Substitute Dad

© 2006 - 2012 By Scribe1971 (scribe1971@hotmail.com)


Dear readers,

First of all, I would like to take a moment to thank the dozens upon dozens of you who have written to me lately expressing concern for my wellbeing. I would also like to apologize to those of you who I have not been able to reply personally to. I have been quite overwhelmed with events in my life recently and I am only now getting back into the swing of things. Late last year, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and she passed away after a short but valiant struggle. On top of this, I had my own near miss with "the big C" recently and what turned out to be a pre-cancerous lesion removed from my chest before it could become full blown melanoma. Needless to say, life has been a long and tiring journey for the past year but the good news is that things are looking up for this year. It has been a long time coming but chapter 66 is here. Much of this is David's work and once again I thank him for his valuable input. I hope you enjoy this chapter as we get closer to the end of the first book of the adventures of Josh, Tom, Mark, Bryan, Michael and all the others.

Regards,

Scribe1971.


Chapter 66 - Step By Step By Step

The posting for the programmers closed on a Friday two weeks after it first appeared in the media. I'd finished my Monday morning classes and came into the office at my usual 12:45 PM time, ready to start reworking a new program that I had going through the back of my mind. After stopping at the restaurant to pick up a sandwich, I headed for Bryan's office to catch up on the morning's activities that I'd missed. My usual routine of saying hi to everyone as I passed by was interrupted by Susan carrying a big file folder.

"Right this way MISTER Davis!" she demanded with a big smile grabbing me by the arm and ushering me quickly into Bryan's office.

"Whoa!" Bryan exclaimed as we entered. "Susan, sit down.... you've been running yourself ragged for more than two weeks."

"Not really, but it's important to get these applications processed ASAP. Bryan, you've said this is the bread and butter of this company and we have to get some money coming in."

"True, but we can't sacrifice your well being for it. We have to enjoy our work." I said as I handed her half of my sandwich. "It's ham and cheese with a bit of sweet relish."

"I DO enjoy my work!" Susan said with a big smile. "Seeing all of this staff come on board is really satisfying for me. Weeding out the good from the awful is great fun for us too, but before we get into these applications, I want to update you about Jenny Norwood.... she's the mother of that little kid, Jimmy we saw in the hospital.... the boy with brain cancer."

I nodded my head as Bryan poured each of us a cup of coffee from his coffee maker that he had in his office.

Susan took a bite from the sandwich and savoured the flavour. Like me, she hadn't had lunch yet.

"Darren and I discussed the situation," she continued, "and as you know, we decided to follow through with her situation. While you two had the boys busy on Boxing Day, we went to the hospital and had a visit with her. Jimmy was still in a coma. We assured her that when the time came, we'd be there for her. After our visit, we went to the nurses' station and they gave us her address. Then we went to her address.... it's a rather rundown apartment building and we spoke to the manager. As I suspected, she was three months behind on her rent and the manager said he was having a difficult time with the building owner to be compassionate to her situation. Naturally I paid up her rent including another month in advance to get that monkey off her back for now, warning the manager that he wasn't to say anything as to where it came from. Once he had the money in his hand and a few, shall we say, encouraging words from Darren, he agreed to let us see her apartment. The apartment is very sparse. A bit of a tattered couch, a small bed and nightstand in the bedroom, two dresses, two slacks and two blouses hanging in the closet, and very little food in the cupboards to speak of. I assume she keeps her lingerie in the nightstand. The manager also told us that she used to be a waitress in a restaurant. From there, we went back to the hospital and spoke to Dr. Wallenburg and asked if he could get Jenny a meal pass for the hospital cafeteria. So we paid for that and he said he'd give it to her under the guise that one of the patients was discharged early. For now, that's all we can do without taking all dignity and pride away from her. I've spoken to the manager in our restaurant, and they said they'd hire her whenever she was available. Beyond that, we've kept in touch with Dr. Wallenburg and had a few visits with her and Jimmy, although he's still in and out of a coma. Once in a while, you'll see a twitch of a finger or his leg and you just know that in spite of what the doctors say, he's fighting it all the way. By the way, her husband was in the Air Force. He was a pilot but he died when his CF-104 Starfighter, nicknamed the Widowmaker. He lost engine power and crashed before he even had a chance to eject."

"Well in case there isn't some sort of miracle Susan, make sure you're there to help her through her grief." I said.

"Also, I want you to make the funeral arrangements, casket, burial plot, the whole works." Bryan added. "We'll pay for it one way or the other."

"Yes," I agreed, "and I want everyone at the ranch to be there to show her our moral support. Let's worry about her housing situation later."

"OK," Susan sighed, "I know it's a depressing situation, but all of us that were there on Christmas Eve were really endeared to Jenny and Jimmy.... especially the kids. I hope we can all make it work for her in the long run."

"OK Susan, what have you got for us?" Bryan asked. "I'm ready for some happy news please."

After she swallowed the last of her sandwich, Susan said, "Here are 54 applications for the programmers' positions. I've had my assistant send out acknowledgements to each of the applicants to say that we received their résumé and that we'd be getting back to them in ten working days." Susan passed the file folder across the table to Bryan. "There's a copy of the form letter on top of the file. Based on the qualifications you set out in your ad, I've sorted the applications into 31 yes and 23 no. I'd suggest you go through the no pile first, maybe you'll see some that could become maybes."

"I'm glad you acknowledged them already. I think that's common courtesy." Bryan commented. "I hate it when you send in a résumé and there's no word as to whether they received it or not. After a month or so when you haven't heard any word, you call them and they say that the position has been filled."

"I've always insisted on that, even at my old job." Susan agreed. "Tom, that sandwich was great.... while you guys look at that file, I'm going down to the restaurant and get another one."

"Make it three Susan." Bryan said as she left the office.

After Susan left, Bryan and I poured over the applications. Susan was very accurate in her quick assessment of the applications. Considering that she and her girls had already sent out acknowledgements and read each one of the résumés, I realized how very busy they had been this morning.

As Bryan shuffled through the yes pile, I perused the no pile, I was amazed - one of them was handwritten, two hadn't completed high school, which I set aside, and the others only had experience in other unrelated vocations. Related to that, I found one that could probably fit into James' area of Sales and Marketing, so I set it aside as well. This had been my first experience with this type of decision-making and I had to wonder aloud.

"Bryan, I wonder how these people's lives are going to be affected when they receive a rejection letter."

"Well Tom, the harsh reality is we can't be their psychiatrists, however we could tailor each rejection letter to what we know about the person from their résumé.... explain to them what additional experience or education they would need to be a successful applicant for this type of work."

"I agree. I think constructive criticism can go a long way in helping a high school kid stay on the right track."

"Whoa! High school kids?" Bryan asked.

"Yeah, it's a shame," I answered, "two of them are from high school kids.... whether they've already dropped out of school or are considering it, it's a hell of a future they're going to be facing."

"OK, I agree.... maybe in those cases we should customize the letters carefully with a lot of encouragement to stay with their education."

"Good! That's my job for tomorrow.... it's not something that should be slipped onto the back burner and be forgotten. What have you got in your pile?" I asked.

"Actually it's great stuff. There's one that I could reject out of hand, but I want to interview him anyway." With a big smile, he continued, "Experience-wise, the other exception is this fellow, but I want to interview him too. Susan had him on the top of the pile. See if you recognize him."

I read the covering letter, which was carefully typed and formatted.

"Gentlemen:

I realize in submitting my attached résumé for this position, I am not totally qualified, but it is my ambition to become an experienced programmer.

At present, I am a first year student at the University of Calgary and in another year, I fully intend to enter the Computer Sciences program and graduate with my Bachelor of Arts upon completion of the program.

My experiences with computer programming have not been at a professional level; however I have been able to reprogram some off-the-shelf programs in a way that could satisfy my needs. In sharing these custom tweaks with the program developers, some have included my ideas in their updates.

During my four years of secondary school, I worked part-time evenings and weekends, then fulltime during the summer at McDonalds. As a corporation, McDonalds is exemplary in encouraging their staff with many educational opportunities. I was fortunate to be chosen to take four one-week business management courses during my summer periods with them. While this experience does not qualify me for the position you advertised, I have gained a greater ability to deal with the public and the management of staff to a certain degree.

As a college student, I would appreciate it if you would consider hiring me on a part-time basis. I have arranged my classes to Wednesdays, the mornings for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. I would also be available to work evenings and weekends.

In applying for this position with your young company, I feel I would gain a greater experience in computer programming from the ground up in the profession I have chosen for my future.

To speak with you about the possibility of part time work in your corporation would be a privilege.

Yours truly,

Robert L. White"

I was smiling by the time I finished reading his letter. "Bryan, if Robert White was fourteen years old, I'd say he could be Josh, Mark or Michael. Now, at Robert's age, it sounds like something we'd have done if the opportunity had presented itself."

"I agree," Bryan giggled. "Either of us would have sent our application in if our circumstances had been different. I want to meet him. On paper, he's ambitious, innovative, talented, respectful, and judging by his letter, he's very articulate."

"If he's anything like one of our boys, he'll be running this whole company before we hit fifty." Bryan and I started to giggle, then laughed as Susan walked in the door with three sandwiches and another file folder.

"OK guys, what's going on here? We're dealing with people, not jokes." She said.

"Robert L. White," I said with a giggle, "who does he remind you of?"

"You of course," Susan replied with a smile, "that's why I put his on the top of the pile."

"Well, he's a definite yes for an interview Susan." Bryan said. "There's another one here that I want to interview because I know him, but I would never trust him. He has the ability and the qualifications, but I guarantee he'll never work here. So he'll be the last one we interview."

"Why?" Susan asked.

I thought for a split second. "Jurassic Park eh?"

"You got it Tom. Let's have you and Susan start the interview before I walk in on it. He'd recognize me."

"Why should we waste our time on him?" Susan asked.

"It may not be a waste of time Susan," Bryan replied. "He's really a bad apple and I doubt that he's repented and mended his ways. He didn't mention that he's worked a year for my previous firm in his list of employers. He just blended the time frames between to the two other places he worked at before and after. I want Darren do a run down on him before he sets foot in this building. If Darren finds something, we'll be able to nail him. You see, as is the case with so many employers, if they find an employee who has committed an infraction against the employer or the law, they just fire him, and don't get the authorities involved because of all the hassle. That gets the criminal out of their hair, but it puts him back on the street to commit the crime against someone else. That's what happened with this guy at the company I was working with. I don't want to see that happen here."

"OK Bryan, but don't let this become a personal vendetta." Susan admonished.

"He won't," I said with a wink and a smile. "I'll keep him in line."

The three of us ate our lunch, then spent the next few hours going through the yes pile with a fine tooth comb setting up the order we wanted to interview them from the best to the worst and then we outlined an objective set of criteria we could use in which to measure and judge their acceptability for a position as a programmer. Although we couldn't judge Robert White because of his lack of qualifications, we wanted to get his interview over first.

