With the Christmas and New Year's holidays over, it was now time to get everyone back into school mode and getting Alo and Aidan registered, and their school transcripts transferred proved easier than we expected. With 10 extra transfer students coming into the school they had prepared for this by adding two of their staff members to the front office to facilitate the transfers and we all thanked Jason for thinking of warning the high school staff about this, of course, he would, being the principal of the grade school, and having over the holidays added two high school aged boys to his own family.
Within two weeks of school re-starting, everything was running smoothly at home and Brian was instrumental in seeing that all 10 of the new transfer boys in our school system were accepted by the existing students and soon the new guys were developing friendships, joining in the clubs, and taking part in the spring season sports.
All this while Sam and I returned to work and our two college-aged helpers returned to their studies also. Catching up for Sam wasn't too difficult, he said. He had a new class starting and the EMT training he was passing on to others was definitely paying off and now there were licensed EMTs at all public gatherings per the order of the town selectmen. The winter is typically a quieter time for the firefighters, but house fires tend to be more frequent in the winter with more and more people adding wood burning stoves and using their fireplaces more to add heat to their homes in the colder months.
Catching up for me was reading the reports entered while I was out of town and reviewing everything with the other detective on our squad. It was also a chance to see how having two teens living with him had mellowed out the Chief. He thanked me profusely for calling him and his wife that fateful night in December and he said they couldn't be happier.
We took Alo and Aidan to a gathering at Dr. Chris and his husband Noah's house in February. It was a chance for all thirty older boys in the dorm the night of the fire to see one another in a social setting and to let them see that everyone was doing well. There were messages read from the younger boys who were taken in by foster parents in the Springfield area that night and it was a really special night for all.
By mid-March, we had already made a pre-Easter visit to Key West as there had been a long weekend just two weeks before and Sam had wanted to host a big Easter do at our house for the neighborhood. We took Glenn, Eddie and their new sons Christian (Chris) and Damon, who were good friends of Alo and Aidan, the older boys and the younger ones too, including John. The twelve of us had a wonderful weekend and the highlight of it was a new venue for all of us, a visit to Key West Room Escape. We split into two groups and each group was shown into a different room and each group was "locked" into the room and we had to find the clues to the mystery and find a way to unlock the room and escape in 60 minutes or less. After my team won, we had to endure the jibes of the other team who complained that since I was a detective, I should switch sides next time and give their team a chance. It was all done in good humor and we all had a laugh about it.
Our Easter buffet was attended by almost everyone on the street and my Chief and his lovely wife and their new sons. There was a lot of talk about how the boys from Springfield were fitting in and doing so much better in school here than their records had indicated they did while in the group home. They were much more relaxed, more open to new ideas, friendlier, more accepting. Even the twins were better people if you can believe it. Although they followed Alo and Aidan around all the time and even were used as counterweights as the older boys worked out in the downstairs gym, riding their shoulders or backs as they did pushups or hung on the barbells while they were lifting, all five boys got along terrifically. They all did this with Sam and me in the room with them, so we made sure the twins were safe and not in any danger, no matter how they felt, which made it like a thrill ride for them. When Cal, Brian, and Sean joined us down there for a workout the twins and Aidan were in constant demand, Aidan often would call John and he would come running to help even out the numbers.
The shower downstairs was often full at the end of the 90-minute workout sessions and I have to admit, there was sometimes a little bit of muscle worship going on in there, but never in the presence of the youngsters, but the 18 and older crowd did do a bit more exercising in there on occasions, strictly couples (or our tantalizing threesome). It was a house rule that no actual intercourse occurred in there, in front of the others, but a sensual massage or a helping hand did happen often. Sam and I could always wait until we went upstairs, but we were not the first out of there that often.
I had been at my desk for about an hour when my phone rang one Thursday morning in April. I mean my personal cell, not the departments desk phone, and it was Julian, whispering to me, as I heard some sobbing in the background. "Dad, could you come to the school this morning please?" Upon my questioning, he told me that both he and John were OK, that it was a friend of theirs that wasn't so good and he, Julian, thought I should talk to him as soon as I could. I asked if the boy was in any danger, and that maybe his parents should be called, and Julian told me the that was the problem, it was his father that had hurt the boy, Richie, and Julian wanted me to talk to the boy.
