The weekend passed with the boys swimming on Saturday and horseback riding on Sunday. Joel went to John's house late Sunday afternoon to work on a project with John. It gave me a chance to talk to Pauline about Bruce, her estranged husband.
"I don't want to be nosey, but I've been wondering what's happened to Bruce. It's been a while since I've heard anything about him. Is he still in the area?" I asked.
"It's quite all right," Pauline said. "Bruce is keeping a low profile. I haven't talked to him in about two weeks. Most of our contact is through the divorce lawyers."
"So, you're going through with the divorce?"
"Yes, it's a last resort, but I can't make him see that his obsession with having a gay son is something I can't put up with. I'm not happy about it either, but I love John and I don't want to see him hurt. Bruce was always the master of the house when he was here and ruled it like a dictator. What he said was law. Now that he is gone, I find that I'm very capable of running the house without being told everything. It's been a liberating experience for me."
"It's good that you are doing well on your own. Just remember, if there is anything you need, don't hesitate to ask. Well, I'd better get back to the other boys. Have Joel call when it's time to come home."
With an admonition to Joel to behave, I left for home. When I got there the boys were playing with their dogs. Manfred was surveying the progress on the new house. Framing had started, so you could actually see the outline of the ground floor. It's surprising that as big as the house was going to be, how small it looked. Harold had assured me that it was really going to be the size specified on the floor plans and that it would look bigger once the walls were up.
Later that evening I went back to the Gordinier's to pick up Joel. He and John went out to the car while I talked to Pauline and the girls. I said my goodbyes and headed back to the car. It was getting dark and they were in the shadows of the Live Oak tree near the driveway, but I could still make out their embrace. I cleared my throat to warn them of my approach which caused them to jump apart. John waved goodbye to me and ran to the house.
"Son, does John ever talk about his father?" I asked, as we got underway for home.
"Sometimes, but he doesn't like to talk about him. I think it makes him sad because he still loves him even after everything his dad's done to him," Joel said. "Dad, how can he still love his dad?"
"I'm not sure. I guess he remembers the good times before his dad went off the deep end. I think in his own way, Bruce loves John. He just can't get over his son being gay. He can't see around this trivial part of who his son is. His mind is so warped by the fundamentalist religion that he embraces that he can't see that he is negatively affecting the lives of a wonderful family. He is throwing away a relationship with his wife and three daughters because of his unreasonable attitude toward John."
"I'm glad you're not like that, dad. I can't love my old dad. He was mean and he hurt me. He killed my momma, too," he said with a choke in his voice. "Maybe we could go visit momma's grave sometime. It's been a while since we've been there."
"I think that's a good idea. If the weather is good next weekend, we'll plan to go. We'll take some flowers, too." We rode the rest of the way home in silence.
Monday morning, after I got the boys off to school, Harold and I talked about the progress on the house. "Crane, you should begin thinking about the interior furnishings. Things like light fixtures, cabinets and counter tops, floor coverings, faucets and bathroom fixtures all need to be decided on before long. The list goes on from there."
"It seems a little early, but I suppose you're right. I'll get with Hildy and get her ideas on the kitchen and her and Manfred's apartment. For the rest, I think I'll hire a decorator to help make those decisions. Do you have anyone that you recommend?"
"There are a couple of decorators that I've been impressed with that you might consider," Harold said. "One is Janet Bass. She specializes in the contemporary style, but with a modern touch. The other is Larry Bing. He is more into the traditional style. Either one of their styles would fit easily into your home. I would suggest that you get someone on board soon in case they suggest changes in the window arrangements. The longer we wait on that the more difficult it will be to make those kinds of changes."
I thanked Harold and went back into the house to talk to Hildy. Entering the house, I was attacked by Ricky wanting me to hold him, which I did gladly. "How are you this morning, munchkin?"
"A man of few words, you'll make a good husband someday," I said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. "Let's go see Hildy."
Marie and Hildy were talking as I entered the kitchen. When Marie saw me, I could swear she had a guilty look on her face. I put Ricky down and he ran to Hildy.
