Oh, God, my head hurts. I tried to open my eyes, but it was too painful. I began to feel around with my hands. It felt like I was in bed and lying down. I tried to lick my lips, but my tongue was so dry it felt like sandpaper rubbing them. Then it hit me the last thing I remembered. My boys, I have to find my boys. Oh please, God, let them be okay. My aching head was forgotten as I tried to sit up.
"Mr. Johnson, please lie still," a strange female voice said. "I'll get the doctor."
"My sons, where are my sons?"
"The doctor will be right here. He'll explain everything to you."
By this time I had opened my eyes and although my vision was blurry, I saw a large woman in a light blue nurse's uniform just as she exited the room. A few minutes, which seemed like hours, later the door to my room opened and a short fat man entered.
"Crane, how are you feeling?" Dr. Greene asked.
"Sam, where are my sons?"
"Your boys are fine. They're safe at home. Hildy and Manfred are taking care of them. That young man David is there with them also," Sam explained. "Now, how do you feel?"
"I feel like someone hit me in the side of the head with a baseball bat. I need a drink of water. What happened? The last thing I remember was something hitting the side of the SUV taking the boys to school and then nothing."
"I don't know all the details," Sam said, pouring a cup of water and handing it to me. "All I know is that you were struck by a bullet that gave you a new part on the left side of your head. You suffered a concussion and have been unconscious for about 24 hours. You're extremely lucky, a quarter inch to the right and it would have caused real damage."
"I don't feel all that lucky. When can I get out of here?"
"Dr. Merza will want to examine you before he'll release you. I think it's safe to say you'll be ready to go home before noon," Sam said.
"Thanks, Sam, do you think I could get something for this headache?"
"I'll have the nurse get a pain pill for you now that you are awake. I'll have Dr. Merza come see you as soon as he's free. In the mean time, lie still and don't exert yourself."
I laid there after Sam left trying to remember what had happened. All that did was to make my head ache even more. I finally quit trying to remember and just relaxed. It was only a couple of minutes before the large nurse returned with a pain pill. I thanked her and took the offered pill and a long drink of water. My mouth was almost back to normal and saliva was beginning to flow again.
A few minutes after the nurse left, a man in green scrubs entered my room. He identified himself as Dr. Merza and then began my examination in silence, with only an occasional grunt. He removed the bandage from the left side of my head and examined the wound that was causing my headache. After another moment of silent examination, he re-bandaged the wound.
"Well, Mr. Johnson, everything looks good. By the time your hair grows back, the scar will hardly be noticeable. You will have a headache for the next couple of days, but it should become less severe as time passes. I'll give you a prescription for a pain reliever to take as needed. They are potent and shouldn't be taken more often then every four hours. Don't abuse them, they can be addictive," he said. "Now, if you don't have any questions, I'll go sign the paperwork for your discharge."
"Thanks, doc," I said, extending my hand.
"You can pick up the prescription at the desk on your way out," he said, before leaving.
It dawned on me I didn't even know what hospital I was in. I had better find out before I called someone to pick me up. I reached for the call button hanging from the head of the bed and pushed it.
A voice barely audible above the static coming from the small speaker said, "How may we help you, Mr. Johnson?"
"This may sound strange, but what hospital am I in?"
The voice barely suppressing a giggle answered, "University Hospital, sir. Is there anything else?"
"Thank you, no."
I eased myself to a sitting position on the edge of the bed and picked up the phone on the bedside stand. My first thought was to call Hildy to see if Manfred could come and pick me up, but quickly discarded the idea realizing it would take him at least an hour to get here if he left immediately. My next thought was to call Eric. I didn't know if he were in town or on the road to one of his out of town projects. I was starting to dial his office when the door to my room opened and a man about my age stepped in.
"Mr. Johnson, I'm Cecil O'Connor. I've been assigned as your bodyguard. Dr. Merza told me that you are being released. As soon as you're ready, I'll bring the car around front."
"Thank you, Cecil, would you see if there are any of my clothes in that closet over there? I don't relish the idea of wearing this hospital gown home."
