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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 26

Shortly before the dance lessons were completed for the night, two women who appeared to be in their late thirties arrived. I assumed they were here to pick up the girls. I introduced myself and learned that Ruth Gordon and Betty Fisher each had a daughter taking lessons. Ruth was also there to pick up two of the other girls to see them home.

A few minutes before eight, the music stopped and the dance lesson was over. The eight students started for the exit where the three adults were waiting. They appeared to have had a good time as they were laughing and talking with each other.

"How did you like your lesson?" I asked, as we walked to the car.

"It was hard at first," Larry answered.

"Yeah," Lenny agreed. "I had to keep thinking all the time what to do with my feet."

"Butch kept telling us not to look down at our feet," Chris said.

"Butch was the instructor's name?"

"He made it look so easy," Chris said, nodding his head.

"Ronnie, how did you like it?"

"Okay, I guess. My hand got all sweaty holding Gloria's hand, and I stepped on her foot a couple of times."

That brought snickers from my three. "Don't laugh," I said, "I saw you guys stepping on your partners' feet, also."

"Ruth stepped on mine a couple of times, too," Larry said.

"Well," I said, "you were all doing better by the time the lesson was over. So, you want to come back next week for another lesson?"

That elicited a unanimous positive response.

When we arrived at Ronnie's house, his mother was just driving her car into the garage. As I stopped the car, he jumped out and ran to his mother and I could see he was starting to tell her all about his experience. She walked up to our car and thanked me for taking her son for the lesson.

"Thanks, Mr. Johnson," Ronnie said and waved to the boys. "See you in school tomorrow."

"How did the dance lessons go?" Donald asked as we walked in the back door.

"I think they liked them. It's a little early to tell. They still have a few more weeks to go before the dance," I said. "They spent the hour learning the slow dance steps. I'm not sure what's on the agenda for the next lesson."

"How are they going to practice what they learned?" he asked.

"They'll probably practice with each other. I hadn't thought to ask them. How did you get along with checking the homework?"

"I think we did okay. I was amazed at TJ's handwriting. I've never seen anyone that young with such perfect penmanship. It certainly puts mine to shame."

"You and me both," I said. "Where are TJ and the others?"

"I sent the boys up to shower. Gilda is with Lenore getting her ready for bed," he said. "I was about to pour a glass of wine. Do you want one?"

"By all means."

We went to see that the boys and Lenore were settled in for the night and then went back to finish our wine.

Friday morning I had just returned from taking the kids to school when Jack called.

"Crane, do you remember telling me about that guy at the school board meeting where you were elected to serve on it? The one who brought up your arrest record? What was his name?"

"Gale Marshall," I said. "Of course, that's hardly something that I can easily forget. Those records were supposed to be sealed."

"Well, we might just have found out who was leaking those sealed records."

"Really? How did that happen?"

"Actually, we were working on another case where something similar had happened. Our client was up for some big political appointment and that the fact he had been arrested as a juvenile was leaked to the press. It was nothing serious, just a childish prank. He and a couple of his friends threw about a dozen or so eggs at the house of a neighborhood grouch and they were caught doing it by a cop who just happened to be driving by. The grouch insisted on pressing charges, so he and his two friends were taken to the police station where their parents were called to come get them. They were given citations for malicious mischief and released into their parents' custody. They had to appear before the juvenile court judge. He sentenced the three of them to clean the eggs from the grouch's house and put them on probation for 90 days. As are all non-serious infractions involving juveniles, the records of their arrest were ordered sealed."

"So how did you find out who had leaked the records? I can't really see how this could be a reason to block a political appointment."

"What the arrest was for was not leaked to the press, only that there was an arrest. Anyway, during our investigation we identified who received the records leak and were able to convince him to reveal his source. The person he identified was Alma Benevites. She is, or I should say was, a clerk in the court house. She was willing to sell confidential information to anyone willing to pay. We turned our information over to the authorities. They did their own investigation and it resulted in her being fired."

