The next seven days seemed to fly by for Collin as he crammed and studied hard for what was soon about to happen. It was now Wednesday, the fourteenth, and he was standing out in a hallway at the high school where he would be attending if he passes his Comprehensive Placement Tests to be accepted into their 10th grade class. Mister Steve Ashland, his tutor, had prepped Collin for this exacting test and was confident that the teenager would pass with flying colors. Collin, on the other hand, wasn't as certain as he entered the room with trepidation.
The first part of the examinations was a 2 and ½ hour multiple choice test that covered Biology, World History, Spanish, his language course, and Computer Science. This would include everything that would have been taught during the first three 6-week reporting periods of the sophomore year. After finishing that grueling exam, Collin had an hour break before taking the second part which was 90 minutes long and focused on English literature and writing. Collin's last Placement Test was going to deal with Algebra and Geometry. This was the one part he was dreading.
Collin felt comfortable with numbers all his life, but now he was scared. He was being tested on everything at the same time and he just knew he would confuse Theorems with Functions and forget how to even do simple math. He reluctantly entered the testing room, sat down and opened the test booklet when told to do so. Just about two hours later, he handed in the exam booklet and walked out into the hall, feeling exhausted.
Both Mr. Ken and Mr. Ashland were standing in the hall waiting for him. His first reaction was to go to Mr. Ken and get a hug but instead he went to Mr. Steve, as he called him, and shook his hand and thanked him for all his hard work in preparing him for that grueling set of examinations. Collin then went over to his Big Bro and then got a big hug. Collin felt drained after his six hours of testing. All he wanted to do just then was curl up on his bed and sleep for a week, but Big Bro had other ideas.
A large limousine was outside waiting for the three as they exited the building, but before they could enter it, Collin heard his name called. A number of the kids, who knew him from the dance, came over to talk to him as soon as they figured out who it was. Collin remembered some of their names and faces and explained to them why he was there. By then, a small crowd had gathered and after a few minutes, Mr. Ken called out to Collin that they needed to get going. His new friends wished him 'good luck' and told him they were all looking forward to having him at their school. As he entered the luxurious vehicle, many of the kids who didn't know who he was began to stare at him as they drove away. As wasted as he was, Collin didn't care. He was tired and just wanted to get away from there as fast as he could.
The chauffeur drove them to a restaurant where they were seated in a back area so they wouldn't be disturbed. The three of them sat back and relaxed and had a wonderful dinner while they talked to Collin about the test and how he felt he had done. It took Collin a while to get into the mood, after all those hours of testing, but he soon opened himself up and began to enjoy his company and small talk that they engaged him in.
By the time dinner was over, Collin was very much relaxed and was feeling much better about how well he had done in taking those Placement Tests. At the end of the evening, the chauffeur dropped Mr. Steve off at his car and Collin and Mr. Ken went right home where Chief greeted them with much enthusiasm and lots of dog 'kisses'. The long day was over and now all he and his mentors could do were to wait for the results, in about three days’ time.
Before they said their good nights, Ken and Collin talked about the next day, Thursday, and how it was going to be another big day, but especially for Collin. Mr. Ken knew Collin was very worried about tomorrow's outcome and tried to put Collin at ease as best he could. In the morning, they would meet up with his dad's lawyers and discuss how they saw Collin's future. They hoped by the end of the day they would know what was to become of the teenager Mr. Ken had come to love and admire. Reluctantly, the two went to their separate beds and neither had a restful night.
Thursday morning neither Ken nor Collin was very talkative at the breakfast table. Momma Maria knew that today was the day they would find out about Collin's future. She figured they wouldn't be all that interested in eating, so she only served them toast and jelly and either coffee or orange juice. She remarked later to one of her friends that the breakfast nook was so quiet and solemn; it was as if they were going to a funeral.
Little did she know that was exactly how Collin felt. His world had been turned upside down some six plus months ago, with the murders of his parents, and his subsequent kidnapping. Today, he felt as if the rest of his world, with Ken his savior, and Ryan his Best Friend, and a 'mom' who he could always count on, would come crumbling down around him.
The meeting was slated to take place at a well-established hotel, so there would be no interruptions and distractions. The participants also all agreed to turn off their cell phones and Blackberry's for the meeting. Since the session was to be held where the visiting lawyers were staying, they reserved a spacious conference room that would provide lots of light and fresh conditioned air. They also contracted with the hotel staff to provide the coffee, soft drinks and snacks for the morning's session. As the meeting was scheduled to begin at 10 AM, Bill Jackson and Stewart Russell arranged to meet Mr. Thomas and Collin, just inside the front entrance, so they would arrive at the meeting together.
