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Chapter 77 – Logan’s BIG Surprise


We slowly stepped closer to the open doorway and I noticed the jamb around the knob latch and deadbolt were completely destroyed.  As we stepped over the threshold, we were astonished at the sight that greeted us.  It appeared as though a tornado had passed through the house as there wasn’t a single piece of furniture left in an upright position in the living room and the contents of the shelves on each side of the fireplace were now strewn around the room.  Continuing into the dining room, the glass-fronted buffet that had been against the shared kitchen wall was now on top of the upside-down table and its shattered contents littered the floor.  All the chairs had been smashed beyond repair and were now little more than toothpicks.


In the kitchen, every cabinet door was either open, hanging by a single hinge or missing entirely, and the contents of all the cabinets, be it food, dishes, spices, whatever, were nowhere to be seen.  We continued our tour into Charlie’s office on the other side of the foyer and discovered the destruction continued in here as well.  The desk was now sitting on its face and all the drawers had been dumped out and tossed haphazardly around the smallish space.  The books that had once neatly lined the shelves behind the desk were in a pile on the floor and I could swear I detected the stench of gasoline wafting into my nostrils from the dusty tomes.


We left the office and headed up the stairs to find only more devastation.  What little had been left in Logan’s room Saturday had been unceremoniously tossed out the shattered window and lay spread across the yard on the south side of the house.  The other bedroom upstairs was in no better condition.  Though everything was still in the room, not a piece of furniture was where it had been and most of it was now in multiple pieces.  All of Charlie’s clothes had been removed from the closet and slashed with a knife or cut to shreds with a pair of scissors.  All but a pair of shorts and a flowery Hawaiian shirt that shared a single hanger in the center of the closet.


Having silently completed our rounds, we returned to the front porch where I called Tom to have him get the police sent out and find out what happened to the security team that was supposed to be here.  While I dealt with that, Logan sat on the top step and wept shamelessly.  After receiving assurances from Tom that help would arrive shortly and ending my call, I sat on the step next to Logan, pulled him into my lap and let him cry while I held him as tightly as I could.  I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around the amount of hate flowing through someone to do anything like we what we’d just seen.


After ten minutes of rocking and hugging Logan, he finally started to settle back down, though I certainly wouldn’t have blamed him if he had continued for another couple of hours, or even days for that matter.  The front of my shirt was soaked through with snot and tears when he finally lifted his head and asked the simple question, “Why?”


“I don’t know, buddy.  I was wondering the same thing, myself.”


“And there goes life fuckin’ me again,” Logan moaned in anguish.  “I’d really like to know what the hell I done or who I fuckin’ pissed off to deserve all this shit.”


“Logan, I can’t begin to understand how you feel and I won’t lie to you and tell you I do.  But you have to know that none of this is any reflection on you.”


“I don’t know, Dad.  It sure seems like someone’s out to get me, one way or t’other.”


“Nothing could be further from the truth, young man.”


“Well, we might as well just get my bike and get the hell outta here.  Ain’t’ nothing else left to worry ‘bout no more.”


“We can sure do that.  Where do you keep it?”


“Out in the garage behind the house.  C’mon, I’ll show you.” 


Logan crawled off my lap and led the way down the steps, around the house past our car, and on to the garage.  As we approached the structure, I saw the side door of the building was standing wide open.  Concerned about what or who might be waiting for us, I had Logan stay about fifteen feet back as I slowly crept closer and carefully edged my head just far enough into the opening to see inside.  To say I was surprised at what I discovered doesn’t truly do justice to the shock I felt at what I saw.  In the middle of the floor, hands and ankles tied together, gagged, and bound to each other, were three burly looking men who looked like they’d certainly had better days.  The eyes of the man facing me bugged widely when he realized help had arrived.


I turned back to Logan and asked, “Do you still have your knife on you?”


“Always, Dad.”


“Well, get in here and help me.”


He quickly joined me and we stepped inside the garage.  On seeing the three men and the way they were tied together, Logan pulled his knife out and immediately started working on their bindings.  While he carefully cut through the ropes keeping the three immobile, I gently removed the gags that had kept the men silent.  The whole time Logan was working on the ropes, he was apologizing to the guys for anything and everything it seemed.


When I finally removed the last gag, the man breathed a huge sigh of relief and said, “Thank God you found us.  We thought we were gonna die.”


“You’re safe now and the cops are on the way.  Do any of you need an ambulance?” I asked.


“I don’t think so.”


“I might,” one of the other men moaned.  “I think that fuckin’ kid nailed me with a baseball bat.  That’s what it felt like anyway.”


“Let me make the call,” I replied.  I dialed nine-one-one and asked them to send an ambulance to where the police had been dispatched south of New Berlin.  Ending that call, I started another one to let Tom know what was going on.  He told me another group of security was already on the way since these guys hadn’t checked in for several hours.  Logan had finally finished his task of separating the men when we heard the first siren approaching.  Despite being cold and sore as hell from being on the concrete floor for hours, the three agreed to stay where they were until medical help arrived.


“Logan, why don’t you go out to the car and bring back whoever arrives?”  The boy was off like a bolt of lightning while I turned back to the men on the floor.  “What’re your names?” I asked.


“I’m Hunter, the guy on my right is Leroy, and the other one is Kurt.”


“Well, hang in there, Hunter, help will be here soon.”  I’d no sooner said the words when Logan came back into the garage will Kelly in trail behind him.


“Is everyone okay,” she asked immediately.


“Don’t know, Kelly,” I answered.  “One of the guys thinks he was hit with a bat and they’ve all been tied up for hours.  They didn’t want to move until the ambulance I called gets here.”


“Probably a good idea.  Who are you guys and what are you doing here,” she asked while kneeling in front of Hunter.


“I’m Hunter Lewis and the other two are Leroy Brown and Kurt Richards.  We’re a security team who was here to guard the farm and we got jumped just after six this morning.”


“Do you know who it was?”


“Not a clue.  Some white guy in his late thirties or early forties and two teenaged boys.”


“I think I might know, Kelly,” I offered.


She looked up to me and said, “Well, spit it out.”


“It sounds like Logan’s uncle and his cousins.”


“Any idea where they are now?”


“Not a clue.  And I don’t want to, either.”  Kelly glared at me with confusion and I jerked my head towards the door for her to follow me outside so we could talk freely.  She stood and headed towards the opening while I turned to Logan and said, “Logan, would you stay here and keep these guys company until the ambulance gets here.  I’m going to talk to Kelly outside.”


“You got it, Max.”


“Thanks, buddy.”  I turned for the door and followed Kelly outside for our chat.



“Hey, guys, I’m really sorry you got hurt.”


“Don’t worry ‘bout us, kid.  We’ll be fine,” Hunter replied.


“Maybe, but it’s my fault this happened.”


“No it isn’t, it’s our fault for not paying more attention to our job.”


“Well, y’all wouldn’t been out here if it weren’t for me.  This is my farm you was protectin’.”


“I didn’t know that,” Hunter replied in surprise.  “How’d you get to be the owner of a farm at your age?”


“My daddy died Friday night, so now it’s mine.  It was pro’lly my asshole uncle and shithead cousins that beat y’all and tied you up in here.”


“Whoever it was, he’s sure got some serious anger issues.  We all felt sick hearin’ what they were doin’ inside and knowing we couldn’t stop ‘em.  We’re really sorry we didn’t do a better job.”


“Don’t worry ‘bout it, guys.  I already got ever’thing I wanted out of the house.  The rest of it’s just stuff.  I just hope they didn’t screw with nothin’ else.”


“Well, they spent quite a bit of time out at the barn, too, but we couldn’t hear much of what was goin’ on out there.”


“WHAT!?” I screamed.  “BUSTER!”  I jumped up off the floor and ran out of the garage as fast as my skinny little legs would carry me.



I was about halfway through telling Kelly what I knew about Troy when Logan came flying out of the garage at full tilt boogie.  As he passed Kelly and me, he yelled, “C’mon, Max, we gotta check on Buster!”  I followed Logan as quickly as I could, but he was way too fast for me.  He was going through the back door of the barn just as I was coming in the front, and when I finally joined him in the small corral, he was hugging Buster around his neck.


“I’m so glad you’re okay, Buster,” he cooed into the young bull’s year.  “You, too, Bessie,” he added as he stepped over and patted her flanks.  A visibly relieved Logan finally rejoined me at the door to the barn and muttered, “I don’t know what I’da done if they’da hurt Bessie or Buster.”


“What made you think they had?” I asked with concern.


“Well, one o’ them dudes in the garage said unc and the shitheads spent quite a bit o’ time out here doin’ who knows what.  All I could think of was Buster.”


“I’m glad they’re okay.  We should probably check the rest of the barn on our way out.”  I wrapped Logan’s hand in mine and we started to pick our way back through the barn.  When we reached the tractor and feed grinder, it was quite obvious where the time in the barn had been spent.  The tractor had been destroyed and rendered inoperable, and the feed grinder had been dismantled and its parts and pieces spread across the area.  I don’t know how we both missed the destruction on our way through barn.  Logan could do nothing but stare blankly at the remains of the two pieces of equipment before glumly continuing back out into the bright and sunny afternoon.  When we stepped outside, Kelly and Derek were waiting for us and an ambulance had arrived to take care of Hunter and his guys.


“Afternoon, Logan” Derek greeted the property’s new owner.


“Hey, Mr. Timmons,” Logan answered flatly.  Derek and I shared a quick handshake and silent nod to each other before he returned his attention to Logan.


“I’m sorry for what’s happened out here, young man, but you can be sure we’ll find whoever did this.”


“Shouldn’t be too hard.  All ya gotta do is look for a dirty beige truck with Missouri plates on it and three assholes in it.”


“I’ve already put out an APB for them, Logan.  We’re going to take pictures of everything they’ve damaged so when we get them into court, they can’t wiggle their way out of this mess.”


“They ain’t goin’ to court here ‘cause they’re long gone.  And when I catch up with that bastard, he’s gonna pay like he ain’t never paid before.”


