Joel Books 1 through 4 are available in paperback. 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
Our evening was more light-hearted now that the uncertainty of Peter's placement was all but behind us. We still had the hearing tomorrow, but the major obstacle had been removed. Hildy's meal was excellent as usual. Everybody seemed to enjoy themselves conversing like old friends. We all retired early. The hearing was scheduled for 9:30 in the morning so we were going to have to get up early in order to have breakfast and be ready to leave by 8:30. Peter's attorney wanted to speak with him before the hearing started.
We arrived at the courthouse annex in plenty of time for the boys to use the restroom. While Peter was talking with Hal Brisbane, Peggy Callahan greeted us. She spoke briefly with the Wrights before the courtroom doors opened to let us in. Peter's case was first on the docket. After Judge Bono read through the docket to determine which ones could be heard in order and which ones had to be moved to the bottom of the list, she called our case. The area in front of her bench was crowded with me, the six boys, Hildy and Manfred, the caseworker, the CPS lawyer, the Wrights and Peter's attorney all standing there.
It took longer for all of us to inform the judge who we were than the actual hearing. Peter held onto TJ's hand throughout the whole proceedings.
"Mr. Wright," Judge Bono said, "I understand that you have given up your request to have custody of Peter. Is that correct?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"Please explain why you are doing that."
"Your Honor, my wife and I have given this a great deal of thought and a lot of soul searching. We have come to the conclusion that we are not able to take on the responsibilities of raising another child. Kari needs all of our attention at the present time. Even with the money that we would receive for caring for Peter, we would be financially strapped. Mr. Johnson and his family can provide a better quality of life for Peter than we ever could."
"Have you received anything from anyone that has induced you to give up your request?"
"No, Your Honor."
"Mr. Johnson, what are your intentions in regard to young Peter?"
"We wish to adopt him as soon as possible, Your Honor."
"Ms. Callahan, what is the department's position on Mr. Johnson's request?"
"The department concurs with Mr. Johnson's request. As soon as the home study has been updated the adoption can proceed."
"Mr. Johnson, it looks as though you will be adding another son very soon. Congratulations," Judge Bono said.
"Thank you, Your Honor. We're looking forward to having Peter as a brother and a son."
"Thank you all," Judge Bono said, dismissing us.
We walked around behind the courthouse to the parking lot where our vehicles were. I invited the Wrights to come back to the house for lunch, but they declined. Gary said they needed to get back home. We said our goodbyes and everybody climbed into the three vehicles and headed for our respective homes.
The boys changed into their school uniforms as soon as we got home and after a quick lunch of sandwiches and milk, I took them to school. We got there just as the afternoon session was about to begin.
"Crane, Darcie called while you were gone and wants you to call her," Hildy said, as I poured myself a much needed cup of coffee. I took my coffee into the library and made the call.
"Crane, thanks for calling back. Hildy told me the good news about Peter. You know you have reached the limit now, don't you?" Darcie said.
"I thought I had reached my limit a long time ago," I chuckled. "I know that's not why you want to talk to me. What's up?"
"No, it's foundation business. Do you know a Donald Baker, Jr.?"
"I believe I met him several years ago when I was consulting for one of his father's companies. As I recall he was working on his PhD at the time. It was either Harvard or Yale. I only met him the one time. Why?"
"He called earlier today and wanted to set up a meeting with you."
"With me, specifically?"
"Yes, he was most adamant about meeting with you personally."
"Well, maybe he wants to donate money to the foundation. Let me have his number and I'll call him back. Did he say anything else except wanting to meet with me?"
"No, all he said was he wanted to meet with you. He wouldn't even give a number to call him back. He said he would call back this afternoon. What's your availability?"
"I'm pretty much open between the times I take the boys to school and when I go to pick them up and, in a pinch, Hildy or Manfred could fill in for me. When he calls, give him my number and we'll work out a time to meet."
