Brandon’s Boys

Chapter 10
Who is Oliver?

            Oliver made the move to Brandon’s Boys on Tuesday evening, November 23.  He was still in fragile shape, with an arm and leg in a cast, even though his doctors said he was healing properly.  Consequently, Daniel I and Cody formed a ‘basket’ with their arms, and carried him downstairs to the rec room, even though he could probably have made it on his own.  He laughed and though that hilarious.  He was given the same sort of ride up to the second floor, where he was housed, as the boys had decided not to put him on the third because of his leg.  As the next morning, Wednesday, was a free day as far as school was concerned, most of the boys decided to sleep late.  Oliver was used to being awakened early at the hospital, so he got himself up, used the restroom, got dressed, and made his way down to the kitchen without help.  There, he found Aunt Barbara sipping coffee with a man he did not recognize.

            “Goodness!” she exclaimed.  “Look who’s here.  Got up early even when you didn’t have to, did you?”

            “I guess I got used to it in the hospital.  They would come in an wake me up early every morning,” Oliver said.

            “Oh, I know.  I don’t know why hospitals do that.  I’m sure it doesn’t make you feel any better, but they do it to everyone, even us old folks,” Barbara told him.

            The man Oliver did not know moved around the table and extended his hand.  “Hi.  I don’t think we’ve met.  I’m George.”

            “Oh, I didn’t realize you two hadn’t been introduced,” Barbara Menendez said.  “George lives in the carriage house next door.  He comes over from time to time to speak Spanish with me, since none of the boys really knows the language.”

            “I know some Spanish,” Oliver said. “Me se llama Oliver.”  The rest of their conversation would be in Spanish.

            “Wonderful!” Aunt Barbara declared.

            “Glad to meet you Oliver,” George Ramirez said.  “Now you can keep Aunt Barbara company, as I have to get back to take care of my wife.  She’s nearly six months pregnant, and requires a lot of attention,” he grinned.

            Aunt Barbara prattled on in Spanish to Oliver as she fixed him some breakfast, and he responded, keeping up pretty well.  She was clearly delighted to find a boy who spoke her language, and Oliver felt pretty proud of himself as well.

            “There he is!” Mike and Cody exclaimed, as they barged into the room and into the conversation.  “We went to check on you, and when you weren’t there, we thought you had given up on us and gone back to the hospital.”

            “No way!” Oliver declared.

            And so Oliver began to become familiar with Brandon’s Boys group home, and with the boys in their natural environment.  That afternoon, he accompanied them down to Mansfield Park, and was an interested observer of the soccer game.  He said he was looking forward to getting better so he could join the game.  He loved soccer, and had been on the team back home, he said.  He declared that he would be glad to attend the Thanksgiving service at St. Rose, but he was Episcopalian.  He had not been to any church in a while, though.  When offered the opportunity to attend at St. Augustine, he declined, saying he would rather go with the other boys.  Afterwards, he said it was not that much different from what he used to experience, and he liked it fine.  Bit by bit, little things like that came out about Oliver’s version of his life before ending up on the streets, but he remained tight lipped as far as the essentials were concerned.

            Oliver knew that some of the boys were gay, and that did not seem to bother him at all, once Brandon assured him that at Brandon’s Boys no one, gay or straight, was compelled to do anything sexual he did not want to do.  He had not been there long before the boys told him about Brandon being an actor, and he got to watch Precocious Grace and then With Malice Towards None.  When Craig Crews came over to greet the boys upon his arrival the day before Thanksgiving, Oliver recognized him from the movies he had watched earlier that day.  He realized that this was not just another group home.

            The week after Thanksgiving, while the other boys were in school, Oliver was in the library working at the computer.  He was taking the battery of tests which would assess his grade level, just in case he decided to stay on.  It was Thursday, December 2.  Brandon came in while he was busy at it, but did not interrupt him.  When Oliver got to a good stopping point, however, Brandon did begin a private conversation, just between the two of them.

            “Oliver, you did very well indeed on the tests I’ve graded so far.  You clearly had a good education,” Brandon began.

            Oliver grinned.  “Good to know some benefit came from all the work I did over the years.”

