While Ricky was greeting Joel, Peter was busy making friends with Buppy, who was lapping up the attention. After Joel put Ricky down, he was hugged by the other boys. We were starting up the steps to the house when a car drove in and parked behind the van. The boys took one look at the passenger and rushed to help him out of the car.
"Hi, Jamie," Larry said. "It's good to see you. Long time no see."
"Yeah, I know," Jamie said. "I haven't been to ride your horses for a long, long time."
"You'll have to come and see them. We have lots more now," Chris added.
I approached the driver as he exited the car. "You must be Ron Williamson. I'm Crane Johnson and these six are my brood," I said, pointing to the boys.
"It's nice to meet you. Dirk has told me a lot about you and your 'brood', as you called them."
As I introduced each of the boys to Ron Williamson, they politely shook his hand before they grabbed Jamie and rushed with Ricky into the house, but not before snatching their swimsuits out of the van.
"Looks like they are headed for the pool," I mused. "Did you bring your suit?"
"Yes, Jamie reminded me several times over the phone last night not to forget it. I'd better go check up on him. I don't like him being in the water if I'm not there."
"Don't worry, all my sons are good swimmers and, as I remember, Jamie was pretty good when he used to visit our house."
"I know he is, but I feel so responsible for him when he's with me. It would kill me if anything happened to that kid. He's like the son I'll never have," Ron said, biting his lower lip.
"I used to think like that," I laughed. "Now look, I have six that I never thought I'd have."
We walked into the house where Marie greeted each of us with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Welcome," Marie said. "Could I get you something to drink? Iced tea? Lemonade?"
"Where's Rosemarie?" I asked, as she led us to the kitchen for our drinks.
"She's sleeping right now. You'll know when she wakes up. That girl has developed a set of lungs. It's a wonder you can't hear her at your place," Marie said with a smile.
"I think I'd better change and see how Jamie is doing," Ron said.
"I thought for a moment that we had a troupe of junior Chippendale's," Marie laughed. "They all came in the front door removing clothing as they headed for Ricky's room. You're going to have a hard time sorting out whose clothes belong to which boy."
"I'll bet that Joel's clothes are all neatly folded and stacked in a pile with his shoes," I said. "He's a bit of a neat freak."
"I wish some of that would rub off on Ricky. He's at the stage where he wants to pick out his own clothes to wear. That's fine, but the bad part of it is he has to dig almost everything out of the drawers to make up his mind. Then he leaves everything spread out on his bed. I'd leave everything like that, but I'm a bit of a neat freak myself."
Ron and I went to change into our swim suits and went to join the boys in the pool. Dirk was standing on the side of the pool watching the eight boys and laughing at their antics. "We're going to have to build a bigger pool if you guys visit more often," Dirk said, as a way of greeting us.
We joined the boys in the pool while Dirk went to prepare the grill so it would be ready later when it was time to start the charcoal.
It wasn't long before Marie appeared with Rosemarie. "This one decided she needed to join in the fun," Marie said.
I climbed out of the pool and dried off with one of the towels that were thoughtfully provided. I went over and sat down in the lounger beside Marie. "She is certainly growing," I said. "Would she let me hold her?"
"I don't know," Marie said. "She usually doesn't take to strangers, especially men. You can try."
I took her and cradled her in my arms. Rosemarie looked up at me with her big brown eyes and smiled. "You're a pretty thing," I said to her, as I slowly rocked her back and forth in my arms.
"That's amazing. She usually puts up a fuss when any man other than Dirk picks her up," Marie said, and then whispered, "She hated Dirk's dad."
"Oh, have they come around to accepting you? Sorry, that's none of my business," I said.
"I don't know if they really accept me as being good enough for their son, but since Rosemarie was born they are at least civil."
"Don't let them put you down. You may have been our housekeeper when you met and fell in love with Dirk, but I'm proud to say that you are our very good friend. Dirk is a lucky guy."
"Why am I a lucky guy?" Dirk said, walking up to where we were sitting.
"For having such a great family, that's why," I said.