I told the Sargent at the front desk I was off to the middle school and left my building, arriving at the middle school about 12 minutes later. At the main office I signed in and asked where my son was, and I was directed to the nurse's office just down the hall, past the guidance counselor's office. There I found both Julian and John comforting a distraught Richie. The school nurse was hovering close by, clearly giving the three boys some space and when I walked in, she seemed relieved, as did Julian. He rushed over to me and gave me a big hug and sort of guided me out the office and into the small treatment area. I asked if he was sure he was alright, and he told me again that it was Richie who was hurt. I asked why he needed me and again he told me that it was Richie's dad who had hurt him.
He explained that Richie, he and John all had lockers next to each other in gym, and when they were changing for gym class Julian and John had both noticed big welts on Richie's back and buttocks. Apparently while changing, Richie had stripped off while the three boys were talking and was so engrossed with their conversation that it wasn't until the tight waistband of his supporter pulled against his welts and caused him to feel the pain from several that he realized the John and Julian could see them all, all up his back and covering his butt. Julian took a now weeping Richie and helped him into his gym shorts and a T as he told John they were taking Richie to the nurse's office and go tell coach and meet them right back here quick.
John returned lickety-split and they were off to the nurse's office with Richie, Julian calling me on their way, whispering because all cell phone use in school was banned. The nurse was concerned when they arrived, but when Julian said he had called his father, a detective on the police force, she decided to let the little boss have his way, since she would have had to call the police herself after Julian pulled up Richie's shirt and she saw the ugly welts that didn't look old to her at all. Julian told me all this in about a half minute and I felt like going to Richie's father and giving him a new face that looked like raw hamburger, but the boys needed me, and I knew where Richie's dad lived in the ranch house about a quarter of a mile from the beginning of our street on the main road. Although invited to our get-togethers with the neighbors he had never come, but Richie, being a friend of both John and Julian, had been to all of them.
All I really knew about him was he was a single dad and worked in sales. We went back to the other boys and the nurse and she nodded toward Richie, indicating she knew what was going on, and I went to Richie and sat on a chair in front of him, telling him I was here and was going to take care of him, but I needed him to tell me exactly what happened.
He told me that he did something wrong and his father had whipped him with his belt. I asked him sternly what he had done wrong, as I couldn't imagine just what this great kid could have done so wrong to deserve such a whipping, and he told me as he sobbed that he had dropped a bottle of chemicals as he was helping his father unload his car at the big shed at the back of their property. I asked where his father worked, and he said he got sales calls at night and he went out to make deliveries on those sales calls. He worked at home.
I didn't need a road map to get me to what I was thinking Richie's dad did for a living, but I needed a bit more information. I asked him if his father sold what he made out in the shed and Richie said a quiet "yes". I then told him I needed to document the welts on his body and if he needed help stripping, I was sure that Julian or John would help him, but that maybe the next room would be better for this. With the nurse standing guard at the doorway Julian and I got Richie undressed and I photographed his naked backside using the highest resolution setting on my cell phone camera, closing in on the upper back and then the lower end to make sure all the bruising and welts were documented. The nurse then did the same with a small digital camera she had. She suggested that even though there were no open wounds, Richie should see a doctor and she had one she could probably get over here right away.
She called the school's doctor and he arrived 10 minutes later and he took down all the information and took his own set of pictures and wrote out a prescription for a medicated ointment to be put on the welts and then asked for my fax number at the station and I gave him one of my cards with the phone number for my office and the fax number on it and told him I'd look forward to his report. I then called Helen. I explained the situation and using information from Richie I gave her as many of the particulars as I could and then impulsively told her that Sam and I would be happy to put Richie up until other arrangements could be made, and if not, then she could count on us to help out. She asked if she could come out to our house tonight to speak with Richie and I told her she would be welcome, and I was sure the guys would like to see her again. She said she'd fax a temporary order of guardianship to my office and I told her that I had a few errands I had to do first, but I'd get Sam to sign them and return fax them to her after.
