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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.
I don't know how they do it, but even though none of the boys wore a watch, except for Joel, their internal alarm clock always went off telling them it was time for lunch. Donald and I had ridden back to the house earlier and were talking to Tracy and Rosie. Lenore, as usual, was playing with Carrie Louise. I saw the herd of horses coming over the hill from the back of the pasture and knew that it was lunch time.
Before I could get to the van, I was surrounded by the boys wanting to help retrieve the coolers from the van. As was expected, Gilda had prepared enough food for a small army. Rosie added to the food that we had brought. We were just sitting down to eat when Ian arrived.
"Where have you been?" Charlie asked, sliding over so that Ian could sit beside him at the picnic table.
"I met Grant Westin on my way back from picking up some groceries," Ian said.
"Who's he?" Charlie asked.
"He's that old guy who lives on that farm about a mile and a half up the road on the other side."
"Is he the one with the full white beard?" When Ian nodded, Charlie continued, "I've seen him and waved at him as I went by, but never had the chance to stop and talk to him. How come you stopped to talk to him?"
"His tractor had a flat tire. It was there in the middle of the road and I stopped to see if I could help. He said he has already called someone to come fix it," Ian said. "Do you know he's almost 80? He's an interesting old coot. Been farming the same place for almost 60 years. I asked him why he didn't retire and he said he was thinking about it and may want to sell the place."
Ian and Charlie both turned and looked at me. "What?" I asked innocently.
"Well," Charlie said, "with Ian, Jason and I farming our two places - oh, and Bert part time, we could always find time to farm some more land."
"How big is his place and how much is tillable? Seems to me there are a lot of rock outcroppings in that general area toward the main road," I said.
"I never asked him," Ian said, "but I can find out."
"Look, guys, I can't promise you anything. I'd have to see if it were reasonably priced and made a good investment. Bring me the information and I'll at least consider it," I said.
While we had been talking, the food had been consumed and the boys were bagging up the garbage.
"Jeremy, may I speak with you?" I asked.
"Of course," he said.
I indicated for him to follow and we headed away from the others. "Have you formed an opinion about whether you and Joel would be compatible living together?"
"While I've only known him for less than 48 hours, I haven't discovered anything that would indicate a problem," he said. "I think we could easily live together with no problems."
"Joel has come to that same conclusion," I said. "Before we both make a final decision, there is something I want to make clear to you. The person that will be living with Joel will need to be his protector, his friend and a big brother to him. Joel will have just turned 17 when he starts at Rice and although he has, for the last few years, lived in rather affluent surroundings, he is still quite naïve. I cannot tell you how disappointed I would be if his roommate allowed something to happen to Joel, if it could have been prevented by his roommate."
"I think I get your drift," Jeremy said.
"Has Joel told you anything about the accommodations in Houston?"
"Not much, only that it's a townhouse a few blocks from the campus and that each bedroom has its own bath."
"Would you be interested in seeing it some weekend?" I asked.
"Sure, I'm free most weekends, except for next weekend."
"Let me know if the following weekend is free and we can fly over early morning Saturday, do the inspection and then fly back later that day. If you like the living arrangements, we can discuss the financial arrangements." When I saw him frown, I said, "I don't think you will find them onerous."
"I hope not, my savings and GI Bill money won't let me live too lavishly."
We walked back to where the boys had been. Jeremy saw that all their horses were gone so he mounted up and went to find them.
"Have you made a decision?" Donald asked.
"Without having made a definite commitment, yes," I answered. "I want to take him to see the accommodations in the townhouse before we finalize it. But, having said that, I don't see any obstacles to making it official. I have not explained the financial arrangement to him yet. I thought I would do that after the inspection. We'll probably fly over to Houston the Saturday after next."
"You want to really blow his mind?" Donald asked.
"What do you have in mind?"
"Do you think he would be impressed if you flew over there in the private jet?"
I laughed, "I think that might just do it."
