By the time the day ended on Thursday, the number of people attending our picnic on Saturday had grown to 24 with the inclusion of Eric, JR and Bran. Those horses are sure going to get a workout. Thinking about the horses, brought to mind Rick Hansen and the horses where the boys first learned to ride. That gave me an idea.
Friday morning, right after the boys left for school, I called Rick. "Rick, this is Crane Johnson. I've got a strange request."
"Good morning, Crane. How's the horse farmer doing? You did buy the Pete Pedersen farm didn't you?" Rick snickered.
"What? You want me to start talking with a west Texas drawl and chew on a wheat straw? I have a serious proposal for you."
"Okay, okay, what can I do for you?"
"Well, I kind of got carried away and invited a whole bunch of people for a picnic at my 'horse farm' and I don't have nearly enough horses to take care of all of them. I was wondering, do you rent out horses for such an occasion?"
"I've done it a couple of times for people I know will treat the horses well. How many are you looking at?"
"I have eight. I thought maybe eight more? They need to be gentle. Most of the riders are not very experienced."
"Yeah, that's doable. I'll bring some of the gentlest ones I have. When do you want them delivered?"
"The guests will be arriving around ten. Can you get them there by that time?"
"No problem. I assume that you will need all the tack, right?"
"Yes, and by the way, do you happen to have an English saddle? One of the youngsters is handicapped and will have to ride with someone. I thought that would be more comfortable since it doesn't have a saddle horn like the Western saddles do."
"Yes, I have a couple. I'll bring the 18 inch. If the two riders are not too big it should do fine. Will there be anyone at the farm before you arrive?"
"Tracy Smith and his wife Rosie will be there. They're the caretakers."
"I'll have the horses delivered by nine. What time do you want me to pick them up?"
"I suspect that we will be done riding by five or so. Any time after that would be fine," I said.
Rick told me how much he was going to charge me, before we hung up. It wasn't as bad as I had expected, but was still a large sum.
I walked out the front door of the house and told my security guard that I had to go into San Antonio to see the doctor. He said he would drive and guided me to the passenger seat.
Dr. Merza gave me a thorough examination before telling me that I could start doing some light physical activity. When I told him about the picnic we were having and about the horses, he told me it would be best if I didn't ride for at least another week. I was a little disappointed, but had to admit that bouncing on the back of a horse would probably aggravate the mild headache I still had. I asked him when I could have the stitches removed. He said he would remove them on Wednesday and I didn't have to wear the bandage anymore.
"Dad," Joel said, when he got home from school and had changed out of his school uniform. "I asked John if he wanted to come to the picnic tomorrow. Is that all right?"
"Sure, do we have to pick him up or is his mother going to bring him here?" I asked.
"He said he would have his mom bring him here around 9:30. We're going to leave for the farm around 10, aren't we?"
"Yes, that'll work out best, because Mr. Meyer and Cary are going to follow us. They don't know the way. I'd better talk to Hildy to see if she and Carolyn are going to have enough food. This picnic is growing all the time."
I walked into the kitchen to find Hildy busily making mounds of desserts. "Hildy, it looks like we're going to add another mouth to feed at the picnic. Joel asked John to come along."
"One more won't make any difference. Carolyn and I are fixing enough to feed an army. Manny is getting a pickup from his business so that we can get a huge barbeque grill to the farm. He's going to pull it behind the pickup."
"Wow! That must be some big barbeque grill," I said.
"He borrowed it from a friend. It has its own trailer. From what Manny said the grill is over six feet long and takes three bags of charcoal to get it going. It'll take the pickup to carry a lot of the food and drinks. Carolyn is bringing the hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken and the buns. I'm bringing the desserts, drinks, paper plates, cups, utensils and condiments as well as the charcoal. She's making potato salad and I'm making the coleslaw. Do you think we need potato chips?"
"I can see why you're going to need the pickup. No, I don't think chips are necessary. How are you going to keep things cool until time to eat?" I asked.
