Joel: Book One ~ Escape From Abuse

Chapter Seventeen

The ride to the county jail was less than pleasant. My six-foot frame with my long legs did not fit well in the back seat of the deputy's car which was fitted with a barrier between the front and back seats.

Nothing about this whole mess was pleasant. The booking, the fingerprinting, the strip search, the body cavity search and finally the placement in a cell were all demeaning and degrading particularly when I knew the charges against me were false. I requested to contact my lawyer but was not allowed to do so for nearly two hours. It was almost ten o'clock when I was able to call Benjamin Cross. I didn't know who else to call since I had never had the need for a criminal defense attorney before.

"Crane, I'm glad you called. I was about to call you. Judge Yates' clerk has told my office that the judge will issue her ruling this afternoon," Benjamin said.

"That's great," I said. "However, that is not what I called you about. I have been arrested and booked on the charge of kidnapping."

"You what?" he said. "That is ridiculous! Who were you supposed to have kidnapped?"

"Well, you remember when we talked the other day about the boy whose family had abandoned him, Chris Martin? That is who I am supposed to have kidnapped. What is really weird is that he is known to CPS, they know he has been abandoned and to top it off I have been assigned as his foster parent on a temporary basis. In fact, Darcie Levin, his caseworker from CPS, visited my house and talked to Chris last evening. The CPS caseworker for the other boys is the one who filed the complaint with the DA's office. What am I to do?" I asked.

"I'm not a criminal defense attorney but one of my partners, John Allison, is. I'll talk to him about your problem and have him or one of his associates come and talk to you. By the way, where are you being held?" he asked.

"I'm in the Comal County Jail. I don't know what the address is, I've never been here before," I said.

"Don't worry. Someone from our office will be there as quickly as they can. In the meantime, I will get in contact with the CPS office there in San Antonio and see what I can find out. Don't make any statements or talk to anyone until one of our lawyers gets there," he said.

The phone call was of little comfort to me. I was more worried about my reputation and the impact that this would have on my business than I was about being found guilty of these blatantly false charges.

Thank goodness Jimmy Sanchez, my new lawyer, arrived about two hours after I called Benjamin. I was a little surprised at his youth. He looked like he was barely old enough to vote let alone be a member of the bar. I was also surprised at his quick work in gathering statements from Darcie Levin and from Jack Hogan surrounding the circumstances of my having temporary custody of Chris. He had also been able to identify the judge who signed the warrant for my arrest.

I don't know why I was surprised by the fact that the judge ordering my arrest was also the brother-in-law of Judge Frank and cousin of Joyce Gehrig. Here in 1994, the good old boy network was at its peak in Bexar County. The courts served the politically powerful and city council and mayor served only themselves. Corruption was rampant throughout the whole city and county structures. The only way to get something done was to bribe an official.

Another lawyer working with Jimmy had met with the District Attorney's office and explained to them the ramifications of their filing the charges against me based on false allegations and the possibility of a civil suit. After the DA's office checked the statement from Darcie and determined that it was accurate they came to the conclusion that they were in deep trouble if I wanted to file a civil suit for damages against them. They immediately went before another judge and got the indictment quashed.

That is a long way of saying Jimmy had come with all the documentation necessary to have me released from jail. It didn't take me long to get my stuff together and get out of there. Jimmy was kind enough to drive me home. I didn't want another ride in a patrol car.

Since neither Jimmy nor I had eaten lunch, I invited him in for something to eat. We had barely entered the front door when four young boys nearly bowled me over. TJ jumped up and threw his arms around my neck and kissed me on the cheek. The twins and Chris encircled me with their arms so completely that I was unable to move.

"We heard Hildy tell Mr. Coulter that you were in jail. We were scared, Uncle Crane! We thought you'd never come back," he cried into my neck.

"Yeah," the twins echoed.

I could feel the back of my shirt getting wet from Chris sobbing behind me.

"Everything is okay guys. I don't have to go to jail anymore. Let's go into the kitchen, I'm hungry. I haven't had my lunch yet," I said knowing that the mention of food would change their focus of attention.

