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
Tuesday morning Mel came out of his bedroom with his packed bags and poured himself a cup of coffee before sitting down at the table. "I've had a great time these past few days," he said. "I'm only sorry I wasn't around when my sister and her husband died. Maybe there was something I could have done so that Luke might have had a better experience in foster care. What's going to happen with that woman who was his foster parent?"
"I haven't heard," I said. "But, rest assured, we will see that she's indicted, at least, for battery of a child. Antonio may be persuaded to file a civil suit on behalf of Luke for damages. If so, we will back him all the way. The caseworker and CPS could also be liable for damages. We'll wait and see. When does your plane leave?"
"1130 hours," Mel answered. "I wish I could stay longer, but I have to get back."
Donald walked in at that point. "You still walking funny this morning?"
"I try not to, but my legs are a bit sore, yet. I think that whirlpool bath on Sunday helped. Thanks."
"Luke's going to miss you," Donald said, and went to get a cup of coffee.
"I'll miss him, too," Mel said. "I plan on coming back as often as I can get away."
The boys arrived for breakfast just as Gilda came down the stairs with Lenore all dressed for school. Lenore went and hugged her dad before sitting down at the table. As soon as the boys finished wolfing down their breakfast, they took off for their rooms to brush their teeth and get their backpacks. Donald took Lenore up to her room to brush her teeth.
Everybody had reassembled downstairs waiting for Manfred to arrive to take them to school. They didn't have long to wait. Manfred, the girls and Luke soon came in the back door. "Is everybody ready?" Manfred asked. It was a rhetorical question and they all took off for the van.
"Luke," Mel said, "would you like to ride to school with me? I have to leave this morning and won't be able to see you again for a while."
"Yeah!" Luke shouted, and leapt into his uncle's arms.
"Manfred, I'll follow you in my rental," Mel said. "Crane, Donald, thank you for everything, especially for tracking me down. Gilda, you are an angel, but I'll never forgive you for stuffing me with your delicious meals. I must have gained at least five pounds." He gave her hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"Oh, go on with you. You're skin and bones. Come back soon and we'll put some meat on you," Gilda said with a blush on her cheeks.
Donald and I extended our hands which he shook vigorously. "You know you are welcome to stay with us whenever you make it back," I said.
"That goes for me, too," Donald said. "Have a safe trip."
Mel and Luke went out the back door followed by Donald and me. Our little caravan headed out with the van in the lead and us in the trailing vehicle.
I spent most of the morning in conference with Vincent and a few of his staff. Around 10:30 we broke for a coffee break and for me to digest what I had learned from the meeting. As I walked out of the conference room where we had been meeting, Donald's secretary stopped me and asked if I would be able to meet with Cary Granville at two o'clock. I informed her I would make myself available and went to the break room to get my coffee.
Shortly before two o'clock, I went to Donald's office to wait for Cary to arrive. At exactly two o'clock by the clock in Donald's office, his secretary announced that Cary was in the outer office. Donald told her to send him in. For the next thirty or so minutes, we got to know Cary better and were impressed with him. He was a couple of years younger than his brother, but seemed to be very mature. I looked at Donald and got just a hint of a nod. I did the same.
"Cary, are you available to come to the house this evening?" I asked. "We would like to invite you for supper and to meet the family."
"Yes, sir," he answered. "What time should I arrive?"
"Why don't you come sometime between five and five-thirty? We usually eat around six. It will give you some time to interact with the six boys and one girl."
"Thank you, sirs," he said. "I look forward to meeting all of them."
After we had given him directions to the house and he left, Donald and I compared our impressions of him. We both agreed that he would fit in, but we would wait until after he had a chance to get to know the family before we made any firm decision.
As it was, we had only been home a few minutes, with just enough time to change clothes, when the gate buzzer announced our visitor had arrived. Donald and I met him at the front door and showed him into the house. None of the boys were in the house to greet him. They were all out back playing with the dogs. Lenore was in the kitchen "helping" Gilda prepare supper.
"This beautiful young lady is my daughter, Lenore," Donald said, leaning over and giving her a kiss. "Lenore, honey, this is Cary Granville."
"Hi," Lenore said, ducking her head.
"And this is the person who keeps us on the straight and narrow," I said. "Cary this is Gilda Berger, Gilda, Cary Granville."
