Chapter Three

Manuel sat across from Deet on the back patio and sipped his hot coffee. “This is a business meeting, you know,” he told his friend.

“I know,” Deet replied, the darkness around his eyes betraying the fact that he hadn’t been able to go back to sleep.

“I just wanted to be sure,” Manuel said, “because so far you’re paying me seven hundred an hour to drink your coffee and wait for my son to wake up.” He didn’t push Deet because he knew the man was struggling with something deep inside, something that hurt and infuriated.

“Would it be okay if Jorge stays the weekend?” Deet finally asked. “Eric seems to trust him.”

“Sure,” Manuel replied. “Mi hijo es su hijo. Does he get seven hundred an hour?”

“Greedy asshole,” Deet mumbled.

“The boy has to earn money for college and he’s too young to work.”

“I’m paying you enough to send all five little Fuentes to Harvard.”

“True,” Manuel agreed before smiling and adding, “but Consuela’s going to present me with number six and my money’s going to be spread pretty thin.”

“Goddamn, man, you’re a horny bastard aren’t you?”

“Not my fault,” Manuel said, continuing the light conversation. “You’ve seen my Consuela.”

“I prefer her brother Ramon,” Deet said and finally smiled.

“Joking aside, Deet, it’s no problem for Jorge to stay several days if he and Eric both want it. In fact, it’s probably a good idea for Eric. You haven’t had kids in school so you don’t realize that school is out an entire week for Thanksgiving. The girls treat Jorge like he’s Christ reincarnate and it might be good for him to spend a few days in an all male atmosphere. You know you’re expected for Thanksgiving dinner again this year.”

“Thanks, Manuel,” Deet replied. “You’re a good friend.”

“So is this why you’re making me rich?” Manuel asked, “or do you want to explain that second phone call?”

“I want that little girl in my custody – and her baby if it lives.”

“Why? You haven’t even figured out how to help your son and know absolutely nothing about girls.”

“You didn’t hear Eric screaming last night. Ask Jorge to tell you about it because I can’t, not just yet. I only know that it curdled my blood and I vomited for half an hour. I’ve got so damn much money, Manuel. I give away a hundred thousand every year and I’ve still got more than I started with. I can afford the medical and psychiatric bill for these kids. And you know that little girl won’t be sold for sex as long as she’s with me. Putting her in the foster care system isn’t the right solution.”

“You have Eric because you’re his legal father, Deet,” Manuel said. “You know as well as I do that Texas frowns on single male foster parents. Adoption is completely out of the question.”

“Do you trust Milhauser?” Deet asked, an idea forming in his mind.

“You know, I think I do. What kind of scheme are you devising?”

“Do you think he would agree to be counsel for that girl? Maybe he could force a private adoption.”

“Freeman, Freeman, and Birch pack a lot of power, Deet. I might not agree with them buying up smaller firms but they do a lot of good work. They encourage their partners and associates to put in time each month doing pro bono. Two partners in their firm are death lawyers. All they do is fight against the death penalty in any state. They wouldn’t agree with your instinctive desire to see Warren stoned to death but might not object to boiling his balls. And they fight for gay rights. It won’t ever happen in Indiana but they fight for it in other states. So Milhauser could call on the power of his firm to help force through a private adoption, if he wants to, but don’t you think it would be a good idea for you to at least meet the child first? You might take an instant dislike to her. And you have to think about Eric.”

“You make a lot of sense, Manuel, and I’ll think about everything you just said. But would you ask Milhauser if he would consider being that girl’s attorney and present the possibility?”

“Of course,” Manuel replied. Before they could continue their conversation, two energetic young teens bounded down the stairs and burst through the patio doors.

“You promised pancakes for breakfast!” Jorge exclaimed. “But first you got to bring Wolf down the stairs. He quit about halfway down. Oh, hi, Dad! Can I stay until after breakfast?”

“Please?” Eric asked and Manuel was struck by the beauty of his smile.

“I was looking forward to some of those pancakes myself,” Manuel said as he gave his son a hug and smiled at Eric. “We’ll all help. Eric, I know your dad keeps an ugly plastic tablecloth in the bottom drawer of that sideboard over there. Could you get it and put it on the kitchen table? I’ll take the plates out of the cabinets, Jorge, and you can put set them out for us.”

“Uncle Deet told you, didn’t he?” Jorge whispered when Manuel handed him the plates.

“Yes, he did.”

“Eric didn’t remember his nightmare when we woke up,” Jorge said, still whispering. “He’s really scared inside, but he’s scared to admit it.”

“Something really bad happened to Eric,” Manuel said. “I can’t tell you but he might one day. I think you’re old enough to be strong for him when he does.”

“Dad?” Jorge asked, “can I spend a couple more nights?”

Manuel Fuentes felt a surge of pride at his son. His boy knew Eric needed someone his own age and stepped forward. Sometimes a man can be so proud of his children that it hurts and this was one of those times.

