"Now you have really pissed me off," I muttered at the instrument I held in my hand. "You bastards are going down." I switched the ringer on the phone to off and set the answering machine to pick up any incoming calls on the first ring and then settled back into bed. I was so worked up that it took me a long while before I fell into a fitful sleep.
By the time I finished my morning routine, I had the outline of a plan of action to thwart the bigots. I had to smile at the devious plan as it blossomed in my mind. This was going to be interesting. I just had to wait for Jack and his people to do their thing.
Hildy looked at me as I entered the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee. "You look like you didn't get any sleep last night," she said.
"I didn't. Got a threatening phone call about 1:30 this morning."
"Probably from the same bast... uh, bigots who put up those signs. By the way, the phone is set to go directly to the answering machine. You can hear who is calling and pick up if it's someone we know."
"What are you going to do about it?" she asked.
"I've got an idea, but it's going to take some time. In the mean time, we'll just have to wait for Jack to complete his investigation. I am, however, going to set up round the clock security."
"That's probably a good idea until this is over," she said. "Breakfast will be ready in about 20 minutes. Why don't you go wake the boys?"
"This is Sunday, aren't you supposed to be off today?"
"Yes, but since there are seven boys here I thought I'd help out."
"Hildy, I don't know what we did to deserve you, but I'm thankful you're here."
"Oh, go on, you'll make an old woman blush. Now, go get those boys."
Joel was coming out of his bedroom as I reached the top of the stairs. I asked him to wake TJ and Peter. I went to wake the other four. Chris said his arm was hurting, so I got one of the pain pills that Dr. Singh had given us and gave it to him. He complained that it was hard for him to get to sleep with the cast on his arm.
"Can John come over when he gets home from church so we can study for the AP test?" Joel asked, while he was eating breakfast.
"Sure, is his mother going to bring him, or do we need to go get him?"
"Can we go get him?"
"Of course, we can. What time?"
"He said they were going to the early service. He'd be home from church around ten, so maybe we could get him then."
"You guys had this all planned, didn't you?"
"Yeah," Joel said, ducking his head and blushing.
Even though it was Sunday, I called Andy Bianca's number after breakfast. He was the owner of the security service we had used before. I reached the answering machine at his office and left a message for him to call me.
Hildy and Manfred were going to the late church service so they were able to stay with the boys while Joel and I went to go pick up John. When we reached the Gordinier home, John and Joel climbed into the back seat of the BMW while I talked briefly with Pauline. I asked her if she had been harassed by anyone. She gave me a strange look and then said they hadn't had anything unusual happen. I told her what had occurred at our house. She looked worried and expressed concern since they didn't have a fence around their property. I told her not to worry, but if anything happened she was to give me a call.
Joel and John waved goodbye to his mother as we drove off. As soon as we were out of sight, in the rearview mirror I saw them give each other a rather passionate kiss. I cleared my throat and they jumped apart and had the decency to look embarrassed. I just shook my head and smiled.
The other boys were in the back yard throwing Frisbees for their dogs to catch. I thought this was better than them trying to play soccer. I didn't want Chris to fall and hurt his arm. The next few weeks were going to be hard on him. Not being able to swim, play soccer or play his drums with both hands would more than likely cause him a lot of frustration.
Andy returned my call shortly after we had returned with John. I explained what was going on and requested that he provide the same type of security that he had previously. He agreed and said he would have someone there in a couple of hours to begin the surveillance.
I was sitting on the terrace watching the boys play with their dogs when JR came running up to me. "Sir, there's a boat pulled up to the bottom of the steps that go down to the lake. Larry said to tell you."
"Thanks, JR," I said. I slipped back in to my bedroom through its door to the terrace. Going into my bathroom, I opened a hidden panel, worked the combination on the safe and retrieved a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol that I kept in there. I hated guns, but this was left to me by my grandfather. Going back outside with the pistol in my back pocket, I walked to the edge of the cliff and looked over to see who was down there. Two men were getting out of the small boat.
"Please get back into your boat and leave. This is private property," I hollered down to them. They looked up in surprise at my voice.
"Sorry," one of the men said. "We thought this was a public area." They got back into their boat and headed out into the lake. I was relieved they meant no harm. I guess I was a little paranoid. I'd be happy when the security guy got here.
