“How in the world would anyone in Dallas know about Mark here in Arkansas?” I questioned myself more than Wanda.
“He’s originally from Paris and I’m sure he still knows people from there,” Wanda said. “However, just because he could be Mark’s father doesn’t necessarily mean that he would be given custody.”
“What are his chances of taking Mark?”
“I couldn’t put odds on it, but we have requested a DNA sample and of course we’ll need one from Mark. We’ll have to do a background check on the man. Since you have custody and have started adoption procedures I’m sure he will have to petition the court to get custody himself.”
“Well he isn’t getting him without a fight. Thank you for calling, Wanda,” I said. “However, the next time you call make sure it is good news.”
“I’ll try. Goodbye and good luck, Jeff.”
I went to Mason’s office to give him the bad news. Steve and Roy were in his office going over some financial reports. “What’s wrong?” Mason asked as soon as I entered the room.”
“We can do this later,” Steve said as he began to leave the room to give us some privacy.
“No, you and Roy are family. Please stay. Some asshole in Dallas is claiming to be Mark’s father and he wants custody,” I said as tears began to flow.
“He’s not getting my grandson without a fight,” Steve almost screamed. “If he wanted to be in Mark’s life why in the hell didn’t he come forward and take him out of that awful situation he was in?”
“Dad’s right, Babe,” Mason said. “We’re going to fight this.”
“You’ve brought up some good points, Steve,” Roy said. “Remember that private investigator we used in the Littlejohn case? If there is any shit on him, Chuck can find it.”
“I sure do,” Steve said. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
“What is the name of this guy in Dallas?” Roy asked.
“Shit I forgot to ask,” I said. “I can call Wanda back and get it though. I’ll also call Bonnie and see if she knows him.”
“This PI will be very expensive,” Roy said.
“We don’t care, we’ll pay it,” Mason said. “We intend to do what it takes to keep Mark.”
“No, I’ll pay it,” Steve said. “Like I said, nobody is taking my grandson without a fight. You go call Wanda while we finish here, and then we’ll call Chuck with the information.”
“Wanda said that they have requested a DNA sample and will need one from Mark,” I said. “It’s possible that this guy isn’t Mark’s biological father anyway.”
“We’re still going ahead with this PI,” Steve said. “I have a feeling this guy is worthless, especially if he knew he had a son and had no contact for nine years.”
I called Wanda and got the name. She said that he was Wesley Dugan and she even had his address.
I next called Bonnie and fortunately she was home. “Bonnie, do know a man named Wesley Dugan?”
“How do you know Wesley? He dated Lisa a short time. He beat her up and she stopped seeing him.”
“He claims to be Mark’s biological father and is filing for custody. What do you know about him?”
“Not a lot, except that he has an ex-wife here in Paris. I heard that beat her severely and she was in the hospital for a few days. I understand that he did jail time for that.”
“Oh Lord Bonnie, we can’t let Mark go back into an environment like that.”
“Do you think Wesley has a chance of taking him?”
“I hope not, we intend to fight to keep him. Bonnie, Mason’s dad is hiring a private investigator to investigate Wesley. If he contacts you would you tell him everything you can think of about Wesley?”
“Of course I will. I love my nephew and know that he would be better off with you and Mason. Jeff, this may be my fault, and I’m so sorry.”
“How could this be your fault?”
“I put Lisa’s obituary in the local paper here. Wesley must have seen it and saw that Mark was being cared for by an attorney in Arkansas. I suspect that he will be trying to get money out of you.”
“That thought ran though my mind, but don’t let this bother you. You had no way of knowing this might happen. Thank you Bonnie for doing this, goodbye.”
I went back into Mason’s office and Steve said, “Just a couple more minutes and we’ll be done here.”
“What did you find out?” Steve asked when they finished the report.
