Tuesday, after I had dropped the boys off at school, I hurried to the courthouse to be present when Jeannie and Ginny became the adopted daughters of Hildy and Manfred. As was our custom on other joyous occasions we went to our favorite, nearby bakery to celebrate.
The rest of our week went without incident. On Saturday, Joel went to Austin to take the CBE and returned without incident, unlike the last time. Larry and Lenny invited a couple of their friends over in the afternoon to play tennis and to swim. Their guests were not ready to leave when their parents came to take them home they were having so much fun. I invited the parents to stay for supper, but they had other plans and declined.
Donald didn't learn anything new when he went to the doctor on Wednesday, other than the wounds were healing nicely. "I could have told him that," Donald grumbled.
The following Friday, was the teachers' workday at the school and I had promised Joel that we would fly to Houston to visit Rice to check out the campus and the living conditions in the dormitories. We flew to Houston late Thursday evening and checked into the hotel in the Galleria. We were up early and on our way to the campus shortly after eight. The traffic was still a mess and it took us over a half an hour to arrive.
We spent the morning with an old friend of mine who was a professor in the Physics Department who gave us a tour of the campus. We had been classmates at the boarding school we both had attended in our younger days. Although I thought the living conditions in the dorms were adequate, I could see that Joel was not all that impressed.
Joel asked my friend Vincent a lot of questions about campus life and the academic requirements of the university. I was impressed with the maturity of the questions that he posed and Vincent told me later that he was as well.
I had formulated a backup plan in case that Joel was not satisfied with the dorms. I had contacted an agent and asked her if she would show us some condos or townhouses in the vicinity of the university. After we had eaten lunch at a nearby student hangout, we met Julie Cramer. She took us to see four condos and one townhouse that were within walking distance of the campus. I ruled out two of the condos immediately. They were in bad shape physically. The two other condos had two bedrooms and one bath. The townhouse also had two bedrooms, but it had two baths. The problem was that the townhouse was farther from the campus and would require a longer walk to his classes. There were bus lines that ran within a few blocks of all three of the properties that would allow access to downtown Houston rather than driving a car. Avoiding the horrendous traffic in Houston for a novice driver was a good idea.
We caught our plane out of Hobby airport shortly before six. After we were in the air, I asked Joel what his thoughts were on his housing options.
"I can't decide," he said. "Living in the dorm would be a great opportunity to meet a lot of other guys. The problem is me. How would they react to Jimmy being my friend? It's not my intention to announce to everybody that I have a boyfriend, but it would probably come out. There's a lot of prejudice out there and I don't know if it would happen here, I guess I don't want to take the chance."
"So does that mean you want to live off campus?" I asked.
"I don't know. I know if I lived off campus I would miss out on a lot of things. Part of college life is the interactions and experiences with other students and I would hate to miss that," he said. "I'm confused. I think I need some time to work it out in my mind. Give me a couple of days to weigh everything."
"Take all the time you need," I said. "If you decide on the dormitory, we have to get your application in by the first of December."
When we got home the Lees were there giving the music lessons and, of course, we were in time for the evening snack.
Monday evening, Joel came to sit down on the couch beside me after we had eaten. "What's on your mind?" I asked.
"I'm still torn between the dorm and living off campus. Both have advantages and both have disadvantages," he said. "What do you think is best for me?"
"Let's look at each one in turn. First the dorm life involves you with a lot of other students and the activities of the dorm unit. It would probably be easier to be involved with campus activities. Living with a lot of other students would allow you to make contacts that could be helpful later on after you graduate. That's known as the 'old boy' network," I said. "Another benefit would be you would be closer to your classes - less walking."
"I've considered all of those things and they're quite persuasive points for living in the dorm. I think I could be quite comfortable with the living arrangements, despite the lack of privacy," Joel mused. "I guess it would all depend on who I would be rooming with. That's the biggest unknown."
"You're right about the roommate. He could be someone who would be a friend for the rest of your life, or he could be an absolute jerk. That's the risk you take. Let's consider the off campus option. Privacy is the greatest benefit of living off campus. No one to interfere with your studies. No loud noises from other students to keep you from sleeping. A disadvantage is that you would have to fix your own meals. We are so used to either Hildy or Gilda fixing our meals. If you didn't have a roommate, it could get very lonely. Even if your choice is off campus, you will still be assigned to a dorm unit by the university. That will give you an opportunity to get involved with campus life."
