Thanks to David of Hope, he has done a tremendous job on this Chapter. This chapter is mostly his work. I am greatful for his continued assistance.
Chapter 69 - Espionage, Crisis & Recovery
Air Canada had a bit of a shock when I told them that twenty of us wanted to take their flight to Montreal that morning, but somehow they found an extra plane to accommodate us for the 2 1/2-hour flight from Gander to Montreal. What we thought was going to be a brief stop over and plane change in Montreal was going to turn out to be a six-hour layover before we could get on our final leg back to Calgary.
A call to Victor was next. Victor was thrilled and told us he'd have a buffet brunch ready for us at the restaurant when we arrived. When I told him the whole family was with us, he was flabbergasted, but said he would reserve the dining area at the back of the restaurant just for us. After a few words with Michael, we ended the call. Michael got the address of the restaurant because he understood the French language and street names much better than I could.
Although we'd just had an early morning breakfast, I remembered that as we travelled west, we'd be gaining three or more hours as we went and that's how we were going to be able to arrive back in Calgary before the sun went down.
Going through Gander airport security for our group was a snap because of the circumstances that landed us there.
Once we landed in Montreal all the teens were in their element. Even before we were into the airport, Josh, Shelly, and Michael were right on target with their French language skills; Kevin and Mark were almost as fluent. They never spoke another word of English unless they had to speak to the rest of us. It still amazed me how they bounced from one language to the other.
Air Canada was very gracious once we collected our luggage. They immediately took care to have it ready to board the plane to Calgary when it departed in six hours.
The kids, even Matthew, Richard and Eddie were in on the teen's French conversation as they guided the adults to the limousine kiosk. Needless to say all the parents and adults were impressed and very proud. I did understand some words and expressions that I remembered from the tapes that we'd played on our way back to Toronto on our cross-country trip, however I was anything but fluent.
I'm sure that the man at the kiosk was completely bilingual because of the smile and wink he gave the adults as the kids prattled on in French about how many of us their were, where we wanted to go and later, when we had to be back to the airport. In the end, all I had to do was present our business credit card before he introduced us to our driver. It was a small coach, yet very comfortable.
It seemed like no time until we turned onto Notre-Dame Est in Old Montréal and the coach came to a stop at the curb in front of what appeared to be the small restaurant, 'Lé Connoisseur.' We all recognized Victor standing outside the entrance with his arm around a young teen, both with big smiles.
Michael was the first to run to the front of the coach and be the first person off to give his uncle a hug. As Victor gave each of us a hug, he proudly introduced us to François, his foster son.
I was astounded. "Victor, you never told us you had fostered a son."
"It happened shortly after I got back from my visit with you. I'll tell you all about it during brunch. Come inside everyone, we have a table set up for you at the back of the restaurant."
Although the storefront of the restaurant wasn't overly wide, as we entered the main dining area, it became a very expansive establishment. As Victor led us in single file to the back of the restaurant, looking from side to side, I realized that three buildings that had been merged into one, but had still maintained the single storefront appearance common to the other businesses on the street. It was huge, elegantly decorated with a quiet ambiance - and well patronized by many customers.
As we passed the buffet table that stretched from one side of the restaurant to the other, I was overwhelmed at the amount of food displayed, as were the rest of our family with a number of 'ooo's and ahh's'. I could just imagine Mark making a left turn as we passed it, so I said, "Eyes front Mark, Josh, Michael."
Just passed the buffet table and a folding screen, we entered a huge area with a long table where Victor urged us to seat with the teens and kids at one end and the adults at the other. Victor stood at the adult end of the table and introduced us to the man now standing beside him.
"Ladies and gentlemen, my friends, my family," he began, "I am proud to introduce you to my partner in business and in my life, Jacques Préveau and once again, our wonderful son at the other end of the table, François."
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am so happy to meet all of you at last," Jacques began. He definitely had a detectable French accent. "From Victor's description of his short visit with you last January in Calgary, I know I am among good friends. I know that your time with us is short and that you have to leave here in less than three hours to be able to catch your plane home, so if you will please file this way to the buffet table, we can visit while we eat."
As each of us passed by Jacques on our way to the buffet table, he made it a point to kiss the ladies on each cheek and shake hands with each of the men and boys. His genuine smile was unending.
For a brunch, there was an amazing choice of dishes - everything you could want for breakfast and everything you could want for lunch. The shrimp dishes didn't stand a chance with Mark and Josh.
Once back at the table our dishes filled with extraordinary portions of some food I didn't recognize, however they certainly looked interesting. Bryan was in his element, as he tasted each and every morsel constantly wondering how he could duplicate the flavour in our kitchen.
"François seems like such a happy boy," Anne said.
"He is today, but its been a hard road for him," Victor said. "Jacques saw him in the back alley rummaging through the garbage one night after closing last January and after a bit of a struggle, got him into the restaurant. He was quite gaunt, rather dirty and smelly and once we had a full meal in him, he wanted to leave. We said no to that.... not until he had a hot bath and we had washed his clothes. Our apartment is upstairs and it's quite spacious.... the same size as the restaurant. Then we fed him again and he zonked out at midnight. I carried him into the spare bedroom and tucked him in. In the morning he said he had to leave and we said not until he'd had breakfast. Then we had a long talk with him. His parents had abandoned him.... quite literally. His name is actually François LéBlanc. Seven months earlier, he had woke up one Saturday morning a bit later than usual and his parents were gone. They'd been there to say goodnight at 10:00 PM, so François thought they'd gone shopping that morning. He was there by himself until the end of the month when the landlord came to the door and wanted the rent for the past month and when nothing was forthcoming, François was kicked out on the street. He'd been on the street for six months and believe me that was a very cold January night when we took him in. We enrolled him back in school and he's very smart.... with an inclination towards music. He plays the violin very well for a boy of thirteen years. We hired a private detective to search for his parents and he came up with nothing. We checked with the police ourselves just to make sure the detective wasn't scamming us, and it was true.... there wasn't any record about his parents since the time of their disappearance. The search has since been turned over to the RCMP and even Interpol has been in on the act. Still nothing. To François' knowledge, he has no aunts or uncles. The police have even checked that out across Canada and in France as well."
"What about children services?" Andy asked.
"The first three months were very rough on François because of children services," Jacques said. "Once we went to the police to do our checking, the police were obligated to contact children services and they immediately wanted to take the poor tyke into custody and put him into the system. We'd already hired a lawyer friend that dealt with family services and he already had a court date made for François and us to appear, however in the meantime, children services were at our door once a week to harass us and drill François about the treatment he was getting plus his room and our bedroom had to be inspected on every visit. On the court date it was ludicrous the way the childrens services legal team behaved. Naturally the gay thing entered into it, which seemed to demean their case in the judge's eyes. Finally the judge had a private interview with François, then another with the children services legal guy and a third one with Victor and I. We answered his questions honestly regardless of how personal they were.... right down to how often we had sex together. Our lawyer was sitting on pins and needles when we came out of the judge's chambers and François was agitated as well. When the judge came back into the courtroom, he went to his seat on the dais, leaned back and with his hand on his chin, he looked from our table to the children services legal at the other side and then back to us. He actually looked rather stern and scary. Finally he sat up erect in his chair and looked directly at me, then Victor, then François, then over to the children services table and gave him a prolonged stare. He pointed to the guy and simply said, 'Don't say another word in my courtroom.' He continued pointing and staring for another five seconds to bring his point home. He turned back to us and said, 'François, you told me that you love the gentlemen that you're living with.' I was shocked when François said, 'Yes sir.' Victor and I had been careful not to express our love for him because we didn't know how temporary our situation with him would be, but we certainly had grown to love him. The judge said, 'Then I'd suggest you call them your Papas. Gentlemen,' he said, 'this case will be revisited in three months, but not by children services. I will be the one that visits you.' He adjourned and that was it. We hugged François and he's called us Papa ever since."
"The judge and his family are good patrons of our restaurant as well," Victor added.
Andy laughed. "That must have been a very interesting interview François had with the judge."
"He hasn't told us and we don't ask," Victor said. "François, come here for a moment son."
"Oui Papa," François called from the other end of the table.
Once he came to our end of the table, Victor put his arm around his waist. "François tell these people what you prefer to play on the violin."
Right away I noticed the sparkle in his eyes and his smile. Proudly, he said, "I like the classics mostly.... my favourite hymn is Avé Maria, and sometimes I get down and dirty with Catcher in the Rye," he giggled, "but my Papas don't like me to do that."
"François," I asked, "You're bilingual?"
"Yes sir.... aren't all Canadians?" His smile was contagious.
I shook my head and he pointed, slowly shaking his head and his finger at me. It was obvious he was very comfortable and happy young teenager.
"Alright little scamp," Jacques said with a laugh, "go back to the end of the table and entertain your guests."
Naturally our group of youngsters had been back to the buffet table more then once, but one trip was more than enough for the adults. As we told our hosts about the advances we'd made with our thriving business, we started comparing notes on how this restaurant business had started and how it came to be the success it was today. For Bryan and me, it was inspiring to reinforce the thoughts we had about happy employees and the value of any company is tied up not only in the employees' talent, but in the way we treat them.
Our stay with Victor, Jacques and François was all to short. No one wanted to leave, but we did have a schedule to meet.
We arrived back at the airport just in time for everyone to have trip to the washroom before we entered the secure area. No doubt about, all of us were suffering from jet lag and full meals in our stomachs, and I think everyone snoozed throughout most of the flight back to Calgary.
We were coming close to our final approach when I woke up.
"Back to work tomorrow," I said as we looked out the window seeing our office building below on our final approach to the airport. It sure had been a long day and a full week filled with emotion, accomplishment, and meaningful fun.
We touched down at 7:30 Sunday and as soon as we entered the airport we became aware of all the Calgary Stampede hoopla. Everyone seemed to be wearing a Stetson and western wear. Less than an hour later the parade of limousines were pulling through the gate to Serenity. We were no sooner out of the car than three very happy dogs swarmed us.
"Welcome home gentlemen," Quince said with a big smile. "As you can see nothing much has changed around here. The dogs missed you, but we kept them entertained as much as we could for the week. Today I took them into town and got some fresh milk and bread for everyone."
"Quince, you think of everything. We can't thank you enough for looking after all the details," I said as we headed into the main house with all of our luggage.
We hardly had time to unpack before it was bedtime. As we tucked them in that night, the boys were really appreciative that we had the stop over in Montreal. Michael of course was very happy and thankful that he'd had a chance to visit with Victor again and they were looking forward to another visit in the future.
Monday morning, our first day back to work after the one-week shut down, everyone came back to the office refreshed and raring to go again. However, some of our extended family were still suffering from a bit of jet lag. They hadn't gone for a run like the boys and I had that morning.
As we were driving around the building, we could see that the contractor had already started to excavate the foundations for the underground fuel tanks and the new generator building. I made a mental note that Grant or I would have to send out an email to explain to all the staff the nature of the work.
Gerald Morrison called me to say that he was very impressed with the attitudes and work ethic of Travis Enderbeck and that he would be starting work in our building tomorrow. Travis still had some routine research projects to explain to Linda.
Bryan and I had just enjoyed our usual noon time workout in the gym with Robert and the kids from the horseshoe. Michael and Kevin were great coaching Eddie and the twins - gearing their workout to their age and strength. Josh enjoyed spotting for Shelly as she went through her workout on the weights, just as Michael and Mark did for each other.
Robert, Bryan, and I kept our eyes on them as we grunted through our routines. Although it was only a half-hour workout for everyone, they enjoyed it immensely. Most of us found it quite refreshing after all the travelling we'd done last week.
We timed our lunch hours quickly - a few minutes to get into our workout clothes, hit the gym for a half-hour and then a quick shower for everyone before we raced to the restaurant to grab a quick sandwich and a drink. As it was today, and I figured it would be sometimes in the future, we might be a bit late and would have to eat our sandwiches at our work stations or our desks, but we wanted to set the example to all the employees of the importance of being back to work at our desks on time.
I'd just made a fresh pot of coffee and was busy reviewing our financial statements on the computer while it brewed. During the last six months, we were just at a break-even point at least as far as covering the wages and overhead were concerned. Profit - well that was going to take a bit longer, but none of the family members, including me were worried anymore; we still had an amazing bank roll to nibble at - and our sales were increasing.
I heard Weston's voice at Bryan's door just before the two of them came into my office. Weston suspiciously closed the door to my office before he and Bryan sat in the chairs across from my desk.
"What's up guys?" I asked smiling.
Bryan just tilted his head quizzically toward Weston, who said, "Tom, Bryan, we have a problem."
"Must be serious Weston, you closed the door," I commented.
"Very serious," he replied, "I got a call from CSIS less than five minutes ago. They should be here within the hour. Apparently, someone has been breaking into their classified databases. As soon as they saw the leak, they started a new database with new encryption, but left the old one open and filled it with non-classified data so they could find out who the intruder was. The name they gave me was.... Josh Chambers."
I wanted to scream, but both Bryan and I came out with an astonished whisper. "WHAT!?"
"They said that while he was probing their database, they were able to do a reverse feed and they also found out that the name was registered to a Dell computer under Davis-Callahan. That would make it his laptop. Aside from the Macs, all the desktop computers are HP's."
I was too astonished to believe the evidence that Weston was portraying. I picked up my phone and dialed Josh's number.
"Hi Dad," he answered cheerfully.
I chose my words carefully. "Josh, yes or no, is your laptop nearby?"
"Yes," he replied.
"Josh, do NOT say ANYTHING to anyone. Pick up your laptop and come to my office immediately. Use the atrium concourse." I hung up the phone and shook my head. "He wouldn't do anything like this deliberately."
"I KNOW he wouldn't," Bryan agreed.
The three of us sat there grim-faced until Josh opened the door to my office - he looked bewildered as the three of us stood up.
"Hi Dad..." he said quietly, "you sounded pretty serious. What's up?"
Bryan went over and closed the door, then closed the blinds to the windows that faced the programming area.
I pointed my finger toward him and asked seriously, "Sit down Josh.... is that your laptop?"
"Yeee-aah?" he replied hesitantly.
"May I see it please?" Weston asked.
Josh nodded, his face full of bewilderment as he handed the laptop to Weston, who immediately opened it, and holding it in one arm, started typing with his free hand.
"Josh, when was the last time you used this laptop?" Weston asked.
"I guess it would be two weeks.... no.... more like three weeks.... because I had to get my act together for the citizenship oath, but I used my home computer to get that off the Canada site so I'd be familiar with it. I.... I haven't used it since I came to work in the office."
"Tom, may I?" Weston asked as he gestured toward my desktop.
I nodded and moved out of the way so Weston could take my seat. Bryan and I stood behind him.
"Can I close that?" Weston asked referring to the financial ledger I'd been studying. I nodded and he immediately closed all the files and rebooted my computer. While it was starting up again, he returned to the laptop and quickly perused the files, but I had no idea what he was looking for. Then he turned back to my computer that was waiting for a sign-on password. I watched as he wiped out my name and typed in his own together with his password. His fingers were working in a flurry as he went from one server to another - deeper and deeper into the main frame system. Finally, he came to a list and started scrolling down.
From the movement of the cursor, he seemed to be concentrating on one line of text. I saw Josh's name on that line. He looked back at the laptop, studied the screen for a moment, then closed it. Turning the laptop over, he went to the bottom and looked at the Callahan-Davis registration number that he had put on all the company's computers. He let out a big sigh.
"Josh, have you ever been to a CSIS or RCMP website?" Weston asked smiling as he went down the list of numbers on my screen.
"Uh.... no.... I haven't," Josh answered, "but now that you mention it, I'll bet the RCMP would have a lot of good things to look at.... the musical ride.... their headquarters in Saskatoon.... you know."
"Well Josh," Weston said as he slowly scrolled the list concentrating on the numbers. "I have some bad news and I think I have some good news. The bad news is that your laptop computer has been used for breaking into a secure CSIS database and the RCMP are on their way over here right now to arrest you."
"WHAT?" Josh yelled as he stood up and ran over to me. "DAD! I never did anything like that.... ever," he said as he put his hand on my shoulder. "I.... I wouldn't know how!"
I gave his shoulder a squeeze of assurance. "I know you wouldn't son."
"Tom, Bryan.... look at this." Weston said as he held the laptop bottom beside my desktop screen. "Josh," he continued, "the good news is.... that this laptop computer you handed me, is not yours."