When we told Susan about the high school kids that applied and how we wanted to handle the replies to them, she volunteered to draft up a letter that we could use as a beginning. For the others, Susan also agreed that she would prepare customized rejection letters for our signatures.

By the time our work day ended, Bryan and I were bushed. It was good to be heading home.

I spent the next afternoon adding my touches to the high school kids' rejection letters that Susan had drafted. I tried to keep it positive and encouraging. I ran them by Bryan and Susan before I added my signature. I wondered what was wrong with the system that made kids want to quit school. I could only hope that it wasn't for personal 'home' reasons.

Wednesday afternoon we had three interviews scheduled, starting with Robert White. We decided between the three of us, that Susan would greet the applicants at the main lobby reception desk and escort them to my office. For the purpose of the interviews, I had Harold and his in-house crew remove my large conference table from my office and in its place, had an informal setting placed at one end of my office which consisted of a four upholstered chairs around a four-foot coffee table. We felt this informal setting would put the applicants at ease as we conversed with them.

As Susan came into the room behind Robert White, I moved from behind my desk. He appeared astonished as he met my eyes, then he smiled broadly as I reached out to shake his hand.

"Mr. White, I'd like you to meet Tom Davis, the CEO of Davis-Callahan." Susan said.

His grip was firm and comfortable. So often, men like to add too much pressure to show their masculinity and it's just not necessary. His overall appearance was strong, almost athletic, about my height - business-like with a dark blue sports jacket, white shirt and a blue tie that matched his blue eyes, and neatly pressed black dress pants. Personally, I didn't want to have our office become a shirt and tie organization, but Susan had insisted that for the interviews, Bryan and I had to wear a shirt, tie and sports jacket. Susan also admonished both Bryan and I not to be informal at these interviews - she said that if they called us by our first names, let it be their initiative - it would indicate a number of psychological things that she could explain as we went along. It wasn't my nature, but I also realized that Susan knew how to judge a person better if we followed the rules.

"It's you!" Robert exclaimed. "It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Davis. I saw the news report on TV when you left the hospital in New York. I had no idea that you could possibly be the same person." His brow furrowed, but he continued to smile. "That.... That Tom Davis.... I mean.... you.... were from Toronto."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Robert," I said smiling as Susan beckoned him over to the table. "Come have a seat while we get to know more about you. Yes, we actually were living in Toronto last September. However, I had the opportunity to start this venture and we decided on Calgary and Alberta because of the beauty of the country and the tax advantages available here. It is Robert.... not Bob?" I asked as he sat down between Susan and me.

"It's always been Robert, sir.... Robby as a kid, but never Bob," he replied as Bryan came into my office.

"Mr. White," Susan announced. "I'd like you to meet Bryan Callahan, the president of Davis-Callahan. Bryan, this is Robert White."

Very politely, Robert stood, reached over the table, and shook Bryan's hand. "I'm very happy to meet you Mr. Callahan. I appreciate that I was selected for an interview."

"Robert, it's a pleasure to meet you. We received many replies to the ad," Bryan said as they both sat down, "Almost half of the applicants for the positions did not qualify, and we're not going to interview them. However, in reading your résumé and your letter, we realized that although you didn't meet the qualifications that we set out, you have expressed a genuine desire to learn and gain some experience."

"Robert, have you ever applied for a position with any other programming companies?" I asked.

"Just one sir," he answered. "I sent a résumé to 'Keystroke Sync' two months ago, but I never heard back from them." Bryan and I smiled at one another. That was the firm that Bryan was working with before we started Davis-Callahan.

"You probably haven't received the letter from us that says we received your application," Susan said. "It's fortunate that we were able to contact you by phone and have you come in so soon."

"Ms. Chambers, that phone call truly made my day. I certainly wasn't expecting any response so quickly." His smile was innocent and infectious.

"I take it that you had to cut a few classes to be here today," Bryan said.

"Well, yes I did sir," Robert replied looking at his hands. "However I couldn't let this opportunity slip by," he said seriously, regaining eye contact with Bryan and I again. "One of my classmates said she would let me read her notes tonight so I wouldn't be caught short tomorrow."

"Robert, tell us a bit more about the management courses that you took with McDonalds?" I asked.

"Actually the meat of the courses were good Mr. Davis. I found that some of the people that attended the courses weren't that mature and I found some of their babbling distracting. The teachers.... they like to call them professors, were good once they got passed the McDonalds hype. In the first course, it was mostly about how to cool the customers' heels when they weren't satisfied. That was an important course because I learned that although I may not agree with the customers appearance, their attitude or their complaint, they were paying the bucks and they were always right. That went a long way in changing my thinking about people once I was able to put it to practical use at the restaurant and in my everyday life. My second course was how to deal with staff.... how to listen sympathetically to their problems, personal or otherwise.... and how to direct them to a solution.... the trick being, don't solve their problem even though you know the best solution. They taught us that people are more satisfied with themselves and their accomplishments when they get to solve their own problems. The following year I attended a course about how to deal with your superiors. Although it was very intense with a lot of practical problems that we had to solve in groups, the bottom line came down to a simple fact.... both you and your manager want the same thing.... a satisfied customer and more money in the bank for the franchise and the corporation. The last course was more of a seminar where the teacher seemed to read most of the things out of a book in front of him. It was boring because of the subject matter.... that being how to manage the books at the end of the day or the yearly quarter and the amount of stock to order versus the customer potential. For me that course was meant more for the new owners of a McDonalds franchise.... not for a part time worker."

"I take it that you didn't get anything out of that last course then." Bryan said.

"I suppose I did get something out of it Mr. Callahan." Robert replied. "I suppose if I was ever to go into business for myself, I think I would be using some of the things that were taught in that course."

"Did you enjoy the day to day operations of the restaurant?" Susan asked.

"Actually I did Ma'am. Sometimes it's been a challenge keeping a crew of immature teenagers in line.... giving them a challenge.... showing them that by working together in the restaurant, we can accomplish a lot in an evening shift."

"What do you dislike the most about working at McDonalds," I asked. I knew the answer I wanted.

"That's a very embarrassing question to answer Mr. Davis. The McDonalds basic economical hamburger was what made them the fast food outlet of choice, but my biggest annoyance with McDonalds is the proven amount of unhealthy cholesterol and salt that's in their most popular menu items. I have an uncle with heart disease and I can relate to proper diet."

He nailed it!

"Well, one thing for sure Robert, I'm not going to tell any of the folks down in our restaurant about your experiences at McDonalds. They'd snap you up in a heartbeat." Bryan said. "You mentioned that you tweaked a few off-the-shelf programs that didn't serve your needs. Would you give us an example please?"

"I realize that the computing world in businesses primarily utilizes Windows on the PC platform sir, but I also have an older Mac that my Dad gave me as my first computer. He taught me as much as he knew about the system and how it worked and after a little investigation on my own, I found I could write a few of my own little programs. Back then, there were so many things about the Mac operating system that were simplified into far less memory," he replied. Enthusiastically, Robert went on to explain how some programs could be simplified by eliminating some repetitive code and insert a simpler code statement at the front of a program to run throughout the program. He also gave us examples of how he had learned to merge various photo files into one document and run it from a program he had written himself.

I asked, "Can you also do that with movie clips?"

"No sir," he replied, "but it's something I'm working on. Editing the voices in the clips and overriding them with some music or voice-overs is a bit tricky on the programming side."

Bryan put him to the test. Smiling he asked, "Have you ever heard of a program called 'eMemories'?"

"No Mr. Callahan," Robert replied, "I haven't."

"Well Robert," I said, "it's definitely a program that you will hear about.... one way or the other. In the meantime, my advice is that you don't knock yourself out trying to merge movie clips. Robert, what is your vision for the direction of computer programming?"

"For sure, computing hardware is going to become more economical, much smaller and will have more capabilities," Robert began. "I think that storage in the future will develop into digital memory and the developers of the hardware will allow the hard drive to become a thing of the past, just as they have replaced the floppy drive with CDs. For example, cell phones use digital memory chips right now to store phone numbers. I can imagine a cell phone, probably in the near future, that will be able to connect to the internet wirelessly and perform many of the functions that our desktop computers are today, such as banking, making reservations etc. There may even be a small keyboard that may flip down that would allow you to type messages or other data. Using digital chips to store data and programs on, will allow a cell phone user to play games stored within it. Naturally, the coding for such applications will have to be very concise, clean, and neat. Although our cellphones can take somewhat fuzzy pictures, I think the future is going to improve the picture quality and even be able to take movies that can be downloaded or emailed onto a computer. We have portable laptops right now.... it's just a matter of making it smaller and adding more capabilities. I think that's the future of programming in addition to programs that may be applied to the auto and transportation industries. How about voice commands to operate heating, air conditioning, radio, CD operations, and the navigation system in your car? It will be an amazing program that will be able to perform those things with just a voice command. Without going into science fiction, I think the portability of computing is going to be the real issue of the future."

I so much wanted to jump up and shout, 'YOU'RE HIRED!' but I'm sure Susan and Bryan would think I'd totally lost it.

"Gentlemen, I have to wrap this up," Susan said, "I have another applicant waiting downstairs for his interview. Robert, I have two questions to ask. "First is, if we choose to hire you, when could you start working here on a part time basis?"

He paused before he answered. "Monday at 1 PM. I should give the manager at McDonalds at least that much notice."

"That is short notice Robert," I said, "however; we will strive to let you know our decision first thing tomorrow morning."

"The second question I have for you Robert is, would you object to our security team doing a criminal record check on your background?" Susan asked.

"Certainly not Ms. Chambers," Robert replied, "although.... I did get a speeding ticket for 10 klicks over the speed limit.... getting here today. I... uh wasn't paying attention..... I was just excited to be getting an interview."

"I think we can overlook that indiscretion. After all, you did get here fifteen minutes early." Susan smiled as she stood up. "Come with me and I'll introduce you to our security staff and explain a few things about vacations."

Robert, Bryan, and I stood together. "Thank you very much for coming in Robert. We have a lot to discuss about your potential situation with our company." I said as I shook his hand.

"Robert, notwithstanding any decision we come to," Bryan said as he shook his hand, "I know you will have a good future in computing."

"Gentlemen, Ms. Chambers..... You've been very generous with your time. Just being here for an interview was more than I expected. Regardless of your decision, thank you very much." Robert said.

As Susan led him away from our office, I had to cover my mouth. I wanted to yell, 'Holy Crap! Wow!'

Bryan was grinning from ear to ear. "That young man is too good to be true!"

"You know, he would be great with the kids in the horseshoe." I said. "Most of the time he'd be there by himself, but spring break, summertime, he'd interact with them just perfectly."

