The library at Breaker headquarters became the meeting place for the consultative panel.
At first the outside experts we called in (mostly DöhmCorp employees, seconded as we needed them) were wary of venturing into territory that was like a foreign country to them, but as they came to know the Breaker kids their fears evaporated. It wasn’t long before they and the kids were fast friends.
The panel’s first meeting took place the weekend after the signing of the agreement. In the intervening days Errol and Kashuba spent much time together setting up Help Incorporated and working out a job description for Kashuba’s role as chief executive.
I wanted HI to concentrate on helping people and not have to worry about distractions, so I hoped to keep its work low key and free of publicity. I also hoped to avoid scrutiny by meddlers who had no other motive than to stir up trouble. I wanted to help people, not waste time answering stupid questions or refuting unwarranted allegations. Consequently, HI was set up as a normal commercial division of DöhmCorp. That brought it under the existing corporate executive structure and put Kashuba at the same level as Riccardo and the other executives who reported to the company secretary. While that meant that Kashuba would have access to all of the expertise available to the others, and to all of DöhmCorp’s resources, it was also rather intimidating for him. After all, he was eighteen years old and had no business experience.
He confessed to me that he felt like he had been thrown in at the deep end and was gradually drowning, so I sat down with him, the other executives, and Errol to try and arrive at a working model that made life easier for all of us, but particularly for Kashuba. Fortunately DöhmCorp’s structure was flexible enough to allow a little leeway. We appointed a personal assistant who would be based in Kashuba’s office on the top floor of the Döhm building. The PA had an executive role in that he acted as Kashuba’s proxy. He had authority to liaise with the other executives and Errol on Kashuba’s behalf, and with Kashuba on their behalf. Kashuba would work from an office at Breaker headquarters, but would use his executive office at Döhm HQ as necessary. In theory he was supposed to report to Errol but in practice he reported directly to me. This meant that HI had a degree of independence not enjoyed by the other divisions, although it was still accountable financially and legally in the same way as the others.
DöhmCorp’s legal department created a small team to serve HI exclusively. They advised that HI might run into problems because it would be caring for young people who, in the law’s eyes, were underage and not able to make decisions for themselves. Although this seemed ludicrous, given that the kids had already been living independently for years in most cases, we decided to register HI as a child care agency and orphanage. The legal team collated the information required, completed the application, and submitted it to the relevant authority.
While we were getting the administrative details sorted out we were also working on getting the practical stuff started.
Kashuba’s top priorities had been food, housing, and medical care. To allow for food and medical care in the short term, Riccardo’s department set up a bank account in Breaker’s name and provided three bank cards that Kashuba, Masoko and Rey would hold. With funds in the account, the Breaker kids could use the cards to shop anywhere that was convenient, as often as they needed to, and they could pay for medical treatment and medications. Since the cards could be used to obtain anything I asked the three leaders to monitor what was being bought, but otherwise imposed no restrictions. I wanted the kids to eat well, and I wanted all of them to have decent clothes. Setting up the bank account took care of most of their immediate needs. In the long term we would need to make other arrangements for personal items like clothes, and I hoped, in the future, to establish a free medical clinic and hospital for homeless people. That would take care of their health needs.
With Kashuba’s permission I asked the manager of DöhmCorp’s maintenance team to survey the building that housed Breaker so that we would have some idea of the work needed to bring it up to current standards. He would then report to the consultative panel. Tian-yun Sang had been a self-employed builder for many years, but had decided to take life easier after a work accident that left him with a severe limp and a painful knee. DöhmCorp trusted him and had a high opinion of his qualifications as a builder, so I had no qualms in asking for his help. He and a small team spent two days inspecting the building. Kashuba was impressed with the way they went through the entire building systematically and thoroughly.
At the consultative panel’s first meeting Rey reported that the new ‘food gathering’ arrangements were working perfectly. He got a laugh for his comic emphasis, but he was serious when he added that for the first time any of them could remember everyone was eating well. Masoko told us that two of the boys, neither of whom had Medicare cards, had needed medical attention and had been treated at a nearby clinic without any problems. Haza proudly modelled his new clothes, and told of the gratitude he and the others who had no money of their own felt when they went on a clothes shopping expedition. Kashuba reported that he had set up an account book where everyone had to record their purchases and that he required everyone to provide receipts. I had not asked him to do that but I was pleased that he was taking seriously his responsibility as leader.
We attended to a couple of requests, but everyone was keen to get to the main item on the agenda, Tian-yun’s report.
“Kashuba,” he began, “you chose well when you made your home in the east wing of the building. The other wings have protected it from the full force of the prevailing weather and it is in good condition. It can be restored fairly quickly and easily. The north wing is also in pretty good condition. It will take a little effort to restore but the cost and time spent will be worth it. The south and west wings will be a much bigger undertaking, and will be a lot more expensive to restore, but I think it is worth doing the work. It would be a shame to restore part of the building and demolish the rest because that would destroy the integrity of the design. With its four wings enclosing the central courtyard the building has character. It’s also a practical design, allowing for varied uses.” Tian-yun went on to describe the work needed to restore each wing.
