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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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When we got home from San Marcos, Gilda had a message for Donald to call his secretary. He headed to my office to make the call. He was on the phone for nearly thirty minutes.
I sent the three musketeers up to their room to shower and change clothes. On the way home, we had to keep the windows partially rolled down to make the interior of the van livable. Sweat from pubescent boys has a powerful odor.
When Donald came out of the office, he asked, "Crane, do you have any conflicts that would keep you from a meeting over lunch tomorrow?"
"Not that I can think of. Why? What's up?"
"You know the Board meeting we were supposed to have last month that had to be postponed?" He continued, "It looks as if all the Board members are available tomorrow. There are a few things that the Board needs to be aware of and approve. The meeting shouldn't take but a couple of hours. We should be through in plenty of time for you to pick up the boys from school."
"I've been wondering what your surprise was you hinted at when the meeting was originally scheduled," I said.
"Well, you won't have to wait much longer," he laughed.
For the rest of the day, the boys lounged around the house. They spent some time playing their musical instruments and playing video games. Of course, they made time for their dogs and afternoon snack.
Sunday when I woke up, the rain was coming down hard. It looked as if our usual trip to the ranch to ride the horses was out of the question today.
Monday morning, I drove the kids to school and then returned home to pick up my Town Car. I didn't want to try to find a parking spot for the van in downtown San Antonio. I changed into business attire before I dropped in on Manfred to see if he would stand by to pick up the kids from school if I wasn't able to get home in time. He assured me that he would be glad to do it.
"There's a sentencing hearing this morning at ten-thirty for Brittanie's mother. The judge will decide at that time what Brittanie's fate will be," Manfred said.
"Does that mean she may be moved to another placement soon?" I asked.
"The caseworker hasn't said if she'll be moved right away. She did say there is a couple who want to adopt a baby," Manfred said with a grim look on his face. "We always knew that this day would come, but that's not going to make it easier when we have to give her up."
"What about that twelve year-old girl that was mentioned by the caseworker?" I asked.
"As much as we would like to help, Hildy and I don't think it would work out for us and the girls," he said. "We wouldn't rule out fostering a younger child, but a soon to be teenager is ... I don't know ... frightening."
"I've heard that's a difficult stage for a lot of girls to go through," I said. "I've been lucky so far with the boys. I keep my fingers crossed that it lasts."
"We have to be at the hearing, so I had better see if Hildy has Brittanie ready. Neither one of us is eager to go, but we have to be there. It may be the last time her mother sees her and we don't want to deprive her of that chance. We'll be back in plenty of time if I need to pick the kids up from school."
I left and got into the Town Car and headed for San Antonio. I would be early for the meeting, but Donald had asked that I get there a half an hour or so ahead of the scheduled time. I figured if I didn't hit too much traffic or road construction, I would get there in time to stop by my favorite shoe store. I observed that my dress shoes were getting rather well worn. Mr. Ammirati's shop was three blocks from Donald's office.
"Signor Johnson, benvenuto al mio negozio," Mr. Ammirati said in greeting.
"Grazie, è bello rivederti," I said in the few words of Italian that I knew. He always greeted his customers in Italian, despite being fluent in English. I had discovered his shop shortly after I had moved to the area after I finished working on my Doctorate and began working for Alamo Consulting Consortium. Even though it had been several years since I had been to his shop, he still was able to call me by name. That is a rare talent and one that I wish I possessed.
"What may I do for you today?" he asked.
"I would like two pairs of shoes. One black pair and the other brown," I said.
"Let me get your file." He went into the back room of his shop and returned shortly holding a file and a shoe last. "Please sit. I need to re-measure your foot to see if there have been any changes from the last time. It has been a while," he said, giving me a disapproving shake of his head.
I sat down and removed my shoe. He went about measuring every possible angle, circumference, length and comparing them to his file. After, maybe ten minutes, he was satisfied.
"What's the verdict?" I asked.
"Your foot has grown slightly. I'll have to make the shoe a bit longer, but I won't need to make a new last at this time," he said, making a notation in the file. "Are you wanting the same style in both pair?"
"Yes," I said. "When will they be ready?"
"Check back in two weeks, they should be ready by then."
"I'm going to bring my son in to see you. He'll be going off to college this fall and I want him to be prepared for the new experience," I said.
