Patient John Doe

Chapter 1

I was somewhat daydreaming as I walked down the hall toward my second-to-the-last patient visit of my afternoon rounds. An hour from now I can pick up the kids, and we're at the ranch! I thought. Doing good, kid, you made it! I silently bragged to myself. I was pleased with how my life was shaping up. After many years of Medical School, the 72-hour shifts I used to serve as a resident slaving for food stamp wages and working 60 or 70 hour weeks to get my Practice stated it was starting to pay off.

I remembered the day, only about a year ago, that I hung out my shingle. 'Adam Owens, MD PhD. Practice Limited to Adolescent Clinical Psychiatry'. I had to beg the banks for the money to get started. No one seemed to want to lend money to a 24-year-old, wet behind the ears shrink want-a-be, fresh out of school, the kind of money I needed to open such a specialized practice, but I finally got backing. A scant year later I had established a substantial client base, even had a waiting list of patients asking for my services, along with an income well into the six figures, and even risked trading my old rusty Ford Escort in for a new Jaguar.

The same skeptical bean counters that had told me I was dreaming about opening my own practice took less than a day to approve loaning me the money to buy my life-long dream, a horse ranch. About three weeks ago I closed on a 400-acre piece of land in south Texas, including a hundred or so year old ranch house with a swimming pool behind it, several barns and outbuildings, and a view of the hill country that I was sure was the best available short of heaven. Six registered Arabian horses was a modest beginning to my enterprise, but a good start. Today was also moving day, all the renovations to the house had been completed, and I would be spending my first night there tonight.

I was reviewing the chart of my next patient on my rounds when the hospital's overhead paging system announced, "Doctor Allstaff, Doctor Allstaff, you are needed in ER." Fuck! I thought. 'Doctor Allstaff' was a coded message the hospital used to say they had a problem in their Emergency Room, that all the on staff physicians that were at the hospital should report there to help; a crisis situation. Shit, I thought, Why NOW! I asked myself as I tossed my patient charts on the nurse's station and ran to the elevator. Trauma and Emergency Rooms were two things I totally disliked, part of the reason I chose Psychiatry as a specialty.

The Emergency Room as packed and chaotic as it could be when I entered it. "We have 30 injured in a bus crash, and two suspected shootings so far," the Triage Nurse informed me. "The first shooting just arrived on Live Flight, he's yours," she added, pointing toward a cubical.

I don't do shootings, I don't do Trauma! I thought as I walked toward my unwanted patient. I had done the normal rotation through surgery and ER, a major reason I worked so hard to stay away from both vocations. I was equally unprepared for what was on the stretcher, a thin child only occupying about half the cot, I.V.s plugged into both arms, a nurse pumping breaths into the almost lifeless body. At first, I thought the child had brown hair and dark skin, but as the another nurse washed away the mounds of dirt caked on what was emerging as a boy a few strands of strawberry blond hair showed.

I wanted to vomit as I surveyed him, a beautiful 12 or 13-year-old, but one that was about to die. He had two of what appeared to be gunshot wounds, one in the right upper chest and the other in his lower abdomen just above his pelvis. His left chest was accepting air as the nurse forced respirations into him, but the right lung gurgled as red frothy bubbles came from under his bandage. He reminded me so much of the two little guys I was about to pick up, my young friends from the Big Brothers program.

"I'm over my head, this boy needs a chest surgeon. Get a chest cutter in here," I told the nurse, more the automatic side of me talking as I prayed someone could help this little guy.

"Doctor, he's terminal and we are packed, please just let him go, we are in are in. . ."

"Shit me up a Chest Cutter, I mean NOW!" I ordered, much louder than I meant to. When I glanced back at my young patient I noticed his sky blue eyes staring at the bright lights above. Somehow I could feel the fear and pain they portrayed. "MOVE!" I growled. The nurse gave me a dirty look but disappeared into the hall.

"Doctor, Doctor Owens?" a voice snapped me back from staring at the helpless little form I was supposed to be caring for. "Sam Ryan, I'm Chief of Staff for ICU. Doctor, I know how you feel, but sometimes it's time to let some patients go. Look at his EKG, the boy isn't going to make it."

"You're not going to try?" I snapped. "God, he's just a kid! What the fuck do you. . ."

