I poured myself a glass of wine and went to find Donald in the living room. As I sat down beside him on the couch, he handed me a folder about two inches thick. "What's this?" I asked.
"It's your homework," he said with a smile. "The Board of Directors meets next Tuesday and I thought you would like to know what you have gotten yourself into. That folder contains information on all the businesses that Baker, Inc. is involved in."
"This may take more than one glass of wine," I said. "Just how many businesses are involved?"
"There are 19 companies, franchises, and wholly owned subsidiaries. The P&L statements for each of them are included in there as well as complete background data. Perhaps you should start with the spaghetti chart showing the hierarchy and the relationships among them. It's fairly complicated. That's mainly for tax purposes. You know how much I hate giving money to Uncle Sam to squander."
I took out the organizational chart and it indeed looked, as Donald had described it, like a spaghetti chart, lines going all over the place connecting various boxes. "I think I'll wait to tackle this in the morning when I'll have some time when I won't be interrupted."
The time I thought would be uninterrupted was not to be. When I returned from taking the kids to school, Hildy informed me that Harold Nichols had called and said he would be stopping by to discuss plans for construction.
The two sketches that Harold presented were both feasible and aesthetically pleasing and would look as if they were part of the original house plans. I told him that I would review the sketches with the family and get back to him in a day or so. He said he was finishing up with a big job in about ten days and could start the work when it was wrapped up. I thanked him and he left. I took the plans into the library and looked at them more closely. After several minutes, I was convinced I knew which one I preferred. Each one of the plans had two bedrooms, each with attached baths. There was a shared living/TV room.
I picked up the folder that Donald had given me the night before and began reading through the material. I was somewhat surprised at the breadth of the assets. I knew about the car dealerships and the construction company in California. I learned that there were a number of fast food franchises including McDonalds, Wendy's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. A couple of banks, one in Corpus Christi and the other one in Laredo were majority owned by the company. From what I was able to learn from the material was that all were very profitable. I was beginning to learn just how wealthy Donald really was. Free cash flow from the businesses was an amazing amount.
I left to pick up the kids from school. I arrived a little early and stepped out of the van to speak with a couple of parents that I recognized while I waited. It was good for my image as the newest School Board Member. It wasn't long before I saw TJ come out of the building with Peter and William in tow. There was another boy with them. As they got closer, I recognized him to be Alex, the Russian boy that TJ had pointed out one day. The four of them approached. Peter and William gave me a hug. TJ was at the stage when he didn't hug me in public, especially when one of his friends was nearby. I realized as Alex approached that he had two arms. The last time I had seen him he only had one. I looked closely and could barely discern which arm was prosthetic it looked so lifelike. I could only imagine how much that had cost his parents
"Dad, you remember Alex, don't you?" TJ said.
"Yes, but we haven't been introduced before," I said, and extended my hand. "It's nice to meet you, Alex."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Johnson," a polite Alex responded, shaking my outstretched hand. "May I wait with you until my driver arrives? He appears to be running late."
"Of course," I answered, surprised at the almost adult-like question. I remembered the long black Mercedes that had picked him up the first time I had seen the boy.
Shortly the twins and Chris started on their way toward us, laughing and talking with four other guys, Two of whom I recognized as playing on the tennis team. They waved to their friends as the others peeled off toward the vans or their parents.
Jeannie and Ginny arrived with several other girls, giggling in their high pitched voices.
By the time Joel joined us, Alex's ride had still not arrived to take him home. "Mr. Johnson," Alex said, "could you call my driver to see what has delayed him?"
"Yes, of course," I said. "What's the number?" He spoke the number slowly as I dialed my cell phone. The phone rang five or six times and transferred to voice mail. I left a message after the voice in a heavy Russian accent instructed me to do so.
Alex frowned when he heard me leaving the message. "Perhaps you could call my father's number." He again slowly spoke the numbers.
This time the phone was answered by a woman who appeared to be young. "May I speak to Alex's father?" I asked.
"May I ask who is calling, please," The woman asked.
"My name is Crane Johnson. Alex's driver has not shown up and he is waiting with me and my family."