I hung up the phone and began reviewing the end of year reports that had come in over the fax while we had been in court. The total income for the previous year had exceeded the estimates that Gerald had given at the end of third quarter. Much of the positive income was derived from a better than expected occupancy in the three apartment complexes. Interest and dividends were also greater, although to a lesser degree. I decided to call Chuck Solaris or Phillip Brown to congratulate them on their management of the complexes. Phillip answered the phone. We spoke for several minutes before he got another call. By the time I had finished reviewing the financial reports, it was time to go pick up the boys from school.
Joel seemed unusually happy as he climbed into the front passenger seat of the van. I was about to ask him why when an excited Peter shoved a piece of paper in front of my face. It was a drawing of Lady. I could actually tell it was his horse.
"I got a gold star. See, dad!" he shouted into my ear.
"I see. That's a very good picture of Lady," I said. "Now, please sit down and fasten your seatbelt." The drawing was passed around to all the boys and each one told Peter how good it was. By the time we reached the house his smile could have lit up the night. The first thing he did when he entered the house was to run to Hildy and show her the drawing. She sat him on her lap and gave him a hug while telling him how good she thought it was.
"You know what we should do with your picture?" Hildy asked.
"No, what?" Peter asked.
"Come with me," she said, putting Peter down. She opened a drawer near the refrigerator and took out two decorative magnets. "Here," she said, handing him the magnets and taking the drawing, "I'll hold your picture up and you put the magnets on the top corners." She put the drawing on the refrigerator door at a height that he could reach and he did as he was told.
"That's great, son. Now we can see your picture all the time," I said. "You need to go get your clothes changed. You don't want your brothers to eat all the snacks before you get changed, do you?"
"No, sir," he said, and was out of the kitchen in a flash.
"I've never seen a boy so proud of a drawing," I told Hildy.
"It's really quite good for someone his age," she said. "Maybe he'll grow up to be an artist."
I shrugged and went to find Joel. As I climbed the stairs, the phone rang. I told Hildy that I would get it and headed to the library to answer it.
"Hello, my name is Donald Baker. May I speak with Crane Johnson please?"
"I'm Crane Johnson. Darcie Glenn told me you were going to call. What may I do for you Mr. Baker?"
"Mr. Johnson, I don't know if you remember me, but we met about five years ago in my father's office. You were just finishing up a project for him."
"As a matter of fact, I do remember you."
"You may have heard that my father passed away a couple of months ago and I have been named as executor of his estate. I would like to meet with you to discuss a donation to ASEC, the foundation you started."
"Certainly, I'm always interested in donations so that we can help more kids in foster care. When and where would you prefer to meet?"
"If it's convenient, let's meet at the Petroleum Club for lunch. Say twelve o'clock tomorrow?"
"That's located in the Energy Plaza Building isn't it?"
"Yes, I'm a member there," he said. "There is parking in the building, Just give the attendant your name and tell him you're my guest, he'll let you in. The club is on the top floor."
"I know the building," I said. "I will meet you there at noon." That's promising I thought when I hung up the phone.
Entering the breakfast area, I saw the boys were enjoying their snack. Hildy had given then bowls of chocolate pudding topped with whipped cream. It looked tempting, but I decided against joining them and settled for a cup of coffee from the pot that Hildy kept going all day.
"Guys, after you finish here and take care of your dogs, you need to practice your music. I know Mrs. Shultz won't be here for a while until she gets well, but you still need to practice."
"Okay, dad," Joel responded.
Later when I went up to check on their practice, they were all attempting to play the same music. The two keyboards were played by TJ and Lenny, the two guitars by Larry and Joel with Chris on the drums. Peter was clapping his hands and jumping up and down more or less in time to the music. They weren't too bad, but it would be a long time before they were ready to go on tour.
While we were eating supper, I asked Manfred if he could take the van and pick up the boys from school in case I wasn't back in time. He agreed since he was in the process of winding down his business so he could sell it at the end of February. Things were slow for the business during the winter.
