By the time I finished talking to Jack, it was about time to pick up Joel from John's house. I slipped a pair of shorts over my swimsuit and grabbed a tee-shirt. I opened my bedroom door to find Dirk and Jamie approaching.
"Crane, do you have something that Jamie can wear to swim in?" Dirk asked.
I looked at Jamie and pondered for a moment. "Did you try a pair of Joel's?"
"No, we didn't want to dig around in any of the boys' stuff without their consent."
"I'm sure that Joel won't mind. He has several suits. Follow me; I'll get you a pair."
I retrieved a pair of swim trunks from Joel's drawer and handed them to Jamie.
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson, I really wanted to swim," Jamie said, as he started to strip off his clothes.
"Dirk, I need to go pick up Joel from his friend's house. Do you think you can handle the rest of the boys while I'm gone? I shouldn't be but about twenty minutes. I'll ask Manfred to help out. I heard him come in a few minutes ago."
"Sure, no problem, I used to be a lifeguard in high school. It's been a few years, but I think I can still manage. Do you have a pair of trunks that I could wear? We really didn't come prepared to go swimming."
"Sure, and thanks for watching the boys while I'm gone," I said, and went to give him one of my suits and to find Manfred.
After getting Manfred's agreement to help watch the boys and my admonition to them to behave themselves, I took off to get Joel. I arrived shortly and parked the car in front of the Gordinier's home. No one was in the front yard, so I approached the front door and rang the doorbell. I was about ready to ring the bell again when Pauline answered the door.
"Crane, please come in. The boys are just putting away their things. Would you like a cup of coffee?" she asked.
"No, thank you, we have company at home and can't stay. How did you manage with another boy here today?"
"Oh, just fine, Joel and John did their thing and the girls did theirs. I hardly knew there was an extra boy here at all."
"I'm glad that Joel was no bother. He's usually pretty good."
"Hi, dad," Joel said, as he and John entered the room. "Do I have to go home already?"
"Yes, I'm afraid that you do. Dirk and his little brother and Ricky are there. Everybody's going swimming. We need to get back there," I said. "Say your goodbyes, and let's get going."
"Thank you, Mrs. Gordinier. I had a great time," Joel told her. "Come on out to the car, John."
I said my goodbye to Pauline and headed toward the front door. As I closed it behind me, I saw Joel and John in what appeared to be a passionate kiss. When they heard the door close behind me, they quickly jumped apart. Both of them were blushing. I didn't know if it was from the possibility of being caught or from youthful hormones. With fourteen year-olds, it's hard to tell.
I wrapped my arms around both of the boys and gave them a squeeze. "Just remember what I told you about showing affection in public. Not everyone will understand. Okay?"
"I know, Mr. Johnson, but it's hard," John said, his blush fading. "I like Joel so much."
I smiled at him and gave him another squeeze before telling Joel to get into the car. We drove in silence for a while until Joel turned in the seat to look at me. "Thanks, dad."
"You're welcome. I was fourteen once. I remember what it's like to be young and in love. It was a little different for me. I had a crush on a girl in the boarding school in the same town where I was going to school. But it all changed when I lost my parents that year."
"How come you never talk about your mom and dad?" Joel asked.
"I guess it's because the memory is too painful. I loved them very much. I think you would have liked them as your grandparents. I know they would have liked you and your brothers." I wished that we hadn't gotten on to this subject. It was causing my eyes to tear up. I think Joel sensed that and didn't ask any more questions.
When we reached the house, all the boys were in the pool with Dirk and Manfred. Marie was sitting on the edge of the pool with her feet in the water. Ricky was in the water, hanging on to the edge and jumping up and down on his one leg and started giggling when he saw Joel. Marie had found a pair of training pants for Ricky to wear, so modesty was preserved.
Joel went to Ricky and tousled his hair before heading to the house to get changed. I followed him into the house and shed the shorts and tee shirt that I was wearing. On my way back out, I stopped by the kitchen to check on the food that I was going to grill later. Hildy and Gilda were both in the kitchen fixing all the side dishes for our meal. I could smell something delicious baking in the oven. Gilda said it was pineapple up-side-down cake. I could hardly wait for supper.
