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© 2014 Ted Louis

Joel VII

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Chapter 7

"Dad, Chris is acting weird," Lenny said. "He's just sitting at his desk, staring at the wall."

"Thanks, son," I said. "I'll go talk to him. You go do your homework."

I followed Lenny back upstairs to the boys' bedroom and approached Chris' desk. "What's the matter, son? Can we talk about what's bothering you?"

"I guess," he said. "Can we go somewhere private?"

"Let's go down to my office. We can talk there." I led the way and held the door to my office open for him. I sat down in one of the leather chairs and was surprised when he climbed onto my lap. "You want to tell me what's bothering you?"

I felt his head nod against my chest, but he didn't say anything for a couple of minutes. "Rita told me that Susan was still in the hospital and was going to have to have an operation." He paused for a little while before he continued. "She said the doctors found some more cancer."

"I am so sorry," I said. "Is Rita a friend of Susan's?"

"She's Susan's best friend. She lives next door to her."

"I know you're feeling sad," I said. "What do you think you should do?"

"I don't know," he said. After a pause, he continued, "Maybe I could go see her in the hospital. Can I?"

"We might be able to arrange that, but we would have to talk to her parents to see if she can have visitors," I said. "What's Susan's last name?"

"Reynolds. Her dad's name is Gary. Can you find out if I can see her?"

"Let me see what I can do. In the meantime, you need to do your homework," I said, kissing the top of his head and giving him a hug.

"Thanks, dad," Chris said, returning my hug and slipping off my lap.

I watched as my son slowly walked out of the room. I hated to see him this way. First love can be a very emotional experience. He closed the door behind him and I went to the desk to find the student directory for Corinthian Academy. I thumbed through it until I found the listing for Susan Reynolds. It listed the parents as Gary and Marsha Reynolds, along with a telephone number. I picked up the phone and dialed the number. The phone rang three times before someone answered.

"My name is Crane Johnson," I said, to the woman who answered. "Am I speaking to Mrs. Reynolds?"

"Yes, I'm Marsha Reynolds," she replied. "How may I help you?"

"Mrs. Reynolds, I'm a member of the school board of Corinthian Academy and I have a son who is a friend of your daughter, Susan. I understand that she's in the hospital. May I ask how she is doing?"

"She's doing as well as can be expected. My husband is spending the night at the hospital with her," she said. "Is Chris your son's name?"

"Yes, it is."

"Susan has mentioned him several times."

"Chris wanted to know if it were possible to visit Susan in the hospital," I said.

"I'm sure that Susan would like that, but it will be a couple of days before she can have visitors," Mrs. Reynolds said. "She is to have surgery in the morning. I will be there with her as soon as I get our other children off to school. The surgery is scheduled for ten o'clock."

"In the meantime, maybe Chris could send her a card. What hospital is Susan in?"

"She's at Northcentral Baptist in San Antonio, Room 402. I'm sure Susan would enjoy getting a card. I'll let you know when she can have visitors. Thank you for calling. I'll tell Susan that Chris wants to come visit her. She'll be pleased."

I was happy to see that Chris was back to his old self the next morning at breakfast. After dropping the kids off at school, I went in the building to see if I could talk to Headmaster Pierce. I was lucky that he was available when I talked to his secretary and was ushered into his office. After the usual amenities, I asked, "Are you aware that one of our students is in the hospital and is being operated on this morning?"

"No, I haven't looked at the absentee report in a couple of days. I've been otherwise occupied. Who is the student?" he asked, retrieving a folder from the corner of his desk.

"Susan Reynolds," I said.

"Yes, here she is. It says she has been absent, but it doesn't list any reason. How are you aware of her status?"

"One of my sons is very fond of her and told me she was in the hospital. When I talked to her mother, she confirmed that Susan was in the hospital and is to be operated on at ten this morning. It seems that the cancer has returned. If that's true, she will probably be out of school for an extended period of time. I think the school should make arrangements to see that she doesn't fall behind in her school work. It's my understanding that she is already a year behind her age group because of her cancer."

"Of course," Mr. Pierce said. "We can have a tutor go to her home and see that she stays up to date with her school work. If she is to be in the hospital for a longer period of time, we can arrange for the tutor to see her there."

"Thank you, Mr. Pierce. I'm sure that the farthest thing from her parents' minds, at the moment, is her staying current with her school work, but in a day or two that will probably become a priority."