“His name is Wesley Dugan,” I began. “Wanda even gave me his address in Dallas.” I handed the information to Steve and then I continued. “I called Mark’s Aunt Bonnie to ask if she knew Wesley. She said that Lisa dated him briefly until Wesley beat her up. He has an ex-wife in Paris, Texas. He beat her severally enough that she was hospitalized. According to Bonnie, he served some jail time for that.”
“Then we shouldn’t have any problems when it goes to court,” Mason said.
“If we get Judge Reynolds we may,” I said. “He’s homophobic and has never approved an adoption case by a gay person.”
“Joe Reynolds?” Steve asked although he knew who I was talking about. “That front pew Baptist hypocrite, is a cock sucker himself.”
“And, how do you know that?” Roy asked.
“We were in law school together, and I caught him in the library sucking another student’s cock,” Steve said while laughing. “He begged me to not let anyone know because his parents would disown him and stop funding his education.”
“Fags like him give us homosexuals a bad name,” Mason said.
“I promised Joe that I wouldn’t say anything, at least until he graduated from law school,” Steve said with a wink. “He would always recluse himself if I had a case before him. I will use what I know about him to keep Mark.”
“I wonder if how safe Mark is with this Dugan guy knowing where he is,” Mason said.
“I don’t think he would try anything as long as he has a chance in court,” Steve said.
“What I don’t understand is why he now wants Mark when he has had no contact, unless…” I said.
“Unless what?” Roy asked.
“Never mind, it was just a crazy thought,” I said.
“Apparently it wasn’t or you wouldn’t have started to say it,” Roy said.
“I was thinking he may think he can get money out of this,” I said.
“Jeff, I think you may be onto something,” Steve said. He’s most likely to call you at home, and if he does record the call.”
“Is that legal?” Mason asked.
“In Arkansas it is as long as one party knows,” I said.
“We routinely record all conversations here in the office, and if he calls here he will be recorded,” Roy said.
“I need to go and pick Mark up from school,” I said. “He has a doctor appointment.”
“I’ll call Susan and ask her about dinner,” Steve said. “I think we need talk this out some more. Roy, would you go ahead and call Chuck? Would you and Barry come to dinner too?”
“We’d never turn down one of Susan’s meals,” Roy said. “Besides, we love Mark too.”
“Why don’t we have the entire family?” Mason asked. “Grandpa, Jake and Jason all love him too.”
“You’re right, son,” Steve said. “Go ahead and call them. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go have a cup of coffee with Judge Joe Reynolds.”
“Are we going to tell Mark about this?” Mason asked.
“I think we must,” I said. “Dr. McKee said that he is smarter than we give him credit for. Besides, he will have to submit a DNA sample. He needs to know why.”
“Why do I have to go to the doctor, when I’m not sick?” Mark asked when I picked him up at school.
“The doctor wants to see how well you’re doing,” I explained. “When you came to live with us you were underweight.”
“That’s because I didn’t get enough to eat.”
I pulled over to the side of the road and said, “Mark, I’m sure those days are behind you. But, there’s something I need to tell you. A man in Texas is claiming to be your dad and he wants custody of you.”
“NO, I won’t go with him. You and Pop are my dads.”
“First, he has to prove that he is actually your dad. That means that they will do a DNA test. Do you know what that is?”
“Yeah, they will match my DNA with his. But, even if it does match I’m not going.”
“He won’t get you without a fight. Grandpa Steve, Uncle Roy, Mason, and I are doing all we can to stop that. Until we know more we have to make sure you’re safe. We think he believes that he can get money out of this. We suspect he may try to call, and until he does I don’t want you to answer the phone. If it rings let either Mason or me answer it.”
“After your appointment we are going to your Grandma Susan’s for dinner. We adults will be meeting to decide how to make sure you get to live with us forever.”
“I’m almost an adult, Dad.”
“I know you are, Son. But, we don’t want you to worry about this. I promise that we’ll tell you as much as we can.”
“What did his doctor say?” Mason asked when we arrived.