"Glove out Doctor," the gray-haired man told me. "If you are willing to try so am I. Nurse, get an operating suite and a CV. Type and crossmatch for six units of whole blood, start an Epi drip." Turning to me he added, "Let's crack his chest."

I did my best to keep from freaking out as I watched the old man cut the boy's chest open, crammed a vise looking clamp between the lad's ribs and spread them, exposing his heart. "God, his left Ventricle is lacerated, how long for a CV!" the old man asked. "We're going to OR now! Doctor Owens, I need your help," he added. Before I realized it he had grasped my hand and thrust it into the boy's chest, pushing my little finger into a hole in the lad's heart muscle. "Don't let him bleed out. He is probably going to arrest soon, be prepared to perform open massage," he calmly added.

We were waiting for an elevator before I fully realized what was going on, I had my hand wrapped around the heart of the little angel, feeling his life-giving blood flow as his heartbeat in my palm. My finger plugged the hole in it, much like the little Dutch Boy plugging the Dike. This Dike was keeping a life with us. Somehow all of us, the nurse breathing for him, another applying pressure to several areas of his stomach that were bleeding, and myself, stayed together around the stretcher as we rushed through the halls.

I didn't realize we had gotten to the operating room until I felt a surgical mask being placed over my face and another set of hands tucking my shoulder length hair into a hair net. When I looked around there must have been twenty people in the room, many of them crowed around stretcher working in closer quarters than I thought possible.

"Doctor Owens, please relax. I'm going to slide your finger out as I stitch, PLEASE relax, if you flinch we could lose the boy," a new voice rang into my ear. I tried to come back from automatic (or this cannot be happening) mode as I looked down and found my finger was still inserted into the heart muscle of a thin chest. "Carl Roberts, Cardio-Vascular Surgery," the voice continued as he continued to work.

"Oh, Adam Owens, Psychiatry," I answered.

"How did a shrink end up in here?" he snickered, stitching on the boy as casually as if darning his socks.

"No wonder you looked so pale!" Ryan injected. I looked around to notice him working on the boy's abdominal wound. "He responded to an all staff call and drew the short straw. I bet. . .

"He's arrested, Epi IC stat. Push 50 of Bicarb IV," Roberts interrupted. "Owens, begin CPR." I looked down in horror at the little heart now quivering in my hand. Somewhat back on automatic I began squeezing the small organ with my hand, watching a pulse of blood push into the big artery leaving it with each squeeze.

"Stop CPR," Roberts ordered a minute or so later. I watched as he plunged a long needle deep into the boy's heart, going between my fingers. "Resume CPR," he said as he withdrew the needle.

I pumped the muscle for another minute or so when Roberts said, "I hate to do this to you doctor, but I have no choice. This won't harm you, but you're going to feel somewhat of a jolt shoot up your arm." I was trying to figure out what he was talking about when I saw two small metal paddles being positioned around the quivering organ. "Whatever you do, don't let your finger jerk out of the wound. Stop CPR and open your hand," he ordered.

I was still thinking I was seeing things as he pushed the paddles against the heart. "Clear!" he yelled. An instant later what had to be the most terrible pain I had ever experienced shot up my arm, something like a huge hammer had slammed into the entire length of my limb. My knees started to buckle but someone grabbed me from behind before I fell. My eyes were just beginning to focus again when he again yelled, "Clear!" Another jolt hit my arm and shoulder, this time whoever was swinging the hammer used both hands.

I was still weak-kneed and dazed when I found myself being led away from the operating table, my finger finally out of the dike. I didn't argue as a couple of nurses hooked me up to an EKG. I was waiting to have a Cardiologist when I remembered my little friends. At first, I tried to get to a phone, but a nurse rather pointed suggested I not try to stand until the doctor saw me.

"Well, please call St Paul's Children's Home. Tell them I am going to be late to pick up Ronnie and Mark," I asked. "DON'T tell them I'm hurt or anything, just say I'm running behind."

An hour later I was leaving the hospital, other than my very sore arm in a sling I was none the worse for wear. I convinced a nurse to go into the operating room and get an update on the boy, which was not good. He had arrested again but was revived successfully. If he stayed alive Roberts expected to be in surgery another three hours or so but he only gave the lad about a twenty percent chance of surviving the operation. Roberts did say he would call me when he finished the surgery.