I checked the boys' homework and sent them off to shower and get ready for bed. As was my usual practice, I started in TJ's and Peter's bedroom to tuck them in and say goodnight. Peter was barely awake when I kissed him on the forehead. Next it was off to the three musketeers' bedroom. I never knew what to expect when I walked into their room. Tonight was no exception. Larry and Lenny were huddled around one of the computers watching Chris play one of those inane computer games. "It's time you guys were in bed."
"Five more minutes, dad," Chris said, never taking his eyes off the screen. "I've just about killed all the monsters."
I walked over and stood behind the three of them. The whole idea of computer games had never appealed to me. It must have been all the computer classes that I had taken that were directed toward solving real world problems that had colored my thinking about what a computer should do. "Kill one more monster and then it's off to bed."
"Aw, dad," Chris moaned. When the next monster was vaporized, he reluctantly shut down the computer and crawled into bed.
"I just don't want three crabby boys in the morning because they didn't get enough sleep," I said, as I kissed each one of them on the forehead.
Joel was the last one to visit for the evening. As usual, he was propped up in bed reading a text book. "I only have four more pages in this chapter, may I finish it before I turn out the lights?" he asked.
"As long as it's just this chapter. Okay?"
"You were awfully happy when you got into the van after school. Was there a reason for that?"
"I guess," he said, ducking his head.
"John said that Leo dumped him."
"Yeah, he said Leo wanted him to do things he didn't want to do."
"You mean Leo wanted him to have sex?"
"Yeah, and his mom didn't like Leo either."
"I can see why. Leo must be about 19 and John is 15. In a few years those four years difference in their ages won't mean much. Now there is a wide gap in their experiences. There may be some who can handle that age difference, but from my observations of John, he is not."
"I don't think I could be boyfriends with someone that much older. Friends but not boyfriends."
"So, does that mean that you and John are back to where you were before?"
"I don't know, dad. I don't know. I want it to be, but what if it happens again? How can I trust him not to find another boyfriend?"
"Son, there is no guarantee. All you have to do is look at the number of couples who get divorced. I'm sure that they loved each other when they married, but somehow one or both of them found other people to love. You have to work hard to maintain a relationship. I may not be the best person to tell you how to do that considering my own failure in that department. I know I didn't work hard enough to make Eric's and my relationship work. I regret that. Ours didn't work out because we found someone else; ours didn't work out because we both had too many distractions."
"Didn't you love him?"
"Son, that is something that I have been asking myself since he and JR moved to California. Yes, I think I loved him. I'm just not sure that I was in love with him."
"I don't understand. If you loved Eric, doesn't that mean you were in love with him?"
"It's hard to explain. Loving someone and being in love with them is a matter of degree. Being in love is a total commitment. Perhaps you will understand the difference the first time you really fall in love. That's enough philosophy for the night. Finish your chapter and then it's lights out."
"I love you, dad."
"I love you, too. Goodnight."
Hildy was in the kitchen when I left my bedroom the next morning. "What time did you get here?" I asked, looking at my watch. "It's only 6:30."
"Not long ago. I had to make sure that my boys had a good breakfast before they went off to school."
"You spoil us, you know."
"I know," she laughed, and turned back to preparing breakfast.
I picked up the paper that Hildy had thoughtfully retrieved on her way and went to the breakfast room with a cup of coffee. I was skimming the paper to see if there was anything newsworthy that I might be interested in reading more in detail. On page two a story popped out that was of great interest to me. It was a long article about the will that was filed in probate of the late Donald Baker Sr. The estate had an estimated value, in the opinion of the writer of the article, to be in the neighborhood of $3.5 billion. Maybe the foundation will get a sizeable donation. Now I was really looking forward to my luncheon meeting.
I took the BMW and left the house in plenty of time for the noon meeting with Donald Baker, Jr. I parked the car, walked into the lobby and took the elevator to the top floor. The maître d' greeted me once I had entered the club. I informed him that I was to meet Donald Baker. He escorted me to a private dining room where my host was waiting. Donald Baker appeared to be a man about thirty. He was tall, perhaps an inch or two taller than my six foot height. He was handsome in a classic way and from the cut of his expensive looking suit, very fit. His handshake also confirmed his fitness.
