Saturday morning everyone was up early. Eric and JR intended to leave by nine o'clock. Hildy had fixed a large breakfast, believing that they wouldn't find anyplace to eat much before they got to El Paso. That was almost true. Once they got past Kerrville on I-10, it was pretty much wide open spaces until they reached Fort Stockton. They would experience the same desolate landscape between Fort Stockton and El Paso. The total drive time would be about eight hours excluding stops for gas and meals.
Saying goodbye to Eric was difficult for me. I knew that I had been responsible for our relationship not progressing, but that was in the past and I had to accept that he was leaving. The boys were equally as sad that their friend JR was leaving. After getting hugs from all of us, including Hildy and Ricky, they got into their car and headed down the driveway and out of our lives - at least for the present.
No sooner had they left than Mrs. Shultz arrived to give the boys their music lessons. At least that took their minds off their friend leaving. It didn't help me. I took Peter and Ricky and found some toys for them to occupy their time with while the other boys were having their lessons. By the time the music lessons were over, the weather had turned nasty. The rain was coming down so hard that it was difficult to see the lake from the windows facing it. I cautioned Mrs. Shultz to be careful driving home as she left. The rain ruined our plans to go horseback riding after lunch.
Thankfully the rain had stopped during the night so we were able to go to the ranch and ride the horses Sunday afternoon. The fields were a little muddy and by the time the boys had finished their ride, they and their horses were covered in mud. Ricky and I were not as muddy because we didn't race around the field like the boys had done. Even Peter had mud on his pant legs. Although he didn't gallop his horse, he did manage to get Lady up to a trot. Bert showed them how to use the hose to wash down their mounts. This was something they had never had to do before. By the time the horses were clean the boys were soaked. Bert helped Peter wash Lady. With Peter holding the hose, Bert got as much water on him as Lady did. Peter was giggling so hard he couldn't keep the hose aimed at Lady. I marveled at the change in him from the fearful little boy we found outside our gate that day.
Rosie offered to wash the boys' clothes and run them through the drier, but I declined. I told her that by the time they had eaten the snack we had brought with us from home, their clothes would almost be dry. I did make the boys remove their muddy shoes before letting them into the van. One look at the van's interior when we got back to the house convinced me that I needed to take it to be detailed tomorrow after the boys were in school.
After I checked the boys' homework and they were tucked into bed, I poured myself a glass of wine and picked up the book I had been reading. I had just finished a couple of pages when Manfred walked in. I offered him a glass of wine. He accepted and I went to the bar and poured him one as well as topping off my own.
"What's on your mind?" I asked.
"Hildy and I have been talking. I think it's getting about time for me to retire again," he said, taking a sip of the wine. "This is good. What is it?"
"It's a Merlot from Pahlmeyer Winery. I saw it in the wine shop the other day and thought I'd try it. I think it was a good choice."
"I agree," Manfred said. "As I was saying, I think it's time for me to retire. Therein is the problem."
"There is no way that Hildy will ever leave your boys."
"I, for one, am glad to hear that. So I still don't see what the problem is."
"It's me. I can't see myself spending my days up there in the apartment, no matter how comfortable it is."
"What is it that you're getting at?"
"I was wondering if you would be willing to sell us a piece of land to build a house on. One that would be close enough for Hildy to commute easily."
"How much land were you thinking about?"
"Something around an acre, plus or minus."
"Have you considered buying a home nearby instead of trying to build?"
"Yes, in fact that would be a better option, but as far as we can determine there aren't any for sale around here."
"Let me think about it. When are you planning to retire - again?"
"Probably not until the end of the year. Fred Maddox has approached me about the possibility of selling my business. I never considered it until he asked, but the more I think about it the better it sounds. Fred owns that gardening center out towards McQueeny, so it wouldn't be a bad fit for him. Thanks for the wine. I think I'd better get back to Hildy."
I went back to reading my book and read for another hour. As I was getting ready for bed, I wondered if Bea Meyer were interested in selling her house. I know she had it rented at one time, but I hadn't seen anyone around the place recently when I drove by. I'd have to check with her tomorrow.
