There was a stunned silence for a moment before I recovered enough to say, "Sergeant, let me put you on hold while I go to my office where I can talk freely." I pushed the hold button on the phone and headed to the office. I picked up the office phone and continued the conversation. "Thank you, Sergeant, now, what information can you give me on Mr. Baker? Is he alright? How badly was he shot?"
"He was taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, according to the information I was given by EMS. He was hit three times as he was exiting the court house by a gunman in a car. Another gentleman who was standing beside Mr. Baker was not so lucky. He was pronounced dead at the scene."
"What was his name?" I asked.
"He was identified as a Mr. Leon Henry."
"Oh dear, he was Donald's Vice-president in charge of the auto dealerships. Do you have any information about who it was who did the shooting?"
"Nothing definite, but we suspect it was related to the laundering of the drug money, since that's what the trial is about," Sergeant Beauford said.
"What hospital was Mr. Baker taken to?" I asked.
"The lawyer, who was with Mr. Baker and Mr. Henry, insisted that he be taken to LSU Public Hospital. It has a Level I Trauma Unit."
"You said that Mr. Baker had been shot three times. Where was he hit?"
"The EMS medic didn't give me exact wound locations, but from what I could see, he had a wound in the left shoulder, one in the left side and one on the left thigh. At least that was where the medics were applying dressings and they said there were three wounds."
"Thank you, Sergeant, if you receive any more information, please give me a call." I gave him my cell phone number so that any call would come to me.
As soon as we hung up, I immediately dialed the information operator to obtain the phone number of the hospital. I wrote down the number and dialed it. Getting information from a hospital is equivalent to pulling hen's teeth, but I was eventually able to get through to the hospital administrator. After laboriously explaining who I was and what my interests were in the condition of Donald, I was able to determine that he had been moved to a private room. I hung up and redialed the hospital and when the switchboard answered, I asked to be connected to Room 356.
"Donald?" I asked.
"No, this is Brian Riggs, Mr. Baker's attorney. Mr. Baker is not available."
"I'm Crane Johnson, Mr. Riggs. I was calling to learn Donald's condition."
"Mr. Johnson, you must have gotten a call from Sergeant Beauford. I insisted that he call you. Donald is sedated at the moment, but the doctors tell me that he'll be fine. The surgeon said that the anesthetic should wear off in about half an hour or so. None of the bullets struck any vital areas. He won't be running any races for a while, but he should make a full recovery."
"How long will he be in the hospital?" I asked.
"Dr. Mason said they would like to keep him here for another day and if everything is as they expect, he'll be released on Friday."
"If he's able, when he comes out of the anesthetic, have him call me. I would like to know how he wants me to handle telling his kids. They were expecting him home this evening and will have questions if he's not here by bedtime."
"I'll give him the message as soon as he's awake. In the mean time you might just tell his children that he has to stay in New Orleans for another day," Brian said.
"Thanks, I'll do that," I said.
Hanging up, I went to talk to William and Lenore. "Lenore, William, I just got word that your daddy has to stay in New Orleans overnight. He said he loves you and for you to be good until he gets home," I lied.
Hildy looked at me and then at Lenore and then at me again. I caught her meaning and nodded my head in agreement. "Lenore, honey, how would you like to spend the night with Jeannie and Ginny?" she asked.
"Yeah," Lenore said enthusiastically.
"Good, let's go get your pajamas and some clean clothes for tomorrow and pack them so we can take them with us later," Hildy said. "Girls, you can help."
That's all it took and the three girls took off for Lenore's room, followed closely by Hildy.
"Will daddy be home tomorrow?" William asked.
"We'll see, your dad is supposed to call later this evening and we can ask him," I told him.
"Okay," William responded, seemingly unconcerned.
"You guys go take care of your dogs after you put the dishes in the dishwasher," I told them.
"Dad, what's going on?" Joel asked. He had lingered behind as the other boys hurried out to see the dogs. "I heard you call the man on the phone, Sergeant. Was he a police officer?"
