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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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My aisle seat gave me a clear view of the cockpit and what was going on in there. I felt the plane begin a turn to the left and then after a couple of minutes level out. A few minutes later I heard a female voice coming from the coach section of the plane. "Is there a doctor on the plane? Please, my husband's having a heart attack."
"I'm a doctor," a man said. I turned and saw him stand up, open the overhead bin, remove a bag and walk back toward a woman frantically waving her arms.
"Shut up! Stay in your seats!" Hijacker #1 yelled in thickly accented English.
The man who had identified himself as a doctor continued to walk towards the woman ignoring the command. Looking back toward the cockpit, I saw Hijacker #1 start down the aisle waving his gun in the direction of the doctor. Hijacker #2, the one with a gun to the pilot's head, took a step out of the cockpit to see what was happening. He continued taking a few steps into the first class section. As he came even with my seat, a steward, who had been in the food preparation area, crept up behind Hijacker #2. I could see he had a wine bottle in his hand. He took a mighty swing and clobbered #2 over the head with such force that the wine bottle broke splattering the woman across the aisle and me with the red liquid and shards of glass. As #2 crumpled like a rag doll to the floor, I reached out and snatched the gun from his hand. I didn't know what I was going to do with it. I just didn't want it in his hands in case he wasn't completely unconscious. I couldn't tell if the red liquid on the back of his head was the wine or if it were blood. At the moment, I was not concerned which it was, only that he was incapacitated.
I don't know why the commotion didn't alert #1 that something was going on, but he hadn't turned to see what had happened to his partner. He was intent on making the doctor return to his seat. His threats were in a loud combination of Spanish and English. With his back left unprotected by his partner's incapacitation, a large African-American male passenger, sitting a few rows from where #1 was haranguing the doctor, slipped out of his seat and crept slowly up behind the hijacker. What happened next was hard for me to see because there were so many people leaning out of there seats into the aisle trying to see what was going on. I was able to see the passenger put #1 in what I believe is called a 'full nelson' wrestling hold so quickly that #1 didn't have time to react.
There was a loud retort as #1's gun, now pointed at the ceiling of the aircraft, discharged into the air. I had always heard that if you shot a hole in the aircraft's cabin there would be an explosive decompression of the plane. However, there wasn't any noticeable loss of cabin pressure that I could detect, so I guess what I had heard was an 'old wives tale'.
While all this was going on back in the coach section, the steward who knocked out #2 was busy tying up the unconscious hijacker with towels and his and #2's belts. "Keep that gun pointed at this scum," the steward told me. "I'll let the Captain know what's happened." It was only then that I noticed the nametag he wore identified him as Andy.
I took a peek back to see what was going on with Hijacker #1. All I could see was a mass of bodies sitting on top of someone I assumed to be #1. At least the subduing passenger was clearly on top.
All this had happened in less than five minutes. A few minutes later when I looked back again, I saw the big guy get up and start dragging #1 forward to where his partner was still laid out in the aisle. There was a loud round of applause as he made his way toward the front of the plane. When the big guy dropped his hijacker in the aisle with the other one, he muttered several obscenities under his breath.
"Thanks," I said to him. "If you and the steward hadn't acted as you did, we all would have ended up in Havana. I'm Crane Johnson. Let me shake your hand."
"Benedict Howard, it's nice to meet you," he responded in a deep baritone voice.
The First Officer and Andy appeared and checked to make sure both of the hijackers were securely tied up. Seeing that everything appeared to be under control, the First Officer asked me for the gun I was holding. I gladly gave it up to him, relieved that I didn't have to hold it any more. He also asked Benedict for the gun he had taken from #1. Giving one of the guns to Andy, the First Officer returned to the cockpit.
A minute or so later the Captain's voice came over the speaker. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the FAA has requested that we return to Atlanta. We're sorry for the inconvenience, but under the circumstances I hope you understand. We have been given a priority landing sequence and should be on the ground in approximately 35 minutes. Please remain in your seats with the seatbelts fastened. Thank you."
