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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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After talking to Mike, I decided to call Jack Hogan. I hadn't talked to him in a while and I wanted to find out more about the boyfriend of Alice, Mike's sister. I placed the call, but it went straight to his voice mail so I left a message asking him to call me. About twenty minutes later he called back.
"Jack, it's good to talk to you. We don't see each other very often anymore," I said.
"Yeah, we both have busy lives," he said. "I know you didn't call just to pass the time of day. You want something, don't you?"
"You're right. I do want you to do something for me. I want you to look into a Leon Browning. I believe his family lives down by Garden Ridge. His father's name is Joseph. Leon is involved with a survivalist group."
"What's your interest in this guy?" Jack asked.
"He's dating the sister of Mike Potter, the young man who is helping to take care of my brood this summer. This Leon wants her to run away with him to Wyoming to live in one of those camps those groups have. Her brother is trying to persuade her that it would be a stupid thing to do, but you know love is blind and sometimes stupid."
"Thank goodness, otherwise my wife wouldn't have married me," Jack laughed. "What priority do you want on this?"
"Just a normal priority. I don't need anything comprehensive, just a criminal background check, his known associates and anything else you think might be of interest."
"That shouldn't take too long then. I may have something as soon as Friday. I'll give you a call."
"Thanks, Jack, you know where to send the bill," I said, before we hung up.
For the next couple of days the three musketeers spent most of the mornings and evenings playing tennis. Mike was there to partner with Chris when the twins wanted to play doubles. When it was too hot in the afternoons, they were in the pool. TJ and Peter would each grab a racket when Chris and the twins took a break and hit balls back and forth across the net and over the fence surrounding the court. They were usually laughing so hard that you could never predict where the ball was going. They were having fun and that was the most important thing. They also acted as ball-boys when the others were playing. Joel would sometimes join the others to play some tennis when he wasn't studying for the next exam he wanted to take before school started. He always seemed to know when the boys were going to get into the pool because he never failed to jump in with the rest.
I was glad that the tables and chairs with the large beach umbrellas had been delivered. It was much more comfortable sitting in the shade watching the boys play than in the sun. It also provided the boys a place to cool off between their matches.
Friday morning, Joel got a call from one of his friends on the golf team wanting him to fill out a foursome. They were planning on playing at The Bandit. When he asked me if he could take the car, I agreed provided he did not have anyone riding with him.
"I've never played there, dad. How do I get there?"
"It's fairly easy to get there, but it takes about 45 minutes to get there from here. Just go to New Braunfels and take I-35 South to the McQueeny exit. Go east on that road, I don't know the name of the road for sure. It may be FM725. Check the map. It's maybe 10 miles until you come to the road on your left leading into the course. It's easy to miss the entrance because it just over the top of a hill. The way to tell that you are coming up on it is there is a tall flagpole at the entrance. If you miss it, don't worry. Go on down the road and find a place to turn around. Now you had better get your stuff together and head out if you're going to make your tee time."
"Thanks, dad," Joel said, and ran up the stairs to get ready. Ten minutes later he came back down the stairs dressed to play golf.
"Did you put on some sunscreen?" I asked.
"How about money? Do you need any?"
"No, I have $50."
"That may not be enough for the green fees and some lunch. Here's another 50 and my cell phone. Call me if you need anything."
"I will. Bye, dad."
"Drive carefully, you hear?"
"Sure, dad," he said, and headed into the garage.
I went to the front door and watched as he drove the BMW toward the gate. I knew he was a careful driver, but that didn't keep me from worrying about him. I wondered to myself if I would ever stop worrying.
The house was awfully quiet, so I assumed that the other boys were outside. I picked up my book and went out onto the patio to check on them. They had Frisbees and were tossing them for their dogs to chase and catch. Sam was not left out. Mike was substituting for Joel. I watched for a while and then sat down in a chair on the patio and opened my book. I had started it a couple of days ago and thought I would be able to finish it today if nothing interrupted.
I was able to read about ten pages when the phone rang. I picked up the extension on the patio. It was Jack. He said he had an almost complete report on Leon Browning. He related the major points to me and I asked him to fax the complete report. He said he would and we said goodbye.
I read a few more pages of the book before the phone rang again. This time it was Donald. After we greeted each other, I asked, "How has your week gone? How was the trip to Las Vegas?"
