But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Jesus
The house in Texas would grow lonely when the kids went back to Brigham City. The day after they leave is always bad. Where the day before the grill would have been churning out bacon and eggs, hot chocolate in the coffee pot, and our little dog, Cleo, in everybody’s business looking for a treat. The day after there is nothing. Absolute solitude.
When Joe died he’d left everyone set up. All of his military benefits rested on his five little “buddies,” and his wife. He formally adopted the children just weeks before his death. He’d married their mother to share the same with her. That, and to get her needed care for her heart. In return we all cared for the “Old Sarge” during his final days. There were three houses, two in Texas, and of course the “Big Blue House in Utah. The houses in Texas were fairly normal. His original house was the classic “VA” prototype, with the obligatory closet near the front door, one car garage that Joe had long ago converted into an apartment, complete with full bath, and a country porch that’s extended the width of the rear. Indeed, the house was twice as big as when he bought it, and he’d built it in a woodshed that’s he’d built, too. Pam and I owned the other house in Texas but had given it solely to her during our “divorce.”
But the Big Blue House was a wonderland! Six thousand square feet, three floors, resting at the foot of Wasatch Mountains smack in the middle of an apple orchard. There was a basement, if you could call it that, for Joe had laid out plans to remodel before he died, and his widow, Pam, had kept the plans, implementing them according to his instructions, turning it into a house beneath a house.
Joe had picked Brigham City because it reminded him of his childhood home in upstate New York. The snow on the mountains, the small town air, and Mormons! Joe didn’t buy into their religion, but had no problem with people who minded their own business, and their kids wore dress shirts and dresses to school. That, and his disabled vet tags on his car caused endless, “Thank you for your services” at the local Walmart.
But America didn’t thank Joe for his service. It left him with the ticking time bomb called “Agent Orange” and a year ago that time bomb went off! Joe now rested in the San Antonio National Cemetery, while his buddies enjoyed the fruits of his labor fifteen hundred miles away.
The kids were all ten and younger. There was the “New Baby,” so called because he was, well, the new baby. He’d become Joseph Stevin TarajosThe last to be born. Taken by the Child Protective Services on the very day of his birth, and given to my former wife. My daughter in law, Jackie, and my son had come under investigation by the department, and rather than see the children scattered among foster homes, my then wife, Pam stepped up to the plate and took the children. Because I stood by Jackie I presented a problem. Jackie wasn’t allowed to be around the kids, ergo if I were around Jackie, than I couldn’t be around them either. When it was all said and done, Pam and I engineered our own divorce, and she formally adopted the babies, with New Baby bringing up the rear.
Next were the Twins, Chris, and Nick. Chris never settled on a nickname, but Nick quickly became “Nick the Lawyer” by virtue of his mouth. Then Justin. When the CPS adopts there is a name change in an effort to give the child a fresh start on life. Originally Justin had been named after his deceased uncle Bobby, but he was old enough to remember his birth name. When it came time to change he picked “Justin” for Justin Bieber. His nickname became “Just a Bobby.”
Then there was Karrie. The oldest. Spitting image of Jackie, and smart as a whip. When she was a toddler she’d scamper around the floor of the studio back in Berry Creek, a country club neighborhood just north of Austin. YouTube was in its infancy, and Karrie’s mother, Jackie, had morphed into YouTube’s “iJackie.” Countless hours of film and production, with baby girl at her feet. We used an eMac computer to render the videos. The machine came with a little circular mouse called a “Puck” due to its resemblance to a hockey puck. All through the day the little girl would hear, “Give me the puck,” and “Move the puck there.” One day little Karrie looked at her mother and said, “I’m the Puck!” And she remained “Puck” until this very day.
But Puck had luggage. While Pam navigated the stormy waters of adoption the children had found themselves in the foster care system. We will never know what happened during those hours, but it left Puck with a little known condition called Reactive Attachment Disorder, RAD! And it left her talking to angels. Just like the song says, they called her out by her name!
Puck could spin a yarn better than Mark Twain, and unless you knew what you were dealing with you’d buy the whole bill of goods. She confused the past with the present, and would impugn past wrongs done to her on her current caregiver. She was also a type one diabetic. As she grew older she searched her troubled mind for answers, answers we could not give her. She was iJackie’s daughter. She was “living proof!” But these things had to remain buried for a later, more mature mind.