"Are you sure she is the one who leaked my information?"

"We can't be positive, but she is only one of two possibilities and the other person in the office has only been working there a short time."

"Thanks, Jack," I said. "I hope this plugs the leaks."

"And this investigation didn't even cost you a cent."

I laughed, "For once. Take care, Jack."

After we hung up, I decided to go into San Antonio to check out the new facilities of ASEC. Darcie had called me earlier in the week to say that they were moving. When I arrived, I was impressed with the new office space. It was at least double the size of the other office.

There was a new person at the receptionist desk. "Hello," I said, "my name is Crane Johnson. I was expecting to see Kenneth Bering when I walked in."

"He's working with Mr. Coulter at the moment," she said. "May I help you with something?"

"I just came to check out the new office space and to talk to Darcie," I said.

"Mrs. Glenn is busy at the moment. If you will take a seat, I'll let you know when she is free," she said.

"You don't know who I am, do you?"

"No, sir."

"I'm the Chairman of the Board of ASEC. I founded this charity several years ago."

"I'm sorry, sir. I've only been here since Wednesday. This is my third day."

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Coral Bright."

"Crane," Darcie said, as she approached, "I thought I heard your voice. I see you have met our new receptionist."

"Yes, I have. She seems to be quite efficient. I thought I'd drop by to check out the new place."

"Coral, if Mr. Johnson or Mr. Donald Baker comes in, you need to immediately notify me, no matter what."

"Yes, ma'am," Coral replied.

"Come, I'll give you a tour of the place," Darcie said, hooking her arm in mine.

"Where's Kenneth?"

"He's been reassigned to be in charge of our records. It takes a load off the investigators and allows them to pursue more requests for help. The amount of paper that is required to meet the government's regulations is a full time job for one person."

"Coral said he was working with Paul at the moment."

"He works with everyone in the office. We have six investigators and will probably need a couple more in the near future. With all that money coming in from that Baker Trust, we are trying to put it to good use."

"You have complete authority to hire as many as you need to get the job done."

"I know and I appreciate your trust in me," Darcie said.

We finished the tour and went back to Darcie's office. "If you're free for lunch, I'll buy," I said. "That goes for anyone else who's free."

After we returned from lunch, I went shopping for a graduation present for Joel. I had been thinking about what I could get him for some time. As with all the kids, they didn't lack for anything they truly needed, so it was a somewhat difficult task of finding something he both needed and wanted. After browsing the mall and a couple of standalone businesses, I found the perfect gift. They didn't have the exact model that I wanted, but they assured me they could get it from the distributor by the following Tuesday.

By the time I returned to the house, it was time to get into the van and head for Corinthian Academy to pick up the kids. The three musketeers walked out of the building, talking and laughing with three girls. Two of them had been in the dance class last evening. The girls split off and the boys ran to where I was waiting with TJ, Peter and William. Jeannie and Ginny were off a little ways talking to a group of other girls. When Joel arrived, we all climbed into the van and after everybody was buckled in, we took off for home.

"Dad," Joel said, after everybody had finished their afternoon snack. "One of these days can you go with me so that I can drive to Houston in my car? I want to make sure I can get there on my own."

"That's a good idea," I said. "I'm so familiar with Houston, that I assume everybody knows their way around the city. It would probably be best if we waited until school is out. We could take a few of your things that you can do without until you start at Rice."

"When is Donald planning on all of us going to Mexico?" he asked.

"That hasn't been decided as yet. We'll have to work around the time the twins and Chris are at tennis camp. That's the second and third weeks of June. There are probably other conflicts that will have to be considered."

Terrance Beekman showed up right on time Friday evening to demonstrate the new security system. Although it was a fairly complex system, the controls were reasonably straight forward. The heart of the new security cameras was the bank of four VCR's that captured the video. While the cameras were all active continuously, the tapes were only activated when motion was detected. That meant that we would probably get a lot of footage of deer as they pass in range. Two TV monitors had split screens, each showing four different angles. The cameras at the front gate were still viewable on the monitor in the kitchen by the gate opener. The house alarm could be set or disarmed at three locations: the back door, the front door and the master bedroom.