"That's for sure," he said, before he took Rosemarie from my arms. "I am truly blessed. Marie and the kids have made me the happiest man in the world... present company excepted."
"It looks like Ron is having as much fun as the kids," Marie said.
"He's not that much older than they are. What is he? 23? 24?" I asked.
"Actually he's 26," Dirk answered. "I must admit he does look awfully young. He's really good with Jamie, though. I'm glad. I was afraid that Jamie might feel rejected when I couldn't spend as much time with him as I formerly did."
"Jamie mentioned that he missed getting to ride the horses. He's more than welcome to go riding with the boys. We ride most every Saturday or Sunday. I'll make sure that Ron knows that. My boys always liked it when Jamie rode with them."
"Oh," Dirk said, somewhat surprised. "I think this little stinker just deposited a present in her diaper."
"Here, let me take her. I need to get back inside anyway to check on the casserole I have in the oven. She's probably getting hungry, also," Marie said.
The boys had a great time playing with Ricky and Jamie until it was time to eat. Everything that Dirk and Marie prepared was excellent. I was almost ashamed at the amount of food the boys ate. Marie seemed very pleased that everybody enjoyed the food.
As it started to get dark, we began saying our goodbyes and gathering up and sorting the clothes the boys had strewn about Ricky's bedroom. We were able to isolate Jamie's clothes so they didn't end up going home with us. I reminded Ron about our invitation to bring Jamie to the farm to ride the horses any time he wanted. "Just call this number and let them know you're coming and they will have a couple of horses saddled up for you," I said, handing him my card with the Smith's number on the back.
Wednesday morning I received a call from Donald. He said that his pilot informed him that the bad weather in the Las Vegas area should be clearing by early afternoon their time. Donald said that we could take off around three our time and be there just after the storms leave the area.
"What about Fenton?" I asked. "Will he be ready for us when we get there?"
"If you are okay with leaving today, I'll give him a call. As much business as we're giving him, I'm sure he can be ready."
"Since our stay is going to be shortened," I said, "maybe we could look over the golf course development as soon as we get there and the condo plans after supper. Fenton could give us a complete status update of the development over breakfast Thursday morning. We could use the rest of Thursday and Friday for sightseeing. I think we need to be back home on Saturday so that I can get the boys back on schedule for school next week."
"That sounds good to me," Donald said. "I'll call Fenton and make all the arrangements."
By the time I hung up the phone, the boys were all at the table eating breakfast. Both Hildy and Gilda were making sure that the boys had enough to eat. I explained to everybody assembled what the plans were. I told the boys to lay out the clothes they thought they would need for the trip and I would come and check out what they had chosen before they packed their suitcases. I didn't need to worry about Joel.
"The condo complex where we're going to be staying has tennis courts and a swimming pool, so you guys can take your rackets along if you want. And some balls."
"Dad, you said that you and Donald are going to inspect the golf courses," Joel said. "May I come along with you? I want to play both of the courses when they open."
"Of course you may come with us. The courses won't be ready to play for at least six months, but when they are we both will be among the first to tee off."
"Great! Thanks, dad."
Later when I went to check on the clothes each had selected for the trip, my first stop was in TJ and Peter's room. Peter had probably selected more clothes than he was going to need. I looked through his pile. "Son, do you think you have forgotten anything?"
"No, what?" Peter asked, looking at me strangely.
"How about some underwear?"
"Oh," he said, and ran to his dresser and took out three pair.
"That should do it," I said, giving him a hug.
TJ had selected everything I thought he would need for the trip. "You did a great job, son," I told him and gave him a hug also. "Will you help Peter pack his clothes in his suitcase? Show him how to pack so everything doesn't get wrinkled."
"Sure, dad," TJ said.
The twins and Chris did a creditable job of selecting clothes to pack. My only suggestion was that they pack a couple more pairs of athletic socks in case they played tennis more than once. "Okay, guys, make sure you pack your suitcases carefully," I said, after the inspection.
Joel had his clothes all packed in his suitcase when I got to his room. "Dad, can we sit down and talk about college sometime?"