When it came time to leave the ranch, Peter and William rushed up to Jeremy and each one gave him a hug and asked him when he was going to come back.
"Well, guys, it depends on whether your dads will invite me again," Jeremy said, returning their hugs.
"He will," Peter said, and then looking at me, "won't you, dad?"
"Yeah, dad," William echoed looking at Donald.
"I'm sure that Jeremy will come visit us again, but he's in the Air Force and doesn't have a lot of spare time. Maybe in a few weeks he can come back for another visit," I told them. I don't think either one of them was satisfied with my answer, but it would have to do. The rest of the boys said goodbye to Jeremy and he got into his car and drove off. We followed suit.
Monday morning it was back into the routine. I took the kids to school and came back home to gather up some more information so that I could be prepared to have my income taxes done. Shortly after noon I fixed myself a sandwich and had just returned to my office with it and a glass of tea when the phone rang.
"Crane, this is Eric. How are things in Texas?"
"Eric, it's good to hear from you. It's been a while. What's the occasion for your call?"
"In case you haven't heard, Innovative Network Products announced this morning that it was going to be listed on the NASDAQ and the IPO (Initial Public Offering) would be March first," he said.
"Congratulations, I hope you are going to get some stock out of the deal," I said.
"Yes, indeed," he said. "Part of my pay when I took the job included a very nice stock option package. Raj Patel, that's my boss, has been very generous. I will make out very well. How well will depend on the final IPO price. Right now it's set at $18 a share, but that could change between now and March first when the company goes public. By the way, did you get involved with Mathew Parsons Capital, the fund that had put up the seed money to help Raj start the company?"
"Yes, I did. I'll have to check to see what the fund's take will be," I said. "How are JR and Bran doing?"
"JR loves his new school and he's made a lot of friends. He misses your boys and often asks when we're going to come back there for a visit. I told him we would try to make the trip after school is out for the summer. Bran is doing great. Straight A's on his last reporting period. He and JR talk on the phone at least three or four times a week and we see him about once a month. Well, I had better get back to work. I took a coffee break and decided to call you and let you know the good news. If you're ever in this part of California, you have to stop by. I miss all of you. Say hello to the boys for me. Goodbye."
That was interesting. I decided to call Mathew Parsons Capital to see if I could get more information on the IPO. I made the call and was very pleased at what I learned. The value of my investment in the fund would roughly triple as a result of the IPO for Innovative Network Products.
Tuesday afternoon when I picked the kids up from school, I again noticed Chris talking earnestly with the girl he said was Susan. He was holding her hands in his and held onto them as long as he could as she headed for her ride. He turned, walked to the van and climbed in without saying a word to anyone. I could tell he had something on his mind and I would see if he would talk to me if I could get him alone. Joel was the last to arrive at the van.
"Dad, there were two strange guys watching our golf practice today. I think they must be the guys from Rice," he said. "When are they supposed to be at our house?"
"They'll be there around seven," I said. Noticing that he appeared nervous, I continued, "Don't fret over it. Listen to what they have to say and then you can make up your mind. It's your decision."
"I know," he said. "You're gonna be there, aren't you?"
"Absolutely!" I said, giving him a hug.
Later, I was able to get Chris alone and asked what was bothering him.
"Susan has to go back to the hospital for some new tests," he said. "She's scared. She thinks the cancer has come back."
"Oh, son, I'm so sorry," I said, putting my arms around him. "Maybe it's a false alarm. Try to keep a positive attitude."
"But what if it is cancer?"
"Then I'm sure her doctors will do their best to make sure she receives the best possible treatment. They are doing some marvelous things in the treatment of cancer. No matter what the outcomes of the tests she is going to have are, you need to be there for her when she comes back to school."
"I'll try, dad," he said, wiping his eyes on his sleeve.
