All four boys plowed against the van windows as we pulled up to the main lodge and were out of the vehicle at lightning speed surrounding the two snowmobiles, sled trailers attached, parked next to the entry. Somehow I managed to get the kids at least somewhat out from underfoot as two high school age boys transferred our baggage into one of the trailers, and to my relief neither of the twins tried to steal the snowmobiles. One of the high schoolers had just gestured us toward the main entryway when I saw Timmy in the corner of my eye unhooking his headgear strap. Shaking my head no, I got a penetrating 'do I gotta?' glare from him, but after hesitating briefly he reconnected it.
I had Carl under my arm as we entered and hadn't gotten five feet into the lobby when he froze almost pulling out from me. "Wow" he uttered. Following his gaze I found myself all but awestruck looking at the view of the mountain and valley below behind a glass wall, it was almost even more picturesque than real life.
"Go look!" I said, coaxing him in front of me. He was glancing between me and the windows when Timmy pushed against me looking up with a wishful look. "Go on guys, I'll get checked in. Stay inside." I called after them. The desk clerk was very efficient, as soon as I gave him my name he relayed what I later found out was the number for our bungalow to my escort, who immediately repeated it into a walkie talkie. He had just begun handing me room pass cards and such when the boys appeared next to me. Looking them over he complimented me as having 'some fine young men' before asking if I knew their heights.
I felt Carl slip behind my back, his little head under my arm as I began "Yea, the twins are five four, Timmy is about five two and Carl is right about five feet." Asking if the were all 12 or older he handed me lift tickets and plastic bracelets for everyone, our young bell hop asking if he may show us our condo.
We were following the young man when Carl pushed up against me whispering "Thanks pop"
"Yeah but you're not, Ouch!" Jerry cut himself short when I kicked his leg. Seeing my glare he began studying the carpet as he walked. We followed our young host down a wide sidewalk to one of several clusters of town houses, the snowmobile parked outside one of them.
Our condo was even more impressive than it had been depicted on the web. A ski up entrance complete with racks for skis and such opened into a modest size mud room. This opened into a spacious living area complete with wide screen TV and a fire place, already lit. A bar divided off a small kitchenette and off to the side was a door leading to a very comfortable master bedroom. All the boys had already disappeared up the spiral staircase while our young bellhops carried our baggage inside and I could hear a series of 'Wow!' and 'cool' and such from upstairs as I declined the two teen's offer to move the luggage into the bedrooms "I've got plenty of help for that!" I commented, tipping them and thanking them for their help.
As soon as I got to the top of the stairs I shared in the kids excitement. The second story was an open loft, equipped not only with another fireplace and wide screen TV, but comfortable furniture, two double beds, three day beds and a hot tub. I was somewhat considering sleeping upstairs as I looked out the large sliding glass door that opened onto a modest balcony, its view almost equal to the one in the main lodge.
Dusk's last lights were crawling behind the mountain as we stepped onto the deck, all three of my sons somehow fitting inside my arms. I looked over at Timmy, standing off to the side, switching his gaze between us and the mountain. The next time he glanced back at us I twitched my head signaling him to come here. A feat I had never tried before, especially with still slightly sore ribs, I somehow managed to tuck all four kids into the same hug as we stood enthralled by the majesty we were witnessing. After several minutes I broke the spell saying "Hey guys, let's get unpacked, we have a lot to do to get ready for tomorrow."
"What's for supper?" Jeff whined. Glancing at my watch I was glad to see travel didn't upset the twins. At our last fuel stop I bought each kid three sandwiches, milk and what seemed like a hundred pounds of chips, but that was almost two hours ago.
"Get your clothes put away and you might find out." I said, squishing all of them together.
I had emptied my bags and was sorting the ski wear when Carl appeared, looking over the pile of insulated nylon. Wrapping his arms around me he said "Thanks pop" pushing his face against me. Stroking his back for a few seconds I asked if for anything in particular. "Well for taking me here and stuff I didn't know there was stuff like this." 'Movie kids?' I suggested. "Wow I ain't ever seen movie kids do all this!" I was trying to think of a relaxed reply when he continued "Thanks for saying I'm five feet tall too!"
"Yea but he's not!" Jerry's voice injected from behind.
"Wait guys!" I said turning around. "I did not say he was any height, I said he was 'about' a height, that means give or take a few inches, right?" I got a 'yeah sure' look from Jerry. Pulling him against me next to Carl I asked "Could this be like when I told your math teacher you had been getting tired a lot, when I should have told her you were too lazy to do your homework?" His face turned pale then red before quickly changing the subject back to supper.
Sitting down I called everyone over to me. Explaining that the plastic bracelets were to identify that they were guests at the lodge and they could not take them off until we got home I began snapping them onto everyone's wrists, giving each of them a pass card to our bungalow. I took a minute to explain we were going to stop and be fitted for our skis and such on the way to eat, so we could pick them up on the way back I continued "Timmy, we need to talk about my rules when we travel, but for everyone, you are never to put your skis on or use them without my permission. No one is to ever go anywhere without a coat and NEVER go near the lifts unless I say you can, I'd hate to see anyone spend a couple of days stuck upstairs while everyone else is skiing, do you get my drift?"