"Sure, why don't you come down to my bedroom while I pack my clothes and we can talk? Have you narrowed down your choices?"
We went downstairs to my bedroom and after I retrieved my suitcase from the closet, I said, "Okay, what are your choices?"
"I think I've cut the list to three and I need your ideas," Joel said.
"What are they?"
"MIT, Rice University, and Cal Tech."
"That's an impressive list," I said. "They are all excellent schools for what you are interested in for your majors. Tell me what you like about each. Start with MIT."
"The positives for MIT are that it has an exceptional reputation and the job opportunities for graduates are excellent. The negatives are that it is so far from here and I'm not sure that I would enjoy living on the east coast. Then there're the winters with all the snow and cold."
"It's close by in Houston. It provides an excellent education and there are opportunities to do research as an undergraduate. The negatives are that it's in the heart of Houston and the weather is really hot and humid."
"How about Cal Tech?"
"It has some of the same drawbacks as Rice. Being in the greater Los Angeles area with all those people it would be a lot different than here. They also offer an excellent education particularly in my chosen area of interest. It probably has the best weather of any of the schools."
"Are you leaning toward any of them?" I asked.
"Not really. It's taken me a month to narrow the list down to these three. That's why I wanted to talk to you about them and get your opinion."
"Son, this is the first major decision that you have had to make. It would be best if the decision was entirely yours. What I think we should do is to visit each of the campuses and talk to some of the students and the admissions office. I'm sure that you can be excused from some of your classes to make the trips. How about we schedule them about a couple weeks apart after school starts? Do you think that might help?"
"Yeah, dad. Thanks. I wanted to do that, but I didn't know how to ask."
As soon as we had finished lunch and said goodbye to Hildy and Gilda, I had the boys take their suitcases to the van and got everything stowed away. It was about 1:30 when we left for the airport in San Antonio. We arrived at the general aviation area with 45 minutes to spare before we were scheduled to take off. Donald's car was already there and a couple of men were taking the luggage from his car and stowing it in the airplane. A woman, whom I presumed to be the nurse Amanda, was holding Lenore's hand. William ran to greet the boys as soon as he saw us.
"Glad to see you made it," Donald said, when he saw us.
"I was afraid we were going to be late. The traffic was miserable on 281 as usual," I said. "Guys, set your luggage out of the van for the men to load onto the plane."
"We can board at any time," Donald said. "The pilot said we could take off as soon as he does his final check. The weather in Las Vegas is clearing out quicker than yesterday's forecast. We should have a smooth flight all the way."
Donald introduced me to Amanda and then we all boarded the plane. The boys took the same seats they had on the flight to St. John. I guess we were all creatures of habit and Donald and I took our same seats. The only thing different on this flight was our flight attendant was male instead of the female we had last time. He checked to see that all of us had our seatbelts fastened and everything was secured.
After the engines were started and the plane had backed away from its parking area, the pilot's voice came over the speakers telling us that we would have about a ten minute wait before we would be able to take off. "Our flight time will be approximately two hours and thirty minutes," he said. "Sit back and relax and as soon as we are at our assigned altitude, Glen will be serving drinks and snacks. Enjoy the trip."
I could almost hear heads snapping up when the boys heard the word snacks. It had been at least two hours since they had last eaten.
It didn't take long after we were airborne that we were informed that we could remove our seatbelts and were free to get out of our seats. The boys remembered the video game console and immediately got it up and running and were soon shooting down alien spacecraft. They did stop long enough to eat the ice cream sundaes that Glen handed out. Donald and I declined the ice cream and had cups of coffee instead.
"A while back when we were having problems with Agent Beekman, one of the things mentioned was a board membership for you," Donald said. "At that time it was all in the talking stages and I was feeling out the opinions of the other board members concerning you joining the board. That sort of got sidetracked with all the other things going on. We never talked about it, but now I'd like to know if you would be willing to serve?"
"I never gave it much thought after Beekman dropped that on me at the meeting. I really don't know that much about your business," I said. "I'm not sure what value I could bring to the board."
