I woke up a little before six Friday morning and went about showering and shaving. By six-thirty I was dressed and heading for the kitchen to start the coffee. As soon as it was perking, I went to wake Joel. A light was shining under his door as I approached. I knocked softly on the door twice before he opened it. I could tell that he had recently gotten out of the shower because his hair was still damp.
"What would you like for breakfast?" I asked. "Hildy probably won't be here for a while."
"Just a bowl of cereal and a glass of OJ," he replied. "I don't want to have too full a stomach when I take the test. I might fall asleep."
The coffee was ready when I got back to the kitchen. I poured myself a cup and then retrieved the milk and OJ from the refrigerator along with Joel's favorite cereal from the cupboard. I was setting the table when Hildy came in the back door.
"I didn't expect you this early."
"I knew Joel was going to be up early, so I thought I'd be here to see that he had his breakfast," she said.
"He's eating light this morning. I think he's a bit nervous about the test. He said he only wanted cereal."
"I'll cut up some fruit he can put on it," she said, and went into action.
"Thanks, Hildy," Joel said, as she put the bowl of cut up fruit near his cereal bowl.
Mike joined us just as Joel was placing his dishes into the dishwasher. He poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the table with Hildy and me. "Are you going to pick up the keys from Abe today?"
"I'm supposed to meet him around 9:30 at his office," I said. "Donald gave me the address last night."
"I'm going to miss being here," Mike said.
"We're going to miss you, too," Hildy said, patting his hand. "The girls are really going to miss you."
"You know that you are always welcome to come and visit at any time," I said. "I mean it."
"Thanks," he said.
Joel came back down from his room after brushing his teeth. He was holding a notebook in his hand.
"I see you are ready. Do you want to leave now? It's a little early, but this way we won't have to rush."
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," he said.
"Do you want to drive?"
"No, I think I want to go over my notes on the way."
"Good luck," Hildy said, giving Joel a hug."
We got into the Town Car and started on our way to Austin. The car had not gotten too much use since I bought it. The van or Joel's BMW had more miles put on them than the Lincoln. Joel studied his notes, with an occasional mumble, all the way to Austin. He looked up as I exited I-35 and turned toward the University.
It was a good thing we got there early as parking anywhere near the testing site was terrible. I finally found a spot about two blocks from the building. As we approached the building, there were fifteen or so teenagers waiting for the doors to open. Joel recognized a couple of the boys and struck up a conversation with them. They were both there to take a different test from the one he was taking. It was only a couple of minutes until the doors were opened and the teenagers filed in. Joel and I followed them in and found the schedule posted for the tests. He went off to find the room and I jotted down the information on when I would have to be back to pick him up.
I went back to my car knowing that I had approximately three hours to kill before he would be through. That would give me plenty of time to get to Abe's office and take care of that business. Thankfully there was a parking lot next to Abe Groniki's office.
"Welcome to Groniki Properties. How may I help you?" An attractive middle-aged woman said, as I approached the receptionist's desk.
I told her who I was and that I had an appointment with Mr. Groniki for 9:30.
"I'll tell Mr. Groniki that you are here. May I get a cup of coffee or tea for you?"
"Coffee would be nice," I said.
Abe and the coffee arrived at the same time. He was a short man, maybe 5' 6", and built like a weight-lifter. "Mr. Johnson, it's good to meet you. Donny has told me a lot about you. Please follow me into my office."
"Forgive me Mr. Groniki, but that is the first time I have heard anyone call him anything other than Donald," I said, as we entered the office and sat down in very comfortable leather chairs.
"I've known him since he was a toddler," he laughed. "I think I'm the only one who can get away with calling him that and he doesn't really like it. Once he was about fourteen, he insisted that he be called Donald. He thought that Donny sounded too babyish and he didn't like Don either."
"I think I'll stick to Donald," I said. "I don't want to take up too much of your time. I told the three boys that I would pick up the keys and lease agreement while I was here this morning."
"Of course," he said, picking up a large manila envelope from his desk. "Would you like to see the place?"
"Yes, if you have time to spare."