"It's very nice to meet you," Gilda said. "I went to school with a Willard Granville. He was a couple of years ahead of me. Are you, by chance, related to him?"
"He was my dad's older brother," Cary said. "He was a few years older than my dad."
"I'm sorry I didn't let you know that Cary would be eating with us tonight," I said.
"Not a problem," Gilda said. "There's always enough to go around."
"Cary, why don't we go find the boys so we can introduce you to them," I said. "They're out back playing with their dogs."
"Wow, you even have a swimming pool," Cary said, as we exited the house. "And a tennis court, too."
"Yes," I said, "because we're fairly remote out here, there are not a lot of things to do that are close by. It all keeps them from getting bored." I gave a whistle and the boys came running to where we were standing. The dogs came as well.
"Guys, this is Cary Granville," I said. "If you don't scare him off, he may be helping care for you before Donald and I get home from work. Cary, let me start with the twins. That's Larry on the left and Lenny on the right. Don't worry if you can't tell them apart. Most people have that problem. Chris is the one next to Lenny. Next oldest is TJ. He's the one in front of Larry with the dog chewing on his pant leg. Peter is next to TJ. Those are my five boys. The remaining boy is William."
"He's my son," Donald said.
"Probably a lot of times there will be another boy in the mix. His name is Luke and he belongs to our neighbors, the Strassers," I said. "Alright, guys, it's time to get washed up for supper. Put your dogs back in their run."
"Well, Cary, do you think you would be able to manage this herd of boys?" Donald asked.
"They seem to be very well mannered," Cary said. "I think I could handle it."
"After supper, we'll show you where your room would be and then go over the rest of the details of the job. I know we covered it in the meeting at the office, but we want to make sure you're aware of everything we expect."
"Good, I have a few questions to ask as well," Cary said. "Is there a place I can wash up?"
"Of course," I said and showed him where he could.
"Miss Gilda, that was a wonderful meal," Cary said. "But I don't think I should have had that second helping of mashed potatoes and gravy, or that dessert. I'm so used to grabbing something to eat from a fast-food joint. When I work at Wendy's it usually consists of a burger and fries."
"Thank you, Cary. Are you sure you don't want another piece of cobbler?"
"Positive! I'm going to have to run an extra mile to work off the first one," Cary said.
When the boys had finished taking the dishes to the kitchen and had the dishwasher loaded, I asked, "Cary, are you ready for a tour of the house?"
Donald and I, followed by TJ, Peter and William, began showing Cary around. Since it was close to the dining room, we first went to the library/office. "Wow! Where did you get all these books?"
"I bought them from a gentleman and his wife who were downsizing and didn't have a place for them in their new home," I said. "You are welcome to read any of them. I only ask that you put them back in the same place you took them from when you're finished. You like reading?"
"Very much," he replied.
Since he had already seen the living room when we passed through it earlier on our way out to have him meet the boys, we walked through it to the family room and showed him the guest bedroom. "This is one possibility for your room. As you can see it has its own bath. There's an internet connection through our in-house server. If you have your own computer, I can get you set up quickly."
"I have an old Dell, it's slow, but it serves its purpose."
Our next stop was the spare bedroom in the new addition where Gilda's bedroom was. After seeing it, we went back to the main house and up the back stairway. At the top, we showed him the music/exercise room. "You're free to use any of the equipment," Donald volunteered.
"That'd be great," he said. "I wouldn't have to renew my membership to the Y. Do the boys play these instruments?"
"I do," TJ said, and went and turned on his keyboard and played a simple tune.
We headed back out and across the hall to the twins' and Chris' bedroom for a quick look. He took notice of the three computers in the room, but was more impressed with the Xboxes and the two flat-screen TVs when we got to the Media room. "The boys' access to the Xboxes is restricted to the times on the schedules posted next to them. One of our neighbor's daughters likes to play the games, as well. You could use them anytime the kids are at school."
Moving on, we showed him the elevator across the hall from the next to last bedroom on the second floor. "This is TJ's, Peter's and William's bedroom. It's quite large and could be converted back into two rooms, if necessary in the future." As we exited the bedroom, I pointed to Joel's bedroom and said that he was in Houston attending Rice University.