When he finished I said I thought our priorities should be to make the east wing secure, restore electricity, and provide comfortable living quarters for the Breaker kids. Kashuba agreed.
“The east wing structure is solid, the external brickwork is sound, and there isn’t much internal damage,” Tian-yun said. “Plumbing and electrical work would be the biggest components of the restoration. I think it could be done in four or five weeks if we can get a good builder. That would include new kitchen and bathroom fittings, but would not include painting and decorating, which I understand Breaker would be willing to undertake themselves.”
Kashuba said, “Yes, we have discussed that, and everyone is prepared to pitch in and help.” He smiled. “Now that we do not have to search for food every day we have more time for other things.”
“Do you know of a reputable builder who would work to that timetable?” I asked Tian-yun.
“Actually, I do,” he said, smiling. “I have been thinking of stepping back from my work at DöhmCorp and allowing someone younger to take on more responsibility. I really like what you are doing here, Echo, and I would love to become involved. If you and DöhmCorp agree, I could take on the restoration here. I would assemble a team to do the work and I would supervise and coordinate everything. I have enough contacts in the building trades that I shouldn’t have any trouble getting a good team together.”
I was ecstatic. “That would be awesome, Tian-yun. Thank you.” I turned to Kashuba. “What do you think, Kashuba?”
“I also think that is awesome!” he said. “My guys all like Tian-yun, and he treated everyone with respect when he was doing the survey. I think we would all be very happy for him to do the work.”
“Done, then! Tian-yun, do you need me to talk to someone at DöhmCorp?”
Although Errol made a wisecrack about losing staff to HI, he allowed Tian-yun to rearrange his duties at DöhmCorp so that he could spend four days each week working on the restoration of the Breaker building, which became known as Breaker One.
Tian-yun was able to assemble a hand-picked team quickly, thanks to his extensive contacts in the building industry. He made clear before he signed anyone up that they would be working for HI, and that the people in charge were teenagers. Kashuba and I made a point of meeting with each team member to ensure that they were happy with us and that we felt they would fit the team ethos (although neither of us would have recognised that word at the time). While Tian-yun still officially worked for DöhmCorp’s maintenance team, most of the new guys were employed on salary by HI. A few of them wanted to remain self-employed, which would enable them to take on other work, so we engaged them as subcontractors, with the proviso that they would give priority to HI work.
The team set about restoring the east wing. The first item on the schedule was making the building secure, to which end a firm of locksmiths was engaged to fit new iris-scanning locks to all doors that opened on to the courtyard. Emergency exit doors, which opened directly to the outside of the building, were fitted with new quick-release bars that were only operable from the inside. The portico with its big double doors, which formed the main entrance to the entire building, was fitted with a new lock so that the courtyard was also secure. That obviated the need to have someone on watch, which was a huge relief to the Breaker kids. While the locksmiths were busy carpenters altered rooms to make better use of space, plumbers set about replacing pipes and fittings, and electricians rewired much of the wing. A specialist team installed new kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinets and benchtops. Plasterers lined new walls and made good on others where necessary.
I was amazed at how they all managed to work around each other. Some tasks had to be carried out in sequence and at times one trade seemed to be nipping at the heels of the one before. Some days the site seemed chaotic, but somehow, probably thanks to Tian-yun’s organisational skills and his consummate understanding of each trade’s needs and how they worked together, there were few mishaps and everything seemed to get done with good humour and loads of cooperation. Almost exactly six weeks from the beginning all of the work was done except the painting and decorating.
* * *
Kashuba, Masoko and Rey showed me through the rejuvenated east wing one day. I had been busy with schoolwork and other commitments, and had not been able to visit the building for almost two weeks. I was amazed at the difference that short time had made. On my previous visit there were tools and equipment everywhere, several rooms were full of building materials, and everything was covered in dust.
“Wow! What a change,” I said. “Now you have a real home.”
“Yep,” said Rey, “now all we have to do is paint it all.”
“Uh, there’s nothing on the floors in most of the rooms. Why’s that?” I asked.
“The floor tiles are done in all the wet areas,” Masoko said, “but they don’t want to put the other floor coverings down until after the painting is finished.”
“Oh, yes, that makes sense. I guess I already knew that. I’ve been trying to juggle too many things in my mind lately, and I’d forgotten. Do you reckon you’ll be right to get the painting done yourselves?”
“Yes, the guys are all hyped up about doing it,” Kashuba said. “They have been champing at the bit, wanting to get going.”
“They’re excited about havin’ a new home,” Rey said. “Actually, we all are,” he added, blushing.