"Right on!" Bryan said. "His pay range.... it has to be above what the kids are making and it has to be about 20% better than he's getting at McDonalds, which is still far below what we're offering a top notch programmer. Let's start him at the bottom of the programmers' level on an hourly rate just because he is only part time."

"I agree, he will have a bunch of deductions here that he doesn't have at McDonalds.... health care, Canada Pension, etc.... and I think he has a longer commute to get here as well. It may be an expensive experience for him."

"OK then, I'll let your Mom know so she can set up his wages and I'll give him a call tomorrow morning.... hopefully he won't be in classes." Bryan said. "I'll also have Susan check his references. Amazing.... he didn't mind using his McDonalds manager as a reference."

The second man we interviewed was Weston Laing. On paper, he was our number one choice of all the applicants. For a man in his early-thirties, his experience was extensive. Understandably, he was surprised at the age of Bryan and me, and was quite frank when he finally asked how two guys our age could have the resources to start such a new venture of this magnitude. Without revealing any of our sources, I explained that I went to New York City to market our eMemories program, however because of the 9/11 attacks that occurred, we gained substantial financial backing to make sure that our corporation would never be without funds as long as we started to show a profit, however small in the first year.

When Weston explained his computer coding experience, we realized that his skills were extensive and certainly equalled our own. He had worked as an IT advisor in a government office as well as doing a stint as a trouble shooter within the system. When we asked him about setting up our IT department, he was very enthusiastic.

When Susan asked if he would object to the corporation doing a criminal record check, he didn't hesitate to agree. However, he did point out that it would only reflect that he had a criminal free past. He went on to explain that with the temptation that might be in front of many of the new programmers to sell our corporation's ideas, that in addition to the criminal record check, it might be advisable that a statement of secrecy or confidentiality be signed by all employees with the corporation and include a statement that any criminal act, while employed with the corporation, shall be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

He also pointed out that as a head of the IT department, if their was some white collar crime going on with the use of the computers, he would make sure that it was monitored, documented, and reported to the executive head.

I held up my hands to stop Bryan and Susan from commenting. "Mr. Laing, this corporation is being primarily operated by members of our families, hand-picked because they can be trusted. Would you sign such a document?"

"Without a doubt," he answered. "A similar analogy.... if I entrusted my best friend who I trusted with my all, to look after my house while I went on vacation and something happened during my absence, such as a nosey neighbour wanting to enter my house..... I would expect him to forbid the entry, because I hadn't given him permission to allow anyone inside. On the other hand, my best friend could have thought that the neighbour was a friendly person I trusted and allowed them entry. Then I would have been liable for any damages that the neighbour had inflicted on my home because I hadn't laid out the rules. So it is with your employees.... I know I don't want to lose my job, be put in jail, or pay a fine that would bankrupt me, likewise I would want to know as the IT head, I can catch someone with the evidence to get him fired and that he or she would be prosecuted.... otherwise I would be going to a lot of effort to do my job without any reward. The other side of this coin would not be from the employee that steals your non-copyrighted programs and sells them to your competitor, but from the new employee that has stolen non-copyrighted programs from your competitor and introduces them to you as if they were his own.... say for an additional bonus. That would put you, this corporation, liable for court action for stealing from another company."

"Good point!" I said, "We'll have our legal department draw up a document that will have to be signed by all present and future employees. Mr. Laing, I'd like to give you a short tour of our facility, so that if you're hired as the head of the IT department, you'll have an idea of what may be involved."

"Have you any questions you'd like to ask?" Susan asked.

"Just one," Weston said, "You know my history of where I've worked and the extent of my experience.... at what wage level would I have to start at?"

"That is something that will be a part of our final decision to hire you." Susan replied.

"Weston, considering the responsibility that goes with the position," Bryan said, "it will definitely be in the upper part of the pay range."

The three of us left my office and showed Weston the full extent of the third floor programming area, which was two-thirds of our third floor wing. The other third was occupied by personnel.

"How many of these pods are there," Weston asked.

"There's thirty at the moment with room for fifty in total.... that's 150 individual computers to keep tabs on in this department." Bryan answered as we walked between the two conference rooms.

As we entered the open area of the next section, Weston exclaimed, "WOW!" He was looking at the twelve-station horseshoe where the younger family members were assigned. "This looks a bit like a control centre for NORAD."

"Actually Weston, this is our testing bay. Each workstation has two monitors with switching capabilities between the stations." Bryan said.

"As you can see, it's not manned and that's because the eight people who man this twelve-station pod are in school right now." I said. Weston looked perplexed.

Susan smiled, "Our sons, Josh and Mark did the layout for this horseshoe. They wanted better communications with the other kids at the other stations so they wouldn't have to be running around a series of the three-station pods looking over each others shoulders, like we have in the rest of the building."

"How old are these kids?" Weston asked with a look of bewilderment.

"There's four young teenagers and the others are preteen. They're all part of our extended family. It's their job to play with the programs," Bryan explained. "We make the programs, they break them, and they tell us what else they want to see in the program or maybe what they didn't like about the program."

"Not only that, one is a thirteen-year-old girl.... Shelly. She's very good at setting up web designs for any purpose." I added.

"How much time do they get to work here?" Weston asked.

"Actually more than you might think," I answered. "Each of them has a dedicated laptop at home that they use to connect to their station at this pod although there's little on these computers yet. Once their homework's done, they're allowed to fire up their laptops and 'be at work' so to speak. I imagine come spring break, summer vacation, some long weekends, they'll all be here."

"How about the other programmers.... are they going to have laptops as well?" Weston asked.

"We're considering it, however I thought that if they've put in a good days work here at the office, they wouldn't want to go home and do more of the same thing." Bryan said.

"Where is your IT department located?" Weston asked.

"Actually it doesn't exist yet, but we'll show you where we want it to be." I replied.

After a cursory glance at the other departments on all the second and third floors, we took Weston to Darren and Grant's security office. Susan said her goodbye to Weston at the reception desk, to greet the next applicant.

After our introductions between Weston, Darren, and Grant, we showed Weston the open area behind the Security Office. This was one area we'd left unfinished.

He looked thoughtfully at the space, letting his eyes wander from wall to wall and the open ceiling. "It's a good sized area.... room for a number of stations.... no windows to the outside.... great that access is through the security office. However, you should have a secure partition installed between this area and the security office and the door should have a physical key lock in addition to the electronic swipe.... in the case of a power outage, all the locks fail and all the doors are open.... I don't think I'd want anyone except both of you to have access to this room. I take it that everyone's storing everything on their hard drives right now?" He asked, "and you communicate between computer stations through the ISP."

"Yes on both counts," Bryan answered.

He paused and looked at the floor thoughtfully. "You've got all sorts of access security in the building, but nothing for the computers. Running programs through the ISP or burning them onto CD's is not secure. There must be a multi-level internal InTRAnet system installed. Each computer station would have a limited access to their own area of work. For example, except for yourselves, you don't want the programmers to be able to get into the finance files, likewise personnel files can only be accessed by the personnel staff. All the information for each computer should be backed up here on a separate drive every 24 hours. Internally, there could be an email service to use between each station. Inter-office communication would become instant... not at the whim of the ISP space. Each computer should have its own identity and password. It means running a hard wire from every computer through a series of hubs to this one central point. Every department could be run on one cable. I'll give you the name of the consultant I used at the government. His design is comprehensive for the addition or deletion of various work stations as staff changes."

"Why not go wireless?" I asked.

"Personally I wouldn't," he answered. "I'd be afraid that someone with a laptop out in the parking lot that could tap into the system and you can't stop something like that. I'm curious; do you have any dedicated Apple computers? "

"Not yet," I answered, "but we did have a college student apply for a part time position and he had some experience with programming Macs."

"Another suggestion then," Weston responded, "dedicate one of the pods in your area to three Macs. Is there money in the budget for that?"

"Actually that's something we'd have to go over with the head of the IT department," I answered.

Bryan nodded and said, "Weston, we could go on discussing this for the rest of the day, but Susan has our next applicant waiting for us upstairs. How much notice would you have to give at your present job?"

"As soon as you let me know, two weeks," Weston replied.

"May I ask, why are you leaving your present employer?" I asked.

"Well," he replied with a smile, "I've already told you how I feel about dishonest programmers.... the place I'm with just fires the bad guys, but they fail to prosecute them and there's no justice in that after all the work I put into finding them out."

As Bryan and I said our goodbyes to Weston, we headed back to my office.

"Any doubts?" Bryan asked.

"None whatsoever," I answered. "We need him. It will solve a lot of headaches for us working night and day trying to set up the IT department."

"I agree," Bryan replied as we entered my office and Susan introduced us to our next applicant, Ralph Grayson.

Ralph Grayson was younger, but equal to Weston Laing in his abilities, slightly less formal in his approach, personable, polite and imaginative, however we trusted Weston's maturity and wanted him for the head of our IT department.

Once our interview with Ralph Grayson was completed, the three of us had a meeting to assess our feelings about the interviews. Susan was charmed with Robert White even if he did call her 'ma'am' just once - it made her feel older than her years. She found that Weston Laing and Ralph Grayson to be strictly business and cool headed - people that could handle a crisis without taking a deep breath. After we explained some of the details that would happen if we hired Weston as an IT head and the responsibilities that would go with it, she truly felt he was the better man for the job.

Bryan phoned each of the applicants the next morning and told them they had the job and what their pay scale would be for the first three months. We felt that would be long enough for all the applicants as a probationary period before we allowed them to opt into the company pension plan.

And so it went for the next ten days, we interviewed 30 applicants in the afternoons. All of the applicants except two were hired. One fellow was in his sixties and his programming was restricted to Fortran II and he failed to upgrade his knowledge to bring him up to the Fortran 95 language that was presently in use.

During those ten days, we did have Robert White come on board and we gave him the end station in the horseshoe together with a copy of eMemories to become familiar with. His enthusiasm and respect was unending - especially his respect, now that he was on staff, he still called everyone sir or ma'am. Personally I found it annoying; I was only five years older than him. When I took him for a complete tour of the building, to introduce him to everyone, he surprised me - he had no problem remembering all the names and grasping the intent of each department. I had a feeling he could be a good asset in dealing with the public as well as giving other new employees their introductory tour of the corporation.

On the home front, our lives had become happy and normal again. We all wanted Kevin to get up to speed with the other boys, so there were a number of extra evenings spent in the Cessna before he was qualified to solo. All of us, especially Grant and Ethel were very proud the day that happened. The boys were enthusiastic at air cadets as I taught them more intricacies of formation flying in the planes that the Air Cadet Squadron owned. They were taking to it like a small flock of geese in flight. All the cadets in the squadron were getting great practical experience with formation flying.

The other person we didn't hire was Derek Fields, the former employee of 'Keystroke Sync'. He was our last applicant and as Bryan requested, we had to stage his interview.