That taken care of, I headed for Donald's office. His receptionist greeted me warmly and notified his secretary that I was here. Alisa, his secretary, arrived a minute or so later. She was a stunning woman standing nearly six feet tall and in her three inch heels, I had to look up to her.
"This way, Mr. Johnson," she said and led me to the conference room next to Donald's office. "I'm sorry but, Mr. Baker has been detained and won't be able to meet with you before the meeting." She offered to bring me coffee or a drink of my choice, but I declined the offer.
I was the first to arrive, but it was only a few minutes before three more board members arrived. I had met them once before, but could not put a name to each of them. Thankfully they all reintroduce themselves to me. Donald arrived and we settled down at the conference table to wait for the final board member, who arrived shortly. The meeting got underway with all the necessary requirements of reading the minutes of the previous meeting and all the other formalities.
Finally under New Business, Donald made the announcement that he had formed a new business under the Rekab Properties Corporation. Its purpose was to purchase a resort located near Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, Mexico. The resort consisted of a 500 room four star hotel, a number of private bungalows, a golf course, tennis facilities, swimming pools and private beach on the southeast coast of the Baja Peninsula. Donald was asking for the board's approval, even though technically he didn't need it.
After a few minutes of discussion, the purchase was approved unanimously.
The meeting was temporarily suspended while lunch was served. It was catered by Four Sisters Catering. One of the most memorable parts of the lunch was the White Chocolate Bread Pudding. After a generous helping, I knew that I would be running with the boys to work off the additional calories later this afternoon.
The rest of the meeting was taken up with the minutia that every board meeting must endure. The meeting adjourned in plenty of time for me to get home and go pick up the kids from school.
I got to the school just as the first of the boys were coming out of the school house. Peter and William rushed to where I was standing and gave me the usual hugs and began telling me of their day. As soon as one would pause for a breath, the other one started relaying his day.
Soon the rest of the kids arrived, except for Joel. He was a few minutes later than usual exiting the building. While we were waiting, the twins and Chris were dying to tell me something.
"Dad," Chris began, "the 5K run raised a lot of money for cancer research."
"That's great, son. How much did it raise?"
"$13,752.50," Larry announced.
"Not all of that was from our school. The other runners raised a lot also," Lenny added.
"Yeah, but our school raised over $2,300," Chris said.
"I'm really proud of you guys," I said. "Charity is very important to me. Our family is very fortunate and giving to others who are truly needy should be part of who we are."
Joel arrived at that moment and we loaded the van and were on our way home.
"Sorry I was late, dad," Joel said. "I had a meeting with my math teacher. He wanted to know if I were interested in being part of a team to compete in a Mathematics Competition to be held at the end of April in Houston. It's three days of competing against other high schools throughout Texas. What do you think?"
"Sounds interesting," I said. "Let's talk more about it after we get home."
After changing out of their school uniforms and having their after school snack, the boys went out to play with their dogs. Joel held back and I could tell he had something on his mind.
"Dad, what do you think about that math competition?" he asked.
"What does it entail? Is there a time commitment leading up to the competition?"
"Yeah, that's what bothers me," he said. "Three nights a week leading up to the competition would be taken up by the preparation. If I didn't have the last CBE coming up after Spring Break, I wouldn't hesitate to say yes. If I don't do well on that, then my graduation at the end of the school year is in jeopardy."
"When do the preparations begin?"
"As soon as we return from break," he said.
"So, you would have to miss about two weeks of prep time."
"Yeah, since the CBE has been delayed a week because of scheduling problems."
"What impact would that have on the team?"
"I can't be sure, but it would probably set the preparations back if they had to go back and review all the stuff I missed."
"Son, it looks like you'll have to set your own priorities," I said. "It's your decision. What is the most important thing for you? Whatever you decide, I will support."
"What would you do, dad?"
"If you're asking me to make the decision for you, I won't do that," I said. "I would consider these facts: One, your admission to Rice is contingent on your graduation from high school; Two, if you don't do well on the CBE, your graduation is not assured; Three, participating on a math team at a highly thought of competition would look good on your resumé, provided the team did well; Four, the preparations will take a lot of time. There are other factors that you might want to consider, but those are probably the main ones."
