Monday morning I saw the boys off to school and then decided to call Eric to see how he was managing with his father there. Unfortunately his phone was busy. I was gathering up my wallet and cell phone, when the phone rang. It was Richard Ballard, the District Attorney.
"Mr. Ballard," I said. "It's good of you to call back."
"I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. I've been in budget meetings with the County Commissioners for most of last week. That's the part of this job I hate. Anyway, to address your question about the complaint your friend filed, we did finally find it after digging through our records. For some reason, it had gotten stuffed inside the folder of another case. In other news, Billy Ray Smathers' attorney has been trying to negotiate a plea bargain for his client. If Mr. Levin and his foster son agree, Smathers will plead guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault and surrender his peace officers license in exchange for a recommended sentence of six months supervised probation. It would be up to the judge whether to accept the department's recommendation, but he usually follows our recommendation."
"I can't speak for Eric, but I think he will agree. It would save a lot of time and prevent some things being brought out in court that are better left as private matters," I said. "Eric is at home so you should be able to reach him. He's recovering from a traffic accident he was involved in last week."
"Sorry to hear that. Nothing serious, I hope?"
"He received a broken leg that will keep him laid up for a month or two and a couple of cracked ribs."
"That's too bad," he said. "I'll have someone in the office give him a call and discuss the proposed settlement."
After hanging up the phone, I decided to drive by Eric's house before going to the foundation office. When I got there, a strange Lincoln Town Car was parked in the driveway. I almost decided to drive on, but then I remembered that he was going to get a loaner car. I talked to Eric and his dad for a while before I left for the office.
I spent most of the rest of the morning on the phone talking to the general construction contractor for the new apartment complex ironing out last minute details. I noted some of them that I didn't have an answer for and said I would have Chuck or Phillip call him back with the answers.
I was about to leave for lunch when Nathan Woods, a foundation board member, called. He and Doris had not attended the last board meeting since they had been in Europe. After we concluded the social amenities, he said, "Crane, I remember you once remarked on your collection of books and that it had been destroyed in the fire. Doris and I have decided to move into a condo and we won't have room in it for our collection. I've tried to give it to family members, but they don't want it. I was wondering if you would be interested."
"Certainly," I answered. "What sorts of books do you have in your collection?"
"I have an eclectic collection. My favorites are a complete set of leather-bound Sherlock Holmes mysteries. I've always been fascinated by mysteries and science fiction. Some of the other authors that I've collected are Agatha Christie, William Le Queux, Herbert Adams, Walter S. Masterman, Ray Bradbury and, of course, Isaac Asimov. Those are but a few in the collection. There are 800 plus books in all."
"Wow! I had about 300 books in my collection and I thought that was a lot. I would love to take a look at the books, if it would be convenient."
"If you are available this afternoon, we'll be at home," Nathan said.
"Would two o'clock be convenient?" I asked.
"We'll see you at two. Doris and I are looking forward to seeing you again."
I was wondering how I was going to fill the library in the new house. Now, I just hope there is enough room in there for all these books. I arrived at the Woods' home shortly before two and was greeted warmly by Doris Woods. She appeared a lot frailer than she had been the last time I had seen her. I wondered if this was the reason they had decided to move into a condo. She insisted that we sit down and have a cup of coffee. Nathan joined us after a few minutes. He had been on the phone. I could hear him talking from the other room.
After our coffee, Nathan took me into his library. It was enough to make a book lover weep for joy. Three walls of the room were covered floor to ceiling in bookshelves filled with hardcover books, many with the dust jackets in pristine condition. For the next ten minutes, I walked along the walls looking at the collection. It was like a public library. The books were all arranged by author and in order of date of publication. I knew I had to have this magnificent collection.
"Nathan, please," he said.
"Nathan, this is amazing. I would love to have these treasures. May I ask how much you want for them?"
"I haven't really given it that much thought. I know they're insured for $25,000, but I'm sure that's an exaggerated figure. My biggest concern is that they end up in the hands of someone who will appreciate them. Would you be willing to pay $10,000?"
"Absolutely! I'll call Gerald and have him issue a check to you. When are you and Doris planning on moving into your condo?"
"We'll be moving, for good, around the first of April. Why?"
"The new house isn't going to be finished until May or thereabouts. I was just wondering if I would need to have the books packed up and stored someplace until we moved in to the new place."
"That would be best. Doris and I will be spending time in the condo before April and will be moving some of our things there, also. I know of an excellent company that will pack and store the books until your new house is ready. I know it's good because we happen to own it. I'll call Bob and have him take care of everything. He knows if it's something in my house, he will only send his best packers. The storage facility is completely air conditioned and humidity controlled. The books will be absolutely safe and secure."
