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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 24

"It was kinda neat, dad," Lenny said. "I thought I was gonna hate it, but I didn't"

"I liked it when it was loud. I've never seen that many violins before," Chris added.

"I know that thing that looks like a clarinet is an oboe, but what is the one that looks like a pipe with a funny gooseneck that you blow into?" Larry asked.

"That is a weird looking one," I said. "It's called a bassoon. It produces really low sounds and I've heard it's hard to play. So do you guys think you will want to go to another one?"

"I would," Chris said. "Is there any of them with lots of drums? There wasn't enough in this one."

"I'm sure there are," I said. "We'll have to check to see if there is one coming up."

"And pianos?" TJ asked.

I thought he had fallen to sleep after we had gotten into the limo. "Yes, there are lots of symphonies that have a piano in them. Maybe we can get one with both drums and piano."

It was quiet the rest of the way home. When the limo driver delivered us to our front door, I told the boys to head on up to their bedrooms and brush their teeth and I would be up to say goodnight shortly. They could wait to take a shower in the morning.

I removed my jacket, hung it up and removed my tie and loosened my collar. I headed up to tuck the youngest ones in bed. By the time I got there, TJ, Peter and William were all asleep. I gave each of them a light kiss on their foreheads and left the room. It was the same when I got to the three musketeers' room. Joel was still up when I got to his room.

"Hi, dad," he said, as I walked in through his open door. "I was just telling Jimmy all about the symphony. He says that U of H puts on concerts fairly often and he's been to a couple."

"That's great," I said. "Tell him hello for me. And don't stay up too long. It's late."

"Okay, dad," Joel said, and turned back to his computer screen.

When I got back downstairs, Donald had just returned from seeing that Lenore was settled down with Jeannie and Ginny. She had pleaded with her dad to let her spend the night with them and Donald could not refuse her request.

"She has you twisted around her finger," I said.

"I know. I know," he said. "How are the boys?"

"They're all asleep. That is except for Joel," I said. "He had to Skype Jimmy before he went to bed."

"I think they all enjoyed the concert, don't you?" Donald asked.

"Yes, and it may even inspire them to play their own musical instruments," I said. "I don't know about you, but I'm ready for bed."

"Right behind you," Donald replied.

Sunday morning, we awoke to steady rain which lasted until just after noon. There was no lightning so after breakfast, I told the boys they needed to go tend to their dogs. They donned their rain gear and headed out to feed their pets. It wasn't long before I heard them laughing and playing with the dogs. I looked out and they were all chasing and being chased by the dogs in the rain. Some of them were wrestling with them on the ground. They were having so much fun that I didn't have the heart to interfere with their merriment. They were going to take a shower this morning, anyway.

Donald and I stood on the patio and laughed at their antics. By the time they wore themselves out and returned the dogs to their homes, they were completely soaked. I could foresee what was going to happen and went and got some large bath towels. As they approached the patio, I handed each of them a towel and told them to strip off their wet things and wrap the towel around them before heading to their rooms to take showers. I had warned Gilda what I had planned and she made herself scarce so as not to embarrass the boys.

They all made it to their rooms with only a few watery footprints on the floor. I took one of the spare towels and wiped them up as best I could. When they didn't come downstairs after what I thought was a reasonable time, Donald and I went upstairs to see what was going on. We discovered them all in the music room playing their instruments. They weren't quite up to symphony standards, but at least we could recognize the tune they were playing. Donald and I applauded when they finished the piece.

We went back downstairs and settled down in the living room. I had only read the first section of the newspaper, so after I poured a cup of coffee, I picked up the remaining sections and began leafing through them. Donald was doing the same when the back door opened and Hildy and Lenore walked in.

"We just got back from church," Hildy said. "Lenore wanted to see her daddy."

Lenore climbed up on Donald's lap, insinuating herself between the newspaper and his chest. "I love you pumpkin," he said. Lenore just murmured something inaudible and nestled herself further into her dad's lap.

Joel came into the room and sat on the arm of the chair where I was sitting. He didn't say anything, just sat there.