I was still pretty well in the dumps as I drove toward the Children's Home. How could something like that happen? I asked myself. Even with the many deplorable situations I dealt with daily involving my patients, I had never come to grips with why anyone would want to, how could anyone bring themselves to harm a child. Every time I could take my eyes off the road I found myself staring at my little finger; although my arm and hand were numb except for the aching muscles, I could still feel his warm blood flowing around it.

I had to smile as I turned into the gates of St. Paul's and saw a pair of pixie faces, probably as glum as mine, staring down at the sidewalk in front of the Administration building. I was about halfway up the driveway when one of them noticed my car. Almost as if they had seen the second coming arrive both of the almost identical brothers' faces changed in unison to glowing, happy faces, wide smiles that seemed to stretch ear to ear. As if they had risen from the living dead they lept to their feet and bolted toward my car, their long thin legs closing the distance quickly.

"Doctor Pop, you did come!" 13-year-old Ronnie howled. They both slammed into me the instant I stepped out of the driver's seat, pushing me back against the Jag as they hugged me. I ignored the pain in my sore arm and pulled them into a tight hug, kissing the top of their golden blond heads.

Just seeing them, and getting to hug them, completely changed my mood instantly. As almost every weekend over the last three months or so I had served as their 'big brother' the feel of their warm, thin bodies and the sound of their innocent, high pitched voices rejuvenated me from my long work-a-day week. To me, at least, they were nothing less than beautiful. Except for their heights they were as identical as twins. Their hair was blond, but a golden blond that almost matched a 24 karat ring. Both had wide, miles deep hazel eyes that could swallow you alive, perched above the cutest button noses I think I had ever seen. Whenever they cracked one of the wonderful smiles their lipstick red lips were capable of making the world stop.

They were both small for their age and thin, not skinny but wiry. Both of them, but especially Ronnie were at the age where their bodies reminded me of a colt's. Ronnie was only 5-foot three and 12-year-old Mark was 5-foot one, but it seemed like about two-thirds of their bodies were legs.

"What happened to your hand?" Mark asked, breaking our hug.

"Are you okay?" Ronnie added. I tried to dismiss their question, telling them I had just bruised it at work. They pushed for more details, but I put them off saying I would tell them later.

"Let's get you turkeys signed out and go have some fun!" I injected before they could ask any more questions.

After our traditional stop at McDonald's for malted milks for everyone, and Big Macs for the boys, I drove to the expressway. Anxious to begin the weekend I let my big cat have her legs and in no time was out of the busy in-town traffic of San Antonio heading into the beautiful Texas hill country and my new home.

"Aren't we going to your apartment?" Mark asked. When I reminded him 'we' were moving to the ranch house this weekend he slumped back in his seat, his happy face melted. After a couple of tries to get him to say what was wrong he finally whimpered, "Well, we left some clothes there, and well, what about the PlayStation? I wish we could have got it!" It took me a few seconds to digest what he was thinking, that whatever was left behind was lost, I'm sure from the numerous evictions and midnight moves he had gone through when he was with his parents.

"That's what moving companies do," I replied. "Everything from the apartment is safe, it's probably already at the ranch waiting for you." I silently cursed as I read his distrusting look through my rear view mirror and pushed the accelerator pedal down a little further. I hope the State Police are at the donut shop! I thought as I watched the speedometer cross the 100 mile-per-hour mark.

Thankfully they were, and ten minutes later I was negotiating the curves of the three or so mile side road leading to my new ranch. I felt a hundred pounds or so of tension drain from my body and sore arm as the white-washed wooden fence of my property came into view. As I punched the remote control to open the gate I had to smile as three of my newly acquired horses ran toward us, as if they were saying 'welcome home'.

"Wow, there's Zoe and Athena!" Ronnie hooted, lowering his window. Both boys yelled and waved at the horses running next to my car on the other side of the fence dividing the mile-long drive to my new house from their pasture land. I let them argue about the third horse's name as I drove toward the house.

The moving van was still in front of the house when we pulled up, but the crew foreman wasted no time in telling me they were almost done, that their efforts went smoothly. As we walked into the house it was clear it had, what little furniture I had moved from my old apartment was exactly where I had asked, and except for the light stench of fresh paint and wood stain, the house looked ready to live in.

