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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.
"That's great, John," I said. "Let's hear it."
"Julie was able to get the file on Penelope Fredrick. There wasn't a lot of information in the file, but there was some. Penelope is currently in a foster home in the Spring Branch area. That's not that far from you. Is it?"
"That's a fairly large area," I said. "Do you have a name of the foster family and an address?"
John gave me the information and I wrote down the name and address of Hugh and Janice Cole. "From what Julie was able to get from the file, the foster family is a young couple and they are fostering to adopt, which is different than a regular foster family. According to the file, if things go as planned, the adoption will take place in early December during the CPS court. That's about three and a half months from now."
"What else did Julie find out about the foster family?" I asked.
"That's what's strange," John said. "Usually the file would contain a background check and financial status of the foster family as well as a write-up of the home's suitability. None of that is included in the file. Julie couldn't explain why all that was missing. It's her job to file all that paperwork and she has done it for a lot of children going through the adoption process. It doesn't mean that the Coles are not fit to adopt. It may just mean that the caseworker is lax."
"That would describe Gloria Garver," I said. "Keep digging. Find out all you can about Hugh and Janice Cole."
"I'll let you know anything I find out," John said.
"Thanks," I said and ended the call.
It wasn't long before the boys began coming downstairs to have their homework checked. It didn't take too long to check since they didn't have all that much homework.
Friday morning, I had just returned from delivering the kids to school and had poured myself a cup of coffee from the fresh pot that Gilda had made when the phone rang. I headed for my office to take it.
"Crane, it's Carolyn Hogan. I wanted to tell you that I talked to my brother late last night. When I explained what you wanted, he was sure that he could help, but it might take a week or so, unless he gets lucky."
"That's great," I said. "Anything he can do will be greatly appreciated. Manfred and Hildy are seriously considering adopting Luke. If there are no objections from the uncle, it would make any adoption go through much smoother."
"Jack said there was another child involved, Luke's sister."
"Yes, we know where she is being fostered and that the family is in the process of trying to adopt her. Again, the uncle will be involved," I said. "Give your brother my best and my congratulations on his recent promotion."
"I will," Carolyn said. "I'll let you know if I hear anything from Bradley."
I was surprised, when after lunch, I got a call from Donald. After I inquired as to the reason for his call, he said, "I talked to my friend at UTSA. He faxed me a list of students who had registered for part time employment. There are fifteen on the list that he faxed to me. A brief description of each one and the type of work they are looking for is included. I'll resend the fax to you and we can talk about it this evening."
"Have you looked through the list?" I asked.
"Just briefly, but not enough to make any kind of decision," he said. "Got to run, I have a meeting starting in ten minutes."
A couple of minutes later my fax machine began spitting out pages. By the time the pages had all printed, there were seven in the tray. I retrieved the pages and sat down at my desk and began to read through them. The list contained eleven males and four females. There were two names on the list that I could immediately eliminate from consideration. Five were worth giving a second look. Another five were marginal. Three looked good on paper and worth giving serious consideration. I read through the list again and came to the same conclusion. I'd wait until Donald had a chance to give the list a careful reading before we began setting up interviews.
Since there was nothing else demanding my attention and I didn't have to go pick up the kids from school for another hour, I decided to drive by the home of Hugh and Janice Cole. My curiosity had gotten the best of me and I wanted to see for myself what kind of living conditions Luke's sister was living in. I did a quick search on MapQuest and printed out the map and directions. John Levy was correct. Their house was fairly close, although south of where we lived and off 281.
I got in the van and took off to find the home. It took me about ten minutes to find the house. It was a small house, probably two bedrooms and one bath. The house could use a fresh coat of paint and the yard needed mowing, but other than that, it appeared to be a reasonable place to live. I drove past the house and down the street before turning around and making another pass. By that time, I needed to go pick up the kids from school.
I got to the school in plenty of time. I saw Pauline Gordinier standing next to her car, so I went over to talk to her. "How're John and the girls doing?" I asked.
