This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This story is copyright by Ted Louis, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
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All the chapters of Joel may also be found on my website at www.tedlouis.com
"Yes, I have a sister by that name," Mel said. "What has she done this time?"
"You haven't been in contact with her in a while, I surmise," I said.
"No, I haven't," he said. "We had a falling out several years ago over something stupid and both of us are too stubborn to make the first move to get over it."
"Then, I have some bad news for you. Your sister passed away after giving birth to a baby girl."
"Oh, my god," he said. "When did this happen?"
"About two years ago," I told him.
"Where is that bum she was married to?"
"That's another sad story. He was called up for duty and in his training before being deployed, he was killed in a helicopter accident."
"What happened to Karen's son?"
"That's the reason we were trying to contact you," I said. "Both children were placed in foster care. Luke was placed in a home where he was physically and verbally abused. We found him walking down the side of the road and crying. We stopped to see what the matter was. That's when he told us that his foster parent had hit him and thrown him out. My sons insisted that we bring him home with us."
"Is he alright?"
"Yes, he's doing fine, now. My five adopted sons wanted us to keep him, but my foster home certification is no longer valid. However, our good, next-door neighbors, who recently adopted two girls, were still certified foster parents. They agreed to take Luke in and give him a home. It seems to be a good match. Now they want to adopt Luke as well."
"How come I was not informed of my sister's death before this?" Mel asked.
"We were uncertain if you had been. It's obvious now that the officials either didn't know how to contact you or maybe it was an intentional oversight. We have been trying to find that out and how to contact you to see if you would raise any objections to Hildy and Manfred going ahead with trying to adopt Luke," I said. "The judge has decreed that Luke can stay with them until a formal hearing can be held. That's a few weeks off."
"You said something about a baby girl that Karen gave birth to. What happened to her?"
"Her name is Penelope Lorraine. She was placed with a young couple who are in the process of trying to adopt her. That adoption hearing is coming up in December," I said.
"Sorry, you asked if I had any objections to your friends trying to adopt Luke," Mel said. "Since I don't know anything about them, I really can't answer that. What I do know is that being single and being at the Army's mercy as far as my permanency in any one place for very long is concerned, I know that I'm not able to take and raise him. I have some leave planned for next week with some friends I've served with, but I may change my plans and come check things out for myself."
"Sounds like a good idea," I said. "You're welcome to stay with us. We have plenty of room."
"That's very kind of you. I'm assuming that you live somewhere around New Braunfels."
"Yes, at least in the same county. If you'll be flying into San Antonio, we'll be happy to meet you and drive you here. If you would rather rent a car at the airport, I can give you directions to get to the house. I assume you have an email account where I can send the directions."
"Yes, I do," he said, and gave me the address. "I'll let you know when I'll be arriving as soon as I've made the flight arrangements."
"Good, I'll arrange for the lawyer, who's been hired to represent Luke, to meet with you at some point after you get here. In the meantime, I'll try to coordinate with CPS for you to visit with your niece."
"Doesn't he have a CPS lawyer who is supposed to represent him?" Mel asked.
"There is a court appointed lawyer involved, but it has been my experience with CPS that it's better to have a private attorney. We haven't had contact with the court appointed lawyer, as yet, and I don't know who he or she is."
"Who is paying for this?"
"I suggest we wait until you get here to sort all of this out."
"Okay. Thanks for calling me and letting me know about my sister and her family. I have a lot of thinking to do. Goodbye."
"Well, that was interesting," I said. "It was the right Mel Wilson and he's going to come and see what's going on."
"Did he say when?" Donald asked.
"What about Luke? Is he going to take him away from Hilda and Manfred?" Gilda asked.
"To answer your questions, I don't know exactly when he's coming. He'll let us know. And to yours, Gilda, he doesn't have any intentions of removing Luke. He's unmarried and is subject to being transferred at the whim of the army. Not a good, stable environment to raise a child."
"That's a relief," Gilda said. "Manfred is totally in love with that boy. It would kill him if Luke were taken away."
"There's still CPS to deal with in the matter of Luke's long term placement," I said. "We shouldn't get too overconfident. CPS can be an obstinate .... Well, you get the idea."
"What about Luke's baby sister?" Donald asked.
"He knew nothing about the baby. It seems that he and his sister had not spoken is some years. It happens in some families. It's usually over money, but I don't know in this case. I don't think there was any great wealth in the family to fight over."
Tuesday morning, I told Manfred what I had learned from Mel Wilson the previous night. He was relieved at the thoughts of not having to give up Luke to his uncle.
"Bye, Mr. Manfred," Luke hollered, as he raced out the back door with the rest of the boys. The three musketeers had their gym bags with their shorts, tee-shirts and running shoes for their first session training for cross country.
