No Good Deed
Chapter 8

Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy

Christmas Eve came around, and the group we’d all started considering part of ‘the family’ were present, plus a good collection of people who were variously attached to people in the know, but weren’t themselves privy to our secret. I’d discussed it with Mom, and she’d agreed to hold our Christmas on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning, as was traditional, to allow people who would otherwise need to spend the time with their own families to be present.

There was the immediate household, of course: me, Mom, the girls, Tina and Judy, and Mrs. Hollabrand. Carter had just snorted and shook his head when I’d invited him. Jawarski said she’d rather be anywhere else on Christmas than in a room with me, which I got; but she still showed up, saying someone needed to watch over us when there were so many gathered in one place. I’d said we’d be fine, and she could take the holiday off; but she told me to shut up, and let her do her job.

Alex, who had always been so focused on her job and had no real close friends or family in the US, was present. She and Mom had become good friends, thanks to all the time they spent working together, and were already sitting together chatting about something I didn’t really understand. Megan had come home from college and, while she was spending Christmas with her family tomorrow, had managed to make it. I’d had Vicki call her, and make sure she knew not to mention it to Amanda. I knew it would get back to Amanda anyway, and I was just passing off drama for the future; but she would have come with Josh, and I didn’t want to deal with that. Friends from work and their spouses had shown up, and it was interesting seeing teenagers and couples in their 50’s mixing so well.

Mom had whipped up some food, and most of the older folks brought dishes with them, making a pretty nice spread when everything was laid out. We ate, socialized, and exchanged gifts. All in all, it was a pretty good time.

I’d talked to everyone in the know, or at least those without spouses present, that I wanted to have a short family meeting when the party wound down. I’d helped Mom pack up all the food and was surprised to find Jonathan still in the big room when all the rest had headed out.

“I asked Ted to give Peggy a ride back,” he said when I asked why he was still there, and not headed home with his wife. “I know you said I didn’t need to stay, but I’m betting one of the things you were going to talk about is the deal with Mrs. Keen, and since I’m the one who will have to deal with anything that’s decided, I need to be here to hear out what’s decided.”

“Okay. I promise to make it as quick as possible. I don’t want to keep you from your wife on Christmas Eve.”

“That I’d appreciate.”

“It looks like this is all of us,” I said, standing in the front of the room and facing the group. “I know some of you have family to get back to, so I’ll make this quick. I know many of you have heard about the meeting I had a few days ago with Francis Keen, about helping her granddaughter with her substance abuse problem. I figure we should get some specifics out of the way since I’m expecting this to happen sometime shortly after the start of the New Year.”

“Cas, I want to say again that I’m...”

“I know, Megan. You’re fine. Really. This is actually a good opportunity for us. Their family is extremely wealthy, and according to the records Jonathan was able to get, their charitable contributions range well above a hundred million every year. I’ve talked to the girls about this and I do think we need to get a significant amount of outside funding for Next Step, to offer it legitimacy as well as to make some of the bigger goals we’ve talked about possible. Of course, the flip side is that this does open us up to scrutiny from Mrs. Keen and her people at a minimum. And if she does put in serious money, then other charities will also be looking at Next Step as competition for donations and others wondering what this new organization did to warrant the attention.”

“Do we want people looking at us?” Alex asked. “Not just Next Step but the work Angela and I are doing or your household in particular?”

“No, not really; but our plan has always included the idea that at some point the public would become aware of us. The company is already getting attention in some technical and business circles, so it’s going to happen, and sooner rather than later. So what we’re left with is controlling what people see about us.”

“Okay, so is this how we want to come out?” Mom asked.

“There’s no guarantee this will bring us any more notice than the company has brought. People in some charitable circles might look at us, but there are a lot of charities, even very well-funded ones, that the public doesn’t really know much about.”

“So the risk is that it might expose us, but that’s going to happen sooner or later. And the upside is money?”

“Money is a part of it, but not all of it. If we have someone like Francis Keen in our orbit, it will make it easier to get others to support us when the time comes, and not just financially. Eventually, we’re going to butt up against the government. Be it the IRS, or regulators, or just curious lawmakers. Mrs. Keen, and those like her that she might be able to connect us with, don’t come with just money. They come with influence, which at some point we’re going to need. That, of course, is all secondary to the biggest benefit.”

