Friday was turning out to be busy. The first thing on my agenda was to go to Carlos' office to sign all the necessary contracts to buy out my partner's share of the business. I had asked Gerald Cousins to meet me there to get the financial part of the deal finalized before we signed the final sales contract.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm pretty savvy when it comes to business and finance but between Gerald and Carlos they made me feel like a real dummy when they tried to explain the intricacies of the deal that they had structured. They explained that the company (actually an LLP) was the entity purchasing the share of the business that Eric owned and not me. That way the tax consequences for both the business and me would be considerably less. I was all for that. I had been in the top tax bracket for a long time and anything that would reduce my taxes was welcome. I had only one question when they finished their explanation.
"Is all of this legal?" I asked.
"Yes, it's completely above board," they both assured me. "We consulted with another tax attorney just to make doubly sure."
With their assurance I signed all of the necessary paperwork. We were sitting around chatting about everything and nothing when my business partner, Eric Olsen, walked in with his son. All of us stood up and greeted him and inquired about his health. Although he seemed to be a little unsteady on his feet, he said that he was fine. His son also assured us that his dad was okay and that his mind was clear and no way impaired by the radiation treatment.
Carlos inquired if he was taking any medication that might impair his judgment and affect the legality of his signature and was told that the only medication he was on was his blood pressure medicine.
All of that taken care of, Eric signed the same papers that I had earlier and took possession of the check for the first part of the purchase.
After we exchanged pleasantries I excused myself to tackle item number two on my agenda. Rushing back to the house to load up the kids and take them to buy the uniforms that they would need to start school on Monday. Hildy agreed to meet us at the store and help with outfitting the boys before she went grocery shopping to fill the pantry that had a way of emptying very rapidly. With the addition of Chris the food disappeared even faster.
The shopping went much more smoothly than I had anticipated. Even TJ stayed within sight this time. Using the list of uniforms that Corinthian had given us it only took about an hour to finish outfitting all five boys. With my smoking credit card in my pocket and each boy loaded down with their new clothes we headed for the car and lunch.
There was a WhatABurger on the way home so I decided to stop there to feed the boys. Of course they had no objections. They looked like they could eat the leather seat upholstery by the time we got there. Six bacon cheeseburger WhatAMeals, large sized fries and 10 cookies later we were on our way home.
I had the boys unpack all their new uniforms and helped them remove all of the tags so that Hildy could get them laundered before they had to wear them on Monday. I first thought that it would be a good idea to mark each boy's uniform with their names but decided that was not necessary because TJ and Joel's were easy to identify and the twins and Chris could wear each other's interchangeably.
Item three on the agenda was the final little league ballgame of the fall season. We had a couple of hours before we had to leave for the game so I spent some time playing catch with the boys and trying to teach Chris how to throw a ball correctly. Even Lenny tried to help, but it didn't seem to do any good. No matter what we tried Chris could not throw the ball more than 30 feet.
I had no more than set down to take a rest from playing catch with the boys when the phone rang. It was Foster letting me know how the interview with Darcie's brother went.
"Crane, this guy Eric would be a definite asset to the company. We could use him starting Monday if he were available. The Latham contract is going to need someone with his expertise very shortly. I used to do a little networking in my younger days and Eric puts me to shame," Foster said with enthusiasm.
"Did he indicate what he was looking for in terms of compensation?" I asked.
"No, not directly, but I got the impression that he needed something in the $75,000 range. That doesn't seem too far out of line for someone with his level of expertise. It costs us an arm and a leg when we have to sub out the work that he could do in-house. I would suggest that you give him a six month contract with an extension option. Maybe structure his contract to give him a guarantee of 75K with a share of the consultation fees he generates over and above say 125 or 150K he brings to the company. Does that sound okay?" he finished.
"That sounds good to me. I'll call him and set up a meeting to work out the details. Thanks, Foster, if you think he will be good for business that's good enough for me," I said before hanging up and dialing Darcie's home number.
I recognized his voice when he answered "Hello."
"Hello, Eric, this is Crane Johnson. Foster just called to tell me about the interview he had with you."
