Deet showed Herbert Milhauser and Eric through the house on Guenther Street. Its always been in the family, he said proudly for many of the historic homes gone through several changes of ownership. The family fortune went through a series of setbacks because of fluctuations in the economy and my parents turned it into a bed and breakfast when I was a kid. We lived in the old servant quarters on the third floor. I had to close it when they died because I was working and couldnt run it. Most of the place is closed off now since theres only old Wolfgang any me living here.
Herbert Milhauser closed his eyes and imagined his wifes reaction had she seen the Graschel home. Every room was filled with antique furniture, hand crafted in Europe and worth a fortune. Beneath the dustcovers were dressers topped with crocheted doilies no modern machines could begin to duplicate. Quilts, made with loving hands, covered the wood-frame beds. Porcelain chamber pots and spittoons were discretely placed. Handmade lace curtains hung in the windows. He decided that if Dieter ever wanted to replace any of the furnishings hed ask if Betty could be given first chance at bidding on the old antiques. He figured he owed her for the years she had put up with him working almost eighty hours a week and tried to help, where he could, with the antique store she had just opened.
Eric didnt view things like Milhauser did. He was a child, agreeing to live with a father hed never known but liked instantly. Which one is your bedroom? he asked Deet.
I still like my old room on the top floor, Deet replied. The view from the windows is nice and all my old stuff is there, teddy bears and school pennants. But I dont live there now. Getting up the stairs is hard for Wolf so I sleep in a room that used to be the parlor. You can choose your own room.
The tour continued with Milhauser noting that there were several modern conveniences. Each of the six bedrooms on the second floor had a bathroom. Two of them, more suites than single rooms, opened onto balconies on either side of the back of the house.
Manuel joined them partly because Deet invited him, partly because he didnt trust any attorney who wasnt with his own small law firm. He had one partner, one associate, a paralegal, and two secretaries. He knew the Graschel house as well as Deet because hed spent many boyhood hours playing there with his friend. The view is nice, he said as he crossed one of the suites and opened the door to the balcony. Its not spectacular now because its the middle of November, but come early summer its going to be. Deets grandmother planted a couple of magnolia trees and his mother the confederate jasmine. I remember summer nights when we camped out in the back yard. We could smell the magnolias and jasmine.
Milhauser joined him on the balcony and had to admit he enjoyed the view. The boathouse was clearly visible. The trees were bare but the grass was still green and several of the rose bushes were in bloom. Hed been in San Antonio less than a year and was already happy that hed taken the transfer from the firm in Indianapolis when they bought the smaller firm in Texas. The senior partners had seen NAFTA as a blessing and wanted representation in Texas. San Antonio had been chosen because it housed a Mexican Consulate and he, Herbert Milhauser, had chosen Spanish as his foreign language in high school and college. He was fluent in both the verbal and written language and was a certified interpreter. He liked the people, and he liked the young attorney representing Deet. He understood the mild hostility from Manuel because he had almost decided to give up the long hours and pressure of being a law partner in a high-power firm until this position was offered to him. He decided he wanted to be friends with the handsome young Hispanic attorney.
The tour continued to the third floor and Milhauser watched Eric as the boy wandered around Deets old bedroom, touching everything from the battered old engine of an HO electric train set to the University of Texas pennants on the wall. Scruffy teddy bears that had seen better days were propped against the pillows on the bed and toy soldiers lined the edge of a bookcase containing an assortment of books that included boy detectives, race horses, the odd Dickens and Twain, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Deet saved the first floor as the last and the group moved through an immense dining room and kitchen, library that contained everything from Shakespeare to Grisham, ancient Greek mythology, anthropology and archaeology, astronomy, the history of Texas and Mexico, and Native American works. Herbert Milhauser felt his fingers itch at the prospect of one day having access to that library because at one time, as a very young law student, he had wanted to champion the Native Americans and right centuries of wrongdoing.
Well, Eric, I guess I know all I need to do is let the home office know that youre in good hands, Milhauser finally told Eric. What do you think?
Eric still wasnt at all sure of adults. You gotta be my lawyer, right? he asked. So if I call you and say I dont like it here youre supposed to do whats best for me?
