The five dogs and I walked the boys down to the gate to catch the school van. Chris was still excited about getting to have his own birthday party. I hoped he calmed down before he got to school. Everyone got hugs, including the dogs, as the school van approached. The dogs whined as the van drove off with the boys waving to them out the side windows.
I herded the dogs back toward the house. Manfred passed us on his way to work. As I was putting the dogs into their run, Hildy called me and said I had a phone call. I hurriedly made sure that the dogs were secured and had food and water before I went into the house to answer the phone.
"Mr. Johnson, I'm glad that I caught you before you took off for work," the voice said that I recognized as Dr. Adams.
"Dr. Adams, it's good of you to call. What can I do for you?"
"In all the excitement of John walking away from the office yesterday, you left without the tranquilizers I prescribed for him. How is he this morning?"
"It's amazing. He seems to be entirely different. I took him to visit his mother and sisters last evening and he came home with a new attitude. He now seems to think more about them than he does about himself."
"Excellent! That's a very good sign. If he can stay focused on others and a positive relationship with them, he will have taken a big step. You still need to keep a close eye on him and I want to see him every week for the time being. Let me know if there is any change in his behavior. For now, I'll leave it up to you whether he needs to take the tranquilizers I prescribed. Don't hesitate to call me if you notice any changes in his behavior. He's not out of the woods yet."
"Thanks, doc. I don't particularly like the idea of keeping him drugged if it's not absolutely necessary. I'll stay in touch and we'll see you next Tuesday."
After hanging up, I took off for the foundation office. It was a fairly routine day; looking over some requests for assistance, talking on the phone to possible donors and checking up on recipients of our assistance.
I got home in time to meet the boys' van bring them home from school. TJ was first off the bus and was nearly bowled over when Bandit jumped into his arms. After getting a thorough face licking, he ran to me holding out a paper.
"I got a gold star on my adding," he said proudly. "I got them all right!"
"That's wonderful," I said, picking him up and giving him a hug.
When I put TJ down, Chris was standing there looking like he wanted to say something. "What is it, son?"
"I figured out who I want to invite to my birthday party. I can still have one, can't I?"
"Of course, you can. Let's go to the house and make a list so we can send out the invitations."
"I already wrote them all down," he said, handing me a folded piece of paper.
"That's great!" I said, giving him a hug. "I'll go over it with you after you've had your snack. Is that all right?"
"Yeah," he said, taking off for the house with his dog Rusty.
Joel and John got their hugs and headed for the house. The twins were hanging back with guilty looks on their faces.
"Okay, guys, what's going on?"
"Nothing, dad," they said in unison.
"Come on, I can tell that you have something you need to tell me."
"We didn't mean to. Really we didn't," Larry said.
"That's right, it wasn't our fault," added Lenny.
"Oh boy," I thought to myself. "What have these two gotten into this time?" Then aloud I said, "Let's go to the house. You can explain it to me after you have changed your clothes and had your snack. Come here. You know I love you. Give dad a hug."
I got a tentative hug from both of them and then they and their dogs ran up the lane toward the house.
By the time I got to the house they had all changed clothes and were sitting at the kitchen table eating some fruit salad with whipped cream. It looked so good that I decided to have some myself. As the boys finished their treat, they took their plates to the sink and rinsed them before putting them into the dishwasher. When the twins were finished they returned to the table and sat down waiting on me to pronounce their punishment.
"Okay, guys, will one of you tell me what kind of trouble that you got into today?"
"Well..." Larry started. "You see, Vinny didn't do his homework and..."
"He wanted to see mine and I said no," Larry continued.
After a moment I said, "Go on."
"He got mad and tried to take mine away from me and I guess that I kinda shoved him away," Larry said.
"Uh huh, I saw him," Lenny spoke up. "And... Well... I kinda held him so he couldn't hit Larry."
"Mrs. Hanley saw us and thought we was fighting," Larry said. "She made us stay in for recess and she wants to talk to you. She gave us a note to give to you. Give it to him Lenny."
Lenny reached into his pocket, withdrew a very crumpled piece of paper, and handed it to me. I carefully straightened out the crumples and then unfolded the sheet of paper. The note simply said, "Please call and set up an appointment to discuss Larry and Lenny's conduct." The note was signed "Juanita Hanley."
"Thank you for being honest with me. I would be very disappointed if you lied to me. Is there anything else that I should know about the incident with Vinny?"
They both shook their heads, "No."
"Okay, go play with your brothers. I'll call Mrs. Hanley in the morning and set up the appointment."
"Thanks, dad," they said hurrying out of the kitchen.
