Thursday morning's weather did nothing to brighten my mood. There was a steady cold rain coming down as I went to get the morning paper. October can usually be a very pleasant time in South Texas, but this was not one of its better days. Reading about all the latest crimes and mayhem that the citizens of San Antonio committed against each other did nothing to brighten my mood.
Only the happy chatter of the boys as I fixed their breakfast lifted my spirits. Joel was still quiet, but did seem to respond to TJ's attention.
"When's Hildy coming back?" TJ asked.
"What? Don't you like my cooking?" I jokingly asked.
"No, dad," TJ giggled. "I miss her."
"She'll be back Sunday afternoon. I miss her, too," I said brushing his hair back off his forehead. "Now, you guys better go get ready for school."
"Is Roger gonna get operated on today?" Lenny asked.
"Yes, son," I said. "By the time you get home from school we should know how the operation went."
"Okay," he said and ran after his brothers.
I drove the boys down to the gate to meet their van and followed it as it started on its way. There was a different car parked where the Mercury had been the day before. I was sure that it was the same two individuals in it. This one was a silver-grey Ford Mustang. I couldn't tell the model year, but it was at least a couple of years old. I wondered where Jesse was.
I didn't have time to worry about that right now, I had made up my mind to investigate the "God's Own Bible School for Boys" where John had been taken. It was only about two and a half hours up the road to Waco. I thought that would give me enough time to run up there and still be back in time for when the boys got home from school. I didn't count on the abysmal traffic problems going through Austin. You would think that the state legislature would be aware of the problem and have it fixed since they were forced to face the same traffic while they were in session. But then I remembered the nut-case liberal tree huggers in Travis County who are able to delay any progress in efforts to solve the problem.
After I finally got through Austin, I made good progress at speeds well over the posted limits. The "school" was on the south side of Waco so I ended up getting there almost when I had originally planned. Since I wasn't expected, I didn't know what kind of reception that I would receive. The place was surrounded by a six foot iron fence with a guard at the front gate.
"I wonder if I could speak with the headmaster," I said to the guard when I stopped at the gate.
"Do you have an appointment?" he asked.
"No, you see I was in the area on business and decided to stop. A friend told me about the school. I have a son that I might enroll," I lied.
"Very well, I'll let the office know that you are on your way there. It's the first building that you come to on the left as you drive up," he said. "You can park in the spot marked for visitors."
I thanked him and drove slowly while looking around to take in as much as I could. I found the building and parked the car. From all appearances, the placed looked like any other private school, a very secure private school.
The woman sitting at the desk that I approached was probably the sternest looking person that I had ever seen.
"May I help you?" she said in a voice that had overtones of ice breaking.
"Yes, my name is Crane Johnson. I would like to talk to someone about possibly sending one of my sons to school here. I'd also like to hear more about your program."
"If you will have a seat, I'll tell Rev. Graham that you are here as soon as he is off the phone," she said pointing me to a nearby chair.
A few minutes later, I saw her pick up the phone and speak briefly into it. It wasn't long before the door behind her desk opened and a tall thin man appeared.
"Mr. Johnson, I'm Buford Graham, Headmaster of the school," he said reaching out his hand to shake mine. "Please step into my office where we can talk. How did you hear of our school?"
"From a former pastor of our church. Perhaps you know him, Reverend Fullwell."
"Yes, I did know him. Such a sad case," he said shaking his head. "He was a good man, but gave in to the temptations of Satan."
"He did give many a wonderful sermon filled with God's word," I said barely able to choke it out.
"Yes, yes," he said. "Too bad, he had such promise. Now, what can we do for you? I understand from my secretary that you have a son that you might enroll. Is that correct?"
"Yes, I think that my son may have a problem. Ah... That is he... might be... you know... a... gay," I stammered hoping to be convincing.
"I understand. We specialize in boys who have been converted by the devil into the sin of homosexuality and those who are addicted to self abuse," he said with obvious distaste.
