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© 2014 - 2017 Ted Louis

Joel VIII

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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 4

First thing Monday morning, I had the boys try on their school uniforms to see if they still fit. Not to my surprise, I saw that some replacements were necessary. Some would be suitable to save for when TJ could wear some of the twins' and Chris' things. Likewise TJ's could be handed down to Peter at some point. I made lists of uniforms that needed to be purchased and made plans to head into San Antonio sometime later to get them outfitted.

In the meantime, I made a call to Antonio Ricci. I was happy to learn from the receptionist that he was in the office. She transferred my call and after a couple of rings, it was answered.

"Antonio Ricci," he said, when he answered.

"Crane Johnson," I said. "I was wondering if you had any ideas on how to proceed with Luke Fredrick."

"I gave it some thought over the weekend," he said. "The judge on Friday approved the plans for Luke to stay with the Strassers on a temporary basis. He wants a complete review of Luke's file and a recommendation for permanent placement by September 15. That means we have less than a month to come up with a plan that will satisfy the judge. In addition, he has ordered CPS to provide copies of all pertinent information to me by Wednesday of this week. Until I receive that file, it's hard to come up with a direction for moving forward. I'm particularly interested in finding out what information is in the file concerning the uncle."

"For your information, Luke has been enrolled in Corinthian Academy and Manfred has purchased all his uniforms to wear," I said. "They haven't explicitly said that they want to keep him, but all indications are pointing that way."

"He could be in a lot worse situation," Antonio said. "Oh by the way, Mr. Cross said it was okay to take the case on officially."

"Excellent," I said. "Benjamin knows where to send the bills."

"I'm sure he does," Antonio laughed. "I'll keep everybody informed whenever I get anything new."

"Thanks," I said, and terminated the call.

I decided that it was time to go purchase the school uniforms. We all loaded into the van and took off for San Antonio. Lenore was staying with Hildy and her girls. I told Gilda that we would have lunch before we returned. We arrived at the store, I parked the van and then we walked the hundred yards or so to the entrance. The boys knew where the uniforms were on display and headed that direction. As we got to the display, there were two other boys who looked to be the same age as the twins and Chris were looking at the clothes.

"Carl, Teddy," Chris said, greeting the two boys. "What's up?"

"Gotta get some new pants. Mom's afraid I'll split the seat when I sit down in my old ones," the taller of the two boys said. "Teddy's been lifting weights and his shirts don't fit, so he's got to get some new ones."

The older boys carried on an animated conversation, while TJ, Peter and William were looking over the racks of uniforms. I took out my list of items that we needed to purchase for them and started selecting items that I thought would fit. I handed several items to TJ and told him to go into the dressing area and try them on. I picked out some items for Peter and then for William. TJ came out wearing the new slacks and shirt. They appeared to fit comfortably, so I had him go back and put on the clothes he came in wearing. I set the items for TJ aside and then had Peter and William go try on their clothes.

"Guys," I spoke sternly to the three musketeers. "Come try on these things."

"Sure, dad," Lenny said.

While they were in the process of trying on clothes, a woman walked up and began giving the two boys directions on what they needed to try on.

"I see we're here for the same reason," I said to her. "I'm Crane Johnson."

"LeAnn Arnold," she replied. "Yes, I swear those two of mine outgrow their clothes so quickly."

"Are both of them your sons?" I asked.

"Yes, they're twins, believe it or not," she said.

"My twins are identical," I said. "When I first adopted them, I found it difficult to tell them apart. A lot of people still do."

"We didn't have that problem," LeAnn said. "You're lucky. They can wear each other's clothes. We have to have two completely separate wardrobes. Are all six of those boys yours?"

"Only five of them," I said. "The youngest one is the son of a friend."

At that point we were both distracted by having to check out the new uniforms for fit. Having done that, I picked up the small mountain of clothes and led the boys to the checkout. They said goodbye to their friends and followed the rest of us. It took several minutes for all the items to be scanned and put in bags. It didn't take long to run my credit card through the reader. I shook my head when I read the total.