Joel had beaten me to the pool and had already introduced himself to Jamie before swimming over to Ricky, only to be greeted by the characteristic "Hi".
For the next couple of hours, the seven boys and three adult men frolicked in the pool. We were having so much fun that I had lost track of time. I was reminded of my grilling duties when Hildy came out of the house carrying the burgers and hot dogs. I quickly climbed out of the pool and went to the grill to get it ready. About twenty minutes later the embers were perfect for grilling. I filled the large grill surface with fifteen burgers and two, eight-count packages of wieners.
Most of our outdoor patio furniture had survived the fire, although some of it was singed and discolored by the heat. Manfred and Dirk assembled it so that at least most of the thirteen diners could sit down to eat. Hildy drafted Joel, the twins and Chris to help carry the side dishes from the kitchen to the picnic tables. The table was literally groaning from all the food that Hildy and Gilda had prepared and the burgers and hot dogs hadn't made it to the table yet.
I was amazed that most of the serving plates were empty by the time Gilda brought out the pineapple up-side-down cake. Hildy followed close behind carrying a large bowl of freshly whipped cream. As Gilda cut generous pieces of the cake and placed them on plates, Hildy scooped large dollops of whipped cream on them and passed the plates to the diners. I think that Ricky got more of the whipped cream on his face than he got in his mouth. Marie gently scolded him and wiped his face with her napkin, but he giggled and kept on eating his dessert.
"Crane," Dirk said as he was getting ready to leave. "Thank you so much for your hospitality. I don't think Jamie has had so much fun since I first met him. Your boys really made an impression on him. Most of the kids he knows make fun of him because of his weight. Yours made him feel just like one of them."
"You're welcome, Dirk," I said. "I would have been disappointed if my boys hadn't treated him as a friend or made him feel uncomfortable because of his weight. Jamie's a good kid and the boys realize that. He's welcome to visit here anytime. And, don't forget about the invitation to ride the horses. I was serious about that."
As Dirk and I were talking, Jamie was saying goodbye to the boys. He walked up and wrapped both hands around Dirk's arm before saying to me, "Thanks, Mr. Johnson, I had a really good time."
"I'm glad you did. You'll have to come back again."
"Can I?" he asked, a little surprised, looking up at Dirk.
"I think that might be arranged," Dirk said.
Joel carried Ricky to the car and helped Marie get the squirming three year-old buckled into his car seat. Joel got a hug and a sloppy kiss on the cheek for his efforts.
Monday morning I got the boys up and dressed in their new school uniforms. I decided that I would drive them to school for the first day, but let them ride the school van home. They seemed excited as they ate breakfast. I didn't know whether it was because of school or whether it was the thoughts of seeing all their friends again. I suspected that it might be the latter.
While the boys were at school, I decided to analyze the investments in the trust funds. I spent several hours researching the existing stocks and other stocks that might have a good possibility of a greater return on the investments. I decided that the portfolios were sound and didn't make any changes. I did, however, make a few changes to my own portfolio.
Since I was dealing with money matters, I called both Carlos Martinez, my lawyer, and Gerald Cousins, my accountant, to see what the status of the sale of the 800 acres of land was. Carlos reported that the deal should close at the end of next week. All that remained was the buyers receiving assurances of clear title to the land. Carlos said that the title had been traced all the way back to a Spanish land grant when I had purchased the property, but the buyers were doing their own title search.
Gerald said that he had been in touch with a real estate broker who had heard through the grapevine that I was interested in purchasing some undeveloped land. He told Gerald that he represented a client who owned a large ranch east of Boerne who was interested in selling.
"How much land are we talking about?" I asked.
"Harvey, that's the broker's name, said the ranch encompassed approximately 2,700 acres," Gerald replied.
"Wow! That's a lot of land in one chunk. I didn't know there were any ranches left around here that large. How much are they asking for the land?"
"They are asking $5.4 million."
"I see. Two thousand an acre. That's not all that bad if the land can be developed. Are there any drawbacks?"