"You're right, dad," Joel said. "It has to be my decision. I have to start making those. In a few months, I won't have you to make them for me. I guess I need to go talk it over with Sam."
"Yes," I laughed, "he's probably wondering where you are. He's a good listener."
"Thanks," he said, giving me a hug before running out to talk to his dog.
Donald had arrived with Lenore in time for her to join the boys in a snack. After all the boys had gone to play with their dogs and Lenore had settled down to play with her dolls, Donald sat down beside me on the couch.
"Now that you know about the hotel I bought in Mexico, I wanted to let you know what I had planned. After school is out, I would like to take all the family there for a week or so vacation. That would include everyone, Gilda and the Strassers. It will not only be a vacation for all of us, but it will give me an opportunity to check out the facilities. I bought the property on the advice of my VP in charge of my real estate. Don't get me wrong, the price was right and if it is as good an investment as he says, it will create significant cash flow. What do you think?"
"Sounds good," I said. "I think I had better get my passport renewed and think about getting the boys their own. It's a good thing to have and Joel will probably need his at some time."
"I've got my secretary working on the passports. All you will need to do it to give her photos and copies of the boys' birth certificates and she will take care of the rest. She will do the same for Gilda, Hildy, Manfred and the girls," he said.
"I'd better get started on having the boys' birth certificates changed to reflect their new names," I said. "I'll contact Benjamin Cross in the morning to see if that was done at the time of adoption. I don't remember anything being mentioned at the time. I know we'll have to get a judge to do that if it wasn't done at that time."
"As part of my adopting William and Lenore, I had the judge take care of that. Are you sure that didn't happen when you adopted the boys?" Donald asked. "Most of the time that is handled at the same time that new Social Security cards are ordered. Of course, it may have been a simpler process for me since I was already related to both of them."
"I'll have to check the paperwork from the adoptions," I said. "Benjamin Cross should be able to tell me. That would make the process a lot simpler."
"So, do you think the boys will enjoy a week or so on the tip of the Baja Peninsula?" Donald asked.
"They're up for almost anything, so I don't know why they wouldn't." I said. "I don't think I'll tell them until it gets closer to time to go."
"Probably a good idea," he said.
Later after checking on the boys to see that they were in bed, I stopped by Joel's room. He was still up and working on his computer. He looked up as I knocked on his open door. "Hi, dad."
"What are you working on?" I asked.
"I'm just putting the finishing touches on a paper that's due on Thursday. It's all written, but I wanted to make sure that all the grammar was correct and there were no spelling errors," he said.
"Well, don't stay up too late," I said. "Oh, I've been meaning to ask you if you still want Jimmy to come with us to Las Vegas."
"He can't, as much as he would like to. He's never been there, but unfortunately he has to work over his Spring Break," Joel said.
"Maybe some other time," I said. "Did Sam give you any advice about the math competition?"
"He's a good listener," Joel laughed, "but the best he could do was to lick my face. I guess I'll have to make the decision on my own."
"Good night, son."
"Good night, dad."
Tuesday evening after I had checked the boys' homework assignments, I received a phone call from Charlie.
"Crane," he started, "I just wanted to let you know how things were going since you weren't able to visit over the weekend because of the rain. Your lawyer gave us the okay to start farming the Truman land. We have made a lot of progress and should be pretty much finished with all the planting by the end of next week. With the new machinery we're able to get a lot more accomplished. Lionel has been a big help. I've never seen anyone as happy as he is when he's sitting on a tractor. That guy was meant to be a farmer."
"That's great," I said. "Any problems?"
"None that I can think of," Charlie said. "I just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate all you have done for us."
"I think it's a good investment for all of us," I said. "Let me know if you need anything."
"Thanks, we will," Charlie said. "Goodbye."
"Did you get in touch with that lawyer, Benjamin Cross?" Donald asked, after I got off the phone with Charlie.
"Yes, at least I talked to his office," I said. "The assistant I talked to looked at the file for the five boys and reported that a request was made for new birth certificates. The file for Peter did not show that any request had been made to the judge. I asked the assistant what I needed to do to get a new birth certificate for Peter. He said that it had been an oversight and that he would have a request sent to the judge. It shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks to get it. I asked him if he had any record of the birth certificates for the first five boys being done. He didn't show anything in the file, but he would bring it to Benjamin Cross' attention."
