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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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Hildy came to the house on Sunday after she had fixed her family's lunch. "I was finally able to speak with Patricia Bradley after church this morning. She had been gone all last week when I tried to call her," she said. "I asked her about Myron and his family as a way of introducing the topic of Rico. When I told her what Peter had said, she was livid. She was so mad that she dragged me over to where Eldon was speaking to the assistant pastor and made me repeat what I had told her. Eldon was visibly upset. He didn't think his brother would do anything like that, but he said they would head over to Myron's house and find out if it was true."
"I'm glad to hear that. I doubt that CPS has made contact with them, yet," I said.
"If I know Eldon, he'll get to the bottom of this. Chances are if Myron is abusing Rico, he may be in for some abuse himself. Eldon was strict with his own boys, but he never abused them," Hildy said. "They're both fine boys."
Hildy left and I went to check on Mike and the boys. They were outside playing with the dogs. The three missing boys' dogs were looking around as if to ask where their masters were. "I miss them, too," I whispered, to no one in particular.
Monday morning I went into San Antonio to meet with Chuck Solaris and Phillip Brown and get an update on the apartment complexes. Every month I got a financial accounting from Gerald, but from time-to-time I liked to get an update from the managers. They greeted me at their office in the Stone Oak complex. They gave me a complete rundown on the occupancy rates for each of the three apartment complexes and the maintenance and upkeep they had scheduled. I went away more impressed than ever with the way they were managing everything. As I was leaving, they told me they heard of another complex that was being built they suspected was in financial trouble and wanted to know if I would be interested in taking it on. I told them I would think about it.
I met Donald for lunch and then went to his office for a meeting on the Las Vegas project. Les Gomez, the overall project manager for the project gave us a status report. Nevada Energy was onboard to provide the electricity. Arrangements had been made for all utilities to be buried. The cost of the burial was to be borne by the project. Water was to be provided by the Las Vegas Valley Water District. Southwest Gas would install the gas lines. CenturyTel would be the telephone provider. They were all ready to begin as soon as all the permits were received from the city to begin construction.
Both golf courses were in the physical layout stages and earth moving was scheduled to begin in a couple of weeks. Ads had been placed in the local papers announcing the project. Fenton Bigelow had been contracted to be the broker in charge of the sales. He joined the meeting by conference call. He indicated that he had several inquiries about possible purchases by former clients of his. No sales, as yet, but there was interest. He was sure that as soon as the project was further along that it would sell very quickly.
It was almost four o'clock before I was on the road home and after five by the time I reached the house. It was strange not to see Chris and the twins in the pool with the other boys. Mike was giving Jeannie and Ginny swimming lessons. They loved the attention that he was giving them.
"I'm going to have two, sad girls when he leaves for college this fall," Hildy said, as she walked up behind me.
"He's good with kids, isn't he?"
"Oh, by the way, I heard from Patricia Bradley while you were gone. It seems that the story that Peter told was true. She said there was a big row between the brothers which ended with Rico going home with them. Claudia, Rico's mother appeared to have been abused also, but she refused to leave Myron. I can't understand why any woman would choose to stay with a man who beats up on her. It's for darn sure if Manny ever did that, he'd be sorry."
"I'm glad they got Rico away from that situation," I said. I had to laugh to myself at the thought of this large German woman taking revenge on Manfred if he ever struck her.
"What are you smiling about?" Hildy asked.
"Oh, I was just thinking about what would happen to Manfred if he ever hit you."
"Yeah," she laughed. "Tell the kids that supper will be ready in half an hour."
I relayed that information to the 'kids' in the pool and suggested that they go shower and get dressed. They began scrambling out of the pool at the mention of supper. Manfred appeared driving the golf cart and took the two girls home, but not before they gave Mike a last hug.
After the boys had gone to bed, I received a phone call from Gary Wright. He called to give me an update on his daughter's examination at UT Medical School.
"We spent two days in Austin while they did all kinds of tests on Kari," Gary said in a voice that was noticeably hoarse. "They said she didn't have Duchenne muscular dystrophy after all. They say it's a genetic abnormality that has symptoms that mimic it. There's a possibility that they can stop the progress of the disease with an experimental medicine and maybe even reverse some of it. Phyllis and I have our fingers crossed."
