I parked the BMW at the foundation office and started to walk toward the door. Something had been nagging at the back of my mind but I couldn't quite determine what. It seemed to have something to do with Bruce and Alan's visit over the weekend. I greeted Darcie and went into my office to check my email. Unfortunately, most of it was SPAM offering me all kinds of assistance to enhance my manhood. When I finished with my email and the paperwork that was on my desk I went to talk to Darcie.
"Did anything that happened this weekend with Bruce bother you?" I asked.
"No, not really," she replied. "Alan seems to love him very much and Bruce appears to reciprocate. Why, is something bothering you?"
"I wish I knew. There is something nagging at me that I can't quite put my finger on. You're right. They do seem to love each other. I had to laugh when Alan asked Bruce if he could get a dog. I was glad to see Alan overcome his fear of dogs. The boys had a great time playing with him, especially TJ," I said.
"I called Jack and had him look a little deeper into the allegations against Bruce. He said he would check it out himself today since he would be in the area. If he learns anything he said he would give you a call tonight.
"Oh, before I forget, I received a call before you came in from the manager of a trust fund wanting some information about our foundation. She said that the fund gave money to worthy charities and they were considering the foundation for a donation. I told her that I would send her the little pamphlet we had developed and that if she needed more information we would be pleased to provide it," Darcie said. "Isn't that great?"
"Don't get your hopes up too high," I said. "They probably look at hundreds of charities before they make any donation. What was the name of the trust?"
"It was the Morgan Mohr Trust," she said looking at a paper in front of her.
"I've heard of Morgan Mohr. He was one of the first oil millionaires or maybe billionaires in Texas. If I remember correctly he owned a huge ranch in West Texas in the Denver City area. That's close to the New Mexico line. When oil was discovered he became instantly rich. I think it was Shell, or maybe Texaco, who secured the rights to drill on his land. I don't think he ever married and didn't have any close relatives. I remember when he died at the ripe old age of 98, there was a big stink from some distant relatives trying to break his will and make themselves rich. I never knew how that all came out. That all happened about the time that I moved back after graduating from grad school," I said. "More cash would allow us to help more people. We've had to watch who we gave to because we were making a long term commitment for support, not just one year."
"The hardest part of this job is turning down foster parents and kids who could probably use our help," Darcie said shaking her head. "I lose sleep over those people we have to turn down."
"One of my hopes is that some of the people that we're helping now will, because of our help, improve their lives and become self-sufficient. If that's the case it will free up more money to help others. We have about $780,000 to work with every year after the office expenses and the cost of the background investigations. Part of that for the first few years will be reinvested. That will generate more money to help," I said. "But, there will come a time when we won't be able to help as many as deserve it."
I was about to return to my office when the phone rang. Darcie answered it and then handed it to me saying it was Dr. Yankowitz's office. I talked to Gracie for a few minutes learning that the operation for Roger Davis was scheduled for Thursday morning and that he would be in the hospital until the following Monday. I thanked her for the call, hung up and related what she had told me to Darcie.
"That's wonderful," Darcie enthused. "I pray that everything works out for the best."
I was ready to go home when it was time to leave to meet the boys' van. As I drove up the road toward our house, I noticed a car parked on the side of the road with a man sitting in it. At the time, I didn't think anything about it other than to note that it was unusual. After I parked my car, I walked back down the lane to the gate to wait on the bus. I had to watch my step as I walked. The five dogs were constantly underfoot.
The dogs greeted the boys as they stepped off the van before I got my hugs.
"What's that car doing parked down there?" Joel asked.
"I don't know, son," I said.
"That same car was parked up there this morning," he said pointing up the road. "I saw him. He was taking pictures."
"Hmm, well, don't worry about it," I said trying to be more casual than I felt. "I'm sure he is probably just taking pictures of the lake."
"John wasn't in school today," Joel informed me. "May I call him after while?"
"Of course," I said. "He was probably sick today."