I left the Headmaster's office feeling as if I had done a good deed. As I walked into the house from the garage, Gilda handed me a note that said Charlie Wood had called and asked that I return his call. I poured myself a cup of coffee and headed for my office to make the call.

"Charlie, it's Crane. What can I do for you this morning?"

"When you were last out here, you said if we brought you the information on Grant Westin's place, you would consider it if it were a good investment. Well, Ian and I have put together the information and would like to show it to you," he said. "Are you available anytime today?"

"I don't have anything planned other than going to pick up the kids from school this afternoon. Why don't you bring the information over here this morning and we can discuss it? Gilda might even fix lunch for you."

"That sounds good," Charlie said. "We can be there in about thirty minutes."

I had to laugh; he hung up without even saying goodbye. He and Ian showed up under the thirty minutes he said it would take.

"Come in, guys," I said. "Would you like some coffee or iced tea?"

"Thanks, coffee for me," Charlie said.

"Same for me," Ian echoed.

"Follow me, I think the breakfast table will serve our needs," I said. "The coffee pot is nearby."

They fixed their coffee and I refilled my cup. Gilda asked if they wanted a sweet roll, which they declined. Charlie was holding a manila folder which he placed on the table as he sat down.

"This is the information that we have put together on the Westin property," he said. "The first page is a summary of the land and how it breaks down into tillable, grazing and scrub-timber lands."

"The second page shows what Mr. Weston thinks the land should be worth," Ian added.

I scanned the two pages they mentioned before looking through the rest of the pages in the folder. I stopped at a map of the area showing the three properties that I already owned and the Westin property. They had outlined the four properties in red marker. I noticed that there was another property between the one Ian farmed and the Westin property. "Who owns this property?" I asked showing them the one on the map.

"According to the Comal County Assessor's website, it's owned by the Truman Family Trust," Charlie said. "As far as I know, no one lives there or farms any of the land."

"How big is it?" I asked.

"Again, the website shows a total of 960 acres and from what Ian and I can tell, it's all tillable," Charlie said.

The three of us sat silently at the table for several minutes drinking our coffee before I spoke. "I think Mr. Westin's asking price is way too high. I think his property is worth about 80% of what he thinks it's worth. If I can get my lawyer to get him to agree to something around the 80% area, I'd be willing to purchase it." I saw both Ian's and Charlie's faces break into smiles. "Tell me, if I could negotiate a sale on the Truman and the Westin properties, would you be able to farm them all?"

Charlie took a deep breath and looked at Ian. There was an unspoken communication that passed between them. Then Charlie spoke, "We would need some help and possibly some more machinery, but we could make it happen. Right Ian?"

"I'd sure like to try," Ian said. "My friend, Lionel, could help us. He was born and raised on a farm in Arkansas and has been wanting to get back to the farm. He could live with me. You wouldn't mind, would you?"

"There's an old saw my grandfather used to say. 'As long as you don't do it in the street and scare the horses, it's okay.' That pretty much sums up my thinking," I said.

The lunch that Gilda fixed was a simple affair, just ham sandwiches and tomato soup. Charlie and Ian left shortly after lunch. All they had talked about during lunch and on the way out to their car was what they would need to do to get ready for the extended acreage. I tried to caution them that nothing was definite and it would probably be some time before anything could happen. That didn't appear to make any difference to them.

After they left I placed a conference call to Gerald and Carlos to start them working on the feasibility of purchasing one or both of the properties in question. As we spoke, I faxed them the information on the Westin property. I explained that I didn't want to pay more than about 80% of the asking price. I also asked them to see if the Truman Trust was interested in selling their property and to determine a fair price for it, if it were available. They said it would take a few days to set things in motion, but if all went well, they would have some answers in a week or so.

Carlos said, "Crane, I'm glad that you called because I was going to call you this afternoon on another matter. You know that 800 acres you own on the northwest side of San Antonio?"

"Yes, that's the last piece of property I own up there. What about it?"

"I got a call this morning from a developer who is interested in it. If he follows through with an offer that is acceptable, the proceeds from that sale could more than likely finance the purchase of both of those farms. There would also be tax benefits from reinvesting the cash in other real property rather than stocks or bonds. I told him I would have to see if you are interested in selling it now or holding on to it hoping to get an even better price sometime in the future."

"Carlos, you can tell him that I will listen to any reasonable offer," I said. "But, tell him to bring his best offer to the table. I don't want to waste a lot of time haggling over the price."

