Joel: Book Five ~ Family Complete

Chapter Fourteen

TJ disappeared after the boys had their after school snack. He wasn't in his room or the music room. When I asked his brothers where he was, they didn't know. Since he wasn't in the house I went outside to see if he was out there. I had just about given up finding him and was starting to panic when I rounded the corner of the house and saw him sitting on the edge of the fountain. He was holding a whining Bandit on his lap and tears were streaming down his cheeks.

"Tell dad what the matter is," I said, putting my arm around him and Bandit.

"I don't want to go to school," he choked out through his tears.

"Can you tell me why?"

"Mrs. Brown hates me."

"Why do you think she hates you?"

"She said I was stupid. I'm not stupid, am I dad?"

"Of course you're not stupid. You're a very smart and caring boy. Why did she say you were stupid?'

"I asked a question and she told me that was a stupid question. I only asked if we were going to have a classroom pet like we did last year in Miss Littleton's class. She called Kristi stupid, too, when she asked a question. Kristi isn't stupid, she's really smart. She yelled really loud at Rob and Kenny when they were talking and told us all to shut up. Do I have to go back to school?"

"How about if I go with you and I'll have a talk with Mrs. Brown tomorrow morning? How will that be?"

"Okay," he said reluctantly.

"Let's go see if your brothers and Bandit want to go swimming."

Even the swimming didn't raise TJ's spirits as I had hoped it would. He remained quiet and mainly to himself the rest of the evening. When I put him to bed, I gave him an extra long hug and told him everything was going to be all right. I just hoped to myself that I was correct.

TJ seemed to be a little more animated at breakfast Thursday morning, but still was not his usual exuberant self. He became less animated as we drove closer to the school. I had deliberately headed for the school so that we would be earlier than normal. There were only a few students on the playground when we arrived. Joel headed off when he saw John and I sent the others off to the playground to play with their friends that were there. I headed for TJ's classroom. I was not looking forward to the confrontation, but I knew I would not allow him to be in an environment where he felt threatened. Mrs. Brown was sitting at her desk as I entered the classroom through the open door.

"Mrs. Brown, I'm Crane Johnson, TJ's father. I'd like to speak with you for a moment if you have the time."

"I really have a few things I need to do before class begins, but if it will only take a moment then I guess I can spare it."

Her attitude didn't sit well with me, but I didn't want this conversation to start off on the wrong foot, so I ignored it. "My son came home yesterday very upset and didn't want to come back to school today. This was very unusual. He has always loved school before. Can you tell me if something happened yesterday?"

"Nothing really, the class was unruly and I had to settle them down. Their teacher last year was evidently lax in her discipline. I wanted to let them know that I expected them to behave like ladies and gentlemen."

"I see. Did you feel it was appropriate to demean my son and another child by telling them the questions they asked were stupid?"

"That's not true. If he told you that, he's lying," she said angrily.

"I have never known my son to lie to me and from the way he was upset, I don't think he was. Let me give you a piece of free advice. Do not ever ridicule my son or any student in your class again. I will not tolerate it. This is not just a suggestion. Take it to heart."

"Mr. Johnson, this conversation is over. I will run my classroom the way I wish. If you don't like it, you may send your precious son to another school. Now, please leave my classroom. I have things to do before my students arrive."

Now, her attitude really pissed me off. I left without saying another word and headed directly for Justin Pierce, the headmaster's office. When his secretary saw me striding toward her with a scowl on my face she guessed something was wrong and buzzed Pierce. He was at his door before I reached her desk.

"Mr. Johnson," Pierce said, "please come into my office. It appears that you have something on your mind."

"You're right about that," I responded. "I'm furious, in fact. I just came from a talk with Mrs. Brown, my son TJ's teacher." I went on to relate what TJ had told me last night and the conversation that I just had with his teacher.