"He's gotten to you," I said, putting my hand on Manfred's shoulder.
"Big time," he said, wiping his eyes on his sleeve.
After dropping the kids off at school, I returned to the house.
"Don't forget that Christina will be coming to visit this evening," Gilda said, as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee.
"Thanks for reminding me. I've got to pick up the three musketeers at school at five, so I won't be here when she arrives," I said. "Please show her around and let her know I'll be home, probably around five-thirty."
I went into my office/library and made a phone call to Antonio Ricci. The receptionist who answered the phone told me that he was out of the office until eleven and she would have him return my call at that time. I made a few other calls and decided to pick up the book that I had been reading, but hadn't had a chance to finish it.
Around eleven, Antonio called and I informed him of my contact with Luke's uncle Mel and that he would be coming to visit in the near future.
"Now, there is the matter of Luke's baby sister," I said. "I would like for you to act as attorney for her as well as Luke. She has been placed with Hugh and Janice Cole. They are in the process of trying to adopt her."
"What's her name and the Cole's address?" Antonio asked.
"Her name is Penelope Lorraine Fredrick," I said, and then gave him the address of the foster home.
"I'll look into it and contact Ms. Garver to see why Penelope has never been brought up in any discussion. The records that have been provided to me do not mention a sibling," Antonio said.
"That information must have been omitted from what you were sent," I said. "The information was in the file when Hildy reviewed it at the CPS office."
"I'm sure the judge will be interested in knowing that his order for CPS to provide me with the complete file was not followed. If I know the judge, he will be very unhappy. He is a very, by the book judge. It is not wise to cross him," he said. "I might enjoy our hearing more than I thought I would. Let me know when the uncle arrives. I'll want to get a deposition from him, if he is not going to be available for the hearing."
"As soon as I hear, I'll let you know," I said. "Another thing that was brought to my attention when I was talking to Mel, I haven't heard anything about the court appointed lawyer. Have you?"
"Yes, I have," Antonio said. "His name is Larry Kramer. I don't like to disparage my colleagues, but there is little good that I can say about him. I talked to him after I had received Luke's file. I was not impressed, to say the least."
"I'm glad you're on the case," I said. "Let me know if you need any more investigative support. The PI we have been working with believes there's a special place in hell for corrupt CPS caseworkers."
I hung up the phone and went to check on lunch. Gilda looked up as I entered the kitchen and began dishing up bowls of ham and bean soup. She carried the bowls to the table and we sat down to enjoy our lunch.
"Gilda, this is wonderful," I said after my first spoonful. "I haven't had this soup in years. It tastes just like the soup my grandfather used to make in the winter when I was home for the holidays."
"I'm glad you like it," she replied. "It was one of my late husband's favorite."
After the delicious lunch, I went back to my desk to work on some financial information that I needed to give to Carlos so he could include in the quarterly filing to the IRS. It was not a job that I liked doing, but Uncle Sam expected his "pound of flesh".
I was almost glad to be interrupted when the phone rang.
"Crane, it's Fenton Bigelow," he said after I had answered the phone. "I thought I would let you know about the properties we spoke about earlier."
"Yes, I had almost forgotten about that," I said. "What did you find out?"
"Both properties are available, but there is competition for one of them. I know of at least one other investor who is interested in the property that fronts the street."
"That could impact the price of it," I said. "What is the acreage of the combined properties? I should have that information somewhere."
"Together, they amount to just over 700 acres," Fenton said. "I haven't done any calculations on how many houses you could put on the combined properties. A lot would depend on the infrastructure and the lot sizes, but I would imagine it would be between 450 and 500."
"Thanks, Fenton, I'll talk to Donald tonight and get you an answer as soon as we come to a conclusion. I don't know if I'm ready for another development like the last one."
I looked at the clock when I said goodbye to Fenton, and noticed that I needed to get ready to make the first of two trips to the school to pick up the kids. Maybe I could work out something for the second trip with another parent to alternate pickup after the boys' practices.
"Where's everybody else," TJ asked as he was getting into the van.
"The twins and Chris have practice for cross country," I said. "I'll pick them up later."
"Oh, yeah, I forgot."
"Listen, guys," I said as we headed for home. "Tonight we are going to have a visitor. Her name is Christina Schwartz and she may be coming to stay for a while to take care of you when I have to go back to work for Donald. I want you to be on your best behavior."
"Dad! We're always good," TJ said.
"I know you are and I really appreciate that. But, sometime you get a little rambunctious, especially when you're playing with your dogs." That brought a giggle from them.
"Yeah, sometimes," Peter said, between giggles.
We arrived home a few minutes after four and I sent the boys to change out of their school uniforms. Manfred had dropped off a change of clothes for Luke when he brought him over this morning, so he followed them upstairs to change out of his uniform. The girls went upstairs with Lenore.
