"Dad, are we going riding today?" Joel asked at breakfast.
"Yes, do you want to go with us?" I asked.
"John can't study today. We're going to study tomorrow. Is that okay?"
"Sure, is John coming here?"
"Yeah, his sisters make too much noise when we're at his house and it's hard to concentrate."
"Is William gonna come riding with us?" Peter asked.
"Yes he is," I answered. "His daddy bought him a horse so he can have his own to ride."
"Oh, boy," Peter said. "I like William."
"I'm glad, son. Now, go get your teeth brushed since you've finished your breakfast. And don't forget to feed and water your dogs," I said to their backs, as they took off for upstairs.
When we got to the ranch shortly after lunch, the weather was a little cool, but at least the sun was shining brightly so it didn't feel uncomfortable. The Bakers hadn't arrived. The boys headed for the stables and I stayed and talked with Rosie.
"Those ponies that Mr. Baker bought for William and Lenore are beautiful. They look a lot like American Shetlands, but are a bit larger than what I've seen before," Rosie said. "Maybe Lenore will go riding this time."
"Is it going to be more of a hassle having two more horses to take care of?" I asked.
"No, not really. Mr. Baker has been very generous with us for taking care of the ponies. Did he tell you he is paying for the feed for all of the horses?"
"No, he didn't. We never discussed any fee for stabling them, but that is more than sufficient."
As we were talking, Charlie and Jessica rode up on two of the quarter horses. At the same time, Carrie, who was in a baby carrier on a picnic table, began to fuss. Rosie waved at the new comers and went to check on her daughter.
"Are you wet, again? Let's take you in the house and get you changed."
After a brief greeting and dismounting from her horse, Jessica followed Rosie into the house. Charlie and I chatted while we watched the horses exit the stable each with a rider. Instead of taking off with their older brothers, TJ and Peter rode their horses up to the fence, dismounted and tied the reins to the fence. Evidently they had seen Donald's Mercedes driving onto the property.
Donald opened the rear door of the car and released William from his car seat. As soon as he was released, he ran to Peter and TJ and began talking so fast that I couldn't understand a word he was saying. I did make out the word pony several times before the three of them took off for the stables to find William's horse.
Lenore was the next out of the car, but she was being carried in Donald's arms. "Where's Lettie?" I asked, when I saw the nanny didn't exit the car.
"Oh, she wasn't feeling well. I thought I could manage without her for the day," Donald said, shaking my extended hand. "Look at that boy. I swear he started bugging me to come out here before breakfast."
As I turned to look, Bert was leading a pony out of the stable with William sitting proudly in the saddle. The pony did resemble a Shetland, but had much smoother lines. Its coat was a beautiful copper color. Tracy followed behind leading another almost identical pony. The only exception was that instead of being totally copper colored, it had a white face.
"Do you want to go see your new pony?" Donald asked his daughter.
"Uh huh," she said timidly, nodding her head.
"Can you tell Mr. Johnson what you named your pony?"
"That's a very good name," I said. "She really is a beauty."
Donald placed Lenore in Beauty's saddle while still holding her around the waist. Tracy had attached a lead rope to the bridle and after getting a nod from Donald, began walking the pony slowly around the area. This went on for several minutes. Donald gradually loosened his hold on Lenore's waist and ended up with his hand resting on her back. For her part, Lenore was beaming. After a while, Donald told Tracy to head back to the back-yard fence. He could see that Lenore was getting tired.
"Can I go see the baby?" she asked, as Donald lifted her off the pony.
Before she and Donald left I reached into the pocket of my jacket and retrieved a plastic bag containing sugar cubes. "Here, take one of these and put it in the palm of your hand and hold it in front of Beauty's nose. She won't bite you."
She did as I said and Beauty eagerly licked the sugar out of her hand. "She likes that," Lenore said, with a giggle.
"Every time you ride her, when you're finished, give her a lump of sugar as a reward," I said. "Just one or two, too much is not good for her."
While Lenore was enjoying her ride, Bert was working with William. TJ and Peter were keen observers of what Bert was teaching William. I watched the four of them as they rode in circles in the near pasture, while I waited for Donald to return from the house.
