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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 5

"Let me put John Levy on the line," Jack said. "He's the one who gathered the info."

"Thanks, Jack," I said.

"I hardly know where to start," John said, after he had come on the line and introduced himself. "It's such a tangled mess. Everyone involved is related either by blood or marriage. I guess Gladys Romans is as good a place to start as any other. She has been an approved foster home for the past seven years. She is the half-sister of Gloria Garver. Same mother, different fathers. I talked to several of her neighbors and none of them had anything good to say about her or the way she treats the children she fosters. It is an iron-clad CPS rule that there be no physical punishment of the children in her care. That rule does not seem to apply to Ms. Romans. She had been seen hitting, slapping and pulling the hair of several different residents of the home. The neighbors have repeatedly reported this to CPS, but nothing appears to be done about it, according to the neighbors. I can confirm that. As you know, I spent several years in foster care growing up and I still have a few contacts at CPS. Ms. Romans' file is clean when it comes to those complaints."

"How can that be?" I asked.

"Julie, the young lady whom I got this confirmation from, could not say for sure, but she suspected that Ms. Garver is responsible for scrubbing the file of anything negative. I trust Julie. She's a records clerk at the CPS office. She and I have been dating for the past six months," Levy said. "That leads me to Gloria Garver. She has been a caseworker for almost ten years. She has a reputation of being lazy and extremely lax about documenting her visits with her charges in foster care. She is suspected of not making her required visits and just writing up false reports. According to Julie, Garver is not well liked by the majority of the other caseworkers in the office."

"How in the world has she been able to keep her position as a caseworker for that long?" I asked.

"Nepotism," he said. "I told you that everybody was related by blood or marriage. Well, it just so happens that Garver's immediate supervisor, a man named Gus Meriwether, is married to Garver's older sister, Sharon. Anything that reflects badly on Garver seems to disappear when it reaches Gus' desk."

"You've come up with a lot of information in a very short amount of time," I said. "I'm sure you will be able to come up with more given more time. If you would fax the information that you have so far, I will see that it gets to the right people."

"I'm sure there is more to uncover and I'm happy to do just that," he said. "I have your fax number and will transmit it as soon as I hang up. Goodbye Mr. Johnson, I hope we can nail these people. It's bad enough to be in foster care, without having to put up with corrupt people."

I finished dressing and was walking toward my office when I heard the fax machine begin spitting out pages. I waited as the last of five pages settled in the output tray before I retrieved them. I skimmed the pages and saw that they contained the same information that John Levy had relayed over the phone. There was a bit more data, but it only expanded on what I had been told on the phone. I made copies for Manfred and Antonio. I kept the original for myself.

Donald came in the back door as I entered the kitchen to get myself a cup of coffee. "You're home early," I said.

"Yes, we got the IRS satisfied that our last quarterly "contribution" was correct. In fact, it appears as if we actually over paid the IRS by a little over $10,000. That didn't make Kamren Bristow very happy. I guess he thought he was going to make a name for himself by catching us trying to cheat the government," he said. "Where are the kids?"

"They're upstairs playing on the Xboxes or kibitzing the players," I said. "Lenore went over to see Jeannie and Ginny. Manfred came over and traded Luke for Lenore. Hildy had something planned for the girls. I expect the trade will be reversed shortly."

I had just barely gotten that last out of my mouth when the back door opened and Manfred and Lenore entered. Lenore saw her dad and ran to him and jumped up into his arms. "Daddy!"

"Hello, pumpkin," Donald said, giving her a kiss on the top of her head. "Did you go to school today?"

"Uh huh. It was really neat," Lenore said. "I met my teacher and saw my classroom and met a lot of girls and boys in my class."

"That's great," Donald told her. "Let daddy go change clothes and you can tell me all about it. Okay?"

"Okay," Lenore said, as he put her down.

"Manfred, I have some information that the PI has come up with on CPS. Grab yourself a cup of coffee and I'll go get it," I said. A moment or two later I returned and handed him the five pages that John Levy had faxed.