Twenty-five minutes later I was in the Towncar on the way back to the school to pick up the three musketeers. If this keeps up, I may have to buy my own gas station. I got to the school a few minutes before five and noticed four other cars in the parking lot. The drivers of the cars, three women and one man, were standing in a group talking. I went to join the group. A couple of the women I had, at times, spoken to when I had dropped the kids off in the mornings or picked them up after school.
"Mrs. Withers, Mrs. Trueblood, you must be here for the same reason that I am."
"Yes, we are," Mrs. Withers said. "Have you met Janet Little and Hal Nord?"
"No, I haven't had the pleasure," I said, extending my hand to shake theirs. "Crane Johnson."
We chatted while waiting for our boys to arrive. I mentioned that this was my third trip to the school today.
"It's a bummer, isn't it?" Hal said. "Since I telecommute from home and my wife doesn't, I am the designated chauffeur. I drop my son and daughter off in the morning, come pick up my daughter after school and then come back and pick up my son after he's done with practice. Sally, that's my daughter, needed to be taken to her dance class. At least I won't have to go pick her up. My wife does that on her way home from her office."
"I was hoping that a parent with a son in cross country would live near us and would be agreeable to alternate picking up our sons, but I haven't run across anyone," I said, after we had all shared where we lived.
At that moment, ten boisterous boys streamed out of the school and ran to where we were standing. At least my three had remembered to pick up their school uniforms, since they were still dressed in their running clothes.
"It was nice meeting you all," I said, waving and heading back to the car. "Let's go, guys. We have company at the house."
"That was kinda fun," Larry said, as we drove out of the parking lot.
"It's more fun than running around in circles on a track," Chris agreed.
"Do you have practice every day after school?" I asked.
"Starting next week, it's gonna be three times a week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday," Lenny answered. "Coach Williams is tough."
"Yeah," the other two agreed.
"After you meet our guest, I want you three to go take a shower. You are a little ripe," I said.
"We could have taken a shower, but we didn't want to put our school clothes back on," Chris said, "and then change them when we got home."
Christina was in the kitchen talking to Gilda and Lenore when we arrived home. Gilda introduced me and the boys and they took off upstairs to shower and change.
"I'm sorry that I couldn't be here when you arrived. Has Gilda shown you all around?" I asked.
"Yes, she has," Christina said. "You have a beautiful home."
"We like it and it's big enough for the eight kids - strike that - there are only seven here now that my oldest son has gone off to college."
"May we sit down, please?" she said.
"Of course," I said. "Let's go into the living room."
"First, let me say I would love working for you, but unfortunately I can't."
"May I ask why?" I asked.
"You know that my mother had to go to the hospital with one of my brothers and I couldn't come yesterday because I had to stay and take care of the others. It turns out that my brother has a compound fracture of his left leg and will have to be in traction for some time."
"I'm sorry to hear that," I said.
"Anyway, someone needs to be there while he is laid up. Mom has arranged her work schedule so that she can work a one to nine shift, but she's depending on me to be there with Rodney until my step-dad gets home at six. Until I get home from college our next-door neighbor has agreed to be there in case Rodney needs anything."
"I understand," I said. "Family comes first. You will stay for supper, though, won't you?"
"Thank you," she said. "I thought I needed to tell you in person rather than on the phone."
"You're late," I said to Donald as he walked into the living room. "Donald, this is Christina Schwartz. Christina, this is Donald Baker, Lenore and William's dad and my partner."
After the social amenities had been taken care of, Donald went to change clothes.
"Dad," Larry complained, "we didn't get a snack after school."
"Yeah, we're starving," Chris added.
"It's too close to supper now, so you'll just have to starve," I told them. "Supper should be ready very soon."
Thankfully, at that point, Gilda announced that supper would be on the table as soon as everybody had washed their hands.
"We just got out of the shower," Lenny said. "Do we have to wash our hands, too?"
"I think you're good," I said.
At supper, Christina showed herself to be a very intelligent young woman as well as one with a sense of humor. I was sorry that she couldn't be the one to care for the kids. She had a natural way with children and had easily won over all the boys and Lenore.
"Well, it looks as if we need to start looking into that list of candidates we got from the university," I told Donald, after Christina had left. "It's too bad. I thought Christina would have been a good match for what we need."
"I agree," Donald said. "Do you want me to set up an interview with one of the candidates we agreed on, or do you want to do it."
"I'll do it," I said. "I'll have some time after I drop the kids off at school. Hopefully, one of them will be available when I call. Who do you think I should call first?"
"We both agreed on Walt Green and James Collier. Let's start with Walt first," Donald said.
Lenore climbed onto her dad's lap and asked, "Is Christina gonna come and live here? I like her."
