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© 2014 - 2016 Ted Louis

Joel VII

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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.

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Chapter 19

After lunch, the Xbox players began their rotations. I went to check on them a couple of times and it appeared they were adhering to the schedule that Chris had printed out. When the allotted times were up and the consoles were retired for the day, I complemented them all for sticking to the schedule. I could tell they would rather have continued to play the games.

It was approaching supper time when I received a call from Jack.

"Crane, I'm afraid that I have some bad news on your thief," Jack said.

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"Well, Kirk, that's the guy who was going to watch him, walked into the icehouse, Boyd must have noticed him and knew something was up. Long story short, he skipped out the back of the place somehow before the SAPD got there. They missed him by less than five minutes. Kirk thinks he climbed out through the window in the bathroom.

"I guess he knows he's being sought for his misdeeds," I said.

"Kirk says he knows of a couple other places that Boyd used to frequent and he shared them with the SAPD and with the Comal County Sheriff's office."

"Thanks, Jack, let me know if anything develops."

"Will do," he said and hung up.

I was a little disappointed that our Mr. Boyd had not been apprehended, but, realistically, it had only been a couple of days since the crime had been committed.

Donald was late coming home from his office and when he did arrive, it was with a frown on his face.

"What's up?" I asked when I saw his expression.

"Come with me while I change out of this suit and I'll tell you," he said. I followed him into the bedroom and sat on the bed while he changed clothes. "There's a problem with the purchase of the Mexican Hotel."

"What kind of a problem?"

"It's a highly technical, legal problem with the land on which the hotel complex sits. I'm going to have to head down there Sunday afternoon with the head of my legal department and see if we can't get it straightened out."

"How long do you think you'll be gone?" I asked.

"If things go as my lawyer believes, we should be back in San Antonio late Wednesday evening," Donald said, showing that he had his fingers crossed. "That gives us a little over two full days to get things worked out. He thinks that should be ample time. It may take even less, but I'm not counting on it."

"When are you going to tell William and Lenore?"

"I thought right after supper," he said. "William will probably have less of a problem with it than Lenore will."

"It might be best if you clued Gilda in beforehand. She and Lenore have become close over the past few weeks and maybe she can soften the blow a bit."

"You're right," he said. "I'll do that right now. She might have some ideas."

Gilda suggested that Donald let Lenore spend tonight and Saturday night with Hildy's girls, that is if Hildy agreed. Then, because it would be school nights the rest of the time he would be gone that Lenore spend the nights with her in Gilda's rooms. After a bit of conversation, the plan was agreed to. Now, if Lenore and Hildy were agreeable. After a quick phone call to Hildy, that part of the plan was okayed. It was also agreed that Manfred would take Lenore to pre-school in the morning and pick her up in the afternoon.

After supper, Donald sat down on the couch with William beside him and Lenore on his lap and explained that he had to be gone for a few days. Surprisingly, neither one of them objected to the arrangements that had been worked out. William went off to play with the other boys and Lenore went upstairs with Gilda to pack some pajamas and other clothes so she could spend the two nights with Jeannie and Ginny.

"Well, that went better than I had anticipated," Donald said. I detected some disappointment in his voice as he said it.

"It's not the first time that you had to be away on business," I said.

"Yeah, I know and I hate it."

"Get used to it," I said. "I can tell that you are not ready to turn over the running of your businesses to someone else. Am I right?"

"You're right," he responded with a sigh. "How about a glass of wine?"

"Coming right up," I said, and headed to the wet bar.

Saturday turned out to be a really nice day. The sun was shining and the temperatures were forecast to be in the mid 80's. I thought it would be a great time to have a swimming party and an outdoor barbeque. I tested the water in the pool and it was more than warm enough, a result of the pool heater and the warm sunshine. I told Gilda what I had planned and she went into high gear to make sure that we had everything we needed. She decided she needed to make a trip to the supermarket for a few things. I asked her to pick up some thick-cut pork chops for the grill. She added it to her list and when she was sure she had everything covered, she left for the store.

The boys had already been outside seeing to their dogs before they started playing tennis. Donald and I walked down to the tennis court and watched them play for a while. When it came time to change ends, I informed them of the plans. The news was enthusiastically received.

