I hadn't taken two steps toward the patio when it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Turning I dashed into the study and to my desk. I opened the bottom left hand drawer and removed a large 8" x 11" sealed, padded envelope that I had placed here six years ago when I moved into the house out of college.
The six boys and Eric were splashing around in the pool when I came out of the house. Darcie had retreated to the patio table under the umbrella to escape the hot South Texas sun. I went over and joined her.
"Darcie, there is something that I want to show you. It is something that I have had sealed in here for nearly fifteen years," I told her as I carefully broke the seal on the envelope. I removed the contents and handed them to her.
"What is this?" she asked before she looked at the items.
"Please, just look at them and tell me what you think," I said.
I watched her face change from a curious expression to one of total disbelief. She had in her hands a series of five photographs taken by a professional photographer. One was of my mother. One was of my father. A third one was one of them both together. The fourth one was of me at age 14. The last one was of all three of us.
"Is this who I think it is?" she asked holding up the picture of my mother.
"Yes," I replied.
"I can't believe this. If her hair were styled differently it would be a picture of me. The resemblance is uncanny. Eric! Eric, come here a minute would you?" she called to him.
Toweling off that buff body as he came, Eric sat down next to his sister.
Darcie handed him the picture of my mother without saying anything.
"When did you get this picture taken? I haven't seen it before. I haven't seen you with your hair combed that way either," he said.
"That's not me. That is Crane's mother," she said.
"You've got to be kidding! I would swear that is you. Is that really true Crane?" he asked turning to me.
"Yes, that picture was taken on the last home visit by my parents six months before they were killed in a plane accident. It is the last time I ever saw them. I have kept those pictures sealed up for the last 15 years. It just was too painful for me to see them," I told him.
"Darcie, from the first time I met with you at your office, I felt like I had seen you or known you at some other time. It didn't hit me until after I talked to Jack and found out about a sizeable inheritance that Chris has come into. I guess it was because I inherited a sizable amount of money from my parents, something just clicked and I realized where I had seen you before. I'm still a little confused, but I think I understand my feelings toward you more clearly now. You are a very beautiful, bright and highly desirable lady. But I think that you can see the problems that could arise if we pursued a more intimate relationship. I would never know if it were you I was pursuing or if I were trying to regain my mother. I'm sorry," I said with some regret.
"Yes, I see," she said. "I still think that we can be friends and besides I'm still going to be handling Chris' case. And what is this about a sizable inheritance? The last I heard we didn't know if it was big or small."
I explained to her what Jack had told me.
"Well that's good news for Chris. I'll see what resource that we have to find out the terms of his aunt's will now that we know who she is. I hope that she established a trust or some other instrument that will protect the assets from being squandered by his parents when and if they get out of jail," Darcie said. "I can't speak for Judge Riley, but I think that a case can be made for terminating their parental rights based on their abandoning him and their criminal behavior."
"I sincerely hope that something can be done about them. Even if they didn't abuse him physically or sexually, they certainly subjected him to mental and verbal abuse which can be devastating to his self concept and self worth. The scars may not be visible, but they are just as real," I preached to her.
The rest of the afternoon went more quickly than the boys wanted. They either swam or snacked or chased the deer until nearly dark. Almost as if there were some telepathic signal that pervaded the air the boys in mass rushed up to the three of us on the patio.
"Uncle Crane we're hungry!" all six of them shouted in unison. Even JR joined in calling me Uncle.
"JR, mind your manners. We need to go home," Eric chided his son.
"You all are welcome to stay for supper. I'm sure that Hildy has prepared more than enough to feed us all. In fact she would probably be insulted if you didn't stay," I told Eric. Turning to the boys I said, "Why don't you guys go get the chlorine washed off and put on your shorts? Hildy expects you to be dressed properly for supper. Eric, you and JR can use the shower in my bedroom."
I went to check with Hildy to make sure that she had in fact fixed enough for our guests. I need not have worried. She had prepared one of her late husband's favorite meals. A tamale casserole smothered with chile and topped with cheddar and Monterrey Jack cheese. Spanish rice, refried beans, tortilla chips and salsa rounded out the evening fare. She had even made flan for dessert.
I barely had time to jump in the spare bedroom shower and change my clothes before the boys were lining up at the table. Hildy had put the extra leaf in the table so that it could seat a total of 12. We only had ten but I'm sure that we consumed enough food for twelve.