Derek knelt in front of Logan, put his hands on the youngster’s shoulders, then said, “I know you’re pissed off right now, and you have every right to be after what’s happened, but please let us take care of this.  I promise you, I won’t let him get away with what he’s done.”


“You do what ya gotta do, Mr. Timmons, and I’ll do what I gotta do.  That bastard better hope you find him first, though.”


“Looks like I have my marching orders.”


“Thanks for comin’ out, Derek,” I said as he stood back up.  “You need anything else from us before we leave?” 


“I can’t think of anything, Max,” Derek replied, but an almost imperceptible nod from him told me he had something to say he didn’t want Logan to hear.  


I turned to Logan and said, “Why don’t you go grab your bike and I’ll meet you at the car in a minute?”  With a simple nod of acknowledgement from Logan, he headed for the garage.  “Okay, what didn’t you want Logan to hear?” I asked once the young man was out of earshot.


“I’m sure when you guys went through the house, you smelled it in what I guess was Charlie’s office.”  I nodded in agreement and Derek continued.  “Yeah, there’s gasoline all over the books.  And we found a burned bundle of paper just inside and to the right of the front door.  There’s no doubt they tried to burn the place down, but their plan didn’t work, thankfully.  Just another charge to file against the losers.”


“Well, this is the last damn thing Logan needed to deal with,” I muttered.  “We’ll get out of your way and let you folks do your jobs.  Keep us posted on whatever else you find.”


“You know I will.  Try to enjoy what’s left of the day.”


“Seems rather unlikely, Derek, but we’ll try.  See you later, you, too Kelly.”  I headed for the car where Logan was waiting for me, and when I joined him, we slid his bike into the back of the Flex.  As I turned to get in the car, Logan ran around the front of the house, climbed the steps and disappeared inside.  When he came back out, he was carrying the hanger that held the shorts and Hawaiian shirt and he had a big smile gracing his face.  “What the heck are you doin’ with that?” I asked.


“Hey, we came out here to get somethin’ to bury my daddy in, didn’t we?  Since this is all he’s got left, I figured it was better than nothin’.  Don’t think they’ll let us bury him naked, do you?”


“No, probably not,” I laughed.  “We’ll see what the people at the funeral home think.  C’mon, munchkin, let’s get the hell out of here.”  We climbed in the car and as I turned around to leave, a new team of security people arrived to replace Hunter and his crew.  I wasn’t looking forward to our next stop, but there was no way to avoid it.  Five minutes after leaving the farm, we arrived at the funeral home and I parked in the otherwise empty lot.  We climbed out of the car, Logan grabbed the shorts and shirt he’d brought along for his dad, and we headed inside.


We were met by a kindly looking middle-aged woman with a somber look on her face.  “How may I help you two this afternoon?” she asked in a very kind voice.


“Hi, my name is Max Sanders, and this is Logan Campbell.  I called yesterday about arrangements for Logan’s father.”


“Ah, yes, I’ve been expecting you.  My name is Barb Wilson and I’m the person you talked to.  Come in, please.”  As we followed Barb through the building and into her office, she added, “We’re very sorry for your loss, young man, especially so soon after your mother passed.”  She took the chair behind her desk and added, “Please have a seat.”  After we’d all occupied a chair, she asked, “Were you able to bring some clothes for your father?”


Logan held up the hanger and Barb recoiled in shock when she saw the beige shorts and Hawaiian shirt.  “This is what I got, it’s all that’s left,” Logan answered quietly.


“Well, I’m sorry, but that just won’t do,” Bard commented with serious disgust.  “It’s hardly appropriate attire for a funeral.”


“Well, why the heck not?” Logan asked in confusion.  “Ain’t a funeral s‘posed to be a celebration of the dead person’s life?”


“Perhaps, but I still don’t think your father would want to be wearing that particular outfit for all eternity.”


“Listen, lady, I know you mean well and you’re just doin’ your job, but you didn’t know my daddy.  ‘Fore my momma died, he was a great guy with a wacky ass sense of humor and he loved to have fun.  And we was gonna do just that this summer.  After school was out and the fields were planted, he was takin’ us to some place called Key West down in Florida.  He bought this to wear while we spent a week on the beaches and in the ocean, just him an’ me.  And he never got a chance to do it.  Well, guess what? He’s gonna get his dang chance ‘cause that’s exactly what he’s gonna be wearin’ when you all put him in that coffin.”


Barb looked at me and said, “I’ll have to talk to my boss about this request.  I’m not sure he’ll allow it.”


As I stared back at Barb, I replied, “First, you’re talking to the wrong man.  This is one hundred percent Logan’s decision.  Second, if you don’t think you can follow your client’s wishes, then I recommend you refund any money Mr. Campbell already paid for his services and we’ll find another funeral home who will do as Logan requests.  Is your boss here?  We can clear this up right now.”


“Well, he is, but Howard’s rather busy at the moment.”


“If he can’t come to us, then I think you should take us to him so we can settle this before it’s too late.”


“I really don’t think that’s such a great idea, Mr. Sanders.  He’s working, um, downstairs.”


“Is he workin’ on my daddy,” Logan asked matter-of-factly.


“Yes, he has started preparing your father’s body.”


“Then what the hell we sittin’ up here for?” Logan retorted.  “Let’s go find this dude, Max,” he added as he stood and left the office, taking the hanger of supposedly inappropriate clothing with him.  I followed Logan’s lead against Barb’s protests, and we soon found a stairway that would take us down.  Barb was following along and trying to stop us from proceeding, but Logan wasn’t having any part of it.  When Logan stepped into the basement, I was still a few steps behind and I heard him call out, “Hey, Mr. McGee, how ya doin’?”  The next sound I heard was that of a billowing sheet and just as I cleared the last step, I could see the sheet fluttering down over Charlie’s body.


“Logan, what are you doing down here!?  You really don’t need to be seeing your dad like this.”


“I’m only here ‘cause your lady upstairs thinks my brain musta slipped a cog or two and she don’t think I know what I’m doin’.  She said she had to talk to you ‘bout somethin’ and I’m just cuttin’ out the middleman.”


“Well, what seems to be the problem?” an embarrassed Mr. McGee asked.


“Look, somebody broke into our house this mornin’ and trashed the place along with all of Daddy’s clothes.  Except for these,” Logan added as he held up the outfit.  “I know this ain’t your regular ‘bury me in my Sunday best’ outfit, but it’s what I want my Daddy wearin’ when he goes in the ground.  Please tell me you’ll do it.”


Mr. McGee snickered lightly at the contents of the hanger but answered, “If that’s what you want, young man, that’s exactly what you’ll get.  I think your dad would appreciate the gesture considering his wicked sense of humor.”


“I knew you’d understand.  Thank you.”  After a short pause, Logan asked, “Since I’m here, can I see him?”


With just a moment’s hesitation, Mr. McGee answered, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea, Logan.  I’ve just started my preparations and I have a lot of work to do before your dad should be seen by anyone, especially you.”


“Mr. McGee, I ‘ppreciate you tryin’ to protect me, but I seen death before.  I’ve helped daddy slaughter and butcher cows, pigs and chickens for years, so there ain’t nothin under that sheet’s that’s gonna surprise me none.  ‘Sides, that ain’t my daddy under there no more, that’s just the shell he occupied while he was here on this Earth.  He’s long gone and he ain’t comin’ back.”


Howard looked to me and I could only shrug my shoulders in response to his unspoken inquiry.  He finally returned his attention to Logan and quietly said, “I guess it’ll be okay.”  He then lifted the sheet covering Charlie’s head and pulled it down to his shoulders.  Even though only a minimal part of Charlie’s body was exposed, you could still see that serious damage had been done when his clothes were ripped from him.


Logan handed me the outfit, then grabbed a stool and dragged it over to the side of the table where his father’s body lay.  He then climbed up on the stool and sat down so he could look into Charlie’s face.  He gently brushed the hair off his dad’s forehead and away from his closed eyes, then leaned in close and whispered, “Don’t you worry none ‘bout me, Daddy.  I know you ain’t really here no more, but since I can’t talk to you where you’re at now, this is gonna hafta do.  I want you to know I’m gonna be fine.  I hurt like hell right now, but I gots Max and Tom and my brothers and a whole buncha other folks who’re gonna watch over me for you and momma.  It’s gonna take a while to get all this junk sorted out, but I gots a handle on it, okay?  I also got Mr. Bartley and Ryan takin’ care o’ things at the farm ‘til I can deal with it myself, so you don’t hafta worry ‘bout none o’ that either.  Do me a favor and tell momma I still love and miss her.  I still love you, too, and I’m gonna miss ya you mean and cranky old fart.  I’ll see both of you again in about eighty or ninety years, I hope.  It’ll probably feel like only a few seconds to you, but it’s gonna be a long and lonely lifetime for me.”


On that final note, he laid his head on Charlie’s chest, hugged him as best he could and whimpered quietly.  Howard and I could do nothing but hang our heads and cry with him.  The three of us finally got our feelings back under a modicum of control when Logan slid off the stool and stepped over to me.  He grabbed the outfit from my grasp, then turned and handed it to Howard.  “Thanks, Mr. McGee,” he said softly as Howard took the items from Logan’s shaking hands.


Howard quickly reviewed the small bundle and said, “Logan, I think you missed a couple of things.  There’s no socks or underwear here.”


“So what?  There weren’t gonna be none on the beach at Key West, either.  ‘Sides, he ain’t in no condition to complain ‘bout it, is he?”


“No, I suppose not.  I gotta tell ya, Logan, I like your style.”


“Thanks, Mr. McGee.  I’m just bein’ me.”


“Since you’re here, do you have any special requests for your dad’s service?” Howard asked.


“Yeah, I don’t want no prayers or nothin’ religious bein’ said.”


“But, when I read through your dad’s file this morning, he specifically wanted the twenty-third psalm to be read with a few other passages from the Bible, along with a hymn to be played.  Despite how your dad reacted to your mom’s death, he still believed in God.”