Returning to my bedroom, I placed the pistol back in the safe and spun the combination before closing the hidden panel. Looking at my watch, I decided it was time to fix the boys some lunch. It was a wonder they hadn't come to me with starved looks on their faces already. Hildy had all kinds of sandwich makings when I checked in the refrigerator. I placed the sliced ham, cold cuts and cheeses on a platter before retrieving the bread and potato chips from the pantry. Everything was arranged on the kitchen island along with plates.
I hollered up the stairs for Joel and John and then went to the terrace to call the other boys. At the mention of lunch they came running. They knew better than to come to the table without first washing their hands, so they split up and headed for the bathrooms. I poured glasses of milk for them while they were washing up. Joel set out the napkins and silverware. It was going to be a build your own sandwich lunch, although I figured I might have to help Chris and Peter, possibly TJ as well.
The eight boys made quick work of making and eating their sandwiches and then just as quickly went back to what they were doing before lunch. I cleaned up the kitchen before returning to the terrace to watch the boys play with their dogs. Every so often I would walk upstairs to check on Joel and John. They were always hard at work studying when I looked in on them. I had insisted that the door to Joel's bedroom remain open at all times.
Hildy and Manfred returned from church and having had lunch with some of their friends. They joined me on the terrace. "Crane, I picked up the steaks for this evening. Manny and I knew the butcher, so we got some really good rib eyes," Hildy said.
"Thanks, I'm sure they'll be great."
"We talked to some of our church members about Bob Able," Manfred said. "It seems that he and his new wife are really into that new church they belong to. What did James say the name of it was, Hildy?"
"Infallible Bible Church," she replied.
"Yeah, that's it. It seems the preacher is an old friend of yours," Manfred said with a smile.
"And who might that be?" I asked.
"The Reverend Fullwell."
"What? He's supposed to be in prison."
"James said he heard that Fullwell is out of prison awaiting a retrial. Some sort of legal technicality got his first conviction thrown out on appeal. He must have had a shrewd lawyer."
"That explains a lot," I said. The wheels started turning in my head as meat was added to the bare bones of the plan I had conceived earlier.
"Hildy, we're thirsty. Can we have some juice?" TJ asked. He and the others had come up unnoticed while we had been talking.
"Sure, little one," she said, leading them back into the house.
"I'm not little," I heard TJ say. "Peter's little."
"Of course," came Hildy's reply.
"What are you planning to do about Fullwell?" Manfred asked. "I can tell by the look on your face that you're cooking up something."
"Now that I know Fullwell is involved in all of this, it's added another dimension to my plan. I'll tell you about that part," I said. "You know Ray Ortiz, the recently elected District Attorney, don't you?"
"I knew his father. We went through high school together. I don't know Ray all that well."
"He has a reputation as being an honest politician, which is refreshing, but not the best prosecutor. I wish Richard Ballard was still District Attorney. I intend to offer Ortiz the best legal mind in the state to assist him in re-prosecuting the case against Fullwell, at no cost to the county. I want that man in prison. He's caused this family way too much grief as it is. You didn't by any chance hear when Fullwell's retrial is to begin, did you?"
"I think James said it was the first part of September. I didn't pay that much attention to the date. I can find out from him, if you want."
"No, I'll take care of that. It's nice to have someone around who knows what's going on in the county," I said.
"Well, as Hildy has told you many times that if you'd go to church with us, you'd learn a lot. Most of it spiritual, but also a lot of gossip," Manfred said with a broad smile.
"I suppose," I said.
"When's my dad going to come home?" JR asked. The boys had come back out onto the terrace carrying their glasses of juice.
"I talked to him after you had gone to bed last night. He said they should be here around 6:30," I told him. "They're going to stay for supper with us." That seemed to satisfy him and he went back to where the other boys had gathered.
It was nearly four o'clock before the security guard arrived at the front gate. I let him in after he had identified himself. As he drove up the driveway, I noticed he was pulling a trailer behind his car, hauling an ATV. I met him at the front door where he introduced himself to me as Grant West. He apologized for the delay in arriving. He had been fishing with his son on Medina Lake when he got the call from Andy. It took him a while to wrap things up before he could come. I explained that we really didn't expect anything to happen so soon after the last incident, but wanted to take every precaution. He explained that he would be on duty until midnight when another guard would arrive. I invited him to eat with us, but he declined. I watched as he unloaded the ATV and began driving it around the perimeter of the property.