Getting earnest nods from everyone I asked Timmy if he knew my cell phone number. When he said no I handed him one of my business card telling him to always have it with him. I started to go through the rules routine I had with Carl in Houston when he said he had already been informed, looking over at Carl. To my surprise he recited everything I had told Carl almost verbatim starting to giggle as he finished with "And we can only buy wine if we charge it." I tried to grab him for a tickle but he dodged out of reach too quickly. "Well but sir," he continued "How much do I have to wear this thing?" pointing at his headgear "Can I just wear it in here?"
I tried to explain how I used to have the twins wear theirs when we were traveling, because of crazy schedules we often had, he would actually be happier, being able to take it off like when we went somewhere in the evening or such. I ignored his 'yeah well, I'm screwed' look suggesting everyone get their coats.
I didn't notice the twins falling behind me as we walked toward the lodge until one then another snowball went flying towards Timmy and Carl's backs. Dropping further behind I managed to dodge all but two or three of the frozen missiles as they battled their way to the lodge door. I was brushing everyone off before we went inside when Carl commented "That stuff is really neat, but why does it have to be so cold?" Choosing not to attempt a pre-meal physics course I laughed and pushed him in the door toward the outfitter's shop.
The two, probably college age, girls in the shop quickly set about measuring all of us for boots, skis and poles, wooing over the twins as usual. They were ignoring Carl and Timmy's complaints about the stiff plastic boots they were checking for fit on each of us, when six teenage girls, aged from about 13 to 15 entered the shop shepherded by a middle aged, very authoritarian appearing woman. One of the clerks paused to make a quick phone call before approaching the group informing them someone would be in to assist them shortly. The girls' chaperone rather snobbishly identified the group as the 'Kensington party', harshly instructing her charges to wait for her return before departing. I wondered as the girls giggled and mimicked her as she left but didn't pay much attention.
I noticed Timmy and the twins trying to stealth themselves as the girls started to look around, Carl paying them no mind. One of the clerks was checking the length of my ski poles when I heard a southern accented young voice from several feet behind say "Hi, I'm Ella, and this is my friend Chastity."
I waited a second before twisting my neck around. Jerry and Timmy were standing stone faced, both of them with their hands covering their mouths staring girls about their same age. 'This is going to be good' I thought as I shifted my position enough so I could watch while still facing away.
"Ah, hi" Jerry almost whimpered.
Two more girls joined their friends as Ella said "We're from Georgia. We're here on a school trip. What about you?"
"Ah, yeah." Jerry muttered, his face tinting toward a pale shade of green. "Ah, I mean we too. I mean we are here with our Dad. Well most of our Dad I mean." he seemingly started to recover slightly continuing "Oh, ah this is my friend Timmy and that's my brother Carl and my other brother, ah, ah"
"Jeff, remember me?" his twin quipped.
As Ella introduced the other girls, stating they attended a boarding school in southern Georgia and were here until the New Year, I was relieved somewhat as I noticed my boys chests stared to move slightly as if inhaling and exhaling again, but before the conversation could continue two more clerks arrived, guiding the girls off to be outfitted.
I managed to prop all four boys against the counter as the clerks stacked our equipment offering to deliver it to our condo. She was suggesting times for their ski lessons tomorrow when Ella and Chastity appeared next to Jerry and Timmy. Flashing a huge silver grin Ella asked Timmy "What time are your lessons, I want the same time!" Immediately Chastity, goggle eyeing Jerry, chimed in so did she. I rolled my eyes as the clerk began matching everyone's lessons schedule. I'm still not sure how I did it but somehow I managed to get all four pair of lanky legs moving as I herded my four zombies toward supper.
None to my surprise the aroma of food revived everyone. Of the four cuisines the lodge offered I chose American, the poor bastards offering 'all you can eat' chicken and ribs. After that the boys consumed probably two flocks of birds and the entire chest structure of two or three prime hogs. I considered consoling what seemed to be the manager, leaning against a wall her face tearing, but she seemed to recover as we walked away from our table.
We crawled back toward our condo with everyone stuffed to the max. I let the boys play outside for a few minutes and soon Carl and Jeff drifted into the mud room complaining about the cold. Suggesting a warm shower I waited a few minutes before stepping onto the porch looking for my other two. They were about six condos down talking to four other kids as they walked around in the snow. I was about to call them in when the 'Kensington' woman appeared in the porch light. After giving my boys a very pointedly distasteful glare she snarled at her charges to get inside immediately, my boys slinking away.
I suggested they get a quick bath then some sleep, which no one argued with. They had started toward the stairs when I said "I guess you were right Timmy, with that big chrome bumper sticking out of your mouth you look so dumb no one would want to have anything to do with you." Timmy started to turn around but kept walking, lowering his head as Jerry gave me a really harsh 'stuff it Dad' glare. "Heaven forbid if a girl ever saw you in that thing." I had to rub in. I didn't say anything to Timmy when he shed his headgear before breakfast. After dropping the boys off for their lessons I visited the lodge's commissary stocking the kitchenette with food, picking up some beer and a couple of bottles of booze.