"You know, you're too smart for your own good," I said, giving him a one-arm hug. "You're right. The Sergeant, Sergeant Beauford, is with the New Orleans police. I don't want you to say anything to the others, but Donald was shot as he left the court house. He suffered three bullet wounds. They're not life threatening, according to what I was told, but the doctors want to keep him in the hospital for a day or two."
"Oh, how bad were they?" he asked.
"I don't know for sure. All I was told was the shots hit him in the left shoulder, the left side and left hip or thigh area," I said. "Another man with him, his Vice-president of the auto dealerships, was killed. The police think it may have been a drug gang since the trial that they were called to testify concerned the laundering of drug money."
"Thanks for telling me, dad. I won't say anything to the others until you say it's alright," Joel said. "I think I had better go see Sam. He'll be wondering why I'm not there to feed him."
Hildy arrived carrying a small overnight case with Lenore's clothes packed in it. "Jeannie, please take this. You girls can walk over to the house. Manny is there working in the garage. When you get there, stop by and let him know you're there. Gilda's there as well. I need to talk to Crane."
"Sure," Jeannie said, taking the case. "It's not heavy. Come on let's go."
As soon as the girls left the house, Hildy asked, "What's going on? That phone call sounded a little suspicious."
"You're correct," I said, and relayed all the information I had to her.
"It's going to be all over the news tonight," Hildy said. "How will you keep the news away from William? One of his school friends will more than likely say something to him tomorrow."
"I hadn't really given that any thought," I answered. "When Donald calls tonight, I hope he has some words of wisdom for me. My first thought when I heard that he was going to be in the hospital for a day or two, was to bundle up Lenore and William and head off to New Orleans. That may still be the best course of action."
"I'm sure that Gilda would be happy to go with you to take care of Lenore. She's grown very attached to that little girl. So have I, for that matter," Hildy said.
I kept hoping that I would hear from Donald, but it was after supper and nearly seven when my cell phone rang. The boys were all upstairs doing their homework when I answered the call. It was Donald.
"Sorry it's so late calling you," Donald said. "The doctors have finally all left. You'd think I was on my deathbed the way they're hovering around me."
"How are you feeling?" I asked.
"I've got some pain, but the pills are keeping it under control. The one that's giving me the most trouble is the one in the side. It passed through my left side and damaged the intestine and nicked my left kidney. They had to go in and sew things back together. The bullet that hit my shoulder was the one that went on to hit Leon in the head. They told me that it was the bullet that killed him. It went through his right eye and into his brain. They said it killed him instantly. As he fell, the gunman kept firing. I guess that's why the gunshots I received got lower. I think Leon was the main target. I just got in the way."
"I was trying to picture how it was that the bullet wounds were in your left side," I said.
"It all happened so fast, but from what I can recall, we were coming down the steps of the courthouse and had just stepped onto the sidewalk and turned to the left to go get the car. I heard a car brake hard, the tires squealing, and turned to see what was going on. Leon was on my left. I saw a black van with the sliding door opening. I thought that was strange, but then the sound of gunfire really caught my attention. I felt a sting in my shoulder and heard a grunt from Leon. Leon is fairly short, so that bullet to my shoulder ... Well, it hit him. He was a good man. He had been with dad and the company for over fifteen years. His body was released about an hour ago. I'm having my pilot fly his body home tonight."
"That's a thoughtful thing to do," I said. "Something you need to decide is what to tell your kids. The shootings will be on the news and some of William's friends will probably see it or their parents will and their kids will hear about it from them."
"Yeah, there is no good way for them to find out. Have you told them anything?"
"Just that you had to stay in New Orleans another day."
"My first thought, when I heard about the shootings, was to hop on a plane with them and bring them to see you. At least they could see that you are okay. Well, at least not dead," I said. "Oh, oh, I hear William coming down the stairs to have his homework checked. Do you want to talk to him?"
"I think I'd better," Donald replied. "Put him on."
"William, your dad is on the phone. He wants to talk to you." I put the phone on speaker so that I could hear what Donald told him.
"Hi, dad, when you coming home?"
"I don't know for sure, son. Maybe tomorrow or the next day. Do you miss me?"
