JR's soccer game was over just after noon. By then all the boys thought they were about to die from hunger. We stopped at a fast food place for some burgers, fries and chocolate shakes before we headed to the ranch to ride the horses. Bert took Peter for a ride while I stayed behind to talk to Tracy.
"Crane, I got an email from my professor about those quarter horses."
"What did he say?"
"He said that the price for the stallion, with its blood line, was about right, maybe even a little low. The price for the mares was maybe a bit high, but he thought the total price for all four of them was reasonable."
"How about you? What would be the impact on this operation if three, possibly four horses were added?"
"Well, for one thing, you would need to construct a bigger stable and add more tack. Of course it would mean more feed and more stables to muck out. If it weren't for Bert helping out, Rosie would have a hard time keeping up with everything now that the baby is here."
"I can imagine," I said. "You'll be going back to school at the end of summer. Do you know what Bert's plans are?"
"He hasn't said anything about what he wants to do despite Rosie's asking. He left home because he didn't want to work for his dad on the ranch, so I don't see him sticking around here forever. But, he does seem to be happy here. I think his decision not to stay at home and work with his dad was because his dad is a bastard to work for. Pardon my language, but I never liked my father-in-law and I know the feeling was mutual."
"I think I'll make an offer to buy the horses from Mr. Katz," I said. "My lawyer is already negotiating for the purchase of his land. If I do end up buying it, I certainly don't expect you and Rosie to manage it as well. I will need to find someone to manage it."
"I might know of somebody who would be interested, if you do buy it," Tracy said.
"Really? That's good to know. Who is it?"
"A friend I grew up with. We went all through school together. Charlie is a farm boy at heart. He planned on taking over his family's place when he graduated from college, but because of some bad business decisions by his father, the place had to be sold to pay off some debts before he graduated. He graduated a couple of years ago with a degree in Agricultural Economics. Since then he's been working in the county extension office in Hays County. I know he's not too happy with his job and would gladly jump at a chance to be back on the farm."
As we were talking, I noticed that Larry and Lenny were riding hard toward us. They reined in their horses and jumped off them before their mounts had come to a complete halt.
"Whoa, guys, what's the big rush?" I asked.
"Chris..." Larry panted.
"He fell," an equally breathless Lenny added.
"Is he hurt?" I asked, getting up from where I was sitting and rushing to them.
"Yeah, Bert thinks his arm is broken..." Lenny answered.
"And he hit his head," Larry said. "Bert said to come get you."
"Crane," Tracy said, "I'll get the ATV. We might need it to bring him back."
"One of you guys go to the van and get that old blanket and bring it back here," I told them.
With a quick look between them, Larry took off running to the van and returned with the blanket before Tracy returned with the ATV. I climbed on behind Tracy and told the twins to lead the way. They took off at a gallop with us right behind them. Naturally, the site where Chris had been hurt was almost at the back of the property near where the grove of trees took over.
I saw the four other boys standing around Bert who was crouching on the ground. He had Chris' head in his lap and was trying to comfort the crying boy. I jumped off the ATV as Tracy brought it to a screeching halt and ran to Chris' side.
"Are you all right, son," I asked Chris.
"I think his left arm is broken," Bert interrupted. "I tried to keep him from moving it."
"My arm hurts," Chris sobbed.
"How's your head?" I asked.
"It hurts, too."
Tracy joined me on the ground beside Chris and was looking at his left arm. When Tracy tried to lift it off the ground so he could get a better look, Chris screamed in pain. "I would say that the arm is broken," Tracy said to me. "From the looks of the swelling, I'd say it's the ulna. He'll need an x-ray to tell just how bad it is and to see if surgery is necessary." Before continuing he looked at Chris. "It's going to hurt, but I have to immobilize your arm before we can move you. Guys, I need you to find me a few straight sticks at least a foot long."
Tracy had hardly spoken the words before five boys took off toward the trees to see what they could find; only Peter remained behind. He stood there with his mouth open, staring at Chris lying on the ground. I thought it was strange, but at the moment I was more concerned about Chris.
"Can you tell me what happened, son?" I asked Chris, who's crying had calmed down.
