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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.
"Dad, I just got a call from one of the golf team members and he wanted to know if I could play golf tomorrow," Joel said.
"Did you tell him you could?" I asked.
"Yeah, I didn't think you'd mind."
"Who are you going to play with?"
"Jerry called and he said that Kirk and Stan said they were going to play with us. He has a tee time for 9:30 at The Bandit," Joel said. "I like that course and it's been a while since I played it."
"You'll have to leave at least an hour ahead of your tee time in order for you to be there in time to hit a few range balls and get a feel of the putting surfaces," I said.
"I told Jerry I'd meet them at nine so we could hit a bucket of balls. I'll probably leave around 8:15."
"I'll let Gilda know so she can have some breakfast fixed for you. It'll probably be a little chilly at that time of the morning, so you'd better take a sweater or at least a light jacket. I don't think there is any chance of rain," I said.
"Jerry said he checked the weather forecast and it's supposed to be in the upper 50's when we tee off. By the time we finish it should be near 70. And, before you ask, dad, I have enough money for golf and lunch at the snack bar."
"That sounds like your phone ringing. Who could be calling you now?" I asked, knowing full well who it might be.
"It's probably Jimmy," Joel said over his shoulder, as he ran up the stairs to his room.
Saturday morning, Gilda was in the kitchen when I entered to get a cup of coffee. "I've got a coffee cake in the oven that should be done in about ten minutes," she said.
"Joel will want a piece to go with his breakfast, I'm sure," I said. "It sure smells good." I poured my coffee and sat down at the breakfast table to read the morning paper.
"Morning, dad," Joel said, as he entered the kitchen area. "Hi Gilda, something sure smells good."
"Sit down at the table and I'll bring you some breakfast. The coffee cake will be out of the oven shortly," Gilda said. In short order, she brought him a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast along with a glass of orange juice. By the time he finished eating it, she placed pieces of the coffee cake in front of us both.
"Oh, Gilda, this is good," Joel said. "I thought you said you couldn't bake."
"Well, I'm not as good as my sister, but my husband never complained about my baking," she said. "Hildy's the baker in the family."
"Joel's right," I said. "I hope you made enough for the rest of the family."
"Don't worry, there is more than enough - even to feed those eating machines," she laughed.
"I'd better get started," Joel said, getting up from the table and carrying his dishes to the kitchen.
"Better take some extra balls. I've been known to lose a few in the high rough on some of those holes," I said.
"You wouldn't need extra if you hit them in the fairways," Joel said, laughing and dashing toward the garage.
"Smart aleck kid," I grinned.
"I smell something good," TJ said, coming to me and giving me a hug. He was followed by Peter and William.
"Good morning, guys," I said, returning their hugs. "Did you wash your hands?"
"Yeah," they all replied.
Gilda showed up carrying three plates with their breakfast on them. "You can have some coffee cake after you finish this," she said. Shortly she returned with their orange juice.
It wasn't long before the three musketeers arrived to devour their breakfast. Gilda was correct, there was, indeed, enough coffee cake to feed the boys as well as Donald, Lenore and me.
"Crane, I neglected to tell you that I promised to take William and Lenore to visit a friend and his family who are in town for the weekend. They're staying at one of my college buddy's place in Boerne. We all went to Harvard together. Scooter called Friday afternoon to see if I could come and it slipped my mind until I woke up this morning. I hope you didn't have anything planned," Donald said.
"Nothing special, I thought I might take the boys shopping, catch some lunch at the mall and maybe take in a movie, if there is anything good showing. Joel's off playing golf with some of his friends," I said. "When do you think you'll be home? Gilda will want to know so she can plan for supper."
"I hope we'll be back by late afternoon, but I really don't know what Scooter has planned," he said. "I'll call if we're going to be late."
Shortly after ten, I rounded up the boys and told them we were going to the mall. "Gilda said some of your underwear were getting a bit thin. I also noticed that some of your trousers could be classified as 'high water'."
"Yeah, we need new shirts, too," Lenny said. "Since we've been working out on the weights, they're getting tight."
"Looks like it's time to update all of your wardrobes," I said. I could almost feel my credit card heating up.
"How 'bout us?" TJ asked.
"You guys can get some new clothes as well," I said. "However, there is one stipulation."
"What's a stipulation?" TJ asked.
"It means a rule. You can't go running off by yourself in the stores. You have to stay with the rest of us," I said. "Understood?"
"Yes, dad," TJ said, ducking his head. "I understand, but it'll be hard. I get excited seeing all the neat stuff and forget."
"I know, son. I just worry about you when you're not with the rest of us. I think that someone has taken you and that scares me."
