It wasn't until late Monday evening, after the boys were in bed, that I was able to call Eric to see how things went with the Sheriff. He told me that ex-deputy Billy Ray Smathers had been released on bail after appearing before the magistrate. Bran had signed the formal complaint and it had been given to the District Attorney's office.
"The assistant DA we talked to didn't seem to be to anxious to pursue any action against that bastard," Eric seethed.
"Why in the world not?" I asked.
"He said something about morale among the officers, or some crap like that."
"That's BS. Who did you talk to in the DA's office?"
"He was a young guy. I have his card here someplace," Eric said, pausing. "Yeah, here it is. His name is Emory Nave."
"He must be new. Let me do a little checking," I said. "I met the DA at one of his fund raisers when he was running for office. I don't know him well, but he seems to be a pretty upright guy. If nothing else, I'll sic Hildy on Mr. Nave."
"That'd be cruel," Eric laughed.
Having taken care of Bran's problem, at least for the moment, we turned our attention to our outing for this weekend. Several options were discussed, but no plans were firmed up.
The rest of the week was busy. I sold 640 acres of raw land to a developer for $1,125 an acre. The profit of $425 an acre was used to purchase the apartment complex that I had inspected a while back. When it was completed next month, CBJ Properties would have around 1,700 individual apartments in the three complexes available for rent. I needed to get in touch with Chuck Solaris and Phillip Brown to see if they wanted to take on the overall management of this latest purchase.
Friday came and Eric and I had decided on what we were going to do. There was a traveling company of a Broadway show giving a performance at the Majestic Theater that both of us wanted to see. Fortunately, I was able to find excellent seats for it at the last minute.
When I arrived at Eric's house to pick him up, Darcie and Mel had just arrived. Although Bran didn't need a sitter, he had a date with Shane, so Darcie and Mel were there to sit with JR. Eric admonished Bran to drive carefully and get in at a reasonable hour before hugging JR and telling him to behave for Aunt Darcie. JR was more interested in looking at his cousin Rebecca Louise than listening to his dad.
"I swear," Eric said, as we walked to the car, "JR is totally bonkers over that baby. He's even hinted a few times how nice it would be if we had a baby. I know you had the same thing with Joel for a while. How did you dissuade him?"
"His first encounter with a dirty diaper was enough to make Joel think twice about wanting a baby in the house," I laughed.
"That doesn't faze that kid of mine. He's right there helping Darcie or Mel when Rebecca needs changing. I hope the novelty wears off soon. I don't see a baby in my future anytime soon."
Our reservation at Ruth's Chris Steak House was for 6:30. That gave us two hours for one of their fabulous steaks and still have time to get to the theater with plenty of time.
The meal was great. The play was great. The activities after the play were even greater.
It was nearly 3AM when I dropped Eric off at his house.
"Come on, dad, get up. I wanta go ride Lady," a small voice said in my ear.
"Good morning, little one," I mumbled, not completely awake. "What time is it?"
"It's eight o'clock and we've already had our breakfast. Hildy told us to let you sleep, but I wanta go ride Lady. Can I?"
"Okay, son, let dad get showered and shaved and a cup of coffee first. You go get your Levi's on. And tell your brothers, too," I hollered at his back, as he ran out of my bedroom.
After a quick shower and a decision not to shave, since I had shaved before Eric and I went out last night, I emerged from my bedroom. The boys were decked out in their riding attire waiting none too patiently for me. Hildy handed me an insulated travel cup filled with coffee and wished me a good ride.
Arriving at the ranch, I noticed a tall, thin, gangly young man using a lawn trimmer around the flower beds. Tracy was on the riding lawnmower cutting the grass. Rosie came out of the house, wiping her hands on a dish towel, to greet us. She motioned the young man to come to her.
"Mr. Johnson, this is my younger brother, Bertie," she started to say, but was interrupted.
"Bert," the young man said firmly, giving his sister a dirty look. He extended his hand and gave me a firm handshake.
"I'm sorry, Bert. You've been Bertie for so long it's hard to remember you don't want to be called that any longer. Mr. Johnson owns this place. These are his boys, Joel, Chris and TJ. The twins are Larry and Lenny, but I can't tell them apart. Why don't you go help the boys saddle up the horses. I need to talk to Mr. Johnson."
"Okay, guys, come with me. You'll have to tell me which ones you want saddled," Bert said, as the six of them headed toward the stables.