"Yes, sir, a complete set of fresh clothing was brought for you this morning by one of the guards at the house," he said, retrieving the clothes from the closet and placing them on the bed beside me. "If you don't need anything else, I'll wait for you outside. Just give me a holler when you're ready and I'll bring in the wheelchair."
I made slow progress putting on my clothes. My stockings were the most difficult. Bending over caused my head to throb. Finally I was finished and walked slowly over to the bathroom. After making use of the facilities, I washed my hands and face before rinsing my mouth several times to try to minimize morning breath. I wished I had a toothbrush and toothpaste.
When I stepped back into the room, an orderly was standing there with a wheelchair. Cecil was there with him.
"Sir, if you're ready, I'll take you to the admin office so we can get you signed out of here," the orderly said.
"Thanks, we need to stop by the nurses' desk to pick up a prescription first," I said. "Cecil, you can go get the car while I take care of the paperwork. I think I'll be safe for a few minutes."
"As soon as you're in the admin office, I'll run get the car and pull it up right in front."
Surprisingly, it didn't take that long to take care of the paperwork and get signed out. Cecil and the car were waiting for me when the orderly pushed me in the wheelchair out the front of the hospital. Cecil got out to open the door for me and to steady me while I climbed into the front seat. I was glad that the front passenger seat reclined. I let it back as far as it would go and we took off for home.
The drive home seemed to take forever. Traffic was heavy and construction on the main road we needed to use to get home slowed traffic even more. I was happy when the gate to my property came into view. The guard at the gate recognized Cecil and opened it for us. He spoke into his hand-held radio and waved us through. As we drove up to the front of the house, all five of my sons were there waiting for us to arrive. Hildy, Manfred and David were also standing there.
David opened the door for me, but before I could get out, TJ launched himself onto my lap. Tears were streaming down his cheeks as he wrapped his arms tightly around my neck. It caused me a momentary stab of pain, but the love I felt from him and the love I felt towards him quickly erased it.
"I missed you," TJ choked out. "I thought you was dead like momma."
"I'm fine, son," I said, kissing his cheek. "It's just a scratch on the head."
By this time the other four boys were all trying to get in the car with TJ and me. Finally, David reached in and helped me out of the car. I was immediately engulfed by four more pairs of arms. I tried to give each of them a hug, while still holding my youngest in one arm.
Hildy came to the rescue and began to untangle the boys from me. In her grandmotherly voice she said, "Come now, boys, let your father come into the house. I'm sure he needs to sit down." She tried to take TJ from my arms, but he held on even tighter.
Manfred took hold of one of my elbows and helped to steady me as we made our way into the house. He and David guided me to the couch and helped me ease down on it. Thankfully, the couch was large, because Joel, Chris, Larry and Lenny all managed to squeeze onto it with TJ and me.
For the next fifteen minutes or so, I was inundated with questions from my sons. As I answered their questions, TJ stopped crying and loosened his hug of my neck. It was only when Hildy announced lunch that I was abandoned. I saw that they still had their priorities straight. I, also, realized that I was famished. I hadn't eaten anything since yesterday morning. I made my way into my bedroom to clean up. First on the list was to brush my teeth.
The boys were seated at the table when I came into the kitchen. Hildy had made them wait until I arrived before she would serve lunch. I think they were happier to see her begin placing the food on the table than they were to see me.
After lunch, I sat down with Manfred and David. "Can either one of you explain to me what happened yesterday?" I asked.
David looked at Manfred before he began to speak. "You had just closed the door to the SUV and I was about to take off when the first bullet hit the side of the vehicle. I turned to see what had happened when I heard another shot and saw you fall to the ground. Casey, one of the other guards, saw where the shots were coming from and immediately took aim and shot at the assailant. Casey was off to the side of where the shooter was and closest to him. Casey's first shot took the man down. The bone in the guy's shooting arm was shatter by Casey's shot. I told the boys to stay in the car and I got out to check on you. All I could see was that you had a head wound. You were still breathing, but unresponsive. I retrieved your handkerchief from your pocket and applied it to your wound to try and stop the bleeding. There was a lot of blood. I grabbed my cell phone to dial 911 and requested Air Life.