Then I remembered Chris' list. I had laid it on my desk when I came into the house. I retrieved it and look at it. He had listed ten boys that he wanted to invite. I shook my head at the thoughts of having sixteen, ten and eleven year-old boys running around. I noticed that JR and Bran were on the list, so I decided that Eric would be shanghaied into helping out. Of course, Roger and Brian were on the list as well as six other boys whose names I had only heard mentioned.
Just as I had finished looking over the list that Chris had written out, he came running into my office. "I forgot we were gonna go over the list," he said breathlessly.
"That's okay," I said. "Dad bought some birthday invitations. I looked over your list and if those are the boys you want to invite, then they are the ones we'll send the invitations to. Do you know all of their addresses?"
"Uh huh, they're all in the school phone book," he said. "Don't you have it?"
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot. It's over there on that shelf. Will you get it for me?"
We set to work addressing the invitations to his birthday party on November 11 at 2PM. Chris was so excited that he was barely able to write addresses on the envelopes. That was his job, mine was to put the return address and stamp on them as he finished. I could have done the job alone in half the time, but he had so much fun it was worth the extra time.
Chris was still excited when I tucked him into bed that night. Even the twins were excited for him. I had to go upstairs later to settle them down and to get them to go to sleep.
I called Mrs. Hanley at the school the following morning to set up a time to talk to her. She said that she would be free for about a half an hour around ten o'clock if I could be there then. I agreed and called Darcie and told her I would be in the office later.
I arrived at the school about ten minutes before ten and went to the administration office to get directions to Mrs. Hanley's classroom. The secretary graciously agreed to accompany me to her room. We arrived just as the class was released for morning recess. I was surprised at the orderly manner that they exited the room. After all the students had left, I entered the classroom. To my surprise, Larry and Lenny were still sitting at their desks looking glum.
"Mrs. Hanley, I'm Crane Johnson, Larry and Lenny's father."
"It's good to meet you, Mr. Johnson. Please have a seat," she said, indicating a chair beside her desk.
"I understand that the twins may have caused a small problem?"
Mrs. Hanley went on to explain what she saw of the situation. I sat and listened to her explanation of the incident. It fit the basic facts that Larry and Lenny had related to me, but with a different interpretation of them. I saw the twins sitting there listening to her and I could tell by the look in their eyes and the slight shaking of their heads at what she was saying was not how they saw it. When she finished, I looked at the boys.
"But, dad, that's not the way it was," Lenny protested.
"No," Larry added. "You told us not to copy our homework. We can't even do it at home."
"That's right," Lenny said. "We were just trying to keep Vinny from taking Larry's paper. Honest, that's all."
I looked at Mrs. Hanley, "Do you think what they described could possibly explain what you observed?"
"Well, I guess so," she said. "Why didn't you boys tell me this before?"
"We tried to," Lenny said. "But you wouldn't listen." This last was said barely above a whisper.
"You boys go outside with your playmates. There is a little bit of your recess left for you to play," Hanley said.
It didn't take them long to respond to her suggestion. They hurried out the classroom door, but not before they each gave me a quick hug.
"Mrs. Hanley, I know you have a lot of kids to mind and I don't envy your job..."
"Mr. Johnson, that is no excuse for me not listening to your sons. I'm a teacher and half of my job is to listen to my students to be assured that they are learning. Self control and socialization are important aspects of what we aim to teach. We can't expect them to interact appropriately if we don't give them the chance to express themselves fully and to seriously listen to them. Please accept my apology for wasting your time when I should have resolved the matter when it happened."
"Not at all, I'm glad that we got a chance to meet. If you ever have a problem with Larry or Lenny or Chris, I want to know about it. I expect them to behave in class. I place a great deal of importance on their education and if they were to act-up or misbehave it would have a detrimental impact on their learning. You have my support and my sincere admiration for what you do. Taking care of my five is a picnic compared to the 20 odd students you have."
When I got to the office, I dropped Chris' birthday invitations in the mail. I had forgotten to put them in our mailbox at home. They would probably receive better service from San Antonio than from Canyon Lake. I also called Eric to confirm that he was still planning on going to the dinner with me on Saturday. He said he was, so when we hung up, I called Floyd Chandler, the chairman of the dinner, to confirm our reservations.
I was about ready to break for lunch when I received a call from Jack Hogan. He had several updates on some outstanding investigations that he was handling for me. I was happy to hear the first one he reported. It concerned the school that John had been sent to by his father. It seemed that the headmaster and two of his top aides had been arrested on charges of child abuse for their excessive use of force they used to discipline the students. Three students were taken into custody and briefly hospitalized as a result of an investigation by Child Protective Services. I silently blessed Melinda Cassidy for continuing the investigation of the school despite, what I was sure, pressure not to continue it.