"I'm afraid not, sweetie. She has to take care of her brother. He broke his leg and needs someone to look after him."
"I wish Mike could live here again," Lenore whispered into her dad's chest.
"Mike's in college," Donald said. "Maybe he'll come visit us some day. Okay?"
Sometime later, we got all the kids settled into bed. "Shall we have another glass of wine?" I asked.
"Sure, why not? Gilda?"
"Yes, thank you," she said. "I was disappointed that Christina couldn't be the one to help out. After talking to her, I found her to be a very sensible and caring young woman."
"I'll be contacting a couple more candidates for the job in the morning," I said. "So we may have a guest for supper again tomorrow night. It depends on what their schedule is."
We had just finished our wine and were getting ready to go to bed when the phone rang. My first thought was who in the world would call at this time of night.
"Hello," I said, picking up the phone.
"Sorry for calling this late at night," the caller said. The caller id did not provide much information. "Mel Wilson here, I wanted to let you know that I've made arrangements to fly into San Antonio tomorrow afternoon."
"That was quick," I said. "Do you need us to pick you up?"
"No, I have a rental car waiting at the airport. I was wondering if you could email me the directions to your place."
"Of course," I said. "I'll do it as soon as we hang up. What time does your flight arrive?"
"It's supposed to arrive at 3:58PM," Mel said.
"That will probably get you on the road around five, which will put you in the middle of the going home, rush hour traffic," I said. "It will probably take you an hour to get here, providing there are no accidents or other tie-ups on the highway. With luck, you should be here in plenty of time for supper. We're looking forward to your visit."
"Thanks," Mel said. "I'll let you know if there are any delays. How difficult is it getting to your place?"
"It's very simple until you turn off 281 and then it can get a little tricky. I'll include a map of the area, as well as my own turn-by-turn directions. We'll expect to see you tomorrow around six. Goodnight."
As soon as we hung up, I went to my computer and emailed the directions that I had prepared previously.
"I got a call from Fenton today," I told Donald.
"What did he have to say?"
"He told me that the two properties we had considered acquiring are both now available and wanted to know if we were still interested. I told him I would have to discuss it with you and get back to him. He also said that there was another party interested in the property facing the street. What do you think?" I asked.
"Interesting," Donald said. "I think I need to think about it some. I need more information before I would commit to it. Give me a day to think about it."
"I told Fenton we would get back to him once we made a decision."
The next morning I told Gilda of Mel's visit and suggested that we keep it a secret from Luke and let it be a surprise. I also asked her to invite her sister and family to have supper with us. When Manfred arrived with the girls and Luke, I took him aside and made the same requests.
"I'm sure Luke will be happy to see his uncle, Manfred said. "He talks about him quite often."
"Good," I said. "Just make sure he's here before Mel arrives."
Before I left to take the kids to school, I told Donald I would make the call to Walt and choose another evening other than tonight for him to come for an interview. I did as soon as I returned from school bus duty.
I was lucky to catch Walt at home. I explained to him what we were interested in having done and he expressed an interest. In fact he was interested in finding any job. Due to his financial situation, he was only able to afford one class this semester. He said he had four younger brothers that he helped take care of before he started college.
"Would you be interested in coming to the house some evening for us to talk and get to know you better?" I asked.
"Yes, I would," Walt said. "If it would be possible to make it tomorrow, I have a commitment tonight."
"That would work well for us as well," I told him. "Around five, if that is convenient. That will give you time to meet with all the kids. We can have supper and talk about what we expect from the person we hire."
Later I made the first trip to pick up the kids from school. I was already dreading the trips back and forth to the school and it was only the second day.
By five-thirty everybody had arrived and we were waiting for Mel. Luke had gone out to play with the other boys and the dogs while we waited. A few minutes before six, the gate buzzer sounded and we opened the gate to allow Mel's car in. I greeted him at the front door and showed him into the house and to the guest bedroom where he could stash his travel case.
After he had freshened up from his flight, I briefly introduced him to Hildy and Manfred and then Gilda and Donald.
"When can I see my nephew?" Mel asked.
"We've planned a surprise for Luke. We haven't told him you were coming," I said. "Right now, he is outside playing with the other boys and their dogs. If you will wait here, I will go call him to come in."
"Right, I can hardly wait to see him again."
I went outside to get Luke. He was throwing a Frisbee for Sam to catch. I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "You need to come into the house. There is someone who wants to see you."
"Who?" Luke asked, giving me a strange look.
"Wait and see," I said as I ushered him to the patio door and opened it for him. I let him go in the door first.
He took a few steps inside and stopped. His mouth opened for a moment before he yelled, "Uncle Mel!" and ran to him and jumped into his uncle's arms.
To be continued.
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