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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 22

"A little worse for the wear, but I'll survive," Donald reassuring voice said.

"Were you hurt in any way?" I asked.

"I was roughed up a little, but nothing too severe, just a couple of bruises. The worst part was when they took the duct tape off my mouth when we got to the place where I was held," he said with a nervous laugh.

"Where are you now and when are you coming home?" I asked.

"My rescuers dropped me off in front of the hotel about twenty minutes ago. They never identified themselves to me and they were all wearing masks when they broke into the place where I was being held. I never saw any of their faces. The only time I actually saw them was when they hustled me out of that place. They placed a hood over my head after they shoved me into a van. There's more to the story, but that will have to wait until I get there. As to when we will be coming home, I have ordered the chartered plane to be ready for takeoff at seven this morning local time," he said. "I guess that would put us back in San Antonio sometime mid-afternoon."

"Your daughter has been missing you very much," I said. "She is going to need a lot of your attention for a while. I've missed you, too."

"I'll make it up to Lenore ... and to you, as well. Now, I'm going to take a long hot shower and try to get a couple hours of sleep before we head for the airport. I haven't had a shower since the kidnapping and I feel horrible."

"I'll meet you at the airport; just give me a call when you know your ETA."

"I will as soon as I talk to the pilot and find out what our flight plan is. Now, I have got to have that shower."

After we said goodbye, I turned off the light and lay back down. I was sure that I would be awake for what was left of the night. My mind was racing, trying to figure out what to tell the boys and when to tell them. I finally decided that I would tell William and Lenore that I had talked to their dad and that he was coming home today. That decided, I closed my eyes and, surprisingly, fell asleep and didn't wake until my alarm went off.

"Good news," I announced to Gilda, as I entered the kitchen. "Donald called last night. He'll be home sometime this afternoon."

"That's great news," Gilda responded. "Lenore will be so happy. She has missed her daddy so much."

"I plan on telling all the kids at breakfast that he's coming home. I don't think it's necessary to give them all the gory details until Donald gets here. He may want to gloss over some of the details."

"I understand," she replied. "That might be advisable. Breakfast will be ready in about twenty minutes."

"I'd better go wake the boys, then."

I started toward the stairs and Gilda headed to her rooms to wake Lenore. TJ was not in his bed when I got to his room. Peter and William were still asleep in their beds. I heard a toilet flush and TJ came out of the bathroom shortly.

"'Morning, dad," TJ said, giving me a hug.

"Good morning to you as well," I said, returning his hug. "Let's get these two rousted out of bed. Gilda will have breakfast ready in a bit." I gently shook William and told him to get up. TJ did the same to Peter. I went through much the same routine in the three musketeers' room. Joel, as usual, was up when I got to his room.

When everybody was at the breakfast table and eating, I stood up and asked for their attention. "Lenore and William, this is mainly for you. I talked to your dad late last night and he'll be coming home this afternoon sometime. I don't have a time as yet. He said he would call later this morning and let me know when his plane will arrive in San Antonio. He said he missed you very much."

"Will my daddy be here when I get home from pre-school?" Lenore asked.

"I don't know, sweetie," I answered. "It all depends on when his plane will get to San Antonio. I'll pick him up as soon as the plane arrives and bring him straight here."

"Can I stay home and wait for him?" she asked.

I looked to Gilda for help.

"If you stayed home, honey, you wouldn't have anyone to play with. Jeannie and Ginny will be in school. I have a lot of things to do and wouldn't be able to read to you or play games with you," Gilda said. "Didn't you tell me that they were bringing some kittens and puppies and some other animals today? You would miss that if you stayed home."

"I forgot," Lenore said. "I guess I better go."

"I think you made the right decision," Gilda said, kissing the top of Lenore's head. "I will pick you up from pre-school this afternoon. Now, it's time to get your teeth brushed and get ready to go."

"That goes for you guys as well," I said. "Manfred will probably pick you up from school."

When Manfred arrived to drop off his two girls and to pick up Lenore, I confirmed with him that he could take the van and pick up our kids at school this afternoon.

"That's great news," he said, when I told him about Donald rescue. "How did that happen?"

"I think that's a story for another time," I said. "Donald will probably have a lot to tell us when he gets here."

"I'm just glad that he's okay," he said. "Hildy will be as well. She's really fond of him, you know."

"I'm glad she approves." I said. "I'm rather fond of him myself."