            “I’m really glad to see you working at this,” Brandon said, “but I think I need to remind you of something I told you before you left the hospital.  If you plan to stay with us – and I hope you do – I’ll need some real information about you.”

            Oliver burst into tears.  “I can’t tell you.  If I do, you’ll have to turn me in, and they’ll take me away and execute me in the electric chair.”

            Clearly surprised, Brandon said, “I’m sure that won’t happen.”

            “Yes it will!  I shot my step-father.  I saw the bastard kill my mother, so I shot him,” Oliver insisted.

            “Calm down.  I’ll confess, we have been trying to find out more about you.  We’ve checked every record at Child Welfare and at the police, and there’s nothing like that, or even anything on a missing person fitting your description, anywhere in the Clifton area” Brandon said.

            “It’s still true.  Mom was real sick.  She was in bed, with all kinds of tubes and such, like in the hospital.  I saw my step-father take her oxygen tube and twist it so as to cut off her supply.  She  gave a few gasps, and died.  I yelled at him.  He was surprised that I saw him, but he yelled back that if I said anything to anyone he would kill me, too.  I ran into the den, and got a pistol from the gun cabinet, and came back and shot him.  Then, I knew they would execute me, so I ran.  I kept on running until those goons beat me up last month,” Oliver insisted.

            He was weeping profusely.  Brandon attempted to comfort the boy, but did not know what to make of the story.  By the time Oliver was calmed down enough to talk some more, Brandon had considered the story.  He pointed out that his step-father had threatened his life, so shooting him could be considered self-defense, and besides, they did not put children in the electric chair.  Oliver responded that he did not want to spend the rest of his life in jail, either.  That would be as bad as the hospital.

            Brandon told him, “Well, for now, we’ll keep this unofficial.  There’s no need to bring the other boys into this, especially as there are so many unanswered questions, and certainly no need to alert the authorities.  But I will try to find answers for you, Oliver.  You keep working on those tests, because I have a feeling you’re going to need the results when school starts up again.”

            Oliver sobbed and held on to Brandon.  “I don’t see how, but I sure hope you’re right.”  But he could not do any more school work that morning.  Instead, he made his way up to his room and took a nap.

            Brandon felt justified in bringing Zip Todd into the loop.  He told Oliver he would keep working on his situation, and Zip was the best tool he knew for things like this.

            Oliver recovered his equilibrium by the time the other boys got in from school.  Nothing more was said for about a week.  In the meanwhile, Oliver had his first trip out to Todd Farm on Saturday.  He was still not able to get around very agilely, and so Chris volunteered to take Oliver to meet Beauty while the others were enjoying working for the OUNPRA Christmas Tour of Homes.  Of course, Daniel II insisted on meeting his girlfriend as well.  Although Oliver had a cast and crutches, and his arm was useless, he nonetheless showed Chris that he knew his way around a stable.  He related very well to Beauty, which was all the recommendation Chris needed.  Daniel and Oliver made a fine picture with Beauty.  Oliver was not in condition to mount a horse at this time, but he clearly wanted to, and spoke enthusiastically about getting back in the saddle when he was sufficiently recovered.

            Zip got busy carrying out a computer search.  He figured Oliver did not come from Clifton.  There was simply no set of circumstances approaching those he described in the Clifton area to fit Oliver.  He also figured that a kid Oliver’s age, on his own, probably did not travel very far.  Oliver had also been on his own for about six months prior to being beaten.  So, Zip began to search in a widening circle around Clifton for anything resembling his story.