"How do you cure them? Nothing that I say to him seems to make any difference." I said. "Do you have a magic cure?"
"No, there's no magic cure. It's hard work by our counselors, strict discipline and teaching the truths of GOD's HOLY WORD," he said and I could see the capital letters as he spoke. "Our counselors are specially trained in the word of God and their ministering to their charges in the way of Our Lord helps them to see the light and leave their sinful ways."
"May I have a look around the campus and possibly observe some of the teaching? I'm interested in my son getting a good education, but I want to see him lead a normal life," I said stressing normal. "How many students do you have on campus?"
"We have 120 students at the present and are hoping to expand to 200 in the next year. There is a great need for the education and training that we offer. And to answer your other question, yes, we can take a tour of the campus. It is almost time for the changing of classes so you will be able to see the students."
"I think that would be important for me to see the other students. I wouldn't want my son to be placed in a situation where he might be corrupted any more."
"You needn't worry, Mr. Johnson. All the boys are under constant observation by the counselors. Your son would be absolutely safe in our hands."
"That's gratifying to know. May we go take the tour now?"
As we toured the facilities, I noticed there were eight classrooms with around fifteen boys in each room grouped pretty much by age. In the next to the last classroom that we passed, I saw John. He looked drawn and tired. His eyes looked like he had been crying. I wanted to rush up to him and comfort him.
"There's a boy in there that looks familiar to me," I said to my guide. "I think he went to my church."
"Which one?" he asked.
I pointed John out just as the bell rang for change of classes. All the boys stood beside their desks until the teacher told them they were dismissed and then filed out in single file like robots.
When John saw me, he broke ranks and rushed to me throwing his arms around me. "Mr. Johnson, please take me home," he begged. "I hate it here. I want to go home."
"John," I whispered in his ear, "I'll do what I can. You be brave. Joel was worried about you."
"Mr. Gordinier, what are you doing out of line? You know you are to go directly to your next class and no talking," Buford Graham scolded him. "This is a serious infraction of the rules. Report to your counselor after you finish classes for your punishment."
John looked at me with fear in his eyes and whispered, "Please, Mr. Johnson, please. They'll beat me."
I gave him what I hoped was a reassuring hug and let him go. Turning to Graham, I asked, "What type of punishment do you administer?"
"We use the punishment that God has ordained," he said and ushered me back to his office. "Mr. Johnson, thank you for visiting. I'm very busy. If you wouldn't mind seeing yourself out?"
"No, and thank you. This has been most enlightening," I said and left his office.
As soon as I was out of the front gate I pulled the car into the nearest service station and dialed the Gordinier's number on my cell phone. It rang four times before Pauline answered.
"Pauline, this is Crane Johnson. Sorry to disturb you but I wanted you to know what type of snake pit that you have condemned your son to."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I have just now finished touring the so called "God's Own Bible School for Boys." I saw John there. He looks terrible. He appears to have been crying and looks like he hasn't been sleeping. When he saw me, he begged me to get him out of there. He got in trouble for speaking to me and now he says he is going to be beaten for doing so. Is this what you want for your son?"
"Crane, I'm sure that he was exaggerating. I'm sure that they treat the boys very gently. It is a religious school after all," she said.
"More like a school run by the devil," I said angrily. "They may be trying to cure your son of being gay, but what you may get back after their schooling will be a thoroughly troubled boy. If their cure works he will probably be in therapy for a long time to undo the damages that they have done. He may learn to hate himself so much from the school's teaching that he can't live with himself. The teen suicide rate among young gays is alarmingly high. Look, if you and Bruce despise your son this much, let me raise him. Then you wouldn't have to worry about him being gay."
"But, we don't despise John. We love him. That's why his dad thought it was a good idea to send him to this school. I'm sure that you are just exaggerating the conditions there. Bruce thought it was a very well run school. He spent two days there in counseling sessions with John and his counselor. He said that they were all very nice."
