My Flock

Chapter 5

"You want to do what?" Tim boomed. He held up his beer can and chuckled, "How many of these did you have on the way home? You been smokin' that shit again?"

"I wish," I quipped. I glanced at my watch, held my beer up and added, "But, it's only one o'clock, there's still time! Seriously, Tim, why not?"

He studied me for several seconds. "No, its got to be the alcohol talking." "I think I better catch up with you," he added as he downed the last of his beer, climbed out of his chaise lounge and disappeared into the house. "I was tempted to load an ice chest," he said a minute later as he stepped back onto my patio and handed me a fresh can.

"Christian, I know you mean well, your heart is damn sure in the right place," he began as he sat down next to me. "But what you are asking is impossible, there is no way!"

"Why?" I challenged.

"Well, you just can't do that!"

"God Damn!" I barked. "Mister Bureaucrat now? Maybe you should trade your leathers for a necktie and start wearing your colors inside out!" I knew I had gotten to him when he reached up and nervously rubbed his neck; Tim wore a coat and tie probably less than I did, two or three times a year.

"Christian, you don't even know Bobby, neither do the boys. Except Mike, and he has only known him briefly." I'm sure my face told him I wasn't dissuaded, and after we stared at each other for a couple of seconds he added, "Besides, Bobby is in a shelter, an EMERGENCY shelter going through a crisis right now, you can't just whisk him away for a Disney vacation! Besides our policies, we have to address his mental health, possible, , ," he stopped in mid-sentence when Mike stepped onto the patio and rushed over to my chair.

"Well! All squeaky clean now? Feel better?" I asked as I put my arm around his bare waist. "You sure look comfortable!" I let out a soft giggle when I gently slapped his gym short clad backside. "Do you want to put on a tee-shirt?"

"Do I have to? I mean yes sir I will," he whined.

"No, you don't have to, only if you want to," earned me a happy grin.

"When's Carl gonna come home? Well and everyone?" he asked.

"As soon a school lets out, in a couple of hours," I answered. He shrugged his shoulders as his face melted into a disappointed expression. "Do you mind if I make a suggestion?" I risked. "Just between you and me, promise not to tell ANYONE I told you this, okay?"

His eyes widened as an answer. "Carl and the twins have been spending a lot of time playing that video game you guys play, the one with the long tailed monsters in spaceships. You might want to go practice up before they get home."

His face instantly changed to an impish, almost evil grin. "Thanks Pop!" he all but whispered as his eyes narrowed and flashed around the patio. He started back into the house, but stopped right by the door and walked back to my chair. "Are you, ah, what about Bobby?" he asked in a shaky voice. He took either a deep breath or sobbed, I couldn't tell which, then whimpered, "Please Pop, he's gonna, , , he can't take it in there! Please?"

"We are going to take good care of Bobby, Mike. He will be just fine," Tim injected. Mike gave him a distrusting look, then looked wide eyed at me.

"Did I make you a promise?" I asked. "Pop keeps his promises, okay? You go worry about whipping Carl's butt on the video game, I'll worry about Bobby." I pulled him against me and gave him a quick hug. "You better go to work, or you'll lose your tail!" I added, popping him on the butt."

Tim and I were both silent for the better part of a minute after Mike went inside. "Are you going to explain your policies to him?" I asked. "We've been through this before, like when I wanted to keep Carl out of the shelter, but you are screwing with the emotional health of two youngsters, friend." I let him stare at me for a few more seconds before adding, "How was it someone I know put it right before Christmas, at the barbeque place, 'A couple of MSW's outsmarted by a dumb fuck computer tech'?"

After giving me a dirty look he closed his eyes and shook his head. "Even if I thought it would work, I wouldn't know where to start," he groaned. "I have no idea who could authorize something like this, maybe the director or maybe God. I'm not sure God could okay this one! And in a day and a half?" he exclaimed.

"Actually a day, I was thinking about leaving tomorrow afternoon," I lied. I pulled my cell phone off my hip as I said, "If you don't have your director's number I can get it from the base. I might have to call Washington to get God's direct line."

"Asshole! You're asking the impossible!" he barked. He shook his head again and clinched his jaw before giving me another dirty look. "It's God Damn sure gonna cost you!" he added, tossing his empty beer can at me.

Two beers and what had to be half of his cell phone's battery life later he sat his phone on the table, rubbed his ear and emptied his beer. He gave me a questioning glare when I sat another in front of him. "It's not as big a deal as I thought," he began. "All we have to do is reactivate your foster parent licence, for additional kids, get special permission to remove a child from shelter without a home study, and for you to take a foster child out of state. Piece of cake!" he quipped.