            It took about two weeks before he came up with anything, and then it was pretty nebulous.  There was a brief article in the Lexington Herald-Leader commenting on the misfortunes of a man whose wife died and who had an accident with his pistol on the same day.  It was just one of those space fillers, and the man was not named, but the circumstances were close enough that Zip followed up.  He checked obituaries and located one for a Mae Elizabeth Hinds Ballard Sipes, widow of Jonathan Edward Ballard, mother of Edward Oliver Ballard, and wife of Donald Richard Sipes.  That sounded promising.  So Zip then checked with the Lexington police records and hospital records for the same time.  There was nothing in the police records, but the Baptist Health records indicated that a Mr. Donald R. Sipes came in on the day in question, April 3, with a gunshot wound.  He said he was cleaning his pistol and did not know it was loaded.  He suffered a wound in his side, but it missed any vital organs or arteries, so he was treated and sent home.  A report was filed, but there was evidently no follow up.  A search of school records revealed the records of Edward Oliver Ballard at the Lexington School, a private institution, from pre-school through last spring, when the records stop in April, six weeks short of completing sixth grade.  There was a note that Mr. Sipes stated that Eddie had been taken into the care of his aunt, who lived in Illinois, and she would contact the school about having the records sent on, but obviously they were not sent anywhere, unless they were send copies, as what was on file seemed to be the originals.  Eddie Ballard was stated to have been born on 9 October 1998.  Zip checked.  Yep, the day he was beaten was his twelfth birthday.

            Zip called in Brandon and shared the results of his computer search.  There was little doubt in the minds of either man that the boy calling himself Oliver was Edward Oliver Ballard.  But he was obviously afraid of the consequences of having shot, and he assumed killed, his step-father.  A few moments of brain storming resulted in a call to Clay Logan.  Clay was a graduate student in the Department of History at the University of Kentucky at Lexington, nearing the completion of his work.  He readily agreed to take a little trip to the address of Mr. Sipes to see whether there was anything which might serve to calm Oliver.  He and his wife Kathy were not leaving to return to Clifton for the holidays until the next day.

            Later that same day, Zip received on his computer a series of six photographs showing a middle aged man trimming shrubs in the front yard, and climbing on a ladder to remove leaves from the gutters.  The photographs were dated, so there could be no doubt about their currency.  Zip put together a dossier with all the material he had collected, including the photos, and delivered it to Brandon.

            It was Friday, December 17.  Brandon received the dossier late in the afternoon.  He studied it with great interest, especially the photos.  Then he decided to let Oliver make up his mind.  About the time dinner would be over next door, Brandon called and asked Oliver to come over to his place when he was finished with his meal.  Of course, the other boys had to make hooting noises and pretend that Oliver was in trouble, but he could not think of anything he had done wrong, so he made his way with no fear.  When Brandon met the boy, he simply said he had some stuff he wanted to show him, and escorted him into the library.  There, once Oliver was comfortably seated, Brandon handed him the dossier.

            The first item was a copy of the news space filler.  Oliver looked at it and looked confused.  Then, there was the obituary.  When Oliver read his mother’s obituary, he teared up, but also looked startled.  His eyes held fear as he looked up at Brandon.

            Brandon only said, “Read on.”

            Then there was the hospital report, and so on, right up to the photographs taken that same day.   Oliver was having difficulty processing the hospital report and the school transcript with the written note.  He seemed in a trance, reading on as in another world, until he got to the photographs.

            When Brandon noticed him reach the first photograph, he said, “Notice the date printed by the camera on each picture.”

            Oliver looked.  He went to the next picture, and then the next.  When he had seen all six pictures he looked up at Brandon.  “That son-of-a-bitch is alive!”

            Brandon was not sure what reaction he expected, but he was relieved when he saw anger come from Oliver.  He said, “It would seem so.  Clay Logan, the guy who took the pictures, will be in Clifton tomorrow.  I’ll arrange for you to meet him, and you can ask any questions, but I don’t think there can be any question that you did not kill your step-father, but only wounded him.  It looks like he never reported you missing, and is pretending you are living with an aunt in Illinois.”

            “I don’t think I have an aunt in Illinois.  Mom was an only child.  It would have to be a great aunt or some other relative, and I never heard Mom talk about relatives in Illinois,” Oliver replied.

            “So, are you willing to admit that you are Edward Oliver Ballard?” Brandon asked.

            “As long as I don’t get sent to prison for killing my step-father, sure.  That’s why I wouldn’t say anything.”

            “Two things for your to think about now.  First, what do you want to do about your step-father?  From what you say, it looks like he’s guilty of killing your mother, and then of failing to report you missing and giving false information.  If you want to follow up, you have my complete support.” Brandon laid it out.  “Second, and even more important, do you want to be called Oliver or Eddie?”

