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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.
This story is copyrighted by Ted Louis, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
When Donald came in the back door, Lenore ran to him and jumped into his arms. After she had kissed him on the cheek and received one in return, she began telling him all about her day at school. He carried her into the living room and sat with her on the couch. It took her a while to wind down.
"So," he said, "I guess you like your new school."
"Yeah, Miss Pritchard is really nice."
"I'm glad, sweetie," Donald said. "Dad has to go change his clothes."
"Okay," she said and slid off his lap.
"I guess my fears were unfounded," Donald said once he had returned to the living room. "I think she really does like her new school."
"I thought so, too. When I picked her up at the school," I said, "she was all smiles. You look as if you have something on your mind."
"A small crisis at work," he said. "My vice-president of Finance and IT, Vincent Brothers, submitted his resignation today. I would like to promote from within, but there is no one with the experience who could handle the responsibility."
"When will he be leaving?" I asked.
"In two weeks."
"Has he accepted a position with another company?"
"He said not. He never gave a reason, but I believe it's for health reasons," Donald said. "A couple of years ago he had a cancerous growth removed from his liver. I suspect the cancer has come back."
"Did you call a search firm to get you a list of candidates?" I asked.
"That's on my list of things to do tomorrow," he said. "Today was too busy to even think of making a call to one of them. It would be at least a couple of months before they would be able to come up with a list of suitable candidates that meet the qualifications and I haven't even begun to specify exactly what those qualifications are."
"Can you get along without someone for that long?"
"I'm not too worried about the finance side," he said. "There are good people handling the accounting and reporting. It's the IT side of things. As you know from the last board meeting, we were just beginning the process of upgrading all of the computer systems and communications. There are some really talented technical people in that department, but they're just that, technical. They're the type who read computer manuals for fun. I need someone who can understand the technical side from a managerial standpoint." He paused and then looked as if he had a brainstorm."
"What's that look?" I asked.
"I think I know someone who has the qualifications to handle that job until a permanent replacement can be found."
"You," he said. "You have the management experience as well as the technical. You, sure as heck, know enough about financials to handle that side of the business. It would only be for three months tops. How about it?"
"Let me think about it," I said. "It would mean a dramatic change to the routine around here."
I went to check on the boys. They had gone out to play with their dogs and it was almost time to get washed up for supper. I noticed that Joel's dog, Sam, had become William's and Peter's. He seemed to have transferred his allegiance to them. I wondered if when Joel came home it would be the case. I whistled for the boys' attention and told them to put the dogs back into their run and go get ready for supper.
After one of Gilda's delicious meals, the boys and Lenore took their dishes to the kitchen where it was Chris' turn to rinse them and then load the dishwasher. It was usually not the case that Lenore helped with the cleanup, but I guessed that now she was in kindergarten, she felt she should do the same as the boys. Donald, of course, gave her a hug and praised her.
Shortly after Donald and I had settled into the living room, Hildy and Manfred and their three walked in the back door. "Jeannie said it was her turn on the Xbox," Manfred said. "She said they didn't have any homework for school yet, so we thought it alright to bring her over.
"The boys said they didn't have any either, so they are probably playing on them as we speak," I said.
Luke was standing there looking as if he had a question. I thought I knew what it was and pointed to the stairs. He smiled and took off and quickly climbed the stairs to find TJ.
"Where's Lenore?" Ginny asked.
"She in her room playing with her dolls," Donald said. "Why don't you go up there and play with her?"
She didn't have to be told twice. She took off for the stairs right behind Luke.
"Hildy, I'm glad you came over. I was curious as to what you found out after looking at Luke's file," I said.