"Hi, Crane, yes it was a very interesting experience. I didn't know that you had so many people working there."
"Yeah, we usually have around 30 on staff at all times. I think the current number is 31. You know how contractors are, they come and go frequently. We do have a core group that has been with the company longer than I have been there. The reason I call is I would like to offer you a position with ACC if you are interested."
"Yes, I am interested."
"Good! I would like to meet with you and work out the details but I'm tied up the rest of the day. I help coach a little league baseball team and we have the final game of the season this afternoon. Would it be possible to meet either tomorrow or Sunday?"
"Tomorrow would be best for me. I need to get back to Houston and was planning on driving back on Sunday."
"Why don't you come to my place for lunch tomorrow and bring JR? Darcie knows the way. If she isn't busy she is welcome to come also. I know the boys would enjoy seeing her again. Bring your swim wear if you want to go swimming. Plan on making it an afternoon."
"Thanks, that sounds great. I know JR would like to see the boys again. He had a great time with them yesterday. What time should we be there?"
"Let's say some time around eleven. Hildy, my cook, usually likes to serve lunch around noon and believe me she runs the house," I said laughing.
"We'll be there," he said before we hung up.
A short time later it was time for the boys to grab a snack before we took off for the ball field. Hildy had made a batch of date bars which the boys decimated almost before I got to taste them.
Chris grabbed his baseball equipment and we all took off for San Antonio. We were the first to arrive as usual giving us enough time to get all of the bats, balls, and other equipment ready for the team when they arrived. I marked the batter's box and the foul lines before Jack showed up.
"Hey, Crane. How is the tribe doing?" he asked with a smirk on his face.
"Just fine, thanks, now that I'm out of jail," I said shaking his outstretched hand and laughing.
"I'm really sorry about all of that. Joyce is in a lot of trouble for filing a false police report. She may even face perjury charges because of it. Have you decided whether you are going to file a civil suit against her?" he asked.
"I'm still thinking about it. I'd just like for the whole thing to go away," I replied.
The other team arrived in a beat-up old mini school bus. Their coaches were friends of Jack's and were also police officers. I was a little surprised that they both were in uniform but Jack explained that they had just gotten off of their shift and it was just easier for them to come as they were. The kids didn't seem to mind.
Both teams played their hearts out but the score was tied going into the sixth inning. The Hornets were the home team so we would have the last at bat to try to break the tie. We even had a few spectators watching the game from the bleachers where I had found Joel. I didn't pay that much attention to them since they were not being obnoxious like many parents are at their kid's ballgame.
I was standing at the fence near the dugout in the bottom half of the inning with two outs when Chris pushed up against me and started whining.
"What's the matter, Chris?" I asked.
"Don't make me go with them, please!" he begged with his face buried in my side.
"Them," he said pointing into the bleachers.
I followed his finger and saw the man and woman that I had seen on TV saying that their son was missing and they thought had been kidnapped.
"It's alright," I said. "No one is going to take you away. Are they your mom and dad?"
"Yes, but I don't want to go with them. I want to stay with you, Uncle Crane," he whimpered.
"Okay, don't worry. I'll take care of it," I said hoping that I really could.
Calling time out, I motioned for Jack who was coaching first base to come to me. I stopped just in front of home plate and waited for him to get there. I turned so that I was facing the pitcher's mound which put Jack facing the bleachers.
"Jack, be subtle, but see that couple sitting in the second row from the top on the right hand side? They are Chris' parents. I don't know what they are doing here but I would bet they are here to get Chris back for some reason. I'd like to know why since Chris said they were always telling him how much better it would be without him," I said.
"Yeah, I see them. They both have warrants out for their arrest so we shouldn't have any problem keeping them from taking Chris. Besides, you have temporary custody of him anyway," Jack responded. "I'll have one of my two uniformed friends work his way around behind them and place them under arrest. I'll try to have him make as little fuss as possible but I don't know how those two will react."
