Ronnie left his brothers back in his room after promising he'd return to play with them and he bounded down the stairs looking for his father.
“Dad?” he called, looking around for him in the living room, family room and kitchen, but Victor wasn't in any of those places. Ronnie ran down the hall to the den --the next logical place-- and found him at his massive desk, a Manila folder open in front of him. He was flipping pages with a menacing scowl across his face.
“Dad, are you...?”
Victor held his hand up stopping Ronnie in his tracks. “Tom, you really need to explain this before I rip you a new one.”
“What? I did what ya axed me to do,” a plaintive voice came from the speaker phone. “You said look for that dame's husband and I did and then I looked for the kids' deadbeat dad and I found him too. At first I thought you said they were the same person but...”
“I thought it was, and this shitty report doesn't say otherwise,” Victor roared. “How can you mess up this badly? Remind me again why I keep getting you to do this kind of stuff for me?”
Laughter came from the phone. “Cuz you love me, Bud! I'm like the oldest friend you have, besides Marcus. We've been like brothers since the second grade..."
“First, actually,” Victor muttered grudgingly.
“Yeah, we were the three Caballeros...”
“Musketeers, actually,” Victor said wearily.
“Yeah, there ya go,” Tom said. “Besides, you know I give good intel.”
Victor rubbed at his temples, wishing for patience. “Tom, I know your investigative skills are beyond reproach...normally, but this report... a dimwitted eight-year-old could do better!”
“Ya don't gotta be so mean. Stacey did the best she could,” Tom said.
“Excuse me???” Victor exploded. “You got your daughter to throw this thing together? Your twelve year old daughter!”
“She's thirteen now, Bud, you know that. You sent her a nice present for her last birthday,” Tom said. “She really likes it too...uses it alla time.”
Ronnie burst out laughing.
“Hey, who's that?”
“Hi, Uncle Tommy!” Ronnie said loud enough to be heard on the speaker.
“Ronnie, my man! It's been forever since I've seen ya, Dude,” Tom said.
“Still not seeing me, Uncle Tommy. We're on the phone ya know,” Ronnie said, chuckling.
“Yeah, you're right, but... Hey! Next time you're in town, catch me up. I scored season tickets to the Rangers.”
“Sweet! I will, Uncle Tommy,” Ronnie said.
“If we can get back to this sloppy report...” Victor growled.
“What? It's all right there in the two reports, one for the Silbur dude and the other...”
“Two reports?” Victor said flipping the pages over. “I only have one.”
“Huh...” Tom said and his muffled voice could be heard yelling at someone. “Wow, sorry, Vic. Stacey said she forgot to send you the second one, the one for the Jesse guy. She's doing it now.”
Victor held his hands out as if he had Tom's neck within them—which of course is what he truly wanted at the moment-- and he shook them violently. Ronnie roared with laughter.
“What? What's so funny?” Tom asked.
Victor sighed. “Tom, why didn't you just tell me.”
“Tell ya what?”
“That there were actually two men involved, that Janie McAllister's husband was NOT the children's father?”
“Well, he was the father of one of them...uh...the little one...which made no sense since he was first on the scene, but then he disappeared for a while, then came back after she hooked up with the young guy and had the two older kids, but that's what ya get with a total nut job like that.”
“Whoa...” Ronnie said, all traces of amusement gone now.
“So, it's true then?” Victor said, a sick feeling upsetting his guts. “Peter's father is this horrible...this Jesse McAllister, not Reggie Silbur?”
“It's in the second report. You should have it by now,” Tom said. “Stacey said she just sent it to your email.”
Victor scanned his emails and finding nothing in the inbox he checked the junk mail and that's where he found it. He downloaded it and clicked the printer. Ronnie went to retrieve the papers which shot out onto the collection tray and took them to his father, who snatched them out of his hand and scanned them quickly, all the while shaking his head and looking more grim than ever.
“Tom, you got them mixed up, totally and thoroughly mixed up! You say here that Reggie Silbur was the drugged out musician married to Janie and that he is Peter's father and that he lives in Detroit. This is all for Jesse … Tom, dammit! You gotta do better than this!”
“Umm...” Tom said, along with the sound of ruffling papers. “Oh... I see what ya mean. I did get the names messed up when I was dictating to Stacey. Sorry, Vic.”
Victor dropped his head in his hands, cursing a blue streak under his breath.
“What? Didn't catch that,” Tom said, although there was a definite note of amusement in his voice, which belied his words.
“Fine, I got it now,” Victor tersely said, after several deep, calming breaths.
“Do you want me to try the McAllister dude again? Contact him for ya?”
