It was after 8 PM when Uncle Andy and Ken arrived back at Three Finger Cove. Collin was anxious about their return and when he saw the limousine's headlights light up the Cove's long driveway; he ran outside and waved like a little kid.
Uncle Andy got out first, but it was Mr. Ken who Collin leaped onto when he stepped out of the vehicle. The two stood there hugging one another for a few seconds before Mary coughed to get their attention.
"What say we all get inside and out of this spring chill," suggested Mary.
"I guess I lost my status with Collin, after all these years," said Andrew Marshall, to no one in particular, but loud enough that everyone could hear him.
"I'm sorry, Uncle Andy, its … well, it’s just that Mr. Ken has done so much for me and … well, he and I have a good … NO a great relationship, I would say, especially after the fun we both had on the cruise," said Collin.
"Oh, yeah … about the cruise … I'm so sorry I … I botched that one for you, my lad. I had no idea that the Palmer guy was still in touch with Hale. All I wanted was…"
"That's okay, Uncle Andy … Bro filled us in when we took a break on the Cay. It sounded like there were a lot of people who were in cahoots to take over my dad's business," offered Collin.
"Yes, I am afraid there were more than a few. It might be best if we all sat down and discussed everything we did and what we have yet to do, my boy. This may be a very long evening. Ken, my man, you wouldn't have any of that real good stuff I so enjoyed the last time I was here. I know that would feel so good going down about now," smiled Andy.
A half hour later, with drinks well in hand, the three all sat down in the study and discussed what Andrew Marshall and Ken Thomas were able to uncover and dispatch with prejudice up at Wilkinson Enterprises, Inc., soon to be C.W.E., Inc.
"Ken, how about you telling Collin here the bulk of what we found. After the rally tomorrow, son, I will have to get back to check up on what's going to happen or had happened. You'll see what I mean here in a minute or two," said Uncle Andy.
Ken looked at Andy and knew the older man wanted him to tell the boy the bad news, hoping that coming from him it wouldn't be too unbearable. So, that in mind, Ken took a long drink from his glass and then inhaled deeply and began speaking.
"Well, Collin, it was a good thing I had Palmer locked out of his office. I was so pissed off, at the time, that it was the only thing I could think of to get back at him, from that far away. Anyway, when Andy and I went through his office we found lots of 'private' files Palmer created. My computer science degree came in handy, as I was able to look deep into his computer. I found a background on everyone who was in on the eventual takeover of your dad's businesses. We guessed he did it to ensure that if he got caught, or, was made the scapegoat, he would have enough on everybody to take them all down, too.
"Collin, I found in Palmer's computer … evidence … directly implicating Dennis Clarke, in your kidnapping. He included all of the names of the men who took you and hid you – Dean, Ross, Mark and Henry Lewis, the kidnapper's leader. Hopefully, now that we have all that information, it could save you from having to testify one day.
"As for Frank Hale, Palmer's not to well hidden computer files showed he was in it up to his eyeballs. Not only was he directly involved, he was also conspiring to get rid of Andy, one way or another, if he didn't retire soon after Clarke took over. I guess that is why he tried everything to get me taken away as your guardian."
"What about that man, Mr. Hale, wanted to run the company instead of you Mr. Ken?" asked a fully interested Collin.
"I was coming to that, Collin. Josh Sullivan was to become Clarke's 'right hand man, right after the takeover. There were a number of ancillary presidents and vice-presidents who were all going to benefit when Dennis Clarke took over the family business. Of course, the deaths of your mom and dad weren't in their plans, but with Palmer's computer files, the authorities were able to connect every one of them to the conspiracy. They can all be charged as Co-conspirators and given the death penalty, if convicted."
"You see, Son," began Uncle Andy, "they all needed one another for the thing to work. It was like a Ponzi scheme, in that they all moved up one rung on the corporate ladder. The thing with Ponzi schemes is that they usually come to light and the people involved do not pass Go and collect their 'two hundred dollars' … they go directly to jail."
"Collin, tomorrow morning, at about 5AM, the FBI and State Police, along with the County Sheriff and local police are going to serve warrants on something like twelve people, including Clarke. They will be arraigned and they will all ask for bail. We have asked that none of them be allowed out on bail, since they can all be charged as Co-conspirators in your parents' deaths. … Andy will go back up there tomorrow and I will join him sometime next week and find out if any of them are willing to talk. If they are willing to name names, of any other people in the scheme, they may be offered a deal. We want to also know if anything else underhanded was going on, as well, so we can take additional action," were the details Ken added.
Collin sat in his chair stunned from all that he heard. Since, he didn't say anything, Ken got up and went over to him, and the teen melted in his arms and began to lightly cry. Sensing those two needed some time together the remaining three left the Study, closing the door as they left.
