Joel: Book One ~ Escape From Abuse

Chapter Thirteen

Joel was quiet the rest of the day. All he seemed to want to do is to sit next to me. It was as though he needed the physical contact. I wished that I could take away the hurt and embarrassment that I'm sure he felt from the interview earlier. All I could do was to put my arms around him and keep him close showing him how much I loved him.

The twins realized that something was different with Joel. They seemed to know instinctively that he needed their love also. In their uncanny mirror image way, they came up to him, hugged him and planted a kiss on each of his cheeks, not saying anything. No words were necessary.

TJ was a little confused. He didn't know what to do. He tried to get Joel to go with him and play his video game. When Joel didn't respond, TJ climbed into my lap and said, "Why is Joel sad?"

"He just needs some time to think, little one. He'll be okay tomorrow," I told him. "Give him a kiss and go play with Larry and Lenny."

"Okay," he said kissing Joel on the cheek.

Night came and I sent the boys off to get their showers taken and ready for bed. Soon they were back all freshly scrubbed and dressed in their pajamas. TJ crawled up in my lap and whispered in my ear, "Joel wants to sleep in your bed tonight. Can I too?"

"We'll see, little one," I whispered back to him.

"Joel, come here please," I said.

He shuffled over to the couch where I was sitting with TJ and sat down beside us. "TJ says that you want to sleep in my bed tonight. Is that true?"

"Uh... Yes, can I?" he said in a barely audible voice.
"What about TJ? Do you want him to sleep with us too?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah, he can't sleep alone. He gets scared by himself," Joel answered.

"Alright, I think it would be okay for tonight," I said. "You guys go jump in bed. I'll go get your brothers tucked in and then I'll be in for you."

The twins were very understanding about Joel and TJ sleeping with me tonight.

"Joel is sad today," Larry said.

"He needs somebody to hold him," Lenny added.

"You guys are great. I guess that's why I love you so much," I said kissing each one in turn on the forehead and tucked them in bed.

I was surprised to see Joel in the middle of the bed. I just assumed that TJ would occupy that position. But I guess that he needed the closeness of both TJ and I. I quickly got ready for bed and climbed in. Leaning over I gave TJ a goodnight kiss on the forehead before starting to give Joel the same.

Instead, he threw his arm around my neck and gave me a kiss on the cheek. "I love you, Uncle Crane. Thank you for staying with me today. I never want to leave here," he said emotionally.

"I love you, both of you. I hope that you never have to leave until you go to college which is a long way off," I replied. "Now let's get some sleep." With that, I gave him a kiss, laid down and turned off the light.

No sooner were the lights out then Joel scooted over and wrapped both hands around my bicep and rested his head against my shoulder. Although this was not the most comfortable position for me to sleep in, I knew he needed the closeness of contact with someone he felt safe.

When I woke up it was beginning to get light outside. Joel still had his hands around my bicep and TJ was snuggled up against his back. I gently removed his hands from my arm and began my morning routine.

Hildy entered the kitchen just as I poured my first cup of coffee. "How is he this morning? He seemed so quiet and withdrawn yesterday."

"He was still asleep when I got up. He and TJ slept in my bed last night. Joel held on to me all night long. I hope he recovers today. It kills me to see him like this. He is such a joyful child usually," I said.

"Oh, I'm sure he will. He's a strong youngster. I'm sure he'll snap back," Hildy replied.

The rest of Sunday was fairly normal. Joel seemed to be recovering but was still quieter than usual. The boys wanted to go fishing so after lunch we drove to the marina and took the boat out again. We didn't catch any fish. There were too many jet-skis and noisy motor boats for the fish to bite. They still enjoyed themselves and didn't complain when I sent them to bed shortly after sunset.

After getting the boys sent off on the school bus on Monday morning, I took off to the school to have a conference with the twins' teacher. I was disturbed by their report that Mr. Lansing was touching them and making them uncomfortable. I wanted to stop any inappropriate contact before it got out of hand even if I didn't intend for them to be enrolled here very much longer.

It was barely 8 o'clock when I reached the school. I hoped that he would be available before the boys got off the bus. As I entered the building I saw the attendance clerk that I had met on my previous visit. I inquired of her if Mr. Lansing was available. She called over the intercom and shortly he appeared at the office.

"Mr. Lansing, I'm Crane Johnson, Larry and Lenny Andersen are my foster sons. I would like to talk to you for a moment if possible. Is there someplace we can speak privately?" I asked.

"Yes, let's go into the conference room," he replied.

I got right to the point as we sat down at a small table. "Mr. Lansing, Larry, and Lenny have told me that they are uncomfortable with the touching they receive from you. I am not implying that there is anything inappropriate going on, at least not yet. These boys come from an abusive home. They were abused physically and possibly sexually. I will not let that happen to them again. Am I making myself clear?"

"Ah... I... Yes," he stammered blushing a bright red.

"Just so we understand each other. I don't plan to discuss this with anyone else unless I am given a reason to. I hope that Larry and Lenny were misinterpreting your actions. Just don't give me a reason to interpret them otherwise." Standing up I shook his very warm and sweaty hand and left.

