"Come here," Donald said, grabbing his son and lifting him onto his lap. "You're always hungry."
"I am not," A giggling William said, getting a tickle and a kiss on the cheek.
"Well, let's go see what Hildy has for us. Shall we?" Donald said.
That's all it took for six more boys and a little girl to dash to the table in anticipation of their nightly treat.
After their snacks, Chris and the twins approached me. "Dad," Chris started, "tennis practice starts next week. We want to make sure that we make the team."
"That's fine," I said. "Is there something you want from me?"
"Yeah, we were kinda thinking that maybe we ought to start jogging again. You know, to get in shape," Chris said.
"That's a good idea. It will build up your endurance. You're not really out of shape. You've been playing a lot of tennis over the summer."
"We were wondering if you could wake us early every morning so we could do it before we went to school," Lenny volunteered.
"I can do that," I said. "How long do you plan on jogging?"
"We thought we would start out with two miles and then work up to five," Larry said. "We've been using the treadmill upstairs some, but not regularly."
"Okay, we will need to get up at least 30 minutes early to start with and extend that as we build up the miles," I said.
"You mean you're gonna run with us?" Chris asked.
"Of course," I said. "I need to exercise as well. I don't want to get fat."
"Thanks, dad," Chris said. "Can we start in the morning?"
"Good idea," I said. "Now, I think it's time for you guys to run upstairs to brush your teeth and get ready for bed."
When I had tucked in all the boys for the night, Donald and I settled down to watch the evening news. During the commercials, I told him of the boys' plan to start a jogging program before they went to school each morning.
"That's a great idea," he said. "I used to jog three times a week before dad died. After that, I never seemed to have the time. If you don't mind, I'll join you and the boys. I'm not sure I'll be able to do the whole two miles to start with, but I'm sure it won't take me too long to get back into shape. Do you have a route that you follow?"
"We have an area that we've marked off an approximate quarter mile. It's not exact, but close enough."
I was a little surprised when I went to wake the three musketeers that they all got right out of bed without a complaint. It was only the first day. I wondered if they would be as enthusiastic after a few days. I told them to meet in the kitchen as soon as they were dressed for the run.
Donald was ready when I returned downstairs and was talking to Gilda. I poured four glasses of orange juice so that the boys would have something to drink before they started on their jog. They soon joined us, dressed in shorts and running shoes. They grabbed the juice and quickly downed it. I noticed a couple of yawns, but as soon as their glasses were empty, we headed out of the patio door and began stretching. A couple of minutes later we headed for the 'track'.
I suggested to the boys that we not jog too fast on our first day. We could increase the pace each day until we reached a pace that they were comfortable with. I was beginning to tire after the first four laps, but I was determined to stay with the boys. Donald lasted until the sixth lap and decided to walk the remaining two. The boys were still going strong when they completed the eight laps and would have gone on and run some more. I told them that the two miles were enough for today and if they wanted to they could kick off their shoes and jump in the pool to cool off. They thought that was a good idea. After about 15 minutes in the pool, I told them to go take a shower before breakfast. I planned on doing the same before I woke the other boys.
"How come we didn't get to run?" TJ asked at the breakfast table.
"If you want to, you can join us tomorrow morning. It will mean that you have to get up early," I said.
"Okay," he said, and went back to eating his breakfast.
That became our morning routine. TJ, Peter and William would join us for our run most mornings. Peter would usually stay with us for three laps and then would drop out. Sometimes he would rejoin us a lap or two later for another couple. TJ started out lasting a mile with us. After a week or two, he would last for two miles before he would sit the rest out. William would last two laps at most and then sit on the grass and watch the rest of us. He was just waiting until he could jump into the pool when we finished. Joel would join us a couple days a week, but he was not that interested in running. He was more interested in developing his upper body strength to help him with his golf game. He would use the equipment in the room over the garage to do that.
Saturday we decided to take the day off from running. I was really surprised that the twins and Chris were as dedicated as they were to increasing their stamina. I was also very proud of them.
That evening, Joel left to take in a movie with Jimmy. I always worried about him when he took the car, even more so when it was at night. I knew he was responsible, but that still didn't keep me from worrying. I was pleased when he arrived home thirty minutes ahead of the eleven o'clock curfew that I had set for him.