It was actually closer to 45 minutes before we touched down. The two hijackers remained on the floor of the aisle. I guess the flight crew didn't care if they weren't in a seat with seatbelts fastened, not that I blamed them. We stopped on the tarmac short of one of the concourses. A truck with portable stairs pulled up to the door of the plane. It was accompanied by a swarm of police and security cars as well as an ambulance. The door of the plane was opened by one of the stewardesses to allow several men to enter. Andy handed over the gun he was holding to the first man through the door. The First Officer did the same as he exited the cockpit.
The men who entered the plane behind the first one approached the hijackers and checked their restraints before pulling out sets of handcuffs and placing them on first #2 and then #1. Removing the belts and towels that had been replaced by the cuffs, they were handed to Andy. The hijackers were pulled to their feet and summarily led out the aircraft door and down the stairs. Hijacker #2 was still so groggy from the blow from the wine bottle that he needed to be almost carried out the door of the plane. Next to come aboard were the EMS technicians. A few minutes later, the doctor, a woman and a man on a stretcher were led out of the plane with the EMT's. When all vehicles had cleared the area around the plane, the Captain began moving it to an open gate on one of the concourses.
All the passengers were herded into an area of the concourse that had been isolated. We were told that we would be interviewed by the FBI before we would be allowed to resume our flight. As we had departed the plane, we were instructed to remove all our carryon items. Any checked items would be moved to a standby plane that would take us to our ultimate destination. When that would be was uncertain.
Andy, Benedict and I were the first to be interviewed. Each interview lasted about twenty minutes. After my interview, I retrieved my cell phone from my bag and called home.
"Hildy, how are things going at home?" I asked.
"The boys miss you, but other than that everything is fine. What time will you be getting home?"
"That's what I wanted to tell you. Right now that's uncertain." I went on to briefly relay what had happened, leaving out most of the scarier details. "Don't tell the boys. Just tell them that the plane has been delayed and hopefully I'll be home before they get up in the morning."
It was nearly midnight before we were allowed to board the replacement plane and take off for San Antonio. Some four hours later I was on my way home, tired but anxious to see my boys again. While I was sitting on the airplane as we flew toward San Antonio, something that I had wondered about since we met with Mr. Bollinger at the bank began to surface in my mind. I decided to raise my concerns with Carlos when I had a chance.
Hildy met me with a hug at the back door as I entered the house. "Crane, I'm so glad that you are all right. I was so worried after I talked to you."
"How are the boys?"
"Disappointed that you weren't going to be here to tuck them in, but I think they accepted the explanation that I gave them as to why you weren't going to be here."
"You need to get to bed. It's almost morning. I'm beat. I can hardly wait to hit the bed. Good night, I'll tell you more about the ordeal in the morning," I said, heading for my bedroom.
I turned on the lights as I walked into my bedroom and saw two lumps in my bed. Looking more closely, I could see TJ with his arm over Peter, both sleeping peacefully. I turned off the lights and crept into the bathroom and got undressed for bed. I slipped into bed as quietly as I could. I looked at the two sleeping angels highlighted by the light from the full moon shining through the windows. I couldn't resist and leaned over to give each of them a kiss on the forehead. As I lay back, I felt a hand take hold of my bicep. All was right in my world and I drifted off to sleep.
It seemed like I had only closed my eyes, when I had two young bodies climbing on me, giving me kisses on both cheeks. "Good morning," I mumbled.
"We missed you," TJ said.
"Yeah," Peter added.
"I missed you, too. You guys go get your hands washed. I'll bet Hildy has breakfast almost ready." I gave each of them a hug and a tickle and sent the two giggling boys off to their room. I quickly washed my hands and face before going to wake the other boys.
"Can we ask Joe to come ride horses with us on Saturday?" Larry asked, as I drove the boys to school.
"I don't care. You know you have your music lessons Saturday morning, don't you?" I was glad when Mrs. Shultz agreed to give the boys their lessons in the morning instead of the afternoon as we had originally set them up.
"Yeah, but we can go after lunch," Lenny added.
"Okay, then," I said. "Have his mom or dad call me tonight to confirm that it is okay for him to go with us."
When I returned from taking the boys to school, Hildy was waiting for me. She insisted that I tell her everything that had happened on the hijacked flight. The details upset her, but she said she was glad I hadn't told her everything last night or she might not have been able to maintain her composure for the boys.