During the ride, over to the hotel, Collin was a bundle of nerves. He had a ton of questions and an equal number of comments that were driving Ken nuts. Ken knew Collin was just trying to release pent up energy and get himself psyched up for the meeting that he felt he would have no control or input to. Even Ken was sitting there, while on the drive to the hotel, thinking to himself questions for which he had no answers to, as of yet.
Arriving at the hotel, Collin immediately shot off to the restroom. He had gotten himself so worked up that he now had a nervous stomach and he needed to take care of things. The men decided not to push Collin too much as this meeting was about him and not them. They needed Collin to be comfortable and relaxed, if that were any way possible, considering why they were there. In a few minutes, Collin came back to the men and he looked over to his Big Bro and asked, "Bro, do I really need to do this? Can't I just tell them what I want and then leave and let them figure it out how to make it happen?"
Ken and his lawyers could tell immediately in the way he asked his questions that Collin was not taking this very well at all. Bill and Stewart both looked to Ken for him to say something, anything, as he knew the boy better than anyone. Seeing their faces he knew he had to take control.
"Little bro ... no Collin ... today is the day we, all of us, and you included, decide how you will live the rest of your life. Those lawyers up there represent your parents and what they believe your parents would want them to do for you, and your best interests. We need to hear what they have to say. We will politely listen to them and then our voices, and your voice, will be heard whether they like what they hear or not. We won't be confrontational, but we also won't lie down and just take what they offer."
"Bill, here, has been in contact with their lead representative and so he has some idea of what they are going to ask us to do. Collin, when we arrive at the meeting place, I want you to take a deep breath, before we enter that room, and then enter with a sense of purpose and determination. I want you to enter the same way you've seen your father enter the same types of meeting hundreds of times. I want you to go in with your head held high."
"Please take notes as they speak, and when you have a question, signal that you do. Ask the best way you know how to and above all, don't let them talk down to you. If you are now the heir to your parents' legacy, you control their destiny and you may have more control and power than they think you do."
"That is correct, Collin," offered up Bill Jackson. "Their main spokesperson, a Mr. Andrew Marshall, told me that some of the lawyers want to get the courts to appoint someone they name to run the businesses until you are of age. If they get to do that, of course, that person will not have to listen to you at all, and can do whatever he or they want. They will only be accountable to the courts, who rarely get fully involved. As long as the person doesn't do stupid things, the courts tend to leave things pretty much alone. That is exactly what we want to object to, or side track, so that you choose who you want to oversee the operations, until you turn 18 or 21. Just try to play along our leads in that area. Okay, Collin?"
The four of them walked over to the elevators and took the first one to arrive up to the conference level floor. Exiting the elevator, they all walked to the conference room door and before they opened it to walk in, Collin looked around and then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The teen then turned the door knob and walked directly into the conference room. Collin's day to be heard had arrived and he entered as if he was in charge.
"Mister Marshall, it has been a long time. I hope you and your family is doing well," an energetic teenager greeted an old friend of the family as he walked into the room.
"Collin, my boy, what a pleasant surprise seeing you here, today; you are looking very well, especially, after what all I've heard you had to go through. I am terribly sorry about your parents, Collin. Your dad was my best friend and I know how much we all will miss him. And who do we have here with you?" asked the man.
"Mister Marshall, I want you to meet my Best Friend and savior, Mr. Ken Thomas, and his lawyer, William Jackson, and my lawyer, Stewart Russell."
"Thank you, Collin," said Mr. Marshall and he went over and shook each of their hands. He then introduced his companions.
"Collin, gentlemen, let me introduce you to my companions from Wilkinson Enterprises. This is Peter Miller, and this is Vince Mitchell, and Mitch Ballard and lastly, Frank Hale," was how Mr. Marshall introduced his fellow lawyers.
The nine exchanged pleasantries and talked among themselves while enjoying some breakfast pastries, coffee and juice. Collin made it a point to pull Mr. Marshall aside and talk to him about what happened to his parents.
"Uncle Andy, what did they do with my parents? I mean did they have a funeral and all? I haven't heard anything and, well, I didn't push Mr. Ken for any information. When I thought about asking him to find out about them, I ... I just couldn't make myself do it. Everything happened so fast, at first, and then there were the holidays, and then we took a mini-vacation when Mr. Ken told me about this meeting. I figured you'd be here since you were my father's best friend and lawyer. I just told him I'd wait until I saw you. So, can you fill me in some?" a needful teen asked his 'uncle'.
