Our security detail was on heightened alert for the next several weeks, but there were no further incidents. Gradually things returned to near normal.
During the first week in November, I was served with a summons to report to the 294th District Court on December 2nd at 9 AM. The trial of John Forsyth was scheduled to begin on that date. I had heard from Jack that Eloise Manson agreed to a plea bargain and was going to testify against Forsyth. I would be glad to get that over with.
I met the SUV that brought the boys home from school on Wednesday. The boys had grown attached to David, their driver and security guard. David always had a funny story to tell the boys to keep them occupied on their drives to and from school. He either had a terrific imagination or had lived a most interesting life. The stories, related to me by the boys, were funny and just a little too fantastic to be true.
Later I was sitting in the living room looking over a financial statement I'd received from Gerald, when Joel came in and sat down beside me.
"Dad, do you think I could get another dog," he asked.
"I wondered when you would be ready for a new one. When do you want to go get one?"
"Could we go Saturday?"
"Sure, where do you want to go?"
"Could we go to that shelter where you got Larry and Lenny and Chris' puppies?"
"You mean Canyon Lake Animal Shelter Society? I think they're open on Saturday. I'll call them tomorrow and see."
"Thanks, dad, I miss Samson. I know another dog won't ever replace him, but I think I need one."
I smiled to myself as Joel went off to play outside with his brothers. I expected that it would have taken him a little longer to want another pet. I was pleased that he had put the unpleasant experience of having to put his dog to sleep behind him and was ready to move on.
After the boys took off for school, I waited for Larry Bing to arrive with his final designs for the interior of the new house. Hildy and I had both agreed that his preliminary designs were more to our liking than Janet Bass' were. I had asked him to create a complete set of designs for all the rooms in the house except for the kitchen. He was to present his designs to Hildy and me this morning.
At nine o'clock I got a call from the security guard asking if a Mr. Bing was expected. I told the guard that Bing was expected and to allow him to come to the house. I stepped outside to await our designer.
"You've got security guards now. How come?" Larry Bing asked, as he exited his car.
"Yes, I guess they weren't here when you were here last. There have been some threats against us. I'm just making sure that my family is safe. Please come into the house. Hildy is anxious to see what you've come up with."
It took him about ten minutes to bring in everything that he had prepared. For the next two hours, Hildy and I looked over the designs that he had drawn as he explained in detail his concepts for each room. With some very minor exceptions that we pointed out to him, we liked what he had done. I gave him the go ahead to begin the process of acquiring the furniture and other materials that he would need to complete the furnishing of the new house. It would still be six to eight months before the house would be finished to the point when his work could begin. Many of the items that he had chosen would need to be handcrafted so he needed at least that much lead time.
As Hildy and I stepped back into the house after saying goodbye to Larry Bing, she said to me. "Crane, your new house is going to be a show home when it's finished. I'm going to love it. I can hardly wait until it's finished."
"I'm anxious also," I said. "It's going to be beautiful, but I hope it's going to be a livable home. I want the boys to feel comfortable in it. I want to feel comfortable in it, also."
"I'm sure that the boys will be in awe of it for a while. Knowing them, I think they will adjust quickly. They've proven themselves to be very resilient. Just look how quickly they adjusted when they came to live with you."
"With us," I said. "It wouldn't have been possible without you. I didn't know the first thing about raising kids. You were always there to help me over the rough spots."
Hildy leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek. "You've been a good father to those boys. They couldn't ask for a better one."
I spent the next hour or so going over my stock holdings and the stocks in the boys' trust funds. I called Roger Burton, my broker, and made a few adjustments to the portfolios. I dumped one underperforming stock and invested the proceeds in a stock that I felt had the potential to triple in the next couple of years.
After lunch, I took off to the Majestic Oaks apartment complex to see how the finished renovations worked out. They were scheduled to be completed a week ago, but I had been unable to stop by to check them out.
I was surprised to see Chuck Solaris and Phillip Brown at the complex. They were in charge of overseeing the management of the two apartment complexes that I owned. "Chuck, Phillip, it's good to see you. What brings you here today? Where's Barry Manson?"