I let the boys explore for a couple of minutes as I checked things. Everything seemed in perfect order, much better than I could have imagined. The last time I had moved, from the efficiency apartment I survived in during my Residency to the small one I had just vacated in town, it took many, many trips with my old Escort stuffed with boxes stolen from grocery liquor stores, and weeks to unpack. In one day the movers had done everything for me this time, even the clock/timer for my coffee pot had been set for me. When I booted my computer, now in my private study, it had been set up, all I had to do was enter my password and my e-mail appeared.

"Pop, Doctor Pop, can we go swimming?" Ronnie's high pitched voice rang from the family room.

"I wanta go see the horses!" Mark objected. I had just entered the family room when both of them wrapped their arms around me giving me a hug. "This is totally awesome! I don't believe we're gonna. . . I mean you're gonna live here!" Mark exclaimed.

"I bought it for all of us, guys," I responded. "We have all weekend, we can swim and ride horses and have fun like we are going to do every weekend now. First I want to show you something, okay?" I got a pair of only modestly disappointed nods as I led them upstairs. I guided them through a door, into a newly remodeled room.

"This is your bedroom," I announced. I could feel both of them stiffen as they looked around. "I bet your clothes are in those closets, and there is your PlayStation!" I told Mark, pulling his thin body against me. "I hope it will work with the new TV!"

The 'new TV' was actually a widescreen High Definition home entertainment center, complete with surround sound audio, VRC, and DVD players and computer interface. I also had furnished the bedroom with a pair of full sized beds, a couch, and two recliners and study desks. Off to the side was a private bathroom, and at the end of the room was a pair of French doors opening onto a large wooden balcony complete with a hot tub.

"Look around, see if you like it. We have to feed the horses and get us some supper soon, so don't be too long, okay? Hamburgers sound okay?" I told my paralyzed little friends before hugging them and going downstairs.

I had to dig through the kitchen refrigerator, then the small one behind the bar in my new family room before finding where the movers had put my beer. Well, appropriate! I thought as I popped the can open and melted into my ten or so old recliner. Wow, I really did it, I'm here, the home I always wanted! But God, what a day! I told myself as I leaned back. I had only laid there for ten minutes or so when my cell phone rang Central Baptist Hospital the caller ID read.

"Adam, Carl Roberts. How is your hand? How do you feel?"

"I'm fine, how is the boy? Does he have a name?" I threw in almost as an afterthought. He paused much longer than I expected before answering.

"We don't know his name, actually anything about him or the younger boy admitted with him," he paused so long I was about to ask if he was still on the line when he continued, "The youngster survived surgery, that's the best news I have. He is stable at present, but I give him about a thirty percent chance of making it through the night. The damage was just too great." his voice trailed off. My little finger throbbed as I digested his words, as did my still sore arm muscles as if asking if they could help.

"That's ten percent better than earlier!" I responded, trying to put some cheer in my voice. "God, he's just a kid!" I added, thinking of my two little angels upstairs.

"Yeah, I guess," Roberts replied. "Adam, IF he survives, he has a lot of damage to his body, and after three cardiac arrests I don't know if he will have any brain damage, but it wouldn't surprise me. I am sure his right arm will be paralyzed and his right leg, at least fifty percent. Given that, how far should I go, where do I split quality of life from saving one?" I was about to nail him to the cross when he added, "I never had much use for Psychiatry, I'm too strong a person and there is nothing wrong with me." I was about to open up on his, telling him to screw off, when he added, "Right now, I wish I knew one I could trust enough to talk with."

I bit my lip, telling myself not to nail him about his disconcerted attitude about the little guy whose life was in his hands, and trying to read his less than favorable comments about my vocation. What was he saying, a plea for help? I asked myself. My elbow chimed into my thought process, offering a painful throb.

"Yes, a long afternoon for both of us," I answered. "I'm in the middle of moving into my new house, everything is a bit of a mess, but I think I'm going to put some burgers on the pit and open a cold beer, why don't you join us? I live about 30 minutes from the hospital."

There was another long silence on the phone. "Can I give you directions?" I added.