I carried TJ into the kitchen followed by everyone else. I put TJ down and introduced Jimmy to them. They all politely shook his hand as I introduced each one in turn. "Where is Joel?" I asked.

Lenny answered, "He is taking a test that Mr. Coulter gave him. You want me to get him?"

"No, let him finish it. Would you guys like a snack while Mr. Sanchez and I have our lunch?" I asked knowing that was a foolish question.

Hildy came in just then and took over the preparation of food for Jimmy and I and a snack for the boys. We had no more started eating when Joel appeared and ran to my side throwing his arms around me giving me a tight squeeze.

"I was afraid that you wouldn't come back," he sobbed.

"It's okay. Everything is going to be just fine. I'm not going anywhere. Why don't you have a snack with your brothers?" I said trying to divert his attention.

After we finished eating, and the boys finished their snack which was more than what Jimmy and I had for lunch, I decided to call Benjamin to see if he had any news. Unfortunately, he was not available and his secretary did not have any information for me.

I thanked Jimmy profusely as we walked to his car and told him if I ever needed a criminal defense lawyer again I would definitely call on him. I also thanked my lucky stars that I had hired Benjamin and his law firm. I don't know where I could have turned that would have gotten the results that they achieved for me.

Paul Coulter was getting his things together when I re-entered the house. "Paul, I didn't know you were still here," I said quite surprised.

"I needed to correct the test that I gave Joel and then I wanted to talk to you before I left. By the way, Joel did very well on the achievement test I administered despite being distracted by your predicament. He should do very well at Corinthian. If it is alright with you, I will wrap up today. I have finished all that I planned to do with Joel and will not come back tomorrow if that's okay. That will give him a day off with the other boys. I know it has been on his mind that they have not had to go to school and he had to so it might make him feel better," Paul said.

"No, that's fine. You have done an outstanding job with him and I appreciate everything that you have done. Joel loves to learn and you are one of the reasons that he does. I wish you well in you new position at the Academy and I'm sure that Joel is looking forward to seeing you there. Good luck!" I told him as I shook his hand and saw him to the door.

"Hildy," I said as I returned to the kitchen, "I think I'll take the boys out for pizza tonight. Do you want to come along?"

"If you think you can handle all of them alone, I won't go. I have a meeting at the church tonight that I would like to go to," she replied.

"Go to your meeting. I have got to get used to managing all of them by myself. I know we will be alright. I plan to take them to Chuck E. Cheese. They have all sorts of games for them to play and their pizzas are okay too. I think they should have fun," I said. "What kid could pass up pizza and games? I think I'll wait a while before I tell them. I don't want to set them off this early.

The phone started ringing as I went into my bedroom to change out of my "prison clothes" into my swim trunks. It was Benjamin returning my call from earlier.

"Benjamin, I hope you have good news for me. This has not been the best day I have ever had."

"Yes, I have some good news. Judge Yates has ordered that you continue custody of the Andersen boys until such time that a new hearing decides their ultimate fate. She has also remanded the case to Judge Riley and has prohibited Judge Frank from any further involvement with the case. She has also ordered CPS to assign another caseworker to the boys and has issued a stinging rebuke to Ms. Gehrig."

"That's good," I replied.

"Speaking of Ms. Gehrig, I have spoken to the CPS supervisor there in San Antonio about the fiasco that occurred this morning and the distinct probability that you would be seeking some sort of legal redress for the humiliation you were put through. I hinted to him that he and any others involved in the supervision of Ms. Gehrig may well find themselves called to account for her actions as well. But, that you might feel less inclined to include them in any call for redress if Ms. Gehrig were no longer employed there. I hope that I phrased that diplomatically enough that it did not sound like an outright threat but at the same time got my message across loud and clear. My sources have told me that she has been suspended and will face termination proceedings next week. God bless the civil service! They can't just out-and-out fire someone no matter how egregious their behavior. They have to make sure all the papers are filled out and filed correctly."

"When will the hearing before Judge Riley occur? She is the same judge that will be handling Chris' hearing. Do you think we could combine the two in order to save time?" I asked.

