Kenneth Bering greeted me as I walked into the foundation office. "Ken, is everybody in the office?"
"Carol and Darcie are, but Paul is out checking on one of the clients. He called a while ago and said he should be here in a few minutes."
"Great, tell them to meet me in the conference room as soon as Paul arrives. I want you there as well. I have some news I want to share." I headed to the coffee pot and saw that it was about empty and looked as if it had been sitting there for a while so I started a new pot. I went to the conference room and made a few notes and calculations while waiting on the coffee to brew and for Paul to arrive.
"I thought I heard you come in," Darcie said, poking her head into the room.
"Yes, as soon as Paul gets here, I want to meet with you all."
"Did I hear my name used in vain?" Paul asked.
"We can't get by with anything," I chuckled. "Grab the coffee pot and tell Carol to join us. I have some good news to share."
The social amenities were taken care of as soon as we were all gathered. I said, "I just had lunch with Donald Baker."
"I was wondering if you two were able to hook up." Darcie said.
"It was a very interesting meeting," I said. "You may have heard that his father passed away a little while ago. Donald is the sole heir and executor of his father's will. To make a long story short, he is going to set up a trust that will provide the foundation with a lot more money every year."
"How much money are you talking about?" Paul asked.
"A lot depends on the exact amount of the trust and the return on its investments. The trust will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 million."
"My, God!" Carol interrupted.
"Exactly my thoughts," I said. "Assuming that it is $400 million, if it returns 5% it will generate $20 million a year for the foundation." I paused for a minute to let that sink in. "Now, the question is, how do we make use of that amount of money in addition to the income from our other sources."
"We can't possibly approve enough new clients to use that amount of money. Even if we approved every application that comes our way, we would still have the majority of the new money left over," Carol said.
"You're right," I said. "On the way over here from the lunch meeting, I gave it some thought. While the foundation is set up primarily for the benefit of adoptions, the charter is flexible enough to assist persons in need in other ways. One that has come to mind is to help children who have disabilities. Again as with our adoption selection process, we would concentrate on those children from low income homes. Helping children with missing limbs get prostheses, or those who need wheelchairs to become mobile. Children with vision problems, hearing problems, cleft palates, spinal deformities, the list goes on. Medicaid helps with many of these problems, but the help is, for the most part, barely sufficient. Tell me what you think."
Ken was the first to speak up. "I think it's a great idea. I know I'm just the office manager, but I really care about what the foundation does. Adding these services to it would be wonderful. In fact, I think I know of two young kids in my old neighborhood that could benefit from the service."
"I agree," Darcie said. "I think we all have run across needy kids in either our personal lives or through our work here that could use what you are proposing. The only question is when will we start receiving the money to do this?"
"It could be several months for the money to start flowing. In the meantime, I'd like for all of you to check with your sources to see how big the need is and what obstacles we might have to overcome to make all of this happen."
Carol had not said anything. When I looked over at her she was wiping away tears with a tissue. Paul looked as if he might have to do the same soon.
"Ken, I'd like for you to set up a special board meeting to get the agreement of the members for this expansion of our services. I think sometime next week, if it can be arranged. I'll make the time in my schedule, just let me know the date and time and I'll be there." I looked at my watch and noted that it was too late to make it home in time to pick up the boys from school. I hoped that Manfred remembered to take my place. I spent a few more minutes talking with Darcie, Paul and Carol before I said my goodbyes and headed for home.
I arrived a few minutes before I heard the garage door opening which was followed quickly by the six boys rushing in the back door and up the back staircase. A few minutes later they came back down after changing out of their school uniforms. "Hi, dad," Peter said, jumping onto my lap and hugging me. "I thought you was gone."
"Nope, I just had some business in town and couldn't get back in time to pick you guys up from school. You better go see what Hildy has for your snack before your brothers eat it all." That got his attention. He slipped off my lap and headed for the kitchen.
After the boys finished their snack, I sent them to take care of their dogs and to play with them for a while. The weather was turning colder, so I made sure that they put on their coats before they went outside. I looked out a few minutes later and saw six boys being chased by six dogs. As each of the boys was caught by their pet they fell to the ground and rolled around wrestling with their dog. I couldn't tell who was the happier, the boy or the dog. About half an hour later they came back into the house, but first I insisted that they brush the dead grass off their clothes.
