"Hello... Oh, hi, Jack" I said answering my phone. "Thanks for getting back to me. Theresa Shannon from CPS is at the door. May I call you right back? Thanks!"
"Come in. You must be Theresa Shannon. I'm Crane Johnson. Please come into the family room. Dr. Sam is in there," I rambled as I extended my hand to her and inviting her into the house.
After greeting Sam, Theresa sat down on the couch next to him and Boy.
I said, "I need to call Jack back to see what information he has been able to discover. Sam, will you fill Theresa in on what you know of the situation and I'll fill in any of the blanks that you can't."
Walking swiftly to my bedroom, I dialed Jack. "Jack, sorry about having to get back to you like this, but things were getting a little hectic just when you called. What were you able to find out?"
"Here it is in a nutshell," he started. "From what I can figure out, the boy in your house could, and I must emphasize could, be the son of the murdered woman you heard about on TV. It appears that the husband killed her after a violent argument that had been going on for several days according to neighbors. Several of them saw the husband speeding away from the house around noon or thereabouts.
"Something that was not on the news and is being kept under wraps is that there were three young boys locked in a closet in a back bedroom. It appears that they were all undernourished and had been subject to physical if not sexual abuse. All of them were covered with bruises and scrapes.
"The neighbors also reported that there was another son who was not in the house when the police arrived. There are indications that he had been locked in a shed in the back yard. It looks like he was able to dig his way out of the shed through the dirt floor. The police are looking for the boy now."
"Okay, do you have any names? Anything that might identify the young man I have here? I asked when he paused for breath.
"The name of the boy that they are looking for is Joel, Joel Andersen. One of the neighbor kids reported seeing Joel at the front door of his house screaming as if he were in extreme pain and then suddenly stopped. Other neighbors said that they had seen Joel walking down the street in what they described as a trance or daze early this afternoon and they had not seen him since," he concluded. "That's all I can find out right now. I'll keep in touch with the investigators to see what I can glean and if there is anything significant I'll be in touch. Right now, I'm going to bed. It has been a long day and it is getting late."
"Thanks, Jack! I really appreciate this. I owe you big time. I'll talk to you tomorrow," I said ringing off.
I walked back into the family room just as Dr. Sam was wrapping up his review of the situation with Theresa. "I'm sorry to have been so rude leaving you like that, but I needed to get the information that Jack had that might pertain to this situation. It might not, but it sounds to me suspiciously like it does," I said before relaying what Jack had told me.
They both listened intently until I finished. I had deliberately delayed the inclusion of the name that I believed deep down belonged to the boy that Sam was still cradling in his arms as we talked.
Finally I couldn't hold back any longer on my desire to confirm or deny the name of my young guest. "Jack told me that the name of the missing older boy was Joel Andersen." With that announcement the boy in Sam's arms let out another the high pitched squeal that so startled me earlier. He began sobbing almost hysterically again.
Sam made every effort to comfort the boy and at the same time asking him gently if his name was Joel but received no response. "Crane, I believe we should put this youngster into bed. He needs to get some rest. I'll give him a light sedative to help him get to sleep. Theresa, you did not see or hear me say that, right?"
The good doctor struggled mightily to get up without dropping the boy. He normally has a hard time getting up from my couch without the added burden of 60 or 70 additional pounds.
I could barely keep a straight face as I led him and his charge still in his arms to one of the spare bedrooms directly across from my bedroom. I retrieved Sam's bag from the kitchen counter and brought it to him before leaving the room.
Theresa began as I entered the family room, "If that boy really is Joel Andersen, then I am somewhat familiar with the family. Although it is not one of my cases, one of my associates was telling me about an Andersen family that had been put on watch for possible neglect of four young boys. The family had been interviewed at least twice, but nothing overtly demanded that the children be placed in protective custody. She was suspicious that there was an unhealthy atmosphere for the children but was not in any position to have the children removed just because she had a bad feeling about the home environment.
"It is too late to do anything tonight. But, I will be back tomorrow after I have contacted Joyce. She is the case worker I mentioned. If the other three children have been taken into custody, she will be made aware of them for further processing. I can't say right now what will happen to your little friend after tonight. Just watch him like Dr. Sam suggested and we will see what tomorrow brings."
