But that’s not what he finds when he looks outside.
Thanksgiving was on Thursday, November 28th, 2019. Schools had the entire week off starting Monday the 25th.
Beth had decided that her guest room was too small for Adam and me. Due to a last-minute cancellation, she was able to reserve a two-room suite for the two of us at the Holiday Inn Express in Davis. We’d arrive on the 25th, and we’d check out on Saturday the 30th. That way, when we got home we would have Sunday to unwind before returning to work and school on Monday.
This was a first for Adam. He’d never stayed in a hotel before our trip to Davis, so he was excited. When we arrived and checked in, the self-service breakfast bar was still open. He was very impressed, and we snacked on bacon and waffles for lunch.
I drove to my sister’s house so Adam could meet Beth, her husband, Sean, and their daughter Candace, who was in the ninth grade. Adam had met Eric when he and John Ito visited us last weekend. We also met Sean’s brother Darryl Chang, his wife Jenny, and their three boys Ron, Taylor, and Jeff. They were joining us for dinner on Thanksgiving Day.
At first, Adam seemed nervous about meeting so many new people. After meeting the Chois and Changs and being hugged by them, he turned from nervous to excited. It was apparent that everyone liked him, as I’d expected, so he relaxed and decided that he liked them, too.
Adam and the Choi and Chang kids went outside and sat down on the patio and spent the rest of the afternoon talking. Adam decided he liked Candace, and she seemed to like him, too. Adam had lots of time to spend with his five cousins — Eric, Candace, Ron, Taylor, and Jeff — on the patio. Sean and Darryl grilled steaks for the eleven of us and the rest of the family members at dinner.
Adam had met Eric and John Ito, Eric’s boyfriend, when they came to Walnut Creek to visit us. The rest of the Ito family came to Beth and Sean’s home Monday evening. We met John’s parents, Barbara and Larry, and their kids, John’s brother Keith, a sophomore at Davis High, and his sister, Lorraine, who was in the eighth grade at Holmes Junior High. Despite the difference in their ages and different grades at school, it turned out that Candace and Lorraine were best friends.
The Ito family was flying to Seattle on Tuesday to celebrate Thanksgiving with Barbara’s family. They would return on Saturday, the day Adam and I were leaving Davis to drive home. After visiting for about an hour, they said they had to return home and finish packing to get ready for their flight, so everyone said goodbye and they left.
On Thursday, the Thanksgiving dinner was a real celebration for Adam — and for me, too. Eric, Candace, Adam, and I helped Beth prepare the turkeys and the accompaniments, and she said she appreciated our assistance.
We had a great time. The eleven of us sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, and when it was over everyone said they were stuffed. It turned out it was another first for Adam; his mother hadn’t liked turkey, so they’d always have ham on the holidays. Adam liked ham, but he loved turkey, so it was a treat to have it for the holiday dinner. Beth smiled at Adam. “We have two turkeys, so we’re going to give everyone enough to take home so you can have turkey dinners and turkey sandwiches for lunches.”
“Thank you, Aunt Beth,” Adam said. His grin showed he was a happy kid.
We left on Saturday. Unfortunately, Adam had school the Monday after Thanksgiving, and I had to go back to work. Back to the daily grind for both of us, but very different, too.
I figured Adam would fall asleep on the drive back to Walnut Creek. That didn’t happen. He talked and talked — about the time he spent with the two Choi kids, who he called his cousins, and three Chang boys, who he also said were his cousins. They came with their parents from Susanville, where Darryl Chang, his wife Jenny, and their three boys lived. He was enthusiastic about the three Chang boys, who he called his friends and not just his cousins. Adam talked about how glad he was that he had so many actual relatives now, though they wouldn’t be his relatives until I adopted him. Just like I wasn’t Adam’s father until that happened, even though he called me Dad.
When I got to the office Monday morning, the first thing I did was go to Jared’s office.
“Morning, Rick,” he said.
“Morning, Jared,” I replied. “I have what I think is the safe-deposit box key.” I handed him an envelope marked with June Rios’ name and the key number. Inside, I’d put the key and sealed the envelope.
He checked the key. “A safe-deposit box number appears to be engraved on the key, and even though the key is hard to read, I think it’s the same number you wrote on the envelope. I’ll contact the bank to verify that the number is assigned to June Maria Rios, and if it is, we can go there this afternoon if you’re available.”