"They're doing fine. John asked about Joel the other day," she said. "I guess he expected to see him in school this year."
"Joel graduated last spring and is now attending Rice University," I said. "Is John still working part time at HEB?"
"Yeah, he worked there all summer. He made enough to buy a used car. I won't let him drive it to school, much to his dismay," she said. "He's only had it a few weeks and I want him to get more experience before I let him drive it to school and bring the girls."
"Well, I see the younger ones are being let out, so I had better go and let them know I'm here. It was nice talking to you, Pauline," I said and headed to where Lenore was standing.
As was usual, when Peter and William arrived, they began telling me all about their day after they had received hugs. I kept an eye out for the others until everybody had assembled. I led the six boys plus Luke to the van. Manfred and I had again traded Luke for Lenore. Starting next week it would be unnecessary as everybody would be riding in the van. What Manfred and I would have to work out was who would take the first week as driver.
I was beginning to think we should keep a change of clothes for Luke at the house so he would have something to wear other than his school uniform when he got home from school. The other boys ran to their rooms to change and then rushed back to see what kind of snack Gilda had prepared for them. Today it turned out to be chocolate pudding. When they were finished, I sent all of them to wash the chocolate mustaches from their faces.
Shortly before Donald arrived home, Manfred came to exchange Luke for Lenore. While he was here we discussed who would take the first week as our "school van" driver. Since neither one of us had any preference, we flipped a coin and I won the duty for the first week.
Donald arrived and was greeted by his daughter who had to tell him all about her day at school. He listened intently until she wound down and then he went to change out of his suit and tie.
"What did you think about the list I sent you?" Donald asked.
"There are three that I would like to talk to or at least find out more information about," I answered.
"I had a chance to take another look at the list and two stuck out in my mind," he said. "I'll bet my two are among your choices."
"After we get the kids to bed, let's sit down and discuss them," I said. "I need to have a talk with the three musketeers after supper concerning their doctor's appointment tomorrow morning. By the way, are you going to be available to babysit the others while we're gone?"
"I'll be here unless somebody blows up one of my car dealerships," he laughed.
"Don't say that too loudly," I said. "There are enough kooks out there who might just do it."
"Yeah, you're right."
When supper was over and the dishes were in the dishwasher, I asked Larry, Lenny and Chris to follow me into the library.
"Dad, did we do something wrong?" Lenny asked, as they took their seats.
"No, not at all. I wanted to talk to you about your sports' physicals tomorrow. One of the things that Dr. Sam will do is check you for a hernia. I don't think any of you have ever had that done before, so I wanted to let you know how it is done. It can be embarrassing if you don't know what's coming," I said. I went on to describe in detail what was going to happen and to answer their questions.
"Are you going to be there when he does it?" Chris asked.
"Not unless you want me to be," I answered.
"Okay," Chris said.
When they didn't have any more questions, we went back to the living room. I was a little surprised when TJ was standing just outside the door.
"Are they in trouble?" TJ asked. His face showed a concern for his brothers.
"No, kiddo, I only wanted to let them know about what was going to happen at the doctor's office tomorrow," I said.
"Okay," he said, looking a lot more relieved. "Come on, guys, we want to practice some music."
Off they went upstairs to the music room. I just shook my head as they scampered up the stairs. I went and sat down beside Donald on the couch.
"TJ was really worried about his brothers," Donald said.
"Yeah," I mused. "When he first came to live with me, Joel was always the one to worry about TJ. He was very protective of him. Over the years, I have seen him become more independent. Now that Joel is not around, he will probably become even more so."
"That's not a bad thing," Donald said. "Do the kids have any homework?"
"Yes, but I thought we could wait until tomorrow evening before they needed to do it. Give them the night off, so to speak."
Gilda came into the room, sat down in one of the comfortable recliners and let out a long sigh.
"Are you all right?" I asked.
"Yes, just tired," she responded.