"Right," Carlos said. "I'll give him a call back as soon as we're done here."

"I think we're done," I said. "See you both at the ASEC board meeting at the end of February. Goodbye."

I was on my way to the kitchen for another cup of coffee when the phone rang. I picked it up on the kitchen extension. It was Fenton, calling from Las Vegas.

"Crane, do you have some time?" he said. "There are a few things I need to discuss with you."

"Sure," I said. "Let me put you on hold for a minute until I get back to my office." I finished pouring myself a fresh cup of coffee and carried it back to my office. "Okay Fenton, what can I do for you?"

"I don't know if you are to the point where you want to hire an overall manager for the golf courses and related facilities ..." He made the statement sound more like a question.

"Donald and I have talked about it, but haven't taken any action to make it happen."

"I have received four resumes for the position without the position being advertised. If you're interested, I'll fax them to you," Fenton said. "There are two of them that look good on paper. I've also had inquires about the golf pro positions that you'll need to fill before the courses open. You may want to do that yourselves or let the general manager take care of that."

"By all means, fax me the resumes. Donald and I will look them over and decide what to do about that position. If necessary, one or both of us could fly out there to do the interviews. How're things going in the lot sales?"

"As you can tell by the reports I send to you, they are going very well. I would estimate that by the end of the year somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the lots will have been sold. People can see that this is a quality project and want to be part of it. That includes me. I bought a lot for myself."

"Congratulations! I'm sure that your contacts in the affluent population of the area have been an asset in making the project a success," I said. "Donald and I will let you know tomorrow what we decide."

It wasn't long after I finished talking to Fenton that it was time to go pick up the kids from school. I got there just as Peter and William were exiting the school. They were laughing and giggling with a couple other boys their own age. When they saw me, they ran to me and gave me hugs. "How was school? Did you learn a lot today?" I asked.

"Yeah," they both said in unison and began to tell me all about their day. As soon as one stopped to take a breath, the other one jumped in and talked about his day. It was like verbal Ping-Pong. Fortunately, TJ arrived shortly which interrupted their stories.

Jeannie and Ginny arrived with another girl, who they introduced as Beth. As we waited for the other boys to arrive, Beth saw her mother's car drive into the parking lot and ran to climb into it as she waved goodbye to her friends.

The twins and Chris walked out of the building with a group of boys. Chris was carrying what looked like a large poster. As he got closer, I could tell it was folded in two, resembling a large card.

"What do you have there?" I asked him.

"It's a get well card for Susan. We made it in Art class and everybody in our class signed it," Chris said. "Can we take it to the hospital tonight?"

"Like I told you last night, her mother said it would be a couple of days before she could have visitors."

"We wouldn't have to see her," he said. "Maybe I could get a nurse to take it to her room and her mom and dad could show it to her. Can we, dad? Please!"

"Let's talk about it when we get home," I said. Joel had walked up during the conversation with Chris. "Everybody's here now, so climb into the van and let's go home." Chris didn't appear too pleased at not getting a definite answer.

As soon as the school clothes were changed and the after school snack was consumed, Chris was at my side waiting for a decision.

"Before we drive into San Antonio to the hospital, why don't we call the hospital and see if we can talk to her parents to see if she is awake. If she had surgery this morning, she may still be under anesthesia," I said. "Come with me and we'll make a call."

He grabbed my hand and nearly dragged me to my office. "Can I listen, too?"

"Sure," I said. I dialed the hospital number I had looked up earlier in the day. When the hospital operator came on the line I asked for Room 402. When a man answered, I pressed the speaker button on the phone. "Mr. Reynolds?"

"Yes, this is Mr. Reynolds," he answered.

"This is Crane Johnson. My son, Chris, and his classmates at school have made a large get well card for Susan and we were wondering if we dropped it by the hospital tonight if she would be able to see it."

"Probably not, the surgery took longer than expected and Susie is still in recovery and probably won't be awake until tomorrow," he said. "Perhaps it would be better if you waited until tomorrow."

"I understand," I said. "We'll plan on dropping it off tomorrow evening. Please know that we are all hoping for a swift and complete recovery for your daughter."

"Thank you."

When I hung up the phone, Chris said dejectedly, "I guess I can wait until tomorrow."

I gave him a hug when he got up out of his chair. "I promise, we'll take the card to her tomorrow. Now, you had better go take care of your dog. He'll be wondering what has happened to you."

"Thanks, dad," he said, returning the hug.

