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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 23

By 9:30 the next morning, everybody had arrived to hear Donald's story. After everyone had their coffee and had settled down in the living room, Donald began.

"Most of you know the outline of the story that I shared with the family. It was abbreviated because the children were also hearing it. I guess the best way to start this tale is to begin with our car being stopped.

"As I have said, we were stopped because the road was blocked by a horse-drawn wagon, carrying what looked like hay. The wagon was leaning drastically to one side and we could see in the headlights of the car that one of the wheels had come off. Our driver got out to see if there was anything he could do to help clear the road. It was probably not the best decision to get out of the car on a dark road at that time of night, but the option was to wait for some other help or turn the car around and try to find another way back to the hotel. I noticed another car pull up behind ours. Having rolled down the window to look out for a better view, I heard a door open and then close on the car behind us. I figured the driver was doing the same thing our driver was doing. Then the rear door of our car was opened and one of the masked men inquired in heavily accented English if I were Donald Baker. I answered that I was. The man grabbed my arm firmly and pulled me, none too gently, out of the car. The other man with him grabbed my other arm after I was out and between them they secured my hands behind my back with zip ties. Hustling me back to the car that had pulled up behind ours, they pulled a hood over my head and shoved me hard into the back seat causing me to bump my head and right shoulder on the door frame. I felt the car make a hard U-turn and accelerate in the direction that I thought we had come from. All of this had happened so quickly that the others in the car didn't have time to react before I had been driven off.

"We drove for quite some time. I had no way of knowing just how long, but it seem to be somewhere around a half an hour. It was probably only about fifteen minutes, but it seemed longer. When the car stopped, I was dragged from the car and hustled into a small room. Thankfully, they removed my hood and cut the zip ties that bound my hands behind my back. Then they took my wallet, my car keys and my watch. That last item really ticked me off. My dad had given me that Rolex when I graduated from Harvard with my PhD. It was an expensive watch, but the sentimental value was greater. I looked around the room and noticed that it was nearly bare. There was a single, wooden, three-legged stool, a cot with a lumpy, thin, poor excuse for a mattress, and a bucket that served as my toilet. There was a tiny window up near the ceiling that was about as big as a sheet of printer paper. It was so dirty, when I could see it clearly in the morning, it let in very little light. The only other lighting was a single, bare lightbulb that hung from the ceiling. I never discovered where the switch was for it. It was on continuously all the time I was confined there.

"Although I have lived the majority of my life in South Texas, my command of Spanish is not good. I did pick up a few phrases that filtered through the locked door of my prison. Most of them were of lots of money that they were expecting to get. Some were rather rude comments about the women they were going to be able to get with all that money.

"Sorry, ladies.

"For the most part, I was treated fairly well - with one exception. Usually, when they brought my meals to me there would be two of them. Once, when they brought my lunch there was this short, stocky guy who was carrying his AK-47. That was not unusual, there were usually two people when they brought any of my meals and one of them was usually armed. The armed man said something to me in Spanish that I didn't understand. I stared at him and shrugged my shoulders. I guess that ticked him off, for the next thing I knew he punched me in the stomach with the butt of his rifle. It knocked the wind out of me and I fell to the floor. The other guy who was carrying my food let out a rapid string of Spanish, none of which I could understand. From his tone I got the message that he was not happy with his rifle carrying partner.

"The pattern was repeated until the night I was rescued. I was on the cot attempting to get some sleep. Among its other faults, the "mattress" had a terrible odor, of what I could never determine. I heard a loud commotion coming from the outer area followed by numerous gun shots. I crawled off the cot and secreted myself under it. It was not much protection from any bullets that might come my way, but it made me feel better. The shots continued for what seemed like ten minutes. All at once it became very quiet. I didn't really have any idea what was going on until the door to my prison opened and a large man with a bandana covering his nose and mouth entered. In heavily accented English, he asked if I were Donald Baker. I answered that I was and he took me by the arm and led me out into the other room. I couldn't believe the carnage. There were bloody bodies lying all around the room. As best I could tell, there were at least eight and possibly as many as ten bodies.

"Again, as I entered the car that I was led to, a hood was placed over my head. I still did not really know at that time what was going on. I didn't know if this was a different bunch of kidnappers or if I was being rescued. One thing I was sure of was they were not the Mexican police. Nothing was said to me all the way back to the hotel. When the car stopped, the door was opened and I was urged to exit. As I did, the hood was removed and the car sped off. All I could see was that the car was a dark-colored Mercedes.

"The rest you pretty much know," Donald concluded. "I do have a question, however. Who were the people who rescued me?"