"Thanks, dad," he said and hurried off after his brothers. I'm sure that he was afraid that they would eat all of what Mrs. Fuentes had fixed for their snack.
"Dad," Joel said later that evening, "I can't get anyone at John's house. Nobody answers the phone."
"They probably had to go some place. He'll be back in school tomorrow, I'm sure. Have you finished your homework?" I asked trying to take his mind off John.
"But he always calls me," Joel whispered as he crawled into the recliner beside me.
I wrapped my arms around my oldest son. "I don't get to hold you as much anymore. You're growing up so fast. I miss this. I love holding you. You're very special to me."
"Thanks, dad," he said raising his head and looking me in the eyes. "Is it all right if I call John again before I go to bed?"
"Of course," I said. "Now, as much as I'm enjoying this, I think you had best get your homework done before it gets too late."
"I guess," he murmured as I kissed the top of his head. Slowly he slipped out of the recliner and walked toward his room.
I was beginning to get worried about John and his family. He and Joel usually talked on the phone at least once or twice every evening. It wasn't like his family to leave suddenly without him letting Joel know. If Joel can't get John on the phone later, I might run by their place in the morning to check on them.
It wasn't long before I was interrupted by first one then the other boy wanting their homework checked. Chris' work this school year was greatly improved over last. I think the competition with Larry and Lenny spurred his efforts. Whatever it was, I couldn't have been happier.
Later as I was putting the boys to bed, I found Joel trying to call John again.
"I let it ring about ten times and there's still no answer," he said looking at me. "Where can he be?"
"I don't know, son. Why don't you call him in the morning before you go to school," I said putting my arm around him and leading him to his bedroom. "Good night, son. Don't worry. I'm sure that John is just fine."
"I really like him, dad."
"I know," I said sitting down on his bed and hugging him to me. "I know."
I held him for maybe ten minutes in silence before I gave him one last hug, kissed his forehead and tucked him under the covers. I could feel his fear that something terrible had happened to his friend and there was nothing that I could do about it.
It had been quite a while since any of my sons had climbed into my bed during the night. I was not totally surprised when I woke in the night and found Joel sleeping beside me. "It'll be alright, son," I whispered and kissed his forehead. I just wished that I was certain of that.
Joel tried to call John twice before he left the house the next morning but with no luck. I drove the boys down to the gate when it was time for them to catch the school van because it was raining. I also wanted to check to see if that same car was parked on the road. I didn't see it, but I decided to follow the van for a bit in any case. I'm glad that I did because it was parked around a bend in the road hiding it from view from our gate.
After I was sure that the van was safely on its way to school I pulled over and called Jesse on my cell phone. "Hello Jesse, this is Crane Johnson. I was wondering if you could do me a favor. Would you drive down the road past my house and check on a car that has been parked near my property for the last couple of days?"
I gave him a description of the car and related what Joel had told me about him taking pictures before I hung up and headed for the office. He promised me that he would call me if he found out anything.
I decided to follow up on my thought of last night to check on the Gordiniers. I drove by their house to see if there was anything strange that I could see. Although nothing looked out of the ordinary, it didn't appear that anyone was at home. There were no cars in the driveway or lights on in the house. I decided to wait until this evening and talk to Joel before doing anything.
After greeting Darcie and chatting for a while, she handed me two folders on foster parents for me to evaluate. I took them to my office and closed the door. I rarely closed my office door but I had some business I wanted to conduct with Gerald over the phone. I called Gerald and explained to him what I wanted to do and asked him if he and Carlos would take care of it. He assured that he could have everything ready by the end of the week. I thanked him and hung up the phone.
I was just opening one of the folders that Darcie had given me when Jesse called. He informed me that the car was not there when he drove by, but asked me to get the license plate number if I saw it again. I told him that I would and thanked him for his efforts.
Both of the folders that Darcie had given me seemed to be perfect candidates for our help. I asked her to set up appointments with each in the next few days. If we were still of the same opinion after the interviews then we would have Jack run the background checks.