"I just run the office anymore. I have several assistants to handle the real work around here and Susan, my receptionist, can handle them better than I can. She's the real boss."
I drank the last of the coffee and followed Abe through the back door of the office. He led me to a silver-colored 2000 Mercedes-Benz SL600. I made a mental note that business must be pretty good, because I knew that this 6 liter model cost in the neighborhood of $130,000.
"Nice car," I said. "I don't think it would be too practical for me and my six boys."
"My two are both married and living out of state," he said. "I always wanted a sports car, but my wife wouldn't hear of it. After she died, I decided to indulge myself. I can just see her looking down on me and shaking her finger and frowning in disapproval."
We arrived at the condo where he used one of the keys to enter the building. The two elevators were on either side of the hallway just inside the front entrance. We took one to the top floor and entered one of the two condos on this floor. I was surprised when he opened the door to find that the furniture was in place. "Did he have a decorator do this?" I asked.
"Not a real decorator, just one of the women in the office. Coleen has good taste. She stages most of our properties. He told her what he had in mind and she did the rest. I think it turned out very well. It's very serviceable furniture and if I must say, it's very attractive. I think the boys will like it," he said. "They seem to be good kids."
"I can assure you that Mike is. We hate to see him leaving us, but his future as a doctor is more important," I said. "On another subject, what is the real estate potential in the area?"
"Well, as you may know, I'm strictly into multi-family units, so that is where I'm most comfortable. In that market, I can't foresee any dark clouds on the horizon. With the state government and the university here, there will always be demands for apartments and condos. Why, are you interested in investment property in the area?"
"Donald may have told you that I own several apartment complexes in San Antonio and I have a number of undeveloped land properties. He and I have the project in Las Vegas that is under development. I'm always looking for opportunities."
"If you have some time, I know of a couple of properties on the south side of town that are currently being built that may be available. I know for a fact that one of the developers is having cash flow problems. The other developer is a speculator. He builds, then sells. They're both about 90% complete."
"I have to be back at the university to pick up my son at twelve. If we can take a quick look and make it back, I'm interested," I said. "Why aren't you interested in these properties?"
"I'm looking to retire in a year or so and my sons are not interested in the business. I own ten properties and manage another thirteen. I'm not interested in expanding my holdings. In fact, I'll probably start divesting myself of most of them over the next several years. I'll keep the property management side of the business because it's very profitable and a lot less hassle."
"I see. Let me know when you start selling and I might be interested," I told him.
We took off in Abe's little sports car and quickly made it to the south side. The first property that we came to was a 200 unit apartment building. It happened to be the one where the developer was having financial problems. He was in the construction trailer when we arrived and was happy to give us a tour. We donned hard hats and began the walk through. The place had a great layout, but the finishes were not what I would have expected of apartments targeted toward the upwardly-mobile middle-class. We spent about thirty minutes in our inspection before moving on to the second property.
"I was a little disappointed at some of the work being done there," I said to Abe, as we drove away.
"It shows that he's having financial problems. I think he's overextended himself," Abe answered.
The second property was only a mile west of the first one. It was a bit smaller in the number of units, 165, but the overall size of the complex was about the same. The developer was not on site, but the foreman knew Abe and gave us a tour. It was clear that this development was being done right. It was aimed at an upper-middle class clientele. It was situated near the Barton Creek Square Mall and access to major thoroughfares made it a prime location.
I would have liked to spend a little longer inspecting the property, but I needed to get back to the university to pick up Joel. I think Abe used all 12 cylinders of the Mercedes to get us back to his office. It was a wonder that he didn't get a speeding ticket. I thanked him and climbed into the Town Car. I made it back to pick up Joel with only a couple of minutes to spare.
He and another boy were talking as they exited the building. They both had dazed looks on their faces. When he noticed me, he said goodbye to the boy and walked toward me. "Boy, that was a tough one," he said. "Let's go get something to eat. I'm starving."
"What sounds good?" I asked.
"Chicken fried steak."