Later I called Carlos. After the usual greetings, I got down to the business about the trust that I wanted him to look into for me. "This bank has been managing the trust for right at 150 years, but the balance of it seems to be awfully low. Granted that they have been conservative in their investment strategy, it just seems that even if they were able to just match the rate of inflation over the years, it would be worth a lot more. Would you be able to use your legal muscle to request a complete history of the trust, all its investments and in particular the fees the bank has been charging to manage it?"
"I can certainly try. If I can't, I know someone in Philly that can. A law school classmate is an associate in a very old and prestigious law firm there; Collins, Crist, Donleavy and Cabot. He is the quintessential Philadelphia Lawyer, sharp as a tack. I'm sure a request coming from him on the firm's letterhead would bring results. Fax me whatever information this Mr. Bollinger gave you and I'll get right on it."
I did as requested and then decided to take a nap. Two hours of sleep last night were definitely not enough to keep me going. Hildy knocked on my bedroom door a few hours later to tell me that lunch was ready. I could have slept another couple of hours, but then I probably wouldn't have been able to sleep tonight. Connie wanted to hear all about the adventure of the previous day as we ate lunch.
Hildy and I enjoyed another cup of coffee after Connie went back to work. "Manny and I went to see the Meyer house again yesterday," she said.
"We decided to make an offer on it."
"You don't seem to be overjoyed with that."
"It's not that I don't like the house, I do. I guess it's the thought of not being here all the time with my boys that bothers me. You know it's been over three years..."
"Yes, it has. You've been very important to this family," I said. "There is no way I could have done it without your steadying hand. I'll always be indebted to you for all you've done for us. It's not like you're leaving us. You'll still be an important part of our lives. You'll just be next door."
"I know," she said, dabbing at her eyes with her apron.
Later I drove to the school to pick up the boys. TJ and Peter were waiting for me when I got there. They were talking to a couple of their friends and didn't see me drive into the parking lot. As I walked up to them, I saw the twins and Chris come out of the building with another boy. "Hi, dad," TJ said, wrapping one arm around my waist. Peter did the same on my other side.
"You guys ready to go home?" I asked.
They both nodded their heads.
"Dad, this is Joe," Larry said. "His mom says he can come over tomorrow afternoon."
"I need to talk to her, son."
"She's over there in our car, sir," Joe said.
"Okay, let's go over there and talk to her." We did. Betty Grover, Joe's mother, said it was okay with her for him to come visit and to go horseback riding with my boys. She would bring Joe over after lunch. I told her we would take him home after supper. She gave me the address and then we went back to the van where Joel was waiting for us.
While the boys went outside to play, I called Jack. I explained what had happened on the plane yesterday. "I'd like for you to do a little investigating for me," I said.
Jack laughed and said, "Hey, that's what I do. What nefarious character do you want me to investigate this time?"
"Nothing like that, it's this guy on the plane, Benedict Howard. He's the guy who subdued one of the hijackers. When we were waiting around in Atlanta for the plane to bring us home, I found out he lived in San Marcos. He was a very quiet man. He had been to Atlanta to attend the funeral of a brother. Although he didn't say so in so many words, I got the distinct impression that he was unemployed. I'd like to see if there is anything I can do for him. He needs some recognition for what he did on the plane."
"This shouldn't be too difficult, unless you want a thorough background check. I should have something for you by mid-week. We need to get together sometime. It's been too long."
"Why don't you bring the family and come over on Sunday?"
"I'd like to, but we are going to Oklahoma to see Jack, Jr. tomorrow and won't be home until late Sunday night. There's a wrestling meet and he's wrestling in the 163 lb (74 kg) weight class. It's his first meet. Besides, we haven't seen him since he started college."
"I'd almost forgotten he had started college at OU. He's there on a full ride scholarship, isn't he?" I said.
"Yeah, it sure helps out with the finances. College is so expensive, especially out of state tuition. I'm glad I only have two more to go. You have five, but that's a few years away."
"Maybe six," I said.
"You planning on keeping that young one?"
"Nothing definite yet, but it still a possibility. Let me know when you have anything on Howard."