After supper we went out to see our guest off.
As I shook Eric's hand I told him, "Welcome to ACC. We are looking forward to you contributing to the company. I will make sure that you receive your contract by mid week. If there is anything that my secretary Carol or I can do for you to make your move to San Antonio easier, please let us know."
He shook my hand longer than I expected, but I certainly did not complain. As he said goodbye, his eyes seemed to engulf me before he turned away to assist JR into the car and fasten his seatbelt.
Darcie gave me a goodbye hug and whispered in my ear, "Thanks for being honest with me. I think I would have liked our relationship to develop but I can see that it is not possible. Besides, I think that Eric might object," With that she turned, opened her car door and got in smiling at me.
I think that my face was so red that it lit up the whole area. All I could do was to wave goodbye to them as they drove to the gate.
When I regained my composure I turned to the boys and asked, "How about if we read some more of Tom Sawyer before it's bed time?"
A chorus of "Yeah" rang out as they rushed back inside to get the book. I read to them for about an hour before they started to get sleepy. I think TJ had dropped off to sleep a couple of times in my lap before we called it a night. It had been a busy day for all of us.
It rained all day Sunday so the boys didn't get to play outside. The video games, more Tom Sawyer and the TV just couldn't tame the boys' restlessness by early afternoon.
When my parents purchased this house it was part of a bankruptcy sale. The builder went under during some hard times in the home construction business. The house had never been completely finished. My parents completed the ground floor but had never done much to the upstairs. The second floor was one big loft. It wasn't heated or cooled so it was never really used by us on the rare occasions we were in residence at the house. I had not been up there since just after I first moved in permanently.
"I don't think you guys have ever been upstairs," I said.
Joel looked at me strangely, "What upstairs? I didn't know there was an upstairs. Where are the stairs?"
"Follow me, I'll show you," I said leading them to the back entryway to a door that was always kept locked.
Taking a key off the rack beside the back door, I unlocked the door. I reached inside and flipped on the light switch. "Let's see what's up here."
I was nearly trampled by five curious boys as we climbed the stairs.
"What's that?" Joel asked pointing to a rectangular object, partially hidden by a dust cover, with a series of knobs on both sides.
"That is a foosball game," I told him. "Come here, I'll show you how to play."
I retrieved the ball from one of the goals and started to explain the object of the game and how to turn the handles to 'kick' the ball and keep it from going in the goal. The twins and Chris gathered around fascinated at this non-electronic game. TJ had to stand on his tiptoes to see what was going on.
"You can play with two or four players. Joel, why don't you and Chris play Larry and Lenny? TJ and I will watch," I said to them.
I dragged a box from the stack next to the wall to where TJ could stand on it to see all of the action. He and I cheered the boys when they scored and applauded their defensive efforts when they blocked a good try at goal. The twins had an uncanny ability to sense what the other one was doing and were holding their own against their older opponents. All of them were really starting to get the hang of it when their wrists began to get tired from all the twisting.
"That's fun, Uncle Crane," Joel said. "But your hands sure get tired."
"Have any of you ever played table tennis or ping pong?" I asked.
All I got was five boys shaking their heads no.
I pulled the sheet off of the table and discovered that four paddles and a ball were still there after all of these years. I had been a pretty fair player in my college days, but hadn't played in a long while. I explained the basics to them and showed them how to serve and how to keep score.
"TJ, I want you to try and hit the ball back across the table when I serve it to you. Remember it has to land on the table to be good," I told him. I served a real slow one to him. He hit it back but he hit it so hard that it flew over my head. "Just hit it easy, it doesn't take much to get it back across."
A couple more serves and he got one back across the net and onto the table. You would have thought that he had won a gold metal he was so happy. I, of course, praised his efforts. The rest of the boys did too. A few more times and a few more successes for him and I suggested that we let the other boys try.
TJ had as much fun running after errant balls as he did playing the game. Chris seemed to have a real talent for the game. Joel probably had the least success with the game other than TJ.
This excursion to the unknown upstairs had occupied the entire afternoon. TJ was the first to come to me and tell me he was hungry. That set off a chain reaction. All of the stomachs seemed to be set to the same clock and the hunger alarm had just gone off.
"Okay, go get washed up and I'll see what Hildy has left us for supper," I told them as we descended the stairs. Hildy lets us fend for ourselves on Sunday evenings while she attended church.
