The vet let Joel stay with the dog for about ten minutes before he suggested that we go home and come back tomorrow. Joel was not at all pleased with the suggestion but relented after I reminded him we would come back and bring his brothers tomorrow and besides he hadn't eaten supper yet. I think the latter was the more persuasive. He was quiet all the way home and didn't say much even after he had eaten his supper.
It had been several months since one of the boys needed the comfort of sleeping in my bed but I was not surprised when Joel climbed in with me at about one o'clock.
"What's the matter son?" I asked as he snuggled up against me.
"He's not gonna die is he? Please, he can't, he needs me to take care of him. I gotta help him, I just gotta," he cried.
"I don't know son. The doctor is going to do everything he can to make him well. We will go see him right after breakfast in the morning. Try to get some sleep," I said and kissed his forehead.
It wasn't long before another little body crawled in to bed with us and snuggled up against Joel.
Morning came with two of my angels sleeping soundly in my bed. I slipped on my new dressing gown after finishing in the bathroom and headed to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
"Good morning, Hildy."
"How is Joel this morning? He seemed upset last night."
"He climbed in bed with me early this morning so I know he was worried about that dog. It looks like we'll have an addition to the family. That is if he lives. The vet didn't give him all that much of a chance of making it. For Joel's sake, I hope he does pull through. He has formed such a strong attachment to that dog that I hate to think what would happen if it died."
Shortly after my first cup of coffee, I heard activity in the boys' bedrooms before all five of them appeared fully dressed and scrubbed. I got my morning hug from each of the boys before they sat down at the table for breakfast.
"Well, I see that everyone is ready to go see the dog so I had better get ready while you guys eat," I chuckled and went to take my shower and get ready.
By the time I was ready they all had their coats in hand and were waiting for me outside my bedroom door.
"Okay, put your coats on and get into the van," I said. "I guess it's time to go see the dog."
There was a nervous excitement as we drove into San Antonio. It took longer to get there this morning due to the rush of people going to work. It wasn't as bad as it could have been because a lot of people were still on holiday until after New Year's. I was surprised when we got to the clinic that Joel didn't rush in. Instead he held back and walked with the rest of us. I suspected that although he wanted to see his new friend, he was afraid that his friend might be dead.
The vet we had spoken with the previous night was not there, but the young vet that we did speak with quickly alleviated Joel's concerns.
"Your dog is doing fine this morning. He is eating a little and seems to be getting along fine. Would you like to go see him?" he asked.
Five heads nodded in unison. The young vet led us back to the kennel that the dog was now in. The IV had been removed from his front paw and he was standing up and trying to hobble around the enclosure. The splint on his back leg made walking difficult. When he saw Joel he made a valiant effort to get to the kennel gate. His route was anything but a straight line. He did finally navigate to where we were all standing.
"Can I go in?" Joel asked.
"Yes, just don't let him get too excited. He is still very weak," the vet answered.
The kennel that he was in probably measured six by four feet at most. But soon it was holding five boys and one happy dog judging from the speed of his wagging tail.
I turned to the vet and asked, "Is he well enough to be taken home?"
"He probably should stay here another 24 hours for observation..," he began.
"Ah, but..," I started to interrupt.
"But," he said holding up his hand "I can see that he will be much happier and I think I can be assured that he will be well taken care of. I will need to send some medicines home with you. Let me get them and I'll write out the instructions for their usage."
"Joel, if you will go bring the box in from the car, the doctor is going to let us take the dog home."
Joel looked back and forth between me and the dog several times before he made up his mind to leave the dog and get the box. It was not an easy decision for him to make and I don't think the dog liked it very well either. I handed Joel the keys to the van as he headed toward the front door of the clinic.
Joel was back before the vet returned with the medicine and instruction. He also included a feeding schedule for the dog and a recommendation for the brand of dog food to buy. We checked out, paid the bill, set up a time to bring the dog back for a check up and headed to the nearest PetsMart to get the dog food.
On the way home I broached the subject of the dog's name. "We can't just keep calling him 'the dog', so what are we going to call him? What do you think? Any ideas?"
There was silence for a moment and then they all started talking at once. They must have come up with two or three dozen names. None seemed just right until Joel came up with "Samson."
"Yeah!" came a chorus from all the other boys.
Samson gave an approving bark which made the selection unanimous.