"Don't sell yourself short. You ran a very successful consulting business. You're the CEO of a worthy charity that is providing services to a growing number of unfortunate children. You're highly intelligent and what's more important you have common sense. I need someone like you on the board as an independent outsider to provide that common sense to the management of the corporation."
I paused for a minute or so before saying, "Okay, tell me more about what my responsibilities would be."
For most of the next hour, Donald described to me the structure of his businesses and how the board would provide guidance and direction for the operation of them. He had just wrapped up his description when the pilot announced that we were beginning our descent into McCarran International Airport. Glen came around and picked up the cups and glasses and made sure that we had our seatbelts fastened.
A large van was waiting for us when we stepped out of the plane. The heat hit us the minute the plane's door was opened. The pilot had announced that it was 104 degrees before we landed, but it seemed a lot hotter. The heat reflecting off the concrete surface probably added another 5 or 6 degrees. It didn't take us long to climb into the van and the air conditioning. As soon as our luggage was loaded into the van we took off for the condo.
It took about 30 minutes to go from the airport to the building where the condo was located. The building looked to be about 12 storeys. The van drove into the garage under the building. We got out of the van and I was about to instruct the boys to grab their suitcases when Donald stopped me.
"These young men will bring our luggage to the condo," he said, pointing out two twenty something men whom I hadn't noticed. They were standing beside a cart similar to those I'd seen in upscale hotels used to carry luggage.
Donald led us to a bank of two elevators and summoned both of them. I was wondering if a single elevator would handle the eleven of us. Fortunately, both elevator cars arrived almost at the same time. Peter got in the car with William, Lenore, Donald and Amanda and the rest of us got into the other.
"Push number 12," Donald said, as the door on his car began to close.
TJ did the honors and pushed the button, which was the top one. I noticed as we were ascending that the distance between the eleventh and twelfth floors seemed to be more than the distances between the other floors. I was soon to discover why. Donald and his party had exited their elevator car and he was in the process of unlocking the door to the condo.
Entering the condo I was overwhelmed. The décor was modern, a little too modern for my tastes, but it was beautiful and fit the surroundings. The floor to ceiling windows looked out onto a patio area that had a marvelous view of the Las Vegas Strip. As I looked around, I only saw two large bedrooms. "I thought you said there were six bedrooms," I said.
"Technically there are only five in this unit. The one I had in mind originally was a six bedroom unit, but after talking to Fenton, we thought this one would serve our purposes. There is an office that has a fold-out couch so it could be another bedroom," Donald answered.
"Where are the other bedrooms?" I asked.
"Follow me," he said, and led me to a doorway that opened revealing a stairway leading down to a second level. On this level, besides the three bedrooms and the office I spoke of, are an entertainment room with a 60 inch projection TV and a small kitchenette in case the boys get hungry in the night. There is also a patio."
I looked into the three bedrooms. They were large and each had access to its own bathroom. Two of the bedrooms had three twin beds in each. The third was slightly smaller and only had a queen-size bed. "Guys, stake out your rooms," I said. TJ, Peter and William chose one of the bedrooms with three beds. Chris, Larry and Lenny chose the other one. That left the remaining one for Joel, but I didn't hear him complain.
"Mr. Baker, the men are here with the luggage," Amanda called down the stairs.
"Thank you. I think we had better go sort out where everything goes," Donald said.
It took a few minutes to sort out where each suitcase was to go. The young men, who had brought up our luggage, helped us move it all into the correct bedrooms. As they left, Donald handed each of then a twenty dollar bill and thanked them for their help.
"Where's the pool?" Chris asked. He and the twins had found their swimsuits and had put them on. TJ, Peter and William were not far behind dressed for swimming.
"As soon as Wayne gets here, he'll take you to the pool," Donald said. He had hardly uttered the words when the doorbell rang. "That's probably him, now."
"Mr. Baker?" The handsome young man asked, when the door was answered.
"Yes, please come in and I'll introduce you to everyone," Donald said. After everybody had been introduced, Wayne Bell went into the half-bath and changed into his swim attire.
"Is everybody ready?" Wayne asked, as he emerged from the bathroom wearing a very skimpy Speedo.