On the way to take the boys to school, Joel asked if he could go home with John after school to work on a project they were doing for one of their classes. He said John's mother was aware that he might be coming. I agreed to go pick him up around 6:30. I dropped the boys off at school and then drove to New Braunfels to have the van detailed. The boys hadn't gotten it too dirty, but it still could do with a good cleaning inside and out. The manager of the WashTub told me it would be about an hour before the van would be ready. I went next door to get a cup of coffee to go and brought it back to watch the process. I sat down on one of the benches on the covered patio and opened my book. A few minutes after I started reading a shadow fell across the book and I looked up. The man standing there looked familiar, but I couldn't place where I knew him from.
"I'm sorry, sir. Are you Crane Johnson?" he asked.
"Yes, but you have the advantage."
"Max Baker, we went to college together."
"Of course, you looked familiar, but I couldn't place you. The mustache fooled me. I didn't know you lived around here."
"I don't. My wife, Julie, is from Cibolo and we're back here visiting her family. We live in Las Vegas."
"Sit down and tell me what you've been doing since college," I said.
"Thanks. Let's see," he said, "after college I joined a company in LA and worked for them for about five years. I got really tired of that LA traffic. I was commuting an hour and a half each way every day. Let me tell you that gets old very fast. Julie and I used to drive up to Las Vegas two or three times a year. On one trip, I ran into this guy and we got to talking. By the time we were getting ready to drive back home, he had offered me a job for more money and the best part was the commute would be nothing compared to what I had in LA."
"I visited Las Vegas once several years ago. It looked like the place was really spreading out."
"That it is. Julie and I just love it there. There are more people moving in all the time. Property values are skyrocketing with no end in sight."
"What is it that you do, Max?"
"I'm the VP of Engineering for a company that builds high tech security devices. As you might expect, many of our customers are the hotels and casinos. One of our products is a facial recognition software package for detecting known gambling cheats who have been barred from the casinos."
"Sounds interesting. I was in the computer related consulting business until about three years ago."
"We should get together some time while Julie and I are in town. Check with your wife to see when you're available and I'll do the same with mine."
"I'm not married."
"That makes picking a date easier then."
"Not really, you see I have adopted five boys and am fostering a sixth. But, I tell you what. Why don't you and Julie come to our house some evening this week?" I handed him my card. "When you call, I'll give you directions. We live on the north side of the lake. I promise you I won't cook. I have a woman who takes good care of us when it comes to food."
Max said he would call tonight to let me know when their schedule was free. He was curious about my adopting five boys and I gave him a brief synopsis of how it came about. It was only a few more minutes before he was notified that his car was available. He said goodbye and went to pick up his car.
The conversation with Max got me thinking about what I might do with the money that I would have as I liquidated many of my stock holdings. I would have to do some more research, but investing in real estate in the Las Vegas area might not be a bad idea. I went back to reading my book. I picked up my forgotten coffee cup and took a sip. It was cold and nasty tasting. It hadn't been all that good when it was hot. I walked over to the trash container and dumped the cup into it.
When the van was finished, I went to inspect it. They had done an excellent job. I gave the two young men who had worked on it a generous tip and then took off for home. Hildy had lunch ready when I returned.
"Manfred said he wants to retire," I said, as I sat down at the table.
"Yes," she snapped, and hurried back to the kitchen.
"I gather that you're not too happy about it," I said when she came back with the pitcher of iced tea.
"He wants to move to a place of our own. He knows I can't leave my boys."
"Hildy, you know the boys would be devastated if you ever left us. I would be, too. We depend on you more than we should..."
"Nonsense, I love what I'm doing. You not only saved those boys, but you saved me as well. I was growing old and bitter in that decrepit trailer. You gave me a reason to get up in the morning. Those wonderful boys have given me more than I could ever give back."
"Manfred suggested that he would like to buy something like an acre of land from me to build a house on. One that would be close enough for you to commute easily. I thought you might be able to find a place to buy that is nearby. That would be a quicker solution. I was wondering about Bea Meyer's place next door. I haven't seen anyone there in a while. I thought I'd check with her to see if she still has it rented or if she would consider selling it."
"I like that house. I was in it a couple of times when the previous owners were there. It would only be a minute or two away from here," she said.
"Before I forget, we may have company some night this week for supper. I invited an old college friend."
Later in the afternoon I took off to pick up the boys from school and Hildy had gone to get Ricky from pre-school. Ricky met us at the back door when we arrived home.
"Where's Joel?" he asked.