What she had left us was a huge pot of beef stew simmering on the stove made just the way I liked it with lots of potatoes, carrots, corn and green beans. To go with the stew she had buttered a loaf of French bread and left a note telling me to put it in the oven for 15 minutes at 400o F (~205o C).
The boys were ready before the food was so I set them to the task of preparing the table.
I dished out large bowls of the steaming stew to each of the boys telling them not to burn their tongues. I hardly had time to sit down to my own bowl before they were ready for seconds. We pretty much finished off the stew and the French bread. I got to eat the end pieces of the loaf. The hard crusty ends are my favorite pieces and the boys gladly let me have them.
After the supper dishes were put into the dishwasher I turned on the TV to a National Geographic special that I thought the boys would enjoy. It was all about deep sea diving and all of the strange and beautiful animals that were found at the bottom of the ocean. I was right they were enthralled by the fantastic photography and the sense of adventure.
When the program ended it was time for a snack before they took their showers and got ready for bed.
"Remember tomorrow you start school at Corinthian Academy so you need to get a good night's sleep. I'll take you to school in the morning and then you can ride the school van home tomorrow afternoon," I told them.
I was about to go tuck the boys into bed when Joel came into the family room where I was still watching TV. He surprised me by climbing into the recliner with me. He hadn't sat on my lap for quite a while.
"I love you Uncle Crane," he whispered.
"I love you too, Joel, more than I can say," I said giving him a hug.
"I didn't know grown ups could be so nice before you found me. I don't ever want to leave. You won't send us away, will you?" he pleaded.
"No, never! My life would be empty without all of you here."
"How 'bout Chris? Is he gonna stay too?"
"That is up to the judge. I hope that he will be able to stay with us. Now let's get you into bed. I don't want you to fall asleep in class tomorrow. You know Mr. Coulter may be one of your teachers, don't you?"
"Really? He's nice, I like him."
"Yes, he starts teaching there tomorrow just like you guys are starting there," I said as I led him to his bedroom and tucked him and TJ in for the night.
The boys were all excited the next morning about starting their new school. They looked so handsome in their matching uniforms that I had to take a picture of them before we piled into the Land Rover to go to school.
When we got to the school, I parked the car and escorted them into the administration office to get them properly registered and pick up their room assignments and class schedules. With all the paperwork taken care of I gathered them all together to give them some last minute instructions.
"Now after school all of you are to wait for Joel right here and get on the van together. Joel, you are to get on van number 7. Remember that's van number 7. Okay? I'm depending on you to take care of your brothers and Chris. I know you can do it," I said. "You boys be good and pay attention in class."
I gave each one a hug and sent them off to their classrooms. My heart was in my throat as they walked away. They were off on a new adventure and I was suffering from separation anxiety.
Going to the office seemed strange. I hadn't been there in several weeks to spend a full day working and never since I bought out my partner Eric. Even though Carol and Foster had done a remarkable job running the place in Eric and my absence there was still a lot of paperwork and other odds and ends to take care of. I spent the entire morning catching up first with Carol and then Foster on the status of each contract that we had ongoing.
After instructing Carol on the details of Eric Levin's contracts, she typed it up and gave it to me for my signature and then put it in the outgoing mail.
We didn't stop working until almost one o'clock when my stomach reminded me that we hadn't eaten lunch. "Carol, if you and Foster don't have any plans I would like to take you both to lunch. Would you see if we can get reservations at Texas Land & Cattle Steak House over on I-10?"
They both agreed they were free and hungry. Carol made our reservations for 1:30 so we had to leave almost immediately to get there on time.
I had a voice mail from Jack to call him as soon as I returned to the office. It sounded urgent so I immediately dialed his number.
"Jack Hogan, how can I help you?"
"Jack, it's Crane. You called earlier."
"Yes, Billy Joe Slocum the detective working Joel's dad's case wanted me to get in touch with you to see if Joel would be available for a preliminary hearing on the murder charge tomorrow afternoon. The DA hasn't issued a subpoena for him but I'm sure she will if she thinks it necessary."
"He just started to school today, but I suppose I can have him there. What time is the hearing?"
"It starts at two o'clock in Judge Farley's courtroom. I'm not sure which room that is so look it up on the directory inside the courthouse. Oh, you might consider having a lawyer there to represent Joel. I know the defense attorney and he can be, let's say, rather aggressive in his questioning of witnesses."
