"Aren't we up a bit early? And look at you! You look sharp in your tan dress uniform," offered Ken, to Dan as the Sheriff Deputy entered the Kitchen Nook, that Wednesday morning.
"Thank you, thank you, and I want you to know I will always remember the little people who made this day all possible," laughed Dan, as he grabbed his first cup of coffee.
"Why are you up this early, if I may ask?" said Ken Thomas.
"Well, it's already 8:45 and I told Barnes I'd be at the ceremony location by 9:15 so all of us receiving awards know what to do, etc. etc.," replied Dan Fischer.
As the two men were talking, Charles and Robert entered the Nook and saw Mr. Dan all dressed up. They asked him why he was all gussied up and when he told them he was getting an award that morning, the lads knew that their 'dad' fibbed to them about what they were going to do.
"Did you fib you us, 'dad'?" asked Charles.
"Fibbed? Me? No way, Jose`. We are going to watch them 'top off' the hotel later but first … we're going to watch Dan and three other Sheriff's officers receive some awards for their part in apprehending Smokey and his gang and putting away the drug kings in our county. I figured you'd both want to be there in support of the man who has played a big part in protecting us all these past weeks. Wouldn't you both agree?" explained 'dad' Ken.
"Yes, 'dad' it's the right thing for us to do, especially after all he's done for me ever since Smokey tried to kidnap me," agreed Charles.
"Yes, 'dad', I also agree that all of us who live here owe all those men a big thank you for what they do for us every day," piped up Robert.
"But why does Mr. Dan have to look so uncomfortable in that getup?" honestly asked Charles. "His shirt collar looks too tight and his jacket is also tight on him," added Charles.
"Thank you for pointing out the obvious Charles. We rarely wear these things and with me staying here and eating so well you can see what it has done to me. I just hope no one else will notice," deadpanned Mr. Dan. That brought a round of laughter from Mr. Ken, the boys and the newcomer, Mr. Chris.
"May I ask the reason for you being in your dress uniform, Dan?" asked Mr. Chris.
"Chris, I and three other officers are receiving awards this morning. Sheriff Barnes told us to look presentable which only means we have to be dressed up in this monkey suit. I sure hope this ceremony doesn't take too long," replied Mr. Dan. "Oh, I better get a move on. I am already late." Mr. Dan then quickly walked out of the Kitchen Nook.
"Guys, we need to head out in about 15 minutes. Chris you're welcome to go with us but we aren't coming right back. I have to stop by my lake construction properties," revealed Mr. Ken.
"Thank you for the invite Mr. Ken, but I think I'll stay here and hold down the fort. If any of the lads' friends show up I'll explain where everyone is," responded Mr. Chris.
"Guys, take a few bites of your breakfast and then go wash your hands. I don't think you need to wash up to your elbows, this time, since I'm sure you both took showers before coming down here. Now get a move on. Let's meet at the garage in seven minutes," directed 'dad' Ken.
The ceremony was to take place in the municipal auditorium and parking was going to be at a premium. When the Cover's arrived they saw they had a reserved parking place and that put a relieved look on The Cove's owner. The three Covers walked into the auditorium and also found they had front row seats. They weren't front and center, as those were reserved for the County Commissioners and other notables, but their seats were very good anyways.
"Commissioners, invited guests, families of our honored officers, fellow police officers, friends and residents," began Sheriff Matthew Barnes. "We are here today to honor those Sheriff's Deputies who were injured in the line of duty during the recent drug raids and in taking down a motorcycle gang who were major players in supplying all sorts of illegal drugs here in our wonderful county," announced the Sheriff.
After all the introductions were made, the County Commissioners all made short speeches knowing it would be good for their political careers. Their speeches coupled with the Sheriff's took up the first 30 minutes of the ceremony.
