Joel Book III is available in paperback as Joel III Back to Normal. To purchase a copy, follow the link to my website below.
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 copyright 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.
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All the chapters of Joel may also be found on my website at www.tedlouis.com
As we were leaving, Ricky clung to Joel and didn't want to let him go. "Hey, munchkin, I have to go home. You have to stay here and play with Winston," Joel said.
"Buppy!" Ricky responded emphatically.
"Marie," I said, "if you don't have anything planned for tomorrow afternoon, why don't you bring Ricky over to swim with the guys? Connie's girls will be there and Ty will be there giving swim lessons. I know the boys would enjoy having him visit."
"Well, if you don't think it would be too much..."
"It's settled, then. Ty will be there around three. Come early so the boys can play with Ricky before they go swimming."
Despite Ricky's protests, I got everybody loaded into the van, but not before we thanked Marie and Dirk for inviting us.
As we approached the house, we passed by the Meyer's place. There was a large moving van parked in front of their house. We hadn't seen the family since Barth's death. Being curious, I decided to pull in to see what was going on. I parked the van and we all got out and started for their house when Bea appeared.
"Oh, Mr. Johnson, I tried to call your place earlier," Bea said.
"We've been visiting friends most of the day," I said. "What's going on?"
"We have decided to move back to the Dallas area. There is really nothing holding us here. We have family near where we're moving. My brother is going to come live with us and help me take care of Cary."
"Are Cary and the girls here with you?"
"No, they're with my mother and brother in Dallas."
"That's too bad, I'm sure the boys would have liked to say goodbye to Cary. Larry and Lenny were especially fond of him."
"Cary wanted to come, but he doesn't travel well and I had to bring the car to carry some of the things I didn't want the movers to pack. It's a long drive to Dallas."
"Are you going to sell the house?"
"Not for a while. One of the managers where Barth worked wants to rent it. We'll see how that works out. The mortgage insurance paid off the place, so it'll be a little income every month."
"Well, I don't want to keep you from your packing. If you need a place to stay tonight, we have a spare bedroom," I said. "And be sure to tell Cary that we are going to miss him."
"Thanks for the offer, but I'm staying with some friends from church tonight and taking off early in the morning. I'm going to try to get back home before it gets too hot. It's a nearly five and a half hour drive."
"Drive safely," I said, and ushered the boys back into the van.
The security guards were changing shifts as we drove onto the property. Harry and Kent approached the van as I parked it in the garage. "Mr. Johnson, we just wanted to thank you again for that barbeque. It was some of the best I've tasted since my dad passed away," Harry said.
"It was really great. Thank you," Kent added.
"I wish I could take credit for it, but it was Mr. Soznowski who fixed the barbeque," I said.
I checked the answering machine as soon as I had changed clothes, putting on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. There were two messages. The first was from Bernice Shultz. She said she was back in town so the boys could have their music lessons tomorrow. I made a note to call her and ask if she could come here for the lessons. The second message was from Jack letting me know that the information on most of the remaining members of Fullwell's church had been faxed to me and asked me to call him to see what I wanted done now.
I returned Bernice's call first. She agreed to come to the house to give the boys their lessons. We made arrangements for her to come at ten Monday morning. After we hung up I went to tell the boys and suggested that they spend the next hour or so practicing.
I retrieved the several pages of faxes from the machine and read them over before I called Jack. His people had done a very thorough job and had provided a lot of good information to work into my plan. When I got him on the phone, I thanked him for the job he and his people had done. We discussed what our next step should be and decided that, for the most part, his job was done, but I told him that I might need to call on him in the future for some specialized help.
Hildy and Manfred returned from their church meeting shortly after I had the boys tucked into bed for the night. I had poured myself a glass of wine and invited them to join me, which they did.
"Hildy," I said, "I need to go sign the paperwork for the purchase of the Katz property tomorrow morning. I plan to leave around nine o'clock to run some errands before I see Gerald and Carlos later in the morning. Bernice Shultz is coming at ten to give the boys their music lessons. I should be back before Ty gets here for the swimming lessons this afternoon. That reminds me, Ricky and Marie are coming for the swimming lessons, also."