"Thanks, but not tonight," he finally answered. "I'd love to, but I've already made a commitment. Family and stuff." After we talked a couple more minutes I told him I was going to stop by the hospital the next morning, and if he was there I'd look him up.

I closed my eyes and again tried to fit some form of reason out of today's events. The image of that helpless little guy, his heart pulsing in my hand, his blood rushing around my finger came back just as vividly as when I was standing in the OR. Now there was a second boy, or was. No one has noticed that their two little guys have gone missing? Don't they have parents or someone that is a caregiver? I asked my beer can.

"What's the matter?" Ronnie's alto voice rang into my ear. Before I could open my eyes I felt a warm soft body slip under my arm, tucking itself half in my lap, half next to me in the recliner. I looked around just as Mark crawled into the chair on the other side. "Why are you crying?"

I pulled both of them against me, surprised my arm was willing to function as I stroked their now bare arms and chests. After I held them for a minute or so I filled them in or most of this afternoon's event, leaving out some of the blood and gore. They both sat silently for a couple of minutes after I was done, resting their little heads on my chest.

"Well, but you can help him," Mark finally whispered. "You're a doctor, you can!"

"Hope I can," I muttered. "Hey, what's this?" I asked, stroking their now bare thighs. As I looked down I noticed both of them were now clad only in Speedos.

"Well, we kinda wanted to, well can we go swimming?"

"Well, I don't know. . . what if you got wet or something?" I teased, earning a pair of giggles and fresh round of hugs. "You guys go on, stay in the shallow end until I get out there, okay?" I suggested, squeezing the thin knees. They were out the door in a flash.

The cool, refreshing water, and playing with my two little buddies was perfect therapy for me. We splashed and frolicked around for over an hour, my arm even tolerating me throwing them into the air so they could dive, and letting them jump off my shoulders. After a while, I leaned back against the side of the pool watching the boys dive off the diving board. Stop off and buy more Speedos, I added to tomorrow's to-do list as I watched the round firm boy butts, accented so wonderfully in the tightly stretched fabric.

A series of almost angry snorts and nays reminded me of one of my new responsibilities as a ranch owner. Zeus, my stallion, and two other horses were standing at the fence dividing the yard/pool area from the pasture land. Their almost angry glares and snorts quiet clearly were saying 'I'm hungry!' They got the boys' attention too, and both kids began waving and calling to them.

"I think we better go feed them before we are invaded," I suggested. I started to tell the boys to run upstairs and get some clothes on, but after another look at their cute bodies, I suggested they just get some shoes on instead.

I had to laugh as we filled the horses' feed bags and laid out grain for them. Both the boys were completely comfortable and relaxed with the animals even though each horse weighed hundreds of pounds more than the kids did. The horses reacted equally well, behaving like attention starved puppies as they enjoyed their little friend's affection. As I watched my two young friends thrive as they cared for their new pets, something I never thought of horses as; I decided just that was more than enough to pay for the quarter million or so dollars I had just dumped into the ranch.

After two large hamburgers, a mountain of French fries and a bowl of ice cream each everyone was not only full but lazy, almost sleepy. We turned on the TV for a few minutes in the family room but soon I had a pair of sound asleep kids leaned against me on the couch. I ignored my sore arm's protests as I carried them one at a time upstairs and tucked them into their beds, kissing each of them a couple extra times on the forehead as I tucked them in. Ten minutes later I leaned back against the pillows in my bed, slipping into a deep sleep almost as soon as my head touched the pillows.

I wasn't too surprised when I woke up in the morning to find a pair of turkeys tucked under my arms, both snuggled tightly against me. I rubbed their backs and shoulders for several minutes before nature called, and I carefully climbed out of bed and rushed to the bathroom. As tempted as I was to crawl back into bed and enjoy the feel of their wonderful little bodies snuggled against mine I kissed them one more time and shuffled into the kitchen.

After a much-needed cup of coffee, I retrieved some eggs, ham and hash browns from the refrigerator and began breakfast. I had just begun buttering the raisin bread for toasting when Mark drifted into the kitchen, yawning and stretching, clad only in his briefs.

"What are you doing up so early?" I asked as I pulled him into a tight hug.