"She loves that baby," Donald said, settling into the saddle of his mount. "She keeps asking if we can have a baby."
"How likely is that to happen?" I asked.
"Not very," he said, galloping off.
I caught up with him and we both settled down to walking our horses and talking. We watched as Charlie and Tracy were interacting with the four older boys. It wasn't long before we were joined by Bert, William, TJ and Peter.
"He's going to be a good rider with a little more practice," Bert said.
Donald laughed and said, "If he has his way, I'm sure he'll get the practice. Thanks for helping him."
Bert went off to ride with the others and the five of us continued to walk our horses. The three boys were in a group by themselves a few yards away from Donald and me as we continued our talk. "Crane, I'd like for us to get to know each other better. I told you before that I feel we have a lot in common and I'd like to explore that."
"I feel the same way. I'm somewhat restricted being the single parent of six active boys. Most of my time is occupied with them and now that Hildy has moved into her own home, my evenings are even less free. She and Manfred are very accommodating when I ask them to stay with the boys while I'm gone, but I hate to impose on the two of them too often."
"I understand," he said. "I'm sure we can solve that problem. I'm lucky, I have Lettie. She lives with us and is always available - within reason."
"Dad, we're thirsty," Joel said, as he rode up to us some time later.
"Okay, go get the snacks out of the van."
The three youngest boys must have known what was about to happen, because they turned and headed toward the house, but at a slower pace than the older ones did. As we rode back, I asked William, "What did you name your horse?"
"That's nice, how did you choose that name?"
"I don't know. I just like it."
"That's as good a reason as any."
After the snacks were finished, the boys went for another ride. Bert volunteered to work with William some more. Lenore had taken a nap after playing with Carrie for a while, but was awake when the snacks were distributed. She was still a little sleepy and sat in her dad's lap while the six adults talked. As usual, all Charlie wanted to talk about were his plans for 'his' farm.
"Crane, I received all the paperwork from the state, so I'm going to open the clinic first thing on Monday," Tracy said.
"That's great. I'll bring the boys' dogs in Monday afternoon."
"Six dogs, how are you going to handle that many at one time? Why don't I come by and examine them and get their shots up to date? That'll be a lot less hassle."
"Thanks, I thought I might have to make a couple trips. We don't have that many carriers to put all of them in."
"Would you look after our two horses and make sure they're healthy and take care of any of their needs. Send me the bill. I don't expect you to do that as part of our other arrangement," Donald said.
All too soon, as far as William was concerned, Donald announced that it was time for them to go home. "Come on, William," Bert said, "I'll show you how to brush down your horse when you finish riding."
With five adults working, the horses were all brushed and in their stalls and we were ready to start for home in a short amount of time. TJ and Peter watched as Donald got William and Lenore situated in their car seats. Donald got into the Mercedes after promising that he would contact me later in the week. As our family was preparing to leave, Tracy said, "I'll stop by your place around one on Monday to check on the dogs."
"Why don't you stop by earlier for lunch? You have to eat somewhere and it will give us a chance to talk without any disruptions."
"Thanks, I will."
I sent the boys off to shower when we got home. I did the same as I smelled a little horsey.
After supper, I could tell that Hildy had something on her mind. I decided to let her bring up whatever it was. I went to check on the boys, then poured myself a cup of coffee and settled into my chair in the living room. I started reading part of the morning paper that I hadn't read this morning. Hildy and Manfred joined me a few minutes later. After making small talk for a few minutes, the real topic that was on their mind was broached.
"We've decided we want to become foster parents," Hildy said.
"I think that's wonderful," I said. "When did you decide this?"
"We've been talking about it for a while now. We've only become serious about it since we moved into our new house," Manfred answered.
"We went to an information meeting for prospective foster parents a couple of weeks ago - before Christmas." Hildy said. "Last Tuesday we filled out all the paperwork and now we're scheduled to begin the classes we need."
"How long is that going to take?" I asked.