“Which is?” Jonathan asked.

“Saving a young girl’s life.”

“Ahh,” Mom said, flashing me one of her heart melting, motherly smiles, “that.”

“But this isn’t a dictatorship. I always refer to us as a family, and I mean it. We all get a say. Who thinks we shouldn’t do this?”

Jawarski and Jonathan raised their hands.

“And who thinks we should?”

I was happy to see everyone else on board. I wasn’t surprised by either Jonathan or Jawarski being opposed. Both were opposed to anything that opened us up to any kind of danger or liability, depending on which of them you asked. Unfortunately, that would have us cowering in our small part of the world, and making it likely that we’d eventually die out as another evolutionary dead end.

“So the next question is, how do we do it? We know that once she goes through the change, narcotics will have no effect on her, either good or bad. And without the high, there’s no reason to take them anymore. But we can’t sit her down and inject her when she walks in the door, and we can’t just do it secretly and have no explanation for what’s going on. So, how do we go about infecting her, with an explanation for the sickness and why she’s suddenly better?”

“I think I can handle that,” Alex said. “We put her through a ‘detox’ program and explain an injection as an anti-narcotic. We have to be careful how we present it. If it’s a drug, we might have questions about how we’re able to give it to people, which could bring us back around to those regulators you mentioned.”

“So, how do we present it?” I asked.

“Something herbal maybe,” Mom said. “We can mix in plasma with say, a B12 shot and give her a random mixture of innocuous herbs. We don’t claim it’s curing her, just say it’s to help her through the detox. There are some fairly well-known rehab centers on the west coast giving that kind of crap. The B12 shot might help with the sickness a bit, but the rest is just expensive-ass placebos. Then we just go through a non-medical program to ‘change her lifestyle habits,’ which is mostly what rehabs do anyways. It’s why there’s so many relapses from people after they finish their programs, since addiction is a lifetime thing ... well, normally.”

“So we get her to focus on doing something else, helping people for instance, after her ‘detox;’ and then explain the lack of effectiveness to her as she just ‘doesn’t need it anymore’?”

“Pretty much,” Alex said. ‘Would this stand up to actual scrutiny by a regulator? No. But most people will write it off in their own head to reconcile the facts they can see, like drugs no longer working. She’ll try and relapse once, I’d bet money on it, since her addiction isn’t really cured. She’ll still think she wants to get high, not knowing she isn’t able to. But once she finds out nothing works, she’ll believe that we were right. People will always find a way to explain away things that don’t add up. And of course, the loyalty side effect of the change means if you tell her it works, she’ll believe you.”

“So we have her come in. Give her an injection, and let the natural sickness that sets in when the body changes act as her ‘detox,’ and then just keep her busy doing stuff for a while, the entire time telling her what she’s doing is going to change her life and make her have new priorities?”

“Yep,” Alex said. “I’d want to keep her under tight observation during the actual change. We haven’t infected a long-term drug user before, and we don’t know what effects narcotics will have on your biology.”

“Plus you haven’t been able to study it, and you can’t keep away from new data points,” I offered with a smile.

“Pretty much, but it’s more than that. When we open the clinics, one of the things we are going to see a lot of, is addicts. Eventually, there will be a point when we want to spread out of our existing circle, or at least help more addicts, and this is info we’ll need.”

“This is my big problem with the plan. One, you know how I feel about changing someone without giving them a choice. And beyond that, we’re going to be actively lying to her. When she finds out the truth, then that’ll become a problem.”

“No it won’t,” Vicki said.

“Of course it will.”

“Cas, with the way the change affects how people feel towards you, it’s unlikely she’d see not telling her everything as an outright lie. You’re not on this side of it, but when you tell us something, it’s hard to not want to see the best intentions, and giving you way more than the benefit of the doubt. Plus, the need to keep it secret is pretty obvious, even without the genetic pull to believe you. Has anyone who’s gone through the change, and had it explained to them, argued that the secret was a bad idea?”

“I still don’t like doing it without giving her a choice.”

“We are, after an effect,” Tami said. “We’re telling her we will change the way she feels about drugs, so that’s part of the truth. The alternative is to say no and let her remain an addict.”

