"OH MY GOD! Are you hurt, son? Is Jimmy all right?"
"We're okay, dad, just some bumps and bruises."
"Where are you?"
"You know the truck stop a mile or so north of 306?"
"Yes, I know where it is. Are you there?"
"I'll be there as soon as I can. It's going to be around 30 minutes. You can tell me all about it when I get there. I love you, son," I said, before disconnecting. I didn't want him to think I was mad at him for what had happened to the car. I was relieved that they were not injured.
As I was talking on Donald's cell phone, we had climbed into the van. He noticed the worried look on my face and indicated that I should take the front passenger seat and he climbed into the driver's seat.
"Sounds like there's trouble," Donald stated.
"Yes, I've got to make a quick trip to pick up Joel and Jimmy. Can you stay with the boys?"
"Of course, I can. We'll keep the pizza warm until you return," he said. "That is unless these eating machines get hungry before then."
We arrived at the house and I jumped into the Town Car and took off to get the accident victims. I was fortunate that there were no sheriff's deputies out with their radar speed detectors as I drove toward the truck stop. I pushed the speed limit more than I usually did. It had been just twenty minutes since I hung up the phone with Joel when I took the Kohlenberg Road exit for the truck stop. I crossed over the overpass and found a parking space near the entrance to the diner. I assumed that the boys would be in an area where food was served. I was right.
"Hi, dad," Joel said, when he looked up and saw me enter.
"Hi, Mr. J," Jimmy said, turning his head in my direction.
I gulped when I saw a small bandage on the left side of Joel's forehead at the hairline. As most parents would do, I touched it as I sat down beside him. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine, dad," Joel said. "I bumped my head on the door when the car rolled."
"What!" I almost shouted. "You rolled the car?"
"Can we go home? I'll explain everything on the way."
"Sure. Where's the car?"
"The tow truck driver hauled it away. He gave me his card and said our insurance guy could inspect it at his place," Joel said, handing me the business card.
I glanced at the address on the card and knew where it was. "Let's go. Have you guys paid your bill?"
"No," Joel said. "That's our waitress over there."
I got her attention and she came over and handed me the check. I looked at it, took a $20 bill from my wallet and handed it to her and told her to keep the change. She looked surprised, because the change amounted to about a 50% tip. We headed for the car.
"Okay, tell me what happened," I said.
"It wasn't Joel's fault," Jimmy volunteered. It was the first thing he had said since he greeted me inside the diner.
"He's right, dad. It's kinda complicated."
"Just start at the beginning and work your way through it."
"Well, we were a couple of miles north of the truck stop when we heard the sirens behind us. I knew they couldn't be after us because I was driving in the right lane and a couple of miles under the speed limit."
"Good," I said, "I'm glad you weren't speeding. Go on."
"In the mirror, I could see the flashing lights of a couple of patrol cars coming up behind us. That stretch of road is pretty straight. You can see a long way, so I started to slow down and pull over on the shoulder. As I did, I noticed another car approaching us going real fast. He was weaving in and around cars going from one side of the road to the other. I knew that had to be who the cops were chasing. We had slowed down to about 35 mile-per-hour when the car to our left started to merge into the right lane we had just left. I guess he was trying to get out of the way just like we did. The speeding car evidently had seen us move out of the lane and he must have thought it would be open for him. He didn't have time to react to the other car moving into it and he didn't have time to move back to the left. He tried to swerve around us on the right and hit the left rear of the BMW. He must have been going at least 80 or more when he hit us. That spun us around a couple of times and into the ditch on the side of the road. It's kind of fuzzy what happened next, but the next thing I knew the BMW started to roll over. I think we only rolled over one and a half times, because we ended up upside down with the wheels in the air."
"Yeah, Mr. J," Jimmy added. "There we were hanging upside down by our seatbelts and at first we couldn't get them undone."
Joel picked up the narrative again. "I was kinda scared. I was afraid the car might start on fire and we were going to be trapped. After I struggle a bit, I got my seatbelt to release. I dropped down to the roof of the car and hit my head on the door. I guess that's how I got this," he said, touching the bandage. "I was able to lift Jimmy just enough so he could get his released. By that time the cops had arrived and were trying to get one of the car doors open so that we could get out. During the rollover, the back window had popped out. They couldn't get any of the doors to open, so we finally had to crawl out the back window."