"Is there something on your mind?" I asked after a bit.

"Well," he started, "you said you would get tickets for the Houston Symphony when I start to college."

"Yes, I said I would get a couple of tickets so that you and Jeremy could go."

"Uh ... Well ... Maybe I could get another ticket so that Jimmy could go with us. Could I?"

"I tell you what. I will contact Vincent Braddock, you remember him from when we visited the Rice campus. I know he and his wife are big supporters of the Symphony," I said. "I'm sure that he can put me in touch with someone who can arrange some tickets. I'll call him tomorrow. Maybe I can reach him when he's not teaching a class."

"Thanks, dad," he said, reaching down and giving me a hug.

"If this Vincent person can't help you," Donald said, "I have a friend who is on the board of the symphony over there. I know he can help you. You know that good seats are very expensive and the best ones are reserved for donors who make annual contributions."

"I figured there would be something like that," I said. "Why don't you give me your friend's contact information and I'll call him instead of Vincent."

"Sure, let me get my address book and I'll write out the information for you," Donald said. "Just tell him I referred you to him. He can be a stickler for protocol sometimes."

Picking up Lenore, he headed for the bedroom. A minute or two later he returned with a name and telephone number written on a piece of paper. Lenore scampered up the stairs to her room.

"Horace Pepper," I read the name. "That name is familiar. What does he do?"

"He owns several businesses in Houston and Dallas. The biggest one is an oil pipeline construction company."

"What's it called?" I asked.

"HOPE Pipeline Services."

"That's where I heard the name," I said. "I did some consulting work for them shortly after I got my PhD. I think I may have met him, but I'm not sure. That was several years ago."

"That's Grace's number, his secretary. As I recall, she is the one who really runs things," Donald chuckled. "She's a little bit of a thing, but she can put the fear of God into anyone who gets out of line."

"It looks like I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow," I said. "The house cleaning service will be here, the security people are coming to install the new cameras and monitoring equipment, and a call to Horace Pepper to work out something for the symphony."

"Well, if you wanted to get some rest, you could always go back to work," Donald laughed and ducked as I threw the section of newspaper at him that I had been reading.

"I'll get you for that crack," I said.

Later in the afternoon, Chris called down from the balcony, "Dad, can we go swimming?"

"It might be a little chilly, but if you stay in the water it should be alright," I answered. I looked up and saw that the three musketeers were already dressed in their swimsuits.

"You know, that sounds like a good idea," Donald said. "It's been a while since I've gotten in the pool."

I called Manfred and told him what we were going to do and he said he would talk to Hildy and they would probably join us.

We spent the next two hours playing with the boys in the pool. Lenore and Hildy's girls did in fact join us. Manfred and Hildy sat on the lawn chairs and watched.

After about an hour, Gilda came out and asked if I would start the grill. She wanted to grill some chicken for our supper. Of course, I agreed. I was chilly when I got out of the pool to start the fire in the grill. I got back into the water as quickly as I could. When the coals were ready, she brought the chicken out and covered the grill with chicken breasts, thighs and drumsticks.

"Crane, will you watch these? I have some things I need to do in the kitchen and I don't want any burnt chicken," Gilda said, and headed back into the house, not waiting for an answer.

I got out of the pool, dried off and headed into the house to take a quick shower and put on something dry. When the chicken was nearly done, I told the kids to go do what I had done. There were not too many complaints at having to get out of the pool, as food was always a great motivator for them.

Hildy took the three girls and ushered them up to Lenore's room to shower and get dressed. Thankfully, she had brought some clothes for Jeannie and Ginny to wear.

After supper, I checked with the boys to see if they had any homework to do for school tomorrow. Their answer was that they had already done it. They spent some time on the Xboxes until it was time for bed. It had been a full day for them and they went to bed with no objections.

Monday morning, I dropped the kids off at school and hurried back to the house. I had told Gilda that the security people were due to arrive sometime this morning and wanted her to let them in when they arrived. When I arrived home they had only arrived and were unloading equipment from a van.