As I left the offices, I saw that Hildy, Manfred and the girls were sitting in the living room talking to Donald and Lenore. Of course Brittanie was the center of attention for Lenore. "What brings you all here?" I asked.

"The girls wanted to come see Lenore and we thought it was a good opportunity to see you as well," Hildy said. "It's a little strange not being here every day."

"We miss you as well, but Gilda is taking good care of us," I said.

"I'll second that," Donald said, patting his stomach. "If she took any better care of us, I would have to buy a whole new wardrobe."

"How's Brittanie doing?" I asked.

"She is a little doll," Manfred said.

"That's one of the things we wanted to talk to you about. It seems that her parents' trial has been moved up to next Wednesday," Hildy said. "The CPS Caseworker said the trial should last about four or five days. She said the County Attorney told her the evidence is pretty convincing and he's confident of a conviction. After the trial, they will have to look for a permanent home for Brittanie."

"How long did the caseworker think it would take to find a permanent home for Brittanie?" Donald asked.

"Not long, there are always couples who want to adopt babies," Manfred answered. "As soon as a verdict is reached in the trial and a sentence delivered it should only take a couple of days before we have to give her up. We're not looking forward to that day."

"I may have a hard time explaining that to my daughter," Donald said, glancing at Lenore on the floor playing with a wiggling baby.

"Ours, too," Hildy said, almost under her breath.

"You'll stay for supper, won't you? I'm sure that Gilda can work some magic and come up with enough food for us all," I said.

"We hadn't planned on it, but why not?" Hildy said. "Between my sister and me, I think we can work some magic." With that, she headed for the kitchen to see what Gilda had planned for supper.

It was like old times, having Hildy and Manfred eating supper with us. The conversations flowed easily and continuously throughout the meal that the two sisters had managed to put together. Shortly after the dishes had all been loaded in the dishwasher and what little food that was left over was put into the refrigerator, the Strassers left for home.

While the boys went to do their homework, Donald and I talked about the resumes that Fenton had faxed to me earlier in the day.

"These two that Fenton liked look pretty good," Donald said, after he had finished reading all four.

"I agree," I said.

"I had considered hiring a search firm to see if they could come up with some candidates, and I had actually contacted a friend who used to work for one of them. He gave me a couple of contacts that might be able to help," Donald said. "They're very expensive. Their fee can be as high as the first year's salary for the individual we hire through them. The good part is they do a thorough background check to see if their resumes check out. What do you think?"

"Hmm. Why don't we see if the PI firm we hired to checkup on our corrupt politician can run a check on the two individuals whose resumes we like?" I said. "After that, if we're still interested in one or both, we do interviews. This assumes that all this can be accomplished quickly; otherwise we are going to be pressed for time to get the search firm involved and get someone in place."

"That's a good idea," Donald said. "I'll call the Landrum Agency in the morning as soon as I think their office is open. I want to find out how the investigation is going into Commissioner Lawson, also. The last report we got said they were setting up a sting to try and catch the Commissioner with his hands out for a bribe."

"That was a couple of weeks ago," I said. "I wonder why we haven't heard anything."

Later when I was checking the homework, Chris asked, "You won't forget about taking the card to Susan tomorrow, will you?"

"No, son, I promise we will go as soon as all your brothers are home from school. I've made arrangements for Gilda and Donald to be here to watch them while we go to the hospital. I'm sure that Susan will like the card you made for her."

"Dad," Joel said, as he came down the stairs, "Kirk called and said the weather was supposed to be good tomorrow and we decided to go hit some golf balls at River Crossing. Is that okay?"

"Yeah, I guess. Is anyone else going with you?" I asked.

"Not yet," he said. "Maybe Doug might go, but he has his own car. We won't stay long, just long enough to hit a bucket of balls. It still gets dark early."

"I've been meaning to go hit some balls for a long time," I said. "If nothing interferes after I take you all to school, I think I might do the same. Maybe I'll ask that pro you talked about to give me a few hints about my swing. His name was Dave Proudfoot, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, you'll like him," Joel said. "He doesn't try to change your whole swing. He tries to help you make your natural swing better."

"It's only a couple of months until we go to Las Vegas to inaugurate the new courses, so I had better start getting my golf game into shape," I said. "I would hate to embarrass myself in front of a lot of people when we tee off."

"Yeah," Joel laughed. "I'd hate for you to embarrass me, too."

I grabbed my giggling son in a headlock and gave his head a knuckle rub before releasing him and giving him a hug instead. "I love you, son."