"Juice," he said.
"Of course, honey," Hildy said. She steered him to the kitchen table and lifted him onto a chair, then went to the refrigerator to retrieve some juice.
"Mr. Johnson, ah ..." Marie started. "Ah ... There is something I need to tell you. It's ... Well ... Dirk has asked me to marry him and ..."
"Congratulations! That's wonderful, Marie," I said. "Did you say yes?"
"Yes, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. Dirk doesn't want me to work after we're married. I really appreciate everything you've done for me and I feel guilty about leaving you."
"Marie, don't worry about that. You and Ricky have become an important part of our lives, but we knew that it wouldn't last forever. When do you plan to get married?"
"We haven't set a date. I want to wait until after the end of January. That's when I get my GED."
"What does your mother say about you getting married?"
"I haven't told her yet. Dirk just asked me last night."
"Well, after you've told her, I want to talk to her. And, congratulations again, Dirk is a great guy. I'm sure you'll be happy." Turning to Hildy I said, "Harold just suggested that we start thinking about the interior of the new house. I'm going to put you in charge of the kitchen and, of course, your living quarters. I think a reasonable budget for the kitchen would be somewhere between $85,000 and $100,000. I want it to be top of the line and have every convenience you could possibly need. If you need more, let me know."
"I can't see how I could spend that much money on a kitchen," a shocked Hildy said.
"Get with a kitchen designer. I'm sure they can tell you how to spend that much," I laughed.
After chatting for a few more minutes, I gave Ricky a kiss on the forehead and received a sticky kiss on the cheek in return. I grabbed a wet paper towel and wiped my cheek as I headed out the door.
I would sure be happy when Darcie came back to work full time. I spent the entire day reviewing files requesting assistance and reports on families that were already receiving assistance. Mixed in during the day were two interviews with families whose files had passed the initial screening. I was still able to get away in time to meet the boys as they arrived home from school.
There was sadness in Joel's eyes as his brothers were greeted by their dogs. At some time in the future I thought I would bring up the idea of him getting another dog. Right now, I didn't think that would be a good idea.
"Has there been any more bullying at school?" I asked Joel.
"No," Joel answered. "I haven't seen Donald at school for the last week. He's the ringleader and when he's not there the other guys in his group aren't a problem."
"Let me know if it ever starts up again. How did the project that you and John were working on go today? What was it, by the way?"
"It was an airline scheduling program. Thad was supposed to be on our team, but he was in the hospital. He had his appendix taken out so John and I had to do it all. I think we did all right. The teacher will give us our grade on Thursday."
"Did you write that in Basic or C?"
"I'm glad we got to write it in C. Basic would have been really hard."
"How come you didn't let dad check it before you handed it in?"
"I know you could have made it better, but we wanted it to be all our work. You're not mad are you?"
"Of course I'm not mad at you. I'm proud of you. When you get it back from your teacher, I'd like to look at it. Maybe I can give you some tips that you can use in the future. Would that be okay?"
"Yeah, dad. Thanks."
"Run along and change your clothes. I think I smelled peanut butter cookies as I passed the kitchen."
Walking into the kitchen, Ricky was sitting in the same chair he was in when I left this morning, only this time he was eating cookies and drinking milk instead of drinking juice. The other boys were sitting around the table with a rapidly disappearing plate of peanut butter cookies.
Later after we had eaten supper, Joel asked if he could call Tony. Of course, I agreed and asked him to let me talk to Bill or Karen when he was finished. It had been some time since I had spoken with them and was interested in how things were going since the adoption of the two boys.
When Joel handed me the phone, I wasn't expecting to hear Tony's voice. "Hi, Mr. Johnson, thanks for letting Joel call me. I've missed talking to him."
"You're welcome, Tony. It seems like we get so wrapped up in our lives it's hard to find time to do all the things we would like to do. You'll have to come visit us sometime. Maybe on spring break?"