It was then time for the awards, so Sheriff Barnes went to the microphone and announced, "Today, we honor George Carrillo, James Jones, Michael Levine, and Daniel Fischer. These four men put their lives on the line for us citizens and today we honor them and award them all the Purple Heart for their injuries received in protecting our counties' citizenry. Will those four men present themselves front and center," finished Sheriff Barnes.
As the four honorees all came forward, the five Commissioners also came to the front of the stage and along with Sheriff Barnes they presented the four Deputies with their awards and then they shook their hands. When that was all finished, pictures were taken, pats on the back given and a loud, long round of applause was given to the recipients.
The Deputies all went back to their seats as did the County Commissioners. When everyone was seated, Sheriff Barnes, who had remained at the dais, began to speak. "Last year when I ran for reelection, there were a few vacant positions that I didn't fill. I felt it would be best for either I, or my opponent if he won, to fill them at an appropriate time. Well, since I won, I am declaring this ceremony as an appropriate time, with the concurrence of the County Commissioners, to make those well-deserved promotions.
"If Sheriff Detective Sergeant Brant Matthias, and his lovely wife, would please come up to the stage," announced Sheriff Barnes.
It took a few minutes for Detective Matthias, along with his wife, to walk to the stage and stand before the assembled audience.
"Sheriff Detective Sergeant Brant Matthias has been with this force for more than twelve years and, during that time, he has shown he has unique skills that have greatly helped this organization in identifying people who committed crimes in your county. With concurrence of the County Commissioners, I promote Sergeant Matthias to Lieutenant and assign him to our Investigative Division where he will be second in command. Lieutenant Matthias is also awarded the Command Medal along with the Superior Service Medal. His wife will now assist me in pinning on her husband's new rank along, with his two new awards," announced Sheriff Matthew Barnes.
Along with Brant Matthias being promoted to Lieutenant, Sheriff Barnes announced that Sheriff Detective William Roberts was promoted to Sergeant and would be awarded the Superior Service Medal and would remain in his present position as a detective. The Sheriff also announced that Sheriff Deputy George Carrillo would be promoted to Sergeant and would remain in the traffic division and would also be awarded the Superior Service medal.
When those three promotions were announced, Sheriff Barnes started out, "Before we finish this awards ceremony, I want to announce one more promotion. Daniel Fischer please come to the dais and stand beside me. … I want you all to know … I have offered a promotion to Dan on a number of occasions and … he always has refused me. This time, I won't accept his rejection of this promotion and I won't accept his resignation, if he were to present me with one. (The audience laughed at that line.)
"What I want all of you to know, is that time and time again, Dan Fischer has shown his ability to lead and direct fellow officers in unique situations. This ability was never more apparent than during the recent attempted kidnapping and when a motorcycle gang tried to crash a private party. This officer was also instrumental in coordinating and leading one element of the recent drug raids that have crippled the movement of illegal drugs into our county. (A loud round of applause was heard.)
"Dan … it is with great honor and pleasure that I promote you to Lieutenant. This promotion will keep you where you love to be, on patrol, and you will remain an On-Scene Commander whenever the need arises. Mr. Ken Thomas … will you please join me on stage … and help me pin Sheriff's Deputy Dan Fischer to his new rank, Lieutenant."
Ken Thomas walked up the stairs to a round of applause. When he arrived at the dais, he stood on the side opposite of Sheriff Barnes. Once in position, the Sheriff gave Ken Thomas a gold Lieutenant's Bar to pin on Dan Fischer's collar and the two went about pinning on Dan's new rank. When that was finished, Sheriff Barnes and Mr. Ken both stepped back and a standing round of applause was given the newly promoted Lieutenant.
"I have one more award I want to present to Lieutenant Fischer. … I award our newest Lieutenant the Sheriff's Meritorious Service Medal for performing superior actions while acting in an official capacity, which resulted in significant contributions to the efficient operation of the Sheriff's Office and the good of the community. Mr. Ken, I mean Mr. Thomas … will you please pin this medal on Lieutenant Fischer," announced Sheriff Matthew Barnes.