"We should be able to complete all the classes by the middle of February. What we really want to ask you is if we can use you as a reference."
"Hildy, of course you can use me as a reference. You have shown me and the boys nothing but love for as long as they've been here. You and Manfred will make wonderful foster parents. My only concern is a selfish one. Will you still be able to take care of us? I don't know what we would do without your steadying hand to keep us in line."
"Oh, pooh! You could easily get along without me, but I don't intend for that to happen. You see, we have two young girls that we want to take in. Now that Manny has retired, he will be able to care for them while I'm working here. If he has to be gone for some reason, they could always come here with me. They'll be in school except for the summers."
"How old are the girls?" I asked.
"Jeannie is nine and Ginny is seven."
"Why are they in care and how did you find out about them?"
"I knew the family through our church. The father deserted them shortly after Ginny was born. Gisele, their mother, is dying of a brain cancer and has been in a hospice in New Braunfels for the past year. She's not expected to live much longer. In fact, the doctors are surprised that she has lived this long. There are no other known relatives that can take them in."
"Where are the girls right now?"
"They're in a temporary foster home. We've talked to the caseworker. She said that once we're set up as a foster home, she'll move them to our home. The CPS investigator is scheduled to visit our house Monday afternoon to begin the home study. I hope the cleaning service is finished here by that time."
"Don't worry, I'll be here. Tracy is coming to give the dogs their shots. He'll be stopping by for lunch, also. If you need to take some time off for any reason, don't hesitate to ask. The boys and I can manage for a little while by ourselves. How about more foster kids?"
"Right now, we only plan on these two," Manfred answered. "At our ages we think that these two are all we want to handle. Of course things change. Look at you."
"Yeah," I said, "I never planned on any and now I have six. Good luck to both of you. I have every confidence that you will make great foster parents."
"Thanks," they both said, and left for their home.
Sunday turned out to be cold and blustery so the boys spent most of the day inside. John came to study with Joel right after he got out of church. He and Joel spent their time studying in the library only taking a break when the rest of the boys had their afternoon snack. I admired their dedication. At their age, I don't think I was that dedicated.
When it was time to take John home, Joel asked, "Dad, can I drive?"
I thought for a minute before answering. Joel had never driven when it was dark and at this time of the year, it would be totally dark by the time we were returning home. "I'll need to call Hildy to see if she can stay with your brothers, otherwise we'll have to take the van." Naturally, Hildy agreed. As soon as she arrived in the golf cart, we climbed into the BMW and took off.
Joel took the back roads so that he didn't have to face a lot of traffic. He did a very good job in his first experience with driving in the dwindling light on the way to John's house. When we got there I spent a few minutes talking to Pauline. She said that Bruce had moved to Kansas City. He had taken a new job there, plus he had relatives in Olathe.
"What do the girls think about his move?" I asked.
"They're handling it pretty well," Pauline said. "They've gotten used to his not being around. They didn't like the way their father treated John. I'm sure that they'll miss him in some way, but he rarely saw them even when he was in the area after the divorce."
I wanted to ask about Dr. Kohler, but decided that might not be appropriate, maybe at some future date after the wound had healed.
"You did a great job driving home in the dark," I told Joel, as he parked the car in the garage.
"Thanks, you really can't see as much as you can in daylight. I never really paid that much attention before. It's a little scary."
"You'll get used to it as you gain more experience, but it's always best to be extra careful at night. That's especially true out here in the country with all the deer. They can run out in front of your car in an instant. Even though the ones around here are fairly small, they can do a lot of damage to a car or even cause you to swerve to miss them and have an accident."
Hildy was in the kitchen talking to herself when I arrived to pour a cup of coffee Monday morning. This was a bit unusual for her. She sometimes sang quietly or hummed, but I don't ever recall her talking to herself. That was her sister Gilda's habit. The only reason I could think of was that she must be nervous about the CPS inspector coming this afternoon.