"Did you have a good time?" I asked, as he came into the living room where Donald and I were reading. He had taken an apple from the refrigerator and was munching on it.
"Yeah, the movie was kinda dumb. Jimmy kept me laughing with the comments he made throughout the whole thing. We went to the Dairy Queen after the movie. We both had Blizzards."
"And you still were hungry enough to have an apple," I said.
"What can I say? I'm a growing boy," he giggled, and headed for the stairs. "Goodnight, dad. Goodnight, Donald."
Goodnight, Joel," Donald said, and then turned to me. "Did he say what movie they went to?"
"He said they were going to see Scary Movie 2."
"Doesn't sound like a movie I would go to," Donald said.
Sunday we went to the ranch to ride the horses as we did almost every Sunday, weather permitting. When we arrived, Tracy was on his knees busily spreading mulch around the plants in a landscape bed. When he saw us he stood up and walked toward us, removing his gloves.
"Hi, Tracy, I see Rosie has put you to work," I said, extending my hand to shake his.
"Yeah, Rosie went to the garden center and bought a bunch of plants. I hope you don't mind," Tracy answered.
"No, of course not," I said. "Where's Bert? I expected that he would be helping."
"When you called, he headed for the stables to start saddling the horses. I think he would much rather ride than mess around with plants."
"I can't say that I blame him. I'm glad that we have Manfred's old company to take care of that for us. I have a brown thumb."
Donald had waved at Tracy, but was being dragged by his son toward the stables, not giving him time to stop and talk. Lenore was standing beside me as if expecting something. Tracy noticed her and said, "Why don't you go into the house? I think Carrie Louise woke up from her nap a little while ago."
That was all it took and she ran to the back door of the house and went inside. "She sure loves your daughter," I said. "I think she would take her home with her, if she could."
"You guys should adopt a baby so that she could help take care of it," Tracy said, with a suppressed grin.
"Bite your tongue, horse doctor," I retorted. "Eight kids in the house are plenty. I think I had better go check on the boys before you get anymore crazy ideas."
After several hours of riding the horses and eating the picnic lunch that we had packed, the boys were ready to head home. Lenore would have liked to stay longer, but Rosie informed her that it was time for Carrie Louise' nap. She gave the baby a kiss and reluctantly headed for the van holding onto her dad's hand.
It was back to school on Monday and things settled down to the everyday routine. Hildy had warmed up to her new SUV quicker than either Manfred or I had anticipated. Gilda spent as much time at our house as Hildy did.
I received a call from Gerald Cousins shortly after I returned from taking the boys to school. He was calling in reference to the apartments that I had asked him to investigate. "Crane," he said, after we had exchanged greetings, "I've taken a hard look at the possible ROI on those apartments. My best estimate is that your return would be somewhere between one and two percent for the first several years. That area is being saturated with existing, under construction, or proposed apartments. My advice is to pass on this opportunity. The one in Austin would be a better investment, but I haven't looked into it as thoroughly. If you want, I'll check it out."
"Thanks, Gerald, I appreciate your advice. You may be earning your exorbitant fee after all," I laughed.
"Just for that, I'll double my fee," he responded to my verbal jab.
"Go ahead and scrutinize that one in Austin and let me know what you think about it."
I was early when I arrived at the school to pick up the boys. I noticed that Pauline had arrived early also, so I went to speak with her. It had been a while since I had the opportunity. "Hi, Pauline," I said, when I approached her open window. "How are things going with you? It's been a while."
"Oh, hi, Crane, you startled me. I didn't see you coming," she said. "Everything is going great. The girls are growing like weeds. They're going to be taller than I am before I know it."
"That's good. How's John?"
"Okay, I guess. He has a new friend he met at his job."
"Where's he working?"
"That new HEB down off 281 and 46. He started there in the summer and now only works on the weekends. He insisted he wanted to work and earn some money of his own. I think he wants to buy a car. He's been hinting at it since he started working."
"Then your worries will begin. Have you heard from your ex?"
"No, but as long as he sends the child support payments, I don't want to see him... and then only in court."