"I think you need to talk to your son. Doesn't he have any say in this at all? How would you feel if you were suddenly ripped away from your family and all of your friends and put into a prison like place were your every move was watched? And all of this without any input from you. That alone would be traumatic.
"Pauline," I said controlling myself more, "I thought that you and Bruce were coming to grips with the possibility that John might be gay. I knew that you didn't like it, but I never thought that you would resort to anything this drastic. I hope that you will reconsider your decision concerning John and let him come home where he belongs with family and friends."
"Crane, thank you for your concern," Pauline said. "I think we're doing what's best for John."
"I'm sorry that you feel that way," I said before saying goodbye and hanging up.
I then dialed the foundation office hoping to catch Darcie before she left for lunch. I was in luck. She had brought her lunch today and was eating at her desk when she took the call.
"Darcie, I'm glad that I caught you in. Do you know anyone you trust at CPS in the Waco area?" I asked.
"As a matter of fact, I do. Melinda Cassidy works in the Waco office. Why?" she asked.
"Do you know her well enough to ask a favor of her?"
"I think so."
"Okay, here's what I would like for you to do. Call her and tell her that you have reason to believe that a John Gordinier is being mistreated at the "God's Own Bible School for Boys" located right outside of Waco. Tell her if she needs a written statement, I'll provide it. But, ask her if she can investigate the allegation today. If she finds it to be true, see if she will remove him from the school. I hate to see anyone delivered into the hands of CPS but in this case I think it is the lesser of the evils."
"I'll give her a call. I've been meaning to call her for a while anyway. This gives me an excuse," Darcie said. "Is there anything else you want me to tell her? Like where she could place the boy?"
"Yeah, I guess you could tell her I would be willing to foster him until he could be returned to his parents," I answered sheepishly. "Thanks Darcie, call me on my cell phone if you find out anything."
The traffic through Austin was not as bad on my way home. It wasn't rush hour. When I got home, I called Darcie again. I wanted to find out if Gracie had called from Dr. Yankowitz's office. To my relief, Gracie had called and reported that everything went well and that Roger should be on his way to a full recovery. They would know more tomorrow when he was fully awake from the anesthesia. Although the prognosis was good, he would still need physical therapy for a long time to fully regain the strength and control of his legs.
After I hung up I decided to call Bruce Collingsworthy and leave a message for him to schedule an appointment with Dr. Greene. I told his answering machine that Greene was the foundation doctor and needed to do periodic checkups on foundation recipients. I then called Sam and told him that Bruce would be calling for an appointment. I discussed what I thought might be important symptoms that might not be mentioned during his examination.
I had about a half an hour before I had to meet the boys' school van so I decided to read my mail and check my email. I was about finished opening all the bills when the phone rang.
"Crane, this is Eric. Is it alright if my boys come home with yours? I'm stuck here at the office for a couple more hours and my housekeeper is sick today. I know it's an imposition but with those strange people hanging around in that car on your road, I'd rather be safe than sorry."
"Hey, that's fine. Why don't you plan on staying for supper? I'll tell Cora so she can fix enough for two more hungry boys," I said.
"I don't want to bother..." he started to say.
"It's no bother. I know the boys will love having yours here," I said noting to myself that I'd like to see him also. "We'll probably eat around seven. Can you make it by that time?"
"Yes, no problem. I owe you one," he said before we hung up.
Since it was almost time to meet the boys, I let the dogs out of the dog run and started down to the gate. Thankfully the rain had stopped and the bright sun had warmed things up considerably from this morning. We only had to wait a few minutes before the van arrived and out came the seven boys.
"Dad," Chris yelled as he jumped off the van and hugged his dog. "JR can come home with us can't he? Please?"
"Of course he can. I talked to his dad. They're going to stay for supper," I said. "You guys run on up to the house, change your clothes and wash your hands. Cora has your snack ready." I started to tell JR and Bran that I would take them home to get a change of clothes, but they were off before I could get it out of my mouth.