"That's what we're trying to find out. One of the tenants called us after the office had been locked up ever since yesterday," Chuck said. "He's gone, but it looks like most of his personal belongings are still here. It appears that some of his clothes are missing, at least several changes of clothes. There are a number of empty hangers in his closet. Something is very strange."
"He didn't call and let you know he had a personal emergency?" I asked.
"No, that's what worries us. He's been a good manager. From what I understand, he has been managing this complex almost since it was built," Phillip said.
"Do you know of any of his friends or acquaintances?"
"I've pulled his files," Chuck added, handing me a folder. "We haven't been able to reach the people he listed as references, but then the files are several years old; ten years at least."
"How about family?"
"None that we have been able to discover," Chuck said.
"I guess the next thing is to check with the police to see if they have any information and then start calling hospitals. But you would think if he were in the hospital, he would have tried to get in touch with you guys."
"We'll get started on that and until we find him, Phillip and I will stay here and manage the place. If we can't find him soon, we should think about interviewing applicants for the job. Is there anything we can do for you or did you just stop by to check on things?"
"I wanted to see how the renovations went on Buildings 1 and 2. They were supposed to be completed last week."
"Let me get the master keys for those buildings," Phillip said. "Chuck can stay here at the office and start making those phone calls. When I talked to Barry last Friday, he said only one of the apartments had been rented. I'll check to make sure before we go barging into a rented apartment."
Phillip and I inspected the two renovated buildings. I was very pleased with the results. We should be able to increase the rents on those units and I told Phillip to see if the market would bear the increase. It was almost 45 minutes before we returned to the office.
Chuck told us that the police had no record of Barry having been involved with them in the past few days. The coroner's office didn't have any unidentified bodies. He was just beginning his calls to the local hospitals. Phillip said he would help with those calls. I decided there was nothing more I could do here. Phillip and Chuck seemed to have things well in hand. I did ask them to give me a call and let me know what they found out.
I decided to drive by the other apartment complex to see if things were still running smoothly after I had talked to Phillip and Chuck about the things I had found the last time I was there. I was pleased when I got there. The grounds were well kept. The garbage dumpsters and the areas around them were neat. I stopped briefly to tell the manager how pleased I was with the improvements I observed over the last time I was there.
Arriving home, I had barely parked the BMW when David drove in with the boys. I got my hugs and the boys ran off to let their dogs out of the kennels.
"David, do you have time to have a swim with the boys and me?" I asked.
"I'd love to, Mr. Johnson, but I have a date. My girlfriend has invited me to meet her folks and to have dinner with them. I've got to hurry home and get ready. I want everything to be perfect. From what I've heard about them, they're very conservative. I hope they like me, because I really like Patty," David said.
"I'm sure you'll do just fine. I don't think I'd tell them some of your stories if I were you until you know them better. They might not have a sense of humor. The boys enjoy them because they repeat them to me."
David blushed. "You're probably right. I do kinda get the old imagination going when I start telling a tale. I think that's why Patty likes me, because I make her laugh."
"I'll bet there are other reasons. You're a fine young man. The boys are very fond of you and they're very good judges of character. Now, go on home and get ready for your girl. We'll see you in the morning."
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson, I really like your sons, too." He waved to the boys before getting back into the SUV and headed back down the driveway.
"Dad," Joel said, as he swam up to me after we had been swimming for about an hour. "We have our last golf tournament tomorrow. Will you come?"
"Sure, where's it going to be?"
"At River Crossing, it's a triangular. Smithson Valley and New Braunfels are going to be there."
"What time does it start?"
"Two o'clock. Each team is only going to have five players and only the four lowest scores for each team will count. I'm the A player on our team."
"That's great, I'm proud of you. I'll be there."
Friday morning I was sitting at the kitchen table reading the morning paper and drinking my second cup of coffee. I had seen the boys off to school and was relaxing before taking off for the foundation office. Skimming over the smaller articles in the paper, I almost missed one that had a Wichita, Kansas identifier on it. I guess that's what hit my eye and made me stop to read it. I'm glad I did. It merely stated that a Bill Phillips was going on trial on Monday for the abuse and first degree murder of his son, Jason. The article went on to say that Phillips had recovered from a self-inflicted gun-shot wound to the head and was judged competent to stand trial. The prosecutor was seeking the death penalty. There was no mention of his wife or daughter.