Bryan and I studied the number on the back of the laptop and the number showing on the screen of my desktop HP and the name that Weston was circling with the cursor.
"That son-of-a-bitch!" Bryan exclaimed.
I let out a sigh of relief, released Josh, picked up my phone, and dialed Grant's cell phone.
"Hi Tom," he answered.
"Are you in the office?" I asked.
"Yeah, just getting caught up on some paper work."
"Grant, don't panic, but this IS urgent. Go down the first floor corridor, come up the back stairs and come into my office immediately. The fewer people to see you the better."
"Gotcha," he replied. The line went dead.
"Sorry Tom, I suppose I should have brought Grant with me to save time." Weston said.
"Not to worry Weston, we'll make time," I replied.
I went to my office door and opened it half way and stood there waiting for Grant.
Bryan came up behind me. Quietly he said, "I don't want anyone to get hurt with this.... how about a fire drill?"
"Good thought, but let's see what Grant says," I said quietly as Grant approached the door. I opened it wide and closed it behind him.
"Grant," Bryan began, "We're pretty damned sure that Ralph Grayson has switched laptops with Josh and has been using Josh's laptop to break into classified CSIS databases."
"The RCMP are on their way here right now," Weston added.
"If Grayson's guilty, he'll run as soon as he sees them," Grant said.
"Or worse," I agreed. "We don't know if he's armed and dangerous. Bryan suggested we have a fire drill to clear everyone out of here."
"No, I don't think so.... that's a sure escape route for him," Grant said. "I can take him down singly, but I need the element of surprise and it has to be done NOW. I need someone to divert his attention.... I can't use any of you.... he'd know something was up. I'm going to use Robert.... I know he can handle himself."
I dialed Robert's phone and handed it to Grant. "Robert," Grant said into the phone. "Don't say a thing. Ralph Grayson has implicated Josh in some federal criminal activity and I have to take him down. I want you to go over to Ralph's station and divert his attention to something outside. I'll be right there."
I hung up the phone as Grant spoke into a small lapel mike. "Concentrate your efforts on the programming area," he said as he opened the door to my office.
We watched as Grant went from my office towards the hallway between the conference rooms, then disappear into the horseshoe. The next twenty seconds seemed endless as we waited, then we heard Ralph Grayson shout, "WHAT THE HELL?"
"DON'T STRUGGLE GRAYSON OR I'LL BREAK YOUR ARM!" I heard Grant's shout. "It's OK folks, Ralphy and the boss just have a little business to discuss. ROBERT.... bring his laptop."
Ten seconds later, we saw the towering figure of Grant holding the scruff of Ralph's shirt and pants, almost lifting Ralph off the floor as Grant shoved Ralph toward my office followed by Robert with a laptop in hand and many of the staff, including all the kids from the horseshoe.
"Josh," I said quietly, "Don't get angry or say anything.... let's just wait and see what he says."
Once through the door, I noticed that Grant had Ralph's hands already handcuffed behind him as Grant threw him into the vacant chair in front of my desk. Grant pulled out his cell phone and dialed. "Lynne, as soon as the RCMP show up, send them up to Tom Davis' office..... Good!" He snapped his phone shut, then turning to me, he said, "They're on their way up." Grant bodily swung Ralph and the chair around, so he was facing Bryan and I. Grant knelt down so that he was at eye level and within a foot of Ralph's face. "Why?" he snarled.
"WHY WHAT?" Ralph questioned in return.
"Why would you switch laptops with Josh? Why would you use it to break into the classified files of the CSIS.... but more important, who else are you working with?" Grant asked.
"I did no such thing!" Ralph snarled back. "Prove it! You can't!"
Two strangers moved their way through the crowd outside the door and into my office. They introduced themselves and showed us their identity - one was Sergeant Wilson and the other Corporal Jensen.
"Robert, is that the laptop you took from Ralph's desk?" Weston asked.
"Yes sir," Robert replied as he handed the laptop to Weston.
Weston motioned to the two plain-clothed RCMP officers along with a third gentlemen who I assumed was probably a CSIS agent. "Gentlemen, less than a half-hour ago, three of us witnessed Josh Chambers bring that laptop into this office," he began as he indicated the laptop sitting on my desk. "I checked the content and nothing has been entered into that computer since June 20th. I checked that laptop's inventory sticker and it's encryption coding. It's been registered to Ralph Grayson here. If you'll allow me to check the inventory sticker on this laptop I'm holding, the one we just took from Grayson's desk, I'll bet we'll find that it was issued to Josh Chambers. I'll leave it up to you to check the content."
"Sergeant, let me show you something," Weston continued as he returned to the seat at my desktop and showed them the identifier on the screen for Josh's computer. "One more thing I want to show you," Weston said as he picked up Ralph's laptop. With the screen tilted just to the two of them, he explained, "I have an encryption code that I use for all the computers for the company, so that at any time I know which computer I'm dealing with when I set up selected permissions for an individual's access to our main frame. I'm sure you used that encryption to identify it as Josh's laptop." With that, Weston again ran his flurry of activity over my computer keyboard. "There you go.... you can see his name and what accesses he has to the main frame. Actually, he has more access than Josh had on his machine. I'll give you a copy of the code and you can have access to all the files on both laptops."
"You're clever Mr. Laing, but that won't be necessary, CSIS was already able to decipher the encryption," the Sergeant said, "Considering the trouble they had breaking it, you're good and we could use you."
"Let's just say I'm very careful Sergeant.... things under my control have to work right," Weston replied.
"That doesn't prove a thing!" Ralph exclaimed. "It just means that sucky boy over there switched the stickers. I ain't saying anything until I talk to my lawyer."
Immediately, I took his comment about Josh to heart. "What did you say?" I seethed as I held my fist to his face.
"You heard me!" Grayson retorted.
"WHY ME?" Josh shouted standing behind Ralph.
"YOU!" Ralph shouted. "Everyone around here thinks you're shit-hot because you gave that speech at the wedding and you got a medal that let you give a bunch of ugly, useless, nondescript foreigners the right to be Canadians! Well asshole, you're a phony and that medal you got is just as phony! You don't know what it takes to be a good patriot. You haven't got what it takes to save anyone's life. You're nothing but a spoiled rotten brat with shit for brains! You're just as bad as those-"
Neither Bryan nor I had ever been that angry before and we both swung at the same time and landed a blow right to Grayson's six-pack. My fist and knuckles stung like hell as I pulled my fist back. Bryan had the same shocked look when we stared at each other. We'd hit something solid - and it certainly wasn't muscle.
Immediately, our stare jerked back to Grayson, then down to his stomach where we'd struck. Something was sparking and smoking under his shirt.
"SHUT THAT DOOR!" Sergeant Wilson yelled as Grant ran for my coffee carafe. Within seconds Grant had pulled back Grayson's head with a tug on his hair, flipped open the coffee carafe lid and started pouring the hot coffee all down the front of Grayson's stomach who bellowed with blood curdling screams. The coffee was hot, but so was whatever was sizzling under his shirt. It sure made a mess of his clothes and I could only imagine the pain in his crotch.
As soon as Grant had emptied the carafe, I grabbed the back of Grayson's neck and forced him to the floor on his stomach. With Bryan's foot on the small of his back, the sergeant grabbed his hair and jerked his head up and yelled, "WHAT IS THAT THING?"
"A.... a.... tracker..." he squeaked through the pain.
"BULLSHIT!" the sergeant yelled. Get this building emptied NOW!"
"Five people to the daycare immediately!" Grant said firmly into his lapel mike.
Bryan ran out the door and yelled, "Vacate the building NOW!" as he pushed his way through the crowd. Within moments, I heard the fire alarm clanging away as we rolled Grayson onto his back. With some care and attention, the sergeant rolled Grayson's shirt up to his neck. We stared quietly at the board taped to Grayson's reddened stomach from every angle. There was no activity, but there were scorch marks and the definite odour of burning wire. I was pretty sure that it wasn't just a tracker.
"Jensen, call the bomb squad. We need them here ASAP!" the sergeant exclaimed as Bryan came back into my office.
"IT isn't a bomb..... fuck! He.... he told me it was just a tracker." Grayson whimpered through his pain.
"Who is HE?" Josh shouted. Suddenly I realized that Josh's life was in danger.
"Josh! Get to hell out of here!" I exclaimed.
"Not until he tells us who HE'S working for Dad." Josh replied.
"ANSWER HIM!" the sergeant yelled.
"All I know is that his name is Danny. I meet him downtown in one of the back alleys north of Centre Street."
Just then, Harold Stemming barged into my office. "Where's the fire?"
"No fire Harold, just a bit of a security problem." Bryan said.
Harold pulled out his cell phone and called the fire department and told them that it was a false alarm while we overheard Corporal Jensen speak into his phone, "It's more than just a tracking device.... it sizzled and popped until we poured some hot coffee on it. That seemed to kill it." After a moment, he ended the call with, "OK, will do." Then turning to Sergeant Wilson he said, "We gotta move him into the washroom.... it's probably more structurally sound and can contain an explosion better than this open office area. Bomb squad will be here in five minutes."
"OK," the sergeant replied as he started to take off his business suit jacket and shirt, "but first stand him up. Mr. Brown, would you take your cuffs off him. Sorry fella, but it sounds like you weren't suppose to survive that blow to the stomach."
We watched carefully with a smile as the Sergeant Wilson quickly took off his bullet-proof vest that he wore under his shirt and placed it over Ralph's head, then snugged it into his body. "There, that'll help cushion the blow if that thing blows up."
"Whoa! Definitely a security problem!" Harold exclaimed.
Ralph started shaking uncontrollably from fear as he realized the life-threatening reality while they dragged him into the men's washroom.
"OK guys," Grant said, "let's join the crowd outside and leave these guys here to do their job."
"Damn good idea!" Bryan replied.
From behind us, the voice of Corporal Jensen called out. "Hey gentlemen, hold on there." Once he caught up to us, he asked, "Would anyone here have a shirt and a pair of pants that we could dress Grayson in? We're going to set up a meeting with his contact and he needs to look reasonably well dressed."
"No problem," I answered, "he's about my size, and I keep a business outfit in my closet. Let's go get them. I'll meet you guys at the front door."
Once Corporal Jensen left with the two laptops and clothes for Grayson, I made a bee-line down the back stairs and met up with the others, including a group of security people from the monitoring room in front of Grant's office. I glanced toward the front entrance where a fire engine was parked.
"OK guys, you can go back to your stations," Grant said to the security group. Then turning to the rest of us, he said, "The bomb squad just went up in the elevator. All the kids from the daycare are safe and sound outside. Their parents are with them."
Weston motioned me over to him and Bryan.
"From my point of view, I can't believe that Grayson was so stupid," Weston began, "I've had a number of talks with him and he knows how thorough I am. I don't know how he thought he would be able to get away with this. I had been thinking that he would be better for the company in the IT department. Anyway, once they have Grayson out of the building, Barbara and I are going to have to start re-encrypting all the computers with a new access code. We can't have something like this loose in the system now that the existing code's been revealed to the RCMP. I'd like to get started right away so Barbara and I can have at least a few hours sleep tonight. Would it be possible to send everyone home early?"
"Sure that's no problem, but we'll have to do all the laptops as well. What can Bryan and I do to help?" I asked.
"Well with the four of us chugging at it, we could be done by midnight if we can get started in the next hour."
"Mr. Laing, may I help?" Robert asked.
Weston looked at Bryan and I. I nodded. "You know he's a good worker," Bryan added.
"Hey don't forget about me," Josh said, "I'm sure if you can make it simple enough, Shelly, Mark, Michael, Kevin, and I could help too."
Bryan and I smiled. "What about it Weston.... can the ten of us get the job done any easier?"
"Sure would make it a lot faster. Might get out of here by eight tonight then." Weston replied with a smile.
"Sounds like you guys will want the restaurant to stay open a bit later than usual. I'll see to it." Harold said.
"Harold, do you have any megaphones or a PA system rigged up so we can let everyone know while they're still outside," Bryan asked.
"Gotcha.... I'll get everyone gathered out back around the loading dock." Harold said as he went out the front door.
"OK, everyone's got phone calls to make to let others know that we'll be working late, but for God's sake don't let it be known the reason why we're working late. This business with Grayson has got to be kept secret." I said as everyone reached for their cell phones.
Just then the four RCMP officers came off the elevator with Ralph Grayson. The bomb squad was carrying all their gear and headed for the door while Jensen and Wilson brought Ralph over to us.
"The boys said that thing should have gone off.... it was a small charge, but the coffee did the trick," Sergeant Wilson said, "Nonetheless they took the charge off the board and we've taped the board back on him. He's going to cooperate and we'll get to the bottom of this. We're off to meet his contact. We put our own bug on him. It seems we have a case where some over zealous people have misinterpreted the ideals of their religious teachings and had a bad influence on Grayson here."
"Keep Grant informed, will you?" I asked.
"For sure." Wilson replied.
"Ralph, did you mean what you said?" Josh asked.
"I thought I did," Ralph replied just above a whisper, "but the Sergeant made me realize that they taught me what to think. Now I know I was just being used.... a.... an expendable."
"Now that you know that, maybe there's some hope for you." Josh said with a smile.
"Sorry about the coffee," Grant said.
"It sure as hell hurts, but it saved my life," Ralph replied with a solemn edge to his voice.
"Ralph.... once you're finished with all this matter.... however long it takes, come back and see me," Bryan said.
"Come on Grayson, we've got a date with Danny." Wilson said as he ushered Ralph towards the front door and their vehicle.
"I called all the guys in the horseshoe," Josh said, "and they all want to help. I think it might be a bit too advanced for Eddie and the twins so I didn't include them."
"Well done son. I'm sure the help will be appreciated," I said.
"I called the ranch and told the security folks to be on the alert," Grant said. "I've also called in a number of others to be in and around the building for the rest of the day."
"I hope it isn't necessary Grant, but I guess it's better to be safe than sorry," I said.
"OK gents, I have to get busy and write some new code and put it on discs so you can add it to all the computers," Weston said as he went into Darren and Grant's security office, then through his own door into the file server office.
"I guess we better get out back and see if we can calm the crowd," I said. As we made our way through the building, I asked Bryan, "Would you hire him back here?"
"Probably not," Bryan replied, "but I took my cue from Josh.... maybe with a lot of hope for the future he can turn the corner and make something out of the rest of his life." I had to agree, if Ralph could realize the value of his talents, there was some hope for him.
When we arrived on the loading dock, as promised, Harold had everyone assembled near by. As he handed me the megaphone, he said quietly, "I haven't told them a thing of what happened."
I nodded and took the megaphone and pushed the beep button to get everyone's attention before I spoke. "I have good news.... the fire is out and there was no property damage except for a coffee stain on the carpet in my office." With a giggle, I added, "Fright can do that to a person. The only casualty of this incident was one of the programmers and I assure you that he will recover. The other casualty was a bit of damage to our server and the computer system, so while that's being repaired this afternoon, all of you will have the rest of the day off, with pay of course. It's a nice day to go for a swim. If you must, you can go back into the building and collect whatever personal things you may need, but I insist that you leave your laptop computers on your desks AND DO NOT touch your desktop computers. If you have a document open, we'll save it before we start work on your hard drives. We'll have to reprogram a bit of code into them before you return to work in the morning. Enjoy the afternoon."
Half of the employees went into the building and the rest headed for their cars in the parking lot, except for the kids from the horseshoe, James, Andy and the rest of our extended family. Andy pulled on my sleeve away from the others and quietly said, "I'm your brother and I know when your lying. It wasn't a fire was it?"
"Andy, the fewer people that know the truth right now, the better," I answered honestly. "In this case, the truth could get Ralph Grayson killed. I'll tell you more when I can." Turning back to the rest of the family, I said, "Matthew, Richard, will you do us a big favor and go home with your Mom and Dad and spend the afternoon with Eddie."
"Are you sure we can't help?" Richard asked. "Eddie's a real whiz with the programs you know."
"I know he is Richard, but once we're finished, I'll bet all you guys are going to be whizzes at the computers," I answered. "Trevor.... we're going to need the help of Shelly and the rest of the teenagers with the computers. We should be home by eight or nine tonight."
"How about you guys.... how safe are you going to be?" James asked.
"Everyone's safe here at the building now that Grayson's gone. The RCMP are going to keep us up to date on the progress of what's happening from their end. Besides, we'll have Grant and his crew hanging around here."