There was a reception after the awards ceremony and Dan Fischer looked up Ken Thomas as soon as he could get away from all the well-wishers. As the newly promoted Lieutenant approached Ken, he positioned himself behind his boys and put on a great big smile for the approaching officer.
"I'll get you for this," laughed Dan, as he approached the Covers.
"I have no idea of what you speak," laughed back Mr. Ken.
"You knew, didn't you?" heartedly asked Lieutenant Fischer.
"Well. L T … I may have had a little birdy whisper something about your promotion in my ear," laughed Ken.
Charles looked up at his 'dad' and asked, "I thought Mr. Dan was promoted to Lieutenant. Where did you get L T from, 'dad'?"
Dan took that question and explained that in the military the call sign L T is a sign of friendship and respect and is used informally. He further explained that the official term 'Lieutenant' is reserved for formal reporting and in official correspondence.
"Oh," was all Charles could say to that explanation.
The reception lasted until noon. As he got ready to leave, Ken told Dan he would see him back at The Cove but that he and the boys were going out to his new lake hotel to watch the topping out of the uppermost third floor. Dan asked if he could follow along and watch, as well.
They arrived at the hotel just as the crane operator had picked up the last I-beam. The three Covers hustled out of the truck, followed by Lieutenant Dan, and went over to the site supervisor.
"I'm glad you got here. I couldn't delay this much longer to get this last piece in place and secured. The crane operator leaves at four and so do the iron workers. Let's watch as the last piece is put into place," finished the site supervisor.
"'Dad", what's that Christmas tree doing on that I-beam?" asked Charles.
The site supervisor quickly responded and said, "The tree is an ancient construction tradition. There are many such rites associated with a new building including the laying of foundation or cornerstone, the signing of the beams by the iron workers and builders, and, of course, the ribbon-cuttings.
"The tree is associated with the raising of a building's highest beam or structural element. Hence the name of the rite: the topping-out ceremony. It's a sign that a construction project has reached its literal apogee, its most auspicious point. … There is a lot more to this ceremony, so if you are truly interested I'd recommend you Google it." The man then chuckled as he looked up at the beam being put into place.
As Mr. Ken, Charles and Robert were driving back to The Cove, Charles asked, "What are we going to do now?"
"Well, my 'son', I guess you'll go back to riding your skateboards and swimming as you've been doing," replied 'dad' Ken.
"Besides that," added Charles.
"Yeah, 'dad', this is my first summer with you, so what is there to do before school starts?" piped up Robert.
"Guys … I've never had a foster kid during the summer, so I am at a loss too," honestly responded 'dad' Ken.
"I thought Collin was here with you for a summer," said Charles.
"He was, but his grandmother … she fought for him and won. That meant Collin went to live with her at the beginning of August, so he never finished the summer with me. We never got to that point. I guess you two will have to make the decision of what to do. You only have four full days before you go back," answered 'dad' Ken.
"Didn't you fight for Collin, 'dad'?" asked Charles.
"Yes, I did fight for him, 'son', and I thought we had won, but … well, the judge … he thought that because Grammy had been given bad information by one of the men involved in the Wilkinson take-over, the Will's requirement that she raise Collin be followed," choked back 'dad' Ken.
As much as he tried to keep the boys from seeing, tears readily flowed down his cheeks as he remembered the pain of losing Collin. But the lads had seen his tears, and they both decided to remain silent and let their 'dad' have some private time to work through whatever he was feeling right then.
It was after 1:30 when the Covers arrived back at The Cove. The lads quickly joined up with their friends, and told them about Dan's promotion and his awards and how their 'dad' called him L T. They then told them how far along the hotel and office building was and about the tree going up with the last piece of steel. Charles then told them what it meant.
The lad's friends went back to skating and when Charles and Robert went to join them they realized they had good school clothes on so they quickly went inside to change.
Todd came up to the ramps about then and decided to watch the lads before going home. Mr. Dan saw the lad go in the ramps direction, so he followed over to talk to the teen.