"Gilda, I know you do a lot of work around here and I don't tell you often enough how much I, we, appreciate all you do for us," I said. "Donald and I have been thinking about someone to come in, at least a half a day, to help care for the boys and Lenore. Donald wants me to fill in as a temporary for his VP of Finance and IT. I can't do that if we don't have someone to help out until we get home in the evening. We had been thinking of a part-time person, but we could make it full time if it would make things better for you."
"I would like to think I can do it all, but I fear the years are beginning to catch up with me. If you're not going to be around when the kids get home from school, then we definitely need someone to help out," Gilda said. "Could you get someone out here for a half day?"
"That's a question that we don't have the answer to until we start looking," Donald said. "We really need to have someone in place in a couple of weeks. That's when my VP is leaving."
We discussed a number of options for quite a while and came to no conclusive answer. Gilda looked at the clock and got out of the chair. "It's almost time for the snack," she said, heading for the kitchen.
We went to check on the musicians. We opened the door and the cacophony of sounds assaulted us. Donald looked at Lenore. She was sitting behind one of the keyboards and TJ was helping her pick out a tune. When she saw her dad, she jumped up and ran to him.
"TJ showed me how to play the piano," she said. "Come, daddy, I'll show you." She took Donald by the hand and pulled him to where she had been sitting.
I motioned for the boys to stop playing. TJ, again, stood beside Lenore and made sure her hands were in the correct position over the keys. With one finger she slowly played a familiar tune. When she finished, Donald picked her up, gave her a big hug and kissed her cheek.
"You did good," he said, carrying her to the door.
"Snack time, guys," I said and stepped aside, not wanting to get trampled.
Later as I was seeing that the three musketeers were tucked into bed, I told them they needed to get up early because we needed to be at Dr. Sam's office by nine o'clock. At least this time I did not head for Joel's room to say good night.
Over a glass of wine, Donald and I went over the list he had been given by UTSA. We matched on the two that he had singled out and he wasn't too sure about the other one that I had marked as a possibility.
"How likely is it that we will be able to get someone like Mike?" I asked.
"I think the likelihood is remote," Donald answered.
Gilda came into the room and joined us. "Can I get you a glass of wine?" I asked her.
"Yes, thanks," she said. "I've been thinking about what you said about getting some help."
"And?" I said, when she didn't continue.
"There's a young woman at our church who is looking for part-time work and from what I understand, she hasn't had much luck that would fit her schedule," Gilda said, as I handed her the wine. "I've heard she is taking a few classes at some college. I don't remember if I ever heard which one."
"What do you know about her?" Donald asked.
"Hildy actually knows her better than I do. She seems to know everyone in New Braunfels," Gilda said with a chuckle. "I've been away from here too long to keep up with the families I knew before I got married and moved away. I know her family is not wealthy. They're not really poor either. There are five children, four boys and Christina, who come to church with them. Christina is the oldest by several years. She's probably around 20 or 21. Why don't you call Hildy? She can tell you more about Christina and the family. I'm not saying my sister is nosy, just inquisitive."
Donald and I both laughed at her last remark.
"What's Christina's last name?" I asked.
I looked at my watch and decided that it was not too late to call Hildy. I picked up the phone and dialed the number.
"Hildy, it's Crane," I said, when she answered. "We've just been talking to Gilda about getting some part-time help and she mentioned Christina Schwartz. What can you tell us about her?"
"I've known her mother since she was a little girl. Christina was by her first husband. He drowned in a boating accident when Christina was ten or so. Marsha, that's her mother, married Harry Foster a couple of years later. The four boys are from the second marriage. Christina was never adopted by Harry, that's why her name is still Schwartz. There doesn't seem to be any love lost between her and her step-dad. I haven't talked to Christina for a while. The last time I did she was taking college courses at Southwest Texas and working part-time at a small restaurant. It's closed down and now, according to her mother, she's looking for another part-time job. She is bound and determined to get her college degree."