As time approached for Eric and Bran to get here, JR situated himself on the front steps to wait for them. I started the charcoal going in the grill and went to sit beside him. We were soon joined by the rest of the boys. Although I had invited John to eat with us, he declined so I had taken him home around five.
JR was getting restless as his watch showed 6:30. He was almost frantic when it was 6:45. At 6:50, his dad's car came through the gate. I had to hold him back to keep him from running out in front of the car. As soon as the car stopped and I released him he was at his dad's door, yanking furiously at the handle. When Eric unlocked the door, JR had it open and flung himself onto his dad.
"Did you miss me?" Eric joked, as he struggled to undo his seatbelt and climb out of the car. The only answer he got was a grunt from JR and a nod of his head.
"Hey, runt, don't I get a hug?" Bran asked.
JR extricated himself from Eric and wrapped his arms around Bran. "I didn't think you was ever gonna get here."
The rest of the boys greeted Bran, while I greeted Eric. "Okay, guys, let's go back into the house. You can ask Bran all about his trip to California. Eric, you can help me get the meat on the grill. I know it's only about five o'clock by your California time, but it's nearly seven here and if we don't get these boys fed they're going to starve to death."
Hildy had the meat all ready for us when we entered the kitchen. I had to admit these were fine looking steaks. "I'll carry the steaks," Eric said. "You bring the salt and pepper and utensils."
The coals in the grill were perfect. "It shouldn't take very long to get these done," I said. Eric held the platter of steaks and I took them one at a time and arranged them on the grill.
"You have some interesting graffiti at your front gate," Eric said. "What happened?"
I related the story to him and told him of the part of my plan that I had shared with Manfred. Eric was appalled by the tale.
"What is the matter with those jerks?" he asked rhetorically.
Two minutes after the steaks were on the grill, I turned them about 45 degrees to give them that crosshatch pattern you get at a good steak house. Another two minutes and they were ready to be turned over. The process was repeated on the second side. When they were done, I removed them to a clean platter and then covered it with aluminum foil to let them rest.
When we returned to the house, the boys had already washed up and were waiting to sit down at the table in the formal dining room. It wasn't often that we used this room, but I guess Hildy thought the occasion was special enough. Who was I to argue with her?
At the table over our meal, Bran gave us all an enthusiastic description of the college campus, the town and most of all his new condo. From the way he described everything, I was sure he would be happy going to school there. My only doubts were about him getting homesick. I didn't think he had really realized it yet that he was going to be on his own for the first time a thousand miles away from the people who loved him. I knew that Eric and JR would miss him terribly.
The adults adjourned to the living room for coffee when all the meal's aftermath had been cleaned up. The eight boys went upstairs to entertain themselves.
"What did you think of the campus?" I asked Eric.
"I was quite impressed with it. Everybody that we met, both on and off campus, were very friendly and helpful. We stopped by a local student hangout just off campus while we were there. One of those coffee shops that the younger crowd is so fond of, with outrageously expensive coffee that tastes like it was brewed through a dirty sweat sock. Anyway, Bran struck up a conversation with another black student. Elijah was going to be a sophomore. We found out he's a mechanical engineering student. He seemed like a really nice kid. His father is a doctor and his mother is a Special Ed teacher. As they talked, Bran learned that Elijah lived only a block away from him in an apartment. I'm glad Bran has someone he knows before he starts to classes."
"Tell us about the condo," I said. "We heard Bran's description, but now tell us your version."
"I'm really happy with it," Eric said. "He's on the third level. There's no one above him. As you heard, Bran calls it the penthouse. There are two bedrooms with ensuite baths. They're on opposite sides of the condo. That'll be nice if he ever has a roommate. There's a living room and a small, well equipped, eat-in kitchen. Another area just off the living room, I guess it's supposed to be a den or an office. Bran's going to use as a place to study. I almost forgot, there's a good sized balcony that overlooks a really nice pool and spa. The exercise area is in a separate building along with a party room. It also comes with a one-car garage, but since he won't have a car, we'll probably try to rent it to one of the other owners or use it for storage."
