Brandon resumed his survey of the sixteen boys who had been part of the group home at 1322 Chestnut Street known as Brandon’s Boys.
“Our next boy in chronological order was Gene Hillebrand. That’s Eugene Frederick Hillebrand. He was not with us a very long time. He was caught in some minor misdemeanor by Nathan Winter, the policeman, who, ironically, is the partner of Frank Hillebrand, a cousin of Gene. Nathan is also on our Board. Both Gene’s father and Frank’s were terrible homophobes, and both were kicked out of the family as a result. Frank was further along, and could take care of himself, but Gene was a junior at Baltimore High when this happened in the fall of 2008. Gene had been on the street for less than a year when he came to us in October of 2009. We started him back in Baltimore, only a year behind, and he graduated with honors in 2011. Gene has a marvelous voice, and has participated in a variety of musical groups. He wanted to teach, too, like Daniel, but history, not science, so we sent him to the University as well. After his freshman year there, he got a job as custodian at the Newman Center, which carried with it a room just off campus. At the University, Gene met Jack Young, and they have since joined forces, so to speak. Gene graduated last year, and has a job at Brentwood Academy, too. Gene was our seventh Brandon’s Boy.
“Our eighth boy was Freddy. Freddy, or Frederick Anthony Foster, is another failure of the regular foster system. After his parents died, he was assigned to his uncle, who beat him and sexually abused him, and no one from the system noticed.”
Catherine looked very embarrassed by this. Brandon knew she was not responsible, and had acted when the situation was brought to her attention. But Freddy had suffered nonetheless. There were nasty people out there, and the system was too ensnared in bureaucracy, and too underfunded and understaffed, to deal with all the problems. Even though Brandon was aware of all this, he wanted Catherine to know that he was also aware of the failures of the system in real human terms.
“After Freddy had been on the streets for about ten months, he turned up at St. Martin de Porres, and again it was Lamar who brought him to us. He knew Clarence, and so that eased the transition. Freddy was only in the second grade when he came to us. He’s a very private young man. For one thing, Daniel Marlow and Oliver Ballard are taking bets as to whether he’s gay or straight, and so far there is no way to award either the prize. Freddy is very friendly, very helpful, but he gives out almost no information about himself. He’s in the eighth grade at St. Rose this year, and will be 15 in May, a year behind his age cohort. He does alright in school, but has shown no interest in skipping ahead and making up for that year he lost. Frankly, he’s something of a mystery to all of us. We’ll just have to wait and see.
“After Freddy there came Spencer in the late winter of 2010. I think if was February. He had known both Colby and Daniel while on the streets, and in fact was brought to us by those two when he foolishly tried to steal Colby’s jacket while the boys were involved in a soccer match down in Mansfield Park. Spencer had been on the streets for three years, and was so emaciated that we thought for a time there might be permanent damage, but, I’m happy to say, he seems okay now. His full name is John Spencer Franklin, and, like more than one of our boys, he had been kicked out by a homophobic parent, in his case a step-father. We sent him to Baltimore as a sophomore the following fall, after a lot of individual attention to both health and education. Spencer is interested in your line of work, and wants to help others through social work, so he’s at the University now. In fact, he succeeded Gene as custodian at the Newman Center when Gene graduated last May, and is living there. He’s doing well in school now, and seems to like it at Newman quite a bit. He’s completing his junior year this year, so you might look out for him when he applies for a position next year.”
“We will definitely do that,” Catherine promised. “As you’ve pointed out, we are chronically short-staffed, and some of the people we get don’t work out. Someone with Spencer’s background would be a godsend.”
“I’ll look forward to congratulating him on his new job about this time next year, then,” Brandon said. He then continued with the next Brandon’s Boy. “After Spencer, we got our first foreigner, so to speak. All our boys were from the Clifton area, at least at the time they came to us, but the next one came from Jouett County. And this one was Chris’s gift to us. One morning, when Chris went out to the stable to greet his horse, CH Todd’s Beauty, he found a boy asleep in Beauty’s stall. Typically for Chris, he immediately decided that if Beauty accepted him, the boy was okay, so he woke him up and offered him breakfast. There’s a family in Jouett County called the Marlows, who are notorious for violating just about every canon of decent human behavior. As it turned out, this boy was a run-away from that family. He was not the first member of the Marlow family who was helped escape his origins by the Todds, but he’s the first to come to Brandon’s Boys. All this was in the summer of 2010. Young Daniel Marlow helped Chris curry and feed Beauty, which absolutely consolidated his position, so I had no choice but to accept him here, or Chris would divorce me.