"Yeah and Lenore does, too. She's gonna spend the night at Jeannie and Ginny's house."
"I miss you, too. How would you and your sister like to fly to New Orleans tomorrow morning?"
"Oh boy! In the plane?"
"Of course, in the plane. Maybe Crane can fly with you. How does that sound?"
"Yeah, it'd be scary to fly in that big plane alone."
"Okay, I'll tell the pilot to fly you guys over here tomorrow morning. Now let me talk to Crane. You be a good boy while I'm not there."
"I will," William said, handing me the phone.
"William," I said, "why don't you take your homework to Joel and tell him I said for him to check it."
I turned the speaker off. "I had the phone on speaker, so I heard what you told him. Hildy said that Gilda would be happy to accompany us to look after Lenore. She's very fond of your daughter."
"That's a good idea. If you can be at the airport by nine o'clock in the morning, I'll have the plane ready to bring you over here. He's going to fly back tomorrow anyway with some clothes for me. It seems that the ones I was wearing were cut off me, plus they are all bloody. If the kids ask why you are taking them to the hospital when you get here, just tell them I got sick. They'll find out the truth when they get here. I'll have Brian make reservations at a hotel for you to spend the night. I think I had better go. I'm going to have the nurse give me my pain pill and then I'm going to try to get a good night's sleep. I'll see you all tomorrow. Goodbye."
After I hung up, I placed a call to Hildy. I wanted to make sure that Gilda would be willing to make the trip with us. Gilda happened to answer the phone and when I asked her, her immediate answer was, "Yes." I gave her the details and asked if she would pack some clothes for Lenore in the morning. Hildy came on the line and informed me that Manfred would spend the night with the boys in our house.
I started to make the rounds of the boys' rooms to see that they had finished their homework and to tell them of the plans for the next couple of days. By the time I made my first stop in TJ and Peter's room, the news had already been spread. The same was true in the three musketeers' room. They were just upset that they didn't get to go along.
It was shortly before eight the next morning when Gilda and I loaded Lenore and William into the Town Car and got them fastened into their seats. I would have preferred to leave a little earlier, but it seemed that things were working against us. William had to make a last stop in the bathroom. Surprisingly, the traffic was not as bad as I had expected and we made it to the airport in plenty of time. The plane would have waited for us, but it was not my style to be late... for anything.
The flight steward took our bags and stowed them as we climbed up the steps and into the plane. "Wow! This is nice," Gilda said. "It's certainly not coach class."
"No, this was Donald's father's plane and he definitely went first class. Technically it's his company's plane, but it's mainly used for Donald's and his senior officers' business trips," I said. "Sit anywhere you would like after we get the kids settled."
It was only a few minutes after we had boarded the plane when the pilot came over the speaker and requested that we take our seats and fasten our seatbelts. It was a bit redundant, seeing as though we had done so as soon as we were on board. The announcement had barely been made when we started taxiing. Five minutes later we were in the air and on our way to New Orleans.
As we reached our flight level, the speakers came on and the pilot announced, "Our flight time today will be approximately two hours and five minutes. At this time you are free to move about the cabin. The flight steward will be serving refreshment shortly."
William scrambled out of his seat and headed for the computer. He had been on the plane enough times to know there were computer games loaded and he had almost two hours to play them. He did take time out long enough to eat a sweet roll and drink a carton of orange juice.
Lenore came and sat on Gilda's lap to drink her juice. It made it difficult for Gilda to drink her cup of coffee, but she was able to without spilling any on Lenore's head. After Lenore finished her juice, she snuggled into Gilda's lap and was asleep almost instantly. "I think the girls didn't get to sleep right away last night," she said.
We arrived at Louis Armstrong International Airport right on time. The pilot taxied the plane to the general aviation area. The steward opened the plane door and helped us down the steps. We had to wait a couple of minutes while our bags were retrieved from the baggage hold and then we were escorted to a waiting limo.
As we drove out of the airport, I turned to Lenore and William and said, "Your dad is in the hospital. We are going there so you can see him."
"Is he sick?" William asked.