Mr. Pierce listened intently to all that I told him before making any comment. "Mrs. Brown comes to us with excellent recommendation from SAISD (San Antonio Independent School District). This is her first year with us. If what you have just related to me is correct, we cannot condone this type of conduct by any of our teachers." He looked at his watch and then continued, "Classes should be about ready to begin. Each classroom is equipped with an intercom system that allows two-way communications with the principals or me." Turning to a piece of furniture that appeared to be a storage cabinet, he opened the doors and turned a knob to the on position on a sophisticated electronic system. Glancing at a list taped to the inner door of the cabinet, he selected one switch and flipped it up. We could hear the sounds of a classroom and what appeared to be students entering the room.

"Hurry up and take your seats. Don't dawdle. Billy, sit down and shut up. I won't put up with your nonsense today." The sounds over the intercom subsided for a few moments. "Timothy, don't you ever tell your father what goes on in this classroom. Do you understand?"

"Yes, ma'am," a voice that was barely audible said, but was clearly TJ's. "You're hurting my arm."

"You tattle to your father again and it'll be more than your arm that hurts."

"That's enough," I said. "I'm taking my son out of that class as long as she's the teacher." I headed for the door and was followed closely by Pierce. Once in the hallway, I took off running for the classroom. Justin Pierce, being several inches shorter than I, was having a hard time keeping up. As I reached the room, I grabbed the doorknob and flung the door open causing it to bang against the wall. A startled Mrs. Brown was still holding onto TJ's arm as I barged into the classroom. "Take your hands off of my son this instant. Don't you ever touch him again or I swear I'll not be responsible for my actions."

"Mrs. Brown, please come with me," Pierce said. Turning to his secretary, who unknown to me had followed us, "Colleen, would you stay with the class while I have a talk with Mrs. Brown?"

"Yes, of course, sir," she replied.

I took TJ's hand and led him into the hallway. I could tell he was holding back tears. Taking a seat on a bench in the hallway, I lifted him onto my lap and hugged him. That was all that was needed. The tears began to flow. "It's all right, son. Mrs. Brown is gone. She's never coming back, I'll see to that." I held him for a couple of minutes before his sniffles stopped.

"Are you sure she's gone?" he asked, looking into my eyes.

"I promise. Dad never breaks his promise," I said. "Let's go wash your face before you go back in the classroom." I lifted him off my lap and stood up. "Which way is the bathroom?" He took my hand and led me several doors down from where we had been sitting.

He gave me a weak smile as we walked back into the classroom. Colleen was reading a story to the class. I felt much better when I left the classroom and headed for Headmaster Pierce's office a few minutes later. The closer I got to it, the more I could hear Mrs. Brown yelling at what seemed to be the top of her lungs. The words were mostly incoherent. As I got to the office, a man exited who I recognized as one of the principals, but whose name I could not remember.

"I think she's having a nervous breakdown," he said, and picked up the phone on the secretary's desk. I heard him talking to someone explaining the situation. "Medical personnel will be here soon." Picking up the phone again, he made another call. This time it was to a substitute teacher to see if she could come and take the class. Evidently, from the smile on his face when he hung up, the call was successful.

I waited around for a while until the EMT's arrived. I could hear Mrs. Brown alternating between screaming and crying in Pierce's office before they came. It was apparent to me that she was having some sort of breakdown. While I felt sympathy for her, I couldn't quite forgive her, at least not right now, for what she had done to my son. As the EMT's wheeled her out of the office on a stretcher, a heavy set woman of about 50 or so hurried into the building. I liked her immediately. She looked like someone's grandmother. Her hair was nearly all grey and her face looked as if it had a permanent smile.

"Mr. Platt, which class do you want me in?" she asked. That was the principal's name, Gordon Platt. Her calling him Mr. Platt jogged my poor memory for names.

"Mrs. Goodings, it's so good of you to come so quickly. Follow me; the classroom is just down the hall."