"Has he said anything about leaving Shane?" I asked.
"He's still coming to grips with that," Eric said. "I think Shane's taking Bran's leaving harder than Bran is. They'll survive. I don't know about their relationship, though. You know the old saying, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder - for somebody else.'"
We all laughed at that. There was more truth than fiction to that old saying. We talked for another hour or so before the boys came down stairs asking for a snack. Hildy got up, took them into the kitchen and placed bowls of fruit onto the kitchen island. The boys each took a piece of fruit and sat down at the breakfast room table. When they were finished, Eric announced that it was time to head for home and told JR to go round up his things.
With hugs all around, Eric and his boys left for home. I told my boys to get their showers taken and get ready for bed. Chris came to me to have his cast wrapped in a plastic garbage bag so that it wouldn't get wet. I could see this was going to be a nuisance for him every night. Yesterday it was a novelty, but that novelty was fading fast.
After getting everybody tucked into bed, I decided that I should go as well since I hadn't gotten all that much sleep the night before. It would also give me some quiet time to work through the plan to make sure I hadn't overlooked anything to bring down the bigots.
Monday morning at breakfast, Joel asked, "Dad, can you take me to the school on Wednesday morning so that I can take the AP test?"
"Sure, what time?"
"I have to be there at nine. Can you pick up John and take him, too?"
"Naturally," I said. "This is your advanced algebra test, right?"
"Yes, sir," he responded.
After breakfast, I made a call to Carlos Martinez to get his opinion of a good lawyer to assist the DA in re-prosecuting Gerald Fullwell. "Crane, there are a couple of lawyers that I could recommend," he said, after I explained what I wanted. "Clark Behm is a guy I went to law school with. He's brilliant. He was a prosecutor for several years, but is now in private practice. I think he would relish making sure Fullwell get his just due. He's had a couple of run ins with fundamentalists like Fullwell because of his younger brother being gay."
"Do you think he would take this on? It's kind of short notice," I said.
"All you can do is ask him. I haven't talked to him in several months, so I don't know how busy he is."
"Where does he practice?"
"Here in San Antonio. Would you like for me to give him a call?" Carlos asked.
"That would be great. Give him my cell phone number. I have to go to the sheriff's office to file a formal complaint against the vandals."
On my way off the property, I stopped and talked to the security guard that was on duty. He introduced himself as Clayton Steen and told me that there would be two guards coming on for the four to midnight shift during the week. If anything was going to happen it would probably be after working hours. On weekends there would be two guards on duty around the clock. I thanked him for the information and headed for the sheriff's office.
It took about 45 minutes to file the formal complaint and then I took a copy of it and went to see the DA. He was in his office, but I had to wait about half an hour before he was able to see me. I explained to him the help I was prepared to give him in re-prosecuting Fullwell.
"Why would you want to do that?" Ortiz asked.
It took a while to fill him in on the contacts I had with Fullwell and why it meant so much to me to see that the man was in prison for as long as the law allowed. I ended with, "I want to make sure that every i is dotted and every t is crossed, and I'm willing to use my resources to see that happen. I don't want him to get out of prison on a technicality that some smart lawyer can come up with."
"Mr. Johnson, I accept your offer. Just let me know who this lawyer is going to be. To make it official, I have an Assistant DA position that's currently unfilled I can make a temporary appointment to."
"I'll get back to you with the name. When do you expect the trial to begin?"
"Right now, it's scheduled for the second Monday in September to begin jury selection. That shouldn't take more than a day, possibly two. So at the very latest, the trial should begin no later than that Wednesday."
"Thanks for your cooperation," I told him, getting up to leave.
I went to the local Home Depot to pick up some odds and ends that we needed around the house and was about to get back in my car when my cell phone rang.
"Mr. Johnson, Clark Behm here. Carlos said you had something you wanted my help with."
"I have a proposition for you if you are willing to put your prosecutorial hat back on."
"That sounds interesting. I always relished putting the bad guys in jail. Carlos filled me in a little on the situation, but I didn't quite understand your interest in this case."