"The only person that can approve all this, and the waivers, is a District Court Judge, and there is only one I trust enough to get all this done in time is," he chuckled and took a sip off his beer before continuing, "Your old girlfriend, Judge Kiley!" He seemed to allow himself a second to gloat before he picked up his cell and snickered, "I'll break the ice, but you sell her."

I took a long swallow of beer to calm the rapidly expanding knot in my stomach as I digested his comment. The elderly black lady's kindly, almost storybook grand-motherly face flashed into my mind, as did her sharp tongue and dictatorship style of running her courtroom; I would have sworn US Supreme Court Justices would feel obligated to stand when she entered or exited a room. Just as vividly rang back how she had all but ram-rodded me into adopting Carl, and in weeks instead of the months and months such a proceeding would normally take.

I didn't have much time to reflect, as what seemed all too soon Tim handed me his cell phone. After spending five or ten seconds exchanging pleasantries, and assuring her Carl was doing well, she abruptly cut me off, asking the purpose of my call.

Unsure where to begin, I started to give her a brief recap of last weekend's events before she again cut me off, "Yes, Mister Miller, that would be the minor children that recently entered care, Michael Snyder and Robert Cooper. They are assigned to Judge Zan's court, but I have read the reports and thank you for helping CPS. I was relieved to read your family was not injured."

The silence on the other end of the call told me to move on. I was about halfway through telling her about the scene when I picked Mike from the shelter and after I brought him home when she cut me off. "You have accepted Michael as a placement in your home?" When I confirmed I had she asked me to hold for a minute.

Something in the back of my mind made my stomach knot even more when she came back on the line a few seconds later, and in a grand-motherly voice that all of Hollywood had spent years searching for said, "I have transferred Michael and Robert's cases into my court. Now, Christian, how can I help you?"

"Your request is a bit unorthodox, but of course I will grant it. I will have my clerk draft an order and sign it immediately," she replied after I told her of my plan to take Bobby to Florida with us. "Would you like to take Robert home today?" she asked, her voice seeming to echo off the 'Leave It To Beaver' era checker patterned kitchen apron and wooden handled cookie turner I pictured her with.

After I told her I would like to pick Bobby up late tomorrow morning, on the way home from work, my stomach knot stirred slightly when she asked me to stop at her office and personally pick up the paperwork, but the knot sank into my groin when she bubbled, "And Congratulations, Christian!"

"What did she say?" Tim asked as I handed his phone back to him.

"She said you better get off your ass and find Bobby a new home before I bring him back from Disney," I groaned. I started to add Mike, but bit my lip.

I intended to go break the good news to Mike, but as Tim and I talked and enjoyed a couple more beers I lost track of time until we heard a commotion inside the house. A minute or so later Carl and Mike burst through the patio door still hugging each other like they were stuck together with glue, Binki tucked between them.

"Yeah! Thanks Dad, THANKS!" Carl hooted as both of them sprang into my lip. He kissed me then Mike on the cheek and screeched in a soprano voice that hurt my ears, "Yea Mike's, , , Yeah too awesome!"

My eyes almost popped out of their sockets an instant later when I saw the twins rush toward us and spring into the air. I'm still not sure if the loud creaking sound I heard was the overloaded lounger I was sitting in or my thigh bones bending as the twins landed in my lap and our mass snuggle, but silently thanked God for his mercy when Timmy pushed against my shoulder and hugged my neck.

After I enjoyed hugging them for a minute or so I was about to tell them about Bobby, and that he would be joining us on our trip when the twins sprang back out of my lap and raced inside, with Timmy right behind. I considered sending Carl to call them back until I heard the clatter of silverware and plates from the kitchen, quickly followed by the concrete foundation my house sat on let out a soft groan, I'm sure from it shifting as our refrigerator was relieved of half its weight.

"Well, I guess I'll tell them later," I tittered toward Tim as Mike and Carl bolted out of my lap and inside. "It might be better when their stomachs are full, they will be more settled down."

"In other words, you're never going to tell them," he responded. When I gave him a questioning look he chuckled, "Hell will freeze over before that tribe gets enough to eat!"

The boys were so hyper about Mike's return I didn't get to tell them about Bobby until we sat down to supper. I was so proud of the twins and Carl for instantly accepting having a total stranger coming along on what was probably their dream vacation, accepting Bobby sight unseen as another musketeer, I had to fight back tears. Mike wasn't too happy that he would not be going with me to the shelter to pick Bobby up the next day, but when he learned Gramps was going to take him clothes shopping while I went to work then picked up Bobby he didn't argue.

Dad, despite his habit of going to bed early, surprised me shortly after I tucked everyone in bed later when he came into the family room, interrupting the TV program I was watching. "Now that Mike is with us, we have to do something about the furniture in the guest room, in his and Carl's bedroom," he began.

