Chapter Eight

Thanksgiving dinner was, as usual, one of Consuela’s masterpiece meals. The adults – Deet, Manuel, Consuela, and assorted Martinez and Fuentes brothers and sisters – ate at the formal dining room of the million dollar home in the Dominion. Two children’s tables were set up to accommodate the large assortment of brothers, sisters, and cousins.

The children were all well acquainted with Dieter Graschel for he had been included in family celebrations for as long as any of them could remember. They were understandably curious about the two strange guests but their parents had warned them against asking probing questions.

When the meal was finished and the tables cleared, the adults settled in the living room and the men watched football while the women planned their shopping expedition to the area malls for the next day. The children split into two groups, comprised almost equally of boys and girls. Consuela settled the youngest on the king-size bed in the master bedroom and gave them an assortment of appropriate video movies to select from, knowing that all of them would soon be asleep.

The older children asked permission to go to a small nearby park and shoot hoops.

“Not by yourselves,” Manuel answered. “There has to be at least one adult with you.”

“But I’m fourteen, and so is Eric!” Jorge exclaimed. “We’re old enough to keep an eye on the others. Besides, there’s safety in numbers, isn’t there?”

The Dominion is a gated community with private security, but the world is a dangerous place for children and the other parents quickly agreed with Manuel. The children saw their request about to be denied when Deet rose from his chair and said, “I’ll go with them. Football isn’t my game of choice anyway. All that extra padding spoils the view.”

Consuela’s youngest brother Ramon laughed. Holding out his hand to the handsome young man sitting next to him he said, “We’ll join Deet and the kids. Rick and I agree – entirely too much padding. Call us when there’s a baseball game on.”

Jorge and Connie talked Jane into joining them. “You don’t have to play if you don’t want to,” Connie told Jane. “You can be the cheerleader. I was until this year.”

“What’s a cheerleader?” Jane asked.

“The pretty girls who jump up and down and yell, “Go Spurs!” Connie answered.

“Nu-uh,” Eric said. “Go Pacers.”

“You’re deep in Spurs territory, dude,” remarked Eduardo, one of the many Fuentes cousins, sensing the beginning of a friendly rivalry.

“Were we ever like that when we were kids?” Deet asked Ramon as they escorted the nine children to the basketball court at the park.

“Yeah, we were,” Ramon answered. “I like to think I still am. You’re the one who changed and got old before your time, hiding inside that big old house.”

Their conversation was interrupted when they became aware that Eric was becoming overly defensive about his preferred basketball team. “What’s his problem?” Rick asked.

“Eric’s had a few bad experiences this last year,” Deet explained. “I’ll talk to him.”

Before any of the men could approach the children and attempt to ease the growing tension, a very tall black man with three young boys stepped in and defused the situation. “You know,” he said in a deep voice, “it always takes two teams to have a good game. The Spurs wouldn’t be two time NBA champions if they only played against each other.”

The children, none of whom were much above five feet, had to tilt their heads back to see the face of the man speaking to them. He had to be at least seven feet tall and had arms the size of tree trunks. Jane was so frightened at his size that she ran and hid behind Deet.

“My friend and I,” he said indicating the equally large man beside him, “were going to play a little tennis but I’ve got a better idea. You kids split into two teams and we’ll be your coaches. How does that sound?”

“Sounds great, Mr. Davis, Mr. Taylor,” Jorge said, for he was the only one other than Deet and Manuel who knew the two men.

“I’m not very good at tennis,” Don said. “Coaching a game will be a lot more fun. When I go back to work tomorrow I can tell the rest of the guys I spent the day with some talent they’ll be watching in a few years.”

“What kinda work you do?” Jane asked, peering from behind Deet.

“We run up and down a basketball court,” he replied and the boys burst into giggles.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

“Jane,” Deet said, “I’d like you to meet Don Taylor and Robert Davis, both valuable members of the Spurs team.”

Introductions were made all around, sides chosen, and plays were outlined by the coaches. Jane felt a little awkward trying to be a cheerleader, since she had no idea what she was supposed to do, until Rick joined her. Deet and Ramon shook their heads, trying not to laugh, as Jane tried to follow Rick through improvised dance movements. The adults had agreed it best not to choose known team names so Rick and Jane periodically shouted, “Go Don! Go Bob!” using the coaches names instead.

An hour later nine exhausted children and one tired man were accompanied back to the Fuentes home by Deet and Ramon who, while not tired, were a little hoarse from cheering.

“That was totally awesome,” Eric told Jorge during the drive back to Guenther Street. “I can’t believe we just shot hoops with two of the most famous players in the NBA!”

