I saw the boys off to school and returned to the house. Marie and Ricky arrived shortly after. Ricky came in and raced around the house as if he was looking for something. When he came back into the living room where I was talking to Hildy and Marie, he tugged on my pant leg.
"Cary," he said more than asked, looking up to me.
"Cary's not here, Ricky," I answered.
"He's at his house."
"Because his mommy is there taking care of him."
I laughed and picked him up. "You're just full of questions this morning, aren't you?"
He giggled and gave me a sloppy kiss on the cheek. I put him down, said my goodbyes to everyone and headed out the door. The boys' van should have arrived at the school and classes should have begun by the time I parked the car in the school's parking lot. I walked into Headmaster Justin Pierce's outer office.
"May I help you?" the young lady sitting at the desk asked. She didn't appear to be old enough to be a secretary and was not the one who had been there the last time I visited Mr. Pierce.
"Yes, I would like to speak to Mr. Pierce," I said.
"Your name is?" she asked.
"Mr. Pierce is on the phone at the moment. I will let him know that you are here as soon as he hangs up. Please have a seat."
"Thank you," I said, sitting in one of the comfortable leather chairs.
About five minutes later, Mr. Pierce opened his office door and approached. He offered his hand, which I shook. "Mr. Johnson, it's good to see you again. Please step into my office. What can I do for you today?"
After we were both seated, I said, "I assume that Mr. Granger has informed you of the incident that occurred yesterday evening as the students were waiting for their vans?"
"Yes, most unfortunate, we frown on any sort of fighting. I was surprised that your son would be involved. I was just on the phone to the parents of the other student involved and I was about to phone you when Joan told me that you were waiting to see me."
"I don't condone fighting under most circumstances," I said. "What my sons have told me is that the other boy involved bullies other kids as well as Joel. I don't want my sons to be bullied by anyone and I don't want other students to be bullied either."
"The school has a policy against bullying," Mr. Pierce said.
"You might want to reinforce awareness of that policy to the staff, because it is happening and has been happening since the beginning of the school year, according to my sons. I don't like coming to the school every time something like this happens. But, I won't have my sons intimidated."
"Mr. Granger did say that Joel was not throwing any punches and was only observed with his arms around the other boy's chest as they wrestled to the ground. He didn't see what had precipitated the altercation, and neither of the boys volunteered the information as to what caused it. Did Joel tell you why they were fighting?"
"Yes, he did," I answered. "The exact reason is unimportant to this discussion. The salient fact is that he was being taunted. I expect the school to do everything in its power to see that he and every other student in this school are not subjected to harassment or bullying of any kind."
"I couldn't agree with you more, but I see we need to re-double our vigilance against that type of behavior. I will inform our staff to be extra watchful at the teachers' meeting after school this afternoon. The young man in question is already receiving increased scrutiny for any signs of bullying. Thank you for stopping by, Mr. Johnson. We will make every effort to nip this in the bud, so to speak."
"Let me know if there is anything that I can do to assist you. Don't hesitate to call, my schedule is fairly flexible," I said, standing up and shaking Mr. Pierce's outstretched hand.
My day at the office was fairly routine. Paul and I discussed a couple of candidates for our support and decided to invite both of them in for interviews and to have Jack run the background checks on them. With the infusion of the Longs' generous gifts we were able to make more favorable decisions on the large number of files that the foundation received. I left the office in Paul's good hands at lunch time and went to visit the apartment complexes that I owned. I first visited the apartments where Marie and Ricky lived. I was pleased at the way the new apartment manager was taking care of the place, but I noticed a few items that I brought to his attention that I thought needed to be taken care of.
The second larger apartment complex was undergoing some major renovations to two of the buildings. These were the oldest of the buildings that had been in use for approximately ten years. I stopped by the manager's office to discuss how the renovations were coming along. He informed me that the contract was on schedule and should be finished in six weeks.