"That's what your friend Vincent said, but I didn't really understand what he meant. I read through some of the information that I have on Rice and it explained it in more detail. I've been thinking if I did live off campus, I'd like to have a roommate - if I could find someone that I could relate to," Joel said.
"So, have you come to a decision?" I asked.
"I don't want to make the wrong choice, but I'm leaning to the off campus one. Am I making the right choice, dad?"
"Son, either one of them would have been a good choice. If you want to live off campus, that's what we'll plan on. I guess the next thing is, do you have a preference of the places that we looked at when we were there?"
"Even though the townhouse is farther from campus, I liked it the best. I'm used to having my own bathroom and that was the only one that had two. If I had a roommate, I wouldn't like to have to share a bathroom."
"Okay, let me get the ball rolling. I'll contact Julie Cramer tomorrow morning and make an offer on the townhouse. I think you made a good choice. That townhouse has a two-car garage, so if your roommate has a car you would both have a secure place to park."
"Thanks, dad," he said, and gave me a quick hug.
Later that evening, I mentioned to Donald the conversation that I had with Joel. "I can see the advantages for him," Donald said. "I think you'll want to monitor if he's making friends when school starts. It would be awfully easy for him to ignore an important part of college life. The friends that he makes in college can last a lifetime."
"You can be sure that I'll be keeping a close eye on him, after all he'll only be seventeen when he starts college. I was the same age, but for some reason, I feel that I was more prepared than he is. Being away from my parents and later grandpa at boarding school probably contributed to that," I said. "One thing is for sure, the other boys and I will be visiting him as often as we can."
When I returned from taking the kids to school, I made a call to Julie Cramer in Houston. I expected to get her voice-mail, but was surprised when she answered in person. "Good morning, Julie, it's Crane Johnson. My son and I visited with you last Friday."
"Yes, I remember you. What can I do for you this morning?" she asked.
"I want to make an offer on that townhouse that you showed us. I think the price is fairly reasonable, but make a cash offer to the seller of $5,000 less than their asking price. There is some updating that will be needed," I said. "If you'll fax me the contract, I'll sign it and fax it back to you, or you can make them a verbal offer, whichever you prefer."
"I'll contact the other agent with a verbal offer. Are there any conditions that you want to make along with the dollar amount?"
"Other than the standard one of being subject to the inspection report, none."
"I should be able to give you an update later today," she said. I gave her my cell phone number and we terminated the call.
I was surprised a couple of hours later when Julie called to let me know that the offer had been accepted and she would be faxing me a contract to sign and fax back. "The seller would like to have the closing at the end of the month if all the paperwork and inspections can be completed by then," Julie informed me.
"That's fine with me," I said. "Do you know of a home inspector that can do inspection quickly?"
"I can give you the names of several that I have had dealings with on other homes. TREC (Texas Real Estate Commission) rules prohibit me from recommending that you use a particular inspector. I'll attach the list along with the faxed contract."
True to her word, my fax machine almost immediately started spitting out the multiple pages of the contract. I reviewed it and saw that everything was in order, so I initialed each page and signed the indicated places on the main contract as well as the other addenda. I made a copy of an earnest money check and faxed it along with the contract. I included a note indicating that the actual check would be in the mail this afternoon.
I looked over the list of inspectors that Julie had sent. There were four listed that I could pick from. She also said that others could be found in the Yellow Pages under Home Inspectors. With no good way of picking one, I decided to call a couple and conduct phone interviews. That process turned out not to be all that helpful. I did manage to gain more information about their qualifications - at least as they stated them. I finally decided on one who was a licensed PE with ten years' experience in home inspections. When I called him back, I told him I would have my agent give him a call to schedule the inspection. I then called Julie and asked her to schedule it and to let me know when it was going to happen.
Later that evening as Donald and I were sitting on the back patio with a glass of wine watching the twins and Chris wrestling with their dogs, he asked me. "Do you think there will come a time when those three will want rooms of their own?"
"I don't know. I guess I just thought they would always be the three musketeers and want to stay the way they are now," I said. "I can think of a time when Chris may want a separate room, but I can't picture the twins wanting separate rooms. They have that connection that identical twins have. Why do you ask?"