"Your daddy was hurt yesterday and he wanted you to come see him. He'll tell you all about it when we get there. William, you talked to your dad last night and he sounded fine, didn't he?"
"Yes," he said hesitantly.
There wasn't much conversation the rest of the way to the hospital. The driver dropped us off at the front steps and told us he would be available when we called and handed us his cell phone number. We walked to the reception desk and asked the elderly lady sitting there how to get to Room 356. She gave us directions for all the good they were. I think all hospitals are designed as mazes with the sole purpose of confusing you. After several wrong turns and asking directions from a couple of candy stripers, we finally found Donald's room.
"Easy, guys," Donald said, as his two ran toward his bed. "Daddy's got some sore places."
Gilda lifted Lenore onto the right side of the bed, so that she could lie down next to her dad. I lifted William so that he was sitting beside Donald's right leg. Lenore got a kiss on the cheek and gave Donald one in return. Donald squeezed William's hand since he was too far away to get a kiss. Soon they were both talking at the same time, asking what was wrong. Donald held up his hand to get them to quiet down. He then explained what had happened as gently as he could. He didn't exactly give them all of the story, but enough of it for them to understand what had happened.
"Can I see where you were shot?" William asked, wide eyed when Donald finished.
"There's not much to see. Everything is covered by bandages. Maybe when the doctor removes them you can see," Donald said.
"My, I knew the hospital was crowded, but I didn't think they were putting three people in one bed," a doctor in hospital scrubs said, with a chuckle.
"Dr. Mason, these are my children," Donald said. "This is Lenore and that is William."
"It's nice to meet you, Lenore and William. I'm sure he will get well real soon now that you are here to take care of him," Dr. Mason said.
"I'm Crane Johnson and this is Gilda Berger," I said. "We're friends of Mr. Baker."
Dr. Mason nodded in recognition and turned back to Donald's bed. "Let me get in here and check on your daddy," he said. He moved to the left side of the bed and began checking the dressings covering the wounds. He checked Donald's pulse, heart rate and blood pressure. "Your daddy's going to be just fine. He should be able to go home tomorrow if he continues his improvement. Is that alright?"
Both Lenore and William nodded their heads in unison, but did not say anything until Dr. Mason left the room.
"I'm hungry," William said.
"It has been a while since you had breakfast," I told him. "Why don't we go to the cafeteria and get you two something to eat? They should be bringing your dad's lunch very soon."
"Okay," William said, and jumped off the bed.
Lenore held out her arms for Gilda to help her down, which she did.
"We'll be back shortly," I told Donald, as we ushered the kids to the door.
We didn't have as much difficulty finding the cafeteria as we did Donald's room. Once we were on the right floor, all we had to do was to follow our noses. The food was reasonably good. William seemed to enjoy it. He especially liked the make-your-own sundae from the soft-serve dispenser. He had his piled high with samples of most of the available toppings. He sure was demonstrating that he fit right in with my boys when it came to eating.
As they were enjoying their dessert, I said, "Gilda, will you watch them for a bit? I need to make a phone call."
"Of course, we'll wait here for you," she said.
I quickly stepped outside and dialed my PI friend, Jack Hogan. "Jack, it's Crane. I want you to do some investigating for me."
"Sure, what do you need?" he responded.
"You may have heard on the news that Donald Baker was shot here in New Orleans."
"Yeah, isn't he that billionaire that lives here?"
"Yes, he's a friend. I brought his kids to visit him in the hospital. He was here in New Orleans to testify in a drug money laundering trial that involved one of his car dealerships here. I haven't heard that many good things about the local police and was wondering if your agency could assist in the investigation."
"It all depends on who is doing the police investigation. If the wrong ones were assigned it could go nowhere. They could be involved with the drug dealers. We have an office there that has done some digging into the New Orleans drug world for some other clients. Maybe we could piggyback on that information."
"While I would like to see the drug lords brought to justice, my main concern is to find the ones who arranged and carried out the shooting. One of Donald's vice-presidents, Leon Henry, was killed in the shooting."