"Well," Gerald started. "The land is rugged and I'm sure that not all of it is suitable for a housing development. It's also a long ways outside of the city. If you're willing to wait ten years or so, it would probably be a good investment. In the mean time it would be a money loser. Although the land is on the tax roles as agricultural, the taxes are still fairly substantial."
"Fax me the details of the land, including the tax information. I may want to take a look at the land first hand before I make any decision. Thanks Gerald, keep your ear to the ground. If you hear of any good deals, let me know."
As it was getting on time for the boys to arrive home from school, I went to let the dogs out and started down the driveway. Samson knew exactly what was happening when I let him out of the kennel and started down toward the gate ahead of me and the rest of the dogs. We only had to wait a couple of minutes before the van came into sight. I activated the remote control to open the gate as soon as the van came to a complete stop. It was a good thing that I was not standing in the gate opening or I would have been trampled by five dogs rushing to see their masters.
The boys waved goodbye to their friends and hopped off the van to greet their four legged friends. I ushered them away from the van so that it could continue on its way. I received my hugs after the dogs had received theirs and had settled down.
"Dad, I got some girls in my class," TJ announced.
"That's nice. How many?" I asked.
"Well, there's Gina and Karla and Kristi and Marsha and Betty and Missy. Her real name is Melissa, but she wants to be called Missy. I guess that's all."
"Six girls, I'm surprised there are that many for the first year," I said.
"There are eight girls in my class, too," Joel volunteered. "I don't know all their names."
"TJ, how come you know all the names of the girls in your class?" I asked.
"Mrs. Bonner made all of us stand up and say our names and tell something about us. They said their names, so I just remembered them."
"Do you know all the names of the boys in your class?"
"Sure, they said their names, too."
"Do you remember everyone's name once you've heard it?"
"Yeah, don't you?"
"Son, I'm afraid I don't. As much and as hard as I try, I always forget some of the names of people I meet. I wish I could be like you. That is a very valuable gift that you have. It will come in very handy as you grow older. Now, run along, I think Hildy and Gilda were fixing something special for your after school snack."
"Oh, boy!" TJ exclaimed and took off running toward the house with Bandit at his heels.
Now that school had started, things settled down into a fairly stable routine for the boys. Tuesday morning I called an acquaintance that owned a small private airstrip and asked him if he still gave flying tours of the area. When he said he did, I engaged him to fly me over the land that Gerald had faxed me the information. He told me that he had a helicopter as well as a fixed wing aircraft. I chose the helicopter, as I thought it would give me the best view of the area I had in mind to buy.
Marty Flynn was an ex-army warrant officer who had flown choppers during the Vietnam Conflict. I'd met Marty and his wife, Pris, at a political event several years ago. I think Pris is what could be called a trophy wife. She was at least thirty years younger than he was and didn't seem to be all that bright. She was good looking, though.
Marty was ready when I arrived at his airstrip Tuesday afternoon. He had the chopper warming up, so it only took a couple of minutes after I got there before we took off. Fifteen minutes later we were flying over the property in question. We flew along the borders of the property before we began crisscrossing the land. I was surprised at how much land would be suitable for development. I estimated that only about 10 - 15% would be unusable for housing or some other use.
Back home, I called Carlos and asked him to negotiate with the broker representing the seller of the land. I suggested that we offer $4.6 million for the land, just to see how serious they were about selling.
Tuesday evening the boys got off the school van loaded down with their school books. "I can't believe it, dad. I've got homework in every one of my subjects and it's only the second day of classes. I thought they'd give us a little time to get back into the groove before they started loading us down," Joel complained.
"Don't feel bad," Chris said. "We got lots of homework, too. Don't we guys?"
"Yeah," the twins groaned.
"Me, too," TJ said. "But I got most of mine done at school."
"Good for you, son," I said, patting TJ on the head. "Hey, guys, let's go for a swim as soon as you have your snack. You can do your homework right after supper. How does that sound?"
The five of them took off running toward the house.
It was almost nine o'clock before I had all the homework checked. It wasn't long after that the boys had been tucked into bed.