"Interesting," Manfred said as he read through the pages. "I hope you are going to give Antonio a copy as well."

"I made a copy for him and was going to send it, but I think I should fax it to him so he has it sooner."

"Is the PI still digging for more?" Manfred asked.

"Indeed he is. I don't remember if I told you, but John Levy, that's the PI, was in foster care when he was growing up and has a particular interest in seeing that corrupt caseworkers are fired. I was surprised at how much information he was able to come up with in such a short time. He has a spy in the CPS office," I said with a chuckle. "He's dating a young lady who works there."

"Antonio said he had a source in the office as well," Manfred said. "I wonder if it's the same one."

"Although Antonio didn't say, I got the impression that his source was another caseworker," I said.

"Well, I had better round up Luke. Hildy will have supper ready for us soon. Is he upstairs with the others?"

"I heard his voice from up there earlier," I said. "How is he adjusting to his new environment?"

"He's a little shy at times, but he has been absolutely no problem," Manfred said. "I know it's a CPS rule that we shouldn't even give him a hug, but I stretch the rule a bit and give him a one arm hug when I think he needs it."

"Has he said anything about what happened to his mom and dad?"

"No, and we haven't pushed. Hildy is meeting at the CPS office in New Braunfels tomorrow to go over his files," Manfred said. "We should know more after that."

We had been walking up the stairs as we talked. Luke was sitting with TJ playing one of the Xbox games. The game involved racing cars over what appeared to be the streets of Monte Carlo. We watched for a few minutes before Manfred approached Luke and tapped him on the shoulder.

"We need to go, son," Manfred said.

Luke looked between the game and Manfred several times before he decided that he needed to go with Manfred.

"We can do this again," TJ said. "You can come back and do it some more."

"Thanks, TJ," Luke said, before standing up. "I'll see you at school tomorrow."

"Let's go see what Hildy has fixed for our supper, shall we?" Manfred said.

"Yeah, she cooks good," Luke said. "Can I drive the golf cart?"

"Of course," Manfred said, rolling his eyes. "You're getting good at that."

"The rest of you guys need to get your hands washed. Your supper should be ready shortly as well," I said.

They shut down the Xboxes and headed for their rooms to wash up. I walked downstairs and went to clean up also. As I passed through the living room, I saw Donald on the couch with Lenore on his lap and William sitting beside him. Lenore and William were taking turns telling him all about their experiences at school today.

After supper as Donald and I were having a glass of wine, the phone rang. I picked up the receiver and answered it.


"Mr. Johnson, it's Chuck Solaris."

"Chuck, what can I do for you this evening? Is everything okay?" Chuck Solaris and Phillip Brown were the managers of my apartment complexes.

"Everything is fine," he said. "I just heard of another group of apartments that are going to be put up for sale and I thought you might be interested in them."

"Why are they on the market?" I asked.

"From what I've heard, the group that owns them is in financial trouble, not on account of the apartments. They had made some other investments that went bad and they are in need of some ready cash. I know the complex. As far as I can see, without a thorough inspection, they look to be in good shape. From the outside, they are well maintained. The complex is only about two years old."

"How many apartments are in the complex and where is it located?"

"It's in the Timberwood Park area and according to their website there are 485 units. They are mostly one and two bedroom units with a few three bedroom units."

"Any idea what they are asking for the property?" I asked.

"No, but my source says they are anxious to sell," Chuck said. "You could probably get a good deal."

"If you can set up something around ten or so tomorrow, I could at least take a look at it," I said. "Give me a call one way or the other. If I'm not at home, call my cellphone."

"Will do, Crane," he said. "Goodbye."

I hung up and picked up my glass of wine.

"What was that all about?" Donald asked.

"Chuck Solaris, he's one of the managers for my apartment holdings, thinks he has another complex that I might be interested in purchasing," I said. "If he can manage it, we will go inspect it tomorrow."