"Hey, Todd," called out Mr. Dan.
The lads heard the man's voice and immediately stopped riding. They saw the man walk over to Todd so they quickly went over to the two.
Logan was the first to congratulate Mr. Dan on his new promotion and called him L T as he shook the man's hand. The rest of the lad's joined in and shook the new L T's hand, as well. Mr. Dan smiled at the lads calling him L T and thanked the young men as they walked back to the ramps and their skating.
Todd was taken by surprise by all the fuss and asked what the younger boys were talking about. When he learned Mr. Dan had been promoted to Lieutenant, he too congratulated the newly promoted Lieutenant and shook his hand. As the younger boys went back to skating, Mr. Dan and Todd began to talk.
"Todd does your mom get to take you out driving very often?" asked the new L T.
"Well … not as much as I'd like, that's for sure. She works a lot and when she gets home she's tired. I try not to bug her about it but I know if I had my license I'd be able to do the grocery shopping and run errands she now has to do," replied Todd.
"I see. … Well, the reason I asked is … well, I've been thinking. I knew you had your permit but I never thought to ask you if you wanted to drive us to either Fiesta Texas or SeaWorld. It would have given you some real long distance driving experience on different roads, besides the traffic," sort of apologized Mr. Dan.
"That's okay Mr. Dan. I think if I had driven in all that San Antonio traffic I would have been really scared. But thank you for thinking about me and driving and all," responded Todd.
"Well, Todd … what are you doing now? Do you think your mom would be mad if I take you out driving?" asked Mr. Dan.
"Really! You want to take me out driving?" asked a surprised and excited Todd.
"Sure, why not. You need the practice and I have the time, well, at least until after Labor Day," laughed Mr. Dan.
"Well, if you don't mind, I'd love to go driving. Just let me call my mom and tell her what I am going to be doing," replied Todd.
Ten minutes later, Charles and Robert and all their friends saw Todd getting into Mr. Dan's car and the teen was getting behind the wheel. They watched as the teenager backed out of the parking space and then drove out the Main Gate to points unknown.
The boys rode their skateboards until almost three o'clock when they decided to change into their swim suits. None of the boys had any trouble changing in front of the others anymore. The newbie's even talked to the other lads while remaining naked and they didn't feel embarrassed as they would have only a week ago.
As the group headed out to the water toys, David called out to Charles and asked him if he could talk to him. Charles stopped where he was and David caught up to him.
"Charles … I want to thank you for taking me with you to SeaWorld the other day. You know, I've gone to places like that before but … well, I never got to go with anybody my age before. It was awesome being with kids my own age and not having your parents always watching what you're doing. I wish I could do more things like that," finally revealed David.
"I'm glad you could go, Dave," responded Charles.
"What I don't understand is … why'd you ask me? I thought you'd invite Camden. He does seem to be your best friend," said David.
"Well, Camm is my friend who I've known the longest but I already took him to Six Flags with us. When Mr. Dan asked who I wanted to take, I thought it would be nice to take someone different. I am trying to make more friends and get to know them and what better way than to take them with me when I can," explained Charles.
"But … why me and Coop?" honestly Asked David.
"Why not? You guys are my newest friends and, as I said, I wanted to get to know you guys better. I thought doing that would help me get to know you better without a bunch of other guys hanging around," further clarified Charles.
"Well … thank you, again, Charles. And, I really do mean it, too," offered David. "I know Coop had a great time, too. We talked yesterday when you and Robert were out shopping for new school clothes. … You know what else? We both figured, you know … even though you're in the foster care system, we figured you have the better life right now. Mr. Ken … he's the best … and look at what he's done for you and Robert. And you guys … well, you aren't even related.