“He has a clean bill of health,” I said.
“Yeah, I gained five pounds,” Mark said.
“I noticed that you’re getting fat,” Steve teased.
“Grandpa, you’re the one that’s getting fat,” Mark contended.
“Honey, I was going to say something to you about your weight,” Susan joined in as she gave Mark a big hug.
“Grandma, did you know that a man is trying to take me away from my dads?
“I know honey, but I’m confident that it isn’t going to happen,” Susan said as she hugged him again. Why don’t you come and help me finish dinner while these guys decide what to do to keep you here.”
“Cool,” Mark said.
“First go into the den and say hi to your Grandpa George, and the others,” Susan said.
“Wow, I didn’t know that Grandpa George was here,” Mark said.
“Uncle Roy, Uncle Barry, Jake, and Jason are here also,” Susan said.
As a natural leader Steve took charge of the meeting and began, “I think you all know why we’re here. We intend to do everything in our power to keep that scumbag from taking Mark from us. Roy, have you been able to contact Chuck?”
“Who is Chuck?” George asked.
“Chuck is a private investigator that Steve and I have used in the past, and he already has some information,” Roy said. “Bonnie is correct about Wesley serving time. He has been jailed at least five times for assault and battery. Chuck is going to Paris and Dallas to see what else he can find.”
“Isn’t a private investigator expensive?” George asked. Without waiting for an answer he continued, “I’ll help pay him.”
“Thank you, George, but I have it covered. Besides, we can deduct it as a business expense.
“I fell that I need to do something,” George said.
“Grandpa, we will need to go back to protecting Mark like we did before Coy was captured,” I said. “You can help like before. We may need to do this until after the adoption.”
“That reminds me, I had a little visit with Judge Joe Reynolds,” Steve said. “What I’m about to say doesn’t leave this room. Joe and I were in law school together and I caught him in a library restroom in a homosexual act. That doesn’t bother me, but he rules against any gay adoption case in his court. That does bother me because he rules the way his church wants him to rule.”
“Anyway, I went to the courthouse and caught him as he was leaving. I invited him for a cup of coffee and he declined. I informed him that he had no choice. I confronted him about his rulings against gays. He said that his wife and church wouldn’t approve if he ruled otherwise, and that it wasn’t any of my business. I told him that my own gay son and partner were trying to adopt a boy and that made it my business. He said that if I was trying to blackmail him that nobody would believe me after all these years.”
“He may have a point,” Barry said.
“You’re right Barry, but I told him that many of his previous sex partners who came forward would cast a lot of doubt about him.”
“Do you know any of his previous sex partners?” I asked.
“Just the one I caught him with,” Steve continued. “But, Joe doesn’t know that.”
“I’m sure Chuck could round up a few,” Roy suggested.
“Good idea,” Steve said. “But, first let him find out as much as he can about this Wesley Dugan.”
“I did get Joe to promise to recluse himself from any cases involving the adoption or custody of Mark,” Steve said. “I believe all of the other judges would be fair-minded about an adoption by a gay couple. What do you think, Jeff? You’ve handled more of these cases than I have.”
“I believe that’s true,” I agreed.
“Then we may not need to have Chuck find his sex partners,” Roy said.
“I disagree, Roy,” Steve said. “I told Joe that he rule according to Arkansas or Federal law and not what his church wants or the public would find out that he is a closet gay.”
“Alright Steve,” Jake said as he high-fived Steve.
“Grandma said that dinner is ready,” Mark came into the room and announced.
After dinner, Jake, Jason, Mason, and I cleaned the kitchen over Susan’s protest. “After that delicious dinner, this is the least we can do,” Jason said.
After tucking Mark in I said to Mason, “After the events of the day, I’m exhausted. I think I’ll go to bed too.”
“I’m exhausted too,” Mason said.
“Do you realize that Mark’s birthday is in two week?” I asked Mason as we were getting ready for bed.