He was right, what had been my guest bedroom had a double bed and very conservative furniture. Even after Carl and the twins added some posters and pictures on the walls it still was far from a teenage boy's dream domain. Although Mike was only staying with us until Tim found him a new home, a double bed would not work for two boys either, something I was sure Tim was 'overlooking' when he placed Mike with me. I had wanted to remodel it for Carl long before Mike was thrust into our home, but money was just too tight. The seemingly ever-expanding roster for our trip to Florida was going to tax my budget almost to the edge.

When we returned from our trip I had no idea how long Mike, and his never ending teenage appetite, would be with us before we could find him a good home. To do anything I would have to dip into my retirement savings at the least.

"I've been thinking, and doing some research," Dad continued snapping me back. "My bedroom furniture is getting old, and my mattress lumpy. Hell I think we conceived you on that mattress." "What a mistake that was," he sneered, giving me a teasing grin.

"I've been researching the sale ads, and bunk beds, well children's bedroom furniture is much cheaper than what we would like in our bedrooms. It would save me some money, if it's alright with you, if I bought Carl and Mike new furniture and moved theirs into my room," he suggested. "While you and the boys are away on vacation would be a perfect time."

I took a deep breath and held it as I digested his comments. I knew that at least his mattress was not that old, remembering the knock down drag out verbal battle he and I had when he first moved in with us only a few years ago, when I all but forced him to weed through the mass of cobwebs in his bank accounts and replace the worn out mattress I probably actually was spawned on, slightly over fifty years ago.

"Dad, I appreciate the offer, but, , ," I began.

"Great, I'll take care of everything!" he cut me off.

He was almost out of the room before I could counter, "Dad, I can't ask you to do that. And, don't you think Carl should have some say in this?"

"I'll take care of that too," he answered with a bit of his military command voice. He disappeared down the hall before I could respond.

The kids were so upbeat, maybe better put hyper, the next morning I felt a little sorry for the teachers and staff at their school. No wonder they go to school a half a day right before a holiday, I chuckled as the boys ricocheted off me during our good bye hugs.

I had been at work an hour or so when my cell phone rang. I smiled when I checked the Caller ID and saw Helen Cruz's name, Carl's caseworker with the Casey Foundation that had sponsored his adoption and was reimbursing me for all of his expenses. Her athletic, absolutely perfect figure and wonderfully tanned Samoan complexion flashed into my mind; I had to chuckle to myself as I pictured Carl's bright red pixie little head so perfectly tucked against under her double E breasts, his favorite position whenever she visited.

"Good morning Christian! I hadn't heard from you in awhile and thought I'd say hi!" she bubbled. "Why don't I buy you lunch!" she suggested after I returned her greeting.

My mouth watered as I considered the idea. Even though I didn't really like white meat, I found myself ordering chicken breasts every time we ate together and I sat across the table from her huge bosom. I started to accept but decided what with picking up the paperwork at Kiley's office then Bobby time time would be too tight. I tried to beg off, explaining that as usual on Fridays I was only working half a day, and had to go to the Juvenile Justice Center then to CPS.

"How perfect, I'm going to be at Juvi all morning, call me when you arrive!" she replied, her voice so radiant it was too much to turn down. Well, Bobby can wait a few minutes longer, a little sightseeing won't hurt, I snickered.

I started to call Helen as I walked from the parking lot into the courts building a couple of hours later, but decided to try to see Kiley first; I was sure I would have to wait at least a few minutes to see her, and would make the call while waiting.

I considered going directly to the Judge's office, but noticed there seemed to be some activity in her courtroom and decided to peek in. When I stepped into the room Kiley was behind her high desk at the front of the room, watching intently as what I was sure was a lawyer grilled a clearly frightened teenage boy wearing a bright prison orange jumpsuit. One of the bailiffs cut me off just inside the door and was informing me that it was a closed proceeding, that I would have to leave, when Kiley glanced at us.

"Excuse me Counselor," she barked, cutting the lawyer off in mid-sentence. "The court will stand in recess, fifteen minutes." she announced, slamming her gavel on the desk as she stood.

"All rise," a voice cried as the last of her flowing black robe disappeared through the door into her chambers.

"Hi Kiddo!" Helen's voice bubbled an instant later. She wrapped both hands around my forearm in a light-hearted hug as she guided me out of the courtroom and toward the Judge's office.

"Was that one of your kids?" I probed in a somewhat disbelieving voice.

"No, I just had business with the court," she answered. Before I could ask any more questions she guided me unannounced into Kiley's chambers.

The Judge's warm, cheery grandmother side was so thick in the room I wondered if the screen writers for the old black and white TV series 'Father Knows Best' weren't sitting up in their graves and taking notes as she went over the paperwork with me. "As Michael's case is now before this court, my clerk prepared new placement paperwork for him also," she told me. "And, as I failed to inquire when you would be returning from your trip, I've ordered both of the children remain in your custody until this court commands otherwise," she concluded.

