Copyright 2014 - 2016 Ted Louis

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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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Joel VII

Chapter 17

"Good morning, dad," Joel said, as I walked into the breakfast area.

"You're up early this morning," I said. "What's the occasion?"

"I'm going to meet Jimmy at 8:30. I asked you yesterday. Remember?"

"Sorry, it slipped my mind and I haven't had my coffee yet," I said. "Good morning, Gilda. Is the coffee ready?"

"Yes, and I have some sweet rolls in the oven," she replied. "They'll be ready in five minutes so Joel can have one before he takes off."

"Are you sure it will be only one?" I poured a cup of coffee, sat down at the table and picked up the morning paper. "Thanks for fetching this," I said, "but you really don't have to, you know. One of the boys or I could have gone out to get it."

"I know, but it's good exercise, or would be if I didn't take the golf cart," she said with a smile.

It wasn't long before the rolls came out of the oven. They smelled delicious. Gilda spread some white icing on the tops of the rolls. My resolve broke down and I carefully scooped one out of the pan onto a plate and placed it next to my coffee cup waiting for it to cool.

"Honey, these are too hot to handle right now," she told Joel. "By the time you have your stuff ready to go, I'll have a couple cooled and ready for you to eat."

"Thank, Gilda," Joel said, as he loaded his cereal bowl and juice glass into the dishwasher. He headed upstairs taking the steps two at a time.

"Mmm, something smells wonderful," Donald said, pouring himself a cup of coffee as he joined us.

"Sit yourself down and I'll dish you up one. It may still be a bit hot to eat," Gilda said.

I couldn't wait any longer and using a fork, I cut off a chunk of roll and popped it into my mouth. It was hot, but not hot enough to burn my mouth. "Gilda, these are delicious. What time did you get up to make these?"

"I made them last night and put them in the refrigerator to rise overnight," she said. "I got up at my usual time of six. I'm not the baker my sister is, but she's taught me a few things over the years."

"What time are you going into the office?" I asked Donald.

"As soon as I have another of these rolls and get dressed for the day," he said. "Are you and the boys going to be around this morning?"

"With the exception of Joel, we don't have any plans to go anywhere. Why do you ask?"

"Phil, my intern assistant, should be bringing the things I ordered around ten or so. I didn't know whether you wanted to be here when he arrived," Donald said.

"What's he bringing?" Joel asked, coming back into the breakfast area.

"It's a surprise," I said, stopping any explanation from Donald.

"Okay," Joel said, taking a bite of a roll. That effectively cut off any further questions. It was soon gone and he grabbed another one and wolfed it down. "Bye, dad."

"What time will you be home?" I asked.

"Jimmy has to be at work at noon, so I'll probably be home in time for lunch."

I nodded and waved goodbye to him before turning back to Donald. "Well, I have to call Ernest Boyd, my insurance agent, to get a tape of the stolen silver for the sheriff," I said. "I don't know whether he'll be bringing it to me this morning or not. I won't know until I call him. I assume he should be in his office by nine or nine-thirty."

"I think I've had more than my share of calories for the morning," Donald said, getting up from the table and pouring another cup of coffee before heading for the bedroom to get dressed for the office.

A couple of minutes later the twins and Chris came stomping down the back stairs. They were soon followed by TJ, Peter and William.

"Good morning, guys," I greeted them all. I saw them eyeing the sweet rolls and looking in my direction. "As soon as you eat the healthy breakfast that Gilda has prepared, you may have a roll." That elicited a frown, but they took the plates of food that Gilda was dishing up and settled down to the table.

It wasn't long before a sleepy Lenore joined the six boys at the table. Gilda was quick to set a plate of food in front of her before kissing the top of her head. "Did you sleep well, sweetie?"

"Uh huh," Lenore replied.

"Good morning, sweetheart," Donald said to her, coming into the room dressed for work. "You too, guys."

"Are you gonna go to work, daddy?" Lenore asked.

"Yeah, daddy's got some work to do," he said. "I'll try to be home early. Okay?"

"Okay," Lenore said, and went back to eating after giving her dad a hug.