Susan contacted him shortly after we read his résumé to get references, one of which wouldn't comment, the other two were former employers, which were not overly enthusiastic about volunteering positive attributes. After finding that out, Bryan had Darren and Grant really do some digging. Darren also enlisted the help of Andy. Although Andy was new at the University of Calgary, he still had his connections to the University of Toronto court records and from there to the court records that were current in Alberta. With the information he gained from that under his belt, Darren had no problem getting a criminal record check from the RCMP for a suspected criminal, this time without the person's permission. Derek Fields definitely had a blemished present and past.

On the day of his interview, Bryan and I nonchalantly sat at the testing horseshoe chatting with Robert so we could observe Derek and Susan as they walked the concourse to the double doors at the end of the floor. He was definitely beyond being overweight. As part of the plan, a special ornament was placed in the centre of the table, concealing a wireless microphone. After everything that had been dug up on this fellow, Darren wanted to hear and record what was said. I waited long enough until I was sure Susan had him seated in my office with his back to the door - I was to play the heavy in this interview because he knew Bryan - all part of the plan. I really didn't like the scenario, but I knew it had to be done.

As I approached my open office door, I heard, ".....yeah, that's right Susan, I have a wealth of computer programmin' experience at the many places I been workin' at."

"Hello there Mr. Fields," I announced smiling as I approached the table. "I'm Tom Davis." I held my hand out as he stared up at me.

I paused with my arm extended as he looked from me to Susan for an awkward moment, before I casually returned my hand to my side and sat in the chair between them. Staring at Susan he exclaimed, "I thought I was suppose to be meetin' with the CEO of this place!"

"Oh you are Mr. Fields," Susan replied with a smile. "Mr. Davis IS the CEO of Davis-Callahan Corporation."

"You're joshin' me!" Derek said defiantly, "No one his age could possibly be a CEO of a company this big." I grinned because I hadn't heard the 'joshin' me' expression since I was a kid and I quickly wondered how Josh would take to being teased with it. I took a deep breath and sobered my attitude.

"Mr. Fields," I said sternly staring seriously at his eyes, "I AM the CEO of this corporation and providing all the family shareholders agree, what I SAY, goes!"

I continued to stare at him, watching his lips try to form words that he couldn't think of. He looked at Susan, who just nodded her head smiling. I was still sternly staring at him when he glanced at me, then down at the table, and then up again to meet Susan's incessant smile.

"This can't be," he mumbled. I continued my serious stare and Susan continued with her smile, while he continued his eye-dance between us and the table top. We were unnerving.

Finally, maintaining my attitude, I asked, "Mr. Fields, you have an extensive experience in this field, but you haven't stayed with any one employer for very long. Tell me, why did you leave your last employer."

"Well.... well, they had a management problem. They.... they wanted more production and they wanted more ideas." He didn't maintain any eye contact as he spoke and he started nervously rubbing his right hand up and down his thigh. "They.... they wouldn't accept anything that I gave them, so I quit. Ya know how it is...."

"Tell me how it is," I said, still being the heavy.

"Well.... it's kinda like a conspiracy ya know. No one else was comin' up with any ideas, but they centered me out 'cause they didn't like any of my ideas. They wouldn't even try them. Hell.... it was the only new stuff that place ever had handed to them."

"What were some of those ideas, Mr. Fields? I asked, almost demanded.

"Well like.... like...." He was still rubbing his palm along his thigh when Bryan came through the open door.

"Derek! Derek Fields! How the hell are ya?" Bryan exclaimed with a happy smile as he walked up beside him with his hand extended.

"BRYAN! Hey there ol' buddy, how's it goin'," Derek said with a smile as he half stood and shook Bryan's hand. "You workin' at this place now?" Suddenly Derek looked relieved.

"You could say that. I'm the president. They do call this corporation Davis-Callahan for a reason." Bryan said still smiling as he sat across from me. "So how have things been going since you left Keystroke Sync?"

"Oh it's been good for the most part. Just as I was tellin' Susan and this guy here...."

"WHOA right there MR. FIELDS!" I exclaimed. Although I knew this man was a total scumbag, and I was willing to go along with the ruse, he was pissing me off. "I am NOT 'this guy here'. I am Tom Davis and I'm the CEO of this corporation. Mr. Callahan is my partner and the president of the corporation. Ms. Chambers is the director of our personnel division. Whether you wish to acknowledge those facts with proper courtesy is your concern. NOW! There is nothing in your application about you working at Keystroke Sync. Why is that?"

"Yes Mr. Fields," Bryan said grinning, "Tell us about that little period of your employment history."

Derek remained silent. Finally Susan, still smiling, very quietly said, "I think it's important for you to answer Mr. Fields before we consider hiring you for a position with this corporation." What a professional tease. She was playing her part so well.

"Well.... well," he stammered. "It was an unpleasant situation and I can't answer."

From the corner of my eye, I saw Grant's imposing figure filling the doorway to my office. "Gentlemen.... Susan, I believe I know the answer to your question," he said as he walked over to the table and stood behind Bryan. "It appears that Derek Fields here was surfing the internet from his office computer at Keystroke Sync and sending child pornographic images to his own computer at his residence. Regrettably, he wasn't arrested for that infraction of the law. However, it was discovered that sometime in the past when he worked in Montreal, he was suspected of similar infractions.... and, they involved sexual touching of a six-year-old girl. Would you care to comment Mr. Daddykins? Oh sorry, I believe that's the name you use with your Internet contacts."

"You're so full of shit!" Derek exclaimed. "There's nothing to prove any of those accusations. They're all lies."

"Mr. Daddykins?" Susan giggled. "I can't believe it. How original!" Susan's sarcasm relieved the tension that had been building up inside me, but I still hated this man.

"Oh but Susan," Darren said from the doorway, "there's more." He walked into the room and stood behind Susan. "After a little prompting, the RCMP got a search warrant and raided his home yesterday and recovered a whole cache of child pornography from his seized computers and hard drives. However, Mr. Fields was nowhere to be found. Surprisingly, he showed up here for his interview. Sergeant.... you can come in now."

With that, two RCMP officers came into the room, read Derek his rights, handcuffed him, and took him from the building. The plan had worked.

Susan said quietly, "I want you two to have a heart-to-heart with the boys tonight and let them know all about this man."

Grant followed with, "Yes and Kevin and I are going have a little talk about it as well."

Then the three of them quietly left my office.

I just sat there kinda numb until Bryan came over to me and pulled me out of the chair and into a hug. "I know how hard that was for you," he said quietly as we held each other, "but I couldn't have done it without you."

"Bryan I hate that bastard so much," I said. "If I'd had a baseball bat, I'd have enjoyed smashing him in the nuts with it. How many kids' lives has he ruined?"

"We might never know, Tom," he said as he held me by the shoulders looking deep into my eyes, "but some of the kids have been identified. Maybe they'll be able to identify some of the other kids and hopefully can be convinced to testify against Derek Fields and then they'll all be able to get the professional help they need." Bryan smiled. "I doubt you'd have done much damage with a baseball bat.... there's too much fat in the way. Now I think we have to add something about porn surfing to that statement of confidentiality that everyone's going to sign."

I looked passed Bryan's shoulder and saw Robert standing in the doorway. He looked sad. "Hey there Robert," I said as Bryan slowly released me. "You look troubled. What can we do for you?"

He shook his head slightly before he replied. "Nothing sir. Mr. Brown stopped by my station and told me what happened. I just wanted to say that you did good sirs, and on behalf of all the kids that were victimized, I wanted to say thanks." He smiled, turned, and walked back to the horseshoe.

It felt good to get home that night to the smiles and happy faces of the boys. For the most part Bryan and I had been brooding over the events of the day, primarily what happened with Derek Fields.

I heard laughter and barking dogs in the basement and I went to investigate while Bryan got started with dinner. Josh, Mark, Michael, Kevin and Shelly were standing in front of Brutus, Daisy and Freddy who were all sitting attentively with their tails wagging.

"Hey Dad, what was the name of that woman in 'Young Frankenstein' who's name made the horses whinny every time someone said it?" Josh asked with a huge grin on his face.

"Frau Blucher," I replied.

Instantly, all three dogs let out loud barks and the kids laughed hysterically before tossing each of them treats.

"Frau Blucher!" I said again and again all three dogs barked loudly! "When did you teach them that?" I asked with a laugh.

"Today after school," Mark replied.

"Speaking of school Dad, we have to go to the public school board meeting next week. They have some stupid law that bans fund-raising at school and it is actually preventing them from holding Terry Fox runs this year. We were trying to arrange a partnership between the student council at our school, the other private schools, the Catholic schools and the public schools. Everyone but the public system is on board," Josh said.

"You want to try to convince them?" I asked with a smile.

"Oh yeah like anyone else could do it!" Michael exclaimed.

"Yeah, it has to be Josh. He could sell ice to Eskimos." Kevin added.

"Ok I'll get you down there."

Later, Bryan and I remained quiet during dinner. I suppose Bryan's and my quiet attitudes had shown. While we were having dessert, Mark exclaimed, "All right, that's it! You two have a lover's quarrel or something? What do we have to do to make you kiss and make up?"

Bryan immediately snorted coffee out his nose and I had Jell-O dribbling down my chin as we choked into laughter. Right away the boys burst into laughter at our reaction.

Mark looked astonished at us as we wiped up our mess. "Well, I didn't think I was going to start a food fight!" He said giggling. That started another round of giggles.

Finally Josh asked seriously, "Dad, what happened?"

"Well first of all," I answered, "it was nothing like you suggested Mark. Josh, you know that Bryan and I would never do anything like that to one another. I have a question though.... with all the pornography surfing you boys do on the net...." Right away the three of them went bug-eyed and their jaws dropped, "....have you ever come across any porn that had underage kids in it?"

Bryan started to giggle. "Tom, have you ever seen such an innocent reaction? Come on boys, we know how you think.... remember we were once your age and it wasn't that long ago. Seriously now, have any of you ever seen children involved in any sexual way on the net?"

"Well Dad, I admit I used to surf the net looking at gay porn," Michael said, "and most of the sites I went to said that the models were over eighteen, but some of them looked less developed than me and looked like they may have been under eighteen. I.... uh.... don't have to look at porn anymore...." he looked directly at Mark and winked, ".....I've got the real thing right here."

"All of us know that because I was looking at gay porn," Mark began, "the old man went crazy and that was the happy beginning of how I ended up here with Bryan. I'm the same as Michael though Dad.... I feel that if you have a partner, you don't need to look at porn.... gay or otherwise I guess. I think porn is made for the lonely folks that can't be or aren't in a relationship."

The room was quiet as all eyes fell upon Josh. He just looked at me with his impish grin, but said nothing. His eyes looked up to the ceiling; across to the corner, then down to the counter top maintaining his innocent grin and finally, he looked directly at me. I raised my chin and looked down my nose with a smile.

