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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.
Mike was nearly knocked off his feet by the three girls rushing him. They had him surrounded and were all hanging onto him and all talking at once. He put his arms around all three of them until they quieted down.
"How are my three favorite girl friends?" he asked. It was a rhetorical question, but it brought on another round of all three of them talking at once.
Peter and William had gotten up from the table and approached Mike as well, but not quite as forcefully as the girls had. They joined in the group hug. TJ followed. He couldn't decide if he should join the hug. The twins and Chris approached and got high-fives from Mike. TJ decided that's what he would do as well. It took a few minutes before everyone was able to greet Mike.
"Did you bring your tennis racket so we can beat you again?" Chris asked with a grin.
"No, I deliberately left it in Austin," Mike said. "I asked my roommates if they wanted to come visit you guys and they said no way. They still remember the trouncing you gave them when they were here last. Not only did you humiliate them at tennis, but you did the same in the pool."
"Mike, you gotta see what we got," Lenny said, pointing upstairs.
"Sure, but let me talk to your dads for a bit. Okay?"
"Let's go into the family room," I said.
Mike followed Donald and me; the girls were still hanging onto him. He sat down on the couch with Ginny on his left, Jeannie on his right and Lenore on his lap.
"How's med school going?" Donald asked.
"It's tough," Mike said. "I really needed this break. It's been great living with three other med students. We have our own study group and we don't have to leave the house."
"Are the living arrangements working out? No problems?" Donald asked.
"None so far. We even have the cooking and cleaning worked out with our schedules. Our meals are not as good as what Hildy used to cook for me when I was living here, but we don't starve."
"That's sweet of you to say," Hildy said.
"Would you like something to drink?" Gilda asked. "There's a fresh pot of coffee and I think there are a few brownies left.
"No, thanks," Mike answered. "My mother has been trying to stuff Jimmy and me while we've been home. I've put on at least five pounds this week. I'll have to double my exercises next week to wear them off."
We talked for fifteen or twenty minutes more when I noticed that the boys were getting fidgety. "Why don't you boys take Mike upstairs and show him your new toys? I'm sure he would like to see them," I said.
"Come on, Mike. It's totally neat," Larry said.
Mike looked at Donald and me. Getting a nod from both of us, he lifted Lenore off his lap and followed the boys up the stairs.
Soon there was laughter, cheers and jeers coming from the newly-christened 'game room' upstairs. All the adults just shook our heads; none of us understood the attraction of computer games.
A few minutes later the doorbell rang. I went to see who it was. It was Billy. I invited him in, but he declined. He told me in his own inimitable style that someone had ripped out about thirty feet of fencing on the east side of the property. He didn't have enough fencing with him to fix it today, but he would be back on Monday to finish up, as he had another job scheduled for tomorrow and Saturday. I thanked him and went back inside.
"Before I forget it," Donald said, "I bought a couple cases of wine to restock our supply. How about helping me carry them in?"
"Sure thing," I said, and followed him out to the garage. There I retrieved a case containing twelve bottles of wine. Donald picked up the other case and we headed back into the house. We placed the boxes on the bar and I began taking the bottles out. Before putting them in the wine cooler, I inspected all twenty-four bottles to see what he had purchased.
"Good heavens," I exclaimed as I read one of the labels. "You went all out for the good stuff. I know the price on this bottle alone and you could buy a whole case of reasonable California or Australian wine for what it cost."
"Yes, that one was a bit of an extravagance, but I thought we would save it for a special occasion," Donald said. "The rest of the bottles are more reasonably priced."
"That thief had better not come back and steal that one, or I will personally track him down," I said. "I don't know what I would do with him, but I would think of something."
"That must be some wine," Manfred said. "What is it?"
"It's 'L'Ermite Ermitage 1998," I answered. "It's a Syrah from the M. Chapoutier winery in France."
"Never heard of it," Manfred said. "I'm more of a California Merlot person."
"There's some of that here," Donald said. "Maybe we can have some of that at supper, if it will go with the meal." Donald looked at Gilda and received a nod in return.