TJ kept his promise and stayed with the rest of us. I could tell he was resisting the urge to go off looking at something. The shopping trip was successful, at least from the mall's point of view. We had to make two trips to the van to unload the purchases. By the time we had gotten everything that I thought the boys needed to renew their wardrobe, the food court was packed with other shoppers. I could tell from the expressions on the boys' faces that they were not pleased at the anticipated waiting in line for food.
"Guys, let's get in the van and go down the street to that Mexican place. We ate there once before and the food was good and lots of it," I said. "How about it?"
The suggestion was met with unanimous agreement and we headed for the van. We were at the restaurant in less than ten minutes and were seated almost immediately. The waiter brought two bowls of tortilla chips and two bowls each of the red and green salsas. The chips were gone almost before he turned away from the table. When he returned with our water, he noticed the empty chip bowls and signaled for one of the busboys to bring more. He took our food orders and left. A few minutes later he and one of the busboys returned with large round trays containing the food plates. He warned the boys that the plates were hot as he placed the plates in front of each of them.
When the food was gone and the bill paid, I asked the boys if they would like to go see a movie. They said they did and asked which movie. I told them of two that I thought appropriate for all of them to see and after discussing the merits, as they saw them, they came to a consensus. It was Shrek.
We all enjoyed the movie. As we were leaving the theater, Peter asked, "Can we see it again?"
"Maybe some other time," I said. "Do you think William would like to see it?"
"Oh, yeah," Peter replied. "We can go tomorrow."
"What about riding the horses? We always do that on Sunday."
"Oh, I forgot," he said with a frown on his face.
"Donald called," Gilda said when we came into the house. "He said they would be home around six-thirty. If the boys can wait, I'll have dinner at seven."
"I think they will be able to hold out, after all the junk food they had at the movie," I said. "Guys, you need to go take care of your dogs."
I followed the boys out of the patio door and saw Joel hitting a few plastic "whiffle" balls with his golf clubs.
"Hi, dad," he said. "I hit a few really poor iron shots today, so I thought I'd practice to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong. Now, if I can just do on the course what I'm doing here, things will be great."
"How did you shoot overall?"
"I didn't score that badly. I ended up two under par. My putting saved me," Joel said, grinning. "I'd been three under, but number 18 did it to me. I hit a good drive and laid up short of the ditch on my second. My third shot looked great. It landed on the green. Looks were deceiving because it had back spin on it. You know how that green slopes from back to front. Anyway, between the spin and the slope, the ball rolled back off the green and into the ditch in front. I pitched out and ended up about ten feet beyond the pin and two putted for a bogey."
"That hole has always been hard for me, too. If you go for the green in two, unless your shot is perfect, you can really shoot a big number," I said. "Two under is a good score on that course. What tees did you hit from?"
"The gold ones."
"Wow! That's a good score from those. I've only played from them once and I didn't do nearly that well. As I remember, that makes it around seven thousand yards."
I could see that the boys had let their dogs out and were chasing them and being chased by them. They needed to blow off some steam or they wouldn't be ready for bed later on. I headed back into the house to check the mail that I had seen on the breakfast room table. Gilda must have picked it up for us. I sorted through it. It was mostly junk, but I noticed one from the athletic department of Rice. It was addressed to Joel in care of me. I wondered what it could be, so I set it aside and opened the ones that were of interest to me.
Joel came in carrying his clubs. "Son, did you see this letter for you?"
"No, I never get any mail, so I didn't look through it. Who's it from?" he asked.
"The Rice AD," I said.
"What do they want?" he asked.
"Open it and find out."
I handed him the envelope and he tore it open. He frowned as he read the contents. When he finished, he looked up and said, "They want to recruit me for their golf team. What do I do?"
"Let me see the letter," I said. He handed it to me and I read it. "Your golf coach must have recommended you. They want to come and talk to you at the end of the month. Are you interested in playing golf at the college level?"
"I've never given it any thought," he said. "I like playing golf and I know I'm pretty good at it, but ..."
"Look, son, the decision is entirely up to you. If you want to play at that level, that's fine with me. If you'd rather just play as recreation, that's also fine. I think you should talk to them and get a better idea of how it would affect your class schedule. It will give you more information to make your decision. Because you're only sixteen, I will sit in on any meeting you have with them."
"Thanks, dad, I don't want to get rushed into anything. I guess we'll need to call this guy Monday and set things up. Can we do it right after I get home from school?"
"Yes, I think that will work." Secretly, I hoped that he would decide not to take the offer, if it were actually made.
It wasn't long before Donald and his kids arrived. Peter was the first to take William by the arm and begin telling him about the movie we saw.
"There's this green ogre and a talking donkey and a dragon and a princess and they get chased around this crumbly old castle and it's really funny. Dad said we maybe can go see it again so you can see it," Peter said, and then proceeded to tell William as much as he could remember about the movie.