“We had a little fun deciding what to call the newcomer, as the original Daniel was still living her at the time. Eventually, the boys decided on Daniel I and Daniel II. Anyway, Daniel Marlow remained on the Farm until the end of the summer, weathering an attempt of his presumed father, Landon, to reclaim him. He was tired of being beat, and being held out of school to work the marijuana crop, so Daniel stuck with us. In the fall, he moved in here, and started third grade at St. Rose. Like Bobby and Mike, Daniel takes a special interest in the horses, and in his case in that very exacting discipline called dressage. This totally endears him to Chris, so his future is absolutely secure. Daniel works on the Farm in the summer, but also is out there as often as possible on weekends. He attended the FEI games at Aachen this past summer.”
“What are the FEI games, and where is Aachen?” Ken asked.
“Don’t let Chris, or even your cousin Sandy, hear you ask that,” Brandon joked. “FEI is the abbreviation for Fédération Équestre Internationale, the premiere regulatory body for equestrian competitions world wide. The games were held in Lexington in 2010, the first time ever outside western Europe, but were back in Aachen last summer. Aachen is a town in western Germany on the Belgian and Netherlandish border. People who want to use a French name for a German city call it Aix-la-Chapelle. There is a marvelous stadium and other facilities there, and the games are frequently held there. As a sideline, Charlemagne is buried there, too. Chris and I were there, along with our son Chris and Mike, Daniel, and Raman,” he elaborated.
“Oh,” an abashed Ken responded.
Smiling, Brandon continued his account of Brandon’s Boys, one of his favorite topics. “Like some of our other boys, Daniel is not what you’d call a brilliant academic, but he does okay. Most of his grades at school are in the B range. We expect him to graduate from St. Rose in May with no difficulty, and next fall he’ll be in Baltimore, just like our other boys. One thing which definitely helps in Daniel’s case is that he has supportive kin both here in Clifton and back in Jouett County. Here, for example, he has Aaron Marlow, who is the assistant director out at the Madison County Forest. And in Jouett there’s his Aunt Penny, who’s married to the farrier Cliff Roanhorse, and who teaches at the high school. Those examples assured Daniel, when the going got tough a few times, that he could overcome his origins. If you’re keeping track, Daniel is also among the gay contingent here at the house. Daniel also brought us Bert, but we’ll get to him later.
“After Daniel comes one of our more unusual boys. That’s Oliver, or Edward Oliver Ballard. Ken knows about Oliver, as he brought him to our attention back in the fall of 2010. You remember, Ken, he had been beaten up and left in the park across from University Hospital with no identification, and would not tell us who he was.”
“Sure, I remember that case very well. Really frustrating for a time,” Ken confirmed.
“It was Zip Todd, with his computer skills, once again, who eventually solved that mystery,” Brandon recalled. “It turned out, Oliver was closed mouthed because he thought he had killed his step-father and would be executed. As Zip showed, the step-father was very much alive, and was in fact enjoying Oliver’s inheritance in Lexington. Once that hurdle was overcome, everything went pretty smoothly. Oliver came from an upper middle class family, and had received an excellent education until the spring before he turned up here. He was able to resume his education at Baltimore, and even to skip ahead, and is expecting to graduate in May. He’ll enter the University with a major in history, probably with the goal of a career in law, but, he says, he hasn’t eliminated the possibility of a teaching career. Unlike most of our boys, Oliver also has an inheritance. Oliver is the heir of both his father and his mother. Oliver has a girlfriend. That’s Mallory Hoff, a very nice girl, who also has a moderate inheritance. Oliver does not need to live here for financial reasons, but until he turns 18 I’m still his legal guardian. His step-father is in prison. Besides, he says he likes it here, and he likes the other boys. The other boys say its good for him to slum with them. They know he has assets, but I’ve never seen him use that to get an advantage over any of the other boys. Oliver has a lot going for him.
“Our twelfth boy is Jose Antonio Chavez, who usually goes by Joe. Joe is in many ways typical of our boys. He’s gay, and was rejected by his family when this came out, and had spent some time on the streets. He was captured by our boys in the summer of 2012 when he was caught trying to break into one of our vehicles. Like a couple of others, he was hungry, but he had another problem. He had acquired a drug habit, and, as you know, that gets expensive. The boys decided before ever telling me or Chris that we would keep Joe and break him of his habit. And we did. We got help from the medical community. That’s the Todd Medical Clinic. But the boys were absolutely vicious in insuring that Joe stayed away from the stuff. I know, because he came to me, that he was tempted to give up more than once, but it was the fact that it was other boys, more or less his age, who were his team which carried him through. It took a while, of course, but we won. Joe is now completely drug free. He’s also a senior at Baltimore this year, along with Clarence and Oliver. We’ll lose three of our resident boys in May. Joe is interested in a career as a chef. Aunt Barbara says he’s an absolute wiz in the kitchen, and I know from personal experience that he can whip up some really delicious deserts. We’ll send him to Madison Community College, where they have a program in what they call culinary science, but with our connections with the Zaharises at the Olympia, and Felipe Hernandez at La Cocina Latina, and John Ting at the White Lotus, we’ve been able to get him part-time and summer jobs and a variety of experiences so far. Oh, and Joe is bilingual in both English and Spanish, so he hasn’t abandoned his ethnic heritage, either. We send him to the Spanish Mass at St. Francis Xavier when the rest of us go out to St. Rose on Sundays. As a matter of fact, he usually goes with Aunt Barbara to the early Mass, and is back before we leave.