“Yes, Mark has mentioned that a few times,” Mason smiled. “We should have a big family party to celebrate his tenth birthday. He’s never met his Tennessee relatives. ”
“Good idea, but we should also let him have a party with his friends from school separate.”
“You’re right, but would we have time to do both? Think of cleaning up from 25 kids before the party with family.”
“We could have his kid party at the Fun City Pizza. We could give each kid tokens to play games. That way we wouldn’t have to think up games for them to play.”
“Have you thought about a gift for him?”
“I’ve drawn a blank.”
“I have an idea. Now Jeff, don’t rule this out until you hear me out.”
“Why do I get the feeling that this is going to cost a lot of money?”
“Well, you know how much Mark loves horses?”
“Of course I do.”
“I was thinking about getting him a horse.”
“Mason, I don’t know a thing about horses, and you don’t either.”
“True, but Grandpa does. He grew up on a farm.”
“Mason, Grandpa isn’t that young anymore.”
“But, he’s still got a great mind. We just need him to teach us. The property is already fenced and the barn is in decent shape.”
“What if we don’t get to keep Mark? What would we do with his horse then?”
“Don’t even think that, Jeff. We have all of you great attorneys fighting to keep him. It’s going to work out.”
“Okay, we’ll get him a horse. But, you know that neither of us knows a damn thing about buying a horse.”
“True, but that’s where Grandpa comes in.”He can help us.”
“Let’s not say anything to Mark about the party until we can check out the availability of Fun Pizza City.”
I made arrangements for the Mark’s birthday party and decided to order extra pizzas and tokens for games. It cost me about $5.00 extra for each kid, but Mark is worth it. I told the manager I would give her a final count before the party.”
“Hey look what I’ve found,” Mason said as he came into my office waving the classified section of the newspaper.
“A penis enlargement device,” I joked.
“Ha-ha, very funny. I found an ad for a place in Bentonville that sells appaloosa horses. Mark loves his poster of appaloosa horses on it. Grandpa will go with us to look after we get off work.”
“I would recommend that you get Mark a gelding,” George said as we were driving to Bentonville. “They are tamer than stallions and you wouldn’t have to worry about them coming into heat like a mare.”
“What’s a gelding?” I asked.
“It’s a boy horse that’s had it balls cut off,” Mason laughed.
Mr. Barnes, the owner of the appaloosa ranch, had half dozen horses ready for us to look at. “These are all geldings and are gentle,” He said.
“They’re beautiful,” I said.
“Let’s buy three,” Mason said.
“Three? Why do we need three?”
“You and I need to be able to ride with Mark.”
“He has a point,” George said.
“Grandpa, I don’t know how to ride a horse,” I protested.
“My daughter might be willing to go out to your place on weekends and work with you,” Mr. Barnes said. “Your grandpa here seems to know a lot about horses. Between the two of them, I think they would have you riding with confidence in no time.”
Soon we were the owners of three beautiful appaloosa geldings. “We also have a tack shop in town,” Mr. Barns said. “If you like, we can bring some out for you to choose from when we deliver the horses.”
“Yeah, I guess they do need saddles,” George said. I was glad he answered because I had no idea what tack meant other than a thumb tack.
“We’ll bring out a selection saddles for you to choose from,” Mr. Barnes said. “I’ll also have Amber come with me and she can discuss riding lessons with you. Now when you want them delivered?”
“Friday the fifteenth around two pm, if that works for you,” Mason said.
“That’s fine with me,” Mr. Barnes said. “Do you need me to bring feed and hay when I bring them?”
“You may as well,” I said. “We have no idea how much to feed them.”
“It will soon be spring, and if you have pasture you won’t need to give them hay then,” Mr. Barnes said. “Do you need a water tank?”
“They have a creek that runs through the property that always has plenty of fresh water,” George said.