“I don’t give a rat what he said he wanted or believed.  This is what I want.  I don’t believe in God.  I maybe used to, but not no more.”


“Your parents would be very sad to hear you say that, young man,” Howard responded.


“Then answer me this, Mr. McGee.  What the hell kind of God takes both a kid’s parents at my age, huh!?  I’ll tell ya, a mean and hateful one that despises little kids.  And a God like that don’t deserve to be heard at my daddy’s funeral.  I had to hear that crap at my momma’s funeral and I ain’t gonna listen to it at my daddy’s.  And there’s two or three songs I want played that my momma used to listen to, but I’ll have to have Max help me figure out what they are.”


“We can do that, Logan.  While I can’t say I agree with your decisions, I’ll abide by them.  The service is more for you than your dad.”


“Oh, and one more thing, I wanna say somethin’ at the cemetery.”


“Are you sure you’ll be up to it?” Howard asked with concern.


“Pro’lly not, but I gots a few things that need to be said out loud and that’s when I wanna do it.”


“Then, we’ll make sure it happens.  Anything else you’d like?”


“Yeah, what day we gonna do this?” Logan inquired.


“Whatever day you want.  I could be ready tomorrow afternoon.”


“Nope, not durin’ the week.  I don’t wanna miss no more school.  Can we do it sometime Saturday afternoon?”


“That’s fine with me.  Will two o’clock be okay?”


Logan looked up to me and I nodded my acceptance of the time and date.  He then turned back to Howard and said, “Saturday at two, then, and the visitin’ thing Friday night, I guess, not that nobody will actually show up.”


“That works for us, Logan,” I commented.


“For us, too,” Howard agreed.


“Then let’s get the hell outta here, Max.  We got another stop to make, don’t we?”


“Yes, we do.”  I turned to Howard, shook his hand and thanked him for his time today before grabbing Logan’s hand and returning upstairs and outside.  As we climbed in the car for the short trip to the bank, I said to Logan, “You never cease to amaze me with your maturity, kiddo.  You’re handling things much better than I think I will when it comes time for me to deal with it.”


“Well, I’m just doing the best I can to get through this shit without breakin’ down completely, Dad.  I’ll have plenty of time for that when this is all over.  ‘Sides, I got you, Pops and my brothers to help me get through it.”


“You’ll always have us, buddy,” I replied as I pulled into the street and turned for the bank.


“Don’t be makin’ no promises you can’t keep.”


It was a quiet ride to the bank and when I shut off the car, Logan started to climb out.  I stopped him with a hand on his arm and said, “Hang on just a sec, I want to call Tom about something before we go in.”  Logan settled back into his seat but left his car door open as I dialed home.


“Hey, big guy, got another task for you to take care of.  …  Yeah, we’re done at the funeral home and about to head into the bank.  …  Oh, it’ll be interesting, for sure.  …  Look, I want you or Dylan to call the security company and have them double the coverage at the farm and at our home.  And I want them on duty ASAP.  …  Well, you didn’t see what they did at the farm, but I don’t want them havin’ any chance of repeating it at either location.  …  Thanks, hon.  We should be home in a bit.  Love you.  …  Bye-bye.”


After I ended the call, Logan said, “I don’t get why you’re worried ‘bout the farm.  What the hell else could they do they ain’t already done?”


“Well, you still have livestock out there.  I’d like to make sure it stays there and is still alive when all this stuff with Troy is over.”


“That makes sense, I guess, but I don’t know what he’d want with cows, pigs or chickens.”


“Let’s not take any chances, okay?”  With a simple nod from Logan, we headed into the bank for our conversation with Mr. Billings.  I let the receptionist inside the door know who we were and why we there and before we had a chance to take a seat, a pudgy bald man was hustling across the lobby to greet us.


“Good afternoon, I’m John Billings.  You must be Mr. Sanders.  Thank you for bringing Logan in to talk with me this afternoon.  If you’ll just give us a few minutes alone, we’ll have you on your way.”  He then turned to Logan and added, “Logan, I was so sorry to hear about your dad.  I know you two have had a rough couple of years, but maybe your dad has finally found some peace.”


“Thanks, Mr. Billings.  I hope he has, too.”


“Well, come with me, young man, and we can talk about a few things.”


“I’ll do that, but Max is comin’ with me.”


“I’m sorry, Logan, but he’s not allowed to hear what we need to talk about.”


“Why the hell not?” Logan asked rather loudly.


“Well,” John started in a calm voice to try to de-escalate things, “we’re going to be discussing your father’s will and what happens next.”


“Mr. Billings, I’m sorry if I’m just a stupid farm kid, but Max’s already read my daddy’s will and he knows what it says.  He’s the one who called you and told you ‘bout daddy dyin’, wasn’t he?”


“Well, yes he did, but I still don’t think he needs to be included in this discussion.”


“Okay, let me put this another way that you just might understand.  If Max ain’t with me, we ain’t talkin’ ‘bout jack shit.”


“Um, well, um,” John, stammered in surprise.  “I guess if that’s how you feel about it, then we’ll make an exception and allow him to join us.”


“Good plan there, Mr. Billings,” Logan replied testily.  “Let’s get this over with, can we?  I’m tired of dealin’ with this shit and wanna go home.”


“Follow me, gentlemen.”  John turned around and led the way to his office where he sat behind his desk and offered us the two empty chairs on the opposite side.  “I’d like to apologize for trying to keep out of this conversation, Mr. Sanders, but I’m still not sure how you became involved with Logan and his dad.”


“Like I told you yesterday, Logan’s been living with me and my family for just over three weeks now while he and Charlie were trying to resolve some problems between them.  My only involvement with them was as a foster parent for Logan.  But, now that Logan’s dad is gone, I feel it’s my duty to see that Logan and his interests are protected.”


“I see.  I think I do, anyway.”


“Whether you see or not is beside the point,” I began.  “I’m going to make sure that Logan receives what is his under the terms of the will.  And William, too, if he can be located.  Now, if we’ve settled this little pissing match you insisted on creating, can we more on?” I asked.


“Fine,” John retorted with disgust.  He turned his attention to Logan and began, “It turns out that is was rather fortuitous Mr. Sanders called me and I was able to put blocks on all your dad’s accounts first thing this morning, Logan.  A gentleman presented himself as your father this morning and tried to withdraw all the money and close the accounts.  Not that he would have gotten away with much since there was only about $2,500.00 in the accounts.”


Logan’s jaw dropped in surprise and when he’d gathered his senses back together, he screamed, “What the hell you talkin’ ‘bout!?  According to what we found in the lockbox with the will, there was over a quarter million dollars in this dump.”


“Well, I’m not sure where that figure came from because your family has never had that much deposited in any accounts here,” John replied smugly.


I could tell Logan was about to seriously blow a gasket and John’s head was directly in the line of fire.  I placed a hand on his shoulder and calmly asked, “Logan, would you please wait in the lobby for a minute?  I need to have a little chat with Mr. Billings.”


“No way, José!  If you’re gonna talk ‘bout me and my money, you’re gonna do it with me right here.”


“Please, Logan, for just a minute,” I begged.


“Nope, not gonna happen, Max.  This bastard’s tryin’ to rip me off just like my uncle is, and that ain’t gonna happen.  Not in this century or any other.”


“All right, you can stay, but let me deal with this, okay?”


“Do whatever you gotta do, man, but I ain’t leaving nothin’ in this shithole.”


I turned back to John and noticed a flush flooding the bald spot on the top of his head and flowing down to his ears.  “Mr. Billings, you will, right this moment, retrieve your bank’s ledgers from after closing last Friday and bring them back here.  You will then prove to me, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that your accounting is one-hundred percent accurate on Logan’s balances.  If you fail to do it, I will first be calling the police to come arrest your sick lying ass for embezzlement, and second, the FDIC to come in tomorrow morning and audit this bank from top to bottom.  I will not allow you to steal from a nine-year-old kid who’s just lost his father.  Especially a child you’ve sworn to protect.”


“I’m not lying to you,” John retorted angrily.  “And besides that, you’re bluffing.  You have no proof to back up your claims, so the bank’s ledgers will determine who’s right and who isn’t.”


“Are you sure you want to take that position?  Your hand is pretty damn weak.”


“I still say you’re bluffing.  You don’t have near the power you think you do.”


“And he goes all in.”  I pulled my phone out of my pocket, unlocked it, handed it to Logan and said, “Here, Logan, it’s your money, you make the call.”


“Damn right I will.”  The youngster opened my contacts, scrolled to Derek’s name and tapped the screen to place the call.  “Hello, is this Sheriff Timmons?  …  Good.  This is Logan Campbell, again.  …  Well, I thought I was doin’ okay, but not so much no more.  …  It’s like this, Sheriff.  I’m at the bank where my daddy has all our farm’s money and the bald fat prick sittin’ behind his big fancy desk is tryin’ to tell us my daddy had only $2,500.00 in the bank when he died.  …  Well, yeah, that’s a problem, ‘cause accordin’ to my daddy’s accountin’ we found, there’s s’posed to be about $265,000 in this place.  …  Well I sure as hell didn’t spend it over the weekend.  It just up and disappeared.  …  Oh, so you’re still at my farm.  That means you can be here in ‘bout five minutes.  …  That’s perfect, Sheriff.  We’ll be here.  And thanks for your help, again.”  Logan ended the call with an evil grin cutting across his face and he handed the phone back to me.


I wasted no time as I placed a call to Clarence.  After getting past the receptionist, I had him on the phone with me and began the conversation with, “Clarence, I need a favor.  …  I need you to call someone at the FDIC and get them out to the bank in New Berlin.  …  Well, I have reason to believe the vice-president of the bank is guilty of embezzling at least $250,000 from a dead man.  …  Yes, I said a dead man.  I know it sounds weird, but what else can I say?  …  Thanks for your help.  I’ll give you more details later.  Bye.” 