"I learned quite a bit, but there are still a lot of unknowns. I did find out what happened to Luke's parents. It's really quite sad," Hildy said, shaking her head. "It appears that his father, Kyle, was in the Army National Guard and was called up for an assignment in Iraq. While they were training at Fort Hood for their deployment, he was killed in a helicopter accident. His wife, and Luke's mother, Karen, was pregnant at the time. A few days after Kyle was killed, Karen went into labor and was taken to the hospital. Luke had been left with a neighbor. To make a long story short, she died a day after giving birth to a girl. She had given the baby a name before she died. Penelope Lorraine." At this point, Hildy had to stop and wipe the tears from her eyes. "Within the span of less than ten days, Luke lost both of his parents."
"Two questions," I said. "First, what happened to the baby girl? Second, has the uncle been contacted?"
"There was nothing in the file about what happened to her," Hildy said. "That would have been a separate file that I didn't have access to. I did learn, however, that she is in foster care as well and awaiting adoption."
"And the uncle?" I asked.
"Nothing in the file that I could find," Hildy answered.
"Well, that's something that we'll have to pursue," I said. "How long ago did all of this happen?"
"It's been almost two years. Luke was first placed in a temporary shelter for a couple of months before being placed with that woman," Hildy spat out.
"We're going to keep him," Manfred said firmly.
I looked at Hildy and she nodded in the affirmative.
"We need to find out what happened to Luke's sister," I said. "If she were placed in a foster home by Gloria Garver, we have to be concerned for her safety. I think John Levy is the person to find out for us. I'm sure he can use his contact to ferret out that information."
"What about this mysterious uncle, Mel?" Donald asked. "He could be a lot harder to find. Without finding him, adoption could be difficult, since he's a blood relative."
"I guess it's time to call Jack Hogan, our favorite PI. He may have contacts in the military that he can call on," I said. "Now that I think about it, I believe that Jack's brother-in-law is an army officer. I believe his rank is Lieutenant Colonel. I'm sure Carolyn can persuade her brother to help."
I looked at my watch and decided it was not too late to call Jack at home. I picked up the phone and dialed his home number. It rang three times before it was answered.
I recognized the voice as Jack's. "Jack, it's Crane."
"To what do I owe the pleasure of this call? It can't be to ask a favor, could it?"
"Me? Ask a favor?"
"Yes, you," Jack chuckled. "I know you too well."
"You're right of course, but it's really a favor to ask of your wife," I said. "Isn't her brother a Lieutenant Colonel in the army?"
"Sure, he just got promoted to full-bird colonel on the last promotion cycle. What in the world kind of favor do you need from him?"
"We thought he might be able to help us find Luke's uncle. The uncle's name is Mel Wilson and is an officer in the army, probably a First Lieutenant or Captain. If Carolyn's brother has been around long enough in the army, he probably knows the ins and outs of the personnel system or at least knows someone who could help."
"I'm sure Carolyn will be happy to help. She talks on the phone to her brother every week or so and it's about time for them to speak again," Jack said. "She's not here right now. She's at a meeting of some committee at the church. I'll ask her when she gets back. If she has any questions, she'll give you a ring. Why the need to locate the uncle?"
"Hildy and Manfred would like to adopt Luke and this Mel Wilson is the only known living relative. Without his consent, a permanent adoption could be jeopardized," I said. "Thank Carolyn and her brother for any help they can give. I owe you lunch."
"You owe me more than that, but I'll settle for lunch," Jack said. "Call me."
"I assume you all got the gist of that conversation," I said after I had hung up.
"Yes," Manfred said. "Do you really think Carolyn's brother can help?"
"If he can't, then we'll just find another way," I said. "How are you doing for space?"
"Funny you should ask," Hildy said. "We have been discussing the possibility of extending the second floor of the house out over the garage and adding one, possibly two bedrooms. A lot will depend on whether we think that we'll be allowed to adopt Luke. We've only had him for such a short time, but we already think of him as our son. We have to make this happen."
"Now that you know Luke has a baby sister ..." I started.
"The answer is yes?" Manfred answered before I could get out the question. "We would take her, too."