When we got home and introduced Samson to Hildy, I went over the vet's instruction for taking care of Samson and when to give him his medications. Joel took the instructions from me and grabbed the tablet from under the kitchen telephone and began developing a timetable for Samson's medications. There were two different pills that he was to take. One was to be given every twelve hours and the other every four hours during the day and they were not to be given at the same time.
A few minutes later Joel came to me with a worried look on his face, "Is this right? I don't want it to be wrong. Will you check it, please?"
After looking over the schedules that Joel had prepared, one for today and one for the rest of the week, I could not find anything to change. The schedules were meticulously done and easy to follow with the name of the medication clearly written beside each time starting at eight in the morning until eight at night. There was one time when I would have to administer the second dose of one medicine at 10 PM. The boys, I hoped, would be in bed at that time.
The rest of the day was spent playing with Samson, riding their bikes, eating and playing with Samson. The medication was delivered on schedule by Joel under the close supervision of the rest of the brothers. Samson seemed to thrive on the attention that the boys were giving him. He was still a little unsteady walking due to the splint but was getting better at walking a straight line.
By Friday when it was time to take Samson back to the vet, he seemed to be much improved. His coat was now clear of any signs of the mange he had when we first found him. There were still spots where the hair was gone but with any luck and time they would fill in. The vet that had originally worked on Samson was amazed at the change in the dog that he had recommended to be put to sleep. The x-rays showed that the leg was healing nicely and the cracked ribs were also healing to the vet's satisfaction.
"I want you to bring him in again at the end of next week and I'll replace the cast with one that will not interfere so much with his walking. He will still have to wear one for probably five more weeks. After that, we will see how the leg has healed. Next time he is in we will make a decision whether to start the heartworm eradication program or put it off a little longer. As soon as the supply of the medicines you were given run out you will not need to get any more. I'll give you a list of supplements that you can get at any pet supply that would be beneficial in speeding his recovery. Do you have any questions?" he said directing the last at Joel and the boys.
"Can we give him a bath?" asked Joel. "He's getting a little stinky."
"Sure you can. Just cover his splint in some plastic wrap so that it doesn't get wet. I would recommend that you not put him in a tub of water. Instead, give him a sponge bath with warm soapy water."
Saturday night the boys wanted to stay up and see the New Year in. I consented knowing that they probably would be asleep long before midnight. We turned on the TV and watched the celebrations going on around the country. We built a fire in the fireplace. We popped popcorn. Samson curled up in his new basket and wondered what all the fuss was about.
About ten o'clock TJ curled up in my lap trying desperately to stay awake. He was not successful. He was sound asleep by ten-thirty. Chris was the next to succumb followed shortly by the twins. Joel made it long enough to see the ball drop in Time Square in New York before he decided it was time for him to go to bed.
I carefully carried TJ into his bedroom and tucked him in. "Happy New Year little one."
Three trips later I had all the boys in their beds.
Monday came quicker than the boys wanted, but they didn't complain when they had to get up early to be ready to catch the van to school. I reminded Joel that I would pick him up for his appointment with Dr. Adams. The last time we had seen Dr. Adams, Joel's appointments were reduced to the first Monday of every month.
The office was getting back to normal with most of the staff back from their Christmas vacations. I sat down with Carol and Foster to discuss the business opportunities for the coming year. Foster's assessment of anticipated consulting contracts based on the number of contacts from companies in the fourth quarter of last year exceeded my most optimistic hopes. If he were correct we would need to hire at least eight to ten more consultants to handle the workload.
The planning meeting took all morning and through lunch. I barely had time to get to Corinthian to pick up Joel so that he could get to his appointment with Dr. Adams.
Dr. Adams was very pleased with the progress that Joel had made in coming to grips with the past abuse that he had suffered. In fact, his assessment was that after a couple more sessions he would probably release him to an occasional session to evaluate his ongoing mental health.
"We have an adoption hearing coming up on the 23rd of this month and I would appreciate a written assessment of Joel that I could present to the court in case they should have any questions," I told him. "I'm sure that Joel told you about the dog, Samson, that we have taken in. He has become very attached to it and it to him. The dog was also abused. Is this a healthy sign?"
"I would say that it is healthy. If the dog survives, and from what Joel told me Samson was badly served, it will demonstrate to Joel that there can be good outcomes. If he truly loves the dog he will come to realize that he can be loved just as he loves the dog. I'm sure that he knows that you love him, but he doesn't really know why you do. He hasn't done anything for him to 'earn' your love. This will help him to realize that he can be loved for no other reason than he is Joel. I don't know if I'm making myself clear. What I'm trying to say is that he will realize that there is such a thing as unconditional love."