We exchanged pleasantries including our recollections of our first brief encounter some years ago. "As I recall," I said, "you were working on your PhD at that time."
"Yes, I believe I was. I had taken a couple of years off between getting my Masters and starting my Doctorate and had just begun it when we met. I spent those two years traveling the globe. I visited 51 countries in that two year span. That was before I had any responsibilities."
"Where did you do your Doctorate?" I asked.
"Harvard. Dad insisted that it had to be Harvard. I'd have been just as happy at Texas, maybe happier. I hated the east coast. What a colossal bunch of snobs. I don't think I met one real person all the time I was there."
"What did you get your degree in?"
"Business Economics. Don't get me wrong, I got an excellent education and for that I'm grateful. It's the people there that bothered me."
At that moment, a waiter appeared and asked if we desired anything to drink. Donald ordered a glass of 1996 Domaine Francois Raveneau Chablis. Although that was tempting, I decided to stick with iced tea.
"I see you know your wines. I've heard of that one, but have never tasted it. Maybe on another occasion, I'll do so," I said.
"Yes, that's one of the things I learned in my travels around the world. I enjoy tasting some of the best wines the world has to offer. The Chablis is supposed to be one of the best of 1996."
The waiter returned with our drinks and took our lunch order.
"I don't want to be rude," I said, "but you said on the phone that you wanted to discuss the possibility of a donation to the foundation. As you may or may not know, I established that foundation a couple of years ago to provide financial assistance to foster parents who normally wouldn't qualify to be able to adopt. We have been very fortunate that there have been a number of people who have thought that the work the foundation does is important and have contributed to our success. There is a great need and there are more request for our assistance than we can possibly provide."
"Crane, and I hope I may call you Crane, I have had the foundation investigated thoroughly. From all the reports, it is doing a great job. The amount of administrative overhead is surprisingly low and it is remarkably free of the usual bureaucratic paperwork jungle of most charities."
"By all means you may call me Crane. One of the reasons that our overhead expenses are so low is that the members of the Board of Directors each receives only $1 in compensation for their services. The expenses that we do incur are for the salaries of the four staff members, the cost of investigators plus the normal building expenses necessary to run any business. While there is paperwork required, much to satisfy the government, we try to only require that which is necessary to do the job. By the way, how did you find out about the foundation? We're fairly well known in CPS circles, but we don't have high visibility outside of them."
"Actually, a friend of the family had heard about it. What you may not know is that my older sister was adopted. Mom and dad were told that they could never have children, so they adopted Janet when she was seven. The doctors were wrong and I was born two and a half years later. Janet died of ovarian cancer the same year my mother died. That was a year ago next month. Her husband had left her two years before she died, leaving her to take care of their two children. Lenore was only a month old when he up and left. William was 18 months old. The bum later drowned in a boating accident in Florida. To make a long story short, I ended up adopting my niece and nephew. I guess that's my motivation to help your foundation out."
"That's quite a story. Your family has suffered an awful lot of tragedies in a very short time. Your father just passing away recently compounded the tragedy."
Our conversation was interrupted at that point by the waiter bringing our lunch. The conversation turned to other things as we enjoyed the expertly prepared meal. It turned out that Donald and I had many friends and acquaintances in common. It was a wonder that our paths had never crossed other than that one time. He had a great sense of humor and could tell a joke with the timing of a professional stand-up comedian. By the time we finished our lunch, we were well on our way to becoming good friends.
The waiter cleared away the remains of our lunch and brought us coffee. We both turned down dessert, although that was a hard decision after looking at the menu.
"Donald, you've never mention a wife. Are you married?" I asked.
"No, there is no Mrs. Donald Baker, Jr."
"How do you find being a single father?"
"I love Lenore and William as if they were my own blood children. I have a wonderful woman who helps me care for them. Taking care of the family businesses takes me away from them more than I would like, but I try to be home for them at least four nights a week. Once dad's estate is settled and through probate, I plan to be home a lot more."