"I see my youngest one just came out of the building, so I had better go get him," I said. "It was nice talking to you again. If you ever need anything, let us know."
"Where's William?" I asked, after giving Peter a hug.
"He had to stay after class," Peter said. "I saw him at recess and he said his teacher was gonna make him stay because he was talking."
"Shall we go see how long he has to stay?"
"Yeah," he said, grabbing my hand and tugging me towards the school.
TJ was coming out of the school as we were walking in and he joined us. We quickly walked to Ms. Phelps' classroom. When we arrived, I glanced through the glass in the door and saw that she was squatting near William's desk and talking to him. It looks as though he was crying. I tapped on the door and waited until Ms. Phelps came and opened it. Instead of inviting us in, she stepped out.
"What's the problem with William?" I asked.
"It was a minor problem. He was talking when he should have been reading his story," she said. "I wanted to impress on him that he needed to do his assignment and not bother the other children while they did their assignment. He's a very sensitive boy and when I gently scolded him, he started to tear up. Peter, there are some tissues on my desk. Why don't you get him one? You may tell him he is free to leave. We'll wait here."
"Okay," Peter said, and proceeded to do as she asked.
"I've noticed that William and Peter are nearly inseparable. If we wait here until he's wiped his tears away, maybe he won't be as embarrassed."
"Thank you for that," I said.
William soon arrived with Peter. "William, I think you should tell Ms. Phelps that you are sorry for talking when you should have been doing your assignment," I told him.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Phelps," he said. "I won't do it again."
"I'm sure that you won't," she said, giving him a hug. "Have a nice evening."
The twins were waiting beside the van when we arrived. I saw Chris, with his back turned to us, talking to Renata several yards away. He didn't join us until he saw Joel, John and another boy I later learned was Renata's brother walking toward the parking lot.
"Chris has a girlfriend. Chris has a girlfriend," the twins sang to their blushing brother.
"Behave yourselves, guys. I seem to remember that you two had girlfriends last year."
"Yeah, but that was last year," Lenny said
"Renata is a very pretty girl," I said. "He could do a whole lot worse. Now, get into the van if you want to get home before Jeannie and Ginny eat all the snacks. Manfred has already left with them."
There were plenty of snacks left when we got home, even though Peter and William were worried all the way home. Donald and Lenore arrived shortly after the boys had changed clothes and settled down at the table to enjoy the brownies and glasses of milk. Donald and I were each able to grab a brownie before they all disappeared.
The boys decided that they wanted to swim. Donald and I thought that was a good idea since it was hot outside. Lenore wanted to play with Hildy's girls, so they stayed inside. We horsed around with the boys for about an hour and then decided to sit on the edge of the pool and watch.
"I was talking to my secretary today. You remember Anne, don't you?"
"Yes, I met her at your office," I said.
"Anyway, I mentioned that we were thinking about hiring a music teacher for the boys so that they could continue to learn the piano," Donald said. "She said she knew of a couple that had just graduated from University of Texas with Bachelor of Music degrees. The wife majored in piano and the husband majored in organ. They haven't been able to find steady jobs. They've been giving private lessons around the San Antonio area. If you're interested, I thought we might contact them to see if they would be willing to come out here and give lessons to the boys. Lenore might be a little young yet. I'd have to ask them."
"Yes, at least approach them. I'd like to see the boys continue their music. I doubt that any of them will pursue a career in music, but they all seem to like playing the instruments," I said. "I'm sure we could work something out if they think it is too far to get here."
"I'll try to remember to ask Anne to call them and have them come see me at the office tomorrow. Otherwise, it will be Thursday or Friday before I could see them. It all depends on when I get called to the stand and how long my testimony is on Wednesday. I hope I don't have to stay over. New Orleans is a great city to visit, but I would rather be here. That reminds me, I need to make sure that Hildy or Manfred can take Lenore to her pre-school and pick her up. I have to be at the airport by seven Wednesday morning."
Donald grabbed a towel and headed back to the house to speak with Hildy. I thought the boys had been in the pool long enough. I got their attention and told them they had just about enough time to take a shower and get dressed before supper would be ready. Reluctantly they got out of the pool and dried off before heading into the house. I did the same.