"You can be sure that I will treasure these books," I said. "Now, my new library will have this wonderful collection. I thank you very much for thinking of me before disposing of them in some other way."
Noticing the time, I excused myself and headed home to meet the boys as they arrived home from school. I barely had time to let the dogs out before the van arrived at the gate.
"Where's Joel?" I asked the boys.
"He's playing golf," TJ answered, after giving me a hug.
"I almost forgot," I said to myself, as I followed the boys and their dogs back to the house. Joel had told me this morning before he left for school that I would need to pick him up at the golf course at five. This was the start of the sport season. From now on it was going to get hectic. Tomorrow evening we had to go register for soccer. Friday it was registration for baseball. Sports combined with drum lessons on Wednesday and piano lessons on Thursday and with the guitar lessons still to be determined, I could see it was going to be a busy spring.
Bernice Shultz arrived while the boys were doing their homework. I was impressed with her. I spoke to her about what I had in mind and explained the space constraints we were working under. I introduced her to the boys and explained that Chris wouldn't be taking lessons from her, that he was going to be taking drum lessons. She checked out the keyboard and gave it her approval. She said she preferred a real piano, but this would do for the boys to practice on until we moved into the new house. The lessons would be given at her house, which was only a couple of miles away.
After comparing schedules, it was decided that Joel would have his guitar lessons on Monday evening from five until six. The piano lessons would be, as we had thought, on Thursdays from five until six-thirty.
Before she left, I asked her for a recommendation for a piano for the house. She asked to see where it was going to be in the house, so I took her and showed her the conservatory space. After looking it over, she gave me two suggestions, but said she recommended that I hold off until after the house was finished.
For the next several weeks, I felt like I was constantly in the car ferrying the boys from one activity or another. Three nights a week I took the boys to their various music lessons. Weekends were spent shuttling them between different athletic venues or to the ranch to ride the horses. Thank goodness Manfred helped out when I couldn't be in two places at a time or when I played a round of golf with Joel. Once in a while, Hildy was even pressed into service to help with the transportation. Many times we transported John to the sporting events since many of his corresponded with my sons' activities.
One Monday toward the end of March, when Marie came to work, she announced that she and Dirk had set the date for their wedding. "We decided on the 21st of June," she said. Then looking at me she continued, "I guess that means that I won't be able to work for you after I get married. Dirk wants me to stay home."
"Are you planning a big wedding?" Hildy asked.
"No," Marie answered. "There'll just be Dirk's family and mine and maybe a few friends. I don't think there will be more than about 20 people there."
"Have you started making all the plans?" I asked.
"We haven't had time, yet. We just settled on the date yesterday. When Dirk first asked me to marry him, we thought we might get married in January or February, but because of Dirk's job he couldn't get any time off. Anyway, a June wedding is what every girl wants."
"Have you thought where you're going to get married? Do you have a church picked out?" I asked.
"I don't think we'll get married in a church. Dirk's not Catholic and I haven't been active in my church since I was pregnant with Ricky. My priest was very conservative and kept telling me I was in peril of losing my mortal soul if I didn't marry Ricky's father. It finally drove me away from the Church."
"Would you consider having the wedding here? The house will be finished by that time and we would be honored if you would let us do this for you. Ricky and you are like family to us," I said.
"That's very nice of you to offer, Mr. Johnson. I'll need to talk to Dirk, but I'm sure he'll agree."
"Come, Marie, we have lots to plan. There's only about three months before the wedding," Hildy said, taking Marie's hand and leading her into the kitchen. "Crane, will you watch Ricky?"
"Sure," I said. "Come on, munchkin, let's go read a story."
"Okay," said the boy of few words. Ricky ran to the toy box and grabbed his favorite story book. He liked the story of Little Red Riding Hood. The best part for him was when I imitated the wolf in a gruff voice. It would make him giggle and say, "Again." He never seemed to get tired of the story.
Later in the morning, I took off for the new apartment complex. I met with Chuck and Phillip to go over a punch list of things for the contractor to correct. The apartments were to open officially at the end of the week. Chuck had told me when we talked on Friday that 87 of the apartments had already been rented and that he expected another 40 or 50 more by the end of the month. He predicted that within two months the apartments should be nearing 95% occupancy. The full page ad in the newspaper for the grand opening had generated a great deal of interest.
As we finished going over the punch list with the contractor, Phillip said, "We've found a couple for the onsite management. Would you like to interview them?"