"Manny borrowed two coolers. The largest one will be for the drinks and anything that needs to be on ice. The smaller one will have the ice cream in it. Manny got some dry ice for that one, so the ice cream will stay frozen. Carolyn said their cooler is large enough to hold all the meat and her potato salad."
"Well, it looks like you two ladies have everything under control. This picnic has really ballooned from the little one I originally planned," I said, walking up to her and giving her a peck on the cheek. "Thanks, I don't know what we would do without you."
"Oh, go on now. You're going to make Manny jealous," she said, patting me on the cheek.
Just then Manfred came in the kitchen door. "Honey, I think I'll take the grill over to the farm this evening and get everything set up. Is there anything you want me to take this trip?"
"I can't think of anything," Hildy said. "You did get the charcoal and the lighter fluid, didn't you?"
"I got five bags. I think that's more than enough. I also got some mesquite wood and I'm going to soak it in water overnight. It'll make everything on the grill have that nice smoky mesquite flavor when I put it on the coals," Manny said.
Seeing that everything was in good hands, I went to join the boys. I hoped that Hildy hadn't forgotten about supper.
Saturday looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. The forecast in the morning paper said the day should be sunny with the temperature around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The boys were anxious to see Cary and the rest of their friends. Joel was pacing the floor waiting for John to arrive. To keep him from wearing a hole in the carpet, I volunteered him to help Hildy and Manfred load things into the coolers and the pickup. He was so busy helping that he didn't notice them until the Gordiner car pulled up to the front of the house. When he did, he jumped from the bed of the pickup and ran to the car to greet John with a hug.
I spoke to Pauline for a few moments and told her we would take John home on our way back from the picnic. With a reminder for John to behave himself, Pauline took off for home.
A few minutes before ten, I told the boys to put the dogs back into the dog run and to make sure they had fresh water and food. I got a look from them that said they wanted to take the dogs with us. I shook my head and reluctantly they led their dogs back to the kennels. They quickly recovered from the disappointment and ran to the van and climbed in. It wasn't until then that I realized that I had completely forgotten about the security guards. I motioned Casey over and apologized to him about not involving him in the arrangements.
"That's okay, Mr. Johnson. Mrs. Strasser took care of everything. I will be following you to the farm and then I'll come back here. There are two of our security people at the farm already waiting for you," Casey said.
"Thank goodness for Hildy," I said, shaking my head and climbing into the van.
When we approached the Meyer's driveway, I slowed down. Their van was waiting for us. As we passed, the boys yelled and waved at Cary, who was sitting in his wheelchair in the van. Barth pulled his vehicle in behind us as Casey dropped his car back to bring up the rear of our caravan.
Driving down the lane into the farm, I saw two large horse trailers parked near the stables. Tracy and two men were standing inside the fence. One of the men was Rick. Chris and the twins jumped from the van and rushed back to the Meyer's van to greet Cary. Joel, TJ and John exited the van and walked over to the fence to check out the horses. Casey waved to me as he turned his car around and headed back to the house.
A man and a woman that I didn't know approached and introduced themselves to me as Clark Newsom and Barbara Pilmer. They were our security for the afternoon. I asked them if they rode horses. They said that neither of them did. I asked how they would manage to guard the boys while they were riding. Clark indicated that he would be riding herd on the ATV in the field while Barbara would be with the group at the house preparing for the picnic.
Jack and his family drove up while I was talking to the security detail. He was closely followed by Manfred and Hildy. Rosie came out of the house and went to greet Hildy after waving to me on her way by. After all the introductions were made, the unloading of the food began. When all the food had been unloaded, Manfred started working on the process of lighting the grill. The thing was huge. I had never seen one that big up close.
I spoke briefly with Jack before Eric's car drove up with Dirk's right behind it. Jack, his daughter and two sons took off to see the horses while Carolyn and Hildy went with Rosie to get everything organized. Marie joined them as soon as she had gotten Ricky out of his car seat.