I wanted to leave before the school bus with the boys arrived. They would wonder why I didn't drive them to school.

Paul had arrived to start Joel's lesson by the time I returned. I took a seat at the breakfast bar and began making phone calls. The first was to Carlos, our company attorney, to see what kind of payment schedule that Eric had in mind for the purchase of his share of the business.

"Good morning Carlos, it's Crane. How are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm doing great!" he responded exactly the same as he always did when asked.

"I talked to Eric on Friday about his selling the portion of the business that he owns but never discussed what kind of payment schedule he was looking for. If he takes it all in a lump sum the tax bite is going to be horrendous," I said.

"No, he wouldn't want to do that. He has set up a trust for the money to be paid into over five years. He wants $208,000 up front and will accept a non-interest bearing note for $500,000 to be paid in $100,000 increments at the end of the next five years. That way he relinquishes all interest in running the company and provides for his wife in case his treatment is not successful. Does that sound all right to you?" he finished.

"That is more than fair," I said. "I need to get in touch with my accountant to let him know what he has to plan for. Thanks, Carlos, when do you think you will have everything drawn up for our signatures?"

"I told Eric that I would have everything ready by Friday. I am somewhat skeptical as to whether he will be in any condition to sign a contract then, but I will have the contract ready by that time. I don't think it would hurt to wait until next Monday. It just depends on how he is feeling. My only worry is if he is under some kind of medication whether the contract could be called into question at some later date by his heirs," Carlos said.

Next, I called my accountant to let him know what he needed to prepare for as far as cash I would need to purchase Eric's share of the business. Gerald Cousins was my accountant, financial advisor and tax consultant all rolled into one.

After I explained to him what Eric wanted he pondered a bit before saying, "Look, Crane, I think if we structure this right you could write this off as an expense of the business and not a personal expense. That way it could be deducted from income before taxes were figured, thus lowering ACC's tax bill. Let me work on this a bit. I don't think it will take too much effort and I'll pass it by Carlos just to see what he thinks of it before we actually do it."

"Gerald, you are a sneaky bastard," I chuckled. "I guess that's why I hired you. Go ahead and see what you can work out. I'm in your hands. Just make sure it is legal and above board. Texas prisons are not what I consider prime vacation spots."

Joel came skipping into the kitchen on his break from Paul's tutoring. "Hi, Uncle Crane, you're back."

"Yes I am," I said as he jumped up on the stool with me. "Are you feeling better today?"

"Yeah, I guess I do. Mr. Coulter's classes are always fun. Can I have a cookie and a glass of milk?" he asked hopping down and going to the refrigerator.

"Sure, I think Hildy baked some sugar cookies while we were fishing yesterday. Will a couple do?" I asked foolishly. I knew it would take at least four to fill his bottomless pit.

"Well, maybe a couple more," he said giggling.

It did my heart good to hear him laughing again. I guess I experienced what all parents do when one of their children is not feeling well and there is nothing they can do about it. It's the sense of inadequacy that is so frustrating. All I could do was to show my love for him and hope with all my might that he would pull through his depression quickly.

Joel went back to his classes and I went back to making my phone calls. My next one was to Corinthian Academy to set up an appointment for the boys to be tested and interviewed for possible enrollment there. I reached Mr. Pierce's secretary and the appointment was set for Wednesday morning at nine o'clock. The testing and interviews would take the entire morning.

I had no more than cradled the phone's receiver when it rang. When I pick it up it was Benjamin Cross.

"I just thought I would update you on what is going on in regards to Judge Frank. I have filed complaints with the Texas Bar and the Judicial Review Board concerning his conduct on the bench. I have also convinced four other lawyers who regularly practice before him to file complaints. They were hesitant to do so until I used a little persuasion. I refer a number of cases to them every year and I suggested that gravy train might derail if they didn't report his courtroom conduct with them. I'm not sure it will accomplish anything. These boards are made up of lawyers who are more interested in sweeping dirt under the rug then they are in rooting out unprofessional and unethical conduct. If they choose to do nothing we always have the press," he said with a malicious chuckle.

"Thanks for the info," I responded. "Have you heard whether the transcript has reached Judge Yates as ordered?"

"I haven't heard anything yet. I should know something by noon. We won't have anything from her until Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest. I'll keep you informed" he said and rang off.

I decided that I had taken care of all the business that I need to so I changed into my swimsuit and went to do some laps. It had been a few days since I had really had a workout in the pool. I think I have only had one since the boys arrived. I could tell it after the first 15 minutes. I was starting to hurt in places that I hadn't in years. 15 more minutes and I was afraid they would have to drag me out of the pool if I didn't stop. Climbing out of the pool I toweled off and stretched out in a chaise lounge. I hadn't been there 5 minutes when Paul came to the door to tell me I had an urgent phone call.

"Who in the world could that be?" I wondered aloud.

Picking up the phone in the kitchen I was greeted by the attendance clerk at the boys' school.

"Mr. Johnson, is it possible for you to pick up your sons from school? They're fine. We had an incident here at the school and are sending all the children home whose parents we can reach," she said.

