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© 2011 Ted Louis

Joel VI

Chapter 5

"I know a Donald Baker, Jr.," I answered. "I don't know if he is the same one you are talking about."

"Does the Donald Baker you know live at ..." he paused and looked at a paper in the file in front of him before reading off an address.

"Yes," I said.

"What do you know about his businesses?" Beekman asked.

"Very little. I know he's a very wealthy man and a very generous one. He has made a sizeable donation to ASEC."

"And just where did that money come from that he was so generous to donate?" Beekman asked with a sneer.

"It was part of the settlement of his father's will, as far as I know," I said. "When you are trying to assist as many unfortunate children as you possibly can, large donations, such as the one Mr. Baker is giving us, are welcomed without question."

"Even if that money comes from drug smugglers and money laundering?"

"What are you suggesting, Agent Beekman?" Hal asked.

"I'm suggesting that Mr. Johnson..." Beekman started.

"I thought I made it clear on the phone last week that when you address me that it is 'Doctor' Johnson," I said. "The same goes for Donald Baker. We both hold PhD's."

"I'm suggesting that 'Doctor' Johnson," he sneered, "is well aware of the illegal activities of the afore-mentioned corporations and is profiting by them."

"Alright, Beekman, you have just crossed the line," Hal growled. "If you have any evidence to back that up, produce it now or we walk out of here and into your boss, Kevin Baldwin's, office. Right after that, I will begin preparation of a civil suit for slander. I almost hope you don't have any evidence. I would relish the opportunity to put you on the witness stand and tear you apart. Now, put up or shut up."

"Well," Beekman sputtered, "the investigation is in its early stages and we haven't gathered all the information. I'm sure it must have been brought up in their pillow talk."

I don't know whether it dawned on him that he had stepped over the line, but he was looking a lot less confident than he had been a few minutes ago. I looked at Hal and noticed a barely suppressed grin on his face.

"And just what was that last comment supposed to mean?" Hal asked.

Regaining some of his previous confidence, Beekman replied, "It's well known that the two of them have spent a number of nights together."

"So, you are assuming that they spent the nights in the same bed. Have you wired the home? If you have, did you get a warrant to do so?" Hal asked.

"Hal, I think we're done here," I said. "If Agent Beekman wishes to speak with me anymore, he will have to get a subpoena. I've put up with enough of his condescension and innuendoes. If SAC Baldwin is in his office, let's pay him a visit."

"Great idea," Hal said.

We shoved our chairs back from the conference room table and headed for the door. Beekman shouted threats at us as we left, but we paid him no attention and went looking for the SAC's office. Unfortunately, Kevin Baldwin was not in his office.

"I'll send a letter of complaint to be placed in Beekman's file, but I doubt that it will change that piece of crap's way of doing business. The others that I have sent don't seem to have made a difference. One day he is going to go too far and I just hope that I'm there to see him crash and burn."

"How about I buy you lunch?"

"Thanks, but I need to get back to the office. Maybe next time," Hal said, with a smile

"Bite your tongue; I don't ever want to see that jerk again."

I headed for my car and Hal took off in another direction to get his car. I decided that since it was getting close to lunch time that I would call Darcie to see if I could take her and the others to lunch. When I reached her she said they were getting ready to go out for lunch to celebrate Carol's birthday.

"How long before you can get here?" she asked.

"I could be there in twenty minutes."

"Why don't you meet us at the restaurant?" She gave me the name of the restaurant and I agreed that it would make the most sense to meet there.

Fifteen minutes later I drove into the parking lot of the restaurant. As I did, I saw Darcie and the rest of the office about to enter the front door. They saw me as well and waited until I could get to them. By the time the greetings were exchanged among all of us, our waitress was waiting to seat us.

"You must have closed down the office," I said.

Kenneth Bering said, "I rolled all the phones to voice mail except for mine and it will roll to my cell phone." He held it up to show that he had it with him.