Although I hadn't been invited to accompany them, I did anyway. As they walked ahead of me, I could hear the principal filling her in on what had happened. "Oh my, that's terrible," she said, shaking her head. I remained in the doorway while Mr. Platt and Mrs. Goodings entered the classroom. Colleen was still reading the story to the class.

"Thank you, Colleen," he said. "You may go back to your desk now. Class, this is Mrs. Goodings. She will be substituting for Mrs. Brown for a while."

I watched for a few minutes until I was convinced that everything was back to normal and then headed for home. I was glad that this was now behind us. I would have to speak with TJ this afternoon to see if he was feeling better about school.

When I got back to the house, Gilda told me that a Gerald Cousins had called and wanted me to call him back. I headed for the library and returned his call. He had the meeting set up for Wednesday of next week at ten o'clock. We spoke for a few minutes after he had relayed the meeting information and then ended the call. I then called Charlie Wood to see how things were going on the old Katz property.

"Mr. Johnson, I'm glad you called. I've been inspecting the equipment that Mr. Katz left and it's not in very good shape. I don't think he'd used it in several years," Charlie said. "Some of it belongs in a museum. It's going to take a lot to get it into working order."

"I suspected as much," I said. "Look, I want the farm to be a success. If you need new machinery, give me a list of what it would take and the cost of the items. I'll look it over and if it makes sense, I'll authorize you to purchase it. That's part of our bargain. I provide the means and you provide the labor. And, by the way, my name is Crane."

"Thanks, Mr. ... ah, Crane. I started a list of the equipment that I didn't think I could get running. I'll have everything ready for you by the weekend. Will you and the boys be coming out to ride?"

"More than likely."

"Good, we can go over the list while you're here."

After talking with Charlie and making a few more phone calls, I decided it was time for lunch. When I got to the kitchen, Gilda was in the process of making sandwiches. I could smell that she also had a pot of soup on the stove. Connie joined us for a very enjoyable lunch. She said her girls were complaining because the swimming lessons were over.

"I'll bet Alice is really sorry," I said. "She seemed to be quite taken with Ty."

Connie laughed, "Yes, she was. I don't blame her. He is a very handsome young man. If I were twenty years younger ..."

"Ah, yes," Gilda said. "In my case, I'd have to be at least 40 years younger and I'd still be old enough to be his ... well, let's put it this way, his older sister."

"Shame on you two, lusting after a 17 year-old boy," I said in jest.

"Don't give me that," Gilda said. "I saw you looking at that young man."

I had the decency to blush, but decided that to respond would only make matters worse, so I changed the subject. "Have you heard from Hildy?"

"Nice segue," Gilda chuckled. "She called while you were taking the boys to school. We only talked for a few minutes. She was going to drag Manfred out shopping. I gather he was not too enthusiastic about going."

"I'll bet. What is it about men that they hate to go shopping with a woman? When we go alone we know what we're going for, we get it and get out of the store. When we go shopping with a woman, they spend all day looking and then go back and they buy the first thing they looked at."

"I think men are born without a shopping gene," Connie said, getting up from the table to go back to her cleaning.

Going back into the library I picked out a book I had wanted to read. I read until it was time to go pick up the boys from school. After parking the van in the parking lot, I walked to where I'd told Peter to wait. He was talking to another boy about his age. I assumed it was one of his classmates.

"Hi, Peter, who's your friend?" I asked, as I approached.

"Randy," he said, giving me a surprise hug which I returned. "We got to feed the rabbit."

"That's great. It's nice to meet you, Randy," I said, holding out my hand to him. He gave me a weak smile and after a bit of hesitation, shook my outstretched hand. At that moment, TJ arrived with Joey in tow.

"Hi, dad," a smiling TJ said.

"Hi, son. Joey. How was school today?"

"Good. I like Mrs. Goodings. Look," TJ said, holding out a piece of paper, "she gave us a spelling list. It's a crossword puzzle."

