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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This story is copyrighted by Ted Louis, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
Just then the bundle began to whimper.
"What's this?" I asked.
"A temporary addition to our family," Hildy said. "Elaine Graham, a CPS case worker, called a while ago and asked if we would provide a home for this child. CPS had removed the baby and needed a home to care for it. The woman they normally place infants with is down sick with the flu, so they couldn't make that placement. She had tried a couple other foster homes, but in each case a placement was not possible. Elaine knew that we were still a licensed foster home. She reached out to us. How could we say no to this sweet baby?"
"Is it a boy or girl?" I asked.
"A girl. She's just six weeks old," Hildy said, smiling down at the bundle. "Her parents are both in jail. In fact, she was born while her mother was in custody awaiting trial and they let her keep it for six weeks. She's supposed to have robbed the bank over in Sattler with her husband about six or seven months ago."
"How long will you be keeping her?" I asked. "By the way, does she have a name?"
"Yes," Hildy laughed. "It's Brittanie Knapp. We'll keep her until the mother's trial is over. If she's acquitted, then she'll probably be placed back with the mother. If she's found guilty and is sentenced to prison, that's another story. At that point, CPS will begin a search for a permanent home for Brittanie. Because of our age, it would be highly unlikely that we would be considered for a permanent home for her."
"Having a baby around, at least for a while, will make Lenore happy," Donald said. "Maybe she'll quit asking for a baby all the time."
"Because taking care of a baby is going to be a full time job," Hildy started, "I won't be able to help around here as much as I used to."
"I don't see that as a problem," I said. "Gilda is doing a lot of the care and feeding of the family as it is. If she's willing, she can fill in for you as long as you have Brittanie."
"I accept," Gilda said, before I had barely finished speaking.
"For the time being, we plan to have Brittanie sleep in our room with us. Elaine brought a bassinette for her to sleep in, but it's hardly better than a laundry basket. We'll have to get something better. Maybe in the future we'll put her in the bedroom next to ours. That's the one that Gilda is in now." Hildy paused and looked at Gilda.
Before anyone else spoke, I said, "Gilda, you're welcome to use any of the spare bedrooms here in this house. Now with the new addition finished, you can have your choice of three."
"I'll think about it," Gilda responded. "Right now, I'll stay close to the new baby. Well ... maybe if she cries in the night and wakes me up, I may move sooner." That brought a chuckle from everybody.
Lenore came running into the room. "Jeannie says they got a baby. Can we get one, daddy?"
"Honey, I've told you why we can't have a baby," Donald said, looking into his daughter's eyes. "Maybe you can help Hildy take care of the baby. It's very tiny, so you would have to be very careful."
"Can I, Hildy? Can I?"
"Would you like to hold her?" Hildy asked.
"Uh huh," Lenore said, her eyes getting big.
"Climb up onto that chair and I'll put Brittanie in your arms. Now be very careful and keep your arm under her head to keep it supported and wrap your other arm around her," Hildy said as she slowly lowered Brittanie into a smiling Lenore's lap.
"She's so little," Lenore said. "She's not got any hair."
"A lot of babies don't have much hair for several months after they're born," Hildy said.
We stood around admiring the baby in Lenore's arms until Lenore wrinkled up her nose. "I think she pooped her pants."
"That's what babies do a lot," Hildy laughed. "Would you like to help change her diaper?"
"Okay," Lenore said, tentatively, "I guess. I never changed a diaper before."
"Let's go to the bathroom to change her," Hildy said. "Manny, bring the diaper bag."
"I think I'll stay here," I said.
"Good idea," Donald said. "I changed a few diapers for Lenore when she was younger. Thankfully, I had a nurse to do the dirty work most of the time. I never did like changing diapers. I was glad when she was potty trained."
"What stinks?" TJ asked as he walked into the room.
"Just a dirty diaper," I said.
"Who's wearing diapers?" he asked.
We explained to him about Brittanie and why Hildy and Manfred were taking care of her.
"Oh," was his response. "Are we going to eat soon? I'm hungry."
"You bet, honey," Gilda said. "You go tell the other boys to get their hands washed and I'll have your food on the table real quick."
TJ was gone in a flash and Gilda headed for her kitchen. Donald and I went to wash up as well.
"Okay, guys, it's homework time," I told them as they were clearing away the supper dishes.
"Okay, dad," came the response from several of them.
"Donald, you and I need to talk," I said, heading for the living room.
"Look, if this is about those pickups," he said. "Let's just say they are my contribution to the maintenance of a place my son is in love with, as am I. I'm convinced that he would live there if it were possible. Have Charlie or Ian give him a ride in one of them and it will be payment enough."