"Happy birthday, Carol. How many is it this year?" I asked.

"Twenty-nine," she said, and picked up a table knife. "And I'd advise you not to make any cracks about my arithmetic."

That brought a laugh from everybody at the table. I knew that she was two years older than I was, but wasn't going to take any chances by mentioning the fact.

As we were finishing our lunch, Darcie said to me, "Crane, at the Board Meeting next week, I'm going to propose that it authorize two additional positions. One I want to fill as quickly as possible and hold the other slot for down the road. I can see our workload increasing to the point where the three of us can no longer handle it. You and I talked about hiring another worker some time ago, but we never got around to hiring anyone. Now we're getting desperate."

"Good idea, I don't think the Board will have any objections to that once they all see the workload you guys are already under."

Our lunch had been very enjoyable. Most of the time was spent catching up with what was going on in each other's lives. Carol surprised us just as we were getting up from the table to leave.

"If you promise not to tell, I've got a secret to tell you," she said, looking at each of us to get our agreement. "I'm engaged."

I grabbed my chest, imitating Fred Sanford of the old TV program Sanford and Son faking a heart attack. "I must be dreaming," I said. "Not the Carol Banyon I know who has dated every eligible bachelor in Bexar County and then some. You must be an imposter."

"Crane Johnson, I'll get you for that. I just might not invite you to my wedding," she said, trying to look angry, but not quite carrying it off.

"Is that a threat or a promise?" I asked, wrapping my arms around her and giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Who's the lucky guy?"

"His name is Kelly Altman. We dated off and on over the last several years until six months ago when we started going steady. We're both twenty-nine," she said, frowning at me and then smiling.

"Congratulations, Carol," I said. "I hope you will be very happy together. Have you set a date for your wedding?"

"We've tentatively set the date for the third week in November. My brother is scheduled to return from his assignment in Japan earlier that month. He's my only relative and I want him to be there."

"Carol, how many years have we known each other? A dozen? Maybe more? And in all those years, you never once mentioned that you had a brother."

"Yeah, he was sort of the family secret. Maybe someday I'll tell you why."

Just then, Kenneth's cell phone rang. He stepped away, spoke for a minute or so and then returned to the rest of us. "It seems like someone needs our help right away."

"You guys go on back to the office. It was nice meeting you all for lunch. I'll try to make it into the office more often," I said.

"Seems like I've heard that line before," Darcie laughed.

"Guilty," I said, getting into my car.

Mike and the boys, plus Jeanie and Ginny were in the pool when I arrived back home. I could tell that Peter was nearly fully recovered from the way he was laughing and playing with TJ. I decided that the water looked too good to pass up and went to change into my swimsuit. It wasn't too long before Manfred arrived and joined us.

After a while, Joel swam up to me. "Are we still going to go look for you a new car tomorrow?"

"Sure," I answered. "What do you think I should get?"

"How about a Porsche 911?"

"Ah ..."

"Just kidding, dad. I guess you need something that will carry a few people. That means it should be a 4-door sedan. And you want something comfortable, so that rules out about eighty to ninety percent of all models. That narrows the field down to cars like Cadillac or Lincoln or Mercedes."

"That's pretty much what I was thinking, but you left out one."

"Which one did I leave out, dad?"

"The Hummer."

"Yuck! No way would I include that one. I think it's ugly. You wouldn't consider buying one of those would you?"

"No, son, I was just jerking your chain. Have you found out where the dealerships are located?"

"Yeah, I have them all mapped out and which order we should go to test drive their models. I'll show the map to you after while."
 
"Why am I not surprised? You can show it to me after supper. Now go play with your brothers. I need to go make a phone call."

After a quick shower and dressing, I settled into the sitting area of my bedroom where I could look out at the pool and the kids. I picked up the phone and dialed Donald's private number. It rang twice before it was answered. We exchanged greetings before I brought up the purposes of my call.