"I've heard of a place that is not too far from here on Manor that serves a great chicken fried steak. I think the place is called Hoover's Cooking."
The place was crowded when we got there, but we only had to wait about 15 minutes before being seated. The food was excellent and the portions were large. Joel was just able to finish all of his chicken fried steak and the two side orders.
"That was good," he said, patting his stomach. "Let's go home. I want to get in the pool and relax."
I paid the check and we were off for home. It wasn't long before I looked over at Joel and saw that he had reclined his seat and was fast asleep. I was sure that he needed the sleep after the tension he had been under leading up to the test. He didn't wake up until I drove into the garage and shook his shoulder.
"We're home, sleepyhead."
"Wow, I didn't know I was that tired," he said. "I think I'll stay awake in the pool now."
The other boys were sitting at the breakfast table having their afternoon snack when we entered the house. We were immediately surrounded by them as soon as they saw us.
"I missed you," Peter said, as he buried his face into my stomach.
"I missed you, too," I said. As he pulled back and looked up at me, I could see that he had smeared chocolate on my shirt front. The snack they had been eating was some of the leftover Mississippi Mud cake from the night before. "You guys finish your snack. Dad has to change his clothes. I think I want to go swimming. Anybody else?"
That brought total agreement from the boys. Hildy saw the chocolate smear and told me to bring it to her after I changed so she could make sure the stain came out. When I had changed into my swimwear, I did as she asked. As I handed the shirt to her, I couldn't help notice the smile on her face.
"What makes you so happy this afternoon?" I asked.
"Yes, although you are normally smiling and in good humor, there is something special about you today."
"The girls' caseworker called us today and said that the home study and background checks came through and we are approved to begin the adoption process."
"Congratulations," I said, wrapping my arms around her in a hug. "I can't think of anyone who would be a better family for Jeanie and Ginny."
"Manny is floating on air. He took the girls shopping for their school clothes. The first thing we did when we found out was to enroll them in Corinthian Academy."
"That reminds me. I need to take my six to get them ready for school. It will be starting in a couple of weeks. It seems as if the summer has just begun."
"Hi Crane," Mike said, as he entered the kitchen where Hildy and I were standing.
"Mike, I put the lease agreement and keys to the condo on the bar. I trust you will see to it that the others will sign it. By the way, I went by the condo with Abe. I think you guys will be pleased with the furniture that Donald has furnished it with."
"I'm anxious to see it and I'm sure that Bill and Jake are as well. I just got off the phone with another guy I had some classes with. He will be attending UT as well this fall. He's already rented an apartment, but when I told him about the condo, he said he might be interested in sharing it with us. He has a six month lease, so it wouldn't be right away."
"Is he a med student as well?"
"Yes, he's a good guy and smart. He could probably fit in with the three of us," Mike said. "I see you are ready for the pool. I think I'll join you."
We had been in the pool for half an hour or so when William dove into the pool and swam toward TJ and Peter. Lenore's appearance was less dramatic. She walked quickly to the side of the pool and waited for Mike to come lift her into the water. Donald sat down on the side of the pool and then slipped into the water.
"Thank goodness it's Friday," Donald said, as he swam up to me. "The only good thing that happened was I heard from the good Senator Cox. He informed me that our favorite FBI agent had been reassigned to the Minot, North Dakota office. He also said that the guy's 'protector' in Washington had been shuttled to a job that did not give him any say in what happens to Agent Beekman."
It wasn't long before we were joined in the pool by Manfred, Jeanie and Ginny. The two girls were soon vying with Lenore for Mike's attention.
"I suppose Hildy told you the good news," Manfred said.
"Yes, she did. I couldn't be happier for the two of you... Or should I say the four of you?" I said.
"Gee," Donald said, after we explained to him, "that means that all ten of these kids will be adopted. That must be some kind of record. A very good record."
The rest of the afternoon and evening followed the usual routine. The kids swam, played some tennis and romped with the dogs. After supper, Donald and I were enjoying a cup of coffee in the living room. The boys had gone to the music room with Mike to practice. I still had not gotten around to hiring a new music teacher, so I put that on my mental to do list. As usual, Lenore had gone with Hildy's girls to their house to spend the night.