I parked our van in the garage and entered the house. Terrance Beekman was there talking with Gilda. He waved as I entered the kitchen.

"Mr. Johnson, I've been reviewing the equipment that we will be installing and am concerned that the room where your current system is housed may not be adequate. This lady," he said indicating Gilda, "tells me there is a storage closet in the new addition that might work. If not, we can always fit the equipment where we originally intended. We can make it work."

"I know the closet you mean. Follow me," I said, and led him to the closet.

He looked around for a minute or two and then said, "This is a much better fit. It won't take much to relocate the equipment that we're keeping and add in the new."

"Do what you need to do," I said. "I have some things that I need to do. Let me know if there are any problems. Oh, by the way, are you related to an Agent Beekman in the FBI?"

"Unfortunately, I am," he said. "He's my dad's youngest brother. I gather you've met him."

"Yes, we did have a run-in a while ago," I said.

"I can imagine that it wasn't a pleasant encounter. Conrad has always been overly impressed with himself and tends to be overbearing to the point of being obnoxious. The family was not too disappointed that he got transferred out of the San Antonio office to another post," he said. "At least now we don't see him at the family gatherings."

I almost mentioned that we were partly responsible for him getting transferred, but thought better of it. I let Terrance go about his business and I went to my desk to make a call to Mr. Pepper. A very business-like, female voice answered my call.

"My name is Crane Johnson. I was referred to Mr. Pepper by Donald Baker," I said. "I would like to speak with Mr. Pepper on a matter concerning the Houston Symphony."

"I'm sure that Mr. Pepper would be willing to speak with you," she said. "He is tied up in a meeting at the moment. May I have him return your call?"

"If you would, please," I said. I repeated my name and gave her my phone number. I was assured that Mr. Pepper would return my call and we terminated the call.

As I had been on the phone, my fax had been busy printing out several pages. I retrieved them and looked at the cover page. It was from Chuck Solaris. The included seven pages were information on the apartment complex that he had promised to provide me to evaluate whether it would make a good investment. I spent the next hour studying the information and making a number of calculations and running through several scenarios. After considering all the options, I still had not made a decision. I phoned Chuck and set up a time for tomorrow to visit the complex. Perhaps that would tip the balance one way or the other.

I had just gotten up from my desk with the intention of going to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee when the cleaning crew asked if they could clean the room. I nodded and headed for the kitchen. I poured a cup and chatted briefly with Gilda who was baking something that smelled terrific. Terrance walked by and stopped to talk.

"We should be mostly finished by the end of the day," he said. "There is one piece of equipment that was damaged when we unpacked it. I have another one being shipped to us. It should be in our hands by end of business tomorrow. One of my guys and I will be back to install it on Wednesday and to train you in all the features of your new system."

"Good," I said. "I may ask you to come back so that the rest of the adults will get trained in its functions."

"That will be fine," he said, "Just let me know when it's convenient and I'll be happy to come."

The cleaning crew left and the security installers left for lunch. It was again quiet in the house. Gilda and I settled down to enjoy our lunch. The main topic of conversation was the symphony.

"My late husband and I attended many performances in Kansas City before he became ill. He loved the music," she said and wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "Shostakovich Symphony No. 10 was the last one we went to before ..."

"I'm glad you enjoyed it even if it did bring back some sad memories," I said.

"Not at all," she said, wiping away another tear. "I was sad because he wasn't well enough to attend more. He loved the opera as well and we went often. He was more of a fan of opera than I was. Some I liked more than others. He liked them all."

We were cleaning up our dishes when the phone rang. I answered the phone in the kitchen. It was Horace Pepper. I explained that I was in the kitchen and asked him to hold for a minute while I went to my office.

"Thank you for holding," I said. "My cook and I had just finished our lunch. Donald Baker suggested that I call you to see what I would need to do to arrange for four tickets to the Houston Symphony starting this fall when my son begins attending Rice."

"As you may know, there are a number of options available depending on the price of the tickets and the placement of the seats. Since Donald referred you to me, may I assume that you are interested in some of the better seats?" Mr. Pepper asked.