Jack went back to the first base coaching box near the other team's dugout and strolled over to talk to one of their coaches. In the mean time I went back to my position near our dugout. The game started up again. Billy, our third baseman, took that moment to hit a towering fly ball. I thought for sure that it was going over the fence for a home run but their center fielder made an heroic effort and caught it just before it cleared the fence for the last out. According to the local rules we played under, any game tied at the end of six innings would stay that way, tied.
In all of the excitement of the near home run, one of Jack's friends was able to work his way around behind the bleachers. He surprised Chris' parents and had placed them under arrest by the time the excitement had calmed down. Jack and the other coach ran to the aid of the arresting officer to see if he needed help. The Martins did not resist but were a little surprised that they were being arrested protesting that they hadn't done anything.
One of the officers used his portable radio to call for a squad car and a female officer to take the two prisoners to jail.
I told the boys to start putting the equipment away in the shed and I went to talk to the Martins to see if they would tell me why I was put through all of that hassle.
"Why did you lie to CPS about Chris being kidnapped?" I asked with more bitterness than I intended.
"We didn't," Mrs. Martin said. "It was all Gehrig's idea. She was mad at you because the judge criticized her work. She said she wanted to get even with you for causing her trouble with her boss. We just wanted to find Chris."
"Why did you want him now? You ran off and left him to fend for himself. If you cared so much about him why did you do that?" I asked angrily.
"My sister died and left all of her money to him. It should be mine! I was her only sister. That damn brat doesn't deserve her money. It's mine! It's mine! I want it!" she screamed.
"You're pathetic," I almost spat and turned my back on her.
"Jack, can you find out more about this? Chris only knows his aunt's name is Tammy. It may not amount to much, but I would rather see him get it than those two," I said.
"Yeah, let me see what information I can get out of them. I'll call you," Jack replied.
The team was just finishing putting all the equipment in the shed when I got back there. The boys from the other team were just standing around not knowing what to do. Both of their coaches were with Chris' parents who were in handcuffs.
"Hey guys, come here a minute," I said to all of the boys. When they all assembled around me I continued, "If you guys like pizza, I'll take you all to CiCi's. How does that sound?"
Hearing no objections from anyone, not even from my boys who had pizza for supper last night, I guess the matter was settled. I got one of the other coaches to drive the old school bus with both teams crowded into it. Thank goodness CiCi's was only about five blocks away. I drove the Land Rover with my four plus Chris.
The manager's face was priceless when he saw 19 young boys and two adults enter all at the same time. I thought he was going to cry. I went to the cashier and told her to put it all on one bill. If you have never been to a CiCi's, it is an all you can eat pizza buffet. They serve all kinds of pizzas including dessert pizzas.
One pass through the buffet line and the pizzas were history. It took the workers a few minutes to try to refill the line but as soon as they brought more the boys inhaled them. After about a half an hour the boys' eating binge subsided. I was very pleasantly surprised at the boys' behavior. They were a little noisy but all in all they were very well mannered.
LeRoy, the coach of the other team who had driven the school bus agreed to drive all of the kids to their homes. I'm glad he did because it was getting dark and this side of town was not where I would like to be alone on the street after sundown. It wasn't going to be a big deal because the kids on our team all lived within a miles radius of the ballpark. Most of them lived in the run down apartment complexes that were a feature of this part of town.
By the time we got home Hildy had all of the boys' uniforms laundered and put away in their closets. I informed her that we would be having company for lunch and possibly dinner tomorrow. She immediately started planning what to have even though I told her not to go to any extra effort.
The rest of the evening was pretty much normal. After the boys' had their showers Chris came into the family room and climbed into the recliner beside me. He put his head on my chest and put one arm across my body. He didn't say anything for a few minutes, just held on to me.
"What's going to happen to my mom and dad?" he finally asked.
"I really don't know, son. Your mom and dad did some bad things and they will probably be in jail for a while. I don't know for how long," I told him.
"When they get out do I have to go back to them?"
"I don't have an answer for that either. We will just have to wait and see, but for right now you are going to be staying with us. Is that alright with you?"