When the boys had finished devouring their snack, JR came up to me and looked at me with a face that told me he wanted something.
"Mr. Johnson," he started hesitantly. "Can you take me home to get Charlie? I know he's lonely and I need to feed him."
"Sure, go get Bran and I'll take you home to change your clothes and then you can bring Charlie back here. Do you think he'd like to play with the boys' dogs?"
"I think so," he said as he ran off to get Bran.
I told Cora what we were going to do and asked her to watch the boys while I was gone. It only took us about twenty minutes to make the trip and back. Chris insisted on going with us and taking Rusty with him. At least Charlie and Rusty seemed to get along on the way back.
Samson greeted Charlie as we got out of the car. Once he had sniffed him thoroughly he walked off giving him permission to be here. Seven boys and six dogs began playing almost immediately after Samson's welcome. The ground was still wet from the morning's rain but it didn't seem to matter to the boys or the dogs. They were having too much fun.
I was watching the boys when Cora came to the patio door and told me I had a phone call. When I answered, it was Darcie. She told me that Melinda wasn't able to get to the school where John was today but that she would be there first thing in the morning to check on his status. I was a little disappointed but realized that Melinda probably had a full day planned when Darcie called her. Darcie said that Melinda would call her with anything she found out. I thanked Darcie and hung up the phone.
I was about to go back outside to watch the boys playing when I decided to call Jack. When he answered I said, "Jack, I want to know as much as possible about that so called school where you found John Gordinier. I want to know the background on every employee, who the backers of the school are, what their affiliations are, everything. Do it as quickly and as quietly as you can. I don't want to spook them, but the most important thing is getting the information."
"Crane, somehow I knew you were going to ask, so I already started some preliminary inquiries. What I've found is not pretty, but I'll wait until I am able to confirm everything before I give you information that may turn out to be false or misleading later," Jack said.
"Thanks Jack," I said. "Am I that predictable? I guess I am when it comes to kids. But, please gather the information quickly. I have a feeling that it will be needed soon."
I went back outside to watch the boys. I don't know why I was surprised when I saw how muddy they were getting. Boys will be boys and when you add dogs into the mix with a wet field to play on, what can you expect? It was too late to keep them from getting dirty so I let them continue. They were having so much fun, laughing and sliding on the grass, chasing the dogs and being chased by them. I sat down in a chaise lounge and watched their play wishing that I were their age.
Eric arrived shortly after 6:30. He must have heard the boys' laughter, because he came around the corner of the house instead of going inside. I heard his chuckle and turned around to see him shaking his head in disbelief.
"It looks like they will be needing a shower before supper," he said as he came over and sat down next to me still chuckling.
"Yeah, but they are having fun. JR can probably wear some of the boys' clothes but, I don't know what we have that Bran could wear. Maybe I've got some old shorts and a tee shirt that he could wear. It's certain that the dogs are going to need a bath before they can get back into the house," I said. "I suppose it's about time to get them started or they won't have time to do their homework after supper. If you will round them up and get them started on cleaning the dogs, I'll see what I can find for them to wear. I'll bring a stack of towels out first."
When I returned, the dogs had been hosed down and were busy shaking the water off themselves. The boys had stripped down to their underwear and were trying to see how many could get under the shower head at one time. They were having so much fun I hated to break it up. I caught TJ and wrapped him in a towel and hustled him inside and told him to go change into the clothes that I had laid out. One by one the boys were wrapped in the towels and sent inside to change. Eric and I were almost as wet as the boys by the time we were finished. The dogs were herded into the dog run before we went inside.
"JR always has so much fun when he comes over here," Eric said wistfully as we went into the kitchen to see if Mrs. Fuentes had supper ready.
Cora was setting the table when we came in. We helped her finish as the boys started rushing in looking like they were starving. When the food was on the table the noise level went up until everyone was served and then it became very quiet except for the sound of knives and forks on plates.