"His crew? Where the hell did all those security people come from so quickly?" James asked.
"Their presence wasn't to be known James," I replied. "I'll explain when we get home."
James looked suspiciously out the corner of his eye before he went to Anne, took Timmy into his arms as they headed back into the building and down to the underground parking garage.
As soon as we were sure that the building had been cleared, security locked it up and stood nearby our group. Together with the teens from the horseshoe, Bryan and I gathered outside the security office for a few minutes until Weston came out holding a bunch of paper and a number of discs.
"OK boys and girls, let's start on the third floor at the horseshoe," Weston began. "We'll start with Robert's machine and I'll explain the step-by-step process. It's going to be a busy time.... it's a big job.... we have 212 desktop computers and over a hundred laptops to do."
As we went up the elevator, Weston handed each of us a disc, a sheet with peel-and-stick red dots all over it and a piece of paper that appeared to have the instructions well laid out, starting with 'save the existing document to the desktop, then reboot the computer using the sign-on 'xxwww' and password '1212'.
"Just so you know," Weston commented, "Before I go home tonight, I'll be changing that sign on and password when we finish this exercise."
At Robert's station at the horseshoe, he flipped the image to the upper monitor so all us could see what he was doing as we stood there. Step-by-step, he went through the procedure as listed on the instruction sheet - where to find the existing code, then insert the disc, delete the existing code and copy and insert the new code from the disc, and then he closed all the windows, signed off and rebooted the computer leaving the screen open.
"The final step is the most important," Weston ended, "take one of those red sticky dots and place it front and centre on the top frame of the monitor. Then you'll know that computer is done and you don't have to visit it again. It will tell me too, that the computer is done and I can come back, check it, send the message down to the server that Barbara is monitoring, and encrypt the assignment code to the server. It's a bit more complicated than that, but it's an easy way of explaining it. Then I'll put a green dot on the monitor frame and shut it down. Any questions?"
"We can skip the first step if the computer's shut down already, right?" Shelly asked.
"That's right Shelly, we know that a few of the staff may not be here today." Weston replied.
"How about the laptops?" Mark asked.
"Leave the laptops to me," Weston explained, "I'll hook them into the main frame and add the new encryption. Barbara's going to give them priority. I'd like it if we'd all start in the same quadrant of the building starting with the one outside Tom and Bryan's offices. Finish that quadrant, then we'll look after this quadrant, then the two quadrants on the other side of the building. It'll make it a lot easier for Barbara down at the servers. Robert, you can finish the horseshoe.... Tom, Bryan, you can start with your own machines. OK?"
"Piece of cake," I said with a grin, confident and amazed that Weston had complete control of the situation.
With that we all dispersed to the first quadrant followed by five security people who continued to swarm nearby. It felt odd as I worked on my own computer - suddenly I wasn't using it for my purpose and it seemed as if I was working at a stranger's computer. Following the procedure that Weston had detailed, it was easy. When I read the new encryption, I realized the safety measures that he'd taken to ensure the secrecy of our work, but I hadn't read the old encryption to see what had been added. Meanwhile, Weston was working on my laptop, not that I had ever used it at work. When I finished placing a red dot on my computer, I saw a red and green dot on my laptop.
I went outside and found a triangular set of workstations to work on. This time I read and understood the old encryption and was very pleased with the new stop-gap that Weston had included in his new encryption. Each of the kids and Bryan were working on one of the three computers at a pod. Before long, Weston joined us and was jumping from station to station, adding his thing to the computers, shutting it down, and adding a green dot. With a final check of dots on all the computers in the quadrant, we moved onto the next quadrant. Weston chose to start with Ralph Grayson's computer, which was understandable. The kids were busy, each with a triangular pod of their own. Bryan, and I, each chose a pod. It didn't take too long to finish a pod and Bryan and I moved into the offices at the end of the quadrant. I was in Susan's office and I didn't see her laptop anywhere around. Maybe it was at home and I'd have to check tonight and bring it in tomorrow.
Before we left the quadrant we waited while Weston did a final check to see that each computer had a green and red dot and had been shut down.
By suppertime we'd finished everything on the third floor and headed to the restaurant. The dinners that the restaurant prepared for us were delicious. We had a choice of a hot chicken or hot beef dinner, both served with dinner rolls, salads, and a light dessert.
"What are the arrangements for the bill?" I asked Harold.
"They'll give it to me tomorrow and I'll settle up with Gretta then," he replied.
Barbara looked absolutely bushed as she joined us. "This is more tedious than when we first set-up the Intranet system," she began. "With the initial set-up we took days to set up each quadrant and get them on line, but doing this all in one afternoon is a lot of concentration."
"It's rather easy at our end," Kevin said, "we just follow the instructions you guys printed out and away we go."
"Yes, but you guys are doing a great job," Weston said, "you're saving Barbara and I a lot of grunt work that would have taken us until probably four this morning without your help. What surprises me most of all is the fact that you youngsters have taken on the task with such maturity. Each of you are concentrating on the task at hand without any chit-chat back and forth. Tomorrow, I'm sure that there will probably a number of calls to our IT area asking for help getting their computers up and running again because they can't find something, so if I may, I'd like to borrow Robert to field calls on the floor and nurse the inexperienced users through their little glitches. It won't be the programmers, but it could be some of the ladies in the other departments."
"OK by me Mr. Laing," Robert replied.
"I'm sure we can spare Robert for a day," Bryan replied.
"Good," Weston said. "Josh, I'll have a new laptop for you on Thursday. I'll fill it with the same things you had from the server backup."
"No rush Weston," Josh replied. "I hardly ever use it now that we're working here."
"Why is all this encryption necessary Weston?" Michael asked.
"Actually Michael," Weston replied, "the encryption that was on the file server was doing a great job to alert us to employees going to non-work related internet sites that could be deemed illegal. Other sites that weren't work related that employees visited during their lunch hours that were related to maybe a hobby they had were OK, but we still know about them, such as Shelly's study of her set-up for her New Hope website. The new encryption though has another feature that includes any outgoing messages that may include a line of code that maybe considered confidential. It'll be stopped at the server, or in the case of the laptops, by the computer itself. I'm sure that Tom or Bryan know the line of code I'm talking about if they read the coding in the new encryption. There's also a bit of extra code for anyone that may want to hack into our system."
"It's a neat piece of work Weston and I'll bet that nothing like what happened with Josh's laptop will ever happen again," I said. "By the way, I couldn't find Susan's laptop in her office, but I'll check out her house tonight and see if I can find it."
"The same may be true of anyone else that was booked off sick," Bryan added.
"Yes, I'll keep a list of the missing laptops and issue an email to scramble all sign-off and sign-on abilities.... kinda like the 'I Love You' virus." Weston replied. "Once they open their laptop, it will freeze and hang up until I have a chance to undo the scramble and insert the new encryption."
"I'm sure glad you're on our side," Josh said.
"Will you have to do the computers in the Security Office?" Grant asked.
"Well actually n...." Weston paused with a stunned look on his face. "My God, I hope not," he continued with a bewildered look. "Grant, you and I are going to have to check out the wiring at the back of the servers when we finish here. I'm just wondering.... is there a cross-connection between your server and the programming server.... it would have to have been done in the initial installation. That might be how Ralph was able to wiggle into the RCMP databases."
"Well my first instinct is to say Holy Crap," Grant said, "but let's not try to conquer fear with fear. The ramifications could have been more serious, but they weren't and if we can correct it now, all is good."
"How about if all of us go for a ten-minute walk around the building to get some fresh air before we tackle the second floor?" Bryan suggested.
"Good idea," Barbara exclaimed. "I haven't seen the light of day since this morning."
"Walk?" Mark questioned. "How about a trot?"
"Run if you like," Barbara replied. "I'm going to enjoy as much of this ten-minute break as I can with a stroll."
While Grant and Weston went to the IT room to check out the servers, we came outside to the sidewalk, accompanied by a few plain clothed security men, Kevin, Mark and Michael warmed up with a quick walk and then a slow trot. Robert, Josh, Bryan, and I were right behind them.
Barbara and Shelley, accompanied by a security man, were enjoying their stroll far behind us.
At about the halfway point around the building, Kevin, Mark and Michael broke into a run and we stayed right with them. As we approached the main entrance, I'd have expected the three of them to start their cool down with a trot, but they decided to keep going around again. Undaunted, we stayed with them. At about 3/4 of the way around we passed the strollers and started our cool down as we trotted leisurely back to the main entrance. Although Bryan, Josh, and one of the security men were winded, Mark, Michael and Kevin were still running on spot breathing normally, kidding the rest of us about being like old men while the strollers finally caught up to us.
It was a refreshing break as we entered the building again to finish the tedium of encrypting the computers on the second floor, then Harold's area and the daycare computers on the first floor. All the computers in the restaurant were not a part of our system.
Once Weston joined to us he said that there was in fact, a cable that was improperly installed, and that anyone in the building could have broken into the security system of Higgins-Brown.
By 7:45 PM we were finished and gave Weston and Barbara our discs and instruction sheets outside Grant's office. After a few moments, Barbara and Weston came out and told us that the temporary password was no longer valid and a new one had been installed.
"Tomorrow Robert," Weston said, "Start at nine in the morning, go around to everyone at their computer.... make sure they're having no troubles and remove the red and greet dots. That should make a full days work out of it. I'll give you a cell phone in case we get any urgent phone calls where people are hung up."
"Sounds like a good plan to me," Robert replied. As he reached for the front door to head for the parking lot at the rear of the building, I called after him to come back.
"Harold, starting tomorrow," I began, "I want you to reissue Grayson's underground parking card to Robert. After all the special work he's done for us today, he deserves that little luxury."
"Mr. Davis, that's not necessary," Robert protested.
"You deserve that and much more Robert." Bryan said. "I can only imagine how cold your car must be to get into on some of those minus 20 days and how hot it gets when it's in the blazing sun all day."
"No problem guys," Harold said. "I've always reserved a few spare spaces. We'll leave Grayson's car down there until we get the outcome of this fiasco. Park out front in the visitor's parking tomorrow morning Robert, and I'll have a new card waiting for you at the reception desk."
"Thank you Mr. Stemming," Robert replied. "Gentlemen, I'm just a part-time college student. I shouldn't be given this sort of special privilege."
"Robert, you're a team player," Grant said. "If you hadn't held Grayson down while I snapped the cuffs on him, he could have created a state of mayhem. Just for that alone, I'd be glad to give up my underground parking spot for you."
Robert smiled. "I only did what needed to be done Mr. Brown. Mr. Davis, Mr. Callahan, you've been very kind to me and you've made it more than a privilege to work here. I hope I never let you down."
Bryan and I laughed. "I doubt that will ever happen Robert," I said as he headed out the front door.
"Will that kid ever quit being so polite?" Grant asked quietly shaking his head.
"Probably not," Bryan answered, "He's a breath of fresh air."
Once again security locked the front door and the rest of us headed down to the basement for our cars. Grant took Kevin with him and it made it comfortable for the rest of us in the Jeep as we travelled home.
Once we dropped off the kids to greet the dogs, the first order of business when we got home was for Bryan and I to go next door and see if we could find Susan's laptop. We started in the living room, on to the dining room, the kitchen, then the family room. No dice. Down the hall we found the first bedroom had been converted into a reading room with two walls of books, a love seat and two recliners, but no desk or office paraphernalia, next was a spare bedroom - still nothing. Next we came to Susan and Darren's bedroom - and I got a feeling that I was really invading a private domain where I didn't belong.
Bryan spotted the laptop at the side of the bed and proclaimed, "Got it! Oops! Wait a minute, this is Darren's laptop."
I went to the other side of the bed and found Susan's laptop. "Aha!" I exclaimed with a smile, "now I've got it! Better bring Darren's with us though.... Higgins-Brown uses a part of the file server system and maybe Weston will want to be doing something to theirs as well."
Bryan giggled. "Don't these two have anything better to do when they're in bed? We don't go to bed to work on our computers. Ya think they've been surfing the net for porn?"
The thought amused me, but it wasn't for us to know. "BRYAN! DON'T you even think of looking up their history or cache.... it's none of our business." By the time I finished the sentence, my imagination was going wild and both of us were laughing the whole way out of the house. "Josh was right.... I don't want to know what happens in their bedroom."
"I agree," Bryan said still giggling, "Let's put these into the Explorer so we don't forget them in the morning." After putting the laptops in the Explorer, just before I opened the door from the garage into the house, Bryan zinged me again. "Thank God we didn't see any leather, whips and chains."
We were totally distracted with our laughter when we walked into the kitchen. We weren't expecting it. Except for Susan, Darren, and Mom who were still in Europe until the end of the week, everyone was gathered around the kitchen counter.
As Anne silently handed us a cup of coffee, James asked, "All right little brother, what went on in your office today?"
"Didn't Grant explain what happened?" Bryan asked as all of us made our way to the family room to be more comfortable.
"He wouldn't tell us a thing.... he said it would be better if you explained it." Andy replied.
"Where's the youngsters?" I asked. "I hope they weren't traumatized over the fire alarm."
"Irene's looking after them at our house," Trevor explained. "Actually Eddie and the twins thought the evacuation was pretty exciting and it appears they had no side effects from the experience. We thought maybe the ins and outs of what happened maybe a bit over their heads."
"I think you're right Trevor. Grant, have you heard anything from the RCMP?" I asked.
"No real details yet Tom," Grant replied, "just to say that everything went down fine when Grayson met with Danny.... actually his first name is Abdul-Dhahir.... they've got him under heavy surveillance until they can get to the root of the case. CSIS has him on their watch-list for possible ties to terrorist sleeper cells here in Canada. Beyond that he couldn't say anything. However Wilson did explain that for all his cooperation, Ralph's in protective custody in the hospital for treatment and some psychological tests related to brain washing that may have happened and treatment for the burns he sustained."
"Oooo! That could be embarrassing!" Josh commented. "I saw where all that hot coffee went."
"Well folks, that's actually the end of the story, but it all began just after lunch when Weston came into my office with Bryan and closed the door," I said before Josh, Bryan, Grant and I went on to explain the whole episode until we arrived at home.
"Well that's all well and good," Anne said when we finished, "but that doesn't explain how five security people appeared in the daycare centre out of no where just a split second after the fire alarm went off. I mean the help was certainly appreciated, but where did they come from?"
"Now you know why I didn't want to tell them anything before you got here," Grant said quietly.
I spread my glance from Mark's nonchalant, somewhat uncaring look, to Josh and Michael, then to all the other nervous and serious questioning set of eyes in the room, to Grant and Bryan who both had pensive looks across their faces, then back to Mark. I stared at him, wondering about his lack of curiosity.
He calmly stared back at me and shrugged his shoulders slightly. "It's OK Dad, I know, but I didn't say anything to anyone."
"Mark," Grant asked quietly, "what do you know?"
Mark looked at me. "Can I say Dad?" He asked seriously. I simply nodded my head, dreading the embarrassment for him if his knowledge of the situation was wrong.
"Well, uh.... I think.... everyone in the office is being monitored through a closed circuit TV system," Mark said hesitantly.
Right away there were a few giggles from some of the family members. "Oh, that sounds silly Mark," Debbie said with a big smile. "Everybody does their job.... there's no need to be spying on us."
"Mark, what makes you think that?" Bryan asked seriously.
"Well, the week before we went to Europe," Mark began, "I was just coming out of the john and there was this guy up on a ladder working with some wires in the ceiling. I'd seen him before and they'd already told us they were doing some rewiring for the doors, so I never questioned it, but I did wonder why he was working out on the concourse so far away from the doors themselves. As I was walking by the ladder, he pulled a pair of pliers, wire strippers or something from his tool belt and a white ball fell out and landed on the carpet. I picked it up.... I didn't really care what it was.... and I said, 'Hey, you dropped this.' When I handed it up to him, I noticed it had a flat edge. He said, 'Thanks kid,' and I went on my way back to the horseshoe. I never thought any more about it except that he'd called me a 'kid', which made me think of him as a 'dork'. This morning when we were in the restaurant at coffee time, all you guys were still gassin' about Holten with Robert and I kinda zoned out just looking around when I spotted this white ball on their brown ceiling. Once I thought about it, it seemed like it was about the same size as the one I'd handed to that guy up on the ladder. As I looked around, I noticed there was one in every corner. When we were going back to the horseshoe I kept glancing up and they're hard to spot on the white ceilings, but I could see them. It's easy when you know what to look for. The more I looked, the more I saw. They're all over the place. Before lunch, I went to the can and I got thinking about it.... they aren't smoke detectors or sprinklers.... we've got them everywhere and they're quite visible.... can't be microphones..... that wouldn't make any sense to be listening to a bunch of noise.... hafta be tiny cameras. Couldn't see any in the washroom though."