            The boy grinned.  “I’ll think about number one, there.  But for now, I’ll stay Oliver.”

            Over the weekend, Oliver played hard.  He actually tried his hand at soccer, but he was not really ready for that, but he did mount up out at the Farm on Saturday.  Chris helped him up on Beauty as he had already established rapport with the mare.  Oliver joined with Daniel Marlow in forming a Beauty fan club.  When Oliver rode Beauty around the corral, then out into the open field, he had a look of pure bliss on his face.  Chris borrowed his brother Tony’s Champ and accompanied him, as did Brandon on BarryChamp is CH Todd’s Champion, the horse of the middle brother in the Todd family, while Barry is Barry Bought Me, the mount of Brandon Dowling, named for the character Brandon played in his very successful television series.  They only rode for about twenty minutes, but there was no doubt that it had been a great experience for Oliver, and there would be many more.

            Oliver seemed to pray especially hard on Sunday at church.  After his abortive attempt to play soccer last week, he sat on the sidelines and cheered both sides.  He was in a great mood.  When he came back from Mansfield Park, he went next door to see Brandon.

            “I’ve thought about it.  It could get messy, with courts and lawyers and stuff.  But there’s no way I’m going to just let that SOB get away with it,” said.

            “I’m glad you made that choice,” Brandon told him.  “I’ll contact Mrs. Pennington, and see about getting the wheels moving.”

            On Monday, Brandon and Oliver spent over an hour at the law offices of Pennington, Pennington, and Rafferty closeted with Anjali.  She carefully went over the dossier compiled by Zip, and questioned Oliver about each entry.  His account of events on that fateful day in April was recorded, typed up, and notarized.  In it, as he had been instructed beforehand, he did not mention thinking he had killed his step-father, but only said he shot him.  Two days later, Donald R. Sipes was served with a warrant for his arrest on the charges of child abuse, child neglect, and filing false reports.  Any charges with respect to the demise of Mrs. Sipes would come later.

            When Oliver learned that Don had been arrested, he yelled “Yes!” and pumped his fist into the air.  “That’s the best Christmas present I could possibly get,” he insisted.

            There was a meeting of all Brandon’s Boys along with Oliver, Brandon, and Chris.  Brandon let Oliver tell his story, which he did with great dramatic effect.  The boys cheered when he reported Don’s arrest.  Then, he admitted to his real name and his birthday, but said he still wanted to be called Oliver.  No problem.  Daniel the First, Colby, and Mike all went by pseudonyms, and this was just Oliver’s middle name.  There was much pounding on the back, high fives, and congratulations.

            “I guess this means we’re stuck with you permanently,” Mike teased.

            “Afraid so,” Oliver said with a grin.

            It took months for the case to work its way through the courts.  Parallel with the accusations of Oliver based on his step-father’s failure to report him missing and related issues, and to the accusation that he murdered Oliver’s mother, was the issue of the late Mrs. Sipes’ estate.  Don had been enjoying it as the spouse of the deceased, but her will left everything to Oliver.  Don had merely been pretending to forward checks to the non-existent aunt in Illinois.  Both Mae Elizabeth Hinds and Jonathan Edward Ballard had significant personal estates, including property and family heirlooms, but also including major liquid assets.

            It was August before everything was finally settled, but in the end, Don Sipes was found guilty of major child neglect for failing to report Oliver missing and pretending he was in Illinois.  He was found guilty of major fraud in using Oliver’s inheritance as his own.  But he could not be found guilty of first degree murder, as the only real evidence was Oliver’s testimony.  While considerable doubt was raised about the manner of Mae Elizabeth’s death, nothing could be proven.  Oliver was disappointed about that, but Don was sent to prison, and Brandon was appointed as Oliver’s foster parent and guardian of his estate until he reached adulthood.

            Oliver chose to remain as part of Brandon’s Boys, despite his inheritance.  He had come to really like being part of the group.  He felt no real attachment to the house in Lexington, so it was sold, and the proceeds added to his investments.  The contents were put in storage until Oliver decided what to do with them.

            In January, Oliver began school at St. Rose as a sixth grader.  He also joined the RCIA class.