Before Terrance left, he said that one of the installers would come back every six months to check out the system to make sure it was working properly. We thanked Terrance for the information as we walked him to the door.

Saturday was one of those gorgeous days we often get in the Spring. The boys took full advantage of it. They romped and played Frisbee with their dogs, ran the track, played tennis and in the afternoon, we all got in the pool. Even Joel got involved in a tennis match. He and Chris took on Larry and Lenny. Joel was a fairly good athlete, but Chris was quicker around the court and scored most of the points. After supper when it got dark outside, they went upstairs and made music on their instruments. They were more than ready to go to bed when it was time.

The weather was just as great on Sunday and the boys were anxious to go to the ranch to ride their horses. When Gilda got back from church, she fixed us a cooler full of sandwiches and all the other things that the boys liked. Lenore was anxious to go as well. Her reasons centered around Carrie Louise. She still couldn't understand why they couldn't have a baby sister.

Jeremy was already at the ranch when we arrived. He was talking to Jason and Bert as the boys piled out of the van. It looked as if all the horses had been saddled. I had called earlier and told Tracy what time we were coming. When Jeremy saw us he hopped back over the fence and came to talk with us.

"How's the ex-airman?" I asked, as he approached.

"It's a little strange not having someone telling me what to do all the time, but, I think I'll get used to it. Hey, 'little brother'," he said, giving Joel a one arm hug. "When do you graduate?"

"Five and a half weeks," Joel answered. "Have you got all your stuff moved?"

"Nah, I've taken a few things, but there's a lot more to take. I'll probably have to make a couple of trips to get it all."

"Say, Jeremy, do you enjoy the symphony?" I asked.

"Yeah, when I can, but that's not too often," he said. "It's so expensive that it's a once a year treat."

"How about your girlfriend? Did she get a job in Houston?"

"She got hired by Exxon and, to answer your question, she likes going to the symphony, too," he said. "Why do you ask?"

"I purchased four season tickets to the Houston Symphony and if you and your girlfriend would like to accompany Joel, the tickets are yours," I said. "I would prefer that Joel and his friend would have company, especially at night in Houston."

"Wow! What can I say, except thanks," he said. "Besides, this guy probably needs a chaperone."

That caused Joel to punch Jeremy on the shoulder. "Come on flyboy, let's go ride."

"I think that's going to work out just fine," Donald said.

"It looks that way," I said. "Let's go look at the new house and see how near finished it is. What happened to Lenore?"

"She made a beeline for the temp housing. She couldn't wait to see the baby."

We had just stepped inside the new house, when Tracy joined us.

"Sorry, I didn't meet you when you arrived, I was on the phone," he said. "The clinic is getting so busy that my two vet techs and I can't keep up. I was on the phone with a new vet who will be graduating in mid-May. I knew him when I was at A&M and have kept in touch with him after I left. I'm hoping that he will join us in the clinic."

"I haven't been keeping up with your business, but it sounds as if you are doing very well."

"I owe you so much for helping me get set up and in such a great location," he said. "If things continue to go as well as they have been, I'll have you paid off by the end of the year."

"That's fine, but don't neglect what you need for your business just to pay it off early."

"I won't."

As we were talking, we were walking through the house. We could see that it was only a week or two away from being finished. All the appliances that Rosie had picked out had been delivered and installed.

"Rosie said the foreman told her they would be finished by the middle of next week. She can hardly wait. She has it all worked out where every stick of furniture is going to be placed. With the six of us men, we should be able to get it all moved in a couple of hours."

"I haven't seen Charlie around. Where are he and Jessica today?" I asked.

"They had to go see her mother. She's in the hospital," he said. "She's terminal. Ovarian cancer that they found too late. They don't expect her to live more than a month. Jessica is very upset."

"I can imagine," I said. "If there is anything that Donald or I can do, have her let us know." I glanced at Donald and he nodded his agreement.