At the supper table, I asked if anyone was still interested in taking music lessons again. I was surprised and also pleased when all of my boys indicated that they did. Even Chris indicated that he would like to learn piano, although I was sure that drums were his true instrument of choice. Jeannie and Ginny looked at Hildy as if asking if they could as well.
"Have you found someone to give the lessons?" Hildy asked me.
I pointed to Donald and he explained what he had learned from his secretary and what he planned to do. "Would you like to have your girls included if we can hire the teachers?"
"By all means. Maybe they could both give lessons all on one day. I'm sure that someone trained on the organ would be capable of teaching the piano as well," Hildy said.
"We have the two keyboards plus the piano so the logistics are doable, if they can both teach piano," I said. "You all know that if you start getting lessons you'll have to set aside time to practice at least three times a week if not more."
"Yeah, dad, we can make up a schedule and post it on the music room door so everybody will know when they're supposed to practice," Larry said.
"Great idea! Let's wait until we know for sure if the couple is willing to drive all the way out here from San Antonio to give the lessons," I said. "Larry, since it was your idea, you are in charge of making up the schedule when the time comes. I'll help you, as well."
The topics of conversation for the rest of the meal centered on music and the possibility of lessons to come.
After supper, I took Donald aside and told him of the incident with William at school. I didn't think it was a big deal, but that he needed to know about it. He thanked me for letting him know and said he would speak with his son.
Later as Donald was sitting on the couch reading a story to Lenore, William came to his dad to have his homework checked. He snuggled up against his dad's side and waited until the story was finished. "Honey, why don't you go play with your toys while daddy checks William's homework?"
"Okay," Lenore said, crawled off Donald's lap and went to find her toys.
William crawled onto his dad's lap, taking Lenore's vacated place. "How was school today?" Donald asked.
"Fine. We got a new girl in our class. She's got red hair." William answered.
"What's her name?"
"Mary. And her last name is really long. I can't remember it."
"How do you like your teacher?"
"Ms. Phelps is real nice."
"Have you been a good boy in school?"
There was a pause. I had been sitting in one of the large, over-stuffed chairs and could see and hear the conversation. I looked up from my book and saw a tear start to trickle down William's face before he ducked it into his dad's chest. There was silence for maybe thirty seconds before William answered.
"I was talking in class and Ms. Phelps made me stay after school."
"And what should you have been doing instead of talking?"
"What did you learn from having to stay after class?"
"When Ms. Phelps says to do something, I should do it. Right?"
"You're right," Donald said, giving William a hug. A minute or so later the homework had been checked. "Good job on the homework, son."
"Thanks, dad, and I won't talk in class when I'm not supposed to... anymore," William said, crawled off his dad's lap and ran back upstairs to put his homework in his backpack.
Donald looked at me and shrugged. I thought he handled that really well. I didn't have time to say anything to him as TJ and Peter each climbed up on the arms of my chair wanting their homework checked. "Hey, guys, let's go to the table so it will be easier for me to have a look at your work."
A half an hour later I had gone through and checked all the homework assignments. When Joel sat down with me, he said the golf team had a match with Smithson Valley on Wednesday after school and wanted to take the car to school that day so that I wouldn't have to come back for him. I agreed with the usual stipulation of no passengers.
"Son, if you end up attending Rice, have you given any thought as to where you want to live? The college catalogue says that almost all freshmen live in the dorms," I said.
"I don't really know. That's one of the reasons I want to go visit the campus and talk to some of the freshmen. I'd like to get their take on life in the dorms. Larry Gunderson, a guy in my class, has a brother who's a sophomore at Rice. He lives in the dorm. His brother was telling him of some of the things that go on in the dorms. There's a lot of drinking and noise in the dorm his brother was in. I don't know if that is the norm, but I don't think I would like that. I guess I don't have much choice," Joel replied.
"Well, there are always apartments where you could live, but let's wait until we have a chance to go visit the campus. Do you know when your first break from school is?"
"I think there's a teachers' in-service day in the first week of October. I'll look at the school calendar and let you know. Maybe we could go then," he said.
I received a call from Donald just after ten o'clock Tuesday morning asking me if I could meet him at his office at one. His secretary had arranged for the music teachers to meet with us then. Since I had nothing planned that would interfere, I agreed.