"Jack, you know more about that than any of the rest of us," I said. "Tell us what you know."

"There's not a lot I can tell you. There's this guy that we call on sometimes to do things that, let's say, are skirting the edge of the law. I only know him by Vince. I don't know if that is his real name or not. He's known in the office as The Spook. Rumor has it he used to work for the CIA or NSA. Take your pick, no one knows for sure. He is the one who was the contact with the people who did the rescue. Reading some of the intelligence that we occasionally get, your rescuers were another gang who was upset that the gang that kidnapped you were horning in on their territory and they were looking for an excuse to eliminate the competition. From what you said, it looks as if they eliminated the competition," Jack said. "I don't think the news of the elimination has hit the local English language news in San Antonio, but an item in the local Spanish language newspaper did mention the fact that an apparent gang war had erupted on the tip of the Baja Peninsula and as many as a dozen gang members were found dead from gunshot wounds. The article was scarce on details, but I believe that may be the incident you were involved in."

"How does this Vince get paid? Surely he doesn't work for free," Donald said.

"No, he is rather well paid. We will receive an email, or sometimes a letter, from him with an amount he expects for his services," Jack answered. "Our office will pass those charges on to your bill. It won't be exorbitant, but it will be several thousand dollars."

"Please have the charges for all of your services in this matter billed directly to me," Donald said. "I was convinced that I was going to be killed as soon as they received the money they were talking about. Whatever the amount, I will gladly pay."

"What are you going to do about the hotel, now?" Manfred asked. "Do you plan to go back there again? And how about the plans for all of us to go there this summer? Is that still on?"

"I think the hotel and the surrounding city are relatively safe, as safe as anywhere in Mexico is. Our mistake was in trusting an individual whom we did not know and traveling out and away from the city," Donald said. "Ask me again as summer approaches and I'll reevaluate the safety issue then. Right now, I'd say we should go."

"Have the police gotten involved?" Gilda asked. "You haven't mentioned them at all."

"As far as I know, the police know nothing of my kidnapping," Donald said. "I'd just as soon keep it that way. It's possible that they would want to question me about the murder of all those men. I do not relish the thoughts of being interrogated by the local or federal police."

"What about that man you went to have dinner with?" Hilda asked. "Surely the local police were aware of his murder."

"Yes, the police did come and speak to my attorney about what happened that night," Donald said. "At the time of the murder my intern and lawyers and my security chief, Carlton Banks, had arrived back at the hotel. The police said the death occurred sometime around three or four in the morning. The rest of our group had finally been able to help the broken down wagon to the side of the road so they could get past and make it back. The police have not spoken to any of our party since that time, so I believe they have no further interest in us in that matter.

"As a side note, the broken down wagon was still there where it was shoved to the side of the road the next day when the police went to investigate the murder of our dinner host. They mentioned the fact to Carlton when they came to the hotel to interview him and the others. I was surprised when Carlton told me that the cops didn't inquire about my whereabouts. Either they didn't know that I was at the dinner or they simply didn't care after they found out the rest of our party had alibis for the time of death."

"You had quite an adventure," I said.

"Yes, and one that I don't care to repeat," Donald said. "Now, if you don't have any more questions, I need to go into the office for a couple of hours."

"I do have another question," Hilda said. "You said they took your watch, but I see that you are wearing one that looks just like the one you always used to wear."

"Oh, I guess I forgot to mention how that came about. The morning after my rescue as we were getting ready to leave the hotel, a large envelope was delivered to the front desk by a young boy. It was addressed to me. Inside it were my wallet, car keys and my Rolex. I was able to stop the young boy before he was able to leave and ask him who gave him the envelope. Well, I didn't ask him directly, Felicia Garza asked him. She's one of my lawyers who went with me and speaks fluent Spanish. All the boy knew was that some guy approached him on the street and gave him twenty pesos to deliver it to the hotel. I thanked the boy and gave him a tip."

"I'm sure it was a generous tip," I said.

"It was more than the twenty pesos he got from the guy to deliver it," Donald said with a smile.

That pretty much wrapped up our meeting. I walked Jack to the door. "How's Jack Jr. doing at college?" I asked, before he climbed into the car.

"Great," he said with a big smile. "He's the number two ranked wrestler in the Big Eight. He's also been on the Dean's list every grading period all year. We're really proud of him."

"As well you should be," I said. "Say hello to your wife for me. We need to have a get together one of these days."

"I keep telling Carolyn that, but we never seem to find the time," Jack said. "I need to get to my office. Got to earn a few bucks. Take care."