"I hope I don't sound like I don't love my parents, but Mr. Ken … he's given you all these things you can do and have done. First, he took Robert and Eric on a Disney Cruise. Then, he built those ramps for Robert but now you and your friends can use them. He also lets you have tons of friends over. Look at those water rafts, or water toys, or whatever you call them, he bought for you guys and then he hired those two lifeguards to watch over us. But most of all, Mr. Ken allows you and Robert, and the other guys, to cook hamburgers and hot dogs for us. My Parents, as a matter of fact, I don't know any parents who would let their kids do any one of those things.
"Charles, since we met, my life … it's changed … for the good! Yes, I've had fun before I met you but ever since then I've gotten to do things and be around kids my own age and have fun away from my parents. It's also as if my parents, well, especially my mom, has changed, as well.
"When I got home Monday night my mom … she was waiting up for me. She asked me about my adventure and I told her how I loved doing something with my friends and not having her and dad watching everything I did. My mom, you know what she did … she smiled at me and told me that I was growing up and she was happy for me.
"My mom told me that she and dad realized I was growing up and that I was getting old enough that they had to start letting me fly on my own. She told me, I needed to learn what I can do on my own and find friends who would be my support base and who I could call on if I ever got in a jam. Charles … I hope I can call you my friend and, you know, be able to call on you if I ever find myself over my head.
Charles smiled at his friend David and told him he would be there for him and all he needed to do was call. The two friends then hugged.
Out on the rafts, the other boys watched Charles and David talk on the beach. They could tell they were in a lengthy conversation and they all wondered what it was all about. Cooper sort of knew what was happening, so he told the rest of the group what he thought what was happening back on the beach and what they were talking about.
Charles and David swam out to the rafts and joined in on the fun. When Cooper had the chance, he took Charles aside and told him essentially what David had told him back on the beach. Cooper explained he was always a 'free spirit' and his parents allowed him to go and do stuff, unlike David's parents.
Cooper then thanked Charles for inviting him over to Three Finger Cove and really changing his life as it were. Cooper explained being around so many kids his age had shown him that there are many ways to have fun and the more the merrier. Cooper also told Charles how he got to know Camm better and hoped he could get to know James just as well.
Charles thanked his friend Cooper for saying what he did but he took no responsibility for the things Cooper told him about. Charles told his friend that all he did was invite him over to his house, that it was Mr. Ken who gave him the ramps and rafts and barbeques so he could enjoy himself. The two smiled at one another knowing they would be friends forever. They then hugged. When they released from their hug, the rest of the guys applauded them. Brad then told them to get back in the game and enjoy the fun.
Later, in Mr. Ken's Study, Charles asked his 'dad' if he thought of anything they could do before the summer ended. The man put the onus back on the twelve year old and asked the lad what he would like to do.
"Well … we could, naw … … we could, no, that wouldn't work. Sheesh, 'dad', it's hard thinking of something we could do before we go back to school," relented Charles.
Robert sat there also thinking what they could do when he blurted out, "We could go back to SeaWorld, 'dad'."
"You were just there. Why would you want to go back so soon?" replied 'dad' Ken.
Charles picked up on what his 'brother' said and he replied, "So, we could do what we didn't have time for, 'dad'."
"What didn't you get to do?" the amused man asked.
"Yeah, 'dad', there were a number of things we didn't get to do," began Charles. "There were shows we didn't see, and some water rides we never got to try. There was also this water trough ride that had these huge inner tube like seats that went into a canyon and water splashed all over you like we did up at Six Flags Over Texas."
"Hey, 'dad', while we were there, I noticed they were advertising a Halloween Howl-O-Scream beginning the end of September and going until the end of October. We could go back and do that and catch some of the things we missed and then have a good time with all the ghosts, ghouls and goblins and whatever they throw at us," offered Robert.
"Hey, I bet that would be fun. I remember going trick or treating when I was younger but I've never been to a haunted house. Can we go 'dad'?" enthusiastically asked Charles.
"Guys, you know what, that does sound like it could be a lot of fun. But, I do not want to guarantee we'll go, at least not just yet. Let's see what the fall brings us, but keep that in the back of your mind, okay?" responded Mr. Ken.