"Oooo, this is going to be juicy!" Mark exclaimed.

"Out with it Josh," Bryan said smiling.

"It's not what you think guys." Josh said as his face became a bit serious. "Dad, I never looked at any porn on the net until we came back from our trip across Canada. Back then, Shelly was just an innocent child, still is, but remember we'd just met that summer, and I was pretty darn sure she was the one for me. It was sometime after that Halloween party at school I saw some pictures on the net with men and women and I wasn't disgusted, but I couldn't imagine someone in the bedroom with Shelly and I taking pictures of whatever I could imagine us doing together. I think pornography is just a pretence.... not even a pretence of love.... but a pretence of people trying look like they're enjoying sex.... no love. I don't want to know nor do I want to imagine what goes on between you guys in bed or Mom and Darren either, but when I see you guys lying in bed together, or just looking at each other, I know I'm looking at love. All I need is the thought of what I want to happen one day when Shelly and I are married and have kids. Porn isn't needed for that to spark my imagination. I.... I don't know if I can say this right, but to me, sex is an important complement in a relationship, but..... it should only be a small, yet important part of a balanced relationship. I feel that if sex is the biggest part of a relationship, you're.... you're probably headed for a break-up."

"That's what I was trying to say," Michael said. "Well put Josh!"

"Regardless of how much I enjoy sex at the time, I think you're dead on bro." Mark added.

My smile couldn't have been broader as I looked at Bryan. "Have you ever been so proud?" I asked.

"Never!" Bryan exclaimed. "Boys, the reason the question was asked was because of something that happened at the office today with our final interview...." Then Bryan and I went through the events of our interview and the final arrest of Derek Fields. By the time we finished the details, Josh, Mark, and Michael had sad and very unhappy faces.

"How.... how could anyone be like that," Josh said as a tear ran down his cheek. "Those poor kids."

Bryan went on to explain with all the pictures they'd gathered, some of the kids were identified and if they're shown the rest of the pictures maybe other kids would be identified and be able to testify against Derek Fields and maybe others like him and also the kids could get the psychological help they would need to face a balanced future.

With a grin, Mark said, "Maybe ol' Derek'll be sharing a room at the steel bar hotel with Bob McNaulty!"

We all had a giggle over that comment.

I went on to tell them about Robert and how polite he is. When I told them about what he had said to Bryan and I after the interview, Mark responded, "He sounds like a really upright kinda guy."

"I think we're going to enjoy working with him," Michael added.

"One thing for sure, he's going to be our friend," Josh added.

"Yes boys he will be," I said, "but remember, his name is Robert, not Bob."

That weekend our entire extended family including Hamish and Irene flew to Ottawa. We chartered a flight from Calgary International Airport with a brief stop at Lester B. Pearson International Airport outside Toronto to pick up Sean, Jake, Melissa, and Rachel, who had been instrumental in helping us make this happen. We arrived at Ottawa International Airport and from there took what appeared to be a fleet of airport limos directly to Rideau Hall, where I stood in place of my long-gone but never forgotten Grand uncle and received the Victoria Cross. Like the picture that the boys had done for me, I could feel my uncle's presence there with me that day. I wore my formal dress uniform and the boys all wore their own cadet uniforms to the ceremony. Everyone else was dressed in suits. The ceremony itself was brief, but there was a great deal of media attention. Because I was receiving the medal on behalf of my uncle and was not receiving the award myself, the governor general handed me the small bronze medal with its crimson ribbon in a bound leather box rather than pin it on me as she otherwise would have done.

"I'm proud of you Dad," Josh, who by now was as tall as I was, hugged me after the ceremony. Mark and Michael were lined up behind him for their turn.

As we were leaving, Jake pointed to the large house across the street and said, "So Josh, I guess that'll be your house in a few years!" he chuckled.

Josh blushed slightly, "24 Sussex drive eh? Maybe."

"What do you mean maybe?" Sean asked. "You could probably get elected now if you were old enough," he laughed but he was only half joking.

"I think I've had dreams about being in that room," Michael said. "Weird, eh?"

"How do you feel?" Mark asked as we walked across the parking lot afterwards.

"I feel great. I'm proud that we managed to make this happen. Proud for all of us. I'm still in awe of what this medal really represents in the big picture."

"No kidding," Josh exclaimed. "If not for what your uncle did, none of this would have been possible."

"The butterfly effect," Andy stated.

"The butterfly effect?" Sean asked.

"Yeah, the theory that a butterfly in one part of the world flaps it's wings and it causes a hurricane in another," Andy explained

"That doesn't make much sense," Michael laughed.

"It sort of does. One thing causes another - even if they don't seem to be related." Josh added.

Bryan and I just looked at each other. What none of us knew of course was that this was not to be the last time any of us would be in that room and it was not to be the last time that one of us walked out with an important decoration pinned to his chest.

A week later, we had Weston Laing on board together with a few other programmers and an abundant number of people in all the other departments. The IT area had been enclosed with a secure partition and a double lock thanks to Harold Stemming and his crew. After introducing Weston to everyone, he sat at one of the computers in the horseshoe and wrote up a comprehensive outline and prices of what he would require to set-up the IT department including any consultants he would need to run wiring and make connections to the main frame. Bryan and I met with Weston the next day at Bryan's conference table to discuss the proposal he'd just presented to us.

"The bottom line seems a bit heavy," Bryan commented at the beginning.

"It is quite a chunk of money," I agreed. "I think I'll call finance into this scenario," I said as I went to Bryan's desk and called Mom and explained why I thought she should attend this little meeting.

As soon as she entered Bryan's office, she handed Bryan and I a small box. "There you go boys.... your business cards. We'll have yours ready in about a week Weston. Letterhead and envelopes are already in the supply cabinets around the building."

They really looked very eye-catching. Giving credit where credit is due, in spite of what she had done behind the scenes for Howard's insanity; Angela Burton had done a great job of designing our corporate logo. Actually she had designed three of them for Bryan and I to look over, and we were quick to pick the same one with just a few modifications.

I handed Mom my copy of Weston's proposal, while Bryan and I shared a copy between us. Mom looked at the list and said nothing.

"I see you've included the standing agreement we have in place for the supply of new computers," I said.

"Yes definitely," Weston replied. "It should be under the IT department's financial umbrella."

"You've included a cost for three new LCD monitors in July, Weston. Why?" Bryan asked.

"I believe that LCD technology has come a long way and one that I think we should consider eventually.... maybe over a four year period, of replacing all the monitors with LCD's if they become reliable. It would be very wasteful to replace all the CRT monitors now before we get the use out of them. The LCD's use less power and produce less heat. We could test these three that I've included over the following year and if they work, we'll add some more the following year to the budget. Potentially, once all the CRT's are replaced, the power, heat, and air conditioning savings can be a benefit to your bottom line. If the LCD's are reliable, I'm sure that the CRT monitors will go the way of the dodo bird.... you won't be able to give them away."

"You've got four Mac computers listed," I commented.

"Definitely. For sure the number of Apple computers being used in the market is only 10% or so, but I don't think it's something we should ignore. They have become more and more popular as time has passed. With the right programmer, we could make some tweaks to the Windows programs that are developed here and issue them for Mac users."

"Good point Weston," Bryan said. "If Microsoft can do it, so should we, but I thought you were going to only have three in one of the pods."

"True Bryan, but we'll need one at the server level as well to monitor them and do backups."

"Your budget includes the wages for an assistant," Mom commented.

"Most definitely Diane," Weston replied. "I want it to be a person I can trust, one that I can work closely with and one that can take over my work if I happen to be absent for any reason. I don't want a part time person that may or may not know what to do in an emergency. There's too much at risk."

"Have you anyone in mind?" I asked.

"I know of a few, but they're presently employed, so we may have to go through an advertising-interview process."

"I see that Ethel wants a plotter for her department," I commented. "They aren't cheap are they?"

"No they aren't cheap.... but I can certainly understand why she needs one with the graphics work she does. The supplies for the plotters aren't cheap either, however, after using up the supplies that come with the machine, that part of the operation should come from her budget. Maintenance of the machine itself should be in my area."

"Weston, how accurate are your figures?" Bryan asked.

"Aside from the LCD monitors, plus or minus 1%. Eventually the LCD prices will drop, but right now it's hard to say how much. I've checked with the consultants and if we write up an agreement within the next ten days, they'll honour their verbal estimate."

"That being the case, do you think that this 4% contingency you have at the bottom is large enough?" I asked.

"Next year at this time, I'll bet that 4% will still be sitting on the books," Weston said with a smile.

"Well gentlemen," Mom said, "I'm not an expert with the technical equipment and operating systems listed here, but I hope it's the best quality. Let's not buy things twice if we don't have to. Notwithstanding, if we take the standing agreement away from this budget because it's already on the books, it's quite a manageable addition to the overall scheme of things from my financial point of view. After all, without our computers working, we're nothing. One thing I would advise Weston is that you consider having two assistants.... a back-up is always reassuring."

"Right now I'd be happy to find just one that I can trust.... however, if you give me the go ahead, I'll start beating the bushes and see if I can cajole someone away from their present employer."

I smiled at Bryan and nodded my acceptance.

"OK Weston, get your consultants busy," Bryan said, "get those servers ordered, set up the Mac stations and get yourself an assistant. How soon will all of us be connected to the servers?"

"This quadrant and the horseshoe should be in two weeks.... personnel and finance are next and the rest of the building will be on line no later than six weeks." Weston replied with a smile.

True to his word, by the end of February, Weston had hired an assistant, Barbara Davidson, whom he assured us was extremely qualified and trustworthy. When he introduced us, I was intrigued by her confident attitude. Over the course of the next month I was to learn that she had the same business sense and discipline as Susan, although she was only in her young thirties.

All the computers were set up and connected to our own in-house Intranet server and internal email service. It no longer took an email to someone else in the building twenty minutes to reach them - it was instantaneous.

Moreover, the word was getting around - we now had sixty programmers on staff and almost every computer was in service in our programming area.

Just before the March break, the ground had thawed enough that the Burton's remains' could be interred. Hamish and his crew had done a wonderful job of the demarcating the area that had been approved by Alberta Environment. It consisted of about a half acre enclosed by a split rail fence with a timber arch and gate at its entrance. The funeral home sent over a work crew with heavy equipment to excavate the graves and to set them up for the arrival of the caskets. We had already arranged to have headstones made up and they were delivered as well. That Saturday morning, we all dressed up and accompanied Michael to the grave site as the caskets were delivered. One at a time, with each of us acting as pallbearers, we carried the caskets carefully to the graves and placed them on the lowering mechanism that had been setup for us. A United Church minister who was recommended by the funeral home accompanied us and said a few words, including a brief reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

"To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which has been planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."