"I had an interesting morning," I said.

"What was so interesting about it?" Donald asked.

"You know I had that meeting with the FBI this morning."

"Yeah, I had forgotten. How did that go?"

"It was weird. The agent we met with was a real jerk. He was interested in my relationship with your companies. In particular, he wanted to know why I had been nominated for a position on the Board of Directors of one of your companies. I told him I didn't know anything about that. Did you nominate me?"

"I asked my attorney to discuss with the other board members their feelings about you being nominated. I didn't want to discuss it with you until I had the feedback. I wonder where he got his misinformation?"

"The biggest bombshell was when he said that your auto dealership in New Orleans was laundering money for a drug cartel. I knew you said that you had fired your manager over there, but I thought it was over his skimming of the profits."

"We're finding more and more about the guy's shenanigans the more my auditors dig. They have discovered that there was money flowing into the business from outside sources with no explanation. There were also unexplained expenses that offset this 'income'. My auditors have turned over to the United States Attorney for the Southern District all the information that they have come up with so far. Your 'friend' at the FBI has been kept out of the loop probably because it's pretty certain that there is an informant for the drug cartel, if that's where the money is coming from, in the FBI office. Every time the FBI goes to make an arrest of a suspect in the cartel, he is not there."

"Well, I'm glad that you're not a crook. I'd hate to see you go to jail."

"I wouldn't relish that circumstance either," Donald said. "By the way, would you like to take a trip to Las Vegas tomorrow? I need to take care of some business with my construction company out there."

"Thanks, but I promised Joel I would take him with me to buy a new car tomorrow. I told him he could use my BMW if I got a new car."

"You would have a very unhappy boy if you canceled those plans. Your presence is not really necessary. The problem is with my company. It seems they are having some labor problems. I need to see if I can get them straightened out so that it doesn't impact the Las Vegas project. I only plan to be gone for the day."

After we had eaten, Joel approached me with a stack of papers in his hands. "What have you got there?" I asked, knowing full well what they were.

"This is for our car hunting trip tomorrow," he said, handing me the papers. "These are the three dealerships I thought we should visit. The map shows where they are located and the order we should visit them. The first one is the Cadillac dealership." He pulled a brochure from the bottom of the stack. "This is a model I thought you might be interested in looking at. I called them and they have a demonstrator you could test drive."

"I like the looks of that one. You sure have done your homework," I said, giving him a smile.

We went through the next two dealerships where he had done the same. I was duly impressed with the thought and effort that he had put into the project. I knew he had ulterior motives, at least for part of his effort. On the other hand, I had come to expect that anything he did, he did it well and thoroughly.

"Well done, son," I said to him when we finished. "This will make our car shopping much more organized."

Joel was ready to start our shopping trip by eight the next morning, but I convinced him that it would be better to wait until the salesmen were on duty. He kept looking at the clock until I finally gave in just after nine and told him to get in the car. He walked to the driver's side of the car and looked at me. I nodded. He smiled and climbed in behind the steering wheel. He adjusted the seat, the mirrors and backed out of the garage. I was a bit nervous. He had never driven in San Antonio before and I didn't know how he would handle all the traffic. Fortunately, the Cadillac dealership, which was first on our list, was on the north side of town. The worst of the morning traffic had subsided by the time we arrived.

We walked into the sales area and browsed the models that were on display. I saw the model that Joel thought I would like. I walked around it and then sat in the driver's seat. I had to admit that it was very comfortable and had every imaginable option. While I sat there admiring the soft leather seats, a salesman approached and asked if he could be of any assistance.

"I'm in the market for a new car and my son thought that I might like this model."

"Your son has good taste. My name is Corey James," he said, handing me his business card. "This is one of our most popular models. We have a demonstrator if you would like to take a test drive."

"Yes, I'd like to see how it rides," I told him.

"Let me get the keys and while we're taking the test drive I'll have our estimator look at your car and see what kind of trade-in we can give you."