"I was riding and all at once Boston reared up and I fell off. The next thing I knew, Bert was here on the ground with me," Chris said.
"There was a rattle snake slithering away when I got here," Tracy offered. "That must be what spooked Boston."
As he spoke, the boys returned with several armloads of branches and sticks. While I had been speaking with Chris, Tracy had been ripping a number of strips from the blanket.
"Thanks, guys," Tracy said, as he sorted through the piles of branches before selecting three suitable pieces of wood. "Okay, Chris, I'm going to splint your arm. I'll try to be as gentle as I can."
Tracy had me hold the wood against Chris's forearm as he wrapped the strips of cloth around them and the arm. Chris groaned and caught his breath a couple of times, but did not cry out during the process. He then fashioned a sling and after putting Chris' arm in it, tied the ends behind his neck.
I lifted Chris onto the ATV and then climbed on behind him, wrapping one arm around him. We took off for the house with the boys right behind. Tracy rode Chris' horse. It was a little difficult driving the ATV with one hand, but we weren't traveling very fast, so I was able to make it back to the house without too much trouble.
Rosie was wearing a concerned look as she met us at the back fence. "I'm going to take Chris to the medical clinic. Would you watch the boys until I can get back?" I asked her.
"Of course, Crane, we'll take care of them," Rosie said.
"But dad, we want to go with Chris," Lenny pleaded. Larry nodded in agreement.
I started to say no, but quickly caught myself. The 'three musketeers' did everything together. Perhaps they could keep Chris calm while we waited at the clinic. "Okay, get in the van."
I got Chris buckled into the front passenger seat and we took off for the clinic. The closest one that I knew of was on 281 just across the Bexar County line. I had been told that it was very well equipped for a small clinic. It only took us ten minutes to get there at the somewhat over the speed limit that I drove.
The clinic was not very busy when we arrived. I sat Chris down and went to the reception desk. Larry and Lenny sat on either side of Chris with their arms around him. I told the receptionist what I thought was wrong with Chris and then began filling out four pages of forms. Handing her the completed forms, she said it would be about fifteen minutes before the doctor could see us.
Twenty minutes later we were called back to a small examination room. Dr. Singh frowned at the twins when they followed us, but didn't say anything. I cautioned them to stay out of the way as the doctor began examining Chris' head. The bump was very noticeable.
"What's your name, son?" Dr. Singh asked.
"How does your head feel?"
Turning to me, Dr. Singh said. "It just looks like a bruise, but keep an eye on him in case he becomes dizzy or begins to vomit." He cleaned up the area around the abrasion before addressing Chris. "Who splinted your arm?"
"Tracy's my farm manager. Why?" I explained.
"He did a good job with some very crude instruments."
"He's studying to be a veterinarian. I guess his training came in handy." I said.
"Okay, Chris, I'm going to take you in the other room to x-ray your arm. Your brothers and dad will have to stay here," he said. "It won't take but a few minutes."
I gave Chris a pat on the back and a smile as he followed the doctor out of the room. Although it seemed like forever, it was only about ten minutes before Chris returned with a regular sling supporting his arm. A few minutes later Dr. Singh returned with two x-ray images and clipped them to the x-ray illuminator. He studied them for a couple of minutes before turning to us.
"The ulna is definitely fractured, but not severely. The bone has not completely separated, which is good. As you can see right here there is a crack in the bone," he said, pointing at one of the x-rays. "I'll need to put a cast on it that will prevent him from moving his elbow as well as his wrist. That will allow the bone to be held stationary and not twist."
"How long will he have to wear a cast?" I asked.
"Taking in his age and physical condition, I'd say a minimum of three weeks. We'll take another x-ray at that time. If everything looks okay, we'll remove the cast." We were interrupted by a nurse entering the room with the necessary materials to create a cast. "Well, Chris, are you ready to get your cast?"
Chris shook his head and looked at me apprehensively. I smiled at him and nodded my head. As the doctor and nurse began building the cast, the twins inched closer and closer. When they got too close, I put a hand on each of their shoulders to keep them from getting any closer. Fifteen minutes later Chris' cast was complete. With instructions from Dr. Singh not to get the cast wet and to avoid any strenuous activities that might impact the injured arm, we left the clinic and headed back to the farm.