I returned home well before the boys were due home from school. I spent about a half an hour talking to Harold Nicholas and looking over the progress on the new house. Progress seemed to be agonizingly slow despite Harold's assurances that things were on schedule. He laughed and told me to be patient, something for which I was not well suited.
I greeted Hildy when I walked into the house. She told me I had a phone call earlier and handed me a slip of paper on which she had written a name and a phone number. She said the man had identified himself as a lawyer and requested that I call him as soon as possible. I didn't recognize either the name or the number. I headed to my bedroom to change into some more comfortable clothes before I was going to make the call.
The phone rang five times before it was answered. "Langley, Forsyth and Smith, how may I direct your call?" the nasal voice on the other end of the connection asked.
"Mr. Forsyth please."
"Who may I say is calling?"
"One moment, Mr. Johnson, I'll connect you."
After a few moments of Beethoven's 'Fifth Symphony' while I was on hold, "Mr. Johnson, John Forsyth, thank you for returning my call," the very deep voice said. "Do you have a few minutes to talk?"
"Yes, my sons won't be coming home from school for another half hour."
"Good, this may take a few minutes to explain. I represent a client who claims to have a beneficial interest in the estate of one Julius Crandall Johnson. My client has discovered that she is a descendent of Julius Johnson."
"How can that be? My grandfather's name was Julius Crandall Johnson, but my father was his only child."
"My client represents that she's the offspring of your grandfather and Sofia Minerva Goodlove."
"Who is this Sofia Goodlove?"
"She was romantically involved with Julius Johnson prior to his marriage to your grandmother. My client was born six months after your grandfather went off to serve in the military."
"Okay, so what does this have to do with me?"
"That's where this gets a little complicated. My client has directed me to file a civil action to claim a 50% portion of Julius Johnson's estate that passed to his heirs upon his death and for any income and or increase of principal that has been derived from that inheritance. She is also requesting in the filing that you pay for all attorney fees and court costs. Mr. Johnson, our investigators have discovered that you are a very wealthy man. My client asserts that this is a direct result of the undivided estate of Julius Johnson. Now," he paused before continuing, "my client has offered not to file the civil action if a settlement can be reached without the necessity of going to court."
"Hmm, that's very interesting. Just how much does your client expect to be paid?"
"She has suggested, to be fair, a sum of $75 million seems reasonable."
"I'm sure she does. You understand that I will have to contact my lawyer before I could make any commitment."
"Of course. Have your attorney contact me to work out any details," Mr. Forsyth said. "Thank you for being so sensible, Mr. Johnson."
"Not at all. Good day to you, sir." I said, hanging up the phone. "Fat chance this is ever going to happen," I thought. My demeanor on the phone in no way demonstrated the anger and frustration I felt.
I stomped into the kitchen, grabbed a glass and poured myself some orange juice. Something stronger would have been nice, but all I had in the house was some wine and I didn't want to chug a glass of it. I wanted some time to think and calm down before I called Carlos.
"Crane, what's the matter?" Hildy asked, as I downed the glass of juice in one swallow. "You look like you're about to explode."
It took a few moments before I was able to answer her. "That lawyer that called represents a woman who purports to be my father's half sister. She wants me to pay her $75 million."
"What on earth for?" Hildy asked, putting her hand to her mouth in shock.
"She thinks my granddad left my father a large estate when he died and she wants half of it and any profits from it for all these years."
"That's ridiculous. How could she even conceive that she is owed any money? When did your grandfather die?"
"Grandpa died when I was either five or six. I barely remember him. He had been in a nursing home for a long time, from what mom and dad told me. I never knew my grandmother, dad's mom. She died before I was born."
"How big was your grandfather's estate when he died?"
"I don't think he had anything of value by the time he died. I remember my mom and dad talking about it when I was younger. To use my dad's crude expression, 'he didn't have a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of' after all of the nursing home and doctor bills were paid. In fact, if I remember correctly, dad had to borrow money to bury my grandfather."