Ricky made a beeline for the fence where the horses were. I intercepted him and picked him up. "Where are you going, munchkin?"
"Horse," he said, pointing at the eight saddled horses on the other side of the fence.
"Are you going to ride a horse?"
The man of few words just nodded his head in response.
"Here, let me take him," Dirk said, taking Ricky from my arms. "He must have said horse a hundred times as we drove here. I guess we shouldn't have told him where we were going. I'd better get him on one before he busts a button."
"Go ahead. There are eight additional horses to ride today. Oh, I almost forgot. Congratulations on your engagement to Marie. We're going to hate to lose her. She's almost like a member of the family."
"Thanks, I'm a lucky man to get her," Dirk said, and walked off with Ricky animatedly pointing at the horses.
Bran was helping Manfred at the grill. JR was at the fence looking at the horses. Eric was walking toward me. I gave him a warm hug and we both went to see if we could help Barth with Cary. Barth was getting Cary adjusted in his wheelchair as the chair lift folded back into the van.
I greeted Barth and Cary before introducing them to Eric. "Barth, I had Rick bring an English saddle for you. I think it will be easier for you and Cary to ride together. Let us know how you want us to help to get Cary into the saddle with you."
"Thanks, Crane, Cary has been so excited about being able to ride again. It's been a couple of years, well before the accident. If you don't mind, I think I'll take him to see the horses now?"
(For a complete list of people attending the picnic click here Picnic)
"Joel, come here a minute," I said, as I approached the fence where he and John were standing. "Because the doctor won't let me ride, I want you to watch your brothers while you are out there riding so they won't get into trouble."
"But, dad ..."
"I know, son. You and John can still ride together. I just want you to keep an eye on your brothers. That doesn't mean that you have to hover over them, just try to keep them in sight."
"Okay, dad," he said, before he and John walked back to the fence. He didn't look too happy, but I knew he would do as I asked.
Rick came over to speak to me after climbing over the fence. "Crane, I'm going to leave the horse trailers here. I'll unhook one of the trucks and take it to drive back to the ranch. My son and I will be back probably around half past five."
"Thanks Rick, I appreciate you doing this on such short notice."
"Not a problem. I'll see you this evening. Goodbye."
I turned back to the field where the horses were and saw Barth climbing onto the horse with the English saddle. Tracy and Jack were holding Cary until Barth was settled in the saddle. When he was ready, he reached down and the three of them lifted Cary onto the saddle in front of his dad. I could see Cary's crooked smile and the look of absolute delight in his eye as his dad urged the horse into a slow walk. I had to swallow hard to get the lump out of my throat.
Soon the 16 horses and the 18 riders were scattering around the field being closely watched by Clark in the ATV. I could hear Ricky's giggles over the noise of the horses and the ATVs engine. I stood and watched the riders for a while before joining the crew preparing lunch. I felt a little sorry for Jack's daughter. She was the only girl and the only kid not getting to ride a horse.
"Didn't you want to ride a horse?" I asked Sara.
"Not right now. Daddy said he would take me for a ride after while. I want to ride that little one that TJ's riding. Can I?" Sara asked.
"I'll ask TJ. I'm sure he'll let you ride if we ask him nicely."
"Crane," Tracy called from the door of the barn. "Could you come help me with something?"
"Sure, what do you need?"
"I think if we put these two-by-twelves on a couple of sawhorses, they'll make a good place to set up the food line. I think two will be enough. We'll see what the women think."
"Have you got anything to cover them with? They're not exactly sterile," I said. "What are these? Twelve feet long?"
"Yeah, Rosie has some butcher paper we can cover them with, and yes, they're twelve feet."
"Fantastic," Hildy said, when we explained what we intended to do with the lumber. "That'll free up the picnic tables and give the kids' plates more room. Do you have another one? Three wide would make a nice service line." Naturally we went and got another one for her.