Joel, TJ, JR and Peter were waiting for us as I parked the van. Joel had the door open as soon as the van had stopped and helped Chris get out. The twins were right behind, telling everybody about their experience at the clinic and going into great detail about how the cast was put on Chris' arm. With both of them talking at the same time, I didn't see how any of it was making sense to the others.
"The doctor said you did a good job splinting Chris' arm," I told Tracy, approaching Rosie and him. Bert had joined the boys in examining the cast.
"I guess there's not that much difference in working with animal broken bones and humans. How severely broken was the arm?" Tracy asked.
"Not too badly. The bone had not completely separated. You were correct. It was the ulna that was broken."
We stood and watched the boys inspecting Chris' cast for a while before TJ walked over to us. "Dad, can we get a snack?"
"Sounds like a good idea," I said. "Have you guys taken care of your horses?"
He gave me that, 'what a dumb question', look before answering, "We always do."
Tracy gave a slight snicker.
"Tell your brothers to get in the van," I instructed. "Tracy, Rosie thank you for watching the boys while I was gone, I really appreciate it."
"You're welcome. They were very well behaved," Rosie said.
Everybody said their goodbyes and we took off for home. I probably should have warned Hildy that we were on our way, but I figured she always had something that the boys could snack on.
We had just driven around the curve in the road as we approached our house when I saw a several year-old, green van pull away from our gate. It had some writing on the side, but I didn't pay that much attention to it as it drove away in the opposite direction. Since the new house had been constructed we've had a number of people stop on the road and look at the house. Sometimes they have even taken pictures of it.
As we got closer to our gate, I could see what looked to be signs on the fence and gate. Turning into our property, I saw what the signs said. The signs were crudely lettered with crude sayings.
"FAGS GO TO HELL'
"GOD HATES FAGS"
There were a few others including a large "FAG" spray painted on the asphalt leading to the gate. I quit reading them and activated the gate opener. The gate started to open and then stopped with a clunk. It was then that I noticed a chain had been looped around the gate and the post, preventing it from opening. I got out to inspect it. There was a padlock holding the chain in place. Now I was getting angry. I pulled out my cell phone and called the house. Hildy answered.
"Hildy, is Manfred there?"
"Yes, he's out on the terrace. Just a moment and I'll get him."
"Crane, what can I do for you?" Manfred said when he picked up the phone.
"Do you have any bolt cutters or a hack saw?" I asked.
"Sure, I have a pair of bolt cutters in the pickup."
"Please bring them down to the gate. I'll explain when you get here."
I could hear Hildy asking what was going on before Manfred hung up the phone. It was only a couple of minutes before Manfred came walking down the driveway carrying the bolt cutters.
"What the hell?" he exclaimed, as I pointed to the chain. "Who did this?"
"I don't know, but you can be sure I'm going to find out."
It only took him a moment to cut through the chain because it was not all that heavy duty. When he finished, the gate began to swing open. It was then that Manfred noticed the signs. "I can't believe someone would do something so stupid," he said.
"Don't touch anything. I want to take some pictures, then I'm going to call the sheriff and Jack Hogan."
I let the boys off at the house and they ran straight to the kitchen, except for Joel. He looked at me with a sad look in his eyes. "Why would someone hate me? I can't help it."
"Joel, there are all kinds of people in this world. Most of them don't hate people who are different. Others, because of their ignorance, do hate anyone who doesn't hold the same beliefs that they do. It's easy for them to pick on someone in the minority. It makes them feel superior. Many have misguided religious beliefs. Some are what's called 'cafeteria Christians'. Although they profess to believe that everything written in the Bible is an absolute truth, in reality, they pick and choose what they want to believe in. Don't let these narrow minded bigots get you down. You are a good person. Who you love does not define you. What defines you is how you live your life and the way you deal with others. Concentrate on all the people who love you. There are many more who love you than hate you."