"That sounds like a good idea. I'll contact CPS again and suggest that to them. I think that I have softened them up enough so that they will be amenable. Crane, if you do want to file a civil suit against her and others, you should probably hire someone who specializes in civil law. No one in our office does, but I can give you the names of some very good ones if you want."

"Thanks, Benjamin. I need some time to think it over. It might only bring more publicity to the situation and cause more damage. I'll let you know. Thanks again. I really appreciate what you and your firm have done for me," I told him before we hung up.

I finished changing into my swim trunks and went to find the boys. "Does anyone want to swim with me?" I asked. "If you do, you better get changed."

I was nearly trampled in the rush as they darted back inside to get changed. We ended up swimming and playing the old favorite King of the Hill until nearly four o'clock. By that time I was exhausted and had retired to the sideline while the boys continued to play a game of dunk tag. They took it easy on TJ just keeping him involved enough to think that he was part of the game without picking on him because he was the easiest target.

Finally, I said to them, "Would you guys like to go out for pizza tonight?"

I was overwhelmed by a chorus of "Yea!," "Oh Boy!," "Yes!,Yes!"

"Well, I guess that is settled. Go get the chlorine washed off in the shower and put on some clean shorts and tee shirts and we'll head out," I said as I got out of the pool followed quickly by a flock of dripping boys. Oh well, as long as they don't slip and fall I thought.

I was reminded again of the limited seating capacity of the Land Rover as I buckled the boys into their seats. TJ wanted the rear fold-down seat so that solved the problem at least this time.

The nearest Chuckie Cheeze was on the north side of San Antonio so it took us about 30 minutes to get there. Thankfully, we were going against the flow of rush hour traffic. When I had asked the boys earlier if they had ever been to a Chuckie Cheeze they all said they had not. Well they are in for a treat I thought. This could be fun.

The place was not too crowded when we got there so we had our pick of the tables. I shoved a couple together so that all six of us could sit down around them. I ordered three large pizzas and hoped that it would be enough to fill the bottomless pits that masqueraded as boys. I also got a stack of tokens and passed them out to the boys and escorted them to the games and showed them how to put the tokens in and how some of the games worked. It didn't take long before all five of them were playing the games like they had been doing it all of their lives. I had to sit back and enjoy their happy faces and laughter. The only thing that caused them to pause was the need to grab a quick drink of their sodas.

When the pizzas arrived, I almost had to tear them away from the games but finally the smell of the pizzas overcame the attraction of the games. It was a good thing I ordered the pizzas I did because there was only one slice left when they finished. I did get a couple of pieces by risking my fingers as I retrieved them.

"Hi Miss Levin! Hi Miss Levin!" the boys shouted. "Uncle Crane, there is Miss Levin."

When I turned around Darcie was standing at a table a couple removed from ours. She started our way when she recognized the boys. Following behind her were a strikingly handsome man and a boy who looked to be about 8 or 9 years of age.

I stood as they approached and reached out to shake her hand when she arrived.

Darcie, it's good to see you again so soon," I said. "This is a coincidence meeting you here like this."

"I didn't know whether you would speak to me again or not after what you went through today because of one of our caseworkers," she replied.

"I know that was not your fault. Thank you for helping to get it straightened out so quickly," I said.

"Crane, I'd like you to meet my brother Eric Levin. Eric, this is Crane Johnson and these are his foster children," she introduced us. "This young man is Eric's son Eric Junior. He likes to be called JR."

Eric was nearly my height and had an extremely athletic build. It was not a bodybuilder shape. It was more like a gymnast's body. His polo shirt molded to his body as if it had been painted on. His wide shoulders tapered to a narrow waist and hips. He could easily have been a model.

"Please sit down. The boys are itching to go back and play the games again. Would JR like to go with the boys?" I asked Eric trying not to stare at him.

"Yeah, I think that would be a good idea. Let me get some tokens and I'll be right back," he said.

Eric came back shortly and the three of us chatted about nothing in particular as we watched the boys enjoying the games. JR seemed to fit right in with my boys. They were having the time of their lives when Darcie and Eric's pizzas arrived. JR resisted leaving the games but like most boys the food won out.