Right, Milhauser replied. Look, son, like I told you earlier Im on your side. Its not just my job; its what I want to do. I want you safe and happy. I think you will be with your dad. Heres my business card. You can call me anytime.
Does this mean that you are offering to serve as Erics attorney? Manuel asked.
Only if the boy wishes to retain me, Milhauser answered.
Then I think the two of us should make arrangements to meet formally and work out contingencies for him and set up an equitable trust fund in the event that your client ever decides he doesnt want to live with my client. Once we have the basics worked out we can set up an appointment with family court.
Oh yes, Milhauser was going to like Manuel Fuentes and the two left in deep conversation of writs and briefs. And as long as Eric was his client, any work Milhauser did for him would be pro bono.
So, did you decide on a room? Deet asked after the two attorneys left.
Do I hafta tonight? the boy asked.
Deet chuckled. No. Its a big house and I kind of rushed everyone through it. Would you rather wait until tomorrow?
I think so, Eric answered. Really? I get to choose any room at all? Like, could I have your old room?
If you want. You can sleep there tonight if thats what youd like.
Eric thought a few minutes and finally said, Id like to pick a room after you go to sleep.
Deet froze at the thought but he understood. Eric had been abused by one family member and, even though he was willing to give this a try, he was frightened.
Tell you what, he said, Ill call Manuels wife and see if their son Jorge can spend the night. Hes your age. You can sleep in any room and hell be there for you. Ive known him since he was born. Right now he has a crush on a girl named Aurelia, which is a little young to have crushes I think, but nobody cares what I think because Im over forty and bordering on being an old man.
I think Id like that, Eric replied and Deet was instantly on the phone to Consuela, telling her that Manuel would explain everything.
What would you like to do the rest of the day? Deet asked.
I dunno, Eric replied, suddenly a little unsure of his situation.
We might go shopping, Deet said. You need clothes. I guess I should see about getting you enrolled in school, but its close to mid-term so maybe Ill get you a tutor until the next semester. Do you know how to use a computer? You can use mine until you decide on your own room and then Ill buy you one. I hope you dont mind if I set up parental controls on it. The world is full of sick people who put things on the internet that kids shouldnt see. And we can see about that bicycle for you today. The pony will have to wait until later. Ill call my friend John and ask him if there are any auctions in the Bandera area soon and then well go and pick one. Its almost noon, would you like something to eat?
I think Im a little hungry, Eric admitted.
Have you ever had tacos?
I dont think so, Eric said.
Well then, sit yourself down and watch a master taco maker at work, Deet told him as he opened the refrigerator and pulled out flour tortillas and barbacoa.
.. . .
Jorge rang the doorbell at precisely 4:15. He was nice looking boy with deep brown eyes and black hair. Outgoing and intelligent, he made friends easily. He was also pampered because he was the only boy of Manuels and Consuelas five children.
Hi, Dude, whats up? he asked when Deet opened the door. Mom said you need me. Dont tell me your yard needs cutting. Im not a Mexican flunky you know.
Deet laughed and ruffled Jorges black hair. Their friendship was an old one and Jorge gigged him every chance he got.
Cheeky bastard, Deet replied. Youre so spoiled you dont know which part of the lawnmower is the start button.
So, whats the sit? Not that I mind a sleep-over but youre a bit old, Dude.
Id like you to meet my son, Eric. Deet said. He lost his mother not long ago and just moved in with me. He needs a friend.
Jorge was very much aware of the situation. Consuela had called Manuel and he filled her in as much as he dared leaving out what had happened to the boy.
Gotcha, Jorge said. Didnt know you gay dudes had kids. Did you stumble into the wrong wood pile?
Dieter Graschel was dumbfounded.
This is a new day, bro, Jorge said with a smile. Ive got a finely honed gaydar. Kids at school now are so out! The campus is full of dudes holding hands and looking at each other all starry-eyed. I think theyre kinda cute but no way am I ever gonna let one kiss me. No offense intended.
No offense taken, Jorge. Eric! he called and the boy entered the living room. Meet Jorge.