"That won't be necessary. The BMW will be for my son's use."

"Your son not only has good taste, he's also lucky. I'll go get the keys. If you would step outside, I'll bring the car around."

About five minutes later, Corey showed up with the car. It was bright red, which was definitely not a color that I would choose. Joel got in the back seat and I got in behind the steering wheel. I was impressed with the car's responsiveness and the overall feel of the car and its handling. After a ten minute test drive, we were back at the dealership.

"Thank you, Corey. That is a great car to drive. Now I want to be honest with you. We are going to be looking at two other cars this morning. Our decision will be made after we have driven all three. We will buy one of the three today. If we decide on this one, we will look you up."

The Lincoln Town Car was next on our list. Our experience there was very much the same as the previous one. I liked the feel of the Town Car. It didn't quite have the acceleration of the Cadillac, but the ride was excellent.

Our experience at the Mercedes dealership was disappointing. The salesman was pushy, the very stereotype of a used car salesman. What impressed me with the car was the attention to detail in the interior. They had a really nice model on the showroom floor. It should have been nice, the MSRP was $114,000. I believe it was the same model as the one Donald drove.

It was half-past one when we finished looking at the Mercedes. "Let's go have some lunch and talk over the cars," I said to Joel.

"Yeah, I'm starving."

"I saw an Olive Garden about a half a mile back, shall we go there?"

"Sounds good, I could eat anything," Joel laughed.

We took the brochures that we had picked up at each place into the restaurant with us. After giving the waitress our order, we began going over the pluses and minuses of each car. "What do you think?" I asked.

"I like them all," he responded.

"Come on now; if it were going to be your car which one would you choose?"

"I'd take the $114,000 car," he giggled.

"I don't think that one is up for consideration. I've made my decision, but I want to know which one you like to see if we agree."

"Well, I can't judge how they drove because I was in the back seat. My choice is based on how they rode, how comfortable the seats were and the legroom. The Cadillac and the Town Car rode about the same. The Mercedes ride was, I guess you could say, stiffer. All three were about the same when it came to comfortable seating. The deciding factor for me was the legroom in the back seat. That definitely goes to the Town Car. That's my choice."

"You are one smart kid, you know that? The Town Car was my choice as well, although my choice was based on the handling. It just felt solid. I liked that the most about it above the others."

The waitress brought our meal and the conversation stopped. As I was having a cup of coffee and Joel was enjoying a decadent dessert, I decided to call the salesman at the Lincoln dealership. I dug out his card and made the call on my cell phone.

"Lance, this is Crane Johnson. My son and I were in there earlier and test drove that Town Car. I've decided to take that one you have in the showroom. The silver one. Now we need to agree on a price."

For the next ten minutes, we haggled over the price until I decided that we had arrived at the best possible price. Joel sat there the whole time with a shocked look on his face.

When I ended the call, he said, "I thought you just paid the price on the window. I didn't know you could negotiate a lower price."

"A lot of people don't know that either. Car salesmen love those people. They make a bigger commission off of them," I said. "If you've finished your dessert, let's go get our new car."

"I'm ready."

It took nearly two hours before all the paperwork had been signed, the check written, the car added to my insurance and the prep work done on the car. I was getting nervous. The evening rush hour traffic was beginning to build and Joel would have to drive the BMW in it by himself.

The car was finally ready. "Joel, I want you to stay close behind me. The traffic is going to be heavy. There are a lot of idiot drivers out there who will take all kinds of chances to try and make it home a few seconds earlier."

"I'll be careful, dad," he said.

I knew he would be, but that didn't make me stop worrying. We made it home safely, although it took us about a half an hour longer to make the trip. Highway 281 was beginning to be a traffic nightmare with all the new housing subdivisions being built along it; and it was only going to get worse.

"I'm glad I don't have to drive in that traffic all the time," Joel said, as he got out of the BMW.