Hildy laughed, "It looks like it's going to be busy around here. I'm sure we'll make out just fine. Connie is a big help."
We chatted while we finished our wine and then they decided to turn in for the night. I headed for my bedroom to go over the total package of information that Jack's people had collected for me. As I read it over, the plan became clearer in my mind. I just had to do a little snooping on my own to be sure that what I planned had a good chance for success.
I got up early the next morning so that I would have the boys fed and dressed before I took off to take care of my business. As usual, Hildy had beaten me up and was in the process of fixing breakfast. She was readying a pan of her wonderful buttermilk biscuits as I walked into the kitchen.
"Good morning, Crane," Hildy said. "The biscuits will be ready about 20 minutes after I put them in the oven. You'll have time for a cup of coffee while I get the scrambled eggs and sausage ready."
"Thanks, are you ready for the onslaught of kids later today?"
"Of course," she laughed. "I hope Connie's girls are able to come. They're such polite girls - a lot like their mother. And Ricky is always a pleasure to have around." Hildy continued to brown the sausages and crack the two dozen eggs into a bowl as we spoke. Getting the sausages to her liking, she put the pan of biscuits into the oven before turning to me. "You probably need to go wake the boys. Everything should be ready by the time they get washed up."
By the time I returned, she had the table set and glasses of juice and milk in front of the boys' plates. Bless her heart, she had also poured me a second cup of coffee. The boys arrived at the table a minute or two before the biscuits came out of the oven. Manfred joined us simultaneous with the biscuits being placed on the table. Needless to say there were no leftovers when breakfast was finished.
"Dad, can you take me to play golf tomorrow?" Joel asked. "Perry Caine called me last night on my phone and said he has a tee time for 8:34 at River Crossing. If you'll take me I'll fill out the foursome."
"You'll have to get up early to get there in time to hit some balls before you tee off," I said. "It's been a while since you played. You're probably a little rusty."
"Yeah, I need to get back in form before school starts. I want to make sure I'm in the top four," he said. "If we get there by 7:45, that should give me enough time to get warmed up."
Having settled that, I explained to the boys that I would be gone most of the day, but I would be back by the time Ty got here for the swimming lessons. I gave each of them a hug and headed for the garage to start my day.
I stopped and talked to the security guard before I left the property. He offered to follow me, but I declined the offer thinking that the safety of the family was more important. I would be surrounded by other people while I carried out my snooping and figured that I would be safe enough.
I had mapped out my route last evening to minimize the amount of driving I would have to do. I drove past several of the homes or apartments of some of the members of Fullwell's church. Most of the houses were no better than shacks and the apartments were rundown. Both types were strewn with trash and junk cars. By contrast, the Able house was in a middle class neighborhood and well maintained. Carson Fry's house was in a poorer section of town and was on the verge of becoming rundown.
I drove by Able Plumbing. It was on the outskirts of New Braunfels, just off Interstate 35. There was an abundance of used and broken bathroom sinks, tubs and other plumbing scattered around the premises. In other words the place was trashed.
Fry's car repair place was in even worse shape. Rusted car parts littered the area around the sides of the business and from what I could see of the back yard, it was a virtual junk yard for old cars. More disturbing was the stack of used car batteries piled up against the right side exterior wall of the building.
Next I drove to the church in question. I was surprised that it was in a strip center that had seen its better days. Most of the store fronts were vacant. I could see only two businesses that were open in the strip center. A sign above one of the store fronts announced the Infallible Bible Church. I parked my car and walked up to its door and looked in. The interior was dark and I was unable to make out anything. I tried the door and found it locked. I took another look around the area before deciding to visit the two open businesses. The businesses were clearly not making a lot of money. The owners of both indicated that as soon as their leases were up that they were going to move to new locations.
The one thing I couldn't miss and that made me smile was the large For Sale sign at the front of the property.