"I can understand your wanting to be home with them more. I try to schedule my time so that I'm home 90% of the time to be with my six."
"Ah, yes, the reports that I received on you mentioned that you had adopted five and that you were fostering a sixth. Very commendable."
"We have a lot in common when it comes to adoptions. You should bring your two to our house and maybe we can all go horseback riding. My boys love to go as often as they can."
"That sounds like something that William would love. I'm not sure about Lenore, she is very shy around strangers and I don't know how she would react to a horse close up."
"If she is like most little girls, she would like Rosie's and Tracy's baby girl. She is getting to the age where she is aware of her surroundings and loves to have someone play with her. So if Lenore doesn't want to ride, I'm sure that Rosie would let her play with Carrie Louise. Depending on our schedule, we go riding either Saturday or Sunday. You are welcome to join us any time. Now, back to business. May I ask just how you intend to help the foundation?"
"If you read that report in what passes for a newspaper around here, you learned from it that my father's estate was worth in the neighborhood of $3.5 billion. Only some $500 million will be going through the probate process. The rest of the assets are in trusts or holding companies that some very clever tax attorneys set up to avoid not only taxes, but the probate process, which you know can take years. At my father's death, I took control of those entities. Now, to answer your question, I plan to establish another trust fund equal to approximately 10% of the estate. The income from its investments will go to support ASEC."
"Wow! You mean that the income from $350 million will go to support the foundation? That's wonderful. Thank you so much. This will allow us to support more worthy adoptions. I can't express my thanks adequately enough. I'm overwhelmed. All I can say is thank you, again."
"You are most welcome. Actually the amount of the trust will be closer to $400 million. The newspaper got it wrong - as usual. All I ask in return is that the news of this donation not be disseminated to the news media. Well, there is another request. I would like for you and someone you trust to serve on the board that will oversee the investments of the trust. I, as well as someone whom I trust, will also serve as advisors."
"When will this trust be set up? I guess the question that I'm really asking is when will the foundation start receiving any contributions from it?"
"My tax people are in the process of setting it up now. If you will contact me with the name of the other person you want to serve on the advisory committee, we can probably hold our first meeting within a month. A lot depends on how quickly the tax experts can figure out the best way to avoid giving Uncle Sam any of the money. I'll keep you informed."
"I will get back to you later this week after I have confirmed that the person I would like to serve as an advisor is available. I will be happy to serve in any capacity that will benefit kids in foster care."
We walked out together and down the elevator to the parking level. Donald handed me a parking voucher to give to the attendant when I exited. Our handshake lasted longer than what would have been the norm, but wasn't in the least uncomfortable.
"Donald, thank you again for your generosity, the foundation will make good use of the contributions. I will call you in the next day or two with the name you requested. Do consider coming to visit us and to go riding. I'm sure the boys would be pleased to meet William. My housekeeper I know would love to meet Lenore. She would have been delighted if one of my sons had been a daughter."
"I think I just may take you up on that. I haven't been horseback riding in at least ten years. Dad owned a ranch up by Kerrville and kept a few riding horses there. We didn't get up there that often, dad was always so busy," he said. "Would it be all right if I brought the nanny along? It would probably make Lenore feel better about being around strangers."
"Of course," I said. "I'm sure she and Hildy would get along well together."
"Good, I'll let you know what our schedule is when you call. I'm so glad we got to meet. I feel that we have a lot in common and I look forward to our continuing to work together."
"I agree." I climbed into my car, waved goodbye to him and took off for home. That was an interesting meeting. As I was driving out of downtown, I began to do some mental calculations on the amount of money the trust would generate for the foundation. The amount was staggering. If the return on investment was a conservative 5%, the yearly income would be $20 million. It would take the foundation a long time to approve enough adoption assistances to make use of all that money. In order for us to maintain out tax exempt status, we would have to find a way to utilize the majority of that money.
I headed for the foundation's office. I wanted to share our good fortune with everyone.
To be continued.
Your comments and criticisms are welcomed and encouraged. I try to answer all emails including flames. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, please put Joel in the subject.