“After Joe comes Raman. You’ll remember him, too, Ken, as he’s another you brought to us. Raman K. Gillespie. We never did find out what the K is for, but we think it’s for Kevin. That was the name of his mother’s father. You’ll recall that Raman had an Asiatic Indian father and an Irish mother, but his father totally abandoned him. It was when his mother died that he came into the system, more or less. When he came to us, Raman was way behind in school because of the erratic attention given school by his mother, and some problems with a previous foster family. It was CH Todd’s Beauty who won Raman for us, so he shares that with Daniel Marlow. He, Daniel, and Bobby make up the CH Todd’s Beauty fan club, and that, of course, endears all three of them to Chris. Chris told me more than once that Beauty was the only female outside his family whom he loved. Raman was also at the FEI Games with us last summer. Do I need to explain that again?” Brandon teased Ken.
“No, I got it. Something in French having to do with horses,” Ken responded.
“Damn bureaucrat,” Brandon teased again at this response.
“Raman started seventh grade at St Rose in the fall of 2014,” Brandon resumed his story. “Like I said, he was way behind, but he’s really smart, so he graduated from St. Rose last year, and took some summer courses and a heavy schedule this year, and is almost ready for his junior year at Baltimore next year.
“After Raman comes our second duplication. We had two Daniels, now we have two Bobbys. Our second Bobby is Bobby Seale Ferguson. He was brought to us, like Clarence and Leon and Freddy, by Lamar Todd. Bobby’s mother asked Lamar for help because he seemed to be dropping out and getting into trouble. Even though Bobby was only twelve, he had decided he was gay, and so did not fit into the society around him. The black neighborhood over around St. Martin de Porres is very testosterone fueled. Gay is definitely not acceptable. Lamar brought him to us, where he fits better. He was named after some activist of whom his father was fond, and is actually named Bobby, not Robert. There’s nothing wrong with Bobby’s mind, although his other issues were causing him problems at school. He’ll graduate from St. Rose in May, right on schedule, and enter Baltimore in the fall. I think he was glad when Bobby Ackerman moved out, so we wouldn’t have to refer to them as Bobby Lee and Bobby Seale. Now that no one is harassing him about his sexual orientation, Bobby is doing fine.
“Number fifteen in our cavalcade of stars is Tom – Thomas More Baird. Tom came to us entirely on his own when he was just eight. He just showed up one day during the summer of 2014, only about two weeks after Lamar brought us Bobby Seale, asking for help. He had been on his own for several months. His mother died about 2011. After a couple of other assignments, he was in a foster home with three other children, including two boys who constantly harassed him both at home and at school. He says he complained to the social worker, but she did nothing. Neither did the teachers at school. When this got to the point of sexual abuse, he ran away. And as soon as he showed up here, I brought him to you, Ken. So I’m not holding out on the system,” Brandon assured his visitors.
“Brandon, you know I have the greatest confidence in you. That’s why I bring these hopeless cases to you, despite your badmouthing the system all the time,” Ken responded.
“Well, you know the system limps along. In the case of Tom, when he complained to the social worker that the other boys in his foster home were making him suck cock, he was ignored,” Brandon noted.
“And when we found out about that, that worker was fired,” Ken returned.
“Ken, I know you do the best you can. But I’m approaching these issues from a different perspective than you are. I have no interest in defending the system. I’m seeing these issues from the point of view of my boys, boys who’ve suffered abuse. Given the fact that we have to work with real human beings, who are far from perfect, and that the government doesn’t pay you guys enough to adequately reward the good ones and make all the stress and abuse you suffer worth while, I’m not blaming you, or you either, Catherine. I admire both of you for sticking it out,” Brandon explained.
“And, Brandon, we know much of that,” Catherine said. “Ken, here, knows you better than I do, but we both appreciate you. Your operation here at Brandon’s Boys gives us an alternative when difficult cases come up, like Oliver or Raman, cases which do not fit into our nice neat categories. We know the categories are artificial. We know the reports we get from our field agents are sometimes inaccurate or downright lies. We have to work with what we have, and we really appreciate people like you who help us when kids fall between the cracks. So, complain as much as you want, but please keep it up. And go on, finish your survey of the boys.”
