Carlos called around ten o'clock to ask if Jack and I would meet him for lunch to plan our approach to attorney Forsyth. I agreed and said I would call Jack to let him know. I didn't get a lot of work done at the office, thinking about our upcoming meeting.
Jack drove into the parking lot of the restaurant just as I was getting out of my car. I waited for him and we walked in together. Looking around the interior of the restaurant, I saw Carlos sitting with a woman I didn't know. We made our way over to their table. Carlos stood as we approached and reached out his hand to shake ours. He then turned to the woman and introduced her to me.
"Clara, this is Crane Johnson. Crane, this is Clara Downing from the DA's office."
After Jack was introduced and the social amenities were taken care of, we sat down and Carlos began to outline what he and Clara had come up with as a strategy for our two o'clock meeting. He was interrupted a couple of times when the waitress took our lunch orders and when she brought them. When he had finished with the briefing, I was impressed with the plan. All I had to do was to sit and watch what would happen.
Lunch wrapped up a half an hour before the scheduled meeting, giving us time to get to Carlos' office with time to spare. The four of us settled into the conference room and waited for the arrival of Eloise Manson and John Forsyth. It wasn't long before we heard the door to the outer office open and voices speaking to Carlos' secretary. A moment later there was a knock on the door before his secretary opened it and ushered our two visitors into the room.
Carlos stood and shook the outstretched hand of the man who introduced himself as John Forsyth before introducing his companion as Eloise Manson. Carlos introduced us to them. I wondered how he was going to explain Clara's presence, but he introduced her as a colleague lawyer who had more experience in these matters, explaining that he was more comfortable with corporate law.
Eloise Manson was a heavyset woman who appeared to be in her late sixties or early seventies. That would have been about the right age. She looked a little worse for the wear and wore way too much makeup. The makeup did nothing to hide what the effects of time and a hard life had done to her face.
"Just so it's clear to everyone, my secretary will be taking notes of this meeting and to make sure that everything is complete and accurate, it will also be recorded and transcribed. All parties will be given copies of the final transcript," Carlos said. "Before we get down to the serious negotiations, I'd like to ask Ms. Manson how she became aware that she was the daughter of Julius Johnson."
"It came to me as a complete surprise," Eloise said, batting her eyes innocently. "I was brought up thinking that I was the daughter of Carl Manson and my mother Sofia. I was getting ready to sell mother's house. I had live with her after Carl had died and took care of her until she passed away. I inherited the house as part of her estate. I was planning to sell it and move to a retirement community in Florida when I ran across some old papers in a metal box in the attic. One of the papers was a copy of a birth certificate showing that my real father's name was Julius Crandall Johnson."
"And how did you find out about my client, Mr. Crane Johnson?" Carlos asked.
"Well, of course, I was curious to learn about my real father and if I had any relatives, especially if there were any brothers or sisters. I did a little digging in the old newspaper files and came across my real father's obituary. It listed his living relatives. Blain Johnson was listed as his only child and Crane Johnson was his only grandchild. After some further research, I discovered that Blain Johnson had been killed in an airplane accident. My research didn't turn up the whereabouts of Crane Johnson, so I asked Mr. Forsyth to see if he could locate my newly discovered nephew, since he was more experienced doing things like that."
"I see," Carlos said. "I assume that you have all of the documentation that you found in your mother's papers with you?"
"Yes, Mr. Forsyth has them," Eloise responded.
"Mr. Forsyth, would you allow Mr. Hogan to examine the documents?" Carlos asked.
"Certainly," Forsyth said, opening his briefcase and extracting a folder containing several papers.
"Thank you," Jack said. He began examining the documents one by one with a magnifying glass and holding them up to the light to check for watermarks.
"If we can't come to a negotiated settlement, are you still planning on filing the civil action against my client?" Carlos asked.
"Of course," Forsyth answered. "I really don't want to see this go to court, Ms. Manson is reasonable. However, we do believe that an out of court settlement would be best for all concerned. Civil suits can be so messy, don't you think? All sorts of embarrassing things can surface that are better left behind closed doors. Mr. Johnson is certainly wealthy enough to pay $75 million to maintain his privacy." He looked directly at me and gave just the hint of a smirk. "My client is entitled to at least that much for being deprived of her rightful share of the inheritance. If we had to go to court, he might be facing an even larger settlement."