I was still digesting her last statement as Helen and I thanked her and walked together back into the outer office. I felt that now ever-so familiar knot in my stomach reappear when Helen scooped her laptop bag from a corner of the office and bubbled, "Come on, let's go pick up your newest placement and get some lunch!"

Bobby distracted me from whatever plot Helen and Kiley were conniving the instant Roy led him Tim's office. He was even more attractive up close than he appeared yesterday in the shelter's cafeteria, better put beautiful, but in a boyish way. He was wearing a slightly oversized white tee-shirt that was clearly very new from the fold wrinkles still showing, but it showed off his lithe, almost awkward upper torso. His shoulders were far too wide for his frame, almost looking like bony football shoulder pads under the shirt. His too long collar bones, showing under the shirt, accented his long thin neck, but the face perched above it was priceless.

Like Mike he only had some stubble of hair on his head, his seemed to be jet black, but it was long enough to wonderfully accent his olive complexion, and more so his dark brown eyes; Carl's eyes had always seemed miles deep when I looked into them, but Bobby's seemed to be hundreds of miles deep. He seemed to have a nervous smile, but each time he did his cheeks dimpled as his button nose perked. Yeah, he's a growing boy! I told myself when he turned away from me and I noticed his shoulder blades pushing out against his tee-shirt like a pair of dorsal fins.

When Tim introduced us he gave me just a sliver of a grin as his lips moved ever so slightly, but not saying anything. He seemed a little warmer to Helen, which didn't surprise me, but still didn't say anything, again just moving his lips, all the while staying very close to Roy.

"You don't look much like a youngster that's about to get to go to Disneyland!" Tim quipped. The lad flashed another quick, pencil thin grin as his only answer.

"Roy took Bobby clothes shopping this morning, if he needs anything else just keep your receipts," Tim told me, handing me a backpack.

I turned to accept the pack when an very high pitched angelic voice softly asked, "Where is Mike?" When I turned around Bobby was staring at the floor, nervously pulling at the hem of his tee-shirt.

"He is probably home by now," I answered. "At my home, he went clothes shopping this morning too," I tried when he showed no reaction. "With Gramps, my Dad. You will see him soon."

He kept his eyes low, but looked at the door then around the room, the apprehension is his face made me wonder if he wasn't looking for an escape route. His face tightened as if in deep thought for a second or so then he turned toward Roy. "I was supposed to go with Mike." he said, his voice even higher pitched than before.

"You are going to be with Mike, we were going to eat lunch and then you'll see him," Helen interjected, as she gave him a warm smile. A smile that wasn't returned, the boy just kept staring at Roy Great, this could be a really fun week, I silently groaned. "Let's see if he's home yet," I suggested as I flipped open my cell phone. I started to dial my home number, but called Dad's cell. After asking Dad to put Mike on the phone I offered my cell out to Bobby saying, "Here, someone would like to speak with you."

His innocent face turned clearly distrusting as he surveyed the instrument, but accepted it. His eyes brightened ever so slightly as he listened to the earpiece, and a second later he stepped away from Roy and turned away from us, seeming to be speaking into the phone. What have I gotten myself into this time? I wondered as he suspiciously glanced back at me a couple of times, turning away again to speak into the phone each time he did.

"Thank you sir," he said a minute or so later. Before I could reach out to accept my phone back he sat it on the edge of Tim's desk and very quickly stepped away.

"Is anyone else hungry? I am STARVING!" Helen bubbled after a second or so of tense silence in the room. Her smile would have warmed several rooms when I turned to her, but her eyes seemed to be drilling into Tim and Roy's heads as she added, "Everyone meet at Fudruckers, I'm buying!" her voice dripping with charm.

"Thanks, but I have a meeting I have to, , , ," Roy began.

"We're game!" Tim cut him off. Roy turned toward his boss but before he could say anything Tim had picked up his office phone. "Cindy, something has come up, Roy and I will be out of pocket for, for two hours, rearrange our schedules," he all but barked into the handset. "No, I'll be out the rest of the day, Roy will be back in two hours."

Bobby didn't resist but was still very standoffish as we left the building, staying close to Roy, but a couple of feet away from his caseworker. God, he is, well, beautiful, I thought as we walked across the parking lot. The light blond more peach fur than hair on his thin arms and the portion of his legs I could see below his baggy shorts seemed to glow as sunlight reflected off it, the same peach fuzz on his almost feminine face set off the soft freckles only God could have so perfectly have sprinkled across his nose and cheeks. I was almost heart-broken when he dutifully followed Roy to his car and climbed inside.