"How do you think she would be with our kids?" I asked.
"I don't think there would be any problem," Hildy said. "She has been caring for her four step-brothers since they were small. Marsha works full time and has depended on her for babysitting in the summers and when she wasn't in class. I got the impression that she would like to get out on her own, but she hasn't been able to afford to get her own place."
"Do you know how we could get hold of her?" I asked.
"Sure, you can probably contact her at home," Hildy said. "Her mother can always take a message if Christina is not at home." She gave me the phone number to call.
"Thank, Hildy. Goodnight."
"Well?" Donald queried.
"Sounds promising, but we'll have to talk to her to see if she would be interested," I said. "Although we have been thinking in the short term to get by for the two or three months until you can get another VP on board, it might not be a bad idea to consider a longer term position. It would give me the opportunity of becoming re-involved with the charity and with my real estate holdings. Currently, I leave that all to my managers, and while they are doing good jobs, it wouldn't hurt to get more involved. What do you think, Gilda? Do you think we could make use of someone, at least part time?"
"I don't see the need for a full-time person," she answered. "Someone to help around here now and then would be helpful. That's especially true if the boys and Lenore are here without one of you to watch them. They're good kids, but you never know what they might get into without an adult keeping track of them."
We finished our wine and then went to our respective bedrooms for the night.
Saturday morning, I got up when my alarm went off at 6:30. I quickly showered and dressed before going to start a pot of coffee. I don't know why I was surprised when Gilda was already in the kitchen and the coffee was almost ready. The three musketeers were not ready to get up when I went to wake them shortly after seven. We needed to be ready to leave around eight to make it into San Antonio, find a parking space, and get to Dr. Sam's office in time to complete the paperwork before nine o'clock.
We made it with a few minutes to spare.
Dr. Sam came out of his office and greeted us on the dot of nine. "Good morning," he said to the boys. "Now, do you all want to go in together or one at a time?"
The three looked at each other and silently agreed they wanted to all go into the examination room together.
"How about you, Crane?" he asked.
"Only if they want me to be there," I said.
"We want it to be just us," Lenny said.
"Okay then, let's get this show on the road," Sam said. "My nurse is going to take your temperature and blood pressure. I'll do the rest of the exam."
The boys followed the nurse into the exam room and she closed the door behind them. I'm sure I was more nervous than the boys were. About ten minutes later the nurse opened the door and came out, handing a clipboard to Sam. She had a brief conversation with him and then he entered the room. Twenty minutes later he emerged carrying the clipboard.
"The boys are getting dressed," Sam said. "They'll be out in a few minutes. Everything looks fine. Chris' blood pressure was a little high, but I wouldn't worry about it at this point. You probably should check it once in a while. It's probably just 'doctor's office syndrome'. If you don't have one of the blood pressure monitors, you can pick one up at any drug store or pharmacy." He gave me some suggested blood pressure readings for someone his age and physical condition.
I thanked him and then herded the boys to the elevator and down to the ground floor. Once we were in the car I said, "That wasn't too bad, was it?"
"No, but you didn't tell us he was going to look at our butts," Larry said.
"Yeah, that was to see if you had hemorrhoids. Sorry, I didn't think of that," I said.
Our next stop was to Sports Authority to get new shoes. I had the boys try on their tennis shoes last night and saw that they all needed new ones. Since they were also going to be involved with cross country, they needed some good running shoes. It took us about thirty minutes to get out of downtown. There seemed to be some kind of parade going on and we had to detour onto some side streets instead of taking the direct route back to the freeway.
The store wasn't that busy when we got there so there was someone who could help us without a long wait. Six pairs of shoes and a very happy sales clerk later we left the store.
"Do you guys want to eat lunch before we go home or wait? It's a little early for lunch." I asked.
"Can we go to McDonalds?" Chris asked. That was met by nods from the twins. I shrugged my shoulders and we climbed into the Towncar. We headed for the nearest one that I knew was just down the street a couple of blocks.