She went to school like any other child. She wanted to belong, to fit in. She possessed a remarkable gift of gab, and when other little girls would relate a story, Puck could always best them. And she was beautiful. So beautiful that she would make a young Shirley Temple look like a street urchin. She’d lived in a mansion in Berry Creek, and been to Hollywood! And here she was comparing notes with a bunch of little girls who thought a trip to see the temple in Salt Lake City was a very big deal. Puck told her stories, and she bid the stories to multiply.
On this particular day I found myself sitting alone on the back porch in Texas. Cigarette, coffee, and an iPhone grinding out my daily article for The Amazing Doc Greene in Houston, and the Tea Party Tribune. There was sadness in my heart, but as Joe had admonished me on the day he died, “Men don’t cry!” Then the phone rang.
Pam called, out of her mind with fear. A great catastrophe had befallen the Big Blue House. Our safe haven had been turned upside down, and Joe’s legacy was in danger of being destroyed. I could hardly believe my ears. When I hung up I only had one person I could call. My best friend. A truck driving psychologist called Brother Theo. He answered the phone, and all I could say was, “They’re taking Karrie!”
The outside temperature was just right, it was three a.m. The road was practically mine. I was running the best piece of equipment money can buy across I40 in California about twenty miles east of the dead tree wilderness which I was planning on reaching in about ten minutes.
It’s called ‘fool moon, no stars’. Running a big truck over the triple digit mark late at night in the land of the CHP. I had my bird dog, a radar detector that has been worth every cent of the twenty six hundred dollars I paid for it nearly twenty years ago, and letting Trans Siberia Orchestra rip through The Three Kings and I.
The speed limit for big trucks in Cali is fifty five miles per hour, and while I am not a particularly criminal person, I do often break laws that are, well, stupid. Fifty five is stupid on I40 in California, so I doubled it; which brings us to about mile marker seventy five when my phone went off.
A soothing female voice informed me in an Australian accent that the caller was from one of the handful of people I take calls from, so I muted the music and throttled down to a speed more conducive to safety while taking a call.
“It’s me.” said the voice on the other end of the line.
I sat forward a bit to give myself a better look at my mirrors and said “So it seems. You’d better not be ordering Falafel bud, we’re all out of hominy grits.”
There was silence on the other end that went on long enough to make me wonder if cell tower proximity had contributed to that number of fewest dropped calls my phone company used to brag about when the caller said “They’re taking Karrie.”
It was my oldest friend; maybe my only friend, and Karrie is his granddaughter. “No they are not.” I said matter of factly.
“I’ve got the petition right here.”he said. I listened to the silence and thought for a minute.
“Where is she now? I asked.
“Utah.” The word seemed to fill the cabin of my truck with despair.
“Beyond our conventional sources” my voice was calming. “But not beyond our reach. When is the hearing?” It’s funny how talking to a disembodied voice out in the dark, dark desert floating on an ocean of darkness from the inside of a passing ship, with its muted, blinking lights makes a person feel.
“They already had it. Had it Friday.” Friday had been earlier the same day. The voice seemed farther away. “Ted, they had it without even telling Pam that she was being investigated.”
“Uh huh.” I grunted shifting down to fifty five and setting the cruise.”And the municipal court date?”
“Monday.” came the terse reply.
“She got an attorney?”
“No. I think she’s in shock Ted. She’s barely making any sense.” Since none of this made much sense to me it seemed that Karrie’s mom wouldn’t have much to work with in the way of making sense, and I said so. “Just tell me what to do.”
Those words coming across so many miles, across earth, into space, and back to earth again sobered me. In the forty odd years I have been friends with, and partnered with Wilbur,”Bill the Butcher” Witt, I had never heard him ask that question. Doing some rough calculations in my head I asked him to send the state’s formal petition to my email. Next I told him that Karrie’s mom would be needing an attorney in court that Monday morning to file for a continuance. “Don’t pick someone out of the phone book. Find out who lives right there in Brigham City and is connected to the bishopric
.”You think there’s a mormon connection?” he asked.
It’s Utah ain’t it?”
The Butcher Shop