By the time I had returned from taking the boys to school, the cleaning service had arrived and were busy stripping the beds, making the beds with fresh linen and starting the washing machine with the first of several loads. It was a good thing that Hildy had insisted that I purchase a commercial sized machine; otherwise it would have taken all day to do the laundry. The four workers started upstairs and worked their way from room to room before starting on the downstairs areas. They finished up and were leaving when Tracy pushed the buzzer at the front gate.
Hildy served us a hearty, vegetable soup along with roast beef sandwiches. After seeing that we were settled and informing us there was more soup on the stove, she departed for her home. Tracy and I discussed a number of topics including the management of the ranch, his new clinic, Bert's college experience, and his baby daughter. He was the epitome of a proud father.
I watched as he gave each of the dogs a thorough examination before giving them their needed vaccinations. The shots didn't go over that well with the dogs, but they soon got over it. It was easy to see that Tracy loved animals by the way he interacted with the boys' pets.
After Tracy left, I was alone in the house. I guess I never knew how quiet it could be. There always seemed to be something going on in the house. It was sort of nice, but certainly strange. Hildy had still not returned when it was time for me to go pick up the boys from school. It was almost a relief to hear the boys' laughter and chatter on the way home after the quiet of my afternoon.
Hildy was not in her usual place in the kitchen when the boys burst into the house looking to find out what she had fixed for their snack. There was disappointment on their faces as they went up the stairs not having seen or smelled anything to satisfy their after school hunger. I looked in the refrigerator and found some fruit that would have to do for their snack.
I was beginning to get worried when Hildy didn't show up as supper time approached. I picked up the phone and called their number, but no one answered. Now I was really worried. I went outside where the boys were playing with their dogs and suggested that we walk over to Hildy's to see if she were there. They wanted to take the dogs, but I convinced them not to.
When we got there, I knocked on the back door of their house and got no response. I opened the door, as it was unlocked, and went inside followed by the boys. There was still no response when I called out for Hildy.
"Joel, check the garage and see if the cars are in there," I said, as we entered the kitchen.
"Both of the cars are there," Joel said, when he returned.
The boys followed as I checked the other rooms on the ground level. The rooms were a mess and there appeared to be things missing such as the TV and sound equipment I knew should be there.
"You guys stay here while I go upstairs to check," I told them.
I headed upstairs and went directly to the master bedroom. The door was closed and I was fearful of what I might find behind it. All sort of horrible thoughts bombarded my brain. I knocked on the door. There was no answer, so I turned the knob and slowly opened the door. What I saw both relieved and horrified me. Hildy and Manfred were tied up and gagged on the floor. Hildy had a cut on her forehead that had been bleeding, but looked as though it had stopped. She was conscious and struggling to get out of her restraints. Manfred did not look as though he was conscious. There was much more blood on his face and head and there was a pool of blood on the floor near his head.
I turned and stuck my head out of the door and yelled, "Joel, call 911 and tell them to send the police and an ambulance."
"What's going on, dad?"
"Don't ask questions, just make the call. Larry, get a sharp knife from the kitchen and bring it to me. The rest of you stay down there." I had hardly gotten the words out of my mouth it seemed when Larry was at the door with the knife. "Thanks, son, now go back downstairs with your brothers.
I took the knife and first cut and removed the duct tape that was covering Hildy's mouth and then went to work on the wrist and leg tape.
"How's Manny?" were the first words out of Hildy's mouth as the tape came off.
"He's still unconscious by the looks of him. He's breathing, but there's a lot of blood around his head." I removed the tape covering Manfred's mouth before cutting the tape restraining his arms and legs.
"It was horrible," she said, cradling Manfred's head in her lap. "There were two of them. Young punks, maybe 21 or 22. They wanted money. They had guns and a baseball bat. I was afraid they were going to kill us." At this point, her tears were beginning to flow. "Oh Manny, you've got to be okay. They beat him. They didn't believe we didn't have much cash in the house. They took Manny's wallet, but it only had about $75 in it. I had maybe $30 in my purse."
At this point, Joel announced from outside the bedroom, "The ambulance should be here in about ten or fifteen minutes, the lady said."
"Thanks, son. Please take your brothers back to the house. I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Okay, dad, is there anything I can do?"