"I'd like that," Tony said. "Here's mom, she wants to talk to you. Goodbye."
"Crane, it's so good to have the chance to talk to you. I've been meaning to call, but never got around to it," Karen said.
"How are things going with the boys?"
"Just great! Tony is doing fantastic and his leukemia appears to be in complete remission. He loves school and brought home straight 'A's the first grading period. Benny is such a happy boy. It took him a while to get over Ethel's death, but with a lot of love and being with his brother helped him cope. Their adoption will become final at the end of the month. The past year has flown by."
"I'm so happy for both Tony and Benny," I said. "How are you and Bill doing?"
"Really well, Bill got promoted and now is in charge of ten other workers. It means a lot more money and Bill really likes the new job. I wish he was home, I know he would like to speak with you. He called a while ago and said he had to work late. I expect him within the hour. He never fails to check on the boys' homework and see that they get to bed on time."
"Well, I had better do the same thing. I see the boys are lining up for me to check their homework. Give my best to Bill and if you get a chance, come visit us."
We hung up and I began the process of checking homework.
The next couple of days passed without much happening. Thursday morning, Hildy informed me that she had talked to a kitchen designer and that she was meeting with her this afternoon. It seemed that the designer turned out to be the daughter of a high school girl friend. I told Hildy to handle everything, but if any structural changes such as moving walls needed to be done to the house to let me know as soon as possible.
I was waiting on the promised report from Jack concerning my alleged aunt. He had said he would have something for me by the end of the week. I wanted to get this cleared up quickly.
Darcie stopped by the office in the afternoon with the baby. Little Rebecca Louise was getting prettier every time I saw her. Although it's difficult to say for certain, I decided that she looked a lot like her mother. That was a pleasant break to the day. She had been gone about five minutes when Jack called.
"Crane, I've got some good news as far as the investigation goes. We still have a few things to tie up before the investigation is complete, but here is what we have learned. Eloise Manson has tried this scheme twice before with different individuals. There may have been more, but those two are all that we have uncovered so far. The same lawyer, Forsyth, has been involved in both of those other cases. Although the court records were sealed by order of the two different courts, we were able to get copies of them. Don't ask me how. In one of them she was able to extort $150,000 and the other one for just over a quarter of a million. In both cases she had birth certificates 'proving' she was the illegitimate child of a dead man and her mother. We've had a document examiner look at the copies that we obtained and he said they are fakes. Not that we really needed that opinion. It would be hard to explain how she had two different birth certificates with two different fathers."
"Jack, that's great news. I think I need to talk to Carlos to see how he wants to handle this from here on out. I want to see Forsyth pay for his part of this extortion scheme. You've done a great job as usual. Send your bill to Gerald. This one I'm glad to pay."
As soon as I hung up with Jack, I dialed Carlos. He was about to leave the office, but he took my call. I relayed to him what Jack had told me. I thought he was going to blow a fuse. He uttered a few profanities in English and then switched to Spanish. I didn't understand all of the Spanish, but I knew he wasn't reciting a nursery rhyme. When he calmed down, he said, "I want to hang that son-of-a-bitch, Forsyth. As soon as Jack hands over his report to you, I want to get it in the hands of the state bar association. If they don't disbar this guy, I don't know what it would take. Let's meet with Jack tomorrow morning around nine. After I've reviewed what he has, I want to set up a meeting with Forsyth and his client."
"Carlos, I never knew you had such an eloquent vocabulary in both English and Spanish," I laughed. "I'll call Jack and set it up. See you in the morning."
I left for home and got there just as the boys' school van was pulling away from letting them off.
"Hi, dad!" TJ yelled, as he ran up to the side of the car.
"Get in you guys and I'll give you a ride to the house." I remotely opened the gate as they crammed themselves into the BMW. Since it was such a short distance to the house, I didn't make them buckle-up. As I stopped the car in front of the house, I told them to go change their clothes and I would go let their dogs out. The dogs were running up and down their enclosure and jumping at the gate as I approached. They had seen their masters and were anxious to greet them. I was nearly run over when I opened the gate as four dogs stampeded toward the house.