"We're having roast beef, so a red would do nicely," Gilda said. "Which reminds me, I'd best be getting the roasts ready or supper will be late."
"I'll help," Hildy said, as the two of them headed for the kitchen.
"I think I'll go upstairs to see how things are going," I said.
"They're having way too much fun from the sounds of it," Manfred laughed. "We need to put a stop to it."
"As if you could ever follow through on that with your girls," Donald chided.
"Yeah, you're right. They have me twisted around their little fingers, just like Hildy has," Manfred admitted.
"And, of course, that doesn't apply to Donald," I said, dodging a playful punch at my shoulder from him.
By this time the three of us had arrived to where the Xbox action was taking place. I was surprised to see Mike with one of the controllers and Jeannie competing against him with the other one. Ginny and Lenore were standing by watching the action. We were just in time to see Mike's car crash into a wall and flip over onto its top as Jeannie's crossed the finish line getting the checkered flag.
"Man, I've got to quit coming here," Mike said. "The boys beat me at tennis and swimming and now Jeannie beats me in a video game. My ego is shot to pieces. I may not recover."
"You want to try again?" Jeannie asked with a smile.
"Thanks, but I think I will quit while I'm behind," he said. "Someone else can have my place." He got up from the chair and was quickly replaced by TJ.
We watched as Jeannie and TJ played. I was a bit surprised at how well matched they were. Jeannie was a few years younger than TJ, but that was not a handicap for her. I could see it now; she would be a frequent visitor in the future.
Several minutes later we decided to go back downstairs. Mike and two of his "girlfriends", Ginny and Lenore, went with us. Hildy and Gilda were still in the kitchen working on our supper when I entered to pour Donald, Manfred and me cups of coffee. Mike had declined.
Mike regaled us with some of the weird and funny things that had happened at UT. Most of the stories he relayed went over the girls' heads. His choice of words kept the telling appropriate to the company, but was well understood by the adults.
"Mike, I know that you intend to become a Pediatrician when you finish med school, but have you decided whether you want to specialize further?" Donald asked.
"I've been seriously considering Pediatric Surgery," Mike answered. "From what I can tell, it is a field that is currently underserved and from talking with my advisor, he thinks I would be a good candidate for it. I know you only offered me financial assistance until I finished the basic medical curriculum, but I think I can get student loans to make it through the specialization."
"Mike, that is fantastic," Donald said. "Don't worry about the money. If that is what you want, I think it is a great idea. The original stipulation would still hold. You will need to return to the area and practice."
"That's a relief," Mike sighed. "There is no place that I would rather practice than in the San Antonio area. I only hope when the time comes that I can do my residency here."
"When that time comes, let me know what your preference is and I'll see what I can do," Donald said. "I'm not without influence."
"Mr. B. of that I am sure," Mike said.
Over the next hour or so, we discussed a number of topics ranging from the weather to the current political situation in the state of Texas and at the national level. We were of agreement that we had a bunch of fools who were in charge.
Shortly, Hildy announced the supper would be ready in about fifteen minutes. That was our notice to have everybody get washed up. Manfred went to see to the girls, Donald handled TJ, Peter and William, I pointed the way for the twins and Chris and then stopped by Joel's room to let him know that supper would be ready in a few minutes.
"Donald, why don't you select the wine and open a couple of bottles," I said, when he came down the stairs.
"I'll do just that," he replied. "I've been anxious to try the California Merlot that the wine shop owner suggested, and now is the perfect time."
The roast beef that Gilda had prepared was excellent and the wine Donald had chosen was an excellent complement to it. Hildy came through with one of her delicious desserts, gingerbread pudding-cake, served warm and topped with whipped cream.
"I am definitely going to have to double my exercises next week when I get back to college," Mike said. "Between my mother trying to stuff me with food and now the combination of Hildy and Gilda doing the same, my pants are not going to fit."
"Nonsense," Hildy snorted. "You're as skinny as a rail."