"You couldn't find them along with the adoption documents?"
"The adoption documents for all six of the boys were in my safe when I looked for them before calling Cross' office. I'm sure that if I had received them, I would have stored them with the other documents. When the other house burned down while we were on vacation, none of my important papers were destroyed. Everything in the safe at that time was unharmed."
"I think there is plenty of time to get things worked out. It will be at least the first part of June before I can arrange to be away from the office for a week again," Donald said. "If you have any problems, let me know. I have a battery of lawyers that can work miracles."
"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind."
Wednesday afternoon, I went to pick the kids up from school. The boys were getting all excited about the trip to Las Vegas. Every day they kept asking how much longer before we left. The answer was always the same: Friday afternoon.
When I dropped Jeannie and Jenny off at their house, I observed two cars parked in front of the house. I assumed that Hildy was having some of the ladies from her church over to plan something at the church. I knew that there were plans to expand the church building and Hildy and Manfred were on the committee, so I just assumed it had something to do with that.
"I will be so glad when Friday gets here," I told Donald when he arrived with Lenore. "By then I may have to install more seatbelts in the van to keep the boys from bouncing out of their seats. I've never seen them so excited. Even Joel is getting antsy, but I think his is about getting to play the two new golf courses. Are you planning on playing golf while we're out there?"
"I've been debating that. I haven't played a round of golf in almost a year. I'm afraid I'm a little rusty. Wouldn't want to embarrass you, or myself," he said. "I may try to play later in the week when all the festivities of inaugurating the new courses have subsided. Maybe the pro can give me a couple of lesson before then."
"Do you have the number for that service we hired before that sent that young man to supervise the boys while we were otherwise occupied?" I asked.
"I called them yesterday. Sorry, I forgot to mention it," Donald said, taking out his PDA. "They have arranged for a young man named Carson Baskins to meet us for breakfast Saturday morning. He's Red Cross certified as a life guard and is on the tennis team at UNLV. That should take care of their sports activities. I wish that Jeannie and Jenny were coming along so that Lenore would have someone to play with."
"As long as they still have Brittanie, they can't leave the state without CPS and the court's approval," I said.
"Crane, I need to go over to Hildy's place," Gilda said, rushing into the room.
"Of course," I said. "What's going on?"
"They took her," she said.
"Took who?" I asked before it dawned on me. "Oh! Brittanie."
"Yes, Hildy just called," Gilda said. "She was crying. She loved that little girl so much. Even though she knew this was going to happen, she wasn't prepared for it."
"Is there anything that we can do?" Donald asked.
"Not at the moment," she said. "But I may not be back in time to get supper on the table."
"Don't worry about that," I said. "I'm sure the boys wouldn't mind having pizza tonight." As Gilda started to leave I said, "I guess the judge terminated her natural parents' parental rights at the hearing the other day."
"Yes," Gilda said. "Once that was done, the writing was on the wall that Brittanie would be put up for adoption."
"Take the golf cart. You'll get there faster and don't hesitate to ask if you need anything. Anything at all!" I said.
"Thanks," she said and headed for the garage.
"Poor Hildy," I said, shaking my head. "Manfred is going to be devastated by this as well."
"Maybe if they got away for a while it would ease things a bit," Donald said. "I asked them to go to Las Vegas with us before, but they couldn't take Brittanie out of state at the time. Now, that's not the case. It won't make them forget, but it might give them something else to think about for a while."
"Can you get that other condo where we're staying?" I asked. "The one below ours?"
"I'm sure that I can," he said. "I know the owner."
He went into the office and made the phone call. He was smiling when he came back. "It's all settled. Now, all we have to do is to convince them to come with us."
"Let me handle that," I said. "Why don't you go see what kinds of pizza the kids want while I go do some convincing?"
Since Gilda had taken the golf cart, I walked the path to Hildy's house. It was not a happy sight when I got there. Both Hildy and Manfred looked as though they had been crying. Jeannie and Jenny were each sitting on one of their parent's laps, looking a little bewildered. Gilda was trying to sooth her sister.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't want to intrude. I have a proposal for you. It's not going to make up for the loss of Brittanie, but it might take your minds off of her being gone, at least for a while."
"What's your proposal?" Manfred asked.