"The last room up here is my daughter's bedroom," Donald said as we moved toward it.
"The only other room you haven't seen is the master bedroom suite downstairs," I said. "Well, are you still interested in being the boys' companion?"
"Yes, but I'd like to have more details on the financial arrangements," Cary said.
"Of course," I said. "Let's go into the office to discuss the details. By the way, do you have a passport?"
"Yes, why do you ask?" he responded.
For the next thirty minutes or so, we laid out what exactly we needed for him to do and the salary and benefits that he would have. I think he was shocked at the generosity of our proposal and quickly accepted the offer of the job.
"And as far as needing a passport, we intend to go to Mexico sometime in the future. It may be over the Christmas holidays or Spring Break. It may even be after school is out for the summer. We haven't decided exactly when," I said.
"Where in Mexico? I was there once when I was just out of high school. We went to Nuevo Laredo, just across the border. We didn't need a passport to cross over."
"Donald's company owns a hotel on the tip of the Baja Peninsula," I said. "And a passport makes things a lot easier clearing customs."
"Wow, that would cost a lot of money to fly everybody down there," Cary said.
"It's cheaper when we go in the company's private jet," Donald said.
"If you're comfortable with everything we have discussed and still want to take the job, the only thing we need to know is when you can begin," I said.
"I'd like to start right away," Cary said. "I threw my shaving kit and a change of clothes in the car before I left the apartment, so if it's alright, I'll put my things in the bedroom you called the guest bedroom."
"That's great," Donald said. "You can get the rest of your things tomorrow while the kids are in school. Tomorrow morning you can ride to school with Manfred, our neighbor, so you will know the way."
"I'll get a remote for the garage door so you can park your car out of the elements. The bay farthest from the back door is vacant, since Joel has his car in Houston," I told him. "Then you can start getting better acquainted with the boys and Lenore."
I retrieved a spare remote for Cary so he could pull his car into the garage. I also gave him the code to open the entrance gate. We went to check on the boys and to see if they had their homework completed. TJ and Peter were, so I sat down with each of them in turn to check what they had done. As usual, they climbed onto my lap while I checked their work. I couldn't find any errors in what they had done. I gave them hugs and told them how proud I was of them.
While I was checking my two youngest boys' work, Donald was doing the same for William and Lenore. By that time Cary had gotten his things situated in his room and came back into the room, the twins and Chris had arrived with their homework.
"Can I help?" he asked.
"Sure, if you want," I said. "Lenny, why don't you have Cary check your work?"
"Okay, but I'm not going to sit on his lap," he said with a giggle.
"Do I still get a hug when you're done?" I asked.
"Sure," Lenny said and handed Cary his homework.
I had finished with Larry's and Chris' homework before Cary had finished with Lenny's. I guess he was being extra thorough, not wanting to get off on the wrong foot. I did get my hug from Lenny when Cary finished.
After the boys went up to the music room and practiced, Cary went with them. When I went to get them to go shower and get ready for bed, Cary was showing TJ how to play chords on the keyboard with his left hand to go with the melody on his right hand. Of course, he had to show me what he had learned. He was still having trouble getting his two hands in sync, but he was making progress now that his hands had gotten bigger.
"You seem to know your way around a keyboard," I said to Cary.
"Yes, my friends and I had a group that played for some parties and things while we were in high school," he said. "We broke up after graduation when we went off to different colleges. We still try to get together once in a while when everybody is home for holidays."
"Okay, guys, it's time to get ready for bed," I told them. Twenty minutes later, Donald and I made the rounds to say good night to them and to make sure they were in bed.
"It's been a busy day," Donald said. "I think a glass of wine would be nice."
"I agree," I replied.
Cary was still in the living room when we arrived back downstairs. "We're going to have a glass of wine," I said. "Would you care to join us? I know you're over 21."
"Thank you, but I don't drink," he said. "I learned my lesson the hard way when I was in high school. I got so drunk at a party one night that I think I threw up everything I had eaten for the last month. I was never so sick in my whole life, and the next day was even worse. I haven't had a drink since that time."
"Good for you," Donald said. "We usually have a glass of wine in the evening, but that's about the extent of our consumption of alcohol."
"What time do the kids have to leave for school?" Cary asked.