"And I would like to stay that way," Mike responded.
After supper we sat around in the living room and talked. Mike was the center of attention not only from the adults, but the kids as well. The girls still surrounded him on the couch. I think they would gladly have gone home with him, if they could.
At eight o'clock, Mike looked at his watch and announced he had to leave. "I have to pick up Jimmy at the store. He gets off at nine and I want to get a new pair of running shoes before he gets off work. Thank you all for the meal and for making me feel so welcome. You are like a second family to me."
"Mike, you know that you are welcome to our home any time," I said. "We all miss you."
"That goes double for me," Donald said. "You brought my daughter back to me when no one else was able to do it. For that I will always be grateful. Don't be a stranger and don't hesitate to call me if you ever need anything. I mean that. I've never meant anything more in my life."
"Joel, I'll probably see you tomorrow morning. I know Jimmy has the noon to nine shift again tomorrow."
Joel blushed and said, after looking at me, "Yeah, probably."
We all walked Mike to his car. The three girls all gave him hugs, as did Hildy and Gilda, before he got into his car. We watched until he drove out through the gate.
"Jeannie, Ginny, it's time we headed for home," Hildy said. "It's getting close to your bedtime."
"Okay," Jeannie said, "is it okay if I come back tomorrow to play the Xbox?"
"That's a good idea," I put in before Hildy had answered. "We are going to have a meeting to set down the rules for using the Xboxes. Why don't you bring her over around nine?"
"We'll be here," Manfred answered.
"Come on, Lenore," Gilda said. "Let's get your bath taken and ready for bed. I'll read you some more of that story."
"The one about the princess?" Lenore asked.
"That's the one," Gilda said. She and Lenore went up the stairs holding hands.
"You guys need to shower and get to bed," I said to the six youngest. "We'll be up to say goodnight later. Joel, I don't need to tell you. You're old enough to know when it's time for you to go to bed."
"You don't mind if I go see Jimmy again tomorrow?" he asked.
"No, I trust you," I said. "I guess I need to let you start making your own decisions. It won't be that long before you'll be a couple hundred miles away and have to make all of them. That will probably be easier on you than it will be on me."
"Thanks, dad," he said, and headed up to his bedroom.
"Have you heard anything from Jeremy?" Donald asked.
"Not for a couple of weeks. I think he was scheduled to be discharged from the Air Force last Friday," I said. "The last time I talked to him he said he was going to visit an Air Force buddy in Colorado for a few days. It seems that the guy was injured in Iraq and is having some depression problems. He said that suicide among returning Vets from the combat zone, especially those who had been injured is quite high. He wants to see if he can cheer his buddy up."
"What about him?" Donald asked. "He was injured over there, too. Is there any danger that he could suffer from, what do they call it, PTSD?"
"I suppose there is always the possibility, but when he visited us, he sure didn't show any signs of depression," I said.
"You're right, of course. It might be something to talk to him about," Donald said.
"Hmm, maybe you're right. I need to think about it some."
Friday morning, shortly after Joel left to go see Jimmy, the gate buzzer sounded. I saw in the video monitor that it was the people who were to come fix the glass door that the thief had broken. I let the van in and went to the front door to greet them. Two men emerged from the van and came to introduce themselves to me. I invited them in and showed them the door that we had taped the plywood over the opening. They went to work and soon had removed the door and carried it out to their van. Twenty minutes later they returned with the door, now with new glass installed. It took them a few minutes to get it set back in its tracks and to check if it operated correctly. Satisfied with their work, they gathered up their few tools. The one who appeared to be in charge returned after they had deposited their tools in the van. He handed me a clipboard with the invoice attached. I looked at it and wrote a check for the indicated amount and thanked him for the prompt service.
By this time it was time for Jeannie to get here so that she would be in on the rules for playing the video games. Donald and I had discussed them last night after the kids were all in bed. What we came up with we thought was fair enough that each would get a fair chance to play and still not become so involved with the games that it consumed them.