As it was nearing lunch time, I decided to take the boys to a different restaurant. I hadn't thought of Knouse's Cafe in a long time. It wasn't a fancy place. It was run by a man known only as Shorty. It took us a little over fifteen minutes to get there. I parked the van in the lot and we headed for the entrance.

"What is this place?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, dad, I've never heard of it," Larry added.

"Just wait," I said. "They serve the best hot beef sandwich in San Antonio. You'll love it."

"I know you," an older, white-haired lady said as she greeted us at the door. "It's been a while, but I know you used to come here quite often. You're some kind of computer guy."

"Was a computer guy," I said. "Now, I just raise these guys. My name is Crane Johnson and if I remember correctly, yours is Sandra."

"Yes, yes, now I remember," she said, "You used to come in here with that cop. What was his name? Oh yes, Jack."

"Shorty still running the place?"

"Oh, yeah. He should have retired ten years ago, but the old fool just won't quit."

She settled us at a round table that easily seated all seven of us and went to bring us glasses of water.

"What can I get for you?" she asked.

"We're going to have Shorty's famous hot beef sandwich. Make that seven of them and milk for the boys. I'll have coffee."

Several minutes later Sandra returned with a tray containing four of the hot beef sandwiches. A young man was right behind her with the other three.

"I thought we were gonna have sandwiches," Larry said, looking at the plate in front of him.

"Use your knife and fork to cut off a bite," I told him. "I think you'll like it."

I took William's plate and cut his sandwich into bite size pieces. When Peter saw what I was doing, he pushed his plate to me to have his done.

"This is good," Chris said, around a mouth full of sandwich as some of the gravy dripped down his chin.

"Yeah, dad," Lenny agreed. "How come we never had this before?"

"We'll have to tell Gilda that you like them. I'm sure she can fix them, also," I said.

"I'm full," Peter said, a few minutes later.

"Me, too," William echoed.

Both of them had eaten most of the gravy covered sandwich and all of the mashed potatoes and gravy.

"I'm sure one of your brothers will be happy to clean up your plate," I said, looking at the three musketeers.

"Me and Lenny will take William's plate and Chris can have Peter's," Larry said, reaching for William's plate.

"Well, guys," I said, as we headed for the van. "Was that better than stopping for a burger?"

The response was unanimously positive.

"Where were you?" Luke asked, running up to TJ.

"We had to get stuff for school, like you did," TJ answered

"Looks as if you bought out the store," Manfred said. "Luke wanted to come over and play with TJ."

"There were a few things left," I laughed.

The boys went off outside to play, presumably with the dogs, after we had carried the bags of new uniforms to the breakfast table and dumped the contents. Gilda and I sat down at the table and started removing the tags from the items. Manfred followed the boys ouside.

"I'll have these laundered and ready for when school starts on Wednesday," Gilda said.

"They won't need them tomorrow when we go to the school," I said. "They only have to pick up their schedules and attend an assembly to listen to a talk by the Headmaster."

I finished helping Gilda with the new uniforms and went to check on the boys. As I watched them interact with their pets, I began to wonder if they all were going to fit in the van. There was going to be one extra body to fit in this year. Thinking back to when I bought the van, it was advertised as 12 passenger so it should work. I motioned Manfred over to where I was sitting on the patio.

"What's up?" he asked.

"I was wondering what plans we should make for transporting the kids to school this year," I said.

"I was going to talk to you about that very thing," he said. "For this week, I thought I would take the girls and Luke to school every morning. I want to make sure that he gets settled in. I was thinking after that they would be going with the rest of the kids in the van like they did last year. I thought, maybe, we could trade off with the driving. How does every other week sound?"

"I think that would work," I answered. "I really should spend more time at the foundation. I know Darcie is doing a great job, but I'd still like to get more involved with it again. After all, it was my baby."