"Just a moment please," she said, and I was put on hold, listening to some rather pleasant classical music.
"Mr. Johnson, I'm Dmitry Dubrovsky. My secretary has informed me that Alex's driver has not arrived to carry him home." The accent was Russian with a touch of English.
"Yes, sir, here's Alex. He'll explain it to you." I handed the phone to Alex and what followed was a rapid conversation in Russian. I knew a few words of Russian, but the rapidity of the conversation was impossible for me to even catch the few I knew.
"Mr. Johnson, my father would like to speak to you."
"Mr. Dubrovsky, what can I do for you?
"I hate to impose on you, but the soonest that I can get someone there to arrange transportation for Alex is about 45 minutes. Alex tells me that he is friends with your son."
"Yes, that's true," I said.
"Would it be a great imposition for Alex to ride with you to your home? I will come by to pick him up on my way home."
"I was going to suggest that if you hadn't. It will not be a problem," I said. I then gave him directions on how to get to our house.
"I'm afraid that it will be nearly six before I am able to arrive at your home. I hope that is not too late," Dmitry said.
"Not at all," I said and disconnected the call. "Okay everybody, into the van and fasten your seat belts."
When we got back to the house, Hildy was waiting for us. "I thought you all got lost or something. You're later than usual," she said, before noticing our guest. "And who is this handsome young man?"
"His name is Alex Dubrovsky. His ride didn't show up and when I telephoned his dad, his dad asked if Alex could come home with us until he could get here to pick up Alex."
"Good to meet you Alex. It's good I made plenty of snacks."
"Come on, Alex," TJ said, "I'll show you my room." They started off for the stairs.
"TJ, see if you have a pair of shorts and a polo shirt that Alex can wear. That way he won't mess up his school uniform."
"The poor boy," Hildy said. "I couldn't help but notice the false arm. How did he lose it?"
"I don't know. I never asked him and he hasn't volunteered the information," I said.
The clothes that TJ found for Alex were a good fit. The eight boys and two girls sat down at the table for their snack. At first, Alex was a little hesitant, but when he saw the other boys digging into their fruit salad and whipped cream, he followed suit.
"Why don't you take Alex out and show him your dogs?" I said when they were finished and the dishes were in the dishwasher.
"Sure, come on Alex," TJ said. "I'll show you Bandit. He's my dog, but he likes everybody."
"Who's the boy?" Donald asked when he got home and came out on the patio where I was watching the boys.
"He's one of TJ's friends. His name is Alex and his ride didn't show up to take him home. His dad is going to pick him up later. You're late getting home tonight," I said.
"There was a lady at the pre-school giving a presentation on dance classes that were going to start in a couple of weeks for girls Lenore's age and older. Lenore seemed to be excited about the idea, so I guess there will be dance lessons in her future. I brought home a brochure that the lady handed out and I'm going to give it to Hildy. Maybe Jeannie and Ginny would like to learn."
It was approaching six o'clock and Alex's dad had not arrived to take him home. Gilda was getting ready to serve our supper. I went to the patio and shouted to the boys to come in and wash up.
"What shall I do?" Alex asked. "I can wait outside while you eat."
"No, please join us. Your dad should be here shortly," I said.
Reluctantly, Alex followed TJ upstairs to wash his hand.
We were about halfway through the meal when the gate buzzer sounded. I confirmed over the intercom that it was Alex's dad. He drove up to the front of the house and I stepped out to greet him.
"Please come in," I said. "I'm Crane. We spoke on the phone."
"It's good of you to do this for Alex," he said. "His driver was involved in an accident and was unable to contact my son. Is he ready?"
"He's eating with us. We'd be pleased if you would join us. Gilda has fixed plenty."
"We have imposed on your hospitality too much already," Dmitry said.
Gilda was not about to let our latest guest not join us and had already set a place for him.
Donald turned around as we entered the dining room. "Dmitry, what are you doing here?"
"This is a surprise, Donald. I'm here to pick up my son. I didn't know that you lived here."
"Oh, so Alex is your son. Nobody told me his last name," Donald said. "Have a seat or Gilda will be offended." I saw Gilda nodding her head at Donald's statement.