I slipped my phone back in my pocket and we sat back to await Derek’s arrival.  As the time passed, John had lost the redness about his head and his skin tone had taken on a distinctively grey pallor.  Beads of sweat were constantly popping out on his forehead, running down into his eyes and over his chubby little cheeks.  If I didn’t know better, I’d have guessed he was melting away right before our eyes.


“You’re looking a bit peaked there, John.  Can we get you a drink or something?”


“I’m just fine,” he answered angrily.


“If you say so,” I retorted.  “I’m still waiting to see Friday’s reports.”  With my patience being pushed to the limit, I turned to my companion and asked, “Logan, would you go out front and tell the receptionist we need the bank’s president in here?”


“We’ll be right back, Max.  Don’t let that scumbag outta your sight,” Logan responded while angrily pointing his finger at John.  In less than a minute, Logan returned with the bank’s president in tow.


“Good afternoon, gentlemen.  My name is Grant Peters.  This young man tells me I’m needed in here.  What can I do for you today?”


“Have a seat, Mr. Peters, and I’ll explain the situation,” I greeted the man while I patted my thigh for Logan to come sit on my lap.  Once everyone was seated, I continued, “My name is Max Sanders and this young man is Logan Campbell.”  I spent the next five minutes explaining to Grant about Charlie’s death, my involvement in the situation, reading his will, my call to John yesterday and the purpose of our visit here this afternoon.  With the basics of the situation explained, I carried on with “So, with the information I have, I believe that Mr. Billings is trying to enrich himself at the expense of a vulnerable young man who has dealt with more hardships in his nine years than anyone his age should ever have to endure.”  As if on cue, Logan turned his face into my chest and let go a little whimper.  I then plowed on with, “The police are already on the way.  The ball’s in your court.”


Grant seemed stunned at the tale I’d related, and he finally turned to look at John who seemed to have wilted even further than he was a few short minutes ago.  “Is there any basis in truth to Mr. Sanders’ accusations, John?”


“No, sir, absolutely not,” John sputtered as he sank ever lower in his chair.


Grant looked back to me and asked, “Can you provide any proof to your accusations, Mr. Sanders?”


“All I have available to me are the accounting ledgers Mr. Campbell maintained.  From my initial perusal of those, they seem to me to be quite detailed and accurate.  If you’d like to see them, I can have them brought here in less than ten minutes.”


“Would you please make the arrangements to do so.  I would like to compare them to our records.”


With a nod, I pulled my phone out again and called home.  “Hi there.  We have a little issue at the bank and I need another favor.  …  In the lockbox we retrieved from Logan’s house, there was a set of accounting ledgers.  Can you pull them out and have Ron run them over to the bank, please?  …  The sooner, the better.  …  Thanks, hon.”  I stuffed my phone away and turned to Grant before saying, “They’ll be here shortly.  Maybe we can get this problem resolved today.”


“I guarantee you it will be,” Grant replied.  “While we wait for Mr. Campbell’s accounting to arrive, I’ll retrieve our records from closing Friday.  I’ll be back in a few minutes.”  Shortly after Grant left the office, the bank’s guard joined us and stood by the door.  True to his word, Grant returned carrying several thick printouts from the computer.  Derek had also arrived and joined the party in John’s office, quietly taking a spot on the opposite side of the door than the bank’s guard.  Ron arrived shortly with the items I requested and smoothly extricated himself from the situation after sharing a quick hug with Logan. 


I took a quick look at the ledgers in my hand before passing them to Grant with the comment, “You’ll find Charlie included the account numbers on each page in these, so it should be easy for you to match them up with the reports you have.”


“Thank you, give me just a few minutes to compare these.”  Grant immediately got to work, flipping back and forth through the bank’s reports to match various account numbers to those noted in Charlie’s ledgers.  He nodded slightly after each comparison and finally settled everything in his lap.  “Well, I must say that Mr. Campbell was a very meticulous individual with his recordkeeping.  Every account he’s noted in his ledgers matches our Friday report of ending balances to the penny.  Give me just another moment, please.”


Grant picked up the phone on John’s desk and dialed an extension before saying, “Betty, I need you to produce a report of all transactions since Friday’s close and the current balances for the following accounts.”  Grant rattled off six different account numbers from Charlie’s ledgers, then added, “When you have that, please bring it into John’s office.  Thank you.”  Our wait was fairly short when Betty arrived with a single sheet of paper in her hand.  After she left, Grant looked at the report she’d handed over, after which he paled visibly and muttered, “Oh, my.”  He hesitated a moment before lifting his eyes from the paper and said, “Mr. Sanders, Mr. Campbell, please accept my apologies for what’s happened here.  Would you excuse us for a few minutes while I have a little chat with Mr. Billings?  When I’m done with him, I’ll come get you so we can resolve this situation.”


“We’ll be waiting in the lobby for you, Mr. Peters,” I replied as Logan and I left the office.  We took a seat near the receptionist’s desk and settled in for our wait.  “Logan, I have to say you’ve impressed me yet again with your strength and fortitude.”


“What can I say, man?  I’m gettin’ real damn tired of life fuckin’ me over and over and over, and not feelin’ a goddam thing.”  I couldn’t help but snicker at his astute observation of recent events.  “This shit ain’t funny, Max.”


“No, it isn’t, and I’m sorry for reacting like I did.  But, I’m with Mr. McGee, I like your style.  I absolutely love the way you put what you’re feeling into words.”


“That’s just me bein’ me,” he giggled.


“And we wouldn’t want you to be any other way, young man.”


“That’s a good thing, Max, ‘cause I don’t think I can change it.” 


I wrapped an arm around his shoulders and kissed the top of his head before whispering, “Good, don’t even try.”  We sat and waited for about ten minutes before Grant finally headed our way.  He was followed by Derek leading John from the building in handcuffs.  When Grant stopped next to Logan, Derek continued on, mouthing, ‘I’ll call you later’.


“Will you two please come with me?” Grant asked before turning and leading the way to his office.  While he took his chair behind his desk, Logan and I sat in the offered chairs on the other side.  He then started the conversation with, “Logan, I am truly sorry for you having to deal with things like this after what you’ve been through this weekend.  I can’t even begin to imagine how you feel right now.”


“No, you can’t,” Logan replied flatly.  “I mean, I’m already worn out from ever’thing else that’s happened.  And then to come in here and have that bastard try to rape me on top of all that, well, it’s just like gettin’ a swift kick in the nuts.”


Grant blanched at Logan’s language, but the two of us chuckled quite a bit before Grant was ready to continue.  “Well, I want you to know that everything concerning your accounts has been corrected and restored to the way it was Friday.  What would you like to do now?”


“I wanna take it all outta here,” Logan answered.


“Why?  We’ve corrected the error and I promise it won’t happen again.”


“Error?” Logan sputtered angrily.  “You think that weasel tryin’ ta rip me off was a freakin’ error!?  That’s exactly why I want my money outta this place, so no more errors can happen to my money!”


“I’d like to make a suggestion, if I could,” I interrupted before Logan could climb across the desk and inflict serious bodily harm to the stunned banker.


“And just what would that be, Mr. Sanders?” Grant quickly asked in an attempt to defuse the emotionally explosive youngster.


“Let’s open up six new accounts to replace the six Charlie had and transfer all the funds into the new accounts.  The only signatories on the new accounts would be Logan, myself and my fiancé.  And I want the accounts set up so that it takes two signatures on any check before the bank will honor it.”


“That sounds like a great idea, sir,” Grant exhaled in relief.  “What do you think of that idea, Logan?”


“Yeah, I could live with that, I guess.  I trust Max to do the right thing.”


“Excellent, gentlemen.  Let me talk to Betty and I’ll get the process started.  I’ll have her bring in the forms you’ll need to sign when she has everything set up.”  With that, Grant left the office.


“You sure you’re okay with me and Tom being on your accounts, Logan?”


After a quick glance behind us to ensure the office door was closed, Logan answered with, “Look, Dad, I know we ain’t known each other that long, but I do love and trust y’all.  ‘Sides that, with all the stinkin’ money you already got, there ain’t no way in hell you’d try to take mine,” he giggled.  “By the way, did you like that little act I put on in the asshole’s office?”


“What?” I exclaimed.  “You faked that bit when you cried in my chest?”


“Yep.  Was that good or what?” he giggled again.


“It was perfect, kiddo.  You sure fooled me,” I chuckled in realization of the boy’s skills as a performer.


“Good, I was just hopin’ Mr. Peters would buy it.  I think it worked out pretty good.”  We were both laughing but quickly regained control when we heard the office door open behind us.


Grant rejoined us and sat behind his desk again.  “Okay, that’s being handled.  Betty will bring everything in when she’s done.  Is there anything else we need to deal with today?”


“One very important thing I can think of, Mr. Peters.  The reason we came in to talk to Mr. Billings today is he is named as the executor of Charlie’s will and Logan’s trustee.  However, in light of recent developments, I think that should be changed immediately.”


“I agree with you, Mr. Sanders.  Unfortunately, I’m not an attorney who can make such a change.”


“But you wouldn’t contest us if we get that provision modified to reflect Logan’s wishes?”


“Absolutely not.  I’d much prefer the executor and trustee not be associated with the bank in any way, just to avoid any potential claims of a conflict of interest in the future.”


“Then, I’ll call my attorney when we get home and see what he can do.”


“Mr. Billings told me you called someone to have the FDIC notified about the problem today.”


“Yes, I’m sorry, but he didn’t seem like he was very interested in resolving things properly.”


“Don’t worry about that.  You were exactly right to make that call.  And if you hadn’t, I would have to.  I want our books gone over with a fine-toothed comb to see if he has victimized anyone else.  You can rest assured, Mr. Sanders, that we will cooperate fully with the examiners when they arrive, and any improperly appropriated funds will be returned to the customer.”


“As it should be.”  There was a light rap on the door and when it opened, Betty came in and handed some papers over to Grant.


“Thank you, Betty.  That will be all for now,” he said dismissively.  Betty turned and left the three of us alone.  Grant reviewed the paperwork and a look of serious surprise filled his face.  After he peeled a handwritten note from the top page of the stack, he handed them over while saying, “Here are the forms you’ll need to sign for each of the new accounts.  When will your fiancée be able to come in and sign them?”