"Collin, we didn't know what happened to you. After we found your parents we ... we ah ... began looking everywhere for you. We had hoped you'd escaped and were afraid to come out of hiding but after four days we figured they had kidnapped you. We never gave up hope, Collin, please believe me."
"And my parents?" asked Collin.
"Well, after the coroner was finished with them we had a private service and buried them. Your father had already chosen a nice burial plot for all of you, so we placed both your mother and father there. When things are all settled, and you are back with us, we'll make sure to take you there..."
But before 'uncle' Andy could say another word, the two heard Frank Hale say, "What say we get this meeting started. We have lots of things to do today and then get Collin back to where he belongs."
When Collin heard what he said, and in the tone he said it, he somehow knew immediately that this man was going to be trouble. The man showed his impatience and also his arrogance in one fell swoop. A look over to Mr. Ken and Bill Jackson told him that was what his mentor and his lawyer were also thinking. After they all took places, around the circular table, it was apparent they were all seated as two groups. Collin looked at Bill this time and saw his subtle motion to Stewart and then made his eyes rise towards Mr. Ken.
Collin had noticed those same subtle indicators, with the eyes and the shake or nod of the head or hand motions, when he attended a few of his dad's meetings when beforehand his dad told him what to look for. Then afterward, his dad explained to him what they silently meant in the course of the meeting. Over time, Collin got pretty good at observing them, and interpreting their meanings, and today it would serve him well.
"Gentlemen and boy ..." was all Frank Hale got out when Mr. Ken immediately spoke up and said, "You will address him as Collin or with some other appropriate form of respect, Mr. Hale. Do you hear me? He is a young man who has gone through hell and is here as an equal at this meeting. Does anyone have a problem with that?"
Everyone seemed to look around the table at everyone else and there were heard some mumblings at the table but then everyone nodded in agreement, including Frank Hale. "You can continue, Mr. Hale," advised Mr. Thomas.
"Gentlemen, and Master Collin," began again Mr. Hale, "since the death of James Wilkinson, the large conglomeration of businesses and companies he amassed has been placed on 'life support' until we can establish who will be tapped to lead Wilkinson Enterprises. That is until which time his son, and heir, can assume that control. I wanted to do this earlier, but was out voted by my colleagues, here."
"What was the rush, Mr. Hale?" asked Mr. Ken. "I thought you would have had Dennis Clarke, Mr. Wilkinson's right hand man, take such control. Surely you didn't need Collin here, to go forward with that?"
"Mister Thomas that was exactly what happened, at first. But we all know what has transpired since then, and now he is sitting in a jail accused of orchestrating the attack that took place at your house. I, for one, do not believe that man could ever do such a thing. He and James were the best of friends and he knew everything about anything that had to do with Wilkinson Enterprises. I am sure he will be vindicated and will assume his rightful place upon his release."
"Gentlemen, and you, too, Collin," began Mr. Marshall, "we came here today to do two things of importance. The first was to read the Last Will and Testament of James and Charlotte Wilkinson. The second was to come up with a workable decision concerning where young Collin here should reside. There was no other item on the agenda, but it appears someone has other ideas. Frank, I told you before we came down here; we would not get into a discussion about Dennis. He is charged as he is and will have to go through the courts. These people had nothing to do with his arrest."
"Sure they did, Andy! With just his say so, he (pointing over at Mr. Ken) had Dennis Clarke, an outstanding member of society and longtime family friend arrested without a shred of evidence and ..."
"Enough!" yelled Andrew Marshall. "That is enough, Frank. The FBI doesn't just take the word of one person. But obviously, they have sufficient evidence to cause Dennis to be arrested and charged with the murders of James and Charlotte, and the kidnapping of Collin. I knew I should have left you back there. Now, not another word or I will ..."
"Or you'll what, Andrew? Throw me out of this room? Or, tell my mommy on me? I am an equal in this and I represent Dennis Clarke's interests for when he is returned to take rightful control of Wilkinson Enterprises. ... "
As the two sparred between themselves, Collin was furiously taking notes. His companions were taking it all in and trying to make heads or tails of what was happening right there in front of them. Neither Bill nor Stewart had ever seen such a debate outside of closed doors and here it was in front of complete strangers.
Then out of nowhere Collin yelled, "STOP! I've heard enough!"
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