I arrived at his office a few minutes early. "Mr. Johnson, he's on the phone right now. If you'll have a seat, I'll let you know when he's free," Anne told me, after I asked if he were available. "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"Thanks, I know where the pot is. I'll help myself," I said.
When I returned with my coffee, there was a young couple talking to Anne. I made the assumption that they were the couple we were to speak with. Anne saw me returning and began the introductions. "Mr. Johnson, may I present Conner Lee and his wife Susan Lee."
"It's very nice to meet you," I said, shaking their hands. "As you can see, I'm having coffee. Would you care for some as well?"
"No, thank you," Conner said, shaking his head and looking at his wife for conformation. "We just had coffee with our lunch."
"Mr. Baker is available, now," Anne informed us. "If you'll follow me?"
Donald was sitting at his desk, but stood as we entered. Anne repeated the introduction.
"Please have a seat," Donald said, indicating a seating arrangement off to the side of the desk in his large office. "Could we get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Soda?"
"No, thank you, as I told Mr. Johnson, we just finished our lunch," Conner said.
"Anne has told me that you both graduated with degrees in music and that you were giving private piano lessons here in San Antonio. Do both of you teach piano?" Donald asked.
"Yes," Sandra answered. "My major was piano, while Conner's was organ."
"What is your availability?" I asked.
"Right now we have six clients that we give lessons to. Three are advanced students, one has had a couple of year's instruction and the other two are beginners," Sandra said.
"Do you limit your instruction to the San Antonio area exclusively?" Donald asked.
"We haven't given that any thought." Conner said. "We live here, so it's natural that we tend to concentrate in the area. Why do you ask?"
"Between Mr. Johnson and me, we have eight children, seven boys and one girl. We are interested in giving seven of them piano lessons. My youngest is four and I'm not sure if she is old enough to take formal lessons. In addition, Mr. Johnson's cook/nanny and her husband have two girls that want to take lessons. The problem is, we live on the north shore of Canyon Lake. I guess, the question for you is, would you be willing to make the trip there for the lessons?"
"Let me understand this. We would be giving nine and possibly ten lessons?" Conner asked.
"That's right," I said.
"That sounds tempting, but it would mean a lot of driving," Susan said. "What days would you want the lessons given?"
"We talked about that and here is what we thought would probably work out best for all of us. We thought if you came to the house Friday evening and give at least two and probably four lessons. You would be provided all your meals while you were with us and spend the night in our guest room. Saturday morning, you could give the remaining lessons. We have two keyboards and a baby grand piano that you can use for the lessons. The keyboards and the piano are separated, so a lesson could be given on a keyboard at the same time as a lesson was given on the piano. One of the keyboards is a full 88 keys, the other is compact. I can't remember how many keys it has. Does that sound reasonable?" I asked.
"We need to discuss this," Sandra said. "When do you need an answer and when would you want the lessons to start?"
"Let me suggest something," I said. "Why don't you come to the house this afternoon? Let's say, after four-thirty and stay for supper. You can see what our setup is and then make up your mind. We would like for the lessons to begin as soon as possible."
"You haven't asked what we charge for each lesson," Conner said.
"We have a reasonably good idea," Donald said.
"Okay, if you will give us directions, we will meet you at your house around four-thirty," Conner said.
"Bring your swimsuit, if you like to swim," I said. "The boys will probably be in the pool when you arrive."
Donald produced a map of how to get to the house and handed it to them.
Their visit to the house that evening went very well. They were impressed with what they saw and an agreement was made to begin the lessons Friday after the boys got home from school. They did bring their swimsuits and enjoyed the pool along with the boys.
Wednesday morning, Donald left the house at five o'clock saying that if everything went as the prosecutor said that he would be home sometime between seven and eight that evening. Lenore had a sleep-over with Jeannie and Ginny and was going to be taken to her pre-school by Hildy.
The kids were just finishing their after-school snacks when the phone rang. I was closest to it, so I answered.
"This is Sergeant Beauford of the New Orleans Police Department."
"What can I do for you Sergeant?"
"Mr. Johnson, I regret to inform you that Mr. Donald Baker has been shot."