Throughout the brief service, I stood next to Michael with my arm around his shoulder. He stood stoically throughout it all no doubt due to the immense support he was receiving from all of us. When the service, was over, we walked back to the main house to enjoy a nice brunch that Susan had prepared for us and left the work crews to do their work in peace.

There was no interruption this time by either John or Mildred Burton.

Later that evening, Michael came into the living room and sat down next to me on the sofa and leaned in for a hug. Although Josh and Mark did that all the time, it was a first for Michael. I wrapped my arms around him.

"What's on you mind kiddo?"

"I.... I just wanted to say thanks."

"Michael, you don't have to thank me for anything."

"I mean for everything though.... for taking me in as your son despite what my parents tried to do."

"Think nothing of it kiddo. You are one of us. You're part of this family and you will always be."

He smiled, gave me a brief but firm squeeze and then headed off to bed.

One of the most memorable moments in the history of the Calgary public school board took place on the Wednesday before March break. Josh and all of the other kids dressed up and we drove them to the School Board offices. We had called ahead and made sure that Josh's address was to be on the agenda. We sat in the gallery for the first hour of the meeting which was pretty much routine boring business, but all that changed when the chair called Josh.

"Thank you Madame Chairman," Josh said as he stood behind the guest speaker's podium. "I am not currently a student of the public school system. Mainly for security reasons, I attend a private school, but I am here to speak on a matter that affects all of us, no matter which school board's school's we attend. I am here to speak about the Terry Fox run. My colleagues and I on the student's council at my school and other schools here in Calgary have been working hard with parents councils, teachers and school boards to arrange what we hope will be the most successful school based Terry Fox runs every held. That is except for your public schools which are, I am told, banned from holding the run on school property due to a by-law intended to prevent non-school fund raising. I can understand the logic behind the law but I can also see where it falls down."

There was a murmur among board members and then Josh continued. "Obviously there is only one pool of donors from which donations to any cause can be made. A dollar taken for one cause in no longer available for another. A dollar donated to a runner in the Terry Fox run is a dollar less to be donated for the next field trip or the new text-books that we need. I understand that, but I want you to understand that the Terry Fox run is not just another charity. It is not just another fundraiser." Josh had started slow and deliberate in choosing his words, but the longer he spoke, the more animated and passionate his words were becoming.

"This is about an event that has grown to become a Canadian tradition. It has grown beyond our borders to become an international event as well. Terry Fox runs are held in more than 80 countries each year and yet this by-law would keep them from being held at the Calgary public schools. Why this event has grown is because it is the best way that we can combat a disease that will at one point or another impact each and every one of us." Josh paused to let that sink in.

"This is a marathon. It is not a race. It is a struggle over the long term to achieve the goal of eradicating cancer and curing it once and for all. If you want to know about marathons, my brother Mark is the guy to ask. He can tell you how to train for them, how to prepare and how to pace yourself. I don't know about all that. What I do know is that when I get out there, I picture in my minds eye, faces like these," Josh opened a large manila envelope that he had been carrying and began to hold up a series of twelve by seventeen photographs for the board members. "I picture faces like little Jimmy Norwood, like Cheryl Noonan, like Scotty Anderson, Julie Cunningham. I think about these faces, I think about what they are going through, what they are suffering and so.... I run. I run and I take it step by step by step. One step after another. Each one taking me closer to the end and closer to achieving my fundraising goal.

"Step by step by step. Dollar upon dollar upon dollar. That is how we will win this war. That is how you, I, and everyone this room, in this city, in this province and in this country will defeat cancer. We will do it by running those steps. By raising those dollars. We will do it so that children like these," he said, nearly shouting as he gestured to the pile of photographs in front of him, "will know long happy and pain free lives. We will do it for our parents, for our brothers and sisters; for our friends and for strangers. We will do it with or without your help. We will do it because this disease must be defeated at all costs. We will do it because we know that one day, if that terrible day has not already arrived, we will come face to face with the enemy ourselves. Make no mistake, one day you will face a cancer diagnosis for yourself or a loved one. When that day comes, will you look at your ill child, your sister, brother or parent in a palliative care ward with regret because you didn't do more.... or will you look at them throughout our years with pride and relief, confident in the knowledge that we came together.... that humanity came together as one and stood against this disease and defeated it. That is what Terry Fox wanted. Step by step by step, that is what he fought for as he ran across this country. Step by step by step, we are determined to follow him and continue taking those steps in his name because behind each of those steps is another dollar for the cause. Every step and every dollar brings us closer to a cure. Step by step by step we are moving towards a world in which no parent will have to stand by helplessly while their child wastes away before their eyes. No child will have to suffer the pain of grieving the loss of a parent to this disease. We will run and we will continue to take those steps until, as Terry Fox said, the hurting stops. We will do it alone if we must, but we will be stronger together. We will be stronger with your backing and your support. Join us. Take those important steps alongside us. Sponsor and sanction this important event at ALL schools in Calgary. Join us in every step we take in Terry's name towards that glorious day when we will banish the word cancer from our vocabulary and from our minds once and for all."

For a moment there was silence in the room and then pandemonium erupted. The audience rose in a thunderous standing ovation, many people with tears streaming down their faces. Even some members of the board were in tears.

"I ask you. I beg of you," Josh said in a soft voice. "Make this exception. Make this happen. Make it happen for all of these suffering children; make it happen for the generations of the future. Make it happen because it's the right thing to do. It's vital that you take this small step towards letting all the students in the school system make this giant step become a reality. Thank you."

The chairman called the board to order. A motion was tabled to allow a special exemption for the Terry Fox run and it was approved unanimously. The whole meeting had been broadcast on local TV and Josh's speech was such a hit that someone uploaded it to YouTube and it went viral with over 2 million views in just over a week's time. It was another sign of what the future held in store for us.

"Josh, was that another off-the-cuff performance or did you write that before hand?" I asked as we left the school board building.

"I kinda knew what I wanted to say but I didn't write anything down before hand," Josh replied as if it was no big deal.

In the back of my mind, I could picture Al Pacino delivering the "Inches" speech in "Any Given Sunday" and it was only half as inspiring as Josh had been.

March brought spring break and for the first time, the kids were manning the horseshoe. I know the kids would rather have spent their break going camping or other things, but all of them were anxious to start using their stations, but more so, Eddie and the twins wanted to feel like adults that were actually working in the important business world.

On their first day, once they were all assembled at the horseshoe, I formally introduced each of them to Robert, telling him which face belonged to which parent that worked with the corporation. Each of the kids had become aware of Robert's reputation with Bryan and I, so they all became immediate friends.

Inasmuch as I wanted to proudly take all of the kids around the building and introduce of them to our expanding staff, I felt it would be less intimidating for the regular staff if our younger family members accompanied Robert instead of one of the 'big' bosses.

That afternoon, I called Robert into my office and asked him how the tour with the kids went.

As we were discussing how well the kids approached everyone in all the departments, Susan interrupted us. She looked very solemn as she and Bryan stood just inside the door.

"Young Jimmy Norwood just passed away." She announced. "Darren and I are off to the hospital right now to be with Jenny."

Susan helped Jenny to plan Jimmy's funeral. The boys had made some suggestions as well and they had a huge surprise in store. The funeral service was held at a local funeral home and the boys had arranged for the Air Cadet Squadron, in honour of Jimmy's Dad's service and his own desire to be a pilot, to provide an honour guard. They even had an extra-small air cadet uniform made for him to be buried in and his casket was draped in the Canadian Flag.

At the conclusion of the service at the funeral home, Josh, Mark, Michael and Kevin climbed into my Jeep and I drove as quickly as I could to the ranch. Parked on the tarmac were our plane plus three air cadet owned aircraft were parked. Before each of the boys climbed into a plane and before they took off, I warned them that they had to stay below the 1000-foot cloud ceiling, although I didn't think there would be a problem because I knew the cloud layer was pretty thin. Once they were airborne, heading for the outskirts of Calgary, I hurried back to meet up with the rest of the group at the cemetery. I arrived just as the funeral procession arrived.

As six air cadet pallbearers hefted Jimmy's casket onto their shoulders, the whole crowd looked up towards the east as the rumble of four airplanes approached. The four planes were in the "V" formation with Mark flying the lead aircraft and Josh in the number two slot with our own plane. As the planes passed over the gathered mourners, Josh pulled up and banked off to the west disappearing into the low cloud cover just as a spear of sunlight pierced the cloud. The remaining three aircraft proceeded in their fly-past in the eerie and yet beautiful missing man formation. Their timing was perfect.

Everyone was incredibly moved and we hoped that we had given that poor little boy who died far too young, a fitting send-off.

We had a bit of a medical scare at the very end of the March break. We decided to try some new foods for a change and ordered in a huge spread of Thai food to celebrate a successful March break at the new office. We were about half-way into the meal when Michael began to have a coughing fit. I could tell immediately that it was not normal.

"Michael are you ok?" Bryan asked in a concerned voice.

"Can't breathe!" Michael managed to choke out.

"His lips are turning blue!" Mark said in a panicked voice.

"Josh, call 911 immediately and page Quince at the gate!" I ordered.

Josh nodded and ran off as I hefted Michael out of his seat and onto his side on the floor. I noticed immediately that his neck was swollen badly and he had an angry red rash creeping into his cheeks.

Josh came back into them room a second later with a phone pushed to his ear just as Quince bounded through the front door and came running.

"Let me look at him," Quince demanded. He was all business as he pulled a small flashlight from his duty belt and shone it in Michael's eyes. "Stay with me son," he said firmly.

"The operator wants to know if he has any food allergies?" Josh asked.

"I don't know!" Bryan replied. "Not that we know of."

"This looks like anaphylactic shock," Quince said after he briefly examined Michael.

"The operator says that a STARS air ambulance is nearby and is en-route. I'll turn on the airfield lights!" Josh relayed to us.

Quince reached into his pocket and produced a small leather case. Inside it were two objects that resembled ball point pens. "I am deathly allergic to sesame seeds," he said as he prepared one of the devices for use. "This is an epinephrine injector. I think Michael has a serious life-threatening allergic reaction and giving him this shot may help him. He is not getting enough oxygen and I think this is our only option."

"Do it!" Bryan and I said firmly at the same time.

Quince pressed the device against Michael's thigh and triggered the needle.

The reaction from Michael was as rapid as it was miraculous. Within seconds, he began to breathe easier. He was gasping less and the awful blue colour had disappeared from his lips.

Quince took one of Michael's hands and gently pressed down on his thumbnail and observed that the normal pink colouring returned almost immediately. "I think you're going to be fine son. They'll still want to look at you at Foothills and they need to find out what you are allergic to, but you're going to be fine. If you start to feel short of breath again, I'll give you another shot."

"Quince, I don't know how to thank you," I said.