Jared phoned the bank and asked for the manager. After a couple of minutes, he hung up and said the number was June Maria Rios’ safe-deposit box number.
“What time do you want to leave?” I asked.
“How about eleven-thirty? We can grab a sandwich at the same time.”
“Okay. I’ll see you then, and I’ll bring the key.”
Now that I was alone again, I checked my email. There was nothing related to the June Rios case. The mail usually arrived at around ten a.m. So, no death certificates yet. I returned to a pile of status reports from our field staff. Typical of my Mondays that would take a lot of time.
Donna Joiner called at about nine-thirty.
“Can you meet with the Elliotts? I’ll be there too.”
“I suppose. Why would they want to meet with me?” I asked. “That’s unusual.”
“They want to meet you and thank you for everything you’ve done to make it possible for them to foster Ricardo Arragon and Patricia and Elicia Knox and to make it possible for them to adopt the boy and the two girls.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” I said.
“Yes, you did. You’re the one who arranged to get all three kids out of the Rodriguez house then terminated the Rodriguez’ fostering license.”
“Okay, I submit,” I said, then laughed. “When will the Elliotts be here?”
“They’re here now.”
“Okay, we can meet in the conference room.”
“We’re there now.” Then she laughed.
“Sounds like they’re eager, or you’re eager, or all of you are eager,” I said.
“Yes, they are eager to meet and thank you. It’s well deserved.”
“Okay, I’ll be right there.”
Ralph and Anne Elliott were a young couple. They were committed to fostering the three kids and adopting them, and I liked their attitude.
“How is your fostering training class?” I asked.
“Interesting,” Anne Elliott said. “There is a lot to learn. The rules seem reasonable. We’d read things online about how they didn’t make sense. In our opinions, that turned out to be wrong,” she said.
“I understand that Ricardo, Pat, and Ellie are doing well in their temporary fostering at Clement House. It’s a very nice facility,’ I said.
“Yes. We’ve visited them several times, and they seem happy there,” Ralph Elliott said. He was smiling.
“The kids are going to the same school they attended previously, which is an advantage,” I said.
“Still, they’ll have to change schools when we become their foster parents because we live in a different school district,” Anne continued. “We told them about going to a different school. We were concerned about that big of a change after they already changed schools twice, but they seem happy about that, too.”
“They are always happy to see the two of you,” Donna added.
We continued to chat for a while. I said I had to get back to my desk to catch up since we’d been away for a week. They thanked me again, and we said good-bye. I returned to my office, knowing they were a perfect couple to be foster parents for the three middle school kids. The twin girls were in the sixth grade, and the boy was in the eighth grade. Moving to Alamo meant a change in school districts. It would be a good move for the three kids. Ralph Elliott said they were looking forward to the change from a family of two to five, which I found interesting. I wondered how they would cope with the change. Enthusiasm was a good start.
My morning was the same as usual — lots of phone calls and email messages, but no feedback from either of my police contacts, Ashley Allisonn or David Jackson.
I needed to resolve the furniture and other items that Ted Loaming stole from the Rios’ house and have the sheriff’s department recover and return it. I called Jared to see if he had anything to report.
He wasn’t in the office, so I left a voicemail message.
I realized it was after eleven. Maybe the mail had arrived. I went out to the reception area.
“Barbara, did the mail arrive?”
“Yes. Joe should be sorting it now.”
I walked back to the mailroom.
“Joe, I’m looking for an envelope from Butte County. It has some death certificates I need.”
“Yeah. Hang on…. I think this is it.”
He handed me a thick manila envelope addressed from the Butte County Coroner’s Office in Oroville.
Back in my office, I opened the envelope, pulled out the death certificates, and counted them. There were twenty-five. Each was signed by both the coroner and the medical examiner and certified by the Butte County Registrar. A note said they had mailed four certified copies to Judge Philip Campbell at the same address the court clerk had given me supporting my Non-Related Legal Guardianship for Adam.
I studied one of the death certificates and looked for any significant lines I would need to discuss with Adam.
Additional information on the Death Certificate was personal information about June Maria Rios, ancillary to her death.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Fortunately, the immediate cause of death on line 107A was listed as drowning and not as murder. Line 112 lists the possibility of an unknown drug injected by an unknown person or persons that could not have been self-injected by June Rios. Line 113 states there was no certainty that such an injection led to her death.