My last stop was at a trailer park down a dirt road about a mile from the church. It was little better than a slum. Four of the families on my list lived there. I counted twelve trailer homes on the property.
Having seen all that I needed to see, I took off for my meeting with Carlos and Gerald. I got to Carlos' office a few minutes early and spent the time talking to Beth Ann, his office manager. She was a woman in her mid forties and about fifty pounds overweight. She was charming and a delightful conversationalist. I was almost sorry when Carlos' client came out of his office.
I followed Carlos into his office and had just taken a seat at the conference table when Gerald walked in. Carlos offered us each a cup of coffee, but we both declined. He then spread a bunch of papers for the Katz property purchase on the table and started to go over and explain each one. I suppose he was duty bound to do this. I had been through this so many times that I could probably have explained the papers to him. He laughed when I said that. I signed on the bottom line and initialed each page.
When that was finished, Gerald had several papers for me to sign so that the money could be drawn on my account to pay for the property when it closed. He then delivered some good news about the property we had talked about that a developer wanted to buy.
"They've made an offer for the 1200 acres they initially inquired about purchasing," Gerald said. "The good news is they want the additional 800 acres that adjoin it. I've heard through the grapevine that they plan to build a big shopping area. It has great access to I-35 as well as Loop 1604. Their first offer is low, of course. $1,000 an acre is about half of what the property is worth."
"What do you suggest we counter with?" I asked.
"If the property were mine, I'd give them a take it or leave it counter of $2,000 an acre. The property is in a prime location. If you held onto it for a couple of years, you could probably get another five or six hundred an acre. They know that and if I read them right they're anxious to have the property."
"Okay, go for it. You know I'll have to reinvest the proceeds in another property or pay Uncle Sam an obscene amount of taxes," I said. "And you know how much I hate sending my money to Washington to have those fools waste it."
"I'm with you on that," Carlos responded.
"If we work it right you can count the Katz property as part of the reinvestment," Gerald advised.
"Okay, let's talk about dealing with Fullwell's little band of bigots. Jack Hogan and his people have given me a complete dossier on all but three of them. It wouldn't take much to crush the majority of them, but in most of their cases it would be cruel. They have almost nothing and are living at or below the poverty line. I think I want to concentrate on three areas.
"First, I want to purchase the strip center where they hold their services and then evict them. The two businesses that are still there would gladly vacate. The only thing that is holding them there is their lease agreement.
"Second, there are two of the church members who are the main financial backers of the church. Three of their employees were the ones responsible for the incident at the house. Those three have been taken care of by the legal system with stiff fines and so long as they stay away from my family, I'm willing to let them slide - for now. Bob Able and Carson Fry are a whole different kettle of fish. I want to come down on them with both feet. They both have considerable debt. I want to see if I can acquire that debt and then squeeze them until they holler 'Uncle'. Make sure this is all done through one of those businesses I had you set up that are not traceable back to me.
Third, I want to involve the city's departments in shutting down their businesses. Both of their business properties are trashed. I'm sure they are in violation of some city ordinance. In Carson Fry's place, I'm sure TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) would be interested in the way he's storing old car batteries. The Edwards Aquifer people would likely be interested as well since his property is in the Recharge Zone. They take a dim view of toxic chemicals leaking into the aquifer. The feds might also be interested, although it would probably take the bloated EPA bureaucracy years to act. Carlos, I want you to make contact with the appropriate New Braunfels city departments and start the ball rolling. Check to see if they have all the required permits to operate a business, sales tax permits and any other thing you can think of. I want to keep my name out of it if at all possible."
"I'll get right on it as soon as we're done here," Carlos said.
"What about Fullwell?" Gerald asked.
"I'll let the legal system take care of him. If it doesn't, then I'll get involved," I said.
"Do you think shutting down that church will solve the problem?" Carlos asked.
"No, it won't change the bigots' minds, but it will eliminate the nexus of the hate. If we can keep it from opening up at a different location, then we have achieved a victory. Fullwell is the leader. Without him and his so called church, the others don't have a leader to incite their hatred."