"In the mean time Casey had secured the shooter and was tending to his wounded arm. It took nearly 20 minutes before Air Life arrived. Your housekeeper had heard the commotion and came out to see what was going on. When she saw you on the ground, bleeding, she immediately took charge of your sons and hustled them into the house."
"Do we know who the guy was that shot me?" I asked.
"Yes," Manfred said. "His name is Barry Manson. Do you know him?"
"What? I can't believe that," I said. "If it's the same Barry Manson that I know, he manages one of the apartment complexes that I own. He has been missing from his job for a couple of days, but it couldn't be him. He's a really nice guy. What does this Barry Manson look like?"
"I only saw him on the stretcher as the paramedics were loading him into the helicopter," Manfred said. "I would guess he was about 5' 9" or so, light brown hair, graying at the temples and with a scar over his right eyebrow."
"That sounds like the Barry that I know. Why in the world would he try to kill me?"
"Sir, Casey got a little information from him while we were all waiting for the helicopter and police to arrive. I'm not at liberty to explain exactly how the information was extracted, but the guy said he was doing it for his mother. He said that some lawyer was paying him a lot of money," David said.
"Did he say what his mother's name was?"
"It was an old fashioned name. It was something like Elsa, but I don't think that was it, David said. "Casey would know. Do you want me to go get him?"
"Was the name Eloise?"
"Yes, that's it," David exclaimed. "How did you know?"
"Let's just say I've met the lady. Did he give Casey the name of the lawyer who is paying him?"
"I think he did, sir, but I don't remember it. I'll go get Casey."
"Good, I think I know who it is. Go get Casey so I can confirm it."
A few minutes later David returned with the person I assumed to be Casey. "Mr. Johnson, this is Casey Masterson."
I shook his hand and thanked him for his quick and effective action against the assailant. The man was built like a weightlifter.
"Casey," I said, "did this Barry Mason tell you the name of the lawyer who was supposedly paying him to murder me?"
An almost evil grin showed on his face before he answered, "Yes, sir, he said the man's name was Forsyth. The first name was John, I believe." Reaching into the back pocket of his pants, he withdrew a small notebook which he opened and flipped through a few pages. "That's right. The name he gave me was John Forsyth."
"Has all this information been given to the police?" I asked.
"Yes, sir," Casey said. "Your PI also asked who the shooter was, a man named Jack Hogan. I hope that was all right to give him the information."
"One more question," I said. "Do you know how Manson was able to get on the property?"
"Yes, somehow he got hired on as a laborer with one of the subcontractors and came in on one of their trucks. It was a slipup on our part. I can assure you that it won't happen again. We have instituted procedures to search every vehicle coming onto the property. Mr. Bianca will be calling on you in the next couple of days. He is beside himself because he didn't anticipate that an attack could be mounted in this way," Casey said.
"Well, let's hope this is the last of any threat to me or my family," I said. I thanked Casey for his bravery before he left to resume his duties guarding the premises. My head was beginning to throb again. It was almost time for another pain pill. I went into the kitchen for a glass of water, downed the pill and then decided to take a short nap.
When I woke up about an hour later I felt an arm across my chest. I opened my eyes and lifted my head. It was TJ. Sometime while I was sleeping, he had climbed in bed with me and had snuggled up close to me. I leaned over and kissed the top of his head, then lifted his arm and slowly eased my way off the bed. It was only a few minutes when my sleepy eyed youngest came out of my bedroom looking for me. I was sitting on the couch going over the mail for the last two days when he slid under my right arm.
"Nobody's gonna shoot you again, are they?" he asked into the side of my chest.
"No, son, they're not," I said, giving him a squeeze. "Casey and David and all the other guards are going to make sure of that. Now, where are your brothers?"
"They're swimming with David. Will you go swimming with me, dad?"
"Yes, but I can't get my bandage wet. I'll just stay in the shallow end of the pool and watch you guys. How's that?"
"Okay," he said, and ran off to put on his swimsuit.