After writing a check for the horses, we were on our way to take George home and pick up Mark at Susan’s. Before we got back to the main highway, my cell phone rang. “Jeff, Steve told me that you took George with you to look at a horse for Mark. Bring him with you for dinner here,” Susan said.
“Mark, would you like to have a birthday party at Fun City Pizza with some of your classmates?” I asked Mark when we arrived home.
“Oh yeah,” Mark agreed.
“How many do you want to invite?” Mason asked.
“All of them,” Mark said.
“Even the ones that teased you?” I asked.
“Yeah, even them,” Mark said. “I want them to see what great dads I have.”
Mason and I both hugged Mark and then he said, “Could I put on the invitations for them not to bring gifts?”
“If that’s what you want,” I said. “Why don’t you want them to bring gifts?”
“Because some of them may not have money and they won’t come,” Mark said. “Last year everyone in my class was invited to a birthday party, and I didn’t go because I didn’t have money to buy a present.”
“Mark, I’m so proud of you,” Mason said.
“So am I,” I agreed. “It’s getting late and you should get your bath and ready for bed.”
“Okay, Dad,” Mark said.
The phone rang and I saw that the caller ID showed the name and number of Wesley Dugan. I turned on the recorder when I answered the phone. “Hello,” I said.
“You don’t know me,” He said. “I’m the kid’s dad, Wesley Dugan.”
“The kid is Mark,” I said. I was unable to suppress my irritation.
“Whatever; I want my kid. I might be willing to let you keep him for $100,000 for my grief.”
“How do we even know that Mark is yours?”
“Lisa told me that she was pregnant with my kid.”
“You knew that you had a child and are just now trying to make contact?”
“Well yeah, I’m just now getting my life together.”
“Why do you think that would make you a good father?”
“I’m sure that you would be a better father, and that’s why I’m willing to settle for $100,000 for my grief.”
“Mr. Dugan, I think you need to talk to the attorney that is representing me in my adoption of Mark. I will be giving him the tape of this conversation.”
“I’ll sue you for recording my telephone conversation.”
“You do that, but in both Arkansas and Texas as long as one party knows about the recording, it’s legal.”
“Ok then if you give me $50,000 and I won’t oppose the adoption.”
“I don’t think when the judge hears this you will be free to oppose anything. You can be jailed for extortion.
The next sound I heard was the click of Wesley hanging up the phone.
Mason came from our bedroom with the bedroom phone in his hand and a big smile on his face. “Damn Babe, I think we have that son of a bitch where we want him.”
“I hope so, but I won’t feel comfortable until Mark is officially adopted by us.”
Steve was pleased when I gave him the tape of my conversation with Wesley. “Damn, that man is stupid. He gave us everything we need, but Roy heard from Chuck already and he found out that Wesley got out of prison about a year ago for a meth lab. Chuck said that Wesley’s neighbors think that he has another one. The Texas authorities will now have a reason to go in after him. I see no obstacles to your adoption of Mark.”
“I won’t rest easy until it becomes official.”
“Did you see today’s paper?”
“No, I haven’t had time.”
Steve handed me the paper and the headlines read: JUDGE JOE REYNOLDS RESIGNS FOLLOWING ARREST. The story went on to read, “Local Judge Joe Reynolds was arrested Thursday in Oklahoma City for allegedly soliciting sex from a male undercover police officer. Judge Reynolds has been known locally for his anti gay rulings.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” I said. “It serves that bastard right. Now I won’t have to face him in any adoption case by a gay person.”
“I had Jake do so some checking and all the local judges have approved adoption by gays.”
When I finally got a break during the day, I called Grandma to invite her and the rest of the Tennessee family to meet Mark and celebrate his birthday.
“I was wondering if I was ever going to meet my first great grandchild,” She said.
“Would you mind contacting everyone there and invite them?”
“Of course I will. I’ll let you know who will be there. I will definitely be there myself.”
Mark’s birthday party with his class was a big success. All but three of his classmates were there. Even the two boys who teased him about having two dads were there.