"Luke loves playing with those dogs," Manfred said.

"Before you run out and get him a dog, I need to tell you what I learned when I spoke to Antonio Ricci this morning. He said that the judge gave CPS and him until September 15th to come up with a plan for Luke's permanent placement. I assume that you will want to be involved with that plan and to attend the hearing," I said.

"Yes," Manfred said. It was a minute or two before he continued. "Hildy and I had a long talk last night. We want to foster Luke long term. If things work out, perhaps down the road, we might consider adopting him. I would do it right now if it were only up to me, but Hildy is right in saying we need to wait and see how fostering him goes. He's such a loving and polite kid."

We sat and visited for over an hour before Gilda came out and told me that supper would be ready in twenty minutes.

"That's my cue to get Luke and go home. Hildy is fixing Swiss steak and mashed potatoes. That's one of my favorites. I hope Luke likes it."

"From what I've seen, he' eaten everything he's been served when he's been here," I said.

Manfred gave a whistle to get everybody's attention. "Luke," he said loudly. "It's time for us to go back home. Hildy will have supper ready for us. Help your friends put the dogs back into their run and then we have to go."

"Thanks, Mr. Crane," Luke said, as he ran up to us. "I had fun. Can I come back again?"

"You're always welcome," I said, patting him on the shoulder. "I'm sure that TJ and the other boys like having you come and play."

Manfred and Luke went to the golf cart and took off for their house. I herded the boys inside to get cleaned up for supper. Donald walked in the back door carrying Lenore as the boys hurried up the stairs.

"You're a little late," I said.

"Small crisis at the office and then I stopped and talked to Hildy when I picked up Lenore," he said. "Run upstairs and wash up for supper, sweetie."

"You've been putting in a lot of hours recently," I said. "Anything I can do to help out?"

"Not unless you're a tax attorney," he sighed. "The IRS has some questions about our last quarterly filing and we have been having interminable meetings with them to try and resolve their questions. The head guy we're dealing with is new to the local office and it looks to me as if he is trying to make a name for himself as a hard ass."

"Do you think things will get worked out?" I asked.

"I have some of the brightest and most knowledgeable tax attorneys on staff. From what I have been able to observe, they know more about the convoluted IRS tax code than Kamren Bristow does. He's the IRS guy. We have another meeting with him and his staff tomorrow. I hope things are resolved by that time," he said. "I think I had better go change out of this suit. From the smells coming from the kitchen, I suspect supper is almost ready."

Surprisingly, the boys didn't complain when I sent them to bed earlier than their bedtime had been during the summer. "Get a good night's sleep," I told them as I tucked them in bed. "We have to be at school by nine in the morning."

I smelled the coffee even before I left the bedroom in the morning. Gilda was in the kitchen talking to herself as I entered to pour a cup. "Good morning, Gilda. I see you've been up for a while. How long before breakfast?"

"About twenty-five minutes," she answered. "I need to get a lot more pancakes fixed before everybody sits down at the table. Those boys can eat their weight in pancakes."

I chuckled and went to read the morning paper. I had just finished reading the front page, when she said it was time to roust the boys. I put down the paper and made my way upstairs. Donald came out of the bedroom and followed me up the stairs.

"I'll get Lenore," he said.

TJ was up when I got to their room. "You're up early," I said.

"Yeah, I'm anxious to start school and see all my friends," he answered.

As soon as I mentioned that breakfast was almost ready, the other two hopped out of bed and headed for the bathroom to wash their hands. It was the same in the twins' and Chris' bedroom. Hardly before I had started down the back stairs, they came flying down the stairs behind me. Their morning hand washing must have been less than thorough. I got a hug from each of them as they passed me in their hurry to get to the breakfast table.