"I don't think so. You two are the general managers for the three complexes. You hire the people you feel are the best qualified. I hold you responsible for the overall operation of the properties and the people that serve our clients. As long as you keep the apartments full and the renters happy, then I'm happy. Well... and as long as the rents are collected," I laughed.
I got home in time to meet the boys getting off the school van. A quick change of clothes, a snack and a romp with the dogs and it was time to take Joel to his guitar lesson. I had heard him practicing. To me he appeared to be making good progress, at least I could recognize the tunes that he played. In fact, all the boys seemed to be making progress on their instruments. I took the word of Chris' instructor that he was doing well. I never had an ear for drums, but I could tell that there was a rhythm to his drumming.
TJ was having a few problems playing with his left hand. His fingers were too short and kept getting tangled up when he played the scales, especially when he was supposed to cross his thumb under his fourth finger. The twins were not having the same problem, Lenny in particular was progressing the quickest.
At the end of Joel's guitar lesson, Bernice gave me a progress report on his playing. She said he exceeded her expectations for someone who had only been playing for a few weeks. She suggested that he practice making the fingering changes quicker and without looking at his fingers. On the way home, Joel told me the golf team had a match on Friday afternoon and asked if I could be there. I agreed, since Friday was one of the few days I didn't have to transport anyone to lessons.
The house seemed like it was always filled with at least one of the boys practicing their music. At least Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was not heard being played with one finger anymore. The biggest problem was getting each of the twins and TJ the time they needed to practice. Most every night they each got in at least half an hour of practice on the keyboard. Joel and Chris didn't have the problem of sharing their instruments. I was looking forward to the day that all the instruments would be playing the same music. The drums by themselves were my least favorite sounds in the house. Chris loved them. Well, maybe he will turn out to be another Gene Krupa.
Friday started out to be a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the temperature was in the upper 60s and the wind was light, an ideal day to play golf. That all changed by early afternoon. What Texans call a "Blue Norther" blew in from the panhandle and the temperature dropped into the mid 50s with a strong wind out of the north, not an ideal day to play golf. I knew that Joel had only taken a light jacket when he left for school, so as I got ready to head to the golf course, I grabbed a heavier coat, a hat and some rain gear in case it started to rain.
"Thanks, dad," Joel said, as he saw me get out of the car with his coat. John trailed behind him looking a little blue. "I sure wasn't looking forward to freezing out there. It's still going to be cold. Can John borrow my rain gear? He doesn't have a heavy coat with him."
"Sure, son, it won't be quite as warm, but it will help protect him from the wind."
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson, I called my mom to bring me a coat, but she wasn't home. She probably went to pick up my sisters," John said.
The two coaches decided that since the weather had turned nasty that the boys would only play 9 holes instead of 18. I was glad to hear that, because I wasn't looking forward to walking around a 6,700 yard course for four hours. Half that much was still not going to be a treat.
I felt sorry for Barry, the young man who was Joel's opponent. He only had a light windbreaker to wear. I was dressed warmly and by the time the boys had finished the fifth hole I was freezing. Neither Joel nor Barry were playing that well. I had to hand it to Barry. He stuck it out for all nine holes and only lost to Joel by three strokes. Thankfully the ninth hole ended up near the clubhouse. As soon as the last putts were in the hole they made a dash for the clubhouse to get warm. I was happy to see the fire going in the fireplace as we entered the clubhouse, but I was disappointed that they didn't have any hot chocolate to serve the boys.
"John, is your mother coming to pick you up? If not, we can give you a lift home," I asked, as Joel and I started for the car.
"I called her. She's on the way," he said. "She should be here is a few minutes. Thanks for the offer."
"You played well despite the conditions, son," I said to Joel, as we drove home.
"Thanks, dad, I don't think I've ever played when it was this cold, not even in December. Can you turn the heater up? My hands and feet are still cold."
"I hope it's not this cold for your brothers' soccer practice tomorrow."
It was still cold Saturday morning, so I made Chris and the twins wear sweatpants and sweatshirts over their soccer outfits. TJ had a sweatshirt under his baseball shirt and a pair of the long underwear that the twins had worn when we went skiing in Colorado. His practice was on the diamond next to the soccer field. I didn't know what the soccer coach would say, but I wasn't going to have them running around the field in shorts and short sleeve shirts. When we got to the soccer field, I could see that the other parents felt as I did. Their sons were either dressed like my boys or were wearing jeans and a jacket.