Notwithstanding that I was surprised at Mark's use of the vernacular in mixed company, Bryan, Grant and I were grinning while those that didn't know, seemed somewhat embarrassed for Mark and his seemingly unbelievable story just by their silence and awkward glances. Bryan stood up and went over to Mark, knelt on the floor in front of him, took him by the shoulders and looked him square in the eyes.
"Mark, you have no idea how proud I am of you," Bryan smiled, "you're almost a hundred percent right. However, there's more to the situation.... 'Why?'"
Some of the eyes in the room were now showing amazement.
"Well, I guess you guys had already clued into what Ralph was up to and wanted more proof." Mark replied.
"Way to go Mark!" Michael exclaimed.
"Mark, you're very observant, but I'm afraid Ralph had nothing to do with your deduction," I said. "The CCTV security system wasn't up and running until this morning and I doubt if Ralph even knew anything about it. Until Weston looked up the assignment ID's for the laptops this afternoon, we had no idea that Ralph was up to any espionage plot. The whole idea of the additional security at the office started some time ago with Quince."
"Quince?" Andy exclaimed.
"Yes folks," Grant replied, "Quince." Grant went on to explain the conversations, research, and development of how the small cameras were developed and applied to our building and how it related to the happenings on 9/11, the threat of Al Qaeda towards Canada, and a threat that we may have to face being so close to the airport. He ended his explanation with, "I can only say that the monitoring room makes the horseshoe look pretty insignificant. Twelve people man it and that's where the extra security people work.... I have immediate contact with them at the office through a lapel mike.... and Anne, it was by my direction that those five people appeared at the daycare so quickly."
"So big brother IS watching!" Michael exclaimed.
"Absolutely not Michael!" I replied. "At least not in the sense you mean. The people in the monitoring room aren't paying any attention to anyone who is having lunch in the restaurant, going to the washroom, sitting at their station working away or talking to a fellow coworker. They are looking for the suspicious person, someone who isn't an employee who shouldn't be where they are or an employee who is cautiously looking around.... looking up and around and over his shoulder, a person who may be a threat to other innocent people who are there doing an honest day's work. The security people do not report anything to us about someone's work habits or anything related to their jobs.... it's up to the department heads to evaluate whether a person is doing their job or not. The security people make all their reports to Grant and Darren. A few weeks ago we had Vincent and Carl in our building. It's visitors like them that added to our security concerns about the future. As Grant said, we have an international connection and who knows.... maybe in the future, a global exposure.... which means we'll have any number of important contacts visiting our building. Their protection and safety is just as important as our own. Today wasn't set up as an exercise to see if the system worked, I think today's experience proved that we need the system."
"Wow!" Trevor said. "I'm thinking that if Mark figured it out, shouldn't we have some sort of explanation for the other employees who notice the cameras?"
"I don't think it's necessary to announce its existence to all the staff Trevor," Bryan replied as he returned to his chair beside me. "We agree with Darren's thought that only those that need to know, should know. I guess my thought is we shouldn't talk about it at the office and let anyone know by pointing the system out to everyone. We don't want the system to interfere with an employee's ability to concentrate on their work. If they confront you with their suspicions, explain it briefly for what it is and that we aren't looking for people who absent mindedly put an office pen in their shirt pocket or spend time making out a grocery list on office paper.... we're after the criminal element and it's there for everyone's protection. It's no different than going to a department store where they have cameras watching their customers. Remind them that even the bosses are being watched. Just so you know, the cameras are also throughout the perimeter of the building, in the atrium and the parking garage. One more thing, after all the effort and contribution that Robert gave us today and because of his work on the programming side of things, he'll be parking in the underground garage from now on, so don't be giving him a hard time about it."
"Related to that," Andy announced, "we have a new employee starting in the legal department tomorrow. I'll be bringing him around to introduce him to everyone. How many of you remember Travis from the barbeque?" After a few smiling nodding faces, Andy continued, "In the first instance, as I finally found out, neither Robert nor Travis knew that Gerald worked for Edgar Delaney's office. Travis has been working in Edgar's offices as a gopher and summertime research student. While we were in Europe, Gerald went to Edgar Delany's office and met Travis again. According to Gerald, Travis is no slacker, but a very dedicated worker and we both need someone like that in my office. There's a little secret in all of this, which is as far as we know, Travis hasn't told Robert about his relocation to our office and Robert won't know about it until he has to drive Travis to work tomorrow. It was a favor we were able to do for them.... thanks to Tom and Bryan."
"It was no big deal," Bryan said, "it was just something that came out in a conversation we had with Robert. It was up to Gerald to pull the strings because Travis is still under the employ of Edgar Delaney."
"That's our Dads," Josh said with a smile.
"Um... sort of related to that is Jessica," Shelly said, "but it's not company related. You mentioned about being global Tom.... well I've setup a sort of blog. Actually I was on a general health site, but they had very little on it about cancer. So I sent them an email and told them my story. The man suggested that he could set up a corner of his web page to set up a blog that I could add anything I wanted to. I continued doing a search on the net for anything to do with all types of cancer research and I've made several contacts with some honest scientists and researchers from all around the world to find out what developments they have made or expect to make. I've explained to them about my blog and they've given me permission to add the hopeful information to the blog so long as I added their contact names. I told Jessica about it and she said she wanted to add her story. We've had a lot of response from that little blog and we spend a lot of time answering emails that are full of thanks for sharing. Now it's known as 'The Shelly-Jessica Blog'. I know you know about the website I've designed.... Weston let the cat out of the bag today and-"
I interrupted her. "Shelly, we already knew about the website.... and we're very impressed. Robert showed it to us before the barbeque. He wanted permission to bring Travis and Jessica.... he really wanted you and Jessica to meet."
Josh laughed out loud. "He wasn't counting on Kevin." Kevin's grin went from ear to ear as he shyly looked at the floor, his face a little pinker than usual.
"Shelly, where do you find the time for all of this research and blogging?" Bryan asked. "You've been busy going to school, testing programs, going to the gym, spending a lot of time with Josh...."
It was Shelly's turn to look at the floor.
"It's OK Shelly, you can tell them," Michael said. When Shelly didn't say anything, but continued with a dejected look on her face, Michael said, "She cheats Dad. We don't mind."
"WHOA! Shelly!" James exclaimed. "I don't care about the cheating, but it just hit me. Tom! Bryan! I WANT a website! If I could direct a reader to our Davis-Callahan website in each and every ad, on each and every program package we put out, on all our business cards, it could give us a hell of a lot more exposure for all of our product line. Maybe we could have links for the customers who want to read more about a program or buy a program.... somehow we could link their credit card numbers to our account if they want to order a program on line."
Bryan and I stared at each other. I had to consciously close my mouth from the possibilities that James was suggesting.
"I.... I just wanted to get my website on line, but it might cost money to keep it running," Shelly said quietly.
"Shelly we aren't worried about the money," I said, "but we will have to get Weston in on the act to upgrade the servers to accommodate any website. However, what do you think about designing a website for the corporation as James suggested? We could put a link from our site to yours and vice versa."
"Better yet," Andy added, "Shelly would you still run your website if it was under the sponsorship of the.... uh.... 'Davis-Callahan Foundation for Better Health'? In the future we may have other specialized sites for other charitable foundations that we could link to."
"Sure," Shelly said with a smile, "but can I still call the site I'm designing, 'The Shelly-Jessica Cures for Cancer'?"
"Oh that's sweet.... by all means Shelly. You've done the corporation proud." Bryan said.
"YEEE-ES!" Kevin and Josh exclaimed with their fists in the air.
"Good show!" Andy said with a big smile. "I think Travis' first assignment will be to help me with the legal setup for the new foundation."
"I just thought of something.... has anyone here phoned or texted Susan, Darren, or Mom about today's incident yet?" I asked.
There was a whole lot of shaking heads. "It all happen so unexpectedly.... it never occurred to me," Anne said.
"Good! Let's wait 'til they get back and surprise them. No need to worry them while they're still on vacation." I added.
"I can tell you right now that Mom's going to be upset that she wasn't a part of today's action." Josh said.
"Darren too," Grant added, "but he'll be happy that the security system works."
"Now Shelly, about this cheating-" I said with a bit of a grin.
"Dad!" Josh grabbed my attention, "at first Robert told Shelly she could work on it during lunch and at break times, but when he saw how great it was, he told her to just keep working on it. It's no problem, the rest of us have been able to keep up the pace with the reviews. Some nights Kevin and I pick up some of the slack at home and I'm pretty sure Robert does too. It's no big deal. It's really a great beginning to getting a cure. We all want this for Jessica and Shelly."
"You guys have been doing that for me.... for us!" Shelly exclaimed.
"Well.... sure. Ya gotta do what's right," Kevin replied.
"Well.... what I was going to say," I began keeping my grin, "and Shelly, I'm teasing you.... we've been taught that cheaters never prosper and should be punished." I paused and watched the faces of the teens turn to a serious apprehensive guilt. "However in this case, Shelly, you and the boys were not cheating. You, with the help of your fellow workers were expanding your horizons and those of the corporation. In your own innocent way, you're making it possible for all of us to make our mark on this world."
"Shelly, you make it so easy for your Dad and I, in fact, all of you kids, to be so proud of you," Debbie said as her eyes started to tear.
"All of us are all very proud of each of you for the work you do at the horseshoe," Trevor added.
"Well, like the Lombardi man said," Josh said quietly, "'Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work'."
"I know you've implicated Robert in all of this and that's OK." Bryan added. "We're very proud of him as well. Right now, he's a young man with good instincts and an imagination for the future of this company, although I don't think he realizes it yet. I'm sure we've all learned with all that went on today, we can trust Robert implicitly. However, Tom and I have to figure out what to do for program testing when all of you go back to school in September?"
"Aw come on Dad, we can't solve all your problems," Michael said with a chuckle, "maybe Susan will have an answer when she gets back."
"Poor Susan," Ethel laughed.
"Have you told Quince about the incident yet?" I asked looking at Grant.
"No, but I sure will! Knowing him, he already knows." Grant replied just before there was a loud knock on the door before it opened.
"ANYBODY HOME?" The voice of Quince barked from the foyer before he came into the family room.
"Quince, we were just talking about you and all the shenanigans that went on at the office today," Bryan said laughing.
"I heard all about it from one of my contacts." His stature and his smile warmed the somber mood of the room in an instant as he patted the excited dogs. "I'm glad it turned out so well. I was just going through the pictures we took and I must have had my instincts turned off when I met the guy. If I had any suspicions I would have put up an alert flag. Anyway, it's all in the hands of the RCMP and CSIS now. The reason I popped in is to ask if any or all of you would enjoy a special visit to the Calgary Stampede Fairgrounds Wednesday afternoon and evening. I'm sure that those of you from Ontario and BC would enjoy it. Once again, I'm thinking of security and it would be easier to handle if we went as a group."
"Wednesday would be good for us," Bryan said. "We're going to be doing our laundry from the trip tomorrow night."
Immediately Michael, Mark and Josh let out some faint moans and groans.
"I think it's a great idea Quince," Trevor said with a yawn, which became contagious for the rest of the family as they stood up and stretched. It was close to our bedtime; James and Anne still had to get the twins and Timmy settled for the night.
As everyone filed out they thanked Quince excitedly for the offer to accompany us to the Calgary Stampede.
Before he left, he looked me square in the eyes and asked, "Nightmares? Memories?"
"It's been good Quince," I answered. "A few recollections that I could shake off. It's been a busy week."
"That's good, it didn't spoil your trip, but remember what I said, you can't do this alone and it won't go away without help."
"I know Quince," I said, "I'll look into it this week.... Friday, once we're caught up with everything."
"Good man," he replied as he closed the front door behind him.
Bryan and I sent the boys up to bed while we cleaned up everything from the refreshments and turned off the lights before went up stairs to say good night.
As we walked into Mark and Michael's room, we heard, "....you sure are a lot more cunning than I ever thought you were."
"I'm not cunning Michael, I just looked around and saw what I saw and thought about it. It made perfect sense to me," Mark replied.
"Yes Sherlock," Bryan said, "that was a cool piece of deduction although your grammar was a bit crude."
"You noticed that," I said with a laugh.
"What!?" Mark exclaimed obviously wondering why I was laughing..
I was giggling as Bryan continued. "While everyone was gassin' about Holten? I went to the john? I was in the can? The guy was a dork? Mark, I don't think that's the sort of language to use in mixed company."
"Aaw give me a break Dads. I was a bit nervous and I wasn't absolutely positive that I was right until you said I was," Mark pleaded.
"Mark, I think maybe that's why you only got a 'B' in composition," I said with a giggle, then seriously added, "however.... it took a lot of courage for you to sit there and tell everyone what you thought was going on. We're really proud of you."
"We're just as proud of you. You guys were on the frontline today fighting off the enemy," Michael said.
"Thank you Michael," I said as I hugged him, then kissed his forehead. "I love you and I'll be on the frontline for your sake under any circumstance if I can."
"Someday it'll be our job to be on the frontline," Mark said as I hugged him and kissed his forehead. "I love you Dad."
"We love you too our son and that's as it should always have been," Bryan said as he hugged his brother.
I was smiling as we entered Josh's room. I asked, "Josh where did you get that Lombardi quote about individual commitment from?"
"It was Vince Lombardi that said that Dad. Kevin found it somewhere on the internet and sent it to me when we started helping Jessica and Shelly. I think they already used it on their blog. Dad, why was Ralph so full of contradictions? On one hand he was saying I wasn't patriotic and I wasn't performing a patriotic duty yet his actions didn't seem very patriotic."
"Think of it as if you were under thought control.... hypnosis," Bryan explained. "At the time he didn't have the knowledge of how to be aware of how someone was trying to influence his thoughts. If you're not suspicious, you can be susceptible. Remember how easy-going he was without a care in the world.... he just wasn't aware or prepared for anything like that. We don't know how he was introduced to it or anything like that, but his nature was certainly susceptible to any influence."
"That makes sense. Dad, you aren't going to hire Ralph back, are you?" Josh asked.
"Josh he is a very talented programmer and before this incident, a very likable person," Bryan answered. "As things stand right now, technically he hasn't been fired yet Josh. Everyone has used up their vacation time for this year, but I suppose Ralph is still entitled to six or seven sick days with pay. What's your thought? After he's used up his sick time, should we fire him?"
"I don't know," Josh replied, "and you may be right, but I think it would be awfully uncomfortable for him if you let him come back.... you know.... embarrassing.... for other people in the office too."
"You sounded pretty positive when you spoke to him before he left the building," I said.
"Yeah, but those were like words of encouragement and forgiveness. It's hard to believe that someone could so easily sway his thinking like those things he said about me."
"There's no doubt about it, it certainly made Tom and I really angry." Bryan said.
"It sure did! Talk about two people in unison. I'm sure glad that thing didn't blow up in our faces."
"We were lucky. Josh, how would you treat him if we allowed him to come back to work?" I asked.
"Well with the new security system, I guess I'd be OK with it, but I still wouldn't really trust him. It might be difficult to be friendly with him again."
"Then it might be better if he or us for that matter, could find employment for him elsewhere," I suggested.
"Sounds like you've made up your mind," Josh replied, "and you may be right."
"Joshy, sometimes you make me think in order to come to right conclusion," I said as I kissed his forehead and gave him a hug. "I love you son."
"I love you too Josh," Bryan said as he hugged him. "You have no idea how important you are to me."
"I love you too Dad, Dad, always will."
When Bryan and I finally got to bed, I felt so relieved that this day had actually ended without any real harm coming to anyone in our extended family.
That night, I slipped comfortably into a dream. I saw Mark in front of a control panel. He was wearing a space suit with the Canadian flag sewn onto his shoulder. Around him were six or seven other astronauts with the flags of the United States, Russia, Japan, Great Britain, Italy and Brazil sewn onto their shoulders. An alarm was ringing and a master caution light was flashing red on the console. A computerized voice was saying "Autopilot failure. Critical alert. Auto-abort sequence initiated in 5 seconds. 4 seconds...3 seconds...