"That's very generous of you. I'm fully aware that you can afford it, but then so can I. In the future, I would like to discuss major acquisitions before they're made," I said.
"Of course," Donald said. "I'd like to think we're a team and we should make joint decisions."
"Now if you wanted to buy me a Lamborghini, you can make that decision by yourself," I laughed.
"Well, if you really want one ..."
"Joke! It was a joke. The last thing in the world I need is a Lamborghini. What I would like, though, is a glass of wine," I said. "Would you care for one?"
We sat reading the newspapers until the boys started coming to have their homework checked. I had just finished checking the last of the homework when the phone rang. I answered it, expecting that it would be Jack. It was.
I told him about the attempted shakedown by the zoning commissioner and asked him if he had any contacts with investigators in Las Vegas.
"I know one guy out there," Jack said. "He and I were involved in an investigation of a missing heiress who had homes both in San Antonio and in the Las Vegas area. His name is Billy Rogers. He seemed to be a pretty straight shooter and sharp as a tack. Hold on a minute and I'll give you his number." Jack was away from the phone a minute or two before he came back on the line. "He's with the Landrum Agency. It's not the biggest outfit. I think there are only four investigators." He gave me the agency's phone number. I thanked him and ended the call.
"Jack's given us a contact in Las Vegas. I'll give them a call in the morning and get them to start sniffing around," I said. "We're going to take this bozo down. I don't like politicians as a rule, but crooked ones are held at a higher level of contempt."
"I've set out the boys' snack," Gilda said. "I'm going to run home and see the new addition to the family. It's been a while since we've had a baby around. See you all in the morning."
"Good night," I said. "It's a wonder that the boys hadn't heard the dishes being placed on the table. I'll go see what they are up to."
Donald and I went up the stairs and first looked into Lenore's room. She wasn't there. No one was in TJ's room. We headed on down the hallway. We could barely hear music coming from the music room over the garage. The room had been made almost sound proof, but some sounds did penetrate to the outside. I opened the door slowly and smiled at what was going on. TJ was showing Lenore how to play a simple, one-finger tune on a keyboard. Peter was on the other one playing his own tune. Larry was standing behind Peter giving him encouragement. Lenny and Joel were playing the guitars and Chris was playing softly on the drums.
Lenore was the first to notice us standing in the doorway. "Hi, daddy, TJ's teaching me music."
"That's great, sweetie," Donald said and walked up and gave her a hug. "Are you ready for a snack?"
It didn't matter how softly he had said it, there was an immediate cease to the music. The instruments were quickly put away and then there was a rush for the door and down the back stairs. We followed to find Joel topping the apple crisp in front of the others with the whipped cream Gilda had left in the refrigerator. It was a wonder there was any of the crisp left in their bowls by the time Joel had read her note and found the whipped cream in the refrigerator. I don't think it would have fazed them. They would have eaten the whipped cream by its self.
"Did you get any sleep last night?" I asked Gilda the next morning.
"That baby has a set of lungs on her for such a small girl," Gilda chuckled. "Reminds me of Celia when she was a baby. She was awake a couple of times in the night. Hildy is in heaven. She loves her girls with all her heart, but she never got to raise her baby. Sometimes when she's holding Brittanie, silent tears run down her cheeks. I think taking care of Brittanie will go a long ways in plugging the emotional hole in her heart. I just hope she can accept it when Brittanie is placed with another family or back with her mother."
"That might be hard for her," I said. I poured myself a cup of coffee and picked up the paper that Gilda had thoughtfully retrieved on her way to work. Donald soon joined me with his cup of coffee.
"Breakfast will be ready in about ten minutes," Gilda said, poking her head around the corner. That was our signal to go wake up Lenore and the boys.
"Dad, we have a golf meeting after school. I'd like to attend, but I'll need to drive my car unless you want to wait for me," Joel said, as he finished his breakfast.
"Your brothers would probably rebel if it delayed their afternoon snacks," I said. "You had better take your car. Be careful!"
"I will," he said.
"You had a call from a Brandon Gross," Gilda said, when I returned from taking the kids to school.
"Thanks, I'm surprised that he called this early." I took the slip of paper Gilda handed me with his number on it and went to my desk to return his call.
I was surprised when he answered his own phone. "Brandon Gross, how may I help you?"
"This is Crane Johnson. I wasn't expecting your call so early. Thanks for calling," I said.
"Yeah, the early bird and all that, you know. Mr. Mason said you wanted a complete inspection of a property that you own. Is that right?"