“Oh, I just assumed we could take these with us and bring them back.”


“I’m sorry, Mr. Sanders, that’s not allowed.  The signatures must be witnessed by a bank employee.”


“Then I guess Logan and I will sign them now and when we get back home, Tom can come over to add his signature.”


“That would be just fine, sir,” Grant replied.  “I’ll leave these with the receptionist to make it easy to deal with when he comes in.”


“Logan, these are your accounts, so you should sign them first,” I said.  He stood in front of the desk, and using the pen supplied by Grant, scrawled his name on the top line on each form.  He then handed me the pen and papers so I could follow his lead.  As I added my signature, I was double-checking the balances that would be in each new account to ensure they matched my recollection of Charlie’s ledgers.  When I reached the page for a seventh account, I understood the look of surprise I’d seen from Grant.  I paused and asked, “Logan, did you pay attention to these when you went through them?”


“Nah, why would I?” he replied.  “I just wanna go home.”


“You might want to take a closer look at this last one, buddy,” I commented, handing it to him to peruse.


He took it from me and let his eyes wander over the page from top to bottom.  When he finally saw what had caught my eye, his eyes opened wide in surprise.  “What the hell is this!?” he squeaked.


Grant took over and answered, “Betty found another account that your father didn’t include in his accounting ledgers, Logan.  After a quick bit of research, she discovered that your mother had received an inheritance from her mother and a separate account was opened with those proceeds.”


“But this says I got over five million bucks!  Ain’t no way in hell that’s real,” Logan complained.


“5,265,482.19 dollars to be exact,” Grant replied with a smile while referring to the hand-written note. “And that’s just in the one account,” he added.


“And it’s all mine?” Logan queried warily.


“Every penny.”


“Holy shit, I’m freakin’ rich!” the stunned youngster sputtered as he collapsed back into his chair.


Logan finally handed the last page back to me and after I’d added my signature to it, I handed the pen and forms back to Grant.  “I guess that’s it for now.  Tom should be here in about fifteen or twenty minutes to add his signature.”


“That will be fine.  Again, let me apologize for today’s events and I thank you for allowing us to correct this huge debacle.”


“The important thing is you did.  C’mon, Logan, let’s go home.”


“Best thing I’ve heard all day, Max.”


We left Grant alone and headed out into the sunny afternoon to climb in the car for the short trip home.  As I made the turn out of the parking lot, I commented, “You handled all that pretty well considering the circumstances, Logan.”


“I just hope we’re done with all this crap ‘til Friday night.  I don’t know how much more I can take.”


“The only thing I can think we still need to take care of is getting your house straightened up and figure out who’s gonna pay for the damage that was done.”


“Can you take care o’ that for me?  I can’t deal with it no more.  I just wanna sleep.”


“Of course, I will.  And I think a nap is a good idea.”


“Can I use your bed?” he asked with grin.


“You bet, buddy,” I replied as I reached over to my passenger and ruffled his hair.


After parking in the garage, I unloaded Logan’s bike and parked it with the others while he loped inside to lay down for a while.  As I stepped into the house, Logan was leaving his room and carrying the raggedy teddy bear with him as he headed across the house in search of peace and quiet.  I turned into Tom’s office to find the two investigators hard at work.  The first thing I noted was Bill had been here while Logan and I were gone, and Dylan’s computer was all set up.


“Hey, guys, how’s it goin’ in here?” I asked in way of greeting.


“We’re doin’ okay, I guess.  You get everything handled with Logan?” Tom replied.


“So far, yeah.  Talk about your shitty damn days, this is one of ‘em.”


“How’s Logan doin’ with everything?” Dylan asked.


“A helluva lot better than I would be in his place, let me tell ya.  That kid never ceases to amaze me.  He keeps gettin’ knocked down and he bounces right back up, ready for the next punch.  Kinda reminds me of one of those blow-up bop clown things we had when we were kids.  Of course, finding out he just inherited over five million dollars helps ease the pain a bit, I’m sure.”


“What!?” the two surprised men squawked.  I quickly explained about the extra account we hadn’t known about and how it had come to be.


“Bet that explains why Troy is being such a pain in the ass,” Tom commented.  “He wants to get his hands on that money.”


“Wouldn’t surprise me a bit,” I agreed.


“So, when’s the funeral?” Tom asked.


“Visitation is Friday night and the funeral is Saturday at two.”


“Why so late,” Dylan asked.  “Most folks would have it Wednesday or Thursday.”


“The reason Logan gave was he didn’t want to miss any more school.  Why he’s so worried about that right now is beyond me.  By the way, Tom, you need to run over to the bank and sign some forms.”


“What for?”


“After what happened, they opened up new accounts for Logan and transferred all the funds from Charlie’s old accounts to the new ones.  You, Logan and I are going to be the only signatories on the new ones, just to keep anyone else from tryin’ to rob the poor kid.  ‘Scuse me, rich kid,” I corrected myself with a chuckle.


“When do you want me to go?” 


“Now would be good.  I want that done and over with.  And when you go get dressed, be quiet because Logan wanted to take a nap and I told him he could use our bed.”


“Consider it done, babe,” he responded and left the office to get ready to leave.


“Anything you need from me, Max?” Dylan asked.


“Can’t think of anything at the moment.  Unless you want to track down Troy and string the ignorant bastard up for me.”


“You give the word and it shall be done,” Dylan grinned evilly.


“Maybe later,” I chuckled.  “Let’s give Derek a chance to find him first.  Okay, I need to send Charlie’s will to my attorney so he can work his magic and get a change made.  Talk to you later.” 


I left Tom’s office and headed for my study to take care of my task.  I scanned and e-mailed the document to Clarence along with a note to call me when he had time.  After completing that minor chore, I was just about to grab the lockbox to search for any insurance information when a thought occurred to me and I headed back across the house to talk to Dylan about my flash of brilliance.  As I passed by the kitchen, I could see Ron was diligently preparing for supper and I flipped him a quick wave before moving on.


Stepping back into the office, I said, “Okay, maybe I do have something for you to take care of for us.  For Logan, really”


“Shoot, Max.”


“Well, the way I’m thinkin’ ‘bout this may be biased but hear me out.  We’ve hired this security company to protect us here and to watch over Logan’s farm until Troy goes back home, right?  Since the farm was vandalized while they were on duty, shouldn’t it be their responsibility to pay for any damages and repairs to the property?  I’m sure Charlie had insurance that would cover it, but I’d hate to file a claim with them if we can get somebody else to fork over the money.”


“Interesting theory, Max.  I honestly don’t know the answer to your question, but I’ll be happy to make the call and find out.”


“Thanks, Dylan.  Any luck with fences and windows?”


“Actually, yeah.  Both the fencing guys came out and the one window guy showed up, too.  All three took measurements for what they need to cover and will be sending their proposals in a couple of days.  The other window dude should be here in the morning.  With luck, we’ll have all their bids by Friday so you can make a decision of who you want to use.”


“Great, I’m glad to hear that news.  Did either give you any idea as to cost?”


“Except to say it wasn’t gonna be cheap, no.”


“No big surprise there, I suppose, but our privacy and security’s more important than money, so whatever it takes.  Thanks, Dylan.”


“I’ll let you know what the security company says about their liability,” Dylan added as I left the room. 


Feeling like I’d dealt with all I could handle today, I made it to the living room where I unceremoniously crashed in my chair.  I laid my head back and closed my eyes, hoping I could finally let go of some of the stress that had been building all day long.  Between the trashing of Logan’s home and equipment, the little soliloquy he’d whispered to his dad’s lifeless body and the unmitigated gall of the asshole at the bank, I was ready to get Tom’s gun out of the safe and kill someone.  Fortunately, the ringing of the phone distracted me from my destructive thoughts. 


I opened my eyes and was about to reach for the phone when I heard, “Sanders/Wright residence, this is Ron, how may I help you?” echo softly from the kitchen.  “One moment, please.  Let me see if he’s available.”  I watched as Ron stuck his head around the corner in the dining room and asked, “Max, do you want to talk to a guy named Derek right now or should I take a message?”


“I’ll take it, Ron, thanks.”  With a thumbs up signal from Ron, I grabbed the phone, “Hey, Derek, what’s up?”


“You wanna know somethin’, Max?  You have a more interesting and exciting life than any other person I’ve ever known.”


“Thanks, smart-ass,” I chuckled.  “I hope to god you’re calling for more than to tell me that.”


“Of course, I am.  Got some news for y’all about Logan’s farm.”


“You found Troy, already?” I asked in confusion.  “He must not have gotten very far.”


“Well, we found him, his wife and their boys at the Hampton Inn.  I had another unit retrieve Mr. Billings from there while I dealt with Logan’s relatives.  After searching their rooms and truck, we didn’t find a damn thing that they didn’t bring up with them from home.  They claim they haven’t left the motel all day.  And as much as it pains me to say it, I believe them.”


“You can’t be serious!” I exclaimed.


“Serious as a tax audit, Max.  They exhibited none of the nervousness a guilty person usually does when confronted and they answered every question we asked them without hesitation.  The smug bastard even told me that if we should talk to Logan before he sees him at Charlie’s funeral to tell Logan he’s sorry for the way he behaved Saturday, that he’s just really upset with his brother’s death.”


“He can say whatever the hell wants, I don’t believe a word of it,” I countered.


“I wasn’t inclined to believe him either, but the more we talked, the more believable he became.”


“Well, if he wasn’t the one to wreck Logan’s place, who the hell was?”


“I’m still working on that, Max.  We’ve had some reports of break-ins and such around the county the past few months and I’m going to check into those to see if there’s any commonalities between them.  We will also talk to the neighbors in the vicinity of Logan’s farm to see if anyone saw something out of the ordinary this morning.  Maybe we’ll get lucky with those interviews.”


“Well, keep us updated on whoever you find was responsible.”


“You know I will, Max.  Talk to you later.”