"Yeah," Joey answered, "she's not crabby like Mrs. Brown."

I looked at the paper TJ handed me and saw that the words were in the form of a filled-in crossword puzzle. That's clever, I thought. "Where're your brothers?" I asked.

As if on cue, the twins and Chris came running up with two of their classmates. "Hi, dad," the three of them chorused.

"Hi, guys. Who're your friends?"

"This is Hank and this is Otto," Larry said, pointing each of the boys out as he introduced them. "They already know how to play tennis. Are we still gonna get tennis rackets on Saturday?"

"It's nice to meet you Hank. Otto," I said. "Yes, we'll go buy rackets Saturday morning. Remember you have music lessons Saturday afternoon."

Hank and Otto said goodbye as their parents drove up. A few minutes later, Joel and John showed up. "Dad, can John come home with us?" Joel asked.

"I guess so. Does his mother know about this?"

"Yeah, she's going to take his sisters shopping at the mall and he doesn't want to go. We just talked to her over there," he said, pointing toward the parking lot.

"Let me go talk to her. You guys go get in the van. Here's the clicker to let you in," I said, and walked toward Pauline's SUV. After talking with her, she said she would pick John up on the way home from the mall. I suggested that he stay and have supper with us and I would take him home afterwards. I didn't say so, but I had an inkling that a woman and three girls could spend a long time shopping. She agreed and I headed for the van.

I told Gilda that we would have one more for supper. I had barely gotten that bit of news out when seven boys descended on the kitchen to see what snack Gilda had fixed for them. She opened the oven and withdrew a half sheet pan with ten apple turnovers on it.

"I was keeping these warm until you boys got here," she said. "Crane, will you pour the glasses of milk?"

I took a full gallon of milk from the refrigerator and started pouring the glasses that Joel had taken down from the cupboard. By the time I was finished pouring, there was only a pint or two left in the gallon container. The milk disappeared almost as quickly as the turnovers did.

The most important thing to me was that TJ was back to his normal self from all outward appearances. "Do you guys have any homework to do?"

"Yeah," they said, with frowns on their faces.

"Okay, as soon as supper is over, it's homework time. Right now I think it's time that your dogs got some attention. It's been a couple of weeks since you've given them their baths." This was one of the chores that most of the boys didn't like because their dogs didn't like getting wet. TJ's dog Bandit was the exception. He loved the water and almost every time TJ went swimming, so did he. "Put on some old clothes. I'm sure that you'll get all wet." I wasn't wrong. I got the dog shampoo, the large tub and connected the hose.

Peter and TJ were first to bathe Bandit. All the while he was being washed, he stood perfectly still in the tub. When they rinsed him off and he stepped out of the tub so they could dry him he did what comes naturally to dogs and began shaking the water off, getting TJ and Peter soaking wet. Peter started laughing so hard that he fell down and got even wetter in the puddle of water that had splashed out of the tub.

It took two of the other boys to restrain each of the other dogs in order for them to bathe their pets. The twins took on Larry's dog Buddy first. One held him while the other wet Buddy down and soaped him up. After they rinsed him off, I took a towel and dried him. They then started on Lenny's dog Buster and went through the same procedure. By the time they were done with both dogs they were soaking wet from head to toe. Next it was Chris and Joel who tackled Chris' dog Rusty. Finally Chris and Joel did Sam. Everybody, except John, were completely soaked by the time the five dogs were clean. I kept John from being involved because all he had to wear was his school uniform.

When it came time to take John home after supper, I called to make sure that his mother and sisters had made it home. They were, so Joel and John climbed into the back seat of the BMW and we took off. I spoke to Pauline for a few minutes when we arrived while the boys said their goodbyes.

Friday morning TJ was back to his usual upbeat self and eager to go to school. I was happy that the situation with Mrs. Brown had been resolved, at least temporarily. To make sure I visited his classroom before classes began and was relieved to see Mrs. Goodings was at the teacher's desk. I told her how happy I was to see her and how much TJ enjoyed her class yesterday. She was just as nice and gracious as she appeared on the surface.