"Yes, you assume correctly," I said. "Donald said that the best seats are allocated for patrons who make continuing contributions to the symphony. Mr. Pepper, I am interested in providing the best experience for my son as I can. In that regard, I will commit to contribute on an annual basis at least for four years while my son is attending Rice."

He went on to explain the different levels of contributions and what seats would be available at each level. I settled on a level that I was comfortable with and the seats that I could purchase at that level. "I will fax you the paperwork that you will need to fill out and return with your checks. Please submit two checks, one for the annual contribution and the other for the four tickets. It just makes the accounting easier as each is handled by different individuals."

I gave him my fax number and he promised that I would receive the information before the day was out.

When it was time to go pick up the kids from school, I started for the van. I was just opening the door to the garage when Terrence stopped me. "We've done all we can do until we receive the replacement part. I will call you if it doesn't arrive tomorrow, otherwise we'll be back on Wednesday," he said.

"Sounds good," I responded. "See you then."

Peter and William were waiting in the designated area when I arrived at the school. They were talking to a couple of their friends and didn't see me drive in and park the van.

"Hi, dad," Peter said when he saw me and ran to give me a hug. William followed and I received a hug from him as well.

As was their custom, they both started relaying the happenings of their days. Once one of them paused for breath, the other one took over. They didn't let up until TJ and the girls arrived. It wasn't long before everybody had arrived and boarded the van.

"Dad," Lenny said hesitantly, as we climbed out of the van at home.

"Yes?"

"Well ... That is ... You see ... The seventh and eighth grades are gonna have a spring dance," he finally got out.

"Yeah," Larry said, "and we want to go. But ..."

"But, what?" I asked, having a pretty good idea what the problem was.

"We don't know how to dance," Chris and Lenny said at the same time.

"When is the dance?" I asked.

"It's the first Saturday in May, just before school's out," Larry answered.

"What kinds of dancing is it going to be?" I asked. "Ballroom, Line dancing, Square dancing or whatever passes for dancing these days?"

"Mrs. Pritchard said there would be all kinds," Chris said. "How can we learn to do all of them?"

"I've seen a dance studio off to the side of 281 on the way into San Antonio," I said. "I can't remember the name of it, but I have to go into San Antonio tomorrow. I'll stop by and see what they offer in the way of dance lessons. How's that sound?"

"Thanks, dad," Lenny said, which was echoed by the other two. They made a beeline up the back stairs to change out of their school uniforms. They were missing out on some valuable snack time.

Later when I was telling Donald about the dance and the boys wanting to learn how, he said, "I bet I know who one of the chaperones will be."

"You're probably right," I said. "I haven't been asked, yet."

"Did you ever do much dancing when you were growing up?"

"Some," I said. "While I was in prep school we had dances with a few of the all-girl schools. We had to learn to dance as part of becoming well rounded in the social graces. While in college, we used to go to some of the clubs in Boston."

"I only went to one formal dance when I was in high school," Donald said. "That was our senior prom. I even had a date, Sheryl Gibson. I wonder whatever happened to her. We only had that one date. I lost track of her and her family after I went off to college. They lived a couple of houses from ours, but moved away the year I started to college."

"Let's go take a look at the new security system," I said. "It's not quite ready, but we can see some of the new equipment. Terrence will be back on Wednesday to complete it. They had to get a replacement for a piece of equipment that was damaged when they unpacked it. I asked him to come and train the adults in it. I think all of the kids need to know about the system as well. I don't expect them to operate it, but they should at least know what they should do if there is an alarm."

"Absolutely," Donald said. He followed me to where the new system had been installed. "Impressive."

"Yes, it is, isn't it?"

After supper, I called Manfred. "Can you drive the kids to school in the morning?" I asked, when he answered the phone. "I have a meeting in San Antonio and I don't think I would have time to come back to the house to pick up the Lincoln and make it on time. I will be back in time to pick them up in the afternoon

 "Sure, no problem," he said. "Glad to do it."