"I've got this," Mark said firmly as he pushed the glowing red button to silence the computer, switched off the autopilot and placed his hand on a control stick on the panel. With a series of long thruster firings, Mark righted the spacecraft's trajectory. Seconds later, there was a loud thump as the landing parachutes opened. Outside the window in front of him showed a rust coloured rocky surface, as the spacecraft touched down a gentle bump amidst a flurry of red dust, then came to rest. Mark was grinning as I heard others in the craft giving their congratulations on a job well done. Although I couldn't see his face in the spacesuit, I certainly recognized his voice.
There was a bit of a blurring of my dream but the last thing I remember was Mark's voice saying something to the effect of, "I take this step upon the surface of another planet in the name of all mankind."
I woke up the next morning lying on my back, the dream still vivid in my head. I smiled to myself realizing another of our sons might accomplish an amazing first. I gently woke Bryan and I couldn't stop smiling as I told him about the dream.
"Mars?" he questioned smiling. "Our sons.... you gotta love them. Tom, I just love your dreams."
I was invigorated that Tuesday morning as we went for our run with the dogs. Mark and Michael teased Kevin about this being the first day on the new job as coordinator, but Kevin took all the good-natured ribbing in his stride.
Bryan and I arrived at our offices to find my office in disarray with the furniture moved against the walls after the fiasco with Ralph Grayson yesterday. Harold and a cleaning crew were busy trying to shampoo the coffee stains out of the carpet in my office.
"Sorry Tom, can we have your office until we're get it cleaned up?" Harold asked.
"No problem Harold, just let me grab my laptop and I'll work in Bryan's office 'til you're done."
"I think the chair is going to have to be sent out for reupholstering and it may not match the existing ones, so I'll order a new set for you and distribute the others around the waiting rooms and the library if that's OK?"
"OK by me," I answered as I tiptoed around the housekeeping staff on my way to Bryan's office.
Once in Bryan's office, working away on my laptop, Andy came in with Travis followed by Robert.
"Hi guys," Andy announced. "I don't think these two gentlemen need any introduction."
I just sat there, didn't say a thing, grinned and gave Robert a wink.
"Mr. Callahan, Mr. Davis, you no idea how happy you've made us this morning," Robert said with a broad smile.
I stood and went over to Travis and held out my hand. "Welcome to the fold Travis. I'm sure you'll enjoy working in this building." His grip was firm and comfortable, just as I remembered from the day of the wedding.
As Bryan shook his hand, he asked, "Did Robert know?"
Laughing, Travis replied, "Didn't have a clue sir until he showed me where Mr. Morrison's office was. Then the game was over. Sir, I can't thank you enough for arranging all of this for Robert and I."
"It was our pleasure," Bryan replied as Robert's cell phone buzzed.
Robert listened and then said, "I'll be right there ma'am." Turning to Andy and Travis, he continued, "Sorry, but I have a service call to make." He took off almost on the run.
"Well I guess it's just you and me Travis. Come on, we have some more exploring to do yet and a lot of people to meet," Andy said as he headed for the door.
"Yes sir," Travis answered, but before he left the office, he turned to Bryan and me, "Thank you again gentlemen."
My mood for the day had been bolstered to another high.
That afternoon, after our workout in the gym, I got to use my own office again. I was able to inquire how Robert was making out with the service calls and he told us there had only been five and he was spending the day going around to make sure everyone was up and running before he removed the green and red dots from their monitors.
Afterwards, I sent out an email to 'ALL' announcing that anyone who wished to go to the Stampede tomorrow could take the afternoon off with pay - it was a common practice for most offices in Calgary during Stampede days. We couldn't have cared less if someone took the afternoon off and didn't go to the Stampede.
Just before I shut down my computer for the day, I read a copy of the e-mail from Kevin to a number of the programmers about tomorrow morning's meeting. He had the format and descriptions down to the last period. If I'd ever had any doubts about Kevin being able to handle the coordinating job, they were certainly dispelled. Even one of the younger kids would be able to chair that meeting if they had that agenda.
In spite of their moaning last night about doing the laundry, our boys jumped into it with determination. Actually with the five of us, we'd organized a loose system of who did the sorting, who got the washer going and put in the right amount of soap and bleach when needed, who put the loads into the dryer, who folded, who got out fresh sheets for the beds and the team that made the beds. Everyone had a job and in-between times there was a lot of joking and carrying on between the boys that kept Bryan and I smiling.
That night, our boys were all gung-ho about being able to wear all their western get-ups into the office tomorrow.
Although the Calgary Stampede is a city-wide event, most of the meaningful events are held at the fair grounds.
Wednesday afternoon, Quince arrived at the office building in a small coach with a crew of security people to transport the about eighteen of us to the fairgrounds.
Once into the fair grounds, under the watchful eyes of Quince and his security crew, the kids and the teens were gung-ho to try every ride on the midway - and they did! Even I enjoyed many of them, but I wouldn't try the Drop of Doom - I just couldn't. Before 9/11, it would have been a piece of cake, but now even looking at it bothered me. However, the ferris wheel, the roller coaster and the other fast rides were a hell of a lot of fun for Bryan and I.
Before we left the midway, everyone had to try their luck at the various ring tossing games and shooting galleries. Each of us were ringing through the dollars pretty quick before we would change rifles with someone, who gave the new person a hint on how the site had been set.
Josh and I switched and he said quietly, "Aim low to the tip of the sight."
As I handed my rifle to him, I said, "Aim left one sight thickness."
By the time we left that part of the midway, we'd spent a lot of money, but the kids and the adults had four dozen huge stuffed bears, dogs and other animals in all our arms.
"Hey Quince!" Josh yelled ahead carrying his bundle as we headed for the coach to unload our booty, "we have to stop at the children's ward on the way home."
I think the pinnacle of our visit to the Calgary Stampede was the chuck wagon races. It wasn't so much that we knew the background of each team or had favourites before the race began, it was the excitement of watching a man, his team of horses and his outrider racing to achieve a goal that enthralled me most. By the time they'd finished their figure eight before the oval race, all the kids were cheering on a favourite that they had picked out of the all the teams. I think Bryan and I enjoyed watching the boys in their excitement as much as watching the race. It was hard not to get into the hooping and hollering of the crowd as everyone was on their feet cheering at the end.
Quince was sitting in front of Bryan, another of the security was sitting in front of me and they both stood and turned around together as the crowd quieted down a bit.
"Tom, I'd like you to meet a good friend of mine, Sam Fergeson," Quince announced. "Sam, say hello to Tom Davis and his partner Bryan Callahan."
"Good to meet you, Sam," I said as I stood and shook his hand. He was a handsome man in his mid-thirties, I guessed, but what grabbed me right away were his green eyes. Josh's were grey, Bryan and Mark's were blue and Michael's were brown, but this man's were definitely an unusual deep green.
"Any friend of Quincy's is a friend of mine," Bryan said as he shook his hand.
"Gentlemen, my friends call me Sammy. Quince has told me a lot about you. Tom, I'm sorry, but I can't beat around the bush with this. I'm a psychologist and I understand you've been suffering from some post traumatic stress disorder. I think I can help."
"I.... I thought you were part of the security team," I said.
"Tom, we play games," Quince said with a wink. "Sammy wanted to observe you for a while. Believe me, he knows his stuff and you can guess from what I told you before you made your trip to Europe, I wouldn't be here talking to you if it hadn't been for Sammy helping me."
I just nodded my head to acknowledge Quince's statement.
"Tom," Sammy said quietly to get my attention. I found myself staring into his mesmerizing eyes. "Meet me in my office at two o'clock on Friday." His eyes darted between Bryan and me. "I want both of you there."
I found myself agreeing without thought. "Ok," I said, but my mind was back at the thoughts I had as we watched the Drop of Doom on the midway.
"We'll be there," I heard Bryan say.
"Good!" Sammy exclaimed with a smile as he handed me his card and my mind jerked out of its fixation of the midway ride.
From there we hit a number of the food stands and pigged out on corn dogs, hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream, cotton candy, mini-donuts and all the other bad diet things we wouldn't normally touch at home.
Before we left the fairgrounds, all the kids brought a bunch of child sized Stetsons from one of the stands. They said they would need them if there were more kids than toys. I had a feeling that in special cases, some kids would be getting a toy and a Stetson.
Our stop at the hospital was looked after by the kids, accompanied by Quince, so the adults just waited in the coach. When they returned to the coach, they were happy, but in a solemn sort of way. After dropping all of us off at the office to pick up our own cars, their mood prevailed as we drove home.
"What's up boys," Bryan asked, "why the glum faces? Didn't you have fun today?"
"It was a blast Dad! I loved the rides on the midway." Michael said.
"Boy I wish we could eat like that everyday," Mark added.
I laughed, "Leave it to you Mark..... always thinking of your stomach."
"I think you'd get pretty sick if all I gave you was corn dogs, hot dogs and hamburgers everyday for breakfast and supper Mark," Brian said.
"How about you Josh?" I asked. His mood seemed a bit deeper than Michael or Marks.
"Dad it was a great day, and I felt great that we could give the kids all those stuffed toys, but it was also sad because we knew they wouldn't be able to go out and enjoy the midway like we had. The hard part was going back into Jimmy Norwood's old ward. There was another cute kid in there that had just come out of the recovery room. His name was Bobby. He had his tonsils out and his Mom was with him. They were happy to get the toy though."
"Josh what you and the kids did this evening is remarkable," I said as I looked in the rear view mirror, "I doubt if anyone else in the city did anything like that after they'd been at the fair."
"Dad it was just a small gesture, no big deal," Michael said, "It was kinda sad to see them, but at least for a short while we were able to make them smile."
"I'll bet that the foundation thing that Andy's starting up is going to be a big help sometime too," Mark added.
As we tucked the boys in that night, I explained that I was going to see a psychologist on Friday at two, but that I wanted that information to be kept quiet at the office - I didn't want the rest of the staff to thing that the boss was nuts or weak in the head. They understood and they promised - that made me proud.
Bryan and I slept comfortably that night, very proud not only of our boys, but all the kids in our extended family.
Thursday, Robert had to work at the Mac pod again while his new Mac computer with two new LCD monitors were installed in the horseshoe. By four that afternoon, Weston, Bryan and I looked at the final product and we were pleased as were all the kids in the horseshoe while we watched Robert sit proudly at the keyboard and turn the system on. Weston explained he'd transfer all of the work that Robert had from the Mac pod over to his new machine before the next morning. He also presented Josh with his new laptop and explained that he'd keep Susan and Darren's laptops in the file server room for safe keeping.
I woke up Friday morning a bit apprehensive of the appointment I was going to have with Sam Ferguson. However my run with the boys that morning and staying busy at the office kept that at bay. Actually I was able to get a lot accomplished including marking my public calendar that anyone in the office could read, as 'unavailable' from 1:30 that afternoon. Bryan and I slipped down the back stair to keep our appointment with Sam Fergeson.
As Bryan and I travelled up to the ninth floor on our way to Sammy's office, the feelings of anxiety started to increase.
"You know that I'm kinda dreading this don't you?" I asked Bryan.
"Tom, you'll be fine. Just be honest with the man, besides I'm here and you know what that means."
"I know, you're always there to pick up the pieces while I recover from.... whatever."
The sign on the door to Sam's office was clear. "Dr. Samuel Fergeson, Psychiatrist". I was glad that the number on the door was 906 instead of 911.
As soon as we closed the door, I noticed that there was no one at the work station desk to greet us.
"Tom, Bryan, come on through," the voice of Sammy called from an open door beyond. My receptionist is invisible this afternoon." Then once we were through that door, he continued, "Actually I gave her the afternoon off."
For some reason I felt more comfortable as I shook his hand again. The office was rather large with a big desk at the window side that he would normally be sitting behind and a large long sofa at the other end with two big table lamps at each end of it and a small table in front of it. I thought, "Oh yeah, the couch!"
"You're a psychiatrist," I said.
"Yes I am, but when I meet people for the first time and tell them I'm just a psychologist it allows them to think that I don't deal with the mentally disturbed folks that may be harm to them and they open up to me easier. I see you checking out the couch Tom, but it isn't for you.... that's for Bryan. You and I will sit in those chairs in front of the desk. Bryan, read a magazine or have a snooze if you wish.... Tom, sit in one of those three chairs. Did you enjoy the Stampede?"
I chose to sit in one of the pair of chairs that were facing the single chair. As Sammy sat in the chair directly opposite me, I answered, "It was great. After we left you we went to the children's ward at the hospital so our kids could have a visit with each of the patients and give away all the stuff toys we'd won at the midway."
"That's an extraordinary gesture on their part.... more people should think like that," Sammy said.
"It was my son Josh that started it last Christmas.... he does extraordinary things all the time."
"I know," Sammy said with a big smile, "I've seen him on the news more than once.... his Canada Day speech was great and his Naughty Josh routine poked fun at the politicians that made them laugh at themselves, but let me talk about why you're here. First Tom, let me assure you that I'm not here to judge you, I'm just being a friend to guide you through your treatment and recovery. Some of the things I'll want to know about you are personal, maybe embarrassing, but what goes on in this office doesn't go any further. I don't take notes, I don't record anything that's said, and there's no video cameras hidden around here. This is just a session between you and me getting to know each other as friends. To begin with, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be controlled. The keyword in that term is stress. Some doctors try to treat this with pills and medication. I avoid that at all cost. That method subdues the symptoms, but it doesn't cure it. The other stigma I want to clear up for you.... you are not mentally ill. You're the head of a multi-million dollar corporation and a family of outstanding people. That's something that a mentally ill person cannot do. Think about that."
"Actually I don't think of myself as the head of our home.... everyone shares those responsibilities just about equally," I responded.
"Ok, I'll buy that," Sammy said with a smile. "Nevertheless, you've heard the expression 'forgive and forget'. In every case a person can forgive the other, but they will never forget. Your innate instincts won't let you. If both parties in conflict realized that, both of them would be able to deal with the memory of the conflict and become stronger friends when the memory of their conflict surfaces in the future. I want you to bear that in mind as we go through our sessions."
Josh's words of encouragement and forgiveness flashed through my head.
"Tom, there are many things in our lives that cause stress, but few that cause post traumatic stress. From the moment of birth we've experienced trauma, but we manage it. We don't remember our birth, but you can be sure that our parents do.... especially our mothers.... but they dealt with it and moved forward. We survive the first embarrassments of life such as the first time our parents scold us for something bad that we did deliberately contrary to their warnings. We have stress in our workplace and our relationships with other people. However we continue to survive them.... we continue to deal with them without any harm to ourselves or others. Having said that, PTSD may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as guilt and uncontrollable thoughts about an event, acting detached or distant; having trouble with social events such as weddings, funerals and other family gatherings; and being easily startled or hyper-vigilant. Does any of that sound familiar?"
"Actually yes.... I've definitely had flashbacks and nightmares that I can't control and that does lead to some anxiety.... our son Mark has said that I space out at times and I know sometimes I do, and I try to be vigilant, but not hyper-vigilant to the point of nervousness or anxiety."
"Promising," Sammy said thoughtfully. "I mentioned relationships. You and Bryan are gay and I'm not. I said that just for the record because I don't want you to think that I'm coming on to you." The three of us had a bit of a chuckle over that. I knew that this man wouldn't get to first base with me beyond just being my good friend. "Gay relationships have a regrettable inherent stress level because of ignorant discrimination. Tell me," he continued, "do you love Bryan?"
I looked at him quizzically while the answer came to me. "That's a multiple choice question," I said with a smile. "I hope you aren't looking for yes, no or maybe." I finally got him to smile with me, before I continued, "Seriously Sammy, there are so many people that I love. More than anyone, I love.... cherish our boys. I think they know my every thought yet they still crave our nurturing guidance and our love. Josh, Mark and Michael are my lifeblood. We know that our boys are going to grow up to be upstanding citizens of this country. They know me better than my brothers or my mom. I love my brothers and my nephews, I love my mom and at a different level, I love everyone in our extended family.... including our hired help.... Hamish, Irene and even Quince now that I think of it. On the other hand, I'm IN love with Bryan. My heart and my soul rest within him and he guards those two precious parts of my being better than a mother hen laying on her eggs.... without Bryan, I wouldn't be complete. I'm in love with Bryan and that will go on for eternity."
