Tom and added, “Look, I’ve got to get ready to go pick up Logan and take care of our errands.  The rest of you should probably have shorts on or close by since Bill’s supposed to be bringing Dylan’s computer this afternoon.  Save you all a mad scramble when he shows up.”

 

“Don’t worry, babe, we’ll be prepared.  Besides, Dylan has two fencing guys comin’ by at two and a window tinting guy at three, so we’ll have to be covered for them, too.”

 

“Just reminding you,” I replied before turning to Dylan and adding, “Thanks for jumping on those two projects so quickly.  I’m really starting to get paranoid about shit.”

 

“Don’t worry, Max, I’ll make sure we’re all safe.”

 

“We appreciate it.  Okay, I gotta go get ready to leave.  I’ll stop by your office on the way out.”  As I passed through the kitchen, I again thanked Ron for the yummy lunch we’d just shared before continuing on to the bedroom.  On my way back through the house, I stopped to talk to Ron again before leaving.  “Were you able to get all your stuff in the house?”

 

“Yep.  Got it all put away, too.”

 

“How’d you manage that and still fix lunch?” I asked in surprise.

 

“Easy, man, I didn’t have that much to deal with.  Most of what I used at the old place belonged to my roommate.  Didn’t think he’d be too happy if I absconded with his TV or dishes,” Ron laughed.

 

“No, probably not,” I agreed, joining in the laugh.  “Well, I’m glad to hear you’re settled in.  I didn’t think to ask when we had the boys’ rooms painted, but if you want to change colors in your room, just let me know.  I’ll have John take care of it.”

 

“Nah, not right now, anyway.  I’m fine with the white for a while.”

 

“Well, it’s your room.  You want anything changed or different furniture, just let us know.”

 

“I’ll do that, Max.  Thanks.”

 

I turned to leave, but stopped and added, “Oh, I want to talk to you about something later.  It’s gonna be an odd request, but I’d like you to give it some serious thought.”

 

“Anything I can do to actually earn what you’re paying me, I’ll be happy to do it.”

 

“We’ll see once you hear my request.  I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

 

“See ya then,” Ron replied as he turned to complete cleaning up the kitchen from our lunch.

 

I continued on across the house and stopped in Tom’s office on my way to the garage.  “Okay, you two, I’m outta here.  Logan and I should be back in a couple of hours, I hope.”

 

“Which car you takin’?” Tom asked.

 

“Since Logan wants to bring his bike back, I planned on taking the Flex.  That okay?”

 

“Just as long as he doesn’t want to bring Buster back with him, that’s fine,” Tom laughed.  “We’re not planning on goin’ anywhere.”

 

“Good.  And don’t forget to start planning for your trip to Missouri.  We gotta keep Logan away from that asshole Troy.”

 

“Already in the works, babe.  I’m gonna call Carol and see if she might be able to help us find William, too.”

 

“Good thinking, big guy,” I replied.  I leaned over to share a kiss and a hug with Tom before moving on.  Just as I was about to leave the office, I realized I’d forgotten something really important.  “Oh, and hi, Dylan.  We’re glad you’re here and we look forward to having you around.”

 

“Gee, thanks, Max.  I was beginnin’ to think you didn’t like me no more,” he cracked back at me.

 

“I love you and you know it, brother.  My mind’s just been on too many other things today.  I apologize for being so remiss in saying hi and welcome.”

 

“Don’t worry ‘bout it.  You go take care of Logan.”

 

With that, I headed on to the garage, climbed in the Flex and began the trip to the school.  After parking in the visitor’s parking, I aimed for the office where I found Gloria hard at work.  “Good afternoon, Gloria.  How’re you today?”

 

“I’m just dandy, Mr. Sanders.  How ‘bout yourself?”

 

“We’re hangin’ in there.  I’m here to pick up Logan.  We have a few things to deal with this afternoon.”

 

“Yes, I was sorry to hear about his dad.  I hope Logan will be okay.  Let me call Mr. Thomas’ class and I’ll get him up here so you can go.”

 

“Actually, before you do that, I need to talk to Steve about something if he has a moment.”

 

“Let me check with him, one sec.”  Gloria dialed Steve’s office and after a short conversation, said, “Go on in.  He said he always has time for you.”

 

“Thanks, Gloria.”  I stepped to the office door and gave it a quick rap before popping it open and stepping inside.  “Afternoon, Steve,” I greeted as we shook hands before he waved me to chair.

 

“Afternoon, to you, too, Max.  We’re sorry to hear about Mr. Campbell.  Logan can take whatever time he needs to deal with things.”

 

“Thanks for that.  Besides this afternoon, I guess the only other time he’ll miss school is whatever day the funeral is.  I told him he could stay home today, but he said he’d rather be here.”

 

“No worries.  I let Mr. Thomas know what’s happened and he said he’d keep a close eye on things.”

 

“Good, thanks for that.  Now, I’ve got something else to ask you.  We met a kid in Chicago last weekend whose father beat him pretty badly and he needs some help now.”

 

“What do you think I can do to help a kid in Chicago?”

 

“Well, his dad fractured his skull and as a result of that injury, Harry is supposed to stay at home until the fracture is healed in six to eight weeks, just to minimize the chances of a potential problem.  And even though his mom called the school to try to arrange some home schooling for him, the school refused to do it because they say they don’t have enough money left in their budget to pay for it.”

 

“Bullshit!” Steve roared.  “They’re required to supply a tutor for any student in the district who needs it for any reason.  Budget problems or not.”

 

“That’s kinda what I thought, but his mom didn’t make any headway on the issue.  I was hoping I might be able to enlist your assistance to see that Harry is able to finish out the school year and move on to tenth grade with the rest of his class.”

 

“Damn right I will.  Do you know what school he attends?”

 

“Now that you ask, I don’t, but I’m sure I can find out.”

 

“You get me the name of the school and Harry’s last name and I’ll take care of it.”

 

“Thanks, Steve, we appreciate the help.”

 

“Someday, when you have more time, you’ll have to tell me why you’re involved.  But not today.”

 

“I’ll do that.   Well, I better get Logan and get a move on.  Thanks, again, for your help.  I’ll talk to you later.”

 

“You just take care of Logan and I’ll take care of Harry.”

 

“Deal,” I agreed as we both stood and shared a handshake before I took my leave.  As I stepped into the outer office, I found Logan was waiting for me already.  I walked over to the chair where he was sitting, knelt in front of him and asked, “You ready to go, buddy?”

 

“No, but I ain’t got much choice, do I?”

 

“Sorry, no.  Let’s go get this over with and get back home.”

 

“Yeah, all right,” he muttered as he leaned over and gave me a hug.

 

I turned to Gloria and thanked her for her help, then wrapped Logan’s hand in mine and we aimed for the car.  After settling in the front seat and buckling ourselves in, we began the trip to what is now Logan’s farm.  On the way, I called Tom at home and told him to get the name of Harry’s school from Maureen or Angela and pass it on to Steve.  He said he’d take care of it right now and we ended the conversation.

 

After making the turn into the property, I headed up the drive to park by the side of the house where we’d parked the other day.  I was surprised I didn’t see any of the three security guys who were supposed to be here.  Logan had yet to lift his head and he missed seeing the front door of the house standing wide open as I parked just past the porch.  As soon I shut off the car, Logan was out the door and walking around to climb the steps to the porch and I had to hustle to catch up to him.  As soon as he reached the porch and discovered he wasn’t going to need the key he’d fished from his pocket, he froze.

 

He stood immobile for thirty seconds or more, then began trembling with rage before screaming, “I’M GONNA KILL THAT FUCKIN’ BASTARD!!”

 

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