So, whats up, Dude? Jorge asked. My mom told me you guys were going shopping this afternoon for clothes. Please tell me the old guy didnt talk you into lots of slacks and button-down shirts. Did he get you cowboy boots? Dude, nobody wears those unless its Rodeo time. Expensive tennies is the way to go. You need Ts, lots of them. Everybody wears Ts. I need to see what you got and then tell you what you really need. I know Deet, hes a pushover. Pout a little and hell get you anything you want. Did you ask for a Playstation2 or an Xbox? Ill tell him tomorrow. No dude can live without those, theyre totally rad. This is a cool house. Did you meet Wolf? Oh, man, were going to have so much fun together. Deet and my dad have season tickets to the basketball and hockey games. Did you see the hot tub on the back patio? Its cool. Deet wont put in a swimming pool because he says its going to screw up the yard, but weve got one and you can come over any time and swim. What school will you be in?
The conversation went on and on as Jorge put Eric at ease, the lawyers son acting the part of a diplomat.
What would you boys like for supper? Deet called out when it was after five. Want me to cook something or order out?
The only thing he knows how to cook is tacos, Jorge whispered. Ask for pizza delivery, one of the supreme ones that has everything.
Pizza, please, Eric shouted back, with extra mushrooms and no anchovies!
They were busy entertaining themselves on Deets computer and had found several games they were enjoying. Their thumbs and fingers were nearly worn out with all the enemies to mankind that they had obliterated.
Tomorrows Saturday, Jorge, Deet said when the clock edged toward nine oclock, but I know youre supposed to be in bed by ten. You two go off and find a place to sleep. Ill look for you early in the morning and make pancakes and bacon for breakfast, because I can prepare something besides tacos.
Deet was deep asleep when his brain registered the fact that Wolfgang was pawing him in the face.
What is it, boy? he asked groggily and pushed the large paws aside. Do you need to go outside?
Wolfgang paced back and forth while Deet put on his robe and followed him not to the back door but to the foot of the stairs just as Jorge came bounding down.
Hes having a nightmare! Jorge said as Deet met him. I tried to wake him up, but couldnt.
Deet was up the stairs faster then he had ever moved in his life, Jorge leading the way to the empty room Eric had chosen for the night. Wolfgang followed, each stair painfully taken.
Deet shook his son awake, terrified himself when he heard the boy cry out, No, please no! Not again!
He tried to comfort the boy. Jorge tried, but Eric pushed them both away, screaming.
Wolf, Deet said as the old Labrador finally made his way up the stairs, go to Eric.
The dog made his way across the room and Deet picked him up and put him on the bed. Wolfgang covered Erics face with sloppy kisses and settled down next to the child. As Eric began to relax, Jorge got back into the bed and cuddled against Erics other side.
Uncle Deet? Jorge asked, can you and my dad help him?
I hope so, son, Deet replied. I hope so.
It was three in the morning but Deet put in a call to Manuel. When the telephone went to voice messaging he said, Get me the best goddamned child psychologist in the entire damn state and I dont care what the fuck the cost is! And get that twerp from Freeman, Freeman, and Birch on the horn. Hes Erics lawyer. I want to see that Indiana Child Services worker and Warren prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Goddamn son of a bitch should be drawn and quartered for what he did to this boy! Ive got millions to burn and I cant think of a better way to burn those bucks!
Dieter Graschel was filled with anger. And to hell with his mothers advice that anger accomplished nothing. His son had been abused to the point that he screamed in nightmares and Dieter wanted to inflict pain, legally. He wanted the bastard to suffer as much as this innocent fourteen-year old. He couldnt sleep and turned on the television, hoping to find something that would take his mind off of his childs torment. He was on the wrong station because the newscaster was telling about a twelve year old girl who had been placed in foster care because her mother was accused of prostituting her. The girl, whose name was being withheld because she was a minor, had given birth to an infant who wasnt expected to live.
Dieter placed another phone call to Manuel. I dont care what it takes, but get that girl placed in my custody. I cant stand the idea of children being raped. It makes me sick.