"That's great news," I said. "Have they said when the treatments will begin?"
I heard what I thought was sobbing in the background. "There's a problem. Our health insurance won't pay for it since it's an experimental procedure. We don't have the $150,000 they want us to pay for the treatments." Now the sobbing was clearer and it was apparent that there were two people involved.
"Gary, don't worry. Let me speak with the foundation and see if we can't figure something out. Keep your hopes up. I can't promise you anything, but I'll present Kari's case to the board and see what they say. I'll call you in the next day or so to let you know their decision. What's the name of the doctor that you dealt with at the U?"
"Thank you, Crane. I know you'll do your best," Gary said. "The doctor's name was Khalil Basram. He was very nice."
"I'll take that information to the board and I'm sure they will be in contact with him."
"That would be wonderful," Gary said. "How's my nephew doing?"
"The adoption was finalized and he is officially a member of the family. The boys and I love him as does everybody else who meets him. He's a joy."
Gary thanked me again before we terminated the call. I didn't want to tell him that the foundation was definitely going to see that Kari got whatever she needed to stop and hopefully reverse the progression of her condition.
Darcie, on the foundation's behalf, started the process of contacting Dr. Basram the following morning. By Friday all the arrangements had been made for Kari to be enrolled in the experimental treatment trials. A generous donation to the doctor's research greased the path for her acceptance into the program.
I called Gary Friday evening to inform him that Kari would be receiving the treatment. It's never easy to listen to a grown man cry, but in this case I knew it was tears of happiness.
On the way to the ranch to ride the horses, Mike asked me, "Would it be okay if my little brother comes to visit me tonight?"
"Of course," I said. "Have him come by in time for supper. I was planning on starting up the grill. I hope he likes burgers."
"Jimmy eats anything and everything," Mike laughed. "He's a bottomless pit when it comes to food."
"He ought to fit right in with this bunch. How old is Jimmy?" I asked.
"He was seventeen last month. He'll be a senior next year."
We met Donald and his family at the ranch. Joel, Mike and Bert took off with the three younger boys and Lenore. Lenore was sticking close to Mike. Donald and I followed at a slower pace. Tracy was at his clinic and unable to ride with us.
"Where are your other boys?" Donald asked.
"Tennis academy," I replied.
"I forgot," he said. "How's that going?"
"I don't know about them, but I'm not doing that good. I miss them something fierce."
"The mother hen is missing her brood, huh?" he said, leaning over and giving me a one-armed hug.
"I guess you could say that. It's the first time they've been away from home without us. We're going to see them tomorrow afternoon. I just hope they haven't been homesick."
We had ridden for a while before Charlie rode up beside us. He was bubbling over with enthusiasm about how well the crops he had planted earlier this year were doing. In great detail, he gave a complete rundown on each of the crops and everything he had done since they had been planted. I was pleased that he was so enthusiastic, but since farming was not my forte, most of what he told us was over my head.
After we had ridden and were brushing down the horses, I invited Donald to come back to the house and I would fix something on the grill. He declined saying one of his business managers and his wife were going to dine with them this evening. He said if the invitation was still open, he and the kids were available on Sunday evening. I immediately agreed and made arrangements for them to come around six. We exchanged a lingering kiss out of sight of the others before we rounded up our charges and headed for home.
When we got home I told Hildy that we were going to have an extra mouth to feed this evening. Mike's little brother was coming to visit.
Mike's 'little' brother arrived just after five. It was easy to tell they were brothers, although Jimmy was better looking than Mike. He was not little by any means. He was a couple of inches taller than Mike and a good 25 pounds heavier. "Crane, this is my little brother, Jimmy."
"Jimmy, it's good to meet you. When Mike said his little brother was coming, I didn't expect someone your size. Please come in. Did you bring a swim suit? The boys are in the pool."
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Johnson. Mike didn't say anything about swimming, so I didn't bring one," Jimmy responded, in a deep, almost baritone voice.
"I think I might have one that would fit you. Have Mike show you around and I'll see if I can't find a suit for you."