He laughed and turned to have Lenore jump into his arms. "Are you all ready to go?" he asked.

"Uh huh," she said. "My daddy's coming home today."

"I know he is. I'm sure he's anxious to see you," Manfred said. "I know he missed you." He went off holding her hand as they headed toward his car.

I dropped the kids off at school and stopped to talk a minute with Pauline before heading home. I had just walked into the house when my cell phone rang. I didn't recognize the caller ID, but answered it anyway.

"Crane," a voice I recognized as Donald's said, "the plane should arrive in San Antonio sometime around four-thirty or five, depending on our tailwinds. We'll have to clear customs and then I want to get home as quickly as possible."

"It can't be too soon for me and I know for a fact that Lenore feels the same."

"I've got to run. The plane is ready to take off as soon as I board. See you soon."

"Goodbye," I said to a dial tone. "Be safe."

It was agony waiting around until it was time to go to the airport. Finally, Gilda said, as she was preparing to go pick up Lenore, "If you don't head for the airport soon, you'll have a hole worn in the carpet where you've been pacing."

It was around three, so I headed for the San Antonio airport. I knew I was going to be early, but waiting around the house was making both Gilda and me nervous. When I got there I parked the car and went into the General Aviation terminal and took a seat. It wasn't even four o'clock yet, so I settled down to wait. Every time a plane arrived at the terminal, I was on my feet, looking out the window to see if it was Donald's plane. There were at least six false alarms before a Cessna Citation maneuvered up to the terminal. When the stairs were lowered, Donald was the first to deplane after the flight steward. Twenty minutes later he had cleared customs and came into the waiting area.

"Oh, my god, it's good to see you," he said, grabbing me in a bear hug. "I thought for a while I would never see you again."

"You cannot know how this has affected us all. Sitting around not knowing what was going on was absolute torture," I said. "Mr. Baker, I am never going to allow you to go anyplace alone again. First you went to New Orleans and got shot. Then you went to Mexico and got kidnapped. I don't think either your daughter or I could stand you leaving us behind again."

Donald laughed and said, "I'm not going anyplace. I have people who are better suited to take care of business matters that require travel. You and my son and daughter mean too much for me to ever taking the chance I would lose you all."

"Good, now let's get out of here. I know one little girl who wants to see her daddy more than anything."

We got in the car after storing his travel case in the trunk and traveled in silence until we had navigated the rush-hour traffic and were outside the city of San Antonio. "You know everybody is going to be asking a lot of questions when we get there," I said. "What are you going to tell them?"

"I don't know," he sighed. "Maybe I should just tell the kids that I got tied up and couldn't call them like I wanted to. It's not exactly a lie."

"That might work for the younger ones," I said. "I don't think that will fly with Joel. All the adults knew what was going on, so they'll want the full story - Joel, as well."

"Do you have any idea who my rescuers were?" he asked. "I got the distinct impression that they were not exactly 'los federales'."

"What do you mean?" I asked innocently.

"I can smell something fishy about that rescue," he said. "Those masked men were not the good Samaritan type. They needed a reason to come to my rescue. Did you have anything to do with that?"

"Who me?"

"Don't pull that innocent act with me. What did you do and how did you do it?"

"I didn't necessarily want you to know, but I contacted Jack, my friend in the PI business. His agency had contact with some not, shall we say, pillars of the community. These people were rather quickly able to determine where you were being held. With some inducement, they formulated a plan to rescue you. It seems that the people who were holding you were an upstart gang that was trying to intrude into their territory and they were all too happy to have the opportunity to teach them a lesson."

"They certainly did that," Donald said. "I saw a lot of bloody bodies as I was escorted out of the house and into the van. Oh, and just what kind of inducement did it require to make all of this happen?"

"Let's just say that some money changed hands."

"How much money?"

"Enough."

"Crane, you know I'm not going to let this go until you tell me."

"Yeah," I said, letting out a long breath.

"Okay, how much?"

"If you must know, it was $100,000."

"And, you paid it? How?"

"Yes, I paid it. Your VP didn't think it would be appropriate for the company to be associated with alleged criminals. The money was transferred from my account to one owned by your rescuers."

"Thank you. I'll see that you are reimbursed."

The rest of the journey home was made with only brief moments of conversation. I think we both were simply basking in the knowledge that things were soon going to be back to normal.