"What's your meeting in San Antonio about?" Donald asked.

"I'm meeting with my apartment managers to go inspect a complex that I'm thinking of buying. Chuck and Phillip are doing such a great job of managing the other ones that I think they can take on another complex. I've looked over all the information they sent me and need to see it in person before I can make a decision."

"How big is the property?" Donald asked.

"There are 110 units, mostly one and two bedrooms with a few three bedrooms. It's in a good location, but from what I understand it suffers from poor management. The current occupancy rate is less than 80%. My other ones are 95% or better, due for the most part to Chuck and Phillip."

"Sounds like it has possibilities," Donald said. "What ever happened to the apartments that you were considering in Austin?"

"I just never had a good feeling about them and decided to pass."

"Dad, can you check my homework?" TJ asked.

"Sure," I said and walked over to the breakfast table and sat down, whereupon TJ sat on my lap while I checked his homework. Peter was next to arrive with his homework. He also sat on my lap when TJ vacated it. Soon the three musketeers were waiting for their turn on my lap. They were getting a little big, but I enjoyed the intimacy of the moments.

"Dad, did you find out anything about the tickets?" Joel asked later.

"As a matter of fact I did," I said. "I have arranged for four, season tickets. I thought that Jeremy might like to take his friend as well. I was hoping to give him a call today, but I got busy and it slipped my mind. I'll try to remember to call tomorrow."

"I think I'll try to call him," Joel said. "He was supposed to be back in town last Saturday. He gave me his number and told me I could call him anytime."

"If he's not busy sometime, invite him to come see us," I said. "Maybe he would like to go riding with us on Sunday if the weather cooperates."

"I will," Joel said and went back up to his room.

The next morning, Manfred and his two girls arrived just as the boys were coming down the stairs carrying their backpacks.

"Just in time," I said.

The kids went off to school, Donald took Lenore to her pre-school and I headed to San Antonio to meet with Chuck and Phillip. They were waiting when I got to their office. We talked for a few minutes and then took off for the proposed purchase.

We spent a little over an hour at the property. I spoke to the current manager of the complex and was not in the least impressed with the woman. The rental office did not inspire confidence. It was messy and looked as if it had not been cleaned in weeks. The grounds were in similar condition including the pool that I would not let any of my boys near. I saw Phillip, my maintenance guy, shaking his head several times. I was ready to leave after our inspection and had made up my mind not to negotiate a purchase of the property.

"I'm sorry about this," Chuck said on our way back to their office. "I had not visited the place in some time and it was not in the condition that we saw today. I'm afraid it was a waste of all of our times."

"Keep your eyes open for other properties," I said. "I'm always looking for good investment opportunities. Even if I could get that place at a reasonable price, which the asking price is not, the ROI is just not there. It would take too much additional money to bring the place up to where it should be before it would begin to show a profit."

I left the office and drove back to 281. I had noticed on my way into San Antonio that the dance studio was called Waters' School of Dance. It was still a little early and I thought that it might not be open, but was pleased that there were cars in the parking lot. I parked and went inside the building. I could hear music coming from behind a door to the right of the reception desk.

"I'd like to inquire about some dance instruction for three of my sons," I said, as I approached the lady sitting behind the desk.

"You've come to the right place," she said with a smile. "What are their ages?"

"Two are twelve and one is thirteen."

"And what kinds of dance instructions are they interested in?"

"They have a school dance coming up in May and they need instruction in a variety of dances."

"They don't happen to attend Corinthian Academy do they?"

"Yes, they do. Why?"

"My sister's daughter attends there and she is in the same boat as are a couple of her friends. I think we can work out something that will fit both your sons' needs and the girls' as well. Are there any days that would not work for you?"

"None, as long as it doesn't interfere with their school work."

"What we were trying to arrange for my niece was a time on Thursday evenings around seven. Would that work?"

"That would be fine," I said. I gave her my phone number and she promised to give me a call as soon as everything had been arranged. I left the place smiling. This was going to be interesting.


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