Saturday was a busy day. Mrs. Shultz gave the boys their music lessons. Even Peter got some instructions. We had just finished lunch when the gate buzzer announced that Betty Grover had arrived with Joe. I invited Betty to come in for a glass of iced tea and she accepted. She said she was curious about the house ever since she saw it being built and wanted to see the inside. I showed her around the house and then sat down to drink our tea. It wasn't long before the boys were standing around the table waiting for us to start for the ranch. We took the hint. I told the boys to go get into the van while I saw Betty to her car. Joel and I carried the coolers that contained the afternoon snacks and drinks to the van.
Rosie, holding her baby, greeted us when we drove in. "Bert and Charlie are in the stable saddling up the horses. Charlie brought a couple quarter horses so everybody can ride."
"Thanks," I said. "Where's Tracy? I thought he was coming home this weekend."
"He called earlier this week. One of his professors gave them a paper that's due on Wednesday. He decided to stay and get it done. It's in his toughest class. It's the only one he's sweating an A in. He'll be coming home next weekend instead."
At that moment, Charlie's fiancée, Jessica, came out of the house. "Rosie, there's a phone call for you. Some woman, she wouldn't give her name. Let me have Carrie Louise."
The boys had made a beeline for the stables while I had been talking to Rosie. I greeted Jessica and then headed for the stables myself. Joe's mom had said that Joe had ridden before, but I wasn't sure just how experienced he was. I wanted to watch him for a while. I didn't want him to fall off or have an accident of some kind. As it turned out, I didn't need to worry. He could handle his horse as well as any of the boys could. After a while, I left the boys in the hands of Bert and Charlie. I wanted to talk to Rosie about Bert.
Rosie and Jessica were sitting at one of the picnic tables as I dismounted and tied the reins to the fence. "Rosie, I've been meaning to ask you about Bert. Is he happy living out here, not having any friends his own age? Does he have any desire to go to college?"
"He seems to be reasonably content living here with Carrie and me. I know he misses a lot of his friends, but he hasn't tried to make any new ones while he's been here. I think he feels a sense of obligation to us while Tracy is off at college. Maybe that will change when Tracy graduates and is back home living all the time. I'm not sure if he wants to go to college or not. He's never said anything one way or the other. I wish he would. He's a bright boy and I'm not saying that just because he's my baby brother. He ranked second in his high school graduating class."
"What about your parents? Would they help him out if he wanted to go?" I asked.
"I'm not sure. That was my mother on the phone. It's always tense when we talk. Mom and dad haven't even come to see Carrie Louise and she's their only granddaughter. They never approved of Tracy and me getting married."
"It's their loss, not having seen this beautiful little girl," Jessica said.
"I agree," I said. I looked up when I heard the sound of nine horses heading toward us. "I guess it's time for a drink and a snack."
Joel met me at the van and helped me carry everything to the picnic tables. Rosie came out of the house carrying a large platter."
"I made some chocolate fudge brownies when I heard you all were coming out today," she said.
Along with the peanut butter cookies that Hildy had baked, I was sure the boys would be satisfied. The twelve of us soon made short work of the treats. "These are good," Peter whispered in my ear, taking another bite of a brownie.
"Why don't you go tell Mrs. Smith that you like them? She's right over there," I said, pointing to her.
He walked shyly over to Rosie and whispered in her ear as he had done to me. "Why thank you. I'm glad you like them."
Before slipping back around to sit beside me, Peter gave her a kiss, leaving a chocolate smudge on her cheek.
"Can we go ride again?" Chris asked.
"Sure, son, but I think I'll sit this one out. You guys go have fun. Be careful," I hollered at their backs, as they ran to mount their horses. Jessica decided to take my horse and ride with her fiancé and the other boys. Once again I could see from the way she mounted the horse, that she was no stranger to riding.
"We want to go swimming when we get home," Lenny announced.
"Does Joe have a suit?" I asked.
"He can wear one of ours, we got plenty," Larry said.
It was after seven when we dropped Joe off at home. I was glad that the boys were friends with him. He was really a nice kid and very respectful, too.
