"You were right about it being Lansing. Several of the teachers also reported that he was acting strangely this morning. Maybe I should say they said he was acting stranger this morning. Anyway, since he didn't have recess duty today he went to the teachers' lounge during that time period. He chatted with a couple of the other teachers who were also free but seem to be distracted. After a few minutes he got up and went into the restroom in the lounge. Nobody paid any attention for a while until someone noticed that he hadn't come out and it was time for his class to return from recess.
"One of the teachers knocked on the restroom door and called his name but she got no response. After several tries she contacted the office via the intercom. The principal arrived and she attempted to get a response. She tried several times with no results so she called on the custodian to open the door with his master key. That's when they discovered what had happened.
"They found him slumped on the floor in a pool of blood. He had slit both wrists and his throat. He bled to death in minutes," Jack concluded.
"Oh, my god!" I groaned. "I can't believe that he did this just because I confronted him with the twins feeling uncomfortable with his touching."
"No, Crane, don't feel like you were the cause of all of this. There's more to the story. When the sheriff went to his apartment they found even more shocking material. It appears that this guy was a big time pedophile. There were all kinds of child pornography all neatly categorized according to age, sex and sexual activity. There were books, magazines, photos, CD's, DVD's, tapes and disks. Some of the photos and video tapes were of him and various kids who appeared to be anywhere from 5 or 6 to the mid teens. None appeared to be over 15. The sheriff's office is now trying to identify the kids in the pictures. A couple of them have already been identified and their parents are going to be contacted.
"There is another individual in some of the tapes that they are also trying to identify. They know someone else had to be involved because the camera was being operated by someone while Lansing was sexually assaulting his victims. This guy was one sick puppy," Jack said.
"What should I do? Should I go to the sheriff and report my conversation with him this morning?" I asked.
"Yes, I think that would be wise. They probably already know that you spoke with him this morning. It is probably best if you call them rather than wait for them to call you," he advised.
"Thanks, Jack I'll give them a call as soon as I hang up."
"Hey Crane, are you going to be able to be at practice tomorrow? It's the last one before the final game of the season this Friday."
"I don't know of anything that will prevent me from being there. See you then. Bye," I said hanging up.
I had just dialed the sheriff's office when Hildy announced that supper was ready. "I'll be there in a couple of minutes. I need to talk to the sheriff's office for a minute. If you want, go ahead and get the boys started and I'll be there as soon as I can," I said.
"I'll try to hold them off for a few minutes," she chuckled.
Just then the sheriff's office answered.
"Hi, this is Crane Johnson. I may have some information regarding the suicide at the elementary school today. If possible, I'd like to come in tomorrow morning and relate it," I told the deputy who answered.
"Yes, Mr. Johnson we would like to talk to you. Could you be here around nine?" he asked.
"I will be there," I said.
My next priority was supper.
Afterwards, I call the twins aside. I wanted to try to get any information that they might have about other kids who might have had "contact" with Mr. Lansing.
I started out by asking them how they liked school and got the expected response of "fine." I also asked them if they had made any new friends to which they responded with more information and numbers and names.
"Do any of your new friends dislike Mr. Lansing touching them?" I asked.
They looked at each other before Larry answered "Yeah, a couple of them do. Joey hates it. That's why he stays home sometimes."
"He tells his mother that he don't feel so good and she lets him stay home some," Lenny added.
"How about any of the girls?" I asked.
"Once Sissy said he put his hand on her bottom but she pushed it away," Lenny said.
"Do you know if anyone has ever gone to his apartment?" I asked hoping that they didn't.
"Phil said he did. He's in sixth grade. I don't believe him. He's always bragging," Larry said.
"Thanks guys! Go get your homework done and then you can play your video games if you want. Let me know if you need any help... on your homework, not the video games," I said giving each a hug and a pop on the behind as they left to get their homework started.
I didn't tell the boys but I wasn't going to send them to school tomorrow. I wanted to keep them motivated to do their homework before I told them. Wednesday they wouldn't be going in the morning because of the appointments at Corinthian Academy.
The evenings were becoming fairly routine. After eating they did their homework. After homework they played video games or played outside. After play time they had their snack. After the snack it was bath time. After the bath it was time for bed. We were a family with a set routine to follow and it felt good.
Tuesday morning I told the boys at breakfast that they could stay home from school today. In fact I had seen on the morning news that the school was closed until Wednesday. They were a little startled but accepted the fact that they were going to have a school holiday. It was not really a holiday that I had in mind for them. I was going to speak to Paul when he came about giving attention to their lessons as well as Joel's.
When Paul arrived I asked him if he could provide a structured environment for TJ and the twins. I told him I didn't expect him to actually teach them their regular classes but I suggested a reading or possible a writing assignment that could occupy them while he concentrated on Joel's regular lessons.