The second bit of information that Jack had for me was about TJ's kidnappers. Each of them had agreed to plead guilty to one charge of false imprisonment and one charge of attempted extortion. The district attorney was recommending to the court a prison term of not less than twenty years for each felony to run consecutively. If they had gone to trial they would have been facing the death penalty for kidnapping. This meant that neither TJ nor I would have to testify unless we wanted to at the sentencing hearing.
The last information Jack related was of a personal nature. He and Carolyn had closed on the house on the south side of the lake and were planning on moving this weekend. I congratulated him on becoming a lake resident and suggested that he might want to drop their kids off at our house while they got things situated in their new place. He thanked me for the offer, but said that his mother-in-law was taking Timmy and Sara and that Jack Jr. was going to help with the moving. I told him that we would have to get together some weekend to grill some steaks if the weather held out now that we were going to be neighbors.
Later in the afternoon, I met with Darcie and we decided to make an offer to Carol Banyon to come to work with us. I hoped that I could do it quietly so that the consulting office didn't get wind of it until I had finished my last obligation to them in December. The workload at the foundation now warranted the addition of an assistant.
I made it home just in time to meet the boys' school van. The dogs and I ran the last few yards to the gate as the van drove up. John seemed to be his old happy self again. When I asked him how he felt, he replied that he felt great and I really believed him. I only hoped that this was long term and not just temporary.
Manfred was sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee and talking to Hildy when the boys and I entered the house.
"Crane, I contacted the pool cover company this morning. They will be out tomorrow morning some time to measure the pool to determine everything they need to know to design a pool cover. They said that if the pool was not too large or a strange shape, they might be able to install one by the middle of next week. One of their salesmen dropped off these brochures for you to look at. They would like to know which type you are interested in," he said, shoving the brochures across the table toward me.
"Thanks, you've been busy," I studied the brochures for a few minutes before I pointed to one that I liked. It had clear side panels. I like that because it would allow for natural light and we would be able to see the lake and the surrounding area while inside it. "What do you think of this one?"
"That was my favorite, too. The salesman said it was one of their most popular models even though it is one of the most expensive."
"Did you mail my invitations, dad?" Chris asked, as he ran into the kitchen.
"Slow down, son. Yes, I mailed them this morning. Your friends should get them tomorrow or the next day. Don't worry."
"Thanks, dad, I love you," he said, giving me a hug from behind.
The rest of the week went by rapidly. The pool cover people arrived, made their measurements and delivered the estimate of the cost. They told me that they could have it installed by next Friday at the latest. I thought that would be great, since Chris' party was on the following Saturday and the kids would be assured of being able to use the pool.
Saturday morning, David and Celia showed up to give the boys their swimming lessons. Roger and Brian arrived with their mother to join in the lessons. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Roger was walking with the aid of crutches. Celia was immediately at his side. The weather was a little chilly so the boys all jumped into the pool and stayed there most of the time while they were receiving their lessons. When the lessons were over, they hopped out of the pool and quickly wrapped themselves in the big bath towels and made a bee line for the house. I asked Helen if she and her boys would stay for lunch, but she declined saying that they had plans to go see a movie right after lunch.
When we finished lunch, I sat the boys down and explained to them that I was going to a fancy dinner this evening and that I would not be home until after they were all in bed. I said that Hildy and Manfred would be staying with them and putting them to bed. The news didn't seem to faze them and they went off to play. That is, except for Joel. He stayed behind and took a seat closer to me.
"Are you going with Mr. Levin?" he asked.
"Yes, I am. Why do you ask?"
"'Cause JR said that his dad was going to a fancy dinner tonight, too."
"Do you approve?"
"Yeah, I like Mr. Levin. You do too. Don't you?"
"Yes, I do. He's a good friend. I like him very much."
"Good," he said, hopping up and giving me a hug.
I chuckled to myself as he left the room. "I guess I just got approval from my son to date Eric."
Since I was picking Eric up at five, I started getting ready at four o'clock. No matter how many times I wore a dress shirt, I always had a difficult time putting the studs in. Even with the delay caused by the stubborn studs, I was ready with plenty of time to pick Eric up.
Joel whistled when I walked into the family room. "Wow! You really look great, dad."
"Thank you, son."
"Yeah, dad, you look like that man on TV," TJ added.