A few minutes before seven the gate buzzer sounded and I activated the gate opener to let the car in, once I had determined it was our expected visitors. Joel and I met them on the front steps. Max James introduced himself as an assistant athletic director and Bob O'Donnell as the head golf coach. I invited them into the living room and offered them something to drink, which they declined. I had instructed the other boys to let us have our privacy while the visitors were here. Thankfully they obeyed.
I must admit that their presentation was "interesting" and they made it sound as if Joel was their first pick for a golf scholarship. They intimated that he was all but certain to be the number one golfer on the team. While I knew that Joel was a good golfer and could probably play at the university level, I had to suppress my smile at the snake oil they were peddling. I made a quick glance toward Joel to see how he was taking in the presentation and I could see just the momentary flicker at the corners of his mouth. He, also, was trying to suppress a smile. Max and Bob had their spiel down pat. It lasted a good 20 minutes before they started asking Joel questions. Even the way they phrased the questions, I got the distinct impression that it was part of a hard sell. That was definitely the wrong approach to take with Joel.
After about an hour, I said, "Gentlemen, Joel and I thank you for the information that you have provided us with tonight, but I know that Joel has homework that he needs to do. So, if you will excuse him, he needs to get started."
"Of course," Max said. "Joel, it was nice getting to meet with you and your dad. I hope that you will consider our offer. We would definitely like to have you on the team."
"Thank you," Joel said. "Dad and I will discuss it and get back to you by the end of the week with my decision." Joel stood, shook hands with both of the men and then headed upstairs to his room.
"Mr. Johnson," Bob said, "May we have a few more minutes of your time?"
"If you could make it quick I'd appreciate it. I need to start checking my other sons' homework before it's time for their bed."
"What is your opinion? Will Joel accept the scholarship offer?" Bob asked. "We would like to have him playing for us."
"My son and I will discuss it, but I have told him the decision is his alone as to whether he wants to play golf at the university level. As you can see," I said, holding my hands out indicating our surroundings, "his attendance at Rice is not dependent on a scholarship. While a scholarship may look good on his résumé, it is of secondary consideration. Academics are his primary concern."
"Thank you for your honesty and your hospitality," Max said, getting up and heading for the door.
I followed them out and watched their car as it left our property. When I walked back inside, Joel was standing there.
"Are all coaches that arrogant?" he asked, shaking his head.
"Not all in my experience, but enough of them are to give all of them the reputation," I said. "I knew you didn't have any homework to do, but I could see you were getting antsy and I thought it was a good way to get rid of them."
"Thanks, dad," Joel said. "I want to play golf, but even though they made it sound that there wouldn't be any negative impact on my studies, I could see that they were blowing smoke. I don't want the scholarship and I don't want to be on the golf team. I guess I've made up my mind. Maybe we should wait a day or two before we call them."
"Good," I said, "I don't think you will regret your decision. I know of a number of courses that you can play in the Houston area. It's been a while, but I played a few while I was doing a project there. We'll have to check some out when we go over there next."
"Can you check our homework, now?" TJ asked from the top of the stairs.
"Sure, come on down," I said. "Our visitors have left."
After all the boys' homework assignments were checked, their snacks eaten, showers taken and tucked in bed for the night, Donald and I settled down with a glass of wine and discussed our day.
"So, what's Joel going to do about the scholarship offer?" Donald asked.
"He's turning it down. The two men who were here talking to him turned him off. Even if they had been less pushy, and as Joel described them arrogant, I think he would have made the same decision," I said. "I really think he is very serious about his studies at Rice. Maybe he has to prove something to himself. Sometimes I can still catch a glimpse of that frightened, abused little boy I first met at the ball field. He doesn't want to be that boy, but deep inside of him there is still some part of him that is that little boy."
"From what I know of his background, he's come a long way. I know you are very proud of him," Donald said. "You can take a lot of credit for him making that progress. The unconditional love you share with him and the other boys is palpable. It engulfs them and gives them all security to make the most of themselves. "You're a good man, Charlie Brown.""
"Oh, so I'm a Peanuts character, am I? I think you've had enough wine. I think it's time for bed."