When everybody had settled down, I handed out the rules that Donald and I had come up with and asked each of them to read them. Once it appeared that everybody had finished, I asked if they had any questions or if they thought the rules were unfair. Not getting any response, I said, "Now, someone has to be responsible for posting the schedule showing when each of you has your turn on the Xboxes. One person can be responsible or it can be a rotating duty. That is up to you all to decide. The schedule should be posted upstairs as well as giving a copy to Jeannie so she can have one at her house. Remember, rule number one is that homework comes first."
The five video gamers went off to come up with a schedule that would fit within the rules that had been laid out for them. Some twenty minutes later, they came back and showed us the schedule. Evidently they had used one of the computers in the boys' room to come up with a spreadsheet with starting times and ending times for each player and the day. I thought they would have a problem scheduling for five players, but they had solved that problem very nicely.
"This looks good to me," I said. "Hildy, Manfred, do you see any problems?"
"No," Manfred said. "I think they need to prepare for more players after they get started. It is a very real possibility that, at least, Peter and William might want to join in the fun."
"You're right," I said.
"Dad," Chris said, "we thought about that and the schedule can easily be changed to add more players. It's all in Excel. It'll only take a couple of minutes to make changes."
"Chris, did you do this?" I asked.
"I just wanted to say you did a great job," I said. "I'm proud of you."
"Thanks," he said, blushing. "It was nothing."
"Now, I think it is time for you all to get some fresh air. Your dogs are probably wondering where you have been," I said. "It's turning out to be too nice a day to stay inside all day."
The boys went out to exercise their dogs while the girls went up to Lenore's bedroom to get some of her toys to take outside.
"How about a cup of coffee?" Gilda asked, to which everybody agreed.
We had settled down at the breakfast table when the phone rang. I got up to answer it.
"Crane, it's Jesse. We got a break in your robbery," he said.
"That's great news," I said. "You've caught the thief, I assume."
"Well, no," he answered. "But we did catch someone trying to pawn some of the silver. It hadn't been an hour since I had passed out the flyer with pictures of the silver to the pawn shop, when a young woman tried to pawn one of the silver trays. The pawn shop owner recognized the pattern and called me. He had delayed the woman, telling her he had to call the guy who would be able to fix a price on it. She believed him. He called me and I was there in five minutes. I was only a couple of blocks away from his shop."
"If she wasn't the thief, then how did she get the silver?" I asked.
"At first, when we questioned her, she refused to tell us where she got it," Jesse said. "When we explained to her that the penalty for receiving stolen property was a minimum two years in prison, she became more cooperative. She said her boyfriend asked her to pawn it for him. After more questioning and a promise to speak to the DA about reducing the charges against her, she gave us her boyfriend's name. At this time we have not been able to locate him, but we believe he is still in the area. We don't know if he knows his girlfriend has been arrested."
"Can you tell me the guy's name?"
"I can, but please don't broadcast it around. We don't want him to know that we know who he is."
"None of us will blab it around."
"Okay, his name is Lee Boyd. He was formerly employed by your security monitoring service, but was fired about a month ago," Jesse said. "I'll keep you informed of any change in status."
"Thanks, Jesse, I appreciate that," I said. "When this is over, I want to thank the pawn shop owner as well for his assistance in this."
I hung up the phone and went back to the breakfast table and picked up my cup of coffee which was now cold. I dumped the contents into the sink and refilled my cup with fresh coffee. After I settled down, I related what Jesse had told me.
"Who's the girl?" Hildy asked.
"Jesse didn't tell me and I didn't ask," I said. "He did tell me the name of her boyfriend."
"Well, what is it?" Manfred prodded.
"His name is Lee Boyd," I said. "I promised Jesse that we wouldn't spread the name around until after they arrest him."
"I wonder if he is the son of Brenda and Luther Boyd," Hildy said. "I know they have two sons who might be in their mid to late twenties. I haven't seen or talked to Brenda in years. They're the only Boyds that I know of around here."