I had enjoyed the animated movie as well, but not, apparently, as much as Peter. Donald had overheard the conversation and asked if the movie would still be showing next weekend. I had checked the schedule and confirmed that it still had another week to run at the theater where we had seen it. It looked as if some of us, at least, would be seeing it again.
"Look," Donald said, "I know you are worried about Joel going off to college and living in that townhouse with a stranger. Well, I have a possible solution that might ease your mind."
"What's that?" I asked.
"Wendell Collins, that's was another friend at the meeting at Scooter's, has a younger cousin who is getting out of the Air Force in April and has been accepted at Rice. He's twenty-two and is not looking forward to living in the dorm with recent high school graduates. He's returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan in a few days. He'll be stationed at Lackland until his discharge. I told Wendell that I couldn't promise anything, but I would see what you thought."
"That's a possibility," I said. "Joel and I'd have to meet the guy to see if it could work out. Do you know how to contact Wendell's brother?"
"No, not yet. Jeremy is in Germany at the moment being treated at the hospital in Wiesbaden. He was slightly injured by a sniper. From what Wendell said, the bullet hit his left rib cage and cracked a rib, but didn't penetrate into the body cavity. Anyway, it was his ticket home."
"That's too bad," I said. "It's strange to say, but he is one of the lucky ones. There have been too many of our service members who have not been as fortunate."
"That's exactly what Wendell said. I'll call him and see if he'll get Jeremy to give you a call when he gets settled in at Lackland," Donald said.
"I hope we hear something from the detective agency in Las Vegas this week," I said. "I'd like to get that over and done with. That jerk politician could stop the progress on the development if the investigation drags on too long. Maybe I'll call Fenton Monday morning and see if he has any new information."
"Supper's ready as soon as everybody gets washed up," Gilda said, coming into the living room.
"I'll rustle up the boys," I said.
"I'll get Lenore," Donald said.
At the mention of food, the boys took off for their bedrooms to wash their hands and were at the table in no time.
Sunday morning we loaded up the van and headed for the ranch to ride the horses. It was a little chilly, but not cold enough to keep the boys from wanting to ride. Donald took Lenore for a ride with him on his horse. She was always torn between riding the horses or playing with the babies, so after a short ride with her dad, she elected to play with the babies.
When Ian arrived, he sat down with Tracy and me and started telling us what he had learned from his former, homebuilder boss. "Grant said he had a couple of plans that he thought might fit the bill," Ian said, reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out some papers. "Here are sketches of the two he thought were most appropriate for what I described to him." He spread the papers out onto the picnic table where we were sitting. Both sketches of the elevations and floorplans would fit the requirements that we had come up with on Friday evening.
"I think we need to get your wife out here to look at these," I said to Tracy.
"I'll go get her," Tracy said. "She was baking cookies when I saw you all coming."
Rosie joined us shortly, followed by Jessica, the two babies and Lenore.
"Take a look at these sketches and see if you like either one," I said.
She bent over the table and scrutinized each one carefully. "What do you think, Jessica?" she asked.
"It's going to be your house, but ... If I had to choose, it would be this one," Jessica said, pointing to the one on the left.
"That's the one I like as well," Rosie said. "That one has the best kitchen layout. It's open to the living area so I could be cooking and watching the baby at the same time."
"Tracy?" I queried.
"I agree with Rosie," Tracy said, and then in a stage whisper, "If I said I didn't, I might end up sleeping on the couch for a few nights."
"You dummy," Rosie said, punching him lightly on the shoulder. "Just how many times have you slept on the couch?"
"None, sweetie," Tracy said. "I was just teasing."
"Well, now that I think about it, that couch might be a good place for you," she said, kissing him on the cheek.
"Ian, please have your old boss give me a call to get things started," I said. "What's his name? Grant, what?"
"Grant Olefsen," Ian said. "I'll get in touch with him first thing in the morning and have him call you. This time of year is a little slow in the home-building business, so he can probably get something started fairly soon."
"Great, now I think I had better get on that horse that's saddled up for me and go check on the boys," I said.
"Charlie, Jason and Bert are with them, but I'll ride along with you," Tracy said.
We found the boys doing what they usually did, racing their horses against each other. No one seemed to mind if they lost a race, at least from the laughter and good natured ribbing they gave and received. They knew there was always another race to come. Tracy and I declined to get involved in the contests.
After lunch and another round of riding their mounts, the boys reluctantly agreed that it was time to go home. They brushed down their horses and said goodbye to them before getting into the van for the ride home.
Monday was a school day. I was returning from taking the kids to school and had just entered the house when the phone rang. When I answered it, it was Grant Olefsen.
"Mr. Olefsen, thanks for calling. I assume that Ian called you," I said.