I told him, and then when the coffee would be ready. "Gilda will have breakfast ready shortly after the coffee. If there is anything special that you want for breakfast, just let Gilda know."
"Thanks, but I eat almost anything," he said. "I think I'll head off to bed, now. I'll see you all in the morning."
We had our wine and then made our way to bed.
"Good morning, Cary. The coffee is ready if you like," I said. "Did you sleep well?"
"The bed was heaven compared to the one we had in the apartment. It was one of those beds that fold back up into the wall. It was so lumpy. It was the only bed, so Chris and I both had to sleep on it," Cary said, coming back to the table with his coffee.
"A Murphy bed," I said. "I didn't know those things were still around."
"Cary, is there something special you would like for breakfast?" Gilda asked. "I'm fixing pancakes and sausages for the rest of the family."
"Nothing special," he answered. "I love pancakes."
Donald joined us and about fifteen minutes later, Gilda announced that she would have enough pancakes ready to feed the hoard by the time everybody was out of bed. That was our cue to go wake the kids.
TJ was awake when I got to their room and he helped wake the other two. The twins and Chris jumped out of bed at the mention of pancakes and hurried into the toilets to take care of full bladders and to wash their hands.
As I reentered the kitchen from the back stairway, Donald was carrying Lenore and sat her down at the breakfast table. Cary had been co-opted into setting the table. "I don't think I've ever seen that many pancakes in my life," he said, when he finished the task.
"Well, it takes a lot to feed six hungry boys," I said. "Not so much for Lenore."
Gilda came in with a platter piled high with pancakes and asked me to get the other one and Donald to bring in the sausages. She started putting two or three pancakes to each plate as she went around the table. When the platter was empty, she took the one I had brought in and continued the process. Donald sat the two plates of sausages on the table and quickly withdrew his hands, fearing the loss of a finger if it were mistaken for a sausage.
Breakfast over and the dishes stacked in the dishwasher, the boys ran back upstairs to brush their teeth and put on their school uniforms. Donald took Lenore to do the same. To Cary's amazement, there was only one pancake left uneaten and the sausage plates were completely clean.
"I thought I was going to have to make myself a pancake, but since there's one left, now I won't have to," Gilda chuckled.
"Gilda, I almost forgot to ask you how your shopping trip with Hildy went yesterday. Did Hildy buy out the store?" I asked.
"Not quite," Gilda answered, "but she did buy a lot of things. More toys than clothes. At that age, Penelope will outgrow clothes rapidly. She couldn't stop talking about their plans for her. Penelope was as good as gold all the time we were shopping. One of us did have to carry her at times when she got tired of walking, but that was not a problem for either of us. It's been a while since I had a little one that age." She smiled with a faraway look in her eyes and headed for the kitchen.
"I sure hope nothing happens to upset their plans," I muttered under my breath.
Our seven students were ready and waiting when Manfred, the girls and Luke entered the back door.
"How's Penelope?" I asked.
"We've decided to call her Penny and she's just fine. The girls have fallen in love with her and I think it's a two-way street. Luke and I are outnumbered four to two, but we'll hold our own. Of course, Hildy is in heaven," Manfred said.
"I suppose you're not?"
"Yeah, I guess I am as well."
"Manfred, this is Cary Granville. He's going to be helping out with the kids after school until Donald and I get home. Cary, this is Manfred Strasser, our next-door neighbor and good friend. The girls are Jeannie and Ginny and the boy is Luke Fredrick," I said. "You'll probably see a lot more of him."
Manfred and he shook hands while I explained that Cary would be riding to school in the van with them so that he would know how to get there and back when he had to do the driving.
"Okay, people, everybody to the van," Manfred said in his best authoritative voice. "I wish they minded as well all the time." He said it with a smile, letting us know he was joking.
Donald and I each took our own cars, since I had to pick the three musketeers up from school at five o'clock after their cross country practice.
About half way through my morning meeting with Vincent, my cell phone rang. I excused myself and stepped out of the office before answering it.
"Crane, Paul Coulter, would you be able to meet with Randy Wexler and me for lunch?"
"Sure, where do you want to meet and what time?"
"How about we meet at that deli a couple of blocks south of our office about noon?"
"I'll be there," I said. "Thanks for setting that up."