"Dad," Joel said, "can John come over Saturday morning so we can study for our test?"
"I don't know why not if his mother approves. What test are you going to be studying for?"
"We have that credit by exam coming up at the end of the month in advanced Algebra. You can still take me to Austin to take it can't you?"
"Of course," I said. "How many more of these exams are you planning on taking?"
"One more before the end of the school year and then at least one more during the summer before school starts. If I can, I want to graduate at the end of next year. You don't care, do you?"
"No, I just don't want you to overload yourself. I always want you to do your best. If that means graduating a year ahead of time, that's fine. If you wait and graduate with your class, that's also fine. However, if that is your plan, then we had better start discussing what your plans are for college. It's never too early to begin to narrow your choices."
"I know. I've started doing a little research, but I haven't made up my mind, yet."
"Good. If you need to discuss the schools with me, I'd be more than happy to have you bounce ideas off me."
Later in the evening I called Gerald and asked him if he would be willing to sit on the board that would determine the investment strategy for the trust that was going to benefit the foundation. He accepted immediately, even before I told him the size of the trust.
I called Donald as soon as I returned from taking the boys to school Thursday morning. I gave him the name of the person I suggested as advisor to the trust. He took down all the information and said he would contact him as soon as the trust was near to being set up.
"By the way, have you decided whether you might come to the house and go horseback riding with us on Saturday?" I asked when we had finished our other business.
"I mentioned it to William and he is all excited about it. I'm not sure about Lenore. What time should we arrive?"
"Why don't you come for an early lunch, say around eleven? That will give the kids time to get to know each other before we go riding. Do you need directions to get here?"
"No, I think I have that information in the file I have on you," he laughed. "You don't think I didn't have you thoroughly investigated before I decided to set up the trust, do you?"
"I guess not. My PI can usually warn me if someone is snooping around. Your guy must be pretty good to escape Jack's detection."
"He's one of the best. He ought to be for the price he charges. We'll see you Saturday around eleven," he said, before ringing off.
Friday morning I received a call from Carlos informing me that he had received an offer to buy the strip center property that I owned. It was from the drug store chain that had shown interest in it previously. The offer was a little low, so I told Carlos to counter with a figure that was more in line with what I believed the property was worth.
While refilling my coffee cup, I asked Hildy if she would mind sticking around Saturday afternoon while we were at the farm. I told her that John would be here studying for a test and although I trusted Joel and him, I thought it better if there were an adult present.
"I'll be glad to stick around. It'll give me a chance to rearrange some of the cupboards. I've wanted to do it for some time now. That way I won't be too obvious and still have a reason to be here," she said. "Manfred can help me with the things on the top shelves."
"You're an angel," I said, giving her a peck on the cheek just as Manfred walked in.
"You getting fresh with my woman?" he chuckled.
"You caught me," I said.
"You two belong in an asylum," she said. "Now, get out of my kitchen and let me work. Both of you. Scat!"
"Yes, ma'am," we both said.
Saturday morning Hildy was busy in the kitchen when I came out of my bedroom. "Crane, how old are Donald Baker's children?"
"He never said, but from what I gathered, William is around five and Lenore is maybe three, three and a half. That's my best guess based on our conversation at lunch the other day. Why?"
"I was wondering how much to fix for lunch," she said, and went back to fixing breakfast. A few minutes later she said that it would be ready in ten minutes. That was my cue to go wake the boys.
After breakfast, the boys went to take care of their dogs and play with them for a while. Joel was still outside when the gate buzzer sounded. I saw it was Pauline's car, so I activated the gate opener and went outside to greet her.
"Hi, Mr. Johnson," John said, stepping out of the car. "Where's Joel?"
"Hello, John, he's around back with his dog. Go on through the house. You can leave your books on the table."
"Good morning, Crane. I hope it's no bother having him here today," Pauline said, as she got out of the car.
"It's not a problem. The rest of us are going horseback riding later on this afternoon," I said. Noticing a concerned look on her face, I continued, "Hildy and Manfred will be here while we're gone."
"Oh, thanks for the heads up on that Leo. I checked him out with some of the members of the church. His reputation was not very good. At first John wouldn't believe me when I told him what I had found out. Then all of a sudden their friendship was over. John wouldn't say what had happened. I didn't care as long as he didn't have contact with that scumbag."
