"This is just preliminary, you understand. David Cole, the auditor I retained to scrutinize the trust documentation, says that from what he has seen, the trustees have been using it as their own piggy bank. That bank has been owned or managed by the Bollinger family for the past two hundred or so years. Clyde Lemon, our trust attorney, tells me that management fees for trusts vary, but are normally in the one to three per cent range. In addition some managers charge a stock trading fee if they are licensed stock brokers."
"What exactly do you mean they have been using the trust as 'their own piggy bank'?" I asked.
"The documentation that we received as a result of the court order is amazingly complete. I would guess that the bank never thought a claim would be made against the trust. The documentation shows that over the years several large loans have been made to bank officers from the trust without any record of repayment. The management fee has averaged something over 10%. While that fee is not illegal, it is certainly excessive."
"Has this David Cole come up with an estimate of what the true worth of the trust should be?"
"Not yet. It should take a few more days. I'll call you on Wednesday at the latest to let you know the status," Darin Bain said.
"Thanks, Darin. I'll look forward to your call."
I decided not to tell Jayden and Carla what I had learned from Darin Bain, at least not until I had something more concrete to tell them. They had seemed pleased with the amount that Bollinger had quoted to them at the bank.
I went to pour myself another cup of coffee before I made a call to my apartment managers to see how things were going when the phone rang. It was Fenton Bigelow, the real estate broker in Las Vegas.
"Crane, I thought I would give you a call about a piece of property that has just become available."
"My, you're up early. Isn't it only a little after eight out there? I didn't think people in your profession got to the office until noon."
"You know, the early bird and all that," Fenton laughed.
"Okay, tell me about this piece of property that has you all excited."
"It's part of an estate that has just gone into probate. I happen to know the executor of the estate. The property lies a little over a mile from the strip. It actually consists of two parcels separated by a proposed major road."
"How much land are we talking about?" I asked.
"There are approximately 1300 acres on one side of the road and 1600 on the other side. They can be purchased together or separately. Although the properties have not been officially listed for sale, the executor told me they were looking to sell them at around $2,000 an acre. If you could come up with a cash offer, I think you could get it at something less than that."
"Let me ask you a couple of questions. When will that proposed road be built? And, how long would it take before the property could be developed?"
"The road construction is supposed to begin right after the first of the year. It's already in the pre-construction phase. The schedule calls for it to be completed in 8 months. Development of the properties could begin as soon as the road is completed."
"I'd like to take a look at this property and some of the others you suggested. Are you available on Monday?"
"I'll clear my calendar, if you're going to be here."
"Good," I said. "Please arrange for a helicopter to ferry us around. I only plan to be there one day and don't want to waste time driving all over. From what you've said, this property is rather isolated. I'll call you later with my itinerary."
Next on my agenda was to see if Hildy and Manfred would watch the boys Sunday night and Monday. Hildy said they had no other plans and would be happy to stay with the boys and see that they got to school Monday morning. This detail taken care of, I called my travel agent to set up the trip. A half an hour later she called me back with the information. I would fly out Sunday evening at 4:35 and return Monday night at 11:50. My hotel reservation was at the recently opened Bellagio Hotel. I called Fenton with my itinerary and arranged for him to pick me up at the hotel around 8:30 on Monday morning.
I was a few minutes late arriving at the school to pick up the boys. I parked the van and walked to where I always met the boys. As I approached, I saw Larry and Lenny having what appeared to be a serious conversation with two girls about their ages. When they saw me, their faces turned pink. They said goodbye to the girls and headed to where TJ, Peter and Chris were waiting. Joel had not yet arrived.
"Who are your friends?" I asked the twins.
"Just some girls in our class," Larry answered, turning an even darker shade of pink. Lenny nodded in agreement.
"They've got girl friends," Chris offered.
"They aren't our girl friends," Lenny retorted. "They're just friends."
"I believe you," Chris said with a grin, and took off running for the van with the twins right behind him.
"Watch out for the traffic," I called after them.
"Dad," Joel said when he arrived. "Can John come home with us? We need to put the finishing touches on our project for the science fair."
"If it's all right with his mother, then he's welcome to come home with us," I said.
"She said it was okay with her," John said.
"When is the science fair?" I asked.