Before the boys got on the school van Wednesday morning, I reminded them the other architect was going to be here around 3:30 to show us his revised plans. These were the plans that everybody like so well when we first saw both sets of plans. It was the one with the center courtyard. I was interested in what the revised plans would look like after he had incorporated our changes.
The boys had gotten home from school and were eating their snacks when William Gessler arrived with his set of house plans. He spread the plans out on the table and went over the changes that he had made at our suggestions. It was a great plan and incorporated everything we wanted. The one thing it didn't do that Anthony Gardner's plan did was to make the most use of the view of the lake. After looking over the plan for a half an hour or so, we adjourned outside to see where on the lot he proposed positioning the house. As it turned out, he would put his house in almost the exact same place as Anthony Gardner's.
I thanked him for the great plan and told him I would let him know our decision by the end of the week. After he left I asked Hildy and Manfred to join the boys and I in the living room to discuss the merits of both designs. I taped the floor plans for both houses on the wall so that we could compare them side-by-side. The discussion went on for some time with sentiment for each plan waxing and waning as the features of each were pointed out. I was exceptionally pleased with the involvement of the boys in the discussion. Even TJ contributed to the discussion. We even discussed some additional changes we thought would make both plans fit better into our lifestyle.
We took a break to eat supper and then resumed the discussion. Actually the discussion never really stopped during our meal. When the decision was made, I think everyone was satisfied that it was the best plan for us. That was the plan by Anthony Gardner. Although both plans offered everything we needed as far as conveniences and layout, the decision came down to the one that gave us the best views of the lake from the most rooms.
I was pleased that we had made the decision on the house plan. This was just one of thousands of decisions that would need to be made over the next year or so while it was being built. The next major decision was to hire a general contractor who would be responsible for the actual construction of the house. Anthony Gardner would supervise the construction to make sure that his design was being followed.
I knew of a couple of reputable home builders in the area, but I didn't know how busy they were. I wondered if Harold Nicholas, TJ's friend Joey's dad, would be interested in bidding on the project. I decided to call him first thing in the morning. The renovation work he had done on the old house was excellent, but I didn't know if he built homes from the ground up.
After I got the boys off to school on Thursday morning, I called directory service to get the phone number for Harold Nicholas. My address book had been destroyed in the fire. As it happened, he was just on his way out of the house after getting Joey off to school. I explained what I had in mind and asked if he would be interested in bidding on the project. I heard him take a deep breath and pause before he answered.
"Crane, I'd like to take a look at the plans before I give you my answer. I've built several smaller homes, but I'm sure none has been on the scale of your new house. When would it be convenient to come by and look at the plans?"
"I'm available this morning or this evening. I have some business to take care of this afternoon," I answered.
"Let's make it tonight. I'm on the way to a job site this morning. What time this evening would be convenient?" Harold asked.
"How about 7:30 or 8?"
"7:30 would be fine. Do you mind if I bring Joey?"
"Of course not, I'm sure TJ would like that. We'll see you then."
Since my morning was now free, I decided to visit the apartment complex where Marie lives. It had been a while since I had stopped in and talked to Chuck Solaris and Phillip Brown, the apartment managers. I gave them a call before I headed out. I was always amazed at the change in the complex since I bought it. Before, it was run down and riddled with crime and drugs. Now it was clean, the crime problem had been virtually eliminated and the drug dealers were gone, thanks to the 24 hour on-site security.
Chuck greeted me as I opened the door to the leasing office. He said that Phillip was out in the complex taking care of a minor plumbing problem, but should be back any minute. We chatted about the complex and I complimented him and his partner for the fine job they were doing running the complex. I noticed he was a little hesitant while we were talking. I knew that he was the more withdrawn of the two, so I didn't think too much about it at the time.
Phillip came in about ten minutes after I got there. He greeted me and went straight into the bathroom to clean up before he joined his partner and I. We discussed the business including the occupancy rate, which was running over 90%. Many of the tenants were turning out to be long term lessees.
After they had brought me up-to-date on the business of the apartment complex, Phillip cleared his throat and began. "Mr. Johnson, we want to thank you for the trust that you have placed in us by allowing us a free hand in running this place. Believe me, we are very grateful, but ... "
"But, what?" I asked.