Tim waiting next to the passenger door of my truck snapped me back to reality. "I warned you!" he tittered as I drove out of the parking lot. "I think he will relax, somewhat, when he sees Mike, but he is very well defended." I almost pulled over to the side of the road and demand Tim drive when he handed me an envelope he said was Bobby's case summary, but decided it would wait.

Bobby did seem to relax a little as we ate, but he showed no signs of warming up to me or anyone but Roy. I did see a sign of normality as we ate, Fudrucker's 'build your own hamburger, as high as you wish' cuisine definitely caught his attention, as did their 'all you can eat' dessert bar. He wouldn't talk to anyone, but shot several of his pencil thin little grins around the table as we made small talk toward him.

Helen caught everyone's attention when she asked what I had done with the reward money Carl and I had received from the kiddy-porn ring Carl's statements had helped break up. I had wondered when we would receive the money, but had hadn't really worried about it too much, I had worked for the Federal Government long enough to know how slowly things happened in its massive bureaucracy.

Everyone at the table stared at me for the better part of a minute before Helen commented, "Christian, that is a lot of money, and you should have received it long ago!"

"You don't deal with the Feds often, do you?" I quipped.

She studied me for another couple of seconds, then reminded me she had a friend in the FBI's reward coordination office, and dug her cell phone out of her purse. Although I was interested in the money, I was a little relieved when her friend wasn't available, getting Bobby settled in, or at least comfortable with me was enough to worry about for now.

The drive home was at best a stress management drill. Tim went with Roy back to CPS to retrieve his truck after informing Bobby and I he would meet us at my house shortly, which seemed to offer a little encouragement to my clearly frightened passenger. After obediently fastening his seat belt Bobby stared stoically at the dash board as I drove, completely ignoring my many attempts at conversation, even about Mike.

When I glanced at him somehow Simon and Garfunkle's classic folk-rock The Sounds of Silence rang into my mind: 'But my words like silent raindrops fell' so accurately described how my words were affecting the little angel next to me, all but paralyzed in fear of what was coming. 'People talking without speaking' seemed to be the volumes of fear being projected by his beautiful, miles deep eyes. Please God, need some help here, I silently prayed.

My heart sank into my stomach when I turned onto my street and saw that Dad's van wasn't in the driveway. Thanks old man, thanks a bunch, I groaned as I parked. "Well, we're here, welcome to my home!" I exclaimed, trying to sound cheery.

"Is Mike here?" he asked the house's front door, his high pitched choir boy voice quivering.

"If he's not, he will be, , ," I began as I turned toward him. I stopped when his face brightened and his pencil thin grin spread across his face, then immediately exploded into a huge ear-to-ear smile, his dimples making me gasp from their beauty.

I only had time for a quick glance at the house and the thin, balded headed form bolting out the front door before Bobby began pushing and pulling on the truck's door panel. "I think so!" I chuckled as I reached across the cabin and released his door latch. Oops! I thought as he bounded out of the truck, only to be sprung back into inside by his seat belt. It took a couple of tries to get my timing right and release his belt when he wasn't pulling against it.

They almost smashed into each other as Bobby bailed out of the truck, and molded into a tight hug, kissing each other's cheeks as they softly mumbled to each other in a reunion scene that seemed to be made for the movies. I was about to suggest we go inside when Mike pulled out of their cuddle and threw his arms around my waist. "Thanks Pop, thanks, thanks, thanks!" he cried into my belly button.

He bounced off of me back into Bobby's arms before I could answer. They turned toward the house, but Bobby pulled out of his young friend's grasp and turned around toward me. He flashed an almost blinding smile, his bright white teeth accented perfectly by his cherry red lips. "Thank you Mister Christian, thank you!" he more sang than said. They disappeared into the house before I could respond, their giggles and chatter ringing from the hall as I followed them inside.

After changing into comfortable shorts and shirt I was about to open the refrigerator and get a beer when the doorbell chimed and Tim burst in. "How's it going, how is he doing?" he whispered as he pushed my hand aside and reached inside the refrigerator. A high pitched squeal followed by several giggles rang from down the hall almost as if they were answering his question. "Okay, that sounds encouraging!" he chuckled as he pushed a can into my hand.

"Pop, may we use the computer?" Mike's voice interrupted before I could answer Tim. "Can I show Bobby where we're going?" When I turned around my heart skipped a beat. Both of the boys still stuck together like they were glued to each other, but now side by side. Bobby was now cuddling Binki tightly in his arms while Mike held Bandit in a loving snuggle. Binki gave me a quick nose twitch as if saying 'thanks!' before planting his head under Bobby's neck.

"Of course you may," I answered. "Do you know where Gramps is?" I finally was able to asked.

"He went to get everyone from school," Mike answered. "He said I can stay and wait for Bobby, sir," he blushed. "Ah, was it alright?"

"Well, you didn't eat the refrigerator or anything!" I teased. They both giggled and disappeared into the front room.