"Her hospital care must be costing a fortune," Donald said. "Is her family equipped to handle the costs?"

"From what I understand, she has good health insurance that is covering most of the costs," Tracy said.

I could see that Donald was thinking of something, but I decided not to ask what, at the moment. We had just finished our tour of the new house when Rosie arrived with Lenore and Carrie Louise. Lenore was pushing Carrie Louise in a stroller, with Rosie's guiding hand to avoid it upsetting on the uneven ground.

"Isn't it magnificent?" she asked rhetorically. "The foreman said that they would have the kitchen completed on Monday. All they have left in there is the final touchups. I'm going to start moving some of my kitchen stuff."

"Yeah, and I'll be eating sandwiches until we move in," Tracy said, and gave Rosie a peck on the cheek.

"And somebody may be sleeping on the couch," she replied with a grin.

"I think that's our cue to go for a ride," I said.

"Sweetie, would you like to go for a ride on a horse with daddy?" Donald asked Lenore.

"Okay, just for a little bit," she responded.

Lenore lasted about fifteen minutes before she had enough riding and wanted to go back and play with Carrie Louise. Donald and I rode with her to the fence and then walked with her to where Rosie and her daughter were. Carrie Louise was holding on to the picnic table and walking around it.

"She's really growing," Donald said. "Does she walk alone yet?"

"She's still hesitant to try that," Rosie said. "I imagine that it won't be long before she does and then look out. She'll be into everything."

"Do you mind watching Lenore while we go back to riding?" Donald asked.

"Not at all," Rosie said. "She won't be a problem and Carrie Louise loves her."

We went back to our horses and went to check on the boys. I was sure that we would find them racing each other. They were. We watched for a while, but it wasn't long before William approached his dad.

"Can we eat? I'm hungry," William said.

"You are always hungry," Donald said, mussing up his son's hair.

"Lunch," I hollered, and turned back for the house and spurred my horse into a gallop. There was a stampede following me. Jason was riding one of the quarter horses and due to its speed off the start, he beat me to the fence by about a length.

"I guess that means that you get to help get the coolers out of the van," I said.

"I can do that," he said with a grin.

"By the way," I said as we were carrying the coolers to the picnic table, "where are Ian and Lionel today?"

"They were meeting some friends in Austin," Jason replied.

"How do you like it around here?" I asked.

"It's great. I get to ride all the time when the work is done. I couldn't be happier."

"Ever thought about going to college to get a degree?"

"Sometimes."

"What interests you? What would you study if you did go to college?"

"I like working on a farm," Jason said. "Charlie says I should study Agricultural Science."

"That has a lot of career possibilities," I said. "Have you looked into where you could go?"

"Yeah, the best place would be Texas A&M, but College Station is too far away and Charlie and Ian need my help and so does Rosie."

"Were your high school grades good enough to get accepted?"

"I think so. I was salutatorian in my class."

"Did you apply to any college?"

"No. I didn't think it would make any difference since I couldn't afford it any way."

"Look at me, son. Do you really want to go to college? Answer me truthfully."

"Yes, sir, I do."

"Okay, eat your lunch and then we need to sit down and have a discussion."

While the boys were eating, I took Donald aside and told him about my little talk I had with Jason. "What do you propose we do?" he asked.

"I think I'll make the same kind of proposition that I made with Tracy when he was going to finish his Veterinarian degree," I said.

"I agree," Donald said. "WE should do just that. But, if he's to get admitted to A&M he should have already had his application in."

"You're right. If he can't get accepted for the fall semester, then maybe he could make the spring admission. Do you want to be part of the discussion I have planned for him after he eats?"

"Absolutely."

When lunch was over and all the leftovers, which were few, were stored away in the coolers and the garbage had been put in the garbage bags, I motioned for Jason to come talk to us.

"Jason, Donald and I have a proposition to make to you. We are willing to pay your way through A&M."

My speech was interrupted by a surprised Jason, "OH!"