Line 12 listed June Rios’ marital status as widowed. So much for Ted Loaming claiming they’d been married.
So, I had what I needed to tell Adam. He was an intelligent kid. He’d probably ask what lines 112 and 113 mean when he studied the detailed death certificate. I’d tell him what the information on those lines meant — and on any other lines he’d ask about.
The coroner had included a cover letter listing that twenty-five certified copies of the Death Certificate for June Maria Rios were sent to me, and four certified copies were sent to Judge Philip Campbell at the address the court clerk had given me supporting my Non-Related Legal Guardianship for Adam.
Four things still had to be decided.
First, when would June Rios’ body be available for cremation?
Second, where would the cremation be done? If in Chico, where and when? If not in Chico, where and when?
Third, how do Adam and I arrange for the cremation and have the ashes shipped to me?
Fourth, when would the memorial service and burial of the ashes be held?
I started with the Butte County Coroner.
Under 41: Type of Disposition(s) was listed TBD. I looked up the phone number and called the coroner. It was a quick conversation. He recommended a Mortuary that wouldn’t rip us off and would ship the ashes in a heavy-duty plastic bag inside a sturdy aluminum box to my attention at my office.
He also told me he would amend line 38 to read: ‘Adam Keith Rios, Son of June Maria Rios’, and he would replace the twenty-five copies I’d received, though I’d have to pay for them. He said the judge wouldn’t need new copies. He already had my personal credit card information, so I agreed and thanked him.
I phoned the mortuary, and the cost, with the ashes in a heavy-duty plastic bag packed in a sturdy aluminum box inside a corrugated box, shipped by FedEx, would be $650.00. That included pickup of the body at the Medical Examiner’s office. They said June Rios’ ashes would arrive on Monday, December 2nd. I asked for replacement certified copies of the death certificate, so they included the amendment to line 38. They cost an additional $32.50, including next-day shipping, the same price as the copies sent by the coroner.
The Butte County Recorder’s Office charged for both the cremation and the additional death certificates. I agreed to both charges and paid using my personal credit card.
The date that the ashes would arrive meant the memorial service was able to be held on Saturday, December 21st. That avoided the holidays, school for Adam, and work for me.
I phoned Mrs. Billingsley, and she chatted about the service and some snacks and drinks, including white wine for those who wanted something other than a soft drink. She said the cost would be nominal. I told her I would reimburse her for the costs. She estimated it would be a maximum of sixty dollars.
At twenty after eleven, I went to Jared’s office. “Did you find out about June Rios’ safe-deposit box?”
“Yes. I have the box number. Both June Rios and Adam Rios are listed on the rental contract. We can go to the branch any time we want and open the box. You’ll need your fostering agreement to show that you are responsible for the minor child Adam Rios.”
“I’ll bring a copy of the fostering agreement and one of June Rios’ death certificates with me. It’s early, but do you want to leave now?”
“Sure. Let’s get lunch first. That way, we’ll beat the crowds. I brought a briefcase so we can remove whatever is important for Adam to have.”
We went to a sandwich shop near the Central County Bank branch, had lunch, and then went to the bank to open the safe-deposit box.
We were escorted into the safe-deposit vault by the bank manager. I handed him the key, and he used it and the bank’s matching key to unlock both locks that secured June Rios’ safe-deposit box. The manager removed the box and put it on the table. “You’ll need your key to unlock the lid of the box. When you’re finished, you can press the notification button next to the door.” He left and closed the vault door behind him.
“So, we’re locked in?” I said to Jared. “This isn’t like what I’ve seen in movies.”
“They close the vault door, so others can’t enter while we’re in here. If there was an emergency, we could leave; the safe-deposit vault door can be opened from the inside. Doing that will cause an alarm to sound, and the police will be notified. Usually, you’d just press the button to notify the manager, and he’d return to open the vault door.”
I used the key I had and unlocked the box and lifted the lid. Papers included June Rios’ original birth and marriage certificates, her husband’s original death certificate, Adam’s original birth certificate, and a fully paid mortgage statement for her house in Walnut Creek. There were other miscellaneous papers we could look at sometime later. I put all of that in my briefcase.