"Tom, I have so many patients that don't understand that concept.... and if they did, they wouldn't have to come to me." He paused, staring at me with a devilish smirk. Smiling he asked, "How's your sex life?"
I hadn't expected that question and I started laughing, but between embarrassing giggles I said, "Pleasurable.... at least it was Tuesday night."
"I'll agree with that," Bryan said with a big smile from the sofa.
"Good," Sammy said smiling, "we can eliminate your love life as a stress trigger.... in fact it's probably something that calms the other everyday stresses in your life. You seem to have a good sense of humour as well. That's another great thing to have to combat stress. Quince told me that you had an incident just before Canada Day. Tell me about it."
"It was three o'clock in the morning, I woke up and I was in a full sweat. I'd had another nightmare about 9/11. In the nightmare I had the sensation that I had been falling from a great height. The slamming sounds of bodies hitting the ground that I had heard on 9/11 were echoing in my head. I dressed and walked outside, followed the path to the range building and buzzed myself in. I took out my dad's .45 Colt, four magazines and a box of ammo. I loaded it and sent a target down range and put on eye and ear protection. I slipped a magazine into the pistol, racked the slide and opened fire on the target. The dull thud of the rounds as I heard them in my ear protectors was comforting in a strange way. The firm recoil of the pistol was satisfying. The whole exercise worked to-"
Sammy held up his hand and stared at me with those mesmerizing green eyes. I didn't speak as he continued to stare right through me. Calmly he asked, "Why did you want to kill yourself?"
I was stunned - my mind went numb.
My mouth dropped and I stared back at Sammy, first stunned, then shocked and then horrified to the extent that my diaphragm started palpitating below my lungs while I started to frantically trying to catch my breath, sobbing as the images played on a screen between the back of my eyes and the back of my head - dozens of live screaming people came pouring down to their doom and thudded against the pavement in pools of blood and gore. Over and over again, the vivid images replayed. I couldn't stop the racking sobs. Bang! Bang! BANG! The bodies kept hitting the pavement one after another. All I could do was try to yell, "NO! NO! STOP! I don't want to see that again.... not again! Please, not again." I couldn't stop sobbing. I couldn't stop crying. I couldn't - stop the images.
Slowly the images changed, then began flashing one after another in quick succession as my sobbing continued - my dad lying in his casket, the anger that I saw in the Struthers' faces when they beat me, the image of my mangled leg as I lay in the military ward, the images of the men as I sadly left the army for the last time, the angry face of Josh's uncle in the funeral home, the bullets that went into the masked bank robber by my hand, the tortured face of Josh as he suffered the pain of appendicitis, the angry face of Mark's father at the door as I slugged him, again the tortured face of Josh as a cramp knotted his leg in the Jeep, the enraged face of Bob McNaulty as he held a gun pointed at my head, the struggle to hang onto Val as we were pummeled by debris while Kennedy pulled us to safety, the vile face of Howard Burton as he stared at me across Susan's dining room table, the anguished face of Michael as he mourned the death of his parents, the image of his ashen face the day he nearly choked to death, ending with the snarling face of Ralph Grayson as he belittled the character of my son, Josh.
I heard Sammy's far away voice, "TOM. Tom." But I couldn't respond as the sobbing continued and then repeated. The bodies started falling again and I couldn't stop them. I wanted to - I wanted to catch just one person and save them, but I couldn't. I just couldn't. "STOP!" I tried to yell.
It was Bryan's calming voice that I heard in my ear and the comfort of his hand around me that I felt. "Tom. Tom I'm here. You're in safe hands."
Slowly I became conscious of my current surroundings. I felt the racking sobs end and I started to consciously take deep breaths, yet the tears were still flowing down my face.
Sammy placed a box of tissues on my lap. It took several of them to finally dry my face and several more to clear the mucus in my nose. Neither Bryan nor Sammy said anything while I composed myself.
Finally I cleared my throat, "I.... I didn't want to kill myself."
"Of course you didn't," Sammy responded. "Tom, when I asked that question, I wasn't talking to you, I was talking to your subconscious. Now don't start thinking that your nuts or that you have a split personality because that's not true. You do have a strong disciplined conscious will and a subconscious mind that's full of memories of all the catastrophes that you've had to endure throughout your short life and.... your subconscious is having a difficult time dealing with them. At a proper pace and a proper magnitude, a person's subconscious can deal with all those memories, but when the volume gets too great too quickly or one sudden incident is too horrendous, the subconscious mind reacts to stop the flood of bad memories. You've already endured a lifetime's worth of traumatic stress and you're only in your twenties. The same is true of many of our troops that come home from Afghanistan.... they're too young to cope with a lifetime of horrific experiences in a short period of time. Now, I'm sure that you've had many happy memories in your life, but the subconscious had to repress them with all the bad memories and in your case, 9/11 was the hair that broke the camel's back and I understand that was topped off this week with another episode at the office. You wouldn't have consciously killed yourself on the firing range, but your subconscious was searching for relief and there's a possibility that in your tired state, it may have overridden your rational thinking just as it did after I asked you the question. Now I hope you understand that what I described is actually the two parts of your mind and that we need to bring them into balance."
"Just now, I re-experienced every one of those bad memories and I couldn't stop them. They kept flashing one on top of the other."
"Good. What you just experienced was your subconscious screaming for help. Now you know what I meant by 'you can never forget' and.... you won't. However, the treatment for this is to analyze each of the traumatic events one by one and realize the benefits that you received from having endured those events. According to the list that Quince gave me, you've had a number of traumatic events to deal with. What I'm getting at is, together we can consciously maximize the blessing or happiness that came from the experience as a whole and the terrible parts of the memory will be minimized. That makes more room for the happy parts and less room in your subconscious for the unhappy parts. That's it without all the medical gobbledygook. Can you understand what I've tried to portray?"
"Yeah, it makes sense. How long will it take?" I asked.
"Two sessions a week.... Tuesdays and Fridays.... six weeks should do it," Sammy replied, "and this session wasn't one of them.... and I promise, you won't have to experience anymore trauma like you've had this afternoon. You will always leave here more refreshed than when you entered. OK?"
"Yeah, I can do that, but I thought psychiatrists only saw their patients on a weekly basis."
"Tom it takes two or three days for the subconscious to get accustomed to the changes that have happened at a session and after that, it can become complacent to the new idea and start to return to it's old organization.... mind-set..... for support. We want to keep after this problem before that can happen. Just in saying that, I've implanted the seed of expectation in your subconscious and it will now respond positively to the concept. Remember, your subconscious wants relief."
"Understanding all that you've said, I'm glad I came," I said as I stood up and stretched. "We start on Tuesday, right?"
"Right... two o'clock for all your visits."
Bryan and I shook his hand and thanked him for all his help. Back out in the corridor, as we walked toward the elevator, Bryan said, "We have to make a pit stop." We were standing right by the men's washroom.
Once we relieved ourselves, and I sure did have to go, I turned to the basin to wash my hands and caught my reflection in the mirror.
"Oh my God!" I exclaimed. My eyes were terribly blood shot, very puffy and my cheeks were redder than normal. I giggled because it reminded me of the time that Josh had covered my face with makeup one morning while I slept. I splashed some real cold water on my face and that helped with the redden cheeks, but I couldn't do anything about my eyes until I put some drops in them at home.
"Bryan, I'm going to call Josh and have the boys meet us down in the parkade," I said as I dried off, "I don't want to parade through the office looking like this.
"Normally I would say, 'Be brave Tom, I'm still in love with you' but for this one time, I'll agree with you," Bryan replied.
I continued as I pulled out my cell phone and dialed, "But you're still in love with me, right?"
"Never doubt it!" Bryan said with a big grin. He knew I was teasing him.
I laughed as Josh answered the phone. "Hi son," I giggled, "How about if you and your brothers meet us down in the parkade in about thirty minutes.... we're just leaving the doctor's now."
"Sure thing Dad. You OK?" He asked.
"I'm fine son.... I'm really fine. See you later." I ended the call with another giggle.
As we went down the elevator I reminded Bryan about the time Josh had plastered me with Susan's makeup. That and some of the other pranks the boys had pulled on us kept both of us in a good mood while we drove back to the office.
Our boys hadn't made it down to the parkade when we got there, so we stepped out of the Jeep and leaned against the front fender until we saw them get off the elevator. As soon as they saw us, they started to walk much faster, but as they got closer they almost stopped in their tracks five feet away from me.
"Da....Daaad, what happened?" Josh said as his mouth dropped. I could tell that Michael and Mark were feeling the same reaction.
Calmly, Bryan said, "Into the Jeep boys and we'll tell you all about it on the way home."
"It's OK boys, I'm fine," I said as I gave each of them a one armed embrace as they entered the Jeep.
As soon as we were on the road, Mark asked, "You didn't get into a fight with him, did you?"
"No Mark," I laughed, "I didn't get in a fight with the doctor-"
"Good thing, because ya know we'd be down there to beat the crap out of him." Mark sounded very determined and mad and it made me chuckle.
"Actually boys, I was in a fight with myself. Every bad memory, every bad thing that has ever happened to me throughout my life came rushing through to me within ten seconds and my mind just couldn't handle it. Please, I can't tell you what the bad memories were if I'm going to be successful with the treatments. Needless to say I had no control when my conscious mind shut down as all those memories came rushing through.... so I cried and sobbed barely breathing and then I cried some more..... I don't know for how long, but the doctor said it would never happen again throughout any of the treatments."
"It was almost half hour Tom," Bryan said. "You kept asking for it to stop.... I finally had to intervene to pull you out of it because you wouldn't respond to Sammy's voice."
"I heard his voice faintly in the distance, but it was your voice that came through clear as a bell and I felt your arm around me."
"Did he hypnotize you?" Michael asked.
"No son, he just said something that shocked the hell out of my subconscious and it reacted. I'll have a session with Sammy every Tuesday and Friday for the next six weeks."
As soon as we were home and had the dogs settled, Bryan and the boys went into the kitchen to start supper and I headed for the medicine cabinet for the eye drops. While I was there, I took the time to wash my face properly with soap and water. The eye drops were soothing as I blinked them several times. It was refreshing.
When I came downstairs, Bryan and the boys were busy behind the counter preparing dinner, so I sat on my usual stool and watched. I was too pooped to participate.
Josh stared at me for a moment with a big grin. "Looking good Dad! Much better," he said as he started to butter the garlic toast.
"Yeah Dad, much better. No more red eyes. That looked painful." Michael added seriously as he continued to tear bits and pieces of lettuce into the salad bowl.
"I guess it was a bit," I said. "Bryan, did you notice Sammy's green eyes.... they're really unusual."
"Actually I didn't Tom," he said as he continued to intently concentrate on the chicken and mushrooms he was stirring in the frying pan. "I only have eyes for you." His voice was deadpan and his corny comment made me giggle.
"Will.... you.... guys.... get.... a.... room!" Mark exclaimed as he watched the boiling noodles and stirred a sauce pan of white sauce. "Is there a full moon or something?"
"What a line!" Josh laughed. "I can't wait to use that one on Shelly."
Bryan and I started laughing.
"Hey Mark," Michael said with a laugh before he started sing, "Are the stars out tonight.... I don't know if it's cloudy or bright.... 'cause I only have eyes for yooooou, dearrr...."
The five of us started laughing. Bryan and I were laughing so hard I had to hold my stomach and Bryan had to pull the pan off the heat while he doubled over. For the second time today, I had tears running down my cheeks, but these tears were from the joy of my family.
Once we calmed down, Bryan and the boys soon had supper on the plates and up to the counter. Every bit of that chicken fettuccini was delicious and I was hungry.
"How did you learn an old song like that Michael?" Bryan asked.
With a big smile, Michael replied, "When I was a kid, my mother and father used to sing to each other while we were having dinner."
"It wasn't all bad then was it?" Bryan asked with a smile.
Michael pause and smiled. "I guess it wasn't."
Bryan winked at me smiling and I realized that Michael had survived the anguish of his upbringing. He was over his crisis and I was in the middle of mine. Bryan's wink was assuring.
That night as I lay my head on Bryan's shoulder, I felt relief - not relieved, but a more comfortable relief than I'd had in some time.
The next morning after our run, Josh announced that he'd been on line with Air Canada. Susan, Darren, and Mom's flight to Toronto was on time. Giving the time it would take them to change planes; the private jet should be landing at the ranch about three in the afternoon. We were full of happy anxiety with that news. Our whole family would be together again.
"I don't think they'll be ready for a big shindig when they land, but let's plan a big family dinner for tomorrow," Bryan suggested.
"You're right Bryan, they'll have a real overdose of jet lag to get over," I said. "This afternoon, we'll all be there at the strip to welcome them home and help them with their luggage, but they certainly won't want the stress of a big dinner."
"How about if we put a bunch of sandwiches in their fridge to nibble on if they're hungry in the meantime. Leave it up to Anne and the others to look after Grandma," Josh suggested.
"Good plan," Mark agreed.
"OK guys, I'll make the calls," I volunteered.
"And we'll make the sandwiches," Michael added.
True to plan, although Bryan made the egg salad and the salmon salad with some special seasoning, the rest of us got into an assembly line while we made up a dozen sandwiches and labeled each one as we wrapped them in plastic wrap.
When we took the sandwiches over to Susan and Darren's, Grant was busy hanging up a 'Welcome Home!' banner that Ethel had made at the office. Anne was already in the kitchen putting a salad in the fridge and Debbie was getting the coffee maker ready so that all they had to do was push the start button.
By three, the whole extended family was at the airstrip watching the Bombardier jet make it's final approach toward the Serenity airstrip. After taxiing back to the hanger area where we had all gathered, it came to a complete stop. The first to descend the few stairs was Darren, who held out his hand to help, first Susan and then Mom to the pavement. Right away they were swamped by all of us cheering and clapping with a bunch of 'welcome home' cheers.
No doubt about it, although they were in good humour, the three of them looked bushed. We all gave Mom a hug before Andy and Kevin took her luggage to Andy's Jeep and they drove down the road to their house.
Our boys, Bryan and I took Susan and Darren's luggage as we accompanied them up to their home. Before we bade them farewell, we told them that we were going to hear all about their trip tomorrow at the family dinner.
We got a special hug from Susan when she saw the banner and we had to tell her that it was all Ethel and Grant's doing.
That night the boys were very happy that our family was together again.
Sunday morning after our run, we came in and Bryan was already working on the preparation of a huge roast of beef and a ham for dinner together with the ingredients for another big pot of soup. The ovens were definitely going to get a good workout today. After a quick shower, I woke up Josh and after a shower, he came down somewhat bleary eyed while Mark and Michael were busy making a breakfast of back bacon, scrambled eggs and toast and I helped Bryan with the vegetables for the soup.
"Happy dreams?" I asked as he hugged me from behind.
He winked with a big grin, "I always have happy dreams Dad."
"Morning Dad," he said as he hugged Bryan, "Love you."
"We love you too Josh.... would you man the toaster?
"Got it," he said as he patted Mark and Michael on the back. "Morning bros!"
"You're in an awfully good mood this morning," Michael said.
"Well he either had a dream about his girl up the street or he just had a big dump," Mark deadpanned.
"Actually, both," Josh replied. The rest of us laughed while he took a swig of orange juice.
With breakfast completed and the cleanup finished, Bryan said, "Ok boys your assignment is the dining room table, all the leaves and the tablecloths, dishes, and silverware, but we can do without the candles. The five of us will be serving the soup from here and taking it into them. Got it?"
"We gotcha Dad," Michael said with a lot of enthusiasm.
Once they left the kitchen, Bryan quietly said, "Come with me. We have to talk." I followed Bryan into the living room and watched as he sat at the end of the sofa.
"Come here," he said patting his lap.
"I'm too big to be sitting on your lap," I said smiling.
He just held out his hand, beckoned to me, took my hand, pulled me down to the sofa beside him as he slid his arm around me.
"Tom, what I want to say is about the night you went to the firing range. I was upset about your nightmares.... sometimes you wouldn't wake up.... other times you'd jerk yourself awake, but I was always able to settle you down. Aside from Susan, Darren and Mom, everyone has noticed a change in you lately. I told Grant about your dreams of falling and he spoke to Quince about it. Quince phoned me a week before we went to Europe. That was the first time he mentioned PTSD. He saw you on the monitor when you went into the firing range that night and he woke me up with a phone call. I woke up Josh and we came running. The three of us were afraid."