I immediately called Jack to see if he had given the Wichita prosecutor the information that he had dug up on Phillips. He said that he had turned over everything they had. I asked him if he had any contacts in Wichita that would keep me informed of the progress of the trial. I had it in the back of my mind to at some time to sit in on a part of the trial. Jack said he knew a reporter for the local newspaper he would ask to email me updates on the story. I thanked him before we hung up.
On the way out to go to the foundation office, I stopped to talk to Harold about the progress on the new house. The exterior framing was nearly complete and he assured me that it would be "buttoned up" before Christmas. By that he meant that it would be fully enclosed to protect it from the elements. He said things would slow down in December. Many of his subcontractor's laborers would head to Mexico for the Christmas season. I shook my head, but understood that was the way things were in South Texas.
Carol was on the phone when I entered the office, but she waved to me and handed me a stack of mail addressed to me. Both Darcie and Paul were busy as I passed their offices. I went to my desk and started reading the stack of mail. Most of it concerned requests for information about the foundation from CPS caseworkers. These I would give back to Carol for her to send out the prepared brochures to those requesting the information.
One letter surprised me. It was from Bill and Karen Boise.
Dear Mr. Johnson,
Bill and I would like to thank you and ASEC for the support you have given our family. We would not have been able to adopt Tony and Benny without the support you have given us.
Since the adoptions our lives have been so much richer. Other good things have been happening in our lives. I told you on the phone that Bill had a new job. What I didn't tell you was he was given a substantial raise. We have discussed our current financial situation and have decided that we no longer need the financial aid that ASEC provides us monthly.
We believe that it could be better used by some other family wanting to adopt an older child.
God bless you and the foundation for making our dreams come true.
Bill and Karen Boise
The letter brought tears to my eyes. This is what the foundation is all about, to provide the support to families so that they can build a better life for themselves and the children they adopt. Although the foundation is prepared to continue the support until the child is through school, the best of all worlds is what has happened with the Boise family.
I wiped my eyes and went to Darcie's office. She was about to hang up the phone when I entered.
"Look at this," I said, handing her the letter.
"This is wonderful," she said, as she finished reading it. "Even with the added endowment of the foundation, it's great to have one more family we can help because of the Boise's honesty and good fortune. You know they could have continued to receive the stipend until we went through the reevaluation of their finances. That might have been another year before we were able to do that."
"I know. They are good people and this proves it."
I went back to my office and went through the rest of the mail. I was about to break for lunch when I got a call from Carlos.
"Hey, Crane, are you interested in buying another apartment complex?" he said.
"Are you nuts? I've got enough problems with one of them that I have now. What makes you ask?"
"I just got a call from a friend of mine. He said that the developer of a complex off of Stone Oak is in trouble and is looking for someone to either bail him out by investing in it or selling it outright. It's going to be a very upscale complex with lots of amenities according to my friend."
"Before I would consider an investment in it, I would like to unload some of the raw land that I have. Have you had any feelers on any of it?"
"No, but let me make a few calls. This apartment complex is not too far from one of your land holdings. Maybe you ought to consider developing it yourself."
"Bite your tongue, Carlos. I'm a computer nerd, not a developer. I'm only in the land as an investment, hopefully to turn a profit. I think I will go by the apartments. Let me have the address."
Carlos gave me the address and I left the office, telling Carol that I would not be back. I would just have time to run by the apartments before I had to be at River Crossing to watch Joel's golf match.
I drove by the apartments that Carlos had told me about. They looked to be about three-quarters of the way complete. I was impressed with the style of the buildings and the care that the contractor had taken to save some of the old growth live oak trees. I made a note to come back and take a more detailed look and to make some further inquiries.
I made it to the golf course with about twenty minutes to spare. I still hadn't eaten lunch, so I went into the clubhouse and ordered a sandwich. The service was not very speedy. I grabbed my sandwich as soon as the waitress brought it to me and hurried out to catch up with Joel's group. Luckily he was scheduled to hit off on the first tee. He smiled and waved to me as I walked up. As a representative of the host team, he was to hit in the first position.