"It's really very good, father," Alex said.
"It would be very unseemly of me to refuse. I would hate to offend the cook," he said.
"Gilda is more than our cook. She is a friend who just happens to cook for us," I said. "How do you and Donald know each other?"
"Our companies have had various business dealings with each other and against each other over the years," Dmitry volunteered.
Donald said. "Dmitry, I didn't know your son went to Corinthian Academy?"
"He just started about a month ago. After he lost his arm, I was afraid that he was being made to feel uncomfortable at his old school. I thought a new school might give him a chance to start fresh. Thanks to his new friend, TJ, he has been made to feel most welcome. For that I must thank you, Mr. Johnson and especially your fine son, TJ. I see that Alex must be wearing some of TJ's clothes, since he is not in his school uniform."
"Yes, I didn't want him to mess up his uniform while they were roughhousing with the dogs," I said.
"You have your sons well trained," Dmitry said after the meal and the boys took their plates to the kitchen.
"With seven boys, one girl and three adults at mealtime, everyone has to do their part. After all these years, it has just become a habit for them," I said.
"It must be nice," he said. "It's usually just Alex and me. Our cook fixes our meal, but never eats with us. Alex's mother died two years ago."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Thank you, Alex has had a hard time adjusting to his mother's death. It was quite sudden. Now, if you don't think us rude, we must be getting home. I will see that the borrowed clothes are returned."
Alex and his dad left and the boys went to do their homework.
Later that evening after the homework had been checked, I showed the sketches for the new addition to the rest of the family. After some discussion, we came to a consensus on the one plan. It happened to be the one that I preferred, but I hadn't tried to influence the others. Donald insisted that he would pay for the addition, since it was his idea. We discussed it, but after a while, I gave in.
"Dad, can I talk to you?" Joel asked a bit later.
"Of course you can. What's on your mind?"
"When I go off to college, how am I going to pay for things? I've saved most all of my allowance over the years, but I don't think that's going to be enough for everything."
"When you guys came into my life, I established a trust fund for each of you. With some very good investments and a bit of luck, those trusts now have more money in them than you could possibly spend for your education regardless of how long you spend in school. I will pay for all of your living expenses in the townhouse," I said.
"I kinda figured that, but how do I pay for things? I don't really want to carry around a lot of cash with me," he said.
"When you move over to Houston, we'll set you up with a checking account at a convenient bank. That way you can write checks for larger purchases, such as your school books and supplies. I'll make sure that you have an ATM card so you can get cash whenever you run low. I'll have a credit card arranged for you that is associated with my account so you can charge other expenses. You'll probably want to take Jimmy out to dinner some time and a credit card is a good way to pay. You'll probably need your own cell phone as well."
"Thanks, dad, you make it sound so simple. I never thought of a credit card. I've heard some of the guys talk about a debit card. Is that the same as a credit card?"
"There are a lot of similarities between credit and debit cards. A debit card won't let you spend more money than the amount in your bank account. That's a good idea for people who might be tempted to over spend. The money is automatically taken out of the bank account. Credit cards usually have a limit on the total amount that you can charge in a billing cycle. In my opinion, credit cards are the best option for people who are responsible in their spending habits and pay their bill in full and on time every month. There are many credit cards that don't have any fees associated with their use. That's the kind I have, and you will have."
"I have another question." Joel said.
"Jimmy is going to graduate from high school in a couple of months and I want to get him a present. What do you think I should get him?"
"Hmm. Has he ever mentioned something that he wanted?"
"Not really, and that's the problem."
"Does he like music?"
"Yeah, he's always listening to the radio to an oldies rock station. It's kinda weird when we're together because that's not my kind of music."
"Does he have a good radio?"
"Not really, the one he listens to at home is pretty old and it's not his."
"You could get him a good one for him to take to college. Maybe there's one that has a connection for headphones so he could listen to it and not disturb his grandparents. I'm sure they would appreciate that."
"Yeah, I'll go check out some prices on the internet and see what that would cost. Thanks, dad."
"You're welcome, son."