The boys, including David, played in the pool until it was time for David to go home. Before he left, I told him that the boys would be going back to school in the morning. They had already missed two days of school.
The boys were waving goodbye to David when Hildy came out and motioned for me to come to the house. When I got there she said that Jack Hogan was on the phone and wanted to talk to me. I made sure that I wasn't dripping water and then headed to my bedroom to take the call.
"Hello, Jack, what's on your mind?" I said, picking up the phone.
"Hey, Crane, how are you feeling? I heard that if you didn't have such a hard head the bullet would have done more damage."
"I'm feeling better. My head still hurts, but not as bad as it was this morning. I know you didn't call just to insult me."
"You're right; I called to give you some information on your assailant. We had a hard time backtracking the history on this guy. It seemed that he suddenly appeared about 15 years ago. It wasn't until we learned that his mother was Eloise Manson, that we were able to make the connections. He was born Barrington Alan Kopel II. At that time his mother was married to Barrington Alan Kopel. The older Kopel was something of a bounder from all reports. About 16 years ago, the older Kopel was arrested and convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, sexual assault and rape of a minor under the age of 12 and sent to prison for 25 to life. At that time Eloise divorced him and took back her maiden name. Barry found that when he applied for any job that required a background check, it always came back that he was a convicted felon even though it was his dad's record. I guess he got tired of that so he went to court and had his name legally changed to Barry Alan Manson."
"But what made him so crazy as to try to kill me or the kids?" I asked.
"The reports that we have gathered from people who knew both Barry and Eloise say that he was very close to his mother, almost obsessively. It seemed that he telephoned his mother at least once, and sometimes more, every day. The reports say that when he heard that his mother was going to receive a light prison sentence, he went ballistic. Our information is that he first vented his anger against Forsyth, but somehow his mother convinced him it was your fault that she was going to jail. Barry, it turns out, is an avid gun collector and marksman. He practiced his shooting skills at least once a week at the gun club in Schertz. He's quite good according to the manager there. Thankfully his aim was a little off when he shot at you."
"That explains a lot. I just can't picture the Barry Manson that I knew as the hired assassin. He was such a good apartment manager. The tenants loved him."
"You say he was a hired gun?" Jack asked.
"Yeah, that's what one of my guard said that Barry told him as they were waiting for the paramedics. He said Forsyth hired him."
"I wonder if he's willing to testify to that in court. That could put Forsyth away for an awfully long time. That's conspiracy to commit murder. That'll get our friend Forsyth life in prison. Do the police have this information?"
"Yes, Casey said he told them. I thought he said he gave you that information, also."
"We didn't get that piece of information from him, just that the assailant's name was Barry Manson. I need to talk to Casey again to see if he has any more information that he didn't tell me. Take care of yourself, Crane. I'll stop by to see you tomorrow when I come over there to talk to Casey."
Shortly after I hung up the phone, Hildy told the boys to get cleaned up for supper. I was still in my swimsuit. I took her 'suggestion' and did the same. I was feeling much better. My head still hurt, but not nearly as bad as it did this morning.
David showed up to take the boys to school at his usual time. This time he parked the SUV so that the boys and I were between the vehicle and the house until after everyone was onboard. I know it was like the old saw 'locking the barn door after the horses are gone', but it made me feel a lot safer.
Marie and Ricky arrived just as the boys were driving off to school. I opened the passenger door of the VW and lifted Ricky out of his car seat.
"Hi," he said in his usual greeting.
"Hi, yourself, munchkin. Have you been a good boy?" I asked.
His head bobbing up and down was the answer he gave.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Johnson?" Marie asked, as she came around her car.
"I'm doing better," I answered. "I still have a bit of a headache, but nothing serious."
"I was so frightened when we arrived on Monday," Marie said. "I was running late and by the time we got here the place was swarming with police and paramedics. Ricky was fascinated by the helicopter than landed and took you and the other guy away. I think it was the first time he'd ever seen one."
We walked into the house where Hildy took Ricky from my arms and gave him a kiss, which he returned with a giggle.