I grabbed the lift chairs and did three or four beginner slopes loosening up and regaining my balance. I was praising myself on how well I did, after not being on skis for several years (well and after adding several, several more pounds and inches on my waist and hips) when my cell phone disturbed my ego trip. I considered ignoring it, attempting to stare it into submission, but by my job description I was required to always carry it, so I checked the caller ID. "US GOVT" it read, 'what could my staff have f***ed up so bad they had to call me in Colorado?' I wondered as I reluctantly answered.
"Mr. Miller, Mr. Christian Miller?" an unknown voice asked. Confirming who he was talking to he continued "This is Special Agent Fletcher with the FBI. I believe you have a child named Carl Fay staying with you?" as soon as I acknowledged he continued "I tried your home number before calling this one, but our agency needs to interview this child regarding an investigation we are conducting. I would like to pick him up from your location, would thirty minutes be acceptable?"
I informed him we were vacationing out of town, that the soonest possible time he could interview Carl would be a week from today, that we would be away until then. He almost indigently responded "Miller, this child is a part of an official federal investigation and is only in your care as a temporary foster child. I have no idea what possessed you that you could take this boy away without our permission, but I expect him in my office as soon as possible, at the latest by mid afternoon."
I skied to a nearby rest station trying to resist my pressing urge to reach down the radio frequency of my cell phone, ram my hand up this fool's ass and yank his throat back out it before I responded. "I think your are misinformed Mr. Fletcher, Carl is not. . ."
"Miller, the FBI is never misinformed!" he interrupted. "And I am Special Agent Fletcher if you will. I can make one phone call and have the boy removed from your care, if need be your other two locked up in a shelter as well. I also see that you are a Federal employee, I am sure you know I can have you terminated with another phone call suggesting you could be a security risk, are you going to cooperate now?"
I cursed myself for getting old and out of shape, as hard as I tried I could only stretch my arm down my cell phone's bandwidth to the Colorado state line as I tried to grab this bastard's neck, but I replied "Let me correct a few points here Fletcher. First Carl is not in my temporary care, his name is no longer Carl Fay but Carl Miller, effective last Friday my legally adopted son. You are correct sir I am a civil servant, I am also a GS-14, might I asked your equivalent rating?" Not waiting for a response I barked "I believe that should be MISTER Miller am I correct? The minor child Carl MILLER and the rest of my family are in Colorado on a ski vacation. If you need to talk to him before our return I STRONGLY suggest you contact Judge Kiley before proceeding, and be GOD DAMN sure the needed warrants are perfectly worded before your raid, because that's the ONLY way you are going to interrupt our vacation. I would recommend you pursue whatever options you have regarding my job because as soon I we ring off I'm going to start working on getting your pompous ass suspended for insubordination, I will start on the official suppression charges and getting your ass fired when I get back to work, but for today rest assured I'm going to start in Washington!. Did you have any other demands or threats to offer?" After a pause he stated his supervisor would be contacting me and hung up on me without warning.
I was pressing a world record for cross county skiing as I rushed back toward the lodge (well my world record) when a couple of high pitched voices distracted me yelling 'Hi pop!' I coasted on my path as I looked around before the voices continued, this time saying 'up here up here!' When I looked up at the lift chairs traveling above me I lost my balance and crashed as I watched Timmy and Ella, both of their headgears glaring in the sunlight, side by side on the lift. I was getting back up when I saw Jerry and another girl side by side three seats back, Jerry's headgear and her bright braces laden smile reflecting off the snow below. 'This is going to be a very long week' I thought as I picked myself up and continued to our condo.
I had finished firing e-mails from my laptop to our national union headquarters and my Department of Defense security contact regarding Fletcher's threats when my cell rang again, another 'US GOVT' call. As tempted as I was to ignore it I answered. "Mr. Miller, this is Robert Gordon, I am the Regional Special Agent in Charge of the South Central District of the FBI." I waited without responding wondering what was next. "Please don't hang up until you give me a chance to speak, I have been informed by one of my local offices that one of our agents called you a few minutes ago, that he might have come on as abrasive to you." I unloaded on him, filling him in on my conversation with Fletcher then informing him on the campaign I had just begun against his agent. "I am aware of part of the situation, another agent overheard part of Agent Fletcher's conversation with you" he responded, informing me Fletcher has been removed from 'this' investigation, apologizing three or four ways for Fletcher's actions.
I opened my mouth to tell him the son-of-a-bitch he was calling his agent would be fired before I was done but bit my lip. "Mr. Miller, I know you are on vacation and I deeply apologize for disturbing you, I assure you if there was any other way I would have ordered this suspended until your return.' Pausing, he continued "However, I have a dilemma. Early this morning we arrested four individuals that we know are involved, one of them a ring leader, in the pornography ring your, , , your new son was victimized by. We know they are flight risks and are holding them right now on other charges, but we only have about 72 hours to file on them about what happened to, , , your son. We know we have the right people in custody, but without Carl's statement our case is too weak to go forward."
I was digesting his statement and evaluating his sincerity when he continued "Mr. Miller, if you agree I can have a team in Colorado tonight, a team that are PHD professionals experienced at interviewing traumatized children, that I promise will not cause your boy any emotional harm. We can interview him in your hotel room, if you think it necessary I'll fly his caseworkers, his psychologist, whoever in you ask in with the team, I'm not sure I can pull it off but if you give us a chance I'd try for the Pope if you want!"