Donald had been sitting within range to hear what Joel and I had been talking about. I took one look at him and could tell what he was thinking. "Don't go there, Donald. This is something that Joel has to do on his own."
"Did you read through all the information that I gave you last night?" Donald asked.
"As a matter of fact I did. I was impressed with the profitability of the corporation over all."
"That's just the business, my personal holdings are separate. I didn't give you that information."
"It's no wonder that you are generous with your money. Mike and Kelly are good examples of your generosity."
"Speaking of Kelly, I received a call from him today. He has submitted his application to UC Berkley. He hopes to hear back from them by the end of the year. Now that he's not working, he is spending almost all of his time studying. He said he expects to have top grades at the end of the quarter. I also heard from Phil, the sales manager who arranged for Kelly's car. He's really impressed with him. Phil said that Kelly stops by the dealership about once a week wanting to know if there is anything he can do. I guess he feels a little bit guilty taking the money and not doing any work for it. I predict that Kelly is going to go far in this world if he keeps that attitude."
"I was impressed with Kelly from the very start when he was driving us around New Orleans. I think your prediction is right on target."
"I'm going to give Harold the go-ahead on the addition. He said he could get started on it in around ten days. He'll be finishing up with another job and will then start on ours."
"Did he give you a cost of the addition?" Donald asked.
"He'll give me the estimate when he has the engineering drawings prepared," I said.
After the boys had been tucked in for the night, I turned on the TV in hopes of catching the late news. I don't often watch the news at night. It seems to be filled with stabbings, shootings and wrecks caused by drunk drivers. I always wondered about the murdered victims. The TV reporters always interview the relatives of the victims who make it sound as if the victim is on the short list for canonization by the church. This is in spite of the victim being on probation or parole for selling drugs or having stabbed or shot someone in the past.
Tonight, one of the news stories concerned the execution style shooting of a Russian immigrant. The camera showed a long, black Mercedes with the driver slumped over the steering wheel. While I couldn't see the driver clearly, I was certain that the car was the one that picked up Alex.
"Donald, look!" I said, poking him in the ribs. He had been reading some papers he had brought home from work.
"That guy that was murdered was Alex's driver. I recognize the car. It's the same one that picks up Alex after school every day. That's why he didn't make it today," I said.
"Dmitry didn't say anything about it at supper. He did mention that there had been an accident. Maybe he didn't want to mention it at the table," Donald said.
"The TV said it was an execution style murder. How much do you know about Dmitry's businesses? Is he involved in anything shady?"
Donald shook his head. "Not that I'm aware of. He's had some business dealing with dad and we've competed on a couple of projects since I took over. It's always been on the up and up as far as I could tell."
"What do you know about him personally?" I asked.
"Not much," Donald said. "He is supposedly related to one of the Russian billionaires. You know one of those families that got enormously wealthy after the collapse of the Soviet Union by means that may have not been entirely legal. I've heard that he was educated in England, Oxford, I think. His accent does have a hint of the English accent. He's been in the San Antonio area for ten or so years that I know of. Nothing that I know of would point to him being involved with anything illegal."
"It's just strange the way Alex's driver was killed. The TV didn't report that there was a robbery involved and they said it was an execution style murder. It doesn't look like a usual San Antonio killing," I said. "And another thing, the address the TV displayed on the screen was in a part of town where I wouldn't expect to see that big Mercedes."
"Maybe there will me more information on it in the morning newspaper," Donald said.
There was, but I didn't get to read it all before I had to get the kids loaded into the van and off to school. I did read it when I got home. A lot of the article was a repeat of what was on the newscast last night with the exception the name of the victim was given, Yuri Zadornov. An unnamed source in the police department said that the victim was allegedly involved with the Russian mob.
I had finished reading the paper and had gone to the kitchen to pour myself another cup of coffee when the phone rang. It was Gerald Cousins. "Gerald, what can I do for you this early in the morning? I figured you'd still be in bed."