Eric called after supper and wanted to know if Hildy or I knew of a housekeeper that would be able to be at his house to sit with JR until he got home from work. Neither Hildy nor I could think of anyone right off hand. He said that JR was going to start at the boys' school next week with the start of the second semester and he needed someone to start Monday.
"Why doesn't JR ride the van home with the boys and stay here until Eric can get here to pick him up?" she suggested more than asked.
When I put the suggestion to Eric he was taken by surprise but then offered the standard excuses about not wanting to take advantage of our friendship and so forth but finally relented when JR heard about the possibility. He did insist on paying Hildy for her babysitting duties.
When the boys heard that JR was starting to go to their school and that he would come home with them every evening after school they could hardly contain their excitement.
I was a little surprised on Tuesday when I got a call from Bruce Gordinier inviting me to a 'prayer meeting' that night. He laughed when I hemmed and hawed around trying to think of a way to politely decline when he rescued me.
"We are calling it a 'prayer meeting' to get Fullwell to come. In reality, it is a meeting to confront him with the information that you provided to me and the results of the preliminary audit of the church's books. The meeting will start at eight and we would like for you to be there to thank you for your bringing this information to our attention. I think that you will enjoy the surprise we have in store for him," he said with a smile in his voice.
"Now that is the kind of 'prayer meeting' I like," I said as we hung up.
I decided to call Collin Cupp, the private investigator, to see if he had any more details that I could add to the information we already had on Fullwell. Thankfully he was in when I called. He said that the report on Fullwell was complete and that he was in the process of printing it out and would fax it to me as soon as it was through printing.
The completed report contained several more salacious tidbits about the 'Reverend Fullwell' that were not in the original including the time he spent in Canada.
I called Hildy to check if she would be available to watch the boys tonight while I went to the 'prayer meeting'. She was happy to when I explained what was going to happen to Fullwell. She was only sorry that she would not be there to witness the proceedings.
I made another call to add to the surprise for the 'prayer meeting'.
Waiting until time to go to the meeting was almost agonizing. Time seemed to crawl by. Since I wanted to be there early, I left thirty minutes before the start of the meeting. I wanted to share the new data that I had received on Fullwell with Bruce before everyone else arrived.
I was still huddling with Bruce when the rest of the people attending the 'prayer meeting' started to arrive. Bruce simply shook his head at the new revelations in the report. The parishioners arrived in small groups of two or three until the house was filled with fifteen guests not counting the Gordiniers and myself. Fullwell had not yet made his appearance.
As his car drove into the driveway, I stepped into Bruce's study and closed the door all but a crack so that I could observe the proceeding without being seen. I didn't want to give away what was about to happen. Pauline let him in and ushered him into the family room where everyone else was assembled. After he shook hands with everyone she strategically guided him to the middle spot on the couch between two very large, strong-looking men.
Bruce stood up and started to speak. "Thank you all for coming tonight. Pauline will be serving coffee and cookies after the meeting. Reverend Fullwell it is good that you could join us this evening for this very special event. You came to our church a little over a year ago so we thought we would give you a little surprise. We thought we would do a take-off on the old TV program 'This is Your Life'."
The color in Fullwell's face seemed to drain away as Bruce picked up the final report I had given him on Fullwell. Fullwell started to move off the couch but found himself being restrained by the large men on both sides of him.
Bruce began ticking off the items that were in the report from the high school incident, the Catholic seminary through his coming to Shepherd of the Lake Baptist Church. The two years in Canada were most enlightening. It seemed that Fullwell had been arrested at the Calgary Stampede for performing oral sex on an eleven-year-old boy in one of the restrooms. He was convicted of that offense and sentenced to six years in prison. He served a little over a year before he walked away from a work detail and fled the country.
By the time Bruce had finished with the private investigator's report, Fullwell had all but disappeared into the couch.
"Now Mr. Fullwell," Bruce said emphasizing the mister, "That takes your life up to the present. It seems that some of us in the congregation have been wondering how you have been able to afford the fancy car and fancy clothes on the small salary we are paying you as our preacher. So, we engaged a CPA to analyze the books of the church and guess what? He found that the building fund for our proposed new church has been completely drained of the $138,000 that is supposed to be in there. He also found that the mission fund is empty. He is willing to testify that you are the one responsible for the shortages. The methods you used for embezzling were so amateurish that it was easy to find where and how the funds were diverted.