Gilda carried a large platter to the table which must have had 20 or 25 pancakes on it. She started dishing out either two or three pancakes to each of the boys and Lenore. The three pancakes went to the older boys. She motioned for me to bring the plate of bacon to the table. It was quickly distributed. There were still a few pancakes left on the platter along with several strips of bacon, but that didn't stay there long. Donald and I just watched and shook our heads to see the food disappear so quickly.

"What do we have to wear today?" Larry asked when all the dishes were stacked in the dishwasher.

"I think clean shorts and polo shirt," I said. "You don't need to wear your school uniforms until tomorrow. Now, go wash your faces. You have maple syrup all over them."

"If you and Donald would like to have some pancakes and bacon, I can make some more," Gilda said.

"Thanks, but I think I'm just going to have some fruit and another cup of coffee," I said.

"I have a mid-morning meeting where there are going to be bagels and cream cheese, as well as fruit," Donald said. "I think I'll pass. I haven't been getting enough exercise lately. If I don't watch my food intake, I'll get fat."

"Phooey," Gilda said. "You're as skinny as a rail." She turned and went back into the kitchen. A moment later she returned with the coffee carafe, a selection of fruit and placed them on the table where we were sitting.

"You're too good to us," I said.

"Where's Luke?" TJ asked when we were all seated in the van.

"Manfred is taking him and the girls to school this week," I said. "Next week he will ride with us."

"Oh, okay," he replied, satisfied with the answer.

The school parking lot was nearly full when we got there although we were about twenty minutes early. No sooner had the van stopped, the doors were opened and the boys and Lenore piled out of the van.

"Lenore, take my hand and I'll show you where to go," I said.

"Are Jeanie and Ginny gonna be here?" she asked, looking around.

"Yes, their dad and mom are bringing them," I said. "In fact, that looks like Manfred's car pulling in right now. Let's wait for them." It was. The girls and a wide-eyed Luke exited the car.

"Where's TJ?" Luke asked.

"He's over there talking to some of his friends," I said, pointing to a group of boys.

"Can I go see him?" he asked Manfred.

"Sure, you can," Manfred answered. "I'll be here when it's time to go get you signed up for your classes."
 
The three girls wandered over to a group of Jeannie and Ginny's friends. Lenore was a little shy at first, but it wasn't long before the other girls had her included in the group.

Luke took off for where TJ and his friends were talking. I watched to see what would happen. I was pleasantly surprised to see that TJ introduced him to the other boys and they all appeared to accept him. It wasn't long before they were all talking and laughing like old friends.

"That's a positive," Hildy said. "I was wondering how he was going to fit in, right off the bat."

"Good morning, Crane," a female voice said behind me.

I turned and immediately recognized who it was. "Marie, it's good to see you."

"Where's Joel? Where's Joel?" Ricky asked urgently. He began tugging on my shirt sleeve.

"Munchkin," I said. "It's good to see you, too. Joel doesn't go to school here anymore."

"Why?" he asked.

"Because he goes to college in Houston."

"Why?"

"Because you go to college when you finish school here."

"Why?"

"Ricky, hush," Marie admonished.

"There's TJ and some of his friends over there. Why don't you go say hi to them?" I said.

"Okay," he said and ran to where TJ was.

"He's the same Ricky that used to come to the house," Hildy said. "Time passes so quickly. I can't believe Ricky is old enough to start school here."

"None too soon for me," Marie said with a sigh. "He's been pestering me all summer wanting to know when school was going to start."

"How's Dirk?" I asked.

"Busy as usual. I don't know if we have talked since he changed jobs," Marie said. "He's now Vice President of Marketing with McLennan Manufacturing."

"I've heard of them," I said. "They have a good reputation."

"Where's Rosemarie?" Hildy asked.

"Our next-door neighbor is taking care of her until I get home," Marie said. "I hope we can get home by around noon."

"I think everything should be over by around eleven-thirty," I said. "It will take about an hour to get the kids' schedules and class assignments. The Headmaster's little speech is usually only around forty-five minutes." Turning to Manfred, I continued, "Do you remember Marie?"