"I gotta finish beating Lenny and then we can go swim," Chris said with a malicious grin.

"In your dreams, bro," Lenny retorted. "It's 3-3 and my serve."

"Ooh! I'm so scared," Chris laughed, which brought on a bunch of catcalls from the other guys.

Chris did go on to win the set, but it was hard fought down to the last point. If Lenny hadn't double faulted on his serve to lose the game, it might have been a different story. He congratulated Chris on his win and they all took off for the house to change. Donald and I did the same. It had been a while since we all had been swimming together.

The boys must have stripped on the way to their rooms, because they were already in the pool when Donald and I got there. I had told Manfred what we were planning earlier and it wasn't long before he and the three girls joined us in the pool.

"Where's Hildy?" I asked.

"She decided that she needed to bake something for the barbeque," Manfred said. "She didn't tell me what it was. She just shooed me out the door with the girls. I'm sure it will be good."

"I have no doubts," I said. "She's never fixed a bad dessert in all the years I've known her."

"How are you getting to Mexico?" Manfred asked.

"The company plane is in for some scheduled maintenance so we chartered a plane that can fly us to Los Cabos International. From there we'll have a car and driver waiting to take us to the hotel. It's not that far from the airport. Getting through customs is probably going to take the longest," Donald answered.

"You never said who all was traveling with you, other than your lawyer," I said.

"Well, besides Wallace Joiner, the head of the legal department, there will be three others. Phil Lansing, my intern assistant, Felicia Garza, another lawyer, who is fluent in Spanish, and the last one is my security chief, Carlton Banks. I thought it would be a good experience for Phil. He'll be heading back to Yale to complete his MBA this coming fall after his internship is over."

"You'll have to tell us all about the hotel when you return," Manfred said. "I'm looking forward to your promised invitation to visit there this summer."

"I'll probably see more of the inside of a conference room than I will the rest of the hotel," Donald said. "There are some good pictures on the hotel website that will give you some indication of the hotel and its amenities."

"I'll have to get Jeannie to show me how to get to it," Manfred said. "She already knows more about computers than I do. Lord knows what she'll be able to do by the time she graduates from high school. Us old fogies have been left behind in this age of computers."

"You're never too old to learn," I said.

"So I've been told," Manfred sighed.

While we were talking, the boys had started racing each other. Chris had always been the best swimmer of the bunch, but from watching the races, it was apparent that the twins were catching up and were pretty well matched with him.

"Are you all going to go horseback riding tomorrow?" Manfred asked.

"If the weather is still this nice, I'm sure we will," I said. "The boys love to ride and it's been two weeks since we've been to the ranch."

"Donald, I was wondering if you would mind if we took Lenore to church with the girls."

"That'd be fine if she wants to go," Donald answered. "I have no objections at all. Our family was never regular church goers when my sister and I were growing up. I guess I just never felt the need for it after I was grown and not living at home."

"That's sort of the way it was at our house as well," I said. "In the years since I've had the boys, there have been too many instances and contacts with the bible-thumping, hell-fire and brimstone bigots that have left a bad taste in my mouth. That being said, if any of the boys expressed an interest in attending church I would support them."

"If Lenore wants to go with you all, she probably needs to pick out some clothes to wear. I don't think she and Gilda packed anything appropriate to wear to church," Donald said. "What time to you go to church?"

"We go to the ten o'clock service, so we leave around nine-thirty," Manfred said. "Why do you ask?"

"I thought I should say goodbye to my daughter before you go," he said. "I may not get to see her again before I have to leave for the airport."

"Dad, I'm hungry," TJ said, swimming over to us.

"You're always hungry," I said, hugging him. "Why don't you towel off and go see if Gilda has lunch fixed?"

"Yeah," he said and jumped out of the water. Grabbing a towel from the stack I had brought out earlier, he got most of the water dried off. At least he wasn't dripping too badly by the time he entered the house. A minute later he hurried back out and announced, "She said it would be ready in ten minutes."

"You heard him people," I said. "Lunch in ten minutes."

"Are we going to eat out here?" Joel asked.

"That's a good idea," I answered. "That way you won't have to get completely dry and get a shirt to put on."