Jack called about the time I was getting ready to leave for home. He had information on the allegations against Bruce.
"Crane, I checked out this guy Lyndon Barnes. I'm really sorry that our earlier report caused you a problem. After checking with several of their friends and associates, I can confirm Bruce's version of the story," Jack said. "Lyndon has a real hatred of Bruce and has done whatever he could to destroy Bruce. He is just a little nuts when it comes to Bruce."
"Thanks, Jack," I said. "The weekend visit with Bruce and Alan was not a total waste. The boys all had fun playing and swimming."
I had to rush to get home by the time the boys' van arrived. The suspicious car was back again. This time I drove by it slowly trying to get a good look at the driver. He was wearing a dark colored ball cap and when he saw my car approaching he turned his head away so that I couldn't get a good look at his face. I did get the license number. I don't think the guy noticed that I did. The car was a dark blue Mercury, probably a 91 or 92 model.
By the time I had parked my car and walked back down to the gate, the car had driven off. Although the rain had stopped, it was still cloudy and cool. I wished that I had grabbed a jacket before I went to meet the boys. It didn't bother the dogs. In fact, I think they were enjoying the cooler temperatures.
"John wasn't at school again today," Joel told me almost in tears. "Mr. Coulter said that he wasn't enrolled anymore. Where did he go, dad?"
"I don't know, son," I said pulling him to my chest and hugging him. "Let dad see what he can do. I'll find him. I promise."
Instead of racing to the house with the other boys to get his after school snack, he stayed by my side holding onto my arm. My heart nearly broke to see him so sad. When we got to the house the other boys were busy devouring the peanut butter cookies that Cora had prepared for them. At my urging, Joel went to change his clothes so that he could join his brothers feeding frenzy.
I slipped into my office and called Jesse. I related all the information that I had on the car including the license number. I suggested that he might want to come by in the morning between 7:15 and 7:30 to see the car for himself. I was sure that it would be back.
After I had finished with Jesse, I called Jack and told him I had a personal request for him. I related what I knew about the "disappearance" of John and asked if he could discretely try to find out what had happened to him. He said he would get right on it and didn't think it would take to much effort to find the boy.
Next I dialed Paul Coulter. I wanted to find out what he knew about John's sudden withdrawal from Corinthian Academy.
We exchanged pleasantries before I got down to the reason for the call. "Paul, I'm sure you are aware of the friendship between my Joel and John Gordinier. Joel is very upset that John isn't in school anymore and he hasn't been able to contact him. I was wondering if you had any information as to the school that John had transferred to."
"I'm sorry, Crane. I don't know any more than what I told Joel when he asked me. I could probably talk with the attendance clerk to see if she has sent his transcript to a new school," Paul said. "I thought it was rather strange that he was in class on Friday and then had withdrawn on Monday and never said anything about leaving."
"If you could check all your sources and let me know, I would appreciate it," I said. "Thanks, Paul."
I tried to call the Gordiniers, but there was no answer. This was beginning to worry me. I went to join the boys. They were finishing their snacks as I entered the kitchen.
"Cora, would you mind staying a little while longer? I need to run an errand," I asked.
When she agreed, I left the house and got in my car. I drove quickly to the Gordiniers to see if there was anyone home and they were just not answering the phone. As I approached their house I could see lights on. I thought that was a little strange that they would be home, but not taking any phone calls. At least they weren't taking our calls. I parked the car, walked up to the door and rang the doorbell.
A startled Pauline answered the door. "Crane, what brings you here?"
"I just thought I would drop by and see how things were going. Joel was concerned that John was not in school for the past couple of days. I hope that he is not sick or anything," I said as calmly as I could manage.
"No, John is fine. Thanks for your concern," she said nervously.
"Is he here?"
"No, he's with his dad."
"Oh, please have him call Joel when they return."
"Ah... Well... They might not be back tonight."
"Oh really? Have they gone out of town?"
"Yes... Yes, that's it," she stammered.
"Well as long as he's okay. But, do have him call Joel when he returns. Good night," I said and turned to get into my car.