"What are you going to do? You're surely not going to pay that woman, are you?" Hildy asked.
"I'm going to call Carlos and set up an appointment to see him tomorrow. I'll rely on him to advise me as to what legal steps we need to take. I'll probably get Jack and his company involved to see if this woman is really who she purports to be."
I looked at my watch and decided it was time to go meet the boys' school van. On the way I let the dogs out of their enclosure. I was nearly run over as they raced to the front gate to wait for their masters. By the time I reached the road the van was approaching to the barking of the dogs.
I greeted the boys after they had hugged their dogs. I motioned to Joel that I wanted to talk to him as we walked toward the house. "How did your day go?" I asked.
"Fine, I guess."
"Well, Donald didn't bother me, if that's what you're asking," Joel said.
"Did I detect an emphasis on the word me?"
"Yeah, he left me alone, but he was picking on other kids before school started this morning."
"How about after school?"
"I didn't see him after school. I think his parents came and got him before school got out."
"Why did they do that?"
"I guess it must have been what happened in gym class. He's not in mine, but John is and he said that Donald tripped him twice while they were playing basketball and the coach got really mad at him and sent him to the showers before the end of the class."
It took me a while before I sorted out whom the hims were referring to in that description Joel had given me.
As we reached the house Joel turned to me and said, "Dad, we have a golf match on Monday afternoon. Can you come watch?"
"Of course, where is it going to be?"
"We're playing Northwest ISD at the Canyon Springs course at two o'clock. They're really good. A guy on their team was the state medalist last year."
"Sounds like you have your work cut out for you. Have you been practicing at school?"
"Yeah, Mr. Proudfoot, the pro at River Crossing, comes to school twice a week and helps our coach. All of the golf team has gym class together so he can work with all of us at the same time. Can you take me to play a round on Saturday?"
"I don't see why not if the weather cooperates. Are you going to play with someone?"
"Perry Caine and I want to play at River Crossing with his dad and older brother. They have a tee time at 9:30."
"That'll work. I can drop you off at the course and then take your brothers to ride the horses. Now, run get your snack before your brothers eat it all, dad has to make a phone call," I said, as I gave him a one-armed hug.
I called Carlos' office only to find that he was in court. His secretary said he would be in the office Monday morning and asked if I could be there at nine o'clock. I said I would and hung up the phone.
Saturday morning I woke the boys early so that we could get their breakfasts eaten and get Joel to the golf course by shortly after nine. He wanted to have time to hit a few range balls before they teed off. I went with him to the pro shop to get signed-in and pay for his round of golf and a couple sleeves of golf balls. Before I left him, I gave him some money in case he wanted to get something to eat after his round and told him to call when he was ready to come home.
Tracy was mowing the yard on the riding mower as we drove up the drive way of the farm. He waved to us and as he made his round back to the house he stopped and shut off the mower. He came over to shake my hand and ask if we wanted the horses saddled. I told him we did and we headed for the stables.
"Oh, by the way," he said, as we reached the gate. "Carroll Peters, the guy who wanted the Longhorns, came and got them yesterday before I got home from A&M. He left a check with Rosie. I think you got a good price for them."
"That's great. I'll pick up the check before we leave and I'll have my accountant issue you a check for your ten percent. How are things going at A&M?"
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson, we can always use the money, especially now. Classes are going great. I think I've got A's going in all of them so far. We have mid-terms coming up in a couple of weeks," he said.
"What do you mean 'especially now'?" I asked.
"Well, it's not for certain until Rosie goes to the doctor, but we think she's pregnant."
"That's wonderful. Congratulations."
"We're excited even though we were planning to wait until I graduated before starting a family."
As we were talking, Tracy was saddling the horses. The boys were watching with keen interest. If the saddles weren't so heavy, they could probably do it themselves. It didn't take long before five horses were ready to be ridden. TJ was the first to mount his horse and head out into the pasture. The others soon followed. I thanked Tracy and took off after the boys.