I continued, "It is not without strings attached. We will expect that you return to the farm and for each year of work on the farm, we will forgive one year of college expenses. If you decide after two years to find work someplace else, you will have to repay fifty percent of the remaining 'unpaid' tuition. We don't necessarily want you to give us an answer right now. You should talk it over with Charlie and your folks. You probably shouldn't take too long, however, you need to make your application to A&M. It may be too late to make fall semester as it is."

"I can't tell you how shocked I am," Jason said. "I'll talk to my brother tonight when they get home. Now, I gotta go think. I do my best thinking on a horse."

It was nearing five o'clock by the time the boys had their fill of riding their horses. It took them another half hour before all the horses had been brushed and put in their stalls. We were getting ready to climb into the van for our trip home when Charlie and Jessica arrived on horseback with their daughter. Lenore had to go see Elizabeth Jane so we were going to be delayed before we could leave.

"Jessica," I said, "I'm so sorry to hear about your mother. Is there anything we can do?"

"Thank you," she said. "There's nothing at the moment. The doctors are trying to keep her as pain free as they can without totally knocking her out."

"Don't hesitate to ask if we can help in any way. Both Donald and I mean that," I said. "Don't hesitate."

I looked over and Jason had pulled his brother aside and was talking excitedly at him. Charlie kept looking over at Donald and me. After a moment, he started toward us.

"Is what Jason telling me the truth?" Charlie asked.

"If it's about him going to college, yes it is," I answered.

"If that's the case, then I can assure you that he is going to take you up on your offer. He's a good worker and it's going to mean that Ian, Lionel and I will have to pick up the slack. It'll be worth it to see that he gets a chance to get his degree," Charlie said.

"Our offer will cover tuition, books and fees, and room and board. If he has a car, he will have to cover those expenses as well as personal spending money."

"He has some savings that he's built up since coming to live with us. His expenses have been almost nil since his arrival. Plus he can earn more money in the summers when he's not in school. I'm not sure if dad will be willing to help, but Jessica and I can pick up any slack."

"Jason, if you're sure you want to go to A&M, the first thing Monday morning you need to get that application filled out and sent off. You will also need to contact your high school and have a transcript of your grades sent as well," I said. "I think you can download an application from A&M's website."

"I have a copy of my transcript. And I'll print out that application tonight," Jason said. "Our dialup access is awfully slow, so it may take a while. Thank you." He gave both Donald and me a hug and then mounted the quarter horse and took off for Charlie's place at a gallop.

As soon as we got home, I sent the boys to get showers taken. The van had smelled like a horse barn all the way home. We had invited Jeremy to come for supper, but he had made other plans.

Monday was a slow day for me. After I had taken the kids to school, I was on my own. The only interruption to my day was the housecleaners. I didn't have any meetings and I didn't have any phone calls to make. I sat down with a cup of coffee and began to read some more of a book I had started a couple of weeks ago. I read the rest of the day, stopping only for a sandwich at lunch time, until it was time to go pick up the kids from school.

I was checking Lenny's homework later that evening when the phone rang. Gilda answered it in the kitchen and then came to say that Lenny was wanted on the phone. Since I was all but finished with checking his homework, he jumped off my lap and went to answer it. It was a bit unusual for any of the boys to receive phone calls, especially at this time of the evening.

I heard Lenny say, "Hello," and then silence for few seconds and then he yelled, "NO!" slammed down the receiver and ran up the stairs yelling for his brothers.

I quickly followed him up the stairs and into their bedroom where Lenny had gone. When I got there, the three of them were holding on to each other with tears in their eyes.

"What's going on, guys?" I asked. "Something's wrong. Tell dad."

They looked at me for a few seconds and then all three of them were hugging me and crying. I put my arms around them and let them cry for a few moments.

"Who was that phone call from and why did it upset you so?" I asked.

"It was George Kent. He's a guy in our class," Lenny sniffled. "He told me ... told me our friend Barry Wright hung himself."


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