After all three of the golfers had teed off, I started walking next to Joel. A man I didn't know drove up beside me in a golf cart and introduced himself to me as Kirby Jones, the coach from Smithson Valley, and asked if I would like to ride with him. I gratefully accepted. He said he was there to provide rulings in case the boys were uncertain of what to do in certain situations.
Kirby was a very friendly person and I enjoyed our ride around the course. Joel was playing very well. He was hitting the ball straight with just the hint of a draw. On this course that was an advantage since many of the holes had a dog-leg left layout. In fact, all three of the boys in Joel's group were playing extremely well. At the end of the fifth hole they were all tied. From there to the seventeenth the lead went back and forth with each of the boys at one time holding the lead.
On seventeen, a long par five, Joel pushed his drive to the right. I was sure that it was going out of bounds, but instead it hit the cart path and bounced on the asphalt at least five times before bouncing to the left and back onto the fairway. He looked at me and just grinned. His drive must have been at least 300 yards thanks to the fortunate bounces.
Bobby, the boy from Smithson Valley, hooked his drive to the left into the ditch that runs all along the fairway. Serg, the boy from New Braunfels, hit his ball down the middle of the fairway, but his ball ended up at least seventy-five yards behind Joel's.
Bobby took two to get out of the ditch and he was on the green in five. Serg was on the green in three and Joel hit his second shot perfectly and was on in two. Joel missed his eagle putt but made his birdie. Serg got par and Bobby took a double bogey seven. This put Joel up by one stroke going into the short par four eighteenth. All three golfers took a par on eighteen, which gave Joel a one stroke lead for his team.
Joel's group was the first in from their round. I invited them to join me in the snack bar for some sodas and snacks. When we got there, I told the wait staff to give the guys anything they wanted and I would pay for it. I also told them to do the same for the other 12 boys that would be coming in shortly.
Joel, Bobby and Serg got their snacks and sat down at one of the tables and started re-hashing their rounds. I was pleased at the camaraderie that they displayed. The animosity I have seen that often rears it head between schools was not apparent with these three. They were simply golfers with mutual respect for the others' skills.
It was after 6:30 by the time we left the course and headed for home. Hildy had probably already served supper to the other boys. Maybe she would take pity on us and save some supper for us. She did. I knew she would.
Saturday morning after breakfast, Joel reminded me he wanted to go look for a new dog. I hadn't forgotten, but knew the place didn't open until 10 AM. Joel was pacing the floor by 9:30 waiting for us to leave. Once outside, I told the security detail where we were going and they insisted that one of them ride with us.
The animal shelter was still closed when we arrived, but opened about five minutes later. I told the lady who greeted us that we wanted to look at a dog for my son. She led us back to where a number of dogs were being held in separate kennels. Joel walked by each one, looking at each one for a minute or so before going to the next one. After he had seen all of the dogs, he went back to a young, brown and white spotted puppy that was huddled in the corner of its kennel.
"Can I look at that one?" he asked.
"Yes," the lady said. "He was brought in early last week. He's been neutered and given all his shots. He is very afraid of people. None of the staff have been able to get him to come out of his shell. All he does is stay huddled in the corner except to eat. We believe that he may have been abused."
The lady entered the kennel, picked up the puppy and brought him out to us. She handed the frightened dog to Joel. He held the dog with its head nestled under his chin and went over to a bench and sat down with his bundle. Joel began speaking softly to the dog and stroking its back. I wasn't able to hear what he was saying. The lady and I stood watching the interaction between the two. Slowly, the dog seemed to relax in Joel's arms and then, to the amazement of the lady, gave the side of Joel's face a lick.
"I can't believe this," the lady said. "We have been working with that puppy for over a week and no one has been able to do what your son has done in a couple of minutes. Amazing! Simply amazing!"
"I want this one, dad," Joel said. He held the puppy out in front of his face, nose to nose. He was rewarded with another lick.
I signed all the paperwork and paid the fee. As an after thought, I wrote another check as a donation for all the good work the shelter was doing as a no-kill facility.
In the car on the way home, I asked, "What are you going to name your new puppy?"