Theresa was gathering up her things when Sam came back into the room. "He is sleeping quietly now. The sedative should allow him to get some needed rest. Perhaps we will know more by the time he wakes up. I'll fill out the suspected abuse forms you gave me and have them ready sometime tomorrow morning. I guess our priority after making sure that he is safe and healthy is to determine just who he is for sure. I think that we are all fairly certain that we know his name. We do have to confirm it before any substantial steps are taken. Let's all get some sleep. I don't think there is anything more we can do tonight and besides I'm beat."
"Thanks so much for all of your help, both of you. Sam, I'll call you in the morning after the little one wakes up and let you know if his kidneys are functioning. Theresa, it was nice to meet you. Call me any time if you get more information," I said as I saw them both out the front door.
I buttoned up the house for the night and set the alarm before I looked in on the sleeping boy. He looked so peaceful lying there with the silvery moonlight providing just enough brightness to see him. Turning to my bedroom, I glanced at my alarm clock. "Good God, it's almost 1AM. No wonder I am so tired. This has been a long and certainly not a normal day."
Leaving the door open to my bedroom in case he started to get restless, I stripped out of my clothes, threw them in the hamper and then slipped between the sheets of my king size bed. I don't think I had been in bed five minutes before I was dead to the world.
It seemed like I had just gotten to sleep when I awoke with a start. I listened carefully but heard nothing unusual. Looking at the clock, I saw it was nearly six o'clock. I started to roll over when I felt something in bed with me. Since this is not a frequent occurrence it nearly scared the crap out of me. I quickly turned on the bedside lamp to see what it was. Squinting against the bright light assaulting my sleepy eyes, I saw that the object was Boy (Joel?) curled up in a ball in the middle of the bed. "Oh, shit!" I thought. "Here I am, naked as a jaybird in bed with a pre-teenage boy whose name I don't know for sure. Christ, what would CPS or the cops say about this?"
He did look so peaceful lying there that I couldn't help but lean over and give him a light kiss on the top of his head. "This kid is getting to me," I thought and quickly got out of bed and went my dresser to retrieve a pair of pajama bottoms, slipped them on before crawling back into bed without disturbing him.
Surprisingly I went back to sleep and when I next looked at the clock it was almost eight. Rolling over I saw that he was awake sitting up in the bed staring at me. "Good morning, little one," I said through a sleep haze. "I don't know about you, kid, but I have to pee bad!" I swung my legs over the side of the bed and walked quickly to my bathroom to do my business when I felt him behind me pushing against my leg. "Do you have to go too? I guess that there is room for two. There has to be because I can't wait." I moved to one side of the toilet and let my stream loose. He hesitated briefly before pushing down his borrowed underwear and began urinating. I watched closely remembering that Sam had asked me to see whether and how much urine that Boy produced.
Men have this unwritten rule that they don't look at another's penis when they are taking a piss, so it was hard to watch him pee. But I did, and was pleased to see that he produced nearly as much urine as I did. His did have a much darker color and had a noticeably strong and unpleasant odor.
"Let's get our hands washed and then I'll see what I can rustle up for our breakfast," I said as we finished.
As he turned around I noticed for the first time his back and the horrible weals and welts. "Oh my god, how could anyone do this to you?" I sobbed dropping to my knees. "I can't believe that anyone could be so cruel." Tears began running down my cheeks as I got a better look at the damage done to his back. My stomach felt like it was going to turn inside out and I could feel the acid push up into my throat. I swallowed hard trying to recover from this atrocity I saw in front of me.
"Let's go get some of that salve that Dr. Sam left," I said as I choked out. "Then go put on some clothes while I throw on a robe." I could hardly see through my tear filled eyes to apply the ointment to his injuries, but did manage to complete the process.
Thank goodness my housekeeper had been grocery shopping this week. She makes sure that I have enough food to feed an army all the time. For once I was glad that she kept me so well supplied. I pulled some sausage links out of the refrigerator along with some milk, orange juice and syrup. I decided to make waffles.