"We have to set everything up next Thursday after school, a week from today. The final judging will be on Saturday. We have to set it up at the Smithson Valley gym. Can you take us there after school so we can get it set up?" Joel asked.
"Sure," I said. "Now let's go see if we can prevent the twins from murdering their brother."
When we arrived at the van, the twins had Chris pinned against the side of the van and were tickling him. He was laughing so hard the tears were streaming down his cheeks. "Okay, guys, I think that's enough punishment."
John stayed for supper, after which Joel and I took him home. It gave me an opportunity to talk to Pauline. I asked how she and her boyfriend were getting along.
She got a concerned look on her face before she answered. "We really seem to be compatible, however ..."
"A fly in the ointment?"
"John doesn't seem to like Walter and I don't know why. The girls love him."
"Have you asked John why?"
"Yes, he just shrugs and says he doesn't know."
"If you like, I can see if Joel knows anything."
"That might work. I'd really like to know what John thinks."
On the way home, I asked Joel, "Has John said anything about Walter, Pauline's friend?"
"Yeah," Joel said.
"He said he thought Walter was a phony."
"What did he mean by that?"
"He thinks Walter is hiding something."
"Did he say why he thought that, or what Walter is hiding?"
"No, he said it was just a feeling."
"Hmm," I thought, "maybe this is something for Jack to look into."
Later that evening, Larry and Lenny came up and sat down on the arms of the chair I was sitting in. "Dad," Larry started, as he unfolded a sheet of paper, "will you be a, ah ... chaperone at the Halloween Dance?"
"When is it?"
"On the thirty-first," Lenny said. "That's a Saturday."
"Here's the sign-up sheet," Larry said, handing me the now unfolded piece of paper. "Can you sign it so we can take it back to school tomorrow?"
"Why do you need it back so soon?"
"Well, ... we weren't gonna go, but ..." Larry stammered.
"Did those two girls you were talking to cause you to change your minds?"
"Yeah, I guess," Lenny said, ducking his head.
"Do these two young ladies have names?" I asked.
"Toni Cantrell," Larry answered.
"Cathy Boston," Lenny said.
"I'd be happy to chaperone," I said. "Do you have a pen so I can sign?"
Lenny produced one and I signed on the dotted line, committing myself to spend the night with a bunch of mostly pre-pubescent boys and girls. This was going to be interesting.
Later that evening as I was checking the boys' homework assignments, I asked Chris if he was going to the Halloween Dance.
"I guess," he answered.
"Aren't there any girls in your class that you would like to dance with?"
"Yeah, but ..."
"There's one girl I kinda like, but she doesn't like me."
"How do you know she doesn't like you?"
"She's always with a bunch of other girls and when she sees me she just giggles and whispers to them."
"Have you ever tried to talk to her alone?"
"I'd like to, but she's always with that same bunch of girls."
"Is she going to the dance?"
"I think so."
"Well, if you really think you like this girl ... What's her name, by the way?"
"If you'd really like to see if Lenore likes you, too, I'd suggest that you go to the dance and try to talk to her there. Ask her to dance. She may not turn out to be the love of your life, but if you don't make an effort, you'll never find out. You're good looking, bright and have a great personality. What's not to like?" I said, giving him a hug.
"You won't tell Larry and Lenny, will you?"
"No," I said, pointing at my chest and then his, "this is just between me and you."
Friday morning after I had taken the boys to school, I called my apartment managers, Chuck Solaris and Phillip Brown. I had not gotten around to calling them on Thursday as planned. It was Phillip who answered the phone.
"Crane, it's good to hear from you. It's been a while," Phillip said.
"I assumed that everything was going well with the three complexes or I would have heard something from you."
"Things couldn't be better," Phillip said. "All three are at 98% occupancy or better. In fact, the newest complex has a waiting list of people wanting to rent. We might want to consider raising the rent as the leases come due."
"I'm not sure about that. Take a hard look at it. Find out what other complexes in the area or comparable properties are charging. I think I would be concerned that raising the rents might drive the occupancy rates down. Why don't you and Chuck do an analysis of the three complexes? Estimate what effect a rent increase would have on occupancy and the net cash flow from each. Take as long as you need and then get back to me with the results."
"We'll get right on it. It shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks to gather the data, analyze and make the projections." Phillip said. "We'll give you a call when it's complete."