The boys had eaten their breakfast in record time and were anxiously looking at me to see if they could finally have a sweet roll. I nodded my head and they quickly took their breakfast dishes and loaded them into the dishwasher before taking the rolls that Gilda had dished up for them. Of course they had to have a second one.

After breakfast, the boys went outside to play with their dogs. It was turning out to be a warm day and they soon came back in to get their tennis equipment.

At nine o'clock, I made a call to Ernest Boyd. Thankfully he was in and I described what had happened and what I needed from him. He informed me that the tape had been transferred to DVD and he would make a copy and deliver it to me before noon. I thanked him and began making a list of the persons that Jesse had asked for. The number of people who knew we were going to be gone the week of Spring Break was longer than I had initially thought. None of them would have had any knowledge of the security system. I only knew of one person from the security monitoring service. His name was Kevin, but I didn't remember his last name. There had been others from the service who had either installed the system or had serviced it over the years, but I could not recall their names or even if I had ever been introduced to them.

After compiling the list of people, I began to wonder if we needed to upgrade the alarm system to include monitoring the security cameras on the front gate. I also wondered if we should have other cameras that could cover the entire exterior of the house. Other than Hildy and Manfred's house which was about a hundred yards from ours, the nearest neighbor on the other side was nearly a half a mile away. Although the thirty-five acres that our house sat on was fully fenced, it had obviously been breached. That reminded me to call the company that had, over the years, maintained the fence to have them come out and repair any breaches that may have gone unnoticed by us.

I made a call to the fence company and was told they would send a crew out after lunch to make repairs and to make a thorough inspection of the entire fence.

The phone rang just as I was getting ready to go check on the boys. I answered it. It was Joel. He asked if he could invite someone to come to the house later this afternoon. I said it was fine with me and I would ask Gilda to set an extra plate for supper.

I went to find Gilda and let her know about our guest for supper and suggested that she ask Hildy if her family could also join us. She said she would, informing me that she was going to take Lenore over to visit Jeannie and Ginny shortly.

I found Chris and Lenny engaged in a game of tennis. Larry was calling the lines and kibitzing from the sideline. From the amount of laughter coming from the tennis court, I wasn't sure how serious a game they were having. TJ, Peter and William were roughhousing with all of the dogs. Seeing that they all were having fun, I went back inside and decided to do some research on the internet for camera security systems.

The internet search was disappointing. The number of sites that allegedly corresponded to my query provided very little real information. After I sifted through the first three pages displayed, I decided I needed to talk to someone I trusted to give me some advice, so I called Jack Hogan. I knew that he was not an expert, but in his job as a former police officer and now a private investigator, he more than likely knew who I could call.

"Jack, it's Crane," I said, when he answered his cell phone. "It's been a while since we've talked."

"Crane, I was just mentioning that to Carolyn yesterday," he said. "How are things in the Johnson household?"

"Things were going great until we got back from Las Vegas. Some SOB broke into the house while we were gone and stole a bunch of silver."

"Did they catch the guy?"

"Not yet. I've got my insurance agent on the way with a DVD of the stolen items that I promised Jesse I would get to him today."

"That's the sheriff's deputy, isn't it?"

"Yeah, and that leads me into the reason I called you. We only have the cameras that monitor the front gate and the thief came to the back of the house and avoided the cameras. Do you know of any reliable outfit that can install surveillance cameras around the house so that it is fully covered?"

"There are only a couple that I would feel comfortable in recommending. The first one would be San Antonio Home Video Security. I know the owner, Bill Walsh. He's a former cop. I worked with him when I was one. The other one would be Waller Video Systems. I've seen some of their systems. From my untrained eye they look well designed. I'd start with Bill and see what he offers as a solution," Jack said.

"Thanks Jack, I'll give him a call," I said. We then spent several minutes bringing each other up to date on our families and what was going on in our lives. We parted with promises that we would try to get together soon.