The "Rally 4 Rodney" and "Stop Violence Against Students" rallies kicked off at 1 PM in the parking lot of The Mall. Thousands of people from all over the state turned out and the organizers had donation barrels all over, for them to fill. Some of the local bands donated their time and started playing for the spectators and would do so until the speakers for the rally arrived.
Collin and Ryan knew they needed to be there, so; of course, Mr. Ken and Andy and Mary accompanied them. Mrs. Costa also showed up as she would be one of the scheduled speakers. Before long, the County Commissioners and the School Board members all showed up, too, even though they were not scheduled to speak. There were Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts all wearing their uniforms. The Sheriff and many of his deputies were also in attendance in support of the rallies, but also to help protect all the cash donations, going into the barrels.
The Who's Who of local business men also came by to show their support and they had in hand sizable contributions for the fund. In addition, local bank presidents came, too and they too were prepared to donate a sum of money and to set up Special Accounts that people could also send their donations to.
As the one o'clock start off time crept closer, the crowd began openly talking and asking the question "Was the Governor coming?" At five minutes to one, they all got their answer when they heard a helicopter arrive at another area of The Mall parking lot.
The Mall rented a flat-bed trailer and decorated it with red, white and blue bunting and supplied steps for the speakers to all walk up and seats for them to use until it was their turn to say a few words.
"Hey Ry, do you know where Bro went? He was standing right over there with Andy and Mom," asked Collin.
"No, I don't and I hope he didn't go into The Mall to use the restroom, because they are beginning to start speaking," replied Ryan.
As the scheduled speakers took their seats, people began to crowd closer to the makeshift stage. It was then that Collin got his answer. There up on the stage was Ken Thomas seated next to the governor.
"I wonder why he is up there?" asked Ryan.
"I bet I know why," began Collin. "He is up there to represent Wilkinson Enterprises. Don't you remember from his phone call on Wednesday … he said Uncle Andy was working on something for this. I bet Uncle Andy convinced him as CEO of Wilkinson he should be up there instead of him. That must be why he wore a suit today."
The governor spoke first. He lamented about today's youth and the perils they had to watch out for and that society needed to step up and protect them, at all costs. He further promised the gathering he would ask the legislature to get stricter on gang violence and people who bully and/or violently attack the state's youth.
Then, Mrs. Costa spoke. She wholeheartedly thanked the numerous people and groups who rallied to do this for her son. She told them all how wonderful it felt to know so many people cared, not only about her son, but about the youth all over the state being beaten and hospitalized. She thanked them again for the generous contributions and didn't know how she could ever repay them.
Then the local business men began coming up one-by-one and announced the amount their corporate headquarters was donating to the cause. Then the local bankers did the same thing. Then, the Head of the County Commissioners, along with Sheriff Barnes, announced their funding of additional manpower to focus on solving that heinous crime.
Meanwhile, back at Three Finger Cove, Momma Maria was greeting Mr. Ken's Special Guests for tonight's birthday party, for Collin and Ryan. As promised to Aidan, if the teen was well enough to travel, Mr. Ken flew him and his parents along with Clint, Doug and Brent and his mom, Janice, who came as an additional chaperon, out to Texas for the birthday party.
Maria explained to them where Mr. Thomas was, and then showed the guests their accommodations. She had prepared a light meal for them, so, after they put away their things, they sat down to eat. Afterward, they looked around the home while they waited for Ken and Collin to return.
Each and every time someone spoke, or added to the till, the crowd applauded loudly. The program went smoothly until there was only one person left to speak. He was finally introduced and a hush came over the crowd.
"Governor, Commissioners, Sheriff, Mrs. Costa, local business men, scout groups, ladies and gentlemen, students and fellow citizens … I am humbled today by this turnout to not only rally for Rodney … but to also help stop the violence against our state's students. (Applause) It is a shame … it takes the senseless beating of a child … for us to come together to try and put a stop to it. We should begin teaching in our homes … our schools … and our churches that violence only begets more violence, and that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is not how to solve the problems we have with others. (Huge Applause)
"Most of you know who I am. I was one of many, the Governor, called upon to help in the County's recovery after the storm. But, what many of you do not know is that one night … during that same tremendous storm, I found a child … a child who was almost dead … at my doorstep. I was able to get him the required help and later helped him heal from his wounds… that his wonton attackers had given him … ONLY to have those same people, and some others, come and shoot up my home, in order to try to kill him, again. … He survived that second attack, and over the ensuing months he studied hard … hard enough to earn the opportunity to attend high school with his new found friends. Then … he was attacked again.
"What the majority of you do not know … is that the boy we are here today for … was the one who put him back into the hospital."