“Thanks for callin’, Derek.  Bye.”  I hung up the phone and laid my head back again, completely baffled at the information Derek had just shared.  I hadn’t had much time to work on the puzzle in my mind when Tom returned from his errand.  He joined me in the living room and Dylan followed along.  “So, is the bank happy?”


“I think so.  The receptionist seemed a bit confused about me signing the papers.  I think she was expecting a lady to show up.”


“Yeah, she probably was,” I muttered.  “I’m sure when Grant handed the papers to her, he told her my fiancée was coming since that’s how I referred to you initially.”


“Well, whatever the case, Logan’s good to go with the new accounts.”


“Good, that’s another headache disposed of.”  I turned to Dylan and asked, “How ‘bout you?  Did you have any luck with the security people?”


“As a matter of fact, I did.  You’ll be happy to hear that they are taking responsibility for everything that got damaged and promise to repair or replace everything.  And if Derek can find and arrest who did it, the security company will go after them to get their money back.”


“Hot damn!” I hooted with happiness.  “That’s great news, Dylan.  It’s gonna be a pricy lesson for them because some of the furniture looked like it was antiques that had been in Logan’s family for generations.”


“They’re going to have a cleanup crew like Servpro or somebody go out first to do a cleaning, then have some furniture folks go out to see what can be done with that.  A farm implement company will show up to review the damage to the tractor and feed grinder, then let them know if they can be repaired or need to be replaced.”


“You’ve just made my day, man.  It should help Logan’s day, too.  It’s just too bad we can’t stick Troy with all of that.”


“Why not,” Tom asked in confusion.


“I just got off the phone with Derek.  He found and talked to Troy, the wife and kids this afternoon and he doesn’t think they did it.”  Seeing the stunned looks on both their faces, I spent the next couple of minutes relaying what Derek had told me.


When I’d finally run out of things to share, Dylan commented, “I hadn’t thought about that since Troy seemed like the perfect suspect, but Derek’s right, there have been quite a few break-ins and vandalisms in this part of the county over the past six months or so.”


“I never heard about those,” Tom said with surprise.


“Well, you were usually on the eastern side of the county and all the reports we’d received were for the western end, so there never seemed much point in you knowing about them.  If I remember, there have also been several similar incidents in Menard county, too.”


“But did any of them receive as much damage?” I asked.


“I don’t think so,” Dylan replied after thinking about it for a moment.  “It’s almost as if whoever did it to Logan was looking for something they thought should be there.”


“Well, I’m tired of thinking about it,” I sighed.  “I just want things to calm down so we can have a normal fuckin’ life.”


“Yeah, fat chance of that ever happening.  Not in this house, anyway,” Tom laughed.  “Six wild monkeys live here along with me and Ron, and our leader is crazier than a loon.  What do you think, Dylan?  Do you see ‘normal’ ever taking up residence here?”


“Not in my lifetime,” Dylan agreed with a hearty laugh.


“Thanks, smart asses.  Y’all really know how to make a guy feel better.”


“Look, babe, the vows we’re going to share shortly say things like in sickness and health, richer or poorer, but I’ve never heard of normal being included with the others, so just give it up now.”


“Yeah, yeah, whatever.  Don’t you two have some work you should be doin’?”


“Well, now you’re just tryin’ to get rid of us,” Tom cracked.


“Why yes, yes I am.  Begone, oh crackers of wise,” I joked as I shooed the two away.  “Give me my peace.”


Tom leaned over and whispered, “You ain’t gettin’ rid of me that easy, babe.”  At that moment, the front door popped open and the fantastic five filled the home with noise as they returned home from school.  “Good luck with findin’ that peace you wanted, now,” Tom chuckled as he followed Dylan down the hall, both of them laughing their fool heads off.


“Hey, Dad, we’re home,” Mike called out as the group came towards me.


“Really?  Sounded more like someone opened the hyena cage at the zoo and set them free.”


“Oh, c’mon, Dad,” Andy whined.  “We aren’t that loud.”


“Wanna bet?” I chuckled.  “Hugs, then homework, boys.  Ron’s in the kitchen and he’ll get your snack.”  I got my hugs and the group trouped down the hallway to get comfortable.  As they filtered back through, T.J. stopped and climbed in my lap.  “What’s up kiddo?”


“Where’s Logan?”


“Sleepin’ in our bed.  He was pretty wiped out after the afternoon we had.”


“Yeah, I bet he was.  How’s he doin’?”


“He’s hangin’ in there, I think, despite everything we’ve been through today.”


“Did his uncle really trash his house?” he asked out of the blue.


“Well, it was certainly torn up, but we’re not sure who did it just yet.”


“I hope they find ‘em and string ‘em up.”


“We all do, buddy.  Do you have any homework to deal with?”


“Just my new spelling words.”


“Then hop to it, T.J.  Oh, and tell Ron I’d like to talk to him for a minute, please.”  On that note, T.J. hopped off my lap and continued his trek to the kitchen.  Ron joined me a minute later and I waved him to a seat.


“What’s up, Max?”


“You remember earlier when I said I had a strange request for you?”


“Yeah, and it’s been buggin’ all day,” he chuckled.


“Sorry, Ron, that wasn’t my intent.  But this is important, and I want you to seriously consider your feelings before you answer.”  Now that I could see I had his undivided attention, I plowed on.  “Tom and T.J. recently helped save a kid’s life.  He’s a junior in high school and he’s gay.  He’d planned to kill himself because he believed his parents wouldn’t accept him for who he is.”


“Sounds like it’s a good thing he got help.”


“It is, but that’s not the whole story.  Rich had also been going to some bar in Springfield to try to find some guy to do some experimenting with, try to figure out if he really is gay or not.”


“Well, that’s just fuckin’ stupid.  He coulda gotten himself killed doin’ shit like that.”


“We know.  And even though it looks like he’s given up on the bar thing, he still wants to try some things with another guy, and while his dad says he supports him in that, he also said he wouldn’t be the one to help Rich.  So, here’s my question.  Would you consider spending some time with Rich and, I don’t know, I guess maybe guide him a little bit on his journey to discovering his true self.”


“Are you shittin’ me, Max!?” Ron asked in surprise.


“Not a bit.”


“Geez, man, I don’t know.  You’re askin’ me to take what, a seventeen-year-old kid, into my bed?  You don’t want much, do you?”


“It’s not a requirement, Ron, just a thought I had.  And if you’re not interested, that’s fine.  I want to help this kid find himself in a safe manner.  I just thought that since you were so close to his age, you might be willing to help out.”


“I don’t know, Max.  While it sure sounds like it would be interesting and a whole lotta fun, I gotta think about it.  Have you to talked to the kid about this?”


“No, not yet.  The idea just popped in my head this morning and I wanted to talk to you before I talked to him or his dad about it.”


“I’ll give it some serious thought, I swear.”


“That’s all I’m asking for, Ron.  I’d kinda planned to invite him out for a swim later this week, just to see how he’s doing, but it would give you a chance to meet him, too, see what you think of him.”


“That sounds cool.  I would like to meet the kid before I decide anything.”


“Fair enough,” I replied.  “Now, how’s supper goin’?”


“Almost done.  We should be ready to eat a little after five, though I’m not sure how hungry the boys’ll be after just having a snack.”


“Don’t you worry ‘bout them,” I laughed.  “They’ve never failed to pack the food away at any meal.  “Well, I’m going to get comfortable, finally, and see if I can get Logan to wake up.”  Ron headed back to the kitchen while I turned for the bedroom.  When I opened the door, I found Logan curled up in the middle of the bed with his bear wrapped tightly in his arms.  I quietly got undressed, then visited the bathroom before sitting on the edge of the bed.  I leaned over and brushed the hair out of Logan’s eyes before giving his shoulder a gentle shake.


“Huh?  What’s goin’ on?” he mumbled as he opened his eyes.


“Just wakin’ ya up, buddy.  The other guys are home from school and supper will be ready shortly.”


“Yeah, okay, Dad,” Logan replied as he sat up, still clutching the bear to his chest.


“What’s your bear’s name?”


“Don’t really have one, I guess.  I just call ‘im bear.”


“Oh, come on.  Every good bear deserves a real name, Logan.”


“Well, if he has to have a name, I guess I could always use Chuck since daddy got him for me for my second birthday.  I’d always have my daddy with me then, or at least part of him.”


“Logan, as long as you keep the memories of your mom and dad in your mind and hold them in your heart, they’ll be with you forever.  Nobody can take those feelings from you.”


“Thanks, Dad, I needed that.”  He leaned in close and kissed me on the cheek, then gave me a hug which I returned.


“You ready to rejoin the herd?”


“I guess.  What’s for supper?”


“Not a clue, Ron refused to tell me.”


“Well, let’s go kick his ass, then.  I’m hungry,” Logan giggled.


“Lead the way, young man.”  We left the bedroom together and I followed Logan into the kitchen.  When we reached it, Ron was watching Alex and Joey working on the fifth-grade math book, so he was surprised when Logan’s foot connected with his bare backside, causing lots of laughter from the other boys.


“What the hell?” Ron squealed in surprise as he turned around.


“When’s supper, dude, I’m hungry?” Logan asked.


“Well, after that, all you’re getting is gruel,” Ron retorted.


“Oh, c’mon, man, don’t torture me like,” Logan begged.  “ ‘Specially when you got prime rib cooking.”


“How the heck could you know that?  I haven’t told anyone what I’m making.”


“I grew up on a farm, Ron-boy.  You really think I don’t know what meat you’re fixin’ us?”


“I guess if anyone would, it would be you.”


“Dang right.  Now get on the stick and finish it up in here.”


“Move along, ya little rugrat.  It’s not ready yet, but I’ll let you know when it is.”


With that, a giggling Logan left the kitchen to return ‘Chuck’ to his bedroom, the rest of the crew following along to put their homework away.  I followed the herd and turned into Tom’s office.


“Hope you’re hungry, Ron’s fixing prime rib for supper tonight,” I greeted the two.