I was just hanging up the phone when the gate buzzer sounded. I went to the kitchen area and checked the gate camera. Through the intercom, I asked who they were. I should have known that it was Donald's intern, but it has slipped my mind. I activated the gate opener and watched the van pull in. I met Phil at the front door. There were two other men with him.

"Crane Johnson," I said, extending my hand.

"Phil Lansing," he replied. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Mr. Baker said everything was to go upstairs. Is that still the case?"

"Yes," I said. "If some of the things are too heavy to carry up the stairs, we have an elevator that you can take. I'm afraid that it is not big enough to hold more than two people, or possibly one person and some of the electronics."

?The TV?s weigh around 60 pounds each, so it will probably be best if we put the two of them in the elevator with one of us. That shouldn't overload it. The Xboxes are not that heavy. We can carry them up the stairs."

"Fine, I'll show you the way," I said, and led them into the house, first pointing out the elevator and then the four of us walked up the stairs.

"What do you want done with this TV?" the older man asked.

"It goes in the new addition sitting area. You can take it down the back stairway, if it's not too heavy," I said.

It took nearly an hour to get everything situated and up and running, and none too soon.

"Dad, can we have something to drink," hollered TJ, as he came in the side door.

I was still upstairs with Phil and the installers, so I leaned over the balcony and said, "Yes, you may. There are some juice boxes in the refrigerator. Make sure you take some for all your brothers."

"What are you doing upstairs?" he asked, looking up at me.

"It's a surprise," I said.

"What kind of surprise? Can I see?"

"Okay, come on up."

"WOW!" he exclaimed. "This is awesome. Can I try 'em out?"

"What about the drinks for your brothers?"

"Oh," he said, and ran back down the stairs to one of the back doors and yelled for his brothers to come quick, forgetting about the drinks. "Hurry! Hurry!"

It didn't take long for the other five to heed his call. As they came in, he was at the foot of the stairs waving for them to follow him. In no time, the six of them were staring at the two new, 46 inch, flat-screen TV's and the two Xboxes. All six of them started talking at once.

"Listen up, guys," I said, once I got their attention. "There will be some rules that will govern how much time each of you can spend playing games. We will have a family meeting tomorrow and lay out the rules. For the rest of today, you can play as much as you want - with the understanding that you will share because you can't all be playing at the same time. Understand?" I received assurances in one form or another from all of them. "You three oldest are responsible to see that the youngest know how to use the controls and play the games. Jeannie will also be in the player rotation."

"Everything is set up, Mr. Johnson," Phil said. "If you find something is not working as expected, be sure to give me a call."

"Thanks, Phil," I said, following him and the two installers down the stairs. "I'm positive that the boys will be giving the systems a workout and they'll let me know if something isn't right."

There was a lot of noise coming from upstairs, but it was mostly cheers and laughing. It seemed as though my admonition to share with the younger boys was being followed. At least I didn't hear anyone complaining that they weren't getting to play.

Gilda returned shortly and began preparing lunch. Lenore had decided to stay and play with the other girls. "Hildy and them will be joining us for supper," she said, putting on her apron.

"I think I'll call Hildy and see if they won't come over after lunch. I may have a surprise for them," I said, barely hiding a smile. I did and Hildy said they would come over around one o'clock.

Ernest Boyd arrived a little before eleven o'clock. I showed him the damaged door and where the silver had been stolen. He gave me a copy of the DVD containing pictures of the silver and wrote up a claim form for the door and the silver, making note that if the silver or any part of it were recovered, that only the unrecovered portion would be covered by the insurance. He also gave me the phone numbers of a couple companies that could make the repairs of the door. I thanked him for his prompt attention to my request and he went off to see another client who had also been broken into this week. With that bit of news, I was more determined to update the security system.

As soon as he left I called the sheriff's office and talked to Jesse. I told him I had the information he wanted and either he could come by and pick it up or I could drop it by his office. He said he would come and pick it up after lunch.

I made a call to one of the companies that Ernest had recommended to repair the patio door. I gave them the dimensions that Manfred had taken when he put the plywood over the broken glass. I was assured that they would be here first thing in the morning to repair it.