The crowd gasped at that revelation and some began shouting "No! NO!", but Ken Thomas, holding up his hands to calm the crowd, continued on.
"Yes … it was Rodney … he was the one who hit my, the person I have come to now call my 'little brother', and cause him to be placed in the ICU Step-Down Unit overnight. It was later, we came to find out that Rodney … that he, too, had been a victim … that he had been a victim, all his life, by being brutalized and traumatized at home … by his own father. … That day … when he struck my little brother … Rodney wasn't striking out at Collin … he was striking out at that one man … the one man who had placed him at that point in his life … his father.
"The teenager I now call my 'little brother', some of you know. Some of you will immediately recognize who he is when I tell you his name. … His name is Collin … I want you to know that that Collin Wilkinson … is the one I NOW claim as my 'little brother'."
When the name was announced, the crowd went ballistic and applauded louder than ever that the vast majority never heard Ken say, "Please step up here, Collin."
Collin joined his Big Brother up on the stage and was embarrassed for being called up there, to be in front of those thousands of people. The two stood together, and as the applause continued, Ken apologized to the teen for doing that, but he said it was a spur of the moment decision. Then, Ken also told him to get ready to say a few words as a classmate, and also as the owner of C.W.E.
As the applause settled down, Mr. Ken continued his speech.
"When Collin returned from his spring break and learned that Rodney had been brutality beaten … his first question to me right then and there was … if we could go visit him. He didn't care that it was the boy who attacked him. What he cared about was … that it was a teenager, a fellow classmate, and a human being, who didn't deserve to have that happen to him … NO MATTER WHAT!
"For, you see, Collin had forgiven Rodney for what he had done to him. Rodney went to court, and accepted his punishment, and for Collin that was the end of it. Justice for him had been done. … That day when Collin saw the beaten and battered boy, lying there in the ICU, he got tears in his eyes because he knew … what it meant to be beaten … and left for dead.
"At school the next day, he was talking to his friends and when they learned that he had visited the lad who put him in the hospital, they … they couldn't believe he had done that, and they couldn't understand why he went. He told me that night he had thought for a moment and then his reply to them was something to the effect of 'How would you feel if it was you lying there and … and your mom was falling apart because you might die and she would be left all alone?' He told them that Rodney didn't deserve that beating … and that they needed to let that boy know he is not forgotten. He told them that it was up to them to help … to help make that boy want to live and be back with his mom and finish his dream!'
"I am here today … here as the representative for the company that my little brother now owns. I have asked him up here to say a few words. I put him on the spot so please forgive him if he stumbles. Let me formally introduce my 'little brother' and owner of Wilkinson Enterprises, Inc., soon to be C.W.E. Inc., Collin Wilkinson."
The crowd again erupted in thunderous applause as the teenager stepped forward to the microphone. He let the applause continue as he formulated his words in his mind, and when he felt ready, he held up one hand and the applause settled down and then stopped.
"Governor, Commissioners, Sheriff, fellow students and citizens of this great state of Texas, if I left anyone out, I apologize. (The crowd laughed.) This is my first time, ever, speaking in front of so many people. (The crowd laughed some more and that gave Collin time to settle down.) Rodney is a teen who got caught up in with the wrong group. … All his life, his dad told him to be like him and be tough. But he didn't want to be that way. … He looked forward to going to college, one day, and taking his mom away … away from the life she had to endure all those eighteen years. Unfortunately, some boys, who he never before hung out with, somehow convinced him to do something … anything … to me that day … which caused a domino effect that would, in effect, come back around to him one day.
"That same night … when Rodney got home his dad somehow found what he did to me and was so proud of him for doing that. Soon though … the police came to arrest Rodney and his dad began taking it out on him for bringing the police there … and then even tried to kill him … his own son. … I want you all to know that initially, I didn't want to be so kind to Rodney. I wanted him to pay for what he did to me and … and I didn't care what happened to him.
"I had already been beaten and left for dead once, and then those same men put out a contract on me to kill me, after they failed the first time. And, here was Rodney … just another person who tried and succeeded to hurt me bad and I hadn't done a thing to him or any one of them. … Yes … I wanted paybacks!
"But, what changed my mind about Rodney, you may ask? … Well, it came from what a ten year old told me about his life and how … as a much younger boy he had to watch his dad … brow beat and ridicule his mom … in front of him, and then … and then later watch his dad … kill her … right in front of him. … He explained to me he felt that Rodney went through the same things he had, from his father. That 10-year old … somehow instinctively knew what Rodney had gone through and didn't have any way to get away from it. …
"After listening, to his heart wrenching story, I came to realize … that the violence had to stop, somewhere, and if I pushed … if I pushed for the maximum for Rodney … I was only continuing that cycle of violence … and it would never stop. … I thought hard about what my young friend told me … and, it was then I decided that Rodney … that Rodney needed a chance … a chance to get out of that cycle of hatred and violence and make a good life for him and his mom.