The three wolfed down Big Macs, French fries and chocolate shakes while I had the grilled chicken sandwich and a cup of coffee.
"Have you eaten?" were Gilda's first words as we walked in the back door.
"Yeah, we went to McDonalds," I said, rolling my eyes. "Where are the others?"
"Outside," she said and turned back to her work.
I sent the three upstairs to change their clothes and went to check on the others. When I looked out the patio door I could see Donald and Manfred with the other kids in the pool. They were tossing them up into the air and letting them splash down. There was a lot of laughing coming from the pool. I turned around and hollered up the back stairs for the three musketeers to put their swimsuits on and then I went to do the same.
I made it to the pool before the others and was surrounded by TJ, Peter and William wanting me to toss them. This went on for fifteen or twenty minutes before Manfred retired to the edge of the pool.
"I'm getting too old for this," he said, towel-drying his face and arms.
"Me, too," Donald said, joining Manfred sitting on the pool's edge.
That left me as the lone 'tosser'. The 'tossees' never got tired, but the 'tosser' did.
They had all been very good, lining up to take turns being tossed. The girls seemed to enjoy it just as much as the boys did. Allowances were made for the younger ones and they were not tossed as high. That didn't stop their enjoyment of being tossed.
After I sidelined myself, the kids began batting a beach ball around. This went on for another twenty minutes or so before they got tired of it and started climbing out of the pool. Lenore had tired of the activity earlier and had climbed onto Donald's lap and watched the others.
Manfred took Luke and his two girls and they got on the golf cart and headed to their home. Before he left, I asked him if they were going to ride the horses with us tomorrow. He said he would talk it over with Hilda and let me know. I sent the boys to take showers before it was time for supper, after which, it was homework time.
Donald and I had just finished with the last homework checking duty when the phone rang. Donald picked it up since he had finished checking William's and Lenore's homework before I finished my checking.
"It's Carolyn Hogan," he said, handing me the phone.
"Hi, Carolyn," I said. "What can I do for you?"
"I think I have some news for you," she said. "Bradley called a few minutes ago. You know he's been stationed at the Pentagon since his recent promotion. Anyway, he and three of his fellow officers were playing golf today and he mentioned that he was trying to locate a Mel Wilson. One of his golfing buddies mentioned that he had come across a Captain Melvin Wilson at Fort Bragg down in North Carolina. He was a Company Commander. He didn't know if this was the same person you were looking for. Wilson is a fairly common name and the army is awful big."
"Hey, it's a start," I said. "I'll give the info to John Levy and see if he can pursue it. Thanks, Carolyn. And thank your brother as well."
"Good news?" Donald asked.
"Could be," I said. I went on to tell him what Carolyn had related.
We got all the kids settled in bed and we settled down in the living room with a glass of an excellent Merlot. Gilda joined us as was becoming her custom.
"If I see Christina at church in the morning I'll mention that you might have a part-time position available and see if she's interested. I'll ask Hildy to do the same, in case I miss Christina," Gilda said.
"That would be great," I said. "If you do see her, you might mention what time of day we're going to need someone. Afternoons are critical times." We chatted about nothing in particular for a while. "By the way, how's your daughter? Is she still in Houston?"
"I talk to her at least once a week. She's keeping busy. Too busy to come visit her mother," Gilda said sadly.
I decided not to pursue that subject any further.
It wasn't long before Gilda decided to go to bed. We decided to follow suit. I went to check that all the doors and window were secure and then activated the alarm system.
Sunday was our usual routine. We went to the ranch and rode the horses. The only thing new was that Tracy and Charlie had acquired baby carriers that they strapped on with the place for the baby in front. Their little girls were placed in them facing forward. They mounted their horses and went for a slow ride. It looked as if the babies were enjoying the ride. Lenore was a little unhappy that she was not getting to play with them, but Donald was able to get her on her little horse and they rode beside Charlie and Tracy.