“I think we might be able to arrange for you to stay until school starts again. Would you like that?”

“DAD!” Jorge exclaimed, “that’s so totally rad! No little sisters and I’ll get to help Eric pick his bedroom. And I have GOT to tell Uncle Deet that he needs to go shopping again. He bought Eric all the wrong clothes. I mean, Eric’s just a kid and he’s got a whole wardrobe of Gap type stuff. And he promised Eric a computer and someone has to be sure that he gets the right games.”

Breakfast didn’t take long because young teen boys inhale their food as opposed to actually eating it. The pancakes and bacon disappeared in the blink of an eye and Deet decided he’d better call a friend in Vermont and ask for several gallons of maple syrup to be shipped to him immediately.

“I have to go to the office,” Manuel finally said as he pushed himself away from the table. “I had everyone clear their calendars for the holiday but need to check on a couple of cases pending in Austin. And I have a lunch appointment with our local representative of Freeman, Freeman, and Birch on behalf of a minor who just ate too many pancakes. I want to be sure that he doesn’t file a petition on behalf of the minor in question alleging abuse by pancake. And there’s a question to be resolved regarding another minor who would possibly benefit from some of the learned counsel’s pro bono.”

“Thank you,” Deet mouthed.

“Dad, you’re so cool when you talk all legal and stuff,” Jorge said.

“So what do you have planned for today?” Manuel asked.

“Apparently I have to take Eric shopping again,” Deet said. “Nothing I bought has Jorge’s seal of approval. I’ve been advised by the fashion consultant that Eric needs a lot of T’s, faded jeans, and speedos. I promised Eric a puppy, and we’re going to Bandera for a horse auction. I’ll be a pauper before the day is over and have to open the house as a Bed and Breakfast again just to make ends meet.”

The mood was light and easy as the boys went back to Deet’s computer and Manuel promised to call later about his meeting with Herbert Milhauser. The boys headed back to the computer and a laser game they had discovered the night before.

Deet poured the final dregs of coffee into his cup and settled on his couch to read the morning newspaper. He spilled coffee on himself, the couch, and the floor when he saw a small article tucked away on page twelve of the front section.

‘Legislature Makes Bold Move’, the heading read. ‘The Texas legislature, in an attempt to avoid a negative budget, has abolished the Department of Human Services. This reporter has learned the truth about the recent house bill which will harm the most vulnerable of this great state’s citizens. Promising to cut expenditures, the legislature approved a bill which will contract government responsibility to private industry whose sole purpose is to generate profit for their shareholders. The Department of Human Services has been abolished, to be a minimal number of call centers, only one of which will be located in Texas. Approximately 10,000 employees will lose their jobs and health coverage as a result of this bill. The other call centers will be located outside of the state. This reporter not only questions the reasoning behind putting even more people on unemployment at a time when the nation’s economy is fighting to survive, but who knows the needs of Texans better than Texans?

‘Can a person in Kansas or New York truly understand the needs and obstacles facing the poorest of our citizens? More unsettling is the fact that most call centers managed by private industry are located outside of the United States. When was the government allowed to decide that someone in India is better able to determine the Welfare, Food Stamp, and Medicaid benefits, or lack thereof, of our citizenry?

‘The most appalling fact is that the legislature held a minimal number of town meetings to allow the public to voice their opinions. These meetings were announced at the last minute and members of the legislature poo-pooed the opponents with unabashed rhetoric.

‘Other horrendous moves included in this bill will close schools for the mentally challenged and hospitals, including those treating persons suffering from tuberculosis. Take a good look around you. This state has just become a third world country.’

Deet put the paper down. He had worked for DHS for almost seventeen years. He remembered the plight of the elderly and infirm, the mothers abandoned by their husbands who refused to pay child support, the young women working twenty hours a week flipping burgers for minimum wage. And he hoped that Protective Services would be impacted. He’d had close contact with many of the caseworkers through the years and had a very low opinion of the dowdy women who sauntered slowly through the hallowed halls of their offices making life or death decisions on their wards.

His thoughts were interrupted when Eric and Jorge bounded into the room, endless bundles of energy contained in two growing bodies.

“Can we go now, Daddy?” Eric asked. “I want to see about my puppy.”

Deet had decided to call his veterinarian to recommend a suitable breed for a growing boy, one who wouldn’t be much of a nuisance to the aging Wolfgang.

“There are several good breeds available,” Dr. Whitman said. “Stay away from the obvious – some of them have throwback genes and can turn vicious without provocation. One of my patients was a beautiful collie who’s territorial instinct was so strong that I had to put her down when she tried to attack the family’s new baby.”

“I thought collies were gentle,” Deet said. “I read all the ‘Lad’ books when I was a kid.”

“They usually are,” Dr. Whitman replied, “but like I said, this one’s primitive instinct was overpowering. Do you want a house or yard dog?”