"Is the proposed filing basically the same as the document that you faxed to me?"
"Yes," Forsyth answered, shoving a document across the table to Carlos. "Here is a copy for you. As you will see, it is the same as the one I faxed to you."
The rest of us sat there not saying anything while this conversation was taking place and Jack did his examination of the documents. "Hmm, very interesting," he finally said, placing the documents back into the folder.
"What's your verdict, Jack?" Carlos asked.
"I'm not a document expert," Jack said. "However, I do have an opinion about their authenticity."
"And that is?" Carlos asked.
"I would say they are very good fakes."
"What?" John Forsyth exploded. "Are you questioning my client and my veracity? You had better be very sure. You are setting yourself up for a mighty big law suit."
"Mr. Forsyth, calm down," Carlos said. "I asked for Mr. Hogan's opinion and he gave it. You should know, as a lawyer, that rendering an opinion is not the same as stating a fact and therefore any suit that you could bring against Mr. Hogan would be on, at best, tenuous grounds."
"I want it on the record that my honesty has never been challenged," Forsyth said, huffily.
"Let's leave that for the moment. Jack will you give the results of your investigation into the assertions that Ms. Manson is the daughter of Julius Johnson and her claim to a portion of the inheritance?" Carlos said.
"Yes, let me address the inheritance issue first. I spent some of my efforts trying to determine the state of Julius Johnson's estate at the time of his death. As near as I could determine, when he died, his assets were approximately $3,421. His debts were $5,103. These numbers may be a few dollars off either way, but I'm confident that they are very close to the actual dollar amounts. These amounts do not include the $2,300 for burial expenses that Crane's mother and father incurred. I calculate that if the estate had been shared evenly between Blain Johnson and Eloise Manson, she would now owe Crane Johnson $2,820 and a few cents. I used an interest rate of 5% compounded semi-annually and a term of 25 years to arrive at that figure. If half of the burial expenses are considered part of the estate, then the total would come to slightly over $7,011."
"That's outrageous," Forsyth stormed. "How the hell did Crane Johnson become so wealthy if he didn't inherit the money from his grandfather through his own father?"
"How Mr. Johnson accumulated his wealth is of no concern of yours other than it was not derived from any inheritance from his grandfather," Carlos said.
I noticed that Forsyth was red in the face and fidgeting in his chair. Eloise Manson was looking down at her folded hands in her lap.
"Let's take a look at some other things that Mr. Hogan found during his investigation. First, a search of the microfilm records in the Department of Vital Statistics turned up a true copy of Ms. Manson's birth certificate showing that she was actually born 11 months after Julius was drafted into the service. His service record shows that he was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood during the time when Ms. Manson was supposedly conceived and he was never on leave from the base during his training there. Second, and this is most telling, Ms. Manson has on at least two other occasions, represented that she was the daughter of deceased persons, with whom her mother was acquainted. Both of these individuals had well-to-do heirs. In the cases that we are aware of, she was able to receive sizeable amounts of money through civil actions."
Now Forsyth was beginning to squirm in his chair and his face had lost a lot of its color. He looked distinctly uncomfortable.
Carlos continued, "The attorney that represented Ms. Manson in both of these civil actions was none other than you, Mr. Forsyth."
"That's a damned lie," Forsyth yelled. "Let's get out of here Eloise."
Before they were fully out of their seats, Clara Downing said in a commanding voice, "Sit down, Mr. Forsyth. For the record, let me further identify myself. Yes, I am a colleague of Mr. Martinez, but I am also the Assistant District Attorney in the Fraud Division for Bexar County."
A look of surprise came over his face, but he complied with her command. So did Eloise.
"We have copies of the pleadings and settlements in those cases showing that you were, in fact, the attorney of record for Ms. Manson," Carlos said.
"That's impossible," Forsyth almost screamed. "Those records were sealed. You can't prove that I was involved."
"Wrong again, Mr. Forsyth," Carlos grinned. He was obviously enjoying this. "The copies that we have may not be certified court documents, but they are true copies."