I went back to meeting with Vincent until nearly 11:30. I figured it would take me at least thirty minutes to get to the deli. I hadn't planned on the road construction on my chosen route and it took me nearly forty-five minutes to get there.
"Hi, Paul, sorry I'm late. The blasted road construction and detours got me. You must be Randy Wexler. Don't get up," I said, noticing he was having difficulty doing so. I shook his outstretched hand and took a seat across the table from him. "Paul said you might be interested in helping us with a new function the charity is about to launch."
"Yes, I am," Randy said. "As you probably noticed, I have two prostheses that your charity helped me acquire. Thank you, they have been a blessing, otherwise I would have been confined to a wheelchair."
"You realize that we are not trying to relieve the VA of their duty to serve the veterans." He nodded and I continued, "We don't have that kind of resources. What we want to concentrate on are those cases that have dragged on longer than is reasonable for a vet to expect. Much like your case was, from what I know of it from Paul. Do you have any suggestions or different ideas?"
"I've been thinking it over since I first discussed this with Paul," he said. "It's not as if the VA is incompetent, although it seems to be at times. A lot of their problems are caused by lack of qualified staff to handle the workload. I meet with a group of amputees and one of the people I met there is a prosthetist. He's not an amputee. He just listens to us and will check out an artificial limb if one in the group is having problems with it. I know of a case where he made a new socket for the guy, when the one he had didn't fit right. He didn't charge him anything for doing it, either. I asked him what he thought would make the most difference. He said if he could afford it, he would volunteer part-time at the VA to help evaluate the amputees who come through there. He thought it could speed up the process, since one of the talent pools that the VA in San Antonio lacks is enough qualified prosthetists."
"Would that solve the problem?" I asked.
"No," Randy said, "but it would help reduce the wait time for a newly wounded vet to get an appointment. That's probably one of the biggest factors in the backlog of amputees getting a new leg or arm. There would still be a need for helping some of the vets who have been waiting for up to a year to get fitted with a prosthesis."
"Okay, here's what I want you to do. Get with this doctor and see what kind of financial arrangements he would require to volunteer at the VA a day or two each week, or whatever he thinks would be appropriate. Once you have that information, get with the VA to see if they would have any problem with getting free help evaluating amputees who are on the wait list. This will probably be the biggest hurdle you'll face, overcoming the bureaucratic red tape. If you run into a brick wall with them that you are not able to break through, let me know. Between Donald and me, we might be able to bring some political pressure to bear. At the same time, we don't want to forget the other mission of working with those waiting excessively long times to be fitted with their artificial limbs. I want to see your thoughts on paper as to how all this is going to work. A mission statement, if you will. Take all the time you need, but I would like to see at least a draft within a month. Include in your write-up, what staffing would be necessary. By that time the IRS should have granted the tax-exempt status for the charity. As of now, if you accept the assignment, you are on the payroll. Do you think you can do this?"
"Absolutely," Randy said. "I've already written down some of my thoughts. I'll get with Dr. Santos at the group. We usually meet Thursday evening. He's always there."
I discussed with Randy the salary for the position and asked if he would be satisfied with the amount. He agreed that it was satisfactory. He also had his military pension, so he could probably live quite well on the two paychecks. We had long since finished our lunches, so we got up and I paid the check.
I went back to the office and resumed the meetings with Vincent.
At four o'clock, I left the office to go pick up the three runners from school. Fortunately there was no road construction or traffic accidents to delay my arrival at the school. In fact I was a few minutes early. Shortly after five, a group of boys burst out of the school laughing and talking in loud voices. I was standing beside the car watching and shaking my head at the energy of the group. When my boys saw me they high-fived a couple of the boys and waved to the rest before taking off at a run to where I was standing.
"Hi, dad," they chorused as they surrounded me in a hug. I was a little surprised that it was in front of some of their school friends.
"How was school?" I asked.
"Great," one of them said from the back seat of the car.
"Dad," Larry began. "Chin and Cho asked if we can go to their house on Saturday. Can we?"
"Does their mother know they asked you?"
"I guess," Larry replied.
"Why don't I call Mr. and Mrs. Kim after supper and check? Okay?"
"We'd really like to go," Chris said.
"If their parents say it's okay, then there's no reason you can't go," I said.
To be continued.
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