“Tomorrow is my real birthday,” Mark said on our way home from his party.
“I know, Son,” I said. “We’ll pick you up from school tomorrow at noon. Mason and I are taking the afternoon off to spend the afternoon with you before you relatives from Tennessee arrive. We’ll have a big party Saturday with all of your family.”
I ordered a cake with an appaloosa horse on it for Mark to cut just before Mr. Barnes brought the horses out Friday afternoon. We decided to just have George, Susan and Steve out for the cake and delivery of the horses since the others would be out for his big family party.
George was at the house when we arrived home with Mark from School. “We’re going to let you cut your cake early,” Mason said. “We have to start getting ready for your party tomorrow.”
Mark was pleased with his cake and the cowboy hat that Mason and I gave him to wear. Mark had a mouthful of cake when the horses were delivered. “It looks like somebody is lost,” Mason said when Mr. Barnes drove down the long driveway with the horse trailer.
We all met Mr. Barnes at his truck and he asked, “Is there somebody named Mark that lives here?”
“I’m Mark,” a nervous Mark said.
“I have a delivery for you,” Mr. Barnes said as he strained to control his smile.
“Me, a horse for me?” Mark questioned.
“Aren’t you the birthday boy?” Mr. Barnes teased.
“Yes, it’s my birthday,” Mark said. There are three in there. Which one is mine?”
“Why don’t we have Amber get them out and let you choose?”
Mark looked all the horses over and then said, “I can’t decide.” One of the horses nudged him and then took his hat into its mouth. “Hey you bandit,” Mark said. “This is the one. I want this one and I’m going to call him Bandit. The other ones are nice too. Where do they go?”
“One is Jeff’s and the other is mine,” Mason said.
“Let’s find a saddle that will fit you and Bandit,” Mr. Barnes said.
Amber put a saddle on Bandit and then Mr. Barnes lifted Mark into the saddle. “We need to adjust the stirrups to fit you,” He said. “When you grow we’ll have to let them out some more.”
After the stirrups were adjusted, Amber led Bandit around the yard while Mark rode and George helped Mason and I select saddles.
After the feed, hay and tack were paid for and put in the barn Amber, said I’ll be out next Saturday to start your riding lessons.”
“You mean I have to wait a whole week to ride?” Mark whined.
“That’s up to your parents, but I think you should have some riding lessons first,” Amber said.
“Amber is right, Mark,” I said. “I think you should have a few riding lessons first. Mason and I will be learning with you.”
“Could I at least pet him?” Mark asked.
“I think that would be safe as long as an adult is with you,” Amber said.
Mason and I selected our horses from the two. Mine was a dark bay with a white blanket, and Mason’s was black with a white blanket. Bandit was a light bay with a white blanket. Mr. Barnes explained that appaloosas had different color markings, and some all white with spots. He said that he liked to breed the ones with darker colors with white rumps, called a blanket.
George had found a man that we hired to come out and make sure the fence was in good repair and then make some minor repairs on the barn. Mark reluctantly allowed us to put the horses out to pasture after we fed them and gave them some fresh hay. “I suppose we should show them where the creek is so they can drink,” I suggested.
George laughed and said, “They’ll naturally find the creek.”
Our Tennessee relatives arrived while we were still admiring the horses. They all made over Mark and he appeared to be embarrassed, but I could tell he was eating it up. We decided that Mom and Grandma would stay with us, Aunt Judy and Uncle Mike would stay with Jake and Jason. Uncle Joe and Aunt Lori would stay with Steve and Susan. Jennifer and her husband would be arriving in the morning. Joseph decided that he wanted to spend some time with Jason and decided to stay there.
Sleeping arrangements were made and those not staying at our house departed. I noticed that Mom was cuddled with Mark on the couch and giving him all of her attention. For some reason this angered me, not because she was giving Mark her attention, but because I never recalled her giving any attention to me.