I found a suit that I thought Jimmy could wear and went to find him. He and Mike were in Mike's room. I gave him the suit and told them I would meet them in the pool. I was in the pool a few minutes later when Mike and Jimmy appeared. Jimmy was even more handsome in the swimsuit. It was easy to tell that he worked out regularly. Mike introduced Jimmy to the other boys.
"I've seen you somewhere," Joel said.
"Yeah," Jimmy said. "Weren't you at the Science Fair last year?"
"That's right. You had the exhibit right across from John's and my setup."
At that moment we were joined by Jeannie and Ginny. They immediately latched on to Mike while the rest of us swam. Joel and Jimmy were still talking about their experience at the Science Fair.
I started the grill around six-thirty. I thought since it was such a nice day that we would eat outside on the patio. When the grill was ready, I went into the house to retrieve the burgers. Hildy had made out at least two dozen. I was sure that would be enough for the ten of us. She followed me out with the buns and the condiments which she put on the picnic tables. This was followed by bowls of cole slaw, baked beans, chips and an assortment of raw vegetables. Pitchers of lemonade and iced tea followed.
Before the first burgers were ready, there was a line of hungry people waiting with plates in hand. It seemed like I had just dished out the first batch of burgers when the line began forming again. Mike was right when he said that Jimmy's stomach was a bottomless pit. He ate three burgers and I don't know how much of the other stuff on the table. I think he would have eaten another burger if there were any left.
I don't know where Jimmy put it, but he managed to have a large slice of Hildy's famous sour cream chocolate cake topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Manfred and I just shook our heads at the amount of food that he put away. It sure didn't show on him, if he ate this much all the time.
When Mike scolded Jimmy about his appetite, Hildy shushed him. "Leave the boy alone. I like to see someone with a healthy appetite."
"Yeah, I'm a growing boy," Jimmy smiled, as he took another bite of cake.
"If you're not careful, you'll split that swimsuit," Mike laughed, knowing he had been overruled by Hildy.
Jimmy and Joel spent much of the evening talking. It seemed they had a lot in common. Both were trying to get enough credits to graduate early from high school. He spent the night with his brother and went to church with Hildy and Manfred. When they returned he thanked me profusely for everything. I told him he was welcome to come anytime he wanted. He gave his brother a hug and got into what looked like a seven or eight year-old Toyota and drove off.
"When are we gonna go see them?" TJ asked, as the last of the lunch dishes were placed in the dishwasher.
"As soon as you go wash up," I said.
"Can I drive?" Joel asked.
I hesitated for a moment before answering. I had never let him drive with anyone else in the car besides me. Donald's 'mother hen' remark from yesterday popped into my mind. "Okay," I sighed. I knew that he was a safe driver, but I was still hesitant. I guess I wasn't ready for him to be that grown up.
Joel did a great job driving us to the tennis academy. Traffic was reasonably light for a Sunday afternoon, for which I was thankful. We arrived at the academy and found a parking spot. I had to scold TJ and Peter for trying to open the car doors before the car was at a complete stop. I knew they were anxious to see their brothers, but I certainly didn't want them to get hurt by their reckless actions.
We saw a number of other parents arriving to see their children as we walked to the area where we were to meet the boys. As soon as we entered the area and saw Chris and the twins, TJ and Peter took off running to them. By the time Joel and I got to them, they were jabbering away as if they had not seen each other for years. It had only been one week.
After there were hugs all around, I asked them, "How do you like it here?"
"It's great, dad," Chris said.
"Yeah," Larry added. "They work us hard, but it's lots of fun, too."
"How about you, Lenny?" I asked.
"My muscles were sore for the first few days from all the running and hitting hundreds of balls. They really show us lots of neat stuff. My serve is really getting good."
"Yeah," Larry teased, "if he gets it in."
That caused Lenny to grab his brother in a headlock and give him a noogie. "What did you say?"
"I said you get it in all the time," a giggling Larry said.
"Yeah, that's what I thought you said," Lenny said, releasing his twin and giving him a hug.
"All right, you guys. Behave," I chided them.
We walked around the academy and they showed their brothers all the facilities. I had toured the academy when I was here to sign the boys up for the camp, but Joel, TJ and Peter had not been here before.