"Something is going on and I don't think it's kosher," I said to myself as I drove home. "I hope Jack can find out something and quickly."
When I got home I called the twins and told them what I had learned about Roger being scheduled for surgery on Thursday.
"Dad, we already knew that. Roger told us today at school," Larry said stretching out dad as if it was about four syllables long.
Joel was waiting when Larry and Lenny ran outside to play with their pets.
"Did you go over to John's house?" he asked.
"Yes, I did. His mom said that John and his dad were out of town," I told him. What I didn't tell him was that I didn't believe her as to where she said her son was. "I'm sure that he will call you as soon as he gets back in town."
"Something is wrong, dad. I can feel it. I'm scared," he said as he climbed onto my lap and buried his head under my chin. I could feel him sobbing silently and my heart felt like it was going to break. I couldn't stand to see this boy, who had been hurt so badly in the past, hurting again.
"It'll be okay, son," I said rubbing his back. "Dad will take care of it."
"But, how?" he sniffled.
"Leave it to dad. Okay?" I said with more conviction than I felt.
Wednesday morning I was sitting at the breakfast table drinking my coffee and reading the morning paper when TJ pushed onto my lap. "Good morning, little one. What gets you up this early?"
He didn't say anything for a while. Instead he pulled my arms closer around him and leaned back farther into my chest. When he did speak he asked, "Why is Joel so sad? It makes me feel sad, too."
"Well son, he's sad because John isn't in school anymore and Joel doesn't know how to contact him. It's like if Joey moved away. Wouldn't you feel sad?"
"Yeah, I'd miss him a bunch. We always play at recess," he said. "But why can't John come back?"
"I don't know, son. Maybe he will. I hope so for Joel's sake," I said. "Now, why don't you go wake up Joel and then take Bandit outside? I'll wake up the upstairs crew and then fix breakfast."
"Okay," he said hopping down off my lap. Before he left he turned around, reached up and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks, I love you," I said to his back as he ran down the hall.
After breakfast I drove the boys down to the gate to catch the school van. I wanted to see if the suspicious car would be there this morning. If it was I hoped that Jesse would come by and see it.
The van was a few minutes late. I could usually set my watch by it. I followed it as it drove off with my precious cargo. About a half a mile up the road, I saw the car in question. This time there were two individuals sitting in it. I could see that the one in the passenger seat had long dark hair but couldn't make out the face. The driver was the same one I had seen before. He was wearing the same dark ball cap and he turned away as I drove by them.
"Damn it, Jesse, where are you?" I swore to myself.
I was about a mile from 306 when I heard sirens coming from behind me. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw what I thought was the suspicious car coming up behind at a high rate of speed. I pulled over to the side of the road and glanced again in the rearview mirror. This time I could see the flashing lights of a patrol car behind the Mercury. Soon they both passed me. As they did, I saw that it was Jesse in the sheriff's car. When it was clear, I pulled back onto the road and headed to the office.
Things were relatively quiet at the office and I was able to get away after lunch and head for home. I checked the answering machine as I sat down at my desk and saw that there were a couple of messages. The first one was a hang up. The second was from Jesse.
"Crane, this is Jesse. I wanted to let you know what I found out about the car that you asked me to check up on. The license plates were stolen off a 1991 white Toyota Cressida in Tyler. The car description matches a car stolen in San Marcos four days ago. I believe that I passed you this morning while I was chasing that car. At least I thought I recognized your car. Unfortunately, the car got away when I was cut off by an 18-wheeler. You probably heard me swearing at him all the way into San Antonio. Anyway, I'll drive by again this afternoon and then again in the morning. If it's there, we'll get him next time. Call me if you want any more information. Goodbye."
"That's interesting," I muttered to myself. "I wonder what the heck they are doing around here. I suppose they could be casing the place for a robbery. They wouldn't get any money. We don't keep that much cash in the house. I suppose they could take the TVs and computers. I don't know what else they could want. Besides, the alarm wouldn't give them much time before the cops arrived.