I spent the rest of the morning going over the information that Fenton had faxed to me on the new property and the others that he thought I might be interested in. I brought up a satellite image of the Las Vegas area on my computer and located the properties. While all of them looked attractive, I zeroed in on the new one and two others that I thought had the potential to appreciate in value fairly rapidly and turn a quick profit. I called Fenton and told him of my choices.
When the boys had finished their after school snack, I told them of my plans to fly to Las Vegas on Sunday evening. They weren't too happy that I was going to be gone, but I assured them that I would be back to take them to school on Tuesday.
Saturday was busy as usual. Music lessons in the morning, horse back riding in the afternoon followed by swimming when we got home. It was beginning to be a regular routine. We dropped Joel off at the high school for his Drivers Ed class while the rest of us went to the farm. Tracy was home from college when we arrived at the farm to go riding. He and Bert were saddling the horses as we arrived. I noticed that he looked as if something was bothering him.
"What's wrong, Tracy? You look bummed out."
"You know that place on 281 that I thought would be a good place to open my clinic?"
"Well, I drove by there on the way home and somebody is building on the lot."
"Is it a spec building or is there a business building it for their own use?" I asked, trying hard to keep from smiling.
"It doesn't say. All the sign says is that the developer is CBJ Properties."
"Have you tried to contact them to see if the building is already rented?"
"It might be worth your while to do that."
"Yeah, I thought I'd do that on Monday. I wrote down the telephone number that was on the sign."
Sunday morning, I was awakened by a loud clap of thunder. When I sat up in bed and looked out through the windows, I could see in the early morning light the rain was coming down hard. I was thinking about trying to get a few more minutes of sleep when another clap of thunder seemed to jar the whole house. I had just pulled the covers back up when two bodies lit on the bed.
"What are you guys doing? I asked TJ and Peter, as they crawled under the covers.
"Peter was frightened," TJ said.
"Yeah," Peter agreed, snuggling into my side.
"It's just thunder. It can't hurt you."
"But it's scary," Peter mumbled.
The quick moving storm soon moved on. By the time I heard the last rumble of thunder in the distance, both Peter and TJ had gone back to sleep. I quietly slipped out of bed and went into my bathroom to shower and get ready for the day. Peter and TJ were still sleeping when I exited the bathroom.
I was in the kitchen when Hildy and Manfred came downstairs dressed for church. They had decided to go to the nine o'clock service so they would be back in plenty of time for me to get ready to leave for Las Vegas. Manfred poured some coffee into his travel mug before leaving the kitchen. I browned off a couple pounds of sausage links and then started fixing about a gallon of pancake batter. Thankfully the griddle on the stove Hildy had picked out for her kitchen was large enough to make four pancakes at a time. I was finishing up the last batch when Joel entered the kitchen.
"Everything smells good," he said, giving me a hug which I returned. "I could smell the sausage clear upstairs."
"Why don't you go wake your brothers while I finish setting the table? TJ and Peter are in my bedroom. Last night's thunderstorm frightened them."
Joel looked at me quizzically, "I didn't hear a storm."
"You must have really been sleeping soundly not to have heard all that thunder."
"I guess," he shrugged, and went off to wake the other boys.
"Did you wash your hands?" I asked Peter and TJ, as the sleepy pair approached. That stopped them in mid step. They turned and ran to the nearest bathroom. It wasn't long before they were back and seated at the table.
"That must have been quite a storm last night," Joel said, returning to the kitchen. "The twins and Chris were all wrapped up in the same bed when I went in to wake them."
From the look of six hungry faces, I hoped that the 20 pancakes I'd fixed would be enough. As it turned out, there was one left for me when they finished and pushed away from the table. After they had placed their dishes in the dishwasher, I said, "As soon as you get dressed, you need to feed your dogs and see that they have everything they need."
"I don't have a dog," Peter said, looking up at me.
"Maybe we can do something about that," I said, patting him on the head. "You can help TJ with Bandit."
"Okay," he said, and ran after TJ, who had already headed for the stairs. I could see a visit to the animal shelter in our future.
I walked out on the patio about twenty minutes later to see how the boys were managing. Dick, the security guard on duty, was sitting on his ATV watching the boys playing with their dogs. They were running and tumbling and wrestling and playing tag with their pets and just having a great time. I stood there for several minutes watching before walking to where Dick was. He was chuckling to himself and shaking his head at the boys' antics.