"The week has just been so-so. The trip to Vegas was successful. I was able to resolve the labor problems and everyone is back to work. We only lost two days of work, so it shouldn't impact the schedule. I did talk to Fenton Bigelow while I was there. He said he has sold thirteen more lots. He suggested that we set up an architectural committee to review and approve any house plans before building started."
"That's a good idea. I know when we had the land platted we recorded deed restrictions as well. Did he suggest anyone to serve on such a committee?" I asked.
"He said he would look into it and get back to us."
"Are you going to come out this evening and spend the weekend?"
"That's the best invitation that I've had all week. I'll bring some steaks if you'll be the grill master."
"I'll tell Hildy so she won't make any plans. I'll see you around six?" I hung up the phone and went to find Hildy. She wasn't in the kitchen which is where I usually found her. She wasn't in the laundry room, so I assumed that she had run back to her house for something.
I was walking back out to the patio when she and 'her' two girls came in through the back door. "Oh, there you are. I wanted to tell you that Donald is bringing some steaks to grill this evening. Make sure that Manfred knows."
"That man can smell a steak from a mile away. He'll be here with bells on. I'll give him a call. He went to pick up dry cleaning," Hildy said.
"Hi, girls. Did you come over to swim?"
"Uh huh," Ginny said.
"Where's Mike?" Jeannie asked, looking around.
"He's out with the boys, playing with the dogs." I hardly had the words out of my mouth when the girls were heading out the door.
Hildy chuckled and shook her head. "Come August and Mike heads off to college, those are going to be two disappointed little girls."
"You will probably have a guest spend the night. I'm sure that Lenore will want to," I said.
"She's no trouble and the girls love her. We all do for that matter."
"By the way, what is the status of Jeannie and Ginny?"
"We have another placement review hearing in a couple of weeks," she said, and then paused. "Manny and I have been talking ..."
"You want to adopt them, don't you?"
"Yes. At our age, I don't know if they'll let us."
"Have you talked to their caseworker about it?"
"Not yet. She's supposed to come for a visit on Monday and I thought that would give us a chance to talk. Manny and I both love those girls. I know we can provide a good home for them permanently ... if they let us."
"I can't see any reason why they wouldn't. You're not that old and you can certainly provide for them. I know you no longer need this job, but I'm thankful that you still want it. We would be lost without you. But, if that was the only thing that prevented you from adopting them, you would have to do what's best for them. If CPS gives you any problems, we may have to bring in Benjamin. He sure helped me with the boys."
"I hope it doesn't come to that," she said. "Now, I had better get busy and whip up some lunch."
I was clearly dismissed, so I went back to the patio to read and watch the kids and Mike.
Joel returned shortly after three. "Man, that's a great course," he said. "That number 8 where the tee is way up on a hill and you hit down toward those three sand traps on the left is a beautiful hole. We were playing from the back tees and I just barely hit my drive over the trap farthest out into the fairway. Kevin and Troy were both in the traps and Carl sliced his to the right almost into the little creek over there. I hit a nine iron onto the green, three feet from the pin and birdied the hole. The other guys all bogeyed it."
"Sounds like you had a good time," I said. "What did you shoot?"
"74, I double bogeyed number 18 and bogeyed number 13. On 13, that par 3 over the lake, I hit a great shot, but I put too much back spin on the ball and it ended up in the water. 18, that par 5, is a weird hole and the green is a killer. I hit a poor drive and was on in four. I ended up three putting it."
"I was going to say we should go play that course again, but the last time I played there I shot an 81 and I had played the course several times before. I couldn't let you beat me," I said, giving him a pat on the back.
"I might give you a stroke a side," he responded with a grin, handed me my cell phone and ran up the stairs to his room.
"Smart aleck kid," I said to his disappearing back.
When he came back downstairs after showering, I asked, "Did you guys have anything to eat?"
"Yeah, we grabbed a burger at the snack bar. I could still eat something, though."
"Check with Hildy, I'm sure she'll have something to tide you over until we eat. Donald is bringing steaks to grill, but that won't be for three hours or so." I followed Joel into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee while Hildy busied herself putting out the sandwich fixings for Joel. I shook my head as he fixed two huge sandwiches and a large glass of milk.