There was a manila envelope containing U.S. Treasury savings bonds in Adam Rios’ name. We set those aside to be reviewed later. They were dated about a month after he’d been born. There was also a birthday card marked with Adam’s name on an unsealed envelope, signed ‘From Mom’ inside, and containing a fifty-dollar bill.
“Nice birthday present,” Jared said.
The last items in the box were several thick envelopes marked ‘Property of Adam Keith Rios’ that contained cash. We counted the money. The total was twenty-thousand dollars in twenty-dollar bills, with one-hundred bills wrapped in rubber bands in each of ten envelopes. One of the envelopes also had a document listing the source of the cash. An insurance company paid the settlement to Jason Adam Rios’s estate for the automobile accident that caused his death. This part was left for Adam. A footnote on the insurance company document referred to another document stating that an amount was paid to June Rios. There were no details about the amount, nor was there any explanation about why Adam’s settlement was paid in cash.
“Whoa! I certainly didn’t expect that! Should we leave the money and the Treasury savings bonds in the box?” I asked.
“That’s a good idea. It’s best not to walk around with that amount of cash. You can leave it here until Adam’s trust is set up and then talk to the trustee and decide what to do with the cash and the Treasury savings bonds. Let’s take the documents and the birthday card with the fifty-dollar bill and and leave the rest.”
I put what we were removing into my briefcase. We made three copies of an inventory of what was removed from and left in the safe-deposit box, and both Jared and I signed them. We left one copy in the safe-deposit box, I took one copy, and Jared took the third copy.
After locking the box and pocketing the key, I pressed the button to alert the bank manager we were ready to leave. He came in, replaced the box in its slot, and locked it in place, taking his key. I checked with him about the payment on June Maria Rios’ safe-deposit box. He told us it was paid through the end of December and was set for automatic renewals on the first working day in January each year. I added that date as an appointment in my cellphone. I’d need to have the renewal switched to Adam’s trust, and terminate the safe-deposit box rental when that was completed.
As we returned to the office, I talked to Jared. “We need to leave by two-thirty so you can pick up Joyce, drive to Lincoln High, then find a place to park and get to the wrestling meet. It’s at three o’clock. It’s already two-thirty.”
“I’ll leave in a few minutes, so we’ll be early and will avoid any problem finding a place to park,” he replied.
“I’ll meet you there. Whichever of us arrives first should save seats for all three of us.”
I was glad I’d left early. The parking lot at Lincoln High was already close to being full. I parked and walked into the gym. I looked around but didn’t see Jared or Joyce, so I found three seats in the fifth row at the center-court line. The wrestling matches would be centered on that line.
I saw Adam and Brian doing their pre-match stretches. Adam was looking around, so I stood and waved. He saw me and grinned. Then Jared and Joyce arrived. I waved to them, and they joined me. We chatted with other parents and some kids from Lincoln High sitting near us. The adults were pleased there was a large crowd to see the meet. There were people from Valley High in the bleachers on the other side of the gym. They drove about twenty miles from Dublin to see their team compete. It looked like wrestling was a popular spectator sport at both high schools.
Adam and Brian won their matches, and Lincoln won the meet. A student sitting at my left said her brother was in Lincoln’s 170-pound weight class. He won his match, too.
Brian was familiar with Cheesecake Factory, but it was a brand new experience for Adam. He ate all of his Thai Coconut-Lime Chicken. I ate about half of my Shrimp and Chicken Gumbo; our server put the rest in a box so I could take it home. I passed on dessert, as did Jared and Joyce. There was pumpkin cheesecake on the menu, so the boys shared one slice of that and one slice of key lime cheesecake.
“Oh, these are both so good!” Adam said and smiled. “I want to come back here. Often!”
“Probably after wrestling season is over, don’t ya think?” Brian asked with a grin. “I don’t think you’d do very well in the 220-pound weight class!” That made us all laugh, including Adam, who was in the 120-pound weight class. “I think I’ll pass on that!” he said.
When we got home, I told Adam we had things to discuss. We sat down at the kitchen table.
“Adam, Jared Wong and I went through your mother’s safe-deposit box at Central County Bank today. It has your birth certificate, your mother’s birth certificate, the marriage certificate for her and your father, and your father’s death certificate. It has the paid-in-full mortgage statement for your house. There were some other papers that we didn’t go over, but I have them with me. It also had a birthday card for you from your mother.”