"Mr. Johnson, those are six of the happiest boys I've ever seen."
"And six of the muddiest, too," I said, "I'll have to hose them down before they go back into the house. That rain last night was just enough to make for good mud puddles."
Dick went back to making his rounds and I went into the house to grab some towels. I don't know who got worn out first, the dogs or the boys. It wasn't long after I returned with the towels that the eleven muddy creatures headed for the house. "Okay, guys, let's get the mud washed off your dogs and then put them back into their run," I said, handing Joel the hose. One by one the dogs were hosed down and led back to their fenced in area. The boys got even wetter as their pets shook their bodies to shed the water. The boys were next. I had them strip down to their underwear while I aimed a light spray of water from the hose at them.
"That's cold," Peter said.
"Wrap this towel around you," I said. "Take your clothes and shoes and put them in a basket in the utility room. I'll throw them in the washer when I come in. A hot shower will warm you up."
I hadn't noticed that Hildy and Manfred had returned from church. Hildy had beaten me to the utility room and had started the washing machine before I got there. "They must have had a lot of fun from the amount of mud on their clothes," she chuckled.
"Yeah," I said. "There's nothing better than a boy, a dog and a mud puddle to make a boy happy. Well, since you beat me to this, I think I had better pack a few things for my trip. I'll fix the boys' lunches as soon as they're out of the showers."
"Go ahead, I'll set out the sandwich fixings and they can make their own. I've got plenty of everything," she said.
I packed light for the trip with only a couple changes of clothes and my shaving kit. I was only going to be there over night and didn't plan on going anyplace where I needed to dress up.
It was shortly after two when I got ready to leave for the airport. I gave each of the boys a hug and a reminder to behave for Hildy while I was gone. Peter clung to me and didn't want to let go.
"I don't want you to go," he sobbed, a tear running down his cheek. It almost made me shed a tear. This young boy had come so far from the time we found him and he was so afraid of me, to now when he is afraid I'll leave him.
"I'll be back to take you to school on Tuesday. I promise," I said, giving him a kiss on the forehead. "You know I'd never leave you. You and your brothers are the world to me. I need to take care of some business." I picked him up and handed him to Hildy. "Take care of him. He's special."
"I will," Hildy said. "He's special to all of us."
I got to the airport in plenty of time for my flight. I bought a magazine from the newsstand and read it while I was waiting for the flight to be called. The flight was not as pleasant as it should have been. I was seated by a forty something woman who talked constantly at me for the entire flight. I would have liked to tell her to shut up, but, of course, I didn't. I was relieved when the plane landed and I could get away from her incessant chatter.
I caught a cab and was quickly whisked to the Bellagio. After checking in at the front desk and being shown to my room, I decided to call Max Baker to see if we could meet for supper. Unfortunately, he and his wife were not at home, so I left a message on their answering machine letting them know I was in town. Although, it was early Las Vegas time, my stomach told me it was supper time. I decide to check out the hotel's casual dining restaurant. I was very pleased with the atmosphere, the service and the food. The prices were a little high compared to what I would expect to pay in San Antonio for the same class of service, but still it was an enjoyable meal.
Returning to the room, I turned on the TV to see what was happening in the Las Vegas area. It turned out to be the same thing that was on the news back home - shootings, stabbings, robberies and car crashes. I turned the TV off and picked up the magazine that I had been unable to finish on the plane because of the jabbering woman. I had about finished it when the phone rang. It was Max. He said he was sorry he missed my call and wondered if we could get together tomorrow evening. I told him I was flying back to San Antonio tomorrow evening and that I was going to be tied up all day. We chatted for a while before terminating the call. I decide to make it an early night and was soon in bed and not long after that asleep.
It was still dark when I woke up Monday. I should say it was as dark as it gets in Las Vegas with all the lights everywhere you look on the Strip. When I looked at the clock, it was a few minutes before six. I decided to get up so I could be showered, shaved and have breakfast out of the way before Fenton showed up at 8:30.