After supper I called all the boys together to give them the news about Roger. "You know that Roger was scheduled for his operation this morning. I got a call from the doctor's office after the operation and they said that everything went just fine. The operation was a success but they wouldn't know exactly how successful until tomorrow when Roger is out from under the anesthesia. But it looks like he will be able to walk again. Maybe not right away, he'll need a lot of physical therapy to get his legs to work again."
"Can we go see him?" Larry asked.
"Not right away, son," I said. "He'll be home sometime next week. I'll check with his mother to see when he can have visitors. Maybe late next week, we'll see. Now I think it's time to start your homework."
"Well boys," Eric said. "We had better start home so you can do yours, too."
"But dad," JR whined. "We got our stuff here. Can't we do it here?"
Eric looked at me and I nodded my approval. "Okay, but no messing around, both of you."
"Yes, dad," both JR and Bran said in unison.
Eric and I sat on the couch, shoulder to shoulder, and talked while the boys were busy with their homework. It had been a while since we really had any alone time together to see if there were still any feelings for each other. It's hard to describe the feelings that came over me when Eric reached out and took my hand. I guess the closest I could come to describing it would be comfortable. Not raging passion or lust, but a feeling of satisfaction of being with someone I cared very deeply for.
We were soon interrupted by the boys wanting their homework checked. I went into my study where I usually sat at my desk to check it. Eric used the kitchen table. I still enjoyed each boy sitting on my lap while I went over their work. It was a few minutes that I could spend a little one on one time with each of my sons.
After a snack of oatmeal raisin cookies and large glasses of milk, Eric and his two boys got ready to go home. We all walked them to their car after we let Charlie and the other dogs out of the dog run. There were hugs all around as they prepared to get into the car.
"Okay, guys, it's shower time," I said as we headed back to the house.
"But, we took a shower before supper," Chris complained.
"Not with soap, you didn't," I said pulling him to my side.
"Oh, I guess not," he whispered.
I gave him a hug, a kiss on the top of the head and a swat on the bottom before he ran giggling after the twins to join in their group shower. I thought that I might read to the boys for a while after their showers but they all looked so tired that I tucked them in bed instead. I grabbed my book and read for an hour after climbing into my bed.
Friday morning was the usual scramble for the boys to eat breakfast, brush their teeth and dress for school, make sure their dogs had food and water, grab their backpacks and head for the gate in time to meet the school van. It was so much easier when Hildy was here.
The strange car was nowhere to bee seen when I followed the van on the first part of its route. I felt much better that it was not there. I hoped that Jesse had caught up with them and maybe arrested them on the stolen car charge.
Darcie was on the phone when I walked into the office. She waved to me as I went to pour myself a cup of coffee. When I returned she was off the phone.
"That was the Morgan Mohr Trust I was talking to, or at least the director, Jim Pascal. They want to set up a meeting with us next week to discuss a contribution to our foundation," she said gleefully. "From the way he talked, it's going to be a large sum."
"Great, we can always use more money to help with our work. When next week does he want to meet?" I asked.
"Tuesday afternoon," Darcie answered. "I suggested one o'clock. He said that he would get back to me after he checked with the others who will be making the final decision on the contribution."
I went back to my office after we had chatted for a few more minutes. I had just finished reading over the mail and was beginning to check my email when Darcie told me I had a telephone call. When I picked it up, it was Jesse.
"Crane, we still haven't been able to catch those two guys who have been parked outside your place, but we have a pretty good idea who they are. Both of them have criminal records from robbery to carjacking to writing bad checks. The Texas Rangers once suspected they were involved in drug trafficking. They were recently released from prison. They were in the same prison as Joel's father," Jesse said when I answered the phone.
"They weren't there this morning, thank goodness," I said. "I hope that they have gotten the idea that they are not welcome around our house. Jesse, thanks for the info. I'll let you know if I see them again."
I was stepping out of my office on my way to ask Darcie if she wanted to join me for lunch when I heard the phone ring. I stood in her doorway as she answered it.
"It's for you. It's Melinda," she said handing me the phone.