"It's a part of the job, Tom. I received pretty extensive medical training in the Forces." He replied smiling

"I understand you were JTF2," I said with a sly grin.

"I was but I can't talk much about that. It's still secret but I can tell you that most JTF2 operators are as well trained in emergency medicine as the average paramedic. We are probably better equipped to handle gunshot trauma than the average physician."

The STARS chopper arrived while we were talking and after Quince gave the paramedics and flight nurse a rundown on Michael's condition and treatment, they whisked him away to the hospital to be checked out thoroughly. Leaving Bryan to look after the rest of the gang, Mark and I headed out in my Jeep to join them at the hospital on the other side of town.

In the end, it was determined that Michael was allergic to the tahini - made from sesame seeds - in one of the Thai dishes that we had served.

Michael got lots of extra hugs when we arrived home.

During the last week of March, Weston and Barbara were busy distributing laptops to all the people in the building that might need one including Bryan. Each laptop had been catalogued and an identity sticker put on it. The next chore they completed was the identity process of all the desktop computers and the related monitors with an identity sticker.

Unbeknownst to anyone, including me, Weston and Barbara also spent many overtime hours that month inserting special coding into all the computers. At the end of the month, Mom came to me and told me that Weston definitely needed another assistant when she showed me all the overtime Weston and Barbara had put in on their time-sheets. I didn't even know we had a time-sheet system.

Mom's response was, "Oh, I'm keeping track of anything that costs this corporation. Everyone gets paid regardless of whether they hand in a time sheet or not, but to keep the budgets in line, their time and wages had to be charged to the right department within the corporation."

I shook my head at the bureaucracy of it all, but I understood where she was coming from when it came to the profit and loss levels in the various departments and was glad that she had the system under control.

After I went next door and explained the overtime to Bryan, we decided to give Weston and Barbara a visit in the IT Department file server room. It had been our first visit to the IT area since we'd hired Weston. After a short visit with Darren and his staff, we entered the IT room.

My first impression was how stark and utilitarian the room looked although very bright with a ceiling covered in fluorescent fixtures attached to the concrete deck above. At one side were two bare desks that faced each other with just telephones and a desktop computer on them and on the other side of the room were six computers, each set up in front of a different bank of ten-foot high servers with various lights blinking at every level. The ceiling hadn't been installed or the walls finished with painted drywall - just bare painted concrete. The back wall was covered with utilitarian shelving filled with manuals and spare computers and other drives. The floor was sheet vinyl. All the exposed wiring fed loosely from the ceiling, properly labelled, and fed to each of the servers and the four computers in front of them. Overall - a very depressing place to call, 'the place where I work'.

My first comment was, "This is depressing! How do you two stand working in here?"

"We don't spend all our time in here," Barbara answered with a smile. "Every two hours max, we take turns and make it a point of going out into the office areas to ask a few people if they're having any problems with their computers. Sometimes I go outside for a ten minute walk."

"We also field calls from people having problems with printers and computers. Sometimes we can solve it verbally, or through the file server, or we have to visit their station," Weston added. "We do circulate a lot around the building. Most of the equipment here works automatically. Sometimes we have to check an alert to a questionable incoming email before we send it on. The delay is usually minimal."

"You're running seven computers for what appears to be five servers.... how have you got them split?" Bryan asked.

"Actually there are seven servers here.... the first are small servers stacked on top of each other and aren't tied into the Davis-Callahan units. One is for Higgins-Brown Securities and the other one here is for Andy and his group. Both systems work independently of the others because of their work relationships. Both Andy and Darren's systems have lots of room for expansion within these present servers. They do automatic back-ups for their systems. I don't monitor their systems here, but those two computers are here in case we're asked to. It was an easy favour to do for them while we had the equipment purchased and set-up. The other three stacks are for Davis-Callahan. The first stack is devoted to the programming department, the second is devoted to Daycare, Personnel and Finance Departments, the third is for the Marketing, Sales, Arts and Graphics Departments.... neither of them take up a great deal of room on the server.... and the fourth is devoted to the Technical Training Department together with a segment devoted strictly to the Audio Visual Centre. For the moment, this small unit is devoted to the Macs and above them we have the printer servers. Over on our desks we have two stand-alone computers that we use for testing and evaluating new Windows Operating Systems as they come out. For now I've kept our operating system to Windows 98. It's stable and doesn't have any problems. The Millennium Operating System was short-lived and seems to have a number of bugs in it, but we'll be testing XP as soon as it's available."

"Too good to be true Weston," Bryan said, "I was thinking of getting a copy of XP and testing it myself. When you get it, let me be your guinea pig."

"For sure Bryan. I was thinking of using Ralph Grayson, but you'd be better considering you and Tom are paying the big bucks."

"Speaking of big bucks," I said, "Mom came crying the blues to me this morning on your behalf.... she said we had to get you another assistant because of all the overtime you and Barbara put in last month."

Barbara started giggling. "Bless her heart!" She exclaimed.

Weston was also enjoying a quiet laugh. "Actually no, we don't need another assistant. We didn't want to disturb the staff while they were working on a document in the middle of the day, so we scheduled a month of overtime. I crunched a few numbers and in the overall it was cheaper than hiring a consultant to do the work during off-hours. It was a one-off situation that should never have to be repeated except in an individual case when we have to replace a computer. As each computer was hooked up to the server, we added the sign on procedure and a permission code to each computer, say.... to prevent a programmer from accessing the financial or personnel files.... that type of thing. The heads of each department can get into any of the other departments data EXCEPT for the programmers. We can't afford to have their work corrupted by mistake. Having said that though, the four of us in this room are the only one's who can look into any part of anything that is on any server excluding Andy, Darren, and Grant's areas. There were a few permissions that we got wrong because the department heads wanted their assistants to have the same permissions as they had, but we were able to make those adjustments down here. We entered the permissions into every laptop before we distributed them. That reminds me though.... Tom I'd like to add your personal laptop into the inventory and would it be possible to bring in the horseshoe laptops so we can code them?"

"No problem, I'll have them here in the morning," I replied. "Don't worry about the overtime, we'll make sure you get paid for it, but it would have been better if we'd known about it before you'd gone ahead, however that problem's solved. Weston I'm going to ask a question that may sound a bit odd, but it's been sitting in the back of my mind for a while. Bryan and I have a close working relationship with the programmers, you, Barbara and of course our family members, but we really don't know much about the other members of the staff. I'm curious, in your dealings with all the staff, have you ever heard any disparaging words about their jobs or the corporation? I'm not asking for names or for you to be a snitch, I just want to be able to correct any potential problem."

Weston thought for a moment before he spoke. "The people are happy with their salaries, they enjoy their work, but it has become a common expression amongst a few of the employees.... 'those two guys in the ivory tower.' My feeling.... it's an expression that says they don't know you. They still feel intimidated."

"I've had that feeling sometimes when I approach some people at their work stations." Bryan agreed. "Some are happy and confident, others seem afraid that I'm there to criticize them."

"I've felt it too," I admitted. "None of the workers have had a chance to socialize except here at work. I know some have families with kids that don't attend the daycare here. I wonder if any feeling of being alienated could be overcome with a social event."

"A social event might be better than going desk to desk for a visit. I'd like to get to know some of the staff at a social level.... find out what are they're like away from the stress of the work environment," Weston agreed.

"Good Weston. I think we'll talk it over with the family and see what we can come up with," I concluded.

As we left the IT room and entered Darren's office, Bryan asked, "Any ideas?"

"How about a great big catered family oriented barbeque either here or at the ranch." I suggested.

"A big barbeque?" Darren questioned. "What's the occasion?"

"Just thinking out loud Darren..... Bryan and I need to get to know the staff on a social level away from the 9 to 5 drudgery of the office."

"Well boys, you know me," Darren said smiling, "I'm always looking at things from a security point of view. Let me think about it and I'll give you my best suggestion. Bend Susan's ear.... I'm always amazed how she can come up with solutions and get things organized."

"Good idea. Let's do it Tom." Bryan grinned.

I headed for the stairs and was running up them two at a time with Bryan right behind me. By the time we got up to the top floor, Bryan was a little bit more winded than me.

"We have to start using that gym," I said.

We walked right into Susan's office unannounced, closed the door, and flopped into the chairs in front of her desk without saying a thing. She was busy intently typing. She stopped, stared intently at her screen with her finger poised and hit the return key, then turned in her chair to face us. We didn't say a thing as her eyes darted first to Bryan and then to me. I started to grin as I teasingly stared back at her.

She leaned forward and met my stare with a grin of her own. "In case you're wondering, the manager of the restaurant has assured me that Jenny Norwood is a hard worker and is doing very well. However, if you two have come here to screw up my day, it isn't going to work. I have an appointment in two hours to go look at wedding dresses and I'm happy. So don't be a dumb Davis."

"In that case, maybe I better be the one to speak," Bryan said with a giggle. "Susan, we're having an identity crisis here at the office and Darren suggested we should bend your ear. A lot of the staff act a bit intimidated when we're in their presence.... there was something mentioned about us being those two up in the ivory tower. We were thinking, actually it was Tom's idea, that we have a full staff barbeque complete with their families either here or at the ranch so we could get to know them at a social level away from the stress of the job."

Susan looked pensively down at the top of her desk, then to me, no smile, no grin. She reached across her desk, picked up her phone, and punched a button. "Mr. Higgins, would it be possible for you to come to my office right now.... No it's not urgent.... thank you sir." She started to smile. "I love doing that. He doesn't know what to expect when he gets here." She picked up her phone again and pressed another button. "Hi Diane, are you available for a quick meeting in my office....? Good." Susan hung up the phone, looked at her watch, and then menacing looked at me with squinted eyes. It made me giggle. "If I don't have the solution, I think your Mom will." We said nothing until Mom and Darren came into her office.

Without anything being said, Bryan and I stood up so that Darren and Mom could take our seats. Susan stood up and crossed her arms in front of her. "I need an answer from the four of you.... have any of you told any of the staff that Darren and I are going to be married in June?" She pointed to me.

"Actually Susan.... uh, no, but was it supposed to be a secret?" I asked.

"Good answer Tom. Maybe you're not the dumb Davis I thought you were." She replied with a big smile.

Mom burst out laughing with that remark. "Oh Susan, I haven't heard that expression before! But I think I may be the guilty culprit. I did mention it to Gretta, my assistant, but I told her it was just going to be a close family thing to be held at home."

"OK. Then we can be pretty sure that the whole office knows." Susan said with a sigh.

"Remember too Susan," Bryan added, "all the kids were here during spring break and they may have said something as well."

"Quite true Bryan," Susan said as she sat down. "It's not something we could keep a secret anyway and I'm not looking for blame. Darren, what do you think of all the staff as a whole?"

"They're energetic, for the most part friendly, and happy.... and Grant and I are here to protect them." He laughed. "It kinda gives a person a Superman complex."