"What can I do for you, Rosie?" I asked.
"Bertie, I mean Bert, is going to be staying with us for a while. I hope that's all right. My parents and he had a disagreement and he left home. He won't tell me what it was about and I'm not on good terms with them. He's a good kid. He has a wild streak, but he wouldn't do anything bad. Tracy is all in favor of him staying here with me, especially now that I'm pregnant..."
"Rosie, I think that's a great idea. I was a little worried about you being out here all by yourself in case something happened and you needed to get to the doctor or hospital," I said. "I'll feel a lot better with him being here for you."
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson, you've been very good to Tracy and me. Oh, when the boys get thirsty or need to take a break, tell them to come to the house. I made a batch of blueberry muffins I know they'll like."
"How old is Bert?" I asked, looking toward the stables as one at a time the saddled horses emerged. "He doesn't look like he's old enough to be out of school."
"If you ask him, he'll say 'almost 17'. He turned 16 last November, but he graduated high school at the end of first semester," Rosie said.
"He must be a very bright boy to complete school so early."
"Yes, he is. I don't know, but I think that may be the problem he's having with our parents. I'm sure dad wants him to stay home and take over running the ranch. Bertie has always been restless and wanted to get away and travel the world."
"Doesn't he want to go on to school? If he's bright enough to have already graduated high school at his age, it would be a shame not to continue his education."
"I know. I've talked to him about what he wants to do, but he says he just wants to 'chill out' for a while. Maybe after he has been here for a while he'll change his mind. I'm not going to press him, at least not until after the baby is born. It's a comfort knowing I have someone here."
"Well, I see my horse is saddled. I'll tell the boys about the blueberry muffins... but not until they've ridden for a while or they'd be knocking at your door in a minute."
"Your horse is all ready to go, Mr. Johnson," Bert said. He handed me the reins and then headed back toward the house to finish trimming around the flowerbeds that our arrival had interrupted.
I thanked him and took off to join my sons. We rode for a little over an hour before, as a group, they descended on me. I could tell by the look on their faces what was up. I turned my horse toward the house and took off at a gallop. I heard shrieks of "Dad, wait!" as I pulled away from the group.
"That was mean," Joel giggled, as he tethered his horse to the fence next to mine.
"I knew what you guys were up to when you started toward me with that look in your eyes. By the way, Rosie said she had baked some blueberry muffins, but I told her you guys wouldn't want any." I could hardly keep a straight face as I said that.
Rosie must have seen us coming, because she emerged from the house carrying a tray of muffins and placed it on the picnic table. Following behind her were Tracy and Bert carrying pitchers of lemonade and glasses. Before I could tell the boys to wash their hands, they had attacked the muffins. Well, as my granddad used to say every time I forgot to wash before eating, "You've got to eat a ton of dirt before you die."
Bert joined the boys in their pillaging of the muffins. He seemed right at home with them. Except for towering over him by nearly a foot in height, he could have been Joel's age, from the way he acted.
While the boys were eating, I talked to Tracy about how his studies were coming along. He said he was taking a heavy class load this semester, but was confident that he could manage it. He was anxious to complete as many of his required courses as possible. If he went to summer school, he thought he would be able to graduate at the end of the fall semester. He would need some luck to be able to schedule the classes he needed. As we talked, he mentioned that he was envious of one of the classmates he studied with had a laptop computer.
"Hey, guys, let's get the horses unsaddled and brushed down. It looks like there's rain on the way," I said. Since the muffins were all gone, there was nothing keeping them at the table. They got up and started for the stables when I cleared my throat, loud enough for them to hear. That stopped them in their tracks and turned them around. They ran to Rosie and thanked her for the muffins and lemonade. She even got a hug from TJ.
We had just turned onto 281 when the rain started. In this part of Texas, the rain is rarely a gentle rain. It is usually just a sprinkle, which is only good to mess up your windshield, or a torrential downpour. This one turned out to be the latter. The wipers were unable to keep the windshield clear. We had to creep along at under 20 mph. A number of cars had pulled off to the side of the road. I seriously considered doing the same thing. But then, I figured that a moving target would be harder to hit than a stationary one by some idiot driving too fast for the conditions. Luckily, by the time we came to our turnoff onto 306, the rain had let up somewhat and the wipers were able to do their job. We made it home safely. However, my hands were sore from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.