Manfred had the charcoal started and was banking it so he would get some good embers to do the grilling. It would be about another half hour before the grill would be ready to start the chicken cooking.
It wasn't too long before Barth rode up to the fence. He beckoned for someone to come to him. Tracy and I hurried over to see what he wanted. "Would you help me get Cary down? He's getting tired," Barth said.
Tracy reached up and grabbed Cary around the waist and gently lifted him off the horse. I helped him position Cary so that he could be carried easily and then we started toward where the wheelchair was parked. Barth had dismounted by this time and followed us and, after seeing that Cary was seated in the wheelchair, fastened the belt that kept Cary securely in his chair. Cary was smiling his crooked smile all through this maneuvering.
"I take it you enjoyed your ride," I said to him.
Through his slurred words, I could make out that he said, "Yes, it was fun. I want to do it again."
"After you've rested," Barth said. "We'll go again after you've had your lunch. Dad's going to go riding again right now. Will you be all right here with Mr. Johnson?"
"Yes," Cary said.
"Let's go see what Hildy is fixing for our lunch," I said to Cary. "I'm sure it's going to be good."
Cary moved the joystick on his motorized wheelchair and started it toward where the food was being prepared. We were almost there when Peanut, Rosie's miniature dachshund, escaped through the back door of the house when Rosie went in to get something. He made a beeline as fast as his little legs would carry him straight to where Cary had stopped his wheelchair. Peanut looked up at Cary, gave one bark and scrambled up Cary's legs onto his lap.
"His name is Peanut. I think he likes you," I said, reaching down to pet the small dogs head.
"I like him, too," Cary said, as his hand slowly moved so that he, too, could pet Peanut. He was rewarded with a tongue kiss, which elicited a soft giggle from Cary.
"Peanut, you rascal, I don't know how you can escape from the house every time I open the door." Seeing the love between the dog and the boy, Rosie said, "Well, I guess it won't hurt anything for him to be out here for a while as long as he doesn't get into the field with the horses. He's so small, I'm afraid that one of the horses will step on him."
"I won't let him go," Cary slurred.
I left Cary playing with Peanut and went to see how the grill was coming along. Manfred said it would be about ten more minutes before the coals would be ready to start the chicken. I noticed a large aluminum pot sitting off to the side of the grill. "What's in that?" I asked.
"You know Hildy, she couldn't stand to have a picnic without baked beans," Manfred said, shaking his head. "I think we have enough food to feed 50 people and we have what, 25?"
"Twenty-seven, counting the two security people. But, you have to remember that about half of them are teenagers. They can eat as much as two normal people," I laughed.
"If they all eat like your crew does," Manfred said. "Now, I hope we don't run out of food."
Manfred, Tracy and I talked for a while before I saw several horses racing toward the fence. I had an idea what they wanted so I enlisted Tracy's help in carrying a number of juice boxes to the fence.
"Thanks, dad, how did you know we were thirsty?" Chris asked, as we handed out the juice to the riders.
"I guess I'm psychic," I said with a straight face, but couldn't hold it for long.
It wasn't long before the rest of the riders rode up for their drinks. "When's dinner?" TJ asked when he had finished his juice.
"It'll be about an hour. If you get tired of riding, you can always play some soccer. The ball is in the van," I told him.
"Huh uh, I like riding. We can play soccer anytime," TJ said, and rode off.
"There are going to be some sore legs and bottoms tomorrow if they keep riding," I told Tracy, as we walked back to the grill.
Manfred had spread the coals throughout the bottom of the grill and was adding the soaked mesquite wood on top of it. Then he started putting the marinated chicken pieces on to cook, starting with the dark meat. "These should take about 45 minutes to cook through over this cooler side of the grill," he said to no one in particular.
Just then Barbara Pilmer came up to me. "Are you expecting anyone else?" she asked in a low voice.