"What did Helen have to say earlier?" Tim asked. "And Kiley?" he added before I could answer. "Be careful dude," he told me after I filled him in on the morning. "Just a word to the wise, but the grape vine has it they are setting you up for something, or maybe two young somethings," he told me.

Dad and the boys arrived a few minutes later, the boys rushing into the house like stampeding cattle. After getting a quick round of hugs from them I started to be a little concerned when they very casually said hi to Bobby and Mike and disappeared down the hall. My concern turned out to be short lived though, less than a minute later the twins appeared in the kitchen entryway, now wearing gym shorts and muscle shirts, Carl right behind. They glanced around the kitchen then darted into the family room, reappearing seconds later with Bobby and Mike in tow.

"Well, looks like they have found something they have in common already!" I whispered to Tim as they quickly integrated Bobby into their mass production snack preparing assembly line.

"I can't believe he's eating again, but looks like he's going to fit right in," Tim snickered as we watched Bobby pile two thick sandwiches and a mountain of potato chips on his plate.

Timmy received matching dirty looks from Carl and the twins when he showed up about ten minutes later wearing his headgear, but as soon as they finished eating the three of them shuffled back down the hall, casting a couple of forlorn back at me a they left. They did seem to recover quickly, bouncing back into the kitchen, soccer ball in hand.

Tim and I were about to sit down to the now vacant kitchen table when Carl's high pitched scream rang from the front yard. A split second later the front door burst open and Carl declared, "Pop! Pop! Miss Cruz is here!"

I felt my jaw drop as I turned toward Tim, but had to chuckle as he let out a loud snort then cough as he choked on his beer.

"Hi guys!" she bubbled as she stepped into the kitchen. I had to chuckle when I turned to her and saw Carl's red face, complete with an almost blinding grin, tucked under her huge breasts. "You've grown a little," she chuckled as she gave his ribs a squeeze. "You go play, let me talk to Dad for a minute," she instructed.

"I'm sorry, I should have called, but I had to see your face," she began as she sat down. "I found my friend, and she wants to talk to you," she said as she dialed her cell phone.

"We are very sorry that this has happened, you should have received your money months ago, it somehow slipped through the cracks," a voice on the other end of the phone told me after identifying herself as the Agent-In-Charge of the FBI's reward Coordination unit. "But, as an upside, the reward fund as grown during that time and even more related cases were cleared, and accrued a considerable amount of interest. I have just ordered the checks cut, I can overnight them and you will be in your hands Monday by ten A.M."

She was silent for a second or so after I explained I would be out of town all of next week and suggested she send them regular mail. "This is a considerable amount of money, sir. We would have to insist on a courier service. Would you like to know the amounts?"

I almost dropped the phone as she rattled of two sets of numbers. I stared at the wall for a split second, then upended my beer, getting about half air as my head started spinning. Without realizing it I grabbed Tim's beer off the table and downed most of it.

Still somewhat dazed, I jerked a pen out of Tim's shirt pocket and a paper napkin off the table's centerpiece and asked her to repeat herself.

"You heard correctly, Mister Miller," she all but chuckled. "Carl's share of the reward is two million, four hundred eighty-two thousand, four hundred fifty-seven dollars and forty-eight cents. You share is eight hundred twenty seven thousand, four hundred eighty nine dollars and sixteen cents."

I stared at my scribblings on the napkin for a second trying to believe what I had written, '$ 2,482,457.48 - Carl, $ 827,489.16 - me. "And sixteen cents?" I absent mindedly mumbled.

With the help of another beer that Tim handed me, I recovered slightly, and after a little discussion the agent agreed to allow Dad to sign for the checks. When I rang off a minute or so later everyone in the room was staring at me, the silence was deafening as everyone's eyes clearly asked 'Well?'

"Ah, Dad, go ahead with the new bedroom furniture, buy whatever you want," I almost stuttered. "But it's on me, that's our reward money, it will be here Monday morning," I added as I slid the napkin to the center of the table.

It took everyone a few minutes for what had happened to sink in, but soon a plan began to develop that wouldn't interfere with our vacation. Dad would call a lawyer/estate planner he had used very successfully for years and asked him to begin work on Carl's trust, he even reluctantly agreed to use the Power of Attorney I had given him after my wife's death to deposit my check into my Money Market account. Although I was busting at the seams to tell Carl about his good fortune we agreed not to tell him anything until we knew the details about his trust.

When the boys came in for supper later, I not only was relieved to see how Bobby was dealing with being at the house, and that he provided quite an effective diversion from what I wanted so much to announce; the shy, frightened little boy I all but dragged to my house was now a full time chatter-box, as beautiful as his angelic choirboy voice was, I found myself trying to think of ways to shut him up. This kid's getting to you, I told myself, every time I considered correcting him for talking too much he flashed one of his cute little pencil thin grins and his beautiful dimples stopped my heart.