Jack drove off and I went back into the house. Hildy and Gilda were clearing away our coffee cups while Manfred was on his cellphone. He didn't look at all pleased.

"What's up?" I asked when he hung up.

"Damn fool prosecutor," he fumed. "You know those druggies who set up their drug lab in my condo over there in New Braunfels? They just got out of prison on appeal. The prosecutor made some sort of legal error and now the bums will go free. It's uncertain if they can be retried. If not, they'll be free men. I still haven't been able to locate the original lessees to try and recover the cost of the repairs to the place. And I'm still haggling with my insurance company for them to cover at least part of the repair costs. I've made the repairs and have the place leased again, but I was trying to recover some of the costs."

"I hope there's no mistake when my robber goes to trial," I said. "I'd like to see him serve at least a little time in prison. By the way, are you still planning on going to the concert tomorrow night with us?"

"We're looking forward to it," he said. "I haven't been to one of those in years. My first wife was a real music lover and through her I learned to be one as well. After she died, going alone didn't seem to be as appealing."

"You know we were planning on leaving the four youngest at home while the rest of us go," I said. "I've been thinking, maybe we should take everybody. I know Donald has the whole box reserved for us, so there would be plenty of room. It might be a good time to start introducing them to fine music. So what if they get tired and go to sleep. We have plenty of laps for them."

"Hildy and I talked about that a few days ago, but never decided anything," Manfred said.

"What didn't we decide?" Hildy asked, coming back into the living room.

"Taking the four youngest to hear the symphony tomorrow night," he answered.

"They will probably fall asleep before it's over," Hildy said. "It will be way past their bedtimes."

"Gilda, what do you think?" I asked.

"I think it's a good idea," she said. "Get them introduced to classical music early in their lives and they will enjoy it the rest of their lives."

"Maybe I had better ask Donald if he has given away any of the tickets." I said.

"I heard what you were talking about and to answer your question, we have the whole box to ourselves. I was going to suggest just what you were talking about when I got home this evening. Mom and dad started my sister and me going with them to the symphony and opera when we were about Lenore's age. I'll have my secretary arrange for transportation. I don't think all of us can fit in the van," Donald said. "We'll need at least two stretch limos."

The morning was pretty much shot by the time everybody had left. I went to my desk and made a few phone calls. It had been a while since I had talked to my apartment managers. I received their monthly reports which were always thorough, but I still liked to make contact with them every so often. I was able to get Chuck Solaris on the phone. His partner, Phillip Brown, was at one of the other complexes handling a maintenance problem. I spoke to Chuck for several minutes and let him know that I was pleased with the way the complexes were being managed. He asked me if I were interested in acquiring an additional apartment complex. I told him I hadn't considered it, but if he would get me the information, I would review it. He said he would have the information to me the following week.

After lunch, I made calls to Carlos and Gerald to see what they were doing and to make sure that all the recent expenditures for Donald's rescue were being handled. I also asked what their thoughts were on adding another group of apartments to the real estate holdings. Neither one of them had any objections to the thought. There were sufficient funds to do almost anything I wanted to do in that regard.

Carlos asked, "You still have the one piece of land off I-10 and 1604. Any thoughts as to what you want to do with it?"

"I hadn't given it that much thought," I said. "Have you got anyone who is interested in it?"

"Nothing definite," he said. "There's a lot of activity going on in that area and you could probably make a good profit if you sold it. I know for a fact that there is a new subdivision being built just to the north of your land. Maybe I should talk to the developers to see if they might be interested."

"Go ahead," I said. "If they are not interested, someone else will be. Let me know what you find out."

"Will do," he said and we ended the call.

It was getting time to go pick up the kids from school, so I headed for the garage and the van. I arrived at the school several minutes before the youngest were dismissed. I got out of the van and spoke to several of the other parents waiting for their charges to appear. Most of them I knew by sight, it not by name. I cursed my inability to remember people's names. TJ always put me to shame in that category. He never forgets a name and I nearly always do.

William and Peter were the first to arrive. They gave me hugs and began telling me all about their day. I listened intently to what they were saying, noting happily that they were excited about being back in school after the Spring Break. The next to arrive was TJ. He was with another boy.

"Who's your friend?" I asked him.

"Tyrone," TJ answered. "Mr. Phillips assigned us to be partners to do a project for science class."

"It's nice to meet you Tyrone. What's the project you'll be working on?"

"Mr. Phillips gave us a list that we can choose from," Tyrone answered.

"We haven't decided, yet," TJ added.