It was the first time that I can remember that the boys were reluctant to stop what they were doing and come to lunch. Food had always been a magnet for them. After I had called them twice, they all came running down the stairs and took their places at the table.

Joel arrived just as the other boys were finishing their lunches. I held my index finger to my lips indicating that he was not to spill the secret.

As soon as lunch was eaten and the table cleared, the boys were back upstairs crashing cars or whatever the game they were playing had them doing. Joel went up to observe the activities.

"I made a fresh pot of coffee if you'd like a cup," Gilda said.

"Have you ever known me to turn down a cup of coffee?" I asked.

"Now that you mention it, no," she laughed. She brought two cups and sat down at the table with me.

"Gilda, are you satisfied living here? Since there is no baby using the spare bedroom over there, you could probably go back to living there."

"No, I like where I am. I have my own space and it's quiet. I feel like I'm being useful here, lending a hand with Lenore. She reminds me a lot of my daughter, Celia, when she was young," she said. "I love my sister, but ..., I don't know. We each have our own way of doing things and that can cause some friction at times. Unless you want me to move back, I'm very comfortable here."

"We want you to stay. It's just that I thought you might feel obligated in some way." We talked for a few more minutes before the gate buzzer sounded. I activated the gate opener when I saw that it was Jesse, or at least a sheriff's car. I picked up the DVD and the list of people on my way to the front door. Jesse was just getting out of the car as I opened the front door.

"Hello, Jesse," I said, greeting him. "Here's what you asked for. The pictures of the silver begin at about the 18 minute mark on the DVD. There's close to five minutes devoted to the silver. I'm afraid the list of people familiar with the security system is short. Only one name, in fact, and that is only a first name. I don't know Kevin's last name."

"That's probably Kevin Dickson. He's been with your security monitoring service for ten, maybe twelve years. I doubt that he would be the thief. I've known Kevin for somewhere around twenty years and he sure doesn't fit the description," Jesse said.

"I didn't find out until late last night that the guy also cleaned out our wine cooler."

"Now, that is a tragic loss," Jesse chuckled. "It's very doubtful that we will ever be able to recover your wine."

"Yeah, I know, but it just added insult to injury. I went to pour us each a glass of wine last night and there wasn't any to be had. I think that ticked me off more than the loss of the silver. At least the silver is covered by insurance."

"Thanks for the DVD," Jesse said. "I'll get hard copies made and distribute them to the local pawn shops. Maybe we will get lucky if the guy decides to hock any of it."

I had just turned around to go back into the house, when I saw the fence company's long-bed truck entering the gate as Jesse left. I wracked my memory to try and remember the man's name who had gotten out of the driver's door of the truck. Just as he stuck out his hand, it came to me.

"Billy, it's been a while," I said. Billy Logan was what's called a "good ol' boy"; possibly he could be called a redneck. He even dressed the part in coveralls with only one strap fastened. I had an idea that he dipped tobacco, but I never saw him spit. I suspected that much of what he did was an act.

"Mistah Johnson, I hear y'all got yourself a problem with your fence."

"Yes, I believe it is over on the east side of the property, at least that is the direction that the burglar headed after he robbed us."

"Me'n the boys'l fix 'er right up," Billy said. "Okay, boys, les get everthing unloaded."

I left Billy and the "boys" to do their thing and went back into the house.

I sat down on the couch. It had been a busy morning and the day was not over. I was going over things in my mind wondering if there was anything that I had overlooked. At the moment, I couldn't come up with anything. I was about to get up and see if there was still any coffee in the pot when Hildy, Manfred and the three girls arrived.

"Hi, guys," I said. "Make yourself comfortable. I was about to see if there was any coffee left in the pot. Jeannie, you might take a look upstairs where all the noise is coming from. I think you might find it interesting."

"What is it?" she asked.

"Go see for yourself," I urged her.

As she headed up the stairs, Manfred asked, "What's causing all the racket?"

"Well, you know how the boys and Jennie liked playing that Xbox on the plane," I said. "Donald decided that we needed two of them and they were hooked up to two new flat-screen TV's earlier today."