"That was a very complete description," I said.
"Well, the cops had us write down what happened and that is pretty much what I wrote."
"Are you both sure that you're not hurt any worse?"
"The EMT's checked us over and all they could find was the small cut on Joel's forehead," Jimmy said. "I'll lay odds that we'll be sore all over tomorrow and have quite a few bruises."
"What happened to the guy the cops were chasing?" I asked.
"I asked one of the young San Marcos cops," Joel answered. "He said the guy was hurt pretty bad. His car rolled several times and he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. He was thrown from his car and it rolled over him breaking a lot of bones. Air Life took him to a hospital in San Antonio. The cop said he didn't think the guy would make it to the hospital from the looks of him. We didn't see him other than on the stretcher when they loaded him into the helicopter. They had him covered with a sheet and an oxygen mask on his face."
"Did the patrolman say why they were chasing him?"
"Yeah, it seems he shot his pregnant former girlfriend and the girlfriend's new boyfriend. He killed them both, but the cops said he was told the baby might live. The girlfriend was about eight months pregnant and lived long enough for the EMT's to get there. The fire station was only a block away and the girlfriend had called 911 when the guy broke down the door."
"That's sad," I said. "Love does strange things to people. I hope the grandparents will be able to raise the baby."
"Did you bring a pizza home for us?" Joel asked, as we drove through the front gate to the house.
"Yes, we did. Donald said he would keep it warm for you and try to keep your brothers from eating it before you got home."
"Great, I'm starving," Jimmy said.
I shook my head. I saw what they had eaten at the truck stop and that was only about 45 minutes ago. They headed for the kitchen and I went to check on the other boys.
"How are Joel and Jimmy?" Donald asked, as I walked out onto the patio where he was sitting watching the boys playing with the dogs.
"A little shook up, but no serious injuries. They'll be stiff and sore tomorrow, I'll bet. How did you keep the other boys from devouring the pizza while I was gone?"
"If it hadn't been for the ice cream in the freezer, I'm sure it would be gone by now. They made sundaes shortly after you left," Donald said. "What's the story on the boys?"
"It was scary, but it could have been a whole lot worse," I said. I related the story much as Joel had told me on the way home.
"They were lucky. You're right, it could have been a lot worse. How are you going to tell the other boys? When they asked me, I told them that Joel was having car trouble and you had to go get them. It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the truth either. I thought I'd give you the honor of telling them what happened."
"Thanks a lot. I'll wait until Joel and Jimmy have finished off the pizza. That way the boys can see that they aren't hurt. It'll make the explanation less stressful for them."
About ten minutes later, Joel and Jimmy wandered out onto the patio. "I'm so full, I think I'm gonna bust," Jimmy said, patting his stomach.
"Me, too," Joel said. "We didn't even have room for some ice cream."
"Did you guys eat that whole pizza?" Donald asked.
"Sure," Jimmy said. "Thanks for keeping it warm for us."
"I think we had better tell your brothers what happened. All they know is that you had car problems. They don't need to hear all the details, just the high lights. Joel, why don't you round up your brothers and we'll get the boys up to speed."
Joel put two fingers in his mouth and produced a loud whistle. That caught the boys' attention and even the dogs stopped and looked toward us.
"That's not what I had anticipated, but I guess it was effective," I said.
"What did you do to your head?" Lenny asked, as they all gathered around us.
"That's what we wanted to talk to you about. Joel and Jimmy were in an accident with the BMW," I said.
"OH!" "WOW!" "Are you okay?" The boys exclaimed and asked all at once.
"Just a little cut on my forehead," Joel said.
"Yeah, we got bounced around when the car rolled over," Jimmy added.
"Joel, give them an overview of what happened," I said.
He did just that to the rapt attention of the six boys and six dogs. "Do you have any questions?" Joel asked when he finished.
"Can we go see the car?" Chris asked.
Donald and I both had to stifle a chuckle. "We'll go see it tomorrow," I told them. Priorities, I guess they could see that their brother was okay, so the next thing on the list was the car.