"The newscast said that another person was killed in the same incident, but didn't identify him. I met Leon several years ago while I was still with the police department. I was investigating a robbery at his house. That had to be six or seven years ago. That's beside the point. I'll contact our New Orleans office and see if I can start the ball rolling on the investigation. They will have to work carefully so as not to upset the NOPD. The police don't like PI's poking their noses into ongoing investigations, but we're used to that. I'll have someone in the office over there give you a call."
"Thanks, Jack. I knew I could depend on you. We'll be staying in a hotel here overnight. I don't know where just yet, so have the agent call my cell phone number."
I ended the call and went back to the cafeteria. William had finished his sundae and Gilda was cleaning the ice cream off his face with a dampened paper napkin. "Crane, I need to take Lenore to the restroom. I'll leave William with you."
"I need to go, too," William said.
"Okay, guy, let's go find one," I said.
It didn't take as long for us as it did for Gilda and Lenore, so we were waiting for them in the hallway. When they appeared we headed back to Donald's room. A man, whom Donald introduced as Brian Riggs, was talking to him when we entered the room. Lenore and William ignored him and resumed their previous positions on the bed.
"Mr. Johnson," Brian Riggs said, "I have reserved two suites at the Courtyard Marriott for you and Mrs. Berger. Your driver will take you there whenever you are ready. I think they will be satisfactory. It's in the French Quarter."
"Thank you, I'm sure it will be just fine," I responded. "We'll give the kids some time with their dad and then we'll go check in."
"Donald," Brian said, "I'll let you know as soon as anything is definite on Leon's funeral arrangements. Right now his wife is waiting to learn when his brother can make arrangements to fly back from Indonesia. With the time and date difference, communications are difficult."
"Thanks, Brian, I want to attend, if at all possible," Donald said.
Brian left and we talked among ourselves for nearly an hour, when Gilda noticed that Lenore was getting fidgety. She looked at me and pointed to Lenore. I got the message. "Donald, I think it's time we got checked into the hotel. We'll be back later on this evening during visiting hours. Come along, guys, it's time we let your daddy rest," I said.
"Give daddy a kiss and I'll see you later," Donald said, giving first Lenore a kiss and a hug with his one good arm and then repeated it with William.
I made the call to our driver. He said he would be in front in approximately ten minutes. We took our time to get to the front entrance of the hospital. Our wait was only a few minutes before the limo arrived. The trip to the hotel took about 45 minutes. Although I had been to New Orleans a number of times over the years, I had never stayed at this particular hotel. I was impressed.
A bellman escorted us to our rooms which were right next to each other. Gilda and Lenore took one and William and I took the other. I helped William unpack his suitcase and hang a few things in the wardrobe. I did the same with my belongings. William inspected the entire suite including the large bathroom.
"What do you think?" I asked when he finished his inspection tour.
"It's okay, but I like sleeping with TJ and Peter," he said.
"Maybe tomorrow we'll be home. Why don't you see what's on the TV?"
As he was flipping through the channels, my cell phone rang. It was the call I was expecting from the New Orleans PI contact that Jack had arranged. I took the phone into the bathroom so I could have some privacy as well as not having to talk over the sound of the TV.
The PI introduced himself as Roger Grimm. He immediately started asking me for as much information as I had surrounding the shooting. I told him as much as I knew from what Donald had told me. "From what you've told me, there are only two possible drug organizations that could pull something like this off in broad daylight. If we could get the names of any of the players involved in the money laundering, it would give us a place to start. Would it be possible to interview Mr. Baker?" Roger Grimm asked.
"I haven't discussed the investigation with him. Let me make a call to him and see if he is agreeable to meet with you," I said.
I hung up and immediately made the call to the phone in Donald's hospital room. He answered it on the second ring. I explained what I had done and asked if he was up to speaking with Roger.
"I was thinking of doing the same thing, but hadn't gotten around to it yet. Of course I would be happy to talk to him and give him any information that I have. If it would be faster and more convenient, have him call me now. I'd rather talk to him while the kids are not here," Donald said.
"I'll set it up," I said, and place the call to Roger.