I handed him the envelope with the birthday card. He opened it and removed the card. It was one of those with a picture of a cake with ten candles. He looked at me and raised his eyebrows, then opened the card and found the fifty-dollar bill.
“Wow! Fifty dollars. That was a nice birthday present for my tenth birthday. Why was it in the safe-deposit box?”
“It was at the time when your dad was in the traffic accident. Your mom probably put the card in the safe-deposit box to give it to you later.
“Oh, yeah. That makes sense. It’s a great belated birthday present.” He grinned. “Can I spend it on myself?”
“You mean I don’t have to save it?”
“Only if you want to. It’s your birthday gift, even if it is belated.”
He smiled. “Okay.”
“There were other things in the box that we left there. There are some Treasury savings bonds. When we set up your trust account, we’ll have the trustee determine the bonds’ current redemption value and moved them into the trust account. There was some cash for you. It was from the settlement that was paid because of the accident that killed your father.”
“How much cash?”
“Twenty-thousand dollars in twenty-dollar bills.”
Adam sat just looking at me for a few seconds. “How much did you say?”
“That I can do anything I want with?”
“I think we need to talk about that. I think that cash should go into your trust account. That way, it can be invested, and the twenty-thousand dollars can grow into a larger amount. Then when you need it in the future, you can withdraw what you want.”
“That’s a good idea! When can we set up the trust account?”
“As soon as we have the finalized non-related guardianship papers from the court. I received your mother’s death certificate, and the coroner sent four copies to the court. That’s what the judge you and I met last Monday had requested.”
“Okay. Cool. Something else?” Adam asked.
“Just that I’m very proud of you, and I love you, Adam.”
I saw tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes.
“I keep thinking about how lucky I was to end up on your doorstep. It’s amazing. My life has turned around from having lots of problems to being wonderful.” He rubbed his right sleeve across his eyes, then blinked a few times.
“Do you know what tomorrow is?” he asked.
That made Adam lean back. “I thought you’d say no.”
“How could I not remember that tomorrow is the second week anniversary of when we met. And I can tell you remembered, too.”
“Yes, I did,” he said. “Are we going to do something special?”
“What would you like to do that’s something special?”
“I’d like to go to The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park on Saturday. Would that be okay?”
“Yes. We’ll do it.”
“Can Brian come with us?”
“Sure, if it’s okay with his folks.”
Adam jumped up and grabbed me in a hug. Then he pulled back and looked at me. “Do you know how many times my mom took me somewhere, like the Academy of Sciences, or the Exploratorium, or the Oakland Zoo, or any other place like that?”
“No,” I replied.
“Never. Not once.”
“Well, we’ll certainly have to go to all of those places and more. You and I can create a list of places to go and plan for the things you want to do on the weekends. How about hiking? We can find places to go hiking like Mt. Diablo.”
“I like hiking. When we went to that ranch, and we did some hiking, that was great. I had fun that day.”
“That was Old Borges Ranch. We can go to Black Diamond Mine and go down into the mine. It’s a sand mine, and there are guided tours that are both exciting and spooky. There’s supposed to be a ghost in the mine!”
Adam raised his hand and interrupted. “Excuse me, but why would they dig a mine to dig up sand when there’s tons of sand at the beach? It seems a lot easier to scoop it up.”
“That might be true. Sand is used for making cement, concrete, roads, sidewalks, glass, and steel. It’s used to add it to dirt for growing plants, including vegetables. And for a lot of other uses, too. If they started using beach sand for all of that, we’d run out of beaches.”
“Wow! I didn’t know all the things where sand is used. So, what else can we do on weekends?”
“We can go to Muir Woods in Marin County, which is usually crowded, but it’s beautiful and nice to walk under the giant redwood trees. And we can go to the redwood forest in the Oakland hills in the back of Moraga; that’s a lot closer to where we live than Muir Woods. Most people don’t know about it, so usually it’s not crowded. That means it’s easier to find parking, too.”
“Those all sound fantastic,” Adam said. He sat across from Rick, smiling, and thought, ‘I am so lucky to have such a great Dad!’
Rick and Adam looked at each other, and both were smiling. Rick knew that he was lucky to have such a great son!
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