"Mr. Forsyth," Clara said. "One of the judges involved in your fraud was my roommate in law school. I'm sure that if I were to give her the evidence that Mr. Hogan has developed, she would unseal those records and provide us with an official copy." Walking to the door of the conference room, Clara opened it and gave a beckoning motion to someone outside.
As she stepped aside, four San Antonio police officers entered. Two of them were police women.
"Ms. Manson, Mr. Forsyth, these officers are here to place you under arrest for attempted extortion and forgery of an official document, namely a birth certificate. I will be contacting my corresponding district attorneys and providing them with the information that we have concerning your other frauds in their counties. I'm sure that they will be interested in filing charges of their own. Oh, and by the way, that same information will be going to the bar association in the form of a complaint." This last was directed at Forsyth.
"You bastards, I'll get even with you," Forsyth ranted, as the police officers handcuffed him. "I'll get you, just you wait. I know where you live. I'll get you, Johnson, and all those bastard kids of yours."
Jack talked to one of the police officers as he walked out with the two prisoners. Jack had worked with the officer while he was still on the police force. When he came back, he said that Forsyth was still fuming and swearing revenge for this "assault on his integrity" as the disgraced lawyer put it.
"Crane, it wouldn't be a bad idea to be a little more aware of what's going on around you if Forsyth gets out on bail. He's just crazy enough to try to do something to you," Jack said.
"You're probably right. Maybe I should hire a couple of security guards to make sure that the boys and all are safe. You have any suggestions?" I asked.
"I know of a couple security firms that are reputable. I can highly recommend one of them. It was started by a friend of mine. He and I were both on the force together. He got fed up with the politics and left the force about three years before I did. I would recommend you get around-the-clock protection, at least for a while. It's not going to be cheap," Jack said.
"Money is no object when it comes to protecting my sons. Give them a call and set up an appointment to meet with them, please."
Jack picked up the phone and dialed their number. After speaking to a man he addressed as Andy, he turned to me and asked where I wanted to meet with them. I told Jack that the house would be the best place so that they could become familiar with the surroundings. He set the meeting up for five this evening.
At five o'clock the gate buzzer sounded. I activated the intercom and the person at the gate identified himself as Andy Bianca. I opened the gate for him and went outside to wait for him to drive up. The man who stepped out of the nondescript Ford was not what I expected. He was short, probably 5' 6", and his hair was snow white. I guessed that he was prematurely grey since he didn't appear to be much over 35.
After the introductions were made, he began to ask questions about the normal routine of the family. As we were talking and walking around the area, the boys came up to us. I introduced them to Mr. Bianca. They were curious as to the reason for him being here. I explained to them that a man had made some threats against me and I was taking precautions. I tried to be as nonchalant as I could be while explaining the reason for his presence. I didn't want the boys to be frightened, but I wasn't going to lie to them.
Andy and I talked for almost an hour. In that time he got a pretty good idea of what he needed to do to see that we were protected. We agreed that there would be one of his operatives on duty twenty-four hours a day at the property and that the boys would be escorted to and from school by one of his men in one of their vans. He left, saying that one of his employees would be here in the morning to transport the boys.
I was surprised at supper that the boys didn't have more questions about the security precautions. I was surprised, but pleased that they were taking it in stride.
While the boys were doing their homework, I explained to Hildy and Manfred what the security precautions were going to be and asked them to be alert to anything unusual around the property. They were shocked by the need for security, but understood that it was necessary. I didn't think that either of them was a potential target of Forsyth's threats, however, it would be wise for them to be on the alert.
Later, after I had tucked the boys into bed and was re-reading the morning paper, Joel slipped onto the couch beside me.
"Can I talk to you, dad?"
"Sure, son, what's on your mind?"
"Is some guy really going to try to hurt you? Or us?"
"I certainly hope not. Some crazy guy made some threats against me."
"But why are the security guys going to protect us if he only threatened you?"
The question took me a little by surprise. I knew that Joel was bright, but he seemed to have seen through my assertion that I was the only one that was threatened. "Son, if the guy can't get at me directly, he might try to get to me through you guys. If anything happened to you, I couldn't bear it. You and your brothers are my life. I love you all so very much. The thought of you being hurt is more than I could stand. I'll do whatever it takes to keep that from happening."
