Granddaddy owned a vacation home in Carefree, Arizona, where we as a family, along with Sarah and my aunt, Kim, began spending most summers and holidays when I was a baby. The Arizona House sat near the peak of Black Mountain and was unique, immaculate, and in my unasked for opinion, unnecessarily large. In typical Granddaddy fashion, he spared no expense in decking the 6,500 square foot home and nine acres of grounds out, including having palm trees lowered in by helicopter that transformed the black granite pool cut out of the rock behind the mansion into a mountaintop oasis.

I vividly remember, on more than one occasion, paddling to the side of the pool, hoisting myself up onto one of its protective boulders, and peering through a wrought iron fence straight down the side of the mountain. The Arizona House may have very well been the only place on Earth where Mom and Dad didn’t have to worry about me exploring myself into trouble. It didn’t take more than a “Don’t climb on that fence” and a fraction of common sense to keep my feet on solid ground. And in the event that I did try and push it, its threat became a popular method of calling my bluff.

My fear of tumbling down the side of Black Mountain soon carried over to the stairway from the lower level game room to the sitting area on the main floor. There were large gaps between the stairs that I was convinced I would fall through, and surely alligators guarded the decorative Asian water fountain below. I always managed to make my way downstairs safely though, where most evenings were spent playing the Wheel of Fortune board game with Sarah, and gazing through the panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows at the shimmering lights of Scottsdale below in amazement. Granddaddy, Mom, and Dad sometimes joined, but more often than not, played pool or talked oil upstairs. And ever so often, Papa, my granddad on Mom’s side, would tag along on our trips. Some of my very favorite memories are of him trekking up the side of the mountain on the back of a donkey two sizes too small and ten shades more stubborn, who seemed to enjoy running him into cacti bushes along the way.

Every family has their embarrassing, yet laughable, dysfunction.

Every family also has their happy place. Arizona tended to be ours.

But it all came to a screeching halt in 1987, when Granddaddy suffered a massive heart attack and stroke one evening and was rushed to an East Texas hospital, then transferred to Presbyterian Dallas. There, doctors found a blood clot lodged near his heart and bleeding around his brain that would lead to emergency surgery just days later, and would leave him in a coma that physicians were unsure he’d pull out of. Seemingly overnight, he was rendered an invalid, no longer able to oversee the company he’d built from the ground up, and Target Oil was dropped into Dad’s lap. With the wells producing at an all-time high, and a plethora of projects on the table, Granddaddy’s business partner suggested that his secretary, Berta, enlist someone to draw up a power of attorney to keep things from shutting down. So when the name of a former Texas judge whom Granddaddy had known for years popped into her head, she thumbed through her Rolodex, dialed him up, and scheduled their first meeting.

It was an innocent and even seemingly wise call at the time, but it marked the beginning of the end for our family. We had no idea when the former judge, David, arrived for the first time at Granddaddy’s front door, suit and tie and charisma a’plenty, that he had recently been disbarred from practicing law in Oklahoma for stealing money from elderly charities across the state. We had no idea his intention toward our family would become the same. And we had no idea that once again, he would have the connections to get away with it.

Dad was the first to notice. One afternoon, he arrived at Granddaddy’s to find that he and David had disappeared, along with the majority of Granddaddy’s medications. For days, he tried unsuccessfully to reach both of them, and became increasingly concerned when no one else knew where they were either.

Days later, when Granddaddy finally returned his call, Dad was shocked to hear how lifeless his voice sounded as he slurred out a largely incoherent sentence about being on vacation and there being no need to worry. Deep down, Dad knew he was hiding something, but chose to give them the benefit of the doubt and left it alone.

For the next two years, however, it continued to happen periodically, each time with Dad growing more and more suspicious and David growing more and more brazen. Until one day, Berta found documents signed by Granddaddy and witnessed by David that turned all government of our family’s assets solely over to himself — An action that Granddaddy, in his right mind, would have never even considered. And it was soon discovered that not only was David stealing from us… Not only was he planning on taking everything… But he was doing so right under our patriarch’s nose, seemingly with his consent.

It was all Dad needed to file for immediate court-ordered guardianship of Granddaddy, and to strip away all of David’s rights to custody over and contact with him. The papers were drawn up and delivered that same day by courier. So when David forced his entry into Granddaddy’s house later that afternoon and demanded to see him, Dad felt confident as he stepped between him and the door to Granddaddy’s bedroom and held the protective order up in defense. But instead of backing down, David chuckled smugly, declared, “I am the law”, and delivered a blow to the back of Dad’s head that sent him to the ground.

This time, Dad had come prepared. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a loaded .38, and shot wildly into the air, intending that they would only serve as warnings. A handful made contact though, and David was left critically wounded on the floor. Dad, realizing what had just happened, headed for the kitchen and dialed 911, notifying the operator that he had shot a man in self defense who had ignored a court order, that all weapons were empty, and asked that they send help quickly because he feared for David’s life. Then, he waited by Granddaddy’s side for the police and paramedics to arrive.

When Smith County sheriff’s deputies reached the scene, they found David near the front door, blood-soaked and unable to move, but eager to start talking. He identified himself as “Senior State District Judge”, a title of prominence his behavior had long since lost him, and one that Dad confirmed was his retired, not current, status. Granddaddy, now sitting slouched over the kitchen table, stared up at them in disbelief and went on record saying, “I thought he was my friend, and he was stealing me blind. Bill was trying to save me.”

David was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where they pronounced him paralyzed from the waist down. He continued to argue his case to investigators there that he’d had every right to be there that afternoon, that he wasn’t required to knock, and that in all actuality, Dad was the real threat.

Dad had remained behind at the crime scene, where Mom and I arrived soon after. I vaguely remember sitting in the back seat, watching blue and red cop lights swirl chaotically over the light gray leather in front of me, and wondering what we were having for dinner. Just outside my window, though, two Texas Rangers were doing everything they could to reassure Dad he had done what any man would have to protect his family. Just outside my window, Mom was coming to understand the full gravity of what had just happened and was rapidly losing hope, despite the Rangers’ promises that everything would be handled responsibly and fairly. By the time they got back in the car, however, they had steadied their voices enough to convince me that nothing was wrong, and at my request, off to our favorite local cafeteria we went.

Later, David’s assistant would shamelessly admit to aiding him in over-medicating Granddaddy, and forcing him to sign papers that gave up control of our family assets against his will, numerous times. He would also confess to watching, close-mouthed, as David mentally tormented Granddaddy when he resisted, refusing to change his clothing for hours when he soiled himself and threatening to never let him see me again if he didn’t cooperate. Gifts Granddaddy delighted in giving us, namely his 50-yard-line Dallas Cowboys season tickets, were snatched up by David, who argued that seats like that shouldn’t go to waste on “a blind bastard and a 4-year-old”. And when Granddaddy, who had spent the majority of his life running from God, finally surrendered his life to Jesus, David insisted that he and his assistant were plenty qualified to baptize him themselves in Granddaddy’s dirty pool, without allowing any of his small remaining family tree to be there.

But two months after shots rang out in the tiny community of Emerald Bay in East Texas, and Dad answered a call to find the Tyler Police Department on the line, all of that and more had yet to be uncovered. Assuming they were calling to gather more information on the case, he offered to help in any way that he could. Instead, he was stunned when a stern voice ordered him to turn himself in within twenty-four hours, or a warrant for his arrest would be issued.

He had, after all, just attempted to murder a prominent official of Texas.

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