I went back to reading the morning paper until Jack showed up about an hour later. We sat and talked for several minutes with him bringing me up-to-date on his family. I invited him to bring the family over this weekend and we'd go riding our horses.
"When did you get horses? And where do you keep them?" Jack asked.
I had to explain how I had bought the small 120 acre ranch and how many horses we had. He said he didn't know about Carolyn and his kids, but he loved horseback riding and hadn't been riding in probably 20 years. He accepted my invitation and said he would have Carolyn fix a picnic lunch for the eleven of us. We made arrangement for them to meet here at the house at ten on Saturday morning. Jack left to talk to Casey and I went back to reading the morning paper.
I rested the remainder of the day until the boys came home from school. As soon as they had changed out of their school uniforms and had their snack, they went to play outside with their dogs. I watched from the window as Joel worked with Sam. The dog was still shy around the other boys, but he was getting better. He was more at home with the other dogs and Joel. Joel was trying to teach Sam to fetch, but wasn't having much success. He was more interested in chewing on Joel's shoe.
After supper, I told Hildy what our plans for Saturday were and asked her to talk to Carolyn about sharing the picnic preparations. I also took time after the boys had completed their homework to tell them about Saturday. I hope that not everyone would want to ride at the same time, because we didn't have enough horses, we only had eight. We would just have to take turns.
Thursday morning, Bea Meyers called. "Crane, I heard about the shooting at your house on Monday. Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine. I think everything is going to be all right now. The culprit is in custody, but we still have the security guards around the property. How is Barth doing? Is he back at work?"
"Barth's doing great. He's been back to work for a few weeks now. The heart attack has knocked some sense into his thick skull and he is paying a lot more attention to his eating habits and exercise. He hasn't become a total health nut, but he's close at times."
"How's Cary? We haven't seen him for a while."
"He still has to go for his dialysis. The doctor says that one of his kidneys is functioning at about 30% and is hopeful that it will recover completely, or at least enough to lengthen the times between his dialysis sessions."
"Are you still home schooling him?"
"Yes, we thought about Corinthian, but because he would have to miss so much school for his dialysis, we decided it would be better to keep him at home at this time."
"The boys ask about him, but I'm ashamed to say we have been so busy that we haven't invited him to come visit. Look, if you folks aren't busy this Saturday, we would like for you to have a picnic with us. We're going to the ranch and ride horses and eat a picnic lunch. We would love to have you come along."
"Crane, that's a very nice offer. I'm positive that Cary would really love to go. The girls and I are going on a girls only retreat with our church both Saturday and Sunday so we can't go. I'll ask Barth to make sure he hasn't made plans and let you know later today. What time are you planning to go to the ranch?"
"We're going to leave here around ten Saturday morning. It would probably be easiest for Barth to follow us since his van can accommodate Cary's wheelchair. Have him call me and we can work out the details."
Barth called later that evening to accept the invitation for Saturday. He said that Cary was all excited about seeing horses. I immediately let Hildy know to expect two more for the picnic.
I called Rosie to tell her of our plans for Saturday so that she would be prepared for the hoard of people who would be descending on the place. She just laughed and said she had heard from Dirk that he was bringing Jamie on Saturday, also. She expected that Marie and Ricky would be tagging along as well.
I got to counting and came up with 21 people for what started out as a small picnic. That made me realize that we needed more places for people to sit down to eat.
"Rosie, do you know where I can buy a couple of picnic tables?"
"There's a place on 46 a mile or so west of 281 that I know sells them. Do you want me to see if I can get a couple? I can take the pickup and have them loaded in the back and Tracy can help get them out when he gets home from college. He gets out at noon, so he should be here late afternoon."
"That would be great. Use the ranch credit card. Get something good. This is probably not the last time this will happen. By the way, don't plan on cooking anything. Hildy and Carolyn Hogan are making all the food. We, of course, expect you and Tracy to join us, if you have no other plans."
"Thank you, Mr. Johnson; it sounds like a lot of fun. I'll let you know if I can't get the picnic tables at that place. I know of another place that sells them if I can't get them at the first place."
"Thanks, Rosie; we'll see you sometime between ten and ten-thirty on Saturday."