"Watch it Crane, I haven't sent you my invoice yet and there is still time to pad it," he said, laughing. "I just got off the phone with Elmer Crenshaw. He said they are ready to sell the farm and move to Florida. I asked him what they were asking for the place. He said they would take whatever an appraiser valued it at. That seems reasonable. I know what the farm is valued at for tax purposes and I don't think the appraised value will be much different, definitely not any lower and probably somewhat higher. Either way, it will probably turn out to be a good investment.
"Sounds good," I said. "Do you know of a good appraiser of farm property?"
"I know of the two we have used in the past for the raw land you've purchased. I gave the names to Mr. Crenshaw to see if he approved of them and he suggested Raymond Cox. He was one of the two I presented to him. Give me the word and I'll have him start on the appraisal."
"Do it," I said. "This is going to make Charlie happy. He's been bugging me to buy the property since he learned that Mr. Crenshaw was thinking about selling."
"I'll get back to you as soon as Raymond has the appraisal ready. I already made contact with him. I was sure that you were going to say yes."
After I hung up with Gerald, I placed a call to Harold and told him that we wanted to go ahead with the plan we had selected and asked him to prepare the cost estimate.
I was tempted to call Charlie and tell him about the Crenshaw farm, but decided that he would hear about it from Mr. Crenshaw before long.
I spent the afternoon reviewing my financial status and decided that I didn't need to make any changes to my investments. I was sure that I had enough liquid assets to purchase the Crenshaw farm unless it was higher priced than I thought it was.
When it came time, I got in the van and headed out to pick up the kids from school. Traffic was heavier than usual and I arrived a couple minutes late. TJ, Peter and William were waiting at their designated spot and waved at me as I drove into the parking lot. My usual parking spot was not available so I had to park some distance away and walk to where they were standing.
"Hi, guys," I said, getting a hug from all three. "Did you have a good day at school today?"
"I did," Peter said, excitedly. "We had art class and Mrs. Herman said my picture was good. She put it on the bulletin board."
"That's great, son. When you bring it home we can put it on the refrigerator so everybody can see it."
"Alex didn't come to school today," TJ said.
"Maybe he didn't feel well," I said. "He'll probably be back tomorrow."
We were soon joined by the rest of the kids. As soon as they were all securely belted in their seats, we took off for home. When we got home, Donald and Lenore had already arrived, unlike yesterday.
While the kids were having their snack, I asked Hildy, "Are your girls going to be taking the dancing class?"
"They are all excited about it right now. So is Manny. In fact I think he's more excited than they are," she said.
"You're exaggerating again," Manfred said, coming up behind us. "I think it will be good for them. At the end of the classes, they have to put on a program in front of an audience. I think it will help them get over their shyness around other adults."
"You're right, as usual," Hildy said, giving her husband a peck on the cheek.
"Now, did you save any snack for me?" Manfred asked.
"I guess you can have some," she said, patting him on the stomach.
At least she didn't pat Donald and me on the stomach.
"Have you thought about what we should do while everybody is on Thanksgiving vacation?" Donald asked.
"I hadn't given it any thought, but that is coming up in about three weeks or so," I said. "Any suggestions?"
"I thought we might fly out to Las Vegas and check on the progress of the development. I'm sure that Joel would be interested in how the golf courses are coming along," he said. "I called today and tentatively reserved the place we rented last time. Maybe we can convince Gilda to go with us to look after Lenore while we're off checking on things."
"Let's run it by the kids this weekend and see what they have to say," I said.
"Sounds like a plan," Donald said.
Later that evening, after the homework had been checked and all of them had been tucked into bed, I turned on the TV news to see if there was anything new on the slaying of Alex's driver. The fancy graphics that seem to occupy the majority of the half hour of news was just ending and the camera focused on the anchor man sitting at a desk.
Anchor: In our major story tonight, four people were found murdered in an upscale, gated community in far north Bexar County. According to a police spokesperson, the victims were found by the housekeeper when she arrived at the residence this morning. The victims have not been identified, but we do know that there were three adults and one child believed to be about eleven years old. All were found in the main, downstairs living room. All were shot twice in the head. When the police spokesperson was asked if these killings were related to a similar killing yesterday in San Antonio, the response was that they were looking into it.
Anchor: Now in other news...