"Do you have the information on the strip center you want to purchase?" Gerald asked.
"Yes," I said, and handed him the information I had copied down from the sign at the site.
"There's no time like the present. Let me call the listing broker." Gerald stepped over to Carlos' desk and made the call. He spoke to the person on the other end of the phone for several minutes before returning to the conference table. "The broker tells me that the property is going into foreclosure within the next couple of weeks. That means you can probably get it at a very reasonable price. The listing price is $799,000. The city has a tax lien against the property. The owners have a mortgage that is two months in arrears. I think as a first position, offer them an amount to cover the tax lien and the mortgage balance. That's provided it's not more than their asking price. I'll need to do some research before I can determine what the offer should be. This could also be part of the reinvestment of the cash from the 2000 acres."
"Okay, work it out with Carlos as to which of the companies the property should be purchased by. Just let me know before you submit the offer."
We wrapped up our business and I took off for the foundation office. It had been a while since I had been there and I felt it necessary to check in from time to time. Carol looked up as I opened the front door.
"Long time no see," she said, getting up and giving me a quick hug. "What brings you here today?"
"Just thought I would check to see if the place was still here," I said, returning her hug. "I really need to make a phone call. Is my old office still vacant?"
"No, Darcie moved into it, but her old one is available."
"Good, I'd like to get an update from everybody as soon as I've finished my call. That is if they're not tied up."
"I'm sure they can break away for you, boss."
I laughed and headed for the vacant office to make my call.
"Dr. Adams' office," the receptionist said.
"This is Crane Johnson. I'd like to set up an appointment for my son."
"Is he a patient of Dr. Adams?"
"He was, but he hasn't seen him for about a year."
"What is the patient's name?
"Just a moment," she put me on hold. At least the music was pleasant.
"Dr. Adams has just finished with a patient. He'll speak with you. Please hold while I transfer you."
"Mr. Johnson, my receptionist said you wanted to set up an appointment for Joel. Is he having problems?"
"Yes," I said, and went on to explain the incident with John staying over night.
"I see. Let me check my schedule," he said, pausing for a few moments. "It looks like the first available time I have is Friday afternoon at three. Can he make it then?"
"Yes, I'll bring him in Friday, and thanks for seeing him so soon. I really thought this was all behind him."
After I hung up, I went back out to talk to Carol. Darcie and Paul were standing at her desk. "Darcie, Paul it's good to see you. Do you have some time to bring me up to speed on what's going on around here?"
"Of course," Darcie said, smiling. "We always have time for you. Let's go into the conference room. Carol, why don't you roll the phones and join us?"
When we were settled with cups of coffee, Darcie started the update with Paul adding points as they went along. "Some good news," she said. "The Duble Trust has promised us a donation of $500,000. We should receive the money the first of September."
"That's great," I said. "It sounds like you all are really busy."
"That's another thing I wanted to bring up," Darcie said. "We could really use another person to help out."
"Do you have anyone in mind?"
"Yes, I do."
"Carol," Darcie said.
"I couldn't think of anyone better," I said. "Carol, start looking for your replacement. Advertise or whatever you need to do. I'll get it approved by the board on Wednesday. Now, if there is nothing else, I'd like to take you all to lunch to show my appreciation for the great job you're doing."
We had a great time at lunch, catching up with each other's lives. Naturally, Darcie had to show us all the latest baby pictures. Paul announced that he and his girl friend, Ruth, had gotten engaged over the weekend. After he received our congratulations, I asked when we were going to meet this woman who had stolen his heart. He said he didn't know, that he would have to check with her first. That brought a laugh from the rest of us and a blush from Paul.
It was nearly two o'clock by the time I dropped them back off at the foundation office. I needed to get home. I had promised that I would be home by the time Ty arrived for the swimming lessons. Thankfully the traffic was light and I arrived home with twenty minutes to spare. Marie and Ricky were there as well as Connie's mother and daughters.