“I thought you did already,” Victor said, then shook his head. “Oh, I forgot...that was Reggie you talked to, wasn't it?”
“Well, you did say you wanted to meet the kids' dad so...he's the one I set up to meet ya. I figured you meant the one with the two kids cuz the other guy was definitely doing a great job at avoiding me,” Tom said.
“Yes, we met Reggie Silbur today. Not at all what I expected, needless to say,” Victor said.
“Kinda a nice guy, I think. He seemed really shocked and upset when I told him the woman was dead,” Tom said. “And when I said his kids were in an orphanage for all that time and about to be adopted by you, he nearly fainted!”
Victor slumped. This was not what he wanted to hear.
“His parents are still alive. Did he mention them to ya?” Tom asked. There was a long stretch of silence. “You still there, Vic?”
“Yeah, thanks, Tom. He did,” Victor said. “I'll let you know if I need anything else about...McAllister.”
“No prob,” Tom said. “Listen, this isn't gonna mess things up for ya, is it? The adoption I mean? I know how much you care about those kids.”
“Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it. Let's meet up next time I'm in town. See ya, Tom,” Victor said, pushing the end call button, then running frustrated hands through his hair.
“Oh my God. The kids have a father and grandparents too,” Ronnie said, sitting across from his father. “They're not really orphans, are they? Geeze, Dad...what's gonna happen now?”
Victor shook his head. “I don't know.”
“Aren't you afraid their father might try to take 'em back?” Ronnie said anxiously.
“No... not yet,” Victor said, his jaw set in a stern line.
“But, isn't there something you can do so he can't.”
“There is nothing to do, Ronnie...not until there is a consorted effort on Reggie's part to take the kids back. I'm getting a friend of mine to look into this for me. She's the best adoption attorney there is.”
“What about Peter?” Ronnie said in a near whisper. “Does he know...?”
“No. I'm not telling him and I don't want the other kids to know either, hear me?” Victor said.
“I won't say anything...promise,” Ronnie said.
“Although...God knows there is nothing that gets past Georgiana.” Victor said. “That kid is...”
“I know...she's too smart for her own good sometimes, but don't ya think they ought to know? I mean, if Julian and Georgie go to see their grandparents and Peter isn't really their grandson...?”
“It'll be okay...for now.”
“Reggie pulled me aside away from the kids before we left and he said that he's okay pretending to be Peter's biological father.”
“Why would he do that if he's not...not really?”
“Because he knew first hand what Jesse McAllister was like. He said he wouldn't want any child to know he was related to that piece of crap. Reluctant as I am to admit it, Reggie is a decent man who knew it could be distressing to the kids. If not to Peter, it could be to Georgiana and Julian. I was certainly fine with that, because the idea of telling that poor little kid what a dirt-bag his real father is...well, I'd just rather not do it right now. Perhaps when he's older and is more able to understand things, but only if he asks.”
“Georgie looked so worried, Dad,” Ronnie said. “What will you do if their father does want them back some day?”
“I'll cross that bridge when I get to it,” Victor said, tapping the sheets of paper into a neat stack before placing them back in the folder and storing it in a locked drawer.
“Is there anything I can do?” Ronnie asked.
“No, Ronnie. Just...just be their big brother for now, okay?”
“Okay,” Ronnie said, then added, “Um, Dad...”
“Please, Ronnie, I don't wanna talk about it anymore,” Victor said, standing, getting ready to leave his office.
“No, it's not that,” Ronnie said. “I just wanted to talk to you. I know you have other things to worry about, but can we talk about me for a bit?”
“What about you?” Victor asked, curiously.
“I...I know, or I think I know....what I wanna do...kinda...”
Victor warily stared at him. “Please don't tell me you want to become an investigator like Tom.”
Ronnie laughed and shook his head. “That was not on my mind but now that you mentioned it...”
“I'm going to assume you're kidding,” Victor said. “This doesn't involve target practice on drug addicted, musically inclined, vagabond, biological fathers, does it?”
Ronnie laughed again. “Not unless you expressly direct me to do it.”
“I'll pass, thanks,” Victor said, sitting comfortably back into his chair and folding his hands across his stomach. “So, let's hear it. Picked out a good university?”
Ronnie grimaced and shook his head one more time. “Dad, I've thought about it and thought about it...lots, real hard. I've debated the pros and cons, mostly cons, and... I just don't see the point of going to college.”
“Ever?” Victor said, a note of disappointment in his voice.
“I won't rule it out forever, but for right now, the way things are right now, I just don't want to subject myself to the bullshit,” Ronnie said.
“Explain...please,” Victor said, frowning slightly.
Victor may soon regret asking this.
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