"I think their oldest boy would have been a couple years younger than my son would have been," Manfred said.
"It's all speculation," I said. "Lee may not even be from around here. I'm sure there are a lot of Boyds in San Antonio. I think I'll go call Jack. Maybe he can help find this Lee Boyd character."
I made the call and asked Jack to make some inquiries that might assist the police in finding our alleged thief. He said he would let me know if he learned anything.
"Dad," TJ said, as he and his brothers came back inside. "It's starting to rain. We're going up and practice our music."
"Sounds like a good idea," I said, ruffling his hair. "I didn't know it was supposed to rain, but I can see that it's starting to come down pretty hard, now." The girls had also picked up what they had been playing with outside and followed the boys back inside.
It wasn't long before we could hear "music" coming from the room over the garage. There was also laughter when someone played a wrong note on a keyboard or a guitar. I couldn't tell if there were any mistakes made on the drums.
By the time Joel arrived back from visiting Jimmy, it had stopped raining and Gilda was setting out lunch. "Does Jimmy have to work tomorrow?" I asked.
"No, not here," Joel said. "He's already put in his 40 hours at the store, so he's driving back to Houston to work at his job there. He's leaving around five tomorrow morning. He has to be there for an eight o'clock shift. I wish he didn't have to work so much."
"Has he applied for any scholarships?"
"Yeah, he has one that covers about three-fourths of his tuition, but there are still a lot of expenses other than tuition."
"Has he checked with Student Services to see if there is any help available through them? They are usually aware of a lot of assistance in the form of scholarship, grants, and other monies that often go begging. There are also student loans. It wouldn't hurt to go see them as soon as school is back in session."
"He really doesn't want to start taking out student loans," Joel said. "He's heard bad things about graduates who owe upwards of a hundred thousand dollars when they leave college. It takes them years to pay off all the loans. He's going to work as many hours as he can and still maintain a high grade point. I feel kinda bad that I don't have to work to pay for my college."
"There is no reason to feel bad about it," I said. "You're fortunate that you don't have to work. It will give you the time to excel at your studies. You might find some volunteer work in Houston after you start at Rice. Charities always need volunteers. You might start thinking about what kinds of volunteering might interest you. It would probably be best, however, if you got settled into your classes first before you became involved with volunteer work."
From the look on his face, I could see that the idea had struck a chord with him.
"Thanks," he said and took off for his room.
I called Donald's office and was able to catch him in-between meetings. I brought him up to date on what Jesse had told me and that I had asked Jack to see what he could find out about our thief. He was surprised that things had progressed so rapidly. We discussed a few other matters before he said he had to go to another meeting.
I decided to look at my schedule for next week. When I checked my calendar, I saw I had two board meetings. The school board meeting was Tuesday evening and the ASEC meeting was Wednesday at noon. I only hoped that the school board meeting was not as boring as the last one was. I was looking forward to the ASEC meeting. I had been derelict in keeping up with the charity over the past few months.
As I was about to head to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, the phone rang. I had barely gotten out of my office chair, so I sat back down and took the call.
"Crane, it's Jack," he said, after I had answered. "I've got some news for you."
"Good news, I hope."
"Yes, it is. We've located your Mr. Lee Boyd."
"That was quick work. How did you do that so quickly?"
"One of my guys has had contact with him before on another matter and knew where he hangs out shooting pool and drinking beer when he isn't working. He made a few calls and lo and behold, there he was. He's on his way there now to keep an eye on Boyd."
"At an icehouse1 out on North Broadway. I called Jesse and gave him the information. He's going to get with SAPD to make the arrest. It's out of his jurisdiction since it's in Bexar County."
"Thanks, Jack," I said. "Send me the bill."
"You know I will," Jack laughed.
1In central Texas, southeast Texas (especially the Houston area), and the Texas Hill Country, the word "icehouse" has become a colloquialism for an establishment that derives the majority of its income from the sale of cold beer, especially such locally-produced labels as Shiner Bock, Pearl, and Lone Star. (Source: Wikipedia)