By the time everybody had toweled off, Gilda was coming through the patio door with a plate stacked high with sandwiches and a package of paper napkins. "Someone needs to go get the veggies and the drinks," Gilda said.

"Come on, TJ," Joel said. "We can do it."

"Yeah," TJ said and took off in a run to the house.

TJ returned shortly carrying a platter with carrot and celery sticks, as well as cauliflower and broccoli florets. Joel was carrying a gallon jug of juice in each hand and a stack of paper cups in their box under his right arm.

Gilda looked around, checking everything out and then exclaimed, "Oh! I forgot the dip for the veggies," and took off for the house. She returned with two bowls of different dips.

Before we had completed our picnic style lunch, Hildy joined us. Evidently what she was fixing for the evening barbeque had taken most of the morning. I could hardly wait to find out what it was.

The stack of sandwiches that Gilda had brought out had been reduced to a half of a sandwich by the time our lunch was over. Donald and I helped Gilda and Hildy clean up and take the trash and what little remained of the food into the house. The boys, except for Joel went to play with the dogs. The girls went up to Lenore's room to play with her toys.

"I'm going to go do some more review for the CBE next Saturday," Joel said and headed for his room.

By the time Donald and I returned outdoors, the boys were tossing Frisbees for the dogs to chase. I was surprised at the number of time that some of the dogs were able to catch the flying disks before they hit the ground. A couple of time, when a Frisbee was tossed in the direction of William or Peter, they would be run over by a dog going for the catch. That caused the boys to giggle as they picked themselves up off the ground.

When the boys got tired of playing Frisbee with the dogs, they gravitated back to the pool.

"Dad, come toss us up in the air," Peter said.

"Alright, you asked for it," I said, jumping into the pool and grabbing my giggling, youngest son. For the next hour or so, Donald and I took turns tossing the boys into the air. I think each one of them was intent on making the biggest splash possible.

"That will do it," I said, giving TJ the last toss. "Dad has to get the grill started or we won't have supper."

"I'm pooped as well," Donald said. "I think you need some help. Right?"

"Absolutely," I said. "Grab the steel brush and clean off the grate."

"Yeah, give me the dirty work," he said, but smiled, picked up the brush and went to work.

I went to the garage to get the charcoal and some mesquite chips that I liked to burn along with the charcoal. The smoke given off of the mesquite gave grilled meat a very nice flavor. By the time I returned, Donald had the grate cleaned and ready for me to build the fire. It was going to take the whole bag of charcoal to be able to grill all of the pork chops at once. I dumped the mesquite chips into a bucket of water so that when I added them to the fire they would produce a lot of smoke. I got the charcoal started and would wait until it was glowing before I added the damp mesquite chips.

As I had passed through the kitchen area on my way to and from the garage, I noticed Gilda and Hildy busily taking care of the rest of the preparations. I decided to return to the house to see when they would be ready with their parts of the meal and to take a look at the pork chops I had Gilda purchase. I unwrapped one of the packages of meat and was thoroughly impressed. The chops were at least an inch and a half thick and had been trimmed of most of the fat, leaving only a small amount around the outside for flavor.

"Here," Gilda said. "Use this baking tray and lay all the pork chops on it. That way you can season them easier."

I did as I was told. The 18" by 26" pan was barely able to hold all of the chops. After they were seasoned on both sides, I went out to check on the fire. I spread the coals around so that all parts of the grilling surface would get an equal amount of heat. It looked as if they would be ready for the mesquite in about fifteen minutes. I dumped the water from the bucket containing the mesquite chips and spread them out on the concrete to drain.

Fifteen minutes later I determined that the coals were just right and started adding the wood chips. Donald had volunteered to go get the chops. By the time he returned, the smoke was beginning to rise from the wet wood. It was a tight fit, but I got all twenty chops on the grill at the same time. The boys saw the food begin arriving and they started climbing out of the pool.

"It'll be another twenty or twenty-five minutes before these are done," I said. "That will give you guys just enough time to take a quick shower and put on some clothes. Tell Joel when you get upstairs. When you come back, you can set the table."

Food is a powerful motivator. The six of them took off running for the house.

"Daddy, can you cut my meat?" Peter asked.

"Me, too," William echoed.

"I tell you what," I said. "Just because we are eating outdoors and only this once, why don't you pick up your pork chop by the bone and eat it like a chicken leg. Will that work for you?"