"Okay, you guys. You behave for Hildy and Manfred. I'll see you in the morning. Now give me a hug, I have to go pick up JR's dad."
I was able to leave the house without getting too many wrinkles in my tuxedo. I did remove my jacket and hang it on a hanger in the back seat of the car before I got in.
Eric was waiting outside his front door with JR, Bran and Mel. He looked absolutely stunning as if he just stepped out of the pages of GQ magazine. He admonished the boys to behave and then climbed into the car. As we drove away from the house he reached over and gave my shoulder a squeeze.
"What's on the agenda for this evening?" he asked.
"Well, let's see. From 6 to 7 there is a cocktail hour so that we can mingle with the 'cream' of San Antonio society. After that there is the meal. That should last an hour to an hour and a half. After that there will be a program of sorts with the introduction of the various committee chairmen. Once that is all over with there will be dancing and socializing. The whole thing should wrap up around midnight."
"Do you know a lot of these people?"
"I know a few of them. You met some the time we went to the symphony. As I remember it, you met Rebecca and Jason Dill. Oh, and Jerry and Patricia Belkin. They were at our table. Did we meet anyone else that night?"
"If we did, I can't remember their names. Will we be seated with them again tonight?"
"I don't know. I heard that Jason had a heart attack a couple of months ago, so I don't know if he'll even be here tonight. I haven't heard how he is doing. I hope he's all right."
We arrived at the hotel parking garage a few minutes after six. There were perhaps thirty couples mingling in the ballroom when we entered. At the entrance to the ballroom, we were given nametags to wear. I thought it was rather tacky, but we put ours on and headed for the hospitality bar. Since I was driving, I decided to have a non-alcoholic drink. Eric chose a whiskey and water.
As we turned away from the bar, I spotted the Dills. We made our way toward them. "Rebecca, Jason, it's good to see you again," I said, extending my hand to shake Jason's
"Crane, it's been too long," Rebecca said. "I see you brought this handsome young man again. Eric, isn't it?"
"Yes, thank you for remembering me."
"Jason, how are you? I heard that you had a heart attack." I said.
"Yes, but it wasn't that bad. The worst part about it is the damn doctor has me on a strict diet to lower my cholesterol. He also wants me to exercise more. Can you believe that? A man of my age? Bah!"
"He's such a grump," Rebecca said. "He has eaten bacon and eggs every morning since we were married and now that doctor has cut them out. He has to eat bran cereal. You would think it's killing him."
"All this 'healthy' food is killing me," Jason grumbled. "But tonight, I'm going off my diet. I don't care what the doctor says."
"How are all those young boys of yours? Rebecca asked.
"They are the light of my life," I said. I went on to extol their virtues until another couple came up that I didn't know.
Rebecca introduced them to Eric and me as Philip and Lucy Quinn. They were younger than most of the couples here. I found out that they were owners of a very successful real estate franchise.
As the cocktail hour progressed, we were introduced to several other couples. I guess since we were the only males without a female partner, everyone wanted to know who we were. Rebecca knew everyone that came up to us and had no problem making the introductions. I don't have the best memory for names and they all became a blur after a while. When many of the women that we met found out that we were single, they immediately began telling us about some young lady that they knew who would just love to meet an eligible bachelor. When I told them that I had five young sons and Eric had two they were taken aback and decided that the young things that they had in mind were not ready for an instant family.
I did get to mention the foundation to some of the people that we were introduced to and was pleased that many of them thought it was a worthy undertaking. Now, whether this turned into contributions, we would have to wait and see.
Although I have a hard time making small talk to people that I have just met, Eric always seem to be able to converse with them no matter how trivial the conversation was. I was happy when dinner was served.
We were seated at a round table set for eight people. We had been introduced to two of the couples seated with us. The other elderly couple were strangers to everyone at the table. As introductions were made it was quite apparent that they were very hard of hearing. It made conversing with them difficult. Eric sat beside the elderly woman. After trying several times to engage her in conversation, he gave up and concentrated on the other couples and me.
The food was excellent. We were served three different wines with various courses throughout the meal. Everything was delicious. The plate presentations were works of art. It seemed a shame to eat them and destroy the chef's masterpiece. I was pleasantly full by the time coffee was served.
As the waiters finished clearing our tables, I looked around to see if I recognized anyone I hadn't talked to earlier in the evening. I spotted the Belkins at a table three away from ours. I excused myself and went to their table to pay my respects. I noticed as I approached their table that Jerry had a cast on his right ankle.
"Jerry, what in the world did you do?" I asked after I had greeted Patricia.