I didn't know what we expected when we arrived home. As I was driving the Lincoln into the garage, we could see Lenore being physically restrained by Gilda from running to the car before it was at a complete stop. When the car stopped, nothing could constrain her as she raced to the passenger door. When Donald opened the door, he had a lap full of little girl.

"Daddy," was all she could say, as the tears began to fall.

"I love you my little one," Donald said, hugging his daughter to his chest.

"I missed you," she said, into his chest.

"I missed you, too," Donald said, maneuvering himself out of the car. He carried his daughter into the house where, just inside the door, they were met by William.

"How come you didn't call?" William asked, as he hugged his dad's waist.

"I'll tell you all about it later. I missed you all the time I was gone," Donald said, reaching down with his free hand to hug his son.

"It's good to see you back home," Gilda said.

"It's good to be home," Donald replied. He attempted to put his daughter down, but she was having none of it. She clung to his neck and refused to let go.

"I invited Hilda, Manfred and the girls for supper," Gilda said. "I didn't think you would mind. We're having beef stroganoff. Which reminds me, I need to tend to it."

"I wish I had thought to have you invite them," I said. "I guess I was a little distracted."

The other boys had come to welcome Donald back as well. "Will one of you go get Donald's bag out of the trunk of the car?"

"Sure, dad," Chris said. "I'll do it."

"Thanks, Chris, I had forgotten all about it when I was attacked by this little monster," Donald said playfully, reached around and tickled Lenore.

"Daddy!" Lenore shrieked and began giggling. All was right in her world now that she had her daddy back.

The back door opened and Hildy and her family arrived. "Welcome back," Hildy said. "It looks like someone missed you."

"Yeah, I think I have a permanent growth around my neck," he said.

"Lenore, can we go to your room and play?" Ginny asked.

"Okay," Lenore said, but before she let go of her dad, she gave him a wet kiss on his cheek which he returned. He just shook his head as she ran off with Ginny.

"I guess things really are back to normal now," he said.

"Looks like it," I said.

"What can I do to help?" Hildy asked Gilda and headed for the kitchen before getting a reply.

"How was the trip back?" Manfred asked.

"It went very quickly, thank goodness. We didn't have to stop to refuel on the return and we had strong tailwinds most of the way. It's a good thing," he said, "we didn't get off when I expected. We had to wait about thirty minutes before the fog lifted before we were allowed to take off."

"We're all glad that you're back home," Manfred said.

"I'll second that," I said.

"Dinner will be ready in about fifteen minutes," Gilda announced some thirty minutes later.

"That's our cue to start rounding up the kids," I said.

"Dad, we have a tennis match on Saturday afternoon," Larry said, when I told them to get washed up for supper.

"What time?" I asked.

"One o'clock," Larry answered.

"You guys should be finished in time to get cleaned up and dressed so we can get to the symphony. We have to be there and in our seats by eight," I said.

"Do we really have to go?" Larry asked.

"Yes, you do. If you don't like it, you won't have to go again," I said. "Do we have a deal?"

"Yeah, I guess," Lenny said.

"Cheer up, you might even enjoy it. Now, get washed up."

The stroganoff was excellent. The kids liked it as well. I thought the boys were going to lick their plates to get every last drop of the sauce. When dessert had been served and eaten, Donald made an announcement.

"I'd like everybody to assemble in the living room as soon as everything is cleaned up. I have something I need to tell all of you."

There were several quizzical looks exchanged among the boys, but they went about clearing the table and putting the dishes into the dishwasher. When everybody was seated in the living room, Donald stood up.

"I want you to hear something from me before you hear it from another source," he started. "While I was in Mexico, the reason I couldn't call and talk to you," he looked at Lenore and William, "was that I was kidnapped and held by a gang of thugs. They wanted a lot of money to release me, but Crane was able to hire some people to rescue me. I wasn't hurt."

Before he could continue, the questions began to fly. "Did they arrest the guys?" "Who were they?" "Did the police know?" "Did they get the money?" "Who rescued you?"

"I'll try to answer your questions," he said. "The kidnappers were not arrested because it wasn't the police that freed me. I don't know who the men were who were holding me. I heard a couple of their names. One was Raul and another one was Carlos. The kidnappers did not get the money, although if it had gone on another couple of days, I've been told that there was a plan to pay them. Fortunately, that was not necessary. I wish I knew who my rescuers were, but they all wore masks that looked like ski masks, so I never saw their faces."