"I think I will go up and see what the attraction is for those things," Manfred said.

"I'll stay here," Hildy said. "I think I'm a little old for computer games."

"Did I hear someone asking about coffee?" Gilda asked, coming into the living room. "I figured we'd be needing some, so I made a fresh pot."

"You're a lifesaver," I said. "Anyone else like a cup?" Hildy said she did and Gilda was already carrying her cup.

I was pouring the two cups, when Donald came in the back door from the garage. "Ah, just what I needed," he said, retrieving a cup from the cupboard and pouring a cup.

"We have a surprise guest coming shortly," I said. I whispered into his ear who the guest was that was coming.

"I can't wait to see the reaction," he said. "Where's Lenore?"

"She and Ginny went upstairs to her bedroom to play with her toys. Jeannie is with the boys and the Xboxes. I've given them all unrestricted access to the game for today and we'll lay out the rules for further play tomorrow. Oh, Manfred went up to see what the attraction was for the games."

The four of us sat down in the living room and enjoyed our coffee. "I think we are jinxed," Hildy said. "Someone broke into our place and now someone broke into yours."

"I guess we are highly likely targets for thieves," I said. "Think about it. This is a very affluent neighborhood. Not a lot of close neighbors. The houses are set back away from the street and there are trees that tend to block the view of the houses from the road."

"I guess you're right," Manfred agreed, as he joined us. "What can we do?"

"I think we need to beef up our security systems," I said. "On Monday, I plan on calling a company that specializes in video systems that cover the entire exterior of the house. There is even a system that I saw on the internet that uses wireless technology to alert the monitoring service instead of relying on land lines."

"What about a gun?" Manfred asked.

"That's a good question and I know of a lot of people who keep a gun in the house. For this household, I'm not convinced that it would be a good idea. With seven boys in the house, the possibility of an accident with a gun occurring is real. I don't know about you, but I haven't fired a gun in a lot of years, since I was in prep school. We had a gun club that I belonged to, but that's the last time I've fired a gun," I said.

"I guess my experience with guns is more recent," Manfred said. "In the Air Force, we had to qualify every year or so, depending on where we were stationed. I suppose it has been five or six years since I qualified. I was a pretty good shot back then."

"You both have had more experience than I've had," Donald said. "My only experience with a gun was a couple of my friends at Harvard took me skeet shooting at one of their estates one Spring Break. I was terrible at it. In a couple dozen shots, I think I only hit one clay pigeon. My friends just assumed because I came from Texas, that I would have grown up shooting guns."

"It probably wouldn't be a bad idea if the kids were taught about gun safety," I said. "I know there is a place down on 281 that conducts classes and has a firing range. I've seen their sign every time I've gone into San Antonio. Maybe we ought to check it out. I'm not sure it would be appropriate for the younger ones, but at least it might be for the older boys."

"I agree that the gun safety classes would be a good idea," Donald said. "I think all of them would benefit from those classes. Whether they got to shoot a weapon is another matter. We need to think that through more carefully."

"Oh, goodness," Gilda said, as she jumped up and took off for the kitchen. "I have some brownies in the oven. They should be ready to take out about now."

"I'll go with you," Hildy said.

I looked at my watch and noted that our guest should be arriving in about fifteen minutes.

Ten minutes later, Gilda announced that the brownies were sufficiently cool and that we should round up the kids for their afternoon snack. Donald went to get Lenore and Ginny and I went to get the boys and Jeannie.

Between Gilda and Hildy, they had the brownies on plates and they were busy depositing a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. The adults began carrying the plates to the table where all ten of the children were seated. They had almost finished eating the snacks when the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it," I said, and went to the front door. I knew it had to be our surprise guest. It was. I put my finger to my lips indicating for him to be quiet and indicated for him to follow behind me. I led him to where everybody was seated. I clapped my hands and said, "Attention everyone, I have someone here who wants to say hi to you." I stepped aside and our guest entered the room.

"MIKE!" Lenore, Jeannie and Ginny all screamed at once and bolted out of their chairs.

To be continued.

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