"Can TJ come over to my house tomorrow morning so we can choose?" Tyrone asked.

"I think that would be okay," I answered. "What's your last name and where do you live?"

"It's Graham, and we live in River Crossing on Ramrod. It's the only house at the end of the cul-de-sac."

"Is ten o'clock okay if I bring him by then? I'll need to pick him up around noon," I said. "Your brothers have a tennis match at one."

"My brother Gordon has to play tennis tomorrow, too," Tyrone said. "Can TJ stay for lunch and we can go to the tennis matches together?"

"We need to ask your parents," I said. "They may have other plans."

Tyrone waved and headed for a white Cadillac that had just driven into the parking lot. TJ and I followed him to it and spoke to his mother who was driving. We agreed to the plan and then we headed back to the van.

Soon all of our students were assembled and we took off for home.

"Remember, dad, I have to go to Austin in the morning for my last CBE," Joel said as we were getting out of the van.

"Thanks for reminding me," I said. "That had completely slipped my mind. Are you ready for it?"

"I should be. I've gone over the material for the test so many times, I dream about it."

"Then you will ace it for sure," I laughed. "Good luck, anyway."

"Thanks, dad."

It looked like tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

After supper, we gathered all the kids into the living room and explained what all was going to happen. The twins and Chris still did not appear to be thrilled about going to the symphony, but I gave them a look that said not to argue. Peter and William thought it was going to be a lot of fun to get to stay up late. I wondered just how late they were really going to stay up till. Lenore didn't seem to care one way or the other. She was just happy sitting on her daddy's lap.

Saturday morning I was up early. It was just 6:30 when I walked into the kitchen, intent on making the coffee. I was surprised to find Gilda already there and the coffee was almost ready. We chatted for a few minutes until the coffee pot finished perking. Joel arrived just as I was sitting down at the table.

"Morning, dad, Gilda," he said.

"Good morning, son. You're up early."

"I guess I am, but I didn't want to be late for the test."

"What time do you have to be there?"

"The testing begins precisely at nine. The doors open at 8:30 so everybody can be in their seats when the tests are passed out. No one is admitted after nine. If I get there a bit early, maybe I can get a parking spot close to the building."

"It's only about an hour to the campus, so if you leave here by a quarter past seven, you should get there with time to spare," I said.

"That's what I thought," Joel said, accepting the dish of scrambled eggs, sausage, toast and small bowl of mixed fruit that Gilda handed him.

Joel finished his breakfast and went to brush his teeth and get ready to leave for Austin. "Do you know where Mike's condo is?" I asked when he came down the stairs.

"Yeah, why?"

"It's only a few blocks from the campus. Maybe you could park your car there. It would be safe and I'm sure they wouldn't mind. Take my cellphone. I'll call Mike around eight and see if it's okay," I said, handing him my cell phone. "I'll call you and leave a message. I don't want you to answer it while you're driving. When you get somewhere you can stop, you can listen to the message. The pin code is 4477."

"I'll stop at that strip mall just off the freeway to take the message. I'm going to go. I should be home around one or so."

"We'll still be at the tennis match," I said.

"That boy has changed so much in the last year," Gilda said, once Joel had left. "He is so sure of himself and from what Hildy has told me about his past, it's just amazing. You've done a great job with him."

"All I've done is to give him as much love as he would take and support him in whatever he wanted to do. The rest was up to him. He was this scared little boy who had been so badly abused when I found him. It's nothing less than a miracle that he has become who he is now," I said. "It's going to be very hard to see him off to college next fall. I just hope that Jeremy will look after him."

It wasn't long before the rest of the gang was up and eating breakfast. Donald had slept late and was one of the last to arrive at the breakfast table. As soon as the boys had finished their breakfast, I told them to run upstairs, brush their teeth and then go take care of their dogs.

"You slept late," I said to Donald.

"Just trying to catch up on what I didn't get while I was kidnapped," he said.

"I'll need you to watch the boys while I take TJ to his friend's house around half-past nine," I said. "I should only be gone about an hour or so."

"No problem, it will give me some time to interact with your boys. I don't do that enough. They need to know that I care for them as well."

I made a call to Mike to see if it was alright for Joel to park at their condo. It was a good thing I called when I did, he was just getting ready to leave the house for the library to join his study group. "What, the four of you is not a big enough study group for you?" I teased.

"No, this is one for a class that only one of my roommates is taking," Mike said. "Tell Joel to pull his car around behind the condo. There's some guest parking places there. Unfortunately none of us will be here or I'd invite him in."