"I received an email from Fenton Bigelow this afternoon just before I left the office," Donald said. "He included a list of all the properties that had been sold or reserved. This project has taken off faster than I could possibly have thought it would. We are going to make a lot of money on it and I've been thinking."
"Well, are you going to tell me what you've been thinking?"
"I need to talk with my tax attorney, but we might consider setting up an offshore company to take possession of the development. The way it stands now, Uncle Sam is going to take an obscene chunk of the profits in taxes. I hate to pay any more taxes than I absolutely have to. We have to be careful, though, to make sure that what we do is at least semi-legal. That's why I want to get my tax attorney involved. He's very good and has been able to save me and, before me, dad a lot of taxes."
"I'm all for avoiding taxes," I said. "I just don't want to wander into the realm of evading taxes. The thought of a stay in a federal prison for tax evasion is not my idea of a lot of fun."
"I wouldn't worry too much about that. Wendell used to be legal counsel to the House Committee on Ways and Means. He helped write the monstrosity that passes for our tax code."
"So he's the one responsible for that convoluted piece of crap," I laughed.
"Yes, I give him static for that every time April 15 rolls around."
When we woke up Saturday morning, it was raining heavily. It looked like our usual trip to the ranch to ride the horses was out of the question, at least for today. By ten o'clock the rain had let up but it was still raining too hard to go riding. The TV weather forecaster indicated that the rain would likely continue until early evening.
I had an idea to occupy the boys for the rest of the day. I called them all together. "School's going to start in a couple of weeks and we need to see if your school uniforms still fit. Everybody off to your rooms and try on last year's uniforms."
While the boys were gone, I asked Donald what he was going to do about William's schooling.
"I thought I would enroll him in Corinthian Academy as well. That is if you're still okay with us moving in here."
"You know I am," I said. "I've been thinking about that suite of rooms that Mike is living in at the moment. The original plans for the house called for that to be a separate bedroom and a media room, but I had it changed into a suite when Hildy was living with us. Maybe I should have it converted into two bedrooms. We certainly don't need a media room now that the boys have a music slash exercise room over the garage. We have to make room for Lenore. I doubt that you will want her to spend every night at Hildy's place."
"You're right. That may be difficult for her to accept for a while. Maybe Jeanie and Ginny could spend a couple of nights here after we move in. That might soften the blow," Donald responded.
"That might work. What are you going to do with her while the other kids are in school?"
"I've been looking into some preschools in the area and plan on visiting a couple of them this coming week. I wish Corinthian had a preschool."
The boys started filtering back in wearing their uniforms. From the looks of them, a trip to the mall was in store for us. It might be possible for a few of the uniforms to be passed down to younger siblings although quite a few of them showed a lot of wear.
"Okay, guys, go change back into your regular clothes. We are going to the mall." Lenore pleaded to stay with her friends, but Donald and William climbed into the van with us and we were off to shop. I was confident that TJ would no longer wander off while we were shopping and hoped that Peter would not either.
We pulled into the parking garage at the mall and made our way to the department store that sold the school clothes. Joel went off to the section that sold his size. I knew he was responsible enough not to get lost or wander away. The twins and Chris were easy to fit since the three of them wore the same size. Donald took William and Peter and got them fitted. TJ was the last to get his uniforms. It took almost as long for the sales associate to ring up our purchases as it did for us to pick them out. Outfitting seven boys was an expensive proposition.
Each of the boys carried a bag of clothes back to the van. When everything was stashed in the van, I suggested that we go to the food court and eat lunch.
"I have a better idea," Donald said. "Let's go to that all you can eat buffet back up on San Pedro. I'll buy."
The boys liked that idea better so we got into the van and took off for the restaurant. When we got there I had to agree that this was a better choice. There were three parallel buffet lines. The two outside lines held the main entrées. One was Chinese and the other was traditional Texas fare. The middle line was the dessert buffet. It was hard for the boys to decide which line to go through first.