The boys moaned and groaned when I informed them we were on a school-night bedtime schedule, but didn't really argue too much when I reminded them we were taking off early the next morning, for Mickey's magic world, and after I compromised a bit, allowing everyone to spread blankets and quilts on the front room's floor and sleep there.

Bobby seemed to crawl back into his shell somewhat as the boys and I exchanged our goodnight hugs later, tactfully slipping to the opposite side of the family room from me as I hugged and kissed the top of everyone's head. I could feel his eyes xraying me as Mike and I exchanged hugs. After I kissed the top of Mike's head I kept him in my cuddle and looked over at Bobby, asking "Are to you too big for a hug?"

He blushed slightly, then flashed just a hint of one of his grins as he looked wide eyed at Mike, then the twins. When I extended an arm toward him he hesitated, but almost in slow motion shuffled to us. He didn't return my hug, but his shoulders felt much more relaxed than I expected as I pulled him against me.

"Everyone under the covers!" I ordered, intentionally before he had a chance to react. I gave Binki and Bandit their cuddles and stuffed them into into the mass nest of blankets as the boys crawled under the covers.

I couldn't resist kneeling down and kissing everyone's forehead again, but was disappointed when Bobby's head disappeared beneath the covers before I got to him. "Sleep good, little one," I whispered as I gently squeezed the lump I was sure was his bony shoulder through the blanket.

I was about to step out of the room when Bobby's angelic voice almost whispered, "Thanks Mister Christian, , , I mean Mister Miller." Before I could answer another voice whispered something I couldn't understand, then Bobby added, "I mean Mister Pop."

"Thank you Son," I more gasped than said. I risked another glance at the mass of angels cuddled together on my carpet before rushing into the kitchen and using what seemed like a half roll of paper towels drying my tears.

Binki's wet nose pushing against my cheek disturbed my slumber the next morning, even before the electronic beast on my night stand attacked. "Hi Bunny, what are you doing up so early?" I mumbled. He oinked softly, but hopped off my pillow when I reached up to pet him.

When I rolled to see where he had gone it took my eyes several seconds to focus enough to recognize the thin shadow sitting in a chair next to my bed, Binki perched in his lap. "Hi Turkey, what are you doing up so early?" I groaned.

"Well, ah, are we going flying? Sir?" Carl whined. "I didn't want you to forget or stuff!"

"I don't know, I sort of feel like sleeping in, maybe tomorrow," I answered, throwing the blankets over my face more to cover my grin than anything.

"But, BUT, , , you promised we were, , , PLEASE POP! DAD!" he cried.

"Well, I don't know, what's it worth to you?" I asked, peeking out from under the covers. I wasn't really prepared for his reaction. Binki went flying over my head, thankfully landing on the waterbed as the youngster dove out of his chair and into my bed, his facebow slamming against my face as he kissed my cheeks so hard I wondered if I would end up with bruises. "Okay, okay, we can go!" I chuckled as I scratched his back, hoping to at least lessen his attack.

He gave me a soft giggle before tucking his pixie head into my neck and squirmed more tightly into our hug. A hug I didn't get to enjoy for very long before the beast began its buzzing attack. I started to reach over and deliver it a death blow, but thought better. "You go wake up your brothers, and I'll be right there," I suggested. He smacked me with a final kiss/facebow thrust and bolted out of the bed and down the hall.

"Up yours, asshole," I growled at my alarm clock as I climbed out of bed. As tempted as I was to let the damn thing buzz for a week, I turned it off before climbing into a pair of shorts and crawling down the hall toward the coffee pot.

The boys' activities when we arrived at my FBO at first seemed like nothing less than slightly organized chaos, but quickly took shape as an orchestrated set of maneuvers that would have made Army commanders proud, the twins snapping orders like experienced Generals.

While most of them loaded our luggage into the aircraft's several cargo hatches, Carl bolted into the aircraft's cabin, reappearing a split second later with a clipboard, that when he handed it to me l found out it held the Cessna's preflight checklist. I was about to begin my preflight when I noticed Mike and Timmy disappear into the cabin carrying a couple of plastic grocery bags I assumed were snacks Dad had prepared. I began to wonder when Bobby and Jerry rushed behind them lugging an ice chest, but Carl was pushing ahead on our checklist and I didn't have time to investigate. This is going to be good, I thought when Bobby wrestled the ice chest back down the aircraft's stairs and Jerry poked his head out of the cockpit's window, flashing Carl and I an impatient look.

Their flurry of activity began to fit together when I boarded the aircraft and I noticed their Playstation box, along with a couple of controllers and a mass of wire scattered around the cabin, along with the back panel of the 414's incabin TV monitor open.