I was walking back to the baseball diamond where I had dropped off TJ, when I saw Alan drive up with JR and Bran in his van. I stopped and talked to them. I learned that Bran was helping to coach the soccer team that JR was playing on. I hadn't noticed before, because JR was on a different team and our schedules hadn't overlapped until today.
I watched TJ's practice for about half an hour until the coach decided to call it off because of the cold. The kids were displaying a less than enthusiastic attitude toward the practice. I thought the coach did the right thing. There would be plenty of warmer days to practice.
"Come on, son," I said to TJ, as he ran up to me. "Let's get some of that hot chocolate Hildy sent with us." Hildy had insisted on sending two large thermoses filled with her rich hot chocolate.
"Yeah, I'm cold. I'm glad Hildy's so good to us," he responded, running for the parking lot and the van.
We sat in the van and drank a cup of the steaming liquid and watched the twins and Chris running up and down the soccer field. The cold didn't seem to be bothering them. When their practice ended, they joined TJ and me in the van for a welcome cup of hot chocolate.
The weather turned much warmer on Sunday. The boys decided they wanted to go ride the horses, so after lunch we headed for the ranch. It had been a couple of weeks since we had been riding because of the boys' busy schedules. When we got there, I saw that Bert was working in the flowerbeds again. It seemed like every time we'd been to the ranch since he came to live here he had been working on the flowers.
"Hi, Mr. Johnson," he said, looking up from the flowers and smiling as we walked toward the house. "Are you going to need me to saddle the horses?"
"Yes, we are. Will you and Joel go get them saddled, please, while I talk to your sister. Saddle up one for yourself, if you want to ride with us."
"Thanks, come on, guys," he said, and headed for the stables.
Rosie was looking much better than she had several weeks ago when we were here. She laughed when I brought it up. "Yes, Bertie... I mean Bert, makes sure that I don't over do. He's like a mother hen instead of a brother. I think Tracy had a talk with him and now he'll hardly let me out of his sight."
"I'm glad he's looking after you. Has the doctor told you when the baby's due?" I asked.
"He said it should be around the first week in July. The fourth is the likely date."
Dirk drove up as Rosie and I were talking. Jamie exited the car and lifted Ricky out of the back seat. Marie walked toward us, while Jamie and Ricky ran for the fence followed by Dirk. "Looks like all the horses are going to get ridden today," I said. Then I thought, nine riders and only eight horses, someone would have to wait. I decided that would be me. I knew Dirk would have to take Ricky for a ride and Jamie loved to ride. I walked down to the stable and let Dirk know that I wouldn't be riding. Bert overheard our conversation.
"No, Mr. Johnson, I'll stay and you can ride," Bert said. "I get to ride all the time."
"No, you go ahead and ride with the boys. They like having you ride with them. I'll have a cup of coffee with your sister."
Dirk climbed onto his mount and Jamie handed Ricky to him before getting on his own horse. The other boys had taken off at a gallop. Ricky saw this and said, "Faster, daddy, faster!"
"Well," I said to myself, as they took off at a trot. "That's a good sign, he's calling Dirk daddy already."
Marie, Rosie and I sat on the back patio enjoying a cup of coffee and some shortbread cookies. Marie and Rosie were doing the majority of the talking, mostly about the upcoming wedding. We could see the boys as they rode up the hills and then disappear again as they raced down into the valleys. They were becoming very proficient riders. I had to hold my tongue when I saw them riding so fast and racing each other.
It had been almost an hour since Ricky began his ride with Dirk. Usually he didn't last that long. This was about the time that the boys rode back to the house to get something to drink. No sooner had I thought that, I saw them heading toward us at a gallop. I was surprised when they halted the horses that Ricky was riding on Joel's horse instead of Dirks.
"Come on, munchkin, let's get something to drink," Joel said, as he dismounted while holding Ricky in his arms.
"Bye, horsey," Ricky said, and patted Joel's horse on the shoulder.
The twins jumped off their horses and dove through the fence, making a bee line for the van. A minute later they came around the corner of the house struggling with the cooler containing the cold drinks. Hildy always packed enough drinks for an army, so there was plenty for everyone to slake their thirst. Rosie disappeared into the house and returned with a heaping platter of the shortbread cookies that we had been enjoying earlier.
"Thanks, Rosie," a chorus of voices rang out.
"Stand back, Rosie. You might lose a finger," I laughed.
Joel sat down on the edge of the patio with his drink and a couple of cookies. Ricky went over beside him and did the same. "Ricky is really going to miss Joel after Dirk and I get married," Marie said.
"There's no reason why you can't come visit us or come ride the horses," I told her.