"Well, we ... Ah ... That is ..." he stammered. "I guess I'd just as well spit it out. We want to give you notice."
I sat there stunned for a moment before I recovered enough to ask, "Why? Aren't you happy here?"
"It's not that," Chuck volunteered. "We just think we've done all we can for this place. I guess we're looking for another challenge."
"Have you found another job?"
"No, but we have been looking around," Phillip answered.
"You know, I really hate to lose you guys. How much time do I have before you all want to leave?"
"We thought it would be fair to give you until the end of September," Phillip said. "Is that enough time?"
"I think that's generous of you. That should give me enough time to find your replacements. Tell me what is it that you are really looking for as your next challenge."
"We've given this a lot of thought. We want to move up to a more upscale apartment complex. We want one that needs upgrading, one where we can put our skills and training to better use," Phillip said.
"Look, guys, I have an opportunity that may interest you. I don't know if you are aware, but I own another apartment complex that is a lot more upscale than this one. Right now, I spend more time than I want supervising both of them. Would you, or more specifically your management company, be interested in managing both complexes? You would be in charge of hiring the management of each place and seeing to all the details that I don't want to personally handle."
"How big is the other place?" Chuck asked.
"It's about double the number of units and about three times the area. The complex is in reasonable shape, but could be improved on with a little TLC."
"What's the name of this place?" Chuck asked.
"Majestic Oaks, it's over off Stone Oak."
"I've seen the place from the road," Phillip said. "We would like to look it over before we give you an answer. It sounds like an opportunity to build our business."
"Contact Barry Manson, the manager and set up a time to visit. I'll tell him you'll be calling. Please wait until the first of next week before you make contact with him. I need to explain to him what my plans are. Whether or not you accept the position, I'm going ahead with the plan," I said. "If you have any questions after you make your visit, give me a call."
I left Phillip and Chuck to think over my proposition and drove to the foundation offices. I figured I needed to get more involved with it again since Darcie would be going on maternity leave any day now.
When I got to the office, Paul was out making surprise visits on some of the people receiving assistance from the foundation. It was something I had always considered doing, but had never implemented it. Paul considered it mandatory that we know how the money was being used. There were too many needy adoptive parents to waste money on those we had helped if they were misusing the assistance.
I stopped by Darcie's office. She was looking very tired. "Darcie," I said, "pardon my language, but you look like hell. Aren't you getting enough sleep?'
"Thanks," she said, smiling. "I had a rough night. I think this kid is going to be a soccer player. She was kicking me all night long. I only got a couple of hours of sleep. Maybe she wants to be born. I wouldn't mind that a bit. If this keeps up, I don't think I can make it five and a half more weeks."
"You know it's a girl then. I thought you and Mel didn't want to know until it was born."
"We thought we didn't, but the suspense was killing us. When I went to the doctor last week, I asked her. At least now we know what to start buying for our little girl. I guess the reality of having a family is finally setting in. Mel is talking of buying a bigger house. Our house is a little small. If we have any more kids it would get quite crowded, but that is a long way off. I don't want to think about moving now."
"Look, if you need to go home and get some rest, do it. I'm sure that Paul, Carol and I can handle things. We're going to have to handle it by ourselves anyway, when you're on maternity leave."
"Thanks, Crane, I may go home after lunch."
I went back to my office and had Carol bring me a few of the files for foster families wanting our assistance to adopt. I was surprised when she dropped fifteen folders on my desk. "Hey, I said I only wanted a few files, not all."
"That's only about a quarter of the files we have received," Carol said, with an evil grin.
I shook my head and vowed to do some more arm twisting on some of my more affluent acquaintances for donations. Reaching for the top file, I opened it and started reading. The next thing I knew, Carol peeked her head into my office and asked if I wanted for her to bring me back a sandwich from the deli. I didn't realize where the time had gone, but it was almost one o'clock. I gave her my order and some money and went back to my reading. I must have been on the eighth or ninth file when I heard a cry coming from Darcie's office.
"Crane, can you come here?"
Her voice was so strange that I jumped up from my desk and ran next door to her office.
"My water broke. I think this baby's coming."