As we were talking, Manfred walked up on us and had overheard the last part of our conversation. "Your dad's right, Joel. Look around you at all the people who know you. Do any of them hate you? No, absolutely not." With that he gave Joel a hug.
"Thanks," Joel said, the tears glistening in his eyes.
"Let's go on inside before your brothers eat all of the snacks," I said.
Hildy had intercepted them and sent them to get their hands washed. They were back, seated at the table waiting for her to dish up the chocolate pudding when we entered the kitchen.
The first thing I did when I entered the house was to go into the utility room where all the security camera equipment was and removed the tape from the VCR that monitored the gate area. I took it and headed straight to my library, where I locked it securely in my desk. I then grabbed my camera and made sure it had a full roll of film in it. Before leaving the library, I placed a call to Jack. I assumed that he would be at home, it being Saturday. Thankfully, he was. I briefly explained the situation and he said he would be right over. Next I called the sheriff's office. I was in luck, Jesse was on duty. I gave him the same information that I had related to Jack and after getting his assurance that he would send a patrol car, I headed back down to the gate.
I was just finishing the photographs of the signs and chain when Jack drove up. "It looks like the bigots are at it again," he said, exiting his car.
"Yeah, but this time they are not getting away with it, if I have anything to say about it," I said.
"I assume you want me to open an investigation of all this."
"Yes, I want you to find the people who did this, but I don't think you'll have too much trouble doing that this time."
"When I built the new house, I had a state of the art video monitoring system installed. I have a tape of the gate area that should show who did all of this. I haven't had time to view it yet."
"Better check that tape, Crane. It looks like they spray painted over the camera lens here at the call box."
"No problem, that's not the one that tapes the area. That camera is used only to see who has pressed the buzzer. It's not even taped. The camera that monitors the gate area is concealed in that tree over there. If you look closely, you can see it slowly panning back and forth across the area."
"I would never have noticed it if you hadn't pointed it out. I hope the tape has some good pictures."
Jack and I both turned when we heard a car approaching. It was the sheriff's deputy. I didn't know the deputy who stepped out of the car.
"I'm Deputy Spitz. Jesse said you had a little problem here," he said.
Jack and I introduced ourselves to the deputy before he began surveying the area.
"Looks like the work of the same people who did Mr. Horn's place," Deputy Spitz said.
"You mean this was done to someone else?" I asked.
"Yep, Mr. Horn, the drama teacher over at the high school, someone did his place day before yesterday. They actually painted stuff on his house. Guess they couldn't get to yours."
"Do you know who did it?" I asked.
"Nope, got my suspicions though," he said.
"Let's go on up to the house and see if we can confirm your suspicions."
"What do you mean?"
"I've got a tape of the incident. You can watch it with us. Jack, I'll ride with you. Deputy, you can follow in your car."
I asked Hildy and Manfred if they would watch the video with us. They knew a lot of people in the community and might be able to identify some of the miscreants. Retrieving the tape from my desk, I ushered everybody into the family room and put the tape in the VCR. Since I hadn't rewound the tape when I took it out of the recorder in the utility room, I only had to rewind the tape a few seconds before we saw where the green van came into view. No one spoke as the tape ran until it came to the spot where the green van pulled away.
"Did you recognize anyone?" I asked.
Manfred spoke up, "That one guy in the jeans and tee shirt with the face of some guy on it looks like Ray Casey. I'd need to see it again, but on first time through, it sure looked like him. I didn't recognize the other two."
"Anyone else? I asked.
"Yeah," Deputy Spitz said, "I agree that one of them is Ray Casey. The other two are LeRoy Kelly and Eugene Cash."
"There had to be someone else with them," Jack added. "You saw when the three of them jumped into the van, it took off immediately. Unfortunately, the way the van was parked, the camera couldn't get a picture of him."
"Do you think we'll be able to read the license number of the van? It wasn't too clear to me," I said.
"We won't need it," Jack said. "The writing on the side of the van was very plain. The phone number of the business was even there. Able & Sons Plumbing shouldn't be too difficult to find."