"He went to a friend's house. He'll be here for supper," I said, picking him up. "Let's go get your hands washed. I'm sure Hildy has a snack for you."
Joel was forgotten, at least for the moment, as Hildy dished out fruit salad.
"It's hot, dad. Can we go swimming?" Larry asked.
"Sure, go put your dishes in the dishwasher and get changed. Ricky and I will be there shortly. Come on, munchkin, do you want to go swimming, too?"
"Yeah, I like to swim."
We swam for nearly an hour before I suggested to the boys that they needed to practice their music. I received a few frowns, but they climbed out of the water and dried off before entering the house. I dried Ricky and myself before carrying him in to change his clothes and put his prosthesis back on.
By the time I had my own clothes changed; Lenny was practicing on the piano in the conservatory, TJ was on the keyboard in the music room with Larry playing the electric guitar, and Chris was beating on the drums. Peter and Ricky were playing with toys in the family room. I was exhausted just watching all the activity.
I went back downstairs and decided to make a few phone calls. The first was to my stock broker to see how the initial liquidation of my portfolio was going. He informed me that by the end of the year my brokerage account would have something in the neighborhood of $50 million cash in it. Uncle Sam would take a bite out of that, much to my great dismay.
My next call was to the Nevada State Board of Realtors. I asked them for a list of brokers in good standing in the Las Vegas area. They promised to fax me a list of the top ten brokers within the hour. I thanked them and ended the call. True to their word, about 45 minutes later the fax came in. I reviewed the list and put it on my to-do list to speak with Max about them when he and his wife came to visit this week.
Shortly after six, I told Hildy that I was going to get Joel and asked her to keep an ear out for the other boys. I arrived at the Gordinier house right at 6:30. I rang the bell and was warmly greeted by Pauline. She invited me in and sent one of her daughters to tell Joel I was here.
"How are things with you?" I asked.
"Things are going very well. The tension has gone out of the home since Bruce is no longer here," she answered.
"Where is he? Does he still come visit the kids?"
"He moved up near the Temple area. He took a job up there. He hasn't seen the girls or John in several months."
"I'm sure the girls miss him," I said.
Rachel, the oldest daughter, came into the room. "Joel will be ready in a few minutes. They're picking up all the stuff they had spread out all over John's bedroom."
"Thanks, Rachel," I said. "You certainly are growing and getting prettier all the time."
She blushed and then said, "Did you know mom has a boyfriend?"
"I do not have a boyfriend," Pauline said.
Rachel left the room giggling.
"I do some volunteer work at the hospital and I met this doctor. He's come to the house a couple of times. That's all," she said. "I'm not ready to jump into another relationship."
"When the time comes, you'll know it. Don't automatically reject it. It doesn't sound like Rachel has any problems with him."
At that moment, Joel and John came into the room, saving Pauline and me from any more conversation about her "boyfriend".
"Hi, dad," Joel said. "John and I are going to put this stuff in the van. He's going to come to our house tomorrow after school to work on it, if that's all right."
"Sure, go ahead. I'll be there in a minute." I said goodbye to Pauline and soon headed for the van. John was emerging from the van as I approached. "See you tomorrow, son."
"Goodbye, Mr. Johnson," he said and waved goodbye to Joel.
"Can I drive home?" Joel asked, before I got into the van.
I took a deep breath before answering. "I guess so. It's mostly back roads so there won't be much traffic."
"Thanks," Joel said and climbed into the driver's seat. He adjusted the rearview mirror, the seat, the outside mirror and fastened his seatbelt before turning the key in the ignition.
For my part, I tried very hard to keep my comments to myself as he slowly drove out of the Gordinier driveway, looking both ways before turning onto the road. He didn't drive fast, but that didn't prevent me from nearly pushing a hole through the floorboard as he drove. This was the first time that he had driven with me and the first time he had driven a vehicle as large as the van. I was happy when the gate to our property opened to let us in.
"Just leave the van parked here in the driveway," I told him. Although he did an excellent job of driving, I didn't want him to push his luck by trying to park the van in the garage. "Congratulations, son, you did a great job."
"Thanks, this is a lot different than driving Mr. Wilson's car. This is a lot bigger."
"Supper's almost ready," Hildy informed us as we entered the back door. "By the time the boys get washed up, it'll be ready."