Neither one of them answered, they had already started chewing away, as did the twins and Chris. Hildy gave me a look of amused disapproval. She and Manfred were busy cutting up their daughters pork chops. Donald was doing the same for Lenore.

"I hope we have plenty of paper napkins," I said.

Everybody enjoyed the meal. Even though there were only fifteen people eating at the table, all twenty of the pork chops were gone. I was anxiously waiting, and I'm sure the boys were too, to see what dessert that Hildy had whipped up for us. She and Gilda went back into the house while the rest of us waited. A few minutes later they returned, each of them carrying a luscious-looking Boston Cream Pie. It was as delicious as it looked and not a crumb was left on the boys' plates.

"Boys," I admonished, "before you go back into the house, if you ate your pork chop with your hands, I want you to go and wash them under the faucet on the outside of the house." They went off to do just that and then returned to help the rest of us clean up.

Sunday morning, Donald packed his luggage with clothes and toiletries for his trip to Mexico. The boys went outside to take care of their pets. I made a call to the ranch and talked to Tracy, informing him that we would be coming there to ride.

Before we were ready to go to the ranch, Donald went to say goodbye to his daughter. I think he was taking the separation worse than she was. When he returned, he loaded his luggage into the back of the van and when we were all loaded, we took off for the ranch.

"What time is your car picking you up from the ranch?" I asked.

"He's supposed to be there about 11:30. The plane is scheduled for departure at one."

When we arrived at the ranch, we could see that several of the horses had already been saddled and were tethered to the fence. The boys were out of the van as soon as it had stopped and ran for the fence. Joel took a more leisurely pace. I waved at Bert and Jason as they each brought two more saddled horses to join the others.

Donald and I headed for the new construction. We were half way there when Tracy and Rosie came out of their temporary quarters and met us.

"It looks like they're making progress," I said, as I shook Tracy's hand.

"Yeah, the foreman said it would be about two months before they should be wrapping up," Tracy said. "Of course, a lot depends on the weather."

"I can hardly wait for it to be finished," Rosie said, giving both Donald and me hugs.

"One of these days, I'll have a decorator come out to see you," I said. "She will probably be able to give you some ideas on how to furnish the place. I want you to be involved in the process. You're going to be living in it, so I want whatever you and the decorator come up with to be something that you will be comfortable with. This is not a show home; it's supposed to be a livable home. What you can be starting to thinking about is the kind of appliances that you want."

"Oh, she is already way ahead of you there," Tracy said. "She's been looking through all the ads in the newspapers for appliances trying to decide what she wants. I think she has changed her mind a dozen times."

Rosie blushed, "Well, I like looking at them."

"Let's go take a look inside the new construction," I said. It was difficult to tell how the finished product would turn out with just the framing completed on the inside.

"I better go check on the baby," Rosie said, after a bit. "She was asleep when you all arrived, but that's no guarantee she is now. Although, we could probably hear her if she was awake. That girl has a set of lungs on her."

"How's the vet business going?" I asked Tracy.

"I never dreamed business would develop this fast," he said. "It keeps me, the two techs and the receptionist hopping. I've even been thinking of bringing in another veterinarian, if things keep going as they are now. I hope by the end of the year that I can pay you back all the money you so generously backed me with to get me through vet school."

"Don't put yourself in a financial pinch to do that," I said. "The repayment plan we worked out is fine. It's entirely up to you."

"I think I had better go find my son and tell him goodbye," Donald said. "My ride should be here in another twenty minutes or so." He headed for the fence where his horse was saddled and ready to go.

"Where's he going?" Tracy asked.

"He's flying down to Mexico," I said. "A hotel property that the company is purchasing has some sort of legal issue. He's taking a couple of his lawyers with him to get things worked out. Now, I think I need to mount up and go check on my boys."

"I'm sure that Bert and Jason are keeping track of them," he said. "They're pretty responsible young men."

As usual, I found the boys racing each other. There was lots of cheering and jeering for whomever was racing at the moment. Donald had taken William off to one side and was talking to him. He ended giving his son a long hug and then lifted William back onto his horse. They had both dismounted for the talk due to the size difference in their horses. William went off to join the other boys and Donald climbed back into his horse's saddle. He motioned for me to follow and we started back toward the house.