I shooed the boys into the showers to wash the horse smell off and I went to do the same. By the time we got out of the showers, the rain had quit and the sun was shining brightly.
After lunch, the boys went to play with their dogs. I told them to stay on the concrete driveway. I didn't want them to track a lot of mud into the house if they played in the wet grass and mud around the new home's construction site. I figured the boys would probably obey my instructions, but I wasn't sure if the dogs would. For the most part, the boys did and the dogs didn't.
While the boys were out playing, I got on my computer and brought up the Dell website. I browsed through their selection of laptop computers to see if I could find one that would be appropriate for Tracy. I know he didn't expect me to order him one when he talked about his friend's laptop, it was just a natural part of the conversation we had.
The selection of computers was daunting, but I finally arrived at what I thought would be a good choice for him. I chose the fastest CPU, the most RAM and the largest hard drive that was available for the selected model. I included a docking station and a large color monitor. The laptop came equipped with a lot of software, but I upgraded it to the best that was available and added some that I thought would benefit Tracy. I submitted the order online and chose the expedited shipping option. Delivery was guaranteed no later than 5 PM on Monday.
Not knowing what Tracy's schedule was, I made a call to the rooming house where Tracy was living and talked to the woman who owned the place. I informed her there would be several large packages that would be delivered on Monday for Tracy. I asked her to sign for them if Tracy was not there and, also, not to tell him that he had packages coming. She agreed. I think she liked being part of my little conspiracy.
Monday morning I saw the boys off to school and then took off for the foundation office. It had been a few days since I had made an appearance. After greeting everybody and getting a cup of coffee, I sat down at my desk to wade through the mountain of paperwork that had accumulated. Nothing really required my attention, it was all just for my information. Darcie and Paul were doing outstanding jobs of handling the grants and Carol was making sure that the office ran smoothly. I had a twinge of jealousy that they didn't need me, but I was happy they were doing such a good job.
Half way through reading the papers on my desk, I remembered that I had not followed up with the DA about Bran's complaint. I retrieved my PDA and searched through the phone book to find Richard Ballard's number. As expected, his secretary answered his phone.
"This is Crane Johnson, may I speak to Mr. Ballard, please?"
"Mr. Johnson, may I ask what this is in reference to?"
"Yes, it concerns a complaint filed against one of the deputy sheriffs charging false arrest, assault and battery, and official oppression. I wish to find out the status of the complaint."
There was a pause on the other end of the line before she responded, "One moment, please."
A moment later District Attorney Ballard came on the line. "Mr. Johnson, it's good to hear from you. I think the last time we talked was about a year ago. Now, what can I do for you?"
"As your secretary probably told you, this is not a social call. I was calling to inquire the status of a complaint filed by Bran LeBeau and his foster parent, Eric Levin. I believe the complaint was received by one of your staff, a Mr. Emory Nave, a week ago."
"Hmm. Let me see. I don't remember that one coming across my desk. I review all complaints and then assign them to one of my staff to investigate or pursue," he said. "I'm skimming the complaints entered into our computer system, but I don't find it and I've gone back over two weeks. May I call you back?" I gave him my cell phone number in case I left the office before he returned my call.
Reviewing the rest of the paperwork on my desk took up the remainder of the morning. I was just getting up from the desk to go to lunch when my cell phone rang. It was Richard Ballard.
"Crane, there appeared to be a mix-up here in the office concerning the complaint you mentioned that was filed by your friend and his foster son. We can't seem to locate it anywhere. I've been unable to speak with Emory since he has been in court all morning. I promise you that I will get this resolved. Just in case, I hope your friend has a copy of the complaint. I'm sure we'll find our copy, but..."
"As organized as Eric is, I'm sure he has copies of what he gave Mr. Nave. I will call him to verify that," I said. "I hope this isn't an indication of how the DA's office is run?" This last was more of a question than a comment.
"I can assure you that this is not the way I want my office to run and will make damn sure that this doesn't happen again. I'll keep you up-to-date. Thanks for bringing this to my attention."
Carol was preparing to go to lunch as I exited my office. "Carol, if you don't have anything special planned, let's get Darcie and Paul and go have lunch together. My treat. It's been too long since we've done anything together."