Having gotten our marching orders, Joel took off for his room, grabbing Ricky on his way, and went to round up the other boys. It didn't take much to convince them to go wash their hands once food was mentioned.
After supper, I sent the boys off to start their homework. I settled down with my book and a cup of coffee. I hadn't read a single page when the phone rang. It was Max. He said that he and his wife were free either tomorrow or Wednesday evening. We decided to make it tomorrow and I gave him directions to the house. After hanging up, I went to tell Hildy so that she could make plans.
It wasn't long before the boys started coming to me to check their homework. Peter was happy when I checked his homework and found that he hadn't made any errors. I gave him a hug and praised him for doing so well. He blushed and snuggled into my chest. His teacher had given him a sheet of paper with drawings of animals in boxes with three words written below each. He had to circle the correct word that identified the animal. The words were all three letters, such as cow, cat, etc.
With all the homework checked and their evening snack eaten, I sent them off to shower and get ready for bed. When they were all tucked into bed, I went back downstairs and picked up my book. Then I realized that I hadn't called Bea Meyer about her house. At this rate I'll never get the book read.
I looked up her number and dialed it. The phone rang four times before a man answered. I said, "This is Crane Johnson. Is Bea Meyer there, please?"
"Just a moment," the male voice said. "Sis, there's a Crane Johnson on the phone and wants to talk to you." I realized that it must be her brother.
A few moments later, Bea answered. "Sorry to keep you waiting, Crane. I was loading the supper dishes into the washer. How are things in Canyon Lake?"
"Things are going well, thank you. We've added another waif to our brood."
"What's that make now? Six?"
"Yeah, we're just fostering this one at the moment. Look, Bea, what I called you about is your house next door. Do you still have it rented? I haven't seen anybody there in a while."
"No, the VP who was renting it got transferred to Houston last month and now the place is empty. I don't know whether to try and rent it again or sell it. I had thought about calling you last week to see if you could recommend a good agent, but somehow I didn't find the time."
"I think I know someone who might be interested in buying it if the price is right."
"Really? That sounds great. I don't know what a fair price for it would be. I know what the assessed value is for taxes, but I don't know if that reflects the true market value. I guess I need to hire an appraiser. Do you know of any reputable ones that I could contact?"
"I don't know any personally, but I know someone who would. If you're really interested in selling, I'll get a couple of names and call you back later this week."
"I'd appreciate that."
"How's Cary doing?"
"He's improving more every day. We don't think he'll ever be able to walk on his own, but his speech is making the most progress. He has more movement in his right arm and can hold a cup in his hand. We're very encouraged. He says he misses your boys. They were so kind to him."
"My sons ask about him every once in a while. They miss him, also. I'll get those names for you as soon as I can."
I went back to my book after we ended the call. I promised myself I would read at least one chapter before I went to bed. I had read less than a page when the phone rang. "Who could that be?" I muttered, picking up the receiver. It was Eric. He had promised to call when he got to Bran's place to let us know that they had gotten there safely. He said they were just getting ready to go out to get something to eat, so he didn't talk long.
After talking to Eric, I went back to reading my book. I got so engrossed in it that it was nearly a quarter to one when I looked at the clock. It was going to be a short night if I didn't get to bed soon.
Needless to say I was not ready to get up when the alarm rang the next morning. After my shower I felt much better. I just hoped that Max and his wife didn't stay too late tonight or I might fall asleep on them.
With the boys safely dropped off at school, I drove home and started making phone calls. I called both Gerald and Carlos to see if they could recommend a couple appraisers. I came away with a list of four that they thought were the best from their experience. I put the list aside to call Bea tomorrow.
My next four calls were to Las Vegas real estate brokers on the list that had been faxed to me. I explained to each of them in turn what I was thinking about and asked their opinion about the long term appreciation of property values in their area. They were unanimous in their opinions that values would continue to rise. When I asked about the availability of undeveloped land, they indicated that there were still some large tracts within reasonable proximity of the strip. I could almost hear them salivating at the prospects for big commissions. While each of the brokers impressed me with their knowledge of the real estate market, one of them stood out as someone I would like to work with. His name was Fenton Bigelow. I still wanted to get more information from Max before I took any further steps.