Sunday turned out to be a nasty day. The rain was coming down so hard we could barely see the lake. It didn't let up until it was nearly time for the boys to go to bed. Thankfully, the sun was shining when I took the boys to school Monday morning. When I returned, there was a strange car parked in front of the house. There was a stranger sitting at the breakfast room table talking to Manfred and Hildy when I entered the house. Manfred introduced the man to me as a realtor who was going to help them submit a bid for the Meyer house.
I went into my library and made a call to Fenton Bigelow, the real estate broker in Las Vegas. I spent the next hour discussing investment opportunities with him. We ended our conversation with him promising to get back to me later in the week with a list of properties that, based on what we had discussed, he believed I would be interested in.
Wednesday as I was getting ready to go visit the foundation office, Jack called.
"Here's what we've learned about Benedict Horatio Howard," Jack started. "He's originally from the Fort Worth area. He joined the army right out of high school. He was a good student, but not exceptional. He spent seven years in the army as a military policeman, with a good record and a promising career. It all ended when he stopped the base commanding general's son for driving drunk on the base. After that his efficiency ratings took a dramatic plunge and ruined any chance he had for promotion and thus ending his army career. It seemed he protested this treatment a little too vehemently and was given an Article 151 reprimand for insubordination and washed out of the service with a General Discharge. The guy got screwed."
"It sounds like it. What's he been doing since he's been out of the army?"
"He went to the community college, using his G.I. bill benefits, and got an associate degree in criminology. After that he tried to get on with the San Marcos police, but when they discovered the Article 15, they decided they didn't want someone who was insubordinate working for them. He was able to get a job as a night security watchman at the Outlet Mall on I-35 south of San Marcos, but when the company that had the security contract, lost it, he was without a job. He's married with a child on the way."
"What are his prospects?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I offered him a job with the agency. I interviewed him yesterday afternoon. He accepted and will be moving his wife and their belongings to San Antonio next week."
"Jack, I can't thank you enough. I really wanted to do something for the man. He risked his life to stop the hijacking and I was afraid he was not going to be recognized for it. Let me know when he and his wife are settled in their new place."
"Will do, and thanks to you for helping me find another employee. I know he's going to fit right in with our organization. His size is going to come in handy."
We ended the call and I started to leave for the foundation office, but the phone rang just as I was leaving the library. It was Carlos. He hadn't gotten anywhere with Bollinger.
"When I got the brush off from Mr. Bollinger, I called Darin Bain, my friend there in Philly. He said if you wanted to retain him, he would get a court order requiring the bank to produce the records. Darin intimated that he knew a friendly judge he could get a court order before the day was out tomorrow. Because the restrictions his firm operates under, he couldn't do it on my say so. You need to call him direct," Carlos said.
"Fine, give me his number and I'll make the call," I said. Carlos gave me the number and I dialed it. Naturally, I got a secretary who wanted to know my business before she would put me through to Bain.
"Darin Bain, how may I help you," he answered, when I was finally put through.
"Mr. Bain, my name is Crane Johnson. I believe that Carlos Martinez spoke to you earlier."
"Yes, he did. From what he told me, you believe there may have been some hanky-panky going on with the trust. We have a lawyer here at the firm who handles the majority of the trusts that we set up for our clients. We don't manage them, of course, we just set up the legal frame works that govern them. I ran the information by Clyde and based on the information Carlos faxed me, he thinks you have reason to believe that something fishy has been going on with the trust funds. We would need more information before any legal action could be undertaken. I would be happy to represent you if that's what you want."
"Thanks, I'll have my accountant transfer a retainer to you by electronic fund transfer within the hour. Carlos said you could get a court order rather easily. I hope you can before the bank, in the guise of Mr. Bollinger, has time to alter or destroy any documents."
"I'll keep you informed," Darin said.
I never did make it to the foundation office. By the time I finished with all the phone calls it was time to go pick up the boys from school. Joel was eager to get home. He had his driving lesson this evening with Kurt Wilson.
"How did your lesson go?" I asked Joel, when he came back.
"Great, Mr. Wilson is a really good teacher. He doesn't yell at me when I make a mistake. I've got to go study. He's gonna give me a practice test next time and I don't want to forget what he taught me."