I roared laughing.
“What?” he demanded.
“Did I just see the tough, angry Rey blush?” I shook my head. “Does not compute,” I added in my best computer-generated voice. I let out an “Ow!” when he punched me on the shoulder, then giggled as he gave me a hug.
“You know, you’re not a bad guy for a spoilt little rich kid,” he teased. Then it was his turn to yelp as I gave him a cuff to the back of his head.
“Ow! Splinter!” I cried, examining my hand. Rey still sported his odd haircut.
Masoko was laughing her head off. Kashuba, never very demonstrative, chuckled as he grabbed Rey in one arm and wrapped his other around me. “Stop it, you two, or I will be forced to deal with you. Severely!”
We all laughed, and continued the tour. The old library had been refurbished, retaining the original shelves and the round table. The library provided a quiet place for anyone needing time to themselves. The room next to it, previously unused, was now a study area with computers that enabled the kids to go online. Several of them were planning to take online courses. The kitchen was where it had always been but it was transformed and I hardly recognised it. Masoko told me they were gradually getting used to the idea that they now had a fridge and a freezer.
Kashuba smiled and said, “I still sometimes forget to switch on the light when I go into a room! And it is hard to believe we have heating and cooling now.”
The bathrooms and laundry were modern and functional, but of more importance to the kids was the fact that they now had hot and cold running water, not to mention that the laundry included a washing machine and a dryer! There were enough bedrooms on the upper floor that each boy could have his own room, but some had chosen to share. The whole group had slept in a few rooms before the renovations. Some of them had enjoyed that closeness and found it hard to adjust to being on their own. Masoko had taken charge of furniture shopping, fearing that the boys would end up with a mishmash of styles if left to their own devices. She allowed them to choose their own colour schemes and gave them freedom to decorate their rooms as they wished. The result was a simple but elegant series of bedrooms with each of the boys having his own personalised space.
The living room was large and comfortable, divided into several areas, and they now had a separate space for dining.
One corridor housed what we called the activities zone. This included a room with several exercise machines; a recreation room where the boys could play games like table tennis, pool, or darts, or other active or noisy games; a room for computer games and retro arcade games; a music room; and, finally, an art and craft room—a space for the boys who were creative, where they could draw or paint, or make craft items. We also ensured that there were old-fashioned board games available.
Kashuba was proud, if rather awestruck, to show me his new office. He had a large desk, complete with a computer and communications, and a comfortable-looking swivel chair. One wall was lined with bookshelves, as yet empty. It was fitting for the chief executive of HI. “I can hardly believe all this,” he said quietly.
“Well, you needed somewhere to work,” I told him, “and I think it’s better for you and the others that it’s here. I think you would find it a bit difficult if you had to spend all your time in the DöhmCorp building. Being based here you’re close to the action and the people you need to work with.”
Masoko chuckled. “I think the boys would have rebelled if Kash had needed to have his office in the big building. They tease him about being the boss man, but they would follow him anywhere, and they wouldn’t have liked it if he wasn’t here.” She gave her boyfriend a sweet smile. Kashuba looked uncomfortable. She dug him in the ribs, “Oh, look at you, all coy. You know they think the world of you.”
I laughed. “I think he knows well enough. He just doesn’t like being made a fuss of. Oh, by the way,” I said, changing the subject, “how is it working out with your PA in the big building? Have there been any problems? Is it worth having him there?”
“Oh, yes, Jens is good,” Kashuba replied. “I would be lost without him. He knows DöhmCorp and how it works, and he knows all the people over there. When I have a question I call him and he knows who to talk to. A lot of the time he can handle it for me, but if he cannot he puts me in contact with the person who can. Yes, it is working well for me and I am not aware of any problems. I hope it is working well for DöhmCorp.”
“I haven’t heard anything from Errol,” I said, “and he would tell me about any issues.”
Next, they showed me the security control room, located next to Kashuba’s office. Our advisers had insisted that we provide some sort of protection for the whole complex. They wanted the Breaker kids to be safe, but felt that any future development would also benefit. So, during the restoration work hidden surveillance cameras had been installed on all four corners of the building so that the outside walls were covered from each end. There were additional cameras keeping an eye on the main entrance doors under the portico. In the courtyard, cameras at each corner were trained on the walls as well as the courtyard itself. The cameras automatically switched between day and night mode, triggered by the amount of ambient light. Screens in the control room showed the view from each camera, and a panel enabled the cameras to be panned, tilted or zoomed as needed. As well as the cameras there were sound pickups and motion sensors at intervals around the outside walls. The video from each camera and the sound from each microphone was recorded, with the latest four weeks’ recordings available at any time. It was all very impressive.
“Have there been any security alerts?” I asked.