"Yes, Uncle Crane. I don't want to go back with them. I want to stay here. Please? They don't like me. They're always yelling at me and telling me I'm bad. I don't do nothing and I try to be good but they still hate me. They wish I'd never been borned," he said looking up at me with tears running down his cheeks.
"We will have to see what the judge says when we go see her," I said giving him a peck on the nose. "You better go jump in bed we are going to have company tomorrow. Do you remember JR the boy we met the other night at Chuckie Cheeze? He is going to be here and maybe swim with us. How would you like that?" I asked.
"Oh, goody. He's nice," he said.
"Are you going to sleep with the twins again tonight? You know you can have your own bed if you want," I told him.
"I want to sleep with Larry and Lenny. We don't talk or nothing and we're real good and we go to sleep real quick," he said with a pleading tone to his voice.
"Alright, if that is what you want and as long as the three of you behave and get your sleep," I said giving him a hug and a little jab to his ribs eliciting a soft giggle. "You go on to bed and I'll be in to say goodnight in a little bit."
I went to bed shortly after tucking all five boys in. The excitement of the day finally got to me and I fell asleep almost the instant I got in bed.
I don't know how long I had been asleep when I awoke with a start. Something was shaking me trying to rouse me out of a very sound sleep. When my eyes finally were able to focus I saw in the dim light the small outline of TJ.
"What's the matter?" I asked bolting upright in bed.
"Uncle Crane my tummy hurts. I can't sleep," he said pushing his face into my chest. I could feel his hot tears dripping on my bare skin.
I flipped on the bedside lamp and lifted him onto my lap. "Show me where it hurts, son," I told him hoping it wasn't anything serious.
When he pointed to the middle of his stomach I was much relieved. He had probably just eaten too much pizza, more than likely trying to keep up with the other older boys.
"Let's go see what we have that can make your tummy feel better," I said sliding out of bed and picking him up. I knew I didn't have anything for a stomach ache in my medicine cabinet, but I remembered something my mother gave me to soothe my stomach when I was a kid.
I carried TJ into the kitchen and sat him down at the breakfast bar. Going to the pantry I retrieved the box of Arm & Hammer baking soda and mixed a teaspoon of it in a half a cup of water and stirred it until it was dissolved. "Here drink this down as quickly as you can. It doesn't taste too good but it is not awful," I said as I handed him the cup. "It'll make you burp too."
"Yuck, that tastes yucky," he grimaced.
"Take a sip of water to rinse your mouth out," I told him. "If you feel like burping, don't hold it in. Just let it go. Let's walk around a bit to help it work."
We hadn't take a dozen steps when he let go with a big burp followed by a high pitched giggle. A couple more burps each one getting smaller and I decided it was okay for him to get back to bed.
"Does your tummy feel better?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said with sleep in his voice.
"You can sleep in my bed so if your tummy starts hurting again we can get it fixed quickly," I told him.
I don't think he knew what bed he was in by the time I pulled the covers up and tucked him in. He had curled up in his usual ball and was fast asleep before I got under the covers.
"Goodnight, little one. I love you so much. I don't know what I would do without you now," I said as I brushed his hair back and kissed his forehead lightly before I turned the light out.
I don't know why I was surprised when I woke up the next morning and found Joel in bed with us on the other side of TJ.
Hildy was already up and in the kitchen when I got there for my first cup of coffee. She was busy planning the menu for lunch since we would have two, maybe three extra mouths to feed. I told her that maybe we should just put something on the grill, either chicken or bratwurst or hamburgers. She took to the idea of bratwursts but suggested some hotdogs in case some of the guests didn't like bratwursts. She would have to drive to New Braunfels to pick up the meat and get some buns, but she had to run an errand over there this morning anyway.
The boys came stumbling into the kitchen with that starved look only a young boy can have. Hildy poured glasses of juice and sat them on the table. TJ surprised me by climbing on my lap and snuggled up against my chest.
"I love you Uncle Crane," he murmured.
"I love you too, little one. How does your tummy feel this morning?" I asked kissing the top of his head. "Are you ready for some breakfast?"