I considered his request for probably a minute before responding "Thanks for your frankness Mr. Gordon. I need to think about this a little and of course talk to Carl, he is attending ski lessons right now but will be done in a few minutes." I replied glancing at the clock. 'Oh shit I thought, six minutes!' "Do you have a number for me to back?" I jotted down his cell and office number as I rang off and grabbed my parka.
I was evaluating Gordon's request as I slid to a stop slightly above the lodge's lessons area. Carl and Timmy were studying their instructors face as they seemingly reviewed what they had done today, two what I thought were girls standing next to them. The twins and several other kids were horsing around together, seemingly showing off with their ski poles as I skied toward to them. Several 'hi pop's and 'hi dad's' echoed into my ears as several more kids than I had brought here skied toward me.
"Well, you ready for the Olympics?" I asked, getting silver grins from the twins and several giggles from the other kids, most of them the girls we had encountered last night. My other two had just joined us, Timmy and Ella, still in headgear, clinging to each other. They had started to asked if they could go somewhere, they didn't get all of the request out, when Ella's face paled under her hood as she stepped away from Timmy.
I was observing the other girls stiffening when a voice from behind me growled "Young Ladies." I knew exactly who was behind me, but bit my lip as I turned. 'Madam Kensington', a distasteful snarl on her face, looked like something out of the dark side of Mary Poppins. She was dressed in a long black trench coat and heavy galoshes that she had to time travel to World War II era London to purchase, along with a strange hat that I was sure she inherited from her grandmother. Ignoring me she stepped forward asking "Are your lessons complete?" getting a series of resigned 'yes ma'ams' from her charges.
I almost hate to do this, but, I thought as pulled my right glove off. "Good morning Ma'am, I am Christian Miller" I said, extending my hand.
Cocking her nose twenty or so degrees higher she snarled "How wonderful." turning away as if I was a servant she continued "Come along girls."
As tempted as I was to 'accidentally' have her trip over one of my skis, I decided I'd at least make an attempt to get the boys out of this bitch's persona non grata status. I announced "I'm sure everyone would enjoy a hot cup of cocoa after their lessons, may I buy you and your girls a cup?"
From the youngsters excited reaction it immediately became clear her refusal would condemn her to a long, hateful rebellion filled week. "Very well" her voice growled as her eyes clearly said 'you son-of-a-bitch!'. As we entered the nearby snack bar and everyone shed their parkas I was surprised to see another girl in headgear. As we sat down I noticed the twins synch their little brains for a second before Jeff said "Dad?" pointing at his facebow. I could see Madam Kensington studying our exchange as I nodded and Timmy and Jerry, then her girls removed their appliances.
She relaxed somewhat after we talked for a couple of minutes. Using the tact I had gained from dealing with conceited military officers, I responded politely to questions like 'do you work?' and 'are any of those children yours'. I almost lost it when she informed me she was a house 'mistress' at the Kensington Academy for Young Ladies (I could almost picture the bitch in black thigh boots, whip in one hand, dildo in the other), but got her attention when I told her I had attended a military boarding academy as a teen (I didn't tell her my dad sent me there for a year because he was tired of my antics, and to keep a judge from shipping me off to reform school).
I think Carl turned the corner when, with his wonderfully innocent face and angelic voice told her of his adoption, proudly announcing he had gotten a new family for Christmas. As everyone finished their beverages first my boys then her girls began asking if they could go to the sleigh runs. Looking at my watch I responded "Two hours, and nowhere but the sleigh run" getting overly polite 'yes sir's from the four of them, almost in unison. Touching my fingers to my lips I continued "Boys?" getting three more extremely respectful replies as they grabbed for their headgear. 'Damn, as ugly as the old prude is, if she causes that kind of behavior maybe I should keep her around!' I thought. Looking at her face, clearing evaluating the boys and my interaction I quickly decided 'God no, I'll take the brats'
"Two hours" she growled snapping me back. "And you are to stay with the Miller children."
I called Carl as everyone rushed toward the door asking to speak to him for a minute. He was walking back toward me chin hung low when Ms Armstrong (Madam Kensington) stood stating she would 'take her leave' as she thanked me. As I stood up I noticed Jeff, about half way to the door motionless as he stared at my head. Jerry, about half way out the door was staring at his twin almost equally pale. 'Quit reading my frigging mind' I tried to broadcast throughout my head. Jeff's face tightened as his lips mouthed what I was sure was 'F. . .B. . .I?' Giving Jeff a glare that I tried to make as much as possible as a death stare I turned to Carl. "Well, I need to talk to you about something, will you ski with me to the sleigh runs? Might even make a toboggan run with you!"
We had pushed along on our skis for a minute or so before I began "Do you know who the FBI is?" getting a meek reply that he did I continued "I got a phone from them call this morning." causing him to stiffen like a board, stopping in his tracks. I guided him to a bench off the trail and wrapping my arm around his parka said "Just listen for a minute, will you promise to listen to me very carefully?" getting a nod I continued "The FBI has caught some of the people that they think were some of the ones that hurt you. They want to punish them, but they need to ask you some questions, they need you to tell them what was done to you so they can. Would you be willing to talk to them tomorrow, they want to come to here to Vail and ask you some questions?"