"Can I come next year?" TJ asked, as we finished our tour.
"If you really want to, I think that can be arranged," I answered. "You'll have to play a lot more tennis between now and then."
We all gave our three musketeers hugs and climbed back into the car. It was easier to say goodbye to them this time but not all that much easier. I told Joel to drive on into New Braunfels so I could pick up some steaks for tonight. While I went to the butcher counter, I asked Joel to go to the produce section and pick out some baking potatoes and salad fixings.
"Can we get some of those shrimp?" TJ asked, pointing to some jumbo shrimp in the display case.
"That's a great idea. We can put them on the grill with the steaks."
We went by the dairy section and picked up some sour cream for the baked potatoes before we went to check out.
Mike was in the pool when we got back to the house. That was enough reason for the boys to rush to their rooms and change into swimwear. I prepared the potatoes for baking and put them in the oven before I went out to get the grill prepared to light later. Mike got out of the pool and came over to the grill where I was..
"Crane, I can't tell you how much Jimmy enjoyed the visit here. It does him good to get away from home once in a while."
"I'm glad. I meant it when I said he was welcome to come back anytime. For that matter, you can have your friends come for visits, also. That includes girlfriends."
"No serious girlfriend. Cal would probably be the only one I would invite and he's spending the summer in Minnesota. He's a camp counselor at some Scout Camp out in the middle of nowhere up near the Canadian border. He thinks it'll be good training. He wants to be a child psychologist."
"Have you decided what branch of medicine you want to go into?"
"At the moment, I'm torn between being a general practitioner and pediatrician. A lot depends on how long the money holds out. I know I can get student loans, but I keep hearing the horror stories of doctors getting out of med school owing hundreds of thousands of dollars. I'm not sure if I'm prepared for that."
My cellphone rang at that moment. "Excuse me," I said, taking the phone from my pocket. Mike headed back to the pool as I answered it. It was Donald. They were early and were at the front gate. I gave him a code to punch in to open the gate and went through the house to meet them. I was surprised to see that Lettie was not with them.
Donald came around the back of the car with Lenore in his arms. William had gotten himself out of his seat belt, opened his door and jumped out. Before I could greet Donald, Lenore said, "Where's Mike?"
"He's in the pool, sweetheart. Did you bring your bathing suit?"
"Uh huh," she nodded.
"She's been asking about Mike all the way here. I guess I had better get her suit on before she jumps in the pool fully dressed," Donald said.
"I've said it before, but that guy has a way with women," I said, giving Donald a hug. "Let's get these two ready to go swimming."
Donald and I sat and watched the fun that was going on in the pool while we enjoyed a glass of wine that he had brought. We were soon joined by Hildy, Manfred and the girls. Jeannie and Ginny climbed into the shallow end of the pool and claimed part of Mike's attention.
"I'm glad you could join us," I said. "Pour yourself a glass of wine."
Manfred picked up the bottle and inspected it. "Oh, this is a good one. If I'd known you were bringing out the good stuff, I'd have come over here earlier."
"Manny, behave yourself," Hildy scolded. Turning to me she said, "Did you start marinating the steaks like I told you to?"
"I knew there was something I forgot. I did put the potatoes in to bake. I got some shrimp to grill also."
"Men," she said, and headed for the house muttering to herself.
The steaks turned out great even though they hadn't marinated as long as Hildy would have liked. Peter really liked the shrimp. I don't think he had ever had them before. Everybody came away from the tables feeling stuffed. When everything was cleaned up, the boys went to take care of the dogs. The girls went to the family room to watch TV and to play with the dolls that Jeannie and Ginny had brought. The adults settled down in the living room with another glass of wine.
"Donald, I've been meaning to ask where Lettie is tonight. I just assumed that she would come with you."
"She quit. Her mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer and Lettie went to take care of her. Her father is dead and there are no other siblings, so the responsibility for her mother's care fell to her. I ... we're all going to miss her."
"That's too bad," I said. "Are you going to hire another nanny?"
"I guess that depends ..."
Jeannie chose that moment to come down the stairs and whisper something in Hildy's ear. "It's okay with me, but you'll have to ask Mr. Baker," Hildy told her, pointing her toward Donald.