"Good luck," I said. "You know you have Donald's and my support. Whatever you need... Ask."
"Lenore would be ecstatic to know there was a two year-old next door," Donald said. "Like Crane said, you have our support. Financial or moral, whatever you need."
Gilda had been sitting there being very quiet. "That goes for me, too," she said. "You know that when my husband died, he left me with a large estate, more that I could spend in a lifetime. Go ahead and have those extra rooms built. I'll pay. You never know, someday when all my boys and girl are grown, I might just need a place to stay. Now I think it's time to fix the snacks."
"I'll help," Hildy said, getting up and kissing her sister on the cheek.
"I think I'll pass on the snack, but I might be convinced to have a glass of wine," Donald said. "Manfred?"
"You twisted my arm," Manfred said. "Better pour one for Hildy."
"And Gilda," I added.
"The snacks are ready," Hildy said, coming back into the living room. "One of you men can round up the boys, I'll get the girls."
Later, after the snacks had been consumed, Hildy and family headed for home. The boys went off to take their showers, brush their teeth and get ready for bed. Gilda took Lenore to do the same.
The next morning after I had dropped the boys and Lenore off at the school, I returned home and started to make phone calls. The first was to Dr. Sam Greene's office to set up appointments for the three musketeers to get their sports physical. Fortunately, Sam made room for them on Saturday morning. He usually only took morning appointments on Saturday.
My next call was to the office of the owners of the apartment complex we had inspected earlier in the week. I spoke with the general manager, Julian Kraft, for some time. I learned that the apartments were not officially for sale as yet, but he gave me a figure that they were going to ask. It was considerably above what Phillip, Chuck and I had discussed would be a suitable price for the complex. I told Julian that I thought his proposed asking price was too high and would not receive any bids close to that amount.
"What do you think would be a fair price for it?" Julian asked.
I told him what we had come up with. "I understand that your group is in need of immediate cash," I said. "Provided that you can produce an unencumbered title to the property, I am willing to pay the number I told you and to close on the property within thirty days. That number is hard. It is non-negotiable."
"Let me talk to the other members of our group and I'll get back to you," Julian said.
I started to get up from my desk to go pour myself a cup of coffee when the phone rang. It was Fenton Bigelow, the sales manager for the Las Vegas development.
"Fenton, what can I do for you?"
"I'm going to fax you the latest sales figures later this morning," he said. "The bottom line is there are only six properties remaining to be sold. That doesn't count your two lots on the golf course. Technically yours are not for sale, but I have two buyers that want them. They're willing to pay a premium for them. Have you decided whether you're going to build on them?"
"Actually, I have been thinking recently about selling them. The plans I had in mind for them don't make as much sense as I had originally thought," I said. "Go ahead and sell them."
"That's going to make two buyers very happy," Fenton said. "I have some other possibly good news."
"What is it?"
"You remember the property that adjoins yours to the west, the one along the road."
"Yes, it was not for sale. Wasn't it?"
"The owner of it died a couple of months ago and I had a feeler from one of the heirs about purchasing it."
"What about that property that was behind it? Is it still for sale?"
"As far as I know it is. I could make an inquiry."
"I would have to talk it over with Donald before we could act on it," I said. "It wouldn't hurt to find out."
"Great," Fenton said. "I'll be in contact. Look for my fax."
I finally was able to get my cup of coffee before calling John Levy.
Settling back down at my desk with my coffee, I dialed the number for John Levy. The phone rang several times before he picked up. I identified myself and then asked him, "Do you think you could find out from your friend Julie what the status of Penelope Lorraine Fredrick is? She's Luke's sister. She's approximately two years old and is probably one of Gloria Garver's cases."
"I think I can get Julie to help me out with that," John said. "I'm taking her to lunch and I'm already running late to pick her up. That will be an ideal time to ask, after I've apologized for being late."