We had ridden for maybe three quarters of an hour when I saw a car drive up the lane to the house. It looked like Dirk's car, but from where I was I couldn't be sure. I rode back toward the stables. By the time I got there I could see it was Dirk and Jamie. Marie and Ricky were with them. Rosie had come out of the house and was holding Ricky. As soon as he saw my horse approaching, he wiggled out of her arms and ran as fast as his good leg and peg-leg could take him to the fence separating the back yard from the pasture. Marie was right behind trying to catch him before he could slither through the slats in the fence.
"Come here you little dickens. Do you want to get stepped on by that big horse?" Marie said, as she caught him half way through the fence.
"Horse," he said, pointing at my mount.
"You want to ride, munchkin?" I asked.
His eyes got wide and his head shook so hard up and down that I thought it might fly off. At the same time, he stretched both arms out to me. I urged my horse as close to the fence as I could and leaned over the fence to take him out of Marie's arms. I pushed back in the saddle and sat him down in front of me. I was rewarded with one of his characteristic giggles and clapping of his hands.
I wrapped one arm around him and held the reins in the other as I urged our horse to a slow walk. After a few minutes at a walk, Ricky turned his face toward me and said, "Faster, faster."
"What the heck," I thought and spurred our horse to a trot earning me another giggle from Ricky. We were soon joined by the other boys as we made the rounds of the pasture. When Jamie and Dirk rode up beside us, I noticed how much fitter Jamie looked and how much weight he seemed to have lost.
"Dirk, it looks like your work with Jamie is paying off. I'm amazed at the change in him since the first time I saw him," I said.
"Yes, I'm so proud of him. I think he would go to the gym every day, but I usually can't make it that often. When I can't take him, he will either go jogging around the neighborhood or join some of his friends in a basketball game. In a few months, if he keeps it up, he'll be in tip-top shape," Dirk said proudly. "Since he started, his mother is even trying to lose weight. She doesn't go to the gym or jog, but is trying to eat healthier and is fixing meals with fewer fats. It's a big change for her. I just hope she will keep it up."
Jamie and the boys continued to ride for another hour. Dirk, Ricky and I went and visited with Marie and Rosie. I think Ricky would have liked to continue riding, but two people in one saddle is not the most comfortable arrangement. Tracy joined us after he had completed the yard work.
Around two o'clock, Joel called to say he was ready to come home and asked if I could come pick him up at the course. I left after telling Hildy that I would be back in thirty minutes or so.
Joel was waiting outside the pro shop when I drove up. I popped the trunk lid to allow him to stash his clubs before he got into the car.
"How did you shoot?" I asked.
"That's a tough course, but I shot really well. I had a 79," he said with obvious pride.
"That is great," I said, patting him on the back. "I don't think I've ever shot that low, even when I was playing a lot. You have made marvelous progress in the last year."
"I even beat Perry and his brother. His brother is on the golf team at Southern Methodist and Perry usually beats me by a stroke or two. I was really putting well. I never three putted a hole and there are some really big greens."
"You feel ready for the meet on Monday?"
"Yeah," he said, leaning back with a sigh.
Monday, after I got the boys off to school, I headed for Carlos Martinez's office for my appointment. Carlos was just getting out of his car as I drove into the parking lot.
"Crane, it's good to see you. What have you gotten yourself into this time," Carlos said, as he shook my hand.
"Nothing that a smart lawyer can't get me out of. Do you happen to know one?" I retorted.
"Oh, that hurts. Come on in. Let me grab a cup of coffee and we can discuss your problem. You take yours black, don't you?"
I nodded and stepped into his office and took a chair. Carlos returned with two steaming cups and set one in front of me.
"Okay, tell me what brings you to my office," he said.
I repeated the conversation that I had with John Forsyth. Carlos jotted notes on a yellow legal pad all the while nodding and occasionally asking for some clarification of a point.
"Well, it looks like the suit is on very shaky legal grounds, but that has never stopped some shady lawyer from filing suit. I think I need to speak with Mr. Forsyth to gather some more information about his client and her claim," he said.