Manfred joined us for lunch. I hadn't mentioned my conversation with Bea to Hildy. I was glad that I could speak to both of them at the same time. I told them what Bea had said and asked them if they were serious about wanting a place of their own. Manfred was more certain about that than Hildy was, but I think she understood Manfred's point. They both expressed an interest in looking over the house and property before they made any commitment. I told them I didn't think that Bea would have any problem with them looking it over, but that I would check when I talked to her tomorrow. I asked Manfred if he had an upper limit on what he was willing to spend on a house. He gave me a number that I thought was probably reasonable for the Meyer house.
"Crane, you asked me to find out what a tennis court would cost to build," Manfred said.
"Yes, but I'm afraid to hear what you found out," I laughed.
"I asked a couple of guys that I know and they both gave me about the same numbers. They said a lot would depend on the site and how much preparation that would need to be done. The minimum for a singles hard court would be in the neighborhood of $20,000. A doubles court would be more and if fencing was required, that would be even more. They both said that $60,000 would be the maximum either way."
"That's a lot of money to gamble on the chance they might be really serious about continuing to play long term. I need to think about this. Thanks for the info, though," I said.
I had forgotten that John was coming home with us to work on his and Joel's project, so I was surprised when he climbed into the van with the boys. Since Max and his wife were coming over around six, I hurried over to Pauline's car to see if she could come pick up John at 6:30. She agreed.
I hadn't told Hildy that John was coming home with us, but she took it in stride when it came to their after school snack. She always had plenty.
When I asked Hildy if there was anything that I could do to help her get ready for our company, she told me that Connie had helped her with the preparations before she left for the day. What ever it was we were having for supper, it sure smelled wonderful.
A few minutes before six the gate buzzer sounded. I checked the gate camera and saw that it was Max. I opened the gate and went to the front door to greet them as they drove up. Max stepped out of the car and came around to the passenger door and opened it for his wife. I was stunned when she stepped out. She was an absolutely gorgeous woman. She appeared to be younger than Max. He was a good looking man, but I never expected him to have such a beautiful wife.
"Welcome to our home," I said, shaking Max's hand.
"Thank you," he said. "Crane, this is my wife Julie. Julie, Crane Johnson."
"It's very nice to meet you. My, this is a beautiful home you have. I couldn't believe it as we drove up. How big is it?"
"Thanks you, it's around ten thousand square feet, more or less."
"You've got to show me around," Julie said.
"Crane, you'll have to forgive my wife. She's an interior decorator."
"Well then, you'll have to tell me what our decorator did wrong. Please come in," I said, ushering them inside.
I gave them a tour of the downstairs with a stop to introduce them to Hildy. Of course, Hildy had to find out who Julie's folks were. As it turned out, she knew Julie's mother some way. I didn't follow all the genealogy that transpired between the two of them. We continued the tour of the upstairs rooms where I introduced the boys to them.
"I thought you said you only had six," Max said. "I counted eight."
"John is just a friend who is working on a school project with my son Joel. His mother will be picking him up shortly. Ricky, the one with the prosthesis, is a friend's son that we're taking care of while they're in Hawaii." We went back downstairs and I offered them a glass of wine. I chose a hearty red wine that I thought would go well with the Beef Stroganoff that Hildy was serving as the main course.
"I can't find anything wrong with what your decorator did," Julie said, as we walked out onto the back patio so that I could show them the lake view. "I would kill for that kitchen."
"That was all Hildy's doing. I told her to work with a kitchen designer and what you saw was the result. That's her domain and she guards it jealously."
"Now, I'm really jealous," Max said. "The view is magnificent. I never knew there were any big lakes in Texas."
"There aren't any natural lakes in Texas. All the lakes are manmade. This one was completed in the late 50's, early 60's, I believe. My folks bought this place shortly after the lake was full. Of course, this is not the original house. It burned down while we were in Florida."
"How do you manage all those boys?" Julie asked.
"I'm fortunate not to have to work a regular job, and, for the most part, I can arrange my schedule to be here when the boys are. Hildy is the steadying hand around here. I could not do it without her. She is an absolute saint. She's been with me since before the boys came to live here."
While we were outside admiring the view, Pauline had come and picked John up. We settled down in the living room and visited for a while. Shortly, TJ sidled up to my chair and whispered into my ear. "When are we going to eat? I'm hungry."