The twins were bugging me to go shopping for tennis rackets before we had finished breakfast on Saturday morning. I tried to explain to them that Oshman's wouldn't be open until ten o'clock, but all they could think about was getting there when the store opened so they could buy their rackets. As it turned out, we arrived about five minutes after the store had opened and were the first customers of the day.

A young salesman introduced himself as Dale and asked what he could do for us. The twins blurted out, "Tennis rackets."

"This way," he said, and led us to a section of the store devoted entirely to racket sports. "Is this for these two?" indicating the twins.

"Actually it's for them and Chris," I said, putting my hand on Chris' shoulder.

"Here's what I would recommend for someone their age," he said, holding up a racket. "It's fairly light weight, but makes a good impact with the ball. If you will step over here, they can try out how the racket feels."

The area he directed us to had a net that would catch a tennis ball struck in its direction. First Larry tried his hand at hitting a ball into the net. He whiffed a couple of times before he got the hang of it. Lenny was next. He had learned by watching his twin and didn't whiff as many times. Chris was last. He swung the tennis racket like a baseball bat.

After the boys had picked out rackets that suited them, they had to have special shoes to play on the hard courts. Of course they each had to have a can of tennis balls. I bought a couple extra cans just in case they hit some of the balls over the fence and into the lake. We left the store with my credit card bill several hundred dollars higher. On the way home, I had to scold them to put the rackets back into the bags instead of swinging them around inside the van.

We were barely out of the car when Chris and the twins took off for the back yard to hit the tennis balls. It was funny to watch them. There was no finesse in the way they were hitting. It was more of a contest to see who could hit the balls the farthest. At least they didn't whiff the ball as much as they had at the store. I could tell that Mr. Benedict was going to have his hands full teaching those three the finer points of tennis. I didn't envy him his job. I had played recreational tennis while in prep school and college, but didn't want to take on the job of teaching them. Maybe I could be a fourth to make up a doubles team with them. I guess I should have gotten a racket at the store.

Mrs. Shultz came Saturday afternoon to give the music lessons. Afterwards she gave me an update on their progress. They were all doing reasonably well, but she said she didn't have any hopes that any of the piano players would ever make it on the concert circuit. Joel was doing quite well on the guitar. What he needed to work on was a quicker transition from one fingering position to the next. That would come from practice. She doubted that he would ever be the next Andrés Segovia. Larry was making progress on the guitar, but again she didn't think he would ever be more than a party player.

Gilda packed us a picnic basket full of sandwiches and other goodies to take to the ranch Sunday morning to ride the horses. I called ahead and told Rosie that we were coming. She said she would have Bert start saddling the horses so they would be ready to ride when we got there. I also called Charlie to let him know what time we would be there so I could take a look at the list of equipment he would need to farm the old Katz place. It's funny, that farm will probably always be known as the Katz place, no matter how long I own it.

As I drove down the lane on the ranch, I noticed two quarter horses tethered inside the fence. I assumed one of them was Charlie's and the other could be his girlfriend's. I parked the van and the boys piled out and headed for the stables. Bert walked out of the stables with the horse that I usually rode and asked if I were going to ride with the boys. He was follow by the six boys on their mounts. I told him I might ride later, but first I needed to talk to Charlie.

"That's good," Rosie said, coming up behind me. "Now I'll be able to ride."

I was about to ask who was going to mind the baby, when I saw another young lady holding Carrie Louise in her arms. Charlie was standing along side her looking adoringly at the baby. Turning to me he said. "Hi, Mr. J... Crane. This is my fiancée, Jessica Bing. Jessica, this is my boss, Crane Johnson."

"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Johnson. Charlie has told me how good you've been to him."

"It's good to meet you, also. You must be a rider, too. I see two of the quarter horses are here."