"Rodney was given the opportunity … to prove to me, and the community, that he was a good person. He made good on his promise to study hard and stay away from the group who so misguided him. I would see him at school and I noticed he walked straighter, a little taller and prouder, after that day in court. He vowed he'd go to college … and now … now he may never get that chance, because someone … someone decided to beat him senseless … and leave him for dead.
"I know exactly what Rodney is going through … right this very minute, because ... well because I, too, went through it once or even twice, myself. I choose to stand up for Rodney … because he needed someone to be there for him … just like my Big Bro, Mr. Thomas, did for me last October."
At that point, Mr. Ken went up to Collin and whispered something in his ear and as he tried to step back, Collin grabbed his arm and made him stay there with him.
"The night I was kidnapped … they killed my parents. … My Big Bro, Mr. Ken, here, just about everybody knows him by that name, now, I think, after he found me and saved my life that night of the storm … became my guardian while I healed. Later … when my parents Wills were read … and I found out I had inherited my dad's entire business operations … I needed someone to run them, for me … until I was old enough. The Will gave me that opportunity to name someone to run the company until I turned eighteen.
"I didn't have to think too hard, nor look very far, because … well, I knew there was a certain someone who I knew could do just that for me. So, I named him, Mr. Kenneth Richard Thomas, to run the Wilkinson Corporation for me. That is why he gave his speech as he is the Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officers' for Wilkinson Enterprises.
"But, he's the one who is supposed to be up here telling you what Wilkinson is going to do for the "Rally 4 Rodney" and the "Stop Violence Against Students" funds, but … but somehow the 'worker', Mr. Ken, told the 'boss', that's me, that I have to do it. (Collin pulled Mr. Ken to him and placed his arm around his shoulder and the crowd laughed at the irony of it.)
"He is also the one who made me come up here and make a speech. The one I wasn't prepared to give. I think I am going to have to have a work review counseling session with him, so he knows who the boss is supposed to be. (The crowd laughs some more.) OK, now that I am up here, I guess I should tell you what C.W.E, Inc. is donating to these two wonderful causes.
"Okay. You ready? (The crowd enthusiastically yelled they were.) The Wilkinson Corporation is going to … MATCH … dollar for dollar … up to one half million dollars… that is collected for each of these two funds. (The crowd went wild again and the band even played something upbeat as if it was a political rally.) And that is not all … Wilkinson is also going to pay … half of Rodney's hospital bills. (The crowd erupted again and their applause was deafening.)
"To finish up … I have one last thing I want to say. The money collected today is to help Rodney and others who have suffered violence at school … but, we have to do more than just collect money," Collin began. "What we need to do … IS elect men and women who will do what is right, AND protect us students. (The crowd applauds.)
"There is an ongoing local School Board election with incumbents, who, during their tenure, FAILED to enact simple standards of conduct in regards to harassment and bullying within this entire school district. And, because of that, the other boys involved in my harassment and hospitalization case were allowed back into school. (The crowd shouted No, No!)
"On top of that, after my hospitalization, there was a Special Meeting to discuss developing a NEW Student Handbook. As of today, the current Board has failed to live UP to their own agreement to hold meetings and get input from students, parents and teachers on the implementation of new procedures to include the reporting of harassment, its investigational methods and the disciplinary measures, as well as grievance procedures of said harassment and bullying. …
"It is TIME to throw those BUMS out of office and ELECT a NEW School Board. It is time to elect members … who promise to make our schools SAFE and who will follow through with that promise. And, so, I am asking YOU to get out and VOTE. VOTE either during Early Voting, or on Election Day. But get out there and make a stand for SAFE Schools for YOUR kid! Thank You!"
The crowd ate that last part up and began yelling and applauding like crazy. The collection barrels began taking more and more donations as the people began to walk away, now the rally was over. Up on the trailer, the dignitaries began shaking hands and speaking with one another while waiting for the crowd to thin out
"Collin, my boy," started the governor, "you will make one hell of a politician one day. That speech at the end will be remembered long after today's rally. I take it you are supporting the challengers and with such a large and captive audience, you did it right. Ken, when you get tired of the good life over at the Cove, please call me. I have just the job for you."
Collin drove home after the rally and parked the car out front. The two entered through the Foyer door, Collin, going in first, was immediately hit by a thunderous, "Happy Birthday, Collin" from a bunch of familiar faces, whom he thought were still back in California.
Collin stood there for a few moments stunned from seeing his 'California Friends', as he called them, standing there looking and smiling at him.
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