"Come to Las Vegas with us," I said. "We would all love to have you join us. Donald had extended the offer earlier, but at that time you couldn't take Brittanie out of state. Now that is not a consideration. Please say yes. We would really like to have you with us."
"When are you leaving?" Manfred asked.
"Friday afternoon," I said. "There's plenty of room in Donald's corporate jet for all of us. Everything is taken care of. All you have to do is pack your bags and be ready to leave when the kids get home from school."
"What do you think, Hildy?" Manfred asked.
Hildy sighed deeply before answering, "Okay, I think it might help. Do you girls want to go flying again?"
"Yeah!" both of them exclaimed.
"Hildy, Manfred, I want you to know that I'm very sorry that you had to give up Brittanie. She was a delightful addition to your household. She will be missed by all of us," I said.
"Thanks," Hildy said, wiping her eyes. "The people who came to get her were a very nice couple. They couldn't have children of their own and I'm sure that they'll give her a good home."
With that settled, I headed back to our house. When I got there, Donald was on the phone and I heard him ordering the pizzas.
"Okay," he said. "I need a volunteer to go with me to pick up the pizzas. Someone needs to hold them so they don't get tossed around in the hurry to get them here while they're still hot."
"I'll go," Chris said.
"Darn," Lenny complained. "I was going to volunteer."
"No eating pizza in the car on the way home," Donald said.
"That's okay then," Lenny snickered. "Chris can go."
We ate an enormous amount of pizza. Definitely no one left the table hungry. The boys even passed up their usual evening snack, saying they were still too full from supper. That had to be a first.
I made my usual rounds to see that the boys were all tucked into bed. When I stopped at Joel's room, he was on Skype talking to Jimmy. He told Jimmy that he would call him back in a few minutes.
"Dad, I told my math teacher that I couldn't be on the school's team for the Mathematics Competition. I explained my reasons and he understood. He said that he would have liked for me to be a part of it, but assuring my graduation was more important and he wished me well on the CBE."
"That was very nice of him," I said. "Are you going to be ready to take the exam?"
"I've studied all the material and done all the exercises, so I'm fairly confident that I will be ready," Joel said. "I still want to put in more study time and review, but I'll be ready when the date comes."
"Great! Don't stay up to late and say hi to Jimmy for me."
Thursday went by with no incidents. The seatbelts in the van survived six hyperactive boys and two girls. When we got home, I told the twins and Chris to start laying out the clothes and other things they wanted to take on the trip. I reminded them that we would be gone a week and they needed to take enough socks and underwear to last them the entire time. I then went to help TJ, Peter and William get ready. With their suitcases ready except for their tooth brushes and tooth paste, I went back to check on the three musketeers. Surprisingly they had done a decent job of determining what they would need for the week. I praised them and said they could go play with their dogs or whatever they wanted to do.
When I returned from taking the kids to school, I installed the luggage carrier on the van roof. With that and what luggage we could carry inside the van, we should be able to get it all loaded. Manfred was taking their Explorer with their luggage. I went to check the boys' suitcases one last time before I started arranging them in the van.
I still hadn?t heard back from Cross? office concerning the passports, but I wasn?t going to worry about that until we returned from Las Vegas.
School was to be let out early to start the break. It looked like a kid explosion when the time came. Everybody was quickly loaded into the van and we took off for home. When we got there, I instructed them to quickly change out of their school uniforms and assemble back at the van. We would leave for the airport as soon as everyone was there. In less than ten minutes, every one of them was standing beside the van anxious to get started.
"Did you forget anything?" I asked, hoping the answer would be no. It was.
I set the alarm and locked up the house and we were on our way. As we pulled out of our driveway, I could see Manfred waiting in their driveway for me to lead the way to the airport.
Donald had picked Lenore up at the pre-school and was waiting for us at the general aviation terminal. It took a while for the ground crew to get all our luggage, tennis rackets and golf clubs loaded in the hold of the aircraft. It wasn't until I took a closer look at the plane that I noticed it was not Donald's corporate jet.
"It's not," he answered when I asked about it. "This is a 'rental'. The corporate jet would have been loaded to the limit with all the passengers and luggage, so I hired this onr for the week. It will easily handle all our needs. Let's get on board."
To be continued.
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