"I know Bob Able, the owner of Able and Sons Plumbing," Hildy said. "He and his first wife, Minnie, used to go to our church. He married Della not too long after Minnie's death and they stopped coming to our church. I heard they started going to that church out near the airport. Someone said it was an offshoot of that horrible one in Topeka - West something Baptist Church."
"Well, Mr. Johnson, what do you want to do?" Deputy Spitz asked. "You could file complaint charging vandalism or criminal mischief. They'd get off with a small fine, but I doubt it would stop them. The judge would probably order them to paint over the slur on the asphalt by the gate. But since there was no other damage to your property, all I can do is pick them up and take them to the station. They'll be able to post a miniscule bail and be out in an hour."
"By all means pick them up. I'll file a formal complaint on Monday. I'll make a copy of the video tape and the pictures I took and bring them to the Sheriff's office when I come in Monday," I said. "Thanks for coming by, Deputy Spitz. I'll show you out."
Jack asked me when I returned to the room, "Crane, what do you want me to do?"
"I want you to find the other person in the van. I also want you to find out as much as you can about that despicable church. If there is any hanky-panky going on, I want to know about it. I don't care what it costs, you have a blank check," I said through gritted teeth. "I will not have this family intimidated by anyone, no matter what."
"I think I have just the man to infiltrate that bunch of bigots. I just hired a bright young man. To hear him talk when he puts on his act, you would think he was an uneducated, back-woods redneck. In reality, he has a master's degree in criminology and four years in the detective division of SAPD. Mason loves working undercover and he's available to begin a new assignment on Monday. Well, I had better head home and start working on a plan of action for him," Jack said. "I'll take down those awful signs on my way out. They could be a valuable source of information."
After a hearty one of Hildy's meals, the boys went up to what we now called the music room for a "jam" session. Chris could only play the drums with one hand and his foot, so the drumming was more subdued than usual. The keyboard and guitar made up for the lack of drumming. JR and Peter both got to try to play the keyboard.
I finally got all seven of them settled in their beds shortly after 9:30. I had just settled down in the living room with a book when Hildy and Manfred came in.
"Crane, you look like you could use a glass of wine. One of my customers gave me a bottle of a good Napa Valley wine they brought back from California. Hildy and I were going to have one and thought you might like to join us."
"Thanks, that sounds good. It has been a long and hectic day."
Hildy produced three glasses on a tray and Manfred brought out the bottle of wine. I looked at the label. It was a 1996 Chabot Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon. I am by no means a wine connoisseur, but I really liked the wine. We sat and talked and drank all of the wine. Much of our conversation centered on the awful incident with the signs posted on our fence and gate. When the wine bottle was empty, they decided to retire to their quarters. I put my book away and went to my bedroom to prepare for bed.
I had finished brushing my teeth when the phone rang. I figured it would be Eric since it was only about half past eight in California. It was.
"Crane, I was going to try to call you earlier. I wanted to talk to JR, but I suppose he's in bed by now. How's he been behaving?"
"Yes, he's been in bed for over an hour and he's been on his best behavior. Did you find a place for Bran?"
"We did. It's a two bedroom condo about five blocks from the campus. He'll be able to walk or if it's raining, he can catch the bus to the campus at a bus stop a block away. We put an offer in on the condo around noon and just heard back a few minutes ago that our offer was accepted. We hope to close on the place in about three weeks, so it looks like we'll be making another trip. Bran's excited about going furniture shopping, but I think we'll wait until our next visit to make any purchases."
"That sounds good. When will you get back in tomorrow?"
"Our flight is supposed to get into San Antonio at 5:17 tomorrow afternoon. If there are no delays, we should be there to pick up JR around 6:30."
"I'll get some steaks and we can have a cook-out."
We talked for a few more minutes before hanging up.
The combination of the wine and the hectic day caught up with me and I was asleep almost before my head hit the pillow. I don't know how long I had been asleep when the phone rang. I woke with a start.
"I wonder what fool is calling at this time of night," I muttered to myself. I glanced at my bedside clock as I reached for the phone. The digital numerals read 1:38. "This better be something important," I grumbled. "Hello."
"Fag loving pervert, you're dead meat," the husky voice said, before the line went dead.