"How much are they asking for it?"

"Don't know, yet," I said. "It won't matter if it doesn't make sense from a cash flow basis."

"Would you have to finance it?"

"I would. When it comes to those kinds of numbers, I would rather use someone else's money than my own. Of course, it all depends on what the interest rates would be. I have enough equity in the other apartments that I should have no problem collateralizing the loan."

At that moment, the phone rang again.

"I wonder who this could be. We usually don't get calls this time of evening," I said and answered the phone.

"Hi, dad," a voice said that I immediately recognized as Joel's.

"Joel, is anything wrong?" a worried father asked.

"No, everything's fine. I just called to tell you about my classes," he said. "I've been to every one of my classes and the professors are great. I also met a couple of nice guys in my calculus class. One is from Schertz and the other is from Bastrop. Nice guys, they both live in the dorm."

"Tremendous, it's nice that you have started to make friends. So you think you are going to do alright in your classes?"

"Yeah, I've looked over the textbooks and if the professors use them as a basis of their classes, I'm sure I can handle them."

"How's Jeremy doing?" I asked.

"He says he likes his classes," Joel said. "He's using the Bowflex right now. He's shown me some exercises on it. I've used it a couple of time. I miss the pool. There are only certain times that the college pool is open for everybody."

"There is a YMCA downtown," I said. "I can't remember offhand what street it's on, but they have a pool. You would have to become a member, but the cost is not that much. Look it up if you really want to keep up with your swimming."

"Oh, I almost forgot. Tell Donald that one of his friends who belongs to Champions Golf Course called. Donald must have given him my number. Anyway, he wanted to know if I was available to fill out a foursome on Saturday morning. I told him I would. I can get any homework done Friday and if need be on Sunday as well. I really want to play that course. I just hope I don't make a fool of myself."

"I'm sure you will do just fine," I said. "From what I've heard it's a tough course. Make sure you let us know how you did. Who was it that called you? Donald will probably like to know."

"The man's name was Joe Good. I'll let you know if I master the course or it masters me," he joked. "Well, I have some reading to do for one of my courses and had better get to it. I just wanted to let you know how things were going."

"Thanks for calling, son," I said. "I love you."

"I love you, too, dad," Joel said. "Goodbye."

"So, it sounds like Joel is getting settled in," Donald said when I hung up.

"I think so," I said. "He said that Joe Good called him and wants him to fill out a foursome on Saturday to play the Champions Course. What do you know about him?"

"Joe's a great guy," Donald answered with a smile. "He's a joker. He loves to tell jokes and will go on for hours, never repeating himself. I can assure you that Joel will enjoy himself regardless of how well he plays the course. Joe and I met in college. I was working on my Master's degree. He was an undergraduate. At that time I was really into handball and so was he. We were pretty much equal in skill so we ended up playing together a lot. We even played each other in some tournaments. After I took some time off before I started working on my PhD, he was working on his when I returned to Harvard. Joe comes from a wealthy family. His dad owns a number of liquor warehouses and distributorships all across the southern US. It's ironic that Joe now runs the business. He is a total teetotaler - never touches a drop of alcohol."

"I'm going to take Lenore up for her bath," Gilda said, as she and Lenore started up the stairs.

"I'll be up to tuck you in after while," Donald said.

"That must be the cue for us to get the boys started getting ready for bed," I said. That's what we did and later stopped by their rooms to get them settled in bed.

Before Donald and I retired for the night, I remembered to fax the information, which John Levy had gathered, to Antonio Ricci at his office. I included a note of explanation along with the five pages.

When I came downstairs after having gotten the boys awake the next morning, I saw that Donald was on the phone talking to someone. It was a little unusual that he was up this early and already conducting business.

"I think I'll ride with you to take the kids to school. I want to make sure that Lenore is comfortable - and me as well," he said. "I just arranged for my driver to pick me up at the school."

"I'm sure that Lenore and William will be happy that you are going to the school on their first day," I said.