I went into the library to retrieve the fax that Jack said he was going to transmit concerning Leon Browning. I was surprised when it turned out to be eight pages long. I read through it carefully. The guy had certainly led a life on the edge. He had several arrests for misdemeanors for which he paid fines but no jail time, numerous traffic tickets, some unpaid, and was currently being investigated for use and distribution of methamphetamines. There was also one arrest for assault and battery, but the charges were dropped, so there was no conviction.
His known associates were even less savory. One, Calvin Childress, aka "Hero", had been convicted as a juvenile of beating his girlfriend so severely that she required hospitalization for several days. He served 30 days in the juvenile facility and two years of supervised probation. He also had several other run-ins with the law and was out on bail and currently awaiting trial on a charge of burglary. Jack's investigators indicated that he was probably involved in the sale of methamphetamines.
Jason Burge, aka "Knife", another known associate didn't have as many entries on his rap sheet of actual arrests. He was, however, suspected in at least two armed robberies using a knife. He was known to carry at least two knives with him at all times. As was Childress, he was also suspected of involvement in the sale of methamphetamines.
I'm not sure how Jack got the juvenile records on the three men since they are supposedly sealed, but I wasn't going to ask. I contemplated how I should approach Mike with this information. I didn't want to appear to be butting into his family affairs, even if I were.
Everyone was in the pool when I went back outside. Mike was showing Jeannie and Ginny some swimming techniques. Joel and Chris were swimming laps while the twins, TJ and Peter were playing dodge ball with a beach ball. I sat down beside Manfred who was watching the goings on in the pool.
"Those kids make me tired just watching them," Manfred said. "Playing with the dogs, tennis and swimming - I don't think I ever had that much energy."
"It is amazing," I said. "I guess that's the reason that they don't get fat from all the food they pack away."
"Speaking of food, I understand that Donald is bringing some steaks to grill," he said.
"Yes, he and his kids should be here sometime around six."
"Hildy's call caught me just as I was leaving the dry cleaners, so I stopped at that new liqueur store down the street and bought a couple bottles of red wine. I hope it's good. I've never tried it, but the clerk said it was very highly rated."
"What's the name of it?"
"It's a 1998 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a California wine from the Napa Valley."
"That's a new one on me, also. I haven't heard of that winery," I said. "I'm sure we'll enjoy it. Donald's more of a wine expert than I am. Maybe he will know it."
We talked and watched the boys, and girls, in the pool for some time. When I looked at my watch, I decided it was time to prepare the grill. I barely had the coals ready to light when a small body ran by me and jumped into the water. From the commotion, I knew that our guests had arrived. Lenore followed at a somewhat slower pace, but stopped at the side of the pool and hollered for Mike. He dutifully responded and went over to her and lifted her into the pool with the other girls.
"Hildy thought I had bought the whole cow when I dropped off the steaks," Donald said, in a way of greeting. He flopped down in the lounger beside me. "I've been looking forward to this all week."
"So have I," I said. "It looks as if William and Lenore had as well."
"That boy, I thought I was going to have to tie him down. Every day when I got home from work he asked if we were going to come here and go riding. When I'd tell him no, he'd ask when and how many days before we'd come. I was tempted to bring him out here and dump him off."
"I think we'd have at least three happy boys if you had 'dumped him off'," I said. "Well, I think I had better light the grill or the boys will starve to death before we eat."
"Good idea," Manfred said. "That gives me a reason to break out the wine. Donald, would you like a glass? I bought a new one."
"Thanks, I'd love one," Donald replied.
Manfred soon returned with a bottle of the cabernet and four glasses on a tray. Hildy was right behind with a larger tray containing snacks to tide the kids over until the meal was ready. Kid radar was in full operation and the pool emptied faster than I thought possible. Hildy placed the tray on the picnic table and then stepped out of the way of the wave of kids. The chips, dip, vegetable sticks and several kinds of cheese began to disappear at an alarming rate.
"Don't worry," she told us, "there's another tray in the kitchen. I'll bring it out right away. Manny, pour me a glass of the wine while I'm gone."
"Your wish is my command, my lady," Manfred said, bowing at the waist. "She'll get me for that." He had her glass of wine ready by the time she returned and handed it to her with a sheepish grin.
When I thought the grill was ready, I started toward the house to get the steaks. "I'll help you," Hildy said, and led the way.