Ty arrived a few minutes before three and after changing into his Speedo, had the kids in the pool ready for their lessons. This time he had my five swim a few laps of the pool to check to see if their breathing was correct. Chris was still a little clumsy trying to swim with the cast on his arm, but he was doing his best. Ty gave them a few pointers after they had completed a couple laps and then told them to do a couple more laps practicing what he had showed them. Then he went to work with Peter, Ricky, Alice and Joanna. He reviewed what he had shown them last time and then had them demonstrate what they had learned. It was easy to see by the looks they were giving him that he had them eating out of his hands. He would make an excellent teacher, if he didn't take up modeling. After about a half an hour he engaged them all in a few water games. During this period, Ricky held on to Joel.
The kids were disappointed when the time came for Ty to leave and begged him to stay longer. Although he said he would like to, he had to go home and get ready for his date tonight. I think that broke Alice's heart. It was quite clear she had a serious crush on Ty.
"Hey, I'll be back on Friday," he said, looking at me for confirmation. I nodded and he continued, "It's not that long and I want you all to practice what I showed you today. Okay?"
"Okay," they chorused.
After he changed and started for his car, I handed him his money. I included a little extra for the excellent job he was doing with the kids.
He looked at the money and then at me. When I nodded, he said in a choked voice, "Thanks, Mr. Johnson, this will come in handy. Now maybe I can take Sue someplace nicer than McDonald's."
"You're worth it. You have the kids enthralled with everything you try to teach them. You'd make a wonderful teacher. You have a natural ability to engage the kids."
He blushed and ducked his head, but said nothing. As he went to get into his car, the kids gathered around him and gave him hugs. Ricky even gave him one of his sloppy kisses. Wiping his cheek on his sleeve, Ty climbed into his car and took off in a blue-grey cloud of smoke.
"Dad," Chris said, "I think my cast got a little wet today. I'm sorry."
"Let me take a look," I said, taking him aside. The top of the cast above the elbow was a little damp, but it didn't look too serious. "Why don't we go ask Hildy if we can borrow her hair dryer? That should fix it up in no time."
Hildy looked confused when I asked her. When I explained, she shook her head and headed upstairs to retrieve it. We followed her up the stairs.
"Don't use the high setting, you could get burned," she said, handing me the dryer.
It didn't take long to dry the cast. While I sat with Chris and held the dryer, I asked him how the cast was feeling.
"It itches," he complained. "And it's still hard to sleep."
"Well, we have an appointment to see Dr. Greene on Wednesday morning. I doubt that he will remove your cast completely, but he might replace it with a lighter weight one. It will all depend on what the x-ray looks like."
"I hope so," Chris replied. "I get tired of hitting myself with this dumb thing."
"I know, son," I said, giving him a hug. "Another week or two at the most and you won't have the thing on."
As we were eating supper, Joel asked, "Dad, did you talk to Dr. Adams?"
"Yes, I did. You have an appointment on Friday at three. It looks like you'll miss the swimming when Ty is here." Turning to Hildy, I said, "I hope this won't be a problem for you with all the kids being here while we're gone."
"No problem," she said. "With Connie and Marjorie and Ty here, we shouldn't have any problems. I could always get Manfred to come home early if necessary."
After supper as I was sitting on the couch in the family room reading a book, TJ climbed up beside me and leaned his head against my left arm. He didn't say anything for a while, but I knew that something was bothering him. I wondered how long he was going to wait before he screwed up the courage to ask whatever was on his mind. It took a few minutes.
"Is Peter really gonna get to stay here?" he asked.
"TJ," I said, lifting him onto my lap, "I don't know. I haven't heard anything from Mrs. Shannon recently. We still have to go see the judge. You remember when you first came here and we had to see the judge."
He nodded his head and grunted.
"Well, Peter has to do the same thing. Does Peter want to stay here?"
"Uh huh. He likes it here. He likes you and Hildy and Manfred and everybody. Can't you tell the judge to let him stay?"
To be continued.
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