"No buts, you and Ricky are part of our extended family. And besides, you'll be coming here to ride the horses. Jamie and Ricky would be really disappointed if they didn't get to come."
"Thank you, Mr. Johnson. You've been so kind to us. I don't know how to thank you for everything you've done. You gave me a job, when I didn't know how I was going to make ends meet. You fixed my car and gave Ricky and me a fantastic vacation in Disney World. I never dreamed we would be able to go there. Most of all, because of you, I met a really great guy that my son and I want to spend the rest of our lives with."
While Marie and I were talking, the boys all lined up, sitting on the edge of the patio. Bert was on the left followed on his right by Jamie and in order: Joel, Ricky, TJ, Larry, Chris, and Lenny. It could have been a Norman Rockwell painting.
"Okay, guys," I said, when I saw they had finished their snacks. "It's time to take care of your horses."
"I'll take care of them, Mr. Johnson," Bert volunteered.
"No, Bert, if they ride the horses, they have to take care of the horses. You can help the younger ones with the saddles, but they have to brush them and put them in the stalls."
"Well, it looks like I have to go take care of my horse," Dirk said, getting up and brushing off the seat of his pants.
"You're right," I laughed. "No one is exempt."
Ricky started after the boys as they headed for the horses. I caught him and picked him up. "Joel ride horsey?" he asked as I cupped my arms under his little behind.
"No, Joel is going to put the horsey away. Do you want to watch?"
He watched in fascination as the boys brushed down their horses and led them into the stalls. He reached out and tried to touch each horse as it was paraded by the fence where I was holding him. When all the horses were put away, he wiggled down and ran to where Marie was sitting, hopped onto her lap and started jabbering away. That was the most I had ever heard him say, although I couldn't understand most of it.
Since Hildy didn't usually cook for us on Sundays, I decided we would stop for pizza on the way home. It was a little earlier than we normally ate, but I didn't think the boys would mind. They didn't. After their active weekend, I decided that they should go to bed a little earlier than usual, so as soon as the homework was checked and they had a light snack, it was off to bed for them. I managed to stay up another hour before I, too, climbed into bed.
The next few weeks flew by. The house was nearing completion. That meant there were so many decisions to be made concerning the final details. Larry Bing, our interior designer, was great at handling and coordinating the decorators and deliveries of furnishings as each part of the house was made ready.
Hildy was thrilled with the way her kitchen was turning out. The granite countertops, custom maple cabinets, stainless steel appliances, including a six-burner stove with dual convection ovens, a 32 cubic foot refrigerator/freezer and an oversized dishwasher were a cook's dream. The large center island provided plenty of room for food preparation.
The end of school was also approaching. I had noticed that Joel was spending an unusually large amount of time studying. I didn't think too much about it, because I knew that he had final tests coming up and I knew he wanted to do well on them. One evening two weeks before school was scheduled to be out for the summer, he came and sat down beside me on the couch. He was holding some papers in his hands.
"Dad, will you sign these?" he asked.
"What are these that I need to sign?" I asked, taking the papers he offered.
"They're permission slips for me to take some advance placement tests. If I pass, I can take some eleventh grade classes and maybe graduate a year early."
"You've thought a lot about this?"
"Yeah, if I test out of these three and maybe test out of three more next year, I'll be able to graduate in one more year. I've talked to my counselor and she said it would be possible."
"Very well, son, I'll sign these. I did much the same thing when I was in prep school. What score do you have to have to test out of these subjects?"
"Miss Donovan said it had to be a 90 or better. I'd like to score at least 95. I think I can."
"When will you take the tests?"
"I can take them any night after school or on Saturday. They take two hours, so you'd have to come pick me up if I took them after school."
"Tuesdays or Fridays are the days when you guys don't have lessons, so if you want to take them after school, you'll need to schedule them then. Saturdays would also work," I said, taking the pen he handed me I signed the three permission slips.
"Thanks, dad," he said, and gave me a hug.
"You're welcome, son. Do your best, and whatever the outcome is, you know I love you."
Despite my suggestion that he spread the tests out, Joel took two tests the next week and one the following. He scored a 98 on the advanced algebra test, 96 on both the American History and physics tests. During this time he was also studying for the finals in his regular classes. I was so proud of him when he brought home straight A's on his report card.
The twins also had all A's, Chris had all A's except for one B+. TJ had all E's, the grade school equivalent of A's. I was a little disappointed because he was marked only Satisfactory in deportment in one of his classes. When I asked him why, he said the teacher said he talked too much.
The week after school was out, the new house was finished and ready to move in. Finally!