With that taken care of I sat alone with Richie and asked if he would like to stay with us for a while. His eyes almost bulged out of his eye sockets and his mouth hung open. I teased him and asked if that was a yes, and he just leaned into me and hugged me really hard. "You'll take me outta there? Really? When? Can I get my things? Julian won't mind? I can really stay with you guys?" I told him that a family friend, Helen, was going to come to our house to talk with him tonight, but yes, he was going to stay with us for a while. I asked if he would be alright at school the rest of the day, especially as gym was over and he told me he couldn't sit with his back against the seat back of the chairs, but if it was only for a few more hours he could do it. I told him to take the bus home as usual, but to get out at our bus stop with John and Julian and go right to our house, no horsing around on the way. He hugged me again, telling me I didn't know what I was saving him from, I told him we'd talk later, but I had to get his ointment, and go arrest his father.
Richie told me to please take my gun, as his father had a couple, both in the house and in the shed. I thanked him for the warning and told him I'd see him after I got out of work. I nodded to Julian and he thanked me too, so I knew he and John had been listening at the door. I told all three boys to get off the bus at our stop and to go right home, as we had to get the ointment on Richie's back as soon as they got home, and I'd leave it with Cal at the house.
I went to the office and spoke with the principal and she assured me that she'd personally see that Rickie wouldn't have any problems with his teachers if he had to sit "side saddle" in his seats so as to not aggravate his back and she'd also talk to the bus driver, telling him that it was approved for Richie to be using our bus stop for the next week or two at the least. I thanked her and the school nurse for all their help and went to the nearest pharmacy by the Police Station and dropped off the prescription and then went to the station and talked to the chief about how we had to arrest Richie's dad at his meth lab in the back of his property. He was going to get the property master to get some swat gear ready for the seven officers we could muster for the raid and myself and the chief, I used those 20 minutes to call Sam and let him know what I did, and what I still had to do.
He laughed and said that at least Aidan wouldn't be the only redhead in our house anymore and he was pleased we could do something to help Richie, he had always seemed to love coming to our house and then having to go home seemed to depress him. He said he was taking his lunch break and he'd go get the ointment and drop it off home, but he insisted I call him as soon as the arrest had been made, he wanted me to be really careful with a meth head about to be arrested. We both knew that he didn't have to be a user, he was cooking and breathing in gobs of the stuff as he prepared it. He was bound to be irrational by this point if he had taken to whipping his own son.
I met the chief and the seven officers for a briefing and when I told them about Richie and showed them the prints I had run off from my phone of the marks on his back and buttocks, they were as infuriated as I had been. The desk clerk had returned from the courthouse with the needed warrants to enter the property and apprehend the father. We all suited up and with the chief driving the police van we all made sure our microphones were on and working, as well as the shoulder cameras we were now all wearing.
Upon entering the drive for the property, we stopped, and I and another officer got out to assure ourselves that he wasn't in the house. It was a good thing the chief had stopped where he had, as there was a driveway sensor about three feet to the front of the van and I spoke into the mic and told those in the van not to set it off when they exited the van so we could sneak up on the shed if he wasn't in the house.
We made sure he wasn't in the house, and grouped the officers beyond the drive sensor, assuming that there would also be a bell in the shed, if he spent so much time in there. We split up so some would work their way around the plot the shed was on so that when confronted with the police presence the shed would be surrounded. Thank goodness there was a lot of scrub and bushes around the small plot the shed stood on, we had made the surround maneuver without being detected. But there were always the possibilities of booby traps or tripwires setting off a warning in the big shed, The Chief we had left at the van, with his binoculars trained on us and the shed area, ready to call for backup drawn from the patrol car units now approaching this rural neighborhood.
I counted to ten to alert all the officers through their earpieces that I was about to try and make contact with the man by using the megaphone the Chief had handed me. I reached "ten" and raised the megaphone up and was about to speak into it when a shot rang out of a side window of the shed, toward the two officers on the right side of the shed and then I began to speak into the device and told him to come out with his hands up, as the shed was surrounded and there were warrants for his arrest and a search warrant we wanted to execute for his premises. Since there was an open window on the end, I gave the OK, after a moment of inactivity and silence from the shed, for a smoke grenade to be set off and tossed into the shed. I wanted it going when it entered the building, as if it detonated inside, there was always a chance that it could set off an explosion from the gasses built up during the cooking of the meth.