"The last surprise we have for you is our special guest, Deputy Sheriff Jesse Cantu, who has a warrant for your arrest for embezzling the church's funds. Jesse has notified the Canadian authorities, thanks to an interested friend, that you were going to be arrested. They informed him that they are very interested in returning you to Canada.
"Jesse, he is all yours!"
Jesse appeared out of the kitchen and with the help of the men restraining Fullwell put him in handcuffs before leading the sobbing, protesting Fullwell out the front door to the waiting sheriff's car.
"Before we have coffee, I would like to introduce to you all the man responsible for bringing these matters to my attention. Crane, would you come out now?
"Friends, this is Crane Johnson. Crane's foster son Joel and my son John attend the same school. He first became suspicious of Fullwell after an incident at our house. He spent his own money to acquire the information that I read to you tonight. If it had not been for him we might not have found out about Fullwell's financial shenanigans until after he skipped town.
"Thank you Crane, we owe you more than we will ever be able to repay."
"Bruce, what I did, I did for purely selfish reasons," I said to him before turning to the assembled group. "Fullwell berated my son and made him feel like he was bad. The 'reverend' told Joel that he was going to go to hell because the 'reverend' assumed that Joel was gay."
I stopped and looked around at the shocked and somewhat disapproving looks on many of their faces before I continued. "I don't know if Joel is gay or not but what I do know is that I love that boy and his brothers more than life and I will do everything in my power to see that he is not hurt by Fullwell or anyone else. Let me repeat I will not let anyone hurt my son. That includes present company. That is not a threat but a fact of life."
"But the bible says that homosexuality is an abomination," one of the men said.
"It also says to love one another. I don't want to get into a theological discussion with you. What I have observed is that the most rabid homophobes are usually using their prejudice to hide a part of themselves that they cannot accept and then use the bible as a club. There is a line in one of Shakespeare's plays that goes something like 'Me thinks thou doth protest too much' which may apply to many situations. Beware of extreme positions. They might be hiding someone's real feelings."
I turned to Bruce and began to say my goodbyes, declining an invitation to stay for coffee. I told him I wanted to get home in time to say goodnight to the boys and tuck them into bed.
At breakfast the next morning, Joel informed me that they had their semester tests on Thursday and Friday and asked me if I could help him study this evening. Of course I agreed and said that I would be home about the time they got off the school's van. I had no doubt that he would do well. All of his tests to this point had been excellent getting scores in the high nineties when they weren't a hundred. In fact all of the boys were doing great. On the rare occasions that I couldn't check their homework, Hildy did. We always set aside a study time every day so that the boys would not fall behind in their school work.
The day was going by quickly now that the office was pretty much back to normal. I did make arrangements to fly into Houston next Tuesday to meet with a potential client. If we got the contract it looked like it would be worth about one and a quarter million. I don't usually visit our clients routinely, leaving that up to Foster or one of the senior project managers, but for that size contract, I felt the personal touch would be appropriate.
I was just clearing off my desk getting ready to go home when Carol told me I had a call concerning Chris' inheritance.
"Mr. Johnson, this is Jim Harrington, we talked a couple of months ago about Christopher's inheritance. The will has made it through the morass of probate and can now be distributed. Are you still willing to be the trustee of his estate?"
"Yes, I am. In fact, if everything goes as planned, Chris will be my legally adopted son by the end of the month."
"That is good news. He deserves to have a family that cares for him. There are some papers that you need to sign in my presence so that I can turn everything over to you. I have a flight into San Antonio that arrives at 11:40 AM. Would you be able to meet me so that we can get this finalized?"
"Yes, I can fit that into my schedule. How long are you going to be in town?" I asked.
"I'll be leaving on Saturday. I have some other business to take care of in San Antonio and plan to visit a friend I went to law school with."
I got the information that I would need to meet his plane before we hung up and then quickly left the office to try and get home around the time the boys got there. I wanted to be available if Joel needed me to help him study for his semester tests.
The boys were home when I got there. Hildy said that the first thing that they did was to check on Samson and make sure that he had gotten his medication on time. After changing out of their school uniforms the next thing on their agenda was a snack before going back to playing with Samson.