Thursday I made it to the foundation office. Paul and Carol were there, but Darcie was out checking up on a client and would be gone most of the day. At lunch time, I invited them and the Office Manager, Kenneth Bering, to go to lunch with me. Since we arrived at The Olive Garden before the majority of the lunch crowd, we were able to be seated immediately. Over lunch, I learned that Paul and his fiancée were planning their wedding for the first week of December.
"When am I going to meet this young thing that has stolen your heart?" I asked Paul.
"She's in San Francisco at a conference right now and won't be home until this weekend," Paul said.
"Why don't you bring her over to the house Sunday? We'll put something on the grill. Why don't you all come? We'll make a party out of it. Carol, how about it? You can bring your latest boy friend. Kenneth, you're invited, too. Bring a guest, if you like.
"How'd you know I had a new boy friend?" Carol asked with feigned indignation.
"Carol, how long have I known you? And in that time, how many boy friends have you had? And how long has any one of them lasted?" She didn't answer, just shook her head and smiled.
"How about it, Kenneth, can you make it?"
"I'll have to ask Sue, but I'm sure we can. I've told her a little about what everybody's said about your house and I know she's dieing to see it. She's a design student at Alamo Community College."
"Great, why don't we make it around three or four? Bring a swimsuit if you want to swim."
I headed home in time to get the van and take off to pick up the boys from school.
Friday morning, I got a call from Darin Bain. "Mr. Johnson, I just wanted you to know that the judge has issued a subpoena for all bank records concerning the Moses Allen Trust since the bank took over trusteeship. They have three business days to comply, so we should have the documents in our hands at least by Wednesday."
"Thanks. Let me know what you find out."
"I'll turn everything over to a financial auditor and our trust specialist so they can dig through it. That may take a week or more depending on how much documentation there is and how convoluted it is. I hope you don't need it sooner than that."
"That should be fine. I'll let the other interested parties know."
Late that afternoon, I received a fax of several pages from Fenton about property that I might be interested in purchasing. I put the pages aside, thinking that I would get back to them later in the day. As it turned out I didn't.
Saturday morning, the boys had their music lessons. In the afternoon, Joel had a four hour driver's training class at the local high school. He had three more of these in the coming weeks to complete the required classroom training.
Sunday morning, the boys and I went to ride the horses. Peter was getting the hang of riding Lady. Under Bert and my watchful eyes, he got Lady up to a fast trot/slow gallop. He was so pleased with himself, the smile wouldn't leave his face.
Our guest began arriving shortly after three o'clock. Darcie, Mel and their little girl, Rebecca, were the first to arrive. Kenneth and his girl friend, Sue, were next. Paul and his fiancée, Ruth, were closely followed by Carol and her latest. I learned his name was Julius Bell. We were going to have a house full with the 18 of us.
I couldn't believe how much Rebecca had grown since I had last seen her. She was walking, I should say running, around looking at everything, all the while jabbering away. I couldn't understand anything she was saying. The boys took to her immediately. She was going to get a lot of attention from them all evening. When the boys weren't surrounding Rebecca with attention, Hildy was. Manfred wasn't far behind. They both volunteered to stay with her while the rest of us changed into swim attire and swam and played water games until the adults got tired.
After the adults showered and dressed, we all retired to the porch for a glass of wine. I had put the brisket over a slow fire earlier in the afternoon. I had turned it a couple of times. When it came time to grill the chicken, I wrapped the brisket in foil and placed it on the upper rack. When the fire was hot enough, I put the chicken on the grill.
I was glad that the table in the formal dining room would seat 20 with all the leaves in, because I wanted everybody to be able to eat together. Hildy had done herself proud with the rest of the meal. She had fixed baked beans, cole slaw, corn-on-the-cob and fresh baked bread rolls. No one would go hungry at the table. When she brought out the German's chocolate cake, the adults just groaned. The boys' eyes lit up as she placed generous slices of cake on plates and handed one to each of them.
After all of our company had left and the boys were in bed, I finally found time to go over the fax that Fenton had sent me earlier in the week. Two of the properties looked promising, but I would want to take a look at them before I would make a decision.
Thursday morning, I got a call from Darin Bain. "Mr. Johnson, I've gotten a preliminary reading from the auditor who is looking at the trust documentation."
"What has he found?"
1 Uniform Code of Military Justice - Article 15
To be continued.
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