Later in the evening, Joel sat down beside me and held out a folder. He didn't say anything, just handed me the folder. I took it from him and opened it. On the first page was a large red A+. It was then I remembered that he had said he would get the grade on John and his project.
"Congratulations, son," I said, reaching over and giving him a hug. "Do you want me to look it over?"
"Yeah, you could probably do it better, but John and I had fun doing it and it ran when we put it on the school computer. We only had two syntax errors. You can see where we made the changes here on page 3 and the other one on page 7. Nobody else could get theirs to compile and run."
"That's great, I'm proud of you. Let me skim over this to see if I can point out where you could optimize the code." I spent about twenty minutes going over the code and pointing out how I would have done it differently. All in all, it wasn't that badly written code. I'd seen college graduates with degrees in computer science who had written worse code.
"Those changes make sense, dad. I can see where they would make the program run faster. We never thought of making that one process a separate subroutine. That code doesn't need to be processed every time when it's only needed when all seats are sold. Thanks, dad, now I know why you get the big bucks," he laughed.
"I'll big bucks you," I said, grabbing him in a headlock and giving my laughing son a noogie.
The meeting with Carlos and Jack on Friday morning was interesting, to say the least. I thought Carlos was going to explode as he read the documents that Jack brought with him. After Carlos had read all the documents and asked Jack a series of questions, he said, "I'm going to call Mr. Forsyth and try to set up a face-to-face meeting with him and this Eloise Manson for Monday. Are both of you available?"
Jack and I both agreed that we would make ourselves available anytime Monday.
"Just go along with anything I say," Carlos said, as he was dialing Forsyth's number. After being connected to Forsyth, he continued, "Mr. Forsyth, I'm here with my client, Mr. Johnson. We're on the speaker phone."
We exchanged greetings before Carlos continued. "I think we have come to a solution to your client's 'request'. We would like to meet here with you and Ms. Manson on Monday, if that is possible. That way we could work out any of the minor details and get everything wrapped up."
"I can't speak for my client, but Monday is fine with me. I will check with her and call you back. An afternoon meeting would be best for me since it takes me around two hours to drive to the San Antonio area from Victoria," Forsyth said. "What type of settlement terms are we talking about?"
"We have taken your original proposal and made a few minor modifications to it. We have also added a few conditions to protect my client from any further litigation. Let's plan on getting together around two in the afternoon if your client is available. Have your secretary call mine for the directions to the office." When Carlos hung up the phone I could see an evil gleam in his eyes.
"Carlos, what are you up to?" I asked.
Before he answered me, he turned to Jack. "What do you know about Clara Downing in the DA's office?"
"She's a pretty straight shooter, from the experience I had with her when I was on the police force," Jack said. "I know she runs the fraud division in the DA's office."
"That's my opinion of her, also. Thanks," Carlos said. "Now, Crane, to answer your question, I plan to visit with Clara this afternoon. I'm going to give her the information that Jack has gathered on the previous frauds that Forsyth and Manson have perpetrated and the one they are attempting to perpetrate. If I know Clara, she will be very interested in the info. I'll bet that she'll obtain a warrant for their arrest. I expect that our Monday meeting will be interrupted by the police serving the warrant."
"I wish you luck. I can't wait until Monday."
We bade Carlos goodbye and Jack and I left for our respective offices. I was tempted to take the rest of the day off, but I knew we were interviewing another family for foundation assistance later this morning.
After the interview, I told Carol that I was taking the rest of the day off and left the office. On the way home I stopped at a florist shop and picked up a spray of flowers to take to the gravesite tomorrow. I chose a dozen white carnations with four red roses and one pink rose arranged in the center. The main flowers were surrounded by ferns and baby's breath. It was a very attractive arrangement.
I placed the flowers in one of our two refrigerators when I got home. Thankfully, Hildy hadn't gone grocery shopping or there wouldn't have been room. She usually did the shopping on Saturday.