The questions and answers went on for another ten minutes or so before it seemed as though everyone's curiosity was satisfied and they knew what had happened. I still had a few questions of my own, but that could wait until the kids were in bed.

"Okay, guys, it's homework time," I said.

"Yeah," Larry said, "we have a big math test tomorrow we need to study for."

"If you guys need any help, I'm pretty good in math," I said. One of my minor disciplines during my undergraduate work was in Mathematics.

"I think we're good, dad," Lenny put in. "We just need to review the material it's supposed to cover."

"We'd better be heading for home," Hildy said.

"Why don't you stop over after we're back from taking the kids to school in the morning," I said. "I'm sure that we have some questions for Donald that the youngsters don't need to hear."

"I'll be here," Donald said. "I don't plan on going into the office until after lunch. I do need to take care of a few things that require my attention. I'll share with you anything you want to know."

After they went home, I went to pour Donald and me some wine to celebrate his safe rescue. I offered one to Gilda, but she refused. Instead she took Lenore up to her bedroom for her bath and to read her some more of the story they had been reading the past few nights. As they were climbing the stairs, the phone rang.

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

"It's Jack. I hear that Donald has returned home."

"Yes he is, and a lot of it was thanks to you and your associate," I said. "Look, if you are not too busy tomorrow morning, why don't you drop by around 9:30 or so. Donald is going to fill us in on a lot of the details that he didn't want to share with the kids. Bring your associate with you, if he's available. I'd like to thank him personally. By the way, I don't remember if you ever told me his name."

"No, I didn't mention his name. I only know him as Vince. He works mostly undercover and doesn't come into the office. We affectionately call him The Spook. Technically he doesn't really work out of our office. We just contact him whenever we need something that is not our usual type work. I only make contact with him by phone or text. He probably already knows more about Donald's rescue than Donald does. Put a pot of coffee on, I'll be there tomorrow."

"There's always a pot brewing," I laughed, and we hung up.

While I was on the phone, Donald poured us each a glass of wine that I had started after. We talked about the business that I had taken care of for him while he was unavailable. Neither of us wanted to begin a conversation that might be overheard by the kids. That conversation could wait until after they had gone to bed and we were alone. It wasn't long before it was time to begin checking over the boys' homework.

"How is the studying for the test going?" I asked Lenny, who was the first to bring his other homework assignment.

"Math is easy," he replied. "Larry is quizzing Chris to make sure he knows everything we think is going to be on the test."

"That's very nice of your brother," I said. "How come you're not helping?"

"We trade off. I went first and then Larry took over," he said. "That's why I got my other homework done first so you could check it. Math is harder for Chris."

"You know I'm very proud of all of you and I don't tell you as often as I should," I said. "All of you make my life so much better. I'm sorry for what caused you to come into my life, but I'm thankful every day that you guys are in my life."

"We love you, too, dad," he said, as I gave him a hug.

Soon there was a lineup of boys waiting to get their homework checked. Afterwards, it was snack time. Tonight it was Gilda's special, fresh-fruit cocktail topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream and a red cherry. It looked so good that I had to have some. It tasted as good as it looked.

The boys went off to take their showers and to get ready for bed. After enough time had passed, Donald and I started the rounds to say goodnight to Lenore and the boys. Lenore gave her dad an extra-long hug before she allowed him to tuck her in.

"You're not gonna go away again, are you dad?" William asked, when we got to his room.

"Not if I can help it," Donald replied. "You get to go with me next time, all right?"

"Yeah," William giggled. "But not for a long time."

"I agree on that," I said, and gave William a hug.

By the time we had made the rounds of the other bedrooms, Donald looked as if he were fading.

"I think I will take a hot shower and climb in bed," he announced. "I can hardly keep my eyes open."

"The past few days have taken a toll on you. I'll be in shortly," I said. "I need to close up the house and set the alarm system. That reminds me, the new security cameras are going to be installed on Monday."

Donald didn't answer, as he was already on his way to the bedroom. It looked as if the questions that I had in mind to ask him about his ordeal would have to wait until the morning. It took me a while to wash out our wine glasses and get them put away before I went to check all the doors and set the alarm.

When I got to our bedroom, Donald was already in bed and appeared to be sound asleep. I took care of my business and quietly slipped in bed beside him.


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