Okay, I have to congratulate their genius! I snickered. "Not!" I barked. "This aircraft does NOT move until everything is stowed! Nothing loose until we are in level flight!" stirred a flurry of panicked activity in the cabin as wires, controllers and all evidence of the Playstation disappeared into cabinets.

"So, you're my right?" I chuckled at Jerry, already strapped into the copilot's position, as I climbed into the cockpit. "Let's go flying!" I told his somewhat frightened face. With a little coaxing he started the engines, and did a perfect job of our final instrument check, but didn't respond when I told him to call ATC and asked to taxi out. "Come on Son, it's just an overgrown Mooney, with a spare engine," I tried. "Do you want me to handle the radio, and be second, you just fly the aircraft." I tried.

I didn't wait for an answer, and called on the radio to open our flight plan. I switched over to the cabin intercom and announced, "Thank you for flying Silver Turkey Airlines! Our pilot, Jerry Turkey, is about to taxi out for takeoff, please fasten your seatbelts." Jerry gave me a dirty look, but pushed the throttles forward and steered the plane toward the runway.

I ended up helping a little as he launched us into the air, but in subtle ways I hoped he didn't notice. He relaxed considerably when ATC's approach control transferred us to their regional controllers and he began leveling the aircraft into a much more gradual climb to our cruise attitude as did I.

I was about to tell the boys in the cabin they could release their seat restraints and get their Playstation out when Jerry cued his microphone. "Thanks for getting high with us!" he giggled. "Take off your seatbelts, and whatever else, and let's have fun!" he proclaimed.

"Jerry! You're on the radio!" Jeff all but screamed as he pushed between the cockpit seats. I wanted to kill Jerry, but also wanted to die myself as I glanced at the radio and realized Jeff was right, my son had been transmitting onto an ATF frequency .

ATC didn't give me much time to recover. "Unidentified aircraft, state your traffic and say your call sign." a clearly displeased ATC's voice demanded. The airways were deathly silent for several seconds until the ATC all but snarled, "Female pilot say identification!"

After several seconds the radio came to life. "American 458, sounds like a fun flight, wish I was aboard, but not us." a controlled voice of what was clearly a professional pilot said.

"Delta 14, not us, but I signed up with the wrong airline!" another voice chuckled.

I took a deep breath and pushed the button on my radio's microphone. "Cessna 18 Charlie, not I! We are a private aircraft, only males on board." I proclaimed, I even impressed myself with the amount of base I pushed into my voice. "You still have the aircraft," I barked at Jerry. "Just stay the hell off the radio!" I chuckled at his ghost white face.

The rest of our flight was uneventful, Jeff traded off with Jerry at our next fuel stop. I was a little disappointed that Carl and Timmy wanted no part of the Cessna's controls and cockpit, but managed to get Mike and Bobby into the copilot's seat while we were in the air. Jerry seemed to repair his ego, and redeemed his image, when he brought us in for a perfect landing in Orlando, even taxiing the craft to our guest FBO.

I felt Carl, Timmy and the twins anxiety as we sat in the hotel's shuttle bus; they hated to wear their headgears in public, and I really disliked forcing them to, but as I had gone over with them God only knows how many times before, their Orthodontist had ordered they were the bulky appliances as much as possible, and wearing them while we traveled and such was much less embarrassing than it would be at Disney the next day.

"Sorry guys," I told them as we climbed off the bus and started into the lobby.

I couldn't help but snicker we walked up to the hotel's check-in desk and I noticed five young teenage boys pacing around next to the desk, four of them also strapped into headgears. A short, freckle faced boy, with somewhere between strawberry and carrot red hair, really caught my attention, the million or so equally bright red freckles sprayed across his arms and face something from a Kodak moment. I'm not sure which group of boys looked more embarrassed when they saw each other. Yeah well! That shot their argument down, no one else would wear that stuff in public! I told myself as I lined up behind a man being waited on at the check-in desk.

"Welcome to the Hyatt, and to Disney, Doctor," the clerk's voice distracted me. "Three sixteen!" he crispy added as he handed a key-card to a nearby bellboy, then handed several more of them to the fairly young, long haired man.

The man stepped over to the group of teens as I introduced myself to the desk clerk. "My apologies sir, I didn't realize you were traveling together," the clerk said after glancing at his computer. I'm sure seeing my lost face he added, "Or I presumed you were, I see you are both from San Antonio."

The long haired man that had just checked in clearly heard the comment and was giving me a curious look when I glanced over at him. "Evidently the computer thinks you were too," the clerk continued. "Three eighteen," he told a bell hop, handing him a key-card. "Welcome to Orlando, and Disney sir." he told me as he handed me several more.

"Adam Owens," the long haired man said as he offered his hand out for me to shake.

To Be Continued…