"No, everyone who was invited is here. Why?"
She took the small two-way radio from her belt and said into it, "Clark, I think we have a situation here. Tell one of the adults to keep the kids in the back part of the field and then get here as quickly as you can." Then turning back to me, "Mr. Johnson, I suggest that you move everyone out here into the house. Now!"
I turned to look where she was looking and saw a dark colored car stopped in the lane just off the road. I couldn't see who was in it, but not wanting to have a new part on the right side of my head, I started ushering Manfred and Tracy toward the house. I explained what was going on as we went. On the way we told the rest of the non-riders what Barbara had said. I didn't want to frighten Cary, so I asked him if he would like to get Peanut something to eat. He nodded and I started pushing his wheelchair toward the house. When we got to the house, Manfred and Tracy were able to lift the wheelchair over the threshold and into the house.
I looked out the back door of the house and saw Barbara taking a defensive position behind the grill. She motioned to Clark as he roared up on the ATV.
"What's going on?" Carolyn asked, hugging Sara to her. "Are the boys in danger?"
"I don't know," I answered. "Barbara has spotted a suspicious car in the driveway and doesn't want to take any chances. The boys are safe as long as they stay back away from the house. I hope it's just a false alarm, but after my last experience, I don't want to take any chances."
I heard Clark in a loud voice say, "You, in the car, state your business or leave the premises."
The next thing I heard was a loud gunshot followed by what sounded like several rounds of small arms fire. "I think it best if we get down on the floor," I said. I went over to Cary, unfastened his safety belt, helped him to the floor and tried to shield him and Peanut with my body. I looked around to check and see that everyone was on the floor and saw Tracy shielding Rosie, Manfred shielding Carolyn and Hildy shielding Sara. Marie was squeezed in between Hildy and me. I asked to myself, "When will this madness end?"
There was silence for a while and then I heard another loud gunshot, but it was a different sound than the first one, followed by a scream of pain. I hoped that it was not Barbara or Clark. Another of the loud gunshots followed by the sound of a car's engine being turned over. The car continued to turn over, but the engine didn't start.
"Give it up," Clark yelled. "The next round is aimed at the driver's head. Give it up and we'll call the paramedics. Your car's disabled. You can't get away before the cops get here. Give it up or you'll leave here in a body bag."
An accented voice let loose with a string of profanity in both English and Spanish. I thought I knew most of the profane things that could be said in Spanish, but I learned a few new ones from whomever that individual was who was yelling them.
Another loud gunshot rang out that sounded like the first one fired followed by the different gunshot. Another scream of pain and another string of Spanish profanity, and then, "Motherf******, you broke my arm."
"This is your last chance. Get out of the car and get down on the ground. You have five seconds, starting now. 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2." Clark stopped counting and then said in a lower voice, "Barbara, keep the one on the passenger side covered. I'll take care of the driver."
"Stay down, everybody," I ordered, before I crawled to the back door of the house and looked out. I could see Barbara walking slowly toward the front of the house with her gun pointed straight ahead. She was soon out of sight. "Tracy, do you have a gun in the house?"
"Yes, there's a double-barrel shotgun in our bedroom," he answered. "I'll get it."
"No, this is my fight. I don't want anyone to get hurt on my account. Just tell me where it is in the bedroom and I'll get it."
"It's on the top shelf in the closet. The shells are in the tin box next to it. It's not loaded."
Staying low, I went into the bedroom and retrieved the shotgun and the shells, loading the gun as I came out, stuffing some extra shells into my pocket. Making my way toward the front door, I looked out a window to see what was going on out there. "Tracy, call 911 and tell them we need the paramedics and the police."
Seeing that Clark and Barbara had things under control, I opened the front door and went to see if I could be of any help. I kept the gun at the ready just in case. Barbara looked up from the individual on the ground when she heard me coming.