“I’m glad we understand each other,” Brandon said. “Let’s see. Well, Tom’s doing well in school now, and he’s learned to ride. So far, so good. That brings us to our last addition. That’s Bert. That’s Hans Bertil Anders. We kind of transported him across state lines, but not for immoral purposes, as the Mann Act has it. And when we did, you guys were pretty good about bypassing some of those bureaucratic roadblocks we talked about. Last summer, when Chris and Daniel Marlow were at the Majestic Horse Show in Ohio, Daniel noticed a boy hanging about the stables when he was not supposed to be there. After a while, he cornered him, and knew enough about the problems boys have to see that the boy was hungry. We’ve established good relations as much over a decent meal as anything. Turns out, Bert was another homeless boy, rejected by his step-father because he was gay. He kept that to himself, thinking we would reject him, too, but when Daniel came out to him, and then told him Chris was also gay, we had a new recruit. We brought him back to Todd Farm, and then got him transferred here to Clifton to you guys. Like all our boys, given a decent chance, he’s doing fine. He turned 14 earlier this month, and is kind of settled in with Daniel. He did a lot of catch-up school work last summer, stretching into the fall semester, but he’s okay now. He’ll graduate with his class in May, and go on to Baltimore in the fall. And that pretty much completes the roster of Brandon’s boys,” Brandon concluded. “Sixteen boys, ten of them currently in residence.”
“One of the things I note,”Catherine said, “is that you still keep in touch even when they are no longer Brandon’s Boys.”
“Oh, they’re still Brandon’s Boys,” Brandon insisted. “They’re just no longer in residence. It’s sort of like being alumni, or being old boys in the fraternity, something Ken and I share. But Daniel and Colby, Bobby and Candy, Leon and his wife Anne Nicole, Gene and his partner Jack, and Spencer are all welcome here, whether for a meal or just to talk or hang out. They’re still part of Brandon’s Boys.”
“Even better,” Catherine said. “We did know a lot of what you told us, Brandon. But we asked you to go over it all for a reason. We’re looking for why you have succeeded when others have failed with these boys and others like them. What do all these stories have in common?” she asked rhetorically.
“They all need help,” Brandon limply answered.
“True, but that’s true with all the boys in the system. No, what I see these boys have in common is you,” she replied.
“Me? But ....”
“I know. Unfortunately, we can’t bottle you and distribute you to all the boys who need help. But what I see is that you actually care for the boys, not just as boys in general, but as individuals. You know the stories of each of your boys. You followed up when there were unanswered questions, like when Oliver thought he killed his father, or when Mike didn’t know what his real name was. You spent time with each boy, taking him to the doctor’s office, taking him out to get new clothing, helping him catch up in school. I really think that’s an important element in your success story. The boys succeed because they do not want to disappoint you,” Catherine forcefully stated.
“Wow, it sounds like you’re talking about someone else. I don’t see what I’m doing as all that significant. But I do agree with one thing. I treat each boy just the way I like to be treated, as a separate individual,” Brandon insisted. “You know, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”
“Brandon, you might not think you’re all that special, but you are. There are thousands of people, many of them well intentioned, who will not or cannot make the effort to get to know those in need on a personal basis. Oh, we also get foster parents who, like you, take a personal interest, and we’re very glad when that happens. Unfortunately, it does not happen often enough. And I agree with Catherine. That’s what makes you special,” Ken asserted.
Brandon looked at his friend sharply. “Why do I feel I’m being buttered up?”
“Because you are. We didn’t come just to review the current situation at Brandon’s Boys. But before getting into that, what can you tell us about a Professor at the University named Elaine Shepherd?” Ken asked.
“Puppy? That’s what she’s called. She joined us just this year from Los Angeles. Like me, she’s in the Department of Theater. Why?” Brandon asked in return.
“We’ve had some anonymous and pretty vague information submitted indicating there may be child abuse in her home,” Ken replied.
“Ken, Puppy is unorthodox. She doesn’t do things the way others do. That upsets some people. There may be some things that infringe on some of the bureaucratic rules we talked about. But I’ve worked with her all this academic year, and she and her children have been over here, visiting with my boys. I think I’d know if there were any real abuse. It’s the kind of thing I’m attuned to as a result of dealing with those sixteen boys we just discussed. My advice is, unless you get something more substantial than anonymous hints, leave it alone. If I get even a whiff of real trouble, I’ll let you know. I think you know I’d never cover for a child abuser,” Brandon said with some heat.
“Good enough for now,” Ken said. “Now, about that other reason for our visit.”