"Thanks, John. It's our understanding that Penelope has been made available for adoption. Without locating the uncle, any adoption would be subject to being overturned if he objected at some point in the future. Although," I said, "I don't think that matters to Garver."
"I'll see what I can do for you, Mr. Johnson. Julie might be able to come up with some answers later today. If she does, I'll let you know."
"Thanks for any help you can provide. I'll await your call."
Gilda knocked on my office door and asked if I were ready for lunch. I looked at my watch and saw that it was a quarter past twelve. I picked up my coffee cup and followed her to the breakfast room where we enjoyed the lunch she had prepared.
"What do you think about your sister wanting to adopt Luke and possibly his sister?" I asked.
"I think it's wonderful," Gilda answered. "She has a lot of love in her heart to share. So does Manfred. He loves that boy. It would kill him if they had to give him up."
"That is not going to happen," I said. "Between Donald and me, we have the resources to make sure that Luke will stay with them. We won't hesitate to use our contacts and influence to make Luke a Strasser. The same goes for Penelope, but first we have to find her and the uncle."
After lunch, I went back to my office to make one more call. This time it was to Roger Burton, my stock broker. I had been watching a couple of my stocks and decided that they had what I thought was their top. I told Roger to sell them and reinvest the proceeds in two fairly new stocks that I thought had a business plan that over time would make them, and me, a lot of money. I could almost see Roger shaking his head. "I want 10,000 shares in each one. Use funds from my brokerage account to make up any difference if the sale of the other stocks is insufficient."
"You're really sure about this new investment," he said. "They're not on any of the analysts' radar at this point. What makes you so sure about them?"
"There's a little gut feeling, but more than that they are both moving into areas that no one else is in. They have the whole field wide open for them to capture," I said. "Roger, have I ever made any bad stock choices?"
"No, you haven't and to my chagrin, I haven't followed your lead and invested behind you. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if I had followed your lead, I would now be on some tropical island sipping a Mai Tai and surrounded by native girls. But, your picks have been beyond my comfort level of risk."
"I can't guarantee that these picks will be the winners that I expect them to be, but I don't think I will lose money on them," I said.
"I'll put the order through," Roger said. "That's 10,000 shares each of FB and AMZN. I hope they work out for you."
I hung up the phone and did some serious thinking on Donald's proposal. I was not the least concerned that I couldn't handle the job. The thing was, I had become very comfortable being able to come and go anytime I wanted and wasn't sure if I wanted to give up that freedom. The most overriding concern that I had was for the kids. I couldn't push the responsibility for caring for them after school onto Gilda. She had enough to do with meal preparation for all of us. We would need to provide someone to care for the kids until Donald and I could make it home in the evenings.
After another cup of coffee, I decided it was time to go pick up the kids. I was a bit early, so I chatted with a couple of mothers that I knew who were also waiting for their charges. It wasn't long before the kindergartners began to file out of the school. Lenore took her spot to wait for the other younger kids. I said my goodbyes to the women with whom I had been talking and went to where Lenore was standing.
"Hi, sweetie," I said. "Did you have a good day at school?"
"Uh huh," she replied. "Miss Pritchard read us a story and we colored pictures and we said the alphabet and I didn't miss any and we counted to twenty. I could count more, but that was all Miss Pritchard wanted us to count."
"That's fantastic," I said, giving her a hug.
"There's Ginny," she said pointing to a group of four girls coming out of the school. "Can I go over there?"
"Yes, you may," I said. "Be sure you stay with Ginny."
Off she ran to join her friend. It wasn't long before the rest of the kids exited the building. Peter and William greeted me as usual with hugs and began telling me of their day. I nodded in all the right places. They didn't give me a chance to respond verbally. TJ waved to one of his friends and joined our group. The three musketeers led two boys over to where we were standing.
"Dad, guess what?" Lenny queried.
"What?" I responded.
"Chin and Cho are twins, too," Larry said.
"And they play tennis," Chris added.