"I'd better stop talking to myself or I'll need to set up an appointment with Joel's psychiatrist for myself."
I let the dogs out of the dog run and started down to the lane to meet the boys' school van when the phone rang. I picked up the receiver in the kitchen. It was Jack with some information on John. I was a little surprised since I had only talked to him about John last night.
"Hi, Jack, can you give me a brief summary?" I asked. "I have to go meet the boys' van."
"Sure, here's what I've learned. John's dad has taken him to a "reprogramming camp" up near Waco. He wants to convert his son away from what Bruce believes is a sinful life choice. That's about it, I'll fax you the complete report as soon as I hang up," he said.
"Thanks, Jack," I said hanging up the phone and rushing out the front door.
I was almost to the gate when the van pulled up. The dogs were putting up a fuss since I wasn't there to let them out of the gate. The boys had all stepped out of the van by the time I got the gate released. I didn't think it was possible but five dogs managed to get through an opening no more than a foot wide all at the same time as the gate opened. You could almost feel the breeze stirred up by five dog tails in helicopter mode.
"Hi, guys! How was school?" I asked.
TJ jumped into my arms still holding Bandit. "I got a gold star on my paper and I got to read to the whole class and Joey and I played dodge ball and Marty fell down and hurt his knee and, and lots of things."
"That's great. I'm proud of you," I said putting him down. "You better catch up with your brothers or they'll eat all of the cupcakes that Mrs. Fuentes made."
Joel seemed to be a little less sad this evening as he walked toward the house. A horn honked just as I started to follow the boys. When I turned around it was Jesse.
"No sign of our suspicious car," he hollered before he drove on up the road.
At least that was one thing less to worry about.
"John wasn't in school again today," Joel said to me after he had finished his snack. "Chuck lives down the street from John and he said that his dad said the John's dad took him someplace in North Texas. Why would he do that? His mom and dad still live here. That doesn't make sense."
"Come with me, son," I said leading him to my study. "I asked Jack to see if he could find John. I talked to Jack a few minutes ago. He told me that Bruce had taken John to Waco. He was going to fax me his entire report which should be here by now." I walked over to my fax machine and retrieved the two pages that Jack had sent. I glanced through them before handing them to Joel.
He read them a couple of time before he looked at me, "What does it mean this place 'reprograms' boys?"
"Son," I said. "There are some misguided people who believe that they can change someone that they think is gay into a straight person. Many times this is based on perverted interpretations of religious teachings. Most of the time it is based on pure ignorance."
"How would they do that? Why would they do that?" he asked me.
"I don't know how this particular group goes about it, but most of them use a form of brainwashing. It can be very damaging to the individual," I said. "Others use a type of aversion therapy. Many times this involves presenting the individual with an object or photo that has gay significance and if the individual responds to it, he is administered a negative stimulus. Often an electrical shock with increasing intensity until the individual no longer responds in what they consider an inappropriate manner."
"You mean they could be doing that to John right now?" Joel said with tears starting to run down his cheeks. "Dad, we have to do something. We have to!"
He collapsed in my arms and sobbed as if his heart was broken. I held him and tried my best to soothe him, but with little success.
"I know that you love John. You know that I will do everything I possibly can to make sure that he's okay," I said leading him to the couch. I just wished I knew what it was that I could do.
I finally managed to calm Joel down. He was not very cheerful the rest of the evening but managed to hold himself together. TJ attached himself to Joel and was always by his side all evening. When it was time for bed he asked if he could sleep in Joel's bed. When I said he could it was the first time that Joel had smiled since he got home from school.
I had a restless night. I kept trying to figure out what I could do to save John. Unfortunately, I didn't come up with any great ideas, but I did resolve what had been nagging at the back of my mind concerning Bruce and Alan. It was a comment that Bruce had made about Alan being 'clumsy and getting worse'.
The only plan that emerged from my sleepless night was to have Alan examined by Dr. Sam.