The phone rang at exactly 8:30. It was Fenton telling me he was in the lobby. I quickly gathered up all my stuff and headed for the elevators. As I exited the elevator, I saw a handsome man, about my age, standing there. I could see from the nametag he wore that it was Fenton. I walked over to him and introduced myself. After the introductions were over, he led me to where his car was parked. On the way I dropped the key off at the desk and signed the bill. I could tell he was successful from the silver Rolls Royce he directed me to. I put my luggage in the back and we took off for the helicopter pad. Fifteen minutes later we were climbing into the helicopter. Evidently he had given the pilot directions where to take us first. It was difficult communicating over the noise of the chopper even with the intercom in the provided helmets.
We first flew to the property that Fenton had called me about last week. It did appear to have possibilities for development. My biggest concern about it was the road that was proposed for the area. If something happened to delay or cancel it, the property would have less value in the near term. It was something I had to consider before making any decision. We landed near where the surveyor had laid out the stakes indicating where the road was to be built. From the stakes, it looked like it was to be a four lane road with a wide median.
"Has the city already purchased the land for the road?" I ask Fenton.
"The part through this property was donated to the city by the current owner before he died. He had plans to develop the land himself before he became ill. I'll show you the plans he had drawn up when we get back to my office. The rest of the land for the road was acquired by eminent domain proceedings."
We inspected three more properties before returning to the helicopter pad. It was now after two and we hadn't eaten lunch. Fenton made a call from the car to his assistant and ordered lunch for us. When we arrived at his office, he showed me to a full bathroom where I could clean up and change clothes. We were both awfully dusty after walking around in the desert for several hours.
The lunch he had his assistant, Lily, order was ready when I stepped out of the bathroom after cleaning up. Fenton joined me as soon as he cleaned up.
"Well, what do you think?" he asked. "Did you see anything you liked?"
"Yes, I think that first property we looked at had real possibilities. You said you had a copy of what the owner had planned for it."
"I do," he said. "Lily, would you bring me the Granger file?"
"Two of the other properties look like they could be developed fairly quickly," I said between bites of food. "The ones you identified as the Solaria property and the Mendelssohn property. They are relatively small compared to the Granger property."
"Yes, they are and they are asking quite a bit more per acre, also."
"Have either of those been platted?"
"As a matter of fact, they both have. The Granger property has not been."
Lily arrived with the plans and spread them out on one end of the large table where we were eating. I got up and went to have a look. The plans were quite detailed. There was an 18-hole golf course with a club house, swimming pool and tennis courts. This was the 1600 acre parcel of land on the south side of the road. The lots for houses were large, appearing to be one to two acres in size. I was impressed. "Are these plans part of the purchase price of the land?" I asked.
"Everything is negotiable," Fenton replied.
The plans for the 1300 acre parcel were typical upper middle class subdivision plans. That said, it was well laid out.
"Let's talk price," I said. "Let's start with the Granger land."
"I talked to the executor last night. He's been asking around to see if he could get a better feel for what the property is really worth. He now thinks he should get something around $3000 an acre. I told him he was off base. If he held out to get that per acre, he would have to wait a long time and I didn't think the heirs would be pleased. Realistically, I think the property is worth somewhere around $2500 an acre. That's top dollar."
I did some quick calculations in my head. "That would be seven and a quarter million. I'm not sure I'd be willing to pay that much. I might pay $2250 an acre. In fact, why don't you write up an offer for that amount? And don't forget to include the plans in the deal."
"Lily, would you prepare one of the standard land purchase agreements and include what Mr. Johnson asked for?"
I decided to make offers on the Solaria and the Mendelssohn properties as well. I wrote out three checks for the earnest money and signed the three purchase agreements that Lily prepared. It was after six when we completed all of our business.
Fenton drove me to the airport in plenty of time to catch my plane back to San Antonio. I just hoped I didn't get stuck sitting beside another non-stop talker on the way back.
"Thank you, Mr. Johnson," Fenton said, as he dropped me off at the terminal. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you. I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything back on the offers."
"Keep your ears open to any rumors of developers who want to develop in the areas around these parcels. I'm not opposed to making a quick profit. I'll be waiting to hear from you."
I checked in and then went to the VIP Lounge to wait for my flight to be called. The plane had a strong tailwind which allowed us to arrive in San Antonio about fifteen minutes early. I was able to get home and in bed by shortly after 1 AM.