"The thought crossed my mind when the Lees were here Friday for the kids' music lessons. There were no spare bedrooms. They were all in use. When Kelly was here, Lenore had to sleep over with Jeannie and Ginny. That wasn't that much of an inconvenience. She loves staying with them. It started me thinking. Maybe we should consider adding a couple more bedrooms or even a guest house."
"Let me think about it," I said. Over the next few days, I did think about it. I walked around the house to see if it were possible to add on to the existing house or if that was not possible or esthetically pleasing, then where could a guest house be built. I decided to call Harold Nichols to see if he had time to give me some advice, after all he had built the house in the first place. He said he could stop by on Monday afternoon.
Thursday evening Donald was later than usual returning from work. He had called and said he was delayed meeting with one of his business managers. When he arrived he said he had some information on the New Orleans investigation. But by the time he had changed his clothes, Gilda informed everybody that supper was ready. The news would have to wait until after we had eaten.
After the boys had cleared the table, had put the dishes in the dishwasher, and went to their rooms to begin their homework, Donald and I settled down in the living room with a glass of wine. "Now," I said, "what is this new information that you have about the investigation?"
"I got a call from Roger Grimm just as I returned from a luncheon meeting," Donald said. "He told me that they had wrapped up the investigation and had compiled enough information for arrest warrants to be issued and, he was sure, enough for a conviction of the killer, several members of the drug gang, and five police officers. He also said that they had uncovered evidence of corruption in the city attorney's office and a strong indication that a judge in the juvenile justice system was on the take."
"Sounds as if things have expanded over what were originally scoped out," I said. "What does Roger plan on doing with the information, now?"
"We discussed that at length and we finally decided the best course was to present the evidence to the US Attorney's office, with one exception."
"What was that exception?" I asked.
"Benny Brasseaux, the killer," he said.
"Well, there is no way I want Benny to slip through the fingers of justice, so we decided to have him delivered, trussed up like a turkey, to the US Attorney's office along with the evidence. Roger has had him under surveillance for the last week or so. It won't be hard for them to snatch him when the time comes to deliver him. I do have one regret, however."
I had to chuckle at the thought of Benny being delivered that way. "What's that?"
"Roger and his investigators were unable to get enough evidence on Juan Alvarez, aka 'El Gato', to get him indicted on charges of being the one who ordered the killing."
"Oh, I've been meaning to ask you how the trial of your former manager is going. It hasn't rated any local news coverage since the murder of Leon has faded into the background of other murders in San Antonio."
"The prosecutor believes that it will go to the jury on Monday afternoon. He said he will be making his final rebuttal statements to the jury Monday morning. He's confident that the jury will come back fairly quickly with a verdict. He's asking for the maximum prison sentence, but he's not too confident. It seems as if the judge in this case is, as the prosecutor described him, a 'bleeding heart liberal', who believes that a short sentence gives the offender an opportunity to reform and become a contributing member of society. He could get thirty years, if the sentencing guidelines are followed."
"You can always hope for the best," I said.
It wasn't long before the boys started arriving to have their homework checked. "TJ showed me how to do one of the problems and helped me with my spelling words," Peter said, as he took his place on my lap.
"You did really well," I told him, hugging his back to my chest. He had just started learning how to write in cursive style this week and it was still barely legible.
"Dad," Chris said, when I had finished checking his and the twins' work, "can we get new tennis shoes?"
"Didn't we just get you guys new tennis shoes a couple of months ago?" I asked a little confused.
"Yeah," Larry said, "but they are hurting our toes."
"All of you need new tennis shoes?" They all nodded that they did. "Okay, we'll go shopping on Saturday, right after you finish your music lessons."
William wanted to go with us while we shopped for shoes, but his dad told him they were invited to visit some of Donald's friends. Joel decided to stay home and study. He had plans to go see Jimmy later that evening, since Jimmy had the evening off work, for a change. We spent an hour in the athletic shoe department looking at, trying on, and discussing the merits of at least a dozen pairs of tennis shoes. And I thought women were the ones who spent a lot of time shopping for shoes. Finally they made their selection. This time I made sure that there was room for their feet to grow a little before we had to go through this again, at least for a while. Naturally, TJ and Peter had to have new athletic shoes as well.
It was almost ten that evening when Joel returned. "Did you and Jimmy have a good time?"