"Then everyone knows?" I asked.
"Only our family, but not Darren, Susan and Mom. I thought it would be best if you knew before we sit down to dinner tonight. Tom you have to realize from our visit with Sammy on Friday, it's nothing to be ashamed of.... it's the result of a lot of heroic accomplishments in your life."
"It sounds like you're saying that I should be proud," I said.
"As proud as any soldier that serves his country," Bryan said with a big smile.
I thought for a moment as I leaned against Bryan and took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"I guess something good has come out of some of those tragedies.... Michael..... the reward and the loan, but not with all of them. I still have a lot of things to iron out with Sammy."
"Remember that Mark is one of the important accomplishments too."
"Our boys," I sighed with a smile, "I adore them."
"Good, me too! Let's see how they're making out with the table and I have to check the meat and the soup."
"How about the spuds and the veggies?" I asked.
"Ethel and Debbie are looking after them and dessert and as usual, Anne is doing up the salads."
"Ok, you check the kitchen and I'll check the boys." I said as we stood up.
With the table set, complete with all the chairs in place, all the condiments we'd need for the meal, the soup lightly simmering and the meat still in the oven, Bryan and I had time for an hour's nap in the family room. When I woke up, I was refreshed. Bryan was in the kitchen pulling out the ham to rest and had two dozen dinner rolls ready to put in the oven. The smells in the kitchen were mouth watering.
"Good rest?" Bryan asked.
"Just hit the spot," I answered.
"The boys are down at the simulator. We're going to need them up here in about five minutes to help with the soup."
"I'll get them," I said and went down to the basement. As soon as I opened the door to the shelter, the noise was almost deafening. I tapped Mark and Michael on their shoulder at the same time, they jumped a foot, and the sound went dead. Josh was looking around wondering where the volume went. It was comical. "Be upstairs in five minutes or else," I said laughing.
"Or else?" Mark asked.
"Or else you'll go to bed without your supper." I said with a grin.
"OK guys, let's shut 'er down," Mark said as he jumped out of the seat. "A man's gotta eat when a man's gotta eat."
As I climbed the stairs, I thought Mark always had a way of lifting my spirits, well, maybe not the way Josh did, but he knew how to keep me in a happy mood.
As soon as everyone started to come through the front door, the boys were busy ladling the soup into there bowls and setting them at the table as Bryan and I gave our hugs, and said our 'Hi how are ya's' to everyone. The ladies went to the table before they did anything else and placed their dishes of food on the table while Bryan and I finished carving the ham and the roast. We had three very full platters.
"Josh, the buns are in the oven. Be careful and empty them into that basket," Bryan said as we arranged the meat on the serving platters.
The three of us went into the dining room with our loads and once again it looked like there was far too much food for all of us to eat.
When we sat down, Mom held up Susan and James' hands in the air. Automatically all us joined hands without a word said.
"Thank you Lord for the happiness in this family and for the safe journeys all of us have completed recently. You have given us a bounty from which we shall not want. We thank you. Amen."
I smiled as I raised my head. "Thank you Mom that was beautiful and for sure, Pastor John needs a lesson."
Somehow that set the giggle mood for the chatter that went on while we ate our meal, listening to Susan and Darren go on about their trip to Paris and Rome and then Mom, Hamish and Irene joined in while they told us about their trips through Britain, Scotland and Ireland. It was obvious they had fun without a care in the world.
At one point Susan placed her knife and fork on her plate and announced with her head raised, looking over her shoulder and down her nose pretending to be a sophisticated snob, "....and I saw Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second IN person."
"You did!" Josh exclaimed. "What did she say to you?" His eyes were bulging in anticipation.
"Well Josh, actually we were sitting in a restaurant and she drove by in one of her official cars. She was in the back seat," Susan said quickly with a giggle. Poor Josh - we all had a laugh at his expense.
"Aw Mom, that was mean," Josh said with a big smile.
Once everyone pitched in to clear the dishes and get them into the dishwasher - it was going to take two loads - and all the chairs were put into the family room in what had become a familiar pow-wow arrangement, we all went in with our refreshments.
"So tell me, what happened at the barbeque after we left?" Susan asked.
That started our explanation of how Kevin had met Jessica and his compass trick and then we went into a simple explanation of how Travis was now working at the office. No one questioned why Robert was living with the Enderbecks and neither Bryan nor I wanted to divulge that information. It was too personal and may be embarrassing for them if someone brought it up at the office.
"Did anything else exciting happen at the office?" Mom asked.
"Weee-ell Mom, we did have a little altercation last Monday that you might hear about," I said.
As we all went through all the events that happened with Ralph Grayson in detail, Mom and Susan faces went from shock to surprise and back again.
I shrugged my shoulders when all of us had finished with the story. "It was just.... you know.... another Monday."
"Another Monday!" Susan exclaimed. "I've never had a Monday that bad in my whole career! NOW," she exclaimed, "we had to call Quince this morning and report our laptops stolen! He just laughed at me and said I should talk to you."
"I'm sorry Susan," I said with a grin, "I suppose we should have left you guys a note. Your laptops needed to get the new encryption installed into them. They're safe and sound in Weston's server room. You can pick them up tomorrow morning before you go upstairs."
Susan feigned wiping her brow. "Whew! There's a fair bit of personnel stuff on there."
"On Wednesday we kinda closed the office for anyone that wanted to go to the Stampede," Bryan said. "Quince hired a coach and took all of us there. We had a blast."
"That was a great day!" Eddie exclaimed.
"And everyone won a big prize in the midway!" Matthew chimed in.
"The elephant was so meganormus I couldn't carry it!" Richard added.
"Aaaand..." Shelley said with a smile, looking at her younger brother.
"Oh yeah," Eddie said, "we gave them all to the kids in the children's ward at the hospital."
"I liked doing that," Richard said.
"Me too," Matthew agreed.
James, Anne, Debbie and Trevor were smiling proudly - Josh just looked at Susan and winked. You could see the real glint of pride in our home comer's eyes and smiles.
"AND we went to the chuck wagon races," Kevin said with a big smile.
"Now that was a real blast!" Mark said, "I was on my feet the whole time."
"I thought he was going to lose his voice," Bryan said with a chuckle.
"Now I wonder when that would be a blessing?" Susan asked with a chuckle and a wink to Mark.
Mark looked at Bryan and me with a sad forlorn face. With a smile, Bryan said, "Susan sometimes I think every word that comes from Mark's mouth is a piece of gold."
I looked around the room at the smiling faces and thought the time was right. I began, "After the race, Quince introduced me to a friend of his.... Sam Fergeson. Bryan and I went to see him on Friday at his place of business. Mom.... Susan.... Darren.... Sam's a psychiatrist." The room was silent as I continued, "I'm not nuts, crazy or mentally ill. I'm suffering from.... or rather my subconscious mind is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. It comes from too much stress through a series of incidents and in a manner too quickly for the subconscious mind to adapt to it. Sammy said that in my case, it was 9/11 that really upset the applecart when it was added to all the other things that have happened over the years. There's not a real cure for it.... some doctors prescribe drugs for it to ease the mental stress, but Sammy doesn't prefer to mask the condition that way. He says it's a matter of readjusting the memories in my subconscious so that the good memories are more prevalent than the traumatic ones. I have twelve sessions with Sammy over the next six weeks so that we can make those adjustments to my subconscious. I can't do it alone, it takes professional help."
"You are not the dumb Davis then," Susan said seriously, "You are instead, a deserving hero that deserves all the happiness in the world. Tom, believe me.... YOU.... WILL... BE.... FINE!"
"Did all of you know about this?" Mom asked.
The nodding heads all agreed.
"Yes Mom," Bryan said, "I had to enlist the help of Grant and Quince to begin with. I was well aware of the torture that Tom was going through with all the nightmares."
"Good!" Mom said, "then we're all on the same page so to speak. Tom, I love you son and we're all here to support you in any way we can."
"Tom.... Grant and I have compared notes of our experiences in law enforcement over the years," Darren began, "and we've travelled down this road probably to a lesser degree than you have. I'm aware of only some of the crises that you've endured in the few years that I've really known you and I can tell from what you said, and from where I've been, that you're on the right track. You have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of. I know you'll soldier on and get this thing under control."
Anne stood up before she spoke. "Something very important to note here.... what we've said and heard in this room today, stays in this room. We can't have anyone at the office or work going around gossiping about this. It could undermine the value of the company in the eyes of the employees and then our customers. Eddie, Matthew, Richard.... when we leave here, we will not speak about what Tom has told us. I know how important Tom is to each of you..... to all of us, but if you say anything about Tom's condition at the office, I will personally remove you from the horseshoe and place you in the daycare with all the other little babies that don't know any better. Think of how foolish that would feel."
"I won't say a thing Mom!" Richard exclaimed.
"I won't say anything to hurt Tom. He's the greatest," Matthew added.
"My lips ARE SEALED!" Eddie exclaimed.
"If anyone at the office should ask about Tom and Bryan's absence," James added, "the explanation to give is that Tom and Bryan are investigating a confidential marketing program and if anyone wants to know more about it, they have to come to me.... I've got a whole text book of marketing foolishness to dazzle them with."
"James, you're a genius," Bryan said.
As he pointed to Anne, James smiled, "The younger Mrs. Davis here thought that one up. Tom, as Susan said, you're going to be fine and always remember, we've got your back."
"Suddenly I feel humble," I said as Bryan took my hand, "but because of all of you, I feel confident knowing how much each one of you care. This isn't a fight that any of you can take off my shoulders, but it feels good to know that all of you are still looking after all the background issues that Bryan and I might not be able to attend to this summer. On Friday I had to admit to Sammy how I felt about all of you.... to be certain, Josh, Mark and Michael are first and foremost in our lives, but I love all of you and never doubt it. Irene, Hamish.... that includes both of you too, don't ever doubt it."
"Tom," Irene began, "the medical things the doctors are discovering these days were never available when we were growing up. We never understood how it was when the men who came back from the Second World War had changed so much in so short a time. They'd turned real miserable. These days, doctors have put a name on it and they know how to treat it. For that and I guess a few other things, all of us here are thankful you're going to benefit from this treatment and so that you know, Hamish and I love you two boys.... maybe as the sons we never had, and for certain, sons we can be proud of."
"Laddie, true what Irene said," Hamish said. "We've watched an' admired the way you've worked just on this ranch, whether it be the Christmas lights or the preparations you an' the boys accomplish just in puttin' a dinner like this together. Mostly the thing I admire is the way you take on the job of keeping these boys on the straight and narrow. You've every right to be proud just as Darren said. I think you get a lot of admiration because all of us get to share in that pride."
I smiled at Bryan almost ready to shed a tear, then looked at Mom with a grin.
Mom laughed. "Don't be looking at me like that Tom. I'm your mother and I'll always be proud of my son." With a big smile, she quickly scanned the circle of faces in the room. "Ok, it's true.... I'm proud of each and every person in this room."
"That's what we wanted to hear!" Anne said with a big smile as she stood up and took Timmy from James' arms, "but right now we have to get this squirming scallywag home for a bath and his bed."
That started the break-up of our welcome home dinner party. After the last of the line left, I realized I'd never enjoyed so many hugs. I was rather pumped as I helped the boys put everything back together in the family and the dining room. Then we went into the kitchen and helped Bryan with the final cleanup of the kitchen.
"You forgot to tell them about the green eyes," Bryan said with a giggle.
That got me laughing. "Some things are better left unsaid. I could just imagine Mom and Michael singing that song as a duet."
"Yeah, I sure don't need Michael crooning in my ears all night," Mark added.
The following Tuesday with Sammy was a treat. We discussed the sudden death of my dad and through a series of his pointed questions and my honest answers, resolved that it wasn't something I could control and then the 'incident' - the term that Sammy had relegated it to - with the Struthers. He made me realize that those wounds were old and in reality the 'incident' had little bearing on my sexuality. In reality I was born to be the person that I am - it wasn't a matter of choice. On the positive side I was able to relate how I initially met Josh at camp and later how I became a boarder at his home. Sammy was right too - I was looking forward to the next session on Friday. As we headed back to the office that Friday, I knew we were making progress.
I'd received a call from Fred Rollins early in the week. I told him how well our reception was in the Netherlands and we agreed that Saturday night at the legion hall would be an appropriate time for us to officially present my grand uncle's Victoria Cross. I explained that there would be five of us coming, in full uniform to present the medal and that he would get to meet my son, Josh. He was all enthused about that and said that they would make it a semi-formal event - suit and ties would do. I added that a party of about twenty from my extended family maybe with us as well.
I got the four boys together and we did a short practice of what we would consider appropriate. The only change Josh wanted to make was that he wanted to be able to say something to the effect that he had something in common with them inasmuch as he wouldn't be there if it hadn't been for my grand uncle saving his grandfather's life. We went through a simple blah-blah rehearsal and the five of us felt as if we were set.
Saturday night, in our full dress uniforms, we arrived at the legion hall, and Fred Rollins was waiting for us in the parking lot. He asked that the rest of the family to enter and take their reserved seats at the front of the hall and for we five to wait at the back of the hall until he introduced us.
Fred took to the podium. "Ladies and gentlemen, as you know we are here tonight to receive the posthumous Victoria Cross that has been awarded to a man of this regiment.... Lieutenant Ryan Andrew Davis. I understand it was a great effort on the part of one teenager that this recognition was bestowed on Lieutenant Ryan Davis. As many of us have told this story many times over the years, you're aware that Lieutenant Davis stepped forth on the battlefront to save some of our lives. Here to present the Victoria Cross to this Regiment tonight is Captain Tom Davis of the Calgary Air Cadet Squadron and a small contingent from the Calgary Air Cadet Corp. Gentlemen, please step forward and be recognized."
Side-by-side Mark and Michael headed our march to the platform, I followed singly behind them prominently carrying the small box that contained by grand uncles Victoria Cross, then followed by Josh and Kevin side-by-side. We mounted the steps to the podium in that order. While the four boys flanked me, I went to the pedestal and spoke into the microphone, still holding up the small box.
"Together with Joshua Chambers, Mark Callahan, Michael Burton and Kevin Brown, it is an honour to place my grand uncle's Victoria Cross in a place where it will be cherished.... by the people who he honoured with his life, by his fellow soldiers who fought beside him. I know that it's home here is a place of honour and a place that he would enjoy attending were he alive today."
I turned to Fred Rollins and ceremoniously handed him the small box and snapped a simple salute, which he returned. I turned to face the audience. "Now I'm privileged to introduce you to Sergeant Josh Chambers, who would like to say a few words about his heritage."
Josh moved from his spot in the line and approached the speaker's pedestal as I took two steps back.
Standing easy with his hands behind him, his stance spread, he began to speak. "Good evening. It is a privilege to be here among such honourable people. I know how meaningful this medal is to many of you because it honours a man who saved some of your lives during the Second World War. It's very meaningful to me as well because had it not been for the sacrifice that Lieutenant Ryan Andrew Davis made that terrible day in Holten, I wouldn't be here either. You see Lieutenant Ryan Davis saved the life of my grandfather, John Dekker, so that one day, through the generations, I could call Captain Tom Davis, my dad." He continued smiling, "I adopted him.... he had no choice." I thought that would be the end of his little speech, but in a somewhat dramatic move, Josh moved his hands to the speaker's pedestal and look across the crowd intently, yet quickly before he continued.
"I share with you the understanding of the term 'brothers in arms'. Being a blood relative doesn't always make you a brother. To my right, is Flight Sergeant Michael Burton and Flight Sergeant Mark Callahan, both are my brothers and the three of us are the sons of Captain Davis. We live and work together with other extended family members, at a ranch west of here and in an office building near the airport together with Sergeant Kevin Brown and his family. As just teenagers in an Air Cadet Corp, today, we are not considered old enough to actively serve in the military on the front lines, but in a few years we will be. In the Second World War this wasn't the case. Many zealous boys our age lied to the recruitment officer about their age, were enlisted and with a minimum of training, shipped to Europe to fight in a war at the best level they could. Some of you younger looking veterans are nodding your heads. How fortunate that you had your older brothers in arms to guide, nurture and protect you through the horror of war. We teenagers are looking at the faces of the veterans in this hall and we see gratitude..... gratitude that you were able to serve in whatever capacity you could, in a service for your country. That too is the wish of we cadets.... to serve this country in whatever capacity we are best suited for. We're looking at the veterans in this hall and we see each of you as fine examples of the people we want to become. We're looking at the veterans in this hall and realizing that your legacy to this country is one of inspiration for all of us who wish to follow in your footsteps. We're looking at the veterans in this hall.... and we're saying thank you."