“Well,” Deet said, “I think we’d like one that can run and play in the backyard and still be suitable for indoors.”

“Hmmm, in that case I think I’d recommend a Tibetan Spaniel. They’re very people oriented and get along well with other dogs. And they make good watch dogs. They’re full of energy but quite capable of picking up on nuances and know when to do nothing more than cuddle. I’ve got the name of a local breeder, and I know she’s got a litter ready to sell because I just finished giving them their shots last week. They’re all healthy pups. Tell Margaret I referred you. She’s particular about who she sells one of her precious babies to.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Deet said when he had written down the breeder’s name and phone number. He made a quick call to Margaret Willis who agreed it was convenient to meet as soon as possible. Deet made one more telephone call to his friend John Montgomery in Bandera and headed out the door with the boys in tow.

Local in San Antonio usually means closer than Houston. Margaret Willis lived in Helotes, several miles west of town and between San Antonio and Bandera. It was a pleasant drive once they finally got beyond the city limits and out of the crushing Saturday traffic. Eric and Jorge kept up a steady stream of conversation deciding which movies they both liked, discussing the pros and cons of rock stars, and the terrifying thought of Eric meeting Jorge’s sisters at Thanksgiving.

“Mexicans are strange,” Jorge told Eric. “Our women wait on us hand and foot, then for no reason at all try to rip us a new asshole.”

“Jorge Fuentes!” Deet shouted. “What did you just say?”

“Um, that Mexicans are strange? I can say that because I am one.”

“Not that … the other thing you said. I know your dad doesn’t allow you to curse.”

“Sorry,” Jorge repented. “You gonna tell Dad?”

“Do I look like a stoolie to you? Look, I don’t really care what you say when the two of you are alone. Just don’t use that kind of language in front of an adult. I remember what it was like as a kid, and I know kids like to use bad language sometimes. But it’s not nice and it makes you sound like a street punk.”

“I won’t do it again, Uncle Deet, I promise.”

“Good,” Deet replied, “because I’d hate to have to send you home.”

Eric sat very quietly, absorbing the conversation. He knew his dad was upset with Jorge for using a bad word, but he seemed to understand boys. His voice hadn’t sounded angry, just firm like he was more concerned with how other people would view a boy who cursed. And he’d all but given his permission for them to use bad words if he couldn’t hear them. He was beginning to like his dad even more.

Margaret Willis greeted them at the door to her limestone house in Helotes. They had barely entered the living room when they were attacked by six lively puppies who sniffed their feet and bounded around the room.

“I apologize for their behavior,” Margaret said. “But what can I say? They’re full of energy.”

She asked them to please sit and make themselves comfortable while she disappeared from the room. When she returned she carried a tray with hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies.

“Choosing the right puppy takes a little time so I thought you boys might like something to eat while you get to know them,” she said.

The Tibetan Spaniel is a small dog, usually blonde and white, with short front legs and fluffy tail that curls up over its back. Black eyes, nose, and mouth give it the appearance of intelligence and curiosity. Eric was captivated and sat on the floor munching on cookies while the pups pranced around, attacking each other and doing what puppies usually do.

“Won’t it miss its mother and brothers and sisters?” he asked, and Margaret instantly lost her heart to the teenager.

“For a little while,” she replied honestly. “But these are bred to be ‘people’ dogs. It won’t be very long before all it cares about is the new family.”

One pup in particular seemed to be trying to get Eric’s attention. The little male crouched in front of Eric and barked, bounced back a few steps and barked again. He darted forward and tugged at the edge of Eric’s jeans, then barked some more.

Margaret laughed. “I think you’ve just been selected,” she said.

“Well, son, what do you think?” Deet asked.

“Do I got a choice?” Eric giggled as the puppy jumped toward him, knocking him on his back, and slathered his face with doggy kisses.

Deet accepted the AKC registration papers and paid Margaret the full asking price for the puppy even though she quoted him ten percent less because she’d taken a liking to the boy. She agreed to have the pup bathed and ready to go home with his new family at the end of the day after Deet explained that they had to go on to Bandera before they returned home.

They had barely gotten settled in the car when Deet’s cell phone rang. It was Manuel.

“Are the boys driving you crazy yet?” the lawyer asked.

“Not yet, but they’re trying to,” Deet replied. “What’s up?”

“Got some news for you. My esteemed colleague Herbert Milhauser and I had an interesting morning. He called his partners in Indianapolis, who called their Family Court judge. She in return called a Family Court judge here who was her roommate in college. The world is a small fucking place, Deet. The judge here, Angelina Solari, lovely lady by the way, has taken Protective Services out of the picture. She appointed Herbert as that little girl’s learned counsel. We’re to meet in Family Court Monday morning at precisely ten. I’ve never met Judge Solari but I know her reputation. She’s a stickler for protocol so we have to be there on time. She’s very much pro child and the folks at Protective Services hate her because she usurps their authority every chance she gets.”


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