"Yeah!" he said brightening. "It feels good."
Hildy looked at me with a quizzical expression on her face so I had to explain the occurrences of last night. Although she knew that my home remedy treatment of TJ's upset stomach was effective she thought it would be better if we stocked the medicine cabinet with commercially available medicines. We also decided it would be advisable to stock up on treatments for scrapes and cuts and other minor ailments that befall active boys.
Everyone wanted to swim after breakfast. Since we had a couple of hours before our guests were due to arrive I joined them in our usual game of king of the hill. Actually I think the game was becoming one of seeing who could dunk Uncle Crane the most times. After a while I convinced them to play a type of water volleyball which was much easier on me. Chris, TJ and I took on Joel and the twins. With Chris' swimming talent, my reach and TJ cheering us on we were able to hold our own against the other boys.
Around 10:30 I decided to change out of my swim trunks and into some other more appropriate clothes in preparation for our guests to get here. I had just finished changing when the gate buzzer sounded. The security camera showed Darcie's Toyota so I activated the gate to let them in. Thank goodness the gate maintenance people were able to fix the gate quickly after it had been broken or I would have had to walk down to it to let people in and out.
I had mixed emotions as I opened the front door and went out to greet our guests. I wondered if my attraction to both of these people would still be as strong. As they drove up I could see JR's head barely visible above the window swiveling around trying to see everything at once. Eric got out of the front seat, opened the back door of the car and released JR from the confines of his seat belt. He fairly bounced out still looking all around.
"Where is everyone?" JR asked.
Eric took hold of his son's shoulder and said, "Where are your manners? You haven't even said hello to Mr. Johnson," Turning to me Eric said, "Please forgive my son's manners. He has been hyper every since I told him we were going to visit your boys. It seems they told him that you had deer running around the place and he has never seen any up close."
"Hello, Mr. Johnson," JR said extend his hand to me.
"Welcome to our home, JR. The boys are around back in the pool. Did you bring your swim suit?" I asked.
"No, my suit is in Houston," he said sadly.
"Well, I'll bet that you could wear one of the twins' suit if you wanted to," I told him.
Eric interrupted our conversation, "That would be great. He has given me all kinds of grief because we wouldn't stop and buy him one on the way up here. Thanks!"
I shook his hand and then turned to Darcie, "I'm glad that you could come. I don't have a suit that I can lend you but you are welcome to put your feet in the water. Eric, you could probably wear one of mine if you feel like it."
Darcie laughed and said, "I'm not very much of a swimmer but I may take you up on the offer to get my feet wet."
"I might take you up on the offer as well," Eric responded.
"Let's get this guy into a suit while we discuss business," I said leading JR and them into the house.
Darcie said hello to Hildy and went out on the patio to see the boys. I introduced Eric and JR to Hildy and then led them to the twins' room to find a swim suit for JR. I was right. Their suit fit him just fine. Maybe it was a little big but not too noticeable.
Eric and I sat down and discussed the terms of his employment. His salary expectations were in line with what Foster and I had discussed so the only thing we had to negotiate was when he would be able to start work. His business in Houston was winding down and he was in the process of negotiating its sale to two of the people who worked for him. We agree to start his contract in two weeks.
All this time I had held my emotions in check. Now that the business was taken care of I could enjoy the company of these two people I was attracted to. Eric and I joined Darcie on the patio to watch the boys enjoying themselves. JR interacted with the other five as if they had been life long friends. I saw Hildy at the barbeque tending the bratwursts and went over to offer my assistance. The grill was covered with enough bratwurst and hotdogs to feed an army or at least six hungry pre-teen boys.
Hildy started laying out the meal on the patio table while I continued tending the grill. I called the boys and told them to dry off and put their shirts on. Hildy is strict about wearing shirts at the table. They had learned that if they wanted to eat they had to be dressed appropriately so they ran into the house drying off but still dripping as they went to get their shirts and one for JR. In a flash the boys returned suitably dressed this time with saliva dripping from their hungry lips.