Joel went with Jimmy as he went to get into his car and head for his home. He was gone several minutes before he came back into the house.
As darkness approached, Donald said it was time for them to be heading home. That was not met with a lot of enthusiasm from William, but Donald insisted and told him to get his things together. He called Hildy to see if Lenore had her things ready to take home. Hildy told him that she would bring Lenore over on the golf cart.
The boys were a bit sad to see their friend leave, but were somewhat cheered up when I reminded them that we would see them again later in the week when we flew to Las Vegas. I suggested that they go get their showers taken and I would try to find something for a snack before they went to bed.
I checked the pantry and the refrigerator and found an angel food cake in the pantry and some sliced strawberries that Hildy had macerating in the fridge. Those things along with a can of Reddi-wip and I had all the makings for strawberry shortcake, not the classic kind, but one that would have to do. The boys didn't seem to mind as it disappeared almost as fast as the dishes were placed in front of them. I even had a small portion.
Hildy was in the kitchen when I got up Monday morning. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen island. "What time did you say Gilda was due in?"
"Her plane is scheduled to arrive at 1:38. We're going to leave here around noon. Manny thinks the girls might like to have lunch at the airport. They say they've never seen an airplane up close, so it will be a treat for them," Hildy replied.
"Take off any time you need to, the cleaning crew will be here this morning and I can see them out when they're finished."
It wasn't long before the boys started trickling into the kitchen area looking as if they hadn't eaten in a week. Hildy was ready for them and soon they appeared to be ready for their day. I told them to get dressed and to take care of their dogs. I also reminded them to stay out of the way of the cleaners.
As soon as I thought he would be in his office, I called Ernest Boyd, our insurance agent, and gave him the details of the accident. He asked if I had a copy of the police report, which I didn't, but thought one of us could get a copy from the San Marcos Police Department. He said he would have an adjustor take a look at the BMW later today to see the extent of the damages.
The cleaning crew finished their work shortly after eleven, so I decided to take the boys to see the wrecked car that they were so interested in seeing. I thought we could grab our lunch while we were out since Hildy wouldn't be there to fix ours.
The lot where the car had been hauled was on the south side of New Braunfels just off I-35. When we arrived, I explained to the person who opened the gate for us which car we were interested in seeing. He gave us directions and we drove about a hundred yards to a row of wrecked vehicles. The BMW was at the end of the row. I caught my breath when I saw the extent of the damages. I was amazed that Joel and Jimmy escaped with no more injuries than they sustained. The roof of the car had a deep dent in the center and there were dents and scrapes on nearly every surface. The windshield was totally smashed, but still in place. I could see the rear window was completely gone. Joel had said it had popped out sometime during the rollover.
"Wow! That's really a mess," Larry said. "Were you scared?"
"Yes," Joel said. "It was frightening. I've never been so scared in all my life. It certainly was not fun. I never want to go through that again... ever."
I reached in through the broken window on the passenger side door and opened the glove box to retrieve the personal items that were in there. We were about to leave when an older man approached and introduce himself as the adjustor that Ernest Boyd has sent to inspect the damages. He spent fifteen or so minutes looking over and under the car. Every so often he would write something on a form he had on a clipboard he carried.
"About the only things that are salvageable are the seats, the radio and three of the tires. They're worth a few hundred dollars at a scrap yard. The frame is bent and all the doors are warped. The car is totaled. I'll turn in my report to Ernest and you'll hear from him in a couple of days," he said, and walked away to his own car.
"Okay, guys, you've seen the wreck. Is anyone interested in finding a place for lunch?"
They were in the van almost before I got the question out of my mouth. After we ate lunch, we decided to stop by the sporting goods store. Joel wanted to get a couple dozen golf balls since he would be starting on the golf team when school started. The twins and Chris were interested in looking at some new tennis rackets. All of the boys needed new athletic shoes as the ones they had were getting too small for their growing feet. As it happened, Jimmy was working at the store when we walked in. Joel also needed new golf shoes.