“No,” Kashuba said, “but it is good to know that we have the means to detect any intruders. The way the system is set up we should have ample warning of any problem, so that we can take action if we need to. We monitor the system ourselves during the day. If we did not, there would be alarms going off all the time. We turn everything on at night, though. If an alarm sounds we can investigate visually, and call in the imperial guard if we need to. We have had trial runs, and they worked perfectly.”
I nodded. The IG had been contracted to provide first-response services. The control room had a direct link to the guard’s watch centre, which was manned around the clock.
We moved back to the kitchen and sat at the table, chatting amiably. I was happy that we had all become good friends. Kashuba and his ‘tribe’ trusted me completely, and I was pleased that I had followed my instinct and put my faith in them. It was a good partnership.
“Gee, this place has changed,” I said, looking around me. “I never thought about it before, but how did you manage to keep living here while all the work was going on?”
They all chuckled.
“I discovered a new word,” Rey said. “Patience.”
“I learned to stop fussing about all the dust,” Masoko said. She shuddered. “It was so frustrating, because I like to have everything clean and tidy.”
Kashuba actually laughed. “That is the understatement of the decade! She is a clean freak! But that is good, because she has taught all the boys to clean up after themselves, and to keep the living areas and their bedrooms tidy. Some of them were real slobs when they came to live with us, but I suppose young kids fending for themselves and living rough do not see tidiness as a priority.”
“To get back to your question,” Rey said, “we had to move around a bit. We couldn’t use the kitchen for a while so we had to use the builders’ lunchroom.”
“Tian-yun organised the builders so that they took our needs into account, and they tried to make it as easy as they could. They always made sure we had one bathroom we could use, so it was not so bad,” Kashuba said.
I suddenly remembered that I had some news to share with Kashuba and the others. “You remember that DöhmCorp bought this place not long before we had our first meeting, right?”
They all answered, “Yes.”
“Well, we did that because you were already living here, and it seemed the best way to help you. The big news, though, is that there are other vacant properties that we might be able to use. One day I was in my office at Döhm HQ, looking through stuff. It had been my parents’ office, and I was just kind of rummaging, hoping to get to know them better. I found my parents’ handwritten journals, which no one even knew existed. There was an entry that mentioned properties that had been acquired through takeovers. They had decided to postpone any action on those properties until they worked out how to help the people who had been made redundant. They thought it might be possible to make use of the properties in providing the help.
“I asked Errol about it, and he showed me a list of the places involved. The company continued to pay any taxes that came due and that sort of thing, but none of those properties was to be sold or redeveloped until further notice. The DöhmCorp property division inspects them regularly. They do any necessary repairs, but that’s it.
“There are several around the city, and more in other regions. HI now has responsibility for all of them, so we should get Tian-yun to survey them. And we need to decide, at some stage, what to do with them.”
“That is amazing,” Kashuba remarked. “By purchasing and redeveloping Breaker One you are actually bringing your parents’ ideas to life. Cool!”
“Yes,” I said. “I was really happy when I read that bit in the journal. It gave me an insight into the way my mother and father were thinking, and that made me feel close to them.”
That memory made my eyes water. Masoko put her arm around my shoulder. “Like parents, like son, eh?” she said, quietly.
We all laughed.
“I wonder if any more of the buildings are used as squats.” Rey said. “Do you know where they are?”
I tried to recall the list Errol had shown me. “One is on the other side of the harbour, on that little peninsula that comes down on the inland side of the bridge. Another metropolitan one is in the foothills near where the river empties into the harbour. There are three or four more, but they are all in places I’ve never heard of. I’ll make sure Jens knows how to access the list. I’m sorry, I should have already done that.”
“Knowing Errol, he has most likely already made Jens aware of it,” Kashuba said. “I will check tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” I said, “that’ll be one less thing for me to remember. Can you talk to Tian-yun about inspecting them?”
With work on the Breaker living quarters finished the builders moved on to the other wings.
Our priority was the medical clinic, which was to be set up in the north wing. There were two reasons for locating it there. First, it was the wing closest to the street and it included the main entrance to the building. Second, locating the clinic adjacent to the main entrance would make it easily accessible for patients. Kashuba and I met with the DöhmCorp properties division, and they engaged an architect experienced in designing such facilities. She visited the site, then liaised with the property people to develop a plan. We were thrilled with their proposed design because it would preserve the character of the building, yet still provide a modern facility with the latest equipment.
As well as general practitioners, the clinic would have medical and surgical wards with five beds each, and would be able to treat emergency patients. It included equipment which would allow specialists in distant locations to carry out remote control surgery on patients in our operating theatre. There would also be a pharmacy.
The west wing was to become offices for HI. It was not needed urgently, however, so its restoration would wait until the clinic was complete.
We hadn’t decided what to do with the south wing and it would be the last wing to be restored, and probably not until we had found a use for it.
I was excited as we took these next steps. My—and my parents’—dream was actually becoming real!
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