At this point, Hildy spoke up, "Joel, honey, there's a pan of lasagna in the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 375 and then take the foil off the pan before putting it in the oven. Set the timer for 45 minutes and it should be done."
That choked me up. Even in middle of her own crisis, she was thinking about us. It seemed like forever, but finally I heard the sound of the ambulance's siren. I left Hildy washing the blood off of Manfred's face with the wash cloth I'd gotten from their bathroom and went downstairs to meet the EMT's. I ushered the two of them in and showed them where to go. I followed them up the stairs, but chose to stay outside the bedroom so as not to be in their way.
A few minutes later I heard one of them say that they were going to need a litter. The younger of the two hurried out of the room and headed back downstairs. He returned shortly carrying a litter. I watched from my position outside the door as the EMT's carefully lifted Manfred and strapped him on the litter, then began carrying it out of the room. Hildy followed closely behind them. I did as well. After Manfred was loaded into the ambulance, Hildy climbed in.
"Call me as soon as you know anything," I said, before they closed the door. She nodded. I went back into the house and waited for the police, who hadn't yet arrived.
The ambulance had barely driven away when a sheriff's patrol car pulled up to the house. I was pleased to see it was Jesse. I spent the next half hour explaining to Jesse what I knew about the home invasion and robbery. I wrote out my statement, but then told him I had to get back to my house that my boys were there alone. He said he would be in touch with me if he needed anything else.
"Hi, dad," Joel said, as I walked into the kitchen. "Supper will be ready in about ten minutes. I made a salad and the garlic bread is in the oven."
"You're a great kid, you know that," I said, walking up to him and giving him a hug.
"I know," he said with a laugh.
I decided to make a quick call and went into the library. I had to look up the number in my daily planner. It had been a while since I had called it. I dialed the number and waited while it rang six times.
"Gilda, this is Crane Johnson."
"Crane, it's good to hear from you. Is anything wrong?"
"Yes," I said, and then went on to explain what had happened.
"Oh, dear, Hildy must be in a state."
"I'm afraid so. Could you possibly come and stay with her for a while?"
"Of course, I'll start packing immediately and be there as soon as I can."
"I'll make the arrangements and call you back with the information. How long will it take you to get to the airport?"
"It takes about 45 minutes from my house, if traffic is not too heavy."
"I'll call you back in about five minutes."
I hung up and immediately called American Airlines, the only airline that had decent and frequent connections to San Antonio from there. I was able to reserve a first class seat on a flight leaving in two hours. I called Gilda back and read off the information to her and told her I'd have a driver at her house in less than an hour. I then called information and got the number of a limousine service. I had the operator place the call and made the arrangements to have Gilda picked up and delivered to the terminal.
While making the last call, Joel came to the library door and mouthed that supper was ready. I nodded to him and he left. When I arrived at the table the boys had their plates filled with lasagna and salad along with a couple slices of garlic bread.
"We couldn't wait for you, dad," Joel said. "We were too hungry."
After supper while the boys were doing their homework, I made a call to a limousine service in San Antonio and made arrangements for them to meet Gilda and to bring her here. Her plane was due to arrive at 11:15 which meant she probably wouldn't arrive here until sometime around one.
I was checking the last of the boys' homework when the phone rang. When I answered it, Hildy was on the line. "How are you?" I asked.
"I'm fine. A little bruised, but nothing serious. The cut on my head didn't even require any stitches.
"Those punks hit him in the head with a baseball bat. He's still unconscious. The doctor said he has traumatic brain injury and swelling of the brain. They're giving him something to keep him asleep and they have him on oxygen. I don't know what I'm going to do. I feel so helpless. I'm going to stay here at the hospital with him tonight. The nurse said they'd put a chair that reclines in the room so I could stay with him. I'm afraid I won't be there to fix breakfast for you in the morning."
"That's the least of your worries. We can certainly make our own breakfast. I will come to the hospital in the morning after I take the boys to school. Call me and let me know it you want me to bring you anything. Try not to worry. I'm sure that Manfred will be all right. I'll see you in the morning."