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "I wish he didn't have to work all the time."
"Well, son, not everyone is as fortunate as our family is. Jimmy wants to work hard now and earn money so that he won't have to work when he starts college."
"I know," he said. "I'm really going to miss him when he starts at U of H in January."
"You can still talk to him on the phone and there's always email and IM," I said.
He nodded and headed upstairs to his bedroom.
Sunday, as usual, we went to the ranch to ride the horses. This time Donald decided that he was well enough to ride with us. As soon as we drove into the ranch, Charlie rode one of the quarter horses up to the van. I knew immediately what he wanted to talk about.
"Hi, Charlie," I said, climbing out of the van. "How're Jessica and the baby?"
"They're both great. I'm almost getting used to changing diapers. She does go through a lot of them," Charlie said. "Have you got some time to talk?"
"Sure," I said. "Let me get the boys settled on their horses and then we can talk." Charlie dismounted and led his horse to the stable area. He stood there fidgeting until all of us had mounted our horses. He climbed back on his and we walked our horses into the pasture. "Okay, Charlie, what's on your mind?"
"Are you going to buy the Crenshaw place?" he said, not beating around the bush.
"I've had my people doing some research on the property and they made contact with Mr. Crenshaw on Friday."
"What did he say?"
"The Crenshaws are still considering whether they really want to sell. They've lived there and farmed the land for nearly 50 years. It would be a big change for them if they sold out," I said. "No price was ever mentioned in the conversation with them."
"Darn," Charlie exclaimed. "I thought for sure they were ready to sell. The last time I talked to Elmer, he was all for selling. That was last week. He must be having second thoughts. Well, it would be really nice if he would sell."
"They haven't said definitely that they aren't selling, so there is still hope. It may be a while before they make the ultimate decision," I said.
"I wish it could happen before spring planting time," Charlie said. "Thanks, Crane, if I hear anything from him, I'll let you know."
Monday morning the delivery of Benny Brasseaux was all over the TV news. It seemed that Roger has notified a couple of the local TV stations' investigative reporters and they were standing by at the US Attorney's office to capture it live for their audiences. The US Attorney made a short statement and then retreated to his office to peruse the evidence that Roger handed over to him. Roger also made a statement, but refused to identify the person behind the gathering of the information. The statement that he made was played over and over during every newscast.
"Today we have provided US Attorney Glenn Price with enough evidence to support a grand jury indictment and the conviction of Benny Brasseaux for the murder of Leon Henry. We have also provided evidence of corruption in the police department and the city attorney's office. Several members of the drug gang have been identified and that evidence has also been provided to Mr. Price. Let me make one thing clear, if quick action is not taken by the appropriate authorities, we will be releasing copies of everything that we have provided to you in the media." Despite shouted questions from the assembled press, Roger thanked them and headed for his car.
When Donald returned home that evening, I said to him, "The news of Benny Brasseaux being delivered to the US Attorney was on every newscast. He wasn't quite 'trussed up like a turkey'. All I could see were handcuffs and two burly men holding him firmly by the arms, hustling him up the steps."
"Yeah, Roger called me on the way to work this morning and said it could hinder his prosecution if it appeared he had been roughly treated or his civil rights had been violated. I had to agree, although the idea of him being bound by ropes hand and foot had a certain attraction."
Harold came on Monday afternoon and I walked him around the property. We discussed the need for at least two more bedrooms and baths and what was feasible given the layout of the house. He asked a lot of questions and offered a number of suggestions. When we were done, he said he would draw up a couple of proposals and get back to me in a couple of weeks. He was very busy at this time of the year and we were in no big rush to have something done.
On a Monday, two weeks later, the US Attorney announced that Benny Brasseaux had been indicted for murder; five New Orleans police officers were indicted on corruption charges, official oppression and suppression of evidence in a drug related case. One New Orleans assistant city attorney and two of her co-workers were indicted on charges of accepting bribes. No announcement was made in relation to the judge in the juvenile justice system. A day later, there was a brief announcement that the judge in question had retired effective immediately.
The inspection of the townhouse was faxed to me on Wednesday. The only concern that the inspector listed on the report was that the heating and cooling system would probably need to be replaced in a year or two. It was barely able to maintain a set temperature. While this concerned me, it was not enough for me to void the sale. I phoned Julie and told her my intentions to go ahead with the sale and to schedule the closing at the seller's convenience, provided I could receive notice 48 hours prior so that I could make arrangements to get there for the signing.