"I may be breaking a confidence, but when it comes to keeping our kids safe, I think I should. I would very much appreciate if you didn't repeat to John what I'm about to tell you." Pauline nodded in acknowledgement. "Joel told me that Leo wanted John to have sex with him."
"That son-of-a-bitch Leo, I'll kill him."
"Pauline, look, it's not unusual for boys the age of John and Joel to start experimenting with sex. We may not like to think that our sons are growing up, but they are. Have John and Joel experimented? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised. I remember how it was when I was that age."
"You're probably right, Crane. I don't like it, but John is almost 16. I just don't want him to get hurt."
"At least he had the good sense to dump Leo when he started wanting John to do things he didn't want to do."
"That's true. Well, I'd better be getting back home. The girls are playing with the new neighbor girls down the street."
"I'll bring John home after supper," I said.
I waved goodbye to Pauline and went back into the house. The weather was turning out to be warm for an early January day. The forecast in the newspaper had indicated that there would be clear skies with temperatures approaching 70. Texas weather! Earlier in the week it was cold and blustery and today it's warm and sunny. I headed for the library to call the farm. I reached Rosie and asked her if she would have Bert or Tracy have seven horses saddled somewhere around one o'clock. I figured that William would ride on a horse with his dad.
Joel and John were coming in through the patio door as I finished my call to Rosie. "Guys, if you want to use the library to study in, go right ahead. We'll be heading out soon after lunch, so you won't be disturbed. Hildy and Manfred are going to be working in the kitchen," I said, giving them the heads up that they would not be alone in the house.
"Okay, dad," Joel answered. "That's a better place to spread out our stuff."
It was a few minutes after eleven when the gate buzzer announced that our guests had arrived. I opened the gate, gathered the boys, minus Joel, and went out to greet our visitors. A large silver-colored Mercedes drove up to the front steps. Donald opened the driver's door and stepped out. At the same time a petite, grey-haired lady got out of the front passenger door. They each opened one of the back doors, unbuckled Lenore and William and helped them out of the car seats. We waited until they had all assembled on our side of the car before we started the introductions. Donald introduced the woman as Lettie Granger, the children's nanny. Lenore was barely visible behind Lettie. All I could see was an eye peeking around Lettie's skirt. William took to Peter and TJ right away. I was barely through with introducing everybody when the three of them took off into the house.
"We're going to show William the dogs," TJ said over his shoulder, just before the front door closed.
"Please come in," I said. "I'll introduce you to the most important member of the family." As we passed the library, I stuck my head in and asked Joel to come out and meet our guests.
"This is a very nice house," Donald said. "When did you build it?"
"The old house burned down while we were in Orlando a couple of years or so ago. I guess we have been in it a year or so," I said. Leading them into the kitchen where I knew Hildy would be, I made the introductions. "This is Hildy Strasser; she is responsible for taking care of all of us. She's the most important member of this family. Hildy this is Donald Baker and Lettie Granger. The little one hiding behind Lettie is Lenore."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Baker. Crane has told me of your generosity. Lettie, why don't you and I take Lenore and get her something to drink? It's a long, dry trip from San Antonio," Hildy said. "Crane, lunch will be ready in about fifteen minutes."
That was my cue to round up the boys so that they would have their hands washed in time for lunch. I led Donald out onto the patio. The twins and Chris had joined the three younger ones and were playing with the dogs. William was on the ground, giggling uncontrollably, getting his face licked by Bandit and Duke.
"Looks like he's made a couple of new friends," Donald said.
It took a little doing, but I finally got the boys' attention and told them to go get washed up for lunch. They corralled their dogs, put them in the dog run and then ran for the house. I showed Donald where he could freshen up and wash the dog slobber off of William's face. As they walked into the spare bedroom, I heard William say, "Daddy, can I get a dog like Peter's?" I couldn't hear Donald's reply.
I washed my hands and headed for the kitchen. Hildy was sitting on one of the kitchen stools with Lenore on her lap. Lenore had a smile on her face, but not as big as Hildy's. Manfred was standing beside Hildy, beaming down at Lenore.
Lunch was simple. Hildy had fixed a hearty vegetable soup and a variety of sandwiches. There were too many of us to fit at the breakfast table, so the fourteen of us sat at the table in the formal dining room.