"Thanks Jack, I'll call Benjamin to see if he can recommend someone."
As soon as we hung up I called Benjamin's office to arrange for a lawyer to be with us at the hearing. He told me that Jimmy Sanchez who was my attorney when I was put in jail would represent Joel. That made me feel a lot better.
I also called Dr. Adams to see what he recommended I do to prepare Joel for the hearing. His advice was to explain to Joel in as unemotional manner as possible what was going to happen and to make sure I gave him extra attention, love and support before he had to get on the stand.
Giving him love and support was the easy part. Telling him what was going to happen would be the hardest thing so I called Jimmy to see if he could give me an idea as to what Joel might expect when he testified. He wasn't an awful lot of help other than to say that he would do everything he could to protect Joel from being traumatized by the defense attorney's examination. His only suggestion was to tell Joel to answer the questions as completely as he could and not to embellish anything.
I wanted to get home to make sure that the boys got on the right van to get home so I left early. I was waiting at the gate when van number 7 pulled up and five active boys hopped out yelling goodbye to their van driver and their new friends.
TJ ran to me and jumped up into my arms. "Did you have a good time today?" I asked.
"It was the best," he said. "Mrs. Cowen is fun. She reads to us if we're good. I like her."
"That's great," I told him. "How about the rest of you? How was your day?"
Joel was the first to reply, "I have Mr. Coulter for Geography and home room. Everybody is so nice. Thanks for letting us go to school there Uncle Crane."
The twins and Chris all talked at the same time but they too seemed to like the school. "We played dodge ball at recess and we had to tell everybody our names and everybody shook our hands and we ate lunch in the cafeteria and everything."
"So you want to go back to school there tomorrow?" I said jokingly.
"Yes!" everyone yelled and took off to the house to see if Hildy had a snack for them.
Later that evening I took Joel to one side and told him about the hearing tomorrow and what was going to happen as much as I knew. I put my arm around him as I was talking to him and hugged him tightly to my side.
"I will be there all the time. All you have to do is tell the truth exactly as you remember. Jimmy Sanchez will be there too. You remember him don't you? He is the one that got me out of jail and then ate lunch here. He is going to help you too," I told him giving him another hug.
He seemed comfortable with going to court tomorrow, but I'm sure that he would have preferred to stay in school instead.
I was not comfortable with him having to testify against his father. I remember the interview with Detective Silver and the effect that it had on him. He wasn't even cross examined then and she was very gentle with him. I was afraid that this experience would be even more traumatic.
As we waited for the school van to arrive to pick up the boys I told them, "Joel will not be there this afternoon to see that you get on the right van. Be sure that you see the number 7 on the van. That is the one you are to get on to bring you home."
The van arrived as we were talking. "Now see that 7 on the van, that is the one you are to get on and only that one. Be good and study hard," I told them as I gave them a group hug and sent them on their way.
I picked Joel up from school at noon and drove to San Antonio to meet with Jimmy Sanchez before Joel's court appearance. We met Jimmy at a small cafe about six blocks from the court house. He was waiting outside when we got there.
While we were waiting for our food order to be delivered, Jimmy explained to Joel and me what to expect and impressed on Joel how important it was to tell the truth when he was asked questions. He explained that he would be there with Joel to protect him and his rights.
Our food came but I was too nervous to eat much. Joel on the other hand had no problems eating his lunch and even had part of mine.
We reported to the court bailiff at 1:45 and were told to wait in the witness room adjacent to the courtroom and not to talk about the case with any other witness. There were no other witnesses in the room when we entered, but within five minutes an older distinguished Hispanic gentleman and a young lady entered. They appeared to know each other. Finally a police officer in uniform and what I assumed was a plain clothes detective arrived.
At about ten after two the Hispanic man was called by the bailiff. I learned he was the coroner from listening to the young lady. She was next to be called approximately 20 minutes later. I think she was the forensic lab tech because the policeman asked her if she had received a gun that need to be tested. The policeman was next followed by the detective. We had been sitting in the room now for about an hour and a half with nothing to do but sit there. Joel was beginning to get restless. I tried to keep him occupied by asking him all kinds of questions about Corinthian Academy and the new boys that he had met and so on.