He locked his miles deep eyes on mine asking "Do I gotta? Please pop I don't wanta go to jail!" After I reassured him he was not in any trouble he started to sob softly as he replied "But if anyone ever finds out what I did I get sent there forever. They said I ever told, that anyone that knew would get put in jail too, well and now, well what if my new, well, , ,"
"Who is they?" I interrupted. I pulled him tighter against me as I removed my other glove opening the top of his parka. Getting no response I asked "Remember what we talked about Christmas day? What did I promise you about getting adopted, that I would never let anyone hurt you?" I asked as I slipped a finger under his necklace. "Has that changed?" Pausing briefly I said "I promise if you talk to these people none of us will get in any trouble, if you help they might be able to keep other kids from getting hurt!"
He shivered as he asked "What about the other kids did they, , ," he stopped in mid phrase, staring up at the mountain top. I turned away and swallowed several times trying to keep the mass of bile rushing toward my throat from gagging me. 'Other kids?' I wondered. I looked back at him about to asked what he meant but paused as I observed his tensed face, I was looking at an expression stressed at least double his tender years. "Did they arrest Ricardo?" he asked more to the mountain the me. "What about Dean? Are they in jail? Dean promised he'd kill me if I, well" tears running down both cheeks. "Well if I ever said his name, please pop I'm SCARED!"
He calmed somewhat as I reassured him that no one was going to hurt him. I asked who Dean and Ricardo were, getting only a vague 'they like to hurt kids and stuff' reply. Concerned I was crowding, overloading, him I decided to use my trump card, I asked "Will you talk to the FBI? I can't promise but they said they would invite your psychologist and Helen to come with them if you want."
After only a second or two his face softened slightly and he looked back at me "Ms Cruz!?" he asked. "You mean Ms Cruz is gonna come here?" he whined.
"Yes, if that's what you want" I replied, praying Gordon was good to his word. I spent a minute or so reassuring him that the interview would be just question and answer, that he was not going to be arrested and that no one could find him and such before he agreed. Washing his face with snow I zipped his parka up suggesting we to find a toboggan to ride.
When we got to the sleigh area I grabbed a two man toboggan and was dragging summit while Carl took his skis off. Jerry and Chastity rushed over to me pulling a four seater. "Thanks dad" Jerry exclaimed flashing a huge silver smile that almost blinded me as it glared off the bright snow.
"Yea thanks Mr. Miller!" Chastity chimed in, "Madam Strongarm was going to keep us locked up every time she saw a boy, thanks mister."
I was unlatching my skis as Carl, Ella and Timmy joined us the latter two giggling and grinning so much I made a mental note to stop by the outfitters for darker tinted goggles. After I told everyone I was just going to make one run, I had to make a couple of calls I could almost feel Jerry's gaze digging into my brain before Ella suggested "Want to race?"
Carl and I agreed, and after asking the other kids to stuff my skis under them on the sled Carl and I climbed onto ours, stuffing my poles under our legs as he climbed between my legs. Timmy counted to three before we pushed over the summit and went flying down the well groomed run, Carl squealing with joy as we plummeted faster and faster down the grade. We won the contest by probably six or more lengths. I had just climbed off the toboggan and was regaining my equilibrium when the other kids ran over yelling how bad I was and how I should be a racer. I very arrogantly made a show of blowing breath onto my gloved fingernails then polishing them on my jacket teasing them. I didn't bother telling them about the laws of gravity, that my fat ass and overweight beer belly was the winning skill set.
I casually observed Carl for a few seconds as we pulled our toboggans to the side of the run. He seemed happy and playful, completely enthralled in his adventure in the snow, so I told everyone I would see them for lunch, getting hugs from everyone (to my surprise including the girls). As I stepped into my skis I, just to see if it really worked, very consciously thought 'Stay close to him, keep an eye on him', getting a sly grin from Jerry.
My ribs were starting to demand a little homage from the bruises I had caused them as I slid over to the lift that would take me back to the condo. I waited until I was off the lift before flipping my cell phone open to call Gordon, only to see that I had missed a call and had voice mail. It was from Tim, "What the f*** are you into up there, the FBI has half the world on standby to go to Vail on an hour's notice, call me right f***ing now!"
I waited until I was inside and out of my ski wear before calling him. "What the f*** is going on? Every time I leave you alone you stir up some kind of major shit!" He went on to explain that the FBI had contacted himself, Roy, Helen, Carl's shrink and Judge Kiley, somewhere between asking and demanding they be prepared them to assist with a critical mission in Colorado for from overnight to two days, that they pack and be prepared to leave with only an hour's notice.
I filled him in on the calls I had gotten this morning, that Carl had agreed to the interview and would of course like Helen to be present. I paused before asking "Hey, you want to come? From what Gordon told me I can get the Pope here if I want and I'm sure its on the fed's plastic!" He dodged me somewhat saying he'd have to check with Judy, that he didn't know what she had scheduled, that there was work at the office before I interrupted "Whatever dude, I remember when I was pussy whipped too. . . Oh, your little rat is chasing split tail! Nothing great but she sure looks good to him. By the way, he caught her with his braces!"