Since all of the people going to the farm couldn't fit into the van, Donald followed us in his Mercedes. When we got there I noticed that all 12 horses were saddled. Charlie and Jessica were standing at the fence talking to Tracy and Rosie. Rosie was holding the baby. Bert was nowhere in sight at the moment. They saw us drive in and started toward our vehicles.
After the introductions were made all around, Lettie and Lenore were drawn to Rosie and the baby. "What's her name?" Lenore asked.
"Carrie Louise," Rosie said. "Let's go sit in one of those chairs and you can hold her. Would you like that?"
"Yes, ma'am," Lenore said, rushing to one of the large chairs and climbing into it.
Rosie pulled another chair up beside Lenore and then carefully placed Carrie Louise into Lenore's outstretched arms.
"Well, I guess Lenore is not going to go riding with us," Donald said.
"I think she likes being a little mother instead," I replied.
The boys mounted their horses. Bert emerged from the stable and helped Peter onto Lady and they all took off. Bert handed William up to Donald to sit in the saddle in front of his dad. The rest of the adults mounted up and started for the back of the pasture. Donald and I were riding side by side at a slower pace than William wanted. He kept urging his dad to go faster. He wanted to catch up to the other boys.
Bert came up to us and said, "Why don't you let me take William? I can ride faster with him. I've been riding horses almost from the time I was his age. He'll be safe. Don't worry."
"Please, dad," William pleaded.
"Okay, but you do everything that Bert tells you to do."
"I will, I promise."
William got settled in the saddle with Bert. He grabbed hold of the saddle horn. Bert wrapped one arm around William, grabbed the reins with the other and spurred his horse into a gallop. William shrieked with delight as they rapidly rode away from us.
"I can see that I'm going to have to go shopping for a dog like Peter's and a horse like his, as well," Donald said, shaking his head.
"It would be a lot more fun for him is he had other boys to ride with," I said.
"Is that an invitation?"
"Yes, I think it is."
"Good, I accept."
We continued to ride for another half an hour or so before heading back for Donald to check on Lenore. When the boys saw us heading back toward the house, they naturally believed that it was snack time and raced us to the fence behind the house. Bert handed William to Donald when they arrived.
"Did you have a good time?" Donald asked his son.
"Oh, boy! Bert went real fast," William enthused.
"Did you thank him for taking you for a ride?"
"No, I forgot," William said. He turned around and looked up at Bert. "Thank you. I had fun."
"You're very welcome. I enjoyed our ride, too," Bert said, reaching down to shake William's extended hand.
"How did Lenore get along," Donald asked, as we approached Rosie and Lettie.
"I think she enjoyed herself, Mr. Baker," Lettie said. "She helped to feed Carrie Louise and put her down for her nap. Lenore was also tired, so Rosie was kind enough to let her sleep on their bed."
While we were speaking to Rosie and Lettie, the twins and Chris had retrieved the coolers from the van and had carried them to the picnic tables and were spreading the contents out on the tables. Hildy had packed peanut butter cookies, brownies and lemon squares.
"They really should wash their hands first, but I guess a little horse won't hurt them," I said.
"There would probably be a mutiny if we tried to get them away from the treats now," Donald said.
Bert walked up to us. "Excuse me, Mr. Johnson. I just wanted to tell you that I got enrolled at UTSA. I also wanted to thank you for what you're doing for me."
"You're welcome, Bert. I'm glad you could get accepted on such short notice."
"They said they didn't ordinarily allow such late admissions, but that someone had spoken to them about me. That wouldn't be you would it?"
"I can honestly say it was not," I said.
"Oh," he said, and walked back to the picnic table for another cookie.
"Did you?" Donald asked.
"No, but I spoke to someone who did. Bert's a good kid. He needed a kick start. He's been doing a great job around here while Tracy was away finishing his studies, but he's wasting his time just taking care of the horses and doing chores around here. He's too bright to waste his time like this. He'll have time to work around here and still go to college."
"Crane, this had been a most enjoyable day. If I were to purchase a horse for William, would it be possible to board it here? I'd make arrangements with the Smiths for its care as well."
"That's fine with me. It would give us an excuse to see more of each other."
"I'd like that," Donald said. "Lettie, I think it's time you woke Lenore and get her ready to go home. I'll see if I can't tear William away from the snacks."
"Can I come back, Mister?" William asked me.
"You sure can, any time you want to and your dad says you can," I answered.