"Yes, I've been riding since I was four years old. We had a large ranch next to Charlie's place. I was an only child and over my mother's protests, my father was determined that I would be the boy he never had, so I was pretty much a tomboy and grew up riding horses."

We chatted for a few more minutes and admired Carrie Louise before I turned to Charlie. "Well, let's see what you have prepared for me." I was impressed at the thoroughness of his presentation. He had listed every piece of equipment and had categorized each as to whether they were usable in their current condition, fixable with minimal effort and expense, and those that were useful only as scrap. He listed the replacement cost for each piece of equipment regardless of category, the cost to fix the ones that were salvageable and the possible salvage value of the scrap equipment. "Who would fix this equipment?"

"I can do most of the work. There is some metal work that I'd have to have done at a shop."

"What's the life expectancy on equipment that you could fix?"

"Well, that's hard to say. Probably another couple of years, if we're lucky."

"How about the equipment that's usable in its current condition?"

"We might get three more years out of it, but it will probably need repairs during that time."

"What would be the impact if it broke down while it was being used?"

"If the parts were available and it was something I could fix myself, it might mean a day or two of lost time. If it were something more serious, it could be a week or more. And again, a lot would depend on which piece of equipment it was and where in the cycle of its use the breakdown occurred."

I thought for a moment and then said, "Charlie, I think it would be better if we started with a clean slate. Replace it all. I want the farm to be a success. I don't want you spending your time repairing old equipment when you could be doing something to earn us both some money. Advertise and sell what you can. What doesn't sell, sell it for scrap. Work the best deal you can with a dealer and then get with Gerald and give him the cost figures. He'll authorize the payment."

"Thanks, Crane, I never expected to get all new stuff. It's not going to be cheap. By the way, I was wondering what you had planned for that piece of land where Tracy said you used to have Longhorns."

"I hadn't thought much about it. Why?"

"Well, it's nice level land and would be ideal to put in some kind of crop. All I'd have to do is to put in a gate so that I could get the equipment in there."

"Sounds good to me. Work it out with Tracy and Rosie.

"Great!" Charlie said, smiling at his fiancée. "See, I told you he was a great boss."

Carrie Louise started fussing. Jessica felt her diaper to discover that she was wet. Excusing herself, Jessica went back into the house to change the baby. "See what you have in store when you get married," I said.

"Yeah, but it'd be worth it. We'd like to have a big family. I have two older brothers and two younger sisters. Jessica was always envious because she was an only child."

"When are you planning on getting married?" I asked.

"We're talking about next February. Her mother is pestering her to set the date. We'll nail down the date in the next few weeks."

After while the boys came riding up. I looked at my watch and knew they were getting hungry and I headed for the van to start unloading coolers. I soon had help from the twins and Chris carrying them to the picnic tables. Joel helped me carry the heaviest one containing the drinks. Rosie and Jessica carried the dessert, a large flaked-coconut covered cake, out of the house and placed it on a side table. Gilda had packed enough sandwiches for all of us and more, at least I thought there were. As it turned out there was only half of a sandwich left.

The boys and I plus Charlie, Jessica and Bert went for another ride after the food was gone, the area cleaned up and the coolers put back into the van. Peter was really enjoying his ride on Lady. He was even able to get her up to a quick trot. I didn't think he was ready to try a gallop. All too soon for the boys, we headed for home.

Hildy and Manfred arrived home late Sunday evening to be greeted enthusiastically by the boys and me. They reported that they had a great time and both of them looked like they had gotten tans. Before Gilda went to bed, she said that she would make reservations to return home later in the week. I told her that unless she had something pressing she needed to do at her home, she was welcome to stay. I initially told her I wanted her to stay for at least a month and that still held. She said she would think about it, she didn't want to be in the way.