Paul, at first hesitated, saying he had brought a sandwich from home and was going to eat at his desk. After a little coaxing, he acquiesced and we headed out for lunch. There was a heated, but friendly discussion as to where we should go. We ended up at The Dragon, a Chinese restaurant about a mile from the office. Not once during our lunch did the business of the foundation come up.
Darcie talked about her baby. She would have gone on all during the lunch telling us all the cute things that Rebecca did, if we had let her. She did manage to show us a dozen or so recent pictures of her.
Carol told us about her latest boyfriend. I teased her because her boyfriends never seem to last very long. I was aware of at least half a dozen in the past year or so. She insisted, as she always did, that this one just might be a keeper.
I updated them on the status of the construction of the new house, telling them we would have a big party when it was finished this summer.
When the attention of our lunch party turned to Paul, he blushed and then told us he was dating a teacher he met at the boy's school. He mentioned her name, but I was not familiar with her. I'd have to ask the boys if they knew her. He added he was looking to buy an old farm house on a couple acres of land near Bulverde. He planned to remodel it. He went on to say that he helped one of his foster dads work on remodeling a house when he was a boy and liked doing it. He said he planned on doing most of the work himself, except for the electrical and plumbing. Everything else he thought he could do by himself or with some temporary help.
All too soon our lunch came to an end and we headed back to the office. Darcie and Paul asked if I wanted to sit in on an interview with an applicant for the foundations assistance. I declined, saying that I had to meet with my apartment managers.
I was about to call Eric to confirm that he did indeed have a copy of the complaint he had given the DA's office, but then remembered him saying he was going to be tied up all day at a client site. I would have to call him this evening.
My meeting with Chuck and Phillip went as I expected it would. They were eager to take on the overall management of the new apartment complex. I'm sure the extra income they would receive as a result had some bearing on their decision. I asked them to start a search for the onsite management of the apartments. They said they all ready had someone in mind who they thought would be an excellent choice. I suggested that they follow me to the apartments and give me, or more accurately the contractor, some idea for the landscaping around the buildings.
We were able to talk to the foreman to get an update on when the work on the building would be completed. He estimated that his crews needed at least three more weeks, weather permitting, to finish with their contract. He was unaware of who had the contract for the landscaping. We would need to talk to the overall contractor of the project for that information.
Chuck and Phillip were impressed with the new complex. Phillip had some very definite ideas of how the landscaping should look. I told him to get in contact with the contractor and coordinate his ideas with him. If he got any resistance, he was to let me know.
I got home well before the boys were due home from school and decided to swim some laps in the pool. I had been very negligent about keeping to the lap schedule I used to have before the boys came. The day had turned out quite warm, a little bit unusual for late February, but not unheard of. We hadn't used the pool as much this winter since the tent-like structure we had for it last year was destroyed in the fire. We did have a pool cover for it which allowed us to keep it warm enough to swim.
The swim felt good, but I wasn't able to do as many laps as I was used to doing. I would have to work on that. After rinsing off in the shower, I went to let the dogs out and strolled down the driveway to meet the boys' school van. The dogs were all ready at the gate before I was half way there. They were sitting there staring down the road in the direction the van would come from, that is, except for Sam. He was standing with his front paws on the fence and his nose poked through the iron pickets of the gate.
Before the van came into view, all five of the dogs were on their feet, running around and barking. As was my usual habit, I waited until the van came to a complete stop before opening the gate. The excited greeting each boy received from their pet never ceased to amaze me. The love that each dog gave and received from their boy always warmed my heart. My heart was also warmed by the hugs I got from my sons before they ran with their pets to the house. By the time I reached the house, they had changed clothes and were sitting at the kitchen table enjoying an afternoon snack.
I started for the family room when someone knocked on the front door. I opened it to find Harold standing there. I invited him in before asking what he needed. He stepped inside, but declined my invitation to take a seat in the family room. He wanted to give me a status report on the house.
"Crane, we are about three to four weeks ahead of where I thought we would be at this point. For the most part, the weather cooperated with us until we got the house buttoned up. This accounts for the majority of the reason why we are ahead of schedule. What I needed to tell you is, you need to start making selections for everything inside the house. I know you've hired a decorator, actually a couple of them. I need them to start working with me to make sure everything turns out the way you have planned."
"Thanks for the heads up, Harold. I'll get in touch with them and have them give you a call so you all can coordinate your efforts. Just so you'll know, my inspector will be here again on Friday to check over the construction. He'll be checking the plumbing and electrical work to see that everything is up to code."