"Yes," I said and proceeded to tell him all the particulars of the house that I knew.
"Unless the property has been updated in the last ten years or so, I would guess that you may have several major problems," he said. "You have pointed out several that are distinct possibilities."
"When can you do your inspection?" I asked.
"I'm tied up this morning, but I could take a look at the property this afternoon, say about two?"
"That will work. Do you need directions?"
"No, Mr. Mason had me look it up in the county records, so I know the area, and besides, I grew up about three miles from there. I've hunted the fields all around there."
"I'll let the occupants know you're coming," I said. We ended the call and I made one to Rosie letting her know to expect Brandon at two.
Around ten-thirty, I figured that the Landrum Agency would be open so I made a call and asked for Billy Rogers. When he came on the line, I explained what had happened and what I wanted done about it. I asked him to contact Fenton Bigelow, explaining that he was our onsite sales manager.
"Mr. Johnson, you know this could involve a lot of time and resources," Billy said. "The costs could run into the tens of thousands of dollars."
"We're not concerned with how much it will cost," I said. "We will wire a deposit of $5,000 to your agency as good faith. We expect for you and your agency to do whatever is necessary to nail this crook. We also expect that the funds be used appropriately, but don't fail to do what you feel is necessary because of the cost. Periodic updates are expected every week or so. A written report can be faxed to us or, if you want, you can phone in your reports. Keep Fenton apprised of the progress as well."
"We've had some unverified rumors about the commissioner, but nothing you could definitively say was criminal, shady yes, criminal maybe. The problem, as I see it, is to catch the bum with his hand in the till. As hungry as he is for power, we can probably play off that. I will work up a plan of action and get you to sign off on it. I'll meet with the other investigators in the office and get their input as well. Plan on hearing from me tomorrow or at the latest the day after, that's Saturday," Billy said.
"Thanks, Billy. We look forward to seeing your plan," I said.
I went to refill my coffee cup and realized when I got to the kitchen that I had neglected to eat any breakfast. I went rummaging around in the refrigerator when Gilda came back from the laundry room talking to herself.
"Looking for anything special?" Gilda asked.
"I neglected to eat breakfast and I thought I would eat a piece of fruit to tide me over until lunch," I said.
"It's a little after eleven, so if you want, I can fix you an early lunch. I have some nice sliced ham and some Swiss cheese. It would make a fine sandwich and there's a fresh pitcher of iced tea. How does that sound?"
"Sounds great," I said.
"Mustard or mayo?"
The deli style sandwich really hit the spot. I went back to my desk feeling stuffed. I made a few more calls until it was time to go pick up the kids from school. Once everybody was loaded into the van for the ride home, there was constant talking and laughter as they brought each other up on the happenings in their classes. There were too many simultaneous conversations going on for me to catch much. What I did catch, though, was that they were all happy. I let Jeannie and Ginny off at their house. They were all excited about seeing their new baby.
Joel arrived home shortly after his brothers had finished their snack. As soon as he had changed out of his school uniform, Gilda gave him his snack. Donald and Lenore arrived moments after Joel began eating his snack.
"Dad," Joel said with pride in his voice, "I've been elected captain of the golf team for the Spring Semester."
"Congratulations, son, I'm so very proud of you."
"Thanks, that means I get to play the number one member of any opposing team," he said.
"That means that you better start practicing. The driving range at River Crossing is not that far away. You could go there two or three evenings a week. There's usually enough light to get in an hour or two before they close down the range," I said.
"I'd have to take the car on those days," Joel stated.
"Yes, you would," I said, patting him on the shoulder. "That wouldn't be a problem."
The phone rang at that moment and I picked up the receiver. "Hello."
"Is this Crane Johnson?" the voice asked.
"Yes, this is Crane Johnson."
"Mr. Johnson, this is Brandon Gross. I finished the inspection and I'm getting ready to fax you the results, but I don't have your fax number, for some reason."
I gave him the fax number and then asked, "Anything significant in your inspection?"
"Yes," he said. "There are a lot of things that would make any remodeling or adding on to the structure hazardous to anybody living there. I could not find any evidence of a current danger to the residents. There is a slight fire risk from the knob and tube wiring, but again, unless someone messes with it ..."
"Thanks, Brandon. I look forward to reading your report," I said and ended the call.