"Look, I'm in the parking lot of Home Depot. Would it be possible for us to meet and discuss this over coffee some place?"
"I think that would be best. Why don't you come to my office around two this afternoon?"
"That sounds good. Where's your office located?"
He gave me the address which turned out to me only a few blocks from the foundation's office. We broke the connection and I took off for home to see how the boys were behaving with just Hildy and Connie there to watch them. I got there just in time for lunch. Hildy reported that Chris' arm had been hurting him and she gave him a children's Tylenol, but other than that all was well.
I apologized to her saying I had to meet with a lawyer this afternoon and she would be stuck with the boys again.
"Nonsense," she said. "They were good as gold this morning. They wanted to go swimming, but I told them they would have to wait until you were here to watch them."
"I should be back around 3:30. They can wait until then and I'll join them."
My conversation with Clark Behm went very well. He agreed to my proposition and said he would be in contact with the District Attorney to set everything in motion. With that taken care of, I made a quick stop by the foundation office to see how things were going. It had been a while since I had been to the office. Carol and Darcie both assured me that everything was under control. Satisfied, I hurried home so that the boys could go swimming. I had an idea of how Chris could join in the fun.
I spoke briefly with Grant West as I entered the property. He said that the full complement of security guards would be on duty this evening and gave me what looked like a small walkie-talkie.
"Take this, if you need to contact any of your security just press this button," he said, pointing to a red button on the face of the instrument. "It will alert whoever is on duty and they will immediately come to the house. You can also talk to one of us by pressing the green one and speaking into the transmitter. Be sure to release the button when you finish talking, otherwise you won't be able to hear us respond."
"Thanks, I'll show the household staff how to use this."
I drove on to the house and called Hildy, Connie and Joel together in the kitchen. I instructed them on the use of the walkie-talkie before placing it on a shelf in the kitchen next to the refrigerator. Although the other boys had not been summoned, they had gathered to watch the demonstration.
"What are we supposed to do?" Lenny asked. The others nodded their heads.
"Well, let's see. If you see something that's strange or if there is someone you don't know outside, you should come to Hildy or Connie or Joel or me and we'll investigate. Nothing like that will probably happen because we have the security people watching, but they can't be everyplace at one time. Just keep your eyes open. Okay? Now, how about all of us getting into the pool?"
That was greeted by near unanimous enthusiasm. The one exception was Chris, who stood there, barely suppressing his tears. "What about me?"
"I have a plan. You go get your swimsuit on and come back here."
He still didn't look convinced, but took off for the stairs. I went to my bedroom to change into my suit. Chris was waiting for me when I returned to the kitchen.
"The first thing we have to do is wrap your cast really good in plastic wrap. Do you know where Hildy keeps it?"
"Good, you get it and I'll get the rest of the stuff we need." I went into the utility room and picked up the supplies and returned to the kitchen. "Let me help you take your sling off."
After the sling was removed, I wrapped several layers of plastic wrap around the cast. The twins had joined us and were watching the process, although a bit impatiently. Next, I inserted his cast into a kitchen garbage bag like the one he used to protect it while showering. This time I duct taped it more securely to hold it onto his arm. I also wrapped tape around the garbage bag in several places to keep it close to the cast. When it was finished, I inspected it to make sure it was as water tight as we could make it.
"That looks good," I said. "Now, you can go in the water. But, and there is a big but, you have to stay in the shallow end of the pool. That cast is like an anchor. It could drag you to the bottom of the pool very easily. Do you understand?"
Joel, TJ and Peter were waiting for us on the terrace, anxious to get into the pool. I took Joel aside and explained to him about keeping Chris in the shallow end of the pool and asked him to help me keep an eye on him.
After playing with the boys for maybe half an hour, I climbed out of the pool and sat in one of the loungers to watch them. Chris had taken my warning to stay in the shallow end of the pool. It wasn't as if he didn't have company there. TJ and Peter were there as well.
I was watching the twins and Joel have a contest to see who could hold their breath under water the longest, when I noticed that Peter had climbed out of the water and had taken a seat on the lounger next to me. He looked as if he wanted to say something, but kept looking from me to TJ. This went on for about five minutes before he spoke.
"Are you gonna be my daddy? TJ said you was."