Finally Joel was called by the bailiff to go into the courtroom. Jimmy and I stood up and went with him. As we entered the courtroom Joel pushed back against me and hid his face in my side.
"It's alright, son. No one is going to hurt you. I promise," I whispered to him.
"But that's my dad," he whimpered.
"Don't be afraid. He can't hurt you any more," I said.
Jimmy stepped in front of us and addressed the court, "Your honor, my name is James Sanchez. I am the attorney for Joel Andersen. If it pleases the court I request that the court instruct both the prosecution and defense to question my client with the greatest restraint. He is in a fragile emotional state and is under the care of a child psychiatrist, Dr. Owen Adams."
"Thank you Mr. Sanchez. The court takes note of your request and agrees that this witness should not be subjected to unduly harsh questioning from either the prosecution or the defense. This is a preliminary hearing. We are here only to decide if there is enough evidence to bind the defendant over for trial. Gentlemen, I am instructing you to tread lightly in your questioning. The court will not tolerate any badgering of the witness," Judge Farley said.
With that the bailiff led Joel to the witness chair and asked him to raise his right hand and swear to tell the truth.
"I will, I promise," Joel responded nervously.
"Tell us what your full name is," the prosecutor said.
"Joel Jay Andersen."
"What is your father's name?"
"Do you see him in the courtroom?"
"Would you describe where he is and what he is wearing?"
"He's over there wearing orange coveralls."
"Let the record reflect that the witness has identified the defendant."
"It is so ordered," the judge said.
"What is your mother's name?"
"Dorothy Marie Andersen."
"Do you know what happened to her?"
"Tell us what happened."
"He shot her."
"Who shot her?"
"How do you know he shot her?"
"I saw him do it."
"Where were you when you saw him shoot her?"
"In the door between the kitchen and living room."
"How far away from you was your dad?"
"Oh... I guess 'bout as far as you."
"Do you think that is about 10 feet?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"How many times did you see your dad shoot your mother?"
"I think six. I know it was a lot. He shot her two times in the face before she fell down and then four more times."
Tears were beginning to flow down Joel's cheeks. I wanted to rush to him and hold him but knew that I couldn't.
"What happened then?"
"I think I screamed or something 'cause he ran to me and pulled the trigger on the gun a couple more times but there were no bullets in it."
"Did he say anything to you?"
"Yes, he grabbed my throat and said he'd rip it out if I ever told anyone."
"What happened then?"
"He ran out the front door and drove away real fast."
"What did you do?"
"I think I went out the front door too. I remember screaming something."
"What happened then?"
"I don't remember anything until Uncle Crane found me."
"Who is Uncle Crane?"
"That's him over there. He takes care of all of us. He's like our new dad."
My heart nearly exploded when he said I was like a "new dad," Nothing would make me happier than to be his dad. If Jimmy hadn't placed a restraining arm on mine I probably would have rushed up and hugged him. All I could do was to give him my biggest smile as the tears of joy flowed down my cheeks.
"That's all the questions I have your Honor," the prosecutor said and sat down.
"Mr. Lane, do you wish to cross examine?" the judge asked.
"Yes, your Honor.
"Joel, why weren't you in school the day your mother died?"
"The day before when he got home he started beating momma. I tried to stop him and he whipped me when I tried to get him to stop hitting momma. Then he fucked me and locked me in the shed all night, but I dug my way out the next day. Then I went in the house and saw him do it. That's why I wasn't in school."
This time there was fire in his eyes. Also it was the first time I had ever heard him say fuck.
"Your Honor, I move to strike that answer as unresponsive."
"Denied, counselor, you knew the answer before you asked and you asked it anyway."
"No further questions."
"Does the prosecution have any re-direct?"
"No, Your Honor."
"The witness is excused. That means you can go son," the judge said.
Joel fairly ran to me and jumped into my arms. I squeezed him so tight I was afraid that I might hurt him but I didn't put him down until we were out of the courtroom.
"I'm so proud of you, Joel. I know it was very hard for you to do that but you were so brave. I love you!" I told him now clutching his hand.
"Jimmy thanks for being here. I'm sure if you hadn't the defense would have been very aggressive with Joel and I probably would have gotten into trouble," I said shaking his hand as we parted company.
"Come on son, let's go home. I'll bet your brothers are wondering where we are," I said and pulled him under my arm and led him out of the courthouse.