“Oh, God,” Dylan moaned in delight.  “I hope he fixed enough so I can have some, too.”


Tom and I both cracked up and Tom replied, “If he didn’t, I guess you’re out of luck.”


“Like hell I am!” Dylan protested.  “I’ll have Derek come out and arrest his ass if I need to.  Then I could have Ron’s share.”


“Uh, what would he be charged with?” I asked.


“I don’t know, but I’ll come up with something,” Dylan laughed.


I left the two alone again as I turned and headed back to the living room, laughing all the way.  The boys were already there, and I suggested they get the table set.  As usual, they took care of the task without argument, ignoring Ron’s protests that he would take of it.  I could hear Alex calmly explain to Ron the facts of life in this house and what we expected from the boys, so Ron finally gave in and let them proceed.  Fifteen minutes later, we were all being called to the table.


As we descended on our supper, everyone was complimenting Ron on how everything smelled, and once they’d had a chance to take a bite and actually taste their dinner, all of us agreed that Ron was a keeper.  Though he was blushing mightily at the praise being heaped on him, it didn’t seem to spoil his appetite in any way.  Fortunately for Dylan, there was plenty to go around and even he got to join us in enjoying this mouthwatering creation.


When everyone was stuffed to the gills, the boys got busy with their normal cleanup.  Again, Ron protested, and again, Alex set him straight on this particular division of labor.  Properly chastised, Ron retook his chair and sighed in defeat.


“They should let me do my job,” he grumped.


“Get over it, Ron,” Tom admonished the young man.  “They enjoy doing their part at meals, so why try to fight it?  If they don’t mind, you sure shouldn’t.  Besides, you deserve a break after tonight’s feast.”


“How ‘bout it, Tom?” I asked.  “Think we should get up and take care of our part?”


“Oh, hell, no.  I’m fine with lettin’ Ron do that,” the big guy laughed heartily while the rest of us joined him in some hilarity.  The four adults continued to chat while the boys rinsed dishes and filled the dishwasher.  Once the noise from the kitchen had finally abated, the sensational six-pack finally rejoined us at the table. 


At the first minor break in our conversation, Joey interrupted us with, “Hey, Dads, can we talk about something?”


“Sure, what’s up?” Tom asked.


“Well, we been talkin’ ‘bout our rooms in the new house since Ryan was here …,” Joey began.


“… and we wanna make a big change to what you guys are thinkin’,” Alex concluded.


“Like what,” I asked.


T.J. provided the answer.  “Well, instead of having four or five bedrooms for us and Ron, how ‘bout if you do just one regular bedroom on our end of the house for Ron and then one big one for all of us.  You know, kinda like a bunk room or somethin’.”


“I guess we could do that if you’re sure that’s what you want.  Aren’t you guys worried about not having any privacy as you get older?”


“Why the heck would we care about that?” Andy asked.


“Yeah, we’re already naked all the time, why would we care ‘bout privacy?” Mike added.


“We know you guys do a whole lot more than just sleep in your rooms,” Tom commented.  “Do you really want to be that open with all your brothers?”


“Why not,” Joey asked seriously.  “We already know what we’re all doing with each other.  Whether we do that shit in the same room or not won’t change it a bit.”


“Besides, with all of us in the same room, we’d probably mix some things up now and then,” Alex added helpfully.  “Ya know what I mean?” he asked with a sly grin.


“Yes, buddy, we got it,” I replied.  “We don’t need to hear details.  I guess if you’re all okay with that idea, we can talk to Ryan and see what he thinks.”


“But what about your bathrooms?” Tom asked.


“Well, you could do one big bathroom with three or four crappers, a sink for each of us and a really big shower space with, like, eight sprayer heads in it.”


I looked to Tom and asked, “What do you think?”


“If they’re fine with it, I am, too.  And I have to assume since they’ve talked about it and come up with the idea on their own, that’s what they want.”  That statement was further reinforced by the wild nods of assent from all six boys.


“Well, okay then, we’ll bring it up with Ryan.  How many and what size beds do you want in the room?”


“We were thinkin’ three or four king-size, just in case, you know, you guys end up adopting some more dudes,” Alex answered cheerfully.


“And what if we should adopt some girls?  Where would their bedroom be?” I asked in all seriousness.


“You ain’t never gonna do that,” Mike retorted.


“Yeah, right, you don’t like girls, ‘member?” T.J. giggled.  “You told us that the first time we met.”


“Yeah, I guess I did, didn’t I?” I muttered with resignation.  “Okay, we’ll see what happens.  Why don’t you guys go watch some TV for a bit?”


“Thanks for listenin’ to us, Dads,” Alex said as the six lads left us at the table. 


The four of us sat for a moment, quietly contemplating the conversation when Ron finally broke the silence with, “Geez, I wish I’d been that sure of myself when I was twice their ages.”


“I think we all do, Ron,” Tom replied.


“Speak for yourselves, chumps,” Dylan retorted.  “I’ve always known who I was.  Wasn’t my fault Malcom’s dad was a jerk and moved my boyfriend away from me.”  He then turned to Ron and added, “Ron, thanks for supper.  It was absolutely delicious.”


“Are you gonna make a habit of stayin’ for dinner every day, Dylan.”


“You keep comin’ up meals like that and I just might,” Dylan laughed.


“That’s fine with me,” Ron replied.  “I just need to know how much food to have on hand and prepare.  Well, I need to get the kitchen cleaned up.  You guys need anything else?”


“Lord, no, Ron.  I’m stuffed,” I answered while rubbing my distended gut.  “Thanks for that kind offer, though.  Maybe later.”  With that, Ron headed back to the kitchen to take care of the items the boys had left for him.  When it was down to the three of us, I asked, “You two ready for your trip to Missouri?”


“Yep,” Tom answered.  “We’ll head down next Sunday and stay until we’ve learned all we can.  Hopefully, it’ll be enough to sway a judge into letting Logan stay with us.”


“I hope so, too.  Especially with Logan’s new-found wealth.  I’d hate for Troy to have a shot at getting his greedy little paws on any of it.”


“We’ll do our, best,” Dylan offered.


“I know you will.  Did you get in touch with Carol about Logan’s brother?”


“Yep,” Tom answered, “and she’s gonna see what, if anything, she can find out about him.  The one question she did have I didn’t have an answer for was his date of birth.  Was that noted in the will?”


“No, it wasn’t.  I’ll have to do some more digging.  There might be something in the lockbox that will give us a few clues to help narrow the search.”


“Good, because Carol said without a birthdate, it would be next to impossible to find him.  She’s got to narrow the field somehow.” 


“I’ll dig into that tomorrow.”


“So, boss, we done for the day?” Dylan asked with a chuckle.


“Yeah, I s’pose we are.  But do me a favor, would ya?” Tom asked.


“What’s that?”


“Quit callin’ me boss.  We’re equal in this little venture, Dylan.  Besides, I don’t much like the connotation that goes along with it.”


“What?” Dylan laughed.  “You don’t think it’s okay for a black man to call a white man ‘Boss?’ ”


“I never did, and I never will.”


“Least I ain’t callin’ you massa or something else as shitty.  So, what, exactly, should I use then?  Is Mr. Wright gonna pass muster with your sensitive little heart?” Dylan asked with a laugh.


“Tom is fine, ya smart ass,” Tom retorted.


“All right, Tom it is … Boss,” he added while punching Tom’s shoulder.  “Well, look, I’m gonna get outta here then and I’ll see you guys in the morning.  Have a good night.”


“You better say goodbye to the boys before you split or you’ll be in deep shit with them.”


“Don’t I know it?  And I sure don’t want to get on their bad side, they’d probably drown me out in the pool instead of just dunkin’ me.”


“You know them all too well,” Tom laughed. 


Dylan headed for the theater and we joined Ron in the kitchen to see if we could help with anything.  With assurances he had everything under control, Tom and I headed for the living room to read for a bit.  We’d barely gotten comfortable when the phone rang.  I couldn’t imagine who would be calling, but Ron had answered the phone in the kitchen and he quickly let us know.


“Max, there’s a Clarence on the phone for you.”


“Thanks, Ron.”  I punched the speaker button and greeted my attorney with, “You’re workin’ awfully late today, aren’t you?”


“A necessary evil, sometimes, Max.  I’m calling back about the will you sent me earlier.  What’s up?”


I spent several minutes explaining about the events in our lives since Friday, then finally got to the crux of the problem.  “So, we need to get the executor and trustee changed since John’s now sitting in the county jail.”


“Well, wills get challenged all the time for one reason or another, and changes are made when it’s deemed to be necessary and appropriate.  And with the circumstances you’ve described, I don’t see where any judge will have a problem approving such a modification.  Any idea who Logan will select to be the new executor and trustee.”


“I do, but I better let him tell you.  Let me get him on the call with us, Clarence.”  I put the call on hold and dialed the theater extension to have Logan join us.  I returned to the call and said, “He’ll be here in just a minute.” 


After a short wait, Dylan returned from the theater to get ready to go home and he was giving Logan a piggyback ride.  The pair stopped next to us and Dylan gently lowered Logan to the floor where he received a hug from the youngster and Logan said, “Thanks for the ride, Uncle Dylan.”


“No problem, buddy.  See you tomorrow.”  Dylan then continued on to get dressed for his trip home.


After Dylan had moved on, Logan turned to us and asked, “Whatcha need, Dads?”


“We have my attorney Clarence on the phone and he needs to talk to you about something,” I replied.


“What the heck’s he wanna talk to me for?”


“Well, take a seat and he can let you know.”  I waited for Logan to crawl in my chair with me and once he was settled in, I said, “Go ahead, Clarence.”


“Hi there, Logan.  My name is Clarence Cantrell and I take care of Max’s legal needs.  Before we get to my questions for you, I want to tell you how sorry I am for your loss.  Losing a parent isn’t easy for anyone.”


“No, it ain’t, but I been through it once, and I’ll get through it again,” Logan replied.