I handed Carlos the phone number. "I'd like to hear what he says when you talk to him. I believe he thinks from our conversation that I'm willing to settle. That's far from the truth."
"Good. Let me put the phone on speaker so that we both can hear," Carlos said.
"Before you make the call, I think we should get Jack Hogan involved. I talked to him on Sunday and explained the situation to him, but he said he needed a lot more information before he could even start an investigation since I don't even know the name of the person. Can you make a three-way call and include him?"
"Sure, I think it would be better if we got him on the line first before calling lawyer Forsyth," Carlos said, before calling his secretary to help set the call up. After she connected to Jack and we explained what we intended to do, his secretary added Mr. Forsyth to the connection.
"Langley, Forsyth and Smith," the same nasal voice answered that I had heard before.
We were shortly connected to John Forsyth after Carlos identified himself and explained whom he was representing.
"Mr. Forsyth," Carlos said, after the social amenities were out of the way, "I'm sure you understand that we will need to independently confirm that your client is in fact who she represents she is. Would you be so good as to fax to me your client's name and any information that would facilitate our confirmation process? I would be remiss in looking out for my client's best interests if I didn't pursue the legitimacy of her claim."
"Certainly, Mr. Martinez, if you will give me your fax number I will have my secretary transmit the requested information," Forsyth said. "I hope that we can quickly resolve this matter and avoid a protracted litigation."
"My thoughts exactly, Mr. Forsyth," Carlos said, and then gave his fax number. "I will be in touch with you as soon as my investigator has completed his preliminary report. I, too, would like to resolve this matter quickly for my client."
After the connection had been terminated, Carlos turned to me, "What a snake oil salesman. That guy gives lawyers an even worse name, if that is possible."
I knew that the last comment was made in jest for my benefit.
Carlos redialed Jack's number and told him that he would be faxed the information on the woman involved as soon as Carlos received it.
A few minutes later I left Carlos' office and headed for the foundation where I spent the rest of the morning catching up on some paperwork. Shortly after one o'clock, I decided to head to Canyon Springs to watch Joel's golf meet. As it turned out, I was there well before the team arrived. I took a tour of the club house, which was quite new. In fact, the course had only been open about a year. From what I could see of the course from the club house, it looked to be in excellent condition. This opinion was later confirmed.
Joel and the team from Corinthian Academy arrived almost at the same time as the team from Northwest ISD. After a few preliminaries to assign pairings, the boys took to the course. Joel was paired with last year's state medalist. I could tell he was a little nervous, but I tried to calm him down by reminding him how well he had played on Saturday.
With a nervous smile Joel stepped up to the tee after winning the honors. He hit a great drive, right down the middle of the fairway and about 215 yards out. I could see him visibly relax. He was even more relaxed after Bradley, his opponent, drove his ball into the left-hand rough. Joel got a par on the first hole while Bradley bogeyed it. The rest of the match was back and forth. It was hard to say which one was going to come out on top. At the end of 18 holes, Joel was ahead by one stroke. Unfortunately his teammates did not fair as well and the low team score went to NWISD.
"Son, I'm so proud of you," I told Joel on the way home. "You really played a mature game. You did an outstanding job of course management and avoided making foolish mistakes when you hit a poor shot. How do you feel about beating Bradley?"
"I guess that's okay. I don't really think about that. I just like to play well and hit the ball right. It would have been nice if the team had won. I was just happy that I played up to what I thought I should and had fun. It's hard to explain. I don't even think about the other guy when I'm playing. Is that strange?"
"No, son, that is not strange at all. Unless you are planning on becoming a pro golfer, the most important thing is for you to have fun when you're playing. That's a good attitude to have. I have seen too many golfers become obsessed with winning and they miss out on the fun that the game can be. I hope that never happens to you."
"It won't dad. Golf's fun, but it's just a game."
"Amen to that." I said.