"Believe it or not, there are worse cities for traffic. Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles are just three with really horrible traffic problems."

"I'm glad we live here, then," Joel said.

"Me, too."

As soon as we walked in the back door we were surrounded by the other boys wanting to know if we got a new car. Of course, they wanted to see it and to go for a ride. Since all five of them couldn't go at the same time, I took Larry, Lenny and Chris for the first one. When we returned after the short ride, I put the booster seats in the back and gave TJ and Peter their ride.

"This car smells nice," Peter said, as I parked the car in the garage after their ride.

"Yeah," TJ added. "How come the other car doesn't smell like this?"

"After a while the newness smell wears off," I said, not wanting to try to explain it in more detail. I was not certain that I could even if I wanted to. It seemed to satisfy TJ as he and Peter ran back into the house.

Hildy was busy preparing supper as I entered the house. She announced that it would be ready in about twenty minutes. That was my cue to round up the boys and make sure they got their hands washed.

Later, around eight o'clock, Donald called. "How did the car shopping go? Did you buy a Mercedes?"

"No, I bought a Town Car."

"Too bad, you could have gotten a good deal on the Mercedes," he said.

"Why is that?"

"The Mercedes dealership is owned by one of my companies, Rekab."

"I thought you only owned that one in New Orleans."

"No, Rekab owns five dealerships. Two in New Orleans, one in Baton Rouge, one in Houston and the one here in San Antonio."

"One of the reasons, although it was not the only one, why I didn't buy the Mercedes was that the salesman was pushy to the point of being obnoxious. I did see one that I liked there, but I wasn't willing to pay 114 grand for it."

"Yes, that is an outrageous price to pay for a car. That must be similar to the one I drive. Mine is leased by the corporation. It's mainly for show when I meet with clients and other corporate bigwigs."

"So that's how your fired General Manager was able to conceal his misdeeds. I was wondering about that. I didn't see how he could get away with laundering money through a single dealership."

"What was the name of the pushy salesman you mentioned? That is not the type of behavior that we expect from someone selling luxury automobiles. I'll see that the manager has a talk with him."

I found the salesman's card and told Donald his name. We spoke for a few more minutes before I asked him if he and his kids would be coming to visit this weekend.

He laughed and said, "If we didn't make it out there to ride the horses, I think William would make my life miserable. Besides, I want to see you, too."

"I'm looking forward to seeing you as well."

I settled down to start a book that I had picked out after supper and had read for a few minutes when Mike came in and sat down on the couch across from me. When I looked up, he said, "Jimmy would like to come home with me on Sunday after church. He'd like to go riding with us. Is that all right?"

"He's welcome any time. I know Joel will enjoy having him visit," I said.

"Would it be okay if he stayed with me overnight? He doesn't have to work on Monday."

"By all means, if he'd like to go riding again on Monday, I'm sure he could talk Joel into taking him to the ranch."

"Thanks, Crane, he enjoys getting away from home and all the brothers and sisters even though there are more kids around here than there are at home. It's just different. I'll go call him and let him know it's okay."

"I don't want to be nosey, Mike, but what's the situation with your sister?"

"I talk to her on the phone almost every day. Sometimes I think I have her convinced that her boyfriend is nuts and then she flip-flops and starts defending him, saying she loves him and can't live without him. I want to take her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her sometimes."

"If you think it would do any good, why don't you invite her to come along with Jimmy and you can talk to her face-to-face. There's the spare bedroom she can use. She could even go riding with us if she'd like."

"I would, but I know she has to work on Monday."

"So get up early and take her home so she can make it to work. Look, it's up to you. I'm just giving you the opportunity to talk to her. I would hate to see someone waste their life in a survivalist camp out in the middle of the woods somewhere."

"Thanks," Mike said, and left to make the phone calls.

When he left, I decided that I would wait to tell Joel of Jimmy's visit until later in the week.


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