Friday after school, Joel called Bob O'Donnell and informed him that he would not be accepting the scholarship offer. "I'm flattered by the offer, but I believe that by accepting it and committing to play for the team would take too much time away from my studies," Joel said.
I was listening to the conversation on an extension phone and when Bob O'Donnell raised his voice and became too aggressive, in my estimation, trying to get Joel to change his mind, I broke into the conversation. "Mr. O'Donnell, my son has told you he is not accepting the scholarship offer and that is the end of the conversation. He has made his decision and I support it. Goodbye, sir." I could hear Joel hang up his phone a split second before I did.
"Thanks, dad," Joel said when he joined me. "I don't think I would have wanted to play golf for him, if he talks to his players like that. Our coach doesn't yell at us, he helps us."
"That's as it should be. Golf is not a game where you have to get the adrenaline flowing like football or basketball. In golf, you have to be calm and in control. Strong emotional outbursts can be detrimental to your game."
"That makes sense," Joel said. "I'd better go take care of Sam. He'll think I've forgotten him."
I walked into the living room where I found Donald. He was on his cell phone and had a frown on his face. "I'll be there as soon as I can make it," he said into the phone and hung up. "Crane, I have to make a quick trip to New Orleans. Would you mind taking care of William and Lenore while I'm gone? I should be back late Sunday."
"No problem," I said. "Is there something wrong?"
"That was the manager of my Ford dealership over there. There's been an explosion and fire in the service department. One of the mechanics was killed and two others were seriously wounded," Donald said.
"What happened? Do they know what caused it?"
"They don't know anything definite, but the Fire Department told my manager that it looked suspicious. I've got to call my pilot and have him get the plane ready. Excuse me," Donald said, and began dialing his phone.
Earlier in the day I had been thinking that things had been going smoothly for the family. There had been no big drama that had been a large part of our lives in years past. It was probably too good to last.
Donald finished his call and went to find William and Lenore to let them know what was happening.
"Can I stay with Jeannie and Ginny?" I heard Lenore ask.
"Let me call Hildy and see," Donald said. He made a quick call and then explained the situation to whomever he was talking to. "Would it be okay if Lenore spent the weekend with your girls?" ... "Thanks, Hildy, I'll pack some clothes for her." He took Lenore by the hand and they went upstairs to her room. A few minutes later they came down the stairs with an overnight bag.
"Donald, I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but if you'd like me to take Lenore to the girls' house, I will," Gilda said.
"That would be a big help, thanks. I need to pack some clothes myself. My driver should be here in a few minutes," Donald said. Then picking Lenore up and giving her a kiss, "You go with Gilda and be a good girl while I'm gone. I love you."
"I love you, too, daddy."
Donald was still in the bedroom packing some clothes when the gate buzzer sounded. The monitor showed a large, black Mercedes. I assumed it was the driver he was expecting and activated the gate opener.
"Your driver is here," I said, when Donald came out of the bedroom with his bag.
"Thanks, I'll call you if for any reason I have to stay longer than I'd planned," he said and rushed out the door.
The weather forecaster on Channel 12 predicted rain for the weekend and for once he was right. When I got up Saturday morning it was raining and it rained all day. By Sunday afternoon the rain total was over five inches and the rain was still coming down. Needless to say, the boys did not get to ride their horses.
Donald called mid-afternoon on Sunday to say that he was going to be delayed in New Orleans for another day. "The Arson Squad of the New Orleans Fire Department has concluded that the cause of the explosion was a bomb. It had been placed in the trunk of a car that had been brought into the dealership for some minor repair," Donald said.
"At least I hope they know who brought the car in for repairs," I said.
"Yes, they do," he said. "It's not going to do them much good. That name and the name of the owner of the car did not match. When the police checked the VIN number, they found out that the car had been reported stolen the day before the explosion."
"Do the police have any leads?" I asked.