The boys solved the dilemma by making it through all three before their eating frenzy subsided.
By the time we returned home, the rain was beginning to let up and we could see that it was clearing to the west. Despite the boys' requests to go riding, I convinced them that it was better to wait until tomorrow so they could ride longer. Reluctantly they agreed and went upstairs to find something to do. They were met by Mike as they climbed the stairs. I heard him suggest that some of them use the exercise equipment while the others practiced their music.
All the new uniforms had been dropped off in the laundry room as they were unloaded from the van. I intended to sort them before beginning the washing process. By the time I had changed into shorts and a T-shirt, Hildy was in the laundry room doing what I had planned to do.
"I was going to do that," I said. "You should be enjoying the afternoon with your soon to be daughters."
"Manny just took them home for their naps," she answered, not pausing in the sorting process.
"I'm glad to have a chance to talk with you in private. Next Saturday is Mike's last day with us and I thought we should give him a going away party of sorts. What do you think?"
"That's a great idea. In fact, Manny and I had talked about what we should do for him before he leaves," she said.
"I thought maybe we could invite his family to come in the afternoon. I don't know if all of them would be available. We'll have to see. Some might want to go to the ranch to ride. I know if Jimmy comes, he would. I'll grill some steaks, chicken and burgers," I said.
"I can take care of the rest," Hildy said. "I'll probably see most of the family at church tomorrow morning. I can see if they're available."
"Great, let me know what you find out and we can begin planning."
"Now, shoo. Let me get these things taken care of."
I went to find Donald to see if he had any ideas for a going away party for Mike. I was surprised to see Joel in the kitchen talking to him. Joel had come down to get bottles of water for his brothers upstairs. Since he was there, I decided to get his input as well. We tossed around a few ideas and then the subject of a going away gift came up.
Joel said, "He's always complaining about his old computer. I've had to work on it a couple of times and I can tell you it's a real antique. TJ and Peter have a better one than he does. Maybe a new one could be from all of us."
"I think that's a marvelous idea," Donald said.
"You can go with me on Monday to pick one out," I said to Joel. "You're more familiar with the new personal computers than I am."
"That'll be fun. I'll call Jimmy to see if he can arrange his schedule to be here," Joel said. "I'd better get this water up there or somebody will be coming down to see what happened to me."
"Joel seems to be a lot happier these days," Donald said, after Joel had gone.
"He's been under a lot of stress studying for the test he took on Friday. Now that it's over with, he can relax and be his old self. He still wants to take two more CBE's before the school year is out. If he's successful, he will graduate next spring. I just hope it's not too much for him. He'll be carrying a heavy load of classes as well."
By five o'clock the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. I suggested to the boys that they might want to get in an hour or so in the pool before supper. After being inside all afternoon, I was ready to get into the pool as well.
Sunday morning the boys were clamoring to go to the ranch as soon as breakfast was over. I convinced them we should wait for Mike to get back from church before we went riding. They grudgingly agreed, but were waiting for him at the back door when he arrived.
Donald and I fixed a couple dozen sandwiches and packed the cooler so that everything would be ready. Hildy had prepared a large bowl of potato salad which we put into a plastic container. With the chips, cookies and sodas packed, we were ready to go.
The ground at the ranch was still fairly wet and the horses kicked up a lot of mud when the boys raced, but it didn't seem to matter to them. As we were riding, Charlie and Tracy rode up beside me.
"I think we are going to have a new foal in a couple of weeks," Charlie said.
"That's great," I said. "Make sure you give me a call when it happens so I can bring the kids out to see it."
"Tracy says that everything looks good. I'm hoping that it happens when I'm around. I'm no stranger to the birth process, but I'd feel better if there was a qualified vet on hand. Do you happen to know where we can find one?" With that said, he took off at a gallop with Tracy right behind him, both of them laughing like little kids.
"Those two will never grow up," Rosie said, as she rode beside Donald and me.
Note: Some of you with knowledge of the University of Texas will be aware that there is no School of Medicine located on the campus in Austin. I have taken certain liberties with that fact for the sake of the story.