Tim paused for probably ten seconds or so before replying "Well I'll catch hell from Judy, but for God and country and stuff; but you better have plenty of beer!"
I made my ribs a hot buttered rum before calling Gordon. He was elated about getting to interview Carl, stating he had charted an aircraft, he and his staff would be at the lodge this evening along with Helen and Tim as I asked, that he had already E-mailed me portfolios on his interviewers. "We would like to stop by your condo this evening, not on official business but to break the ice, to relax Carl. Just sit around and talk." he concluded.
Agreeing I hesitated before informing him of Carl's reference to 'other kids'. He doggedly acknowledged there could be other kids involved, that 'if there were any', 'some' of them were safe now. When I asked what he meant, how big was all this he hesitated probably for almost a minute before replying "This is an ongoing investigation, of course I cannot discuss it. You have a top secret, - Security Clearance, issued by the federal government - I'll tell you you'd have to take your shoes and socks off to count the kids we know of, that is part of why we MUST talk to Carl!" I asked him if he knew the names Dean and Ricardo. I could almost feel the tension over the phone as he paused before saying "Yea, I know the names, thank God Carl does!"
I was impressed when I read Gordon's e-mail. He was bringing three agents with him. One of them was a 'communications specialist', the other two agents were PHD level psychologists, one had authored a book on interviewing sexually abused children, the other had several articles to her credit regarding investigating child pornography on the internet. I also noticed the author held two bronze medals from past US Olympic games.
Suspecting a long evening, I started a pot of coffee when we returned from supper and the boys rushed upstairs to soak in the hot tub, but after thinking about it a minute, opened a beer. I had spent the better part of an hour surfing the TV channels as I considered different horror scenarios that I knew were about to happen before going to the bottom of the stairs reminding them company was coming. I had just decided I had enough time to down another quick beer and brush my breath clean and was taking my first swallow of it when someone knocked rather harshly on the door. I took a deep breath and was stashing my beer behind the bar when the door burst open. "CPS, CPS, this is a raid, are you holding a boy named Timothy Young in here?" Tim yelled as he rushed in, Helen just visible in the shadows laughing.
"Dad! DAD! Wow its my dad!" Timmy's high voice shrieked from upstairs.
Jeff's semi-soprano command voice made me look toward the staircase just in time to see Timmy's knees appear as Jeff snapped "Damn, get some shorts or at least!" I was fighting off hallucinations of my retirement checks floating out of my prison cell into lawyers pockets as I noticed Tim ushering several more people, who I knew had to be FBI, into the room. My eyes had just regained their ability to focus as Timmy slid down the stair rail, thankfully wearing gym shorts, and leaped into his dad's arms.
"Mr. Miller?" a short, stocky man about my age asked as he walked toward me. "I'm Bob Gordon, we talked earlier, thanks so much for inviting us" he said extending his hand. As we shook hands he continued "May I introduce Jim Franklin, Sandra York and Stan Banks?" indicating the other people in the room. I was more then a little surprised as greeted them, all of them dressed more relaxed than I was, in warm ups and sweat suits, displaying warm smiles and insisting I call them by their first names. Sandra was a thin, semi attractive blond, Jim a younger man about my size but thinner. Stan was about Tim's height maybe a couple inches taller, despite his friendly smile and bright face, his linebacker build evident even through his loose warmups.
I asked if anyone would like something to drink, saying I had just made fresh coffee. "Yeah, I want a beer!" Tim responded. Resisting my urge to crush his larynx I asked if anyone else would like one, or a drink, saying what I had in the condo. Stan and Jim asked for beer, Helen for rum and coke and Bob for scotch on the rocks. I was turning toward the kitchenette when Jeff from behind said "I'll get them dad!" Thoughts of my retirement checks winging their way from my bank account returned, 'great, the FBI now knows how I raised my nudist slave house boy bar tenders!' I thought as I turned around.
Jeff started toward the kitchenette as Jerry, clad identically as his twin in walking shorts, matching tee shirt and of course headgear rushed to me. I was about to call Jeff over to introduce them when Jerry pushed against me whispering "You better go talk to Carl he's freaked!" Before I could react Helen intervened. Asking where he was, she disappeared upstairs.
"Timmy, will you help me?" Jeff asked. Timmy climbed out of his dad's lap as Jerry joined him walking to Jeff behind the bar. About a minute later Timmy reappeared with beer for our three guests, now wearing a tee shirt and his headgear. I had to snicker wondering what the twins were up to now, they rarely dressed identically, but they knew this made them attractive to many people and whenever they did the had something in mind, something to their advantage. To be any part of incarcerating a fellow tin grin in his headgear was completely out of character. 'Lord,' I thought 'if they are up to something the FBI might be in trouble, about to meet their match.'
We chatted for about five minutes, mostly about their trip, when I heard a soft giggle from upstairs. A few seconds later another followed by a happy squeal and loud giggling. "Well, there you are, I was about to drink your drink for you." Bob said toward the stairway.
I turned in my chair a little relieved to see Carl, complete with a shy grin, coming toward us tucked under Helen's arm. "This is my little turkey" she said before introducing everyone.