I have this old waffle maker that must be almost as old as I am that makes four six inch square waffles at one time. I dug it out of the cupboard and plugged it in to begin heating up. After putting the skillet on the stove and adding a pound of the sausages, I mixed up the waffle batter. I'm a real gourmet, I used a mix that only requires you to add the liquid and presto you have the batter. I took my pastry brush and liberally painted the heating surfaces of the waffle iron with oil. This thing is so old that it predates Teflon but it makes the greatest waffles. I poured in the batter and began setting the breakfast bar with plates and utensils. I also put the syrup into the microwave and heated it up. I hate to have cold syrup on my hot waffles.
All this time Boy was sitting there watching intently. At least this morning he was not as clingy and allowed me to move around without him being wrapped around my waist. I guess he knew that I was not going to abandon him. The sausages and the first batch of waffles were ready almost simultaneously. I drained the meat and set it on the bar and then carefully peeled the waffle from the iron before buttering it and pouring in the batter for the second batch.
I cut the waffles into the four sections, placed them on the platter and set them on the table.
"Dig in or I might eat them all," I laughed. He took me at my word and stabbed two of the waffles and six sausage links. Smothering both of the waffles with butter and syrup, he began attacking his plate like he hadn't eaten in a week. "Slow down, nobody is going to take it away from you. There is plenty more to come."
I ate one of the waffles that were left on the plate and a couple of the sausage links. As I picked up the platter to go get the other waffles he stabbed the remaining one and plopped it on his plate. When I returned with the fresh batch, he just smiled up at me with syrup and butter dripping down his chin. I reached over with my napkin and wiped his chin. I caught him between fork loads.
I got one more waffle and two more links and he ate all of the rest along with two large glasses of milk and a large glass of OJ.
I was just putting the last of the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher when the phone rang. It was Sam.
The first thing he said, even before hello, was, "How is he this morning? Has he gone to the bathroom yet?"
"He appears to be just fine this morning," I replied. "His appetite is good and he did pee." I went on to describe the color and odor of the urine to him. Sam was not too happy about my description but said he was glad the he had started passing urine. He said that the dark color in the urine could be from blood as a result of the bruised kidneys but would need a sample to be sure. It could also contribute to the strong odor. When he asked me if I had a small glass bottle with a lid, I knew what he was leading up to.
"Yes, Sam, I know what you want me to do. And yes, the next time he goes I'll be there with the collection bottle. Damn, now I know why I didn't go into nursing," I chuckled at the image in my mind.
I found the bottle that I told Sam I had and washed it with soap and water. Then I filled it with water and placed it in the microwave and turned it on for a couple of minutes in an effort to sterilize the bottle. After the water boiled for a minute I carefully removed the bottle, dumped the hot water out and sealed it with the cap.
I had just gone to check on Boy when the phone rang. Seeing that he was napping on the couch with the Saturday morning cartoons on TV, I returned to the kitchen to answer it.
"Good morning, this is Theresa Shannon. How is our little friend this morning?"
"Oh, good morning, Theresa, he is doing fine. He is eating like he has been starved and he is producing urine so that is one less worry."
"Good, I have talked to Joyce this morning and she has taken the three other suspected siblings into protective custody. She would like to meet with your boy to see if he is the missing son. Would later this morning be alright?"
"Yes, I think that would be okay. How about 11 o'clock? Do you think it would be possible for her to bring the other children just in case Boy is actually Joel? It might also help him to recover his voice if he knows his brothers are safe. Let me know if she can bring them. I'll have my house keeper fix us some lunch and we can eat out by the pool. It is turning out to be a gorgeous day for a picnic."
"I'll check with Joyce but I think she will be agreeable. Eleven I'm sure will be fine."
I hung up the phone and checked on Boy again. He was awake and engrossed in the cartoons so I didn't bother him. I picked up the phone again and called Mrs. Ramirez to see if she could prepare a picnic lunch for us even if the other boys could not come. I don't know what I would do without her help. She had been taking care of my household every since I moved to the San Antonio area out of college. She cleaned the house, did my shopping and even fixed meals for me two days a week. The way she looked after me you would think she was my surrogate mother. She readily agreed to fix the picnic only asking how many people she should prepare for. When I told her that there would possibly be four young boys she laughed and said she had better make extra.