"Thanks, Mike," I said. "Study hard."

"That's the only way to get through all of this," he said.

I called my cell phone number and left a message for Joel relating what Mike had said.

A little while later I rounded up TJ and got him ready to go to him friend's house. I knew approximately where the Graham's house was but, just to be sure, I pulled up Google Maps on my computer to get the exact location. We arrived at the Graham house almost on the dot of ten. I parked the Lincoln and went to ring the doorbell. It was answered by Mr. Graham, who introduced himself as Maurice Graham and invited us in.

He offered me a cup of coffee which I accepted and we sat down in their living room. It was a very nice home and appeared to have been recently built. It still had that new home smell about it.

"What kind of work are you in?" Maurice asked.

"I mostly manage my property investments. I own a fair amount of property that keeps me busy," I said. "What kind of work are you into?"

"I'm a partner in the law firm of Nichols, Branson and Graham," he said. "We specialize in class action lawsuits as well as individual lawsuits against large corporations."

"Interesting," I said. We were soon joined by Mrs. Graham. She insisted I call her Linda.

When I finished my coffee, I said I needed to get back home. I went to find TJ and told him to behave himself and I would see him at the tennis match.

We had an early lunch, since the three musketeers had to be at the tennis courts by 12:30. We arrived in plenty of time and the boys went to begin warming up. The rest of us, minus Donald who elected to stay at home with Lenore, went to find seats in the bleachers. We hadn't been in our seats but a few minutes when TJ waved to us and scampered up the stairs to where we were sitting.

"Did you get your project picked out?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "It's gonna be fun."

"What is it?"

"It's the animals in the Amazon rain forest," he said, enthusiastically.

"That's a big topic," I said. "There are a lot of animals in the Amazon. Maybe you should limit the animals you cover to say the birds, or the mammals or even the fish. Why don't you and Tyrone talk to Mr. Phillips about limiting the range of your project?"

"Okay," TJ said.

It wasn't long before the tennis matches began. There were two courts in use at once. We were sometimes trying to watch two matches at the same time. Chris easily won his singles match. Larry had a harder time winning his, but did come through in the end. Lenny's match was against a much older and taller opponent. His opponent had a great serve, but Lenny's agility and quickness around the court was what helped him to a victory.

When the tournament was over, Corinthian won 5-1 in matches against St. John's Christian Academy.

Naturally, the three musketeers were thrilled that they had won their matches. To celebrate their wins, we stopped at the Ice Cream Shoppe for some treats.

As soon as we got home, I sent the boys to get showered so they would be cleaned up for the symphony. I wouldn't make them get dressed in their dress, school uniforms until it was closer time to leave. They only had to wear their jackets and ties for special school function. I thought that would be appropriate for them to wear to the concert.

I must say they did look very handsome in their uniforms. I think Donald and I did as well in our tuxedos. The transportation that Donald's secretary had arranged arrived and we split the group up to fit into the two, eight-passenger limos.

We arrived in plenty of time to find our way to our box. Donald and I took the boys and visited the restrooms to prevent someone having to go during the music. It wasn't long before the house lights dimmed and the conductor took his place on the podium and the concert began. Every so often, I looked over to the twins and Chris to see what their reactions were. To my surprise, they appeared to be enjoying it. They were leaning forward in their seats attentively listening to the music. By intermission, I could tell that Peter was getting tired, as was William and Lenore.

"What do you think guys?" I asked, as we were getting some refreshments during intermission.

"It's neat," Chris said. "I've never seen so many violins."

"Yeah," Lenny chimed in, "I don't even know what some of those instruments are."

"Me, too," Larry added. "What's that one with the tiny little reed? It looks like a clarinet, but different."

"That's an oboe," I said.

The lights flashed and we headed back to our box. I was pleased with their reactions so far.

The four youngest did not last much past the intermission. Peter was soon on my lap and before long I could tell by his breathing that he was asleep. William was on Donald's lap and Lenore was on Gilda's. Ginny had climbed onto Manfred's lap. Hildy was the only one without a lap full. Jeannie was enthralled by the music.

"That was really nice," Joel said, as we were heading to the limos after the concert was over. "Maybe I can go to Houston's symphony when I'm over there."

"That's a great idea," I said. "Both the Houston Symphony and Opera are well respected. I'll see if I can arrange tickets for you. I'll ask Jeremy if he would like to go as well. That way you wouldn't have to go alone."

"That would be great," Joel said.

All the way home the twins and Chris talked about the music they had heard.

"It wasn't so bad, was it guys?" I asked rhetorically.


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