"Yes, he said you might be looking to build a house similar to one of the sketches I gave to Ian last weekend," Grant said.
"The plan that was decided on was called 'Simply Southern'. Of course, there will be a few modifications to it before the design is finalized, but the overall layout is what recommended it," I said. "Tell me. What is your schedule, if we decide to go with you as the builder?"
"My crews are currently pretty much tied up for the next month or so, but by the second week of February, I believe we could start on a new project," he said.
"I think that would be an acceptable time frame," I said. "I would like for you or one of your people to work out a final floor plan with the family involved. I gave him the particulars for contacting Tracy and Rosie to meet with them. After a few more details were exchanged, we terminated the call.
My next call was to the Blanton Septic service to see how soon they could start work on a new septic system for the ranch. I was in luck, they said they would be able to design a new system, get it approved by the county and begin the work within two weeks. I gave them the go ahead and hung up the phone.
I looked at my watch and decided that Fenton should be in the development office in Las Vegas and placed a call to him. I wanted to get an update on the project as well as the investigation into our corrupt politician.
"Augustus Properties, this is Fenton Bigelow, how may I help you?" he answered the phone.
"Fenton, it's Crane," I said. "I was just calling for an update."
"Crane, I'm glad you called. We had a very successful weekend. Four more lots were placed under contract. The project is nearly at 50% sold," he said. "That is unheard of in such a short time for any development."
"That's great. I'm sure that you deserve a lot of the credit for the success."
"Thanks, but I think the overall design of the development is a major factor when it comes for people to plunk down the money for one of the lots," he said. "I must say, these are some of the easiest properties to sell. At least 30% of the people, who visit, purchase a lot."
"Maybe we ought to reduce your commission then," I laughed.
"I might have to give up my Rolls if you did that," he laughed in return.
"Thanks for the update on the development. Now, I'd like to know if you've heard any news from Billy Rogers."
"I received an email from him over the weekend. It was not all that informative. He just said that he would be in contact with me later this week to discuss a possible sting. He wants to video tape a meeting between me and Commissioner Phillips. I'll let you know more after I meet with him. I hope we can get this thing wrapped up quickly. I'd hate to see the project halted due to some corrupt politician. It would throw a lot of people's plans into disarray," he said.
"Thanks, Fenton," I said. "Keep me informed of any new developments."
I made several other calls to various contractors who might be able to do the demolition and safe disposal of the asbestos materials. Another call was to the company who had provided the temporary mobile homes we used while our house was being built. They were most anxious to provide the same accommodation to Tracy and Rosie. I gave them the requirements and the information to contact the Smiths to work out the details.
"Crane," Gilda said, stepping into the doorway of my library where I was working. "The cleaning service would like to clean this room, if you're at a point where you can stop."
"Of course," I said. "I lost track of time. It's about lunch time anyway."
Later I went to pick up the kids from school. I had nearly forgotten that Joel had driven his car to school so that he could go hit some golf balls at River Crossing until he approached with another boy who looked familiar, but whose name I couldn't remember.
"Dad, Kirk is going with me to the driving range. He said his dad will pick him up at our house on his way home from work," Joel said. "Is that all right?"
"He's okayed this with his family?" I asked.
"Yes, he called his dad and he said it was all right."
"Okay, you two. Be careful and drive safely," I said.
"You know I'm always careful," Joel responded. "Thanks, dad."
"Yeah, thanks, Mr. Johnson," Kirk said.
I rounded up the rest of the kids and we headed off for home. I dropped Jeannie and Jenny off at their house and then drove on to our house.
As I entered the house, I could hear Gilda on the phone. "I'll have him call you as soon as he arrives. ... Hold on, he just walked in. Crane, Mr. Peterson would like to speak to you."
I took the phone from her, "This is Crane Johnson."
"Mr. Johnson, I understand my son, Kirk, will be at your house for me to pick up. Is that correct?
"Yes, he and my son went to hit golf balls and then they'll come here. Is there a problem?"
"Yes, I'm afraid I'm going to be late picking him up. This meeting I'm in is going to last a lot longer than I had planned. My wife is in Austin staying with her mother in the hospital and can't be there to pick him up."
"Don't worry, I'm sure the boys can amuse themselves until you get here," I said. "Do you have an idea when you might pick him up?"
"I can't be certain, but if I had to guess at this point, I would say sometime around eight. Hopefully not any later than that."
"If it's going to be later than that, please let us know," I said. "I would volunteer to take him to your house, but then he would be all alone. Do you know how to get to our house?"
"I know in general the area, but not exactly where your house is," Peterson said.
I gave him the directions. He thanked me and we ended the call. "One more for dinner, Gilda. One of Joel's friends will be here."
"There's always plenty for hungry boys," she said and turned back to her preparations.