I went in and sat down beside Boy. He looked up at me and as I really looked at his eyes for the first time today they seem to me to be less yellowed than yesterday. I hoped that I was not just wishing it to be so.
"We are going to have some visitors later this morning," I started. "The lady that was here last night and a friend of hers named Joyce are coming to see you. Is that alright?"
He gave an almost invisible shrug and went back to watching the cartoons but did slide closer to me leaning into my chest. I put my arm around him and leaned down to kiss the top of his head. His only response was to snuggle closer to me. We sat that way for probably an hour when he slipped off the couch. He grabbed my hand and pulled me toward one of the bedrooms. I had a feeling that he needed to take a bathroom break so I forced a detour to pick up the bottle that I had sterilized to carry out the good doctor's instructions.
It was a bit awkward but we managed to get a sufficient sample for the analysis. His urine was still as dark and strong smelling as earlier so I capped it as quickly as I could. I rinsed the outside of the bottle and dried it, took it to the kitchen and wrapped it in foil before placing it in the refrigerator. That sounds gross but it is what the doctor ordered.
Since it was only 10:30 I decided I should give Boy a tour of the outside of the house. So far he had only seen the interior. I opened the sliding patio door and motioned for him to follow. I never get tired of the vista that unfolds out my back door. Boy stopped frozen just outside the door not believing what he was seeing. I believed that what had mesmerized Boy was the panorama until I looked down at him. To my surprise what had stopped him in his tracks were the hill country pests, the nemesis of every gardener... deer.
There were eleven deer chewing up what was left of some very expensive landscape plants that I had installed earlier in the year. Boy's eyes were fixed on them I am sure because he had never seen them before or at least not so close up. When I realized this I placed my arm around him and nudged him further out onto the stone patio toward the deer. As we approached they lifted their heads and looked toward us but did not move away. The closer we got the more of their attention was focused on the two of us. When we were about 8 or 10 feet from the closest one it started moving slowly away. This started the whole group sauntering off to wreak havoc on new pastures.
After the deer were out of sight I led Boy around the rest of the back of the house. We toured the pool and hot tub area as well as the steep set of steps leading down to the lake front. By this time it was nearing 11 o'clock so we started back to the house to wait for our guests. Since I had not heard back from either Theresa or Joyce I did not know if the other possible brothers would be coming but was hoping that they would show up.
As we entered the house I heard the buzzer for the entry gate go off. The security camera at the gate showed that it was Dr. Sam. I did not realize he was going to be here but I was glad that he was. I pushed the button to release the gate and at the same time I saw on the camera two more vehicles approaching. One I recognized as Theresa's car from last night. The other I just assumed was Joyce's SUV.
As I walked toward the front door to greet our guests, I motioned Boy to my side and put my arm around him before proceeding to the door. Dr. Sam was the first to arrive on the front porch where we greeted him. He shook my hand and extended his to Boy who surprisingly took it and shook it giving Sam a weak smile. Next to arrive was Theresa and the scene was repeated. Finally a rather large woman both in height and girth approached and introduced herself as Joyce Gehrig.
"Hello there young man," Joyce said brightly to Boy. "It is a pleasure to meet you. I hope that you had a pleasant sleep. You are looking well today."
"I have brought the other children, but would like to visit with this young man before we introduce them," she directed to me. "Theresa will look after them for a few minutes while I spend some time with him."
With that she placed her hand on Boy's shoulder and led him around the corner of the house toward the pool.
I walked with Theresa to the SUV to check on the kids that had been left there. To my surprise the three children in the vehicle consisted of a boy that appeared to be about 6 and what I'm sure was a set of twin boys who were maybe 9. It was obvious to me just from looking into their eyes that they were Boy's brothers. They all had the distinctive azure colored eyes that were so noticeable in Boy. Or maybe I should start calling him Joel.