Julie called back two hours later informing me that the closing was scheduled for the following Monday at 1:30 at the Granite Title Company's office on Old Spanish Trail. As soon as the call was terminated, I immediately contacted Manfred and asked if he would take the van and see that the kids got to and from school on Monday. He agreed and I started making airline reservations for an early Monday morning flight. I also called the inspector I had used for the townhouse and asked if he knew of a general contractor that he trusted. He gave me two names and numbers. I called both and one impressed me. I made an appointment to meet with him Monday morning at ten at the townhouse. Julie had told me she would meet me there for a final walk-through before the closing. I called her and asked her to meet me at ten o'clock, also.
I arrived at the townhouse a few minutes before ten. Aaron Winters, the general contractor, was already there inspecting the exterior of the place. I greeted him and told him we would have to wait to get in until Julie arrived with the keys. "While we're waiting, I'll tell you what I want done out here," I said, walking to the back of the townhouse where the A/C units were. "I want the heating and cooling systems replaced with the highest efficiency units that are available."
"I assume one of these units supplies cooling to the lower floor and the other to the upper," he said.
"I believe you're correct, we'll know for sure when we get inside," I said. I saw Julie's car drive into the parking area, so we went around front to get the keys from her. Julie handed me the keys and said she would see me at the closing. She had to go meet a buyer.
Aaron and I went inside and I started pointing out the things I wanted changed. "All the carpets need to be replaced, that goes for all the appliances including the hot water heater. I think the cabinets are okay, but the countertops have to go, the ones in the bathrooms as well. All the walls need to be repainted. The light fixtures need to be updated. One of the most important items is a state-of-the-art security system that includes monitored fire and intrusion alarms."
"What's the budget?" Aaron asked.
"I want things done right. Budget is a secondary consideration. My son is going to be living here. Work up a detailed estimate including the appliances you propose. You can fax your proposal to me and we can discuss it. There is plenty of time to have the renovation completed, since my son will not be moving in until next August. I would like it to be done well before that so that I can get the decorators in here to furnish the place. That reminds me, the paint colors should be neutral so they would go with any furnishings that are picked out."
"When will I be able to have a set of keys," he said. "I'll need to get in to take some measurements."
"If you know where we can get some keys made, you can have a set today," I said.
"There's a place in that strip-center about four blocks back that way," he said, pointing to the west. "What do you want done with the old appliances?"
"Most of them are serviceable, so donate them to a charity."
We left and went to the key shop to have a set of keys made for him. It was getting to be lunch time by the time the keys were ready, so I left him and went to find a place to eat.
I got to the title company a few minutes early and was offered a cup of coffee while I waited for the others to arrive. As soon as everyone was assembled, we were ushered into a conference room with a large oval table. What went on next was the mind-numbing process of signing what seemed like a hundred pages of documents, most of which were requirements of the state of Texas. There would have been more if it had involved mortgage documents. When signings were completed and we all had our stack of documents, we shook hands all around and headed for our respective cars.
I had a couple of hours to kill before my plane left. I dropped my rental car off and went to check in with the airline. Since I had no luggage, only my briefcase, check-in was easy. I stopped by the newsstand, purchased a couple magazines and settled down to read as a way of helping the time to pass.
The boys greeted me as if I had been gone a week instead of less than twenty-four hours, but it was nice, all the same.
After supper, I spoke to Gilda. "I think I remember your daughter, Celia, mentioning that she knew a decorator there in Houston. Is that right?"
"Yes, she and Phyllis went to college together. Why do you ask?"
"You know that I just bought a townhouse in Houston so Joel would have a place to live while he's going to college."
"Well, when the renovations are finished, I would like to have someone decorate the place for me. I want it completely furnished with everything down to the toilet paper in the bathrooms. There's not any hurry because I don't know how long before it's ready to be furnished," I said.
"I'll call her when she returns from New Jersey. She went to meet her fiancÚ's parents. She's supposed to be back on Sunday," Gilda said.
"What? I didn't know she was even engaged," I said. "When's the big day?"
"They haven't set the date yet. They're talking about after the first of the year sometime."
"Things should be back to normal," I thought, as I went to find Donald and a well-deserved glass of wine.