I was off to the sheriff's office to give them my statement concerning my meeting with Mr. Lansing on Monday morning. Deputy Jesse Cantu greeted me as I entered.
"Hey Crane, how you doing this morning?" Jesse asked.
"Just fine Jesse. Are you going to take my statement?" I asked.
"Yep, I sure am," he said. "Let's go into the interview room and we can get this over with."
I related to him the brief meeting that I had with Lansing in as much detail as I could remember. I could repeat it almost verbatim since it was so short and I did all of the talking. When I finished the retelling of my meeting with him I told Jesse what the twins had indicated about Joey and Sissy. He was much more interested in the information that I related about Phil in sixth grade. It wasn't much but I guess it gave them someone to begin with that might have more information.
When I returned home I found all four of the boys engrossed in a geography lesson that Paul was giving to Joel. I guess the world, its peoples and how it works is fascinating no matter what your age.
I told Paul when he finished the lesson that I would take the other boys off his hands and he could continue with Joel.
"It was kind of fun," he said. "They were perfect gentlemen and I think they were interested in the lesson. They even asked a few questions that I would have expected from kids of Joel's age. I thoroughly enjoyed it."
The boys devoured the last of the sugar cookies along with a gallon of milk for their morning snack. When they finished I asked TJ and the twins if they would like to have me read them a story. I was surprised at the positive reaction from them. In fact they nearly bowled me over with their enthusiasm.
"Momma used to read us stories," TJ said.
"Yeah!" echoed the twins.
"Well let's see, Joel just finished 'Tom Sawyer', how about I read you that book?" I asked.
"Joel really liked that one," Larry said.
"Okay, you guys go into the family room and I'll get the book and join you," I said.
Settling in on the couch with a twin on either side of me and TJ on my lap, I opened the book and began to read Chapter I.
"What's gone with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!"
The old lady pulled her spectacles down and looked over them about the room; then she put them up and looked out under them. She seldom or never looked through them for so small a thing as a boy; they were her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built for "style," not service -- she could have seen through a pair of stove-lids just as well. She looked perplexed for a moment, and then said, not fiercely, but still loud enough for the furniture to hear:
"Well, I lay if I get hold of you I'll -- "
She did not finish, for by this time she was bending down and punching under the bed with the broom, and so she needed breath to punctuate the punches with. She resurrected nothing but the cat.
"I never did see the beat of that boy!" 1
Reading these words to the boys brought back wonderful memories of the first time I read 'Tom Sawyer'. I must have been just a little bit older than Larry and Lenny. We had just moved back to west Texas from Venezuela. Some of the words may have been strange to the boys but they listened intently.
I read to them for about an hour before I detected that they were becoming a little restless. Also, my legs were beginning to go numb from TJ sitting on my lap for so long.
"I think that is enough for right now. My voice is getting a little tired. Let's take a break," I suggested.
Break to the boys meant snack. This time though Hildy was guarding the refrigerator.
"It's getting too close to lunch. You may have a glass of juice," she told them.
Their faces clearly showed the disappointment they were feeling but accepted what they could get and took the offering and went outside to look for the deer.
When Paul finished his tutoring of Joel, I told him about the boys' appointment with Corinthian Academy for the morning.
"Oh, I'm so glad," he said which surprised me. "I didn't know how to tell you but they have asked me to fill in for one of their teachers who will be taking maternity leave for the rest of the year starting Monday. I'm sure from what I have observed that the boys will have no problem passing their entrance exams and interview. I'll be teaching both seventh and eighth grade subjects so I will probably have Joel in a couple of my classes."
"That sounds like a great opportunity for you. I know that Joel has really enjoyed your teaching. He said that you make it fun for him. That is important in making kids want to learn. I hope that the boys will be able to attend Corinthian. This thing with the public school really has me upset. I don't want the boys going back there," I told him.
"Good luck tomorrow," he said as he left. "I'll see you again on Thursday."
After lunch I gave Joel his math class while the other boys played outside. TJ played with his Tonka truck hauling rocks from the side yard onto the patio. Larry and Lenny played with their radio controlled cars until the batteries ran down. It looks like I had better stock up on batteries the way they are starting to go through them.
"Guys, I have to go to little league practice in about an hour. You can either stay here with Hildy and play or you can come with me to practice," I told them. "Which do you want to do?"
TJ was the first to reply, "I want to go!"
"Me too!" the twins said in stereo.
"Okay, go put on some shorts, tee shirts and tennies so that you will be ready to go when I am," I said.
They took off like a shot to change. I did too.
When we had practice either Jack or I brought something for the kids to snack on during a break we gave them about halfway through the practice session. Today was my turn. Since I hadn't warned Hildy to prepare anything, I would have to stop at H.E.B. or someplace to pick something up. I'm sure the boys wouldn't mind.