Jeannie shyly approached Donald, looked down at the floor and stammered, "Can ... ah ... Can Lenore spend the night at our house tonight?"
Donald put his hand under her chin and lifted it until she was looking directly at him. "I think Lenore would like that. Yes, she can."
"Thank you," Jeannie said, putting her arms around his neck and kissing his cheek. Then she took off, taking the stairs two at a time.
"I know where that is going to lead," Donald said. "As soon as William hears about it he'll want to stay here as well."
"You know this is going to start a trend, don't you?" Hildy smiled. "I think it's about time that we left for home."
"I hope you have something that Lenore can sleep in. I didn't bring any night clothes for her."
Manfred spoke up before Hildy could answer. "I think we have more girls' clothes than Macy's. I'm sure there's something that Lenore can wear to bed."
"He's exaggerating," Hildy said, giving Manfred a light punch on the arm. "And besides, he bought most of them."
"Guilty as charged," Manfred said.
Sure enough, William came running to his dad and made his case to stay the night. "Yippee!" he yelled, when his dad agreed and took off to tell TJ and Peter.
Hildy gathered up the three girls and they followed Manfred out to the golf cart for the trip to their house. That left Donald, Mike and me. Mike started to get up to go to his room.
"Mike, do you have a minute to talk?" Donald asked.
"Sure, what do you want to talk about?"
"I've been watching you ever since our trip to St. John and I must say I'm impressed by your rapport with young kids. I know that you are planning to start your medical studies in a couple of months."
"Yes, but I'm going to miss all this luxury when I start at the University. Maybe someday I can have it on my own," Mike said.
"Don't be offended," Donald began, "but I have had you investigated. I know that you don't come from a wealthy family."
"You've got that right," Mike interrupted.
"Crane tells me you would like to become a pediatrician, but that you don't think you can afford it. Let me say that would be a tragedy. Here's what I propose. I will set up a scholarship that will provide for room, board, tuition, books, instruments and all lab fees. You will also receive a stipend of $200 a month for your personal expenses. Anything over that will be your responsibility." Donald held up his hand to stop Mike from interrupting. "I expect you to maintain a high academic standard and complete a specialization in pediatrics. Proof of your academic standing after each grading period must be provided to a person that I will specify. After you have completed your internships, you must agree to setup your practice in the San Antonio area."
By the time Donald had finished, Mike had his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. It was obvious that he was crying. It took a few moments before he was able to regain his composure. "This is unbelievable," Mike choked out. "How can I ever thank you. You're giving me the opportunity to fulfill my dreams. Thank you! Thank you! I won't disappoint you." Mike got up from his chair and went to Donald, knelt beside him and hugged him for all he was worth. "I've got to call my folks and tell them."
After Mike left, Donald cleared his throat and said, "I think that went well."
"You are a master of understatement. That's another reason I love you."
"That's the first time you've ever said that, you know. Did you mean it?"
"Yes, I guess I do."
"Good, because I fell in love with you the first day we met."
"What's with Mike?" Joel asked coming down the stairs.
"He just learned of a scholarship that will pay for his medical school and he's all excited," I answered.
"I can see why. He was really concerned that he'd have to drop out of college to go work so he could pay for it," Joel said. "The guys are in bed if you want to go tuck them in. I gave William a new toothbrush 'cause he didn't bring one."
"Thanks, son, it's about time you went to bed, also."
"See you in the morning, dad."
"Shall we go see that our sons are tucked into bed? I doubt that we can expect them to go to sleep right away," I said.
After I kissed TJ and Peter and Donald kissed William, we admonished them to go to sleep, turned out the light and started back downstairs.
"Alone at last," Donald said. "I'd like another glass of wine, but I don't think I'd better and then try to drive home."
"There's no need for you to drive home, is there?"
"I guess not. Is that an invitation?"
"Yes, it is. Pour us another glass of wine and follow me. I have a sitting area in my room."
"I could get used to this," Donald said, as he settled into one of the comfortable chairs.
"We could make it permanent," I said.
"I like that idea," he said, raising his glass to mine in a toast.
END OF BOOK V
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