We didn't have to wait long for a response, he blew himself and the shed up. We were about 20 feet from the shed all around, and the shockwave sent us all back on our asses. As I sat upright, I saw most of the roof come crashing back down onto the shattered remains of the shed, crushing everything below it.
The chief radioed for the medical examiner and told the backup units to stay away and my team and I crawled out of the shed area to avoid breathing any of the gasses released by the chemicals after their containers had been blown apart. When the coroner's team arrived, they got into their hazmat suits and explored the shed area. They found the remains of Richie's father and spent some time bagging them, and gathering evidence. The Chief told us we had done all we could have, but it wasn't a joyous group that turned in the protective gear back at the station a few hours later. We were all safe, but a life had been lost, for whatever reason, we could only speculate. I had made a trip into the house to grab some clothing for Richie, and after the remains of the shed had been removed, I would bring him back to get what he wanted from the house. What I wanted was to know where he was selling his product and if he had been working for someone else or, was he an independent producer/dealer.
When I finally arrived at home it was just after 6 PM and the whole family was waiting dinner for me to arrive. Sam was the first to greet me with a huge hug and murmurs of love and soft kisses thanking me for calling from the scene and letting him know we were all safe. They had heard the explosion, it really wasn't that far away, and Sam had been pretty sure what had happened and had started to prepare Richie for some bad news. The 13-year-old wasn't stupid, he had heard the explosion and knew his father had not been doing anything good out in the shed. When Sam and I took him into the living room to talk to him he was pretty stoic and not teary-eyed at all, he just seemed nervous, afraid for what we had to tell him about his future, if we were going to abandon him and turn him over to the "System".
I began by telling him I was sorry, but his father had died in the explosion, that somehow, he had set it off himself, after shooting at the officers that had been with me. Richie took a deep breath and said he was sorry, but for him, his father had died many months ago when he had started working out of the shed "cooking" whatever it was he was making in there with all the chemicals he had in there and began getting meaner and meaner to Richie as the months went on. Richie asked what was going to happen to him, were we turning him over to DCFS, would he have to go live in the group home in Springfield?
Sam told him, after we had exchanged a look, that if it was alright, we would still like to have him stay with us, at least until we determined if there was another family member, he would be better off with. Richie told us then that both his parents had been orphans who had met and married after being "aged out of care". There were no known relatives, they had exhausted all those possibilities when his mother had died of cancer five or six years ago. Since then his father had gone from a successful lab researcher at a big chemical plant in Springfield to work for a cleaning service as a janitor at various bars in the area. I told him it looked like he would be with us for a long time then. He launched himself at me, hugging me tight and then doing the same to Sam, thanking us for taking him in, for saving him from his own father.
He was in a much better mood as we rejoined the rest of the family and he gave Alo and Aidan big hugs for taking such good care of him after school today, along with Cal who had shown the older boys how to use the ointment on Richie's back side. He gave Julian a special hug for getting him out of the gym before others saw his injuries and for John for helping to get him to the nurse's office. After dinner, since John was sleeping over with Julian, they took Richie upstairs and helped him get as settled in as he could in the one bedroom still unoccupied up there with the clothing I had gotten from his room at his old house.
Saturday, I took Richie to his old house to get the rest of his belongings and while there he asked if he could take some pictures of their family from happier times that were in the living room and his parent's bedroom. I didn't see anything wrong with that, so I was helping him choose some of the better ones when he handed me a notebook he had found on his father's dresser. He told me his father kept his secret stuff in there, and as he was taking some pictures from the living room I found a treasure trove of information in the notebook, everything from his formulas, to who he sold to, where he sold his drugs, how much he was paid, and a log of orders for bulk deliveries he had yet to produce and deliver.