Jimmy was happy to wait on us. When I asked him how he was today, he said he hurt in a lot of places from the jostling around he experienced in the accident, but nothing serious. Joel told him he felt the same. It was the first time Joel had mentioned that he hurt. Joel and Jimmy kept up a running conversation as we went about our purchases.
We walked out of the store when we finished shopping with two dozen golf balls, a pair of golf shoes, three tennis rackets, six cans of tennis balls, two soccer balls for TJ and Peter, six pairs of athletic shoes, and a couple dozen pairs of athletic socks in assorted sizes.
It was after three by the time we returned to the house. When we walked in with our purchases, Hildy and Gilda were in the kitchen talking while the two girls were sitting at the kitchen island eating chocolate pudding. The boys immediately dropped their packages and were served bowls of pudding by Hildy and Gilda.
Peter motioned for me to come over to him. "Who's that lady?" he whispered in my ear.
"That's Gilda, don't you remember her?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah, I forgot," he said, and went back to eating his pudding.
"Gilda, it's good to see you again," I said, giving her a hug. "I hope that you'll stick around for a while."
"It's good to see you, too, Crane. I think I might this time. I have to get to know my new, soon to be, nieces," Gilda said, smiling at Jeanie and Ginny.
"We hope that turns out," Hildy said.
"Okay, guys, pick up your things and take them to your rooms. Put the socks in the laundry room to be washed before you wear them," I told them as they finished stacking their bowls in the dishwasher.
The three adults settled into the living room while the kids went outside to play with the dogs. "Where's Manfred?" I asked.
"One of his friends called while we were at the airport waiting for Gilda's plane to arrive. Jason lives next door to the condo that Manny owns in New Braunfels. He said that something strange was going on in the condo with the renters and that Manny should look into it. He wasn't clear as to what it was, but Manny said Jason sounded upset. He dropped us off at home and then he took off to check things out."
"I didn't realize that he still owned that place. I guess I just assumed that he had sold it after you got married," I said.
"He's always had good tenants in there and it brings in a little income. It's a nice place and large with two bedrooms. At one time, before Jeanie and Ginny stole our hearts, we thought about living there after we retire someday. But now ..." she trailed off, glancing out the window for the girls.
"Has CPS given any indication to you about your wishes to adopt the girls?" I asked.
"I got a call on Friday with an update. It seems they need one more piece of information. After they get that and it checks out, they'll schedule a hearing before the judge. She thought it could be as soon as the third Tuesday in September. That's when the judge holds court in New Braunfels."
"Let me know when you get the final date. I want to be there to see the happy moment," I said.
"I may have to stick around to see it as well," Gilda said.
"You know you're welcome to stay as long as you like," Hildy said.
"Yeah, and if she gets tired of you, you're welcome to stay with us," I said, getting a dirty look from Hildy. Gilda just laughed.
Manfred arrived a few minutes later. It was easy to tell that he was upset. "What's the matter, Manny?" Hildy asked.
"That nice young couple that I rented the condo to about six months ago moved out and sub-let it to three young men without informing me. That violated the lease agreement. I met with Jason to see what he knew about the tenants. He said they had loud parties at night and had all kinds of trashy looking people coming and going at all times of the day and night. What he objected to most were the strange chemical smells coming from the place. He said it smelled a lot like a cat's litter box, but a lot stronger."
"What did you do?" Hildy asked.
"Well, the lease agreement the young couple signed gives me the right to inspect the property at any reasonable time without notice as long as the tenants are at home and since that agreement was still in effect, I decided to exercise that right. I called a New Braunfels cop I knew fairly well and asked him to come with me when I made the inspection. I figured I might get some resistance from the current residents," Manfred said. "When Carson got there I explained to him what was going on. He immediately recognized the odor as possibly being produced by a meth lab. He made a call to the station and requested that the hazmat team be dispatched. When they arrived we went and knocked on the door of the condo. A scruffy looking young man of about 20 opened the door. The odor that was coming from inside was overpowering. That was all it took and the hazmat team entered, garbed out in their protective suits and masks."
"Good heavens," Gilda said. "What did they find in the place?"