“You just let Max and Tom take care of you and I’m sure you’ll be just fine.  Max sent me your dad’s will and I’ve read through it, so I’m familiar with your father’s wishes.  However, Max says you may want to make a change to some provisions after what’s happened today.  Is that your wish?”


“Damn right, it is.  I want that Billings prick outta there.  He ain’t got no business havin’ nothin’ to do with my money, ‘specially after tryin’ to rip me off.”


“And do you know who you would like to name for his replacement as executor and trustee?”


“Does a baby go goo?” Logan giggled.  “Course I know, I want Max and Tom.  Who the hell else can I trust to do what’s right?”


“That’s fine with me, Logan, I just needed to hear it from you.  I couldn’t take Max’s word on something this important.  Max, Tom, are you two okay with taking over the responsibilities as executors of Mr. Campbell’s will and becoming Logan’s trustees?”


“That’s fine with us,” Tom answered.


“Good, problem solved, then.  I’ll get the will into probate with the request for the changes attached.  If that’s all you have, I’m gonna head for home and supper.”


“Wait!” Logan yelled.  “There’s somethin’ else needs to get changed.  And fast.”


“Oh, what’s that?” Clarence queried.


“You ‘member that part where it says I’m s’posed to go live with my uncle?  I don’t wanna live with that loser, I wanna stay here with Max, Tom and my brothers.”


“Well, young man, I can understand you wanting to stay where you are, but I don’t think there’s a realistic way we can make that happen right now.  We’d have to show some very good cause for a judge to accept a change that big.”


“How ‘bout the fact Troy’s a rotten bastard who don’t give a shit ‘bout me and he’s only after my money.”


“We’d have to have proof of that, Logan.  Do you have any?”


“Well, no,” he muttered with resignation.


“Then I can’t see any way to challenge that provision with any hope for success.  Now, if you can get some proof of your uncle’s intentions, then we can go back to the courts and lodge our complaints at that time.  But I don’t see any way at the moment that you’ll be able to stay where you are.  I’m sorry, and I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but that’s the way the law works.”


“That’s in the works, Clarence,” I interjected.


“Okay, then.  Let me take care of the change we can do now, and we’ll work on the other after that’s settled.  Sound good to you Logan?”


“Not really, but ain’t got much choice, do I?”


“We’ll get there, Logan, but one step at a time, okay?” Clarence offered in reassurance.


“Yeah, that’s what Max keeps tellin’ me,” Logan grumped.


“You listen to Max, then.  He’s a pretty smart guy, ya know?”


“Yeah, I know.  Thanks for helpin’, Mr. Cantrell.”


“Happy to do it.  I’ll talk to you guys later.”


We ended the call and Logan slumped into my side like a deflated balloon.


“Hang in there, buddy,” I whispered as I squeezed his shoulder and kissed the top of his head.  “We’ll get it all worked out.”


“I know,” Logan muttered sadly.  “I just feel awful lost in the woods right now.”


“We’ll help you find your way back out, I promise.  All of us will.”


“Thanks, Dads.  Can I go now?”


“Sure, we’ll be along in a few to watch a couple more Star Treks.”


“Cool.”  Logan hopped out of my chair, gave us both a hug, then scooted back off across the house to rejoin the other boys in the theater.  Tom and I followed along and stopped in the kitchen to let Ron know where we were going and that he was welcome to join us.  With thanks for the invite and assurances he’d be along shortly, the two of us continued into the theater.  I had Alex get us set up with the next disc of the series and he seemed rather pleased that he’d been selected to be our projectionist for the night.  Ron joined us just as the show began and he ended up taking the chair next to Tom.


After the first two shows were completed, the boys begged for one more, so we took a bathroom break and got snacks for the third and final show of the night.  At the end of the third episode, the boys dropped their popcorn bowls and glasses in the dishwasher before continuing across the house to brush teeth and jump into bed.  Before following the boys to get them tucked in, we refilled our drinks, then left them in the living room on our way across the house.


Our first stop was Alex, Joey and Logan, and all three were climbing in bed as we entered their room.  They waited at the edge of the mattress for us to join them and we shared our hugs, forehead kisses, good nights and love yous.  With our ritual completed, they curled up in the middle of the bed and let us pull up the covers.  Tom flipped off the lights as we left the room and pulled the door closed behind us.


Mike, and T.J. were still helping Andy with his steroid cream treatment when we reached their room.  Andy was giggling uncontrollably as T.J. deftly slid his foreskin back and forth to help keep it stretched out.  It was obvious all three youngsters enjoyed this time together as Andy was slowly stroking T.J. and Mike’s erections as they sat beside him.  When they saw us come in, they stopped their manipulations of each other and waddled to the edge of the bed on their knees, stiff little members bouncing freely with each movement.  We shared our nightly rituals and the three scooted back to the middle of the bed and curled up together as usual.   With their covers pulled up, the light was turned off and door closed as we headed to the living room to relax.  Ron had started a fire and was comfortably ensconced on the love seat when we fell into our chairs.


“So, how was the first day of the rest of your life,” Tom asked.


“Fun,” Rom smiled.  “I really want to thank you guys for the job.”


“Well, we’re glad you accepted our offer,” I replied.  “Any problems with being nude?”


“Surprisingly, no.  I figured I’d be hard most of the day simply because it’s so different from what I’m used to, but it never happened.”


“Glad to hear it, Ron.  That seems to be the normal reaction from newbies like you.  For most people, it takes more than just seeing a naked body to become aroused.”


“So, how did you guys like supper?”


“It was delicious,” Tom replied.  “But, where’d the meat come from?  We didn’t have a cut like that in the freezer.”


“I brought it with me last night,” Ron answered.  “I wanted to make something special my first night on the job.  I’m glad everyone enjoyed it.”


“Trust me, we did,” I replied.  “But tell me you’re not gonna do something like that every night.”


“Not a chance, man.  I usually like pretty simple meals, but every now and then, I get this wild hair and go all out.  You guys just got lucky tonight.”


“Well, we’re sure not complainin’,” Tom chuckled.


“Well, I don’t know ‘bout you two, but I’ve a pretty shitty day and I’m tired.  Hope you don’t mind if I go to bed.”


“No, I’m with you, Max,” Ron agreed.  “It’s gonna take a while to get used to these early mornings.”


“ ‘Scuse me?” Tom asked in surprise.


“Not that way, ya big goof,” Ron laughed.  “I just meant I’m tired and ready for bed, too.  My own bed.”


“Phew, glad you cleared that up” Tom breathed heavily.  “I’d hate to hafta fire your ass on the first day.”


“I’d hate it, too, man, ‘cause I love it here,” Ron agreed.  “See y’all in the morning.”


“Night, Ron,” Tom chuckled.


“Later, gator,” I added before turning to Tom and asking, “You didn’t really think he planned to go to bed with me, did you?”


“Hell no, I was just givin’ him some shit,” he answered with a grin.


“You gonna be long before you join me?”


“Probably not, but it seems a shame to let this fire go to waste.  Besides, I’d like to actually be able to do some reading for a bit.  I’m starting to get into your third book finally, and I’m really liking it.”


“Nice to hear you finally developed some good taste in authors,” I smiled.  I leaned over as we shared a kiss and ‘I love you’ before I continued on to the bedroom and a shower.  After keeping the shower short so I didn’t wake myself up too much, I curled up in bed and promptly fell asleep.  Tom finally crawled into bed with me about a half hour later.  He pulled me into his arms and held me as he joined me in peaceful slumber.


The next several days seem to slip by unnoticed since nothing of serious consequence happened.  Dylan dealt with the second window treatment guy on Tuesday, and I continued working on my new book, making pretty good progress considering the years I was writing about were wholly and utterly depressing.  We heard nothing from Troy or family throughout the week and the security team at the farm had nothing to report as it had been quiet out there also.


Clarence called me on Wednesday to let me know he’d filed Charlie’s will for probate with the request for the change of executor and trustee.  He’d also planted a bug in Judge Corgan’s ear about where Logan would be living after the funeral, reminding David that Logan did not want to have to move in with his uncle and cousins.  So far, Carol had not had any luck in finding a trace of William, but she was still sifting through records when she had time.  Of course, without having his birthdate as a starting point, the situation was akin to hunting for the proverbial needle in the haystack.


When Friday morning finally reared its ugly head and let itself be known, I was nicely surprised at how we’d managed to get through three whole days without a single disaster taking place to further complicate our lives.  I was dreading the visitation at the funeral home tonight, but I knew we had to be there to support Logan and help him get through it.  I was certain we could count on the other boys to help him as much as possible, but I had no doubt most of the load would fall on me and Tom.


I started my day with my regular visit to the bathroom before heading out to make sure the boys were moving in the right direction.  I instinctively knew I had nothing to worry about since Ron had performed the morning duties without fail through the week, but I couldn’t help myself.  I found the boys lined up on the stools at the counter, chowing down on scrambled eggs and bacon.  Alex and Joey were still sharing the two stools with Logan and they each had an arm around his shoulders as they ate with their free hand.  Next in line were Mike and Andy and they were just as cheerful as always.


T.J. was occupying the last stool and I sensed he wasn’t having a very good morning.  I passed behind the stools and gave each kiddo their morning hug and when I finally wrapped my arms around T.J., I could feel him trembling as if he was freezing to death. 


I let him go and stepped beside him before asking, “You okay, T.J.?”


“NO!” he screamed, attracting the attention of Ron and the others.


“What’s happened?” I asked calmly.


“I had a bad dream last night, Dad.  A really bad one.”


“Do you remember what it was about?”


“Sure do.  Don’t think I’ll ever forget it, either.”


“You want to tell me about it?”


“It started out okay, I guess.  I was just walking one of the trails through the trees, mindin’ my own damn business, when I turned a corner and Sammy was just standin’ there, blockin’ my way.  He looked like he was mad as hell ‘bout somethin’.  His eyes were black as coal and he had dirt all over him, like he’d just crawled out of a hole in the ground. Let me tell ya, I was so scared, I damn near shit my pants.  Well, I guess I would’ve if I’d been wearing any.”


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