"Of course, I'll be there in about 20 minutes. What happened? Can you tell me what is going on?" I asked very much worried.

"No, not right now. I'll let your sons know you will be here to pick them up soon. Thanks! Goodbye," she said and hung up.

I grabbed a pair of shorts and a polo shirt slipped on a pair of sandals and was out the door in less than a minute. On the way out I yelled to Paul that I would be back in about 45 minutes. I didn't exactly observe the speed limits as I rushed to the school. Thankfully the local constabulary was otherwise engaged or I could have faced serious fines. It was just under 15 minutes from the time I got the call until I drove into the parking lot at the school. Jumping out of the car I raced to the principal's office.

The office was crowded with parents all wanting to know what was going on. The local sheriff was there also trying to calm everyone down and at the same time refusing to say what the problem was that caused the school to shut down. After I gave my name and the names of the boys to one of the parent volunteers who checked me off the parent list, another one went to bring them to the office.

I decided to wait outside the office to avoid the hubbub inside. I had been waiting a couple of minutes when a deputy that I knew from little league approached.

"Hey Jesse, what is going on? What's happened?" I asked.

"Crane, I haven't seen you in a long time. Well, don't tell anyone I said anything but one of the teachers died here at the school," he said.

"Oh?" I more looked the question than asked.

"Yeah, it was kind of messy and we don't want the kids to see. I can't say anymore," he said.

Just then the parent volunteer returned with the three boys.

TJ broke away from the volunteer, ran to me and jumped up and grabbed me around the neck. "What's up, Uncle Crane?" he asked giving me a hug.

"Yeah," the twins chimed in as they joined our embrace.

"I don't really know guys. Let's go home maybe there will be something on the news," I told them leading the way to the car.

After getting everyone safely belted in we started home at a much more leisurely pace. The twins started to make that strange humming noise that they seem to do every so often.

"Larry, Lenny, what's going on? Did something happen in school today that I should know about?" I asked looking in the rearview mirror.

"Yeah," Larry said. "Mr. Lansing was really strange."

"Yeah strange," Lenny chimed in.

"How do you mean strange?" I asked.

"Well, you know, he was all nervous and couldn't talk right," Lenny said.

"Yeah, and he kept dropping things. He even put his head down on the desk," Larry said.

"It looked like he was crying sometimes," Lenny added.

"Anything else?" I asked.

"Well after recess he didn't come back in the class," Larry said.

"The principal came in and she said he was sick," Lenny said.

"Thanks, guys, I'll bet that Hildy will have some sugar cookies and milk for you when we get home. How does that sound?" I asked.

"YEA!" they all yelled together and giving each other high fives.

Hildy met us at the back door as we arrived. She gave and received a hug from each of the boys before they ran into their bedrooms to change clothes.

"I heard on the local radio station that their school was being let out for the day so I call a friend who works at the administration building," she said stopping to gather herself. "She said that one of the teachers had an accident. Did you find out anything while you were there?"

"I talked to one of the deputy sheriffs. He said that a teacher died and it was messy. He didn't say who or how but I have a good idea who it was," I said.

"Who?" she asked.

"Well, I'm not certain but I think it was the twins' teacher, Mr. Lansing. They said that he didn't come back to class after recess and the principal said he was sick. I think that is a pretty good indication.

"I just had a talk with him this morning about the twins' uneasiness with his touching them. He seemed to be a little shook up about our talk. I told him my suspicions would not be related to anyone else unless I had further cause," I paused as all four of the boys piled into the kitchen. "Oh, I told them they might get some sugar cookies and milk when they got home."

"Okay, little ones, just a couple. Lunch will be ready in about an hour and I don't want to spoil your appetites," she laughed at the thought of anything spoiling their appetites.

I went into the study to talk to Paul to see if he had any connections with either the school or the sheriff's office to get any more information on this morning's events. Since he didn't, I decided to call Jack to see if the SAPD had heard anything. He wasn't available so I left a message for him to call me back.

Joel finished his lessons with Paul while TJ and the twins played with their truck and cars on the patio. After lunch, I gave Joel his math lesson. The boys didn't seem to be too upset about the school situation and I wanted to keep it that way.

Around two o'clock Jack returned my call.

"Crane, what can I do for you? They told me you called," he said.

"Thanks for getting back to me. There was an incident at the elementary school that I would like more information on if you can get it for me," I said. I went on to describe to him what I knew and what I suspected. "Have you heard anything?"

"No, I don't know anything about it. You said that you talked to Jesse and that he seemed to know what was going on. Maybe I can get something out of him that he wouldn't tell you. I'll give him a buzz and see if I can use my powers of persuasion to get the story," he said. "I'll call you back."

The rest of the afternoon was spent with the boys in the pool playing king of the hill again. That is until the hill got tired. I had already swum laps for a half an hour earlier this morning so it didn't take long for the hill to get worn down.

Shortly before Hildy called the boys in to get washed and dressed for supper, Jack called back.

"Crane, this is very disturbing. Jesse didn't want to tell me anything but I was able to persuade him. You had better be sitting down what I have to tell you is not pretty. Are you ready?" he asked.

"Yes, I think so," I replied. "Go ahead."