"Is this going to be forever?"
"I hope it's only for a while. Once the guy goes to prison, which I hope is soon, we can probably go back to normal. I'll have to evaluate the situation at that time. Now, I think it's time for you to get back to bed."
"Okay, dad, I love you."
"I love you, too, son," I said, giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Good night."
Tuesday morning the security guard for the boys arrived with a large SUV to take them to school. I gave him directions to the school and they headed out the gate. I waited at the gate for the regular school van to arrive and informed the driver that the boys would be using other transportation until further notice.
I received a call from Jack shortly after I arrived at the office. He informed me that Forsyth and Manson had posted bail and were released from jail. "Crane, when we were running the investigation on your supposed aunt, we didn't put many resources into investigating Forsyth. The little that we found out was all related to his dealings with Eloise Manson. Last night I called a few friends in Victoria. They had a lot to say about Forsyth, none of it good. It seems he's a real shady character, playing things very close to what is ethical. He has also had some close dealings with a couple of major crime figures. All of this was supposedly on the up-and-up because he was defending them in court. However, my contacts in the sheriff's office there believe that the relationship is more than attorney-client. If you want, I'll do a little more digging into his background. It might be relevant when it comes time for sentencing - if he is convicted."
"Jack, I think that's a good idea. As Sun Tzu said, "Know your enemy". The more we know about him the better prepared we can be for anything he might try to do."
"I don't know who this Sun Tzu is, but it's good advice. I'll let you know as soon as we find out anything. In the mean time, keep your eyes open."
The next week went by with nothing out of the ordinary happening. Jack reported that his investigators had uncovered more rumors of Forsyth's connections to the criminal element in the Houston area, but nothing concrete. One investigator did observe a meeting at a restaurant in Corpus Christi between Forsyth and a suspected member of the Mexican Mafia.
The boys were getting used to their driver/security guard. In fact, they had developed a very friendly relationship with him. David Lemon was a young ex-Marine with an easy smile and the ability to converse with anyone. When he was not driving the boys back and forth to school, he took turns with the other security man assigned to the house.
Hildy and I did meet with the two decorator consultants that Harold had recommended. We listened to each explain how they, in general terms, saw the finished house. Both of their ideas sounded great, but neither Hildy nor I could make a choice without something more concrete. It was difficult for me to visualize their concepts, so I commissioned them to create drawings, fabric samples, paint colors and window treatments so we could get a better idea of their designs.
Security for the property turned out to be more difficult than we had originally thought. The continuous flow of workers necessary for the construction of the new house limited the security to personal security. Only at night was there a concerted effort to see that the property was free of any intruders. Infrared sensors had been set up around our temporary quarters. These sensors were all tied in to a central position located in a small trailer which was manned all night. There were numerous false alarms created by deer and other animals which kept the security detail on their toes.
Darcie came back to work full-time at the beginning of the month. That freed me up to pay more attention to my real estate holdings and investments. Gerald told me that I needed to free up more cash as the cost of the security was draining the available cash I had on hand for him to pay my bills. The cost of the around-the-clock security was running a little over $25,000 a month.
One evening when the boys came home from school, TJ asked, "Can David go swimming with us?" At first I didn't know who he meant, until I realized it was their driver he was talking about.
"Sure, if he wants to," I said, looking at David Lemon. He smiled and nodded his head indicating that he would like to. "Do you have any swimming trunks?"
"Yes, sir," he said. "I usually take a swim in the pool at my apartment after I get off duty, but today I have to work a double shift to fill in for one of the regular guys that's sick. You don't mind, do you? I'll still be protecting them."
"I don't mind at all. In fact, I think I'll join you. But first, I'll bet the boys are going to want a snack. Would you like to join us?"
"Thank you, I can tell your cook is good from the smells coming from the kitchen."
"You can say that again. It's a wonder we're not all so fat that we can't walk. Come on in, I'll show you where you can change."