A few minutes later, the fax machine began spitting out the twelve pages of Brandon's report. The more I read the report, the more convinced I was that the house needed to be torn down. Even tearing down the structure would be an expensive proposition. With as much asbestos that there was in the house, I would need to get a licensed asbestos removal company to handle it safely. Brandon had found asbestos in the vermiculite insulation in the attic. It was also in the plastered walls and in the vinyl tiles on the floor of the kitchen. There was lead based paint under several coats of non-lead based paint on the woodwork. That could be handled without much hassle. The electrical system needed to be completely replaced and the septic system needed to be upgraded. He recommended that there be no renovations or additions until all deficiencies were corrected. Without a doubt, if more bedrooms were needed the only option appeared to be tearing it down and starting from scratch. I'd better talk to Tracy and Rosie tomorrow.
After supper I discussed with Donald the conversation I had with Billy Rogers. Billy said he would put together a plan and get our comments on it before he went forward. Donald thought we had made a good decision to engage Billy Rogers. I also told him about the results of the inspection of the house on the ranch and what I thought was the best way to proceed.
"How big of a house do you plan on building?" Donald asked.
"I thought a two storey with four bedrooms and at least two and a half baths would be the best option. I need to get input from Tracy and Rosie before I talk to a builder. A builder may already have a plan that would meet the need, if not, then I could hire an architect to design one." I said.
After taking the kids to school Friday morning, I drove to Tracy's Veterinary Clinic. I was surprised at the number of cars in the parking lot. When I walked into the lobby, I was greeted by multiple dogs and their owners and a few cats in travel cages. It didn't look like a good time to talk to Tracy, so I told the receptionist that I would talk to him later. I decided that I would go home and call Rosie instead of driving to the ranch.
When I arrived back home I cornered Gilda and asked if she would be able to handle a few more mouths to feed this evening. She just laughed and said it wouldn't be a problem unless it was a fancy dress affair. I assured her that it would not be.
I went to my desk and phoned Rosie. She answered on the second ring. "Hello."
"Rosie, it's Crane. Do you have anything planned for this evening?"
"No, nothing that I can think of. We don't usually go anywhere on Friday evenings," she said. "Why do you ask?"
"I got the inspection report back and want to talk it over with you and Tracy. I thought maybe you could come here for supper and we could discuss our options. I plan to invite Charlie and Jessica as well as Ian. I almost forgot, Jason is invited too."
"Jessica is here. I'll ask her if they are available," Rosie said. A few seconds later she was back. "Jessica said they'd be able to make it and she was sure that Ian would not turn down a free meal."
"Good," I said. "Why don't you come over by around six? Will Tracy be home by that time?"
"He should be. He tries to get away from the clinic by five on Friday.
"Good, we'll see you then," I said.
I was sitting at my desk after lunch when the phone rang. "Hello," said.
"This is Billy Rogers. May I speak to Crane Johnson?"
"I'm Crane Johnson."
"Mr. Johnson, our agency has prepared an outline of how we think we should go about catching Commissioner Lawson with his hands in the cookie jar, so to speak. If you'll give me your fax number or email address, I'll send it to you."
I gave him the fax number and we ended the call. A few minutes later the fax machine started spitting out several pages. I took them to my desk and read through the document twice. I liked what I read, but I needed to get Donald's take on it as well before we gave the okay to proceed.
Donald and Lenore were home before I arrived back from picking up the kids at school. I told him about the plan the detective agency had put together and gave him the fax and let him read it. "Looks good to me," he said. "Let's notify them to go ahead and get started."
"I'll call them right now," I said. "By the way, we're having company for supper."
"Everybody from the farms. You know I got the report from the inspector and it looks like remodeling or any work on the Smith's house would be more expensive than tearing it down and building a new one from scratch. I thought I would have them all over and work out a plan for building a new house."
I went to my desk and made the call to Las Vegas. Billy was not in the office, but I did talk to Brad Landrum, the owner of the agency. I told him that we wanted to have them begin their investigation of Commissioner Lawson and gave him the name and number of my lawyer to work out any contract details that needed to be taken care of.
The boys were about to head out to care for their dogs when I finished my phone call. I stopped them and told them about our company coming for supper. It didn't make much of an impression on them and they went on out to feed and play with the dogs.
I went to the kitchen to see how Gilda was coming along with preparations for our guests. As usual, she was talking to herself. "Need any help?" I asked.
"No, everything is under control," she said. "Hildy made the dessert, she's much better in that department. It's a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. She made two of them, so there would be plenty. She knows how the boys love her cakes. The meal is going to be simple, just fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn and green beans and I've got some rolls I'm baking in the oven."
"Sounds good to me," I said. "I'm sure everybody will enjoy it. I'm expecting them to get here around six, so we will probably eat around six-thirty, if that fits in with your schedule."
"Everything should be ready by that time," Gilda said. "Maybe you could have the boys set the table. That would help out and I know they know how to do it."