It was then Dan walked into the Study.
"We missed you at dinner, Dan," said Ken.
"I'm sorry. I guess I should have called, but I'm not used to calling people to tell them what I'm going to do and where I'll be. I truly am sorry," replied Dan Fischer.
"You missed one of Momma Maria's awesome Mexican dinners," offered Charles.
"So … where were you?" asked Robert. "We all saw you headed out with Todd driving. Did he do okay?"
"Oh, do tell, Dan. So, you took Todd out driving, did you?" teased Ken.
"Yes … I took Todd out driving, if you all need to know," sarcastically replied Mr. Dan. "His mom … she doesn't get all that much time to take him out and since I have loads of time on my hands I thought I'd ask him if he wanted to go. He called his mom and she said it was OK, so we went. You know what? He's going to be a good driver. We drove so long and Todd was having such a good time that we forgot about the time. When we noticed what time it was we called his mom and picked her up and the three of us went out to dinner."
"Say, Dan … when Collin lived with me and was ready to get his license, I bought a number of orange traffic cones. We used them to make driving challenges and eventually his friends found out and then they came over and tried them. If you want, I can show you what we did and you can test Todd with backing up, parallel parking, turning around and a few others," suggested Ken Thomas.
"You know, that sounds real good. I'll ask Todd tomorrow after he finishes his work if he is interested. I bet he is," then laughed Dan.
The two youngest Covers talked more about SeaWorld and what they didn't get to do. Dan agreed with the boys that there was so much to do there that one day wasn't enough and that two or three days would definitely fill the bill. Ken Thomas made a note on his daily-planner and told the boys he still wasn't going to make any decisions about SeaWorld's Howl-O-Scream until later. That said, the lads told the two men they'd see them later and left the Study so the men could talk.
"Ken, inviting me to stay here at The Cove has been the best thing ever for me. I may have said this before, but I want you to know that I have thoroughly enjoyed my stay here, at The Cove, and when it is time to go back to work it will be difficult for me. I don't know how I will ever repay you for this honor," sincerely offered Dan Fischer.
"Well, thank you for that Dan, and there is a way you can repay me and that has become my permanent live-in house manager. Although, to do that you'll have to quit the force," now laughed Ken.
"Your house manager, what's that?" asked Dan.
"Well, I recognized that I can't be in two, three or even four places at once. Your volunteering to watch The Cove while Robert and I went on a business trip proved to me that I need someone here full time to watch over the boys if I am out of town. If you hadn't come along I'd never been able to take either lad on their promised trips.
"When school begins next week, it won't be an immediate necessity but it will become one as time goes on. I don't know how I will be able to advertise or even find this person but I owe it to the boys, so I can leave them in capable hands.
"As a matter-of-fact, I need someone just like you. Someone who enjoys being around the boys and can have fun with them, too, just as you did on the WaveRunners and taking the boys to the amusement parks," fully explained Ken Thomas, by what he meant.
"Ken, if I had enough time to retire I'd take you up on that position, but I only have a little over 15 years so I have to stay where I am. I wish you luck in finding that one person who can fill that job. By the way, do you have a male or female in mind for this occupation?" followed-up Dan.
"No … I don't know if I want a male or female, but if you were to ask Robert, he'd be much happier with a man. You know the problem he had with Mildred, so I know he won't want another woman around here if he has anything to say about it," answered Ken.
"Oh, something I just learned and haven't told Robert about is Mildred's lawyer … he wanted to negotiate before going to trial but I essentially told him to 'stuff it where the sun don't shine'. Bill Jackson tells me we'll probably go to trial the middle of September. I'm sure Robert will not be happy as he'll have to testify.
"Anyway, I need a person I can count on at a moment's notice, so they can be here to stay with the boys while I am away. I also need someone who the boys will accept and be not only a mentor to them but a friend as well," added Ken.