"It's very nice to meet you Chin and Cho," I said. "What is your family name?"
"Kim," one of them said. "It's nice to meet you, too."
They were as identical as Larry and Lenny were. From the few words that one of them had uttered, I could not detect an accent. Before I could find out more about the new set of twins, a beautiful woman with classic features of the Far East arrived and spoke to them in what I assumed was their native language.
"Mr. Johnson, this is our mother Mee Kim. Mother, this is Mr. Johnson," the boy who had not spoken before said very formally.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," I said, offering her my hand.
"And I as well," she said in barely accented English.
"My sons tell me that your boys play tennis also," I said. "They will have to come visit my sons. We have a tennis court that gets a lot of play."
"That's very kind of you," she said. "Now, we must run. We have to pick up my husband at the airport in about an hour. Sonyeondeul ttalawa. (Come along boys.)"
"I'll take Lenore home with us," Manfred said, as he walked over to us with the three girls in tow.
"Can I ride with TJ? Please?" Luke pleaded.
"Sure, son," Manfred said. "I'll bring Lenore over on the golf cart and you can drive it back. You have to change out of your school uniform."
That brought a smile to Luke's face as he climbed into the van with the other boys. As usual, it was a noisy trip home with everybody talking and laughing. It was a good noise.
While the boys were having their snacks of chocolate frosted brownies and glasses of milk, I decided to find out more about Chin and Cho. "Did Chin and Cho just transfer to the Academy?" I asked the twins.
Around a mouthful of brownie, Larry answered, "They moved here from Austin. They went to a private school there. I can't remember its name."
"Collingwood Christian School," Chris volunteered.
"How did you find out that they played tennis?" I asked.
"We had a meeting with coach and they were there," Lenny answered, wiping the chocolate frosting from his upper lip. "They played at their old school."
"It's hot, dad," Larry said. "Can we go swimming?"
"Sure," I answered. "Do you still have a suit Luke can wear?"
"Yeah," Larry said. "Come on, Luke, times a wastin'."
"I guess I had better call Manfred and tell him what is going on," I said and went to the phone to make the call.
It wasn't long before the girls and Manfred had arrived. Lenore ran to Gilda and asked her if she could find her swimsuit. The other girls were already in theirs. I went to change and met the kids in the pool. I was surprised a few minutes later when Donald joined us. It was almost six o'clock when Gilda came and stood on the edge of the pool and announced that supper would be ready in twenty minutes. That caused a mad scramble as everyone climbed out of the pool and grabbed a towel from the stack that I had brought out earlier. A cursory drying and the boys darted upstairs for a quick rinse in the showers.
Hildy met the girls and escorted them up to Lenore's bedroom for their showers. She had thoughtfully brought a change of clothes for her girls. Manfred had done the same for Luke. It took a lot of hot water for all thirteen of us to shower.
After supper which the Strassers enjoyed with us, they left and I sent the boys to their rooms to do their homework assignment. I had learned on the way home from the school this afternoon that they had some to do.
"Have you given my proposal any further thought?" Donald asked, when we were settled in the living room.
"Yes, I have," I said.
"The only thing that's holding me back is someone to pick up the kids from school and take care of them until either of us could make it home. I know that Manfred would be willing to do the pick-up. It's the time after they are home until we get here. We can't expect Gilda to take on that responsibility. She has enough responsibility with fixing our meals and everything that goes along with that."
"What if we could get someone like Mike?" Donald asked.
"That would be ideal," I said. "Where would we start looking for someone like that?"
"Well, we could probably start by contacting a few of the colleges in San Antonio," Donald said. "Surely they have a list of students who are looking for part-time work. I have contacts in a couple of them. I can put out a feeler with them."
"Okay," I said. "Go ahead and make contact."
The phone rang and I answered it, since I was sitting right beside it.
"Mr. Johnson, it's John Levy. I have some information that you asked for."