"The timing is perfect. The load of drywall is supposed to be delivered on Friday, also. As soon as he has done his inspection, we can start hanging it. Well, I'd better get going. I promised Joey I'd take him to the Spurs basketball game tonight. I should have my head examined for doing it on a school night, but I got a pair of free box seat tickets and I sure as heck don't want to waste them."
I told Hildy what Harold had said and then made calls to the kitchen designer and the overall decorator and asked them to get in contact with Harold. They agreed and I checked that item off my to-do list. I then made a call to Eric to see if he was home yet. Bran answered the phone and informed me that Eric had left a message on their answering machine saying he wouldn't be home until around seven. I asked Bran if he knew whether Eric had a copy of the complaint they had filed. He laughed and said his dad was so cautious that he had made three copies. I asked him to have Eric call me when he got home.
I picked up my copy of Business Week and had begun to read an article that had caught my attention when Lenny sat down beside me and slipped under my arm. This was a sure sign that he wanted something, but didn't know how to ask. I let him stew a bit while I enjoyed our cuddle.
"Did you want to ask dad something, or did you just want to sit with me?"
"Well... it's kinda like... you know we have music class at school, and... well Larry and me thought... that is, Mrs. Pool taught us how to play a song on the piano. We thought, maybe we could... you know... get a piano," he stammered.
It never occurred to me that they might want to play the piano. My mother made me take piano lessons for four long years when I was about their age. I guess because I didn't enjoy it, I just assumed they wouldn't either. "I think that is an excellent idea. There is one problem," I said. I saw his face drop and he started to get out from under my arm before I could go on. "Wait, son, this temporary house we're in doesn't have enough room to put a piano. The new house will have and I'm sure we can get one."
"But what about now?" he asked.
"Do you think if we got one of those keyboard setups that that would work until we move into the new house? It's not quite the same, but it's small enough to be put out of the way when you're not practicing."
"Yeah, maybe we can start our own band."
"Whoa! One thing at a time. You have to learn how to play first. Then you can start a band," I chuckled, tickling him in the ribs.
"Thanks, dad," Lenny said, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
"Yeah, thanks, dad," Larry said, leaning over the back of my chair and kissing me on the other cheek.
"You think you guys can wait until this weekend when we'll have time to go shopping?"
"Yeah!" they both said, as they ran off giving each other a high five.
That started me thinking. Maybe the other boys might have an interest in music. Although I didn't enjoy taking piano lessons, I think it was partially responsible for exposing me to, and my love of, music other than pop music on the radio. I made a mental note to talk to the other boys.
Later, I was checking the last of the boys' homework when the telephone rang. I picked it up, noticing on the caller ID that it was Eric's number.
"Hi, Eric, thanks for calling me back," I said, as I answered the phone.
"Mr. Johnson, it's me, Bran," I could tell from his voice that he was upset.
"What's the matter, Bran? You sound upset." I thought I heard the sound of crying in the background, but it might have been from the TV.
"It's dad..." he choked out.
"What is it, son?"
"The police called. They said that dad had been in an automobile accident."
"Is he all right?"
"I don't think so. They said they took him to the hospital in a helicopter."
"What hospital?" I asked, trying very hard to keep my voice calm, a calm I did not feel.
"University," Bran replied. "I don't know what to do. JR wants to go see his dad and so do I. We don't have a car."
"Don't worry about anything. You guys get ready to go. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Don't worry, your dad is going to be all right. You take care of JR."
I grabbed my car keys and a jacket before hurriedly telling the boys I had to leave and then went to find Hildy. In as calm a voice as I could muster, I explained to Hildy what was going on and asked her to look after the boys. I told her I would call as soon as I had any more information, but she might be thinking about us putting up two more boys if Eric had to stay in the hospital.
I made it to pick up JR and Bran with three minutes to spare. They were waiting for me outside the house. Bran had his arms around a crying JR, trying to comfort him. I had barely stopped the car when they crawled into the back seat and fastened their seat belts.
We took off for the hospital without a word being spoken. Nothing was said all the way to the hospital except for my swearing under my breath at the way some people drove. Our drive took 35 minutes, thanks to the lack of police radar units on the road.
The only parking place available was quite a distance from the entrance to the hospital. The three of us jumped out of the car and took off running.