Gilda brought Lenore downstairs and got her seated at the table and then she went back to finish fixing breakfast while Lenore drank her orange juice. It wasn't long before all the boys were seated at the table as well.

As soon as they had eaten, they hurried back upstairs to brush their teeth and put on their school uniforms. Donald went with Lenore to make sure she got dressed in her uniform. When everyone was dressed and ready we climbed into the van and took off for Corinthian Academy. I saw Manfred pull out of their driveway as I was waiting for our gate to open. From the sounds from all the kids, they were excited to start the school year.

Jeannie, Ginny and Luke were climbing out of their car as I stopped the van. When Lenore saw her friends, she pulled her dad by his hand over to where the girls were. I followed behind. The boys had grabbed Luke and went off to find their friends.

"Jeannie, Ginny," I said. "Will you show Lenore where she is supposed to wait if the van hasn't arrived by the time she gets out of class?"

"Sure," Jeannie said. "Come on Lenore, I'll show you."

"Bye, sweetie," Donald said to Lenore. "I love you."

"Bye, daddy," she said, running up to him and giving him a kiss on the cheek when he leaned down.

I had to smile when Donald turned toward me with a strange look on his face. "Don't worry, dad. She's off on a new adventure," I said. "She'll be your little girl again this evening."

"You hear all these tales about kids putting up a fuss about not wanting to start to school. I guess I was expecting some of that," he said. "I just hope this lasts."

"It's not like she doesn't have friends here. I'm sure she will be just fine."

"I see my driver is here. I'd better get to work and make some money," he said. "At least I don't have to put up with the IRS today. See you tonight."

I spent a few minutes talking to Manfred before I started back to the van. I had just opened the van door when my cellphone rang. I answered it as I slipped into the driver's seat.

"Good morning, Crane," It's Phillip Brown. Chuck asked me to call. If you can make it, we can inspect that apartment complex around 10:30." When I said I could make it, he gave me the address and directions on how to get there. "We'll both be there to go through it with you. I think you will like it."

"If the price is right," I said. "Thanks, I'll see you at 10:30."

Since I had about two hours before I had to meet Chuck and Phillip, I decided to stop by the charity to check on things there. When I got there the receptionist, Coral Bright, recognized me this time and immediately notified Darcie that I was there. A moment later, Darcie came out of her office.

"Crane, it's good to see you," she said, giving me a hug. "Did you have anything specific you needed or did you just come to check on the workers?"

"I left my whip in the car, so I guess it will just be an information visit," I laughed. "How are things going?"

"Hectic, as usual," she said.

As we headed for her office, Paul Coulter stepped out of his office with some papers in his hands. "Oh, hi, Crane," he said, offering his hand to me. I shook it and invited him to join Darcie and me.

"Good," he said. "I wanted to speak with Darcie anyway."

"What about?" she asked. We had settled in her office by this time.

"You know I've been working closely with the people who make the prostheses for us," Paul said.

"Yes, is there a problem?" Darcie asked.

"No, nothing like that," he responded. "I just got off the phone from a veteran's organization. They had heard about our providing artificial limbs for kids and they were wondering if we would be willing to help them get prosthetics for veterans. The guy I talked to said it can take the VA six months and sometimes up to a year to get a wounded veteran fitted with a prosthesis. I know it's not really part of our charter, but it would be for a good cause."

"I don't know," Darcie said.

"Wait, I don't think it would stretch our charter that far," I said. "In fact, when we submitted our revised request for tax exempt status with the IRS, the wording was probably broad enough to include veterans needing prosthetics. Get in touch with our lawyer, Carlos Martinez, and see if our charter would cover it. He's the one who wrote up the request."

"I'll do that right now," Paul said and went back to his office.

"Would this new service put any strain on the budget?" I asked.