Deet carried the sleeping Jane to her room, removed her shoes, and tucked her into bed while Jorge, Connie, and Eric carried in the neatly packaged containers of leftovers and put them in the refrigerator. Consuela, as usual, had prepared enough to feed a starving nation and Deet normally had enough turkey and ham for several weeks.

. . .

Consuela and her sister Maria arrived early the next morning. Maria’s car was already filled with several children and Consuela hurried Eric, Jane, Jorge, and Connie to her waiting vehicle. “I’ll have them back before dark,” she told Deet and the two women headed for the city malls and Christmas shopping.

Deet had let the dogs out to tend to their business before he woke the children and now he called them back in. Wolfgang went to his favorite spot in front of the fireplace while Benji looked around for something to chew on. Deet sipped another cup of coffee and fed Miracle. The sudden silence of the house bothered him. His life had been full of children for several days and he missed their voices.

“Maybe Manuel was right,” he told the kitten as he wiped milk away from her tiny mouth. “I guess I did need someone to love. I haven’t loved anyone since Rick took Ramon Martinez right out from under my nose.”

He finished his coffee and straightened the kitchen after putting the sleeping kitten in her box. He had contacted several possible tutors and they would begin arriving for interviews within the hour. He showered, dressed, and went into the attic while he waited for his first interview and carried boxes of holiday decorations down the stairs. They hadn’t been used since the last Christmas his parents were alive.

The antique grandfather clock in the foyer had just struck eight o’clock when Minerva let herself in the front door, her niece Deidre Thompson with her.

“I was hoping to meet the children,” Deidre told Deet when he explained Eric and Jane were being introduced to the annual ‘shop till you drop’ hysteria of the day after Thanksgiving.

Jane had been reluctant to join the others until Deet assured her that he was going to give Consuela enough money for her and Eric to spend on presents for each other and their new friends.

“Consuela is a little difficult to say ‘no’ to,” Deet told Diedre as the two of them nibbled at the donuts Minerva brought with her. “And I’m not about to face the madness of Christmas shopping. And Jane needs clothes. I’d rather have a woman see to that right now, until I get to know Jane a little better and learn what she likes. I already made the mistake of buying Eric a wardrobe that was nixed by his friend Jorge.”

After several moments of casual conversation Deet decided he liked Deidre. She was taller than most of the women he knew and wore her deep bronze hair in a short bob. Her eyes were a soft gray-blue and filled with an intrinsic love of life just waiting to be released from their sadness.

“I’ll let Miss Minnie show you the house,” he finally said. “I’m going to be interviewing tutors until three and have another appointment at four. Consuela promised to have the children back before dark but I know her. She’ll take them to eat at Taco Cabana so they probably won’t be here before six. I want to thank you, Deidre, for agreeing to help me out here for a while. The kids are both great but they need something safe and stable in their lives right now. Both of them were put in harm’s way by the action of women and they need a loving, positive female presence. I can’t ask Consuela to do that because I know she wants to, and then Manuel would have sue me for spousal interference or something. And I’m already making him as rich as Midas.”

“Go right ahead and do what needs doing, Mr. Graschel,” Deidre said. “I’ll just settle myself in one of the servant’s rooms and learn my way around the house.”

“I hope you don’t think of yourself as a servant,” Deet said. “I don’t expect you to live here.”

“My own home is too full of memories right now,” Deidre replied. “I see Bill everywhere, and hear his voice in the dark. I don’t believe in ghosts, mind you, but we lived in that house for thirty years. When Aunt Minnie told me about this position I was thrilled. I’d much rather hear a living man tell me I burnt his morning toast than the silent voice in my home.”

Tears had begun to fill her eyes and Deet took her into a warm embrace. “You’ll need several pairs of house-slippers,” he said. “Eric’s puppy has a slipper fetish.”

.. . .

“Based on what you’re telling me, Mr. Graschel, I believe spending yesterday with your friends might have been just what the children needed,” Dr. Tran told Deet during their first private session that afternoon. “I suggest you purchase a video camera and record them as often as possible. I would have enjoyed seeing our little Jane Doe pretending to be one of the Spurs Dancers. I didn’t expect her to behave like that so quickly.”

“I was surprised myself,” Deet told him. “And she was really doing pretty good because Rick kept doing more intricate footwork and she almost kept up with him.”

“Is Rick a good friend of yours?” Dr. Tran asked.

“I guess so,” Deet replied. “He was three years ahead of me in school but I didn’t really get to know him until he started hanging out with a friend of mine after I got out of college. He is one hell of a dancer, though, and is often invited to join Ballet Folklorico when they perform here. He teaches dance.”

“Rick Jordan? Are you telling me you know Rick Jordan?” Dr. Tran insisted, “the premier ballet dancer in San Antonio? That Rick?” He was much more envious of his current patient knowing Rick than he was of him knowing two of the Spurs players.