While we were talking, I found out that Eric had just recently divorced his wife. It seems that she had run away with another man leaving JR with his dad. I also discovered that he had a small network consulting firm in Houston that he wanted to sell and move to San Antonio. He was in town to scout out the possible employment opportunities and to visit his sister.

When I asked him what type of job he was looking for he reeled off a whole string of computing- and computer-related jobs that he was qualified for. I was as impressed with his resume as I was with his physique. I explained I owned a consulting firm, and we were always looking for talented people and that networking expertise was an area that we didn't have in-house. We always had to sub that out to other groups when we had a project that called for it.

"Look, if you are interested, why don't you call my office manager, Foster Brandt, and set up an interview with him tomorrow. Foster conducts the initial screening of all applicants and then recommends to me whether or not we can use the candidate. I'll leave a message for him that you will be calling. Foster gets in around nine in the morning so you can call him any time after that," I told him as I gave him my card with Foster's number on the back.

"Thanks, Crane. I have heard good things about ACC. I have always heard that you do a quality job. I'll call Foster first thing in the morning," Eric said.

Darcie was sort of left out of our conversation. It seemed that Eric, and I were the only ones there. I was quickly brought back to reality when Joel and TJ rushed up. Joel was holding a long string of tickets about two feet long. TJ had a smaller string.

"Can we go trade these in for a prize?" Joel asked.

"Sure, go get the other boys. It's time we started home anyway," I told them.

"It was good to see you again Darcie and very nice to meet you Eric. I hope we meet again," I said as I went to herd the boys to the prize counter.

TJ was the first to reach the prizes and quickly decided which one he wanted. It was a small stuffed replica of a bear, one of the animated characters in the "live" show that each Chuck E. Cheese has.

"I want that one," TJ said looking up at me.

"You don't have enough tickets for that one," I told him gently after looking at his string of tickets and the 'price' of the toy.

"I do," Joel said.

"But you won't be able to get anything for yourself if you use yours for TJ," I said.

"It's okay. TJ and I can share," he responded.

The lump in my throat was so large that I was unable to respond. I just nodded my head as he and TJ pooled their tickets to 'purchase' the stuffed toy. How could any boy who has gone through the hell he has to be so caring and unselfish? I wanted to pick him up and give him a big hug but settled for giving his shoulder a squeeze and patting him on the back. I didn't want to embarrass him in public.

Chris and the twins had enough tickets between them combined with the few that Joel had left of his for each to get some small trinkets. Joel left with nothing but my admiration.

When we got home, I called Foster's number at the office and left him a voice mail telling him to expect Eric's call. I told him that I would rely on his judgment as to whether or not to hire Eric. I also took care of some other business that I needed Foster to handle for me.

It wasn't long before the boys began to have hunger pangs and asked what they could have for a snack. After looking to see what Hildy had left, they settled for ice cream and chocolate chip cookies. The five of them completely demolished a half gallon carton of ice cream in one sitting.

I sent the other boys off to get their showers taken but asked Joel to stay behind.

"Did I do something wrong?" he asked with a scared look in his eyes.

"Oh, no son! You did something very right. I just wanted to say how very proud I am of you and how much I love you. You gave up your prize tonight so that TJ could have what he wanted. That was so good of you to do that," I said as I reached out to him. I gave him the big hug that I wanted to give him earlier and kissed his forehead.

"Thank you for being the wonderful boy that you are. Please don't change," I choked out giving him another hug. "Now go get your shower taken."

"But TJ wanted that little bear," he said looking at me with those beautiful azure eyes. "I could never give him anything before. It makes me feel good to give him something. Besides, he's little. He needs toys more than me."

TJ was hugging his little bear toy when I said goodnight to Joel and him. Chris was again in bed with the twins. He looked at me with questioning eyes, but when I leaned over and gave each of them a kiss on the forehead, he relaxed visibly. This is not going to work long term. We are going to have to come up with more suitable sleeping arrangements.

Finishing my bedtime ritual, I climbed into bed. My thoughts went back to Eric and Darcie. How could I be attracted to both of them? I had never been so turned on by a man before. I was also turned on by Darcie. What's the matter with me? I always considered myself to be completely heterosexual. I was so confused by my conflicting emotions that sleep did not come easily.