"No, they don't. The detective I spoke to, who is in charge of the investigation, does not appear to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. I called the private investigator, Roger Grimm, who found the killer of my Vice-president, Leon Henry. He will be "assisting" the police in their investigation. I have a lot more faith in him than in Detective Dixon."
"Will you be home for sure on Monday?"
"Yes, I have a meeting Monday afternoon that I have to attend and everything here should be wound up for my part by tomorrow morning," Donald said. "Will you ask Manfred if he will take Lenore to her preschool tomorrow?"
"I'll ask him. I'm positive he will be happy to," I said. As soon as the call ended, I called to talk with Manfred. He was happy to see that Lenore got to her preschool and would pick her up in the afternoon if Donald couldn't make it. I thanked him and hung up.
"Dad, can we talk?" Joel asked, coming into the living room.
"Sure, son, what's on your mind?"
"You're rich, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I guess. What brought that on?"
"I've just been thinking. I never thought much about it. Ever since you've been our dad, I just took everything for granted. One of the guys at school was bragging about how much money his dad had and I started wondering if you were richer than his dad was."
"Son, bragging about how much money you have is not something you do. I can't give you and exact dollar amount of our wealth, but if you really want to know approximately, I can tell you. However, I would not like for you to broadcast it to others. It's none of their business."
"I guess. I would like to know. I guess I'm just curious. I wouldn't tell anybody."
"Okay then, I own a lot of land, some developed and some undeveloped. Then there is this house and land, the three farms, the Las Vegas property, the apartment complexes, the townhouse in Houston. I also have investments and of course, cash. All in all, the value of all of them comes to approximately $1.5 billion. That is the approximate values of all of them. There are mortgages on some of the properties, but subtracting those and you get approximately $1 billion, plus or minus. Now if you want to know how much you are worth, that's separate from mine."
"So, how much am I worth? I didn't know I had any money."
"It's been a couple of weeks since I looked at your trust fund, but at that time it was worth slightly more than $10 million. You and your brothers all have the same amount."
"WOW! How? Why?"
"When each of you became my son, I set up trust funds that have done fairly well over the years. If anything happened to me, I wanted you all to be taken care of. The money in the trust fund was set aside for your education. When you turn 25 you will be given control of the trust fund to do what you please. I hope that you will use it wisely."
"I guess I don't have to worry about paying for college," Joel said.
"No, you can go all the way through the doctorate level and never have to worry about having the money to pay for it," I said. "Remember; please do not discuss this with anyone, not even your brothers. I will tell them when I think they're old enough to understand the importance of keeping the information to themselves."
"I won't tell anybody. I thought it was stupid for the guy to be telling everybody how rich his father was."
Monday when I went to pick up the kids from school, I noticed that Chris was alone and Susan was no place in site. I wondered if she were still in the hospital. I would have to ask Chris later.
Donald was home when we got back there. Lenore was sitting on her dad's lap with his arms around her. He was telling her how much he missed her and how much he loved her. That seemed to satisfy her and she jumped down from his lap when she heard the boys coming in the house. She knew, correctly, that Gilda would soon have the afternoon snacks ready. William took her place on Donald's lap for a moment before he followed TJ and Peter up the stairs to change out of his school uniform.
"How were things in New Orleans?" I asked.
"The wheels of justice grind slowly," he said. "There was one bit of good news. The forensic team was able to retrieve a good set of fingerprints from the steering wheel of the car that was brought in for repair. It turns out that the name given by the person did not correspond with the name associated with the prints. Instead they belonged to Phillip Molton, an ex-con known to be associated with that drug gang involved in Leon's murder. Finding him is another matter. I have very little faith in Detective Dixon. I only hope that he's smarter than he appears. I'll put my money on Roger Grimm to be able to locate Phillip Molton."
"Well, you didn't miss anything here over the weekend. It rained both days," I said.
"It was raining in New Orleans when we left this morning. The plane was delayed for an hour and I was barely able to make in time for my very important meeting. You'll learn about it at the board meeting in two weeks," Donald said with a smile.