Carl more mouthed greetings to everyone as he looked wide eyed around the room. After a second he slipped out of Helen's grasp pushing his way next to me in my chair. He stared at me as I took a swig of beer before whispering "But pop, the FBI is coming!" When I informed him they were the FBI he scanned the room again before asking slightly louder "They can't be the FBI. they, well but where are their guns and badges and ties and stuff."
Stan made a show of checking his pockets and shirt before declaring "Darn, I knew I forgot something!" The others quickly joined in the skit, commenting to each other 'I thought you were gonna bring the gun.' and 'it was your turn, I had to carry the badge yesterday' as Carl assumed his classic lost look.
He relaxed considerably over the next few minutes as he answered their questions about Christmas gifts and our trip, chiming in with the other boys as they described their adventures. He even got giggly, I think from watching the other kids embarrassed faces, as Stan teased him about being the only one not 'brace faced'. At Helen's prompt he served as tour guide showing everyone the rest of our condo, bragging about the hot tub and entertainment centers.
After a couple more drinks everyone but Tim announced they were going back to their rooms to get some rest. Asking what time we got up Stan announced he was going to make a couple of ski runs in the morning asking if anyone wanted to join him. "Official duty," he informed his boss, "I have to stay in shape!" getting several snickers.
I grabbed my coat and walked with them out to the porch. Once outside Gordon asked if they could use the loft of our condo for the interview, suggesting around ten o'clock. He asked if I could be available during the interview if I was needed, perhaps downstairs or near by. He went on to ask if Jim could have a few minutes to set up some camera equipment in the loft. After kicking around a couple of ideas I said probably either Tim or I would be able to help out there.
I walked right into the middle of a thousand questions event when I went back inside, Tim clearly looked relieved to have someone help with the intense debriefing the boys were giving him. 'are you sure they are FBI?' 'FBI only wears suits and stuff.' 'Yea and they never smile!' the boys were spouting. Handing me a fresh beer Tim began "They are FBI, and these dudes don't f*** around!" Wrapping his arms around Carl and Timmy he continued "They had a car pick me up at the house, one of their suit types carried my luggage and we cruised here in a Lear Jet, with a flight attendant and an in-flight meal and all just for the six of us. I'm not sure exactly who Gordon is but I don't think the dude has opened a door for himself for many years."
We chatted for a few more minutes after putting the kids to bed. I thought about Gordon's request to get Jim into our condo and at Tim's suggestion asked him to give them one of our passage cards, so he could let himself in and set up.
After Tim left I went to check on the boys. I fully expected to find Carl away and worrying about tomorrow, and as I climbed the stairs I was thinking of ways to get him to sleep. I was surprised and pleased as I looked around the loft. All four boys were in one bed, Carl and Timmy almost squished between the twins, everyone dead to the world. I got up several times to check on him during the night, each time expecting to find him snuggled against me, but several hours on the slopes seemed to have taken it toll, none of them had even changed their positions.
The boys had just finished cleaning up from breakfast and were pacing the room anxious to get on the slopes when I pushed my head against my forehead saying, "Oh yeah, we better check." Ignoring everyone's curious looks I continued "You guys have been out in the snow all day yesterday, no one has any rust on their braces do they?" getting a very concerned look from Timmy, completely lost looks from the twins. "Guess better safe than sorry, everyone come here." Although I hadn't intended Carl to be involved he ended up first in line. After asking him to open wide I assured him his new fillings showed no rust. Spending a little more time inspecting Timmy's braces I congratulated him on staying rust free. The twins gave me identical 'have you really gone COMPLETELY nuts dad?' as I asked them to open wide. Spending several seconds inspecting one then the other's mouth I proclaimed "Yips both of you are starting to rust up! Wait here, don't move that's an order, I will be right back." I said, rushing into my bedroom.
I made a show of reading the label of the bottle I had gotten from my dad's bathroom before our trip as I returned, ignoring my twin's 'Dad's REALLY lost it this time' looks as I rejoined them. "I'm glad Mrs. Young reminded me about getting rust remover for your braces, I had forgotten you might need it! Who's first?" I asked, turning the label reading 'Cod Liver Oil' toward the twins, offering a large tablespoon spoon in the other hand. "Come here Jeff" I ordered as I twisted off the jar lid.
He glanced back at his brother probably ten times as he slowly took the two or three steps to me. "Dad, we were just playing around! We DIDN'T mean anything, please dad that stuff is barf!"
Ignoring his pleas I positioned his thin body between Jerry and myself asking him to 'open wide'. "Please DAD!" he cried, but at my second, harsher command he closed his eyes and slowly opened his mouth.
When I slid the empty spoon under his facebow and into his mouth both their faces tightened in horrible anguish as if they both could taste the vile oil as I told him to lick the spoon clean. "Gee, MORE than two can play!" I howled as his face turned toward total shock realizing there was nothing on the spoon.
Everyone was loosening up making short glides near the lift chairs when Helen, Sandra, Stan and Bob joined. We noticed Timmy anxiously scanning the ridge for a minute or so when Helen told him Dad was coming he was a little behind them, that he had to go back to change his skis. Three or four minutes later, seeing Timmy's wide eyed gaze toward the lodge, I turned around and dropped my jaw at the sight coming over the ridge; what could have been a scene from the movie North to Alaska. A large man in bulky snow pants and parka was very awkwardly clambering down the hill in snow shoes, using a pair of ski poles almost like crutches. He reminded me of an oversized mountain man. As it got closer I could see a small amount of Tim's disgusted face under his thick hood. Seeing everyone's stare he pointed at Timmy's skis and growled "I fell on my ass three times trying to get those God damn things on. Unless you can show me where the handlebars and kick starter are, you can stick them up your ass!"