I asked where Ricky was, when I walked into the living room. Marie turned the vacuum cleaner off before she answered me. She said he was taking a nap on TJ's bed. I walked to my bedroom and changed clothes. After changing, I walked passed TJ's bedroom and peeked in to see if Ricky was still sleeping. He was just lying there playing with his peg leg and humming to himself.
"Hi," he said when he saw me.
"Hi, yourself, munchkin, are you ready to get up?" I asked.
He nodded his head and held out his arm, inviting me to pick him up. I leaned over and started to lift him off the bed when I noticed a strong odor emanating from his diaper. "Oh boy, I think someone needs to be changed and it's not going to be me. Come on, munchkin, let's go see momma."
"Marie, this one needs changing," I said, as we entered the living room with a giggling Ricky.
"Ricky," she said, taking him from me. "I don't think I'm ever going to get him potty trained. He does pretty good when he's awake, but I can count on him having a wet or dirty diaper when he gets up from a nap. Come on you little stinker, let's get you changed."
A much better smelling three year-old carrying one of his books returned shortly and jumped up onto my lap. "Read," he commanded.
I read the book to him twice before he got tired of it and jumped down and went to play with one of his toys. I got up and went into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and talk to Hildy.
"Crane, Melissa Graham, the kitchen designer I met with yesterday, called me earlier today. She has a preliminary design for the kitchen and wants to make a presentation to you."
"She should make the presentation to you. If it satisfies you, then it is fine with me. I'll sit in on the presentation if I'm available, but my presence is not really necessary. Did she have a cost estimate worked up yet?"
Hildy grinned before she answered. "You were right about the cost of the new kitchen. Melissa estimated it will cost about $92,000. That includes the cabinets, counter tops, backsplash, sinks, appliances, flooring and lighting. It doesn't include the cooking utensils or dishes and flatware."
"We'll worry about those things later. If you like what she has drawn up, then get with Harold and make it happen. I know it will be fantastic. Another thing, I'm going to interview two interior designers in the next couple of weeks and would like for you to sit in on those meetings. I want the new home to be a showplace, but I want it to be a livable home. I also want your input for the design of your new quarters."
The boys arrived to be greeted by their dogs at the gate. After they had changed clothes and were settled down to their afternoon snack, I showed them the flowers and explained that we were going to the cemetery to place the flowers on their mother's grave. The announcement was met with what could only be described as subdued excitement.
The van was quiet the next morning as we entered the cemetery and drove to the area where their mother's grave was located. We walked in silence to the grave. Joel was carrying the flowers. He stood for a moment looking at the headstone before he slowly bent over and placed the flowers against the headstone. Joel noticed there were some weeds growing around the headstone and knelt to begin pulling them. The twins and Chris began helping him. TJ turned to me with tears in his eyes and wrapped his arms around my waist, sobbing into my stomach. I rubbed his back without saying anything. As soon as the weeds were all pulled from around the headstone, Joel turned and started walking toward the van. The other boys followed. It took a little doing, but I was able to remove TJ's arms from around my waist and, with my arm around him, led him back to the van.
We spent a quiet afternoon swimming until time for supper. Hildy decided it would be a good thing to grill some jumbo shrimp that she got at the market today when she went shopping. They were shelled and de-veined, but still had the tails.
By the time supper was ready the boys were in a happier frame of mind. The trip to the cemetery had a sobering effect on them, but I didn't want the four boys to forget their mother. It was a shame that this was the way she had to be remembered.
While I tended the grill, Manfred and Hildy, with the boys' help, set-up the picnic tables. The meal was outstanding. It had been a long time since we had shrimp as succulent as these were. Hildy's side dishes were perfect compliments. The strawberry shortcake, topped with freshly whipped cream, was an excellent ending to our meal.
Sunday a front moved through bringing a torrential downpour, so we spent the day indoors reading, playing videogames and watching TV.
As I took off for the office on Monday morning, I was looking forward to our two o'clock meeting with great anticipation.