The first part of the week went by quickly. Everything seemed to be back to normal with TJ and school. Monday I went to the foundation office to speak with Darcie and Paul. I also wanted to meet the new Office Manager. Carol had said he was cute and she wasn't lying. Kenneth Bering was in his late 20's and looked and carried himself like an athlete. When I spoke to Darcie about him, she said she had been impressed when they interviewed him and was even more impressed by the way he took over his job as soon as he came in this morning.

Wednesday arrived and I headed for Gerald's office for my financial planning meeting. I decided to speak with my broker before the main meeting with Gerald and Carlos instead of afterward.

Roger Burton and I discussed short and long term investment strategies for my stock holdings and that of the trust funds. Short term we decided that other than a few adjustments the strategy in place was working. In the longer term, I decided to begin liquidating some of my more risky investments in the technical sector. The return on my original investment in them had proved to be extremely profitable. My gut feeling was that the tech bubble was about to burst and I didn't want to be caught in the correction, if I could avoid it. I wanted to be fully divested of them, with few exceptions, within the next 18 to 24 months. Not counting the amount in the trust funds, my stock holdings, my brokerage account and the $5 million in notes I held on Corinthian Academy amounted to just over $850 million.

After speaking with Roger, I decided his presence was not necessary for the main meeting. I thanked him and walked him to the door. Then I sat down with Gerald and Carlos and began going over my non-stock assets. The three apartment complexes had a value for tax purposes of $64 million; actual value was probably closer to $70 million. The land that I owned on the northwest side of San Antonio and the land off of highway 46 had a tax value of just under $18 million. The house and property on Canyon Lake plus the two farms were valued at $24 million. The strip center was worth $750,000. Mortgages on the last two apartment complexes were $39 million. All other properties were mortgage free.

Gerald said, "The income from the three apartment complexes averages around $1.6 million a month. Of that $85,000 is about what you receive after all expenses including the mortgage payments are paid. Interest on the demand notes is approximately $45,800. A couple of CD's that pay monthly interest amounts to $4,600."

After I had a good idea of what my financial situation was, we began discussing ways to minimize the amount of taxes I would have to pay to Uncle Sam. We kicked around several ideas and finally decided on one that, although it didn't eliminate my tax liability, it did reduce to a minimum what we thought my tax bill would be. It still grated me that the government would get even that much of my money to put to waste.

I invited both Carlos and Gerald to join me for lunch, but they both had other plans, so I headed home. Hildy told me as I walked into the kitchen that Eric had called and wanted me to return his call. I did immediately and learned that he wanted to come by this evening to discuss something with me. I invited him and JR to come by for dinner and he accepted. It sounded a little mysterious because he wouldn't say what he wanted to talk about.

Eric and JR arrived about thirty minutes before we were scheduled to eat. We made small talk until time to eat. It seemed that he was deliberately avoiding whatever it was he said he wanted to talk about. Between Hildy and Gilda, they had fixed a feast for us. Everybody was stuffed by the time we pushed away from the table.

The boys went upstairs to play while Eric and I went into the living room. I opened a good bottle of red wine, poured us a glass and we settled into the leather arm chairs. "How is Bran getting along living alone?"

"So far, so good," Eric said. "He loves the university and has made several friends in the freshman class. In fact I met one of his new friends while we were out there. We met the friend's father, too. In fact I had a very interesting conversation with him. It seems that he owns a start-up company that deals with network systems. I guess that's what got us to talking. He asked me what I did and when I told him, he knew some of the consultants I work with. He had moved his company from Austin to Sunnyvale, California a couple of years ago. He and his company are doing some really interesting stuff. He's being funded by a venture capital group, but plans to go public in the next year."

"Sounds interesting. How big is his company?" I asked.

"He said there were 30 employees, but he planned to add another 30 or so in the next few months," Eric said, beginning to look very uncomfortable. "I guess there is no easy way to say this, just blurt it out. He called me on Monday and offered me a job as Vice-president of Network Systems. I called him back today and accepted the job."