When we arrived back at the fence, a long, white Town Car was driving onto the property. "That looks like my ride," he said. "Will you see that my horse gets taken care of? It doesn't appear that I have time to do it."

"Of course," I said. I walked with him to the van and helped him retrieve his luggage. "Give us a call when you get in to let us know that you arrived safely."

"I will," he answered. "If it's not too late, maybe I could talk to Lenore and William."

After we hugged each other, Donald climbed into the back of the limousine. The driver closed the door behind him and went around getting into the driver's seat. He executed a three-point turn and drove back onto the road.

I decided that it was getting close to lunch time and began taking the coolers out of the van and carrying them to the picnic tables. The kids' food radar was working at high efficiency and before I had the last of the lunch at the tables, there was a stampede of horses racing for the fence.

"I don't know how they do that," Rosie laughed, as she placed a tray of cookies on the table. Tracy was right behind with two pitchers of lemonade.

"Where are all your neighbors?" I asked.

"They all went up to Austin to the South by Southwest Festival," Tracy answered. "They were going to some Country-Western singer's concert they wanted to hear. The baby is staying with friends just south of there in Kyle."

As soon as the boys had eaten their lunch, they were back on their horses for more riding time. It was nearly three o'clock by the time we headed for home. "Into the showers you guys. I don't want to smell horse the rest of the day," I said. I took my own advice.

It was nearly eleven that night when Donald called. Their plane had been delayed in Tucson by a freak thunderstorm right over the airport. They had stopped there to refuel before the final leg to Los Cabos.

Monday morning things were back to normal. Surprisingly, the boys were anxious to start back to school. I was sure that it was to see all their friends and not the pursuit of knowledge that was their motivation.

By the time I returned to the house, the cleaning service had arrived as had Billy and his fence repair crew. The security camera salesman/technician was due around ten. I gave up any pretense of getting any useful work done and went to the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee and waited.

Terrance Beekman, the security camera man, arrived right on the dot of ten. He was a tall man, probably 6' 4" or 5", with bright red hair that looked as if it resisted any attempt by a comb to tame it. I showed him the current security system and the two cameras that were part of the system. I followed him as he walked all around the house. He made a lot of notes in a small notebook. When he had finished with his survey of the house's exterior, we sat down and he asked me a lot of very detailed questions about what I expected of any security system. I answered as best as I could. He took some more notes and told me he would get back to me on Wednesday with a proposal.

Shortly after Terrance left, Billy and his crew were back from repairing the fence. He said it was all repaired and that he had inspected the rest of the fencing around the property and made a few minor repairs to a couple of places. When I asked him how much I owed him, he said he would send me a bill. Now all that was left was for the cleaning crew to finish and then peace and quiet would reign in the house.

Finally, after lunch I was able to sit down at my desk to review my stock portfolio. I felt that the worst of the stock market's decline was over and there were opportunities for moving some monies back into a few selected stocks. I assessed the risk and then call my broker to have him place the trades that I had selected.

"Are you sure about these?" Roger Burton asked. "These are a little riskier than your usual picks."

"Yes, I have a feeling, based on some research, that these companies are poised to take off."

"It's your money and why should I question your choices. You have done exceptionally well in the market. Had I made the same picks, I would be sunning myself on some tropical island and sipping margaritas," he laughed.

I went to pick up the kids from school. The twins and Chris were all excited because tennis was beginning and they were sure they were going to be selected for the team. As soon as they got home and tended to their dogs, they started practicing tennis.

After the boys were all in bed, I decided against a glass of wine and instead picked up a book that I had been meaning to read for some time. I settled into one of the comfortable chairs and began reading. I had almost finished reading the third chapter when the phone rang. I wondered who that could be at this time of night and went to answer it.

"Hello," I said, picking up the phone.

"Mr. Johnson?" a strange voice I did not recognize asked.

"Yes, this is Crane Johnson. Who is this, Please?"

"Mr. Johnson, my name is Carlton Banks. I'm Mr. Baker's head of security."

"Yes, Mr. Banks, what can I do for you?"

"I hate to tell you this, but Mr. Baker has been kidnapped."


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