"Mr. Johnson, would you keep an eye on this one while I help Clark tend to the other one's wound? This one only has a flesh wound. I'll tend to him in a minute. If he moves, don't hesitate to shoot. That gun looks like it could do a lot of damage at this range."
"Yes, there would probably be brains splattered every place," I said, with much more bravado than I felt. I watched as Barbara ran to their car and retrieved what looked like a first-aid kit. She hurried back to where Clark was standing over the second individual who was hidden from my sight by the disabled car.
"Is everything all right?" Manfred hollered from the front door.
I looked at Clark, who nodded, before I answered, "Everything is under control, just keep everybody in the back yard until these scum are hauled away."
"Right. I think it's time to turn the chicken," Manfred said, and then laughed at the incongruity of his remark.
I heard the ATV start up and saw Tracy heading into the field to let the others know what had happened. About five minutes later the paramedics arrived in the ambulance. It was another five before the sheriff's department put in an appearance. The paramedics looked over both of the individuals on the ground to assess the extent of the injuries, before complimenting Barbara on her treatment of the wounds.
Before the deputy sheriff allowed the suspects to be loaded into the ambulance, he insisted that they be restrained so they could not try to escape on the way to the hospital. Then the round of questioning began which seemed to go on forever. Thankfully my questioning didn't take very long, but I felt sorry for Barbara and Clark. They were questioned for over half an hour.
Things were getting back to normal in the back yard. Manfred had pronounced the chicken done and began to fix the hamburgers and hot dogs. Hildy, Carolyn and Rosie set out the rest of the food on the now butcher-paper covered boards. There was so much food that the boards were sagging in the middle. When Tracy saw that, he ran to the barn and came back with another sawhorse to shore up the middle.
"Can we eat now?" Lenny asked. All sixteen horses were lined up along the fence.
"Take your horses over to the water tank and give them a drink, then you can get your hands washed and then you can get something to eat," I said. Some of the boys had started to dismount, but quickly climbed back on their mounts and followed the others to the tank. Only eight horses could drink at a time so the older riders allowed the younger ones the first chance to water their horses.
Rather than having everybody tramping through the house to wash their hands, Rosie had a hose connected to the water faucet on the side of the house. She had, also, laid out a couple bars of soap and some paper towels. This speeded up the washing of hands, although, I think some of the hands only got wet and a salute to the soap.
The twins latched onto Cary and helped him get his food. Larry held both his and Cary's plates while Lenny did the piling on of the food. I didn't realize just how much food you could pile on a paper plate before it would give out. I think the twins had it down to the milligram. It was a good thing that Hildy had purchased the really sturdy kind of paper plates.
Cary maneuvered his wheelchair to the end of the string of pushed-together picnic tables and the twins took their places on either side of him. With their hands full of food laden paper plates, they had forgotten to get something to drink. Larry asked Cary what he wanted to drink before he ran after his brother to the drink cooler. As they had done at the house when Cary had visited us they took turns helping him eat his food.
"God, you have such great kids, Crane," Barth said to me, as we stood in line waiting to get our plates filled. "I can't believe how they just naturally do the right thing for Cary. They seem to know and anticipate what he needs."
I could see tears forming in the corners of his eyes as he looked at the three boys. "They are remarkable boys," I agreed. "I wish I could take all the credit for that, but I think it's just instinctive with them."
Barbara and Clark were finally finished with the sheriff's deputy and joined us in the back yard. "Do you know who those guys were?" I asked, as I walked over to them.
"I don't know their names," Clark said. "From their tattoos, I'd wager they're Mexican Mafia."
Jack was standing nearby and heard what Clark had said. "They must be ones that SOB Forsyth hired. If we can prove it, it will mean even more charges for him. He'll be lucky to escape the death penalty. Much as that would be short term satisfaction, I think I would rather see him spend the rest of his life being Bubba's bitch in one of our lovely prisons," Jack said with a grin. This last was said in a low voice so only the four of us could hear it.
That fate did have a certain perverse appeal to me.