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Here is your new edition (# 101)
brought to you for your enjoyment by Dr. Painless Goodfellow.
Each edition contains a new short story for you and your family to enjoy.

Today, the story is, The Secret, about an unwilling houseboy and his
less than pleasant employer. It's a feel good piece. Really!

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By Tom Gnagey
© 2011 Tom Gnagey

By Tom Gnagey

     Caleb Covington was a very rich old man. Caleb Covington was a very sick old man. Caleb Covington was not a very nice old man. Caleb Covington had a secret.
     “Good morning Mr. C.”
     It had been the cheery greeting offered by 19 year old Johnny Smith as he adjusted the curtains in Caleb’s bedroom to let in the morning sun.  
Johnny had – how shall it be put – been associated with Caleb since he was twelve. He was a live-in associate who ran errands, kept Caleb on schedule, readied his clothes, fluffed his pillows, drew his bath, and so on. The role of a valet might best describe the services he performed even though he was still a relative youngster.  
     Johnny Smith was a very nice young man. Johnny Smith was a very poor young man. Johnny Smith shared Caleb’s secret.
     Johnny Smith was born Juan Herrero. He lived with his family in central Mexico until his twelfth birthday. On that day he was kidnapped by human traffickers. There were seven boys taken from the area that month. Some were older. Some were younger. None had agreed to the long, hot, terrifying, trip north of the border.  
     At some point after entering the United States they were sold individually at very private auctions. Caleb purchased Juan – Johnny. He brought him to his isolated villa among the mesas and canyons in the Southwest. His thinking was that a boy, lifted from poverty, educated, and given a good life, would be appreciative and could be counted on to take good care of his benefactor – his only source of support in the world. It was their secret. It seemed to have worked well.
     Johnny learned to tolerate Caleb’s erratic temper and acerbic personality. He was appreciative of what Caleb had offered him – a luxurious place to live, an education, and a generous allowance of $100 a month. He felt lucky. He felt rich. His father had never earned that much money in one month during his entire life.
     On Johnny’s thirteenth birthday, Caleb received a letter. It stated that the sender knew of the abduction, of the boy’s illegal status, and of Caleb’s fully illegal role in it all. It could have been from the trafficker himself. It had been known to happen. He said he could offer irrefutable proof of Caleb’s involvement. The author of the letter demanded a hefty twenty thousand dollars a month for his silence. For a man of Caleb’s great wealth the amount was rather insignificant. He agreed – the money for silence.
     The first Monday morning of every month, Johnny delivered the money on foot in a back pack filled with a random selection of various sized bills. No one knew where the delivery was to be made until Johnny was well away from the villa. The instructions were that he would receive a call on his cell phone. The route and destination would be different each time. It was all well designed to keep him out of sight in case Caleb tried to have the boy followed in an attempt to nab the blackmailer. The backpack would be placed as directed and Johnny would return home. It typically took most of the day. It had been going on that way for years.
     Johnny often wished for friends. He was tutored alone at the villa. He often wished for time off. When Caleb was awake, Johnny was expected to be at his side. He often wished for someone with whom he could speak again in Spanish. Only English was allowed at the villa.  
     What had seemed like a generally good life as a boy gradually became like a prison. The secret maintained his silence, his presence, and his obligatory devotion to the old man. Despite his circumstances, Johnny never forgot about his family in Mexico. During the first few years he often cried himself to sleep thinking about them, wondering about them, and wanting to share the important moments of his life with them. He had considered running back to them but Caleb had made it clear that if he went missing even over night his family would be harmed. Between that threat and the secret, Johnny felt he had no alternative but to stay. Surely the sick old man would soon die. Then he would be free. Every night as he lay in bed he delighted in his plans for that day. He hated Caleb but knew better than to show it.  
     And so it was that every morning he dispatched his cheery greeting and got on with the unchanging routine of the day. Johnny had seen Caleb’s will. His name appeared nowhere in it. Although he couldn’t understand that, he was not really surprised. Johnny was like a piece of livestock to the old man. That was made plain every day of his life. It had never entered the old man’s thinking that Johnny might deserve some portion of what he would leave behind, and because of Johnny’s illegal status the young man would never be able to pursue it through the courts.
     Fortunately, the young man’s early years had been spent within the embrace of his loving family who taught him his true value as a human being. It was a lesson well learned and Caleb had not broken his spirit. The boy could often even smile to himself as he kowtowed to the man’s angry demands and cutting remarks.
     Johnny repeated his greeting once more after the curtains were pulled back and tied in place. 
     “Good morning Mr. C!”
     Mr. C. did not respond. Mr. C. did not draw a breath. Mr. C. was dead.

* * * * *
     There was a mariachi band from Los Rios and wonderful, long unsampled food Juan’s mother and sisters had prepared. They danced. They sang.      They talked until the first rays of morning appeared over the mountains. His brothers and sisters marveled at the fine clothes he wore and at the lavish gifts he brought to them. Clearly his life north of the border had been grand.
     Juan smiled, nodded, and left it at that.
     “Si, mucho grande!”
     Juan had a secret. He would only ever share it with his father. A bank book.
     “But how did you earn so much money in so few years, my son?”
     “Figure it out, papa. Six years, times twelve months a year, times twenty thousand dollars a month!”