Josh took a step back, barked a 'Attention' command, the five of us snapped to attention, and then snapped a brisk salute to the audience. In return, all the noble veterans stood, except those in wheelchairs, and returned our salute. It was certainly an emotional moment for them and for our family as well. Josh had nailed it again - totally unscripted.
After ceremoniously lowering our hands, we turned and marched from the podium to sit with our family to a wonderful round of applause. Fred Rollins pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and unashamedly wiped his eyes as he walked to the pedestal.
"Sergeant Chambers.... Josh.... tonight you, your Dad and your fellow cadets have made me feel that I have passed the torch on to a generation that appreciates the values of all the veterans in this hall, demonstrating to us that the future of this country is in good hands. Captain Davis.... Tom, you have brought closure to the many stories that all of us have told these many years about your grand uncle. You have honoured us.... above and beyond the call of duty. Thank you."
Before we and our family filed out of the hall that night, we had many hand shakes and words of gratitude as everyone got a brief history of our family and who was related to who. The smiles on their faces was certainly reward enough for all of us.
For the next three weeks, things resumed into a normal pace and routine. Bryan and I continued our appointments with Sammy. Knowing what went on at our sessions, Bryan was able to monitor and gauge my progress from a different perspective than I could. His contributions to our sessions was minimal, but his presence at the other end of the room was reassuring, especially after my 'introductory' session. In addition, Bryan was able to gauge his encouragement, humour and understanding afterwards, relative to what went on at each session.
For reasons that need no explanation, Travis, Robert and Jessica would show up at the ranch every Sunday afternoon. While Kevin and Jessica would have a date, Robert and Travis would join us in our activities which included fishing and exploring the trails in the forest on the west side of the ranch, swimming, or some other nonsense.
The August long weekend was, as my nephews said, awesome! Trevor and Eddie, Grant and Kevin, James and the twins, Andy, Bryan and I with our three boys, and Quince, with our vehicles pre-loaded to the hilt; Grant's crew cab, Andy's Jeep, our Jeep and Quince's Suburban, on Thursday night; and we left Friday right after work on a camping trip. This was going to be our 'boys night out.' Once again Quince was the organizer. Tents, drinking water, tables, food, clothing, rifles (just in case), stoves, pots and pans, dishes - he didn't miss a detail as he handed us the entire list and we compared notes for what each of us would bring.
The ladies of Serenity weren't going to see us until Monday night. They in turn had their own plans. Jenny Norwood was going to change her name to Jenny Hambell in a small wedding ceremony at the ranch. Susan was her maid of honour. Her fiancé, Greg, certainly had been given our stamp of approval. Although we all loved Jenny, another wedding just wasn't our cup of tea.... we all needed this man time. Of course the ladies were in their element with all the fussy preparations that us guys wanted no part of.
Poor Hamish - he wanted no part of either event, so he volunteered to look after the dogs for the weekend. Darren had no choice - he had to be (maybe he wanted to be) Susan's escort throughout the event. Travis, Robert and Jessica said they would be at the wedding as well. Our trip wasn't something they could include Jessica in.
Quince had chosen a great camp site just north of Golden in British Columbia, off the beaten track about 12 kilometers up a logging road - actually right into the rugged wilderness - that had a perfect small glacial-fed creek running passed it. It was about a three-hour drive from Calgary. Although we could have stayed on the ranch and enjoyed a similar adventure with similar character, it wouldn't have been the same. We knew all the trails, nooks, and crannies at the ranch. This was a new environment, especially for Eddie and the twins who had only experienced the semi-civilized camping at Camp Tonawonka. The clearing was great for our five tents.
While the adults were erecting them, our boys, Eddie and the twins went around the site area and collected kindling on the forest floor for an evening fire. Once they had enough of that gathered, Mark, took the axe with him and started breaking up some fallen logs, splitting them while the youngsters took the pile back to the fire pit that Josh, Michael and Kevin were erecting. At the end of one of the fallen trees further into the forest, Mark found a small pit created from the root system of a fallen tree. Together with the help of Kevin and Josh, and a shovel, they turned it into our latrine.
While we prepared dinner, Eddie and the twins were right there, learning the proper procedures of how to maintain a campsite and the importance of keeping all the food and scraps off the ground and how to cleanup after every meal and how to store your food. They were soaking up all the information like a sponge, although I thought I'd taught them some of that at our stint at camp.
By 9:30 that night the youngsters were exhausted and James and Trevor had them tucked into their sleeping bags.
We sat around the fire for about another hour discussing everything. We teased Kevin about his love life even though we knew exactly where he was with Jessica and when we teased Andy about his, all we got with a big smile was, "I'll know when I get back to school and that's all I'm going to say about that."
Our first morning, about 4:30, just as the black sky turned to deep indigo, the local wolf population began to howl. Actually all of us in our tent and I suppose the other tents as well woke up. I knew they were close because I could hear them padding around the ground near our tents and their howls became very loud. Then we heard a shot and the five of us in our tent scampered quickly outside with our flashlights scanning the campsite. Quince was there holding a rifle pointed to the ground.
"It's ok men, I just fired a shot to scare 'em away." Quince announced. "We can go back to sleep for a couple hours. They won't be back."
I listened to a bunch of tired mumbles around the camp as each of us did get another few hours of shuteye. The next morning, the youngsters got the lesson that you never aim a gun or fire a shot unless it's to the intended target. Quince warned them, "It's against the law to carelessly fire a shot directly up into the air in any populated area because you don't know where it's going to land.... a bullet will travel a mile up before it starts to come down and it could be on someone's head." Then he showed us where he'd fired the bullet into the ground. That kept the young boys busy digging for it while we prepared breakfast. They were thrilled when they found it.
As it turned out, this became a weekend of Quince, the boys, Bryan and I teaching Eddie and the twins the advanced methods of how to survive if you were anywhere out in the wild by yourself. Even Trevor, Andy, and Grant were enthused.
The highlight of the weekend was Sunday when we trekked to the top of the mountain above our camp. We saw a few wolves, a couple of bears, some deer and a multitude of birds that we didn't recognize, but the eagles amazed us. It was a hefty climb and it was tough for the youngsters, but it was worth the view we enjoyed from the rocky peak. More than once I heard James and Trevor say, "Don't tell mom." I knew that the dad/son secrets would be kept and the bond between them would be greater. Kevin knew better - he was really enjoying his dad time with Grant, just as Bryan and I were with our boys.
I suppose the best part of a weekend like that, is the reflection of the memories you enjoy when you get home. No doubt about it, we were grubby. While we were camping, we only washed our hands in the very cold creek before we ate. We'd changed our underwear and some, including me went commando in the middle of the afternoon sun.
Once we had everything unloaded from the vehicles, we went into the main house and headed for our bedroom. While Josh gathered up all the dirty smelly laundry from our weekend, Michael, Mark, Bryan and I hit the showers and had a shave. As much fun as it is to have a grubby weekend, it just as much fun to feel clean afterwards. I could just imagine the comments of Ethel, Mom and Debbie as the males entered their homes with four-day beards and smelling of camp fire smoke. They would be doing the same as us shortly after getting in the door.
Once downstairs again after our shower and shaving, Bryan and I started fixing a snack when Mark and Michael came downstairs.
I was busy concentrating on putting a fruit salad into dishes when Michael said, "Tell him Dad."
"Tell him what?" I asked.
"Look!" he exclaimed. I lifted my eyes, just as Bryan did as well.
Together we said, very deadpan, "Go shave Mark."
"But I think it would be cool to have a beard Dad," Mark said as he gently rubbed his cheek.
"Mark, it isn't part of your religious belief and Michael isn't going to want to sleep with you with sand paper on your face," Bryan said with a smile.
"Besides," I added, "I can hardly see it. You're blond and I can hardly see it."
"But it will get longer," Mark protested.
"What.... so you can use it as a napkin when you dribble food down your chin." Michael said. "Yuck!"
"Hmmm, maybe you're right," Mark said with a grin. "Don't want to give Canada a bad image."
Just as Mark was leaving the kitchen he passed Josh coming in. Josh shook his head. "Shave it Mark."
"I'm going, I'm going. Save some fruit for me," Mark whined as he went back upstairs.
Michael kissed his cheek when he came back and joined us on the back deck clean-shaven. "I'm yours," he said with a big grin.
We had spent a number of evenings on the back deck this summer snacking and talking as we watched the sun set in the western sky. Much of the time nothing was said while we contemplated the miracle and happiness of life. I think many of the households at the ranch enjoyed the same sight.
That weekend had been special for me. I never once thought of the office, the ranch, Sammy's sessions or the nightmare of 9/11. Nature in the open country had absorbed all of it that weekend and I felt contented. I wondered if Quince had that in mind when he planned it.
The third week in August, actually the Wednesday afternoon before my last scheduled session with Sammy, Grant called me in my office to say that Ralph Grayson came in to pick up his car, but he wanted to see me before he left. I told Grant to bring him up together with Weston. I phoned Josh and Robert and told them to get to my office ASAP, then I told Bryan.
When Ralph entered my office, I was impressed - he was wearing a sports jacket, tie and a nice pair of pressed pants. Although more dignified than our casual appearance, you could see a more serious look on his face than he had in the early days of his employment with us.
When Grant, Weston and Ralph entered my office, I stepped forward with my hand extended. "Tom, thanks for allowing me to see you," he said; his voice didn't have the happy enthusiasm it had in the past.
"Ralph, it's good to see you," I answered as we shook hands.
He went to Bryan, shook his hand and said, "Thanks for trusting me.... the real me."
"It's what we do," Bryan said.
He went on to Robert with a big smile, "Hey strong man! How's the Mac world doing?"
"The Macs are fine.... I hope you are too Ralph." Robert replied.
"I'm going to be Ok Robert."
He looked at Josh as he shook his hand. "I didn't know you were my best friend. I'm sorry for everything. I guess the world is listening to you because things are changing more than you know."
"It takes deeds too," Josh said, "You're looking good Ralph. I'll always be happy to call you friend, however for us, well I guess the best is yet to come."
Ralph looked over to the chairs in front of my desk. With a bit of a smile, he pondered, "The scene of the crime," then turning to all of us as he sobered, "I'm sorry and I apologize for everything that happened.... I.... I had no idea what was going on in my head, but that part of my life is just about fixed. Denise was the bright part in my life, but sadly, I think I've lost her to.... them." He looked at the floor shaking his head.
Bryan broke the silence. "Ralph, have you found another job?"
He smiled with a bit of the old sparkle in his eyes. "Yes actually I have. Sergeant Wilson recruited me into the RCMP Computer Centre of all places. It seems the more software that's being pumped out, the busier I become with hackers and people phishing for personal information on home and corporate computers. There's more to it than that, but I'm not allowed to say. Tom, the other thing I have to do is give you my access cards."
He reached into his jacket pocket and handed me the cards. I knew the cards were useless because they had been cancelled in our systems. "Thanks Ralph," I began, "You know, try as we might, we haven't been able to replace you with anyone that has your talent."
"Thank you for the compliment Tom, however I think all the brainy programmers are working in my department back at the RCMP. We're scalping them right out of university."
"That's odd Ralph," Robert said with a big smile, "They haven't got me."
"You haven't graduated yet Robert," Ralph said with a grin.
"He's going to be OK Dad," Josh said as he returned to the horseshoe. I thought Josh was right.
When Bryan and I attended the last session with Sammy the three of us were confident that my subconscious had reacted properly to the sessions. Now I could reflect on all the great and positive things that had happened to us and to my family and others because of all the tragedies in my life. I did have a new outlook. Reminders of the horrible scenes or momentary flashbacks no longer disturbed my concentration - only when I consciously wanted to remember them for a purpose at a given time. The nightmares never came back and there was never another day of trauma like there was that first day in Sammy's office.
Sammy had a somber reminder for me; maybe he said it to my subconscious, "Think of the effect you have on each member of your family, every person that works in your company and their families, your sons, Bryan, but most important you.... yourself. Without you, their lives would be much worse off. You would be less accomplished and less happy than you are right now if you were on your own and didn't have their support. You've had a far reaching effect on this world, more than you realize."
Although his statement was obvious to me, coming from Sammy, it was reinforced. I had a lot to be thankful for and it gave me a feeling of appreciation when I looked at everyone in a different light.
Before the September long weekend came, Shelly had our web site designed and Weston had it up and running with all of Andy and Gerald's legalities well spelled out. All our software had been relabeled and anything new had it prominently displayed. Mom was quick to replace all the business cards and Susan had it added to our letterhead and on the shelves.
In addition, Shelly and Jessica were tickled pink that their website was also up and running. Trevor and Debbie were very proud of their daughter, but then who wasn't - our whole extended family and now our employees at Davis-Callahan were proud to brag to their friends and family about the website. At the bottom of the opening web page, although smaller print, it said, 'Website designed by Shelly Mason, Davis-Callahan Corp.'
Once Weston had assured himself that the website was up and running properly, we transferred the responsibilities of the Webmaster to a young man in James' department because we considered it to be a marketing tool.
All too soon the school year began and we were all back into the school routine as autumn came with the cooler weather.
By the first of October, we were assured that our web site was getting a lot of hits and was generating a number of customers. It was time for potential buyers to be able to make their purchases on line. With Weston making our site secure, Mom and the bank setting up a special account for direct deposit from the customers, we were now able to provide our products on line.
That same week, Robert approached Bryan and I and told us that he had talked to a number of the students in his computing class and he thought by their enthusiasm and the way they tackled some of the problems in the computer lab that they would be good candidates for the horseshoe testing bay on a part time basis.
The testing system we had with the kids at the horseshoe and their meetings with the programmers worked really well, but with them at school and their studies to concentrate on, it meant Bryan and I and the programmers themselves had to check and re-check their programs. In the overall, that was slowing down production of new programs to the market.
Susan, Bryan and I interviewed seven of the students that Robert thought might work into our office on a part time basis. We were lucky in a backward way with the first student that we interviewed.
The young man's personality appeared to be positive and outgoing. He didn't have Robert's experience with programming, but neither did the kids, however his interest in computing made him sound promising.
At the end of the interview, Susan asked the obligatory question. "Would you object to our security team doing a criminal record check on your background?"
The young man answered with a question that almost shocked me. "Would that include drug testing?"
Cool and collected, very casually, Susan immediately answered, "Of course."
"Weeelll then, I'm not sure I'm your man.... I kinda like to have a joint on the weekends to relax with."
We told him that we wouldn't hire him then.
After he left, we pondered that we couldn't imagine to someone admitting to that, but we understood that it was the scene at university with some students these days.
Susan told us later that she was certainly going to change that obligatory question to include drug testing. When another of the students was asked the revised question, their answer was yes, they would object to submitting to a drug test and criminal record check.
Out of the seven that came in for an interview, we hired five at the lowest level of the pay scale. It wouldn't be up to the same level as we had during the summer with all eight kids working the horseshoe, but it would be of some help.
At our last executive meeting in October, James asked all of us what we thought of his idea for a Christmas blitz. It meant that we would continue producing all the new programs we could during the next month, package them and put them on the shelf ready for shipment, continue to advertise them on our website and magazines to develop enthusiastic interest in the market, before we released them to the retail stores December first.
We tossed the idea back and forth and ended up trying it. December sales astounded everyone. They were over the top. In addition, we did close up the office for ten days during the Christmas season.
Once again, we had the Christmas lights blazing at the Serenity Ranch thanks to Hamish and his crew.
Again this year, we kept Christmas gift giving to a minimum - if you wanted to get something special for someone special, that was OK, but we all wanted to concentrate on what we could do for the kids in the childrens' ward and the multitude of other charities that could use an influx of dollars. Our New Years Celebration was more subdued for the adults this year as well. Instead of going to a dance and partying at a hotel this year, they joined the rest of us with our celebration downtown. They ended up saying they enjoyed that as much as going to any old dance.
At our first executive meeting in the New Year, Mom was proud to announce, first that our profits were so high that we could all have a raise and second, that she had set up a realistic payment schedule to Enrich Goldman that we should have no problem meeting, based on our average monthly sales.
I had a feeling that 2003 was going to be a happy year.