Hildy put a couple buns on each of their plates and sent them to me at the grill to be filled. They had a choice of either the wieners or the brats. Joel took the brats while the rest of the boys took the hotdogs. After the boys had filled their plates with baked beans, potato salad and chips, the adults got in line to fill their plates. Hildy had fixed sauerkraut to go on the bratwursts. I was in heaven. Bratwursts with sauerkraut and spicy mustard, there is nothing like it.
While we were eating I mentioned to Darcie the brief conversation that I had with Chris' parents about a possible inheritance. She said that she would check it out with her contacts in the police department to see if they had any information about it. I told her that Jack was also trying to find out as much as he could about it and that he promised to call when he had any information.
All through the meal I was continually fascinated by both of these individuals. They were bright, charming, friendly, great conversationalists and very attractive physically. I was so wrapped up in my own mental turmoil about my feelings for these two that more than once they had to repeat something they had said to me.
The boys finished their devastation of the hotdogs and bratwursts and came to us pleading to go swimming again. They were a little disappointed when we told them they had to wait for about an hour before they could get back in the water.
"Why don't you go show JR the deer? Be sure to put on some shoes. The rocks are very sharp in the yard. Don't go too far from the house. I'm sure that the deer are not that far away," I told them.
JR was the first to react positively about getting to see the deer. The other boys were getting used to seeing them so it was not quite as big a deal for them. Still they readily agreed to show him the deer.
Eric said the he would also like to see the deer. "You don't get to see much wildlife around Houston unless you go to the zoo," he said. "I'd also like to go swimming later if the offer of a suit is still good."
"Of course, I'm sure you could wear one of mine. I have a 30 inch waist. You look like maybe 28?" I said. Damn, I could barely wait to see this guy in my trunks.
"Yeah, I've a 28 inch waist. I hope that they have drawstrings," he said.
Darcie joined us as we went looking for the deer. It didn't take long to find some. The boys had already seen them and were slowly approaching them to see how close they could get before the deer would start moving away. There were eight of them grazing in the side yard. TJ was out in front of the group of boys and was able to get within about five feet of a doe before she decided that was too close and moved away causing the rest of the herd to move also. They didn't go far, only about 30 feet before they stopped and started grazing again. This approach/move away pattern repeated itself a couple more time before the deer decided to go some place else where their feeding would not be interrupted.
I took Eric into my bedroom to get him a swim suit. "There are some hangers in the closet over there to hang up your clothes and towels in the linen closet in the bathroom. Make yourself at home," I said hardly able to contain my excitement. I took my suit and changed in TJ and Joel's room.
I know my mouth dropped open when we met in the hall. "Wow, how do you maintain your shape with your business and taking care of JR all by yourself?" I stammered when I regained my senses.
"I have an exercise room set up in my condo with everything you need to keep in shape. Every night after I put JR to bed I work out for 45 minutes to an hour. It helps to relieve stress and to distract me from the loneliness in my life since my wife left me. It has become almost an obsession with me," he said with sadness in his voice.
As we were going out onto the patio the phone rang and I went to answer it. It was Jack.
"Hi, Jack, what can I do for you?" I asked.
"Crane, I have some information for you concerning Chris and that matter you asked me to look into. It seems that his aunt, Tammy Chandler, was married to an heir of a Midwestern chain of department stores. He died two years ago in a traffic accident in Ohio. She just died of lung cancer last week. From what I have been able to find out, her estate which was left solely to Chris, amounted to over five and a half million dollars. Of course that is before taxes which will probably take a good portion of it but it still should leave him with a sizable chunk of money," he said.
"Good lord, no wonder the Martins wanted to get him back," I mused. "Do you have someone I can contact to get the details of his inheritance? I want to make sure that it is protected from his parents and is available to him when he grows up."
"I don't have that info yet but I should be able to get it the first of the week. I'll give you a call as soon as I find out anything," Jack said before we rang off.
I use to have such a simple and boring life. Now there is too much going on. I hope things settle down pretty soon or I'm really going to need that psychiatrist.
Starting toward the patio, I wondered what more could possibly happen.