I frowned. That, of course, was the bigger issue. Are principles more important than someone’s life?

“Alright. Well, it sounds like we have a plan. I know we’re all already careful when it comes to not letting things slip, but she’ll be around for a while at least, so we need to be extra careful. As for the ‘getting her involved in helping other people’ part of the plan, I’m going to lean on you guys for that,” I said to the girls.

“We’ll take care of it,” Zoe said.

“Great. Okay, so I guess we have a plan. That was all I had so...”

“I have something,” Mom said, coming to the front of the room.

I gave a ‘be my guest’ gesture, and went over to the girls. Emily made room for me by giving me her seat and then claiming a new one in my lap.

“The night that awful preacher surprised you here at the house, we’d talked about building something more secure. With things with the Syndicate heating up and that phone call with the reporter, Beth and I agree we need to start on this sooner rather than later. With that, Beth and I, with Jonathan’s help, have been looking into property, and we think we found something. But, there are a few pretty big points, so we wanted to bring it up to the whole family,”

“We’re listening,” I said.

“One, we’re not talking about a small piece of land. We’re talking about a fairly large piece of property and a lot of construction.”

“What are we calling large?”

“Twenty-Five acres.”

“What, are we going to live on a farm?”

“No,” Jawarski said, “We need enough property for the main house plus several additional buildings to be used by security, a large secure wall surrounding the property and a proper gatehouse at the front.”

“It sounds more like a compound than a house.”

“That’s what you’re going to need. I don’t think you realize how precarious your situation is. Living here, if the Syndicate or some other group decides to come at you, they’ll be on top of us before we know there’s a problem. If it was just you, you could take all the chances you want, but right now you’re risking almost a dozen other lives.”

I nodded. It had occurred to me, but I hadn’t made the jump needed to wall us off from the rest of the world. At least, not yet.

“Cas,” Mom said, “we’re also going to need a really big house. Mansion might be a more accurate word. There are nine of us living here now, ten if you include Beth, who would probably already be living with us to protect you if there was a room available. You’re also talking about adding this Keen girl, at least temporarily; and we know how you collect people in your orbit. Do you think this is where it’s going to end? We’re crammed in here, and this place is huge. We need a lot more room.”

“Okay, I get it. We need a lot of room, and we need it to be secure. It sounds really expensive.”

“Millions. But you can afford it, and we need it.”

“What about school,” Vicki asked.

“I talked to your principal about that. You will, of course, have to leave the current school district. The place we’ve found to build is part of a rural school district, which is both badly underfunded and would involve a lot of travel time getting you guys to school and back every day. All that considered, we’d have to switch to homeschooling. That, however, might not be a bad thing. Right now, the school has practically split you all off into your own curriculum, and Ms. Polaski said they’re already having trouble keeping you challenged since the school district has specific topics for each year that have to be covered. Switching to homeschooling will allow a more aggressive curriculum to be built for you guys.”

“So what, you’ll...”

“Ohh, heavens no, not me. I thought we’d hire someone with the credentials to come in and teach you guys. It will be more like an in-house, private school than traditional homeschooling.”

“I’ll miss our friends,” Tami said.

“I know, baby,” Mom said, giving her a warm smile.

Since Tami and Judy had come to live with us, and considering how they’d been treated by their own parents; she’d been giving them as much motherly affection as she could, trying to make up for their past. It was already having an effect, like with how I felt when she took me in. Tami and Judy were both responding to the attention, and it had gone a long way to healing the damage their parents had done. Mom was doing the same thing with Emily, too. It was hard not to see her as some kind of matronly superhero, and it made me love her even more, which I wouldn’t have thought was possible.

“But,” she continued, “it’s for the best. You’re already progressing so much faster, that you’ll probably graduate ahead of them, anyway. They’ll be able to come out and visit, though. We’re not moving to the moon.”

“Speaking of that,” I asked. “Where exactly are we talking about building?”

“Actually, that’s a good part,” Jawarski said. “It’s not far from the new office complex you bought and are building out.”

“That’s another problem. If I go, I’ll either have to drive all the way back to Alice to go to the office; or do all my work over the phone, which I’m not crazy about; or relocate our offices.”

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