"There was a meth lab alright. It was a small one, but still had a lot of dangerous chemicals sitting around. The three tenants were all arrested and hauled off to jail while the hazmat team cleaned up the mess. It's going to cost a bundle to get the place back in condition to rent again. There was aluminum foil over all the windows and they had put a big exhaust fan in place of one of the windows. I don't know what else they did, because I didn't go all the way in, just inside the entrance."
"How come someone didn't notice the windows being covered?" I asked.
"It's the way the condo is located. It's on the second floor and backs up to a wooded area and you really can't see the windows clearly even if you are directly behind the building. I've got to get in contact with the original tenants. They could be liable for the damages since technically they are still the ones on the lease."
"Do you know where they are now?" Hildy asked.
"No, but maybe I can get a forwarding address for them from the post office. Hon, do you know if Marianne still works there?"
"The last time I talked to her she was talking about retiring. I'll give her a call tomorrow. If she's still there, I'm sure she'll find out for us," Hildy said. "I know one thing for certain, I had better get something started for supper or there will be some very hungry youngsters in about an hour."
"I'll help," Gilda said.
After Hildy and Gilda went off to start preparations for supper, Manfred said, "I didn't want to get Hildy's hopes up, but one of the guys in the condo looked an awful lot like one of the guys who robbed us and beat me up."
"How sure are you that he was one of them?"
"That's it. I didn't get all that good a look at him as the cops took him out. He had his head down, so I didn't get to look at him full in the face, just in profile. He had the same distinctive tattoo on his neck that one of our robbers did and was about the same height and build. I have to go to the police station tomorrow and give a statement and maybe I can get a good look at him then. Carson said he would be in jail until a bond hearing was held and he didn't think that would happen until Wednesday."
"Did you get a good look at either of the other two in the apartment?" I asked.
"Just the one that opened the door and he wasn't one of the robbers. The other guy was hunched over as they led him out and I couldn't see his face at all and he didn't have any identifiable tattoos that I could see."
"Well, I hope something gets resolved. It's been a long time since the robbery happened," I said.
After supper the boys went up to the music room to practice their instruments. I still hadn't found a music teacher for them. I made a mental note to look for one as soon as we returned from Las Vegas. I was sitting in my favorite chair enjoying a glass of wine and a new book I had started when the phone rang. It was Dirk.
"Dirk, it's good to hear from you. How are Marie and Ricky and Rosemarie? It's been a while since we have seen you all," I said.
"They're all doing fine. Rosemarie is growing like a weed and Ricky is as ornery as ever," Dirk laughed. "Ricky really loves his little sister, except when it comes time for a diaper change. Then he runs off to play with Winston."
"I can't say I blame him," I said.
"Crane, do you remember Jamie, the boy I used to volunteer with?"
"Of course, he used to go riding with us at the ranch."
"Right. After we got married, I didn't have the time to spend with him, so I convinced a friend of mine, Ron Williamson, to spend time with him. Ron and Jamie hit it off immediately. To make a long story short, I have invited Ron to bring Jamie to our house tomorrow night for a barbeque and thought you and the boys might enjoy seeing him again."
"That sounds great. I'm sure the boys will be glad to see him again. What time is it going to start?"
"I'm taking off work early tomorrow, so any time after three or so would be fine. Tell the boys to bring their swimsuits, Jamie likes to swim."
"We'll be there. Ask Marie if there is anything we can bring."
"I think she has everything covered. We're looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow," Dirk said.
The boys were thrilled when I told them about our plans for tomorrow afternoon after they finished practicing and came down for their snack.
Tuesday, I insisted that Hildy take some time off and spend it with Gilda. This week was supposed to be a vacation for her. She put up a fuss, but I was firm and she finally relented ... after she fixed our breakfast.
We arrived at the Sosnowski house shortly after three. Ricky was sitting on the front steps with his dog he called Buppy although his real name was Winston. I was careful to stop the car short of where he was sitting afraid he would run out in front of it. As it was he was waiting at the front passenger side door for Joel to get out. Joel was barely out of the car when he had his arms full of Ricky and received a sloppy kiss on his cheek.
"Hey, munchkin, did you miss me?" Joel asked the giggling boy in his arms.
"Uh huh, forever," Ricky said.