"Like family right?" Susan asked.

"Of course Susan, I've told you that before," Darren answered.

"I know we said we wanted a quiet wedding with just the family there, but now that pretty well everyone in the building knows about the ceremony, do you think they'd be offended if we didn't invite them?"

"I can see where some of them would be.... like the Stemmings or Barbara or Weston from the IT area for example." Darren said thoughtfully. "They all play a vital role in the operations of this place."

"I agree," Mom added, "but where do you draw the line without offending someone?"

"That's the point exactly Diane. However, let's add this to the mix. Tom and Bryan don't have the same exposure to everyone in this building as we do and some of the staff are a bit reticent.... intimidated when Tom and Bryan are near them or talking to them. Many of us are the same with the programmers in their department. The boys want to have a big barbeque either here or at the ranch for the staff with their families so they can get to know all them at a social level. You can see where I'm going with this.... Darren what do you think of combining the two celebrations?"

Darren put his finger to his lips and thought for a moment. He looked at the floor and then at each of us. He stood up and paced the floor for a few strides before he spoke. "That'll be 250.... 300 people of all ages. You want a big wedding dear.... then so do I, but I think it should be at the ranch mainly because I've got a great deal of confidence in Quince to be able to handle the security. Grant and I will be too busy to be involved. He's agreed to be my best man. First, we aren't going to be having anyone driving to the ranch; we'll bus them in from here. I think that'll be the first level of security. From there on, it'll be up to Quince. One thing that I also insist on.... and I mean it.... Susan, you and Diane are the primary organizers of this wedding along with the other ladies of the family, however you MUST include Quince in all your decision-making regardless of how insignificant you may think the matter is. Otherwise he won't be able to do his job. You can be sure that he'll have a ton of security people at the ranch, but they won't even be noticed. Tom, Bryan, your jobs will be to circulate and make friends. Can we all agree with that much?"

"You two would do that for us?" I asked in astonishment.

"That and much more," Susan said. "With everything we've all been through since New Years, I think we have a lot more to celebrate than just our wedding."

"I agree," Mom added, "It'll be a chance for all of us to let our hair down a bit and dispel any notion that we're a bunch of ogres running this corporation."

"I agree," Bryan said. "Susan, the success of this company wouldn't be anything without the great efforts that you and Mom have contributed."

"Thank you Bryan," Susan said smiling. "I'll get Ethel to draft up some fancy invitations to all the staff. We'll email it first to all the employees and then snail mail them a formal invitation. Now if you don't mind, Diane and I have some important shopping to do and if we don't get going, we'll miss our appointment."

After Mom and Susan left, Darren said, "Those two are really looking forward to this wedding. I hope we can pull it off without a hitch. I'll have a talk with Quince tonight and see if he's up to it. He'll probably want to have a meeting with everyone in the family once he has a few plans thought through."

I took a deep breath feeling a load had been lifted from my shoulders.

The next morning, Bryan I dropped the nine laptops off at the IT office before we headed up to the third floor.

Two nights later, the whole family had a meeting with Quince in the main house. He wanted to know the names of the coach people we intended to use, the caterers, the bakers, the photographers, the florists, the company that was going to set up the tents, and if we could, get a picture of all the employees at the corporation and how many people from each employee's family would be attending. He explained that he would have security people posing as employees with each of the companies involved. Quince guaranteed us that as far as the family or any of the visitors were concerned, it would be a wide-open party without any restrictions except for the formality of the wedding ceremony.

Ethel had done a great job on the fancy invitations to the barbeque. In them she made no mention of the wedding - rather that it was just to be an afternoon and evening of fun for the staff and their families - swimming, games, and lots of food would be provided during their time at the ranch.

Again, Susan came up to the plate with that solution for getting the details from the employees. It was time for employee evaluations. We knew that every employee was doing a great job, and we ensured each of them that they were doing a great job, but we wanted to interview them one-on-one to see what they thought the corporation could do to make their jobs easier and or any process they thought might benefit them or the corporation. Some of the suggestions were enlightening and quite valid, while others had nothing to complain about and simply offered compliments of what a great place it was to work.

Over the course of a week, we had them all completed, together with a smiling face photographed at the end of the interview. The photographers were busy moving from conference room to conference room throughout the building taking pictures. We ended every interview by asking how many people from their families would be coming to the barbeque.

All the information and pictures were passed onto Quince. Although he didn't attend the employee interviews that week, he was able to casually circulate around the building observing attitudes and behaviours and in addition to the photos, was able to place names to the faces.

Mother's Day was another special event. All the kids including Eddie, Matthew and Richard had already outlined how they wanted to set it up before they spoke to Bryan and I after dinner one evening. It was a good plan and all they needed was our permission to spend the money before they spoke to their parents.

I was worried about how all of this might affect Michael, but he, and Mark as well, assured us that although his feelings about Angela were still very near and dear to him, he and Mark had come to realize that all the ladies of our extended family were considered their mothers as well.

The following day Bryan and I had a little get-together with Darren, Grant, Hamish, James, Andy, and Trevor to assure us they were keen about the idea.

The day began with Mark and Michael waking up Bryan and me, saying we had to take a special run this morning. Once we were on the verandah, Michael picked up a potted plant and Mark picked up the shovel that they'd put there the night before. We walked over to Angela's gravesite, where both Michael and Mark planted the Alberta Wild Rose bush, now in its infancy, but over the years to become a beautiful blooming display.

I didn't realize how special this day was going to become until I saw Eddie, Shelly, Richard, Matthew, Kevin and Josh coming towards us. They remained silent as each of them placed a single pink rose on Angela's grave.

Shelly's words said it all as she placed her rose on the ground in front of the grave stone, "Thank you for giving us your Michael."

Our run that morning was just a brisk walk. As we accompanied the youngsters back to their homes, I listened while each of them reaffirmed that the plans for the rest of the day were all in place.

Three stretched white limousines arrived at the ranch at 9:30, picked up each family, and took all us to the fancy hotel where Howard and Angela had hosted our first dinner in Calgary. Once we were seated and before the wonderful brunch was served, Michael stood up.

"Normally at an occasion like this," he began with a big smile, "I'd have expected Josh to get the ball rolling, but today he said I had to start things off because it was time for me to not only remember the fond memories of the past, but to look forward and accept the future. Now my future is with all of you, but in particular with the six ladies in front of me, each one of you are a very special mother to me except of course, you Diane.... I'm faaar tooo young to be your son!" We all started to giggle at the comment.

Mom came back with a laugh, "Are you saying I'm old!"

"No," Michael replied, "You're the youngest Grandma I've ever had and you're the youngest Grandma in this room."

"I'm the only Grandma in this room!" Mom added with a laugh.

Mark stood up laughing. "Before you dig that hole any deeper Michael, you'd better sit down. I think I better take over 'cause Grandma always wins. Bryan and I lost our Mom.... sometimes when I think of the good times.... it seems like yesterday, but today with all the support we've been given by the six of you over the past two years, it was a long time ago to get to this special time. All Moms are very special, generous with their guidance, hard working preparers of food on our tables, understanding and generous with their humour when we're unhappy, but most of all we appreciate the love. To all my moms here, all I can say is thank you. We love you."

That's how we spent the next ten minutes - all of us giving our accolades to each of the ladies. It was a special time for all of the people in the room. Even Grant, Ethel, Trevor, and Debbie had a few quips to give about their parents. Trevor and Debbie's mothers were still alive and now living in assisted living centres in Burnaby.

From the hotel, the limos took all of us to the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. They were having a live re-enactment of The Sound of Music. Although it didn't really excite the boys, but the ladies did enjoy it. I suppose I'll never know how they wangled it, but the kids did get the whole row of the centre on the first balcony. The view of the stage was perfect. All the Moms of Serenity had a great time that day and all the males and Dads enjoyed giving it to them.

By the middle of May all classes and tests at the U of C were over. I was satisfied that I had aced the final exams and was just waiting for the results in the mail. I finally had my BA although it wasn't official yet. Now Robert, Andy, and I were free to work full time at the office.

The last Monday afternoon in May, on our way back from our workout and quick sandwich lunch, Robert called Bryan and I over to his station as we were heading for our offices.

Before he had a chance to say why he called us over, I asked, "Robert, overall, what's your impression of the kids?"

"From what I saw during spring break, they're good kids.... they take their work seriously. Sometimes they'll let out a grunt when something doesn't work out the way they want it to. Eddie's favourite expression is 'phooey', but Shelly seems to keep him in line. She just has to say 'Edward!' and he'll apologize. They're great kids though.... very upbeat.... they really enjoy learning. The reason I wanted to see you though, that is if you have the time sirs, is to show you a special project that Shelly has been working on. I think it's important."

"Really? I didn't know Shelly was working on a special project," I said.

"She's been doing it from home for the most part and she worked on it a little during spring break." Robert said as he rebooted his computer and signed on with Shelly's sign-on and password.

"You know her password?" Bryan asked.

"Yes sir, I asked her for it so I could make adjustments to her document if I had a quick idea. She said she doesn't mind and I only do it after hours or during lunch hour sirs. I hope that's all right."

"No problem Robert, let's have a look at this special project."

"It's only drafted up in text right now with a few jpegs, but the meat of her words are rather inspiring." As Robert brought up the content on the upper screen, he enlarged the type so Bryan and I could read it.

It was titled: "Turning the big C into the small c with HOPE"

As Bryan and I read the document, I was amazed at the content. There were some graphics that fit the words as they were scrolling passed, but although far from complete, the content was truly inspirational and I was sure it was going to become one of the great works on the web.

"Sir, the reason I wanted to show you this was because of my friend's sister who has cancer. She's the same age as Shelly and I think if I could introduce them, they would hit it off and it would do Jessica a lot of good to listen to Shelly's thoughts about the big C, as she calls it."

When I'd finished reading the document, I said, "Wow! It still needs a lot of work, but Wow!"

"Don't tell Shelly that we saw this," Bryan said. "I can tell that it's this type of work that's going to help put our corporation on the map. I think that Tom and I should approach her about it in our own way."

"I agree," I said, "maybe she intended to surprise us with it. Uh.... about your friend's sister, yes, how about if you bring your friend and her sister to the barbeque were having out at the ranch on June 22nd."

"Ummmm.... sir.... it's his sister and he's more than just being my best friend. I.... I hope that's OK."

"Of course it's OK Robert. You know we don't allow any prejudices of any kind in this office."

"Thank you sirs, I'll make sure Jessica and Travis come with me to the barbeque."

The next four weeks were a whirlwind of activity at the ranch, although the boys, Bryan, and I more or less kept out of it all. When we saw Quince on our morning runs, he assured us that everything was going along without a hitch, although he found some of the meetings with the ladies typically too feminine and full of giggles.

The big day was going to arrive all too soon, but promised to be a happy occasion for everyone.


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