I grabbed my ice chest as we headed out the door so I could ice down some sodas when we got to the ballpark. Shopping for snacks with four excited boys was an experience. They wanted everything that they saw. We settled for several different types of cookies, soft drinks and some bottled water. A couple bags of ice and we were off to practice, but not before adding a couple four packs of batteries.
The boys were excited when we got to the ballpark. They had made friends with some of the team the last time they were here for a game. That seemed like ages ago but it was really less than two weeks. They helped me get the drinks ready by ripping the cartons open and putting the cans in the cooler while I layered in the ice. It was a good thing we had some time before the drinks were to be consumed because of all the shaking they received by the boys in carrying out their part of the process.
"Thanks, guys. You were a big help," I told them. "Now you can help me get the equipment out of the shed."
They made short work of hauling the equipment out of the shed while I marked the lines and batters box. Everything was ready by the time Jack and the first kid arrived.
Larry and Lenny were playing catch with each other waiting on the rest of the team to arrive. Jack and I stood there watching as my little left hander threw one wicked pitch after another to his brother.
"That twin has a good arm for a nine year-old," he said.
"That is Lenny. I didn't know he could throw either," I replied.
"We'll have to recruit him next year," he chuckled. "That is if we're still doing this next year. This sure takes a lot of time I could be spending with my kids. Now you with "your four" it's really going to be a struggle. At least I have a wife to help me with my kids."
"Yeah, I'm just beginning to realize how much time they require. And I haven't been working for over two weeks. I hope things settle down after I get them enrolled in Corinthian. With me buying out Eric's share of the business, I'm going to need to spend more time at the office," I said.
When we started practice my four joined right in with the rest of the team. We did some stretching exercises and ran the bases twice to get warmed up. TJ was pooped by the time he got around the bases the second time and decided he needed to sit down for a while. He was our one man cheering section for the first half of practice.
I think everyone was ready when we took our break. The cookies and soft drinks disappeared faster than the boys ran the bases earlier.
Jack pitched batting practice with four of the team in the outfield to shag the fly balls. After the batter took his eight pitches he replaced one of the outfielders who then took a place in line to bat. This rotation continued until everyone got to bat twice.
While all this was going on Larry and Lenny were talking to one of the smaller members of the team. Chris Martin was pretty good at the bat and could run like the wind but he had a terrible glove and couldn't throw a ball thirty feet. He was ten years old but was the same height as the twins and they were not tall for their age.
I knew I was in for something when the twins approached me and put their arms around my waist and looked up at me with those beautiful azure eyes.
"Can Chris come home with us and stay all night? Please?" Larry pleaded.
"But, it's a school night. Why don't we wait until Friday after the game? That way he can bring some clothes to change and he can ask his parents," I offered.
"But... But, his mom and dad are gone," Lenny said.
"What do you mean they're gone?" I asked.
"He said that they didn't come home last night and they weren't there when he got home from school," Larry said.
"Please, he's scared to stay there all by himself," Lenny added.
"I'll tell you what. We will drive Chris to his house and see if there is anyone at home. If there is no one there we'll decide what we should do. Is that okay?" I asked.
"Okay!" the stereophonic twins answered.
Walking over to Jack I said, "It looks like we might have a little problem. The twins want to take Chris home with them because he tells them his folks have not been home since yesterday."
"What are you going to do?" he asked.
I told him what the twins and I had discussed and then added, "Jack, I really don't need another boy to take care of. I'm not sure I can handle what's on my plate right now. What about his school?"
"Well if he is in SAISD (San Antonio Independent School District) there is a teachers' workshop tomorrow and he won't have to go to school," he said with a grin.
"Thanks Jack, you're a lot of help. I suppose one night won't hurt if his folks are not home. I have to take the kids to Corinthian Academy tomorrow morning and while they are there I can try to find his parents. Will you check to see if they are in jail or dead or whatever?" I asked. "Have you got time to take the team to McDonald's? If you do I'll give you the money to pay the bill and enough to cover last Friday's feeding."
"Yeah, Carolyn is not expecting me until later," he said.
"Good," I said counting out the money. "Then you will have time to put all the equipment away."
Turning to the boys I called to them "Come on guys, let's go. You too Chris!"
All five of them ran to the Land Rover and climbed in and buckled up before I even got there.
"Where do you live Chris?" I asked as I climbed in and started the Land Rover.
He gave me an address that I recognized was about 5 or 6 blocks from the ballpark.
When we got to the house it did not look good. There was a sheriff's eviction notice posted on the front door and everything was padlocked up tight. That pretty much determined what we were going to do. I got out my cell phone and called Hildy to prepare her for another mouth to feed for supper and then took off for Canyon Lake. I was beginning to feel like I was running a home for strays, very lovable strays.
1 Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1903), 16.