When we reached the summit I was immediately impressed with Stan's skiing ability as he interacted with the kids, giving them pointers and such. They had made one run when Chastity and Ella showed up, joining the group as Tim, Gordon and I talked.
A few minutes later we were were still talking as we watched Stan showing Carl and Jeff how to get into a racing crouch, giving them gentle pushes on the level ground they were practicing. After a couple of minutes they moved to the edge of a small hill and after repositioning Carl's little body here and there for the right posture Stan gently pushed his student over the rim. The youngster did well for ten feet or so but then it became evident Stan had instructed his pupil a little too well as the boy began rapidly accelerating down the grade. "Pull up, pull up." Stan shouted, but I am sure I could see Carl stiffening even through his thick clothing. I clenched my jaw when I was what he was flying toward below him, three Ski Patrol - cops that patrol ski areas - standing together facing away from him. Before anyone could react he plowed into two of them, violently knocking all three down like bowling pins.
The three of us rushed toward the carnage leaving Tim at the summit. Stan closed what was more then twice the travel distance of Gordon and I and arriving first. I rushed to my son helping him up and making sure he was not hurt as Stan and Gordon helped the ski cops up. Two of them were more concerned about Carl than anything else but the third started rubbing his knee as snarled "What kind of idiot stunt was that, who do you think you are?" he started to advance toward us, Carl now hiding behind my parka as Stan slid toward in front of him apologizing saying it was his fault and such.
The cop gave Stan a brief glare asking if Carl was his child "No, he is my son." I responded. Glaring at the tiny gloved hand clinging to my coat (the only part of Carl that wasn't behind me) he started to chew me out for not controlling my 'reckless brat' when Stan moved directly between us and the cop again saying it was his fault, explaining what happened.
Helen and Sandra, along with Timmy, Jerry Ella and Chastity joined us. Jerking a ticket book from his gun belt the ski cop growled "Okay Mister, you want to be responsible, let me see some identification." looking around he snapped "Everyone!"
Unzipping his parka Stan humbly replied, "Of course sir." handing him a thin leather ID holder. I saw Gordon and Sandra presenting identical wallets as I dug under my snow pants for my wallet. I started to get my Driver's License out but chose my military identification card.
When he ordered Stan to take his id out of the wallet all three agents opened their cases and held them toward the snow cop. His expression very briefly got even angrier than quickly changed from confusion to apprehension, all within a split second. As he glanced at me his eyes briefly focused on what I'm sure was the bold type at the top of my id reading 'Department of Defense'. After swallowing hard he asked in a much gentler tone "Are all of you feds?"
Pointing at Helen Stan replied "No, she's state" in a very impressively official tone. "So is the big fellow up there." pointing at Tim, still up the hill from us. I had to turn away for a second as all three cops looked Tim over, from his position it really looked as if he was holding back to cover our flank, when in reality he was standing there afraid to move for fear of falling down again. "We are here so that Mr. Miller and his sons' vacation is not disturbed" Stan concluded.
The three snow cops exchanged glances for a second or so, their eyes flashing between one another like the twins' when in full synch, before one of the others said "Oh, Fred" looking at the still half opened ticket book. The first cop shuddered slightly as he looked down at his hands, quickly stuffing the book back into his belt. They spent a couple of minutes asking if they could be of any help and such 'anything for the FBI' and on and on. I got a couple of 'who the hell is this guy, FBI body guards during his vacation' glances, as the looked back up at Tim a few times, still standing motionless above them. As soon as Stan and Gordon thanked them for their offer, they beat a hasty retreat.
Snickering Stan said softly "Well, I didn't lie or anything!" Reaching behind me and sliding Carl toward him like the boy was a chess piece he continued "Now I know why your dad calls you a turkey! Come on, let's ride some snow." he said, shoving the youngster toward the ski run.
I made a couple of runs down the slope before Gordon waved me toward him as I hopped off the lift chair. Catching Stan and the several kids he now had tagging behind him as they returned to the summit the two of them skied toward us Stan sending his fan club on their way. After Gordon told us Jim was ready, Stan suggested "Race you to the lodge, last one there is full of yellow snow!" Carl and he took off down the slope, Sandra, Bob and I agreeing we were both full of it anyway as we leisurely started toward the lodge.
They were horsing around outside my condo when we caught up. As we started into the mud room Carl held back giving me a 'please pop' look. I started back outside when Stan called from behind me "Come on, let's get done so we have time for another ski lesson."
Carl stepped right to the threshold before whining "Well but where are you gonna take me to question me?"
"No one's taking you anywhere and no one is going to question you." Stan responded, holding out his hand. "Hey, remember me, I'm the guy that saved you from the cops a few minutes ago!" pausing I think for effect he continued "All I want to do is talk with you a few minutes, can we go up to your bedroom? We want to keep a couple of bad guys from hurting any more kids, will you help?"
To Be Continued…