Wayne and the six younger boys left for the pool. Amanda and Lenore decided they didn't want to swim. Donald made a call to Fenton and arranged to meet him at the golf courses. Joel followed Donald and I to the elevator and we descended to the main level where a white Cadillac was waiting for us. The doorman rushed to open the doors for us and we were off. Twenty-five minutes later we were driving into the development.
Donald parked the car at a construction trailer next to Fenton's Rolls Royce. Evidently he was watching for us, because he opened the door of the trailer and came out to greet us. "Donald, Crane, it's good to see you again. Who's this young man?"
"Fenton, this is my son, Joel. Joel, this is Fenton Bigelow." They shook hands and we followed Fenton into the construction trailer where he introduced us to the two construction foremen, Clive Biggs and Barry Olsen.
"Dad," Joel whispered to me, "could I go see the courses?"
Evidently Clive overheard Joel's request. "If you would like to see them, I can have my assistant take you around. There's a golf cart just outside," Clive said. "Benny, come here and show Joel around the courses."
They left and we got down to the business of reviewing the original plans and the modifications that were necessary to accommodate the land's contours. Each of the two foremen gave us a status update on the construction and their schedule for completion. Construction on the Nicklaus and the Palmer courses were both ahead of schedule and if the weather held out, they anticipated completion in mid-February. Our meeting had lasted a little over an hour. We were just about to wrap up when Joel and Benny returned.
"Well, son, what do think?" I asked.
"Man, I am so wanting to play those courses. That number three on the Nicklaus course is a real monster. That is a par five that is a true par five. It's going to be 630 yards from the back tees. I doubt that even the pros could get on the green in two. The pond in front forces you to lay up short."
"I can see we will be making a trip here to take advantage of opening day," I said. "Well, I think it is time to get back and check on your brothers and see how much trouble they have gotten into."
We thanked Clive and Barry before we climbed into the Cadillac. Fenton said he would bring the condo designers by our condo around seven.
Joel was still excited about the golf courses. "They're going to use a new kind of creeping bentgrass on the greens that's supposed to stand the heat better in the summers. It's called 007, just like James Bond. I've only played on bentgrass greens once. It's like putting on a marble tabletop. I can hardly wait."
"You'll have to wait until February or so, I'm afraid," I said. "Maybe we can make it on Spring Break."
When we arrived back at the condo, the swimmers had returned and had showered. Wayne was still there and had changed out of the skimpy Speedo. There were also two people working in the kitchen who appeared to be preparing supper.
"I guess I forgot to tell you that I hired cooks to prepare our meals," Donald said, when I asked him who they were. "I figured we didn't want to waste what little time we had here to spend a lot of it preparing meals. They'll be here to fix breakfast tomorrow and Friday. I imagine that we will be sightseeing most of the next couple of days, but they are on call in case our plans change."
"That works for me," I said.
Before Wayne left he said, "I have the tennis court reserved tomorrow morning from 8:30 to 10. Chris and I are going to take on Larry and Lenny in doubles."
"Don't forget to bring your crying towel for when we whip-up on you," Larry laughed.
"We'll see," Wayne chuckled, as he opened the door and left.
Our meal was excellent. It was much fancier than what Hildy would have served. The food on the plates was a work of art. It was almost a shame to eat it, but that didn't stop the boys from digging into the food. Even the second helpings that the boys had were fancy. Dessert was a molten chocolate lava cake, topped with fresh whipped cream and surrounded by an assortment of raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.
"Oh, wow, this is good," TJ said, after taking his first bite. I had to agree with him.
When the cooks left after they had finished the cleanup, they said they would be back at 6:30 in the morning to begin breakfast preparations. Donald told them there would be one additional adult for breakfast.
The boys had gone out on the patio and were looking down on casinos with all the myriad of lights.
Donald and I had each settled down in the chairs that looked out onto the patio and the lights of the strip in the distance when Lenore climbed onto his lap. "How come Mike didn't come with us?" she asked.
Donald looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. "Honey, Mike is going to school. He has to study all the time and can't spend time with us."