"Of course," Manfred said. "It's good to see you again."

"Before I forget," I said. "How is Ricky getting along on his leg?"

"Just fine," she said. "I just took him in to have it adjusted. It's a good thing it can be lengthened without having to get a whole new prosthesis. He can grow another two inches before we have to get a new one. Sometimes I want to hide it from him. He's into everything. He's curious about everything and is always climbing things. The other day I caught him on the kitchen counter looking in the upper cabinets. There's nothing in there except dishes, but he wanted to see for himself. I hope his teacher can handle the little monkey."

"He always was a curious kid," Hildy said. We continued talking for a few minutes more before the school bell rang indicating it was time to begin the signing in process and picking up schedules.

"TJ, Peter, you go with Chris and the twins to the line that's for student with your last name's first initial on the sign. William, you and Lenore come with me. We have to go to the line for B's," I said. "Hildy, maybe Marie can go with you and your girls since she has to take Ricky to the line for Strasser and Soznowski. Manfred, that leaves Luke for you to take to the line for Fredrick."

"Good idea," he said.

"Come, Marie. I went through this with the girls last year," Hildy said.

Hildy introduced his girls to Marie and they took off for the correct line. Everything was very well organized and it only took a little over and hour to get all of the students through the lines, except for a few stragglers who came in late. Everybody then filed into the auditorium to hear the Headmaster's presentation. He welcomed all the students to the new school year and then stressed the school rules and dress code. When he finished he asked if every student had received the student handbook. It appeared that a few had failed to pick theirs up when they went through the lines to pick up their schedules. They were directed to where copies were available.

It was eleven-thirty before I got Lenore and the six boys rounded up. We said goodbye to Marie and Ricky before climbing into the van and taking off for home. Gilda had lunch waiting for us when we arrived.

"Can we go swimming?" Larry asked when lunch was over.

"Why don't you go see to your dogs first?" I said. "You need to make sure they have plenty of water. It's going to get hot this afternoon. We can all go swimming in about an hour. How's that?"

"Okay," Larry said. He and the rest of the boys took off to check on their pets.

Manfred came in the back door unannounced. "I've been ordered to trade Luke for Lenore," he said. "Hildy has something planned for the girls and Luke wanted to come over here to play."

"Well, the boys are out with their dogs," I said. "Luke, you know the way." That was all it took and Luke was out the patio door, hardly before the words were out of my mouth.

"Lenore, are you ready to go see Jeannie and Ginny?" Manfred asked.

"Yeah," Lenore giggled.

Manfred took her hand and left through the back door where the golf car was parked.

An hour later, I told the boys they could get ready to swim. Luke looked sad for some reason. "What's the matter, Luke?" I asked.

"I didn't bring my swimsuit."

"You can use one of the boys' suits like you did before," I said. "Go with Larry and Lenny. They will get one for you." That brought a smile to his face and he raced after the twins.

I put on my swimsuit and was in the pool before any of the boys appeared. They came racing out carrying a variety of balls and other toys to play with in the water. Luke was not a good swimmer and stayed in the shallow end of the pool. I went to him and showed him a few things, like holding on to the edge of the pool and practicing his kicking and a few other tricks that Mike had taught the others when he was here.

After a couple of hours in the pool, I could tell they were getting tired and suggested that they go take a shower and dress. When I mentioned that Gilda would probably have a snack waiting for them when they finished, they were out of the pool and making a half-hearted attempt of drying themselves off while making a beeline for the patio door. I gathered up the toys and put them on the patio to dry. We'd bring them into the house later. I went to rinse off and dress. I was just slipping into a pair of shorts when the phone rang. I answered on the bedroom phone.

"Hello."

"Crane, I'm glad I caught you,? Jack said, after identifying himself. "I wanted to let you know what the results of the preliminary investigation of the two women you asked about, Gloria Garver and Gladys Romans."

"Great! What did you learn?"




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