"As soon as they come in from playing with the dogs, I'll put them to it." When they came in, I sent them to get washed up and then set the table.
A few minutes before six the gate buzzer sounded and I activated the gate opener and let the two vehicles in. The lead car held Tracy, Rosie, Bert and Carrie Louise. The second vehicle was one of the new, extended-cab pickups, the Chevy, driven by Ian with Charlie, Jessica, Jason and Elizabeth Jane.
Donald and I were on the front steps to greet everyone. Except for Tracy and Rosie, no one else had been to the house. That dictated a tour of the house and an introduction of Gilda. By the time the tour was completed, Gilda said everything would be ready in about ten minutes. That was my key to get the boys to wash their hands. When Jessica and Rosie came back they asked Gilda if there was anything they could do to help. Gilda accepted their offer of help and had them start carrying plates of fried chicken and other bowls of food to the table. The table was extended to its maximum length and comfortably seated all eighteen of us. The babies did not have a chair.
As the food was being passed, Gilda was keeping an eye on everyone to make sure the plates did not run out of food. She saw Jason take a small piece of fried chicken and begin to pass the plate. "Young man," she said, "if you don't put more on your plate, I'll think you don't like my cooking. I know what appetites young guys have. Just look around you and see what their plates look like."
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Jason said. "I didn't want to look like a pig." He put two more pieces of chicken on his plate and passed it on.
"That's better," Gilda said, giving him a smile.
After we finished eating, I asked all the adults to assemble in the living room where coffee and wine were offered for those who wanted it. Donald went with Lenore so she could play with the babies. "I asked you all here this evening to discuss what we want to do about providing Tracy, Rosie and Bert more room at the point where Carrie Louise needs her own room. The inspection report I received yesterday rules out any addition to the existing structure of your house. Now, there are a number of options that may be feasible," I said. "When we discussed adding on earlier, Jessica volunteered some of their spare bedrooms to use while there was any construction going on. Ian, you also volunteered your spare rooms. So that is one option. A second option, one we used while this house was being built, is to rent a modular home and move it onto the property that would accommodate your needs while the old house was being torn down. Before we could go with this option, we would have to wait until a new septic system was installed, which we'll have to do in any case. Any thoughts?"
"Wouldn't the second option cost a lot of money?" Rosie asked.
"Not as much as you might think," I said. "My concern is what might happen to your relationships with each other if you all live together. That could put a strain on things. You may not think so at the moment, but you're used to running your households your own way. The differences could cause conflict. I don't want to see that happen."
"I see your point," Tracy said. "Tell me more about the modular home. How big would it be?"
"They can be pretty much any size you want. What I envisioned was one that would be about twenty-four feet wide and sixty or sixty-five feet long, three bedrooms and two baths. I'd have to check to see what is available."
"How long do you think we'd be in it?" Rosie asked.
"That all depends on how soon we can get the new septic system installed and construction started. Depending on the builder and the plan we select, it could be anywhere from 90 to 180 days," I said. "Ian, you worked with a home builder, didn't you?"
"Yes, he was a semi-custom builder," Ian responded.
"Do you know if he has plans that he uses off the shelf that he modifies to satisfy his customers?" I asked.
"Yes, that's most of his business," Ian said. "If you want, I can give him a call and see if he will let us look at some plans. Do you have any idea of the type of house you want to build?"
"That's something that we need to discuss," I said. "Tracy, Rosie, that's where you come in. I guess the best place to start is to decide whether you would like a one storey or a two storey. Rosie, what are your thoughts?"
"I grew up in a two storey, so I guess that would be my choice, but it really doesn't matter that much to me," Rosie said.
"Tracy, what's your preference?" I asked.
"I go along with Rosie. We both grew up in a two storey."
"Okay, the consensus is a two storey," I said. "Next is the number of bedrooms and baths."
"We'll need at least three bedrooms," Rosie said. "Two bathrooms at least. Maybe a half bath downstairs if all the bedrooms are up."
"I was thinking you might want a spare bedroom in case you had company," I said.
"That would be nice," Rosie agreed.
"Ian, I think you have a starting point to contact your old boss about some plans," I said. "If he doesn't have anything that you think would fit, let me know. I have a few contacts that might be able to help."
Donald came into the room with Lenore. "I think we have two babies with dirty diapers," he said. "After Lenore's experience with dirty diapers the other night, she doesn't want anything to do with them."
That effectively broke up the meeting and as soon as the babies were changed, our guests thanked us for the meal and departed. Ian said he would let me know what he could find out.