Daniel cuts short the chitchat. “We want you to draw up adoption papers for four children and we need them today.”

“You need them today? What’s going on, boys? This is mighty short order. My secretary took the day off to see her sister in Torrington.”

“I can type,” I interject. (I might as well say something. The last time the lawyer saw me, Becky was wiping drool off my chin.)

“Well, well, Dr. Blum. I heard you were back with the living. You can type, huh? So what’s the deal?”

“The Hucknell children? You heard about them?”

Linkous whistles. “Everyone has. It was in the paper. A tragedy. Real shame. How’re the kids holding up?”

“They’re doing as well as can be expected, but we just heard that the girls are due to be picked up by the Children’s Home Society out of Charleston today and then placed in four different foster homes all over the state.” That’s Daniel making a long story short.

“At the funeral the other day, the three of us had discussed taking the sisters, but we didn’t know things were moving so fast. We need to make our adoptions official before the social workers get here.”

Linkous whistles again. “Any next of kin? We’d have to get approval.”

“None,” adds Maddock. “Judge Wade investigated. He’s the one that got in touch with the Children’s Home Society a few weeks ago.”

“So do you know these children, any of you? Do your wives agree? Women do most of the raising.”

“I’ve known them for a long time,” I put in. “Nurse Myers and I were friends with their mother and used to visit them regularly.” I don’t mention that I haven’t really talked about the adoption with Becky, and before Linkous can sense my discomfort, Daniel breaks in again.

“Patience and I will take the twins, Sunny and Sue. We have an extra bedroom. The Maddocks will take Sonya, and Blum will take Sally, the oldest. She has a bond with him. We all live within two miles of one another so the sisters will see each other every day.”

“Have you talked to Judge Wade about this?”

“Yes,” says Daniel. “He called us this morning and that’s our next stop.”

“It all sounds good to me, except Blum you haven’t exactly been a model citizen for the past year. Do you even have a job?”

“He works as my assistant,” Daniel reveals.

“And I’m starting at the White Rock CCC camp as their part-time physician in a few days.”

“I heard you were mighty helpful the night of the wildfire. That has to count for something. . . . Well, men, let’s get to work. I’ll look up the form for adoption and you start typing, Blum, but you’ll have to type one copy for each of the girls with carbon paper behind it. This has to be perfect, so don’t make any mistakes. If you erase on the carbon it looks like shit.”

Maddock and Hester go on to Judge Wade’s, and I sit down at the Remington. Three hours later, the other two are back and I’m on the last line of the third form. I said I could type, but I’m only using two fingers. Daniel looks at his watch.

“Judge Wade’s fine with it, but we have to be in court in an hour. Mrs. Wade put in a good word for you, Blum.”

“Shhhh. I have to concentrate. One more document to go.”

“Did you stop by the Stengers’?” Linkous asks. “Tell the girls?”

“Shhhh!” I say again and the three go in an adjoining room and close the door.

It isn’t until a quarter to four that we have the forms ready. West Virginia Petition to Adopt they read at the top. The three of us straighten each other’s ties, and then, with Linkous in the lead, run across the street to the courthouse.

“Where’s the fire?” the sheriff asks, poking his head out of his office. “You still talking, Blum, or do I have to come out and harass you?”

“Nice to see you, Hardman!” I respond, letting him know that I still have my tongue.

We skid into the courtroom just in front of the social workers, two gray-haired ladies in almost identical navy suits and black pumps. The Stengers sit in the front row of wood benches with Sally, Sonya, Sunny, and Sue, who are all dressed in starched print dresses that must be hand-me-downs from the Stengers’ own girls. They even have shoes on.

Linkous presents the petitions to adopt even before the ladies get seated. Judge Wade looks the forms over and asks the Stengers if they think this is a good idea.

“We know all the parties involved and think they are fine people,” Mr. Stenger offers.

“It would be a terrible crime to separate the sisters,” Mrs. Stenger adds. “In my opinion it would cause lasting psychological damage.” I always forget Mrs. Stenger has a college degree and can sound like a professor when she wants to. No one mentions that Becky and I aren’t man and wife.

Things are going just as we hoped when Judge Wade decides that he ought to at least get the social workers’ input and I inwardly cringe. Bad idea.

“So, Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Quinn. Do you have anything to present to the court?”

“I certainly do.” The taller of the two comes forward with four manila files. “Considerable effort has been spent in finding these placements. It’s not easy to locate foster homes for females. In hard economic times, everyone wants males to help with the farm work. Girls are seen as a liability.”

“That’s enough of that liability talk!” interjects Mrs. Stenger, reminding the woman with a fierce glance that the four little sisters can hear what is said. “Just let the judge see what you’ve got.”

“Mmmmm,” Judge Wade says, thumbing through the paperwork. “I see. A chicken farmer and his wife. A widowed dressmaker. The owners of a roadside café, and a couple that plays with a blues band out of Wheeling. This the best you could do?”

The tall lady lifts her chin defensively, but doesn’t answer the question.

“Well, I’m sorry, ma’am, but the petitioners have you beat. We have a doctor, an engineer, and a veterinarian here. All have their own property and the little girls can stay right here in Union County. All four petitions to adopt approved!”

He pounds his gavel three times. Then with a grin, pounds it three more, and we all stand and cheer. I am so happy it’s all worked out I forget, for the moment, that I still have to tell Becky.

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