"My tummy said to get up! What'ya cooking?" he mumbled. "I'm hungry!" Ronnie was not far behind, and somehow I managed to keep them from biting the frying pan while I finished cooking breakfast.

"We need to run into town, I have to stop by the hospital and we need to do some shopping," I announced a dozen eggs and loaf of bread later. "You guys go try out your new shower and get dressed, I'll take care of the dishwasher."

As usual, I dropped the boys at an Arcade a couple of blocks from the hospital, giving them ten dollars each to keep them occupied while I was gone. My first stop was Pediatric ICU, where the little strawberry blond, now known as John Doe number 1, was being treated. He was still unconscious, pale as a ghost and breathing with the help of a respirator, but according to his nurse seemed to be improving, at least slightly. I rushed through my rounds, luckily dodging all the parents of my patients, something very rare for a weekend.

When I walked back into ICU there were several people in the boy's area, including Doctor Roberts. "Let's get a cup of coffee," he suggested when he saw me. A man and a woman, who I soon found out were a Police Detective and a State Social Worker, joined us as we made our way to the snack bar. The lad was improving quite a bit Roberts informed me, even raising his odds of survival up to fifty-fifty. As the others began bringing me up to date what had been a completely weird situation got even more bizarre.

They still had no idea regarding the boy's identity nor had the found any missing person reports they could connect him to. They were sure the other boy, that died in the ER was his younger brother, but were waiting on DNA results to confirm that. I had a little trouble believing what they suspected as how he ended up at our hospital.

Yesterday afternoon he and the other boy appeared at a local fire station, the boy in ICU ringing its doorbell and saying his brother had been hurt. After they were transported to ER, the police brought in a dog team, which was able to retrace their steps to two shallow graves, almost a mile from the fire station. The police theory was that after someone shot both of them and buried them, our boy dug himself out, then his brother, and carried the younger brother to the fire station. They went on to say both boys had been physically abused in the past, probably for years.

"But, this kid had a hole in his heart and a collapsed lung!" I challenged.

"I know, I don't see how it's possible either," Roberts commented. "But I've seen the impossible happen before, there is no way he should even be alive right now. However, we want to talk to you about something."

"If what we suspect is correct, and we are sure it is, when, or if, he wakes up he's going to need a lot of emotional support," the lady chimed in. "From your reputation, I'm sure your rates are much higher than the State can pay, but we'd like to ask you to take his case."

"You're already on record as his admitting physician," Roberts added.

"I'm not worried about the money, I'll treat him pro-bono," I answered, not bothering to think about it. "I've already got a little invested in him," I snickered, rubbing my arm.

"How are you doing? Still want to sit down and talk?" I asked Roberts after the others excused themselves. He made a couple of general comments; as if trying to dodge my question. "Like I said last night, I just moved into my new home. I've got a huge barbeque pit I'm dying to break in, why don't you come out this afternoon? Bring your family if you have one."

I let him stumble through the normal 'don't want to impose' and a couple of other excuses before I interrupted, "One o'clock sound okay? Bring your swim trunks, and if anyone likes to ride horses they would make several of my four-legged friends very happy."

Ronnie and Mark were thrilled when I told them we were having company this afternoon, especially when I told them Roberts' son and daughter were coming. We stopped at a sporting goods store and found each of them two pairs of extra swim trunks. We were almost out of the store when a display caught my eye, bringing back memories of my childhood. Soon we were back at the Jaguar, loading our new ice cream maker into the trunk. A quick stop at the grocery store for a couple of racks of ribs, a ton of sausage and of course ice cream makings and we were on our way back to the ranch.

The boys got quiet as I drove, seemingly in deep thought. We were almost home when Ronnie asked, "Ah, do we gotta tell them where we live?"

"Maybe we can just act like we live on your ranch," Mark added.

"Well, would that be honest?" I asked.

"Well, but their a doctor's kids! They're not gonna like a couple of kids that live in some orphanage!" Ronnie whined.

"Oh, I know where you live and I'm kind of fond of you," I punched the remote and waited for the gate to open. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see them exchanging glances. "What about those guys?" I added, pointing at the horses running next to the car. "They know you don't live here full time, and I think they like you." Everyone was quiet the rest of the way to the house.