Lettie came out of the house carrying a sleepy Lenore. She took her to the Mercedes and got her situated in her car seat. Peter and TJ followed William, who was reluctantly walking to the car. The twins and Chris were not far behind. William got a hug from all of the boys before Donald got him fastened into his car seat. I shook Donald's hand and invited them to come back. He looked into my eyes and said they would - soon.
Before we left, I got an update from Tracy on the status of his office. He said everything was set to go as soon as he received all the paperwork from the state board. He had hired a vet tech who would begin working at the end of the month.
"As soon as you're open, I'll bring our six dogs to you for their check-up and shots," I said.
"You can be my first customer, although I did have a lady stop by the other day while I was there setting up things. I had to explain that I wasn't open for business. I took her name and number and promised to call her when I was open."
"See, you're already getting clients. I knew you would. The location is excellent. All you'll need is a sign out near the highway announcing you're open for business and you'll be swamped with clients," I said.
"I hope you're right. I'd like to start earning some money again. I've been thinking about renting one of those portable signs to put out, at least for a month or so."
Charlie and Jessica approached Tracy and me. They each were leading two of the quarter horses. He started telling me about his planting schedule. When he ran down on that topic, he told me that he thought two of the mares were pregnant. He asked if I knew a good veterinarian who could confirm it. He took off running with Tracy right behind him.
"I swear," Jessica said. "Those two act like teenagers instead of adults sometimes."
"That's what good friends do," I said.
It wasn't long before the two returned. Tracy had Charlie in a headlock and they were both giggling like little kids.
While we had been standing there talking, the twins and Chris had loaded the coolers back into the van and were heading for their horses. When they got to the fence, they turned back to face me with a quizzical look on their faces.
"Okay, just a short ride," I said. "Ten minutes and then you need to brush them down."
TJ was able to boost Peter onto Lady and the five of them took off for the back of the pasture. Bert wasn't far behind them. Tracy and I took our horses plus the one Donald rode and led them to the stable. By the time we had them unsaddled and brushed down, the boys started appearing. Bert helped Peter take care of Lady while Tracy helped TJ remove the saddle from his horse.
As soon as we got home, I went to check on Joel and John. "How are you guys doing?"
"We got about a third of the material studied. A couple more sessions and we should almost be ready," Joel said. "Is it all right if we do this again next weekend?"
"I think that would be okay. This isn't going to interfere with your other school work is it?"
"No," John volunteered.
"All right, I'll leave you two to it. I've got to go wash the horse smell off me and see that your brothers do the same."
Later, when I finished my shower, I checked on the other boys and found that they had followed my instructions and all of them smelled fresh and clean from their showers. I checked with Hildy and let her know that John would be staying for supper. "How were they while we were gone," I asked.
"Every time I went near the library they were talking Algebra. At least I think that's what it was. It has been a long time since I had any math in school. The only time they left the room was when I told them the snacks were ready. Even then they still were quizzing each other," she said, shaking her head. While she was talking to me, she continued to prepare what looked like the meat from a whole flock of chickens and get it ready for frying.
"That looks like an awfully lot of chicken," I said.
"Well, there are going to be ten of us for supper and you know how those boys can put away the groceries. I just hope I'm fixing enough," she laughed.
As it turned out there was not a single piece of chicken left when we finished eating. Joel and I took John home shortly after supper. I stopped to visit with Pauline for a while before we started back home.
"Do you want to tell me about you and John?"
"I don't know, dad. It's a little strange. I don't know how to describe it. It's like both of us want it to be like it used to be, but..."
"I think I understand, son. Don't force anything. Take your time. It's going to take a while to rebuild any relationship. Maybe it won't ever be like it used to be. Maybe you'll end up just being good friends. That wouldn't be all bad. Good friends are hard to come by. Whatever happens, I want you to be happy."
"I know, dad."
I put the boys to bed early. They had a busy day and didn't complain when I told them to put on their pajamas. Joel got ready for bed also, but said he was going to read a while before he turned out the lights. I decided to read as well. About an hour later, my eyes were getting heavy. I closed the book, checked to see that Joel had turned out his light, and then headed for my bedroom. Despite being tired I couldn't go to sleep right away. I kept thinking of our day with Donald and his kids. Mostly I was thinking about Donald. "Maybe..." I said to myself, before dropping off to sleep.