The steaks had been in the marinade for about an hour so they should be ready. Hildy removed and patted them dry before placing them on a large tray. There were 15 beautiful rib-eye steaks. Hildy also added several hamburger patties and some hot dogs. It looked like an awful lot of food for five adults and ten kids, but then I knew those ten were regular eating machines. There wasn't enough room on the grill to fix all the steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs all at once. I started with enough for the kids to eat and the adults would have to wait for the second grilling. I save the five largest steaks for the adults.
While I was minding the grill, Hildy was bringing the rest of the meal to the picnic tables. To make room for everybody, we had to bring the tables that were down by the tennis court to poolside. Jeannie and Ginny didn't much care for the steaks and only ate parts of them, but they each had a hamburger and a hot dog. Manfred didn't seem to mind, he took what they didn't eat and put it on his plate.
"See what I told you," Hildy said, pointing to Manfred's plate. "That man loves his steak."
"When they are this good, it's a crime to let them go to waste," he replied, taking another bite of his steak.
The sun was beginning to go down by the time we finished our meal. I suggested that the boys go inside and take their showers to wash the chlorine off. I hoped the water pressure would be enough for the four showers going at once. Hildy said she would take the girls to her house for their showers. She sent Lenore into the house to get her overnight bag and when she returned, the four of them climbed onto the golf cart and headed to the house.
"It looks like we have been elected to do the cleanup," Donald said.
It wasn't much of a chore to do the cleanup. Almost all of the food had been consumed so it didn't take long to complete the job. We were nearly finished when the freshly showered boys started filtering downstairs. I wondered why they were hanging around the kitchen until Peter asked, "Are we gonna have dessert?"
"What?" I asked, in amazement.
"We always have dessert and we didn't have none," he said.
It was all I could do to keep from laughing, but I held my composure and said, "Well, let's see if Hildy fixed anything." I turned to the refrigerator and opened the door. I might have known that Hildy would be prepared. There was a large pan of banana pudding all ready for dipping up. "Manfred, if you'll get down the bowls, I'll dish it out. You guys go sit at the table and we'll bring you your dessert."
I don't know where they put it, but every bowl was scraped clean when they finished. I think they would have licked them if they thought they could get away with it. Donald, Manfred and I passed on the dessert and settled for cups of coffee. Mike had joined the younger boys for dessert.
It wasn't long before the boys started to yawn. "Okay, guys, off to bed. You want to be rested so you can go riding tomorrow morning. Make sure you brush your teeth. We'll be up to tuck you in."
"I'd better go check on my girls," Manfred said.
"If you lead the way, I'll go tuck my girl in," Donald said.
When Donald returned, we made the round of the bedrooms to check to see if everybody was in bed and to give them their goodnight kiss on the forehead. The twins and Chris were getting to the age where they were beginning to think they were too old to be kissed.
Donald and I settled down with a glass of wine and to talk about our week. I started telling him in more detail about my encounter with Agent Beekman. He listened intently and then said. "You know, I think I might call Senator Cox. I know he's in town because I saw and spoke to him today in the restaurant where I was having lunch with one of my managers. He's an old friend. He was a lawyer working for my father before he went into politics. Last I heard he served on the Senate Appropriations Committee and one of his sub-committee assignments oversees the Justice Department."
"What good would that do?" I asked.
"Maybe I can use my friendship with him to have him apply some pressure in the right places to get Beekman to drop his investigation or get him reassigned to another investigation. Beekman's digging could jeopardize the US Attorney's efforts to root out the drug cartel."
"It's a little late tonight to call. There will be plenty of time tomorrow. I think it's time to turn in."
At breakfast the next morning, Mike asked if he could talk to me privately. I led him to the library and closed the door. "What's up?"
"I talked to Alice last night," he said. "She said she was going to go with Leon. I can't let her do that and ruin her life. She's too bright a girl to do something that stupid. Is it okay if I go talk to her this morning instead of going riding with you and the boys?"
"Of course it's okay. Family comes first," I said. "I have something to show you. I don't want to butt into your business, but I care for you and by that token, your family." I went to the desk and open the drawer where I had put Jack's report. "I wanted to find out just what kind of character this Leon Browning is so I had my friend Jack Hogan checkup on him. Jack's a PI. Here's what he found out." I handed the fax to Mike and waited while he read through the eight pages.
"This guy is scum," Mike said, when he finished reading. "Can I take these and show them to Alice?"