"Because he doesn't live with TJ and Peter anymore."
"Will he come visit sometime?"
"I'm sure he will. Maybe we can go see him in a few weeks."
"We'll have to wait and see. I think I know of a little girl who is getting sleepy. Why don't you go with Amanda and get your pajamas on? I'll come and tuck you in after a while." Donald gave his daughter a kiss on the top of her head before she slipped off his lap and went to Amanda.
"You knew that was going to happen, didn't you?" I said.
"Yes, and I knew I wouldn't have a good answer either."
The condo developers arrived along with Fenton. Donald and I reviewed the plans that were spread out in front of us. The actual layouts of the individual condos were fine, very functional for either full time living or for vacation units. I could see why Fenton had been a little hesitant about the overall design when we were presented with the proposed elevations. The designs called for very sleek, almost minimalist façades. That was not in keeping with the more southwestern style that had been required by the architectural committee and approved by Donald and me.
I looked at Donald and we both shook our heads at the same time. "If you can redesign the exterior façades to coordinate with the rest of the development, then Crane and I will give you the go-ahead to begin construction," Donald said. "Pass the revised elevations by Fenton and if he is satisfied with the designs, then you may proceed without us getting involved."
As the developers and Fenton were getting ready to leave, Fenton mouthed, "Thank you."
"Can we drive down the street and see all the lights and stuff?" Chris asked me. He was surrounded by all the other boys.
"Not tonight, guys. It's been a long day. On Canyon Lake time, it's after 10:30 even though it's only 8:30 here. I suggest you think about getting ready for bed if you're going to play tennis with Wayne in the morning." There was a little grumbling, but not as much as I would have expected. "We can take a drive down the strip tomorrow night or the next night. I think we have plans to eat at one of the hotel restaurants tomorrow after we get back from sightseeing."
"Where're we going?" Joel asked.
"I'll tell you tomorrow. All I'll tell you tonight is that it was on the list of places you made," I said. Their list had about nine or ten things on it when we were originally scheduled to be here a week.
I was up and had made a pot of coffee before the cooks arrived to begin the breakfast preparations. They brought in the morning paper, handed it to me and then went about their business.
Fenton arrived right at seven with an expensive looking briefcase. Donald had joined me a few minutes earlier. We offered Fenton a cup of coffee, which he accepted, and then sat down at a small table in the living room. He passed out a packet of papers and began going over the expenses to date and the status of the sale of lots. About thirty minutes into his briefing, the boys came running up the stairs showered and dressed for the day. Three were in their tennis clothes. After they got their morning hugs, they were off to see what they could get from the cooks. Whatever the cooks were fixing, it sure smelled good. We decided to interrupt our meeting and see if breakfast was ready. It was.
"Okay, dad, you said you would tell us where we were going to go sightseeing today," Joel said.
"I think I'll let Donald tell you since he arranged it," I replied.
"When you three get back from playing tennis and get cleaned up, we will be going to the airport where we will get into a large helicopter and fly to a landing pad up near the Hoover Dam. There we will get into a van that will take us to the dam and spend some time taking in the sights. You won't believe how big it is. After we have seen everything, we'll drive up to a marina and there get on a pontoon boat for a day on Lake Mead," Donald said. "We reverse the trip and we'll be back here early evening. As your dad told you, we are going to one of the hotel restaurants for supper. That will give us an opportunity to see all the lights on the strip. Because you all are under age, you won't be able to go into any of the casinos. Any questions?"
Donald had just finished his explanation when the doorbell rang. I went to see who it was. I assumed that it would be Wayne. I was right. He was dressed in his tennis clothes as well. I invited him to sit with us while the boys finished eating. He refused the breakfast, but accepted a glass of orange juice.
"I needed my crying towel," was all Wayne said, as he dropped the three tennis players off. Two of them were giggling as they headed downstairs.
Our day went pretty much as Donald had outlined it at breakfast. They were amazed at the size of the dam, but I think they enjoyed the boat on the lake more. Probably the highlight of their day was the all-you-can-eat buffet at the restaurant we went to at night.