"I love you, too, dad."

"What am I going to do when you go off to college? I'm going to miss you and I know your brothers are going to miss you."

"I know. It's a little scary for me. I've never been away from home. I'll miss Gilda and Hildy's cooking, that's for sure," he said.

It was still a little chilly when I got to the golf course after taking the kids to school the following morning. I went into the Pro Shop and asked to talk to Dave Proudfoot. The man at the counter picked up the phone and dialed a number. A short while later a young man who appeared to be in his early twenties appeared. I asked if he were available to give me some pointers on my swing. He said he was and we headed for the driving range. He watched me hit a dozen balls or so before he said anything. He asked me a few questions about what I wanted to do with my game. Whether I wanted to join a league, go pro or simply be a weekend player. I indicated that a weekend player would probably describe my golfing. For the next thirty minutes, he put me through a series of adjustments to the way I swung the club and addressed the ball. By the time we were finished, I was hitting the ball straighter and more consistently.

"Dave," I said. "My son said you were good and I agree with him. He and a friend will be here after they get out of school this afternoon. His name is Joel. If you see anything that would help him, I'd appreciate it if you would give him that help. Of course, I would expect to pay for a lesson, if you do help him."

"He and a friend have been here a couple of times," Dave said. "He has a natural swing that doesn't need much work, but maybe I can give him a few pointers."

"Thanks," I said and gave him money for two lessons.

"Crane," Gilda said, when I arrived back home, "Jeremy called while you were gone. He said he'd call back around noon."

"Thanks," I said, "I think he wants to know what time we're leaving for Houston tomorrow morning."

When he called shortly after twelve, I told him a car would pick him up at the main gate of Lackland AFB at seven in the morning and take him to the airport. When he asked why I was sending a car, I told him it would be easier than him driving to the airport, parking the car and finding his way to the plane. I didn't tell him we were flying on a private jet.

"Dad, you didn't forget, did you?" Chris said as he ran to the van from the school building.

"No, son, I didn't forget," I said, looking him straight in the eyes. "We'll take off for the hospital as soon as we drop your brothers off at the house. That seemed to set his mind at ease, but he made sure that all the other kids got in the van as soon as they arrived.

"Where's Joel?" Chris asked, agitated.

"He drove his own car this morning, don't you remember?" I asked.

"Oh, then let's go," he said, and then added, "Please."

When we got everyone dropped off at home, we changed into the Lincoln. It was easier to drive in traffic than the van. It took about thirty-five minutes to drive to the hospital. Chris was carrying the get-well card that his class had made as if it were made of gold. We parked the car and entered the main door of the hospital. Chris looked around and saw the elevators off to our right. He grabbed my hand and nearly dragged me to the nearest one. The door of the elevator opened just as we got there. As soon as the passengers exited, he hurried in and pressed the button for the fourth floor. There was only one other person that was going to ride up with us, but it was taking him a while to enter as he was on crutches. He asked for Chris to press the button for the second floor. I could see Chris frowning at the delay the stop was going to take. I patted him on the back and smiled at him when he looked up at me. I got a weak smile in return.

We finally made it to the fourth floor and headed for the nurses station. Chris didn't say anything when we got there.

"May I help you?" an older nurse asked.

"My son has a get-well card that he and his classmates made for Susan Reynolds in Room 402. Is it possible to give it to her?"

The nurse, whose nametag identified her as Doris, looked at her computer screen and typed in the room number on the keyboard before answering. "I'm sorry, but the patient cannot have visitors other than family members. If you would like to leave the card with me, I can have one of the floor nurses take it to her room."

"Thank you," Chris said, handing her the precious card.

"Let's go, son," I said when he just stood there without moving.

We got on the elevator and had the car to ourselves. Chris leaned into me and said, "I wish I could have seen her."

"Maybe she'll be able to have visitors on Sunday," I said.

"Not Saturday?" he asked.

"Remember, Joel and I are going to fly to Houston tomorrow. Jeremy's going with us to see the place where they're going to live."

"Oh, I forgot," he said sadly.

Saturday morning, Joel and I were on the way to the airport at a quarter to seven. We arrived at the general aviation terminal area, parked the car and were walking to the terminal when the black Mercedes drove up and Jeremy stepped out.

"Wow! I'm not used to such luxury," he said, as he shook hands with us.

"As they say, 'You ain't seen nothing yet,'" Joel said.


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