Richie called to me from the living room and there he showed me the closet by the front door where his father had a small arsenal stored. I photographed the inside, not touching anything, and called for the crime scene investigators to come out to the house and do a thorough search and preserve the evidence gathered. Richie then showed me that the back of the closet had a false panel in it and when removed it revealed several large plastic bags full of drugs and stacks of money, all rubber banded in bundles of a hundred in each bundle. I photographed everything in place, then retrieved my box of plastic gloves from my car and put on a pair. I counted the stacks and bundles and came up with thirty thousand dollars secreted in the makeshift "safe" in the closet wall. Only God knew what else, and how much drugs there were in the large clear plastic baggies.
We took the boxes and trash bags full of Richie's clothing and school books out to the car, along with a box with the family pictures he wanted. I emailed the photos I had taken on my cell phone to the Chief and we awaited the arrival of the crime scene unit. When they arrived I explained that since all the activity had taken place at the big shed area in the far back of the property yesterday we had not thought of the house as being involved, but we now knew that he had stuff stashed in the house, we had only found one small closet full of weapons, drugs and cash, all considered part of an ongoing investigation.
I took Richie home after the Chief showed up to oversee the crime scene unit. We toted in the boxes and bags we could carry in the first load and went into the house from the garage and there were the rest of my sons, ready to help get Richie's belongings upstairs and into his room. I told Sam about what we had found while the boys all helped get Richie squared away in his new room.
Sam was surprised that so much cash was found in that closet, but I told him that might only be the beginning of what might be found in the house, after all, without a job, a real good paying job, there would have been no way Richie's father could have explained that much money in just a checking account.
By 6 PM the Chief had called to let me know that there were more secret panels discovered in several places in the home. There were more weapons found secreted in almost all the rooms, which only proved how paranoid Richie's father had become. There had been more cash found in the home, the bulk of it, bundled in garbage bags stashed in the chest freezer in the basement, totaled a "cool" two hundred thousand, making the total amount found in the home just over a half a million. If drug traces were found on the money it would be confiscated, otherwise, it would be put in trust for Richie, as would the proceeds from the sale of the property. He said that usually seized assets from a known drug dealer would have been forfeited to the state, but there was a lot of cash to satisfy the state, and Richie was the last surviving member of his family and the Chief had already spoken with the state's attorney and they had agreed that at least 200 thousand would be placed in trust for Richie's future. It would mean selling the property, but there wasn't any other family to care for Richie at his house, or anywhere else for that matter.
The notebook was being gone through thoroughly, the maddening thing was the names were in initials, but the addresses were there in black and white and quite legible. By cross-checking the addresses and the names of the occupants of those dwellings we were able to match the initials with an occupant at each address. The trouble was, unless they fessed up to purchasing drugs from Richie's father, there just wasn't enough evidence to arrest the druggies.
The following Monday, after school was out and Sam and I were home from work, we drove Richie to his family home to gather the rest of his stuff, and to let him take whatever he wanted from the house to keep. He went directly to his room and he and Sam went through the bookcase to make sure he had all his textbooks, and then again to make sure that any of his favorite pleasure reading books were boxed up. They went through the room and only found another medium box of stuff to take from the room. Richie then went into his parents' room and went through the right-hand drawers of the dresser. He told us these were his mother's things and that his father had never gone through them that he knew of, so he placed several jewelry boxes in his carton and a few other items, like watches and more small photo albums.
He then moved to his father's drawers on the left side and began with the bottom drawer and rummaged around, finding nothing but clothing in that one, but the next one up was belts and even some pairs of suspenders, but there were two bulky Manila envelopes there also and he called me over to see these. Inside the first was more cash in bundles and his father's passport, the other contained two more notebooks. I asked where these envelopes had been, and he showed me how they had been taped to the underside of the drawer above. The search team had been sloppy and had missed these. I glanced through the notebooks and realized they were the same as the one found earlier, but with full names and descriptions and with each name was an empty tiny zip lock bag taped next to it. A tiny baggie that was used to contain drugs, but empty now except for a little residue and the outside of the baggie having a few fingerprints. These were a form of proof these people had been using these drugs and this was Rickie's father's guarantee that they would have continued to buy their drugs from him, and only him.