"Come here you two," I directed as we climbed out of the car. "Doctor's kids are no different than any other kids. You guys are my kids and your not any different are you? Hey, these people are coming to our ranch, to swim in our pool and ride our horses. I don't know if they have a pool, but I know they don't have a ranch or horses on it, they better not be snobs!"

"Come over here," I asked, guiding them to the pasture fence, and our four-legged fan club. "I was going to do this later, but each of you pick a horse, which one do you want to be yours. You can have anyone but Zeus, and you will own that horse from now on."

They both stared at me in disbelief for what had to be a full minute. "What, orphanage kids cant own a horse? A registered Arabian horse?" They both slammed into me, wrapping into a group hug as they began crying. "I mean it, pick a horse and you own it. When it has a fo. . . a baby you own the baby too." After a couple more tries I convinced them I was serious, but they wanted to think a little before choosing.

After we put the groceries away we headed to the horse barn. I had to snicker when we got there, the minute I opened the tack room all six horses rushed to it, almost like kids waiting for a treat. The boys picked up very quickly on how to put on a saddle and bridle, Mark trying his best to lift a saddle that weighted about half his weight onto a horse taller than he was. I rode with them for a few minutes until I was comfortable they could control their huge mounts then headed back to the house to get ready for this afternoon, leaving Zeus saddled for later.

After I made a salad and started a couple of side dishes cooking I went into my study and dug around until I found the business card I was looking for and made a couple of quick calls. As I expected about ten minutes later the intercom at the entry gate rang, and I released the gate, then went out front to greet my visitor.

I waved the boys to meet me as my guest and I walked into the pasture. "Guys, this is Mrs. Stewart. Anne, these are my Turkeys, Ronnie and Mark," I began, gesturing to the muscular but attractive looking lady next to me. "Mrs. Stewart is a teacher, and I've hired her to tutor you," I said, earning a pair of shocked, dirty looks from my young friends.

"I'm impressed, Doctor, these are some magnificent animals," she commented, stroking Hera and Zoe. Zeus almost immediately appeared next to us, all but pushing the mares out of the way for his share of attention. "Oh my goodness, he is beyond belief!" she exclaimed. "He must have a bloodline that is out of this world. Can I ride him?" When I nodded she skillfully swung herself into the saddle and guided the thousand pounds of flesh under her into an almost instant gallop.

"We don't need no tutor! We gotta have that cra. . . stuff at the home!" Ronnie moaned.

"We don't need A tutor," I corrected. "And, we have to have..," I added, earning a 'yeah sure' look from both of them. I let them stew for a minute as we watched Stewart maneuver my big stallion around the pasture like she had been riding him for years before continuing, "What kind of teacher do you think she is?" Getting only a pair of lost shrugs I said, "She is an Equestrian instructor. Do you know what that is?"

"Sounds like math or stuff," Ronnie groaned.

"No, it's horseback riding. Mrs. Stewart is going to teach you how to ride, she is going to pick you up after school every Wednesday after school, bring you out here, and give you riding lessons."

"Yeah well, but we got. . ." Mark stopped in mid-sentence as what I said began to soak in. "Pop!" he howled. Before I could react he dove off of his horse wrapping me into a hug in mid-air. "For real? What about the home, what about if. . ."

"I set everything up already," I interrupted, still trying to regain my balance. Ronnie pushed against me joining our snuggle as I continued, "She will pick you up right after school and bring you out here for your lessons, then I take you back to St. Paul's after supper. Is that okay with you?" The only answer I got was another round of hugs.

The Roberts' arrived only about ten minutes after Stewart left. "Damn, it looks like I chose the wrong specialty!" Roberts commented after he introduced his wife, Cindy, along with his 14-year-old son Carl Jr. and Jane, his 12-year-old daughter. I showed them around for a minute before the kids all but demanded they go see the horses, and I think the two boys riding them. Cindy politely excused herself, saying she also wanted to see the animals.

"Now you know why I was so close to losing it yesterday," he began as we watched his kids dart toward the pasture gate. "Thanks for your support, but, well, can we talk for a few minutes?"

"Please lay down on my couch," I quipped, handing him a beer and pointing to one of the chaise lounges next to the pool. "Tell me, did you hate your mother?" I asked in an intentionally bad imitation of a thick German accent.


To Be Continued…