“That’s the one,” Deet said. “He stole my boyfriend from me and I’ve never forgiven him. And I never will even though we’re good friends now.”

Dr. Tran quickly gathered his thoughts back into the direction they needed to be flowing. “Do you think he would accept Jane as one of his students, if she’s interested?”

“Probably,” Deet replied. “He was really working hard with her yesterday and had her giggling a lot. In fact, she related quite well to him.”

“For the same reason she’s feeling more comfortable with you,” Dr. Tran said. “She recognizes the fact that she’s not in any danger of being sexually abused. Young children often have the ability to identify those of the opposite sex who prefer their own sex, and they do it subconsciously. It’s not the same thing as you or I recognizing our own sexual orientation in others. We’re always searching for our own, hoping to find someone to please us for one night or love us for the rest of our lives. Jane instinctively finds safety in men who are interested in her as a person and won’t ever think of her sexually. Eric has a different problem since he was molested by a man.”

He tossed a large file on his desk. “This is the report I received from the Castleton Police Department,” he said. “Your friends at Freeman, Freeman, and Birch have a lot of clout. Milhauser hasn’t even seen this file yet because he directed them to send it straight to me. I want you to read it. I’ll stay with you while you do because it goes into greater detail of what happened to your son than we knew a few days ago. It’s bad, Deet,” Dr. Tran said softly, “very bad.”

Dieter Graschel slowly read the report of what the CPD had found when they acted on the concerns of a school principal. He alternated between tears and forming his hands into fists, gritting his teeth in anger.

“Now here’s Jane’s file,” Dr. Tran said. “I hate like hell doing this to you all at once, but I can’t help you help these kids until you truly understand what’s happened to them.”

The sun was setting in the west when Dieter finally regained control of himself. He found himself leaning against Dr. Tran on the expensive burgundy leather couch of the psychiatrist’s private office at the hospital.

“I can’t help these kids,” he sobbed. “My God, the horror they’ve been through isn’t anything I’ve ever known. I got the shit beat out of me when I was a teenager, but that was just by other kids. I never had to deal with anything like this. I can’t do this! I love these kids but I can’t do this!”

“Yes you can,” Dr. Tran said quietly. “You’re already doing all the right things even if you didn’t know it. Do as I suggested and video as much of them as you can.”

“I thought about asking my attorney if I should take pictures but got worried that Judge Solari would think I had ulterior motives.”

“Believe me, Mr. Graschel, she won’t. We’ve known each other for years and she trusts my opinion when it comes to children. In fact, let me know the next time you have an impromptu basketball game and I’ll bring her along. She’s a huge Rick Jordan fan and I can just about imagine the look on her face when she sees Jane getting personal lessons on being a Spurs Dancer.”

.. . .

Deet arrived at his house shortly before Consuela and Maria brought the children home from their marathon shopping session. Jane and Eric ran past him at the front door, bags of packages clasped close to their small bodies. Jorge and Connie helped Consuela and Maria with bags and boxes which were carried straight to Jane’s bedroom while what seemed like a hundred other children carried more bags of things into the house.

“I only gave you a thousand to spend, Consuela, did you counterfeit it?”

“I didn’t need to,” she answered as she came down the stairs. “You have open accounts at too many stores and I only had to tell them that Eric is your son and show them Manuel’s copy of his birth certificate. You’re only in the hole about ten grand, give or take a thousand or so.”

She stopped and burst into laughter at the look on his face. “The clothes for Jane and little things for her room are an early Christmas present from Manuel and myself,” she said. “I limited them in what they could spend, I promise. I have all the receipts except the ones they insisted were priviledged information, Jorge and Connie’s idea. God help us all, my children are going to follow their father into law. They’ve had supper and here’s the rest of the money you gave me,” she said and gave him back seven hundred dollars.

“I envy you your children, Deet,” she whispered as she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Now, can I impose on you to borrow your attic until Christmas Eve?”

The commotion brought Deidre down from the third floor and introductions were made. “You can use my room,” Deidre said. I’ve discovered that it has a secret room attached which is probably where presents were hidden more than a hundred years ago. I even found a key that fits the door, but it’s not likely the kids will even know because my room is all wooden panels and the door looks like just another panel. I like the idea of being a connection between the past and the present.”

Two days later Deidre found Dieter crying and woke the children. “Wolfgang passed from us last night,” she said. “He’s gone to that place where the dog joins the wolf, fox, and coyote in the pantheon of the spirit world. My great-grandfather was a Cherokee shaman and told me when I was much younger than you that everything that happens in life has a purpose, we must only listen carefully to understand. Wolfgang was a wolf spirit, one of the strongest, and you must listen carefully to what his spirit tells you.”


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