"Mike, if you think it's best, then go ahead. My suggestion would be to hold off on showing her the actual report. Instead tell her about what you've learned from it. If she doesn't believe you, then I would show her the report. I'd do that as a last resort. She could very easily take it the wrong way and rebel. That could cause just the opposite of what you expect it would. Use your best judgment. The offer is still open for her to come spend some time here this weekend. It could show her what she might miss if she went off with this Leon character to some god-awful backwoods camp in the middle of nowhere."
"I'll see if I can't convince her to come. She only has to work until noon today. Maybe I can convince her to come spend some time with me before she goes off with Leon. I'll lay a guilt trip on her," Mike said, with an evil grin.
Mike left to first go see his parents and younger siblings before he talked to his sister. After he left I told Joel that Jimmy was going to come home with Mike after church on Sunday and that he would be spending the night since he didn't have to work on Monday.
"Maybe he would like to go riding sometime while he's here," I said.
"Yeah," Joel said, with a broad smile.
As we were getting ready to go to the ranch, Joel said he was going to stay home and do some more studying for the upcoming exam he was planning to take. Again it took two vehicles to transport everybody to the ranch. Donald and William rode with the boys and me in the van while Lenore rode with Hildy and Manfred in their car. I started counting the number of people who would be riding versus the number of horses and they didn't match up. It looked as if there would be two shifts of riders if everybody got to ride.
Hildy had coordinated with Rosie and Jessica to plan a picnic for lunch. The van had barely rolled to a stop when the boys were out of the door and racing to the stables. Bert had three horses saddled and was working on a fourth when Donald and I made our way to the stable. We helped him as much as we could to get the rest of the horses saddled, but none left the stable until he had checked to make sure they were secure. We were almost finished with all the horses when Charlie arrived leading the three quarter horse mares.
The pasture was filled with horses and kids for the rest of the morning. Usually there were at least two, and many times three or four, adults riding with the kids. The three young girls were the first to tire of riding and went to play with Carrie Louise. They had a hard time tearing her away from Hildy. For her part Carrie Louise loved the attention.
I was surprised when Tracy arrived as the lunch was being laid out on the picnic tables. The stampede of horses from the back of the pasture arrived at nearly the same time as Tracy. I wondered how they knew that lunch was about to be served.
"Tracy, it's good to see you. You're not here very often when we come to ride. How is business?" I asked.
"Fantastic! If business keeps up like this I may have to hire another vet tech to help out. The reason I came home when Rosie said you were going to be here was I wanted to present you with the first payment on my loan," he said, and handed me a check. I was surprised at the amount.
"You're not cutting yourself short, are you?" I asked.
"No, not at all. As I said, business is going great. I keep sufficient cash on hand to handle any emergency. Well, I'm going to grab some lunch and then head back to the office."
The boys went back to riding after they had their lunch. Donald and I sat out this shift of riders. "While we have a little time, I think I'll call the good Senator," Donald said.
"Do you think it will do any good?" I asked.
"We'll never know unless we try," he said, as he dialed his cell phone. "Rachael, it's Donald Baker. How's my favorite girlfriend?" There was a pause and then Donald laughed. "Sweetheart, you know I'd rather talk to you than I would that bum of a husband of yours, but I really need to talk to Billy Ray."
There was a pause before Donald spoke again. "Is that any way to greet one of your biggest donors? Be careful or I might support your opponent in the next election."
"Look, Billy Ray, I did call you for something other than to be abused by you. There is a hot-shot agent in the local FBI office who might possibly jeopardize an investigation by the US Attorney for the Southern District. Besides, he's an obnoxious, overbearing SOB."
"His name is Beekman. I don't know his first name."
"Maybe you could suggest to your good friend, the Director, that Adak, Alaska needs an agent of Beekman's talents."
"Oh, another thing, this Beekman knows someone or is related to someone that is high on the food chain in the FBI and has been able to protect him from demotion or termination. Maybe your spies can figure out who that is."
"Thanks, Billy Ray, the next time you're in town we'll have to have lunch. Tell Rachael if she ever decides to dump you that I'm available."
"That hurt, Billy Ray. I'm hanging up now before I get anymore abuse."
"Do you think he'll be able to do anything?" I asked.
"If I know Billy Ray, by this time next week Agent Beekman will be gone - one way or another."
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.