"There's no fool like an old fool," he laughed. "I was playing football in the back yard with my 15 year-old grandson and I went out for a pass. I made a great catch, but I landed wrong on my ankle and broke a couple of bones. Now, I'll have this cast on for two more weeks."
"I'm sorry, Jerry, I shouldn't laugh," I snickered.
"How are your sons?" Patricia asked.
"They're great, but they really keep me hopping. I've taken in another boy on a temporary basis, so I have six altogether now."
"Crane you are a glutton for punishment," Jerry said. "We had two and they were all that I could handle."
"Are you going to stick around for the dancing?" Patricia asked.
When I said that we would probably stick around for a while, her eyes lit up. "Good, I'll have somebody to dance with. This old coot can't dance with his bunged up foot," she said, poking Jerry in the shoulder.
"I don't know," I said. "I'm not much of a dancer and besides it's been a long time."
Floyd Chandler tapped on the microphone indicating that the program was about to start. I said goodbye to the Belkins and headed back to our table. Floyd droned on for half an hour. He's a good organizer, but is a terrible master of ceremonies. The only item of interest that he had was the amount of money that the dinner had raised. Before any expenses were taken out, just under $250,000 were contributed.
True to her word, when the music started Patricia was at our table and I was coerced into dancing with her. She was a wonderful dancer and even I looked good dancing with her. The first couple of numbers were slow so I didn't have any trouble. When a tango started, I begged off and we headed back to our table.
"Eric, this guy says he can't dance to a tango. How about you? Can you keep up with an old lady?" Patricia asked.
"I'll do my best," Eric said, taking her hand and leading her to the dance floor.
I was amazed as I watched Eric and Patricia dance. They really put on a show. When the number ended, they received a round of applause from the other dancers. For most of the rest of the evening, I sat and watched while Eric and Patricia dance. You could have sworn that they had been dancing together for years. Eric displayed his athleticism as well as a grace that I had not seen before.
I watched as Eric led a smiling Patricia to her table. She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek before he returned to our table. "She is an excellent dancer," he sighed, slipping into his chair.
"And so are you. I never knew you could dance so well."
"Mom made me take ballroom dancing for four years when I was in junior high and high school. I was shy and she thought it would help me get over it. It worked. I met my wife on the dance floor in college. She loved to dance and so did I. I think that is the reason that we got married. It was about the only thing that we had in common."
"Well, you looked like a pro out there. Are you ready to go? Or does Patricia still have more dancing planned for you?"
"I'm ready any time you are."
We said our goodbyes and made our way toward the elevator. Once the elevator car arrived, we stepped into it. We had the car to ourselves.
"I've wanted to do this all evening," Eric said, wrapping his arms around me and kissing me deeply. I reciprocated.
All too soon the doors to the elevator opened and we stepped out into the parking garage. The car was parked on the other side of the garage. As we walked toward it, we heard a commotion coming from the left on the other side of a line of cars. Eric sprinted toward it and I was right behind him. As soon as we stepped between two cars, we saw the elderly couple that we had shared a table with being assaulted by two young males. Eric threw himself at one of them and I tackled the other one. The fight was over in no time. Thankfully, Eric and I were bigger than the two miscreants were and we were able to subdue them with very little effort.
"Go call the police," I shouted at the elderly man.
Before he was able to get very far, I saw the security guard heading our way on a dead run. He must have seen what was happening on the security cameras.
"Thanks for your help. I saw something going on in here and called the police. They're on their way." He drew his gun and motioned for Eric and me to release our hold on the young men.
It was then that I got a good look at the attackers. Neither of them could have been over 15. Both were wearing what looked to me like gang apparel. I wondered to myself just what these young men were doing out at this time of night and in the hotel parking garage. Most of all I wondered why they were doing this. So I asked them why. My question was met by a barrage of profanity the likes I'd never heard even from a grown man.
"Do you need us to stay here until the police come?" I asked the guard.
"Yeah, they'll probably want a statement from you," he answered.
It wasn't but a few minutes before the police arrived. About 45 minutes later we were told that we could leave. I looked at my watch and it was nearly one o'clock. Doris and Nathan Woods, the elderly couple that we saved from being assaulted, thanked us profusely. They offered to reward Eric and me, but we declined and bade them goodnight.
As we again started toward the car, Eric took my arm and pulled me close. "That sure interrupted a romantic moment."
"You're so right. That's too bad. I was really getting into what we were doing. But as late as it is getting, I think we had better be getting home to our boys," I said with regret.
"Yeah, maybe next time," Eric said giving my arm a squeeze.
"Next time for sure."