"Not a bit," Darcie said. "We have a difficult time making effective use of all the money that we receive from the trust that Mr. Baker set up for us. Now we give any excess over what we need internally to other charities. We do retain some monies for unexpected expenses, but the IRS requires that we use a significant percentage of our donations for its intended purpose."

"What about staffing? Would taking on this veteran's thing require any more people?" I asked.

"Probably not," she said. "Unless it will be bigger than I believe it will be, we can handle it with the staff we have."

I looked at my watch and noticed it was time to leave to meet Chuck and Phillip. "I've got to run," I said. "Don't hesitate to call me if you need anything - anything at all."

"Don't be a stranger," Darcie said as she walked me to the door.

Both Chuck and Phillip were waiting outside the apartment complex's office when I arrived.

"I hope I haven't kept you waiting too long," I said.

"We've only been here a couple of minutes," Phillip said.

"The manager, Gary Oliver, is going to give us the tour," Chuck said. "He's just gone in to get the master keys."

I looked around the area near the office and was pleasantly surprised at how well kept up it was. The grass was neatly trimmed as were the shrubbery. Gary arrived and introductions were made all around. He suggested that we look first at the amenities for the complex. Besides the requisite pool, there was a tennis court, whirlpool, basketball court, a number of gas grills and picnic tables. All were well maintained.

Next we toured the apartments. We were only able to see the one and two bedroom units as all the three bedroom units were rented. I was impressed with the quality of the construction. The cabinets and counter tops were not builder grade. They appeared to be a step up in quality. Altogether we spent a little over two hours touring and talking with Gary.

"Do you know what they are asking for the complex?" I asked Gary.

"Not really," he said. "I have heard some numbers thrown around, but nothing definite."

"Thank you, Gary," I said. "You have been most generous with your time. One more thing, do you have a number to contact the owners?"

"Yes," he said and handed me a card.

"I'm hungry," I said to Phillip and Chuck on our way to our vehicles. "I saw a restaurant down the road a bit. You're welcome to join me. It's on me."

Over our lunch, we discussed what we had seen and what we thought the asking price would be. We also discussed whether or not they would be able to handle the additional workload it would add. They both were sure that it would not be a problem.

By the time we had finished our lunch and were headed for our rides, it was time for me to take off for the school to pick up the kids. As it was I arrived at the school about fifteen minutes before any of them were released. Manfred was already there to pick up his three, so we chatted until the first students began exiting the school. The kindergarteners were the first to be released. I saw Lenore come out and watched to see if she would go to the designated spot to wait. I was very pleased that she did just that.

I went to where she was standing, talking to another young girl. "Hi," she said when she saw me. "This is my friend Betty. She was in my pre-school and now she's here."

"Hello, Betty, it's nice that you and Lenore are in the same class," I said.

It wasn't long before the rest of the kids had been dismissed. I rounded up my six riders and got them loaded in the van. Peter and William were both talking at the same time telling me all about their day. I smiled and nodded a lot most of the way home.

"Dad," Lenny said as we were getting out of the van. "You have to sign these papers and we have to get a sport's physical so we can be on the tennis team."

"Yeah," Larry said. "We want to be on the cross country team as well."

"Chris, are you going to be doing this also?" I asked.

"I'd like to, but I'm going to need some new running shoes," he said. "My toes are touching the end."

"Looks like we have another shopping trip coming up," I said. "I'll see when I can get appointments with Dr. Sam for your physicals. When do you need them?"

"We have to have everything signed by two weeks from next Monday," Lenny said.

"Okay, I'll call Dr. Sam's office in the morning and see when we can get you guys in for your physicals. Maybe we can get new shoes this weekend. We should have done this when we went uniform shopping," I said. "Now, go get changed out of your uniforms. Gilda, I'm sure, has your snacks ready." They were gone in a flash.

"Have you talked to Hildy?" I asked Gilda.

"No, not since this morning," Gilda said. "Why?"

"I was wondering what she uncovered at the CPS office," I said. "She was going there today to view Luke's file. I was curious what, if anything, she found out about Luke's parents."

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