It was easy to tell that Samson was beginning to thrive on the boys' love and attention. His coat was taking on a healthy shine and he was gaining weight. He still seemed to tire easily but that was probably due to the heartworms.
For two hours after supper, I worked with Joel helping him to prepare for his tests tomorrow. The only breaks we took were for me to check the other boys' homework. They didn't have semester tests in their grades. I was continually amazed at the organization the Joel brought to everything that he did. He had all of his homework for the previous grading period arranged by date. His interim tests were done likewise. As I quizzed him on the three subjects that he had tests in tomorrow, I was positive that he would do well.
I met Jim Harrington at the airport Thursday morning. His plane was about fifteen minutes late so by the time he got his luggage it was nearly half-past twelve. We decided to sign the paperwork over lunch. As he went to get his rental car, I went to the parking garage to get the BMW. He followed me to a Tex-Mex restaurant that I knew was good since he expressed a desire for Mexican food.
"The Mexican food we get in Ohio sucks," he said dipping another chip into the salsa. "This green stuff is great, but I like the hot stuff better."
As we waited for our meal to be delivered he produced a small stack of papers which he handed to me for my signature. There were two copies of each. One was for my record and the other was to be delivered to the probate judge. I signed all of them after briefly skimming them for anything unusual. The last document was the trustee agreement for Chris' inheritance. The sum was about what he had indicated that it would be $2,335,486.22.
"That amount is what the total was as of yesterday. The funds are currently invested in money markets. You, of course, can invest them in any way that you see fit. I understand that the family court judge, a lady named Riley I believe, is requiring you to submit an accounting to her periodically. Correct?"
"Yes, I have set that up with my accountant to submit the reports as required by the court. I don't know how my adoption of him will affect that," I said as I handed him his copies of the documents that I had signed.
When I got back to the office I immediately called Gerald Cousins to see if he had been able to come up with a scheme that would allow me to set up trusts for the other boys and avoid any serious tax consequences.
"Crane, I'm glad that you called. I just now got off the phone with Carlos and I believe we have come up with a strategy that will allow you to do what you want and still minimize your tax bill."
"Great, I hate giving the government any more money than I absolutely have to. I want you to set up each of the boys with $2.5 million trusts. Chris' trust will have to have some monies added to it. I don't imagine that I can avoid taxes on that but it shouldn't be to onerous," I said.
"Let me work on that. I may be able to do something with your tax-free government bonds," Gerald said.
The transfer of the almost $12.7 million out of my accounts would not impoverish me in any way. My liquid assets would still be in the neighborhood of $70 million. I had not touched any of the assets that I had accumulated after I left college. In fact, I had added to them and lived off of my income from the business. They had compounded very nicely over the last few years so that I had more money than I would ever be able to spend in my lifetime unless I drastically changed my lifestyle.
I remember back in 1986 when grandpa bought 10,000 shares of Microsoft for my account and how it had grown since then. With the additional shares, I had purchased the now 100,000 shares were worth, as of Wednesday, $8.25 million. That $250,000 investment had really paid off due to grandpa's foresight. A number of his other stocks had done as well or better for me over the years.
Hoping to catch Benjamin Cross in, I dialed his office in Austin. His secretary said that he was in but on another call. I decided not to hold on the line, electing to have him return my call.
It was only about ten minutes later when he called back.
"I just wanted to confirm that someone would be able to represent me at the adoption hearing for the boys on the 23rd," I said. "I don't want anything to go wrong at the last minute."
"No problem," he responded. "I have you on my calendar. I plan to be there myself to witness the happy event. In my job, the outcomes are not always as pleasant as this one."
"I'll let you know what time the hearing is scheduled for as soon as I find out," I told him before hanging up.
This day had certainly been an unproductive one from the standpoint of the business. I had been able to get very little real work done due to the other distractions. It's a good thing I own it or I would probably get fired.
Joel was in high spirits when I got home.
"I think I got a hundred on two of my tests. The geography test was hard and I think I missed one question," he said.
"That is great, son," I said as I gave him a hug. "I'm so proud of you."
"I got the easy tests tomorrow, math and Texas history. But I still gotta study. Can you help me again tonight?" he asked.
"Of course I can help you," I said. "Now go play for a while, I'll help you after supper,"
The next morning as I was going to get my coffee I noticed a third lump in Joel and TJ's bed. On closer inspection, I saw that it was Samson. "Hmm, I wonder how he got in there," I said to myself as if I didn't know. "I think we'll need to talk about this tonight."