Joel looked at the puppy curled up in his lap and thought for a minute before he answered. "I think I'll call him Sam." At hearing Joel say Sam, the puppy raised his head and looked directly into Joel's eyes. "I think he likes the name."
By the time we reached home, the puppy was much more active. Joel was having a hard time keeping Sam from jumping off his lap. When we drove up in front of the house, the other boys and their dogs came running to see Joel's new dog.
"He's cute," TJ said, reaching out to pet Sam. "What's his name?"
"Sam," Joel answered. The puppy looked up at him at the mention of his name. "Let's see how he likes his brothers." Joel placed his new pet on the ground and the dogs did what all dogs do when confronted with a new dog. They sniffed each other. Satisfied that they were not a threat to each other, they began to play and wrestle with each other.
"I think Sam is going to fit right in," I said. It then hit me. We didn't ask if Sam were house-broken. I'm sure we would find out soon enough.
All of the dogs went off shortly after meeting Sam, all of them except for Bandit. TJ's dog stayed and continued to play with Sam. It seemed like he had adopted the new puppy.
"Looks like Bandit has a new best friend," TJ said.
"Let's take Sam in to meet Hildy," I said to Joel. "Then we can go swimming before lunch."
"She's gonna love him," Joel said. "Isn't she, boy?" As an answer, Joel got a lick on the chin.
When Hildy tried to hold Sam, he reverted to the scared little puppy that he was in the shelter. I explained to her that the shelter staff thought that he had been abused before he had been dropped off. Joel is the only one, so far, that Sam is comfortable with.
"The poor thing," Hildy said. "Has he been fed today?"
Joel and I shrugged our shoulders. We didn't know.
"Well, put him over there on the throw rug and I'll get him some leftovers," she said.
Joel placed Sam down on the rug and we soon learned that Sam was not house-broken. He ate the leftovers that Hildy gave him, while Joel cleaned up the mess.
I called the boys to get their swimsuits on and was nearly trampled in their rush to change. Bandit had always liked the water, while the other dogs were content to sit on the side of the pool and watch. Sam was a little hesitant at first, but soon he was in the pool paddling around next to Bandit. We swam until Hildy came to the door and announced that lunch would be ready in about twenty minutes.
As we were eating lunch, the rain clouds came up and it rained for the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening.
Sunday turned out nice, so I took the boys horseback riding. When we got to the farm, Rosie came out to meet us and started to go to the stable to saddle the horses. It was readily apparent that she was pregnant by this time. I told her to tell Joel and me what to do and we would saddle the horses. I would lift the saddles onto the horses for Joel to complete the process while I did the same to another horse. Between the two of us working and Rosie supervising, we were able to get everybody saddled up in record time.
"Where's Tracy this weekend?" I asked.
"He had a paper to finish up so he couldn't come home this week. He'll be home for four days over Thanksgiving, though," she said.
"Look, if you don't have other plans, why don't you come to our place for Thanksgiving dinner. We would love to have you."
"I'll have to check with Tracy, but I don't know of any plans. Thanks for the invitation, Mr. Johnson."
"Give Hildy a call when you know one way or the other. I'll let her know to expect your call. Now, I'd better go ride herd on my sons." I rode out to where the boys had headed. As I rode to the top of a low hill, I could see my three middle sons racing each other from the fence on one side of the field to the fence on the other side. I held my breath hoping that they wouldn't fall off their mounts. It looked to me to be a dead heat, but Larry raised his arms claiming victory. That set off a round of good natured arguing about who the real winner was.
Monday morning we were rushed getting the boys ready for school. For some reason it took them longer and just when I thought we were set, one of them would remember something they needed to take to school that day. Finally everybody was ready and had everything they needed. I looked outside and saw David driving up in front of the house with the SUV.
David had turned the SUV around and had it headed back toward the gate just as he did every morning. I opened the sliding door to the van and helped the boys get in. I made sure that their seatbelts were fastened and then told them goodbye. I slid the door close and at that moment I heard something hit the door that I had just closed. That was followed almost immediately by the sound of a gunshot.
I turned toward the sound of the gunshot. I felt an excruciating pain in my head. Everything was red, then black and then nothing.