Despite his having served in the Marine Corps for four years, David acted more like a teenager in the pool with the boys. They climbed all over him just as they did me. Now they had two people to play 'king-of-the-hill' with, instead of with just me. About an hour after we were in the pool, one of the other security guards approached us. When David saw him, he said to the boys, "Sorry, guys, but I have to go back to work. Maybe we can do this another time." He clambered out of the pool and headed for the house to change.
When there had been no incidents involving security for nearly a month, I was becoming complacent. That was until the boys came home from school one evening.
"Dad," Chris yelled, as he jumped out of the SUV that brought them home. "Some guy tried to run us off the road on the way home."
"Yeah," Lenny added. "But David shoved the car off the road. It was neat, just like the cops do on TV."
I looked anxiously at David. "Was anyone hurt?"
"No," David said. "The other car went into the ditch. We didn't stop. I just wanted to get the boys home ASAP."
"Did you call the sheriff?" I asked.
"Yes, I talked to a Deputy Jesse Cantu on my cell phone and told him what had happened. He wanted me to stay at the scene of the 'accident', but I told him there was no way I was staying there and possibly putting the boys in danger. I said I would deliver the boys home and then return and meet him."
"Good, you did the right thing. I'll go back with you and try to explain things to him. I know Jesse. He's a good cop. Was the other vehicle damaged?"
"I don't think so. Other than a few dents, it seemed okay. It was stuck in the ditch when we left the scene."
"Your SUV doesn't seem to have sustained any damage," I said, looking over the front of the vehicle.
David laughed. "This thing is built like a tank. It has armor plating that will stop anything except some high powered armor piercing bullets. The glass is nearly an inch thick and is also bullet resistant. It may look like an ordinary SUV, but it's an SUV on steroids."
"That's comforting," I said. "Let's go meet Jesse."
The spot where the incident occurred was a little over a mile from our front gate. When we got there, the car was still in the ditch, but there were no occupants. We waited a few minutes before Jesse arrived.
Jesse took down some preliminary information before he asked David to explain how the accident happened.
"I was driving Mr. Johnson's sons home from school when I noticed a car following closely behind us. They seemed anxious to pass, so when I got to a place where there was a stretch of road I could see for a ways, I slowed down and pulled over slightly to allow them to pass. I was suspicious of them. That's my job. Anyway, they pulled out and started to go around me, but when they got about even with the front of my vehicle, they started crowding me further to the side of the road. I saw what they were doing, so I hit the brakes and let them get a half car length ahead of me and then I floored it and drove straight into the right rear panel of their car. Because they were all ready steering their car to the right, the little push I gave them sent them into a 180 and they ended up in the ditch. You can see the ditch is rather steep here. I think that's the reason they tried it at that moment."
"You didn't stop to see if anyone was injured?" Jesse asked.
"No, sir, my first concern was the safety of the five boys."
"You know I could charge you with failure to stop and render aid, don't you?"
"Now, Jesse, what would you have done under the circumstances? David was hired to protect my sons because some idiot has threatened us. If he had 'stopped and rendered aid', as you put it, my sons could have been put in danger. He did call and report the incident to you. He could have just gone about his business as if nothing had happened. I'm sure there was no call from the other car involved. Am I right?"
"You're right, Crane. I can see your point. You and your sons have been through enough. I'll still have to file a report. It will be up to the sheriff as to what he wants to do."
"Thanks, Jesse, let me worry about Sheriff Bartlett," I said. "Have you determined who the car belongs to?"
"Yes, but that's not much help. The car was stolen earlier this morning from a shopping center on the south side of San Antonio. The forensic team will be here shortly to go over the car to see if they can gather more information. I'm not hopeful. Whoever did this knows what they are doing," Jesse answered.
David drove me back to the house. I was barely inside the house when the phone rang. It was Andy Bianca. He wanted to know if everyone was safe and if the sheriff had given us any problems. I explained to him what had happened when we met with Jesse. He seemed satisfied, but then said, "Crane, I think this is just the start of John Forsyth's efforts to intimidate you and your family. I wish we had direct evidence of his involvement. If we did, we might be able to get him put back in jail. That might, at least, impede his vendetta against you and your family. Please be extra careful for the next few days or so. I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't another attempt to do you harm sometime soon."
I promised him that we would be extra careful and alert. I was outwardly projecting more confidence than I felt inside.